|dementordelta (dementordelta) wrote in snape_potter,|
@ 2011-07-28 23:15:00
|Entry tags:||cruisedirector, dementordelta, fix it fest|
FIC: The Back Up Plan (R)
Title: The Back-Up Plan
Authors: dementordelta and cruisedirector
Word count: ~9500
Warning(s): Post-DH, so no age warnings. Some fooling around with a phoenix in the room.
SPOILERS: (highlight for spoilers) *Through Deathly Hallows minus epilogue. When Dumbledore told Snape to tell Harry that Harry had to die for Voldemort become mortal, the Headmaster didn't seem to have considered that Snape might be killed before he could tell Harry anything.*
Summary: Snape knew better than to rely on Harry Potter’s intelligence...or trust.
A/N: Unbetaed. Written for snape_potter’s Fix It Fest.
When Harry Potter arrived at the Ministry of Magic to discuss his application to the Auror Department with the newly appointed Minister of Magic, he did not expect to see Kingsley Shacklebolt cowering behind his desk at the sight of him.
"Kingsl- er, Minster," amended Harry. He was not yet accustomed to people like McGonagall and Flitwick -- who had been his teachers not so long ago -- treating him as an equal. If the highest officers of the wizarding world were going to insist on behaving like he was a superior being, Harry thought he might go mad.
However, Shacklebolt's uncharacteristic behavior began to make sense a few moments later, when the former Auror said, "I'm afraid that I have something for you," and handed Harry a red envelope. Harry recognized both the form of the enclosure and the handwriting on the outside.
It was a Howler.
From Severus Snape.
"I'll wait outside and give you some privacy," said Shacklebolt, who practically raced out of the room as the envelope grew hot and twitched in Harry's hands. Harry had never witnessed the explosion rumored to result from leaving a Howler unread for too long, but he remembered Neville describing it as horrible. Considering that Neville had already endured a year of torments from Snape in person at that time, Harry had no reason to doubt that it would be horrible indeed.
With a sigh, he broke the seal on the envelope.
"Harry Potter!" barked Snape's voice from the envelope. It gave Harry chills. He hadn't ever thought about what would happen to a Howler sent by a wizard who died before it could be delivered. He'd have guessed that the enchantment would die with the wizard.
The last time Harry had seen Snape, the man had been weak and near death, and in the memories he'd left Harry, he'd been largely brooding and miserable. Harry had forgotten how intimidating Snape could sound even when he didn't shout. "If you've received this letter, it means that I am dead!" Snape went on, his voice full of so much venom that Harry was certain Snape had believed that one way or another his death would have been Harry's fault. "There is certain information that it is necessary for me to convey to you. In my office, in a jar that should be familiar even to one who pays as little attention as yourself, you will find what you need to know!"
Amplified by the Howler, Snape's voice was terrifying. Harry reminded himself that he had faced and defeated Voldemort. Whatever Snape had done, for good or ill, Harry was beyond his reach now and vice versa.
Only those hastily-provided memories that Harry had watched in the Pensieve had stirred up more questions than they had answered, and stirred up as many conflicted feelings.
The Howler had long since flipped inside out and burned itself to ashes before Harry had caught his breath enough to trust it to speak to Shacklebolt. "Is everything all right?" the Minister asked uneasily.
"It's fine. Just a bit of unfinished personal business," replied Harry, forcing a smile. He'd told Kingsley more than he'd shared with anyone else at the newly reformed Ministry about the Horcruxes and the reasons for Dumbledore's death -- and the fact that Snape would deserve a hero's burial were anyone able to find Snape's body, which had disappeared after the battle, probably taken by some follower of Voldemort or Hogwarts student with a grudge. But Harry hadn't shared the personal details from his onetime teacher's memories with anyone, not even Ron and Hermione. "Professor Snape just wanted to warn me about the dangers of using spells like Sectumsempra in a duel," he added before Shacklebolt could pry.
"That's an odd way to let you know," Shacklebolt said, looking suspicious. Harry knew that not all the surviving members of the Order of the Phoenix believed that Snape had always been on their side. "So far as we can make out, this Howler arrived inside a collection of Hogwarts student profiles while the Death Eaters still controlled the Ministry. Arthur Weasley thinks it must have been under a Disillusionment Charm that ceased to function upon Snape's death. It's fortunate that Howlers can only be opened by their intended recipients, but why send it here?"
"He couldn't risk sending it to me directly and giving us both away," said Harry, feeling defensive of Snape. Privately he thought that it was quite clever of Snape. He'd wondered many times what would have happened had he not managed to get to Snape before Snape died from the wounds inflicted by Nagini. Without knowing what Dumbledore had told Snape, would Harry have gone to the Forbidden Forest? Would he have understood what Dumbledore felt was necessary?
Harry knew he wouldn't find answers to those questions here, not even if he trained to be an Auror and studied how dark magic affected those who came in contact with it. Right now he knew that he had to return, yet again, to Hogwarts.
"I'm terribly sorry, Minister, this is very embarrassing -- I've just remembered I promised to sit down with the Daily Prophet to discuss how Ministry resistance helped save lives." There was nothing Shacklebolt considered more important than repairing the image of the Ministry in the eyes of the wizarding world. Kingsley had already made it clear that he would be happy to promote Harry's application to the Auror department without a formal interview in exchange for good publicity. And Rita Skeeter would print anything Harry told her as long as he agreed to pose for a photo with her for the front page.
At least Hogwarts was back on the Floo network, making it much easier for Harry to travel from London and surprise Professor McGonagall in her office. "Potter! What a pleasant surprise," she said, though she didn't look as if his presence was fully appreciated. The Headmaster's -- well, Headmistress's -- Office was a mess, with piles of papers and boxes everywhere.
Harry assumed that she was in the process of having Snape's things removed so she could put her own in place. He couldn't help but notice that there was not a portrait of Snape on any of the walls, even though Snape had been Headmaster for nearly a year before he died.
"Professor," Harry began rather breathlessly. "I -- I left something here during the battle. A jar."
"A jar of what?" she asked in a sharp voice, familiar from all the times she'd suspected he, Ron, and Hermione had been up to something as Gryffindor students.
Harry hesitated. He'd thought, at first, that Snape must have meant a jar containing boomslang skin or Veritaserum, some ingredient or potion he'd accused Harry of having stolen. But then why would he have suggested that Harry might not have been paying attention?
It must be a jar whose significance only Harry would know, like one of the jars that had broken during their Occlumency lessons. It was doubtful that Snape had saved the one containing dead cockroaches that had exploded over Harry's head on the disastrous night when Snape had sent him fleeing. It would make far more sense for it to be the jar containing the pickled, slimy thing, which had cracked when Harry first tried a shield charm and cracked open Snape's memories.
"A pickled slug," said Harry with more confidence than he actually felt. "Snape wanted me to have it. Sort of a souvenir. The jar might have a crack in it."
McGonagall's eyebrows had claimed practically to her hairline, but after a moment she aimed her wand at one of the half-full boxes. "A souvenir," she repeated slowly, shaking her head as the jar drifted across the office toward Harry. "I didn't realize you felt so nostalgic about Professor Snape." Her mouth pinched together. '"If everything that you said was true, his life was as miserable as he made yours as a student."
"I hardly knew him at all," Harry told her, since it was true. He studied the jar; he could see no sign of the fracture that Snape had repaired, but he was pretty sure the slimy white creature inside was the thing he had seen the night he'd broken the jar. Hesitantly, he glanced back up. "Professor, where is his portrait?"
Again McGonagall looked startled. "To the best of my knowledge, there isn't one." She glanced up at the painting of Dumbledore, who was presently snoring in a large armchair. "Snape's occupation of the post of Headmaster came under circumstances that are unprecedented. Perhaps the magic that governs the appearance of portraits of its occupants does not permit him one."
It seemed unfair to Harry, as unfair as the circumstances of Snape's death, but he didn't think it was necessary to explain that to McGongall. Instead he thanked her and excused himself to let her finish her work.
He lugged the heavy jar through the Floo back home, though he still had a hard time thinking of Number 12 Grimmauld Place home. A change had taken place in Sirius's old house while Harry and his friends had been on the run. When Harry had come back after the Battle at Hogwarts, weary, exhausted and uncertain of the future, he had walked into a front hallway that had been painted and refinished. The wallpaper no longer hung in strips, the light fixtures no longer cast eerie shadows everywhere, and the carpets no longer ejected clouds of dust whenever anyone walked on them.
At first he'd thought he'd come into the wrong house. He'd looked around guiltily and stepped back onto the porch, reading the number more carefully. It had said, then as now, Number 12. Too tired to figure out what was going on, Harry had collapsed onto a freshly upholstered sofa in the sitting room and slept for more hours in a row than he could ever remember doing.
When he'd woken, he'd gone looking for Kreacher and nearly fainted at the first sight of the kitchen. Gone was the creaky old rough-hewn wooden table and rickety chairs that had previously been the scene of many planning sessions between himself and Ron and Hermione. In its place stood a lovely glass-topped table with matching ironwork chairs. There had been fresh flowers in a pastel blue vase and an unfamiliar elf seated at one of the tables. The elf had been reading a magazine. He had looked up when Harry had cleared his throat, squeaked in distress, and vanished.
Harry had been scratching his head when Kreacher had ambled into the room, muttering, though the mutterings did not seem aimed at Harry. Or at least not primarily at Harry.
The elf had blinked and peered at him. "Master is returned," he said with a heavy heaving of his tiny elf shoulders. "Kreacher will be stuffed and mounted for sure now."
"Stuffed and --" Harry squatted, holding out his hands to keep Kreacher from shuffling off. "No one is going to stuff and mount you."
Kreacher had looked at him mistrustfully, shaking his head. "Master will want Kreacher to iron his hands then, but Kreacher has rheumatism in them and --"
Gritting his teeth, Harry had cut him off. "Kreacher, no one is going to punish you. I'd just like to know what's going on here." He waved a hand around the kitchen. Now that he looked around, he noticed other changes too. The old wood cabinets had been replaced by clear glass-fronted ones, the dishes neatly arranged inside them. There were appliances that did not look like the Victorian torture devices from when Mrs. Weasley had been in charge of supervising them during meals.
"Kreacher's sister made him, Master," Kreacher had groaned, blinking his large eyes and shaking his head, "Kreacher's worthless nephew, Penchant, oh he is a horrible elf, sir, horrible. He does not like to keep things the way they are, the way they have always been for centuries." He too had looked around the spotless kitchen, only with a shudder. "Kreacher had to take him in, Master, Kreacher's sister made him, even though Kreacher told her Harry Potter would not like it."
It had taken all that next day to lure the elusive Penchant out of hiding, but once they had, Harry had introduced himself and been shown around his own house. When it became clear that Harry was content with the changes -- and the level of cleanliness -- Penchant's plans for the house had become grander.
This afternoon when Harry came through the Floo with his heavy jar, Penchant stood atop a makeshift scaffolding held aloft by several pairs of harnessed doxies. Unlike his uncle, Penchant usually looked glad to see Harry and today was no exception, though he was distracted by the paintbrushes in his mouth. He waved, gesturing at the pattern he was stencilling all around the tops of the walls. It looked like flowering dittany to Harry, but he didn't want to be rude and admit he wasn't sure exactly what the pattern was, so he gave Penchant a thumbs up from around the glass jar and crossed the hallway to the drawing room to set the jar down at last.
He collapsed on the reproduction Empire French sofa and stared at the jar for a moment. At least the slimy white thing inside it wasn't moving. What was he supposed to do with it? Perhaps Snape had been around Dumbledore too long; they both left maddeningly vague instructions. Was he supposed to eat the thing inside? Or brew it into a potion? And if so, which one? Or perhaps the thing inside itself would reanimate and explain exactly what he was supposed to do?
None of those options sounded Snape-like to Harry, who, as ever, felt a pang of regret whenever he thought about his late professor. First things first, he told himself, pulling out his wand. "Finite Incantatem," he cast, hoping there was a more recent spell on the jar than the repair charm, or Penchant would be distressed when the new carpet got wet.
The carpet did not get wet. The jar started to shift at once, looking almost as though it was melting, pulling in on itself, rounding off and shrinking. After only a few seconds, the glass container with the slimy white thing inside it was gone. In its place stood something Harry found chillingly familiar.
A prophecy orb.
He sat back on the sofa and stared at it. It was not the same type of orb he'd fought for in the Ministry of Magic; it was similar, but the glass ball was larger and the mist inside looked pearly green. There was no label on this one to tell who had made the prophecy or who it was about. The stand on which it rested was less elaborate than the one that had stood with Harry's fate inside it for so many years. It looked less like a fancy stand for a crystal ball than --
Harry looked closer. Yes, he thought, this stand looked more like a standard first year cauldron, size two.
Snape had left him a prophecy.
Harry leaned over and peered inside at the swirling mist. He realized at once that he did not know how to induce it to reveal whatever lay inside. The only time he'd ever heard them had been when the glass had broken in the Ministry. But he'd heard that a prophecy could only be retrieved by the person about whom it was intended. Because he knew Snape, or thought he did, and knew the way his mind worked, especially where Harry was concerned -- and because the first spell, the most simple, had worked to get the jar to turn into the orb -- he had an idea.
"Revelio!" he said, touching the orb with his wand. The effect was instantaneous. The green mist started to swirl very fast. A quiver ran through the transfigured cauldron stand as a figure rose from the orb, forming into a vaporous shape that Harry recognized. It was pale green and misty, but it was unmistakably Snape. The figure folded its arms over its chest and seemed to pierce Harry with its gaze.
"Harry Potter. I assume that if you are viewing this, you have activated my back-up plan for informing you of your final duties as The Chosen One." Mist-Snape rolled his eyes. "I will not belabor the fact that this means I myself have died in a futile attempt to help you in your task. I also assume that your ego, and your unfortunate habit of being in exactly the wrong place at the right time, have led you this far in order to confront your most hated teacher."
"I don't hate you," Harry said softly, but the image ignored his comment, glaring in Harry's direction.
"If this message has reached you, then I have failed in my task to protect you until the proper moment. However, my demise makes it safe to reveal to you the fact that I ceased to follow the Dark Lord from the moment I realized that he intended to target your family. Your mother and I were close when we were children." The anger on Snape's face changed, for a moment, to the agonizing pain Harry had witnessed on the night when Snape had killed Dumbledore, when Harry had called Snape a coward. "Though the Dark Lord intended to do away with you to prevent you from fulfilling the prophecy concerning his defeat, he promised me that he would spare your mother's life. He lied."
The fact that Snape didn't even pretend he'd pleaded for the Dark Lord to spare Lily Potter's child made Harry smile. Snape might have been selfish, but in the end, he had always been true to the things that had mattered to him. Harry wondered what it would have taken to make Snape switch sides if Voldemort had, in fact, spared Lily Potter. Maybe nothing.
"I presume that Professor Dumbledore informed you of his suspicions about why the Dark Lord cannot be killed by ordinary means," the ghostly version of Snape continued. Harry found himself nodding. "The Headmaster loved to keep his own secrets, so in case he did not choose to share this information, I shall tell you that he was already dying when I cast the fatal curse on the Astronomy Tower, which spared him a prolonged, agonizing death. He had been cursed already by a ring that once belonged to the Dark Lord. Dumbledore wished to be certain that the Dark Lord would come to trust me above all others."
Harry wondered whether he would have believed a word of any of this if he hadn't already known it to be true. He had seen for himself in Snape's memories how the Horcrux that contained the Resurrection Stone had nearly killed Dumbledore, and how Snape had tried to save him. He nodded again, though whether the prophecy responded to him or had merely paused while recording this impression of Snape, he did not know.
"Dumbledore was concerned about providing too much information too soon to either of us. As you know, the Dark Lord is a powerful Legilimens. Therefore, I do not know precisely where Dumbledore has sent you, nor what task he has asked you to perform. But he gave me a specific set of instructions concerning you. He asked me to watch for a time when the Dark Lord began to protect his snake, Nagini, and then to tell you that on the night your mother died, when the Killing Curse rebounded and shattered the Dark Lord's body, a piece of his soul attached itself to the only other soul still alive in the room -- your own. This is why you can speak in Parseltongue and enter the Dark Lord's thoughts. For as long as that piece of the Dark Lord's soul remains attached to you, the Dark Lord cannot be killed."
It surprised Harry that Snape was phrasing things more kindly to him than Dumbledore had explained them to Snape in the memory he'd seen in the Pensieve. Since when had Snape worried about protecting Harry's feelings? Perhaps he merely wished to be certain that Harry would believe him and do what was necessary.
The ghostly apparition took a deep breath, looking in a different direction, before he turned again to the direction in which Harry was standing. "It is Dumbledore's belief that so long as you live, so will the Dark Lord," Snape hissed. He still looked angry. "Dumbledore believed that the Dark Lord could only die from a rebounding curse like the one that took your mother's life. In killing you, he will kill the fragment of his soul lodged inside you, marked by your scar, and that will make him mortal once more. Dumbledore further believed that once you were told these facts, you would take steps to be certain that when you set out to face your death, it would kill the Dark Lord as well."
"You'd have done the same thing," Harry said quietly. The phantom Snape gave no evidence of having heard him.
"Now I have done what I promised and delivered Dumbledore's final message to you. Dumbledore believed that you must die in order for the Dark Lord to be destroyed. And now let me remind you, Potter, that Dumbledore was not infallible. The curse on his hand was proof of that. I tell all my first year students that I can teach them how to put a stopper in death. If you paid attention in my class, and to my notes --" Snape pressed his lips together sternly, and Harry blushed to remember how he'd had to hide the Half-Blood Prince's potions book. "-- and if you have become as competent a student as Slughorn believes, then you may be able to take steps that will allow the fragment of evil within you to die while sparing your life."
And with that, the greenish apparition of Snape folded its arms over its head, bat-like, and disappeared.
Harry sat back against the sofa, staring at the orb that had contained the message. He was dumbstruck by the final words. Even though Snape had told Dumbledore that all his efforts to keep Harry alive had been for Lily -- out of love, out of guilt, Harry wasn't sure which -- and had seemed to agree with Dumbledore that stopping Voldemort was more important than Harry's life, Snape had just seemed to suggest that he wanted Harry to live.
But more than that, Snape had reminded Harry of something Harry hadn't thought much about when he'd learned with horror that Snape's body had gone missing. Snape had always known how much danger he was in from Voldemort. He had known that the snake could be lethal. He had known that Voldemort couldn't be trusted. Surely Snape hadn't gone unprepared to face Voldemort on that last night? Surely Snape must have had his own back-up plan?
The door to the drawing room rattled and Penchant peered in. Harry nodded distractedly. The elf usually made a pretense of consulting Harry on decorating decisions, bringing in a stack of magazines with titles like Castle Beautiful and 1001 Magical Stencils. Harry had, so far, always let him have his way, since the house looked splendid.
Today, however, Penchant was wheeling a trolley. "Tea, master?"
Harry sighed. He'd tried to get this younger generation of house elf simply to use his name, but though Penchant seemed to have none of his uncle's biases about purebloods, he would have none of it.
"Thank you," Harry said, taking a cup. There were little tarts on the trolley as well, but Harry wasn't hungry. He kept reliving the sickening sound of the snake lunging at Snape and the thud of his body against the wall.
After the elf had left him alone, Harry stared again into the orb, wondering if he ought to listen to the message again. The swirling green mist seemed to offer more answers than it had so far yielded up, though Harry suspected that was his own frustration.
Snape was clever -- more clever, if the truth was told, than Dumbledore -- because Snape had always been prepared for Harry's mistrust. Harry tapped his finger against the cup, then realized the tapping was growing louder. It was the door. Penchant was peering in again.
"Yes, what is it?" Harry asked, trying not to sound impatient. He felt he could figure out what was going on if he could just think the way Snape had thought, and to do that, he needed to concentrate.
"Master, there is a bird here to see you," Penchant said, looking over his shoulder.
"A bird?" asked Harry, "Oh, you mean an owl."
"No, master, Penchant means a bird, a rather large bird." Before he could look over his shoulder again, a scarlet wing appeared over his head, pushing the door the rest of the way open.
Harry's eyes widened in surprise. It was a phoenix. Though he had only ever met one, he was fairly certain of this one's identity, though it had been over a year since he had seen him.
The phoenix hopped into the room. When he was close enough to the couch where Harry sat, he held out a scaly leg. There was a note attached. Harry's heart pounded in excitement. He set the teacup down on the table next to the orb. The mist inside it had a bit of a red tinge to it now. Was Fawkes part of Snape's back-up plan? His reappearance surely had to have something to do with the inquiries Harry was making.
Harry took the note. "Thank you, Fawkes," he said, and the phoenix trilled a bit, a ghostly echo of the song he'd sung the night his master had died. The note was rolled up tightly and sealed, but the seal was soft when Harry's fingertip brushed over it. He broke it open. Fawkes laid his head onto Harry's thigh, still trilling softly.
The note was short. But Harry's disappointment over the length was more than made up by the content: If you are not afraid of your curiosity, Fawkes knows the way.
Fingers trembling, Harry looked down at this visitor. "You do?" He was sure it was his imagination that Fawkes nodded. Well, the bird had belonged to Dumbledore. Within moments, Harry was ready. "Floo?" he asked, but Fawkes merely hopped several times, looking up at Harry plaintively. "Broom?" Harry tried, but that suggestion made Fawkes ruffle his wings. "We're Apparating then?" he asked, and found himself in possession of a wing pressed against him. "Okay, then," Harry said, brushing his fingers over Fawkes' wingtip.
The rush of Apparation sucked them away. Even though Harry didn't know where they were going, Fawkes apparently did. They arrived in a shabby street, facing a row of houses. The curtain in the end house flickered as though a hand had dropped it hastily. Harry headed for the door. His companion flapped his wings and soared up, perching on the gable of the end house, squawking in approval.
He had hardly caught his breath from Apparating before he was lifting one hand to knock on the faded wooden door. Only the door was already opening just as his knuckles brushed it, and Harry nearly fell over the sill.
"Get inside," a voice hissed and Harry stumbled in.
"You're alive!" he said, even though he could barely see in the gloom as the door closed behind him. He leaned back hard against the door, staring at Snape.
"Is that the best you can do? 'You're alive'?" Snape said.
Despite his shock, Harry grinned. "What did you expect?" he asked, straightening up away from the door.
Snape shrugged. "'You're under arrest'?" he suggested.
"I-I don't want to arrest you," Harry protested. "I want to -- " He gulped in a deep breath. He could see better now as his eyes adjusted. "No one is going to arrest you," he added. He thought perhaps Snape relaxed a bit, but it was hard to tell in the gloom.
And it was definitely Snape, looking much the same as he had the last time Harry had seen him. Not ghastly and bleeding, but pale and worn after his year of being headmaster.
"You sent Fawkes for me," Harry said, "You must have known I'd seen the Prophecy you left for me. And your memories." Involuntarily his hand brushed his own temple.
"You were never meant to see both," Snape said, just as a whooshing noise and a squawk proclaimed that Fawkes had come down off the roof. Snape sighed. "You both may as well come in." He wheeled around, leaving Harry to follow.
Fawkes greeted Harry again, hopping onto a perch in the crowded book-lined study. Snape stopped by the perch, stroking the top of Fawkes' head. "Time to feed the bloody bird," he grumbled when Fawkes nipped playfully at his finger. "I suppose you'll want something too," he added to Harry.
"No," Harry said quickly, "thank you." The tea he'd had earlier seemed like hours and hours ago.
"You still look half-starved," Snape said, giving Fawkes' head another quick brush. The phoenix trilled, pleased.
It was the 'still' that made Harry flush. He reached out and laid his hand on Snape's arm. "It really is you, isn't it?" he asked.
Snape looked as though he was about to say something scathing. There was still a touch of heat in his voice when he replied. "Of course it's me. Though if you had any sense whatsoever, you would presume that I might be a Polyjuiced double and perform a test."
"Fawkes wouldn't obey a Polyjuiced double," Harry said with confidence, though in truth he had no idea exactly what a phoenix might do. "How come you sent him to me now?"
"Because I became aware that you had received my message." Harry's eyes widened. "Not very subtle, are you, Potter? The Ministry of Magic is now snooping around to try to find out how I sent you an undetectable Howler."
"Arthur Weasley thought it only became visible after your death," recalled Harry, thinking back to what Kingsley Shacklebolt had told him. "But obviously that's not what happened, because you're here. How come the Disillusionment Charm wore off?"
"I believe that came about because of your death." Absurdly, Snape sounded cross with him. "Figured out that the Dark Lord's wand couldn't harm you, did you?"
"Actually, no -- I thought he was going to kill me, but I'd told the others how to defeat Voldemort by then." Snape looked like he was about to shout at Harry for saying the name, so Harry held up a hand to forestall him. "I didn't figure out about the wand until later. But if you'd already guessed at it, why didn't you tell You-Know-Who that you weren't its master?"
"Because he would have attacked me anyway to be certain. Then he would have killed Draco Malfoy and continued to pursue you. I didn't know at the time that you had already disarmed Malfoy, but it wouldn't have made any difference. The Dark Lord would have done away with Malfoy and hunted you down just the same."
Though it shouldn't have mattered any more, hearing that Snape had been trying to protect Draco made Harry angry. "So you were willing to let Dumbledore sacrifice me, but not to put Draco Sodding Malfoy at risk?" he demanded.
Snape looked at him as if he had lost his mind. "I tried repeatedly to warn you," he snapped. "As for Draco Sodding Malfoy, I took an Unbreakable Vow to protect him while he carried out the Dark Lord's plan to murder the Headmaster. Draco disarmed Dumbledore in an attempt to complete that plan -- you saw the whole thing, didn't you? If I had afterward told the Dark Lord that Draco's efforts had won Draco the allegiance of Dumbledore's wand, thus putting Draco in harm's way from the Dark Lord, it would have violated the vow I took, thus negating all the effort I'd already taken to keep myself alive. I would think this would be obvious even to you, Potter."
Though he was still angry, Harry had to admit that this all made sense. "Then how did you stay alive? And why are you still pretending to be dead?" he demanded.
"Anti-venins are one of my specialties," Snape replied rather smugly. "I was most fortunate that the Dark Lord chose to send Nagini after me rather than using the Killing Curse. But again, after all the effort I'd taken to stay alive, you cannot believe that I now wish to be executed by the Ministry, cursed by the Dark Lord's surviving followers, or torn limb from limb by the families of Hogwarts students."
"The Ministry isn't going to execute you. The surviving followers are all trying to stay invisible, even Draco Sodding Malfoy. And now that the Hogwarts families know what was going on, I think they're grateful you managed to keep their children alive." Harry took a deep breath, feeling his anger slip away as quickly as it had come. "It sounded like you were trying to keep me alive too, in spite of what you told Dumbledore -- that you only wanted to avenge my mum."
"That is not what I told Dumbledore," Snape barked at him.
"Not revenge, then -- that you wanted to stop the Dark Lord because you were in love with her."
Snape's eyebrows shot up the entire distance to his hairline. "I was not in love with her."
Harry rolled his eyes a bit. "Right. Fine. That your platonic feelings of friendship toward her and my dad --"
"Leave your father out of this." Snape looked as though he'd swallowed something that tasted as bad as Polyjuice. "Your mother was my first true friend. I loved her like a sister. I hated the fact that she chose to waste herself on an arrogant, self-important --"
"Yes, leave my father out of this," interrupted Harry. "All right, then, if you weren't in love with my mum, why would you risk your life repeatedly to keep me alive?"
Snape's sallow cheeks reddened. "Even your extremely limited intellect should be able to work that out."
Fawkes cut in, then, with a squawk.
"You've kept me from feeding the bird." Patting the phoenix's head once more, Snape crossed to a door that Harry assumed must lead to the kitchen. "I'll bring you some biscuits for your trouble."
"It hasn't been any trouble, really." Harry's brow furrowed as he watched Snape's retreating back. "For me, at least. It's good that you had a back-up plan." He paused in the doorway. "Um -- it's good to see you."
Snape, his back to Harry, paused as well. "And you," he said before continuing on into the kitchen.
Harry looked over at Fawkes, grinning. "Practically a declaration of love," he said softly. Then he realized exactly what he'd said and got a weird feeling in his chest. Something Snape had said...
He gave the bird another jaunty grin before following Snape into the kitchen.
"How did you wind up with Fawkes?" he asked, leaning against one of the counters. He'd half-expected to see that Snape's kitchen looked like a Potions classroom, with cauldrons and brass scales and dried herbs hanging overhead. Instead it was bright and as clean as Aunt Petunia's. There was even a mixer in a stand tucked under one cabinet and an old coffee maker. There wasn't a single slimy dead thing in jar.
"I assume you received a bequest from the Headmaster?" asked Snape.
Harry nodded. "The Resurrection Stone," he said, only to see that he'd obviously startled Snape. "The stone from Dumbledore's ring, inside a Snitch. I never knew what it was until...well, very recently."
Snape was pouring something into a bowl from a box with a brightly colored bird on the package. The box said "Mrs Ptolemy's Nutritious Phoenix Food." He reached for one of the canisters on the counter and scooped out some seeds, sprinkling them over the bowl. "Fawkes was Albus's final gift to me," he explained, crossing the kitchen. He paused beside Harry before heading back into the sitting room and setting the bowl into the wire frame holder. "His back-up plan, I believe," Snape added, nearly too softly for Harry to hear.
"You think he meant for Fawkes to --" Harry looked at the contentedly pecking bird with renewed respect. "Of course."
"Nothing can deflect a Killing Curse, but there are also fewer things in the world with more power to heal than phoenix tears. As it was, Fawkes brought me here, when I was too weak..." He took a deep breath, reaching to give the phoenix a possessive pat. Beak-deep in the feeder bowl, Fawkes trilled. It was, as ever, a comforting sound.
"Why did you risk your life to help --" Harry started to say "our side" but realized that Snape had never considered himself on any other side, and that was not really what Harry wanted to know anyway. "Me," he finished.
Even though Snape's face was averted, still pretending to be completely interested in Fawkes' feeding, the red spots of color were back in his cheeks. "Someone had to," he said, finally dropping his hand and looking up at Harry. "I forgot your biscuits." He turned to go back into the kitchen.
Harry grabbed his arm. "I don't want any biscuits," he said.
"That's all I have," Snape replied, but he didn't try to tug himself out of Harry's grip.
"You have so much more than that," refuted Harry. He didn't let go of Snape's sleeve. "Are you trying to tell me that you only loved my mum as a sister because you...you..." They were standing very close. Snape didn't tower over him any longer. Harry's heart was thudding in his chest, but he couldn't get the words he wanted out.
"Are you trying to ask me if my preferences run to women or men?" Snape asked, and the air, which had thickened with Harry's feeble attempts to ask exactly that, lightened with the dry humor of Snape's tone.
"Yes, sir," Harry replied automatically, then found himself to be the one flushing a bit. "Yes, I mean."
"What do you think?" asked Snape, still sounding amused.
Harry looked up. "I think you knew that there was a chance I might get that Howler and you would still be alive. I think you knew I would come to find you after I got it." He took a step closer. "I think you wanted me to find you."
Snape hadn't backed away. His face was very close to Harry's, his eyes as dark and fathomless as when Harry had tried to learn Legilimency. "You think very highly of yourself," he said, and the low growl of his voice gave Harry a shiver.
"You wanted me to work it out," Harry said with confidence. Behind them, Fawkes trilled a bit and it seemed to be a signal they had both been waiting for. Harry leaned just enough forward to press his mouth over Snape's. Snape's arms went around him as though expecting him to fall. Instead their mouths came together and Harry groaned and tried again, making it more of a kiss and less of a casual brush of lips.
"Are you trying to tell me that your preferences run to men, or is this an extravagant expression of gratitude?" Snape demanded, though the growl remained in his voice.
"You must know the answer to that. You were in my head during those Legilimency lessons." Because Snape was in no way resisting him, Harry pressed his mouth over Snape's again. "And this is so much better than kissing any girl ever was."
"Not planning to marry Miss Chang or Miss Weasley or one of your other admirers?" asked Snape, sounding less mocking than pleased.
"You're joking, right?" He felt a pang of guilt about Ginny, but she had always had plenty of other boys interested in her and anyway Snape was right -- she still thought of Harry as the Chosen One who'd saved her from the basilisk, she didn't know what went on in his head. "I never thought about getting married because I thought I might not live that long, and since I'm still here, I think I should get to do this..."
He kissed and pressed up against Snape, going on instinct more than experience, but he suspected that Snape hadn't done much kissing in the past many years and judging from the way Snape kissed and pushed back against him, Harry was pretty sure his guess had been right. "You haven't developed some delusion that with the Dark Lord gone, I've become charming, have you, Potter?" Snape asked between kisses..
"Absolutely not, and call me Harry." Snape was rubbing up against him a bit, now taking the initiative about kissing, and Harry had to break off to moan, giving a shameless thrust of his hips. "Nothing charming about that."
Snape groaned, eyes rolling back, and grabbed Harry's face in both hands, kissing Harry more thoroughly than Harry had ever been kissed in his life. His hips bucked again and again of their own accord, and Snape answered by pressing Harry into the doorframe and grinding against him.
Harry could feel the hard bulge beneath Snape's trousers and arched up eagerly. "Is that your wand in your pocket..."
"No jokes," ordered Snape, pulling back far enough to look at him. "This had better not be a joke to you...Harry."
"Can't you tell that it's not?" Harry gestured toward the study's sagging sofa. "Come on. I'll show you." He wasn't entirely certain what he was doing, but he was certain that he wanted to be doing it, and since that had always made magic easier, he assumed it worked for sex as well. In fact, he felt a bit as though he'd taken Felix Felicis, as though he knew precisely what he should be doing even though it had never been part of the plan.
Snape let Harry lead him over to the sofa, though he paused before sitting. "You've done this before?"
"Not with another man, but I have a pretty good grasp of the principles." He grinned a bit, debating whether to make a naughty gesture to demonstrate what he meant, and deciding it wasn't necessary when Snape launched himself onto the sofa, diving over Harry and kissing him again.
As usual, Snape was wearing far more clothing than Harry would have thought necessary, but when he reached to unbutton the top button on Snape's shirt so he could kiss Snape's throat, Snape's hand flew up and caught his wrist. "What are you doing?"
"Loosening your collar."
Snape shook his head. "I'm badly scarred."
"I know. I was there, remember?" Reaching up, Harry shoved his own hair off his forehead. The fragment of Voldemort's soul might have been gone from his body, but the mark of the curse remained, though it never hurt him any more. "I'm not afraid of your scars."
Reluctantly Snape released his wrist. "It isn't just my throat that looks less than decorous."
"And I've never won Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile Award."
In spite of himself, Snape smirked, so Harry grinned, and Snape said, "Perhaps you should put yourself up for consideration while you remain so popular with the press," which Harry decided was a good reason to kiss him again. This time, when Harry reached for the top button, Snape only muttered, "I did warn you."
"We can leave our clothes on if you'd rather. But I need to warn you that I might go off in my trousers, and you already know I'm rubbish at cleaning charms." He finally succeeded at making Snape laugh, which Harry didn't think he'd ever heard before -- not without it being sarcastic or mocking or bitter. "You know, you'd have a better shot at that Most Charming Smile Award if you smiled like that more often."
"We have already agreed that I am not charming." Snape's voice was stern but his expression was rather more heated as he pulled out his wand, and without a word he extinguished all the light in the room.
"Not a word," Snape warned. Since he promptly put down the wand and started to tug at Harry's shirt, Harry decided not to waste time protesting, particularly since Snape didn't object again when Harry started to unbutton his clothes. He couldn't resist pushing his hands inside the loosened robes, even though a shirt still clung to Snape's chest. Apparently, even not being in the chilly dungeons, Snape preferred layers of clothing.
Harry had known Snape was slender, but he hadn't expected the lean strength revealed by his fingers. Nor the soft, breathless noises of approval as Harry's fingers brushed over one nipple. His shirt was lifted over his head and he was happy to feel it go, needing the heat of skin against his own.
"Yes," Snape urged, though Harry wasn't precisely certain which caress he was being urged to repeat, so he fumbled with the row of buttons on Snape's shirt, his fingers parting it, feeling skin at last.
"Yes," Harry echoed, arching up to feel Snape against him. Arms went around him, holding him, their breaths sounding loud in the dim darkness, or perhaps it was just that Snape's mouth was close to his ear, with curtains of his hair draped over Harry's shoulder.
He felt Snape go still as his fingers brushed the side of Snape's neck. The skin was raised, not just in a gash, as Harry had expected, but in several jagged spots just below it. The snake's legacy, Harry remembered, stroking the skin carefully.
"It's not as bad as I thought," he said, shifting on the sofa so he could brush his mouth over the uneven skin. Snape groaned.
"The bird," Snape said, sounding at once breathless and dryly amused.
"If I wasn't kissing you, I'd kiss Fawkes," Harry said and heard one of those delightful chuckles again, all the more exciting because now Harry could feel Snape's chest vibrating with it.
"Strictly speaking, you aren't kissing me at present," said Snape, moving his head, kissing down Harry's neck. To Harry's mind, strictly speaking, when Snape was doing that, he wasn't capable of doing anything more than groaning in pleasure. Harry had one foot still on the floor, the other pinned to the side of the sofa, as Snape's hand slid down each leg, urging them apart, even though Harry was still in his trousers. Harry tried to keep his arms around Snape's neck, but Snape was moving down, leaving kisses on Harry's chest and his belly, nose pushing into the hair that thickened below his waist.
"Strictly speaking, I did warn you I might go off early," Harry said, though he was groaning as his fingers pushed into Snape's hair.
"You'll recover," Snape said, tugging down Harry's zipper.
"At least let me feel you," begged Harry, lifting up as Snape slid his trousers and pants off his legs.
"Impatient," tutted Snape but he guided Harry's hands in the darkness. Harry slid his hand over the bulge in Snape's trousers, and would have paused there but Snape urged him on, unbuttoning the old-fashioned opening.
"Desperately impatient," Harry agreed, shoving down the heavy trousers so he could feel more of Snape's cock. He could tell that it was thicker than his own and nearly as hard, though Snape wasn't leaking fluid from the head as much as Harry could feel dripping onto Snape's fingers from his own. He trembled, trying not to think too much about what Snape's hands were doing, because he knew that if he did, he wouldn't last long enough to...
Something warm and wet that could only have been Snape's tongue swiped across the head of his cock, making Harry cry out. Then it felt like wet heat had engulfed him, and was sucking him, and it was even better than flying, and Harry forgot to keep touching Snape except to clench his fingers in Snape's hair because he had to...
A burst of light exploded across his vision, even though the room was still dark, and even though Harry's eyes were squeezed shut as his cock throbbed and erupted harder than it ever had. "Fuck!" he shouted, head slamming against the back of the couch. He felt a puff of air over the extremely sensitive head of his cock and realized that Snape had chuckled again, and moreover that Snape had not only swallowed what had spurted out of his prick, but was now licking it clean.
"I guess you've done that before," said Harry sheepishly, feeling his face grow warm.
"Not for a very long time." The room was just as dark as it had been before, so Harry couldn't see Snape's face, but he thought Snape sounded content rather than gloating at having made Harry come so fast. "Haven't you?"
Blushing harder, Harry shook his head. "No. Gin- um, girls probably would have, but I never let things get that far."
He felt Snape's lips turn up against his thigh where Snape's head was resting. "Well, well. Perhaps you really are queer as I am."
Harry couldn't help laughing, even though he still hadn't fully caught his breath. "Come up here and we can test it out," he suggested.
Snape shifted, leaning against the back of the couch, though he did not immediately scoot closer to Harry. "There's no rush," he said, though the calm he tried to put into his voice didn't disguise the faint, needy edge to it.
"I told you, I'm desperately impatient." Reaching over, Harry found Snape's cock again and the hairy balls beneath. "I've waited a long time to be able to do this..."
Bending his head, he kissed the tip of Snape's cock, and was rewarded by the hiss of indrawn breath. "Careful," Snape warned. "I won't have much control if you do that."
"I think control might be overrated." Harry licked all around the head of Snape's cock, discovering that he could move the foreskin with his lips and tongue, and that Snape would groan and clutch at his shoulder if he did. He didn't think there was any way he'd be able to get as much of Snape's cock into his mouth as Snape had done with his own -- maybe there was a spell -- but he sucked on the head a bit and moved his hand up and down the shaft.
"Harder," Snape ordered, or maybe begged, arching up to Harry's mouth with a groan. "Yes -- fuck -- like that --" Grinning to himself, Harry sped up his hand and lowered his mouth, trying to make his lips reach his fingers if they couldn't get to the wiry hair surrounding Snape's cock. The pressure near his throat made him need to swallow, but apparently Snape liked that, because he groaned more loudly and gripped Harry's shoulder. "Again!"
This was by far the most enjoyable lesson that Harry had ever had from Snape, so much better than anything he'd learned at Hogwarts -- including Quidditch and riding a Hippogriff -- that he hoped maybe he could do this all year instead of trying to make up for missing his seventh term. He bobbed his head and used both hands, stroking Snape's balls, wondering what Snape would do if he pressed a finger behind them, then he tried it and was rewarded by Snape grunting a profanity and bucking beneath him.
"Won't last," Snape told him. Nodding, Harry sped up his attentions, rubbing his finger back and forth in the furrow of Snape's arse. Snape was polite enough to gasp his name just before filling Harry's mouth with fluid that wasn't the best thing Harry had ever tasted, but he figured that if he'd swallowed Polyjuice, he could swallow this, and did.
Snape was panting audibly when Harry looked up at him, though he couldn't see Snape's face in the dark room. "Did I do that all right?" he asked.
"Quite impressively," Snape told him, unclenching his fingers from Harry's shoulder and stroking it a bit.
"Next time I'll do it better. Though next time I want to do it with the lights on so I can see what I'm doing."
He heard Snape swallow. "Are you certain you will want a next time?"
"Absolutely. Don't you?" He was pretty sure from the movement of Snape's belly that Snape was nodding, but he couldn't be sure without touching Snape's face. "You'll have to speak up. I can't see you."
Snape muttered something and the lights came up partway, as though the lamps had heavy shades around them. His skin was flushed and rather mottled and the scar on his throat did look garish by contrast, but he had also never looked better to Harry. "This is what you'll be getting," Snape told him.
With a grin, Harry dropped a kiss on Snape's chest. "Looks fine to me." He heard Fawkes trill softly and blushed, glancing over at the bird, but Fawkes had tucked his head into a wing and appeared to be asleep. "Though next time I think we should go somewhere more comfortable. Like a bed. I have one at my house, if you'd like to see it."
Snape's brows pulled together. "I presume that what's left of the Order is no longer occupying your home?"
"I have it all to myself. Well, except a couple of house elves, but they're reasonably helpful most of the time. I bet I could even get one of them to build you a potions laboratory in my cellar, if you wanted."
Snape stared at him. "Why would you want me in your cellar?"
"It'd be easier to see more of each other that way." Harry glanced around the room. "I don't even know exactly where we are, remember? I couldn't find it again without Fawkes."
With a small sigh, Snape said, "You are in Spinner's End. Where I grew up. As did your mother." Harry nodded, waiting, but Snape did not continue, though Harry was hoping that Snape would tell him some more about his mum eventually. After a few moments, Snape added, "You are certain that no one will be coming to arrest me?"
"Quite certain. I've been working up to getting Shacklebolt to nominate you for the Order of Merlin. He'll do it, but I'm probably going to have to give five interviews about how wonderful the Ministry is becoming." Harry laughed a bit. "If you give the Daily Prophet an exclusive and talk about what wonderful job the new Minister is doing, he might even give you your old job back."
Snape gave an exaggerated shudder, though Harry didn't think it was entirely feigned. "I will not be returning to Hogwarts," he said.
"Then what are you planning to do?" Silence. "You must have had some sort of back-up plan for that." Snape shook his head. "You mean the only plans you made were not to die and then to find me?"
His cheeks coloring faintly, Snape gave a stiff nod. "That was the extent of it. I thought that, if I was lucky enough to get that far, I would work out the rest as it came to me."
"All right, then, I have a plan," Harry said. "It involves us seeing a lot more of each other."
Snape wasn't quite quick enough at swallowing his smile. "And if your overly optimistic view of the world proves to be wrong, and everyone you know wants to kill me?" he demanded.
"I'll tell them they have go to through me first." Harry grinned in return. "And if that doesn't work, we can go into hiding together and send Howlers until they come to their senses. See, you're not the only one who can come up with a back-up plan. Now, in case we need an alternative place to stay, I assume you have a bed here, too." His stomach rumbled. "But first, did you say there were biscuits?"
"If you're hungry, I can Transfigure a pickled slug into one." Snape laughed aloud at Harry's expression. "There are biscuits in the kitchen. Shall we put our trousers back on?"
"We shouldn't bother. We might need to be naked in a hurry."
Harry's cock twitched a bit. Snape had been right -- he did recover quickly. He slid his arms around Snape’s neck, deciding he didn’t care if Snape never smiled at anyone but him if Snape was going to look like that when he did.
"Haven't we both,” he asked, knowing that Snape was going to kiss him again, “benefited from planning things out in advance?"