AN: Please read this note!
From now on, there might be mature content in this story. The rating is changed to M. I understand that not everyone wants to read that. So, I have isolated the more explicit scenes, so that you can avoid them. They begin and end with three asterisks like these: ***. If you want to avoid the scene, simply put *** into your search page function (ctrl-f on most browsers) so you know where they begin and end, and can skip those scenes if you want.
Thanks for reading!
"And it feels just like a warrant
Is out for my arrest
Baby, you got me checkin'
In my rearview mirror
That's why I'm always on the run
That's why I changed my name
And I didn't think you'd ever find me here"
-Tom Waits, Blue Valentine
The Black Chest
As soon as Hermione's back cleared the doorway of 221b, Sherlock turned on Harry.
"You're not a very good liar. Lucky Hermione didn't catch on." Sherlock drawled. He was surprised to see Harry lie so boldly to his old friend. The hallows must have been a touchy subject.
Harry did not reply to the accusation, which confirmed that Sherlock was right.
"So, then, the deathly hallows. You obviously own one," Sherlock said, thinking of the invisibility cloak. A visible twitch told him he hit the mark, "Maybe all three. Why keep it from Hermione?"
"It's not relevant." Harry said shortly.
"Everything is relevant until you know with certainty that it's not. I don't mind that you kept her out of the loop, as long as you share it with me."
Harry frowned. Sherlock smiled, instead.
"Does the stone really call back the dead? Is the wand more powerful only in context of duels, or does it amplify any spell you cast? Infact, is that the wand you're carrying currently?" Sherlock strode towards Harry. He knew where the wizard kept it, in his trousers' front pocket. Long fingers wound around the handle and pulled it out. Sherlock brought it up to his face, to examine it more carefully.
"No, that one's ordinary." Harry said, allowing Sherlock to handle it.
"As ordinary as a wand could be. Well, where are they then?" Sherlock said, giving the wand back to Harry.
"Hidden." The wizard replied, simply.
Now it was Sherlock's turn to frown, and fix Harry with a look. Did the wizard really think that the quality of being hidden was going to deter him from finding these objects? Especially fabled artifacts created by death itself? Really, it's as though Potter had never met him before.
Harry sighed, quickly understanding his situation.
"You heard the story, didn't you? There's lot of truth in it. The first two, the stone and the wand, are nothing but trouble. I swear it, Sherlock. I have a good reason for keeping them secret."
"Alright, but it's not as though I could put them to any use. I'm asking out of curiosity. You're usually very honest. It must be something big to make you lie to Granger."
At Sherlock's words, Harry dejectedly plopped himself on the sofa, with an air that reminded Sherlock of himself, whenever he was in one of his skulks. "It's nothing big exactly." He said, and then continued to remain unhelpfully silent.
"Fine," Sherlock said, sitting down next to him, "if you refuse to elaborate, I'll just have to keep guessing."
He thought about the hallows. An unbeatable wand. Surely every wizard with any violent ambitions would be after it. The wand must have had a bloody history, switching hands from one wizard to another.
The stone was likely a great deal quieter, but no less insidious. To someone like Harry, who had many dead friends and relatives, the stone must be a constant temptation.
The cloak was the most benign of them all. It was the only hallow that Harry kept on his person. Indeed, death could not follow him, while he wore the cloak. Sherlock heard enough of Harry's story to understand that his wizard, by all rights, should not have survived to the ripe, old age of 34. That he did is no small accomplishment.
And what did it mean for Harry to own all three?
"You want them gone from history, don't you? You want to stop people from coming after them, for everyone to forget they ever existed." Sherlock said, leveling a calculating look at Harry. He remembered their conversation about goetic magic, and how Harry wholly sided with the medieval wizards that decided it was better to erase knowledge than allow demonic beings to run unchecked.
The wizard shuddered, and murmured, "Something like that."
The sat in silence for long moments, before Sherlock brought himself to ask another question.
"What does that make you then, the owner all three?" Sherlock asked, carefully.
Harry let out a slightly demented laugh.
"I've heard the term Master of Death once before. D'you think it's fitting?" He said. With his bleak smile, battered glasses, and tired face, Sherlock didn't think Harry looked like the master of anything.
Harry shuddered again, and looked around the flat. He began speaking, in hushed tones, as if the shadows on the walls could hear them.
"I can feel it next to me, sometimes. Crouching over me like a terrible bird, waiting. And it can't get at me, under my cloak. I humiliated it, with the stone. There were months of my life Sherlock, that stone was never out of my hands… And the wand. I'm not so stupid to think that no one will want to come after me, to own the most powerful wand ever created.
"So it took the ones I love, over and over again, because I could never die. But I never minded dying, not really. I would have traded my life for any one of theirs. I thought I was being clever by hiding, never seeking out other people. But here I am, with you and Hermione, none the wiser to this- this thing that follows me..."
His hushed rambling came to a halt, as the wizard put his hands over his face in an utterly defeated gesture. Sherlock, his brain working overtime, understood the wizard's dilemma.
He didn't want to leave Sherlock, but he was terrified that somehow his mere presence was going to bring about a premature end to the world's only consulting detective. An insane notion, but something in the back of Sherlock's mind hummed in sympathy. Out of the corner of his eye he perceived the imagined dark tunnels underneath his mind palace, and the horrible presence that had followed him within those stone hallways.
"That's no way to go about things," Sherlock said, trying to hide his uncertainty with a confident tone. "You never know, maybe death's finally decided to let you off the hook. Given you up as a bad job?"
Harry chuckled humorlessly. Sherlock noted that the wizard's hands were shaking. He must have really believed this theory, that death was quite literally crouching over his shoulder, willing to strike at any and all that came too close to the wizard. This made it sound like an overprotective and jealous lover, but Sherlock thought it would not do to mention the fact. See, John, even I can learn some tact.
"Maybe," Harry finally conceded, "you're still alive, I guess."
"Much to the chagrin of my brother, and half of Scotland Yard, it appears so." Sherlock added.
"I'm really, dreadfully selfish. I've packed my bag and thought of leaving here a dozen times," the wizard said, and Sherlock's heart caught in his throat, "and every time I set out to go, I just couldn't do it."
Right. That, wasn't good. Sherlock felt his pulse painfully rise as he contemplated the fact that his wizard almost fled from Baker Street with Sherlock none the wiser.
He wanted to talk Harry out of these notions, and reaffirm that selfishness was, in his case, an admirable trait that he ought to cultivate. However, he really felt that Hermione had already covered all the major points in the 'it's not your fault' talk she'd given him some days prior. Really, Sherlock had been uncharacteristically understanding, and there's only so long that can last before he makes an error that would expose how limited his knowledge of human emotion really was.
"You should listen to Hermione more. She had a far more accurate assessment of your situation, and whether people dying has any correlation to your existence." Sherlock said.
Harry smiled at this, which was not what Sherlock expected.
"Someone else had said the same thing to me, once. 'Listen to Hermione.' He was very clever, too." Harry said.
"Then listen to us." Sherlock said.
"It all sounds like nonsense, about death following me, I know it sounds crazy," Harry said, and Sherlock agreed, but did not verbalize it. Privately he thought that after the case was solved, he should really get Harry an appointment with John's therapist. Or another therapist, that was more qualified. Did wizards have magical psychiatrists?
There were a dozen other things that Sherlock wanted to mention to the wizard. Like, for example, did he ever consider that the person framing him for murders might be trying to get at the hallows? If they were hidden somewhere, was it not a remote possibility that he had, already, gotten to two of them? At the very least, it required a checkup.
But Sherlock had other items on his evening agenda. Ones that he could not get to if he kept Harry talking about how everyone is bound to snuff it. So the hallows would have to wait.
"As much as I enjoy talking about death, perhaps we can change the subject. Have you noticed, Harry, that we are actually both alive?" Sherlock had kept most of the sarcasm out of his voice. It was a very true statement.
In fact Sherlock had never felt more alive than when he was with his strange, melancholy wizard, that saw doom spelled in every shadow, a feature which was oddly endearing to Sherlock.
"And as you have so eloquently explained," Sherlock continued, "being alive is a condition that is not permanent. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that we should take advantage of all of its aspects. While there's time, and all."
"I think I see where this is heading." Harry laughed, this time with real amusement.
"Am I so transparent?" Sherlock whined. The heavy mood still lingered, but was inching away.
"No, I think of all the things I would call you, transparent is not one." Harry said.
"And what would you call me, then?" Sherlock asked.
"Besides the obvious ones like brilliant, clever, and genius?"
"Yes, let's do try to be more creative." Sherlock said, in mock chiding.
"Well, let me think then," Harry said, and as he presumably did so, a blush started creeping into the wizard's cheeks, and Sherlock decided he did not have patience to wait on the wizard's answer.
Harry was doing his best to think when a pair of long arms wound around him. He felt hot breath on his neck, and let his eyes close for a second. Sherlock's lips ghosting over the crook of his jaw, sending a wave over his nerve endings. Barely conscious of it, Harry pressed himself into Sherlock, his hand finding the other man's knee.
In moments like these, thinking was not his strong suit. It didn't take much for everything in his brain to become scrambled. Sherlock probably never had trouble thinking straight, even when they were like this, and Harry could barely remember his own name.
"So, come up with anything yet?" Sherlock's voice rumbled close to his ear. It was an exceedingly pleasant voice. Harry had noted that very early in their acquaintance, but he never predicted that he would hear it used so gently.
"Er, handsome… that's probably something I'd call you. With the cheekbones, and the eyes, and everything…" Harry managed to get the words out.
"Genetic chance. Hardly an achievement." Sherlock said, and then pressed another warm kiss to Harry's cheek. Harry very abruptly came to the conclusion that Sherlock should not be required to do all of the work. He shifted himself and caught Sherlock's lips with his own. He smiled into the kiss when he heard the other man pull in a shaky breath.
There was something urgent, something he needed in the tongue and teeth and heat… Something he had been longing for, without knowing, without realising, how empty life had been without it.
"Anything else?" Sherlock breathed.
"Bloody good kisser." Harry said, and watched Sherlock's lips pull into a smile.
"Good," he said and continued to demonstrate that he was indeed what Harry claimed.
Harry felt somewhat embarrassed now, when he thought about the melodramatic toss that came out of his mouth. Sherlock probably thought him unbalanced. But once they started talking about the hallows Harry could not hold back the worry that had been rotting inside him. It was a testament to Sherlock that he was still willing to snog him senseless after all the rubbish Harry had said.
Indeed, holding the other man in his arms and feeling Sherlock's hands press against his waist, the panic that sometimes suffocated Harry was receding. He felt far away from all his troubles, his past...
"You make me feel better, about everything." Harry blurted out, suddenly. "I mean that I'm not as worried about things when I'm with you." Harry tried to clarify.
Sherlock looked into his eyes, a probing look that would normally alert Harry to legilimency. The fine lines around the detective's eyes contracted slightly.
The detective nodded once, then lowered his lips to Harry's neck.
"Normally my presence elicits a completely opposite reaction. Fortunate that it does not in you." Sherlock said, his head buried in the crook of Harry's shoulder.
They spent a very pleasant hour on the couch like this; kisses, interrupted by words and whispers. But as things became more and more heated, both men seemed reluctant to continue.
It's not that he didn't want to continue, but Harry was at a loss of what do next. He was completely inexperienced with men, and in fact, his experiences with women could be considered ancient history. As their hands wandered more freely around their bodies, he became more reserved, and unsure of his every move. A blade of anxiety cut into him. Sherlock, ever perceptive, must have sensed Harry's reticence and stopped.
A soul is hardest to injure, and the slowest to mend.
The words floated through his head, and Harry tightly shut his eyes. Not now, he thought. There really were more pressing matters on hand.
But the mood had fled, and the two men disentangled. When they separated, each bid the other a good night, and Harry spent hours lying awake in his bed.
What was wrong with him? It was cruel to lead Sherlock on when he could barely be counted on to reciprocate. Until Sherlock had decided to kiss him, it had been ages since Harry felt any sort of desire. Had it come and fled so suddenly?
Harry closed his eyes, tired of looking at the ceiling, and tried to relax into his bed. He thought of Sherlock, with his eyes glinting in the lamplight of the living room. The detective reminded Harry of many people; bits of Hermione, the genius of Dumbledore, sometimes Ron's blunt tactlessness. Sometimes, Sherlock's easy sense of humor reminded Harry of her, but he tried very hard not to think about that too much.
Yet Sherlock was wholly unique, and probably the most interesting person Harry had ever met.
Thinking of Sherlock laid on the leather couch, his long limbs relaxed, elegantly draped over the furniture, Harry barely noticed his right hand as it started to rub slow circles around his navel.
He took in a deep breath.
He traced the edge of his groin with his thumb. He thought of Sherlock's thin fingers, curled around the neck of a violin, and the way they delicately handled a pen, spinning it easily.
Harry touched his shaft, running his index finger along the length. He was pleasantly surprised by the warmth that shot through to his chest. Maybe it wasn't completely hopeless.
Gaining confidence, he stroked firmly up, and felt again the sensations that had eluded him for a decade. A sense of excitement filled him. It would be so good, if after all this time, he could start really healing.
He sighed and settled into a rhythm, thinking of Sherlock. The way that the man's mouth opened slightly, when he was drawing in deep breaths, and Sherlock's chest, which Harry had not seen but could imagine vividly from the ridiculous, tight shirts that Sherlock preferred.
Harry replayed their time on the couch, kissing Sherlock's neck and winding his fingers through the man's dark hair.
A rush was coming over him, and his heart was hammering away in his chest. The images of Sherlock in his mind became more abstract; limbs, and mouth, and parts he was sure he hadn't seen yet, but his brain helpfully supplied anyway.
He came with a quiet gasp, and quickly spelled the mess away. Harry laid back in relief. He fell asleep with the pleasant thought that he could not have been completely defective.
They apparated into an alley. A quick look around told Sherlock that they were in one of London's more rundown districts. Before he had a chance to say anything, the wizard threw something over his head.
"It's the invisibility cloak," he said. "Going to be a little cramped, it barely covers us both."
"And why do we need it?"
"Sherlock, I used to live here. Legitimately. There might be aurors posted."
They crouched as they walked, flanking the brick walls of the alley. Harry was overly cautious. Sherlock would have said something, but it took all morning to convince the wizard just to go here. No need to make him reconsider.
Out on the street, they continued their slow path heading south. They passed a couple of blocks before Harry came to a halt.
Suddenly he turned around, and wound his arms around Sherlock. He thought it might be a kiss, but instead, Harry leaned in close to Sherlock's ear.
"The headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix is located at number twelve, Grimmauld Place." He whispered. Sherlock caught movement to his left. He looked over just in time to see a house squeeze into existence.
The house was in bad repair. It looked properly abandoned.
Harry led the way to the porch. They carefully picked their way, among the stone steps which were crumbling away, and came to a grey, peeling door. Harry stuck his hand out of the invisibility cloak, and gingerly tapped his wand against it. There was a series of metallic clicks, and the door opened an inch. Harry and Sherlock stepped through into the darkness beyond.
Old-fashioned gas lamps sprang to life, which halted them in the entryway. Harry made a quick motion with his wand, and Sherlock barely caught the words 'hominem revelio' whispered. The wizard let out a breath and shrugged off the invisibility cloak.
"Through here," he whispered. Sherlock followed.
The house had clearly not been lived in for decades. Everything had a very telling layer of dust. They ascended a staircase, which had the mounted heads of some kind of hideous, humanoid creature, on the wall above. Sherlock could not imagine that this was ever Harry's house.
As if to answer his question, Harry started speaking in a low voice.
"This was my godfather's house. He left it to me when he died. Not a very nice place, I know, but his family were dark. You can probably tell by the decor." He finished, pointing over to the shrunken, mounted heads.
"What are they?" Sherlock asked.
"House elves." Harry answered, which didn't really clarify anything. They walked through hallways of the house until they reached the third landing. At the end, there was a door which must have led to a bedroom.
Harry stopped a foot short of the door. He hesitated, reaching his arm out, his finger tips tracing the handle.
A moment, then two, and the wizard decided to proceed. Sherlock wondered at what memory had caught Harry just then, but decided to save his questions for later.
The room was the master bedroom, judging by the size. A few murky beams of sunlight made it through the dusty windows and illuminated a four poster bed, with the sheets mussed, as though it had just been vacated.
Sherlock narrowed his eyes and gave the room a critical glance. The dust motes in the air aside, this room was noticeably cleaner than the rest of the house.
"The Black's house is teeming with hidden compartments. I'd guess they wanted to keep their valuables secure… Lucky for me anyhow, since a hiding place is exactly what I needed."
Harry walked over to the northern wall, where an old, moth-eaten tapestry hung from the ceiling to the floor. Sherlock judged that it was a very poorly represented image of a constellation. He could not place it however, lacking knowledge in such things.
Harry took out his wand. He raised his left palm up, and gave a quick slash with his right. Sherlock noticed the red pooling immediately.
"What are you doing?" Sherlock asked, trying not to let the sharpness in his tone show. He didn't like seeing his wizard bleed.
Harry turned back and smiled.
"It's alright, just a little. Look, it's a puzzle of sorts." He pointed to the tapestry.
Harry stepped in front of it, and with his bleeding hand traced a red outline on top of the tapestry. It took Sherlock a second to understand that he was connecting the stars in a specific order.
"My godfather showed me this one… Mind you, he was keeping firewhiskey here. Said if he didn't, Mundungus would have gotten through all of it in a night." Harry said, with a faraway voice, as though speaking from a memory.
When the wizard traced a bloody line to the final star, the red trail began to disappear. The curtains melted into the wall behind, which transformed itself into a little door. It was about waist high, and could not have been bigger than a foot high, and two wide.
Harry placed his injured palm onto the door, which creaked open.
Inside was a chest. It was entirely onyx, and gleamed in what Sherlock was sure a malignant manner. Harry reached out, and grabbed the chest. Judging by the way the wizard heaved it on the bed, Sherlock guessed it to be quite heavy.
"There we are. Locked up and safe. No one's been through here and fiddled with the chest." Harry said, pointing at it.
"The deathly hallows are inside?" Sherlock said, looking the chest over.
Harry only nodded.
"And how can you be sure no one else has been through here?" He asked.
"I'm sure. No one but me should be able to open that," Harry said, pointing to where the starry tapestry had been.
"If all you need is a little blood-" Sherlock began.
"No, not just any blood. It's got to be someone with Black blood, which I qualify for, loosely. I think I had a great-grandmother or something that came from the stock-" Sherlock was about to interrupt the wizard, but Harry continued.
"And, it's got to be the person who magically owns the house. Since Sirius made sure that was me, it can only be me who opens it." Harry finished.
Sherlock crossed his arms.
"You ought to at least open it to make sure. We came all this way after all." Sherlock said in his most petulant voice, hoping that the wizard did not immediately recall that it was entirely Sherlock's idea to have come here in the first place.
Harry sighed, looking at the chest with a frown.
"Does it have another 'puzzle' on it? How do you open it?" Sherlock asked.
"You just lift the lid..." Harry said, and Sherlock immediately went for it. Before his hand connected with the black chest, Harry grabbed it.
"Wait, I'd put a curse on it," he said, "I don't know how well you remember what happened when you broke into that Archer street house I was squatting in, but I'm sure you don't want to re-experience it."
Sherlock let the hand drop. Harry took out his wand again. "Since you're so eager, I suppose it couldn't hurt to check…" He began waving it and chanting, his eyes shut in concentration.
"Incidentally, I never asked about that," Sherlock began, "Is that a common feature of household security for wizards? That hallucinogenic curse seemed a tad harsh."
Harry looked up with his eyebrows low over his eyes. The meaning was clear, 'I'm trying to concentrate here, so kindly piss off for a second.' Sherlock also saw what was between the lines.
"It's not, is it?" He commented, as Harry continued waving his wand.
Sherlock thought about it for a moment.
"I'd bet you made it up." Sherlock said, as Harry finished his work over the chest. The wizard gave him another stern look, which told Sherlock all he needed to know.
"You told me the name of it: culpam caecirius, wasn't it?" Sherlock drawled, "Very roughly translated, it means 'the blame falls'?"
"Yes, something like that. It's a guilt curse. Should have paralyzed you, so obviously I hadn't done a very good job that time. Now, are you still interested in this, or what?" Harry said quickly, pointing at the chest.
Sherlock's lips pulled tight. He knew that for reasons he hadn't fully grasped yet, when spells had emotions behind them, they became much more powerful. Figures his wizard was making up spells to suit his own emotional spectrum, as unhappy as it was.
Sherlock nodded, and reached for the chest again. He touched the lid experimentally, and when nothing happened, he threw it open.
There was a loud crack.
Sherlock quickly recoiled. It took his brain a split second to figure out that the noise had not come from the chest, but rather from the center of the room. He immediately found the culprit: an ugly, and ancient looking creature stood on the carpeted floor. He recognized that it belonged to the same species of tiny humanids whose heads were so proudly displayed above the stairs they had passed.
"Kreacher! What are you doing here?" Harry said, with no alarm in his voice. Sherlock was not put to ease, however.
"I do as have done the generations of Kreacher's forebearers. I look after the master's house, and keep the master's house clean and tidy." The tiny, old thing spoke with a thin, raspy voice. Sherlock thought that these creatures must be prone to lies, since the house was the furthest thing he could imagine from 'clean and tidy.'
"Oh, right, well thank you Kreacher. But, I thought you were working at Hogwarts?" Harry asked.
"It's the summer holiday, Master." The thing answered.
"Oh, right, so it is." Harry said awkwardly.
"Will he be needing some refreshment, for master and his...friend?" Sherlock decidedly did not like the way the creature looked at him and spat the word 'friend.'
"No, we'll be fine. Er, thank you." Harry said.
"Humph. Is there any other service that Kreacher can provide?"
"I'm good, really, thank you."
"As you please." The elf gave a low bow, and with another crack, disappeared.
Harry let out a breath.
"I didn't think he was still alive. I can't imagine how old he must be..." The wizard said with bemusement. "Helped me out alot when I went to Azkaban. Kept my wand from the aurors, along with other things…"
Sherlock put the matter from his mind, since he judged the contents of the black chest more important than a house elf. He walked back over to it, and glanced inside.
Two small objects: a black, cut stone, and a battered, old wand. They both seemed perfectly innocent.
"Are you sure these are it?" He raised an eyebrow at Harry. Sherlock imagined that objects created by death would have more of a presence.
"Yes." Harry said.
Sherlock reached out. His hands closed over the wand. He picked it up and waved it around. Nothing happened.
What did you think, that you'd become a wizard suddenly?
Sherlock frowned. Of course not. That would be impossible.
He put the wand down and picked up the stone. He thought of his old uni friend, Pierce, who had OD'd a decade ago. He shut his eyes, and turned the stone.
"Sherlock?" The voice made Sherlock's eyes snap open. A ghostly, thin outline of Pierce stood in the shadowy corner of the room.
Panic streaked across Sherlock. He dropped the stone, and it clattered to the ground. Just as suddenly, the phantom disappeared.
"Sherlock, are you alright?" This time, it was Harry's voice, but it scared Sherlock even more.
The image of dead Pierce still lingered in his head, calling out to him. Sherlock shook his head. When the worlds of the living and the dead were tangled, how could he know what was what? Suddenly, Sherlock was not sure whether his wizard was alive, or if he was just a ghost that had clung to Sherlock and stayed with him. Or, even less comforting, whether his wizard was just a stray strand of Sherlock's imagination that had come to life to haunt him.
"Sherlock, it's alright, we're right here. It's Tuesday evening, and what you saw was real, but not in the same way you and me are real." The words soothed him somewhat. Sherlock swallowed. Shakingly he picked up the stone and placed it in the chest.
"I didn't think…" he said, flushing with embarrassment that his voice shook as badly as his hands, "Didn't think it would work. For me, I mean."
"Neither did I." Harry confessed.
Sherlock crossed the room and threw his arms around the wizard. Yes, real and warm. Not a ghost or a figment, but a real, blood and flesh man. Good.
"It's alright," Harry said, softly into his ear.
Sherlock nodded and stepped away.
This was his brilliant idea, anyway. Sherlock had convinced the wizard to come here, and now he wanted to leave as fast as possible.
"They're safe, then. Put them away and let's go."
Harry didn't move.
"Sherlock, I hadn't thought of something." Harry said,
"What exactly?" Sherlock asked.
"If I die, I'm not sure what happens to this place." Harry said. Sherlock wanted to exclaim that the wizard was not going to die anytime in the foreseeable future, but arrested himself.
"I'm going to take them with me. I'll find a hiding spot for them later. But I don't think they should stay here." Harry said, with a tone of finality.
Sherlock didn't like the idea of that stone in his house, but he liked even less the idea of not having the wizard in his house. The stone was nothing in comparison.
"Alright," he quickly agreed.
Harry grabbed the two objects, and stuffed them into his pockets. He put away the chest, and waving his wand, the tapestry reappeared over the section of wall that had been hiding a safe a moment ago.
They apparated back to Baker Street.
Tobias Snape once had a record player. It was an old, busted thing, but still reliable after years of abuse. The old man enjoyed very few things in life, gin being the primary one. But second on the list must have been Puccini. The only thing carefully kept in Snape's childhood home was one shelf which contained his father's records. Madame Butterfly, La Boheme, Tosca...
On nights when he was not completely obliterated with drink, Snape's father would sit next to the creaky record player and listen to the melancholy notes of Tosca. This was how Snape liked his father most. Docile, enjoying something beautiful.
Then, one of the records got scratched. Snape remembered that unpleasant night very well sitting in Azkaban. He even remembered when his father put in the black vinyl disk, and how it almost completed the sad end of Puccini's tragic tale, but began skipping.
E muoio disperato!
E non ho amato mai tanto la vita,
Tanto la vita,
It would keep repeating the phrase, never progressing the aria to its conclusion.
Snape's head resembled that broken record player, and his memories were all scratched and useless. He knew, somewhere in a deep hole protected by occlumency, that things had turned out alright. Hadn't they? There was a purpose to everything, even his years as a double agent under Dumbledore's orders. But trying to remember what it had been was like listening to that aria, stuck in a loop forever.
This is how Severus Snape's loop began. On December 17th, 1997, at the height of Voldemort's second return to power.
The sun was just setting as Snape apparated to the outskirts of a Yorkshire manor. He crept through the woods, mindful that he wasn't exactly welcome there.
The Lestrange family manor had all sorts of wards and enchantments when the war started, but now security was minimal. No doubt the Lestranges thought that nobody would think of attacking their enormous, stone mansion. They weren't necessarily wrong.
He attempted to slow his breathing as his heart pounded annoyingly in his chest.
It had been only a few hours ago, that he had overheard her. Of all the death eaters with whom he had to rub shoulders, Severus hated Bellatrix the most. She certainly returned the favor, thinking Snape was a false follower to their Lord.
She had been bragging to her forlorn sister Narcissa, and Snape happened to be right next to them. He had brought Draco home for the winter holidays, apparating the teenager into his own room in the Malfoy manor. He stepped out of the bedroom, and would have missed the snippet of information, but it was luck, incredible luck, that Snape hid himself behind a tapestry at exactly the right moment to hear the crazed witch's words, as she passed by with Mrs. Malfoy.
Bellatrix had said that she would surely be the Dark Lord's favorite, after she presented him with the gift she was preparing. In hushed tones, she related to her sister how she had caught that boy finally, and he was currently held in her manor. In fact, he'd been there for days.
Her sister was frightened at first, wondering why 'Trixie' hadn't called the Dark Lord directly, why she had waited. To this Bellatrix issued a horrible giggle, and said that there was no cause for worry, as she was only preparing Potter for their Lord's company.
The floor dropped out from Snape when he heard this. He went back to his office in Hogwarts after that, relaying the urgent message to Dumbledore's portrait, not knowing what to do. The old man in the painting visibly blanched. He urged Severus to get the boy out of his prison, at any cost.
Damn the old man, Severus thought. Entrusting the safety of the wizarding world to a child was the most idiotic plan ever thought up. Perhaps he was as much of a fool as Dumbledore, for following his orders. But it was too late to stop. Dumbledore's wheels had been set in motion, and Snape's duty was to make sure they remained traveling down their path. He had been carrying out the former headmaster's plans for nearly a year, and no one looked forward to the Dark Lord's demise more than Snape. If it was ever going to come...
He crept through the gardens, to a door that he knew was the back entrance to the Manor. Severus had been there on only a few occasions, and was not all too happy to be back.
He pressed his palm against the wooden door. His dark mark warmed, and the door clicked open.
Snape was surprised how easy it was to find him. A few wrong turns and back tracking, and he was there, in the basement, in a windowless room. One candle was burned, floating next to the ceiling, reminding Snape uncomfortably of the great hall at Hogwarts.
He ran to the boy, and shook him as soon as his hands closed around the teenager's collar.
"Potter! Potter wake up!" He hissed. Two green eyes, for once unobstructed by spectacles, looked up at him. There was no worry, no fear, and no hatred in those eyes. Snape's stomach wrenched uncomfortably as he remembered those exact eyes, blank and unseeing, as he cradled Lily's corpse.
They have him drugged, Snape consoled himself.
"Get up, now!" Snape commanded the boy. But there was no reaction. Potter just sat there, staring at him as though Snape's appearance was an everyday occurrence. Growling in the back of his throat about difficult teenagers, Snape hefted the boy's weight up. Potter did not resist, but also made no use of his own legs. He was like a dummy with his strings cut, completely unsupported.
Serious worry was starting to worm into Snape's mind. But he persevered. Casting a featherlight charm on the boy, he put him over his shoulder. His journey back to Hogwarts was smooth and anticlimactic. Only once he had settled Potter back into his study, protected by Hogwarts' magic from any intruders, did everything begin deteriorating.
Snape began with simple diagnostics. Looking for confounding potions, truth potions, anything that might explain Potter's strange behaviour. He knew, in the back of his mind, that there was a much simpler explanation for the symptoms, but Snape would be damned if he didn't try everything else first.
Potter sat, in the chair where Snape deposited him, not making any movement, and staring straight ahead.
Only in the early hours of the morning did Snape finally give up and cast the spell he knew would reveal Potter's condition. He flicked his wand over the boy, and Potter's nervous system was illuminated. Where normally, it ought to be a light, glowing blue, the spell showed a malevolent purple, and red, where Potter's brain was concerned.
Damaged, completely fried. Overexposure to the pain curse. The boy could not be saved.
Snape shakily sat down in his own chair.
He could brew nerve restoration potions, perhaps try to bring some life back into the boy. But Snape laughed harshly at his own idea. He could ask Alice and Frank Longbottom how well that had worked out.
Snape barely knew how he had ended up in front of Dumbledore's portrait, screaming obscenities at the enchanted canvas.
"Your bloody gorgeous plan, Albus, to leave the fate of the world in the hands of an incompetent teenager!"
Of course it was just a painting. One that had Dumbledore's personality, and his knowledge, but still just a stretch of enchanted canvas. He was alone, in a castle that was infested with death eaters, teachers who despised him, and students that he was supposed to miraculously protect. Outside, Voldemort was gaining more power than he had ever had, the order was almost completely broken, and their one, small hope was sitting in a chair and practically drooling on himself.
Everything was lost. The thought hit him like an unforgivable curse.
Everything he'd been fighting for, and scheming for, all of it was going to be destroyed by Voldemort. Harry was useless now, and so even Albus (the painting, he reminded himself) had no idea what could be done.
He didn't know whether he wanted to cry or get drunk. Maybe both, he reasoned.
And this is where the loop stops. Snape knew there must be something beyond this. He knew that somehow, there was still hope after that night where all hope was shattered.
Another dementor passed his cell, and he shivered.
There was no more hope. Just the same memory, playing out again and again. Potter staring blankly, and Albus's painting speaking, but offering no consolence, or words of advice.
"My boys," The painting whimpered, pitifully, "my poor boys…"
Hey ya'll, I took a long break didn't I? Sorry about that. I hope those of you who have liked this story before will continue reading, and leaving me comments. Tell me what you liked, or didn't like. Any feedback is useful. Thanks!