Chapter Nineteen - The Fall
“Turn on the light and I’m shoving that wand up your arse.” Harry froze with his wand half an inch from the main torch. Sev had miraculously been asleep, or more likely just unresponsive, at lunch. That was fine – it gave Harry a chance to curl up with a battered copy of The Grey King and some cocoa and let some of the tension the Aurors had caused seep out of his muscles. He’d missed the series as a child and was rather enjoying Sev’s set – Merriman reminded him a bit of Dumbledore. Now it looked like the hangover had hit.
With a soft sigh, he went into the bathroom and soaked a facecloth with cool water. Carefully folded, he placed it on Sev’s head. Severus growled but didn’t shake it off. It was a trick Harry had learned after the vodka incident. “Have you taken anything?”
“Hardly. That bloody woman. She does this on purpose.”
“I didn’t see her forcing anything down your throat.”
One bloodshot eye opened. “What would you know?” Harry couldn’t fight a guilty grin.
“I’m going to go ask Poppy if she’s got anything for you.” Sev lifted a hand, groaning under its weight, and motioned towards one cluttered row of shelves.
“Don’t bother. It’s over there.”
Oh. Joy. “Thanks for narrowing it down,” he muttered. This particular part of the suite held an example of nearly every potion Snape had ever made. Some of the vials were so old he couldn’t see the contents through a permanent layer of grime; a few of these, of the very few he could make out the labels on, were marked in careful, childish handwriting. Harry picked through. Photograph Potion, Shrinking Solution, Incendius Solution, Incendius Counter-solution, Bubbling Brew, Screams-In-A-Bottle (Harry decided not to open that one – he decidedly did not want a homicidal Potions monster with a raging hangover on his hands), Hair Growing Salve, Skin Dissolving Elixir, hundreds upon hundreds of bottles and phials and jars of things he’d never even imagined. The Noxious Nausea Draught was right behind the Incendius bottles. Harry rolled it between his hands while he looked for the Painkilling Potion and, for all he knew, Gran Westin’s Hangover Miracle. Come to think of it, Nan’s Hangover Cure might come in handy. No, that might be bad. Sev probably wouldn’t be too happy about yet more unpalatable liquids.
Harry frowned. He couldn’t find anything to get rid of a raging headache. Quickly, he pocketed a vial of Rehydratus Perfecticus – he’d read that hangovers were a form of dehydration. He nudged a few more bottles aside. On the back of the shelf, set a small distance from the rest of the potions, were a vial and a large jar. The jar, half-empty, held a good half pint or more of mercury. The smaller held a slightly metallic pinkish liquid, perhaps three or four ounces. It wasn’t labeled. He picked it up and looked at it curiously. It was extremely pretty in the low firelight, like liquid pearls. Suddenly, the vial was wrenched from his hand. “DON’T TOUCH THAT!” Harry cringed. Sev panted heavily, hair scattered, towering over him like a sociopathic scarecrow.
“Sorry! It wasn’t labeled! I didn’t know if it might help.” Snape stiffly put the vial back on the shelf.
“You stupid, stupid boy. Noxious Nausea Draught, Painkilling Potion, and Rehydratus Perfecticus. That is all I need.” With a swift motion Sev found and grabbed the Painkilling Potion. “You have the others?”
“Uhh… yeah.” Harry fished them out of his pocket. He handed them over, and Sev greedily took a swig of each straight from the bottle. He still looked a bit seedy when he put them back on the shelf and fell into his chair, but he didn’t cringe at the firelight.
“Well? Are you going to put the light on?” Sev stared at the fire while Harry lit the torches. He turned up the fire, too. Poor Severus, he didn’t even have a wand right now and was more or less helpless. His skin was taut and dry; it looked like autumn leaves where it reflected the dancing flames. Very likely he hadn’t taken care of his hangover because he wanted the change. Harry sat down hesitantly in his own chair.
“Are you feeling better?”
“I will. No thanks to Minerva.”
“What was that stuff?” He knew perfectly well. And he knew perfectly well the large jar didn’t hold mercury.
“Exceedingly cheap, very poorly executed moonshine Firewhiskey, probably made by a certain Mister Longbottom.”
“I meant the potion.”
Severus blinked. When his eyes opened they were on Harry. He blinked again and stared at the fire. “A fate I’d rather you weren’t subjected to.”
“Why do you still have it?”
“Because I’m an unpleasant man. I surround myself with unpleasant things.” Harry shifted to face him. His arms were crossed; one skeletal knee rest on the other.
“You’re not unpleasant. All the time,” Harry added quickly. “Did you know your Gran was working on a—?”
“Yes.” Sev squirmed. “I can’t remember the formula. I thought I did or else…” Sev lowered his head. He hissed, “She’s going to be so disappointed.” The bright fire contrasted sharply with the deep hollows in his skull. Harry could make out every tiny ridge of bone, every tiny ridge of skin. Only his eyes, distant and still edged with their thick, stiff curls of lash, gave any hint that blood flowed.
“She won’t. We’ll figure it out.”
“If it were going to be figured out I would have done it by now. Remember,” he pointed to himself, “Potions master,” he pointed at Harry, “Quidditch twit.”
“Have you asked her?” Sev raised an eyebrow at him.
“How, precisely, do you expect me to interrogate the dead for potions formulae? Wait, let me guess: ask Sibyll to act as a medium and turn myself into a giant slug with what she tells me. I’m sure that would be very amusing.”
Harry sulked. Every time he tried to help the bastard it was thrown back in his face like a beaker of acid. “I was going to say ask that picture you talk to.”
“Did you learn nothing here? You – cannot – retrieve – that – information – from – a – picture. You can capture a reasonable facsimile of personality and mannerism, but intelligence is another matter entirely.”
“She understands Latin.” Snape growled loudly.
“Because I understand Latin. I imbued that picture with everything it knows and does. That is my memory of my grandmother. Nothing – more.” He stared at the floor, fingertips digging into his skinny arm. “It. Is. Hopeless.”
“Well, if you’ll forgive me, I’m not quite ready to accept that!” Harry yelled. He counted off on his fingers, “One picture of her told me that she’d created a treatment for Unicorn Blood poisoning, and another looked at me in the Pensieve!”
Sev’s head snapped up. He looked at Harry, eyes wide. A moment later he narrowed them. “Dimwit. That’s not possible. Pensieves show nothing but pure memory unless corrupted by an outside force—“
“Like Unicorn Blood?” Severus scowled, more in sadness and frustration than anger.
“Unicorn Blood can’t do that.”
“Then maybe it was a ghost.”
“What would Gran’s ghost be doing in my Pensieve?” Harry shrugged sheepishly. He felt rather silly. Doubt started to form in his mind.
“I just know what I saw.” Snape closed his eyes, shaking his head.
“And I thought I was the one who needed the straitjacket.”
“Goddammit, Sev! Why don’t you go in there and see?” That dark stare made him uncomfortable. A long strand of guts seemed to be unraveling, invisible, on the floor.
“Why should I?” he asked softly. “I won’t find anything. And I certainly don’t want to live my whole life again for the sake of your hallucinations.”
“Coward,” Harry muttered. As soon as he said it, pain closed his throat.
“Perhaps.” Sev stood up and smoothed his robe over his skeleton. “I’m going to the kitchen for dinner. You may join me, if you wish, or you have my full permission to pursue your insane theory without me.” Harry watched the colour drain from his small hands, felt it drain from the rest of his body. Sev made a noise. “Coward.” Harry wasn’t entirely sure whom he meant.
The attack really could have hit at a better time.
Aurors had been entrenched in the castle for nearly a week now. At least twice as many more were stationed at the grounds perimeter, and several in Hogsmeade as well. Uden’s room was thankfully somewhere on the other side of the castle; she mainly patrolled late at night, which quickly put a curb on Harry’s walks. Montague was in a suite near Ravenclaw and seemed to be the local hub – he reported to someone, though. He simply wasn’t good enough at thinking like a Dark wizard to be anything more than management. The young Auror, whom Harry learned was unfortunately named York Lancaster, was just down the hall from him and Sev but seemed a nice enough chap as far as Aurors went. He kept to himself, didn’t openly badmouth Snape, and generally did his job as quietly as he could. There were at least three more scattered about the place. Harry ignored them.
Uden stormed into the library in the middle of the afternoon. She brushed past students, white cloak billowing and a sour sneer on her face. “Come with me,” she told Harry in a clipped voice.
“I’m working. I get off at five thirty if you want to come back.” He started to check out Nadja’s copy of The Last Battle when a gloved hand wrenched it from the desk.
“That Death Eater tried to kill Lancaster.” The deathly magic eye rolled about, taking in the students studying, reading, working, watching her. “Come with me, Potter. Now.”
“Go on, Harry. I can handle everything.” Thank god for Irma. Harry gave Nadja an apologetic smile and was rewarded with a confused, frightened look. She’d given Sev some distance since his attack in the classroom. It didn’t stop her from reading up on mediwizardry in vain hope of finding something. Before Harry’s wobbly legs could take him far she stuck out her hand.
“For Professor Snape,” she whispered. He reached out, and a tiny vial fell into his palm. Uden cleared her throat.
“If the Junior Dark Wizard Lovers’ Association has finished its meeting, we need to go.”
“Shut up, Uden.” Harry gave Nadja a sad smile and stomped out ahead of the Auror. He had no idea where he was going.
“Hospital wing,” she said with enough ennui to be sarcastic. He turned that way, one hand deep in his pocket and the other turning the vial over and over. A bit of Spellotape on the bottom had writing on it. Nadja Alabaster, Pepperup Potion, 98%. He gripped the vial to keep it safe. “Lancaster was interrogating Snape—“
“Why was he being interrogated?” Harry stepped up his pace; Uden matched it. Her white eye rolled his way – presumably so she wouldn’t have to turn her head.
“Lancaster was speaking with Snape. For unknown reasons, Snape began referring to him as Alastor Moody and attacked him. He was incapacitated, and they were taken separately for treatment. I was dispatched to find you.”
“Is he okay?”
“That sociopath just—“
“I meant Severus.” Uden made a noise. They were getting close now and she gripped her wand tighter.
“I really wouldn’t know. With any luck, though, the world will soon be one Death Eater short.” Harry nearly kicked her.
“Why are you such a bitch?”
She smirked. “Your pet werewolf asked me that once. I told him, ‘because it’s what I do’.” She glanced at him. “Please. Don’t tell me you were expecting some sob story about how You-Know-Who killed my family and made me bitter.”
“Frankly, yes.” She yanked open the door to the wing. Harry barely caught it before it smashed him in the face.
“Maybe you should learn a little more about human nature.” Much to Harry’s relief, Poppy was waiting for him. Her eyes were wide, her face and fidgets stiff.
“Harry, you’re going to have to help me calm him down.” Uden followed them into the treatment wing. “It didn’t work.”
“Huh?” No. Nonononono. God, any god, please, not now. “The potion went off?”
“No, it didn’t work. He’s under a body bind right now.” One bed had privacy screens around it. She pulled the curtains aside to let him in. “Not you. If you take one more step I’ll personally have you removed from this school.” Sev lay stiff. His body was constricted in an odd way, like he’d expected chains.
“It’s my responsibility to make sure no more of my—“
“I hardly think we’ll have a problem right now. Go – away.” Harry knelt down next to the bed. He met confused eyes. One sleeve was pushed up; Sev had a sticking plaster on his inner elbow.
“Hey, Sev. It’s me, Harry. We’re going to get you out of this.” One thin hand was splayed on the bed, partially clawed. Harry ran his finger around it, maybe an inch away. A large chunk of his chest fell out at not being able to touch him. He begged the hands to finally go away.
“I’ll wait outside. Let me know immediately if he shows any change.” Poppy closed the curtain behind her, teeth clenched. As always, though, she turned her attention to her patient.
“You’ll need to hold him down.” Harry froze. His finger was a mere inch from Snape’s hand, but he couldn’t bring it any closer. Poppy leaned on Sev’s ankles. “Come on, Harry. The longer he’s in a body bind the more stress he’s under.”
“I… I…” He tried. Really, he did. Harry couldn’t bring himself to lock his hands over Sev’s wrists, though. He certainly couldn’t bring himself to lean his weight on the man’s chest.
“Harry, hurry up or I’ll have to find someone else.” Sev stared, fixed. Harry knew he could hear everything that was said, no matter how it came through. He felt as if he’d been body bound himself. Poppy released Snape’s feet in disgust. She stormed out of the small room. In a minute she returned with a sooty, determined-looking Sirius. “You can stay or you can go. If you stay, keep out of the way.” Without quite knowing what he was doing or why, Harry stood up and ran into the wing’s anteroom. He huddled on a rigid chair and braced himself. The sudden onslaught of sound still made him jump.
One heavy door did little to block the screams that echoed off the glaring white walls. For seconds, minutes, time that felt like hours his ears and soul throbbed with howls and expletives. They stopped abruptly – someone must have set up a soundproofing charm. The long silence was suffocating. Harry huddled in his chair and tried to avoid Uden’s self-satisfied smile. She didn’t move, didn’t blink, when Snape shrieked again. It didn’t stop for a long, long, long time. “Don’t touch me, you son of a bitch! Listen to Dumbledore! I’m not one of them anymore!” A moment of silence – someone else must have spoken. “Take these fucking chains off me! I’m not going to do anything!”
“Didn’t stop him from knocking York unconscious.” She smiled more as a loud, wordless squall made the door hum.
“Shut up,” Harry mumbled. He sat stiffly, quivering, a hand in each of the hard pine chairs beside him. The sound echoed well after it cut off. Why wasn’t he in there helping? Uden turned her back and the featureless white of her cloak reminded him.
… Hands, everywhere, hands, clawing and grabbing and pinching, ripping the cloak from his body. The chain around his neck bit into his flesh as one of them wrenched the tag up to look at it. “H and S? Severus, you never told us. And here we thought you were teaching out of the goodness of your heart.” He struggled. Ropes flew to his elbows and bound them to his knees and he fell. Blood filled his mouth and dripped from his swelling tongue…. Screams. More ghastly screams. Oh, god, make it stop. Make it stop.
… Mouthless masks stared at him; they laughed and shouted and made animal growls. He dropped his head and felt more than heard his robe shred. Cool evening air touched his back and he cringed. The torches flickered even more in the shifting sea of tears. His throat vibrated too low for them to hear, “Harry… help… help me…” It did nothing to stop the vengeful followers of a dead master from—
Something hit him in the face. Harry looked in his lap to see a handkerchief. “Stop sniveling. You’re giving me a headache.” He shoved the cloth to the floor like infected meat. Experimentally, he touched his eyes with his sleeve. It came back moist.
“Leave me alone.”
“Then be quiet.” He felt the eerie white eye staring at him through the back of her skull. Uden’s straight hair reached her waist. She’d wound it together in a heavy rope. Harry wanted to strangle her with it.
“What did he do to you?” He still felt the hands, the work of the Death Eaters, all over his body and it fueled his animosity towards the woman.
“Nothing. What did he do to hundreds of innocents who never had a chance to fight back, though?”
Sev had killed. He told Harry some of it after the Pensieve. His first kill, just after leaving school, was a Muggle man who’d stared calmly, not sure what was going to happen to him. It was quick, and painless, and earned him the right to pursue the Dark Mark and all it entailed. “Nothing he wasn’t forced to do.” She snorted.
“I’ve heard it. Imperius Curse. Can just one of those motherfuckers come up with an original excuse?”
Harry kept his mouth shut. It was that or cast something unforgivable. A noise like a cat being strangled hurt his head. What was taking so long? It must have been half an hour by now. He reached to his neck to finger the steel chain, and remembered it was in his trunk. He’d stopped wearing it sometime in January. He had no clue where Sev’s was. The sound faltered and broke. Maybe it was over. Maybe he could take his Severus home and they could forget this ever happened. Harry slid a hand into his pocket and took scant comfort in the warmth of his watch.
A while later Poppy came out. Blood had dried on her face. “If you want to see him, you may. Not you, Irene.” The Auror froze mid-step.
“He needs to be questioned.”
“I can answer any questions you may have. Stay away from my patients, do you understand?” Uden remained impassive. A sudden slight curl tilted her mouth.
“I can wait.”
Sirius wandered out from behind Poppy. For all his solidness and strength, he looked withered. A series of claw marks across his face were still pink from being healed. They looked like they might scar. He sat down next to Harry with a grunt. “I need a cigarette.” Harry was a bit surprised; he’d never imagined Sirius smoked. Uden giggled.
“Potter, I do believe your sweetie’s been cheating on you.”
“Go fuck something, Irene.” The man leaned over and held his head in his hands. “He wants to see you, Harry.” Sirius squeezed his eyes shut. He looked like he wanted to block out the world for a while.
Harry resisted the urge to ask what happened to his godfather’s face. He slowly got to his feet. Footsteps echoed in the long white room. There were no students, like there had been last time, and no Lancaster. Harry pulled back the curtain to see Severus slouched on the edge of the bed. He stared at the floor. His hands were limp in his lap, his robe wrinkled, his thick clumps of filthy hair tangled hopelessly at the back of his head. “Take me home.”
Harry stepped back. There was no spirit in his voice. There was no threatening dark storm of cruel wit in the distance. Where he should have heard a tremor of potential… well, anything, his hoarse voice was blank, flat, dull. Harry’s mouth worked for a moment before sound came out. “I’ll go ask Poppy.” Snape didn’t respond.
Harry sat on his knees by the bed. Sev hadn’t said a word since Poppy let them leave. He’d simply mixed asphodel root powder and infusion of wormwood, left it to sit while he dropped his clothes in a messy pile, crawled halfway under the duvet, and necked back. Harry didn’t want to know how much he’d drunk. The man was still, utterly still. His chest moved, barely. The steel tag reflected firelight in a hundred directions as it did. Harry hadn’t seen him in anything less than his nightshirt in months and, beyond the perfect outline of his skeleton, the tag, the devotion he’d carried so quietly, felt like a knife to the stomach.
Harry watched him sleep. For a fleeting moment he considered finding his own tag. But, no. He couldn’t touch the man, he couldn’t do anything the scrap of steel implied. Very likely, he never could again. Something felt heavy in his pocket. Harry reached inside and found the vial Nadja had given him. It made a glassy click when he set it on the table. He found his feet and his cloak, and went to seek some sign of life.
A/N: To everyone who’s emailed me whom I haven’t gotten back to, I’m so, so sorry. Hubby’s had flu, and between getting him sorted and editing this monster nonstop, I’ve gotten way behind. I appreciate it, really! There are just too few hours in the day. *grin*
I know, I know, the dialogue order is a little strange sometimes. It makes sense to me in a weird stimulus-response, ongoing action sort of way, but it’s a habit I need to try to break. *pout* Dangit, need one writing sin to cling to…
Many thanks to Pookie for giving me one of the better laughs I’ve had in a while. I know that’s not what you intended, but, y’know, the whole concept is so, so utterly, intrinsically wrong that I couldn’t help but giggle myself red. Man, there’s an AU hiding there…
Return to Archive | next | previous