Chapter Three: A Hidden Regard
Severus wanted to speak to Albus at once, but he knew that it would be foolish to do so unprepared. Everything he knew of spy craft he had learned at the hand of the headmaster, and although that man was not in the habit of invading his Potions master's thoughts, Severus knew that there were some things that he could not hide from his mentor without taking certain precautions.
The words "mentor" and "master" swirled in his mind as he began to mix the ingredients that would form the base of the scrying potion he required as the main component of a pensieve. The construction of the device, once the draught was prepared, was astonishingly simple, but brewing the liquid in which his memories would be held was a time-consuming procedure that needed great care. Severus had never before had cause to concoct such a potion, and was, he admitted, somewhat worried that he might make a procedural error. But he could hardly ask to borrow Albus' pensieve, so he pressed on.
Three days later, he found himself looking down into a silver bowl, steeling himself against the memories he desired to hide.
These began with the moment that Remus Lupin had burst into the headmaster's office, bloodied and breathing heavily, full of disturbing news.
"Death Eaters--going to attack the Ministry--Lucius Malfoy, gone to his manor--we think he may have left the Dark Lord's service," the man had panted after falling into a chair.
"Severus?" Albus asked.
"He calls to me," the wizard replied, releasing his arm, though his Mark burned.
Albus called an Order meeting, then, and Severus remembered his concern when Potter arrived. Her face was pale, her eyes narrowed in pain.
"Perhaps Potter shouldn't be here for this, Headmaster."
"She's fine, Snape," Zabini insisted in a tight voice.
Albus had ignored the exchange, and replied, "We'll need to capture Lucius before the attack. It wouldn't do for him to arrive with reinforcements at an inopportune moment."
There had been a brief argument between Harry and Blaise. The boy had wanted to accompany the squad from Novitiate One that Severus would be leading to the Malfoy estate. But Harry had refused to permit it.
"No, Blaise. Snape and I will lead the squad with Tonks and Shacklebolt as backup. We can't fight together. You know that."
"I do not know that!"
"Mr. Zabini, I have need of you with me," Albus told the young auror, quelling any further protests the wizard might have made.
Getting through the hags and vampires on the Malfoy estate was an ugly business; several of the untested aurors had died, but at last, he, Harry, Shacklebolt, Tonks, and Weasley had achieved the residence, while the other aurors patrolled the perimeter.
"Where is everyone?" Ron asked, standing in the main hall of Malfoy Manor.
Shacklebolt answered him with an order. "You're with me, Weasley. Tonks?"
"I'll take the main floor."
Severus and Harry headed toward the dungeons without comment. Although they didn't care for one another, they had proved that they were an efficient team in the field.
At the top of the stairs leading to the lower reaches of the manor, Harry paused to ask, "Where are the house elves?"
The Potions master didn't respond verbally, but they crept down the stairs at his nod. At the first landing, however, he stopped. "No wards--Voldemort deals swiftly with traitors, perhaps--"
"--you don't really believe that Malfoy is dead, do you? Besides, Draco's alive, so the wards--"
"--should still be active. This is a trap. Potter."
"You shouldn't be here."
"The trap isn't for me, Snape."
They did not argue the point, but continued to the antechamber of the family's interrogation suite--where they found a drunken Lucius slumped over a table, heedless of the foe glass that was next to his lowered head.
Even in the gloom, it was clear that the wizard had been badly beaten.
His wand raised, Severus entered the room. "Lucius."
"Ah, my old friend. Come in."
Harry followed her partner into the room and ordered, "Hands where I can see them, Malfoy."
"Ah, my old friend. Come in," the wizard said again.
"Potter, don't get any closer to him--this is an illusion."
The "Death Eater" began to flicker, and then the door slammed shut.
"Damn it!" Severus and Harry exclaimed as one.
"It seems that the trap is for both of us."
"Snape--look at the foe glass."
A coruscating ball of green light surrounded the foe glass and began to grow larger, obliterating the glamour that had been "Lucius."
"Move!" Harry yelled, knocking Severus to the floor and screaming an incantation.
A shielding spell, the man thought as viridian streaks of magic flared from the energy ball to strike at them.
"It's going to explode--help me!"
Harry fueled her shield with her own magic and willed it to encompass what they both realized had to be a bomb of some sort.
Avada Kedavra, Severus heard the witch think. It will kill the others! He knew that she was correct, for the others had no way of knowing what was about to happen, so, heedless of the consequences, he, too, sped his own magic into the ward.
It held as the cursed trap exploded, spewing corrosive green light against their barrier and shaking them into unconsciousness.
Severus awoke to find Potter trembling violently on top of him. He wasn't in much better shape than the witch, but he had considerably more practice at the kind of personal warding magic they had employed, and had reflexively known how to spare himself from a near-complete draining of his magic.
"Potter," he said quietly, registering that her shield was dim, but still active. "Harry, you have to stop!"
But the woman was beyond hearing.
Severus prized the witch's wand from her clenched fingers and ended the incantation.
Harry immediately went limp.
Severus rolled her into his lap as he sat up to assess her condition. Her pulse was thready, her breathing shallow, and her skin cold. She gave too much of her energy to the ward.
His first thought was to apparate, but there was too much residual magic in the room to make that option feasible, that, and he did not think he had the strength to apparate even himself. In the explosion, the wall in which the door had been set had crumbled in, so he couldn't carry her out.
Despairing, he thought, She's going to die.
Until that moment, the wizard had not allowed himself to understand how very much he wanted the witch to live.
Severus forced himself to be calm, and considered: I'm not a healer. There is only one way in which I could share magic with Harry--but she would never--damnation! I'm not going to ask!
There wasn't time.
"Harry, I have to--I need to--Harry, I'm sorry," the wizard whispered into her hair as he cradled her against himself.
There isn't time!
Adjusting their bodies so that the woman was laying next to him, Severus began placing gentle kisses in her hair, on her face, and, eventually, on her lips. He coaxed open her mouth, and ran trembling hands over her body, and soon, she began to respond to his attentions.
"Blaise," she murmured.
"Yes!" Severus hissed, feeling his chest tighten and ignoring it. "Blaise--think of Blaise."
Harry began running her hands down Severus' back, and he rolled on top of her and pressed himself against her.
Her eyes snapped open in surprise as she realized who was touching her.
For a moment, the man thought she was going to object, but a fierceness lit her expression, and she arched her back.
It was all the permission he required.
He did not think about how she struggled at moments as if she'd forgotten her request, how her scar burned against his forehead, how she seemed to be fighting--if not him, perhaps herself--and soon, he was sharing his magic with the witch in the oldest of ways.
"You're not him," she gasped suddenly. Not him."
The sadness Severus felt at her words was almost overwhelming. "No, I'm not, Harry. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," he almost cried.
And hearing his name from Harry's lips had overwhelmed him. He'd given the witch his magic, his seed, his love before collapsing atop her, spent, but full of self-loathing.
His last conscious thought was, She'll never forgive me.
"Just as I will never forgive myself," Severus whispered, laying his wand down next to the pensieve. Harry . . . .
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