Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight.
Snape retrieved Slytherin's locket from where he'd hidden it after Harry was wounded, so Harry wouldn't know he'd failed, and get the suicidally heroic idea to try again. Despite all Harry's desperate efforts, the locket was still intact, the curse on it still unbroken, and for one very simple reason: Harry was still alive and whole. The necessary sacrifice had not yet been made.
Severus dipped his hand into his pocket where he kept another, very different locket – smooth and plain – the one he'd once given to Regulus.
He tried to focus on Regulus, but another memory haunted his thoughts: that same locket in Harry's hand, offered back to him. I must be strong now; this is for both of them. Perhaps I will see Regulus again, after it's all over. As for Harry, there's so much I cannot give him, but this is one thing I can.
A life for a life. A soul for a soul. Mine will be enough for the sacrifice, and Harry deserves to go free.
After his mother's locket, so familiar by feel even after all these years, Slytherin's heavy, ornate locket felt wrong: polished by magic instead of touch. Slick, cold, and cursed. To Snape's senses, honed by a lifetime's expertise in the Dark Arts, it crawled with a surface magic that raised the hairs on the back of his neck in a shiver of instinctive, animal dread. It was like Legilimencing a madman: when any contact even slightly too deep, could trap him and drag him into the howling dark.
Irony curled his lips as he stretched out on Regulus' bed. He thought back to the nights they'd spent right here, discovering each other, all those years ago. He'd never thought this bed would also become his deathbed. As he cast locking charms on the door and silencing charms on the room, he felt as though he was a cur, crawling into a corner to die.
Might as well get it over with. Snape put the heavy chain around his neck. Carefully, he raised the cursed locket to his face, his fingers tensed and ready to claw it open. He lowered all Occlumentic shields at once, deluging the locket with decades' worth of rage and pain: the distilled, boiling, bottled fury of a man mourning a terrible loss. All because of this damned thing that hid the soul of a murdering monster. But not for much longer.
The locket snapped open and the first waves of concentrated dark magic hit him full blast. His body thrashed, but he took his old, familiar refuge from agony, retreating from the outside world, reaching for strength, for memories of happier times in the distant past with Regulus. Soon, it'll all be over. Perhaps then, we'll meet again. It was the only thing left to look forward to.
Regulus. He saw him clearly in his mind's eye: so much like Harry, so very different. A slim young man, elegant and roguish, with wavy black hair and sidelong, silver eyes. Tiny quirks of Reg's features rose again from Snape's mind, all the details he'd forgotten. Apparently, approaching death did wonders for the memory.
Was it merely memory? Instead of a pensieve-perfect re-enactment of their past, Severus was in the quiet darkness of his mental refuge with Regulus, who was more vivid and complete and real than he'd ever been before.
Ghost, Severus thought. What else can he be?
"'Ghost'? As if I'd haunt you, you arrogant sod!"
That same devil-may-care laugh, that same affection beneath it left no doubt that he would've done just that, in an instant, if only he could.
"Reg?" Something bright and sharp and sweetly painful – grief, joy, or both – pierced Severus. "How?"
"You go and do a thing like this, I'm not about to just ignore it, am I? Especially since it involves me."
He was here all along, Severus realised with a shock, trapped in the locket for years. Decades. On the heels of Severus' horror, grim determination arose. My death will free Regulus as well as Harry.
Physical agony spiked suddenly, battering at the walls of Severus' mental sanctuary. He tried, in instinctive terror, to shore up those faltering defences, striving to postpone the inevitable. But hands he'd once trusted completely slid onto his shoulders and turned him away from his futile task. Regulus smiled softly at him. Severus reached for him and held on tight, and was held in turn by the arms he never thought he'd feel again.
"I've been through this and it's nothing you want to stay around for." Warm breath fanned Severus' ear. Severus' body arched, overwhelmed, but Regulus pressed a whisper-soft kiss to his forehead, holding him through the convulsions. "M'just here to help. Come with me. Come away." And with that he rose again, pulling Severus with him, drawing him up and out, away from the pain. "It's time." He held on as Severus' lips drew back in a fierce grimace. "So brave," he whispered, awed. "Half-blood, but twice the mind. Twice the courage. Twice the heart."
Severus felt as though he was seventeen once more, wrapped in his first lover's arms, as if they would never be parted again. His body jolted off the bed in a spasm of bliss and agony, before collapsing. The cage of the flesh, the lonely decades of duty and pain: everything that had kept him from Regulus before, fell away, shed like a chrysalis. Raw magic gathered in him, and Severus felt himself rising. After a decades-deep dive into cold, dark waters, at last he floated effortlessly closer to the surface, where freedom waited like warm air and sunlight just out of reach.
But his ascent ended with a startling jolt, as though a leash had snapped tight about his throat. No! Not yet. He was held back by something. He turned back to the world below and shuddered, shocked. On the bed below him lay his own corpse: a far cry from the youth who had loved Regulus. This corpse was many hard years older: a rawboned, hatchetfaced man with skinny muscles and stringy hair, a body scarred and worn and ill-used by life. From such a distance, it seemed like a long-lost relative of his father's: no one important or close. It lay like a sacrifice on an altar, a carved knight on a tomb. On its chest lay a scrap of metal that, despite its small size, contained more death than any natural corpse.
The body's eyes snapped wide and focused on him. There, in the black depths of his own stare, he saw a gleam that once belonged to a silvery gaze, and he couldn't look away. Beyond Legilimency or thought, this was an intimate communion, a mind-to-mind dispute and confession and, at last, farewell.
The malignant swell of locket's magic pulsed like a heart. Its opened halves gaped wider, and what Severus had thought was the smoke of curse burns rising from his flesh, thickened and darkened and took on coherent form. A serpent, fouler than the skull-vomited snake of Morsmordre, oozed from the cracked eggshell of the locket. It coiled around the reanimated corpse, a python crushing the last spark of life from its prey.
Regulus! Severus looked on from afar at his own body that now held Regulus' soul. He fought desperately to intervene, but he was as powerless as a ghost, unable to do anything but watch and despair as Regulus suffered in his place, as the curse tightened its cruel grip.
All at once, everything changed. With the eyes of the spirit rather than the flesh, Severus saw a second presence erupt into being, sudden and strong as the sun bursting from behind cloud. The battered body in the serpent's coils was eclipsed by the blaze of a mighty lion. A powerful, princely presence: his mane a comet, every muscle aglow with celestial fire. The lion sunk claws that burned like meteors into the serpent's coils and ripped them to shreds of shadow that frayed and faded like smoke. The lion lifted his head to Severus, and as he met that gaze Severus knew it was the end. The lion's form grew brighter until it blazed more fiercely than any physical stars. But the heart of the lion burned brightest of all, until at last Severus had to close his overwhelmed eyes.
His eyes burned: stinging wetness trickled from their corners and trailed down the sides of his face. He opened them with an effort, stared up just long enough to identify the bedroom ceiling, and closed them again. He was back in his body once more.
In the darkness behind his eyelids, he ran through all the corridors of his mind, searching, calling.
The only one left in Severus' body was himself. His chest jolted in a bitter laugh or a sob at the shock of that idea, and the fact that it was a shock.
The movement disturbed the locket; it shifted with a metallic clink. His fingers scrabbled at the chain pooled at the base of his throat. The touch brought no pain, no sensation of corrupted flesh: then again, the necessary sacrifice had already been made.
Blinking wet out of his eyes, Severus lifted the locket into view. It dangled open and half-melted, blackened and twisted and as empty as a shed snakeskin. Broken.
He's won. He's free!
Moving as stiffly as if his body had truly been a rigid corpse, Severus sat on the edge of the bed they'd shared this one last time. His chest hitched as he drew a long, steadying breath. Amid the pillows and the dust and the disarrayed covers, he thought he could still catch traces of a familiar, beloved scent. Farewell, Regulus, he sighed, his throat too tight to whisper it aloud. Alpha Leonis, Cor Leonis, Lionheart.
"Divestimenta!" Severus heard distantly past his absorption in the book in his hands. He hmphed absently as the grimoires on the bed settled into a comfortable pile around him.
"Oh, Se-ve-russs…" Regulus singsonged teasingly as he sprawled across his side of the bed. The sheets barely covered his arse as he fixed the other youth with a wicked, knowing look, just waiting for Severus to glance up and catch sight of him.
"Just one more page, I swear!"
Regulus chuckled. "What's the matter? I know you want this and you know you want this, so would you kindly stop fondling my books and start fondling me?" The sheets slowly shifted downwards…. One eyebrow arched as Regulus scooped up a grimoire with the same easy tenderness someone else might hold like a stray kitten. When the book sighed happily open, Regulus laid it face down, letting its leaves serve as fig-leaves.
"You must have a danger kink if you picked that one to cover your bits." Severus nodded at the book, "It hasn't been fed yet."
Regulus beamed. "Y'better c'mere and rescue me then."
Severus snorted but set his book aside, spelling the curtains around the four-poster bed closed as he slid under the covers. "You aren't the one who needs rescuing, mate. Your dad ought to nag you instead of me for 'defacing his grimoires'."
Regulus tilted his head. "What about corrupting his Son-And-Heir, then?"
"Oh, yeah, as if there's anything left for me to corrupt!"
"Good point." Regulus lunged and Severus was laughing and wriggling, as fingers slid quick as snakes over ticklish skin.
The first rays of dawn woke Harry: he stretched, slow and catlike, under the covers. Sated sweetness melted every muscle he had. Or, almost every muscle; he grinned downward, as one particular muscle twitched.
His smile shifted to a frown of concentration, as he realised that something felt different. He felt stronger, more alert, more focused. Ready to face the world. His thought was quick again, without the weary, woollyheaded confusion that'd taken over his mind these last few weeks. His body felt light and agile. Hang on. There was an imprint of something hard and small in his cheek: after a moment's fumbling with his pillow he found it: the key. Severus. It was all real! Where is he? Why didn't he stay?
The blanket was tucked around Harry in a careful way even though Harry's covers always ended up on the floor by morning. Did he do that? That thought warmed him even more than the blankets did; he grinned at the sleeping candle on the bedside table, then reached across the bed, just to feel if that imprint of a second head in the nearby pillow was real. It was, of course, but as he moved his forehead bumped against something large and flat.
The Prince's old Advanced Potion-Making textbook sat on the pillow by his head. Harry's glasses were with it, one earpiece tucked in between the pages as if to mark the place where Snape had left off reading.
Harry opened it to that page, fished out his glasses and put them on. He blinked at something that he knew the book didn't have before: the last page was now covered in the spiky script he knew so well. It was wider and more legible than Snape's schoolboy hand, but Harry still wasn't used to seeing it in any colour but red.
By the time you read this, you will have been cured of the last Horcrux' curse.
That's what's different! I've got feeling back in my skin again! And I hadn't even noticed! Snape'd kill me for 'not paying attention' if he knew. Harry grinned as he lifted up the edge of the bandage on his shoulder and looked underneath. Instead of the black and peeling mess he'd feared, there was just skin. He unwrapped the strips of cloth layer by layer and it was all the same. No black, withered texture, just perfectly ordinary, normal skin; newly regrown overnight, as if the curse had never even touched him.
However, it could be transferred, as long as the recipient willingly accepted his fate.
"Snape?" No! Can't be!
Harry jumped out of bed, barefooted and bare-chested, still seeing that unmistakeable handwriting scrolling before his eyes as the rest of the world dimmed. Severus! NO! With a single dry-eyed sob, he rushed through the doorway, his legs refusing to hold him. He stumbled, nearly fell, banging his shoulder against the wall, then he was running, sprinting down the dark hallway. Without his glasses, everything seemed a dreadful, spinning blur. A nightmare, please, be a nightmare! Where is he? Downstairs?
"Snape? SEVERUS!" He pounded down the stairs in three-at-a-time leaps, landed badly on one and nearly lost his footing, caught himself on the handrail with a last-minute wrench, then he was off the stairs and sprinting from room to room to empty fucking room…
Harry spun round, so fast one bare foot skidded out from under him on the dusty wooden floor, and then he was stumbling and falling and... not hitting the ground. Being lifted and steadied and held against something solid and dark and utterly bloody brilliant!
Severus! Wiry arms wrapped around Harry, holding him up as his knees caved with the sheer physical rush of relief. Harry ran his hands down that long back, buried his face in the side of the warm throat, hung on with all the strength he had in him, and just breathed.
Solid, real. Here. Alive!
After making sure he was alive and well – by tasting every bit of skin he could reach – Harry finally noticed the mangled locket around Severus' neck. He drew one shaky breath, lifted his head to glare at the suicidal sod, grabbed said sod's skinny shoulders and shook him as hard as he could. "You're NEVER doing that again, d'you hear me? If you EVER get any more stupid ideas about pissing off and sacrificing your life without even SAYING anything first, I swear, I'll –"
"– kill me yourself?" Severus even gave Harry the Eyebrow, the unscrupulous bastard. "I'm certainly not planning any repeat performances," he continued in his most maddeningly smug drawl, "That was the last Horcrux, remember?" When Harry spluttered at him, Severus cut in again, "Besides, anyone with your track record of solitary, suicidal searches really shouldn't be the Potter calling the kettle black."
Harry didn't know whether to laugh or thump him or kiss him. So he did all three. Even though that first disoriented, laughter-threaded attempt at a kiss nearly broke Severus' nose, and Harry's thwap was answered by a swat which somehow landed right on Harry's bum, neither of them felt like complaining.
Before the door to Grimmauld Place closed behind them, Snape talked to the bloke in the portrait for the longest time. Harry waited for him, petting the candles. He wasn't jealous, not really.
He's mine now. Harry sat on the front steps of Grimmauld and watched Snape gather the Prince locket and Regulus' notes, reach out to smooth out the painted mane of Regulus' portrait. Till the very end. That's something no one can change. Not Horcruxes, not Voldemort, not the past.
Only the smirk on Snape's face and the sly nudge at his mental defences indicated that perhaps his thoughts were heard.
Harry didn't mind. If that had been a true attack, he'd strike back, as quick and strong as a provoked lion. He knew he could. But this time, something more important than Legilimency was worrying Harry.
Harry glanced up, with a pang in his chest, and for a moment he was lost in the depths of those eyes, and the warmth hidden within them, all over again. "What'll we do now?" He confessed, "M'always afraid, now, that I might not look close enough when it counts, and miss my chance at Voldemort. 'Cause I reckon I'll only get the one chance."
"I doubt you'll miss a thing; I haven't been training you all this time for that to happen. But if it ever begins to look like a possibility, then, I'll simply …remind you, just as I've done all the other times you didn't pay enough attention."
Harry grinned. Yeah, he's got a way of 'reminding', all right. More like dragging you back to bitter reality. Which is probably good 'cause I just don't know how much of that bitter reality I've still got left to live.
"You're not dead yet!" Snape broke into Harry's train of thought, "Focus!"
"Yeah, yet." Harry muttered as an excuse. "That's kind of the point."
"Voldemort is so much closer to death at his strongest than you were at your lowest ebb. He's just a pathetic broken shard, with only one-seventh of a soul left," Snape said softly. "The sooner you understand that, the easier it'll be."
Harry shrugged. "What difference does it make? Broken or not, he's still powerful enough to kill me."
"Voldemort has nothing left but avoiding death at all costs. You are fortunate to have your whole life, which is something he will never have. Understand that, and you will win."
"This, after all those times you told me I didn't stand a chance?"
"So prove me wrong!" Snape hissed. "You've certainly tried enough before. Rid the world of him and live. Just live! You've already shown me that you don't need a map traced on your hand for each tomorrow. It's the only hope you have of surviving this: live out the life line you've had, the life you've decided to live." Snape grabbed Harry's wrist, lifting his hand up. His grasp was strong. "You already know what you have to do."
Harry nodded, a bit shocked, not quite knowing how to respond otherwise. "S'why I always hated your lectures," he murmured. "You always turned out to be right, every single time, even when I wanted you to be wrong."
"If only you'd realised it sooner, you impossible whelp, perhaps…"
"That, and you're a terrible teacher!" Harry cut him off.
"It works out then." Snape said with a menacing stretch of his thin lips. "Because you're a terrible student. For one thing, you're weeks late on your homework."
Harry chuckled. The git couldn't even apologise properly, but he'd never forget to remind Harry of his shortcomings.
Being outside again, on the Muggle street after so long, felt strangely… bearable. Especially with Snape around. For the first time in a long while Harry slipped out the door of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, and shut it behind him. It felt as though he was leaving it for good.
He knew that wasn't necessarily true. They might return here someday, Snape and he. One day, perhaps, when Harry'd reached forty: old and suitably grim. But Harry had many plans before then. He wanted to see the world, to visit many distant places: India, France, perhaps even Romania. He had a life to live.
He'd finish this one thing he absolutely had to do, and then he'd come back and rediscover all the friends he'd left behind, when he'd been driven away from them by a curse. Perhaps one day, when he was ready, he'd talk to Ron and Hermione and let them know that sometimes even unbreakable curses can be broken. But first he had a job to finish: to remove Voldemort from the face of the earth, erase him like a bad memory, quickly and with minimum damage. Cut him out like a cancer. He still felt driven, but not by hate anymore, only by a sense of duty and of an important task so far unfinished. One more piece of the puzzle to solve, one more Horcrux to break. That's all Voldemort is: just a piece of a soul that should never have survived, so twisted, for so long.
Harry hugged the book to his chest, the same dog-eared and stained Advanced Potion-Making text. The one he'd wanted for so long to take out his hatreds on, the one that now held his own jumbled thoughts in its margins, next to Snape's. He thought of all the hours he'd spent – that they'd both spent, over the years – turning the stained, yellowed pages, and poring over the notes written there: all the potions that could be brewed, all the curses that could be cast. Wandlessly, wordlessly, with a secure mind.
"I'm ready. The next time I use them," Harry said, "I won't fail."
Harry led Snape outside, where the shadows ended and the morning light began on the Muggle street. For a long moment they stood, face to face, as the day brightened all around them. Then Harry leaned forward, closed his eyes, and rested his forehead against Snape's one more time: taking refuge in him, from the blaring sounds and the glaring lights of the outside world.
He was really starting to like the lack of difference in their height.
The wizards left us and it was quiet, and it would be quiet for a long, long time, as the key's curse was redirected upon us instead. Dark days loomed ahead, almost as dark as that one day many years ago. When I was still a man.
The shadows filled my library, which was as silent as usual. I cast Tergeo upon my sleeves until it cleaned the lace to white.
A rustle. Too heavy to be a book. "Who's here?"
A boy was huddled in the corner: Regulus' friend, the filthy half-blood rat Walburga had taken such a liking to. His dark robes looked like they hadn't been changed in days, his hair fell in greasy, matted hanks on his forehead, and his black eyes burned in his ugly, sallow face. Eileen Prince's Muggle-spawned son. Such a common girl; I knew she'd never amount to anything.
Why what? "What are you doing here?"
"Why did you do it, you bastard?"
"Severus," I used his given name, pretending a friendliness I'd never felt for the guttersnipe, "you're not yourself."
"Where did you kill him? Here? He ran home, he could've found me but he came home to you, he thought you'd protect him!"
"He was your friend, and it might be hard to understand. He was my son but… treason must not go unpunished."
"Treason? He just wanted out! He was scared!"
Scared? So, he knows nothing. Regulus didn't tell him about the Horcruxes. This half-blood didn't incite rebellion in my son after all. Pity. But nothing can be done now. The boy stared up, and then the entire Library was shaken by a wandless, wordless burst of wild magic.
A prodigy indeed. It's wrong. Such pure talent shouldn't run in such polluted blood. Still, mongrel though he is, I have to be careful. I stepped back, hiding my shock at the strength of that instinctive magical flare. In the shadows behind me, my grimoires gathered.
"Didn't you hear me? He wanted OUT, and you MURDERED him for it!"
I drew a breath, but I never had the chance to speak.
It wasn't Severus who attacked me; no, the boy stood stock-still. There was no telling which book lunged first: they all did, plummeting from the high shelves all around me. A barrage of massive metal-bound tomes clubbed me to the floor until I was buried beneath an avalanche. Thousands of grimoires tore into my magic and into my body like a flock of leathery crows round a carcass. Piece by piece, each book moved away with something new of me – patches of skin for their covers, strands of hair to bind their fraying spines, blood to renew their faded ink – and as soon as one book took what it needed many more took its place. Until there was nothing cohesive left of me but pieces, scattered amid the volumes: excerpts and quotations and abridged editions of myself. Until I was no longer Orion Black. The parchment of my physicality had been scraped clean and overwritten like a palimpsest, and I had become part of the Place and the books and the Library.
There was still a boy in the corner, who had fallen to his knees. And we hastened to him: his face as pale as our pages, his hands clenched in tight fists. Many of us, all those who had communed most closely with him, rushed to surround him, as kittens will run to their mother, rustling our pages and creaking our covers; earmarked, stained, and nonetheless sympathetic.
Mostly, I kept my distance, but there were pieces of me, in other books, on other pages, that did not.
The boy slumped lower and held out his arms, circling as many of me, of us, as he could, surrounded by the huddle of dozens of warm leather spines: a makeshift embrace of slim chapbooks and heavy tomes alike. Together we mourned the reader who once caressed our pages, admired our illustrations, and loved our wisdom. We – I – mourned my son, as I never had before. Then, finally, Severus broke down, trying to touch every page that Regulus once touched, reaching for each book that once was Regulus' and his to share: all of Regulus' scribbles in the margins, and the notes charmed to open only for him tucked between the pages of encyclopaedias and Dark Arts volumes.
Severus sat on the floor, all alone – save for books as shunned and misunderstood as he: banned and bound into brotherhood, works that had collected me, as once I had collected them – and, all alone, he cried.
If I could weep, I would still be shedding tears today for my son, whom I sacrificed to my fears and my weakness. But I am not the man I once was; I am scattered, if not to the four winds, then at least to the four walls of this Library. Grimmauld is my resting-Place, amid grimoires covered with skin or stitched with hair that once belonged to a wizard. Lost between pages growing illegible with age, I am a tale cursed to go unread, in a Place cursed to be forgotten.
'Perhaps they'll be back,' the portraits still whisper. 'Perhaps this is not forever.'
But I know better. The wizards were happy as they left here, and happy people do not return to live in crypts. I grieved to see them go – we all did – but for my part, this is a mild penance for my crime and I accept it willingly. We all agreed: such solitude is a small price to pay for the happiness of two people.
Harry kept his promise. He didn't fail.
Despite all of Severus' teasing about brainless fools and affections, it took years until Harry caught anything other than the musty smell of Severus' potion stores in Amortentia's scent. Different times and places in their lives, he reached for the small phial in his pocket and checked, just to be sure. Eventually, the scent of Hogwarts dungeons and Grimmauld Place faded like winter mist, replaced by clear skies and summer days: heated Indian spices, sweet Romanian wine, the fresh scent of Mediterranean rain in his lover's dark hair, or the warm salt of Egyptian sun bronzing his lover's sallow skin.
But every once in a while, when Harry lifted the stopper on the phial, he'd catch that familiar, complex scent again: damp stone and musty parchment and iron and smoke and the sharpness of bitter herbs. It seemed as if time had turned back on itself, and in a moment from now Snape – not yet Severus – would stalk down the stairs, stalked in turn by potions fumes, and yell at Harry for being late for his Occlumency lesson.
He remembered Snape as if everything happened just yesterday. Those cavernous eyes, and the lank, black hair hanging limply over the harsh planes of his sallow face. Nothing attractive in him at all, one would think; but in time Harry grew to welcome the sight of those harsh features. Just as he always took a deep breath in dark, narrow, enclosed spaces, hoping to catch a trace of that stale but somehow beguiling smell: potions and books and dust.
As always, after every such trip down memory lane, Harry stoppered the small phial as tight as he possibly could and carefully hid it from sight in the bottom of his pocket. Hiding all of his memories safely away with it.
When the name of the Dark Lord was little more than a footnote in the history books, eclipsed by Harry's triumph, and Harry's lightning bolt scar had faded to pale, Harry did return to Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. He grinned at Mrs. Black's portrait, half hidden behind moth-eaten curtains. A mischievous gleam brightened eyes as green as ever behind round-framed glasses, just like the sunlight from the opened doorway brightened the dusty frame. In that sunlight, Harry traced a smiling face – two dots and a curve, as wide as his own smile – in the deep layer of dust covering the canvas. He might be getting old, but he was far from grim: that was one thing his younger self had turned out to be wrong about.
Mrs. Black's portrait squinted at him. "Severus? Did you finally get that nose seen to by a mediwizard?"
Harry snorted. He was past forty now, and he'd let his hair grow, and with that wild black mane, he could've passed as Severus, he supposed. Or a younger brother perhaps. Or maybe she couldn't have told a wizard from a witch through all that dust on her canvas.
Then a row of trunks floated through the entrance, and Severus poked his head round the door and grumbled, "I can still Incendio you, you mad old bat!"
Mrs. Black beamed as if he'd paid her a tremendous compliment. "Now that's the Severus I know!" she crowed. "Good to have you back."
Harry smiled fondly at Severus as he glared at someone who, for once, gave him a run for his Galleons in the crotchety old sod stakes. "Aww," Harry declared in teasingly sentimental tones, "There's no place like home!" He took a deep, relishing breath of the familiar scent of dust, and released it in a sigh of sheer contentment. He might've been pulling Severus' leg, but he knew deep down that those words were true, all the same.
He thought he heard Grimmauld itself answer him with a happy sigh of its own: doors and floorboards creaked, and dust motes swirled like dancing galaxies as a breeze blew through the open door past him and lifted the fluffy grey shroud from the windows and the canvases. Then as he looked down the hallway he saw the candles kindling to life one by one, fire and light racing from one to another along the hall and up the stairway, passing the flame and the news of their arrival from room to room.
Then there was a movement in the very walls: in every painting a shiver, and in every room a whisper growing to a murmur growing to the sound of an approaching crowd: "They're here! They're back! They're home!" Then Harry saw them, the portraits waking up and running from frame to frame, the people in them hurrying from every canvas in the house, crowding into to the single frame in front of him. One became two became a gathering became a party.
More and more of them reached the canvas, and they all looked back at him, smiling. Harry looked into the faces of the other people on the canvas behind Mrs. Black – no, Walburga – and little Regulus; and there was so many of them gathered there: Phineas Nigellus, smiling for once instead of sneering, and little Sirius, poking his head out between Phineas and snoozy old grandmother Irma, who was finally wide awake and regarding Harry with a curious stare. There was even a little old man with Harry's knobbly knees: the others made room for him near the front, "Say hello, Uncle Charlus, your grandson's back!" There were even portraits in there that Harry'd never seen move before, ones that he'd thought dead. And everywhere there were unruly heads of black hair like his, and noses like his, and even wide grins, like his. Harry looked at the portraits and realised what that crowded frame reminded him of: staring into the mirror of Erised when he was still a boy, and seeing his family for the first time in his life. And now all of them were flocking to Walburga's canvas, to welcome Harry back to his home.
Just when Harry thought it'd all be too much for his stinging eyes and his tight throat, Severus came up to stand behind him: as it had done for decades now, his quiet presence grounded Harry.
For the first time in his life, Harry felt he was where he belonged: with the family of his blood standing before him, and the family of his heart standing behind. Both had their faults – sinister and dark and brooding – which they made all too apparent to the outside world. But Harry knew they had their virtues too: loyalty and pride and strength that they often showed to no one but those they loved. Harry's hand slid up to cover the hand on his shoulder, and he leaned back against the warm support of Severus' wiry body. He'd had enough practice putting up with Severus all these years. He had a feeling he'd get along with the rest of them just fine.
That night, in the middle of unpacking, Harry followed Severus down the hall when he tripped over something furry and soft and almost fell. He didn't have a chance to say anything else 'cause the furry-and-soft beastie under his feet shook and lunged up with the strength of a mauling bear. The yeti! Just my luck it'd rather chomp on my nose instead of Severus'. I suppose mine's a more convenient mouthful.
Harry gave a startled yelp when the woolly beast's mouth closed instead on a target much closer to the ground than anyone's nose, except maybe a house elf's. Everything else Harry might've said came out as a squeak.
The yeti skin growled and gummed him gleefully. Harry was extremely thankful that it was so old it was missing all its teeth.
Severus turned around to stare at the kerfuffle. In fact, both of his eyebrows rose and his lips quirked, before he gave up and broke out in an honest-to-Merlin chuckle. "And here I thought house guardians weren't supposed to jump the Lord of the Manor," he observed, with that breeziness that said he was laughing like hell on the inside.
Sadistic sod! Harry wheezed and waved his hands through the hair- and dust-filled air, "Oi,somehelphere!"
Severus gave him an amused look before turning his attention to the yeti skin instead. He tut-tutted to it, "Are you sure that's wise?" When the yeti skin kept happily slobbering around its mouthful of Harry, Severus leaned down and asked the beastie in a faux-discreet stage-whisper, "D'you have any idea where that," a meaningful glance at Harry's favourite bits, "has been?"
Glass eyes boggled up at Severus, then the yeti skin spat and spluttered and slunk off to hide under the sofa. Harry could've sworn it was blushing, though it must've been a hell of a blush to show through all that fur.
Harry folded up at Severus' feet. Just then, it felt like he'd probably have to haul himself up Severus' body like a ladder, hand over hand, if he ever wanted to stand again. "I've been" – he wheezed – "mauled by a monster, and you just had to make fun of me!" If he could've reached, he'd've been tempted to go for Severus' throat and see if he couldn't choke him like a chicken.
"'Mauled?' Hardly. That looked more like an enthusiastic tonguebath to me. In fact, I wonder just how much of that wet is yeti saliva, and how much…" When Harry interrupted him with an incoherent yell of protest, Severus drawled, "Oh, don't be so melodramatic." By way of a peace offering, Severus helped Harry to stand and dusted off the worst of the stray hairs. "After all," Severus added after a pause for judicious consideration of the affected area, "it's not as though it was a big mouthful…"
This, of course, provoked another yell of protest from Harry, though this time there were rather more actual words in it. "What? Yeah, maybe not for a yeti's mouth, but it'll do to shut your gob!"
The gleam in Severus' eyes turned positively wicked. "That," he declared with every evidence of vast – and growing – anticipation, "sounds like a challenge."
A cheerful call of "You show that beaky bugger what for, son!" from the direction of Charlus Potter's portrait widened Harry's grin, just a bit, as did the yeti's mortified whimper. I'm going to Accio you out here and shag on you, you overgrown shag carpet! Teach you to tackle my tackle!
Harry shifted his grin into a leer and fired it at Severus. Yes, Harry thought as he revelled in the answering flare of heat in dark eyes, I reckon I'll get along here just fine.
The final trace of the curse on us has long faded, and at last, they have returned: the Master and his lover, who was also the beloved of my chosen Heir. Two sons of this House whom I never sired, whom we've lost, whom we've mourned. But I, we, all of us, have them back again.
They're home, and because of that, they make us a home. They live here now, and they bring light and life with them.
Welcome. Well come, indeed.
Two Lockets has been inspired by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ewan McGregor's Ranty McRantyPantshttp://www.youtube. com/watch?ve0nPXOAREU0, Celestina Warbeck http://www.hp-lexicon. org/wizworld/music.html, Astronomy http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Regulus, The Hermit – and Harry's look-alike – from the Art Nouveaux Tarot (Carta Mundi, Belgium, 1989) http://pics.livejournal. com/ac1d6urn/pic/000cr86c , and these origami bird instructions http://www.jamboree.freedom-in-education. co. uk/w's20craft20corner/paper20dove.htm.
We borrowed The Necrotelecomnicon and the Liber Paginarum Fulvarum from the library of the hilarious Terry Pratchett. (We promised The Librarian we'd return them before their due dates.)
The idea that Elphaba from Wicked is an older relative of Snape's was previously used in Harry Potter and the Ill-Tempered Potions Master by Dragonlight and Dementordelta http://www.walkingtheplank. org/archive/viewuser.php?uid236. In Two Lockets, Snape invented her and her flying monkey kink to test Harry's grasp of reality (not to mention his knowledge of Muggle culture). Poor Harry scored a T on that particular test.
The song which Harry tortures Snape with is "A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love" performed by Celestina Warbeck: a "particularly jazzy number" with sentimental associations for Mrs. Weasley and the following lyrics
Oh, come and stir my cauldron,
And if you do it right,
I'll boil you up some hot, strong love
To keep you warm tonight.
Any time Snape hears Harry perpetrate it, he returns fire with a Warbeck 'timeless masterpiece' beginning with "You charmed the heart right out of me," (adding sarky allusions to a Sectumsempra scar). If Harry's being particularly cheeky, Snape often adds another Warbeck song "You stole my heart but you can't have my cauldron" to the auditory spanking.