"Do this elsewhere!" Severus all but roared in the din caused by the arrival of the Weasley boy's parents. Exclamations of horror mingled with relief rang out in the room, drowning out the sounds of Harry's laboured breathing that the new arrivals had not yet noticed. At his shout the occupants of the room paused and fell silent, turning to regard Severus who was glaring about furiously, leaning protectively over the small stone; his only link to Harry, his only source of information.
Albus took charge of the situation, shepherding the Weasley's quietly out of the room. He remained behind a moment and Severus, concentrating intently on the stone once more, straining to hear anything that might give him a clue as to Harry's whereabouts, did not catch what he said to Minerva before he left the room.
"No, get off me-" Harry gasped, the sounds of crunching leaves and twigs dying away to be replaced by harsh spells and a sharp hiss of pain.
"Is that-" Minerva began, her expression appalled as she realised what she was hearing. Severus silenced her with a gesture, his heart thumping an uncomfortably fast rhythm.
"We don't want you going anywhere, do we now?" Moody's voice growled, his voice coming across slightly quieter than Harry's. It was unbearable to hear, yet unthinkable to leave. He desperately hoped that Crouch would continue, would say something, would gloat even. If only he would say something to give away his location or his intent. Crouch evidently had nothing more to say, or as was far more likely, something more significant than taunting Harry was taking up his attention.
"No, no, no, no..." Harry moaned quietly.
"My Lord..." Crouch said, Moody's voice utterly imploring. Severus clenched his eyes shut.
The sight of the odd child-sized creature filled him with dread and a sinking sense of déjà vu as he pulled futilely against the conjured ropes that bound him to the gravestone, burning his wrists on the cords wrapped around his arms. He could only assume it was his disgust that was causing him to retch and not the blinding pain in his scar, which had returned full force and only increased as it came closer. Crouch bent in a low bow as it approached and Harry was able to see for the first time who held the creature.
"I should have let them kill you," he spat, enraged, vigorously renewing his efforts to free himself when Wormtail came into view.
Wormtail ignored him, handing the shrunken thing to the impostor whose expression showed clearly that he thought it nothing short of the greatest honour that he should carry him, even for a moment. Harry shuddered at having it so close, instinctively jerking as far as his bindings would allow when the infant-creature shifted in the impostor's arms. He bit his lip, hard, in an attempt not to cry out. It was Voldemort, he knew it; he could feel it in the pain coursing through his scar, in the memories struggling to resurface in his brain, in the horror emanating from Wormtail as he scurried about the graveyard.
"It is ready, my Lord," Wormtail declared, now finished scampering around the large cauldron he had summoned to the clearing. The news had the impostor Moody in raptures, his features glazed with fanatical delight.
"It is time, finally," the creature spoke for the first time, its voice weak but for all that still terrifying. When it seemed as though Crouch would approach the cauldron with him, the reedy voice spoke once more. "This is Wormtail's honour, a reward for his faithful service of late." Moody's face spoke volumes of disappointment and resentment as he allowed Wormtail to hold Voldemort in his place, a look that was mirrored perfectly in Wormtail's features.
"Don't," Harry whispered as he passed, carrying the creature to the rim of the cauldron. "You don't have to do this." Part of him hoped that if he could just get him to stop, to not put that thing in the cauldron, that everything could be alright...
"Shut up," he impostor spat and flecks of spittle landed on his cheek, even as he turned is face aside. "Yours is the greatest honour, understand? It was fate, Potter, that you were put in my reach just as we were ready... You were meant to bring him back, greater than ever before..."
He was mad, he was insane. The impostor's features shifted as he spoke, his fake eye popping obscenely out of its socket, rolling down his face and tumbling to the ground. His skin began to ripple and change, smoothing out, his nose reformed and became whole. Harry watched the transformation with horror, it was preferable to watching Pettigrew and that- that thing, but when it was over he did not see the man that he had expected.
"You're not Crouch," he said dumbly, staring up at the man before him. The impostor's attention had shifted; he was watching the scene before him raptly and did not reply.
"Oh, dear Merlin," McGonagall gasped over Wormtail's monotonous intonation, aware of the enormity of his words. That cowardly traitor was bringing him back, that worthless rat had led the Dark Lord to Lily and now he had led him to his son.
"Bone of the Father..." Severus repeated quietly, his lips moving numbly. "Where is the Dark Lord's father buried? ALBUS!" he bellowed, surging out of his seat but hesitant to move away from the desk, caught between seeking answers and listening to the stone. "Don't just stand there, get him in here!" he shouted at Minerva when she didn't immediately move to summon him.
It turned out that it wasn't necessary as within seconds the Headmaster had re-entered the room, his gaze questioning. "Where is the Dark Lord's father buried?" he whispered, trying to communicate without missing a thing. He gritted his teeth as Pettigrew's voice continued, louder than a moment before.
"Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken..."
"Give me a moment and I will find out," he answered calmly. "Minerva, if you could contact Remus Lupin, ask him to bring his dog and wait for me in my office. Explain nothing."
No sound emanated from the stone after Pettigrew fell silent, save for his own whimpers. It would have been better if the cowardly worm had chopped his head off instead of whatever had fallen into that cauldron. No matter, it was better this way, he would murder Pettigrew himself after he'd murdered the lunatic who had taken his son. It wouldn't be a clean death, it would be long, drawn out and painful. A plethora of gruesome tortures crossed Severus' mind as he considered what he would do to them, they would regret laying their hands on his boy...
"My robe, Wormtail." A cold, commanding voice filled the room and a shiver coursed through Severus at the sound of that voice after so many years.
"Welcome, Harry Potter, to my rebirth," Voldemort announced, spreading his arms wide and smiling grotesquely at Harry as he stood trembling from the pain and the cold.
"My Lord... My Lord... I brought him to you..." The imposter prostrated himself on the ground at Voldemort's feet.
"And in such a timely manner, you will be rewarded."
"I'd hold off on that if I were you." He wouldn't stand there bound and silent if this was how he was going to go. "He wasn't exactly discreet. Dumbledore knows I've been taken, how long do you reckon you've got before he shows up?" he scoffed, trying to sound braver than he felt. For a moment it seemed as though Voldemort would get angry but a split-second later he turned slowly, leering at Harry, his expression that of superior complacency. He stared at Harry a moment longer, like he was a peculiar specimen to be examined, but held out a hand to hold back the young imposter as he made to lash out at Harry.
"Now, now, Barty, let's not begin the fun before the others have arrived."
Apparently he didn't deem Harry's vague threat worth a reply and Harry could see why; even he didn't know where he was, how was Dumbledore going to know where to come?
"Thirteen long years it has been, how many will answer the summons?"
If Harry thought he had a chance of escaping when it was three against one, any hopes of survival were dashed when the graveyard began to fill with gruesomely masked Death Eaters swathed in black robes. He was vastly outnumbered, tied up, bleeding, and every pair of eyes in the ever-widening circle belonged to someone who wanted him to die.
He felt a thrill of victory as the mark on his forearm burned strongly and he flew out of his seat intent on leaving the castle the moment he got his hands on his mask and robes.
"No, Severus." The Headmaster spoke firmly, understanding immediately Severus' intentions.
"I will not wait for you to conclude that you don't know where this graveyard is!" he exploded. He had sat there for long enough watching as the Headmaster pored over maps and notes, searching for the most likely location. "I can apparate in and I can apparate out-"
The Headmaster moved surprisingly quickly for a man of his age, blocking Severus' exit. "And I will not have the pair of you killed. You will be vastly outnumbered."
"I cannot sit here and do nothing," Severus replied, utterly determined, reaching into his robes for his wand.
"Expelliarmus." He'd barely touched his wand when it flew from the tips of his fingers. In a rapid volley of wordless spells Severus was thrown back into his seat and bound securely in place. It was a feat of magic that reminded Severus that he was dealing with an immensely powerful, meddling old coot. "I do apologise, Severus, but I cannot risk losing the both of you."
"Release me! Albus, let me get him, do not make me listen to him die," he pleaded, desperation creeping into his tone.
"I do not think he will die, Severus," the Headmaster said calmly, even as the crack of apparition echoed through the stone and the graveyard where his son was bound and trapped filled with Death Eaters. "You will be pleased to hear that I believe I do know where he is. I must go and make the arrangements, you will not go alone to save him, now is not the time for rash actions."
"I will not forgive you, Albus."
Harry tumbled untidily to the floor as the thick ropes that held him to the gravestone disappeared. He scrambled to get to his feet, glaring about the clearing, taking in the Death Eaters who surrounded him, Wormtail cowering, bleeding on the grass at his master's feet, the impostor, his gaze utterly rapt and filled with adoration.
"This boy, look upon him all of you, this boy is considered my downfall." Voldemort spoke slowly, circling him and staring at each of his Death Eaters in turn. Harry too scanned the circle, looking for a point of weakness, unsure whether he should even hope that Snape had come for him, that his face could be behind one of those hideous masks. "Harry Potter did not defeat me, I was torn from my body on that fateful night by powerful magic, powerful blood magic that as of tonight no longer protects him." He paused directly in front of Harry so that he was forced to avert his gaze, trying to occlude through the panic and the pain, scared of what Voldemort might see if he looked directly into his eyes. Don't think about Snape, don't let him find out, don't think about Snape. "Your blood flows through my veins. I can touch you now..." He regarded Harry with a slow, sinister smile, his hand outstretched, proving his point with a malevolent caress. Harry cracked his head sharply back into the headstone as he instinctively arched away from touch, barely registering the sensation as his scar became blindingly painful. "Stripped of his Mudblood mother's blood protection there will be no question as to who is more powerful." He turned back to face Harry, fixing him with a stare that left him in no doubt of his intent. "I will kill you, Harry Potter, easily."
"What about my wand? Too scared to have a fair fight?" Harry challenged, levelling his gaze over Voldemort's shoulder into the blackness of the night, trying not to shiver in the freezing air, to seem braver than he felt. What had Snape taught him? Not much that he could use wandless and outnumbered, that was for sure. He wracked his brains, trying simultaneously to put all thoughts of Snape to the back of his mind while thinking desperately of everything he had been taught.
"Scared?" Voldemort laughed and the Death Eaters quickly followed suit. The chilling chorus echoed through the graveyard but Harry stood his ground, he had no chance of escape whatsoever unarmed.
"My wand?" Harry demanded, lifting his chin defiantly.
"Give the boy his wand. I'll even let you cast the first spell, you should thank me for my genero-"
"Expelliarmus!" Harry threw caution to the wind, casting the moment he had a secure grip, snatching his wand back from the imposter. He'd hoped that taking him by surprise would lend him some sort of advantage and he leaped back, throwing himself swiftly behind the very gravestone that he'd been straining desperately to get away from. The Death Eaters in the circle shifted, unsure whether to retaliate on Voldemort's behalf. There was no need though, he'd evaded the spell easily.
"Such poor dueling etiquette, but what can we expect of a boy with such poor breeding? Come out Harry Potter, come out and face me..." The Death Eaters jeered at him as he hid and a moment later he was thrown forward as the stone he was resting against split with an almighty crack. He scrabbled to his feet, grabbing his wand from where it had slipped from his grasp while Voldemort looked on, smiling indulgently and twirling his wand lazily in his creepily long fingered grasp. He jerked his face to the side, trying his best to clear his mind and not think of the prophecy or of Snape as his concentration slipped and he found himself staring, appalled, at Voldemort's red, inhuman eyes.
"Why, Mr. Potter," he tilted his head, considering. "It's considered rude not to look your opponent in the face. Do me the honour, the courtesy, if you will." Harry's heart thumped hard in his chest; he'd slipped up, Voldemort knew he was trying to hide something.
"I'd rather not," Harry returned, gripping his wand tightly, ready to cast again when the moment was right.
"I insist. Imperio. Look at me, look me in the eye..." Harry was caught up in a familiar sensation of floating, of being outside of himself and of all his cares... He'd been so stressed, so panicked just a moment ago, but why? Wouldn't it be so easy just to do what he says? "Look at me..." Something was telling him that he shouldn't look him in the eye, why was that important? Secrets! Occlumency- If he looked him in the eye he would know everything... He had a secret, an important secret... Snape! He couldn't tell about Snape...
"He can resist the imperius curse," the imposter supplied from outside the pleasant haze, and suddenly sensation surged back full force.
Harry tried his best to take advantage of the moment of reprieve as Voldemort turned his wand against the Death Eater and the heavy fog lifted, allowing him to gather his wits and try his best to occlude. He needed to clear his mind... He needed to be calm...He needed to not think about Snape or the prophecy...
"Evidently," was his scathing response before he turned his attention, too soon, back to Harry. A moment later avoiding his gaze became a good deal more difficult as stark black robes filled his vision and sharp fingernails dug sharply into his cheeks, forcing his face upwards. "The old fool has been wasting his efforts. I will best you, Potter, every time."
"Not every time, Tom," he replied, shutting his eyes.
"I could see the truth in a moment, but before I kill you I will make you tell me what Dumbledore has you trying so hard to keep from me. Before this night is over, you will be begging to spill your secrets."
Harry thrust his wand forward, ducking out of his claw-like grip, scratching deep gashes across his face. "Stupe-"
His wand slipped from his grasp and he crumpled to the floor as an indescribable pain flared along his every nerve, his every inch of skin and he screamed. There was nothing but the pain, no escape, no sensation except the excruciating agony that endured and endured... Until it was over. He breathed heavily, splayed out on the frozen ground as Voldemort laughed and the Death Eaters followed suit. He fought to regain his senses, struggling onto his knees and grabbing his wand from the icy grass once more.
"Are you aware that pain can drive you insane? Tell me, is your secret worth your sanity?"
"Screw you, Tom."
Severus clenched his eyes shut, straining against the cords that bound him as a relentless screaming filled the office. The sound was unbearable. Severus knew what pain was coursing through his veins, scorching across his skin, seeping through his very bones. It was the kind of torture that made you wish you could die, end it all, to welcome that blissful emptiness of death.
Severus let out an inarticulate howl, giving another almighty wrench that burned across his arms and chest. Nothing, no secret was worth the agony that child was being put through.
"Oh, Severus," came a pitying gasp from the doorway. He glared at Lupin from where he sat, trapped. The man made no move to untie him. "There are more of us coming, Albus is arranging this as fast as he can," he said by way of apology. The screaming intensified and blood dripped from the cuts on his palm, where his fingers were curled into fists.
He ignored Lupin's presence just as the man ignored his bindings. He stared past the wolf, looking but not seeing the desk, which remained just as Albus had left it before exiting the room, leaving behind nothing but mess and empty assurances. Harry refused once more to speak, his voice weakening but his will unbroken.
"He's making a portkey, we'll be leaving as soon as everyone's here," Lupin murmured helplessly.
"I could have saved him already!" he bellowed over Harry's cries. "Instead I am forced to sit here and listen to him be tortured."
"You might have failed and gotten yourself killed in the attempt," he said as if that was a reason for him to stay, as if that excused the fact that he was sitting in this office instead of apparating Harry out of that graveyard.
He blinked the room back into focus, perfectly willing to take every ounce of anger and rage he had on this irritating man who dared stand there and defend the Headmaster. "It is my- what is that?" His gaze landed suddenly on the word 'scar?' written in Albus' loopy script amongst an assortment of maps and parchments spread across the desk. "Give me that list," he ordered, eyes locked on the notes that the Headmaster had left behind.
Lupin didn't move for a moment, startled by the change of subject. He turned slowly, looking down at the desk himself, recognising the handwriting as the Headmaster's. He shook his head mutely. "We need to trust Albus. I doubt he would want either of us going through his paperwork. There are some things I don't think we're meant to know."
Severus sneered at Lupin's calmly spoken words. "When he left this room he told me that he did not think Harry would die. He did not say it out of some misguided attempt to give me comfort, he said it because he believes it."
"That's good news-"
"I am listening to him scream and he does not care because he has some damn fool idea that he will come out of this alive. He does not care what pain he has to endure, what trauma this will cause. Albus cares more for the outcome of the next war than he does my son! He will use him. If there is some information, something about Harry, would you not rather that information be in the hands of someone who does care about him?"
Lupin shut his eyes as if he could block out Severus' words and the echoes of Harry's cries, his face far paler now than when he had entered the room. He handed the parchment wordlessly to Severus, though he turned away as he read, as if he did not want to see for himself what was written on the scroll. Severus struggled to keep the parchment unfurled with only one hand, which shook as Harry's screams began once more.
"You need only submit... Tell us... Tell us and the pain will end..."
He could barely get the word out through his painfully raw throat.
"No." He might not be able to occlude his mind but he could keep his mouth shut. Voldemort couldn't control him, not with the imperius curse and not with torture.
"No? He dares say no to Lord Voldemort?" Harry tried desperately to scoop up his wand as Voldemort stalked towards him, but his hand refused to obey him, twitching uncontrollably in the long grass as his body convulsed and jerked, still affected by the cruciatus curses it had been subject to. He couldn't pull back in time to stop his face being grasped once more, but he shut his eyes, failing completely to master his thoughts and falling back into the only defence his mind had left. Voldemort was losing his patience, this game that he had begun losing its appeal as he realised that Harry would not give in.
"You're broken, Harry Potter, but I want your mind intact... I want you to know who killed you, that it was I who bested you..." Still holding his face, Voldemort hissed, "crucio."
Harry's eyes flew open as he lost control and he knew instantly that Voldemort had seen what was at the very forefront of his mind. Fury was written on his face for a split second before he began laughing, a maniacal laugh that was so short lived that it could only have been for show.
"You've put your faith in the wrong man, Harry Potter," he sneered down at him before turning to address the Death Eaters once more. "Severus Snape! Where is Severus Snape? He is not among us! Who here knows the extent of his disloyalty, his treachery? Lucius, what can you tell me?"
Harry had no emotion to spare to care that it was Lucius Malfoy standing in that circle, wearing that mask, watching as he was tortured.
"He works for Dumbledore, my Lord." His voice was different as he attempted to speak, for once, with humility as opposed to sneering superiority, but Harry could hear his confusion and almost panic as he realised that he did not have the answer that Voldemort was looking for.
Harry fought to control his limbs, taking harsh gasps and reaching pathetically for his wand, his fingers beginning to turn numb in the biting cold.
"Barty, my loyal servant, what have you to tell me?" Voldemort asked, striding around the edge of the circle.
"He is- he is loyal to Dumbledore..."
"The magic that saved this boy as a baby, that reduced me to ghost of myself had dissolved and not one of you knew. Harry Potter no longer lives with his filthy muggle relatives... He has been taken in by our very own Severus Snape, who had planned to re-enter our ranks as a spy, a double agent for Albus Dumbledore."
Harry's hand closed finally around his wand as Voldemort turned back to face him.
"I have summoned him and he has chosen not to come, he knows he cannot save you, that you will die by my hands."
Severus tempered the betrayal and anger he felt surge through him as the Headmaster reappeared once more in the room. He needed him to release him and he would be useless to Harry without his wand. He had secured the list in his robes with the reluctant aid of Lupin and had no intention of letting it go.
"He knows," he stated grimly as the Dark Lord continued a lengthy diatribe describing what happens to filthy traitors like Severus Snape.
"About the prophecy?" the Headmaster queried quickly.
"Doubtful. He knows about me, that I was planning to spy on him and that I have taken Harry in. Any objections you have to me taking this portkey are void; I have no cover to maintain anymore." He kept his tone controlled and his manner as calm as he could manage but his hands still shook, whether from rage or horror he could no longer tell.
"You are unwilling to consider the option of claiming that you were merely brainwashing the child, that you took an opportunity to sever him from his mother's blood protection and gain his trust...?"
"Yes I'm unwilling!" he spat in disgust. "I'm taking the portkey, I'm going with you to save him."
"I've explained the plan to the others and it will be followed to the letter," he said seriously and Severus grimaced as he spoke clearly and slowly, with no sense of urgency or regard for Harry's chances of survival, which were dropping by the second. "The portkey should take us outside of any wards placed on the graveyard. The rest of us will begin to attack the wards while you cross them in your robes and mask. You will attempt to apparate Harry to safety in the confusion. If you are unable to for any reason then protect him as best you can until we break through. Is that clear? Do not reveal yourself."
Severus nodded shortly, distracted as Voldemort turned his attention to taunting Harry once more. The Headmaster cast a finite and the silence was oppressive, weighing heavily on Severus' chest as he stared blankly at the soundless stone. The Dark Lord could kill him in an instant, he could be dead already...
"My wand and my Death Eater robes, Headmaster. I assume you're planning on releasing me or will I be forced to do all of that sitting down?"
"Can I trust you to follow orders, Severus?"
"I'll follow your orders, but let's not discuss trust, Headmaster," he replied, unable to stop the suspicion and betrayal entering his voice.
"The portkey leaves in two minutes, we are next door when you are ready." With a wave of his wand he banished his notes out of the room then placed Severus' wand on the now empty desk, only releasing him from his constraints as he left the room.
The advantage of the portkey was that their arrival would go relatively unnoticed provided the group were light on their feet and did not draw attention to themselves as they closed in on the graveyard. The night was cold and their breath rose in grey clouds in front of their faces, but the idea that Harry would likely catch pneumonia in this weather, out in only his pyjamas, was the least of his worries.
The village that they crept through was still and silent and did not seem to be the type that attracted nocturnal walks through the streets, not by muggles at any rate. No one spoke a word, or growled as in the case of Black who loped alongside them, nose low on the ground as if he was trying to sniff out Harry's location. Severus strode with purpose, itching to get there faster. Why did they have to portkey so damned far from the graveyard?
The group, led by the Headmaster, slowed as they arrived at the property of a stately home that was in an abysmal state of disrepair. He assumed the house to have some sort of significance as it was encompassed in Pettigrew's wholly inadequate warding. It was evident from the moment he sensed them that even without the witches and wizards accompanying him that Albus would be more than capable of taking care of them in short order. Nevertheless, in the shadows the group assembled itself at intervals along the boundary of the wards. Severus donned his mask and gliding a miniscule distance above the ground, silently manoeuvred himself to a less conspicuous position.
He hoped, as he crossed the wards, that Pettigrew did not have the sense to give his wards an alarm system and would have only sought to keep out anyone who did not bear the Dark Mark. The Dark Lord, in his arrogance, had obviously not considered reinforcing the wards since his rebirth, which worked in their favour as Severus hovered carefully, not crunching a leaf, nor snapping a twig as he hid out of sight amongst the trees. It quickly became apparent that something had changed since he had abandoned the stone in his office; instead of the sound of Harry's screams, the night was filled with panicked shouts and confused cries. When the graveyard came into view, the cause was evident. The masked and robed men were torn between helping their newly reborn master and fleeing, some skirting the edge of a massive golden dome in the centre of the gravestones.
What had that boy managed to do? He felt a rush of relief as he realised that the child was alive, he hadn't been killed and he had the strength in him to fight back. He didn't know what dumb Gryffindor luck was at work but he intended to get to him before it ran out.
There was no call for precaution in the pandemonium and he raced closer keeping his movements as agitated as those around him, skirting around the edge of the golden cage. Between the golden rays he could see the Dark Lord and Harry, their wands connected by a similar golden beam, but there were other figures, they were difficult to make out even in the bright light- He staggered back suddenly, losing his footing- That could not be... But how could he not recognise her? Even after all these years, even transformed by colourless death, he recognised Lily and the sound of her voice.
"We will be gone in a few moments but you will be safe. They've come for you." He would swear later that for a moment the ghostly figure took her eyes off her son, meeting his own, her gaze piercing through his mask.
"But what do I do?" Harry asked, staring wide-eyed up at his mother, holding onto his wand with what seemed like all his strength.
"We'll linger for a few moments and hold him off, you just need to run." James Potter instructed his son.
Lily reassured him gently, "he's waiting for you; he'll take you away from here. When we say now, go."
With what looked like an almighty wrench Harry severed the link between them and the great golden dome instantly disintegrated and the ghostly figures surged towards the Dark Lord and the nearby Death Eaters. Only as he realised that Harry was getting away did the shock begin to wear off and he regained feeling in his limbs, enough at least to tear after him, his long strides allowing him to gain on him quickly. He barrelled hard into another Death Eater who ran alongside him with his wand trained on Harry and launched him into a headstone with a loud crack. He shot a painful hex at another directly in Harry's path as the child weaved his way unsteadily through the graves.
"Harry!" he shouted through his mask and it had the desired effect, slowing him enough that he careened into him, apparating them the instant he had a secure grip.
He was panting with exertion as he landed them in a painful slam onto the ground that not even the grass could cushion. He was instinctively holding Harry close, expecting the jerks from the boy as he struggled, knowing that he would not realise that he was safe, but when he looked down at him he was worried to see that his body had finally given out, lapsing into unconsciousness, unable to tolerate a violent and sudden apparition on top of all the trauma it had been forced to endure. He ripped off the vision-impairing mask, scanning his limp body with his wand to assess the damage. He was wracked with convulsions and twitches even in his unconscious state, his nerves damaged beyond what he had the ability to treat, he was colder than he had any right to be but he was less bruised and battered than he could have been, although the sight of the deep, bloody scratches down his face for some unknown reason grieved Severus more than he could say.
He stared down at him in silence, reveling in this one moment of calm and of safety, of knowing that Harry had made it out alive and that he would come home, before he gathered him close and took him to be healed by Poppy.
"Well done, Severus," the Headmaster congratulated him warmly. "I expect you're relieved he's finally safe and sound." Despite the kind words and the polite tone, he could see that the Headmaster was wrong-footed by his request for a private meeting when so much needed to be done.
He didn't bother replying. Instead, he pulled out a loose scroll of parchment from the inside of his robes. "What is this?"
The headmaster was silent for a moment, contemplating the list and the man holding it outstretched in his hand. "Nothing more than an old man's notes jotted down while he researched."
"Notes you kept. They mean something," he pressed. "You told me that you did not think he would die and this was amongst your information on the Dark Lord. You think you know something about Harry and I want to know what it is."
"I do not know anything for certain," the Headmaster denied, watching Severus carefully from behind his half-moon spectacles.
"You suspect something. What is this?" he repeated once more.
He sighed deeply before answering, appearing weary for the first time that night. "There are some things that it is best that only I know for the time being."
"No." He shook his head to reinforce his point. "Not where Harry is concerned. You care about this war more than you do my son, so if you want his cooperation and mine then I want all the information."
"I don't believe you're in a position to make threats."
"I'll do what I must for him," he answered with determination. "You asked too much of me when you took away my right to save him. You forced me to hear him tortured, being told that I would not lift a finger to rescue him!"
"I was protecting both of you. It is my job to make difficult decisions-"
"Not for Harry, not any more," Severus replied, forcefully. "I'm his guardian and if I have to, I'll protect him from you too."
The Headmaster's expression suddenly turned hard. "I don't like to remind you that your guardianship is neither legal nor officially recognised. In fact, your situation has become decidedly precarious, it is only a matter of time before the information is leaked to the ministry and they become involved in his guardianship." The implication that the Headmaster's support depended on his attitude was left hanging in the air but Severus refused to be manipulated.
"And if you want Harry's trust and good will then you will ensure he isn't taken from me, and if I take steps to make our living arrangement legal then you will support me in that too. You cannot afford to erode Harry's trust in you any more than you have done already."
The Headmaster was silent for a moment, regarding Severus warily once more. "Adoption isn't a commitment to be taken lightly or on a whim, or even in anger."
"I assure you I'm not taking this lightly. Whatever you have planned, whatever your scheme, he will have no part in it." He was determined, utterly determined and he would not be moved on the subject. Undoubtedly, Albus sensed this, exhaling tiredly, pulling his usual 'weary old man' routine as he settled into the chair behind the teacher's desk, managing instantly to turn the disused classroom into his pseudo-office. "Tell me what this means," Severus asked once more, certain that this time he would have his answer.
"I must stress that I know nothing for certain, but what I suspect may well be difficult for you to hear. Does the word Horcrux mean anything to you?"
He could not bear to look at the man as he told him that his son was destined to die. It made no sense, neither could live while the other survived... if it was true, if there was a fragment of the Dark Lord's soul in his scar then in order for the Dark Lord to die, Harry must die. It was true, there was no part of Severus' mind that doubted it, it made sense... the pain that Harry experienced, the peculiar mental connection he had to the Dark Lord... He was speechless in his grief, not even possessing the will to scream at the Headmaster for hiding this from him and worse yet, telling him. Severus was startled out of his horrified musings as a silvery messenger appeared in the room. "He's awake," it murmured in Lupin's voice and he stood, giving the Headmaster a look of deepest loathing before striding to the hospital wing.
He swallowed something back as he stared at Harry, his relief at having him back alive and well, tempered by the anguish of knowing what was lurking inside him. The boy looked small in his hospital bed, crowded by his head of house, Lupin and his large 'dog', and more of the Weasley family than he wanted in one room. As they approached it became obvious that in the short time since Harry had awoken he'd already started a rather fierce argument with the Matron.
"I'm not taking it," he heard him insisting as soon as he was within earshot. Harry pulled back stubbornly as far as his pillows would allow to avoid the proffered potion. Severus frowned as Harry struggled to support himself, his body still plagued by continual jerks and spasms symptomatic of severe nerve damage. Whatever Poppy had done for him had not been enough to cure him of the after-effects of continuous bouts of the cruciatus curse. Harry remained resolutely deaf to persuasion from the adults around him even as the Weasley woman cooed and fussed around him.
"I'm not going to sleep. You said you were getting Snape!" He complained, rounding on Lupin, not noticing either the Headmaster or himself as they made their way across the room.
"Professor Dumbledore!" Poppy appealed to the Headmaster in a harassed tone the moment she spotted them crossing the room. "Mr Potter needs rest and dreamless sleep-" Any further attempts to convince Harry to drink his potion were completely ignored as soon as Harry, too, noticed their arrival.
"Sir!" He exclaimed loudly, almost throwing himself out of bed in his enthusiasm, stopping short only when Lupin threw out a hand to hold him back. In that instant he did not care what the Headmaster had said or what unseen evil the child carried in his scar because he would save him from that too. There would be a way, and if there was not one known, then he would discover it and his son would damn well live.
"I just want- Sir!" Harry muttered, trying to get past Lupin to Severus. He gave a minute shake of the head, keeping his distance. He may have accepted that his guardianship of the boy was going to become general knowledge but he had no intention of dealing with that issue now, not when neither of them were in a position to handle the inevitable backlash.
The Headmaster, perhaps sensing that Harry would not be able contain himself for long, ushered Poppy out of the room with vague assurances that yes, Harry would certainly have his potion, but they had things to discuss, and no, it really could not wait.
"I was worried you'd gone. He knows," Harry said, paying no heed to the crowd around his bed, staring up at Severus with wide-eyed relief.
"I know," Severus replied simply, attempting to silently communicate to the Headmaster that he needed privacy to reassure Harry. He was well aware that he did not, in fact, possess any psychic skills, but was certain that the headmaster was being deliberately obtuse as he merely regarded the pair of them silently. He had thought a few moments ago that he could not be more furious with the man.
"You're not going then? Sir?" Harry pressed, unaware of the mounting confusion in the room, focused as he was on getting an answer.
"Could you?" He gestured impatiently towards the boy's friends, of whom only Lupin seemed capable of taking a hint, although his attempts to usher the others away from the child went either unnoticed or ignored. Despite Severus' brain urging for caution, he could not help but take a step closer to the child.
"Severus?" the Headmaster replied innocently, and he growled aloud, struggling not to lose his temper. It was one thing to take out his anger out on Severus but it was Harry who would suffer for it! Harry who did not deserve it, whose suffering was increasing even as they spoke.
"Now is not the time-" he began, until Harry interrupted loudly.
"Sir, please don't go, he'll kill you! He knows." he shouted desperately, trying to get his attention.
"It is not up to you to dictate what Professor Snape may or may not do," Minerva interrupted firmly, with a warning look at Severus as if she was concerned he would turn his anger on the boy in the state he was in. "Perhaps it's best you leave, Severus, Mr. Potter needs rest after what he's been through, not agitation."
Minerva's attempts to diffuse the situation, however well intended, backfired when Harry leaped from his bed, unsteadily grabbing hold of Severus' arm. "No! Sir, please-you can't go. Please don't, he's angry and he knows. If you go, he'll kill you. I'm not making it up," he babbled incoherently and it was more than clear that he was close to hysterical. "Please stay, I don't want you to spy, I want you to be my Dad."
He looked down at Harry, aghast, in the absolute silence that followed his desperate declaration. Harry wavered where he stood, having to hold onto Severus with both hands to remain on his feet, bringing Severus back to his senses. He detached one of Harry's hands slowly from his arm and, grasping it firmly, reassured him. "I'm not going anywhere." The comfort he had been attempting to convey in his tone was dampened by the resignation and frustration that Harry's outburst had had an audience. He scowled darkly at the Headmaster, attempting to show him that beyond a doubt he blamed him for Harry's distress and the chaos that was about to ensue. He hesitated slightly before abandoning all pretenses, pulling Harry closer and, picking him up as he would have done had he taken ill at home, put him back on the infirmary cot muttering, "Stay off your feet."
A rushing filled his ears where he sat, pounding over the silence of the room. Suddenly, he was all too aware that everyone was watching him, looking at him with horrified expressions just like the one on Snape's face. Snape renewed his grip on his fingers as Harry sat wide-eyed and motionless, save for the spasms he hadn't been able to stop since the graveyard.
"Wait, what?" Ron asked, the first to break the onlookers' silence. Snape stiffened beside him, his fingers tightening their grip slightly, his other hand moving to rest on his shoulder.
"What is going on here?" Professor McGonagall asked, not a moment later. It was at that moment that Snape lost it, barking furiously, "The lot of you, out. Now! Don't you dare, Albus, now was not the time," he growled, as the Headmaster made to cut him off with calming words. "Get out!"
"We can't leave Harry alone with him, he's done something to him! He's confunded him or something," Ron complained, appealing to his parents and Professor McGonagall for support. Harry just sat there dumbly, a flush creeping over his cheeks, eyes still wide with embarrassment. He could tell Snape was on the verge of losing it; he was breathing deeply, his grip on Harry's hand so tight now that it hurt a little. Remus stepped in a moment later, insisting that Harry had, in fact, asked to see Severus after all.
"I think we've crowded him enough. Let's, all of us, give him a moment, a bit of space to breathe will do him a world of good," Lupin said calmly, as if he could diffuse the situation by making it seem as if everything was normal. Harry was insanely grateful that Sirius was in dog form right now.
"Albus...?" Arthur Weasley questioned, reluctant to leave.
"Why doesn't he have to leave? Harry, what's going on?" Ron asked directly but Harry couldn't bear to look at him. He took a breath but paused not knowing what to say, or even if he could speak past the lump in his throat. He ended up just staring down at his knees instead.
"Get. Them. Out. Or I will do it myself as I see fit," Snape hissed, the hand not holding onto Harry's inching towards where he knew he kept his wand.
"Harry has been through a traumatic ordeal this evening, a moment to collect himself would not be remiss," the Headmaster answered finally.
"We can't leave him with Snape!" He could hear Ron arguing as they were shepherded away from his bed, the curtains drawn hastily behind them.
Harry continued his inspection of his knees, struggling to speak, breathing deeply but nothing was coming out. "I couldn't occlude," he eventually whispered, his voice rough. "He knows and he's really angry... He said he would kill you, you can't go, Severus."
"I know, I heard," Snape replied just as quietly, summoning Harry's own stone by way of explanation and placing it into his hand so that he could see it. "I heard everything from the moment you arrived in that graveyard." He tapped him gently under the chin, getting him to raise his head. "You have been immeasurably brave tonight, I could not be prouder of you."
"I've ruined everything," he choked out, oddly stung by the praise, praise he didn't deserve. "I've gone and told everyone that I want you to be m-my Dad, you can't spy because V-voldemort knows, I got m-myself taken, and then I brought him back to-to life and I got- I got Dobby killed!" he finished, tears spilling unchecked down his cheeks. He saw again Dobby's body lying on the dungeon floor, crumpled and completely still and a fresh wave of tears rolled down his cheeks, a surge of guilt clawing from his chest making him cry out.
"No," Snape growled, pulling Harry to his chest, one arm curled protectively around his back. "None of that was your fault. You have suffered enough, I will not listen to you torture yourself further."
"It was my fault-" Harry argued. It was wrong that he was being comforted while Dobby was dead and Voldemort had come back and he'd messed up Snape's spying and now everyone was so angry-
"That elf was murdered by a madman, you were kidnapped by the same lunatic and they used your blood against your will. You were tortured past endurance and you refused to speak. Do not argue with me, I heard it all, Harry!" Snape shouted as if Harry's pain was somehow hurting him too.
"I knew it was dangerous when I called for him!" he cried, struggling to raise his arms to wipe his eyes in Snape's hold, letting out a noise of frustration when his arms twitched and shook, refusing to obey him. Snape took pity on him and, pushing his arms down, he used his wand to dry his face, the sleeves of his own robes falling back to reveal deep raw welts circling his arms.
"What spell did that?" Harry asked, momentarily distracted.
"Incarcerous. I was... restrained," he admitted begrudgingly, shaking his sleeves back down. "I would have been there sooner-"
"That was you that ran into me!" Harry said, eyes wide as realisation dawned. "I thought I heard your voice. You came for me, Voldemort said you wouldn't-"
"I would have been there the moment I was summoned," he said, his expression pained. "I would have come for you the instant I knew where you were-"
"It's alright," Harry said quietly, hating to see Snape looking so hurt.
"It is not alright!" he disagreed vehemently, grabbing him by the shoulders. "You were tortured! You could have died, I could have lost you!"
"I'm sorry," Harry breathed, overwhelmed with guilt once more. The admission did nothing to help, Snape's expression becoming even more agonised than a moment before.
"You have nothing to apologise for," he growled, pulling him close once more and wrapping his arms around him tightly. "You have no idea, child-" he said abortively. "I cannot lose you, Harry..." Snape continued to mutter under his breath as he held him. For the first time that night, he felt safe with Snape holding him securely, absorbing most of the spasms that still wracked his body. He didn't want him to let go, because when he did he would have to remember what happened that night; Dobby would be dead and Voldemort would be back and he would have been tortured and it still hurt.
He was disappointed to be jostled some time later when Snape reached out behind him with one hand adjusting his pillows and opening out the corner of his duvet. "In," he instructed quietly. Harry allowed himself to be helped under the covers but when Snape held out the goblet of dreamless sleep, he met his eyes with a well practiced look of defiance.
"You take some first," Harry demanded. He was still scared, terrified even, that if he went to sleep he would wake up and Snape wouldn't be there.
Snape shook his head. "I assure you that I do not have a death wish. I have absolutely no intention of leaving."
"You'd say that if you were leaving-"
"No," he interrupted firmly, leaning forward and plucking the glasses from his nose, despite Harry's protestations. "I would tell you that after you took the dreamless sleep I would leave, then I would tell you that I had never been more proud of you and that I would endeavour to be back here by the time you woke up. Arms." Harry seemed confused by the word until Severus lifted his arms and pulled the woolly jumper over his head so that he was sat in bed in his usual pyjamas. "I would not tell you that I would stay here with you then have you wake up to find out that I was gone and may well not return."
Harry looked up at his blurry form, biting his lip, not entirely convinced but so tired he was scared he would drop off to sleep without the potion. "Harry, trust me." He gripped his hand tightly. "You have been brave beyond belief tonight, I know you can be brave about this. I'm not going anywhere, when you wake up I will be here." He held out the potion once more and this time Harry held out a hand for it.
"Promise?" he asked uncertainly, sounding ridiculously childish even to his own ears as Severus held the goblet stable in his grasp.
"I will not leave."
Harry squeezed his eyes shut as he gulped down the potion. Waves of warmth and a pleasant sleepiness gently washed over him. He felt himself eased down onto his pillows and the goblet prised from his fingers. "Well done." His duvet was pulled over his shoulders, his fringe brushed from his eyes and sleep took him.