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Chapter One Hundred and Twenty-Nine—Dangerous Meetings

"Sirius."

Sirius had to prevent himself from running forwards and clasping Harry to his chest—or being hurt when Harry hesitated. Of course Harry wouldn't be as eager to see him as he was to see Harry. The last Harry knew, he was still mad from Azkaban.

"Hi, pup," Sirius whispered. Cissy had led Sirius to a comfortable sitting room deep in the Manor with a door that locked and told him sternly that he wasn't to open the lock or get up from the chair until Harry joined him. Now Sirius hovered near the chair, and swallowed. The loudest noise was the crackle of the fire that he had watched hopefully for hours, planning on what he would say when Harry joined him.

Harry abruptly gave a little sob and raced towards him.

Sirius scooped him up and lifted him off the ground as much as he could; Harry had got both taller and heavier since he'd last seen him. Sirius hugged him and spun him and laughed and probably cried, not that he cared about that. Harry leaned heavily on him and patted his back, and it was honestly, for a few seconds, like everything was okay.

Then Harry leaned back and bit his lip. "Um, I know that you don't want Snape in here, but I had to have someone."

"Who?" Sirius asked, looking at the door. He jumped back when an enormous head slid in. "What the fuck?"

Harry laughed and then spoke in Parseltongue. Sirius kept himself from flinching with a manly effort. That was something he and his Healers had worked on, to make sure that he wouldn't hurt Harry's feelings when he saw him again.

"Dash, you already know," Harry said, and looked at him with dancing eyes that were far too innocent.

"Not at that size," Sirius said, and then swallowed when more of the basilisk slid into the room. He saw now why Narcissa had chosen this sitting room, other than the location and the door. She must have known that it was one of the few places, with one of the few corridors leading towards it, that Dash could fit into. Dash curled up comfortably near the fire, coils completely lapping and swallowing a chair, and flicked his eyelids at Sirius in what was probably a welcoming gesture.

It didn't feel like one.

Sirius cleared his throat and said, "Um. So. Did you like the sword?"

Harry began laughing quietly. "I love the sword. I don't think Severus did."

That's right, Harry calls the git by his first name. Sirius grinned. "Well, that's what a godfather is supposed to do, give you gifts that your parents don't approve of."

Harry froze for a second. Sirius was just about to ask why when he said slowly, "You called Severus my father. By implication."

"Yeah. That's—something I worked on. I'm never going to pretend to like Snape, but he's part of your life and I've got to accept that."

That got him another flying hug, and another flicker of Dash's eyelids. Sirius turned a little so that Harry's back was between him and Dash. The flicker just made him too nervous to do otherwise.

Dash snapped his tongue out in a way that meant he was probably laughing. Sirius didn't care, as long as he wasn't Petrified. Or dead.

"I have to ask," Sirius said, after Harry had spent a little while talking about his other Christmas gifts and some of the time he'd spent with Snape. "Have you figured out a way to remove the Horcrux from you yet?"

Harry grimaced. "It's going to have to be battle Legilimency, I think. Severus is going to start teaching me. I don't—it's going to be difficult. And risky. But it really is the best way. And Severus is a patient teacher."

Sirius checked some remarks that could have gone wrong, and nodded. "Whatever you have to do, pup. I'm just glad that it'll finally be gone from your brain."

"Yeah." Harry tilted his head and gave him a long, curious glance. "So how hard was it to work with the Healers on figuring out how to heal?"

Sirius grimaced. He didn't feel like he was completely free of Lughborn even now; he had to write letters to the man and do mental exercises all the time. "Really difficult. Lughborn said something about patterns carved into my brain by Azkaban and repetitive thoughts, and the deeper they are, the harder it is to change them."

"I know something about that, too. Severus and Hermione talk about it all the time."

Once again, Sirius prevented himself from reacting to the mention of "Severus." At least the Healing had done some good. "Lughborn thought I was good enough to come back. He thought—he thought there was still a chance that I would say something that would upset you."

Harry sighed. "Well, put it this way. My friends and Severus upset me sometimes, too. But at least like this, I know that you don't mean to say it. And you can apologize. And you're not going to get me nearly bitten by a werewolf who forgot to take his Wolfsbane." He gave Sirius a long, even glance, at the same time as the basilisk lifted his head and did the same with his hidden eyes.

Sirius flushed with shame. "I know. I'm so sorry about that, pup."

Harry reached out and patted his hand. "It's okay. I know that you won't ever do something like that again."

"I want to do something to help in the war effort, though. I mean, I know meeting with you like this is—it's just a first step, and I still have more to do, and giving you the sword helps, but I want to do something else."

Sirius had to look away when he spoke. He knew it was ultimately up to Harry, and probably Snape, if he participated in the war effort at all. But Remus had got the chance to do something. Sirius would, too, he hoped. Even if it was difficult or disgusting, that was better than writing a few letters and otherwise watching from a distance as his godson's life fell apart.

Harry was silent. Sirius looked back at him and found him looking at his basilisk. He was probably communicating with it down the bond.

"All right," Harry said slowly. "I'll discuss this with Severus. To make sure he approves. Because I don't think he approves of lots of choices that I make when it comes to you."

"What does he have to say about it? If he—"

But Harry frowned at him and said, "Because he's my guardian, Sirius. Remember, the position you forfeited?"

Sirius felt as though someone had stomped an enormous shoe on his chest. He slumped back in his chair and stared at Harry, who was wincing himself, and nodding. "Yes, all right, Dash," Harry said. "Sorry. Dash says I shouldn't have said that to you. He can smell that you're sincere and you're doing as much as you can to make up for this."

"So—he knows that I really want you to succeed?" Sirius managed to clear his throat and ask the question after one or two tries.

"Yes," Harry said. "And—I mean, I never doubted that you wanted me to succeed, Sirius. I know that you're against Voldemort. You proved that when you were searching frantically for some way to get the Horcrux out of me."

"But?"

"But you're careless. And I don't think that I'm ever going to be your ward again. I think—I think I want Severus in that position."

Lughborn had told Sirius again and again that he'd have to accustom himself to that, that Harry was unlikely to want to leave someone who had provided him with stability for the last year, but it still made Sirius blink, hard. Then he muttered, "And he's never careless? He hates me. He hasn't tried to prejudice you against me?"

"He's said things sometimes." Now Harry looked uncomfortable, but he took a deep breath and reached out a hand that Dash immediately moved under. "But he apologizes for them later. And he wouldn't let me come to meet you without some kind of guardian, but—is that—is that unwise?"

Sirius sighed, and tried to pour out all his negative emotions about Snape. "Okay. Fine. But when can I see you again?"

Harry grinned at him. "This visit isn't even done yet, and you want another one?"

"I always will. I didn't do the best job of showing it, but—I do love you, pup. I love being with you. I love being your godfather."

Harry swallowed, his eyes very wide. If he was communicating down the bond with Dash, he didn't show it. "Th-thank you, Sirius. I love you, too."

Sirius relaxed, and started asking about all the rumors he'd heard about the battle at the school and the way that that Defense professor had disappeared, and Harry happily answered them. Dash coiled next to his chair all the while, watching Sirius with those lidded eyes that Sirius could at least pretend were benevolent.

He wasn't sure if he believed it, all the time. But Lughborn had told him that the more he played at something, the truer it became. So he would do this.

For Harry's sake. Because he loved Harry with all his heart.


"What am I going to have to do to learn battle Occlumency?"

"At the beginning, it is much like regular Occlumency," Severus said in the indifferent tone he'd chosen for this evening. He couldn't let Harry sense how fast his heart was beating as he watched his ward settle himself in one of the protective circles the Malfoys had in their Manor. Dash, lingering near the door, could undoubtedly sense it. "But you must sharpen your determination to keep someone out of your mind. Give your shields lethal edges."

Harry had started to close his eyes and breathe in meditation, but his eyes popped back open. "So I could kill someone looking into my mind?"

"That is the idea, yes."

Harry looked at him with troubled, vibrant eyes. "I—I don't know if I can do that, Severus."

"You will do it, or you and Voldemort will remain intertwined with the Horcruxes between you, and you will have no success at freeing your soul from his."

Harry hunched down with his eyes on the floor. Dash hissed something, tongue darting briskly between his fangs, and Harry glared at him. Then he straightened up and said, "I don't like killing people."

Severus would have winced back from the tone of desperate unhappiness if he had let himself. "I know. And you know that you have no choice. Not about one person." If one could call Voldemort a person, but Severus wasn't sure that Harry would respond well to attempts to dehumanize his opponent.

Harry grimaced and nodded. Then he went back into the meditation. Dash flicked his tongue out again. Severus wished he could know what the basilisk had said.

"Imagine," Severus said when he thought Harry was probably in the best mind-mood for Occlumency that he'd achieve, "that your shields are forming up to guard your mind. But instead of simple shields, they have glittering edges."

"How many?" Harry whispered, in the blank tone that indicated he was as deep in the trance as he could get and still speak.

"All the way around. They are made of power and will, but also metal. They can cut. They can slice apart the thoughts of a Legilimens who seeks your mind."

Harry started, and his eyes popped back open again. "What happens if I slice apart someone's thoughts? I mean, does it hurt and then they go back to their body? Or does something else happen?"

"Return to your trance," Severus said, with enough of a glare that Harry obeyed, although he looked reluctant. "And what happens varies. If they are deep enough in your mind, their own mind may be sliced apart. They may drift away, helpless, and leave their bodies alive but mindless, much the way that the victim of a Dementor's Kiss appears."

"So I would be a murderer."

"Do you expect that many people you care about killing to read your thoughts?"

"Well, you."

Severus smiled a little, and was glad that Harry didn't have his eyes open to see the smile. "I assure you, I have my own weapons. You may need to test yourself against a few others to make sure that your shields can handle many kinds of Legilimency, not mine alone, and in that case, I will advise you how to use less fatal measures against them. You can do this, Harry. But you will need the killing edge as well."

Harry nodded and said, "All right. But just imagining the shields with metal edges isn't going to make them sharp enough to do anything, is it?"

"Imagine them that way, and then we will test them to see how much force you still need to put behind them."

Harry's breathing deepened even more, and Severus waited until he gave the faintest of nods. "Good. Now open your eyes, concentrating as hard as you can on the image you're holding in mind right now. Don't fight me."

Harry did it, and Severus slipped easily, gently, inside his mind, then turned to study the shields that were now behind him. They did look as though Harry had begun to picture them like great wheels with metal spokes on the edges. Severus nodded, then slipped back out.

"You have the image that you can build on," he said. "Don't forget it. But the only thing that can make them sharp is your intention."

Harry's face shut down again, and Severus was sure that the image he'd been holding onto had fled the surface of his mind. "You mean I have to want to hurt someone."

"That's right."

Harry looked at his hands. Severus waited for him to speak, but the only thing that happened was a gentle nudge from Dash's nose through the doorway. Severus finally sighed and asked, "And you cannot muster the thought that Voldemort or another intruder into your mind might hurt someone else if they find your memories? That can power the shields."

"I could do that as long as I wasn't actually fighting someone else," Harry said quietly. "I could keep that in reserve. But the moment when it was happening…I think I'll probably draw back and flinch because I wouldn't want to hurt someone."

"Why not, if that person is an enemy?"

Severus didn't bother to keep the exasperation out of his words, and Harry straightened at once, as if glad that he didn't have to sit in the meditating position any longer. "Because I don't know if I can kill to keep myself alive!"

Severus slowly moved a step back and exchanged a look with Dash. As far as he could make out on a snake's face with no ability to smile or frown, Dash didn't look surprised. His tongue darted out a little faster than normal, however.

"You have fought to preserve your own life in the past."

"Because I was thinking about coming back to Dash, or you and Draco, or all the people who might be hurt if I didn't! It's easier when it's a physical fight and I can see someone coming at me and they have a wand. But if it's a mental battle, then I'm afraid that right at the minute when I need to make the shields sharpest—"

"You would balance your life against the life of your attacker and falter."

"Yeah."

Severus thought about it for a time, partially because it was a problem he would never have had and therefore wasn't sure to recommend as a solution, and partially to give Dash a chance to speak up. But he did not, and Severus finally said, "Although it makes the shields less of a good solution as well, I can show you how to make them less lethal."

Harry smiled at him. "Thank you, sir."

"It will take more work to master," Severus warned him. "To sharpen your shields to a killing edge, it requires you only to reach an extreme, to have the intention to lash out and sever the link to an enemy's body at any moment. To maim them, you have to have more control, and you have to memorize and construct several different kinds of shields, so that you can call up the right one at the right moment."

"Could I injure them instead?"

"No. I will teach you to maim, or nothing."

It hurt Severus to say that, but it was the truth. As frustrating as it would be for Harry to labor for years on some method less guaranteed to work on reclaiming the Horcrux than battle Occlumency and Legilimency, Severus would not teach him half a defense. Harry was too soft-hearted as it was. His idea of a light injury could leave his mind wide open while he was trying to feel out the extent of the damage he had done to his enemy.

Harry clenched his fists.

"You were willing to learn Dark Arts and become a leader, I thought. Have you changed your mind?"

"I can do those for other people. But I can't stop thinking of my mind as mine, Severus. I wouldn't set up lethal traps on my trunk to protect my things, either. Or ones that maim. They're just things. These are just thoughts."

"You have already had memories of battle plans that would be fatal for your allies if discovered. That will happen again. You will maim those who seek to take them, Harry, or I will not teach you."

Harry spent a moment battling with his own reluctance. Severus kept silent. He thought he should leave it to Dash to sort this out.


I still can't understand why you want to maim them instead of kill them. Think of all the uses we could put their corpses to.

Shut up, Dash, Harry snapped down the bond. He was breathing fast despite himself, his hands clenched as he imagined cutting someone off from their body and making them into a vegetable, or…

What happens if you maim someone's mind, anyway?

Dash wound a coil thoughtfully up so he could look at the skin. I might shed soon. And while I'm drawing on my own past knowledge here instead of the books that Severus gave you, I imagine this hasn't changed. It works like a Memory Charm on some people. Other people will have actual brain damage. Some of them might lose some of their ability to use magic, including Legilimency. It varies based on how hard you strike back and where the blow lands.

Harry closed his eyes more tightly still. If he could see this as protecting his allies, then he would be all right with it. He had to remind himself of that again and again.

Your own life is worth all the protection I can give it. But I can't protect you this way. I can only give you magical strength for the battle Occlumency and Legilimency that you'll need to perform, not do it myself.

And it wouldn't be fair to ask you if you could. Why should I make you do something I wouldn't do myself?

Because I'm so much more practical than you are? Dash offered, sounding a little baffled. That is not a reason.

Harry let out a watery chuckle. He hadn't realized how much he hated the thought of leaving someone without a mind until Severus talked about it. He'd got over a lot of his baggage from the Dursleys, but apparently not the notion that his life was worth less than other people's.

I would eat them if I thought it would help.

I've told you before, that much fat is bad for you. Harry patted Dash's neck and turned to look at Severus. Severus had apparently committed to waiting silently, but he straightened up now and raised his eyebrows a little.

"I'm going to do it," Harry said. "I'll concentrate as hard as I need to on the thought of what someone might take out of my mind otherwise."

Severus inclined his head. "Excellent, Harry. I think you will find it easier than you believe. You are a good user of defensive magic. In the end, this is defensive. No one will have reason to trigger the traps unless they are trying to probe into your thoughts, where they should not be."

Harry nodded slowly. "But you told me that I'll also have to master battle Legilimency. That's going to be offensive magic, isn't it?"

Severus only watched him.

Harry grimaced. "Yeah, stupid question." He sat back down and started meditating in the way that would put him in the right frame of mind to engage with the sharp shields again. He pictured them rolling around his mind like enormous wheels. They had metal spokes and metal centers and metal everywhere. Kind of like giant bicycle wheels.

At the same time, he concentrated on the faces of his allies. Susana and her people. Ellen and the werewolves of Kelleth's pack. The Gryffindor students who were participating in Professor McGonagall's Defense classes, and the people from other Houses, too. Theo, who had risked everything to help him once.

Ron. Hermione. Severus. Sirius.

Draco.

Maybe it was fucked-up—a thought he buried immediately so it wouldn't be floating near the surface of his mind when Severus tried Legilimency to get through—but yeah, it was easier to think of defending himself when he knew he was doing it for his allies, and not his own measly little self.

I really would like to eat your aunt and uncle.

Harry smiled at Dash's wistful tone, opened his eyes, and turned his head to face Severus. "I'm ready. Try to get through."

Severus slammed into his shields. Harry turned them outwards and softened them as much as he could, and when Severus began to send his own power flowing through the shields, Harry clapped the edges down.

Severus was more than quick enough to dodge, as Harry had hoped. He watched, though, as his guardian's eyes widened and the smile that crept onto his face took on an edge almost as sharp as that of the shields.

"That is remarkable improvement in a short time. You have a talent for this, Harry, and we are going to make sure that you continue to improve."

I can do it. I can please him and I can protect my thoughts and I'm going to do everything well enough that I don't have to kill anyone.

And if you do, Dash said, stretching out another coil to admire it, I am more than happy to serve as the weapon.