The Last Battlefield
Chapter 13 - Variables and Constants
He frowned. Tugging at the fabric, he turned in front of the tall mirror standing in the corner of the bedroom. Shifting against the alien sensation of cloth sheathing each of his legs to the floor, Severus shot Lupin a glare. "Are you sure this is what they're supposed to look like?"
"Completely. Sirius used to have some made out of leather."
"Tight leather. See-your-religion tight."
Severus shuddered. He made a noise of disgust. "Would you excuse me while I Obliviate myself?" He wrinkled his nose at his reflection, once again jerking at the black trousers hanging off his hips. "Can't even get a nice, healthy breeze," he muttered under his breath.
"I gathered. Why in god's name would you want to sheath your lower body in something else's skin?"
Lupin shrugged. "Sirius went neck to toe. Saved his own skin a few times on that bike he had."
"Pity." Severus turned again, glowering back over his shoulder. "These aren't doing me any favours, you realise."
Lupin chuckled. "Severus, are you being vain?"
"No. These are simply less forgiving to the human form than a robe."
"I like them," Harry piped up. He sat on the corner of the bed, kicking his happily robe-clad legs at the air. "Make your arse look nice."
Severus arched an eyebrow at him as Lupin hid his snicker behind his hand. "I didn't ask your opinion on the matter." He tugged at the trousers again anyway, glancing back at the mirror once more only to decide Harry was out of his tree. Kicking one foot to let the excess hang over his heel, he muttered, "They're too long."
"And big," Harry added. "You need to eat more."
"I'm not allowed to eat more. Or do you wish me to consume my weight in porridge?"
"So glad you agree," Severus muttered. He tapped his finger on his belt, glaring at the fresh holes he had been forced to punch. "You're hopeless, Lupin."
"Thanks." Lupin folded his arms and gave Severus a cool look. "Sirius helped pick them, actually."
"Ah. I should have guessed."
"It's not as if you're easy to shop for."
"Certainly I am." Severus glowered sidelong at Harry. "At least someone didn't attempt anything ridiculous."
"Like red?" Harry looked unimpressed.
"You look nice in red."
"I do not."
"Yes, you do. You look bloody hot."
Severus shuddered. "And which one of us requires spectacles to do more than read?" He turned back to the mirror just in time to see the glamour wash over his formerly black jumper. He whirled. "Do you mind?"
Lupin shrugged and tucked his wand back in his pocket. "He's right. It really does suit you."
"Try making it brighter," Harry chimed in.
"I'll deal with you later!" Severus grabbed his wand from the dresser and flicked it at his chest. The cheerful pillarbox red vanished, replaced by the comfortable, broody black he demanded. Admittedly, the shirt underneath was white, but that was what the jumper was for. He huffed to himself at the notion of being called vain.
"Have you two been keeping up?" Lupin asked. He pinched a bit of lint from Severus' jumper. Severus snarled.
"Been all right," Harry said. He leaned against one of the bedposts, pressing his cheek to the smooth cedar. "Miss Quidditch, though. Have you heard from the team?"
"Naipul sent Paddy an owl yesterday, and there's a woman... named Doyle, I think--"
"Ellen," Severus said, still tugging at a trouser leg. The things seemed determined to mould their pleated selves to his crotch.
Lupin shot him a smile. "That's right, thank you. She's been owling nearly every day, asking how you're doing and if you need anything."
Harry looked up with a little grin. "Ellen's a nice lady."
"She sounds like it. Anything you want me to tell her?"
Harry shook his head. "Only that we're alive, I reckon. Sev?"
"Hmm. Does she know anything about trousers?"
"Severus!" Lupin might have looked shocked if his eyes hadn't been shining so much. "Harry's sitting right there."
"If he doesn't want the competition, he shouldn't ask her to follow me like a puppy at every match."
"Oh, shut up," Harry muttered. He fidgeted. "How're things in the real world?" he asked in a soft voice.
Lupin pursed his mouth, his brow furrowing in what looked like worry. "They're all right. Sirius is treading a hole in the floor over you."
"I knew that. What else?"
"Um." Lupin rubbed his nose. He leaned against the dresser, folding his arms and looking at the floor in thought. "The Prophet keeps trying to interview us. I've outright refused. Sirius just said to leave you alone so you could have a normal life for once, but they haven't printed it. Um, other than that, E--Professor Vector's not very happy with Severus."
"Yes," Severus muttered, "I gathered that Professor Vector wasn't happy with me when she tried to gouge my eyes out. Get to it, what's Emily been up to in my absence?"
"Not a lot. Sunday night Miriam had to fetch her at the Hog's Head."
Severus blinked. He turned to stare at Lupin. "What on Earth was she doing there?"
"Getting too drunk to walk. She was out of hangover remedies, too. At breakfast we thought she'd turned into you."
"If you're only going to be rude--"
"Talk to Sirius about that. He's the one who said it first. Got a hot cup of coffee in his lap for it."
Harry winced. "Ow."
Severus snorted. "Yes, it seems you'll mercifully remain an only child."
"Only stating the obvious." Severus tried to perch in a chair next to the mirror. A rope of fabric shoved its way into places he'd have preferred it didn't. He hissed. "How d'you bloody well sit down in these things?"
"It's not so bad." Harry's eyes sparkled, as though he were trying not to laugh. "You just have to sort of yank them down before you get a wedgie."
Harry looked innocent. Lupin covered the lower half of his face with one cupped hand. A low snigger came from behind it. He looked away before Severus could shoot him a glare.
"Er," Harry cracked a grin, "it's when your pants - or your trousers - sort of get yanked back and, um... um, they, um, wedge themselves in." He bit his lip and looked away as Lupin made a muffled keening sound.
Severus stared. His lip curling, he pushed himself to his feet, marched over to Lupin and before he could bring himself to his senses grabbed at the man's waist and yanked. Fabric shifted beneath his robes. Lupin went stiff; an instant later he yelped.
"You mean like that?"
"SEV!" Harry's jaw had dropped. He looked nearly as stricken as Lupin, who was more or less the colour of ash and keeling over at the waist. Harry stood in a sort of daze and took a hesitant step towards his pet werewolf. "You don't just do that to a bloke with no warning!"
"Why not? Never stopped Black doing it to me."
"He did it once," Lupin wheezed. "Bloody Hell, Severus!"
"Once that you know of. Always wondered what that was called." Severus rubbed his chin, trying not to smirk at the way Lupin was clutching his knees.
"You'll pay for this." Lupin squeezed his eyes shut until tears leaked out the corners.
"I rather expect I will."
"If I wasn't sterile before, I am now. Oh, god." Lupin lurched towards the bathroom, whimpering. Before the door closed, he flashed a somewhat less than polite gesture.
Severus allowed himself a vicious little smirk. He caught a glimpse of Harry glowering at him, red-faced and trembling. Severus arched an eyebrow. "Yes?"
Harry stabbed a finger towards the loo. "Apologise. Right now."
"Why should I?"
"Because I said so."
"That wasn't even a scratch compared to what he's done to me."
"You mean what he did when he was my age and stupid, don't you?" Harry tilted his chin, his lips quivering with bottled rage. "Apologise right now, Severus."
"You sound like Gran." Severus snorted to himself.
"No, if I sounded like your Gran you'd listen to me!"
"Not bloody likely," Severus muttered under his breath.
"I heard that."
"Excellent! Your hearing is starting to compensate for your vision!"
Harry started to open his mouth. Instead, he stalked towards Severus, eyes locked on his and glittering in a most ominous way. He stopped close enough for the heat from his body to brush along Severus' hands. "You don't even realise you're doing anything wrong, do you?" he asked in a familiar, silken tone.
Severus pulled himself taut. "I'm perfectly capable of telling right from wrong, Mister Potter. I can also feed myself and tie my shoes if asked nicely."
"Stop it. Act your age for once, will you? And don't you dare snap back at me. You are a walking nightmare. Sometimes I don't know if you're my husband or my son."
"And sometimes I don't know why I still keep you around."
The red in Harry's cheeks condensed into two ugly blotches. "You'd be dead if it wasn't for me," he hissed.
"I know this." Severus matched his stare. Part of him tried to find something scathing to hurl back at Harry. A tiny, seldom audible voice in the back of his rational mind made him stop, though. The warmth of Harry's body pressed through his clothing. For an instant, the utter need to fall to his knees and fulfill a long-neglected husbandly duty made him grab the edge of the dresser where he'd leaned. Instead, fingers twitching, he reached up and pushed an impertinent bit of hair behind Harry's ear. Harry made a glottal noise. He jerked back.
"Don't do that," he rasped. His eyes darted towards the bathroom door. He shifted from foot to foot, squirming.
"Why not?" Severus' voice was low. He caught Harry's gaze and held it. "That's not even a fraction of what I'd like to do. Or do you no longer enjoy having the greasy Potions master on his knees?"
Something flickered in Harry's eyes. He turned away. "Be quiet! Remus is just--"
"Then ask him to leave."
Harry paused. He pursed his mouth. "I'm upset with you."
"That's seldom ever stopped you."
"I don't want to, okay?" Harry looked away. He stared at nothing.
"I don't believe that for a second." Perhaps out of anger, perhaps out of something equally base, Severus reached out and took Harry's cheeks in his hands. Harry gave a weak cry. He trembled as Severus stepped close and leaned down until he could taste the breath rushing from Harry's mouth. He whispered, "And neither do you."
Harry whimpered. Before he could pull back, Severus let go and swept away. More through chance than design, he headed towards the bathroom door. He knocked. "Lupin?"
A short snarl came from inside. "What?"
"I apologise. That was wholly uncalled for on my part."
A pause. A moment later, the door opened a crack. One cold eye narrowed at him. "No shit."
"You don't need to be vulgar."
"You do it all the time." Lupin's voice dropped to a bare hiss. "Twenty-five years ago I could have understood this."
"Consider it part of my delayed childhood." Severus' lip curled. He didn't bother to hide it.
"Just because you're back home doesn't mean you need to act like a spoiled brat again."
Severus stiffened. He took a mechanical step backwards. "Don't lecture me on things you haven't got a fucking clue about. I'm sure you were perfectly happy ripping yourself to ribbons every month as a boy."
Lupin growled and slammed the door. A heavy thud shook it in its jamb a moment later.
"Settle down," Harry said.
"Why should I?"
"Because you're starting to scare me. If this is how you're going to be, I'd rather just go back to Hogwarts and stay sealed in that dungeon you were talking about."
The breath caught in Severus' throat. He turned on his heel, though, and tried to take a faltering step towards the door. Harry was still standing in the same spot. He hugged himself, glasses slipping off his nose. He didn't push them back in to place. Severus reached out to do it for him; he stopped. The thought of Harry jerking away again was enough to make him feel as though his innards were being sucked away.
"You're welcome to go," he said in a cool, measured voice.
Harry glanced up at him, ashen. Heavy lines formed around his eyes, lines of utter terror. He opened his mouth but nothing came out.
Before he could do something silly like apologise, Severus pushed himself past Harry and towards the door. "It was permission, not an order," he said, laying his hand on the knob.
"I'll be in Perditus' study."
"Are you going to lock the door?"
"I shall always lock that door."
Severus waited for more. He only got silence. After a long moment, longer than he'd ever imagined possible, he opened the door. He'd just stepped out in the hall when Harry's soft voice met his ears.
"I love you."
Severus closed his eyes. His hand jerked on the outside knob. He glanced back over his shoulder, saw Harry staring at the floor, far too still. Harry's hand darted up and wiped at something under his glasses. He snorted, wrinkling his nose.
"Brat." Severus forced himself to turn away. He closed the door as gently as he could and crept down the hall, more grateful than he would admit for the distraction his trousers provided.
He frowned. Even the binding pressure of his trousers across his pelvis couldn't distract him. Turning another page, he ran a finger down the continuing formula. There was enough clear information to give him a rough idea of the charm's general purpose, but he barely recognised some of the symbols, much less understood their functions. "Bloody Hell, Perditus, what were you playing at here?"
A sharp knock jerked him away from something that looked like cuneiform. "I'm busy," he snapped.
"I don't care."
"Go away, Lupin. I just told you I'm busy."
The knob rattled. "Open this door, Severus, or I'll knock it down."
"The Hell you will!"
A thunderous bang against the door was his only answer. Severus swore and scooped up the journal. He hurried across the room as the door shook a second time. He wrenched it open, and nearly got a shoulder to the chest for it. "How dare you tear apart my house?"
Lupin glared up at him. A bit of grey, wavy hair had fallen in his eyes. He pushed it back, only for it to slide over his forehead again. "Harry's finally settled down."
Severus arched an eyebrow.
"You don't deserve him."
"Tell me something I don't know, Lupin."
Lupin pursed his mouth. He folded his arms. "All right. He's just spent half an hour trying to convince me he wasn't upset while tears poured down his face. Won't tell me what's wrong except that he doesn't like it here, but I've got an idea."
"Bollocks. You haven't the slightest notion what this house means."
"I know you grew up here. What happened? Were you locked in the cellar and ignored until your parents died and you had to go and live with the Malfoys?"
"As I said, you haven't the slightest notion what this house means. Now leave." Severus started to close the door. A foot wedged it open. Severus leaned his full weight against it, pushing until his chest ached and the air grew thin. He staggered when Lupin shoved the thing open.
"What is your problem, Severus?" Lupin gestured at the walls. "If this place is so horrible, why in Hell did you bring him here? Paddy and I would be more than happy to take him back to Hogwarts, you know. After what the Prophet's been saying all week about you two, I'm not sure I want to risk him being found with you anyway."
"Oh? And what has it been saying? I haven't seen a paper since Monday, you know." Severus perched himself on the edge of Perditus' desk. A soft, wet wheeze ran deep in his lungs.
"Only the truth," Lupin snarled. "At least, the part that says you're a selfish, dangerous monster who enjoys torturing people who care about you for whatever misguided reason."
"You don't have to sound like you're enjoying it so much. I thought you said you never hated me."
"Never liked you all that much, either." Lupin stalked towards the desk and put one hand on either side of Severus' hips. Severus tried to pull back, but Lupin leaned in until he was whispering in his ear. "Between this and what happened to Emily, I'm not sure if I want to let either of them near you ever again."
"Protecting your pack?"
"I haven't got a pack. I'm more human than you are."
Severus shuddered. "Back off, Lupin."
"I said, 'back off'. You of all people ought to know better than to corner a wild animal."
"I said you were a monster, not a wild animal."
Severus grunted. He planted a shoulder in Lupin's chest and shoved him away with less force than he wanted. It was enough to make the beast step backwards, though. They stared at each other. Lupin's fingers twitched. Severus found himself hugging the journal to his chest.
"Give me a reason not to take him back with me, or I swear I'll do it," Lupin growled.
"It would kill me. " Severus shivered, his eyes to the floor. He moved to tug at the damned trousers as they crept further up.
"Give me a better one."
"If you take him back to Hogwarts whoever's after my blood will be able to find him and you don't know what they'll do to him. Hardly anyone even knows this place exists."
There was a moment of silence. Lupin opened his mouth with a soft, moist sound. "James' Invisibility Cloak might take care of that."
"I'm not willing to take that chance."
"He might be. He's like a plant kept away from the sunlight here! How do you know this isn't going to destroy him?"
"If you lock him in a dungeon for the rest of his life, it will destroy him! He's already spent ten years locked in a cupboard! What makes you think a dungeon is any better?"
Lupin twitched. He stared at Severus, fists balled and arms hanging slack. "It won't be for the rest of his life."
"I'm not so sure about that."
"I give you my word, it would be for as short a time as possible. If we had to, we could move him to the Burrow."
"So once again he'll be thrown from home to home." Severus sniffed. "What are you going to do next? Leave him with his Muggle relatives again? I'm sure they'd adore having their slave back."
"I wouldn't do that."
"He'd be safe."
Silence. Lupin's upper lip curled in far too wolfish a way.
"I need him."
"What does he need?"
"I think we both know the answer to that."
Lupin blinked. "He hasn't gotten any better around you." He didn't sound convinced, though. Shifting from foot to foot, he looked around. "I've already told him he's welcome with us any time he wants to leave."
"Very well. If he decides to leave, it's his own choice."
"You won't stop him then?"
"No. Unlike some people, I respect him as an independent human being."
"You don't respect anyone, Severus, not even yourself." Lupin glanced at the book. "What's that?"
"Oh? I didn't know you had a journal."
"This isn't mine."
Lupin held out a hand and motioned with his fingers. "Prove it."
"I already told you, it's private."
"And I know what you've done in your life. Not much of a stretch to think the rest of your family was just as bad. Assuming that does belong to one of them."
Severus snarled. "Not that it's any of your business, but most of them were much, much worse."
Lupin frowned. He snatched the journal from Severus' hands before Severus could stop him.
"Give that back!" Severus swiped at it, but Lupin turned away and had the thing open before he could move. Lupin stiffened.
"Jesus and Merlin," he muttered.
"I said, give it back."
"Do you know what you've got here?"
"Arithmantic formulae, presumably." Severus grabbed Lupin's arm and yanked. The book slid from his fingers, but Lupin only caught it again. His eyes kept skimming the symbols.
"Yeah, like I've never seen. I can barely... This goes way beyond N.E.W.T.s. Emily needs to see this."
"Nobody needs to see anything. Give that back!" Severus reached around and yanked the book from Lupin's hand. A ripping sound broke the air. Two pages fluttered in Lupin's quivering grasp. His jaw dropped and he stared at the book.
Lupin stared for a moment more. He scurried for the door, mumbling apologies and other pointless things. Severus glowered at the floor until the door closed. Only then did it strike him that Lupin still had the pages.
"Fuck." For an instant, he considered going after him. Now that the scraps of parchment were out of sight, though, it didn't seem worth the effort.
Severus flipped through pages for a few minutes, letting the sharp edges slip from his fingers. One sliced his fingertip. He hissed and stuck the bloody finger in his mouth. He dropped the journal on the desk and crept upstairs, leaving the study open behind him.
He crept into the bedroom. Harry lay on top of the covers, his breathing soft and hoarse, his face buried in the pillows. Severus tiptoed towards the bathroom to fetch some proper clothing. He was perhaps halfway there when Harry lifted his head a fraction of an inch.
Severus flinched. "So sorry to disappoint you," he growled.
"Oh. Hey, you." Harry sat up halfway and scooted up against the headboard. He rubbed an eye, yawned. "Sorry, he said he'd be up to check on me. Didn't expect you in."
"Where is he?" Harry's eyes popped wide. He looked like a scared rabbit. "Oh, god, tell me he's not in the kitchen."
"As far as I'm aware, he's not even on the property."
Harry looked puzzled. "What?"
"I ordered him out after he ripped a handful of pages out of one of Perditus' journals."
"He did what?"
Severus sighed. "Nothing important."
"It had to be an accident. Remus wouldn't do that."
"I think you'll find your precious werewolf is capable of a great number of unexpected things. He threatened to take you back to Hogwarts."
"Oh. Yeah. He offered to take me in. I said I'd think about it."
Severus took a half step backwards. "Have you?"
Harry shrugged. "Yeah. I don't know. Don't much want to leave you here alone, even if you've got the elves."
"That's all. I don't want you to be alone here. Something might..." Harry trailed off. Huddling in the pillows with his knees drawn halfway to his chest, he looked no older than fifteen. He twined his fingers through an oak leaf-shaped cutout at the top of the headboard. His fingers turned white as he pulled at the wood. He motioned to the foot of the bed with his head. "Sit down?"
"Actually, I was hoping to get some proper clothes on."
A crooked frown broke across Harry's face. "Oh."
Severus scowled. He perched himself on the edge of the bed. "You've spent far too much time around Muggles."
"Not my fault."
"You could make some effort to change. You're a wizard, after all."
"Maybe I don't want to change." Harry glanced up at him. "I like trousers."
"How can you say that?"
"I do. And I still think they look nice on you, too. Quite frankly, robes still sort of make me feel like I'm dressed like a girl."
"Bollocks. Men's robes are completely different from women's."
"Well, as far as I'm concerned, it's a dress." Harry scratched his cheek. "If you don't mind, I'm going to start wearing jeans again sometimes. Should have some that actually fit now."
"Maybe I think it's indecent to fly around with only my pants under my uniform! I actually suggested a uniform change once. Did you know that?"
Severus shook his head, staring at Harry. "That's ridiculous. That uniform hasn't changed in--"
"Exactly. Maybe it's time it did." With a vicious tug, Harry pulled his robe down to cover more of his legs. His socked feet poked out at the bottom, toes curled in tight.
"Then perhaps you ought to take up Muggle sports instead. It sounds as though you're regretting quite a lot of what you are."
Harry shrugged. "Maybe."
"Or are you only regretting me?"
Harry shrugged again. "Don't think so."
"Ah. Your conviction is overwhelming." Clenching his jaw, Severus pushed himself to his feet. "If you'll excuse me, I'd like to be properly dressed."
"Sit down. Please."
Harry's voice, little more than a whisper, seemed to jerk at Severus' sternum. Severus sat with little control in the matter. "What?"
"Why are we here?"
"I've already told you. To keep you safe."
"But it's making me miserable. You're not yourself. You're... I don't know, scared of your own shadow half the time and horrid the other half. It's almost like being back in Potions sometimes." Harry frowned, a sad, distant flicker in his eyes. "I haven't even been in any rooms except this one and the study and the dining room and the kitchen. The sitting room's too creepy to be comfortable. Feel like I'm in a cell here."
"You're welcome to leave any time you want."
Harry shook his head. "It's not that. Only, it's sort of like staying with the Dursleys. I can't go anywhere in my own house."
"I've never forbidden you from any room but the study."
"You've never said I could go in them either. You're enough of a pain in the arse you'd say that's the same as not being allowed."
"Ah." Severus shifted. He crossed one foot over his knee, let it fall, jerked at the trousers again. "Very well. I give you full permission to explore the rest of the house, provided you don't ask me to accompany you. If I wish to descend into the pits of memory, I shall do so of my own accord."
"If you have any questions about which room is which, I shall answer them freely."
"Thanks." Harry paused, his mouth twisting. "Which one's yours?"
"At the far end of the corridor, across from the stairs."
"Philia's is next to it?"
Harry squirmed against the pillows. "How about Eversor's?"
Severus refused to stiffen, refused to show any sign of emotion. "Other side of Gran's."
"All right. Thank you. Um, anything else I ought to know?"
"The stairs at the end of the hall, next to the main landing, lead to the attic. If you can get in, don't go up there without a wand. I don't believe there are any wards left apart from the locking ones, but I'd rather not take the risk."
"Agh." Harry gave him a wide-eyed, somewhat perturbed look. "Don't think I'll be going up there much."
"A sensible plan. Is there anything else you'd like to know?"
"Um, where's Philia's lab?"
Severus looked at him. "If you wouldn't mind," he said in a soft voice, "I'd rather you didn't go down there before I've had a chance to inspect it. It's... somewhat personal."
"All right." Harry's eyes glinted in the warm, white glow of the gaslights. He slid a foot across the bed and used it to stroke Severus' hip. Severus tried to smile, but it felt more like a grimace.
"Is there anything else you'd like?" he asked.
Harry shook his head. "Nothing besides the obvious."
"Very well." Severus allowed himself a few more moments of Harry's small affection before pulling away and up. "Should you have any other... requests, you've no reason not to ask."
Severus nodded in his general direction and swept towards the bathroom. He resisted the temptation to glance behind him, just in case Harry wasn't watching the trousers he'd professed such appreciation over. The idea of his maritus watching him that way made Severus feel just a tiny bit better in spite of it all.
Severus re-capped the milk and shoved it back in the icebox. He grumbled as a blast of frigid air burst out of what looked more like a stone pantry than the shiny white box at the Autumn House. Goosebumps rose on his bare legs. Grumbling, he grabbed his glass and the plate of Ginger Newts he'd nicked from Harry's stash and staggered towards the stairs. A burst of lightning lit the kitchen window; a moment later, the house shivered in the answering thunder.
Harry was asleep, but Severus could still read (and possibly get crumbs on Harry's side of the bed) if he kept the lights low. His mouth cracked in a small grin at the mental image of Harry grumping over a few bits of biscuit. He yawned, stifling it with his wrist, and smacked his mouth a few times, scratching his stomach with the edge of the plate.
A violent knock on the front door nearly sent both milk and biscuits flying. Severus growled, steadying the plate against his chest and slurping spatters of milk from his hand. "I'm going to kill that stupid mutt," he muttered.
One of the elves must have gotten the door - Dobby, from the sound of things - because a high-pitched voice wheezed, "You is not coming in! Mister Harry Potter and Master Severus is being asleep! Please, you is waiting until--"
"Just tell me where he is."
Severus arched an eyebrow. "What in Hell are you doing here at this hour, Emily?" he called. "What are you doing here, period?"
Before he could move, heavy footsteps pounded over the floor. Emily burst through the kitchen door. Her hair was drenched and matted, dripping down her face, and her robe left puddles on the floor. She wore neither cloak nor hat, and looked as though she'd been ready for a night of marking rather than barging in uninvited. Panting, leaning in the doorway, she fixed him with a glower of which Gran would have been proud. "Where's the rest of it?"
"The rest of what?"
"Don't play dumb with me, Severus Snape." She stuffed a hand into her pocket and fished out the crumpled pages of Perditus' journal. She held them up, still glaring. "There are only four potential applications for this formula in the entire Restricted Section, and you had one of them on your arm. Show me the rest right now."
"I have no idea what you're talking about." He shifted, trying to close his dressing gown without the aid of hands and ignoring the puddle of milk around his slippers. "It is one o'clock in the morning--"
"And I've just spent nine hours in the library, so you had better cough up the rest before I take this house apart from the rafters down."
"I don't see why this can't wait."
Emily scoffed. "Are you really that thick? You could have the entire design plan for the Dark fucking Mark sitting around in a book someplace, and you don't see why it can't wait. Do you have any idea what would happen if someone got hold of that?"
"Oh? What about the other three applications?"
"Somehow, given your background, I don't think this has much to do with Invisibility Boosters, a magical catapult that blew up the only time it was tested, or the Animagus transformation."
Severus snorted. "Goodnight, Emily."
She blocked the doorway before he could get through. "Give me the book, and I'll go straight back to Hogwarts."
"That book isn't leaving this property, nor are any of the others."
"There are others?"
"Why wouldn't there be? It's no matter to anyone but me, though, so I shall bid you--"
"Give me the book or I'll cast the Imperius Curse on you. I swear to god, Severus, I'll do it." She thrust out her wand. Severus blinked.
"For this, I would. Show me the rest of the goddamn formula."
"You mad little cow."
"Just give me the book and a place to look through it, and I'll be out of your hair."
"Tell me what that formula is first. How do you know it's part of the Dark Mark? How d'you even know it could work?"
"Because its only practical function involves setting a variable that causes the object in question to return to its original state. It was part of the spell Grindelwald used to mark his followers, and I wouldn't put it past You-Know-Who to use the same trick. Nobody uses this formula, Severus! It's too complicated! You'd have to be a genius or a certified loon to even know about it! And I've already calculated the proof, and it works!" She shook the pages; her sleeve sent water droplets all over the floor.
Severus arched an eyebrow. He nudged his way past her. "I don't understand why this couldn't have waited at least until sunup."
"Because it's important. Please." She grabbed his elbow. "If I don't see the rest of it, I think I'm going to snap."
They stared at each other. Emily still panted, her eyes wild. She shoved the hair back from her face and held it there, along with her wand. Severus grunted and shook his head.
"Very well. Follow me. If I find you've left the grounds with it, I'll never speak to you again."
"I'm not going anywhere." She yawned. "Got any coffee?"
A few minutes later, Emily was settled at the dining room table. The lamps were lit en masse, and rolls of blank parchment were stacked in a neat pyramid near her right hand. A large jug of coffee sat there as well. Severus swallowed hard against the rich, warm scent of Heaven wafting from it. He watched as Emily flipped through the book; when she found the place where the pages had been ripped out, she stuck them back in with Spellotape.
"Is that all, o mistress of barging in at all hours?"
"Hmm." Emily squinted at a page. She rubbed her eyes. "Dammit. Spent too much time in the dust."
With a small sigh, Severus reached into his dressing gown pocket and held out his glasses. "If you break them, I'll have your head."
"Thanks," Emily drawled with more than an edge of sarcasm. "I love you, too." Still she took them and slid them on. Severus grunted his satisfaction when they crept down her nose.
"If you need anything, the elves are someplace. I'm not entirely sure where they go."
"Pantry," Emily said.
"House-elves usually sleep in a pantry. They're able to modify small, enclosed areas. It's called elf-space. Hard to explain, advanced Arithmancy. Lots of imaginary numbers."
"Ah. I'm sure that's very fascinating at a sensible hour."
"Hmm." Emily was already leaning on her elbows, reading the first page of the journal. She pressed a finger into each temple bar where they hooked over her ears.
"Well. Have a pleasant night with your formulae."
"G'night, hon," Emily said absently. She picked up her quill and scribbled what would likely prove to be the first of many notes.
Severus sniffed. He picked up his biscuits and what remained of his milk and trotted upstairs. (He stopped by Perditus' study for a moment, just to make sure the door was locked.) On the way up the stairs, he paused by the portrait of his father. They squinted at each other.
"What did you do?" Severus asked.
Perditus said nothing. He pursed his mouth, though, and turned a few degrees away from his son.
"As much of a useless bastard as you ever were, I see." Severus set down the corridor, fuming to himself. He barged into the bedroom with somewhat more force than planned.
Harry was sleeping. He lay still beneath the covers. His brow furrowed and he keened.
Frowning, Severus set down his things. He stretched across the bed. Harry's skin was damp and clammy beneath his fingers. "Settle down, mi Harry," he whispered. "It's only a nightmare."
"Hmm?" Harry's eyes cracked open. He blinked a few times. "Time'zit?"
"Nearly half one."
"Hmm. Y'need... sleep..."
He shifted closer to Severus' side of the bed and fell back into his private nightmare world. Severus stroked his cheek, traced the curve of his jaw, letting his hands re-familiarise themselves with the contours, before he shed his dressing gown and slid between the sheets. Once there, it struck him that Emily had his spectacles.
"Got two," Harry muttered, nestling deeper into the pillows. "Right where 'ey're s'posed t' be."
Severus sniggered. "Indeed." He leaned over and pressed a kiss to Harry's temple. Harry smacked his lips and settled a little closer.
"Don' eat all m' biccies."
"Why on Earth would you think I'm eating your biscuits?"
"C'n smell y'r... breath..." Harry trailed off with a soft wheeze.
Given the choice between an inevitable migraine and simply going to sleep, Severus decided sleep was probably called for. Or, at least, some sham of sleep. He stuffed two biscuits in his mouth whole, flooded them with milk until they went soft and malleable, swallowed, and drained his glass. He fished his wand from his dressing gown and waved it at the lights, muttering, "Nox."
The darkness, along with Harry's gentle breathing and the sounds of rain pelting on the thatch above, should have at least sent him towards relaxation, if not actual sleep. His mind, however, wouldn't stop drifting downstairs. A knot built in his stomach as he wondered precisely how much of Voldemort's reign had been the work of his own flesh and blood. Frowning, he pulled the covers over his head and tried to absorb as much of Harry's warmth as he could.
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