AN: Surprise. This week's chapter is finished early. :) Thank you for all the reviews! They make my day, to be honest.
It was late Thursday evening when they had uninterrupted time to meet with the Headmaster. Harry used his invisibility cloak to walk to the office, keeping his footsteps in time with Snape's so he wouldn't be heard. Most students were lounging about in the library, Great Hall, or their dorms, but this was an important meeting and Harry didn't want to be seen.
The Gryffindors had been out on the quidditch pitch earlier in the evening, as the team had decided to keep practising despite not having a Quidditch Cup that year, and Harry was quite looking forward to Dumbledore's warm office, as he was a bit chilled, and more than a little tired.
"He'll be able to sort something out? I mean, if you haven't already," Harry stammered. "Cause you always, do the right, er…thing at the right time."
Harry had pulled the cloak off his head as the stone Phoenix staircase had started moving, and so he caught the look on Snape's face. It was rather expressive, and clearly showed that Snape thought he'd lost it.
"Professor Dumbledore is usually exceptionally brilliant in planning ahead and foreseeing tiny details that become rather important," Snape answered, looking up to where the landing was approaching. He held a file in his hands, full of papers about the Riddles and Little Hangleton that he'd had acquired from different Muggle offices and record archives.
"Yeah but, you're a genius and you usually figure everything out too," Harry blurted, without thinking. Curiously, a speck of red tinged on Snape's cheeks.
"Yes, well. As good as he usually is, the Headmaster spectacularly drops the ball upon occasion, and that is why I am here," Snape replied, pushing Harry toward the office door.
"Ah, do come in, gentlemen," Dumbledore greeted, sweeping his arm out as he opened the door. "I'm just making some tea. Biscuits?"
Ten minutes later, Harry had a hot cup of tea in his hand and a plate of biscuits beside him as he watched Dumbledore and Snape peering at the map on Dumbledore's desk. It was a copy of the one Snape had pinned up over the desk in his flat downstairs, and this one only had one great circle line drawn on it, from Albania to Little Hangleton. Harry fought a yawn as they discussed the map, twisting his legs out from the comfortable couch as he stretched his tired muscles.
"The house appears abandoned," Snape said, pulling out a town survey that he'd acquired from a Muggle council office somewhere. "And this hill it sits on leaves it somewhat guarded."
"But the grounds are in ruins?" Dumbledore asked.
"Yes," Snape said. "Difficult to move about in, for either party."
"The cemetery had space in it," Harry pointed out. Snape turned to look at him, with a curious glance.
"This potion you said, requires very little in the form of ceremony?" Dumbledore asked, tapping his finger on the map, and not acknowledging what Harry had said.
"Yes," Snape responded, digging through his collection of papers until he pulled out blueprints of Riddle House, from 1875. "Though enough space would be required that it might take place outside."
"Are you sure Voldemort would risk exposing himself as such? As weak as he is?" Dumbledore questioned.
"He is naive enough to think his father's home is sufficient as a hiding space," Snape said. "He likely will think nothing of performing magic outside."
"Arrogance is dangerous," Dumbledore murmured.
"How do we stop him then?" Harry asked, finishing his tea. "If we know where he is, and he's weak, can't we just go there and...I don't know. Stun him?"
He covered his mouth to stifle another yawn, and considered more tea. The caffeine would either perk him up, or the warmth would make him sleepier.
"I'm afraid it won't be that easy, Harry," Dumbledore gently said. "I suspect there is far darker magic at play, which Professor Snape and I shall have to work around."
Harry narrowed his eyes at the statement, but before he could say anything, Snape beat him to it.
"Tell him," Snape ordered.
Dumbledore glanced up at Snape, who was standing against the desk with his arms crossed and a serious expression on his face.
"You are asking him to fight this war for you, and you will tell him everything he may face."
"Or?" Dumbledore asked, but Harry could tell it was pure curiosity. There was no malice in Dumbledore's tone, nor any sign that he wouldn't share his information.
"Or John and I find our own way to win," Snape calmly answered. "And the school will pay for his forfeit of the tournament."
"Ah," Dumbledore nodded, pouring himself more tea. "That won't be necessary, Severus. Have a seat."
Snape sat heavily in his chair, irritated by Dumbledore but surprisingly not angry. Harry got the feeling that they often pushed each other to exasperation.
"Harry, in the magical world there are certain spells and rituals that are never spoken of. You have been taught about the Unforgivables, but one dark spell that you have never encountered, and hopefully never will, is that of the horcrux."
"That doesn't sound pleasant," Harry said, giving his cup to Dumbledore for a refill.
"It certainly isn't," Snape said, crossing his leg over his knee as he settled in to listen.
"It is a form of immortality," Dumbledore continued, filling Harry's cup. "But it comes at a great cost. It is the method of splitting a soul and containing it in an object, to keep it safe from harm and to enable the person to continue living even if their physical form is destroyed."
Harry made a face, looking over at Snape as if to check if what Dumbledore was saying was actually true. Snape gave one short nod.
"Souls are split by committing grievous acts against nature," Dumbledore gently added. "And once a soul is split, it cannot be properly re-joined with its partner."
"Acts against nature?" Harry asked, thinking of the destructive forces nature was capable of causing. Tornadoes, volcanoes, floods; what could Voldemort have done to equal that?
"Murder," Snape lowly spoke.
"Oh," Harry said, pushing the plate of biscuits away as he drew his feet up and hugged his knees. Snape reached over and tapped the top of said knees.
"Shoes," Snape warned.
"I believe this, Harry, was a horcrux that you destroyed," Dumbledore said, picking up the diary of Tom Riddle jr. from his bookcase. Harry glanced up at it as he unlaced his shoes, wondering how Dumbledore had gotten it back from Mr Malfoy. Perhaps Dobby had brought it to Hogwarts last fall.
"But you have no confirmation," Snape mused, rubbing his chin.
"I do not," Dumbledore agreed. "But it is something we will have to consider. For if Tom Riddle is here, at the Riddle House, we must very carefully plan our next steps."
Dumbledore sat back at his desk, steepling his fingers in front of his face. Harry thought it was a classic thinker's pose, but Snape seemed to have seen through it.
"Oh, absolutely not," Snape said, standing up again rather suddenly.
"Hmm?" Dumbledore hummed, reminding Harry again of bees lazily exiting the hive to investigate a strange noise.
"You want to wait it out, to see what he'll do next," Snape said, standing up to the desk and placing his hands on it. He leaned forward and his hair swung to cover part of his face, but Harry could still hear the impatience in his voice.
"You have Barty Crouch, a disgraced Ministry employee, using polyjuice and pretending to be an auror here at the school. Harry Potter's name is entered into the Triwizard tournament, and no one, save for the person who did it, knows how. Finally, we have located what remains of the Dark Lord, and you want to wait to see what happens."
"I have not said that, Severus," Dumbledore replied, with an innocent look on his face. "But I admit that I do not yet know the best course of action, considering the situation."
Snape sighed as he ran his fingers through his hair.
"We go on the offensive. The Dark Lord is planning to use a potion to bring himself back to his fully corporeal form, with Potter's blood. That much you do know."
"Yes, but I hardly expect he'll send an invitation to Harry for a day trip to Little Hangleton."
If it wouldn't have brought on another yawn, Harry would have laughed at the look on Snape's face.
"Which means, he will either try to get Harry away from the school, or he will come here," Dumbledore serenely continued, giving Harry a small wink when Snape twitched.
"Wouldn't it be better to plan an attack, sir?" Harry asked, interrupting before Snape could start yelling. "That way we have the element of surprise."
Remembering his failed lessons last summer to teach his cousin about the Table of Elements, Harry smiled to himself as he wondered what the element symbol would be for 'surprise'. Ah, maybe - if it wasn't taken already.
"It's too risky, Harry," Dumbledore told him. Snape had wandered off to the side shelf in Dumbledore's office, which held a giant pensieve. "You are safe here at the school, and without knowing what is in the house, or what Voldemort's true plans are..."
"He isn't safe here," Snape interrupted, speaking down toward the pensieve. "You know that just as well as I. And the plans will not be secret for long."
Harry turned side ways on the couch, still hugging his knees, but angled so that he could rest his head against the back of the couch. They'd practised on the field for two hours after dinner, and though it felt great to fly in the crisp air, Harry was definitely feeling sluggish now.
Looking between Dumbledore at the desk, and Snape casually leaning against a bookcase, Harry could tell that there was some form of silent communication happening.
"Severus, are you certain?" Dumbledore asked, flicking his eyes toward Harry for a second. "You have considerably much more to lose this time."
"Is that not the worst reason to remain idle?" Snape asked.
More silence filled the room, but this time Harry suspected it didn't contain secret eye communication. Instead, Dumbledore was thinking. Harry waited to see what the next answer would be, but his eyes were fighting him to close, and he was starting to lose the battle.
"I suppose it is," Dumbledore conceded quietly. "Are you certain you want him to stay for this conversation?"
Harry opened his eyes almost comically wide to make sure he could still pay attention to what was being discussed.
"He is only a year younger than I was when two students attempted to murder me at this school," Snape bluntly said. He turned to look at Harry, finishing his thought with a very dry voice. "And when the lessons started I do believe I promised to help him survive."
"A man of your word, after all these years," Dumbledore kindly said. Harry noticed the sharp look Snape gave Dumbledore for the comment, but couldn't figure out the reason for it.
"The regenerative potion the Dark Lord requires isn't very difficult," Snape said, with a stern tone. "I am in the process of re-joining the Death Eaters, to become the brewer."
"As yourself?" Dumbledore immediately asked, his concern not fully hidden.
"No," Snape responded, not elaborating further. "I am currently researching how to nullify the potion."
There was no response, though Harry belatedly realised that his eyes had closed on him again and he suspected he'd missed Dumbledore nodding.
"As I said before, you have no limit to your potion budget at the school this year," Dumbledore told Snape.
"Thank you," Snape acknowledged.
"I expect you'll inform me as soon as there is progress," Dumbledore continued.
"Of course," Snape responded, his tone slightly clipped. He wasn't giving away any further information, but Dumbledore didn't press.
"I'm afraid I do have some other, unpleasant news," Dumbledore said. Harry felt his teacup being lifted out of his hands as he tried to keep up with the conversation. "Sirius Black has redoubled his efforts to have the guardianship information released."
Snape sighed with impatience, somewhere to Harry's right.
"He's an escaped convict. How, exactly, does he expect to be successful?"
"More importantly," Dumbledore murmured, and the sound was low enough that Harry nearly missed it. "How will he react when he finds out?"
"Everything was done legally," Snape said, his voice slightly louder. Harry figured he was looking at the couch as he spoke. "He won't have a legal leg to stand on, but he could disrupt any plans we make against the Dark Lord. I would rather not become a target until absolutely necessary."
Dumbledore's answer was taking much longer than it normally was, or maybe Harry hadn't heard it. Seemed like it was taking hours.
Harry only partially woke when he felt his hands being separated.
"Dad?" Harry mumbled, looking about blearily. "Feel's like I'm floating."
"You've been lightened," Snape said, slipping his hands under Harry's arms and lifting him up. Much like in the summer, when Harry had fallen asleep after that horrible night at the Quidditch world cup, Snape was carrying him. Harry wrapped his arms around Snape's neck, closing his eyes again. Snape had done a body mass spell on him the first time, and Harry figured he wasn't too heavy, so he didn't worry about it.
"I will meet you on Saturday to tighten the wards of Hogwarts," Snape said, his voice deep and rumbly next to Harry's ear. Snape's long hair tickled Harry's face, but he was too sleepy to brush it away. Harry's feet were a bit cold, and as he relaxed further against Snape, he hoped that Snape had picked his shoes up off the floor.
"I shall have Fillius, Minerva, and Pomona join us," Dumbledore agreed, sounding like he was standing somewhere off to the left. "Shouldn't you wake him?"
"He's currently serving detention in the dungeons," Snape answered, shaking his head and sounding slightly smug. "For stealing from my potions cupboard. None of his little friends will expect him back until well after midnight."
"No points were lost, I hope," Dumbledore commented.
"That would be a blatant abuse of my powers as a Professor," Snape replied, clutching Harry tighter as he stepped closer to the warm flames of the fireplace.
"Yes it would be," Dumbledore contentedly agreed. "Severus..."
"Not this time," Snape conceded. The fireplace roared, and from the shifting of Snape's hands, Harry figured Floo powder had been dumped in.
"Planning meeting next month?" Snape asked, turning to face the Headmaster. "Unless, of course, new information is found."
"Naturally. Nice to meet you, John Snape," Dumbledore said, causing Harry to blink and lift his head.
"Ignore the old man," Snape quietly said, pushing Harry's head back down against his shoulder as they stepped into the Floo.
Snape double-checked the cards in his wallet as he stood before the fireplace. All were in the name of Evan Rosier, and gave the address of a boringly normal house in a suburb of southeast London. He had a few Muggle pounds in the wallet, along with several galleons in his pocket. A small shoulder bag had been packed as well, carrying Rosier's Death Eater mask, and an offering of Basilisk scales. They'd come from the monster below the dungeons, which Dumbledore had given him access to once they'd found the tunnel Fawkes had flown out of, but the Dark Lord would think they'd been purchased.
He looked himself over in the mirror once more, twisting his hair up even further. It was a short mess, what passed for stylish amongst Muggle men, and dark brown. His eyes were a piercing blue, and his face had several scars on it. He looked nothing like Severus Snape, nor was he an exact match for the Evan Rosier of a decade ago, but he did look reasonably like what Rosier would have looked like as an older man.
Checking his watch, Snape pulled his spare wand out of the bag, and slipped it into the irritating wand holster of the uniform. He stepped into the fireplace and began his Floo/Apparition jumps to the meeting point.
Twenty minutes later, Snape found himself standing back at the abandoned house in Little Hangleton. Pettigrew slipped out of the front door as he approached, and Snape's upper lip curled. His hands were out at his sides, fingers flexing as Snape stood right on the line of the wards, testing to see what sort of restrictions he could sense.
"You're late," Pettigrew sneered, staying on the porch and not realising the importance of where Snape was standing.
"I am early, which you are well aware of," Snape replied, walking toward the house a minute later. Rosier's cape twisted behind him, but it was shorter than his teaching robe and felt odd.
"You're late if I say you're late," Pettigrew snapped. "I'm second in command, and it wouldn't do for you to forget it."
"Oh is that so?" Snape asked. "That's certainly new, as from what I remember, you were a scrawny little rat who stayed home while we all went out on raids."
Pettigrew steeled himself, setting his face into a scowl and standing up as straight as he could, though Snape still had a good four inches height on him.
"I gave very important information to our master," Pettigrew arrogantly said.
"Which nearly killed him, if I recall," Snape replied, with a hint of boredom. "Now, are you done with your little power trip?"
Pettigrew withdrew his wand and pointed it straight at Snape, his brittle long fingernails nearly scratching the wood.
"I don't trust you, Rosier," Pettigrew said. "You may be a good brewer, but your faked death was too well done. And if I find out you're going to cross the Dark Lord, you'll have me to answer to."
Snape's hand drew back with a flash and Pettigrew didn't have a chance to duck as Snape's fist flew toward him, cracking Pettigrew's nose.
"You've made me late, Wormtail. Be sure to apologise," Snape said, his voice deep and stern as he walked straight by Pettigrew and into the house.
The inside was just as neglected as the outside, though Snape could see trails in the dust on the floor from both Pettigrew's footprints, and a giant snake's slithering. Snape narrowed his eyes at that, as while Harry had mentioned a snake in the dream in the summer, the Dark Lord had never before taken a familiar.
"With permission, to join the shadows of the night, my lord," Snape intoned, the words coming back to him instantly and causing goose pimples to rise on his arms as he stood at the doorway to the upstairs parlour. It was the only room with light in the house, coming from a bright fire in the fireplace.
"Granted," the raspy voice in the wingback chair replied. Snape only just managed to keep his expression passive as the half-man/half-creature in the chair was revealed to him.
Snape kept his head bowed; his neck feeling bared and unprotected as it wasn't covered by his usual long hair. Pettigrew approached as Snape waited, sniffling behind Snape as he gingerly wiped his nose.
"Already a little disagreement with Wormtail?" Voldemort asked, and there was a slight hint of cold amusement in his weak voice.
"I believe positions such as 'second in command' shouldn't be self-assigned, my lord," Snape said, standing back up and slightly more at ease.
Voldemort smiled. "Ah Rosier, it's a pleasure to see the downtime hasn't calmed your short temper."
"Downtime? The crime rate is booming in London," Snape said, shifting his stance as if he was either bored or nervous. He pulled the bag off his shoulder and placed it on the small table beside the armchair. "Plenty of cover to keep active. And as a gift upon my return, I bring you Basilisk scales, for your potions."
Voldemort, what was left of the foetal form, considered the bag and then looked to Snape.
"Take them back, and use them well," Voldemort said. "They will come in handy for whatever potions I may need."
"My lord," Snape said, exhaling as if he were relieved. He gave a little bow, and startled outwardly when Voldemort reached out and snatched his wrist.
"Where were you when I nearly died?" Voldemort hissed, his claw like fingers digging into Snape's arm. "And when did you learn to brew?"
"I...I was in Cardiff," Snape lied. His fingers clenched, as if grasping for the game console controller, but that was all right because the Dark Lord would misinterpret the movement as uneasiness. "Tending to my own wounds from my battle with Moody."
Voldemort's eyes narrowed, and Snape deliberately glanced down at his left arm, the one held tightly in Voldemort's grasp. Seconds later, Voldemort's thin and brittle finger pulled up the sleeve of Snape's robe, revealing a roughened scar across the Dark Mark.
"I learned to brew to survive," Snape continued, twitching his neck with exaggeration, and keeping an oblivious expression on his face as the Dark Lord's gaze fell upon the scarring at his clavicle. It was like stringing along a child's puppet, but Snape would only allow himself time to gloat once he'd returned to the castle.
"And to make myself useful upon your return, my lord," Snape finished.
"And if I never returned?" Voldemort asked, his eyes narrowing.
Snape gave a nasty little smile, bearing crooked teeth that were not his regular ones.
"I'm certain I could have created some havoc in your honour, my lord."
A log in the fireplace cracked with force, causing Wormtail to flinch in the corner.
"Of that I have little doubt," Voldemort said, releasing Snape's arm from his grip." There is a recipe upon the side table by the door. I expect samples within a fortnight," Voldemort said, effectively dismissing Snape. Snape nodded, gathering his bag and slinging it back over his shoulder. He sneered at Pettigrew as he walked toward the door, picking up the parchment at the side table.
"Oh, and Rosier?" Voldemort said, snapping his finger as Snape paused and turned his head. "Welcome back to the fold."
"Crucio," Pettigrew growled, hitting Snape in the lower back with the spell. It only lasted half a minute, as long as the Dark Lord's mood swings ever did, but Pettigrew thankfully wasn't strong enough to cause the same amount of pain.
Still, Snape was not going to be a happy man come morning, especially if he was held up at the Muggle hospital on the way back to Hogwarts tonight.
The dungeons of Hogwarts were not big enough to provide hidden training ground, but Dumbledore had brought up the seventh floor Room of Requirement for Snape's use. It wasn't difficult to recreate what he'd seen of Riddle House, and to add a few rooms for additional training. The likelihood of any of them getting far enough into the house to surprise the Dark Lord was ridiculously small, but Snape had long ago learned to always be prepared.
Especially when it came to the Boy who Lived, as Potter had some incredibly dumb luck.
The sound of the door opening knocked Snape out of his musing, and he walked back to the front of the room, hiding the slight limp he had from his sore muscles.
"Different task today, John," Snape said, twirling his wand in his fingers. They were standing in a front entranceway, which looked dismal and dreary. Cobwebs littered the corners and surfaces of the room, but it was fairly well lit with candles.
"This is the Riddle House, isn't it?" Harry quietly asked, looking around.
"Yes," Snape simply answered. He waited a moment as Harry walked around the room, trying to take in and notice as much of the detail as possible.
"What do I have to do?" Harry finally asked.
"Each room has a bag of galleons in it," Snape said, "along with a recorder that will note down when you make a loud enough noise to alert someone with normal human hearing."
"So…" Harry said, looking up the stairs at the doorways to the top. "This is to teach me to sneak about quietly when there's Death Eaters around."
"Could be," Snape contradicted, a little smile on his face. "This is also two year's worth of allowance. If you're quiet enough, it's all yours."
Harry grinned, and slowly made his way through the entranceway, keeping his feet spread to the very edges of the stairs as he went up. He avoided most of the squeaks, and remembered to draw his wand half way up the stairs.
"This isn't life or death," Snape said, watching him go. "Nothing in this house can kill you. But you must think that it can."
"Yes, sir," Harry said, just before going into the first room.
The first room was an exact replica of the entranceway, except Snape was not standing at the doorway. Harry had no doubt that Snape was watching, but for all intents and purposes, he was to do this exercise alone. Creeping along the carpet runner – carpet instead of hardwood floor so his shoes wouldn't click – Harry searched around the room for the bag of galleons. He had no idea how big it would be, nor what it would look like, so he kept his eye out for anything bag-like. He nearly tripped over a pot plant at the sound of a door slamming shut above him, and Harry could feel his heart start to beat faster.
"Nothing is real," Harry mouthed to himself, gripping his wand a little tighter. He passed the dust-covered end table that stood on the wall opposite the stairs, and noticed a small purple-coloured bag sitting behind a candleholder. Harry had no idea how he was supposed to get the bag without making noise on the hardwood floor, and nearly cast a spell to summon it before remembering that magic would be noticed as well. It only took a minute to figure out that if he slid his feet he wouldn't make noise, and then Harry had the bag safely in hand. Once he'd picked it up, it disappeared, likely back to wherever Snape was so the coins couldn't make noise as he walked.
One bag down, untold number to go.
The second room was extremely dark. Not a single candle had been lit, and the only light came from two windows on Harry's right. The room looked to be a sitting room, by the furniture shadowed in the dark, and Harry easily moved through it, searching for the bag of gold. There were at least two clocks in the room, and the unsynchronised ticking started to make Harry edgy as he looked. He found the bag on a radiator near the windows, which struck Harry as slightly odd. It took a few seconds to remember Tom Riddle referring to his 'mudblood father' in the Chamber of Secrets, but then the radiators made sense. Of course this was a Muggle home.
The third room was very brightly lit, with a fire roaring in the grate, and one single wingback chair in the centre of the room. It looked exactly like the room in Harry's vision nightmares, and his stomach clenched horribly. Outside the room Harry heard footsteps creaking about on the stairs, but he knew it was just part of the exercise, and tried to convince himself of that.
He stayed stuck to the door, unable to move, as every path toward the moneybag sitting out in the open was bathed in light. There was absolutely nothing to hide behind.
After breathing quickly for a few moments, and absurdly wondering what on Earth a hobbit would do in such a situation, Harry decided that a direct approach was best. He ran quickly on the tips of his toes, straight from the door to the table, approaching from behind the chair so whatever was in it wouldn't be alerted. He snatched the bag of galleons, letting it disappear through his fingers as he ran back to the door and out, uncaring how many sensor alarms he'd set off with the noise.
The last room was not a room at all.
Harry caught his breath as he stood in the doorway, though he couldn't quite slow his pulse down to normal. The door opened to the back garden of Riddle House, steps away from the wrought iron gated grave yard, and the smell of earthy peat assaulted Harry's senses. The air was damp and cold, and he could taste the stone of the cemetery.
A weather damaged stone angel guarded the gate, worn and unmoving as Harry approached. It seemed top heavy, and Harry had the uneasy feeling that the angel was somehow watching him.
"Dad, I don't want to do this," Harry whispered, looking over the gate and into the cemetery. He couldn't see the galleon bag, and knew that he wouldn't be able to until he walked inside. The drumbeat slowly started in his tattoo, and became stronger as Harry opened the gate. He stepped into the graveyard, looking around the uneven ground and at the unkempt grass growing about the headstones. Harry knew exactly why this 'room' was here for him to practise with.
While Dumbledore thought that Voldemort would prefer to regenerate himself indoors, in the safety of a covered house, Snape was almost certain it would take place outside, where Voldemort was surrounded by his family and could mock them with his own resurrection.
He walked quickly around the headstones, learning how to move in the grass without tripping over the long weeds. He ignored the creepy statues, and how they seemed to move slightly when he wasn't looking, and found a few stones that were large enough to hide behind in case of attack.
He started when a few magpies flew overhead, eyeing the birds warily as they landed on a grim angel statue that was guarding a double grave. His Aunt and Uncle had always considered magpies to just be common nuisances around the garden, but Harry had read the superstitions about them in primary school, and felt he'd had just enough of the training exercise.
"Dad!" Harry yelled, standing up. He hadn't found the last moneybag in the graveyard, but he no longer cared.
A door opened to Harry's far left; appearing out of nowhere in some shrubs by the wrought iron fence, and Snape emerged from it.
"You didn't find the last bag," Snape pointed out, stepping expertly over the uneven ground and closer to Harry.
"I..." Harry started, before shaking his head. He didn't want to admit that he'd stopped the exercise because he knew the graveyard was very real, that it was a possible place that Voldemort was planning to kill Harry, and it scared him. Instead, Harry took three steps and ran into Snape, in an awkward hug that left his cheek pressed against the scratchy wool of Snape's robes.
Slowly, Snape's arms came up and around Harry's back.
"We snuck out to Hogsmeade to get butterbeer last weekend," Harry mumbled, speaking into Snape's robes. "I don't deserve the last bit of allowance."
Harry felt the vibration of a short laugh, and then heard Snape speak.
"I am going to confiscate that bloody map once this war is over."
Harry felt himself pushed away, and steeled himself to face the graveyard again. When he opened his eyes though, he saw that the graveyard had vanished, replaced with a small and impersonal sitting room.
"Why were you so afraid?" Snape bluntly asked, pushing Harry to the couch. On the coffee table were three bags of galleons, and as Snape walked by, he dropped the fourth down beside them.
"You wouldn't be afraid of a graveyard like that?" Harry defensively answered.
Snape narrowed his eyes and studied Harry.
"You fought a basilisk in an underground chamber, alone, when you were twelve. And I'm fairly certain you knew what you were going to face."
Harry shrugged, not offering any explanation.
"And in first year, you were certainly eager to protect the stone in the castle," Snape continued, as if he were theorising. "So why were you so afraid now?"
"Why does it matter?" Harry petulantly asked, overly embarrassed now that he was sitting back in a safe room, even though there'd never been any real danger to harm him.
"You're trying my patience," Snape warned. "This will be a very real encounter, and if we are fully prepared, it will hopefully end swiftly in our favour. But I must know what spooked you, so I can plan for it."
"Fine," Harry sighed, carefully not making eye contact with Snape. "I'm afraid of birds."
"Don't lie to me, John," Snape scoffed. "I can see the hobbits dancing in your eyes."
"What?" Harry blurted, looking straight up. "No, you can't!"
Snape let a sly smirk settle on his face, but didn't answer whether he could see them or not.
"It's because I was alone," Harry finally muttered, crossing his arms like a petulant four year old. "Every time I've had to fight something, Ron and Hermione have gone for it with me. I might have ended up alone, but I never started that way."
There was a strong silence in the room, before Snape leaned forward, his elbows on his knees as he cradled his chin in his hands.
"What on Earth makes you think you'll be alone this time?"
Harry rolled his eyes, still managing to look sulky.
"I know you'll be there. But not till after. That's what you're planning, right? To go undercover?"
"Yes," Snape bluntly answered. "I will be at the house, but I will not walk in with you."
Harry nodded, his expression blank as he imagined the meeting in his head.
"John," Snape said, tapping his fingers against his chin. "What do you hear, through your tattoo, when you've activated it?"
"A drumbeat," Harry answered, looking down at his hand and immediately at the tattooed mole on his finger.
"Any particular pattern?" Snape asked, with feigned disinterest.
Harry's eyebrows furrowed as he tried to remember what it had sounded like when he'd been standing in Moody's office at Christmas. His fingers started tapping the table lightly, in a rhythmic pattern that could almost be marched to. But it wasn't quite a marching drum, but rather something similar, and familiar, like...
"Is that my heartbeat?" Harry asked, looking up at Snape. Snape was still sitting with his hands on his knees, his dark eyes oddly bright as he stared almost through Harry.
"No, I hear your heartbeat," Snape answered, moving his right hand away from his chin, lowering it and spreading his fingers slightly so Harry could see the familiar flat mole on the inside of his finger. "You hear a different one."
Harry's mouth dropped a little in surprise, and then spread into a smile.
"I'm bad for your blood pressure, aren't I?" Harry said, a faint tinge of embarrassed blush on his cheeks as he grinned.
"Hmm," Snape agreed, raising his eyebrow to make the point as he sat back in the chair. "I have always suspected that a Potter would do me in."
Harry didn't mind study period, as the classrooms they used were usually quite warm, and much quieter than Gryffindor Tower. As much as he loved the Gryffindor rooms, there was always something fun going on (usually related to Fred and George), and Harry found it rather difficult to concentrate on his homework.
Unfortunately, the study room open for them tonight also was open for the Slytherins, and Draco Malfoy had chosen to use it as well.
"Notice how he's left us alone for most of the term?" Hermione said, watching Malfoy out of the corner of her eye. He was huddled around something at the desk, and both Goyle and Crabbe seemed to be very interested in it as well.
"After you punched him last year?" Ron asked, sniggering into his notebook. "Of course he has."
Hermione blushed, but she did not look at all regretful.
"That's not what I mean," Hermione said. "I think they're up to something; look at how secretive he's being."
"He's a toff," Harry said, watching a school owl fly into the room. "Thinking he's better than everyone else doesn't make him secretive."
The prefect supervising the study hour barely glanced at the bird, and it swooped down to land on the table next to Harry.
"What's that?" Ron asked, nodding to the plain envelope the bird was carrying.
Harry shrugged, opening it.
"It's not from Sirius," Harry said, trailing off. He'd meant to write Sirius last week, but had been distracted with the new training task. Now it was closing in on April, and Harry was worried that Dumbledore's interference at the Ministry wouldn't hold out for much longer.
"It's from Snape," Harry quietly said. Hermione looked up from her homework, but let Harry read the note before asking.
You did well in the Room of Requirement exercises. Do note that you relaxed too much in the dark room – under the perception that the lack of light made you harder to detect. Sound still travels in the dark.
Wear comfortable clothes for your lesson on Saturday, I will be taking more blood for testing. A solution has been found.
The note was unsigned, but there was a blob of ink where a signature should have been, as if Snape couldn't decide what to write and eventually decided to leave it blank. 'A solution has been found.' The words both excited and terrified Harry, as it meant that he'd be facing Voldemort soon. It also, hopefully, meant that all this would shortly be over, and he would no longer be a target.
"Just a note about the next lesson," Harry explained, when he found both Ron and Hermione looking at him. He folded it up and shoved it in his book bag, taking a plain sheet of parchment out.
"Do you know what the third task is yet?" Ron asked, keeping his voice down. There weren't a lot of students in the study room, but there were enough to overhear if they said anything too loudly.
"No," Harry said, shaking his head. "But it's the third task. It's probably going to be the worst of the lot."
Ron scrunched up his face sympathetically.
"I'll try not to get kidnapped this time," he offered, following up with a cheeky grin.
Hermione shook her head and went back to work. Harry grinned back, wishing he could tell his friends that there was going to be a far more important task before the finale of the Triwizard tournament. Instead, he inked up his quill and put it to paper, starting his letter to Sirius.
Books and scrolls were covering Snape's desk, to the point that they'd spilled over to the kitchen table. Snape scowled at them, but they couldn't be put away for another month at least. O.W.L.S. and N.E.W.T.S. were approaching for the older students, and as Head of House, Snape spent an inordinate amount of time holding hands of students who either hadn't bothered to study for the careers they wanted, or chosen a career in the first place.
Perhaps he should sit his son down and make him go through the career choice books a year early, as he had a sinking feeling that the wizarding world was still largely a mystery to Harry Potter, and he wouldn't have a clue what options there were. And Snape refused to let him settle for 'Defender of the World' for the rest of his life.
Several papers fell out of John's books as Snape passed by the coffee table, and Snape bent down to pick them up, muttering about the mess. One page on the very top of the pile caught his attention though, as it was addressed to Sirius Black. There was only a few seconds of deliberation over whether he should read the letter or not, and considering Black was currently fighting the Ministry to find out who Harry Potter's guardian was, Snape decided to read it and find out what information was being handed over.
Thanks for the good luck wishes in the tournament. You don't need to come north, as everything seems to be under control at the moment. Mostly – you know how Hogwarts is. I hope you're at least somewhere warm, as it's seems spring is very late to arrive.
I have this friend that I wanted to tell you about. He's really excited for the summer, because he has this guardian that he lives with, and he no longer has to put up with his horrible relatives. He's an all right kid, and last year he even got to learn how to swim. But this guardian of his, he's a strict man, but my friend says he's a good one. He's always telling my friend how to eat properly, making him do his homework, telling him when to go to bed, when his curfew is, you know, boring adult stuff like that.
Not fun things like I'll imagine we'll do when you come visit. Not games and experimental magic, like the Marauders did.
And my friend hasn't told anyone else about his guardian either, because he thinks Voldemort's coming back, and he doesn't want to lose this guardian like he lost his parents.
Anyway, sorry to ramble, but I like my friend and I think he'd be really gutted if he finally had a family, and it was taken away from him without everyone knowing the full story. You know?
Take care of yourself out there, and give Buckbeak some scratches for me. Only three months until the tournament is over, and then we won't have to worry anymore!
Snape stared at the letter, skimming it once more, to ensure that he had properly read between the lines and got the right message that Harry had intended. The door opened just as Snape had finished his re-read, and Harry bounded in with his summer notebook.
"Got it!" Harry triumphantly said, kicking his shoes off by the door.
"You manipulative little bastard," Snape said, with a smirk on his face, and not just a little pride in his voice.
Harry's face fell for a split second, before narrowing into anger as he focused on the letter in Snape's hand.
"That's mine! It was in my workbook!"
"Your workbook, which is in my house," Snape said, waving the parchment as if the details weren't important. "And which fell off the table, creating a giant mess, because someone left it too close to the edge."
"That's not the point," Harry said, shoving his hands in his pocket.
"No, it isn't, is it?" Snape asked, quite amused. "The point is that you have used a very well written guilt-trip to convince your godfather that he would be selfish to try to dissolve the guardianship you currently have."
Harry looked at him, with sharp green eyes and a defensive expression.
"Well done," Snape smugly complimented.
A blush threatened to rise on Harry's cheeks, and he rubbed the back of his neck, awkwardly accepting the compliment.
"I figured if he didn't find out who it was until after Voldemort was gone, it's one less thing to worry about," Harry excused.
"Worry about him, or me?" Snape silkily asked, still amused.
Harry looked confused for a moment, before moving to snatch the letter from Snape's hand.
"Not sure, exactly. But I know he'll try to kill you."
Snape shrugged, moving to the desk and picking up a phial to collect a sample of Harry's blood.
"And again I ask, who are you worried most for?"
"Him," Harry exhaled in admission. He walked over to the desk and held out his arm.
"Not because I think you're a better fighter," Harry boldly clarified. "But Sirius makes dumb decisions when he's angry and that's going to backfire."
"You don't think I'm a good fighter?" Snape sharply demanded, pressing the phial to Harry's arm and casting a spell to remove the blood sample.
"I've only really seen you face Lockhart," Harry answered, hiding a smile as he looked away from his arm. "And that wasn't really a challenge, was it?"
"Child's play," Snape muttered, carefully capping off the phial.
"Do you think Voldemort will notice that you've changed the potion?" Harry suddenly asked, his tone serious as he watched Snape label the phial.
"I hope not," Snape quietly said, concentrating as he wrote the date. "If he does, I shall be in great pain, and our plan will not work."
"What if we kill him in Little Hangleton, and Dumbledore was right about the horcruxes? They manage to keep him alive," Harry asked, turning to the kitchen to get a snack. He always felt light headed after giving a sample, and Snape had his ever-present favourite box of cookies in the cupboard over the coffee maker.
"The Headmaster is currently working toward a solution for the possible horcruxes," Snape explained, clearing off part of the kitchen table. "Come here."
"You don't think he'll be able to destroy the horcruxes in time," Harry said, wandering over with a stack full of biscuits.
"I have to assume that he will," Snape answered, lighting his wand up with lumos. He was sitting in the chair opposite to the one he'd just pulled out for Harry. Harry sat down and flinched when Snape plucked his glasses off of his face.
"What are you doing?" Harry asked, blinking his eyes as everything was out of focus. Snape's knee bumped against Harry, and Harry tried to follow the wand light.
"Removing one last weakness," Snape slowly replied, checking Harry's eyes with his wand. Satisfied with what he saw, Snape held out a large glass of indigo coloured liquid.
"Can you actually fix them?"
Snape gave Harry an insulted look, pushing the glass towards Harry's hand.
"Of course I can fix them. Muggles can fix them with a laser, but you think I, a potions master, can't do it with a potion?"
Harry eyed the liquid in the glass, not at all enticed by the scent wafting up from it.
"Why a potion over a laser?"
"Because it tastes fouler," Snape answered, lifting the glass and Harry's hand.
Harry scrunched his face up.
Snape smirked as Harry drank the potion, and fiddled with Harry's spectacles.
"Ensure to wear your glasses every day. No one is to know that you can see without them."
Harry nodded, blinking rapidly as things began to shift more and more into focus.
"So now…we just pick a date?" Harry asked.
"No," Snape answered, checking Harry's eyes again with his wand. "I have a few more tests to run, and I will need to spend more time brewing for the Dark Lord. It won't be for at least another month."
"Okay," Harry nodded, relaxing slightly. He wanted to get it over with, but he was nervous and scared, and didn't mind waiting just one more month. After all, what was one month when he'd been under some form of attack since first year?
"Does he trust you enough that you can switch the potions?" Harry asked, folding his glasses as Snape stood to wash the potion beaker in the sink.
"The Dark Lord doesn't trust anyone that much," Snape answered, sounding slightly lost in thought.