A Reason

Final battle, Hogwarts. July 31, 1998

Finally, it was over.

Harry's exhausted body swayed as he looked at the disintegrating remains of the Dark Lord at his feet.

He glanced down at the wand in his hand with green eyes dulled from seventeen years of pain.

He was oblivious to the noise around him, the screams of denial and shouts of joy from the enemies and allies that had witnessed his victory washing over him as little more than white noise.

He looked up.

Draco and Severus were fighting to get through the crowd to reach him, held back by people who didn't understand.

He smiled at them softly, his face almost angelic in its peace.

He slowly raised his wand to his temple.

"Happy birthday, Harry," he whispered to himself.

Privet Drive, July 1997

Harry gasped for air around the meaty fist wrapped around his throat. His face was turning a deep red, his lips developing a blue tinge. His hands twitched uselessly, bound behind his back.

Maybe Vernon would kill him this time.

He certainly hoped so.

Spinners End, July 1997

Snape sat quietly in his high backed chair before the fire. He nursed his glass of brandy, staring into the dancing flames. His companion mirrored him almost exactly, sipping occasionally from his own glass.

They were both dead men.

"Do you think Potter will actually pull it off?"

The dark man didn't raise his eyes, but he did raise his glass to his lips. Sipping slowly, he pondered the question.

"If he doesn't, we're fucked."

The graceful blonde teen stared in shock at his mentor and godfather. He couldn't recall the eloquent and vitriolic man ever resorting to such crass language before. He blinked, tearing his eyes away from the older man to stare sightlessly into his drink.

They'd been sitting before the fire for several hours now, and while far from drunk, the two men were comfortably tipsy.

"Did you ever notice how small he seems at the start of each year?" The blonde mused idly.

Snape snorted and took another sip. "I can't say I ever paid attention to the brat."

Draco nodded slightly. "I know. It just always struck me as odd. At the end of the year he seems almost larger than life, flying high on the results of whatever deadly escapade he has triumphed over this time, but when he comes back from holidays he seems… small. And very thin. Have you ever noticed that he flinches when people touch him?"

Snape frowned slightly.

Draco continued to muse aloud, the alcohol releasing a flood of tiny observations gleaned over the years and ignored or discarded in his usual state of sobriety.

"He barely eats for the first couple of weeks, and when he does it's always very plain food, never anything rich." He paused, licking his lips thoughtfully. "I saw him trip and fall down the stairs last year. I heard something crack, and his face went white, but he just got up, picked up his bag and went to class. I think he broke a rib or something, but he acted like it was nothing. I mean, I know he gets injured a lot, but a broken bone is worth more than a slight wince, don't you think?"

Snape's frown deepened.

"I remember, some of the Gryffindor boys were talking – those boys gossip worse than the girls, I swear - and I heard them say that Potter has really bad nightmares. Apparently he forgot to spell his curtains silent a couple of times, and they heard him screaming and begging someone called Vernon to stop."

Draco stopped rambling and took a sip, then sighed.

Snape sent him a sharp glance.

"Did you say Vernon?"

Draco nodded lazily, oblivious to the other man's sudden interest.

"Oh! And you know when that bludger broke his arm in second year? He didn't even cry out! I was right next to him, and he didn't make a sound. It's weird."

Snape hummed noncommittally.

"My father has been trying to find out about his family for years, and the only thing he knows is what I managed to find out at school, which is next to nothing. I mean, I heard the Weasley twins joking about busting the bars off his window if he needed rescuing again, but that's complete bollocks. Nobody would treat the Boy-Who-Lived badly. He'd probably bitch them to death in retaliation." He yawned, fisting his hand in front of his mouth. "Anyway, I think I'm going to go to bed now. Goodnight Severus."

The blonde paused at the door, hanging lightly on the door frame since the floor was ill mannered enough to not stay completely still.

"Thanks again, by the way, for saving me. I know it blew your cover."

Snape sipped his drink. "It would have happened eventually anyway. Don't bother yourself over it."

"Still, I appreciate it."

Draco turned and left the room, weaving slightly as he made his way up the stairs and into his room, collapsing onto his bed fully clothed and falling asleep almost instantly. His dreams were filled with a pale boy with messy hair and startling green eyes that kept shrinking, getting smaller and smaller until he disappeared with a soft cry.

Snape pondered the observations Draco had revealed, long after his weary body demanded rest. It had been a rather trying day, what with the Dark Lord attempting to mark his godson and make Draco his consort, and Draco begging Snape to save him from the extremely unwelcome fate, and the dramatic escape and destruction of his cover as a spy, followed by the rather unpleasant realisation that he may have been completely wrong about the prophesied saviour of the Wizarding world.

He disliked paradigm shifts. They made him irritable, lachrymose, and prone to excessive introspection.

He ruminated on the glimpses of memories he had observed during the Occlumency lessons Dumbledore had forced him to give the boy. He'd thought them abnormalities in a lifetime of luxury, rare punishments for extreme misdeeds.

But what if he was wrong?

Draining the last of his brandy, he made a decision. Dumbledore had assured them all that Potter was well loved and cared for, but it couldn't hurt to see for himself, right? Right. After all, Albus was practically infamous for withholding information, and he tended to focus on the big picture, perfectly willing to sacrifice the wellbeing – or even life – of one of his little pawns if he thought it would get him a hairs breadth closer to his goal. Severus was proof of that. And since they were no longer on speaking terms, Severus saw no reason to run his plans past the old coot.

But first, sleep. And a shower. And breakfast. Possibly lunch. After all, how much danger could be boy actually be in?

Surrey, The Next Morning

Harry winced as he whisked the eggs into a yellow froth. His hands were swollen and bruised from the restraints still tightly binding his wrists. Vernon had thought it would be fun to burn the palms of both hands, before rebinding Harry's hands in front of him and then force him to cook for the family.

Harry considered spitting in the eggs.

Pouring the mix into the hot pan, he carefully stirred it, stoically ignoring the white hot pain in his hands. And ribs. And back. And neck. Hell, listing the parts of his body that weren't injured would be much faster.

Vernon had really stepped up the beatings and abuse this summer. He claimed that Harry was driving him to it with his constant screaming from the nightmares, but Harry suspected it might have more to do with Harry starting to develop more physically. He was still petite (Merlin he hated that word applied to him, no matter how apt it might be), but he was starting to get some definition on his willowy frame, and he wasn't so easily beaten down now that he was older. His first night home he'd managed to break Vernon's nose before he was thrashed into unconsciousness.

It wasn't much, but he was proud of it. After all, firsts should always be celebrated, right?

Harry sighed silently as he served up the mountain of perfectly prepared food, then moved to stand in his assigned corner.

Idly, he wondered if he would survive the summer. The way things were currently heading, he thought it was a valid concern. Though perhaps the more relevant question: did he actually want to?

Harry's introspection was interrupted when his face exploded into a shower of blood, shattered glasses, and searing pain. He vaguely heard shrieking that sounded like Petunia (he'd long since dropped the familial title of Aunt), and saw a blur that looked like the horse-faced bitch swinging the frying pan at his head again.

'Oh,' he thought dully. 'It's going to be one of those days.'

Surrey, Mid Afternoon

Snape and Draco Apparated into the quiet and creepily pristine street in which Harry Potter resided.

Draco hadn't wanted to come, but had grudgingly agreed that staying at Spinners End on his own was boring, and he was better off accompanying his godfather on this completely pointless mission.

Truthfully, Snape didn't trust him alone in his house.

Striding confidently up to Number 4, Snape rapped sharply on the door, ignoring the fidgeting blonde behind him.

The two storey house was a typical middle class abode, gardens obsessively maintained, paint freshly redone, and the car in the driveway spotlessly clean. Nothing to suggest any issues with Potter's care or wellbeing.

Snape scowled. He was sure he was wasting his time, but he couldn't rest until he had seen with his own eyes. It couldn't hurt to be sure.

His ears picked up the sound of heavy footsteps approaching the door, and he quickly wiped his face clean of any trace of emotion.

As the door opened smoothly to reveal a morbidly obese teenager, Snape felt a prickle at the back of his neck. The clothes that Harry wore would be more fitting on a child the size of the one in front of him. Was the family suffering financial hardship? There was no external sign of it, but perhaps they were simply adept at hiding it.

The tub of lard masquerading as a human child took one look at Snape and paled alarmingly. His gaze flickered to Draco, then back to Snape. He turned his head, not removing his eyes from the wizards on the doorstep.

"Mum!" He shrieked over his shoulder.

Snape supressed a wince. Dear Merlin that child was shrill. And speaking of shrill…

Petunia Dursley gasped as she saw who, or rather what, was standing at her door. Opening the door wider, she ushered them in as quickly as they could move, her horsey face darting frantically on top of her long neck as she peered around, trying to make sure nobody had seen her unusual guests.

Slamming the door, she spun towards them.

"What do you lot want? We took him in like you demanded! We were promised that none of your sort would bother us if we did! We kept our end of the deal! Why are you here?" Her voice became louder and shriller as she continued.

Snape levelled his best glower at the woman, halting her tirade before she could shatter windows, or his eardrums. Pity it was already too late to prevent the headache.

"We have something to discuss with Potter. Where is he?"

Petunia paled. "I - I don't know. He went out. Always skiving off his chores, that one, getting into trouble."

Snape narrowed his eyes, observing her closely.

"You're lying."

Petunia paled further, her pallor reaching unhealthy levels. Her eyes darted helplessly to the cupboard door next to Snape's dark clad elbow.

Snape pinned her with a glare that had made first years weep, and spun to the cupboard, noting the sturdy locks – three of them – holding it shut. A quick Alohomora and the door popped open.

Draco gagged, and Snape lost his control long enough for his eyes to widen, then narrow again in fury.

Turning back to Petunia and the lump of flesh trying to hide behind her, Snape snarled.

"What did you do?"

Digging up a semblance of backbone, Petunia drew herself up.

"Nothing the wretched freak didn't deserve! He kept waking us during the night with his screaming, yelling that he was 'serious'. Poor Duddy-kins was so tired he could barely play his games! And Vernon still had to work, despite the brat sabotaging his sleep! It was intolerable! So Vernon and I did what we had to do to instil some discipline in the ungrateful whelp!"

"Discipline?" Snape hissed, taking a menacing step towards them, lifting his wand threateningly. "You call this, discipline?"

Petunia sneered. "It's less than he deserves."

Snape took a deep breath and forcibly reigned in his temper. There would be time to exact payment from the bitch, but right now, Potter was in desperate need of assistance.

Turning back to the cupboard, Snape quickly cast a few diagnostic charms, his face developing a grey tinge at the results.

Moving very carefully, he gently extracted the broken boy from where he was crammed in on top of his school trunk.

Cradling the fragile body in his arms, he gestured for Draco to get the trunk.

"Where is his wand?" Snape growled at the furious woman.

"We snapped it! Threw it away! Stupid boy begged us not too, but we weren't going to let him get away with his freakishness anymore!" Petunia spat, her narrow body still spread as wide as she could manage, attempting to shield her cowering son.

Draco paled, and Snape swore under his breath.

"We are taking him, and he won't be back. Be aware, the only thing keeping your family safe was his presence. I'd suggest you run, but I doubt even that will be enough to save your worthless hide."

Stalking from the house with robes flaring dramatically, Snape paused long enough for Draco to grab his arm, then Disapparated back to Spinners End.

Spinners End, Midnight

Snape collapsed into his chair in front of the fire, dropping his head into his hands.

He couldn't remember being so exhausted.

He and Draco had been working nonstop since arriving back at Spinners End. It had been a risk even Apparating with Potter in such a bad condition, but they hadn't really had a choice. Immediately upon arrival they had deposited him in the spare room, and proceeded to pour potion after potion down his throat, healing what wounds they could detect as they went. Potters pitiful state had reduced Draco to tears a few times over the hours they had laboured, and even Snape found his stomach lurching on occasion. The obvious starvation and near critical dehydration had only compounded the broken bones and festering wounds.

They had done all they could, and now all they could do was wait.

Spinners End, Two Weeks Later

Snape and Draco were sitting in front of the fire again, discussing Potters latest scan results.

He was healing nicely, most of the damage caught and reversed with no problems. He had been left with a few scars from the infected lashes they assumed had been given by a belt or extension cord. His hands had been damaged by the rope binding them for so long, but to what extent would have to be seen.

A loud thump from upstairs had them both on their feet in seconds, and rushing up the stairs.

Harry heard the approaching footsteps and panicked, rolling under the bed before Vernon could find him. The fat man would never be able to reach him there.

Snape and Draco burst into the room as calmly as they could manage. Which in reality was not very.

Grabbing the door before it could bounce off the wall, Snape peered around the apparently empty room. Blast it all, the brat shouldn't even be awake for another two days yet, let alone have vanished from the bed!

Glancing at Draco, Snape moved slowly into the room, his careful tread muffled on the thick navy carpet. Drawing his wand, he cast a quick detection spell.

Why on earth was Potter under the bed?

Snape crouched down, peering into the dark space.

"Potter?" His usual brusque tone was cautious, almost gentle.

Snape ignored the raised eyebrow he was certain his godson was directing at his back.

He heard a faint shuffle, as if Potter had tried to edge further away.

"Potter, come out from there. You are safe now."

Another shuffle, this time accompanied by a small whimper.

Draco rested his hand on the older man's shoulder, and lightly tugged him back out into the hallway.

"He wasn't meant to be awake yet, right?" Seeing Snape's nod, he continued. "He's probably confused. The potions must be messing him up pretty badly, making him loopy. Do you mind if I have a try? Maybe if I try getting under there with him?"

Snape stared at the blonde teen. The Draco he thought he knew would never risk getting his hair out of place, let alone be willing to scrabble around under a bed with a stoned and probably panicked Potter. His respect for the boy grew; maybe he wasn't just an overindulged clotheshorse after all.

"Very well. I will cast a listening charm. If you need me, say so and I will return."

Flicking his wand towards the room, he cast the charm before spinning on his heel and vanishing in a swirl of black fabric back down the stairs.

Draco rubbed his hands over his face, took a deep breath, and walked back into Harry's room.

Harry sat frozen under the bed, listening to the men whispering at the door. He knew they were familiar, but he couldn't think through the fuzz in his head.

Wizards. He knew they were wizards. He could tell by the robes he could see pooling around Vernon. When did Vernon get so skinny and tall? Harry felt a stab of fear. If Vernon was tall and skinny, could he reach Harry?

Curling into a ball, Harry threaded his shaking fingers through his hair, pulling harshly to stop himself making noises. Mustn't make noises. Can't let them know he was under here. Shh, got to be quiet!

Harry could see feet approaching his hiding place again. The shoes were shiny. They must be good quality ones. He didn't think he knew anyone with shoes that nice. Must be a guest then. How strange that Vernon would entertain Wizarding guests!

Harry fought down a hysterical chuckle and yanked his hair harder. Hush now, Harry. Got to be quiet, quiet little mouse.

The shoes stopped, and then long legs in perfectly tailored pants were bending, kneeling to bring a platinum blonde head into view. Sympathetic grey eyes blindly searched the darkness for Harry, but couldn't see his huddled form in the low light.

"Harry?" The blonde spoke softly. "I know you're probably very confused right now, but I promise, you're safe. Do you think you could come out?"

Harry bit his lip, teeth puncturing soft flesh to release a trickle of blood down his chin. He knew he knew that voice, knew that face, but that was ridiculous. Malfoy wouldn't be anywhere near Vernon. Clearly Harry was being visited by an angel that just looked like Malfoy. Poor thing.

His eyes widened. If there was an angel here, Vernon might hurt it! Harry couldn't let it get injured. And he didn't even want to think about what the wizards might do to it. Probably cut it up and put it into a potion.

Reaching out faster than a snake strike, Harry grabbed the angel's wrist and pulled hard, hauling the beautiful creature into the safety of his cupboard. Wrapping himself around the startled form, he peered around carefully, desperately hoping Vernon hadn't seen it.

"Potter!" The angel hissed, squirming.

"Shh!" Harry hissed back, gently covering the creature's mouth. "He might hear you!"

The angel stilled, lying pliant under Harry.

Harry decided to ignore how nice the angel pressed against him felt. He wouldn't allow himself to think about an angel like that. He'd probably go to hell. If he wasn't going there already for killing Cedric and Sirius, that is.

Finally relaxing when there was no sign of Vernon or the wizards, Harry removed his hand from the angel's mouth and moved off him.

"You shouldn't have come," he whispered.

"Why?" The angel asked softly.

"Because they'll hurt you if they find you. The wizards will use you in potions, and Vernon might kill you, especially if you've come to help me." Suddenly panicked again, Harry grabbed the angel's shoulders tightly, his wide green eyes staring into startled grey. "They mustn't find you! I can't keep you safe! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry, I can't keep you safe! Run! You have to run, Angel! Please!"

Draco thought for a moment, then make a decision. Carefully wrapping his arms around Harry, he cradled him close.

"Shhh, it's ok. We're safe here. They can't find us. They can't see us, can't hear us. Nobody is going to kill me or use me in potions, and nobody is going to hurt you anymore. I'm here. I'll keep you safe."

Draco felt a brief surge of hysterical disbelief. He was under a bed, cuddling a stoned Harry Potter who apparently thought Draco was an angel, and trying to convince him he was safe from his magic-phobic muggle uncle and the wizards who were apparently working with him.

Clearly Severus had spiked the tea this morning.

His attention was drawn back to the shivering boy in his arms when he whispered against Draco's neck.

"How did I get so small again, Angel? My cupboard hasn't been this big since I was a baby. Was it you? Did you make me little again so I could hide better?"

Draco held the boy tighter.

"No, you aren't little. This isn't your cupboard. It's another place. A safer place. They can't get you here."

Snape listened to the whispered conversation, and felt his long neglected heart breaking. Even in the depths of his delirium and hallucinations, Potter was still trying to protect everyone.

He noted that Draco seemed to be successfully calming Potter. Hopefully he would be able to coax him out from under the bed soon. The boy still had some healing to do.

Spinners End, Two Days Later

Harry lay still, trying to get a sense of where he was.

He knew he definitely wasn't at Privet Drive anymore. He could feel a soft bed under him, with actual sheets, and he was warm under the weight of blankets. There was a gentle crackling of a fire, and he could smell old parchment, herbs, and… was that brandy? He could sense someone standing next to him, and the gentle swish of a wand waving over him.

Wizarding location then.

But who? Where? How? And most definitely why?

He didn't move, keeping his breathing regular and slow as he did a mental check of his body. If he needed to escape he had to be sure of current injuries that might hamper any attempts.

He refused to think of how often he had performed this check.

He realised that he was in fairly good shape, considering. His burns seemed to be healed, though the skin was still a little tender, his bones were intact, he could breathe through his previously flattened nose, his throat no longer felt swollen, and the tenderness in his abdomen had eased. Even the pain from the bindings on his wrists were gone, though his hands still felt a little strange.

Hearing his mysterious visitor leaving the room, Harry cautiously cracked open his eyes the barest sliver he could manage. He glanced around, taking in as much of the room as he could through his eyelashes.

Seeing no threat, he risked opening his eyes further.

The thick dark coloured curtains were drawn tightly, keeping the light in the room comfortably dim. A small fire crackled merrily in its place along the wall, throwing flickering shadows across the midnight blue bedspread. A desk and a large bookshelf covered the far wall, and Harry idly noticed that the shelves were bare except for Hogwarts texts.

Carefully shifting around until he could prop himself up, Harry reached toward the bedside table, hunting around for his glasses. It was several moments before he realised that he didn't actually need them, despite them not being on his face.

Huh. That was new.

He looked down at himself, and saw he was wearing soft cotton pyjamas in a powder blue. He also noticed the lack of restraints of any kind.

Well, move 'being a prisoner' lower down the list of probabilities then.

Harry shuffled to the edge of the bed, swinging his legs out from under the covers. He may not be a prisoner, but it wasn't right to impose any longer. He was awake now, and clearly in better shape. That was more than he had any right to expect.

Time to move on. Maybe he could find a safe place to hide and finish healing before Dumbledore and the Crew of Overcooked Turkeys found him and dragged him back to his loving family.

His feet had barely touched the carpet when he heard footsteps approaching. The door opened before he could move, and Harry felt his jaw drop at the person who entered.

No. Bloody. Way.

"Well, looks like I'm fucked," Harry sighed in resignation. "Can I at least pee before my audience with His Snakiness?"

Draco raised an eyebrow and folded his arms, leaning casually against the doorframe.

"Ah, coherent today, are we? Severus will be pleased. Though I'm sure he would be happier if you got back into bed until he can check you are fully healed."

Harry blinked, frowning.

"Um, ok then, who are you?"

Draco frowned right back. "What do you mean?"

"Well, you clearly can't be Draco Malfoy, because you haven't insulted, hexed, humiliated, belittled, or otherwise been unpleasant to me, and you mentioned 'Severus' being happy about something that I did. So clearly neither of you are who you claim to be."

"Merlin Potter, are you always this paranoid?"

Harry smirked darkly. "Is it really paranoia if there are actually people out to get you?"

Draco stared for a moment before his face softened in sympathy. "I promise, I really am who I appear to be, as is Severus. We have a lot to talk about, but I think it's best if we check you're healing first. You've had a rough time of it, and I'd rather you didn't relapse. Crawling around under the bed with you isn't as fun as one might think."

Ignoring Harry's completely bewildered expression, Draco turned his head and listened to Severus's approaching footsteps.

Spinners End, Late August 1997

Harry hit the ground with a thud and a grunt, rolling into the wall.

Standing with a wince, he set his jaw in determination and adopted a ready stance again, eyeing Snape carefully.

"Enough, Potter."

Snape stood calmly, his breathing carefully controlled to prevent Potter realising just how hard he had been pushed before claiming his victory. He grudgingly admitted to being impressed. Perhaps it wasn't just luck that had allowed Potter to survive all these years.

"I can keep going."

Harry was still stubbornly training, despite having collected many cuts, burns, and bruises over the past four hours of duelling. He wouldn't even allow himself to be healed until they were finished for the day.

Snape couldn't argue with his logic that he should train as he planned to fight, and that it was unrealistic to expect that he would be in perfect health when the time came, but it was still frustrating. Four hours of intense duelling was getting ridiculous, and the boy had been training like this since two days after getting back on his feet. Loathe as he was to admit it, Snape was starting to feel his age.

"We will cease duelling for the day. If you wish you continue, we will work on your repertoire."

Harry nodded and relaxed his stance, but still kept a wary eye on the older man. He didn't trust anyone, even when their wand was lowered. He wouldn't make that mistake again.

"Have you successfully cast any of the Unforgivables?" Snape's tone was neutral. He knew the official story from the Department of Mysteries, but he didn't doubt for a second that information had been kept from him by either Potter or Dumbledore. Probably both.

They had developed a passably comfortable working relationship over the past few weeks. Their rescue and subsequent healing of the young man, coupled with their lack of ridicule had opened up a surprising aspect of Harry's personality that they had previously never seen.

Harry was almost puppyish in his gratitude when they informed him that he never had to return to the Dursley's, and their kind treatment and tolerance of his quirks – such as hording food and hiding his belongings – had cemented his friendship. When they had disguised him and taken him to get a new wand in Knockturn Alley, the boy had been so ecstatic that for a disconcerting moment they had been certain he was about to kiss them, or possibly offer something a bit more explicit. Instead, they found themselves on the receiving end of an exuberant hug each.

Undignified, but sweet nonetheless.

Despite his moments of joy and playfulness, there was a shadow in his eyes that never fully departed. It was thought he was simply enjoying being warm and safe while waiting for something to happen. It had been the topic of discussion many times when Draco and Severus sat up sharing a drink on nights when neither could sleep.

"Not successfully, no. But Bellatrix offered a few pointers. I'll probably manage next time I try."

Stunned silence and startled looks met his blasé statement.

Harry blinked in consternation. "What?"

"Bellatrix." Draco stated flatly. "Bellatrix Lestrange gave you a lesson on how to cast Unforgivables."

Harry hummed in confirmation. "Well, it was for the Cruciatus, but I'd imagine it would apply just as well to the others. All magic, if you think about it. I mean, it all comes down to intent, right? You have to want it to happen."

Severus cleared his throat. "When was this?"

Harry's face shuttered slightly. "I chased her down after she killed Sirius. I tried to crucio her, but it failed. She said," here he adopted a surprisingly accurate mimic of the mad bitch's simpering tones. "You need to mean them, Potter! You need to really want to cause pain... to enjoy it... righteous anger won't hurt me for long... I'll show you how it is done, shall I? I'll give you a lesson…" Harry cut himself off and turned away for a moment, back muscles rippling slightly as he forcibly pulled himself back under control.

Severus and Draco shared a look.

"Very well." Snape announced, courteously ignoring Harry's vulnerability. "We will begin with the simplest. The Killing Curse."

Harry straightened his shoulders and turned back to face them. "Alright."

Snape looked at him closely. "Have you attempted it before?"

Harry shook his head.

"Very well. As you speculated, it does rely on intent. You also require strong focus, and a decent amount of power. Many people lack the power to cast it, even if they have the will and focus. It remains to be seen whether you have any of those in the required levels." Severus paused and transfigured a pebble into a rat, quickly conjuring a cage to keep it contained. "Now, kill it."

He stepped back and waited.

Harry took a moment to centre himself. Fixing his eyes on the rat, he forced himself to imagine it had a silver paw, and allowed himself to feel. He embraced the pain, the hatred, the desire to end him, and without further thought aimed his wand and spoke the two words that had rendered him an orphan all those years ago.

Draco stared in awe as Harry cast, killing the rat on his first attempt. Apparently Harry was right about the lesson from Bellatrix.

His thoughts were derailed when Harry slumped to the ground, clutching his head and moaning pitifully. Rushing to Harry's side, he hovered just shy of touching the younger boy, unsure what to do to help. They had developed a tentative - if somewhat snarky and sarcastic – friendship, but he wasn't certain if Harry was ready for touching or comfort - under bed Angel hugs notwithstanding.

Harry was shivering and moaning, tears streaming down his cheeks as he was lost in whatever vision was playing out behind his eyelids.

Snape strode to Harry's side and gently pushed Draco out of his way. Pushing Harry's head back, he peeled the boy's eyelid back and sent out a mental probe. To his surprise, before he could even touch the shields he could sense, he was hurled from Harry's mind with enough force to sit him on his arse. Clearing his head with a shake, he knelt again, cupping Harry's jaw and tilting his head back to face them again.

"Harry? Harry, can you hear me?" He administered a few gentle slaps to Harry's cheek. "Potter. Pull out of it. You can throw off an Imperious, you can throw this off. Focus on my voice. Come on."

Harry blinked, falling silent. He appeared confused for a moment, before violently pulling away from the two men crouched next to him. He sat, his frame stiff and radiating pain.

"Don't ask me to cast that in training again. Apparently it triggers flashbacks."

"Flashbacks?" Snape's eyes narrowed. "If you cannot cast it without collapsing in training, it would be foolish to cast it in battle."

"I will only cast it twice more. After that the flashbacks won't matter."

Draco and Snape stared at him blankly for a moment.

Harry hauled himself painfully to his feet and heaved a sigh.

"I remember it. I hear it when Dementors get close, but I actually remember that night." He smiled softly at their horrified expressions. "It's alright, you know. It's only temporary."

Snape cleared his throat slightly. "What, ah, what happened? Nobody knows for sure."

Harry paused pensively for a moment, before his face went blank. "Lily! Run!" The deep bellow gave both men a start for a moment, Snape more so as it was a perfect mimic of the voice that had tormented him at Hogwarts. Harry's magic swirled around him, mimicking the sounds he had heard that night. There as a loud crash and thump. "Dada!" Harry's voice had adopted a panicked child's tone. "Mama!" Harry's face was still disturbingly blank, his eyes shuttered and expressionless, blinking slowly. A door slammed, and then a melodic woman's voice emerged. "Harry! Hush baby! It'll be ok. Mama loves you. I'll always love you baby! Be strong for me, love. Animarum Memoriae Nemorosus!"

Snape paled drastically. "Souls Memory Shroud? Oh Lily!"

A loud crash sounded, making both men jump again.

Harry's voice changed to a smooth baritone, deeper than his own tenor. "Stand aside."

"No, not Harry, please! Not Harry!"

"Stand aside, stupid girl!"

"No! Please!"

"Avada Kedavra!"

Another thump, and Harry seemed to wake up from whatever trance he had dropped into, reverting to his own voice. "She just lay there. I was begging her to get up, to wake up, but she wouldn't move. Her hair was loose, and it was draped over her face, but her eyes were open and looking at me. I didn't like that game and I started to cry. Then I heard him say those words again, and I was burning. It hurt so much! I couldn't see, couldn't breathe; there was a pulling from deep inside me, but then it felt like I slammed into something and bounced back into my body. Then I was staring at the ceiling, and my head hurt. He was gone, and Mama was still just lying there. But he wasn't really gone. I could still feel him. He made my magic feel slimy. Still does, actually."

"What?" Snape grabbed Harry's shoulder. "What do you mean, still does?"

Harry peered at him as if confused about why he was so worried. "His soul piece is lodged in my scar. It's always been there, though it wasn't really active until he possessed me at the Ministry. Now that it is, I can access everything he knew at the time of the possession. Gave me quite the headache absorbing it all, I can tell you."

Snape backed away in horror. "You know everything he knows?"

Harry nodded, lips twisting in a humourless smile.

"If you know everything he knows, then why are you training this hard and having Severus teach you? Don't you already know it all?"

Harry raised an eyebrow. "There is a significant difference between head knowledge and finger knowledge. Not to mention physical conditioning. I can know all I like, but if I can't use it instinctively, it's useless to me. That said, I think my potions marks will have drastically improved." Harry smirked at Snape's sour expression. "I'm assuming that since your little tiff with Dumbledore that you no longer report to him?"

Snape nodded in confusion.

"So he doesn't know where I am?"

Snape shook his head.

"Good. I can't afford to go back to Hogwarts yet. He-Who-Shall-Remain-Noseless created six other Horcruxes. We need to go get them before I kill him."

"Six Horcruxes?" Snape rasped, horrified. Draco tennis watched in confusion, hoping someone would explain soon.

Harry nodded. "Seven if you count me, though I was an accident. I know where they all are. I can feel them. I don't think Snake Features can though. His portion of the soul is tiny since he created Nagini. The one in me is bigger and better connected. I do know that one of the pieces isn't where he thinks it is, and one has already been destroyed. So I'd say we are doing pretty well considering we haven't actually started yet. Now, are we done? I'm hungry."

Snape nodded his head, speechless.

As Harry wandered towards the stairs as if nothing unusual had happened, Draco called out.

"You said you would only cast it twice more. I'm assuming one is for him, who is the other one for?"

Harry turned back and gave him a sad smile. "Who do you think?"

Draco and Snape were up late again, drinking in front of the fire.

"What was that spell Harry's mother cast?"

Snape stirred himself enough to answer. "Animarum Memoriae Nemorosus. Souls Memory Shroud."

Draco waited patiently for Snape to elaborate, but after a long silence, he prompted. "And that is?"

Sipping his scotch, Snape debated not answering, then heaved a sigh. "It is an extremely Dark spell that was developed by my great grandfather. I'm sure if you think back on your society lessons you will remember that the Prince line is known for their skills with soul magic. The Souls Memory Shroud is one of our creations that even we didn't dare use. It is… horrific."

Draco waited while Severus gathered himself and refilled his glass.

"It links two souls, but not in the way you would expect. It was developed specifically to protect against the Killing Curse. What do you know about how that works?"

"It rips your soul from your body, right?"

Snape nodded. "The Souls Memory Shroud only works if the person who cast it is dead before the recipient is attacked. It binds an imprint of the casters soul to their chosen recipient. Whatever they were attempting when they died becomes wrapped around the second person, and that protection is bound to them permanently. In Harry's case, it was to act as a shield only. But it could also be used as an offensive weapon of the caster had intended that."

Draco was impressed. "Why is that horrific, other than requiring the casters death?"

"Because the soul that gifts the imprint can never pass on or be reborn. They cannot even return as a ghost. They essentially trap themselves in a never ending half state. Even when the recipient eventually dies, the gifted soul will never be released. While it has never be tested, for obvious reasons, I would not be surprised if the soul cannot be recalled even with the resurrection stone."

Draco stared at Snape in horror. "Do you think Harry knows? And how did Harry's mum even get her hands on a Prince family spell like that?"

Snape snorted inelegantly, a little closer to drunk than he usually allowed himself to be. "No, I'd wager he does not know. And that is a good thing too. Do you really think he would be able to live with himself if he did? He is already suicidal. As for how Lily knew, she got it from me. We were best friends as children, even before Hogwarts. My mother was disowned for marrying a muggle, but before she left, she took a handful of journals. She was apparently very close to my great grandfather, and wanted something to remember him by. Lily must have read them at some point. She often borrowed my books."

"Are you going to tell him?"

"Not bloody likely!"

They lapsed back into silence and watched the fire burn down.

Eventually Draco stirred again.

"He needs a reason."


"He doesn't think he is worth anything beyond fighting the Dark Lord. I think he sees himself as a weapon and nothing else. He needs a reason to live afterwards."


Draco pursed his lips thoughtfully. "I can't imagine he has had a positive father figure, but I think he is starting to see you like that over the past few weeks. You could encourage that. Give him a sense of family."

Snape stared at him, wondering how he had missed the younger man losing his mind, and when it had happened.

"And why should I be burdened with giving him a reason, as you put it?"

"Because despite how you have treated him in the past, he trusts you. I don't think we should let that go to waste. Besides, even if you won't admit it, you like him, and you're impressed."

Snape hummed noncommittally but didn't deny it.

"And I don't expect you to do it alone. After all, familial love is only one thing he is lacking. A supportive and understanding partner who won't take his shit would also do him good I think."

Snape snorted into his drink, smirking. "Oh, and I suppose you just happen to know someone who would be perfect for Harry?"

Draco kept his expression bland, but turned up his nose slightly.

"Why shouldn't I? The man is bloody gorgeous, and even when he was delirious he was trying to protect me. Now that I actually know him, I like him, and I could be good for him."

"I was not implying you would not be," Snape soothed. "If you think you can get through to him, do it. But if you do it, you need to be aware that it will likely be forever. He will not cope if you get bored and move on."

Draco nodded, taking the advice to heart.

Grimmauld Place, Mid December 1997

The three men were standing outside Grimmauld Place, under disillusionment charms, watching the Order members coming and going, waiting for their chance to snatch Slytherins locket. Draco was pressed close to Harry, claiming he was cold and demanding to share body heat.

Harry was perfectly happy to agree to this, since it was bloody freezing.

Draco had been more physically affectionate recently. Harry had concluded that it must be a Slytherin friendship thing and had gone along with it without complaint. Having lacked any friendly physical contact outside of Ron and Hermione, he wasn't averse to indulging the blonde. And if his feeling toward the lithe teen were changing in less platonic directions, well, that was his business and his alone.

Harry was thinking about their plan to sneak in and search for the locket.

They hadn't anticipated Headquarters being so busy; at this rate, they wouldn't have sufficient time to get in and out unseen, let alone actually search. His ability to find the Horcruxes was good, but even he might have some trouble pinpointing a small object in a house that practically dripped Dark Magic.

"I'm Lord Black, right?" He mused quietly.

"Mmhmm," Draco responded absently. "Well, once you go to Gringotts and claim the title at least. And we can get into Bellatrix's vault for the cup then too. Why?"

"When I've claimed it, all house elves associated with the title will belong to me too, right?"

"Mmhmm," Draco seemed more interested in fiddling with the button on Harry's shirt.

"Then couldn't I order the house elf to bring it to me, and not say anything to the Order?"

Severus and Draco paused.

"Um, yes. Yes you could. Severus, why didn't we think of that?"

"Clearly we were testing Harry's ability to detect flaws in plans."

Harry snorted quietly. "Nice save."

Severus smirked, unseen by the others. "Thank you. Shall we go to Gringotts?"

Gringotts had revealed a few unpleasant surprises. The transfer of the Lordship for the Black family went without a hitch, but as they had gone to leave, they had been informed that the Potter estate had some issues that needed immediate attention.

Things like Harry's parents Will not being read, despite the bank requesting Harry's presence several times since turning fifteen. Once it was determined that Harry had never even received a bank statement, all hell had broken loose. Account histories were pulled, statements produced, blood given, titles transferred, paperwork signed, fraud detected, righteous fury kindled, and full account investigations launched. The goblins were furious, Harry was murderous, and some people were about to begin having an extremely unpleasant time of it.

They had retrieved the Cup before leaving, and the three men were now sitting in the library at Spinners End in a state of shock.

"That son of a bitch."

Harry had been saying variations of this phrase ever since speaking with the goblins.

The other men sat quietly, letting the furious young man process the news that Albus Dumbledore had not only known all along that Sirius was innocent, and had sufficient proof for him to be cleared at any time, but had also been robbing him blind, and paying large sums to both the Weasley's and the Granger's. In the grand scheme of things, the fact that the Dursley's had been paid very handsomely for Harry's care was a minor detail.

"Over two million Galleons. How could he have removed so much? What would have happened when my vaults ran dry? Would he have been able to sell off any of my properties?"

Draco shifted slightly. He could answer Harry's questions, but he wasn't sure if he was genuinely asking, or just having a rant.

"That son of a bitch!"

Ranting, then. Draco kept his mouth shut.

"Perhaps it would be wise to go over the properties now, and then gather the rest of the Horcruxes. The Dark Lord will know very soon that you have taken the Black Lordship, and may have Bellatrix attempt to move the Cup. If we don't have all the Horcruxes before he does, it will be much harder to get them after they are moved."

"Then why should I look at the properties first?"

Severus gave him a withering look. "Because this location is compromised. Whilst neither have yet attempted entry, both the Dark Lord and Dumbledore know the location of my home. Having additional safehouses, even if we don't use them, would be wise."

Harry nodded and pulled the folder his account manager had given him closer. Flipping it open, he glanced at the first page, and promptly burst out laughing.

Draco and Severus exchanged concerned looks.

Harry shoved the folder towards them, clutching his ribs.

The two men leaned forward and skimmed the page to see what was so funny.

"No bloody way," Draco breathed. "You own half of Hogwarts? How did that happen?"

"I have no idea, but I should probably organise a Will as quickly as possible. I don't want the wrong people to end up with control of my assets."

Severus and Draco agreed, and the three men settled in for a long night.

Harry was getting frustrated.

It had been four months since they had gathered all the Horcruxes except the Diadem and Nagini. His depression was getting worse, and he just wanted to finish it, damnit!

He threw himself onto the couch, ignoring the disapproving look from Severus. After living together for nearly a year, he was mostly immune to the older man's collections of scowls, glares, and acidic comments.

"I think we need to draw him out. We won't be able to get into Hogwarts without Old Twinkles knowing about it, but maybe if we draw Voldemort there, the battle will keep them occupied with each other until we can do what we need to?"

Severus frowned as he thought about it. "Possible. You're certain the diadem is there? It hasn't been moved?"

Harry nodded.

"What do you need to destroy the Horcruxes?"

"Well, last time I stabbed it with a Basilisk fang. I figure if we nip down into the Chamber of Secrets, we can dispose of the lot of them there, then join the battle."

"If we can get out of this bloody house, I'm all for it!" Draco snarled. The blonde had been getting progressively more stir crazy over the months, and his temper had suffered for it.

Severus sighed in defeat. "I think you're right. We won't get any further without taking the risk. Do you have any ideas for how to draw the Dark Lord there?"

Harry absently picked at a nail. "I could send him a letter."

Severus and Draco both froze and stared.

"Pardon?" Draco croaked, just as the silence was getting uncomfortable.

"I'll just send him a letter. Kind of a 'come get me, you oversized naked mole rat! I'll be at Hogwarts' type thing. Actually, that's not bad. Draco! Write that down!"

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. "Well, that would do the trick, I suppose." He paused. "Naked mole rat?"

Harry shuddered. "I've seen him naked, both in person and via his memories. Trust me, that is the kindest comparison I could make. And when you consider that a naked mole rat is basically a penis with teeth…"

The other men looked torn between laughter and nausea, and Draco's throat bobbed slightly as if he was swallowing back bile.

Harry suppressed a grin.

Hogwarts, July 31, 1998

They had chosen to draw Voldemort out during the holidays, unwilling to risk bringing him to the school when it was full of innocent children that could be used a bargaining chips.

The Diadem had been retrieved, and all the Horcruxes bar Nagini and Harry had been disposed of with little to no difficulty.

The look on Snape and Draco's face when they saw the size of the Basilisk corpse had sent Harry into paroxysms of laughter, leaving him giggling on the floor and the other men questioning his sanity even more than usual. His comment that it had seemed bigger when it was biting him had nearly sent poor Severus to an early grave.

Apparently nobody had ever mentioned that he had been bitten.

The corpse was still perfectly preserved, the magic in the chamber keeping it as fresh as the moment it had be killed, though decidedly cooler. Harry had casually offered the remains to Severus, on the condition he got two percent of the profits, and another three percent was donated to St Mungo's hospital. Severus had readily agreed – privately deciding to give Harry a much larger percentage – and had to be forcibly reminded that he couldn't start harvesting right this moment, as they had a war to win.

Severus would forever deny that he pouted.

But now, Harry stood in the courtyard facing Lord Hypocrite, watching as Severus killed Nagini. A Basilisk fang banished in her direction had caught her in the eye ("Wow! Good shot!" "Thank you. You should see me play beer pong."), and the Dark Lord was screaming and ranting in impotent fury as the remains of his Horcruxes were tossed one by one at his feet.

Harry adopted a bored look and casually tossed a Killing Curse at the man's back. Honestly, who gets so caught up in their monologue that they forget not to turn their back to their enemy? Some might call it cowardly, but Harry preferred to think of it as strategic use of enemy idiocy, resulting in increased likelihood of personal survival.

Finally, it was over.

Harry's exhausted body swayed as he looked at the disintegrating remains of the Dark Lord at his feet.

He glanced down at the wand in his hand with green eyes dulled from seventeen years of pain.

He was oblivious to the noise around him, the screams of denial and shouts of joy from the enemies and allies that had witnessed his victory washing over him as little more than white noise.

He looked up.

Draco and Severus were fighting to get through the crowd to reach him, held back by people who didn't understand.

He smiled at them softly, his face almost angelic in its peace.

He slowly raised his wand to his temple.

"Happy birthday, Harry," he whispered to himself.

The curse was on his lips when a hand wrenched the wand away from his head, forcing his arm out at an awkward angle and away from his body.

Harry looked up into Draco's frantic silver eyes.

"Don't you bloody dare," the blonde was snarling, one hand painfully tight on Harry's wrist, the other wrapped tight around his waist and pulling the smaller teen flush against his body. He pressed his lips to Harry's ear and whispered urgently. "I know, I know you need a reason to keep living. And we will find you one, I promise we will. But until we do, make me your reason. Live for me, please. I need you. And Severus needs you too, he sees us as his sons, we are the only family he has. If I'm not enough, live for him too. Please! We need you. Please don't leave us, please…" He trailed off with a sob, clutching the black haired boy close.

Harry looked up, brow creased. "But, the Horcrux in me, we have to destroy that too…"

Draco curled his lips back from his teeth in an animalistic snarl, ignoring the tears on his cheeks. "The goblins have a ritual that will leave you safe, you know that. They offered to do it when you assumed lordship! You only refused because you needed to be able to find the other Horcruxes, but now they are gone and so is the Dark Wanker. We can get them to remove it from you, and we can be together."

"Together?" Harry looked up, all innocent green eyes and pouty lips.

"Did you really not realise I want you?"

Harry shook his head mutely, eyes never leaving Draco's.


The ravenette pouted, completely unaware of how adorable it made him look.

"Harry, I'm in love with you. I have been since the moment you called me your Angel and hauled me under your bed to save me from being cut up into potions ingredients. I want you, in my life and in my bed, for as long as you'll have me. I'm hoping for forever, but we all know I'm greedy." He flashed a quick smile before sobering again. "So please, live for me, until we find you your own reason? Be with me, be mine…" He trailed off, his lips brushing against Harry's in a caress almost lighter than air. He held back, waiting for Harry to meet him in the middle, to show that he wanted this as much as Draco wanted him.

He wasn't disappointed.

Harry dropped his wand, and wrapped his arms tightly around Draco's neck, crushing their lips together. He pressed his body impossibly closer as his tongue snaked its way into Draco's mouth, exploring and mapping the heated cavern in excruciating detail. Their shared breath and muffled moans were lost in the tumult that signalled the end of the war, but neither boy noticed anything except each other.

Finally parting, panting heavily and flushed with arousal, the boys stared at each other.


"Huh?" Draco asked dazedly.

"Yes, I'll live for you until I find my reason. And yes, I'll be with you, and yes, I'll be yours." He leaned forwards, ghosting his lips over the tempting flesh behind Draco's ear. "And yes, I'll be in your life, and your bed, for as long as you want me there."

He barely had time to gasp a laugh before Draco had hauled him past an eye rolling Severus and to the edge of the wards, Apparating them both to Spinners end and dragging him stumbling up the stairs.

His breath left him in a rush as he was shoved onto the bed, but he didn't complain when moments later he had an armful of very determined blonde doing his best to get intimate with Harry's tonsils while imparting as much distance as possible between skin and clothing.

Harry laughed exuberantly. "Can this be my reason?"

"Nope," Draco mumbled against Harry's neck, sucking a purple mark onto his collarbone.

"Are you going to say that about everything I suggest?"


"Why?" Harry's amused grin was quickly wiped as he threw his head back with a loud moan.

"Because then you'll always be looking for more reasons, and I get to keep you in my life and bed for that much longer." Draco grew frustrated with Harry's shirt preventing access to the skin he wished to explore, and simply ripped the offending fabric open, earning a laugh from the prone boy beneath him.

Harry gifted him a genuine smile, and for the first time, the darkness lifted from behind his eyes. "I think I can live with that."