Title: Of Owls, Horcruxes and Snakes part 1/2
Summary: One night, Harry Potter is awoken by an owl delivering a letter. A letter from the least expected correspondent imaginable. It convinces him to embark on a mission to save an enemy, destroy a soul and, perhaps, save the world.
Rating: NC-17 (in the last part)
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): A bit of M/M sex is all.
Word Count: 15,395
Author's Notes: The biggest thanks ever to E. for betaing this several times and for offering advice every time I got stuck. Also for being a wonderful person and a fantastic muse. I love you.
Very big thanks and amazing kudos go to jamie2109 and nqdonne for having the guts and stamina to run an exchange as big as this and for being amazing and understanding when faced by a poor, stressed writer who needed far too much time to complete this.
Thanks also to the fic for not letting me give up, though it is with mixed feelings I say so: It was also a very stubborn thing and wanted to head into strange territory (which I mostly stopped it from) and grow to huge proportions (which I didn't quite stop it from.) And now I'll stop raving and let you read :-)
Dok-dok The sound was penetrating his sleep and Harry tried his best to ignore it.
Dok-dok Followed this time by a peck from Hedwig in the same rhythm. "Go away," Harry muttered. Bloody owl.
Owl. He started to wake more. It had to be an owl that was pecking at his window. The room was dark and there was not a sound, which was rare here in the Department of War where Harry slept – along with most of the people directly involved in the war effort.
As he crept up to open the window, Harry wondered who might've owled him. Especially here where they knew the chance for privacy was little. Why he'd even let himself be convinced to come here and 'be part of the joint war effort', as Scrimgeour had put it, he had no idea. Not now.
The owl wasn't remarkable in any way and outwardly the letter wasn't either, but when Harry opened it he gaped in surprise. Then he read it. And sat down on his bed and read it again. The owl hovered. He waved at it to settle and Hedwig graciously let it share her perch.
Harry didn't sleep again that night.
Shortly before six am., when the Department would start to wake up, he crept away, using a well-honed instinct for getting out of sight and staying there, and left the building unseen by the guards who'd otherwise drill him about where he was going. He made his way to Scotland.
What a change one year makes, Harry mused, a bit later in the day, as he stood at the foot of the Astronomy Tower. It felt more right to visit this place before visiting the white tomb. Not least of those changes was, after all, who had died in that year. When you thought about it, the latest death was why Harry was here. Because of it, someone had written him a letter; a letter that had given him a lot to think about. And this was a good place to think. Quiet. Especially now when no students were here any longer, when the castle was deserted and cold. The air was getting cold too and there was a scent of dead leaves and rain in the air; it was very early spring but it felt like autumn. It fit the place and Harry's mood very well. Death was all over these days. The surprising thing was whose death it was that caused all of this deep thought. The death in question was that of one Narcissa Malfoy.
What a change one letter makes. Since the plain-looking owl had delivered it he had thought about it almost non-stop. It was the least expected letter he'd ever had – perhaps excluding his Hogwarts letter seven years ago. The most unexpected part of it was that it was from Lucius Malfoy, currently resident of Azkaban Prison. How the man had the letter smuggled out in the first place was beyond Harry, but Lucius Malfoy was a resourceful man, he had to grant him that, and the content of the letter was a lot more surprising than its existence.
Harry pulled it out of his pocket – by now it was crumpled and bent from having been taken out and looked at, refolded and stuffed back a lot of times in the last twelve or so hours. Now, at the spot where he'd lost his mentor and truly seen his war begin, he read it again, wondering if now was the time to change one more thing, gain resources and perhaps make the old wizard proud.
Mr. Harry Potter, the letter read,
I write to you only, as you likely realise, out of a dire need. I learned only two days ago that my wife is dead, killed at the hand of the Dark Lord himself in added revenge for slights of mine, both real and imagined and perhaps to keep the fear in both me, my son and other Death Eaters. I know not the details, as you can imagine, but I speculate and as a result I worry.
As you likely know, my son's mission last summer was undertaken to atone for the same slights, but though he was successful, my Lord has not seen fit to let matters lie. Rather, he is drawing greatly on my family, pushing Narcissa for funds and all manners of assistance. I know she would have done her best to comply, for Draco's sake if nothing else, but it seems it was not enough and she is now dead. Thus, little stand between our Lord and my son, a matter I find very disturbing indeed.
It may surprise you, Mr. Potter, but my son is of utmost importance to me and not only because he is my sole heir. I want him kept safe. I suspect that Severus Snape has been attempting to do just that as well for several reasons, friendship and oaths being the two foremost, but he may not be able to protect Draco on his own.
Also, I do not want my son to become what I did. He deserves better than being forced into an allegiance simply because of circumstance and because he perceives this to be what I would have wanted. So why do I not write him of this? The letter would likely be intercepted and would never reach him. Also, I cannot send unlimited amounts of letters. In fact, I have only this one chance and I must turn to you. You seem my only choice. We both know the so-called war effort is not progressing as it should, but you have resources at hand. I implore you to use them.
So, Mr. Potter, for the sake of my son, please get him away from his present circumstances. I regret that I can tell you very little of his and the Death Eaters' whereabouts, but what I can I have included here. In return I also offer myself and my close allies, Messrs Crabbe and Goyle to work for you and only you in order to overturn our former Lord, who has obviously now gone too far. I fear he has lost his mind. It may also interest you that I know of the location of a Horcrux, a cup formerly belonging to Helga Hufflepuff. Yes, I know of them. It took me a while, but I finally realized why the Dark Lord was particularly upset about the loss of his diary. So you see, Mr. Potter, you have a lot to gain if you retrieve my son.
You may find it hard to contact me, but should you choose to accept this mission – and my payment for it – you may send the owl back to me. Do not include a letter, I will not get it, but ask the owl to let me see it. I will recognize it.
Yours possibly indebted,
There was a separate page detailing how to find a hide-out the Death Eaters had used often, according to Lucius Malfoy, at least, and an instruction on how to get through the wards. There was also a map of a small Northern town and a street called 'Spinner's End', saying that this was where Severus Snape would likely have taken Draco at their escape from Hogwarts. Both were likely some sort of show of good will. Harry stared at that last page for a very long time indeed. In the year that had passed since Dumbledore died he'd wanted nothing but revenge, nothing but to kill those who'd murdered the last person who had helped and cared for him like some kind of family. Perhaps at times a really weird kind of family, but it was a hell of a lot better than the family Harry was connected to by blood – a family he had walked out on the day he turned seventeen, determined to never look back again.
"What should I do?" he asked the spot on the grass where he'd last seen Dumbledore. "What would you have done?"
The first big obstacle had been for him to accept the truths of the elder Malfoy's letter. It had done a lot that he knew Narcissa was dead. That piece of intelligence had reached the Ministry as well, even if no one had told him the source (despite his repeated tries to find out – he was oddly fascinated by the news). It annoyed him no end that he was still treated a lot like a child, or worse, a mindless drone. Somewhere deep down it was flattering to be addressed like he was in this letter – like someone in charge. He had to force himself to disregard that flattery. No, even without that it hadn't taken him long to realise that there really had to be something deeply important here or Lucius Malfoy would never have turned to him. Memory also served him in recalling how spoiled Draco always had been, a sign of some kind of love. He believed that part of the letter too.
The words about his 'resources' had got him thinking. What resources? Did he even have any? He'd been suckered into the failure that was the Ministry's war. He was even living on their grace – more a prisoner, really, than a soldier. The Order of the Phoenix was nothing more than a memory after Dumbledore's death. No one had been able to keep them all together after that. But Harry knew some would help if he called, Lucius Malfoy was right about that. Some of the old DA would as well, he was sure of that. It was to them he had to look. To his friends. The people he could truly trust. If he did this. He was still considering, after all.
Considering, yes. He thought about the letter again. It had been harder to have to face up to the fact that he'd known for quite some time that Malfoy hadn't wanted to become a Death Eater. Not really, at least. He had certainly not wanted to kill Dumbledore – he had only wanted to protect his family. Harry had chosen to forget that after the death of his mentor, but this letter forced him to remember and take it into consideration – remember the understanding and pity he'd felt when he'd seen Malfoy crying in the bathroom and later when he'd been witnessing Malfoy's attempt to finish the job and kill Dumbledore.
Harry strolled across the grass, to the spot by the lake where the white tomb stood. It was impossible to visit this place without being flooded by memories of Dumbledore; most of them happy, but now all with a bitter taste to them as well. However, his thoughts quickly drifted back to the more pressing matter of the letter and what to do about it.
The letter was genuine, he was sure of it. Genuine and truthful, at least about Draco Malfoy's situation and likely about what Lucius Malfoy would do to help his son. Harry wouldn't trust the man, not ever, but that didn't mean he wouldn't help. In a way, he felt an obligation. By now, he and Malfoy were more and more in the same boat and he couldn't really bear not trying to keep a father and son alive and connected if he could help it. And he wanted to help it, he had to admit that to himself now. He could also use the resources – to use the man's own words – that Malfoy was offering.
"I bet you would've liked this," Harry told the tomb with a sigh. "You and your bloody cooperation and mutual understanding and shit. Cost you your life. But it worked, you know. It sunk in. Somehow. At least enough to make me do this. Try and convince my friends to help my enemy. Behind everyone's back, at that! Fuck if that isn't going to be hard..!"
He sighed again and turned away, leaving the grass, the tomb and the autumnal Hogwarts behind. It was all dead. They had to try and save some life, didn't they? And Lucius Malfoy had given him leverage – he knew where Snape might be. The traitor. The one he most of all wanted to get his hands on. Ron and Hermione felt the same way. It would serve him to get the others to accept the mission. Hedwig would have a few busy days now.
Getting people together proved a challenge and Harry quickly found that he couldn't use Hedwig for all his correspondence: she was far too obvious and the Ministry seemed to like intercepting owls more and more – even increasingly from peaceful citizens. Once when he spoke to Colin Creevey, who'd now been employed at the Communications Office – which was where intercepted letters and conversations were reviewed – Colin had, in hushed tones, explained how certain words got people tagged in large books, even innocent use of said words, and how almost all intercepted communication was completely irrelevant to the fight against the Death Eaters.
Well, when Hedwig came back one day with ruffled feathers and a hurt expression, Harry knew what had happened and was glad the letter in question had been worded very carefully so only former DA members would see the references. With the help of friends both inside the building and out – Ron wasn't there, for starters, having been deemed of no useful skill (now much to his own joy too) – Harry started using other owls and soon a small band of people were starting to form. The frightening thing was that it was necessary to be underground to fight efficiently.
Again and again he blamed himself for letting it come to this; he wasn't even sure how it had happened. He'd been so full of angry energy at first and had more or less stormed out of the Dursley's house the minute the clock showed it was the 31st. He'd done what he'd said he would and gone to Godric's Hollow with Ron and Hermione, a trip that had set him in a more sombre mood, he remembered. But he'd still wanted to make a difference and it had seemed the time to swallow some pride and do what was best. Still, when Rufus Scrimgeour made his proposal that Harry should have the back-up of the entire new-founded Department of War, he hadn't been sure it was what he should do. He'd thought long and hard about it and in the end the deciding factor was Kingsley Shacklebolt, who delivered the proposal to Harry. He was a good man and Harry trusted him and his judgement. So it had looked like the right thing then. Looking back, it was his greatest mistake ever and now he had to correct it. No matter the cost to himself. It was only strange that he, in a way, had the Malfoys to thank for getting him to move on that knowledge.
It was hard, but by and by, their small network was built, despite the obstacles. Harry found himself a centre figure, much in contrast with what happened at the Ministry, where they mostly wanted him to be a poster-boy – literally – or a propaganda tool as Hermione more correctly termed it. And his new army was a strange one, mostly consisting of the old DA, though the roles and expected importance of the members had shifted. The rest were most of Ron's brothers, a few friends and relatives of DA members, and the disgruntled Aurors Tonks and Moody. Harry hadn't quite dared try to contact Remus as he was still with the werewolves, trying to turn them from Fenrir Greyback's way, but Harry also knew Tonks would hear from him and pass minimal intelligence back and forth. Nor had he known what to say to Ginny, but she had sent word via Ron that she would help anyway. For which he was grateful – in equal parts for the support and not having to talk to her directly, it would be too awkward. All in all it wasn't much, but it would have to do. They could get started.
It was raining the day, about one month later, when they went to Spinner's End and Harry felt sorry for anyone who'd had to live in this place, so dark and grim and grey. He even felt some pity for Snape. The rain got in through everything and they were drenched and smelling like wet wool when they Apparated into the kitchen of 12, Grimmauld Place. That had been the most likely place, it seemed. After all, the place was still a secret, kept by a dead man, so no one would find it. Not even the Ministry people, who seemed to be keeping an even closer watch over their poster-boy these days. So much so that Harry was tempted to just stay away – but that would clearly make everything even worse.
Bill Weasley was supporting an unconscious Snape, assisted by Tonks the moment they arrived. Moody, always the one to criticise the Ministry had joined their covert operation at first given chance, was looking even worse than usual in his soaked condition, compulsively checking for tracking and spells and anything else that might cross his paranoid, but highly efficient, mind. Harry, for his part, was looking and feeling grim. There had been definite traces of the younger Malfoy having spent some time at Spinner's End and this was more distracting to him than he'd anticipated. Enough that he just wanted Snape to spill the fucking beans so they could get on with it – preferably to leave same Snape in Azkaban so Harry could forget about him. But he knew it wouldn't be that simple and it shouldn't be either. Hence the grim look. When he looked properly at Snape for the first time, he felt hatred again, burning like a rekindled flame in his heart. He didn't particularly want that feeling, it was in his way, but it was there and it took most of his willpower to let the others drag Snape away without punching him first.
"Harry, come on." Bill called, turning his head to look back at Harry as they dragged Snape off. "We need your skills in here."
Skills likely didn't mean Harry would be allowed to punch the greasy git, but he was glad that they had agreed he should be there. Lucius Malfoy's letter had inadvertently started something in Harry – a new awareness of what he could do – and apparently others followed suit. They might not always agree, but Harry was starting to find his feet and hold his own. It was an irony that was not lost on Harry that searching for Malfoy had been the stepping stone to start his own war. On his terms.
In a small guest room they placed Snape in a chair, sitting up, and tied him to it securely – hands to the armrests, ankles to the legs and a rope wound several time around his chest and the back of the chair. That way he wouldn't fall over while they waited for the heavy stun-spell to wear off.
"What skills?" Harry asked when Snape was secured.
"Legilimency, Harry," Moody said with a bit of enthusiasm. "We know he might resist our Veritaserum, so we need someone in his head to help us. See if he's telling the truth or if our questions prompt thoughts he isn't quick enough to hide."
"Yeah, sorry mate," Tonks said with a wry smile, "his head wont be a pretty place to be, but you're the best we have at this. They said you were a natural at this, even if you suck at Occlumency."
Harry flushed a slight bit from a mix of shame and pride. Over the last weeks they'd tried to teach him Occlumency again, after Hermione finally convinced Harry that he was a risk to himself and others if Voldemort tried use his eyes again. Old Mr. Ollivander, the wand-maker, had once told Moody that a strong talent for the mind-skills ran in their family and Moody was the one who'd brokered a contact to Ollivander's nephew who'd now taken over his Uncle's business and tried to make wands. Everyone agreed they weren't as good as the old man's but that otherwise the younger Ollivander was doing quite a good job, all things considered. That, and they desperately needed him.
He'd done a fine job with Harry too. He was now able to at least detect if someone was messing with his head and block attacks some of the time. They'd also discovered that his Legilimency was very strong indeed.
"Fools." It was unmistakably Snape's voice; it pulled Harry out of his chain of thought and the tone was so familiarly acidic that Harry turned towards him so fast his head spun. Snape's voice, yes, but weak and dazed, like the way he looked. "There is no need to let the brat watch my thoughts. If he can even do that. I am on your side. Always was. It was the old man's idea."
He sounded so bitter Harry couldn't believe him. The other three didn't seem to take his word for it either. Not for the first time he wished that McGonnagal had been there – she knew a lot, after all, but she had been in St. Mungo's ever since a battle had injured her severely. At least she'd survived and they visited her sometimes, usually for long exchanges of information. But here, they were on their own.
"Why should we believe you? No matter what, you have double-crossed several people several times," Bill said, "and we have to be sure."
"He's right, traitor," Moody barked. "We can't trust you further than we can throw you and I assure you I can't throw anything at all. So Harry here will watch and you will drink the Veritaserum and then we can talk."
Harry anticipated an argument, a fight, more snarky remarks, but Snape seemed to either give up or understand that he had no choice. He gave them a short, measured nod.
"Do it, then," he said. "Now. Before I decide that you are so stupid I should fight you and let you fail on principle."
Tonks grabbed the Veritaserum before he'd finished the sentence.
"Open wide." She was attempting to sound her cheerful self, but if came out more like a threat.
They watched Snape swallow and Moody counted softly as they saw the serum take effect.
"Now, Harry," he said.
"Legilimens," Harry said, staring into Snape's cold, black eyes. The world spun.
The feeling was cold and black as well and he couldn't hold on to his body and do this at the same time and he knew he would be falling now. All he could do was hope someone caught him and then let the others do the questioning and simply compare notes after. He knew they were writing it all down out there and if he could he'd speak what he saw.
A place flashed in front of his eyes. "Spinner's End. Narcissa and Bellatrix," Harry said, forcing the words out with great effort. If he had been aware he'd have seen Snape looking surprised that he managed that, but he missed that particular triumph.
More things came, quickly, Snape was not holding back or trying to hide. Not from what it seemed at least.
"Vow. Draco. Danger. Dumbledore." The words came just as quick now, the speech easing as he got more used to communicating the experience.
"Promise to obey. Oath. Hagrid. Dumbledore. What!?!" Harry jerked backwards and found himself sitting on the floor, staring up at Snape in disbelief. The last thing he'd seen couldn't be true, didn't make sense.
"What did he just say?" he demanded to know, jumping to his feet in anger. Apparently someone had caught him, he didn't feel bruised. "What happened?"
"Why? Was he lying?" Moody wanted to know.
"I don't know if you don't tell me what you said," Harry shouted. "I only see his reactions, for fuck's sake!"
"Easy Harry." Bill put a hand on his shoulder, pulling him gently back and away from Moody's face. "He told us that he'd sworn, with Hagrid as witness, to always obey Dumbledore and that later Dumbledore had told him that he was dying, because of the Horcrux he destroyed, and that if the time came where Draco's plan came to fruition, Snape was to kill him. Dumbledore. To save Draco and to save his own cover with the Death Eaters. So he could keep spying for us."
Harry paled. That matched what he'd seen.
"What did he say Dumbledore said on the Tower?" he demanded.
"He said that Dumbledore said 'Severus, please' and that Snape knew it meant he was to kill him now, that it was time."
Harry nodded slowly. The sentence was right, of course and it did fit, but...
"That was what happened. What I saw. But I want proof. More than this." His voice was very decisive and he was still looking grim; he was definitely not ready to accept this yet.
"The Pensieve," Snape said, sounding even more tired now. "Dumbledore's Pensieve. It's still in his office. The memory of the vow I took and the promise I later made are there. And I will show you my memory of that night at the Astronomy Tower as well. It will show you everything you need to know."
It was one of those 'why didn't we think of that before'-moments. For Harry especially. He was trying to prove that he wasn't just a kid, that he could run this resistance or army or what the fuck they wanted to call it and not just be the Ministry's final weapon – and then he overlooked something like this. He knew that Pensieve so well and he knew Dumbledore would be very likely to keep important information in it. He figured this was one of those times where eating pride made sense, so he nodded.
"Let's go," he said.
Getting to the Pensieve wasn't hard. Even abandoned, Hogwarts wasn't a place the Death Eaters liked to go. The wards were also still in place, almost as strong as ever, and there was no Draco Malfoy to let them in.
That memory, always inescapable when he was at Hogwarts, had forced Harry to – as it often had before – re-evaluate his decision to help Malfoy. He had had to make himself recall all of it, the entire evening, the look on Malfoy's face and his fear and the way he'd given in when the Death Eaters burst through the door. Harry had known, for a split-second, that Malfoy had switched sides, that he had believed Dumbledore, and then it was over and a different choice forced onto him. But that didn't mean he'd forgive the git. He would understand and help, but not forgive because he could never forget. Still, every time he thought about this he also wondered how Malfoy was doing, wherever he was now.
All that flashed through his mind again as he stared into the Pensieve, Snape and Arthur next to him, and he never really let go of it while they watched a remarkable story, cut into little pieces and played out over nearly twenty years:
Snape coming to Dumbledore after hearing about the Potters and turning spy and taking an Unbreakable vow to obey Dumbledore fully in matters pertaining to the fight against Voldemort – with Hagrid bearing witness.
The way Dumbledore was always sure that Voldemort would be back and Snape would be needed and that being the chief reason he couldn't let Snape go – and Snape wouldn't leave against his will because he felt this incredible guilt. There were several fights about that.
Harry's arrival at Hogwarts and what that meant to increase the tension, the knowledge that the inevitable was closer.
The return of Voldemort and Snape being sent off to spy again, part of that had Harry in it and it was a shock to see himself at nearly fifteen, falling apart because of what had happened and yet not giving in, but fighting back. He wondered how he'd done that.
Dumbledore telling Snape that he was important and that he would have to stay spy, whatever the cost.
A few accounts of Snape reporting his findings to Order and Dumbledore – including one where he told of the vow he'd made to Narcissa regarding Draco, the one Harry had seen while he was in Snape's mind.
Then a harrowing chat in a dark forest where Dumbledore invoked the vow, telling Snape that he was dying and that he was playing a game where Snape might have to kill him to protect himself, Draco and Harry too.
The night that became necessary and the flight after it. And this time Harry saw the pain in Snape's eyes and saw that the anger directed at him, Harry, during the escape was fuelled by the deep pain and grief and self-loathing. It was unsettling. He'd never imagined Snape to have grief or to be capable of that emotion. But it was prevalent throughout the memories.
"I've seen enough," he said, his own emotion making his voice feel and sound thick. It was a bit too much and he felt things he didn't want to feel and selfishly wished he hadn't had to feel: pity and understanding and regret.
He forced himself out of the Pensieve-memories and let the others complete the tour. While they did, he sat on the floor, staring at Fawkes' empty perch, thinking. He was so deep in thought that he gave a start when the others appeared again.
It wasn't until later that he realised that this was the moment when Snape started to look at him differently – or that this was when he looked differently at Snape.
Had he realised that, Harry would've known why Snape didn't chide him about forgetting the Pensieve or for anything else, for that matter – like his outburst after Dumbledore's death. In fact, he was surprisingly quiet whenever Harry was around.
They let Snape stay at Grimmauld. It was safe there and it was where everyone congregated, slipping in and out whenever they could. In other words, it was a convenient place for the long period of debriefing and brain-picking they went through next.
The silence from Snape was a gesture Harry returned and much preferred to hostility. In fact, more than once the two of them had been alone in a room, brooding each in their corner, worrying in silence. Perhaps it was that they, more than anyone, were under pressure and had the feeling of time being a big issue. The longer Snape was gone, the more the Death Eaters would question his return. And the longer Harry waited with setting a course, the more people would be hurt, die and his chances would worsen – including his chances of playing a part at all.
Yes, there was enough to worry about. Like what to do next and there were too many possibilities. The obvious choice was monitoring the house Lucius Malfoy had mentioned, but Snape wasn't sure that was wise – he feared the place was stacked with spells against any sort of detection. At the same time, Harry found that he was increasingly preoccupied with thinking about the younger Malfoy's fate. He couldn't explain why, but he kept having flashes of memory of Malfoy when Harry had seen him last, on top of the tower, looking torn and desperate – and, more embarrassingly, flashes of memory from the time he'd seen Malfoy in the bathroom and of the blood on the floor. He had a sneaking suspicion he was starting to understand another level of Snape's involvement in all of this. Guilt. But no matter how much he wanted to find Malfoy, he knew the Horcruxes were in essence more important.
It had been a somewhat loud meeting when they'd finally decided what would happen with Snape. The man himself had wanted to go back to spying, quite likely still out of a sense of debt and duty, while many of the others had told him it would mean his death if just a single whisper had been breathed that he'd been captured. A Death Eater was not captured and let go. Not these days. In fact, a Death Eater was lucky if he or she survived being captured. Harry had kept quiet on the issue, but privately he thought Snape still owed Dumbledore even if he also realised that he wasn't exactly being fair in thinking so.
The last night before Snape was leaving they had been sitting there again. This time, though, Harry had stayed behind on purpose. He was tired, but there was something he wanted to discuss and he wanted to do it in private. There was a fire lit, the night was cold, despite it being June, and the scent of burning wood was strangely cosy in contrast to the way everyone felt.
As Charlie Weasley left the room as the last, Harry didn't know how to begin. So he sat there for a while longer, looking at Snape and pretending to look at nothing.
"Have I suddenly turned into a beautiful young woman or are you trying to tell me something, Potter?" Snape asked after around ten minutes of that. The words were snarky but some of the bite was gone from his voice.
Harry wasn't baffled this time, nor angered or even annoyed. He just nodded.
"I wanted to ask you something, Professor," he said, many years of habit in terms of address speaking louder than a few days in a house.
Snape seemed comfortable with being called that – at least he didn't correct Harry in any way.
"I see. What did you want to ask that is so hard to express that it takes you ten minutes to form a sentence?"
"I wanted to ask if anyone ever told you how we found you and why we did it now?" he said.
"When you knocked my door down," Snape said, looking disgusted at the lack of decorum that implied, "someone mentioned a letter. Since then things have been rather hectic and I confess it slipped my mind. You coming to find me in that manner was an answer to a problem I had – how to get in touch again – so I wasn't about to protest too hard just then. And of course, I was knocked out before anyone wondered why I didn't fight." That same disgusted look again and Harry really couldn't blame the man for it. "What I do not know is what letter and from whom."
"Lucius Malfoy," Harry said and registered the surprise in Snape's eyes before the other covered it up by making his face go blank. "He wants me to mount a rescue mission and pull his son out. Only, I don't know where said son is. He will pay me a Horcrux and claims he'll shift sides too – and pull Crabbe and Goyle with him. Now, I don't trust the man at all, but I need that Horcrux and I don't particularly think Malfoy deserves to be forced to be a Death Eater."
He'd said more than he'd thought he would and in a much grimmer voice than he'd expected. It would seem the matter weighed on him more than he'd thought. An afterthought poked him to let him know he should've thought that because he'd pondered the problem of Malfoy – including the possible current circumstances Malfoy might be in – ad nauseam. He irritably silenced the voice; he needed to concentrate.
"I would say it is a surprising development," Snape said, "but I am not sure it is. Lucius is, above anything, and aristocrat and he would protect his line with ferocity. I believe that to be his reason for being a Death Eater as well – as many of them, he perceives the Wizarding World to be at risk from Muggleborns and Half-bloods." He made a face. "He is wrong, of course, but it goes to show that this is a move that makes sense to him. Preservation. I take it you accepted?"
Harry nodded. Not like he needed to say much.
"Good. He will keep his word though he will try to twist it. I am sure you know of that. I will see if I can relocate the younger Malfoy when I return to them. The sooner you find him, the sooner there will be one less Horcrux. It is a good trade for all concerned."
"Not the least for you," Harry said dryly. "You keep your word as well."
He half expected Snape to bite his head off, but the other didn't. He glared at Harry, but also gave him a measured nod.
"For all concerned," he repeated.
Harry considered that a deal.
"Tell me about him then. Malfoy. Draco, I mean." Damned thing, discussing two people of the same name like that. "What happened. He'd been at Spinner's End, I know that."
Snape nodded. "Perceptive of you," he said, his voice so wry that Harry was sure it was at least half an insult, but in the name of information, he kept quiet. "I fled with him, what else was there to do, really? Given my vows and the situation. I brought him with me to Spinner's End and he stayed there for a while before our Lord demanded that he be brought to him. I believe he was used largely as leverage to keep his parents in check."
Harry nodded slowly, each point noted carefully and committed to memory.
"So he is at that house his father wrote me about?" he asked. "The one you think is too heavily guarded?"
"He was last I saw," Snape said, careful not to say too much. "But I have been gone for a while now, I had left a week before you found me – I was supposedly researching potions for them. In fact I was attempting to find a safe way of contacting someone again. The problem was, of course, who to contact."
They had discussed this before, of course, but there was added information here too – like the potions. Harry wondered what had made Snape spill the beans this time. The likely reason was that getting Draco Malfoy out of harm's way meant less danger for him – another was that he was in fact interested in the boy's safety somehow. Harry didn't ask. This truce was too valuable as it stood.
Snape left the following day and part of Harry went into a strange sense of waiting. He wanted news on Malfoy's whereabouts so he could get the git and the Horcrux and get on with it. But no word was heard from Snape. Harry started to fear that they had been double-crossed, again, and that Snape had no intention of helping, but even in his darkest moments of doubt, when he had to stand through some inane Ministry meeting and have pictures taken, he was able to battle that fear with the knowledge that Snape had been under both Veritaserum and Legilimency and even he shouldn't be able to lie through that. But the doubt was still there, gnawing at him. And he hated waiting.
Some of those long days, Harry cursed the Ministry and its fucking Department of bloody War more than he cursed Voldemort himself. It had grown into a vast bureaucracy, seemingly without head and with more tails than anyone could count – and with hands digging into everyone's business, trying to hinder independent thought, not to mention action. Each time he crept out he wondered when they'd stop being so "indulgent", as his superior officer had reminded him they were – for him, specially, of course – and just lock him up till they felt they needed him. Well, Harry wasn't going to let that happen.
He had his army now, or his band of not-so-merry men, at least. And they were more efficient than anyone could've thought. Perhaps because they were mostly kids. Or at least young. They were discounted easily and not really missed. With youth as a smoke-screen, they were all over the place, in low positions inside the Ministry and all over the country, searching and researching. Luna was invaluable, perhaps more to everyone else's surprise than to Harry's.
While he waited, other parts of their group made advances – Luna in particular. Her odd logic brought them Ravenclaw's item – a very lovely bracelet that had been somehow hidden in the cellar beneath the orphanage where Tom Riddle grew up. Hermione was, obviously, the one to find the means to destroy a Horcrux, with good help from Moody and Tonks and their vast knowledge of dark magic.
The day he destroyed that Horcrux he knew the war had entered a new phase. He also knew it had changed him because he had taken the first step towards killing Voldemort. Two more Horcruxes and the man himself. It was creeping closer. Effectively killing that bit of soul had made Harry realise one more thing: He did not want to kill. But he also knew that he would if he had to.
The first message from Snape arrived the day after the Horcrux was destroyed, a full two weeks after Snape had left them again. It arrived by Patronus, a small, rather creepy, spider, early one morning.
"My regrets for the delay," it said in Snape's voice, "I had a hard time proving my innocence and that I am not a spy. The young man is in the house we spoke of, though I still advise against making contact there. Wait for further information from me. Good luck."
There was so much hidden here, even those words, not able to reach anyone but Harry, were chosen with such care that Snape must've been afraid he'd be found out anyway. His voice was also tired and worn. Harry wondered how much time they would have...
It was almost another week before he heard from Snape again. It was a short message and delivered in a voice that was whispered and desperate.
"It is mad here. Be sure to hurry in your ultimate goal. Your target is being held under heavy guard after attempted escape."
Harry almost shivered at the tone of voice, Snape sounded like someone might be coming for him at any second. All he could do was make sure their efforts were concentrated on the Horcruxes, so that was what he did. He had a hard time concentrating his own efforts, though, knowing that Malfoy had tried to make a run for it too. That meant even less time there. If Malfoy tried again they might never get a chance to get to the git – either he'd be locked up somewhere unapproachable or he'd be killed. They needed time – the one thing you can't have when you need it.
Harry almost had a sense of deja vu when he woke up one night at a scraping sound. Only this scraping sound didn't come from the window, it came from the door. But the Department was eerily quiet again and he was instantly alarmed. Something just felt very, very wrong.
The sound came again and he realised what it was: someone was trying to pick that Muggle lock he had put on the door because, as the Weasley twins once said, very few Wizards know how to deal with one of those.
He only just had time to realise that when there was a clicking sound and then the door was open and people rushed in. Harry ducked behind his bed and threw a shattering spell at the window. Glass flew all over.
"Out!" he yelled to Hedwig and only barely saw a flash of white as the owl took off.
A few stunners collided with the wall behind him and he rolled under the bed as two people, faces obscured by dark masks, rounded it. Another was blocking the door, but he stunned him and ran down the halls, trying to put on the glasses he'd grabbed when he rolled.
At the door, the guards were yelling, but he didn't have time to stop and find out if they were with him or against him, so he Petrified one and kicked the other in the shin and elbowed him in the neck, then ran as he hit the floor. The second he was outside, he Disapparated.
When he arrived in the kitchen of 12, Grimmauld Place, he was glad that Ron had the watch. Moody would've hexed his balls off before checking who it was and most of the others would've laughed at his skimpy pyjamas. Not Ron, though. That's what friends are for.
After the attack, Harry dared send a Patronus to Snape. It was something he wouldn't normally do for fear that the creature would be seen and give something away. Unlike Snape's spider, his Patronus was hard to miss... But Snape had to know about this and Harry also hoped he would have something to say on who, exactly, was working with the Death Eaters inside the Ministry. He took a leaf out of Snape's book and kept it brief and vague.
"I almost joined you last night. Do you know who the helpful people were? I am now where we last met."
Snape's reply was as short as ever.
"I know not of any helpers where you used to live or of any invitation to you."
Harry couldn't help but think that Snape must have a hard time with the Death Eaters now if he didn't even know about this attempt at getting Harry Potter. He imagined the failure wouldn't go over well with Voldemort so if Snape didn't know, someone had gone to some length to make sure he stayed in the dark.
Finding the Horcrux they didn't know anything about was proving more difficult than they had imagined and the whole thing was starting to wear on them. Harry felt that he finally understood how Sirius had felt during Harry's fifth year when he'd been stuck in the same house Harry was now more or less stuck in. The only people he could trust were the people here and going out was not exactly happening often – and when it did, he wore his Invisibility cloak.
He wasn't the only one who was frustrated. Luna and Hermione argued over how to proceed with the search, Ron and Hermione fought over almost everything and even Colin Creevey's usually unsuppressable mood was subdued.
And there was no word from Snape. Not for two whole weeks.
Then, one night, just as Harry felt that he was about to blow up and smash a few things, preferably cheap and heavy things, on people's heads to get them to stop fucking fighting each other and fight the multitude of different enemies and problems they had, a silver spider scurried over the table.
"Your target is being moved to a new place. He will only be there for two nights, so don't waste the chance."
Harry could have laughed. Never had Snape's snarky comments and assumptions that he'd fuck things up been more welcome. Waiting was over.
Snape provided the details of the location in two more messages that arrived over the next six hours. The second they had all the information, Harry sent Ron and Parvati off to scout out the location; they were a good team because they didn't argue and Ron's stability matched very well with Parvati's good memory for details and keen sense of observation. Tonks volunteered to check out wards and magic and went with them.
Their report was as could be expected: they couldn't say much about the level of guarding or possible changes of guard because they hadn't time to do that properly, but they were fairly sure that only a few people were in the house and Tonks was almost certain that no heavy magic was being used. To Harry it felt like a trap, but at this point he was willing to take that chance. If it was Voldemort in there, he would try to at least damage him and perhaps get some kind of clue as to what that last Horcrux was. They were out of options and of time and he wanted this over.
Harry hovered outside the house on his broom. He'd fought to be the one to go in there, arguing that at least he was the one with the best chances if Voldemort was there. He knew they didn't all agree with him, but he had been adamant and there wasn't time to argue anyway, so he got it his way. The others had formed a ring around the house, ready to storm it if need be. They could have done that as a first attempt, but it might get Malfoy killed if the Death Eaters realised he was what they were coming for.
Going by broom might seem stupid, but it was a very convenient was of getting in. The attic had windows and no one was up there, so breaking in was less risky up there. And Harry could do anything while mounted on a broom – including opening windows and flying through them. He heard the soft hoot that was Ron signalling they were in place. He cawed back at him and went for the window, flying up high and then almost vertically down to avoid being seen.
Opening the window was surprisingly easy and inside Harry shrunk his broom and slipped it into his pocket, then covered himself in his Invisibility cloak and slipped out the door.
The attic was dark and dusty and smelled like old furniture and wood and Harry had to negotiate it slowly to avoid knocking something over. Whatever this place was, someone who'd lived here kept a lot of old junk in their attic. Fortunately a crack of light showed him where the door was and when he reached it, he found narrow steps leading down to a lit hallway. Further down he could hear voices and he was sure one of them was Snape's, but he couldn't make out the words and he couldn't go down there before he'd at least tried to see if Malfoy was up here.
He tired door after door and the voices downstairs – there were three, two male and one female – grew more agitated. His curiosity tingled with the need to listen in, but when he tried the door right across from the stairwell, he forgot about that. This door was locked.
Harry risked a simple spell to unlock it, once more tensing to listen to the voices in case they would somehow detect him by his use of magic. But nothing changed, downstairs, and he opened the door.
He didn't know what he'd expected to find, but it wasn't to see Malfoy sleeping peacefully in a bed. The door might be locked, but he didn't look like the mistreated prisoner Harry had somehow imagined. He didn't know if he was disappointed or what, but he stood there, gawking at Malfoy for a full minute before he remembered he'd better close the door.
With the door closed, he crept closer to the bed. It was awkward; waking someone Harry knew wouldn't be pleased to see him. It was another minute or so before Harry could bring himself to reach out and touch Malfoy's shoulder.
"Wake up," he whispered. "Malfoy, for fuck's sake, wake up!" The whisper became more of an urgent hiss.
"Mm. Severus?" Malfoy mumbled and Harry almost laughed out of an almost hysterical mix of relief that he was awake and absurdity at being mistaken for Snape of all people.
"It's me, you git! We need to get you out of here!"
"Potter? What are you doing here?" The surprise and disgust wasn't unexpected, but it did spell complications.
"Too long a story, but your father and Snape are involved so just get up and come with me!"
"And why should I, pray tell? Who says I want to go?" The tone was exactly as drawling and arrogant as Harry remembered Malfoy always sounding, only more hushed. And for some reason it had never occurred to him that it would be a problem to convince Malfoy to come along.
"Because I'm saving you, you fool," he said.
Malfoy's answer was a snort. "As if I need saving by the great hero! Fuck off, Potter, I can handle myself."
"Malfoy, you idiot, they have you locked up and I know you tried to run away, so just quit the act and come with me already," he said, anger creeping up on him because of the whole absurd and desperate situation. Trust Malfoy to mess up a perfectly good plan.
"And so what? Perhaps it's for my protection?" There was a small crack in the confidence and Harry pounced on it.
"Yeah, and your father is in Azkaban because of the view," he said. "I told you who helped me get here, so just get up!"
Surprisingly, Malfoy did. He did it with a glare that might have killed Harry had years of Snape glaring over cauldrons not inoculated him, but he got up and pulled on a robe.
"So how is this daring escape supposed to happen?" Malfoy asked. "They have locks and wards on the doors and we would have to go through the room where they are anyway."
"Is this window warded?" Harry asked.
Malfoy shook his head. "But why-"
Harry pulled out his broom and enlarged it again. "Open it, then," he said.
"You are flying me out of here...?" Malfoy both looked and sounded as if Harry had suggested they surf away on the moonlight.
"All right, then don't." Harry opened the window and gauged its size. "Get on," he said. "It's big enough for us to fly through, but hold on, I'll be going up almost vertically at first so we wont be seen."
Malfoy might not have seemed eager, but he got on the broom faster than Harry had seen him move so far and, with some hesitation, wrapped his arms tight around Harry's waist.