Fifty-Two: Toil and Trouble
Severus sat down heavily in the armchair by the fire, the bottle still gripped in his hands as he stared at the fire. He produced his wand soon afterwards, and there was a strange noise like someone speaking backwards in high speed before the bottle resealed itself with a soft hiss at Severus' murmured spell. Another murmur and he sighed, his forehead creasing with worry. "Draco sent this over three hours ago."
Harry tried to be encouraging, not knowing the full situation. "It may take a while, but we can still make the potion and send it along to them..."
Grimacing, Severus got to his feet and swiftly made his way back to the cauldrons, waving away the stasis spell on the potion for Lucius, then starting the fire beneath it and retrieving the fluxweed. Grimly, he set about preparing it to add to the cauldron. "Draco sounded quite upset. Lucius' encounter with the Cruciatus curse wasn't likely a swift one. Prolonged exposure is predictably worse - the aftereffects are longer lasting. The Dark Lord doesn't give that out as punishment frequently, despite all appearances." Delicately adding the fluxweed while stirring, he scowled. "I can imagine what Lucius might have done to be given that sort of treatment. It's entirely possible that he foolishly tried to protect me."
"That's not something for you to feel guilty about," Harry insisted. His dislike for the elder Malfoy might be somewhat dulled in the face of Severus' regard for the man, but it was still there. Malfoy's harsh mistreatment of Dobby was a sore issue with Harry.
Although the words were distancing and cool, Severus' voice wasn't a match, being only quiet. "What I feel is not for you to dictate to me." He gave a sigh as he finished stirring and lowered the flame. "It has but to simmer for a day now. I had previously thought of experimenting to see to what extent the potion would help when given early. Perhaps I'll take a trip over in an hour or so with a dose. Anything before then and the fluxweed will not have been fully infused into the mixture." The intent was more of a stated decision than a speculative comment as Severus set about preparing a message bottle of his own to send over to Draco.
Uneasy, Harry stepped towards Severus. "I'll be coming with you, right? I mean, we haven't been further away from each other than when I was in the room across the hall yet."
"Well then, this is as good a time as any to test what will happen at long distances," Severus muttered distractedly. "Malfoy's mansion is a much better locale to do so than a more public area. I will return by floo as soon as I've administered the dose and settled Draco."
Harry still felt there was something he didn't like about the situation and voiced it without reluctance. "I can still come with you though. Just in case, and I could help out."
Professor McGonnagal had just opened her mouth to protest the idea when Severus spoke up instead. "I'll be quite all right on my own. And besides, I hardly see how antagonizing Draco when he is upset already will be of any help. Seeing you in his family home is unlikely to be a source of comfort to him." Severus bespelled the bottle with the muttered message that he would be arriving within two hours. He swiftly sent it through his floo connection and turned again to Harry. "Don't let your Gryffindor sense of conscience and duty overwhelm you unduly."
Finding that Severus was too distracted and troubled by the situation at hand, Harry decided to try and bring him out of it. "Call it enlightened self-interest. The Sorting Hat didn't want to put me in Gryffindor at first, you know."
"Oh really," Severus sneered. "I imagine its intention was to put you in Hufflepuff then? You're certainly not academically driven enough for Ravenclaw."
"Actually, it thought that Slytherin would have been the best house suited for my developing talents." There was something satisfying in seeing Severus stupified by Harry's statement, and Harry couldn't help but smirk at him. A glance at McGonnagal gave him a warm feeling inside as he realized he'd hit a double whammy in shocking the two professors.
After too short a time for his triumphantly smug grin, Harry was sent to sit down on the couch with his bundle of letters while Severus and Professor McGonnagal continued to "work" and talk quietly over the slowly bubbling potion. It was strange seeing the Transfigurations professor standing over a cauldron, Harry mused. The two professors kept their voices lowered to a degree that Harry couldn't hear what they had to say. The Slytherin in Harry kept an eye on Severus' aura to try and get a feel for what the subject might be about, but Severus' aura didn't change overly much from the troubled brooding it had aquired since the discovery of Draco's message in a bottle.
He didn't agree with the plan to send Severus alone to the Malfoys, but Harry couldn't argue Severus' intent to be of help to the family. Under these stressful circumstances, Harry's reintroduction to them would be better later than sooner. Turning to the letter packet, Harry unwrapped the cord keeping them together and started to sort through them. Three letters each from Ron and Hermione. Five letters from Sirius, the first three of which were long and the last two which were no more than a scrap of parchment. Two from Professor Lupin which were a bit crinkled and reminded Harry of the second-handness of the werewolf's robes...
Harry wasn't entirely certain he really wanted to read what was likely to be a large gathering of notes expressing sympathy and concern enough to make him dwell upon the events before the summer again. Instead, he spent a good amount of time merely running his fingers along the various bits of parchment and studying the differences in handwriting styles of his friends. When movement distracted him from the letters, Harry felt somewhat relieved.
That relief changed as Harry realized it was time for Severus to go, and worry washed over him instead. Across the room, Severus was decanting a bottle full of potion from the cauldron with the strength and smooth movements of habit; barely a clink or clatter was heard from him.
Harry wanted to open his mouth with the intent to voice his uneasiness, his concern, to tell Severus he shouldn't go, to tell him anything to get him to take Harry with him - but Harry's movement was instead brought to an abrupt halt at the dark look Severus shot him. Rising to his feet instead, Harry shuffled towards the older wizard and tried for a smirk with only partial success. "I won't wish you luck." The older wizard believed in skill, not luck.
Severus sneered in return, "You're learning." Having sealed the bottle and set the rest of the potion to continue its boil, Severus carried the bottle over to his floo and set it on the mantle while he secured his cloak over his shoulders.
"I'm going to keep the connection open on this side, Severus," Professor McGonnagal sternly insisted. "I want you to let us know you're all right once you reach there."
With a glance at Harry, Severus grumbled, "Very well, very well. Leave me be already; the sooner I go the sooner I'll be done and back." With that, he promptly reached for a pinch of floo powder and called out, "Malfoy Manor" before stepping through the flames and disappearing. McGonnagal smoothly waved her wand and muttered a spell that kept the flames green.
Suddenly restless, Harry couldn't help but start pacing, especially as seconds passed and no word back from Severus was heard. Professor McGonnagal shared a look with Harry but hid her concern well. "We should give him another minute; Lucius is likely in a bad way, and Draco will need calming. If he doesn't call back after that, I will make contact. Sit down, Harry."
As Harry turned to slowly make his way back towards the couch, he heard the whoosh of the floo and a startled noise from McGonnagal, followed by the heavy thud of a body hitting the floor. Whirling around, Harry groped with his hand for his still absent wand as his eyes sought out the object that came through the floo.
Harry felt somewhat better upon noticing that Professor McGonnagal's drawing speed was swift; she had her wand in hand and pointing at the huddled and trembling body that still lay on the floor before the floo. Her authoritative voice dominated the room as she took a step forward. "Who are you, sir?"
A pale and slender hand rose slowly from the pile of humanity that was dressed in torn and bloody robes, brown from stains and apparent age. The hand waved at the floo connection which returned to a normal fire. The voice that joined the hand was a distinct disparity in diction even though it was weak and wavering. "Please excuse me, madam. It was not my intention to startle you, nor my wish to arrive uninvited. However, I had no choice under the circumstances."
"Your name?" McGonnagal archly inquired again, looking concerned at the man's condition despite her wariness and steadily pointed wand.
"Parcelsis Snape," the figure replied, wearily raising his head as he attempted to press himself into a sitting position. "I am Severus' father. As he came from here, I had to assume that you knew him and were friendly."
Harry's eyes widened as he studied the man, horrifically different from the two pictures that Severus had of him before he was sent to Azkaban. Dark eyes were filled with a sharp perceptiveness that couldn't seem to focus for long on any one thing. Long dark hair streaked with grey was matted with dirt and blood like his torn robes and wrinkles betrayed the man's increased age and degraded health; his body was as thin as a rail, but he was still recognizable.
"Severus' father?" Professor McGonnagal repeated, a little disbelieving. "Have you proof of this? And where is Severus now? Why did you close the floo connection?"
Harry spoke up then, urgently wanting to get the issue of the man's identity over with so Severus' condition could be seen to. "I recognize him from the pictures Severus has. Over there," Harry pointed to the bookcases where both the Professor and Parcelsis looked. While McGonnagal quickly moved over there, Harry repeated her question. "Where is Severus?"
Bracing himself against the side of the fireplace behind him, Parcelsis croaked, "I'm afraid he's been taken. They were going to use me to keep him there after they got the Dementors to join them and fetched me from Azkaban... They were able to catch him by surprise when he arrived. Young Lucius was convulsing and distracted Severus. They cursed him from behind. I expect you wouldn't wish a visit from them, so rather than waste words, I closed the connection." He shook his head sadly, "I'd always warned him about floo travel."
Feeling outrage surge through him, Harry jumped to conclusions. "The Malfoys took him?"
"No," Parcelsis rasped. "Voldemort did."
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