Chapter 25: Where the End is Going to Be

Severus watched Black as he huddled over Potter; listened as he babbled nonsensical words to the boy.

Black's fingers were trembling against Potter's shoulder; the hand aimlessly patting in jerky movements.

And Severus knew an urge to grab Black's hand and still the frenetic movements; instead, he pulled back, away from the storm of raw emotion emanating from the other man.

And so he sat, eyes watching Potter's face for signs of movement. The boy could not remain this way—not if Potter was going to destroy Voldemort, as he must do.

And yes, there was indeed a solution, and if Black would not interfere it would likely work.

Severus pulled his wand from his sleeve. "I will enter his mind once more. It may be possible to for… persuade him to leave."

Black didn't even look up. "I'll come with you."

Severus narrowed his eyes, quickly calculating the odds of success with Black along to coddle Potter. "Someone must monitor his vital signs," he finally said. "Entering his mind will not be without danger to him."

Black barely hesitated before he nodded.

Severus wasted no time in putting his wand up to Potter's temple, lest Black change his mind. "Legilimens," Severus said curtly, and left Black to his vigil.

Severus was immediately caught up in powerful currents as he entered Potter's mind. Assuming that Potter was drowning, Severus allowed himself to be pulled along, scanning the churning waters carefully. And he soon found Potter, but rather than flailing in the torrents, Potter was swimming. With uncustomary purpose.

Potter! Where are you going?

Potter didn't even glance at him as Severus came up alongside him.

Looking for Voldemort.

Perplexed, Severus stayed with Potter, who began swimming faster. The Dark Lord? he echoed. Explain, he ordered when Potter ignored him.

I can feel individual streams.

Severus eyed Potter, who seemed determined to keep his eyes focused ahead. Mine and Black's?

All of them. There are millions of streams. And I can feel each one.

Severus absorbed the explanation. Each is distinct?

Yes.

Severus' eyes narrowed in surprise. You can sense whose consciousness belongs to each one? Sense the Dark Lord among them?

No. Potter's strokes become more forceful. But it doesn't matter. I'll find him.

Why?

Potter finally glanced at him, though he didn't slow his pace. I can get rid of him.

How?

Potter looked away. I don't know.

You don't know? Severus scowled at Potter's profile; he was attacking the water with each slice of his arms. Potter!

Potter ignored him.

Impatience finally overtaking him, Severus grabbed Potter's elbow, abruptly stilling his repetitive motions. Potter tried to shake him off, but Severus had no trouble overpowering him.

Potter's green eyes blazed. Let go of me.

Why are you suddenly so eager to find the Dark Lord?

I told you. I can get rid of him. Potter had stopped struggling, but Severus didn't loosen his hold.

How do you plan to distinguish the Dark Lord's stream among an entire ocean? Potter had no answer. Relentless, Severus pressed, If you can find him, how are you going to get rid of him?

Potter jerked his arm away. I don't know, all right?

Severus narrowed his eyes, studying the determined set to Potter's jaw. Why do you need to destroy the Dark Lord?

Potter stared at him in cloying silence. He looked away as he answered. Security. To make sure there's room for you.

I told you already, Potter, Severus answered shortly. I will fix-

Potter spun sharply around to look at him. You can't kill yourself!

Severus did not react to Potter's outburst, which seemed to aggravate the young man further.

I know you think I'm some selfish, spoiled little prat, but you really thought I'd just stand there and let you drink poison?!

I thought, Severus retorted snidely, that you would show a modicum of sense for once. There is no other solution-

There has to be, Potter shot right back. He glared for a second longer and then shook his head, looking disgusted. I'm going to find Voldemort.

Severus grabbed Potter's wrist before he could swim off, not squeezing hard enough to break bones—but hard enough to make Potter flinch. Severus did not relent. Listen carefully, he said coldly. You have no idea how to destroy the Dark Lord's stream. You may very well be killing yourself.

Potter sneered at him, which made Severus' temper flare; he jerked the boy toward him.

Whether or not I am indeed nothing better than a puppet, as you termed me, I made a vow to the headmaster. I have not kept it all these years, just to see you kill yourself.

Instead of trying to pull away, Potter pressed his face close to Severus'. You think you're the only one who's allowed to sacrifice himself? Just because you were responsible for my parents' deaths, doesn't mean I'll just let you die-

Severus flung Lily's son away from him. Let me? he parroted acidly. It is not your choice, Potter. I entered your mind to end this little hero's stunt you've taken on.

It's not a hero's stunt! How could it be when I hate you?! But I'm not going to wait around and do nothing while you off yourself!

I should have died, Severus stressed, his lips stretched thinly. I should already be dead.

Well, you aren't, Potter retorted. And since you aren't, there must be a reason.

Yes, there is, Severus sneered. You interfered.

Well, I didn't mean to, Potter snapped, if that makes you feel any better.

Severus had no answer to that. It did not make him feel better.

Potter sighed, and ran a hand through his untidy hair. Look, I just don't think killing yourself is the only way to fix this. You can't really want to die.

My own wishes mean nothing.. They never had.

Well, they should, Potter said simply. He gestured vaguely. Especially now that you don't have to report to Voldemort any longer. You can do anything you want now.

Is that so? What other purpose would you imagine I could serve? Severus asked snidely, the words leaving his tongue before he could stop them. He bared his teeth at Potter, hoping it would intimidate the boy enough that he would not answer.

Potter stared at him for too long. Is that why you're so eager to die? Because without Voldemort or Dumbledore around, you think you have no purpose?

I am not here for an analysis. And we have no more time for this redundant conversation.

I'm not leaving. Potter crossed his arms over his chest. Dumbledore wanted you to train me, didn't he?

Severus' lip curled. Are you attempting to trick me into agreeing that I must live?

Potter shrugged. I doubt that would work, he said seriously. But that's what Dumbledore wanted, wasn't it? That and to keep me safe so that I would be able to defeat Voldemort?

And so I have. Severus refused to allow this smarmy child to outsmart him.

If I don't to find Voldemort now, I'll have to face him out there.

Ah yes, I see now why the headmaster always insisted you were such a clever child.

Potter's relaxed stance did not falter. I'm clever enough to realize that I need to be trained if I want to have a chance against Voldemort.

Your godfather is not wizard enough?

Potter gazed back at Severus, unperturbed. Do you really think Sirius can prepare me to meet Voldemort? He said himself that there wasn't anyone better than you to teach me.

There are others, you realize, Severus reminded him derisively. Any of the Order members would surely trip over themselves in their eagerness to assist-

Are any of them as capable as you though, Professor?

Severus glared at the young man in front of him. Your attempts at manipulation-

I'm not trying to manipulate you, Potter interrupted forcefully. I'm asking you to really think about this. I'll still have to defeat Voldemort if you die. Dumbledore asked you to help me because he knew you could. I'm asking you to help me, Professor. Help me do what I have to do.

Severus stared at Potter, unwilling to allow himself to believe that this plea was anything but another manipulation. Even the sincerity in Potter's eyes would not convince him otherwise. He would be a tool in the same way he had always been for both Albus and the Dark Lord. Potter did not truly care whether he lived or died.

It was impossible.

I cannot train you if you are in a coma.

Potter did not react to his scathing words. I can feel the streams, he said, repeating his earlier words. It's hard to explain, but I'm controlling them. I can feel your stream, tangled around me. I don't think I'll have to let it go when I wake up.

You don't think?

Well, I won't know unless I try it, Potter said reasonably. He shifted his stance, his jaw showing its familiar stubborn line. I don't think there's anything you can do to stop me. He narrowed his eyes. Because I can control the streams, Professor. He pointed in the direction from where they had just come. Sirius' stream is there.

Your point?

Potter didn't answer. He closed his eyes; his lips pressed tightly together for a long minute. And then he opened his eyes again. It's here now—beside me.

You brought Black's stream to you? Severus demanded, unable to still his surprise.

Harry shrugged. I told you; I can recognize it.

And you believe you could do the same with the Dark Lord's stream--if you can find it?

Yes.

And do you have any idea how to destroy it?

I can manip-

Manipulation is not the same as destruction.

Potter's superior stance faltered.

I will make a bargain with you, Potter, Severus said, his voice lowering to draw the boy's attention. I will assist with your effort to extract me—whole—from this place. And if we can discover how you manipulate the streams, I will help you find the means to destroy the Dark Lord.

To his credit, Potter's nod was wary.

But if you fail to extract me now, Severus said simply, you will allow me die--as I should have.

Potter stared at him. And then he nodded jerkily.

I will keep you to your word, Potter, Severus warned. Potter swallowed but he didn't argue.

Take my hand. Severus' lips pinched in distaste, but he did as asked. Potter gripped his hand tightly, and closed his eyes.

The ocean waters began to churn. They rolled and bucked, spinning Severus and Potter with them. Severus began spiraling, feeling as though he was caught in a whirling vortex.

He could feel a pressure—a pulling against his very being; Potter attempting to force his stream back to the merged realities. And though Severus wanted to obey the pressure, he knew he should remain here—leave his conscious behind in this place so that the realities would merge again.

No! Potter cried out as Severus was spun away from him. And then Severus was alone—drowning in the currents.

But the pressure increased again, willing Severus forward through the frenzied water. The currents—and some part of Severus—fought back against the pull. Back and forth, Potter and Fate battled. And they would, until one crushed the other.

--

Sirius watched helplessly as Harry continued to writhe beside him. And then, his eyes still closed, Harry took a gasping breath.

His eyelids fluttered.

Sirius gripped his godson's clammy hand. "Harry?"

Harry's eyes slowly opened; a drop of sweat trailed from his fringe. "Sirius," Harry whispered, his fingers curling around Sirius', "is he here?" He swallowed. "Did he… make it?"

Sirius frowned, even as he brushed a worried thumb over Harry's cheek. "Who?"

"Snape," Harry croaked. "I can control the streams… I can keep the realities together now. I tried to bring Snape back with me."

Sirius had no idea what Harry was talking about. "He's right here," Sirius said, nodding his head toward Snape, who had come back to himself only a moment ago—after a very odd few minutes of fading in and out while Harry had flailed.

Harry turned his head sharply toward Snape.

Snape stared unperturbedly back at him. "Congratulations, Potter," he said dryly, "you are now, not only the Boy Who Lived, but also the Boy Who Controls Fate."

Harry actually grinned. "We did it," he said excitedly, though he was breathing heavily as he turned back to Sirius. Sirius turned his gaze from Snape, completely confused. Harry was struggling to sit up. Sirius grasped his arms and helped him until he was upright. "Sirius, you're both here! I did it!"

Sirius had no idea what either of them was talking about—except that Harry had almost gotten himself killed. Sirius' fingers tightened against his godson's arms. "If you ever do something like that again," he began fiercely, but his stern voice wobbled and instead of finishing the threat, he pulled Harry to him, holding his godson so tightly that he probably couldn't even breathe. . "My God Harry, I have no idea what I'd do without you."

He fought against tears of relief as Harry hugged him just as tight, not quite winning and then Sirius glanced over Harry's mop of black hair—at Snape who was slowly getting to his feet. "Thank you," he said quietly. Snape, after what seemed an eternity, inclined his head.

Sirius nodded shakily, pressed his lips into Harry's damp hair, and decided not to allow Harry out of his sight ever again.

They sat there for a long time—long after Snape had shuffled from the room, his wand trembling in pale fingers. They sat there until Sirius realized he wasn't going to feel any less cross with his godson; no matter that he had never been prouder of anyone. He pulled Harry to arm's length. Harry blinked up at him, the bloodshot eyes telling their own story of battles waged and lost.

"Have you any idea of how foolish that was?" Sirius demanded softly. "You could have been killed. Not to mention that you promised me that you would wait."

"I know…"

"You didn't."

Harry chewed his bottom lip as his eyes flicked to the bed and then back to Sirius' face. "I'm sorry," he said thickly. He swallowed, his voice its normal timbre when he spoke again, "I really am… But I couldn't let Snape die."

Sirius sighed, almost ready to let his exhausted godson off the hook. "I know," he agreed with a nod. "Which is why I'm not scolding you right now."

Harry opened his mouth, promptly snapped it shut again when Sirius raised both eyebrows. Harry's lips quirked. "Thanks," he said. Sirius nodded. He didn't smile though, instead planting his palms on Harry's shoulder.

"Don't lie to me again," he said seriously. Harry immediately flushed. "I meant what I said downstairs," Sirius went on before he could protest. "I will help you; with anything you need to do. Saving Snape was included in that promise."

Sirius' gaze was unrelenting and properly chastised now, Harry nodded. "Sorry," he mumbled, the blush darkening his cheeks again.

Sirius smiled gently and gripped his shoulders, eliciting a less mirthful smile from his godson this time. And then it was with considerable effort that Sirius pushed himself up. As soon as he was steady, he gave Harry a hand up, cinching him round the waist when it looked like he was going to topple.

Harry blew out a breath as they finally dropped onto Sirius' bed. He looked around the room and asked in some surprise, "Where did Snape go?"

Pain was radiating throughout most of Sirius' body but he managed to grimace through it and shake his head. "Downstairs, I suppose."

Harry was grimacing as well. "You don't think he'll do something stupid, do you?"

Sirius glanced at the door, through which Snape had exited only a few moments ago and then back to study Harry's features. "He seemed considerably more cheerful than when we came up here together."

"I almost couldn't convince him to come with me," Harry said, ending that remark with a yawn. "I had to tell him he was the only one who could train me…"

Sirius smiled at Harry's waggling eyebrows.

"He has no idea how clever you are, I don't think," Harry said through another yawn. Sirius shrugged and gave his godson a gentle push toward the pillow.

"I did tell you that there's no one better to teach you about the Dark Arts." Another little nudge; firmer this time. "Lie back before you tumble right onto the floor."

Harry let his head hit the pillow with a smirk. "Done that a few times lately, haven't I?"

"Yes," Sirius agreed with a chuckle as he slid Harry's glasses away from his face. "Quite enough times, if you don't mind."

Harry smiled as he toed off his shoes. "Not sure I can sleep, you know," he said as Sirius drew the blanket up to his chest. "Not even sure what it feels like to sleep any longer."

"I'm fairly certain that once you close your eyes, it'll sort itself out," Sirius told him as he resettled himself on the foot of the bed, even though he wanted nothing more than to sleep for at least three days. But Harry's green eyes were bright—confirming that sleep was elusive just now.

"Snape's stream is here now," Harry said, tapping his temple with two fingers. "That's what I meant when I said I brought the streams together. I'm keeping him here. It's not difficult," he rushed to add when Sirius frowned. "I can tell I'm doing it… like half my brain is concentrating on something else besides talking to you."

Sirius leaned forward, as if he'd be able to see what was going on inside Harry's head. "But how will you be able to keep that up? It'll exhaust you-"

"I don't think so. And I think I can keep practicing with it. That's what Snape is going to help me with." Harry tried to stifle a yawn and couldn't quite manage it. "There are millions of streams… all making up that ocean we saw." His eyes began to water as he caught another broad yawn. "We're going to find Voldemort…"

Sirius stared at him, but he had to swallow all of his questions. Harry's eyelids were growing heavy.

"Go to sleep," Sirius murmured as Harry struggled to open his eyes. "You'll tell me all about it when you wake up."

Harry smiled lazily. "'mkay..."

Sirius smiled to himself as he watched sleep claim his godson for the first time in weeks—real sleep. Sleep that would finally erase those dark smudges under Harry's eyes, take the rickety stress out of his steps. And finally allow Sirius to breathe again.

--

Sirius grinned as Harry fired a particularly powerful Blasting Curse.

"Even better than the last one," Sirius told him, smiling proudly at the obliterated target. Harry grinned over his shoulder before turning back to the next target. He shifted his stance a little bit so that he could get a better aim.

"This one'll be even better," he said as he tilted his head and squinted at his target.

"You confidence will undermine you, Potter."

Harry glanced over at Snape. "It will be better though," he said, giving the man a challenging smile. In response, Snape glared at him.

"Well then?" he demanded. "We don't have all day."

"Then maybe you should stop interrupting him," Sirius suggested. Snape didn't answer, though he did glare at the target pointedly. Harry twisted back around and true to his word, the target was reduced to dust seconds later.

"We will need to work on your stance," Snape told Harry, going over to inspect the damage. "Focus the curse," he admonished, "and you will do even more damage."

Sirius came up on Harry's other side. "I don't think Harry's opponent will be complaining that he wasn't blasted to small enough bits," he said, peering down in admiration at the result of Harry's hard work.

"His stance will matter more if he is dueling a flesh and blood opponent," Snape returned. To Harry he said, "You will do it again, and you will focus this time. We will work on your mental exercises next."

From what Sirius could understand from the rather complicated conversations over the last several days, Harry and Snape were looking for Voldemort inside the vast ocean that Harry visualized as reality. And using techniques that seemed uncomfortably like the Imperius Curse to Sirius, Harry could manipulate the streams. It was how he'd forced Snape to follow him out of Harry's mind.

And it was how Harry kept the streams together—despite the fact that Snape was decidedly not dead—and with each nightly session, Harry's control of the vast ocean grew. Enough that keeping the realities together was second nature to Harry now—as natural as breathing.

Sirius looked up as Harry sighed; Snape was correcting his stance once more.

"I am trying," Harry insisted.

"It's nearly dinner," Sirius interjected, mildly, stepping in between them and putting an arm round Harry's shoulder. "You can try it again after we eat. You'll be able to focus better that way."

Snape, though he looked annoyed, didn't bother to argue.

"My stance is better than it was two days ago," Harry pointed out as he and Sirius turned toward the kitchen.

"Perhaps if you explain to the Dark Lord that you've tried your best, he will have mercy on you," Snape drawled from behind them.

Harry chuckled at that. He paused as Sirius pushed open the kitchen door, turning to look at Snape. "Want to help us with dinner?" he asked casually. Sirius tried to hide his smile at the look of surprise on Snape's thin face.

Sirius and Harry had been making all the meals since Harry had merged the realties. Both of them enjoyed the time together, especially as Order members had begun to come and go as they had before the realities had split—Voldemort's threat had only increased as Harry's power continued to grow.

Snape's surprise didn't last long; and then his features were blank once more. "I must study the texts before we begin our next session," he answered, as if Harry's question had been nothing out of the ordinary.

"Well, if you want a break, we have a whole pile of potatoes to peel," Harry said with a half-smile.

"I am not a house-elf, Potter." Snape turned back to the old texts—taken from the Black family library, leaving Harry and Sirius to their self-appointed task.

"That was very kind of you to offer," Sirius said as he tossed a potato to Harry.

Harry plucked it from the air as it came toward him. "Think he'll ever get lonely enough to actually take me up on it?"

"We'll cut our work nearly in half if he does," Sirius said, making a face at the mound of potatoes; there was an Order meeting during dinner.

Harry grinned and together, he and Sirius set to work.

The End

~*~

Author's Notes: The story will continue in Imperio, the second part of The Unforgiveables trilogy. A huge thank you to JadeSullivan for all you've done to make this story what it is. It's a very different story than it was meant to be, and thanks to Jade, I'm thrilled with what its become. So, if you've enjoyed this story at all, thank her too. Brilliant lady, she is.