This is the last chapter of Saving Connor, in which the first school year concludes. Once again, this is not the end of the whole story. I'm going to take a few days' break, and then begin the AU of CoS, No Mouth But Some Serpent's, on Monday. (If you want to confirm this title, or any other, just look at my bio). I love writing this too much to give it up.
Review responses for chapter 19 will be in my LJ in a short while. I'm also going to start posting chapters of Saving Connor there, since I got an e-mail informing me that some people can't access it on this site, but all the stories will still be posted here first unless I'm forced to remove them.
Many, many thanks to the reviewers, who are part of why I've had such fun. I hope this last chapter, while it may infuriate you, will keep you reading on to the second year.Chapter Twenty: Truth
Harry knew that Hagrid had found them, and he knew that Hagrid had sent Neville running to the castle when Connor babbled out some version of the past hour involving "Voldemort" and "snake," and he knew that Connor was safe; he would not have been able to sleep if Connor wasn't safe.
But he didn't remember falling asleep, or falling unconscious, or whatever he had done to wind up being carried in Hagrid's arms back to the castle.
"What?" he mumbled. He twisted, and then hissed as the broken rib, or whatever it was, pierced his side.
"It's all right, Harry," Hagrid said, holding him more firmly. "Yer brother told me what happened. You-Know-Who and all." He shivered, a shiver that shook Harry, and which he rode out with all the stoicism he could muster. "We'll soon get yeh to Dumbledore, and he can heal yeh, and then—"
"Where are you going with my student?"
Harry started, then moaned despite himself as that caused the pain to work deeper. Of course. Snape. Snape would have gotten irritated when Harry didn't show up for their training session, and then probably resolved to look for him. Harry had expected to receive a berating about it the next day, since no excuse he made up for missing the faux duel would be good enough for the professor. He certainly hadn't thought Snape would look outside, nor that he would come upon them like this.
"You leave him alone!" said Connor's fierce voice, before Hagrid could say anything. Twisting his head, Harry saw his brother get in between him and the Potions professor, hands clenched. He would probably be all but spitting as he said the words, though Harry couldn't see his expression. His eyes would be flashing. "He stood up for me in the forest, when Voldemort showed his true face, and—"
"Give him to me."
Harry felt Hagrid hold him closer. "He's bad hurt, Professor Snape," the half-giant said. "Vomitin' blood before I picked him up. I think Dumbledore ough' ter see to him—"
"No. Not yet. Escort Mr. Potter to the Headmaster. I am sure that he will want to know what happened," said Snape. "In the meantime, I will take care of his brother." Harry managed to turn his head enough to see that Snape was actually holding out his arms, which made him want to laugh hysterically. Even more than that, though, he was sure that he wanted to stay with Connor.
"Professor Snape," he croaked, "really, you don't need to. Connor might need—"
He coughed, then, and felt the stabbing pain go deeper, and then he couldn't stop coughing. Blood stained the front of his robe. He felt his eyes roll back in his head, and heard a tight voice saying, "Don't be an idiot, Potter, I have potions that will take care of this," and then he was passed over.
Connor's hand briefly touched his forehead. "Stay safe, Harry," he whispered, with the first touch of fear in his voice since they'd left Voldemort's clearing. "I'll see you soon."
Harry tried to say that he didn't want to stay safe, he wanted to go with Connor, and then Snape bore him off. The professor walked more smoothly than Hagrid. Harry gritted his teeth and closed his eyes, concentrating on not coughing again. He didn't want Snape to have more opportunities to attack him.
"What did this to you?"
Harry opened his eyes, but could see little, since they were already back in Hogwarts and moving through dim corridors at a rapid pace—and he had his head pressed into Snape's shoulder besides. Annoyed, he tried to sit up, but the stupid agony in his ribs wouldn't let him. He decided to answer the question, though. The sooner he did, the sooner Snape could heal him and he would be able to rejoin Connor.
And if he's so concerned about healing me, why isn't he taking me to the hospital wing, anyway?
"The Cruciatus Curse," he whispered. He felt Snape make a small motion, though he could not tell if it was of fear or disgust or only remembered pain. As a Death Eater, he would certainly have used the curse, and been subjected to it. No one had ever claimed that Voldemort was sane in the last year of his power.
Snape bore him through a familiar door, and into his office. He shifted Harry in his arms, muttered a spell, and Transfigured one of his chairs into a divan. Down Harry went, and then Snape whirled and strode across the room, searching for something in the racks of potions against the far wall.
Harry watched him from hazy eyes. Snape was intent, frowning, and a moment later he snatched two vials, one of them filled with a purple liquid and one with a clear one, and came back. Harry licked his lips nervously. Snape had no special wish to see him die—Harry would have felt much more uneasy if he was taking care of Connor—but he was James's son, and Snape really should have taken him to Pomfrey.
"Drink this," Snape ordered him, holding the vial of purple liquid out.
Harry took it, eyed it in resignation, and then swallowed the liquid.
His breathing eased at once, and a spreading warmth swallowed the pain in his side. When he coughed again, only ordinary spittle came out. Harry sighed as a tremor in his limbs that he'd barely noticed ceased, and he even managed a smile at Snape. "Thank you, sir."
"What happened out in the Forest?" Snape walked over to the fireplace and called a house elf before Harry could answer, ordering a goblet of pumpkin juice. He indicated the clear liquid when Harry started questioningly at him. "This one must be taken when mixed into a drink. That does not mean that you have to gape at me like a witless idiot until the drink arrives, Potter."
Harry shut his mouth. "Connor defeated Voldemort, sir."
"As he defeated the troll, and the Lestranges," said Snape. "As he caught the Snitch in our match with Gryffindor. Of course he did."
Harry stiffened, then winced; his muscles still ached, although the worst consequences of the Crucio must be almost gone. He was thinking back on his victories earlier in the year, though, with a trace of regret. If he had hidden them better, then Connor would not have been under suspicion, and Snape would have had no reason to think that Harry was telling other than the truth.
Of course, Harry thought, as he met Snape's eyes stubbornly, it would also help if I didn't have a bloody suspicious git of a Head of House.
"He did, sir," he said quietly. "Voldemort was hiding—attached somehow, I don't know how—to the back of Professor Quirrell's head. Quirrell tried to touch Connor, and he started burning. Voldemort detached himself to save his own life, and then blew away over the Forest."
"All of which says nothing about why you have suffered the Crucio," Snape noted, almost clinically. A house elf appeared, carrying a tray on which the goblet of pumpkin juice was prominently displayed. Snape took it; the house elf bowed and disappeared. As he mixed the potion into the juice, the professor never removed his eyes from Harry. "Or why you have enough power to kill four experienced Aurors raging around your body."
"Everything happened the way I told you, sir," Harry protested.
Snape sneered at him, then strode over and handed him the goblet of pumpkin juice. Harry downed it without protesting. It was probably something to make him sleep, and while that would further separate him from Connor for a time, it would also stop Snape asking him questions, so Harry was all for it.
He blinked when he had finished the juice. It eased the pain in his body even further, but it seemed to do that by making him not concentrate on it. He stared at the goblet, and nearly let it fall. Snape plucked it from his hands and set it on the desk, then swooped down in front of Harry and stared into his face.
"I have had enough of your excuses," he whispered. "I know that you are not telling me the whole truth. Now I intend to leave you no choice." He paused, for a long moment, and then a malicious smile spread across his face. "That was Veritaserum that you just swallowed, Potter."
Harry failed to grasp the implications for a long moment. The Veritaserum was making him think about other things—
Then he understood.
And the slight trust he'd carefully built up in Snape, through their dueling sessions and the tasks Snape had handed him in Potions if nothing else, vanished into a howling whirlwind of betrayal.
Harry fought. He tried to stand, tried to move away, tried to argue. He couldn't. All his motion was in his head. He floated there, and watched Snape's mouth open with indifference, at the same time as his magic strained to get at the Potions professor.
"Why were you outside, Potter?"
"I learned from Hermione last week that Connor would be serving a detention tonight in the Forbidden Forest," said Harry's mouth, without his will guiding it. "I thought Quirrell might try to strike at him then, since there wouldn't be any adults around. I tagged along so I could keep him safe."
Snape's eyes narrowed slightly. "Why would you think the Forbidden Forest was the likeliest place for an attack?"
"Because I saw Quirrell there in November, drinking unicorns' blood."
Snape looked as if he would gag for a moment; his eyes certainly grew wider. "Merlin," he breathed. Then he stood and paced around the desk for a moment. Harry took the chance to struggle against the Veritaserum again. It didn't move, continuing to feel like a combination of stony weight on his chest and airy lightness in his head.
Snape whirled back around. "November. When in November?"
"A week before the Quidditch match and the Lestranges' attack," said Harry's traitorous mouth. "I knew that something would happen then, although I didn't know that he'd be able to set Death Eaters free. I knew there was a traitor among Dumbledore's friends. I trained and practiced until I thought I was ready for anything, and I was."
Snape narrowed his eyes to slits. "You stupid, stupid boy," he hissed. "Why didn't you come to me? Or to Dumbledore?"
"I thought that Dumbledore would tell the traitor," said Harry. "And I've always protected Connor. That's my task."
Snape tilted his head. "Task?"
"Since Voldemort's attack," Harry continued, serenely on the surface while shrieking inside, "it's been my job to defend Connor. Mum told me so. That's why I learned the extra magic. I want to be able to protect him, to kill for him and to die for him if necessary. And I want to make myself look ordinary, so that everyone else thinks the magic is Connor's."
Harry didn't understand the expression on Snape's face at that. Surprise he'd expected, but not black fury, nor the brief flash of a look that made him seem close to vomiting.
Snape closed his eyes and hissed for a long moment, as if he needed the sound to calm him down. Then he opened his eyes. "Do continue about tonight," he said. "What happened when Quirrell attacked your brother?"
"He sent a snake first—" Harry began.
He told the whole story all the way through, punctuated only now and then by Snape's questions, mostly asking him to clarify what spells he'd used or to talk in more detail about Voldemort's babble. Harry let his mouth prattle on. He sank down beneath the surface of his thoughts, grimly examining the pale chains that the Veritaserum had wound about his free will. He knew that he should be able to shatter them, as he'd shattered the stone, but he'd never seen anything like them before. And he was exhausted from the battle with Voldemort. He didn't know if he could work up the strength to break them for some hours yet.
He finished the story, and Snape stared at him in silence for a moment. Then he stood up and took a long, smooth step towards Harry. Harry instinctively cowered back on the divan.
"This proves it, Mr. Potter," Snape whispered. "You are the Boy-Who-Lived."
Harry shook his head. "That's not true," he said, and the Veritaserum let Snape hear that it was what he really thought.
"Yes, it is," said Snape, his voice acquiring force, though it didn't rise in volume. "You are the one whose scar burned in the presence of the Dark Lord. You are the one whom he cursed and laughed at, saying he would pay you back for his years of suffering. He recognized his opponent. And your power, Mr. Potter. Near a match for his. Training will make you stronger. You are the one who will rid our world of him, perhaps before you leave school."
"He wanted to kill Connor," said Harry. The Veritaserum insured that everything he said was born of his ultimate convictions. "Connor's scar hurt when Voldemort passed above him. And he called him the Boy-Who-Lived. If you're going to believe anything, believe that. My scar's just a—a scar. Connor's scar is a connection to him."
"I would think you would want to believe me." Snape sneered, eyes alight in a way that Harry had never seen before. "After all, it would spare your beloved twin pain."
Harry answered reluctantly again. Merely doing so was going against the rule he talked about. "But it would draw attention to me. That can't happen. Everyone's supposed to think of me as just an ordinary student. That's the way Mum and I planned. I promised. I haven't been very good at sparing myself attention so far, but I've got to get better."
Snape laughed at him. "You are not ordinary, Mr. Potter," he said. "You never will be. I know of no other child with your power. I know of no child who would receive the blast of Crucio and yet go on fighting. Any ordinary boy would run to his professors the moment he found out Quirrell's plans, or be found and killed. You fought and planned as though it were a battle, and you won." He still had that strange light in his eyes, as if he thought that Harry would want anything to do with him after this. "You are a soldier."
"Yes," Harry acknowledged unwillingly. "Mum trained me to be. But a quiet one."
Snape shook his head. "I will make sure that everyone knows of this," he said. "Unless you go to Headmaster Dumbledore yourself and tell him what truly happened." He bowed his head and surveyed Harry mockingly from beneath half-lowered eyelids.
Harry found himself doubting that Snape would really tell everyone—that would just make Harry a target, and Snape didn't seem to want that—but even a few people could be disastrous. Harry could hardly bear being a rival to his brother in Potions or Quidditch. He shuddered to think of what would happen if that arena should expand.
But there was an out. There had to be.
He muttered, dropping his eyes, "All right, I'll tell the Headmaster. But, the white light from Connor. How do you explain that?"
Snape waved a hand. "There are many old enchantments, Potter, magics based on sacrifice. The life debt is merely the most common and well-known one. You love your brother. I believe that it was your love that spared him, not his own innate strengths, of which—" here he sneered again—"I believe him to have few."
Harry snorted, but nodded as if he agreed. I know too much about the world to produce that kind of love. I've argued too much with Connor. It has to be his own innocence and purity that produced it. I'm too much like Voldemort.
"You will learn to love Slytherin that way," Snape said softly, his tone a promise. "I will see to it." Harry stared at him incredulously, but he showed no sign of realizing that what he had said was completely and utterly mad.
He stepped away, and his face became neutral again, save for a hint of glee in the dark eyes. "I have done enough this night," he said. "Go to Headmaster Dumbledore, and tell him the truth, or be assured I shall find out about it."
"Of course, Professor Snape," Harry murmured respectfully, and then stood and limped to the door of the room.
Harry blinked and glanced over his shoulder. Professor Snape was staring at him, and he had no expression on his face, or in his eyes, at all.
"Well done," he said softly.
Harry shook his head. He knew how rare compliments from Snape were, but he did not care to acknowledge this one.
He forced Veritaserum on me.
Harry made his way carefully towards the Headmaster's office, willing to seek out one of the other Professors if he had to so he could learn the password. The Veritaserum's influence on him was fading. He would have to choose his words carefully, but he rather thought he could convince the Headmaster of what he wanted him to believe. He had always been a good liar, and besides, he had the force of truth—ultimate truth, a power stronger than sneaky Slytherins and their underhanded games—on his side.
Snape smirked as he glanced around the Great Hall. It was the end-of-term feast, and Slytherin had done well. The walls were draped with green banners, and the cheerful noise from his charges' table was loud, while the Gryffindors cowered at theirs and looked sullen and resentful. The Quidditch Cup was theirs, thanks in large part to Harry Potter's beautiful flying, and they also led in House points, so the House Cup would be theirs in a few moments.
Harry Potter sat next to Draco Malfoy near the far end of the Slytherin table. He was quiet, as he had been since that day Snape had forced him to tell the truth, only rubbing his forehead occasionally. He had managed to tame his power, and it no longer tore at Snape's shields as it had when he first came back. Snape knew his impressions earlier in the term had been correct, though. The boy's power had grown. That was supposed to be impossible.
Snape was coming to accept that the impossible was the usual with Harry Potter, and he had decided to work with that. The boy had returned his Potions books to him promptly, and had shown himself willing to master fifth-year work. His dueling spells were stronger than they had been. Snape had given the boy "extra" summer homework intended to improve both his knowledge and his power, and Harry had accepted without complaint. His rebelliousness had not gone away yet, but Snape had cowed him sufficiently that it had been driven back underground for the time being.
Dumbledore tapped his fork on his silver goblet and rose to his feet just then. The chatter ceased at once, and the students turned and looked expectantly at the Headmaster.
"I think it only fitting," Dumbledore was saying, "as we cross into summer, a time of hope and renewal for most of us, and of rest from school—"
Most of the students cheered then, the Weasley twins the loudest. Snape rolled his eyes. The longer they cheered, the longer they would be held here. Idiots.
"That we get around to the rewarding of the House Cup, the symbol of so much effort and work during the school year," Dumbledore finished. "And, I must say, all our Houses have done exceptionally well this year."
Snape snorted and looked at the green banners. Everyone already knew who had won. The Slytherins waited with smiles, while the other Houses muttered and cast harsh glances at their table.
"In fourth place, with three hundred twenty-seven House points," Dumbledore began, "Hufflepuff House."
Polite applause, mingled with sneers, from the others. Snape leaned forward and wished Dumbledore would get on with it. Since he knew the old man wouldn't, he began daydreaming of what James Potter would say when he realized that his elder son had helped win both House Cup and Quidditch Cup for Slytherin. True, Dumbledore hadn't awarded Harry any points for that night in the Forest, but his Potions work was a large part of the reason that Slytherin was so far ahead.
"In third place, with three hundred forty House points, Ravenclaw House."
Snape contemplated sending a taunting letter to James Potter smeared with one of his experimental potions, one that would let him see the expression on Potter's face when he read it. That might be worth it.
"In second place, with three hundred seventy-two House points, Gryffindor House."
Snape roused himself to glance at the Gryffindor table and smirk at the scowling face of the boy hero. Connor Potter needed to grow up and be reminded of his place, though not as badly as his brother had a fortnight ago. This would not teach him that place, but it would be a first, and most pleasant, step on that journey.
"And in first place, with four hundred seventy-two points, Slytherin House."
The cheers from his students were deafening. Snape moved his gaze over them, and paused when he saw Harry was not cheering. On the other hand, he watched the head table intently, as if he could change the figures by sheer force of will.
Snape smirked. Not this time, boy. There are some things that are not going to go your brother's way.
"But," Dumbledore continued, "it seems to me that the awarding of House points is not yet finished."
Snape frowned at him. What is the old man babbling about now? No one has awarded points at the feast before.
He felt a sudden, and odd, and brief, surge of hope. Perhaps he means to award Harry his points in front of everyone. Then he cannot hide. On the other hand, would that be wise? To reveal to everyone all at once that their beloved savior is not who they believe him to be?
"We have among us students who relied on evidence not only from rumor and hearsay," Dumbledore continued, "but from their own eyes and ears. They sought out an artifact they believed was in danger, and then reported to me that it was in danger, and, not least, from whom, on the night that Lord Voldemort was prevented from seizing it." He smiled amid the buzz and gasp of gossip as rumor was at last proved fact, and smiled at two of the Gryffindor students. "To Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, fifty points each for acts of tact, bravery, and intelligence far beyond their years."
Snape clenched the table so hard that he felt blood vessels break in his hands. No. He cannot do this.
"And there is among us even a greater example," Dumbledore went on, voice softening perceptibly. "To Connor Potter, who faced and defeated the Dark Lord in the Forbidden Forest by the power of love alone, one hundred points."
He paused for a moment as the noise grew tumultuous, then said, with an even wider smile, "I believe that necessitates a color change in our banners."
He clapped his hands, and a wind appeared to blow through the Hall, changing every banner it touched to Gryffindor red. The noise from the Gryffindor table was now a happy shout. The boy hero's face had changed completely.
Snape was shaking, and a red haze threatened to blur his vision. There is no doubt at all of which House you prefer, Albus, he thought violently. No doubt at all.
Dumbledore raised his goblet in a toast to the students. Only the Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs echoed him. The Slytherins remained white, silent, and motionless to a student.
When the Headmaster sat back down, Snape leaned towards him and hissed, "How could you do that?"
Dumbledore glanced at him and chuckled lightly. "Now, Severus, I feel that what young Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger did deserves some recognition. Not least young Mr. Potter. It is not every day that a child fights the Dark Lord and survives."
Snape snarled. "Then Harry Potter did not tell you what happened in the Forest?"
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. "Of course he did. And his testimony agreed with his brother's, jot and tittle. I suggested a much greater reward, actually, at first, but young Harry was the one who persuaded me that House points would be a fairer method of settling the debt that Hogwarts owes to our brave Gryffindors."
Snape snapped his head around, facing the Slytherin table. Harry was leaning forward, staring at him.
Snape could read the "Fuck you" in his eyes from this distance.
He had not tamed Harry Potter's rebelliousness, after all.
Snape opened his mouth. With a few words, he could cleave this farce apart and restore the world to the way it should be, the House Cup to its rightful owners—
And then he would have to reveal how he had gotten the information. From forcing Veritaserum on a helpless child.
Or, at least, a child who could play helpless with unnatural intensity, and who was also a skilled and accomplished liar.
Snape clenched his fists. It would have been intolerable for any other Potter to best him at this game.
But this Potter was a Slytherin, and strong enough to down four Aurors.
And, Snape was now convinced, the true Boy-Who-Lived.
Snape swallowed his anger. He took up his own goblet and raised it, in a late, private toast, to the only person who would understand the gesture, and to whom it would matter.
Harry regarded him for a long moment. Then he inclined his head in a slight bow and swept his half-open hand in front of him at chest height.
The gesture of a challenge given and accepted, Snape found, after racking his brain for a moment. An ancient one, one that not even purebloods used very often anymore.
Snape sat back in his seat, sipping his goblet and watching as Draco distracted Harry and began complaining, probably about the general unfairness of life, and Harry answered, his hands gradually moving in more and more animated gestures. Snape couldn't be sure whether Harry was agreeing or disagreeing with Draco.
It didn't matter. Snape was sure that, either way, Harry would return next year just as ready to defy him, and just as full of power and so much a Slytherin that he remained Snape's best chance for earning his House respect.
Forcing him to be what he was was going to be a challenge, indeed.
One, Snape thought, as he emptied his goblet, that I am quite looking forward to.