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Chapter Twelve: Managing

Remus found it troubling when Albus Dumbledore did not immediately tax him for having neglected to dose himself with the Wolfsbane Potion. I don't understand it. Dumbledore has always been excessively kind to me, but I endangered everyone by my carelessness. He should be furious.

Even Sirius, who refused to think of Remus' failure as recklessness, was confused by the headmaster's lack of anger.

Albus watched the pensive couple sitting before him and knew at once what had occurred the previous evening. Harry has indeed learnt by my example, he thought sadly. But no good will come of revealing her machinations to her family, particularly as I know that Ro most certainly was involved in the affair.

The wizard knew that his old love was a long-time "solver" of problems that fell outside the scope of the Ministry's reach. While the witch was not evil, per se, she had always been inclined to eschew bureaucracy in favor of the direct approach. Indeed, the woman felt that it was her rightful place as a guardian of the Land and her town to preserve what she could of the general peace even as she wrought her own form of contained destruction to see that good was done.

Ro, Harry, and I have that in common, do we not? Albus asked himself, omitting certain others he might have done well to include in his list.

The Greater Good had many servants, though not all of them undertook to understand their roles in the same manner. And none of them could claim to remember ever receiving any true instruction as to their tasks. But as Albus found himself approaching the end of his life, he was no longer certain that allowing one's best intentions to guide oneself was any better than being motivated to act by guilt.

Unfortunately, I am too old to learn how to behave any differently, the wizard realized, and matters need managing, here.

"Remus," said the headmaster, "I think that Sirius' idea is very likely the closest thing to an explanation we can have. Severus' potion must have developed efficacious lingering properties, or you would have attacked someone last night."

"But someone was attacked," Remus said quietly.

By now, he and Sirius were aware of Alastor Moody's death.

"That was nothing to do with you!" Sirius exclaimed, clasping his lover's hand in support.

"Indeed, dear boy, we have the proof of Harry's account to the Ministry officials that it was a vampire who killed poor Alastor. She would not mistake the matter, as I'm sure you know."

That was true, Remus knew; Harry could tell a vampire from a werewolf well enough. But the man still felt too shaken by his lapse to feel easy. Waking up in the cellar of the Three Broomsticks had felt very much like a nightmare.

He was surprised when Sirius said, in a gentle tone, "Moody's death must be a terrible loss to you, Albus."

The old wizard calculatingly allowed himself to express more grief than he felt to show on his features, and was gratified by the result of his performance as he perceived Remus' thoughts.

Grief. That explains Albus' reticence to chastize me. The man has seen so much of loss, hasn't he?

The headmaster considered that what contemporaries were left to him would need to be visited. And soon. "Thank you, Sirius. But rather than dwell on that which we cannot change, I feel we might more profitably turn our attention to those matters that concern the living."

"Do you mean Harry and Severus?" Sirius asked.

"No, dear boy. I believe they have themselves quite in hand," Albus replied, his eyes twinkling. "I rather think we might consider how best to approach the matter of young Zabini."

None of the wizards felt easy about the alteration in the Auror's professional status, so they entered into a lengthy debate about how this change might bear on their ongoing investigation into the man's suspected involvement in the mysterious interest being displayed in the early history of Wizarding Britain.

At long last, Balthazar Zabini felt as though his patience had earned him a measure of success. He was about to meet with the wife of Ambrose Blake, who would surely know something of her husband's last Auror mission. He was certain that, if he could discover how Ambrose had been . . . subdued, he would be one step closer toward redeeming himself in the eyes of his family--who had many reasons to distrust him, not the least of which being that he had never fully supported the Dark Lord.

Voldemort was a dangerous fool bent on destroying all of us for his own selfish aggrandizement, the man mused as he walked through the doors of St. Mungo's. True, he had allowed the half-breed to use him in various schemes, chief among them the removal of several of the Ministry's more vocal critics of the insane wizard, but he had avoided taking the Dark Mark by claiming to fear its effects on his Metamorphmagical powers.

His parents had never forgiven him for that lapse. They had called him a coward, called him weak, called him useless. But no one will deny my usefulness when I discover what kind of magic was used against Ambrose. Zoroastrid will have to allow me to assist her more directly in our family's great work, then.

The path from the Dower House to Snape Manor was a short one over gleaming cobbles that had been set into the ground for centuries. Vedette trod the stones and allowed the comfort of her family's familiar warding magics to convey her toward an early meeting with Trillare in reasonably good spirits. She was resolved to enjoy her homecoming, as it brought her an opportunity to put her daughter-in-law firmly in her place.

The boy is determined to make the thing harder than it should be, the witch told herself, and I will not allow that social-climbing snake of a mother of his to cause him any trouble.

An old soldier of the Wilds, Granny Jasper knew better than most how important it was for the Families to continue their lines; but unlike many in her social position, she was not burdened by the destructive prejudice of blood hatred. She had seen enough to know that strength came from a blending of spirit and flesh, and was a staunch advocate of introducing new strains into the bloodlines to bolster the old Houses.

She had often thought to question Tancredo's practice of reanimating his troops rather than allowing them to produce more of their kind in the traditional way, but had never been foolish enough to question the Oldest One. Feeling the power that had been the result of her master's gift, Vedette knew the choices necessary for the survival of those who dwelt on her side of the Barrier would need to be different.

My House requires fresh blood to survive, as do we all in our way.

The witch had high hopes that the next Assembly would yield a healthy alliance between her grandson and a witch of tremendous power--power that would pass from her blood into her children's and sustain them independently of that woman, rather than having to draw it from the vein of a thane, as she herself had done.

I will weaken now, but the children of my child's son shall not. And if Trillare is determined to interfere with my plans, then I shall cease the flow of blood from her veins.

Vedette Aurelia Jasper Snape, mater familia of an ancient House, was home at last.

Draco found himself pacing the gardens of the Zabini estate in agitation. He had not wished to come here, but his mother would not entertain the thought of her son taking rooms in "a disreputable dive ill-befitting your position." She had urged him to accompany her to her lover's home, and he had relented because he thought it might provide him an opportunity of speaking to Blaise again. He had much to discuss with his . . . friend.

And it's always difficult to say no to Mother.

He was not certain why Narcissa had decided that he was ready to leave France and return to Britain, but he was grateful to have been fêted and fussed over that evening in ways more convivial than those the "medi-jailors" had employed. His "convalescence" had done nothing to repair the gaps in his mind.

Don't dwell on that, Draco. What do you know?

He was powerful. His lord had trained him well at Durmstrang, and he half-remembered avenging his father's murder while Voldemort looked on.

But perhaps that magic was borne of grief? I haven't been able to access it since I destroyed the traitor. . . . No, he suddenly realized, since Blaise came to save me.

The pain of his rescue washed over Draco in fresh waves, leaving him feeling weak and ashamed. He knew first-hand how the Dark Lord had shared power with those who bore the Dark Mark.

And when Blaise unmade my connection to my master, he stole my access to that magic, didn't he?

Not for the first time, Draco wondered how his lover had managed the task of saving him. Such an effort was something he could have more easily credited his father with undertaking.

But Daddy is dead.

His mother had "protected" him in France for several years, yet Draco believed that his mother's only use for him was as a piece in her social game-playing. Despite this, he wanted her love, even though she scared him.

Knowing that he dare not risk open rebellion against Narcissa when his position was so tenuous, he decided to be patient and maneuver himself into a position of power before acting.

Perhaps I should marry Harry, he thought. Then we could look out for each other.

Zoroastrid was coming to a conclusion of her own, that morning. She understood, as did few others, Narcissa's desire to lead their social set. Having long been a slave to Lucius' every perverted whim, her lover had risen from her enchanted sleep at her husband's hand to bend her every thought to her own preservation. After such a marriage, who could blame her?

Narcissa Isarat Black Malfoy had always been a creature inclined toward weakness. But the witch the woman had become was almost frightening in her intensities. Sometimes, her desire seems to stem from so much madness, Zoroastrid thought. She no longer believed that her lover could be trusted to do what was right by their kind. Which means that I will never be able to share my plans with Cissa.

It was a grief to Zoroastrid not to trust the love of her life any longer, but matters stood clearly before her. Narcissa is actively encouraging the pollution of her Line, and such behavior cannot be permitted if we are to survive. She will have to be stopped before she damages one of the oldest Houses by her ill-founded ambition. House Zabini had been working toward the restructuring of the government and its people for far too long to allow one desperate witch so much control.

And I mean to wield more than the threat of ostracization from society over Narcissa's head to teach her obedience. I pray to Salazar that I shan't have to kill her.

Harry's desire was as a serpent that coiled around her will to strangle all sense from her mind as her body sought a more basic form of reason from the one that burned beneath her.

"Severus!" she hissed, grinding herself against the wizard in the unspoken language of need.

He answered her gesture with a savage thrust of his own, and then rolled the stunned woman to the floor next to him before gathering her easily into a rising embrace. Standing, he held her firmly against himself in an heroic attempt to still their passion.

"Harry, wait!"

"For what?" she demanded, experiencing his hesitance as a rejection and attempting to push away from him roughly.

But the man would not release her.

"Why don't you want me? Why are you--"

"Enough, you idiot girl!" Severus thundered, grabbing Harry by her shoulders and shaking her fiercely, his eyes black and deadly. "I will not permit you to doubt me any longer!"

Harry could have escaped him without difficulty had she desired it, but, having at last provoked a response from her lover, she went limp in his arms to allow him to lead them while thinking, You're hurting me.

Severus registered her stillness as surrender as he also realized that he was digging his fingers into the girl's flesh with enough force to bruise. He thrust her away from himself before he could damage her further, and then staggered a bit, breathing heavily, and trying to understand what had just passed between them.

"I never meant . . . I wouldn't . . ." he said, horrified by his actions, which he felt were too like his father's toward his mother to be forgiven. Oh, gods! I hurt you. I never thought I'd hurt you, Harry. Taking a step toward her, he tried to explain himself. "Harry, please, I--"

But when the witch stepped away from him, Severus could not continue.

I've made you afraid of me, he thought in despair. I've ruined everything.

Harry stood there hugging her abused arms against herself, something indecipherable clouding her eyes, and the wizard found that anger was his only refuge against what he took to be her silent accusation.

"Did you enjoy that little display of yours, Potter?" he spat, hating the way she cringed under the lash of his ungoverned tongue. "Was this all some elaborate prank to humiliate me? Did your beloved parents put you up to it?" he mocked, attempting to force some other reaction from his lover than mute stupefaction. "How like you to require an audience!"

"Stop it," Harry said weakly.

"Why, Potter?" the man continued, warming to his subject now that Harry seemed to be aware of him again. "Surely you did not believe that I would allow your actions pass without some form of retribution. If you felt yourself inadequate to face me alone, you might at least have done me the courtesy of owling me as to the alteration of your affections. As I recall, you are rather adept at the art of correspondence."

A look of cold fury crossed the witch's face, and she lowered her arms, clenching and unclenching her fists as if to prevent herself from acting on the feeling.

"Come now," Severus taunted, almost enjoying himself, now. "Why hold back? You surely do not imagine that I am afraid of you, do you? How could you believe that when you are not even strong enough to speak?"

A vicious smile marred Harry's face like a jagged wound, giving the wizard pause. It was an expression that held within it something far worse than death. "Oh, but you should be afraid of me, Snape," she replied with slow vehemence.

"You should be very frightened of me, indeed."

The promise inherent in the woman's tone made Severus reach for his wand, but it was no longer tucked within his robes.

And then he was no longer standing in Potter's chambers, but in the midst of a seething storm of biting ice and shrieking winds. And rising over the maelstrom into which he had been thrust was a crackle of cackling laughter that sliced a path of fear directly up his fear-stiffened spine.

Harry's laughter, Severus realized, though he could not see the witch through the violent precipitation that buffeted him and obscured his vision. He raised his arms to protect his eyes, and tried to prevent himself from being blown to the icy ground.

A clear voice was suddenly at his ear. "Still feeling confident of my weakness, are you?"

But when the Potions master turned to grasp at Harry he found himself quite alone.

"Stop it!" he cried. "Harry, stop this at once!"

The quiet fell so quickly that it became a loudness in itself.

"As you wish," an alien, disembodied voice echoed across the snowscape.

Severus stood very still, uncertain of what next to expect. Gentle waves of snow blew across the vast white landscape as far as his eyes could discern, but, curiously, the scene did not have the blinding cast one might expect in a winter plain under the light of day. That is because there is no sun here to be reflected. In as calm a tone as he could achieve, he asked, "Where are we, Harry?"

And he was pleased with himself for not starting when he felt the warmth of a small hand rest itself on his left arm.

"In the place I went after Neville and I killed Voldemort."

Severus turned to regard Harry warily. Though his clothing was soaking wet and sticking clammily to his skin, her garments were dry, and they billowed slightly in the freezing breeze.

The witch raised her arms to display herself. "Like me, Severus? I'm one of Albus' pet mo--monsters."

Had the woman's voice not broken on "monsters," the man would never have presumed to touch her, but he could sense that she was as terrified now as he had been only moments before. He reached for her and pulled her into his arms.

"You are not a monster."

But what the witch was, the wizard could not say.

Perhaps Albus will explain it to me before I kill him.

"There's no need for that, Severus. Albus is dying."


"Our headmaster is finally allowing himself to die," Harry answered him, stepping away. "I think we could do with a bit of a change, don't you?"

And then a river of soft green grass flowed over the slush under their feet to form a meadow. Birds chirped in the materializing trees. Bees buzzed from the flowers that bloomed atop newly grown stalks. And the air was redolent of spring as Severus felt his clothing dry and his skin warm.

"How is it possible that you can do these things?"

Tucking her feet under her body as she fell gracefully to the ground, Harry said, "I have no idea, but Albus tells me that it's a gift."

The wizard joined the witch on the carpet of grass. "I knew that he was powerful, but--"

"Oh, I didn't mean to imply that it was Albus' gift, Severus."

"Then how--"

"Forgive me for the interruption, but I'd rather not discuss it, now."

"What do you want?" Severus snapped, not quite recovered from the display of power he had just witnessed. Experienced, he corrected himself.

"To know if you really spent half a year's salary on the Terrace, for starters."

"What kind of a question is that?"

"A simple one, really."

"Miss Potter, after what I have just seen, you can hardly expect me to carry on a normal conversation."

The witch sighed sadly. "So we're back to formal titles, then?"

"Harry, what is it that you want from me?"

"To know what it is that you want from me."

Exasperated, Severus tried to answer her. "I . . . I just . . . I do not understand you!"

"Oh. Oh, I see. I've made you afraid of me," Harry said, beginning to stand.

"Please don't go," the man said, catching the woman's arm.

Harry sat down again. "I'm sorry, Severus. I didn't mean to hurt you, either. I just couldn't stand our fighting any longer."

The wizard laughed, a short bark of sound, and pulled his lover against his body. "So you brought me here to kill me? That is an excellent method of quelling an argument."

Relaxing against him, Harry replied quietly, "I never intended to kill you. . . . I love you."

Now would be a good time to respond in kind, you idiot, the man instructed himself, but before he could gather his courage, asked, "Is that a kettle I hear?"

It was.

Feeling defeated, Harry said, "I'll get it."

Severus blinked in astonishment, his eyes stinging with the unshed tears that the bereft tone of the woman's voice had inspired, as he found himself standing by Harry's hearth once again. I do love you, but if I should admit as much now, how will you ever believe me?

The witch entered the room followed by a levitating tea tray. "Would you care for a cup? I have Earl Gre--"

"Please," Severus interrupted her. "Let's not pretend that this is--"

"What?" Harry asked, making her own effort to compose herself. "What is this?"

"This is fear."


"Yes," the wizard responded, risking the offer of his hand.

He knew that he would cry should she not take it, but Harry quickly crossed the room and accepted Severus' hand as the tea tray returned to the kitchen, clinking and clattering as they heard it set itself down on a counter.

The couple settled themselves on the sofa that was placed between the two chairs framing the hearth and fidgeted a bit before finding a comfortable position.

After awhile, Harry asked, "Why do we make things so hard?"

Severus snorted. "I cannot say."

"I know."

"Harry . . . I fear that if I say the words, the words that I have felt for longer than you could possibly know, that you would not believe them . . . that you would not believe me."

His response was tentative, but Harry could feel the certainty of Severus' love through his admission, and felt foolish to have doubted his feelings. "The first time you kissed me I felt you race through every fibre of my being. That spark, do you remember it?"

"Yes. I felt it, too. It . . . it terrified me."

"And did it scare you to feel Voldemort inside of you?"

"You are not Voldemort, Harry!"

The witch turned her face up to gaze into her lover's. "But I could be, Severus. That was what I was trying to show you just now."

The wizard poured as much conviction into his tone as he could in order to reassure the witch as he said, "I may not have realized the extent of your power until now, Harry, but I have never doubted you." Believe me, please, he willed before continuing to speak. "The . . . miracle of your magic is that you seek not to use it."

Harry smiled shyly. "That's almost poetry."

"I do not seek to woo you through saccharine sentiment."

"I know that, Severus. I . . . come with me," she said decisively, standing up suddenly. "Come with me right now."

"Where?" he asked, standing more slowly.

But the witch was already walking out of the room.

Severus followed Harry warily into the center of her bedchamber where she stood waiting for him, an expectant expression gracing her features.

"What are you doing?" he asked as she began unlacing the strings of her dragonhide boots before stepping out of them.

Harry slid out of her soft brown trousers and stepped out of them as she pulled her loose white blouse over her head and tossed it to the floor. "Showing you the rest of my secrets," she told him without a blush.

Severus could not boast as much. When Harry took his hand and drew him closer, he thought he might burn to ashes under her touch.

"Do you see this?" she asked, indicating the delicate silver tracery that decorated the right side of her belly and wound around to her back.

"What happened to you?" the man asked, disturbed and intrigued at once. "Why were you not healed properly?"

In answer, the woman guided her lover's hand to the scar. "Touch it. It's part of me, part of how I learned not to use my magic."

Gliding his fingertips over the almost imperceptible ridge of her scar, Severus realized that Harry must have received the wound during her service to the vampire. "There are many secrets between us, are there not?"

"Yes, there are--and there may yet be more. . . . Can you accept that?"

"Harry, I have done things that, if you knew of them--"

"Neither of us is perfect, Severus. I know that. And I also know that we've survived our mistakes without each other for a long time," she said, moving closer to the man. "But I don't believe that I could live without you, not truly, and I'm tired of trying. You and I are bound to each other more strongly now than we were when we both bore Voldemort's mark."

"You never bore--"

Harry shook the wisps of her hair that had loosened themselves from her braid to cover the runic mark on her forehead and looked at Severus pointedly.

"I have never allowed myself to think of this," he said, touching the lightening-shaped scar, "as the Dark Lord's mark upon you. . . . I am a fool."

"No, you are in love," the woman whispered, leaning into his hand.

The wizard bent his forehead to touch Harry's in silent assent.

"Harry . . . ."

"Severus . . . Severus, it's all right. I know. I know you. That's enough. That's everything."

They were both crying now, and Severus began to purposefully kiss Harry's tears into his mouth, urging her wordlessly to do the same by the movement of his cheek against her lips.

The salty taste of their combined tears flooded their mouths as their tongues met and danced through the steps of an ancient rite that had never found its way onto stone or parchment, and the two lovers experienced the heady sensation of being filled with love, completed, and truly bound, as a wave of magic coursed through their bodies, leaving them trembling and gasping into each other's mouths.

When he found that the strength had returned to his limbs, Severus swung Harry up into his arms and carried her to the bed, laying her down upon it before stepping back to observe the woman reverently.

"You . . . you are shimmering," he breathed, not understanding what had just happened, but finding that he did not care.

Harry, too, was unconcerned as she rolled up onto her knees to watch Severus divest himself of his clothing and began to unbraid her hair completely.

"Oh!" he gasped, momentarily forgetting his task. "If you only knew how long I've wanted to see you wearing nothing but that dark curtain of hair . . . ."

The witch favored her lover with an impish smirk. "I think I do know, love. Why do you think I let it grow so long?" she asked, slipping out of her undergarments and displaying herself to him without shame.

Severus laughed for joy as the meaning of Harry's revelation washed over him. "Minx," he said heatedly.

"Tease," she replied happily, her eyes widening as her lover finally removed the last of his garments.

They allowed themselves to enjoy a lingering anticipatory pause, pregnant with erotic suspense, as they felt themselves to be free of every emotional barrier between themselves.

"Harry?" the wizard asked as he finally reached for the woman who was his and was welcomed into an embrace that was theirs alone.

"Yes, Severus?"

I love you.


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