A/N: As always, thank you to everyone for your encouragement, support, and love while i try to get my shit a modicum of together. It's always for you.
Recap: Snape, Harriet, and Sirius undertook an unsanctioned rescue mission to save Draco and Asteria from thug-invested catacombs. There, they discovered that Mundungus Fletcher had been behind Harriet's abduction at the beginning of the summer (at least, he'd sold information on her whereabouts). He was also wearing a strange cursed locket that had disturbing affects on both Draco and Harriet. But the summer has now passed, and tomorrow the new term of Hogwarts begins, as everyone makes last minute preparations. . .
Kreacher had been alone for a long time. His Mistress had gone; had been the last of them. She had never known what happened to Master Regulus. Master Regulus had said not to tell. Kreacher could not tell her where Master Regulus had gone. His Mistress' heart had broke, losing her second son, her best boy. The elder one, the one whose name was not to be spoken, had cracked her heart first. Master Regulus had split it in half.
Master Regulus was gone. Mistress was gone. But the Other Son had come back.
Kreacher hated the Other Son. He was old now, had been in prison where the bad witches and wizards went to die. Other Son had not died. He was Master now. He did not look through Kreacher, like Master Orion. He did not smile at Kreacher, like Master Regulus. He did not tell Kreacher all his secrets and hopes and hates, like Mistress. He loathed Kreacher.
Kreacher loathed him back.
Mistress would have understood. Master Regulus, too. They had understood.
But they were gone, and only Other Son had come back. Kreacher called him 'Master' now.
Master hated the house. Master wanted to destroy it. He kept Mistress locked behind a curtain. He sneered at Master Regulus' memory. He threw out the Black family treasures. He opened his doors to blood traitors and Mudbloods and half-breeds. He let a half-blood bastard sleep in Master Regulus' room!
Severus Snape. Kreacher knew that name. Master Regulus used to say it often. Other Son had said it sometimes too. In very different ways, they would say it.
The half-blood Snape was gone now; had gone away for a while, with Master, and Kreacher had hoped they would never come back. But they had come back, with the old wizard whom Mistress had called That Old Muggle-loving Fool Dumbledore. They brought back the girl, too, the half-blood Potter. Kreacher did not trust her. He did not trust anyone whom Master was fond of. Master had done spells to recognize the Half-blood Potter as his heir, so that Kreacher had to listen to what she said.
That Old Muggle-loving Fool Dumbledore was angry with Master. He was angry with the Half-blood Snape and with the Half-blood Potter. When he left, he took the Snape with him. Kreacher wished he would take them all away. He wished to be alone again, with Mistress' painting and Master Regulus' memories. He did not like the redheaded blood-traitors. He did not like the Potter.
She had taken to hiding in Master Regulus' room. Master Regulus would not have liked it. Master Regulus had not wanted anyone to enter without his permission. He may have allowed the Half-blood Snape to enter - against Mistress' wishes, he had liked the Half-blood Snape - but never the Potter.
The blood-traitors' mother was angry with Master for leaving. They shouted behind doors where they thought no one could hear. But Kreacher always heard. He was a house-elf.
"You had no right to put her in danger like that!" the blood-traitors' mother shouted. "I can't believe either you or Severus Snape condoned it! After what's happened to her-"
"After what's happened to her, she's got every right to decide for herself!" Master shouted back. "And don't you act like her mother, she's not one of yours-"
"You think you're the only one who can love her, can be worried sick for her?!"
Kreacher did not care why they fought. He only knew it made the other humans tense and unhappy. He enjoyed their unhappiness. He only wished it would drive them away.
But they stayed, day after day. They tore the house apart. They broke into cupboards that had been locked since Mistress' death and flung her prizes and treasures to the ground. Master shouted and swore at Kreacher when he tried to save it. What did Master care? He hated the house, hated Mistress' memory; why could he not leave it be? Let Kreacher care for it all, as he had done these long years!
He had already lost Master Regulus' locket to Mundungus Fletcher's thieving. He would kill Mundungus Fletcher if he ever crossed the door again. Master Regulus' orders had been to keep the locket safe, and Mundungus Fletcher had taken it!
Kreacher saved what he could from the blood-traitors' thieving but it was not enough. He was failing his Mistress. He was failing Master Regulus.
He wished Other Son would die, so that he would never need call him Master again, and take all the blood-traitors and half-breeds with him. He wished the darkness would swallow them whole.
Hogwarts had a long literary tradition of Founders' stories. Many of them had been written in that same spirit as Monmouth's King Arthur, less truth than legend. The earliest stories were, like Arthurian myths, variations on similarities. The middle ages saw a rise in morality plays; the Elizabethan era dramatized; the seventeenth century abounded in poetry and the eighteenth saw the introduction of the three volume novel. The nineteenth century had even published a serialized version as thick as Bleak House. Severus had been particularly fond of a comic published in the 1940's (the fourth issue had gone missing some time in the 80's).
He had, over his earliest years at Hogwarts, made his way through all of them, even the bloody lyric poems. He and Lily had been rather obsessed with them. They'd had their favorites (hers a novel by Sir Walter Scott, and one of the earliest legends, which focused largely on Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw), but they'd read their way through all of them more than once, even the fucking lyric poems that talked endless nonsense about Ravenclaw walking through green pastures wearing her diadem of wisdom.
And so Severus remembered that, in one of the earlier legends, dated around 1200, there had been a locket.
"Of course Gryffindor would give him a bloody golden locket," he'd complained - to Lily, in the library stacks, possibly; neutral ground for Gryffindors and Slytherins, safe against the cold and the dark, Mrs. Pince always watching. "Flashy rubbish."
"Studded with emeralds," Lily had said, tapping her finger against the page, where the book's florid text wrote: 'And so, in freyndshype did bold Gryffindor gyfte unto his dearest companyone a locket of golde and emeralde.' "Don't forget those. I bet nobody else could - you could probably see the thing from space."
"He couldn't get away with wearing it." Severus had held his fingers out in the approximate measurement, 'the syse of his noble palm,' according to the book. "It'd be like having a pill box slung around your neck."
"What do you think he kept in it?" Lily sketched a locket on her parchment, a snake in the shape of an S. "Ooh, how about his own heart? He magicked it out of himself, like that spell you told me"-they shuddered, dwelling pleasantly on the grotesque fantasy of pulling your still-beating heart out of your chest, the kind of horror that pleased children- "and put it in the locket for safekeeping, that's why it was so big-"
"That would be more dangerous than keeping it in your chest," Severus said. "Just out there, where anyone could get to it?"
"But no one would think to look there." She smiled as she shaped the emeralds on her drawing into little hearts.
"But a giant gold locket hanging round your neck is just asking to be stolen. You wouldn't want any old thief running off with your heart. Anyway, he couldn't have done it for long, the heart can't be out of you for more than a day or you'd be really fucked."
"All right, just for the day, then. Maybe he didn't wear it - maybe he buried it or locked it away. Then he'd be safe, as long as no one found it. Ooh!" She bounced in her chair. "He gave it to Gryffindor! They were best friends - he'd have trusted him to keep it safe."
You should never trust anyone that much, Severus thought, running his gaze along the rows of library books, silent in the cold gray light that fell in murky shafts through the shadows. A good Slytherin knows that.
Severus knew Slytherin's symbol. Every Slytherin child did. Dumbledore knew it, too. He'd been furious with Severus, but he would never deny an obvious truth like that just to be petty.
There was no knowing what lay inside the real locket, however, for it refused to open. Not for Dumbledore and all his skill; not for Severus and the spells he'd whispered before handing it over.
But it had frightened the children, whatever lay inside it. It had reached out to Draco and to Harriet.
Sometimes, Severus felt something watching him. He was a spy under an Unbreakable Vow to protect a troublesome child in mortal danger; such feelings weren't in his imagination.
But the locket. . .
He rolled the ladder along its rung, the clacking breaking over the silence and the dust.
Dumbledore had his suspicions. Dumbledore always had suspicions. He seldom shared them, unless he felt it necessary. If Dumbledore ever voiced his problems, he probably told only his pet bird. But Severus suspected he was too cautious even to speak to a creature who could never repeat his words. Dumbledore could teach Slytherins lessons on circumspection.
Dumbledore's secrets could probably burn the wizarding world to the ground.
Severus climbed the ladder to the fifth row up and skimmed across the titles. There. A book he hadn't held in. . . perhaps twenty years.
He pulled it off the shelf and let it fall open, where a piece of parchment had stuck between the pages: a little sketch of a locket, with a snake in the shape of an S, surrounded by little hearts.
He snapped the book shut.
Rain sluiced down Dumbledore's windows. It had been raining since they'd returned from Austria. That suited Severus; sunlight made him twitchy. When forced out of the cool dimness of the dungeons, he preferred the sky to be grey and gloomy.
"There." He held the book out to Dumbledore. The scrap of parchment with its silly sketch was already hidden in his pocket.
Dumbledore thumbed to the page Severus had marked with a bit of thread.
"So you said it would be," he murmured. "I must admit, I can't recall ever reading this one."
"Did the Founders ever interest you that much?" Severus asked skeptically.
"I was more preoccupied with factual accounts than fictional. But this"-Dumbledore drew his finger down page Severus had marked-"proves that facts can be found everywhere. I shouldn't have been so short-sighted."
"It's an overwrought, sentimental story for children." The fact that he'd loved it didn't change that. He had been a very sentimental child.
"I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss sentiment." He returned to reading the page, but Severus felt himself being observed nonetheless. "As a child, you were fond of the Founders' stories?"
He and Lily had been bolstered by the friendship between Gryffindor and Slytherin. The breaking of that friendship. . . it had been something unfathomable and fascinating by turns. How could it have happened? they'd wondered. How could two such great friends - four, by many accounts - ever leave one another behind?
Sometimes, so often, the memories of childhood were a curse.
"I was fond of anything to do with Hogwarts," he said dismissively, looking at the rain running down the window.
"Mmm." The parchment rustled as Dumbledore turned the page. "So was Tom."
"The Dark Lord?" Severus was confused, but mostly tired. He usually enjoyed mind games, but his adventures in Unbreakable Vows, Dark magic, and traipsing across Europe bolstered only by his bloody-minded determination not to keel over in front of Harriet Potter and her dogfather had worn him down. And the whole spying work, of course. He lived on coffee, cigarettes, and nerves. It was almost comforting.
The children would be back at school tomorrow. He'd be looking forward to the Dark Lord's little get-togethers, then, when could lightly poison their fathers at the dinner table.
"And Tom still appears to know nothing." Dumbledore said it as half a question and fixed Severus with one of his most penetrating looks.
"He's given no indication that he knows Black and Miss Potter accompanied me. As far as he appears aware, I only went to search for Draco on Narcissa's behalf. But she told him that much."
"We can only hope, for all our sakes, that Sirius' spell on the children's memories held." Dumbledore closed the book and folded his hands on top of it. The small volume was almost completely hidden beneath his long fingers. "Tonight I must visit Grimmauld Place. You will accompany me."
Severus was surprised; Dumbledore had forbidden him any visits to that rotting old tomb since his illicit jaunt. Perhaps he was now being allowed because he would be supervised.
"Eight o'clock," said Dumbledore. "I'll see you then, Severus. We'll discuss our business on the way."
Severus resisted the urge to snipe 'My lord' as he left. They weren't comparable. Of his two masters, he vastly preferred this one.
After all, Dumbledore didn't want Harriet Potter dead.
Harriet reckoned that Kreacher might actually poison her one of these days if she didn't stop hanging out in Regulus' room - even with that heir spell Sirius had cast so that Kreacher had to listen to her. (She didn't think she was going to be telling Hermione about that.)
Regulus' room was. . . interesting. Kreacher had preserved it down to the last Droobles gum wrapper. Regulus liked Slytherin, Quidditch, and being a pure-blood Black. This in itself was more revolting than interesting - that combination made her think of a dark-haired Draco Malfoy - but then she'd found Regulus' diary.
It was full of Snape.
"Were you friends?" she'd asked. He'd said, "You'd probably call us that."
She suspected that Snape had found the diary before they'd gone off to Austria. It had been tucked high on the bookshelf, but slightly pulled out. Kreacher seemed to find it difficult to see much higher than human knee-height; he could easily have missed it, if Snape had put it up there. And judging by the diary's contents, Harriet was quite sure that Regulus wouldn't have left it just lying about, especially with no hexes on it.
Imagining Snape reading the diary of his long dead maybe-a-friend gave her a weird feeling of loss. But then she reminded herself that Snape had been friends with her mother and look what he'd done there. Perhaps he was the reason Regulus was dead, too.
She just wished she could fucking sort out how to feel about that. She should feel hatred, anger, disgust. And she did. . . but she felt other things, too, and they made her lie on Regulus' bed in the shrine Kreacher had built out of his life and read his poncy narrative about teenage Snape.
Severus invented another hex today, Regulus wrote, or some day, at least, the POINT is that he used it on me for the first time today and wouldn't do me the counterspell until I had given him all my Honeyduke's chocolate, the BLOODY STUPID WANKER. I had to of course, because you can't think when your toenails are cramming up the insides of your shoes. I pulled them off but they'd already ruined my socks, which were SILK. Severus just told me to stick it up my arse when I complained, I hate him, the rude vulgar bastard. Anyway I tried to use it back on him, he just stuffed a hunk of chocolate in my mouth and I haven't mastered nvbl yet so I couldn't do anything and he told me to blow him if I didn't like it.
It was both disorientating and no work at all to imagine a teenage Snape doing all that; she'd heard enough of his fights with Sirius to know. And for all Regulus' complaining, she was quite sure that he. . . well, adored Snape. As bloody weird as it was to think about that word connected with Snape. She'd only had some weird fixation on him, it wasn't like. . .
"Harry?" Ron's voice came shouting muffled past the walls; his steps were thundering down the staircase. "Are you-ouch!"
"No nasty blood-traitor brats will touch Master Regulus' room!"
Harriet swung herself off Regulus' bed and opened his bedroom door. Ron was rubbing his shin and looking ready to punt Kreacher down the stairs. Kreacher, hunkered defensively in front of the door, was clutching a fire poker.
"Let Ron through, Kreacher," she said.
Kreacher shot her a watery, baleful look. She felt sorry for him for a moment, but he was a nasty little bugger who'd hit Ron for not being a pure-blood disciple of a genocidal maniac.
But he shuffled aside, letting Ron limp in. He shut the door in Kreacher's furious, miserable face.
"Sick little bastard," Ron muttered, dropping into the armchair. "Good thing Sirius did that ceremony so he'd recognize you as the heir, or he'd probably poison you for being in here."
"I had the same thought," she said, amused. "What's up?"
"Oh! Yeah - that little gremlin whacking me in the shins knocked it right out of my head-" He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a crumpled letter. "Had to hide it before Fred or George saw. I need to you tell me if it's real or - some prank."
He pushed the letter into her hands. The heavy parchment was wrapped around something small but bulky. When she unwrapped it, a scarlet badge fell into her palm.
"This is a Prefect's badge," she said in surprise.
"It's addressed to me," he said disbelievingly.
She skimmed the letter, which, signed jointly by Professor McGonagall and Dumbledore, welcomed Ron to the ranks of prefects. "Seems real enough to me, Mr. Prefect."
Ron took the letter back, looking from it in one hand to the scarlet-and-gold badge in the other, still clearly unable to believe it.
Harriet grinned. "Congrats. You going to lord it over Fred and George?"
"Are you kidding?" he asked incredulously. "They say only prats become prefects." His expression darkened for a moment.
"This is Fred and George," she said. "Of course they'd say that. Having your older brothers as prefects wouldn't exactly give them a different opinion, would it?"
"Too right. Especially Percy." He looked curiously at Harriet. "Did you get one?"
"Of course not. It'll be Hermione."
They were both silent for a moment, trading a glance of the unspoken 'I hope.' If Harriet had got a Prefect's badge, it would mean Dumbledore and McGonagall had judged Hermione still too unwell to handle it. There was no way anyone in Gryffindor could ever make prefect above Hermione otherwise.
Harriet's stomach twisted. She hadn't got a letter, had she?
"Let's go downstairs." She swept Regulus' diary off the bed and tucked it into her jumper; Ron noticed but didn't ask after it. "You can show your mum your badge."
He groaned. "Think it'll soften her up?"
"Worth a shot."
"I dunno," he said gloomily, "I think nothing below an Order of Merlin would help."
After his horrific ordeal, Draco had expected his father to descend on his cousins in a towering fury and take him home. (Please come and get me, I don't want to be here anymore) But as the weeks had gone by with no more than daily letters from his mother, with not even a word from his father, he'd started to realize he was stuck in this place. . . and to worry. He'd oscillated between resentment at being left after he'd almost died, fear that something like that could happen again, and intense worry that something had happened to his father.
But if that were true, his mother would surely have said something. In her letters, she'd have mentioned it. (She'd have come to take me home. Why hasn't she come?) He was being stupid. Just because he'd fallen into a dark, mouldering hole and nearly starved to death before being found, it didn't mean something bad had happened to his father.
. . . Unless someone didn't want him to know, and his mother was a prisoner, and her letters contained a code he needed to crack to find the truth.
So he dragged up all her letters and took them to the powder-blue and-gold morning room, where the light was strong and the windows overlooked the lake. Hating darkness and silence, he pried the glass open so he could hear the sounds of his cousins boating on the water and sat down with the bundle of letters. He always kept his mother's letters, and he used to enjoy puzzle games. His mother was extremely clever. She'd have put something in them that would fool her captors, but that he could recognize. She knew him so well. . .
He looked up when the door clicked open. Asteria took a slight step backwards at the sight of him, pulling her drawing board closer to her chest. Her gaze flicked across the letters and he resisted the urge to snatch them up.
"What?" he asked crossly.
"I'm only here to draw," Asteria said, frowning at him in a way that reminded him distinctly of Potter.
He'd been thinking a lot about Potter lately, to his great annoyance. He supposed it was always having Asteria around. They were friends or something, after all. And if Potter had fallen into a hole with Asteria, she'd probably have single-handedly freed them before teatime. Gryffindors were so annoying.
"Can't you go to another room?"
"I've been painting the landscape out this window for days now," said Asteria. "The angle won't be right from any other spot."
Closing the door behind her, she moved over to the window, where the bright sunlight poured like melted butter down the glass, and arranged herself with her board and paints.
"I'm not going to be able to concentrate if you're back there rustling," he said.
"You're welcome to go somewhere else." Her voice shook a little, but she didn't look up, and her mouth was a firm line.
Scowling, he picked up a letter and stared at it, trying to concentrate. To his annoyance, it should have been easy: Asteria was so quiet, it would be easy to forget she was there. But she was probably sitting back there, judging him.
The door opened again. Draco was ready to just throw his letters in the air. He was engaged in important business! Couldn't everyone just-
"What now?" he snapped.
"Draco. . ." It was his oldest cousin, Adelaide, looking paler than usual. "Your father is here."
"My-" Draco jumped up, scattering letters. Before he could run out of the room, he heard a heavy step, and his father was there.
Draco almost ran and hugged him. But he was getting too old - he didn't want his father thinking he was a baby - and Asteria was still there. (His cousin had already beat a hasty retreat; his father must have reamed her for letting his only son and heir fall into a filthy old tomb. At least, Draco hoped so.)
"Draco." His father came forward and gripped his shoulder. "Are we alone?"
Draco blinked. "No, there's-" But Asteria's drawing table was vacant. She'd left her paints; the sketch of the lake outside was a miniature reflection on the page. Was there a second door into the room, then?
Well, if he could fall through a trapdoor into nasty old catacombs, there were bound to be other secrets hidden around this dump.
"It's just us," said Draco. "Here, let me just-" He started stuffing his mother's letters into the bundle, hoping his father wouldn't ask; with him there, Draco's wild idea of a secret code suddenly seemed stupid and immature. "And then we can go home-"
"The servants are packing for you," said Father. "We'll be going to Hogsmeade; you'll be transitioning directly to school from there. I've cleared it with that interfering Muggle-lover of a headmaster of yours."
"What?" Draco managed to tie his bundle shut; some of the letters were getting squashed. "We're not going home?"
"It is - a sensitive matter." His father brushed a piece of hair back; his eyes darted around the room. Draco got a funny sense that his father was worried about something.
"A sensitive matter?" he repeated. "What does that mean?"
"We have been hosting a. . . greatly honored guest. They do not need idle distractions. Draco." His father squeezed his forearm and stared at him with an unnerving intensity. Draco wanted to look away, but he felt weirdly trapped. "You are older, now. Your fifth year at Hogwarts will see you taking on increased responsibility."
"I know. I made Prefect." He didn't say he hadn't really cared. He supposed he would once school started - he'd have increased power over the others, the ability to take away points - but as he'd stared at the green badge lying on the blue counterpane, all he'd been able to think about was how being a Prefect wouldn't help him if he fell down another hole he couldn't get out of.
"Yes," his father said, like that wasn't what he was talking about. "We are living in - vital times. You will need to be alert and prepared. Can I count on you, my son?"
"Yes," said Draco, surprised. "Of course."
He had no idea what he was agreeing to, and his father kept staring at him, like Draco was a badly spelled book he was trying to understand. Draco stared back, trying to give his father what he was looking for. It was hard when he didn't have any idea what that was.
And somewhere in the back of his mind, he heard a whisper, like the echo of a dream, of something dark and compelling, washing away all his doubt and uncertainty. . . and somehow only deepening it.
He felt suddenly cold.
"Good." His father squeezed his shoulder and opened the door.
This stupid house is just drafty, Draco thought, clutching his letters as his father steered him out of the room. Probably more secret passageways. I'm glad I won't be finding out. Good bloody riddance to this place.
He quashed an odd urge to leave Asteria a good-bye note. It wasn't like she would care. They might have nearly starved to death together, but it hadn't made them friends.
CONGRATULATIONS, RON, NEW PREFECT read the banner that a beaming Mrs. Weasley had hung over the sooty fireplace. Harriet grinned into her cup of pumpkin juice. So much for the Order of Merlin.
Ron was describing his new broom to whomever he could corner; currently, it was Tonks and Remus, who wore very similar expressions of polite interest. Harriet had already heard all about it.
Her mood was mixed. Not because of Ron: to her relief, the only letter she'd got from Hogwarts had been a book list. But a second letter, in Hermione's now-shaky handwriting, had arrived at the same time. Hermione's greatest fear was failure, and February had only sharpened it. Harriet couldn't escape the creeping feeling that Hermione would have faced Prefect duties with her sleeves rolled up and a glint in her eye at this time last year. But this year. . .
I'm glad Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall think I'm ready for it, she'd written, in letters that wobbled larger as they slanted down the page. Harriet had heard, I'm afraid I'm not ready.
You'll be great, she'd written back, wishing Hermione was there with her. She was more solid with gestures than with words; a hug would be better than her lousy attempts at reassurance.
Harriet nursed her juice and listened to the others talk. Mrs. Weasley asked Mad-Eye to have a look at the writing desk in the morning room.
"It's a boggart, all right," he said, his magical eye rotated upwards. "Want me to get rid of it?"
"No, I'll do it before I turn in," she assured him. "Arthur," she called, "don't let this lot stay up too late." She paused to give an embarrassed (but pleased) Ron a kiss on the cheek and let herself out of the kitchen. But then, less than a minute later, she was back, putting her hand on Harriet's shoulder.
"Harriet dear, Professor Dumbledore's here to see you, with Professor Snape."
A gulp of pumpkin juice went down the wrong way. Harriet coughed. "Wh-what?"
"Professor Dumbledore, dear," said Mrs. Weasley, smiling faintly. "Up you go - he's in the Overly Greenish Drawing-room."
Sirius set down his bottle, moving to go with her, but Remus put a hand on his arm to stop him. While they were locked in a silent staring contest, Harriet slipped out of the kitchen.
Even though she'd spent half the summer there, she still found the house on the heavy side of creepy. All of their cleaning didn't seem to have scraped off even a layer of the mad darkness that permeated everything from the candlesticks to the carpet. She supposed after fifteen years of being left rot, a few weeks of scrubbing wouldn't make much of an impact. At least they'd been able to install new doorknobs.
The Overly Greenish Drawing-room had got its name in an earlier age, when the house still had some color. Now, everything was tarnished and faded. When she let herself in, Snape was standing next to the window, apparently watching the street below. His eyes cut toward her and he tilted his head slightly, as if to bring her into focus. The street-lights cast an orange glow across his face, drawing shadows in the hollows. She had the silly (but not really silly is it) thought that he looked like an executioner.
Regulus' stories of a wild, uncontrolled teenage Snape tried to merge with the still, sinister man in front of her. It was like trying to tune a television as the picture was torn apart by static.
"Uh." She groped for something to say. I've been reading Regulus' diary was right out. "I thought Dumbledore was here too."
"He had someone else to speak to." Snape eyed her a moment longer, then sighed in a very let's-get-this-over-with way. "Your business is with me, anyway. Come in and shut the door."
Frowning, she did. "What business?"
He paced away from the window but kept his arms folded. One of his hands tapped against his forearm, like he was thinking. Harriet perched on the arm of a chair and folded her arms, too. Two could play at this game, she thought, staring at him and waiting for him to speak.
"Describe to me again what you felt when you touched that locket."
She blinked. She didn't have to ask what he meant, though; it was all too easy to remember. . .
A sharp darkness limned Malfoy's face, and a whisper shivered through her, like the sibilant hiss of a cold wind through black trees. Something thrummed between them, a pulse that sent some feeling, black and vaporous, growing, unfurling, curling out of her-
And Asteria had said, "Be careful of that locket, Harriet. I don't know what's in it, but it's dangerous."
She wanted to rub her arms. "Did you find out what it was cursed with?"
"First, answer the question," Snape said, eyes boring into her.
"Like something inside me was trying to get out," she said shortly. "Dark - binding, bloody creepy. What's it cursed with?"
"Dumbledore is working on it," Snape said, in a clear we're-not-talking-about-it tone. That wouldn't have stopped her, and he obviously knew it, because he steamrollered on: "Have you ever felt anything like that before?"
"When you were around the Headmaster."
"I. . ." Something stirred in her memory, something about this house, but slipped away. "I don't know. Maybe? Look, I've been here for weeks now. This place messes you up."
Snape eyed her with unnerving intensity for a few more moments. She re-folded her arms, glowering back. Then he sighed again and turned away, pacing, but more idly than before.
"The Headmaster thinks your link with the Dark Lord is. . . causing problems for you."
Harriet almost fell off the arm of her chair. "My what?"
"Your scar," Snape said impatiently.
"I don't want a link to Voldemort!" she said, ignoring his flinch.
"This can't be news to you," he said, glaring now. "It has always caused you pain when the Dark Lord is nearby. What did you think that was?"
"Weird curse scar stuff!" she snapped. "I don't know!"
"A curse scar that he gave you," Snape said, exasperated.
"Well, how do I-" She waved her hands, not knowing how to describe it. "-stop it?"
"That's what I'm telling you," Snape grit out. "The Headmaster wishes you to study Occlumency."
Harriet didn't fancy the idea of studying; she'd much rather do something about it. Unfortunately, she couldn't just walk up to Voldemort and tell him to get out of her head, or cut off her scar.
"What's Occlu-thing?" she asked warily.
"The magical defense of the mind against external forces. An obscure branch of magic, a but highly useful one."
It sounded difficult and boring. "Okay," she said, drawing the word out. "How do I learn it?"
Snape eyed her for a moment with clear resignation. "From me."
Was this what swooning felt like? "Why you? You haven't got a curse scar link to-What's-his-face!"
"Who do you think routinely has the pleasure of letting the Dark Lord rummage around inside his head?"
"You didn't say anything about rummaging around inside my head!"
"What do you think 'defense against external forces' means?" Snape looked so irritated, she might have wondered if Sirius had come into the room while she'd been preoccupied.
"I don't know!" she said, equally annoyed. "You haven't told me anything! You've just been going on like I know everything you know-"
"Quiet," said Snape, staring at the wall.
Harriet heard it the second she stopped talking: the sound of someone sobbing in the room next door.
She jumped up from the armchair, but Snape was already at the door. The hem of his black cloak disappeared around the frame, and by the time she'd caught up, he'd broken into the morning-room.
Harriet skidded to a stop to avoid plowing into his back. The writing desk had toppled to the floor, and lying on the rug in front of a sobbing Mrs. Weasley was - Ron?!
"R-r-riddikulus!" Mrs Weasley cried, pointing her wand at Ron's body, which stared up at the ceiling with blank eyes.
The body turned into the twins, also dead. Snape stepped forward, raising his wand; Mrs. Weasley kept crying, waving her wand wildly - with another crack, the body on the floor turned into Harriet. Snape stopped where he was, next to Mrs. Weasley, like he was frozen.
Harriet pushed around him, pulling her wand out of the pocket of her jeans. Her own corpse collapsed into a pile of rank fabric, rising up off the floor, skeletal hands reaching out, dripping with strips of rotting skin, and the air plunged to ice and darkness as the lights snuffed out as one -
"Expecto Patronum!" She stabbed her wand forward, and the room lit silver-white as the stag charged the Dementor. The boggart dissolved into wisps of smoke that sank to the carpet and vanished.
The stag turned in place, watching them with fathomless eyes, then bent to nuzzle Mrs. Weasley's shoulder. She stared at it, motionless, her hands half over her face, as it dissolved in a shower of stars.
One by one, the lights trembled back to life.
"Oh - oh," Mrs. Weasley gasped, and then grabbed Harriet in a hug, weeping into her shoulder.
Harriet patted her back, wishing Snape would do something, before realizing that if she was crap at giving comfort, unleashing Snape on a distraught person would be the best of terrible ideas.
She couldn't read the expression on his face. His eyes were glittering strangely and his jaw was clenched tight. Then he was turning away to face Dumbledore, who appeared armed in the doorway, his bright eyes piercing in the gloom.
"What has happened?"
"A boggart," said Snape, his narrow shoulders tight. "Miss Potter took care of it."
Dumbledore glanced at him, a look that seemed heavier than a second's work, before turning to smile at Harriet. "Excellent work, my dear."
Harriet tried to smile back, but something stopped her. . . something dark, binding, like a hand gripping her heart.
She felt cold in a way that had nothing to do with fake dementors.
"Here, Molly," said Dumbledore, as Mrs. Weasley straightened up, wiping at her eyes, trying to hide her tear-streaked face. "A hot drink will do you some good, I believe."
"Oh, I don't want to trouble anyone," Mrs. Weasley whispered, but allowed him to take her hand and tuck it into his arm. "The, the children shouldn't see. . ."
"Nonsense," said Dumbledore gently, guiding her from the room. His reassurances faded as they moved down the hall.
". . . About those lessons," Harriet said to Snape.
"My office, six o'clock after the first day of classes," he said after a short pause. He didn't look at her; his profile was as sharp as a scimitar. "If anyone asks, you're taking Remedial Potions."
"Thanks for that," she said, thinking of Regulus' emotional diary entries.
He merely gave her an unreadable look and swept out of the room.
Alone, she stared at the place on the carpet where her own body had lain. The image was unsettling, but it didn't chain her thoughts as tightly as the question of why Snape hadn't been able to move after he'd seen it.
And whether or not that had been Mrs. Weasley's boggart after all.