I know I said I wasn't really planning on a sequel to "Kept Behind," but a runaway plot bunny took hold of me while I was reading "Half-Blood Prince" and wouldn't leave me alone until I worked up a plot. This story pretty much picks up right where "Kept Behind" ended, so reading the previous story is an absolute must in order to understand what's going on here.
As a teaser, this story's going to have Harry discovering several new powers he acquired from his time as a disembodied spirit, and a very big problem for the Order that came into being from my own desperate attempt to explain away the horrible plot twist at the end of "Half-Blood Prince," which I absolutely refuse to accept at face value! If you've read HBP you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, it won't be of any direct importance to this fic. I just mention it because that was what first sparked the idea for this sequel. Again, there are no spoilers for book six in here, nor any direct relation to HBP's plot. Except for the whole horcrux thing... That was kind of weird reading about after I just finished writing "Kept Behind" if I do say so myself...
For those of you who are also reading my other fic "To Hell and Back," I'm still working on it, don't worry. The next chapter should be up soon!
Anyway, I hope I didn't scare anyone away with that lengthy opening...
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all associated characters belong to JK Rowling and Warner Bro Pictures, and are not mine, nor are they being used for profit in the telling of this story.
Chapter One: An Unexpected Arrival
A Daily Prophet Special Report
After almost two weeks of utter silence concerning the fate of the famous Boy-Who-Lived , Harry Potter was spotted today in Diagon Alley, London. After receiving numerous reports of Potter sightings by Alley patrons, Special Correspondent Rita Skeeter was first reporter on the scene. Apparently shopping for new school supplies for the upcoming year, Harry Potter was spotted in Flourish and Blotts bookshop, very much alive and well despite rumors he had been killed two weeks ago in a fatal car accident in Muggle London.
When asked where he had been for the past two weeks, Potter refused to answer and replied with a, "no comment," before being hurried away by several of his fellow students.
Rumors abound as to what actually happened after the alleged car accident the week before.
"I saw Dumbledore come into the Leaky Cauldron carrying Harry Potter in his arms," says one Leaky Cauldron patron who was in the pub the day of Potter's supposed accident. "He looked dead. I mean, I've seen people unconscious or sleeping before, but that kid really looked dead. I've never seen Dumbledore look like the way he did either. He looked like You-Know-Who just overran the Ministry and declared himself Minister of Magic."
Albus Dumbledore is another public figure that has made himself scarce for comment these past two weeks. Despite virtual information blackout at the Ministry concerning Potter's whereabouts and well-being, Dumbledore remains elusive and tight-lipped with details about Potter's supposed accident and death.
"Dumbledore was probably behind this whole thing," said Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, when asked for information concerning Potter's disappearance. "I wouldn't put it past him to kidnap the boy so he could take him back to Hogwarts and brainwash him while he says the boy was in some kind of accident. After all, we all know how mentally unstable the boy already is after that big fuss he made last June about You-Know-Who coming back. Dumbledore even had the audacity to send a letter to the Ministry saying Potter was fine and in his care, but when I demanded to see him to make sure he was alright and not having his mind filled with stories of Dark Lords and whatnot, he refused to let me see the boy. I am currently petitioning the Wizengamot that Dumbledore be censured and taken off the board of governors for his blatant obstruction in a Ministry investigation."
Albus Dumbledore, as before stated, remains unavailable for comment to these allegations of kidnaping and obstruction by the Minister of Magic...
Hermione trailed off from her reading and looked up from the paper to Harry and Ron, who were all sitting around her on Harry's bed in number twelve Grimmauld Place. The article just went on for another page and a half with more background information about Harry's accident that had already been reported a hundred times within the past two weeks in almost every Wizarding publication in England.
She slowly folded the Daily Prophet in half and set it aside on the bedcover.
"It's amazing how much attention you get for just going out and buying a new set of spell books," she said.
Harry snorted and leaned back against the headboard of the bed. "Yeah, well, after all that trash people kept saying the other week, I'm surprised I actually made it out of Diagon Alley alive. I thought people would get tired of mobbing me by now, but I guess I was wrong. That Rita Skeeter almost took my head off when she first saw me. For awhile there, I thought I was going to have to use a strong Repelling Charm to get her to leave me alone. Too bad Mrs. Weasley couldn't get my school supplies for me when she went to get them for you guys the other week..."
"Well, you really can't blame people for wondering what happened to you, Harry," Hermione said. "You have to admit, you getting hit by that car was really shocking. No one knew where you were or if any of those rumors you were dead were true. It was real chaos there for awhile – especially with Dumbledore refusing to tell anyone where you were or what actually happened."
"Well, it wasn't like he could actually tell them where I was," Harry argued. "Otherwise, he would've been giving away the location of the Order's Headquarters. If people knew I had actually been attacked by a Death Eater and turned into a ghost, I wouldn't be able to go anywhere. They'd start calling me the Boy-Who-Came-Back-From-The-Dead! Plus, if I had to try and explain what happened, it would raise a lot of dangerous questions about how I got back – like about Snape spying for Dumbledore, the Order, Sirius... It's just too dangerous to let anyone outside the Order know what actually happened..."
"But, Harry, you actually died!" Hermione exclaimed. "If Dumbledore hadn't been able to find a way to get you back, don't you think he would have eventually had to tell people what happened to you? You aren't exactly someone that can disappear without anyone noticing..."
"I know that, but that doesn't mean people have to pounce on me like that and start poking me to see if I'm still alive or not," Harry muttered.
Hermione gave a soft sigh. "I understand that, Harry. I'm not saying people have any right to mob you in public places like that, it's just that... You actually died..." Hermione looked down at the bedcover and seemed to become lost in her own thoughts. A distant look glazed over her eyes. "You were so lucky. We almost lost you... That must have been so scary... Being alone like that with no one else able to see or hear you..."
"Not as scary, I bet, as having to spend all that time with Snape," Ron broke in. "That must have been really horrible, mate."
Harry didn't say anything for a moment. "It wasn't that bad..." he murmured.
Ron snorted. "Yeah, assuming you knew you didn't have to spend the rest of your days following Snape around as some kind of ghost. I'm surprised he actually helped you. I would've definitely thought he'd ignore you or at least try and bottle your soul as some kind of ingredient for one of his potions."
"Ronald!" Hermione exclaimed. "Professor Snape helped get Harry's soul back into his body. I think we should thank him for what he did."
Ron rolled his eyes. "Yeah, whatever. He was probably only helping Harry so he could get something out of it for himself."
Hermione sighed and shook her head in helpless frustration.
Harry, meanwhile, remained quiet and said nothing. He didn't want to get involved with this conversation. Even now – over two weeks after his frightening ordeal as a disembodied spirit – he still didn't know how he felt about Snape. At times he wondered if it all hadn't been some kind of weird dream. But then he'd feel a painful twinge go through his still tender, healing ribs and be forced to remember his encounter with McCourn and unexpected misadventure with Snape. Looking back on it all from the comfort and safety of his friend's company in his godfather's house, he sometimes wondered how he survived those two frightening, uncertain days.
"So, Harry," Ron suddenly said, breaking Harry out of his thoughts, "you never did tell us: how in the world did you get stuck with Snape of all people as your... whatever you call it – that person that had to help you when you did that spell?"
"An Acolyte?" Harry supplied.
Harry hesitated. He'd already told Ron and Hermione much about what happened with Snape, but he wasn't sure he wanted to share that tiny detail about just how he and Snape had been forced to work together. Somehow having his last dying thought being about Snape and his summer Potion's essay made him a little embarrassed to share such a thing with his friends.
But luckily, just at that moment, Harry was saved by Mrs. Weasley calling up the stairs to them. "Children! Time for lunch!"
Taking that opportunity for all it was worth, Harry popped up from the bed and hurried for the door. "Coming!" he yelled.
Ron and Hermione stared after him with confused expressions.
"You hungry or something, mate?" Ron said. "Usually it's me that's first off in running for meals."
"Er... yeah, that must be it." Harry mumbled. He could feel his face beginning to warm in embarrassment.
Ron and Hermione exchanged dubious glances, but didn't press the matter anymore. Getting up, they followed Harry out the door, and together the three of them made their way downstairs towards the basement.
As they were carefully tiptoing past Mrs. Black's portrait in the hallway, they came across Fred, George, and Ginny coming out of the front parlor to go down to lunch too. Upon seeing Harry, George gave a mock cry of fear and jumped backwards.
"Ah! A ghost! Fred, help me!" he cried, pretending to swoon with fright against his brother.
Fred made a show of catching his twin and righting him before he could fall. "Geez, Harry, you should watch out. You almost scared George half to death. Can't you find some other way to have fun instead of scaring other people like that? I know if I had been a ghost I would use the situation to its fullest extent too, but this is just starting to get ridiculous..."
"Stop it, you guys," Ginny scolded, though a small smile pulled at her lips. "Leave Harry alone. You shouldn't make fun of what happened to him."
"Oh, come on, Ginny," George said, giving Harry a friendly slap on the back. "We're just having fun. Harry knows we're just joking."
"Yeah, you can't go through life being so serious," Fred seconded. "We would've only had to be serious if Harry hadn't been able to get back in one piece. But since he's fine now, we can make fun of him as much as we want."
"Thanks, guys," Harry sarcastically murmured.
"No problem, Harry. Just don't go walking though any walls while Fred and I are working on our experiments," George said. "We don't want to be scared so bad by a ghostly apparition of yourself that we accidently blow up half of Headquarters."
"You really shouldn't be doing that," Hermione said. "If your mother found out you're still making those joke toys of yours–"
"Children! Hurry up! Food's getting cold!" Mrs. Weasley's sharp voice rang from the basement.
"Hermione, be quiet!" Fred hissed, leaping forward to cover her mouth with his hand. "Mum might hear you."
Hermione wrestled her face free of Fred and glared at him. "Well, it'd serve you right if she caught you," she said, spearing the twins with a stern look that would have made Professor McGonagall proud. Then turning on her heels, she started for the basement stairs. "If you want to keep doing your experiments, that's fine, but if your mother ever asks me if you're still doing them, I'm not going to lie for you," she called back over her shoulder before disappearing down the stairs.
Fred, George, Ron, Harry and Ginny all stared after her.
"Well that was uncalled for..." George muttered under his breath.
"At least she said she wouldn't tell on us unless Mum actually asks," Fred said.
A worried look passed between the twins.
"We should probably hurry up and get down there before Mum gets to talk to Hermione alone..." George whispered.
Fred nodded in agreement, and before Harry, Ron, and Ginny could say anything, the two disappeared with a loud pop.
"I wish they'd stop doing that..." Ginny murmured. "Mum's starting to get annoyed with them Apparating everywhere. Ever since they passed their Apparition test, it's like they're incapable of walking anywhere like normal people."
Ron and Harry snickered. Somehow the thought of the twins ever acting like normal people – even by Wizarding standards – was a complete joke in and of itself.
"Come on, let's go. I'm hungry," Ron said. Harry and Ginny nodded, and the three of them headed downstairs.
The basement of number twelve Grimmauld Place was a large, dark, roughhewn room built almost like a dungeon under the ominous Black mansion. A slight chill hung in the air, but since it was near the end of August, the cold was a welcome relief from the summer heat. Pots and pans hung from the ceiling and a long wooden table took up most of the middle of the room.
Already sitting there at the table they found Hermione, Fred, George, and Sirius. Mrs. Weasley was busying herself at the stove.
"Hey, Harry, we were just starting to wonder where you guys were," Sirius called when he saw the last three kids come down the stairs.
"We were just talking in the hall," Harry replied as he took a seat next to his godfather at the table.
Sirius nodded. "So I was thinking after lunch we'd start cleaning the drawing room. Molly says there's a whole infestation of doxies in the curtains."
"Sure," Harry said. Though cleaning was not high on his favorite-things-to-do list, he was happy to do anything that let him spend time with his godfather and friends – even if that meant spending an afternoon ridding the Black family mansion of doxies and its other unwanted pests.
"You might want to check the writing desk while you're up there too," Mrs. Weasley said as she laid a lunch of cold meats, cheeses, and bread out on the table for them. "I think there might be a boggart inside."
"No problem," Sirius said as he, Harry, and the others started in on the food. "We'll get Mad-Eye to look at it too just in case there's something worse in there. Knowing my mother, it could be anything..."
Light banter and talk filled the basement as they ate their lunch. But then, just as they were starting in on seconds, the fireplace on the other side of the room flared green and the black robed figure of Severus Snape stepped out into the room.
All talk immediately ceased and a tense silence filled the room.
"Is Dumbledore here?" Snape demanded, scanning the table with dark, penetrating eyes. "I must speak with him immediately and he's not at Hogwarts."
"He's upstairs in the library," Sirius said, making a conscious show of picking at some cheese on his plate with a fork so he wouldn't have to meet the Potion Master's gaze.
Snape however seemed just as uneager as Sirius to engage in conversation, and swept towards the stairs without even a second glance back at the table.
Harry stared after Snape as the Potions master disappeared up the stairs. Ever since his misadventure as a disembodied spirit, Snape and Sirius' previous hostility towards one another had changed to a tense, unspoken truce. It was like they had agreed to just ignore each other rather than acknowledge each other's presence outside of a professional, fellow-Order member courtesy.
Snape's decision to ignore Sirius, however, seemed to have also carried over onto Harry. Whenever Snape was in the house for a meeting or to speak to Dumbledore, it was like he specifically went out of his way to avoid the teenage Gryffindor. The way he avoided meeting Harry's eyes – or even looking in his direction – when he first entered the room confirmed Harry's already lingering suspicions of that...
The sound of the basement door closing behind Snape at the top of the stairs reverberated through the silence that still hung in the Potion Master's wake.
For a moment, no one moved or said anything. But then, like the passing of some ominous storm cloud from overhead, the first tentative voice broke the silence.
"Is it me, or does he remind you of the Grim Reaper?" George said.
"George!" Mrs. Weasley scolded, though no one seemed to pay her any mind.
"You got that right..." Fred murmured in agreement, picking his half-eaten turkey sandwich back up for another bite. "That man is just downright scary..."
"How did you stand being alone with him for so long, Harry?" George asked, turning on the quiet teenager. "That must have been really weird..."
"Yeah, did you find out any dark and interesting facts about Snape the general population of Hogwarts doesn't know about?" Fred eagerly joined in.
Harry could feel everyone staring at him, waiting for him to answer. He knew they wanted him to give them some kind of dirt on the brooding Potions master, but the truth was, Harry wasn't sure what he really thought about Snape anymore. Too much had happened in the last two weeks for him to really believe Snape was the evil, cold-hearted man he once thought he was. There was something more to Snape Harry couldn't quite put his finger on. Something that still remained a mystery to him...
"Um – No, no, nothing..." Harry lamely murmured, refusing to meet anyone else's eyes. "I really didn't get a chance to spend that much time with him..."
Fred and George looked particularly disappointed by Harry's answer.
"Come on, Harry," George begged. "There's got to be something you can tell us!"
"Boys, leave Harry alone and finish up with your lunch – we have the drawing room to start on," Mrs. Weasley sharply ordered, once again saving Harry from more uncomfortable questions.
The twins gave their mother a disgruntled look, but left Harry alone nevertheless.
Conversations slowly picked up where they'd been left off when Snape came in, and everyone went back to their lunch. But as Fred and George began sending small cubes of cheese flying at Ron while Hermione ducked under the table to avoid being hit, and Ginny and Sirius laughed as Mrs. Weasley tried to restore order, Harry continued to thoughtfully stare up the stairs after Snape.
Even though it was midday, the Black family house was gloomy and dark. Shadows seemed to seep from the very walls themselves and paint the air in varying shades of black and grey. Snape nevertheless navigated the halls with ease. He was used to dark and foreboding places. They had become part of the mystique he'd adopted since his earliest days at Hogwarts as a young, outcast boy trying to make a reputation for himself. Unfortunately, his reputation for being associated with things of a darker nature seemed to have carried over into his adult life – and more than Snape really liked to admit. There were not moments when he secretly didn't wish he could leave all the secrets and shadows behind and live a normal life in the light.
But Snape did not dwell on these thoughts as he made his way towards the Black family library. He had long ago accepted the consequences of his choices and resigned himself to the life he now led. There was no way for him to change the past or who he was now. All he could do was do the best he could to make up for his past mistakes, and hope he made no more. And he was determined to do so by helping Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix defeat Lord Voldemort.
Even if it killed him...
Snape finally came to the door of the library. With only a precursory knock to announce he was coming in, Snape entered.
The Black library was a vast, dark room filled with rows upon rows of tall, heavy bookshelves groaning under the weight of countless books ranging from topics as mundane as care for magical plants to tomes of Dark magic that wouldn't have even been allowed in the restricted section of Hogwarts. And it was in this room of dusty volumes and ancient knowledge that Severus Snape found Albus Dumbledore.
The old headmaster slowly looked up from the book he was browsing and gave the Potions master a nod of greetings. "Hello, Severus. To what do I owe the pleasure of this unexpected visit?"
Snape wasted no time and immediately launched into the reason for his presence. "Tonight, Dumbledore. The Dark Lord plans to attack Azkaban tonight. An hour ago I felt the Dark Mark begin to burn. That's the signal for his servants to prepare for the attack."
Dumbledore slowly replaced the book he'd been reading back on the shelf and leveled troubled eyes on Snape. "So Voldemort's finally rescheduled his attack on Azkaban then, has he?" he whispered. "I'd thought he would have waited at least a little bit longer before he renewed his plans to free his other followers..."
Snape scowled in reply. "He seems to think the Ministry is still in enough upheaval from Potter's accident to make a successful strike. He was incensed when he first heard Potter was still alive and had to abandon his plans. But he's since redoubled his efforts to see that Azkaban falls. Lucius Malfoy is to lead the attack."
Dumbledore sighed and tugged his beard. "I will inform the Order immediately then. We must prepare for a counterattack. Do you know when the attack is suppose to be?"
"Not for certain, but I can only assume sometime around midnight," Snape replied.
Dumbledore nodded thoughtfully. For a moment he stood there in silence, staring at Snape with troubled blue eyes. "Do you think Voldemort suspects you had anything to do with Harry's return?" he finally asked after a lengthy pause, putting to voice the fear that'd been slowly growing in the back of his mind for the past two weeks.
Snape's usually impassive dark features mirrored Dumbledore's own apprehension. "I don't know for sure. As I said before, the Dark Lord's anger was without bounds when he heard Potter was still alive. There were few that escaped his wrath those first couple of days... He questioned me about my false report, but I told him that I had been mistaken about his death, and that when you brought Potter back to Hogwarts it was only for him to recover under the school nurse's care instead of leaving him in a Muggle hospital."
"And did he believe it?" Dumbledore asked.
Snape did not immediately answer. "He was suspicious... Especially after Potter's wand went missing after McCourn gave it to him as a trophy..."
"What did you say?" Dumbledore persisted.
"I said nothing," Snape replied with a scoff. "Voldemort questioned everyone that was at the meeting that night to find out what happened to it. He even went so far as to Legilimens several of his servants, but he never actually found out what happened to it..."
Dumbledore smirked. "Lucky for us you are a master Occlumens..."
"That and the only other man that actually knows what happened to Potter's wand that night being dead..." Snape snarkly added.
Dumbledore nodded. "Yes, yes... It is most unfortunate the way McCourn met the end he did..."
Snape snorted. "Somehow I don't believe you actually mean that. He died trying to kill me. I feel no remorse for him or the way he died... If anything, he deserved what he got..."
Dumbledore tilted his head to the side. "It's true McCourn was guilty of many crimes... I suppose that old Muggle saying 'those who live by the sword die by the sword' was proven true... It was just lucky Harry was there to repel McCourn's Killing Curse..."
Snape's face instantly darkened. "It was Potter's fault I was being attacked by a Killing Curse in the first place," he scowled. "That boy has a notorious habit of getting everyone else around him killed."
Dumbledore chuckled softly under his breath. "Yes... Bad luck always does seem to follow Harry wherever he goes... Luckily though, he always has someone else to look out for him..."
Snape, however, didn't seem to share Dumbledore's amusement.
"Potter's little misadventure might have just jeopardized my position as a spy, Dumbledore," he said, leveling a dark look at the old headmaster. "I may have helped Potter get his soul back, but he might have just ruined my chances of spying on the Dark Lord for much longer. The Dark Lord is not stupid and will begin to suspect my involvement."
"You're right, Severus," Dumbledore said, becoming serious. "You're in a very dangerous position now. You must take extra caution about what you say and do from now on while in Lord Voldemort or any one else's presence. We will leave you where you are for now, but the moment you begin to feel as though Voldemort or any of his other Death Eaters are onto you, you are to leave immediately and return to Headquarters. We can protect you here should you ever be discovered. But until that time, I can only ask that you continue your work as a spy."
"I've already accepted the risks involved with being a spy, Dumbledore," Snape said. "I'm not going to stop now."
Dumbledore nodded his head gratefully. "Thank you, Severus. Your services are invaluable to the Order."
Snape said nothing but inclined his head in silent acceptance of Dumbledore's recognition.
"Where do you plan to be tonight during the attack?" Dumbledore then asked, studying the Potion master in the dim grey light of the room.
"To not rise suspicions, I will probably have to be in the Dark Lord's company," Snape replied, a look of revulsion passing over his face. "He will want those not directly involved in the attack with him..."
Dumbledore nodded. "Very well. You will probably be better placed near Voldemort anyway. We cannot risk you being anywhere near Azkaban during the counterattack; you are already in a dangerous position. We can't have your position as a spy compromised anymore than it already is..."
Snape nodded and turned back towards the door. "You will inform the Order?" he said, looking back over his shoulder.
Dumbledore nodded. "Yes. I'll contact Moody and Shacklebolt to have them inform other Aurors at Azkaban immediately. Don't worry, Severus; we'll be ready for them."
Snape accepted this with another nod and started for the door, his black robes billowing behind him.
Staring after the departing Potions master, Dumbledore softly called after him, "Good luck, Severus."
Snape paused on the doorway and looked back at Dumbledore. Then with one last nod, he disappeared from sight, not knowing his luck was about to run out...
To Be Continued...
Like it? Hate it? Still not quite sure because the plot line really hasn't picked up yet?
Have no fear, things will be picking up next chapter. Danger looms on the horizon for Snape and everyone else in the Order...
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