AN: thanks for your patience! and for the great reviews! I hope I have tied up everything properly with this last chapter; it's been fun writing a conspiracy of sorts. I've probably messed a few things up, but it's my first real mystery so I may get better at it. Thank you all again!
Ch 7 - No Refuge for the Different
Severus' cottage on the Orkney Islands is quite far from London but somehow Weasley's tiny owl still arrives there, looking only slightly put out by the wind. Harry opens the window and smiles ruefully at it, scratching the little bird behind its neck. Severus watches him carefully, putting the dinner dishes away in the sink. He remembers Sirius Black bragging about procuring a tiny owl at one point during a meeting at Grimmauld Place, supposedly one that is small enough to look rather like a regular day bird and thus be inconspicuous for delivering messages. Going by the saddened look on the man's face, Severus is reasonably certain that this is that owl. Either that or Potter is currently remembering his old owl that was murdered.
"It's from Ron and Hermione," Potter says, checking the scroll. "They'll be here at nine to apparate us."
Severus nods at this, and continues sorting through paperwork. He's transcribed his notes from the whiteboard into a portable notebook and is double-checking something.
"Are you certain you're right about the memories?"
Harry is feeding the tiny owl some left over beef from the stew that they'd had for dinner. He looks nervous and rather doubtful.
"Ninety-two percent certain," Severus answers. He steeps his fingers in front of himself, tapping his chin in warning. "Potter, you came to me regarding all this."
Severus' voice is thick and his tone scornful, and ordinarily it would have meant a detention was looming.
"No! It's fine. I just don't see all the pieces like you do, I suppose."
"Allow me to act surprised," Severus scoffs. He shoves the Evening Prophet towards Potter, who snatches it up.
"Piss off, you prissy git. You've been playing this game for longer than I've been alive, so I'd hope you'd recognize them."
Harry angrily stretches out the paper to read the front story, and misses Severus' look of appraisal.
"Well, well. Harry Potter finally has good comebacks."
Harry scans the article, surprised to find that the ministry has issued a recall of all Victory Beans and Victory Frogs that have gone to shops and the public. He has a grin on his face, but doesn't look up to meet Severus' eye.
"Oh, I don't know. That whole exchange in sixth year about you not needing to call me sir was pretty funny."
"Hmmph," Severus huffs mock-irritably, as he stands and smacks the back of Harry's calf with his cane.
There is a giggle from the living room, where Tolstoy is moving about. He stands in front of the bookcase in the living room, reading the titles of the books out to himself. He's not speaking loudly, but his enunciation is quite clear (if a little monotonous). Severus listens for a few moments, and is quite impressed with his attempts of Latin.
It's getting on nine-thirty, and there is restlessness upon the cottage. Tolstoy's hands are fluttering by his side, as Severus imagines it's close to his bedtime and Tolstoy's calmness goes to hell in a hand basket when his routine is interrupted. Potter is unnerved as well, and he's now taken up residence in the loo.
"Get your arse out of there, Potter, some of us have to use the facilities!" Severus grunts, banging on the washroom door. Tolstoy starts reading the titles louder, and Severus hopes that Iain turns up shortly, lest they need to make a bed out of the sofa for the boy.
"Just come in," Potter grumbles.
Severus tentatively pokes open the door with his cane, relieved when he spots a fully dressed Potter sitting on the plastic chair in front of the mirror. Severus isn't sure why he feels relieved, but he knows that sexual nakedness is much different from daily nakedness. There is a small mirror taped to the doorframe right beside Severus, and Potter is holding a pair of scissors.
"One might find it easier to ask for help cutting one's hair," Severus says, eyebrow raised.
Harry gives him a dubious look.
"My apologies. I had no idea your specialty was in hair."
The green eyes are narrowed in the mirror as they glare at Severus' short, lanky hair.
"Nonsense," Severus replies, maneuvering himself so that his back faces Potter while he takes his piss. "My specialty is in wielding sharp objects."
"Your tongue certainly counts," Potter mutters. In the living room they can hear Tolstoy moving about, and Harry turns his head toward the sound.
"Where do you think Iain is?"
"I am not certain. All I was told is that the had a business meeting."
Severus pushes Harry aside to wash his hands, and takes the scissors away from him. Potter only needs a cleanup trim around his neck and ears, and that's all Severus really trusts himself to do.
"We should put more wards up around the cottage."
Potter's shoulders have become slightly tense, and his voice has changed into a lower pitch, much like the one he uses when he has one of his annoying gut feelings about something. Ones that are frustratingly correct more often than not.
"There are security wards on the cottage already, and any you cast would need to be renewed at midnight," Severus says, snipping the last particularly stubborn curl of hair.
"What wards are here now?" Potter asks, standing up and wiping the hair from his shirt.
"Ministry ones. Anti-apparition, the rent calculation, restrictions on my magic and brewing, a bog standard theft one, and the muggle repelling charm."
"Exactly," Potter replies, explaining nothing. He still looks worried though, and Severus follows him into the living room.
Potter moves to collect the random papers from the chesterfield and gives Tolstoy an apple he's brought in from the kitchen.
"Potter, I am not one of your precious little Gryffindor friends who will blindly follow you into your next stupid adventure. Explain your issue."
"No one is supposed to make it to the cottage, Severus. Tolstoy doesn't count. But twice this week Iain has been here. He's come to the door unaided. I think the ministry has cancelled the security wards here."
Severus thunks his cane down on the floor a bit harder than intended and causes Tolstoy to flinch. The ministry is now fully aware that Potter is living at the cottage, and he's not certain why they'd lower the security, yet keep the magical restriction. Unless he and Potter are to be made targets.
Severus takes a deep breath and follows Potter's eyesight out the living room French door windows. Up the path from the cottage he can see a shadow moving, one that looks like a man slightly hunched over. He watches Iain slowly come into view, and have no trouble (save for navigating the uneven path stones) reaching the front door.
Potter lets Iain in, folding the Evening Prophet and stuffing it out of sight into his back jeans pocket.
"Hullo, Iain," Harry greets, looking remarkably relaxed as he stands leaning against the wall.
"Still here, Harry? Good to see."
Iain is wearing an old woolen cap on his head, and has what appears to be a mile long scarf wrapped around his neck. It's frayed in places, and an ugly off-orange colour, but it looks very warm.
"You too. Meeting go well?"
Both Harry and Iain watch as Severus holds Tolstoy's warm coat out for the boy, waiting as he methodically puts his scarf on first.
"As well as can be, movin' paperwork," Iain replies. Tolstoy gets his buttons done up, and turns to say goodbye, his eyes focused somewhere on the back wall of the kitchen.
"Bye, Rus. Bye, Otter."
"Good night," Severus replies, smirking at Potter's annoyed look.
"See you tomorrow!" Iain says, and Severus stills.
"The market? Fridays are your market days, nae?" Iain's hand is on the doorknob, and the air leaking in is cold.
"Yes, that's right," Severus says, letting a wry smile out with his breath.
The moon outside casts an interesting light shadow through the window of the attic, and the reflection upon the foil ceiling covers makes it appear to have replicated itself. Severus folds his clothing neatly before putting it away, turning back the covers on the bed. He's placed two warm bricks in there, heated up from the fireplace down stairs and wrapped in old canvas flour sacks. They warm the sheets, not as well as a spell does, but sufficient enough in the magic-limited cottage.
Potter climbs up the ladder, shirtless, as there is a small load of laundry soaking in a large tub in the washroom. Severus slips under the blankets on his side of the bed, depositing his watch on the nightstand, placing his wand in the notched headboard within easy reach. He watches Potter trip out of his jeans, and then gracefully strip off his shorts and change into loose pajamas. Severus is inexplicably strung tight; he knows that he is the elder and the one who was in a position of authority, yet he also knows that in this…farce of a relationship, Potter is his equal.
Harry sighs into bed, letting out a deep breath as his bones sink into the mattress. He pulls the covers up not a moment after, and they both lie in silence and listen to the crickets chirping in the dell, the space heater downstairs humming slightly, and the wind scratching a shrub branch against the living room window. Potter has his hands up behind the back of his head, but he does not encroach on Severus' side of the bed.
Severus remains quiet, as the night before last he fucked Potter, last night Potter topped him, and now they are at an impasse. He has no idea what Potter is thinking, or what the man expects.
"Something big is going to happen tomorrow," Potter murmurs, distracting Severus temporarily.
"All signs point to it, yes."
"It feels like this is the night before a revolution," Potter adds, staring up and out the window.
Severus turns and stares up and down Potter's body.
"Well, you are rather short, and I suspect you do have a Napoleon complex."
"Arse," Potter mutters, kicking his foot.
Severus turns off the light and rolls onto his side. He's still not sure if Potter wants anything, but Severus is almost forty and has no intention of having sex every night just for the sake of having sex. Severus has never been one to hold back his concerns, so he speaks up after a few moments of silence.
"Sex is not on the table tonight, Potter. I am undecided on the outcome of our experiment, and I do not often relinquish myself to hormonal demands."
To Severus' surprise, Potter actually looks relieved at this.
"I don't think I could live up to your standards if you wanted it every night," Potter whispers, and Severus gathers that he likely wasn't meant to hear that.
"That's actually fine," Potter comments louder, burrowing under his half of the covers. He twitches for a few moments, not finding a comfortable position to sleep.
"Harry," Severus says, poking him in the shoulder.
"I'm worried," Potter replies, rolling back over onto his back. "What if I screw things up at the ceremony? And what if we can't get the memories back?"
Severus stares past Potter's profile, blurring the features on Potter's face as he focuses on the round black glasses sitting on the shelf.
"I was under the assumption that most of the messes you get into are avoided by winging it," Severus says, rubbing his chilled feet together. He doesn't put socks on anymore, as the bed gets too warm for them during the night.
"Somewhat. I wish I knew what the ministry's role in this actually is, since you don't think they have the memories," Harry answers, his voice only slightly irritated.
Potter, who has never been particularly good at waiting for information to come to him, lets out a huff of irritation and rolls onto his stomach. He stretches himself out, and for a few minutes they have a wordless battle of limbs to claim the larger half of the bed.
"The ministry is about to have a war with the guilds, and you're about to jump in the middle of it," Severus says a few moments later. Potter has already fallen asleep.
Diagon Alley is full of a strange feeling of tension. The shops are busy; people are milling about at the outdoor stalls, checking out the fashion displays at clothing stores, little children are racing up to the quidditch shop to check out brooms, and owls are zipping by overhead with parcels and letters. Severus approaches the bank square quietly, keeping behind the crowds and walking unnoticed. He is not wearing his traditional dark robes, and with his short hair he goes unnoticed. Potter is walking ahead, wearing a set of Severus' muggle work clothes, and ducks into a small nook in the wall between Gambol & Japes and the Magical Menagerie.
There is a large stage set up just to the side of Gringotts, and quite a few people milling about the ugly statue. It has a sheet covering it at the moment, and from Potter's description, Severus can't help but assume that the aesthetic value of the statue is actually improved by the sheet.
Severus casually inspects the little bags of crocodile scales at the street stall next to him, pretending to listen to the bartering argument between a customer and the stall owner. Out of the corner of his eye, Severus sees Weasley appear and then disappear into the same narrow doorway that Potter did, and he is impressed by the man's speed. He counts slowly to himself, not even making it to five before Granger appears in his view and then slips out of sight.
Giving a look of distaste to the scales, Severus leaves the stall and walks over to the alcove between shops. The inset door is barely visible from the street, and the gold lettering on the door is worn dull.
"Nodder and Sons, Preservers Since 1442"
Severus can see several aurors in the crowd as he passes through, and he is quite certain that there are at least twelve unspeakables around. He knows this because he can see the shadows of their midnight robes as they mingle through the crowds, all wearing a robe with blood red lining on the inside. They look just normal and inconspicuous enough to grab his attention, much the way they had when they'd followed him during the first war when he was under surveillance.
The ceremony isn't due to start for another forty-five minutes, and already Severus is disgusted by the amount of people who've arrived, some with cut-outs of bright yellow lightening bolts. He grimly wonders what contest prizes will be offered in replacement for the Victory Beans.
The door opens with no resistance – Granger's work he supposes – and Severus can hear the voices of Potter and his friends up the steep, narrow staircase. He ascends as quietly as he can, his cane making a light noise that Severus never would have accepted as a spy.
Severus takes in the long but narrow shop that he finds past the door at the top of the stairs, noting the one long wall of shelves with jars and jars of different types of salts on it. Potter, Granger, and Weasley are standing by the bookcases that neatly line the shelves opposite, poring over paperwork on the cash bar. Severus isn't close enough to read the titles of the books in the cases, but he can see enough to know they're all quite varied. A large picture hangs over the cash bar, one with what seems to be several generations of members all standing together in formal dress, with a large salt barrel in front of them. Severus knows that he's just walked into the headquarters for the wizarding chapter of The Salters' Company, and as he suspects, of the Diagon Alley Shop Keepers Association as well.
"Where are the memories?" Weasley asks, and his voice is a bit too soft, as if he's afraid that he'll speak too loudly.
Severus stares straight at him, and answers slowly. He's not quite sure how much hearing the potion has given the man.
"You don't honestly think they'd be out in the open, do you?"
Somehow the sarcastic tone even reaches Weasley, and Severus smiles at the rude gesture he gets in return. They continue searching in the drawers of the counters, however, in the event that the DASKA were in fact dim enough to keep the memories easily accessible.
A garbled sonorous announcement filters through the window and catches Severus' ear as he studies the picture on the wall. Several of the men wave at him, but most are busy puffing themselves up in an attempt to look impressive. There seem to be far too many generations in the portrait to even be possible, and Severus wonders if a spell has allowed the more recently deceased members to permanently re-locate to this portrait from another.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer tries again, this time quieting the crowd a little. "The ceremony will start at ten, please feel free to browse about and shop before then."
The voice is an oddly high nasaled one, with a slight accent that is remarkably similar to that of Florean Fortescue's. Severus imagines that the announcer is a family member of sorts.
Checking out the window, Severus can see that a sizable crowd has indeed arrived, and is pushing against the gates that have been set up around the statue. He notes with interest that at the back of the crowd are several red haired people, along with a few of the other members of Dumbledore's Army.
"Layyyyydies and geeeentlemen."
The voice comes from a back room behind the cash bar, and both Severus and Harry freeze. There is absolutely no question as to whom the voice belongs to, and they both snap their attention to the empty doorway at the end of the room.
"Potter," Severus says, hardly moving his mouth. "Did you not check that the building was empty before starting to search it?"
Granger is using a mixture of mouthed words and pointed gestures to explain to Weasley what is happening, and Potter is staring curiously at the door.
"Of course I did," he answers neutrally. "Tolstoy?"
After a few seconds the boy appears in the doorway, neat dark hair and bright blue eyes greeting them as he stares impassively around the room.
He finally sees Severus, and points at him.
"Yes," Severus answers, thinking fast. He maintains eye contact and asks softly, "When you're in trouble, Tolstoy, what does Grandad call you?"
Tolstoy cocks his head to the side, as if he's considering whether to answer or not.
"Erik Joseph Nodder."
He beckons towards the back room and they follow slowly, Harry talking feverously to himself.
"The wards on the cottage are fine. Muggle repelling wards won't work on Iain if he's a wizard."
Severus bites the inside of his cheek in annoyance, as it is very sloppy of him to have not noticed that Iain and Tolstoy are wizards. He's frustrated, and had enough of this little game. Stealing memories from the auror investigation is the only reason he can imagine for why an auror murdered Cardogan in daylight, and he knows that even this theory is a stretch as it is a rather violent one. He has no idea why he'd be placed in a cottage so close to another wizard, however, unless it has been a form of surveillance.
"Hide go seeeeek Rus," Tolstoy says, holding his hand out for Severus.
Granger and Weasley are watching in fascination as Severus is lead by a nine or ten year old boy into the back room, which looks just as orderly as the front and is rather bare. Severus grabs his hand hard, anticipating Tolstoy's jerk reaction to being touched, and follows him towards the back of the office. Tolstoy chooses a broom cupboard of all things to hide in, and Severus suspects that the boy thinks he is actually playing a game. At least Severus thinks so until the cupboard floors shift to make a set of stairs, and they begin to descend into darkness.
Severus checks the cheap muggle watch that he's worn today, noting that they've only got three and a half hours before the containment spell will yank them back to the cottage. The sub cellar that they've descended to is suspiciously empty, and Severus nudges open the door on the far wall. A long hallway presents itself, and Severus imagines that this is what the tunnels looked like before the London Underground had been put in. Severus has absolutely no desire to go down the tunnel –his dungeon classroom had been a sufficient façade for his war persona and only the headmaster had known of his spacious tower residence. He can smell a rather generic and unfortunate odour that some might call cologne, and the smell is lingering just strongly enough in the air for Severus to know that someone was in the tunnel recently.
"Fuck," Severus mutters under his breath. He takes a step into the hallway and pulls Tolstoy after him.
"Youuuu swoooore," Tolstoy informs him.
There is a slight crackle-fizz sound as the line of lanterns on the wall blow out, and Severus is left standing against the damp stone corridor that runs underneath Diagon Alley. Stale, cold air invades his nostrils, and Severus breathes slowly through his mouth to avoid the slight scent of mould he is certain he detects.
Before the light went out Severus is certain he saw not one, but two doors at the end of the hallway. Out of habit he draws his wand, though he knows he'll likely not be able to use it. Severus is by nature cautious, and proceeds slowly, Potter and his friends following silently behind. Tolstoy, for some reason, sees no need to act as thus, and gaily grabs Severus' hand as he strides down the hall.
"Hide go seeeeek," Tolstoy tells again.
Severus only hopes that wherever they're headed isn't full of aurors.
The office that Tolstoy leads them to is actually rather large, from what Severus can see by peeking through the hinge that the open door provides. Inside he can see Iain moving about, his familiar cane smacking the stone floor as he moves from desk to bookcase and back.
"Erik, is that you?" Iain calls, not looking up from his paperwork. "We shall leave soon for the ceremony."
Tolstoy ambles into the room and Severus follows him silently, pushing his hand back towards Potter to keep him and his friends in the shadows.
"Good morning, Iain," Severus says, placing his own cane in front of him and holding it lightly. His limited wand is hidden in his sleeve, and he hopes that Iain is unaware of that particular restriction upon him.
"Rus!" Iain looks up startled, his hand stilling over a few papers.
Severus keeps his head still but looks around the office with his eyes, noting small vials on a shelf off to the left of the room. They're filled with a swirling opaque blue mist, and Severus would shake his head at the lack of hiding, if it didn't make it easier for them.
"Imagine my surprise, Iain Nodder, to find that you are the head of the Salters' Company," Severus says, tapping his cane. Tolstoy is sitting at a chair beside the desk, rolling a toy car back and forth across some parchment. "And of the Diagon Alley Shop Keeper's Association, if I am correct."
Iain stands straighter, gifting Severus with a smile. It's a grandfatherly one, and Severus is sorely tempted to use legilimency to see just how honest Iain's expression is.
Iain gathers his attaché case and pulls his wand out from the head of his cane, summoning his cloak.
"With interesting timing comes that promotion, as well. Did you put out the hit?"
Iain stills and looks rather disgusted, and Severus can tell immediately that he had nothing to do with the murder. Severus suspects that the old gentleman persona he'd encountered at the market in Kirkwell isn't far off from Iain's true self.
"I had nothing to do with that, Cardogan had himself killed." His accent seems to have disappeared, but Severus can hear the very small undertones of it in Iain's speech. It sounds as if Iain has spent many years away from where he was raised, and had tried to lose his thick accent.
"For stealing our memories," Harry suddenly says, as he, Granger, and Weasley enter the room. Iain looks further surprised to see them, and Tolstoy shows a flicker of interest in the new people before returning to his toy car.
"It was a foolish idea," Iain mutters, holding his hands up. He's under wandpoint now, as Potter, Granger and Weasley do not trust him. Severus lifts his cane and points to the back shelf, where the memory vials sit.
"We will be retrieving these."
Iain's expression remains neutral, and he nods in agreement. Ron moves into the room and makes his way over, looking relieved to see that the memories are still properly labeled and sealed, as they were given to the ministry.
"Why exactly did you have them?" Potter asks, looking curious. His wand is lowered, but still out and he flexes his fingers around it.
"Name-branding," Iain explains, shrugging his cloak on. He's ignoring the wands in the room and the fact that he's outnumbered. "Walter Terrence Cardogan planned to use you to boost sales in the Alley, and your image as a squeaky clean defender is what he wanted."
"Because you need the money to keep control of Hogwarts," Severus says, not moving. Tolstoy notices though that his grandfather is packing up, and stands to fetch his own coat.
"Believe me," Iain says, his voice dark, "you'd rather it still be us than the ministry."
He pushes four folders on the desk towards Harry and Hermione, nodding at them. They're stamped with the seal of the Ministry of Magic, and also with a crest that Severus recognizes to be similar to that of the auror division.
"The ceremony is in thirty minutes. I suggest you read fast."
Iain walks past Severus, giving him a friendly nod as he leads Tolstoy out the office and down the dark hallway.
The candlelight flickers in the underground office as horrors are relived for Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, while Severus sits with Harry to sift through the ministry files. There is revulsion, and disgust, evident on Severus' face as he reads what is listed. He'd originally been very wary of the guilds keeping hold of Hogwarts, but to see the plans that the ministry has…
"Do you think Kingsley knows?" Harry asks, looking at the student profile in front of him. It's one of many profiles that the unspeakables have highlighted as 'children of interest.' Neglected, attention starved children, exceedingly bright and ambitious. There are two further categories within the folder for this profile, one to set apart and monitor the children with documented dark streaks, and one to highlight and train the do-gooders. It seems as if the ministry wishes to use Hogwarts to filter out certain skill sets in students.
"No. These are motions set forth by the auror and unspeakable departments. They need only a vote of majority from the wizengamot to pass into law, without the minister's sanction."
Severus closes another file, one that details the personality traits of the common children, those the ministry have no real interest. There are no further paths for these children. Potter is holding the last folder, and he shares that this folder details of how to mould the skills of prodigal students to fit the best interests of the ministry. Students with strengths in Defense, in Potions, in Transfiguration, and in spell crafting.
"They want a perfect society," Hermione says, looking at the file folders with repugnance. She points out a few key words to Ron, and he stares in disbelief.
"I believe, Miss Granger, they actually want a society they have complete control over."
Weasley's attention is caught on a scrap of parchment that is lying under the folders. The ink is still slightly damp on it, and it seems as if Iain had been marking it up when they arrived.
"From the Unspeakable Office, Ministry of Magic," Weasley reads, speaking normally as if the text has distracted him enough not to worry about his voice after hearing loss.
"After careful deliberation, it is confirmed that with the evidence from the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts, overnight of May 2nd, 1998, we may move forward with the registration and regulation of all werewolves into beast classification, and begin deportation forthwith. Any half-breeds or spawns of these creatures will also be relocated, for the safety and preservation of the wizarding world's culture and society.
Deliberations regarding the classification of veelas, vampires, trolls, and half-breed goblins will commence in one fortnight."
Harry snatches the paper out of Weasley's hand, his eyes widening in disbelief as he reads further. In Iain's royal blue ink are the names of three remote islands off the north west coast of the UK, where Severus suspects they intend to quarantine the werewolves.
"They're going to condemn Teddy. He's not yet one," Potter says, his expression aghast.
"There's that," Granger replies, clutching the empty vial of her memories in her hand. "Or the shop keepers' solution of suppressing everything that happened and going on with life as if this war was a mere child's game of tag."
Potter's eyes travel further down the desk, and he trails his finger over an official letter from the ministry's auror department that he skims.
"They've already rejected Tolstoy," Potter says, rubbing the official ministry seal. He can now see that Tolstoy is actually twelve, and was denied entrance to Hogwarts because of his autism.
Severus collects the folders and checks his watch.
"Well, Potter. Time to choose your side."
Harry looks to be seriously considering this. They'd originally come with the charmed books (packaged and delivered to Gareth Blott just after nine), with the intention of proving to DASKA and the general public that Harry Potter is not a pure and innocent hero. Severus knows that Potter greatly disapproves of the shop keepers using him as bait to lure more witches and wizards to spend their money in the Alley, but after seeing what plans the ministry intends to make of the school system and society's half humans, Severus admits to himself that they are stuck trying to pick the lesser of two evils. Potter and Weasley are, at least. Severus has taught Granger long enough to easily predict exactly where she stands.
Exiting back out into the tunnel hallway, Granger casts a spell to light the lamps and they are surprised to find that there are actually more doors in the room than they'd originally thought. There is a door to each shop that exists in Diagon Alley, all carefully labeled, and Severus smiles at the implication. The ministry may own the land that Diagon Alley itself is on, but underneath the shopkeepers have found a way to still travel if their route above is ever obstructed.
Potage's Cauldron Shop is just behind the ceremony stage, and Severus is only slightly disappointed that the owner of the shop, a man Severus has done business with for years, seems to not be surprised to see the four of them exit from a supplies cupboard into his shop. Just as Potter reaches the doorway, a clear voice reverberates through the glass to make a loud announcement.
"Attention all. The Diagon Alley statue unveiling ceremony has been cancelled. There is a message from the Ministry of Magic to follow. I repeat, the ceremony has been cancelled."
The voice is tight with authority, but Severus can still hear the sneer in it, as if the woman in question thinks very little of the ceremony. It's an auror, Severus thinks, as she's wearing the right robes and looks disgruntled to be dealing with the public. The crowd appears to be puzzled by the gruff tones of the auror, but they do seem to be both subdued and impressed by the uniforms. Severus has always found that people associate a form of authority with uniforms, and it's working for the aurors now.
He watches as six of them storm the crowd, descending upon the stage from all sides of the alley and pushing their way through the shoppers. They stand in a row behind they spokesauror, and shortly have loose control of a crowd of five hundred or so people.
There is a small uproar at the front of the crowd, however, where the more diehard fans of the Boy Wonder are standing with their lightening bolt cut outs and demanding to know what's happening.
"The event has been cancelled. There will be no heroes here today," the auror is heard answering irritably, as if she's forgotten her voice is under sonorous. Iain is standing to her left, looking mighty annoyed and under constraint from two younger aurors standing by. Severus wonders where Tolstoy is, and if he's safe.
"This is a sanctioned contest, you cannot just cancel it upon whim," Iain demands.
"This is ministry land you're standing on," the auror hisses towards Iain, her voice back to normal.
"Ah, we're back to that, are we?" Iain asks, shaking his arms loose from the grips of the aurors. Severus is inordinately pleased that Iain is able to cast a wandless sonorous. Not because he particularly agrees with Iain's general plan of action, but because his statement angers quite a few ministry aurors that are attempting to look intimidating. The crowd is watching with rapt attention.
"Are you going to evict the public from the Alley? Alienate the survivors of the war who've come for a silly and fun contest, and to purchase a simple recipe book from Harry Potter?"
The auror points to the statue as the crowd murmurs, and Severus eyes her critically. He thinks he's seen her, a tall and rather unfortunate looking blonde woman, around the cottage before.
"Actually," the auror smiles nastily, "we'd be glad to talk about one and the same."
"I beg your pardon?" Iain asks, and he's let go. There are now six aurors spread out on stage in addition to the spokesauror, but Severus and the three heroes have yet to be spotted from their vantage point behind stage.
"What your esteemed host has not seen fit to tell you, is that Harry Potter is a murderer."
The auror has turned back to the crowd, and her voice echoes against the thousand-year-old brick that make up the shops along the street. People are sticking their heads out windows to listen, and movement inside of shops has ceased as well.
"The auror department has spent the last five months investigating the actions of key witches and wizards during the Final Battle at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and we have come to the conclusion that the so called heroes of the war did not act heroically."
The murmuring starts, and Severus fingers the wand that's in his pocket. He plans to stay close to Potter, as Potter has the Elder wand and they've discovered that it still works outside of the cottage boundaries.
"Where the hell is Shacklebolt?" Potter hisses angrily as Granger tries to keep Weasley up to speed with the banter.
"They're keeping him in the dark," Severus replies.
Some of the fans in the front row have taken offense to the auror's statements, and are starting to yell back.
"I assure you," the auror says with a glare, "we have reviewed exactly what has happened in the final battle, and as such have placed Mr Potter under observation until a proper assessment of his power level can be made. The ministry will also be bringing in new laws regarding the control of werewolves and trolls, after the massacre that occurred during the battle."
More jeers and yelling wash over the stage, and one particularly loud wizard is heard shouting a demand to know why Potter is being controlled.
The auror narrows her eyes as she answers, pointing her finger menacingly at the crowd.
"Harry Potter survived the killing curse not once, but twice, and defeated a wizard that countless aurors and specifically trained hit wizards failed to do. We wish to prevent a similar occurrence, should Mr Potter turn dark or another gifted child choose the wrong path."
The potion that Severus had assisted Potter with for Weasley seems to have restored more of Weasley's hearing than Severus had originally thought possible, going by the angered look on the man's face. Granger has a calm and cool look about her, which Severus secretly admires. He always enjoys the silent types, as their explosions are usually legendary.
"Where's your proof of this!" Iain demands, his voice louder than the crowd's cries of outrage as he's still got the sonorous charm active.
Potter is riled up to the point that his limbs are trembling, likely in anger Severus thinks, and he finally steps up onto the stage.
The crowd goes silent at the sight of him, and Potter pauses long enough to yank Severus up onto stage (with Weasley's help) and then stalk over to the lead auror. There is no other word for it, as the boy seems to have perfected a menacing stalk.
Just before he gets there, Potter seems to notice who is standing in the front row and his step falters ever so slightly. Ginevra Weasley is standing with her mother and one brother, the one who works for the ministry and had been giving them information. Her eyes are huge and follow Potter's every movement as she tugs on her mother's sleeve.
"Mum! That's the Boy Who Lived that you told me about!"
Severus had been smirking at the young witches in the crowd who are eyeing Potter hungrily, no doubt fancying themselves as a potential mate for him. He'd been smug in his knowledge that he is the one to have bed Potter. He feels a slight twinge of empathy for Potter now, however, because the person Potter had his first time with no longer exists, and yet he can still see her and talk to her.
Potter regains his composure and Severus watches as he pulls up the side of his jumper, exposing his torso and the angry barbed wire scar. There is a gasp from the crowd, particularly the front rows where the view is the best, and Potter puts his wand to his throat. The aurors on stage inch a little closer, but seemed to freeze upon recognizing the wand that Potter is holding. Whether they see it as the Elder wand, or simply Albus Dumbledore's, they hold back from approaching.
"Mr Potter – "
"I killed fourteen people in the final battle."
The spokesauror's eyes widen and she says nothing. Weasley casts a non-verbal sonorous next, and points to his ears.
"I was cursed deaf. And I murdered Draco Malfoy."
He nods to Hermione, and Severus has a flashback to the excited and impatient first year that was jumping out of her seat with answers. This Hermione Granger is calmer, composed, and slightly jaded.
"I obliviated all memories of me from my parents." She holds up her left arm, the scarred Mudblood slightly faded but still legible to the news cameras that catch it.
"And I polyjuiced into Bellatrix Lestrange."
Potter steps forward and then takes Severus' cane, holding it up in front of him and inspecting the carvings.
"Headmaster Snape was attacked by Voldemort's snake while trying to defend Hogwarts. And now he's been imprisoned for not preventing Voldemort from murdering someone."
Severus wrenches the cane back from the boy, annoyed that Potter feels the urge to air dirty laundry.
"Aren't we all guilty of that?" Granger asks, startling Severus slightly.
"War is no excuse for murder," the auror barks, making the crowd jump. Severus is certain they're well on their way to mutinous, but they're not quite there yet.
"You're using it as an excuse for segregation," Potter accuses, standing slightly in front of Severus and the other two. The crowd starts to angrily shout, and Severus holds up his hand to quell them. He has apparently made more of an impression on Hogwarts students for the past twenty years than he'd thought, as the gesture works.
"Does Kingsley Shacklebolt know that the auror division is planning on locking away the werewolves and anyone they've infected? Does he know that you plan on profiling child prodigies to train them for your own uses?"
The auror stands up to Potter, and she looks like she's almost spitting.
"You have no idea what you're ta –"
"I know what I'm talking about! You want to lock up my godson just because his father was a werewolf! You want to monitor kids who fit your dangerous wizard profile so we don't get another Tom Riddle! And you want to demonize me because I did the very thing that the wizarding world had condemned me to do since I was fifteen, and people got hurt in the process."
"Perhaps this discussion could be better continued at the ministry's offices," a second auror speaks up, and Severus looks at him with a glint of a smile. It's the younger auror that comes to check up on him every week.
"Yes, perhaps," Severus says. "I believe we are missing the presence of one rather important person, however."
Severus is impressed at the timing of Potter, Weasley, and Granger as they all pull wands and summon patronuses at the same time, though he maintains a glare towards Potter. Their original plan had been to not let the aurors see that Potter could still perform magic with the Elder wand outside of the cottage property he'd been restricted to.
The aurors shuffle about on stage, appearing rather agitated now that the minister of magic has been requested to hold an emergency meeting. The crowd, angry that they've been played (and seeming to momentarily forget that Iain had also planned to take advantage of their earnings), mutter murderously towards the aurors, shaking fists, wands, broomsticks, cauldrons, and whatever other purchases they have at the time. A path is parted towards the ministry offices, and Potter steps down off the stage, leading the way. He seems reluctant to do so but the crowd pushes him forward.
He looks for a moment as if he is planning to take Severus' arm, as the streets are uneven and the cobbles worn smooth from centuries of use. Severus emits a low growl, and they proceed along the street, Weasley and Granger behind them, the aurors following suit and egged on by the crowd.
After this, Severus is confused in a whirlwind of activity. Kingsley Shacklebolt arrives in the atrium to find his constituents in an absolute uproar, and amongst the explanations, the papers from Iain, the incessant shouting of Potter, and his fastidious checking of time (they now only have two hours left before they are yanked back to the cottage), Severus loses Potter. Severus is brought to a lower level courtroom, and he feels his skin crawl beneath his stone-faced exterior as he recognizes the courtroom as one he'd been judged in as a junior death eater.
Thirty minutes pass, thirty minutes of staring at the glossy green-black tiles on the wall and mentally cursing the auror that is guarding him. Severus hears nothing of what's happening in the upper levels of the ministry, and he wonders if he'll be spending the night in a cell. He's certain that starting a riot is against the terms of his parole, but it hadn't actually explicitly been mentioned in the paperwork they'd given him when he was first placed in the cottage.
A door behind him clicks open, and Severus prides himself on not reacting at all. He knows that the aurors enjoy keeping their suspects and prisoners off balance with sudden sounds and flickering lights.
"You're free to go."
It's an older wizard that walks in, one that Severus thinks might be part of the wizengamot.
"Am I now? I was beginning to wonder why I was here in the first place," Severus sneers, and he is amused that the man seems annoyed with his attitude.
A scroll is tossed at him as Severus makes to leave, and he places it in his pocket to read once he's left the ministry. Severus allows himself a rather malicious smile as he walks through the atrium, watching the auror that had murdered Cardogan be bodily dragged through the ministry, under arrest. Shacklebolt, it seems, is back on top of things.
Stepping outside, Severus keeps to the shadows and spends a few minutes watching the owls at the post office fly in and out of the owlrey before opening his scroll. A full pardon, signed by his Order of the Phoenix colleague and now Minister of Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt.
Severus looks up into the grey October skies above the alley, wondering if his little cottage will be any warmer if it snows. People are milling about around him, but no one says anything to him save for the odd tipping of a head. Potter is nowhere to be found, and Severus berates himself for feeling slightly disappointed at this. Potter has his friends back now, his mystery solved, and his absolution. Severus knows he is a fool to expect anything else from Potter.
He passes by Fortescue's parlour and sees quite a few people sitting in the outdoor café, reading Potter's book. Steaming mugs of coffee, butterbeer, hot chocolate, and tea sit ignored on the small wrought iron tables as their owners read through the chapters. Severus wraps his scarf tighter around his neck and clutches his cane tighter. The book cover is bold and the red metallic embossed lettering jumps out at him against the black matte hardcover:
HARRY POTTER SHOULD HAVE DIED.
The apparition point outside of Severus' cottage is within view of the front gate. Severus arrives with a small whoosh of air, something he's perfected after years of apparition in the shadows, and his walk is only slightly less impressive as it used to be, aided by his cane. There is fog starting to settle in the valley, and for once Severus doesn't feel an itch to return over the property line. He flips open the gate and starts down his path, drawing his wand and pointing it at the small stone cottage.
Muttering in perfect Latin under his breath, Severus sets his own strict security wards on the cottage. He's lived there for five months now, and as much as Severus never thought he'd find himself in a small little isolated cottage, he's become comfortable with how the house settles.
Severus walks down the path towards the front door, spying Potter sitting on the stoop. He's dressed down, with a scarf tied loosely around his neck, and he's holding a steaming mug of something. The steam curls up around Potter's face, and he takes a small sip, as if he's not seen Severus.
Severus stops a few steps from the door, staring down at Harry Potter's messy head. He says nothing; nothing to signal that he may have felt the remotest sense of loss at the idea that Potter would not return to the cottage with him. He certainly doesn't allow any expression of relief to flit across his face upon seeing the man.
Potter, annoying twit that he is, seems to have noticed any way.
"You're late," Potter says, finally craning his neck to look up. "I've got a stew on the stove."
After studying him for a moment, Severus slowly extends his hand to help Potter up. Harry rises to his feet quicker than expected, and rests his head against Severus' shoulder for a few moments, hand held strongly in Severus' own. He smiles softly, and turns toward the warm cottage.
"Your cooking is surprisingly tolerable," Severus admits, and unconsciously places his hand on the small of Potter's back as he follows the man into the house. "Though I will withhold any further judgment until after a long term study."
Severus can't see it, but he knows Potter is smiling.