Warnings: More violence, not as much as the previous chapter.

Summary: Sev gets hurt, Harry heals him, the vampires go hide, and Lucius pays the boys a visit.


CHAPTER 31

The curse hit Severus before anyone saw it coming, before Ferin could prevent it. He had spun under and away from Rabastan Lestrange's sword when a sharp pain hit him in the gut. He looked down, stunned, to see a slash through his duelling robes and blood blossoming all over his white undershirt.

Sectumsempra. He'd been felled by his own spell. And worse, no one in the Infirmary knew how to cure it. Not even Harry could heal him now.

He had failed.

Beside him, a vampiric growl alerted him to the sire's fury. Even if Ferin's protection had not been enough in the end, at least Rabastan and the remaining Death Eaters would not last long against a vampiric sire in blood-rage. A silver lining, perhaps.

"Oh gods, Severus!"

Hermione's despairing shriek was the last thing he heard before his hidden portkey whisked him away.


Severus opened his eyes to a wash of white and healers rushing about left and right, hair flying out of their hats and blood spattered all over their robes. He had landed on a bed in a quiet corner and none of the healers had noticed him yet, but it mattered not. Not even Poppy had enough power to use the counterchant for Sectumsempra. Severus had certainly tried to teach all the medics over the past few days, but none of them were natural chanters, and thus, none but Severus could heal that curse.

And Severus hadn't the power while his magic was all going towards keeping him alive.

The Infirmary doors banged open, startling the healers, but Severus had fallen into his own world and barely heard it. With a rasping sigh, he closed his eyes and waited for death. If only Poppy had been a chanter—but no. There was no one to help him, and now he and Harry would both die.

"I am sorry, beloved." Blood bubbled on his words and dribbled down his chin.

"Don't apologise," Harry's voice called back. "Just tell me the counter."

Severus looked up to see a tear-streaked Avenger standing at his side. His face was drawn and grey, but he was alive. And if anyone had the power to save Severus, it was Harry.

A tiny spark of hope flickered to life in Severus' chest. He hardly dared to breathe lest it die again.

"Vulnera … Sanentur," he whispered. "Chant."

Harry slipped his hand behind Severus' head and cradled him close. Tears slipped down his face as he murmured the words.

"Vulnera Sanentur … Vulnera Sanentur …." After a few spoken rounds, magic filtered into the words and turned into song, and Severus dared to breathe again. Harry was doing it!

The Infirmary door slammed open again, and this time Severus was coherent enough to realise Remus and Lily had just burst into the room, no doubt searching for Harry.

Lily cried, "Harry! Where is h—oh. Oh Merlin, no!"

She rushed over to them, tears streaking her cheeks, and her sudden cry brought the Healers' attention around. Terror nudged into Severus' chest along with the spark of hope, making him hot and cold at once. If they interrupted Harry now ….

Doggedly, Harry continued chanting. "Vulnera Sanen—"

"Severus!" Poppy bustled past Harry and pushed him aside, interrupting his chant and killing Severus' hope. "Harry, move over so I can he—"

Harry's voice came out in a snarl. "Get out of the way!" The man's teeth were bared and his eyes sharp with teal light. His scales had come out—though his wings stayed in—and his nails had curved into claws. "Back away from my mate, woman!"

Poppy put a hand over her chest and gasped. "My goodness!"

Severus registered a pair of small hands with pink-painted nails forcibly dragging Poppy back, then he succumbed to oblivion.


When Harry turned back around, Severus had fallen unconscious. 'No-no-no! He can't die!'

With a broken sob, heart aching as if it would fall apart—or perhaps it already had—Harry slipped his hand back under Severus' head and resumed his chanting. A shield went up around them, wards to keep everyone out. So help him, no one would interrupt this time.

A couple of yards away, Lily held Madame Pomfrey back and Remus kept the other healers from interfering and getting hexed for it, but they didn't think to block the noise.

"Vulnera Sanentur …." Harry struggled to focus, but trying to chant while fifteen healers squabbled over the best way to help Severus was distracting, to say the least. Despite his best efforts, he was having trouble getting the chant to take.

"Lily, please," Pomfrey cried. "I need to help Severus."

"You can't right now," Lily said in a firm voice. "Stay back."

"Vulnera Sanentur," Harry half-shouted. He needed them to back away. Why couldn't they understand that?

Pomfrey gasped. "Oh Merlin, no. Severus was hit with Sectumsempra?"

Lily's voice was shaky. "I … I'm assuming so, if that's the counter for it. Why?"

"No one can heal it. None of us. Harry can't possibly—"

Remus cut her off with a fierce, "Ssh! Let him concentrate. All of you, be quiet!"

Harry could have kissed him.

"But the counter is too difficult," Pomfrey insisted. "If a medic can't do it, what makes you think—"

Lily clapped a hand over Pomfrey's mouth and dragged her away, to Harry's relief. He couldn't focus like this.

"Be quiet and let Harry work, Poppy! He's half Dragoon. He's the only person alive who can save Severus now."

"Vulnera Sanentur …."

Pomfrey let slip a little cry. "Oh my. A Dragoon! Well, that does explain it. I'll just … get a course of potions for Severus then?"

"Yes, that will do nicely," said Remus in a gentler tone. "Then go back to your other patients. There's nothing you can do for Severus except to let Harry work in peace."

"I … I suppose. I'll be right back."

The woman finally walked away, her heels clicking against the tile, and Harry let slip a sigh. As soon as she had gone, his stubborn repetition had once again tapped into his magic, taking on a songlike form. As he crooned the chant over Severus, the gaping wound in the man's abdomen slowly knit and the blood stopped.

Gods, there was blood everywhere. Could Severus survive after losing so much?

"Lily, here," Pomfrey murmured. "Blood replenisher, grade three antibiotic, and a grade three general healing draught. Perhaps you could give these to Severus while Harry's working?"

"I don't dare interfere," Lily replied. "Harry's creature side is agitated at the moment and terrified for his mate. He'll lash out at anyone who comes near Severus. Any treatment beyond that chant will just have to wait until Severus' wound seals."

'Yes, it bloody well will,' Harry thought even as he continued his chant. He would let no one near his mate until Severus was out of immediate danger.

Pomfrey nodded and watched the injured man, her eyes full of deep pain. "Oh, Severus. I do hope you pull through. We need you. And we love you." With a sigh, she wiped her eyes and walked away.

Nervous and feeling as though half his heart was out of place, Harry kept up the chant until finally—finally—Severus' wound closed. He checked his mate's heartbeat and let out a sob. Severus was still alive. He dropped his wards, caring about nothing in that moment but holding his Sev, feeling his breath, hearing his heartbeat.

With a cry of mingled pain and relief, he slumped over onto his mate's forehead and wept. "I am so sorry, my beloved. I should have been by your side."

Lily nudged his shoulder. "Harry, we need to—"

Harry snarled at her, even as he cursed his instincts for forcing him to react so violently. "Don't! Don't touch me."

Lily backed away, her expression pained and eyes wide with shock. "Why? I thought—I'm your mother, Harry. I hadn't thought your instincts would lock me out."

Remus wrapped Lily in his arms. "Remember, Lils, you weren't able to be there for him until very recently. He might not recognise you as his mother in this state."

The creature inside him reared up and snapped out the words Harry did not want to say. "If I do not accept her, then it is because she rejected me not ten minutes ago. I needed you, Mother, and you told me to leave. You did not want me. Why then, do you wonder why I am angry?"

Harry gasped and clamped his lips shut, determined that no more painful truths should slip beyond his control that morning.

"Harry …." Lily covered her mouth and blinked hard. "Is that … really what you think I said? That I didn't want you?" Tears slid down her face. "Do you remember those bookshelves back at the prison flat? That is how much I wanted you. I love you, Harry. I've always loved you. More than my own life."

"Then why? Why did you tell me to leave you?"

Lily sniffled and wiped her eyes. "Merlin, Harry! I said to leave me alone, not leave me forever! Like people say when they're angry. That's all it was. I just wanted a moment to calm down so I wouldn't say something I didn't mean and hurt you." She crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a look full of grief and desperate longing. "I don't understand how you could possibly believe I don't want to be your mum, love, when everything I have done thus far has been for you."

"I … I thought you said …." Harry drew his knees to his chest. "I thought … you wanted me to leave. And I'd just failed all over again, and I was stupid and a freak and—" Dear gods. Harry was going to shove his fist in his mouth in a moment if he couldn't get control of it.

"A freak? Harry! You were impetuous and foolish rushing into that battle alone, but I knew you were only trying to save us. I never thought … Merlin, love! How could you believe that of yourself? No, you didn't manage to kill Riddle, but gods! Just for the trying, you were brave." She gave Remus a bemused, heartbroken look. "I … I just don't understand where this is coming from."

Remus growled. "The Dursleys. They've beaten it into his head that he's unlovable, so at the first hint of rejection …."

Lily blanched. "He thinks we don't want him. Oh, Harry, no. I was angry, but I never meant that I didn't want to be your mum."

Harry groaned and buried his face into his knees. "I'm sorry. Can't do anything right. So sorry."

Lily sighed and hesitantly approached her son. "Love, can I come near you? Just to help and reassure you? And to help Sev?"

Harry winced and shook his pain off. "Damn it. You're right. I can't do this. Not now, not when Sev is so critical." He clamped down on his instincts as hard as he could and lifted a shaking hand. "H-here. The potion."

Lily passed it to him carefully. "Check it if you need to reassure yourself."

Harry did, much to his chagrin. Sighing in irritation, he sniffed the bottle, and when his instinct—and common sense—deemed it safe, he gave her a hesitant nod.

Lily kept her voice low and soothing to calm Harry's wayward creature side. "Okay, love. I'll need you to hold his mouth open for me in a moment, but not just yet. First, I need to teach you how to help him take it while he's unconscious. I think that would be best since you're leery of anyone touching him right now."

Harry nodded, relieved that she was trying to heal the breach, and more importantly, to heal his mate. He needed her help to save Severus, and that acknowledgement made something in his instinctual reactions relax. Lily loved Severus as much as she loved Harry. It would be okay.

Harry took a deep breath to let his pain go, then reached across the divide and took his mother's hand. "I'm sorry, Mum. I was afraid he'd get into the castle if I didn't run after him then, and then I got held up and … I don't know. I just didn't want him to hurt the healers or house elves or turn Hogwarts against us."

"It's okay, baby. Well, not okay—don't you ever run off alone like that again."

Harry gave her a sad smile. "I'm not sure I can help it. I'm too used to being on my own."

She held his hands. "You're not now. You have a family who all love you and want to share your burdens. So please, let us."

Harry closed his eyes against the painful-sweet relief her words brought. He had never had anyone to rely on before, not in the hard times, and his mother wanted to. In fact, was angry because Harry hadn't let her. Maybe he didn't have to do this alone. Maybe he could relax, a little.

"I … I'll try, Mum."

"Good." She squeezed his hands. "Now, watch me, okay? I'm going to show you how to help Sev take this."

Harry nodded and released her hands.

Lily held up the potion. "When I pour this in his mouth, it's going to block his air since he can't swallow it on his own. What you have to do is rub his throat firmly, right here." She indicated the spot just under her chin where her jaw met her throat. "I'll demonstrate on Remus so I don't upset your instincts further, okay?"

Remus came to the side of the bed with his hands held out in a gesture of supplication—he understood what being a magical creature was like too, even if he was only a human now. The gesture calmed Harry, despite his overwhelming fear for his mate.

Remus' voice was soft. "I'm just coming closer so Lily can show you how to help Severus, okay?"

Harry nodded and gave the man a wan smile. "Thank you, both of you."

Lily smiled. "We love Severus too, Harry, and it's okay that you're scared. I'd be just as upset if it was Remus or you on that bed."

Harry nodded and smiled a little brighter, feeling less like a dolt. "O-okay. So how do I rub his neck to make him swallow?"

Lily showed him the process, and once Harry had managed to make Severus swallow a couple times as a trial, he pried his lover's mouth open and watched as Lily gave him the blood replenisher. The red liquid pooled in Severus' throat, blocking the man's air, and Harry hurriedly worked to make Severus swallow once more. The potion went down smoothly, and Harry sighed with relief when Severus took a breath immediately afterwards. In quick succession, Harry also fed Severus the antibiotic and the healing draught, and after the man finished the last one, Harry began to feel better.

Severus was healing.

"I think he's going to be okay," Harry said in a shaky voice. "At least my chest doesn't hurt as much any longer."

"Good!" Lily rubbed Harry's shoulder. "That's good. Um, do you think you'd be okay if I get Poppy to run a diagnostic scan on him, just to make sure he's not injured anywhere else and that he doesn't need another potion? He's lost quite a lot of blood, you see, and I don't want him to suffer."

The thought of Pomfrey set Harry's creature side off again. He growled even as he cursed his wild blood for its stupidity.

Lily tried to placate him. "Harry, love, she didn't know about your creature side and she was trying to save his life."

Harry gave his mother a weary look. "I know that, but my bloody Avenger side has apparently labelled her as the enemy. I can't seem to stop it."

Lily sighed. "Well, it's to be expected. You're a new creature. Controlling those impulses gets easier with time and experience. Do you think you could let one of the other healers near?"

Harry's growl doubled in volume. "Definitely not. My Avenger at least knows Madame Pomfrey is a good person and meant well, but I don't know them."

Lily gave him a wry smile. "I see. Well, I can do the diagnostic then. I'm just not as good at it as Poppy, but it should be enough to at least tell us if Sev is still suffering."

Harry rubbed the bridge of his nose and motioned her on. "I'm sorry. I feel like such a prat. Sev is hurt and I can't let Madame Pomfrey near him when she's the best person to help him, not to mention that I terrified you two running off like an idiot and then having a meltdown, and to top it all off, I wasn't even able to kill the bastard. It's been a banner night all around."

Lily rubbed Harry's hand and whispered, "It's okay. We'll just kill him through your dream-walking as soon as we know how, okay? It's safer that way anyway."

Harry nodded. "Safer, definitely. Riddle was entirely unpredictable this time. He always used to go on and on before he shot curses at me, but this time he was shooting them almost before he saw me. It was odd, facing Riddle and not hearing the usual hour-long monologue about his supposed superiority."

Lily winced. "Merlin, Harry. Please don't face him alone again."

"I imagine I'll have to when I kill him, even if it's … indirectly."

"Well, that would be different. He can't fight back in there." She took out her wand, but didn't aim it at Severus yet. "Is it all right if I run the diagnostic scan now, Harry?"

He gave her a hesitant nod and watched as she ran her wand in a line down the entire length of Severus' body. A length of parchment with writing appeared in the air before Lily, and she skimmed it before shuddering and closing her eyes.

"Gods, what that poor man has suffered as a spy. It's inhuman, and I doubt I picked up the half of it."

Harry winced and didn't reach for the parchment. Judging by Lily's reaction, it would only make his instincts go even madder.

"Is he okay, Mum?"

She nodded, but a frown creased her brow. "Yes, but this is strange. Harry, I think we need to have Poppy do this charm. This says Severus was caught by a sword, not Sectumsempra, and I know he's too intelligent to make that kind of mistake. Something isn't right about this."

Harry gulped. "You … you're sure he needs Pomfrey?"

Lily nodded. "Can you keep your instincts under control if she doesn't come too close?"

"I can try. I won't hurt her either way, but I might get angry."

"Well, she's used to that from Severus, I'd wager. He's a terrible patient."

Harry growled and sighed immediately afterwards. "Sorry, Mum. I know you're right, but my instincts don't like anything bad said about him right now, even as a joke. Or if it's true."

She gave him a sorrowful smile. "It's all right. I should have realised that might upset you. I'm sorry. May I get Poppy, love?"

Harry shook his head. "Remus, you go. I want Mum to help me keep him safe. I don't know enough healing charms if something happens."

Remus nodded. "I'll be right back then, and I'll warn Poppy not to get too close." He left and returned a moment later with the matron in tow.

"Harry?" She gave him a hesitant smile. "I'm sorry for pushing you earlier. I didn't realise you were a Dragoon or that you were chanting. My own instincts kicked in, you see, and I love Severus like a son." She shook her head. "I don't know if he realises that."

"You should tell him when he wakes up," Harry said, keeping his voice low lest he lose control of his instincts. He didn't want to hurt the woman, and she was only trying to protect someone she cared about.

The apology had helped soothe his creature, though, as had her love for his mate. He was able to let her approach within a metre before a growl escaped his control.

He clapped a hand over his throat. "S-sorry. I can't—no closer."

She nodded and held out her wand. "May I cast the charm now?"

He gave her a terse nod. "Hurry."

Pomfrey scanned the man and stepped back when she had a parchment like Lily's in hand. "Dear Merlin, how that man sacrifices for us." She gave a sad sigh, but confusion marred her features the next moment. "Now, that is odd. I thought he was hit with Sectumsempra."

Lily peeked over her shoulder. "Yours says it was a sword, too. How strange. I can't see Severus making that kind of mistake. Something is off about this."

"Well, in the thick of battle, it's possible he might have been too distracted to see the blade. He may have just assumed it was Sectumsempra if he didn't see it happen."

Harry frowned. "But how could he not have seen a blade if they were close enough to almost cut him in half? And it shouldn't have happened in the first place. Ferin was supposed to be protecting him."

"Ferin?" Remus frowned. "Who's Ferin?"

Harry gave them a wry grin. "The sire of the Grey clan. Riddle had forced them to fight with that staff of his—he was holding their children hostage!"

"Merlin," Remus gasped. "The G-Grey clan? You're certain?"

"Yes, why?"

"They're the oldest, most powerful clan in existence, Harry!"

"Oh. Well, his name is Ferin Grey and he's the sire, so I assumed …."

"That's him," said Lily with a shudder. "So that was who you were talking to in the air, then?"

Harry nodded. "As soon as Ferin found out I'm a creature and that our … kin had destroyed the staff, he swore allegiance to me and asked for Sanctuary for his clan. I figured it was safer for all of us if I agreed."

"Y-yes," said Lily with a shiver. "A vampiric allegiance in the midst of a battle with You-Know-Who. Merlin, Harry. You have the strangest luck."

Harry snorted. "No kidding." He looked at his mate and sniffled. "But I … I don't understand. I thought Sanctuary meant the requester has to protect the giver too."

"It does," said Remus, "and if the sire swore his allegiance, then that also binds the entire clan to keep his oath. What happened to Severus must have been an accident, Harry. Even a vampiric sire is fallible, and the Death Eaters were likely told to rush Severus. In the midst of fighting multiple enemies, it's possible one might have slipped through."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "Against Severus and a vampiric sire, Remus? Have you seen the man fight? He's bloody brilliant with a blade." He frowned and shook his head. "No. Something is off about this entire situation."

Lily stiffened and paled, but said nothing. Harry frowned at her, but whatever she had thought of was not forthcoming.

Pomfrey sighed and looked to the injured man with sad eyes. "Only Severus will be able to tell us what happened, or perhaps those nearest him might have seen—"

One of the healers cried, "Madame! Madame, please!"

She winced. "I have to go help. Good luck. And someone warn the others about the vampires before they're attacked! I don't need more patients in my Infirmary from either side." She passed the list to Lily and darted away.

Lily turned to her mate with a grim expression. "Remus, go find Shacklebolt and tell him about the clan. Use your scent tracking. See if you can find the sire too and ask him what happened to Severus."

Remus nodded. "I'll try. If not Shacklebolt, I'll find someone else we can trust."

"Good luck, Remy, and be careful."

The man kissed her tenderly, gave Harry a pat on the shoulder, and ran away, shifting into Moony halfway through the Infirmary doors.

After he had gone, Harry gave his mother a worried look. "Mum, you know something. I can't imagine the oldest, most powerful vampiric sire letting a Death Eater slip past him, and I don't think you can either."

Her face went carefully blank. "I have a suspicion, but I think … it might be best to wait to hear from Ferin or whoever was fighting near Severus before we jump to any conclusions, particularly with your instincts on alert, Harry."

He gulped. "O-okay?"

"Trust me." Lily looked at Pomfrey's parchment and frowned. "Hmm. Poppy's list is better. Mine didn't show that Severus hasn't slept in a week."

Harry frowned. "Hasn't slept? But I know he slept. He was there when I went to bed and when I woke up."

Lily gave him a knowing smile. "And in the middle?"

Harry paused. "Well, of course he … oh. So that's how he made all those kits and portkeys. He got up in the middle of the night while I was sleeping, the sneaky git."

"Well, Remus and I helped with the portkeys," she said with a chuckle. "Not at night, though. I didn't realise he was working then."

Harry huffed and crossed his arms over his chest. "Why did no one tell me? I'd have helped."

"Love, it wasn't intentional. Severus works best and fastest with potions alone. I'm sure he just didn't want to worry you. And, well, you were almost always in training with the Soldiers or one of the professors. Remy and I didn't want to interrupt when that was so important."

Harry slumped and rested his head in his hand. "Fat lot of good it did. I still couldn't catch the bastard."

Lily stroked Harry's hair, and the gentle touch eased his fears and pain. "It'll be okay, Harry. We'll get him. Maybe not today, but we'll get him."

Harry sighed and let his mother's touch soothe him. After a moment, he waved her on. "I can't leave Sev, but will you go help the others?"

Lily shook her head. "The battle was over when we ran in here, as far as I could tell. The vampires must have made short work of it."

"The medics might need help, though."

Lily looked at him sadly. "You need to be alone with him."

Harry nodded. "I need to know if the others are okay too."

She sighed. "May I bid him goodbye, Harry? I swear not to hurt him."

Harry winced. "Just … be careful, okay? I know it's not fair, but I can't seem to control my instincts right now."

She gave him a solemn nod. "I swear it." Lily stayed near Harry, but reached a slow, careful hand out to brush the hair back from Severus' brow. The action brought Harry's attention to his mate's face, and Harry gasped as he realised the condition his mate was in beyond his injuries.

His hair was in total disarray, he was covered in smudges of dirt and dried blood—most likely not his own—and his entire body was a tangled mess of scrapes and scratches. His hair was wet with sweat and hung in clumps, and his robes were covered in blood, mud, and ash and torn almost to shreds.

"Gods," Harry breathed. "Mum, I need to take care of him. Clean him up and such."

She nodded. "All right. Just let me …." She placed a light kiss on the man's forehead. "Get better, Sev. Harry adores you and can't live without you, and I love you both too much to let either of you go." At a stifled growl from Harry, she moved back and gave her son a hug instead. "It's okay. You're just responding to the need to protect your mate. I'm not offended, love." She kissed his cheek. "You'll send me a Patronus if anything changes?"

Harry sighed. "If my instincts will let me think straight long enough to remember."

"All right. I'm going now, love. I'll see you later."

"Right. Be careful, Mum."

She nodded and gave them a wave. The curtains closed behind her a moment later, and the tingle and glow of a silencing ward washed over them. Harry let out a shuddering sigh as the noise beyond his small, warded area ceased.

"T-thanks, Mum."

He turned to his mate, taking in everything from his muddy boots to his sweat-soaked, dirty hair. Merlin, Severus looked a mess.

And Harry loved him all the more for it.

"You were brilliant, weren't you, beloved? I bet Ferin missed your attacker because he thought you could defend yourself—you're amazing with that katana of yours." Tears blurred his vision. "But me, not so much. I couldn't even get close to my target." A sob crept up his throat. "I … I'm so sorry, Sev. I failed you."

Harry laid his head on his mate's and wept.


Severus woke to the sound of birdsong and his mate's soft snores. He was too weak to open his eyes, but the warm air and silky sheets beneath him suggested that he was in his bedroom and not the Infirmary. How had he come to be here? What had happened? He attempted to rise and go to the loo, but a throbbing pain through his belly made him think better of it.

Right. Someone had cursed him with Sectumsempra and nearly cut him in two. He had best not forget it again, lest he reopen his wounds and kill himself and Harry both.

He frowned and rubbed a hand over his belly, noticing along the way that he was dressed in fresh sleep trousers. Harry must have cleaned and dressed him since the Infirmary, then. Severus wondered how many hours had passed and if it was safe to use magic yet. He felt well enough, but decided not to risk it, just in case he put himself into a relapse. Harry might physically restrain him to the bed if Severus delayed his recovery for a simple Tempus.

His recovery. Merlin, how had Severus survived? Wounds by that curse bled doubly fast, and with such a grave injury, Severus should have died within perhaps two minutes. Harry hadn't managed the counter that fast, had he?

Severus shook his head and immediately regretted the movement. He was lucky to be alive, but Merlin, it hurt to be just then. He ached all over, as if someone had set a pitch full of bludgers on him. Every muscle in his body screamed at the slightest movement and his stomach burned like liquid fire. Gods, what he wouldn't give for a pain potion. He resented the fact that he was likely too unwell to Summon one himself.

Severus sighed and relaxed into the pillows. At least he was safe. Severus had thought he would die last night and take Harry with him, but no. Someone somewhere—Xenidan?—had seen fit to give him a second chance, and Severus would not waste it. His Harry deserved a long life full of love. And Severus would give him plenty of it, now that this bloody war was over.

He frowned. Was it over? Severus hadn't the opportunity to ask about Riddle the night before. His breath lodged in his throat. He hadn't had the chance to ask much of anything at all, and Harry had faced a soul-mad dark lord that night.

Merlin, had Harry been hurt? Severus gripped the sheets, cold with sudden fear. The young man hadn't acted injured, but then, Harry had been almost mad with terror for his mate. Unless Harry had lost a limb, he would have pushed it out of his mind until after Severus was in one piece again. A lesser injury might have gone unnoticed.

Severus forced his eyes open with the intent of checking his mate over and blinked at the sight of black and violet feathers sitting on his chest. Below that, turquoise scales had wrapped around his legs.

Severus whispered, "Zera? Eirene? Did Harry introduce you?"

The snake stared and hissed a greeting Severus couldn't understand, and the bird gave a happy tweet and shook her head.

"Hmm. I am surprised Zera took to you so well, Eirene. I was fearful for your safety." He frowned. "Wait, how did you get past the wards on the study?"

She tipped her head towards the snake.

"Zera let you out? But … oh. That ward-slipping ability. I see."

Three days prior, Harry had given Zera the ability to break through Hogwarts' wards when she had complained that there was nothing to hunt on the grounds. Severus had his misgivings about letting a ward-breaking, camouflaged cobra have the run of the place, but Zera had only used it to hunt a rabbit in the Forest and had stayed in their quarters since then. Perhaps she felt she had seen enough of the darkness of the world while living next to a horcrux, or perhaps she didn't feel safe venturing too far from her humans yet. Either way, Severus had to admit that the snake was exceptionally well-behaved.

Still, he would have expected her to resent having an unknown magical creature in her masters' house. She didn't like owls, after all, and though she had promised Harry she wouldn't hurt them, that promise did not extend to Eirene.

"Why did you not attack her, Zera?"

The snake shook her head slowly, unable to answer, and Severus berated himself for asking a familiar an open-ended question. His injury must have weakened him more than he thought.

Eirene trilled to call his attention to her. As Severus watched, bemused, the bird turned her head over his belly and let a silvery tear drop onto his exposed stomach. The bird bobbed her beak between the tear and the snake, and understanding dawned on the injured man.

"Ah. Is that why, Zera? You sensed that Eirene wanted to heal me?"

The bird and snake nodded.

Severus smiled. "Good. I am glad you let her help, Zera. That was well done of you."

The snake rubbed her head against Severus' leg, obviously pleased with the praise.

"Well, since Harry is indisposed, I suppose I shall have to introduce you. Zera, this is Eirene, Harry's nighthawk familiar."

Eirene shook her head.

Shock coursed through him. "Wait. You're not Harry's?"

The bird trilled and climbed up Severus' body. With a cooing sound, she nuzzled the man's cheek and settled down over his heart.

Wonder washed over Severus as he stroked the nighthawk's soft feathers. His hands were shaking. "Mine? You are truly mine?" His voice came out in a whisper.

She twittered and gave a happy nod.

Severus smiled, thrilled and awed at once. "Merlin. I had assumed that you would align yourself to Harry since nighthawks are the traditional pets of Osirins."

She gave a twittering sort of laugh and laid her head on Severus' chest, curling up to go to sleep. The display of trust and love warmed him from within, and he vowed on the spot to keep his new friend safe to the best of his ability. He would not lose her, not like his poor beloved Loki. He sighed for his longtime friend and hoped the faithful little owl was at peace in the world beyond.

Harry's muffled voice made Severus jump. "I already have a familiar, Sev, and you're my mate." He lifted his head and rubbed his eyes. "Remember, you've inherited some of my powers, and even if you hadn't, I can't think of anyone else who's walked the edge of death so long—not even me."

"That's true, I suppose." Severus kissed Harry's forehead. "Forgive me, beloved. I was trying not to wake you."

"It's okay." Harry sat and stretched, yawning so hard, tears formed at the corners of his eyes. "Ugh. What a terrible night. Are you feeling any better, love?"

Severus nodded. "Better than dead at any rate. What time is it?"

Harry yawned again and cast a Tempus. "Just past seven in the morning. Feel free to go back to sleep if you want. I plan on it."

Severus blushed. "I think I will need your assistance first. I am in need of the loo."

Harry shook his head. "Madame Pomfrey said you aren't to be moved for two days." He waved his hand over Severus' stomach, and a strange empty feeling filled his lower abdomen. "There you are."

Severus' face flamed. "T-thank you."

"Don't worry about it, love. Do you need a potion?"

"Yes. Ah, a grade three pain potion, grade three healing draught—unless Poppy already gave me one?"

Harry nodded. "She gave you that, a blood replenisher, and a grade three antibiotic."

"Then I will just need the pain potion and a grade one muscle soother. I suppose I am not well enough to Summon them myself?"

"Don't even think about it." Harry retrieved the requested potions and helped Severus take them one by one. After a glass of water to wash out the taste, Severus felt much better.

"Thank you, my love."

Harry nuzzled his hair. "It's nothing. I want to take care of you."

Severus smiled and pulled his mate into a kiss. "See that you take care of yourself as well. Are you injured? And where are the vampires?"

"I'm all right. Ferin and the remainder of his clan are taking refuge in the dungeons. Remus spread the word among the soldiers that they were forced to fight to keep their children alive and they've sworn allegiance to me now. I thought it best to leave them alone for the day, to let them rest and mourn their dead."

"Yes, that is wise. Sire Grey was incredibly helpful, you know. I am certain I would not have survived long without his assistance."

Tears shimmered on Harry's cheeks. "Then I'll have to see to it that he gets a proper reward for protecting you so well. A grand new home in the country, perhaps. One with powerful wards."

"I am sure he will be ecstatic to receive it, once we find such a place." Severus rubbed Harry's cheek. "Oh, my Harry. I am so relieved you are safe. I was terrified you would die with me. So terrified I would kill you."

Harry gave him a wan smile. "I couldn't let my mate die, now could I?"

Severus smiled back. "No." His joy faded at Harry's despairing expression. "Love, what is it? Did we lose family?"

Harry shook his head, his expression turning dark. "Not that I'm aware of. I know we did lose some of our troops, but I don't think anyone we were particularly close to died. It's just … I failed, Sev. I tried so hard, but he wasn't anything like what I was expecting, and he used Pettigrew's rat form to get away in the end." He banged the heel of his fist against the wall and growled. "Couldn't even get the soul spell off."

Severus blinked. "Soul spell?"

Harry paled. "Oh. I forgot to tell you. Um, Denoxia, it gave me—"

The Headmaster's floo connection whooshed to life and a sharp, male voice cried out. "Severus! Where the bloody hell are you? I need help!"

Harry frowned. "Is that Malfoy?"

"Yes," said Severus, "and he sounds as if he is in great distress. We must—"

Severus had started to rise, but Harry eased him back down. "No. I'll handle it. You rest."

Severus lamented his weakness, but gave into his mate's request. Not least because that firm voice always made him melt a little inside. "Be careful, my Harry. I love you."

Harry kissed him soundly and held him close for a long, sweet moment. "I will, love. I promise."

With another light kiss, Harry eased Severus back onto the pillows and moved into the main room. The young man closed the door, meaning Severus couldn't hear anything without help, to his annoyance. With a quick inventory of his health and power levels, he judged his magic healed enough for simple magic and cast a wandless amplifying spell at the door. He would not let Harry face Lucius without at least being able to hear—even if he could do little to protect Harry if Lucius did lose his head.

With a sigh for his weakened state, Severus settled in to listen, petting Eirene's back and taking comfort from her warm, soft feathers.

Harry said in a cool, even tone, "Can I help you, Malfoy?"

"You'd best help me," Malfoy shot back. "Where is Severus? This isn't a matter for a mere boy."

"Severus is indisposed and—"

The floo roared again and boot heels clacked on the office floors. Had the idiot stepped through with no preamble? Shite. What had happened? Lucius was never so incautious.

"Damn it, boy, do you think I care about your lover's state of undress? I need help, and I am not going to let your prudish attitudes—"

A thud against the wall of the bedroom let Severus know that Harry's instincts had come to the fore and he had best get into the office immediately if he wanted to save his foolish spy's life. He gently lifted Eirene from his chest and sat to remove Zera—she gave him a reproachful look as she slithered away.

"I said he's indisposed," Harry snarled, "and if you think I'm going to let a traitorous little shite like you anywhere near him, you're deluded. Now, what in Merlin's name do you want?"

With his pets safely out of the way, Severus dragged himself to his feet, ignoring the pain, and silently Summoned a bathrobe to cover his bare torso. Out of morbid curiosity, he examined his stomach as he tugged on the robe, but the lack of new scarring shocked him. Sectumsempra always left scars, even from a glancing blow. Why had it healed without a mark this time?

Another thud came from the office, and Severus shoved that worry aside to deal with later. He had a murder to prevent.

"I need to speak with Severus, Potter! Do you think I would dare show my face here if it were not a matter of life or death? No one but you knows I am spying. They would kill me on sight!"

"And I will kill you if you dare step near Severus, so you had best tell me what the fuck you want already!"

Severus staggered into the office and winced. Harry had Lucius pinned against the wall by his throat. The young man's wings were fluttering with sheer anger and Lucius was turning whiter by the moment.

Gods. It was simply too early in the morning for such melodramatics.

Severus sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Lucius, if I were you, I would obey Harry before his instincts drive him to tear you to shreds."

Harry gasped and turned a snarl on his mate. "I told you, Pomfrey said you were not to get out of bed for two days!"

Severus wanted to roll his eyes, but with Harry in such an agitated state, he thought better of it. "And Poppy does not know we are in possession of a nighthawk. I am well enough to stand, beloved, though not well enough to fend off the aurors if you acquire a murder charge, so perhaps you might let our admittedly foolish spy breathe?"

Harry winced and loosened his grip on the man's throat, but did not release him. "You had best explain your presence here immediately, Malfoy. I am not in a patient mood."

"It's Draco," Lucius wheezed, clawing at his throat. "Please!"

Harry released the man, and Lucius sank to the floor like a stone, gasping and holding his throat.

"A-about … time," he gasped out.

"Don't test my patience," Harry snapped. "What about Draco?"

"The Dark Lord—gone. Took Draco hostage. Been gone for hours. I can't find him."

"So? Ferret boy is probably loving all the one-on-one arse kis—"

Lucius roared and leapt to his feet, and this time it was Harry pinned by his throat. "You bloody fool. Do you not understand me? He has Draco hostage. Alone, after you foiled him yet again. Do you imagine the Dark Lord will be in a mood for arse-kissing now, Potter?"

Harry winced. "No, but what do you want me to do about it, Malfoy? I tried to kill him last night, but I can't! I failed, okay? I'm just a boy and he … he's too much for me."

Malfoy growled and slammed Harry into the wall once more. "I don't care! H—"

Severus shot a warning spell in front of Lucius' nose. "Unhand my mate this instant, Lucius, or I will make sure your ancestors feel your punishment."

Lucius blinked, stunned, but dropped his hands. "I … he's my son, Severus. My only heir. I can't … please. Please do something."

Severus rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Harry is correct, Lucius. We have tried. We do not know how to kill Riddle, and without knowing where Draco is, I am afraid by the time we find him, it will most likely be too late to save him even if we had a viable plan. Indeed, it may already be too late."

"You promised me, Severus. Promised me …."

Severus winced, stung. "And I have done all I can to keep it. Without a way to—"

Lucius sank to his knees and held up his hands in supplication. "Please. Please help me. I am begging you. Please do not simply let him die."

"But, Malfoy," Harry said in a sad voice, "we don't know how—"

But Severus held up a hand to stop his mate's speech. Lucius' robes were in tatters, and the gesture of lifting his hands had revealed what Severus might have otherwise overlooked: his Dark Mark. The same mark Riddle had used to drain Severus and Rowle.

The mark that linked Lucius to Voldemort's innermost being.

Harry called, "Severus?"

"I know how to defeat him."

Harry's eyes widened. "What? How?"

Severus grabbed Malfoy's left wrist and held it up. "Our little spy is going to help us, aren't you?"

Harry gasped. "Bloody hell. The mark! I can get to him through the mark!"

"Exactly. So, Malfoy, are you willing to risk your life to save Draco?"

Tears flooded Malfoy's eyes. "Whatever it takes to save my son."

Hatred left Harry's eyes and grudging respect replaced it. "Then let's find a place to put you while I kill the sadistic bastard. Sev, you go lie down and don't get up again!"

Severus shook his head. "I am well enough with those potions you gave me, love. Besides, I have some unfinished business with dear Lucius."

Lucius stood and brushed off his robes, not that it mattered with the state they were in. "Business, Severus?"

Severus reared back and punched him across the jaw, sending Lucius flying into the wall opposite. With a growl, Severus moved over the stunned man and hauled him back to his feet.

"If you ever lay a hand on my mate again, I will personally ensure that Draco is the last heir you have."

Malfoy gulped and nodded, rubbing his jaw.

"Severus," said an exasperated Harry, "was that really necessary? You're injured."

"Absolutely necessary." Severus shoved Malfoy away with a sneer. "He threatened what is mine."

Harry sighed. "My hero. Just go lie down, Sev. Please. I'll take care of Malfoy."

Malfoy straightened, rubbing his bruised jaw and injured dignity. "Well, at least one of you is civilised."

Harry's grin was positively devious. "Oh, I wouldn't go that far." He smacked his palm against Lucius' forehead, and the man fell into a dead faint.

Severus frowned and toed the unconscious man. "What did you do to him?"

"Sleeping spell. Go lie down, Severus. Now."

"I cannot. Someone must contact the aurors and let them know that Draco is innocent and in danger."

Harry's jaw worked, but he sighed and waved him on after a moment. "Do you have a spare bedroom up here?"

Severus gave the castle his request. A door formed beside their bedroom, pushing aside some portraits and increasing the size of the room.

"We do now," said Severus. "There should be two beds in there. I will not allow you to share a bed with another man, not even for this."

"Sev, you can't possibly think I want to be anywhere near this sad excuse for a human being, can you?"

Severus smiled. "No, but I am afraid you will find me a rather possessive mate, my love. I do not share. At all."

"I like that, but I unfortunately have to at least be near the same bed to use his mark to kill Riddle." Harry sighed and used his foot to flop Malfoy onto his back. "I'm off to dream land, then. Wish me luck."

He pointed a finger at the unconscious man and flicked it skyward. Malfoy's body levitated awkwardly in the air before Harry. The young man didn't appear too concerned about whether Malfoy's limbs got banged up on the way to the bedroom, either. Severus smirked. Served the pompous bastard right.

Still, in case they were wrong about the link connecting to Voldemort, Severus didn't want Harry to actually kill the man.

Severus called, "Wait for me before you dream-walk, Harry. I would like to set up some safeguards."

Harry nodded and disappeared into the spare room behind the unconscious Malfoy. Severus rushed to call his doe as soon as he had gone. They had little time—Draco had already been with Riddle for upwards of three hours. If the boy was still living by the time Harry finished with Riddle, he would not remain so for long, not without help.

Severus asked his Patronus to retrieve Lily and Remus, then a second doe to seek the Order's aurors and sent them on their way. With the authorities thus notified, he Summoned a spare field kit, spelled a proper robe onto his body, and staggered after Harry as fast as his injuries would allow.