Title: That We Might Shine
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairing: Severus Snape/Lily Evans, but mostly gen
Warnings: Violence, minor character deaths, implied rape, angst, gore, torture, darkfic, AU
Summary: Some thought the world lost after the Dark Lord killed Neville Longbottom, the prophecy child. Only Severus Snape, the Dark Lord's Potions master and member of the Death Eaters' inner circle, knew about the child Lily Potter had given birth to in the prisoners' pens before she died—and who his father was. A Death Eater's son becomes the secretly reared and hidden savior.
Author's Notes: Another Advent fic, written for an anonymous request for Harry and Snape gen interaction, and the note that it could be a new universe. So here you are!
That We Might Shine
Severus crouched over the body of the red-haired woman, checking with delicate fingers at temple and throat. Then he leaned back and shook his head, turning to Alecto Carrow with a small bow.
"She is dead, Alecto."
Alecto clapped her hands and gave a sigh that made her robes rustle. "And you made her last longer than anyone else could, Severus, for the sake of the pain." She nodded and gathered up the hems of her robes, to prevent them from sinking into the stinking mud of the prisoners' pens. "I will tell our Lord." She strode off, stepping over moaning and writhing bodies without seeing them.
Severus kept his head bowed until she was gone. Then he turned towards the bloody, formless mess that was all the red-haired woman had given birth to. Enough Dark Arts had been used on her since her capture that true pregnancy was impossible for her, as for all Mudbloods; they were still impregnated, but only lumps and clots of gore would leak out of their wombs at the appropriate times. The Dark Lord wanted to make sure that none of their poisonous blood had the chance to contaminate any true wizarding lineage.
Severus contemplated the blood, and the cooling body, in silence. When he was absolutely sure that no one was watching him, he swished his wand and canceled the glamour that had made the blood look like blood—but only for him. He had to be able to see to bear this new child to safety, but everyone else could only think that he was carrying the mess away to study it further.
The infant that blinked up at him had strands of dark hair clinging to an almost bald head, and bluish skin. Severus had had no option but to let him lie in the cold mud of the pens, at least while Alecto was watching.
She knew, and other Death Eaters knew, through the Dark Lord, that Severus had once been friends with the red-haired woman. The Dark Lord trusted Severus, but he also encouraged the Death Eaters to prey on each other, so only the best and strongest would be left to serve him. Only when Severus was seen not to lift a finger to help the Mudblood would he be seen as above a potential weakness.
And that meant he could not even fold his robe beneath the child, or Alecto would wonder why he was letting his cloak get dirty.
Now, now, he stood with a cloth wrapped around the infant that looked as if it was wrapped around the bloody mess. And no one would wonder at that. Of course he would want to preserve the nature of the blood untouched, so that his studies of it would yield more clues as to what exactly Dark Arts were doing to the Mudbloods, but he would not want to dirty the rest of his clothes.
The baby watched him, silent. Severus had cast only one spell to ensure that he would be so, but he was not crying anyway. He was watching Severus with those changeable child's eyes, as if trying to figure out what had happened and why Severus would do this.
Severus, already an attendant of two years' experience at the suddenly-increased number of pure-blood births, knew what color a child's eyes would settle as. These would have a green shade.
Like the red-haired woman—but it was not safe to think of her. Severus bundled the baby disguised as the afterbirth close instead, and walked away from the body.
Inside the confines of his lab, he dared unwrap the baby and reach for a bottle filled with milk that he had taken, secretly, from the breasts of the other nursing mothers he had been around, spelling it directly into storage containers. He spelled it warm now and held the bottle to the baby's lips.
He opened them experimentally, and a little milk dripped down his cheek. Then he seemed to figure it out, and began to suck furiously, making tiny whimpers.
Severus considered him, and began slowly to trace his finger over the baby's skin. His mother had been hit again and again with Dark spells when she was pregnant, and when she was a prisoner before that, and when she was fighting in the war even before that. And Severus had been able to do no more than to give her the potion—disguised as the healing salve that would keep her from dying during many rounds of torture—that would render her sterile with any man but Severus. Severus himself bore the Dark Mark, which Severus suspected changed Death Eaters' bodies in ways that not even the Dark Lord himself fully understood.
There was bound to be some mark of it on the baby. But he had been born undeformed, and although Severus had assumed he was mute when he did not cry, that was now disproven.
Then his fingers lifted the fragile fringe of hair, and he saw it. The mark of a lightning bolt on the boy's head, as though he had been out in a storm and it had left its print on him. It looked like a faded scar already, as though he had sustained it years ago, although he was not an hour old.
Severus took a deep breath and turned his left forearm around, holding it towards the baby's head. He felt a sharp tingle invade his arm, and from the way the boy squirmed and cried, although never letting go of the bottle's nipple, he felt something of the same kind.
Severus closed his eyes and bowed his head. The Dark Lord had often tortured the red-haired woman personally, in return for her fighting him directly and being past friends with Severus. And Severus had carried the Dark Mark for almost ten years by this point.
The boy bore this sign as a legacy from the Dark Lord, through his influence on both parents. Marked, as a prophecy Severus had thought was broken said he should be.
Severus breathed in deeply enough that for a moment, he thought his feet would float off the ground. Then he picked up the boy and adjusted him in the crook of his arm, giving him warmth, adjusting the bottle so that he could reach it better.
Lily—he could think her name now, in the privacy of his tightly-warded home—was dead, and Severus had made sure that she bore none but his own child. Partly, that had been because he thought, if done at the right way, at the right time, there might be a way to bring down the Dark Lord after all. The boy had been born in the waning hours of July.
And partly he had done it to keep Lily safe, as much as he could under the eyes of Death Eaters all waiting for him to slip up and favor her. And partly there was a sense of revenge there. Severus had not held the wand that had killed James Potter, but he might have been able to prevent his death. He had not.
Now, he had this boy, and he had to find a name for him.
The baby squirmed, and the bottle slipped out of the mouth. Severus sighed and readjusted his hold. He could not snap, or shout. Enough strange sounds coming from his lab, and someone would investigate. Severus had never cared to torture prisoners, so that excuse, which covered a multitude of sins for other Death Eaters, was out.
The baby turned and laid a milk-sticky mouth against Severus's sleeve, and went to sleep.
Severus stared down. He had expected more fussing than this, and he cast a diagnostic charm that would tell him if the boy's skin had cooled unacceptably, if he was dying. But everything came back normal, and Severus supposed the child was simply one who could sleep more easily than the majority.
That was good. It would make his task of tending him easier.
Severus reached down towards the lightning bolt scar again, and the baby stirred and rolled enough to bring his hair, rather than the scar, into contact with Severus's finger.
Severus shut his eyes and stood there. He could not move. He knew it was dangerous, what he was experiencing at the moment, the jolt of warmth that had traveled up his arm, the reminder it held of his one-time feelings for Lily. He had laid aside those emotions long ago, because otherwise he would have died, and Lily's existence would have held more pain and torment than it did.
The baby stirred again, and Severus had to Levitate the bottle hastily to keep from dropping the child. He wrapped him up, and cast a Warming Charm on him, and then, perhaps because he had moved him, the baby's eyes slid open.
Severus stared again into that dark color that would be green, he knew it, the distinctive green of Lily's eyes, and he remembered what Lily had said her father's middle name had been, the name she might have considered giving a son. That had been long ago, on the sunlit grass of Hogwarts, but Severus remembered those days better than he remembered some of the ones he had worked through in the prisoners' pens.
"Harry," he whispered, and stopped. He did not know what last name to give him. Speaking his last name aloud for him might be dangerous, even here, and Lily had carried the Potter name only by marriage.
The baby stared unfocusedly up at him, and although Severus knew he was too young for it to be so, he would have sworn that a shadow like a smile moved along his face. Severus touched his eyelids with a trembling finger, and knew the issue of a last name did not matter.
Harry. His Harry.
He had been working towards the overthrow of the Dark Lord because this life was not what he had wanted, but in that moment, he found another reason.
"You must be completely silent."
Severus crouched in front of the tiny cupboard in his lab, his hands on either side of the door, and gazed earnestly into Harry's face. Harry nodded, his eyes wide behind the glasses that Severus had found it necessary to give him. He was studying, slowly, under cover of making a different kind of healing potion, the brew that would enable him to give Harry true and clear sight eventually, but he was not skilled enough to create it yet.
"Someone is coming to visit me today," Severus told his son. "The dangerous man we talked about."
At four years old, Harry had his mother's green eyes, and his father's black hair, and the lightning bolt scar that was a mingling of the Dark Arts used on both his parents. And he had a tendency to listen more than he spoke, which Severus found deeply valuable now, as he had when Harry was a baby and it was vitally important that he not scream.
"You can be quiet in here?" Severus asked softly, and tapped the door of the cupboard.
Harry nodded again, one hand up in front of his face. Severus waited a second to see if he had questions, but it seemed that Severus's tales about the Dark Lord had instilled the necessary caution. Severus kissed him once on the forehead and hugged Harry to him with one arm before he slid him back.
"You'll be good," he whispered. "I know you will."
Harry's solemn little face vanished into the dark, and the wards that Severus ordinarily kept on that cupboard, to protect valuable ingredients, sprang up. It was a common hiding place for Harry during the hours when someone else might come into the lab. Severus had survived four years without letting anyone else know about Harry, and he was going to make the safe period as long as it needed to be, until Harry could reach the point where he knew enough to defeat the Dark Lord.
And enough so that he wouldn't die. If the prophecy was a true one, Severus knew that merely bringing his son and the Dark Lord together might be enough, but he was not willing to risk Harry as he would be to risk many others.
He knew it was a weakness, that it was stupid, that he shouldn't be doing things like this. But he had made his choice, perhaps, the first time he had been forced to have sex with Lily, and hadn't cast the spells that would have prevented conception. Certainly the first time that he had held Harry in his arms.
The Dark Lord's quick step came from the entrance to the lab. Severus turned and knelt on the stone floor, next to the nearest counter with cauldrons on it.
The Dark Lord's voice had grown softer over the years, a little more relaxed as the threats to him disappeared, with the destruction of Dumbledore and the Longbottoms and the Aurors not loyal to him. But he would never be that much less paranoid, and Severus was still alive and relatively unscathed because he had never underestimated the danger his Lord posed.
Severus rose to his feet and bowed again. "The potion is ready, my Lord," he said, lifting the cauldron and tipping it delicately into a vial.
The Dark Lord watched in silence. Nagini, shrunk a little and coiled around his shoulders, swayed her head back and forth. Severus had noticed a year ago that the Dark Lord had decreased her size and taken to bringing her everywhere with him.
He had likewise started wearing a ring with a dark stone in it, and a golden locket. Severus had theories about why.
The Dark Lord now held up the vial of ruby-dark, smoking potion and regarded it with arched eyebrows. Severus knelt patiently again when those red eyes turned on him. "You are sure that it will restore my human appearance?"
"It will," said Severus, and bowed his head further, until his brow brushed the floor. "I would not have called you if it were not ready, my Lord."
"No, you would not have," said the Dark Lord, a purring satisfaction in the back of his voice. Severus knew that the bond they shared was far more business-like than the bond that tied the Dark Lord and some of his other Death Eaters, particularly Bellatrix. On the other hand, that meant that Severus provided the potions the Dark Lord needed, and the Dark Lord did not have to expend time and energy torturing him as often.
And it meant that Severus had obtained the necessary degree of trust.
He did not watch as his Lord swallowed the potion, but he could listen to him casting all the spells that would tell the Dark Lord, as he held the potion motionless in his mouth, what its ingredients were and whether any poison had been used in the preparation. Just because the Dark Lord had a kind of trust in Severus did not mean that he had confidence in him.
But the Dark Lord did not detect anything about the potion, and swallowed with another hiss of satisfaction. A second later, there came the noise of crackling and shifting bone.
Severus did not keep his eyes on the floor when he had the prick of curiosity as to how his potion would work, and lifted them. The Dark Lord permitted him to watch as months of experiments came to fruition, and his pale face flooded with color, his red eyes turned dark brown, the hair that had turned white and begun to fall out a year ago gleamed suddenly thick and black.
The Dark Lord laughed aloud. "Thank you, Severus," he said, and reached out with one hand that was still long and thin, but no longer as pale, to grip Severus's chin. "You know that this has not made me mortal?"
"Yes, my lord," Severus said obediently. The man had to threaten sometimes, about some things, and Severus was wise enough to let him do that with methods other than torture.
The Dark Lord nodded. "You have done well, Severus. You will be rewarded." And he turned and strode out of the room.
Severus took a long, slow breath, and knelt where he was for ten minutes. Then he stood and went to empty the cauldron, counting to five hundred in his head as he did so.
Sure enough, Alecto Carrow popped in before he had finished washing the cauldron, and delivered orders from their Lord in a bored voice. Louder than the boredom was her disappointment at not catching Severus in a compromising position.
Severus kept his head bowed and nodded throughout the orders. He had no desire to struggle with Alecto, Bellatrix, and Lucius for a position at the top of the Death Eater pile, and still less for a place in the Dark Lord's bed. All desire for that kind of thing had died with the red-haired woman.
When Alecto was gone, and he had had no other visitor for a count of six thousand, Severus made his way to the cupboard and opened it.
Harry crawled into his arms, although only when Severus had made the signal with one hand that he was safe to do so. Harry wrapped himself around Severus and whispered, "That was the bad man."
"It was," said Severus, and stroked Harry's back, and let himself think about the potion he had made. The Dark Lord was immortal, or so he claimed, and he could have covered the signs of normal aging, but something about what he had done to become immortal had affected his outer appearance as well. He had ordered Severus to brew a potion that would counteract that.
Severus had done so. And everything had worked as it should; the potion certainly would not poison the Dark Lord.
But there were certain complications that, once reversed, would necessarily reverse other effects as well…
"The bad man I have to kill."
Harry's eyes were huge and solemn. Severus held his head between his hands and kissed him on the lightning bolt scar. That made Harry's eyes go bigger. That particular gesture was one Severus did not often allow himself.
"You will do more than kill him," Severus whispered. "You will be loved, and you will make the world a place we can live."
Harry snuggled in his arms, not understanding all this yet, but that didn't matter. Severus would understand for both of them, and as he held Harry close, he would dream for both of them, too.
"You need to hold your wand like this."
Severus gestured to the side, with his own wand, and Harry frowned and copied his motion with the small branch of holly that Severus had cut and shaped for him. He had no way yet of getting a real wand for Harry; Ollivander was the only wandmaker that Severus knew of, and he worked exclusively for the Dark Lord now, all the wands he crafted permanently marked with a tracking spell that would tell where they were and who they had bonded to. He would certainly report so unusual a request as Severus asking for a wand.
When the moment came, if nothing else intervened, Severus intended to lend his wand to Harry and let him accomplish his task that way.
Harry gestured again, and Severus looked back at him. "Like this?" Harry asked, and made the flick of his stick that would raise a Shield Charm if it was a wand, muttering, "Protego!" at the same time.
Severus started to nod. They were in the middle of the Forbidden Forest. Severus had made sure to establish a pattern of going here on hunts for ingredients over the last five years, since he had first given his potion to the Dark Lord and seen the changes he hoped for begin happening.
Harry, nine now, was two years into his training in spells, further than that in Potions and magical theory, and Severus allowed himself hope when he was away from the Dark Lord's immediate presence. It hid behind his Occlumency shields the rest of the time.
"Look, Daddy, look!"
Severus's head snapped around, the snarl rising to his lips. He had told Harry never, never, to call him that. If someone heard, it would be worse than if they knew of Harry's existence in the first place—
And then he stared. Because between him and Harry was the delicate, shimmering silver curve of a Shield Charm.
Severus reached out a shaking hand. It collided with the shield, and a shiver of sparks ran up his arm, the way it felt when he touched a real one. He was used to estimating power from spells if he could touch them like this, and he thought it highly likely that Harry's magic was at least as strong as Bellatrix's.
For a nine-year-old to do this, to perform a spell that had once been considered fourth-year magic, if that, at Hogwarts…
But there still remained the explanation for how he had done it in the first place. Severus looked at his hand, expecting to find that the strength of Harry's desire to impress him had somehow Summoned Severus's wand and replaced it with the holly twig so that Severus hadn't noticed. But no, he still held his own wand.
Severus turned around. Harry was looking up at him with the same solemn expression that he used when Severus had him hide in the cupboard, and he was clutching the holly twig as though Severus might snatch it from him.
No, not the twig. Severus stared in silence at the polished wand that the holly twig had become. He did not know how it had happened. He had never heard of such a thing. He reached out a wordless hand, and Harry shivered and handed over the holly wand, although he kept anxious eyes on Severus.
Severus turned it over. Now that he could look at it more closely, he could see the difference between it and one of Ollivander's wands. It didn't have the same appearance, after all, even if it had smoothed out. It had a big bulge at the back of it, suitable for a child's fingers to clutch, and ridges down the middle that reminded Severus of the spirals on the back of a unicorn's horn. And there was charring near that bulge, as though Harry had burned it.
Severus lifted his eyes back to Harry's. "Do you know how you did this, Harry?" he asked, in the calm tone that he used when he wanted his son to know that he wasn't angry but that it was very important he answer truthfully.
This time, Harry bent his brows down and then nodded. "Yes. You said that I needed to cast the Shield Charm. You talked to me about how important it was that I master this spell so that I could kill the bad man." It was what Severus had taught Harry to call the Dark Lord, since "Voldemort" would bring the man, and Severus did not want to hear the title he used himself from his son's lips.
Severus nodded, his heart beating crazy patterns inside his chest.
"I wanted to do it," Harry whispered. "I just…I really wanted to impress you, Daddy." This time, Severus did no more than clamp his lips down at the name, and Harry blushed and stared at the forest floor. But he kept speaking, getting to the point, as Severus had taught him. "I wanted it to happen. I wanted to be able to cast. And I felt the wand change in my hand, and then that happened." He nodded to the holly wand.
Will magic. Accidental magic. Severus had heard of the same kinds of changes caused by accidental magic, had heard, by now, as everyone had, of the feats of power that the Dark Lord had performed as a child. He had never heard of something like this, but then, he suspected Harry's unique circumstances accounted for it. Most wizarding children didn't wish so much for wands, knowing they would have one someday, and Muggleborns—when they still existed—wouldn't have known that wands were coming to them anyway.
Harry had solved, at one stroke, a problem that had occupied Severus for several years.
"You did well, Harry," Severus said, and let his hand rest on Harry's forehead, above the scar. He saw the way Harry's eyes lit, and knew that his praise mattered more to his son than anything else could.
As Harry mattered more to him than anything else could. But those were words he did not dare speak aloud, in cast Harry was captured. He could convey it only through touch, more difficult to read from someone's mind with Legilimency, and hope Harry understood.
From the way Harry's eyes shone, he did indeed.
"This potion is different than the last one you brewed for me, Severus."
Severus, his limbs still shaking from the several rounds of the Cruciatus Curse that he had endured, leaned back on his haunches and nodded to the Dark Lord, keeping his head bowed. The Dark Lord was like this, the last several years. He could go in one minute from torture to the sanest and most technical of conversations, and Severus held a unique place in the Inner Circle at least partially because he was better at keeping up with the switch than the others.
His limbs still twitched with the aftershocks, because while he had promised the Dark Lord this potion would be different, the Dark Lord had sniffed it and tortured him anyway. That was the way things worked among the Death Eaters. Severus knew that, and that was why he had survived.
"It is, my lord," said Severus, and dared a smile. It was the kind of thing that the man he portrayed—slightly less strong and more ambitious than he really was—would try when he thought he had the Dark Lord's favor. "I managed to acquire phoenix blood, at last."
The Dark Lord leaned forwards on the throne of snake-spines that he'd had built for himself in the place where a certain Muggle house had once stood. His eyes blazed with excitement, with eagerness. "From where? Dumbledore's phoenix?"
Severus spread his hands. "I know no other phoenix in Britain, my lord." It was true that Fawkes had escaped when Dumbledore died, fighting before the ruins of Hogwarts with his wand in his hands. "It could have been a different one, as they are hard to tell apart, but…"
The Dark Lord laughed with delight and regarded the smoking green potion with his head tilted sideways. His features had gone on growing more human over the years, as he ingested regular doses of the potion Severus had come up with to restore them. "This will taste of victory," he declared, and swallowed the whole of the vial.
Severus bowed his head to the ground again, and felt the wash of the Dark Lord's magic over him a second later, healing the nerve damage of the Cruciatus, a sign of high favor. He stood up at the sharp command that came next, but kept the upper part of his body bowed, his face tilted towards the ground.
"Marvelous, Severus," said the Dark Lord, smacking his lips. "I feel stronger already. You may go."
Severus bowed again, lower than ever, and Apparated back to his lab. He staggered as he landed, both because he still hurt and from the sudden ability to let his Occlumency shields fall. Over the years, he had established his routine so carefully that he no longer had to conceal certain things when he was within the wards of the lab.
Strong young arms caught him, and Harry's voice said close to his ear, "What did he do to you this time?"
Severus sighed and let Harry support him over to a chair. Harry would have been unable to do much to help him only a year ago, but when he'd hit thirteen a few months before, he'd begun to shoot up. He would be as tall as Severus, certainly taller than Lily, in time.
If he lived that long.
"The Cruciatus," said Severus, and shook his head. "But he healed most of the damage. What hurt the most was the Apparition on top of the effort of keeping up the Occlumency shields." He looked directly into Harry's face, so anxious that the feeling seemed to roll and melt through Severus like mist. "He took the potion."
Harry closed his eyes and clasped his hands around Severus's.
Severus nodded a little. "And so the crime is committed, but the price paid will fall on him," he murmured. He had to believe that, because he wanted to live long enough to see Harry reach manhood.
And if he had to slay a unicorn, he was not the one who drank its blood. That had been the new ingredient mixed into the Dark Lord's potion.
"Good," Harry said, and wrapped his arms around Severus again, even though Severus was sitting down. "I love you, Father. I don't want—I don't want to see you slaughtered."
Severus blinked over his head at the far wall, and then had to shut his eyes. Beginning with his eleventh year, which would have been the year that Harry was introduced to the wider wizarding world if he had been born into a time of light, he had hidden nothing from Harry. His part in Harry's conception, Lily's death, that Lily had once been his friend but then married to a man that Severus had despised, that the original candidate for the prophecy child had died and Harry's conception had been timed to replace him as much as possible, what the scar on his forehead meant, all had come out of him. Likewise, he had not hidden it from Harry when he was going to hunt a unicorn, and that the hunt was a crime in the spiritual dimension.
And Harry had listened with a pale face and bowed head, but he had accepted it. He had simply ceased to talk so much about loving his father. Severus understood, and accepted the blow in turn, taking it into his heart along with all the other wounds he had endured.
Now he lifted a hand and smoothed it slowly down the back of Harry's neck. "You are sure?" he whispered, his voice cracking shamefully in the middle.
"Yes," said Harry, lifting his head. "Because I know that you could have kept me alive just for the prophecy and to kill him, but I know that you love me, too. Which means that you—you didn't always do things for the best motives, but you didn't do things just to kill him, either. You did things for me."
He clung harder to Severus. "Someone who does things for me is my definition of love."
Severus thought about that. He knew it was not the definition Harry would have grown up with in a lighter time, or if his mother had lived. Lily had always been strict about not devoting her heart only to one person. It was one reason Severus had lost her, because he was the exact opposite.
But if this was the way Harry had grown up, reared by Severus, taught by Severus, and he could accept him...
Even though he was making a memory that he would have to hide at the very bottom of his mind behind adamantine Occlumency shields, even though he had never done it before, Severus lifted his arms and hugged Harry back.
"I'm as ready as I ever will be!"
Severus looked Harry in the eye, and held the gaze until Harry flicked his face away from him. Then he nodded, carefully, judiciously. In fact, he did believe that Harry was as ready as sixteen years of life, and the prophecy, and his magic, and Severus's training, could make him. He hated to see his son go to war.
But he had raised him for this, and Severus had been going to war since Harry was born. Or before. He could not deny Harry the part he wanted to play now.
"Very well," he said. "Then gather up the potion, and make it exactly as I tell you."
Harry smiled at him, eyes shining with excitement, and turned away to place the ingredients into the cauldron. Severus kept a sharp eye on him. Harry was much better at Potions than any other student Severus had ever trained, but this was a potion more important than any he had ever brewed.
It had to be Harry who made it, however. If Severus was right about the effects of the potions he had made for the Dark Lord to restore his mortal features, they had also restored his mortality. The changes in his body were connected to the changes in his soul; if he had made Horcruxes, which Severus suspected accounted for the importance he placed on possessions like Nagini and the locket, then anything that happened to them would happen to his body, too. If they were destroyed, the Dark Lord would become mortal again.
That the connection also worked the other way around had been Severus's speculation, and one that he had strengthened and tested with the addition of the unicorn's blood a few years ago. The curse on swallowing such blood would operate in the most devastating way it could, and reuniting the bits of the Dark Lord's soul would be the most devastating in that particular case.
And as the Dark Lord had grown to look more human and control his outbursts of temper better and better, Severus was sure that he had been right. He had never had a chance to examine any of the suspected Horcruxes closely, but he had trained himself to be sensitive to the magic that came from them, and the pulsing pressure of that had lessened in the last year, especially. Therefore, he thought they were as likely to achieve it as at any other time.
And tonight was Halloween, the time when souls could cross easily over through the veil—or in the other direction.
Severus started and looked up, hardly able to believe that he had drifted in speculation for that long. But of course, the actual procedure of brewing the potion was brief. Harry had his wand resting against his forehead, his eyes fastened on his father.
At Severus's nod, Harry cut the lighting bolt scar open. A fat drop of blood squeezed out and dripped onto the wand. Harry turned and slid it into the potion.
Severus held his breath as he watched. This was the first blood the scar had ever shed, as far as he knew, and that should make the potion more powerful, if he was right, and interact with the last of the unicorn's blood and the aconite to make a brew that would disarm and poison the Dark Lord, turning the Dark Arts he had used against an innocent victim—Lily—back on himself.
If Severus was right. He was sure that no other Potions master could have developed this potion, but it assumed that it needed to be developed in the first place. It relied on lots of other things, such as whether the Dark Lord had really made Horcruxes, being real.
But when the potion began to smoke green, the color of the Killing Curse, the color of Lily's eyes, of Harry's, Severus knew he had been right, and bowed his head.
Through the smoke boiling up from the potion, Harry smiled at him as he looked up, and Severus saw both his eyes and the blood from his scar shine. And Harry, intelligent child, moved away from the cauldron before he could drip a second drop of blood into it, and began to work at bottling the potion.
"Your new apprentice seems…intelligent, Severus."
Severus kept his head bowed, shaking. He had been subjected to a new round of the Cruciatus Curse for being a minute later than normal delivering the Dark Lord's potion. Through it all, Harry, in the heavy, hooded cloak Potions apprentices wore that would disguise his true face, knelt next to him, and did not move. Severus had warned him beforehand that this was the only chance they would get to slaughter the Dark Lord, and that they could risk nothing spoiling it, including Harry's outrage over Severus's torture.
"He is, my Lord." Severus spoke in the smooth, deep tones that he had perfected around the Dark Lord, and easily resumed his kneeling posture. The Dark Lord paced past him, the golden locket around his neck swaying. Severus bowed his head further, as though to avoid corrupting his lord's robe, but he concentrated on the locket. It had felt like its own force only in January, with a hissing, subtle voice that Severus could hear if he listened long enough.
Now, it felt as if it had picked up the Dark Lord's magic, and that was the reason the Dark Lord himself had never noticed the lessening of its true power. But no more than that.
The Dark Lord swung around, and demanded, "Did you want me to Mark him, Severus?"
Severus did not hold his breath, because he did not dare. He shook his head. "He has not earned that honor yet, my Lord." He filled his mind with pictures of the time that Harry had really messed up a potion and directed a look of wrath at the boy. "I thought he was ready to help me with your potion, my Lord. He was not. And that is the true reason we are late tonight."
The Dark Lord chuckled, a rattling sound. He liked it when his Death Eaters showed that they had no strong loyalty to each other. He paced up beside Harry and nudged him in the ribs with a foot. Harry made a soft grunt and cringed down further, plastering his face against the floor.
Severus watched with no expression on his face. If the Dark Lord demanded to see Harry's face, there was nothing Severus could do about it. Harry had not been able to wear a glamour; there were wards around the Dark Lord's throne room that stripped away all glamours and negated Polyjuice swirling in the bloodstream. But Severus could not deny his son the chance to be present at the defeat of the man who had been responsible for half the evil in his life.
Severus had been responsible for the other half. That Harry had forgiven him was still as great a miracle to him as his own Potions talent.
"Perhaps you will learn better then, young man," the Dark Lord said, and picked up the vial of potion, tilting it back and forth. With Harry's blood in it, tainted with the Dark magic—the Dark Lord's own—that had formed the scar in the first place, Severus knew it smelled more enticing than ever. "Did you add the last of the phoenix blood to it, Severus?"
Severus nodded solemnly. "As we discussed, my Lord. Soon I will begin an expedition abroad to find another phoenix." If the potion did not work and they managed to survive the night, he would use that expedition to get Harry to as much safety as possible.
"Good." The Dark Lord reached out and laid his hand on Severus's forehead, which felt like a volcano deigning to take notice of him. "You have always been a faithful servant, Severus, faithful almost beyond the call of duty."
Severus bowed his head further and said nothing. Harry remained still, as they had discussed. The pride Severus felt in him at that moment was the second strongest emotion he had ever experienced.
The Dark Lord held the vial up in a toast to his Death Eaters—they always gathered here, in a celebration of the day that he had destroyed Neville Longbottom, the so-called prophecy child—and then tipped it back. Severus watched, thinking he might not swallow it, or Nagini might sense the poison in it and warn him.
But it went down his throat, and the motion of his muscles swallowing it was no glamour, not here where glamours were forbidden.
And then the Dark Lord cried out.
Severus had his wand out, faster than anyone else could move. Not for nothing had he practiced dueling against Harry in the Forest; not just for Harry's sake, but for his own. He had raised a Shield Charm around them before the first curses could fly, and he whipped back to cast the Killing Curse at Nagini. She fell motionless before it, confirming Severus's suspicions, if the cry had not, that she was no longer a Horcrux.
Nonetheless, it would be good to be sure, and Severus smiled to see that Harry had already released the Disintegration Curse against the ring and locket that the Dark Lord wore. Whether he had other Horcruxes hidden elsewhere, Severus could not be sure, but he was sure, now, that they would be former Horcruxes, even if he did.
And the Dark Lord was dying. He writhed on the ground, and his hands were clasped around his throat. Harry stepped forwards and knelt over him.
The flash of the green curse from his holly wand was unexpectedly startling. Severus blinked for a second, and Bellatrix's grief-driven Cruciatus nearly seized him.
Harry spun around, and spread his cloak in a long sweep that swirled a Shield Charm around them both. That was enough time for Severus to see the body of the Dark Lord rapidly decaying, into strips of flesh, while his face resumed the appearance that it had had before Severus brewed the first potion to return him to mortality.
Harry laughed aloud, and the Death Eaters paused in their dueling to stare at him. And then Harry raised his wand, still laughing, and unleashed all the considerable strength of his young magic, untaxed this night except for the cutting charm on his scar and the last few spells, against the Anti-Apparition wards.
They wrenched apart, and Harry put out a hand, and grabbed Severus's left forearm directly over the Dark Mark, and Apparated them.
"He's gone, then."
Severus looked up from his left arm. He'd held it up to a mirror, under strong light, in this safehouse that he and Harry had prepared in the heart of the Forbidden Forest, because he could not believe what he had seen.
But Harry came up behind him—taller than Severus was now, with his green eyes so bright—and looked for himself. And Severus was able to accept that the Dark Mark really had become this soft, ashy-grey thing, if his son had been able to.
Severus's eyes rose to the mirror. Harry's lightning bolt scar was still inky black. Severus had wondered about that, but now he thought he understood. The scar was only the indirect result of the Dark Lord's magic, not the direct result of it. The Mark would fade, meaning he was dead, but the scar would endure.
Severus cleared his throat. "We haven't yet discussed what we should do," he told the mirror, and Harry.
Harry smiled. "That's all right. I've decided."
Severus turned to stare at him in the flesh. "You have?" Harry had said nothing for weeks, content to remain here while whatever turmoil took over wizarding Britain on the death of the Dark Lord went on outside. And Severus had told him all the stories he could not tell before now—the stories of Dumbledore and how Severus had nearly gone to him as a spy after he overheard the prophecy, the stories of James Potter and his friends and how Lily had chosen James over him, the ways that Severus had kept himself sane in the four years between the death of the Longbottoms and the birth of Harry. Severus had thought, at the very least, that Harry would want to go in search of Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. They might be dead, but Severus had never seen their bodies or heard anyone claim the kill.
Harry looked down at him, his eyes still bright and gentle. "I don't want to be a hero," he said. "And I don't want to be—oh, a fighter, or an Auror, which the Ministry might try to make me into if they knew I killed Voldemort." Severus flinched instinctively, but he had always known that Harry would say the name when he could. "And I don't want to be a symbol to my mum's old friends."
"I had thought you would want to see them," said Severus, so uncertain that he felt as if he had taken a Dizziness Draught.
Harry clucked his tongue and put his hands on Severus's shoulders. "They could tell me something about her," he acknowledged. "But I never knew her, Father. You're the one who raised me. You're the one who cared for me. I want to be with you. I want to be wandering Potions masters the way that you talked about, going from country to country and finding ingredients. You never noticed I was happiest in the Forest when I was with you, talking ingredients, not learning how to duel?"
Severus blinked. "No," he said, and knew it sounded stupid. But because Harry did not spend the majority of his time on Potions, it had never occurred to Severus that he would want to spend a life pursuing them.
Much less a life in Severus's company. Once Harry had the chance to go somewhere else, to befriend people who pursued a Lighter and less dangerous way of life, Severus had been convinced he would. He had much of Lily's goodness in him, and an inherent talent for Light and defensive magic, like the Patronus.
Harry bent towards him. "Listen," he whispered. "You said that I had to put the most effort into learning how to duel so I could defeat Voldemort. So that's what I did. But I know I could be good at Potions if I put my efforts into that. So I want to. With you."
Severus stared at him, and could think of nothing to say. He had come to terms with the fact that he loved Harry, but not so much with the fact that his love was returned.
Harry shook him a little. "No one knows who I am," he said. "I like that. They know who you are, but I don't want them to make you into a symbol or a martyr, either. I just want to go away and be with you. So let's go."
Severus reached up and put his hand over Harry's forehead, covering the scar. Harry held still at once, gazing down at him.
And Severus knew. He had thought, without realizing he thought it, that Harry had been fighting for the memory of his mother, and to defeat the Dark Lord, and for his own freer life, and for the wizarding world Severus had told him so many stories of as it might be if the Dark Lord died. He had never realized that Harry was fighting for him, too.
So Severus could live a life he had barely dreamed of, with Potions and no masks and no bouts of torture, pursuing his art, glorying in it. A peaceful life, in countries where no one knew him.
A life with his son.
He fought so we could shine, too, not just everyone else, Severus thought, and the blow made him close his eyes as Lily's death and the Dark Lord's had not.
"Thought you'd get it sooner or later," Harry whispered to him, and chuckled. "Let's go, Dad. We have so much to do."