Harry Potter and the Psychic Serpent
Harry looked at young Snape, lying in the hospital bed, and his father, in the next bed. If he had died, it would have made you sad, James had said to Lily. And yet, if he had let Snape die, he would have had a clear field. He had no way of knowing that Lily wouldn't be just as much Snape's girlfriend after the incident as before. Instead she seemed to be impressed that he had saved the life of her boyfriend with no thought of reward. That was what changed everything, Harry thought. It was obvious. Snape's face was miserable; he glared at James Potter with a hatred that made Harry's blood run cold. His father was oblivious, lying back with his eyes closed, a very slight smile on his face. Was he thinking of Lily?
Harry turned to speak to Hermione, but the world was changing in a swirl of grey smoke once more; Harry almost felt like it was routine now.
They were on the Quidditch pitch during a match; From the colors of the robes Harry could see that it was Gryffindor vs. Slytherin. He and Hermione stood by the bases of the goal hoops for the Slytherin side. He searched for Snape, squinting at the crowd in the stands waving Slytherin banners; he couldn't spot him.
"Do you see him?" he asked Hermione. She too scanned the crowd.
"No. But wait—if he were watching, wouldn't we be in the stands? Maybe he's playing."
They examined the Slytherin Chasers, whizzing about on their brooms, trying to intercept the Quaffle from the Gryffindor Chasers, including a serious-looking boy with messy black hair and glasses who was very familiar.
"There he is!" she cried triumphantly.
"Where?" Harry whipped his head around.
Harry shuddered, remembering her saying this in the forest, when they'd met Hagrid's mother. He tipped his head back and discovered that Snape was the Slytherin Keeper. That's why they were standing where they were. He was having a bad time of it. James Potter flew down the field with the Quaffle and in a matter of seconds he had flung it past Snape through the center hoop, prompting the student doing the commentating to cry, "SCORE! And Gryffindor gets ANOTHER ten points, again thanks to POTTER! That's Gryffindor one-forty, Ssssssssslytherin ZERO!"
Harry gazed in rapture at his father; he'd always wished he could have seen him in action as a Quidditch player; he'd heard so much about him. And now, here he was, flying effortlessly, flinging the Quaffle through the hoop with a casualness that belied the work involved, his red robes streaming out behind him, the crowd chanting, "POTTER! POTTER! POTTER!"
Harry could see that the Gryffindor Seeker—a slight girl with hair the color of a mourning dove—was marking the Slytherin Seeker—a skinny wisp of a boy with brown hair cut too short for his prominent forehead. Both Seekers were no older than thirteen, small and agile, but the Slytherin Seeker in particular looked around the field sharply; nothing would miss his gaze, it seemed.
Harry saw it first; the Snitch was near the Gryffindor goal posts, not a foot off the ground. As usual when he saw a Snitch, his hand started itching to grab it. A roar went up from the crowd, and Harry looked up; his dad had scored on Snape again. The Slytherin Seeker didn't seem to be aware of this; he had seen the Snitch and was clearly focused on reaching it first. He didn't know that if he caught it now the game would be a draw. The announcer started to give the score: "THAT'S GRYFFINDOR ONE-FIF—OH!" He had no sooner started to speak than his dad scored again. The Slytherin Seeker was still oblivious, on his way to the Snitch. In a second, he had it in his hand, looking triumphant, flying past the Slytherins he expected to be cheering him. He was clearly baffled that they weren't. The commentator gave the final score: "THE GAME IS OVER, ONE-SIXTY TO ONE-FIFTY! GRYFFINDOR HAS WON THE QUIDDITCH CUP!"
His dad had scored twice in the time it had taken the Slytherin Seeker to see the Snitch and grab it! Harry grinned, having to work very hard to restrain himself from whooping gleefully. His dad come to a landing with the rest of the team as the entire school, it seemed (except for the Slytherins) converged on the Gryffindor team in joy.
A shadow passed over Harry and Hermione as Snape, stony-faced, descended to the grassy pitch not five feet from where they stood. He was the one who had lost the game for Slytherin; he had let James Potter score twice before the Snitch was caught.
In the throng of people surrounding the Gryffindor team, Harry could see his dad being hugged by his fellow red-robed teammates. Lily was making her way through the crowd, grinning at him and finally throwing her arms around his neck as he gathered her to him and kissed her thoroughly, while people continued to pat him on the back. Harry heard one or two shouts of, "Get a room!" as their kiss continued. His mother resurfaced, turning red, still unable to stop smiling, and she and his father walked back to the castle with their arms around each other, jostled by the crowd, and yet somehow, carving their own private space out of it. Harry looked at their departing forms with satisfaction, also unable to stop grinning. They're a couple now, he thought. All's well with the world.
He felt a hand on his arm; it was Hermione. Her face was so sad he didn't know what had happened. "Are you all right, Hermione?" he said with concern. She drew her mouth into a line.
"Not me. Snape. Look at him, Harry."
Harry turned to Snape, walking around him and looking up at his face. Although he was only going on eighteen he now looked like the man Harry was accustomed to seeing in Potions; he had shaved his beard, but there was a slight shadow on his jaw, as if he'd forgotten that day. His hair hung in his face, lank and greasy, and his eyes were filled with a combination of contempt and sadness. He was miles away from the sixteen-year-old boy who'd declared his love for Harry's mother in the Potions Dungeon. He already looked like his life was over, like he was just biding time until some gruesome end. That, Harry thought, is the face of someone who has nothing to live for.
Snape didn't include his break-up with his mum in the Pensieve, Harry realized. But it had clearly already occurred. That morning in the infirmary must have been the beginning of the end.
Snape frowned at his hand; there were red blisters on the back. "Damn," he muttered softly to himself. "Missed a spot." He took a small tube out of a pocket in his robes and rubbed a salve onto the inflamed skin as he watched the throng of Gryffindor supporters making their way to the castle. There were still some subdued Slytherin supporters on the pitch, but they avoided Snape. His eyes slid furtively over his teammates before he picked up his broom and walked toward the greenhouses. Harry and Hermione followed, as there was no swirling greyness yet. He reached the shelter of the oaks, and after walking a few yards from the entrance to the corridor of trees, he stopped and leaned against one of them, staring into space. Perhaps he's remembering being here with my mum, Harry thought. He heard a step on the path, twigs and fallen leaves being trod on, and Harry and Hermione turned to see a young man, perhaps in his mid-twenties, walking into the oak allée toward Snape.
"Hard luck, Snape," the young man drawled. He had cornsilk-light hair and a pointed face, grey eyes that betrayed no emotion. Snape looked toward him silently, as if willing him to disappear; he did not seem to want company. But the man either couldn't tell or didn't care.
"Remember me?" he asked, as if anyone could ever forget him. Snape spoke with almost no inflection in his voice.
"Malfoy. Seventh year when I was in first. Sorry you wasted your time coming today."
The young Lucius Malfoy smiled ominously. "Oh, it would have been nice to see a Slytherin victory, that's true. But I definitely did not waste my time coming."
Snape did not look at him. He had taken out his tube of salve and was rubbing some into the back of his hand again. Malfoy smirked. "Is that what you do? To stay out in the sun? I wondered. It's rather bright today; you must be glad to get away from it again." Snape peered at him with narrowed eyes; the vampire thing again. Malfoy approached him and was now standing about a foot away from Snape, who seemed very uncomfortable.
"Careful," he said softly. "Better not come too close. I'm rather peaked after a match." Harry smiled. If people are going to think you're a vampire, might as well use it to intimate them.
Except that Malfoy wasn't. Not in the slightest. Instead, he laughed. "I brought insurance," he informed Snape, pulling a necklace with a head of garlic out of his robes. Snape immediately recoiled, backing up and putting his hand over his mouth and nose. Malfoy laughed again. "I wondered whether people were putting me on about that. I can see they weren't. Of course, I should have known; you obviously haven't seen a mirror in quite a while." Snape flinched at the insult but said nothing. "I want to speak to you. May I speak to you?"
Snape seemed doubtful that it would be that simple. "About what?"
"What are your plans for when you're done school?"
Snape seemed like he didn't want to tell him, but said in a flat voice, "Working in my uncle's apothecary in Dunoon."
Harry made a face. "Where's Dunoon?" he asked Hermione.
"West coast of Scotland. Just north of the Isle of Arran."
Harry refrained from asking where that was as Malfoy spoke again.
"Ah, Dunoon. The Firth of Clyde is quite beautiful, isn't it? Of course, I like Dunoon because of its bloody history. So. Uncle in Dunoon. Is he Scottish?"
Snape nodded. "My mother's brother."
"Mother's side. Hmmm. Dunoon. What's your uncle's surname?"
"Ah, Clan Campbell. Good. Not Clan Lamont. Weaklings. Of course, in Dunoon, chances are you're going to be one or the other. In all of Argyllshire, for that matter. Although anyone with sense agrees that the Campbells had it all over the Lamonts centuries ago; they let the Muggles in their clan take over much sooner than the Campbells. I'm Clan Campbell as well, on my mother's side. She's a Bannatyne. Glorious, bloody history, Clan Campbell. My father's French family has almost as bloody a history—always managed to be on the winning side, whether it was the revolution, or the reversals that followed, or the Vichy regime. But no one can really touch the Scots for bloodiness, eh?"
Snape stared at him, looking like he was wondering where this was going. He did not answer. Malfoy continued, clearly enjoying hearing the sound of his own voice.
"You know what my favorite bloody story is? Takes place in Dunoon; you made me remember. The Massacre of 1646. After the Campbells hit the Lamont castles of Towart and Ascog with all they had, and the Lamonts surrendered. Our clan gave them a written guarantee of liberty. Of course the idiots believed that. They were taken to Dunoon in boats and sentenced to death in the kirk. Only a little over a hundred survivors. The histories say they were all shot or stabbed but we wizards know it was the killing curse did them in, except for the thirty-six 'special gentlemen' who were hanged from a tree in the kirkyard—I think they were half-wizard and half-Muggle. And then there was the Chief and his brothers. They were prisoners for a number of years; why they didn't kill them, I don't know. Of course, at that time, the Chief was still a wizard. Might have been because of that. The almost-dead were buried in the same pits as the dead. Think of it! Wish I'd have been there."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because I think we're kindred spirits, Snape. Same house. Same Clan. And I'm hoping—same desire to serve the Dark Lord."
Snape's eyes widened only a little, as if he were trying to hide his surprise. "Is that what this is about?"
Malfoy stepped toward him again; Snape cringed against a tree. "I have a job to offer you."
"I told you; I have a job lined up," Snape said, voice shaking ever so slightly.
Malfoy stepped back, his smile in place again. "It's not a full-time job, though it's an important one. You'll still have plenty of time to—work in your uncle's apothecary," he said, as if he were patting a small child on the head. It was a verbal pat, a patronizing sneer at Snape's choice of job.
"What is it?"
"Do you know the boy who's the fifth-year prefect in Ravenclaw?"
Snape looked like he was thinking about this. "I don't know him, just what he looks like. Blond boy."
"Yes. Do you know who his father is?" Snape shook his head. "His father is a very important man. His father works very hard. He puts dark wizards in Azkaban. He's always working. And his son hates him for that, among other things. His son wants a way to get back at his father. But he's only in fifth year; he's young, doesn't know the right people. That's where you come in."
"You will get to know him, before school is out for the summer. Become his friend. Write letters to each other, invite him to visit you in Dunoon during holidays. I want you to become the big brother he never had. A father figure, for a boy whose father is too busy for his son. He needs someone like you, and you can be there for him. You'll have time; it will be two years before he's done school. I expect by that time, he will be ready."
"Ready? For what?"
"For one of these." And Malfoy pulled up his sleeve, showing Snape the Dark Mark on his arm. Snape drew in his breath between his teeth. "You won't get yours until then, also. Don't want to tip off young Mr. Crouch too early. Until then you'll be strictly an unofficial Death Eater."
"Crouch? Do you mean—Barty Crouch's son?"
"Yes. Barty Crouch, Jr. We fully expect him to be very useful. But we need you to—cultivate him. Make him ripe for the picking. You have two years. Should be enough, don't you think?"
"But—his father! If I approach Barty Crouch's son and suggest that he become a Death Eater, what makes you think he won't report me to his father?"
Malfoy smiled. "He won't. Not if you do your job and make him trust you completely. He's wants to get back at his father as much as we do, and we've decided that using his own son will work nicely."
Snape swallowed. "What if I refuse?"
Malfoy stepped toward him with his wand out. Harry had not seen him remove it from his robes. "I will have to kill you. Fortunately, wands happen to be little pointy sticks made of wood," he said bringing it ominously close to Snape's heart before pulling back. "I could alter your memory, but that's no fun. You'd still be walking around. I thought a dark creature like yourself would welcome the opportunity to serve the Dark Lord."
Snape swallowed. Harry thought, Vampire or no, being stabbed in the heart is being stabbed in the heart. Fatal. He almost forgot that Snape had survived this encounter. Snape swallowed again, never taking his eyes off Malfoy.
"All right." His voice was quiet and no longer shaking. And, to Harry's eyes, he seemed to have an expression of purpose now. He had a mission, a reason to go on living, even if he couldn't be with Lily. So, Harry thought, Lucius Malfoy recruited Snape to be a Death Eater, and Snape recruited Crouch. Malfoy removed a stoppered vial from a pocket in his robes. "Here," he said, tossing it to Snape.
Snape caught it reflexively, stared at the viscous red liquid inside, and looked at Lucius Malfoy in disbelief.
"A gift," Malfoy told him before turning and walking out of the grove. Snape stared intently at the vial of blood. Harry wondered whether he might actually be considering drinking it.
But as Snape walked back to the school under the oaks he threw the vial so that it broke against one of the larger tree trunks, shattering, splattering the blood. Snape's green robes billowed out behind him and Harry wondered what else he would be required to do as a Death Eater.
The swirling greyness returned and Harry tried to find Hermione in the maelstrom, failing. When they felt their feet on solid ground again they were outside a stone cottage with a thatched roof, diamond-paned leaded windows with flowered curtains, red-painted flower boxes overflowing with plantings. A cottage garden was laid out in a complicated pattern before the house, flagstones leading from the garden gate to the red-painted front door. The lane was a dirt path, and outside of the fenced-in garden there was only green grass—very, very green grass. Like Mum's eyes, Harry thought. Like mine. There were no nearby neighbors.
Something about it felt familiar to him. Something in the back of his mind recognized this place…
Snape stood beside them, also gazing at the cottage. They followed him to the door and waited while he knocked. When it opened Harry's his jaw dropped, not because his mother was standing in the doorway, but because she was holding a baby on her hip, a baby with a tuft of black hair, large green eyes, and—no scar on the forehead.
"Aw!" said Hermione. "Baby Harry—so cute!"
Harry grimaced and colored. "Please—"
She laughed. Lily was surprised to see Snape.
"Severus! I—what are you doing here?"
His face was very serious. "I need to speak to you Lily. It's very important."
She stood silently, bouncing baby Harry up and down to pacify him. He waved his arms about, gurgling and struggling.
"Down!" he said, still struggling. "Down down down down…"
She gave in, placing him carefully on the smooth tiled floor, on his bare feet. He ran into the cottage, wobbling back and forth. His mother wore a summery dress. I must have just learned to walk, thought Harry. It must be near my first birthday.
"Severus, I don't think you should be here."
"Please, Lily; hear me out. May I come in?"
She was reluctant, but finally stepped aside and allowed him to enter. Harry and Hermione followed. They were in one half of the cottage, the public space. Through a doorway in the rear Harry could see an addition holding a kitchen with a large, well-scrubbed wooden table, solid-looking wooden chairs gathered around it. Through two doors leading to the other half of the cottage Harry could see a large bed covered with a quilt, and, in the smaller room, a cot with a mobile hanging over it, stars and planets, sun and moon. He felt a strange sensation, a familiarity. This had been his home, where he had lived with his parents. His home. He had come home.
His mother sat on a couch that was perpendicular to the empty fireplace. Snape sat in a chair on the other side of the hearth while baby Harry climbed onto the couch beside Lily and started flicking at her earring with his fingers.
"Ouch! Harry, stop. Go play; Mummy has to talk to her friend."
But the one-year-old did not climb down from the couch. He sat beside his mother, sticking his lower lip out, pouting. Hermione laughed. Harry grunted. Your girlfriend should never be allowed to see you as a baby, he thought. Under no circumstances.
The sound of a car was followed after half a minute by another knock at the door. Lily sighed and rose to answer it, saying, "Excuse me, Severus."
Snape seemed nervous about being left alone with little Harry. Though he was only twenty-one he looked like the man Harry saw day in and day out in the Potions dungeon. Well, Harry thought, if he's here to try to win my mother back, he could have fixed himself up a bit.
Then there was another bit of familiarity, a voice that cut through Harry's heart, a voice he had hoped not to hear again until late June.
"Lily, Mum needs you to do this! I don't care if it's illegal! Isn't it enough that Daddy died in that traffic accident last year? She's all we have left!"
His Aunt Petunia was at the door. She was only a half-dozen years older than his mother, but she also looked very similar to the way he was accustomed to seeing her. She not only has not aged well, he thought, she did it early.
"Petunia, there's a reason that the magical community tries to keep Muggles from knowing about what we can do. And I'm not convinced I could help Mother, even if I didn't care about breaking the law! When witches and wizards get cancer, they usually immediately remove the cancerous cells by magic, or transfigure them, but you said Mum has it all through her! How could I remove it without killing her? And I'm not permitted to, anyway. Petunia, we can only prepare ourselves for the inevitable."
Harry's aunt's voice shook; he'd never heard her like this. "I will prepare. You can stay here. Don't bother coming to the funeral. You won't be welcome. Not when you could have saved her and refused. What's the point of you being a witch if you won't save her? You know what you are, and that husband of yours? Unnatural. Abnormal. How can you not save your own mother? It's just—" Harry's aunt couldn't continue; she buried her face in a handkerchief and ran away from the cottage door.
"Petunia—" Lily pleaded, but he could hear his aunt's retreating footsteps, the garden gate slamming, a car starting, wheels straining to find purchase in the rutted dirt road.
His mother returned to the couch after closing the door quietly. She raised her eyes to Snape as he said, "I'm sorry if this is a bad time, Lily, but—"
"My mother is dying and I can't do a damn thing about it and my sister hates me because of it. Is that your definition of a bad time, Severus? Because that is my definition of an absolutely shitty time, thank you very much." Harry was shocked to hear his mother cursing, watching the tears coursing silently down her cheeks, finally understanding better the enmity between his mother and her sister. Little Harry had gone to his room and was playing on the floor with blocks and stuffed toys. Hermione looked wistfully at the baby.
Lily and Snape sat opposite each other, looking down, not speaking. Finally, Snape said softly, "I came here to—to warn you that the Dark Lord will be coming for you. Well, actually, for Harry."
Lily looked at him, perplexed. "What are you talking about? Harry? What could he possibly want with Harry?"
Snape glanced toward Harry's nursery, frowning; the one-year-old was arranging stuffed toys in a row, an impromptu parade. He gazed back at Lily.
"The Dark Lord keeps careful track of omens and signs. A seeress has predicted his downfall—she gave a prophecy which some centaurs helped interpret. The centaurs have pinpointed two of the three people involved."
"Severus! You're not making any sense. What is this prophecy?"
He frowned. "Let me see if I remember all of it: The Dark Lord will be defeated by a triangle: a lion, a moonchild and a flame-haired daughter of war…"
"And Harry is—?"
"Evidently, he is the lion. He is a Leo, correct?"
"Yes, but so is James. Harry was born a week before his birthday; James called it his early birthday present." She smiled feebly. "Who is the Moonchild supposed to be?"
"A family called Malfoy had a son last year a few weeks before Harry was born. The seventh of July. Which makes him a Cancer. Those born under that sign are also called Moonchildren. I know because I'm also a Cancer."
"And the flame-haired daughter of war?"
"The Centaurs are working on that one. The confusing thing is, some of the Centaurs think there are doppelgangers for each of the people in the prophecy. They think the Dark Lord will be defeated twice, that there are two sets of people who fulfill the prophecy."
"Defeated twice? Defeated means defeated, doesn't it?"
"That is why it is confusing. But the Malfoys have struck a deal. They are promising to raise their son to be a servant of the Dark Lord. He has promised not to kill the child, for now. I came to plead with you, Lily. Strike a deal. Save yourselves and Harry. Don't try to fight—you can't win."
"What? That's why you came here? To tell me to raise my son to be Voldemort's servant?" Harry was impressed; Snape hadn't uttered Voldemort's name. "How do you know all of these things, Severus? I thought you were working at an apothecary in Dunoon. How do you know about prophecies, and Voldemort coming after us? How?" She stood and paced nervously before glancing into the nursery; small Harry had fallen asleep on the rug, his head pillowed on a stuffed bear. She picked him up and put him in his cot, but the movement woke him and he fussed. She shushed him, giving him his bear. And then she sang to him.
It was the lullaby from the music box.
Harry listened to his mother's singing, a lump in his throat. Hermione laced her fingers through his, putting her head on his shoulder. When the lullaby was over, the baby's fussing was history; they could hear him breathing peacefully. She closed the door quietly and turned to face Snape with blazing eyes.
"You're one of them, aren't you? You're a Death Eater." Her voice was cold and assured. He gave her a look that told her she had spoken the truth. It was quickly replaced with an expression of desperation.
"I was—but I'm not now, Lily. You must believe me! I was recruited at the end of my seventh year at Hogwarts, and for two years I was—cultivating a son of an official who is very high up in the Ministry of Magic." She looked shocked by this. "But then I heard about this prophecy, and you and James and Harry being targeted. I went to see Dumbledore, and he—he understood why I did what I did, and promised me I would not be punished, that I could be a spy, I could be useful. I haven't hurt anyone, Lily. I recruited one young man who was angry with his father, and if it hadn't been me, it would have been someone else who recruited him. Please—promise me you'll say that you'll raise Harry to serve the Dark Lord. You don't have to mean it! Just say it! Save your life—Harry's life—James's life. Do whatever is necessary."
She glared at him with complete and utter hatred in her eyes.
"Get out now! Before I seriously hurt you."
He swallowed. "If you won't cooperate, at least promise me you'll go into hiding. Find a safe place."
"Oh, we'll go into hiding. Do you think we'd stay here, where you know to find us? I can't believe you and I ever—ever—" She trailed off, looking sickened.
Snape swallowed, seeing her so repulsed by him. "Please, Lily. Don't push me away. I want to help."
She had her wand in her hand and seemed angry enough to do the killing curse. "I said get out. While you still only have two arms and two legs." Harry doubted that this was an idle threat. She was, if possible, even scarier at twenty-one than at sixteen, and she'd been formidable then. Harry turned and looked at Hermione, yet another Muggle-born witch. Did she and his mother try overcompensate for their births? He looked back at his mother; her hair was pulled into a messy bun at the back of her head, loose tendrils resting on her neck, her blue summer dress reminding him of the one Ginny had worn at the Burrow. She was beautiful and impressive and powerful, and no one in their right mind would cross her.
Snape left reluctantly. She never lowered her wand.
The grey storm surrounded them once more, and when he could see again, Harry and Hermione were in a familiar place. The Leaky Cauldron. Snape sat at the bar, holding a glass with a very small amount of amber liquid in the bottom. It looked like there might have been quite a lot of it not too long ago. His eyes were hooded, his hair hanging in his face like a kind of mask, to hide behind. Harry couldn't believe how he'd gone downhill.
"Look!" Hermione touched his arm. She pointed toward the door to Diagon Alley. Albus Dumbledore entered, but he was much more subdued in his facial expression and clothes than they'd ever seen him. He wore a grey traveling cloak over black robes; the cloak's hood was up, so all they could see of his head was a sliver of his face, nonetheless recognizable. His spectacles glinted in the flickering candlelight and firelight but Harry could not see his eyes.
Dumbledore's nod to old Tom behind the bar was almost imperceptible. Tom gave an infinitesimal nod in return and Dumbledore quietly proceeded down a corridor to one of the private dining rooms. Harry had not seen whether Snape had noticed any of this, but he put a silver Sickle on the bar and, carrying his glass, walked quietly down the same corridor, going to the same room as Dumbledore. Harry and Hermione followed.
Dumbledore was seated at the dining table; he had taken down his hood and was more like the headmaster they were accustomed to seeing—though Harry had only seen that grim look on his face a few times. He knew it wasn't a good sign.
Snape sat beside him but did not look at him. He contemplated his glass for a moment before downing the rest of the liquid, giving a small gasp and pulling his lips back from his teeth. His Adam's apple bobbed twice. Snape put the glass down with a thunk, still not looking at Dumbledore. Another silence followed.
"Should you be drinking that?" Dumbledore suddenly asked him, in what was surprisingly close to his normal voice, despite the evidence that they were not in a normal situation at all.
Snape moved only his eyes toward Dumbledore. "No. Bad for my liver." He traced the rim of the empty glass with one long, pale finger.
Harry was becoming more and more uncomfortable with the silence. He turned to Hermione, who watched the two men, so familiar and yet not, with a perplexed expression. He opened his mouth to speak but changed his mind. Dumbledore had finally broken his silence.
"How did it go?"
Snape tilted the glass, gazing into it as if he wished it were full again. "Not well." He stared at a spot on the wall; Harry was standing in front of that spot, so it felt uncomfortably like he was boring his eyes right through him, as if he could see him. It was somehow worse than when he was wearing the Invisibility Cloak.
Snape spoke again, quietly. "I told her about the prophecy. She didn't believe me. But she understands that the Dark Lord believes it, that they're in danger. I think they're going into hiding. She—knows that I was recruited. I tried to tell her I wasn't Dark anymore, but she kicked me out."
Dumbledore put his hand on Snape's arm. "I know you're fine, Severus. I will vouch for you before anyone who doubts that. There is a charm that will help them hide—the Fidelius Charm. I'll contact Sirius Black about it. He'll need to be in on it. They're closer to him than to Pettigrew. And Remus."
"He's a werewolf! Do you know how many werewolves are serving him now? They're flocking to him."
Dumbledore sighed. "I'd like to believe Remus wouldn't do that—" he began, but he seemed doubtful. "You go back to Dunoon, Severus. You've done what you can. If you hear anything, you know where to find me."
Snape nodded, looking miserable. The greyness swirled around Harry and Hermione. When will it end? But he needn't have wondered this. When the fog dissipated they stood on a grassy knoll looking into a valley; it was night, and there was only a half-moon. Starlight did very little to illuminate their surroundings. They seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.
They saw Snape and a young man with a short fringe of blond hair around his face, a round, pale, rather innocent-looking face. But Harry knew he was not so innocent; he recognized Barty Crouch, Jr. Snape glanced around him, apparently as confused as Harry and Hermione about where they were and why.
"Why did you have us Apparate here?" he asked Crouch, who smiled sunnily.
"So we could watch the show. Any minute now, right over there." He pointed into the valley at a clump of trees with smoke emerging from them. There must be a house there, Harry thought. Crouch took in the confusion on Snape's face. "Haven't you heard? The Potters tried to hide using the Fidelius Charm, but it turns out their Secret Keeper's a Death Eater! How's that for luck? Plus, I heard that the same Death Eater got this Centaur to work out who the girl in the prophecy is; you know, the 'daughter of war.' So she'll be next. Just wait for it; should be any time now."
Snape was wild. "You mean, they didn't move? They just used the charm? Damn! I told her to run, to go into hiding…" He seemed completely unmindful of who he was speaking to.
Crouch eyed him suspiciously. "What are you saying? You tried to tip them off? They refused to capitulate! They still don't have to die, if they agree to the Dark Lord's demands. But they'll probably be stupid and fight…"
Snape wasn't going to listen to this any longer. He began to run down the moor toward the valley. Harry and Hermione ran too, following him. Suddenly, they heard young Crouch cry, "CRUCIO!" The curse hit Snape full force from behind, sending him onto the ground. He flipped over, his face contorted in pain, a scream torn from deep within him, where Harry knew the torment lived, the complete and utter agony of it…
Crouch approached Severus, still holding his wand on him. When he finally flipped it up, breaking the spell, Snape struggled to prop himself on his elbows, panting. Hatred for the boy he'd recruited showed in his black eyes as he worked to get his breath back.
Harry must have blinked; suddenly Snape had whipped out his own wand and pointed it at Crouch, crying, "Expelliarmus!" Crouch flew backwards, striking a large boulder, while his wand flew into the air, into Snape's waiting hand. Crouch lay on the boulder, inert.
"He must be knocked out," Hermione whispered. He nodded, his heart in his throat.
Snape rose shakily, still obviously feeling the pain from the curse. He ran more slowly than before down into Godric's Hollow. But before he had gone twenty more feet, there was an explosion. It distracted Snape and he twisted his ankle on the hill, falling. Once on the ground again, he raised his eyes to the heavens, and to Harry, his face was terrible to behold.
The Dark Mark hovered over the hollow. Harry went to his knees; his legs could no longer hold him up. Hermione joined him on the ground, putting her arms around him, silent tears running down her face. Snape stayed on the ground as if paralyzed; then another explosion was heard from the hollow, and an unearthly cry. It was a death rattle taken to its ultimate degree, a cry from the abyss, the roar of either an angel or a devil suffering and dying.
Snape clambered to his feet and was running again, clearly operating on pure adrenaline. They followed him into the valley and through the garden gate. It seemed to take forever. Lily lay across the flower beds before the cottage in her nightgown, the look on her face Harry remembered from seeing Cedric right after he'd been killed. Harry didn't see his father; he must have been killed inside the house.
Little Harry wandered around the garden, his finger in his mouth, crying piteously. The scar on the forehead was bleeding, dripping onto his nose. Snape did not show any sign of surprise that Harry was alive. He seemed to care for one thing only, sinking to his knees beside Lily, gathering her body to him, cradling her as his anguished sobs competed with the baby's bawling.
"Harry," Hermione said, choking on his name. Tears still streamed down her face. "How do we get out of here?"
He wanted nothing more than that too. He tried to remember what Dumbledore had done; he put his hand under her elbow and tried to think about rising into the air; the cottage dissolved and there was nothing but blackness; he had the feeling again of doing a slow-motion somersault, and he and Hermione landed on their feet in Snape's cold office. But Harry didn't stay on his feet for long; he immediately collapsed and Hermione fell to the floor with him, holding his head while he cried for his mother, his father, even for Snape…
It felt like he cried for a very long time. He felt drained afterward, as if he had no more tears left for the rest of his life. He wiped his face, put his glasses back on, and looked at Hermione; her eyes were red, her face blotchy. He assumed that he didn't look any better.
"What time is it?" he asked in a small voice.
She moved the sleeve of his robe to uncover his watch.
"We missed dinner." His voice didn't sound like his own. Someone else seemed to be speaking for him, saying stupid mundane things about time and dinner, as if any of that mattered. Nothing mattered. Nothing could ever be as real to him as what he had seen in the Pensieve, Snape holding his mother's body, his mother singing to him as a baby, his father pulling Snape away from the werewolf that was also Remus Lupin, the expression in Sirius's eyes when he invited Snape into the tunnel under the Whomping Willow…
His life would never be the same again.
Harry stood shakily and then could not remember doing it.
Nothing was real.
They walked up to the entrance hall. Harry couldn't feel his feet on the steps, the railing under his hand.
Nothing was real.
"I'll go find Dumbledore or McGonagall," Hermione was saying. She was like a television show he was watching in the house on Privet Drive. She was as real to him as that. "Since there are so few of us here, I'm sure they missed us. I'll tell whichever one I find first that we were working on potions and didn't notice the time. Then I'll see if there's anything I can get from the kitchens. Do you want me to get you something?"
Nothing was real.
She was trying to be helpful, trying so hard. How could she know? Harry thought. How could she know that she wasn't even here, that she wasn't even real? She probably thought she was real. She couldn't know. People who weren't real couldn't have that kind of self-knowledge.
"No," came the hollow voice again. "I couldn't eat. I'm going to bed."
Nothing was real.
"All right," she was saying. "I'll see you up in the tower."
Harry couldn't remember climbing to Gryffindor Tower, speaking a meaningless password.
Nothing was real.
He went up the stairs to his room and undressed for bed. When he put his head on the pillow, he immediately fell asleep.
Nothing was real.
Harry woke. He had been dreaming. He thought it was about something he'd seen in the Pensieve, but he couldn't remember. He didn't remember Hermione coming to bed, but she was curled beside him, breathing peacefully, as if the Pensieve hadn't happened, as if she weren't the least bit affected by it. He momentarily hated her for that; then he remembered how he had lain down and immediately gone to sleep, and he undid that thought. He didn't hate her, couldn't hate her.
His mind felt like it was slowly recovering from the Pensieve experience. Even the little sleep he'd had helped. They had been in there for a very long time; much longer than when he was in Dumbledore's. He thought about what he'd seen. About his mother and Snape.
Harry looked at Hermione sleeping peacefully. The clouds had lifted and moonlight spilled in through the window; the moon was full. Remus Lupin would be changing. Sirius could transfigure himself into a dog, for safety. Perhaps, since Snape was staying with them, he could make Wolfsbane Potion for Lupin. After all, Snape had to brew Porphyry Potion for himself (another use for all that spleenwort Sprout had given Pomfrey).
Snape had porphyria. Some things were falling into place now. Not the least of which was Snape's mental instability, his temper. And his impatience with people assuming they knew what he was all about. When he was young, rumors of his being a vampire. Now that he was older, persistent rumblings that he was a Death Eater. He couldn't win, thought Harry. And yet—here he is, working for Dumbledore as a spy.
He turned onto his back, staring at shadows cast on the ceiling by the moonlight. Hermione faced away from him; when he changed position, she mumbled in her sleep, rolling over and putting her head on his chest, throwing her right arm and leg over his body. Her nightshirt was very thin; he could feel her chest squashed against him and her hand brushed agonizingly over his left nipple for a split second, and her knee was dangerously close to his crotch…
She was abruptly very, very real to him. Too real.
Snape was the last thing on his mind now. Harry began to feel warmer, began to have thoughts about touching her, caressing her—No. That would be wrong. She's asleep, peaceful.
She moaned in her sleep, mumbling something and he could see her eyes moving behind her eyelids. He thought about what he'd be likely to dream about if he sounded like that and became even warmer. Not touching her became the most difficult thing in the world for Harry. He shook with the effort of just lying still, closing his eyes, willing sleep to return. Sleep did not cooperate.
Finally, he couldn't take it any longer. This is stupid, he thought. There are four other beds in this room. I don't have to torture myself like this. He crept out of the bed carefully, lifting her arm and leg from him gingerly and placing them back on the mattress. He walked to Ron's bed, parted the curtains, pulled back the covers, and climbed under. An improvement, but his body had not yet forgotten what his mind had been thinking a few minutes earlier.
Sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep became his brain's litany. He tried an old trick from when he was having trouble sleeping third year, when he couldn't stop hearing the sounds of his parents' deaths: he stared as hard as he could at an object—he chose the silver pitcher near the window—and would not let himself blink, to tire out his eyes, force them to close once and for all. He stared at it for a good minute, counting in his head. Finally, started to feel the effect of the staring; his eyes needed to close or he would go insane. And it probably would have worked if it weren't for one thing.
Hermione now stood between him and the pitcher, blocking his view. The moonlight behind her made her nightshirt appear diaphanous, and Harry had to squeeze his eyes shut after seeing that, determined to pretend that he was asleep. He heard her approach the bed and felt the mattress dip to one side as she climbed onto it. Go away, he thought sternly, trying to mean it. He felt the fabric of her nightshirt brush his arm and he opened his eyes; the contact produced goose pimples all over his body. He could no longer pretend to be asleep.
"Harry?" she said softly. "Are you all right? Why did you move over here?"
"Hermione," he whispered. "Go back to sleep."
"I checked the clock. It's just gone midnight. Happy new year, Harry." She leaned over him and kissed his lips. It would have been a quick kiss, done and over, if he hadn't lost all pretense of control at that point and put his hands in her hair and opened his mouth under hers.
That was all it took. He gave up, he surrendered. He kissed her like he was afraid he'd never kiss her again, with a desperation that was shattering. He felt like he was clutching at life after experiencing far too much death, pulling her onto him. She was lying on top of him, kissing him back, knowing why he had moved. He could no longer hide from her what his body wanted; he knew she could feel it when she broke the kiss and looked at him with wide surprised eyes. But it did not faze her; she moaned and leaned down to kiss his chest. He shook, trying to stabilize his breathing, wanting to slow things down, wanting to make her happy. He pulled her face to his again, kissing her before moving his lips down her neck. She knelt over him, sighing, while his fingers unbuttoned her night shirt. She gasped when he continued kissing down her body, and when he took the tip of one breast in his mouth, moving his hand up her thigh…
He heard, unbidden, a voice in his head, a voice that almost brought him crashing down to earth.
JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULD.
She hovered above him, her breaths matching his while his hands and mouth worshipped her, and he could feel her starting to shake in a different way. Harry felt like he was losing his concentration, though, as the voice in his head shouted again.
JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULD.
Harry froze. His heart seemed to be beating loud enough to be heard by the entire castle, by the entire countryside. GET OUT OF MY HEAD, Harry commanded the voice. LEAVE ME ALONE.
But then another voice was heard; a hissing voice. This voice was harder to ignore.
Damn damn damn damn damn damn, became the new litany in Harry's brain. He took a deep breath, gazing up at Hermione. He had never seen such a beautiful expression on her face, the abandonment and expectation there. If only—
But they had to stop. It wasn't safe. She looked at him, her expression starting to return to normal, as he was no longer doing anything with his mouth or hands. "What's wrong, Harry?" she whispered.
He pulled himself to a sitting position and reached out to button her shirt, aching for her even more than before, if that was possible. "We—we have to stop."
"Why?" She almost sounded near tears.
"Believe me; I don't want to," he said with a catch in his voice, leaning forward to kiss her forehead. "Sandy said. There isn't much time. Do everything I tell you to, please. No questions."
She nodded and rose, standing beside the bed, waiting for instructions. Good girl, thought Harry. He was glad he'd told her about Sandy; Hermione knew to take her predictions seriously. It wasn't like Trelawney; there was no doubt that Sandy knew what she was talking about.
"Close all the curtains on all the beds. Hurry." They ran around the room doing this. Harry went to his trunk and took out his Invisibility Cloak. He had her put it on and stand in the corner near the wardrobe; someone entering the room would have her behind him after taking only two steps into the room.
"Get your wand," he told her.
"Oh, Harry—I don't have it! It's in my dorm."
"Damn!" He ran his hand through his hair. "All right. Just stand in the corner where I told you to. I'm get under Dean's bed with my wand and wait. That'll give me a clear shot. Okay? Are you in the corner?"
"Yes." Her voice came from the right direction.
"All right. I'm under the bed. We don't talk any more now. Try not to make noise of any kind."
Her answer was no answer, which was fine with him. He crawled under Dean Thomas's bed, holding his wand in front of him. He lifted the hem of the coverlet up a few inches where it met the floor, giving him a view of the lower half of the door to the room. His wand pointed at it. He was ready.
But his brain was still playing over what had happened on the bed, on—he suddenly realized—Ron's bed.
Damn! he thought yet again. Ron's bed!
He found himself wishing, in spite of that realization, that they'd had more time, that they'd brought the activity to completion, so that he would have experienced that just once before dying. Would he see more than a few minutes of the new year before being killed? Would Hermione? He saw his mother again, dead, Snape cradling her in his arms. He thought about how young his parents had died, the things they'd left undone—like raising their son.
He watched the door in anticipation, wondering how he would die, whether it would be painful. But he shook himself; STOP THAT. I am not going to die. I am not going to die. But as much as he would have liked that mantra to take over his brain, he found that he was unable to stop playing Sandy's words over and over in his head again:
"A dark wizard is coming."
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