AN: Thank you for the amazing reception! I hope the second part lives up to the first, and your expectations. :)
I don't think there's any good way to say this. Professor McGonagall was murdered tonight. We don't know who did it; Snape and I chased after the footsteps but didn't find anyone down the hallway. There was no warning, Ron, and it's like I've been hit by ten bludgers. The war is supposed to be over now.
Speaking of things being over, Snape seems to have shut down. You should have seen him. After we ran down the hall, when he realised that there was no one there, he punched the wall and broke his hand. He sicked up in his quarters, and just seemed to close up. I think Snape's just had enough, and McGonagall was the last straw.
I'm a bit worried. We have the funeral to plan, and this killer to catch, but Snape downed a bunch of dreamless sleep, and I don't think he has any plans of leaving his room at any point.
I'm not sure what to do. The Dursleys just locked me in my room after Sirius died.
Hope everything is going well with Hermione's parents.
Aurors still roamed about the main staircase and Great Hall of the castle, long after the charity dinner was to have started. Harry had answered as many questions as he could, but had very little to offer. Somewhat unsettled about Snape's breakdown, Harry had spoken to Professor Flitwick quietly and found out that McGonagall had mentored Snape in his first few years of teaching, and that they'd always had a good professional relationship. One Harry had suspected, by the tea comments McGonagall had made earlier that day.
Harry gave a solemn goodnight to the teachers, and no one said anything as he made his way up to the Headmaster's office, instead of down to the guest suite that he had been assigned. The lights were still flickering cheerfully in the hallways, waiting for party guests to make their way through the castle to the outdoor courtyards. Harry's mouth felt dry; the stale musty air trapped behind tapestries somehow invading his senses and making him feel unclean.
The gargoyle at Snape's office door was awake and surly as usual, though he did not bare his teeth at Harry. A positive thing, as Harry hadn't yet figured out how he was going to convince the guard to let him in.
"I don't know the password," Harry started, standing straight and not fidgeting as a student would. "But the Headmaster is unwell, and I won't leave him alone."
The gargoyle gave him an assessing look, before blinking its stone eyes and grumbling.
"You, Harry Potter, have not required a password since the Headmaster took office."
Harry blinked in surprise as the gargoyle moved aside.
"The Headmaster has been watching for your safety, as well." With that, the gargoyle crossed his arms again and hunkered down slightly, making it clear that he wouldn't answer any further questions.
Harry rode the circular stairs up, thinking of what the gargoyle had insinuated. By setting his wards so that Harry could enter without a password, Snape had created a safe haven for Harry, had he ever managed to sneak into the castle during his year away camping. He could only come to one conclusion, and it made Harry more determined not to let Snape shutter himself away in depression.
"Hh!" Harry exhaled, stepping off the stairs and nearly tripping. Leaning against the door of Snape's office were two students, dressed in murky grey Hogwarts robes. One boy, one girl, their house crests indistinguishable but the deadened glare on their faces unmistakable.
"I know your message. I'll go to the dungeons," Harry promised, clutching his arm in reflex at being startled.
Neither ghost moved, and Harry wondered if he'd have to walk through them. The male student then lifted his arm, and Harry's throat caught as he saw the wand pointed at him. It was a long wand, but the details were lost in the dim light of Snape's outer hallway. Harry felt a flash of information jolt past his eyes – everything he'd learned of ghosts in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and everything he knew they could really do, courtesy of Peeves.
Before he could demand the wand be put away, the boy turned to the side and mouthed the spell lumos. Harry watched, but no light came from the wand, and he wasn't sure if it was because ghosts couldn't cast, or another reason. After the spell failed, the ghost gave him an accusatory look and jabbed the wand in his direction.
"I don't understand," Harry said, not moving an inch closer to the ghosts. "You don't have magic? Can ghosts do magic?"
The boy angrily slashed his wand at Harry, causing Harry to flinch badly and close his eyes. When he opened them he found the entrance way completely empty, and exhaled a bit of relief at the reprieve. He took one step forward and immediately felt the mud squish under his foot, knocking his balance a little as he slid a fraction on the stone floor. Two sets of muddy footprints, black muck from the Black Lake, led from the doorway of Snape's office to the circular stairs, and it looked like whomever had made the footprints had walked right through Harry.
Ginny and Neville had a small one-room accommodation, at the base of Ravenclaw tower. It was L shaped, with the bed tucked into the far corner and curtained from the main room, but Harry still apologised when he knocked on the door. It was half ten, and he felt that he was being rude by visiting that late.
"Harry," Neville said, opening the door wide. His dress robes were partially undone, and his hair was unruly and ruffled, as if he'd been running his hands through it all night.
"Neville. I didn't mean to call so late, I just…"
"Nah, come in. We'll have a tea," Neville shrugged, moving back from the door. There was a little three cabinet strip on the closest wall to the door, with a half sink, kettle, and cold drawer. Neville used magic to set the tea preparation, and gestured to the couch.
"Did you hear anything from the Aurors?" Neville asked, thumping down onto a chair across from Harry.
"Nothing. They can't trace it, and no one saw anyone with their wand drawn," Harry answered. He looked up as one of the side doors opened, and Ginny stepped out of what must have been the washroom.
"Hi Harry," she said, blushing slightly and trying to figure out where to best sit without being awkward.
There was silence for a few minutes as they listened to the kettle build itself up to a boil.
"I'm sorry we didn't tell you sooner," Ginny said, resting on the arm of Neville's chair.
"Don't," Harry said, giving them both a smile. "There's no need to apologise. Neville's a much better looking hero than I am."
"Shut up, Harry," Neville said, his cheeks slightly flushed as he stood to make the tea. Ginny gave him an amused and hopeful look, almost as if she'd expected him to be angry and was going to take whatever she could get.
"We went through hell last year," Harry quietly said. "I'm not going to make you feel guilty for being happy."
"You'll find your hero too, Harry," Ginny said, rising from the chair and giving him a careful hug, twisting her body to protect her injured arm. "I'm off; I took a potion earlier for this and it makes me sleepy."
"Night then, Gin," Harry said, accepting his tea mug from Neville. A cup and bowl were floating lazily behind Neville.
They both waited until Ginny had slipped between the heavy curtains of the bed area, and the tea had been doctored appropriately with milk and sugar.
"Was she depressed when it happened?" Harry asked, speaking quietly. Neville paused in the stirring of his tea, as if in thought, and then began stirring again.
"Very. She was sad and angry about the loss, and what it meant for quidditch," Neville replied, a quick glance over his shoulder toward the curtains. "But I think it was also the idea that because she couldn't be that person anymore, she wasn't worth anything."
Harry nodded, sipping at the tea. It was still too hot to really drink, but his motions were more of automation as he thought.
"What stopped it?" Harry asked, trying to picture Ginny, the girl who went for everything she wanted, lying in bed and refusing to get up.
Neville shrugged and summoned a pack of biscuits.
"I think she eventually realised I wasn't leaving. And we've been trying to find obscure cures."
"I thought Madame Pomfrey didn't know what the curse was," Harry asked, snagging a biscuit.
"She doesn't," Neville replied. "But if it caused nerve damage, and we find something that repairs nerves, it won't be perfect but maybe it'll do something."
Harry looked around the room, trying to make his next question casually offhanded.
"Have you found anything for throats?"
Neville studied him for a few seconds before answering.
"Not that I remember. But that does remind me."
He dug around in the small desk behind his chair for a moment before withdrawing a book; a small purple/brown book that looked like it hadn't seen better days in ten years.
Harry's eyes never left the book as Neville placed it on the coffee table. The silvery title shone at him, and the speckled silver of the lines at the bottom of the book broken from being rubbed and bumped on the table so often. And the large splotch that Harry knew would be on the back, which he'd spent hours wondering what potion or ingredient had been the source of the stain.
"Snape's book," Harry said, flipping it open and seeing the familiar writing inside. This book is the property of the Half Blood Prince. "Where did you get this? I thought it was destroyed."
"In the fire?" Neville asked, dipping a biscuit into his tea. "Ginny helped me find it last fall, long before the battle. Snape's a huge arse, but he is a bit of a genius."
"Just a bit," Harry agreed, flipping through the book and feeling a comfortable warmth in his tummy. "I wonder if it'll have anything in here about healing throats."
"I doubt it," Neville said, "It's just a school book."
Harry continued flipping through the pages, his fingers tracing over the scribbled writing of a younger Severus Snape, remembering the suspicions of his sixth year, and the trust he'd put into his mysterious friend the Prince.
"Harry," Neville asked, watching him carefully. "You're…you're really not upset about Ginny, are you."
It wasn't quite a question, and even if it had been intoned as such, Harry knew that wasn't what Neville had been asking.
"No, I'm not," Harry finally answered. He kept eye contact with his friend, watching for Neville's reaction, and was relieved when Neville just nodded and took another drink. He knew that Neville wouldn't have reacted poorly, but some fears didn't have any rationality to them.
"Do you want to talk about McGon –" Neville started, but Harry shook his head rapidly.
"No, that's not what I came for," Harry asserted, placing his now empty cup back on the coffee table. "In fact, it might actually be worse than talking about her. I need to check something in the dungeons, and I'm not quite…I don't think I should go alone."
"Just so you know, Harry, I really don't want to do this," Neville said, his wand drawn and pointing at the long hallway.
"Yeah. Yeah I get that," Harry agreed, his own wand out. They were at the stairs to the lower dungeons, near the potions storeroom where the eerie ghost boy had climbed up and down the ladder toward Harry.
"You sure there's something down there?" Neville asked, shrugging his shoulders and righting his lopsided cardigan. He'd changed out of his dress robes for the expedition, but Harry still couldn't figure out why cardigans were his go-to clothing of choice.
"Can't you feel it?" Harry quietly asked, casting a silent lumos and taking a step forward.
"I was rather hoping you didn't," Neville muttered.
"I wish," Harry replied, making slow progress down the hall. The portraits were all empty, their occupants preferring to stay up and socialise with the living humans in the upper floors of the castle. The air was stale, and Harry imagined he could taste mouldy paper in his mouth as they progressed. The floor was mostly dry, but there were some grimy spots with a wet spongy moss that was extremely slippery.
"Snape mentioned knowing that there was something happening down here. That's why he warded it."
They reached the first of the lower dungeon classrooms - a test room for students needing to practise potions outside of class. The door was slightly swollen, but opened without much force and Harry took a deep breath as he realised that this room did have charms on it against flooding, and hadn't suffered any damage in the flood. Harry didn't know what the ghosts wanted him to look for, but he assumed that they would be rather obvious when he got close enough to it.
"Where is Snape?" Neville asked, peeking into a storage cupboard into the corner of the room.
Harry, his hand inches from a large cauldron, paused to think of an answer. Snape had quite figuratively fallen apart when McGonagall died, and Harry wasn't entirely certain that the news should be shared. After all, Snape was still holed up in his quarters, drugged to sleep for the next ten to twelve hours.
"He's grieving," Harry said, not giving any further details. Leaning over the cauldron, Harry startled at seeing two green eyes peering back up at him. It was only his reflection, on water left in the cauldron, but Harry still scowled at it. "Lets go to the next room."
"Do you think what's hiding down here is what killed her?" Neville asked, following him out of the room. They marked the door with a small Order of the Phoenix symbol, just to keep track of what they'd already checked.
"I don't..." Harry started, his voice breaking for a moment. "I don't understand why it had to be her."
The hallway widened a little, as it approached a cross section and two old sets of armour standing at attention. Their weapons were rusted and boots melded into the dirty stone floor, and there was a piece of seaweed twirled around the bottom part of the lance of one knight. The smell of the hallway to the left was a lot stronger than the one to the right; a mouldy smell of stone that had been left too long in damp water and air. As much as he didn't want to, Harry was fairly certain that if they were going to find anything, it would be down in the part of the dungeons that had suffered the most damage in the floods.
"Lumos maxima!" Harry cast, his eyes working feverishly to check that there was nothing at the far end of the hall. A droopy Slytherin banner at the far end flared up with the light, but faded back into the shadows as Harry's spell dissipated.
"Can't keep that up very long, eh Harry?" Neville teased, nudging Harry's shoulder.
"Shut up," Harry muttered. "I was just checking something."
"Sure, sure," Neville grinned, lifting his arm to cast, as if he were fishing.
"Lumos maxima!" The spell bounced down the hall, his aim less true than Harry's, but effective enough. The ball of light sailed toward the Slytherin banner, but instead of hitting it, lit up four students standing at the end of the hall.
"What the hell!" Neville exclaimed, as they both jumped to a duelling pose, with their wands high and steady. "You saw that right, four students?"
His arm trembling slightly, Harry only nodded, not wanting to tell Neville that he'd seen those students on a regular basis over the past two weeks. Raising his wand higher again, Harry's spell was slightly weaker than the last time, but still silently flew down the hall toward the banner. It hit unhindered, and he felt strangely disappointed to see the hallway clear. Not because he wanted to see the ghosts, but because he didn't want to play their games.
"Can ghosts cast the killing curse?" Harry asked, looking around them quickly to see if they had any other visitors.
"I don't think so," Neville answered, still on guard. "But Peeves is still able to get up to a lot of trouble."
"Sure, but that's Peeves. Maybe those are just regular school ghosts," Harry reasoned, still knowing that the ghosts likely were of students that had died in the battle.
"That'd make sense. Just ghosts," Neville agreed.
"Let's check the other hall, yeah?" Harry asked, after another few seconds of checking.
The other hallway led to storage rooms and a small gym that had been installed for use of the students and staff. The storage rooms were rather small, but opened with a forceful alohamora and revealed more spiders and flies than anything useful. Then again, Harry didn't exactly know what the ghosts wanted him to find in the dungeons. He was fairly certain though that spiders weren't it, not this time.
"The Carrows used to play Hide and Go Crucio down here," Neville said, speaking just above a whisper. Their voices echoed in the empty halls, and it was a bit unsettling how loud the echo was.
"God Neville, I had no idea it was that bad," Harry exhaled, feeling a rush of guilt hit him. "I thought, if I left…"
"It was worth the price," Neville determinedly responded, his wand light casting a shadow over the large scar on his cheek.
"Kids shouldn't have had to pay," Harry muttered, taking a step forward and landing in a puddle of water. "Oh, eugh."
He shone his light down at the ground and grimaced, spotting the black reflection of puddles all along the hallway.
"I thought the elves got rid of all the water," Harry said, lifting his foot and shaking it off. Neville's wand slowly arched down the hall, the light bouncing off the watery floor and lighting up a set of chains hanging from a doorway.
"Another souvenir from the Carrows," Neville calmly said, walking toward the chains to get a closer look. Harry slowly made his way over as well, and winced as he heard another distant splash. A quick glance down showed Harry that he wasn't the unfortunate one to have stepped in a puddle.
"There's no cuffs on these," Harry said, giving them a look. They were rusted and hanging limply, the paint flicking off where the rust was eating through. Harry was certain that the rust hadn't been solely the cause of the flood, because the chains looked like they'd been hanging in disuse for much longer than a month and a half.
"Is this what you're looking for down here?" Neville asked, picking up one of the chains and holding it out.
"I don't think…" Harry's sentence trailed off as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck move, just a shiver of movement as if a slight breeze had been blown across the back.
"Stupefy!" Harry yelled, firing his spell blindly down the hall where they'd originally started. His spell hit the wall and cast off chips of stone and dust into the hallway, and Harry's eyes widened as he watched the dust fleck and settle over the outline of a man with a long robe or outer cloak on.
"Harry!" Neville grunted, twisting against the chains, which now had a firm grip around his middle and chest. The outline vanished, and Harry turned only slightly to see Neville struggling against the rusted metal links, which were being pulled back through the door as if they were being wound from the inside. Neville, his hands barely stopping the chains from pressing so hard against his chest, didn't seem to notice that he was being pulled back against the door. Harry quickly saw that if the chains pulled tight enough, Neville would be literally crushed against the wood.
A bitter metallic taste assaulted his tongue as he opened his mouth to cast a spell; a taste that he imagined came from the chains.
"FINITE INCANTATEM," Harry cast, as strongly as he could as he watched one of his best friends struggle. To his surprise, the chains immediately gave way and clattered to the floor. Neville stumbled forward toward Harry, out of reach of the chains and coughing as he rubbed his chest.
"What the hell was that," Neville said, gasping slightly.
"I think it was attempted murder," Harry grimly answered, thumping Neville's back as he stared at the hall where the man had been. "Forget it. The Aurors can deal with this shit."
Before Neville could reply, Harry called Winky and had her apparate them out of the dungeons.
After a rather lively discussion with some Aurors, Harry returned to the Headmaster's office and was able to pass through the stairs and the door without encountering any ghosts. He made sure to lock and ward the door to Snape's private quarters as he passed through, even though he was fairly certain that the ghosts didn't care one way or another what protections were put in place.
The room felt warm, as the fire Harry had lit earlier hadn't quite died in the grate. Too tired to fully look around Snape's flat, and fully aware of what a privacy breach that would be considered, Harry made for the downstairs loo to wash the grime of the night off himself. He also hoped the warm shower would help him sleep, as he suspected it would be difficult coming.
Once freshly washed, Harry found a new towel in the washroom cupboard and transfigured it into a set of pyjamas. He didn't feel like dealing with the house elves again, so it would have to do.
The couch upstairs looked uncomfortable, but it had plenty of blankets, and more importantly, it was located in a room where Harry felt marginally protected. He gave one final check to Snape before settling in, the man lying so motionless that for a horrible second Harry thought he'd stopped breathing.
Twisting onto his side, Harry picked up the letter billfold from the coffee table and opened it. There was a folded piece of muggle notebook paper inside, and Harry's fingers played with the fringe from where it had been torn out of the spiral rings.
This is a horrible joke, right? You're just playing a game? Somehow I know you're not, because the war is over and we've lost too many people to joke about that.
I don't know what to say either.
I haven't told Hermione, because she's just met her parents again and she's very nervous about reversing the obliviation. I can't take someone else from her.
As for Snape, he's been through hell. We all have. And he's lost his voice, which is his only real power. Except for that swooping evil bat thing he does. He's ugly and mean and antisocial, but he commands people with his voice. And if he doesn't have it, maybe he doesn't feel like 'Snape' anymore.
In the dorms after Sirius died, the only way you stopped crying in your sleep was when I put my hand on your back.
Send another letter soon; keep me updated.
Harry read the letter three times over before folding it carefully back up and placing it and the billfold into his shoes that were at the base of the couch.
"Touch Snape to make him feel better," Harry said, removing his spectacles and putting them on the coffee table. "And who is going to heal me from whatever hex he casts?"
Snape felt absolutely wretched. His bones ached and muscles sent warning pains that if he stretched too fast they'd seize up on him. He was lying in his own bed, but the room felt unnaturally warm, and the curtains had been opened, something Snape never did while he slept. In his own wingback chair, comfortable black-corduroy with worn spots from Snape's daily use of it, there was a dark shadow and short tips of black hair.
Snape shut his eyes again, but he couldn't escape the pained breath that escaped as his memory returned of the night before. He heard movement from the area of the chair, but couldn't see as he'd pressed his eyes as strongly as he could, but still couldn't stop the few tears that had escaped out the sides of his eyes. They ran down the worry lines of his face, insultingly ticklish on his cheeks, though he made no move to wipe them. Minerva was gone. Minerva McGonagall, his rival Head of House, his Order of the Phoenix colleague, the one person he'd had to prove himself most to (beside Albus Dumbledore) when he left the Dark Lord's service. The very same Minerva that had mentored him, and took tea with him, during some of his roughest days.
Snape felt a warm cloth on his face and lashed out blindly, his hands grabbing at the air where he figured Potter was. The movement wrenched his dormant muscles but Snape still managed a strong grasp on Potter's shirt. He glared, eyes fully open now, as Potter fought back. Snape wanted to punch, to kick, to throw something, and Potter was the perfect target. Potter grabbed at his shoulders and pushed him back down, his eyes blazing green like a Floo fire and his lips taught as he struggled against Snape.
"Stop," Potter commanded, which made Snape want to fight more. Minerva had been murdered, outside of the war, and Snape wanted someone to pay.
"Eugh," Snape grunted, twisting in the bed to throw Potter's balance off. He was weighted down by the heavy bedclothes, and sluggish limbs.
"Don't talk, for Christ's sake," Potter admonished, and his hands vanished from Snape's shirt. Snape felt bereft of the contact, and then cursed at himself for feeling it. A moment later Potter returned, with a numbing salve for his throat, and his notebook.
"The Aurors have been through the castle, and were questioning people all night," Potter said, turning the wingback chair to face Snape. Snape noticed that Potter was still in the same clothes he'd worn the night before, and that a blanket that wasn't normally on the chair had been scrunched up against the arm of it.
-I don't want you here- Snape wrote, throwing the notebook at Potter. He dragged himself up to a sitting position, but didn't bother to make any other move to get out of bed.
"I'm aware of that," Potter scoffed, tossing the book back. "Last night, after you drugged yourself, Neville and I went to the dungeons. And someone tried to kill him."
Snape stared blankly at Potter, utterly unimpressed. He slowly picked up the blanket, wrapping it up tighter around himself as he watched Potter's expectant expression.
"Did you not hear me?" Potter repeated, his face turning splotchy at his cheeks.
Snape glared at him before writing a response.
-The Aurors are here, as you have said. What exactly did you expect me to do?-
Potter huffed in irritation as he read the reply.
"I expected you to show some concern about one of your students," Potter replied, standing up and walking to the window beside Snape's bed. He yanked the curtains back, allowing in light bright enough that caused Snape to hiss at him.
"I expected you to help me find whoever did this," Potter continued, kicking Snape's boots closer to the bed so he wouldn't trip on them. "I expected, I don't know. I didn't expect you to fall apart. You've always been the toughest bastard I've ever known."
Potter looked down at the carpet for a moment, before casting another freshening charm on the spot where Snape had landed the night before.
Snape scowled and wrote another message in the notebook.
-I am not a bastard, you irritating little twit.-
Potter smiled, just a flash of a smile, before he started folding the blankets on the couch he had slept on.
"No, all right. Technically true. But you are human, and that's throwing me for a bit of a loop at the moment."
Snape sighed and slipped back down under the covers.
-Go away, Potter. I am not leaving this bed and I have no desire to talk to you.-
To his absolute surprise, Potter studied him for a minute and left without argument.
Harry took a long and inconvenient route to the infirmary, checking the corners and behind tapestries as he went, just in case anything was hiding there. So far the targets had been Professor McGonagall and Neville, but Harry knew it wouldn't be too far of a stretch to expect himself to be somewhere on the list.
By the time he arrived at the hospital wing, Madam Pomfrey had just finished the morning round of medicine and was filling out charts in her office. She waved him in and he sat down awkwardly, remembering just how often she had seen to him as a younger student.
"Is this about Mr Longbottom and the bruising on his chest?" she bluntly asked, using tiny and impeccable writing to fill out a chart.
"No, but he was all right when I left him last night," Harry answered, watching her quill move. "He's still okay, right?"
"Only bruises," she replied, finally putting her quill down. "What have you come to ask me about, Mr Potter?"
"It's about the Headmaster," Harry said, pausing to think of how best to word his question. Madam Pomfrey said nothing, remaining patiently at her desk.
"He said it would just take time for his voice to heal. But there is another faster way, isn't there?" Harry said, not quite with the intonation of a question.
"Of course," she said, sighing slightly as she pushed back her chair. A row of filing cabinets stood on the far wall, and Pomfrey fetched a box out of the top drawer of the one in the corner.
"There is a regenerative potion that can be brewed, and when administered directly to the larynx, enable the tissue to mend and regrow itself at a rapid rate."
With the box on the table, Pomfrey opened it to show Harry the contents. A stoppered and wax-sealed bottle of potion, a long muggle syringe, a salve that Harry couldn't read the label of, and an empty phial.
"What's the phial for?" Harry asked, his eyes glued to the huge syringe.
"Blood containing the antivenin," Pomfrey answered matter-of-factly. "I special-ordered this kit four days after the battle and it has sat in that drawer, waiting."
"He needs blood from someone bitten by Nagini," Harry said, looking up as the penny dropped.
"And with a matching blood type."
"Oh," Harry said, tapping his hands against his thigh. "Can you tell with your wand? Or do you have to cut my finger –"
"You don't match, Mr Potter," Pomfrey gently said. "Your blood type is listed in your medical records."
Harry slumped slightly and said nothing. He wanted to help Snape, wanted to do what he could to get the man's voice back and hear his acerbic tone once again. Once again, he was reminded that even though he could do magic, he couldn't fix everything.
"Fortunately, Mr Weasley is a match. The possibility is there," Pomfrey continued, and Harry's attention snapped back.
"Why didn't he ask? Arthur would gladly help!"
"Because he is the Headmaster, Mr Potter," she answered. "And agreeing to have a needle inserted into the throat as treatment requires a level of trust that I don't believe Severus has ever had with anyone."
Harry grimaced at the thought, and rubbed his throat.
"He just has to trust you though, doesn't he? You're the mediwitch, so you're the one that gives the needle."
"Yes," she answered, carefully closing the box and returning it to the filing cabinet. "But this is a very precise operation, and it must be done without magic. In the few cases it has been done, the patient has been held by someone else, in order to calm them enough for it to proceed."
"Calm enough," Harry repeated, picturing the large needle. "Is it painful?"
Madam Pomfrey walked around her desk and over to where Harry was sitting, making him more than a little wary of what she planned to do.
"The larynges are surrounded by cartilages, Mr Potter," Pomfrey said, reaching toward him and pinching the top of Harry's ear. "Like here."
"Ow," Harry cringed, pulling away.
"The needle must pass through cartilage, in order to administer the potion to the vocal folds that were damaged. It will be very painful, and if Severus moves, there is a likelihood the cure will not be effective and he may damage his throat further."
She opened the office door behind Harry and gestured to the hall, making Harry jump up out of the chair.
"Okay. So I need to convince Mr Weasley to give blood for the potion, and Snape to…to let us administer it."
Pomfrey gave him a small little smile as she turned toward the ward.
"You may find that defeating You Know Who was easier."
The only ghost Harry encountered on the way back to Snape's office was Peeves, and it took him two minutes to realise that Peeves was mimicking his brooding walk down the hall.
"Very funny, Peeves," Harry said, trying to keep his tone non-insulting. As irritating as Peeves was, he had been remarkably well behaved during the rebuilding of the castle, and Harry preferred him that way.
"Peeves lives to entertain," the poltergeist said, tipping his hat at Harry. He ignored Harry's rolling eyes.
"So you'll be happy when the castle is back to normal?" Harry asked, as Peeves lazily floated in the air.
"Always happy to see the ickle first years," Peeves replied, with a ghostly glint in his eye. His expression turned serious a moment after, and Harry was taken aback. "But things won't be normal until the dungeons are cleared, Potty Potter."
Before Harry had the chance to ask for clarification, or to see if Peeves knew anything he didn't, Peeves vanished into the stone walls.
"Bloody ghosts," Harry muttered, turning around to head back to Snape's quarters. He wanted a nap, but he also wanted to try something new to get the man up and out of bed. It just wasn't normal to see Snape giving up and hiding out.
"Mr Potter," a deep voice said, and Harry startled badly as he looked up. Three Aurors were in the hallway in front of them, dressed in their maroon robes, but with the clasps undone in a casual manner.
"Do you recognize the writing on this?" the one on the far left asked, handing Harry a piece of paper. He studied it, squinting his eyes, but did not recognise the childish scrawl. It was a list of names, with McGonagall's at the top, followed closely by Neville's, Snape's, and his own.
"No," Harry said, shaking his head. His stomach felt queasy, as he hadn't had breakfast yet and he was quite certain he knew exactly what the list represented.
"I think it's time you told us exactly how You Know Who died," the middle Auror said, giving Harry a concerned look. Harry saw what they were thinking, but was too tired to fully care. He knew Voldemort was dead, that Voldemort couldn't be the person trying to murder people at Hogwarts now. As unsettling as it was to not know who was responsible, Harry was willing to give the Aurors his memory of the event, and let them figure it out.
"You'll need a pensieve," Harry said, sticking his hands in his jeans pockets.
With a half finished bowl of cereal on his right, and a cup of hot coffee on his left, Harry sat at the long end of a conference table in a downstairs classroom. The Aurors had set it up to hold interviews, and they'd asked him to stay while all three went into his memory. During that time, Harry had managed to write a letter to Arthur Weasley, ask a house elf to check in on Neville, respond to Ron's letter, and plan his next idea to get Snape up and back to normal.
He studied the three Aurors at the end of the table, how all three appeared to have passed out over the pensieve bowl. He could tell from their ridged stances that they hadn't though, and he was slightly curious to know what part of the memory they were in. He didn't want to see it again, but for some reason he wanted to know. No sounds or images escaped from the pensieve, but a few seconds later all three Aurors flinched where they stood, and Harry then had a fairly clear idea what they had just seen.
"SNAPE!" Harry bellowed, tearing the bedclothes off Snape's bed. Nagini had wrapped herself around his feet, and his natural instinct to curl up into a protective foetal position had actually brought Snape's head and neck closer to her mouth.
"Stupefy!" Harry yelled, firing at the snake. He missed Nagini, but the spell hit Snape and his sudden freezing distracted Nagini for a few seconds.
"Reducto," Harry growled, his wand slashing at Nagini and the spell tearing apart the snake, freeing Snape's legs. Nagini hissed wildly, rearing back to bite at Harry, but he was prepared and fired off the Killing Curse. Nagini's body hadn't even hit the ground when Harry turned back to Snape, releasing him from the body bind and trying to wrap his many wounds with the bedclothes.
"You'll be okay," Harry pleaded, not sure if he was convincing himself or Snape. Snape's panicked eyes were worrying him. "It's all right. I won't let you die."
Harry wasn't entirely certain if sealing Snape's wounds for travel would help or hinder, as he didn't want to trap the snake venom in Snape's blood. So he just wrapped the man, set a feather light charm on him, and carried him through the door.
Harry had expected damage to the front room, water seepage from the flooding and perhaps a dented door from whoever would try to enter. He absolutely did not expect to see Voldemort sitting in one of the easy chairs, looking absolutely demented as he sipped wine from a glass and toyed with his wand.
"Finally, Harry Potter…" Voldemort started, an ugly smile on his face as he rose from his chair. The smile slipped slightly as the mess of the room behind Harry became slightly more visible, including the dead snake.
"Go to hell!" Harry howled in frustration, clutching onto Snape tighter as he wished with everything he could that Voldemort would just curl up and die.
Voldemort didn't, but he did start to smoulder, and Harry watched in astonishment as Voldemort's robes started smoking, and then caught fire. It wasn't a trick; Harry knew by the twisting and desperate attempts to put out the fire that Voldemort wasn't faking it. It was then that he remembered what Dumbledore had told him about the horcruxes, and what Snape had offhandedly mentioned about the snake. Nagini had always had the most protection in the last month that Snape had attended Death Eater meetings. He'd thought it peculiar, as the Death Eaters all knew not to touch her, but Harry now knew what it meant. Nagini had been a horcrux.
It took less than a minute for Voldemort to die, his robes burning hot and fast, cooking him from the inside. Harry thought it very curious that when Voldemort was gone, the fire put itself out and the robes remained undamaged. Even Voldemort's body remained mostly undamaged, though the skin was very reddened.
"It worked," Harry said, his voice bland with dull surprise. He'd managed to actually send someone to hell.
Clutching Snape tighter, Harry left the room and took off down the wet halls, running toward the hospital wing.
"Hold on, Severus. We've won."
It was disconcerting to have the three Aurors staring at him, but Harry withstood the scrutiny. He knew he'd be under some sort of watch sooner or later; after all, one cannot simply just tell someone to go to hell and have it happen. That sort of power in the wizarding world was dangerous.
Finally, one of them coughed politely and spoke.
"Approximately how far were you from You Know Who when your spell was cast?"
"I was a bit distracted, I'm not really sure." Harry didn't bother to correct them on the spell, because he wasn't entirely certain he'd cast anything.
"Perhaps you could show us?"
Harry realised his delay on getting back to the Headmaster's office would be much longer if he didn't take them down there, so he nodded and stood up.
"I've an appointment with the Headmaster in twenty minutes," Harry lied. "But I'll show you the room. I think there's a burn mark on the floor."
The walk to the old abandoned flat that they'd hidden out in took much longer than the frantic run that Harry had fled it. The halls were lit with low flames from the sconces, and though the elves had done magic to clean most of the area, the flat itself was in the lower part of the dungeons and smelled rather rank from the stagnant Black Lake water. It clung around in small puddles against the walls of the hall, and Harry suspected it would be days before any of the tapestries started to dry.
Harry had automatically taken his wand out as they walked, as after Neville's experience the night before, Harry was not going to take any chances. As it was, Harry didn't need to warn the Aurors of the same, as they seemed to sense the same disturbance in dark remnant magic that he had.
"We're almost there," Harry said, trying to somehow breathe through his ears and not take in the scent of dank stone.
"Merlin, did they leave the bloody body down here?" one of the Aurors muttered, coughing slightly.
Slightly embarrassed, Harry remembered that he was, in fact, a wizard and quickly cast a bubblehead charm on himself. Funny looking or not, Harry had had enough of how the smell of the dungeons seemed to seep into his pores and not leave.
He stopped in front of a nondescript plaque on the wall, which had two dull swords crossed on it. Harry pulled the left sword slightly out of its bracket, and a crack formed in the wall behind, creating a seam in the shape of a doorway. As the door opened, Harry heard another cough directly behind him, and turned just in time to see the Aurors cast their own bubblehead charms.
"We'll go in first, Mr Potter," the tallest Auror said. Normally Harry would have protested slightly, after all he was the one to have defeated Voldemort in that very room. However, his fight was done, and if the Aurors wanted to face whatever was in there first, that was fine with him. Harry simply nodded, and watched over the shoulder of the shorter Auror, where one of the student ghosts was standing in the distance.
The ghost was staring at Harry, her robes hanging sodden and heavily down as she hovered. Harry turned to the door, glancing at it before returning his gaze to the ghost. She nodded, and Harry suddenly suspected that inside the flat would not look the same as when he'd last left it.
"Oh hell!" the taller Auror blurted, and Harry steeled himself to enter.
The small living room part of the flat was well lit, and the furniture had been pushed to the walls. Only a table had been left in the centre, and on that table were the bodies of four students. All dressed in Hogwarts robes; the three boys and one girl looked like they'd merely been sleeping. Several empty potion bottles were littered about the table, three books on dark magic from the Restricted Section of the library were stacked on a side table, and there was, curiously, a copy of The Standard Book of Spells, Grade One, on the seat of the chair Voldemort had been in.
"The burn marks are from me," Harry said, as the Aurors tried to take stock of what the four bodies on the table meant. One by one they turned to stare at him, and Harry pointed to the floor by the chair that was slightly charred. "The bodies definitely weren't there before."
There was silence in the room for a few seconds, before the middle Auror took out a rather battered looking notebook.
"Thank you, Mr Potter. I believe that's all for now."
Harry left without another word. He had no desire to spend any more time in that room, and was involved enough with the dead students as it was.
"Snape!" Harry called, walking through the front office of the Headmaster's tower. He had a tray from the kitchens, with hot porridge, a pot of brown sugar, a hot teapot, and some fruit. At just past ten it was a bit late for breakfast, but Harry figured that Snape was likely still buried under the covers.
He pressed the door open to enter Snape's personal quarters, and found that the curtains had been drawn. The man was indeed still in bed, though there was now another notepad on the bedside cabinet, a half empty glass of water, and another potion phial.
"You haven't taken another dose, have you?" Harry asked, glaring at the bed as he put the tray down on Snape's coffee table.
A balled up piece of paper hit his head as Harry was spooning oatmeal into a smaller bowl, and he scowled as he opened it.
-As a potions student you should KNOW that I cannot until twenty four hours has passed. Why are you here?-
"Because you're just so lovely to be around," Harry instinctively muttered. He finished pouring his bowl, made one for Snape too, and put a healthy amount of brown sugar over both.
"It's morning," Harry said, loudly enough that Snape could hear him. "You need to eat."
As he walked toward the bed he saw the ugly look Snape was giving him, but didn't flinch.
"Years ago, someone made a promise with his life to protect me. Now I'm returning the favour."
Snape's glare stayed on his face, but he did sit up enough to take the bowl from Harry. He was still wearing his dress shirt from the night before, and a small shadow of stubble had started to grow on his chin and neck. The scars on his neck were still ugly, an unnatural white against Snape's already pale skin, and so numerous. Snape's hands were covered too, with little white pockmarks from Nagini's teeth.
Snape placed his bowl on the bed and took up the notepad, his writing quick and neat.
-That obligation ended when you killed the Dark Lord. What I do with my life now is none of your concern.-
Harry sighed a little, eating more of his oatmeal. Snape was watching him warily, as if to see if he would actually heed Snape's wish and leave the man alone.
"I know McGonagall meant a lot to you – " Harry started, only to be interrupted as Snape actually growled at him.
-You know nothing!- Snape furiously wrote, the veins in his neck stretching as his anger rose.
"I watched Sirius die!" Harry argued back, putting the bowl on the table, away from Snape's angry hands. "It was war time, and I knew it was a very real possibility, but that doesn't mean it hurt any less."
-He died during the WAR,- Snape replied, tearing out the sheets from his notebook with such force that he ripped some of the letters. –Minerva had survived! There was no reason…-
Snape's diatribe died off as he stared at Harry, his expression utterly confused.
"For the life of me, I cannot remember," Harry hummed lowly, knowing his voice was awful, but fairly certain that Snape wouldn't hex him for singing. Not yet.
"What made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise."
-What are you doing?- Snape slowly wrote, the anger seeming to have left him in the surprise of Harry's singing.
"For the life of me, I cannot believe we ever died for these sins, we were merely freshmen," Harry finished, his voice returning to a speaking level at the last words. Snape was still blinking at him, processing the words and what Harry meant. Had Harry known that it only took singing to throw Snape off, he would have prepared an entire soundtrack for occlumency.
"You can glare at me all you want, but don't you think Professor McGonagall would be angry with you right now? She'd want you to keep up as Headmaster, to keep with the rebuilding of Hogwarts, and to help find out who killed her. Just like she would do for you."
-I imagine Minerva would understand exactly why I am here- Snape wrote, much more gently on the paper than he had been moments before. He scratched at his wrist as Harry read the note, and Harry wondered if Snape was finally feeling uncomfortable to still be in his dress clothes.
"Maybe so," Harry admitted, picking up his bowl of oatmeal again. "But I'd bet she wouldn't let you wallow in bed either."
Snape harrumphed at that, tapping on the notebook paper in thought.
Harry finished his breakfast and stood up to fetch the tea, noticing that Snape was making no move to eat his own porridge. By the time Harry returned to the bed, with two cups, Snape had a question for him.
-Why did you sing?-
Snape accepted the cup of tea, and watched Harry plop down onto the wooden chair at the side of the bed, a flush creeping up his face.
"When Hermione's feeling overwhelmed, sometimes Ron sings to her."
Snape gave him a sceptical look.
"I know. He's really bad at it. But he loves her, and it makes her feel better," Harry said, sipping his tea and wincing as it burnt his lips.
-You don't love me, Potter,- Snape wrote, giving Harry the paper with a derisive look.
Harry glanced at it and shrugged, feeling the blush still on his face.
"That doesn't mean I don't want to help you, or make you feel better."
Snape wrote a one-word reply as he picked up his own tea.
Harry shrugged, and attempted nonchalance.
"Maybe. But I admire you, and I want to help."
At this Snape snorted, and it sounded rather painful to Harry's ears, but didn't seem to bother Snape.
-Admire a man who has been fixated on you since you were fifteen?- Snape wrote, and even the cursive descender of his letters exuded sarcasm.
"You…Fixated? In a protective way, like your promise?"
Snape rolled his eyes and started writing, and Harry wondered how the tables had been turned. Not only turned, but tossed upside down. Snape was a master of words though, and perhaps he was using fixated in a different definition.
-I rather enjoyed the trick you played on Umbridge in the Forbidden Forest, and that you continued with your little group despite of the toad's repeated threats. You filled out respectably in your sixth year, and your magic was, at I shall say, rather energetic when we fought. It's a pity you never returned for your seventh year, as I seemed to have missed you turning into a man.-
Harry's jaw dropped a fraction as he read the note, and he looked up to see Snape leaning back against the headboard, his eyes closed and his shoulders taut, as if he was waiting for judgement. And he was, because if Harry understood the note properly, Snape had just admitted to being attracted to Harry.
"I guess I don't need to feel guilty for wanking over the Prince's potion book, then," Harry said, watching for Snape's reaction. One eye cracked open, the eyebrow upraised, and then both were glaring at him.
-There is no need to mock me, Potter- Snape wrote, on the last piece of paper in his notebook.
"I'm not mocking you," Harry insisted, shaking his head, trying to convince Snape that he wasn't. From the hardened, sceptical look in Snape's eyes though, Harry could tell that Snape wouldn't believe him.
-Get out, Potter. Go bother someone else.- Snape wrote, ripping out the final page and throwing it to him. The bowl of oatmeal beside Snape was banished, and the man turned his back to Harry, hiding again under the blankets.
After staring at Snape's back for a moment, Harry took the tea things to the tray, picked up his bill fold, and with a final glance at the bed, walked out to the office part of the tower to figure out what he'd done wrong this time.
Professor Flitwick was acting as Headmaster during Snape's hiding out in his quarters, not by any official route, but simply because he'd been at the school longest. He looked slightly frazzled, but was happy to see Harry, and ushered Harry into his office.
They had a rather quiet conversation, regarding the rumours that were flying about the school, and the potential mass murderer that was still around. The Aurors had briefed Flitwick on the bodies found in the dungeons, and Harry reluctantly filled him in on what had happened to Neville. Harry was irritated that he'd forgotten to tell Snape about the students' bodies in the dungeon flat, but he wasn't sure if that would even get Snape up and moving, so he didn't bother worrying too much.
Harry then brought out his Marauder's Map, something Ron had mentioned in his last letter, to the effect of 'why the hell aren't you using it?' After Flitwick had gleefully inspected the complicated charms on it, and asked Harry if he'd mind copying the idea, Harry asked him to look at the map and see if anyone listed was someone that shouldn't be in the castle.
"I wasn't here last year, so I'm not sure who is new, and who doesn't belong," Harry admitted.
"We had many more that left last year, than arrived," Flitwick distractedly answered, scanning over the map. Harry's eyes instinctively moved to the corridor where the Headmaster's office was, and saw that Snape's nametag was in the approximate location of his bed. Shaking his head, Harry also saw that Filch was pacing at the gargoyle guard to Snape's stairs, no doubt arguing for entrance.
"Doesn't Snape give out the password to his office?" Harry asked, watching Filch's label stomp off toward the stairs.
"During the school year, yes," Flitwick replied, tapping his finger near the library. "But Filch irritates him. There are several names on here which are unfamiliar, but you'll have to ask the Aurors to investigate. They may be parents or villagers from Hogsmeade, who have come to help."
"All right," Harry agreed, slightly disappointed that nothing had come of it. "Sir? Do you know why the students in the dungeon…why they would have been laid out on a table? Instead of brought to the hospital wing?"
Flitwick sat back heavily in his chair, the stacks of books he was leaning on shifting suddenly.
"Were there runes painted on the table?" Flitwick asked, his voice quiet as if he did not wish to be overheard.
Harry blinked, trying to recall the scene.
"I don't honestly know. There were a few books from the Restricted Section there."
Flitwick sighed and rubbed his chin, before deciding to tell Harry what he knew.
"Rituals do not play as big of a part in magic as they used to. But there are some that still believe strongly in rituals, and they do have their benefits. For the bodies to be laid out as such, for a ritual and so closely to the time of expiration, it is highly likely that someone has stolen their magic before they could choose to stay or move on."
Harry was quite sure his face was scrunched into an ugly grimace, but Flitwick wasn't done.
"Without magic, witches and wizards cannot move on, nor can they properly interact with those of us who are alive. They are stuck, in a horrible in-between. If this is the case, we will soon see their silent ghosts around Hogwarts."
Harry sat quietly, thinking over what Flitwick had said, before thanking the small professor and standing to take his leave. He did not mention that he'd already seen the ghosts.
"Harry!" Flitwick called, just as Harry was at the door. "Minerva's funeral is being planned for Friday. If you suspect that the killer still intends to do someone harm, that is likely when it will happen."
Harry nodded and left the room. Friday. Two days away.
Within the wards of Hogwarts, down by what remained of Hagrid's hut, had been a large worn stone that had been sectioned off for apparition. Harry quickly made his way to it, and looking at the charred beams of the hut, smiled as he thought of his friend holidaying in the south of France.
Harry's landing point was not as nice – a grimy back of grocer's, strewn with putrid smelling rubbish tips and the odd scavenging animal. Most of the birds flew off as Harry walked toward the main street, but one belligerent pigeon chirped at him and hopped after him for a few feet. It wasn't a far walk to the bakery, and though it was down the sort of street Harry didn't expect anything special, he figured if Snape had come to Manchester for this bread, it must be worth it. The small taste that Harry had had was certainly delicious, and he hoped that even though it was afternoon, there would be some sort of selection left to choose from.
The shop had a huge queue, and Harry dutifully took a ticket as he tried to look around the people and see what was available. He wondered how Snape ever managed to shop here without hexing someone. Snape's reaction earlier that morning had been one Harry somewhat expected, and he figured it would be a long shot to prove to Snape that he hadn't been teasing or mocking the man. After fifteen minutes in queue, and getting jostled by three grumpy looking old women, Harry decided that Snape would definitely know that suffering through this meant Harry was serious.
By the time his number was called, the options had dwindled further and Harry decided that the pumpernickel bread would be the best choice. He quickly paid for his purchase, eager to escape the crowded store, and let the thoughts of the Hogwarts ghosts fill his mind as he walked back to the apparition point. What Flitwick had told him was absolutely horrible, and Harry couldn't imagine spending an eternity stuck in between being an incomplete ghost, and being able to move on.
He also couldn't think of who would want to steal the magic of underage students. Voldemort, certainly, Harry wouldn't put it past the man to have stolen magic from anyone he could have in order to make himself more powerful. But Harry didn't doubt that Voldemort was dead, not only because he watched him die, but because Harry's scar hadn't given him any feeling, good or bad, since that moment.
Just as Harry passed the shop to go back to where the tips were, he heard the chirping of an owl and looked up to spot Errol headed his way. Harry smiled and prepared to catch the bird, as Errol hadn't improved on his landing in the past six years. Taking the note, he let Errol wander off toward the tip in search of food.
I have already sent off the required phials to Poppy Pomfrey. Severus Snape is a proud man, but he deserves to be fully healed after the war, even if he won't ask for it.
Snape's cure is slightly different from mine, though I see he has to have a muggle needle as well! Ingenious how the muggles have advanced so far in medical training and treatments, and it's a good thing too. Squibs in our world don't always have access to magic, and need the help.
Keep me informed on his progress! Molly says to drop by the Burrow next week, and she'll make whatever you'd like for dinner.
Harry smiled, and folded the note back up into his pocket. Not many witches and wizards would give much thought to the plight of squibs, and how much they had to rely on the muggle way of life. Just as he was about to spin away in apparition, Harry nearly skidded into the tip as a realization hit him. The Standard Book of Spells, Grade One had been in with the bodies. Most Hogwarts students and graduates had shoved that book to the back of their cupboards or the bottom of their trunks, but a squib would have found it resourceful. Especially a squib that had just come into some magic.
Harry frantically searched his jumper pocket for the Marauder's Map, pulling it out and setting it to hover in the air in front of him. Muggles be damned, he wasn't going to put the map down on a dirty tip.
His eyes searched through the castle rapidly, starting by Snape's office, and moving outward. He finally found Filch down on the ground floor, in his office. Harry wouldn't have thought anything of it, until he folded a section of the map over and discovered that the office was almost exactly above the abandoned flat they'd hidden in. And Filch had been trying to get into Snape's office earlier.
"Fuck. Thanks, Errol!"
Harry snatched the map out of the air and huffed in surprise as he saw the face of one of the student ghosts right behind where the map had been.
The ghost opened its mouth, but Harry didn't wait to try to read its lips. He crammed the map into his back pocket and the last thing he saw was the confused look on Errol's face as he spun away.
Harry ran toward one of the side entrances of the castle, taking off as he'd landed and thinking of the fastest way to get to Snape's office. Filch hopefully hadn't left for there yet, but Harry wasn't certain what the man had planned, and he figured Snape was in too much of a dark mood to fully protect himself.
Snape also, like everyone else, likely had never seen Filch as anything more than an irritating caretaker.
The side door gamble paid off, as there was a broom cupboard just inside and Harry snagged an old school broom to use. He took off through the halls, the broom not quite as smooth as his own Firebolt, and definitely not as fast.
"MISTER POTTER!" Sprout bellowed, her voice echoing in the grand staircase as Harry flew by. He didn't even turn to look, just continued toward the Headmaster's office. Harry tried to keep his focus on task, even as two of the student ghosts appeared in the hall, silently watching him fly by.
Approaching the gargoyle guard, Harry finally slowed and skidded his feet along the hall to avoid crashing into the stone wall.
"Is Filch up there?" Harry demanded, his hair wild and his wand in hand. Filch had still been in his office when Harry had last checked the map, but in the five minutes it had taken him to get to Snape's door, Harry knew Filch could have gone anywhere. The man had been caretaker of Hogwarts for decades, and likely knew it almost as well as the twins.
The gargoyle looked at him strangely.
"He has just gone up, to speak to the Headmaster about Professor McGonagall's funeral."
"Fuck!" Harry swore. "I need to go in, Snape's in danger."
The gargoyle moved aside without a word, and Harry scrambled onto the stairs. He wondered if running up them would make them move faster, and was about to try, when an icy cold feeling poured over his shoulder. Harry turned to the side, and stared straight into the ghostly face of Owen Cauldwell, a Hufflepuff that Harry remembered watching the Sorting ceremony for in his fourth year. At the top of the stairs were two more ghosts, a Slytherin and a Ravenclaw, and another Hufflepuff guarded the door.
They all looked blankly at Harry, their wands in their hands loosely by their sides.
"Look, I know who is doing this to you now. And I'll do my best to stop him," Harry promised, making eye contact with the ghosts. He didn't actually know if stopping Filch would return their magic, but he didn't want to mention that.
A large bang sounded from the other side of the door, and Harry decided he couldn't wait any further. Pushing through the ghosts and fighting the freezing cold feeling, Harry yanked open the office door and stepped inside, wand at the ready.
"Get away from him, Filch," Harry demanded, pointing his wand at Filch's head. Snape was actually seated at his desk, looking absolutely miserable and like he had just thrown an outer robe over his dress clothes from the night before. The room was unnaturally cold, and Filch was standing by the desk, one hand in his pocket and the other clenched by his side. A book had tipped over onto the floor, likely the source of the noise Harry had heard.
"Always getting into other people's business, hmm boy?" Filch asked, his eyes betraying his anger as he turned to face Harry. Filch may have thought he could take on Snape, a man who had lost the use of his voice, but Harry knew that Filch's magic was too weak to defend against the both of them.
"The welfare of my friends will always be my business," Harry answered, his teeth gritted as he spoke. "And I'm sure that Headmaster Snape would love to know that you're the one who killed Minerva McGonagall."
Snape's face twisted into a furious expression, the intense sort of emotion Harry hadn't seen from him since McGonagall had died, and he whipped his wand out before Filch could even see the motion. Thick black ropes sprung forth from Snape's wand and hit Filch, knocking him off his feet.
"Expelliarmus!" Harry cast, remembering that Filch may have a wand. A small birch wand flew out of Filch's coat pocket, the one his hand had been in, and Harry caught it easily as he moved around the desk toward Snape.
Snape's eyes were burning as he stared with utter loathing at Filch on the ground. His wand flicked in the air, and Harry flinched as he saw Argus Filch's spasm on the floor, a muffled yell escaping as Filch twisted to escape the pain. Harry knew Snape could do non-verbal magic, but he had thought the cruciatus curse required a rather strong verbal casting.
Harry's patronus sprang forward from his wand at the first call, and Harry sent it off to bring the Aurors.
"You need to stop before they get here," Harry warned, not making a move to have Snape lower his wand.
Snape inclined his head in agreement, and cast the curse again.
"Arrrrgh! Stop it, you filthy wizard!" Filch growled, and Snape paused long enough to allow Filch to catch a breath.
"Filthy wizard?" Harry growled. "You stole those students' magic! You stopped them from ever going to heaven, or wherever it is they go!"
The wand flicked again, and though Snape was still seething, his control was impeccable.
Harry watched, hard-pressed to feel bad for Filch. Not after what the man had done to the dead students. He held out his hand and quietly summoned veritaserum, confident that there would be a bottle in the room somewhere, and that the Aurors would want it for their questioning. They arrived a scant minute and a half later, taking in the scene with judging eyes.
Harry offered the phial, but the tallest Auror shook his head.
"He will be questioned at the Ministry. It's the first murder case after the war; it must go through proper procedure."
Snape snatched a piece of paper of his desk and wrote in huge letters.
The Auror, thinking the question was for him, began to answer about politics and corruption, until Snape slammed his hand down on the desk. He pointed at Filch, who had been hauled to his feet by two other Aurors.
"Why?" Filch asked, an ugly smiled taking over his face. His spotty beard reflected the light in patches, and his horrid teeth showed as he smiled. His lips were red, as he'd bitten down on them as Snape had cursed him.
"When the battle started she ordered the unworthy to the dungeons. Filch! Take those students down," Filch said, his eyes glinting with madness. "And then they were flooded, and attacked. But she's not so much better than me, is she? All it takes is a flick of a wrist. Witch, wizard, squib; we all die the same."
"No one knew Voldemort would do that," Harry said, his tone rough with anger.
"And you were next," Filch said, ignoring Harry and staring at Snape. "The only man to face Voldemort for years and survive. Imagine the power."
There was a mad edge to his voice, and Harry looked at him with disgust as the Aurors hauled him roughly out of the office. Harry turned to his side, unsure of what he'd see. Snape would likely still be angry, but Harry wasn't certain if he would just shut down again, as Snape processed the absolutely senseless reason McGonagall had been killed over.
Snape's face was a study in emotion. His cheeks were splotchy and red, as if he'd just had a good yell, but his eyes were damp with loss. He looked like a child whose toy had just been stolen, and his mother had told him to forget it.
Harry carefully reached out and touched Snape's hand, snapping the man's attention to himself.
"Are you all right?" Harry asked, looking straight at Snape. Before Snape could answer, and from the irritated look on the man's face, Harry knew he was going to get quite the answer, Harry remembered about the loaf of bread that he'd bought earlier.
"Oops," Harry muttered, fishing out the bag from his pocket. The bread had been placed in a weightless pocket Hermione had charmed into the back of his jumper, to serve as a rucksack when he didn't want to carry one around. The pocket worked like those found at the back of a cycling jersey, but held much more and was charmed to be invisible.
He placed the slightly squashed pumpernickel down on the desk, and watched as Snape immediately snatched it up. It had the same Barbakan Bakery bag that Snape's other bread had, and smelled just as delicious. Snape held it up and took a deep breath of the rye, the anger leaving his face as he did so.
He gave Harry a slight nod, answering Harry's question and posing another. It took him a moment to write out the question, and Harry was inexplicably nervous as he waited.
-Did you purchase this for me? In Manchester?-
Harry didn't miss how Snape was holding tightly to the bag.
"Of course I did," Harry answered, puzzled as to why Snape would ask. Who else would he have gotten it for? "That's where I was, when I figured out it was Filch."
Snape nodded again, and pointed to the stairs that led to his personal quarters. Harry caught the complicated wand movements as Snape set wards on his office, but didn't pay too close attention to them. He was already in the wards, and for the first time since the final battle, felt fully safe within the castle walls.
Snape put the bread down on the edge of the chesterfield instead of opening it, and walked toward his bed. He sat down heavily on the edge, swaying slightly, and Harry remembered that Snape likely hadn't had anything to eat since before they'd left for the dinner.
Taking a chance, Harry stood beside the bed and with one finger, traced along the side of Snape's face and hooked his hair behind his ear. Snape's fingers were clenched tightly to the edge of the mattress, and he looked up at Harry with guarded eyes.
"I wasn't mocking you earlier," Harry said, leaving himself open for legilimency, if that's what Snape wanted. Snape said nothing, and Harry didn't feel the intrusion of legilimency, but then again, he'd never felt it as a younger student and was fairly certain Snape had done it then, too. Snape's face relaxed after a moment though, and Harry moved to squeeze his shoulder.
"I'll make some sort of dinner with the bread, you can go have a shower," Harry offered, already moving back to fetch the bread. He heard a sharp intake of breath and winced, knowing he'd said something stupid already.
"I'm not calling you greasy," Harry hastily explained, hoping the storm building on Snape's face would fade as quickly as it had come. "You've been cooped up in bed for a day, and we both smell like the castle. I just thought it might make you feel better."
Snape still scowled at him, but he did manage to push himself off the bed and toward the spiral stairs to the washroom. Harry pretended not to notice, and busied himself with the bread and some cheese.
Two hours later, the bread and cheese were nothing but crumbs on the plate, and there were bits of notebook paper all over the bed. Harry had learned that the bread was the one treat Snape had gotten with his mother when he'd returned from Hogwarts for the summers. And that when his mother had died, McGonagall had been the one to support him when things were rough. He also learned that McGonagall had been married before, and that she would never choose to remain at Hogwarts as a ghost, because her husband would have been waiting for her.
In return, Harry had shared some of his experiences during his year on the run with Snape, and told him about the cupboard he'd had while growing up. He'd talked about his future, how he had no desire to become an Auror any longer, and they'd also discussed the procedure to help heal Snape's voice. Snape seemed far more concerned about the procedure than Harry did about his lack of plans for the future, but then, if Harry had to face a needle to the throat, he'd likely be bloody worried too.
When Snape tired of talking, he waved his hand to banish all the papers and started to settle down into the bed. Harry took it as a hint to get up and move over to his position on the couch, but was stayed by Snape's watchful eyes.
"Do you want me to sleep on the couch?" Harry quietly asked. Snape kept his eyes on him for a moment, and then very deliberately reached over to the phial of dreamless sleep that was on his bedside cabinet. With one hand he flicked open the drawer, and dropped the bottle inside.
Harry took that to mean no.
Once they'd settled in, Snape was still firmly wrapped up on his own side of the bed, and Harry hyperaware of how close the man was to him. How close, and how tense. Harry rolled to his side, facing Snape, determined to finally get some sleep. He remembered what Ron had written in his letter, and carefully stretched his arm out so that it was resting against the curve of Snape's back. It took a few moments, but Harry smiled as he felt Snape suddenly release his tension and relax back against Harry's arm.
The next morning was stormy and raining outside, though it was nothing compared to the worked up pacing of Snape in his quarters.
-Why must I be in my underpants!- Snape wrote, his lips pursed in frustration. Potter, the irritatingly comforting boy, was sitting in his spot on the bed. He was propped up against the headboard, and there was an open area with the blankets pushed down, right in front of him.
"So you won't do a runner when you see the needle," Potter answered, and the dratted boy was trying not to smile.
-I won't. I do not back down on my decisions,- Snape replied, his nervousness seeping over a bit into anger.
"I know you don't," Potter said, and there was no trace of amusement in his voice now. "But you do need to be relaxed for this. Come here."
Snape grumbled in his mind, but did move closer to the bed. In a flurry of movement he removed his outer robe and slipped into the bed, before Potter could get any sort of look at his body. Which was ridiculous, as he was now sitting against Potter's chest, and was as close to the man as he'd ever been before.
-Where is Poppy?- Snape asked, clutching tightly to the notebook.
"In your office, waiting for the okay to come in," Potter answered. "Lean up a bit."
Snape did, wondering why Potter was pushing him away when he'd been so adamant on the treatment. But Potter just removed his shirt, and Snape was taken back at how warm the boy's chest was when he was pulled back against it.
"You know, if you were anyone else, I'd tell you to just have a wank right now," Potter said, his low chuckle vibrating across Snape's shoulders as his hands moved down Snape's arms. Snape tensed, cursing at his body not to betray any confidences, but he could already feel the gooseflesh on his arms and knew Potter could too.
Potter's hands moved to his wrists, and Snape shut his eyes as he tried to stop the shiver that went through his body.
"It's all right," Potter murmured. "I'm just going to give a bit of a massage, for you to relax."
Snape tortured himself further, concentrating on his back, and wondering if it was just an awkward bunch in Potter's jeans he could feel, or if it was something stirring within the jeans. Potter then hit a sensitive spot on the inside of Snape's wrist, and Snape instinctively raised his knees slightly. The bed sheet propped up over his lap, and Snape relaxed slightly now that his interest wouldn't be so easily noticed.
As it turned out, Potter wasn't as stupid as he thought.
"Unless," Potter started, his hands abandoning Snape's and his voice very roughened, "that is the sort you'd like."
His hands tentatively came back to Snape's chest, and slowly slipped down, thumbs brushing teasingly over Snape's nipples. Snape's head relaxed back onto Potter's shoulder, and though his mouth tipped open, Snape was grateful that no sound escaped. Not that he could have said anything, but a gasp most certainly would have given him away.
Potter was on to the game anyway.
Snape's hand clung to Potter's thigh as the hands continued to lightly flutter down his chest, fingertips twirling in the hair on his chest and tummy. The bed sheet no longer hid Snape's interest, and he felt a perverse sort of pleasure knowing that it was definitely Potter's cock digging into his back, and not simply the flies of his jeans.
Potter may have learned to lie for his own survival over the past year, but Snape was rather certain now that Harry had been honest in his interest.
"Sorry it's going to be quick," Harry whispered into his ear, and Snape had no intention of writing out that it had been nothing for ten years, so quick was fine. "But I want to take my time when I can hear you actually make noise."
Harry's nimble and determined fingers slipped under the band of his boxer briefs, and Snape braced ever so slightly for the cutting comments he remembered in his youth. His cock curved awkwardly to the left, his balls hung down much lower than anyone else's he'd been with, his penis dribbled far more pre-come than necessary.
But Harry said nothing, and his fingertips found the pre-come without hesitation, swirling it around and eliciting a tiny gasp from Snape. His fingers gripped just as strongly as Snape's normally did, and his rhythm, though slightly faster than Snape's usual, varied just enough to bring Snape to the edge quickly. He felt Harry's other hand lifting his balls, and waited for the one last comment he always remembered, the one that had cost him an entire summer experimenting with depilatory potions. It never came, and as Harry's hand slithered confidently through Snape's hair and pressed against his hole, Snape bucked and spurted all over his stomach.
"Ffff…" Snape exhaled, releasing his clenching fingers from Harry's thigh.
"Sorry to rush this," Harry mumbled, casting a quick cleaning charm over them both, and covering Snape's lap fully with the blankets. "Madam Pomfrey!"
Snape barely had a second to blink, to register the 'Christ you were hot' that was whispered into his ear, as the mediwitch bustled into the room with a tray. She was all business, and must have prepared everything while she waited in the office. She eyed Snape's chest for a second, and Snape felt a flush of embarrassment as he realised it likely was reddened from arousal, and that the hair had probably be toyed with in peculiar ways.
He felt Harry's hands gently cupping his cheek and pulling his head back to rest on Harry's shoulder again. It exposed his neck horribly, and while Snape hated it, he remembered only moments earlier doing the same as Harry had fondled him. He focused on that and that only, feeling Harry's legs keeping him cradled close, and one of Harry's arms wrapped protectively around his chest.
Snape kept his eyes closed, but he couldn't help flinching when he felt the needle. A tear escaped from his eye, and he wanted to pull away badly, use magic to expel the sharp pierce as it pushed through the cartilage. That was a new, intimate level of pain, one that reminded him of the Dark Mark, and when it had been burnt into his skin, seemingly down to the bone.
The burning sensation stayed, and his throat felt like it was ten degrees hotter than it should be. He felt panic starting to edge around his mind, as he'd read about the procedure back in May after he'd mostly recovered from the snake bites, and Snape could not remember ever reading about such a reaction.
"Massage his throat, Harry," Pomfrey suddenly said, and Snape opened his eyes to realise that the needle had already been removed. A pot of some sort of salve had been held out in front of him, though Snape could not bring his eyes to focus enough to read the label. Whatever it was smelled faintly of aloe and eucalyptus, and Snape's shoulders started to relax as Harry massaged the salve into his throat. It was cold, almost to the point of freezing, and provided instant relief.
"How long until we know?" Harry asked, his comforting grip on Snape not loosening.
"A few minutes," Pomfrey answered, watching them both carefully. Snape suddenly had the horrible realisation that she likely knew exactly what they'd done to relax him.
"None of that, Severus," Pomfrey quietly said, patting his arm. She didn't explain, despite Harry's question, and Snape felt slightly better. Pomfrey had been at the school nearly as long as Minerva McGonagall had, and if she didn't care, it was unlikely that the other tenured professors would.
It was finally deemed long enough for the potion to have worked, and Snape was given a drink of a suspiciously bright blue liquid. It had the same icy soothing feeling as the salve, but the taste left nearly everything to be desired.
"What the hell is that?" Snape rasped, his voice rough with disuse.
The arms around him squeezed tightly, and he could feel Harry's heart beating against his back.
"That was revenge from every patient who has taken a potion of yours in the hospital wing," Pomfrey said, with a smile. She stood and began to pack up the tray, satisfied that her task had been successful.
"Yes, it worked," Snape said, wincing slightly at how poorly his voice sounded. It was almost as if he was just getting over a strong case of laryngitis. He twisted his shoulders against Harry's arms, getting them to loosen slightly. "Let me up, so I can properly see Madam Pomfrey out."
Snape started to turn, to put his feet out, but Harry laughed and squeezed his arm.
"You're not wearing trousers. I'm sure she can find her way out."
Snape snapped his mouth shut, unsure whether to blast Harry for revealing that, or mutter excuses to save face with his staff. Fortunately, Madam Pomfrey had the unconcerned professionalism of years of being a mediwitch and merely waved her hand.
"I shall find my own way out. Take care of him Mr Potter, you know the follow up."
"Pardon?" Snape asked, turning and raising his eyebrow at Harry. It used to work as a threat, but Snape was well aware that the boy was hardly cowed into anything anymore.
"Yes ma'am," Harry said, utterly unashamed that he was shirtless and in bed with the Headmaster. For a healing treatment, of course, but Snape knew he wasn't embarrassed about what had happened just before that, either.
"And Severus," Pomfrey added, as she had the door open and was halfway through. "Shall we expect a lovely speech from you tomorrow?"
Snape tilted his head slightly, and felt the bottom of his stomach flip as he remembered Harry telling him when Minerva's funeral was. The blankets moved around his legs, and Snape felt Harry's foot rubbing slowly against his shin, in a comforting manner. And then Snape realised that this wasn't just a one-off for him, that Harry had never intended it to be just that.
"Yes," Snape answered, his voice surprisingly strong. "You can expect one."
He leaned back against Harry again as Pomfrey left with a pleased nod. Snape didn't plan on getting out of bed for the rest of the morning, but this time, it wasn't the overwhelming feeling of sadness keeping him there.
"Why are you still dressed?" Snape asked, working his jaw as he enunciated properly.
"Just checking that we're alone," Harry replied, a smirk to his face as he reached for his wand.
"Of course we are. You saw her leave," Snape replied, but it wasn't the door that Harry was looking at. The boy seemed to glance all around the room, looking toward the corners and the upper loft.
"I did," Harry evasively said. Snape didn't have the chance to ask who else Harry was looking for, as he banished the rest of their clothing seconds later, and did things to Snape that utterly took away all rational thought.