Snarry-a-Thon20: FIC: The Fall of the House of Black Title: The Fall of the House of Black Author:daniko Other pairings/threesome: Snape/Harry. Other pairings from JKR!Canon. Rating: PG-13 Word count: ~9,200 words Content/Warning(s): Romance, rather unconventional first date, oblivious pining, macabre burial places, blood rituals (short description). A story about moving on. Prompt: “There something wrong with Grimmauld Place and Harry is at his wit's end. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Severus Snape is called upon to assist.” Summary: It’s not Harry doesn’t appreciate Regulus Black’s company, it’s just that the man has been dead for a while and Harry would like to sell his house without live-in guests. A/N: I started this story for the Snarry-a-Thon 2019, but real-life got in the way and I never got to finish it. Last year would have been my ten-year anniversary writing fanfiction, and I wanted to acknowledge that by setting this story ten years after the end of the Second Wizarding War. So here is my attempt at getting and giving some closure in this story. *hint hint* Many thanks to the Mods for their patience and for running these amazing fests. It has been over a decade and I’m still coming back for more. :) Enjoy!
As he sat in Harry’s workshop at Ollivanders, contemplating his death in the absence of better entertainment, Sirius Black felt a sudden... loss. Not a grieving kind of loss, more "a slight weight that I’ve never noticed before has been lifted" kind of loss.
As he trimmed unicorn hair for the wands of magical folk, Harry gasped. The shock seemed strong enough that he had to lean on his weaving loom to catch his breath. Whatever had just happened, he must have felt it and, casually, the knowledge of what it was appeared in Sirius’ mind, as if it had always been there.
The consequence of being in-between, due to that unfortunate slip in the Department of Mysteries, was that Sirius was still tethered to his life and his magic.
On the better days, this meant that, unlike his dearly departed best friends, he was able to check in on their offspring. So, he usually shared his time between Harry and Teddy. He especially loved the time when it was just the three of them. On the worst days, it meant he was unable to move on and had to spend his days watching Harry throw away a reasonable career as an Auror in the Ministry of Magic. Today, being in-between meant that Sirius was able to feel the death of his reluctantly bound servant.
Harry sighed, as if he had also realised that Kreacher had just died. He reached for his pocket, for something Sirius knew he should not carry around with him. Something horrible occurred to Sirius. If Kreacher was gone, who was going to ward Harry against what lay gestating in the catacombs? It took Sirius a change in realm to understand, Harry could not know. Perhaps it was finally time to put his fairy-godfather powers to good use....
The Fall of the House of Black
It was like being transported ten years into the past.
Severus Snape did not glide through Hogwarts’ corridors any more. His robes did not billow threateningly. His voice did not drip menace as he had worked hard to do in the past; it had never healed properly after the Battle of Hogwarts. Yet he felt an echo of old dread and not a small amount of nostalgia at the sight that greeted him when he entered the cafeteria.
In one of the tables, three heads bent together in conspiracy. A balding ginger head, a mass of brown curls, and the messy locks of one Harry Potter.
"I swear he was just sitting there!" Potter was whispering with urgency.
"Are you sure—?" Hermione tried, but Weasley cut her off.
"Of course he’s sure, love," he scoffed. "After all these years, you still have to ask?"
Old habits were hard to break, so Severus ordered his lunch and sat with his back to the scheming trio. They hardly noticed his presence. To their credit, Severus had been a spy for almost as long as they were alive, and an Unspeakable for the rest. The Ministry had hardly wanted to waste all his knowledge of the macabre, especially since Potter had worked so diligently to reward Severus’ wartime sacrifices. Ten years on, Severus could picture the expression on their faces even now. Hermione’s thoughtful frown, her husband’s petulant scowl – which their daughter had sadly inherited – and Potter’s martyred moue.
"Ta, mate!" Potter must be pouting. "It’s not like I asked to wake up to a translucent Regulus Black sitting in my kitchen, demanding breakfast!"
Severus dropped his fork.
The unfortunate consequence of it was that he alerted Hermione to his presence.
"Professor!" she greeted him, with suspicious cheer.
Ever since she arrived at the Department of Mysteries, Hermione had always been nice to Severus. He suspected it was because he had the misfortune of supervising her award-winning mastery research on the particularities of time-travel, which was all but officially finished. It was something in which she had extensive experience, if he recalled correctly.
"We didn’t see you there." She smiled, a hand on her enlarged belly.
Weasley turned in his seat to nod at Severus and Potter… Potter seemed more embarrassed than defiant, as Severus had foolishly expected ten years on. Granger glanced at her friend, and turned back to Severus with a wicked glint in her eye. "Since you obviously heard that, would you like to join us for lunch? I’m sure Harry would appreciate your expertise." Knowing exactly whom he had married, Weasley snorted into his chocolate milkshake.
Severus should say no. He should finish his lunch and get back to the Love Chamber, where the latest illegal Love Potion in the market waited to be categorised and neutralised. And he would have, had he not made the mistake of glancing at Potter, whose face and eyes were of an uncanny familiarity. Not because of his parents, but because Severus had spent many years with the boy (not a boy) in his thoughts, before and after the Second Wizarding War.
Potter was a few years older than his parents had been when they died. His face was more mature, but still too young. He seemed younger than Severus had ever been, or perhaps more unblemished by past mistakes. It had always been easy for Severus to fixate on Potter, when he seemed to remain untouched despite all the contact he had with the worst part of Wizardry. There was a serenity about him that spoke of hours alone, immersed in the art of wand-making. Of finally being allowed to make an innocuous use of his eerie affinity with ancient magic. Whereas Severus had a magnificent brain for magical theory, Potter seemed to come by his knowledge naturally, if such thing were even possible.
All that, and the fact that Potter had grown into a rather beautiful young man, were reminding Severus of a part of him he had tried to obliterate during his teenage years.
For the past couple of years, he and Potter crossed each other every day on their way to their respective jobs. Potter lived in 12 Grimmauld Place, and crossed Muggle London to arrive at Ollivanders. Severus lived in a studio flat in Diagon-Alley and crossed Muggle London to arrive at the Ministry of Magic. They always met at the Leaky Cauldron at a quarter to nine, for their morning coffee. Potter nodded and smiled. Severus inclined his head in acknowledgement and pretended not to watch while Potter walked away into the busy street.
Those mornings at the Leaky Cauldron were the most Severus saw of Potter, who had never tried to get in touch, never demanded memories of his mother, never asked for appreciation for having cleared Severus’ name, never came to talk about the war, or the nightmares he must have, or all the things that had brought them together…. Severus had to rely on second-hand accounts from Hermione and Kingsley. He knew Potter was involved in many charities, that he was the first apprentice Ollivander had taken in over a century, and that he had left the shop, his knowledge, and his fortune to Potter. He knew that Potter was Rose's godfather, that Hermione despaired of his pining away in that great mausoleum of a house.
In face of Potter's conspicuous absence from his life, Severus had used all these reports from their common associates (dare he say friends?) to build an image of an adult Potter in his head. The result was compelling. So there was not much choice for him, he must get to know the man. "I confess to being intrigued, Miss Granger," he said.
It had become a private joke between them to treat each other as they had when they were student and teacher at Hogwarts. It was his understanding, from Hermione’s chatter over coffee and tea in the mornings, that Weasley had caught the habit.
"Have a sit, Professor," said Weasley, moving to the chair on the other side of his rather pregnant wife, leaving Severus sitting in front of Potter, who seemed very interested in his pot pie all of a sudden. "You might as well hear all about Harry’s newest adventure."
"I don’t do it on purpose, do I?" Potter protested, fiery green gaze coming up.
"I’m just saying, I have no idea why it’s always you, mate," pointed out Weasley.
While the academic in him wanted to explain at length and with heavy recourse to his research why it was always Potter, his main thought was that there were worse ways to occupy his time than one of Potter’s adventures. Besides, Granger looked too cheery for Potter's current situation not to be fascinating for their Department. "Indeed I would be remiss in my duties as Keeper of the Department of Mysteries, if I didn’t pursue the matter,” Severus said, avoiding Hermione’s laughing eyes. "When the Master of Death starts to be visited by the dearly departed...."
"Master of what?" Potter asked with wide eyes and exaggerated innocence.
Severus huffed. Potter must not understand the power of Severus' intellect.
It was part of the reason why Severus had been asked to be the not-so-secret Keeper of the Department of Mysteries by the then Interim Minister of Magic, currently at the end of his second mandate. Severus had hesitated at first, thinking he would rather not exhaust himself by spending his time around the literal and metaphoric noise one normally associates with people. However, leading Unspeakables was nothing like teaching children. Severus found that many shared his temperament. In the past decade, he had proved his worth, through his design of a new room called Soul Chamber, his and Lovegood's research into Dementor myco-biology, and his supervision of Hermione's time-travelling research, which had inspired new legislation and the destruction of nearly all time-turners.
All humour seemed to leave his fellow Unspeakable, who turned her shrewd glare to Potter. "Harry James Potter. Tell me you didn’t…. What did you do with you-know-what?"
Potter sighed, taking a bite of his lunch.
Arm around his wife, Weasley turned on Potter too, as if he were a disobedient child. Severus had to admit, parenthood suited them both. "Please tell me you didn’t use it, mate!"
To add a nail to the coffin, and watch Potter’s intense glare turn on him for his own pleasure, Severus added, "I had hoped you had more sense than that, Potter."
Potter huffed. "I sometimes wondered how you dared to call Hermione a know-it-all."
Severus quirked an eyebrow. He found his lack of annoyance both welcome and strange. Ten years ago, Potter's callous use of magic well beyond his existence would have deserved at least some exasperation. To Potter, he said, "It wasn't difficult to realise which wand had come to Albus, considering how much the Dark Lord wanted it. I was also the one to treat Albus in the summer of 1996, prior to his death, and to contain the object of the curse. Add that to the fact that I was once on the hunt for unruly children under a special cloak…."
Severus bit back a smirk, as Potter's expression went from outraged, to sullen. "And because you're you, Potter, and I know you, I am almost certain you have all three in your house."
"Well, I certainly didn’t call any visitors, I’m not that reckless!"
"Perhaps Severus could take a look," suggested Hermione, swallowing a piece of toast. "See if anyone decides to make an apparition, and figure out why they are visiting."
Potter froze. "I… yeah, of course, ah, you could join me for dinner on Friday?" He glanced at Severus, too quickly for Severus to discern anything. Every morning, as they waited for Hannah Longbottom to hand them their coffee, Potter always looked on the verge of saying something, looking at Severus before moving on with his day. Potter's voice pulled Severus away from his dangerous thoughts. "What do you think, Professor?"
"I’m hardly your Professor, Potter," said Severus unexpectedly. "Severus will do."
Potter looked surprised, a becoming smile making way to his lips. "I’ll take that as a yes."
Severus tried fiercely not to let anticipation get the best of him over the following two days.
(A glimpse into Potter’s life was too much of a prospect for Severus to be successful.)
On Friday, he found himself arriving earlier than he was expected. He had spent a few absurd minutes considering which flowers to gift to his host, when his better sense made him opt for elf-made wine. (Their appointment was not a social outing, nor a date. Potter would be horrified to know the thought had crossed Severus' mind for one deranged second.) No longer Unplottable, Potter's home stood graciously between Number 11 and Number 13.
Severus knocked the polished brass lion knocker against the door.
The mechanism blinked, coughed and hacked, before being sucked into the house, presumably to warn Potter of his arrival. Not a minute later, Potter appeared at the door, eyeglasses crooked on his nose and a curious apron around his waist. It seemed something a house-elf would use and, if Severus knew Potter at all, that was exactly what it was.
Severus had come prepared for such a greeting. "I assumed that was the polite thing to do," he said, arching an eyebrow, "to arrive early to help the host."
Potter blinked. "I suppose." He looked flustered. "Come in. I'm in the kitchen."
In the hallway, Severus wondered if Potter had not Apparated a whole house where the Number 12 used to be.
Much like the polished, freshly painted front door, there was little inside that Severus remembered from old times. Beige paint on the walls, together with a minimalist wallpaper and wooden fixtures, gave the hallway a new, much more welcoming look. The portraits of the Black ancestors remained, restored to their former glory. Walburga Black, in a silky plum gown, was suspiciously immobile.
Severus peered into the dining room. It looked cosier than he remembered.
The walls were of a midnight blue colour that likely looked incredibly posh when Potter lit the candelabra for all the dinner parties he should have been having. Everything about the room looked expensive, from the mahogany furniture, to the periwinkle blue velvet of the chairs and curtains, and the big, golden mirror that covered the length of the far wall.
When Severus turned to follow Potter to the basement, he found himself facing amused green eyes. "So, what do you think?"
Severus allowed himself a small smirk. "I see we're trying to live up to the inheritance."
Potter laughed. "I figured I might as well leave it in good shape for the next tosser. I’m trying to sell."
The corridor to the kitchen was filled with what looked like small fairy lights.
In the kitchen, Potter gestured for the breakfast nook near the warm floo, while reaching into the upper half of the oak cabinet for two wine glasses. The table was set for two, with white linen, fine china and polished cutlery. The sight made Severus inexplicably nervous. "The wine was for dinner," he pointed out, eyes on the table.
Potter shrugged with a smile. "Why not get a head start?"
Suddenly, his eyes went round. "Oh!" He set the glasses and wine aside, and reached for Severus. "Can I take your cloak? I’m sorry, I don’t have many guests, and the Weasleys make themselves at home anyway…."
"Potter." His worry made Severus’ nerves ease somewhat. "Thank you."
Severus gave his cloak to Potter, who hung it on a hook next to the door.
Potter had clearly cared for the house in the past decade, if the modern kitchen appliances, new furniture, and homely carpets were of any indication. Why would Potter want to sell after such a successful investment was anyone's guess, although Severus' supposed the memories might be overwhelming. The entrance hall alone….
Bringing his memories back to the present, Severus noticed the conspicuous absence of blood-purity aspersions. "No house-elf?"
"Kreacher died a few weeks ago," Potter said. "I’m sorry to see him go, but I’m not going to bind another house-elf to me. Hermione would kill me."
"You were once rather proactive about freeing unhappy house-elves, if I recall correctly."
A small smile graced Potter’s lips. "Well, that one was a very special chap. I still have socks that he made me." Severus was not quite sure what to make of that, but it fit rather well with the picture of Potter he had developed in the past couple of years. "But it would have been a dishonour to free Kreacher."
Potter handed Severus his wine glass. The kitchen started to smell pleasantly of pot pie.
"Dinner is almost done. Would you like to help with the salad?"
It did not take long before they were seated around Potter's shepherd's pie, green salad and Severus' wine offering. Silence reigned, while Potter served Severus, then himself, cheeks pink and eyes averted. Severus supposed some awkwardness was to be expected due to their shared history. He hoped it would not remain for the entire affair. He had endured his fair share of awkward situations, but it was hardly his idea of an evening well spent.
"So how was your week?"
"Where do you keep the other two?"
They spoke at the same time, and Potter flushed bright red.
"Sorry, you're right! We should probably discuss my houseguest."
Severus felt warm around his face. "My apologies, the social minutiae sometimes elude me."
Potter looked surprised. He smiled, before hiding it by taking a bite of his salad. "Me too. I wouldn't know how to behave in public if I didn’t have my friends with me." He laughed. "They know what to expect. You should ask Ginny about it, she does the greatest impression."
Severus knew Potter's romance with the youngest Weasley was short-lived, and there were no rumours of other… entanglements. Hermione had never mentioned anyone, and Severus was sure she would have, if the situation had changed in that regard. He decided not to dwell too long on how well she had got to know him. Instead, he wondered about Potter's life in the last decade. He must have had someone. Potter's smile was too charming, his good nature too evident for no one to have snatched him already. (But there was a telling innocence about him that drove Severus mad sometimes and fuelled the darker side of him.)
"Social niceties aside, if I know you at all, Professor, you must be dying to ask your questions."
"Severus will do, Potter. If it is not too bizarre for you…."
Potter laughed. "Definitely not too bizarre, Severus. You could return the favour, you know?"
Severus inclined his head in assent. A smile wanted to break through, but Severus was sure there was nothing to smile about; it was best not to romanticise their dinner too much. Potter—Harry topped off their glasses, still smiling. He seemed in no rush to answer Severus' question about the Hallows.
Before he could change the subject and mention the slightly deranged new recruit in the Department of Mysteries, Potter—Harry said with deceptive nonchalance, "A few months after the war, I started getting this feeling the stone would not be safe in the forest. It would find a way to be found." Severus learned long ago not to question Potter’s feelings, just as he learned not to question Albus' ideas. "My holly wand had started fading, so I just... never returned to the vault to leave the wand and stone as I had planned. I’ve been putting it off for a while now."
Severus thought with some jealousy that only someone like Harry could have held a Horcrux and the three Deathly Hallows and not be corrupted by all that power. It was his allure, the reason why powerful Wizards like Albus and the Dark Lord were hopelessly drawn to him, as they had also been drawn to his mother and her unselfconscious talent. The Dark Lord had chosen her, in part influenced by Severus' own bias. Severus – who prided himself on his intellect and power – had felt helpless against both for most of his life, albeit for very different reasons: Lily had been a lifeline against a rather dreary life, Harry a lifeline against surrender to unspeakable evil. But the last decade had changed a lot in him. After all these years, Severus suspected (knew) his interest in Harry had taken an unforeseen turn.
On another hand, maybe all that happened had affected Harry in the end. "It's likely that you've outgrown your holly wand," Severus pondered. Even Harry would change after dying, and after causing another's death. Perhaps he had taken charge of his own magic, without a cumbersome piece of Dark Magic attached to him. Perhaps the twin wand of his parents' murderer no longer served him. Or perhaps there was no greater meaning at hand, and Harry was only now reaching his magical maturity.
(Severus decided not to think too much about their relative ages.)
"The wand chooses the Wizard," Harry said, with a thankful smile, as if Severus had intended to be kind. "I've heard that often enough from Ollivander."
"All said and done, if the old tale is to be believed, you have been the Master of Death for a decade now," Severus pointed out. "When did the visits start?"
Harry took a sip of his wine, gaze drawn inwards. "A few weeks ago."
Severus quirked an eyebrow. "And you said nothing to your friends?"
Harry sighed, fidgeting with his plate. "I sometimes kept the stone with me, for safety. I thought that if I stopped.... If it were because I had been, how would you say it?" He smiled, likely to show that the taunt was intended in good humour. "...Irresponsible with three very powerful magic artefacts, it would have started well before now. The only major event of the last weeks was Kreacher's passing."
Severus nodded. "The question would be what would your house-elf be doing that his passing brought a defunct heir of the Black family to visit?" So saying, Severus took his last bite and set his cutlery down. He did not verbalise his other question: why Regulus and not Sirius? Harry must have heard it anyway, because he smiled sadly.
"I wouldn't know. I spend a lot of time at Ollivanders. My weekends have been spent fixing the house. I can't wait to get rid of it. There is a claustrophobic feel about the place."
Severus agreed. He had always thought it was the weight of bad memories taking shape.
In any case, Harry likely had no useful information for him. Only Regulus would be able to shed some light on the matter, and explain his sudden desire to visit the living. Severus was sure the only reason he was able to visit was that Harry had been rather irresponsible with—Severus stopped that train of thought. It would not do to become obvious. Still, the true question was why Regulus had been visiting, and not the godfather stuck in-between.
Foolishly eager to get some more information out of Harry, Severus asked, "Where would you be moving, if you manage to sell?"
"Diagon Alley. That's where you live, right? We'd be neighbours."
"I imagined you would lean towards a house in the countryside."
Harry shrugged, smiling. "I should spend less time by myself." At Severus inquiring brow, Harry added, "A lot of Weasley women have pointed out that I've not been around as I should. I don't know why, I think about them all the time, but often it feels like...."
"The world has moved on without you."
Harry smiled kindly. "I knew you would understand. It's nice to know that someone does, you know?"
“Glad to be of service," Severus said, before he could stop himself.
"That was always a comfort for me, knowing that you were around and that you knew. For that, I decided that I owed you some peace and quiet." Harry played with his glass of wine. “And on that note, why don’t we move to the library for dessert?"
"I hardly think I will be able to find the underlying cause of this matter today. I wouldn't know where to start asking questions, and I suspect you wouldn't have the answers if I did," Severus said. "For once, in the Department of Mysteries, when we deal with apparitions from the Great Beyond, it is usually ghosts or poltergeists. Second, not even in in the Death Room we have such thing as a Resurrection Stone. Third, whatever has been happening in this house was kept under control by your house-elf, and has been privy only to him and the late heirs of the House of Black. And unfortunately house-elf magic is yet beyond the understanding of wizards, so unless your special guest wants to make an apparition…." Seeing Harry’s face fall, Severus added, "That is to say, I would be glad to accept your invitation for dessert, but I am afraid I won't be of much help."
Harry's face lit up. "That's perfectly all right! I'm just glad to have a chance to talk to you. Hermione talks so much about you." He smiled teasingly. "I mean, I know more about you than anyone alive, and I don't know you at all. Anyway, I felt that I needed to get to know you for myself, but I never quite dared.”
Somehow, when Harry put it into words, it sounded hearty and natural. But when Severus thought it, it sounded sordid, like he was reaching out to a connection he should not even gaze upon. Helplessly, he said, “Harry.”
Looking rather pleased with himself, Harry waved his hand, and the kettle headed to the sink and then the stove to get the water boiling. A set of herbal infusions, minimalist china and a tin of biscuits took their rightful spot in a polished tray that floated to the marble countertop.
Severus tried to ignore the casual display of wandless complex magic. Harry looked too mischievous not to know what he was doing. Glad for the lightening of the mood, he muttered, "Show-off," loud enough for Harry to hear, who laughed, delighted. Severus felt his own smile struggle to be free.
As Harry finally drew his wand to finish collecting two slices of treacle tart and add them to the tray, Severus busied himself exploring the kitchen. In comparison with the dining room upstairs, it was much more homely and lived-in. Severus was sure this was where Harry usually entertained his guests, and he felt warm at the thought that Harry had made as much ceremony with him as he would have with Hermione and her husband.
Severus stopped in front of the boiler room.
Time seemed to stop. He knew that was not possible, he was sure of it, and yet part of his brain seemed to have been gripped by the fear that this past few hours in Harry Potter's company and the last decades were nothing but a fantasy of a dying man, in the darkness of the Shrieking Shack. The sound of Harry's puttering in his kitchen muffled into silence. The feeling of this place was not unknown to Severus. Almost as a certain smell or sound sometimes brought to life some of his worst memories, an echo of dread and fear filled him….
In an instant, he was back to Harry's kitchen, Harry's quiet humming in his ears.
A brave feeling filled Severus' chest, dispelling the chill. "Black?" he whispered.
But which one? Certainly not the Gryffindor, there was no love lost between them.
"Severus," Harry's voice called, "shall we?"
Severus came back to present with a start, and wondered at his own sanity.
If any vestige of cold remained, Harry seemed to bring all the warmth with him. "Severus?"
"Harry," he said carefully. "Tea in the library would be much appreciated."
Harry was frowning. "Are you all right? What were you looking at?"
Severus shook his head. "Just… reminiscing. Let us move to the first floor."
Harry stroked the Elder wand briefly, a further testimonial to the happenings at the last House of Black, before waving it at the crockery. Tea and dessert followed them up the stairs.
Suddenly, there was a noise.
As if the last ten years had not gone by, Potter sprang to attention, Albus' wand ready and his green eyes alert. He smiled and nodded at Severus to follow him up the stairs. "It seems our resident apparition was listening to you."
They got as far as the first floor, before Potter holstered his wand with a resigned huff, in the doorway of the drawing room. "Merlin's beard, Reggie," he accused, hands on his waist. "I know you hate the new landscapes, but must you try to take them down?"
"I much preferred the paintings of Black Manor, you know?"
That voice.... Carefully, Severus inched forward.
There he was, looking only slightly older than Severus remembered. He looked so much like his brother, and not at all. It was one of the many things Severus held against Sirius Black: that he looked like one of the few friends Severus might have had in school, one he might still have today, if he had not been so desperate for Lily’s friendship. "Regulus Black."
Blue eyes grinned at him. "Severus Snape. You have aged."
"That is the unfortunate consequence of being alive."
Regulus chuckled. "Well, it suits you. And what brings you to the House of Black?"
"Visits from the Great Beyond," Severus replied, which made Regulus laugh again. To Harry, who was looking between then curiously, he added, "We knew each other in school."
"We were friends!" Regulus protested. Then sighed, "Well, almost. My brother made things awkward." To Harry, he said, "That was Sirius for you: terribly noble in so many things, awfully petty in others. We've talked about him, haven't we, Harry?"
"Harry?” Severus frowned. "Reggie? Exactly how familiar have you got?"
Regulus laughed, delighted. "Oh, Harry and I are quite alike. We would have made great friends." He grinned impishly at Severus, who suddenly became aware just how young they had been, how both of them had made choices that, today, he would never allow Draco or Harry or Hermione to make…. Except he had, had he not? He and all the people who survived the first war foolishly let the younger generation make the same mistakes all over again.
Even though the fire crackled comfortably in the fireplace, illuminating the plush green sofas and the conspicuous Muggle appliances, the temperature seemed to drop, a slight breeze making the curtains dance. Severus frowned, glancing at Potter, who shivered, but did not react otherwise. Severus could almost make out a glimmer of a shield around him.
He glanced in surprise at Regulus, who carefully avoided Severus' eye.
"So you chaps were on your way to the library? Can I join?"
In the library, Severus pretended to look at the magnificent wooden bookcase while he gathered his thoughts. The room was as lovely as the rest of the house, with its muted, carpeted floor, cushioned furniture, and velvety tapestries in butterscotch yellow. Like the kitchen, it seemed Harry spent more time here than in the drawing room, with its gleaming television and unused record player. There were some books in the side table nearest to the fire. Potter surely sat there in the evening, cocooned in the Cornish tartan armchair.
A teacup appeared at his elbow, Levitated wandlessly. Severus quirked an eyebrow.
Potter grinned. "Impressed?"
Severus harrumphed, turning back to the shelves. Something that sounded suspiciously like a ghostly giggle came from behind him. Severus found his lips quirking up.
He hadn't really believed there was anything more to the situation, other than Potter having been irresponsible… well. He came, because he had wanted the excuse to see Potter outside their morning impasse. Perhaps show some willingness to discuss the past. They could meet occasionally for lunch, Severus had dared to hope. But with the chill of before in his mind, Severus was not so sure. Harry did not seem aware of it as Severus was. Was it the Hallows that protected him, or... an echo of his godfather's magic from beyond the grave?
Mind drawn back to the present, Severus sat in the armchair next to Harry. He could see himself spend many an evening in this exact spot, exploring the old relics of the Black library, and perhaps add his own collection to the bookshelves. Harry's offer of treacle tart dispelled his fantasies, and Severus turned to Regulus, who was standing near the fireplace, looking rather chuffed at the two of them. Harry and Severus exchanged a look.
"Any particular reason why you decided to visit your childhood house, Reggie?" Severus asked.
Harry snorted. "You think I haven’t asked before?"
"And that's all that I get," Harry remarked, tucking into his own dessert. "Sorry not to offer you a piece, Reggie."
Regulus sighed despondently, "That's okay, Harry. I really miss food."
Before the two of them could get side-tracked – and indeed they were rather similar in that – Severus asked, "Were those superior orders given by whomever has been haunting Harry this whole evening, and I suspect the whole time since the house-elf passed?"
Reggie would have flushed if he still had blood, Severus was sure.
After a moment, he seemed to be listening for something outside their plane. "Well, what did you expect? Your directions were rather vague, brother."
Harry's eyes widened. "Sirius?" he addressed the air on his left.
Regulus sighed. "I’m sorry, Harry. He doesn't want to come yet."
Harry looked down and bit his lip. "But is he all right? Is everything all right?"
Regulus smiled sadly. "Not everything. Do you know why Marius Black was removed from the tapestry downstairs? He was Sirius' favourite uncle." Harry shook his head. "He was a Squib. He was pulled from his mother's arms as a babe, and placed in a cottage with a house-elf so old he could barely see. His mother grew despondent. His sister was raised by house-elves, without her mother’s loving care. His mother grew to hate my father for this."
Harry looked as if he wanted to hug Regulus, even though he was dead. "I’m sorry."
"Not many from the House of Black ever knew happiness. And they all lived here."
"I don't understand."
"He does," said Regulus, nodding at Severus. Horrifyingly, Severus thought he did. "We have been waiting for him to come. Sirius said you would go to him, and that he would come. But you took a remarkable amount of time to go to Hermione, Harry!" he said accusingly.
A book fell from Harry's shelf, open at a not-so-random page. It was a blood ritual.
Upon seeing it, Severus knew he had been right. He picked it up.
Harry stepped to him – Severus could smell his cologne – and blanched. "It had to be you."
"To my greatest sorrow!"
Harry turned so quickly Severus almost dropped the book. "Sirius!"
"Hey, kiddo." There was a softness to Black's voice that had not been there while he lived, no matter whom he was addressing. Clearly, death suited him better than life had.
Harry looked as if he wanted to jump him, but knew it would be pointless. Severus would say that better men than Harry had been driven mad by that very longing… but there weren’t any better men. So perhaps Harry was the only one who could endure this burden. The only one who could have faced the misfortune of the House of Black.
"You've been here this whole time?"
Black shrugged, hands in his pockets.
He looked around twenty, after Hogwarts, before Azkaban. The years where all of them still had ambition, confidence and trust in the future. Severus thought of those days often, how frantic he had been to belong, how much he could have done differently. For him, it had ended up all right; it had brought him to this very moment: a tentative friendship, a few friends, a good job, intellectual challenge. And, from their generation, he might be the one who least deserved it. Harry didn't seem surprised to see Black so young, he must have seen him before. Merlin knew that Severus would never have been able to resist the Stone's temptation, now or then. It was good that Harry had taken that choice from him.
Harry was almost a decade older than Black had been the last time he had truly been himself.
"How have you been?"
Their relationship had always been so strange from what Severus remembered of Black in their school days, with Harry's constant mothering and Black's sort of idolisation of Harry. But Harry had always been remarkably mature for his age, able to look Severus defiantly in the eye even at eleven, even at sixteen, as if Severus was not a grown man taunting him, could not have hurt him if he decided to do so. While not his proudest moment, Severus' respect for Harry had been cemented in those moments of spark between them, all those years ago.
"Well, you know," Black shrugged. "Bored. I’m sorry that you got stuck with this house."
"It was not all bad," Harry said. "Sometimes I even like it. But I suppose that’s your doing."
Black shrugged, a diffident smile making way to his face.
"Is there really a Dementor nest in the basement?"
"Yes. Kreacher was keeping it contained for most of his life. I'm sure Walburga didn’t know."
"But Father must have," Reggie said somberly. “He was the one handling all the funerals."
Surprised at the comment, but more concerned about the ritual, Severus asked. "So this is why I have had the privilege of meeting the dearly departed?"
Black pouted. "There are not many people around with complementary Patronuses.” He seemed to be having trouble looking at Severus. “You’re old, Snivellus."
Severus felt his face harden, hand itching for his wand. He was almost fifteen again and spoiling for a fight…. But the weight of the years won. He was tired of fighting, of being angry.
"Sorry." Black did not sound the least bit remorseful.
"Some of us have grown past early adulthood, Black. And you need my help, remember?"
"Harry needs your help," Black said shrewdly. "And I’ve never known you to fail Harry."
Severus felt his cheeks heat. "And I certainly won’t fail him in this small thing."
"A blood ritual involving two Patronuses and Dark Magic isn't a small thing," said Reggie.
Severus let his lips twist in a facsimile of a smile. "Aren't you happy I’m the one you need?"
From the corner of his eye, he saw Harry look at all of them defiantly. "Perhaps you're the one I need, because both a blood ritual and a Patronus are small things for you," Harry said, interrupting their quibble. He took the book from Severus, skimming the page Severus was marking with his finger. "And perhaps we are lucky it's me who has inherited this house, with my leaning towards ancient magical artefacts, and a good knowledge of rune magic."
"We could at least agree on that!" Reggie retorted.
"I just don't understand why it's him that gets the second chance," Black said petulantly.
"Maybe because it's him who would make the most of it," Harry threw back. He looked at Severus searchingly. "Right?"
Severus could do little less than nod his head.
Seemingly happy with his answer, Harry held up the book. "Can you help me figure out this ritual?"
Hours later found them standing in front of the boiler room.
Harry found a latch in the corner of the wall, touched the Elder wand to it and it grunted open.
"Merlin," Harry breathed. He grabbed Severus' arm.
The room was cavernous; dark, eerily illuminated by the humanlike creature in the middle, bent into itself in a womb of old magic. One could hardly see the end of it and Severus feared it was more of a gallery, extending into other chambers and dungeons, as was custom for old Wizarding town houses. The walls were built with massive blocks of white marble, inscribed with names and dates…. Severus dared to look away from the creature and the room to look back at Potter, pale and stunned. "It's a crypt," Harry said needlessly.
Behind him, Black and Reggie wore twin expressions of horror.
"Do you think they buried us here?" Reggie whispered.
"You said your dad knew about this?" Harry demanded.
A sneer of disgust touched Black's face. "Probably."
The creature stirred at the mention of its existence.
A black marble dais stood beneath the creature, carved with runes to ensure safe passing. It was likely a tribute from an age when Elemental magic was a sign of power and a cause for pride. It had once marked the resting place for the House of Black, but that had degenerated into a placeholder for all the suffering and regret from generations of family conflict. It would spawn a generation of Dementors, if it were not destroyed.
"Brother, Severus, we must begin." Reggie moved to Severus' side, while Black took its place near Harry. "We can help keep the bad feelings away while you do it."
Together, Harry and Severus drew a circle around the creature, their wands meeting in front of the room, walnut and elder. They acknowledged the warmth of each other's magic, a beacon in the chilly room, before each took to the task of drawing six of the ancient runes, spelling beginning and end, space and time, love and hate, sky and earth, father and mother, life and death. Severus bound the runes together, while Harry breathed and whispered,"Expecto Patronum."
The great white stag spiralled out of Harry's wand and took form, eyes on the creature.
"Good luck," whispered Reggie.
"I'll be with you until the end," said Black with a grin that Harry returned.
They vanished, leaving an armour of warmth around the living.
As Harry cast protective wards around the ritual circle, Severus called forth the usual memory of himself and Lily inventing new spells in Cokeworth, when choices were still simple. “Expecto…,” his voice faltered, the memory of words unsaid on the counter of the Leaky Cauldron coming to his mind. The creature stirred again, arms struggling to become free of their magical bonds.
Harry whispered urgently, "Another memory, Severus! It's waking up!"
“Expecto….” Behind Harry, the creature's face lifted to look directly at Severus. A memory of endless lonely dinners, a blank book and an empty glass of wine came to mind. "Expecto…."
Harry turned to the ritual circle, green eyes leaving Severus empty. Behind him, empty eye sockets looked between the two of them, a putrid face quivering in anticipation, arms and legs stretching to fill the ten feet of the cavern, barring their passage into the gallery.
The only way out was back into the Number 12, leaving the creature to follow, or forward into the ritual. Harry reached to grab Severus' hand, raising his Elder wand. Harry's Patronus took place in front of them, antlers poised to attack, a last stand against the Dark. A last stand….
Severus remembered a bloody field, chaos all around, so many of his students injured, his own desperation as he tried to find Potter before the Dark Lord. He had summoned all the students into the Great Hall, making threats and demands, when Potter rose from the crowd like a phoenix. There had been no time after that, Severus ran away to accusations of cowardice, but an elation had filled him then, renewed as he lay dying on the floor of the Shrieking Shack, and gave Potter his most precious memories. It was a certainty that good would triumph, that his sacrifices would come to a fruitful end…. For the first time, Severus had felt part of something bigger. Severus had believed.
The silver doe erupted from his wand, prancing around the room, as if elated to be free at last. The creature faltered. The doe took her place to the white stag’s left, her kind eyes boring into the Dementor.
Harry removed the silver knife from his belt and, turning Severus' hand up, made a quick cut. "I'm sorry," he said, squeezing Severus' hand. As Harry did the same to his own hand, Severus thought that this would be why he would always be there to help Harry Potter. His compassion, his willingness to take on monsters from which most people would recoil. There was a light about him that was impossible to ignore for someone like Severus, whose greatest memory today involved a war.
With their bloody hands pressed together, Severus drew magic from their combined essence, with their Light and Elemental magic affinity, and started the unfamiliar chant under his breath, waving his walnut wand to trace the runes of the ritual in the air. Harry turned towards Severus, eyes always on the creature, and pressed against Severus' side, as if to ward him from a blow that might come. But with Harry's Patronus and his doe standing guard, the Dementor could not cross the circle.
As Severus started, the creature's putrid mouth curled. Its breath lengthened. In the back of his mind, Severus heard his father's shouts, his mother's whimpers, cruel jeers of children, betrayal, denial, things he had worked hard to put behind him after waking up alone in Hogwarts' Infirmary. But he had not been alone, had he? Minerva and Poppy had been there. They told him Harry had visited. His doe shuffled.
The creature made a lunge for them, long arms reaching out… only to hit the shield of light made by the Patronuses. It tried again, making Severus and Harry wince. In his head, he could hear his father spouting unspeakable things; he had hardly remembered that time he was hiding in the cupboard under the stairs…. Harry's Patronus planted its feet on the floor, holding the shield with his antlers, while the doe started pacing around the circle, bringing the Dementor's eyes to her, distracting it from its living source of sustenance.
Severus caught Harry’s eyes and nodded. Harry raised the Elder wand, as Severus neared the end of his chant. With his last word, Harry whipped his wand wordlessly. The stony dais beneath the Dementor broke.
The creature shrieked, before vanishing into nothingness.
Outside in the boiler room, Severus' legs gave out.
He just barely managed to make it look as if he had all the intention of sitting on the tiled floor, in what used to be a house-elf nest. He grimaced at the thought, bringing his creaking knees up and resting his head on them. Harry sat next to him, and leaned his head on Severus' shoulder.
"Do you want some chocolate?"
Severus shook his head. Harry would suffice for now.
"I can't believe they entombed their dead under the house."
Severus said nothing. In what seemed a second later, the clock above the Floo announced breakfast-time.
"Are you okay?"
Severus huffed. "I will survive."
"You seem shell-shocked," Harry pointed out, trying to look at Severus beyond the curtain of hair he used to hide his face. It was fascinating how old habits were so quick to return with bitter memories.
"I've been through two wars, Potter. I died in the last. An archaic blood ritual and the grim history of a Most Ancient House hardly compare."
Harry's lips upturned in a compassionate smile. "It's different when the enemy is in your head."
A weight settled in Severus' throat. "Yes, thank you, Albus."
Harry chuckled. Severus glanced at him from the side, and saw that a glint of humour had made way to his bright green eyes. "Come on, let's get out of here. I need to check on the Hallows, see if our resident Blacks are still around—" They would not be. Not if Black had any sense in his late head. "—and I need to get someone down here to close up this crypt… permanently." Harry seemed in good spirits. "Also, I'm starving! You're staying?"
Severus nodded. "If it would not inconvenience you." He followed Harry out of the boiler room.
"Merlin, I'm really starving!" Harry said, getting the ingredients for a typical English breakfast.
Clearly, the lack of gloom and doom in his house improved his mood right away.
Harry grimaced at the sight of his hand and healed it. He turned to Severus, curling his fingers in demand for Severus' own bloody hand. "Sorry about that," he said again. It seemed as though an age passed while Harry held Severus' hand, eyes averted. There was a calmness about him, and his hair smelled... nice.
"I can heal it myself," Severus said, as silence stretched.
Harry stirred and smiled up at him, while the cut on Severus’ hand vanished as if it had never been there. "I'm glad I had you with me last night. During the war, I always felt like having you on our side…," he hesitated. "It was what made me believe he would not win."
"You exaggerate," Severus croaked. "If anything, Darkness will not prevail against noble Gryffindors willing to sacrifice themselves." Harry huffed a laugh. Not daring to take Harry's hand in his own, Severus said, "I'm pleased that I was able to be here."
"A Dementor's nest is no match for us!" Harry announced happily. Eyes dimming, he added, "Nasty thing, it spent the last months making me forget all the good things in my life. My friends, my wands. How far I have come, how happy I am. Dementors always made me feel alone, but I have not been alone since I was eleven, and I will never be alone again."
Severus wished he could relate, and not stare helplessly into the beautiful, refreshing face of Harry Potter.
Harry grinned, taking Severus' hand properly. "I wanted to write to you, I wanted to ask you to have coffee together in the morning at the Leaky. I thought about it a thousand times. When Hermione started working with you, I thought I'd go crazy!" He took a step closer. "But I'm glad I didn't Owl you. I'm glad we had time to find out who we were besides Dumbledore's men.”
Did Severus know who he was? He had always taken pride in his intelligence and resourcefulness. Those qualities served him well in the Department of Mysteries, where he found he was a good professional, even if he served no ulterior purpose. He took pleasure in making his students laugh with his outrageous wittiness. He appreciated his discussions with Hermione, and the occasional lunch date with the Minister of Magic and Arthur Weasley. He was always polite to Hannah Longbottom. He was Severus Snape, a brilliant, socially incompetent Potions Master, with quite a few pounds of trauma he was learning not to unload on others. He was hardly beyond redemption. He was hardly beyond friendship.
He was in love with Harry Potter. "Harry." How to express such an immense, evident epiphany?
"See," Harry said, with the sweetest of smiles. "I am glad we had time."
In sight of the affection reflected at him from Harry's bright, beautiful eyes, Severus dared to bring his hands to Harry's waist and pull him closer with a reverence he didn't know he still possessed after so many disappointments. He had a promise to keep. And he was coming to suspect he had all the time in the world to honour it… He carefully tipped Harry's chin up, watching Harry's smile broaden. He felt Harry bring his arms to Severus' shoulders.
"Harry! Harry mate, where arrr—Merlin's balls!"
Harry and Severus jumped apart, turning to face Weasley boggling at them in the kitchen.
"I take it the ghost hunt went that well, hmm?" he grouched.
Harry grinned, and took Severus' hand. "It did, this house is now apparition free. We still have dead Blacks in the catacombs, but what can you do? Do you think Bill is up to sealing another tomb?"
"Dead—you know what, I don't have time for this, Hermione's in St. Mungo's. Hugo is coming!”
"For pity's sake, Ron! Start with that next time, will you? Have you told your family?"
"No, mate, I came here first to find you snogging Professor Snape in the kitchen!"
"You interrupted that part, Mr Weasley."
Weasley gawped. Harry sniggered. "Where's Rose?"
"We left her with Ginny yesterday, since Hermione wasn't feeling well and she didn't want to interrupt your.... Look, my wife in labour and if I am not next to her in 15 minutes, I'll be very cross. Are you coming?" He looked from Harry to Severus.
"We will be right after you, go get your family."
Weasley nodded resolutely and headed towards the Floo in the kitchen, vanishing in a flare of green smoke.
Harry nudged Severus with his shoulder, hand still holding Severus'. "What do you say we go meet another Weasley, and we can finish this conversation later? You're staying for breakfast, right?"
Allowing himself a small smile, Severus said, "If it would not inconvenience you, I would be happy to stay."
"Were you watching them again, brother?"
"Well, I didn't expect Snivellus to stay in Harry's life forever, did I?"
Regulus rolled his eyes into the great nothingness. "Good Merlin! It has been years. Years!"
Usually they met at Hogwarts when Sirius was visiting his family and friends in the Great Beyond, but he was being stubborn and refusing to conjure the set of his afterlife.
"Sure, but kids? You can hardly walk away from that…."
Sirius meant the two brothers, six and four, Harry and Severus brought home from St. Hedwig’s Orphanage for Muggleborns, one of the charities Harry started openly supporting after getting rid of the shadow in his head and in his house. Or perhaps he had grown into adulthood. What did Regulus know? He had not survived past eighteen. But he was sure a daughter would be coming into the family soon. Dumbledore hinted at it, as if he were somehow privy about the goings-on of the living.
"After all this time, only you would think one of them were walking away."
Sirius huffed, threw his arms up. He was sitting crossed-legged on top of nothing. "Well, excuse me if I didn’t expect that the mantle of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black would be inherited by Muggleborn orphans raised by two half-blood fathers with twenty years of difference between them!"
"You sound like Mother."
"Exactly! How come they can live in this grim old place? How could old Snivellus get so lucky?"
"Because he was willing and he welcomed it! Just so you know, Dumbledore says this is why you cannot move on…. Harry and Severus are happy, the children are loved, and your dearly departed friends have come around. You don't have to keep watching over them, you don't have to make sure they will be happy in our place." Regulus wanted to shake him. "Your friends and family are bloody well waiting for you. Let it go already!"
Thirteen years after his unfortunate tumble in the Department of Mysteries, Sirius Black finally did.