Author's Note:

I suppose I should explain myself.

I started writing this fic 5 years ago, right after the Half-Blood Prince came out. I was incredibly lonely that summer, and thought it would be fun. According to the reviews, it was fun for everyone else as well! But I went to school, and became much less lonely, and more importantly had other things to do with my time, and ended up never finishing this fic.

That is going to change, starting now. I've been inspired by Mark Reads Harry Potter (google it; it's someone who is reading Harry Potter for the first time all the way through) and he's put out a call to fanfic. Well, I think this fanfic is pretty damn good, particularly when you consider I wrote most of it (and plotted out the whole thing) when the 7th book wasn't out. So here we are. I'm updating. If you're still interested in it after 5 long years, you have nothing but my humble thanks. If you're new, pretend that the 7th book isn't out yet and no release date has been set and you've just watched Dumbledore die and you need to know what happens next. Anything revealed in book 7 isn't part of this fic. This is my version.

Note: This fic is obviously not for profit. It is for fun. I don't own any of the characters or other trademarked stuff in it. Obviously.

Privet Drive was quiet, a well-lighted suburban community. It was night, on Privet Drive, and the streetlamps were lit brightly, as if to assure the inhabitants of each house that they were totally safe, despite the grim mood of the country. Terrorist attacks, they were being called, these horrible killings, terrorist attacks by an unknown party, though certain elements told that they were from a hitherto unheard of entity, using curious and downright incredible means. Only one person on Privet Drive knew otherwise, and he was fast asleep.

A cat yowled and ran off as there were suddenly three people on Privet Drive who understood this new breed of "terrorist." A finger clicked, and clicked, and the light from all the streetlamps dimmed and faded away.

"This way," a voice whispered, and the gentle swish of fabric preceded them. The hem of the robes on two figures-both in black-rustled the dew on the grass. A faint sob emerged from one covered face. "Silence," the other commanded. They moved, the taller of the two pushing the other with a firm, pale hand. The second, shorter and bent, allowed itself to be buffeted to the door of number four on the street. A sort of stick emerged from the arm of the cloak that was not holding the bent form that now leaned heavily against the door.

"Straighten up." The wand-for a wand it was-tapped the lock. The door clicked open, and the door swung shut behind them.

Within the house, all was quiet. The taller figure revealed his head, black hair that appeared unwashed, and a face frigtheningly pale.

"Remove your cloak, Draco," the man said quietly. Draco obeyed, face still tilted to the floor.

"Professor Snape," Draco mumured in a slightly shaking voice. "Where are we?"

Snape waved his wand over his head and appeared to be pointing it through the ceiling at things. "The safest place I know. Dumbledore himself made sure." He lowered his wand. "It would be far easier to just kill you."

"You're a Death Eater, sir. Why don't you." Draco's voice was still a low and tremulous whisper.

"Get upstairs," Snape snapped in disgust.

Upstairs-Snape seemed to know the way-they found their way to a boy's room. There, lying in a disheveled bed, was a sleeping form that each knew.

"Here?" Draco asked emptily, as if he hoped desperately that Snape were joking. "How am I safe here?"

"It's safer than failing the Dark Lord," Snape snarled.

Draco began to pant, his eyes darting around the room. "What . . . does the Dark Lord do to those who . . . who . . ."

"Fail him?" Snape smiled unpleasantly. "The Cruciatus Curse is considered the merciful turn of his wand. And he can always use another Infieri." Snape twirled his wand once casually around a finger.

"He- He hates me, Professor," Draco stuttered weakly. "Potter despises me."

"Don't be so hasty, Draco," Snape drawled. His eyes narrowed, and he surveyed the sleeping young man. "He'll be too busy trying to get at me to bother with you, if you really think it will come to that." Snape held his lit wand aloft to get a closer look, making sure of the scar across the forehead. "And don't forget that he did see. He saw that you failed." He moved silently, dodging piles of books and Muggle clothing, toward the side of the bed. He gestured with his wand, muttering, "Muffliato." Then, Snape leaned close and felt the breath rushing in and out of the boy's nose. "Wake up, Potter."

The body stirred, but didn't move.

Impatience suffused Snape's face, and he snarled "Aguamenti," and water poured onto Harry.

Two luminous green eyes opened and slid into focus on the close face of Snape. Harry spluttered, his hand groping for a wand while his other fist lashed out, reaching to hit him.

"Gonna . . . gonna . . . wand," Harry panted blearily.

"You'll do nothing of the sort. Acciowand." It flew obediently to his hand, and Snape tucked it away into his robes. "If I wanted to kill you, Potter, I could. If I wanted to capture you and hand you to the Dark Lord, I could. Are you awake enough to understand that?"

Harry replied with an attempt to kick Snape's wand hand. Snape responded with a quick spell, and Harry quickly recognized the nonverbal levicorpus that he himself had used so recently. Upside-down, Harry began shouting. "Too cowardly to fight an armed opponent, then, Snivellus?"

Snape let Harry drop to the floor and was on him in an instant, foot pressing onto his throat. "Never . . ." the foot ground closer, "never call me a coward." He held him there for a moment, and then lifted his foot and took a step back, allowing the boy room to breathe.

Harry choked and gasped for a few moments, then stood up slowly. "Why are you here, then?Just to gloat? Kill me? Take me to your master?"

Snape's eyes narrowed at the childhood taunt. "I'm here to do you a favor and offer you something useful."

"Oh. Favors. Fantastic. Last favor you did me ended up a disaster. Occlumency, you may recall, is not my strong suit." Harry's voice became closer, lower, more pained. "Only reason I went was for Dumbledore. Only reason I bothered respecting you at all was Dumbledore. But you took care of that."

"As touching as this little encounter is, you'll have to pardon my need to interrupt you. You haven't quite realized who . . . and what . . . I have brought you."

Harry waited in silence, face and eyes blank, in shadow.

"Draco . . ." Snape called softly.

Draco stood like he was boneless, as if the will in Snape's words were the only things holding him up.

"Draco no longer wishes to be a Death Eater," Snape said.

"I know."

"Do you, now?"

"Yes." Harry's eyes flicked over to Draco's cloak. "I was there. I saw everything."

Draco looked up for a second, daring to hope.

"Then you understand why he must hide," Snape said.


"And you are willing to help him?"

Harry looked around his room, barely seeing through his fury at Snape's audacity. "Some favor. Maybe." He chuckled faintly. "He'll like my aunt and uncle."

Snape opened his cloak and removed a large flask. Snape moved to the bed and, after running his spidery hands through the sheets, found a hair and placed it in the flask. "Polyjuice, for Draco. He can hide as you, and you may begin your search."

Harry tried not to jolt. How much had Dumbledore told Snape before . . . before . . . "What search," Harry asked cautiously.

"Don't play stupid, boy. The Horcruxes. I can help you, Potter. As much as I dislike it, I am still bound . . ."

"Bound? Bound to the man you murdered?" Harry's voice had gone up in voice and pitch, and he laughed tinnily. "What, did he make you sign something? Take some blood? Take you into a contract that even your greasy, slimy, murdering mind couldn't find it's way out of?"

Snape's hand tightened on his own wand, and he pointed it at Harry. "No, Potter. Recall: I could kill you if I wanted to."

"Do it, then."

They stood there in the darkness, frozen, for a long minute. The numbers flipped over on Harry's digital clock. Snape slowly lowered his wand.

Harry watched his eyes, but there was only blank emptiness there. Nothing to tell him if Snape was telling the truth or spinning a new web of lies.

"Draco will pose as you, here, safe, while you can come with me. I will help you as far as I can to find the horcruxes and destroy them." Snape's words were uttered with more distaste than Harry had ever heard. "I know more about the Dark Lord than you ever will, and you'll die before you manage to get your hands on even one if you do it by yourself, with your incompetent friends." Snape removed Harry's wand from his pocket and placed it on Harry's bed. "If you're going to try to kill me, do so now and stop wasting my time."

Harry didn't move a muscle toward his bed. "Why d'you need me? Can't you do it alone?"

"I have promised to protect you." His tone was inscrutable.

"You killed Dumbledore, do you honestly think-"

Snape waved his hand dismissively. "Trust me or don't, Potter. I would prefer that Draco were safe here and that you were helping me complete this task, but if your distrust and selfishness run so deep-"

"What are you playing at, then?" Harry roared suddenly. "You got my parents killed, too. Is that not enough? Haven't you done enough to me? What more do you want?"

The silence stretched out again, long and sinuous, snakelike, before them. Harry wondered idly about Occlumency, and used the time to let his mind empty of his anger, his hurt, his memories. His mind faded into white noise. He heard three breaths, all at different rates; three hearts, beating the same.

"Either help Draco or do not," Snape said finally. "If you tell me to leave you now, Potter, Draco will die, and you'll never see my face again." He pointed to the wand. "Come with me, and I will lead you to the Dark Lord and help you destroy him. The choice is yours."