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The Marriage Stone

by
Josephine Darcy

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Disclaimer: All places and characters belong to JK Rowling and the WB and various
publishers. No money is being made off this piece of fiction.

Warnings: This story is Slash of the HP/SS variety (there will also be some SB/RL and
HG/RW as a side plot). My rating, however, is more due to violence than any explicit sexual
content. I tend to focus more on 'romance' rather than anything graphically sexual. If you
do not like Slash, don't read this.

Author's Note: Cannon through Book 4 only. There is a longer note at the end of this chapter
with more details about this subject.

The Marriage Stone

Art:

http://landorie.deviantart.com/art/Severus-27375635

http://tarot7.deviantart.com/art/Harry-and-Friends-28585221

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Chapters
Chapter 1 Trouble With the Minister .................................................................................................. 6

Chapter 2 With This Ring ................................................................................................................... 17

Chapter 3 Dungeon Dwellers ............................................................................................................ 25

Chapter 4 Facing the World............................................................................................................... 36

Chapter 5 Dark Marks........................................................................................................................ 45

Chapter 6 Life with Snape ................................................................................................................. 52

Chapter 7 The Binds that Tie ............................................................................................................. 64

Chapter 8 All the Kings Men .............................................................................................................. 70

Chapter 9 Dog Star ............................................................................................................................ 79

Chapter 10 Swords and Arrows ......................................................................................................... 88

Chapter 11 Confronting Gryffindors.................................................................................................. 96

Chapter 12 Placing Blame................................................................................................................ 101

Chapter 13 Understanding Werewolves ......................................................................................... 108

Chapter 14 Returning to Normal ..................................................................................................... 116

Chapter 15 Manners ........................................................................................................................ 123

Chapter 16 Meeting the In-Laws ..................................................................................................... 130

Chapter 17 Thorns ........................................................................................................................... 137

Chapter 18 Heart of the Maze ......................................................................................................... 145

Chapter 19 Bonds ............................................................................................................................ 151

Chapter 20 Sinistra .......................................................................................................................... 159

Chapter 21 Serpents ........................................................................................................................ 167

Chapter 22 Family............................................................................................................................ 172

Chapter 23 Wolves .......................................................................................................................... 177

Chapter 24 History Lessons ............................................................................................................. 184

Chapter 25 Christmas Eve ............................................................................................................... 190

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Chapter 26 Christmas Presents ....................................................................................................... 199

Chapter 27 Before the Storm .......................................................................................................... 205

Chapter 28 Viking ............................................................................................................................ 210

Chapter 29 Understanding Duty...................................................................................................... 218

Chapter 30 Pursuit ........................................................................................................................... 226

Chapter 31 Drawing Closer .............................................................................................................. 233

Chapter 32 Growing Pains ............................................................................................................... 238

Chapter 33 Tall Tales ....................................................................................................................... 247

Chapter 34 To Sleep ........................................................................................................................ 252

Chapter 35 Into the Breach ............................................................................................................. 259

Chapter 36 Carrying the Stone ........................................................................................................ 265

Chapter 37 The Other Side .............................................................................................................. 271

Chapter 38 Politics ........................................................................................................................... 277

Chapter 39 Family Honor ................................................................................................................ 286

Chapter 40 The Madness of the Wolf ............................................................................................. 293

Chapter 41 Feral .............................................................................................................................. 301

Chapter 42 Lemon Drops................................................................................................................. 310

Chapter 43 What are Friends For .................................................................................................... 317

Chapter 44 To Sleep ........................................................................................................................ 325

Chapter 45 Dragon Taming ............................................................................................................. 333

Chapter 46 Seeing Red .................................................................................................................... 342

Chapter 47 Cedo .............................................................................................................................. 349

Chapter 48 Wolf at the Door ........................................................................................................... 358

Chapter 49 Dancing ......................................................................................................................... 370

Chapter 50 What Dreams May Come.............................................................................................. 377

Chapter 51 Grand Gestures ............................................................................................................. 386

Chapter 52 Valentine ....................................................................................................................... 396

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Chapter 53 Polite Affections ........................................................................................................... 408

Chapter 54 Waking Moony.............................................................................................................. 418

Chapter 55 Legal Maneuvers........................................................................................................... 429

Chapter 56 Chess Pieces .................................................................................................................. 442

Chapter 57 Seeing the Obvious ....................................................................................................... 451

Chapter 58 The Meaning of Things ................................................................................................. 460

Chapter 59 Something Wicked ........................................................................................................ 468

Chapter 60 The King's Voice ............................................................................................................ 477

Chapter 61 The Calling .................................................................................................................... 488

Chapter 62 Stonehenge ................................................................................................................... 495

Chapter 63 The Heart that Bleeds ................................................................................................... 505

Chapter 64 The Rest of the World ................................................................................................... 514

Chapter 65 Woolgathering .............................................................................................................. 524

Chapter 66 Synesthesia ................................................................................................................... 531

Chapter 67-- Sharp Edges ................................................................................................................ 540

Chapter 68 The Pursuit of Power .................................................................................................... 548

Chapter 69 Down this Road ............................................................................................................. 556

Chapter 70 - The Price of Valor ....................................................................................................... 563

Chapter 71 - The Things That Matter .............................................................................................. 571

Chapter 72 Moving Forward ........................................................................................................... 581

Chapter 73 - The Way the World Ends ............................................................................................ 590

Chapter 74 -- The Setting Sun.......................................................................................................... 598

Chapter 75 - Brave New World ....................................................................................................... 609

Chapter 76 - The Undeserving ......................................................................................................... 621

Chapter 77 -- Ancient History .......................................................................................................... 633

5
Chapter 1 Trouble With the Minister

H arry did his best to ignore the stares of the other students as he searched for an
empty compartment on the Hogwarts Train. He was used to people staring and
whispering behind his back, but this year it seemed worse than normal. Even his
fellow Gryffindors grew silent when they saw him; they smiled at him as he passed, and
then began whispering about him the moment they assumed he was out of hearing range.

Finding an empty compartment, he hid inside it, thinking it ironic that he could go from one
extreme to the next just by getting on a train. The Dursleys pretended he didn't exist; the
Wizarding World couldn't get enough of him.

He could only hope that this year would be uneventful. Then maybe he'd be left in peace as
people forgot about the events of last year. It wasn't as if he'd wanted to become the target of
Voldemort and his Death Eaters -– he didn't ask for it after all. It just seemed to work out
that way. And last year -- his fifth -- had proven more eventful than the previous four years
combined.

Oh, he'd managed the usual fifteen-year-old antics -- played Quidditch brilliantly, learned
new subjects, passed and failed tests, got detention, won and lost points for Gryffindor,
fought and bonded with his closest friends. But in between the chaos of his typical school
days he also managed to face down Death Eaters and their Dark Lord not once but three
times in the course of the year. The last confrontation, just before the school term ended for
the summer, proved the proverbial bullet the entire Wizarding World dodged.

Voldemort, grown great and terrible in power, had managed to get his hands on a
legendary artifact –- the Eye of Odin, a crystal that could destroy or subjugate any Wizard
who dared stand against its wielder. Naturally he attacked Hogwarts with it, intent on
destroying both Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore. He killed the first wave of Aurors that
moved against him and his followers. They fell with barely a fight, no match for the restored
Dark Lord and his new weapon. Truthfully no one was a match, not even Dumbledore; no
one was strong enough to stand against Voldemort. The strongest in the Wizarding World
gathered in defense of the ancient castle and the children trapped inside. They stood
without hope, even the most optimistic of them realizing finally that putting all their faith in
the abilities of one young boy was ridiculous.

Naturally, Harry Potter rose to the occasion and proved them all wrong. Granted he lacked
the strength or the power to stand against Voldemort; but that didn't stop him from putting
on his invisibility cloak, climbing on his Firebolt, and facing down the Dark Lord as if
competing in a Quidditch match. No magic, no spells, no wands drawn to duel -- Harry
Potter just raced into the midst of the army of Death Eaters on his broom and stole the Eye of
Odin right out of Voldemort's hand.

The backlash of energy released from the theft killed the Death Eaters closest to Voldemort,
drained the Dark Lord of all his reserved power, and landed Harry Potter in the hospital
wing for three weeks. Voldemort fled, weakened but not dead. The Death Eaters scattered,
went back into hiding, and Harry Potter was clapped on the back by a grateful world, and
sent home to Privet Drive for the summer. He spent the summer months suffering
nightmares locked up in a tiny room in his uncle's house while his face was splashed across
the front page of the Daily Prophet incessantly.

Now he rode the train back to Hogwarts, enduring the whispers and stares as best he could.
Eventually Ron and Hermione found him and kept him company. His two friends talked

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about their summers, entertained him with stories about the fun they'd had (they knew he
had not been so lucky staying with the Dursleys), and generally did their best to keep his
mind off the circus that was his life.

It was only as the train was nearing Hogwarts that Hermione hinted at a bizarre political
situation that had risen over the summer -– that Harry, the Hero of the Wizarding World,
had become one of the hottest political commodities in a fierce re-election campaign for the
office of Minister of Magic. Cornelius Fudge was up for re-election and had no less than
fifteen opponents running against him. Gaining the favor of Harry Potter would insure the
election of whatever Wizard or Witch could win it. But as Harry didn't know any of the
other candidates, and had no interest in supporting Cornelius Fudge, he dismissed
Hermione's warnings as unimportant. Little did Harry know that the desire for re-election
was about to turn his world upside down once again.

-------------------------------

Harry sat between Ron and Neville at the Gryffindor table while Dumbledore gave his
opening-year speech, reminding the students to stay out of the Dark Forest and reminding
them that residual magic from the Battle (it hadn't been given a name yet Seamus pointed
out -– though he was pushing for the Battle of Hogwarts) was still lingering around the
Quidditch pitch, and until it had been completely cleaned up all students were to watch
their wand usage in the area. Clean up duty would fall to the seventh years as part of their
practicals on the Misuse of Wild Magic.

"Don't envy them that," Dean told his fellow sixth years. "I imagine they'll still be finding bits
and pieces of Death Eaters out there."

Harry felt himself pale at Dean's words, unable to join in the laugher his words engendered
in the other boys. He'd only wanted to save those inside the castle -- when he'd stolen the
Eye of Odin from Voldemort he hadn't intended to be responsible for so many deaths.

"Dean!" Hermione's voice cut through the laughter, and she glared at the others. "I thought
we all agreed not to mention certain subjects."

Judging by the guilty looks the others were suddenly throwing at Harry, he could imagine
just exactly what those subjects were. He wondered when Hermione had found time to
discuss this with the others, though he was grateful for the effort. The three times he had
faced down Voldemort last year his friends and classmates had all been safely locked away
in Gryffindor tower. To them the stories were distant and fascinating -- to Harry they were
living nightmares that he had to reliving night after night. Summer had been more hellish
than usual. Unable to control his dreams he'd woken his family up most nights with his
screams of terror. And while Uncle Vernon had never really beaten him beyond slaps and
the occasional backhand across the back of the head, Harry had been punished -- going
without meals, earning extra chores, spending all the rest of his time locked up like a
prisoner to be kept away from 'normal' people.

"Sorry, Harry," Dean apologized.

"That's all right," Harry assured them all, wanting to appear as normal as possible. "Though
it does make me wonder what it means for the start of the Quidditch season this year."

"Blast!" Seamus cursed in agreement. "That's right! Do you suppose this means we can't use
brooms around the pitch either?"

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"Dumbledore didn't say anything about brooms," Ron pointed out. "Just said to watch the use
of wands."

"Maybe that means the Slytherins won't be able to cheat this year?" Neville suggested.

They all threw dark glares across the room at the Slytherin table. Malfoy like usual was
holding court with his cohorts around him. Once again Lucius Malfoy had gone
unpunished for his Death Eater activities. The fact that he had not been present at the final
battle had apparently proven his innocence to enough of the higher-ups that they had for
once ignored Harry's testimony that Malfoy was one of Voldemort's most trusted servants.

Both Mr. Goyle, and Mr. Crabbe had been found dead on the field. Their wives however had
pleaded innocent. Consequently both their sons were still firmly ensconced in their usual
places beside Draco Malfoy, going unnoticed by the Ministry who had more than enough to
contend with. If their fathers' allegiance to the Dark Lord had harmed their standing in
Slytherin house any, it was not apparent to Harry or the rest of Gryffindor. How Harry was
going to deal with classmates who believed him responsible for the deaths of their fathers he
didn't know.

"I suppose they'll be more insufferable than ever," Dean grumbled. "Even with half of their
parents suspected of being dark wizards, they still act like they own the world."

"Just goes to show what money and a family name will buy you," Seamus agreed.

"Doesn't explain Snape," Ron grumbled, and Harry threw him a warning frown. They all
knew Snape had been spying for Dumbledore, and last year he, Ron and Hermione had
agreed to speak about him as little as possible for fear of saying something they weren't
supposed to.

"Don't let his disposition fool you," Seamus told them all in a quiet whisper. "Snape's family
is one of the oldest and more powerful in the Wizarding World -- and I hear they're
loaded."

"Snape has a family?" Ron stared at him in shock.

"Well, I don't know much about that," Seamus admitted. "Heard he's got a sister and a
couple of brothers, though I don't know much about them. But my uncle works for the
Ministry's revenue board, and mentioned the funds generated by some of the older family
estates -- he mentioned a Snape Manor."

"That doesn't mean it is Snape's," Hermione pointed out. "If he's got siblings, it's just as likely
any family inheritance went to them."

"Still, wouldn't that just figure," Dean grumbled. "Bastard doesn't need to work, but still he's
here making our lives a living hell just because he enjoys tormenting students."

"Least he doesn't hate you the way he does me," Neville sighed. "I'm just grateful I don't have
to take any more potions classes from him." Neville as expected had done very poorly on his
potions OWLs, and consequently was not enrolled in advanced potions.

"I can't believe Harry and I both made it into advanced potions," Ron muttered. "I can't
believe we actually want to continue taking classes from Snape."

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"You know you can't be an Auror without his class," Hermione reminded him.

"I'm sure if he had been the one grading our OWLs we wouldn't have gotten any," Harry
sighed. "He's going to do his best to make us regret passing this year."

"Don't worry, Harry," Hermione assured him. "We'll all work together and we'll be fine.
We'll all get through potions even if it kills us!"

"That's what we're afraid of," Ron, Dean, Seamus and Harry said in unison. They all burst
into laughter, only to be distracted a moment later as the feast arrived on their table.
Starving, Harry dug in, having one of the first decent meals he'd had all summer long.

They were just getting ready to head back to the tower when Professor McGonagall asked
Harry, Ron and Hermione to accompany her. Bewildered, they bid good night to their year
mates and followed their head of house out of the great hall, wondering what they could
have possible have done in the few short hours they'd been on school grounds to have
drawn the attention of the staff so soon.

They were led to a private room near the main staff lounge where to their surprise they
found Arthur and Molly Weasley waiting for them. While Ron went to greet his parents,
Harry noticed Dumbledore, Snape and Hooch joining them. To his surprise Percy Weasley
was there as well. The former Head Boy of Hogwarts threw Harry a weak smile, said
something to his father, and then hurried back out of the room again. Harry and Hermione
exchanged bewildered looks, both shrugging at each other.

"Ah, Harry," Dumbledore greeted him. "Come in, my boy. Come in. We seem to have a bit of
a problem I'm afraid."

Harry felt his heart fluttering his chest. When Dumbledore said there was a problem, it
usually meant something bad. "Is it. . ." his voice broke and he was ashamed to see that
Snape was glaring at him. "Is it Voldemort?"

His use of the Dark Lord's name had the typical response. Everyone except Dumbledore and
Snape flinched at the sound.

Dumbledore frowned, something Harry didn't find reassuring. "Well, not directly," he
informed Harry. "Though he does have some bearing on the situation. We've had word that
he's been seen again gathering his forces. Seems he's recovered from his little disaster last
spring."

Harry felt his knees growing weak and he was thankful to discover a chair directly behind
him as he sat down without thinking. "You said not directly, sir?" he asked shakily.
Voldemort was gathering his forces, but that wasn't the problem Dumbledore was currently
frowning over. This was not going to be good. He could tell just by the worried looks on Mr.
and Mrs. Weasley's faces.

"I'm afraid our current problem has to do with Minister Fudge," Dumbledore explained.

Harry glanced briefly at the others in the room. For the most part he saw looks of disgust on
the faces of the adults in the room. "Something's happened to Minister Fudge?"

"I wish," Molly Weasley muttered under her breath. Arthur nodded in agreement.

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"No, Harry," Dumbledore sighed, pausing to stroke his long silver beard. "I suppose you
haven't been reading the papers this summer?"

"No, sir," Harry admitted. "My uncle gets the Times but he'd take a belt to me if I touched it."

Surprisingly that comment got as many winces as the mention of Voldemort's name did,
followed by a baffling exchange of looks amongst the adults.

"I actually meant Wizarding papers, my boy," Dumbledore said gently. "But never mind
that. The thing is Harry, Cornelius Fudge is up for re-election, and he has more competition
than he's ever had before. All of the candidates are clamoring for favor among the
Wizarding World. And it seems you're the favored ticked to the office."

"I don't understand, sir," Harry frowned, wishing now he had paid more attention to
Herminie's explanation on the train. How could he have anything to do with an election?

"It's a popularity contest, Harry," Hermione explained. "Which ever candidate can get you to
endorse them is bound to win as public opinion pretty much favors anything to do with
you."

Surprised, Harry blinked in confusion. "But I don't even know any of the other candidates. I
haven't favored any of them. I haven't even spoken to any of them. How could I be involved
in this election?"

"Doesn't matter, Harry," Dumbledore explained. "It's more a matter of what news gets
printed, and you know the Daily Prophet's fondness for making up stories. It's rather
amazing how many of these candidates have admitted to having private conversations with
you about battle tactics and defensive spells. But that's the least of our worries. Minister
Fudge has decided to take this whole situation one step farther and get you on his side once
and for all."

"What do you mean?"

Dumbledore frowned and glanced over at Arthur Weasley. Arthur sighed and sat down
beside Harry. "Percy intercepted a memo at the Ministry. He's the one who warned me about
what was going on. It seems Minister Fudge has decided to declare your uncle an unfit
guardian and adopt you himself."

Harry leaped to his feet in shock. "Adopt me!" He'd spent his childhood unwanted, and now
suddenly the bloody Minister of Magic wanted to adopt him.

"Yes, Harry," Arthur nodded. "And unfortunately, considering who he is, there are very few
legal impediments in his way. He's apparently already had all the paperwork finished. We
only just discovered this ourselves. Percy said that assuming he can prove his claims against
your uncle, the adoption should be legal tonight or tomorrow morning."

"But this is ridiculous!" Harry protested, his words echoed closely by Ron and Hermione
both.

"Harry," Dumbledore interrupted. "It's only ridiculous if the claims against your uncle are
unfounded."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked warily.

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"What he's trying to ask Harry is whether or not Minister Fudge has any legal right to claim
your uncle unfit," Molly explained gently. "We all know that the Dursleys are not nice to
you, but have they ever done anything that could be construed as abuse by a court of law?"

Harry paled. "Like what?"

"Well, you just said something about your uncle taking a belt to you," Molly pointed out.
"Would he really take a belt to you?"

Harry frowned, suddenly unwilling to say anything more. He had no loyalty to his uncle,
but he didn't want to say anything that might get him adopted by Minister Fudge.

"Oh, for the love of Merlin, Potter," Snape growled. "Just answer the question so they know
what to prepare for. You'll be forced to take Veritaserum by the Ministry if this goes to
court."

Harry stared at Snape in shock.

"Severus!" Molly Weasley glared at the Potion Master. "Don't upset the boy! Now, then
Harry, dear, you need to tell us what you can. Has there been any abuse?"

Harry squirmed, hating the attention he was being given, particularly by Ron and
Hermione. "I'm not certain what you might mean?" he admitted.

"Potter!" Snape growled again. "Don't be obtuse. Has your uncle abused you? Has he beaten
you, starved you, locked you up, hurt your feelings or stolen your bloody teddy bear?!"

All the adults in the room were glaring at Snape now, and Harry grew pale under his dark
gaze. But when no other words were forth coming, from anyone, Harry realized that despite
the delivery, everyone expected him to answer Snape's questions. "Yes," he admitted quietly.

His words seemed to surprise Snape, who blinked in shock and actually took a step back as
if not expecting that answer.

Dumbledore, looking suddenly every one of his years, sat down on one of the remaining
armchairs. "Would you care to elaborate, Harry?" the Headmaster asked softly. Harry
blinked at the man in surprise, bewildered by his obvious distress.

"I'm sorry, sir," he admitted. "You know all this already."

Dumbledore's normally twinkling eyes were sad. "What do you mean, Harry?"

"Well, my letter to Hogwarts for one thing, sir," he explained. "You sent it to me with my
address on it: Harry Potter Cupboard Under the Stairs."

Harry had seen Dumbledore face down Death Eaters without flinching, but this actually
made the old man pale. "Do you mean to tell me you were kept in a cupboard?"

Harry nodded. "For ten years," he admitted. "They moved me out after the letter came,
because they realized you must have known."

"Harry, the Hogwarts letters are magically addressed," Professor McGonagall informed him.
"None of us would have ever seen the address written on it."

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"And the rest of it, Harry?" Molly Weasley asked softly; Harry was dismayed to see that her
eyes were suspiciously bright.

"Well, I never actually had a teddy bear," he admitted, throwing a glare at Snape who was
looking surprisingly subdued. "My uncle hit me sometimes," he admitted. "But not that
often. Usually when he wanted to punish me he just locked me up and wouldn't feed me. I
figured you knew though -- that's why you send me all that food for my birthday."

Molly's eyes just grew brighter and Harry was growing seriously concerned that she might
cry. "When Ron said you were starving, I just assumed you were starving the same way all
teenage boys are always starving -- no more than six or seven square meals a day."

Six or seven square meals a day? Harry's eyes widened. That would certainly explain why
Ron and his brothers were so tall.

"How long would he starve you, Harry?" Professor McGonagall asked.

Harry shrugged. "Well, usually only two or three days, sometimes if he was really angry
four or five days at a time. Not enough to make me really sick or anything." To his dismay
he realized his words didn't quite have the reassuring affect he was going for. "It's not like
he was trying to kill me or anything!" he assured them all quickly. Not like Voldemort, he
though silently to himself. Next to the things Voldemort had put him through, his uncle was
nothing.

"Harry, I'm sorry," Dumbledore said quietly. "We didn't know. If we'd known, if I'd known, I
never would have left you there."

Harry frowned. "But you sent me there to protect me, sir," he reminded the Headmaster.
"From Voldemort. Because he couldn't get me there." The last thing he wanted was for
Dumbledore to feel bad for his uncle's failings. He understood the necessity, and was
surprised that everyone else seemed to have forgotten it.

"Yes, Harry," Dumbledore nodded in agreement. "But there are always alternatives. I would
have found another solution."

Uncertain how to respond to that, Harry simply fell silent, uncomfortable with the attention.

"Well, that's it, then," Arthur sighed. "Fudge's claim is legal."

"So it would seem," Dumbledore agreed.

"But we can't let Fudge adopt Harry," Ron protested.

"No, we can't," Dumbledore nodded.

"I'm sorry," Hermione broke in, her brow wrinkled in concentration. "I don't really see what
the problem is. I mean granted it would be awful for Harry to be adopted by Fudge. But
would it really make that much of a difference? Fudge is just going to say what ever he
wants to the papers anyway -- Harry's willingness won't make any difference as far as any
endorsement goes with or without the adoption. And it's not like Harry is going to have to
live with Minister Fudge. Harry is in school for most of the year, and the Minister is much to
busy during the summer months to have any time for Harry."

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"I'm afraid that's not true, Hermione," Dumbledore explained. "That's the problem you see.
Fudge has decided to remove Harry from school."

Hermione's eyes widened in horror. "But he can't! How would he ever explain that to the
papers? Removing the Boy Who Lived from school before he even took his NEWTs."

"Private tutors," Arthur explained. "He intends to have Harry tutored by his private staff.
That way he can get Harry out from under the influence of Headmaster Dumbledore,
something he'd love to do."

Dumbledore's earlier statements suddenly made more sense to Harry. He paled, his shakes
coming back unexpectedly. "And if he takes me out of Hogwarts that means there will be
nothing to protect me from Voldemort."

Dumbledore simply nodded in silent agreement.

"But surely even Fudge wouldn't be that stupid!" Ron protested, then blushed under the
stares the others in the room threw him. "Okay," he conceded. "I guess he would be."

Part of the reason they'd lost so many Aurors the previous year was because Fudge had
failed to acknowledge Voldemort's return before it was nearly to late. When he finally had
no choice, he'd already been made to look the fool by Dumbledore in the eyes of the public.

"He'd risk my life to further his political career?" Harry asked.

"I'm afraid so," Arthur agreed.

"And there's nothing I can do to stop it?"

"That's what we need to figure out," Arthur explained.

"But what about Sirius?" Harry protested. "My parents appointed him my legal guardian.
Surely his claim must take precedence over Fudge's?"

Arthur shook his head. "Fudge has nullified his claim. At the moment Sirius Black is still a
convicted killer and as such is unfit as your godfather."

"Dad!" Ron exclaimed with a wild grin. "Why don't we adopt Harry!"

Arthur and Molly both smiled at that. "We already thought of that, Ron," Molly admitted.
She smiled sadly at Harry. "Believe me Harry we would take you gladly. But there is no way
we can out-maneuver the Minister. He's already had all the paperwork done. It would take
us at least three months to process such a claim. If we'd known about this earlier, we could
have done something. But as it is, Fudge's claim will be legal in a few hours if it's not
already."

"Then there's nothing we can do?" Harry asked. "We can't stop the adoption." He looked at
Dumbledore, who looked lost in thought as if trying to formulate some plan. "I'll be a sitting
duck if Fudge gets his hands on me. If Voldemort himself doesn't get me, Fudge's close
personal friend Lucius Malfoy will. I have no choice. I'll have to run."

"You'll be a sitting duck if you run," Snape informed him. "You leave a magical signature
behind that a child could follow. Voldemort will find you in a matter of days."

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Harry glared at the Potions Master. "Then what am I supposed to do? I can't run, I can't
fight! What am I supposed to do?"

"This is ridiculous!" Hermione exclaimed in frustration. "I mean Harry hardly needs another
legal guardian! Doesn't seem fair. He's old enough to get married, but he's not old enough to
live on his own!"

Several heads shot up at that, sharp gazes staring at Hermione in amazement. "What?" she
said in surprise taking a step back at the scrutiny.

"Hermione Granger, you are brilliant!" Dumbledore exclaimed.

She frowned. "What did I say?"

"Marriage!" Dumbledore exclaimed. "You are absolutely right, Harry is old enough to get
married."

"And if he's married, he's automatically considered a legal adult and no longer needs a
guardian. Fudge's adoption will be void," Arthur nodded in agreement. "It's a brilliant
solution."

"What is?" Harry protested. Surely they weren't suggested what he though they were
suggesting.

"Marriage, my boy!" Dumbledore explained, the happy twinkle back in his blue eyes. "We've
simply got to get you married before Fudge arrives with the adoption papers. There won't be
a thing he can do about it."

Harry's eyes widened in shock. "Marriage! But I'm only sixteen!"

"Legal age for marriage in the Wizarding World is fifteen, Harry," Arthur explained. "Used
to be thirteen but they changed the age requirements back in 1504."

1504? Stunned Harry shook his head in denial. Why didn't people teach him these things in
school! "But. . . but. . . .marriage? Whom am I supposed to marry?"

Ron and Hermione were staring at him in alarm. Harry almost missed the look of panic Ron
threw toward Hermione, the way his face flushed and then paled as if realizing the most
obvious match for his friend. It was enough to momentarily distract Harry -- the realization
that his friend had actually admitted, at least to himself, his feelings for the brilliant Miss
Granger. He also noticed that Ron bit his lip to keep from saying anything, and he
understood in a strange leap of logic that Ron would never say anything if he thought it
would be what was best for Harry.

"Well, we had best find someone quickly," Dumbledore decided, momentarily glancing
himself at Hermione. Harry glared at him, silently willing him to look somewhere else. He'd
marry Mrs. Norris before he did that to his two best friends in the world.

"Do you have a girlfriend, dear?" Molly asked, failing to notice the panic her own son was
experience. She smiled hopefully over at Hermione.

"No!" Harry insisted. "I don't."

14
"Well, what about. . ." Molly began, still looking at Hermione.

"No!" Harry cut her off before she could speak the words out loud. "No offence Hermione,"
he said quickly. "But that would be like marrying my sister!"

"No offence taken," Hermione assured him, looking quite relieved. Ron still said nothing, but
Harry saw the look of relief in his eyes. It was followed swiftly by a look of shame, and
Harry frowned. This sucked! He wondered if he could just curse Fudge with one of the
Unforgivables instead?

"The Marriage Stone!" Dumbledore exclaimed suddenly. They all turned to look at him.

"Do you still have that old thing?" Madam Hooch asked in wonder.

"It's in my office," Dumbledore told her. "Would you get it for me?"

She nodded and excused herself from the room.

"Are you sure you should use that, Albus?" McGonagall asked worriedly. "It's caused no end
of difficulties in the past."

"Only when the people in question have already been married. But Harry isn't married yet."

"The Marriage Stone," Hermione mused. "I've heard of that. I read about it."

Of course she had, Harry thought. "What is it?"

"It's a very old artifact, Harry," Dumbledore told him. "It shows you your perfect match for a
bond mate."

"Perfect match?" Harry said warily. "That doesn't sound bad? What's the catch?" He'd
learned the hard way that there was always a catch.

"Depends on who's looking into it, Harry," Hermione told him. "The most famous match the
Marriage Stone apparently ever revealed was for Queen Guinevere. She looked into it to see
her perfect match -- unfortunately she was married to King Arthur at the time and the stone
showed her that her perfect match was in fact Sir Lancelot. And we all know how well that
story ends."

"How's this going to help Harry?" Ron frowned. "I mean if he's got to get married between
now and tomorrow morning. What if it shows Harry someone he doesn't know? I mean his
perfect match could be living on the other side of the world. Or maybe his perfect match is
someone who doesn't like him. Or someone who's too young for him right now. Or someone
who is already married. There's a reason no one uses that stone any more."

"Well then we'll have to think of something else," Dumbledore explained. "We'll have to find
someone else to fill in if that's the case. But we should at least try to make Harry a good
match. He deserves every chance at happiness we can give him."

"Happiness?" Harry protested, his stomach turning at the very thought. "Come on. We're
doing this to keep me alive. Nothing more. The most we can hope for is that we can find
someone in this castle who'd be willing to go through with this farce to keep me alive."

15
He couldn't help thinking that somehow Cho Chang's name was going to come up in a
matter of moments. He'd had a crush on her fourth year and both Ron and Hermione knew
it. Trouble was Cedric Diggory's death had put a stake in the heart of that little romance.
Guilt had overwhelmed him every time he looked at her after that. Much as he still liked
Cho he imagined it would be easier for him to marry Pansy Parkinson than it would to
marry Cho.

Madam Hooch returned a moment later carrying a large blue crystal ball in one hand. They
all looked at her expectantly. "Well?" Dumbledore asked her.

"Oh, you mean you want me. . ." She shrugged and looked into the crystal. "Harry Potter!"
she said clearly and distinctly to the stone. They all stared at it expectantly, but nothing
happened as far as Harry could see. The blue crystal continued to just look like an ordinary
blue crystal. Madam Hooch however paled suddenly, covering the crystal with her other
hand with a gasp of shock. They all stared at her. "I don't think it's working," she exclaimed.
"I think it's broken."

"Oh, good grief!" McGonagall exclaimed. "Give it here!" She held her hand out for it. Hooch
handed it over to her without question.

"Harry Potter!" Professor McGonagall said to the stone. Again Harry saw absolutely nothing
happen. Everyone else was watching with undisguised curiosity. Like Hooch, McGonagall
paled and then flushed. She turned toward Dumbledore holding the crystal out to him.
"Perhaps it would be best if you tried, Albus."

"Who did you see?" Ron and Harry asked in unison.

McGonagall just shook her head. "Let the Headmaster have a go at it."

Frowning in curiosity, Dumbledore took the crystal, held it out in one wrinkled hand and
said, "Harry Potter!" clearly to it. Unlike Hooch and McGonagall, Dumbledore smiled, his
eyes taking on a most wicked twinkle. Harry felt himself growing nervous. Sometimes
Dumbledore's twinkles were worse than his frowns. "Oh, excellent match indeed!" the
Headmaster exclaimed in delight. He turned toward Snape. "Severus. . ."

"Bloody hell!" Snape hissed. "You three are perfectly competent to look into a bloody crystal
and tell us who you see. You don't need me looking as well!"

Dumbledore, still smiling, blinked at him. "Of course not, Severus. I didn't mean for you to
look. You ARE the match it showed us."

------------------------------------------------------

Author's Note:

This story started out as a simple idea -- a forced, arranged marriage between Harry and
Snape. I wanted to explore the idea of a slow developing relationship that didn't end up with
a 16-year-old boy simply jumping into a sexual relationship with a grown man. And I
wanted to play around with the concept of Victorian ideas in the Wizarding World -- after
all if socially the Wizarding World is many years (or even centuries) behind the Muggle
World, then arranged marriages would probably be normal. They were once considered
normal in our world as well -- and are still practiced in many parts of the world today.

16
But as often happens, the story quickly took on a life of its own and became something else -
- something far more epic than I ever imagined.

I started this story long before Book 5 came out. It was supposed to be a short story and
should have been finished before Book 5 came out -- certainly should have been finished
before Book 6 came out. And now, we're facing the appearance of Book 7 and it's still not
done -- I figured I better get at least part of it out to the world before Rowlings kills off all
the main characters and depresses me to the point where I don't want to write any more.

I thought about making the story Book 5 compliant, but the truth of the matter is, I didn't
like Book 5. And ultimately Sirius Black is important to this plot line so this book will only
ever be canon up through Book 4. I may ultimately introduce some characters from Book 5
or Book 6 (maybe Shacklebolt or Tonks) and I mention the Order in passing, but for the
most part I'm ignoring everything beyond Book 4 entirely.

The three most noticeable differences (beyond the events themselves) are that Sirius is alive,
Snape's family history is dramatically different, and Voldemort works a bit harder for the
title of Dark Lord. In this story you will eventually learn that Voldemort is far more
dangerous than he ever seems to be in Book 5 and Book 6 (he's not going to spend a year
trying to hear a stupid prophecy that made everyone else say "Duh!" when they finally
learned what the 'big surprise' was at the end of the story.) I think to truly have the title of
Dark Lord you need to aim a bit higher on the terror and destruction meter. My Dark Lord
will be aiming about as high as it goes -- Harry will have his work cut out for him.
Consequently the 'slow developing relationship' between Harry and Snape that this story
was supposed to be about, will have some twists and turns I didn't foresee. I hope you enjoy
it.

Chapter 2 With This Ring

H arry felt the blood drain from his face even as he saw Snape's eyes widening in
utter shock. "What?" the Potion Master asked, looking from Dumbledore to
McGonagall to Hooch. To Harry's horror McGonagall and Hooch both gave him a
sickly nodded of confirmation.

"Snape!" Ron exclaimed in dismay.

"But that's impossible!" Harry protested, looking at them as if they'd lost their minds. Molly
and Arthur didn't look particularly happy, but they didn't look nearly as upset as Harry
though they should have.

Dumbledore frowned at Harry. "Why would it be impossible? I realize you and Professor
Snape don't get along very well, but that's often the case in these situations. You'll get past
that eventually. It's an excellent match. You are both relatively equal in power and ability --
or will be once you've finished your schooling Harry. And until you do, Severus is certainly
capable of protecting you from any threat. And you have more in common than you realize,
and--"

"But he's a man!" Harry interrupted, wondering if the Headmaster had completely lost his
mind.

Dumbledore looked a bit baffled by his comment. Hermione leaned toward Harry. "That's a
Muggle prejudice, Harry," she whispered to him. "It doesn't really translate in the

17
Wizarding World -- Wizarding bond marriages are legal between two consenting adults of
any gender or species."

"Really?' Harry turned to stare at her in surprise. He'd never really thought about it on a
personal level, had no deep prejudice himself against homosexuality though he couldn't
recall any situation where he could have formed an opinion one way or another. But that
the Wizarding World had no prejudice against. . ."Species!" he exclaimed suddenly realizing
what else she had implied in that statement.

"Didn't you ever wonder where centaurs came from?" she asked with a shrug. "Under those
circumstances, very few matches shock the Wizarding World."

"I am not marrying Potter!" Snape announced before Harry could reply further.

"Now, Severus," Dumbledore argued. "It's a good match. And it solves all sorts of problems,
the first being that the odds of finding someone else suitable between now and tomorrow
morning is highly unlikely."

"Good match!" Snape growled. "Apart from the fact that we can't stand each other, have you
forgotten my OTHER job description?"

Harry almost jumped up and echoed Snape's words right there. That was absolutely right!
Snape couldn't marry Harry and be a spy at the same time. It would be an absolute
proclamation of his loyalties if he did so. He managed, however, to restrain himself, certain
that Snape would not welcome his help in any way.

"Granted you can't possibly maintain your fiction as a loyal Death Eater," Dumbledore
agreed amiably. "But I've been meaning to talk to you about that any way Severus. It's grown
far too dangerous. If Voldemort hadn't sent you and Lucius away on that little wild goose
chase I dreamed up last spring, you'd would have been killed along with the others in the
battle."

Harry's eyes widened at that. He hadn't even thought of wondering how it was that Snape
had managed to both remain a believable spy and keep himself out of the battle. He shivered
suddenly at the realization that along with the loyal Death Eaters he might very well have
been responsible for the death of Professor Snape last spring. And while he didn't like Snape,
he had to admit he admired the man's courage and bravery, not to mention his unswerving
loyalty to Dumbledore despite the hellish life he must live as a spy.

"No," Dumbledore said firmly. "It's time to pull you in from the field, Severus. We need you
here, with us. And this way we'll be certain of having a loyal member of the Order at
Harry's side to protect him."

"Albus!" Snape protested in horrified shock.

Dumbledore rose suddenly, taking hold of Snape's arm and leading him off to the side of the
room to speak with him quietly. Ron and Hermione took the opportunity to speak with
Harry in quite whispers.

"This is insane," Ron protested. "They can't be seriously considering marrying you to that
greasy git!"

18
Somewhat panic stricken, Harry looked up at them in desperation. What in hell was he
going to do? It seemed a matter of who got to kill him first -- if he didn't marry Snape
Voldemort would kill him. If he did marry him, Snape would probably kill him himself. Not
to mention what the other Gryffindors and Slytherin would do. He'd never really thought
seriously about marriage, but he always assumed that if he survived to adulthood, he would
fall in love like his parents had, get married, raise a family. Rather liked the idea actually.
But to spend the rest of his life trapped in the company of Severus Snape, most hated teacher
in Hogwarts. It would be like one endless potions class for the rest of his life.

"Harry, we can't allow this," Hermione agreed, looking somewhat resignedly over at Ron.

Ron, looking pale and sick, nodded in agreement. "Right you are," he said firmly. "We're
your best friends, Harry. Either one of us. . ." his voice broke momentarily and he cleared it
quickly. "Either one of us will marry you before we let you marry, Snape."

It took a moment for Harry to understand what his friend was saying, mostly because he
still hadn't quite gotten over the shock of learning that the Wizarding World didn't
apparently have any prejudice at all against two men marrying each other. It sunk in finally
that both his friends were willing to marry him, were willing to sacrifice their own
possibility for future happiness to protect him. And while he desperately wanted an out --
someway to avoid a marriage to Snape, he knew in his heart that he could never do that to
his friends.

Truth was, no matter how he looked at it, his life and his happiness had never been his own.
From the moment Voldemort had killed his family and turned him into the Boy Who Lived,
his life had been completely out of his control. He'd always been denied choices -- first with
the Dursleys and then with the Wizarding World and the belief that he was going to save
them. Actually doing just that, saving them last spring had only reinforced that belief. And
no matter what else he did in life, what else he might hope or dream, Voldemort was never
going to let him live a normal existence. Like as not Voldemort wasn't going to let him live
period. At least he could ensure that his friends still had a chance at a normal life.

"You are my best friends," he told Ron and Hermione quietly. "And if I'm to face what ever is
to come with Voldemort, I need my best friends beside me -- as my best friends. I can't
marry either of you. It would ruin everything between us."

"Harry," Hermione protested. "We would never allow it to ruin anything."

"She's right, mate," Ron agreed. "We'll always be your best friends. No matter what
happens."

Seemed he needed something more persuasive. He caught both of their hands. "You two are
the only things in my life that are normal and sane," he told them fiercely. "I can't lose that.
And marrying one of you would change that. I can't."

They both seemed to understand and he saw the looks of mingled relief and guilt in their
eyes. "But Snape," Ron protested one last time. "What about. . .Ginny? I'm sure she'd. . ."

"She won't be fifteen for another month yet," Hermione reminded him. "It will be too late by
then."

"Besides," Harry admitted. "Marrying Ginny would be like marrying my LITTLE SISTER. I
couldn't do that either." He was well aware of the fact that Ginny had a crush on him.
Adding the whole crush thing into an arranged marriage would be a recipe for disaster as
19
far as he was concern. At least one thing was certain -- there would never exist any
misunderstandings like that between him and Snape. He glanced across the room at Snape
who was still locked in a heated argument with the Headmaster. Snape looked angrier than
he'd ever seen him and he sighed in despair.

Molly and Arthur, having moved aside to allow the three of them to speak quietly together,
rejoined them. "Everything okay, Harry dear?" Molly asked in concern.

"Mom, this is just awful!" Ron protested. "We can't allow Harry to marry Snape."

Molly frowned thoughtfully. "I know you don't like Professor Snape," Molly agreed. "But the
Headmaster is right when he says this solves a lot of problems. Severus Snape comes from a
very respected, very old and wealthy Wizarding family. Truth is if we did find some nice
sweet young girl for Harry to marry, odds are Minister Fudge would find a way to declare
the marriage null and proceed with the adoption anyway. There are very few families with
standing enough to get away with something like this. I thought maybe Bill or Charlie
perhaps, but we just don't have the money or standing to face down Fudge. But he
absolutely will not attempt to cross Severus. He'd know he'd lose that battle."

"You make it sound like you actually think that Snape will agree to this?" Ron exclaimed.
"Or that if he did, he'd go out of his way to protect Harry. You don't know him like we do."

"I'm certain Severus will agree to it," Arthur corrected. "Albus Dumbledore is nothing if not
persuasive. And yes, Severus will protect Harry. If he marries Harry he'd be honor-bound to
protect him."

"If he doesn't kill him first," Ron protested.

"He's never tried to kill me," Harry admitted quietly to his friend. He couldn't believe he was
actually defending Snape, but the man had risked his own life several times to save Harry.
And God knew he risked his life time and time again for the Order of the Phoenix to get
information to all of them about Voldemort's activities.

"He's actually quite a catch," Molly informed all of them. "Money alone."

"Then it's true, he does have money?" Hermione asked.

"Oh heavens, dear," Molly laughed. "Simply being a Potion Master would make him rich
enough -- there isn't a more lucrative job in all the Wizarding World than that. But he also
comes from old money."

"But he's too old for Harry," Ron argued further.

Both Molly and Arthur looked surprised by that comment. "He's only twenty years older
than Harry," Arthur pointed out as if that seemed the most common thing in the world.
Harry was beginning to suspect that once again there was something else about Wizarding
society he hadn't learned. That suspicion was only confirmed when Ron sighed and nodded
in agreement.

Once again Muggle-born Hermione came to his rescue. "Think about how long wizards
live," she whispered quietly to him. "Double if not triple the life expectancy of a Muggle. An
age difference would have to be closer to sixty or eighty years before anyone would notice
it."

20
He nodded in sudden comprehension. "I guess none of this matters anyway," Harry sighed.
"Doesn't really matter if I marry Snape, Filch or McGonagall. I either have to get married,
run for my life, or change my name to Fudge. And since two of those choices end with me
being dead at the hands of Voldemort, I guess the other isn't that bad." His stomach twisted
and protested the very thought however. He felt sick.

Before anyone could offer further argument or consolation the door opened and Percy re-
entered, catching all their attention. "What ever you're going to do, you had best do it soon,"
he informed all of them. "The final document was just filed at the Ministry. Fudge will be
here within a half hour to take Harry away."

"Well that's it then," Dumbledore proclaimed. "No more arguments. We have no choice in
this matter, and we don't have time to find a different solution." He looked rather pointedly
at Snape at this. The Potion Master just glared and looked away. Harry took that to mean
that Arthur was right and that Snape had indeed been persuaded. He felt momentarily faint.

"We had best get this over with then," Dumbledore continued. "Percy we'll need your help
with the documentation."

"Documentation?" Percy asked in confusion.

"Harry and Snape are getting married," Ron informed his brother. Percy's eyes widened in
shock and he looked to his parents for confirmation.

"Can you get the paper filed tonight?" Arthur asked his son.

Percy sputtered for a moment, and then seem to catch himself. "Of course," he nodded,
though his eyes were still wide with disbelief. "I can sneak it in with the rest of my
paperwork before records close tonight."

"Well, then let's get to it," Dumbledore insisted. "Harry, come here."

Harry rose to his feet, surprised to find that his legs actually still supported him as he
walked somewhat dazed toward the Headmaster and Professor Snape. He caught the look
McGonagall threw him, a mixture of pity and disbelief as if she too could not believe that
the hero of her house was going to have to marry the head of Slytherin. He couldn't begin to
imagine what this was going to spell for the rest of the year, how this would affect his
standing at the school. But considering if he didn't do this, in a half hour he'd be dragged
out of this castle for good by Cornelius Fudge, he supposed there was no choice in the
matter.

He found himself standing in front of the Headmaster beside a glaring Severus Snape. "Clasp
right hands together," Dumbledore told them both.

Harry held out one shaking hand, unable to make himself take the initiative and actually
take Snape's hand himself. Snape did it for him. Snape's hand was not shaking, and his grip
was just a trifle too tight for Harry's peace of mind. His hand felt warm and Harry found his
face heating in embarrassment. He couldn't bring himself to look into Snape's face, not
certain he could endure the look of disgust he was certain he would see there. He felt
humiliated by the whole situation.

"We'll keep this simple then," Dumbledore assure them all. "Just a quick exchange of vows
and that will be the extent of it. Harry, repeat after me. I, Harry James Potter, take you
Severus Alexander Snape as my bond-mate, joining body, name, house and power to thine."
21
They weren't the words Harry was familiar with in Muggle marriages, but he repeated them
carefully, not really believing any of this was happening. Nor could he believe the words he
next heard.

"I, Severus Alexander Snape, take you Harry James Potter as my bond-mate, joining body,
name, house and power to thine." The melodious voice of the Potions Master was filled with
the same snide mocking tones he'd come to expect in the last six years. He still didn't dare
look up.

"Excellent," Albus nodded, then held out his left hand, wand in his right. One quick tap of
his wand and two golden rings appeared in the palm of his hand. He handed one to each of
them. Snape took the initiative in this, twisting Harry's right hand over and sliding one of
the gold rings onto his third finger. "With this ring, I thee wed," he growled. The ring fit
perfectly, no doubt a testament to Dumbledore's magic. But it felt strangely cold and heavy
on his hand.

He took the other ring and slid it into Snape's finger, his own hands still shaking noticeable.
"With this ring, I thee wed," he muttered weakly the knot in his stomach growing tighter. It
suddenly occurred to Harry what typically followed the exchange of rings in most marriage
ceremony.

"Then I pronounce you bonded," Albus declared. "You may. . ."

Both Harry and Snape glared at him for all they were worth, silencing any suggestion that
they kiss. "Ah, yes, of course," Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Right, then the
documentation." He waved his wand again, producing a large scroll out of the air.
"Standard bonding contract," he informed them, unrolling the scroll on a side table and
producing a quill and bottle of ink. "If you would both sign it."

Snape stepped forward and angrily scratched his name across the document, turning then
to hand the quill to Harry. Harry momentarily caught the gaze of the Potion Master, nearly
flinching under the anger he saw there. He took the quill, turning his attention back to the
document and signed away his life on the line next to Snape's signature.

"And Molly and Arthur if you would both witness the document," Albus asked the two of
them.

The two Weasleys nodded and came forward to add their own signatures to the document.
Harry risked a glance at his two friends. The looks of sympathy on both their faces nearly
made Harry cry. Percy stood beside them, looking on, his own face set in a look of pure
disbelief and amazement.

"That's it then," Dumbledore announced. He rolled up the scroll, magically made a copy of
it, then handed one of them over to Percy. "Good luck, my boy," he informed the young
man. Percy nodded and headed back out the door.

"Well, I suggest a celebration is in order," Dumbledore told the group. "While we wait for
Minister Fudge to put in an appearance."

Though it was quite obvious that no one was in any mood to celebrate, no one protested as
the Headmaster conjured up a bottle of champagne and a tray of sweets. Harry, leaving the
champagne to the adults, took one of the chocolates from the tray and sat down on the far
side of the room, trying to get his nerves under control. Ron and Hermione sat down beside
him in silence. He was peripherally aware of Snape sitting down himself as far from the
22
three of them as possible, while the other five adults each drained a glass of champagne as if
they needed the alcohol to get through the rest of the evening.

They didn't have long to wait. Dobby entered a few moments later announcing that Minister
Fudge had arrived and wanted to speak with the Headmaster and Harry Potter immediately.

"Show him in here, Dobby," Dumbledore told the elf. The little elf nodded and disappeared.
A few moments later the door opened and Minister Fudge strode into the room followed by
two Aurors -- Harry recognized them both. They had been assigned as Fudge's body guards
when it became obvious that Voldemort had returned finally. Fudge rarely went anywhere
without them now. Their presence made Harry sick with the realization that Fudge really
did mean to drag him out of Hogwarts this very night.

"Ah, Cornelius!" Albus greeted with a bright smile. "So good to see you. We're having a bit of
celebration. Would you care for a glass of champagne?"

Somewhat taken aback by the friendly greeting, Fudge's look of determination faltered
briefly. Then he shook his head. "No, I'm not interested in champagne." He waved a
document in the air for all of them to see. "I'm here to take. . ."

"But come, Cornelius," Dumbledore interrupted him, holding out a glass of champagne. "It's
a marriage celebration."

"Confound it all, Albus!" Fudge exclaimed. "I'm here on official business." He shoved the
document at Dumbledore, who sighed and took it from him, looking briefly at the content
on the page.

"Yes, so I see," Dumbledore nodded in agreement, and Fudge looked momentarily


triumphant. "You've adopted Harry," Dumbledore continued. "Which would be all well and
fine I suppose if it were legal."

"I assure it is completely legal," Fudge informed him, and if he was surprised by
Dumbledore's apparent lack of amazement at the revelation he didn't let on.

"Well, yes," Dumbledore agreed again. "If Harry were of proper legal status to require a
guardian. But as he's now married, it's hardly an issue any longer."

Fudge's look of triumphant vanished and he glanced at the champagne Albus was still
holding out toward him. "Married? What in Merlin's name are you talking about?"

Dumbledore smiled. "Harry is married," he announced. "We're celebrating the nuptials even
now." He raised the champagne glass again. "So as good as your intentions are to rescue
Harry from the dubious protections of his uncle, it's no longer necessary."

"Married! To whom!" Fudge demanded, turning toward Harry, his gaze instantly falling on
Hermione Granger who was sitting beside Harry and holding his hand in her own. He
advanced on two of them. "Ms. Granger, I might have known. This matter will be taken care
of immediately. You will both. . ."

To Harry's utter surprise, Snape was suddenly on his feet and across the room standing
between him and Fudge before the Minister could take another step toward them. "He's
married to me, Fudge!" the Potion Master growled at the man. He held up his right hand,
the golden ring flashing on his finger. "And he's not going anywhere with you. Ever!"

23
Fudge actually took several steps back in shock, the two Aurors with him exchanging looks
of wary surprise. Fudge looked toward Dumbledore for confirmation. The headmaster
happily waved his own document at the Minister. "Would you like to see the marriage
certificate?" he asked brightly.

Fudge took the certificate Dumbledore offered him, blanching as he read the signatures on
it. "You can't expect me to believe that this marriage is . . ." he paused as if searching for an
appropriate word. He glared at Snape. "That this marriage is valid?"

The sneer that Snape threw him reminded Harry of the look the professor got just before he
took away a huge numbers of points from Gryffindor. "Minister Fudge, apart from that fact
that our private life is none of your business, you can't actually be suggesting that you think
I wouldn't take advantage of every opportunity afforded to me?"

If he hadn't mentioned the bit about a private life, Harry suspected he might not have
understood what Snape meant. As it was not only did he figure it out but so did Hermione
and Ron and all three of them turned bright red at the implication. Surely Snape wasn't
suggesting. . .actually judging by the look of equal parts embarrassment and fury on Fudge's
face, that was exactly what Snape was implying. Harry looked over at Dumbledore and
McGonagall, but neither of them looked particularly worried by the idea. Molly and Arthur
both looked embarrassed but not worried, and Madam Hooch was actually doing her best to
cover up a snicker of laughter.

Fudge glared at Snape in disgust. "No, I suppose that would be expecting too much of you,
wouldn't it?" He turned to glare at Dumbledore. "I can't believe you would allow this,
Dumbledore! To put Harry Potter into the hands of this man!"

Dumbledore just smiled happily at him. "Why, Cornelius I can't image what you are talking
about. I'm so very happy for Harry and Severus. It's a wonderful match, don't you think?"

There were times when Harry believed that the Headmaster was quite unhinged. How he
could say the things he did with such a believable smile on his face was beyond Harry. He'd
almost swear the man actually believed everything he said.

Far from agreeing with Dumbledore, Fudge just snatched up his adoption papers and strode
out of the room in anger, his two body guards following meekly along behind him.

"Well, that went well, didn't it?" Dumbledore said brightly. "Brilliantly played, Severus!"

For a brief moment Snape almost looked pleased by Dumbledore's comment, then he caught
sight of Harry staring at him in disbelief, and the sneer of disgust returned with a
vengeance.

"What happens next, sir?" Harry asked Dumbledore. "Do you think he'll try something else
like that?"

Dumbledore just shook his head. "I think we're safe enough from Fudge. He won't cross
Severus. And I'm more than certain Severus can deal with any other problems that might
arise with the Ministry."

Not certain at all that he liked the idea of having his safety suddenly handed over to Severus
Snape, Harry just fell silent. He was more than grateful at Molly's suggestion that they call it
a night, pointing out that there was still school in the morning. Ron bid good-bye to his

24
parents, then clapped both Harry and Hermione on the shoulder. "Let's get up to the tower
before anything else happens!" he told the two of them.

Before they could leave the room, Professor McGonagall stopped them. "I'm sorry, Harry,"
she said quietly. "You'll be moving immediately into the dungeons with Severus. I'll have the
elves send your belongings down."

Harry, struck speechless, could only stare at her. Ron, however, became quite vocal. "What!
You can't expect Harry to live with the Slytherins! He belongs up in Gryffindor tower with
the rest of us. Just because he had to marry that . . .that. . .Professor Snape doesn't
automatically make him a Slytherin!"

"You misunderstand me, Mr. Weasley," McGonagall said curtly. "I'm not saying Harry will
be moving into the Slytherin dormitories. He'll be moving into Severus' quarters. They're
married now, and while we don't often have married students on campus, the rules are
quite explicit. They reside either at a private house in Hogsmeade, or in private rooms
within the castle. They do not share dormitories with the single students; that would be
improper. So unless Severus is planning on moving to Hogsmeade. . ." She glanced
expectantly over at Snape who was waiting surprisingly patiently by the door. The glare in
his eyes was indication enough of what he thought of this whole situation.

"No, I'm not planning on moving," he growled.

"Then Harry will be living in the dungeons," McGonagall confirmed. "Now run along all of
you. Despite the situation you will all be expected to behave like students come morning,
and classes start early for all of us."

Ron and Hermione just stared at Harry in horror as he shrugged and made his way
reluctantly toward Snape. He stared at the Potion Master, not entirely certain what to expect
from him. Snape just snorted in disgust, turned in a flaring swirl of robes and stormed
toward the stairs that led to the dungeons. Harry followed silently behind him, heart
pounding in his chest.

Chapter 3 Dungeon Dwellers

H e couldn't believe this was happening. Bad enough he had to spend potions class in
this man's company, but to be now expected to live with him! Oh, he had no doubt
he'd find a way to survive it. After all it couldn't be any worse than the years he'd
endured with the Dursleys. But the school terms had always been his one reprieve from that
nightmare -- living in the Gryffindor Tower had been like some wonderful dream he looked
forward to all summer. The idea that he'd never have that again made him sick to his
stomach. To give up Gryffindor Tower in favor of the dank, dark dungeons!

Snape led him down through the bowels of the castle, down several dark, poorly lit
corridors, their steps echoing ominously in the stone hallways. He paused finally before a
portrait of Salazar Slytherin and a very large snake.

"The password is Eldorado," Snape said for both the painting's and Harry's benefit. The
portrait slid open and Harry followed Snape into the chambers that would be his new home
from now on.

Harry paused in the doorway. Not quiet what he expected. Despite being in the dungeons
and lacking the high windows he was used to having in Gryffindor Tower, the main room

25
actually reminded him somewhat of the Gryffindor common room. Well furnished --
though the primary color scheme was green and not red, thick rugs on the floor, a plush
couch by the magically burning fireplace, comfortable-looking chairs on either side. There
was even a Wizarding chess set waiting in a well-lit corner of the room. Candles and oil
lamps illuminated the place more brightly than he'd expected, and despite being in the
dungeons, it didn't feel at all damp. Or cold.

The walls were draped with tapestries much like the ones he'd seen throughout the rest of
the castle, and there were several doors off this main one which Harry guessed led to other
chambers. Snape he noticed had taken off his outer robe, tossing it over the back of the
couch. The man walked toward a sideboard where he poured himself a tumbler full of an
amber-colored liquid and downed it in one gulp. Harry took his distraction as an
opportunity to glance into some of the other rooms -- a well furnished office off to one side,
a potions workroom off of that, a private library, and a rather enormous bedroom with a
private bath. While he was looking inside, Dobby appeared, along with his trunk, which he
had not yet managed to unpack.

"Here is Harry Potter's belongings," Dobby announced. "Harry Potter is having to stay in the
dungeons now, and Dobby is certain to visit him often!" The little elf smiled happily up at
Harry as if delighted by the turn of events -- but Harry had never really figured out just
what sorts of things the house elves did and did not understand. "Will Harry Potter be
wanting Dobby to help him with anything?"

"No, thanks, Dobby," Harry assured him. "Thanks for bringing my things."

Dobby grinned from ear to ear. "Harry Potter is considered himself most gratefully thanked
for his kindness." And with that the little elf vanished again.

Harry stared down at his trunk, then looked over at Professor Snape who was staring at him
now as if he were some sort of insect he'd trapped under a microscope. Harry shifted
uncomfortably, but when no words were forthcoming from either of them, he sighed and
dragged his trunk off to one side, shoving it up against a wall in the main room and out of
the way. Snape poured himself another drink and Harry worried suddenly that the man was
planning on getting himself good and drunk. He wasn't certain he would know precisely
how to deal with a drunk Snape. At least the man wasn't looking at him any longer.

"Excuse me, sir?" he asked quietly. Snape stiffened, but didn't turn. "Where am I supposed to
sleep?" As far as he could see there was only the one bedroom.

"You can sleep in the closet for all I care, Potter!" Snape snarled as he turned and pinned
Harry with a black glare.

Harry flinched and took a step back, his insides freezing, his heart fluttering at the words,
memories of ten years of small cramped quarters suddenly returning with a vengeance in a
most unexpected way. He'd run away from Hogwarts before he'd go through that again!

His reaction seemed to have startled Snape and to Harry's surprise the man's glare faded
instantly, his face paling. Harry saw his grip tighten momentarily on the drink he was
holding, then he quickly set it aside, taking a hesitant step toward Harry. "I'm sorry," his
words were even more unbelievable considering Harry had never heard him express
remorse for anything. "That was. . .I didn't mean to say that. I wasn't thinking. Please accept
my apology." The man actually looked vaguely sick, and Harry couldn't for the life of him
figure out if it was actual remorse for his words, or over the idea of apologizing for
anything.
26
Harry just nodded tightly, wrapping his arms around himself against an imagined chill. He
said nothing more, waiting for Snape to remember his initial question. The man seemed to
gather himself again, and glanced briefly at the couch and then just sighed in resignation.
"The bed is big enough for the both of us, Mr. Potter," he informed him, and Harry paled at
his words. "And it would look odd if anyone found you sleeping on the couch. I wouldn't put
it past Fudge to send spies to investigate."

"You expect me to. . ." Harry sputtered in shock.

"Mr. Potter," Snape's anger returned full blown. "Trust me, I'm no happier about this
situation than you are. But we are both stuck, and at some point must bow to certain
inevitabilities, one being that we will be unable to avoid spending a certain amount of time
in each other's company. But despite what I said to Minister Fudge earlier, I assure you your
virtue is quite safe from me!"

Harry felt his face burning red in embarrassment at his words, growing hotter as the man
added in the most mocking tone he'd ever heard, "I trust you can offer me the same
assurances?"

"You don't actually think I would--" Harry sputtered.

"No, I don't, Mr. Potter," Snape cut him off. "Please extend the same courtesy to me!"

"Fine!" Harry glared at him. "I'm going to bed!" He grabbed his pajamas out of his trunk and
all but ran for the relative safety of the bedroom, disappearing into the bathroom and
slamming the door behind him. He hated that man! Hated him! And it was all he could do
from keeping from kicking the walls in fury.

He sat down on the edge of an enormous tub and attempted to get his emotions back under
control. This wasn't going to work. He couldn't imagine how Dumbledore expected the two
of them to live together without killing one another. The temptation to draw his wand and
hex Snape into oblivion was almost overwhelming. Instead he stripped out of his clothes
and climbed into the enormous tiled tub, noting with some surprise that Snape actually had
a shower rigged in the plumbing -- a rarity in the castle, but a necessity he supposed for a
Potions Master. One never knew when a cauldron might explode all over you.

He took a quick shower, changed into his pajamas, and then headed cautiously out into the
bedroom. To his relief there was no sign of Snape.

He stared at the enormous canopied bed on the far side of the room, green curtains of
course. Snape was right -- the bed was big enough for two. Big enough for four or five if
they were really fond of one another. But the very idea of ever climbing willingly into
Severus Snape's bed! He shivered. Bloody hell!

In the flickering candlelight the golden ring on his right hand winked up at him. Married!
To Snape. He wondered if that made him Harry Snape now? Or worse yet Severus Potter?
His parents were probably turning over in the graves. And he couldn't imagine what his
godfather would say when he found out. Sirius would probably return in a rage and rip
Snape's throat out.

For some reason that thought actually made Harry feel better and he reluctantly walked
over to the bed, and set his glasses and wand down on one of the nightstands. Then
climbing onto the bed, he slid under the blankets, moving to the edge of the bed as far away
from the other side as he could get without falling off the side. He thought he detected the
27
faint scent of cinnamon on the sheets. Unable to sleep he lay on his back in silence, too
strung out to really piece together coherent thoughts.

Perhaps twenty minutes later he heard the bedroom door open and Snape entered, heading
toward the bathroom. Harry listened in brooding silence while the shower ran and he
pointedly didn't try to picture the Potion Master in there bathing. Really, he told himself, this
was ridiculous. He was in his most hated teacher's bed, for God sake! There had to be rules
against this!

Rules in the Muggle world perhaps. But he wasn't in the Muggle world and he was
beginning to suspect there was a whole set of rules in the Wizarding World he had yet to
learn about. He never imagined the day would come when he'd actually find himself
missing the sane familiarity of the Muggle world. But then when he really thought about it,
how much stranger was it living in a cupboard under his uncle's stairs, wondering if he'd be
allowed to eat sometime that week? He sighed, resigned to the fact that Muggle or Wizard,
his life would never make sense.

Eventually Snape emerged from the bath, moving toward the large wardrobe that stood off
to one side. Despite himself, Harry's eyes were drawn to the man.

Snape was dressed only in a pair of pajama bottoms, and was rummaging through the
wardrobe for a shirt to pull on. It occurred to Harry that it probably meant Snape typically
didn't wear any top to bed -- and despite everything Harry found his gaze drawn to the
man's torso. He wasn't certain what precisely he'd been expecting, robes hid a great deal -–
certainly pale skin, perhaps a too thin frame, and, even though he'd already seen the dark
mark once before, an unmarked body. That wasn't at all the reality. Pale skin yes, but the
frame was muscled and strong -- a young man in the prime of his life, a body athletic and
defined suggesting that Snape lived a far more active life than Harry had ever imagined.
And he'd been prepared he supposed for the dark mark on the forearm that he could see
from even across the room -- but he hadn't expected the flash of color on his right shoulder
blade of a tattoo -- a red rose entwined with a green serpent. A tattoo like that went against
everything he knew about the dour Potions Master.

He also wasn't expecting the scars he could see here and there upon the pale skin -- wounds
that looked like they'd come from some sort of knife or blade. And then just as suddenly it
was all gone from view as Snape pulled on a thin nightshirt, and Harry realized he'd
actually been ogling the man. Horrified, he rolled over onto his side, turning his back to
Snape and informing himself quite firmly that he hadn't found him in the least bit attractive.

Something occurred to him -- the sight of the dark mark perhaps bringing it to the
foreground. Voldemort was not going to be pleased by this turn of events. He'd long ago
accepted the fact that he was first on a list of people Voldemort intended to kill -- right
along side Albus Dumbledore. He supposed that the moment word of this got out, Severus
Snape's name would also be added to that list.

A moment later he felt the bed move, the mattress dipping slightly as Snape climbed into the
other side of the bed, keeping well away from Harry, and the unreality of the situation
struck Harry so hard he almost laughed. "I wonder why it chose you," he said out loud,
before he had really made a conscious decision to speak. "I mean the Marriage Stone," he
clarified without turning over. "Why did it choose you as my. . .why it would think that you
and I. . ."

28
"Mr. Potter, I am not accustomed to chatting in bed," Snape's voice was sharp and cutting,
and far closer than Harry was prepared for despite the fact that he knew the man was lying
right next to him in this enormous bed that suddenly seemed ridiculously small.

"I am," he answered without thinking.

Snape let out a sound that sounded suspiciously like a laugh. "Have vast amounts of worldly
experience, do you?" he asked, voice filled with mockery.

Face burning red in embarrassment Harry turned over to glare at the man. "That's not what
I meant!" he shouted. He was completely unprepared for the sight of Severus Snape lying
beside him in bed, amusement and disdain shining in his eyes with equal parts. Harry
sighed and lay back down. "Ron's bed is next to mine," he explained simply. "We talk at
night." Something, he guessed, he'd be sorely missing now for the rest of his life.

"Do I in any way, shape or form remind you of Mr. Weasley?" Snape demanded. "Or is this
perhaps your way of expressing your remorse that you did not take your friend up on his
oh, so, noble offer to sacrifice his own dubious future with Ms. Granger and marry him
instead of me? Something being noble Gryffindors they both no doubt offered, and you just
as nobly had no choice but to refuse."

Shocked, Harry could only glare at him fury. "Were you born this hateful or did you take
lessons somewhere?!"

"Years of practice, Mr. Potter!" Snape shouted back at him.

"I hate you!"

"Good! My life is complete! I've taught yet another Gryffindor how to hate. How ever am I
going to top myself this time?!"

Harry strangled back a shriek of rage and turned his back on the man, rolling away from
him. "Shut up and leave me alone!"

"Gladly!" Snape growled, and judging by the movement of the bed he too had turned his
back on Harry.

Harry guessed Snape had also just won whatever argument they had just had -- he'd
certainly found a way of shutting Harry up. He closed his eyes, focusing his thoughts on
finding ways of driving Severus Snape absolutely insane for his treatment of him. Muggle
rock music maybe, he thought. He'd find himself a very loud stereo and start blasting the
music every time Snape had papers to grade. Or a nice family reunion -- first chance he got
he was going to invite Sirius and Remus to come for an extremely long visit. And if there
really was a Snape Manor, he was going to have it painted Gryffindor red!

--------------------------------------

Three hours later Severus Snape found himself lying awake in his bed unable to sleep
despite the lateness of the hour. Of course it wasn't every night he was forced to share his
bed with a young man nearly half his age. A rather attractive young man, he told himself
bitterly. The whole situation was phenomenally unfair. And he would go to his grave
blaming Dumbledore for it.

29
If he'd known that morning that he'd end the night as bond-mate to Harry Potter, he
wouldn't have bothered getting out of bed in the first place. He'd never really liked Potter --
granted he also never really hated the boy, not the way Potter believed he did. Most of his
behavior was an act necessary to maintain his fiction as a loyal Death Eater. But even before
he'd had to take up the mantel of spy, he had felt a certain enmity toward Harry Potter
because of his father and godfather. Couldn't be helped really. Amazing how long
resentment lasted.

And despite all that, he had noticed abstractly earlier that night when he'd first seen Potter
in the great hall that the boy had matured into a very attractive young man. More attractive
than his father had been certainly -- took after his mother more and more each day. And
much as he hated to admit it even to himself, he did admire the boy's courage. He didn't
know anyone else in the world who would have attacked Voldemort with a broom of all
things -- certainly he would never have dreamed of simply stealing the Eye of Odin from
the Dark Lord as if it were nothing more than a Snitch. There was something poetically
Gryffindor about that whole battle.

But the resentment had lingered -- mostly he supposed because he had imagined the boy
basking in the adoration of his fans like some mindless celebrity -- something he had no
patience for at all. Even during his first year the idea of a boy-celebrity had turned his
stomach. He'd imagined the boy brought up in the lap of luxury, pampered and spoiled his
entire life for being nothing more than James Potter's son. One of the reasons he disliked
Draco Malfoy as well -- though he was much better at hiding his dislike of that particular
student.

Of course Potter had to go and crush all those delusions as well. Locked in a cupboard,
beaten and starved. Certainly sounded like the lap of luxury to him. Potter might not have
realized it, but he had succeeded in kicking all of them in the teeth with that little
revelation. The look on Dumbledore's face alone was one he'd never seen before. Not often
the greatest wizard of the century miscalculated so grossly as that.

And the worse part was the way Potter had explained the situation -- that his uncle had
only starved him for five or six days at most, no big deal, no great hardship. Not like he was
trying to kill him or anything. He wondered what else the boy had been forced to endure
over these last fifteen years, and how he had restrained himself from screaming in mindless
rage every time his Potions Master had mocked him for his celebrity status and spoiled
lifestyle. Severus knew himself well enough to know that he would not have shown such
restraint -- not by half. He would have hexed his antagonizers to oblivion long ago. Case in
point, the treatment he'd received from James Potter and Sirius Black when he was Harry's
age had made him nearly as vicious as Lucius Malfoy was.

And now the boy was his bond-mate. If it wasn't so pathetically ridiculous he might actually
enjoy the fact -- God knows it was going to send Black through the roof, not to mention
Malfoy and Voldemort. Lily and James Potter were probably spinning in their graves. And
he was more than certain his own deceased parents were laughing in unrestrained glee.

"The boy needs you," Albus had tried that line of persuasion as a last tactic -- something that
still surprised Severus. The logic of Dumbledore's arguments had not moved him in the
slightest, the fact that there was no one else available, that very few people could stand up to
Fudge successfully, that it would be safer for him to give up his role as spy and join the
forces of light once and for all. No, the one argument he'd been unable to find a decent
counter to was the one argument he didn't believe for a moment. That somehow Harry
Potter -- or anyone for that matter -- might actually NEED him. And he'd weakened and
given in without further protest despite the evidence staring him the face that Potter had no

30
need at all of him and hated the very idea of spending any more time with him than
necessary for classes.

He could still feel Harry's hand shaking in his own as he'd gripped it during their so brief
ceremony. Terrified -- the boy who'd faced down Voldemort and an army of Death Eaters
was terrified of the idea of spending any time in his company. Swell. Wonderful. Such little
joys to brighten up his dismal life.

But regardless of Harry Potter's feelings, the fact remained that like it or not they were
bonded now. Harry was his responsibility. And the sooner they both accepted it, the better
off they would both be. Merlin knew they couldn't spend the rest of their life fighting like
they had tonight -- though he had to admit Harry looked rather lovely with his eyes blazing
with rage, and his body quivering with anger.

He sighed in exasperation. He was not about to make advances toward a sixteen-year-old


boy -- even if they were married. Not to mention that he knew he would be rejected out of
hand, and he'd never been fond of the idea of force despite the words he'd spoken so
convincingly to Minister Fudge that night. He supposed Fudge imagined he was spending
this night ravaging the hero of the Wizarding World. No doubt Black would accuse him of
the same thing. He wasn't looking forward to the next few months.

A sound caught his attention and he rolled over to look at Harry. Still asleep, the boy was
shaking his head fitfully. A moment later a whimper escaped from his lips and he began
thrashing in the bed as if fighting with someone. A cry of terror replaced the whimper,
bringing Severus fully awake as he sat up in shock. Uncertainly he reached out and touched
Harry's shoulder, shaking him. "Potter!" he called, wanting to wake the boy up without
startling him too terribly.

Harry cried out again, twisting away from his hand. "Potter!" he called louder, and the
sharp sound of his voice brought Harry out of his sleep, though he continued to shudder
and shrink away from him in the darkness.

"I'm sorry Uncle Vernon!" he cried out. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" He flinched away from
Severus' hand, covering his head with his arms as if to ward off an expected blow.

Severus froze, several explanations springing to mind, none of them even remotely pleasant.
He felt his heart clench in his chest, an icy chill gripping him. "Harry," he said more gently.
"It's me. Severus." Then thinking that the boy might not recognize his given name, he added,
"Snape. It's me, Snape. Wake up. You're having a nightmare."

Harry stilled at once, though his breath came in heavy deep gasps as he blinked up at him in
the darkness of the curtained bed. "Professor?" he asked uncertainly.

Severus winced at that, not certain he was overly comfortable with someone calling him
professor while lying beside him in bed. "Yes," he admitted.

"Sorry," Harry muttered. "Didn't mean to wake you." He looked amazingly vulnerable lying
there trying not to shake or cry, and Snape had the sudden urge to comfort him.

"That's alright," he assured him. "I. . ." he sighed, not certain how to bring up this subject. "Is
there a reason you would expect to find your uncle beside you instead of me?" Not perhaps
the most tactful way of asking the question, but Severus had never really done tact.

Harry blinked at him in confusion. "What?"


31
"You called me Uncle Vernon when I woke you up," Severus explained. "When I mentioned
the various methods of abuse earlier this evening, there was one sort I neglected to list. Did
your uncle. . ."

"No!" Harry's voice broke in shock. "No!" he insisted again. "He'd never touch a freak like
me!" To Severus' surprise the boy's voice was filled with utter contempt, and he was
uncertain if it was directed at the hated uncle or at the boy himself. He guessed 'freak' was a
term the uncle used to describe wizards.

"Then why did you think I was him?" he asked gently.

"I have nightmares," Harry shrugged. "All the time, every night. I woke them up screaming.
Uncle Vernon would. . ." he broke off, looking away, his expression unreadable.

"Uncle Vernon would do what?"

"He'd throw things at me," Harry admitted. "From the doorway. To wake me. Shoes mostly. If
I wanted to eat during the day I didn't dare fall asleep during the night and risk waking
them up. I usually just use a silence charm on myself at night, but I'm not allowed to do
magic over the summer."

Snape swallowed around a lump in his throat, tasting bile at the thought of this boy's uncle
throwing shoes at him when he woke screaming in the night instead of comforting him like
any sane man would. "You mean you use silence charms when you were in Gryffindor
Tower so you wouldn't wake your friends?" He wondered if anyone knew what sorts of
nightmares this boy had -- even his best friends? Didn't sound very Gryffindor to him --
surely his friends would have been happy to comfort him?

Harry just nodded miserably. "Yes, I'm sorry. I guess I just forgot tonight. It won't happen
again." He reached out toward the wand he'd left on the bedside table with his glasses.
Severus stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

"If I can't hear you, I won't be able to wake you," he pointed out.

His words caught Harry off guard, and the boy blinked up at him in confusion. "Why would
you want to?"

Severus stared at him. The boy seemed genuinely baffled that he would want to help him.
"Because that's what you do when someone has nightmares," he said simply.

The boy's confusion didn't fade in the slightest. "Better have lots of shoes handy then. I'll
keep you awake all night."

He restrained himself admirably from strangling the boy. "Harry Potter, I am not going to
hit you with a shoe!" he snarled in outrage, instantly regretting it when the boy flinched
away from him. "I'm not your uncle," he added more gently. The boy didn't move, his
expression unchanged, and it occurred to Severus then that this happy, go-lucky, trusting
Gryffindor was neither happy nor lucky, and if he was reading the situation right, didn't
trust anyone.

Severus turned toward the nightstand on his side of the bed, pulling open one of the
drawers there and rooting around in the contents inside. "You know there is one good thing
about being bonded to a Potions Master," he told the boy mildly, keeping his voice as casual

32
as he could. He found what he was looking for and pulled a small glass vial of blue liquid
from the drawer. "An endless supply of potions!" He held the vial out to the boy.

Harry stared at it. "What is it?" He made no move to take it from Severus' hand.

Severus frowned. "You studied this last year in my class," he informed the boy, unable to
hide his resentment that the boy took such little interest in his subject.

"Was this before, after or during my numerous stays in the hospital wing?" Harry asked
irritably, though he took the potion from Severus' hand and began working the stopper
loose.

Severus' frown deepened. Now that he thought about it Harry had missed a great deal of
class due to the constant attacks he'd been under from Voldemort and the Death Eaters.
Funny that he hadn't thought of it before now; but then a little Potter went a long ways. The
times he was present and accounted for he more that pushed Severus beyond his tolerance
quota. He supposed it was a testimony to Ms. Granger's tutoring ability that the boy had
actually received tolerable marks on his OWLS.

He watched in silence as Harry sniffed carefully at the potion, brow furled in concentration.
It struck him suddenly that the boy had remarkably beautiful eyes -- pity they were always
hidden behind those horrible glasses. "Dreamless Sleep Draught," he stated, though there
was a note of question in his voice.

"Very good, Mr. Potter," Severus nodded. "That small bit should get you through the rest of
the night without any dreams."

The look of hope in the boy's eyes did something surprisingly strange to Severus' heart -- it
almost hurt. "Do you have more of this?" he asked hesitantly.

Again he resisted the urge to snap at the boy. He was a Potions Master for God's sake!
Though he said nothing, his expression must have been enough to make Potter realize the
idiocy of his statement. The boy flushed and looked down in embarrassment -- at least
Severus had assumed it was embarrassment. When the boy spoke he realized it was in fact
shame.

"I mean. . .I know you have more. . .can make more, I just. . ." He broke off and Severus
realized in shock that Harry had been asking if he had more of the potion that he would be
willing to 'share' with him.

"Never mind," the boy muttered, risking an apologetic glance at him. "Thank you for this,"
he added and downed the vial quickly before handing the empty glass back to him.
Considering the boy owned a nearly priceless invisibility cloak and one of the most
expensive brooms on the market, Severus had always assumed that he had been given pretty
much anything he wanted. Apparently not if he wasn't even able to ask for something as
simple as a much needed potion.

"I have as much as you need," he informed him in a tight voice. "As I said, an endless supply
of potions."

"Thank you," the boy said again, the potion already taking affect as he struggled to keep his
eyes open. "I'll pay you back, I promise." He was sound asleep before Severus could inform
him that there was no need to pay him back.

33
Flabbergasted, he stared down at the sleeping boy in silence. Seemed he didn't know Harry
Potter even half so well as he thought. And he wasn't comfortable at all with the fact that
every other thing this obnoxious individual did seemed to provoke a strong emotional
reaction in him; nor was he comfortable with the stray thoughts about the boy's relative
attractiveness and charms. They weren't appropriate, and struck far to close to the mark,
considering that by morning the majority of the Wizarding World would probably believe
that he'd spent the night forcing his attentions on their innocent young hero.

He brushed away a lock of hair from the boy's forehead. They'd both be far better off if they
spoke as little as possible. Certainly no more of this idle chattering in bed, not if it was going
to put all sorts of ideas into his mind. And while he was certainly not going to hit the boy
with any shoes, he'd also have to make certain he didn't make any other type of contact with
him -- Severus froze as he realized that he was currently in the process of tracing the boy's
features lightly with his fingers. He snatched his hand away as if burned.

"Bloody hell!" he hissed under his breath and rolled away, turning his back on the boy.
Sometimes he really hated his life.

He was up at dawn, glad to have an excuse to get out of the bed and away from Harry
Potter. He showered and dressed quickly, pausing before his wardrobe to think about the
trunk that Harry had left in the main room. Much as he hated the idea of having to share
his quarters with anyone, he supposed there was nothing he could do about it now. It was
his responsibility to provide for his bond-mate, and he supposed that also meant a suitable
place to live.

Didn't mean he had to share his own wardrobe with him however. Grabbing his wand, he
transformed a candleholder into a second wardrobe, positioning it near his own. Then he
levitated the trunk into the bedroom and left it in front of the large piece of furniture for
Harry to unpack.

Satisfied, he headed into his office to gather his material together for the first day of class.
He had first years, third years and unfortunately advanced potions with sixth and seventh
years that day, and he wasn't at all certain how he was going to deal with teaching a class
with his bond-mate in it. He supposed there was no need to maintain his Death Eater fiction
now -- more likely than not the news of his marriage would be all over the papers this
morning. Marriage to Harry Potter would proclaim his loyalties more loudly than anything
else he could think of. Which meant of course he no longer had to maintain the farce of
favoring Malfoy above all other students.

But he did so love taking points away from the Gryffindors!

Of course, he couldn't allow himself to really treat Harry much differently either -- bond-
mate or no. He was still his student, and he would have to maintain a professional
relationship with him inside the class in the interest of fairness. Besides, the boy was
abysmal at potions despite the fact that he'd done well in his OWLS -- he personally felt the
judges had been far too lenient last year. But if Potter didn't shape up, he'd fail his NEWTS.
And Severus couldn't imagine a more shameful outcome than Severus Snape's bond-mate
failing his Potions Newt.

He worked for about a half hour on his notes for his first class, before heading back toward
his bedroom to retrieve the new grading roster he'd left there a few nights earlier. As he
passed through the common room he noticed Potter fiddling around with something by the
fireplace. Harry didn't look up, and Severus didn't greet him.

34
The roster was in his nightstand and as he pulled it out of the bottom drawer he noticed that
the bed had been made. He paused, frowning. The house elves never came this early.

He glanced over at the new wardrobe; the chest was gone, no doubt unpacked and put
away. He also noticed that the doors to his wardrobe were firmly closed -- he'd actually left
one of them slightly opened. Crossing toward it, he yanked open the door to look inside. The
night clothes he'd been wearing last night -- the ones he was fairly certain he'd left draped
over the back of the chair near the bathroom door, were folded neatly inside and placed in
the laundry basket. Not the elves then -- they would have taken the basket with them.

A niggling suspicion began to grow in his mind and he headed swiftly toward the bathroom.
There should have been some towels on the floor or draped over the rim of the bath. And he
knew he'd left his straight razor on the edge of the sink after he'd shaved that morning. But
the bathroom was spotless, no signs that he'd been there at all -- no signs that Harry had
been there either.

Turning, he headed toward the bedroom door, pausing in the doorway to watch Harry. The
boy wasn't fiddling with anything, he was making a pot of coffee, setting up the tray service
Severus left near the hearth. And unless Severus was sorely unobservant Harry Potter didn't
drink coffee -- he, like most of the other students, preferred tea in the mornings. Besides
which there was only one cup on the tray service and he'd made no effort to add another.
Severus also noticed that the robe he'd removed last night and draped over the back of the
couch was gone, no doubt hung up in the wardrobe or put in the laundry basket with the
other things.

Several things clicked in his mind. If the Dursleys starved, beat and imprisoned the boy,
what would stop them from working him like a house elf as well? Now more than ever he
regretted the utterly stupid comment he'd made last night about having Harry sleep in the
closet. His apology had been sincere but it seemed the damage had been done -- Harry
didn't really expect this new living arrangement to be much different than his previous one.
No doubt he was simply behaving in the manner he assumed was expected of him.

The rage Severus felt startled him. It was directly in equal parts toward the Dursleys,
himself and surprisingly Albus Dumbledore for putting him in this situation in the first
place. "Mr. Potter!"

Startled, Harry jumped, and Severus had to bite back the words that immediately sprang to
mind. He wasn't mad at the boy, and it wouldn't do to take his anger out on him. Harry
glared at him, and he found he was actually relieved to see the defiance in the boy's gaze.

"Mr. Potter," he said more calmly, forcing himself to control his emotions. "You are my
bond-mate and as such this is now your home. You are not my ward, nor my servant, and I
neither expect nor require you to clean up after me." He looked at the tray in the boy's
hands, took a few steps toward him. "Nor do I expect you to wait on me or serve me in any
manner. It is a kindness and I would thank you for it, but it is not required. Do you
understand?"

Harry said nothing, just stood staring at him, tray seeming forgotten in his hands. The
defiance however never faded from his eyes and to Severus surprise, he walked forward and
very pointedly set the tray with coffee, cream and sugar down on the table in front of the
couch. Then he stood back and stared at him in silence, mouth set in a firm, defiant line,
eyes gleaming with challenge. It took Severus a moment to realize just what exactly it was
the boy was waiting for.

35
He took a hesitant step forward and picked up the cup of coffee. "Thank you," he said firmly.

Something flickering in Harry's eyes, surprise perhaps that he'd actually meant what he'd
said. "You're welcome," he answered just as firmly. The sheer civility of the moment
unnerved both of them.

"I'm going to breakfast," Harry announced.

Severus just nodded and watched as the boy left their quarters. He shook his head and took
a sip of his coffee. One thing was certain, life with Harry Potter certainly was not going to
be dull.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Author's Note: One reviewer raised a question I wanted to address briefly (I love things like
this that make me analyze my own writing in more detail!). I was asked, why was Hooch or
Dumbledore not mentioned as a potential marriage candidate for Harry? I might add that
McGonagall was also in the room.

While I don't ever mention Hooch specifically in reference to this, I do later in the story
infer that McGonagall and Sinistra (not present at the moment) are the only other single
teachers at the school. I don't know if this is true or not as I don't think it's mentioned in
canon. We can assume also that Dumbledore is not married either. However the point is
stress that this marriage must be 'valid' -- Fudge implies the marriage must be consummated
to make it valid. I found it unbelievable that anyone would think Dumbledore or
McGonagall would be considered suitable for someone as young as Harry. Snape however
seems to have a reputation that removes the question entirely. As I said, I'll imply later that
Hooch is already married when the subject comes up again.

Sirius Black, however, will have something to say on the subject of Sinistra, and I hope you'll
like my reasoning.

Regarding the description in this chapter of Snape's physical good health -- while I love
skinny, scrawny Snape as much as strong, powerful Snape, I actually think the later is the
most likely. Snape we know must be nearly the same age as Remus Lupin. We can guess he
is between 20-25 years older than Harry (he's 36 in this story). A Muggle man in his 30's
and 40's (provided he's lived a fairly healthy lifestyle) is in the prime of his life. If wizards
live at least 2 times as long as Muggles, then the 30's and 40's would be little different than
the early 20's in reality.

Even Rowlings in Book 3 describes Remus Lupin as a 'young man' when the children first
see him on the train.

Chapter 4 Facing the World

H arry fled the dungeons praying he didn't meet up with any of the Slytherins on his
way to the Great Hall. He had no doubt that most of the students were up and
about -- first day of school and all. Most people were generally too excited to sleep.
He wasn't actually looking forward to facing his friends, not at all certain what sort of
reaction he could expect. There were just too many variables. He still hadn't gotten over the
fact that he was married. Add to that the fact that he was married to a man and it left his
head reeling -- despite Hermione's assurances that the Wizarding World didn't share the
typical Muggle prejudices concerning such things. But to add to that the fact that the man

36
in question was everyone's most hated Potions Professor, Severus Snape -- he rather
expected to find himself burned in effigy.

As he he'd guessed, the Great Hall was already crowded with students, and as Harry made
his way the Gryffindor table, most everyone turned to stare at him and whispered words
followed him. He felt his face growing hot, and the small gold ring on his right hand
suddenly felt like an enormous chain.

Ron and Hermione were waiting for him, and both of them jumped up to greet him as he
approached. Ron took hold of his arm and pulled him toward a seat, Hermione moving over
to make room between the two of them. He was grateful for their consideration, the stares
he was getting from Seamus, Dean and Neville almost too much to bear. Especially Neville's.
The boy looked like he was about to explode.

"You okay there, Harry?" Ron asked quickly, shooting a glare at the others.

"Fine," Harry assured him. Seamus and Dean were staring at the ring on his finger. He was
also aware of the fact the seventh years on one side of him and the fifths on the others were
staring as well. Several copies of the Daily Prophet were being passed around the table; each
time someone got a copy they'd immediately look up at Harry in disbelief. Ginny Weasley
looked as if she were about to burst in to tears. Harry shifted uncomfortably on his seat.

"You okay?" Hermione whispered to him.

"Fine," he repeated.

Hermione and Ron exchanged an odd look. "I mean, are you. . .Snape didn't. . ."

Harry stared at her in horror. "No!" he squeaked. He shot Ron a look of disbelief, disturbed
to see that Ron looked quite relieved by his answer. "You didn't actually think that. . ."

"Don't trust the greasy git, do I," Ron pointed out to him. "Wouldn't put anything past him."

Seamus, having caught a passing copy of the Daily Prophet, slapped the newspaper down in
front of Harry. "Is it true?" he demanded.

Harry stared down at the front page of the paper. Splashed in bright red letters were the
words. "Social Coup of the Century! Severus Snape Marries The Boy Who Lived!"

Harry's eyes widened. It wasn't precisely the article he'd been expecting -- figuring it would
insinuate all sorts of nasty things about his private life and his sudden liaison with a current
professor. But once again Wizarding society surprised him. The article was focused on the
fact that Severus Snape seemed to have pulled off some sort of spectacular social triumph. It
mentioned the fact that his family's name had been tarnished by rumors of past association
with dark wizards on the part of both Severus Snape and his father Octavius Snape. By
marrying Harry Potter, it seemed Severus Snape had done what no one expected, clearing
his family name and reinstating one of the Wizarding World's oldest family back into their
previously lost standing of respect, as obviously neither Harry Potter nor his Headmaster
Dumbledore (suspected of having arranged the marriage) would have agreed to such a
liaison if any of the rumors of Death Eater sympathies had been true.

The article then went on to suggest various reactions amongst the other Wizarding families
of high standing, and how some of them had best find ways of proving their own loyalties

37
lest the Ministry start looking into the rumors surrounding them. It ended with quotes from
several Ministry candidates whom Harry had never met explaining their own involvement
in arranging the happy nuptials.

There wasn't a single mention of either their genders or their age differences. Harry glanced
over at Hermione in bewildered disbelief. "Told you," she shrugged.

"It's true then?" Seamus repeated.

Harry nodded and as he handed back the paper; the ring on his hand glinted in the morning
sunlight. Neville gasped in shock. "Harry!" He shook his head. "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Tell you what?"

"That you were arranging a marriage with Snape!" Seamus exclaimed. "It wasn't because of
what I said about all his money yesterday, was it? Please tell me that wasn't it?"

"Of course not!" Harry nearly choked on the thought.

"But Snape, Harry!" Neville cried. "Professor Snape! How can you stand it?"

Harry didn't really know how to answer that.

"God, Harry," Dean shuddered. "I can understand arranging a marriage of good quality, but
you're the last person who needed to do something like this. And to pick someone like
Snape!"

Once again, Harry was left with the idea that there was something about Wizarding society
he just wasn't understanding. He turned toward Hermione for an explanation. She looked
rather thoughtful. "Not unusual for the older families to arrange marriages for their
children," she explained. "It's usually done to increase one's wealth or social standing. As
you can see this was a brilliant move on the part of Snape, but you didn't need to increase
your social standing. People don't get more famous than you."

"So everyone is going to assume I married him for his money?" Harry asked in disbelief.

She nodded her head. "I'm afraid so. You obviously didn't marry him for love. Or lust," she
added as an afterthought. "Or even affection. Or vague apathy."

Neville gasped at the very idea. "Oh, God! Poor Harry! Married to that horrible, horrible
monster!"

"Neville!" Harry hissed. "Knock it off!"

Seamus slapped Neville lightly on the back. "Yeah, Neville, that is Harry's bond-mate you're
insulting now."

Neville's face twisted up in misery and he stared across the table at Harry in horror.

"I didn't mean that!" Harry said quickly. "I just meant. . .oh hell!" He looked over at Ron.
"Didn't you tell them anything?"

Ron just shrugged sheepishly. "Wasn't exactly sure what I was supposed to say."

38
Harry sighed. He supposed it wouldn't help anyone to go into too much detail about Fudge's
twisted plan, but he didn't want the rest of Gryffindor believing he had married Snape for
his money. Or that Snape had some how trapped him just to get a name for himself. "It was
for my safety," he told them all. "Because of Voldemort." The spoken name got winces and
shudders of horror. "Because of You Know Who," he corrected. "Because Snape can help
protect me."

Seamus leaned closer toward them. "Harry, are you sure you can trust him? I mean there
must have been someone better than Snape. Chances are he is a Death Eater himself. He's
good buddies with Lucius Malfoy you know and despite what the Ministry says that man is
just twisted!"

Harry frowned. That really was too much -- he might not like the man, but he did trust him.
And admire his courage. Snape had risked his life more times than anyone spying on
Voldemort just to keep all of them safe, and this was the thanks he got. He could almost
understand why the man took such great delight in tormenting him about his celebrity
status.

"Yes, I'm sure," Harry insisted. "None of you may know this, but he's saved my life repeatedly
over the last five years."

"Snape!?" Neville and Dean asked in unison. "But Harry he hates you!"

Harry didn't really have an answer to that. They were right. Snape did hate him. "Well, lots
of people hate me," he pointed out. "That doesn't exactly automatically make them evil."

"Yes, it does," Seamus insisted.

"Well, not Snape," Harry insisted. "Dumbledore trust him."

They seemed to take that at face value but the looks of sympathy didn't fade any. "God,
Harry," Dean shuddered. "I can't imagine how you can stand it. Living with that. . .that. .
..git!"

"So much for breaking curfew any more," Seamus pointed out. "He'll catch you for certain
now."

"It will be like one permanent detention," Neville exclaimed.

"That's enough!" Hermione told them all. "This is still Harry's life you're talking about. How
would you feel?"

"Horrible!" they said in unison. "That's the point!"

Harry just sighed. This was going to be a long year.

The questions didn't end after that, the other Gryffindors wanted answers of their own, and
even a few Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs joined them to find out what was going on. Only the
Slytherins kept their distance, though the glares they were throwing across the room were
chilling. But while Harry was suffocating under the endless questions and whispers, it was
nothing to the reception Snape received when he entered the hall. Dead silence followed
him, every eye in the place turned toward him as if looking for something different about

39
him, something they'd missed that might have made the Boy Who Lived willing to marry
him.

He sat down at the head table, nodded to the other teachers, and then turned his most
withering gaze on the entire student body. It had its usual affect, everyone looking swiftly
away and going right back to their speculating whispers.

Nervously, Harry glanced toward Snape, noticing that the man was in the process of
reading the article on the front page of the Daily Prophet. Judging by the look of fury
blazing in his dark eyes, he was not in the least bit pleased by the speculations. Harry
couldn't figure out what reason he had to be so angry -- everyone seemed to think he'd
come out smelling like a rose. Harry on the other hand had been painted as a mercenary out
for money alone. He was not looking forward to the rest of the day.

The questions never stopped, all day long Harry kept having to answer the same things over
and over again. And despite sharing similar sentiments, he was getting tired of the
expressions of sympathy from his fellow students. Truth of the matter was, as much as he
disliked Snape, he wasn't anywhere near as bad as the Dursleys. If he was to be believed, he
had no intention of hitting or starving Harry, nor making him wait on him or serve him.
And he actually had thanked Harry for that cup of coffee that morning, much to Harry's
surprise. Still he was worried about potions class. He had always done poorly at the subject,
though he didn't really know why. He tried, hard. It didn't seem to make much of difference
however. And Snape made sure his displeasure at that fact was known to all. Add to this that
they had double potions with Slytherin, Harry dreaded the class. If it hadn't been for
Hermione's tutoring, he would never have passed his potions Owls last year.

By the time potions class began, last class of the day, Harry was already exhausted and
ready to blow up at the first person who said one more word to him. As luck would have it,
most of the Gryffindors had apparently figured this out -- coupled with the fact that they
too hated potions. This time, however, Harry had to endure the snickering and sly looks
coming from the Slytherin side of the room. He wondered how Snape had managed to get
through the day without killing anyone.

Not well, he guessed judging by the look of the man as he stormed into the room, black robe
swirling around him. His face was set in a glare of granite, and everyone in the room
instantly fell silent, Slytherin included.

"We will be studying advanced potions in this class in preparations for your NEWTS. This
means most of the potions will be volatile this year," Snape announced into the dead quiet.
"For those of you whose vocabularies are lacking, that means they're dangerous, unstable if
not explosive." This last was directed toward the Gryffindor side of the room. "As such I
expect unwavering concentration, and minute attention to detail. I'd like to keep both the
death and dismemberment toll down to a minimum, so if I find any student. . .ANY student!"
he shot a glare toward the Slytherin side of the room. They all shrank back in surprise.
"Doing anything I might construe as horseplay, hyjinnx or simply slacking off, you will
become the automatic volunteer test subject for my first years' potions!" The threat was
sufficiently terrifying, as they all remembered the disasters they'd created during their own
first year. Everyone in the room shifted uncomfortable. "You will find a box on your table
filled with highly toxic items. Take out a scroll and identify all of them!"

Harry paired up with Ron, and the two of them began sorting through the items in the box.
Hermione identified the most dangerous of the items before either of them could actually
injure themselves. Snape hadn't been kidding when he'd said the contents were toxic; a
number of the items in the box were actually poisonous to simply touch. Harry did notice

40
that Snape spent the majority of the class period walking around with an unlabeled bottle in
his hand -- some sort of cure-all he guessed.

He'd nearly made it through the entire class without mishap when the Slytherins finally
decided to make a move. While Snape was distracted with Dean Thomas, Pansy Parkinson
picked up an item with a pair of iron tongs and flung it across the room toward Harry.
Guessing that what ever it was was dangerous, both Ron and Harry ducked out of the way,
as the item landed with a plop on their desk. Harry's chair fell over with a loud clatter.

"Mr. Potter!" Snape shouted. Harry froze as Snape advanced on him. "Is there a reason you
have firedrake leaf lying on your desktop despite the fact that I told all of you not to remove
it from its protective container?"

Firedrake leaf. Harry winced -- if that had hit either him or Ron it would have blistered
their skin. He debated momentarily telling Snape that Pansy had thrown it, but figured he
probably wouldn't be believed. Snape never sided with Gryffindor over his Slytherins. "No,
sir," he said quietly.

Snape's eyes flashed with anger. "Ten points from Gryffindor, Potter," he snapped. "And
clean that mess up!"

The looks of triumph on the faces of the Slytherin was almost enough to make Harry want
to fling the firedrake leaf back at them even with Snape looking on. But the last thing he
wanted to do was lose more points for Gryffindor. It was the first day of classes and he'd
already lost them points.

Ron threw the retreating Snape a look of utter disbelief and contempt as he helped Harry
clean the firedrake up from the table. "So much for family loyalty," Ron muttered under his
breath.

"Did you expect anything else?" Harry asked just as quietly.

"Not really," the redhead admitted. "At least he didn't give you detention. Wouldn't that just
bite! Getting detention from your bond-mate. As if you don't already have to spend enough
time with him as it is."

They cleaned up the mess, finishing just as class ended and Snape dismissed them all for the
day. But Harry found the Slytherins waiting for him out in the hallway, the looks of
malicious glee on their faces turning his stomach.

"Ten points from Gryffindor," Malfoy mocked. "You just can't win, can you, Potter? You
must be really bad if you're still loosing points after putting out for the teacher."

The sexual innuendo was the last straw. Harry didn't even bother drawing his wand. He
simply punched Draco for all he was worth, cracking him hard across the jaw and
knocking the other boy down on his ass. The shouts of outrage and glee from the Slytherins
and Gryffindors were followed by the drawing of wands on either side, ending in a standoff
of the two groups. Draco looked stunned, staring up at Harry from the ground, his lip
bleeding, looking as if he could not believe Harry had actually punched him.

But before a single hex could be thrown, the dark shape of Severus Snape loomed over all of
them, causing everyone to freeze. "Potter!" Snape growled. "Did you just punch Mr.
Malfoy?"

41
Considering Harry still had his fist clenched, he supposed it was pretty obvious what had
happened. He flinched at the anger he saw in Snape's eyes. "Yes, sir," he admitted nervously.

"Why?"

Harry flushed. There was no way in hell he was going to repeat what Draco had said, and
everyone there knew it, Malfoy included. The Slytherin climbed to his feet, his eyes just
daring Harry to say something. Despite the blood on his lips, he smiled smugly.

"No reason, sir," Harry gritted his teeth as he spoke the words. Dead silence followed his
words and everyone looked at Snape. The man's expression was unreadable.

"Report for detention tonight, Mr. Potter." His voice was deadly cold. "Now get out of here
all of you." With that he turned and disappeared back into the classroom.

The Slytherins started snickering immediately, the Gryffindors glaring at them.

"Point loss and detention!" Malfoy teased. "Don't worry about it, Potter. Maybe you can work
the detention off in trade! Likes you on your knees I imagine."

Harry nearly hit him again, would have if Snape hadn't suddenly reemerged from the
classroom, grabbed Malfoy by the throat and slammed the young man up against one of the
stone walls of the corridor, his eyes blazing with fury. "Mr. Malfoy! If I ever hear you
insulting my bond-mate like that again, I will drag you off this campus and beat the crap
out of you myself! Do you understand?!"

Malfoy's face was utterly white, his eyes wide in terror. He nodded fervently, trying to speak
around the fist that was clamped around his throat. Satisfied with whatever answer he
squeaked out, Snape shoved him aside, knocking him on the ground again. The other
Slytherins stood frozen in shock, pale faces staring at Snape as if they didn't recognize him.
The Gryffindors stared in equal shock, amazement on their faces. Snape gifted them all with
his worst glare yet.

"Clear out, NOW!"

They all fled -- Slytherins in one direction, Gryffindors in the other.

Harry, pulled along after the other Gryffindors by Ron and Hermione, was struck speechless
with shock. He couldn't believe what had just happened! Snape had attacked Malfoy to
defend not his life but his honor! The man's words rang through his head. My bond-mate.
Maybe Arthur Weasley had been right when he'd said that Snape would be honor-bound to
protect him.

Harry found himself sitting in the Gryffindor common room before he knew it, not
remembering until after the fact that he didn't live there any more. The rest of the
Gryffindors were busy telling the other students what had just happened. Harry supposed
that by dinner it would be all over the castle.

"I can't believe that just happened!" Seamus exclaimed. "Oh, my god! Did you see the look
on Malfoy's face?"

"I can't believe Snape defended you!" Neville exclaimed, staring at Harry with something
that looked strangely like awe. "He's never defended anyone before!"

42
Ron seemed just as speechless as Harry. Hermione on the other hand seemed neither
shocked nor surprised. "Well, what else would you expect?" she demanded of all of them.
"Weird as it may seem, they are in fact married. And any insult given to Harry is an insult to
Snape's family. If he wants to maintain his good name, he has to defend Harry's honor. The
two are tied together now."

"I know that," Seamus agreed. "I just didn't guess that Snape did. Or that he'd care. He's
never cared about anyone before. And just the idea of the Head of Slytherin defending a
Gryffindor!" He shook his head. "It's beyond belief."

"Merlin, who knew the bastard had it in him!" Dean said gleefully. "I thought Malfoy was
going to wet himself!"

"Sure is weird," Ron agreed. "Did you know he was going to do something like that Harry?"

Harry stared at his friend in disbelief. "How would I know something like that? The man
just gave me detention! Why would I expect him to defend my honor?"

"Yeah, how weird is that?" Seamus exclaimed. "Takes points from you, gives you detention
and then threatens to beat the crap out of Malfoy for saying the same garbage he's been
spouting for five years!"

"My life's a three ring circus," Harry agreed.

"What do you suppose he's going to make you do for detention?" Dean asked.

Harry's eyes widened in shock and he threw a furious glare at his year mate. The one thing
the Gryffindors, Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs had managed to avoid during the course of the
day was the sexual innuendo Harry had been dreading; to hear it now after what Malfoy
had just said was too much.

Dean's eyes widened in surprise and he raised his hands in defense. "I didn't mean it like
that!" he squeaked. "I swear! I just meant it was weird to get detention from your own bond-
mate. That's blurring the lines between public and private lives a bit much."

Appeased, Harry leaned back in his chair. "I image not giving me detention would be
blurring the lines just as much." He glanced over at Hermione. "I don't suppose there's a rule
book about this anywhere? McGonagall seemed to indicate that there were certain customs
concerning married students, suggesting that this has happened before."

"It's not common," Hermione told him. "But it has happened -- mostly though the marriages
are between two students. Not a student and a teacher. But there have been cases with
arranged marriages that are similar to this situation. But I doubt there's any sort of rulebook
anywhere. You're going to have figure this out between the two of you."

"Well, it's not like anyone is ever going to accuse Snape of favoritism," Ron told them.

"I'll be lucky if I pass potions at the rate I'm going," Harry agreed. He laughed suddenly.
"Won't that make an interesting headline on the front page of Daily Prophet? Boy Who
Lives, Bond-Mate of Hogwart's Potions Master, Fails Potions!"

43
Hermione snorted in disgust. "I doubt you'll fail Potions, Harry," she informed him. "I won't
let you. And somehow I doubt Snape will either. If nothing more than to simply avoid just
such a headline."

The door to the common room opened suddenly and McGonagall stuck her head inside.
"Mr. Potter, could I speak with you for a moment."

"Of course, Professor," Harry said quickly, throwing a curious look at his friends. He
followed McGonagall out into the hallway, down the corridor to her private office at the
base of Gryffindor tower. Once inside, she motioned Harry to be seated in front of her desk.

"Harry," she began. "In reviewing the board I noticed that you have not only lost points for
Gryffindor but received a detention as well. All on the first day of class." She motioned
toward the magical placard that graced one wall where the house points for Gryffindor
were automatically tallied and totaled. Harry saw his name written in bold letters in two
locations.

"Yes, ma'am," he sighed. "I'm sorry, I. . ."

"Harry," she interrupted. "It's not the points or the detention I'm overly worried about. No
doubt you and many others will do the same throughout the school year. What concerns me
is that both demerits came from Professor Snape."

Harry nodded. Surely she didn't think that was unusual. No one took more points away from
Gryffindor that Professor Snape.

McGonagall sighed. "Harry, hasn't it occurred to you what a difficult position Severus is in
at the moment? You're his bond-mate. Regardless of the fact that you were both forced into
this marriage, it is still legally binding. Everything you do reflects on him. And for him to
have to be the one to take points from you, or give you detention must weigh heavily on
him. I realize this situation is new to you, but the onus of maintaining a professional
relationship with you during school hours lies entirely on his shoulders, since he is the
figure in authority here. But that does not mean that you do not have an equal responsibility
of helping him maintain both propriety and decorum. He can not risk being accused of bias
or nepotism, something I have no doubt he will manage with his usual finesse; but it is
exceedingly unfair of you to push him in the opposite extreme as well."

Harry felt himself flush at her words. He hadn't actually thought of how odd it must be for
Snape to have to maintain his relationship as his teacher. It was probably weirder for him to
be married to a sixteen-year-old student than it was for him to be married to a thirty-six-
year-old teacher. "I'm sorry, Professor," he apologized. "It's just that there are some
situations that are out of my control." Not much he could do if the Slytherins were bound
and determined to get him in trouble. They had years of practice setting him up, and Snape
knew it.

"I realize that certain other students make some situations awkward," McGonagall agreed
tersely. "I'm just suggesting you do your utmost to give Severus no reason at all to question
your behavior. For both your sakes."

"Yes, Ma'am," Harry nodded in agreement.

"And in the interest of making certain there is no hint of impropriety, any detention you
receive from Professor Snape will be served with me." There was a faint twinge of pink in

44
the older woman's cheeks, and Harry suspected she'd heard about what Draco had said. He
wondered how the story had gotten around so quickly.

"Was that your idea?" he asked curiously.

But McGonagall shook her head. "No, I spoke with Severus just a few minutes ago. It was his
idea. Seems he was concerned about some nasty rumor he'd overheard."

Harry just blushed, not certain at all what to make of the situation.

------------------------------------------------

Author's Note: Harry's only just beginning to realize that he knows nothing about
Wizarding Society. I had a lot of fun playing around with a set of rules and manners for this
story.

Chapter 5 Dark Marks

S nape was not at dinner, and Harry couldn't help wondering if he was angry with him
over the events of the day. He supposed he'd find out that night, since there was no
way he could avoid seeing him any more. After dinner, he reported to McGonagall's
office to serve out his detention. To his surprise, the woman simple suggested he spend the
time doing any homework he had been assigned. Granted McGonagall's detentions were
never as horrible as Snape's or Filch's -- but she did usually assign students some unpleasant
task to perform. When half way through detention McGonagall offered Harry a tray of
sweet pastries he began to grow suspicious that the woman might in fact feel sorry for him.
But whether it was because of the detention he'd gotten due to Malfoy's callousness, or
something deeper and related to the information she'd learned about the Dursleys, he didn't
know. He wasn't certain he liked it. He'd survived sixteen years without anyone ever feeling
sorry for him -- he didn't need it now.

She dismissed him after the hour, bidding him a kindly goodnight. And rather than make
his way into the Gryffindor common room like he desperately wanted to, Harry made his
way down the long staircases toward the dungeons. Following the path he'd learned the
night before, he soon found himself standing in front of the portrait of Salazar Slytherin and
the large green snake. Both figures smiled at him, nodding in a surprisingly polite manner.
"Severus' new bond-mate," the snake said to Salazar in Parseltongue. Harry blushed at that.

"Pity he's a Gryffindor," Salazar replied back in Parseltongue.

"There's nothing wrong with being a Gryffindor," Harry informed them both, also speaking
in Parseltongue. Both snake and man were startled by this, and smiled in pleasure.

"Most interesting!" Salazar remarked. "A better match than I had guessed. May you have a
long life together!"

Harry just blushed again. "Eldorado," he informed them both, and the portrait swung open,
letting Harry into the Potions Master's chambers.

Stepping inside, he saw Snape sitting by the fire, not reading or drinking, but staring
moodily into the flames. Not at all certain what sort of reception to expect, Harry took a
couple of hesitant steps toward him. "Professor?" he asked quietly.

45
Snape did not answer him. Despite the fact that neither the point loss nor the detention had
been his fault, Harry supposed he was expected to apologize. "I'm sorry about what
happened today," he offered quietly.

"And what, pray tell, are you apologizing for, exactly?" Snape asked in a low, quiet voice. He
didn't look up from the fire, and his expression never changed, something that made Harry
decidedly nervous. "The fact that the entire Wizarding World seems to think I have some
how manipulated their hero into marrying me for the sake of my own good name, or that
you would only agree to such a terrible fate to get your hands on my money? Or perhaps
you are apologizing for the endless stream of questions and speculations we were both
subjected to throughout the entire day? Or the looks of loathing and contempt coming from
the Gryffindors, or the foul sexual innuendoes coming from the Slytherins? Or perhaps you
wish to apologize for the Howler I received in the staff room from Sirius Black who
threatened to do things to me I shan't repeat if I so much as looked at you inappropriately?"

Okay, Snape had definitely had a worse day than he had. "Actually, I was just going to
apologize for the point loss and the detention," he admitted sheepishly.

Some emotion flickered across Snape's features and the man shot him an unreadable look.
"Oh," he said simply, then shrugged. "As awkward as that situation was, taking points away
from Gryffindor and seeing Malfoy with a split lip were the only moments of pleasure I had
all day."

Unable to help himself, Harry smiled. "Which would probably explain my need to apologize
for them."

For a moment, he almost thought Snape was going to laugh. "I'm sure," he agreed dryly. He
winced suddenly, clutching at his left forearm and muttering some curse under his breath.

Harry frowned, stepping forward. "What's wrong?" he demanded.

"Nothing," Snape bit out between gritted teeth. But now that Harry had seen the wince, he
noticed that Snape looked exhausted, his skin paler than normal.

"It's Voldemort, isn't it?" Harry stated. "He's summoned you!"

"Hardly matters now, Mr. Potter," Snape reminded him, eyes closed, lips still pinched in
pain. His hand had tightened knuckle-white around his forearm as if trying to squeeze
away the mark hidden beneath his robes.

"How long has this been going on?" Harry asked. He knew the Dark Mark grew
progressively more painful the longer a summons was ignored. He hadn't bothered to
wonder what might happen to Snape now that he no longer intended to answer the
summons. Just how long could Voldemort torture him with it –- and how bad would the
pain get?

"Not your concern, Potter," Snape informed him. Harry could see the struggle the man
endured to control the pain he must be experiencing.

"Actually, it is my concern," Harry informed him, making a decision and kneeling down in
front of the man. With his eyes closed, Snape didn't see what he was doing until Harry
touched his arm, pushing the sleeve of his robe up to reveal the dark mark. The mark was
black as night, and the skin around it was fiery red and swollen.

46
"What are you doing?" Snape demanded, eyes glaring.

"This is my fault," Harry told him.

Snape snatched his arm away from him. "It's not your fault, Potter!"

"If it wasn't for me this wouldn't be happening!" Harry shouted back at him.

"You're right!" Snape snarled. "Instead I'd probably be playing the good little Death Eater
and suffering the Cruciatus because Voldemort was bored and couldn't find any Muggles to
torture."

"If you're trying to shock me, save your breath!" Harry told him, anger boiling inside him.
"I've seen what he does, remember? Now just answer the damn question! How long has this
been going on?"

"Don't take that tone with me!" Snape roared at him.

Unable to control himself, Harry reared back and kicked the leg of Snape's chair. "I hate
you!"

"Good!" Snape shouted back, and then bit back a strangled moan of pain as he clamped his
hand over the dark mark once again.

Despite his rage, the sight of Snape in pain twisted something inside Harry, and he couldn't
bear to watch. Drawing his wand in desperation, he summoned Dobby to the room.

"Dobby, get the Headmaster, please," he told the little elf. "Tell him he needs to come here
immediately."

"Yes, Harry Potter, I is going immediately!" Dobby assured him, vanishing an instant later.

"What in hell did you do that for?" Snape asked bitterly.

Harry didn't answer. Instead he simply stood back and waited, watching as Snape squeezed
his eyes shut in pain, his fingernails digging into the flesh of his arm as he tried to stop the
agony flaring from the mark. Harry felt raw inside, the whole situation seeming unreal. A
moment later he saw the flames of the fire change color as floo powder was mixed with
them. Dumbledore stepped out of the fireplace.

"Harry, what's wrong?" the old man asked worriedly. Harry just pointed soundlessly toward
Snape. Dumbledore took one look at the situation and understood immediately.

"Severus, how long has this been going on?" the old man asked, his voice firm and
demanding.

"A few hours," Snape admitted without hesitation.

"Come with me," Dumbledore ordered, reaching out to help the man stand. "I have an idea
that might help."

47
Snape went without protesting, and Harry followed them to the door. Dumbledore just
smiled gently at him. "Stay here, Harry," he ordered. "We'll be back before too long. You
should probably try to get some sleep."

Recognizing a dismissal when he heard one, Harry stood back and watched them leave the
room. A moment later he was alone in Snape's chambers. They felt strangely empty without
the other man's presence.

Not certain what to do with himself, Harry wandered around the rooms, looking at things,
his mind elsewhere. Wandering into the bedroom, he noticed a letter waiting for him on his
nightstand. Curious as to why it hadn't been delivered to him in the Great Hall, he went to
pick it up, recognizing Sirius' handwriting on the envelope. He wondered if it had come the
same time Snape's howler had.

Opening it eagerly, he read the note his godfather had sent him.

Dear Harry,

Dumbledore has informed me of the events of last night -- rather


than the fiction the papers printed this morning. I am so sorry this
has happened. I can't begin to express my remorse that I can not be
there for you, or that I could not prevent the things the Dursleys did
to you. I knew they treated you poorly, but I had no idea it had been
so bad. If I had, I would have taken you with me that first summer
regardless of the legal risks. At the very least I would have sent you to
live with Remus. Had I not believed you were at least safe with the
Dursleys, I would never have left you there.

I understand the necessity of the marriage -- Dumbledore was right,


you cannot risk leaving Hogwarts, and Fudge would get you killed in
a matter of days. Of that I have no doubt. But I cannot believe that
the most suitable candidate they could find for you was SNAPE?
Why not Hermione or Ron, or one of Ron's brothers for that matter?
Or what about that girl you liked? Cho something? Rest assured that
if Snape does anything to upset or hurt you I will see that he's
punished! Do not let that bastard push you around or upset you in
any manner. You have no obligations or loyalties to him no matter
what anyone tells you! I'll be coming to visit as soon as I can. Until
then, take care of yourself, and if you need anything send for me or
Mooney.

Love,

48
Padfoot

The letter, despite everything, actually succeeded in making him feel somewhat better.
Figuring he'd better send an answer back to Sirius as soon as possible he sat down at the
desk in the library and composed a short note to Sirius, assuring him that he was fine and
that he shouldn't worry too much about him. Then he set it aside to deliver in the morning.

After showering, Harry climbed into bed, setting his glasses and wand down on the
nightstand he supposed had somehow become 'his'. He couldn't help wondering what
precisely Sirius' howler to Snape must have said, and he found himself lying awake in bed
dreaming up the words Sirius must have used. He imagined it had been great.

It was nearly an hour later before Snape returned, going straight into the bathroom to
change. He emerged a while later, dressed as he had been last night in a pair of pajama
bottoms, though this time he had his nightshirt already on over them. As he moved around
the room extinguishing some of the candles, Harry's eyes were drawn to his forearm.
Several coils of what looked to be silver wire were wound around his forearm, covering the
Dark Mark.

"Are you all right?" Harry asked quietly as Snape approached the bed.

Snape nodded tightly. "Albus found a way of blocking the pain," he informed him as he
climbed in beside Harry.

Harry nodded in acknowledgement and rolled away, turning his back to Snape. To his
surprise the man spoke again. "Why did you say it was your fault?" he sounded more
curious than angry.

For a moment Harry was tempted to tell the man he was not accustomed to chatting while
in bed. Instead he simply opted for the truth. "If I had killed Voldemort, he couldn't hurt
anyone else."

"And you think it is your responsibility to kill him?" Snape asked.

"One of us has to die," Harry replied, staring at the shadows lingering around the bed
curtains.

A strong hand suddenly closed around his shoulder and pulled him around, pushing him
flat onto his back, pinned to the bed. In the darkness he could see little more than a shadow
looming over him, but he could feel the heat of Snape's angry glare. His pulse inexplicably
raced. "What in hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It means either I kill him or he'll kill me!" Harry told him, a basic fact of life he'd come to
accept. Snape's hand felt hot against his shoulder. "Either way one of us dies, and in the
mean time everyone else suffers for it!" Not to mention the suffering that would follow if
Voldemort was the one who got lucky first.

"People suffer because Voldemort is a sick, evil monster who has been doing terrible things
long before you were ever born. And before him it was the Wizard Grindelwald, and
Dumbledore was no more responsible for his crimes than you are for Voldemort's. Take
responsibility for your own actions, but don't take the blame for Voldemort's!"

49
"My own actions consisted of letting Peter Pettigrew live when I should have killed him,"
Harry said bitterly. "Thanks to that one stupid action Sirius is still on the run, Cedric
Diggory was murdered, and Voldemort was raised from the dead."

"You're not a killer," Snape told him. "And no one expects you to be!"

Harry stared at him in disbelief. "Sixty-three Aurors died defending me last year. And forty-
seven Death Eaters died when I took the Eye of Odin from Voldemort. You're right, I'm not a
killer; I'm a mass murderer! And if I had it to do all over again I'd kill Wormtail and spare
myself the sheer numbers!"

"Those were causalities of war," Snape's voice was harsh with emotion, thought which ones
Harry couldn't guess. "And you were in no way responsible for any of them. Murder is
taking a knife in your own hand and plunging it into someone's living heart. There is a
difference! A huge difference! And one I hope you will never know. And even if you had
killed Pettigrew, I have no doubt Voldemort would have found someone else to bring him
back."

"Then maybe there are just somethings that are enviable," Harry said bitterly. He shook off
Snape's hand, which still rested on his shoulder, and rolled away from him again. "If that's
the case I guess we all better hope that it's inevitable that I learn how to kill sooner rather
than later."

Snape didn't reply and Harry squeezed his eyes shut, fighting back the tears he felt stinging
them. He wouldn't cry. He never had before, and he wasn't going to start now.

----------------------

Snape woke several hours later, startled awake by the strangled cry of fear beside him.
Turning, he saw Harry thrashing again on the bed, his sleeping face twisted in agony as he
fought with an invisible attacker. Cursing under his breath, Snape reached for his end table,
scrambling to find another vial of Dreamless Sleep Draught. He couldn't believe he'd
forgotten it, not after promising the boy last night that he would have as much as he
needed. And after the events of the evening and the conversation they had both fallen asleep
to, he should have known there would be nightmares forthcoming.

Finding the bottle, Snape reached for Harry, shaking him awake, calling his name softly.
Once again the boy flinched away from him, so violently this time that he threw himself out
of bed and slid off the side, landing on the cold floor with a muffled oomph. Severus
scrambled quickly out of bed himself and made his way around to the boy's side.

Sweating and dishelved, but thankfully awake, Harry stared at him in alarm, breath coming
in desperate gasps. Not thinking, Snape just caught hold of his shoulders, pried the stopper
of the vial off with his teeth, and held the glass to the boy's lips. "Drink!" he commanded.

Harry downed the contents without question, making no move to escape his embrace. Once
the vial was empty the boy flushed and looked down in either embarrassment or shame.

"I'm sorry," he told the boy. "I had meant to give that to you before you fell asleep."

"Not your concern," Harry informed him tightly, repeating back the very words Snape had
said to him that evening when the mark on his arm had been burning. Taken aback, Snape
was momentarily at a loss for words, wondering if Harry had said those exact words on
purpose. Guessing he was feeling vulnerable and thus defensive, he concluded that he
50
probably had. Clever Gryffindor, he thought to himself, almost saying it out loud and
awarding house points.

"Actually it is my concern," he said mildly, determined to turn the ruse around. The boy
looked up at him in surprise, his eyes narrowing. "Can't sleep with you thrashing about like
that," Snape explained, pointedly steering the conversation away from any thought of blame
or responsibility.

Harry snorted in disgusted amusement, shaking his head. "Is this where I tell you again that
I hate you?"

"If it makes you feel better," Snape agreed. Noticing that the boy had begun shivering, he
pulled him to his feet. "Back in bed, before the potion knocks you out."

Harry didn't protest as Severus helped him back into the bed. As Severus climbed in beside
him, he noticed the boy's eyes drifting shut, the potion taking affect. "What did you dream
about, Harry?" he asked softly, knowing he was half asleep already.

"The dead," he answered. "It's always the dead." And then he was out like a light, safe in a
dreamless slumber.

The light from the lone candle Snape had left burning flickered off the silver bands of the
wire wrapped around his arm as Severus reached out to touch the scar on Harry's forehead.
They both bore their share of scars, he realized. His own might be older and more
numerous, but Harry's went far deeper. It really hadn't occurred to him how much they
might actually have in common. But the conversation he'd had with Harry before falling
asleep had been alarmingly similar to conversations he'd had himself with Albus
Dumbledore. Maybe the old man had had a point when he'd pushed them together. Pity
they disliked each other so much -- he almost wanted to hold Harry in his arms and keep
them both safe from the evils of the world.

Sighing he settled down beside his bond-mate and watched him sleep, eventually drifting
off himself without ever noticing that he still had one hand on the boy's warm shoulder.

---------------------------

Author's Note: Regarding the conversation about Harry killing Voldemort or being killed by
him -- this was all written long before Book 5 came out and so I will never mention any real
reference to the prophecy. To me the prophecy seemed like a no-brainer, and Harry will
view the situation in much the same light. Voldemort hates him, Voldemort wants to kill
him and everyone around him, so in order to stay alive and keep everyone he loves alive,
Harry has no choice but to kill Voldemort. No prophecy necessary.

Regarding the silver bands on Snape's mark -- it seems to me that it's just as likely that a
good shot of morphine in the arm would block the pain (or at least make you not care that
you're feeling it). If Muggles could potentially come up with a solution, how much easier
would it be for the Wizarding World -- especially someone like Albus Dumbledore? He
hasn't removed the mark, merely warded it so that Snape can handle the pain better.

Author's Note: Several people asked me about Harry's visions and whether or not I was
going to mention them. As far as I know in canon, Harry's visions really began in his 5th
year and are a direct result of his scar (we may yet discover it is really a Horcrux). This
story is only canon through Book 4 and I have no intention of mentioning the concept of a

51
Horcrux. Harry will have visions (of a sort), but they will be a direct result of something
that happened to Harry during the 5th year I invented for him.

Thank you to everyone who's reviewed my story! I really appreciate your comments and
encouragement.

Chapter 6 Life with Snape

T o Severus surprise Harry fixed him a cup of coffee in the morning as he had yesterday,
this time making himself a cup of his own as he sat down to look over a letter he was
preparing to mail off. Severus thanked him, somewhat baffled by his behavior.

"You're welcome," the boy said simply as he took a sip of his own coffee. He watched as the
boy made a face at the taste, frowned, and then shrugged, taking another sip.

"I do have tea if you'd prefer," Severus pointed out to him.

"Tomorrow," Harry agreed. "This stuff taste like crap."

Severus had to bite back the impulse to deduct house points for the comment. Instead he
headed toward his office, intent on getting some work done before the day started. He was
stopped by the sudden flurry of wings through one of the owl entry holes. Looking up he
spied several owls flying into the room, all laden down with heavy envelopes and packages.
Harry stood in surprise as several more owls followed the first few, more following them.

"Expecting a delivery?" he asked.

Severus shook his head, baffled himself by the sudden influx of letters. They couldn't all be
howlers from Black! He moved toward one of the owls, picking up the letter the bird
dropped at his feet. To his surprise it was addressed to Severus and Harry Potter-Snape. He
didn't recognize the seal on the back.

"Potter-Snape?" Harry demanded, and Severus looked up quickly. Harry had picked up a
handful of the other letters and was looking at the envelopes. He sounded both disgusted
and outraged. "What's this all about?"

"Wedding gifts, if I'm not mistaken," Severus informed him, tearing open one of the
envelopes and reading the card inside. "Apparently a Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle wish us long
life and happiness and have sent a fourteenth century silver tea service to Snape Manor to
commemorate the joyous occasion."

"Snape Manor?" Harry asked curiously. "So there really is a Snape Manor? What color is it?"

Severus glared at him. Sometimes Gryffindors made no sense at all. "You realize of course
we're going to have to send thank you cards to all these idiots, don't you?" he demanded. "No
doubt every Wizarding family in the world will send the Boy Who Lived a wedding gift and
we're going to have to reply to all of them."

Harry looked at the growing pile of letters and packages. "Suppose any of them are hexed?"
he asked.

52
Severus' eyes widened in alarm; no doubt some of them were from the families of Death
Eaters. "Oh, bloody hell! Don't touch any of them!"

Conjuring a box he began levitating the letters into it, summoning a couple of house elves in
the process and telling them to reroute all their mail to the Ministry where it could be
properly sorted and scanned. He was tossing several more letters into the box when he
noticed the handwriting on one was strangely familiar. Freezing he turned it over, staring at
the seal on the back -- a red rose with a serpent twined around it. Momentarily stunned, he
nearly dropped it.

He was pleased to note that his hands were steady as he broke the seal and opened the
envelope. He read the short note inside with a firm grip on his emotions, forcing equal
amounts of bitterness, anger and pain from rearing their ugly heads. His eyes lingered on
the invitation noted at the bottom of the letter, and the signature that followed it.

"What's that?" Harry's voice broke through his composure.

"Not your concern!" he snarled, and then instantly regretted the response. So much for
controlling his emotions.

He realized a moment later that not only was he repeating back the very words Harry had
mocked him with last night, but that this time they were also utterly untrue. He looked up to
see Harry's face go white with anger. But rather than saying anything Harry just pushed
past him and strode toward the door.

"Wait," he sighed. Harry stopped, but did not turn. "That was untrue. This does concern
you." Much as he hated to admit it, there were certain personal facts that he was going to
have to share with Harry Potter. No way of avoiding it forever.

Harry turned, his green eyes wary but no longer quite as angry. He still said nothing
however.

"It's a letter from my brothers," Severus explained, and then because he knew this was not
going to be an easy conversation, he moved toward the couch and sat down. Harry joined
him a moment later, sitting across from in one of the armchairs.

"What do your brothers have to do with me?" Harry asked.

Severus smiled bitterly. "They want to meet you. Want to meet the young man who has
single handily returned our family name to good standing."

"And something about that makes you angry with me?" Harry demanded.

Surprised by his statement, Severus looked into his eyes, seeing years of hurt there. No doubt
his Muggle family took every little slight and family squabble out on him. "I'm not angry at
you," he assured him. "I'm angry at. . ." he broke off uncertain how to answer that question.
"I haven't spoke to either of my brothers in nearly eighteen years."

"Why not?"

"Because my brothers have never forgiven either me or my father for tarnishing the family
name in the first place," Severus explained simply, though there was nothing at all simple

53
about it. Nothing at all in that statement to explain years of pain and betrayal and angry
unforgivable words between brothers that could never be taken back.

Harry looked startled by the admission. "Your father was a Death Eater?" he asked. Severus
nodded. "And you joined the Death Eaters to be with him?"

He had no doubt that the boy had wondered about his history and how he had come to be a
spy in the first place. "No, Mr. Potter," he told him. "I joined the Death Eaters so that I could
get close enough to my father to kill him." Green eyes widened in shock, and Severus threw
Harry a twisted smile. "Like my brothers, I couldn't forgive my father either. He was our
blood, our responsibility, and every crime he committed was ours to answer for."

"You killed your own father?"

"No," Severus shook his head. "Thankfully I was spared that little indignity by Lucius Malfoy.
Seems they both fancied the same mistress and dueled over her. My father lost. Since I was
unable to reclaim our family honor myself, I went to Albus Dumbledore and offered to spy
for him instead."

"But your brothers never believed you?" Harry guessed, too clever by half.

"We never really had a particularly long conversation on the subject," Severus informed
him. "There wasn't much opportunity for me to convince them of my guilt or innocence one
way or another."

"But they must have believed you after the trial!" Harry protested.

Severus looked up sharply, pinning Harry with a sharp glare. What in God's name could the
boy know about that trial? He'd never said anything, and he doubled very much Albus had
discussed it with the boy.

Harry flushed and looked down. "I looked into Dumbledore's pensieve a few years ago. I saw
some of the trial. That's how I knew you were spying for him in the first place."

"That man leaves the damnedest things lying about!" Severus cursed, feeling strangely
vulnerable at the thought that Harry might have witnessed his youthful torture in the hands
of the Dementors and the shameful trial that followed.

"Didn't your brothers believe you then?" Harry asked, changing the subject.

"Didn't matter," Severus explained. "The damage was already done. And judging by the
terseness of the letter, I doubt they believe me even now. But they're not willing to pass up
this opportunity. The hand of friendship they are extending is to you, not me."

Harry frowned at that, and if he heard the bitterness in Severus tone, his expression did not
betray the fact. "May I see the letter?" he asked.

Shrugging, Severus handed it over to the young man, wondering why he even cared. Harry
read it, his face thoughtful. "Since the invitation is really meant for me instead of you, would
you mind if I wrote the reply?" he asked.

54
Severus' heart lurched. Surely the boy wasn't interested in befriending his family? He fought
back the flare of hurt that thought sent through him. But then why should he expect
anything more from James Potter's son?

He stiffened, composing his features, determined not to betray even the slightest bit of
emotion. "Do as you like," he informed him coldly.

Harry nodded in satisfaction, smiling as he rose to his feet, letter still in his hand. As he
made his way toward the door, Severus found he couldn't simply let it go at that; the sting of
betrayal was just too sharp not to be twisted a bit. "If I may ask," he said tersely. "What
precisely are you going to say to them?"

Harry paused at the door. "Oh, I'm sure I'll find some appropriately flowery way of phrasing
it, but the gist of it will be that they should all go screw themselves."

As luck would have it, the door closed behind Harry long before any other students had the
opportunity to witness their dour Potions Master roaring in laughter.

----------------------------

Surprisingly the two of them managed to get through the next two weeks without killing
each other. Stories of Severus' threat to Draco Malfoy had apparently made the rounds and
the rest of the students were careful to keep their comments to themselves after that. Classes
went on as usual, though Harry did make an effort not to give Severus reason to reprimand
him in class. Didn't always work however -- but then they both supposed it would look odd
if things changed too much. As it was Severus was just as likely these days to take points
from Slytherin as he was from Gryffindor -- though he did enjoy the latter far more than
the former.

Harry spent his free time with his friends, and Severus went on with life in much his usual
manner, minus the duties he'd once had as a Death Eater spy. At night Harry took the
potions of Dreamless Sleep Draught that Severus brewed for him in his lab, and Severus
kept the silver warding bands around his own Dark Mark.

Harry tended to avoid Severus' company as much as possible, but some nights he sat in the
living room with him and did his homework while Severus read or prepped for his own
classes the next day. And while they didn't precisely get along, Severus had to admit it
wasn't entirely unpleasant to have company. At least he'd gotten past his desire to strangle
the boy every few minutes.

To his surprise he received a second letter from his brothers the following Friday. This one,
addressed to both Severus and Harry, was far more politely written. They made a point of
saying something that might vaguely be construed as an apology toward Severus, and
included him in the invitation openly this time. This time his sister had also added a
postscript to the letter, begging Severus to accept the invitation, as she desperately wanted to
see him again.

Severus frowned, wondering what Harry had said to them in his reply. Must have been
interesting, and he regretted now that he hadn't asked to see it. It felt odd to think that Harry
Potter might have actually defended him to his family -- also felt oddly nice, a fact that
worried Severus. But he pushed it all aside as he considered the issue.

55
It was late Saturday morning before he'd made up his mind and he went in search of Harry.
It was a Hogsmeade weekend, and he had no doubt that the Gryffindors were planning their
usual jaunt to Honeydukes that afternoon. He hoped he could catch Harry before he left.

He found him sitting with Ron, Hermione and Neville Longbottom in the Great Hall, all of
them gathered around a Wizarding chess set. Ron Weasley was about two moves away from
checkmating Harry. All four of them looked up in surprise when Severus approached,
Neville turning a pale sickly color.

"Harry," he greeted, purposely using the boy's first name, something that seemed to shock all
four of the students. "I have a personal errand to run in Hogsmeade this morning. I was
hoping you would be willing to accompany me . . .if you are available, of course." He tried
to phrase his words in such a way that the boy understood it was a request and not an
order. This was the first time he'd attempted to infringe upon Harry's free time. He saw
Ron's look of outrage, and hastened to add, "It won't take more than an hour or two. You
will have ample time for any other outing afterwards."

"Alright," Harry agreed, his expression unreadable. He nodded to his friends. "I'll meet you
guys at Honeydukes this afternoon."

They just nodded in agreement, and Harry followed Severus out of the Hall. As they walked
away, Severus heard Neville moaning to Ron and Hermione, "Oh, poor Harry! It's like
having detention all the time!"

He snarled to himself at the thought, making a note to find someway of giving that little fool
detention. Glancing at Harry he thought he detected the slightest smirk and almost
abandoned this idea entirely. He knew his company was not that enjoyable, but it certainly
wasn't like having detention! He went out of his way to make detention as miserable as
possible, but he'd been as pleasant as possible to Potter in the evenings they were forced to
spend together. He could only imagine what Harry and his friends must say about him
behind his back.

Severus got a carriage in the castle courtyard and they took it down the winding road
toward Hogsmeade. Harry, sitting opposite Severus in the cab, stared curiously at him. "So
what is this errand all about?"

Severus frowned, not at all certain how to go about explaining any of this. "I received
another invitation to dinner from my family. And while I couldn't care less about my
brothers, I would like to see my sister again. She has at least made an attempt over the years
to speak with me -- despite the fact that her husband insisted she break off all ties with me.
Now of course he's changed his mind, and she has requested that I at least attempt to
reconcile with my brothers. You are of course under no obligation to accompany me, but I
was hoping you would agree to it."

"A whole houseful of Snapes?" Harry asked.

Severus acknowledged the jest with a mocking smile. "Would it help if I assured you that we
are nothing alike?"

"Yes, actually," the boy actually had the cheek to inform him. "I'll go. But that still doesn't
explain what sort of errand we are running this morning."

Ah, now to really insult the boy. "We're going to Torsond. You need some appropriate
clothing. Those rags the Dursleys supplied you with are unsuitable." He glanced pointedly at
56
the jeans the boy was currently wearing. Most of the students chose to dress out of uniform
during the weekend, and while the jumper Harry was wearing -- made he believed by Mrs.
Weasley -- was somewhat tolerable the jeans were not. Aside from being torn in several
places, they were also several sizes too large for Harry. He'd glanced inside Harry's
wardrobe earlier that week and noticed that aside for the school uniforms, the rest of his
possessions seemed to include a couple of ancient t-shirts, two pairs of torn jeans, and a
plaid shirt he believed the boy had been wearing since first year.

Harry flushed at the criticism. "It's not as if I can't buy my own clothes!" he protested.

"And yet you have not," Severus pointed out.

Harry frowned. "It never seemed important. I wear a uniform most of the time."

"And what about during the summer?" Severus asked. "You certainly do not wear the
Hogwarts uniform during your summers in Muggle Surrey?"

"Considering I spend the summer locked up in a small room, it's never really mattered what
I was wearing," Harry told him pointedly.

Severus frowned at that. He had not taken that into consideration. Nor did he like these
reminders of the boy's home life. Sickened him to think of it, and he made a point to speak
to Albus about having something done about the Dursleys. Their behavior was
unconscionable and should not go unpunished.

"So where are we going again?" Harry asked, changing the subject.

"Torsond," Severus repeated, giving him the name of one of the finest clothiers in all the
Wizarding World. He'd have a suitable wardrobe made for Harry by the end of the week.

Harry seemed to think about that for a moment. "Isn't that place kind of expensive?"

"With good reason," Severus informed him. They might be expensive, but they were worth
every penny. Only the finest materials were used. "I will of course be paying for the
purchases."

"I have money!" Harry protested.

"Good for you," Severus frowned, glancing out the carriage window. "I will still be paying. I
am responsible for your financial support."

"Why are you responsible?" Harry demanded, his voice darkening with anger.

Somewhat surprised at the boy's tone of voice, Severus glared at him. "What?"

Harry's brow furrowed in exasperation. "Why are you the one responsible for me? Why
aren't I responsible for your financial support?"

Snape stared at him. Certainly the boy had gone daft; might explain his marks in potions.
"Don't be ridiculous!"

Harry's eyes flashed. "What's ridiculous about it? It's a legitimate question. Is it because I'm
younger? Just because I'm younger I automatically have to be the housewife?"

57
Housewife! Not daft, the boy was crazy. But what ever it was, he certainly seemed to have
gotten himself quite worked up over the subject. "This is some sort of Muggle thing, isn't it?"

"Just answer the question!"

"It has nothing to do with your age!" Snape glared back at him. "It's because I'm financially
set and you are not. You haven't even taken your NEWTS yet. And even if you had, even if
you were fifty years my senior, if our financial situation were still the same as it is now, I
would still be responsible for your support. I have more money than you. A great deal more
money than you. That makes our financial support my responsibility."

But Harry had folded his arms and was glaring at him in stubborn outrage. It occurred to
Severus that perhaps this was some sort of weird Muggle pride thing. He'd have to find a
way of personalizing the argument a bit more. "Haven't you ever wondered why Percy
Weasley has not yet married the lovely Penelope Clearwater?"

The non-sequitor seemed to catch Harry off guard. "Just figured he wasn't ready yet."

Snape snorted in disgust. "A Weasley, not ready for marriage? Right. He hasn't married her
because while she is not rich, she does have a nice dowry. And until he can financially
match that dowry with money of his own, he won't marry her."

Far from appeasing the boy it just seemed to bring his anger back full force. "Because he's
the man and she's the woman! Which makes him the one in charge."

Ah, Severus thought he saw the problem now. Apparently he was associating their financial
inequalities with some sort of gender identification. "Because he wants to have children, you
ridiculous boy!" he corrected. "Being a Weasley, he probably wants to have lots of children!
And if he's not the one financially responsible for their family, they can't have children and
expect to maintain any sort of social standing in Wizarding society."

"What do children have to do with it?"

Severus sighed. "Regardless of what ever gender roles are played in Muggle society, in
Wizarding society a mother's finances are never used to supplement the family's income.
They are kept for her private use, but mostly they are set aside as her children's inheritance.
No self-respecting wizard would ever touch his children's inheritance."

Perplexed Harry tugged at a lock of his hair, unknowingly covering up his scar more
completely. "I still don't see why that means you. . ."

Severus cut him off. "Regardless of gender, the partner in a bond-marriage who is the most
financially stable is responsible for the financial support of the family. If a male and female
bond-couple want to have children, then the male must make certain he is the one
considered the most financially stable. In our case, since children are not an issue, it is a
simply a matter of mathematics. I have more money than you; therefore I'm responsible for
our finances. Do you understand now or should I explain it using smaller words?"

Harry glared at him. "Fine, I get it. Someone could have explained this earlier, you know?"

"Perhaps if you applied yourself more or took a Muggle Studies class," Severus suggested
mockingly.

58
"I do apply myself. And Muggle Studies is useless!" Harry shot back hotly. "Neville said that
last week they learned how to use a toaster!"

Not at all certain what that had to do with the topic of conversation, Severus gave Harry a
withering glare. "And, what pray tell, is a toaster?"

Harry's lips twisted in a mocking smile. "You take a piece of bread, you stick it in a slot and
you push a lever, the bread comes out cooked. Any five-year-old Muggle knows how to use
a toaster."

"Having never been a five-year-old Muggle, I wouldn't know," Severus informed him coolly.
Didn't sound like Muggle studies was particularly useful, but then he supposed that was the
point Harry was trying to make in his round about way.

"What happens when I pass my NEWTS and get a job?" Harry asked suddenly. "If I make
more money than you, does that make me in charge then?"

Severus snorted at the thought. Apparently the boy didn't understand just how wealthy a
family he'd married into. "I doubt very much you'll ever make more money than I do."

That challenging gleam returned to those green eyes. "How do you know? Do you have any
idea how much money a Professional Quidditch player makes? I'm thinking of going pro."

Severus nearly groaned out loud at the thought. "I might have known you'd go into
something as frivolous as that!"

Harry grinned cheekily at him. "Just think, you'll be the only Potions Master married to a
professional Quidditch player."

Severus stared at him. The boy was actually teasing him. Two weeks ago he would have laid
good money that Harry Potter was terrified of him -- now he was teasing him in such a
manner that indicated he was actually hoping to rile him up, make him angry. "You're
determined to torment me, aren't you?"

Harry thought about that a moment and then just grinned. "Well, I did learn from the best,"
he explained. "Had to get something out of all those potions classes."

The carriage jolted to a stop as they reached their destination and the boy leaped out. "You
could try studying potions," Severus muttered to his retreating form. But of course that was
probably asking too much.

The proprietor of Torsand came out to meet them as they entered the shop, greeting Severus
by name. He bought most of his own clothes here -- all save the robes and tunics he wore
during school hours. Considering how many times he found himself doused in exploding
potions, he saw no point in ruining anything of quality.

"Marius," Severus greeted the man with a polite nod.

Marius grinned warmly at Harry. "And this must be Harry!" he exclaimed in delight.
Severus resisted the impulse to roll his eyes. Everyone in the Wizarding World knew Harry
Potter. "Ah, come for some new clothes have you young man?"

59
Harry glanced down at his jeans. "I guess," he sighed. "Preferably something that's in my
actual size. I'm actually partial to the colors orange and purple."

Both Severus and Marius stared at him in horror. "I'm kidding!" he told them both. "Red and
gold actually."

"Ah, a Gryffindor," Marius said relieved. "Of course!"

In a matter of moments Marius had Harry on a stand, measuring tape in hand as a magical
scroll automatically marked down the measurements he called out. Severus sat down to one
side and watched in silence. Once the measurements were taken, Marius began showing
Harry bolt after bolt of material -- velvets, silks, and brocades -- draping some of the cloth
across Harry shoulders to see how they matched his own coloring. Severus found himself
smiling in amusement -- the boy might like the Gryffindor colors, but the Slytherin green
suited him better. Brought out his eyes.

He said very little himself, letting Harry make the majority of the decision, though he did
inform Marius that he wanted an entire wardrobe -- breeches, tunics, doublets, robes,
cloaks, boots, riding breeches. Harry's eyes widened as he rattled off the list of items. The
more he listed, the more he thought of -- stopping himself when he realized he was actually
starting to enjoy himself a bit too much. Picturing what Harry might look like in riding
breeches was going a bit too far into that realm of lustful thoughts he'd promise himself he'd
avoid at all cost.

When they left, his purse was a great deal lighter, and Harry was a great deal more baffled
by his behavior than before. "I'm going to look ridiculous," Harry complained.

"Probably," Severus lied with a smirk. The boy would look lovely. Far too lovely for someone
like him to be keeping company with, but he'd be damned if he ever informed him of that.
"But at least it will all fit properly."

Harry spotted his friends waiting for him down the street in front of Honeydukes. He waved
to them, then paused before heading off to join them. "Just out of curiosity," he asked. "All
this money your family has. . .who's the heir?"

"I am," Severus informed him -- something that had continued to gall his brothers for years.

"So Snape Manor is. . . ?"

"Mine," Severus agreed.

The smile that lit the boy's face was not one of happiness but of mischief. "What color was it
again?"

Severus' eyes narrowed. "Why are you obsessed with its color?"

But Harry just grinned impishly. "No reason," he shrugged, and then raced off to join his
friends. Severus rode back to the castle alone.

The following Monday afternoon Severus found himself wandering restlessly around his
classroom after his final class -- Harry's class -- which had gone abysmally poorly. He'd
taken points away from Harry, Ron and Dean after the three of them had nearly succeeded

60
in blowing up the classroom with their fire oil potion. Days like these just reminded him of
why he disliked the boy so much -- he suspected the feeling was mutual.

Too restless to stay still, he retired instead to one of the castle salles where he found Madam
Hooch working with rapiers. She was actually one of the best swordsmen he'd met in a long
time -- and she happily spent an hour dueling with him, something he hadn't indulged in a
while.

All the children of wealthy, pureblood Wizarding families were taught various forms of
fencing as children. He'd never care for it much as a child, being a skinny, gangly boy, and
had only learned what he needed to learn to appease his father. But several years of torment
from James Potter, Sirius Black and the other Gryffindors had eventually awakened Severus'
more vicious nature. He'd joined his fellow Slytherins in their private fencing salles,
eventually learning to enjoy the violence of the sport. He had his share of scars from bloody
duels, and had given his own share right back -- but while his peers like Lucius Malfoy
reveled in the blood, for him it was now more a discipline and a means to work out
frustrations.

Later he ate in the Great Hall, then retired to his own chambers where he sat in front of the
fire trying to read a book. Far from having cured his restlessness, the exercise had only
increased it, and he found himself watching Harry doing his homework at the small table in
the corner.

"How was your day?" He couldn't believe he'd asked the question. Nor apparently could
Harry for he looked up in surprise.

"Fine," he replied, an odd expression on his face. His answer wasn't entirely accurate of
course -- Severus knew he was angry about the more than thirty house points he'd lost.
"How was yours?" That last was civilly spoken, but just barely.

"Fine," Severus answered, debating mentioning that he had enjoyed the opportunity afforded
to him to potentially rob Gryffindor of the house cup this year. "How are your classes
going?" He told himself that he really wasn't interested. Just making polite conversation.

"Fine," Harry said again, and then a strange light entered his eyes. "Well, not all my classes,"
he added.

"Oh?" Curious in spite himself, Severus leaned forward wondering if Harry was going to
share something about his other classes, and wondering why he cared if he did.

"Yes," Harry continued. "I hate my potions class," he explained blithely. "I don't get along
with the teacher. He can't seem to explain anything in a way that makes sense."

Severus' eyes narrowed as he found himself caught somewhat off guard by the tact Harry
was taking. He'd of course initiated it, asking about the classes after all. But he hadn't
expected such an open insult. "Maybe if you paid more attention, the things he told you
would make more sense," he bit out.

"I do pay attention," Harry insisted. "It just doesn't seem to do any good! He doesn't give good
directions. I do exactly what he tells me to do and my potions still blow up in my face."

"Exactly what he tells you!" Severus leaped to his feet, incensed by the blatant lie. "You chop
instead of slice, dice or sliver. You don't mash, ground, or grind any of your ingredients

61
properly and you fling them together as if you're making a stew instead of a magical
potion!"

Harry leaped to his feet as well. "You tell me to add a cup of Ansil Weed, I add a cup. You
tell me to add a salamander tongue, I add a salamander tongue. And then you tell me I did
everything wrong!"

"I told you to add a cup of DICED Ansil Weed, and a SLIVERED salamander tongue!" Severus
roared back at him.

Harry's eyes widened in disbelieving outrage. "They all turned to mush in the cauldron
anyway. What in hell does it matter if they're diced, sliced or mashed!"

"You stupid boy! It matters!" Severus yelled at him in fury. "The preparation changes the
properties of the ingredients. Any five-year-old wizard knows that!"

"I was never a five-year-old wizard!" Harry shouted back, once again turning Severus
words from several days ago right back on him. Shocked Severus stepped back in
amazement. The boy was too clever by half, and now that he stopped and thought about it
he had a point to boot. He stood in silence, blinking at the angry young man in disbelief.
Well. . . damn! Making a quick decision he turned and walked swiftly toward the door to
his private lab.

"Come here," he told ordered, pushing open the door. He didn't bother to see if the young
man was following him. Instead he began rummaging through his stores on the shelves
around the room, removing a jar containing Wizarding sugar root. When he turned back
around Harry was standing beside his worktable, waiting patiently, his face still fixed in a
stubborn but expectant frown.

Severus set down several of the sugar roots, and picked up a sharp knife. He began cutting
through the roots with quick deft strokes of the knife, dicing some, slicing others, chopping
a third pile and final dropping some into a mortar and pestle and grinding a fourth bit.
Then he handed one of the untouched roots to Harry. "Taste," he ordered.

Looking somewhat put out, Harry took the root from his hand and bit off a small portion.
"It's sugar root," he shrugged. "Tastes sweet."

Severus handed one of the sliced pieces of root. "Taste," he ordered again.

Sighing, Harry took a bite of that. He frowned at the taste, his eyes widening slightly. "It's. .
.not as sweet."

Satisfied, Severus handed him a piece of diced root. Harry tasted it without being asked this
time. "It's salty!" he exclaimed.

Next he handed over the chopped root. "Tart!" Harry sounded completely baffled.

Severus held out the bowl with ground root inside it, watching as Harry dipped a finger in
and brought it to his mouth. He found himself a bit preoccupied with the pink tongue that
licked the digit clean and almost didn't hear Harry exclaimed. "It's too sweet now!"

"Sugar root is one of the more extreme examples of magical ingredients," Severus informed
him. "The differences in preparation are extraordinarily noticeable, something every

62
Wizarding child learns in their mother's kitchen growing up. All the magical ingredients
you use in potions are affected by the way in which they are prepared. If a potion asks for
diced Ansil Weed and you chop them you might as well have just added a completely
unrelated ingredient for all the good it will do."

Harry looked completely flummoxed. "No one ever told me," he stammered. "I thought you
were just being fussy."

"Fussy!" Severus glared at him.

"How was I supposed to know?" Harry insisted. "You never mentioned any of this. Not even
during my first year."

"Don't they teach you these things in Muggle Studies?" Severus had never actually taken
Muggle Studies himself, having believed it to be a waste of time. He was beginning to think
his assessment has been accurate.

"No," Harry told him. "And I don't take Muggle Studies -- it's pointless. According to Neville
they are currently discussing the relative merits of analog verses digital watches. Something
no Muggle-born cares about."

"Then apparently we need two different versions of Muggle studies," Severus mused.
Muggle Studies was supposed to teach Wizarding children about the Muggle world, and
Muggle-born children about the Wizarding World. It seemed however it focused on the
ridiculous minutia of the Muggle World alone.

"Apparently," Harry agreed, looking down at the collection of sugar root. "I'm sorry."

Surprised by the apology, Severus raised an eyebrow in curiosity. "For what?"

"For screwing up in potions," he explained.

Severus sighed. "I'm the teacher," he admitted grudgingly. "It was my mistake not yours. I
should have figured out what the problem was." A thought occurred to him. "You don't
suppose that's what Longbottom's problem was?"

"No," Harry shook his head. "He's wizard-born. He's just terrified of you."

Severus almost laughed at the explanation. "And you're not?"

Harry looked up at him, his gaze open and thoughtful. "No," he admitted. "I've been living
here three weeks now and you haven't even come close to killing me. No matter how angry
I've made you."

Suddenly suspicions Severus glowered at him. "Have you been trying to make me angry?"

"No," Harry smiled. "If I was really trying, you'd know. Sirius has been mailing me lists of
suggestions that he's certain will send you into a rage."

"Potter!" Severus sputtered in shock, not at all certain how to take that comment. He actually
wouldn't put it past Sirius Black to do just such a thing. Remus Lupin too.

63
Harry just grinned somewhat cheekily at him. "I'm going to bed," he announced and left him
there still struggling to find words.

After a moment Severus just gave up and laughed softly. He hated to admit it, but he as
actually starting to like the boy.

---------------------------------------------------

Author's Note: Goodness, by the time I'm done, my notes are going to be longer than the
story. Luckily, you don't need to read my notes to read the story (and hopefully enjoy it).

I thought I'd mentioned where some of the ideas from this chapter came from. Harry, as you
can see, has very definite ideas about what role a man and a woman are supposed to play in
society. And he's worried that he's been forced into the roll of a woman, simply because he
still really can't conceive of a marriage as anything else. As mentioned in chapter 2, he has
no real prejudice (good thing since he'll eventually discover he's gay!) against
homosexuality, but I reason out that is because it was never something he thought of before.
The Dursleys literally didn't talk to him -- not even to instill their own set of beliefs on him.
(To be honest with you I had never heard of homosexuality until I was nearly graduated
from High School -- the topic just never came up -- so it does happen.)

As such, Harry has no clue how to integrate into the life of a married man. Furthermore he's
always been self-sufficient -- he had no true guardians growing up. He doesn't know how
to accept the care Severus is attempting to give him. Why would he? I think it's one of the
reasons Harry always runs head-long into danger -- it doesn't occur to him to ask someone
else to take care of the problem.

And finally -- I'm a huge fan of Alton Brown (Good Eats). It occurred to me that if the
melting point of butter vs. margarine (or whether you warm it to room temperature first, or
use it directly from the refrigerator) can change the outcome of your cooking, why couldn't
the preparation of potion ingredients change the outcome of the potion?

Chapter 7 The Binds that Tie

H arry sat at the Gryffindor table the following morning with a beginning potions
book propped open before him. He'd found it in the library early that morning --
something set aside for first years since it was no more than basics. Sure enough
there was a whole section in there that spoke of the necessity of chopping verses dicing --
and while it did mention the change these things had in the properties of the ingredients in
question, it was couched in vague references that a Muggle-born probably would not
recognize.

"Oh, God, it's finally happened!" Seamus groaned in horror. Harry looked up in surprise as
his fellow Gryffindors joined him. "Harry's reading a potions book!"

Harry flushed under the looks his friends were giving him, especially Ron. "Oh, knock it
off," he told them. "It isn't that bad. I'm just trying to make certain I don't flunk potions." He
turned the book around and shoved it across the table toward Hermione. "Did you know
that there is an actual difference between dicing and chopping ingredients in the outcome
of the potions."

Hermione nodded. "Yes, what about it?"

64
"I didn't know," Harry told her pointedly. "Don't recall it ever being mentioned in class. And
while I've been assured that this is something most wizard-born children learn by the age of
five, it isn't something a Muggle-born would know. How is it you know?"

"I read about it of course," she pointed to the book. "It says right there in plain English."

"It says right there in very vague English," Harry informed her. "There is nothing plain about
it."

"Then how did you figure it out?" Hermione asked.

"Professor Snape told me," he explained.

"Oh God, Harry!" Neville moaned. "He's forcing you to study potions in your free time now?"

Harry frowned at Neville. "No, not really. We were just talking." Though he had to admit
that sounded weird too. And judging by the looks on his friends' faces they all thought so as
well.

"You were talking?" Ron demanded. "To Snape? Just chatting? About what? Quidditch?"

"Potions," Harry sighed. "It's not like I can avoid talking to the man." And if he was truthful
with himself, he was beginning to admit he almost enjoyed the conversations.

"That must be bloody awful!" Seamus exclaimed.

"It's not that bad," Harry informed them all. "He's not. . .he isn't. . ." He just sighed and
shrugged. "It's not that bad. Believe it or not, I actually get away with calling him names
right to his face."

That shocked them all. Hermione looked utterly amazed. "Are you telling me that he doesn't
take away house points when you call him names?"

Harry shook his head. "Not outside of school hours. I can tell he thinks about it, but he never
actually does it. I guess he doesn't think it would be fair."

"Snape doing something to be fair?" Ron snorted in disbelief. "That will be the day."

"Do you ever call him by his name?" Dean asked curiously.

Harry frowned perplexed. "What do you mean?"

"Well, it's kind of weird you calling your bond-mate Professor Snape," he pointed out.

"What else am I supposed to call him? He still calls me Mr. Potter."

"Not all the time," Neville told him. "He called you Harry when he made you go to
Hogsmeade with him. Remember?"

Harry did remember and he frowned. He'd vaguely remembered him calling him Harry
before that too -- in bed if he remembered correctly, though he wasn't about to share that
piece of information with his friends. "Would feel weird calling him anything other than
Snape," he told them with a dismissive shrug.
65
They all nodded in agreement. "Still," Dean added. "It's kind of weird."

Harry personally thought the entire thing was kind of weird.

Quidditch practice started and took up much of Harry's time in the afternoons after class.
He often didn't find time to do his homework until after dinner. Then he'd sit quietly at the
desk Snape had set up for him while Snape graded papers by the fire. He had noticed that
despite the fact that Snape had an entire office to himself, he often spent his evenings in
front of the fire and Harry wondered if this was a new development for his benefit. Oddly
enough he suspected Snape did it to keep him company -- though why, he couldn't imagine.
It wasn't as if he really liked the man. And certainly Snape couldn't stand him.

And yet he didn't retreat to the private office when he so easily could have. And after a
while Harry grew accustomed to his presence. From time to time the man would even speak
to him, commenting on something he was reading or something that had happened in the
course of the day. Harry found himself speaking occasionally too -- mostly asking questions
about his homework that he would have typically asked Hermione if he'd been doing his
homework in the Gryffindor common room like normal. To his surprise, Snape usually
answered his questions, reserving the majority of his overly snarky comments for potions
class, which were still as difficult as ever though Harry had to admit he had been getting
steadily improving marks due to more careful preparation of ingredients. More than once
he'd actually caught Snape looking approvingly at the contents of his cauldron, though the
man had yet to actually compliment him.

The arrival of the clothing Snape had ordered for him from Torsand surprised Harry even
though he'd known they were coming. He hadn't actually expected so much -- he'd never
owned so many things in his life. And so many things that actually fit -- he'd tried on
several of the items, staring at himself in the mirror in amazement. Okay, he wasn't so
certain about the riding breeches -- but he had to admit the doublets looked nice. Eventually
he put everything away in the wardrobe, and rejoined Snape in the common room.

"Well?" Snape asked, not looking up from the scroll he was reading.

"It's. . .nice," Harry admitted, wondering what precisely he was supposed to do now. He
supposed thanks were in order, but he felt suddenly very awkward and very strange. Didn't
seem right that Snape of all people should be giving him so much. It felt weird.

Snape looked up, expression unreadable. "Nice?" He sounded somewhat disbelieving.

Harry flushed. The man must have spent a small fortune on the clothes; the material alone
was worth a ton of coins. "I've just never owned so much before," he admitted. "It feels. .
..strange." He sat down nervously in his chair.

"What's strange about it?" Snape demanded.

"I don't know," Harry shifted uncomfortably beneath that penetrating stare. "I just don't
think. . .I mean. . I know what you said and all, but I should have bought everything
myself."

"I thought we went over all that," Snape leaned back in his chair, dropping the scroll into
his lap in irritation.

66
"I know what you said," Harry repeated. "But still. . . it's not right! I don't care what
everyone else thinks or says; I didn't marry you for your money. And you didn't exactly have
a choice either. You shouldn't have to pay for me!"

"Pay for you?"

Harry flushed again, realizing how that sounded. He glared angrily at Snape. "I didn't mean
that! I meant you shouldn't have to take care of me! I don't need anyone to take care of me!"

Snape leaned forward suddenly, his face set in a dark frown. "Mr. Potter, this has nothing to
do with me taking care of you, or paying for you, or what ever it is you think is right or
wrong. This has to do with what I, and the rest of the Wizarding World, consider my
responsibility, and the fact that I have no intention of showing up in public with my bond-
mate improperly dressed!"

Anger and hurt flared so swiftly through Harry that he almost hit Snape's sneering face;
came so close in fact that his fists had clenched, his body trembling in rage. As it was he
only managed to restrain himself by jumping up and running from the room. He fled to
Snape's private library, slamming the door behind him and locking it tightly. Fury rolled off
him in waves, causing several books to fly off their shelves and fall to the floor with loud
thumps.

Startled by the sounds, Harry felt the rage drain out of him and he dropped down onto his
butt in the middle of the floor, too numb to even bother looking for a proper seat. With the
rage gone all he was left with was the hurt.

So Severus Snape was ashamed of him! He should have known. Just like the Dursleys. Their
solution was to lock him up in a small room and pretend he didn't exist. Snape's solution
was apparently to dress him up in fancy clothing and pretend he was something other than
what he was. He'd always thought Snape hated the fact that he was famous -- never thought
the day would come when Snape would force him into the ridiculous celebrity status he'd
spent the last several years mocking him for. But apparently it worked for him now, didn't
it? Gave him back his family's good name. The very thought hurt.

Harry found himself fighting back tears once again. He wouldn't cry. He never cried. Not
even Voldemort had ever succeeded in making him cry. Snape certainly wasn't going to
succeed. But he didn't really know why he hurt so much. He didn't like Snape after all.
Didn't care what the man thought of him.

At least he didn't think he did, did he? Surely he hadn't actually entertained the thought that
Snape might have bought him all those clothes because he wanted to do something nice for
him? That would be utterly ridiculous -- especially since he had explained quite clearly
before hand why he was doing it. Granted he'd couched it in a bunch of nonsense about
marital roles in the Wizarding society, but he'd never once indicated that he actually cared
about Harry's well being.

Not like Harry cared either -- after all he'd just told Snape that he didn't need anyone to take
care of him. And he didn't. Never had. Certainly the Dursleys had never taken care of him.
And while Sirius might have been willing to take care of him, he had never been given the
opportunity. Last thing he needed was to pretend that this farce of a marriage was anything
more than what it was. An inconvenience for both of them. Snape wasn't really his family
now.

67
No, it wouldn't do for him to feel hurt about anything Snape did or didn't do. He should
have just ended their argument with his typical declaration of undying hate and left it at
that. See if he ever tried to start a conversation with the man again!

Sighing, Harry climbed wearily to his feet. He was tired -- Quidditch practice that afternoon
had taken a lot of out of him. And the last ten minutes had left him feeling drained and cold.
But at least now he had his emotions under control, his resolve firmly back in place. After
all he knew why he was here -- they both did, thanks to Snape's words.

He unlocked the door and returned to the common room. Snape was still sitting by the fire,
though he looked up when Harry re-entered the room. His face was quite unreadable.
Moving toward the desk, Harry began gathering his homework together, intent on going to
bed.

"What was that all about?" Snape demanded.

Harry didn't look up but he could feel Snape's gaze on him. "Nothing," he muttered. "Doesn't
matter."

"Harry?" The sound of his name surprised Harry and he looked up sharply. Snape was
staring at him in bewilderment.

"Why do you call me that?" Harry demanded.

Snape looked somewhat taken aback. "What?"

"Harry. You call me that sometimes. Why? Why bother?" Harry clarified. "You've never
done it before. You've always called me Potter, or Boy, or Idiot or Brat. They've always suited
you before. Why change now? Am I supposed to call you Severus?"

Snape's eyes narrowed. "You've never been particularly reticent either about calling me
whatever you damned well like."

"It's not the same."

"We're bond-mates. We're going to have to get used to certain familiarities sooner or later!"
Snape insisted.

"Because society expects it?" Harry demanded.

"What in Hell is all this about?" Snape asked in exasperation. "You're obviously angry about
something. What? What did I do?"

Realizing that he'd broken his own resolve not to indulge in these conversations again,
Harry just shook his head, turning away. "Nothing, never mind. It doesn't matter." He was
nearly all the way to the bedroom door before a hand grabbed his arm, stopping him,
turning him around. Alarmed, Harry stared up at Snape in surprised. So far the man had
refrained largely from touching him save when absolutely necessary.

But far from the angry expression he expected to see glaring down at him, Harry actually
thought Snape looked. . .. worried? "Have I hurt you in some way?"

"No!" Harry denied vehemently.

68
"Then what in hell is wrong?" Snape asked. "I've obviously upset you."

Harry couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You've spent every year I've been here going
out of your way to upset me! Why should you care now?"

Snape's hand tightened on his harm. "Because I didn't intend it this time!"

"So it's different when you do intend it?" Harry scoffed.

"Yes," Snape growled, eyes no longer worried but angry, flashing with their usual fire.

"Why?" Harry demanded again. "Because now we're bond-mates? Because now we're
supposed to be a family?" The very idea was ludicrous.

"Yes!"

"I hate you!" Harry informed him, quite pleased to have found an appropriate opportunity
to tell him that once again. Problem was he was starting to suspect it wasn't entirely true.

"So you keep saying!" Snape said. "But I'd like to point out that doesn't disprove my point.
You hate the Dursleys too, and my brothers hate me, and I hated my father. Hate is a
common theme in families. Sometimes it's the glue that holds them together!"

"If that's true then we'll never be parted!" Harry shot back, his heart tightened in his chest at
the thought. Families founded on hatred; it sounded like the most horrible thing he could
imagine. All he could think of was the Weasleys and the time he'd spent with them the few
summers he'd been able to leave Privet Drive early. Seemed he would never have that.

Apparently Snape had no answer to that, and Harry just glared up at him. "Stop touching
me," he ordered.

Snape looked confused for a moment. "What?" he asked in disbelief and then noticed that
his hand was still clamped tightly around Harry's arm. He released him as if he'd been
burned, stepping quickly away. Harry turned immediately and entered the bedroom, closing
the door behind him firmly. So far Snape had given him complete privacy when he was
preparing for bed. Despite the fight, he didn't expect that to change tonight.

He entered the bathroom, moving on automatic as he went through his nightly ablutions,
changing finally into his pajamas. Then he returned to the bedroom where he stopped next
to his wardrobe to peer inside once again. The beautiful new clothing seemed almost to
mock him, and he ran his hand over the soft materials, remembering the day they'd gone to
Torsand. He'd actually almost enjoyed himself that day. Certainly he'd enjoyed teasing Snape
about being the only Potions Master married to a professional Quidditch player. And
picking out all those things had been fun.

But Snape had only done it because he was ashamed of Harry. How could he imagine that
would not upset him?

But then Snape never said anything he didn't mean. He honestly hadn't intended to upset
him? Harry frowned.

If that were true. . . I have no intention of showing up with my bond-mate improperly


dressed .. . .a direct attack toward him! But if he really hadn't intended to upset him, who

69
else could that have been aimed at? If not him? The only others mentioned in that statement
were Snape himself and the public in general.

Snape or the public.

Harry paled suddenly, other conversations coming to the foreground. Snape had become a
Death Eater to reclaim his family's honor by killing his own father. And in failing that duty
he'd become a spy for Dumbledore, suffering God only knew what at the hands of
Voldemort for the sake of a duty he believed he had failed in performing. The man had a
streak of honor inside him a mile long, but being a Slytherin his motives and methods were
almost never decipherable.

Realization struck Harry hard. It wasn't Harry he was ashamed of. He genuinely believed
that nonsense about him being responsible for Harry's support -- and if Harry appeared in
public inappropriately attired it would be a sure sign that Severus Snape was not
performing his duties. That he was neglecting him, like he obviously believed the Dursleys
had.

Which meant that these clothes had been gifts. Given out of a sense of duty granted, and not
out of affection or kindness, but gifts nonetheless. And Harry had nearly hit him for it. He
felt sick to his stomach.

The door opened a moment later and Snape entered, moving toward the bathroom without
a word.

"Thank you," Harry said softly to him, stopping his progress across the room.

When he heard no answer he turned toward him. Snape was staring at him as if he'd
completely lost his mind. "For the clothing," Harry explained. "Thank you for the clothes. I
like them. No one has ever bought me so much. . .and it's. . ." He stopped that line of
thought. That's what had gotten him into this situation in the first place. Okay, it was still
weird, but at least now he could understand it a bit more. "It's just. . .thank you."

Once again Snape looked completely lost for words. Finally he just shook his head in
bafflement. "You're welcome," he said simply.

Harry just smiled at him and then headed toward the bed to sleep, leaving a completely
bewildered Severus Snape standing in the middle of their room.

----------------------

Author's note: I mentioned there would be some violence in this story. The action picks up
in the next chapter (no, not THAT kind of action! Harry's not there emotionally yet). And
yes, Sirius will be appearing soon.

Chapter 8 All the Kings Men

H arry went with Ron and Hermione to Honeydukes the following weekend, dressed
in some of the more casual clothing Snape had bought him. Nevertheless both Ron
and Hermione commented on the outfit, Hermione telling him he looked quite
nice. Ron just made gagging noises at the thought of Snape buying Harry anything. Harry
endured it all with little comment. He and Snape had an unspoken agreement not to bring
the subject up again.
70
As they walked the path toward Hogsmeade, Harry talked about his last letter from Sirius
and the promise the man had made him to come visit as soon as possible. "I'm hoping he'll
be here this weekend," Harry told them.

"Isn't it dangerous for him to come back here," Hermione protested.

"Not if he stays out of sight," Harry replied. "He's already doing work for Dumbledore as it
is, and needs to report in occasionally. And the Ministry still doesn't know anything about
Snuffles. Sometimes I think he prefers that form."

"Think he'll hurt Snape when he gets here?" Ron asked hopefully.

Harry just shook his head. "You keep forgetting the fact that none of this was Snape's fault.
He only married me to protect me. And it's not like he's done anything to hurt me since then.
Sirius might not be happy about things, but Snape hasn't done anything wrong either." He
was amused by how disappointed Ron looked at the thought.

"You don't actually want Snape to do something wrong do you?" Hermione asked the
redhead.

"No, of course not!" Ron assured them both, and they both laughed at the look of dismay on
his face.

"Don't worry, Ron," Harry assured him. "I'm sure sooner or later Snape will say something
that will set Sirius off, and you can watch the two of them fight."

"You think so?" Ron's eyes lit up at the thought.

"When did you get so blood thirsty?" Hermione sighed. "Boys!" She shook her head in
disgust.

They spent a few hours at Honeydukes, and then later at the local pub, all of them joking
around with some of their classmates and enjoying a game of Exploding Snaps. Afterwards
they wandered up and down the streets of the village looking into various shop. Harry
stopped to admire a gleaming sword he saw in a shop window while Hermione dragged
Ron across the street to look into a bookstore. Harry smiled, listening to Ron complaining
the entire way. He also noted that Ron didn't refuse to go with Hermione however. Said a lot
for Ron to abandon a display of weapons to go look at books.

Laughing to himself, Harry decided to give the two of them a few moments alone and he
turned his attention back to the sword in the shop window. It reminded him faintly of
Godric Gryffindor's sword that he'd used to kill the Basilisk during his second year of school.
That seemed almost a lifetime ago now.

Movement inside the shop caught his attention, and he looked up, peering through the
window. Several men were inside, talking to the store proprietor. It took Harry a moment to
realize he knew one of them. Alphedor Carlton. A Death Eater. He'd met the man during one
of Voldemort's attacks last year. And here he was now, with a group of other men, buying
weapons of some sort.

Just as he started to back away, one of the men in the shop glanced up toward the window
and spotted him there. A shout when up. Harry turned and ran, eyes scanning for cover. He
didn't think he could make it into the bookstore in time.

71
The door burst open and he heard the first curse shouted, shooting past his head as he
ducked and dove toward a large rain barrel in front of the bookstore walkway. Even as he
dove he felt something slamming into him, vaguely aware of a sharp pain. Then he was
rolling to his knees, turning, wand raised in his right hand. Oddly enough his right hand
wasn't moving properly, and he couldn't for a moment understand why he couldn't lift it all
the way.

The protruding fletch of feathers from the crossbow arrow sticking out of his right shoulder
probably had something to do with it he guessed, and he spared a brief moment to wonder
why he couldn't feel more pain.

More curses were coming now, and he heard screams on the street as other people dove out
of the way, getting caught in the hail of curses. Transferring his wand to his left hand,
Harry shouted back his own curses at the advancing men. From behind him, he heard a
couple of more curses aimed toward the Death Eaters as Ron and Hermione crouched
behind the door of the bookstore and attempted to come to his aid.

The Death Eaters, six of them Harry could see now, dove for the cover of the large stone
planters lining the walkway in front of the weapon's store. One of them lobbed off another
arrow in Harry's direction. This one caught him low on the left leg tearing all the way
through the muscle and protruding out the other side. Harry tried to draw himself more
completely behind the barrel. It really wasn't much cover. The permanent fixtures along the
street had spells worked into their foundations to protect them from attacks. But the barrel -
- another shouted curse from one of the Death Eaters and it wasn't any cover at all --
exploded in a shower of splinters that left Harry open to attack.

He threw a shielding spell, blocking several more curses as he attempted to dive toward the
door of the bookstore. His leg didn't want to work properly and he could feel his shielding
spell weakening as several more curses struck it. Then Hermione was shouting again,
sending out several curses while Ron reached out from the door and caught hold of Harry's
shoulders dragging him inside behind the door. Before Harry could thank his friend, a spell
struck Ron directly in the chest, sending him flying back several feet to lie unmoving on the
ground.

Harry turned, wand raised again, returning fire. He could see several people lying
unmoving on the street. Dead he suspected. One had a crossbow bolt through his chest. Two
others looked as if they'd been hit by curses that had skinned them alive. One had the blank
look of a man hit by the killing curse.

The six Death Eaters were safely barricaded behind the stone planter wall in front of the
weapons store, and Harry couldn't get a clear shot to any of them. He could see a dozen
other people cowering on the street, hiding behind carts and flower pots. Three Hogwarts
students were cowering down behind a display of cauldrons not far from the weapons store.
If one of the Death Eaters moved just slightly further forward, the students would be open to
attack. Harry had no doubt they would be killed.

An idea struck him. "Hermione?" Pain flared through his entire body as he turned to catch
the girl's attention. Her eyes were wide in terror. "Can you do an illusion for me?" he asked.
"Someone running out of the store, down the street toward that tea shop over there?"

Hermione nodded. "When?"

"Now would be good," he told her. He braced himself against the doorframe, wand clutched
tightly in his left hand. His entire right arm was going numb.
72
Hermione threw the spell, and Harry saw the figure of a dark-haired boy with glasses
running out of the shop and down toward the tea store. Instantly three of the Death Eaters
surged forward to curse him, opening themselves up for a clear shot.

Harry picked the one in the back, aimed his wand and whispered the words of his spell,
feeling power rush out of him as the spell struck the man in question. It wasn't the
Imperious -- he doubted he had the strength to throw something that powerful. But it was a
precursor to it -- something he and Hermione had discovered last year during their History
of Magic class. An old spell called King's Voice, not as strong or as potent as the Imperious,
not illegal either since most people had long ago forgotten it even existed. It had too many
flaws in it to be of interest to the Death Eaters who would opt to use the Imperious instead.
For one thing it was temporary, and it required a continuous line of sight to maintain. But
Harry hoped it would be enough.

"Stop them," he whispered into the midst of his spell, weaving the words together and
sending them toward the Death Eater he'd struck.

The man immediately turned, eyes blank, and shot curses toward the unprotected backs of
his comrades in front of him. Two of them went down immediately, before one of the others
blasted the man who'd been caught by Harry's spell, breaking the bonds and sending all that
energy flashing back into Harry's bleeding body. Harry slumped weakly down on the floor,
not certain he could muster enough energy to move again.

Then he heard another curse hit the door only a few feet from his head. The crackling of
flames caught his attention. Horror flooded him as he realized that the Death Eaters had lit
the bookstore on fire.

"Hermione!" he yelled. "Get Ron out the back door!"

"I'm not leaving you here!" she protested.

"He'll die!" Harry insisted. "He's helpless. I'll hold them off. Go!"

New strength came with his determination to save his friends, and he turned to throw a few
more weak curses while Hermione, realizing that Harry was indeed right, and Ron was
helpless, levitated Ron with a spell and began moving him out the back door.

As she left, Harry was vaguely aware of several other people going with her, scrambling
toward the door while he put up covering fire for them to escape. He couldn't help
wondering bitterly how many full-grown adult wizards had been hiding behind him while
three sixth-year students from Hogwarts had fought off the Death Eaters.

It was growing hot by the door and Harry tried to back away from the rising flames, only to
realize that his leg refused to move any longer. The books in the front display window were
catching fire swiftly, and Harry knew it was just a matter of minutes before the entire
building was an inferno. He tried to throw another curse back out through the doorway, but
found to his horror that his left hand this time would no longer move. Baffled he stared
blankly down at his arm. A sharp splitter of wood was sticking out of his left bicep and he
wondered when he'd gotten that. Couldn't remember, though he supposed it must have
happened when the barrel had exploded.

It occurred to him briefly that it was highly likely he was going to die, going to burn to
death in the bookstore, or failing that be hit with a killing curse as he could no longer run.
And then across the street, he heard familiar voices shouting, heard the distinctive crack of
73
several people apparating to the scene. A glance through the fire showed him Albus
Dumbledore and Severus Snape catching the remaining three Death Eaters by surprise,
wrapping them up in binding spells even as Aurors swarmed toward them.

And as Harry slumped down onto the floor, blood seeping from the many wounds on his
body, he saw his two rescuers advancing on the bookstore, wands pointed toward the
flames which any minute now would be licking at his skin. Blessed coolness washed over
him, and he felt his wand drop from his numb fingers. He had a moment to think musingly
that his bond-mate looked quite impressive when he was angry, and then the world began
to grow gray and fuzzy.

----------------------------------

Severus had been at lunch in the Great Hall brooding about Harry's strange behavior for the
better part of an hour -- he'd actually been brooding about it for several days, though he
was careful not to point this fact out to himself. He still wasn't certain what that
conversation about the clothing had been all about. That he'd said something that had
obviously hurt and angered Harry was apparent, though for the life of him he couldn't
figure out what it had been. Anger Harry could apparently handle just fine -- he'd seen the
boy's fist clench as if to hit him. But apparently anger coupled with hurt was unmanageable,
which he suspected was why Harry had locked himself in the library.

But what he'd done still remained a mystery to him. Once Harry had gotten over the pride
issue about paying for his own things, he had actually rather hoped he'd appreciate the
clothing. Certainly Severus had wanted him to enjoy them. But apparently he'd completely
missed something, and the last thing he had wanted to do was hurt Harry. Far as he could
tell, Harry had been hurt by the people who were supposed to take care of him quite
enough. He didn't need any more pain.

And then not ten minutes later in the bedroom Harry had completely confused him again
when he'd given him the response he'd been hoping to get in the first place, as if nothing of
the previous conversation had happened at all. If he ever figured out the convoluted mind
of Harry Potter it would be a miracle. In the mean while he supposed he'd have to settle for
rampant insanity.

Still lost in thought he was distracted when the Dark Mark on his arm began to tingle
faintly. He frowned, touching the silver wire through the sleeve of his robes. Albus' spell
prevented any pain from touching him, but he could still sense the activation of the mark. It
wasn't precisely a summons he realized. Felt more like a small gathering of other Death
Eaters. Nearby from the feel of it.

Alarmed, he looked up, scanning the Great Hall for a familiar face. The Gryffindor table had
many empty seats. Ron, Hermione and Harry were gone, along with a number of other
students to Hogsmeade.

"Albus!" he said sharply. Dumbledore looked up in alarm. "We've got to find Harry."

He saw Dumbledore and several other teachers turn toward the Gryffindor table. "He's gone
to Hogsmeade," Minerva explained to all of them.

Severus didn't wait to hear more, heading swiftly toward the door. Behind him he heard
Madame Hooch offering to summon the Aurors while Albus followed swiftly behind
Severus.

74
Summoning brooms, the two of them flew off Hogwarts grounds, heading swiftly toward
Hogsmeade. As they approached the small village, Severus noticed smoke rising from the
center of the village. Cursing he flew lower, diving toward the source of the fire. As he
neared he could see the battle waging in the street, bodies lying scattered about on the
cobblestones. It took a moment for him to figure out who was where -- that was Harry
trapped inside the burning bookstore!

He crashed through a side window of the weapons shop where the Death Eaters were
barricaded, Albus right behind him, coming up behind the men. Three down already, the
others turned toward the sound of breaking glass. Severus and Albus had them trusted up
inside binding spells in a matter of seconds. Outside he could hear the arrival of Aurors, and
then he was running toward the burning bookstore. Through the partially opened doorway
he could see Harry, covered in blood, slumped on the floor, flames drawing ever closer to
him. He pointed his wand at the flames and shouted an extinguishing spell. He felt Albus'
power joining his, containing the fire, pulling it back in and extinguishing it entirely.

Severus shoved opened the scorched door and dropped to his knees beside Harry, his heart
moving to his throat as he stared at the damage done. Arrows in the right shoulder and left
leg, numerous cuts bleeding profusely, a large chunk of wood embedded in his left bicep.
His shirt was nearly soaked in blood, and with trembling hands Severus cast a spell to stop
the bleeding before he bled himself dry.

"Harry?" he called, pulling the boy into his arms, trying hard not to jostle the wounds too
severely. He tapped lightly at Harry's face, trying to see if he was suffering from a curse or
just passed out from pain or blood loss.

Harry moaned softly, his eyes fluttering open. "Snape?" he whispered, blood on his lips. His
glasses were broken and Snape removed them, stuffing them in his robes along with Harry's
wand. "Ron, Hermione?"

Understanding what he was asking, Snape glanced swiftly around. Just outside the door he
could see Albus with Hermione. The headmaster was busy reviving Weasley from some sort
of spell. Both looked unhurt.

"They're alright," he assured Harry. Pain flickered across Harry's face and Snape quickly
performed a pain numbing charm, cursing himself for not thinking of that immediately.

Some of the strain eased from Harry's face and he looked weakly up at him, eyes unfocused.
"Sorry," he whispered softly.

"For what?" Severus asked disbelieving. Surely the boy didn't think the attack was his fault.

"Killed them," Harry explained. "More dead." It occurred to Snape suddenly that of the six
Death Eaters he'd seen, three of them had already been dead. He felt his chest tightening in
sympathy for the boy. This was the last thing he needed.

"Rest, Harry," he urged gently. "I'll get you back to the castle."

Harry slumped against him, saying nothing as Severus lifted him up into his arms and
carried him out of the scorched bookstore.

"Harry!" Ron and Hermione exclaimed when they saw them. Ron's eyes were wide in terror.
"Is he . . .?"

75
"He's alive," Severus assured them both. He looked at Albus. "But we need to get him to
Poppy immediately."

"There's a floo in the Three Broomsticks," Albus told him. "We can floo directly to the
hospital wing."

Nodding, Severus carried Harry swiftly down the street, flanked by Albus, Hermione and
Ron. The crowd of onlookers who'd come out once the Aurors had shown up moved swiftly
side. Severus shot them all his most withering glare. There were a dozen fully qualified
wizards and witches in the crowd of sightseers, and yet the only one he'd seen casting spells
had been Harry.

The proprietor of Broomsticks was waiting for them, door thrown open for all of them.
Inside was a crowd of other Hogwarts students who surged forward with concern at the
sight of the bloodied Harry Potter in the arms of their Potions Master. Albus immediately
calmed them, ordering them to head straight back to the castle, and to gather up any of
their classmates along the way. Then the Headmaster activated the floo and allowed Severus
to floo straight into the hospital wing. Ron and Hermione quickly followed.

Poppy came running when Severus yelled for her, her eyes widening when she saw the
body he carried. As Severus set Harry down on one of the hospital beds, she drew a curtain
around his bed and then began to work on him, her face regaining a professional calmness.
Between the two of them they got the boy stripped of most of his bloody clothes, a spell
removed the majority of the splintered wood embedded in his skin, including the horrid
looking chunk that had pierced his bicep. But a quick exam of the two crossbow arrows
revealed a minor charm on both of them. Only one way to take them out.

"Hold him, Severus," Poppy ordered. Severus nodded, moving to hold the boy down. "The
arrow is embedded in his shoulder blade. I can't drive it all the way through. It's going to
have to come out the hard way."

Severus felt himself blanch at the thought. "Do it," Severus ordered grimly. Poppy grabbed
hold of the arrow shaft with a pair of Muggle pliers and pulled while Severus held Harry
immobile. Despite the pain-blocking spells, Harry screamed as the bolt ripped free. The
sound was like a knife through Severus heart. The boy went limp, passed out again from the
pain.

The bolt in his leg was easier to manage. It had gone all the way through and Poppy was
able to first snip off the barbed end of the arrow before pulling the shaft out of his flesh.
When she finished, both their hands were covered in blood. Behind them, Snape heard
Hermione crying softly against Ron Weasley's shoulder.

With Severus' help, Poppy got several potions down Harry's throat. The boy choked and
sputtered on the taste of several of them, and Severus found himself gently stroking his
throat trying to get him to swallow it all. "Come on, Harry," he whispered softly. "Just a few
more drinks." He wasn't certain if the boy even heard him, but it seemed to help and so he
kept it up, whispering encouragement to him.

With the potions out of the way Poppy set about closing the wounds themselves, using her
considerable skill to begin mending his flesh back together. When she was through Harry
was nearly whole again. The three larger wounds would take several more sessions to heal.
But she bandaged them up neatly, and the two of them set about cleaning him up and
getting him dressed in a pair of hospital pajamas before tucking him back in to sleep. He
didn't regain consciousness again.
76
When Severus finally found himself with nothing to do but sit at Harry's bedside, he glanced
around to realize that aside from Granger and Weasley, Albus, Minerva and Constable
Terrence Lowry from the Ministry Auror division had joined them.

"How is he, Poppy?" Albus asked in concern when Poppy drew aside the curtain she'd
placed around the boy's bed, something Severus was grateful for. He didn't like to think that
all these people had been watching Harry suffer, despite the fact that he knew most of them
loved the boy. Harry hated to show weakness to anyone.

"He'll live, Headmaster," Madam Pomfrey informed them all. Both Ron and Hermione nearly
wilted in relief.

Now that the danger had passed, Severus felt anger returning. "What happened?" he
demanded of Granger, Weasley and the Auror standing beside them. "I only saw six Death
Eaters. There were dozens of fully trained wizards and witches all over Hogsmeade. Why
wasn't anyone else helping Harry?" He also vaguely recalled seeing several seventh years
hiding behind a cluster of cauldrons as well -- if they had looked up for a second they could
have seen a clear shot at any of the Death Eaters.

"Now, now, Severus," Minerva chided. "You can't blame them. Most people are too afraid of
standing up to the Death Eaters."

"Besides," the constable argued. "Civilians aren't trained for that sort of thing. Most people
panic in an attack."

"Harry didn't!"

"Not a civilian now, is he?" the man answered with a shrug.

"He's sixteen!"

"He's Harry Potter," the man explained as if that was all that was necessary.

Hermione interrupted before Severus could say something more scathing. "It all happened
too fast, sir," she explained. "No one knew what was going on. One minute everything was
fine and the next thing we knew curses were flying through the streets. Along with arrows.
People just ran in every direction."

"What happened then?" Albus asked gently.

Shivering with the memory, Hermione recounted what she could of the events that
followed, Ron supplying comments of his own. Snape's estimation of both the young
Gryffindors went up considerably when he realized that these two at least had not
abandoned Harry. Both had risked their lives for him, had joined him in the battle. Three
sixth-years against Death Eaters when there were a dozen others more capable.

"The three Death Eaters, how did they die?" Severus asked them, remembering what Harry
had said about killing them.

"The killing curse," the constable explained. "All three of them were hit with it."

Snape felt the blood drain from his face. He knew Harry knew the curse, but he hadn't been
aware that the boy had ever actually used it. Not to mention it required a great deal of

77
power to throw -- didn't seem likely that Harry would have had the strength to throw it
considering how badly he'd been wounded. Especially not three times.

"Not that we would hold that against the boy," the constable assured them all quickly. "It
was self-defense of course. And he's Harry Potter after all." Still, they all knew this would
result in an inquiry. Any use of the Unforgivables resulted in an inquiry, and Severus hated
to think what hell that would drag Harry through.

"Harry didn't use the killing curse," Hermione told them insistently. "They used it on each
other."

On each other? The Imperious then?

"He used the Imperious?" Albus asked, thinking along the same lines.

But Hermione shook her head. "No, Harry doesn't like the Unforgivables. He wouldn't use
them. He used the King's Voice. Vocis Regalis."

Severus frowned, glancing at the Headmaster. He'd never heard of the King's Voice.

"We found it last year," she explained. "We were reading The Evolution of Charms and
Curses in history class. It mentioned that most modern charms and curses came from older,
less powerful ones. We got curious and did some extra research. The King's Voice was the
precursor to the Imperious. But it hasn't been used in centuries-- it's not nearly as powerful
as the Imperious which replaced it. It's only temporary, and it requires line of sight to
maintain. But it worked." She glanced at the constable who was frowning thoughtfully.
"And because it's so old and out of date, it's also not illegal. It's not on the books anywhere."

The man just smiled and shook his head. "Good," he said with satisfaction. "With the
election coming up I'd hate to be the one to tell Fudge he has to put Harry Potter through an
Official Inquiry." He nodded politely to Albus. "Well, since that's taken care of, I had best go
make my report." He nodded to Severus as well. "My best to your bond-mate, sir. I hope he's
better soon." And then the man strode out of the room.

Severus pulled a chair over to Harry's bed side and slumped down into. "If Harry doesn't get
himself killed, idiots like that are going to," Severus complained to Albus.

Albus just smiled sadly. "We'll just have to make certain that doesn't happen, my boy." He
turned toward Ron and Hermione. "Now you two should go get cleaned up and assure your
housemates that Harry is fine. No doubt all sorts of rumors have already made their way
around the castle a dozen times."

"Can we come back and sit with Harry?" Ron asked, looking hopefully over at Madam
Pomfrey.

"I'll stay with him," Severus informed them.

"You can come see him briefly after dinner," Madam Pomfrey told Ron and Hermione. "But I
want the boy to sleep. He's exhausted, and he lost a lot of blood. He needs rest."

Subdued the two of them nodded and left the hospital wing with Minerva following.

78
"Will you be alright, Severus?" Albus asked quietly after Poppy had returned to her own
office.

"They left the battle to three underage wizards, Albus," he stated flatly. "And they have the
gall to wonder how people like Voldemort rise to power. He doesn't have to do anything but
show up and they cower in terror. What kind of world do we live in?"

"We live in the kind of world where three underage wizards are willing to die to save the
lives of those around them," Albus said gently. "That's rather a wonderful world if you ask
me, filled with truly amazing people."

Despite everything Severus felt his lip twitch in amusement. "That's such a Gryffindor thing
to say," he sighed.

"How Slytherin of you to notice, Severus," Albus agreed, then patting him gently on the
shoulder he left the room, leaving Severus alone with Harry.

Severus leaned over the bed, reaching out to brush some tangled locks of hair of away from
Harry's face. The scar on his forehead looked red and angry and he gently traced it with his
fingers. He ached inside, something deep and painful and inexplicable. And he couldn't for
the life of him understand it. It wasn't the panic he supposed the mindless masses might feel
if they thought their hero was gone. And it wasn't the realization that he might have lost the
one person who could keep his family name in good standing.

This was something else, something harder and darker, and it made him sick to his stomach
to imagine what Harry must have suffered that day. He didn't have the false expectations of
the boy that everyone else did -- though he would admit openly that the boy continued to
surprise him. But he also didn't like seeing him lying here so helpless and vulnerable. It
wasn't right that he should suffer so much. This need to protect him left him lost and flailing
about for words to make sense of his feelings. But all he found was turmoil.

"Harry Potter," he said softly, tracing the boy's features slowly with his fingers. "I'm not
going to let you sacrifice yourself for this cause." It was a vow. One he intended to keep.
He'd made other vows to the young man after all -- to join body, name, house and power to
his. What was one more?

Chapter 9 Dog Star

S everus was startled out of a light doze some hours later by a harsh voice. "What are
you doing here?" Severus opened his eyes to find Sirius Black staring at him from the
other side of Harry's bed.

"Keep your voice down," Severus ordered, glancing at Harry to assure himself that he was
still safely asleep. Harry looked as if he hadn't moved at all, his face still too pale for Severus'
liking.

"Answer my question," Black insisted.

"I should think it is self-explanatory," Severus told him. Sometimes Black's stupidity
astounded him. He leaned forward to lightly touch Harry's forehead again, checking his
skin temperature, while he caught hold of his wrist with his other hand to check his pulse.

"What are you doing?" Black demanded.


79
"That should also be self-explanatory," Severus growled in irritation. Harry felt slightly
warm to the touch, but his pulse was fine. The potions they'd given him early should take
care of any infection, but he suspected he'd need a few more before this was over.

"Is he . . .?" Black began, but trailed off uncertainly.

"Fine," Severus told him. "A minor infection I suspect, but we gave him something to counter
that earlier."

"Why are you sitting with him instead of Poppy?" Black asked.

Finally a vaguely intelligent question from the man. "She has other patients, and I
volunteered to sit with him."

But his answer obviously didn't satisfy Black. The man's eyes narrowed. "Why you?" he
pressed again.

Severus glared up at him in irritation. "He's my bond-mate. I have every right to be here."

"This marriage is a joke and you know it," Black growled.

"And yet still quite legal," Severus pointed out. "Which is more than I can say for your
guardianship since you're still a wanted criminal."

Black's eyes flashed with hatred. "Believe me, Snape, no one regrets that more than I do.
Harry should be with someone who loves him. Instead he's been stuck with those monstrous
Muggles, and now you."

"Love or not, you can't protect him," Severus reminded him.

"And I'm supposed to believe that you can?" Black asked incredulous. "That you would lift a
finger to help James Potter's son?"

"Believe whatever the hell you like, Black," Severus sneered. "There's nothing you can do
about it now."

Black's eyes went flat with fury. "Really?" the man growled, but a soft sound from Harry
caught both their attention.

Harry's eyes flickered lightly and he turned toward his godfather, his eyes opening slowly.
Without his glasses he had to squint to see who was looking at him, but when he realized
whom it was a warm smile brightened his features. "Sirius," he whispered, his eyes shining
with pleasure.

Severus felt something remarkably like jealousy flash through him, and it took him a
moment to realize why. He wanted Harry to look at him like that. Complete pleasure at the
sight of him. He sat there somewhat stunned by the revelation while Sirius Black leaned
over the bed and gently hugged the young man lying there. How could he possibly want
something so badly that a few weeks ago would have seemed completely ludicrous?

"Harry, how are you?" Sirius asked, gently stroking Harry's head, brushing his hair from his
face. Harry seemed to lean into the comfort of his touch. The jealousy flared again, and
Severus fought to squash it back down.

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"Glad to see you," Harry admitted. "I missed you."

"I missed you too," Sirius told him. "I'm so sorry I haven't been here for you."

"Got your letters," Harry told him. "They helped. Can you stay?"

"I'll stay," Sirius promised. "For as long as I can. As long as I stay out of sight it should be all
right. Remus is coming too."

"Good," Harry smiled again, for the absent werewolf this time, and Severus felt the pang
again tugging at his heart.

"Albus told me what happened," Sirius told Harry gently. "Are you feeling any better?"

"I'm fine, Sirius," Harry assured him, though Severus was fairly certain the boy was still in a
great deal of pain. The wounds he'd received were not yet all the way closed. No doubt his
muscles ached too from the strain of battle, and the forced healing they'd been through.
"Dumbledore and Severus saved me."

Severus's eyes widened at Harry's words, not certain what he was more shocked by -- the
acknowledgement of what he'd done, or the use of his first name. Sirius was obviously just
as shocked by his words.

"Severus?" he asked in disbelief.

Harry's eyes fluttered again and it was obvious he was fighting to stay awake. "Don't fight,
okay?" he whispered. "Don't want you to fight." Severus understood then, both the words
and the use of his name. He was protecting him! The little brat was actually trying to protect
him while lying here half dead himself. He was protecting him from his godfather's temper,
or perhaps simply protecting his godfather from finally committing the crime for which he
was being hunted. Either way he was putting himself between them -- forcing Sirius to
acknowledge both the life debt between them, and the marriage that bred such familiarly.

"Harry?" Sirius asked in confusion. But the young man was down for the count, out like a
light again. Sighing in frustration Sirius leaned forward and kissed Harry lightly on the
forehead. Then pulling up a chair he sat down next to the bed opposite Severus.

"You do realize that if you ever hurt him, I'll rip your throat out," Black said stiffly.

"Figured as much," Severus agreed mildly.

"Good." Sirius folded his arms and glared across the bed at him.

Severus sighed. It was going to be a long wait.

Several hours later sometime after the evening meal Severus Snape was witness to an odd
sight. He'd of course been expecting the arrival of Remus Lupin -- Black had said as much to
Harry. And truth be told Lupin looked much as he had last time Severus had seen him. What
he hadn't expected to see was the way Black immediately jumped up at the sight of him,
crossed the room and threw his arms around him in a fierce hug. Nor could Severus quite
explain the somewhat pained look on Lupin's face as he returned the hug awkwardly. By the
time Black drew back, face lit up with a brilliant smile, all sign of discomfort was gone from
Lupin's face, replaced instead by concern for Harry.

81
"How is he?" he asked Black quietly.

Black led him over to the bed, one arm draped almost possessively over Lupin's shoulder.
Seeing Severus' look of surprise, Lupin actually flushed under his gaze. Black didn't seem to
notice.

"Severus," Lupin greeted with a brief nodded as he took the seat Black had just abandoned.
Severus suspected he'd sat down simply to get out from under the arm Black had put around
his shoulder.

"Remus," Severus greeted back, keeping his tone as cordial as he could. He was a bit baffled
by the behavior he had just witnessed, quickly coming to the conclusion that something
important had changed in the dynamics of the two Marauders.

He'd first seen Remus Lupin in the Great Hall during their sorting ceremony in first year. He
only noticed the small, honey-haired boy because of his so obvious attempt to remain
unnoticed. The boy stood apart from the rest of the first years, kept his head shyly down,
darted nervous looks at those around him, not daring to even join in the excited whispers of
those around him. And then the sorting had begun and Severus had seen something he
remembered to this very day.

Sirius Black's name was called, and as the swaggering, cocky youth had stepped up to the
platform to receive the sorting hat, Remus Lupin had looked up and fallen instantly in love.
It was as if upon seeing Sirius Black he'd seen the sun, moon and stars for the first time in
his life. Even at the tender age of eleven Severus had understood what had happened, had
understood also somewhere in the far reaches of his soul that no one would ever look at him
like that.

Sirius Black had not noticed of course. He was too busy being sorted into Gryffindor to the
thunderous cheers of his new housemates. Nor did he notice the look of longing in the eyes
of the boy who followed his progress to his seat. The sorting hat was shortly afterward
placed on Remus Lupin's head, a long pause as the hat debated where to put him. Severus
had watched for it, somehow knowing what he was going to see, and he found himself
staring with something akin to awe at the incandescent joy on the boy's face when the hat
had sorted him into Gryffindor as well.

He'd lost track of him after that, his own sorting sending him to Slytherin where he'd been
greeted by his peers. But despite his colored history with the Marauders he'd never really
forgotten that first moment -- often found himself looking for that glimpse of heaven he'd
seen in Remus' eyes when he stared at Sirius Black. Emotions like that were all but unknown
in his world, and seeing them in Remus' eyes was like catching a glimpse into a different
life.

To his knowledge in the seven years they'd been at Hogwarts Remus' devotion to Black had
never wavered. To his knowledge Black had also never once figured it out, never once
returned the devotion or affection so obviously waiting for him, choosing instead to spread
his favors amongst vast and numerous fans.

And Severus still remembered the look of utter devastation on Remus Lupin's face when
Sirius Black had been lead away to Azkaban -- as if his world had completely fallen apart,
and Severus supposed that for the werewolf it truly had. His friends were dead, and the love
of his life was convicted of their murder. That he survived the ensuing years was
miraculous.

82
But now something had changed, and Severus couldn't quite put his finger on what it might
be. To see Remus Lupin shying away from Black's touch instead of basking in the attention?
Or perhaps the man simply couldn't endure the teasing any longer. And Black. . .Severus'
eyes narrowed as he watched the two men talking quietly to one another. There was
something almost desperate in the way Black leaned in toward Remus, in the searching,
probing gaze he kept subjecting the werewolf to -- the gaze the werewolf wouldn't or
couldn't meet for long.

Very interesting, Severus thought, and he found himself wondering what had happened to
change things so drastically. He shouldn't care really, he told himself. It was nothing more
than idle curiosity about something he'd watched for so many years, like starting a book and
wanting to read the end simply because you'd already devoted so much time reading it that
you felt you deserved to know what happened on the last page. Not because you really cared
of course.

Ron and Hermione entered the room a moment later, the two students greeting the
Marauders enthusiastically. Severus sneered at them all. A gathering of Gryffindors.
Disgusting really. He supposed now would be as good a time as any to give them some time
to themselves. He needed to retrieve some of Harry's belongings from their rooms as it was -
- Harry would want fresh clothing to wear when he was released. And he might appreciate
a book to read if he was stuck here overly long.

Rising, he headed toward the door. "Keep your voices down," he growled to the lot of them
as he left. He got the expected glares and for a moment debated deducting points from
Gryffindor just because he could. But he didn't though -- reminding himself at the last
minute that like it or not he owed Ron and Hermione. They had stood by Harry when no one
else had. That at least should be worthy of some courtesy from him, at least until the next
potions class.

He returned after a quick shower and a change of clothing, catching a bite to eat himself
before gathering up Harry's belongings. He repaired Harry's glasses, thinking briefly about a
possible more permanent solution to bad eyesight, then headed back toward the hospital
wing. As he entered the room Poppy was in the process of kicking the four Gryffindors out
for the night, much to the protest of Black. Severus, ignoring them all, moved into the room
to take up his seat at Harry's side once again. This set Black off again. "Why does he get to
stay then?" he protested, practically moaning to Poppy.

"You can't stay because the whole lot of you woke the boy up when he needs to sleep, then
got him all worked up despite everything," Poppy informed them. "Severus can stay because
I know he won't do any of those things. Now be off with you! You can see him in the
morning."

She all but shoved them out the door and slammed it in their faces. Severus looked up at her
as she sighed tiredly. "Worked up?" he demanded, not certain he liked the sound of that.
Harry was asleep again, but his face looked a bit flushed.

Poppy just shook her head. "What is it about Gryffindors?" she asked. "Wanted to hear all
the gory details of the battle. Didn't occur to any of them that Harry might not want to talk
about it just yet. The boy has never been overly willing to speak about such things; you'd
think they figured it out by now."

Severus frowned. Poppy was right about Harry's reticence in speaking about anything
violent. It was one of the reasons they had never known he was being abused by his family.
Severus suspected that Harry would much prefer to forget it all, pretend it simply hadn't

83
happened. He certainly took no pleasure in glorifying in it the way a typical Gryffindor
might. Harry saw failure where the others saw heroics. Harry saw death and damnation
where the others saw victory and glory.

"I'll be in the next room if you need anything, Severus," Poppy informed him them. "I gave
Harry another infection blocker, and worked a bit more on his wounds before he fell back
to sleep. He should sleep through the night. But if there's any change, come get me
immediately. You can sleep there on that bed if you're feeling tired." She pointed to the bed
just beside Harry's.

"Thank you, Poppy," Severus informed her. "I'll be fine."

She nodded and bid him good night. Severus settled back to wait.

It was three hours before he noticed the first signs that Harry's sleep was no longer quite so
peacefully. He leaned forward, watching the boy's face, seeing the signs of strain that
flickered over his features, the tightening of his lips, the frown that marred his brow. He'd
half been expecting it, realizing only belatedly that with all the potions they'd poured down
his throat, they hadn't given him a single Dreamless Sleep Draught, something he'd been
taking consistently night after night since that first nightmare Severus had disrupted.

Uncertain what precisely to do -- he didn't really want to wake Harry when he so


desperately needed sleep -- Severus reached out and gently touched the boy's face. He didn't
want to leave him lost to the nightmares either -- especially now that he understood what
precisely it was he saw in them. The dead, he'd said. And now he had more dead to haunt
him.

"Harry, it's alright. You're safe," he whispered softly, hand resting lightly against the boy's
face. To his surprise, Harry turned in toward his touch and some of the tension eased from
his face. Somewhat baffled, Severus stared down into the sleeping face. Maybe he thought
he was his godfather? Maybe he imagined it was his godfather sitting here beside him and
instinctively accepted comfort from his hand.

Or maybe the boy simply craved kindness so desperately that any gentle touch would sooth
him.

Somehow that thought did little to assure Severus. He found his stomach twisting at the
thought, and he drew back, removing his hand from Harry's skin. He shouldn't be touching
him anyway. Hadn't he promised himself he wouldn't do that -- wouldn't allow himself to
become attached in anyway? Maybe he should have let Black remain in his place? But then
Black and the rest of the Gryffindors had managed to upset Harry in spite of all the
warnings.

It was only a matter of moments before Harry was moving restlessly again, the tension
returning to his features and Severus debated waking him after all. Instead he just touched
him again, stroked his hair back from his forehead, took hold of one his hands in his own.
Again the boy stilled and calmed. Strange, he thought. No doubt the boy would be horrified
if he were to wake and find his hated Potions Master touching him in any way. And no
doubt Black would go through the roof if he were to enter and see Severus Snape holding
the hand of his godson.

He also had no doubt that all of Gryffindor would laugh themselves sick if they realized that
for just one brief, ridiculous moment Severus Snape wished that a certain green-eyed hero
would look at him the way Remus Lupin had once looked at Sirius Black.
84
---------------------

Severus woke a few hours later, to discover that he and Harry were no longer alone. Albus
Dumbledore stood at the foot of Harry's bed staring thoughtfully at the two of them. Albus
smiled when he realized Severus had awakened, his eyes gazing momentarily on the hand
Severus still had resting on top of Harry's own. Embarrassed Severus immediately withdrew
his touch. "He was having nightmares," he explained in a quiet whisper, not wanting the old
man to think anything more of it.

Albus just nodded, his gaze turning thoughtful again as he looked down at Harry. The boy
seemed to be sleeping fairly peacefully now, his breathing slow and even. "Do you care for
him, Severus?" Albus asked, unexpectedly.

Surprised, Severus stared at him. "What?"

The old man just smiled again, almost indulgently. "Do you care for him? I know you'll
protect him, but he needs more than just that. He needs emotional strength and stability."

Severus stared at the man in disbelief, wondering if he was really asking what he thought he
was asking. "Albus, if that's what you're looking for, you picked the wrong person for the
job. I am not a nice man. A Weasley would have been a better choice for coddling."

Albus smiled at that. "You're nicer than you let on, Severus." He sighed and shook his head.
"But no, that's not what I meant. He doesn't need coddling."

"Albus, what's wrong?" Severus had known the man long enough to know he was worried
about something.

The headmaster stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Nothing's wrong," he assured him. "Not
precisely. I'm just concerned about Harry. He has a lot on his shoulders. We all do I suppose,
but he. . ." He shook his head again. "You've spoken with him?" he asked Severus. "About his
family?"

Severus' eyes narrowed. "Some," he acknowledged. "Which brings up a point I've been
meaning to talk to you about. They need to be punished for what they did to him."

Albus waved his concern away with a negligent shrug. "Already taken care of, my boy," he
explained. "They were suitably cursed."

"How suitably?" Severus demanded. He had several ideas in mind, and was somewhat
disappointed he had not been allowed to carry them out.

Something twinkled briefly in Albus eyes, something down right vindictive and oddly
enough Severus found himself strangely comforted by the idea that Albus Dumbledore
could be moved by something as petty as revenge. "Well for starters they all three have
come down with the most extraordinary case of claustrophobia. Incurable really. I'd venture
guess that for the rest of their lives there won't be a house or building in the world big
enough for them to truly feel comfortable in."

Severus thought about that, thought about what it must have been like for a small boy to
spend so many years locked up in a small cupboard. Locked in the dark.

85
"Afraid of the dark too," Albus added as an afterthought. "Can't stand it really. Scream in
holy terror when the lights go out. The mind does conjure all sorts of odd nightmares hiding
in the darkness."

A lifetime of feeling trapped and terrified of things that go bump in the night. He nodded in
satisfaction. "And the starvation?" he demanded. He wouldn't let that one go. Harry would
probably always be small because of the malnourishment he'd suffered as a child. That
should carry a life sentence as well.

"Ah," Albus nodded. "Seems they've lost all sense of taste. They can't taste a thing, will never
again be able to enjoy any type of food. And from what I understand the three of them were
quite fond of food -- the two males particularly. I believe it was one of the few pleasures
they had in life. Oh, they can still smell it, and crave it desperately, but it is a craving that
will never again be satisfied."

Severus smiled at that -- probably fitting it be something like that. He would have gone for
something more sever he supposed -- blindness or the less subtle curses like eternal boils or
lice. But then Albus was probably right that the punishment should better fit the crime.

"Harry hasn't said much, but I suspect they beat him more than he claimed," Severus told
the Headmaster. "I know his uncle was partial to throwing objects at him." That at least
deserved an actual physical thrashing --he'd take great delight in letting Vernon Dursley
know precisely what it felt like to be beaten by someone stronger than himself.

"I wouldn't mind seeing them locked in Azkaban for the rest of their lives, Severus," Albus
said quietly. "For what they did to a boy I left in their care, I think I could probably kill them
myself."

Shocked, Severus looked up at the headmaster, stunned he would admit such a thing. There
was a sad, gentle gleam in the old man's eyes. "But I also know Harry better than that," the
old man explained. "And as much as you or I or Sirius Black might want to hurt them, Harry
would never forgive us or himself if something truly awful happened to them."

And of course Albus was right, but Severus didn't have to like it. "Bloody Gryffindors," he
cursed softly.

"Noble Gryffindors," Albus correctly. "And Harry for all his other qualities has nobility to
spare."

"Other qualities?" Severus frowned at that, suspecting that the headmaster was hinting at
something there.

Albus's eyes flashed almost cheekily. "He's probably never mentioned it to anyone, but the
sorting hat wanted to put him in Slytherin. Harry talked it out of it."

Shocked beyond belief Severus just stared at the man. Slytherin? Harry Potter in Slytherin?
Impossible! The boy didn't have an ounce of guile. . .but then he had managed to fool the
Head of Slytherin about his life and his upbringing all these years, never even a hint that he
wasn't exactly what he appeared to be. He kept his nightmares a secret too from all his
beloved Gryffindor followers. And over these last weeks he'd proven time and time again
that he was too clever by far -- turning Severus own words back on him.

Damn! Harry Potter in Slytherin. Wouldn't that have been something? No wonder
Voldemort feared the boy. Wait a minute. . ."Talked it out of it? How in Merlin's name do
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you talk the sorting hat out of something? It's a magical artifact. It's not supposed to be
ambiguous or indecisive."

Albus smiled. "Curious isn't it? And yet it still happened."

Severus let that sink in for a moment, staring down at the boy again. There was something
decidedly odd about the whole thing.

"I've been doing some reading," Albus said suddenly, changing the subject. "I was curious
about that spell he used. The King's Voice."

"Never heard of it," Severus admitted. "But the Granger girl is nothing if not resourceful."

"Yes," Albus agreed. "I wonder what else the two of them have researched?"

"What did you find out about the spell?"

"Apart from the fact that he shouldn't have been able to use it?" Albus asked in some
amusement. Severus just rolled his eyes. Figured. Like that would ever stop Harry Potter.
Albus sighed and shook his head, that thoughtful look returning to his face again, and
Severus realized that something really was worrying the old man.

"What is it, Albus?"

Albus just shook his head. "They were wrong about why it fell out of use," he simply
explained. "I still need to do some more research however. Some of the old texts are even
hard for me to read."

"Then how did Granger learn the spell?" Severus asked. "You're not suggesting her
translating skills are superior to yours?"

"Actually, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest," Albus said in delighted amusement. "But
that's not what I meant. The book they read the spell from has the spell written out quite
plainly in Latin. The incantation is in numerous books. No reason for it not to be. The spell is
utterly useless."

"Useless?" Severus frowned, not wanting right then to deal with Albus' assessment of
Hermione's intelligence. "Those Death Eaters were controlled by something."

"Yes," Albus nodded. "Curious, isn't it?" He smiled tightly to him nodding his head. "Keep an
eye on him, Severus," he told him. "We need Mr. Potter, now more than ever."

And with that he turned and left, leaving Severus alone with his sleeping bond mate. First
chance Severus got, he was going to do a little bit of research of his own. But then he
suspected that was precisely why Albus had mentioned this subject in the first place.

-----------------

Author's Note: As you may have noticed, there's been a dynamic shift in Severus' view of
Harry -- a rather important change in their relationship. However Severus doesn't really
understand what it means, even though he is aware of the shift. He still sees his own actions
as nothing more than duty. There's been a shift as well for Harry, but he's not even aware of
it on a subconscious level yet. Those of you who are waiting for the hot steamy sex scenes

87
have a long wait ahead of you. This is a romance -- which are slow and subtle, and in the
end perhaps more long lasting.

On the Dursleys: Lots of people have been emailing me about the Dursleys and wanting to
know what will happen to them. In most stories it is very rarely Albus who gets to exact
revenge -- I thought it would be fitting here. And while I too think they deserve prison, the
Harry in this story would suffer greatly if he knew any revenge had been taken.

However, that being said -- this is not the last of the Dursleys. They will actually be making
another appearance much later in the story when odd circumstances force them to come to
Hogwarts. They will not be well received.

On Wedding Rings: I've gotten several emails from people asking why Harry is wearing his
wedding ring on his right hand and I thought I'd go over my reasoning for this. First, it was
done intentionally. There is a lot of symbology in this story (particularly in later chapters).
Much of the symbology doesn't matter all that much -- meaning if you don't get it, no big
deal. Occasionally it marks a major plot point.

The wedding ring is one of those small unimportant things that I threw in just because it
made me smile. In America and parts of the UK the wedding ring is always worn on the left
hand. (The majority of men didn't really start wearing wedding rings regularly until WWII
so this was largely a custom of women.). In very large portions of the rest of the world the
wedding ring is worn on the right hand. It depends on what country you are from and what
religion you belong to -- even different versions of Christianity have different customs
concerning which hand to use.

Parts of the UK however have always worn it on the right hand and still do to this day. I
suspect this comes from the belief that the left hand is 'evil' -- school students were even
forbidden from using the left hand to write with as recently as 50 years ago. Since the
Wizarding World is culturally behind the Muggle World -- and far more superstitious
(with good reason) -- I thought I'd stick with some of the old world traditions and keep their
wedding rings on the right hand.

Interestingly enough -- 'left' in Latin is 'sinistra' which means 'sinister'. Professor Sinistra will
make an appearance soon and actually cause an interesting revelation in Harry's marriage.

Author's Note: This is sort of an odd chapter as Remus, Sirius and Severus attempt to teach
Harry something about the Wizarding World. What they tell him greatly changes Harry's
view of the Wizarding World and its role in Muggle Society. This changing perspective will
continue as a theme in this story until Harry begins to understand just what place he holds
in society.

Chapter 10 Swords and Arrows

A n old familiar, flaring pain in his forehead woke Harry from a sleep haunted by
images of death and fire. The dreams too were familiar, the faces of the dead
reminding him constantly of the mistakes he had made, and the lives he had taken. He
almost welcomed the pain in his forehead now, for it distracted him from the pain in the
rest of his body.

Opening his eyes, he noticed a dark shape sitting beside his bedside. Without his glasses, he
couldn't see the features clearly, but there was no mistaking that profile framed against the

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bright light shining in from the window behind him. Severus Snape had a rather distinctive
nose, and Harry spared a passing moment to wonder if it had been broken a time or two.

"Professor?" he asked, surprised at how hoarse his voice sounded. Had he been screaming?

Snape, caught in the act of staring thoughtfully out the window, turned immediately toward
him at the sound. Harry wondered how long he had been there. When he'd fallen asleep,
Madame Pomfrey had been attempting to kick out his godfather and the others. Had Snape
sat with him all night? He thought he remembered someone stroking his hair, but surely
that had been Sirius not Snape.

"Ah, Mr. Potter, awake I see," Snape greeted him, his tone resonating with his typical
arrogance, and yet somehow lacking the derision Harry was used to. Harry wished he could
see his features better, wondering if the man was angry with him. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine, sir," Harry responded automatically. He didn't really feel fine. He had a headache, and
his body hurt abominably -- particularly his shoulder. But he'd live; he supposed that was
good enough.

He thought he heard a snort of amusement from Snape, and he squinted up at him again,
wondering if that was a twitch of smile he had seen. Surely not.

Then Snape reached for something inside his robes. "I found your glasses," he informed
Harry, holding the object up. Then to Harry's surprise, rather than simply hand them to
him, he placed them on Harry's face himself, slipping them carefully into position. The
room came immediately into focus.

"Thank you," Harry stammered, immediately raising one hand to push the glasses more
firmly onto his nose. He discovered instantly why Snape had done it for him -- moving his
arm hurt! He hissed at the discovery. Snape caught his wrist and pushed it back down onto
the bed.

"Let me have a look at your wound, Mr. Potter," he said tightly, and then to Harry's
consternation unbuttoned his pajama top and pulled it opened, revealing a heavy white
bandage on his right shoulder. Deft fingers removed the bandage swiftly and painlessly, and
Harry caught a glimpse of skin blackened with bruising and a barely closed wound just
below his collarbone. Snape moved away for a moment, and then was back again, a small
blue bottle in one hand, an oily substance on the fingers of his other. He gently began
smearing the oil over the bruised skin, those long fingers moving slowly and carefully over
every inch of his wound.

Harry sucked in his breath, momentarily baffled by the events. He knew he was wounded of
course -- could remember the events of yesterday quite clearly. But the reality of the wound
caught him off guard. And the memory of an arrow protruding from his shoulder was
tenuous and strange. Despite that, it was Snape's behavior that threw him into a riot of
confusion. He couldn't recall a single time in all the years he'd know Snape that the man had
ever touched him with such gentleness.

Actually he could only recall a handful of times the man had touched him period -- and
never once to stroke his skin as he was now doing. It was strangely intimate, though he
doubted he'd have the same thought if it had been Madame Pomfrey doing it.

But that was just it, wasn't it. This was Madame Pomfrey's job. So why was Snape doing it
instead?
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But the pain was fading in a most welcomed fashion, and those fingers did feel oddly
soothing.

And then Snape was replacing the old bandage with a new one, pulling his pajamas closed
and buttoning them back up before Harry could muster up the nerve to say anything in
protest. A moment later Snape was sitting down beside him once again, cleaning his hands
off on a small cloth, and the whole thing was over.

"How do the other wounds feel?" he asked clinically.

Harry flexed his other arm carefully, remembering having been pierced by a piece of wood.
There was a twinge of pain, but nothing severe. And his leg -- he flexed his calf. More than
a twinge there, but nothing like the pain that had stabbed through his shoulder. "Not as
bad," he told Snape.

"Poppy was able to heal those two more completely," Snape explained. "Your bicep was
easily mended, and the arrow in your leg missed the bone and went through cleanly. You're
very lucky you weren't hurt worse."

Harry frowned, wondering if this was where he'd get the lecture on how he was to blame
for what had happened. But nothing more was forthcoming and he glanced up uncertainly
at Snape. The man seemed almost pensive. "Were many other people injured?" Ron and
Hermione had both looked fine yesterday when they had visited him. But he remembered
seeing other people lying in the street. He didn't want to think about the three Death Eaters
just yet.

Snape eyes darkened thoughtfully. "There were four people killed -- Hogsmeade residents.
And there were about a dozen wounded -- but no one else as severely as you."

Four people killed. Harry paled. They must have gone down in the initial volley while he
was diving for cover. He should have yelled something when he'd seen the Death Eaters
coming toward him -- should have warned the people in the street to dive for cover instead
of just saving himself.

"It's not your fault," Snape's voice was firm and somewhat angry. The sound startled him
and he looked up in surprise.

"I saw them in the weapons shop," he explained. "I should have--"

"No," Snape cut him off. "It's not your fault. They saw you, they attacked. The blame lies
entirely with them. As for the people in the street -- there were dozens of fully trained
wizards and witches out there, and not one of them returned fire. Let them take the blame
for their own cowardice."

Harry felt a flare of anger at his words. "They're shopkeepers and merchants. You can't
expect them to-- "

"No," Snape cut him off again. "I suppose it would be utterly foolish of me to expect
shopkeepers and merchants to act like heroes. About as foolish as it would be for a sixteen-
year-old boy to take the blame for the actions of a group of evil psychopaths he has no hope
of controlling."

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Harry blinked at him in surprise. He wasn't certain, but he thought Snape had just perhaps
complimented him, implied that he had acted like a hero while trying to ease his guilt at the
same time. He wasn't certain how to take that -- not used to receiving compliments from
Snape.

A sound at the door spared him from responding, and a moment later Sirius and Remus
entered the room, smiling brightly when they saw that Harry was awake. He grinned at
them both, noting the glare his godfather threw Snape. He vaguely remembered asking his
godfather not to fight with Snape, worried about what might happen. Sirius was somewhat
hotheaded, and he didn't want him getting in trouble. Not to mention the fact that Snape
didn't deserve Sirius's anger -- the man had saved his life yesterday, and not for the first
time. He could still remember the relief that had washed over him when he'd seen Snape
and Dumbledore arriving in the midst of the fire.

"How are you feeling, Harry?" Sirius asked, followed by a dozen more questions about his
wounds, his aches, his pains, his fever, his sleep, his treatment. Harry was a bit
overwhelmed by the man's attention, though it was nice to have someone worry over him --
he'd never experienced that as a child. The few times he'd been sick as a child, his aunt had
simply locked him in the cupboard and peeked in once every day or so to see if he were
dead yet. He could vaguely recall her being disappointed every time he recovered.

Remus merely smiled at Harry and watched Sirius with a look of amused indulgence in his
warm eyes. Snape just watched in stony silence, and Harry found himself actually surprised
that the Potions Master hadn't left at the first opportunity. Madame Pomfrey entered,
shoeing them away from his bedside. She checked him over swiftly, pronounced his wounds
as healing nicely, and then went off to find him some breakfast while the three men
returned to his side, settling back down in chairs around his bed. Again Harry was surprised
that Snape chose to remain in the company of the two Marauders.

"I spoke with the Auror in charge of the investigation in Hogsmeade," Remus informed
Harry after they had settled back down. "Apparently those Death Eaters were attempting to
purchase a rather large quantity of weapons from a store owner. There have been other
such purchases in other cities all over England."

Harry frowned at that, understanding the implications. Voldemort was amassing his army -
- and arming them for battle apparently. But the Muggle side of Harry was baffled by the
details. "Why crossbows and swords?" he asked in confusion. "Wouldn't machine guns be a
lot more practical? Seems to me a M16 could do a hell of lot more damage than a
crossbow."

"Muggle weapons?" Remus shook his head. "They're really not that useful against wizards,
Harry."

Sirius nodded in agreement. "I'm not certain what an M16 is, but I'm assuming it's a gun of
some sort. And they all require some form of gunpowder to work -- there are a dozen
different spells that can render gunpowder useless."

He hadn't thought of that -- but he supposed without the gunpowder the guns wouldn't be
able to fire. "But then why not just put spells on the guns to protect them from those spells?"

"It wouldn't make much of a difference, Mr. Potter," Snape told him. "Even if the guns did
fire, it's quite easy to shield against the bullets. Even the Muggles can build body armor that
deflects bullets. It's easy enough for a wizard to do the same thing."

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"Then put spells on the bullets to penetrate the shields," Harry insisted.

"Putting a protective spell on an object and putting a spell on an object to make it do


something specific are two very different things," Remus replied. "The first is common
magic, easily done. The second however is not common -- you are in essence creating a
magical artifact. And while not impossible to do, it is difficult, and it requires a stable
structure."

"Stable structure?" Harry frowned, glancing back and forth curiously between the three
men. Wasn't every day he got a lesson in weapons design, particularly not from this unlikely
trio.

"A sword does not change its shape or structure when it is used," Snape explained. "Neither
does an arrow. A bullet on the other hand changes drastically. It is superheated by the initial
explosion of gunpowder, and it becomes flattened or misshapen on impact. It doesn't retain
any sort of stable structure, so it can't hold a spell. The same goes for Muggle explosive
devices."

"Then Voldemort will use swords and arrows?" Harry asked. He had always assumed that
the Wizarding World kept themselves hidden from the Muggle World out of fear -- that if it
came right down to a fight, Muggle technology would overwhelm the Wizarding World.
But if what he was understanding was right, that was not the case at all. Perhaps it was the
Muggle World they protected by staying hidden?

"But who even knows how to use a sword nowadays?" Harry asked. In culture and fashion
the Wizarding World reminded him of something out of the middle ages, but he had yet to
see any sort of sword fighting. So far the Death Eaters had relied entirely on magic and their
wands to fight their battles. The two arrows he'd been shot with had been his first exposure
to such an attack.

"If I remember correctly, Severus is an excellent swordsman," Remus remarked mildly. "And
Sirius wasn't so bad a long time ago."

Harry's eyes widened in surprise, and he glanced between Snape and Sirius in confusion,
wondering if Remus was joking. Snape's features were unreadable as usual, but Sirius had
an odd twisted smile on his lips.

"It's common practice amongst all the older pureblood families to teach their children
swordplay and archery, Harry," his godfather explained. "I learned what I had to, so did
your father. He was actually quite a decent archer, though he never cared for the sword.
But it was the Slytherins who took the training seriously."

"I don't understand," Harry protested. "If it's so common why don't we learn it in school?" He
hadn't known the first thing about using a sword when he'd killed the Basilisk in second
year with Godric Gryffindor's sword -- the idea that he 'should' have known something was
alarming.

"That's because polite society frowns on the practice, Harry," Remus explained. "Can you
honestly imagine someone like Arthur Weasley condoning something so violent?"

"Violent?"

"Blood sports, Harry," Sirius explained, throwing a dark glare at Snape. "Sword duels with
live weapons. They're officially frowned upon, but the Ministry never actually banned them
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-- something 'certain' families took full advantage of." There was no doubt by the tone of his
voice which families he was implying.

Harry suddenly remembered his first night in Snape's chambers -- seeing the faint scars
upon pale skin. He recalled his surprise at how toned and fit Snape was, wondering what it
was he did to keep himself in such good shape. And he remembered thinking that the scars
looked as if they had come from knife wounds. He looked up at Snape in shock. "The scars,"
he whispered softly, his words barely audible. Not knives, but swords.

Snape's eyes narrowed at Harry's words, and Harry flushed remembering that he really
shouldn't have been staring so intently at the man that night. And he was certain the last
thing he wanted to do was explain to Sirius that he'd seen scars upon Snape's body while he
was sleeping in the man's bed. His godfather would go through the roof.

"Snape here was quite fond of sword play, weren't you, Snape," Sirius continued, having
missed Harry's words. "Had a sword laced with silver if I remember correctly." His words
were hard and filled with anger, and had a profound affect on both Remus and Snape.
Remus stiffened, his features growing shuttered and distant. Snape rose swiftly to his feet,
Sirius immediately mirroring his action on the opposite side of Harry's bed. Harry knew
there was a lot of bad blood between the lot of them, and he understood what the
significance a silver-laced sword would hold for a werewolf. But watching Snape and Sirius
tear each other apart over something that happened over twenty years ago wasn't going to
help anyone, and Harry could see that the two were about to leap at each other's throats.

Harry reacted without thinking, scrambling up onto his knees on the bed, his hands
shooting out to either side, palms connecting with the chest of both men before they could
move toward one another, Harry's own body between them. A second after he moved he
regretted it -- of course then it was too late -- pain flared through him, and he felt the
wound in his shoulder ripping open. His hands closed convulsively in pain, fingers tangling
in the shirts of both men as a moment later that was all that was keeping him upright.

"Harry!" Sirius and Snape caught him at the same time, before he could pitch face forward
on the bed. He hissed in agony, body going limp as the two of them lowered him back down
onto the mattress. His head swam with blackness mixed with flashes of painful light.

"Get his shirt open," someone ordered -- Snape he thought; and then he felt trembling hands
at his buttons -- Sirius this time.

"Merlin! He's bleeding again!" definitely Sirius that time, voice filled with panic -- someone
else called for Madame Pomfrey. He felt the soothing fingers returning, stroking his burning
flesh -- Snape taking away the pain once more as he tried to fight his way back to full
consciousness. Not easy to do when his head was spinning.

And then distantly he heard Madame Pomfrey's voice, murmuring softly, soothing him,
murmuring again, and then finally yelling in anger. "Out! Out! Both of you! The polite,
quiet werewolf can stay but you two idiots can get out of my hospital right now!"

More protesting -- Sirius and Snape both this time. And then finally blessed silence. Harry
let himself drift for a while, slipping in and out of sleep before he finally roused himself
with the thought that he should make certain Sirius and Snape hadn't killed one another yet.

Opening his eyes, he found Remus seated alone beside him, a worried look on his face.
"They kill each other?" Harry asked weakly.

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Remus just shook his head. "No, ripping open your own wound right in front of them was
an effective deterrent. How are you feeling?"

"Immensely stupid," Harry replied. "Forgot I was wounded."

"Those two have a talent for driving people to distraction," Remus smiled. "Sirius isn't
handling this whole marriage thing that well."

"Guess Snape's the last person he would have picked," Harry laughed weakly.

"Pretty much," Remus agreed. "Of course it's not just Snape; I don't think Sirius is all that
crazy about marriage in general. He was never big on monogamy."

Harry's eyes widened in surprise. Wasn't often he got to hear pieces of information like that
about his godfather -- certain subjects had sort of been off limits. Dating hadn't been
something either of them had ever been comfortable talking about. But before Harry could
ask questions, Remus moved on. "I meant to ask, how did Severus get chosen? I heard about
Fudge's adoption scheme and why you had to get married. But wouldn't Hermione have
been a better choice for you? Or one of the Weasleys? I would have guessed Ginny would
have been happy to marry you."

"Ginny was too young," Harry admitted. "She was not yet fifteen. And Hermione. . ." Harry
broke off and shook his head. "She's like a sister to me, and besides Ron likes her."

Remus nodded in understanding. "What about Bill or Charlie then? Or surely there must be
a dozen young women in this school who would have been happy to step in?"

"Well, part of the problem was everyone said Fudge would probably contest the marriage,"
Harry explained. "Which meant they needed to find someone who had both the money and
the power to stand up to the Ministry, which didn't leave a whole lot of options. Mr. and
Mrs. Weasley didn't think their family had enough influence. And then there was this whole
thing with something called the Marriage Stone."

Remus' eyes widened in shock. "The Marriage Stone? Dumbledore used the Marriage Stone?
That thing has been responsible for some of the most disastrous marriages in Wizarding
history. No one uses it anymore."

"I heard about the Guinnevere-Lancelot thing."

"Not to mention the Trojan War -- Helen looked into it and instead of seeing her husband
King Menalaus, she saw the Trojan Prince Paris and promptly ran off with him," Remus told
him.

"Dumbledore said it was safe enough as long as you weren't already married when you
looked into it," Harry said sheepishly.

"But what if the person it showed you had been married already?" Remus asked. "What if
you'd looked into it and it had shown you that your perfect match was this beautiful
amazing woman who was already married to someone else. The idea of a perfect match, a
soul mate so to speak, is a very powerful concept. No matter how honorable your intentions,
somewhere in the back of your mind you'd always wonder about what might have been --
that's often all it takes to ensure that someone's never truly happy."

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"Well, that didn't happen," Harry said hesitantly, thinking once again that Dumbledore was
perhaps slightly more off his rocker than he thought. Seemed a ridiculous risk to take.

Remus just shook his head ruefully. "No, it didn't. Instead it showed you Severus Snape. You
must have been thrilled."

It was said with such a deadpan tone of voice, Harry had no choice but to laugh. "You can't
begin to imagine," he agreed. "Madam Hooch was convinced that it was broken. I'm inclined
to agree with her."

"You two aren't getting along?" Remus guessed.

"No," Harry shook his head vehemently, and then paused realizing that wasn't entirely true.
"Well . . ." he sighed. "Maybe a little bit. Better than I thought anyway. But mostly we just
hate each other."

Remus stared thoughtfully down at him for a long minute. "He sat with you all night you
know," he said softly.

Which answered the question Harry had asked himself earlier. "I didn't say he wasn't a good
person. . ." he broke off, not certain what exactly he was saying. "Remus, did he really have
a silver-laced sword?"

Remus sighed, a look of profound sadness flooding his eyes. "Harry, that was a long time
ago, and we all made so many mistakes back then. We've all changed. There was a time
when I would have told you quite adamantly that I hated him. That he was a Death Eater,
and a murderer. But I was wrong. I've moved passed all that. Don't let Sirius's anger make
you think I share his feelings. I don't."

"Why can't Sirius get past it?"

"Sirius is still trying to piece his memory back together from Azkaban. And unfortunately
for him, some of those memories seem like they happened yesterday. He lost twelve years of
his life, and he's still trying to catch up. For me the changes in all our situations happened
gradually. For Sirius, they happened over night. He's having a hard time accepting a lot of
things. He hasn't even really had a chance to deal with your parents' death. He was never
given a chance to grieve, let alone accept the fact that Severus was one of the good guys
instead of one of their killers. He never saw any of the trials, never heard about anything
Severus did for Dumbledore. To him it's like he fell asleep believing one thing, and woke up
to discover everyone around him suddenly believes something completely different. You
mix yourself into the equation and it just becomes all the more volatile. You're all he's got
left."

"He's got you," Harry reminded him. Sirius had both of them.

An odd look crossed over Remus' features and he gave Harry a somewhat twisted smile.
"Yeah, he's got me," he agreed softly. "He's just not certain what to do with me."

"What?" Harry stared at him in confusion, wondering what that was supposed to mean.

Remus just shook his head and smiled at him. "Nothing," he assured him. "Sirius is just a bit
impulsive some times, and gets some crazy ideas into his head. Don't go letting him stir

95
things up between you and Severus. And what ever you do, don't get between them again. I
thought the poor man was going to have a heart attack when you collapsed."

"I didn't want them fighting," Harry admitted sheepishly.

"Guilt works pretty well," Remus told him. "And when all else fails, a rolled up newspaper
across the nose usually does the trick."

That almost sounded like something Snape would have said, and the very idea made Harry
laugh. "I'm glad you're here, Remus," he said quietly, grateful that his godfather had such a
friend at his side, watching his back. It hurt to think of Sirius out there alone on the run
from the Ministry and Dementors.

Remus just smiled gently at him, reaching out to pat his hand. "Wouldn't be anywhere else,
Harry."

------------------------

Author's Note: On metallurgy -- not that I know much about the subject, but it seems to me
that lacing silver into the metal of sword would substantially weaken the blade. Despite this
- I liked the idea. And I'm certain the Wizarding World has a magical mean of tempering
steel beyond anything a Muggle could manage.

Chapter 11 Confronting Gryffindors

S everus Snape stormed angrily through the halls of Hogwarts, students leaping out of
his way as he passed them. His only consolation was that Sirius Black was stuck back
in his dog form and banished from the hospital wing like he was. The rabid mongrel
never could hold his tongue! And if Black knew Harry even half as well as Severus did, he
would have known the crazy Gryffindor would throw himself on a sword to protect his
godfather; he should have known he'd try to keep them from fighting. Ripping open his own
wound like that. . . .

Severus shook the memory away, not wanting to think on it any more. That foolish boy was
his own worst enemy sometimes! And now thanks to Black he couldn't watch over him.

Poppy would calm down eventually, he told himself. And Lupin was still there. Lycanthropy
aside, Lupin was decent enough.

"Professor?"

Snape turned in surprise, shocked that one of the little brats in the hallway actually had the
gall to speak to him -- despite the scowl on his face warning them all off. Hermione and
Ron stood behind him, and he stifled the angry words that sprang to his lips.

"Yes?" he bit out instead.

"We were just on our way to see Harry," Hermione explained. "Is he doing any better?"

"If you can manage to keep that rabid dog away from him, I'm sure he'll make a full
recovery," Snape informed them, noting the flush that crossed both their features. He signed

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inwardly -- they were all Gryffindors of course -- loyal to the bone, and sadly that included
Black.

"He loves Harry!" Ron protested, leaping at once to Black's defense. "And he can take care of
him better than--" Hermione elbowed Ron hard in the side, shutting him up before he could
finish his statement which Snape would no doubt have to take him to task over. He
wondered if it was worth bothering to remind the idiot that Black had broken Ron's leg in
third year.

"Ms. Granger, I want to talk to you about something," Snape dismissed Ron from his notice,
turning his attention entirely on Hermione as something the Headmaster had said last night
came back to him.

She started to protest, but he held a hand up to stop her. "Potter will still be there when
we're through. Mr. Weasley, you can run along and visit him if Madame Pomfrey allows it.
Ms. Granger can join you later."

They both looked as if they were going to argue, but said nothing, Hermione just motioning
Ron to go along without her. Ron threw a resentful look back at Snape as he headed off
toward the hospital wing.

Severus led Hermione back to his office, motioning her inside before closing the door and
sitting down behind his desk. She sat in the chair opposite him, staring at him curiously. She
had never had quite the same fear of him as the other students, though he'd certainly been
cruel enough toward her. Hard to maintain the fiction of loyal Death Eater who favored his
Slytherin allies when faced with such a brilliant Gryffindor. Giving Draco Malfoy marks
equal to Granger's had galled him to no end -- he'd met very few people who could match
the girl's intellect.

"You and Potter researched spells last year?" he asked, reminding her of the conversation
they had with the Auror yesterday.

Hermione frowned pensively, but nodded her head.

"For extra credit?" he asked, already suspecting the answer she would give.

She stared at him thoughtfully, as if trying to come to some sort of a decision. Finally she
shook her head. "No, sir, it wasn't school work exactly. We just thought that Harry should
have some extra help with some things."

"Go on," he prompted.

Hermione sighed. "Defense Against the Dark Arts classes haven't exactly been overly
helpful," she pointed out, sounded somewhat irritated. "Professor Quirrell and Lockhart
were useless. Professor Moody turned out to be a Death Eater in disguise and he spent all his
time teaching us the Unforgivables, which Harry doesn't want to use. And all Professor
Mackrel taught us last year was how to recognize poisoned food. Professor Lupin's been the
only decent teacher we've ever had." She didn't bother hiding her resentment of the fact that
he was responsible for Lupin's dismissal. At the time, he hadn't had much of a choice. Lucius
Malfoy had insisted he find a way of getting rid of him, and exposing him as a werewolf
had been the only thing he could think of. And truth of matter was, Lupin had screwed up -
- his failure to take his potion had nearly cost them several lives.

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"In any event, sir, we just figured that if Harry was going to survive Voldemort's attacks,
then it was up to us to prepare him," Hermione continued, and Snape had to admire her for
her initiative. "So we began studying on our own."

"That was good thinking, Ms. Granger," Snape said grudgingly, noting the look of surprise
in her face when she realized he had complimented her. "What can you tell me about this
King's Voice spell?" What ever it was Albus had discovered about the spell had startled him
-- and very few things startled Albus Dumbledore after over a century and a half.

"Well, it's like I said yesterday, sir," Hermione explained. "It was a precursor to the
Imperious. But it doesn't seem to be as powerful as the Imperious, but it's just as effective if
it works."

"If it works?"

She nodded thoughtfully. "That's just it, sir. It doesn't seem to work very well -- I never got it
to work. Neither did Ron when he tried it."

"But it worked for Mr. Potter?"

"Yes, sir," she agreed. "We figured it required someone really powerful to use it, which is
probably another reason it fell out of favor."

"Did you find other spells that had fallen out of favor?"

"There were a number of them," she admitted. "Though most of them weren't any use to us.
It's not like you can practice demon banishing spells on your friends. You sort of have to
summon a demon first."

Severus paled at that. "Ms. Granger, I hope to God you haven't been messing around with
demon summoning?" That particular area of knowledge was considered perhaps the darkest
of all the Dark Arts, and there was no way to play at it without tainting your own soul
irrevocably.

"Of course not, sir!" Hermione exclaimed in shock, and the look of outrage on her face
relieved him far more than he cared to admit. The thought that Harry Potter of all people
might have dabbled in such darkness alarmed him in ways he didn't want to think about.
"Contrary to your preconceived notions, we aren't stupid! And if Harry won't use the
Unforgivables even in his own defense, why would you think he would mess around with
something like that?"

"Ms. Granger, you are laboring under a number of misconceptions. It is not your
intelligence I question, but the Gryffindor nature to rush in blindly."

He saw by the flicker of amusement in her eyes that she recognized his backhanded
compliment. Smart little witch; he could almost grow to like her. "You know, sir, Slytherins
do not have the market cornered on guile."

"So the Headmaster likes to inform me," Severus agreed mildly. "Thank you, Ms. Granger.
That will be all."

She stood to leave, but paused at the door, glancing back at him. "Professor, why doesn't the
Headmaster do something about our Defense Against the Dark Arts classes? Professor

98
Dubloise this year is just as bad as Professor Mackrel was. Surely he could find a better
teacher?"

Severus frowned at her. "You mean why aren't I teaching the class?"

She nodded.

"Because it wouldn't make any difference, Ms. Granger," he informed her. "It is a little
known fact, but the majority of all wizards and witches have absolutely no talent
whatsoever for the Dark Arts or the Defense Against them. It requires a very specific
temperament. It's one of the reasons the requirements are so strict for becoming an Auror.
Very few people are suited to it. And pointing out their lack of defensive ability to the
majority of the public generally causes panic. Those with the proper temperament -- such
as yourself and Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley -- will learn what they need to in spite of
anything else."

"But everyone learned the basics when Professor Lupin taught the class," Hermione
protested.

"I didn't say they couldn't learn the spells, Ms. Granger," Severus reminded her. "I said they
lacked the temperament. Despite Professor Lupin's brilliant teaching, do you have any idea
how many students still suffer from nightmares about boggarts and kappas from those
classes? Being the one who brews Dreamless Sleep Draught for Madame Pomfrey, I do."

He could see his words shocked her. "But we defeated the boggarts, and we learned how to
escape from kappas! Why would they still be afraid of them?"

"Why indeed?" Severus agreed, finding the idea as ridiculous as she did, despite the fact that
it was nevertheless true. "Yesterday you were surrounded by adult wizards and witches who
are perfectly capable of throwing shielding spells and hexes, not to mention a number of
seventh-years who studied under Lupin. And certainly any proprietor of a bookstore should
have known a spell to at least freeze the fire that threatened to burn down his business. And
yet not one of them raised a wand to help you. I can assure you that the best teachers in the
world in Defense Against the Dark Arts would not change that pathetic little fact. It will
always be a select few who are called upon to defend the masses. Why else would the entire
Wizarding World put their hopes in the hands of a boy who has not even finished school
yet?"

"I always thought that was a little ridiculous myself," Hermione admitted.

"Indeed," Severus agreed.

She smiled suddenly. "Then I guess we're all just lucky that Harry has been up to the task."
Intellect or no, she was still a Gryffindor and her loyalty to Potter wouldn't waver.

Severus had to admire her for it. "Perhaps Mr. Potter is simply lucky in the friends he has
chosen."

She looked startled again -- this compliment less subtle, and about as close as he was going
to come to thanking her for what she had done yesterday. She smiled at him, seemed about
to say something, then changed her mind. "Good day, Professor," she said instead, pulling
open the door.

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"Good day, Ms. Granger."

Left alone, Severus turned his attention to the puzzle Albus had left for him. The King's
Voice. He found it highly unlikely that Harry Potter could do a spell that Hermione Granger
was unable to manage -- which meant there was something more going on here. Albus had
said that Harry shouldn't have been able to use the spell either. It looked like he had some
research to do.

He returned to his own chambers, deciding to try his own private library first for references
to the spell. But as he approached his chamber door, he realized immediately that his
research would have to be delayed a while yet. Standing in front of the portrait to his room
was a Grim.

Severus stopped and stared at the large black dog that was gazing balefully back at him in
the darkened corridor. Sirius Black in his animal form was intimidating, though Severus
would never admit that out loud. He was the size of an Irish Wolfhound and possessed a
menacing air, eyes gleaming with the cold killing gaze of a wolf. All things considered, he
and Lupin were well matched.

Severus fought the impulse to go for his wand, standing instead stock still in the hallway,
meeting the dark gaze with one equally dark. He had a decision to make he realized, and
like it or not the next move was his. Sirius had made his move in coming here in the first
place.

He wanted to hex him, or at the very least drive him away. But he couldn't help think of the
smile that had lit up Harry's face when he'd seen his godfather beside him. Harry loved
Sirius Black, completely, utterly, unconditionally. And the facts were simple -- if Severus
drove Black away, harmed him, hurt him, or attempted to keep him from Harry's life, then
Harry would hate him forever.

He thought sometimes that Harry's feelings for him had softened just a little -- that while
there was no affection or fondness, the boy did not dislike him so completely as he once had,
despite his numerous declarations of hatred. And though Severus was loathed to admit it,
sometime in the last few weeks, Harry's opinion had come to matter to him. Somehow,
despite everything that stood between them and against them, despite every reason he had
to despise that boy and all the annoyances he brought to his life, Harry had succeeded in
capturing Severus's admiration as completely as he had the rest of the Wizarding World. He
was not willing to dwell on the fact that perhaps admiration wasn't all he had captured.

Thus the decision.

Sirius Black. His rival. His enemy. His tormentor. The man his bond-mate loved.

Severus Snape walked forward, spoke his password, and for the first time in his life let Sirius
Black into his home.

--------------------------

Author's Note: At long last the confrontation between Sirius and Snape begins. Once again
the demands of Wizarding propriety will change the outcome.

I also wanted to thank everyone who has been reading and reviewing my story! I'm trying to
respond to the messages, but at the moment I'm about 150 messages behind, and the

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number is vastly increasing. Hopefully I can answer some of your questions (I get a lot of
repeat questions) in my author's notes.

On Remus: Yes, his behavior will be explained -- you'll get to see the development of the
relationship between our two favorite mutts.

Sword fighting: The idea of swords vs guns is one I played around with a lot. It's important
to this story that there is a definitive line between Wizards and Muggles -- this will be
examined repeatedly later on and becomes a major plot point eventually. Will Severus teach
Harry to sword fight? I don't know...I'm currently about 140,000 words into the story and
there literally hasn't been a chance for the two of them to do so. That doesn't mean there
won't be a chance eventually. Regardless the concept continues to become more important
as the story progresses. Incidentally -- sword fighting isn't a skill you can just 'pick up'. It
takes long years of practice to learn the art, and many hours of training to condition your
muscles. Harry wouldn't learn overnight.

Occlumency: This was introduced in Book 5 and I'm not really including stuff from Book 5.
However I have noticed in later chapters I mention both it and Legilimency in passing -- so
will it be included, yes. Will it be important, no. Harry's visions come from a different
source (you won't find out what source until much later). Consequently Occlumency
lessons wouldn't do him any good.

On Male-Pregnancy: To be honest with you, I'm not a huge fan of the idea (though I've read
several stories that have handled it well). In nature there really aren't any male creatures
who are capable of getting pregnant -- well, except for seahorses of course. In HP fandom
we have Magic to explain the concept -- but I think a far more logical solution to this would
be to simply have your male character (or female in a f/f partnership) take a potion to
temporarily change their gender.

This concept appears in magical tradition in numerous places. Asian myths have stories
about magical pools of water that can change both your gender and your shape simply by
touching them. The prophet Tyreseus supposedly spent half his life as a man and the other
half as a woman. Many gods of many different mythologies regularly changed gender.
Supposedly the God Hermes was a Hermaphrodite who could appear as either a man or
woman.

Seems to me with Magic it would be a lot simpler for the characters to change their gender
rather than become pregnant in a body not designed for pregnancy.

Regardless, the issue of an heir will actually come up in the story much later on -- but no, I
don't plan on having any male-pregnancy. I don't really see Severus as a maternal type, and
considering how my Harry reacted to the mere idea of being the 'housewife' I don’t think
he'd be two keen on being pregnant.

Chapter 12 Placing Blame

H e thought that Black would transform the moment his door was shut. He was
mistaken, and he watched in annoyance as the dog began moving quickly through
his chambers, nose sniffing everything he moved passed. Severus wanted to
protest, wanted to catch the loathsome creature in a body bind and stop this rude invasion.
But he had made his decision, and there was no point in denying these actions. They were
inevitable, and he had to accept what was to come -- if only to get it over with.

101
Still, some insult would be appropriate. "You piss on anything Black and I'll skin you for a
hearth rug," he sneered. The dog growled low in his throat, but did not stop his incessant
sniffing. Severus sat down in front of his fireplace, and watched in silence.

Harry's desk was given a close inspection, and the dog had the audacity to wag his tail as he
sniffed the cloak the boy had left draped over the back of his chair.

Everything else in the room was inspected, and Severus had to admit that Black's nose must
be extraordinary as he managed to pick out everything that the boy had touched. He moved
on then to the other rooms, sniffing the door around the potions lab before his hackles
raised and he moved on, as if knowing that at least one room in this place was Severus'
domain completely. Save for their one impromptu lesson, Harry had avoided his lab.

His office received only a cursory sniff as well; Harry rarely went there either, save to
borrow some parchment or quills. The library however was given a thorough going over.
Harry often read in there. He'd asked at first, if he could read the books, borrow one from
time to time. Severus had given him permission, and had out of curiosity kept track of what
the boy found interesting. Spell books, charms, defense against the dark arts -- he'd had the
gall to ask one night why Severus didn't own any books on Quidditch. Surprisingly, the boy
had always left the library in the same condition he found it, never a book out of place, all
save that one time when he'd fought with Severus about his clothes. Severus had heard the
books flying off the shelves when the angry young man had locked himself in there --
unrestrained, wandless magic sending them flying. He'd put them to rights himself, never
mentioning it to Harry again.

And then to Severus' utter annoyance, Black moved from the library to the bedroom,
pushing open the door with his snout without even a backward glance for permission. He
listened in silence, guessing at least part of the conversation that was going to take place in
a few moments -- assuming Black didn't simply go for his throat instead. The growls coming
from the bedroom suggested that violence might indeed be the outcome, and Severus quietly
moved his fingers toward his wand, ready to pull it out if it became necessary.

But Black didn't come out immediately, choosing instead to search the room entirely before
returning to the main room. When he stepped back through the bedroom door he was once
again in his human form, his face as dark as a thundercloud. Anger and menace were
radiating off the man as he stood in the doorway glaring at him.

"You force him to sleep in your bed." The words from Black's mouth were hard, cold, and
filled with accusation and hatred.

Severus held his temper, only because he knew this had been coming. "I don't force him to
do anything, Black," he stated, his voice just as hard, just as cold. "He is my bond-mate, not
my prisoner. And if you thought about it even for a moment, you'd realize that not even
Voldemort has had success with forcing that boy to do anything he didn't want to do."

Something flickered through Black's eyes. Surprise, Severus thought, though it was quickly
masked. "You're suggesting he wants to sleep in your bed?" It was obvious from his tone that
Black was implying the exact opposite.

"No, Black," Severus snarled. "I can assure you that he quite detested the idea. As did I."

Black's eyes narrowed at that, obviously disbelieving the later statement. But then Severus
had to concede it had been a poor lie -- he had wanted to detest it, but Potter was too
blasted attractive for it to be true.
102
"But neither of us had much choice in the matter," Severus continued quickly. "Minister
Fudge forced both of us into this situation by his actions."

"You're telling me that the great Severus Snape can't remember how to transfigure up a
second bed?" Black mocked, jaw clenched.

Severus glared back, wondering if twelve years in Azkaban had really addled the man's
brain so completely. "Two weeks ago I discovered a Wandering Eye Charm on Potter's
broom, no doubt put there by one of my Slytherin students at the request of their parents. By
the time I found it, the Eye had already made a complete search of these quarters. All Fudge
needs is a single excuse that this marriage is invalid. A second bed would certainly have
been excuse enough."

Something flared in Black's eyes, and Severus could see the man biting back some retort. His
jaw never relaxed. "Is that why you were chosen? Because no one would imagine that the
marriage was not valid?" He spoke the word valid with contempt. "Because no one would
imagine that you would not take full advantage of Harry the moment you had him alone?"

Severus fought down his own rage. He was used to such accusations, had in fact cultivated
the reputation. "That was one of the reasons," he admitted. "The fact that we had
approximately fifteen minutes to find someone suitable didn't help matters either."

"Really?" Black's eyes flashed with anger. "You're telling me there was no one else in this
castle who was suitable? I suppose Sonara Sinistra was out of town at the time?"

Severus stiffened as he stared at Black in utter shock. Sinistra! He couldn't believe the man
was suggesting such a thing. "You know, Black, despite all the things I have thought of you
over the years, I have never believed you had anything but Potter's best interest at heart.
Until now."

Black's eyes widened and he took several steps toward him before catching himself. "His best
interest! You must think very highly of yourself if you think -- "

"Do you have any idea how starved for affection that boy is?" Severus silenced Black's tirade
quite effectively with those words. The man's face paled as if Severus had struck him.

"I'll grant you," Severus continued, "that Sonara Sinistra would most likely have jumped at
the chance to marry the Boy Who Lived. It's something no social climber would ever refuse.
And I'll grant you that no one would deny the validity of such a marriage, something that
would be true in fact as well as appearance most likely that very night. Sinistra's appetites
are very well known."

Sonara Sinistra went through young men the way other women went through clothes.
Students were off limits to her, but everyone on the Hogwarts' staff knew what she meant by
the 'Seventh Year Hunt'. The moment the semester let out for the summer session, Sinistra
went after the best and brightest of the graduated class.

"No doubt Sinistra would have rocked Mr. Potter's world," Severus went on. "Would have
had him believing that the sun rose and set with her. For about a week. Then she would
have lost all interest in him, and moved on to someone else. She would have left your
godson heartbroken and betrayed. For all his courage and maturity, he is still a sixteen-
year-old boy who desperately wants to be loved. Sinistra would have chewed him up and
spit him out."

103
Black stood there in silence, face still pale. Sinistra had obviously been his capital argument
and he seemed uncertain where to go now that Severus had so clearly pointed out the
ridiculousness of the situation. Truth was, Sinistra hadn't even occurred to any of them that
night -- would have been dismissed by all of them if she had been. Even he, who had been
ready to fight tooth and nail against marrying Potter himself, would not have accepted
Sinistra as a possible substitute. Sinistra would have destroyed Potter more effectively than
anything Voldemort had come up with.

He made a note to himself to keep an eye on Sinistra -- Potter was no longer precisely off
limits to her. As a married man, he did not have the same protections as the rest of the
students. And he knew for a fact that marriage would be no deterrent to her -- indeed many
older wizards and witches preferred to have affairs with younger married men and women
who would understand that the union was casual and that nothing would ever come of it.

"There was no one else?" Black asked then, his tone indicating that he had obviously
accepted the fact that Sinistra had not been a possibility.

"We had fifteen minutes, Black. Who would you have suggested? McGonagall, perhaps? No
one would have bought that." With the exception of Trelawney and Sinistra, all the other
female staff members were married. Even Black wouldn't suggest that Trelawney had the
strength to go up against Fudge. "We needed someone who was believable. Someone who
had enough standing to face down the Ministry. And someone strong enough to protect
Potter from Voldemort. Who would you have suggested?"

Black didn't answer. Rather he turned away from Severus and began pacing restlessly
around the room in silence. Severus waited, watching him, not really knowing how to read
the play of emotion on the man's face. He really expected more argument from the man. It
had never occurred to him that Black might actually consider his words -- might actually
look at the situation logically. He didn't think the Gryffindor had even known how to
reason.

Finally Black's pacing took him near Severus, and he dropped down into the chair across
from him. There was a look of defeat in the man's face, and Severus stifled back his taunt of
glee that he'd actually won the argument.

"Well, I suppose we don't have to worry that Harry might accidentally fall in love with you,"
Black said flatly, obviously still thinking about what Severus had said about Sinistra. The
comment stung no doubt a great deal more than Black had intended.

"No, I doubt you'll ever have to worry about that," Severus bit out, fighting to keep the anger
out of his voice.

Black looked up at him, his gaze hardening again. "If I ever find out that you tried to force
yourself--"

"Don't finish that statement!" Severus cut him off swiftly. "I would have no choice but to take
offence. And if we are to educate Mr. Potter in proper Wizarding customs, he too would
have no choice but to take offense." He could no more let that insult go than he could have
let Draco Malfoy's insults to Harry pass unremarked.

Again, to his surprise, Black conceded, making no attempt to finish what he'd been about
say. His gaze however did not waver. "Just so we're clear on the subject," he stated coldly.

"Perfectly," Severus growled.


104
They sat in silence again, and Severus waited for Black to deliver what ever parting shot
he'd prepared before leaving. Far as he was concerned, they were done discussing what they
inevitably had to clash over. Black, however, surprised him yet again.

"Half the clothes in Harry's wardrobe don't have his scent on them, why not?"

Severus frowned. He had not been expecting such an out of the blue comment. "I suppose
because he has not yet worn all of them. I only just bought them for him."

"You intend to fulfill your duties to him then?"

Severus leaped to his feet in shock, rage burning through him. That insult, while of a
completely different nature, was just as great as the one he'd just stopped Black from
uttering seconds before. The only difference here was that this insult was delivered to
Severus alone. Black, mongrel dog or not, still belonged to one of the oldest pureblood
families in the Wizarding World, a family that Severus knew had been in Slytherin for
hundreds of years until Sirius Black had come along. He could forgive Harry his
misunderstandings concerning money, housing, clothing and care because the boy had
grown up a Muggle. But Black knew full well what he'd just said, what insult he'd just given
to the Snape family honor.

But before Severus could formulate a proper response, Black too had leaped to his feet, fury
on his face. "I am his godfather!" he shouted, hands clenched into fists. "It was my right to
ask that question before this marriage ever took place! You will not deny me now!"

Black's words shut him up more effectively than a blow would have. The insult that Severus
had been about to deliver slipped from his mind, replaced by disbelief. He found himself
dropping numbly back down into his chair as the unreality of the situation suddenly struck
him. He couldn't believe what he'd just heard, couldn't conceive of it; it was beyond
laughable.

But there was no denying the look in Black's eyes. He was dead serious about this. And
Severus had no choice but to accept the fact that somehow, impossibly, he'd just become
involved in betrothal negotiations with Sirius Black for the hand of Harry Potter. He stared
in silence, watched in numb shock as Black sat back down, body stiff with anger, gaze never
wavering.

He didn't know what to say. This was beyond anything he'd ever imagined. If he was honest
with himself, then Black was right. He did have the right to the answer -- should have been
given the chance to ask before the marriage had taken place and thus made an acceptable
question a grave insult.

He swallowed past a suddenly dry throat, trying to find words they could both live with.
Despite everything, all their past hatred, he had to admit he admired Black's determination.

"There is no point to this. . . .negotiation," he said slowly, making clear by his words that he
understood exactly what Black had intended by that statement. "I made an oath that I will
not break. He will want for nothing."

And that alone would have to satisfy Black. Severus intended to offer nothing else.

Black glared at him, and Severus could see a glimpse of the torment so many years in
Azkaban had wrought; for the first time he could almost pity Black for it, for missing a
lifetime with his godson. For the first time he could also almost see what it was that Potter
105
and Lupin saw in the man. Despite the torment he'd endured, he'd come out of Azkaban still
possessing the capacity to love. And love he did -- fiercely. Severus couldn't blame him for
wanting what was best for Harry.

So caught in this startling realization, Severus almost didn't catch Black's first words.
"Dumbledore says you were a spy for him all along. That you were never a Death Eater.
That you had tried to save Lily and Ja. .James." His voice broke as he said his friend's name.
Severus stayed silent, suspecting that this was going somewhere. Suspecting also that this
conversation was probably long over due.

"Dumbledore says you first joined to stop your father. That you didn't believe their ideology,
that you turned your back on their preaching," Black continued, and Severus knew that the
proverbial 'their' he was referring to were the other Death Eaters and the Dark Wizards that
were so prevalent amongst the Slytherin families. He couldn't help wondering where this
was going.

"Dumbledore said your father was an evil man, a cruel man. That your mother was not
much better." Black wasn't looking at him now, staring instead at a point beyond his
shoulder. Severus bristled at the implication that Albus had been talking about his family to
Black, but he managed to hold his tongue.

Barely.

"My family. . ." Black began again, only to break off, something flickering darkly in his eyes.
Severus knew all about Black's family -- Dark Wizards the lot of them. Generations of them.
Respected by the Wizarding community, respected and feared. It was one of the reasons no
one had questioned Sirius Black's guilt, why no one had even raised an outcry when he'd
gone to Azkaban without a trial. No one except one lone werewolf whose voice had been
lost amid the screams of outrage.

"My family," Black repeated, "were evil, cruel, and angry that I turned my back on their
preaching."

It struck him then, where this might be going. Disbelief swelled inside of him. Severus
fought the urge to squirm in his seat, his stomach twisting suddenly with nausea. God,
surely Black wasn't doing this? Wasn't going to point out the similarities between them -- he
didn't want to look at those similarities, didn't want to acknowledge any kinship with the
man. That was not how their relationship worked. It was too little, too late. They weren't
going to bond. Weren't going to be friends. So why in Merlin's name was he putting them
both through the torment of voicing things that should never be uttered?

"Things come back to you at odd times," Black said in a strange tone, his voice somehow
hollow, almost lost. "Memories come back to you and send your mind in directions it
shouldn't go. Sometimes those memories set you off, sometimes you say and do things
because of them, and you don't even know why."

What in God's name was the man trying to do to them? Severus was seconds away from
screaming at him. Seconds away from grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and throwing
him from his rooms. He wasn't Black's confessor, wasn't his confidant. Didn't want to hear
his angst-ridden story. . .why would he. . .

"The Dursleys hurt Harry," Black's words cut off Severus thoughts abruptly, understanding
flooding through him at last. This wasn't about him or Black. This was about Harry. This
was all about Harry.
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"The Dursleys hurt Harry," Black repeated. "And you didn't see it. You saw him nearly every
day for five years, and you didn't see it, even though you should have recognized all the
signs. I didn't see it even though I should have recognized all the signs. I doubt they are
unfamiliar to either of us."

The nausea twisted into pain as Severus let the man's words sink in.

"I saw him briefly just before term started last year," Black told him. "I remember thinking
he was too thin. But he had a great appetite and I shrugged it off as typical teenage growing
pains. They're all thin when they go through growth spurts after all. Except he hadn't gone
through much of a growth spurt -- hard to do that I imagine when you're being starved. I
remember seeing bruises on his arms and I asked him what had happened. He just shrugged
and said they were from a Quidditch accident. Except Harry wasn't allowed to play
Quidditch at the Dursleys -- a fact I conveniently forgot."

Black stood abruptly and began pacing again. Severus stared at the ground, refusing to
watch, knowing he had to hear the rest, knowing Black wouldn't leave until he said what he
needed to.

"I over heard the Weasley twins telling him and Ron about playing the game Deuces," Black
went on. Severus gave a twisted smile at that; no one got through seventh year without
learning about Deuces -- a ridiculous card game which generally ended with the two losers
being locked in a closet together for five minutes. A quick groping, snog-session was the
ultimate goal of the game.

"Harry had been horrified by the description of the game," Black explained. "I remembered
the teasing he endured that night at dinner. Even Remus and I teased him about it. It seemed
to take forever for him to finally catch on to what we were all talking about and blush
appropriately. I realize now that the whole kissing aspect of the game had been lost on him.
All he had been thinking about was being locked up in a small space."

And that brought back the memory of Severus' careless words to Harry his first night here.
He could still remember the look on his face when he'd suggested he sleep in the closet.

"We should have known," Black stated. "We should have seen it. We both should have seen
it."

And Severus couldn't agree more, the knot in his stomach evidence enough. "Yes, we should
have," he said quietly.

Black turned swiftly toward him, seeming startled by his words. Severus met his gaze. And
all the years of bitterness and resentment seemed to stand between them like unbreachable
walls.

"Then you admit it," Black demanded, and his voice was unforgiving, and sharp as steel.
"You admit that we failed him."

"Yes, Black, I admit it." In this -- this shame -- they were united.

And it seemed that was all Black wanted. No warmth entered his eyes, but he nodded in
acknowledgement and returned to his canine form, shifting from one to another too quickly
to follow.

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The black Grim sat silently beside the door, waiting, and with a sigh Severus got up and let
him out.

----------------------------------------

Author's Note: I thought a long time about how I wanted this confrontation to go -- after all
a confrontation between Severus and Sirius has become a staple of HP fan fiction. I hope I
was able to put a bit of different spin on it while still keeping both men in character.

I've had lots of emails over the last few days about the Dursleys and the amount of abuse
Harry received from them, so I thought I'd write down a couple of quick comments here.

Child Abuse -- Canon vs. Fandom: I got a lot of questions about how much of Harry's child
abuse was canon vs the stuff I made up. Fandom tends to exaggerate what really happened -
- but personally I think what really happened was bad enough. The 'cupboard-under-the-
stairs' is a bit of a misnomer for Americans. Many British homes have one -- it's more of a
large closet like a pantry rather than a true cupboard. The cupboard in the movies is an
accurate depiction. Regardless of how big they are, I can't imagine being locked inside one
(or locked in a bedroom) for long periods of time. I think the false imprisonment rather
than the size of the room is the truly damaging thing here.

We also know that the Dursleys starved Harry -- though I think the worst of that happened
during Book 2. By the time Harry was rescued by Ron and his brothers, he'd been locked in
that bedroom for 2 weeks. He'd been fed once a day -- a single bowl of watery soup. He
drank the broth himself, and then gave the solid matter to his Owl. Two weeks of that
would have left a 12-year-old weak and sick.

And no, we don't have much evidence that Vernon beat Harry beyond tossing him into the
cupboard -- but Dudley certainly did. And since Dudley went on to become a boxer on his
school team I don't imagine it was pleasant. Beyond that I think Canon-base abuse is really
more the neglect than anything else.

Obviously my Dursleys are a bit more severe than the Canon Dursleys (they need to be for
this plot to work properly). Individual events will be mentioned here and there as the story
progresses.

Dumbledore's Curse: Did Dudley deserve the same fate as his family? Maybe, maybe not.
Personally I think Dudley is nearly as badly abused as Harry -- just in a completely different
way. His parents are spoiling him -- literally to death. Chances are a child like that will find
himself in a early grave due to heart failure, diabetes, or a run-in with the law. Unless
something drastic happens to Dudley I don't know if he's redeemable. In some respects
Dumbledore's curse may be the best thing that ever happened to him -- it will make him
reexamine his life, and certainly will change his eating habits. Whether or not he reforms
himself remains to be seen.

Chapter 13 Understanding Werewolves

R emus left Harry's bedside shortly after Ron arrived, giving the two friends some
time alone. Harry listened in silence while Ron told him all about the restless night
he and Hermione had spent in Gryffindor Tower. The story of the attack had spread
through the school like wild fire. A dozen students had seen Severus Snape carrying Harry's
bloodied body into The Three Broomsticks. The descriptions of the arrows that had been
protruding from Harry's body had been detailed and lurid. Half of Gryffindor had been

108
panicked with the belief that Harry was dead, and Ron and Hermione had spent the better
part of an hour assuring them it was untrue.

"They wanted to hear the whole story over and over again," Ron confessed to Harry. "I had
no idea how exhausting it was." The redhead looked flushed, and vaguely sick. "They
wanted to know how much blood there was, if you screamed, if. . ." He broke off and shook
his head.

"It's alright, Ron," Harry said quietly.

Ron looked up at him in worry. "Harry, did I ever do that? Did I ever bug you like that?"

Harry floundered for a moment too long, looking for an appropriate lie. Ron knew him too
well, and sighed. "Merlin! I'm sorry, Harry! I had no idea."

"Don't worry about," Harry assured him. "Believe it or not, you get used to it."

Ron just shook his head. "Maybe," he replied. "In any event, we talked late into the night.
Lots of people are scared that this means You-Know-Who is going to attack again. And you
should hear what they are saying about Snape."

Harry looked up at that in surprise. "What about Snape?" His voice sounded defensive even
to himself.

Ron apparently thought so too, but the redhead just gave him an amused look and rolled his
eyes in exasperation. "Nothing bad," he assured him. "It's just that for the first time ever
Snape is being hailed as a hero by Gryffindors. He and Dumbledore were like the bloody
cavalry, weren't they?"

"They saved our lives," Harry agreed. He'd be the first to admit that. "I'll have to tell Snape.
He'll laugh himself sick."

"Snape laughs?" Ron asked incredulously.

"Sometimes," Harry admitted. "Usually when I've done something stupid."

"Figures," Ron rolled his eyes again. "Don't tell him, anyway. He's insufferable enough as it
is. He'd hold this over our heads for the rest of our lives -- and probably find someway of
taking points from Gryffindor for it too."

"Probably," Harry agreed. Snape did love taking points from Gryffindor.

"Anyway lots of people wanted to know if. . ." he broke off hesitantly, looking at Harry
uncertainly. Harry just nodded to him, encouraging him to say what ever it was. "If you had
killed anyone," Ron finished. "And what curses you had used. But Hermione and I figured it
wasn't anyone's business, and we told them so."

"Thanks, Ron," Harry said gratefully. He knew the questions were inevitable, given their age
group. But it was nice to know that Ron and Hermione at least understood.

"You okay, Harry?" Ron asked softly, and Harry knew what he was really asking.

"No," Harry admitted. "But I'll manage. It's nice to know I can count on you two."

109
Ron nodded fiercely, fighting back some emotion. He reached out to pat Harry on the
shoulder and then thought better of it, perhaps remembering the arrow that had been there
yesterday. He squeezed Harry's hand instead, the gesture as unfamiliar as it was welcomed.
Harry was not demonstrative with anyone. He could count on one hand the number of
times he'd been hugged -- something only Hermione, Molly Weasley and Sirius had ever
dared do.

And Snape.

Harry frowned. Snape had picked him up and carried him in his arms yesterday. That
counted he guessed. It was close enough. It surprised him that for some reason he wanted it
to count.

Hermione interrupted the two of them a moment later, entering the room carrying a tray of
food for Harry. "Madam Pomfrey sent this for you Harry," she explained as she approached
the bed. Ron helped Harry sit up, propping pillows behind his back to settle him. Hermione
set the tray on Harry's lap.

"What did Snape want?" Ron asked Hermione as she sat down in the chair opposite him.

Harry shot him a questioning look as he took a bite of the eggs on the plate.

"Snape stopped us in the hallway on the way here," Ron explained. "Said he wanted to talk
to 'Mione."

They both looked questioningly at Hermione. She frowned. "He wanted to know about the
spell King's Voice," she explained. "Wanted to know about our extra study sessions."

Harry stiffened at her words, old mistrust flaring in him. "Is he going to stop us?" He had
counted on those study sessions continuing. God knew they weren't going to learn anything
useful from Professor Dubloise this year. If it hadn't been for Hermione and her study
sessions Harry doubted he'd be alive now.

"No," Hermione said quickly before Ron could launch into a tirade condemning Snape
before hearing the outcome of their conversation. "No, he's not. In fact he implied that he
approved. Actually, he sort of . . .complimented us."

"What?" Ron and Harry stared at her in shock.

Hermione just shrugged. "It was kind of odd really," she admitted. "He actually seemed
impressed. By all three of us."

Harry had become gradually used to the lessening of hostilities between himself and the
Potions Master and was only mildly shocked by her words. But Ron, he just stared at her like
a gaping fish, mouth opening and closing as he floundered for words.

"I'm serious," she insisted.

"Snape?" Ron asked for clarification, disbelief coloring his words.

Hermione nodded.

"Did he. . ." Ron shook his head. "Give points to Gryffindor?"

110
"Well, no," Hermione admitted. "But then this wasn't really about being Gryffindors, was it?
It was about being friends, the three of us."

Friends. Harry, Ron and Hermione. And for some reason Snape understood that it mattered.
It mattered a lot. The thought flooded Harry with a strange sense of warmth.

"Well, damn," Ron laughed. "When did Hell freeze over, and why didn't I get a memo?"

That set the three of them off, and for a moment they forgot about Death Eaters and wars
and dying, and lost themselves in just being teenagers.

Eventually, at Madam Pomfrey's insistence, Ron and Hermione left, giving Harry a chance to
sleep once again. He slept through the rest of the day, his body exhausted from the ordeal
he'd been through.

He woke that evening to a feeling of warmth pressed up against his side, and for one
disoriented moment he thought it was Snape. But Snape had never touched him, not in all
the weeks they had slept beside each other. Prying open his eyes, he realized it was Padfoot,
snoring softly beside him, the shaggy dog stretched comfortably on top of the bed's duvet.
Sitting again in the chair at his bedside, an amused smile on his face as he stared at the two
of them, was Remus Lupin.

"How long has he been there?" Harry asked softly, motioning to the sleeping dog.

"Hours I imagine," Remus mused. "He missed lunch."

Harry smiled and reached out to scratch Padfoot's shaggy head. The dog twitched but didn't
wake. "I always wanted a dog," he admitted almost wistfully.

Remus laughed softly at that. "Well, they're usually more trouble than they're worth.
Particularly this one."

Harry grinned. "Still, would have been nice to have someone who could bite Dudley."

Remus' eyes softened, and though Harry didn't notice, Padfoot grew unnaturally still
beneath his fingers. "Dudley is your cousin, isn't he?" Remus asked. "Not very nice, I take it?"

"A complete prat," Harry admitted.

"You want to talk about it?" Remus asked gently. Harry looked up at the man in surprise,
understanding belatedly the direction this conversation had taken. He hadn't intended it;
hadn't thought about it really. But of course Dumbledore had told Sirius about what they
had learned about the Dursleys. And of course Remus would know as well.

He flashed the werewolf a quick grin. "I'm alright, Remus," he assured the man. He felt the
fur shifting under his hand and yelped in surprise when he realized that Padfoot had
become Sirius again. His godfather sat up quickly, flashing him a bright grin even as he
reached out to ruffle Harry's hair, returning his unintentional caress. And then just to be
annoying, as Sirius moved to the chair beside Remus, he reached out and ruffled Remus'
hair as well.

Remus smiled indulgently but shoved Sirius' hand away from him. Sirius grinned, but for
the first time Harry noticed something deeper in his godfather's eyes, something warmer

111
and brighter burning there when he looked at Remus. He found himself stifling back a
giggle, a blush spreading over his face as he realized what that look was. Ron looked at
Hermione that way when he thought no one else was watching. The thought that Sirius
might be less alone than he seemed warmed Harry clear through his bones.

Sirius turned his attention back toward him, and the look in his eyes was replaced by a
different gleam, one of concern, and affection, and worry. "You sure you don't want to talk
about it, Harry?" Sirius asked him, repeating Remus' question.

Realizing now that Sirius had heard his comment about Dudley, Harry sighed. "Don't know
what I'm suppose to say," he admitted. He had never been good at talking about things,
especially not feelings. He rarely opened up to anyone. Oddly enough, Snape had gotten
more out of him than anyone else.

"Maybe you could tell me why you never said anything," Sirius suggested. There was
nothing accusing in his tone, and his eyes held simple understanding and the faintest look
of hope that Harry might relent. Harry wasn't entirely certain how to refuse that look. The
last thing he wanted to do was hurt Sirius, but he didn't want the man feeling guilty either
for something he had no control over.

"I guess. . ." Harry sighed, searching for some explanation. "I guess before I came to
Hogwarts I didn't know there was anything wrong with the way they treated me. It's just the
way things were, and always had been. I had nothing to compare it to."

He saw the flicker of shock in both their eyes at that; he recognized the protest that sprang
to both their lips only to be just as quickly stifled as they fought whatever first impulse they
both had felt. Harry could imagine what it was; he supposed from their perspective things
had been different. They could both remember the year he'd lived with his parents before
he'd entered the Dursleys' lives. The only thing he could remember from that time was their
deaths, courtesy of the Dementors.

"I don't remember them," he said softly, regretfully, and both men just nodded in
understanding, knowing exactly who he meant and why his words made sense from his
point of view. He supposed that admission probably hurt the two of them more than it did
him.

"And after you came to Hogwarts, Harry?" Sirius prompted, urging Harry to continue.

"Things were too new the first year," he admitted. "It wasn't until I went to the Burrow and
saw what Ron's family was like that I figured out something was wrong. Then I didn't know
what to do, or who to tell. I thought about it briefly, but it seemed that anyone who could do
anything about it knew already. I figured Dumbledore and McGonagall had to know. Next
thing I know I'm being accused of being the Heir of Slytherin and it seemed kind of a stupid
thing to be worrying about. With all the people trying to kill me, it just continued to seem
stupid. Dumbledore said I had to stay with the Dursleys because it was the only place I was
safe. And I just figured it beat being dead, no point in making a fuss over it. Wasn't going to
last forever."

He'd looked away at some point during his little speech, and at the silence that greeted it, he
glanced hesitantly back toward the two men. Both were looking at him thoughtfully, as if
trying to take in his words, or trying to reconcile them with what they knew about him.
Apprehension washed through him, too many years of having his feelings count for nothing
making him dread what they might say to him. "It doesn't matter. . ." he started to say, ready
to dismiss it all. Ready to protect himself against whatever hurt might be sent toward him.
112
Both men startled him by reaching out simultaneously and grabbing his hand, holding it in
a tight three way grasp. "Harry, it does matter," Sirius told him. "And it isn't stupid. And we
want you to make a fuss over it."

"Harry," Remus added. "We can't change what happened. We can't go back and make it
right. We would if we could. But if you need to talk about it, or if you just. . .need us, we're
here for you."

His words were soft and soothing, and the look in Sirius' eyes brought a lump to Harry's
throat that made him feel good even while it hurt. "Thank you," he whispered softly to them,
suddenly shy under the attention, and not really able to find any more words than that.

Both men seemed to understand and they smiled at him, squeezing his hand again before
releasing him.

"And Harry," Sirius added. "If anyone tries to hurt you again, you tell me. I promise I'll bite
whoever it is."

Harry twisted his mouth into a rueful smile, guessing what Sirius meant this time, though
the man was obviously attempting at least to be polite. "I know you don't like him, but
Snape's been pretty decent to me."

Remus accepted his statement at face value, having the benefit of their earlier conversation
to go on. Sirius, however, just bit his lip in a stubborn pout. "Well, he better stay that way,"
he groused. "Or else." He let the threat hang.

Feeling suddenly mischievous and wanting to lighten the mood, Harry grinned impishly at
his godfather. "You know, Padfoot, Moony tells me you're not all that crazy about marriage."

Remus rolled his eyes upward in what Harry assumed was amused embarrassment.

Sirius on the other hand looked genuinely startled. "Did he?" he glanced at Remus in
surprise. "I suppose I never thought about it much when I was younger, but I don't have
anything against it. Settling down sounds rather nice."

It was Remus' turn to look startled. He stared at his friend in disbelief. "You? Settle down?" It
was obvious from the tone of his voice that he found the idea ridiculous. "Your idea of
settling down was dating the same person for longer than a week." Remus turned
conspiratorially toward Harry. "Your father used to say that Sirius thought dating was like
Quidditch. Once you caught the snitch the game was over and it was time to start a new
match."

Harry let out a shocked laugh, not believing he'd just heard Remus Lupin make a sexual
double entendre in front of him.

"Moony!" Sirius exclaimed in disbelief. "Don't go telling Harry things like that! He's too
young for. . ."

Harry interrupted him with a snicker of hilarity. "I'm not too young, Padfoot," he grinned.
"And trust me, I've heard just about every snitch catching and broom polishing joke there
is."

113
"Broom polishing!" Sirius sputtered, his face growing red. "Besides, it's not true anyway. I
wasn't that bad. And, just because I dated a lot back then doesn't mean anything now. I was
young. People change." He glanced somewhat curiously over at Remus, and Harry sensed a
sudden tension between the two men. "I'm not like that now," Sirius added, watching Remus'
expression.

But the werewolf just snorted in disbelief. "I'll believe that when I see it," he said with a
dismissive laugh, but Harry had the impression that the man wasn't nearly as disinterested
as he appeared to be.

"Moony," Sirius began only to be interrupted as Remus stood abruptly.

"Why don't I go get you some dinner, Harry," Remus suggested. "You missed lunch. You're
bound to be hungry."

He didn't wait for a response, but rather headed out the door in search of the promised
meal. Sirius watched him go with an odd look on his face.

"What do you suppose that was all about?" his godfather finally asked him, looking
genuinely perplexed.

Harry took a shot at answering. "It's probably just because the concept of dating a lot of
people is most likely foreign to him."

Sirius thought about that a moment, nodding in grudging agreement. "I guess he is a bit shy.
Come to think of it, I don't remember him ever dating when we were in school."

Harry's eyes widened, wondering why that would surprise Sirius. "Of course not," he
laughed. "Remus is a werewolf."

"There's nothing wrong with being a werewolf," Sirius said defensively. "Lots of people
would have been happy to date Remus."

"Of course there's nothing wrong with being a werewolf!" Harry agreed, wondering if Sirius
was missing the bigger picture here. "But that's not the point now is it? Werewolves only get
the one shot at it."

Sirius frowned in confusion. "One shot at what?"

"At dating. At love."

"What are you talking about?"

Harry stared at his godfather incredulously. The man honestly didn't know? He couldn't
believe it. "Werewolves mate for life. Hermione can probably explain it better to you; I never
understood the theory behind it. Had something to do with scent markers, and animal
instincts, and magical resonances. But they get one shot at it, and then that's it for them.
They're bonded, or mated, or whatever it is you want to call it."

Sirius looked completely stunned, struck speechless by Harry's revelation. He slumped back
in his chair with a look of profound amazement on his face.

114
"How could you have spent all that time with a werewolf and not known?" Harry asked him
curiously.

Sirius just shook his head. "We never talked about it. I never thought about it," he admitted
sheepishly. "It just never occurred to me. How do you know so much about werewolves?"

"Snape made us write an essay on them in third year. Hermione's was very detailed." He
studied Sirius's face, noting the thoughtfully gleam in the man's eye. "You probably ought to
read it if you're planning on falling in love with a werewolf."

That brought Sirius' attention right back to him, and he blinked at Harry in shock. "Fall in
love. . ." he sputtered, but the protest died on his lips as Harry just laughed at him. "How did
you know?" he asked.

Harry shrugged. "It's sort of written all over your face every time you look at him."

"Does that bother you?"

Harry just shook his head. "No," he assured him. "I kind of like the idea that the two of you
have each other."

"Well, I don't exactly have Remus," Sirius admitted somewhat dejectedly. "I've tried to bring
the subject up, hinted at it, but he just sort of shoots me down before I can get started. He
doesn't seem to be interested."

Harry thought about that, remembering something Remus had said earlier about Padfoot
having him but not knowing what to do with him. "No, I don't suppose he would be
interested," Harry agreed. "Not if he didn't think you were serious about him."

And despite the topic, Sirius could resist the joke. "I'm always SERIOUS."

Harry rolled his eyes at the man.

"Do you think that's it?" Sirius asked then, looking suddenly hopeful, his eyes lighting up
with the thought. "Do you think I might have a chance with him?"

"He's not going to leave you," Harry told him, believing that with all his heart. "No matter
what happens, I don't think he'd leave you. And if anyone in the whole world had a chance,
it would be you."

"So all I've got to do is convince him that I'm worth taking a risk on," Sirius decided, a
wicked grin twisting his mouth. "I can do that."

"Not that I know anything about love," Harry told him. "But that might not be as easy as it
sounds. Good luck." He'd been watching Ron and Hermione dancing around one another
long enough to know that nothing about love was as easy as it seemed. He didn't figure it
was a problem he'd ever have to worry about -- not much chance of him ever falling in love
after all. Assuming he lived long enough to care about such things.

"A challenge!" Sirius laughed. "I'm good at challenges!"

115
Harry smiled up at his godfather. He wasn't going to say anything, but he had a feeling that
treating this like a game was precisely the reason he didn't have Remus in the first place. But
he supposed the man would figure that out himself. Eventually.

-------------------

Author's Note: Yes, I know, it's another cliche! Werewolves mate for life. But I do so love
cliches -- and this one is practically mandatory in SB/RL stories. Besides, it will give Sirius
no end of troubles.

And, yes, Harry really is that clueless about his relationship with Snape. Snape at least has
figured out that he's interested in Harry though he's hip deep in the River Denial. Harry
hasn't even noticed the river yet.

I'm glad you are all enjoying this. I am loving your emails and reviews! Thanks again!

Chapter 14 Returning to Normal

R emus returned with their evening meal and the two men ate dinner with Harry,
chatting quietly about school and Quidditch. Harry watched in amusement as his
godfather flirted more openly with Remus, apparently more at ease now that he
knew Harry didn't mind. Remus endured it all with good humor, seeming at once both
annoyed and amused but generally unoffended. He did not however flirt back.

Eventually Madam Pomfrey kicked them out, insisting that Harry get more rest. The
Mediwitch checked his wounds one last time, assuring him that they were healing up quite
nicely, and that he could go back to his own room in the morning. Then she too bid him
good night.

A moment later Snape slipped into the room, moving silently across the ward, black robes
billowing about him. "Is she gone?" he asked, his resonate voice making Harry shiver for
some reason.

Harry glanced toward the door Madam Pomfrey had just disappeared through. "Went to
bed, I think," he informed the Potions Master.

"Good," Snape sat down in the chair beside Harry. "Last thing I need is another scolding
from her. Kicking Black out is one thing, but calling me an idiot. . .the nerve of her!"

It almost sounded like Snape was making a joke, and Harry gave him a hesitant smile,
unsure of how he should respond. "I'm sure, sir," he agreed neutrally.

Snape raised one dark eyebrow, a mocking gleam in his eyes, but he let the comment pass. "I
trust you're feeling better?"

"Yes, sir," Harry told him. "Madam Pomfrey said I can leave tomorrow morning."

"Excellent," Snape said dryly, though Harry guessed he probably would have preferred to
have his place to himself for a few more days. Couldn't imagine that the man would be
happy to have him back. "Wouldn't want you missing classes, now would we?"

116
"No, sir," Harry agreed, then remembered something. "Though. . .I didn't exactly get my
potions homework finished. I was going to work on it after I got back from Hogsmeade." He
supposed that was going to cost Gryffindor a few dozen points. Snape had never been
forgiving of late homework, no matter what the excuse.

"Perhaps you should have finished your homework before you went to Hogsmeade," Snape
suggested, and Harry recognized that gleam in his eyes. He was already calculating how
many points he could take away, triple if Ron and Hermione had failed to finish as well.

"Yes, sir," Harry glared at him, trying to focus all his attention on those soon to be lost
points, but feeling something in his mind slipping instead. Because Snape's words had
sparked another thought in his mind, an unintended thought, one he was desperately trying
not to think about.

He tried with all his might to hold onto those missing points, tried to picture the tally in
McGonagall office, but it was all slipping away -- because it was dark in here, and the
candlelight was casting shadows on the old stone walls, and some how Snape's words
always struck deeper and truer than anyone else's. And the other thought, the terrible
thought, was roaring to life inside him, consuming him. A direct question from Ron had not
done this to him, nor the worried gaze of Sirius. But one mocking insult from Snape broke
down a wall he hadn't even been aware he'd erected.

He squeezed his eyes shut, unwilling to see Snape's amusement, then turned away from him,
rolling onto his side, unwilling to let Snape see his pain. His breath caught in his throat, a
single sob escaping him before he strangled it back, hands fisted in his bed sheets.

Because of course Snape was right, damn him. He should have done something as simple as
finish his homework -- then it wouldn't have happened. The Death Eaters would have been
gone from the weapons shop by the time Harry had gotten there; they wouldn't have seen
him, wouldn't have attacked. Just a short delay was all it would have taken. Then those
villagers wouldn't have died, and Harry wouldn't have killed those three men whose faces
he could now see joining the ranks of the other dead in his mind. And the thought was a
cold, hard emptiness inside him, hurting and aching and bitter.

And he wouldn't cry. Wouldn't cry! Instead he sucked in great gulps of air to hold back
those tears, pulling it all back inside him, pushing it all back down into the empty place.
And his body was cold and shaking, and he felt on the verge of hyperventilating.

Then amazingly there were warm hands on his shoulders, strong fingers wrapping around
him, and he was pulled back and up until he was braced with his back against Snape's
chest, and the man was talking to him in a low, soothing tone, words Harry couldn't really
understand from so far down in his blackness.

He felt something cool at his lips, glass he realized, as Snape placed a potion vial at his
mouth. And then Snape's fingers were tangled in his hair as the man gently tilted his head
back, pressing the vial more insistently, forcing him to swallow the contents. He didn't care,
didn't mind. Had oddly grown use to this over the last few weeks -- trusted that the contents
would not harm him.

He recognized the taste even -- Dreamless Sleep Draught. The potion seeped deep into his
veins, and he felt the familiar lethargy catching hold of him, and he sank back into it, not
caring that it was really Snape's arms he was sinking into, that he was lying there in Snape's
embrace. And he listened to Snape's soothing voice, still unable to recognize the words or
process what they might mean. He even turned so that he could hear a calming heart
117
beating beneath his ear, and that was so much better than the screams that were pressing at
him. So much better than the darkness.

----------------------------------------------------------

It was funny how quickly Sirius Black's words came back to haunt him. 'Sometimes those
memories set you off and you don't even know why.' Severus could only guess that this was
the case now, this was why he found himself with his arms around Harry Potter holding
him while he hyperventilated, waiting for his potion to take affect.

He hadn't meant to upset the boy. He'd come down to bring him the Dreamless Sleep
Draught, worried he might have nightmares again. But one careless comment about
homework, meant in jest, had set the boy off. He'd seen it the moment it happened, seen the
shuttered look of pain that had crossed his face. One part of him had been expecting it. The
boy hadn't reacted yet -- to the fact that he'd nearly been killed again, that people had died,
that he'd been forced once more to defend his own life. He should have broken down in the
arms of his godfather, or baring that his friends.

He couldn't help remembering the Triwizard Tournament. He hadn't truly broken down
then either, fighting the tears with all his might. No tears. Not even in the arms of Molly
Weasley. Never any tears.

But then this was the boy who put up silencing charms rather than wake his dorm mates
with his nightmares.

What surprised Severus was that the boy had broken down in front of him. Oh he'd tried to
hide it immediately, had turned away, had swallowed back his tears -- Severus wondered if
he'd ever let them fall. But he hadn't fought him when he'd pulled him into his arms, hadn't
resisted drinking the potion he set to his lips.

His own actions had actually startled him. He wasn't a kind man, wasn't prone to giving
comfort. But he hadn't been able to do anything else, unable to bear watching Harry's pain
without at least trying. He'd really expected to be rebuffed, rejected. But he hadn't been.

And his words -- utter nonsense about how it was going to be okay, and that Harry was
safe, that it was all right to let go. Complete claptrap of course. But he suspected the boy was
too far gone to really care or understand anyway; he could probably promise him the moon
and never have to worry about being held to it.

He felt the boy calming at last, expecting him to pull away in discomfort. Potion or no, he
was still the much hated Potions Master. But Harry surprised him by turning slightly in his
arms, head resting on his chest, breathing slowing. A moment later he realized that the
young man had fallen asleep -- in his arms.

Harry Potter had fallen asleep in his arms.

Well, hell, he thought. Now what was he supposed to do?

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

He vaguely recalled someone moving and shifting him in the night. He murmured in
protest, but quickly settled back down in sleep, dismissing it.

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Madam Pomfrey woke him about an hour before breakfast, and he sat up sleepily, feeling
well-rested. She checked his shoulder one last time, pronouncing him satisfactorily healed,
and then handed him a pile of clothes and pointed him toward the showers. He recognized
the clothing as some of the new ones Snape had bought for him. The man must have
retrieved them for him sometime yesterday.

His face flushed as he remembered last night's events. Snape's late night visit, Harry's
subsequent break down. And then the taste of Dreamless Sleep Draught. He wouldn't think
about the rest of it, he decided. He doubted Snape would ever mention it. The man had
probably been mortified by Harry's behavior.

But he had been decent to him. Harry wouldn't forget that. Though he suspected he'd pay
for it eventually -- probably during potions class that day in fact.

Breakfast was more of an ordeal than he'd expected. Every eye in the Great Hall was turned
toward him when he entered and made his way toward his seat at the Gryffindor table. It
reminded him of the day after his marriage to Snape. Only this time they were discussing
blood and death and battles. It occurred to him suddenly that this was the first time that
some of them had seen a battle up close. Even during the great battle last year they had all
been locked away in their common rooms. By the time they had been allowed out, the
Ministry had already removed the bodies from the field.

Ron and Hermione were waiting for him, holding his seat. And Neville, Dean and Seamus
were quick to welcome him back with heartfelt questions about his health. He was also
ready for the barrage of questions from the rest of the Gryffindors, and fielded them with
his usually vagueness.

Eventually Hermione and Ron managed to exchange a few private words with him, telling
him that Sirius and Remus had asked them to tell Harry that they would be back this
evening and were planning on sticking around for a while yet. Harry was warmed by that
thought. He really hadn't been given much of an opportunity to spend long periods of time
with his godfather. Besides he wanted to know what was happening between him and
Remus. There was a full moon in a couple of nights, so he knew Remus would be more on
edge than he usually was, but it had been interesting to watch the flirting last night. It was
the first time he'd ever seen two men interacting like that. Didn't seem much different from
what Ron and Hermione did.

"You should have seen Dumbledore earlier, Harry," Ron said then, and Hermione echoed his
sentiments.

"What happened?" Harry paused in eating, glancing worriedly at the high table. But
Dumbledore seemed his usually happy self; he winked brightly at Harry before turning his
attention back to his blueberry muffin. Harry risked a glance at Snape, but the Potions
Master was glowering into his coffee cup and did not look up. Harry inexplicably found
himself blushing.

"A group of reporters tried to get into Hogwarts this morning," Hermione explained. "And at
least three of the Ministry candidates were with them, demanding to see you." She reached
over toward Dean's plate, liberating the copy of the Daily Prophet he had been reading.
Hermione showed Harry the front page.

'Attack in Hogsmeade! Boy Who Lived Battles Death Eaters'. The words were written in
bright red lettering just above a picture of the damaged street of Hogsmeade.

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"What did Dumbledore do?" Harry asked, as he skimmed the article quickly.

"Threw them all out," Ron told him with a gleeful grin. "It was brilliant. Threw more insults
than Snape on a bad day. I don't think I've ever seen Rita Skeeter run so fast."

Harry's head shot up in alarm. "Rita Skeeter?"

Hermione, quickly surmising the problem, shook her head. "Don't worry, Harry.
Dumbledore has put an alarm on Hogwarts. The moment Rita enters the premises, all the
paintings start screaming -- no matter what form she's in. And we've already warned
Padfoot that she's lurking about."

Harry relaxed marginally, but he didn't like the idea of that woman any where nearby when
his godfather was visiting. He turned his attention back to the article, noting again that
there were quotes from several people he'd never heard of who had apparently had long,
involved conversations with him. He did note somewhat pleased that Severus Snape had
received some rather high praise from the paper, considering that only a few months ago he
was always listed as a 'suspected Death Eater' every time his name was so much as
mentioned. Now he was lauded as a hero. He rather suspected that explained the glare
Snape was still giving his coffee cup.

Something occurred to Harry then and he glanced up, noting his fellow classmates. "Hey
Ron, Neville, how much do you guys know about sword fighting?"

"Sword fighting?" Ron snorted at that. "That's a Slytherin thing Harry. My dad doesn't hold
with any of that. Bill wanted to take lessons when he was in school, and he and dad got into
a bit of row over it. Nothing ever came of it."

"But your dad's not opposed to fighting," Harry questioned. "He got into a fist fight with
Lucius Malfoy in the middle of Flourish and Blotts."

Ron just shrugged that. "Oh, he'd say there's nothing wrong with the occasional scuffle --
though my mom laid into him over that fight. But sword dueling, that's something different
all together. That's blood sports, and they're often linked with Blood Magic, Dark Magic."

"What about you?" Harry glanced at Neville.

"My grandma made me take lessons," Neville admitted. "I'm not any good at it. Even worse at
archery. But she still thought I ought to at least learn the basics. Lots of kids take lessons, but
its only Dark Wizards who are into blood sports."

Dark Wizards, and apparently Severus Snape. He wasn't certain what to think about that.
He glanced over his shoulder at the Slytherin table. "Do you suppose any of that lot knows
how?" he asked.

"Count on it," Ron told him.

"Draco and Blaise definitely," Neville agreed. "Lucius Malfoy is a well known swordsman.
One of the best. So is. . ." he broke off suddenly, his face reddening.

Harry took a guess at what he was about to say. "So is Severus Snape."

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Neville nodded apologetically. "One of the reasons I've always been so afraid of him, Harry,"
the boy confessed. "I know he's your bond-mate now and all. And I guess that means he's
not a Death Eater. But the stories I heard said he used to duel a lot when he was younger."

Harry felt suddenly defensive, almost protective toward Snape, especially since he saw the
old mistrust flaring in Ron's eyes. "Good thing he's on our side then, isn't it?" he said quickly.
"The three of us would be dead if it hadn't been for him and Dumbledore."

And that was enough. Ron just sighed, and nodded in agreement, and they moved on to a
different subject.

-----------------------------------------

To Harry's surprise, Snape did not take away points for his missing homework. As the other
students handed in their homework, Snape simply went from desk to desk collecting the
scrolls while he lectured them on their new assignment. He picked up Hermione's and Ron's,
which was only partially completed, glanced briefly at Harry with an unreadable expression
on his face, and then moved on to the next table, never once breaking his narrative. It was
done so smoothly that the Slytherin students didn't even notice.

Hermione and Ron did however and they both looked at Harry in surprise. Harry just
shrugged at them, grateful for the reprieve. He sat down with Hermione during lunch and
finished it then, guessing he owed it to Snape to turn it in as soon as possible.

The three of them snuck up to one of the unused towers near the Headmaster's office to visit
Sirius and Remus that evening after dinner. Harry was still worried about Rita Skeeter, and
asked about the wards Dumbledore had set up to insure that she couldn't get into Hogwarts.

"Even if she can't get in," Harry said after they had convinced them it was safe enough. "You
still have to stay out of sight, Sirius. The chances are good that a number of Slytherin
students know you're an Animagus. I doubt Pettigrew has kept that secret. I'm sure Malfoy
probably knows."

"Got that all worked out," Sirius said with a grin. "Remus has a spell." He transformed into
Padfoot for them so that Remus could demonstrate. A quick wave of the werewolf's wand
and the huge dog looked like a small, furry crup. Padfoot the crup seemed quite pleased by
his forked tail, which he wagged prodigiously, earning a round of laughter from the rest of
them.

"It's just an illusion of course," Remus told them all. "But it's a hard one to see through."

"Even still," Harry cautioned. "A dog in the company of Remus Lupin is going to be suspect."

Sirius transformed back into himself. "Don't worry about me, Harry," he smiled. "I'm good at
escaping. And we've got a backup form as well -- Remus can make me look just like
Crookshanks. "

Harry just sighed. "Just bugs me that a killer like Lucius Malfoy walks around free and you
have half the Ministry after you." But he allowed his godfather to lure him from his pensive
mood with stories that soon had them all laughing.

It was nearly a half hour after curfew before Harry made it back down to the dungeons.
They had lost track of time, and Remus had finally remembered that Harry didn't have the

121
luxury of sneaking into Gryffindor Tower. Remus had offered to walk Harry back down in
effort to stave off punishment, but Harry had decided against it. It was still early in the year,
but sooner or later he was going to be out after curfew -- something always came up -- and
he supposed now was as good a time as any to find out what Snape was going to do about it.

Snape was sitting in the main parlor when he entered, reading by the fire. He didn't glance
up as Harry walked into the room.

Uncertain if he should acknowledge the lateness, Harry hesitated a moment by the door.
Finally he crossed the room to his desk and retrieved the finished homework scroll he had
done at lunchtime. He approached Snape somewhat cautiously, sitting down across from
him on the couch.

"I finished my homework," he said tentatively.

Snape glanced up at that, his expression unreadable. He stared at the scroll a moment,
before finally reaching over and taking it from Harry, setting it down on the coffee table.
"Thank you," he said simply. He went back to reading his book.

Harry stared at him for a long moment, wondering if he was drawing this out on purpose.
Probably. He sighed. "I'm sorry I'm late," he said quietly.

"You're lucky Filch didn't catch you," Snape remarked, not looking up from his book. "He's
been patrolling these halls a lot lately, trying to catch a couple of Slytherin students."

Harry waited. But nothing more was forth coming. Harry frowned. Was the man going to
make him guess? He waited several more minutes, before finally giving up. He shook his
head and headed toward the bedroom.

"Are you still willing to go to my family's dinner with me?" Snape asked before he could
leave.

Harry paused in the doorway. Was that why he didn't take the points away? He wanted a
favor? "I promised I would," Harry reminded him. He wasn't going to break his promise,
even if Snape acted like a jerk. Besides, he was curious about the man's family.

"It's this Saturday," Snape told him. "I trust that's convenient."

"I have Quidditch practice in the morning, but that's all."

"We'll be taking a port key," Snape explained. "I've already made all the arrangements for
one."

"Will you tell me what to wear?" Harry asked, feeling suddenly nervous as he thought about
the fancier clothes Snape had bought him. He'd been sticking with the more casual wear so
far, but he supposed for the dinner he'd have to dress up a bit more.

Snape nodded, a faint mocking smile touching his lips. "I'll pick out something suitable for
you." He glanced at the bedroom door, nodding toward the room. "I left some more
Dreamless Sleep Draught for you on your nightstand."

"Thank you." Harry felt suddenly self-conscious, the mention of the potion reminding him of
last night's events. "Good night," he added softly before hurrying into the room.

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He showered and changed into his nightclothes, grabbing the promised potion from the
nightstand as he climbed into bed. Setting his wand and his glasses on the table, he pried off
the lid and drank the Draught. Then he climbed under the covers and settled down for the
night, feeling at once relaxed, safe, and more comfortable in his own bed than he had been
in the hospital wing.

His own bed. The thought nagged at him for a long time. It wasn't his own bed. It was
Snape's bed. He was just sleeping in it. But it still felt more comfortable than the hospital
bed.

He was already drifting away on the calming waves of the Dreamless Sleep Draught when
Snape joined him. But even still he was vaguely aware of the man climbing into bed beside
him, vaguely aware of the hand that reached out and lightly brushed his hair back from his
forehead. Then he was lost in a peaceful contentment that carried him all the way to
morning.

---------------------------------------------

Author's Note: Before anyone asks, no, Harry is not going to become a Dreamless Sleep
Draught Drug Addict. I don't know if it's canon or fanon that the potion is addictive (I think
it's fanon), but it in this story it is harmless -- especially when Snape begins brewing a
special version just for Harry.

Chapter 15 Manners

A fter the excitement of the weekend, Harry was grateful for an uneventful week. There
was a full moon on Friday night, and both Remus and Sirius stayed away from the
castle that day, telling Harry that they probably wouldn't be back until Sunday. Snape
had brewed the Wolvesbane potion for Remus, but even still he was usually pretty
exhausted after his transformation and intended to sleep most of Saturday. Sirius intended
to stay with him, though he'd confessed to Harry that he hadn't gotten very far in his
attempt to court his friend. Remus still treated his flirtation like a joke.

Dinner in the Great Hall Friday night was particularly lively as several seventh year
Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs had managed to purchase some of the Weasley Twins latest
pranks and were in the process of tormenting the Slytherins and the Ravenclaws. A number
of students were sporting pink hair and rabbit ears much to the amusement of their peers.
Harry knew enough to steer clear of the pranksters.

"So do you know what you're going to wear?" Hermione asked him as they all sat around the
table enjoying their meal. Neville and Dean looked up at that, staring at Harry curiously.

"Wear when?" Dean asked.

"Poor Harry has to go have dinner with Snape's family tomorrow night," Ron informed them
with a look of disgust on his face. "Can you imagine a whole house full of Snapes?"

"Oh, Harry!" Neville's eyes widened in shock. "A formal Wizarding dinner, with the Snapes
of all people!"

Harry rolled his eyes. "It shouldn't be that bad," he insisted. "Snape says the rest of the family
is nothing like him."

123
"Still," Neville shuddered. "I never did like formal dinners. My grandma likes to throw them,
but I always felt too nervous to eat."

"Too nervous?" Harry frowned, wondering if maybe there was something about this that
Snape hadn't told him. Formal Wizarding dinner. He hadn't really thought about that.
Hadn't thought about it being formal.

He glanced down at his plate, remembering suddenly a time when he'd made the mistake of
disturbing his Aunt's table prior to one of her formal dinners. He'd been perhaps six or
seven years old, and quite curious about the fact that his Aunt had made such a fuss over
her table setting. When he'd snuck out of his cupboard to look, he'd noticed the 'good' china
-- something Petunia had kept locked away in a hutch. He vaguely remembered that there
had been more than one crystal glass at each of the settings, and more than one fork. The
silverware had looked unusually beautiful and he'd reached for one of the spoons just to see
what the pattern was on the shining handle.

Petunia had spotted him then and had shrieked in outrage, grabbing him by the wrist and
dragging him away from the table. He remembered her calling him all sorts of names as
she'd pulled him into the kitchen, intent on punishing him for daring to touch her things.
Even now he could clearly remember her pulling him over to the sink and dousing his hand
with scalding water from the teakettle. He'd been sobbing in pain by the time she'd dragged
him back to his cupboard and thrown him inside, informing him that if he made one sound,
one peep that night during their dinner, it would be a week before he saw another scrap of
food.

He'd spent the night holding his red hand against his chest, biting his lip to keep himself
silent, as he'd listened to the tinkling of fine china and the laughter of the Dursleys' guests.
That had been his one and only exposure to any sort of formal dinner.

"What are they like?" Harry asked, apprehension filling him suddenly as he realized that he
didn't have the first idea how to behave at a formal dinner. He knew he had decent
manners; Mrs. Weasley told him so often enough. But he somehow doubted that any of the
dinners he'd had at the Burrow were what someone would call formal. The twins regularly
lobbed food items across the room at such gatherings.

"What are what like?" Hermione asked.

"Formal dinners," Harry explained. "I mean I saw my Aunt set her table once for a formal
dinner, and there was more than one fork I remember. What do you need two forks for?"

"Good question, mate," Ron snickered. "Maybe it's so you can eat twice as much food."

"Haven't you ever had a meal at a nice restaurant, Harry?" Hermione asked curiously.

Harry thought about that. The Dursleys had never even taken him for fast food, let alone a
nice restaurant. Truthfully until he'd come to Hogwarts he rarely even got to sit at a table to
eat. "I've eaten at the Leaky Cauldron. And we had ice cream in Diagon Alley."

"Oh," she said vaguely, looking over at Neville who gave her an uncertain shrug. "That's not
really what I meant."

"The different forks are for different courses of the meal, Harry," Neville told him. "But this
is a Wizarding dinner, which might mean you'll be using something called a 'scramasax' in
the old language. That means a dagger."
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"Daggers?" Harry asked in disbelief.

"Depends on how considerate the Snapes are," Dean told him with a nod. "Since everyone
knows you were raised by Muggles, courtesy demands that they make a concession to that
and have proper Muggle implements like forks. But some of the old Pureblood families
wouldn't be caught dead using a fork at a formal dinner."

"No forks?" Harry asked in bewilderment.

Ron nudged him, drawing his attention toward the Slytherin table. "Ever notice how Malfoy
eats. He holds his knife in his dominant hand and spears his meat."

Harry glanced at Malfoy. He was deep in conversation with Blaise Zabini, but Ron was
right. He held a rather pointy dinner knife in his dominant hand and a spoon in the other,
only using the spoon when absolutely necessary. Most of the other Slytherins did the same -
- and as Harry glanced around the hall he noticed they weren't the only ones. There were a
number of Ravenclaws and even a few Gryffindors with similar manners.

A quick glance at the head table showed Snape doing the same thing. To his surprise so too
was Dumbledore, McGonagall, Flitwick and Sinistra. Hagrid was like usual tearing at his
food with his fingers.

Harry looked back at his friends in bewilderment. "What about daggers?"

"At a formal Wizarding dinner, there are typically only daggers and spoons at a setting.
Forks are considered too Muggle, and even unlucky to have at a table," Neville explained.

Harry looked at Hermione for confirmation. She just shrugged. "I've never actually seen a
formal Wizarding dinner myself," she informed him. "But I've read about them. They have
all sorts of customs Muggles don't have."

"But I don't even know the Muggle customs," Harry protested. "How am I supposed to figure
out the Wizarding ones?"

"We can give you a crash course, Harry," Neville offered. "I'm completely hopeless at formal
occasions, but at least I know what the customs are. My grandma made certain of that."

"You can teach me everything I need to know by tomorrow?" Harry asked hopefully.

"Well. . .." Neville looked skeptical. "We can try."

"Don't forget Quidditch practice," Ron reminded him. "That's more important than Snape's
dinner."

"Not if Snape strangles him," Neville pointed out. And on that point Ron had to agree,
though only grudgingly. Few things in his opinion were more important than Quidditch.

--------------------------------------------

Severus spent most of the day in the Potions Classroom, marking papers and preparing for
next week's classes. He returned to his own rooms to dress early in the afternoon, since his
family was expecting them around four o'clock. Harry was nowhere in evidence.

125
While Harry had been at Quidditch practice, Severus had chosen some appropriate clothing
for the boy and had left it on the bed along with a note informing him of the time they had
to be leaving. Now as he entered the bedroom he noticed that the clothing was gone, and his
note was lying on the bedspread. A quick glance at it showed that Harry had scribbled a
response to him at the bottom -- saying that he had something to do and would get dressed
in Gryffindor Tower, but promised to be on time.

Just as well, Severus thought. It would save them from getting in each other's way.

He collected his own clothing from his wardrobe then retreated to the bathroom to shower.
He found to his consternation that his mind was increasingly focused on Harry, and after
realizing that he'd just spent the last ten minutes trying to picture what he would look like
in the formal attire he'd chosen for him, he shook his head in disgust, thoroughly annoyed
with himself.

Wrapping a towel around his waist as he left the shower, he dried his freshly washed hair
with a quick spell before turning toward the mirror. He paused to look critically at himself,
wondering what his siblings were going to think when they saw him standing beside Harry
Potter. Most likely that he'd performed some sort of Dark Magic to coerce the boy into
marrying him.

He was never going to win any beauty contests; that was for certain. He glared at his nose --
it had never been an attractive nose, and breaking it when he was younger had not
improved it any. He was strong and fit enough he supposed, but didn't guess he had much
else to commend him in the looks department. And even his body was marred by the ever-
present Dark Mark upon his arm -- made even more noticeable by the strands of silver
wrapped around it in warding.

Then there were the scars. He'd been in enough sword duels to have his fair share of them -
- could have healed the injuries before they had scarred of course, but that wasn't the
Slytherin way. The scars were a mark of honor in the Sword Circles. And from a young age
he'd been taught to do things the proper Slytherin way. At least that was one old habit he'd
abandoned -- he healed any new wounds he received quickly now, not giving it a chance to
scar.

Harry had noticed the scars. That had surprised him. It meant that at some point since
they'd been married, the boy had actually looked at him while at least partially undressed.
So far Harry had been careful not to offer him the same opportunity, and he'd given the boy
as much privacy as possible. Regardless, he was familiar enough with at least parts of
Harry's body; in the last few years he'd helped Madam Pomfrey patch him back together a
number of times.

He couldn't help wonder what the boy had thought of him though. He hadn't been able to
tell from his single betraying statement when Lupin and Black had been telling him about
Blood Sports. He supposed there was no point in laboring under the illusion that the boy
might find him even remotely attractive. Golden Gryffindor boys didn't find slimy Slytherins
attractive. It was a simple, well-known fact.

Of course, he'd never really done anything to try and improve his looks either. It had never
been important to him.

He frowned at himself in the mirror, then picked up his wand to perform a quick shaving
spell. Normally he preferred to use a straight razor, but the spell gave a cleaner look. A
simple spell cleaned his teeth as well, and then on a whim he added another spell to whiten
126
them. Marginally better he thought, and then dismissed it as hopeless, because after all who
could ever really get past the nose to care about the other features.

With a sigh, he set down his wand and reached instead for his hair gel. He paused before
opening the bottle, staring down at it thoughtfully. This was another habit taught to him by
his Slytherin peers. All the fashionably dressed Death Eaters wore their hair slicked back in
neat unmoving waves. Ironically it made the Death Eater masks easier to wear. It was a
common practice among his generation of Slytherin, and as Draco Malfoy set the fashions
for his age group, it was common enough amongst the students as well.

Slimy Slytherins, slick and greasy like snakes. Unlike the Golden Gryffindors who more
closely resembled their shaggy Gryffindor lion. They typically wore their hair free and wild,
with little thought to neatness or style. Like Lupin and Black. Like Harry, whose hair was
perpetually messy, practically begging someone to comb their fingers through it to tame the
locks.

Severus lowered the bottle of gel without opening it, glancing at himself again the mirror.
Without the gel his hair looked silky and wild, and a great deal like Sirius Black's actually.
But then maybe that was just the way that Gryffindors liked it? With a frown, he put the
bottle of gel back in the cabinet unopened, silently mocking himself for hoping that it would
make any difference at all to Harry one way or another. Another glare into the mirror, and
he sighed in annoyance -- he absolutely could not abide the messiness -- no excuse for it
really. But he could at least compromise -- he combed his hair as neatly as he could and tied
it back with a black ribbon.

Enough vanity for one life time, he decided, and then turned his attention to his clothes.
Dressing himself quickly in the breeches, doublet and boots he'd chosen for himself, he
returned to the bedroom. A quick glance at the clock reminded him that it was nearly time
to leave. He wondered if Harry was ready.

He returned to the main room, spotting Harry sitting somewhat pensively on the couch and
staring into the fire. He didn't notice Severus immediately, giving him a moment to take in
the boy's -- young man's he corrected himself, for there was nothing particularly boyish
about him at the moment --appearance.

Harry was wearing the green doublet Severus had chosen for him, along with the dark,
finely stitched, dragon hide pants and boots. The whole outfit was accented with silver --
glittering silver thread stitched into the doublet, decorative studs on the breeches. And
having been tailor-made to Harry's measurements, they fitted Harry perfectly, the breeches
sinfully form-fitting, the doublet highlighting Harry's slender, seeker build. His hair was still
perpetually messy, his glasses somewhat awkward looking, but he looked as much like a
young prince as any Slytherin pureblood Severus had ever seen.

He noticed Severus finally and stood quickly. Severus had to force himself to keep his eyes
on the young man's face instead of moving down the line of his body as he wanted to do.
Those breeches were really the height of decadence. He wondered if Harry had any idea
how appealing he looked.

He was grateful a moment later that he had controlled his baser instincts for it afforded him
a clear view of the expression on Harry's face as he took in his appearance. The boy's eyes
widened behind those glasses, his mouth dropping open in surprise.

"You look. . ." the boy began; Severus stiffened, bristling as he waited for the insult. "Nice."

127
Severus frowned. Nice. That was certainly more than he had expected. An actual
complement, though he might consider himself damned with such faint praise.

And then would wonders never cease? "I like your hair," the boy added. Severus couldn't
stop his own eyes from widening at that, though he resolved right then and there to toss out
any remaining bottles of hair gel.

Harry flushed suddenly as if only just now realizing that he'd not only just complimented
him, but done so twice. The boy crossed his arms over his chest in a gesture that could only
be called defensive, his face growing strangely blank all of a sudden, no doubt in reaction to
the seizures Severus assumed he was suffering for daring to compliment him.

Severus decided to take mercy on him. "You look very nice too, Mr. Potter." He allowed just
enough amusement and mockery to flavor his words that the boy rolled his eyes in
exasperation. "Are we through with the niceties?" Severus asked dryly.

"Please," Harry agreed just as dryly. He frowned suddenly. "Look about this dinner. . ."

Severus stilled, guessing this was where Harry backed out of going. He couldn't really blame
him after all, the night would probably be miserable.

"I think I should warn you, I'm probably going to embarrass you," Harry finished, not at all
what Severus had been expecting him to say.

"Excuse me?"

He noticed that Harry was rubbing nervously at one of his hands, an odd, unconscious
gesture he had never seen before. He also looked unaccountably wary about something.

"Embarrass you," Harry explained. "In front of your family. Neville and Hermione tried to
teach me some of the customs, but I've never been to anything formal before. I mean the
closest I ever came was a brief glimpse at my Aunt's table setting, and I got punished for
that. . .. " He broke off, a dark look in his eyes which he quickly shook away. "In any event
Nev and 'Mione spent all afternoon telling me about daggers and salt and table linens, but
most of it just went over my head. I just thought you ought to know."

Severus stared at him for a moment in silence, processing all he'd just heard. That the boy
had made such an effort to learn Wizarding dinner etiquette in an effort not to embarrass
him was extraordinary -- he couldn't help wondering what he had done to earn that
consideration. But there was something else here, something that was making him far more
nervous than it should. Harry had not yet stopped rubbing his left hand, as if it hurt.

"How did your Aunt punish you?" he asked quietly. As he suspected, his question drew the
boy's attention directly to his hands, catching himself in the act of rubbing his left palm.
Immediately he stopped, and he dropped his arms to his sides, his face shuttering the
emotion that had flashed briefly across it. But it told Severus everything he needed to know
-- the Aunt had hurt him, physically this time as the body was remembering even if the
mind did not want to acknowledge it.

"That's not important," he said quickly. "The point is I am probably going to screw up royally
by passing the salt with the wrong hand or buttering my bread on the wrong side. I just
thought you should know."

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Severus' eyes narrowed. "Are you concerned that this might anger me?" He suspected he
understood the nervousness now as well -- while Harry might understand on a rational
level that no one would punish him for a social transgression, the nervousness was coming
from a completely unconscious part of his mind, one that remembered a lifetime of abuse.

"Well, yeah," Harry admitted, looking somewhat surprised that he'd been asked such a
question. "I'm good at making you angry. I've had lots of practice. I just thought you should
prepare yourself. You think potions class is bad, with me not knowing whether to slice or
dice, well. . .. this will probably be a whole lot worse."

Severus felt his lips twitch in amusement, and he fought the smirk. Gryffindors were really
too bloody honorable for their own good -- any Slytherin would see this as a perfect
opportunity for revenge against him. If he cared about his family's opinion. Which he
didn't.

"You seem to think that I care what my family thinks of me," Severus informed him. "Or you
for that matter. I don't. In fact I think I would find it quite entertaining to watch my
brothers and their wives squirming under social conventions while they try to make nice
with the Boy Who Lived."

"Huh?" Harry looked confused.

Severus allowed a faint smile this time. "You seem to forget that without you their social
standing in society is questionable at best. You could start a food fight at the table, and they
would all smile and politely pretend that nothing was wrong."

"Really?" Harry grinned. "Well, okay then. I won't worry about it."

"Good," Severus agreed. He went over to the mantel to retrieve the port key he'd set there
earlier -- a small silver coin that he could easily place in his pocket.

"So what can you tell me about your family?" Harry asked. "How many people are going to
be there?"

"Don't know about the number of people," Severus admitted. "I have three brothers and my
sister, Diana. The two older brothers, Claudius and Marcellus, are both very similar. Rather
gruff, but sociable enough, though they had a tendency towards crassness I never cared for.
Their wives sadly were chosen for their looks and not their brains -- a fact that quickly
becomes apparent the moment they open their mouths. Diana is quiet, and sweet, a truly
gentle soul -- her husband is the exact opposite." Severus shook his head at the thought.
He'd always thought Diana had made a poor choice in husbands, and yet the two had
always seemed fond of each other.

"And the other brother?" Harry asked curiously.

"Julius," Severus told him. "He's the youngest in the family. I don't really know him very
well. He was still quite young when I had my falling out with the lot. But from what I
remember I always thought that of all of us he was the most like our father. . .in
mannerisms anyway. He's not a whole lot older than you actually."

"What about children?"

129
Severus shrugged. "My sister has two children, age three and four. Claudius has one, age
six. I've never met them."

He saw Harry frown at that, and he pushed his own sense of regret away. It wasn't a very
strong regret -- all things considered he didn't really enjoy children. But he supposed one of
these days he ought to make an effort to get to know them. Considering the marriage he'd
made for himself, he'd likely have no children of his own, and would have to pick one of his
nieces or nephews as his heir eventually.

"Are you ready to go?" Severus asked him, holding up the port key. Harry nodded and
moved toward him, reaching out to touch the coin with him. Severus tapped the coin with
his wand, and a moment later they were both being pulled across the land.

-------------------------------

Author's Note: I had some fun playing around with the table etiquette -- though I admit I
cut a great deal out of this chapter just because it got to be too much. The daggers are not
my invention, but a reality of medieval England. Forks weren't introduced to England until
the 1600, and were then ridiculed by society. They didn't really catch on in either England
or America until the 1800s.

Since Wizarding England is trapped in the cultural past, I thought I'd exaggerate some of
the odd etiquette rules that have existed over the years just to have a bit of fun. Harry, if the
Dursleys truly had kept him from polite society, would likely be missing a lot of information
most teenagers take for granted. He's polite enough -- most likely because such manners
were beaten into him -- but he certainly wouldn't know the rules of etiquette of the upper-
class. Nor I think would it be likely that he would notice such little details like the other
students' table manners. Most teenaged boys don't notice things like that.

The 'scramasax' was a small weapon carried by many Englishmen in the middle ages. Along
with being a weapon for defense, it was also considered a general-purpose tool, and was the
primary instrument for eating. If I were being more traditional here, Harry would be
required to bring his own dagger to the dinner instead of being supplied cutlery by his host.

As for Snape's appearance -- yes, it's yet another cliche. Don't all fanfiction authors have to
deal with the issue of his greasy hair at some point? I hope you found my solution amusing.

Chapter 16 Meeting the In-Laws

H arry hadn't really known what to expect when he'd returned to the dungeons after
his etiquette lessons with Neville and Hermione. He'd come to the conclusion,
somewhere between discovering there was a right and wrong way to unfold your
napkin and that salt could only be passed from the left to the right that he was probably
going to make a complete fool of himself at dinner.

He'd later changed into the clothes Snape had chosen for him, amid hilarious comments
from his former dorm mates. He'd stared horrified at himself in the bathroom mirror. "Don't
you think these pants are a bit tight!" Harry had protested when he'd shown the results to
Ron and the others. He felt horribly exposed in them. Looked more like something Gilderoy
Lockhart would wear.

"Supposed to be that way, mate," Ron assured him.

130
"You look great Harry," Seamus agreed. "And if you don't believe us, let's go ask Colin."

That set Ron and Dean into a fit of giggles, and Harry had groaned in exasperation. The lot
of them had come to the conclusion sometime in fifth year that poor Colin Creevy was
hopelessly in love with Harry. Harry had of course not wanted to believe it, but had
eventually given in when he'd discovered a life-sized picture of himself in Colin's dorm
room next to the boy's bed.

"I have to go," he told his friends in disgust and tromped down the stairs to the common
room. To his annoyance, the four of them followed swiftly behind.

The common room was unusually crowded for a Saturday afternoon, and as Harry entered
he was greeted by a wave of good-natured whistles and catcalls, which had him bright red
with embarrassment in a matter of moments. Hermione had eventually stepped in to shut
them all up, but one glance at the look of hopeless adoration on Colin's face had set Ron and
Dean into fits again and Harry had eventually had to flee to escape them all.

He'd waited nervously for Snape by the fire, worried about all the things Neville and
Hermione had tried to teach him. There was no way he was going to get through a formal
dinner without messing up royally, and he wasn't looking forward to enduring the wrath of
Severus Snape. The man could flay a person alive with his voice alone. Harry had been on
the receiving end of his sarcasm more times than he cared to remember, and he guessed
before the night was though he was going to be utterly humiliated.

He looked up in shock as Snape had entered the room, almost not recognizing the man at
first. No black robes for one -- he was dressed much the same as Harry was, only in dark
blue instead of green. And damn! The man looked, well . . . attractive, maybe even
handsome. Not in the Gilderoy Lockhart way of course -- Snape didn't really have the
features for it. But he looked very distinguished certainly, and those clothes certainly
emphasized the fact that the Potions Master had a good body. And there was something
different about his hair; it looked. . . . really nice.

He vaguely remembered blurting out a couple of compliments, mortified by the fact that
Snape had found them amusing. But at least the man hadn't really teased him over it.

And he'd been utterly amazed when Snape had put his fears to rest concerning the etiquette
issue. Truth be told, it almost sounded as if Snape was hoping Harry did something
shocking. He vaguely wondered if he could work out a way to earn points for Gryffindor by
misbehaving.

He wasn't too keen on using portkeys, not since the Triwizard Tournament. But he took hold
of the coin firmly and let himself be transported to wherever it was they were having
dinner.

He staggered a bit as they landed, might have fallen if Snape hadn't grabbed hold of his
elbow to steady him. "Sorry, don't like portkeys much," he muttered. Snape said nothing.

Looking up he noticed they were standing on a gravel roadway directly in front of large
iron gates that were decorated with a rose pattern that reminded Harry of the tattoo he'd
briefly seen on Snape's back. Beyond the gates Harry could see an enormous house with
elaborate gardens surrounding it. "Is that Snape Manor?" Harry asked.

"No, that's Briarwood Hall," Snape informed him. The man turned him slightly toward a hill
beyond the house. "That's Snape Manor."
131
Harry's eyes widened. Briarwood Hall seemed to be one part of a much larger estate, for
beyond the gardens on a hill he could see a sprawling castle complete with tall towers,
courtyards and at least three separate wings. "Wow," he exclaimed, unable to find a better
word to describe the enormity of it. That would take a lot of paint!

"You really must do something to improve your vocabulary, Mr. Potter," Snape said dryly.

"Where exactly are we?" Harry wanted to know. "Is this far from Hogwarts?"

"Far is sort of a relative term," Snape replied. "We're in the County of High Hill."

Harry frowned. Geography had never been his strong suit, but he'd seen enough maps of
Britain to at least know the basics. "There's no High Hill County in Britain."

"There's no High Hill County in Muggle Britain," Snape corrected. "You are standing in one
of six unplottable counties in Britain, the western most to be exact."

Unplottable counties? Harry had heard of course of unplottable houses, but an entire
county? He'd had no idea such a thing was even possible. And to think there were six of
them in Britain. He wondered how many there were worldwide. "Do a lot of wizards live
here?" he asked.

Snape shrugged. "A few I suppose." He pointed off down the road away from Briarwood
Hall. "Minister Fudge lives a few miles down that way. And the Malfoy's live a bit farther
north from here. A lot of the old families have estates in High Hill."

"What about the Burrow?" Harry asked curiously. He knew the Burrow was accessible by
car, but at the same time he'd always felt it was somehow isolated or protected from the rest
of the Muggle world.

Snape gave him a faint twisted smile. "The Burrow is east side," he told him and left it at
that. Harry took a guess that the unplottable counties had some sort of economic status
assigned to each of them.

Snape tapped his wand against the gate, and they waited while it swung open. Harry
followed him through.

"We're not eating at Snape Manor?" Harry asked curious, as Snape was making toward
Briarwood Hall instead.

"Snape Manor is my home," Snape informed him. "Though I haven't had it open in years.
Briarwood Hall belongs to my brother Claudius." He frowned suddenly, glancing at Harry
with an odd gleam in his eyes. "I should probably mention that at some point this evening a
number of people will attempt to ask you permission to reopen the Manor. Under no
circumstances give it."

"Why would they ask me?" Harry asked bewilderedly.

Snape shrugged. "It's as much your home now as it is mine," the man reminded him.
"Regardless, it hasn't been open since my father died, and I don't think it's safe."

"Structurally unsound or because your father was a Death Eater?" Harry asked bluntly.

132
Snape gave him a mocking sneer. "There are spells to ensure a building remains structurally
sound."

Which of course answered the question. Snape suspected there was Dark Magic lying in
wait in the Manor house. "Fun," he muttered. Snape did not reply.

Two enormous wooden doors carved to look as if they were covered in rose vines were
thrown open as Harry and Snape approached Briarwood Hall. From out of the house
streamed a gaggle of people, so many that Harry found himself instinctively stepping
toward Snape in alarm, wondering if perhaps they might have both just walked into a trap
of some sort. He glanced quickly at Snape, noting that the man did not look alarmed, but he
did look angry, a thunderous scowl upon his face, and a black glare he recognized far too
well.

Greetings were shouted out, welcomes were called, and Harry found himself shaking hands
with total strangers, trying to catch the names that were offered him. Eventually Harry felt a
strong hand close around his shoulder and Snape pulled Harry out of the center of the
crowd and propelled him toward a smaller group, his glare effectively deterring anyone
from protesting.

"Harry, these are my brothers Claudius and Marcellus and their wives Julliana and
Delphina," Snape introduced, his voice just barely above a menacing growl.

Claudius and Marcellus were definitely related to Snape. Both men had the Snape nose and
coloring. But beyond that the resemblance was slight. Neither man was as tall as their elder
brother, and both were a great deal bulkier. Marcellus sported a full beard, though neatly
trimmed. They each shook Harry's hand, welcoming him to the family politely enough, but
they eyed Harry up and down assessingly as if measuring him against something.

Julliana and Delphina were both extraordinarily beautiful women, one golden-haired, the
other a redhead. And they both giggled in excitement when Harry shook their hands,
Delphina going so far as to actually drop a curtsey to him.

"And those," Snape growled, pointing to the large mob of people who had surrounded Harry
initially. "Are apparently in-laws." The man glared at Julliana and Delphina, who both just
smiled pleasantly back at him. Apparently the two women had invited their entire families
to this little gathering.

"This is my sister Diana, and her husband Alrik Brand," Snape continued with the
introductions, motioning to the next two people waiting to meet him.

Diana Snape Brand was quite attractive. Her dark hair and dark eyes complimented her
pale complexion, and her features were delicate and well formed. But more than that she
had a quiet grace to her that reminded Harry surprisingly of a young McGonagall. She
gifted Harry with a warm smile as she shook his hand, seeming genuinely pleased to meet
him. Her eyes practically glowed when she looked up at her oldest brother.

Alrik Brand on the other hand was her exact opposite. He was enormously tall, heavily
muscled and sported the hair and beard of a Viking. Indeed the man towered over all of
them, and scowled down at Harry as if looking at the runt of a litter. He squeezed a bit
harder than necessary when he shook Harry's hand.

"And this is my youngest brother Julius," Snape said then, motioning to the last member of
the group.
133
Harry barely managed to stifle his gasp when he noticed Julius for the first time. He'd rather
expected the fourth brother to look like the others, but Julius Snape was as different from
Claudius, Marcellus and Severus as night was to day. Granted he had the same coloring, the
dark hair, dark eyes, and the pale skin. But while Diana, who'd been spared the Snape
family nose, was pleasantly pretty, Julius was heart-stoppingly beautiful. He was nearly as
tall as Severus, slender and strong looking. But there the resemblance ended. His features
were flawless, perfectly formed, high cheekbones, chiseled jaw, sinfully full red lips. Even
the pale skin all the Snapes possessed seemed more like the finest alabaster on him. And he
was dressed to catch the eye, a black velvet doublet lined with deep burgundy silk, his
hands adorned with several glittering rings.

He gave Harry a slow sensual smile as he shook his hand, and like his brothers he looked
Harry over quite thoroughly, but his eyes glittered with something more akin to hunger. It
made Harry shiver in a most uncomfortable manner, and he shot a nervous glance toward
Snape wondering if he had noticed. Snape was watching him intently, his scowl replaced
now by a look of dark contemplation.

And then Diana was urging them all back inside the house, and the uncomfortable moment
was gone.

Harry barely had time to admire the beautiful architecture of Briarwood Hall before he was
surrounded by the mob of in-laws again. He managed, just barely to follow Snape into the
main parlor with the rest of the family before he was cut off by a gaggle of women and men
who seemed amazed to find the Boy Who Lived in their presence.

"Are you really an advisor to Minister Fudge?" one woman asked breathlessly.

"Are you really a secret player for England's Quidditch team?" a young man asked before
Harry could answer the first woman's question.

"I heard you knew how to Apparate by the time you were seven years old!" another man
exclaimed while Harry was still contemplating how someone could play secretly for a
Quidditch team. "How did you manage that?"

"According to Witch Weekly you used to date a foreign Veela Princess," a matronly looking
woman announced. "How ever did you end up with Severus?"

"Can you really tame dragons just by singing to them?"

"Is your broom really made out of Merlin's staff?"

"Do evil creatures really burst into flame when they touch you?"

Harry, who'd made it a point not to read the tabloids, stared at all of them in growing alarm.
Surely people didn't believe this stuff -- okay Quirrell had burst into flames upon touching
him, but that was different.

"Can I see your scar?"

Harry would have treated this question with the same disbelief as the rest of them if it hadn't
come from a small boy of perhaps six years. He sighed and crouched down in front of the
child, tuning out the rest of the adults as he pushed his bangs out of the way.

134
The little boy smiled happily at him, his eyes widening in delight as he stared at the
lightning bolt scar upon Harry's forehead. That reaction would have been fine, if all the
adults surrounding him didn't take it as a cue to surge forward and touch him, trying to
reach the infamous scar with their fingers. Several of the women looked as if they were
attempting to kiss the scar. Harry backed away in shock, nearly stumbling over his own feet
in an effort to get away from them.

"That's enough!"

Harry was never so happy to see his Potions Master striding angrily toward him, blackest
scowl fixed on his face. Instinctively he reached out to him, relieved when his hand was
caught and he was pulled out of the middle of the crowd. He unashamedly hid behind
Snape's body. "Back off!" Snape snarled at the crowd when they attempted to follow. They all
stopped, looking appropriately terrified by the raging wizard.

"Now, Severus," Delphina pleaded. "They just wanted to see him. It's not every day they get
to meet such a celebrity."

Harry cringed at the description, knowing exactly what Snape thought of celebrities. The
Potions Master turned his black glare on his sister-in-law. "Well, they've seen him. Now
make them go away. I didn't bring him here to be mobbed by this ridiculous rabble. Either
they go, or we go!"

Delphina, who had been looking quite affronted at her family being called rabble, paled
upon hearing Snape's threat to leave. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Right, of course. We'll, they
weren't going to be staying for dinner anyway." She began shooing the lot of them out the
door, Julliana moving quickly to help her. The crowd began dispersing with much protest.

"My apologies, Harry," Snape said, much to Harry's surprise. He'd actually been expecting to
feel the wrath of Snape's tongue next himself. "Had I known you'd been set upon by a pack
of wild dogs, I never would have brought you here."

Harry had also caught Snape's usage of his first name. They hadn't discussed it themselves,
but Hermione had made it a point to tell him that he should probably use Snape's first name
in public. It would look odd if he didn't. "That's okay, Severus," he replied, the name odd on
his tongue. He saw something flickering in Snape's eyes, took a moment to realize that it was
approval, before the man nodded in acceptance.

"I see you're still as charming as ever, Severus," Claudius remarked. "Wild dogs? Bit harsh
don't you think?"

Severus turned to glare at his brother. "Hardly. I assume you thought we'd find this
amusing?"

Claudius shrugged. "They wanted to meet him. You can hardly blame them? I'm sure Harry
-- can I call you Harry -- gets this all the time."

"Yes, Sev, calm down," Marcellus agreed. "I mean the crowd must have been five times this
size last week when Harry addressed the Witches Herbology Society's Luncheon."

"He's in school, you imbecile!" Snape roared. "He's not going around giving speeches at
Luncheons! And since when did you start believing the tabloids!"

135
"Now see here, Severus!" Marcellus blustered, and Harry could see that far from being a
reconciliation between brothers, this was going to erupt into a new family feud. Harry
recognized the signs from living with Vernon Dursley for so long.

"Excuse me!" he cut in quickly, stepping between Severus and his brothers. The three of
them looked at him in surprise. "No one came here to fight. Let's try changing the subject,
shall we?"

Claudius and Marcellus looked baffled, as if the idea had not occurred to them -- or maybe
they just weren't used to someone running interference. Severus looked -- actually Harry
wasn't entirely certain how to interpret the look on the man's face. He suspected he'd
probably just lost his house a few dozen points for daring to interrupt him while he was
working himself up into a full fledged fit.

"Yes, please!" Diana chimed in immediately, stepping forward and smiling graciously at
Harry. "Harry is right. We're all here to get to know each other again. Let's not start out with
a senseless fight."

Severus' expression softened fractionally, and Harry sent Diana a grateful look.

"Now who wants something to drink!" Delphina exclaimed with a bright smile as she and
Julliana returned to the room, having gotten rid of the in-laws. They breezed into the midst
of the group, not noticing the tensions at all and began handing out various drinks to those
present.

As Alrik took a whiskey glass from Julliana, he gave a nod to Harry. "Should have let them
fight," he murmured just loud enough that only Harry could hear him. "Most fun we would
have had all night. I was rather looking forward to it."

Harry said nothing as he took a glass of pumpkin juice from Delphina. Nervously he took a
quick sip, then nearly choked as it burned his throat all the way down, leaving his eyes
watering. Alrik slapped him hard on the back, grinning at him. "That brandy is from my
private stock. Don't waste it," the man told him.

His reaction set Claudius and Marcellus laughing and they grinned good-naturedly at him.
"Sev hasn't let you get into his private stores yet, I take it?" Claudius asked. "Shame on you,
Severus. You're supposed to share everything."

Harry shot a nervous look at Severus, not certain what sort of reaction to expect from this.
Severus just glared at his brother. "He never asked," he said simply.

"I'm not much of a drinker," Harry volunteered, hoping that brandy-laced pumpkin juice
wasn't the only thing he was going to be offered all night.

"Would you prefer a butterbeer, Harry?" Julius suggested, holding up a familiar looking
bottle.

"Thank you," Harry nodded gratefully. Julius be-spelled off the cap and handed the bottle
and a glass to Harry. Oddly, he made a point of touching Harry's hands unnecessarily as he
handed them over, and Harry glanced up into his face in surprise. The man just smiled at
him, then moved away as Diana began telling Severus about her children and what they
had all been doing these last few years.

136
-----------------------------------

Author's Notes: As far as I know 'Snape' isn't a Roman name, but I got a kick out of giving
the entire family Roman names. 'Severus' is certainly Latin.

Chapter 17 Thorns

T hey sat for a while in the parlor, Diana making an attempt to keep the conversations
amongst the brothers civil. But Harry could see that the animosity amongst the three
oldest at least was not going to be overcome in one night. Julius, for his part, seemed
not to care about the family squabble, and participated very little in the discussion. Instead,
to Harry's consternation, he spent the majority of his time staring at Harry. Whenever Harry
looked over at him it was to see those dark eyes gazing speculatively at him, almost
hungrily. It made him very uncomfortable.

True to Severus' word, Claudius, Marcellus, Delphina and Julliana each found a moment to
speak privately with Harry, asking him about his plans for Snape Manor. The two women
offered graciously to have it redecorated for him, while the two men pointed out the
importance of having a suitable home for someone of his status to entertain important
dignitaries in. Harry just smiled at them all and told them to talk to Severus about the
subject since he was far to busy with his schoolwork to think about such matters. They each
looked disappointed but not deterred.

Eventually Delphina and Julliana ushered them all into the dining room for dinner. Harry
was seated beside Julius, directly across the table from Severus. One glance at the table
showed the expected daggers Neville had talked about. To his relief there were also forks at
each of the settings, but they were set off at an odd angle -- indication Neville had explained
that they were there simply as a courtesy to a Muggle-born guest, and not really intended
for use.

Before the first course was served, a toast was made, Claudius giving a somewhat
longwinded speech welcoming Harry to the family -- something that would have been fine
in and of itself, if he hadn't also managed to lace it generously with hints about their family
name being formerly tarnished so egregiously. Severus, surprisingly, endured the comments
in silence, most likely for Diana's sake, but they made Harry angry. It wasn't a whole lot
different than that first letter they had sent to Severus. Harry had never gotten along with
Severus, but he knew exactly what it felt like to be treated like scum by one's family. And
considering that Severus was in fact the hero of this little family drama and not the villain,
as his brothers would have everyone believe, it was doubly unfair.

Fine, he thought in irritation. If they were going to be rude, then he wasn't going to worry
about offending them. When the first course was served, he unfolded his silk napkin in a
decidedly Muggle fashion, and reached immediately for the fork, bypassing the dagger
entirely. When he glanced over at Severus, he thought he detected the faintest of smirks on
the man's face; there was certainly a definite gleam of amusement in his eyes. Harry just
grinned at him, and wondered what other mistakes he could make.

Sure enough his manners went completely uncommented -- not unnoticed. Harry was
quietly amused to see that they were not unnoticed -- Julliana actually made a warding sign
against evil when he passed the salt the wrong direction. But no one said anything about it.

Julius distracted him for a good portion of the dinner, asking him about his position on the
Gryffindor Quidditch team, a subject he loved to talk about. While talking he forgot about

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the man's intense looks that made him so uncomfortable, and actually managed to enjoy
himself. "What about you?" he eventually asked Julius. "Did you play in school?"

Julius shrugged. "I tried out for a team, but I really was never much of a flyer. I didn't mind
though -- it was just as much fun to watch the game I thought."

Harry disagreed with him there, but didn't say so. "What house were you in?"

"House?" Julius asked looking briefly confused. "Oh, yes of course. The Houses. I didn't go
Hogwarts. I went to Beauxbatons. We all did, except for Severus."

"Really?" Harry knew his surprise showed on his face.

Marcellus, who'd overheard their conversation, leaned forward. "Yes, Harry," he said, loudly
enough for the rest of the family to hear. "Severus was the only one at Hogwarts. I'm afraid
Father was overly concerned with appearances. Didn't think the rest of us would get sorted
into the right House."

"The right house?" Harry frowned, recognizing the insult for what it was, but not knowing
what to do about it.

"He means Slytherin of course," Severus informed him, voice silky smooth and laced with
animosity.

"That was your house, wasn't it, Severus?" Marcellus remarked, though it was obvious he
knew the answer already. "Merlin forbid that the son of a Death Eater be sorted into any
house other than Slytherin. I'm afraid Father didn't really trust the rest of us."

Harry felt his anger resurfacing, not because he felt any fondness for Slytherin, but because
these attacks against Severus were all horribly unfair. He could see a cold gleam in Severus's
eyes, and Diana or no Diana, Harry didn't think he was going to put up with such behavior
much longer.

"You know, I think you have a skewed notion of the different houses and the Death Eaters,"
Harry informed them.

"Hardly," Marcellus scoffed. "Everyone knows Slytherin produces nothing but Death Eaters."

That was a direct attack this time, and Severus' hand tightened on the handle of his dagger.
Harry glared down the table at Marcellus. "Actually, sir, you're wrong. The Death Eaters
have a mixture of all the houses amongst them, not to mention a fair few numbers from
Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. In fact Peter Pettigrew, the man who raised Voldemort from
the dead two years ago, was a Gryffindor."

With the exception of Severus, the lot of them flinched at the sound of Voldemort's name. It
was Alrik who got over the shock the quickest and spoke. "You seem to have your facts
confused. Peter Pettigrew was murdered years ago by Sirius Black."

Harry shook his head. "Sirius Black was innocent. Peter Pettigrew framed him for those
murders. Two Gryffindors -- one good, one evil. All the houses are like that. Severus is a
prime example. He's saved my life more times than I care to count. And he's risked his life
for years to protect the Wizarding World from the Death Eaters. I'd say all of you have your
facts confused if you think otherwise."

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His words were greeted by silence, his challenge implicit in his tone. Harry risked a glance
at Severus. The man was staring at him, a look of surprise on his face that bordered on
shock. Harry couldn't help wonder if anyone had ever stood up for the man before? It was
the least he could do, he thought. He still owed him for defending him against Draco that
first day they were married.

"Well, that's the whole point of this dinner, isn't it?" Diana said quickly, ending the silence
and looking around the table with a hopeful smile on her face. "To get our facts straight
finally, and put the past behind us?"

Marcellus and Claudius looked at one another and then nodded grudgingly. "Yes, of
course," Claudius agreed. "I suppose the Boy Who Lived should know if anyone does."

And to Harry's consternation he recognized that even that was a stab at Severus -- they
would take Harry's word for it. Severus's word wasn't good enough. But he saw Severus
shake his head almost imperceptibly, telling him to let it ago. Harry sighed, wondering how
the man could stand it.

"The Boy Who Lived," Julliana mused somewhat dreamily, breaking the tension. "Has such a
wonderful sound to it. Tell me, Harry, what's it like being the Boy Who Lived?" She spoke
his so-called title with something close to reverence.

"Excuse me?" Harry stared at her, uncertain what she meant.

"I imagine it must be utterly exhausting," she continued, smiling at him.

Delphina nodded in agreement. "Utterly exhausting," she repeated. "It would seem to me
that the hardest part would be all the autograph signing."

"Oh, no, dear," Julliana disagreed. "I'd say answering all his fan mail would be far worse.
He'd actually have to write more than just his name there."

"Well, what do you say, Harry?" Delphina asked. "What would you say is the worst part
about being the Boy Who Lived?"

Harry just stared at them in disbelief. "I guess," he said hesitantly, "it would be all the people
trying to kill me."

His words were greeted by looks of utter shock, and one barely stifled bark of laughter
which Harry realized to his amazement had come from Severus. Severus actually had one
hand over his mouth, and was visibly struggling to keep from laughing again. That was
definitely approval he saw glittering in those dark eyes this time.

"Oh," Delphina said vaguely. "I suppose that would be difficult."

"Still," Julliana added, apparently having not understood what Harry had said. "I think my
hand would start hurting if I had to sign so many autographs."

"Severus," Diana cut in quickly, changing the subject. "Why don't you tell us about your
work? I understand your potion skills have far exceeded anything even Mother ever
mastered."

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Severus, having gotten control of his laugher, shrugged dismissively. "Well, considering the
woman poisoned herself, that wasn't difficult to do."

Harry looked over at him in surprise. "Your mother poisoned herself?"

Severus smirked. "Yes, it's one of those obnoxious little family secrets that I'm sure you'll find
fascinating."

Harry glanced at the others, wondering if anyone would fill him in. Diana smiled at him.
"It's a peculiar story, Harry," she told him. "Not many people know it. Our mother had a
rather odd, singular obsession. Have you ever heard the story of Snow White?"

Harry frowned. "Seven dwarves, poison apple, enchanted sleep, true love's kiss. That story?"

"Well, it was actually seven house elves," Diana told him. "But no doubt you heard the
Muggle version of the story. The Wizarding version is quite a bit different. Our mother
however was interested in the potion brewing aspects of the story."

"She wanted to make a poison apple?" Harry asked, wondering if that was how the woman
had poisoned herself.

"Actually, Harry, the poisoned apple is remarkably easy to make," Severus informed him.
"Even the enchanted sleep and true love's kiss part is easy enough to brew. A thousand
wizards have come up with some variant on that old spell. Mother had no interest in that
part of the story."

Confused, Harry glanced back at Diana. He couldn't remember any other potion that was
brewed in the story.

"It was the beginning of the story that held our Mother's interest," Diana explained. "The
part about the queen who wanted the perfect child. The fairest child in the land, with hair
as black as night, lips as red as blood, and skin as white as snow."

White as snow. . . .Harry frowned, only to be struck a moment later by realization, a chill
running down his spine as he spared a shocked glance around the room at all the Snapes
sitting before him. All with the blackest hair and the whitest skin -- he turned toward the
impossibly beautiful Julius. Harry's eyes widening in shock, for the description fit him
perfectly. The man smiled at him in amusement, inclining his head in acknowledgement of
the thought Harry had not spoken but was obviously written plainly on his face.

"She tried with all of us, of course," Diana continued. "And continuously fell short. Until
Julius."

"You said she poisoned herself," Harry said, forcing his gaze away from Julius Snape.

Severus smirked bitterly. "Yes, Mother failed to remember one little detail of that pathetic
story. The queen dies in childbirth, and never gets to lay eyes on her perfect child. With
every experimental potion she took, she risked her own life and the health of her children
for something as silly as vanity."

"Did you ever ask her why it was so important to her?" Harry asked, finding himself
fascinated by the story. He wondered if all Wizarding families had similar strangeness in
their past.

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"Mother didn't talk about her work," Marcellus told Harry. "Truth was we knew she was
working on something, but we didn't know what. Severus was the one who went through
her notebooks after she died and figured out what she was doing."

"Is that what got you interested in potions?" Harry asked.

Severus shrugged. "I had an interest prior to that," he admitted. "But it certainly didn't hurt.
Nothing like a family secret to spark your interest."

They spoke some more about their mother, Harry listening attentively, curious about
Severus Snape's past. It seemed that so long as they kept their conversation focused on their
early childhood years, without mention of their father, the three older brothers kept fairly
civil tongues. Julius only participated in the conversation occasionally, Diana making it a
point to keep all of them on safe topics.

That dinner ended without any major bloodshed, Harry counted it a success. When they all
retired again to the parlor, Harry excused himself to go to the bathroom, dawdling
somewhat longer in the halls than necessary. It occurred to him that Severus might like
some time alone with his siblings, or at least with Diana and he wasn't certain how to
arrange it.

As it turned out, he didn't have to bother. Julius intercepted him in the hallway before he
could reenter the parlor. "I thought perhaps you might like to look at the gardens, Harry,"
he offered. "It will give Severus a chance to speak with the others alone. I suspect they wish
to discuss the future of Snape Manor. It's always been a rather sore point amongst them, and
I doubt you want to get pulled into the center of that fight."

Remembering Severus' warnings about the Manor, Harry just nodded in agreement. "Sure,"
he agreed, falling into step beside the youngest Snape. "Bit dark though to be looking at the
gardens, isn't it?" He'd thought a tour of the house would be more appropriate.

Julius flashed him a brilliant smile, his dark eyes glittering. "Oh, you needn't worry about
that. They're well lit with Wizard Lights. Briarwood Hall is famous for its rose hedges. You
have to see them before you leave."

He opened a side door that led out onto an exterior courtyard and a garden path. As Harry
stepped through, he would have sworn he felt a hand lightly caress his back, and he
glanced curiously at Julius as he walked beside him. The man just smiled again, making a
broad sweeping gesture with one hand to indicate the garden beyond the courtyard.

It had grown dark, the waning moon still nearly full overhead. Beneath the light of the
moon Harry could see the distant shape of Snape Manor on the far hilltop, but his eyes were
drawn toward the garden Julius intended to show him. He'd seen pictures of garden mazes -
- enormous hedgerows groomed into a maze pattern -- but he'd never seen one up close.
And this garden maze was extraordinary, for it was made of enormous, tangled cluster of
rose vines, twisting and locking in on each other to form the hedges. They towered well over
his head, and all of them were in full bloom, enormous blood red roses filling the heavy
night air with their scent. True to Julius' word, the maze was lit with glowing balls of light
burning at the base of various hedges, giving the entire garden an eerie bluish glow beneath
the cold moonlight.

As they stepped into the maze, Julius leading the way, the scent of the roses struck Harry,
their perfume rather heady. Harry noticed that the thorns on the rose vines were deadly
looking, long and horribly sharp. He didn't envy the gardener who had to tend to them.
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They walked for a while, Harry asking a few simple questions about the estate they were on
and about the estates that were nearby. He found it odd to think that Malfoy Manor was
only a few miles away. And beyond that, it seemed the LeStranges had a home, along with
the Goyles and the Parkinsons. Harry had the uncomfortable feeling that the majority of the
people living in High Hill were either trying to kill him, or had been killed fighting him.

"Do you like it?" Julius asked as they walked. "The garden, I mean?"

"It's beautiful," Harry admitted. He'd done enough gardening at the Dursleys to appreciate
the work that must have gone into the maze, though he supposed wizards probably had all
sorts of gardening spells to make things easier. It occurred to him that Madam Sprout would
love this place.

"It's been in my family for centuries," Julius told him, as he led him further into the maze,
moving down twisted paths and corridors. "My mother loved this garden."

Harry frowned at that. From what he gathered from the story he'd heard earlier, Julius'
mother had died when he was born. How would he know that his mother had loved this
garden?

"Would you rather go back and visit with the others?" Harry asked him, thinking it was
probably unfair of him to keep Julius from his brother's company. He probably didn't know
Severus all that well and would want to speak with him privately as well. Harry was
perfectly capable of looking the gardens over alone. Besides, the scent of the roses was
growing overpowering, and he was getting anxious to move away from their perfume.

But Julius just laughed. "I was a child when Severus left," he told Harry. "I barely know the
man. Besides, I'd much rather get to know you. I find you far more intriguing." To Harry's
surprise, the man raised a hand as he spoke, and actually brushed a lock of Harry's hair
back behind his ear, a remarkably intimate gesture that made Harry extremely
uncomfortable. Even Ron wouldn't have done something like that, and he knew Ron far
better than this man. He felt suddenly dizzy, and suspected the rose scent was starting to get
to him.

But again Julius just smiled and continued on as if nothing had happened. "I imagine it must
have been a great disappointment to you," Julius said as he led Harry around another corner
and into a small courtyard with a gazebo in the center of it. "To find yourself married to
Severus."

Harry stopped in his tracks. "What do you mean?"

Julius turned and smiled at him again, a knowing look in his eyes. "I mean he can hardly be
the sort of lover a young man like you dreamed of having." He laughed at the thought. "You
must have been horrified, to find yourself at the mercy of someone so hard and cold. And
Severus is certainly nothing to look at. Do you cringe every time he touches you, or have
you gotten used to being forced to submit to him?"

"What?" Harry stared at the man in shock, not having any clue how to respond to his words.
At least when his Slytherin classmates had made their rude innuendoes they had all been in
the form of crude insults. This was different; this was somehow far more personal, and he
did not like the way this conversation was going at all. And he'd swear the scent of roses was
getting stronger, the perfume oddly intoxicating.

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"You're quite beautiful, you know," Julius told him, and Harry found himself blushing in
spite of himself. "I imagine Severus didn't wait long to get his hands on you. How you must
have hated having that beast touch you." He reached out to touch Harry's hair again, but
Harry slapped his hand away and stepped back.

"That's your brother you're talking about!" he exclaimed in disbelief. Beast? Alright, the
Gryffindors had certainly called him worse things than that over the years, but this was the
man's own flesh and blood for God's sake! And besides, Severus had been more than decent
to him. Not to mention the fact that Julius obviously didn't have a clue about who his
brother was or why they had gotten married in the first place. He'd assumed it was just
Claudius and Marcellus who believed Severus was still a Death Eater. Now he could see that
Julius' opinion of the man was no better.

"Yes, he is my brother," Julius agreed, still smiling. "Which puts me in a remarkable position
to ease your suffering. No one would ever think twice about why you were spending so
much time in the company of your brother-in-law. Such family ties are encouraged." As he
spoke he took several steps closer to Harry; Harry backed up just as quickly, starting to
realize where this conversation was going.

"You don't actually think I'd be interested in you, do you?" Harry exclaimed in amazement.
He couldn't believe he was in this situation -- being propositioned by Severus Snape's
brother. It was ludicrous.

Julius laughed softly. "Of course you're interested," he replied. "I've seen the way you look at
me. I know you want me. Who wouldn't chose me over Severus?"

Harry found himself growing red with embarrassment -- okay, maybe he had thought the
man was beautiful, but anyone would think the same thing. But it seemed he'd inherited
more than his magical beauty from his mother -- Julius also apparently possessed her
vanity. "You don't know me," he told the man. "And you don't know your brother. I'm not
interested. Goodbye!" He turned to leave, willingly admitting that for once he was way out
of his depth here. He had no idea how to react to the amorous advances of a man who
seemed to think he was irresistible.

The corridor, through which they had entered the courtyard, was gone.

Harry stared in alarm at the impenetrable wall of rose vines in front of him. He turned,
looking swiftly around him, thinking that perhaps he'd gotten turned around. But there
didn't seem to be any opening in the hedge wall.

"There is an exit," Julius assured him with a soft laugh. "But only if you know where to look.
This is a maze after all. But the thorns on the vines are strong enough to rip the flesh from
your bones if you make the slightest mistake. And I'm the only one who knows the secret of
the maze, the only one who can lead you back out again."

Harry felt his heart beginning to pound, his stomach knotting as he realized that he'd been
lured out here, and he'd foolishly gone willingly. Led astray by a pretty face. He moved away
from Julius again, stepping up into the gazebo, hoping that he might be able to see the exit
from there. He supposed if worse came to worse he could burn the hedge down -- provided
it wasn't protected against such spells.

Julius followed him to the gazebo. "Do you like the scent of the roses?" he asked curiously.
"They're yet another legacy of my Mother's. She used these very flowers in her potions.

143
They're in my blood. Their scent has been known to drive men and woman mad with desire
for me."

Harry paled, understanding what he was saying. He hadn't been that far off the mark when
he'd thought the scent intoxicating. Apparently it acted like some sort of compulsion or
charm, perhaps an aphrodisiac or love spell. But he'd thrown off the Imperious time and
time again -- he wasn't going to be swayed by this!

"I told you, Julius, I'm not interested!" Harry growled. He couldn't believe that the man really
expected him to just fall into his arms. He was completely mental!

Julius' eyes darkened, his smile growing colder suddenly. "You seem to think I care?" Julius
laughed, and then suddenly between one heart beat and the next, he was on Harry, pushing
him roughly back against one of the pillars of the gazebo, pinning him with his own body,
head lowering, lips descending.

The attack was so sudden, and so unexpected Harry barely had time to react. As it was he
only managed to turn his head aside to avoid the brutal kiss aimed at his mouth. Julius
didn't seem deterred however, attacking instead the tender skin of his neck, his hands
moving over Harry's body as he struggled.

Harry hadn't been expecting a physical attack -- nothing Julius had done so far had
suggested he would try to over power Harry. And he was stronger than Harry -- a great
deal stronger, age, height, and muscle all working in his favor. Harry knew he had to get his
wand drawn -- if this was allowed to continued on a physical level he'd be in serious
trouble. His alarm transmuted into blinding rage when he felt one of Julius' hands groping
between his legs, touching him through the leather of his pants.

Without thinking he slammed his head forward, smashing it against Julius' head hard
enough to knock the man briefly back. It was all the opening Harry needed. He shoved
Julius roughly away from him, drawing his wand as he stepped back out of the gazebo, the
tip of his wand already glowing, a curse barely held in check as Harry fought to gain
control of his anger. He could hurt the man, he realized, kill him perhaps, he was so angry.
His body shook with fury.

--------------------------------------

Author's Note: No, I'm not going to give away what happens next. I just wanted to make a
brief comment on the whole Snow White thing before anyone thinks I'm going in a
completely different direction with this story. It was an amusing story that came to me while
I was writing the dinner scene -- and nothing more. I couldn't resist keeping it and it
seemed to fit in perfectly with the rose hedge and Julius' behavior. More on the subject in
the next author's note.

And kudos to all my clever readers -- you spotted Julius' intentions immediately!

BTW -- when I said 'Severus' was Latin, I meant Latin as in the language the Romans spoke,
not Latino. It sparked some rather funny emails.

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Chapter 18 Heart of the Maze

F or Severus, the night had been one surprise after another -- not all of them pleasant.
Harry's reaction to the Manor had amused him, but that humor was quickly
dampened by the mob of people that fell upon the Boy Who Lived as if he were Merlin
reincarnated.

He had, unfairly he supposed, always assumed that Harry reveled in his celebrity status. But
the look of horror on the boy's face quickly set that belief to rest, as did the way he
practically hid behind him when he'd rescued him from their midst.

He should have expected something like that, he supposed. Not exactly his brothers' doing,
he knew, but they could have at least tried to rein in their wives. Julliana and Delphina had
sadly grown no more intelligent since he'd last seen them.

Diana was much like he remembered her, and he was pleased at how happy she seemed to
be to see him. The mistrust he could see in Alrik, Claudius and Marcellus had not faded in
the slightest, but Diana at least did not believe their lies.

Julius he couldn't read. The young man had greeted him politely enough, but for all intents
they were total strangers to each other. Julius had been a child when Severus had last seen
him, though he had forgotten how beautiful he was. Harry's reaction to him hadn't gone
unnoticed, and Severus admitted that the pang of emotion he'd felt at that had most
definitely been jealousy.

But it had answered a question he'd been wondering about. Just because the Marriage Stone
had chosen Severus for Harry didn't mean that Harry had any interest in men. Far from it.
The magic of the Marriage Stone was such that it chose the best possible match for a person
-- there was no guarantee that it would in any way shape or form resemble a love match. In
Harry Potter's case, it was just as likely that the best possible match was someone who could
protect him, teach him, fight beside him, and ensure that he had a chance to grow up and
live his life. It didn't promise love. The most famous matches the Stone was responsible for
had all been love matches, but they were by no means the only matches. It was possible that
Harry Potter, while destined for greatness, was not destined for love. Or maybe it had simply
realized that Severus Snape would not hinder any such ambition for love, because
ultimately Severus knew he had no real claim over the boy and would look the other way
when Harry did finally decide to love someone. Provided the boy was discreet, he certainly
wasn't going to stand in the way of his happiness.

But up until that moment with Julius, Severus had never seen Harry look at a man with any
sexual interest at all. Truth was the only person he'd ever seen Harry look at had been Cho
Chang, and even that had seemed only half hearted at best. He suspected the boy was too
distracted with all the people trying to kill him to really care one way or the other about the
things most students his age were obsessing over.

But the flush that had stained Harry's face when he'd looked at Julius had been very telling.
He was definitely capable of seeing beauty in the male form. Pity it had to take someone no
one else could possibly compete with to catch his eye. He supposed that left him far out of
the running.

All things considered, the evening with his family actually went by quickly. Harry, far from
being nervous and awkward like he'd expected, had continuously surprised and amused

145
Severus. He decided he liked hearing his given name on Harry's lips -- and after the fourth
or fifth time, it even started to sound natural.

And he watched with amusement as Harry tossed aside Wizarding protocol almost blithely,
completely ignoring the dagger in favor of the fork despite the fact that he'd apparently
practiced with it with Longbottom and Granger. If he didn't know better, he would have
sworn that the Gryffindor brat was attempting to make him laugh.

A little while later Harry had succeeded in stunning him most profoundly when he'd all but
tossed the proverbial gauntlet down before his brothers, calling them on their less than
subtle insults, and defended his name and his honor with an eloquence he hadn't known the
boy possessed. It had silenced them all, and for the first time Severus had understood why
this young man inspired such loyalty.

It was later, when they returned to the parlor, that his brothers eventually broached the
topic he'd been expecting all evening -- the fate of Snape Manor. He wondered if they had
already spoken with Harry about it, and reminded himself to ask the boy when they
returned to Hogwarts.

"I told you Claudius," he informed his brother after his impassioned speech about the
importance of the Manor. "I have no intention of reopening the manor until I get a chance
to see what sort of surprises Father might have left behind. My schedule has not yet
permitted me the opportunity."

"It's not fair to relegate us to a lesser house while that one sits empty!" Claudius exclaimed in
anger. "You keep us from it to punish us. You keep us. . ."

Severus tuned the man out, having heard this speech before. He'd even read a written
version of it in letters over the years while they were not speaking to each other. He
wondered what was taking Harry so long to return to the parlor, and he glanced at the door
in concern. He noticed then that Julius was also gone, and an uncomfortable suspicion
pricked his mind.

"Where's Julius?" he demanded, interrupting Claudius' speech.

Claudius fell silent, snorting in disgust as he looked away. Severus glanced instead toward
the others. Julliana and Delphina looked titillated by the question, their amusement
confirming some of the suspicion in Snape's heart. Marcellus and Alrik looked amused as
well. But it was Diana's reaction that worried him the most. She was looking at her husband
and her other brothers suspiciously, her eyes somewhat confused by their amusement.

"Where is he?" Severus demanded, rising swiftly to his feet.

"Now, Severus," Marcellus laughed softly. "Let Julius have his fun. It's what he does. And I
doubt Harry will mind."

Jealousy and rage flared through Severus, startling him with the intensity of it. Diana's too
jumped to her feet, her confusion clearing immediately, anger replacing it. "The rose maze,
Severus!" she shouted at him, her eyes a bit wild. "Don't blame Harry."

If she hadn't added that last warning, Severus would have been driven solely by anger to
storm from the room. As it was, a spark of fear erupted inside of him. Don't blame Harry?
For what? Her words implied that perhaps Harry would not be responsible for what ever
was going on.
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In no time at all he found himself outside, racing toward the entrance to the rose maze. As a
child he'd learned the secrets of the maze, knew how to navigate its ever-changing paths
and doorways; he even knew a shortcut to the center of the maze. But as he passed through
the main entrance he realized that something had changed subtly. He felt the wards the
moment he passed over them and pulled his wand immediately. A quick identification spell
revealed the presence of compulsion charms woven directly into the scent of the flowers.
Mingled amongst the compulsion charms were various love spells and aphrodisiacs -- not
strong by his standards, but certainly enough to befuddle the average wizard or witch who
might enter the maze.

Neither he nor Harry were average by any stretch of the imagination, but he found himself
racing toward the center of the maze anyway, bypassing the majority of the corridors in
favor of the short cut. His mind supplied him with a number of scenarios -- certainly his
brothers and Diana expected him to find Harry in a compromising position with Julius. It
hadn't escaped him that Julius found Harry attractive -- the man had barely taken his eyes
off Harry all evening. But he suspected there was more than just brotherly collusion on the
part of Claudius and Marcellus. Perhaps they believed that if they allowed Julius his
seduction, Harry would be more amenable to their influence.

Rage flared through Severus again. If he found out they had done this for the sake of that
stupid Manor, he'd burn the place to the ground and leave them all living on the street.

He turned the last corridor, and found himself up against an invisible barrier, one of the
maze's many illusionary walls. Through it he could see the center courtyard, Harry already
trapped inside with Julius.

Neither Harry nor Julius noticed him, but he knew from their side of the illusionary wall all
they would see would be the impenetrable wall of roses. He glanced around the courtyard -
- all the entrances were sealed as far as he could see. Julius, having entered the courtyard
ahead of Severus, could take them all swiftly down by pressing a stone on the central
gazebo. But Severus had no choice but to take them down the hard way. He raised his wand
and began the counter spell to siphon off their power.

He could hear Julius speaking to Harry, and he found his brother's words only fueled his
anger. He could also see Harry shaking his head slightly, a frown marring his forehead --
no doubt he was feeling the effects of the spells.

"I imagine Severus didn't wait long to get his hands on you," Julius was saying to Harry.
"How you must have hated having that beast touch you." Severus found himself gritting his
teeth in fury as Julius reached out to caress Harry. He smiled a moment later as Harry
slapped his hand away, stepping back. He wondered if Julius could feel the spells on the
maze flicker and waver as Harry shook off whatever influence they might have begun to
gain on him.

"That's your brother you're talking about!" Harry's voice was filled with disbelief and
indignation. It seemed the noble Gryffindor was going to stand up for his honor once again.

"Yes, he is my brother," Julius smiled. "Which puts me in a remarkable position to ease your
suffering. No one would think twice about why you were spending so much time in the
company of your brother-in-law. Such family ties are encouraged."

"You don't actually think I'd be interested in you, do you?" Harry demanded, backing away
again as Julius advanced on him.

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"Of course you're interested," Julius told him, and Severus felt his insides twisting again. "I've
seen the way you look at me. I know you want me. Who wouldn't chose me over Severus?"

Severus didn't miss the color that washed over Harry's face, and he redoubled his efforts to
pull down the barrier. He'd look the other way, he promised himself, when Harry fell in
love with someone else -- but not this! Not his brother! That would be too cruel! He wished
he could see Harry's eyes, but his head was turned away from him. Harry's eyes revealed far
too many emotions, and Severus desperately wanted to know what the young man really felt
for his beautiful brother.

"You don't know me," Harry said suddenly. "And you don't know your brother. I'm not
interested. Goodbye!" And with that Harry turned toward Severus, taking a step toward the
exit only to stop in shock when he realized it was gone. He could not, obviously, see Severus
standing in the doorway attempting to pull down the magical barrier, but Severus could see
him clearly enough -- could see the look of disgust in Harry's eyes, a look that went far to
ease Severus' mind. That look was quickly replaced by alarm when Harry realized all his
exits were gone.

"There is an exit," Julius told him, seeming to be highly amused by the situation. "But only if
you know where to look. This is a maze after all. But the thorns on the vines are strong
enough to rip the flesh from your bones if you make the slightest mistake. And I'm the only
one who knows the secret of the maze, the only one who can lead you back out."

Idiot, Severus thought. Did he really think that no one else had solved this maze? Severus
had figured out its secrets long before Julius had ever been born. He couldn't help
wondering how many other young men and woman his brother might have led here, other
wizards and witches who lacked the power to fight off the spells.

Harry had moved into the gazebo and Severus wondered if perhaps the boy might find the
stone that released the wards on his own.

"Do you like the scent of the roses?" Julius asked then. "They're yet another legacy of my
mother's. She used these very flowers in her potions. They're in my blood. Their scent has
been known to drive men and woman mad with desire for me."

His words confirmed Severus suspicions that Julius had done this before. It also occurred to
him that his brother believed Harry was more strongly affected by the spell than he
appeared to be. But the flicker of irritation that flashed across Harry's face assured Severus
that Julius was wrong.

"I told you, Julius, I'm not interested!" Harry growled.

"You seem to think I care," Julius laughed, his words alarming Severus. He watched in shock
as his brother suddenly lunged at Harry, pinning him against one of the gazebo's pillars,
obviously intending to take with force what Harry had denied him.

The barrier was nearly down, and Severus threw all his strength into the counter spell,
desperate to get the barrier down and go to Harry's aid. He could feel it crumbling, could
see Julius groping Harry, touching him, kissing him -- and then saw him stumble back in
shock as Harry butted him hard in the head and pushed him away, a look of blackest rage
on his face as he drew his wand, aimed it. That he did not hex Julius immediately surprised
Severus -- but one look at Harry and he understood. Even from this distance, he could see
that Harry was shaking, nearly blinded by anger. Any curse he might utter could very well
kill Julius.
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It was Julius who was in danger now, and Harry's sanity instead of his virtue at stake. The
barrier fell at last and Severus stepped forward, knowing caution was required. Harry might
very well let loose the curse if he startled him.

Julius, idiot that he was, apparently didn't realize his danger, and actually stepped toward
Harry, a superior smile on his face. "Harry, you don't really think you can—"

"You know, Julius," Severus said quietly, keeping his voice low and controlled, a tone he
generally reserved for controlling his Slytherins. Harry didn't move, his concentration never
wavered. "You're staring down the end of a wand that has defeated Voldemort several times.
Do you really think you should be doing anything other than begging for your life right
now?"

His words had the intended effect. Julius froze, his smile fading as he seemed to realize for
the first time just who exactly he had been attempting to hurt. There might be a thousand
ridiculous rumors about the Boy Who Lived in the tabloids, but they didn't change the fact
that this wizard regularly faced down armies of Death Eaters and won. Severus was relieved
to see his brother take his warning seriously and back away, his skin losing what little color
it had.

What alarmed Severus most, however, was the fact that Harry still had not moved, still had
not lowered his wand or looked away from Julius' frightened face, almost as if he were
unable to pull himself from his rage.

Severus approached him cautiously. "Harry," he said softly, moving to his side. Tentatively
he reached toward him, gently closing his hand around Harry's wrist, slipping his other arm
carefully around Harry's shoulders. He could feel the power vibrating through his body,
making his muscles shake and tremble. "Harry," he said again. "It's okay, it's over. Let it go.
You don't want to do this."

He pressed softly against his arm, then more firmly, lowering it slowly, until Harry's wand
was pointed at the ground.

He felt Harry shudder, letting his trapped breath out in a soft moan even as Severus felt the
power draining away as well. He closed his eyes, lashes dark against pale skin, as he leaned
briefly against Severus' body. "You all right?" Severus asked quietly.

Harry nodded, opening his eyes at last and taking a step away. His features were composed
again, but he looked far from all right, his eyes haunted.

"Give me a second, and I'll show you the way out," Severus told him, then turned swiftly
toward his brother. Julius had not moved and was watching the two of them intently.
Severus thought of a dozen good hexes, but in the end opted for a far more satisfying
revenge. He drew his fist sharply back and punched his brother in the face as hard as he
could. The blow sent Julius staggering back, and then to the ground. Severus was fairly
certain he'd broken his jaw.

He caught a fist full of his brother's doublet, pulling him partially upright. "You ever come
near him again," he whispered directly into Julius' ear, "and I'll kill you myself." He saw
Julius' eyes widen in terror as Severus drew his wand. One quick flick of the wand and
Severus hissed, "Castitas Obligatus Ultio." Then he dropped him unceremoniously onto the
ground before returning to Harry's side. Harry had watched the whole exchange somewhat
dispassionately. He said nothing as Severus turned him toward the exit and led him by the
most direct route out of the maze.
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The others were waiting on the patio for them. Diana raced toward them in concern when
she saw them emerging from the maze. "Is he alright?" she asked, seeing the almost blank
look on Harry's face.

"Fine," Severus growled, forcing his temper back for his sister's sake. She at least had no part
of this, and looked horrified by the whole thing. "Julius seemed to forget who it was he was
attacking." He turned to glare at Alrik, Claudius and Marcellus. "It was a mistake that could
have very well cost him his life." The three men looked startled by this, looking at once from
Harry to the maze.

Severus pulled the portkey coin from his pocket. He sent his most withering gaze toward his
brothers. "I'll be back tomorrow," he told them, the threat of that implicit in his tone. "And if
all the spells are not removed from that maze by then, I will burn it and Briarwood Hall to
the ground!" The look of shock and horror on their faces was remarkably satisfying. Pity he
was too angry to enjoy it.

He turned his attention to Diana once again. "Thank you," he whispered softly. She just
nodded her head and gave him a sad smile.

With that Severus palmed the coin and grasped Harry's left hand, sandwiching the coin
between them. The two of them were swiftly pulled back across the land toward the safety
of Hogwarts.

-----------------------------------------

Author's Note: No, we haven't seen the last of Snape's family; one of them at least still has a
major part to play in the future plot (not Julius oddly enough).

I thought I'd play around with the idea of beauty -- often in fan fiction Severus is suddenly
and miraculously beautified which is what ultimately makes Harry fall in love with him. But
the reality is that while Alan Rickman is lovely, Severus Snape is not. At the most he is dark
and enigmatic -- distinguished even. But pretty, he will never be.

Thus enters Julius -- the perfect Snape Adonis. But when comparing his inner character to
the real Severus Snape, there is no comparison. And it was important that Harry see that.
He's become aware for the first time that men can be beautiful -- Harry's a bit behind his
classmates on this subject. Severus was right about that -- sex hasn't even been a blip on his
radar up to this point because of all the other things distracting him. Now at least he's
become aware of an attraction to men on a purely physical level. And having seen it, he can
now look at Snape in a new light. Sorry, the sex is still a long way off.

As for Snape -- the River Denial is rising if he really thinks he can stand aside and do
nothing while Harry falls in love with someone else. It sound all virtuous and noble (and I
think he really WANTS to mean it), but please! We all know Snape better than that, don't
we?

Alas for Julius -- why does everyone forget that Harry is more than capable of defending
himself?

But, my goodness! I do have some blood-thirsty readers! I enjoyed all your suggestions about
what should happen to Julius -- I think the reviewer that suggested he prick his butt on a
rose thorn and fall asleep for a hundred years was the most hilarious! Maybe I'll write a side
story ... perhaps young Malfoy can wake him (wouldn't they be pretty together!).

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As it is I had to curtail my own blood-thirsty nature (for those of you who still want some
violence, there will plenty in future chapters to satisfy you). Rest assured Julius has been
suitably dealt with -- I don't speak Latin (so forgive the grammar), but the best translation I
can give you for the spell Severus cast on Julius was a 'chastity belt'. Needless to say Julius
won't get the opportunity to do this again to anyone.

Chapter 19 Bonds

H arry felt the familiar sensation of pulling and falling as the port key transported
him back to Severus' rooms in the dungeon. He was only vaguely aware of being
moved to the couch and pushed down onto the cushions. Bemused, he watched as
the flames in the fireplace leaped into life, holding his attention completely. A few moments
later he felt something cold being pushed into his hands.

"Drink that," Severus ordered. Harry raised his hands without thinking and drank down the
contents in the glass Severus had give him. It reminded him faintly of the brandy he'd tasted
earlier, but this had an almost soothing quality to it. He felt his body calming immediately,
felt his mind coming back from the almost numb place he had sent it.

He shuddered, closing his eyes, feeling himself finally let go of what ever demon had
gripped him earlier. "You're okay," Severus told him gently. "You're just in shock."

"I've been attacked before," he reminded the man. He knew shock -- he'd been in shock just
last weekend when his body had been turned into a pin-cushion by Death Eaters. The
difference this time was that he wasn't hurt. He couldn't quite figure out why he was
reacting this way.

"Not sexually," Severus said simply.

Harry's eyes flew open as he sought out Severus' face. That was it of course. That was the
difference. Julius' attack had not been like any of the others, and yet his callous disregard for
Harry's feelings or freewill had been no different than the Death Eaters'. Feeling Julius'
hands on his body had certainly not hurt the way the Cruciatus did, but the feeling of
helpless rage had been the same. What was perhaps even more horrible was the power of
his own anger -- he had wanted to kill him. Could so easily have killed him if Severus
hadn't stopped him. He'd felt unable at the time to stop himself.

"Thank you," he whispered. "For stopping me."

Severus just nodded in understanding, some unreadable emotion flickering through his
dark eyes. He was crouched in front of Harry where he sat on the couch, one hand resting
lightly on Harry's knee as if to comfort him. He frowned suddenly, his gaze on Harry's
forehead.

"Here, let me see if I can fix that," he said softly, lifting his hand to gently push Harry's
bangs back from his face. Surprisingly, Harry felt no desire to flinch from his touch. He was
aware of the fact that his head was pounding fiercely, and the Potions Master's fingers felt
cool and soothing on his skin as they gently brushed against the bruise he'd given himself
when he'd slammed his head into Julius'. He closed his eyes again, savoring the unexpected
comfort.

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Severus drew his wand, quietly uttering a simple healing charm. Harry felt the pain
diminish as the bruise faded. The cool fingers lingered briefly, and then were gone. Harry
opened his eyes, watching as Severus moved to a nearby chair.

"I'm sorry about tonight," the man told him regretfully, and looked genuinely distressed.

"It wasn't your fault," Harry assured him.

"He's my brother," Severus said with an angry shake of his head.

"Am I to blame for the Dursleys' behavior?"

Severus looked quickly up. "Of course not!"

"Then how can you be blamed for Julius' behavior?" Harry asked him. "You don't even really
know him."

"I should never have brought you there," Severus replied. "You should never have been put
in a situation like that."

"You wanted to see your sister," Harry reminded him. "I don't blame you. She's worth
knowing. I liked her."

Severus smiled bitterly. "It's a pity about the rest of them." He looked up, catching Harry's
gaze with his own. Harry had seen a lot of different emotions on Severus' face over the
years, mostly negative ones like anger and irritation. He never thought he would one day
see gratitude; it was strangely humbling.

"Thank you for what you said tonight," the man said quietly, and Harry knew he was
referring to his defense of him at dinner.

Harry blushed uncomfortably, emotions gripping him that he couldn't quite define. "Look, I
know you and I have never gotten along very well," Harry began. "Or at all," he corrected
himself. "Mostly because. . .well, you've never been very nice . . ." Severus snorted in
amusement at that and Harry found himself smiling. "But, regardless, I am aware of
everything you've done for me. I know you've saved my life repeatedly. And I know the risks
you've taken spying on Voldemort. And I've always respected you for that. . .even if I never
said it."

Harry flushed again, feeling strangely vulnerable under Severus' intense stare. "And I know
you could have said no when this whole marriage thing happened," he continued. "And
despite everything, you've been real decent to me, and I didn't expect that."

"Because of who I am?" Severus asked, sounding more curious than anything else.

"Yes," Harry admitted, and endured Severus smirk of acknowledgement at the half-hearted
slight. "But also because, I guess a part of me doesn't really expect anyone to be decent to
me." He knew he was admitting far more than he intended to with that statement, and he
found it odd that out of all the people in his life, Severus Snape seemed to be the one he
opened up to the most.

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"I know the feeling," Severus said, almost so softly Harry barely heard him. And that was the
last thing he'd expect, that Severus would so willingly admit such a thing to him, willingly
show him a vulnerability.

The tension was nearly too much for him; for both of them he suspected. He stood quickly,
moving toward the fire. "Oh, God, don't tell me were having a bonding moment here,"
Harry joked weakly. "Call the newspaper. Harry Potter and Severus Snape have something
in common."

"Merlin forbid!" Severus agreed with a nervous laugh. They fell silent for a long moment,
Harry staring into the dancing fire. He could feel Severus' potion inside him, calming his
nerves, which he suspected would be completely fried otherwise.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Severus asked after a while, and Harry knew what he was
referring to.

"Yes," he assured him. "I'm fine." He smiled wryly at the man. "Though I must admit, I
suddenly understand why the witch gave Snow White that poisoned apple."

Severus laughed openly at that, leaning back in his chair. "Gods, isn't that the most
ridiculous story you've ever heard?"

"Pretty ridiculous," Harry agreed with a nod. He studied Severus' face. He would never be a
match for Julius' beauty, but there was nothing wrong with his features. And Harry really
did like what ever it was he'd done to his hair. It had long ago come free of the ribbon he'd
tied it back with and hung freely about his face, soft and wild looking. And when the man
laughed, he seemed almost like a different person. "Would you really burn down the maze?"
he asked.

Severus' eyes hardened. "Yes," he stated emphatically. "I can't help wondering who else
Julius has done that to. He seems to think his looks excuse his behavior. And my other
brothers are just as culpable. They knew what Julius was doing. I won't let that go
unpunished either."

Harry couldn't help thinking about the things Julius had accused Severus of doing. Minister
Fudge had believed the same thing of the Potion Master. Even Sirius had expressed concern
that Severus might try to force Harry into something he didn't want. He wondered if anyone
truly knew the man at all. Albus Dumbledore maybe -- he had trusted Severus implicitly
right from the start.

"Well, as long as I don't have to see him again," Harry said with a shudder.

Severus looked up quickly. "You won't. I promise."

Harry nodded in acceptance, feeling the events catching up to him. He fought back a yawn,
and was thankful he didn't have anywhere important to be the following morning. "On that
note, I think I'll go to bed. Good night, Severus." He caught himself as he headed toward the
bedroom, realizing what he'd just said, how naturally the name had come to him when
earlier it had sounded so foreign on his tongue. He glanced back at Severus, noticing he was
watching him intently. "Do you mind?" he asked softly. "Me calling you that, I mean?"

"I don't mind," he assured him, a faint smile on his lips. "Good night, Harry."

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Harry smiled and shut the bedroom door behind him.

-------------------------

The absence of soft breathing beside him woke Severus from a sound slumber that night.
Turning quickly in bed he confirmed that Harry's side was empty. A quick glance at the
Wizarding clock on his night stand showed that the hand pointed to 'middle of the night'
still several hours from 'time to get up'.

Alarmed, Severus climbed out of bed, swiftly glancing around the room for the missing boy.
"Harry?" he called softly, looking through the open bathroom door. The room was also
empty.

Moving swiftly through the bedroom door, Severus looked first in the common room, then
moved on to the office. Next he pushed open the door to the library and found Harry
kneeling on the floor in the middle of the room.

"Harry?" he asked, approaching him cautiously. Harry, still dressed in his pajamas, had his
arms wrapped tightly around himself. He was rocking back and forth, tears streaming down
his face, a look of horror in his eyes. Most alarming, the lightning shaped scar on his
forehead was inflamed and red, standing out against his pale skin.

"Harry?" Severus asked softly, reaching out to touch one of his hands. The boy's skin was ice
cold. "Harry, what's wrong? What happened?" He suspected that in all the excitement of the
evening, he had forgotten to take his dreamless sleep potion. But that did not explain the
swollen scar.

When Harry did not respond immediately, Severus touched his face, turning him toward
him so that he could see the boy's eyes. "Harry, answer me," he all but pleaded, trying not to
sound too harsh but growing more alarmed by the moment. "What's wrong?"

"Something's changed," Harry whispered his voice strangely hoarse. "Something's different."

Not a nightmare then, Severus guessed. Albus had told him that from time to time Harry had
visions rather than simple dreams. Something about his scar connected him to the Dark
Lord, enabling him to see glimpses into that evil mind. "What's different?" he asked. He
himself could feel nothing coming from the mark on his arm. Albus' wards protected him
from the Dark Lord's anger, but he still should have felt something. A twinge or a flash of
pain -- something.

"Severus," Harry whispered, and there was something terrible in his voice, as if he had
discovered some dreadful secret he was afraid to utter. "He's happy, Severus. He's pleased."

Severus frowned. There was no doubt in his mind which 'he' Harry was referring to -- but
Albus had insisted that it was only the Dark Lord's anger and rage that effected Harry. Why
would he be so upset by the fact that the Dark Lord was pleased -- though that in itself
seemed very unlikely. Lord Voldemort had suffered a terrible set back when this boy had
stolen the Eye of Odin from him months earlier -- since then they'd heard little from him.
And certainly he would not be pleased by the fact that just over a week ago he'd lost several
of his Death Eaters when they'd tried once again to kill Harry Potter. How could he possible
be happy about anything?

But what ever it was the boy imagined he'd seen, or dreamed, his fear was real. Severus
could see him trembling, his whole body shaking as he held himself together through sheer
154
will alone. He found himself desperately wanting to pull the boy into his arms, comfort him
with his nearness. But somehow he doubted his touch would have the effect he was hoping
for, especially not in light of his brother's behavior earlier that night.

But he couldn't just sit here and do nothing either, couldn't just sit here and watch as the
boy fell apart in front of his eyes. Harry had his eyes squeezed shut again and was rocking
once more, as if trying to comfort himself. He wondered if anyone had ever taken him into
their arms after one of his nightmares -- certainly he'd never received the comfort a child
needed from the Dursley. He had a sudden vision of the boy as a small child, locked in a
dark cupboard while crying for someone, anyone, to comfort him.

But if he could not offer the comfort the boy needed, he knew someone who could.

He rose swiftly and moved back toward his common room. Throwing floo powder into his
fire, he stated, "Remus Lupin's room," and then stuck his head through the flames. Instantly
he found himself looking into a well-appointed Hogwarts guest room from the point of view
of the fireplace. There was a couch only a few feet from him and lying on the couch sound
asleep was a large black dog.

"Black!" Severus hissed. "Wake up!" The sound woke the dog instantly, as well as causing a
gasp of alarm from one of the side rooms. Remus Lupin emerged almost immediately
through one of the doors, suggesting to Severus that he had not been asleep despite the
pajamas he was clad in. The dog, seeing Severus' head in the fire, instantly transformed into
the familiar form of Sirius Black.

"What is it? What's wrong, Severus?" Remus asked in alarm.

"Come through to my room, " Severus ordered. "The boy needs you."

He pulled back immediately and stood out of the way of the fire. A moment later the flames
flashed bright green and Sirius Black stepped through them, followed immediately by
Remus Lupin. Severus pointed toward the library door. "In there," he ordered.

Hostilities aside, Sirius rushed immediately toward the library, followed more sedately by
Severus and Remus. When Severus reached the library door he saw Black already sitting on
the floor beside Harry, holding the shaking boy in his arms. Harry was clinging to him, face
buried against his neck as Black gently rubbed his back and stroked his hair, whispering
softly to him. A strange mixture of both relief and jealousy flared through Severus's heart.
He knew of course that Black could offer Harry the comfort he needed, but he wished it
could be him. No doubt the boy had turned to him the moment Black had said his name, no
doubt he'd thrown himself into Sirius' arms. That would never happen to him.

"What happened?" Remus asked quietly, drawing Severus aside with a gentle touch to his
arm. Severus allowed himself to be pulled away, unaware of the look of longing in his eyes
as he glanced back over his shoulder at the two men in his library. "Severus?" Lupin's voice
was gentle, the look in his eyes strangely sympathetic and Severus found himself flushing
uncomfortably.

"Dream," he explained. "Or a vision. Something about the Dark Lord. I found him like that a
few moments ago."

"Let Sirius talk to him for a bit," Remus said. "He'll calm him down -- he's good at that."

155
Severus frowned, realizing then that there had been a full moon the night before. No doubt
Sirius had done his best to comfort Lupin after his transformation -- though he had noticed
the mutt was still sleeping on the couch. A quick glace at Lupin showed dark shadows
beneath his eyes, exhaustion in his face. With a sigh, Severus sank down on his couch,
suspecting that this was going to be a long night.

It was nearly a quarter of an hour later before Black emerged from the library, Harry
stumbling along beside him nearly asleep on his feet. Black still had his arms around the
boy, seeming to be holding him up as he walked across the room toward the bedroom.
Severus and Lupin both jumped to their feet and followed Sirius as he led Harry back to bed.
While Black helped the boy back to bed, Severus moved toward his nightstand and found
the bottle of dreamless sleep draught he'd made for Harry. Black said nothing as Severus
urged Harry to drink a small dose. A few moments later Harry was fast asleep and the three
men moved back out into the living room so that they would not disturb him further.

"Is he alright?" Remus asked Sirius anxiously.

Black ran his hands through his hair, looking somewhat ragged and on edge. "I don't know
-- I've never seen him like that. He's had nightmares before, but this was different. What the
hell happened?" He glared at Snape as if it were all his fault.

Snape just shook his head. "I'm aware of his nightmares -- but this wasn't like that. He didn't
make a sound -- I woke up and he was gone. I found him in the library just like you saw
him. He said something had happened -- something had changed. That the Dark Lord was
happy or pleased about something."

Sirius nodded his head. "He said something like that to me too -- but why would that
frighten him so much?"

"Why wouldn't it?" Remus replied and both Severus and Sirius stared at him in surprise.
"Think about it," Remus urged. "What would possible make the Dark Lord happy? He
becomes enraged and angry when things don't go his way or when his plans are thwarted.
For him to be happy something terrible must have happened -- something good for him and
bad for us."

It made sense, much to Severus dismay. "I didn't think Harry's visions worked that way," he
said, and if the other two men found his use of Harry's first name odd they said nothing. "I
though he only had visions when the Dark Lord was so enraged he let something slip. Why
would positive emotions leak across the bond between them?"

"Maybe he wants Harry to know this time," Remus guessed. "Maybe what ever happened is
something he wants us to find out about. Or something he expects us to find out about -- or
worry about."

"Then you're suggesting he's taunting Harry," Sirius asked, his voice dropping into a low
growl at the thought.

"It wouldn't be the first time he's taunted us," Remus replied. "Albus should be informed in
any event."

"I'll take Harry up to see him in the morning," Severus agreed. "After he's gotten some sleep -
- he's had a long night."

Black frowned at that. "Did something happen at your dinner?"


156
Severus shifted uncomfortably. He had intended to let Harry tell Black about the incident
with his brother, but it occurred to him then that Harry probably wouldn't say anything.
Harry was remarkably good at keeping such things to himself even though he ought to talk
about them with someone he trusts.

"My youngest brother, Julius, attempted to assault Harry earlier," Severus confessed.

"What?" Black hissed, eyes widening in anger. "Assault?"

"Sexually," Severus confirmed. "Harry pulled his wand before it could go very far, but it
shook him up."

He could see rage burning in both Lupin's and Black's eyes. "God damn it, Snape!" Sirius
growled, his fists clenching. "I'll kill the bastard!"

"I took care of it, Black!" Severus informed him. "Harry's fine -- and Julius has been dealt
with. I intended to return tomorrow and see that he's not given another opportunity. Julius
will spend the rest of his life on a very tight leash."

"There shouldn't have been a first opportunity," Black insisted. "How could you let this
happen? You swore to protect him!"

"I did protect him," Severus insisted, though he found it hard to defend himself when he
already felt guilty for what happened. "It won't happen again."

"You're damn right it won't," Sirius glared. "He's not leaving this castle again unless someone
besides you is with him."

Black word filled Severus with rage and he found himself standing face to face with his
nemesis, glaring daggers at the man. "Are you suggesting I can't protect my own bond-
mate!"

"He's not yours!" Sirius hissed.

"He is mine!" Severus snarled back just as furiously, a wave of possessive jealousy flaring
through him. A second later both men were pushed away from one another by an angry
werewolf. The hard shove that came from Remus Lupin's hands sent both Sirius and Severus
sprawling to the floor as they were reminded first hand just how strong a werewolf even in
human form could be.

"That's enough," Remus glared at them, his amber eyes burning almost ferally in the
firelight. "You'll wake Harry if you don't shut up." Both men calmed almost immediately at
that threat.

"Moony," Sirius all but whined. "He's. . ."

"Stop it right now, Padfoot," Remus snapped. "He said Harry was fine and I believe him.
Insults are not going to help anyone right now. I for one am grateful that he had the
compassion to call you to be here for Harry tonight despite your lack of manners. Perhaps
next time he will not be so quick to summon you."

His words had the desired affect as Sirius immediately stopped what ever it was he was
going to say. Both men cautiously got to their feet, Severus giving the werewolf a wary

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glance. Remus Lupin always seemed so mild mannered; he'd forgotten that even in human
form the man possessed a monster's strength.

"Thank you for calling us," Remus said to Severus. "We'll return in the morning to speak
with Harry if that's all right with you?"

Severus nodded his head, choosing to remain silent in face of this oddly intimidating
werewolf. Remus nodded in satisfaction, then caught Sirius's arm and moved him toward
the fireplace and the floo powder. When Sirius looked like he was about to protest, Remus
just glared, silencing him again. A few moments later they were both gone and the fire died
down once more.

Worn out, Severus returned to his bedroom. He climbed carefully into bed beside the
sleeping young man, moving slowly so as not to disturb him. Assured that Harry was sound
asleep, he reached out and gently stroked his hair back from his face, running his fingers
lightly over the still inflamed scar. The boy sighed softly, but did not wake. "I'm sorry,
Harry," he whispered softly, regretfully. Then against his better judgment he bent down and
pressed a kiss onto his pale forehead. He found the warm rich scent rising off the boy's skin
both soothing and intoxicating all at once.

God, he thought to himself, how easy it would be to forget himself around this beautiful
young man. How easy it would be to be the monster everyone, including his own brother,
had accused him of being and claim what was his by right of marriage. He suspected that
under the right circumstances, he might even be able to make the boy accept it -- accept his
touch. God knows he knew how to manipulate people, and the boy, hungry as he was for
affection, would be little match for him. Legilimency alone would give him just enough of a
glimpse in the young man's mind that he could figure out exactly which buttons to push
without too much difficulty.

But it wouldn't be right. He's sworn to protect him -- even from himself if it came to that.
And for some reason, he'd come to the conclusion that though the boy did not like him all
that much, he did appear at least to trust him. And nothing in the world would make
Severus violate that trust. Not even his own desires.

-----------------------

Author's Notes: As some of you know from reading my notes and bio I have a large portion
of this story written, and what you have been getting these last few weeks are the edited and
cleaned up chapters. I'm also continuing writing the new stuff while editing this old stuff --
though I should warn you there will come a time when I catch up with myself and then my
posts won't be as frequent. But I thought I'd share some of the odd transformations this story
has under gone with those of you who are interested.

When I first started this story after reading book 4 it was literally nothing more than my
attempt at the cliche -- Harry is forced to marry Snape. Chapter 1 required a backstory of
what might have happened in Harry's 5th year, and the Eye of Odin was introduced -- but I
didn't think much on that. Obviously the Marriage Stone immediately made an appearance
and at that point I was thinking, huh, that could be cool to play around with. But still we
were dealing with nothing more than a bonding story -- all I really knew at that point was
that I didn't want the two of them to just jump into bed with each other. I wanted to deal
with the long process of them getting to know each other.

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The scene of their very first night when Harry saw Snape's scars and tattoo gave birth to the
Wizarding Culture as it exists in this story -- and instantly the story changed. Now it was a
bonding story with a developed world.

Then Harry was attacked in Hogsmeade and I introduced the King's Voice -- at that point
the story took a dramatic turn in a totally different direction. I suddenly saw a plot that I
hadn't expected and I really started to get into the story (that plot really hasn't played out
yet, but we'll get there eventually).

Snape's family was pretty much a side story that I thought would be amusing -- up until the
point I wrote this chapter here. Oddly enough, that scene with Harry kneeling in the
library, terrified about a vision where Voldemort is happy, marks the point where the entire
story suddenly laid itself out for me with startling clarity. It seems like such a little thing --
and really this chapter was supposed to be about the conversation between Harry and Snape
and their bonding moment. But when I wrote the library scene, that's when I saw where this
story was going -- and it ceased being a cliche. The best part about it -- when I looked back
at everything I had written prior to this point -- all the pieces were already laying there in
the previous chapters just waiting for me to pick them up.

I doubt you'll notice just yet where this is all going, but it certainly has been a blast to write.
And your reviews, comments and emails have only encouraged me all the more to continue
on with the story regardless of how crazy it might become.

Chapter 20 Sinistra

H arry found himself sitting with Sirius and Remus late the following morning. After
he had awakened, Severus had taken him up to see the Headmaster where he'd
relayed as much of his dream to both men as he could remember. Truthfully he
wasn't sure what exactly his dream had been about -- only that he knew that something had
changed. The Dark Lord had discovered something -- a spell, a weapon or a ritual --
something which had filled him with such horrible delight that the sheer power of the
emotion had woken Harry from sleep. What ever it was, he knew it was something terrible -
- knew it was something utterly unexpected.

To him it felt as if Voldemort had been handed the world and knew suddenly, utterly,
completely, that nothing was going to be able to stop him. Harry had never felt so alone in
his life -- as if he were completely isolated or cut off from everyone -- as if he were
suddenly the last man left on earth and had no one to turn to. But when he'd tried to convey
the dream to the Headmaster and Professor Snape, it had sounded oddly hollow and
somewhat silly in the light of morning.

Later, Severus had walked him down to Remus Lupin's room and bid him good-bye --
explaining that he intended to return to Briarwood Hall to make certain the spells had been
removed from the Rose Maze.

After he relayed his dream a second time to his worried godfather, Remus and Sirius had
both questioned him intently about his evening with the Snapes. Judging by their questions,
he suspected that they both knew about his run-in with Julius. He told them what happened
as calmly as possible and then described in great detail the single punch from Severus that
had broken Julius' jaw and sent him sprawling to the ground. Though he hadn't recognized
the spell Severus had cast on his brother, he remembered the words and repeated them back
to the two men. For some reason this sent Sirius into gales of laughter.

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Bewildered, Harry turned to Remus for an answer. The werewolf just smirked at him. "It's
the equivalent of a magical chastity belt, Harry," he explained. "The spell not only prevents
any sort of physical arousal in the victim but also causes intense pain and cramps if he so
much as thinks about anything of a carnal nature."

The spell, surprisingly, seemed to put both of the men somewhat at ease, and Harry
suspected that he was right to guess that Sirius wanted to know that Snape had in fact
defended his honor. Feeling the need to defend Snape further, he recounted the conflict
between Snape and Draco Malfoy that happened the day after they were married -- that
story was still a favorite in Gryffindor Tower.

He ended up spending the day with the two men, returning finally to join his friends in the
Great Hall for dinner. There he was forced once again to recount his evening with the
Snapes to his fellow Gryffindors. He spent most of the discussion describing Snape's sister,
glossing over the other brothers and saying nothing about what had happened with Julius.
All of the Gryffindors seemed delighted with the story about Harry's poor table manners,
unable to get over the fact that Snape had in fact encouraged such behavior. Time and time
again they found themselves throwing somewhat disbelieving looks toward the head table
and the glaring Potions Master sitting there.

"Is it just me, or does Snape look different?" Dean Thomas finally asked after about the
seventh time he'd turned to look over his shoulder at the professor. The others all turned to
look again as well.

"Now that you mention it, he does look different," Seamus agreed.

Ron was frowning thoughtfully. "Is his nose smaller or something?"

His words brought snickers of laughter from everyone but Harry who found himself
wanting to defend the man again. A quick glance at the professor assured him that he had
not noticed the exchange -- he also noticed that just like last night Severus's hair was soft
and flowing, no longer weighted down with the hair tonic he normally slicked it back with.
He felt something warm glowing inside him at the thought that Snape might have altered
his hairstyle simply because Harry had said he liked it.

"I think he looks rather nice," Hermione admitted suddenly. The boys at the table turned to
look at her in shock, Ron particularly.

"I do too," Ginny agreed, earning equal looks of surprise. "There's something different about
him. He looks good."

Despite everything, Harry found himself grinning at her words. Ron glared at him. "What
are you smiling about Harry?"

"Nothing, Ron," Harry just laughed, wondering what they would do if he described Julius
Snape to them in detail. "Nothing at all."

Quidditch began the following Monday after Harry's dinner with the Snapes. Three nights a
week he was busy with his team, though he was not able to fully shake off the lingering
effects of the dream. Worried about what might be coming, he talked Ron and Hermione
into beginning their private study sessions again in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Most
evenings they hung out in a corner of the library since both Remus and Sirius had been sent
out on missions for Dumbledore. When they needed to practice the new spells they were
learning, they snuck into the Room of Requirement.
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Typically when Harry returned to his room, Severus was still awake, working on his lesson
plans or grading papers in the common room. He never said anything, no matter how late
Harry returned, though it was obviously he was biting his tongue not to take points for the
lateness. When he did ask questions it was usually just to confirm if he had been with
Hermione and Ron. He'd been somewhat hesitant to answer at first, thinking that while
Severus was not going to take points from his bond-mate, he would make up for it by
punishing Ron and Hermione. But he took a chance and told him the truth anyway,
surprised to see a look of relief on the man's face that he couldn't quite explain. No further
action was taken.

Oddly enough, Severus wasn't the only teacher acting somewhat out of character. Harry
noticed that Professor Sonara Sinistra had taken a sudden interest in him, despite the fact
that he did not take any classes from her. Hermione had her for Astronomy, but Harry really
only knew her by name. Oddly enough she began stopping him in the halls to greet him,
asking him how his classes were going, telling him that she was looking forward to seeing
his first Quidditch match. Despite the fact that she was a Slytherin, she claimed to be a fan
of his flying. All in all Harry found the behavior somewhat bewildering -- particularly
when she stopped him one day in October and asked him if he'd be willing to help her
unpack some new supplies over the weekend. Uncertain if he was being given a detention,
or simply being asked for a favor, Harry hesitated to answer.

She smiled at him, and Harry was stuck by the sheer beauty of the woman. It wasn't often
he'd been subjected to such an intense gaze from a woman so beautiful. "It will only take
about an hour," she assured him. "Perhaps you can come by Saturday evening after your
Quidditch practice."

"I guess, ma'am," he agreed awkwardly, a bit surprised when her eyes lit up.

"Great! I'll see you then," she replied, then hurried off down the hall, leaving Harry
watching her somewhat bemusedly. He told Ron and Hermione about the odd encounter
later that evening during their latest study session.

Hermione was instantly suspicious since she knew Harry did not have any classes with the
woman. Ron on the other hand began snickering quietly in amusement, much to the
bewilderment of his two friends.

"I'm just saying it's a bit weird that she would ask you for help," Hermione was saying. "Why
not ask one of her own students, or someone from Slytherin house for help if she needs it?"
She glared at Ron who was still snickering.

"That's what I thought," Harry agreed. "She's been talking to me a lot lately -- stopping me in
the halls to say hello. I've never had a class with her." If anything his words just made Ron
laugh all the louder, earning more glares from his two friends.

"You don't suppose this has anything to do with You-Know-Who?" Hermione asked.

Harry shook his head. "She's been teaching here for several years and no one has ever even
hinted that she or her family supports Voldemort."

Despite the use of the Dark Lord's name, Ron just began laughing harder until finally both
Harry and Hermione couldn't take it any more and they both hit him, all be not hard.

"What is wrong with you?" Hermione demanded. "If you know what is going on with
Professor Sinistra, then just tell us. Quite laughing like a fool."
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"It's just too funny!" Ron grinned. "Me knowing something that the two of you can't figure
out for once."

"No big deal there as far as I'm concerned," Harry grumbled.

"You don't have any classes with her either," Hermione reminded him. "How could you
know what she's up to when I don't?"

"Because Professor Sinistra is one of Hogwart's best kept secrets -- or not so secret if you're a
guy with five older brothers."

"What are you talking about?" Harry asked in confusion wondering if this had something to
do with Ron's family.

Ron just grinned. "She likes younger men, Harry. The younger the better."

"Likes?" Harry asked.

"Yeah," Ron grinned, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. "Likes . . . a lot. . . If you know
what I mean."

Harry felt his face turning bright red as he caught on quickly to Ron's meaning.

Hermione on the other hand looked outraged. "That's just ridiculous, Ron. Harry's a student.
Surely you're not saying she's suggesting something . . . illicit?"

"Illicit," Ron smirked. "I like that word. Yeah, that's exactly what I'm suggesting. It's a well
know fact that she waits until graduation and then hooks up with one of the young men
from the graduating class -- according to the twins, she does it every year." He leaned over
to Harry and nudged him with his elbow. "According to what I hear if she shows an interest
in you, it's like a sure thing, mate."

Both Harry and Hermione figured out immediately what Ron meant by 'it'. Hermione glared
while Harry just blushed harder. "Ron!" Hermione exclaimed.

"I'm just telling you what I heard," Ron defended himself when he realized that Hermione
was more than just shocked -- she looked down right mad.

"You heard this from one of the twins?" Harry asked.

Ron smirked again. "Not that they know first hand mind you," he explained. "She choose
someone from Ravenclaw last year apparently. But we've all suspected that Bill knows more
than he's letting on."

"You are making her sound like some sort of slut," Hermione grumbled.

Oddly enough Ron pinked up at that -- staring at Hermione in surprise. "Hermione!" he


sputtered in shock. "I can't believe you used that word!"

Both Harry and Hermione glanced at each other in confusion, wondering which word Ron
was objecting to. "Huh?"

""Slut?" Hermione asked, blinking her eyes in confusion.

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Again, Ron flushed. "Hermione! Call her a 'scarlet woman', but don't use such a crude term."

Hermione frowned. "You're joking about a woman seducing younger men into her bed the
moment they graduate from school, and you're offended by the word I used to describe her?
That makes no sense."

"Well I didn't say I condoned the behavior!" Ron exclaimed, though he nudged Harry again
with his elbow. "Though you're going to be the talk of Gryffindor tower when I tell the guys,
Harry."

"Ron!" Harry and Hermione exclaimed in horror. "Besides, I'm only a sixth year -- I'm not
graduating yet. Not to mention the little fact that you've forgotten -- I'm married. Even if she
is the way you say, it doesn't explain her sudden interest in me."

"Oh, yeah," Ron frowned. "I'd forgotten about that."

"Exactly," Hermione huffed. "Obviously something else is going on besides your puerile
fantasy about Professor Sinistra. I find it hard to believe that a woman as intelligent as
Professor Sinistra would engage in such unseemly behavior. It has to be something else."

"Maybe," Ron shrugged. "But even still -- I still think she's interested in Harry."

"Well, regardless, I think you should tell Professor Snape," Hermione decided. "Maybe it is
something completely harmless, but it sounds odd either way. If it's harmless then telling
Snape won't affect anything. If it's what Ron thinks it is, then you have a duty to tell Snape.
And if it's something related to You-Know-Who, then Snape needs to know to protect you."

"It's probably nothing," Harry replied, suddenly wishing he had never brought the subject
up in the first place.

"Tell him anyway," Hermione insisted.

Harry frowned, but agreed at last that Hermione was probably right.

Later that evening when he returned to his room, he watched Severus somewhat awkwardly
for a few moments before he finally broached the subject. Severus was grading papers once
again in front of the fire, though he looked up when Harry called his name.

"Um, Professor Sinistra asked me to help her with something on Saturday," he muttered, find
his face flushing despite everything.

Snape grew suddenly tense, an odd expression crossing his face that Harry couldn't quite
interpret. "Did she now?" he asked, his voice mild enough but somehow strained.

"Yes, sir," he nodded. "She's been . . . talking to me a lot lately and this afternoon she asked
me to help her unpack something for her."

"Unpack," Severus repeated. He stared intently at Harry for a long moment as if trying to
read his mind. Knowing that the man was a skilled Legilimancer, Harry looked away,
shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "You do understand what it is she's asking, don't you?"
Severus finally stated, his voice oddly flat.

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Harry's looked up in shock, hearing more in that statement than he expecting to hear. "You
mean Ron was right about her?" he exclaimed, his voice breaking with an embarrassing
squeak.

Severus frowned. "You didn't know?" he confirmed.

Harry flushed again. "Ron said something about her, but I didn't think. . ."

There was a cold, tight look to Severus' face that had not been there in a long time. "She's
asking you down to her room on Saturday to have sex with her."

There was something oddly final about the way he said that, as if his words made it an
irrefutable fact. Behind the wave of embarrassment that washed over Harry, he also felt sick
to his stomach.

"But I'm a student," he protested. "And I'm . . ." He felt himself unable to finish the statement,
not with Snape staring at him like that, those dark eyes of his glittering dangerously.

"You're what?" Severus demanded.

"Married," Harry finished weakly.

Severus said nothing for a long moment, staring at him intently. Finally he shifted in his seat
and sighed, breaking the intense stare he'd subjected Harry to. "Harry," he began, and finally
some of the coldness was gone from his tone. "It is precisely because you are married that
she has approached you. I take it from some of the things you said when we were first
married that a marriage such as ours would not have been acceptable in the Muggle
world?"

Harry shook his head. "No, sir," he agreed quickly. "Its very unusual for Muggles to get
married before the age of eighteen to begin with -- and usually much later than that. And a
teacher would be arrested if it were discovered he or she was involved with a student." He
didn't bother explaining that same sex marriages were also not allowed -- since the
Wizarding World had trouble enough with so many different species, he supposed gender
was an odd thing to quibble over.

"I see," Snape sighed. "A teacher is not allow to get involved with a student in our world
either, Harry. "

"What?" Harry demanded. "But nobody said anything when we . . ."

"That's because we were not 'involved'," Snape clarified. "We were betrothed by the
Marriage Stone and married by a highly respected elder. There was nothing scandalous
about our union."

If Harry lived to be as old as Dumbledore he doubted he'd understand the different customs
that ruled the Wizarding World. They never ceased to surprise him.

"Then why is Professor Sinistra suggesting that I . . . you know . . .I'm still a student."

"You're a married student, Harry," Severus explained. "Consequently you are considered a
full adult in our world. You no longer have the same restrictions on you that other students
do."

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"But I'm married!" Harry protested, wondering why Severus was failing to see what he was
trying to point out -- if anything that made him even more off limits.

"Yes," Severus agreed. "You're married -- in an arranged bond marriage. One, she's guessed
you have no emotional commitment to. It is not unusual for two people in an arranged
marriage to keep lovers on the side provided they are discreet about it in public. In Sinistra's
case, you are an ideal match for her since she knows you won't allow yourself to become too
emotionally attached knowing that nothing can ever come of your union."

Harry's eyes widened in shock. "But that's . . . . that's. . .that's. . " he found himself sputtering
in disbelief.

Severus' eyes narrowed. "That's what, Harry?"

"Disgusting!" Harry shrieked leaping to his feet, his entire body vibrating with an unnamed
energy.

Something hard glittered in Snape's eyes. "Disgusting," he repeated.

Harry was suddenly furious. "It's not right!" he clarified, wanting to throttle the man. "It's
wrong! It's . . . this whole thing is just wrong!"

"Am I to take it by this display that you're not interested in Professor Sinistra's proposal?"

"Of course I'm not interested!" Harry cried, growing angrier by the second, though if
someone had asked him at that moment precisely what he was angry about he would not
have been able to tell them. As it was he was only vaguely aware of the fact that his anger
was beginning to cause the furniture in the room to shake with an unseen force.

"Calm down, Harry!" Severus ordered.

"No!" Harry yelled at him feeling a great deal of the rage directing itself at this man he'd
been forced to marry. "I won't calm down! I won't!" And with that he ran across the room
and toward the library, slamming the door behind him in a desperate attempt to be alone.
As had happened before, his rage knocked book after book off the shelves. They thumped to
the ground with a loud and somewhat satisfying bang. Wisely, Severus did not try to follow
him.

It took a lot longer for him to calm down this time and when he did he found himself sitting
in the middle of the library floor once again feeling drained as he tried to figure out what
that sudden burst of violent emotion was all about. He knew in part he was angry at Sinistra
-- much the same way he he'd been angry at Julius Snape. While she had made no move to
force him into anything, she had assumed a familiarity and an intimacy with him that was
unwarranted and unwelcome. In her case she'd apparently gone after him first because he
was married, and second because he was young. That was just as bad as chasing him
because he was the stupid Boy Who Lived. Actually in some ways it was worse since it
implied a certain degree of perversion that the Muggle side of him didn't care to think
about.

He also found himself surprisingly angry with Severus. He had never wanted to marry the
man in the first place -- he'd been forced into this situation. And though his Aunt and Uncle
had never attempted to instill any sort of religious beliefs in him, he still had certain core
beliefs that had warred violently with the conversation they had just had. The fact that their
marriage was allowed to happen in the first place was a bit of a shocker -- but okay, he
165
could get his mind around the fact that the Wizarding World allowed unions he'd never
imagined one way or another. And he could even get his mind around the fact that for some
reason the Wizarding World had no problem with a sixteen-year-old boy marrying a
thirty-six-year-old man. If he removed certain factors from the equation it was bizarrely
old-fashioned -- like something out of a Regency novel that dealt with manners and
betrothals and inheritance contracts.

But when Harry thought of marriage, he thought of his parents, James and Lily Potter, who
had loved him enough to die for him. He though of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley who were just
about the warmest, kindest couple he'd ever met in his life, so devoted to each other and
their family. When he thought of marriage he thought, oddly enough, of Ron and Hermione
and how he knew, just KNEW, that one day they would be married, and Harry would stand
up beside his best friend while they watched Hermione walk down the aisle. And now that
he'd seen the bond between them, marriage was about Sirius Black convincing Remus Lupin
that his eye was not going to stray, that his devotion was true, and that his heart belonged
forever in one man's keeping.

Marriage was not about being discrete in public as you kept a lover on the side.

But apparently it was for him and Snape. And truthfully, he ought to be grateful -- grateful
that despite being forced into a marriage at sixteen years of age no one expected him to
remain completely alone his entire life. That apparently someone had written in a loop hole
for him that allowed him to still fall in love with someone -- just so long as he came home to
his bond-mate at the end of the day. The thought twisted his gut as he tried to shove all that
anger back down deep inside where he wouldn't have to look too closely at it.

Sighing bitterly, he got to his feet and began picking up the books he'd knocked over. He
supposed he ought to be thankful that he'd run into the library instead of Snape's potions
lab. His bouts of accidental magic were a bit destructive. Not to mention a bit odd -- very
few of the other students had such outbursts no matter how angry they became. All of them
did accidental magic as small children, but they apparently all out grew it by the time they
got their first wands. Harry supposed he was just a slow learner.

Or maybe it had something to do with the bizarre link he had to Voldemort. Maybe he was
prone to such outbursts because of the scar on his forehead.

He paused in the middle of picking up one of the books, a memory suddenly returning with
startling clarity. Books! In his dream that night he'd forgotten to take his potion -- in that
dream Voldemort had been looking through some old books. He could see them now, dark,
cracked leather, covered in strange twisting writing. Voldemort had discovered something
in an old book -- something that had made him happy.

And then just as clearly, Harry knew where those books had come from. He dropped the
book in his hand and raced toward the door. "Severus!" he cried, but the common room
beyond was empty. A quick search of the other rooms revealed that Snape was gone.

No matter, Harry thought to himself. He knew where those books came from -- knew where
to look. And if truth be told, there was no one else in the castle better suited to see if there
had been anything else left behind. No one else could even get into the room they had been
kept. He grabbed his firebolt and his invisibility cloak, and headed for the Chamber of
Secrets.

----------------------------

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Author's Note: I was going to write a scene where Snape goes back to Rosewood Hall and
confronts his brothers, but the truth was, it didn't do anything to advance the plot of the
story. We already know he 'dealt' with them -- and I will mention in passing in a later
chapter that when Snape did return he put them under a monitoring spell. So, I'm sorry to
those of you who wanted to see the big confrontation -- it wasn't really important to the
continuation of the story. Maybe I'll write the side scene at a later date.

And to those of you who asked why Snape didn't disown Julius -- it wouldn't fit with Snape's
idea of duty. If Snape was willing to kill his father for disgracing the family honor, he could
hardly just disown Julius and let him go. Snape would feel responsible for keeping Julius in
check from here on in -- truthfully Snape probably feels guilty for not keeping a closer eye
on the family all these years. Besides as the Head of House, Snape has more control over
Julius this way. Based on the way the other two brothers and his sisters-in-law acted with
regards to the Manor house, controlling the purse strings of the family seems one of the best
ways to keep them all in check.

As for Harry -- yes, he threw a temper-tantrum. He's 16, and he's confused. I think he's
finally just realized that he really is married. And I thought it would be interesting to make
Harry the one with the strong, ingrained ideas of what marriage should be about.
Eventually Harry will realize that if he believes in monogamy that means that at some point
he'll have to sleep with Severus -- either that or spend the rest of his life celibate. Actually --
someone will have to point this little fact out to him -- he's still a bit behind on things. But
he's trying to catch up at least.

Snape on the other hand has figured out exactly what this means -- it will be his first cause
to hope for their future.

Regarding Astronomy -- I don't recall Harry ever taking Astronomy during the first 4 books.
Maybe he did and I just don't remember. Regardless, for this story he's never had Sinistra as
a teacher. I just assumed it would have been one of the many classes Hermione would have
taken particularly during 3rd year.

Chapter 21 Serpents

H arry had not returned to the Chamber of Secrets since the night he'd rescued Ginny
Weasley from the memory of Tom Riddle. It took some doing maneuvering through
the crumbling old passageways. And when at last he found himself in the center
chamber all he could do was stare at the decaying carcass of the basilisk that had nearly
claimed his life four years ago -- would have if it hadn't been for Fawkes.

The chamber was utterly silent, save for the sound of water dripping far in the distance.
And he could see by the dust on the ground that nothing had been disturbed. No one had
entered these room since he had last been there -- a thought that comforted him immensely.
He knew of course that the Chamber, though deep under the foundations of Hogwarts, was
still inside the protective wards of the castle. Still it was nice to know that the Dark Lord had
not been here since he'd been resurrected -- in fact had probably not been here since he
himself was a student at Hogwarts nearly fifty years ago. And now that the basilisk was
dead, these Chambers lay completely empty.

Still it was with some nervousness that he made his way toward the giant statue of Salazar
Slytherin that loomed above the skeleton of the beast that once lived inside it. He
remembered all to clearly the sight of the giant snake emerging from the opened mouth. It

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took a great deal of courage to mount his broom and fly straight into that mouth himself,
not knowing what it was he would find on the other side.

Not another basilisk -- he was ninety percent certain that there were no others in the
chamber. As far as he knew even basilisks needed another of its kind to mate. And despite
Salazar Slytherin's infamous pet, basilisks were not native to England.

It was dark inside and Harry pulled out his wand and muttered the lumos spell to light his
way. Inside the rounded chamber beyond the tunnel through the mouth, he found a single
doorway, intricately carved with snakes. He knew if he pushed on the door he would find it
locked with unbreakable charms. There was only one-way through the door -- and at the
moment there were only two people on the face of the earth who possessed the ability to
enter.

Harry stared at the snakes, concentrating on speaking to them. Then he simply said "open".
The word came out in the soft hiss of Parseltongue. A moment later the snakes on the door
came to life, twisting and turning as they shifted the locking mechanism. The door swung
silently open.

Heart pounding, Harry stepped through the doorway into the room beyond. He knew he
was the second person in a thousand years who had entered the private library of Salazar
Slytherin -- the true Chamber of Secrets.

It wasn't a large room -- but it was impressive enough. A thousand years ago books were far
more precious than they were today. The four walls in the room beyond were covered floor
to ceiling with bookshelves. And Harry could feel the protection and preservation spells that
kept the books intact over the ages.

The books that remained -- he could see clearly that many were missing. Here and there
were volumes gone, empty places where they must have once resided. Fifty years ago a
young Tom Riddle had made his way into this room and had drunk his fill of the knowledge
he found here. Fifty years ago Tom Riddle had found all the dark secrets he would need to
become the greatest Dark Lord in the world. He had often wondered where that knowledge
had come from -- certainly he'd sneaked his own share of peaks at books in Hogwarts
restricted section. But Tom Riddle promised his Death Eaters powers that they could not find
anywhere else. There had to have been a source -- a place that had first started him down
that dark path. And here in this Chamber Harry knew he had found his answer.

Fifty years ago Tom Riddle had taken the darkest, most horrible secrets that Salazar
Slytherin had possessed. He had taken those books and he had hidden them away
somewhere he would have access to them after he had graduated from Hogwarts himself.
That knowledge had allowed him to remake himself into the creature they now knew as
Lord Voldemort. And he was learning still. Harry could see the books now in his mind --
books from the dream that had so disturbed him. Black books with strange writing --
numerous volumes of a specific type. Diaries he believed -- Salazar Slytherin's Dark Arts
notes, written in his own hand. There were ten of them, slim volumes, but filled with such
terrible powers. And having lost the Eye of Odin he had so craved, Tom Riddle had turned
his attention once again to the books he had hidden way during his last reign of terror and
had begun learning again.

But Harry couldn't bring himself to believe that darkness was all this chamber had to offer.
There were still hundreds of books here -- Riddle had only taken a small fraction of them.
Which meant the books left behind were either common or worthless. Slytherin may have

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turned dark -- but, once, he had been the closest of friends with Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and
Hufflepuff. He couldn't have left only darkness behind as his legacy.

Harry found himself drawn to the far side of the room where he saw a shelf at about chest
high with a large empty section. He touched the shelf, running his fingers through the thick
dust he found there. The books had rested here. Ten volumes -- the Books of Dark. Salazar
Slytherin's private notes. There were numerous other books missing from the shelves above
and below this empty spot. This wall had been well picked over.

He turned to stare at the wall opposite it. It alone of all the shelves had the fewest missing
books from it -- which meant that Riddle had not valued the information it contained. And
there -- directly across from the empty shelf he could see ten slim volumes covered in a
thousand years of dust.

Heart pounding, he made his way across the room and touched the first volume, drawing it
off the shelf with reverence. Like the dark book from his dream this too was covered in
strange twisting shapes, though the cover was brown instead of black. The writing made his
head spin but began resolving itself into familiar patterns. Parseltongue -- the book was
written in Parseltongue.

He looked inside -- Volume 1 of the notes of Salazar Slytherin. A dissertation on the Light
Arts. There were ten in all -- ten volumes that Riddle had dismissed as unimportant. The ten
Books of Light that might hold the counters to the darkness Riddle had chosen.

It took him only a moment to pull out all ten of the books and wrap them up in his
invisibility cloak. Then with one finally look around, he left the chamber and locked it again
with a hissed command. He had what he came for -- he could only pray that it would be
enough to save those he loved from the darkness he knew was coming.

----------

When Severus Snape returned to his chambers he was alarmed to realize that Harry was no
longer there. A quick look through the rooms showed that the library was still in a state of
disarray -- though Harry had apparently begun picking up the books he knocked over in
his anger. But where had he gone then?

He knew the boy was angry -- though he wasn't certain why. Truthfully, he couldn't figure
out the boy's motivation for half the things he did. When he had begun telling him about
Sonara Sinistra earlier, Severus had at first assumed the boy was either telling him that he
was planning on taking up with her -- or even stranger asking him for permission to do so.
His reaction of disgust and outrage had been both surprising and welcomed, since he wasn't
entirely certain he was going to be able to stand by and do nothing while his bond-mate
cheated on him. He wasn't certain why Harry had been so angry, but one thing was obvious
-- Sinistra's affections were unwanted. And while he didn't know what to do to calm down
his bond-mate, he knew exactly what to do about Sinistra.

He'd stormed to her room, pounding on her door until she'd let him into her chambers.
She'd looked surprise to see him, since he tended to avoid her company despite their shared
history in Slytherin.

"Severus?" she'd asked nervously, pulling her dressing gown modestly around her slender
body -- he'd wondered why she even bothered with such a pretense. But then, he was
hardly young enough to tempt someone like her.

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"Stay away from Harry," he'd ordered, cutting straight to the heart of the matter.

Her eyes had narrowed at that. "I hardly think my interactions with. . ."

"Listen to me, Sinistra," Severus had growled. "Your attentions toward him are unwanted.
Once he figured out what it was you wanted, he grew very upset. I'm only going to warn
you once, if you go near him again he will be the last young man you ever approach. All the
rest will run screaming in horror at the mere thought of touching you after you consume
the potion that will accidentally find its way into your food. I guarantee there will be no
cure or glamour that will undo the damage this potion will do to your looks. Do I make
myself clear?"

She was pale now, staring at him in undisguised fear. It was no small threat coming from a
Potions Master and she knew it. "Perfectly," she'd assured him, her voice tight.

He'd nodded in satisfaction and made his way to the door.

But of course she was still a Slytherin and couldn't help attempting to salvage something of
the situation despite the threat. "I did not think he meant so much to you," she'd stated.

Severus had known there was a question in there -- and with that question was of course a
threat that perhaps she had found some vulnerability that had been previously unknown.
"Sinistra," he'd growled in warning. "Do not think about him at all." He'd slammed the door
as he left.

But where was Harry now? It was well past curfew, and he knew Harry had already bid
goodnight to Ron and Hermione. Why had he gone out again, leaving the library in such a
state? He began picking up the books himself, hoping to find a clue to why he was missing.
Perhaps Lupin and Black had returned from their latest errand of the Headmasters? He
supposed it was possible they had contacted him through the floo.

It was also just as likely that he had gone up to Gryffindor tower. He had no idea why Harry
had been so angry with him, but maybe he had left simply to get away from him for a night.
He couldn't help wondering what it was he had said that had so set the boy off.

He realized that Muggles had many different beliefs than Wizards, but considering the
circumstances of their marriage, why would the idea of infidelity have been so abhorrent to
the boy? Not that he was going to complain. Aside from the shame and the scandal such a
thing could cause if dealt with carelessly in public -- and Merlin knew Gryffindors were
always careless -- Severus did not like the idea of sharing Harry with anyone.

It was nearly two hours later before he heard the door to their rooms opening and Harry
entered the common room with his broom in hand. For some strange reason the boy was
dirty -- as if he'd been out climbing rocks. Granted there was a lot of mud near the
Quidditch pitch, but surely he hadn't been out in it this time of night?

"Where have you been?" he demanded when Harry came in.

The boy looked a lot calmer than he had last time Severus had seen him, but he still jumped
when Severus yelled.

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"Out," he replied, not insolently, but with a certain degree of reserve that Severus didn't like.
It was on the tip of his tongue to take points from Gryffindor, but he'd promised himself he
would not do that here in their chambers.

"I see," he stated, gritting his teeth. He glared at the boy, willing him to tell Severus where he
had gone. Harry just stared back in silence.

After a moment, the boy shifted uncomfortably and glanced away. "I'm going to bed," he
grumbled and headed toward the bedroom door.

Severus wanted to grab him and shake an answer from him, but he knew that would get
him nowhere.

"Professor Sinistra won't bother you again," he said instead.

That stopped Harry and he turned around, a look of uncertainty crossing his features.

Severus frowned. "That is what you wanted right?"

Harry nodded. "I don't have to go see her on Saturday?" He sounded disgustingly young and
Severus hated himself for the feelings of possessiveness that gripped him.

"You never did," he replied.

"Good," he answered. "Thank you."

Severus just nodded. "You're welcome." And he watched in frustrated silence as Harry
disappeared through the bedroom door.

------------------------

Author's Note: Don't worry, Harry won't keep the books a secret too long. But the reality is,
he's the only one who can read them anyway. And yes, books written in Parseltongue are yet
another cliche in fandom. But it's a good cliche!

Why would Voldemort ignore these books? Simply put -- there is nothing in them that
interest him. Voldemort has a single goal in mind (though you won't learn it for a while),
and nothing beyond that goal interests him at all.

Thank you for everyone who checked the facts on the Astronomy class. Now that you
mention it I do recall Harry buying a telescope in book 1 and having a midnight class --
though I don't know if Sinistra was ever actually named as his teacher (maybe there is more
than one Astronomy teacher?). She is listed as the Astronomy teacher on most web sites
(Vector apparently teaches Arithmancy). Maybe she only teaches advanced Astronomy?
Either way, it's a fairly minor detail so I'm not going to worry about it too much. I hope it
doesn't bother anyone greatly. Now that Snape has dealt with her, she won't bother Harry
again.

Up next -- I have a bit of a jump in time in the next section. It is actually one of my favorite
parts of this story. It deals with Christmas. There is a return of Remus and Sirius (which is
always good in my opinion), but largely it deals with Harry making a conscious effort to
include Severus in his life. He's finally figured out he's married -- that the man is now his

171
family -- and okay, maybe he doesn't know what to do with him yet, but at least he makes
an effort.

BTW -- to those of you who asked, yes, my name is a nod to Jane Austen. She's one of my
favorite writers.

Chapter 22 Family

T o Severus Snape's surprise, life with Harry Potter was actually quite pleasant. As luck
would have it Harry's annoying dog-father and the Wolf were away on missions for
Dumbledore more often than not, so he rarely had to deal with his childhood nemesis.

As for Potter -- they butted heads on occasion, and Severus found himself reacting with
difficulty to the increasing attraction he felt for the young man who shared his bed, but he
also came to enjoy his company in the quite hours when both of them were working on
their daily tasks of life. More and more, the boy became comfortable enough to begin
talking a bit more with him, and though he tried not to let on too much, Severus found his
conversations welcomed. He'd lived a remarkably solitary life, and with the sudden
company thrust upon him, he began to realize just how lonely he had been throughout most
of it. Even the addition of Harry's owl Hedwig, who had taken to watching him in the
mornings from a perch by the fire, was a welcomed change.

For the most part things were quiet on the war front -- though Severus had to sit through
numerous Quidditch matches along side Slytherin parents who had reason to hate the
Gryffindor Seeker. The day Harry had taken the Eye of Odin from Voldemort's hand several
parents of his Slytherin students had lost their lives -- to sit beside their spouses at a school
game when his loyalties were now publicly known while they watched the boy who had
brought so much defeat to their lives trounce their home team proved to be a nail-biting
experience. Albus, however, always made certain to come to the games himself, and with
him came all the other teachers of Hogwarts and numerous Order members so nothing ever
happened beyond the life threatening reality of rogue bludgers.

However life with Harry Potter, also meant life with Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. It
wasn't until late October that Harry first invited his friends into their quarters for a late
night study session. Since Severus knew they were working on Defense Against the Dark
Arts (this year's teacher was as bad as last year's), he really didn't have cause to stop them.
He had commended Hermione Granger on the outside research she had done to help Harry
-- knew that these study sessions from last year were what had saved Harry's life time and
time again. He could hardly complain when they asked to use his private library --
something that technically Harry had full right to explore. His quarters were now Harry's
quarters though he might resent it.

Again, surprisingly, he found he didn't mind the company of the other two Gryffindors
either. Granger was extraordinarily intelligent, and the few times she'd braved his presence
to ask him a question about something she didn't understand, he had been impressed by her
grasp of magical theory. And though he found Ron Weasley annoying, he had to admit that
the boy had an amusing sense of humor and a startling grasp of strategy. Severus had
watched him playing wizards chess against Harry a couple of times and had been impressed
by how quickly he had defeated the Gryffindor golden boy.

When Harry approached him early one evening at the beginning of December with a
somewhat pensive look on his face, Severus had been worried that perhaps something had
happened to disturb the status quo they had managed to maintain the last few months. He'd

172
been sitting by the fire reading a new potion's manual when Harry had entered their
quarters alone and sat down across from him in the chair that had become 'his' over the
weeks.

"Something wrong?" Severus asked when he realized that Harry was staring at him.

"No," Harry said quickly, then shifted uncomfortably. "I wanted to ask you about Christmas."

Christmas -- a holiday that Severus had little use for. His family had of course celebrated the
various solstice rites, but since that holiday was a time for family Severus had fallen out of
the practice. It hadn't been an overly happy time when he was a child, though he did
remember some pleasant evenings with his sister. Since his falling out with his family he
had never done much for the holiday -- though he supposed now he might try to at least
pay his sister a visit. Julius, now under the influence of Severus' curse, was not speaking to
him. Claudius and Marcellus were also under a powerful monitoring spell, but were
actually more angry at his failure to reopen Snape Manor. He supposed eventually he would
have do so, but it could wait for a time when he was not so busy.

"What about it?" Severus asked. No doubt Harry had some ridiculous Gryffindor ideas about
trees and presents and various different Yuletide games. He knew that the Weasleys wanted
him to spend the holiday at the Burrow this year -- Albus had already talked to him about it
and he supposed Harry had just heard.

"The Weasleys invited me to the Burrow this holiday," Harry explained. He stared at Snape
expectantly.

Severus frowned -- this was the problem with being forced into a marriage with someone so
young. "Are you asking for my permission to go?"

Harry gave him a hesitant smile. "I guess," he admitted uncertainly, looking uncomfortable.
Severus suspected that asking for things wasn't a common occurrence for Harry -- he could
just imagine what happened with the Dursleys when he made a request of them. He looked
now as if he were expecting Severus to refuse him and was marshalling whatever
arguments he might have to sway his mind.

"Harry," Severus sighed. "I told you long ago, I am not your father or your guardian. I am
your bond-mate. You do not need my permission to spend the holidays as you see fit.
However, considering who you are, it would be wise to investigate certain security measures
for such an arrangement."

The boy looked startled by his response. "Oh," he blinked uncertainly at Severus. "I. . . does
this mean you don't mind?"

"Mind?" Severus frowned. "It hardly matters if I mind or not. Albus has already spoken with
me -- he's added extra wards to the Burrow, and all the elder Weasley children will be
present for the holiday, along with your godfather and Lupin. Provided you do not do
anything crazy like wander off by yourself, you should be safe enough. I trust you won't do
anything to endanger yourself?"

"I won't," the boy assured him, looking almost giddy with excitement -- no doubt he had
expected this conversation to go much differently. There was a sparkle in his eyes that
Severus had rarely seen, as if he had already been given what ever ridiculous Christmas
presents he was likely to be offered come Yule. "Thank you!"

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"It had nothing to do with me," Severus shrugged. "Thank the Weasleys and the
Headmaster." He turned his attention back to the manual he was reading, wondering
suddenly how he was going to endure the silence during the two weeks of vacation while
Harry was gone. It surprised him that he was not looking forward to it.

The boy had jumped up from his seat and raced to the door, no doubt to inform the Weasley
boy that he could join them for the holiday after all. He paused at the door however and
looked back at Severus.

"Severus?" he asked hesitantly.

Severus looked up, a strange shiver going through his body at the sound of his name. Even
after these last several months it still startled him when Harry used his name. There were
only a handful of people in the world who used his given name -- but there was something
doubly intimate about Harry doing so, as if it were something almost illicit between them.
Those bright green eyes were gazing at him oddly from behind his glasses.

"The Weasleys invited both of us, you know," Harry informed him.

Severus blinked, momentarily taken aback by the very idea. "Both of us?"

Harry nodded. "Mrs. Weasley specifically extended the invitation to you."

"What would I possibly do at the Burrow for two weeks?" Severus asked incredulously.
Surely the boy wasn't suggesting he join him? Did he imagine Severus sitting around
playing Exploding Snaps with Ron and the twins for two weeks -- or perhaps they could all
play Quidditch in the snow in the backyard.

The boy flushed in embarrassment. "I just meant for Christmas," he amended. "I know you're
probably very busy with school work over the holidays. I meant for Christmas. You could
come for Christmas Eve and stay the night -- eat dinner with us on Christmas Day."

"Surely you're joking?" Severus just stared at the boy, taking in his flushed features and
bright eyes. Harry was biting his lower lip in a way that indicated he was anxious about
something -- was he afraid perhaps that Severus was going to say yes and possibly ruin the
holiday for him?

"Please," the boy said, surprising the hell out of Severus. Please? The boy wanted him to say
yes? He stared at him in disbelief. "It's Christmas," the boy continued, his voice taking on a
cajoling tone. Merlin, the boy did want him to say yes! "Please say you'll come."

"Why on earth. . ." Severus began.

"We're family now," Harry cut him off, and this time Severus heard something almost
pleading in his tone. There was hope burning in his eyes -- hope and a touch of wariness as
if he feared being struck down for making such a request or making such a claim. Severus
tried to imagine what holidays might have been like for the boy before coming to Hogwarts.
If the Dursleys were abusive to him the rest of the year, how much worse might they have
been on the holidays when families were supposed to pull together? Was the boy so
desperate to be part of a family that he was willing to put up with someone he so blatantly
didn't like? Severus wasn't certain how to respond.

174
Harry took a step toward him, looking both shy and anxious, which was odd to see in so
brave and brash a young man. "Look," Harry sighed. "I know you don't like . . ." He frowned
at that, his gaze turning inward as he thought about how to continue. "Well, you don't like .
. . me, or the Weasleys, or Sirius, or Remus, or Christmas or. . . " He sighed again, looking
rather defeated all of a sudden. "I guess. . ." he shrugged helplessly as if realizing what a
ridiculous request he had made. He looked up and Severus saw that same pleading look in
his eyes. For whatever reason, Harry genuinely wanted him to join them for Christmas. He
found himself unable to refuse the boy's request -- of course if he was honest with himself,
he really didn't hate the idea. It might be nice to share Christmas with Harry -- even if it
meant he had to put up with all the rest of it.

"I am beginning to find you somewhat tolerable," he conceded, amending Harry's long list of
the things he didn't like.

Harry's eyes lit up like the sun, taking Severus' breath away. "Then you'll come?" he
exclaimed hopefully.

Severus was quite beyond any hope of refusal now. "I imagine I can put up with the
annoyances for a day or two," he offered.

The smile on Harry's face seemed to brighten the entire room. "Thanks!" he grinned, and
then turned and rushed from the room, leaving a very bemused Potion Master staring after
him.

---------------------

Harry sat on Neville's bed and watched as Ron packed up his trunk for their trip back home
to the Burrow. Harry's things were already waiting down in the common room where
Professor McGonagall had promised to meet them with a port key that would take them
straight to the Weasley's living room. Normally he never got a chance to go anywhere for
the holidays and Harry was excited about the two weeks ahead of him. He was looking
forward to Christmas for the first time in years.

"I can't believe you invited him, Harry!" Ron was exclaiming as he haphazardly tossed his
things into his trunk.

"I told you, your mother invited him," Harry explained. Ron was horrified of the idea of
having Professor Snape in their house for Christmas. He couldn't seem to get his mind
around it. Harry on the other hand was quite glad the man had agreed to join them. He'd
grown rather fond of the man over the last few months, now that they'd gotten past the
endlessly grumpiness and sniping. Harry had begun to enjoy his sense of humor and quick
wit, though he wasn't ready to tell Ron that yet. He also hadn't liked the thought of the man
spending the holidays all alone. He knew that despite the family reunion back in September,
relations were still strained with Severus and the rest of the Snapes. He doubted the man
would be joining them for the holidays. His sister was the only one he kept in regular touch
with, but Harry had sensed that there was some tension there as well mostly due to Diana's
husband.

"Fine, then I can't believe my mother invited him!" Ron grumbled. "And you didn't have to
tell him, you know."

"Oh, Ron, get used to it," Harry sighed. "He's not so bad once you get to know him. Or are
you forgetting things could be a lot worse."

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"Worse?" Ron demanded. "How could they possibly be worse?"

"Well, for one thing, instead of being married to Professor Snape, I could be married to
Hermione or you," Harry reminded him mildly.

Ron blanched at that, shuddering with the thought. "Good point."

"Thanks," Harry said with mock insult.

Ron just rolled his eyes. "I didn't mean anything by it Harry," he groused. "I just. . . well, you
know. . . "

"I know," Harry laughed. "It's just for two days, Ron. No one should spend Christmas alone.
Besides we'll have the rest of the holiday all to ourselves. It will be just like old times. And
Remus and Sirius are coming. It will be brilliant!"

"That's true," Ron closed up his trunk. "All right, I'll behave. But he's not sleeping in my
room!"

Harry just laughed and helped his friend carry his trunk down to the common room where
Ginny and Hermione were already waiting for them. The rest of the tower was already
empty -- all the other students had headed home for the holiday that morning on the train.
They were the last of them to leave due to the need for extra security surrounding Harry.
They would be traveling by port key instead of the Hogwarts Express since even the
Ministry agreed that it was no longer a safe means of transport for Harry Potter.

"Is everyone ready?" Professor McGonagall asked as she entered the common room through
the portrait door. She had an old mitten in her hand. She glanced around the room at the
four students and the four trunks. "The port key leaves in five minutes so I hope you have all
remembered to pack everything. It should deposit you directly in the living room of the
Burrow."

"All ready, Professor," the four students informed her.

"Have you informed your parents, Hermione?" McGonagall asked unnecessary. Hermione
had made arrangements to go to the Burrow for the holidays almost a month ago -- Harry
had no doubt that she'd informed her parents immediately.

"Yes, Professor," Hermione replied courteously. "They're going to join us later."

"Excellent," the woman nodded just as the portrait door opened a second time and Professor
Snape came striding into the room. Harry stood up quickly, wondering why Severus was
here. The others all turned as well, surprised looks on all their faces. None of them had ever
seen Professor Snape in the Gryffindor common room before.

"Is something wrong?" Harry asked warily, thinking that perhaps he was going to be
informed after all that he could not go with the others.

Confronted with five Gryffindors and a room decorated predominately in red and gold, a
very familiar sneer crossed Snape's features. But rather than fire off with his usual insults he
just thrust out his hand toward Harry, holding out a heavy fur-lined cloak to him. "You
forgot your cloak," he informed him. "It's cold out."

176
For a moment Harry was stunned speechless. It was such an oddly caring thing to do -- like
something an overly worried mother might do for a small child. He reached out hesitantly
and took the cloak from Severus' hands. "Thank you," he smiled bemusedly.

"You're welcome," Snape sneered, his words belying the expression. He glanced around at
the other stunned faces in the room, then nodded stiffly to Harry. "Have fun," he said curtly
then turned and strode just as swiftly from the room as he'd entered.

Harry glanced at the others -- even McGonagall was staring at him with an expression of
surprise. He shrugged at them somewhat bewilderedly.

"Huh. . ." Ron mused. "Must be the holiday spirit."

"Or Old Ogden's," Professor McGonagall muttered under her breath. "Never mind now, all
of you take hold of your trunks and touch the port key." She handed the mitten over to
Harry while they all grasped their trunks. The others all reached out and touched a finger to
the mitten and a moment later they were whisked off across Scotland and deposited safely in
the heart of the Burrow.

-----------------------------

Author's Note: So Harry is off to the Burrow for the holidays. Yes, you'll get to find out what
he did with the books, and yes, you'll find if Sirius has made any progress with Remus. And
Severus will get to attempt to fit in with the Weasleys. And Harry will finally learn a lot
more about the Wizarding World, including some important facts of life.

Chapter 23 Wolves

M olly Weasley was waiting for them as they landed. And no sooner had they
appeared than they were all enveloped in a warm hug as she rushed around the
room greeting each of them -- just as enthusiastic to see Harry and Hermione as
she was her own children. The twins joined them a moment later, and between the lot of
them managed to drag all the trunks upstairs to the appropriate bedrooms. Harry would be
staying with Ron while Hermione would be bunking with Ginny. Molly was already
frantically trying to figure out where to put everyone else once the rest of the company
arrived.

"Now, I'm going to move Percy into the twin's room so that Professor Snape can have his
room," Molly informed Harry. "And I'll have Charlie bunk in with Bill so that Remus and
Sirius can have his room -- you don't think they'll mind bunking together do you?" She
looked worried at the thought.

Harry stifled a laugh at that. "I'm sure it will be fine," he informed her. Both men had
written to him regularly and as far as he could tell there had been no further advancement
in their relationship, though Sirius was eternally hopefully. He was certain that Sirius at
least would not complain about the sleeping arrangements. If Remus did, then Sirius could
always sleep on the couch in dog form, something he'd done often enough in the past. As it
was he had a surprise for the two men that he was hoping would make both their lives
easier eventually. He couldn't wait to see them.

"I can't believe you married Professor Snape, Harry," Fred exclaimed as he and George set
their trunks down in Ron's bedroom.

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"How's it been, mate?" George asked with mock horror. "He poison you nightly with foul
smelling potions?"

"Don't worry, Harry," Fred continued. "We've got all sorts of nifty new products to try out on
him when he arrives."

"Don't you dare!" Harry protested, surprising both boys.

"Yeah, guys," Ron agreed. "Imagine the revenge he'll take on Harry if you do anything too
evil."

The twins shuddered in horror.

"That's not what I meant," Harry said in exasperation, shoving his glasses more firmly onto
his nose. "It was hard enough getting him to agree to join us for Christmas as it was -- if you
annoy him, he'll never join us again."

All three of the Weasley boys stopped what they were doing and stared at Harry in
confusion. "Ah, Harry," Ron asked. "Wouldn't that be . . . like. . . a good thing?"

Harry rolled his eyes in annoyance. "No, look, just trust me on this . . .he's been nice. I'd
rather get along with him than go back to the way things were before all this happened.
He's . . .you know. . ."

"Nice?" the three of them asked in unison.

"Yes," Harry agreed. "Just trust me for once, will you?"

The three brothers looked at each other in confusion, but shrugged their shoulders. "If you
say so Harry," they agreed.

"Harry!" two more tall red-heads pushed their way into Ron's small room, and a moment
later Harry found himself being hugged enthusiastically by both Bill and Charlie. They
greeted Ron as well but both seemed far more interested in the golden wedding band Harry
was wearing on his hand.

"From what I hear you were nearly married off to one of us," Charlie teased.

Harry found himself blushing at the though. He wondered how much different married life
might have been if he had married either Bill or Charlie. "Well . . ."

"Hell, he was nearly married off to me," Ron informed them. "We were desperate to find
someone."

"But Snape?" Charlie exclaimed. "I would have been a much better choice than Snape!"

"What are you talking about," Bill cut in. "I would have been the best choice of all. You
would have forgotten all about your new bond-mate the moment you saw your next
dragon. At least I would give him the attention he deserved."

"Well, what about one of us?" one of the twins protested. "We're of age, and much closer to
Harry."

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"Not to mention," the other twin added. "He'd get two for the price of one."

"Yeah, if one of us wasn't around, the other could fill in for him and Harry here would
never notice."

"Maybe Harry could throw over Snape and pick one of us instead," Charlie agreed. All four
men turned toward him earnestly. "What do you say, Harry?" they asked in unison.

Harry just stared at them open-mouthed, feeling both flustered and awkward, not certain
how to respond. "Um. . .I . . ." he stammered, only to find himself blushing furiously as a
moment later all four of them burst into laugher.

They hugged him again, ruffling his hair. "We're just teasing with you, Harry," the twins
assured him.

"As long as Snape hasn't poisoned you yet, I reckon things are all right," Charlie agreed.

Harry just laughed, throwing Ron a glare for not warning him. "Welcome to my world, "
Ron grumbled, and Harry understood that this was what it was like to have brothers.

They spent the day goofing around in the backyard, despite the cold. They bundled up in
warm jackets and gloves and fought a war with snowballs for most of the day -- the twins
spicing things up by adding in a few of their products, particularly a powder that when
sprinkled on a firmly packed snow ball reshaped it into the form of a flying dragon. Getting
clobbered by a flying snow dragon was a lot more fun than simply getting hit by a snowball.

When night began falling -- something that happened very early in the afternoon in
December -- the boys trekked back into the house to warm up. At Arthur's bidding, they
returned to their rooms to don warmer winter gear so that they could decorate the outside
of the house with fairy lights. As the temperature was dropping fast, Harry pulled on the
heavy winter cloak Severus had brought to him before he'd left that afternoon. As he
fastened the silver clasps that held it together, he noticed something heavy inside one of the
inner pockets. Reaching in, he pulled out a small leather case. Inside he found numerous
single-dose vials filled with a dark blue liquid. At the sight of them he knew immediately
what they were, the realization sending a warm pleasure through his body.

"What's that?" Ron asked curiously, noticing Harry staring at the case of potions.

"Dreamless Sleep," Harry said with a silly grin on his face. "I forgot to ask for some to bring
with me. I guess Severus remembered for me."

Ron said nothing for a moment, an odd look crossing his face. Harry glanced at him
curiously. He knew both Ron and Hermione had heard him refer to Severus by his first
name before, so he doubted that had startled him. No doubt he was surprised by the act of
kindness from their normally gruff Potions Master. But Ron surprised him.

"Are you still having nightmares, Harry?" he asked softly.

Harry sighed. "There not bad, Ron."

"Harry, you used to throw a silencing charm on your bed at night," Ron reminded him. "We
all used to joke around about why Seamus or Dean might use silencing charms on their

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beds at night. But I always knew that you did it to stifle your screams at night. We all knew
it, Harry. We just didn't know what to do to help you."

Harry stared at his friend in surprise. He hadn't known he'd been so obvious -- or perhaps
he had simply not expected his friends in Gryffindor to be so observant. He was guilty
sometimes of under-estimating all of them. "I never liked talking about them," he admitted
carefully.

"You can, you know," Ron told him. "I know I'm not the most sensitive bloke around, and I
know I don't understand things the way Hermione does. But I'll always listen Harry if you
need to talk or anything."

His words washed over Harry like a pleasant balm to the sharp tug he felt on his heart.
"Thanks, Ron," he smiled.

Ron just grinned in embarrassment as he realized he'd been caught in a mushy moment. He
motioned to the leather case. "Does it help -- the potion?"

"Yeah," Harry admitted. "He makes a special batch for me now -- they only allow peaceful
dreams to come through. I take it nearly every night."

"I guess that's the good thing about having a Potions Master in the family," Ron grinned.

"That's what he said," Harry admitted.

They heard a shout from the twins downstairs, urging them to hurry up. Harry carefully put
the leather case away in his trunk where he could find it when he needed it. Then the two of
them hurried downstairs to help Mr. Weasley put charmed Fairy Lights on the outside of
their house.

Harry had never stayed long at the Burrow before, but the ensuing days were just as crazy
as he imagined with that many people in the family. Though Harry was a bit overwhelmed
by so many Weasleys, he found he loved every minute of it. He and Ron spent that first
night whispering to each other late into the night as they used to do in Gryffindor tower --
something Harry had missed down the dungeons. But oddly enough he found himself
actually missing Snape's presence in the bed along side him. He'd grown used to sharing
that enormous bed down in the dungeons, and felt somewhat uncomfortable alone again. If
nothing else having someone strong and powerful beside him had given him a sense of
comfort that he'd never had before. He knew that if anything happened during the night,
Snape would be able to deal with it. He couldn't help wondering though if Snape was
grateful to have his bed all to himself again.

Remus and Sirius arrived a few days later and Harry greeted them both joyfully, flinging his
arms around the two men as they came in from the cold. Both men looked tired and
somewhat ragged from whatever mission Dumbledore had sent them on, though a few good
meals from Molly Weasley soon had both men set to rights. But they were both happy to see
Harry and pleased to be able to spend some time just relaxing with everyone, all of them
forgetting about the cares of the world for a few short days.

Harry could tell from the way they reacted to each other that Sirius had made little headway
in his mission to woo and win Remus Lupin. But then he suspected that had more to do with
how busy they had been than in any true reticence on the part of the reluctant werewolf. If
anything Remus seemed flattered by Sirius's attentions, if somewhat cautious.

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Sadly however he suffered a sever set back when Fleur Delacore, who was currently dating
Bill, stopped by to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Though Sirius, out of a need for
secrecy, had resumed his Animagus form, he like most of the other men in the room was
still affected by the beautiful Veela girl. Arthur and Remus alone seemed to have some sort
of immunity to her.

Harry found himself watching the Weasley boys fawn over the beautiful Veela girl with
some amusement. He definitely found Fleur beautiful -- but she didn't have quite the affect
on him that she did on the others. Even during fourth year he had noticed his reaction had
not been like those of his classmates. Still he found it amusing to watch the others gaze at
her with such sappy expressions on their faces. She wasn't a full Veela, so she didn't inspire
the madness a true Veela did. But it was obvious that the men in the room found her very
interesting.

He watched as Ginny and Molly just rolled their eyes at the men in disgust. Hermione, after
giving Ron some absolutely furious glares, abandoned the men to join Molly in the kitchen.
Remus, after greeting Fleur politely, stood off to the side for a moment and watched in
annoyance as a certain scruffy looking dog wagged his tail enthusiastically and gazed
adoringly up at the Veela girl while she cooed over the 'sweet puppy' and scratched his ears.
So enamored of the attention he was getting, Sirius never even noticed when Remus left the
house to take in the fresh air outside.

Shaking his head ruefully, Harry followed Remus outside. The man was standing on the far
end of the porch, staring thoughtfully out at the gray sky. There was another snowstorm
blowing in.

"You okay, Remus?" Harry asked carefully.

Remus turned to glance at him and for a moment he thought that the man's gentle amber
eyes flashed yellow in the cold light. Harry's own eyes widened behind his thick glasses. The
werewolf turned away quickly.

"I'm fine, Harry," he said tightly.

"She's a Veela," he explained, just in case the werewolf didn't know. He was fairly certain
that Remus had never met Fleur before, though he was bound to have heard about her from
the Triwizard Tournament. "They can't help themselves."

"She's a half Veela," Remus amended. "Werewolves have a very keen sense of smell. And as
far as not being able to help it, they can all help it if they so chose. She's not affecting you or
Arthur."

Harry just shrugged. "I don't know why. She's never really affected me. And I guess Arthur is
just . . . " He almost said 'too much in love with his wife to notice' when he realized that
would probably be a rather condemning thing to say with regards to Sirius' behavior.

"Yes, Arthur is," Remus agreed despite the fact that Harry had not finished his statement.

"I just meant. . ." Harry broke off and Remus sighed.

"Sirius is not affected by the Veela charm either," the werewolf told him. "He's too strong a
wizard for it to bother him, and in his Animagus form it has no affect anyway. He's just
acting like that because it amuses him. He likes being the center of attention, and he's

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getting a kick out of the fact that he's getting petted by a beautiful woman while the other
men in the room are being ignored."

"But it still makes you jealous," Harry said quietly.

Remus looked up startled, then surprisingly flushed with embarrassment. "How did you . . ."

"I see the way you two look at each other," Harry told him. "And I've seen the way he's been
flirting with you. It's kind of hard to miss -- the way he touches you all the time. The
suggestive statements."

"You don't mind?" Remus asked hesitantly.

"Of course not," Harry assured him. "I think it's great. You two belong together."

Remus shrugged ruefully at that. "I don't know about that," he muttered.

"You like him, don't you?" Harry pressed.

"It's more complicated than that," Remus told him with a sad look in his eyes.

"Because you're a werewolf," Harry nodded. "I know. And so does Sirius."

Remus threw a glare back toward the house. "If he really understood he wouldn't be in there
making a fool of himself. He has no idea how hard it is controlling the territorial instincts of
the wolf. She's a sweet, innocent young girl who's very much enamored with Bill Weasley
and all I can think about is going in there and ripping her hands off for touching Sirius."

His words confirmed what Harry suspected, explaining the flash of yellow he had seen in
the man's eyes earlier. Remus was one of the calmest, most gentle men he'd ever met, but it
didn't change the fact that he had a beast hidden deep inside him. "Did it ever occur to you
that that's why Sirius is acting this way?" Harry mused.

Remus looked at him in shock. "What do you mean?"

"Remus, he trusts you implicitly. He knows you won't hurt someone -- knows you won't let
the wolf out. Hell, even that first night I met him when you turned into a wolf in front of all
of us, he first tried talking you down in human form. Despite the fact that he knew you
hadn't taken your potion, he said he trusted the heart of the man inside you. But you're
right, Sirius does like being the center of attention -- did it ever occur to you that what he's
trying to do is make you jealous so that you'll give him the sort of attention Fleur is giving
him."

Remus looked startled at the thought. "Harry, it just isn't safe to make a werewolf jealous.
We don't do jealous. We have calm and we have enraged. There's no in between."

"I never said it was a smart plan," Harry conceded. "But this is Sirius we are talking about.
He acts impulsively. Give him a chance, he'll grow up eventually."

Remus smiled fondly at him. "You know it's funny -- you sounded an awful lot like James
just then in one of his more adult moments. He was good at giving advice."

Harry smiled, pleased. "Let me guess, he was really bad at taking advice however."

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"Pretty much," Remus laughed. "Which is probably why it took nearly seven years for him to
get your mother to even talk to him."

They heard the front door to the house open and a moment later a large black dog came
trotting out, looking hopefully around. He started wagging his tail happily when he spotted
Remus and Harry, though Harry thought there was something somewhat apologetic in the
tilt to his ears as he hurried over to the two of them. "Speak of the devil," Remus grumbled,
his voice almost low enough to be called a growl.

Padfoot sat down on his haunches, gazing hopefully up at the two of them. His tail thumped
eagerly against the wooden porch.

"Did you enjoy meeting Fleur?" Remus asked with a deceptively mild tone.

The dog's tail slowed its wagging though his ears perked up curiously. "Yes, I'm sure,"
Remus sighed. He patted Harry on the shoulder. "I'm going for a walk. I'll be back in a bit."
And with that he headed down the front steps of the porch and headed out across the field.
Padfoot stared after him mournfully.

"Go after him," Harry hissed at the dog. Padfoot's ears perked up immediately and he looked
at Harry. Harry rolled his eyes. "Good grief, you're hopeless. Go after him. You're supposed
to be man's best friend -- well go prove it."

Padfoot didn't need any more prompting. With an eager bark he was racing off across the
field to catch up with the retreating form of Remus. He brushed up against the man's legs as
he caught him and then danced around him in the snow, barking joyfully as if playing a
wonderful game.

Remus glared at him for a moment, and then Harry saw him shake his head and smile at the
dog's antics. To Harry's surprise, Remus bent down and picked up a stick from the snow and
tossed it ahead of him. Padfoot took off after it, barking with glee.

Harry found himself laughing. Weird -- very weird. But then he supposed the relationship
worked for them. With a smile, he headed back into the warm house and let the wolf and
dog work things out for themselves.

-----------------------------------------

Author's notes: Sorry there was so little Severus here. He'll turn up eventually. Poor Sirius --
I don't know if he'll ever learn. But he is trying in his own odd way. And as Harry said, he
does have an interesting surprise for them come Christmas Day. And while Harry doesn't
really understand his relationship with Severus, he's starting to realize that he does have
one, and that for the most part it has been rather positive.

Thank you all for all the wonderful reviews -- they really make me happy to read.

Author's Note: There's a whole lot of exposition in this chapter -- which is why you'll get 2
chapters today. But this chapter will finally give you some more insight into the Wizarding
World and how it works.

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Chapter 24 History Lessons

A nna Granger stood nervously beside her husband Michael. Each of them had a small
overnight bag slung over their shoulder, and both were staring with some trepidation
at the old shoe on the center of their table. It was a 'port key' Hermione had explained
in her letter. The shoe had been delivered just that morning by a large brown owl who had
been happy to accept a slice of their morning bacon as payment for the delivery.

"So we just touch it?" Michael asked warily.

"That's what Hermione said in her letter," Anna nodded. They had been invited to some
place called the Burrow for Christmas. Now it was December 23rd and they were schedule
to make the trip at precisely one minute after 12 noon. It was just noon now. They were
both eager to see their daughter, and glad that finally they would be given time enough to
truly get to know the family they suspected their daughter would one day belong to if her
rather long-winded descriptions of Ronald Weasley were anything to go by. Her letters were
always informative, detailed with her academic standings and whatever pieces of
Wizarding news she felt were important that they know. And she spoke of Harry quite
frequently and her constant worry and concern for the poor boy. But her descriptions of
Harry had always been of a sisterly sort -- Ron on the other hand was always referred to in
clever asides. And a mother could read between the lines -- she knew her daughter's heart
and had long suspected that the red-headed boy had stolen it.

"Well, let's give it a try, I suppose," Michael sighed. With trepidation, they both reached out
and touched the shoe. A second later, Anna felt a wrenching sensation in her stomach and
before she could shout in surprise she found herself being pulled away from their home in
London. The world seemed to blur around them and a moment later refocused. They were
no longer where they had been.

Anna had only a moment of disorientation to notice that they now stood in a somewhat old-
fashioned looking living room with the most enormous fireplace she had ever seen before
she heard a shout of "Mom!" and found her daughter flinging her arms around her in
greeting.

The next ten minutes were a blur to Anna as she was introduced to a very large number of
redheads, along with Ron and Harry. She had of course met Arthur and Molly several times
before when she'd gone shopping with Hermione in Diagon Alley, but it was different being
a guest in a person's home.

As for the house itself -- logic dictated that it should not be standing. The architecture did
not look at all sound -- particularly the stairs that didn't seem to follow any rhyme or reason
beyond the simple fact that they went 'up'. The room they were staying in, covered
surprisingly in posters with moving pictures in them, seemed to be larger on the inside that
it was on the outside. And the window, which faced the front of the house and should have
looked out upon the road, appeared to have a very fine view of the Cliffs of Moher in
Ireland.

Once they'd settled in the room and unpacked for the two nights they were staying, Anna
was led by her daughter and young Ginny Weasley down into the kitchen where Molly
fixed her a nice cup of tea while she finished getting lunch made for the mob of people in
her house. Anna watched in silent amazement as the woman conducted the various food
items and kitchen utensils with a wave of her wand.

184
The kitchen was far from familiar to Anna -- she only recognized a few of the items in it.
Her own kitchen back home was equipped with every modern convenience known to man -
- even a few she had yet to find a true use for. But Molly Weasley's kitchen appeared to be at
least two hundred years out of date -- that was definitely a butter churn she saw sitting in
the corner of the room. Of course when the butter churn pumped itself with little
prompting from Molly, Anna supposed the results were better than the processed cubes she
bought in the store. There also didn't seem to be anything that resembled a refrigerator in
the room -- rather Molly simply opened up a random cupboard and pulled various food
items from them. One minute a cupboard was filled with chilled milk, the next Molly was
pulling a steaming hot pie out of it. All in all it was very disturbing -- like something out of
dream.

She found herself watching her daughter as she helped Molly with various chores in the
kitchen. Far from being alarmed by all the oddities that she knew her daughter had not
grown up with, Hermione looked very much at home in this environment. Indeed her
daughter appeared to be thriving in it as she had ever since that fateful day when her
Hogwarts letter had arrived via owl. Anna was pleased that her daughter seemed so happy
in this world she had chosen for herself.

But despite all the joy in the strange little house, Anna knew there was a dark side to all of
this, made apparent when they all sat down to lunch a short while later and she realized
that her husband was seated next to a man she'd seen on the evening telly time and time
again as an escaped serial killer. Sirius Black, she recalled the name.

She knew of course that the man was innocent -- Hermione had told her the whole story.
Knew also that the other man sitting beside him must be the beloved teacher, Professor
Lupin, that Hermione had spoken so highly of. A werewolf, if the stories were to be believed,
and she had no reason to think her daughter might lie.

And not far from them was young Harry, with the infamous scar on his forehead that stood
as stark reminder to all of them that a threat loomed over both of their worlds. She supposed
she'd only heard a fraction of the true adventures her daughter had been involved in, and
she knew that Hermione's close friendship with that boy had endangered her life time and
time again.

She was also vaguely beginning to understand through her daughter's letters that precisely
because of that boy this group of people were somehow at the heart of the Wizarding World
-- they were important in the grand scheme of things. And her daughter, by mere
association, had become something of a legend in her own right. Simply seeing her
daughter's name in that enormously thick book Hermione had shown her last summer --
"Hogwarts, a History" -- had convinced her that things were going on she might never truly
understand. The book, self-updating Hermione had said, accounted some of the adventures
her daughter, Ron and Harry had been involved in. It was strange to think that in a world
she knew next to nothing about, her daughter had become famous.

Later that evening she joined the others in the living room. They sat around the enormous
fire (looked like several people could stand up right in the fireplace) and discussed some of
the events that were taking place in the world that neither she nor Michael truly
understood.

"So how much does the Muggle Ministry know about this fellow Voldemort?" Michael was
asking. Anna saw several people flinch at the mention of the Dark Lord's name and Michael
quickly apologized. "Sorry -- I meant You Know Who." Neither of them could really get
their minds around the superstition that made people so leery of saying the name.

185
"Several key figures in the Muggle Ministry are briefed regularly on the events in the
Wizarding World," Arthur explained. "But they are very much aware of the fact that there
isn't a lot they can do to affect things here. Seems like every year they are trying to impose
some sort of new regulations on the Wizarding World, but when it comes right down to it,
much of the Wizarding World doesn't even notice."

"How can they not notice?" Michael asked. "I mean doesn't the average Wizard and Witch
have to follow the laws just the same as every Muggle?"

"Wizard laws, Michael," Remus explained. "It's actually a small percentage of the Wizarding
population who ever interact with Muggles at all. I mean it would be pretty silly to expect
Wizards to pay attention to traffic laws when they don't drive cars. And you could hardly
expect Muggles to pay attention to apparating laws when they don't even know such things
are possible."

"Well what happens when the laws do come into conflict?" Anna asked. She'd been very
curious about the letter Hermione had sent to her at the beginning of the semester about
Harry. The discovery that Harry had been abused by his family had been heart-breaking --
and just as shocking had been the response of the Wizarding World. She could see the
wedding band on young Harry's finger and couldn't really understand how they could have
married off such a young boy. And if Hermione was to be believed he was married to a man
of all things -- one of their professors. She didn't think she liked that idea in the slightest.
She rather hoped she had misunderstood the story.

"That depends on what law you are talking about," Arthur told her. "If it concerns a wizard,
then Wizarding law takes precedence. You can't expect Muggle authorities to apprehend a
Wizarding criminal. It wouldn't be possible in most cases. And Muggle prisons certainly
couldn't hold a wizard or witch for long."

"But who is in charge?" Michael asked in confusion. Her husband had always preferred
things to be straightforward and well-organized, something her daughter had inherited. "I
mean, I know you have a Minister of Magic, but doesn't he answer ultimately to the Prime
Minister and Parliament?"

"Ah, I see where you might be confused," Arthur nodded, though he glanced over to Remus
as if deferring to the former professor. "While I work for the Ministry, I'm afraid I don't
truly know a lot about the Muggle government."

"You are laboring under the misunderstanding that Wizarding Great Britain is the same
nation as Muggle Great Britain," Remus explained. "It's not."

Anna noted that Harry looked surprised at that statement as well. "It's not?" he asked in
confusion.

Hermione just shook her head. "Honestly, Harry, don't you ever pay attention in Professor
Binn's class?"

"Nobody pays attention in Professor Binn's class," Harry protested. "The only time something
interesting happens there is when he forgets where he is and starts drifting through the
floor."

Anna found herself shuddering at that. Professor Binn was the ghost professor Hermione
had told her about -- magic was one thing, but the very idea of ghosts gave her the shivers.
She couldn't imagine her daughter being taught by a man long dead.
186
"Do you mean to say that Wizarding Great Britain is not part of our nation?" Michael
pressed.

Remus leaned forward, appearing to move into a lecture mode. Anna noticed Sirius' eyes
lighting up with sudden interest, and she couldn't help wonder at the relationship between
the two men. They were sitting awfully close together on the couch, though there was room
enough to spread out.

"Despite the fact that Great Britain as you understand it has been around a very long time,
the government that rules over it is really quite young," Remus informed him. Michael
frowned in confusion. "I mean to say that it wasn't that long ago that you were ruled by
your monarchy."

Michael nodded, as if conceding the point, though Anna wasn't certain what Remus might
have meant by 'not that long ago'. Seemed a goodly time to her.

"But our society with its current form of government here in Great Britain has been around
for a long time. We consider our 'modern' form of government to have been ratified by
Merlin over 1500 years ago. But prior to that our society had thrived virtually unchanged
here on the British Isles for several thousand years."

"The same government?" Michael asked in shock as if the very idea was inconceivable.

Remus nodded. "It goes back farther than that. You have to understand that you as Muggles
are ultimately ruled by a set of laws you have written down on paper. While those laws
have some basic universal truths backing them, they are still just words on paper. They are
subject to interpretation and can be changed or broken depending on who is in power. The
Wizarding World however is governed by a set of laws that are backed by magic. They
cannot be changed, they cannot be interpreted, and they cannot be ignored. These laws
have been ruling our society since long before the Great Pyramids in Egypt were ever
constructed."

Michael frowned at that. "I don't understand. Which laws are you talking about here?
Certainly not apparation laws or age limits for magic use."

"No, of course not," Remus laughed. "These laws are deeper and more esoteric. For example,
the Universe has a dual nature that cannot be ignored. For every good there is an evil, for
every life there is a death."

"For every action there is a reaction," Michael nodded in understanding. "But that's just basic
physics. It's not a form of government."

"It is to us," Remus explained. "That duality affects our lives in a very fundamental way that
can not be denied. For example, we know that for every soul that exist in the world there is
a soul mate for it. If these two souls somehow miraculous manage to find each other in life,
we know that we cannot pull them apart. To do so causes chaos. It can bring about great
pain and mischief which ultimately diminishes our society. Consequently our marriage laws
are much different than those of the Muggle world."

"Is that why you were able to marry Harry to another man?" Anna asked in surprise.

As Remus nodded, Harry blanched in shock and looked sharply at the werewolf. "The
Marriage Stone! Does it find soul mates?"

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Again Remus nodded, "That is its purpose."

"Snape!" Harry exclaimed in stunned amazement looking shocked beyond words -- Anna
remembered that Snape was the name of the man he had married.

Sirius reached over quickly and patted Harry on the shoulder. "Harry, relax. Soul mates
have nothing to do with all that romantic twaddle you might read about in Muggle
Romance novels. It has to do with magical resonances and how your magic reacts to one
another. Not to mention the archetypal natures of your individual psyches and how they
mesh together. Siblings can be soul mates without there ever being any form of romance
between them."

Harry seemed to calm down at that but still looked somewhat disturbed by the notion.

"Alright," Michael proceeded. "You have these ancient laws that govern your society -- who
interprets them ultimately. It sounds like all the Wizarding World would be subjected to
them regardless of what country they belonged to."

"Right," Remus agreed. "But the laws are not interpreted, merely enforced, and that is done
by a group that has been called many things over the years -- the High Council, the Circle
of Elders, the Illuminati, the Magi. The various ministries currently call them the
International Confederation of Sorcerers."

"That's on Professor Dumbledore's letter head!" Ron exclaimed, looking happy to be able to
point something out.

Again Remus nodded. "Yes, Albus is a member," he agreed. "The confederation is made up of
the most powerful and eldest families in the Wizarding World. They are ultimately the final
authority in our society."

"If that's the case then why does the Headmaster have to do what the Minister of Magic and
the board of Governors tells him to do?" Ron protested.

"Because Albus would never dream of interfering with the day-to-day governing of a single
nation," Remus explained. "The Confederation has very little to do with the daily running of
the world. In fact decades might pass with out a single meeting of the members. Instead,
each nation is governed on a daily bases by their version of the Ministry of Magic, and those
Wizarding forms of government are sovereign unto themselves and have nothing to do with
the Muggle world."

"Do they at least recognize the same national boundaries of the Muggle World," Michael
wanted to know, looking quite shocked by the idea. Anna had noticed that while Harry
looked completely flummoxed by the idea, Hermione appeared to understand all this
already.

"Oh, Merlin, no," Remus laughed. "I mean for one thing did you know that in the Wizarding
World England has six whole counties that Muggles have never even seen before?"

"What!" both Anna and Michael exclaimed.

"Wizarding France is still ruled by a monarchy -- they missed the whole Revolution. By the
time they got around to noticing that Muggles were running around lopping off each
other's heads, they had already washed their hands of the Muggle world and retreated into

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unplottable provinces. Wizarding Russia and China not only missed the advent of
communism, they never even defied their national borders along the same lines. That entire
section of the world is broken up into hundreds of small kingdoms that are ruled over by
various warlords and conquerors. The descendants of Attila the Hun still control large
sections of the land."

"Wizarding Egypt still has a pharaoh," Bill added helpfully.

"And Wizarding India is ruled by a family of Rakshashas-- a creature that is part human
part tiger," Charlie added. "And various leaders in parts of Asia claim to have dragon blood
in them."

"And then there's the Americas," Remus continued. "Our history here in Britain is filled with
stories going back thousands of years about magical people sailing away into the west in
search of a mythical haven. By the time the Muggle Columbus had reached the American
shores, wizards had been living in America for thousands of years. The current Muggle
government there is aware of the Wizarding World, but they have very little interaction
with them. One of their founders, Benjamin Franklin arranged a treaty with them, but it
largely consisted of 'don't bother us and we won't bother you'."

"Man, I've really got to start paying more attention in History class," Harry muttered.

"Finally!" Hermione exclaimed, and her exasperation caused everyone to laugh.

They talked a great deal longer about the intricacies of the Wizarding World. Eventually
Anna asked the question that had been weighing most heavily on her mind. "And how does
the Dark Lord and his followers ultimately fit into the various Wizarding governments?
What is his ultimate goal?"

All of them looked uncomfortable at that, seeming uncertain how to answer. Surprisingly it
was Harry who spoke up. "Voldemort wants to rule the world -- all the world regardless of
whether or not it is Wizarding or Muggle."

Both his use of the forbidden name and the description of what he wanted to do made the
Weasleys all shudder.

"And the Muggle world can do nothing at all to stop him?" Michael asked, wanting to
confirm what they both feared. They had been reading about various unexplained deaths in
newspapers for over a year now -- they had long suspected they were the work of Death
Eaters despite the papers saying they were unknown terrorists.

"Voldemort doesn't believe that even the Wizarding World can do anything to stop him,"
Harry added.

"Can the Wizarding World stop them?" Michael asked fearfully. At that Harry smiled sadly
and turned away. Sirius reached out again and took the boy's hand.

"We'll all certainly try our best," Sirius informed them, sounding very resolved in his
response. At that Remus and several others all reached over and patted Harry on the
shoulder as if offering him silent support. Hermione, Anna noticed, was one of the first to do
so and she felt her heart break at the gesture. She understood what they all meant -- for
whatever reason the Wizarding World expected this boy to stop Voldemort, and his friends
and family all knew it. Anna could not imagine such pressure; she could only pray that the
boy was up to the task. That somehow he might manage to save at least one of their worlds.
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----------------------

Author's Note: As far as I know Mr. and Mrs. Granger were never given first names, so I've
names them Anna and Michael. Since I knew this chapter would be almost nothing but
exposition I thought it would be fun to see the whole thing through the eyes of two
outsiders.

Now, how many of you think that the soul-mate relationship between Harry and Severus
will be of the sibling variety? Sirius is of course hopeful, but I think Harry is starting to
realize things are different than he suspected.

Severus shows up in the next chapter -- and I wanted to mention something about the
sleeping arrangements since so many people asked me about it. Molly put Harry in with Ron
since Harry was there long before Severus shows up. Let's face it, Harry is really there to
spend time with his friends so why wouldn't he stay with Ron.

But she intends to put Severus into Percy's room -- alone. Everyone else is sharing a room --
but not Snape. Molly is actually being rather sly here -- she knows exactly why Harry and
Severus got married to begin with. And she's not about to ask how their relationship has
evolved. By putting Snape in a room alone, she's leaving the decision entirely up to Snape
and Harry. Harry can move rooms for that one night if he wishes -- or he can stay with Ron
without anyone making a fuss one way or another.

Chapter 25 Christmas Eve

H arry spent most of Christmas Eve with Ron and Hermione playing various games
both Muggle and Wizarding. The promised snowstorm had blown in with a bang
and it was far too cold to go outside. Nevertheless the day seemed to be flying by.

He'd enjoyed getting to know the Granger at last. Having been raised as a Muggle he
understood the cultural shock they were going through, and both he and Hermione had a
wonderful time introducing them to some of amenities of the Wizarding World. Even
something as simple as lighting their bedroom when they had gone up to bed had proven
daunting to them since they had no idea what to do without the presence of a light switch.

Hermione had given them several small floating Wizarding lights so that they wouldn't have
to worry about the candles. She then used a charm to rig them to turn on and off
automatically whenever one of the Granger's clapped their hands. That idea sent both the
Grangers and Harry into fits of giggles while the rest of the household looked on in
confusion.

"It's a Muggle thing," Harry had simply told them, not certain he wanted to go into an
explanation of how the Muggle "Clapper" worked. Arthur would be far too keen on
acquiring one for himself.

He'd also enjoyed the History lesson the night before, though it had been somewhat
disturbing to discover that Snape was in fact his 'soul mate'. They hardly got along the way
soul mates did in all those silly romance novels his aunt used to rave about. He was fairly
certain that he did not truly understand the concept. Still he had learned more from Remus
the previous evening than he had in the all the years in Professor Binn's class. He wondered
if Remus would ever be allowed to return to teaching at Hogwarts. He was a natural at it,
and seemed to love doing it.

190
By late afternoon he found himself staring somewhat anxiously out the front window at the
road beyond.

"Something wrong, Harry?" Ron asked from the couch where he was currently trouncing
Sirius in a game of Wizarding Chess.

"Severus promised he'd come today," Harry explained. "I thought he'd be here by now." It
was already growing dark and he was concerned that the man might have forgotten his
promise. He was surprisingly eager to see the man -- found that despite all the fun he'd had,
he missed his sarcastic humor.

"Snape's coming?" Sirius exclaimed, looking horrified at the though. Harry turned around
and glared at his godfather.

"I told you he was," he reminded him.

"I thought you were joking," Sirius grumbled. "Just what we all need -- Ebenezer Scrooge to
brighten up our lives."

"Padfoot, you promised you'd behave," Remus, who was just entered the room from the
kitchen, reminded him.

"Did I?' Sirius asked doubtfully. "That doesn't sound like something I'd do. Are you sure?"

"Yes," Remus stated emphatically. "If I remember correctly you said something along the
lines of 'I promise I'll be nice to Snape if you let me sleep on the bed'."

His words were rather unexpected, and both Ron and Harry nearly choked on the startled
laughter. Sirius on the other hand looked quite put out by the statement, much to Harry's
surprise. "Yeah, but I didn't mean for you to sleep on the couch instead," he grumbled,
which just made Harry snicker all the louder.

Remus just shrugged as he sat down in one of the armchairs near the fireplace. "You didn't
clarify. And a promise is a promise."

"Fine," Sirius huffed as he moved his queen across the chessboard, only to have Ron's bishop
smash her to pieces on the next move. "Oh, see now I've lost the game because of Snape!" he
exclaimed.

"You were losing the game before Snape was ever mentioned," Ron pointed out. "You're a
terrible player."

"I'm a very good player," Sirius argued. "I just don't play well like this."

"Like what?" Ron asked bewilderedly.

"Thinking about all the moves," Sirius explained. "I prefer the one second rule."

"One second rule?" Ron frowned over at Harry who just shrugged. Remus chuckled and
shook his head.

"One second between moves," Sirius told him. "If you don't move your piece inside that one
second you forfeit your move and your opponent gets to go again."

191
"But that's . . . that's. . . ." Ron stared down at the chessboard in something akin to horror.
"How can you plan anything like that?"

"You can't," Sirius grinned. "You just have to go with your gut instinct. It makes the games a
lot more interesting."

"I've never heard of anything so silly," Ron huffed.

Remus chuckled. "Albus attempted to get the different houses to play chess together in the
evenings when we were in school. Unfortunately forcing a Gryffindor and Slytherin to sit in
silence for a long period of time while playing a game proved to be damn near impossible.
About five minutes into the games Sirius or James or Severus or Lucius Malfoy would
inevitably blow a fuse and the evening would end in bloodshed. That's when Sirius came up
with the one second rule -- the games were over before that five minute window passed and
we all stopped the endless streams of detentions Professor McGonagall was giving us."

"Who usually won?" Harry asked curiously. Somehow he was having a hard time picturing
Sirius playing chess against Lucius Malfoy.

"Actually they were all pretty well matched," Remus said thoughtfully. "But inevitably Peter
ended up winning more matches than anyone else. He was remarkably quick when it came
to thinking on his feet."

"That little rat," Sirius growled, his features darkening with the reminder of their one time
friend. "I should have realized there was something wrong with him back then."

To that, Remus had no response.

The crackle of magic sounded sharply outside as someone Apparated just outside the wards
to the Burrow. Harry immediately turned to look out the window and saw a tall dark figure
just outside the gate that led up the road to the house. He knew immediately by the stance
and the long striding walk the figure took up the walkway that it was Snape.

Grinning, Harry leaped up from his seat and ran to the front door, throwing it open. As the
warm light from the house spilled out into the icy winter darkness, Severus looked up in
surprise, as if startled to be greeted so openly by anyone.

Harry just smiled at him, taking in his appearance with more appreciation than he had
expected. For once the man was not wearing his traditional black robes. He was dressed
more like he had been the night they had gone to Briarwood Hall for dinner -- leather pants
and boots, a white shirt with a dark, wine-colored doublet, and a matching cloak that was
lined with silver fur. Harry took a point of noticing that his hair was clean and wild-looking
-- one compliment and he had never gone back to his former style much to Harry's delight.
The last time someone had sullenly referred to him as the 'greasy git' Harry had taken pains
to point out that he was far from greasy looking these days. Indeed, while he was not what
one would traditionally call handsome, Harry thought he was at least dashing looking.
Though the idea that he was even remotely interested in his bond-mate's appearance
disturbed him on levels he didn't want to explore.

"Happy Christmas!" he greeted as Severus made his way onto the porch.

He saw Snape's gaze rake over him, moving swiftly from head to toe. "Happy Christmas," he
greeted mildly, though there was warmth in his eyes that hadn't been there last time Harry
had spoken to him. "I see you are still in one piece."
192
"Yep," Harry agreed impishly. "I've limited myself to five death defying acts a day just to
make you happy."

"Only five?" Severus mused. "I'm touched. I can't even begin to imagine the boredom you
must be suffering."

Harry nodded in agreement. "It's been difficult. But Mrs. Weasley assures me that it builds
character."

He could see the humor gleaming in Severus' eyes. "Character? Is that what it's called these
days? When I was your age I believed it was referred to as idiocy."

Harry just shrugged happily. "Oh, you know young people these days. No respect for the
English language."

At that moment Molly Weasley appeared beside Harry, smiling warmly at the man on her
doorstep. "Severus! Welcome. Come in out of the cold."

"Thank you, Molly," Severus nodded as he entered the Burrow for the first time. Harry
noticed a small trunk floating calmly behind him. Molly immediately flicked her wand and
sent it dancing up the stairs to Percy's room. There was a yelp of surprise as someone barely
managed to dodge out of its way.

The others came in then to greet Snape. Arthur and Remus were openly genuine in their
welcome, and both Bill and Charlie came forward to shake his hand politely. Percy
positively gushed as he welcomed him to the Burrow, remarking that Severus had always
been one of his most favorite teachers. Ron, the twins and Ginny just looked at their elder
brother with baffled looks of horror on their faces.

Sirius and Severus nodded to each other in acknowledgement, but didn't exchange a
greeting beyond that. Still it was better that open bloodshed, Harry mused. The Grangers
were both polite but somewhat awkward in their greeting, and Harry knew they were still
trying to deal with the fact that one of their daughter's friends had been forcibly married off
to this man only a few months earlier. It was obvious that they didn't know what to expect
from him -- certainly Hermione's descriptions of him from prior years did little to put their
minds at ease over what sort of person he might be.

Throughout it all Severus was surprisingly polite -- for him anyway. He refrained from
openly insulting anyone, and was remarkably gracious to both Molly and Arthur. Indeed he
had brought a host gift for the two of them -- a bottle of wine which Arthur particularly
had exclaimed over. From Arthur's reaction and Sirius raised eyebrow (a sign that he was
impressed but not going to admit it) Harry gathered that the wine was some rare vintage
that the Weasley family were not likely to see often.

Christmas Eve dinner was a lively affair with sixteen people crowded around the dinner
table. It was exactly what Harry had always imagined a large family Christmas would be
like, and he knew he spent most of the evening grinning somewhat foolishly at all the
people around him. The twins, having discovered that Sirius and Remus were in fact the
infamous Marauders spent most of the evening exchanging pranks with them, though
thankfully they were under strict orders from Molly to confine their jokes to the four of
them. The rest of the guest were spared, and were able to enjoy the results all the more.
Seeing both Sirius and Remus with pink hair while the twins sported feathers on their heads
and long, odd looking donkey ears made Harry laugh until his sides hurt. Luckily all four of

193
them were rather good-natured about the whole thing, though the Grangers didn't appear
to know what to think.

Conversations after dinner were just as interesting as well. From what Harry had figured
out from Wizarding society, Severus did not move in the same social circles as the Weasleys.
Neither did Sirius for that matter, but his status as a wanted criminal currently altered his
situation. As such Arthur seemed quite eager to talk to Severus about various political topics
currently considered hot by the Ministry. It seemed that the Snape family had a say in who
became the next Minister of Magic.

Harry interrupted at that, confused by the inference, as were the Grangers. "I thought the
Minister of Magic was voted into office," he stated. "Isn't that what all this nonsense about
trying to adopt me was all about? Fudge was trying to curry votes."

"He is voted into office," Remus agreed. "Or rather someone will be when the next election
rolls around." He'd already been told that the next election was nearly a year away --
Halloween of the following year. Harry thought it was awfully early in the season for any of
the candidates to be campaigning so hard. He'd been under the impression that the election
was imminent. But as was so often the case, things were done differently in the Wizarding
World.

"It's one of the reasons people are campaigning so early, Harry," Remus continued. "If it
were simply a matter of one person, one vote, things would be a bit simpler. But we aren't a
democracy as the Muggles understand it."

"You mean not all your citizens get to vote?" Michael looked shocked at the idea.

"Not all of our citizens should vote," Severus informed him. "Take Giants for example --
most of them are not even capable of writing their own names. Should they be required to
understand the intricacies of an election? Or what about the entire Veela nation -- by law
our elections must occur on the night of Samhain, but all full-blooded Veela go into heat on
that night. They would not be capable of casting a vote."

Harry found himself blushing at the idea of anyone going into heat and glanced over at Bill.
Seeing his gaze Bill just shook his head. "She's only half Veela," he assured him.
"Consequently the Delecour family gets to cast a vote for a very large group of people."

"Votes are cast by heads of family," Remus told them. "A single family gets a certain number
of votes depending on their land holdings, their magical powers, and the number of their
vassals under them. So one of the things the various candidates for Minister are doing is
attempting to influence the alliances between the lesser families. If they can move the
vassals from one family holding to another they can influence the number of votes being
cast in their favor. As near as I know the Snapes have a total of forty-three votes they get to
cast in this election."

"Forty-seven," Severus corrected. "We acquired the Mirwanden vote when my brother's son
was born -- he's the only male heir to his mother's family line." He glanced at Harry.
"Julliana," he explained, reminding Harry of Claudius Snape's ditsy wife.

"What about the rest of you?" Michael asked curiously. "Do you all have votes?"

Arthur laughed at that. "While my family is an old name, we don't have much land to our
name. For the last fifty years we've been allied with the Dumbledore family -- our vote goes
as Albus sees fit to cast it. "
194
"I'm the last of my line and my family were neither pure blooded nor landed," Remus
explained. "I have no vote at all. Nor any value as a vassal." Harry frowned uncomfortably at
that, not certain he liked hearing Remus refer to himself in such a manner.

"What about you?" Michael asked Sirius -- his curiosity about the rather infamous criminal
had been apparent the last few days.

Sirius frowned. "The Black family has forty-one votes, but unfortunately while I've been
locked up in Azkaban my cousin Narcissa Malfoy has been casting my votes along with a
few others that should not by rights be hers. It's given the Malfoys an unfair advantage over
all the other families. Lucius has forty-nine votes to his name. Add all the others that
Narcissa has been claiming, and they have become one of the most powerful families
around. That is why the Ministry is so quick to look the other way when Lucius does
something wrong."

"But isn't he a Death Eater?" Anna exclaimed in horror. "Are you saying that the Death
Eaters get a say in who is elected Minister?"

Severus nodded. "The Zabinis, the Averys, the Notts, the Crabbes, the Goyles and the
Lestranges are all supporters of the Dark Lord, and each of them have numerous votes to
cast."

"Even still?" Harry asked curiously. Mr. Crabbe and Goyle were both dead, and Mr. Zabini
was locked up in Azkaban.

"Crabbe's and Goyle's wives will cast their votes, and Blaise Zabini will cast his father's vote,"
Severus nodded.

"What about Muggleborn?" Hermione broke in. "If Muggleborns are new to the Wizarding
World, how do they get a vote?"

"They don't," Severus said simply, raising one dark eyebrow. "Perhaps you can see why there
is such conflict over the issue between Muggleborns and purebloods. It's very easy for
purebloods to pass legislation against them -- those that disagree with such prejudices
generally have a war on their hands to prevent such laws. It's one of the reasons why we are
at war now."

"So there's absolutely no way for a Muggleborn to gain a vote?" Hermione huffed.

"Of course there's a way," Severus informed her. "It just doesn't happen very often. I told
you, votes come from land holdings, magical powers, or vassals. If a Muggleborn can
acquire either land holdings or vassals they automatically get a vote. Baring that, if a
Muggleborn reaches a certain level of magical power they are automatically granted by a
vote by Magical Acknowledgement of the Wisengamut. But that does not happen very often.
When you come of age you can petition for a vote -- and I would guess you'll probably get
it. But one vote alone has very little sway in the political arena -- you would be better suited
to choose a family to align yourself with and add your vote to theirs."

Despite his words, Harry could see something rather calculating in Hermione's eyes and he
couldn't help wondering if they were going to see the emergence of a new organization like
S.P.E.W. in the near future.

Something suddenly occurred to him. "Wait a minute," Harry cut in. "What about me? Does
my family have any sort of a vote?"
195
"The Potters had thirty-three votes," Sirius informed him. "Unfortunately while you were
underage, those votes should have been mine as your god father -- but once again went to
Narcissa Malfoy."

"The Malfoys have been casting my votes?" Harry was incensed at the idea. "They help
Voldemort murder my parents and then get to claim my father's votes after he's dead?"

Sirius nodded, a pained look on his face.

"Do they still get them?" Harry demanded turning toward Snape.

"No," he quickly assured him. "You're considered an adult now. The votes are yours."

"Mine or yours?" he asked for clarification wondering if Snape was considered the head of
his household.

"If you are asking if I get to cast your votes for you, the answer is no," he replied. "The Potter
line is a sovereign one and is considered equal to the Snapes. We have what is viewed as an
alliance and everyone will expect us to vote the same way. But you could technically vote
against me if you wished. However, if we are to have a single heir between us, then he or
she would gain both sets of votes when we die."

"A single heir?" Harry blanched for a moment and looked at Hermione with a sudden
horrifying thought. Hermione, well used to his questions, just looked at him disbelief.

"Don't be an idiot, Harry," she exclaimed and reached over and whapped him upside the
head. A wave of relief washed over him, and the twins began roaring with laughter, the
only two people besides Hermione who had figured out what direction his thoughts had
gone. All the other stared in confusion. Finally Fred took pity on them.

"Harry was afraid you were about to inform him that wizards can get pregnant."

That set the others off immediately, Ron and Sirius in particular falling out of their seats
they were laughing so hard. Severus just rolled his eyes and sent a disbelieving stare at
Harry. "Designating an heir is not something you should be worrying about right now," he
informed Harry quietly below the laughter. Harry just nodded in relief.

"What about Sirius' vote then," Harry asked once the laughter had died down. "Since he's my
godfather can I claim his vote until he's been cleared by the Ministry? I don't like the idea of
the Malfoys having anything to do with us."

"That's not a bad idea," Sirius agreed thoughtfully. He glanced at Snape. "It's a legitimate
claim, especially since he's a legal adult now. He's already my designated heir. All you'd
have to do is get my will from Gringotts to prove it. He'd need to file the appropriate
documents with the Ministry, but I'm sure you can help him with that. It would
substantially weaken the Malfoys."

Severus nodded. "I'll speak with Albus about it when I return to Hogwarts."

They spoke a while longer about the political climate in Wizarding Britain, but eventually
Molly ushered them all off to bed for the night. Harry felt a moment of uncertainty as he
followed Ron into his bedroom -- he couldn't help wonder if he was expected by anyone to
sleep in Percy's room with Severus now that he was in the house. But no one said anything

196
to him as he bid them all good night. He had to put up with a bit of ribbing from Ron over
the idea that wizards could get pregnant as they settled down for the night. Ron fell silent
for a while but Harry could tell he was not asleep.

"Harry?" he asked hesitantly. Harry rolled over in the dark so that he could stare across the
room at Ron. Without his glasses on Ron was little more than a dark blob to him. "You do
know about that sort of thing, right?" Ron asked.

"What sort of thing?" Harry frowned.

"You know . . ." Ron shifted in his bed as if he were uncomfortable. "Sex," he finally
whispered. That he had said the word at all was surprising -- Harry had come to the
conclusion that the Wizarding World was a great deal more prudish than the Muggle world
when in came to such discussions.

"Oh," Harry replied uncomfortably. Truthfully, he didn't know much about it. He'd figured
out the basics from the few glimpses he'd been allowed to see of Muggle Television. And
there was a lot one could pick up from inferences just by listening to the other boys talk. But
if Ron was asking if he'd ever actually been sat down and told about such things -- then the
answer was no. The closest he'd ever come to such a conversation was the day his Aunt
Petunia had found Dudley touching himself in the bathroom. For whatever reason, instead
of punishing Dudley, she'd beaten Harry with a wooden cooking spoon until his back was
black and blue with marks. Though he had only been ten at the time, he'd been given to
understand that such behavior in Dudley had been caused because Harry was a freak. He'd
since figured out the truth, but not because anyone had ever explained it to him.

"Mom and Dad did the whole 'talk' thing with me," Ron explained. "Which was bloody
awful let me tell you. But afterwards Bill and Charlie cleared every thing up. Brothers are
good for some things."

He'd heard about the 'talk'. Apparently it was something that all children experienced with
their parents at some point in time. He had never been subjected to it of course.

"Did anyone ever give you the talk?" Ron asked hesitantly.

"No," Harry admitted. "But I figured it out for myself -- the basics anyway."

Even in the dark he could tell Ron was frowning. "Then how come you thought it might be
possible for wizards to get pregnant?"

Harry felt himself flushing at that. It occurred to him suddenly that if Ron, who wasn't
always the quickest person around, had wondered that, no doubt every single person in the
room tonight were wondering the same thing by now.

"Okay, so maybe I don't know everything," Harry mumbled. "I'm going to be tormented the
next few days aren't I? Everyone is going to want to have this talk with me."

Ron was silent for a few moments as if trying to decide how to answer. "Probably," he
agreed.

"Great," Harry sighed.

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"Who'd you prefer?" Ron asked. "I can ask Bill or Charlie if you'd like. Or if you want I can
tell you -- though to be honest with you I don't know about . . . well, you know. . ."

But Harry didn't know. "What?"

"You know," Ron said, obviously embarrassed. "Two guys."

Two guys? It took Harry a moment to figure out that he was in fact talking about him and
Snape. "Oh," he said with some surprise. "Do you think that I'm . . ." he had no idea what the
Wizarding word for gay was, but obvious Ron caught the inference.

"Well, whether you are not, Harry, the fact is you're married to a man."

"Yeah, but we're not. . .I mean we don't. . ." Harry broke off, not certain how to finish that
sentence.

"Yeah, but sooner or later, don't you think that. . ." Ron broke off, and Harry wasn't certain
how he had intended to finish that conversation. Did he mean to say that sooner or later he
expected Harry would want something intimate from Snape, or that sooner or later Snape
would expect Harry to act more like a spouse was supposed to? He got the impression from
the nasty comments from the Slytherin students, not to mention Minister Fudge's and Julius'
accusation that Snape actually had the right to demand such things from him. Harry had
just assumed that he never would.

Then there was also the issue of Sonara Sinistra. Harry had finally come to the conclusion
that he didn't like the idea of infidelity in a marriage -- even one as bizarre as his. But if that
was the case didn't that mean that sooner or later, deep down, he expected things to change
between him and Snape? Surely he didn't expect to live his entire life in celibacy -- and he
could hardly expect Snape to.

"Huh," Harry stated, feeling somewhat stumped at the thought. "I never thought about that."

"That's kind of what I figured," Ron sighed. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not right now," Harry told him. "Let me think about it for a while, okay."

"No problem," Ron assured him, and he sounded vaguely relieved. "But just so you know,
Charlie is a good one to talk to. He won't tease you or anything -- Bill on the other hand is
liable to show you visual aids in the form of shadow puppets -- and that's just not right."

It took Harry a long time to stop snickering before he fell to sleep.

--------------------

Author's Note: I'd thought about the whole 'talk' thing with regards to this story's version of
Harry. If you were raised in social isolation like Harry, never allowed to have friends, never
allowed to watch TV or listen to the radio, never allowed to buy your own books or
magazines or even read the family newspaper -- how would you learn the facts of life?
Certainly the Dursleys weren't going to explain them to Harry -- and after the incident with
Dudley Harry would likely be wary of the topic anyway -- certainly too wary to ever ask
questions.

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That would leave the school system to give him the facts -- and Harry left the Muggle school
system at age 11. In my school we didn't watch our 'facts of life' videos until we were 12
years old. Harry would have missed them in primary school -- and since this Wizarding
World of mine is a bit more old-fashioned, I doubt very much they had such a class for
Harry to attend. That would mean everything he's figured out more likely than not came
from listening to Seamus, Dean, Neville and Ron joking around in the dorm room -- and
just how accurate do you suppose their information might be? Ron got all flustered when
Hermione referred to Sinistra as a 'slut'.

But for those of you who want my romance to speed up -- at least Harry has now thought of
Sex and Severus in the same breath.

Next up -- Christmas Day. What sorts of presents will everyone receive?

Chapter 26 Christmas Presents

C hristmas morning in the Weasley home was a study in chaos. Though the Weasleys
were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, there were plenty of presents to go
around -- including a Weasley jumper for everyone there. Seeing Severus and Sirius in
matching blue jumpers, each with a red 'S' on their chest was just about the funniest thing
Harry had ever imagined. Ron and Remus also matched with their bright Maroon 'R's.

Sirius had also taken great pains to find gifts for all of the Weasley children -- and though
Harry suspected Bill and Charlie, who weren't that much younger than Sirius, were
embarrassed to be lumped into the 'child' description, they were delighted with the long
slender swords they had been given. Remembering the conversation about pureblood
families and swords, Harry glanced at Arthur Weasley. The man looked somewhat sad to see
the swords in his sons' hands, but he nodded his thanks to Sirius. They were at war and
though Arthur didn't want to admit it, as members of the Order of the Phoenix, his sons
would be on the front lines. Sirius clapped Arthur on the shoulder in sympathy, but nothing
more was said.

To Harry's surprise Severus had brought gifts for everyone as well. They came mostly in the
forms of expensive books that he knew the Weasley family could not possibly afford, though
for Fred and George he had purchased potion ingredients that they had gone apes over.
While they had been lousy potions students due to their pranks, they were actually excellent
potion makers. Their prank products required a degree of skill that Severus obvious
recognized.

He had also purchased a book on the History of the Wizarding World for the Grangers --
something they were obviously delighted over after the nature of the conversations they had
been having the last couple of nights. To Harry's amazement, Severus also had a gift for both
Remus and Sirius. It was an old book bound up in leather. Harry was rather stunned that he
was giving his godfather anything, but as Severus handed it across to Sirius, he saw his
godfather handing a similar book over to Severus.

Seeing the look of disbelief on Harry's face, Sirius just smiled at him and ruffled his hair.
"They're family lineage books," he explained. "They are something we should have
exchanged before the two of you were ever bonded. It's a very old tradition. I'll show it to
you later if you'd like."

Harry just nodded, guessing that this was yet another custom he knew nothing about.

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Harry was delighted with the new broom he'd gotten from Sirius and Remus, both with the
broom itself as well as the fact that both men's names were on the card, as if they were
already together. His firebolt had been damaged the day he'd taken the Eye of Odin from
Voldemort's hand, and though it was still useable, it wasn't as maneuverable as it once was.

He was sitting on the floor along with Ron, Hermione and Ginny admiring the broom when
Severus tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. He was a bit surprised when
Severus handed him a very small, neatly wrapped box a few moments later. He had
expected a book like Ron and Hermione had gotten from the Potions Master. He opened the
box curiously. Inside was a potion vial. Taking it out, he read the label out loud. "Oculus
Reparium Infinitas."

There were several startled gasps at the name, and Harry frowned as he glanced around.
Even Sirius looked both surprised and impressed. "Isn't that the spell you use to repair my
glasses, Hermione?" Harry asked.

But Hermione shook her head. "No, that's Oculus Reparo. What you've got in your hand is
like a thousand times better than Lazic Surgery or the Eye Sight Repairing charm."

That caught the attention of the two Grangers, but the others didn't catch the reference.
"What's Lazic Surgery?" Ron wanted to know.

"It's a Muggle procedure that corrects bad eye sight," Hermione explained. "They use lasers
to reshape your eye, but it doesn't always work and it has about a two week recovery period.
Furthermore, your eyes sight will proceeded to deteriorate again over the years." She
glanced at her parents. "And the charm only fixes your eyes for the day -- kind of like the
equivalent of contact lenses."

"What does this do?" Harry wanted to know.

"That fixes your eyes, permanently, dear, for the rest of your life," Molly informed him. She
glanced at Severus. "I'd venture to guess there aren't more than ten Masters in the whole
world who can make that potion."

Harry glanced up at Severus in amazement. He just smirked at him, and motioned to the
bottle in his hand. "Well, go on, drink it."

Harry didn't have to be told twice. He carefully worked the stopper free and then raised the
bottle to his lips, drinking the contents down quickly. It tasted remarkably like very strong
vinegar and he made a grimace of disgust as it slid down his throat, his eyes stinging from
the strong fumes. Blinking quickly to clear his eyes from the tears the fumes caused he was
immediately aware of the fact that the entire room had gone blurry. Very blurry.

He frowned in confusion, thinking perhaps something had gone wrong. "But everything's
blurry!" he protested.

"Gryffindors," Severus just sighed and leaned forward, gently plucking the glasses off
Harry's face. Instantly the room sprang into focus with a clarity Harry had never
experienced before. He'd had the same glasses since he was ten years old, and they had
never corrected his eyesight the way they should have. To see everything now with perfect
visions was like gaining an entirely new sense. His amazement must have been visible to
everyone in the room.

"You okay, Harry?" Sirius asked in concern.


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"Is this how all of you see all the time?" he asked in disbelief. He could see flecks of silver in
Ron's blue eyes, and strands of soft red in Hermione's brown hair. And Sirius had several
pale freckles on his nose, and Remus a faint scar just below his bottom lip. And Severus --
his eyes really were the most extraordinary shade of black. "Thank you," he told the man,
moved beyond words by the gift he'd been given. Until this moment he hadn't realized just
how bad his eyesight had truly been.

Severus just nodded to him, his eyes gleaming brightly. "You're welcome," he said softly.

There were other gifts passed around -- including several dresses from the Grangers to
Hermione and Ginny, which Ginny had squealed over. While the girls were trying on their
clothes, Harry got up and retrieved two packages that he'd hidden under the large tree
when he'd first arrived. He handed one of them to Sirius and watched in silence at the man
opened it.

The look of shock on Sirius's face when he pulled out the snow globe said more than all the
words in the world. For a moment Sirius looked as if he were about to cry, one hand moving
to cover his mouth as if holding back a sob. When he finally was capable again of reacting
he reached out and pulled Harry into his arms, the snow globe clutched tightly in one hand.

"Where did you find this?" he asked, and the tears were very obvious in his voice.

"In my vault," Harry told him. "When I saw what was written on the bottom, I thought you
might like to have it back."

"Are you sure you want to give this to me, Harry?" he asked hesitantly.

"What is it?" Remus asked curiously. They had caught the attention of most of the people in
the room, though the others were trying politely not to eaves-drop on the obviously
emotional experience for the man.

Sirius handed the snow globe to Remus, who took it carefully in his hands. It wasn't a
particularly fancy snow globe -- rather oddly made for a Wizarding item. It showed a house
which looked like it was made out of candy. And standing in front of the house were the
shapes of two boys though they were little more than stick figures. The entire thing was
encased in a crystal ball of glass that was mounted on a uneven wooden stand. But unlike
Muggle snow globes, this one was not filled with water -- rather there was a charm on it
which set the shredded bits of paper snow swirling continuously around the scene whether
you were shaking the ball or not. Despite the magic spell on it, the entire thing looked as if
it had been made by amateur hands. As Remus turned the globe over and saw what was
written on the bottom, he caught his breath in surprise. "Siri and Jamie, age 7," he read. He
looked at Sirius questioningly. "You made this?"

Sirius nodded. "James and I met for the first time at a summer camp when we were seven
years old. That was our art project. I had no idea he'd kept it all these years." He turned to
Harry. "Are you sure you want to give this to me? You don't own many things belonging to
your father."

But Harry just smiled at him and shook his head. "I have his two best friends. What more
could I want?" Both men hugged him again, obviously moved. When they released him at
last, Harry glanced down at the last package in his hand. It was small, and book shaped. "I
have a gift for you too Remus, but. . ." He glanced over at Severus who had been watching
their exchange in silence. While Severus might not have liked James Potter, he knew any

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reminder of that fact would not have been welcome or appropriate at the moment. "It's sort
of part of Severus' gift."

All three men looked perplexed by that statement, none of them understanding what Harry
could possibly imagine a gift to be that Severus and Remus might share. He just shrugged.
"You'll see," he said as he handed the wrapped package across to Severus.

Frowning in confusion, Severus took the gift from him and carefully unwrapped it,
everyone else in the room now watching the proceedings in curious silence. As predicted,
Severus unwrapped a small thin book. There was no writing on the outside of it, so he
opened it up to the first page, his eyes narrowing as he recognized the handwriting inside.
"This is your handwriting," he stated. "You wrote a book?"

"No," Harry said quietly and waited.

Severus gasped suddenly, his entire body stiffening as he read the first few lines written
there. His hands were shaking as he looked up and pinned Harry with his stare. "Harry,
what is this?" he whispered in the silence that had fallen over the room.

Harry settled back onto the floor of the Weasley's living room. "It's the first volume of the
Book of Light by Salazar Slytherin."

There were several shocked gasps of disbelief followed by some quiet murmurs to the two
Grangers who didn't understand the significance of the name. Every eye in the room turned
to Harry for an explanation. "I found them in the Chamber of Secrets a few months ago," he
explained.

"You went back down into the Chamber?" Ginny asked, her voice trembling.

Harry frowned. He'd forgotten that Ginny had also been in the chamber, though he knew
she didn't remember much of it. Her face was pale and her father gently put his arms
around her, holding her tightly against him.

"I had a dream," Harry explained. "About a series of books, the Books of Dark, that Slytherin
had written. Tom Riddle removed them from the Chamber long ago, but he left the Books of
Light behind. He had no use for them. He believed that Light meant weak. But just because
he had no use for them didn't mean that we didn't. I went back down to the Chamber to see
if they were still there, intending to give them to the Headmaster if they were. But when I
found them, I realized they were written in Parseltongue. Voldemort and I were the only
ones who could read them. So I started translating them. This is the only one I've managed
to finish. But as soon as I figured out what was in this volume I knew it would do more good
in your hands, Severus, than anyone else's."

"What's in it?" Severus asked, his hands clenched tightly around the priceless volume.

"Slytherin's experiments and notes, mostly on potions."

"Harry," Severus said, his voice filled with more emotion than he'd ever heard before. "Do
you have any idea how valuable this is?"

"Yeah, actually I do," Harry agreed, and he glanced over at Remus, wondering how the man
was going to take the rest of his news. "That's why I said this was sort of a gift for you as
well Remus."

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"I don't understand," the werewolf said uncertainly. What possible use could a book of
potions written by Slytherin have to do with him?

Harry took a deep breath. "Salazar Slytherin believed that lycanthropy was not a disease."

"What?" both Sirius and Remus asked in unison, the tension clear on their faces.

"According to Slytherin lycanthropy was the result of a failed Animagus transformation,"


Harry explained. "An Animagus has the power to transform into an animal -- a non-
magical animal, like a cat or dog or deer. According to Slytherin's notes there was a wizard
a long time ago who made an attempt to transform himself into a magical creature -- a Hell
Hound to be exact."

"You can't transform into a magical creature," Hermione protested. "It won't work. Wizards
and magical creatures have a different type of connection between their minds and their
magical cores. Such a transformation would disconnect your mind from your magical core
and you would no longer be able to control the magic -- which would automatically stop
the transformation."

Harry nodded. "According to Slytherin, when an Animagus transforms into a non-magical


animal the connection between his mind and his magical core remains intact. But when a
human tries to transform into a magical-creature the connection breaks. The man who
attempted the magical transformation reasoned that all he would need to do would be to
come up with a potion that would bridge the gap between his mind and the Hell Hound's
magical core so that not only could he control his magic but he would also retain his human
mind. But something went wrong -- he got the potion wrong and it only partially worked.
He retained his magic so that the transformation worked, but he lost the connection to his
mind and mutated into a mindless, wolf-like beast. He never transformed back, and before
he was killed he managed to bite several different people. His saliva was infected with the
potion he had taken.

"Now obviously his transformation was triggered by the Animagus metamorphosis spell. But
the potion was unstable and it automatically triggered a weakened version of the
metamorphosis spell the first night the moon was full. The victims of the wizard's bite
transformed into mindless beasts until the sun rose the following day. The first werewolves
were born. But the thing is, Slytherin didn't think that there was anything wrong with the
wizard's logic -- he just reasoned that the man had screwed up the potion. That is what he
wrote in that notebook -- his own experiments with the potion. There were two things
wrong with it -- first he'd used several lunar-based plants which caused the potion to react
to the full moon in a way that it shouldn't have, and second, the wizard himself did not
possess a strong enough magical core to complete the transformation properly. According to
his notes, Slytherin fixed the potion and gave it to a number of different werewolves. If they
were strong enough, it cured them." With that Harry turned to Remus, his eyes shining.

"I know you're strong enough Remus. The test to determine their magical strength was the
Patronus Charm. Only the werewolves who were strong enough to cast the Patronus Charm
were cured. You taught the charm to me. I know Severus can make the potion, and I know
you'll be strong enough to be cured."

Remus was openly trembling now, a look of disbelief on his face. By this point, Sirius had
wrapped his arms around the man's shoulders and was holding him tightly.

"Cured," Remus whispered. "No more transformations? No more full moons?"

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Harry shook his head. "No more full moons," he agreed. "But you don't understand, Remus.
You won't be a werewolf, you'll be a magical Animagus. The cure gives you the ability to
transform into the wolf whenever you wish, full moon or not, night or day. And you are
never in danger of loosing your human mind. You'll have to learn the Animagus spells, but I
know Sirius can teach them to you. And Severus will have to learn how to make the potion,
but I can't imagine anyone more capable. I know it will work. It has to."

Both men were now looking at Severus almost desperately, hope burning in both their eyes
as Severus began skimming through the book. While Harry knew there was no love lost
between the Marauders and Severus, he had no doubt that the man would do everything in
his power to make the cure Slytherin wrote about. "I can see similarities to the wolvesbane
potion," he stated. "The same basic principles, and there's a charm component." He glanced
up at the two men. "I'm going to have to do some experiments to make certain it is safe. And
the potion itself takes several months to brew. But I'll do everything I can."

At his words, Remus let out a barely stifled sob. Rising swiftly to his feet he rushed from the
room, Sirius close on his tail. Alarmed Harry turned to the others for an explanation.

"Leave them alone for few moments, Harry," Bill urged. "For most of his life Remus has been
controlled by a very painful and terrifying curse. I can't imagine what he must be feeling
right now to know there may be an end in sight at last."

Harry nodded in understanding, hoping the man was all right.

"Harry, you said there were other volumes," Severus said. "How many, and have you read
them all?"

"Ten in all," Harry explained. "I've looked through them -- they're filled with all sorts of
things. Spells, potions, charms, medicine, sometimes just ideas and philosophy. But
unfortunately Parseltongue is not easy to translate. It looks like English to me. I can't tell you
how many times while I was working on that volume when I found myself simply writing it
back down in Parseltongue when I thought I was writing English." He laughed somewhat
self-deprecatingly. "It's a pity really that such an ability was wasted on me instead of on you
or Hermione. I only understand a fraction of the things in the book."

"Don't be so hard on yourself, Harry," Hermione told him quickly. "I think you understand
more than you realize. You obviously understood what Slytherin was saying about the
lycanthropy potion."

"And I know from personal experience that translating an ancient manuscript is no easy
task," Severus added, freely giving a compliment to the surprise of his other students. "It's a
priceless gift, Harry. Thank you."

Harry just grinned at him, his face flushed with pleasure. "You're welcome."

"Well, this calls for a celebration," Molly decided, rising to her feet. "What say we get
breakfast on the table so we can all eat. We have a lot of work ahead of us to get Christmas
dinner on the table tonight, and Albus, Minerva and Hagrid will be here in a couple of
hours."

While the rest of them scrambled to help Molly, Harry went in search of Remus and Sirius.
He found them outside on the front porch wrapped in each other's arms. Remus had his face
buried against Sirius' neck, and Sirius was gently stroking his back. Neither man was saying

204
anything. Reluctant to disturb so intimate a moment, Harry turned to go back into the
house, but Remus must have heard him.

"Harry," he called.

Harry turned back, staring at the two of them hesitantly. Both men were looking at him now
with so much emotion in their eyes he wanted to cry. Instead he moved toward them and
they both infolded him in their arms.

"Thank you, Harry," Remus said simply, and the tone of his voice said everything that ever
needed to be said on the subject.

-----------------------------------

Author's Notes: This chapter deals with one of my pet peeves in the HP world. The
Wizarding World can regrow bones, conjure items out of thin air, transfigure animals into
objects and objects into animals -- but they can't fix poor eyesight? Muggles have been able
to fix eyesight for years now -- so why on earth can't the wizards? And if they can't why
hasn't Madam Pomfrey fixed Harry's vision during one of his numerous stays in the hospital
wing?

Chapter 27 Before the Storm

C hristmas Dinner was a joyous affair. Albus, Minerva and Hagrid joined them and
Harry realized that he had everyone in the world that he loved sitting there at the
table. He couldn't think of a better gift to himself than to simply be here, part of this
odd family. He knew the war still hung over his head, and when they returned to Hogwarts
they would return to the worry that haunted him constantly. But for this one day he was
happy, and he determined to forget about everything else for a while.

Albus of course wanted to hear all about Slytherin's books, and he promised to take the
Headmaster back down to the Chamber to see if any of the remaining books were of any
value. Truthfully, he found it very odd to think that he had access to a place in Hogwarts
that the Headmaster did not.

They all talked late into the night, but eventually Hagrid, Albus, Minerva and Severus bid
them goodbye to head back to Hogwarts, while the Grangers prepared to use a port key
Albus had brought them to go home. Before he left, Severus drew Harry outside to talk to
him in private.

"I wanted to thank you for inviting me, Harry," he told him. "I didn't expect to enjoy myself,
but I did."

Harry grinned at him, his new and improved eyesight letting him see more clearly the
subtle play of emotion in Severus' eyes. If you knew what to look for, the man was actually
quite expressive, despite the fact that he so rarely smiled. "I'm glad you came."

"Was it what you were hoping for?" Severus asked curiously, motioning back toward the
house. Harry knew immediately what he was talking about, the memory of the invitation
he'd issued to Severus springing clearly to mind.

"Yes," he nodded. "Just like I'd imagined a family would be."

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Severus nodded and turn to leave, though he paused a moment, a thoughtful look on his
face. "You know. . .for all their lack of political power and prestige or social standing, the
Weasleys are rare breed."

It was an extraordinary statement considering Severus' opinion of Gryffindors, but Harry


knew exactly what he was saying. Severus' own family was nothing like this. Not too long
ago he had told Harry that hate was a common theme in families, that often it was the glue
that held them together. He was acknowledging openly that this was not true for the
Weasleys.

"I know," Harry agreed. "But then from where I come from, all of you are a rare breed."

Severus frowned thoughtfully, but said nothing. Instead he gave Harry a very rare half
smile, before nodding to him and apparating home. Harry, still grinning, went inside to join
Sirius and Remus in the living room.

-----------------------------

Albus arranged for Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny to return to the castle two days before
the other students returned on the Hogwart's Express. Severus found himself anxiously
awaiting Harry's return. He'd missed the boy more than he expected; his quarters seemed
empty without him. And though he had never touched the boy in the bed they shared, the
nights felt colder without him beside him.

He'd spent much of the rest of the holiday pouring over the book Harry had given him. He
doubted the Gryffindor truly understood what the personal notebook of Salazar Slytherin
meant to someone like him -- the knowledge contained in the manuscript was some of the
most sought after secrets in the entire world. Albus had been chomping at the bit to read the
book himself, something Severus had promised he could do after he had copied it down in
his own hand. And while the Lycanthropy cure was horribly complicated, Severus was
certain it would work. It would require a great effort on both his and Lupin's part, but he
was willing to put in the work, and knew Lupin would be as well. He anticipated publishing
the results with great glee.

As for Harry, he found himself looking forward to the young man's company once more.
The potion he had given the Gryffindor had done more than just improve his eyesight. It
had also fixed the faint myopic caste to his green eyes. Without those clunky glasses, the boy
had gone from being attractive to down right handsome. He had no doubt that the girls of
Hogwarts would be swooning over him upon their return, and no few number of the boys
as well.

Surprisingly both Black and Lupin had thanked Severus individually for the potion he had
given Harry. It seemed they had determined between them that Harry had never actually
received any proper eye care growing up. Apparently the glasses he had been wearing all
these years weren't even made to his prescription -- they had been given to him by a
neighbor who was throwing them out. They were several degrees weaker than they should
have been and it was a wonder Harry had done as well in school as he had.

It occurred to Severus that if Harry had been unbeatable at Quidditch with such poor
eyesight, his own house team did not stand a chance now. It would seem that until Harry
graduated, he had no hope of winning his standing bet with Minerva. It was also entirely
possible that Harry's prediction about him becoming a professional Quidditch player just
might indeed come true.

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Harry returned to their quarters later that morning, looking happy to be back and
surprisingly cheerful to be in his company once again. He took only a few moments to
unpack all his things before he raced off again -- to take Albus down to Chamber of Secrets
he explained. Anxious to see it himself, Severus invited himself along, and the three of them
along with Ron, Hermione, Remus and Sirius spent the day exploring Slytherin's domain.
Ginny Weasley choose not to join them, having seen enough of the Chamber the first time.

Listening to Harry Potter speak Parseltongue was a strange experience for Severus. Save for
that one time during the duel in Harry's second year, none of them had heard him use it
again. Prior to that the only person Severus had ever heard speak Parseltongue was Lord
Voldemort himself. Coming from Voldemort the language was the epitome of evil --
something dark and terrifying. To hear it from Harry's lips was alarming, startling all of
them. Remus, Sirius and Albus had never heard him before and they all stared at the boy in
silence as they listened to him hiss a command to open the various doors of the Chamber.

To Severus the sound was magical; coming from Harry's mouth it was strangely sensual.
There wasn't a Slytherin alive who did not envy such a gift. To Severus' embarrassment he
found himself becoming aroused by the sound and was grateful for the long robes he
currently wore. He received only an odd glance from Remus, however, and so suspected
that the others did not notice his reaction.

It was odd to explore the Chamber of Secrets with so many Gryffindors. It struck Severus
almost as sacrilegious -- but then he saw the carcass of the enormous basilisk on the floor
before the statue of Slytherin, and understood that once again he had severely
underestimated the young man he had married. That a twelve-year-old had slain such a
creature was unimaginable. That he had also somehow survived the bite of the creature,
even with the aid of the Phoenix tears defied all logic.

The Gryffindors all gathered around the dead beast, poking and prodding it like some side
show attraction, while Albus simply stood before it with an odd gleam in his blue eyes.
Severus saw the old man turn to stare at Harry who was ignoring his godfather's and best
friends' comments in favor of looking at the giant statue of Slytherin. Severus could see both
sorrow and admiration in the old man's eyes and moved to his side in concern.

"Albus?" he said quietly.

"I hadn't realized it was such a creature, Severus," Albus murmured softly.

"It doesn't seem possible that he could have survived this," Severus agreed.

"No," Albus agreed. "It does not. But then Harry regularly does the impossible, doesn't he?"

Severus frowned at that, wondering what else Albus might be referring to. He had of course
researched the King's Voice command that Harry had used that day in Hogsmeade. But
beyond the translation of the spell, and the caveat that it was not useful because it did not
seem to work any longer, he had learned nothing of significance. He, like Granger and
Weasley, had tried the spell himself, but had failed to get it to work. How Harry had been
able to force a Death Eater to turn on his companions with it, he did not know. He suspected
Albus knew, or guessed, more than he was letting on. But then Albus Dumbledore had
always had his secrets.

Severus asked Harry for permission to harvest the body of the basilisk for potion ingredients
-- something which seemed to startled the young man. "Why are you asking me?" he
wondered out loud.
207
"By all law, it belongs to you," Severus explained simply. "And it's worth a fortune if you
must know."

Harry looked surprised at that, but he waved it aside. "Well you know I don't have any use
for it. Have at it."

When he was certain that the Gryffindors were done oohing and ahing over the beast he
summoned two of his personal house elves and had them begin the arduous task of
harvesting the remains.

"The library chamber is through there," Harry explained, pointing to the mouth of the statue
of Slytherin. They'd all brought their brooms with them and followed Harry inside. There
they spent much of the day pouring over the books that had been left behind -- Remus,
Albus, Hermione and Severus all in heaven over the discovery. Sirius, Ron and Harry
however passed much of the day playing Exploding Snaps in a corner.

Severus and Albus spent the following day locked in Albus' office going through the books
they had removed from Slytherin's chamber while Remus and Sirius headed into the Dark
Forest to find a long list of ingredients Severus had determined he would need to begin his
experiments on the Lycanthrope potion. They left the four younger Gryffindors to pass the
day away out on the Quidditch pitch, having a snowball war -- boys against the girls.

Albus and Severus eventually came down to dinner just as Remus and Sirius were returning
from their trip to the forest. Before sitting down to eat, Severus went through the list of
ingredients, checking to see that they had found everything necessary. While Sirius had
never been much of a potions student, Remus at least knew what he was doing and stored
everything adequately.

"Where are the children?" Minerva asked as she entered the great hall to join them for
dinner.

Severus glanced up at that, noticing for the first time that none of the younger Gryffindors
had come in from the cold. Night had already fallen, and it was unusual that they had not
returned. He was just about to go look for them, when the Hall doors burst open and to
Severus' shock his sister Diana came running in, followed closely by Hagrid.

"Severus!" she cried, her dark eyes wild and desperate looking. "I couldn't stop him!"

A cold chill of dread washed over Severus' body. "Diana?" He caught hold of his sister's
arms, shaking her fiercely. "What are you talking about? Stop who?" If this had something
to do with Julius. . .

"I tried to stop him," she insisted, her face pale and terrified looking. "But I couldn't! They
took Harry!"

Severus didn't wait to hear any more. He was off like a shot, running out of the great hall
followed closely by Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. Minerva and Albus were just behind
them as all of them raced for the Quidditch pitch where the young Gryffindors had been
playing. It was pitch black outside by now, the moon little more than a crescent in the sky.
Albus sent several Wizarding lights aloft to follow them and light their way as they raced
across the snowy grounds toward the pitch. As they neared, Severus' breath caught in his
throat. Amid the churned snow of the pitch he could see bodies lying unmoving on the
ground, reminding him terribly of the time he'd returned to Hogwarts to find the very same

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pitch covered with the dead bodies of Death Eaters and Aurors. But there were no scorch
marks this time, no blood. Just three unmoving forms lying in the snow.

Severus could see immediately that Harry was not among them, and when he reached the
first body he fell to his knees to turn it over. Hermione Granger's pale, unmoving face was
cold to the touch, but as he pressed his fingers to her throat, he could feel the slow but
steady beat of her heart. "She's alive," he told the others in relief as Remus and Sirius
checked the two Weasley children.

"So are they," Sirius announced, frantically looking around for some sign of Harry. He
transformed immediately into a dog and began sniffing the ground, moving in swift circles
in his search.

Severus immediately rose to his feet and grabbed hold of Diana again. "Who did this?" he
demanded. "Who took him? Was it Julius?" The monitoring spell he had put on Julius had
not been triggered, but he supposed his brother might have found a way around it.

Diana looked briefly confused, but then shook her head swiftly. "No, Severus, it was Alrik.
Alrik took him."

For a moment her words didn't make any sense. Why in Merlin's name would Alrik have
taken Harry? There was no love lost between the two of them, but Severus would have
sworn on his life that Alrik had no loyalty to the Dark Lord and never would. It was Severus'
dubious past that had created the rift between him and his sister's husband. "Why?" he
hissed. "Why would he do this? What has Harry done to him?"

"Nothing," Diana told him. "It has little to do with Harry. They took him so that Britannia's
Ministry would be forced to acknowledge the blood debt they own the Winter Lands. They
took him as hostage."

The Winter Land blood debt? Severus only vaguely remembered something about it --
vague references Alrik had made back when he first had married Diana. But Severus had
not been on speaking terms with any of his family back then and had never learned the
whole story. That Harry had been pulled into this madness was unacceptable. "Where did
they take him, Diana?"

"Bifrost Hall," Diana stated.

Severus heart lurched. "That's at the heart of the Winter Lands," he exclaimed. They could
neither fly nor apparate into the Winter Lands. The only way there was by taking a boat into
the cold North Sea, a dangerous prospect in the heart of winter. He turned desperately
toward Albus.

"I'll find out what I can from the Ministry," Albus promised him, and he knew Dumbledore
would tend to whatever this blood debt was all about. "You three go after him, bring him
home."

A quick glance behind him confirmed that the 'three' Albus was referring to were him,
Black and Lupin. The look of dark rage in the two Marauder's eyes was strangely comforting
to Severus. For the first time in his life he was grateful to have the two men on his side. He
knew for this mission he could not be in better company.

------------------------

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Author's Notes: A lot of people have been asking me 'when are you going to get to...", and I
could list out a bunch of things here: sex, a kiss, romance, a baby/heir, the King's Voice,
Slytherin's other books, Voldemort, divorce (or the possibility of it), etc. I'm not ignoring you
-- I promise I'll get to it all. While I only have a handful of chapters written from here on in
(I still have a few more to get to you, and I wrote 5000 more words yesterday), I do have the
entire story planned out. Eventually I'll cover all the missing pieces. Stick with me and
hopefully I'll satisfy you all. Thanks again! (No one actually wants them to get divorced, I
hope!)

BTW -- I loved everyone's suggestions on who should give Harry the 'talk'. I'm finding the
thought of the werewolf, who's never actually been on a date himself, attempting to give
Harry the talk. I rather suspect Remus may need the talk himself before too long.

Chapter 28 Viking

T he pounding of his head woke Harry. Groggily, he tried to raise his hand to touch his
temple, only to find something weighing down his wrists. Blinking in confusion, he
became aware of the extreme cold seeping into him and a violent rocking motion to
the ground he was sitting on. As his eyesight cleared behind the pounding headache he
found himself staring at the heavy iron manacles that were weighing down his wrists, a
short length of chain stretched between them. The world around him lurched, and he slid
sideways against a heavy wooden object, cold, wet spray striking his face. Looking up in
shock he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.

He was in a large boat, seated near the stern but slumped against a large wooden barrel.
From his position in the bottom of the boat he could see the prow rising up before him, the
end of it curving in the shadowed shape of a dragon. The prow was rising and falling as
pounding waves of water rocked the boat. Only a few steps away from him, seated on
wooden benches were two extremely large men draped in heavy cloaks of fur. Both men
had a fierce set to their bearded faces as if hardened by a life Harry did not want to imagine.

A glance behind him down the length of the long boat showed that there were a dozen more
men of a similar caste seated throughout the boat. Large wooden oars were propelling them
through choppy waters, the oars moving by themselves.

For a moment Harry felt a wash of panic roaring through him as he thought perhaps he was
on the boat that took men to Azkaban. Sirius had told him that Azkaban was on an island,
and prisoners were taken there chained in a boat. But though his heart was pounding
fiercely in his chest, Harry forced himself not to cry out. There was no reason for anyone to
take him to Azkaban. And besides, why would the boat to Azkaban look like some sort of
Viking long boat? It didn't make sense.

He tried to figure out how he could have gotten there. He'd been playing in the snow with
Ron, Hermione and Ginny. He vaguely remembered seeing something small and silver
flying toward him, the flash of it glinting in the fading sunlight catching his attention. He
had thought for a moment that someone had released a snitch in the middle of their snow
ball fight, but then the thing had struck the ground and Harry could remember nothing
more until he'd woken up here.

A stun grenade, he wondered. He'd heard of such things in the Muggle world. Perhaps there
was a magical equivalent? But if he and the others had been stunned, where were the two
Weasleys and Hermione? He could see no one else chained on the boat.

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A cold gust of wind blew against him, nearly blinding him with its icy chill and he found
himself shivering violently. Were they Death Eaters, he wondered. Were they taking him
now to Voldemort? But why kidnap him? Why not just kill him out right?

"Are you cold, lad?" One of the grim-faced men had noticed his movement and had turned
piercing blue eyes on him. Someone further back in the boat tossed a heavy fur cloak
forward and the man immediately draped it over Harry. It looked like it was made out of the
skin of a bear -- though Harry couldn't remember hearing much about bears wandering
around England these days. Nevertheless, he grabbed the cloak and pulled it over him,
grateful for its warmth. As he settled it around his shoulders, he took quick stock of his
condition.

Besides the headache, he did not appear to be wounded, and the headache was already
fading. He was now more grateful than ever for the eyesight correcting potion Severus had
made for him, since he doubted his glasses would have survived the kidnapping. A quick
search of the inside of the jacket he was wearing confirmed that his wand was gone. He was
completely defenseless.

He was leery of drawing attention to himself, but he had to find out where he was and what
they intended to do with him. Obviously they didn't mean for him to freeze to death. They
had no need to give him the cloak, so he took comfort in the fact that they wanted him alive.
Though considering what he knew Death Eaters did to their prisoners, maybe being alive
wasn't that great a thing after all.

"Where am I?" he asked the man who had tossed him the cloak.

The man frowned behind his beard and shouted something to someone else further down
the boat. Harry vaguely recognized some of the words he spoke -- or at least felt like he
should, but he could make little sense of what it was the man had said. It almost sounded
like Old English.

There was movement in the back of the boat and Harry turned to get a better view of the
others. His earlier opinion of the boat was only more firmly enforced when he got a better
look at the men -- for all appearances they were Vikings. Huge men with long, braided
blond and red hair and heavy beards. He saw now that all of them were armed with
enormous swords and axes. But as far as he knew, there were no more Vikings in the world
-- at least not like this. But once more the Wizarding World appeared to be throwing him
for a loop. He really should have paid more attention in Professor Binn's class.

A tall blond man moved forward from the back of the boat, taking a seat not far from where
Harry was sitting. Though he was dressed much differently than he had been the first time
he met him, Harry recognized him immediately. A coat of chain mail and heavy fur had
replaced the fine doublet and velvet cloak, but the hair and beard were the same.