The Last Battlefield
"Have you anything else to add?" Montague asked.
Severus only glowered. A tiny rush of satisfaction went through him when Montague cleared his throat and shifted his chair an inch behind Moody. Moody's magical eye rolled back in his head towards Montague; the scarred old bastard snorted.
"Something bothering you, Yves?"
"No, sir," Montague growled through his teeth.
A cruel grin broke out on Moody's face. "Good thing they got me out of retirement, isn't it? Wouldn't want to think about what might've happened if you'd been in charge."
Montague turned red. Moody's eye swivelled around to the front again and fixed on Severus. "You sure you haven't got anythin' else?"
Moody snorted. He picked up a gavel from the table in front of him and banged it once. "Adjourned. Back here again in an hour. Not you, Snape."
Severus drew himself rigid. "Why? The rest of this hearing applies-"
"I know." Moody got to his feet in an odd, lurching motion. He leaned on his walking stick. "That's why. Got a bit of an influential presence. We just want to make sure it's not too influential."
Severus opened his mouth to argue. For once in his life, though, he closed it and turned on his heel to storm out. His footsteps echoed in the nearly empty room, the sound getting caught between benches that in any other hearing would have held dozens of spectators. He paused at the door to glance back. "Am I allowed to leave?"
Moody grunted. "What you do is your own business 'long as you keep it to yourself."
Behind him, Montague trembled. His fingers clenched as though closing around his wand. Severus shot him a nasty smile. Montague lifted his chin and stormed through the door to the judge's chambers, his worn grey robes flapping behind him.
Outside the courtroom, Severus found Harry sitting on a bench. His polished black shoes - almost identical to Severus' and so new they squeaked - dangled half an inch above the floor. Arthur sat next to him. They both looked up as Severus walked out.
"How'd it go?" Harry asked. His eyes were wide and just a bit brittle. In his hand he clutched Severus' - his, now - platinum-and-magicite watch. Turnip poked her head out of his collar, darted her tongue at Severus, and vanished once more into Harry's shirt.
Severus reached into his own pocket and fished out the bronze watch. He pressed the fob and glanced at their names before he held it out to Harry. "Still legal. We shall see what happens this afternoon."
Harry breathed a sigh of relief. Arthur patted him on the back.
"What did I tell you?" Arthur said. "Everything's going to work out for the best."
Harry nodded. He got to his feet and twisted at the hips. A low series of cracks came from his back. Severus winced.
"Have you got to do that?"
"Yeah. Doesn't sound any worse than you getting up in the morning."
"Perhaps when you're as old as I am you'll have earned the right to make unpleasant noises. Are we having lunch, or do you expect me to starve to death?"
Harry shrugged. "Leaky Cauldron?"
"Am I allowed all of my pie this time?"
"Hmm." Harry shot him a look. "Mention it to the doctor, and I'll have your head."
"Why on Earth would I mention anything to that insufferable buffoon?" Severus started to sweep towards the lifts.
"Hold up, Severus," Arthur called. "You haven't even got your cloak!"
"Am I expected to Disapparate from outside? I'm sure that should go over quite well on a busy London street."
"Well, you'll turn up again outside. Molly'll have some words for me if you freeze to death in the middle of Diagon Alley. Oh, speaking of Molly..." Arthur reached beneath Severus' cloak, which lay folded on the bench. He withdrew a black, cabled jumper, its single initial glaring out for all the world to see.
Severus' nose wrinkled. "I'm not a child, you know. I think I'm allowed to go out without my jumper."
Harry cleared his throat. He folded his arms and glared.
Severus sneered at him. "You stay out of this."
Harry arched a deliberate eyebrow. "Sev..."
A few minutes later, they appeared in Diagon Alley. Apart from Severus' righteous indignation at being forced to wear his jumper like a snot-nosed brat, none of them really spoke until they'd gotten settled at the Leaky Cauldron. Only when Tom had taken their orders (two steak and kidney pies, and one chicken and vegetable despite Severus' best attempts to have some proper red meat) did Harry touch Severus' hand.
"Um," he asked, "what happened?"
"To which part are you referring?"
"All of it."
"Hmm." Severus planted his elbow on the table and rested his chin on his laced fingers. "I saw Blaise."
Harry growled. "Oh?"
"Yes. They finally got the whole story out of him. Needed a bit of help to do it, mind."
"What sort of help?" Arthur asked.
"He wasn't going to break his own Kept secret without persuasion, was he? They finally gave him Veritaserum, sat him down, and had me answer everything I could in his presence. I simply," Severus licked his lips, "implemented the subtle art of selective lying."
Arthur cocked his head. "What?"
"You greasy bastard." Harry grinned up at Severus.
"What are you talking about?" Arthur glanced back and forth between the two of them. "I still don't quite foll--oh."
Severus chuckled. "Finally caught up, then?"
Arthur shrugged. "Sorry, you're the one for subterfuge. He really cracked that easily then?"
"Quite. Corrected me on any number of things."
"Did they get anything else out of him?"
"Presumably. They took him away for a proper interrogation after a while. I found out enough, though."
"Hmm." Under the table, Severus laid a tentative hand on Harry's knee. Harry started. He pulled Severus' hand off and simply clutched it between their hips. Severus looked down at him. Harry gave an apologetic grimace.
"Go on?" he asked.
Still looking at him, Severus murmured, "He'd managed to persuade Fudge into believing that his reputation as Minister would be in peril so long as any bearer of the Dark Mark were still alive to serve as a reminder of what the Ministry had ignored. Apparently, he'd convinced our dear Minister that they were kindred spirits."
Arthur grunted. "Ministry lost a lot of good people over that. Cornelius ignoring things, I mean. Sackings left and right."
"What else?" Harry prompted.
"What else wou--?" Severus was most rudely interrupted by three pint glasses thumping the table.
"Hope I'm not disturbing anything," Tom said, grinning. His hair stuck out over his ears like tufts of feathers.
"Has anyone ever told you that you bear a striking resemblance to an overlarge pigeon?" Severus asked, glaring.
Tom only chuckled. "You, lad, sound just like my wife, rest her soul. Ah, the memories." He stood there a moment, smiling to himself with a tray tucked under his arms. "Anything else you fellows need?"
Tom laughed. "Down to the nose." He wandered off, still chuckling under his breath.
Severus stared after the man's retreating back. His eye twitched. With a shudder, he picked up his cider and black and took a hefty mouthful. "I'm not hallucinating, am I? He brought my nose into this."
"Yep." Harry picked up his ale and squinted at it. Turnip crawled out over the back of his hand to inspect the liquid as well.
"For fuck's sake." Severus took another drink. "I know my family didn't keep track of its younger offspring, but have I got to be reminded of the depths to which they drifted?"
"That isn't very nice," Arthur said. He peeled off his glasses and huffed on them before scrubbing at the lenses with a handkerchief printed with orange and green stars. "Did you know her?"
"No. Thankfully. Would have died of shame."
"Hey, wow, you mean there's something that could do it?" Harry grinned up at him. Before Severus could snarl, the brat squeezed his hand. "What else did you find out?"
"You mean apart from the Imperius-Cursed Auror who was sent to our house?"
"Ah," Harry said. He pursed his mouth, scowling at his drink. "Zabini again?"
Arthur made a noise and put his spectacles back on. "Did you find out what was going on with Arsenius Jigger? Ginny's been on pins every time Molly's talked to her since Christmas. Surprised she wasn't 'round this weekend with you two staying."
Severus snorted. He stifled a bitter little frown. "Perhaps she's been busy." He took another drink. When he set the glass down, it was two-thirds empty. "At least those fucking Aurors are out of my house now."
"My house," Harry corrected through a sip.
"The house." Severus glowered at him for a moment. "Anyhow. Yes, I've spoken with Arsenius. He's finally got most of his memory back. They had him in this morning at the crack of dawn. I'm not entirely clear on the situation myself, but it seems Fudge decided they needed someone on the outside and Bauble was one of the first people to come to his mind."
"Why?" Arthur asked.
"Because he's a troublemaker with a clear agenda. He's been after the Ministry over his 'nuptial rights' for decades. He's also got - or had - Ministerial ties through his work. Department of Magical Objects."
"That's right!" Arthur nodded and picked up his stout. "I've seen him at the office."
"Hmm. So, yes, obvious. Seems he was friends with Arsenius, and when Arsenius refused for once in his life to make a potion, Bauble placed him under the Imperius Curse and then modified his memory."
"Hmm. Bauble also fetched one of the ingredients." Severus paused. "Seems he also had Arsenius make a couple of spare vials of Unicorn Blood serum."
"I thought Zabini told you Saint Mungo's made that." Harry frowned into his drink. "Which probably should have been my first clue."
The corners of Severus' mouth curled downwards. He stroked Harry's hand with his thumb. "Saint Mungo's barely even looked at the formula. They sent it straight to the Committee for Experimental Potions. Acacia Slug mixed the potion as requested, but Arsenius decanted it and made an extra few vials instead of destroying the excess. I suppose out of habit he simply continued labelling them normally rather than marking them all number four."
"That's really confusing," Harry said. He wriggled a little closer to Severus. The sleeve of his green jumper slid down so it tickled Severus' knuckles. "Why'd they have to make it so complicated?"
"Because if it had been simple, it would have been easier to connect the dots. I suppose I should be thankful that Blaise is an overemotional fool." Severus sighed. He gnawed at his lip. "I still haven't worked out how half of Azkaban was wiped out with a non-contagious fungus, though."
"Ah," Arthur looked innocent, "Saint Mungo's did some checks. They finally isolated a magical substrain from one of the victims. Vicious thing, can infect a wizard even if he's only got hay fever. It's actually a strain they've had trouble with at Azkaban a couple of times before, seeing what sort of shape most of the prisoners are in."
Harry's jaw dropped in confusion. Severus squinted at Arthur. "How on Earth do you know that?"
The top of Arthur's head turned red. "Ran into Mad-Eye in the toilet," he mumbled. "I think he's glad this mess is nearly over. They'd only brought him out of retirement to look into your cousin's house. He's been wanting to get back to his greenhouses for months."
"You have the queerest taste in friends, Arthur." Severus cupped his chin, shooting Arthur a weary look. He tried very hard not to picture Mad-Eye Moody anywhere near a toilet.
Arthur shrugged. "Part of being friendly, I suppose."
"Are you implying I'm less than pleasant?"
Harry sniggered into his drink. "There's the understatement of the decade."
Arthur shook his head, smiling. "You two really are made for each other."
"Frightening, isn't it?" Harry said. "Just wait until we've got kids!"
Severus pursed his mouth. He was very glad when his pie arrived a few moments later. He picked at the crust while Harry and Arthur discussed Harry's inevitable return to the world of Quidditch. Severus decided he could wait a little while longer to mention the unpleasant change in their pending familial situation.
Perhaps half an hour later, he found himself outside the courtroom with an armful of Harry. Severus hugged him back, pressing his face into the side of Harry's neck.
"You don't have to stay if you don't want to," Harry whispered.
"Thank you. I don't believe I shall." Severus shivered. "If I never see this place again, it shall be too soon."
"I know." Harry pressed a kiss to his cheek and worked himself free of Severus' grasp. He smiled, although it was a bit tense. "It'll be fine. They'll listen to me."
"I should certainly hope so. Do try not to give them any details that are too private?"
"Like the story of the time you ambushed me in the bath and we nearly lost the soap?"
"I'll just tell them enough. I promise."
"Good," Severus said.
"Because I've already told them the bath story, and I think they'd quite like something new."
Severus' flank was still stinging by the time Harry vanished into the courtroom with a reassuring backward glance. Still, the moment the door closed, Severus found himself very, very much wishing he could have gone with him.
A hand touched him on the back. "Severus? Would you like to go back to the Burrow? I'm sure Molly'd be happy to keep you company."
Severus shook his head. "I think I'd like to check the house."
"No, the other one."
"Ah, that's right. Sirius was going to be there today, wasn't he?"
Severus made a noise of disgust. "I'll thank you not to try to dissuade me from going before I've even taken a step."
Arthur laughed. He shook Severus' hand and pushed him towards the lifts. "Go on."
Severus reappeared in front of the Autumn House. He'd forgotten how cold the north got in winter. He pulled his cloak tighter and adjusted his gloves. For once, if four days could count towards 'for once,' his damnable Weasley jumper was making itself useful. He blinked against the chilly wind cutting across the snow-caked landscape before him. The house looked rather like the illusion on the one at Holme, if a bit more crumbled.
Nudging the gate, he stepped through. The young cherry tree in the front yard was grey and lifeless, although if he squinted he could make out the tiniest nubs of leaf buds on the tips of the lower branches. A steady shunt-pink sound came from the back of the house. Sniffling against the frigid wind, Severus trudged around towards it.
When he got there, Black glanced up and grunted at hime. The mongrel took a nail from his mouth, placed it against a bit of heavy timber he'd somehow fitted into the frame of the house, and shot the nail through both it and its crosspiece. He took the other three out of his mouth. "How'd it go?"
"Hmm. Harry is giving his perspective on the issue."
"You didn't stick around?"
"Hmm. Good point. I wouldn't want to spend an afternoon at the Ministry, either." Black sunk another nail before he turned with a puzzled look. "What are you doing here?"
"I didn't much want to go back to the Burrow, either. Or Holme."
"At least those fucking Aurors are finally clearing out." Severus sat down on a pile of bricks sitting nearby. He rubbed his temples. "I'm still having a hard time believing it, you know."
"I'm not. Wouldn't put anything past some of those fucking Slytherins. Present company occasionally excepted."
"Just, I suppose, as I wouldn't put anything past some of those fucking Gryffindors, present company not excepted in any capacity."
Black shook his head. "Of course, you realise it's really the Hufflepuffs we need to watch out for. Nasty bastards, the lot of them, take over the world first chance they got."
Much to his own surprise, Severus snorted. He fought a thin smile. "Funny you should say that. My father was a Hufflepuff."
"Sounds like you need a new father."
"Hmm. Quite." Severus wrung his index finger, trying not to think about two other children who had needed new fathers.
"Did they ever get the whole story out of Zabini?"
"Enough. He refused to admit anything until I told them my whole story in front of him, with a handful of details changed. He took it like a bloody fish."
"Hell of a way to break your own Kept secret."
"Indeed. Not even Arsenius had been able to get anything out of him, and Arsenius once convinced Gran to attend a fancy dress ball with him."
"I really can't picture anyone related to you going to a fancy dress ball."
"Precisely my point."
"How is he?"
"Hmm. A bit angry, a bit confused. His memory's not back in full yet. After what he's gone through, I'm not terribly surprised."
"Why in Hell would anyone do that to him?"
"A matter of the heart. Bauble's the one who did it. Fudge put through a bill to make it legal for him to marry that Fob bloke, in exchange for his services." Severus shook his head. "Shan't happen in my lifetime."
He looked around, frowning. The trees all around him were bare, grey, their bony branches clawing at the wind. "It's naked here."
"Yeah, that's what Lily always said. I'm thinking about putting in a few evergreens to cheer the place up a bit in winter. Maybe some holly as well."
"How's Harry today?"
Severus pursed his mouth. "Alive. Still in a bit of shock, I think, but he's hiding it well. He's in more than good enough condition to give his testimony without my," Severus sneered, "influential presence."
"Quiet. They'll listen. Ministry's in enough chaos right now they can't afford not to. Remember, they haven't even got a proper Minister right now." Black fired another nail into the house's framework. "Molly brought me some lunch a little while ago. She said Penny and Percy have finally settled on a name. Good timing. She's due today."
"Dare I ask?"
"Percy Ignatius, junior."
"Oh, Hell. That poor child!"
Black chuckled. "Don't worry, I suspect he'll take after his mum."
Severus snorted. "We can only hope." He frowned. "Since when have I been civil to you anyway?"
"Since a nutcase tried to bump off both my godsons right under my nose?"
"Hmm." Severus crossed his legs, pulling his cloak tighter around his shoulders.
Black attacked the frame one more time. "Have something for you."
"If it's one of those nails through my skull, you ought to know I'm armed."
"Quiet." Black fished something out of his pocket. He trotted over to Severus and, before Severus could stop him, grabbed him and popped something through the hole in his earlobe. "There."
"What on Earth are you doing to me, Black?" Severus' hand flew to his ear. A small stone stud - sapphire, if Black were being his predictable self - sat there, warm from an interminable time in Black's pocket. Severus glowered. "You might have at least cleaned it first."
"It's clean enough. How's the heart?"
"Brilliant! Harry's going to be a while, isn't he?"
"I, Severus, am adding another floor to this house. Given that your godchildren are Weasleys, we're going to need all the room we can get."
"We could tie you up in the yard."
Black rolled his eyes. He dragged Severus to his feet and shoved a handful of nails into his palm. "You're helping rebuild this place, whether you want to or not."
"Bloody well am not!"
"Bloody well are, or I'm nailing you to the framework." Black parked him in front of an exposed beam. He hurried away and returned with a piece of timber, which he fitted into place between two of the heavy beams. "Now, I'll hold the plank in place, and you drive the nail in when I tell you to."
"You'll have to stand closer than that if you expect me to reach you."
"Hush. Your father ought to have done something like this with you."
"Gran did. When she was able."
"Hmm. Well, maybe it's time you had a proper father figure in your life. And I don't mean Albus. Great-great-great-grandfather figure, more like."
"Not to all of us," Severus murmured.
"Only insulting your mother."
Black sighed. He set the plank. "Come on, get on with it."
Severus glanced at him. Black smiled, the wind tugging at a few strands of his hair that had strayed from under his knitted cap. Arching an eyebrow, Severus placed the first of his nails. He pointed his wand and muttered. The nail slid into the wood with a bang.
Harry breathed next to him, clutching a pillow, his eyes half hidden behind hair that had slid over them in his sleep. Severus glanced at him. Fawkes had shed on his pillow earlier. The scarlet feathers made a warm contrast to the stark white of the pillowcase. Turnip was curled up atop Harry's head, her open eyes blind to all but her dreams. They had finally vacated the Burrow in favour of an Auror-free Holme.
With a small sigh, Severus turned the page of his book. Mister Potter, your taste in literature is mind-boggling.
Already that evening he'd gone through more florid tales of Things From Beyond than he'd ever read before in his life. Much to his annoyance, he seemed to be developing quite a taste for the things. Still, next to the bed sat The Princess Bride, a hasty retrieval from the Autumn House the previous afternoon. Their - his and Harry's - place from months before was still marked near the back.
A sudden whimper tore him away from the page. Harry's eyes were crushed shut. He cringed beneath the blankets. "No... Please, don't, not again..."
"Mister Potter," Severus snapped. Harry didn't respond. Severus reached over and shook him by the shoulder. He yanked his hand away just as Harry bolted upright with a yelp.
For a long moment, they stared at each other. Turnip lolled and twitched in Harry's hair. Harry finally slumped. "Oh, god, it's only you."
"Of course it's only me. Unless, of course, I've been replaced by one of the things in these stories." Severus indicated the book in his hand.
Harry gave him a weak smile. He burrowed back down under the covers. Turnip slid down and flicked the side of his face with her tongue. Not quite looking up, Harry mumbled, "Don't suppose you feel up to reading to me a bit? Just until I can get back to sleep."
"No. The other one."
"Ah." Severus marked his place and traded H.P. Lovecraft for William Goldman. "As you wish."
Harry giggled. As Severus opened his book, the brat slid closer. Severus raised an eyebrow at him. Neither said a word as Harry slithered under Severus' arm and nestled into his side. His cheek came to rest on Severus' shoulder.
"This all right?" Harry murmured.
"I don't know. Is it?"
Harry paused. "Yeah," he said. "I think it is."
The corner of Severus' mouth twitched. He leaned over just enough to press a kiss to Harry's temple. He felt the muscle beneath go taut as Harry smiled. Severus settled further into his mound of pillows and asked, "Shall we start at the beginning?"
"Why not?" Harry snuggled closer, his hand coming to rest just over Severus' heart. The warmth of his body filled the old bed until Severus could hardly believe anyone but the two of them had ever slept in it at all.
It wasn't everything he wanted but, for now, it was enough.
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