Fall From Grace
Harry reclined in his comfortable, if very worn, armchair. Being at the Burrow after spending just a fortnight in Privet Drive was a blessing. Nevertheless, it did little to quench the gloom surrounding his heart ever since he saw Sirius fall through the veil. With no body to bury and no one to mourn with, the grief was still fresh. Harry sighed and ruffled his hair, making it stick up even more than it did on its own accord.
Molly Weasley bustled in with a tea-tray, closely followed by Ginny, who carried a bowl full of home-made biscuits.
"Harry, dear, have some tea and cookies, it will do your body some good, you're always so skinny-" Harry smiled at her motherly attention and accepted the offered food with a thanks. He smiled at Ron, who sat in front of the fireplace, playing chess against a disgruntled Hermione. Harry watched as Ron's bishop smashed one of Hermione's castles with a vengeful pleasure. Hermione's brow furrowed in concentration and Ron smirked, winking at Harry. He grinned back at his friend, both of them thinking that losing one or two games could only do Hermione some good.
"Oh, this is no use", Hermione snapped finally, crossing her arms in front of her chest in annoyance. "You've won again, haven't you?"
Ron grinned, clearly enjoying himself. "There is a way you could still save yourself," he told her. "But, if you want to give up, you know, just tilt your king-" Hermione huffed indignantly, leaning over the board again. Ron snickered. Harry set his empty tea-cup on the small, overfilled table and stretched.
"I'm going for a walk," he announced. Mrs Weasley looked up from her knitting, looking first at Harry, then throwing a worried look out of the window. "Are you sure, dear? It's already dark out-"
"I'll go with you, Harry," Hermione quickly scrambled up from the floor, straightening out her clothes, looking relieved. "Don't worry, Mrs Weasley, I'll watch out for him."
"Wait, I'm coming, too", Ron joined them hastily, abandoning the chess set. The three of them walked out the door, accompanied by Mrs Weasley's warning of being careful. Harry breathed in the warm night air in relief. The night was quiet around them, soothing Harry's nerves as he walked between his friends along their usual path.
"Face it, Hermione, just would have lost," Ron was still in a good mood. Hermione glowered at him.
"You said there was still a way I could have won!"
"Yeah, I doubt you would've found it, though, you're rubbish at chess."
"I'm not rubbish-"
Harry tuned out their bickering, kicking away a small pebble as the wandered through the field, leaving the crooked house behind them. As much as he loved the Burrow and all it's residents, after three weeks of living there, he was happy to have some peace and quiet at least once a day. Well, more peace and quiet than usual, anyway.
"-whatever. Harry, I forgot to ask,", he turned his attention back to his friends, "Did Remus tell you anything about moving back to Grimmauld Place yesterday? I mean, will you stay there for the rest of the summer? I'm sure your mother would be relieved to finally have the house back to herself." Ron shrugged.
"I don't think she minds, honestly. You know how she loves to fuss over people, and now that Fred and George have got their own place-"
"Yeah, Remus mentioned it," Harry said, losing the pebble he had been kicking in the darkness. "Nothing tangible, though. Just that it's being used as headquarters again. And they haven't been able to get rid of Mrs Black's portrait yet, Lupin said something about Tonks setting her off again the other day." Harry found himself smiling at the thought, though the smile was bitter. Anything connected to the stuffy house reminded Harry of Sirius, trapped, unable to help him until he himself had lured him out, causing his death- He severed that train of thought, looking up at the bright moon to calm himself. Sirius would have wanted him to carry on.
"I'd rather not go back there right now," he confessed as they turned around the bend, now walking parallel to the Burrow, slowly circling the field. The pebbles crunched beneath their feet.
"Yeah," Ron said with a shudder, "I mean, that place gives me the creeps. Imagine, living there with that Kreacher breathing down your neck, that's enough to drive anyone insane, mind you, that's probably why Sirius' mother-"
"Ron," Hermione hissed. Ron snapped his mouth shut and even in the pale moonlight Harry could see his ears reddening.
"Sorry mate, I didn't mean-"
"It's alright,"Harry said wearily. This wasn't the first time they were shirking the issue. "It's okay to say his name, you know."
"Of course," Hermione quickly abided, "but still, Harry, I mean- you must miss him horribly!" Then a look of mortification crossed her face, and she glanced at Ron, who scowled at her.
"Really, guys," Harry started, wondering how to explain that he knew that they were only trying to help, but frankly, their stuttering was becoming quite annoying. Then, a howl pierced the air, stirring the calm of the night.
The three friends froze, looking into the darkness of the surrounding countryside. Another howl sounded, this time from behind them. Harry frowned, wondering if there were still wild wolves in Britain, when Hermione gasped beside him. He glanced down at her, following her petrified gaze. She was staring at the full orb that was emerging from behind a cloud. He stared for a moment, then felt cold fear trickle down his spine. The moon was full.
"Quickly!" Harry pulled Hermione back, and they set into a run. They were still within the wards, so they should be able to reach the house- He cursed as his shoes, oversize as usual, since they had once belonged to Dudley, nearly came off as they stuck in the mud. Using magic now could get them expelled, he knew that all to well. But, he thought wildly as he stumbled again, he preferred expelled to being dead. Suddenly, he sensed movement in front of them and flung a arm out to stop Ron, who in turn grabbed Hermione.
"What?" she spat, panting, wand raised. Harry pointed silently at the Burrow. Against the bright windows, a dark silhouette was moving. It wasn't human, but moved on all fours, as if sniffing the ground.
"What about the wards?" Ron hissed frantically, obviously thinking along the same lines as Harry. "How-"
"Never mind that," Harry whispered back, crouching. His heart pounded in his chest as he tried to think of something. The only safe place was the Burrow, but they had to get past the werewolf-
"Let's circle around, there's a grove down there," Ron breathed, pointing to the far side of field. "We'll be less in the open there."
"We'll be outside of the perimeter!" Hermione's voice was trembling slightly, but her wand hand was steady.
"Would you rather fight the wolf?" Harry asked roughly.
"Move fast, then!"
"Come on, back to the road, we're to slow in this mud." The three of them moved again, as silently and quickly as possible. Harry ran, his breath harsh in his throat as he bent over, trying to make himself even smaller. His ears were straining for any sound of pursuit as well as howling. He heard Hermione whimper behind him as she tripped and fell. Harry skidded to a halt and helped her up.
Again, a howl echoed through the air and Harry hoped fervently the werewolf had moved and that there weren't two of the sort. He thought he felt the moment they passed through the wards, like a light tinkle, but maybe he just imagined it. They were almost there when Ron yelled "Watch out!" and Harry was flung forwards, colliding heavily with the ground.
A red light shot over his head and a mad cackle sounded that filled Harry with a combination of dread and murderous loathing. He launched himself forward, sprinting for the covers of the trees, his lungs aching. Ron shoved him forward, Hermione was already there, her face dark in the moonlight.
"Potter-" The taunting voice of Bellatrix Lestrange befouled the warm night air. "Little Harry! Come out, come out, wherever you are!" She laughed again. Harry and his friends retreated deeper into the trees, not daring to light their wands.
"Well, well, well," A cold voice drawled and suddenly, they stumbled onto a clearing. Lucius Malfoy stood there, perfectly composed, his blond hair billowing around him in the light breeze.
Harry didn't waste time. "Stupefy!" Beside him, Ron and Hermione yelled their own spells, which shot at Malfoy like bullets. The Death Eater simply disappeared and apparated a few feet closer, casting his own stunner, which Harry deflected, if only just.
Hermione shrieked behind him and Harry whirled around, seeing her collapse to the ground. Bellatrix had her wand pointed at her, a malicious grin on her face. Harry roared his own curse, but the blast of light was reflected with a flick of her wand. Ron's curse, however, was right behind and the Stunning Spell he shot at her was strong enough to knock her back through the bushes.
Harry's scar seared in pain, and he whirled around, to see Malfoy's pale, elegant finger pressing upon his mark, a smirk on his face. Harry raised his wand, but Malfoy suddenly flew forwards, his head falling back violently. He collapsed at Harry's feet and another dark figure appeared in front of him.
"Move, Potter!" Snape's pale face glowed in the darkness, his wand raised. "Get back to the Burrow, now!" Harry and Ron hauled Hermione up, then started running towards the Burrow, stumbling over roots. Snape hurried along, his wand lighting the path, while Harry's scar burned and suddenly the pain mounted. He stumbled and groaned, screwing up his eyes.
"He's here! Voldemort!" Terror flooded him as Snape cursed and shoved him roughly forwards.
"Get to the house, I'll-"
"Run!" Harry bellowed, as his scar seared in agony, almost splitting his head open. They scampered through the trees, Snape had disappeared somewhere and Harry's head was about to split open- They broke out of the undergrowth and onto a bigger clearing. Harry could see the Burrow's lights shimmering in front of them. If they could only get behind the wards- A crack sounded in front of them and they skidded to a halt as Lucius Malfoy appeared, bloody and dishevelled, but furious.
"Crucio!" Ron fell with a cry, convulsing on the ground. Harry raised his wand.
"Diffindo!" The ground at Malfoy's feet exploded, but his shield held.
"Pathetic, Potter!" Malfoy hissed. "How you survived this long is beyond me. The Dark Lord is coming and then you and your Mudblood friends will die!" Ron scrambled to his feet, trembling, his wand pointing shakily at Malfoy. Harry didn't take his eyes off Malfoy, thinking fast. They needed to get past him, they were running out of time. He raised his wand.
"Now now, won't the ickle baby want to get into trouble," Bellatrix strode out of the forest and Harry's vision flared red and he snapped, flinging curse after curse at her. Ron and Hermione joined in, desperately trying to blast their way free and into safety. Lucius Malfoy fell to Hermione's Body Bind Curse and Harry jumped, closely evading a Killing Curse. Bellatrix howled in rage, a sinister sound and Hermione fell to the ground again. Ron roared, but Harry could see his hexes were no use and he ducked, singed by the arrow of flames that nearly hit him-
Bellatrix was blasted from her feet from behind, falling over. Harry saw her astonished expression before his own Stunning Spell finally hit and she stilled. Harry whirled around, high on adrenaline and saw Snape running towards them through the trees.
"What are you waiting for! Move, you imbecile-" Harry's scar exploded and he fell to his knees, the roar in his ears blocking all other sounds. Mind-numbing agony cursed through his limbs and he realized dimly he was trembling. He thought he felt Ron and Hermione stir next to him and blinked through the tears in his eyes, willing himself to work through the agony.
Voldemort was advancing towards them, his stick-thin body oddly fitting in between slim boughs. His eyes glinted red even in the moonlight. He raised his wand with a cruel smile and pointed it at the three of them. A net of white light flew towards them, menacing in it's perfection. Hermione's Shield Charm crumbled beneath it's onslaught. Suddenly, it halted in mid-air, as it met an invisible resistance. Voldemort's smirk disappeared and his nostrils flared in anger.
"MOVE, POTTER!" Snape's voice cut through the pain. Harry tried to right himself, Ron pulling his arm, Hermione on his other side- Voldemort shot another curse at Harry, but a dark figure lunged in front of Harry, bringing up a powerful shield. The curse shattered it, but didn't go on.
Voldemort shrieked in anger. "You! Traitor!" Snape didn't answer, but flung curse after curse at Voldemort. The Dark Lord deflected them all, eyes wild and livid, their sinister glow apparent to Harry even though his pain. Voldemort cried out a long stream of words in a language Harry didn't recognize and a big blue ball of energy hit Snape, the spy's shield crumbling and folding in like a piece of parchment. The blue light engulfed him, crackling across his skin and Snape collapsed, crying out in agony. Harry raised his wand and cried out, at the same time as Ron and Hermione did.
The three spells combined and a purple light crashed into Voldemort's chest, knocking him back.
"Come on!" Ron roared, pulling Harry to his feet and janking him along. He saw Hermione levitate Snape's limp form off the ground and they ran, Snape gliding beside them. Harry's back tingled as he expected Voldemort's curse to hit him any moment. His breath was loud in his ears, his blood thundering, his heart racing, just a little bit further- Then they were inside the wards and the relief was instantaneous. His head still ached, but it was a tame throb in comparison to the agony he had experienced just minutes ago. Next to him, Hermione moaned in relief and Snape's form collapsed to the ground as she lowered her wand, shaking. The three of them looked at the grove, but it was silent.
"Let's go," Harry said after a few seconds, remembering the werewolves. He grabbed Snape's arm, Ron grabbed the other and together, they dragged him to the front door.
The chaos in the Burrow was perfect- shouting and a flurry of wands, enchantments sparkling as Mrs Weasley checked the wards around the Burrow, looking worried even though different coloured sparks showed her everything was in place. Snape hung against Harry limply, still unconscious. Harry grunted at the weight and gestured to Ron towards the couch. As they moved towards it, Mrs Weasley stopped them.
"No, no, you can't stay here, it's too dangerous! The wards are still working, but if You-Know-Who is out there-" Molly Weasley paled even further, if possible. "No, go to Grimmauld Place, you'll be safer there and someone needs to help Severus! I've got a portkey here somewhere-"
Mrs Weasley hastily stepped to the mantle, frantically skimming it. She knocked over a photograph with trembling hands, then turned back to them, clutching a small and ugly figurine of a Yorkshire terrier.
"Come on, you lot, all of you!", she commanded, handing the small ornament to Hermione and drawing her wand. Ginny put a trembling finger on it, and Harry and Ron shuffled forward, each of them extending a hand.
"Mum?" Ron frowned as Mrs Weasley made no attempt at touching the portkey.
"I'm waiting for your father, he's on his way home, then we'll join you," she said, glaring at her son. "Now put your hand on that portkey!"
"But-", Ron and Ginny started protesting.
"NOW!" Mrs Weasley said scathingly and Harry hunched his shoulders instinctively. Both Ron and Ginny resumed their hold on the portkey and with a touch of her wand, Mrs Weasley activated it. Harry felt the familiar jerk and held on to his dear life, hoping not to lose his potions master along the way. Then his feet hit the pavement of Grimmauld Place's doorstep and he staggered, nearly falling down the steps.
"Quickly," Hermione said and Ginny pushed the door open. They stumbled inside and Harry almost fell as Ron lost his grip on Professor Snape, who still seemed unaware of his surroundings.
"Sorry, sorry," Ron hurriedly slid Snape's arm back around his shoulders and heaved.
"Ginny?" Remus strode towards them through the hallway, wand drawn. "What-" Then he saw Hermione and the two boys, shouldering their burden. He paled.
"What happened?" He flicked his wand and Harry felt the weight lift from his shoulders as Snape's body hung limply in the air, suspended by Lupin's magic. His eyes seemed slightly open, but unfocused, as his head lolled. Harry felt goosebumps erupt on his arms. Whatever Voldemort's curse had done to Snape, it had obviously wreaked havoc.
He listened as Hermione recounted the nights happenings and how Snape had saved them from Voldemort. When she reached the part of Voldemort cursing Snape, they entered the kitchen. With another wave of his wand, he cleared the kitchen table and set Snape's body atop it. Snape groaned lightly and Harry saw his hands were starting to tremble lightly.
"What was it?" Hermione whispered, hand in front of her mouth, a terrified expression on her face. She was staring at Snape. Lupin pulled gently at the man's eyelids, lifting them and examining the pupils with his wand. Snape's tremors were increasing and now his whole body was trembling, as though he was very cold.
"I don't know," Lupin confessed, but the concern on his friend's face scared Harry. "Ron, use the fireplace, call Dumbledore!" Ron skidded off towards the sitting room. Harry came closer as Lupin checked Snape's pulse, one eye on his wristwatch.
"What's happening to him?" Harry asked, as Snape tossed his head, eyes opening and closing again at irregular intervals. Lupin took a moment to finish counting, then cursed under his breath.
"Remus?" Harry asked again, his own heart thumping in his chest, adrenaline still surging through his veins. This couldn't be good.
"I don't know, Harry, it looks like Severus' body is fighting the curse, but I don't know what it is, I can't counter it, maybe if one of you can remember the incantation-"
With a loud gasp, Snape's body convulsed and he rolled off the table, collapsing onto the floor. Before any of them had a chance to do more than back away in shock, Snape started forward in direction of the door, nearly ramming into the kitchen cupboard as he tried to straighten up.
"Severus!" Lupin cried, pointing his wand at him, unsure of what to do. "Severus, what are you-"
Snape staggered against the door frame, and Harry saw his pale hands clutching at the door, knuckles white. His pale face was contorted in a hateful snarl as his body leaned forward, out into the hallway. With a feral cry, Snape fell forwards, stumbling and tottering against the walls, and Harry realised he was heading for the door.
"No!", he yelled, lunging after him. He grabbed hold of one of the flailing arms and was dragged forward, his heels digging into the carpet. He was barely aware of the surprise he felt at the skinny man's strength, when a red blast hit him.
He fell to the ground, toppling onto Snape, but barely had the chance to stop moving before he felt a warmth trickling back into him at Remus' command. He staggered up, letting Hermione help him, then shakily looked down at the stunned man.
"What the hell-" Harry cleared his voice, hoping no one noticed how faint it was, "was that?"
He looked at Lupin, who still had his wand pointed at Snape, clearly at loss for words. Ginny was peaking from behind his back, dismay on her face. Hermione put a comforting hand on Harry's arm, and he felt his nerves calm slightly at the touch.
"I think he was trying to get to Voldemort", she said, her voice higher than usual. She cleared her throat nervously, then continued with renewed vigour. "He must've known we'll escape. He didn't want to kill Snape, he wanted him to return to him." She looked at them. "Think about it! Snape knows all the secrets of the order, if Voldemort gets his hands on him-"
"He'll torture it out of him," Harry amended quietly. Hermione nodded in agreement.
"Ginny? Hermione?" Ron's voice sounded panicked as he called for them. He stuck his head in the hallway, eyes wide as he took in the crumpled figure on the floor. "Blimey, what happened?"
"Lets get him off the floor first," Remus ordered, ushering them back into the kitchen. He levitated Snape's body back onto the table, but this time, ropes appeared, winding themselves around Snape's ankles and wrists and fastening them to the table legs.
"What did Dumbledore say?" Lupin asked. Ron, who had been staring at Snape's restraints, shook himself and looked at Remus. "Uh, he said he's on his way. Said he'll be here in few minutes. Will one of you finally tell me what happened?"
"It seems Voldemort enchanted Snape to come back to him", Lupin informed Ron. "He can't stop himself, though I dare say he'll be trying his hardest."
Ron swore. "If You-Know-Who catches him-" He was interrupted by Ginny, who pointed at Snape's arm. "Look!" Harry followed her gaze and saw the material of Snape's tunic cling damply to his arm. Where it rested on the table, a small puddle of blood has formed. Lupin quickly dashed to his side, ripping the fabric apart. Snape's Dark Mark was prominent, the surrounding skin oozing blood and swollen, the dark shape all but pulsing against Snape's skin. Harry could have sword the snake was moving.
Remus swore, then unceremoniously grabbed a dish towel and wrapped it around the Mark, as if to stop Snape bleeding all over the table. Harry felt a giddy urge to laugh as he thought that they would have to clear the table before breakfast next morning and wondered if he was going into shock.
"Remus!" Harry felt his knees go weak with relief as he heard the headmaster's concerned voice. "I came as quickly as I could, what happened, Ron said something about an attack-" Dumbledore entered the kitchen and froze as his gaze fell upon the motionless body on the table.
"Remus, what is this?" Dumbledore's voice was hard and severe, not a bit of twinkle in his eyes. He pulled his wand from his sleeve and advanced towards the table.
"He was attacked, Albus, by Voldemort himself. He's cursed," Remus clarified, and once more Harry listened to the events of the evening being narrated. Dumbledore listened without comment, but slowly passed his wand over Snape's body. He reminded Harry of airport security searching for metal objects.
Finally, when Lupin stopped talking, Dumbledore finished his scans and lay his hand on Snape's forehead. Now his face was creased with worried lines, and Harry was surprised how much the headmaster seemed to care for his least favourite teacher. Oh, Harry knew he was, or rather had been, their most valued spy and he grudgingly had to admit his bravery. But the thought that someone might care for Snape as a person had never occurred to him. Unbidden, the sight of Snape flinging himself in front of Ron, Hermione and himself, came to his mind. Uneasily, he shifted his weight.
"Where is Professor Snape's wand?" He asked, looking at the students in turn.
"I've got it, sir," Harry said quickly, and handed Dumbledore the wand he had pocketed. Dumbledore thanked him and tucked it away, somewhere into the depths of his robes.
"Will he be alright, Professor?" Ginny asked, her voice timid in the kitchen. Dumbledore had started to carefully unwrap the makeshift bandage around Snape's arm and was carefully examining the irritated skin.
"I don't know yet, Miss Weasley," he answered kindly, if seriously. "I have not yet determined the type of curse Professor Snape has been afflicted with; I suspect it is some kind of bonding spell, which is forcing Professor Snape to seek out Voldemort. However, some more research is required to determine the true nature of the spell."
"We will help," Hermione said quickly and Ron surprised Harry by nodding vigorously. "I mean, sir, if there is something we can do, there is a large library here and after all, Professor Snape was trying to protect us-" It occurred to Harry that he was not the only one reliving the attack.
"Yes, Professor, sir," he hurried to Hermione's aid, "if there is anything we can do to help, some research, as you say-"
Professor Dumbledore smiled for the first time that evening, and it made Harry feel better immediately. "I'm sure you can. In fact, you might be the only ones with enough time on your hands- Severus was an important source of information. Now that he's incapacitated, we will have to make due without him. All the other members are busy as it is- do you think you are capable of fending for yourself here, for a while?"
Harry opened his mouth to answer, but Lupin was faster. "Albus, I'm sure I can-"
"Remus, you have other duties to attend to, you know that," Dumbledore gently told him, silencing his offer.
"We'll be alright, Professor, Remus", Hermione jumped in. "I'm sure we can manage to feed ourselves for a few weeks."
"Besides, won't other order members be dropping in and out from time to time?", Ron inquired. "And my Mum wouldn't mind cooking dinner for us and sending it over."
Harry said nothing. He honestly didn't want to stay in Grimmauld Place with all it's haunted memories. But as he gazed onto the motionless figure on the table, he knew he owed it to the man.
"We'll do it, Professor," he said softly.
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled knowingly for a moment, then he resumed his serious manner.
"Mrs Granger, I recommend you start with certain books-", he flicked his wand, and a piece of parchment appeared out of thin air. "Whatever books you can't find in the library will be sent here, just tell me which ones are missing. Also, I'd like to remind the three of you that time is of essence-Professor Snape is currently stunned, but we can't keep him this way for long. I will do some of my own research, and we will reconvene tomorrow at this time." He checked his watch.
"Find out what you can until then."
The three of them nodded, and Dumbledore bid them farewell. Harry looked at Ron and Hermione, stumped. In the morning, he had thought it would be a perfectly normal day. Now, they were in charge of saving his potions master from a rather violent and painful death. For a moment, no one said anything, then Hermione shook herself, straightened the parchment, and scanned the titles.
"Right," she said, assuming that voice of command that always reminded Harry of study sessions, "come on, Harry, Ron, let's see which books we have here, then we can divide them amongst ourselves and see what we can find."
"I'll help," Remus said, with a small smile, "I have a spare day. Dumbledore won't mind, and I'd rather not leave you alone with him right now. I'll just take care of Severus, meet you in the library."
When Harry, Ron and Hermione returned to the kitchen, laden with books, Snape was gone. Harry assumed Lupin put him into one of the upstairs bedrooms- with proper restraints, he hoped. He pulled the nearest book towards him, How To Chain A Wizard, by Fredrick Toadsborough, and settled down. It was going to be a long night.
Around eleven o'clock, a flustered Molly and Arthur Weasley appeared in kitchen and, after many explanations, joined the self-appointed research group.
At midnight, Harry took a bathroom break and sought out Snape's room. He gazed at the unconscious man, noticing that his bandage was bled through. He wondered briefly if it hurt, and if Snape could feel it. He left shortly after, unnerved by the way the complete stillness of Snape's expression somehow made him seem so- vulnerable.
At five in the morning, Harry gave up, rubbing his eyes. He knew he would be no use to anyone if he didn't get some sleep now. He bid Hermione good night, who refused to give up her books, and dragged himself to the room he shared with Ron. He didn't bother to change, just pulled off his shoes, jeans and jacket, and fell asleep before he hit the covers.
He woke just a few hours later, feeling as though a lorry had ran him over. Somehow, it was still an improvement. He glanced over to the bunk bed next to him. Ron was snoring softly into his pillows. On the bed on the far side, a bushy brown head indicated that it was occupied by Hermione. Knowing that even Hermione had at some point succumbed to sleep made Harry feel less guilty about abandoning his search yesterday. At last he would be able to continue now. As quietly as he could, he dressed and went down into the kitchen, were Lupin was already, or maybe still, awake and reading.
"Morning," Harry yawned and helped himself to some coffee. "Anything new? How's the greasy git?"
"There has been no change", Lupin remarked lightly, ignoring Harry's insult. " Here," he handed him another book. Harry stifled a groan and sat himself down.
Ron and Hermione joined them afterwards, both looking as exhausted as Harry felt.
"This is worse than studying for our O.W.L.s," Ron grumbled, helping himself to some food. "If that git hadn't gotten himself cursed-"
"He saved us from You-Know-Who," Hermione reminded him.
Ron scowled. "Well, at least he could have had the decency to kill him!"
Harry flipped a page, scanning it. There was nothing useful in this book, either. And time was running out.
Around midday, even Hermione's nerves were frayed and her eyes bloodshot from sorting through so many books.
"Oh, this is no use!" She rubbed her eyes tiredly. Harry leaned back, massaging his temples. He felt a massive headache coming on, something he really had no use for right now. Lupin had renewed the stunning spell on Snape, attempting to let him eat or drink something before putting him under again. However, after a few gulps of water, the curse had struck again, and Snape had been halfway down the stairs before Lupin had been able to restrain him. He had bruises to show for it. Harry was deeply grateful that Snape didn't have his wand on him; otherwise, there would have been no stopping him.
"Lets see what we've got," Ron decided, taking charge for a moment. Harry sighed and grabbed his notes, scribblings of spells and possible hints to what particular spell Voldemort might have used.
"It's not just a normal binding spell," Hermione said tiredly, her hands still rubbing her eyes. "It's somehow connected to the Dark Mark, it must must be."
"And it's very strong," Harry added. He gestured at the pile of books. "Most of these spells aren't strong enough to bind someone's will for such a long period of time, and not to this degree. Snape couldn't even talk any more."
"Alright, so an abnormally strong bonding spell, amplified by the Dark Mark," Ron concluded, ruffling his red hair until it was about as untidy as Harry's. "What else?"
"The really strong stuff needs some kind of sacrifice, some sort of connection to the victim," Hermione said, ruffling through her notes. "Blood, hair, toenails- like with the Polyjuice Potion! Maybe that's what the Dark Mark is for? I doubt You-Know-Who has a supply of bodily fluids somewhere, with bits of each of his Death Eaters-"
Harry pulled a face at the imagery, and Ron said, "Gross, Hermione!" Hermione ignored them both.
"So, lets say that's what the Dark Mark is for. Then we are dealing with a high scale bonding spell, and we can forget about these low-level ones." She shoved a pile of her notes aside.
"Dark bonding spells are complicated," Remus mused, stroking his stubble. "Assuming the Dark Lord didn't have time to prepare, that he didn't anticipate Severus' betrayal-"
"He didn't," Harry assured him. "He was completely freaked out."
"Well, he didn't have time to prepare any ritual, he had to think on feet, he had no time, but he had to make sure that Severus returned to him-" Remus was riffling through his own notes. "Maybe it wasn't a bonding spell per se, but rather a calling spell?" He smoothed out a piece of paper. "Here, there is something called the Leashing Spell-" Remus grabbed a book and ruffled through the pages, nearly banging his head with Hermione as she leaned it to read the book as well. He found the paragraph and read silently, his lips moving slightly, while Hermione's brown furrowed in concentration, neck craned at such an impossible angle that Harry wondered how she managed it.
"But look," she suddenly said,"it doesn't say that the victim is incapable of any speech or wilful action, in fact, is say "-causes the cursed to return to their Master, kicking and screaming, often hexing anyone in near proximity. However, the cursed has but no choice, and will eventually succumb to his fate or kill himself." She looked at Lupin. "That doesn't sound like Snape. He didn't even seem aware of what he was doing, much less kicking and screaming."
"Thank Merlin for that," Ron muttered so lowly that only Harry could hear.
"I don't know about that, Hermione," Harry objected. "He clung to that door frame pretty hard yesterday. Looked like he didn't want to let go."
"Maybe it's the Dark Mark," Lupin added, tracing another paragraph with his finger. "Maybe it strengthens the spell somehow, because Severus is already bonded with Voldemort."
"There are dozens of those spells, though," Ron objected. "And most of them can't be broken by anything but the Master's choice or the victim's death. Not that I usually would object to killing Snape, but under these circumstances..."
"They couldn't be cast on anyone, though," Harry said quickly, scanning his own notes. Something had stuck in his head, just a footnote in one of the many tomes... "Here! I read somewhere that naught but deep magic shall shield one from the chains of slavery." He glanced back up. "I figured they meant magic like my Mum used on me, when she sacrificed herself for me. Voldemort couldn't use that spell on me. Also, it said that it isn't that easy to cast- most magicians could fight it off before it took complete hold of them. Anyone-" Harry squinted back at his notes, "strong of body and strong of mind would prevail against the assault of the unholy." You can say a lot about Snape, but I don't think he is weak."
"He's a pig-headed git, yeah," Ron agreed. "The Dark Mark again?"
"Maybe..." Remus looked thoughtful. "But we still don't know how it would help Professor Snape. We can't keep him like this until we defeat Voldemort. He'll either die, or start throwing off the enchantments we put on him. And if he ever makes it to Voldemort, we will all be in grave danger."
"And Snape will be dead," Hermione said absent mindedly, picking at her lower lip as she scanned another book.
"How about that deep magic?" Harry insisted, unwilling to let the issue rest. "Apart from jumping in front of a killing curse for Snape, isn't there any way we could, I don't know, shield him or something?" He looked at Ron for assistance, who simply shrugged.
"I doubt that, Harry," Lupin said gently, leaning slightly forward. "Deep magic controls life and death. Each time a wizard is born it manifests itself. Or a muggle," he added, glancing at Hermione, who was listening with rapt attention. "When someone dies and is buried, we draw upon the deep magic for strength and to guide us. Marriage calls it forth as well, and it plays a certain role where procreation is concerned." Lupin smiled wryly as the tips or Ron's ears turned crimson. He turned towards Harry. "The spells resulting out of a mother's sacrifice are most certainly the work of deep magic, Harry, you're right. Which is the only reason you're safe with your relatives. But I can't see how we could use this to our advantage now."
Harry nodded. Hermione sighed and returned to her books. They worked in silence.
In the late afternoon, they were all exhausted, Remus looking as he always did after a full moon. They had gone through all the books, and gotten nowhere. Molly Weasley appeared just then and ordered them out of the kitchen, firmly insisting on them all getting a shower before the headmaster arrived, while she would cook dinner. Frankly, Harry was immensely grateful for the forced stop to their research- he felt as though he never wanted to read another book on spells again. Which was unfortunate, since he might have two more years in school ahead. Providing he survived them, of course.
Hermione showered first, while the boys collapsed in their room, not saying a word to one another. The headache Harry had foreseen had actually occurred. Trelawney would be proud of him, he thought to himself, as he massaged his temples. He dozed off and was shaken away be a wet-haired Ron so that he could take his turn in the shower.
When he returned, rubbing his hair dry, Hermione had joined Ron in their room, and was sitting on Harry's bed. He sat down next to her, and noticed that Mrs Weasley must have brought them their things from the Burrow. Hedwig's empty cage stood at the end of his bed. Still, none of them spoke.
Hermione flopped back on his bed, staring at the ceiling, chewing on her lips. Harry glanced at Ron; he looked as worried as Harry felt.
"Who'd you think will win the Cup this year?" Ron suddenly asked. "Think the other teams are up for it? Lot's of Ravenclaws are leaving, half their team will be completely new, that's bound to be bad for them-"
Harry happily jumped to the occasion to talk about something else than the fact that they've accomplished nothing today and chatted about Quidditch, dinner and lessons they might have this year. While they were discussing wherever or not Trelawney would yet again scare the new Divination students with predicting somebody's death and if so, who it would be, Hermione stood up and started pacing at the far end of the room. Unwilling to focus their minds on more morose topics, Harry and Ron ignored her.
"Think about it, Harry," Ron insisted, his eyes gleaming. "If we could convince Fred and George to give us a whole batch of Puking Pastils for free, we could ask Dobby to chug them into teachers' pumpkin juice when no one is watching. Just imagine McGonagall-"
Hermione gasped, interrupting Ron. She wheeled around, away from the window and turned to stare at Harry, then at Ron. For a minute, she looked shell-shocked- then she resumed pacing at the fastest pace yet, murmuring quietly to herself.
Harry caught Ron's eye, alarmed. He didn't dare comment, in case he disturbed Hermione's evidently precarious thinking process. He saw Ron open his mouth, just before Hermione swivelled on the spot again and swished from the room. Ron closed his mouth again, before staring clueless at Harry.
Harry shrugged. "Dunno, we'll just have to see-" Just then, Mrs Weasley called them to dinner.
Ron and Harry hurried downstairs, famished. After explaining that Hermione might be a while, they seated themselves at the table and dug in. Mrs Weasley watched them fondly, then announced that the headmaster would be arriving within the hour.
Hermione joined them shortly afterwards, carrying a book and offering no word of explanation for her earlier behaviour. She propped it against her glass and continued reading, stew dribbling down her chin. Harry squinted at the book cover: History of Wizard Wedding Customs.
Harry glanced at Ron, flabbergasted. "Hermione, why-"
"Tell you later, Harry," Hermione tartly cut him short, not even looking away from her book. Harry refrained from asking again and finished his meal in silence.
As soon as they were all sated, the three of them thanked Mrs Weasley warmly for the dinner, then dashed upstairs. No sooner had Harry shut their bedroom door behind them, Ron rounded on Hermione. "What the hell was that all about?"
"Deep magic," Hermione answered simply. Ron blinked and visibly deflated. "What?"
"Deep magic," Hermione said again, then resumed her earlier pacing track. She didn't look at Harry, and for some reason, that unsettled him.
"Yeah, I got that the first time around," Ron said exasperatedly. "What about it? Lupin said it was no use-"
"I was thinking," Hermione interrupted him, "about what Harry said, and I think you're right, Harry," she looked up at him. "I think that this is a bonding spell, or a leashing spell or whatever, and that the Dark Mark is making it much stronger. And I think that, if the books are right, only deep magic can save Snape."
"Yeah, or we kill him," Ron muttered, then said loudly, "yeah, we know all that. But how does that help us? Lupin said deep magic affects things like death, birth, marriage-"
"Exactly," Hermione deadpanned. "Marriage." Ron looked incredulous.
"So what, you want to marry Snape off?" Harry asked, not seeing where Hermione was going with this. "You think Voldemort won't kill and torture Snape if he's betrothed to him first?" Ron sniggered.
"No, Harry," Hermione said quietly and finally sat down, next to Ron. She was staring at her hands.
"I'm thinking that if he married someone who Voldemort couldn't touch, who was warded against these spells, then that protection would extend towards that person's- spouse." She hesitated at the last word.
Harry stared at her, confused and frustrated. Then Ron's brow unfurrowed and he cringed away from Hermione in horror. Harry opened his mouth to ask what the hell they were going on about when it hit him. Bloody hell. Voldemort couldn't touch him because of his mother's sacrifice. So if he married Snape- he wanted to say something, but only a croak came out. His throat seemed to have clogged up.
"That's the best you can come up with?" Ron said faintly. He had turned pale under all his freckles. "Blimey, we might just as well hand Harry over to You-Know-Who, because if Snape hears this, he's gonna kill Harry himself."
Hermione looked at Harry, a desperate and pained look on her face. "I can't think of another way. I'm not sure this would even work, I-" She gulped and steadied herself. "I won't tell," she said quietly. "I won't say a thing if you don't want me to."
Harry finally found his voice. "Is it even allowed? I mean, he's a bloke!"
Ron looked confused. "What do you mean?"
Hermione smiled softly. "In the muggle world, two men aren't allowed to get married in most countries," she explained.
Ron's expression grew incredulous. "Why?"
"Because people are stupid and prejudiced and think that marriage is all about having kids," Hermione explained. "Look, Harry-"
"I still don't get it," Ron said, looking confused again. "Where's the problem with two guys-"
"Two muggle men can't have biological kids, Ron." Hermione sighed. "No, neither can two women, they would have to adopt," she added, anticipating his next question. Ron nodded in comprehension.
"And two wizards can?", Harry felt his voice rise, as panic settled in his stomach. Normally, he would have found this topic fascinating, but in this context this kind of information proved lethal.
"Sure," Ron answered, sounding surprised. "Hannah Abott has two dads and a surrogate Mum." He shrugged. "I heard her bragging about how it was better 'cause she got more gifts for her birthday."
"I'll explain later," Hermione interrupted him impatiently. "But I don't think you'll have to worry about that right now." She scooted closer to Harry, their knees nearly touching.
"Look: I think that if you married Snape, your protective wards might extend to him and break Voldemort's hold on him. It could save his life. If it doesn't work- well, then I doubt you'll have to worry about kids." She smiled in an attempt of dark humour. Somehow, Harry couldn't return the smile.
"And if it does work?" he asked faintly.
"Well, then you'd be married, Snape would live and make your life a living hell. And when someone finally defeats Voldemort, then you divorce him. Simple as that."
"Wait, wait, wait," Ron interrupted them. "Divorce? Simple?" Harry and Hermione looked him nonplussed. Ron sighed. "This is another Muggle thing, right? People can just get married and divorced as often as they like in the muggle world?"
Harry and Hermione nodded silently. Ron sighed. "Well mate, it won't be that easy. See, if you split up with your spouse you'll be- you know, used goods." Ron grimaced.
"You don't really mean to tell me that the boys in Hogwarts are all wearing chastity belts and saving themselves for their wedding night-" Hermione began in a scathing tone.
"No, of course not!" Ron's ears went pink again. "This isn't about- being chaste, or, or abstinent." Now his ears were crimson. "It's about, you know, commitment." He squirmed under Harry's and Hermione's gaze.
"It's like, you know, official, that you can't hold a relationship together. It's like- you know!" He said desperately. "Like you're such a jerk even the person you decided to marry wouldn't have you!"
"So, it makes you potentially less attractive," Hermione slowly said. Ron nodded vigorously. "Yeah, exactly!"
"But it's legal to remarry?" Harry inquired.
"Yeah, sure, the Ministry doesn't care how many husbands or wives you had. And honestly, Harry, I think most girls would have you anyway, divorce or not. You know, the whole Boy-Who-Lived thing."
"Brilliant," Harry muttered, rubbing his scar. He let his hand fall in his lap.
"So you guys really think I should go and propose to Snape?", he demanded, the notion sounding ridiculous even with an huge amount of sarcasm.
"I don't think you should do anything you don't want to, Harry," Hermione said sensibly.
"Of course he doesn't want to marry Snape, who would?" Ron looked at Hermione as though she were mad. "And Harry likes girls better, don't you, Harry?"
"Yeah, I guess," Harry said hesitantly. "I mean, I've never really thought about it, to be honest." Now he felt his neck turning hot.
Ron shrugged. "Well, even if you like blokes, I doubt Snape is your type. And before this goes any further, Harry, you're my best mate, but that's all we'll ever be, sorry."
Harry found himself laughing weakly; when had his life turned this mad again. "Ron, I'm not- I don't- I mean, I know, I've never-" Despite the desperate situation, Ron and Hermione burst into laughter at Harry's helpless stutters.
"Don't worry mate," Ron chortled, slapping his back. "I was joking." Hermione patted his knee, wiping away tears of laughter. Harry joined into their hilarity, although he felt extremely self-conscious.
"Ron! Hermione!, Harry! The headmaster has arrived!"
Immediately, they sobered. "Coming!" Ron bellowed downstairs, then turned back towards Harry.
"It's your choice, mate." He looked at Harry seriously.
"It is, Harry," Hermione insisted. "We won't tell, I mean, we don't even know if this would work. But either way, it's you decision."
"I said, COMING!" Ron stood up, and the other two quickly followed. "Let's go, before Mum throws a fit. She hates to keep guests waiting."
The hurried down into the kitchen, where Lupin, Mr and Mrs Weasley and Dumbledore were waiting for them. The old wizard looked tired, but still greeted them with a smile, grasping a steaming teacup.
"Ah, there you are. Come on, chop chop, grab some tea and we can get started. "
Harry sat mostly in silence, listening to first Lupin, then Hermione report their findings. True to her word, she didn't mention deep magic or marriage.
Dumbledore looked worried. "Unfortunately, that's about as far as I've come. It's impossible to determine the exact nature of the spell after it has been cast and even so, most can't be lifted easily. There is one counter-spell I wanted to try, but I doubt it'll work." He heaved a sigh, whole wait-length beard rising and falling with his chest. "Come on then, maybe we'll get lucky."
Dumbledore led the procession upstairs, Lupin at his heels, followed by Harry, Ron and Hermione, Mr and Mrs Weasley bringing up the rear. They filed into Snape's small bedroom, squashing themselves behind Dumbledore. The headmaster raised his wand, and thick ropes curled themselves around Snape's trunk, binding him completely to the bed, rendering him immobile. Only then Dumbledore pointed his wand at Snape's chest and murmured "Enervate."
With a deep breath, Snape came back to life. However, his head shifted, but remained turned towards the wall, gaze unfocused.
"Severus?" Dumbledore said gently, approaching the bed. "Can you hear me?"
The man didn't show any sign of recognition, twitching beneath the ropes. Then, suddenly, he reared up, or tried to, uttering snarls and gasps of pain as he struggled against the ropes. Still, his eyes weren't looking at the ceiling, or the bed, or any of the onlookers, but remained blank, as though blind. As the man's thrashing grew wilder, Dumbledore shook his head silently and once again, pointed his wand at Snape, muttering an incantation under his breath.
A yellow gas streamed out of the tip of Dumbledore's wand, engulfing Snape. The struggles ceased and the man lay still. For a moment, nothing happened. Then Snape screeched, an unearthly sound of agony, as he ripped against his bounds, harder then before. Harry screwed his eyes against the man's howl of pain and felt the floor vibrate as the bed shook from the force of Snape's tremors.
Dumbledore ended the spell hastily, and the yellow smoke dissolved in an instant. Snape's cries ceased, and he started sobbing softly. Harry realized with a pang that Snape was still unconscious; his head lolled towards them, eyes unfocused and half open, drops of sweat on his forehead, dark strands of hair plastered to his face. With a moan, Snape twisted again, his breath hitching and tears dripping from his eyes. And then, when Harry thought it couldn't get any worse, Snape resumed his fight against the cords, heaving up again and again, straining to get loose. Harry was about to turn around, he couldn't bear the thought of being responsible for Snape's condition any longer, when Dumbledore mercifully stunned Snape again. Snape lay motionless again, almost peaceful.
Harry glanced at Ron, who looked vaguely green, then at Hermione, who had covered her mouth in horror and had tears streaming down her face. His gaze finally rested on Dumbledore; the old man's shoulders hunched as he looked at Snape with such compassion and love that Harry felt his heart clench.
He took a deep breath, then closed his eyes. "Professor." He exhaled and opened his eyes again, to meet Dumbledore's gaze.
"Yes, Harry?" The man had a defeated look about him. Harry swallowed and forced his fists to unclench at his side. He threw one final glance at Ron and Hermione, who looked back at him with admiration and pity. He squared his shoulders.
"I- We have an idea."
They were back in the kitchen, another hot cup of tea in front of Harry. He observed the fumes rising from the hot beverage. He waited for the inevitable reaction. Either they were going to tell him that he was crazy, that it wouldn't work, or that he would soon be married. He honestly couldn't tell which answer he dreaded more. Bracing himself, he looked up again, reading the expressions on the other people's faces. Ron and Hermione looked concerned, Mr and Mrs Weasley had the vague look of someone clubbed over the head with something heavy. Lupin simply looked shocked and Dumbledore- Harry's heart sank. Dumbledore looked hopeful.
"Would it work?" Hermione asked, and Harry knew she felt responsible. As she well should, a petty part of him thought, since it was her bloody bad idea.
"Well, I think we better ask," Dumbledore said brightly. When Hermione stared at him, uncomprehending, Dumbledore smiled lightly. "Professor Snape would like to have some say in this, don't you think?"
"Wait a minute!" Remus rose from his chair, his face thunderous. "You're not seriously considering this, are you?"
"Remus, if Harry is willing-"
"He's just a boy!" Lupin snarled and Harry shrank back despite his indignation. At times like this, he could easily believe there was a beast inside Lupin, just waiting to break out. "He doesn't know what he's talking about! And Snape, of all people! He hates Harry, hated his whole family, hated James, hated Sirius-"
"He didn't hate Lily," Dumbledore pointed out quietly, yet firmly.
And just like that, Lupin deflated, his rage draining away. He simply looked defeated. "Please, Albus," he whispered. "Don't do this. Don't take this from Harry. He's given enough, he'll give even more, just-"
"Remus," Harry interrupted, tired of being talked about although he was in the same room. "Remus, he saved my life. Ron's and Hermione's, too. You've seen him up there. How could I leave him? Is that what you want, for me to let him die? Do you think that's what my parents would have wanted, what Sirius would have wanted?"
A sad smile tugged at Lupin's lips. "Sirius would not have wanted you to marry Snape, I can promise you that."
Harry chortled as he imagined Sirius face if he knew. "No, he's probably rotating in circles in his grave." Or he would have, if he had a grave. "Look, the facts are: Snape saved my life, many times. Now he's dying, or worse and I can save him."
"But Harry, think of what you're giving up! This is your life, your happiness!"
"What life?", Harry asked dryly. "My life consists of fighting Voldemort. And it will until one of us is dead."
Lupin shook his head in denial. "It shouldn't be like this", he whispered hoarsely. "You shouldn't have to do this."
"It's my decision, Remus," Harry said as gently as he could, wondering at what point exactly he had turned an advocate for marrying Snape. Probably somewhere around the time the man had thrown himself in front of Lord Voldemort to protect him and his friends. Or maybe when he screamed in pain when Dumbledore tried to heal him. "And I've made my choice."
He still felt sick to his stomach. He felt a hand slip into his, and saw Hermione give him an encouraging smile. He squeezed lightly, letting her know the support was appreciated.
"Your decision, and Severus'", Dumbledore gently reminded him.
"Of course, sir," Harry quickly abided, though privately, he couldn't think that even Snape hated him enough to rather stay in his state than marry him. Although, if death was an option-
"How are you going to ask him?", Hermione inquired, curiosity getting the better of her. Harry hadn't thought of that; Snape wasn't exactly responsive at the moment. How was he supposed to marry someone who wasn't even aware of, of- well, anything!
"Simple, with this here," Dumbledore said, as he stood and removed a small vial from his robes, filled with blue liquid. "Out of Professor Snape's private store, ironically. This potion will push back any enchantment raging in his body for some time. Hopefully he will be lucid enough then to respond. Unfortunately, even in small dosages, the liquid is toxic. If I were to give him more than, oh, let's say this vial, his liver would fail in a few hours. Now, if you will excuse me, I think it's best if I deliver your proposal myself, Harry."
Harry nodded, his urge to vomit stronger than ever. He clamped down on Hermione's hand unintentionally, then released her at her gasp of pain, apologizing quietly.
"Oh, Harry!" A tearful Molly Weasley gathered him into her arms, catching him by surprise. Her returned the hug awkwardly as Arthur Weasley patted his back sympathetically, while his wife mumbled something intelligible into his collar. Finally, she let go of him, sniffing and wiping away her tears.
"You're such a brave man, Harry, I'm proud of you," she sniffed.
"Yeah, you are, mate," Ron added, clasping Harry's shoulder as he sat down shakily. "Propose marriage to Severus Snape- Now facing down You-Know-Who doesn't seem all that bad, eh?"
Harry gave a shaky laugh. "Yeah, I wasn't sorted into Gryffindor for nothing, you know." His weak attempt at some bravado was slightly disturbed by the fact that he had to clamp his hands hard around his teacup to stop them from trembling.
"We'll get through this," Hermione promised quietly, putting a hand on his knee. "Together."
"Yeah, mate. We'll even visit you in the evil git's lair. We'll face this together." Ron grinned.
Harry didn't have it in him to respond, but still felt heartened by their words. Even though it wasn't them who would soon be married to the most evil teacher Hogwarts had to offer. But maybe he would decline? Maybe he hated Harry enough to turn him down? A small bubble of hope grew in his chest, but he crushed it quickly. No, who was he kidding. Snape could have killed himself long ago if he wanted to die. And if he wanted to live, this was his only chance.
Severus dimly felt the tugging resume. Whenever he felt even remotely awake, the pain was unbearable. He had to go, he had to leave, he could feel his intestines trying to rip from his body as he struggled to follow the call. Faintly, Severus recalled that this was bad, that listening to the spell would only result in more pain and death, that he should be fighting it-
Then, mercifully cool liquid burned down his throat, lifting the fog surrounding his thoughts. Severus Snape sighed in relief, then cringed as the cool feeling became almost unbearably cold. The bonds holding him disappeared, and Snape found himself staring at the familiar face of Albus Dumbledore.
"Libera limitans?", he guessed quietly as he spotted the vial clenched in Dumbledore's hand.
"Correct, my boy," Albus proclaimed with irritating cheer. He helped Severus lean himself against the headboard. Severus muscle's all cramped and screamed in protest and he could feel bile rise in his throat as the spell fought the potion for the control over his body. He closed his eyes for a moment to suppress the nausea.
When he opened it again, Dumbledore handed him a glass of cool water. Severus accepted gratefully. "I didn't know," he said quietly, looking at his glass. "The Dark Lord only told me tonight, we moved at once, I had no time to-"
"It's alright, Severus," Dumbledore interrupted him gently. "You couldn't have anticipated this. The Dark Lord has plans of his own and it was fortunate enough that you were there when you were. You save the student's life." Silence fell as Severus took another small gulp of water.
"Have you come to say good-bye?" Severus finally asked, resting the glass of water in his lap. If the headmaster had to result to his potions, then whatever compulsion spell the Dark Lord had cast could not be reversed. Severus fought the feeling of dread, trying to focus on the vague sense of relief. So this was how it ended. At least it would not be at the hand of an enemy, but on his own terms. Severus told himself he wasn't afraid. He didn't fear death with that foolish panic that had gripped the Dark Lord. He would go with all the semblance of peace he could muster.
"Good-bye?," Albus chuckled. Severus scowled; he didn't consider his own death a laughing matter.
"No, my friend, quite the contrary, I'm here as a- well, let's just call me an emissary, shall we." His blue eyes twinkled and Severus felt annoyance well up inside him.
"Then tell me what the hell your message is!" Another cramp caused him to grimace. "Can you get rid of this spell, or will you be my executioner?" He had no patience for tact or finesse.
"We couldn't find a way to lift the spell", Dumbledore finally admitted, transfiguring the broken chair next to Severus' bed into a squashy armchair. "But we did find a solution to nullify it's effects. However, it's quite- unusual."
"Unusual how?" Severus asked, adjusting his position. He winced.
"Well, it seems the only counter against this type of spell, short of Voldemort himself lifting it, must come from the deep magic itself."
"Deep magic?", Severus blinked in surprise. "How so? Since my death doesn't seem to be included in your plans, I fail to see how it can be used."
"Ah well, you see, wards and protection spells cast by the deep magic should be sufficient to remove you from under Voldemort's influence. A sacrificial spell, to be precise."
"I don't understand," Snape said, closing his eyes again. He felt too weary to snark. "Are you planning to throw yourself in front of a spell for me? I'm touched." Maybe not too weary after all.
"Not exactly. That shouldn't be necessary. Mr Potter, or rather, Miss Granger, have provided us with a rather pleasant alternative. I strongly advise you to accept."
"Accept what? Albus, would you please stop hinting and finally get to the heart of the matter!"
"Harry's marriage proposal, Severus."
Severus opened his eyes and stared at Dumbledore, even his cramps momentarily forgotten. "What?"
"Lily's sacrifice has provided Harry with protective spell that are more than a match for Voldemort's petty leashing charm. If you marry Harry, the charms will include you, as well. You will be safe."
"The boy agreed to this?" Severus gaped at Dumbledore.
"In fact, it was his suggestion, though I believe it was Miss Granger's idea. The girl is so very clever, it's what frightening sometimes," Dumbledore said fondly.
"What's frightening is that you are actually considering this!" Severus felt his voice rising in shock. "I will not marry a 16 year old boy! Especially not Potter!" He felt bile rise up his throat again, this time on account of the thought of being bonded to that self-centred, ignorant brat.
"Would you rather die?"
Dumbledore smiled sadly when Severus uttered a sound of confirmation. "Severus, the boy is offering you a chance to live. And once the war is over you can do with the relationship as you see fit."
"Oh, and in the meantime?" Severus sneered. "Do you expect us to live together, dine together, sleep together?"
"However you design you relationship is a matter between you and Harry, I would never interfere," Dumbledore said tartly. "I would advise you to keep up pretences- we would not want any of Voldemort's lackeys at the Ministry declaring your marriage a sham."
"Albus, this is insane!" He couldn't understand how Dumbledore seemed to be missing the bigger picture. "I can't stand the boy, and he hates me! We would sooner kill each!"
"If Harry truly hated you, Severus, he would not be desperately trying to save you. And if you really loathed him, we wouldn't even be here."
Severus shook his head as pain welled through him again, reminding him he had little hope. "I can't do this to him. Or to me, for that matter!"
"He offered, Severus. He wants to save you. Let him. You need each other, if the last days are anything to go by. Let him save you."
Severus stilled, thinking. Voldemort was still at large; so far, he had accomplished so little despite his privileged position at the Dark Lord's side. He had sworn to bring his downfall. He had sworn to protect Lily Evan's son. And he was not dead yet. And his lucid time was running out, he could already feel the spell gaining strength again. He met Albus' calm gaze and swallowed away his disgust and fear.
The house was silent as they waited. Harry wondered how long it could take to break the news to Snape. Surely the man could decide wherever he wanted to live or not? What if the potion didn't last, or if it was too much and Dumbledore would let Snape off himself with an overdose? Well, then Harry needn't have bothered.
He had just started working himself up as he replayed Lupin's argument in his head over and over again, where with each time they made more and more sense, when he heard slow steps on the stairs. Two sets of steps. Harry stood abruptly, almost knocking down his chair in the process, fighting the urge to run screaming from the room. Harry and Hermione moved to his sides, and Lupin grasped his shoulder. Harry felt as though he was to face down a horrible monster, maybe another acromatula or the odd Hungarian Horntail. Then Dumbledore, followed by Snape, appeared in the kitchen door and Harry thought for a moment he might faint.
Snape looked terrible. The bags under his eyes were so pronounced and dark that Harry thought for a moment the had given himself a pair of black eyes during his flailing. He seemed even thinner than usual, his skin paler and more pasty, his hair as greasy as ever, partially clinging to his face and neck where the sweat from his earlier fit had dried. As Snape advanced towards him, he also noticed that he held himself low, as though straightening up would cause him pain. Suddenly, Harry's friends no longer made him feel better as they surrounded him. They made him feel trapped.
"Potter", Snape spoke, his voice raspy and tired, yet not completely bereft of his usual snark. "I understand you're granting me the honour." His eyes, though finally aware and alive, seemed to be full of disdain and hatred. It was directed at him, Harry, even while he was saving this man's life.
Suddenly finding his throat clogged with dislike, he simply nodded.
Snape swayed alarmingly and held out his arm to support himself on the table. Despite himself, Harry started forward, in case he had to catch the man. Snape regained his balance, however, and Harry hoped that he hadn't noticed his little fit of chivalry.
"Well then," Dumbledore said brightly, since none else seemed inclined to speak. "Let's get this over with, shall we."
"Let's." Snape agreed dryly, though Harry had the impression he had trouble breathing. Panic gripped him again, as he gazed wildly across the room. Did they need a priest, would they be able to find one this time of night- he suddenly had the mad vision of himself and Snape pounding at a church door, demanding to be married. The thought was almost to much and he had to stifle a laugh, though it sounded more like a toad's belch. He saw Ron look at him oddly from the corner of his eye. Dumbledore seemed not to notice either man's distress and continued issuing out instructions.
"Ron, Hermione, I'm sure one of you would like to hold the position of Harry's best man-"
"I'll do it," Ron said immediately, before Hermione even had a chance to open her mouth.
Dumbledore nodded, his eyes twinkling. "Then, Miss Granger, if you would be so kind to do Professor Snape the honour." Hermione gaped at him for a moment, opened mouthed, then composed herself hurriedly, a pink flush creeping up her cheeks.
"Yes, yes, of course, Professor." She shot Snape a terrified look. Snape was still leaning heavily on the table, looking as though he was about to collapse. He seemed beyond any feeling of embarrassment. Harry envied him.
He felt an hand close around his arm, and Ron gently guided him next to Snape, until they both stood in front of Dumbledore. Then he stepped back, standing back with Hermione and Harry couldn't help throwing a nervous look at the both of them. Next to him, Snape straightened up with what seemed an enormous effort and a certain amount of pain. He had the look of a man who wanted to meet his doom head on. Harry followed Snape's gaze to Dumbledore and realized with a jolt that it would be him who would wed them.
"We have gathered here today to celebrate the union of two faithful souls-" Harry lost track of Dumbledore's speech after that, too caught up in the madness of the moment to notice. He threw an agitated glance at Snape, who stood next to him, stooping again, eyes slightly glazed. Harry hoped the potion would hold to the end of the ceremony.
"Do you, Harry-James, take Tobias-Severus to be your lawfully wedded husband, according to all the laws and customs of the land, to be bonded by law, love and magic?" Dumbledore seemed positively bright with delight at asking this question. Harry cleared his throat.
"I do," he said, hoping it didn't sound all to squeaky. He heard a muffled sound and stared in astonishment at Mrs Weasley, who seemed to be crying again.
"Do you, Tobias-Severus, take Harry-James to be your lawfully wedded husband, according to all the laws and customs of the land, to be bonded by law, love and magic?"
"I do," Snape said quietly and Harry though there was an air of defeat to his voice.
"The rings!" Dumbledore waved his wand and a small casket appeared in each Ron's and Hermione's hands. They both stepped forward and Ron opened the casket for Harry, revealing simple silver band, gleaming on it's velvet bed. Harry took it, hands still unsteady. He turned towards Snape and saw him already holding a ring at the ready. Snape's dark eyes bored into him and Harry felt naked, for the first time in this whole farce. He wondered if Snape was using Legilimency against him, then simply hoped he was too weak to do so. The looked at each other for a moment, then something flickered in Snape's eyes. He took Harry's left hand, surprisingly gently, and slid the perfectly fitting band onto Harry's ring finger. Harry suppressed a shudder at the feel of the cold metal.
"With this ring, I thee wed," Snape murmured so lowly Harry barely heard. Snape's hands left his and Harry realized it was now his turn. He felt the blood rush in his ears, heard his heart beating as fast as during any Quidditch game and he wondered briefly if he was sensing the deep magic both Hermione and Lupin had talked about. He took Snape's hand into his, as gently as he could, and slid the ring into place. He marvelled at the feel of calloused skin.
"With this ring, I thee wed."
Snape gave a strangled half moan and collapsed. Harry caught him before he hit the floor, adrenaline flooding him once more. Had something gone horribly wrong? Was Snape dying?
Uncomfortably, Snape was all but lying across Harry's shoulder, panting. Harry could sense the smell of stale sweat and maybe a hint of something spicy as he held Snape upright, wondering if someone was going to rescue him or not. He could feel Snape's breath skimming across his neck as Snape laboured breathing quickened, then slowed. Finally, someone pulled Snape off him and he saw it was Ron and Lupin who had come to his aid, each supporting one side.
Dumbledore beamed as he flicked his wand and a piece of parchment appeared on the table, along with a quill and an ink pot. "Sign, and it will be done!" Harry could see that the old man was positively radiant with joy and relief. Harry wished he could share the sentiment. He grabbed the quill and put down his signature where it said "applicant one". Then he held out the quill to Snape, who seemed more dead than alive at the moment.
"Er, Professor?", Harry asked timidly, unsure of how to address the Potions Master now. "Sir? You've got to sign, too."
Snape stirred and gazed up at Harry. He disentangled his right arm from Ron, leaning even heavier on Lupin, and visibly pulled himself together as he placed the quill upon the parchment. And as Snape put his signature on the paper, Harry couldn't help feeling that his life had just changed irrevocably.
"Arthur, Molly, if you would be so kind as to witness this union." Dumbledore gestured towards the document.
Lupin gently lowered Snape into a chair. And as first Molly, then Arthur Weasley signed the document, the black ink flared golden in affirmation. This time, Harry felt it, too; like a blanket, something settled on him, wrapping around him, around his mind. He glanced down at his ring. So this is what it was like to be married.
A thunk disturbed his thoughts. Severus Snape had passed out, his head now resting ungracefully on the table.
Dumbledore chuckled. "The enchantment has left his body. Now he must heal. Poor lad, he's been through so much. Now, Harry-" Dumbledore spread his arms wide, as though to hug him. "Congratulations!"
Harry simply stared. He didn't think he could take any more weirdness right now.
"We need to renew the wards around you. I know you already endured a visit at your aunt and uncle's this summer, but I'm afraid you'll have to return there once more. This time, Severus will accompany you. Just stay there for a few days, maybe a week, not more. You both need to rest, and you will be safe there."
Harry's brain went blank. Snape and the Dursleys. Right.
"You'll best leave tomorrow morning; I'll notify your relatives tonight. Severus will come with me, I'll have him treated in the hospital wing- we need to clear the rest of the potion out of his system. Then I'll send him over to your uncle's house, where you will spend the rest of the week. Is that acceptable?"
Harry, suddenly finding himself in a position required to make decisions regarding both him and Snape, simply nodded.
"Splendid!" The man's cheer seemed unbroken. "Here," he pulled the paper wrap of a chocolate frog out of his pocket, then tapped it with his wand, murmuring a long incantation. Finally, he handed it over to Harry.
"It's a portkey. It will activate tomorrow at noon exactly, so don't be late. It will take you to your uncle's doorstep. Now, if you will excuse me, Harry, Ron, Hermione, thank you for everything. Remus, Molly, Arthur, you've been most gracious. Thank you for the tea."
And with that, he flicked his wand, levitating Snape's body to his side and disappeared into the sitting room. Moments later, Harry heard the whoosh of his departure via Floo.
For the first time ever, Harry thought he needed a drink.
So, this is it! You can see where this is headed, more or less- now, I haven't finished it yet, but as for now, I'm unsure wherever or not to continue. What do you think? Should I go on or not?