February 21, 1997: Snape
"Do you still feel it?" Snape inquired, releasing Potter's hand. They had made a habit of holding hands for about a minute at the start of each lesson, and each time Snape became more loathe to let go.
Potter furrowed his brow. "Well, not now that we've let go, of course. But I felt it before, just like always."
" 'Just like always'? Are you certain the sensation has not changed?"
"Yeah, it still feels just the same. Why, don't you feel it too?" Potter asked, looking worried.
"For a brief moment," Snape answered, "and only just. It is to be expected, of course, that in the twenty years I have on you I have been able to access more of my magic than yourself. You simply began with more magic held in reserve than I."
Though if it was true that the magical release had not diminished for Potter at all, he must have had much more magic to begin with than Snape ever expected. All they could do was wait and see. And it was time they began their lesson.
"Wand away, Mr. Potter. We will be trying something a bit different this evening."
He could see the young man trying to hide his disappointment. No doubt he thought Snape was going to make him read, or engage in some other equally distasteful activity. He was in for a surprise.
Snape tapped the paperweight on his desk and instructed, "Summon it."
"But," said Potter and his hand went automatically to his wand holster.
"Wand away, I said. Now summon it."
The brat looked at him like he had two heads, but complied nonetheless. "Accio paperweight," he incanted, and almost missed the small flat-bottomed sphere as it came flying toward him.
"Wicked!" he exclaimed, eyes wide. "So, can all adult wizards do wandless magic then? Once they've figured how to get to enough of their magic, I mean? I know the headmaster can."
"Indeed, the headmaster is quite proficient with wandless magic. The Dark Lord is less so, thought still quite capable. The only other two practitioners I know of are your Head of House and myself, though we are both capable only of the simplest spells—summoning our own wands and the like."
He hesitated a moment before continuing. Lately he had been so open and talkative with this young man, and it was frankly a bit bizarre. He had not even insulted him this evening. Well, there was nothing for it now—he might as well finish.
"I have not attempted wandless magic in a few months. I am quite keen to reassess my abilities—we shall practice together."
So practice they did. They began with Summoning Charms and levitating small objects. As they went on, Snape found he had no trouble at all transfiguring his desk into a mountain lion or a small shrimp boat. Yes, his skill level had definitely grown.
Potter seemed to be having an even easier time of it. He had all the books from Snape's shelf flying about over their heads, engaged in an intricate dance. He did not even seem to be paying much attention to them.
"Very well, Mr. Potter. Please return those to the shelves in the arrangement in which you found them."
Potter did so quickly and grinned up at him, obviously quite pleased with himself. For a split second, it almost made Snape want to smile back at him.
"Wipe that stupid grin off your face—this is quite serious. I believe the next step is for us to practice wandless dueling," Snape said in his best Professor Voice.
It seemed to work, because Potter's face became rather serious indeed. "I know," he said. "I haven't forgotten why we're doing this just because I'm having fun. I need to learn everything I can so I can bring that evil, hypocritical bastard down."
"Language, Mr. Potter," he admonished automatically, but it was a different word that caught his attention. He had heard the Dark Lord called many things, but he could not recall 'hypocritical' being among them.
"Why do you say that? What do you think makes him a hypocrite?"
Potter shrugged. "I just don't understand how he can talk about muggle-borns and half-bloods and all the way he does when he's half-blood himself. And he doesn't just say it for his pure-blood followers, he really means it."
What? Snape was having some trouble wrapping his brain around this. "What do you mean he's a half-blood?"
Potter cocked his head to the side. "You didn't know? His father was a muggle. Dumbledore didn't tell you?"
Snape shook his head mutely. No, he bloody well did not know! Blind rage was bubbling up inside him and threatening to spill out when it was abruptly superceded by the sensation that his left arm had caught fire. Speak of the devil.
"I am being summoned," he hissed through clenched teeth, resisting the instinct to cradle his arm close to his body. It would not help—nothing would help.
Potter looked stricken and frozen to the spot. "Back to your dormitory, Potter, I must leave at once!"
Snape gave Potter his most threatening glare, and he finally moved toward the door. Before he slipped out, the turned back.
"Just…just be careful, okay?" he said softly, and then he was gone.
Snape did not pause to examine the warm feeling he got to think that the young man might actually care what happened to him. No, he needed to hurry—it was never pleasant to be the last to arrive at a meeting.
He floo-called Albus to let him know, rushed to the gates, conjured his customary mask, and disapparated.
When he arrived in the same dark, stone room from the last meeting, he was surprised to find only two others present besides the Dark Lord. Judging by their posture, likely Malfoy Sr. and the infuriating little rat.
He stepped forward, prepared to kneel and kiss the hem of his robes when the Dark Lord spoke.
"Stop there, Severus."
His tone contained none of the usual false affection—he had not even called him 'dear Severus'. This did not bode well.
"My Lord?" he asked, letting his confusion show and edging it with a slight pout as if he felt he had been deprived of a treat.
The Dark Lord sneered. "Tell me, Severus, how is young Harry doing? Have his dueling skills flourished under your tutelage?" he inquired mockingly.
"My Lord?" Snape ventured once more.
"Do not attempt to fool me with your lies and false loyalty any longer!" he raged. "I know who you are, and I will not stand for it!"
He pointed his wand directly at the center of Snape's chest and took a breath. Snape knew exactly what was coming. He knew these were his final moments, and there was not a thing he could do about it. his wand was still tucked in its holster and there was no way he could get to it in time.
He found himself thinking, 'I'll miss you, brat,' just before he heard the words.
And then he was hitting the ground—and wasn't the Killing Curse supposed to be instantaneous?—and his body was screaming everywhere, in places he did not even know he had, that the Cruciatus had never touched—and wasn't the Killing Curse supposed to be painless? Why was he not dead yet?
He glanced up to see the Dark Lord looking down at him with the same confusion he felt himself. The Dark Lord glared and raised his wand again. It was at that point it occurred to Snape that he could most likely apparate wandlessly now.
Before the curse could be repeated, Snape closed his eyes and disappeared.
February 21, 1997: Harry
It was practically curfew by the time Harry got back to Gryffindor Tower, and he immediately crawled into bed without even bothering to undress. His worry for Snape was so all-consuming that he suspected he wouldn't be sleeping tonight anyway.
It was strange, this overwhelming worry over a man he had loathed a bare few months ago. And for some completely inexplicable reason, he felt guilty about it, like he was betraying the Prince by letting Snape occupy so many of his thoughts. And it was just absurd! No matter what Harry might fantasize, he and the Prince did not have a proper relationship, or anything even resembling one. The Prince probably wouldn't like him even if he did know who Harry was. Which he didn't, so this whole line of thought was pointless. He needed a distraction.
There were two books on his bedside table, and thumbing through the Prince's Potions text would really just defeat the purpose, so he picked up his parseltongue spellbook. As it turned out, Hermione had been right and the thing was simply called Parseltongue Magic.
He had been making steady progress through the book since Christmas, but it was slow going. He had started the section entitled "Dark Spells for Devious Serpents" a few days back and it was kind of disturbing—the perfect distraction.
So he settled into the covers and read about how to animate Inferi and various methods of vivisection and how to set a person's blood boiling. Then he came across a spell that just had to be the one Voldemort used to mark his Death Eaters.
'This spell will bind a servant to his master, leaving a magical connection and a mark which the master can use to call the servant in times of need or punish him in cases of disobedience,' said the spell description. Yes, that definitely sounded like the Dark Mark.
He read over the incantation for the spell, and he was certain he had heard it before. Or perhaps he'd read it somewhere? He wracked his brain for a couple of minutes before he finally remembered and snatched the Potions book off the bedside table, flipping through it frantically.
There! There it was.
'I am uncertain what had been done to me,' the Prince had written, 'Sahashee thessah sheethee?'
It was part of the marking spell, transliterated into the Roman alphabet by someone who was not a parselmouth. Written down by the Half-Blood Prince.
And then it hit him—his Prince had taken the Dark Mark. His Prince was a Death Eater. No wonder he'd invented all those spells 'for enemies'.
But it kind of sounded like he'd regretted it, right? 'I know I have brought this upon myself,' he'd said. That meant he knew he'd made the wrong choice. Right?
Harry just knew the Prince wasn't evil. He was a good man. He was smart and well-spoken and sarcastic and probably the best brewer Hogwarts had ever seen.
Oh sweet Merlin. He knew who it was, who his Prince really was.
He grabbed his invisibility cloak, made sure he had the spellbook, and ran out the door, ignoring Ron's questions as to where he was going this time of night. He had to get to the dungeons.
Five minutes later, he was pounding on Snape's office door, still struggling to catch his breath. There was no answer. When he considered the fact that it was now after midnight, it wasn't really surprising.
The door wasn't locked or warded, so he went in and headed for the door he'd seen Snape use a couple of times. This had to be the entrance to his quarters, right? Harry certainly hoped so. He just had to find him.
He knocked, but again there was no answer. Maybe Snape was asleep. Surely he would have made it back from the meeting by now? Harry knocked harder.
Finally, the door was opened.
"Snape, thank Merlin! You'll never believe what I found out—I can get rid of it! I found the counterspell. I can remove the Dark Mark!"
There was no response from Snape. He just stood there, his hand still on the doorknob, looking bewildered. On closer inspection, Harry saw that he was deathly pale and held himself like he was in a great deal of pain. He also got the impression Snape had been wearing the bewildered expression for a while, so it must not be due to his unannounced midnight visit or his news. Had Snape even heard him?
"Sir? Are you okay? Did something happen at the meeting?" he asked, hoping he was not about to get hexed for posing questions that were none of his business.
Then, to his complete and utter surprise, Snape actually answered him.
"The Dark Lord had learned of my true loyalties," Snape said, his voice uncharacteristically shaky. "Malfoy was there—he must have said something, but I cannot think how he would have known. Then he cast the…or I thought he had. He spoke the words, and I fell, but I do not know how I survived. Then I disapparated."
"He cast the Killing Curse on you?" Harry aked.
Snape nodded, then shook his head. "He…I am not certain. I thought he had. But here I stand."
Harry grinned. "I think he really did cast it. It was your necklace, it protected you. I can't believe it actually worked!"
Snape's hand flew to his chest where Harry knew the pendant lay under his clothes, against his skin.
"How did you know? You could not possibly…" he trailed off and his eyes widened. "You?"
"Well, mostly to apologize, I suppose, for invading your privacy. Repeatedly. And to let you know how much I respect you." Harry paused. They were still standing in the doorway, he noticed. "Look, would it be okay if I came in?"
Snape looked skeptical, but stood aside to let him through and closed the door behind him. He did not take a seat, nor did he offer Harry one. He supposed standing in Snape's sitting room was better than standing in his doorway, at least.
"Did you say you could remove it?" Snape asked suddenly.
Harry nodded. "Would you like me to?"
"How can you know how to do that?"
"Well, someone close to me took the Mark—he knows it was a mistake, and he's spent his life since then trying to atone for it, I think—but he took it and he wrote down part of the marking spell in a book of mine. And that helped me know what I was looking at when I found it in a spellbook. Yes, I know who you are," he said softly, then repeated his question. "Would you like me to remove it?"
Snape did not answer immediately. He just stood there, staring at Harry with an intensity he had never experienced before. Had he said too much? Had he gone and ruined the working relationship they had painstakingly created? Snape was definitely not acting quite himself, but Harry supposed if he'd just survived the Killing Curse he'd probably be even more freaked out that Snape was.
After several minutes, Snape gave a curt nod and rolled up his sleeve. Harry let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding.
"Right then." He opened the book to the right page so he could read the counterspell from the text—it was not exactly concise and he didn't want to chance bollocksing it up—and stepped closer so he could place his hand over the Mark. After a few seconds, Snape gave him a questioning look.
"I'm just waiting for the tingling to slack off some. It's distracting," he explained.
Once the tingle had got down to a level he could ignore, he began. Then, just as he was coming up on the end, Snape tensed and closed his eyes like he was in pain. Harry really hoped that it wasn't his fault, but he just had a few more words to get through and it would all be over.
When he had finished, it seemed Snape was no longer hurting. He was staring down at his unblemished arm in wonder.
"I didn't hurt you, did I? Toward the end there?" Harry asked.
Snape finally tore his eyes away and looked up. "No, that was the Dark Lord. I believe he could tell what was happening and tried to prevent it. He tried to retain his hold on me—I could feel him."
"Now he is gone, and I feel…gods, I feel so light. Free."
Harry smiled. "I'm glad to hear it."
Snape still had that look of wonder on his face. "Why, why would you do this for me? I do not deserve it."
He shrugged. "How could I not? You're my Prince."
With a furrowed brow, Snape raised his hand and brushed a finger down Harry's cheek. He placed his hand over Snape's to keep it there and could not help but lean into the touch.
Snape swallowed audibly. "May I…that is to say…oh gods. Harry, I just need to touch you."
With no hesitation, Harry leaned closer and wrapped his arms around Snape, holding him close.
"I know. I need to touch you, too."