Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Time Travel
Relationship(s): Gen, Pre-Severus Snape/OMC
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Major Character Death, Rape by Potion, Dark Themes, Hate Speech (against non-purebloods), Kidnapping, Reference to canon child abuse
Author Notes: Thanks to Jilly James for being my alpha reader, and thanks to Keira for introducing the concept of dvergers to fandom. It is now firmly my headcanon!
Beta: Vanessawolfie, Thank you for all your help!
Word Count: 46,750
Summary: Harry Potter is over a hundred years old when he discovers he’s been manipulated and controlled all of his life. He sends a message back in time to Severus Snape, the only person who might be able to change the future. Severus, freed from Dumbledore’s influence and finally able to make his own choices, is now the one who must defeat the powerful and popular wizard to protect Lily’s ten-year-old son.
Ever since the conversation about Severus’ reading habits, Tarragona’s visits had been far more relaxed than before. No longer did Severus feel like the war mage was simply there to check on Severus’ actions, waiting for him to make a mistake. He had even invited Severus to call him by his first name, and grudgingly Severus had allowed Marco the same. At the very least, the man wasn’t a dunderhead like most British wizards and witches were. Harry had also taken a liking to the man. That was why Severus had roped Marco into helping him with Harry’s birthday.
The morning of the thirty-first of July, the day Harry turned eleven, Severus specifically set an alarm so he would be awake before Harry. Only half-awake and with a cup of coffee in his hand, Severus let Marco into the suite when the man knocked softly on the door. Together they made sure breakfast was on the table and a small stack of presents was next to Harry’s place at the table. Marco carefully placed Harry’s Hogwarts letter on top of his plate.
“It’s clean. It had a small compulsion to attend Hogwarts, but that was easily dispelled.”
“It’s only going to do any good if Dumbledore is removed from Hogwarts before the first of September. I won’t let him go otherwise.”
“I can’t blame you. But as soon as Healer Petterson gives the all-clear and Madam Ashwood weaves her magic, we’ll do the ritual. And once that’s done, we’ll take down Dumbledore.”
“You already have a plan.” A statement, not a question. Marco was far too confident for it to be anything else.
Marco just smiled but didn’t say anything else. Severus wasn’t sure if that was because a yawning Harry just walked into the room, or if he was simply disinclined to tell Severus more.
Harry stopped in the middle of the room as he took in the set table, the presents, and Severus and Marco broadly smiling at him.
“Happy birthday, Harry!” Marco and Severus said together.
“Come, sit down,” Severus said.
Harry sat down, but couldn’t keep his eyes off his presents. Marco snickered and tapped the table just above Harry’s plate, drawing the child’s eyes to the letter. Harry took it with shaking hands. Severus watched as he opened it, his eyes rapidly scanning the words. Then he re-read it, his smile growing bigger.
“So cool,” he whispered.
“Now, let’s eat breakfast before tackling the rest of your presents.”
Harry put the letter open next to his plate. All through breakfast, his eyes kept straying to the text. Severus and Marco shared an amused grin. Once breakfast was finished, Severus cleaned up with a wave of his wand. Another wave of his wand put the presents in front of Harry.
“These are for me?” Harry asked, his hand hovering above the closest present.
“I’ve never had a present for my birthday before. Thank you.”
It was said in a whisper and Severus could hear the suppressed tears in Harry’s voice. He met Marco’s eyes across the table and they were like tinder catching fire as they sparked with anger. Severus was sure his own eyes were the same. It took all he had not to simply apparate to Petunia’s and curse her into oblivion.
“Well, these are all yours. So, open them up,” Marco said.
Harry started with the top one, from Healer Petterson. It was a big box of chocolates, and the note said it was part birthday present and part apology for the horrid potions he had to take. It made Harry snort in amusement. The next two were from Marco. One was a wand holster, with the promise they’d get Harry a wand soon, and that would be part of the present as well. The other was a deck of cards to play Exploding Snap with. Harry’s thanks were much more effusive than the presents warranted.
The last present in front of Harry was from Severus. Harry unwrapped it to unveil a photo album. Severus had scoured his personal belongings for every picture he could find from Harry’s parents. A lot were from Lily, but there were also some of James. Mostly in the background or on group pictures, but still.
Harry grew quiet as he paged through the photobook. Severus tried to point out James in several of the group pictures, but Harry didn’t seem all that interested in it. He lingered over Lily’s pictures but seemed to want nothing to do with James. Severus wondered if some of his feelings about the man had registered with the child.
“Are you all right, Harry?” Severus asked. “If this is too much…”
It most definitely didn’t sound fine. Severus shot a look at Marco, who tactfully retreated to ‘go and get the cake’. Severus moved his chair next to Harry’s. He put his arm around Harry’s shoulders.
“Want to tell me what’s on your mind?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does to me.”
“I just…I don’t get how they can look so happy here and just ruin their lives.” Harry shrugged off Severus’ arm and violently shoved his chair back. “They should’ve been here! They should’ve been raising me instead of drinking and driving and getting themselves killed!”
“Whoa, drinking? What are you talking about Harry?”
“Aunt Petunia told me. She said my dad was a drunk. And that he killed himself and my mum when he got into a car drunk, with my mom and me inside.”
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. He couldn’t believe that bitch of a woman had lied about this. And worse, it meant Severus was the one who had to explain.
“Harry, she lied.”
“Come, sit down. Petunia lied.”
Harry sat back down, staring at Severus as if he was speaking a foreign language.
“When you were born, the wizarding world in Britain was under siege by the Dark Lord. This Dark Lord was trying to take over the country and he killed anyone that opposed him. They were dark days. Your parents, they both defied him. They fought against him and his followers, called Death Eaters.”
“Is that how they died?”
“He targeted them. They went into hiding, to protect you. The Dark Lord had no compunction about killing entire families. On Halloween 1981, the Dark Lord found where your parents were hiding. Your father died fighting him. Your mother died protecting you. Somehow, you survived, with nothing but that scar to show for it. Whatever Lily did, it protected you.”
“So, they’re heroes?” Harry’s voice was small and hopeful, as if he didn’t quite believe his parents hadn’t thrown their lives away.
“In my eyes, yes. But to most of the wizarding world, you are known as the Boy-Who-Lived, the only one to survive the Killing Curse. It is you they see as the hero, since the Dark Lord disappeared that night. Many believe him to be dead.”
“If he isn’t dead now, he will be soon enough,” Severus said. “Either way, it’s not something you have to worry about. He’s not a threat anymore.” He hesitated, but since he was talking about this anyway, it might be better to get it all out. “Your scar has some dark magic clinging to it still from the Dark Lord’s attack. So, once you’re healed enough, we’ll do a ritual to clean that out.” He wasn’t going to tell Harry it was a bit of the Dark Lord’s soul. Not now, not ever!
“Will it hurt?”
Severus pulled Harry in a hug. “No, you’ll be asleep during it. You won’t feel a thing.”
Marco peeked around the door of the living room, and Severus nodded at him that it was okay to come back in. The man entered the room with a small cake on which eleven candles were placed. He put the cake in front of Harry and started singing Happy Birthday. Grudgingly, Severus joined him. Harry beamed and when the song ended, he blew out all the candles in one go. Severus cut out a generous piece of cake for all three of them, which they ate on the couch, Severus next to Harry, the photo album on their laps. Severus told stories about Harry’s mother and a few of James Potter that were suitable for his son to hear. Harry soaked up all the new knowledge about his parents. As good as it was to remember Lily, it also stirred up a lot of emotions Severus had suppressed. Marco, ever sensitive to the mood, helped him out when he’d reached his limit by suggesting a game of Exploding Snap. The rest of the morning was spent playing and laughing.
The Saturday after Harry’s birthday party, Healer Petterson sent a happy Harry back to Severus with a note that he was finished with his treatments. A discussion with Marco about the ritual revealed that Madam Ashwood was ready to perform the ritual to remove the Horcrux at any time. Both men agreed that the sooner they’d freed Harry from the Horcrux, the better it was. Therefore, they agreed to do the ritual the next day.
Early on Sunday morning, Severus stepped through the door of the ritual room with Harry by his side. The early hour didn’t quite agree with Severus, but since Harry couldn’t eat or drink anything before the ritual, it was better to do it early. Both of them were dressed in simple, linen robes and nothing else, to Harry’s vehemently expressed mortification. Marco, similarly attired, walked in behind them. The curse-breaking team, under the lead of Madam Ashwood, was already there. The grey stone floors, walls, and ceiling made the room monotonous. Amidst the grey surroundings, the solid black obsidian altar in the middle of the room stood out. It was big enough for two grown men to lie down beside each other.
Harry was directed to lie down on the altar by Madam Ashwood. She remained standing at the side of the altar where Harry’s head was and placed a crystal as large as her hand on the altar above his head. The other six curse breakers spread out around the altar, forming a circle. Madam Ashwood directed Severus to stand at the side of the room with Marco. They were allowed to stay in the room but expressly forbidden from interfering in any way.
Madam Ashwood raised her wand and started chanting. Like a chorus that swelled in volume, one by one the other curse-breakers joined her chant and added their magic. Harry’s eyes were closed, his breathing deep in his enchanted sleep. He wouldn’t wake until the ritual was done.
After a minute, Madam Ashwood changed her chant, going from soothing, slumbering notes to something that had the sharpness of swords clashing together. Three of the curse breakers followed her in this chant, while the other three kept up the previous chant. The juxtaposition of the two chants and the magical energy they were creating raised the hairs on Severus’ neck.
From Harry’s still form a pulsing, black mist arose, coming from his scar. It gathered in a dark cloud above his face. It writhed and slithered like a snake until it had enough mass that it could make a shape. Severus sucked in a breath as the familiar face of the Dark Lord became visible in the black mass.
“You will not defeat me!” it screamed.
The mass, now completely free, tried to push back into Harry but was rebuffed by a golden glow. The soothing, slumbering notes chanted by the three curse breakers became more forceful. Seeing there was no way back into Harry, the piece of the Dark Lord’s soul sought refuge in one of the curse breakers. It rushed at him, but the war-like chant grew stronger and a clear shield encasing the altar rebuffed him. He screamed; an unearthly, almost animalistic sound that chilled Severus to the bone.
Madam Ashwood changed her chant again, but she was the only one this time. With three curse breakers protecting Harry and the other three protecting the team and containing the Horcrux, it was Madam Ashwood’s job to force it into the crystal she had brought. Slowly, ever so slowly, the Horcrux was sucked towards the crystal. It struggled while screeching, and suddenly Severus’ Dark Mark flared up. He couldn’t contain his shout of pain and only Marco quickly grabbing him prevented Severus from crashing to the floor in pain. Marco cursed, but Madam Ashwood kept chanting and the Horcrux was sucked completely into the crystal. The moment it was contained, the pain left Severus. He stepped away from Marco’s embrace that had been holding him up. He drew up his sleeve and saw the Dark Mark was darker than it had been since the night Lily was murdered. But already it was fading back to what it had been for the past nine years.
He let his sleeve fall back down and concentrated on the ritual, which wasn’t quite finished yet, avoiding Marco’s worried look. The Horcrux had been contained in the crystal, but they still needed to close the circle and wake Harry up. Only then could they see if Harry was all right. Tensely, Severus watched as the entire curse-breaking team was once again chanting the soothing tones. Slowly, they sped up their chant until it reached a crescendo. Then, one by one, the curse-breakers dropped out of the chant, withdrawing their magic, until only Madam Ashwood was still chanting. When she too stopped, the silence was only broken by the panting breaths of the curse-breakers.
Severus frowned, as Harry was still unconscious and he’d expected that Harry would be awake now that the ritual had finished. Healer Petterson stepped up to the altar and checked Harry over. Severus took comfort from the fact that the healer didn’t look worried at all.
“He’s fine. There are no traces of dark magic lingering, so the ritual was a complete success. It was taxing, which is why he’s still asleep and will probably remain asleep for some time. I suggest you take him back to his room and let him sleep until he wakes up naturally,” Petterson told Marco and Severus.
Severus slumped in relief for a moment, before straightening again.
“What about the Horcrux?” he asked.
“We will destroy it in ritual this afternoon,” Madam Ashwood said. “We’ll take a break first, make sure we are fresh and completely recovered from this ritual. I do not want to take any chances with this. Tired people make mistakes and we cannot afford it this time.”
Severus nodded his head in acknowledgment. He trusted Madam Ashwood to deal with the Horcrux, which meant he could focus completely on Harry. He gently levitated Harry and left for their suite. Marco stayed behind, talking intently with Madam Ashwood, but for once Severus was content to let something be.
Severus was sitting on the couch, reading a potions magazine to pass the time, when Marco came into the suite.
“How’s Harry?” he asked.
“Still asleep,” Severus said, putting his potions magazine aside. “Once he wakes up, he’ll probably be hungry, since he’s now missed breakfast and lunch, but he should be fine otherwise according to Healer Petterson. He was here half an hour ago, checking up on Harry again.”
“I heard,” Marco said, yet the man still crossed the room to peek into Harry’s bedroom.
Only once Marco had seen Harry did he join Severus on the couch. Severus noted that Marco had closed Harry’s bedroom door, while Severus had left it open so he could keep an ear out for any trouble like nightmares. He raised an eyebrow at Marco.
“I wanted to see your Dark Mark, and I don’t know how much you’ve told Harry about your past,” Marco said.
“Not much,” Severus admitted. “He had enough information dumped on him without me trying to explain this.”
He pushed his sleeve up and shivered a little as Marco gently grabbed his bare arm. Marco let a finger slide across the Mark, which was a faded grey but still clear on Severus’ pale skin.
“It’s still there,” Marco said. “They destroyed the Horcrux. I’d hoped…”
Severus sighed and gave the obvious conclusion. “He’s not dead yet.”
It wasn’t like Severus didn’t already know this. Aside from the wraith of the Dark Lord, there were several Horcruxes left. But he couldn’t tell Marco all of that without giving away more than he wanted to.
“So, he must have more Horcruxes,” Severus said, a conclusion that any reasonably smart man could draw from the evidence present.
Marco nodded. He let go of Severus’ arm, and Severus put his sleeve back down.
“What is the ICW going to do to find them?” he asked.
“Nothing,” Marco said. “The ICW cannot help with Great Britain’s Dark Lord problem, since it’s an internal issue. We have no jurisdiction in this matter.”
“That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. The Dark Lord could expose us all to Muggles with his actions, and who has perpetrated one of the vilest and dark magical acts that I can imagine. Are you honestly trying to tell me that the ICW shouldn’t try to stop him?”
“I am not arguing he shouldn’t be stopped,” Marco said, leaning away from Severus from where he was still practically plastered to Severus’ side with a frown on his face. “I am just saying that it is not the ICW’s place to do it. We cannot get involved with every criminal, no matter how dark their actions, that is running around our member states. As long as someone doesn’t break international law and Great Britain doesn’t formally request the ICW’s help, we can’t do anything about it. As far as I know, the Dark Lord hasn’t broken international law, as there are very few branches of magic that actually do. Horcruxes, dark as they are, don’t.”
Severus pressed his lips together. He knew that Marco was technically correct in his assessment of the situation, but it didn’t sit right with him. The Dark Lord had caused so many deaths, and if he rose again, he could cause so much more, and no one here was willing to lift a finger. Not to mention that Severus figured that the Dark Lord had probably broken international law, just not in any way that could be proven. It was too bad, as he sure as hell would make more headway into keeping Harry safe from the Dark Lord if he had the help of the ICW. That thought sparked an idea.
“You’re responsible for Harry’s safety under Sanctuary rules, right?”
Marco’s frown turned into confusion. “Yes, why do you ask?”
“The Dark Lord will make Harry his prime target once he succeeds in returning. Make no mistake, he will return one day, and probably sooner than anyone wants. So, since you’re responsible for Harry’s safety, shouldn’t you make sure the Dark Lord is completely destroyed.”
“Dammit, Severus, you know as well as I do that Sanctuary doesn’t work like that. You requested Sanctuary from Dumbledore because he was the immediate threat, so I can and will take him down. But anyone else I can only take down if they attack Harry while he’s under my protection. As long as your Dark Lord doesn’t come near Harry while he’s under Sanctuary, I can’t do anything.”
Marco sank back against the couch and rubbed his hands over his face. Severus felt sorry for the position he was putting Marco in. It was clear the war mage would like nothing more than to help, but the rules by which he did his job didn’t allow him to.
“I’m sorry,” Severus said quietly.
Marco chuckled, but without any humour. “It’s okay. I get it. I’m not happy about it either. But we have to draw a line somewhere and this is where it’s been drawn. If only Britain would ask for help, we could come in and just annihilate that bastard and his followers.”
“Those dunderhead politicians admitting that they need help? Don’t hold your breath.”
Severus sat back as well, deliberately bumping his shoulder against Marco’s. The man chuckled again but with actual humour this time. Severus felt his lips curl up into a smile.
Severus sought Marco out in his office early Sunday morning. He hadn’t wanted to risk discussing the take-down of Dumbledore where Harry could walk in on them, but he wasn’t comfortable not knowing either. Marco had said they had a plan and now that the Horcrux was out of Harry, Severus knew the time of waiting was over.
Marco’s office door was open and the man was doing paperwork. Severus knocked on the doorframe to get his attention.
“You got a minute to talk?” he asked.
Marco smiled. “Of course,” he said, shoving the paperwork aside with so much enthusiasm he almost knocked down another stack of parchment on his desk.
Severus walked inside and closed the door behind him, before putting up a couple of privacy wards. The spells were so familiar he could do them wordlessly, but out of courtesy he said them out loud.
“Seems like you’re not here just to save me from my paperwork,” Marco said. “What’s going on?”
Severus sat down across from Marco. “What’s the next move? Now that Harry is free of that foul thing, taking down Dumbledore is the next step. You said you had a plan?”
“We do. Tomorrow is the monthly meeting of the Wizengamot. Dumbledore will be out from under Hogwart’s wards, which he controls completely, and in a place that’s publicly accessible. We plan to take him down there.”
Severus snorted. “You make it sound so easy. But it’s not just Dumbledore, it’s all of his rabid fans that you’ll have to contend with as well.”
“We’re aware. Don’t worry, as I said, we have a plan.”
“I want to be there,” Severus said.
“Absolutely not! You’re a civilian, and you’re here under the protection of Sanctuary against Dumbledore. I cannot and I will not take you into danger.”
Marco’s face had a mulish look that Severus had only seen once before, when he’d patently refused to eat Brussel sprouts, not even to give Harry a good example. Then, Severus had tried to argue with Marco and eventually given up, as the man had dug his heels in. Severus hadn’t considered eating a particular kind of vegetable to be important enough to push. This, though, was something Severus couldn’t let go. Knowing the damage Dumbledore had done in a future that Severus would never allow to happen, he needed to see this through with his own eyes.
“I am not staying behind,” he said. “I need to be there when you take him down.”
“It’s not up for debate, Severus,” Marco said. “I get you want to be sure, but I am not taking you with me.”
Severus knew that Marco wasn’t just going to give in, but he had a trump card that he had no compunctions about using in this instance. He changed his tone from demanding to pleading.
“You don’t understand, Marco. I need to be there. I don’t…” Severus hesitated. Not just for effect, but mostly because outright lying to Marco didn’t feel right. He swallowed heavily but pushed through. This was for Harry. “I don’t think the vow will allow me to stay behind.”
Marco exploded out of his chair, cursing in rapid Spanish. He paced back and forth behind his desk, gesturing angrily at the ceiling. Severus, eyes wide with surprise, sat back in his chair. That was not the reaction he’d expected. Guilt curled in his stomach, but he didn’t retract his statement. He wasn’t backing down on this.
It took several minutes before Marco calmed down enough to switch back to English.
“Fine! I can see you won’t back down on this. You get to come, but we will be taking precautions and you will do everything I tell you to. No discussion, no deviation from the plan. Understood?”
Severus nodded, feeling just the slightest bit intimidated by the snappish tone. Especially since he suspected Marco hadn’t actually bought his excuse of the vow prodding at him.
“Understood,” he said.
Having gotten what he wanted, Severus stood to leave the office. He hesitated at the door and turned back to Marco, who’d sat down again but was staring out of the window, the line of his shoulders tense.
“Will we see you at dinner tonight?”
Marco turned back to Severus and gave him a rueful smile. “Of course. I’m there every day, aren’t I?” He sighed. “I’m not angry at you, Severus. I’m just really unhappy about taking you into danger.”
“I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” Severus said, quirking a smile of his own. “But I promise, just being there will be enough. I won’t get involved.”
“I’ll hold you to that.”
“I’ll see you tonight,” Severus said. “Enjoy your paperwork.”
Marco grimaced and gave a completely insincere-sounding thank you as a reply. Severus chuckled as he left, but also decided to take pity on the man. He’d make sure to order enchiladas for dinner tonight, they were Marco’s favourite.
Severus was in the stands of the Wizengamot’s monthly meeting on the first Monday of August, wearing a glamour designed to be used by the ICW Unspeakable Division over a Polyjuice induced change of shape. He had walked into the meeting room without being accosted, even though there was currently an arrest warrant out for him by the British Ministry for Magic due to his ‘kidnapping’ of Harry. It was galling how easy it was to infiltrate the Ministry and it gave even more credit to the portrait’s tales of how easy the Ministry had fallen to the Dark Lord in the future that would never be.
Almost two dozen war mages were seated in the audience, spread out to cover most of the room. Marco was sitting next to Severus. He still wasn’t happy about Severus being here and he hadn’t stopped grumbling about it, but since the end result was that he was sitting here, Severus would take it.
At the front, Dumbledore opened the meeting as the Chief Warlock. Severus wondered if this was truly the first time since he’d asked Sanctuary that the war mages had a clear shot at taking Dumbledore down, or if they’d waited until the Horcrux had been removed from Harry and destroyed. Since he didn’t know the actual plan, Severus could only guess. All he knew was that an older war mage named Breitner was leading the charge. Severus had only met him briefly, during the briefing, but had been suitably impressed by his no-nonsense, take no prisoners approach to the whole business.
“I hereby open this meeting of the Wizengamot. Is there anyone with business that should be heard by this body?”
It was a routine question, hardly ever was any business brought before the Wizengamot in such a way. There were strict rules as to which business could be brought up in what was called the open court – the inheritance of a seat, treason and sedition, national security, and international issues. Bring up something that was not within the guidelines and you could face a high fine. Therefore, Dumbledore was not even looking at the floor when Breitner stood from where he had been sitting in the front row of the audience. Dumbledore was alerted to the fact it was not a regular day when the audience and some of the Wizengamot started murmuring, causing him to look up.
“I have business with this body,” Breitner said once Dumbledore was looking at him.
“War Mage Breitner, this is a surprise. I wasn’t aware the ICW had any business to discuss before the Wizengamot today.”
Severus thought Dumbledore sounded like an exasperated parent berating a toddler.
“This is a War Mage Division issue; it wasn’t disclosed to the ICW Counsel. Therefore, I wouldn’t expect you to be aware as Supreme Mugwump. Considering I haven’t told the Wizengamot anything yet, I’m not surprised you’re not aware as Chief Warlock either. Do I need to explain why you wouldn’t be aware of the ICW War Mage Division’s business as headmaster of Hogwarts as well, or can we get on with business?”
Severus stifled a grin. Several people in the audience around him snickered. Malfoy, up in the Wizengamot stands, looked positively gleeful. Dumbledore, radiating disapproval, fell back on Wizengamot protocol.
“State your business, War Mage Breitner.”
“As this is the highest confidence level, I invoke protocol 13b of the Wizengamot protocols.”
Severus saw the confusion on many of the audience members’ faces. They weren’t the only ones confused, more than one Wizengamot member seemed to have no idea what the protocol was either. Fudge was furiously whispering to his assistant, probably trying to figure out what protocol 13b was as well.
“Is this truly necessary?” Dumbledore asked.
“Absolutely, Chief Warlock.”
Breitner’s answer left Dumbledore with no other option than to enact the protocol. He placed his wand on a slightly raised rune in front of him.
“By the authority vested in me by the duly elected officials of the Wizengamot as Chief Warlock, I hereby Seal this meeting of the Wizengamot. None may enter and none may leave until this session had been closed. Until such a time as War Mage Breitner releases the floor, this meeting will be in session. So it is and so it will be.”
A bright blue light emanated from the rune. It spread out across the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. When it had covered every surface, it shimmered and got brighter, until Severus had to look away. Just as the light became uncomfortable even with his eyes averted, the light dimmed and disappeared. When Severus looked back up, he noticed the doors had disappeared. Not just the large doors that most people used to enter the room, but also the small door to one of the back hallways – usually used to bring in prisoners – and the door to the antechamber behind the members of the Wizengamot had vanished. Around him, people murmured, some excited and some more nervous.
“You have the floor, War Mage Breitner,” Dumbledore said, then sat down as if he was a king presiding over his court.
“Thank you, Chief Warlock. I come bearing grave news. But before I can share this with you, I must be absolutely certain that you are all above reproach.”
“What exactly are you accusing us of, young man?” one of the older witches on the Wizengamot demanded.
Breitner gave the woman a short bow. “I am not accusing you of anything, madam. But I am a war veteran thrice over. I take nothing on faith. And current protocol wouldn’t allow me to even if I wanted to. Protocol 13b seals the Wizengamot to make sure nothing of the information I am about to share leaks. It also requires me to test the Wizengamot members to make sure no malignant magic is influencing your actions. Then, and only then, can I share my information.”
The woman still didn’t look happy, but she gave Breitner a nod and sat down. Severus tensed up. He knew what was coming next, but not what the results would be.
“Omnia quae revelare mutat corpus mens magicae aut animae ita ut iure purgetur!”
A twirl of Breitner’s wand built up the magic of the spell as he spoke it. It gathered in a golden ball at the tip of his wand. Dumbledore was looking distinctly worried as Breitner performed the spell. On the last word, Breitner swept his wand over the Wizengamot members.
The gold light descended onto the Wizengamot members, who muttered uncomfortably to each other. They shifted on their seats as the light blanketed them. Some of them, like Malfoy, briefly frowned before shaking themselves as of ridding themselves of water after coming in from the rain. Others shivered as the gold light sank into their skin, making them glow like fireflies. Those were the members that were under some sort of control, whether it be potion or spell. The spell wasn’t perfect, as it couldn’t detect any type of non-magical manipulation. Blackmail, threats, or just pretty words – it didn’t matter what influenced you, as long as it wasn’t magic-based the spell didn’t detect it. To be truthful, Severus didn’t expect much to come of the spell.
It would have been better, Severus thought, if he’d been right. Unfortunately, about half the Wizengamot was glowing like fireflies.
“Now!” Breitner roared.
As one, all of the war mages dotted around the audience rose and shot off stunning spells. Everyone who had glowed up under the spell was down and out in under a minute. Complete pandemonium had broken out. Several Wizengamot members that hadn’t glowed but had started firing spells at the war mages had been subdued as well. The audience had started screaming, and most had ducked away, trying to hide behind whoever was sitting in front of them. Several people had tried to flee out of the room, banging on the wall where the large public doors usually were. Severus sneered. Useless sheep, the lot of them. He’d stayed seated, though he did have his wand in hand, just in case anyone tried anything stupid.
“Silence!” Breitner commanded, his voice echoing through the room courtesy of a Sonorous Charm.
Severus noticed Dumbledore had not been foolish enough to start shooting spells when the war mages had interfered, but he was one of the few remaining awake Wizengamot members that had their wand out. Three war mages, including Marco, were in a position to take him out should he try anything. Severus was slightly disappointed that Dumbledore was smarter than that. He had to admire the man’s control, though. Even though the probability of much of these magical manipulations being Dumbledore’s handiwork was high, he didn’t seem to be worried at all. Just severely disapproving.
It took Breitner another two tries and the threat to stun anyone who didn’t sit down and shut up before the hubbub in the room died down.
“Now, I am sure you want answers. The simple truth is this: everyone who was affected by the spell is under some sort of spell or potion that alters their actions. This can be as innocuous as a cheering charm to something as insidious as a love potion, or worse. Since it affects more than ten percent of the ruling body of an ICW member state, the ICW War Mage Division will now take temporary control of the Wizengamot.” People muttered, but Breitner ignored it. “Every single one of these people will be tested. If the potion or spell influencing them is benign and taken voluntarily, they will be released to their duties. If whatever they are labouring under is not benign or not taken voluntarily, they will be freed from its influence. Once all Wizengamot members are free of outside influence, the ICW War Mage Division will return control of the government to the Wizengamot.”
“And then you’ll leave?” Fudge blustered.
“Might I remind you, Minister, that we are still in the middle of a protocol 13b? Once the Wizengamot is free of outside influence, I will be able to share my business with this body. Only after my business is concluded will the seal be lifted. And then, yes, I will leave.”
Fudge looked furious, but his assistant managed to tug him back to his chair. Fudge turned his ire on his assistant, who seemed to be trying to calm the minister down. From the unattractive flush on Fudge’s face, which clashed horribly with his lime-green robes, the assistant wasn’t very successful. Severus would feel sorry for the young man who was being chewed out by his boss, if not for the fact that he could’ve made a better life choice than to become assistant to Fudge, of all people. Dunderheads, the lot of them.
“So, you’re in charge of our government now, until everyone is cleared?” Dumbledore asked Breitner.
“No, of course not. That would be a conflict of interest since I am the one that has the floor. Besides, sorting out this mess is something for the most senior war mage present, don’t you think?”
“And that would be me,” Marco said, stepping forward.
Severus started. He hadn’t realized Breitner wasn’t the most senior war mage in the room, let alone that Marco was so high up in the organization as to have been given the lead on this operation. He was embarrassed by the fact that he hadn’t picked up on it. Marco had been making a lot of decisions regarding his and Harry’s Sanctuary. He also hadn’t seemed to need to defer to anyone about those decisions. If Severus were a more forgiving man, he might have forgiven himself for the fact he hadn’t noticed these clues because he had been trying to save Harry and, quite frankly, himself as well. But Severus had survived everything in his life so far by noticing the little things that most people didn’t and drawing the right conclusions from them. He gritted his teeth and determined to question Marco about his position, in a Slytherin way, of course, as soon as he could. Meanwhile, Marco was busy trying to reassure people at the front of the room by being his usual charismatic self.
“Let me introduce myself. I am Senior War Mage Tarragona, in service of the ICW. Now, I realize you are all probably frightened by the realization that so many of the honoured members of your Wizengamot were not in control of their actions. But please be aware that this spell is very sensitive. Even a mild cheering charm or calming potion will show up. We will set up an area and revive all stunned persons one at a time. We will investigate exactly what has been detected by the spell. Any spells will be dispelled and any potions will be flushed from the affected person’s system unless they are medically necessary. You can all rest assured that by the time I am done here, your government will be free of any outside influence.”
People did settle down at that, as it became clear the ICW war mages hadn’t come to take over for very long. No one could argue with a Wizengamot free of outside influence, even though Severus wanted to bet that there were plenty of people who would like to protest. Especially those who were responsible for the control over the members. Severus wasn’t naive enough to think it was only Dumbledore who had used magic to make people vote in his favour.
Marco ordered several of his people to set up a screened-off area in front of where the grand doors usually were. While they were setting that up, Dumbledore cleared his throat.
“I do believe there is a slight flaw in your plan, my dear boy.”
“I am not, nor have I ever been your boy, Chief Warlock. But please, enlighten me as to this flaw you think you’ve spotted in my plan.”
“If these people are under the effect of a potion, then how are you going to free them of it? We don’t have any flushing potions here and we cannot simply wait until said potions wear off. What if it were to be a potion that lasts a week or longer? Surely you cannot hold us hostage for that long.”
“Well, it’s a good thing then that we brought our own potions master and enough supplies to brew Flushing Draughts for the entire Wizengamot and audience.”
“That sounds suspiciously like you expected there to be a need for these potions.”
“Oh, no, I just like to be prepared for every eventuality. Some call me a controlling bastard like it’s some sort of personality flaw. Personally, I see it as a compliment.”
Marco gave Dumbledore a brilliant smile, then waved at Severus to come to him. In short order, Severus was set up with a portable brewing station and the largest size cauldron on the market to make a big batch of Flushing Draught. He strongly suspected this was one of the reasons Marco hadn’t fought harder to keep him from coming. Well played, Severus thought.
Under the close scrutiny of Dumbledore and the rest of the Wizangamot, Severus was extra thankful he was under the protection of the special glamour. The last thing he wanted was to be recognized. It didn’t take long before he was immersed in the brewing process.
The potion normally took three and a half hours to brew, mainly because the base took three hours to make. Thankfully, the war mages had brought a pre-prepared base. It was one of the more stable bases and many healers kept it in stock because Flushing Draughts were often necessary for healing, but patients couldn’t always wait three and a half hours for one to be ready. The Flushing Draughts themselves had a very short shelf-life, no more than 12 hours. Severus took the base and finished the brewing process. He finished the intricate process in half an hour and decanted the large cauldron into individual dose flasks. The moment he’d put the first flask down, one of the mages took it and levitated the first Wizengamot member to follow her to the screened-off portion of the room.
By the time Severus was done decanting the entire batch of the potion, ten affected Wizengamot members had already been levitated behind the privacy screen. Without fail, they came out from behind the screen looking pale and sweaty to return to their seats. They looked about equally divided between angry and horrified, but all of them refrained from saying anything.
With every member that came out from the screened-off area that didn’t say a word, Severus saw Dumbledore relax. Bit by bit his confidence returned. He sat up straighter and the twinkle came back in his eyes.
After a few hours everyone that had lighted up had finally been freed from all foreign influences on their actions. Marco had been keeping close to Severus while he was brewing, wand out and slightly pointed towards Dumbledore. Severus, now done with his brewing, returned to his seat. Marco exchanged a look with Breitner and a slight nod, before he faced the Wizengamot.
“Dear members of the Wizengamot, thank you for your cooperation,” Marco spoke to the assembly. “I hereby declare this body free of any foreign influence.” He turned to Dumbledore. “Chief Warlock, I formally release control of the government of Great Britain back to the Wizengamot.”
“Thank you, my boy. In name of the Wizengamot, I hereby retake control of this august body.”
With control returned to the Wizengamot, everyone settled in to hear what had brought the ICW to them. As Breitner took centre stage again in front of the Wizengamot, Severus covertly held his wand pointed at Dumbledore from his seat in the audience. Breitner and Marco were the only two war mages who knew exactly what the plan was, but Severus could see the tension in Marco’s body and how he’d positioned himself and his war mages to cover Dumbledore from all sides. Severus had promised Marco not to step in, but he wouldn’t be a sitting duck either – if he had to, he’d protect himself.
“Now that everyone’s mind is their own again, it is time for me to share my purpose in coming here before this body. As ICW War Mage, it is my solemn duty to inform you all of the rise of a new dark lord in Great Britain.”
The shocked silence that followed was broken by Lord Ogden. “Is this the same person who had so many of us potioned?”
It was as if his question had opened the floodgates, as many of those in the Wizengamot started shouting questions at Breitner. He remained standing tall in the centre of the room, placidly waiting. A loud bang quieted the questions. All eyes turned to Augusta Longbottom, who stood tall and proud with her wand out, looking fiercer than Severus had seen her since her son and his wife’s tragic faith. She had been one of the potioned victims and Severus wondered if she suspected who the perpetrator was.
“If we are all through acting like a bunch of hooligans, perhaps we can allow War Mage Breitner to finish briefing us on the situation. I am sure he will be happy to answer our questions, should there be any, after we’ve heard all of the information.”
Breitner nodded. “Thank you, Madam. I would indeed be happy to.”
Madam Longbottom sat down and everyone focused their attention back on Breitner. Severus, on the other hand, kept his attention on Dumbledore. The man had put on a concerned mask, but Severus could see the sparks of fury beneath it, visible in his eyes for those who knew to look there. Was Dumbledore angry because he suspected the ICW was on to him or because he hadn’t known anything about this supposed dark lord? From what he knew of Dumbledore, both were equally likely.
“To start with the question I was just asked, yes, some of you were indeed potioned or even spelled by this new dark lord. Not all, though. This is why Lucius Malfoy, Cantankerous Nott, Corban Yaxley, and Thorfinn Rowle are being placed under arrest.”
“Minister, surely you won’t let this man arrest us on some unfounded accusations,” Malfoy said, loud enough to be heard over the hubbub that broke out.
Malfoy looked the picture of an affronted man, but the white-knuckled grip on his wand told Severus that he was feeling threatened by this unexpected event. And his usual supporters were keeping quiet, so as not to draw any unwanted attention to themselves. Minister Fudge was a pale, pasty white. He had been one of the people coming out from behind the screened-off area shaking and sweating, a clear sign that the Flushing Draught had purged a potion from his system. He might have even been under spells as well. Fudge turned his face away from where Malfoy was standing. No help was coming from that quarter.
Seeing he would receive no help from anyone present, Malfoy tried to draw his wand from his cane. Before he could even complete the movement, three stunners hit him, one of them cast by Marco. He went down, hard.
“Anything you want to try, gentlemen?” Marco asked Nott, Yaxley, and Rowle.
Seeing there was no way out, they choose to go quietly. Marco gestured at the two war mages who’d also fired stunners at Malfoy to take them to the back of the room. There, they screened off another area, where Severus was sure the four men would be bound and kept secure until the Wizengamot was freed from the lockdown.
People, both on the Wizengamot and in the audience, were talking to each other – speculating over which people had been manipulated by those four and why. But Breitner effortlessly drew the attention of everyone in the room back to himself when he started talking again, and a hush fell over the room.
“Now, honoured ladies and gentlemen, we can truly discuss things. For our focus must be on this new dark lord, who is insidious as he infiltrates this very body to control it. We first learned of this dark lord because one of your citizens sought Sanctuary for him and his ward with the ICW War Mage Division. He, too, was a victim of potions, but due to a fluke, he was forced to take a Flushing Draught. Recognizing the draught had rid him of potions he had not taken voluntarily, he was understandably concerned. Subsequent inquiries at Gringotts, which he hadn’t made before due to the potions, revealed he was named in a will.”
Everyone in the room was riveted by what Breitner was telling them. Severus, however, kept his eyes on Dumbledore. Even though the man tried to keep his normal, benevolent know-it-all mask on, Severus noticed the tenseness of his jaw. Dumbledore’s eyes were slightly narrowed. Most tellingly of all, the quill Dumbledore had in his hand was being crushed in a too-tight grip. This was a man who knew where the story was going, unlike most other people in the room.
“In that will, he was named the guardian of a child,” Breitner continued. “Now, this child had been living with different guardians, but feeling obligated to at least check on this child, he went to see him. What he found was a child so abused, that he was forced to take the child away from his guardians. Said child is now under the care of an ICW healer and it took weeks of daily treatments to get this child healthy again. Such was the extend of the damage done to this innocent child.”
“What does this have to do with a new dark lord?”
It was Ogden who had interrupted. Breitner looked at the old man, who was one of the people on the Wizengamot who hadn’t been potioned. There wouldn’t have been any need, Tiberius Ogden had always been in Dumbledore’s corner, as far as Severus knew.
“This child is named Harry Potter and the new dark lord was directly responsible for placing him with his previous guardians, against the wishes of the parents, which he suppressed,” Breitner replied.
“That is preposterous,” Dumbledore said, standing up with a truly furious look on his face. “I was the one responsible for Harry going to his aunt, where he lived a happy life until he was kidnapped by Severus Snape, who I thought was a reformed man. Obviously, I was wrong, as he ripped poor Harry from his happy life. If Snape told you anything else, he was hoodwinking you.”
“Really? Harry Potter had a happy life? I have an ICW healer’s statement that says otherwise. The child was abused, Dumbledore. As for the charges of kidnapping against Severus Snape, I also have the will of Lily Potter which names him as guardian. He’s not the first on the list, but he is the only viable candidate. Unlike you, Severus Snape cared enough about Harry to take him away from his aunt once he found out about both his obligation and how deplorable he was treated.” Breitner huffed dramatically, then answered Dumbledore’s furious look with an ice-cold professional one. “However, I am fully aware you are responsible for all of that, knowing full well what was happening to the child. So no, my statement is not preposterous in the least.”
“Are you calling Dumbledore a dark lord?” an astute woman from the audience called out.
“Yes, I am.”
Pandemonium broke out. Some were shouting for the immediate arrest of Dumbledore, others shouted that he was a hero and where did Breitner get the nerve from? Severus looked at Dumbledore, who was pasting on a mask of profound disappointment and sadness, but overshot the mark and just looked overwhelmed. He certainly hadn’t been expecting this, Severus thought savagely.
“I am the one who defeated Grindelwald. I am the one who fought against Voldemort.”
Severus flinched as Dumbledore said that dratted name, as pain flashed through his Dark Mark. Luckily, nobody seemed to have noticed.
“I am not and have never been a dark lord. And I do not appreciate being accused of this!”
Dumbeldore was almost shouting at the end and it was clear he was truly angry. Breitner’s words had gotten under his skin and Severus revelled in it, to finally see something crack that legendary calm Dumbledore prided himself on.
“Well, I doubt anyone is happy to be called a dark lord, especially if it drags their actions into the light. But as to why I accuse you of this, your actions warrant it.”
“What, placing a child with his aunt? When no other suitable guardian was available?”
“At the time of the Potter’s deaths, there were several guardians in Lily Potter’s will still available, including Severus Snape, a man you yourself labelled as a spy for the light. A man who has worked at Hogwarts for ten years teaching your nation’s children the noble art of potion making. A brilliant man, who by all accounts, including your own, is a fine, upright citizen. At least, until you accused him of kidnapping after he interfered with your decision to place Harry Potter in an abusive environment. I see no reason why he wouldn’t have been a suitable guardian at the time of the Potter’s death. Unless of course, you were trying to create an Obscurial? Didn’t you once have something of an interest in them, together with Grindelwald?”
Breitner didn’t give Dumbledore the time to answer but went on with his verbal assault.
“Aside from that, there is also the mass potioning you did of many here in the Wizengamot. I have to wonder when it comes to potioning people to be loyal to you, or to hate certain people, or even love certain people, why did you do it? To enlarge your power base? Or is there some sick need inside of you that tries to keep the world around you under control? Does it satisfy that need, when you use the people around you as puppets? How many of the children under your care at Hogwarts have you abused in this way?”
Total pandemonium broke out at that accusation. As people began to wonder what Dumbledore had done to their children and then realized he’d been at Hogwarts for a long time, with access to most of them when they themselves were young and vulnerable, they started to shout questions and accusations. Suddenly, the ICW war mages were needed to protect Dumbledore from what was quickly becoming an angry mob demanding answers. Dumbledore himself was standing behind their shields as if he was an emperor looking out across his subjects, pitying them for being common folk.
“I want to be tested! I want to know if he did something to me!”
Severus wasn’t sure who in the crowd first demanded it, but the cry was soon taken up by all who had been in the audience.
“Settle down!” Marco shouted. “If you will all take your seats, we can cast the detection spell again.”
Severus had never seen an angry mob sit back down as fast as he did then. Marco cast the detection spell again. Severus, in the audience as he hadn’t left his seat, not wanting to be in the possible line of fire, felt the magic tingling as it sank into him. He watched as several of the people around him lit up. He himself remained free of the effects of the spell. A feeling of relief swept over Severus. Even though he’d known there were no more potions or spells controlling his actions, it felt good to see the very visible proof of that.
Severus now also understood why he’d brewed twice the amount of Flushing Draught than Marco had needed to free all the Wizengamot members from the influence of any potions in their system. This had to have been in their plan as well. A start at cleaning up Dumbledore’s quite frankly atrocious actions. There were plans within plans here and Severus felt admiration flare up at the complexity of Marco’s planning. A Slytherin at heart indeed.
It didn’t take long for Marco to organize the affected audience members into a line, guarded by ICW members to keep them from doing anything stupid. One by one they went into the screened-off area, coming out pale and shaky to retake their seat. It took nearly three hours to get everyone free of manipulations, Dumbledore, meanwhile, had retaken his seat and was leaning backward as if lounging on a throne, seemingly unconcerned by any of the goings-on. He was still guarded by four war mages, two who kept their eyes and wands trained on him, two who kept their eyes on the rest of the chamber, protecting Dumbledore from any revenge actions.
“Now, Dumbledore, do you have anything to say for yourself?” Breitner asked when the proceedings could take place once more.
“All I’ve seen you do is throw around accusations. I have not seen one shred of evidence for your baseless accusations.”
“The ICW has a record of your magical signature since you are authorized as Supreme Mugwump for several restricted areas at Headquarters. This signature is a match to several of the manipulation spells we’ve stripped off people today. On top of that, there is more than one person that has given evidence about loyalty feelings towards you disappearing once they had taken a Flushing Draught.”
“And that, Dumbledore, is enough to arrest you,” Marco said, coming to stand next to Breitner. “Surrender your wand.”
“I will not!” Dumbledore thundered.
Several more of the war mages stationed around the chamber were now actively holding their wands at Dumbledore. Marco gestured around him.
“What are you going to do? Fight your way out? The magic of the Wizengamot itself won’t let anyone leave. Not until War Mage Breitner releases the floor. So even if you rendered all of us incapable of stopping you, it wouldn’t do you any good. So, I’ll say again, surrender your wand.”
“I know what’s best for this world. You people should have just listened to me, then I wouldn’t have had to use other means to steer our society to where it needs to be.”
“And where do you think we need to be?”
Severus frowned, wondering for a moment why Marco wasn’t just taking Dumbledore out. Then he saw one of the war mages standing protectively near the court scribe, who was still scribbling furiously with his quill, taking down anything Dumbledore said. The Wizengamot was still in session, so an official record was being made of anything being said. And that record was public and admissible in the ICW court as evidence. Severus realized he was watching Dumbledore dig his own grave and Marco was handing him a bigger shovel.
“We are wizards! We are superior to any other being on this planet. It is our right to rule. And those coming from outside the wizarding world need to know that Pure-bloods are their betters. If everyone just stays in their place, society will be a utopia. Can’t you all see? I am working to bring this world, the way it is supposed to be, into being.”
“And you thought you needed to magically manipulate people by way of potions or spells was the way to achieve this?”
A dark look crossed Dumbledore’s face. “Some people can’t see the vision I have. They act like recalcitrant children. I need to guide them on the right path.”
“With potions and spells,” Marco said, sounding unimpressed.
“If they won’t listen to reason, yes. The greater good comes first.”
“Well, the way you tried to bring about that greater good is illegal, so you are still under arrest. But you will get your day in court and you can then explain all of this to a judge. Now, please, surrender your wand.”
For a split second, it looked like Dumbledore was going to comply. But then he threw up a high-level shield and shouted “Fawkes!”
As the brilliant red phoenix appeared in a flash of flames, the war mages were shooting off spells to try and break through the shield. Just as the shield shattered under the barrage of spells, Dumbledore grabbed Fawkes’ tail feathers and was flashed away by the phoenix.
“Breitner, release the floor!” Marco shouted.
“I hereby conclude my business. May the Wizengamot rule with wisdom.”
As soon as Breitner released the floor, the Wizengamot’s room’s floor, walls, and ceiling shimmered blue and the doors reappeared with a flash. Marco immediately apparated away, followed by about a third of the war mages present in the room. The rest remained behind. Both the audience and the Wizengamot were shouting, calling to Breitner to expand on what he’d said, discussing the happenings, or demanding more of the war mages go after Dumbledore to bring him to justice. Severus sneered. Bunch of ineffectual politicians.
“Please, honoured members of the Wizengamot. I understand you want to bring Dumbledore to justice, to see him answering all of our questions and judgment to be meted out. And I assure you, Senior War Mage Tarragona and his team have the capture of Dumbledore well in hand. But we are currently faced with a problem of Dumbledore’s making. While everyone in this room has been checked for potions and spells, we have many more who might be affected that aren’t here. They are still under Dumbledore’s control.”
“What would you have us do?” Madam Longbottom asked, her voice easily overpowering the low mutterings of the audience and the Wizengamot.
“Lock down the Ministry. We’ll test everyone, starting with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Once the Ministry is clear of influence, we will clear St. Mungo’s staff and patients. Then we’ll check on Hogwarts’ staff and students. It will be a lot of work, but with the ICW War Mages and Healer Divisions that we have on standby, we can clear those three locations today. Then we can compel every citizen of magical Britain to be tested for undue influence.”
As the Wizengamot agreed with Breitner and locked down the Ministry, Severus foresaw a lot of brewing work for him in the future. Also, he highly suspected that more than just Dumbledore’s manipulations would come to light in this action. But in the end, it would leave Great Britain’s wizarding population much better off than it had in many years.
The day after the Wizengamot hearing, Severus slept so late it was nearly lunchtime when he got up. The day before had been incredibly long, but they’d manage to check everyone in the Ministry. The further out from the centre of power, the fewer people had been potioned or otherwise manipulated. Still, there was a good ten percent of the Ministry not acting completely of their own will. Severus had not been surprised, though, that about a quarter of those affected had not been Dumbledore’s victims. He foresaw big changes in the law once everything became known to the general public.
After washing up, Severus came into the living room to find Harry reading The Tales of Beedle the Bard on the couch. Severus thought it was a bit too frivolous to read books meant for children much younger than Harry, but when he’d complained to Marco about it, the other man had pointed out that Harry had never had much of a childhood. So, Severus swallowed down the urge to point Harry towards something more suitable for his age level he always had when he saw it. Instead, he focused on the full pot of coffee and some sandwiches that were on the coffee table.
“Morning,” Harry said. “I heard you in the bathroom, so got you some coffee and food.”
“Thank you,” Severus said with much feeling.
He drank two cups of coffee before even starting on the sandwiches. Harry seemed to take that as the sign he was awake enough to answer questions.
“What happened yesterday?”
“Dumbledore’s actions were exposed, but unfortunately he managed to escape. So, the ICW’s war mages and the Ministry’s aurors are hunting him. Until they’ve caught him, we’ll remain here under Sanctuary.”
Harry sighed and Severus felt for the boy. He’d been cooped up inside all summer so far and he’d hoped to be free to go outside when Dumbledore had been taken into custody. To be quite honest, so had Severus. But they’d have to be patient for a little while longer.
“How was your day yesterday?” Severus asked. “I didn’t come in until well past midnight and the place didn’t look destroyed, so I’m assuming you didn’t cause Healer Petterson any trouble.”
“It was fine,” Harry said. “We played Exploding Snap and he let me help him brew a Pepper-Up Potion. He didn’t let me do the actual brewing like you do, though, just preparing the ingredients.”
“I’d imagine he doesn’t have a lot of experience with children or teaching potions to children. Also, he knew I’d have skinned him alive if anything happened to you, so he probably wasn’t prepared to risk it.”
“I guess,” Harry said, though he didn’t sound too convinced. “Do you have to leave again today?”
Severus shook his head as he grabbed another cup of coffee, having finished his sandwich.
“No. I’ll admit there’s a lot that still needs to be done. Dumbledore had a lot of people potioned to be loyal to him or otherwise change their behaviour. The Ministry is clear now and the ICW is going to try and clear St. Mungo’s today. While I was at the Ministry, there were potion masters already working on the needed Flushing Draughts in the potions laboratory here. I’ll probably head down there this afternoon to help with the brewing. They’re going to need gallons of it by the time everything is said and done, but I’ll be back before dinner.”
He could see Harry wasn’t entirely happy with being left alone this afternoon, but he didn’t complain. Severus took another sandwich and pushed the rest of them in the direction of Harry.
“If you eat lunch now, I have some time to play chess or gobstones with you before I go help the potion masters.”
Harry grinned and shoved almost half a sandwich into his mouth. Severus gave him a disapproving look, which caused Harry to slow down and look sheepish.
After eating, Severus played two rounds of gobstones with Harry before leaving to go to the ICW’s well-equipped general potions laboratory. It was the kind of laboratory he’d always dreamed of working at and now that he saw light at the end of the tunnel when it came to teaching, he was all too eager to offer his help. Perhaps he could impress them enough that he’d have a chance for a job here after he quit teaching. Of course, the Dark Lord needed to be defeated first, but Severus always did like to plan ahead.
He’d been working alongside three of the ICW potions masters, who’d gladly accepted his help with making several large cauldrons of the Flushing Draught’s base. Potions masters on the scene of the screening would finish the potion before distributing it. While he was working, Marco stopped by. From the look on his face, Dumbledore was still at large.
“How’s the hunt going?”
“Bastard’s slippery, I’ll give him that,” Marco said. “My team was relieved two hours ago. I spent an hour in debriefing before I managed a shower. I checked on Harry. He’s none too pleased to be on his own again, but understood why you were helping here. He managed to talk me into playing three rounds of gobstones by playing up the abandonment, though.”
Severus nodded to show he was listening, while carefully keeping the figure-eight stirring motion going until the timer he’d set chimed. He changed the pattern to a clockwise stirring with his left hand, while resetting the timer with his wand.
“Severus,” Marco said, his tone of voice one Severus hadn’t heard before, causing him to look up at the war mage. “I’m sorry.”
“I was responsible for capturing Dumbledore and I let him get away. Today we should’ve been able to lift the Sanctuary, not prolong it indefinitely. That’s on me, and I’m sorry.”
Severus snorted, but the timer went off before he could say anything. He stopped stirring and added five drops of phoenix tears. The base changed from light green to milky-white. Satisfied, he set the time for half an hour and made sure the flame under the cauldron would keep it at a simmer, then gave his full attention to Marco.
“You do realize it’s not your fault,” Severus said. Marco looked ready to protest that, but Severus cut off his beginning protest. “There is no way anyone could have foreseen Fawkes would side with Dumbledore. Honestly, I still don’t understand why such a light creature would help someone like Dumbledore.”
“It’s a common misconception that phoenixes are creatures of light, you know. They’re intelligent magical creatures that, on their own, aren’t dark. But they’re not light either. They’re more chaotic neutral forces, and once they find a companion and bind themselves to this companion, they remain loyal until the companion’s death.”
“Even if said companion turns out to be one of the darkest wizards ever?” Severus asked.
“Yes,” Marco said. “Which is why I should have taken the phoenix into account.”
“You and how many others who were there?” Severus asked sarcastically. “Any one of them could have said something. I understand guilt, trust me, but I think you’re not being fair to yourself.”
“Perhaps, but I’m still sorry for letting him get away.”
“You’ll find him,” Severus said.
“Yes, I will.”
It sounded like a promise.
Severus returned to his and Harry’s suite close to midnight. It had been two weeks since Dumbledore’s escape, and though the net was tightening around Dumbledore he hadn’t been caught yet. It was the reason Severus and Harry remained under lockdown at the ICW, their Sanctuary not ending until Dumbledore had been caught. Despite both Severus and Harry beginning to chafe under the lack of freedom, Severus was well aware the danger hadn’t passed yet. As more and more of the man’s crimes came to light, he was losing supporters left and right. People were furious with Dumbledore and his actions, as the list of people he’d controlled through magical means grew. There hadn’t been many children at Hogwarts who’d been spelled or potioned, though several had admitted to being threatened with expulsion if they didn’t keep quiet about bullying incidents. Severus was glad the damage at Hogwarts was so mild. The staff had been another story, as all of them had been under Dumbledore’s control – except for Trelawny, but she’d been hiding at Hogwarts since giving the prophecy that led to the Dark Lord’s downfall. Dumbledore had fed her fears and she hardly ever left the castle as a result.
Severus wondered how many people Dumbledore had controlled through blackmail or threats that hadn’t stepped forward. It was no wonder the Wizengamot’s first action after Hogwarts and St. Mungo’s had been cleared by the ICW had been to pass a law that limited the number of positions one could hold. Never again could the headmaster or headmistress of Hogwarts hold a political position, nor could anyone hold more than one of the leading positions in the Ministry. The rest of the British wizarding world was slowly being tested, the populace getting called into the Ministry and St. Mungo’s to be tested by ICW personnel. Severus’ thoughts during the trial had been right, the further from the centre of power people were, the fewer people had been magically manipulated by Dumbledore. Not that it stopped people from being furious about Dumbledore’s actions. Even two weeks later, the headlines were still all about Dumbledore’s crimes.
While Severus enjoyed Dumbledore’s fall from grace, it had a downside as well. With Dumbledore’s reputation in tatters and his power base broken, he was perhaps more dangerous than ever, because he was unpredictable. But Severus wasn’t feeling the need to solve that particular problem himself. The ICW War Mage Division was going after Dumbledore with all they had. It wouldn’t take long before the man was found and captured. Hopefully, it happened before Hogwarts started in twelve days, as Severus wasn’t sure if they could allow Harry to attend if Dumbledore was still at large.
Severus used the time he was still here to search for ways to defeat the Dark Lord for good in the ICW library. Now that Dumbledore’s access to the ICW had been revoked, Severus felt better about leaving Harry on his own for longer periods of time. Fiendfyre was still the only viable option he’d found in the library to destroy a Horcrux, but he might finally have a lead. Apparently, the old Aztec wizards were big on creating soul-anchors, which was just an oblique way of saying Horcrux, and they were found quite regularly at digs. So there must be a way to deal with them, and if that meant Severus needed to go on summer holiday to South America to find the information, so be it. But at least he had a more solid direction to look in now for ways to destroy the foul things.
Despite the late hour, Marco was still lounging on the couch of the sitting room.
“You do realize Harry’s old enough to be left alone for a few hours, especially if he’s asleep during that time,” Severus said as he shrugged off his outer robes.
Marco shrugged his shoulders. “The two of you are mine to protect. Besides, Harry did try to sneak out about half an hour after you left.”
Severus dropped down on the couch next to Marco with a sigh. “He’s getting antsy, being cooped up inside here. There’s not much to do for him aside from reading books and playing chess with the tutoring charm on, especially if we’re not there to do something with him.”
“That’s actually why I was waiting for you. Don’t think I haven’t seen you locking yourself in the library either. You’re feeling just as trapped as Harry is, only he gets moody and you get anti-social.”
“You’re right, but I don’t see what you could do to help with that.”
“Take Harry to Venice’s magical district. It should be safe enough, no one would expect you to be in Italy. Besides, we’re just being extra cautious keeping you here under Sanctuary.”
Severus hummed as he thought that over, then nodded. “I think you’re right, it’s a good idea.”
Severus looked at the man next to him and noticed how tired Marco looked. He shifted on the couch until his shoulder pressed against Marco’s. Marco let his own weight sag a little bit into Severus.
“You should take a break. Running yourself down like this won’t help you capture Dumbledore. On the contrary, it might cause him to catch you off guard.”
“Fine, I’ll take a break by going with you. I was going to volunteer for an extra shift tomorrow, but I can go with Harry and you instead.”
“Does it really count as a break if you’re going to be acting as a bodyguard?”
Marco shrugged his shoulders, jostling Severus as he did so because he was still leaning against him.
“At least it will feel better than being frustrated because we can’t find Dumbledore no matter how or where we look for him. We’re thinking he might be in a location warded with Fidelius.”
Severus just hummed. They remained silent until Marco started to snore softly. Not wanting to wake the man, Severus was glad he wasn’t leaning against his wand arm side. He carefully and slowly transfigured the couch into something that was more half bed half couch, so they were more comfortable. Severus enjoyed the feeling of Marco leaning against him as he slipped into sleep himself.
Both of them woke up to the smell of coffee and a smirking Harry, who had a bowl of yogurt and fruit in his hands.
“The house-elves brought breakfast,” he said.
“Not a word!”
“Relax, Severus, we fell asleep on the couch. Big deal.”
“Looks like one of you managed to transfigure the couch before falling asleep. Doesn’t that mean you had enough time to go to bed?” Harry asked.
“For all the times to exhibit your Slytherin side, you pick now. It’s too early for this, where’s the coffee?” Severus grumbled.
Severus shuffled off to where the coffee was on the dining table. He heard Marco tell Harry about their planned trip today.
Harry ran past them to his room.
“Still not enough coffee,” Severus muttered.
Marco laughed as he grabbed his cup of coffee.
“We’d better hurry, I get the feeling Harry won’t want to wait for us to be fully caffeinated.”
Marco’s prediction proved to be true. Severus refused to be rushed, so in the end, Harry was hopping from one foot to another in front of the door.
“All right, let’s go,” Severus said once he was finished dressing.
“Finally,” Harry muttered, which Severus decided to ignore. He understood the feeling.
When they reached the ICW building’s apparition point, Marco side-apparated Harry while Severus apparated himself. He was a split second behind Marco and Harry, so when he got there Harry was already gaping at the sights around him.
Venice’s magical district had that old-world feeling of ballrooms and operas. The buildings were vanilla-coloured with green-coloured roofs. The street was twice as wide as Diagon Alley and far less of a mishmash. But the people shopping there were equally colourful and Severus thought it was almost as magical a sight as Diagon Alley was. It was a good first impression for the magical world to make on a young wizard. He just wished Harry could have had his first experience in a place like this, instead of by seeing the limited magic at Spinner’s End or the boring, if highly magical, ICW War Mage Headquarters.
“Can we go there?” Harry asked, pointing at the magical pet store a few stores away.
Severus had the feeling it was a supremely bad idea to bring Harry into that store, it would surely end in heartbreak when they left without buying anything. Still, learning how to deal with disappointment in a healthy way would probably be a good thing.
The three of them walked into the store. Right at the front was a fenced-off area filled with crup puppies. Harry was cooing over them in the blink of an eye. One of the shop assistants tried to come over, but Severus glared him away. He did not need a sales pitch aimed at Harry. It would already be difficult enough to get him out of the store without tears at the end, Severus suspected.
Harry turned to Severus with one of the puppies in his hands. “Can I get one?”
“Crups are good companions,” Marco said, “and good protectors.”
Severus levelled a glare at Marco, who simply smirked. “I’m sure they are,” he said, then turned to Harry. “They’re also not on the allowed pet list for Hogwarts, so it would mean leaving him behind once you go.”
“Oh,” Harry said, looking disappointed. “I guess that’s not very nice.”
“What is allowed?” Marco asked, as Harry put the puppy back and wandered further into the store.
“Toads, which are absolutely useless. Owls, which are especially useful for children from the Muggle world, since it allows them a way to communicate with their parents. But for the most part, owls spend their time in the owlery, so as an actual companion they’re fairly useless. Besides, Hogwarts has enough postal owls for general use. And then there are cats. I guess they’re the best choice out of the lot. At least they’re in the dorms with the children, instead of housed somewhere else. And they’re more useful and intelligent than toads.”
“So, you’d let him get a cat?”
“Not a chance in hell.”
Harry eventually tired of looking at the different animals in the store. And Severus might have bribed him with ice cream to get him out of the store. He determinedly ignored Marco’s smirk as they made their way to the ice cream shop.
They were several stores away from the ice cream shop when an older man, coming from the opposite direction, almost tripped. He dropped his shopping bag, spilling shrunken packages out onto the pavement. One of them came to a stop against Harry’s feet. Harry picked it up and handed it back to the man. The man stepped in closer to take it from him and Severus frowned as something in his gait seemed different. Before he could figure it out, the man grabbed Harry’s arm and apparated away, cutting off Harry’s startled scream.
Marco cursed and grabbed Severus’ arm, then apparated them both into the slipstream of the man’s apparition. They landed on a cliff near the ocean. Further down, they saw Harry being dragged at wand point by the older man to lower ground, away from the cliff’s edge. Both men grabbed their wands and raced after them. The moment he got in range Severus shot off a stunner that narrowly missed. The old man stopped and turned, using Harry as a shield.
“Who the fuck are you?” Severus growled.
“Now, Severus my boy, don’t you recognize me?”
“Dumbledore,” Severus growled.
The man grinned, which turned grotesque as the Psolyjuice wore off.
“Hand over the boy,” Marco said.
“I don’t think so,” Dumbledore said. “The boy is the key, you see.”
He pressed his wand harder into Harry’s neck. Harry’s looked scared, his eyes seeking Severus’, who tried to exude a calm confidence towards the child. Considering his own heart was racing and only his experience in the war kept his hands from shaking, Severus didn’t know how successful he was at that.
With Marco in step beside him, Severus advanced a little on Dumbledore. Not too fast, as they didn’t want to push too far and spook Dumbledore. He might take Harry away again, this time to a location they couldn’t follow him to, or he might harm Harry. Who knew what the crazy old man would do when he felt cornered?
“The key to what?” Severus asked, trying to keep Dumbledore’s attention focused on him instead of Harry.
“The key to my return to power, of course. With the Chosen One by my side, they will all see I was right and place me back in my positions.”
In the time Dumbledore was talking they had advanced a little further. Dumbledore suddenly noticed.
“Stay back,” he shouted, moving his wand away from Harry to point at Severus and Marco.
Marco used the opening Dumbledore gave to shoot off a stunning spell at Harry, while Severus shot a blasting curse straight at Dumbledore’s head a moment later. The sudden dead weight of an unconscious Harry, coupled with Severus’ spell speeding towards him, forced Dumbledore to let Harry go to avoid Severus’ spell. Harry dropped to the ground and Marco and Severus shot a barrage of spells at Dumbledore. Dumbledore managed to shield all of them but was also forced to move back. Severus kept hitting him with everything he could, trying to drive him even further away from where the crumpled form of Harry was laying on the grass.
Unfortunately, the element of surprise was now wholly gone and Dumbledore quickly regrouped. He began to return the spell-fire and despite everything, he was still a very powerful wizard. Severus was forced to shield more than attack. Dumbledore was easily holding his own against both Severus and Marco.
A powerful cutting curse hit Severus’ shield, shattering it. With his shield gone, Severus just managed to dive away from the blood-boiling curse that Dumbledore had thrown after it. With Severus on the ground, needing to regroup for a second, Dumbledore could fully focus his spell-fire on Marco. A rapid-fire spell-chain took down Marco’s shield and as Severus watched in horror, Dumbledore clipped Marco in the shoulder with a bone crushing spell. It was Marco’s wand arm, and the pain made him drop his wand with a shout. Severus was forced to cover him with a shield as he recovered while getting up and moving away from Dumbledore’s cutting curse at the same time. Panting, Severus looked around for any sort of cover, but there was nothing, just a grassy landscape with a few rocks nowhere near large enough to hide behind.
Severus had to drop his shield around Marco to shield himself, but the instant he did, Dumbledore switched his spells to Marco again. Luckily, in the time Severus had bought him, Marco had grabbed his wand with his other hand and he managed to shield himself. But with Marco casting slower with his non-dominant hand, Dumbledore took the opportunity to advance on them and they were both pressed back. Dumbledore had now moved to a position in front of Harry, which hampered Severus and Marco’s ability to use the more lethal spells in fear of them hitting Harry. Dumbledore took full advantage of that.
While trying to hit Dumbledore, Severus noticed Harry moving slightly on the ground behind the old man. The boy was coming around from the initial stunning spell. Severus prayed he stayed low. Marco and he weren’t using anything lethal right now, but they were still using fairly heavy spells. The last thing he wanted was for one of them to hit Harry.
Harry, the clever boy, did indeed stay down. Severus wished he would crawl away, so he and Marco could step up their game. Because currently, they were losing. But Harry did not try to get further away from the fight. Instead, he took in the situation, turned on his side, and kicked out, hard. He hit Dumbledore squarely in the knee from behind, a move the man hadn’t seen coming at all.
Dumbledore stumbled, the barrage of spells he’d hit them with pausing for a moment as he desperately tried to remain on his feet. Severus used the moment of distraction to summon Dumbledore’s wand. The moment he had it in his hands he broke it, taking it out of the equation and severely disadvantaging Dumbledore. The old man screamed as if Severus had ripped out his heart. Marco used Dumbledore’s distraction to shoot a high-powered stunner at the old man, which dropped him like a sack of thestral droppings. Severus immediately rushed to Harry, leaving Marco to deal with securing Dumbledore.
“Harry, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” the boy said, before throwing his arms around Severus’ neck and clinging.
Severus looked over at Marco, who had Dumbledore trussed up like a turkey with several incarcerous spells.
“Go, I’ve got this,” Marco said. “Get him checked out by a healer.”
Before Severus could protest leaving Marco alone with Dumbledore, several pops of apparition sounded. Severus turned so his body was between the people coming in and Harry, who was still in his arms, but they were just some ICW war mages. Content that Marco had some backup in case Dumbledore woke up and tried anything, Severus gave a soft warning to Harry and then apparated the two of them back to the ICW War Mages Headquarters.
It wasn’t long before they were both ensconced with Healer Petterson, who was fussing exaggeratedly to amuse Harry, who didn’t respond much beyond a small smile that soon slipped off his face. Now that he was safe, the reality of what happened, and probably what could have happened, was clearly setting in. Physically, Harry had few bruises from where Dumbledore had grabbed him, but otherwise he was fine. But he was very pale and shaky, so Petterson gave him a Calming Draught. Together with the post-battle crash Severus was familiar with, it put Harry to sleep.
While Harry slept in one of the beds of the infirmary, Severus was checked out as well. His shields had held strong for the most part, and when they hadn’t, he’d been able to evade Dumbledore’s spells, mostly thanks to the fact that Dumbledore’s attention had been mainly on Marco. Therefore, he wasn’t injured, aside from bumps and bruises he’d gotten while diving out of the way of Dumbledore’s spells. He was also more used to coming down from a battle than Harry was, so refused the offered calming potion. The shaking of his hands would go down in a bit.
Severus sat down on a conjured chair next to the bed Harry was in, content to wait here until Harry woke up. Looking at the rising and falling of Harry’s chest and the peaceful look on the child’s face, Severus thanked Merlin. He was well aware it could have been a lot worse, and if it wasn’t for Marco’s presence it would have been. The war mage’s strength had been invaluable in the fight. Without him, Severus was sure he’d be dead himself and Harry, well, that didn’t bear thinking about.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting there, just watching Harry, unable to let the child out of sight, when Marco entered the infirmary. Healer Petterson immediately descended on him, though Marco at first tried to wave him away.
“Don’t be a dunderhead,” Severus said. “Harry and I are fine, you on the other hand got hit by a bone crushing spell. Let him help you.”
Marco gave in with ill grace and was soon ensconced in the bed next to Harry. He was out cold with a powerful sleeping spell after Petterson had vanished the shattered bones in his shoulder and fed him Skele-Gro. Severus settled in to watch over the both of them.
While sitting in between Harry and Marco’s beds, he tried to figure out what was next. With Dumbledore captured, and soon to be formally sentenced to what was probably a lifelong sentence in an ICW jail, Severus had accomplished one of his missions. Now only defeating the Dark Lord was left on his plate, but Severus had plans in place already. Harry was free to live his life as he wanted. Severus looked over at Marco, who even in his sleep was looking uncomfortable as the Skele-Gro did its job. He was a bit startled to realize he was going to miss the man when he returned to his life at Hogwarts and Spinner’s End. Uncomfortable with the realization, Severus refocused on Harry. Today, Lily’s son was a lot safer than he’d been yesterday and Severus had to be satisfied with that.
Severus walked over the grounds of Hogwarts to the front doors. There was one more week until school would start and he’d finally arrived back at Spinner’s End with Harry yesterday. It had taken an entire day to wrap up everything at the ICW. The day after that he’d taken Harry to the Zürich Zoo as a belated birthday celebration, now they could both walk outside again without fear. Now they were back home, and Severus had plans to go to Diagon Alley with Harry on Monday to buy all of his school supplies. They could’ve done it in Zürich’s magical district, but going to Diagon Alley was something Severus wanted Harry to experience as well. Currently, Harry was back at Spinner’s End, busy making a list of things he needed, not in the least was a whole new wardrobe. It would be quite a full shopping day. But right now, he needed to take care of business here at Hogwarts.
Once inside the castle, Severus made his way into what was now Minerva’s office. She’d been unanimously voted in as headmistress after she too had been purged of the loyalty potions and spells Dumbledore had her under. Severus had to admit that he was secretly pleased she hadn’t sided with Dumbledore of her own volition.
“Severus, oh, it’s so wonderful to see you,” Minerva said as he walked into her office. It looked like she was barely refraining from coming up to him and hugging him.
“Minerva,” he said, giving her a small smile. “I apologize that I couldn’t answer your letter and let you know Harry and I were safe.”
Minerva shook her head, looking sad. “I understand. You had no idea if I was in control of my actions and you were right to doubt that. I don’t know how you figured out you were under a potion and how you freed yourself, but I am glad you did. Without your request for Sanctuary at the ICW, we’d still be under Dumbledore’s thumb.”
Severus waved the thanks aside, slightly uncomfortable considering the circumstances that led to him requesting Sanctuary. Thankfully, Minerva knew him well enough to change the subject.
“I am glad you’re here. I wasn’t looking forward to seeking another new teacher for this school year.”
“Another new teacher?”
Minerva sat down behind her desk, which was cluttered with paperwork, something Severus wasn’t used to from Minerva. The rest of the office was pristine, with a few personal touches here and there. Dumbledore’s clutter was completely gone and knowing Minerva’s temper, Severus would bet she’d burned it or cursed it into smithereens.
“Quirinus let me know after the capture of Dumbledore that he wasn’t returning. I can understand why he didn’t want to return. The poor man’s been a mess this summer, stuttering and jumping at shadows.” Minerva shook her head. “I have no idea if it was simply the idea of what Dumbledore has done to our society or if it’s a reaction to something Dumbledore did to him personally. But I hope he manages to find some peace.”
Severus took a moment to process that. Quirrell, who by the sound of it was a host for the Dark Lord already, would no longer be at Hogwarts next year. Was it because without Dumbledore, there was no philosopher’s stone at Hogwarts? Or because Minerva’s first act as headmistress had been to hire a team of dverger to update the school’s wards? Right on the heels of that thought came another. Without the Dark Lord at Hogwarts, there was no reason for him to be either. Harry would be safe here and he could focus completely on hunting down the Dark Lord’s Horcruxes, instead of trying to do it in between his duties here at the castle.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news for you, Minerva,” Severus said, honest regret in his voice. He didn’t enjoy piling more work on her. “I’m not coming back either.”
“Oh no,” Minerva said. “Where am I supposed to get two new teachers from inside a week?”
“I suggest asking Slughorn to come back for one year, that’ll give you some time. Perhaps ask the current head auror for help with a Defense teacher. Perhaps he knows of a recently retired auror that could fill in for a year?”
Minerva nodded thoughtfully. “That might work.”
“I really am sorry,” Severus said. “If I could have given you more notice… We couldn’t make any plans without Dumbledore being in prison. If he’d still been out there, I wouldn’t have been able to return anyway.”
“No, I understand. You’ve never liked teaching, Dumbledore forced you into it. And during your Sanctuary you couldn’t contact me. I am sad to see you leave, however.”
“We’ll keep in touch,” Severus said. “After all, you need someone to complain to about all the ridiculous things the students do.”
Minerva laughed, the shadows on her face lightening with her mirth. “You’re right, I do need someone to complain to,” Minerva admitted.
“Aside from that, I would hate to lose contact with a friend just because I’m changing jobs,” Severus said.
Minerva looked shocked for a moment, before looking like a cat that had caught a mouse. Severus felt a flash of regret that she should be so shocked to be called his friend. He wondered how much of that could be laid down at Dumbledore’s feet and how much of it had been his own decision to keep others at a distance. But he supposed it didn’t matter anymore. He shook the morose thoughts off. He could only focus on the future and change that.
“I will clear my quarters and classroom today, so when you do find a teacher, he can get started right away.” He made sure to hesitate a moment, so as not to arouse any suspicion. “And I think I’ll take a walk around, just one more time.”
Minerva smiled softly at him. “And don’t forget to come say goodbye before you go.”
Severus gave Minerva one more nod before leaving. As much as he wanted to go straight to the seventh floor, he was too experienced in subterfuge to do so. Instead, he went to his quarters first, packing what he hadn’t taken with him at the beginning of summer. In his classroom, he left his lesson plans behind for whoever came after him to use as they saw fit, but packed everything else that was his and not the school’s property.
He left his packed trunks in his former quarters, then took a meandering path through the corridors of Hogwarts. He passed by the second-floor bathroom that housed the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets which held a basilisk. Severus itched to do something about it, but with Moaning Myrtle haunting it, the risk of being spotted doing something in there was too great. He’d debated it with his portrait self at length the first time he heard about it and eventually they’d decided that as long as the diary was destroyed, the basilisk would probably remain in the Chamber forever. Or at least, long enough that they could leave it be for now to focus on more important things.
Severus kept walking, taking the familiar path of his patrolling rounds that eventually took him to the seventh floor, where he found the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy quite easily. He’d walked past it often enough on his rounds. Following the portrait’s instructions, he walked past it three times, thinking about retrieving the diadem Horcrux. A door appeared opposite the tapestry after the third time he passed it. Carefully, Severus opened it, his wand at the ready in case something had gone wrong.
The room was full of discarded and hidden things. Severus sighed, he’d hoped that by focusing on the diadem, the room might have provided him with just the object he was looking for. With a sigh, he started searching for the diadem. The portrait hadn’t been able to tell him exactly where it was, because the Harry Potter from the future that would never be hadn’t quite remembered it. Oh, he’d remembered the bust he’d placed it on, but since that hadn’t happened yet, Severus was forced to look for it. He located the bust and started searching in the surrounding area first. His hunch that Potter had picked up the diadem close by before placing it on the bust paid off, as he found it laying on a rickety old desk not far from the bust. Severus put on a pair of dragonhide gloves before picking up the diadem and placing it in a silk-lined dragonhide pouch of the kind curse-breakers used to securely move cursed items. It should be enough to dampen the Horcux’s effects, at least temporarily.
With a piece of the Dark Lord’s soul safely in his pocket, Severus left the Room of Requirement and continued his walk around the castle. He ended up at the top of the astronomy tower, looking out over the grounds. Between his school years and his time here as a teacher, he’d spent half his life at Hogwarts. Leaving here today felt like a new stage of his life was beginning. Of course, that stage included finding and destroying the Dark Lord’s Horcruxes, but you couldn’t have perfection.
After a final look over the grounds, Severus turned around and left. He’d go pick up his trunks and say goodbye to Minerva, before going home to Harry. They had a week left to spend in each other’s company, without the threat of Dumbledore and the confinement of living under Sanctuary, and Severus was determined to enjoy it.
Severus had waited until Harry was deep asleep, which had taken longer than expected. Normally Harry was fairly good at going to bed and falling asleep, but tonight the excitement of going to Hogwarts the next day had gotten to him. He’d been up and out of bed three times, just to check he had everything packed. Severus was fairly sure the only reason Harry was asleep right now was that he’d promised the boy to send anything he’d forgotten to him by owl.
Now, Severus made his way to his own bedroom, where he locked the door with the most powerful locking charm he knew. He debated putting up a silencing charm, but in the end decided against it. He’d rather deal with the unlikely circumstance of Harry overhearing something than risk not hearing him when he was in trouble. He took out the portrait from the warded compartment of his trunk, which he’d placed in his bedroom after they’d returned from Switzerland. He hadn’t spoken to the portrait at all since their conversation the first day he’d arrived at the ICW, feeling under constant scrutiny there. He hadn’t dared to risk it, fearing what the portrait’s discovery would lead to.
“How long has it been?” the portrait asked as soon as he was out of the compartment and resized.
“It’s been about seven weeks. Tomorrow is the first of September.” Then, pre-empting the question he knew would be coming, he said, “Dumbledore is in jail. The ICW arrested him. Harry and my Sanctuary ended and we’re back in England now.”
He briefly recapped Dumbledore’s trial and Harry’s kidnapping, as well as the British Wizarding papers’ response to that. They were baying for Dumbledore’s blood, the Prophet even calling for Dumbledore to be Kissed. Much of the populace had been furious with Dumbledore for his crimes but kidnapping the Boy-Who-Lived, that pushed them over the edge. Even the most ardent Dumbledore supporters, who’d somehow found some way to justify his actions up until then, couldn’t defend that.
“I must admit, I didn’t think it would work,” the portrait said. “What are your plans now?”
“Tomorrow Harry goes to Hogwarts, where he’ll be safe. Minerva’s updated the wards and I’ve picked up the Horcrux from the Room of Requirement when I quit. So, the plan is to wait until Harry’s behind Hogwart’s wards and then go hunt down the rest of the Dark Lord’s Horcruxes.”
“You’ve quit?” The portrait sounded envious.
“There was no reason to stay there. Quirrell quit, and I’m not even sure if he’s hosting the Dark Lord or not. I’ll have more time and freedom to hunt down Horcruxes if I don’t also have to take care of classes, my Slytherins, and everything else. The timeline is shot now anyway, so any knowledge we have about how things went in the previous timeline is suspect at best and completely useless at worst. We’ll just have to hope for the best now.”
“Well, we’ve gotten further than I thought we’d be at this time,” the portrait mused. “That my timeline has broken down enough that it’s impossible to predict any future events is unfortunate, but it was inevitable and probably for the best. The events that will likely not happen now did a lot to damage the wizarding world, even if we didn’t see their effects until well after the final defeat of the Dark Lord.”
“Is there anything I still need to know going forward?” Severus asked.
The portrait took a moment to think about it. “You have all the Horcrux information and hopefully the Dark Lord doesn’t move them. You’ll need to figure out a way to deal with the shade if destroying all the Horcruxes doesn’t cause him to cross over, but I don’t have any information that can help you there, unfortunately.”
The portrait fell silent and rocked back on his feet slightly, double-tapping the fingers of his wand-hand against the place where he kept his wand. Severus probably wouldn’t have caught it, but the portrait was him and he knew his own tells. That was hesitation.
“What?” he asked.
The portrait pursed his lips but relented. “Sirius Black.”
Severus frowned. “What about him? Do you think he’ll still escape and cause trouble for Harry? I figured he escaped because the Dark Lord was on the rise.”
The portrait had told him about Black’s escape in Harry’s third year, a year filled with a werewolf as a teacher and dementors on the school grounds, ending with Black leaving Britain, only to return and die in a battle between the Order and Death Eaters at the end of Harry’s fifth year. Severus had no problems causing Black’s demise a little earlier this time around if he was going to be a problem.
“He’s innocent. He was never a Death Eater, nor did he betray the Potters.”
“If he’s innocent, then why was he convicted?” Severus asked, not entirely convinced of Black’s innocence.
“He was thrown in Azkaban without a trial. Pettigrew was the one to betray the Potters. He faked his death and is hiding in his rat animagus form. He’s a pet for the Weasleys and if the wards don’t catch him then a Death Eater traitor will be at Hogwarts with Harry. He never did anything in my timeline, but we can’t trust that this time around.”
“Are you kidding me? Why would you keep that to yourself?” Severus hissed furiously, ever mindful of Harry sleeping down the hallway. Just the thought of being Azkaban was horrifying, let alone having someone innocent be in that hellhole for a decade.
“I did it to keep Harry safe.”
That reasoning seemed ridiculous to Severus and he wasn’t about to let the portrait get away with it.
“How does keeping an innocent man in Azkaban keep Harry safe?”
“If you’d freed him, provided Dumbledore would have let it happen, he would have gotten custody of Harry.” The portrait sneered. “Azkaban damaged Sirius Black. Now, I’ll admit he never got the proper help he needed when he got out, but who knows how much damage was permanent. Not to mention that Black was always putting Dumbledore’s wishes before Harry’s. No, the best way to protect Harry was for him to fall under the guardianship of someone who was not Dumbledore’s crony.”
“So you chose to keep silent when you found out I was on the list.”
“Yes. I could have told you then and chose not to. You were the guardian Harry needed, not Black. Even if following Dumbledore was not done out of his own free will, he wouldn’t have been in any shape to take up the fight coming straight out of Azkaban.”
Even though Severus could see the point the portrait had made, he still couldn’t get over the fact that he’d let an innocent man rot in Azkaban. Even now, with Dumbledore defeated and Harry safe, the portrait had hesitated before telling him about Black. And Severus figured that had more to do with Pettigrew being a possible threat to Harry than freeing Black. Which was another problem he needed to deal with sometime before Harry entered Hogwarts, so it would have been good to know earlier.
“Am I truly that callous?” Severus whispered, half to himself and half as a genuine question to the portrait.
“No, which is why I didn’t tell you sooner. I lived through horrors you haven’t. I came back with a single purpose and if some individuals couldn’t be saved?” The portrait shrugged. “Harry’s safety is more important than Black’s freedom. I knew you couldn’t make that same choice. That’s your flaw and your strength. You’re making better choices than I ever did, but some of the more unsavoury options are therefore out of your reach. So, I made sure you didn’t have a choice in this. The greater good came first.”
Severus understood the portrait’s reasoning, but it also made him distrust it. The mention of the greater good, like Dumbledore had always used as a justification for everything he did, made Severus’ stomach lurch. How much could he trust any of the information?
“Are Dumbledore’s potions affecting you as a portrait?” he demanded.
The portrait frowned. “No, of course not, why do you ask?”
“The greater good came first, ring a bell?”
It didn’t reassure Severus that the portrait looked disturbed.
“Perhaps Dumbledore’s manipulations have affected how I think more than I thought. Even so, this decision was mine and my life is not yours. Besides, I knew it was…perhaps callous, certainly mercenary. I am not so far gone as to think what I was doing was good. But under the circumstances, I did what I thought would save the most people in the end, but most especially Harry.”
Severus shook his head. The information that the portrait had given him had all been good so far, but the when and how much it told, that was far more dubious.
“If I could do so, I’d destroy you,” Severus said, after some contemplation. “But I cannot take the risk I’ll need information you haven’t deemed to give me yet and not have you as an information source. I’ll put you back in the warded compartment and if all goes well, I will never take you out again.”
“That’s fair,” the portrait said, not seeming to be very perturbed by Severus’s distrust or decision. “I would ask to be placed in stasis until such a time as I am needed again. Hopefully, I won’t, but I agree we can’t take the chance of destroying me.”
Severus saw no reason to deny the portrait’s request, so after shrinking it he put it into stasis. His likeness stilled on the canvas and Severus placed the portrait in the warded compartment of his trunk. Having put the portrait away, hopefully forever, Severus felt like a huge burden had been lifted off his shoulders. They weren’t quite clear of the entire mess yet, but Severus did feel like a chapter had ended.
It was the first of September and for the first time in a decade, Severus was not at Hogwarts, dreading the return of the students while making the final preparations for receiving the new Slytherin first years. Instead, he was at Platform 9¾. He never thought he’d be bringing a child here at the start of the school year and as he weaved his way through the crowd with Harry by his side, it felt slightly surreal. Several parents and children whispered as they saw Harry, but Severus glared at them, which kept them at a suitable distance.
“Look, Severus, there are Madam Longbottom and Neville, near the floos.”
Severus looked in the direction Harry indicated. Augusta, with her vulture hat, was easily recognizable in the crowd. They had seen Severus and Harry, as they were making their way towards them. Neville, in his black unadorned Hogwarts robes, was almost vibrating with excitement. The moment the two boys were in range to be heard by each other, they started chatting about classes, the train ride, and of course the sorting.
Severus greeted Augusta. The both of them looked indulgently at the excited children. Severus was reminded of their shopping trip for school supplies, where Neville and Harry had met for the first time and hit it off immediately. The only awkward moment had been when Harry had needed a wand and Augusta had said Neville was getting his father’s wand. Severus had talked Augusta out of that idea. Legacy wands could work very well, although there was no predicting that, but they would never be a good match if the owner was still alive. Frank Longbottom’s wand would remain loyal to him until his death. In the end, Neville had ended up with a new wand and a quick wave with it had lighted up the entire store. It seemed to buoy both his confidence and that of his grandmother in his abilities.
Deciding it was time to get the boys on the train, as he wanted Harry off the platform before the Weasleys came, Severus handed Harry his shrunken trunk and watched as the child put it in his pocket.
“Now remember, tap the nameplate twice with your wand to resize the trunk. Do it once you’re on the train, but don’t forget to put it down somewhere with enough space first.”
Harry nodded, clearly nervous as he clutched his cat carrier in his hands. Asphodel pawed at the front of the carries, the flash of her white paw, even more noticeable against the backdrop of her otherwise black coat, drawing his attention. Harry soothed her by giving her a treat.
“Severus, what if I’m sorted into Hufflepuff?”
Severus knelt before Harry and put his hands on his shoulders. Looking straight into Harry’s eyes, Severus smiled.
“You’re brave enough for Gryffindor, cunning enough for Slytherin, smart enough for Ravenclaw, and loyal enough for Hufflepuff. Whatever House you get into, they’re going to be lucky to have you. And your parents would have been so proud of you, no matter what House you sort into.”
Severus squeezed Harry’s shoulders. “I’m already proud of you. The House you get into won’t change that.”
Harry smiled brilliantly at him. Severus stood, deciding that was enough sappiness and emotional support for the day. In short order, he’d chivvied Harry into the train, where the child found the compartment that Neville was already in.
Severus made some small-talk with Augusta as they waited. Ten minutes before the train would leave, Severus saw the first Weasley come tumbling out of one of the floos at the back of the platform. It was Percy, the oldest still at Hogwarts. Shortly after the twins came through, and Severus was grateful that he didn’t have to deal with any of their shenanigans this year. Another red-headed boy came through next, which Severus assumed was Ronald. His sister, Ginevra, came through next. She’d been the one whom the diary had taken a hold of. Severus wondered if she’d been corrupted beyond redemption by that, or if she was already so obsessed with Harry that she’d be a problem for him this time around as well. He resolved to keep an eye on that, and perhaps check Harry over with the spell the ICW had used whenever he came home from Hogwarts, just in case.
The last Weasley coming through the floo was Molly, and she immediately tried to herd her children onto the train.
“Move it, Fred, George, there’s only ten more minutes,” she shouted at the twins, while trying to console her crying daughter at the same time.
“Mom, I’m going to be late for my prefect meeting,” Percy complained.
“Oh, are you a prefect?” one of the twins asked.
“Who could have thought that, Forge?” the other shot back.
“Stop teasing your brother and get on the train!”
Severus excused himself from his conversation with Augusta and stepped into the middle of the commotion made by the Weasley family.
“Why don’t I help?” he asked, earning a grateful look from Molly, who was still trying to get all of her children to move towards the train, without much success. He turned to Percival. “Mr. Weasley, go to your meeting.”
The boy shot a quick “thanks, professor” at him and took himself off to the train at a quick pace. Severus left the twins, who were still getting scolded by their mother, interspersed with warnings against pranking anyone, to Molly. He turned to Ronald, putting a hand on the child’s shoulder to guide him over to the train.
“Let’s get you on your way to Hogwarts, shall we?” Severus said.
The boy let himself be led to the train while looking back at his mother and the twins. It gave Severus the opportunity to surreptitiously shoot a silent stunning spell at the rat that was peeking out of the boy’s pocket. Just as Ronald stepped onto the train, Severus wordlessly summoned the rat and quickly put it in his own pocket. He then stepped aside for Molly, who had pressed the twins onto the train at another carriage and was now trying to wipe a smudge off Ronald’s face. She had to give up before it was completely gone, though, as the train’s whistle sounded. Severus retreated to go back to where Augusta was standing.
As the train started to move, both Harry and Neville leaned out the window and waved at Severus and Augusta. Once they were out of sight, Severus said his goodbyes to Augusta and apparated back to Spinner’s End.
There, at the edge of the wards, was Marco. The man looked tense, though he tried to hide it. Severus felt himself tense up in response. The only reason he could imagine for Marco to be here was that Dumbledore had escaped the ICW jail. Immediately, his mind went to Harry, who was on his way to Hogwarts in a largely unprotected train. Fear gripped Severus as he gestured Marco inside, where the man started prowling around the room, running his hands across the spines of the books that lined the walls.
“Is there a problem?” Severus.
Marco turned around and leaned against the bookcase. He looked Severus over with a piercing look.
“You tell me.”
Severus was acutely aware of the rat that was still in his pocket. Had Marco somehow found out about that? It would be almost impossible, unless Marco had followed him to the train platform and observed him. Deciding that playing dumb was his best bet until Marco revealed why he was here, Severus shook his head.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Ah, I see. You spent your time as a guest at Headquarters in the ICW library looking up information about Horcruxes just for the fun of it, then?”
Severus blanched. He hadn’t realized there’d be a record created of everything he’d looked at. With his past, his choice of reading material would seem more than suspicious.
“It’s not what it looks like.”
Even as he said it, he knew how weak that sounded. His stomach turned, not so much because he feared the consequences, for he knew that if he had to, he could explain it, but because he didn’t want to disappoint Marco. He frowned, uncomfortable with the feeling. Marco smirked.
“So, you’re not planning on tracking down any other Horcruxes Riddle made?”
Severus gaped. How had Marco jumped straight to that conclusion?
“Look, I don’t know where you got your information from. I have my guesses, but I don’t expect you to trust me. Not enough to share that, at least. But I hope you trust me enough that you’ll let me come with you.”
“You want to join me? I thought the ICW couldn’t be involved.”
“I took some vacation time. You need someone to watch your back. Let me be that person?”
Severus felt warm at the thought of this man trusting him enough to come with him without all the information. He smiled at Marco.
“I’ll be happy to have you at my back.”
“Good, what’s the plan?”
Severus pulled the rat out of his pocket. “Know any spells to check if this is an animagus?”
Marco shot Severus a questioning look, but did cast a spell at the rat, who lighted up lime green. Marco narrowed his eyes and shot another stunner at the rat.
“Who is he?”
“I suspect it is Peter Pettigrew, a man that is supposed to be dead. If I’m right, he’s the one who betrayed the Potters to the Dark Lord.”
Marco sighed. “So, you plan to deliver him to your Ministry?”
“I’d rather not,” Severus admitted. “There’s a man in Azkaban for both the betrayal of the Potters and the murder of Pettigrew. If he is indeed innocent…”
Marco grimaced. They both knew that the Ministry was more likely to sweep it under the carpet than deal with a mistake of their own making.
“To the ICW it is then,” Marco said. “You know, you could’ve just come and visited me. There was no need to make more paperwork for me.”
Severus laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind for next time.”