AN: Sorry about the delay, but here's the next chapter. Hope you enjoy it.
On the Other Side
The flames surrounding him danced wildly, casting macabre shadows. The temperature fluctuated drastically, going from near freezing to just shy of burning. Severus held his breath and pushed on, trusting Harry wouldn't harm him. Stepping through the wall of fire, he calmly patted down his smoking robes. He'd made it past the fire, but what he saw made him gasp.
Sitting on the hospital bed hugging his knees, Harry was chanting under his breath. It took Severus a moment to understand the hoarse whispers. "No one but Severus. No one but Severus."
Severus faltered a moment. He didn't know what he'd expected to find, but Harry so lost and obviously shaken wasn't it. After a long moment, Severus cautiously approached the bed. "Harry, I'm here," he said gently.
The sweat-sodden head shot up, and wild green eyes met his. "Severus?" Harry questioned. Harry reached out tentatively, and Severus immediately took the young man's hand and held it between both of his. "I'm here," Severus repeated.
"I don't know what she gave me," Harry said shakily. "But I can't concentrate, and I'm so tired. So tired."
The whispered chant started up again, and Severus spared a thought to eviscerating the Weasley chit for doing this to Harry. Slipping a hand under Harry's chin, Severus tugged until his lover looked him in the eye again. "I'm here now, Harry," he said firmly. "I can help you, but I need you to disperse the flames."
Harry nodded seriously. "She can't get me through the flames," he insisted. "Have to wait for you."
His eyes fell shut, and Severus drew a deep breath. "Harry, I bound her," he tried again. "I give my word, she cannot get to you. Please lower the flames."
"You're here," Harry said with obvious relief. "No one can hurt us in here."
At a loss, Severus tried another approach. "Potter," he snapped. "I have everything under control. Lower the flames. Now."
The flames began flickering, and Severus caught a glimpse of Poppy levitating Ginny Weasley to another bed while Minerva stood over them both. "That's it, Harry," he whispered encouragingly. "You are safe, drop the flames."
After several minutes of whispered support, the flames finally flickered and died out completely. Severus breathed a sigh of relief. "You did well," he murmured as he slid his arms around a shaking Harry and pulled the young man to his side.
With no thoughts other than relief in his mind, Severus held Harry against him for several moments. Harry's breathing slowed from panicked panting to the deep breathes that heralded sleep. Looking down, Severus saw his lover fighting to keep his eyes open. Slipping the hand still grasping the vial from around Harry, Severus lifted the potion to his nose and sniffed. Frowning, he placed his thumb over the top, tipped the bottle over momentarily, and then licked the small drop he'd collected.
He could smell and taste a strong sleeping draught, but it was mixed with something else. Something he couldn't pinpoint. Testing it could take several hours, and Severus didn't intend to wait that long. He hesitated, worry over Harry warring with his desire to force the truth from the Weasley girl.
The sound of booted feet striding rapidly down the hallway drew Severus' attention. Less than a heartbeat later, the infirmary doors flew open and Devlin burst inside. Pale green eyes evaluated the situation in an instant. Devlin crossed the room, and sat on the bed beside Harry. Running a soothing hand through the younger man's sweaty hair, Devlin asked softly, "He okay?"
Uncaring, for once, about public displays of affection, Severus gently stroked Harry's back. "I don't know," he said bleakly. "He's ingested a partial dose of a sleeping draught laced with another potion."
Glancing down, Severus sighed. Harry had lost the battle to keep his eyes open and had fallen into a restless sleep. "Without knowing the exact mixture, I am unable to predict his response," Severus admitted in a whisper.
Severus turned his head and glared at the still bound and struggling Weasley chit, silently damning her obsession with Harry, and the headmaster for allowing her into the castle. The only thing he wanted more than to storm over and choke the information he needed out of her was to hold Harry until his lover regained his senses.
Turning his attention back to the man beside him, Severus wasn't surprised to see the barely leashed fury in Devlin's eyes. "I'll stay with Harry," Devlin said sharply. Jerking his chin towards the girl across the room, he growled, "You deal with the bitch. I don't trust myself not to wring her neck."
Gently shifting Harry onto the pillows, Severus raised an eyebrow and asked coldly, "What makes you so sure of my temper?"
Devlin snorted. "Harry," he said simply.
With a disgusted 'humph', Severus pulled a curtain around Harry's bed. A moment later he felt the tingle of a privacy spell wash over the area. Good, he thought grimly. Harry won't be disturbed by her screams.
Ignoring Minerva and Poppy's hissed admonishments to control his temper, Severus stood over Ginny Weasley and glared as he contemplated how to begin. After a moment he decided he should give the chit a chance. "What is in this vial?" he asked, holding the bottle in question in her line of sight.
The girl's mouth moved furiously but no sound reached his ears. Severus rolled his eyes and cancelled the silencing spell either Minerva or Poppy had cast on her. She immediately began shouting. "Let me go!" she demanded. "I'm not telling you anything, you bastard!"
Giving the two women a look that clearly said, "I tried," Severus fastidiously rolled up the sleeves of his teaching robes and approached the bed. "This is you last opportunity, Ms. Weasley. Tell me what is in that vial or I will wrench the information from your unwilling, protesting mind. A painful process, I assure you."
Apparently the girl had some knowledge of Legilimency. Her eyes screwed shut and she set her mouth in a mutinous line. Thought he could most likely pry into her mind without eye contact, Severus didn't have the patience it would require. Drawing back his hand, Severus delivered a sharp, stinging slap to Ginny Weasley's left cheek. Ignoring the indrawn breath from behind him, Severus followed up with a back-hand to her right cheek.
Her brown eyes flew open, bright with shocked tears. Immediately invading her mind, Severus latched onto a memory featuring the vial and without a care to subtlety or the pain it caused, followed it backwards. A moment later he had the information he needed.
He blinked twice and then carefully schooled his features blank. Silently casting a spell to stop the girl's pained whimpers, Severus crossed to Poppy's store-cabinet and selected a small green bottle. He delivered it along with dosing instructions to Devlin and helped the other man carry Harry to the Floo. Once satisfied his lover was on the road to recovery and cared for, Severus turned back on the chit who'd dared try to take Harry away.
Despite her initial shock at his methods Severus was pleased to note Poppy had not healed the now bright red marks on the girl's cheeks. Both Minerva and Poppy had settled themselves in chairs on either side of the bed and were watching Ginevra Weasley with undisguised contempt. One glance at the women showed Severus there was no chance of convincing them to absent themselves. Severus thought quickly.
Minerva was loyal to Harry; there was no doubt of that. And while Poppy's loyalties were unknown, the older woman had always had a soft spot for the brat. Not to mention, Severus had always found her trustworthy, more concerned with the well-being of the denizens of Hogwarts than the headmaster's politics. Nodding to both women, Severus pulled his habitual potions pouch from one of his many pockets and selected a small vial full of clear liquid.
Opening the stopper, Severus turned to the Weasley girl. "Open your mouth," he ordered curtly.
With what Severus considered a pitiful glare the girl compressed her lips in a thin line and defied him once again. Severus simply arched a brow and waited. Several tense moments passed, and Severus lost his patience once again. "Very well," he said with a sigh. Severus leaned over and pinched her nose closed tightly. Grateful the body bind kept the chit from thrashing, Severus waited her out. In less than a minute the girl's mouth opened as she gasped for breath. Taking immediate advantage, Severus tipped several drops of Veritaserum onto her tongue.
Releasing his hold on her nose, Severus stepped back and summoned a chair. Setting it near the head of the bed, he waited a few minutes to ensure the potion took effect. He soon observed the tell-tale glazing of her eyes and a thin line of sweat beading on her brow. Minerva and Poppy had remained silent and watching throughout. Once Severus was sure the girl was fully under the potion's influence, he lifted the silencing spell and began his questioning.
"Were you aware of the potion's effects when you gave it to Harry?"
"Yes," Ginny responded in a monotone.
"What were your intentions once Harry was under its influence?" Severus demanded sharply.
Noticing the girl's eyes twitch, Severus leaned forward.
"To take him to Dumbledore."
Beside him, Poppy gasped. Glancing across the bed, Severus noted with satisfaction the scowl on Minerva's face deepen as she crossed her arms and huffed.
Careful to word his question so there was no chance of evasion, Severus pried further. "And what exactly, in your understanding, would taking him to Dumbledore accomplish?"
"I overheard the headmaster talking," the girl began. "He said if Harry were under the influence of a sleeping potion laced with a strong Suggestion Potion, that it would be easy to correct Harry's behavior. That he, Dumbledore, could overcome the bad influences Harry's been under the last few years. To correct his allegiance and to help Harry remember his affections for me."
Severus wished he could say he was shocked. But too often had Dumbledore tried to get Harry back under his control. Too often had the old man ignored Harry's attempts to control his own life. Severus had always known Dumbledore was a manipulative old coot, but he'd never thought his one-time mentor would go so far. And to use a naïve, unstable child like Ginny Weasley? To use and even encourage her obsession? It was obvious Dumbledore would have to be watched even more closely. Severus would not risk the old man getting his claws on Harry.
Turning back to the drugged girl, Severus pressed on. "Did you overhear anything further?"
Even through the haze of the Veritaserum, Ginny Weasley smiled maliciously. "Dumbledore knows what you've been doing. You and your foul potions, taking advantage of Harry. But he's going to stop you, stop you and that so-called Bar Sinister."
Severus stood in disbelief as the young woman's vile words continued. "You'll go to Azkaban for rape. What kind of sick man sexually manipulates a sixteen year old boy? You've had him under your thrall for years, but I won't let it continue. With you jailed, and Harry returned to what he should have been, it will be easy to prove the Bar's true loyalties. Everyone knows they're just biding their time before they either convert him to their cause or turn him over to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
"Enough," Minerva said loudly. Her wand whipped up and she silenced the Weasley girl. Turning to Severus, she gently laid a hand on his arm. "No one believes that, Severus. The girl is obviously unbalanced."
With a blank expression, Severus stared at the girl. "No one has to," he said quietly. "Innuendo alone would be enough to ruin me."
For several long moments he was lost in thought, and then a slow, malevolent smirk crossed his face.
"What schemes are you hatching now, Severus?" Minerva asked warily.
Tapping his lip thoughtfully, Severus said gleefully, "Dumbledore has made a fatal miscalculation. Harry will not tolerate threats to the Bar. If this information is presented carefully, at the right time, we could remove the old man from his position of power."
Severus turned his attention back to Ginny. "Give her another drop of Veritaserum," he ordered McGonagall. "That should inhibit her more poisonous diatribes."
"Are you sure you want to continue this?" Poppy asked from the other side of the bed.
"I must know everything she heard, and whether this was the extent of her plans," Severus explained.
Forcing the girl's jaw open, Minerva administered the additional dosage. "I find myself wanting to know as well," she admitted.
One glance at the Potions master's face was enough to encourage even the boldest of students to lower their eyes and step out of his path. No one was brave enough to draw his attention as Severus stormed through the castle. Reaching his quarters, Severus paused only long enough for the wards to acknowledge him. Shoving open the door, Severus had barely taken a single step inside the room when he was assailed with questions.
"Why did she do it? Where is she now? How badly did you hurt her?"
A glance around the room showed no signs of his lover. Severus sneered at Devlin. "Because she's insane. Gone far away. And only superficial injuries," Severus responded succinctly. "Where's Harry?"
Nodding towards the partially open bedroom door, Devlin sighed, ran a hand through his unusually messy hair, and subsided onto the sofa. "I gave him the potion, but he's still sleeping it off. Woke once, called for you, then went back to sleep."
Crossing the room in three strides, Severus gently opened the door until he could see inside. Harry lay on his side; he'd kicked the blankets off and was clutching Severus' pillow. Severus watched silently as Harry rolled over, still holding the pillow, and seemed to settle into a quieter sleep.
Satisfied Harry was safe, Severus dropped into the chair by the fire. Devlin opened his mouth, but Severus interrupted before the other man could speak. "Make yourself useful," he said with a half-hearted sneer. "Fetch me a drink."
Devlin crossed his arms over his chest and settled deeper into the cushions of the sofa. "Fetch it yourself," he drawled.
With a sigh, Severus snapped his fingers twice and Dobby popped into the room an instant later. Before the creature could speak, Severus quickly asked for a bottle of scotch and two glasses. The house-elf seemed to sense the undercurrents in the room and for once complied without any chatter. He simply popped out and returned swiftly with the required refreshments, then left with a small worried bow.
The drinks were poured and each man sat back with a glass. Devlin took a sip and turned his eyes to Severus. "If you have finished stalling, perhaps you would be so kind as to tell me why the charms on Harry's ring went off?" Devlin demanded. Before Severus could attempt to answer, Devlin growled. "I thought you said he'd be safe here."
"Dumbledore is far more determined to gain control of Harry than I'd anticipated," Severus admitted.
"Explain," Devlin hissed.
After draining his drink, Severus recounted his interrogation of Ginny Weasley. He was so tired, and emotionally drained from the whole thing he missed the paling of Devlin's face, the white knuckles griping the glass, and the hard glint that appeared in the opaline green eyes.
"Is the fool's plan to see us in Azkaban for the dementors' pleasure, or does he simply intend to blacken our name to the point we're reviled by the public and lynched in Diagon Alley?" Devlin demanded bitterly.
Severus snorted. "He intends to see me in Azkaban for rape."
One of Devlin's arched brows flew up. "And who exactly did you rape?"
Devlin's glass fell to the floor unheeded. "He's gone too far this time!" Devlin shouted as he leapt to his feet. "The Bar's reputation has always been dark, and we've never cared. But to accuse you of such an abomination? That is beyond the pale."
Shooting a look to the bedroom door, Severus hissed, "Would you be quiet?"
When he was sure he had Devlin's attention, Severus continued. "I have no intention of allowing the old man's plans to come to fruition. But we must wait until the time is right."
"I've had enough of waiting," Devlin growled. "This time Dumbledore pays for his insults."
Devlin stormed to the door and tried to open it, but it remained locked. His eyes flashing angrily, Devlin turned to Severus. "Open this damn door."
Climbing fluidly to his feet, Severus crossed his arms over his chest. "I will not. Not until you've calmed down."
"Severus Snape, you bastard, open this door now," Devlin demanded. "I'm not some child you can keep contained."
With a snort, Severus looked down his nose at the other man. "Then you should stop acting like one," he drawled. "Direct confrontation is not the way to counter Dumbledore. If you would just listen to my plan…"
"I've heard your plans," Devlin roared. "Your plan is the reason Harry is unconscious in the other room."
Severus paled at the cruel words. He sat down heavily in his chair and wondered if Devlin was right. Had he unintentionally put Harry in danger? Severus started when a warm hand suddenly appeared on his shoulder.
"Our plan, love," Harry said firmly. Looking up, he glared at Devlin. "Coming back was as much my decision as it was Severus'."
Looking over his shoulder, Severus checked Harry's face for any lingering effects of the potions. His lover was a bit pale, and his eyes were sad, but otherwise Harry looked recovered. "How much did you hear?" Severus asked.
Harry grinned down at him. "I wasn't asleep when you checked on me."
Still trying to force the wards to let him pass, Devlin hissed, "Then you know why I plan to kill the old fool."
Rolling his eyes, Harry raised the hand not on Severus' shoulder and with a flick of his fingers, had Devlin back in his chair. Another flick and the older man was magically bound to the chair.
"Damn it, Harry, let me up!" Devlin yelled at the same time the Floo flared green and Vane stepped out.
Glancing around the room, Vane raised an eyebrow. "Devlin's raging, Harry looks ill, and Severus is fuming. Dumbledore been down for tea?"
Harry bit his lip, but couldn't hold back the snicker. Severus glared at Vane, and Devlin's mouth opened several times, but he seemed beyond words. The tension broken, Severus hustled Harry onto the couch and plied him with whiskey. Vane sat near Devlin and once the other man was released promised to keep him in line. The four men settled down and began planning furiously for Dumbledore's downfall.
Several hours later they had a workable plan. The remains of dinner were spread out on the coffee table and they all sat back with a drink and relaxed. They were chatting comfortably when a sudden pall went over the room. Four wands suddenly appeared in their owners' hands, and each man scanned the area for the disruption. A moment later a cloud of black smoke formed in front of the fireplace. It slowly coalesced into a shadowy black serpent.
They watched warily as the serpent's mouth opened. A low malevolent hiss began. "Harry Potter, you have twenty-four hours to surrender yourself to me, or your head of house and precocious Mudblood friend will die."
Harry gasped. "Hermione, McGonagall," he whispered. He tried to keep up a whispered translation as the serpent spoke, but knew he neglected to translate parts of it.
The snake continued speaking. "They are currently enjoying the accommodations of Lucius' dungeons. If you are not at the gates of Malfoy Manor by this time tomorrow I will allow my Death Eaters to play with the witches. Any attempt at rescue will only hasten their death." The snake coiled in on itself and disappeared as suddenly as it had come.
"Malfoy Manor," Devlin stated. "Does anyone know the layout?"
Harry looked at Devlin curiously. He didn't remember mentioning where they were kept, but he was so caught up in the message he must have forgotten, or it was possible Devlin had picked it up by Legilimency; Harry had become careless with his shields in these rooms.
Shaking off the useless speculation, Harry turned to Severus. "Can you contact Lucius without alerting Voldemort?"
Nodding sharply, Severus said he could. Hurrying to the bookshelf, he plucked an old tattered copy of Talken's Innocuous Communications up and took it to his desk. Lucius had given him the book years ago and keyed it to the two of them. It had been ages since he'd used it. Hopefully Lucius would think to check it.
Harry turned to Devlin. "Call the Bar."
Devlin rushed to the fireplace and was prepared to throw the Floo powder, when it suddenly flared. Dumbledore's face appeared in the fire and Devlin growled.
Smiling genially, Dumbledore's eyes searched the room until he found Harry. "Ah, my boy," he began. "I just received a missive from a most extraordinary eagle owl."
Both of Harry's brows shot up. "Headmaster, I'm a little busy now," he said impatiently. "I have to find a couple of friends, so your mail will have to wait."
Dumbledore frowned. "I must insist you listen. I believe it's very relevant."
Harry sighed. "Quickly then."
"The letter is signed Lord Voldemort."
Harry was suddenly much more interested. "What does it say?" he demanded.
Adjusting his glasses, Dumbledore glanced over the parchment in his hand. "Simply that he has captured Miss Granger and Professor McGonagall and is holding them in exchange for you."
Harry cursed. He'd hoped to keep the Order out of this, but now that hope was gone.
"I must confess, I can't locate either Miss Granger or Minerva anywhere in the castle," Dumbledore continued. He fixed Harry with a piercing gaze. "I trust you aren't going to do anything foolish."
With a bitter laugh, Harry shrugged. "Why change tradition now?"