Title: Two Lockets
Authors: Sinick and Acid
Team: Wartime
Genres: Hurt/Comfort, Romance
Prompt: Grimmauld Place
Rating: R
Summary: Harry, Snape, and the grim old house that keeps its secrets.
Word Count: 57,000
A/N: Thank you, Team Wartime, Joan Wilder, Txilar, Netta, and Morrighan for the beta-reading, blasting away writers’ block, comments, advice, and all your help. Thanks also to La Onza for posting her floor plans of Grimmauld Place.

Two Lockets

Chapter 1

Wednesday’s child is full of woe.
Thursday’s child has far to go.

All the light in Grimmauld Place went where Harry went. As soon as he lit the candles and turned away, they hopped down from the mouths of their runespoor-shaped candlesticks, breaking their fall by landing in trampolines of cobwebs, and bouncing from there to the floor. They waddled after Harry in a row like ducklings, short and fluffy and dripping wax all over in their excitement at being alight and having company at last. Harry shrugged and let them trail along after him.

He headed downstairs for no other reason than because moving was more bearable than sitting still. Around the candles the darkness flickered; long shadows fled up the walls and faded into the gloom of the high ceilings. The shortest of the flock rushed after the others and nearly put out its flame on the breeze of its own haste. It paused to catch a breath, and after its flame blossomed back, picked up its wax drip skirt and toddled faster on legs of unwound two-strand wick.

When Harry arrived at the ground floor, he reached past the moth-eaten curtains of one particular portrait niche, and drew a tally mark on the dusty canvas by Walburga Black’s snoring head. He only did it to see if he could get away with it without the portrait waking up and screaming the whole Place down. It wasn’t as though he’d ever forget the count – four Horcruxes down, two to go – but it felt so good to test the house’s patience the way Grimmauld sometimes tested his.

At the foot of the stairs, across from a hollowed-out troll leg with three umbrellas, Harry sat down and picked up his old Potions text. He’d left the dog-eared, scruffy book lying open on the bottom step when he’d started his restless wanderings after sunset.

Just before they closed Hogwarts down, he’d gone back to the Room of Requirement for the book. The Half-Blood Prince’s half-readable scribbles filled the margins of practically every page. No, not the Prince’s. They were Snape’s, and his scrawl had no right to look that different when it wasn’t red or scathing or all over Harry’s Potions essays.

Harry had almost destroyed that sodding book so many times. He wanted to burn it or rip it to shreds or stab it with a basilisk’s fang just to see if bled like Riddle’s diary.

Once, he’d mounted the top of the ladder in the library like a broom, ripped a dozen pages out of the book, folded them into paper planes, and chucked them one by one at the vicious old writing desk in the corner. The desk had devoured the lot with loud snaps of its rolltop lid, and Harry’d thought they were gone for good, and good riddance to them! But the distant sound of a door slamming again and again in the drawing room had pulled Harry’s attention away from tearing out any more pages, and he’d climbed down the ladder. He’d made it into the drawing room just in time to see the curio cabinet open its door and, with a disgusted ‘ptui’, spit out the last of his paper planes before slamming its door shut again. Two summers ago, the cabinet’s shelves had been left bare after they’d cleared out all the Dark artefacts it’d held, but now as Harry peered in he could see a familiar spidery instrument on one shelf, crouched protectively over a silver snuffbox. Huh. It’s as though the things are moving back in: Merlin only knows how they find their way. Oh well, they can stay there for all I care.

Apparently the curio cabinet was more hospitable toward cursed artefacts than paper planes. And it wasn’t just Harry’s planes it objected to, ‘cause when he’d knelt down to pick them all up he’d found two more, buried in the dust under the cabinet: a yellowed swan, and a parchment swallow that Harry didn’t even know how to fold. The swan had turned out to be a sheet of letterhead embossed with the Black coat of arms, addressed to Walburga, Kitchen: Found your ring in the library. Attached. No need to make any additions to your mother’s head collection. The swan’s elaborately hooked beak had held no ring. Bloody typical, Harry’d thought, Even the furniture in this Place is a bunch of crooks and thieves.

From one little king to another the swallow’s wings had said, I’m so sorry, S. I had no choice. Look after yourself. Harry’d thought it was sad that Sirius never got the note, and sadder still that Sirius was gone, and would never be able to tell Harry who the note was from and what it meant. Harry had slipped the parchment swallow in among the pages of Snape’s textbook, after he’d finished Reparoing all his ex-paper planes back into the binding. Then he’d taken the book into Sirius’ old bedroom and had studied each stained, yellowed page from Levicorpus to Sectumsempra until the scrawled notes had blurred before his eyes: all those potions, all those poisons, all those curses. All that inventiveness, Harry’d thought sadly, as he’d tucked the swallow’s delicate wingtip further between the pages, out of harm’s way. Then he’d frowned, remembering a tower, a face twisted by loathing, a flash of green. All that bloody malice.

The next time I cast these curses, or anything else, I won’t fail.

Now he was sitting on the main staircase, the same textbook open in his lap. Still studying. Still haunted by the memory of Dumbledore’s murderer swatting Harry’s curses like flies. Harry’s mouth twisted, bitter with the taste of hatred and aborted Cruciatus. I won’t fail. I promise you that.

Harry hoped Voldemort still had enough humanity left to feel pain. I want that bastard to suffer! That’s what he deserves, him and the whole damn lot of them, and Snape more than anyone! Harry lived for that moment. The trouble was, living for that felt empty: as if the flat of a silver dagger of revenge had pressed down on him for so long it’d crushed the last drop of joy out of him and left him dry. These days he only had one constant companion left, his never-ending mantra: the diary… the ring…the key… the wand… the cup… the locket…

It wasn’t that no one wanted to be with him: beyond those heavy doors the whole wizarding world still wanted their hero. But Dumbledore’s gone and I can’t be what they want. Ridding the world of a madman isn’t noble or heroic. People do it because they’re furious, grieving, and bitter, and they want it all to end.

On Bill and Fleur’s wedding day Ron had twirled a grinning Hermione around in the Burrow’s sitting room, to riotous applause from Ginny and the Twins. But even on that golden day of peace, Harry had watched their joy from the sidelines, planning, worrying, waiting. How good it would’ve been to forget – Horcruxes, Voldemort, Snape – and join the celebration just for once. But he knew there’d be no rest for him, not until Voldemort was gone. All the while, as he watched and clapped and smiled, all he could think was Who’ll be next? Ginny? Hermione? Ron? I can’t lose them. I have to end this, once and for all. Alone.

At first he wasn’t alone. Ron and Hermione made it easier: facing the Dursleys and the unknown. They’d found the key to Godric’s Hollow together, and no one got hurt when that Horcrux was broken. But then… He was so drunk on that first victory; he should’ve thought it through! He could’ve done it all differently – waited or called the Aurors – before looking for Ollivander at the Wandwood Glade. He could still see the pale agony on Ron’s and Hermione’s faces as their shaking hands joined on the handle of the Ravenclaw wand, their magic unwittingly drained just to destroy Riddle’s relic.

At least they were alive. Hermione still sent letters and photographs – the unmoving kind – and they looked happy in them. Those last few days when Harry’d said it wasn’t safe to stay, they’d been determined to act as if they were going away on a holiday, but even then the permanence of it all was too much to bear. Ron had joked at first that the burn scar on his palm in the shape of a reverse R – where he’d grasped the Horcrux – really stood for ‘Ron’ and not some old Ravenclaw initial. But as Harry called the Knight Bus for them, out of the corner of his eye he noticed Ron staring at his upraised wand the way he used to stare at Harry’s Firebolt: with the same terrible, longing envy. Then Ron gripped Hermione’s hand, as tight as a drowning man clutching his only lifeline.

It’s done, and I can’t fix it now. Harry knew that breaking the wand mattered more to the outcome of the war than the magic of any two people. Even if they’re my two best friends.

Harry frowned down at the ink-scrawled pages in his lap. Curses – the freshly-learned and the as-yet-unfamiliar – swam and blurred before his eyes. The candles had arranged themselves on the steps in a half-circle, looking up at him raptly for hours as he read. Now, their flames flickered out one by one, settling with tiny sighs of fragrant smoke into blankets of fluffy melted wax. Harry took it as a sign to get some rest as well.


A carved golden badger snarled at Harry’s finger and started racing round the rim of the cup, so fast it tickled to hold onto it. Harry clutched the cup to his chest and could feel the curse already, that faint magical burn that made his skin crawl. Is this what Ron and Hermione felt? It’ll only get worse. I’ve got to get away before the Lestranges find me, get back to the library at Grimmauld and find out how to break the damn thing! First Malfoy, then Ollivander, now this: is that what Riddle did with all his Horcruxes, gave them away as gifts? ‘Here, have a piece of my soul for years of faithful service. Oh, and do watch out for the dark curse.’ Sodding bastard. Pity I can’t just stab this one with a basilisk fang and be done with it!

He Apparated to an alley off Mornington Crescent: the closest deserted location to Grimmauld Place. If I’m not bloody lucky this time, I’ll end up with more than a blackened hand. If Dumbledore got himself cursed like that trying to break just one Horcrux, how the hell did he expect me to get rid of all the rest? Harry peered cautiously out of the mouth of the alley. Seems quiet tonight. Hope no one saw me. Got to be more careful. There’s so much I’ve still got to do.

Hang on, is someone there? What’s that sound? A car? …A door?

NO! Apparation! Death Eaters!

As if to illustrate his fear, a tall, dark figure materialised out of thin air next to his hiding place. The stranger was cloaked, but the hood was lowered. Bellatrix Lestrange’s heavy-lidded eyes gleamed darkly as she stared down at him. Harry drew breath to curse her, but a sudden, sickening wave of disorientation burst from the cup, pouring through him from the hand that gripped it. His mind blurred and slowed, his body reeled, his eyes unfocused, and even his tongue was thick and imprecise: he’d barely managed to slur out the first syllable before Bellatrix’ “Petrificus Totalus” hit him and he fell, his entire body locked rigid.

A slighter figure appeared at Bellatrix’ side. Her face was hidden, but the long blonde hair spilling from the mouth of the hood left her identity in no doubt.

“At last,” said Narcissa Malfoy. “The Dark Lord will be pleased.” There was a triumphant smirk on Bellatrix’ sinister face as she stepped aside to let her sister pass. Mrs. Malfoy raised a long, dark wand, too large for her slender fingers. When she spoke the Killing Curse, the burst of poisonous green blinded Harry into oblivion.


Harry woke with a dim sense of surprise. If this is the afterlife, then I’m in hell; it hurts too much to be anything else! Maybe I’m still alive. Did she miss? Harry stared at the tiny pits and flaws in the concrete he was lying on – I’m still out on the street – then managed to turn his head with an effort and a groan of pain. Someone must’ve lifted the Petrificus.

He blinked in disbelief. Bellatrix’ body lay sprawled a few inches away, an indistinct dark lump on the footpath.

Mrs. Malfoy crouched next to her sister, picking up her fallen wand and pulling the sleeve up Bellatrix’ limp arm to bare the Mark, dark against her pallid skin. She muttered something long and complicated under her breath, touching the tip of Bellatrix’ wand to it. The Mark flared bright green, but then the green died, swallowed by a burst of blue flame. The flame surged suddenly higher, devouring the body down to a pile of grey ash in mere seconds. Harry closed his eyes against the grisly sight; even as close as he was, he felt no heat from the unnatural blaze.

He didn’t get a chance to wonder what would happen to him: at once Mrs. Malfoy marched over to him, seized his limp arm in two sharp-nailed hands, and hauled him to his feet.

Harry’s breath went out of his lungs in a moan. His mind was too full of pain and disorientation to let a single thought form; his body felt as unresponsive as Bellatrix’ corpse. He sagged helplessly against Mrs. Malfoy, stumbling as she pulled him toward Grimmauld Place. Dizzy, he collapsed against her shoulder as she halted by the overflowing rubbish bins of Number 11. Shabby Number 13 followed next.

“Fuck,” she snarled under her breath.

Harry was too dazed to care. The world spun as if everything was already going down the drain. Failed, he forced the thought past the dizziness. Least when I’m dead the pain’ll stop.

She seized his shoulder and shook him hard, sending his head lolling back and forth: the added dizziness was too much and he vomited abruptly, spraying both of them with bile. “Wake up!” she cried fiercely, “Where is it?”

“There,” Harry’s arm jerked up and waved, imprecise as a marionette in the hands of a child; he slurred with a tongue that felt as thick as a sponge, “NmbrTwelv.” Don’care. FUCKitHURTS! C’n have th’dump. Sirius! Mum’n’Dad! dawned dimly in Harry’s addled mind; he clung to the idea. If I let ‘er in, I’ll see ‘em sooner. He leaned weakly against the scratched, shabby door, and fell over the threshold into darkness, as limp as a corpse falling into an open grave. Good.


Where am I? The pillows smell like that awful, fruity stuff Hermione always put in her hair. I’m still in Grimmauld, right? Gotta be. Dunno anywhere else where the curtains’re that doxy-eaten. Which room? Nightstand, mirror, something black and shrivelled – Hearts? – No, just dead rosebuds. Loads of tiny perfume bottles. Must be the room Ginny and Hermione stayed in. They said Kreacher tried to move all this rubbish from Sirius’ mum’s bedroom into theirs, after Buckbeak stayed in her room and made a nest out of her gowns.

What happened? And how much did I drink? I never get drunk. Ow! Shit, that HURTS! My head’s already throbbing; I don’t need you making it worse.

Another painful prod sent hot pokers through his mind. Stop bloody prodding me! …Huh? Mrs. Malfoy?

His head was lifted and Harry choked on something cool and tasteless. Poison? he wondered for one brief, terrifying second. No, only water. He managed three gulps and pushed away the glass.

“Who else can get in here?” a voice murmured near his ear.

“Just me. Even the Floo’s blocked.” With a sick pang he realised what he’d just given away, and who he’d given it away to. No escape now. Even the Order members hadn’t been able to enter Grimmauld ever since Sirius’ will was read to him. Urgh, still feels like I’m drunk. Was that Veritaserum? But it doesn’t work that fast. Does it? With a frantic effort, he forced his drooping eyelids open. He couldn’t make out much in the dim light, but he could just see the corners of Mrs. Malfoy’s lips curling in a very unpleasant smirk.

“Lie still,” she ordered. Then his glasses were dropped unceremoniously on his chest.

Harry fumbled them on and squinted, trying to make sense of his surroundings as his vision cleared.

Mrs. Malfoy sat at his bedside, like a hospital visitor instead of a Death Eater. Though she looked cross, she wasn’t acting much like the woman who’d stormed out of Madam Malkin’s rather than spend a few minutes in the same shop as him. Questions crowded his mind; he summoned his strength to croak out the most pressing. “Why’d you kill your sister?”

“I’m not Narcissa, you cretin,” she hissed before snatching up a bowl of foul-smelling yellow goo from the bedside table and dipping his hand into it. It felt slimy and cold and horrible but at least it didn’t hurt, so he let it be for the moment. “Should’ve let you lie there and be dragged off to the Dark Lord. My life would’ve been much simpler for it.”

When she’d picked up the bowl, she’d knocked over a hipflask that was also sitting on the table; its cork had been dislodged and as Harry watched, a grey, muddy substance oozed out.

Harry hadn’t seen the yellow goo before, but he knew that grey sludge. It was the same stuff Hermione made, the same potion Slughorn showed them on the first day of term: Polyjuice.

As if echoing his thoughts, Mrs. Malfoy’s body wavered like a mirage. Her hair and eyes darkened as tremors ran over her face, turning her delicate features harsh and ugly. Black eyes glared hatefully down a hooked nose. Greasy hair hung like limp curtains around a cruel face: the face of a traitor, a murderer.


Harry screamed, incoherent with fury as he lunged. His hands curved into strangling claws around Snape’s throat.

They fell, grappling – Harry forwards, Snape backwards – hitting the wall with a sharp crack. Panelling, Harry wondered, or the bastard’s spine? He wrenched himself free and backed away, yelling “Accio wand!” without much hope. But a dresser drawer flew open at once and his wand zipped through the air toward him; he snatched it out of thin air like a snitch and turned it on Snape. Snape’s eyes had a sinister, dangerous glint to them. His long body coiled on the floor like a cornered serpent, readying for the final, maybe lethal, strike.

“Bravo!” Snape’s mouth twisted in a smug smirk, and then the git declared in his classroom voice, “You’ve finally managed the basics of wandless casting. Now you might last, ohh, a whole ten seconds against the Dark Lord!”

“Yeah, you sadistic shit.” Playing the teacher won’t save you anymore. “Wanna bet it’ll only take me five to send you to hell?”

“I see you still haven’t learned anything else,” Snape sneered, “Not even how to tell your allies from your foes. And here I thought Dumbledore taught you better than that.”

The Headmaster’s name felt like fuel thrown on the fire. “Don’t you dare say his name! He trusted you, traitor!”

The accusation rang out like a death knell. In the choking silence afterwards, Snape’s wand hand moved snake-fast and SECTUMSEMPRA! Harry didn’t even have time to say the curse; it resonated through his mind and into his wand which was good ‘cause that prick deserves to be cursed with his own invention and holy shit!

Snape was flung backward by the sheer force of impact as Harry’s spell hit him with a sickening wet crunch. Like a rag doll he sprawled, amid the ruins of the nightstand and a clattering hail of small round phials of Mrs Black’s perfumes-potions-poisons. Down the right side of his chest a gash gaped, as deep as an axe-blow.

Fuck, is it supposed to be that deep? What’ll I do? Still got his wand. Is he dead? Not even twitching. Wait – there. His head moved a bit.

He looks disappointed. In me? What’s he got to be disappointed about? He always expected me to fail…

Shouldn’t Snape want me to fail?

Oh shit has he stopped breathing? What’ll I do? What’d he do? How’d he heal Malfoy? What the fuck was that chant? Potions book, music notes, wish I could read music. At least I remember the words: Mens sana, corpore sana, sempre sana, fiat sana… Or was it sano? Dammit!

Blood already soaked the entire front of Snape’s robes, saturating the dull wool, black on black. Harry was only sure he wasn’t bleeding darkness because of the spray of red dripping down the side of his face and off the point of his nose. He slid his hands around Snape’s shoulders and lifted him a little, to try and keep him from drowning in his own blood. Snape’s eyes had rolled up in their sockets; his head lolled almost as if his neck was broken. The rusty reek of gore washed over Harry, heavy and hot, and his throat closed in a wave of nausea. He fought it down and tried to sing the healing chant, tried his best to imitate the tune he remembered Snape singing over Malfoy’s body. He thought at first that it wasn’t working, but then the sickening bleeding was stopping, and Snape’s lips moved.

“Why did he trust you?” Harry cried, wanting to shake Snape, but not quite daring to do so.

Instead of answering, Snape rasped feebly, “Y’can’t carry a tune in a bucket.” Harry had to lean down to catch the next words: “Listen. Follow…” and a faint humming: the melody.

The tune sounded simple. Harry tried it. There was a wet, suctioning sound and Snape winced and choked, coughing up blood. Harry rubbed at Snape’s rough-stubbled jaw to clear away the spray of gore. There was a much smaller gash on one side, as if his jaw had caught the upper edge of the same axe-swing that had split his chest. It’s nearly closed. So the chant’s working.

Snape’s head still lolled limply. Looks like he’s too weak to even hold it up. Harry slapped him, even if it was with much less strength than he’d meant to use. That made Snape look up and Oh, shit, Occlumens! Harry thought. Snape didn’t even blink. Too late! An image was pushed into Harry’s mind – a green bottle, in some dark and narrow cupboard – along with the wordless knowledge that the bottle held a healing potion.

Why did he trust you, you murdering fucker? Harry flung at the invader.

Mental fingers riffled swiftly through Harry’s memories, just like he’d paged through the Half-Blood Prince’s notes, and stopped on one particular scene: himself, standing in the Hospital Wing, telling Professor Lupin and the others that Dumbledore had trusted Snape because he’d expressed remorse. The last image – Lupin’s disbelieving expression – lingered in Harry’s mind’s eye. Over it he heard the merest whisper of thought, threaded through with a tang of irony. Do you really think Grindelwald’s killer trusted me just because I asked him to?

THEN WHY? roared Harry. But perhaps he’d used a little too much force. Or maybe Snape was underhanded even in the mental realm: whatever the reason, the contact was broken as Snape slumped against Harry, out cold.

Prick! Just had to have the last word, and without actually saying anything! What do I do now? Focus! I’ve got to make sure the wound’s closed. Got to keep him alive. The potion in the cupboard! He must’ve wanted me to get it. Either that or he’s completely delirious.

If I splinch trying to Apparate to somewhere that doesn’t exist, I’ll kill him!
Harry gripped Snape’s shoulders to him. Which won’t be hard: all I’ll have to do is sit back and let him die. At least he’s lighter than I thought. Hell, he’s skin and bone under this lot. Harry winced at the clammy feel of Snape’s robes, heavy and sodden with blood. He cleaned the worst of the blood with a quick “Tergeo”, then he concentrated on that cupboard in his memory. Hope it’s real!



The memory was of a real place, after all: not quite the Potions storeroom Harry had expected, though it was almost as dark and cramped. Actually, it was a kitchen, and not even a wizarding one, judging by the battered old gas stove. The warped wooden cupboards lining the walls looked like they’d survived a fire and a flood. A rickety old table took up most of the middle of the room, leaving only a narrow path around it.

Harry dumped Snape in the only chair. Snape slumped over the table, lifeless, like the rest of the place.

The cupboards were dark, filled with cobwebs and a jumble of dusty jars and boxes. Harry dropped a few of them before he found the bottle that looked the most like the one he saw. Is it? Doesn’t matter! Harry hauled on a handful of greasy hair until Snape’s head tipped back, then poured the bottle down Snape’s throat. The potion stank of iodine, and Snape spluttered and coughed. Harry shrugged inwardly. If this bottle doesn’t work, I can always try some more. If the miserable shit lives.

He should do, Harry told himself after a pause. Unless I accidentally poisoned him. But who keeps poison in their kitchen? Still, Harry argued with himself, I suppose Aunt Petunia kept rat poison in hers, but… OWfuck! Harry banged his hip on the edge of the table for the umpteenth time. “Th’hell is this shitheap?”

“Snape Manor,” a faint, mocking voice rasped behind Harry. “What’d y’expect?”

Harry jumped and whirled, banging against the damn table again. Manor? If this dump’s a manor, then Grimmauld Place is a castle! Huh, looks like I found the right bottle after all. He grabbed Snape by the shoulders and shook him roughly. “Look at me!”

Instead of obeying, the git actually had the nerve to close his eyes, shutting out any attempts to penetrate his thoughts. “If even I couldn’t train you to Legilimens your way out of a wet paper bag,” Snape husked, “what makes you think you’ll see the truth, when Voldemort himself failed?”

Harry jabbed his wand against Snape’s neck. “For two cents I’ll finish you off, you bastard!”

“If you kill me,” Snape whispered, “you’ll never find out why.”

Yeah. The arsehole’s right, damn him!

“If only he could see you now: the one he loved above all others,” Snape’s voice was still dry and weak, a far cry from the insinuating satin Harry remembered, “about to commit murder.”

Harry felt Snape swallow, the Adam’s apple shifting his wandtip; by way of reply, he dug it a bit further into the soft skin of Snape’s throat.

“One student-turned-murderer was quite enough to serve his purposes,” Snape croaked. “He wanted me to save Draco from sharing my fate; do you think he would’ve wanted less for you?” Snape opened his eyes at last, and looked up at Harry, but there was no hint of Legilimency in his weary gaze.

“Why would you even care?” Harry cried.

“Care?” Snape gave a dry, sardonic huff. “Good question. No one else does. Or did the Order never bother to tell you about the phoenix Patronus that’s been relaying intelligence to them for months?”

Just when I think I’ve figured him out, he throws something like this at me, and it doesn’t make any sense! He’s a bloody traitor! He’s not supposed to say things like this! Harry’s eyes narrowed in mistrust. I shouldn’t believe a word of it! But his wand hand wavered, just a bit. He knew Snape felt it through the tip still pressed to his throat, though the sod was careful to stay still.

“Did you think the Headmaster could still cast a Patronus?” Snape returned Harry’s jabs, with words instead of a wand.

The bastard’s probably playing me. Just trying to make me doubt his guilt, to distract me and… But what if he’s telling the truth?

“Right,” Harry spat abruptly, “Prove it!” I’m probably going to regret this, knowing that prick. He tossed the wand he’d confiscated from Snape onto the table, and backed away, watching him and keeping him at wand point all the while. “Cast.” Harry gripped his own wand tighter, and stepped out of Snape’s line of fire, just in case he tried a nonverbal spell.

Snape scooped the wand off the table as slowly as if it weighed a great deal. For a long moment he just sat there, with his head lowered and the wand cradled loosely in his lap. Clearly Harry’d given him too much credit. Snape’s face was drawn and pallid, his head still down when at last he raised the wand. When he spoke, it sounded more like a plea than anything Harry’d ever heard him say.

“Expecto Patronum.”

The sallow light that followed was bright enough to fall harshly on the dark circles under Snape’s eyes. Then the phoenix – a copy of Fawkes, in ghostly gold flame – settled on Harry’s shoulder, just like the living bird used to do with Dumbledore.

Harry gaped at it; in his shock he forgot all about Snape. Impossible!

It crooned once, low and mournful, and dimmed in a wash of warmth. With Snape’s Patronus gone, the drab, unlit kitchen only seemed even more dreary and Muggle. In the gloom, Snape slumped even lower in his seat, wand lax in his fingers. His head was bowed almost to his chest, and his hair had fallen forward, shrouding his face. He whispered, in tones as dry as dust, “Satisfied?”

Am I? Harry lowered his wand and crouched in front of Snape. “Are you all right?”

Snape’s lips curled back like a cornered dog’s, baring teeth as yellowed as any cur’s. The dry, recurrent jag in his breathing that shook the bony shoulders was a pretty strong contender for Humourless Laugh of the Hour. Harry remembered quite a few of these coming from his own throat.

“Unless this is the antechamber to hell, then I’m alive. I suppose that qualifies as ‘all right’.” Snape husked. “It’s a damn sight better than I expected to be, two seconds after you summoned your wand.”

Harry spared a brief glance at the wreck of the kitchen; he had to admit that most of the wreckage had been caused by his own rapid search. Back in the Potions classroom, just one dropped phial would’ve made him go completely spare. Now, it’s like none of this mess even exists. Is he out of it that badly? “This place doesn’t quite look like hell,” Harry said finally, “but you do. Is there an actual bed in this ‘Manor’ of yours?” he tried his best to impersonate Snape’s mocking delivery of the word.

“Upstairs.” Snape braced himself with a hand against the table and gathered himself for an attempt to stand. As he began to move, he bared his teeth in a silent snarl. Harry watched him, wondering if the freshly-sealed wound and the still-knitting bones would come undone with the effort, and Snape would fall apart right there, his chest hacked open like a carcass in a butcher shop.

Is he even going to make it? Should I get out of his way or… or maybe even help? I’d rather pat a cobra! But he looks like he hasn’t got a single drop of blood left. All thanks to that curse. The one I cast. Shit! If Ron or anyone normal’d just been carved up like that, they’d be whimpering with pain or passed out by now, and I’d be taking them to St. Mungo’s. I don’t reckon that healing spell worked perfectly: I’m no mediwizard. I’m just lucky it worked at all.

Hesitantly, Harry offered an arm. “I can… maybe, er – if you want.”

“Gnngh.” An irritable shard of sound forced past clenched teeth.

“What?” Harry asked, but Snape apparently ran out of the energy to clarify and folded sideways, strengthless as a scarecrow. Harry took it as a ‘yes’.

“Sitting room.” Snape’s jaw clenched as if choking down cries. His greasy head lolled against Harry’s shoulder. His pallid skin was sheened with sweat; his breathing was shallow and rasping. He’s worse off than I thought. If only the bull-headed bugger’d said something, instead of waiting till the last second to collapse!

“Bookcase,” Snape gritted out.

Harry nearly dropped him. Bookcase? He’s half dead and he wants books? He’s bloody mental, worse than Hermione! Harry slung an arm around Snape’s scrawny body and held him up. “Hang on. I’ll… we’ll get you there.” Somehow.

The sitting room was even darker than the kitchen, like a large cupboard with a sofa and a table, and a cobweb-shrouded lamp empty of candles. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases lined all four of the bloody walls. “Which bookcase?”

Snape reached for one, his pale hand as bony as a Dementor’s claw. At first Harry thought he was getting a book, but then one of the bookcases swung open with a creak, and behind it was a staircase, narrow and steep. Oh, brilliant. How am I supposed to get him up all those stairs?

By the time Harry did, he was cursing his own curiosity more than ever. Life would’ve been so much easier if I never wondered why Dumbledore trusted the sod. Ironically, he was no closer to an answer.


Harry watched Snape until his breathing evened out. Then he stumbled back down to the room filled with books. Snape’s ‘Manor’ felt even more Muggle than the Dursleys’ house, but it was far more cramped and squalid and shabby: a mere two-up-two-down row house by the looks of it, with enough dust and cobwebs to give Grimmauld Place a run for its Galleons. If not for the odd book out of place on the bookshelves and the half-finished bottle of elf-made wine in a corner of the sitting room, it would’ve looked unlived in: if anywhere as old and rundown as this dump really qualified as living space. Harry looked around for clues, in futile hopes of solving Snape’s riddle, but the house revealed no more about its owner than the owner himself had.

He poked his head into the kitchen, picked the scattered potion bottles up off the floor and put them back in the cupboards.

The cupboard he’d used as Apparation coordinates was wide open and nearly empty, apart from a pencil drawing thumbtacked to the back of one door. He hadn’t noticed it before, in his frantic search for the right potion, because its paper was so yellowed it blended into the cupboard’s bare wood.

Strong, caricature lines showed a stern-faced woman in a hastily-sketched Muggle jumper with a toddler sitting in her lap. The toddler stared at the locket around her neck, fascinated by its shine, and his hands tugged at the locket’s chain, twisting it round tiny fingers and tangling the chain into a knot. Harry blinked. A knot like that should’ve been impossible to make on a chain without a clasp.

The woman stared sternly down her sizeable nose. Her lips moved. Harry had to lean closer just to hear the words: a whisper barely louder than the crackle of paper. “Tsk! Put tha’ back th’ way t’ was.”

The infant stared up at her, his dark eyes wide. Defiantly, he tugged on the knot – just the right size for a small hand to hold – and used it to wiggle the chain up and down. “P’itty!”

The woman hmphed. “Aye, s’a ‘pity’ yeh’ve already got a mind o’ yer own, innit, our Sev’rus?”

The mother and child in the sketch traded proud grins. But besides that yellowed old scrap of paper, Snape’s kitchen seemed just as unlit and unlived in as the sitting room.

I haven’t had anything to eat in ages. I don’t suppose Snape’d mind too much, under the circumstances. Not that I’m about to ask; that’ll just give the mingy bugger a chance to say no. A few more cupboards later, Harry realised that the kitchen contained far more potions than food. They seemed organised, but in a way that would’ve driven his house-proud Aunt Petunia mental. Maybe some of those bottles and jars had something edible in them, but Harry couldn’t tell by looking whether that white powder was sugar or poison and come to think of it, Snape’d be just the type to keep a thousand different poisons at hand, so Harry wasn’t about to risk taking a sniff of the stuff, much less a taste. He saw tea earlier in a bag next to the stove and the kettle was sitting on one of the burners. He had to pour out its contents first and Scourgify everything twice, including the teapot, before he felt game to make himself a cuppa.

As he drank, he wondered. Should I check on him? Make sure he’s not dead? Or leave him be and get out? Has he got any more healing potions around here? He searched through his memory for the bits and pieces of mediwizardry he’d picked up from his frequent visits to Madam Pomfrey. I probably should go up at least once before I leave.

In the next hour Harry re-measured the sitting room one bookcase at a time, looking for a book that might contain healing spells. The dingy Muggle surroundings seemed to sap the magic from the very air, like a Dementor. Nothing. Dammit! He kicked the bottom shelf and jumped back immediately.

Did that book just growl at me? First sign of magic round here since Snape’s Patronus. He bent down and there was just the sort of book he’d been looking for: The Healer’s Helpmate, tucked in between Magick Moste Evile and Antient Bewychements et Charmes. Harry smiled at the familiar cover, just like the one he remembered seeing in the Burrow. He found a spot on the couch where the dislocated springs seemed less bumpy, and started reading. After a fair attempt to learn more about healing than what he knew from his past trips to the Hospital Wing, he closed it and headed for the stairs.

They were rickety enough to give a catburglar nightmares; the last one creaked so loudly in the silence that Harry jumped and nearly tumbled all the way back down.

He peeked through the open door at the bed. Its occupant was so silent and still Harry began to worry he might’ve died. But after a while Harry picked up the sound of faint breathing. He couldn’t quite help a bit of a relieved sigh of his own. He stared for a while longer, trying to decide whether it was safe to leave Snape alone, and then took a step closer.

Now that he could see Snape’s face, he could tell Snape was awake after all, watching Harry like a hawk through distrustfully narrowed eyes. He didn’t speak, so Harry didn’t either. There were no chairs, so Harry gathered his courage and sat on the foot of the bed, opening The Healer’s Helpmate. “This says I” – he glanced down at the page and quoted – “‘have to check if the bones knitted properly’…” He glanced up, cautiously gauging Snape’s reaction.

Snape looked about as happy as a Bowtruckle faced by a lumberjack. He tensed and glared as Harry tried to pull his ripped robes apart to check for injuries. It’s a wonder he’s not snapping at my hand like one of Hagrid’s pets. Through the gashes in fabric, the uneven scar looked swollen and sore.

“I wasn’t quick enough to heal it.” Harry winced. “It’ll probably stay that way.”

Snape stared at him in disbelief. His hands moved abruptly, shoving Harry’s away from his chest, before gingerly peeling back the cut halves of his shirt. There was a net of old scratches and scars on his chest: some were almost as wide as the raw slice of Harry’s Sectumsempra.

Bloody hell! Looks like another scar’s the least of his worries
. “Er. D’you want anything? Food? Water?” He thought back to the contents of the kitchen cupboards and hoped that Snape wouldn’t ask for anything complicated.

Snape stared warily. There was a flicker of something almost like hunger in his expression, but he hid it at once behind a scowl. “I ‘want’ you,” he quoted derisively, “to piss off! Now that you’ve salved your precious Gryffindor conscience by patching up what you broke, I refuse to be your pet project any longer!”

“Fine!” Not without satisfaction, Harry slammed the door on his way out. The bastard’s obviously better: he’s already back to his usual shitty self. Slimy sods like him would probably survive the world’s end. Stuff this for a lark, I’m off! With that, Harry Apparated back to the quiet alley off Mornington Crescent, and walked to Grimmauld Place. The shabby black door of Number Twelve had already become familiar to him over recent months. As he opened the door, the serpent knocker twisted itself briefly into a new shape: a silver heart.

After the Muggle drabness of Snape’s dwelling, even the dark, sinister magic of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place felt refreshing. The candelabra in the front hall hissed its joint welcome: silver runespoors twined in pairs in their cobwebby nests. The portraits along the wall gave quiet snores. The shrunken elf heads along the stairway seemed to have waited for him to return: some ogling him, some frowning, and others sticking long tongues out and blowing raspberries. One disgruntled troll head in the middle – half the size of the house elves surrounding it but with a snout just as large – sniffed disdainfully. Perhaps the troll was small-headed to begin with, or its head had been over-shrunk. It always sniffed, and Harry didn’t know if the troll didn’t like the view of its hollowed-out leg being used for an umbrella stand, or if the sobby elf head above it – bawling and leaking tears – gave it a permanent cold.

I should probably clean Snape’s blood off the floor, before the rugs develop a taste for human blood. Bad enough they chewed through my boots. But he didn’t have enough energy left for a single spell much less a long trip up the stairs, so he didn’t go further than the front hall. Serpent-shaped door handles gleamed and flicked their silver tongues, hissing: pick me, pick me! Curtains lifted from their portrait niches and windows as if borne on unfelt breezes, to flutter and brush against his robes. Grimmauld Place welcomed him with creaking floorboards, swirling dust motes, and probably many more bloodstains in its upstairs rooms, Evanesco-ed or covered up with thick Persian rugs. The persistent silvery mould in the hall blended in with the constantly swirling dust motes. The mould had its own favourite spots: lightly framing the frayed curtains, climbing up the carved legs of the tables, filling in damp niches in wallpapered halls that hadn’t seen light in decades.

The mould never touched the library books. When Harry entered the library and drew a deep breath of that still air, he noticed it smelled different from the rest of Grimmauld Place. It wasn’t any fresher, but it was drier; it had its own exotic scents of papyrus and parchment, ink and leather. The book covers gleamed as if late at night all the grimoires gathered in pairs and threes, and lovingly groomed each others’ spines like cats with their tongue-bookmarks.

Here, the world made sense, even if everything that’d happened outside in the past twenty-four hours – his Sectumsempra, Snape’s disappointed glare, Snape’s Patronus, Snape’s shabby little row-house with its crooked kitchen cupboards and wall-to-wall bookcases – was a complete mess. Here, Harry could forget that he’d almost become as much of a monster as Voldemort, that he’d come far too close to killing someone, without remorse. Even if that someone was Snape, even if he deserved it. That’s what Voldemort does. I never want to hurt someone like that again, and not feel a thing.

When Harry sat with a book on his lap, thinking of what all these page-rustling volumes got up to when no one was watching, he smiled, careless and genuine.

“M’sorry,” he told the books as they glided off the shelves to his feet, as light as paper planes. “When I tried to give you away to Mrs. Malfoy. I mean, not her: Snape. The Snape Mrs Malfoy. Or maybe the Mrs. Malfoy Snape.” He thought about it for a while. “Mrs. Snape-Malfoy? Oh bloody hell! S’just. I didn’t mean it, all right?” The books rustled agreeably and nudged at his ankles like affectionate cats.

It felt like coming home after a long day.

Chapter 2

See Saw Margery Daw
Johnny shall have a new master

Every one of Grimmauld’s magical defences prickled uneasily through the soles of Harry’s trainers as he crossed from the library into the main hall.

“Ssh!” he stroked the handrail of the staircase, trying to soothe it like a restless thestral. But the wood creaked and groaned with unknown grudges and bristled with a million splinters. Harry jerked his hand away. “What’s the matter?” he grumbled aimlessly at the ceiling. “Y’weren’t this bad even right after I inherited. Yes, you’re being lived in again, get used to it!”

Something scuttled in response behind the skirting board. A serpent candelabra on a rickety table jittered like a rattlesnake.

Harry hmphed and traced the fifth mark, for Hufflepuff’s cup, in the dust of Mrs. Black’s sleeping portrait, just to spite the whole bad-tempered bloody Place. He winced; headache and nausea lingered, as persistent as a hangover.

“Up already?”

Harry whirled, startled by the venomous, surly drawl from the direction of the staircase behind him. Snape! How’d he get in? No wonder the house was acting up: it wasn’t angry, it was trying to warn me!

“Kneazle got your tongue? Well, now that you’re at least semi-conscious, I suppose we can begin.”

“Begin what?”

“Remedial Potions.” Snape strolled down the stairs, giving Harry the same haughty sneer he always had in the classroom.

Get a load of him! Cheeky sod! What happened to ‘piss off, Potter’? “Remedial what?” Harry did a mockingly exaggerated double take. “Oh, yeah, very funny, ha-bloody-ha! What’re you gonna do if I don’t want any damn lessons? Give me detention? Y’know what, we’re not at Hogwarts, you’re not my teacher, you’re not welcome in my house, so you can just sod off out of it! I’ve got better things to do than listen to you.”

“Potter,” Snape spat Harry’s name as though it was an insult, “your ‘manners’ are only exceeded by your aptitude for learning.”

“So? Go whinge to the Headmaster!”

His way upstairs was cut off, so Harry turned for the front door until strong fingers twisted his ear sharply and yanked him back against a bony chest.

“Do you think this is a joke?” Snape hissed into Harry’s abused ear. Harry stumbled back into the portrait niche, sending new swarms of dust motes billowing from the curtains.

“Lemme GO!” Harry roared, twisting in Snape’s grasp, but it held.

Underneath the grey layer of dust, Mrs. Black’s eyes snapped open and she screamed “INVADERS!” Then her dust-blurred stare went from Harry to Snape and her screams abruptly stopped. She peered. “Oh, Severus.”

Bloody typical, Harry fumed. Should’ve known those two evil gits’d get along.

Snape eyed Harry and tapped the side of his mouth with one finger, as if deep in thought. “Let’s see, shall we? Should I allow you to run free and compromise my cover the first time Voldemort decides to rummage though your minuscule mind? I don’t think so.”

“There’s still one more Horcrux out there! I need to find it.”

“Seems to me, all you’ve managed to do so far is to almost get yourself captured. I’m surprised you lasted a day on your foolhardy treasure hunt.”

“That’s all you know! I’ve got to destroy them all!”

“You’ve ‘got to’ stay right here, until you learn to keep your mind closed.” Snape told Harry flatly.

Greasy bastard’s probably pissed off that I got to see him at his weakest, Harry scowled, and now he’s taking it out on me.

“I spent years waiting in servitude.” Snape continued, “You can damn well wait a bit longer and learn.”

“Learn? From you?

Yes! Who better to teach you the skills you’ll need to defeat the Dark Lord? Now will you stop…”

“Severus?” Mrs. Black’s portrait interrupted suddenly. “Have you seen Regulus?” She sounded so normal, Harry couldn’t’ve been more surprised if she’d asked Snape about the weather.

Harry tried to shout the portrait down. “You show up here and think I’m going to do what you say like a good little boy?” He glared furiously and took one step closer, itching to punch Snape right in that bloody big beak. “Just who the fuck do you think you are?”

But Snape never even glanced away from the portrait; he stepped up to the frame, shoving Harry completely aside. Harry’d never seen him, or anyone stare at a portrait like that: as if a ghost had suddenly floated out of the canvas, and Snape had no idea what to do about it. “No,” he finally murmured, quiet and careful, “I haven’t seen him. Not for eighteen years.” He raised his arm and gently rubbed the sleeve of his robe down the entire canvas, cleaning it of dust (and Harry’s Horcrux tally) in one stroke. He absentmindedly wiped the worst of the grey, feathery dust off his sleeve and drew himself into a more upright stance, by a sudden clutch at the curtains. His face had gone sickly pale.

“Come along, Potter,” Snape said softly. “We have work to do.”

“Work?” Harry stared at him. Snape rising from the dead would’ve been less shocking than Snape chatting politely with Mrs. Black’s portrait and pestering Harry about lessons. Just yesterday Harry had seen him get carved up like a Christmas goose. Yeah, and I was the one doing the carving. Hastily, he shoved that last thought aside. “You’re gonna keel over where you stand. How can you even be walking with that…” He gestured at Snape’s chest.

“That’s none of your concern.” The contrary sod sidestepped so swiftly, it was as if Harry’d drawn a wand on him. The movement ended rather abruptly with Snape leaning against the wall. He glared irritably, refusing to let on that he hadn’t meant to end up like that all along.

Stubborn git! He’s going to fall, and even if he doesn’t break his neck I’ll still have to stop the yeti skin in the hallway from trying to maul him. Harry imagined the woolly beast chomping Snape’s nose off in one bite. Maybe I won’t stop it after all.


The hall Snape marched him into was in perpetual twilight: the grey, furry dust on the windowpanes dimmed the light. A row of heavy curtains covered alternating windows and mirrors with similar frames. Occasionally they switched places: more than once when Harry tried to look out a window only his own reflection stared – and startled – back.

But now when Snape approached one of the niches and parted the curtains with the tip of his wand, there was no mirror or window inside. Instead, on a cracked pedestal with a cobweb-anchored base, there was a basin of black marble: as glossy and free of dust as its base was not. Harry was almost convinced Snape had snuck it in while he was sleeping, but the family crest on its curved front – greyhounds supporting a shield – indicated otherwise.

“What’s that for?”

Instead of a reply, Snape dipped his hand in and pulled out a handful of squirming, wiggling worms, no thicker than a hairsbreadth. He threw them down on the dimly lit strip of rug, where they stilled and dissipated with a hiss. Pensieve memories, Harry realised, as Snape repeated the task several more times. They must be years old. Each time the memories looked like a hair knot dripping with grey slime. Snape examined the bowl carefully and then used his wand to extract one silvery, wiry strand of thought from his temple and guide it into the bowl. Occlumency, Harry groaned inwardly, and here I thought I’d never have to suffer through another lesson again. As far as I’m concerned, the paranoid git can hide all the thoughts he wants. See if I care!

On the opposite wall hung the portraits of Blacks long dead: captured amid the excesses of wealth and fashion: miles of silk and satin and even more lace than fabric. The oldest portraits were frozen forever, even their magical existence expired when the charms finally faded away; others, on the verge of fading, took their decade-long naps; and the newest, only a few centuries old, moved freely in shiny gilt frames. They were the ones that glared at Harry or each other when he ran too fast by them or knocked their frames askew.

Some of the portraits talked, like the bloke Harry’s age, who never stayed in his own frame for long, abandoning it for neighbouring canvases. He looked a bit like Sirius, only Harry suspected Sirius never would’ve been caught in such a swotty pose: poring over Hogwarts: A History open in his lap as he sat on a stack of thick books. Mind you, for a portrait, he’s pretty good company. Wonder if he ever gets bored, with only sleepy old relatives around?

“Well?” The impatient question distracted Harry from seeking out the bloke and waving at him. “I don’t have all day.”

Harry blinked. Snape gestured at the bowl.

“Y’mean you want me to look at your thoughts?”

Sometime this century, one would hope.”

Harry shrugged and stepped closer, looking in. He cautiously dipped one finger in, then the wiggling strand of thought grabbed him and he was tumbling deeper and deeper in. It would’ve been great to see some sort of explanation of why Dumbledore thought Snape wasn’t an utter arsehole, but instead Harry landed somewhere already familiar: an alleyway not far from Grimmauld Place. A slender figure in a dark cloak – Mrs. Malfoy – crouched in the shadows of the rubbish bins, spying intently into the dark.

The real Snape landed silently in the memory and stood, wand out, beside Harry. Mrs. Malfoy held the same dark wand in her slender hand. She impatiently clawed her fine, blonde hair back out of her face. Polyjuice, Harry thought. “Did you kill her?” The question got out before he could stop it.

“Surely not!” Snape snapped. “I haven’t harmed a hair on her head.”

Harry looked round and saw an especially unpleasant smirk on Snape’s lips. I’m trying to understand you, you prickly sod, really trying. But you’ve just got to make everything so damn difficult!

There was a movement in the alley, and Harry saw his memory-self stumbling slowly through the shadows. It was a shock, to see himself in a way he’d never seen himself in a mirror: skinny and sickly, with the shaky, twitching walk of a spider. Even Harry’s grip on the cup seemed feeble, as if the thing had weighed like a stone. Bloody hell! I look half dead! Was I really that worn out? Harry frowned stubbornly. No! No, it’s got to be ‘cause this memory’s Snape’s. Typical of his twisted mind: seeing me in the worst possible light.

“Idiot,” muttered Snape, almost as if he’d overheard Harry’s thoughts, but he was glaring at Harry’s memory-self instead. “I’d Apparated there just seconds before. I deliberately made a hasty job of it: my arrival must’ve been clearly audible.” He rounded on the real Harry, “That sound alone should’ve been more than enough warning for you to flee, if only you’d paid attention!

Too late. With a dry pop, the looming dark shape of Bellatrix appeared right before memory-Harry. He fumbled for his wand, fell.

“There! You had ample time to Apparate away! But you didn’t even have your wand out, you cretin!” Snape hissed. ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ stalked over to memory-Harry who lay sprawled on the footpath, and Snape followed, dragging the real Harry with him.

“I couldn’t think!” Harry protested. “I was sick, everything was spinning.”

“Of course you were sick; you were holding a Horcrux in your bare hands! No doubt at the same time as your tiny mind was full of nothing but plans to destroy that very same Horcrux. Doesn’t the great Harry Potter know even the most basic facts about defensive curses: that their two most common triggers are proximity and intent to attack?”

Harry winced at the green flash of the curse that caught Bellatrix square in the chest. The next moment Snape’s words caught up with him, and the discomfort of a moment before, sharpened into a more painful, personal fear. “It cursed me?”

Snape peered at ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ as she kicked the cup away from Harry’s limp grasp. It bounced once with a tinny clang, rolled, and came to rest beside Bellatrix’ body. “Of course. The cup’s curse resembled acute alcoholic poisoning. Another few minutes of direct skin contact and the process would’ve been irreversible.”

“And I’d be dead,” Harry breathed.

“Of cirrhosis of the liver,” Snape replied with a certain degree of ghoulish enthusiasm as he and Harry followed ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ back to Bellatrix’ corpse, “But by that time your brain would’ve been so badly damaged you probably wouldn’t have noticed.”

Harry gulped.

“Do you understand now, just how fortunate you are? Horcruxes are not to be trifled with!”

“But they can be broken.” Harry said flatly. He thought back to Dumbledore’s blackened hand. That was a curse too, wasn’t it: from the ring. If even Dumbledore couldn’t manage to reverse the damage, then… “How’d you do it?”

“Sacrifice,” Snape’s reply was as calm as if he were reciting instructions during a lecture. “To destroy the soul-fragment a Horcrux holds, a similarly large loss is required.”

Harry blinked. “What do you mean?”

“Sacrificial magic: a life for a life, a soul for a soul.”

Less than an arm’s length away from them, ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ pointed her wand at the cup, encasing it in a glowing bubble. She chanted; quick, harsh words that caused a silent, angry flash of an explosion within. When the light dimmed, there were only shards of twisted gold. There was something strange about the way they floated, lining the edges of a precise sphere: as if some invisible bubble was the only barrier that kept them from flying apart like shrapnel. It seemed ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ couldn’t maintain the barrier for long. With an audible crack, the protective bubble disappeared. The shards rained down on the footpath, and as if compelled by some magnetic force slithered closer together; ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ doubled over them, as if their curse affected her too. Yet she knelt on the footpath at Snape’s and Harry’s feet, collecting the shards one by one, and with every one she touched her gloved hands shook more and more, as if with some horrible palsy. Huddled into herself and swaying, she crouched over Bellatrix’ corpse and tilted its head up.

“Fortunately for both of us,” Snape murmured, “Bellatrix found you before the curse had time to really get to work on you. And I’ve never been one to waste… resources.”

Harry watched as ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ pressed the shards of the cup, one by one, into the mouth of Bellatrix’ corpse. A particularly long shard protruded from between her teeth, and for a moment Harry saw a golden badger’s paw twitch and writhe against her slack lips before ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ shoved it further in. Harry swallowed against a wave of nausea. “Are you mad? What were you doing to her, you sick bastard?”

“Shut up,” Snape snarled, “and be thankful I lacked the time to perform the traditional ritual: opening the chest cavity and packing the remains of the Horcrux around the sacrifice’s heart.” As more and more of the shards were tucked away, ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ seemed to gain strength again. When the last one was safely out of sight, ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ closed the corpse’s jaw with a click of teeth and staggered to her feet, clutching her wand.

“Why are you showing me this?” Harry cried.

“So you can see exactly what you did wrong, and hopefully, how not to make the same mistakes again.”

“Dumbledore still got himself cursed. Did you murder anyone to save him too?”

Snape’s eyes narrowed. His face was unreadable. Harsh. So different from the man who just yesterday summoned a phoenix Patronus to prove his allegiance.

“What did the ring do to him?” Harry asked quietly.

Behind the rubbish bins, fire ate away Bellatrix’ body. Snape turned away from Harry to watch it: lurid blue flames glazed the black mirrors of his eyes.

“A Horcrux for a Horcrux,” Harry persisted. “I’ll answer your questions if you answer mine.”

Snape turned abruptly on his heel and strode toward the flames, as if determined to immolate himself on Bellatrix’ pyre.

“Wait a minute! Where’re you going?”

Too late. Snape’s walking silhouette faded out of the pensieve, leaving Harry alone inside the memory. And as ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ dragged his memory-self’s swaying, stumbling weight inside Grimmauld, Harry surfaced from the memory too.

He turned away from the bowl of silvery liquid, expecting to see Snape walking out the door, but instead a summoned scroll of parchment hit him square in the face. A black quill flapped after the scroll and hovered over Harry like a vulture.

“I want three feet listing all of your mistakes that night, and the three best ways you could have avoided each, by tomorrow.”

Three feet? Bloody hell!”

“And not another word out of your mouth unless it’s a wandless spell.” Snape loomed, every bit as menacing as Neville’s Boggart. “Speaking of wandless spells…”

Riddikulus, damn you! Harry thought. Why not? No other curse seems to affect the miserable sod. This one didn’t affect him either, of course, but spite gave Harry enough hope to keep him from doing in reality what he’d been doing in his dreams for years: hexing Snape to bits in the middle of his latest insult-laden lecture.


“I’d rather deal with a herd of raging erumpents than another hopeless halfwit. I distinctly remember having more sense than that when we were young.”

Twelve-year-old Regulus peeked over Sirius’ shoulder and shrugged; Sirius gave a charming grin and tweaked the fringe combed over Regulus’ ear. Sirius couldn’t have been older than six when he sat for this painting; perhaps that was why his portrait managed to escape Walburga’s wrath unscathed, the way his name on the tapestry had not. The fact that Sirius’ canvas was hung in an inconspicuous corner of an out-of-the-way stairwell must have helped.

‘Sirius wasn’t anywhere near as bad before he went off to Hogwarts,’ Regulus always used to say; but the only Sirius Black whom Snape himself had ever known was a bully and a braggart. Snape deliberately glared over Sirius’ head, his gaze fixed only on Regulus as he muttered: “Your mother’s asked about you. You should pay her a visit.”

Regulus shook his head and backed into the shadows near the edges of the frame.

Snape arched a menacing eyebrow. “She’s worried about you. Go on.”

Regulus rolled his eyes and shoved Sirius off the tall chair he’d been perched on, before taking off. Snape watched him run from frame to frame down the stairwell, rousing his sleeping relatives. As he watched the still-rambunctious child, Snape wished that – even when he had been a child himself – he could have felt the childish belief that things would work out for the better.

How good it would be, for one brief moment, to believe that there was still a way out for him: that everything he’d sacrificed (his good name and his future) and everything he’d become (the monster he’d been most terrified of turning into) and everything he’d done to keep an incompetent wretch safe from the Death Eaters (a thankless and despicable chore that no one among the living would ever acknowledge) would not be in vain.

Oh, but it was in vain. All of it.

Severus Snape no longer felt any hope for the Wizarding World. Whatever chance he himself might’ve had for a future was as dead as Dumbledore, but he’d realised that back when he’d first been told of the Headmaster’s plan. Since then, he’d had the time to… if not exactly accept his fate, at least to stop constantly tormenting himself with it. But his last spark of hope for the future of his world had died when Potter – regardless of the disorientation he’d felt at the time – had invited the wife of a known Death Eater into the former headquarters of the Order.

Tantamount to suicide. Dumbledore would’ve been horrified. Even when Potter was still determined to fight, he never stood a chance of survival, not on his own; but now, no one opposed to the Dark Lord has a hope, if the idiocy I saw from him yesterday was any indication.

In an effort to stop himself from simply giving up and putting the little bastard out of everyone else’s misery, Snape had left Potter stewing and pretending to write, and had gone to do some exploring of his own. Inevitably, his restless wanderings led him back to the library, with its endless aisles of bookcases towering overhead and its scent of parchment and paper, leather and wood, wax and webs. The floor was dustier than before, but other than that it was just as he remembered: clearly the books were still willing and able to look after themselves. He knew this room and its occupants like the back of his own hand; he’d known it almost as long as he’d known Hogwarts’ library, and the memories associated with this place were rather better than the school. The whole collection here would’ve qualified for the Restricted Section at Hogwarts; yet here there’d never been any prissy Madam Pince to get in a huff when he exercised his boyhood knack of making friends with even the nastiest-tempered grimoires.

Perhaps the books knew a kindred spirit. Even now, as he wandered down the aisles lost in reminiscence, the volumes were riffling their pages and bouncing on their shelves in shameless bids for attention, rather than simply leaping off to bash out his brains or eat his limbs. As he walked he stroked his fingertips softly along one leather spine after another, and the susurrus of parchment sounded like delighted sighs as the books shouldered each other aside to crowd to the front of their shelves.

The sound and the waft of musty air brought a particular memory to the forefront of Snape’s mind. Himself, still in uniform, having skived off from his first Hogsmeade weekend with Regulus. Sitting at the foot of a bookshelf, grimoires sidling slyly off their shelves and plopping to the floor left and right, so they could huddle up against his sides, leaning into him like cats angling for a scratch. He was only dimly aware of Regulus sitting across from him and watching with a smile, as he patted Severus’ Monster Book of Monsters (which tended to get jealous). For his own part, Severus was almost completely absorbed in his communion with the large and leathery volume currently filling his lap. Its parchment rustled happily under the scratching of his quillpoint as – drunk on knowledge – he scribbled obsessively in the grimoire’s margins.

As always, any moments of happiness or peace in his life – then as now – were doomed to interruption by the powers that be. “What the devil do you mean by it, boy?” roared Orion Black as he strode down the aisle toward them, “Defacing my volumes!”

Severus remained still and looked up, daringly, but inwardly he cringed: the shouting reminded him of his own Dad when he got into one of his vicious moods. Dad was bad enough, and he was only a Muggle; who knew what an angry wizard could do? He’d laughed when Regulus had told him how furious his parents were when Sirius had sorted into Gryffindor, but right now, he didn’t feel like laughing at all.

Mr. Black snatched the grimoire away from him as if it, not Regulus, was his favoured son, and scowled down at the minutely-annotated pages. The scowl shifted to a blink. Severus held his breath.

“Oh, I say, that’s rather subtle,” Mr. Black muttered under his breath, before glaring at Severus, “Chimera venom? Are you quite sure?”

Severus nodded, not daring to reply aloud. Regulus bragged once that his dad was nothing compared to his mum at doling out punishment when Regulus himself got in trouble, but right now Regulus’ dad was terrifying enough.

Mr. Black harrumphed. “Get up, boy. Up, I say!” Severus (reluctant to disturb the books huddled up to him) hadn’t moved quite quickly enough. Mr. Black seized him with a hand that closed entirely round his scrawny upper arm, and frogmarched him down the aisle to a locked escritoire which loomed only slightly less ominously than a volcano, and whose pigeonholes, Regulus had once assured him, would eat any bird, up to and including ostriches. “Sit down, boy. Sit!” Mr. Black ordered, dumping Severus on the seat in front of the escritoire as he unlocked it. “Here’s some proper quills and ink, so you can write legibly.”

Severus let out a sigh and exchanged relieved glances with Regulus, but after that day he vowed never to write notes in anyone’s books but his own. In the long run, his belated caution hadn’t mattered: it hadn’t stopped Regulus’ father from bragging about ‘his heir’s best friend, the Dark Arts prodigy’ to the Lestranges and the Malfoys, and from there the rumours hadn’t taken long to reach the ears of the Dark Lord.

Snape dismissed the memory with a headshake. No matter how happily any of his memories started, sooner or later they all led back to Voldemort.

A worn leather spine nudged against his fingertips; Snape glanced down and nodded hello to an old friend. He lifted the volume off its shelf and into his arms, his spidery hands turning its pages swiftly as he searched for a specific reference. His finger paused and he lit his wand, reading intently in the brighter light. For a while, he thought over what he’d read, as his fingertips stroked the wrinkled cover by way of thanks. In reply, a red ribbon bookmark curled around his fingers like a pup’s tongue. At last, he closed the book, and gave the tall aisle of shelves one last parting look, before turning quickly and striding out, carrying the book in his arms.

It’s high time that ingrate learns to do his own research. Whenever I try to teach him anything, he’s furious enough to power a Cruciatus. Ahh, if only hatred alone were enough to kill. If it were, Voldemort would’ve been dead for good, before you’d’ve even heard of him, boy. I’d’ve personally ensured it.


The git’s mental, and he’s slowly driving me that way out of sheer spite: it’s the only possible explanation! Harry had spent an entire evening checking every nook and cranny, combing though Grimmauld’s wards, ensuring the whole Place’s cooperation so that no one, not even Snape – especially not Snape! – would slip in through the cracks somehow. The next morning, instead of an alarm just slightly short of a siren, Harry was woken up by the sound of distant knocking.

As he staggered downstairs struggling his way into a shirt, he could hear it was coming from the front door.

He opened it and peered out blearily through a haze of dirty lenses and bedhead and general morning muzziness. Snape stood there on the doorstep, as calm and collected as if he was paying a courtesy visit on the Blacks.

“About time!” he spat, instantly ruining the calm facade. “Do you have any idea how much risk it was to…” He strode inside and slammed the door shut. “Out of my way.”

Harry should’ve known then, that this would be the final straw. But it wasn’t yet. He lasted longer: about two hours into the lesson.


“Focus, dimwit!” Snape hissed for what seemed to be the tenth time.

“I am,” Harry grated out, sparing a moment to think, Yeah, and ‘focus’ you too, you sarky shit, before gripping his wand tighter and trying to visualise the spell in his mind: Impedimenta, Impedimenta!

“Honestly, of all the idiots I’ve taught – and there’ve been far too many of those – you have to be…”

‘What?’ Harry wanted to yell, ‘The only one desperate enough to put up with you?’ But he stuck to his resentful silence, knowing that if he bit back, then Snape’s rant would only last longer.

“…the most scatterbrained of the lot. I wonder if you’ve managed to include a single actual thought in the three feet you wrote.” Snape stuck out his hand for the scroll; when Harry didn’t summon it immediately, Snape’s expression somehow managed to become even sourer. “You did do as you were told, didn’t you?” he inquired in a thoroughly pessimistic drawl.

Harry didn’t answer. What was there to say? Three feet? He’s off his chump!

Snape let the resulting silence drag on before erupting suddenly, “I don’t believe you! What do you…” The sentence trailed off as Snape’s angry flush faded with startling suddenness into a deathly pallor. Only then did Harry spot the clawlike clutch of Snape’s fingers, digging into his forearm. “I’m summoned,” he hissed through gritted teeth. “I expect you to use this reprieve productively, and have your homework finished by the time I return.”

All thought deserted Harry, leaving only a twist of fear behind. Harry had never even thought about what Snape did when he wasn’t invading Grimmauld Place. He’d certainly never wondered whether, after everything that had happened, Snape was still spying on Voldemort. “Are you gonna be back today?”

“Good question,” Snape snapped. “Would you like to come along and ask the Dark Lord yourself?”

Git! He didn’t have to mock me.

Snape Disapparated from the front door, his expression tight with anger, his skin still pale, his hand still clutching his forearm. I reckon even if he’s in Voldemort’s good books for his last murder, he still gets the same summons as everyone else.

‘I spent years in servitude,’ Snape had said to him that first morning. Years! I don’t understand how anyone could do that. I’d go spare just from the waiting. Put in those terms, it was almost too easy to think of Snape as a normal bloke like Harry: sick to death of it all, but hanging on anyway; just waiting for Voldemort to be gone, for everything to be over. Only it’ll never be that simple for Snape, ‘cause as well as Voldemort he’s also got the Aurors and the rest of the world to worry about. But that’s his problem, Harry reminded himself with a frown, not mine.


Snape crashed into the wall, elbows striking stone one painful moment before his spine hit. His head tilted back, his teeth clenched behind his mask in a silent snarl. His woollen robes were stifling hot; if it weren’t for the mask, the torch would have burned his face, set his hair ablaze. The dull point of Macnair’s fire-heated blade gouged into his shoulder, sizzling and smoking as it carved his flesh, reopening the old wound, retracing the scar as a reminder, his own particular brand of shame to bear.

He directed all of his strength to maintain Cruciatus-weakened Occlumency. Focus. Disconnect. Life was pain; he’d learned that lesson so thoroughly and so long ago that it didn’t really trouble him. Only his body cried its instinctive, animal protests. He let it do so on its own; as he had done too many times before, he left the cruel current reality behind, in favour of a dark, quiet corner of his mind. There he hoarded, more jealously than any dragon, the few pleasant memories he’d ever known.

The Quidditch stands were bloody freezing. In the two hours of the game, the sleet quickly turned to snow. As a final insult, when the Gryffindor Git shoved Narcissa Black out of the way to get to the snitch, stealing sure victory from her, only the green and silver quarter of the stands booed the cheating thug.

“It’ll be all right.” The firstie trailing after Severus back to the castle sniffed into his scarf. “Well we’re better than they are anyway! We’re Slytherins.”

“Slytherins?” Severus turned around and glared down his nose at the unfortunate sprog. “Do I know you?” he drawled. Severus did know, of course: who could forget the spectacle of the Sorting Feast, and the firstie who craned his neck to stare at the Gryffindor table every chance he got. Inexcusable, older brother or not. The chance to bring nosy, Pureblood know-it-alls like this one down a peg or two was too good for Snape to miss.

“Regulus Arcturus Black. Of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black,” the firstie declared, in just the sort of toffee-nosed accent that got on Snape’s wick something fierce. “Officially that is. But you may call me Reg.”

Resentment seethed in Snape: at silver-spoon-sucking gits like the Blacks and the Potters, at the stands full of Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws (they at least should know better) all cheering on those cheating Gryffie bastards; resentment at the whole damn world. His ‘ugly-Muggle’ face twisted into a particularly vicious snarl. “Well, Black,” Snape spat, throwing the implied offer of friendship right back into “Reg”’s face, “Lemme tell you summat ‘bout th’ Houses.” He was surprised to find himself shaking with the sheer force of his pent-up rage: abruptly the simmering resentment boiled over and he roared, “It’s SHITE bein’ in Slytherin! We’re th’ lowest o’ th’ low! Th’ scum o’ th’ fuckin’ Earth! Th’ most wretched miserable pathetic trash ever shat out on th’ Wizardin’ World!”

The firstie gaped at him, flabbergasted, but Severus was too far gone to care or even notice his reaction, or who else might’ve been listening. Borne away on a frothing torrent of fury he ranted, “Y’d reckon ah’d hate Gryffindors, but ‘appen ah don’t. They’re just wankers. We, on th’ other hand,” Severus waved one arm at the pitch, “just let ourselves get thrashed by wankers! Can’t even find a decent team t’ get beat by. Nooo, we gotta get our arses handed t’ us by effete gobshites like Potter an’ your fuckin’ brother, while th’ rest o’ th’ school cheers th’ bastards on!” He kicked the ground and a pebble flew from under his boot, round and bouncy, about the size of a snitch. “Nah,” he sneered, in a low, bitter growl, “Slytherin’s a shite House t’ be in, Black, and all th’ pure blood in th’ world,” he positively spat the word ‘pure’, “don’t make a tinker’s fart worth o’ fuckin’ diff’rence!”

The firstie stared up at him, awkward and blinking, and it was so obvious the kid had missed two words out of three. But what else could be expected of Mr. Pureblood Pride when hit by a rant like that? Especially when – after all Severus’ efforts to lose it – the Tyke accent had crept back into his speech like an oil stain, until it was just as thick as Dad’s in one of his drunken rages.

This little Pureblood prat would never know why Severus had begged the Hat last year to sort him into Slytherin. How could a spoiled little sod like him ever understand the bitter truth: that though Mam could’ve altered her old third-year robes by hand to fit her eleven-year-old son, she didn’t have enough bloody magic left for a single spell to change the green trim to Ravenclaw blue. So, Severus reckoned, it was either Mam’s House at Hogwarts, or back to Muggle school for him.

Of course this rich kid’d never understand. So he’d just dismiss Severus as an ugly Muggle-tainted git, like all the rest.

But instead of the contemptuous look Snape expected, the firstie gave him a wide smile. “Call me Reg,” he repeated, and then he actually had the gall to reach up and pat Snape on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, the Gryffindors will get what’s coming to them, you’ll see.” he confided in contented tones. “Cissy’ll be positively livid, and she’s mean when she’s got a grudge. All my cousins are,” he added proudly. “I say, do you know where the library is in this place?”

Severus boggled down at the cheeky brat. “C’mon.” he muttered. “I was going there myself anyway,” he added, to save face.

Perhaps it was worthwhile cultivating a firstie shadow, if only to stick it to Sirius Black. He and his gang would be belching slugs when they saw Black’s precious ickle brother following Snivellus around. “Didn’t your cousins show you where the library was? Oh, wait, of course, they’ve got house elves to get their books, and probably to read them for them as well.”

He took Regulus the long way, past the Restricted Section. It was against the rules, of course, but Severus wanted to show the brat what he was missing.

Regulus gaped at the chains attached to the thick volumes, reached out to tug at one of them. The book attached to the other end snarled. “It’s not right,” Regulus mumbled. “Keeping them all chained up like that. Books ought to be free.”

Severus blinked at that, but covered it up with a shrug. “I saw one of the books in here gnawing on a human clavicle last week. Probably a firstie about your size.” He stared meaningfully at Regulus, even though he himself wasn’t all that much taller.

“Can’t be human,” Regulus protested. “They only ever eat those who can’t read. I bet it was a house elf. My books ate one once.”

Your books.”

“Yeah. And Dad’s. We’ve got a library at home. Dad says it’s the best library of Dark Arts around. Enough for a dozen of this Restricted Section, and no chains at all.”

Boastful little bugger, Snape thought. Yeah, the Black’s’ve probably got a library but I bet it’s not all that good. “What kind of books, precisely?” About time I called your bluff.

“All kinds!” Regulus puffed out his chest and started to rattle off titles. “The Necrotelecomnicon. The Liber Paginarum Fulvarum: the deluxe edition, where the fingers on the cover really do the walking. Armageddon Some: Mass Destruction For Fun And Profit. How to Win Fiends and Inferius People. Culmuggles’ Herbal. The Oxblood Dictionary of the English Curse: the long edition, you know, the one with the Appendices. And the tails. And then there’s…”

The Joy of Hex?” Severus cut him off mid-list, fixing the boy with a cynical smirk.

“The illustrated edition!” Regulus beamed proudly up at him.

Severus gave him the smile of a shark. Perhaps there was another reason to let a firstie follow him about.

Somewhere far away Snape heard a cry of pain, weakened, hoarse: perhaps even his own. A boot thudded into his stomach and he folded up around the impact, but the pain was almost drowned out by stronger agony. On his shoulder, the brand burned.

One half. Unworthy. Disgrace. One half a wizard; one half a beast.

But Snape was not there anymore, not in that dark and dingy dungeon of a room. He was at Hogwarts: a surly boy with his forearm not yet sullied by the Mark, his shoulder unmarked by the brand. Still a Prince more than a Snape: at heart, he was free.

He spent hols that winter with Regulus, basking in the shocked and insulted glares of Sirius Black. For that reason among others, his stay there was the best Christmas present he’d ever had: worth every moment of the trouble he’d had explaining to Dad why he had to Floo to London, and what the Floo was. Amid all 666 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Satanica and a multitude of other, even more interesting volumes, Severus felt at peace; at home in a way he never had in the pollution- and conflict-poisoned atmosphere of Spinner’s End. He knew all of the authors better than family, since Mam had told him about them all his life. She spoke of people like Urquhart Rackharrow and Herpo the Foul far more often than she ever mentioned the family that’d disowned her for having him. He stroked the musty pages and thought, I could live here, in this library, with these books.

Years later, when Sirius Black was long gone from Reg’s house, Severus still stayed. He kept visiting under the excuse of seeing the famous library again. It wasn’t as if he’d had to pretend very hard. It was almost the truth.

The whole truth was Regulus: of fourth year and of fifth and that – something – between them. The thing manifesting in the scribbles on the margins, the notes hidden amid the pages, and this raw and comfortable sensation, as natural to Severus as his love for books, that took over his only experience in friendship and turned it inside out, taking on a new life.

“Hang on, Reg. Let me copy this at least.”

“It can wait.”

“And that… Hey, give me that back!”

“You’ve got the rest of your life to spend with your nose in a book. Relax. Mum’n’Dad are at the Lestranges’.”

“Reg…” Severus flipped the page. Underneath his most recent theory-scribble, another hand – a very familiar one – had written:

Dearest Severus,
I can’t stop watching your hands as you write.
I had the most exquisite dream last night…

By the next line, Severus blushed and was tempted to cover the single rotating eye on the book’s cover, and all of its ear-marked pages, to prevent it from seeing or hearing what Regulus’ writing and voice were suggesting.

“We’ve got this whole Place to ourselves.” Regulus breathed in his ear. And Severus knew that the library definitely wasn’t the reason he kept coming back.

Harry liked the staircase; he could read there by Lumos light without catching the disturbing whispers or clacks from the top library shelves, or feeling the draught that seemed to trail from one bookshelf to another for absolutely no reason but made the hair on the back of his neck stand up all the same. At times Grimmauld’s library was still a bit too creepy for his taste. Yet today there was a different reason for Harry’s hair to bristle like the staircase’s handrail in a bad mood.

It wasn’t enough for the bossy bugger to show up yesterday and demand three feet of homework; before he swanned out today he’d assigned (Assigned!) Harry a reading: some nasty book on Dark relics, which had a temper almost as bad as Snape’s and a taste for human flesh. The bloody thing had snapped at Harry’s finger five times in the first hour.

Harry wasn’t about to be caught napping by Snape again: figuratively or literally. He woke at first light and camped out on the staircase all morning, watching the front door like a hawk. Harry wasn’t one to sit still, so by ten, he was sprawling upside down on the staircase, his head on the bottom step, his feet up against the railing. “Let’s see if the words run to your Preface before the blood runs to my head,” he grumbled at the damn book. It rustled grumpily back at him, but at least it didn’t bite. By noon he’d finally trained it to trust him enough to stay open as he stroked its spine.

“‘Three feet listing all of your mistakes. Three best ways you could’ve avoided them. Three thousand points from Gryffindor for breathing!’” Harry mocked Snape’s scornful tone and snatched the flapping quill out of the air. The bastard had charmed it to follow Harry around. It was a strong charm too; the quill resisted Harry’s strongest Stunners, repaired itself, and when Harry tied it up with curtain cord, the damn thing just sliced right through it with its nasty sharp nib, leaving the curtain looking very down indeed.

“Detention with Filch until the end of term, Potter!” Harry spat the name as he groused to himself in an unnaturally low tone, curling back his lips from his teeth in a parody of a well-remembered sneer, “I said slice finely, not mangle, Potter! On your feet and let me probe your mind ‘till your fucking head explodes, Potter!” Harry tried to take back the roll of parchment he’d given that horrible beast of a book (to distract it from chomping his fingers off) but the book wasn’t about to give it up easily, and it took a long and growly tug of war before the chewed end of the scroll tore. Luckily, Harry was left with the lion’s share: he smoothed out the war-torn scroll while the book groused and grumbled and gnawed its bit into confetti.

I’ll show that bastard! Harry spread the parchment over the book and scribbled: ‘First (and only) mistake: Ran into Severus Sodding Snape. Three best ways to avoid:’ Now, let’s see… ‘Invisibility Cloaks, skiving off Potions, keeping away from any dark dingy corner only fungus would lurk in…’ Bloody hell, how do I use up three feet just explaining the obvious?

A single candle had kept Harry company ever since he’d passed the entire flock sleeping round the biggest candelabra on his way downstairs. Now, when Harry was absorbed in a really furious scribble, the candle peeped around his elbow. Unfortunately, it leaned a tiny bit too close; its flame caught a torn corner of the scroll and spread like wildfire. Harry jumped. The quill flapped out of the way and the Beastie Book threw itself off his lap and thump-thump-thumped all the way down the stairs, coming to rest in a corner where it cowered with a Snape-like snarling curl to its pages. Harry waved the scroll around madly until the fire was out, then he glared at the sad and smoking scrap in his hand: the only thing left of his essay. Just as well, anyway, Harry sighed to himself, Snape would’ve set me on fire if he’d read that lot.

He squished the scrap of scroll into a snitch-sized ball and chucked it down the stairs. The book and the yeti skin both lunged for it, but the book snatched it out of thin air mid-bounce, devouring its catch with a chomp, followed by a satisfied belch of smoke and ashy confetti. The move was so startlingly agile from such a large volume, it made Harry wonder Did that book ever eat any of the smaller ones? If it had, would their text show up inside it, in an Appendix or something?

He was brought out of his odd reverie by the flickering and waning of the light. The tiny, quivering candle had sheltered behind him from all the commotion of the burning scroll; now Harry could see two clear waxy tears trickling down its front. It shied away from his gaze, trying to make itself smaller still by huddling down into its wax drip skirt. As a result, its flame diminished to a mere spark. “S’allright,” he found himself consoling it grumpily, “Looks like I’ve got loads of time to find another scroll. The greasy git probably never meant to come back soon anyway. He just wanted me to think he would. I’ve worked all morning and he isn’t even going to turn up!” Harry complained to the candle. It let out a long, smoky sigh of relief that Harry’s ire wasn’t directed at it, and its flame stilled, tired out from all the excitement.


Harry took to sleeping during the day. It was better to wake up to grim daylight instead of a dark, sinister house that creaked and groaned more than a haunted dragon carcass as Harry’s nightmares hit. He contemplated doing some more of Snape’s homework but even the thought of it sounded boring; he quickly said “Sod it,” and stretched out on the downstairs sofa, staring at the webs and cracks on the ceiling. The sofa’s armrest was soft and comfortable. The whisperhiss of the silvery serpents on the chandelier lulled him to sleep.

The only part of the Potters’ house in Godric’s Hollow left standing was the front door. A door to nowhere, it cast an ominous shadow across the ruins, like the sharp arrow of a sundial. It seemed so small and purposeless, without the house around and behind it. Harry picked his way toward it over the rubble: bricks and broken glass. At first, he thought there was a twig or a plant poking through the keyhole, but no – when he came closer, he could see it was a key. That’s weird. Still locked.

It didn’t seem right, after all these years – with all four walls crumbled and gone, like the residents within – that the door should still be locked, as if it was locking someone in, or keeping something out. Harry reached out for the key then, and turned it, or tried to. The key was stuck: and really, what else did he expect, after so many rainy seasons and winters of snow? But Harry hung onto it and twisted it with all his strength, because suddenly he couldn’t bear to see that particular door locked.

Harry awoke with the orange light of sunset streaming through the downstairs windows. The dream left him with a sinister and dark feeling of not being quite over yet. But it is over! The key was the first Horcrux we destroyed together. It’s gone for good. Harry remembered breaking it all too well.

With a sharp, brittle sound, the key snapped in the keyhole. Fuck! A deep gash in Harry’s palm welled with blood. It didn’t hurt at first. Just shocked him. In a burst of temper he shoved at the door, trying to push it open with all his strength. No luck. His hand left a gory print on the boards. It must’ve bled more than he thought. He shook his hand. “Hermione, c’mere.”

“What is it?”

Harry held up his wounded hand. “You’re good with healing spells’n’all. See if you can mend this?”

Hermione winced. “You’ve got to be more careful. And learn the basics! I can’t believe with all your trips to the Hospital Wing you haven’t even bothered to learn a simple – Episkey!”

Harry hmphed. His hand felt the same.

“Odd,” she said, giving her wand a tap. “Let’s try again.”

“Ow! Don’t poke it, just stop the bleeding,” Harry hissed.

“Oi, mate, what’s that?”

Harry spun around.

The place where he touched the door was hissing and black. A handprint. As if Harry’s mere touch was like acid, charring and crumbling the wood, like Quirrell at the end of Harry’s first year. A burn mark still spread with a poisonous hiss and smoke, like an oozing bloodstain.

“H-harry, this is as creepy as spiders!”

Ron stepped away from the door. But as Harry looked, it wasn’t the handprint that attracted his attention. It was the keyhole: as the remainder of the key disintegrated leaving the keyhole open. A beam of orange sunlight shone through.

“Ron, back away,” Hermione called out wide-eyed. “Something’s wrong … I think it’s a Horcrux. Think about it! Where better to hide something like that? And in Godric’s Hollow. Something of Gryffindor. Step away from that door!”

“S’OK,” Harry said. “I think the door’s fine. I think – I maybe sort of touched it. And the key broke. See?”

Ron was still pale after Hermione’s shout, but he took one look at the remains of the key in Harry’s hand, and beamed all over his freckled face. “Wicked! Let’s just hope the rest of You-Know-Who’s You-Know-Whats are that easy to break.”

“Ron!” Hermione rolled her eyes at him before turning back to Harry. “All right, let’s take care of your hand now.”

The scratch stopped bleeding after the second time, and scabbed over a few days later. It was rather slow to heal, sore and seeping blood. Harry shrugged it off. It didn’t hurt that much. “Thanks, Hermione,” he smiled. It was nice to have someone to count on.

Snape trudged up the narrow street, past the row of boarded up houses to the one at the end. He pressed his palm to the shabby door, hoping his exhausted magic was still strong enough for the wards to recognise. When the door opened with a screech, he half-stumbled, half-fell in.

Not having the strength to make it up the staircase, he toppled onto the sofa downstairs. Snape closed his eyes to block out the Muggle drabness and poverty of his childhood home, and took a slow, ragged breath of the mould-sour air, willing his racing heartbeat toward calm. He tried to shove the endless taunting litany of ‘half a wizard’ out of his mind, groping for something else, anything else, to think about. It was that or the temporary – and addictive – relief of Draught of Living Death, if he was to have any hope of getting even a few hours of more-or-less pain-free oblivion (not counting the inevitable nightmares, of course). He had to dig decades deep, but at last his inner search for peace ended, as it had done so many times before, back at Hogwarts: with books, with Regulus.

While the rest of the third-years were savaged silly by their books, Regulus’ Monster Book of Monsters lolled about at Severus’ feet with its pages spread shamelessly wide, angling to have its binding tickled.

“Stop screaming,” Severus ordered Regulus. “You’ll frighten it.”

“I’LL frighten IT?” Regulus squeaked. “Are you mental?” He waved his arms emphatically “It’d take the whole library of my grimoires to scare that one.”

The book snapped at Regulus with a warning growl, but when Severus glanced down at it, it quickly flopped to Severus’ side with a soft, page-rustling purr. Severus patted its cover with a smirk. “As I said…”

Regulus pouted as he glanced between Severus and the book. “Why didn’t you sort into Ravenclaw again?”

Severus thought of a surly firstie acting years older than he looked, worrying about his robes being the wrong colour, too ashamed to confess his desperate poverty or his mam’s near-Squib status to anyone, much less ask the teachers for help. Then he thought of all the good things: Potions, the Library – here and at Grimmauld – Mam’s old textbooks and all those new books. Being able to use a wand – even if it was Mam’s, even if they couldn’t afford a new one of his own – somewhere where Dad wouldn’t find him and go spare.

Severus’ glance inadvertently strayed toward the chair in the common room where Lucius Malfoy used to sit and hold court. The tall Prefect with the shining hair was long gone, but Severus remembered his first-year hero-worship like yesterday. Even now he stayed close to upper-years like the Lestranges or Rosier, hoping to catch any word of Lucius’ doings from them. “Less benefits,” he finally answered, and eyed Regulus in turn, smirking, “Why didn’t you sort with your brother?”

Regulus snorted and pretended to gag. “Same,” he said, and the gaze he turned on Severus was serious and affectionate and wistful. It was the same look Severus thought he might’ve had as a firstie, watching the popular, rich, impeccable Lucius stroll through the common room. Only Regulus was no ordinary firstie; Severus’d known that ever since his reaction – or lack thereof – to Severus’ rant. What he didn’t know was why Regulus – a Pureblood, a rich boy, more popular already in Certain Circles than Severus with his questionable heritage could ever be – would choose to look at him like he was just then.

Yet Regulus kept eyeing him with that soft, wistful smile, even when Severus looked down, hiding his confusion under the curtain of his dark hair. Regulus, he admitted to himself, makes Slytherin House bearable.

“I’m a Slytherin to the core, mate,” Reg said. “And so are you. Admit it.”

Severus looked up at him, and nodded. “Was there ever any doubt?”

Harry couldn’t sleep. He saw Riddle growing from every shadow during his nighttime wanderings through Grimmauld’s corridors, heard Voldemort’s sinister whisper in every Parseltongue comment from the doorknobs. He passed Walburga Black’s portrait and that was practically the first time he’d seen her act like a normal Wizarding portrait instead of a disgruntled dungeon ghost. Perhaps it was because she was focused on a boy no older than a firstie who was sharing her canvas; both of them ignored Harry completely.

“I hate my name!” the boy scowled. “Did you just stub your toe one morning, and think ‘That’ll do, I’ll just name him after my left foot!’”

“Who told you that?” Walburga asked. When she wasn’t screaming fit to beat a banshee, she had a rather pleasant, low voice.

“Sirius. He said that’s what ‘regel’ meant: a foot, a nasty, smelly one with big toes.” The boy glared down, as if contemplating the size of his own toes.

“You know better than to listen to your brother!” Walburga murmured softly. She bent down, holding a metallic tube with multiple cogwheel-controls and thin spidery legs. It was a wizarding telescope, and she aimed it off the canvas, possibly toward a window only those two could see.

“When I wondered what to name you, I went looking at my stars. There – keep it steady and point it over there by the moon. See that bright star in Leo? That’s Cor Leonis, the Lion’s Heart. Nicolaus Copernicus called it Regulus, for ‘Prince’.”

The boy peered, fascinated, through the telescope, then turned to look up at his mother’s face. His own face brightened. “Y’mean I’m not a foot?”

She smiled, which made her seem a decade younger. “No, dear. You’re not a foot.” She reached out, ruffling the boy’s hair softly. “You’re a star, about three hundred and fifty times brighter than the sun.”

Harry felt like he was intruding, so he went upstairs where the portraits were mostly asleep, so they couldn’t be bothered if he looked at them or not. Even the portraits in this place have got somebody. Never before had Harry felt so alone in the world. His previous life seemed so far away. He wandered aimlessly, on and on, as if he could return to that life just by looking around the next corner, or the next, or the next. But in his heart he already knew the truth: no matter how many corners he turned, there’d be no turning back.

Chapter 3

Ring a ring o’roses
A pocketful of posies
ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo
We all fall down.

Next morning, there was no sign of Snape either. But in the afternoon, Harry thought he heard voices on the second floor. He went upstairs and peered around the doorjamb.

Who could Snape be talking to? He poked his head deeper into the hall. There’s no one there but

“… just reads your old Potions text and forgets to eat for days. It’s rather sad, the way he wanders about like Mum’s old kneazle, the one that never got fed.”

… portraits!

…Portraits, and Snape, looking as dark and worn-out as the curtains. His head was turned away from Harry, facing the canvas on the very back wall. “Have you noticed anything unusual,” Snape asked softly, “Anything at all?”

That spying sonofabitch! How’d he get past me?

The bloke Harry always talked to (at least, when he was in his frame), perched on a tall stack of books and tossed back his wild mane of hastily painted hair. “Nothing really unusual. But I’m waiting for him to start gnawing on my library books. Or for the books to gnaw on him if he gets too weak.”

Harry held his breath and sunk deeper into the shadows, fuming. It was infuriating, how Snape just showed up and won over all the portraits’ trust before Harry even got the chance. Sirius’ mum, I can see. But why would that portrait help Snape? How would they even know each other?

“Why are you even teaching him?” the portrait muttered, as grumpy as if he was echoing Harry’s mood, “He doesn’t like you.” He pouted and flipped another painted page in his lap.

“I promised someone.”

“Is that all?”

“Besides the fact that I don’t want another young man to die a horrible death on my watch, yes. That is all.”

“Like me?” the portrait asked softly.

Tension filled Snape so that his whole bony body looked unforgivingly hard and brittle; but his expression – or what Harry could see of it past his lank hair – was softer than Harry had ever seen it. Even his voice was soft as he whispered, “Exactly.”

“Then you’d better keep an eye on him. You were always good at that.”

“Not good enough.”

The portrait gave Snape a look of exasperated fondness. “I’ve told you before, it wasn’t your fault.” A critical glance, “You know, you ought to start watching out for yourself too.”

“I always do,” Snape huffed.

“Yeah? I suppose that’s why you’re as pale as a petrified elf bum, and just as miserable,” the portrait declared with the superiority of a Pureblood know-it-all. “Grimmer than this Auld Place.”

Snape snorted and declared, “I’m not surprised you know what a petrified elf bum looks like.” Frighteningly, Snape’s manner was just as teasing as the portrait’s.

Painted shoulders shrugged, “Mum keeps about a dozen of them in the cellar, half with wiggling tails, half without: she wanted to replace Gran’s old head collection, but Dad wouldn’t let her. The only argument I’ve ever seen him win.” The two of them shared grins, then the portrait murmured, “So, look after yourself for once, all right?”

“I’ll consider your advice.” Snape replied tersely, cutting him off.

“When?” the portrait persisted, “Next century?”

“For your information, this century is almost over. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an idiot to teach.”

A snicker. “You sound even more like our professors.”

Snape drew himself primly upright. “I was a Hogwarts professor. How else am I supposed to sound?”

“Like someone who isn’t about to take points just for stating the obvious.”

Snape hmphed. “I never took points from Slytherin without good cause, and I’m not about to start now…” he paused, sniffed, and growled without even raising his voice, “Potter, stop eavesdropping this instant and get over here. With a spare day to wander about, I expect you finally gave your homework the attention it deserves.”

Harry bit back a sarky reply and stepped out from the shadow of the doorway. Even the portraits aren’t to be trusted. First thing I should’ve done is turn the lot of them to face the wall. That would’ve kept the spying sods in the dark. Who knows what secrets they’ve already babbled?


There were times when Harry still hated Snape, but unfortunately he hated Voldemort much more, so he had to put up with Snape in the meantime. I reckon we’ve made a deal. He hasn’t turned me over to the Death Eaters, so I probably shouldn’t kill him during lessons. He stepped forward, accepting his fate and expecting another unpleasant trip down the pensieve, yet as soon as he faced Snape’s piercing stare, he felt that annoying, probing invasion. Without any warning! That’s not fair! Bloody cheat!

Snape smirked. A flash of Cedric’s body lying on the cemetery grass was dragged up from the depths of his memories, vivid down to the last painful detail. Ooh, poor Potter, the already familiar mental whisper taunted snidely, did you expect the Dark Lord to play fair?

How is he, by the way? Harry taunted right back. Did he give you detention for being late?

But Snape’s mental voice was triumphant as he replied, Responding to provocation will only allow me in deeper. No matter how Harry struggled against it, the flashes and noise of Diagon Alley rose from the depths of his memory. The winding streets and the sunlit shop windows; the world seemed to shine again like the Wizarding marketplace as Harry, Ron, and Hermione, strolled down the street, delighted after their first victory.

“Disappeared? Rubbish!” the broad-shouldered bloke at the door of Quality Quidditch Supplies declared heartily. In the afternoon light, his sunburned bald head shone like a polished quaffle. “All last summer, he talked about taking a holiday, spending some time with his family. Son, I think.”

“Do you know where he might’ve gone then?” Harry ogled the Cleansweep Thirteen: Dirty Dozen advert in the window.

“Old family property, I reckon. Wandwood Glade. The Spanish oak for the Cleansweep line all comes from there.”

“Thank you. Come on,” Hermione elbowed Ron and dragged them both across the street.

“A pleasure, miss,” the man beamed after her. “Do come back.”

“Oi, wait!” Harry protested. “We didn’t even get to go in!”

“Harry, something’s very wrong – and would you forget Quidditch for one second! – Ollivander hasn’t got any children.”

“Yeah,” said Ron. “I doubt they made many improvements since their last release – mind you, there isn’t much to improve, the Cleansweep Eleven’s perfection! Er, I mean,” he glanced at Hermione, “Dad always said he was the last Ollivander in the long Wizarding line. We oughtta look into it.”

“Wandwood Glade, then,” Harry said. “Shouldn’t be too hard to find.” Who’d’ve thought, with school closed, this is almost like taking a term-long holiday. All that’s missing is a Florean Fortescue’s famous sundae. He stared longingly at the boarded-up windows of the ice-cream parlour.

“Might be even easier to find that place on a new broom!” Ron chimed in. “OW! Hermione, what’d you do that for?”

Harry laughed at his friends, but then a dark, taunting voice broke his carefree reminiscence into a million shards.

Still treating life like a game of Quidditch, I see. And Harry was back then, back in the hall at Grimmauld: scrambling up from his knees just like he had in Snape’s dungeon in fifth year. Snape pressed deeper and Harry was a moth, pinned down for study.

He gritted his teeth. With all the mental defences he had, Harry shoved. Sod off! “Occlumens!” he hissed aloud like an insult.

Snape just snorted and slid his slimy thought tentacles deeper inside Harry’s mind, and no matter how much Harry didn’t want to think exactly what Snape wanted him to think, that particular memory overwhelmed his senses like a flood. The crisp, earthy smell of Wandwood Glade’s branches, the creak of the open door leading into the dusty shack, the bowtruckles buzzing from the treetops against the night sky.

The wand glistened in the moonlight. Carved with runes, it looked almost as brittle and sharp as the bowtruckle corpses strewn in a wide ring around it. Several still twitched.

“Just look at this! Is it… Rowena’s?” Hermione reached past the twiggy bowtruckles. “A Founder’s wand, here! Imagine that!”

“Maybe we shouldn’t…” Harry intervened. Who knows what happened here. Even the forester’s hut is empty. Only this one wand’s left out on the table. The dead bowtruckles’ limbs stuck out at unnatural angles, like broken twigs. Something was terribly wrong. “Wait! Let me handle this part.”

“No offence, Harry, but I think a Ravenclaw wand needs a more… bookish touch!” Hermione stared, mesmerised by the relic. “How fascinating: all those sigils.”

“Then let’s all try, the three of us together!”

“Harry!” Ron pointed somewhere past him. His face went pale. “Look!”

Harry spun. Ollivander was standing in the doorway: watery, moonlight eyes shone from a face as worn as oaken bark. His arms were outstretched like a bird’s wings protecting its young. When he raised his wand, hundreds more slid out of wand cases lining the walls all around them. Moving as one, they trained themselves on Harry, surrounding him, as menacing as stakes pointed at a vampire.

Instinctively Harry stepped between their attacker and his friends. “Get the Horcrux,” he hissed at them. Ollivander’s eyes went as wide as an owl’s.

Harry didn’t get a chance to see if Hermione took the wand. Branches of every wand wood imaginable – holly and yew, cherry and willow, ash and elm, ebony and birch – reached down from the log-covered ceiling like anacondas. They whisked Harry off his feet and upside down, coiling around him all in an instant as if intent on making him the core of one gigantic wand. They trussed him so tightly that he could barely breathe, much less raise his own wand. He dangled in midair, helpless to do anything but watch the scene unfold below.

He was just as helpless here with Snape, and just as before no spells came to mind, only a mindless litany of getoutGetOutGETOUT! And suddenly Snape’s presence was gone: in the world outside their minds, he stumbled back, as if he’d been physically shoved.

Harry fell to his knees. But still, he raised his head with a defiant glare. Whew! “Stay out of my head!”

“Pathetic,” Snape sneered.

“Pathetic?” Harry roared. “Kicked you out, didn’t I? So who’s the ‘pathetic’ one now?”

“Pathetic…” Snape repeated pointedly, “is your constant habit of not paying attention! Ollivander’s older than dirt! Your reflexes have to be faster than his! Once is sloppy, twice is a pattern of error, and that’s suicidal!”

The words stung. Perhaps because Snape wasn’t telling Harry a damn thing he hadn’t already told himself, over and over again. “We’re still alive!” he flung back, which was the only way nowadays that he could silence his conscience long enough to sleep.

“Yes,” Snape stated bluntly. “Only now both of your friends are squibs, all because you behaved like a careless cretin.”

Smug prick! Where the fuck does he get off, breaking into my mind and then slagging off at me like that? He wasn’t even there when it happened! “You think you know everything, you bastard, but you DON’T! It WASN’T my fault!”

“I know one thing: we’ll have to rid you of that unfortunate weakness before it kills you. Hexumbrae!” Snape hissed the unfamiliar incantation quickly and then there were shadows: six of them, rising all around Harry in a circle. The shadows grew and gained form: Snape’s billowing robes and his pale features. Each one glared at Harry. “You need to learn to focus on the right target.”

The shadowy figures slid and wove and stalked around him and in a moment Harry had lost track of the real Snape in the prowling crowd. “How’s that supposed to fix things?”

“Stop whining and focus,” one of them sneered. Harry spun around trying to figure out which one of them spoke, but they all spun like a kaleidoscope in front of him. “Seven targets, only one is real,” they said in unison, drawing their wands. “Figure it out.”

Spells of different colours and brightness went off at once. Harry ducked. Four hit the ground around his feet. Two went over his head. One hit his wand hand and went right through it. An illusion! Yet Harry almost dropped his wand.

“Next time I won’t miss on purpose.”

Ohshit, which one of them said that? One Snape’s more than enough to deal with. Seven of them? The world’s not ready!

“Come on! Do you think you can fight the Dark Lord by spinning around and making faces like a gibbering idiot? A mere squib could do better than this!”

Harry glared at the seven identical figures and clenched his fists. He’s mental! He’ll kill the pair of us, trying to teach things that can’t be taught. Ever since his first year, Harry’d thought Snape was a horrible git. That certainly hadn’t changed. In fact, in this Place, where nearly everything reminded Harry of Sirius, he seemed to feel a new depth of hatred: hotter, more prickly and personal. He wanted so bad to march up to Snape, shove his wand in that ugly mug and say the Killing Curse with less remorse than swatting a fly; only there were seven of the bastard and they all circled Harry, surrounding him with identical sneers. No way to tell which is real. “Give it your best shot. Now!” all seven snarled.

Harry swung.


Snape’s face collided with something solid and as heavy as the impact of a falling brick. He felt his nose crunch and, it seemed, indent itself through his skull, smashed with brute force. His vision flashed brilliantly white and went dark. Dull, throbbing pain flooded his brain; there was a blood-red blur behind his eyelids and a piercing ringing in his ears.

He gasped for air. His nose felt as if it’d swelled up twice the size in seconds. Snape blinked and forced his eyes to stay open, just to make sure that there wasn’t a second blow coming any time soon.

Potter stood there gaping at the illusionary doubles as they dissipated one by one.

This,” Snape inquired waspishly as he waved the blood away with a nonverbal Tergeo, “is your brilliant tactic for defeating the Dark Lord?” Crass little sod! He gave Potter yet another cold glare.

“Yeah! And why not?” the brat replied with smug satisfaction. “Like you said, he won’t play fair. He’d mind read any hex coming a mile away, but maybe he’d be so busy watching for curses, he’d miss me punching him in the face!”

Amateur. Fortunately it was far from the first time – and it almost certainly wouldn’t be the last – that Snape had a broken nose to deal with. He waved his wand and muttered three rapid-fire charms. The first one reset the bones, with a wrench that was every bit as bad as the initial blow, and the second dulled the pain somewhat. Both were strictly temporary stopgaps, until he could dose himself with healing and pain-relieving potions in private, out from under Potter’s overly judgemental eye. The third charm was a glamour to hide any swelling or bruising that might show between now and whenever he might eventually manage that moment in private.

The joint result, however, did look like an instant healing charm: pretty impressive for someone like Potter who surely wouldn’t know any better. He stood up, as dignified as he could manage, and squared his shoulders, refusing to succumb to Potter’s crude provocations. “Potter the Pugilist,” Snape spat. “At least the alliteration lends itself to an Heroic Title.” He studied Potter narrowly, reading his expression without quite crossing the line into covert Legilimency. “How did you identify who to hit?”

Potter rubbed his knuckles with a wince. “Lucky guess.” Unlucky’s more like it, his glare added mutely.

“The Wizarding World really ought to have a backup plan. At this rate, all the Felix Felicis in the world won’t help you defeat the Dark Lord.”

“It wasn’t all luck.” Potter narrowed his eyes.

“Then what was it?”

“They were all…” he waved his hands. “Lifeless, like shadows. But your cloak billowed. And that bloody chemical smell. Like the Potions classroom. Ugh.”

Perhaps the lesson wasn’t a complete failure, after all. Snape’s own nose, unable to detect any scent at the moment, nonetheless felt better.

“And then I looked around again, and your nose stuck out just the right way. I wanted to punch yours the most.”

Smug whelp. “Marginally acceptable. However, hit me again, and you’ll end up with far worse than bloody knuckles.”

“Fine,” Potter mumbled, gaze falling from Snape to his hand; he flexed his swollen fingers. “What the hell did you do, stuff a brick up your nose?”

Something about Potter’s right hand seemed wrong. “Let me see.”


“Your hand. Show it to me.” Snape seized his wrist and turned it.

“Oi, what the hell? Lemme go!”

At a first glance the nitwit’s hand looked as normal as a starved scarecrow ever could look. An old scratch stretched from wrist to palm across the – as Snape looked closer his heart sank – life line which wasn’t there.

Divination might never have been Snape’s strong suit, but he knew enough to know this was Trouble With A Capital Fuck. He drew an unsteady breath. “Give me your other hand. Now!”

“What is it?” Harry asked, worry ringing through his frustration.

On Potter’s left hand, the life line stood out wide and long, curving into the pulse point. Snape compared the two. The right palm looked empty, only the scratch against the smooth skin. “When did you get this?”

“Oh that,” Potter shrugged. “S’nothing. Just a scratch. Almost gone by now. What’d you think it was?”

Nothing,” Snape muttered.

“Whew!” Potter breathed. “From the look on your face, I thought I’d caught the plague, or leprosy or something. Could you not… look like that any more? And can I have my hands back now?”

Snape fought the impulse to smack the brat upside the head, just to see if his skull really was empty enough to echo. Instead, he lifted both of Potter’s hands, palms up. “Your life line.” he informed Potter, slowly and clearly enough that even he should understand, “Is. Missing.”

“…What?” Potter squinted. Blinked. “Wow!” he finally said, flexing his hand. “You’re right! Now you mention it, it does look weird. Doesn’t feel weird though. Why’d it vanish like that?”

Oh, just brilliant. Even Legilimencing the idiot won’t tell me anything, if he doesn’t even know what happened. Snape traced the line – or the smoothed out skin where it should be – with his wandtip. “Finite incantatem,” he grumbled without hope, and eyed the lack of change without surprise. “I’d say, because of a Curse: something potent enough to affect you directly. When did it first disappear?”

Potter’s face turned white. “Y’mean, like a Horcrux Curse. Like from the cup. C-cirrhosis?” His eyes were wide, his palm shook.

“Much stronger,” Snape examined the palm again. “Enough to change the course of your entire life. And cast subtly enough to go unnoticed. How did you get this scratch?”

Mutely, Potter stuck his hand in his pocket. He brought his fist up, then opened it to reveal a key of heavy bronze, fitting into the hollow of his palm like a keyhole. Snape looked closer: it was really only the handle of a key, broken off mid-shank. The design of the handle was distinctive, an ornate ‘G’. It was an all-too-familiar sight to Snape, even after all the years that had passed since the last time he’d seen it: in Wormtail’s hand (ironically, the same hand the rat would later sacrifice in another offering to the Dark Lord).

“No, please! NO! My lord,” Wormtail cringed. “I bring you a gift. A key, to the house where your enemies hide. In Godric’s Hollow.”

Voldemort’s eyes flickered as he examined the offered object. “Something of Gryffindor. I give you another chance and this is how you repay me?”

Wormtail desperately tried to occupy even less space.

“Get him Marked and get him out of my sight!”

Instinctively Snape pulled back, wary of touching the object Potter held so trustingly.

“There.” Potter said, gravely. “It scratched me when it broke. And yeah, it was a Horcrux! Satisfied?”

Calm. Be calm. Focus. The Horcrux is broken, though how the whelp managed that is beyond me. Broken, yes, but will it break him in turn? No wonder he’s been looking half-starved and half-mad lately, even for a scrawny whelp like him. He examined Potter critically. Lifeless eyes that had almost lost their colour. Pallid skin. Nervous and easily irritated. Snape pinched the bridge of his nose to ward off the headache he could feel building. “And you’ve only informed me of this NOW after how long?”

“Look!” Potter waved his arms. “I didn’t know! But now I do, and you do. So tell me how to fix it.”

Potter, you bloody idiot! “You can’t.”

Potter scowled like a firstie denied a chocolate frog. “So that’s your brilliant advice, is it? Just give UP?”

“I said you can’t fix it,” Snape corrected him calmly. “Curses like this one sink their claws too deep. You’ll have to fight it, every day of your life.”

Worry – almost an intelligent reaction, for once – flickered in Potter’s glare. “What happens then?”

Eventually, you’ll get tired of fighting it, and ‘give up’.” Dumbledore’s blackened hand came to mind too easily. “And then you’ll die.”

“Well, that solves everything,” Potter sneered, his face pale. “Is that what you told Dumbledore too?”

“Dumbledore did a damn sight better job fighting than a loudmouthed, arrogant brat like… Potter!” The boy staggered as if Snape’s harsh words had been physical blows. His legs juddered under him; before they could fold completely, Snape seized him by the upper arms, tried to haul him back onto his feet.

“Let go!” Potter exploded, stumbling out through the door. “Y’know what? Get out! NOW! I don’t want you here.”

Odds are the curse won’t kill him after all. I might just do him myself.


The portraits in the corridor cringed as Harry slammed the door. “It’s all his bloody fault! I never should’ve listened to him to begin with!”

He stormed down the corridor at full speed, and by the time he rounded a corner and saw the row of candles waiting for him, it was too late. He tripped over one and sent it flying, into a corner with a mouldy tapestry. It immediately began smoking where the flame hit.

“Fuck!” Harry snarled. “I oughtta snuff the lot of you before you burn the whole Place down!” He rushed forward to smother the flames with his sleeve before they really caught hold.

The flock of candles cowered in the corner, accepting the shaking, thrown one into their midst. They heaved a deep sigh in unison, and one by one dimmed their lights and stilled.

“Wait!” Harry cried. “I didn’t mean that!”

The candles didn’t respond, turning stiff and still as their wax cooled.


He retreated into Sirius’ room. Even now – when the whole Place turned grimmer and felt older than usual – in this one room it was as if a shadow of Snuffles loomed right before the doorway, keeping everything bad out. Harry pictured him, all bared teeth and growls, lunging and biting Snape, and it left him satisfied.

It’s all Snape’s fault. The spying, lying, slimy bastard showed up here all ‘perfectly normal’ and convincing, and somehow he slipped back into teaching as if I was still at school. Only he taught me loads more than he ever did at school and somehow he lulled me into thinking that things’ll work out OK, and I should’ve known better than to trust him like that! Should’ve known he had something up his sleeve from the start. Something bad. Like this. Should’ve known he was just waiting for me to let down my guard.

It’s so bloody frustrating! At Hogwarts there was always someone who knew just what to do: Ron and Hermione, the Professors, the Order. I could always run up to the gargoyle statue and Dumbledore’d be there.
Harry smiled a bit as he remembered Dumbledore and his warm, well-lit office with Fawkes, tea and sweets, and all the answers to Harry’s uncertainties. But his smile faded almost at once. Not anymore. Now there’s only Snape and the candles. But I’ve scared off the candles and I told Snape to get out.

When the door slammed shut, Sirius’ bedroom felt just like the cupboard at the Dursleys’. Harry didn’t have any light. He had his wand, but casting Lumos just seemed like too much effort. Instead he climbed onto the windowsill and stared down into the dark street below. Every crack in the old wood creaked. White chips of peeling paint stuck to his hands and trousers. He sat on the grimy windowsill and looked outside over the roofs and the narrow streets where only the streetlamps marked the way. Occasionally a car went by: a Muggle car on a Muggle road with its unsuspecting Muggle driver. I might’ve been better off as one of them. But then I never would’ve met Ron or Hermione.

But the way things turned out, they would’ve been better off without knowing me.

No, I didn’t mean that! I can’t have. I miss them. I hope they know how sorry I am.
Harry wanted them so desperately: Ron’s friendly slap on the shoulder, Hermione’s warm, soft hugs. They’d chase the chill of this Place away.

But that’ll never happen.
Harry sighed. All I’ve got is this old dump, and things’ll never be the same again with Ron and Hermione. All because of that damned Horcrux at Wandwood Glade and it wasn’t my fault! Snape’s wrong! He doesn’t know anything! He wasn’t even there! I was! I’ll never forget how it went…

“Don’t touch it!” Ron had yelled at Hermione. “What if…”

“I know what I’m doing,” she’d cried, “Let go…”

Ron had tried to take the wand from Hermione before she could be hurt. “No, you let go! Fuck, it’s burning!”

Harry, suspended at the ceiling in a cocoon of branches, had seen it first: on the moonlit wall, from their joined shadows, another shadow had arisen. In the Glade, the tick-tock rattle of live bowtruckle swarms had faded into a deafening silence. And the shadow had grown taller and more distinct, until it had taken on a familiar, frightening form.

There was Ron’s muffled groan, Hermione’s strained breathing, but they seemed to be in a trance as the shadow broke away from the wall and gained form and flesh. That horrible, handsome face was impossible to forget, though Harry had only seen it once before in person. Tom Riddle stepped forward.

Harry wanted to scream at his friends to do something but there was a branch between his teeth along with a mouthful of oak leaves. Ron and Hermione’s faces were pale and frozen, almost like Ginny’s in the Chamber. They still held onto the Ravenclaw wand.

“Tom,” Ollivander murmured from the corner, his owlish glare absolutely wild.

Riddle turned.

“I know… son, I know how much you want to live again. But not like this, not through them.”

Riddle tilted his head toward Ollivander with all the fascination of a spider watching a fly.

“Through me,” Ollivander continued, “You promised. You were… I’ve never met anyone else with such craving for life, such power, such potential for greatness,” the old man’s voice was soothing, lullaby-soft. “And you deserve it all. Take me.”

There was a spark of interest in Riddle’s eyes, an odd thrill on his face. “Say ‘please’,” he hissed.

Ollivander’s form grew tense and for a moment Harry wasn’t certain if he’d lunge or scream like a lunatic. Then his lips barely moved. “Please, Tom.”

“Ahhh. Right then.” Riddle shook his head, smiling like a child who’d been given a long-desired toy for his birthday. “Anything you ask…” He lifted his hands to grip Ollivander’s shoulders and leaned in, resting his forehead against Ollivander’s chest like a boy nestled against his father. “Fool… you sentimental old fool! Don’t you understand?” Riddle looked up so suddenly, Ollivander’s gnarled hand twitched where it lay, cradling the back of Riddle’s dark head. “I don’t want to harm you, you stubborn old man!” Riddle cried sharply, shaking him. “I never did! But then you beg me so sweetly, I have no choice!” Tom fixed Ollivander with a maddened, wild stare.

Ollivander’s gaze was soft with sorrow. “Hush, son,” he murmured tenderly, drawing Riddle’s head back down to rest on his shoulder. “Nothing to be afraid of,” he sighed. “It’s only death.”

And with that, Ollivander’s pleading gaze settled on Hermione’s shocked one, over the top of Riddle’s bent head. ‘Break him!’ he mouthed silently.

‘Sacrifice,’ Snape had said. Is that what it takes to break a Horcrux as well as make one? Harry had stabbed Riddle’s diary with the fang of a dead basilisk, the first time he’d intentionally, deliberately killed another living thing. It was all about giving away something large, important, precious. Ron and Hermione gave away their magic. Snape took a life. What did Dumbledore give up to break the Gaunts’ ring? What did I give up, when I broke the key at Godric’s Hollow?

Harry concentrated, and to his horror, realised that he did not know. He only knew that something important had slipped away; he hadn’t even noticed when it had happened, but without it he felt empty and alone. The only company he could count on was Grimmauld Place and the collection of broken relics in his pocket. He clung to them and counted them in turn. The fake locket: its chain tangled in Dumbledore’s ring. No wand pieces, Hermione kept those. The key from Godric’s Hollow. He didn’t have to guess whose hand had placed it into the keyhole last. What better way to break the Fidelius charm than the key to the house? This key must’ve led Voldemort right to Mum and Dad. All he’d’ve needed then after he got into the house was a final sacrifice to make this thing into a Horcrux. And everyone, even Dumbledore, was so occupied with saving me, they never even noticed that key in the door.

What did the key take from me when it broke? What curse did it leave me with instead? Harry was too scared to guess.

“The bastard’s gotta be wrong!” Harry whispered, staring at the ornate handle. “We destroyed you, didn’t we? And no one had to die. Soon it’ll all be over, I’ll break the last of you and then I’ll kill Voldemort and I’ll never have to see Snape again!”

He sat in the dark for a long time, until he heard a movement, then saw a ray of light stretching up from the keyhole and the same flickering light underneath the door.

“Snape?” Maybe he hasn’t left yet. But all was silent.

When he opened the door, a single candle – its flame tremulous and wan – was waiting for him in the middle of the dark hallway.

Never before had a candle looked so good. Harry beamed and opened the door wider, welcoming it in. The candle toddled closer to Harry, its flame brightening, and at that, another six hurried in from the hallway, all rushing through Harry’s door like a flock of ducklings to their mum.

Harry ran his fingers over their flickering flames, petting them, just as he’d seen Dumbledore do so many times before. And as he did so, the inevitability and the loneliness that seemed to have taken over his life retreated back into the shadows, if only for a little while, until the candles dimmed again one by one.

Hermione stared at the Horcrux in her hand as if it was that and not her palm that bled. Ron sprawled lifelessly on the table, yet he still stubbornly held onto the wand with his last strength.

“Break it!” she whispered.

“I’m trying. How?”

But Ollivander only stared blankly past her. In Riddle’s embrace he turned as pale and non-existent as a shadow, as the spectres of Cedric and Harry’s parents that came out of Voldemort’s wand after Priori Incantatem. Tom held him up now, the shine of life in his eyes and the tint of blood in his skin. Blind and deaf to everything else, he stared aghast at the body in his arms: a young viper, faced for the first time with what his venom has done.

“How do we break it?” Hermione breathed, her face pale, resolute.

Ron’s other hand closed on the wand tip and his arms tensed. And then, with the sickening crack of a breaking bone, the wand snapped in two.

Frozen, Harry heard Riddle’s forlorn wail, watched the filaments of raven-black feather falling out of the two broken halves, twirling on the breeze and gone, disintegrating to dust. Wind sprung up in their wake: stronger, wilder, coiling in a whirlwind around Riddle and Ollivander. The gale was so strong it made Harry’s eyes water; he could hardly breathe for its suffocating force. Harry looked on, helpless to do otherwise, as first Riddle, then Ollivander with him became more and more insubstantial, as if they were being swept away by that wind out of reality. It was as if Harry was hanging onto the edge of a cliff, watching the two of them fall forever, dwindling down and away, plummeting to their deaths. Dizzying to watch. There one moment and gone the next.

Harry didn’t know how long he continued to stare in shock, after the whirlwind had finally died.

“That’s it? All we had to do to break it was… break it?” Hermione stared in disbelief at the snapped half of the wand in her hand.

“You tell me, Miss Know-it-all.” Ron examined his burned hand, then his half of the broken wand. “Ow! I’ve got a feeling we really shouldn’t spellotape this one together.”

It’s finally over. Harry thought. It’s all over. Hermione let out an unsure chuckle, then tossed her half of the wand on the table and pursed her lips. “Ron, you really are an idiot.” She took a step closer then simply lunged at him, hugging hard. “Such an idiot.”

Ron froze, pale and shaking, almost looking more scared of her than he’d been of Riddle. Awkwardly he reached out to pat her shoulder. “Y’meant idiot in a good way, right?”

Harry spat out a mouthful of oak bark and sap, and asked in a still-somewhat muffled voice, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but will someone get me down from here?”

Ron and Hermione chuckled in unison, “Finite Incantatem!”


Dread spiked cold through Harry’s chest at that moment.

It hadn’t really stopped since.

Harry roamed Grimmauld until all of its doorways and staircases and hidey-holes seemed like one giant funhouse with mirrors and spooky things lurking in the dark, spinning like a merry-go-round. As if stumbling into a newfound exit, he found his way back to stillness, in the hall with the tapestry and the sleeping portraits.

Harry sat, then moved into the corner, keeping still so he wouldn’t disturb the walls into spinning again. He leaned against something soft and fuzzy with dust. Tapestry… The Ancient House of Black… The Old Black House… The Grimmauld Black House…

If I sit here, how long will it take till Grimmauld thinks I’m a part of it, like those names on the wall? Maybe they had the right idea, keeping track of family like that: all on one tapestry. All in one place. This Grimmauld Place.
He grabbed a handful of old cloth and yanked. The tapestry fell off its hooks, wrapping itself round Harry’s shoulders, cloaking him in Black-ness, as if accepting him into something bigger than himself, something tangled as a spider web. But it didn’t feel nice at all, not like Harry had hoped it would. It was sinister, heavy, and unpleasantly sticky with cobwebs. Harry pictured himself, years later, a captured fly, still swathed in the Black tapestry like a shroud. A skeleton with Grimmauld’s cobwebs for hair, empty eyesockets staring off into nowhere through dust-covered glasses. The tapestry smelt of dust and smoke, but at least it was warm.

He fell asleep there, or thought he did. Maybe he just lost track of time.


A voice startled him.

He stared at black boots in a rectangle of morning light.

Chapter 4

Little boy blue, come blow your horn,
The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn.
Where is the boy who looks after the sheep?
Under the haystack, fast asleep.

“Potter,” a voice barked from somewhere above him, “What the hell are you doing?”

“Thinking.” He was cold and tired and just wanted to sleep. He wrapped the tapestry tighter around himself, stirring up a cloud of dust motes. “Go’way!”

The pointed toe of a shiny black boot nudged at the edge of Harry’s tapestry cocoon. “Have you discovered a new fashion?”

“S’not fashion. S’family. Grandfathers, godfathers.” Harry squinted at the names woven over his shoulder, then he poked his finger through the singed hole Sirius had left in the fabric of the family, and pointed at someone else. “Charlus Potter,” he read. “Y’think he’s my great-great-great-grand… something?” He thought again, putting the dates together and guessed pensively. “Maybe not all that ‘great’. Probably ‘great’ just once.”

“My Gran’s brother is on that tapestry.” Snape said carefully. “I believe you were drooling on him just now.”

“Oh,” Harry said. “Sorry.”

“He despised Gran, and my mother by default. I never met him.” Snape bent down, and for some reason tilted Harry’s head up, turned it right and left, touched Harry’s forehead. His hands were too rough and quick. Harry batted them away, or tried to.

“Has Gran got a name, b’sides ‘Gran’?” Harry asked around a thick, sluggish tongue. He eyed a sallow finger that for some reason moved right and left in front of his eyes.

“Yes,” Snape gave an odd huff; it almost sounded like he was laughing. “Elphaba. Went a bit kinky in her old age: developed a thing for flying monkeys.”

“Really?” Harry’s head poked out a bit further from the tapestry: he looked up and around, like a wary turtle peering out of its shell. “Monkeys? Where?”

Snape sighed. “What year is it?”

Harry frowned at the dates on the tapestry. “This one?” he guessed, pointing at the number below another singed hole. “Or that?”

He didn’t have a chance to point out any more years, because Snape hauled him to his feet, yanked the tapestry off him, and shook him roughly. “Wake up!” he commanded. “If you’ve got pissed just a week after your liver survived a terrible strain, then Merlin help you!”

“Not a drop.”

“Then you’ve no excuse!” Harry made a protesting noise – it was too much effort to whinge in words – but Snape was already frogmarching him to the nearest window in the hall. “I am tired of your constant idiocy!”

Snape ripped the curtains angrily aside with the hand not holding Harry up, and Harry thought for a moment that Snape was going to pick him up off his feet and chuck him straight through the window and out onto the street, but Snape only nudged him forward into the window niche. The ground spun under Harry’s feet. Shaky from being curled up so long, Harry looked out the window and it was dark outside and there was a ghost looking in. “M’I dying?” Harry asked Snape or the ghost or simply the cold night air. His voice was detached; the question didn’t feel particularly important. The ghost was all pale and wispy and skinny. Weird, the thought trudged wearily through Harry’s mind, why’s a ghost haunting the outside; shouldn’t it be inside the house?

“No, you’re not dying just yet,” Snape drawled, before asking “When was the last time you ate?”

“Dunno. Tea time?” Tea at Snape’s place stood out the clearest. But that was ages ago. I think. “M’not hungry.”

“If you’re planning to lock yourself away here for the rest of your life, you’ve chosen a dangerous crypt.”

“Don’t insult m’house! It hates greasy gits already.” Harry protested, staring at the window some more. The ghost in it had a familiar key on a chain around his neck. That key. What’s a ghost doing with my key?

Bloody hell, it’s not a ghost! It’s not even a window. Must’ve swapped places with a mirror when I wasn’t looking. Or maybe not, because what it reflected back looked even worse than the distortion he’d seen in Snape’s pensieve. Can’t be me! He squinted. The reflection’s eyes, dulled to an almost-blind looking grey, squinted back out of bruise-dark sockets.

“Is this what you want?” Snape, a mere shadow standing behind him, whispered into Harry’s ear. Oddly, the brush of warm breath ruffling his hair was the only bit of warmth Harry could feel, outside himself or in. “Do you want to waste your life? To waste away?” Harry stared into the mirror, mesmerised. Shocked to the core. “To stay trapped in here, and haunt this Place until it’s dust, and never ever leave?

Oh God, Harry thought. M’paler than the Git! How’d this? How’d I… is that really me?


Snape went away; then he was back, rain dripping off the point of his nose. Or maybe Snape was really a storm who looked like a man: robed in black clouds that billowed with blustery winds, with eyes cold as sleet and a distant-thunder grumble of a voice. He even smelled of lightning, as well as something earthier, wetter.

Harry inhaled the rusty reek of the damp smears on Snape’s black sleeves. Were those stains there before? Harry shrugged inwardly. Probably the Death Eaters’ idea of a party. Or maybe Snape dissects Muggles in his spare time, and boils them up in his cauldron for soup. The front door shut the storm out with a bang, but the storm was still inside anyway, on Snape’s face and in his eyes; all over him, except for a bag that, Harry suddenly realised, smelled of garlic and spices. Like takeaway from the Chinese place up the road, and even though Harry didn’t much care for thunderstorms, he really liked the way the takeaway smelled. So Harry followed that bag downstairs into the below-ground kitchen: a place he usually visited as little as possible.

A warm container of soup was thrust into his hands, his cupped hands were lifted and, Honestly! M’not a toddler! “Lemme ‘lone! Can do it m’self!”

“Fine,” Snape snorted.

Harry tried to drink it. It was hot and sticky and the carrots got in the way and tickled the bridge of his nose. The world turned watery and fuzzy for a second but then he took his glasses off, and he could see better again. He was quite proud of himself for that discovery.

Snape stood in the middle of the kitchen. “Expecto Patronum,” he muttered. Fawkes, but a ghost, flared to life from the tip of his wand like a flame from a match. S’pretty, Harry thought, staring. Fire. We should make some more.

“Felis.” Snape whispered to the ghostly shape. “Thirteen. Seventy-four. Forty-nine. Ninety-seven. Eleven. Six.” The fire-bird nodded and spread its wings, soaring away through the ceiling, leaving them in the dark. Harry wanted the fire back, but Snape just charmed his robes clean.

Harry stared at the ceiling. “Fawkes left,” he said, ‘cause it was too hard to ask all the questions in his head.

Snape eyed him. “Yes.”

“Why’d y’chase him off? Call him back.”

“Tomorrow,” Snape said carefully. “He has a job to do.”

“OK,” Harry agreed. “Promise?”

Snape nodded, and he didn’t look quite so much like a storm anymore.

“What’s ‘Felis’?”


“Ah,” Harry nodded. Somehow that made sense. “Thirteen?”

“Number of new initiates this month.”


“A Death Eater vault at Gringotts.”


Snape hmphed. “If I told you anything else, I’d have to Obliviate you, so what would be the point of explaining it to you?”

“S’OK,” Harry said, just to have the last word. “Don’t wanna r’member.”

Snape didn’t reply.

The walls whirled like a mad merry-go-round and the ceiling either stretched insanely wide or shrunk to a size of a cupboard, but at least he could focus on random things again and comprehend where he was without his vision blacking out. If Harry squinted and looked directly above the kitchen door, he could just barely make out a scorched stain on the ceiling that looked like smoke damage. He waved his wand at it and said “Evanesco,” but it only crackled back menacingly like all nasty curse residues. There was plenty of it in the kitchen walls too, along with a sooty child’s handprint that reappeared every time it was wiped off the hearth and pumpkin juice stains on the window, but those stains were all shapeless. The one on the ceiling – Harry tilted his head to make out its shape and gasped in horror – was the profile of a long-eared house-elf, complete with a chef’s hat and stirring spoon, his limbs all askew.

“That’ss what Ssizzly got for sstirring Master’s potion like it was jusst another sstew,” a snake-handled ladle hissed in explanation, giving Harry a mournful silver stare. He almost dropped it back in the drawer.

“Honestly Potter,” Snape told him, “If you can’t pay attention to a kitchen utensil that large, the Wizarding world is doomed. Focus!”

Can too! Harry thought about asking Snape to stun the ladle first but that was too much bother to explain, so he just dipped the entire ladle into his soup – it was an awkward fit into the small container – and slurped from the ladle’s bowl, just to prove to the greasy git that he could pay attention.

He hadn’t even known how hungry he was until he’d eaten a bit and then eaten some more. Snape perched at the counter the whole time and picked crossly at his share with a silver fork engraved with the Black family crest. For all his complaints about Harry, Snape didn’t eat enough to feed a bird. Obviously, he was a vampire who hoarded a large supply of Muggle blood in his Potions stores and slept hanging by his toes from the rafters, or so the school rumours went. But then, vampires didn’t bring people garlicky takeaway.

Snape was in the worst mood, takeaway or not. He glared as if the world and the weather and the state of his robes and the cold and rainy drippiness of his hair were all Harry’s fault, but the food was warm and better than something Harry could make out of the preserves and stale grains stored in the kitchen cupboards, even with the ladle’s instructions. And if Snape didn’t talk and didn’t move, it was easier to ignore him altogether and then Harry could pretend that he’d finished at Hogwarts long ago and just turned forty and had lived alone at Grimmauld for years, sitting at the rickety kitchen table and eating Chinese takeaway all his life. He could pretend that everything else – like Voldemort or Snape or Dark Curses or Horcruxes – simply hadn’t happened.

Somewhere far away someone was calling him. “Potter!” He swatted at the sound like at the fly.

“S’OK. I dunno,” he grumbled. “Do you?” he asked the ladle.

“How ssweet,” it hissed, coiling around his wrist. “Losst ssoul, like the Missstress.”

Snape grabbed the ladle and took it away before Harry could ask it what it meant.


The blanket covering him was all wrong; Harry wanted the tapestry back. It was heavy and he liked the dusty smell of it and the feel of embroidered names under his fingertips. He ran his palm over the blanket and pretended it had the names of family on it. It worked a bit and he burrowed further into its warmth.

The voice coming from the bottom of the stairway wasn’t Snape’s. It was feminine, soft and pleasant. Harry poked his head up over the arm of the downstairs sofa. It was Mrs. Black and she wasn’t cursing or yelling at all. She just sounded sad.

“Perhaps it’s time to step out of the shadows and live. Eighteen years is enough to mourn one man. Even my son,” she said.

“Mourn? I never did.” Snape grumbled.

“Perhaps you should,” the portrait said.

“Did you?”

“No.” Mrs. Black said. “But my Regulus is still with me. Bothering me rather often I should say, all thanks to your efforts in pointing him to my canvas.”

They chatted softly, back and forth. Harry couldn’t hear well but he didn’t want to lift his head any higher for fear of being discovered. If Snape saw, he’d take the pretend-tapestry away from Harry too.

Eighteen years. I used to think Snape was a monster, a murderer, a Death Eater. But now, I don’t know what he is. He’s not a sick bastard like Voldemort’s Death Eaters, not quite. He’s almost normal. He talks to portraits and he looks at them like he’s lost something or someone very precious, and they’re the ghosts of it staring back at him. Monsters aren’t scared of portraits, and they don’t grieve for portraits either. Maybe he’s just like everyone else. Like me. If I’d spent eighteen years mourning someone, like the portrait said, would that make me a lonely bitter sod too?

Snape pulled a thin, loosely braided tress of white hair out of his pocket, carefully extracted a single strand from it and fed that into the mouth of his hip flask. Then he raised the flask to Mrs. Black’s portrait as if toasting it, before he took a sip. Seconds later, ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ took his place. Harry wondered what the portrait really thought about seeing Snape turn into her niece. Snape cast a charm that Harry’d never heard before, “Vestimorphus!” and Harry watched as his drab black robes shrank and brightened and became an elaborate dress.

‘Mrs. Malfoy’ took a few steps. The way she moved reminded Harry of Ron at the Yule Ball in his formal robes.

“Mind your walk! Stop striding like a man!” the portrait noted dryly. “Your shoes ought to have a bit of a heel to them. Your buttons are on the wrong side and you ought to carry a handbag.”

“Blast!” ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ jabbed Snape’s ebony wand irritably at herself, “Sartoreversus! …How’s this?” she asked in a calmer voice, pacing to and fro in the portrait’s field of view. One white hand held her skirts up so the hem wouldn’t trail on the floor; she was walking with a caution that suggested she was trying very hard not to trip over the newly grown heels.

“Better, but stop swearing. Tsk. Those shoes even sound transfigured. My new dragonhide shoes ought to be upstairs. Resize them to fit.”

‘Mrs. Malfoy’ left, Harry could hear the steady beat of footsteps rising up the stairs and fading, and then a few minutes later he heard a more uneven tread coming back down.

‘Mrs. Malfoy’ almost made it to the bottom of the stairs before catching the toe of one shoe on the lacy hem of her dress. Only a hasty grab at the banister kept her balance. “Bugger!”

The portrait chuckled. So did Harry.

‘Mrs. Malfoy’ spun around and staggered. “Not a word!” she declared in a tone that would’ve been much more threatening with Snape’s voice. She eyed the sofa menacingly and before Harry could even begin to pretend snoring, added, “Both of you.”

Harry clapped his hands over his mouth and fought the urge to slide off the sofa and laugh himself legless.

‘Mrs. Malfoy’ pulled her hair back in a modest bun, like McGonagall’s, and strode for the door.

“Remember, small steps!” the portrait called after her.

The front door slammed.

“So stubborn, that boy,” Walburga sighed. “Once he makes up his mind, neither a whip nor a wizard would sway it. Reminds me of myself, only younger, before I married. But that one’s a true bachelor.” She pursed her lips. “It must be nice to lead a single life, and not be obliged to keep a husband just to secure a family fortune.”

Harry nodded, for want of anything polite to say. He didn’t know whether marriage had improved Mrs. Black’s temper or spoiled it even further. Either way, it was good that some poor witch wasn’t subjected to Snape’s even more horrid temper. Imagine being married to Snape! What a nightmare that’d be!

Then he sat and watched a spidery silver instrument sneak out of a gap in the skirting board and skitter between the table legs toward the drawing room. The thing was carrying something round and golden on its back.


Harry stood up and walked around, and then he couldn’t find the sofa again. But that was all right as long as he didn’t trip over and wake up the yeti skin snoring in the middle of the hall. The creaking stairway’s steps leading from the main hall to the upper floors were wide enough to be comfortable: even more comfortable than the library chairs which Harry suspected had some sort of hex on them, ‘cause no chair could’ve been so uncomfortable on its own. But the stairway had a thick Persian rug spread over it and if Harry picked exactly the right step and stretched out his legs it felt just like his bed, especially with the Prince’s book for a pillow. He spent so much time upstairs anyway he needed a change of scenery, yet he simply wasn’t interested in walking outside. That’s it, I’m just out for a walk, only inside Grimmauld instead of outside, and I’m definitely not waiting for someone – no, not Sirius: that’s impossible, a lost boy’s wish and a crazy dream from two summers ago – and not Snape: Merlin’s balls, definitely not Snape! – to come through that door. Not for all the Chinese takeaway in the world! If I never see him again it’ll be too soon. Though I wouldn’t mind if the Prince visited.

He dozed off at the foot of the stairs after eleven; the Persian rug smelled like a desert made of all the sand that’d ever escaped from smashed hourglasses.

In his dream Mrs. Malfoy made her way across Knockturn Alley, her long hair breaking out of the bun and streaming down her back. She was quite beautiful, and it was wrong – so wrong – to think that way about Malfoy’s mum, but she was and he couldn’t help it. Maybe cause she wasn’t really a Malfoy. That was just a shell, Polyjuice. She could be anyone underneath. Why of all people would Snape choose her to turn into? Why would Snape go to Knockturn Alley this late, Polyjuiced into a pretty woman? The idea of Snape in a Polyjuice brothel was completely mental, but by the time Harry tried to convince himself why, the idea had spawned ten thousand variations of itself in his head.

Harry followed Snape, taking a leaf out of his own book and chasing him under the cover of Polyjuice. Only the trouble was, he couldn’t quite see who he’d turned into, he just knew that he’d changed, and it drove him spare until he caught a glimpse of himself in a grimy shop window and Snape’s hook-nosed face stared back.

I should run and hide somewhere, the thought struck him, ‘cause it can’t be safe to be seen with Snape’s face, what with wanted posters of him all over the Wizarding world. But it was really quite ironic to be in Snape’s shoes, to try and beat the bastard at his own game as he came face to face with the actual Snape on the street, and so he did, approaching ‘Mrs. Malfoy’.

Pale grey eyes widened as Snape caught Harry’s eye in the crowd. One white eyebrow arched, but she didn’t have time to say anything else.

“Look,” someone in the crowd between them cried out, “It’s the traitor!”

Apparation pops sounded, rapid as gunfire, and Harry was soon held at multiple sharp wandpoints. ‘Wait!’ he tried to say, ‘It’s not me! It’s him! Catch him!’ But it was as if he hadn’t said a word: no one listened, they all just glared at him, getting ready to attack.

Then, slowly, Harry felt himself reverting back as the Polyjuice stopped working, and it was as if an invisibility cloak was lowered over him. The Aurors turned away. The crowds in the streets started walking around him, not paying any attention to Harry standing there.

Only the real Snape still stared straight at Harry, not even blinking, as Polyjuice-pale eyes and hair darkened and delicate features turned gaunt and sharp. He was the only one who saw Harry. The only one who even knew he existed.

But Snape turned his back on Harry and disappeared into the crowd in a billow of black robes. Leaving Harry alone. Forever. Just like he’d always wanted.

“Stop!” Harry sprinted after him, his heart pounding desperately. “Wait for me!” But he was just a second too late.

A pop of Apparation outside roused Harry from his sleep. Seconds later ‘Mrs. Malfoy’s slender form slid through the front door and made her way to the portrait. Her hair wasn’t gathered in a bun anymore: instead it spilled all the way down her back, long and tangled, just like in Harry’s dream. Her cloak was all askew as if someone has been chasing her.

“Severus! What happened?” the portrait exclaimed in shock. Apparently Snape looked even worse up close.

Snape arched an aristocratic, thin eyebrow. “You did tell me to live my life to the fullest,” he rasped, in a voice that wasn’t quite his or Mrs. Malfoy’s. It sounded like he’d caught a cold. “Excuse me. I’d rather be out of your shoes before I change back. Potter,” he turned and marched right up to Harry, putting something cold and horrible to his lips. “Drink.”

Harry gulped, first something bitter, then the air. His brain seemed to clear just a bit and he remembered things better. ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ stumbling on the stairs in her high heels, then walking out the door. He made some more wild guesses about how Snape spent his evening as Mrs. Malfoy, and finally decided that he didn’t want to know. Then all of a sudden another thought dawned, just as he felt the running, feathery warmth of the potion spreading down his chest. Where’s the real Mrs. Malfoy?

He thought of fake Moody. But Snape really didn’t seem the type to keep shrunken people locked away for a semester like Crouch Junior.

There was only one other explanation. How could I be this thick? Idon’tbelieveit! “Y’murdered her!” Harry cried, spitting at the aftertaste of bitter muck. Hot Pepper-up steam tickled his ears and purged the last of the fuzz from his mind. It all makes sense now!

‘Mrs. Malfoy’ stared at him, just like Snape had when Harry had started talking Parseltongue back in second year. “What?”

“You cut her hair, and now you’re whoring around in her body!” Oh wow! Harry’s face heated at that thought. Some conspiracy! Through all the shock and confusion there was one stray thought that spun in his head: Wonder how much he charges? Is that how he makes a living?

The Polyjuiced impostor’s lips twisted into a smirk. “It’s nice to see Pepper-up still has an effect on you. And for your information, I didn’t ‘murder’ her, I ‘saved’ her.”

Harry didn’t listen. Mrs. Malfoy mightn’t’ve been a very nice person, but Harry didn’t want to see her dead! “Sick fuck! I almost trusted you!” What with your Patronus’n’all, and that talk about spying for the bloody Order! I should’ve known better!

‘Mrs. Malfoy’ was completely silent for a second, then she hmphed: it might’ve been a sound of ironic amusement. “There are no words, Potter,” she muttered in Snapeish tones. “No. Words. Quite a few curses, however. When you’re better.”

Harry couldn’t really explain why his face was so warm. His ears had long ago stopped steaming. But his face had been that way ever since he’d thought of Snape in Mrs. Malfoy’s body, in the seediest alleys of Knockturn, naming his price to a stranger, that tight bun of white hair unravelling slowly all the way to cover her shoulders and bodice. Then manicured fingers were unlacing that bodice, as deftly as ever they’d wielded a stirring rod in class…. NO! Mrs. Malfoy’s not attractive. Not attractive attractive. She’s Malfoy’s mum, what’s wrong with me? It all sounded so wrongdirtywicked, but that would’ve been too easy to leave it at that. Harry didn’t like danger or rule breaking in that way, honestly; even though that would’ve been the most obvious explanation, it wasn’t so.

“I assure you, Narcissa is quite safe in Durmstrang, with her son. More safe than she would’ve been in this country.”

There was an odd, ungraceful grace in the way ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ moved, despite Mrs. Black’s loaned shoes: it was a predatory stalk, every step as smooth as the swooping folds of a cloak. Snape might’ve looked like Mrs. Malfoy: lips soft and delicate instead of thin and cruel, long hair soft and light instead of dark and greasy and uncared-for. But her softer woman’s voice had his quiet, familiar sarcasm resonating through every word.

“Oh,” Harry said, staring at ‘Mrs. Malfoy’s modestly covered cleavage, then let his forehead thump against it, finally putting the two and two together. “Y’mean she asked you to wh- wear her body ‘round like that?”

“Potter,” that strange half-and-half voice croaked, as fingers closed on his shoulders and pushed him upright with a firm shake, “How the bloody hell you survive without thinking once in a while is beyond me.”

Harry stared. It was really quite fascinating. Mrs. Malfoy was supposed to act snobbish. All grace and high-society style and Pureblood to the core: to the point it made Harry gag. But then Snape spoke to Harry, clawing her white hair back harshly and glaring down her nose and it all turned into a huge contradiction between behaviour and appearance. And Harry just watched and watched and couldn’t get enough it was so bizarre. There were Mrs. Malfoy’s soft features, but Snape’s sarcastic twist of lip, Snape’s tilt of the head and furious glare. Even the manicured talon-nails tapping impatiently against the handle of the black wand were oddly Snapeish.

It’s all so… wow! But not the parts that belonged to Mrs. Malfoy, although that was what logically should’ve affected Harry. It was everything that didn’t belong to her: mannerisms, carriage, gait. And that confused Harry the most. Enough for him to keep watching Snape out of the corner of his eye, waiting for those un-Malfoy-like glimpses, so he could tally them in his head.

Even when Snape turned back to his normal greasy git self, and pushed him through the front door, outside, and took him somewhere falling and spinning, Harry still kept watching those hands on his shoulders, checking for manicured talons.


Potter didn’t make a sound, just stared: first at Snape, then at the cover of Snape’s sixth year Potions book, tracing its title, quietly fixated on the ‘o’s in Potion-Making as if they were snitches. As they Apparated to Spinner’s End, where Snape could brew in more familiar surroundings, Potter had pressed the book to his chest like a toddler holding a teddy bear, and he hadn’t let go of it since. Candlelight was the only other thing that managed to hold his attention for more than a second. As Snape looked for other stimuli while waiting for the brew to reach its next stage, Potter sat in the very corner of the sofa, his feet pulled up, as if he expected Snape’s threadbare and tatty (and extremely non-magical) rugs to nibble his toes.

An hour later, he began flipping through the pages, mumbling to himself. Snape just managed to make out, “Wonder what the Prince’d do?”

“He’d tell you that you need to drink this,” he grumbled after the fifth time Harry swatted the phial of finished brew away as if it was a bug buzzing around his face, “and eat more than a mouthful, and get some sleep.”

Potter looked up at him, and for the first time in many days, those eyes weren’t empty. Comprehension spread over that upturned face, brightening his expression until Snape fancied he could almost see the lightbulb going on over Potter’s head. “Yeah.” The grin that dawned then was as wide as if he’d just discovered the world. “He would. You would. How come I didn’t think of that?”

Half an hour later, Snape had finally managed to get enough Draught in his patient to put him to sleep.

This isn’t good. Snape sat wearily beside the bed and stared down into that familiar face, relaxed at last in sleep. He studied Harry as intently as if he could read the turmoil in his mind by the tiny flickerings of his expression, the minuscule frowns or smiles. Carefully he reached out and tucked back a lock of hair that threatened to flop against those closed eyelids. Whatever curse is affecting his consciousness has clearly focused at Grimmauld Place. Grimmauld is driving him mad – all right, madder – but outside it, he isn’t much better. It’s almost as if the curse has bound him to the Place, and if that’s the case then he can’t stay here for long.

He tucked the blanket more securely around the sleeper’s body, and headed silently for the door. He had a lot of research to do, and only one place still open to him where he could do it.


Snape wasn’t officially introduced to the Grimmauld grimoires until he’d already spent years studying them.

“Here, boy, take a look at this,” Mr. Black said, leading Severus to a secluded shelf. “The only piece of Muggle filth that will ever find its way into this Library. They sugarcoat it nowadays, feed you stories about Wendelin the Weird and her burning fetish, but this here, this is history. A memory of our ancestors: weakened, proclaimed unnatural, hunted and killed. This is the true story.”

Severus looked at the old book: stored under preservative charms that kept it looking less worn than many of the well-thumbed spellbooks he’d seen. Malleus Maleficarum, the cover read. The Hammer of Witches, Severus translated. Meant to crush us all from the world.

He remembered the verse from his father’s Bible, Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. “Everyone’d be better off if the Muggles were gone,” he muttered.

Mr. Black’s beady stare focused on him as if he were a particularly fascinating insect. “Really?” he drawled. “Rather strong sentiments for a half-blood. Your own father’s one of them.”

“My father,” Severus’ voice was low and deadly, “is scum. When he learned my mother was a witch, he feared and hated her so much that her powers withered to nothing. For as long as I can remember, she was little more than a squib. And it wasn’t enough that he hated her magic: he had to drink as well. Had to take out his hatred on us when he was drunk.” Severus’ eyes were slitted and distant, lost in memories. Gradually his voice had lost all intonation until he spoke the next words as flatly as if he were describing a play. “One night, he beat her to death, with his fists, on the kitchen floor. Told the police she must’ve interrupted a burglar, while he was still down at the pub.” He added in a murmur so soft it was completely toneless, “Her face was …unrecognisable.”

Mr. Black stepped back; his eyes and mind showed surprise at hearing the story told so rationally by a surly seventh-year.

Severus snarled, unable to stop himself from throwing all of his anger against this man who’d been willing to judge Severus’ beliefs just by his last name. Suddenly it seemed so important to prove him wrong. “The Ministry refused to step in and punish that murdering Muggle bastard, and it still refuses to prevent more tragedies by banning contact with the Muggle world!” He growled “How could I not want them gone?”

“Indeed.” Mrs. Black stepped out of the shadows, sliding her hand over Mr. Black’s shoulder. “Your poor, poor mother,” she breathed. “Such a tragic lesson in the fact that mingling with Muggles will never lead to anything good. Just think of the wizard Severus could’ve become, if only he had a proper father. Which is not to say that he isn’t a bright boy,” she added. “Orion, perhaps it’s time.”

“Do you think so? Perhaps…” Mr. Black murmured. “Severus, a good friend of mine from school is taking on a group of new apprentices. He is very interested in true Defence Against the Dark Arts, and I don’t mean the kind taught at Hogwarts. He only takes in Purebloods of course, but perhaps in your case, if we put in a good word, he’d overlook your unfortunate heritage. If you’re interested in studying with Regulus after Hogwarts, then…”

Mr. Black was going to say more, but all Severus heard was ‘Regulus’ and ‘after Hogwarts’: the very things that had been the focus of mingled anticipation and dread all year. Returning to his Muggle town, a gulf of miles – and worse, a gulf in class – would separate him from Regulus, instead of living just one dorm away.

Severus would’ve said yes to anything. He was ready to jump up and hug Mr. and Mrs. Black right this instant. “Yes,” he said. “I’m willing to try. Anything.”

“Well,” Mr. Black stroked his moustache. “That’s settled then. Where bloodlines have failed, my associate will make a true wizard out of you, boy.”

Now, Snape had lived through enough to know that there was no such thing as ‘true’ wizards, only men whose desperation – not pedigree – made them capable of achieving the impossible.

Snape sat at the escritoire, volumes from all over the Library in ever-growing piles at his feet and all around him. He rubbed his stinging eyes and leaned his chin on his elbow, staring down at the book currently lying open on the desk before him. The hush of the long aisles was broken by a rustling, restless and constant as the surge of the sea. On the floor-to-ceiling shelves stretching away into the darkness on all sides, the grimoires flickered their pages and shouldered each other out of the way in their hurry to press their opened pages under his hand and offer him their knowledge.

Beside the ever-changing parade of books, the only other thing on the desk was the broken key that he’d taken off from round Harry’s neck.

“Yes,” he sighed at a woodcut illustration of a graveyard, “I know the curse will kill Harry, if it’s not broken. In fact,” he added as he set that book aside, “I’m surprised it didn’t kill him instantly: it’d certainly do its damnedest straight off. First time I’ve been grateful for that stubbornness of his,” he added in a mutter, before lifting his head to address the library as a whole, “What I want to know is, how does this curse work, and above all, how can it be broken?”

A Herbarium Blackwellianum nudged him shyly in the ankle; he scooped it up and it fell open to a delicate engraving of a flower. Lilium convallium, the caption read.

Snape arched his eyebrow. “Lily? Harry’s mother?” The book flopped even further open, as if its spine had gone limp with relief.

“The protection of his mother’s sacrifice? It took that from him?”

The book flipped its page corners at him with an impatient zipping sound, echoed by the solid ‘hear-hear’ thumps of heavier volumes still on their shelves.

“Right, then,” Snape replied to the books’ show of cheek with a challenging cry, “see what you lot make of it.”

He Leviosa-ed the key onto the floor a short distance away, and let the grimoires pile themselves into a rustling, crackling huddle over it. Some of the bolder ones examined it: holding it between their pages, curling bookmarks of silk ribbon around the broken end, as if feeling the exact contours of the jagged metal. A few pairs of leathery old tomes acted together, pressing the key between their covers as if literally forming an impression of it. The rustlemutterhiss swelled like the tide, washing out to the farthest shelves and echoing back, as the entire Library held council with itself. The centuries-old mind of Grimmauld Place consulted its stores of learning and wisdom, every volume in it conferring among themselves. Then, at last, the susurrus fell completely still: the silence felt to Snape as though he’d been hit with a Deafness Curse.

THUD! Snape startled badly; a heavy ironbound volume had abruptly fallen from a high shelf and landed on the desk in front of him. It was followed by a smaller book bound in basilisk hide, and a third whose fine leather bindings Snape could’ve sworn were human skin.

He didn’t even need to glance at their titles: he could feel the emanations of Dark magic from them, making his throat dry with sick anticipation.

The iron lock on the largest book fell open with a dull clang and it flung its pages wide, to a section on the Tarot. A tinted image of The Hermit stared up from the age-spotted parchment, beside descriptions of the retreat from the world into the solitude of monasticism. Then the basilisk-skin book slithered impatiently on top of the first one and opened itself to reveal a treatise on Oubliette Curses: a category of curses which killed by driving their victims slowly away from the realities of their own five senses, and into deepening wells of insanity within their own minds.

Snape’s first question had been ‘How does this curse work?’ He nodded grimly as the two books showed him their secrets; his sharp eyes flicked whiplash-fast along the rows of print. The curse must be a variant on the Eremitical Seal: forcing the victim to renounce the world, and fade from it, and be forgotten. Presumably Riddle modified it to add madness and death to the punishment of exile. Ironic – and predictable – that someone as egomaniacal as he was, should’ve crafted a curse like that to protect one of his Horcruxes.

“Help me stop it!” Snape lifted his head, calling out again to the Library as a whole. “I know you’re strong enough.” It surely doesn’t wish to see another owner wasting away, talking to house elf heads and eating cobwebs. Snape’s last visit to Grimmauld before Walburga Black had died was memorable for its unpleasantness, even by Snape’s high standards for unpleasant memories. She’d screamed, and stared at him with such horror, Snape had wondered whether the half-blood mark Macnair had cut into his shoulder had begun seeping fresh gore through his shirt.

“Do you want another owner to go the way Walburga went? You can’t have found her madness pleasant,” he shouted at the top shelves.

Above the ceiling, thunder rumbled. The smaller books huddled silently about his feet, as if seeking his warmth to drive away the chill of that thought.

“Then how can I keep Harry alive and sane?” With an incongruous flitter-flutter another, much smaller book flapped down like a particularly eccentric butterfly, landing right on top of the larger, more menacing stack of three. Its brightly coloured cover declared it to be “Little Olden Books: My First Jinxes”. A rainbow blur of pages flickered before the flighty little book settled on one verse in large, bouncing letters.

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn’t keep her.

Above the verse, a florid-faced wizard – with enough freckles and red hair to be a Weasley – sat surrounded by jugs of pumpkin juice, amid a flourishing pumpkin patch. Green grass snakes twirled amid the pumpkin vines and nibbled playfully at the hem of his orange robes. A short, miserable-looking witch stood in the distance, her bun of grey hair bristling with knitting needles, wand, and an occasional twig.

He put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well.

said the second page, along with a detailed illustration of a house transfigured out of a single giant pumpkin, complete with a merrily smoking chimneystack carved out of the pumpkin’s woody stalk. The same witch’s face was framed in a round barred window: all in all, she looked surprisingly cheerful for someone who’d just been imprisoned in her own home. The red-headed wizard, looking just as cheerful, was standing by the front door, padlocking it shut.

“You want me to keep him here?” Snape’s voice was sharp with protest, “But that’s exactly what the curse wants: for him to retreat from the world!” The book rustled the page with the pumpkin house at him, as if emphasising “kept her very well.” Snape didn’t miss the X-shaped bars on the window, nor the giant padlock on the door: it was very shiny, and was shaped like a heart.

“Very well.” Which it wasn’t, of course, but it was the best option currently on offer. “But how long will he need to stay here? How can the curse be broken, once and for all?”

The books rustled enthusiastically among themselves, several of them tumbling over his boots, wrestling each other like energetic pups. At first Snape took heart in the swell of sound, but then the encouraging cracklerustlemutter of the volumes’ consultation began to dwindle. Slowly it ebbed, and Snape’s hopes faded with it, until at last all sound died and a terrible silence loomed. The volumes lay inert, seeming as dead and drained of magic as their Muggle counterparts.

“How do I break it?” Snape’s cry had the raw sound of a man at the ragged edge of his wits.

No answer followed. Only the single candle that had sat all this time at the escritoire, flickered in response.

Please, Snape didn’t know who he was asking, if anyone. Please. Let this work. Severus carefully picked up the candle, stepped over the books still piled about his chair, and stalked out of the library. In his wake, flocks of books scattered back to their shelves, like autumn leaves blown by the black gale of his passing.

Only one book remained behind. The last of the three that had originally been chosen to commune with Snape; the one that had been pre-empted by the children’s book and had never had its chance to share with him what it knew. The grimoire with that disturbingly fine skin binding sat up alertly, then took off with a flap of winglike covers, patrolling the shelves like a guard before swooping up to the ceiling. As if in response, or in warning, thunder rumbled just beyond the ceiling’s vault, and the book swooped down and away. It dropped into a gap on one shelf, then on another, nudging this volume, rubbing covers with that. But none of the others showed the slightest sign of activity; none returned its overtures. They’d had enough of consultation with each other for one night: indeed, the Library hadn’t seen activity like this for decades.

There would be no further discussion. The books – and hence, the whole Place – knew that, if it intervened in its Master’s curse, the house itself might take on a trace of his trials, in penance for that intervention. It might be rendered unliveable, disappearing from memory: like a malign version of the Fidelius it had already endured for so long. If it acted to save its Master, its destiny was to be forgotten… until a year of Sundays had passed. The page on which those fateful words were printed crackled restlessly as the last grimoire finally slid back into its own place on the shelves.

No further deliberation was needed. The decision had been made. As one, the books hunkered down, shuffling back to the very rear of their shelves, huddling against each other like wild things settling down for hibernation, in the grim knowledge of a long, harsh winter ahead.


“How good of you to bring him back.” Walburga yawned, woken up by the slam of the front door. “He brings a bit of life to the Place. It’s all been so quiet, ever since Regulus… left us, and since you sent Orion to hell where he deserved to go.”

“I didn’t,” Snape interrupted, manoeuvring Potter the Puppet up the stairs.

Walburga shook her head. “Don’t you worry about it. If I hadn’t discovered his bootlaces in the library, I’d’ve put arsenic in the bastard’s tea myself. How could I have been so blind, sheltering an asp in my bosom all these years without even knowing that the weak-spined coward would betray the house of my fathers. His heir, his only son,” she insisted, as if she had truly never borne more than one boy, “sacrificed to greed and fear.”

“I did not murder your husband!” Snape repeated, almost desperately.

“Now, now, Severus, no need to play coy.”

“Stop it. He said he didn’t.” Potter’s glare was lucid. It was the first conscious word from him today. “You oughtta believe him.”

Snape was just as shocked as Walburga by this sudden response; he stood mute as the portrait focused her scrutinising glare on Potter. “Well, you certainly do,” she murmured, eyeing him for the first time like someone who talked back instead of a piece of furniture (even though Potter in his delusional and starved state could’ve easily passed for a coat rack). “You trust his word?” she questioned. “On something that happened before you were born?”

Potter held his head high and hung on to the portrait niche’s curtains, taking a step forward, for once without Snape nudging him to move in the right direction or holding him upright. “If Snape had killed someone, he wouldn’t lie ‘bout it. Not to a portrait,” he argued, sticking his nose against Walburga’s painted one.

“How curious,” she muttered to herself.

“What?” Harry blinked.

“Seeing Severus with such a spirited protector at his side. There are still” – she eyed him from top to bottom – “small miracles in this world.”

“Small? Hang about! Are you calling me titchy or something?” Potter demanded angrily. But Walburga had already left the frame.


The candles flocked to them and tagged along behind, lighting the corridors, and the bedroom. As soon as Potter’s body hit the covers, he frowned. “S’not my bed.”

Snape nudged him to lie down and covered him with a heavy blanket before the brat decided he’d rather be wandering about. Regulus’ room was closer. “Sleep.”

It is Regulus’ room. It’s his bed, and I didn’t even think of that till now. The accumulated weariness was starting to slow him down. But I can’t waste too much time now. Plenty of time to sleep when I’m dead, which with my luck will be entirely too soon.

“Yeah, s’pose I ought to, m’beat,” Potter mumbled into the pillow. “Ask Ron t’wake me f’r dinner. Twins said it’s stew. I like stew.”

Then the Sleeping Draught worked, and Potter didn’t say anything else.

In the light of the candles that had snuck into the room like visitors at a sick bed, Snape looked down at Potter. With his messy hair and drawn, pale face, without the glasses and with his eyes closed, Potter reminded him not of his father for once, but of Regulus. Especially sprawled in Regulus’ bed like this, his dark, grown-out mane spilt all over Reg’s old pillow.

The resemblance should’ve been even more startling when Potter’s eyes were open: they’d been fading gradually, until now they were almost grey. But it just makes him look blind. Snape squared bony shoulders. I don’t want him to look like Reg. I want the colour back in his eyes. I want him to look like himself again.

“‘Bring him back here’, you said. You’d better know exactly what you’re doing,” Snape grumbled at the high ceiling. The house responded only with a creaky sigh, all four walls of the room contracting in a breath like a ribcage.

Chapter 5

Lucy Locket lost her pocket,
Kitty Fisher found it;
Not a penny was there in it,
Only ribbon round it.

Everything was a blur: like waking up from a long, painful nightmare.

As Harry hobbled downstairs he heard a loud banging of pots and pans from the kitchen, and for one crazy moment he thought that Mrs. Weasley had come for a visit. Harry peeked in. There was no one there, except Snape.

Snape loomed over an assortment of saucepans on the stove, as if their contents were student potions about to be inspected and given a mark of T. His expression was a sour grimace, the kind that always appeared when Neville was about to create yet another spectacular explosion.

He rotated his wand in a circular motion over the largest stockpot: it started to steam and bubble in a very ‘toil and trouble’ish manner. In his left hand, he held a kitchen knife, its blade large and shiny and undoubtedly sharpened to perfection. Harry wondered what sort of things that blade had already been tested on, and tried not to look at the contents of the pot.

Harry thought about sneaking back upstairs. But he wasn’t about to be afraid of cutlery, so instead of staying out of Snape’s sight, he leaned against a wooden chair. His attempt at casualness went a bit wonky when the chair scraped suddenly across the uneven stone floor and he stumbled a little, deprived of its support. So he propped himself against the kitchen table instead, running his hands over the surface roughened by a slicing knife, dented by small hexes, stained by tea and Fred’n’George’s old graffiti. Craning his neck, he peered at the stove without moving any closer.

Snape didn’t acknowledge his presence with anything other than a grumbled “Sit down before you fall down.” He didn’t even bother to glance round, just tucked his wand behind his ear and picked up a ladle. The knife glistened murderously in his left hand.

Harry gathered his courage. “What’s that?” he asked, nodding at the ominously bubbling stockpot.

Snape eyed him. “What does it look like?”

Harry considered the possibilities and chose the most harmless. “Dinner?” he blinked hopefully.

“Half an hour.” Harry’s stomach growled as if on cue; Snape smirked in reply and added, “If you can survive that long.”

No one’d cooked for Harry before. There were Weasley family dinners and house elves at Hogwarts, but no one’d ever cooked a full meal just for him. Certainly not the Dursleys. Of all people, he’d never expected Snape to be the one to do that for him: he’d expected Snape to kill him, for making a complete mess of destroying the last Horcrux, but cook for him? Never.

“What’s for dinner then?”

Harry didn’t think Snape would answer him at all, with his nose in the boiling brew like a cartoon witch from a children’s book, but then he finally said: “Stew. My mother’s old recipe.”

Harry thought of the photo Hermione found, and decided he didn’t trust Eileen Prince’s stew any more than he trusted any of Snape’s concoctions.

“Need help?”

At first, Snape glared at Harry as if he’d grown a second head. Finally he grunted and thrust the knife and something else into Harry’s hands: some sort of thin, pasty roots that looked like they’d been plucked from the ground a minute ago, dirt and all. “Clean and slice these, then start grating the cheese.”

Harry cleaned the roots but eyed the chunk of cheese on the counter – solid as a brick and a bit mouldy around the edges – with apprehension. He really hoped it hadn’t been kept in the cupboard all this time, since last year or even before then.

The stew turned out to be decent after all. Or perhaps Harry was hungrier than he thought.


“So,” Harry asked, “Why’ve y’been acting so strange the past few days?”

Snape hmphed. “I’m ‘acting strange’? Project much, do you, Potter?”

What’s he on about? Normal people don’t ponce about pretending to be Malfoy’s mum. Harry waved his spoon. “First you ask weird questions, then you do all these crazy things without explaining, like pushing me around and dragging me places. I’m not the one off his chump.” He struggled for explanation, and then a suspicion dawned. “Did you drug me?” It has to be! “You did!” Harry stared in horror at the stew and pushed away the bowl.

“I medicated you,” Snape huffed. “And if you can’t tell the difference, then your ignorance is your problem, not mine.”

Medicated? But… that’s mental! I wasn’t sick or anything, just… Harry stared at his reflection in the spoon and that slowly brought back the memory of a ghostly image of himself in the mirror. “Oh.” Harry dropped the spoon. Things slowly began to come together. “Was I sick?” Am I still?

“I’d hardly waste perfectly good potions on you if it wasn’t strictly necessary,” Snape declared.

Did they work? Harry frowned. Must’ve. “I don’t feel sick…” He shrugged. “Huh. Thanks, I s’pose.” Dunno why I bother thanking Snape. But just in case he has gone a bit weird, I probably shouldn’t make him angry.

“Ingrate!” Snape barked. So menacing it sounded, Harry’s hand trembled and sent his spoon flying off the table. “Do you have any idea how lucky you are to be alive? What the hell do you think about? Do you ever think? Merlin’s balls, boy, when I was your age, if I’d meandered my way through life like you do, I’d never have lived to be my age! I’d’ve been slaughtered the moment I left school!”

So maddening it all was, from the very day Snape first showed up at Grimmauld. “I’m not a boy and I don’t need you telling me what to do, so stop lecturing me! Voldemort’s my responsibility and my fight, not yours.” He just keeps coming round and teaching me and saving me and doing it all so much better than me without even breaking a sweat and it drives me mental! I hate owing him anything and he keeps making damn sure I do! “I’m not one of your firsties and I can bloody well take care of myself!”

“Oh, and what a wonderful job you’re doing, too!” Snape’s words dripped acid. “Let’s count the ways, shall we? Half-mad. Cursed to be locked away and forgotten. Oh, and starved,” Snape added, as if it was an afterthought. “Keep going like this, and they’ll be carving ‘I can take care of myself’ on your tombstone!” Snape gave Harry a contemptuous glare, “Quite the hero.”

“I’m not a hero, or your student, or one of your bloody Potions ingredients! You treat those sodding portraits better than me and I HATE it!”

Harry slammed the door, climbed the stairs and crossed the hall on shaking legs. His old mantra had returned but now it repeated on a single note: the key the key the key. Something Snape said stuck in his mind, and he had to be sure. Locked away and forgotten. The front door loomed, dark and terrifying, as if it too was waiting for Harry’s touch to absorb his blood. The closer Harry got to it the heavier his feet and thoughts became. It was as if some invisible thread had stretched to its limit, not letting him past the threshold.

Even the feeble rays coming through the dusty fanlight were too bright. He walked toward the door until he couldn’t walk any more, then he collapsed to his knees and rubbed his face, as if trying to clear the cobwebs out of his mind. There was something strange about his right hand: too plain, too bare. Of course! My life line… gone. The scar from where the key had scratched him was almost gone too. “What’s happening to me?” It felt like he was breathing water. I am cursed, aren’t I?

Snape stalked up and stood behind him; there was a big ironbound book in his arms, and a smaller one with a snakeskin cover stacked on top. “Fortunately, the house is protecting you. But it needs to keep you inside.”

Snape spoke some more: “Oubliette”, Harry caught. “Eremitical Seal”. Descriptions of curses spun dizzyingly in his ears and eyes. Harry goggled at the picture of a Hermit looking up at him from the big book’s musty page. Is that what I am? Forgotten? So if Snape walked outside right now and asked a stranger in Diagon Alley who Harry Potter is, would they know? Would they even see me if I was the one doing the asking? Or has that curse already erased every trace of me from the outside world?

And if it has, would that be so bad? I’m sick to death of all the lying articles in the Prophet, and reporters following me around and people gawking and whispering. If the world wants to forget me, let it. I won’t forget the people that matter. Snape wouldn’t forget me.

A stray image passed through Harry’s mind – a dream he’d had: following ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ into the crowds at Knockturn Alley – and his heart jumped.

“Are you listening?” Snape snapped.

“‘Course I am!”

“What did I just say?”

Harry shrugged. Words swam through his head: driven mad, wasting away, and other horrible visions of his future. “That everyone’ll forget me,” he finally picked the least horrifying. “Good.”

“The world should be so lucky to forget about you,” Snape scoffed. “But it’s unlikely to happen any time soon. What I find hard to believe is that you’re not throwing a fit about being trapped in this house until it lets you leave.”

“I didn’t say I liked it,” Harry grumbled. “I can’t kill Voldemort unless he decides to drop by in person for a little visit. That’s pretty damn inconvenient.”

Snape snorted. “Perhaps it’s for the best. At least this’ll stop you from finding any more dark artefacts and adding to your collection of curses in the process.”

Nasty bastard just had to rub it in, didn’t he? Harry took another deep breath in an effort not to respond. Instead of Snape, he directed all of his angry focus at the front door. The world outside that door seemed so harsh and wide and dangerous, it made him shiver with dread. In his mind he knew it was the curse acting, but that didn’t make the irrational fear any easier to bear.

Harry clenched his fists and took a few firm steps forward, fighting the invisible leash that seemed to tighten around his throat, making it hard to breathe. One shaking hand wrestled with the doorknob – the metallic rattle was loud in the stillness – and he threw the door open and staggered blindly outside. Into the rain.

He stood there catching the drops with his tongue until the dizziness and disorientation felt unbearable, as if the rainwater was vodka and got him more drunk with each drop. Just a few days ago I wanted to hide here in Grimmauld all my life. I didn’t even think then how limiting it’d be.

Harry shambled back inside and slammed the front door after him, shutting out the dizzying enormousness beyond. He sagged against the closed door and took deep breaths until his thoughts cleared. “If I give you the memory, will you be able to tell me what the key took from me?” He swallowed, “You said it needed a sacrifice, right?”

Snape nodded, but instead of replying aloud he simply fixed Harry with a mute, expectant stare, so Harry led him into the hall where a pensieve stood in a hidden niche in the wall.

It felt nice, giving that memory up, as if one of many weights had been lifted off Harry’s shoulders. Snape bent over the bowl for a while, deep in thought, motionless as a statue. The pale light softened his features. The hair falling over his face made his nose look almost proportional to the rest of his head.

“What did it take?” he asked when Snape straightened up and stepped away from the pensieve. Harry took a deep breath and braced himself for the answer that he’d already half-guessed and dreaded: the largest sacrifice of his life had been stolen away, unnoticed.

“Your mother’s protection.” Snape answered softly. “It was in your blood. When the key scratched you and the doorway absorbed your blood, it burned away the last traces of the protective spell.”

That was it: the final verdict. It hurt more than anything else Snape could’ve said, more than the grim future of living with the curse. That future hadn’t happened yet, but this loss was final. Mum. It was the last trace I had of her. As far back as Harry remembered, he’d always liked to think of her as an angel, watching over him wherever he went, always with him. But as Snape said that, Harry finally realised just how lonely he’d been these last few months: that sense of someone watching over him had disappeared and he’d been too wrapped up in his solitary self to even notice. Harry felt like hiding his head under the tapestry again. “I never even knew her, but this is like losing her twice, and I can’t understand why.”

But I should’ve known! I should’ve realised sooner. Every time he saw himself in the mirror: every time he looked into it and refused to believe his eyes were turning duller and duller. Every time he paid less and less attention to the world around him, he lost her all over again; bit by bit, he’d let his last link to his mother slip away through his fingers.

Snape’s expression was unreadable. “Paying attention means watching for trouble within as well as without.” His hand settled on Harry’s shoulder, squeezed briefly.

Harry nodded grimly, but his chest felt just a bit lighter after those words.

Snape stalked away to the corner, where the tapestry still lay in a rumpled heap on the floor after Harry had used it for a blanket. Snape Leviosa-ed it back up onto its hooks, and as its swaying folds settled, his fingers lingered on one of the countless names of Blacks. This one was right next to a scorched hole about the size and shape of Padfoot’s ear.

“That’s where Sirius’ name was,” Harry said, not quite out of spite. “I wish I knew how to mend tapestries.”

Snape’s fingers slowly stroked the neighbour name that remained intact. “It’s fortunate then that your skills aren’t that honed. Reg was pleased to have him gone. He never did like to share.”

“Reg?” Harry echoed, ‘cause it sounded strange to hear Snape say it.

“Regulus Black,” Snape replied quickly. “He was a year after me, in Slytherin.”

‘Reg’, eh? Harry thought. He was awfully quick to correct himself. Wonder what that was about?


Snape had learned long ago not to search for Regulus in the face of every stranger, but as he entered the library, he couldn’t help but stare at the profile of the young man there, bent over a book. The pose was so familiar, it made time rush back a couple of decades. Reg? …No, his rationality reminded an instant later, Regulus is dead and gone.

Potter was curled up in Regulus’ favourite chair, looking right at home with a grimoire. About time he finally finished that homework: I assigned it to him ages ago.

There was something about his profile that made Snape’s gaze linger. Familiar lines in that long fringe hanging over Potter’s forehead, familiar twist of a smile. Regulus would’ve been about the same age as Potter when he died, too young…

Abruptly Snape turned away, stopping himself from looking for any more signs of resemblance. Regulus and Potter have nothing in common.

Regulus had a certain charm. A single look could imply a world of possibilities and leave Severus wanting to explore each one. Potter, with his gaping, flabbergasted stares, was an open book, the gaudy kind filled with illustrated nursery rhymes: much like the book in this library that had first told Snape how to counteract the key’s curse. Yes, it was true that children’s books had a habit of surprising adults, with their odd charm and unexpected wisdom. Potter, he told himself sternly, had neither.

Snape had only ever seen Regulus openly flabbergasted once: as Regulus had looked up at him from the plain locket cupped in his palm.

“You mean it’s mine? To keep?”

“Yes. It was my mam’s.” Severus added dryly, “The Prince fortune.” Or what’s left of it.

Regulus’ fingers softly caressed the smooth shell of his locket. His thumb pressed against the seam and snapped the halves open. There was no picture, no lock of hair inside.

Severus’ neck felt bare without its comforting weight, but in a way, a great weight had lifted off his shoulders.

“How strange,” Regulus said, tracing the soft sheen of the locket’s worn gold case. “Dad’s got a cursed one from one of the Founders. Every time I touch it, I can feel the magic bristle. But I’ve never seen one without any magic at all.”

“It used to have some charms,” Severus said. “They wore out before I was born.” Just like Mam’s magic. My dad has that effect on things.

Regulus smiled, smoothing out the chain, closing the locket and caressing it gently like a touchstone.

Severus’ hands closed over Regulus’. “I just wanted you to have it,” he said. “A present.” The less Dad sees of it, the less chance he’ll have to pawn it. It’s in good hands now.

Potter looked up from his reading, bleary eyed. “Still here?” he mumbled. “Don’t you ever sleep?”

“I could ask you the same question.”

“Who, me? M’just reading.”

The volume in Potter’s hands was upside down; its bookmark dangled, wagging in amusement, from its inverted spine. Snape arched an eyebrow at the cover but didn’t mention it. It’s good that he’s spending more time with the books, even if he isn’t always reading them. They’ll lick some sense into him eventually.

“OK, actually… um.” Was that a blush showing on that pale face? “I don’t want to sleep, just yet.” Snape nodded and prepared to leave the brat to his books when he heard a mumbled admission, “M’a bit scared.”

“‘Scared’,” Snape echoed, voice and face briefly blank with surprise before he resumed his familiar, snide mask. “The great Harry Potter, scared of something. Imagine that.”

Potter snorted, but didn’t rise to the bait. “I was thinking – and don’t say it! – Anyway. What if I do fall asleep and the curse takes over again and Grimmauld Place won’t be able to stop it?” he asked, glaring down at the book in his lap rather than at Snape. “It’s frustrating, knowing I’m doing things all wrong but not knowing how to fix it.” His restless fingers toyed with the frayed bookmark.

“You don’t have to know how to fix it all now,” Snape interrupted him, gruffly. “This Place will keep you safe, if you let it. It’s stronger than you think.”

Echoing him, the book Potter was cradling gave a reassuring rustle, its pages curling round his fingers.

“What you said once,” Potter murmured, stroking the book’s spine, “that I can’t break this curse. That I have to fight against it. Every day. Is that true?”

Snape nodded.

“Is that what happened to Dumbledore? Did he get tired of fighting?”

And from then on, Dumbledore was as good as dead. “Yes.”

I have to believe Potter won’t suffer the same fate. Loneliness isn’t the same as the curse that rotted Dumbledore’s flesh, that would have turned him into an Inferius. Loneliness can be lived with. I should know; I’ve lived with mine all my life.

“Is that why you killed him?” Potter asked suddenly. His gaze was clear and just as disturbingly honest as it was when he was a firstie, but beyond that openness there was something intuitive and searching, so similar to the way Dumbledore’s Legilimency used to feel.

But that can’t be! The boy doesn’t have the skill to cast wandless, wordless Legilimens!

“Did you do it out of pity?” Potter murmured. “Cause that’s OK. I’d understand. I think.”

Involuntary revulsion spiked through Snape as the gentle, wordless coaxing to reveal his secrets – to spill his guts – intensified. He stepped back as if the unintended mental attack was a physical invasion of his space. “You ought to pay more attention to your studies, instead of wasting your time questioning things that cannot be changed.”

Potter scowled, and that insistent probing sensation was gone, as if it had never existed.


Snape must’ve exhausted his limited supply of ‘nice’, because halfway through the conversation the git was suddenly snarling more than the yeti skin in the hallway, and Harry hadn’t even said anything too annoying to him.

“We are studying,” Harry told him, gesturing at the books and the candles around them, hoping it’d make a difference. “When’s the next lesson?”

“Why do you want to know? Are you getting bored, or is it your ‘fan club’?” Snape glared at the candles clustered around Harry. When Harry simply shrugged and resumed reading instead of answering him, Snape bent down and snatched up the nearest candle. Its flame quivered at the unexpected capture as Snape lifted it to his eye level and gave it a shark-like snarl. “Even now, when you’ve got more important things to think about, you still have to be surrounded by admirers, don’t you, Potter?” The candle wriggled in his grasp, scattering waxy sweat drops.

“Oi!” Harry only just managed to grab it out of Snape’s hand before it died of over-exhaustion. “Get your own light!” he scowled at Snape, and turned to discreetly pet the terrified little thing.

Snape gave Harry the same snarl he’d just given the candle.

What’s got up his dirty great nose? Harry groused to himself, Did a doxy fly up his robes and bite him on the arse? Anyone’d think he’s jealous!

The candle hid helplessly in the crook of Harry’s hand, its flame timidly starting to grow again. Snape glared irritably at it, then at Harry. Then he drew his wand out of his sleeve and gave it an arrogant flick. With an echoing fwoomph, every gaslight burst into full flame. Their blue flares gave the room the appearance of a mortuary. Harry squinted against the sudden glare. The flock of candles gathered in Harry’s shadow, their warm yellow light seeming small in comparison. But Harry thought even the smallest candle was worth more than all the gaslights in the Place. The gaslights were always cold and aloof, with their hungry, creepy sounds: hissing like snakes, but with none of their meaning.

“Put ‘em out!” Harry demanded. “I don’t want the gaslights on.”

“You shouldn’t keep this house completely in the dark,” Snape declared. “Who knows what might be lurking in it?”

Yeah, jealous sods like you! Harry glared, knowing Snape could see right into his mind with that focused stare, but beyond caring.

With a satisfied “Hmph,” Snape stalked through the lit corridor, in all his billowing, shiver-inducing glory.

“Nox,” grumbled Harry, and stood protectively over the candles until the gaslights faded with a sullen hiss. “Git!”

On the other hand, the thought of Snape returning to his normal gittitude was almost calming.


I must’ve been mistaken. Snape decided. No one that hopeless at Occlumency could manage Legilimency at all, much less nonverbal, wandless Legilimency.

In his attempt to escape the memory of Dumbledore haunting him so belatedly, Severus walked all the way up to the top floor, to the small observatory on the roof. The wizard space of the observatory loft was so much wider than the attic below. Stars shone overhead, brighter than anything visible from streets shrouded in Muggle smog, dazzled by electric lights. A spidery telescope shrouded in cobwebs stood in the corner. Snape reached for a smaller one, lying on the table along with Walburga Black’s doxy-eaten gloves. There was also a bottle of ink – long gone dry – and a quill, resting on top of a pile of star charts. Snape traced the dot marked Alpha Leonis on paper before ever finding it in the sky.

‘Have you ever mourned him?’ Walburga had asked. Severus could never decide what Regulus was to him to mourn the exact loss – he just knew that the loss was terrible: too terrible to think about. A young boy with silver-grey eyes and a flash of a smile: a lion cub among jackals. No one recalls all the firsts in their life, but first loves – and first griefs – make marks every bit as permanent as the Dark Mark.

Regulus and he had shared so many firsts, among themselves. That first glance that began it all, and Regulus’ morbid sense of humour that prompted a smile of affection on Severus’ face all too often, then a bed – where that affection eventually led them – and finally, thanks to Orion Black, the Mark. An apprenticeship, they were told, but Severus knew better by then. It was a cult, dark and powerful, the kind you stood with or stood against: anyone trying to merely stand aside from them would be trampled to death. And there was no way that Severus – a half-blood with no family and no fortune – could hope to stand against them. The Dark Marks connected all the new initiates into one great circle and no one noticed that in it they were also linked to each other, for better or worse. No one cared because ultimately all the Marks were connected to the Dark Lord, as Mr. Black’s associate called himself.

It didn’t take Severus long to see that the pain came nonetheless, to Goyle, to Lestrange, to Regulus and then to Severus, echoing on and on around the circle. Their parents, uncles, brothers watched from the sidelines, cloaked. “Discipline,” they called it. “Order. Lessons. Brotherhood.”

For five delusional days Severus tried to think that there was something else connecting them all, besides shared pain. Then Regulus ran, before Severus could plan his own escape.

And then Regulus was killed. Severus knew the exact moment, because the terrible backlash from Regulus’ pain hit Severus full blast through his new Mark. The force of it must’ve propagated through the entire circle of new initiates when the intended target had no life left in him, but it reached Severus just a fraction of a second before everyone else, and part of Severus died with him.

It wasn’t Voldemort who killed Regulus, not in person, but he might as well have done so. Because at the precise time Regulus died Severus had looked into the Dark Lord’s eyes and knew exactly who had ordered his death. Severus’ tentative, slithering Legilimency skills were finally shocked into their full power by the painful truth: Regulus was dead, because the Dark Lord had wanted him dead.

Regulus had so much to offer this world, but he never had the chance to become the Alpha Leonis that Walburga named him after. He simply lived to be the part of Severus’ life that, like all good things, was too good to last. After a while, Regulus turned into the memory of a beautiful dream that Severus might as well have never had at all, a dream he failed to protect: bright but distant, like the star bearing his name. Every time Snape saw Sirius Black afterwards – the one so close, the one who lived – he lashed out for all the right reasons, and sometimes for the wrong ones too: just because he saw a twist of a smile whose slyness reminded him painfully of his loss. Other times, he searched for Alpha Leonis in the night sky and remembered that just once in his life, he’d had someone to love, someone to watch over, someone who understood him better than he understood himself.

‘I’d understand,’ Potter had said. He understood nothing.

Regulus would never have had to state the obvious.


There once was a time Harry asked himself What would Dumbledore do? But that wouldn’t help him now. Dumbledore was gone.

If he kept thinking of Dumbledore, he’d only dig himself deeper and deeper into a pit of despair, and he’d already lost so much time. He’d let himself get distracted while he still had a job to finish: one more Horcrux to find.

The entire world depended on him, counted on him to do it. He had no idea where to begin. And what was worse, he was stuck here, in Grimmauld Place with no way out. Harry stared into the Potions textbook, which had become a placeholder for all his notes. What would the Prince do?

Somewhere he could almost hear Snape’s insistent, soft tones: “He’d tell you that you need to drink this, and eat more than a mouthful, and get some sleep.”

Right, Harry thought, What would Snape do? Probably use every resource he’s got, and examine them thoroughly. So then… Harry reached into his pocket.

The locket Harry had found by Dumbledore’s body was plain and smooth, the coppery colour of low-karat gold, with the velvety glow that only comes from generations of handling. It was covered in tiny scuffs, especially in the centre, as if someone – or several someones, sensitive or nervous, thinking with their hands – had the habit of rubbing it like a touchstone. Several of the links in its heavy chain were dented or twisted a bit, as if the chain had been yanked on more than once, tangled by childish hands or brutal ones. In one place the chain was knotted, which was a bit odd since the chain had no clasp and it would have to be broken to tie – or untie – that type of knot. There was a note folded inside the locket; Harry’d read it a dozen times.

To the Dark Lord

I know I will be dead long before you read this,

but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret.

So many times Harry’d wondered, What about R.A.B.’s own secret? Who was he? Where did he take that Horcrux?

I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can.

I face death in the hope that when you meet your match you will be mortal once more.


Harry stared at the mysterious note. What did he do with the Horcrux locket? Did he destroy it? Hide it?

The bitey grimoire Snape had once given him for homework nudged his elbow. He glanced down at it. It opened itself to a page with writing in the margins. At first glance Harry almost thought the page had been torn out of his Potions textbook: the Prince’s cramped, spiky script was that familiar.

Jarvey saliva adds compulsive swearing to the potion effects!

That’s brilliant! a different hand had added below. Just clean the ink off your nose before you leave the library.

And lower, in the Prince’s handwriting again, Sod off!

For once it wasn’t the Prince’s words that caught Harry’s attention. The handwriting on the mystery reply looked slim and delicate, with a sharp twist to its loops.

Harry opened the locket again, took out the note folded within. It had sharp twists but the loops were hurried and although the handwriting was similar – just as thin and small – Harry wasn’t quite sure if it was the same person who wrote it. As he moved, the Prince’s textbook shifted in his lap and a bunch of folded notes fell out. Among them were the paper swan and swallow he’d found under the curio cabinet. Harry set the swan aside but kept looking at the swallow. One wing had a rough edge as if it was torn from a larger sheet of parchment, light and thin. The feel of the parchment reminded him of something. Although the note had no signature, it struck him that he’d seen that spindly handwriting before: the unusual ‘I’s that looked like ‘J’s, the looped ‘L’ whose final stroke underlined the following letters.

Harry remembered Walburga’s hushed explanation to her young son. Little kings. One of them has to be Regulus. That’s what she said ‘Regulus’ meant: prince. Prince. Wait, the Half-Blood Prince?

That’s brilliant! Just clean the ink off your nose before you leave the library.

…I know I will be dead long before you read this…

…I’m so sorry, S. I had no choice…

That S. on the note! Why didn’t I think of it before? Regulus wasn’t writing to Sirius, he was writing to Snape!

From one little king to another…

Harry stared at the swallow’s wing, then at the swan found with it and suddenly saw it in a completely different light. They’d both carried something, he realised. Something that had been stolen from them.

Harry couldn’t believe his eyes. He’d roamed this house a thousand times, he’d even watched the cursed artefacts sneaking back into the curio cabinet, one by one. He’d definitely seen and read (and, he dimly remembered, been enveloped by) the Black family tapestry, now back up on the wall. How could he have missed that Regulus Black, Sirius’ younger brother, had the same initials as the note inside the decoy locket? Why hadn’t he thought of the locket they’d found in Grimmauld’s cabinets that hols, two summers ago? He could remember that time, when Sirius and Dumbledore were both still alive, as clearly as yesterday: Sirius and the twins were clearing out the rubbish left behind by a long line of Blacks, cleaning the cabinets in the drawing room. Everyone had worked and grumbled and grinned, and all his friends were whole and well and with him. And among all the dusty bits and bobs, there’d been a heavy locket, that none of them could open.

Harry smiled grimly; it was as if he could almost hear the last piece of the puzzle sliding into place. Lucius Malfoy kept the diary at Malfoy Manor. The Lestranges had the cup in plain view: on their mantelpiece, like a bloody Quidditch trophy. What if another Horcrux has been here all this time, in another old Pureblood home, right under my nose? That’s it! It has to be!

Because if it wasn’t, Harry had no idea where else he could look.

Harry glanced at the writing desk in the corner and immediately his gaze strayed to the drawing room. The barest hint of pre-dawn grey seeped through the gap in the curtains.

He stole as quietly as he could past Mrs. Black’s portrait in the corridor: he’d never been less eager to waken it. He entered the drawing room, treading softly to avoid disturbing dust or doxies, intent on searching the curio cabinet there.

He saw a ring, which the parchment swan had been intended to carry from the library to the kitchen, but he gave it only a passing glance, for there were other things in there as well that hadn’t been there before. Behind the spidery instrument, some tarnished old seals and a musical box Harry didn’t dare to touch again, was a locket. The locket that no one could open. Harry thought he knew now why that was.

But there was only one way to find out for sure. A vision flashed through Harry’s mind: Dumbledore’s blackened hand, and a ring with a cracked black stone on his withered finger. Drawing a deep breath, he reached out…

Harry paused, pulled back, and rubbed his sweaty palms together as if getting ready to catch a particularly difficult snitch.

Wait. An image flashed through his mind of Snape in the pensieve memory, berating him for not being cautious. Defensive curses. Contact.

Harry gave the gleaming artefact a determined frown. Then with two tugs he pulled the sleeves of his jumper over his bare hands, and only then clasped the locket, clawing at it awkwardly, his wool-covered fingers trying to prise it open. He scowled fiercely at it, with all the force of his burning desire to see Voldemort gone for good.

Even through the warmth of Mrs. Weasley’s jumper, the Horcrux felt heavy and cold. Then it snapped open and a burst of green flame hit him square in the chest.

The locket’s chain coiled round his neck like a python, cutting, crushing. White-hot agony wrapped his throat like the lash of a whip, like the slashing impact of a curse, the same one Snape used on Harry when he’d yelled: “Don’t call me coward!”, but worse, oh fuck so much worse, and this time the curse didn’t end and Harry had no Buckbeak to save him and no Snape to save him either.

Harry smelled burnt fabric and saw the bare flesh blackening on his chest where the locket’s fire hit him. He screamed, but only a wheezing sound made it out. He clawed at the chain in an instinctive attempt to tear the cursed thing free; but at the smallest movement the agony peaked so high he almost blacked out. Dimly through the nauseating waves of pain he realised that if he lost consciousness here, where no one else could hear him, he was dead.

He didn’t know how he stumbled to the door or staggered down the hall, but nonetheless he was making his way across it. The locket, still dangling around his neck, seared him with every step. It was so hard to breathe as agony thickened in his lungs. This is the worst one yet. Oh shit!

“Help!” he wheezed. His throat tightened and it felt as if the locket’s chain was getting shorter and shorter, slowly garrotting him. Unable to fight it any longer, he collapsed on the dusty floorboards. “Snape!” he panted; forced out of his lungs like this, the air burned. Snape!

Then there were hands all over him, and a persistent, deep voice in his ear. He was lifted and carried somewhere, the ring of agony around his throat ebbing to a dull throb. As the blackness closed over him, his last memory was of the sick stench of his own curse-corroded skin.

Chapter 6

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

Snape hadn’t expected his patient to awaken so soon, but there was an uneven, deeper breath, then green, unfocused eyes flickered and opened. “How bad?”

A knot twisted in Snape’s gut. “I’ve seen worse.”

“Ah. Like Dumbledore’s ‘worse’ or worse ‘worse’?”

Snape gazed in past those eyes: a familiar mental routine, only this time Potter never pushed back; he just let him in, into a chaotic whirlwind of visions and sounds, a disordered mess only Potter could control.

Dumbledore in the doorway of a Muggle house, Dumbledore drinking from a cup, Dumbledore’s blackened hand: that unstoppable cellular death reminding Snape once more that there were injuries that even all of his knowledge couldn’t heal.

There was also an ache, a burning – not an actual pain of his own body, but an induced kind, like the Dark Mark’s summons – forced into his brain, like the visions.

Snape sighed as he broke the mental contact. “Honestly.” He paused and swallowed. The image of Dumbledore’s blackened limb lingered fresh in his mind, especially with the same blackened flesh on Potter’s chest and throat. “You saw his hand. If the same curse had struck you, your neck would have been too withered to support even your completely empty head.” He smiled painfully. Even with every potion, every countercurse at his and the Headmaster’s command, it had taken less than six months before even Dumbledore had admitted it was hopeless.

“The locket,” Potter wheezed. “Did I get it?”

Snape glanced up past his patient’s line of sight, to the headboard of his bed where a locket with an ornate S dangled from its chain. He snuck it off the headboard and safely out of Potter’s reach with a wandless, silent Leviosa, even as he looked down at Harry. Somewhere behind his composed mask of a face he berated Potter for suicidal lunacy, though aloud he only murmured, “You got them all, bravely, as usual.” He brushed back the hair that threatened to fall into Potter’s eyes, imprecise and defenceless without his glasses. “Go to sleep.”

“Wait,” Potter protested weakly. “Gotta give you something.”

“Later,” Snape insisted. “Sleep.” For once he didn’t have the heart to tell Harry the bitter truth, just as he knew he didn’t have the guts to yell at him. Damn Potter for growing up and not turning into his father, for turning into someone deceptively like Regulus instead.

Or not like Regulus at all. No matter how much I’ve tried to teach him, his mind is still an open book: his heart on his sleeve, his thoughts in his eyes. For the first time, these thoughts twisted Snape’s gut with worry rather than resentful rage. Yet another reason why he will be lucky to survive the Dark Lord.

Regulus was never so foolish, so daring, so damn reckless. Harry can’t go on blithely opening one dark artefact after the other and expect others – expect me! – to save his skin. Not when I can guard him day and night, and still fail to keep him safe! He managed to set off that curse here, on my watch, and I couldn’t stop it in time.

I can’t let him die! Not like this.

‘Protect him until the final battle,’ Dumbledore had said. ‘Only until the final battle, then it’s up to him, as he faces his destiny.’

Until he faces Voldemort. Every road in Snape’s life led to the Dark Lord. So did the lives of others, who hardly deserved the end he would give them.

Snape pushed away those thoughts – With my luck, he’ll summon me soon enough – and unwound a fresh roll of bandages. It didn’t matter at that moment whose wounds they would soon conceal; Snape welcomed any refuge from his fears, even the temporary one offered by the work of tending to Potter’s curse wounds. Scourgify to sanitise the cloth; Tergeo to clean out the discharge; manually apply a layer of salve: the wizardly will working with the ancient magic of caring touch, pushing healing energy beneath the surface of the skin, deep into tendons and muscles, joints and bones. Though healing had never been among his natural magical gifts, by now such battlefield mediwizardry was an all-too-familiar routine. It grounded him.

It’s maddening to have so little to work with: like trying to fight a wildfire with a wet rag. At Hogwarts I had not only my own resources, but Pomfrey’s, Sprout’s and Hagrid’s, all at my beck and call. I could’ve done so much more. First-rate facilities, wasted on the trivia of schoolchildren. But now, with Harry… My hands have never been more tied. I only have a kitchen to brew in, only the ingredients for simpler, slower remedies. And what few ingredients I do have won’t last much longer: there’s still some rosewater and honey, and plenty of olive oil, but one more batch and I’ll be out of saffron and truffles…


When Harry woke up again, bandages were wrapped tightly all around his chest and neck. It didn’t hurt, in fact, his entire chest was numb.

There was a note next to his pillow. Harry unfolded it.

Summoned. it said. Back tonight. Our next lecture will be on common sense!

The script spiked angrily at the end, as if Snape could only barely restrain himself from adding insults.


He said he’d be back tonight. Harry stared at the window, worried, chewing his fingernails and glaring at the portraits. He’d misplaced his Advanced Potion-Making book. Maybe I left it in the library. I ought to check it again. Or do something else more productive than sitting here and worrying over nothing. Still, Harry sat at the bottom of the stairs, gazing blankly across the hall at the stubbornly motionless front door.

Last one gone. I should add a sixth tally mark to Mrs. Black’s canvas, only she’d wake up and start asking about it. Instead Harry lifted the edge of the bandages on his shoulder and caught a glimpse of something dark and tentacled under the surface of his skin, like an odd bruise. No! he told himself. He said it wasn’t like Dumbledore’s. Harry swallowed. But even if it is, it’s worth it.

The thought did nothing to dispel the heavy anxiety at the sight of the angry mottling of his skin; it did nothing to banish the thought of other curses.

I hate waiting and not being able to leave. What if Voldemort knows Snape’s helping me? No, I shouldn’t think of that. Snape’s OK. He has to be. He promised he’d come back.

But what if he’s hurt, or worse? I can’t leave here to help him. If he never comes back, I’ll be stuck here forever.

But maybe I will be able to leave, eventually. I wonder how long you can ignore loneliness until you forget it’s there? Can you Obliviate yourself to forget something like that? I wonder if Snape’s ever tried that. If he even cared. Or if he likes being lonely.

Or what if he isn’t so lonely any more? What with Regulus’ portrait around to talk to. Is that why he keeps coming back here? ‘Cause of Regulus?
At that, Harry felt a sick pang in his chest. And here I thought he cared about me. But why would he? He’s only using me to kill Voldemort. For revenge, ‘cause Regulus died.

There was a time when Harry liked that portrait – the bloke his own age, who spent more time in others’ frames than his own – but now Regulus seemed like the rest of the Pureblood prats. Horrible, the lot of them. All the Blacks. Every single one who’s still got their name on that tapestry. I don’t know what Snape sees in a dusty old portrait. A portrait isn’t a person, how can he not know that? Just shows what a mad bastard he is.

There was a dry pop outside. Harry rushed to the front door and swung it open, not caring if Voldemort himself and every last Death Eater were out there waiting for him. But Snape was alone. He leaned against the doorway and panted, gathering his strength, before staggering inside.

Instinctively, Harry reached out and held him up. It punched a spike of agony through his chest and Snape winced as if the same agony speared through him as well. Harry felt something wet and cold, and for the first time he wondered if the stains on those dark robes were Snape’s blood instead of someone else’s. “What happened?”

A wry smile stretched across Snape’s sallow face. “I haven’t had a welcome this warm since… never, actually.” His hands shook. He didn’t try to pull away. “The Dark Lord’s temper wasn’t the best.”

“What’d he do to you?” Harry cried. Snape must’ve really felt like shit, because one long arm draped itself over Harry’s shoulders for support; Harry hoped the support he was offering wasn’t just physical.

“Ohh, nothing out of the ordinary,” Snape was trying for airily casual, but to pull that off, Harry reckoned he would’ve needed his usual silky voice, not this hoarse-from-screaming rasp. And he would’ve needed his usual prowling stride, not this shocky, unsteady totter: even worse than when he’d first showed up at Grimmauld place, after Harry had damn near cursed him in two. “Now that I’m back from my latest pleasure jaunt,” Snape croaked, “let’s take a proper look at your wounds.”


First thing after breakfast, Snape converted the kitchen into a Potions lab: conveniently, it was even located in the basement. And even though it lacked slimy jars and boxes, it smelled like a Potions lab when Snape locked himself in there till teatime, banging pots and pans around. Multicoloured smoke seeped under the door. It smelled like old boots. So did the potion that Snape fed Harry afterwards.

“Any luck?” Harry asked after swallowing down the third batch. At least this one was different: it smelled like boiled cabbage and tasted like tar.

Snape glanced at him blankly and rubbed the bridge of his nose, concealing the tired circles under his eyes. “I’m making progress,” he said levelly.

Harry snorted at that.

“I’ve learned a lot of things I shouldn’t try again. It’s a start.”

“Did you learn anything you should try again?”

“It’s time for your lessons,” said Snape, ignoring Harry’s question. “You didn’t think you’d get out of them just because of a mere chest injury, did you?”

I’ll show you ‘chest injury’, you rotten sod. …Or, no. I’ve done more than enough of that already. “Not me. You didn’t think you’d get out of them just ‘cause of your Potions experiments?”

“How droll,” Snape drawled; yet, somehow, it lacked the chill of his classroom contempt.


Regulus’ canvas in the corner was empty today. Harry was suddenly glad of it, even as he caught Snape’s searching glance at the vacant frame. The portrait’s neighbour, an old witch in an elaborate gown and a dust-powdered wig napped on a painted sofa: the same sofa as the one downstairs, Harry recognised the armrest. Irma Black, the plaque on the frame said, and if the tapestry was right, she must’ve been Walburga Black’s mum, the one who’d collected all those house elf heads.

“What was it that I’d futilely attempted to teach you during our first lesson?” Snape asked over the portrait’s ominous snores, which were loud enough to rattle the surrounding canvases. “Do refresh my memory.”

“How to make a sleeping draught, I think,” Harry shrugged. “Asphodel’n’wormwood, wasn’t it?”

“Draught of Living Death,” Snape couldn’t help correcting, before growling irritably, “And I meant our current lessons.”

“Oh.” Harry glanced at the pensieve in the corner. He remembered it quite well. “Horcruxes are dangerous. They like sacrifices. And I’m not supposed to touch them.”

“So then, why did you?”

“I didn’t! Look, I remembered that bit right away, and I pulled my sleeves over my hands so I wouldn’t touch it. I suppose it just looked so harmless, like the rest of the junk, when we first cleaned out Grimmauld. And what else was I supposed to do? Leave it there?”

“Ask for help, perhaps. I realise consulting a Death Eater on this issue might not seem entirely advisable, but you did have an entire Dark Arts library at your disposal…”

In his pocket, Harry’s left hand clutched at the plain locket with all its strength. “It’s not that I don’t trust you. I do, but…” Harry’s throat was suddenly, betrayingly tight. You’ve already sacrificed too much,he thought, gazing straight into those hollowed, dark eyes, willing Snape to see him, to understand what he meant. I wasn’t about to ask you to sacrifice more.

You, trust me?” Snape stared at Harry as if he’d suddenly sprouted wings.

“Well… Yeah. Innit obvious?”

“Why?” Snape breathed.

“You’re on our side. You showed me your Patronus.”

Snape’s strangely open, stunned expression faded into his usual shuttered, cynical look. “I don’t suppose you ever verified my story with the Order?”

Harry blinked. Never even thought of that. I probably should’ve, but what’s done’s done.He shook his head.

“Typical!” Snape cried. “I could have easily created an illusion of a Patronus; I could have been acting on the Dark Lord’s orders. It wouldn’t’ve taken a minute to gain your trust and then abuse it, but you didn’t even consider the risk then, and you still haven’t considered it now. That’s precisely the sort of thinking – or lack thereof – that’ll get you killed! …As well as me.”

I can’t get anything right with him, can I? “If you’re so afraid of getting killed, why do you keep coming back here and risking everything?” Harry snapped. “I almost killed you, and in return you saved my life. Again. What ‘sort of thinking’ is that?”

“The sort of thinking that realises someone has to keep you alive, since you’re clearly incapable of doing so yourself.”

“That wasn’t what I asked!” Harry protested. “Stop changing the subject. The point is, I can owl the Order any time, or tell the Aurors all about you. I know where your house is. The next time you go there, or come back here, a trap could be waiting for you. But it won’t be,” Harry said hotly, “‘cause sometimes, just occasionally, it’s all right to trust people!”

“Once,” Snape’s quiet tones overrode Harry’s raised voice as effortlessly as ever they did in class, “I put my life into the hands of another man, simply because I had no other choice,” he concluded sternly, “Don’t insult me by assuming that I would ever make the same mistake twice.”

“M’not asking you to do that, or to prove anything to me. Or even tell me what happened!” Harry blew out a breath, and when he spoke again, the strident note of protest was gone from his voice, leaving it level, certain. “I don’t have to ask you anything. ‘Cause I trust you anyway.”

“That’s precisely the problem. You trust things, even though there’s no logical reason why you should.”

But Harry thought of many reasons why he trusted Snape, large and small: the way Snape reacted to certain portraits, the way he’d killed Bellatrix Lestrange, just so Harry could live. The way he kept coming back here again and again, brewing him potions and patching him up and teaching him, even though Harry knew he drove Snape spare in the process. But he didn’t say any of that, because he was more or less crap with words. He said something else instead, something he could explain.

“I want to kill Voldemort,” he told Snape quietly, and then asked, “Do you?”

Snape’s hand rose to cover his left forearm. “For the last eighteen years,” he replied just as quietly, “I’ve wanted nothing more.”

“Right, then.” Harry nodded. “We’re good.”


“Yeah. That’s what normal people do. They trust each other, without Marks or anything like them. Didn’t you ever just trust someone before?”

Snape nodded slowly. His reply, “Once.” was so soft it was barely more than mouthed.


“So, d’you really think it was a mistake, going to Dumbledore? Being his spy?” Harry asked that night as he followed Snape downstairs.

There was a long and awkward moment of silence, as Snape stood facing away from the staircase, looking at the serpent candelabra in the corner. “Don’t mistake me for a hero. I merely chose the lesser evil.”

“Evil?” Harry asked. “How d’you mean?”

Did Snape’s face just turn gloomier? “Do you really want to hear this?”

“Yes.” Course I do! He’s never said anything about Dumbledore. “I promise, I won’t… do anything to you, or start hating you, or… I just want to know.”

“Very well,” Snape finally said. “I swore an Unbreakable Vow.”


“It’s a spell. I was magically bound to obey him. Any infraction meant my inevitable death.”

Harry frowned. “But that’s… that’s slavery! It’s almost as bad as a Dark Mark! Dumbledore’d never lower himself to Voldemort’s level!”

“At least his methods of ensuring obedience were less sadistic.”

“Dumbledore was not like Voldemort!”

Snape turned his back. The movement reminded Harry of the scars Snape’s inevitable black cloth armour hid. A heavy silence fell; full of the weight of voiceless dissent to Harry’s last cry. At last, Snape breathed into the stifling hush, “Are you satisfied?”

“Sorry.” Harry sighed. I really, really am. For everything.


Harry took a sniff of this evening’s potion. “They’re different, every night,” he grumbled, “but they all smell and taste bloody awful – different, but awful.” A thousand different horrible tastes. Like Bertie Botts Beans, for masochists. He scowled at the glass and tried to swallow it all at once. It was just as ghastly as he’d thought.

“They’re good for you,” Snape said, taking the empty glass. As if that explained it all.

“It really is worse than what Dumbledore had, isn’t it?”

Snape said nothing, just peeled the bandage back and set it aside. His hands felt cool against Harry’s inflamed chest. Must be time for the numbing salve. Snape put it on him every morning and evening now, and it took all feeling from his chest completely.

“How long would he have lasted, if you didn’t… help him?”

The hands rubbing the salve into his shoulder were gentle, from what Harry could tell before the salve worked. “A week longer, at most, even without the potion he drank at the cavern.”

Harry flinched at the memory. “So, at least nine months to go. Good. Got time then.” He tried his best to smile, to sound normal. “Right, I’ll just figure out how to break the curse tomorrow morning, and sort Voldemort before supper. What’re you doing day after next?”

Snape replied dryly, “I’ll be up in the observatory, doing a bit of research on the moon,” He paused for a beat then added, “to find out if it’s made of Stilton or Swiss.”

Harry’s smile widened. “Well, I was thinking about going on a holiday, and I reckon I’ll want you along with me.” He explained earnestly, “No one else’ll be able to tend to the wound.”

Was it just a trick of light, or was that an answering grin on Snape’s face?

“I was thinking, Italy. Or maybe France. Or Romania. And London,” he added quietly. I want to see if Ron and Hermione are really all right. I want to tell them that no matter what, some curses can be broken. Maybe they’ll have more luck than me. “Have you ever been to Romania?”

Snape shook his head. “Reg went one summer, after the O.W.L.s. He liked it.”

There he goes, on about Reg again. “That’s where we’ll go then,” Harry nodded. “You can have fun watching me go green when you dose me with your horrible potions day and night. And I’ll…”


His given name caught Harry by surprise. “What?”

“You are not going to die. Not from a Horcrux curse, not from Voldemort.”

“Y’don’t know that!”

“I do,” Snape shoved another foul-smelling concoction under his nose. “I’m not going to let you.” he added. Quiet, final.

Wish it was that simple! Harry thought. But looking into Snape’s dark, serious eyes, he came very close to believing him.


“You’re finally starting to learn something. Will wonders never cease?”

Harry snorted. “I’d’ve learned sooner if you’d decided sooner to be a teacher instead of a sarky sod.”

“I did nothing but teach,” Snape huffed. “It wasn’t my fault if you lot of hormone-addled nitwits couldn’t be bothered to learn.”

“Oh, come on, as if your lot never had hormones,” Harry laughed. “Y’mean to say, back in your day you never snogged someone in the Astronomy Tower, or the Quidditch stands – OK, maybe not the Stands,” he amended at Snape’s appalled glare, before continuing cheerfully, “The Dungeons? The Library?”

“The Library? Certainly not!” Snape bridled, his lips thinning as if he’d just been insulted. “While the Gryffindors were in a hurry to breed the next generation of dunderheads in every spare broom closet, and die a brave and horrible death shortly thereafter, the normal students were busy revising for Potions N.E.W.T.s.”

“‘Normal students’?” Harry echoed, ignoring the jibe about his parents.


Potter blinked. “Who else was ‘normal’ then?”

Snape arched an eyebrow. “Who do you think?”

Harry glanced at the wall tapestry where, next to the scorch mark that was all that was left of Sirius, ‘Regulus Black’ was still stitched. Snape’s gaze lingered on that name, and his harsh face seemed to soften, just a bit. Aha! Harry tried to sound as casual as possible. “Y’mean to tell me your Reg was happy to spend all that time revising without trying to cop a feel at least once?”

Snape’s eyes widened.

Gotcha! Harry smirked, deliberate and gleeful. It felt good to be the one to catch the paranoid prick unaware for a change, instead of Snape always catching him. “That’s not ‘normal’, that’s mental!”

“It was two weeks before the Potions N.E.W.T.!” Snape snapped. “He spilled tea all over the notes I’d kept since the preparation for my O.W.L.s. He was fortunate I let him stir my cauldron.”

“Stir your cauldron.” Harry waggled his eyebrows. Puts a whole new spin to that song Mrs. Weasley likes so much.I see. Is that what they called it back then?”

Snape’s glare could’ve given him scorch marks to match the tapestry. “Get your mind out of the gutter.”

Harry gave him a ‘who me?’ look and hummed the Celestina Warbeck tune with what he hoped was his innocent face.

Snape arched an eyebrow. “Did you know,” he drawled, “that an intelligent thought is considered to be an orgasm of the brain: those able to achieve it experience true pleasure…” he regarded Harry and added with a mock sigh. “The rest have to fake it.”

Harry gathered his courage. Now or never. He seems in a good mood today. “I’d like to check something if you don’t mind. Before you run off to your horrible potions.”

Snape’s eyebrow lifted. “Oh?”

“I think I know why I’m crap at Occlumency. Maybe it’s ‘cause I’m better at attacking than defending. Maybe if I attack first he won’t even have time to… Let me try this.” He stepped up closer to Snape. Looked into his eyes, gazing deeper and deeper and trying to read that enigmatic face with all his strength. “Legilimens,” he whispered.

At first Snape looked shocked and Harry braced himself for the bristly, grumpy lecture that would surely follow, but Snape didn’t break away. Instead that dark gaze turned clear and relaxed, though the tension in Snape’s shoulders and arms hinted at the effort such openness demanded from him. “Concentrate,” he murmured. “Faces are masks. Something we put on for the crowd. You must see past that mask, into the eyes. Into the mind. Gather all your focus, reach out, and above all pay attention.”

Harry tried, looking deeper, past the black mirror of Snape’s irises, past his own reflection in them. Past the darkness and the emptiness to whatever lay beneath. He reached out with his body as well as his mind, until his hands cupped Snape’s face, until the murmur of Snape’s voice melded with the murmur of his thoughts and that murmur gained an image, then a feeling.

“Severus… please!”

Perhaps if I could fake it somehow, Albus would still stand a chance. What spells are least harmful to an Inferius? He’s nearly become one already!

The Killing Curse. I’m prepared.

I can’t! There has to be another way. I can still…

That’s an order!

NO! Don’t force me! Take it back!

DO it! NOW!

When Harry broke out of that shared thought, they were both breathing heavily. For a moment he had to steady them both from falling, like chess pieces tumbling off the board. Harry relaxed his clutching grip, then gently rubbed the blood back into a cluster of white fingertip marks on the sides of Snape’s face.

They didn’t speak. Everything that could’ve been said already had been.


In the privacy of Grimmauld’s kitchen, Snape stared at the boiling cauldron. As he continued the routine of stirring, mincing fresh asphodel leaves, watching the flame so the contents wouldn’t boil over, his thoughts were far away.

“You can’t possibly expect me to do that. Let me try again, there has to be a way. I can do better.”

“You’ve done your best, and I appreciate your efforts. But perhaps, when all the books and cleverness cannot make a difference, it’s time for action of a different kind.”


A calm, even gaze focused on Snape.

Snape felt the chill of the rooms despite the blazing fireplace. “What are you asking of me?”

He reached out with his mind and for once, Dumbledore welcomed him in, without any resistance.

“Now, now. I am not the monster you take me for. To give up one’s life for another’s: such sacrifice only comes from the heart. It takes nobility and courage. Not everyone has that courage, Severus, and not everyone should, on my behalf: Gryffindors are only good in moderation…”

Something fell with a clatter of broken glass. He’d dropped a beaker full of crushed wormwood and hadn’t even noticed it. Dumbledore’s quiet words still rang in his ears:

“Funny thing, death: an adventure not even Voldemort can escape. Sometimes it’s everything, and sometimes it’s nothing. Don’t let this one be nothing, after all we’ve done. When the time comes, you must choose, and if you make that choice – you must make the Killing Curse swift.”


“You spent all day with your cauldrons,” Potter complained. “I hardly see you unless you show up to pour more potions down my throat. Where’s my regularly scheduled torture? Or lesson, as you call it.”

“Miss me, do you?” Snape sneered.

“‘Course!” Potter beamed, not convincing a bit. “Terribly. Can’t you see?”

Snape hmphed derisively at that.

“No, honestly, do I look mental? Miss you? After all your bloody insults and detentions. I’ve missed you something rotten!” The imp grinned. “All day! Oh, come and stir my cauldron…” he hummed and pretended to swoon.

Snape eyed the brat and yanked hard on the strip of cloth he was wrapping around Potter’s ribs. “Manners.”

Potter just snorted and continued singing. “And if you do it right….”

Clown. Snape was tempted to shove the bandage in his mouth. But that’d only stop his insolence for a little while, even if I wrapped him up from head to toe like a mummy.

“I’ll boil you up some hot, strong loooove. To keep you warm…”

“Stop it!”

“Fine!” Potter’s glare settled on Snape: cold, resolute, all that teasing lightness suddenly gone. It was getting harder to avoid that piercing glare. “I will. How soon’m I gonna die?”


“You don’t have to pretend. What with your potions and all. I know I’m running out of time. So I’ve got to try and kill Voldemort. Somehow! Ready or not! Or it’ll only get worse.”

“Don’t be absurd,” Snape muttered, setting yet another healing potion in front of him. “You still need practice. If I thought you were out of time, I’d personally invite the Dark Lord for a visit to Grimmauld, so you could take your best shot. But things are not that desperate just yet.”

“All right.” Harry shifted his glare from Snape to the potion. “M’sorry I yelled. You didn’t force me to go after that locket, I did it myself,” he said before he upended the phial. “And I’m not sorry ‘bout that. So when it’s my funeral, I want Celestina Warbeck playing. And I want you to sing along.”

Snape gave him a We-Are-Not-Amused stare.

Harry grinned. “All right, no Warbeck. Weird Sisters playing ‘God Rest Ye Merry Hippogriffs’?”

Snape snorted. “Anything would be an improvement over Miss Warbeck.” Snape told himself that he wasn’t at all amused by Harry humming the blasted song; he reminded himself that the seventh mention of it in two days was downright annoying.

But all the same, it was times like these when Snape couldn’t help hearing Regulus’ Black humour in Harry’s voice. He had to gather all his self-control to dispel the illusion.


Dunno why Snape’s so stubborn about keeping my chest all bandaged up, Harry thought, picking at the frayed edge. I don’t even feel anything, so the burn or the bruise or whatever was hurting has to’ve healed by now. It’s awkward as hell to practice for battle with my ribs all wrapped up like this, I can’t even take in enough air to yell out a decent curse… oh wait, I’m not supposed to yell them, I’m supposed to cast nonverbally. But either way, how’m’I supposed to cast wandlessly if I can’t breathe? Besides, it’s rough and tight and the bandages tickle my elbows when I sleep and, right, that’s it; I’m taking them off no matter what Snape says. How bad can it be? It’s probably all healed anyway. Ha, I was right, no blood or anything, not even a scar. Only my chest’s still bruised. Hang about, that’s not a bruise, can’t be! Harry peered closer, poked himself in the ribs. Doesn’t hurt. That’s weird. When he looked closer, the bruising over his ribs in the mirror looked like a snake… a snake and a skull, like the one on Snape’s forearm only bigger.

He stepped back from the mirror in shock. Glanced down. Saw nothing. He pulled off all the bandages and stood in front of the mirror, and in the reflection it was obvious, a clear shape of a Dark Mark darkened his chest… where the eye sockets were, his skin was just beginning to turn black and flake off like a shed snakeskin. Harry covered it with his fingertips but felt nothing but smooth skin beneath. He looked in the mirror again and there it was, the Dark Mark.

NO! Impossible! Did that fucking locket Mark me? Or is it… is it like what Dumbledore had? Is that why Snape tried to keep it covered, so I wouldn’t see? Wouldn’t realise this thing’s getting worse and killing me?

How long will it take for the reflection in the mirror to start showing up in reality?

It’s not fair! There has to be a way! There has to!

But is there? Shit, how can I even think of that now when Voldemort’s still around? This isn’t just a life line disappearing or something like that. This has to be worse! I’ve got to kill him, and soon, before his fucking curse kills me!

‘Not yet,’ Snape said. I hope he knows what he’s doing. He must know, otherwise he wouldn’t see any point in keeping up with those lessons of his. I suppose I should try and trust him, but it’s not as though he makes that easy.


Snape had brought him to a different hall today: Harry could tell because actual sunlight was streaming through the dusty panes, bright enough to show galaxies of motes in every ray. The twins had left their mark here, that summer before Harry’s fifth year. They’d taught the beastie-legged chairs to tango, and the scruffy old curtains to slip into people’s pockets and nick spare change. Then Mrs. Weasley caught them at it and took all the charms down while yelling fit to beat a Howler; though the twins whispered to Harry afterwards: “Be careful anyway, mate, she missed a couple!”


Sodding slave driver! Harry eyed his wand, which was currently in Snape’s clutches. “I am!”

“You are not! All you’re doing is screwing your face up and panting. You’re about to burst a blood vessel. We’re done for today.”

“No, lemme try…”

“You managed to summon your wand before. It’s a start.”

“But I haven’t done it without words yet. You’re not giving up, are you?”

“It’d take more than your incompetence to make me give up!” Snape groused, but after a searching look he added in quieter tones, “You’re too tired to cast properly anymore; all you’ll accomplish now is to exhaust yourself further.”

“Rubbish! I can do this! I know I can. Show me again, dammit!”

“If you must,” Snape sighed; he muttered something about stubborn Gryffindors as he rose slowly to his feet, circling behind Harry with that bloody unnerving prowl of his. Suddenly, hands descended on Harry: long, narrow, bony hands that slid over his forearms, shifting them into a new posture. Firm fingertips pressed into the muscles of his shoulders, straightening them with a jerk.

“You’re absurdly tense,” Snape was close enough behind him that the whisper was clearly audible. “You’d think a Gryffindor would know a proper duelling stance by now.”

His hands lingered on Harry’s shoulders. Hard. Skilled. And warm. Harry tilted his head back, relaxing, at last.

“Try it now,” a soft rumble brushed Harry’s ear with heat.

We’re about the same height, Harry thought when he turned his head and found Snape’s face so close to his own. Strange. He should be taller. I’ve always thought of him as taller than me. Snape gave him a heavylidded stare, and his eyes weren’t just dark anymore. They were warm. A bit warmer and they’d almost be like Ginny’s. Harry didn’t want to think of what that might mean, so he closed his eyes and tried not to think at all.

And then those hands were gone from his shoulders, all too sudden and all too soon. “Not quite what I expected of you,” Snape’s voice broke his reverie, “But the ability to surprise others is a very good trait.” Thin lips quirked; he might’ve almost been fighting back a grin. “You may stop.”

“Stop what?” I haven’t even done anything yet!

“Levitating us.” Snape declared with ironic patience.

Harry glanced down. The floor was a lot further down than he remembered, probably because they were floating near the ceiling. And then the floor rushed up really fast and it took Harry a moment to realise he was falling.

Deft hands caught him by the elbows before he fell far, and magic fell over his shoulders like a black cloak still warm from another’s body, as Snape took over, lowering both of them gently the rest of the way to the floor.

When the floor was steady under Harry’s feet once more, he realised he was right. He and Snape were about the same height, when they faced each other, eye to eye.


Seven days passed before the mark was visible without a mirror. Harry didn’t have to look in the mirror any more to know that the patches of skin under the bandages would be withered and black, forming the vague shape of the mark.

Harry sprawled boneless in bed, in a fuzzy state of half-awareness, trying to resist the lulling pitter-patter of the rain, yet too lazy to get up. His fingers automatically kept tracing the place on his palm where his life line used to be and was not. “Sod it!” he muttered. He slowly rolled over until he got to the nearest edge of the bed and then he stumbled in his nest of sheets, out of the bed and eventually – after finding a clean set of robes – out of the room.

Harry felt restless. There were only so many books on the library shelves that didn’t snap back, and only so many rooms to explore. He took to a new pastime, listening for Snape in the kitchen to see if he could guess what he was up to. He imagined him at the cauldron, the precise movements of his thin, bony hands grasping the knife or the stirring rod.

He didn’t have to dig into his memories deep at all to come up with that image. It just rose to the surface.

He caught a scent – musty, smoky, enticing somehow – and followed it up the stairs and through a bedroom to an open doorway beyond. Snape was in the bathroom, standing by the sink, ladling something out of a small cauldron into single-dose phials.

“Er… What are you doing?” Harry asked.


“What for?”


“Oh.” Harry had never really considered what Snape lived on after he left Hogwarts, but his teacher’s salary couldn’t’ve been much anyway and it’d been a while since he’d had even that, and those potions probably didn’t bring nearly enough. “If you want, I’ve got some; I’d never use it all anyway. I can lend you a few galleons…”

“I don’t want your money,” Snape hissed, and added before Harry could, “Or the Blacks’.”

Fair enough. Harry craned his neck and peered at the potion bubbling in the small cauldron. It smelled dusty and musty, like Grimmauld Place itself only more so: like Snape’s makeshift Potions lab. “What’s that?”

“Amortentia,” Snape explained with a disgusted curl of his lip. “There’s always a market for love potions and slow-acting poisons, but I ran out of the ingredients for the latter.”

That’s weird. Harry sniffed the air again, just to make sure. “It can’t be!”

Snape raised an eyebrow. “I think I can identify what’s in my own cauldron better than you, thank you very much.”

“It’s just… there must be something wrong with it,” Harry clarified.

The offended glare Snape gave him was even worse than previous one. It was accompanied by a ‘Get out of my sight before I hex you’ stab of his wand toward the door.

“It smells different!”

“Of course,” Snape nodded. “Amortentia does that.”

“What? It can’t just change!”

Harry must’ve had the most puzzled expression on his face because an amused smirk twitched at the corners of Snape’s mouth. “Amortentia is fickle. Especially for brainless fools about your age.”

OK. Fine. It can change. I can see that, even if I’m not the kind to get random crushes like a fourth-year Hufflepuff. The scent of Amortentia always used to remind him of Ginny, but after months of not seeing Ginny, and months of trying not to think of her after his decision to leave them behind, the summers at the Weasleys’ seemed so far away. Funny how the knowledge of imminent death changes your perspective on things. I haven’t flown a broom since forever. I dream of travelling to places like Romania or India. And Amortentia doesn’t smell the same anymore. But it still shouldn’t smell like that! It smells like… I dunno, like dust and dark, cold places, and, and… Grimmauld. It smells just like this Place.

The revelation didn’t worry him as much as it should have, instead it brought him an odd sort of peace with himself. As if finally there was one direction in his life that was worth it. Yeah, it smells like dust, so what? At least it wasn’t empty and dry like the need for revenge that’d driven him through most of his Horcrux hunt. It’s a change of heart, and change for the better’s hope and hope’s good! Harry told himself firmly I thought I’d given up on hope a long time ago. But hey, looks like I’m not dead yet. For that, I can put up with the smell of dust if I have to.

This discovery, and the resolution that followed, lifted some of the wearying fog of melancholy – almost as bad as a Dementor – from his brain. With that clarity came a jolt of surprise, as Harry remembered something. Something he had to do.

He dug through his pockets for the parchment swallow, now folded around the fake locket, and laid both of them on the table amid Snape’s ingredients.

“I think this is yours. And Regulus’.”

Snape stared at the parchment swallow. Then at the note. “Where did you find this?”

“Cabinet in the drawing room. It’s how I knew where to start looking for the locket. See,” Harry showed Snape first the note on the swallow’s wings, and then the note hidden inside the locket.

As the wings unfolded into a letter, Snape’s eyes widened. He looked up, his glare so shockingly piercing, it was as if he didn’t see Harry at all but instead saw the ghost of the man who’d written those notes.

Once Snape unfolded the note signed R.A.B. Harry smoothed out them both, pressing their torn edges together. They were a perfect fit. “Professor Lupin told me he died ‘cause he was afraid and ran from the Death Eaters. But he didn’t just die. He died for something.”

Snape hmphed and regarded him with a sombre stare. “Only you would be so eager to ‘die for something’,” he accused. “The rest of us want to live for it.”

“No,” Harry protested, “I meant, he tried to make the world better.”

“Well, he made it worse, by leaving it. Stubborn sod.” Snape husked. “He was doing it for me as well as for himself. Couldn’t stand to see either of us bound by the Mark: like the grimoires at Hogwarts, chained to the shelves.” For the longest time, Snape traced the handwriting on Regulus Black’s notes with a tentative fingertip, as if he wanted to make sure they weren’t an illusion. And when Harry gave him the locket the note was found in, it received the same reverent attention.

“What was he like?” Harry asked.

“He never was one for foolish heroics,” Snape said sadly. “But he was very passionate about the things he believed in.”

“He sounds…” Harry swallowed, through a nasty pang of something very close to jealousy. “Great.”

“He loved libraries, and had a wicked sense of humour. And he taught me what it meant to be Slytherin. To be proud of it. Though, to be fair, he always said he learned compassion for Half-Bloods, Muggleborns and Muggles from me.”

What’s wrong with me? I ought to be happy to have a normal conversation with him for a change! “There, see, you both influenced each other for the better,” Harry argued. “That counts for something, doesn’t it?”

“It was the downfall of us both.” Snape’s gaze was distant, his voice quiet and toneless.

“For what it’s worth,” Harry smiled, “I can’t imagine you not proud to be Slytherin. You’re a Slytherin to the core.”

Something flickered in Snape’s dark eyes, but it broke the ice. “When did you find this?” Snape murmured, holding the locket as carefully as if it were a holy relic.

“The swallow was here, but Dumbledore helped me get the locket. We thought it was the Horcrux.” Harry shrugged. “Kept it in my pocket ever since.”

“Ah. The pockets of a Gryffindor.” Snape’s lips twisted in a near-smile. Fond, wry. “No telling what surprises they might hold.”

Under that unblinking, focused stare, Harry felt his face burn. Stop, he ordered himself, pushing those thoughts out of his mind. I’m a pervert. And not a very good one either, since I’m being one in front of a trained Legilimens. He tried to break eye contact before Snape did catch what was on his mind.


I can’t, Harry berated himself later. I shouldn’t even think about things like that around him. What’s the point? Even if I did have more than a few months to live, Regulus sounds so wonderful when he talks about him. I’m just me. I’d never even come close to compare.

Snape stood in the downstairs hallway, facing Mrs. Black’s portrait. There was a strangely wistful expression on his harsh face. “He does manage to annoy me just as much as your son used to at times.”

“Not as much as the pair of you annoyed me,” Mrs. Black chuckled. “Playing tag and herding my books up and down the stairs when you knew perfectly well they were not to leave the library.”

Snape raised an eyebrow. “Regulus put them up to it. I was merely trying to restore order.”

Harry laughed softly, picturing Snape’s indignant glare. Then Snape turned and Harry ducked, escaping through the long narrow corridor, away from the voices turning unclear, away from the stairs, before Snape saw him there and chased after him and… no, he didn’t want that, honestly, he didn’t want to be in Regulus’ place. He didn’t want that young, breathless Severus of Mrs. Black’s memories to catch him a few steps later, tackling Harry and pinning him down in all the dust of the narrow hallway floor. Feathery dust and hair strands tickling Harry’s face, making him sneeze and laugh even harder, and Severus’ arms around him, strong and steady, like that one time Snape caught him to keep him from falling and held on tight.

Snape never came after him. And that, Harry knew, he did want, strongly, desperately: like he wanted to see Mum’n’Dad or Sirius again, like he wanted Ron and Hermione’s magic back, like he wanted to rid the world of Voldemort.


For once, the kitchen smelled of something edible.

A ladle with a serpent handle, the one that once told Harry about a house elf’s fate, coiled itself lovingly around Snape’s wrist and flicked its tongue against Snape’s pulse point, like a pet. It never did that with Harry, and he was Grimmauld’s rightful owner, but now that Snape was touching it, it acted as if it planned to mate with his hand and have lots of tiny teaspoon babies. He stared at the ladle, but what shocked him more was what he heard next.

“Hold me closser, ssqueeze me – ooh like that – what lovely sserpentine fingers, ssuch warm skin…”

Harry’s face heated.

Snape raised an eyebrow. “I assure you, there’s absolutely nothing that even an overgrown teenager like yourself could find blushworthy about cookery!” he declared loftily.

Yeah? That’s ‘cause you’ve got no bloody clue the ladle’s chatting you up, mate! Harry smirked and sauntered over, reaching out and trailing a finger up the silver handle, just to see if it would pay any attention to him. It didn’t.

“Such firm touch,” Harry translated the next round of hissing compliments, “Such precision: it’s shiver-inducing to be handled by a true Master.”

Snape threw a disbelieving look, first at Harry, then at the ladle in his hand when Harry gave him a cheeky grin and nodded at it.

“Sspoilssport!” the ladle grumbled at Harry as it curled closer around Snape’s wrist. The serpent-head on the end of the handle flicked its tongue out, as if tasting the delicate web of blue veins on the underside of Snape’s wrist. Snape’s lips tightened in a repressive line. Ever so slowly a drift of pink eased its way up his throat and along the gaunt cheekbones.

Harry slid two fingers over Snape’s wrist and against that licking tongue, scratching the underside of the serpent-head’s chin. “I think that last bit was about me,” he added smugly. “I own it after all. The silverware in this place can get very friendly, don’t you think?”

Snape lifted an eyebrow. “I ought to find a spatula and spank you with it, you impertinent scamp!” His cheeks reddened.

“Y’can’t.” Harry pointed out. He tried so hard not to break out laughing as he turned around and concentrated on chopping up the roots. “Your secret admirer here will get jealous.”


“Uh-huh. It said you’ve got a ‘sstrong, sseductive grip’, by the way.”


Impossible brat. Harry’s thoughts made it clear that the grip he meant was definitely around something other than a spoon handle. By habit – honed by being around dozens of hormonal nitwits – Snape stopped himself from delving further in, even though in this case he was rather tempted.

“If you like its commentary so much, perhaps I can persuade it to give you a ‘strong’ grip, somewhere where it’ll be the most ‘seductive’.” he rumbled.

“Only if you let me come and stir your cauldron.” The imp leered. The ladle echoed him with an appreciative hiss at the idea. “Y’know I’ll do it right.” Harry’s hand joined Snape’s at the handle, scratching the triangular serpent head. His eyes glistened impishly under his overgrown fringe. “Y’can both count on it.”

“Tease,” Snape declared, but his voice was warm with approval, just as his gaze was dark with promises.

“Ah,” Harry beamed as if it was a compliment. His fingertips trailed along the back of Snape’s hand before pulling back. “But only when it counts.”

“When does it count, then?”

With a slight nod, Harry leaned forward, closed his eyes and inhaled, so close his breath fanned the side of his face. So close, yet for once Snape couldn’t recognise a single thought behind those closed eyes, and Harry didn’t answer.

“Does teasing me count, or not?” Snape repeated. He refused to be irritated by whatever game the brat seemed to be playing.

“Absolutely,” Harry finally murmured, never really answering the question.

Then he clutched at Snape’s shoulders, his face pale.

“What?” Snape asked, worried. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah,” Harry smiled. “Just need t’sit down for a bit. I think I overdid it with all the… standing, n’ walking.”

“Bed,” Snape said sternly. “Now. And you will take the Sleeping Draught tonight, no arguments.”

“Not till after dinner. Please. I can last that long.”

Snape sighed. Potter still looked as pale as a ghost but at least some colour had returned to his lips. Stubborn imp. “Fine.”


Harry’s entire world had changed.

The change was all-encompassing, but so slow that half the time Harry thought life had always been this way. It felt as familiar as breathing, or speaking, or ‘biting back’ every time Snape snapped at him, but now the whole world was inside out, upside down, and so confusingly vivid and raw.

He didn’t know what to make of it or how to react, now that something familiar – something that should, by all rights, have been unpleasant – had suddenly changed into an awkward, brilliant, wonderful feeling: wanting, and daydreaming, and holding onto hope and other foolish thoughts.

For the first time in ages, Harry’s nightmares had gone, and other dreams took their place.


The brat had insisted that Snape didn’t need to help him up and out of his room. He was pretending everything was all right, but Snape could tell by the strained breaths, the coltish wobble to his legs, that Harry was gradually taking a turn for the worse. More energising potions, he told himself. That should last him another few weeks, to keep him from wasting away. Then we’ll have to try more drastic methods.

They sat on the stairway facing Mrs. Black’s snoring portrait.

“Grimmauld,” Harry said, or something close to that; Snape couldn’t tell between Harry’s strained breaths.


Harry shrugged. “Grim’n’old. S’what this house used to be. Just a grim ol’ place.”

Snape blinked, surprised. “Regulus used to say that. ‘A grim old place for the grim, old creatures.’” He also claimed things were going to change when he took over the house.

“Not anymore! I’m not one.” Harry protested with a defiant smile. “And neither are you.”

“Don’t lie,” Snape smirked and reached, tousling Harry’s messy hair. So familiar the gesture and the feel of it was, it would’ve been so easy to pretend that it wasn’t Harry who was sitting here, but Regulus. “I’ve been one for a long time and you will be, soon enough.” He stretched his lips a bit in a parody of a smile. “In twenty years you’ll come back here and this Place will fit you just perfectly.”

“Twenty years!” Harry repeated it as if Snape had told him a memorable joke. “No need. Fits already, don’tcha think?” Harry leaned back and stretched on the stairs like a cat trying the stairway out for size, raising a solemn eyebrow. A gesture he borrowed from watching Snape for hours at a time no doubt.

“Too charming,” Snape murmured. “Work on it.”

He withdrew his hand and moved as far back against the railing as he could get. The temptation to reach again for that unruly black hair, to move to the top buttons of Harry’s robe and bury his face there, to let his hands and his mouth roam where they would, to let go, to forget the present and immerse himself in the past (or was it just the reverse?) was becoming too great. Harry likes me for some reason. I could make it happen; we aren’t that different, he and I. It wouldn’t be easy, exactly, but it’s so tempting.

He focused on the portrait’s dusty frame instead of the tempting sight. I can’t. Harry deserves so much more. Someone young, something like what Regulus and I had. He deserves someone who would love him for himself. Not because in certain lights he resembles a man who died before he was born.

After a minute of stillness, he felt something: a soft touch. Harry, perched two stairs below him, pressed his forehead against Snape’s knee.

Snape let him. After a long moment spent looking thoughtfully down at that tousled hair, he let one hand drift to rest atop it. The natural curve of his fingers seemed a perfect, inevitable fit for the warm curve of Harry’s head.

Harry rested more of his weight against the side of Snape’s leg; one hand came up to hide a yawn.

“It’s late,” Snape informed him.

“What was in that potion of yours?”

“Many things. All of them good for you.”

“M’tired, is it s’posed t’make me tired?”

“A side effect. Sorry.”

“Are not, y’sly sod.” Snape could hear the smile in Harry’s voice; he could even feel it in the curve of cheek against his knee. “Knew it was a sleepin’ draught.”

“Come on,” Snape murmured, “Let’s get you upstairs.”

Once they reached the room, Harry started talking, Snape suspected if only to keep himself awake for a while longer, fighting the draught. “Y’know. This was Sirius’, right? Every time I look at all those bite marks on the bedposts I wonder if they’re Padfoot’s.” Harry reached out then and slung one arm around Snape, moving closer to where he was on the edge of the bed.

Snape bared his teeth in a feral smile at the gashes and scratches on the bedpost, but then he turned back to Harry and leaned over, just barely brushing his lips across Harry’s forehead. “Sleep. Everything will be better in the morning.”

“Night,” Harry murmured.

Snape didn’t reply.

Afterwards, he climbed the stairs to the dusty attic. There he stared out though a grimy window at the London smog, which blanketed out the stars behind the sallow glare of the city. But despite all that pollution, of chemicals and of artificial light, still he could see Regulus, shining in his mind’s eye.

But by the time he came back downstairs, moving silently in an instinctive effort not to disturb the sleeper, the present – and Harry – had once again eclipsed the past.

In the corridor, he sidestepped a candle.  The foolish thing had probably mistaken him for Harry. It scurried after him, its flame a-fluttering and casting deep shadows on the walls.


“Oh come and stir my…”

“Don’t start that again! Even the house elf heads sing it better than you by now: at least they’re in tune.”

The ‘drastic methods’ that Snape tried did restore Harry’s energy: for two hours at a time, anyway. At least they didn’t leave him drowsy or weak with reaction afterwards.

Harry grinned and shifted some stacks of books and study notes he had all over the bed onto the floor. It was that time of evening again. The part of their routine that had him looking forward to evenings all day long.

It was really a pity that Harry couldn’t feel it when Snape applied the salve to his shoulders and chest. The salve numbed everything it touched. Usually Snape had to soak his hands in some other foul-smelling goo, just to get the feeling in his own hands back. I suppose it’s just as well it numbs everything so much, ‘cause I’d probably be in a hell of a lot of pain otherwise. But just once I’d be willing to take that chance, so I could know what his hands feel like.

Snape finished all too quickly.

“No horrible brews for me today?” Harry teased.

“Not now. Perhaps later.”

The reply sounded so resolute and sombre, even for Snape, that Harry had to ask: “Have you given up?”

“No,” Snape shook his head and looked up, his lips stretching into something that might’ve been a smile. “In fact, I believe I may be making progress.”


“Yes,” Snape nodded, just as serious as ever. “Really.”

“But that’s great!” Harry beamed. “Brilliant!”

Snape smiled.

“Uhm,” Harry looked up and realised, that’s it. “Y’know, I was thinking and…”

For a second after he said it, he paused. How the hell could he even begin to explain ‘I think I like you and I’d like to spend all the nights I’ve got left showing you just how much, before my silverware beats me to it’, to Snape, of all people? Especially in a way that wouldn’t get him hexed? There was still a chance not to say it, to throw something silly and wild at Snape instead, to take both of their minds off what was in Harry’s thoughts and about to escape from his mouth. But Harry was a Gryffindor, and that meant he had a reckless streak that made him charge ahead when others ran. It’d kept him going this far, and hadn’t failed yet.

Snape looked up at him and Harry wondered Is he reading my mind? “I’m…”

“Shh.” A finger against Harry’s lips silenced him as Snape pressed yet another potion into his hand. “Drink this.”

Harry groaned. Wanting to get it over with as quickly as possible, he downed it in one go. I’d’ve much rather be licking that fingertip instead! Or something else… With a flash of daring Harry held that thought in the very forefront of his mind, locking gazes with Snape in the next best thing to a gilt-edged invitation to come in and see what he was thinking, as he handed back the empty phial. “Thanks.”

“Welcome.” Those warm fingertips against Harry’s hand were all he could focus on. With his whole body, Harry leaned into that gentle contact.

Snape pulled away all too quickly. Does he know? Harry didn’t have the chance to find out.

Snape took a thin golden chain out of his pocket. Harry’s broken key to Godric’s Hollow dangled from the end. Snape held it for a bit longer, as if unsure how to proceed, but then reached out and slid the chain around Harry’s neck, locking it on the back, leaving the key hanging over Harry’s bandaged chest. “Dumbledore wore the Gaunt ring as a keepsake,” he said. “I believe you should do the same. True achievements are seldom marked by medals; but some battle honours mean just as much.”

Harry felt his face warm up. He might’ve been blushing. “I haven’t done much to deserve a medal.”

“You have. Don’t ever doubt that.”

“Um. Well. In that case,” Harry closed his hand on Snape’s – which was still over the key on his chest – just in time to catch and still it in place. “We both deserve that honour.”…Because both of us have fought this war, on our own, for far too long.

Snape’s hand was perfectly still. His face was unreadable. Harry leaned closer, gauging his reaction. Snape didn’t move away, so Harry tilted his head, and leaned closer still. Maybe, Harry thought, the strongest curses can be broken without a spell, if we just make the improbable happen.

It was only then that Harry sensed something had happened, by the way Snape’s eyes widened. He looked where Snape stared and it was Harry’s hand he was staring at, his thumb brushing absentmindedly against the pulse. I can’t see anything different about it. What’s he seeing that I’m not?

The rays of candle light fell on Harry’s palm in a fine filigree, a little like the ornate handle of a key from Godric’s Hollow, but imprecise, as if it was dissolving into light. “Curious,” Snape whispered. “What if…” He reached for a candle and before Harry could ask what that was for, tilted it over Harry’s hand.

Harry sucked in his breath. A spatter of wax drops, clear as tears and and warm as blood, pooled in the cup of his palm. Just as the wax cooled and hardened and turned creamy white, Snape lifted the edge of it with his wandtip and peeled it off like a shed snakeskin. Underneath – Harry couldn’t believe his eyes – three lines, not two, crossed his palm again. His lifeline circled the base of his thumb, as clearly as if it had never been gone. Its curve was as insistent as the curl at the back of his head that never lay flat.

Harry gaped. “Wow,” he breathed, “How’d you do that?”

“I didn’t,” Snape murmured, triumph glinting in dark eyes. “You did.”

“Really?” Harry gave an adrenalin-shaky laugh, “All right then, how’d I do it?”

A dry chuckle shook Snape’s chest. “By retreating here, you made Grimmauld the target of the curse.” he explained softly, “It became your prison and it would have been your tomb. But despite the curse, the solitude, despite everything, you brought back life to this Place, and light to its inhabitants, simply by being you.” He nodded at the candle, whose flame bowed in reply: Harry beamed at it. “For the curse to be broken, they had to be willing to help you.”

Harry smiled warmly at Snape. “But you helped me too. I’d’ve never even known how to do all that, or how to keep going if it wasn’t for you. We did it together.”

Snape stared at Harry’s palm. With his long black hair hanging in his face, he looked oddly like a gypsy who’d just found a particularly interesting fortune to tell. “Mm, perhaps we did.”

Harry nudged Snape amiably, eyeing his palm, “What’s it say?”

“You ought to know by now,” Snape declared loftily, “that people choose their own fates.”

“Then what was all the fuss about it being gone?”

Sallow fingers traced the line on Harry’s palm. Gentle, clever. “That was exactly what the curse robbed you of: the capacity to make such a choice.”

“Choice, hm? Mind if I test that?” Harry leaned up. “Stay,” he murmured, his heart in his throat.

Snape’s hand tensed.

“I want you to. It might be the last night either of us will ever get to spend the night in Grimmauld, or maybe anywhere. D’you really want to spend it alone?”

Something flickered in Snape’s dark eyes that Harry’s tentative Legilimency couldn’t quite catch, but then Snape’s chest rumbled in a purr like an approaching thunderstorm. “When you put it that way, I don’t have a choice, do I?”

Harry chuckled warmly. “Oh, but you are my choice.” Mine. He slid his hands – fingers splayed – against Snape’s forearms and nudged Snape down with him into the nest of blankets and warmth. The grimoires on his bed shuffled grudgingly to the foot of it, rolls of parchment clenched between their pages, reluctant to surrender their hard-earned space.

“The choice of a Chosen One. How can I argue with that?” Snape murmured wryly, sitting on the edge of the bed as if on the edge of a cliff. He met Harry’s eyes again and added, warmer. “So be it.” His hands left Harry’s to open the fastenings of his robe and tug at the laces of his shirt.

There were scars on Snape’s chest; Harry definitely remembered them from the glimpse he’d had at Spinner’s End. He looked and tried to figure out what left them and who, and at the same time tried not to make Snape even more self-conscious by staring; but there was that one fresh scar, cutting across so many others, that still shocked Harry just by being there. The scar was raised and pink: when Harry brushed tender, tentative fingers down its slanting length, he found it was a little warmer than the surrounding flesh, as if it was still a bit feverish. But there was no sign of infection; perhaps it was just that Snape’s body heat was that bit nearer to the surface, that bit easier to feel. Beside it lash marks criss-crossed over his ribs and there was a rip from a belt-buckle at his side, the symbol ½ cut into his shoulder and I’m just as bad as all the rest of them! Harry choked out, “I’m sorry,” as his fingers traced the ridge from his thoughtlessly cast Sectumsempra.

“Sorry?” Snape’s mouth curled sarcastically. “Have I put you off so quickly?”

“Not a chance! I just… listen, I didn’t mean ‘choice’ in that way. It’s not an offer offer, y’know.” It’s not that kind of offer, I don’t want him to think I only want a shag. I just want him to stay, even if nothing happens. Even if we talk all night, or snore all night. Doesn’t matter what we do; I’d just like him here, with me. Only, I don’t have much time to waste and I can’t afford to let this one chance pass by. “Not unless you want that. I just don’t want you to spend tonight sleeping all the way across the hall. And I think – um, I hope – you don’t want to either.”

Mutely, stained fingers curled around Harry’s, lifting them gently away from the scar: terrible looking on its own, but on Snape it just blended into the background of a hard life. Thin lips brushed Harry’s fingertips, dry and light as the flick of a black robe’s trailing edge.

“I never saw it heal,” Harry half-explained, half-apologised. It looks like they tried to turn his skin into one giant tapestry …and I tried to cut his heart out. He closed his eyes and leaned into the touch, forehead against jaw, against shoulder. One hand was still trapped between their bodies, the other held on tight. “I didn’t mean to; if I only knew then I, what kind of… How much I… if I knew all this! I’d’ve never… I’m so glad you’re alive!”

A gust of warmth ruffled Harry’s hair and the chest under his hand hitched with Snape’s wry, dry, amused snort. “I can’t say I’m disappointed, myself.” One wiry arm wrapped around Harry’s body, as single-minded as a snake wrapping its mate. The other hand slithered up the back of Harry’s neck, fingertips stroking the soft hair there. “Especially given a recent … ‘not an offer’.”

“Um.” Harry hoped his face wasn’t as burning red as it felt. “What’s this from?” He trailed his hand down Snape’s chest, possibly picking the one farthest away from the scar whose story he knew for certain, because he left it. “I mean. I don’t mind, they’re just scars. I’ve got one – a few – myself. Besides the…er.” He tilted his head into the touch of those fingertips, a flick of a fringe covering his lightning bolt scar. I didn’t mean that one! I’m such crap at this! How does anyone ever just talk, in bed?

Suddenly it was so important that Snape knew: Harry really didn’t mean the scar on his forehead. It mattered that Snape knew he was talking about the scars that weren’t famous: one on the back of his knee, another on his ribs where the belt buckle tore across skin, almost in the same place as one on Snape. But there were warm hands on him and warm breath against his cheek, and dark, questioning eyes. “Yeahh,” Harry breathed. “What was I saying again?”

“Entirely. Too. Much.” Snape murmured, punctuating each word with warm brushes of lips against Harry’s jawline. Then his hands slid up and down Harry’s shoulders, kneading and stroking as he reclined back against the covers, pulling Harry with him.

Huh, Harry thought. Here I was trying to seduce him, at least I think I did and then… What just happened? Did it work? Is he seducing me back?

Then that mouth was on Harry’s throat, warm lips and slick tongue making his whole body tingle.

He is! Wow! He leaned back a little, braced over Snape on elbows and knees, and just stared down, wide-eyed with awe, as he fought to catch his breath. Fought not to come. His hair hung in Snape’s face, and the key dragged across Snape’s newest scar, before coming to rest over his heart.

Snape’s gaze remained dark and scrutinizing on Harry’s, and his presence in Harry’s mind was unmistakeable. Harry leaned down, closer, but as the teasing git had been doing all evening, he pulled back again, his hands rubbing distracting circles on the small of Harry’s back. No. Kiss me, Harry thought, please!

Snape’s eyes widened in surprise, but he craned swiftly upward. At first it was light, gentle, tentative, testing and tasting the way, then his kisses intensified into a demanding, hungry exploration and Oh wow! In return Harry tried for something fierce and skilled, but he probably only managed fierce and clumsy. Harry didn’t know how long the hot-slick-wonderful feeling lasted; he only realised, breathless, that Snape was panting against his skin.

“OK?” Harry asked. Please, let it be OK!

“You underestimate yourself.” Snape’s breath was warm as he tilted his head against Harry’s neck, his lips moist. “You are so much more than merely ‘OK’.”

And then it all was so warm and awkward; even Harry hadn’t thought it could be this awkward. He’d certainly never dreamed it could be this incredible. There were covers and books and buttons and noses all getting in the way, but Snape was there with him as well, and that made all the fumbling worthwhile.

There were a thousand things Harry wanted to try right now, if he could only decide which one to start with. So Harry tried several at once, then he tried others one at a time, and only then realised – from the feel of a hand sliding up his naked thigh – that the sneaky sod had been banishing his clothes, wandlessly, silently, one by one, starting with his socks and working his way up.

Snape was so much better at this seduction thing than Harry was, and it was all so good: that mouth soft and hot against his own, then trailing down his neck and chest. Those clever hands kneading and knowing and learning Harry’s body an inch at a time; moving so slowly and deliberately that Harry whimpered in frustration. S’not fair, ‘cause I started it, but he’s just taken over and he’s still teaching! But I reckon I could really love learning these lessons. And life’s not fair anyway, but sometime’s life’s good, and right now it’s bloody brilliant!

There was one especially vivid moment, amid Snape’s warm, skilled touches and Harry’s frantic need, when Snape stopped that slow, wonderful torture and looked up at him: dark eyes gleaming in his pale face, dark strands of hair framing it. In that moment, the realisation struck Harry. He’s so damn sexy! I must’ve been blind! Why didn’t I see it before? The desire to explore and taste every inch of his skin, look deep into his eyes and his mind and lose himself in that skilled sensuality, was almost unbearable.

So Harry held him close, and did exactly that.


The light dimmed, and Harry noticed all of the candles but one hopping off the bedside table and trailing out the door. Harry looked at the one that remained, which apparently had no plans of leaving. Snape noticed it too, he reckoned, ‘cause of the “Bloody little voyeur,” he grumbled under his breath.

“No it’s not,” Harry pointed to the one that stayed, “It just doesn’t want to leave us in the dark. Look, it’s even blushing.” Indeed its flame had turned red and thinned, yet the candle remained lit, snuggled down into its wax drip skirt. Harry cupped his hand loosely around the flame, shielding the bed from the glow, as he leaned closer to Snape again. The light turned the flesh of his fingers a rich fiery red, and cast long shadows on the bed. In the warm darkness, Snape’s eyes glistened and Harry could hear each breath. This time he was careful and slow, tilting his head and kissing Snape almost with reverence. The warmth of the candle flame and the warmth cascading down his body burned like banked coals.

They fell together onto the bed, rolling and rubbing until they settled into a steady rhythm: sliding and slick with sweat, hotter and harder with every thrust and So fucking good! Ohyes, again! Over and over until Harry melted into Snape’s arms like wax running from a candle and pooling in a palm, like a waxen voodoo doll with a living, pounding heart.

Snape wrapped his arms tighter around Harry, placing a gentle kiss on his forehead. Harry felt him breathing, slow and deep.

“G’night,” Harry murmured to Snape; in response, the candle too settled down and flickered out, leaving the room to soft shadows. Harry wriggled deeper into his nest of blankets. His eyelids were heavy and his mind languid, but he thought he heard Snape reply.

“Good night… Harry.”

Harry slept, his hands curled like a lion’s paws around Snape’s forearm, cheek against his wrist. He wouldn’t’ve let go for anything.


Harry had traced his scars as if tracing the page of a book, his fingers examining the raised letters.

Not that it was too much of an exaggeration; Snape’s scars contained quite a few letters. SNIV, white and raised: a brand in firewriting, one letter per Marauder before they were interrupted by Hagrid as Wormtail traced the V. There were multiple souvenirs of Auror interrogations, not just the usual manacle scars and whip weals, but a sigil on his back, left over from a spell they’d cast to enhance the sensitivity of his skin. There was ½, carved into his shoulder by Macnair in a creative fit of punishment.

There were some scars he wasn’t in a hurry to talk about, for various reasons. There were the claw marks on his arse, from Reg’s overprotective owl divebombing him while he was in the middle of… well, of Reg! Mad sod of a bird, Snape smiled a bit at the memory, though he certainly hadn’t been smiling much at the time, lucky for Reg I was too busy using my other wand, to hex it into a feather duster!

The smile slid away from Snape’s face as he remembered the oldest marks of all: from Dad’s belt and his fag ends. He was particularly glad Harry hadn’t asked about those.

Harry had responded to Snape in a way he never would have expected. He remembered Harry’s nearly immediate transformation from a teasing imp to someone with all of his wants and vulnerabilities wide open, his body writhing on the bed shared by a jumble of books. He’d bitten his lip and fisted his hands in an attempt to keep still against Snape’s mouth. Wicked. Wonderful. Snape had seen those thoughts in his eyes, and many more: need and desire and brilliance and Severus.

Now, Harry slept on his stomach, sprawled over most of the bed like a skinny frog, just as vulnerable and awkward as the frogs on Snape’s workbench. His knobbly knee was poking Snape’s side, his nose was cold against Snape’s shoulder, and his tousled hair tickled Snape’s skin with each breath. He was still holding onto Snape’s forearm.

Snape could smell the lingering, waxy scent of smoke from the now-unlit candle. Moonlight filtered through the window, painting Harry in dreamlike hues of misty silver and soft shadow: a young personification of Sleep.

Snape had never felt more awake in his life.

‘You lie awake night after night, thinking, turning over all the possibilities in your mind, until one night you realise that there’s only one possible way to succeed.’ Dumbledore had told him that once, long ago. ‘And that there’s no one else but you who can do what must be done. And when you realise that, you act on it. Because you must.’

Snape didn’t think he was ready. He didn’t think he could ever be ready to lay down his life for a Noble Cause, like a Hero. Like a Gryffindor. But there was no cause here. Just Harry, slowly eaten alive by a curse. Just Snape, the only one who could stop it.

He slid out of Harry’s embrace, careful not to wake him. He stood by the bed, memorising Harry’s face, then he bent to wrap the blanket a little closer around Harry, protecting him from Grimmauld’s chill.

And then, having made his choice, Snape left.

Because he must.

Chapter 7

Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight.

Snape retrieved Slytherin’s locket from where he’d hidden it after Harry was wounded, so Harry wouldn’t know he’d failed, and get the suicidally heroic idea to try again. Despite all Harry’s desperate efforts, the locket was still intact, the curse on it still unbroken, and for one very simple reason: Harry was still alive and whole. The necessary sacrifice had not yet been made.

Severus dipped his hand into his pocket where he kept another, very different locket – smooth and plain – the one he’d once given to Regulus.

He tried to focus on Regulus, but another memory haunted his thoughts: that same locket in Harry’s hand, offered back to him. I must be strong now; this is for both of them. Perhaps I will see Regulus again, after it’s all over. As for Harry, there’s so much I cannot give him, but this is one thing I can.

A life for a life. A soul for a soul. Mine will be enough for the sacrifice, and Harry deserves to go free.

After his mother’s locket, so familiar by feel even after all these years, Slytherin’s heavy, ornate locket felt wrong: polished by magic instead of touch. Slick, cold, and cursed. To Snape’s senses, honed by a lifetime’s expertise in the Dark Arts, it crawled with a surface magic that raised the hairs on the back of his neck in a shiver of instinctive, animal dread. It was like Legilimencing a madman: when any contact even slightly too deep, could trap him and drag him into the howling dark.

Irony curled his lips as he stretched out on Regulus’ bed. He thought back to the nights they’d spent right here, discovering each other, all those years ago. He’d never thought this bed would also become his deathbed. As he cast locking charms on the door and silencing charms on the room, he felt as though he was a cur, crawling into a corner to die.

Might as well get it over with. Snape put the heavy chain around his neck. Carefully, he raised the cursed locket to his face, his fingers tensed and ready to claw it open. He lowered all Occlumentic shields at once, deluging the locket with decades’ worth of rage and pain: the distilled, boiling, bottled fury of a man mourning a terrible loss. All because of this damned thing that hid the soul of a murdering monster. But not for much longer.

The locket snapped open and the first waves of concentrated dark magic hit him full blast. His body thrashed, but he took his old, familiar refuge from agony, retreating from the outside world, reaching for strength, for memories of happier times in the distant past with Regulus. Soon, it’ll all be over. Perhaps then, we’ll meet again. It was the only thing left to look forward to.

Regulus. He saw him clearly in his mind’s eye: so much like Harry, so very different. A slim young man, elegant and roguish, with wavy black hair and sidelong, silver eyes. Tiny quirks of Reg’s features rose again from Snape’s mind, all the details he’d forgotten. Apparently, approaching death did wonders for the memory.

Was it merely memory? Instead of a pensieve-perfect re-enactment of their past, Severus was in the quiet darkness of his mental refuge with Regulus, who was more vivid and complete and real than he’d ever been before.

Ghost, Severus thought. What else can he be?

“‘Ghost’? As if I’d haunt you, you arrogant sod!”

That same devil-may-care laugh, that same affection beneath it left no doubt that he would’ve done just that, in an instant, if only he could.

“Reg?” Something bright and sharp and sweetly painful – grief, joy, or both – pierced Severus. “How?”

“You go and do a thing like this, I’m not about to just ignore it, am I? Especially since it involves me.”

He was here all along, Severus realised with a shock, trapped in the locket for years. Decades. On the heels of Severus’ horror, grim determination arose. My death will free Regulus as well as Harry.

Physical agony spiked suddenly, battering at the walls of Severus’ mental sanctuary. He tried, in instinctive terror, to shore up those faltering defences, striving to postpone the inevitable. But hands he’d once trusted completely slid onto his shoulders and turned him away from his futile task. Regulus smiled softly at him. Severus reached for him and held on tight, and was held in turn by the arms he never thought he’d feel again.

“I’ve been through this and it’s nothing you want to stay around for.” Warm breath fanned Severus’ ear. Severus’ body arched, overwhelmed, but Regulus pressed a whisper-soft kiss to his forehead, holding him through the convulsions. “M’just here to help. Come with me. Come away.” And with that he rose again, pulling Severus with him, drawing him up and out, away from the pain. “It’s time.” He held on as Severus’ lips drew back in a fierce grimace. “So brave,” he whispered, awed. “Half-blood, but twice the mind. Twice the courage. Twice the heart.”

Severus felt as though he was seventeen once more, wrapped in his first lover’s arms, as if they would never be parted again. His body jolted off the bed in a spasm of bliss and agony, before collapsing. The cage of the flesh, the lonely decades of duty and pain: everything that had kept him from Regulus before, fell away, shed like a chrysalis. Raw magic gathered in him, and Severus felt himself rising. After a decades-deep dive into cold, dark waters, at last he floated effortlessly closer to the surface, where freedom waited like warm air and sunlight just out of reach.

But his ascent ended with a startling jolt, as though a leash had snapped tight about his throat. No! Not yet. He was held back by something. He turned back to the world below and shuddered, shocked. On the bed below him lay his own corpse: a far cry from the youth who had loved Regulus. This corpse was many hard years older: a rawboned, hatchetfaced man with skinny muscles and stringy hair, a body scarred and worn and ill-used by life. From such a distance, it seemed like a long-lost relative of his father’s: no one important or close. It lay like a sacrifice on an altar, a carved knight on a tomb. On its chest lay a scrap of metal that, despite its small size, contained more death than any natural corpse.

The body’s eyes snapped wide and focused on him. There, in the black depths of his own stare, he saw a gleam that once belonged to a silvery gaze, and he couldn’t look away. Beyond Legilimency or thought, this was an intimate communion, a mind-to-mind dispute and confession and, at last, farewell.

The malignant swell of locket’s magic pulsed like a heart. Its opened halves gaped wider, and what Severus had thought was the smoke of curse burns rising from his flesh, thickened and darkened and took on coherent form. A serpent, fouler than the skull-vomited snake of Morsmordre, oozed from the cracked eggshell of the locket. It coiled around the reanimated corpse, a python crushing the last spark of life from its prey.

Regulus! Severus looked on from afar at his own body that now held Regulus’ soul. He fought desperately to intervene, but he was as powerless as a ghost, unable to do anything but watch and despair as Regulus suffered in his place, as the curse tightened its cruel grip.

All at once, everything changed. With the eyes of the spirit rather than the flesh, Severus saw a second presence erupt into being, sudden and strong as the sun bursting from behind cloud. The battered body in the serpent’s coils was eclipsed by the blaze of a mighty lion. A powerful, princely presence: his mane a comet, every muscle aglow with celestial fire. The lion sunk claws that burned like meteors into the serpent’s coils and ripped them to shreds of shadow that frayed and faded like smoke. The lion lifted his head to Severus, and as he met that gaze Severus knew it was the end. The lion’s form grew brighter until it blazed more fiercely than any physical stars. But the heart of the lion burned brightest of all, until at last Severus had to close his overwhelmed eyes.


His eyes burned: stinging wetness trickled from their corners and trailed down the sides of his face. He opened them with an effort, stared up just long enough to identify the bedroom ceiling, and closed them again. He was back in his body once more.

In the darkness behind his eyelids, he ran through all the corridors of his mind, searching, calling.



The only one left in Severus’ body was himself. His chest jolted in a bitter laugh or a sob at the shock of that idea, and the fact that it was a shock.

The movement disturbed the locket; it shifted with a metallic clink. His fingers scrabbled at the chain pooled at the base of his throat. The touch brought no pain, no sensation of corrupted flesh: then again, the necessary sacrifice had already been made.

Blinking wet out of his eyes, Severus lifted the locket into view. It dangled open and half-melted, blackened and twisted and as empty as a shed snakeskin. Broken.

He’s won. He’s free!

Moving as stiffly as if his body had truly been a rigid corpse, Severus sat on the edge of the bed they’d shared this one last time. His chest hitched as he drew a long, steadying breath. Amid the pillows and the dust and the disarrayed covers, he thought he could still catch traces of a familiar, beloved scent. Farewell, Regulus, he sighed, his throat too tight to whisper it aloud. Alpha Leonis, Cor Leonis, Lionheart.

“Divestimenta!” Severus heard distantly past his absorption in the book in his hands. He hmphed absently as the grimoires on the bed settled into a comfortable pile around him.

“Oh, Se-ve-russs…” Regulus singsonged teasingly as he sprawled across his side of the bed. The sheets barely covered his arse as he fixed the other youth with a wicked, knowing look, just waiting for Severus to glance up and catch sight of him.

“Just one more page, I swear!”

Regulus chuckled. “What’s the matter? I know you want this and you know you want this, so would you kindly stop fondling my books and start fondling me?” The sheets slowly shifted downwards…. One eyebrow arched as Regulus scooped up a grimoire with the same easy tenderness someone else might hold like a stray kitten. When the book sighed happily open, Regulus laid it face down, letting its leaves serve as fig-leaves.

“You must have a danger kink if you picked that one to cover your bits.” Severus nodded at the book, “It hasn’t been fed yet.”

Regulus beamed. “Y’better c’mere and rescue me then.”

Severus snorted but set his book aside, spelling the curtains around the four-poster bed closed as he slid under the covers. “You aren’t the one who needs rescuing, mate. Your dad ought to nag you instead of me for ‘defacing his grimoires’.”

Regulus tilted his head. “What about corrupting his Son-And-Heir, then?”

“Oh, yeah, as if there’s anything left for me to corrupt!”

“Good point.” Regulus lunged and Severus was laughing and wriggling, as fingers slid quick as snakes over ticklish skin.


The first rays of dawn woke Harry: he stretched, slow and catlike, under the covers. Sated sweetness melted every muscle he had. Or, almost every muscle; he grinned downward, as one particular muscle twitched.

His smile shifted to a frown of concentration, as he realised that something felt different. He felt stronger, more alert, more focused. Ready to face the world. His thought was quick again, without the weary, woollyheaded confusion that’d taken over his mind these last few weeks. His body felt light and agile. Hang on. There was an imprint of something hard and small in his cheek: after a moment’s fumbling with his pillow he found it: the key. Severus. It was all real! Where is he? Why didn’t he stay?

The blanket was tucked around Harry in a careful way even though Harry’s covers always ended up on the floor by morning. Did he do that? That thought warmed him even more than the blankets did; he grinned at the sleeping candle on the bedside table, then reached across the bed, just to feel if that imprint of a second head in the nearby pillow was real. It was, of course, but as he moved his forehead bumped against something large and flat.

The Prince’s old Advanced Potion-Making textbook sat on the pillow by his head. Harry’s glasses were with it, one earpiece tucked in between the pages as if to mark the place where Snape had left off reading.

Harry opened it to that page, fished out his glasses and put them on. He blinked at something that he knew the book didn’t have before: the last page was now covered in the spiky script he knew so well. It was wider and more legible than Snape’s schoolboy hand, but Harry still wasn’t used to seeing it in any colour but red.

By the time you read this, you will have been cured of the last Horcrux’ curse.

That’s what’s different! I’ve got feeling back in my skin again! And I hadn’t even noticed! Snape’d kill me for ‘not paying attention’ if he knew. Harry grinned as he lifted up the edge of the bandage on his shoulder and looked underneath. Instead of the black and peeling mess he’d feared, there was just skin. He unwrapped the strips of cloth layer by layer and it was all the same. No black, withered texture, just perfectly ordinary, normal skin; newly regrown overnight, as if the curse had never even touched him.

Not that I was wrong of course; it was true that the locket’s curse could not be broken.

However, it could be transferred, as long as the recipient willingly accepted his fate.

Farewell, Harry.

– Severus Snape.

“Snape?” No! Can’t be!

Harry jumped out of bed, barefooted and bare-chested, still seeing that unmistakeable handwriting scrolling before his eyes as the rest of the world dimmed. Severus! NO! With a single dry-eyed sob, he rushed through the doorway, his legs refusing to hold him. He stumbled, nearly fell, banging his shoulder against the wall, then he was running, sprinting down the dark hallway. Without his glasses, everything seemed a dreadful, spinning blur. A nightmare, please, be a nightmare! Where is he? Downstairs?

“Snape? SEVERUS!” He pounded down the stairs in three-at-a-time leaps, landed badly on one and nearly lost his footing, caught himself on the handrail with a last-minute wrench, then he was off the stairs and sprinting from room to room to empty fucking room…

“Harry, what…”

Harry spun round, so fast one bare foot skidded out from under him on the dusty wooden floor, and then he was stumbling and falling and... not hitting the ground. Being lifted and steadied and held against something solid and dark and utterly bloody brilliant!

Severus! Wiry arms wrapped around Harry, holding him up as his knees caved with the sheer physical rush of relief. Harry ran his hands down that long back, buried his face in the side of the warm throat, hung on with all the strength he had in him, and just breathed.

Solid, real. Here. Alive!


After making sure he was alive and well – by tasting every bit of skin he could reach – Harry finally noticed the mangled locket around Severus’ neck. He drew one shaky breath, lifted his head to glare at the suicidal sod, grabbed said sod’s skinny shoulders and shook him as hard as he could. “You’re NEVER doing that again, d’you hear me? If you EVER get any more stupid ideas about pissing off and sacrificing your life without even SAYING anything first, I swear, I’ll –”

“– kill me yourself?” Severus even gave Harry the Eyebrow, the unscrupulous bastard. “I’m certainly not planning any repeat performances,” he continued in his most maddeningly smug drawl, “That was the last Horcrux, remember?” When Harry spluttered at him, Severus cut in again, “Besides, anyone with your track record of solitary, suicidal searches really shouldn’t be the Potter calling the kettle black.”

Harry didn’t know whether to laugh or thump him or kiss him. So he did all three. Even though that first disoriented, laughter-threaded attempt at a kiss nearly broke Severus’ nose, and Harry’s thwap was answered by a swat which somehow landed right on Harry’s bum, neither of them felt like complaining.


Before the door to Grimmauld Place closed behind them, Snape talked to the bloke in the portrait for the longest time. Harry waited for him, petting the candles. He wasn’t jealous, not really.

He’s mine now. Harry sat on the front steps of Grimmauld and watched Snape gather the Prince locket and Regulus’ notes, reach out to smooth out the painted mane of Regulus’ portrait. Till the very end. That’s something no one can change. Not Horcruxes, not Voldemort, not the past.

Only the smirk on Snape’s face and the sly nudge at his mental defences indicated that perhaps his thoughts were heard.

Harry didn’t mind. If that had been a true attack, he’d strike back, as quick and strong as a provoked lion. He knew he could. But this time, something more important than Legilimency was worrying Harry.

Harry glanced up, with a pang in his chest, and for a moment he was lost in the depths of those eyes, and the warmth hidden within them, all over again. “What’ll we do now?” He confessed, “M’always afraid, now, that I might not look close enough when it counts, and miss my chance at Voldemort. ‘Cause I reckon I’ll only get the one chance.”

“I doubt you’ll miss a thing; I haven’t been training you all this time for that to happen. But if it ever begins to look like a possibility, then, I’ll simply …remind you, just as I’ve done all the other times you didn’t pay enough attention.”

Harry grinned. Yeah, he’s got a way of ‘reminding’, all right. More like dragging you back to bitter reality. Which is probably good ‘cause I just don’t know how much of that bitter reality I’ve still got left to live.

“You’re not dead yet!” Snape broke into Harry’s train of thought, “Focus!”

“Yeah, yet.” Harry muttered as an excuse. “That’s kind of the point.”

“Voldemort is so much closer to death at his strongest than you were at your lowest ebb. He’s just a pathetic broken shard, with only one-seventh of a soul left,” Snape said softly. “The sooner you understand that, the easier it’ll be.”

Harry shrugged. “What difference does it make? Broken or not, he’s still powerful enough to kill me.”

“Voldemort has nothing left but avoiding death at all costs. You are fortunate to have your whole life, which is something he will never have. Understand that, and you will win.”

“This, after all those times you told me I didn’t stand a chance?”

“So prove me wrong!” Snape hissed. “You’ve certainly tried enough before. Rid the world of him and live. Just live! You’ve already shown me that you don’t need a map traced on your hand for each tomorrow. It’s the only hope you have of surviving this: live out the life line you’ve had, the life you’ve decided to live.” Snape grabbed Harry’s wrist, lifting his hand up. His grasp was strong. “You already know what you have to do.”

Harry nodded, a bit shocked, not quite knowing how to respond otherwise. “S’why I always hated your lectures,” he murmured. “You always turned out to be right, every single time, even when I wanted you to be wrong.”

“If only you’d realised it sooner, you impossible whelp, perhaps…”

“That, and you’re a terrible teacher!” Harry cut him off.

“It works out then.” Snape said with a menacing stretch of his thin lips. “Because you’re a terrible student. For one thing, you’re weeks late on your homework.”

Harry chuckled. The git couldn’t even apologise properly, but he’d never forget to remind Harry of his shortcomings.

Being outside again, on the Muggle street after so long, felt strangely… bearable. Especially with Snape around. For the first time in a long while Harry slipped out the door of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, and shut it behind him. It felt as though he was leaving it for good.

He knew that wasn’t necessarily true. They might return here someday, Snape and he. One day, perhaps, when Harry’d reached forty: old and suitably grim. But Harry had many plans before then. He wanted to see the world, to visit many distant places: India, France, perhaps even Romania. He had a life to live.

He’d finish this one thing he absolutely had to do, and then he’d come back and rediscover all the friends he’d left behind, when he’d been driven away from them by a curse. Perhaps one day, when he was ready, he’d talk to Ron and Hermione and let them know that sometimes even unbreakable curses can be broken. But first he had a job to finish: to remove Voldemort from the face of the earth, erase him like a bad memory, quickly and with minimum damage. Cut him out like a cancer. He still felt driven, but not by hate anymore, only by a sense of duty and of an important task so far unfinished. One more piece of the puzzle to solve, one more Horcrux to break. That’s all Voldemort is: just a piece of a soul that should never have survived, so twisted, for so long.

Harry hugged the book to his chest, the same dog-eared and stained Advanced Potion-Making text. The one he’d wanted for so long to take out his hatreds on, the one that now held his own jumbled thoughts in its margins, next to Snape’s. He thought of all the hours he’d spent – that they’d both spent, over the years – turning the stained, yellowed pages, and poring over the notes written there: all the potions that could be brewed, all the curses that could be cast. Wandlessly, wordlessly, with a secure mind.

“I’m ready. The next time I use them,” Harry said, “I won’t fail.”

Harry led Snape outside, where the shadows ended and the morning light began on the Muggle street. For a long moment they stood, face to face, as the day brightened all around them. Then Harry leaned forward, closed his eyes, and rested his forehead against Snape’s one more time: taking refuge in him, from the blaring sounds and the glaring lights of the outside world.

He was really starting to like the lack of difference in their height.


The wizards left us and it was quiet, and it would be quiet for a long, long time, as the key’s curse was redirected upon us instead. Dark days loomed ahead, almost as dark as that one day many years ago. When I was still a man.

The shadows filled my library, which was as silent as usual. I cast Tergeo upon my sleeves until it cleaned the lace to white.

How could my son have been be so foolish? Caught red-handed in the cave like a traitor. Imagine what would’ve happened if he had crossed the lake.

How could I have been so foolish in return? Oh my boy. Please don’t let Walburga find out. I’ll tell her it was Riddle who carried out the final punishment. She has to believe me. He forced me, it was almost the truth.

A rustle. Too heavy to be a book. “Who’s here?”

A boy was huddled in the corner: Regulus’ friend, the filthy half-blood rat Walburga had taken such a liking to. His dark robes looked like they hadn’t been changed in days, his hair fell in greasy, matted hanks on his forehead, and his black eyes burned in his ugly, sallow face. Eileen Prince’s Muggle-spawned son. Such a common girl; I knew she’d never amount to anything.


Why what? “What are you doing here?”

“Why did you do it, you bastard?”

“Severus,” I used his given name, pretending a friendliness I’d never felt for the guttersnipe, “you’re not yourself.”

“Where did you kill him? Here? He ran home, he could’ve found me but he came home to you, he thought you’d protect him!”

“He was your friend, and it might be hard to understand. He was my son but… treason must not go unpunished.”

“Treason? He just wanted out! He was scared!”

Scared? So, he knows nothing. Regulus didn’t tell him about the Horcruxes. This half-blood didn’t incite rebellion in my son after all. Pity. But nothing can be done now. The boy stared up, and then the entire Library was shaken by a wandless, wordless burst of wild magic.

A prodigy indeed. It’s wrong. Such pure talent shouldn’t run in such polluted blood. Still, mongrel though he is, I have to be careful. I stepped back, hiding my shock at the strength of that instinctive magical flare. In the shadows behind me, my grimoires gathered.

“Didn’t you hear me? He wanted OUT, and you MURDERED him for it!”

I drew a breath, but I never had the chance to speak.

It wasn’t Severus who attacked me; no, the boy stood stock-still. There was no telling which book lunged first: they all did, plummeting from the high shelves all around me. A barrage of massive metal-bound tomes clubbed me to the floor until I was buried beneath an avalanche. Thousands of grimoires tore into my magic and into my body like a flock of leathery crows round a carcass. Piece by piece, each book moved away with something new of me – patches of skin for their covers, strands of hair to bind their fraying spines, blood to renew their faded ink – and as soon as one book took what it needed many more took its place. Until there was nothing cohesive left of me but pieces, scattered amid the volumes: excerpts and quotations and abridged editions of myself. Until I was no longer Orion Black. The parchment of my physicality had been scraped clean and overwritten like a palimpsest, and I had become part of the Place and the books and the Library.

There was still a boy in the corner, who had fallen to his knees. And we hastened to him: his face as pale as our pages, his hands clenched in tight fists. Many of us, all those who had communed most closely with him, rushed to surround him, as kittens will run to their mother, rustling our pages and creaking our covers; earmarked, stained, and nonetheless sympathetic.

Mostly, I kept my distance, but there were pieces of me, in other books, on other pages, that did not.

The boy slumped lower and held out his arms, circling as many of me, of us, as he could, surrounded by the huddle of dozens of warm leather spines: a makeshift embrace of slim chapbooks and heavy tomes alike. Together we mourned the reader who once caressed our pages, admired our illustrations, and loved our wisdom. We – I – mourned my son, as I never had before. Then, finally, Severus broke down, trying to touch every page that Regulus once touched, reaching for each book that once was Regulus’ and his to share: all of Regulus’ scribbles in the margins, and the notes charmed to open only for him tucked between the pages of encyclopaedias and Dark Arts volumes.

Severus sat on the floor, all alone – save for books as shunned and misunderstood as he: banned and bound into brotherhood, works that had collected me, as once I had collected them – and, all alone, he cried.

If I could weep, I would still be shedding tears today for my son, whom I sacrificed to my fears and my weakness. But I am not the man I once was; I am scattered, if not to the four winds, then at least to the four walls of this Library. Grimmauld is my resting-Place, amid grimoires covered with skin or stitched with hair that once belonged to a wizard. Lost between pages growing illegible with age, I am a tale cursed to go unread, in a Place cursed to be forgotten.

‘Perhaps they’ll be back,’ the portraits still whisper. ‘Perhaps this is not forever.’

But I know better. The wizards were happy as they left here, and happy people do not return to live in crypts. I grieved to see them go – we all did – but for my part, this is a mild penance for my crime and I accept it willingly. We all agreed: such solitude is a small price to pay for the happiness of two people.


Harry kept his promise. He didn’t fail.

Despite all of Severus’ teasing about brainless fools and affections, it took years until Harry caught anything other than the musty smell of Severus’ potion stores in Amortentia’s scent. Different times and places in their lives, he reached for the small phial in his pocket and checked, just to be sure. Eventually, the scent of Hogwarts dungeons and Grimmauld Place faded like winter mist, replaced by clear skies and summer days: heated Indian spices, sweet Romanian wine, the fresh scent of Mediterranean rain in his lover’s dark hair, or the warm salt of Egyptian sun bronzing his lover’s sallow skin.

But every once in a while, when Harry lifted the stopper on the phial, he’d catch that familiar, complex scent again: damp stone and musty parchment and iron and smoke and the sharpness of bitter herbs. It seemed as if time had turned back on itself, and in a moment from now Snape – not yet Severus – would stalk down the stairs, stalked in turn by potions fumes, and yell at Harry for being late for his Occlumency lesson.

He remembered Snape as if everything happened just yesterday. Those cavernous eyes, and the lank, black hair hanging limply over the harsh planes of his sallow face. Nothing attractive in him at all, one would think; but in time Harry grew to welcome the sight of those harsh features. Just as he always took a deep breath in dark, narrow, enclosed spaces, hoping to catch a trace of that stale but somehow beguiling smell: potions and books and dust.

As always, after every such trip down memory lane, Harry stoppered the small phial as tight as he possibly could and carefully hid it from sight in the bottom of his pocket. Hiding all of his memories safely away with it.

When the name of the Dark Lord was little more than a footnote in the history books, eclipsed by Harry’s triumph, and Harry’s lightning bolt scar had faded to pale, Harry did return to Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. He grinned at Mrs. Black’s portrait, half hidden behind moth-eaten curtains. A mischievous gleam brightened eyes as green as ever behind round-framed glasses, just like the sunlight from the opened doorway brightened the dusty frame. In that sunlight, Harry traced a smiling face – two dots and a curve, as wide as his own smile – in the deep layer of dust covering the canvas. He might be getting old, but he was far from grim: that was one thing his younger self had turned out to be wrong about.

Mrs. Black’s portrait squinted at him. “Severus? Did you finally get that nose seen to by a mediwizard?”

Harry snorted. He was past forty now, and he’d let his hair grow, and with that wild black mane, he could’ve passed as Severus, he supposed. Or a younger brother perhaps. Or maybe she couldn’t have told a wizard from a witch through all that dust on her canvas.

Then a row of trunks floated through the entrance, and Severus poked his head round the door and grumbled, “I can still Incendio you, you mad old bat!”

Mrs. Black beamed as if he’d paid her a tremendous compliment. “Now that’s the Severus I know!” she crowed. “Good to have you back.”

Harry smiled fondly at Severus as he glared at someone who, for once, gave him a run for his Galleons in the crotchety old sod stakes. “Aww,” Harry declared in teasingly sentimental tones, “There’s no place like home!” He took a deep, relishing breath of the familiar scent of dust, and released it in a sigh of sheer contentment. He might’ve been pulling Severus’ leg, but he knew deep down that those words were true, all the same.

He thought he heard Grimmauld itself answer him with a happy sigh of its own: doors and floorboards creaked, and dust motes swirled like dancing galaxies as a breeze blew through the open door past him and lifted the fluffy grey shroud from the windows and the canvases. Then as he looked down the hallway he saw the candles kindling to life one by one, fire and light racing from one to another along the hall and up the stairway, passing the flame and the news of their arrival from room to room.

Then there was a movement in the very walls: in every painting a shiver, and in every room a whisper growing to a murmur growing to the sound of an approaching crowd: “They’re here! They’re back! They’re home!” Then Harry saw them, the portraits waking up and running from frame to frame, the people in them hurrying from every canvas in the house, crowding into to the single frame in front of him. One became two became a gathering became a party.

More and more of them reached the canvas, and they all looked back at him, smiling. Harry looked into the faces of the other people on the canvas behind Mrs. Black – no, Walburga – and little Regulus; and there was so many of them gathered there: Phineas Nigellus, smiling for once instead of sneering, and little Sirius, poking his head out between Phineas and snoozy old grandmother Irma, who was finally wide awake and regarding Harry with a curious stare. There was even a little old man with Harry’s knobbly knees: the others made room for him near the front, “Say hello, Uncle Charlus, your grandson’s back!” There were even portraits in there that Harry’d never seen move before, ones that he’d thought dead. And everywhere there were unruly heads of black hair like his, and noses like his, and even wide grins, like his. Harry looked at the portraits and realised what that crowded frame reminded him of: staring into the mirror of Erised when he was still a boy, and seeing his family for the first time in his life. And now all of them were flocking to Walburga’s canvas, to welcome Harry back to his home.

Just when Harry thought it’d all be too much for his stinging eyes and his tight throat, Severus came up to stand behind him: as it had done for decades now, his quiet presence grounded Harry.

For the first time in his life, Harry felt he was where he belonged: with the family of his blood standing before him, and the family of his heart standing behind. Both had their faults – sinister and dark and brooding – which they made all too apparent to the outside world. But Harry knew they had their virtues too: loyalty and pride and strength that they often showed to no one but those they loved. Harry’s hand slid up to cover the hand on his shoulder, and he leaned back against the warm support of Severus’ wiry body. He’d had enough practice putting up with Severus all these years. He had a feeling he’d get along with the rest of them just fine.


That night, in the middle of unpacking, Harry followed Severus down the hall when he tripped over something furry and soft and almost fell. He didn’t have a chance to say anything else ‘cause the furry-and-soft beastie under his feet shook and lunged up with the strength of a mauling bear. The yeti! Just my luck it’d rather chomp on my nose instead of Severus’. I suppose mine’s a more convenient mouthful.

Harry gave a startled yelp when the woolly beast’s mouth closed instead on a target much closer to the ground than anyone’s nose, except maybe a house elf’s. Everything else Harry might’ve said came out as a squeak.

The yeti skin growled and gummed him gleefully. Harry was extremely thankful that it was so old it was missing all its teeth.

Severus turned around to stare at the kerfuffle. In fact, both of his eyebrows rose and his lips quirked, before he gave up and broke out in an honest-to-Merlin chuckle. “And here I thought house guardians weren’t supposed to jump the Lord of the Manor,” he observed, with that breeziness that said he was laughing like hell on the inside.

Sadistic sod! Harry wheezed and waved his hands through the hair- and dust-filled air, “Oi,somehelphere!”

Severus gave him an amused look before turning his attention to the yeti skin instead. He tut-tutted to it, “Are you sure that’s wise?” When the yeti skin kept happily slobbering around its mouthful of Harry, Severus leaned down and asked the beastie in a faux-discreet stage-whisper, “D’you have any idea where that,” a meaningful glance at Harry’s favourite bits, “has been?

Glass eyes boggled up at Severus, then the yeti skin spat and spluttered and slunk off to hide under the sofa. Harry could’ve sworn it was blushing, though it must’ve been a hell of a blush to show through all that fur.

Harry folded up at Severus’ feet. Just then, it felt like he’d probably have to haul himself up Severus’ body like a ladder, hand over hand, if he ever wanted to stand again. “I’ve been” – he wheezed – “mauled by a monster, and you just had to make fun of me!” If he could’ve reached, he’d’ve been tempted to go for Severus’ throat and see if he couldn’t choke him like a chicken.

“‘Mauled?’ Hardly. That looked more like an enthusiastic tonguebath to me. In fact, I wonder just how much of that wet is yeti saliva, and how much…” When Harry interrupted him with an incoherent yell of protest, Severus drawled, “Oh, don’t be so melodramatic.” By way of a peace offering, Severus helped Harry to stand and dusted off the worst of the stray hairs. “After all,” Severus added after a pause for judicious consideration of the affected area, “it’s not as though it was a big mouthful…”

This, of course, provoked another yell of protest from Harry, though this time there were rather more actual words in it. “What? Yeah, maybe not for a yeti’s mouth, but it’ll do to shut your gob!”

The gleam in Severus’ eyes turned positively wicked. “That,” he declared with every evidence of vast – and growing – anticipation, “sounds like a challenge.

A cheerful call of “You show that beaky bugger what for, son!” from the direction of Charlus Potter’s portrait widened Harry’s grin, just a bit, as did the yeti’s mortified whimper. I’m going to Accio you out here and shag on you, you overgrown shag carpet! Teach you to tackle my tackle!

Harry shifted his grin into a leer and fired it at Severus. Yes, Harry thought as he revelled in the answering flare of heat in dark eyes, I reckon I’ll get along here just fine.


The final trace of the curse on us has long faded, and at last, they have returned: the Master and his lover, who was also the beloved of my chosen Heir. Two sons of this House whom I never sired, whom we’ve lost, whom we’ve mourned. But I, we, all of us, have them back again.

They’re home, and because of that, they make us a home. They live here now, and they bring light and life with them.

Welcome. Well come, indeed.

Welcome. Home.

Two Lockets has been inspired by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ewan McGregor’s Ranty McRantyPants, Celestina Warbeck, Astronomy, The Hermit – and Harry’s look-alike – from the Art Nouveaux Tarot (Carta Mundi, Belgium, 1989), and these origami bird instructions.

The Hermit in the ironbound grimoire is a tarot card from the I Tarocchi deck, Italy (date unknown).

Walburga Black is a painting by Antun Aron: Portrait of an Old Woman (1887).

Grimmauld is Strahov Monastery Library and St. Vitus cathedral in Czechoslovakia.

Mornington Crescent is a street in Camden, London.

You don’t have to go to Grimmauld Place to browse through the Herbarium Blackwellianum.

We borrowed The Necrotelecomnicon and the Liber Paginarum Fulvarum from the library of the hilarious Terry Pratchett. (We promised The Librarian we’d return them before their due dates.)

The idea that Elphaba from Wicked is an older relative of Snape’s was previously used in Harry Potter and the Ill-Tempered Potions Master by ze_dragon (a.k.a. dragon_light) and dementordelta. In Two Lockets, Snape invented her and her flying monkey kink to test Harry’s grasp of reality (not to mention his knowledge of Muggle culture). Poor Harry scored a T on that particular test.

The song which Harry tortures Snape with is “A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love” performed by Celestina Warbeck: a “particularly jazzy number” with sentimental associations for Mrs. Weasley and the following lyrics
Oh, come and stir my cauldron,
And if you do it right,
I’ll boil you up some hot, strong love
To keep you warm tonight.
Any time Snape hears Harry perpetrate it, he returns fire with a Warbeck ‘timeless masterpiece’ beginning with “You charmed the heart right out of me,” (adding sarky allusions to a Sectumsempra scar). If Harry’s being particularly cheeky, Snape often adds another Warbeck song “You stole my heart but you can’t have my cauldron” to the auditory spanking.

Postscriptum: Acid did a drawing of the Grimmauld Place candles on May 9, 2007 to thank the Anonymous Rose Donor.