Chapter 38 — Fateful Escape, Part II
"How long have you been here watching?" Snape asked the figure exploring the edges of the room.
This world's Harry crossed his arms, wand dangling at his side with confident ease. "Long enough to wonder what you're doing." When they did not reply to this, he added, "I doubt I could repeat the spell, if that's your concern. Without knowing what it does, I probably wouldn't try."
Harry thought his counterpart to be lying, but there was nothing for it. To Snape he said, "What's next?"
Snape gestured for him to come closer, then whispered, "We are almost finished. The candles must be lit, simultaneously, and the Device anchored. That is it." He reached as if to pull out the notes, but did not open them again. "The procedure is unclear from here. The anchoring instructions are repeated, and I am not certain why. But I expect either the Device will activate, or not. If it does not, we shall repeat as necessary." Snape turned his body and leaned closer to better hide his voice. "What do you propose we do with your counterpart?"
Harry shrugged. "What can we do? Who am I to insist someone not visit other worlds? If we remove the anchor from our own, he will most likely not make it to ours."
"Odds are, he won't, but I am still uneasy."
"I'd hate to damage his memory with a spell. He's got enough to worry about."
Snape sighed. "I agree with that. That said, the anchoring in the instructions is vague on another point. How do you choose where you wish to go?"
"I just think about the key features of the place and people and I get taken there."
"And you can return to that place again, with some reliability," Snape added, half a question.
"Well, yes. I think."
"Then we shall leave that step to you." Shielded by his body, he held out the notes.
Harry said, "If we are leaving it to me, I don't need the notes."
Without turning to look, he gave a snapping wave of his wand arm that lit the candles, adding, "It is yours then. Perhaps you can keep the incantations quiet enough to not be heard." Snape backed off, sober face limned by warm candlelight.
Harry glanced at the notes and, while imagining himself poised to travel home, began the last stage of the spell. The Device crackled, the candles popped. Harry glanced back at his guardian and began again, only to have the same result, worse yet, he had a sense of the interstice warping in some stomach lurching way he had never felt before.
Snape joined him again, whispering, "You are enforcing your will upon the Device, I believe. What are you visualizing?"
"I'm imaging Candide at home, waiting."
"But she is not."
"But she will be if we don't make it."
"Perhaps Candide does not make a good anchor, since we do not actually know for certain what she imagines about what is happening." Snape held his hands out for the notes. "Perhaps I should continue the spell."
"What are you going to visualize?"
"I will think of something," Snape said, turning to face the Device. "Perhaps you should attempt to convince our visitant to depart or, failing that, at least distract him, "
Harry slowly moved away while Snape intoned the spell just under his breath. His eyes closed, face intent as the dead language flowed out. The candle flames rose and fell rather than sputtering, breathing with a life of their own. The flames stretched longer, reaching for some distant satellite, tracked its course over the house, then returned to straining straight up. Harry wished he knew whether to view this as a positive sign or not.
With a quick check of his beard, Harry retreated from the candles' warmth and sidled over to his counterpart, whose mesmerized gaze remained fixed on Snape and the Device.
Harry said, "You really should go."
The other bit his lip momentarily before turning to Harry. "Tell me what you are doing, first if you want me to go."
"It is a spell that allows me to go home."
"You're leaving?" the young man asked, sharply. "You're letting some old portrait tell you what to do?"
"Aren't you?" Harry prodded with a gentleness that made him cringe with his own memories of where else he had heard it.
His counterpart smirked as he returned to observing the incantation. "I guess you did know Dumbledore."
"He is correct that it is my time to go. He is mistaken about the reason, but he is only a portrait, and cannot understand."
They both observed the spell execution. Harry sensed movement under his feet, like sand sifting out with a receding wave. He dearly wanted this over with. He considered what argument might convince himself to leave under such circumstances, finally settling on: "Harry, this does not involve you. It involves something I must do to make right the unexpected consequences of my own lack of magical control. Your being here puts that at risk. I will send Severus back to you just as soon as we are finished here."
Reaching for snide and setting his shoulders more confidently, the other Harry said, "You don't want to keep him?"
"Severus is my family. And the answer is too complicated to explain right now. I'll say that I do expect you to protect him."
The other Harry turned to lock gazes again. Reflected glowing pentagrams shimmered in his eyes. "Do I answer to you if I fail at that?"
"Fair enough question," Harry said, thinking hard, knowing his answer mattered greatly to the impostor, for whom it would actually apply. "I realize your task is overwhelmingly important, but you will need Severus to guide you after it is all over. That I know. Your friends are not strong enough for this task. For your own good, you need to protect him. But I realize that may prove impossible, so I will certainly not exact revenge if you fail to do so." Harry's voice wavered, struck weak by bad possibility.
His counterpart appeared to notice, because he quickly looked away again.
Harry went on. "You will need Severus close by to avoid becoming a hazard to your friends and wizarddom. I know that seems impossible now, but it isn't."
The other Harry dropped his gaze, which had the effect of making his eyes dim, no longer reflecting the Device. In the darkness their piercing green failed to make up the difference.
After a space, jaw tight, the young man said, "It won't matter for long. I think Dumbledore is going to insist I kill myself at the end of this." When he received no response, he went on, jaw tight, "Don't you think so?"
Harry had difficulty contemplating that, had difficulty pulling in a full breath. "I don't know what he will ask of you. I certainly hope it isn't that." Harry meant it, and it came through clearly in his voice. He raised a hand and brushed his counterpart's arm, and the other young man moved casually to get out of reach.
Harry withdrew his hand, but immediately raised it to his forehead, which felt needled. His counterpart gasped at the same time and ducked, pressing his fist against his scar.
"Severus, hide!" Harry shouted across the hall, and dragged his counterpart toward the closest doorway, that to the library.
His counterpart, with a tight-lipped moan, tossed his invisibility cloak over both of them, just as the candles fluttered and a dark, swirling form landed in the center of the hall. Harry gripped the sleeves of his counterpart to hold him up, and held stock still, leaning around the door frame to observe from under the cloak's protection.
Voldemort prowled the room, his muted face turning this way and that as he stalked around the Device. Harry held his wand at ready, prepared to distract him should he make a move toward the drawing room where Snape must have hidden. But Voldemort strode to the center of the hall and called out, "I know you are here, Potter. Save us both a lot of pain and come out and face your short future."
With a swish, the white skinned face turned one way, then the other, as if sniffing out two possible enemies. Harry pushed fully into the library and whispered, "I'll keep him distracted while you get away."
This world's Harry stared at him, flinching again with the pain in his scar. Harry said, "I can distract him long enough for you to get at Nagini. Go on. Take the cloak and go." Harry tossed the cloak off and untangled himself from the hem of it.
The other gathered the cloak around his shoulders, head floating disembodied. He grabbed Harry's robes and whispered, "You can't stay."
Out in the hall, a stalking Voldemort, called out, "I don't know what kind of childish magic you are attempting here, but it will not work. You cannot leave this place except through me."
Harry, fearing for the Device, quickly canceled his disguise, and with a wave of Ravenclaw's spells, opened a broken arched doorway in the outer stone wall. "GO!" he commanded in as harsh a whisper as he dared.
His counterpart gaped at him, eyes roving his face. "He . . . he won't be fooled by that."
"GO," Harry tried again and gave a forceful shove on his counterpart's arm.
The other stumbled and tossed his cloak over his head, but raised it up like an anti-cave to warn: "He'll know you're not me!"
Harry turned and marched out the library door to find Voldemort standing before the Device. Harry said, "You're looking for me?"
The figure turned, wand extended toward Harry, pinched with queer delicacy between alabaster fingers. "Ah, Potter. So, you are here. My servants often fail me, but not this time, it seems."
"You didn't bring any of those friends?" Harry asked, stalling, hoping his counterpart had departed, but fearing he had not.
Smug now, in the terrifying way only he could be, Voldemort said, "I can bring them at any time."
Harry dropped his shoulders and shifted his feet, pretending boredom in the face of what felt like a churning dark hole in the fabric of his inner mind.
Voldemort said, "It is past time for you to die, but only after I learn what game you are playing at here."
Harry shrugged, dragging things out as long as possible. He had to assume his counterpart was taking advantage as he advised. Voldemort swept his arms wide and stepped to the side to glance back at the Device. Harry wondered if he felt it instinctively the same way he did.
"A First-Year's silly project, it looks like," Voldemort sneered, and Harry hoped he honestly believed that. Perhaps he was unaware of grey worlds overlaying this one, even as he caused such a violent wrinkle in them. Harry pushed those musings away, lest they be snagged from him in a moment of weakness.
Voldemort aimed his wand directly at Harry's head. His cloak fluttered oddly around him, at once weightless and infinitely heavy. "What is this, Potter?"
"What does it look like?" Harry mocked back.
"Dark Magic. Which your former mentor would be most saddened to hear you are attempting." His wand lowered, aiming at Harry's knees now. "Perhaps you can be turned. Does the power of this thing call to you?"
Reluctant to reply, but eager to stall, Harry nodded.
Voldemort laughed with a chuffing sound. "Yes, I can see it making your eyes glow, even from here." Voldemort considered him as the candles fluttered in a draft before stilling again. "Why don't you join me, Potter? It would be so much easier. I'll make certain your little friends are safe. Isn't that what you want?"
Voldemort tried for reassuring, but the treacly flow of his voice made Harry's skin creep up his arms. Harry rubbed his scar, half without thinking. Voldemort's voice dropped, "If you accept me, that will hurt less." He gestured at the Device behind him. "Forget these infantile attempts at schoolbook Dark Magic. I can show you things you never imagined."
Yeah, right, Harry thought. "Like what?" he asked, unable to not sound derisive.
"You doubt me?" Voldemort asked. His chest and shoulders inflated, making him appear to swell and float above the floor. His wand arm struck out, but Harry was right with him, throwing up a counter to the Snake Conjuration Curse. The spells exploded between them, sending pink and yellow streamers swimming through the hall, hissing.
Voldemort hesitated, surprised. Harry took one breath and came back with the most forceful Chain Binding he could. His most practiced spell worked for half a second before the links melted. A Blasting Curse came back. Harry threw a Rubber Shield over it, but it still shifted the stones in the walls around them as it dissipated.
Intense instinct pumped through Harry's limbs. He half spun, light footed and ecstatically alive, to literally throw a Cutting Curse across the hall. Voldemort managed a block, but he needed two steps to keep his feet. Harry did not let him recover, he followed up with a Whip Charm, aimed at Voldemort's ankles. But Voldemort had a better Counter than Harry knew existed, and Harry's wand tried to jerk out of his hand, and he hung on, getting tugged halfway across the room and dropped hard on the floor.
Harry struggled to draw a breath into flattened lungs. Voldemort strode closer. Harry sucked in a small fractional breath and worried that Snape may intervene. Between gasps, Harry squelched, mostly, the oncoming Crucio. Voldemort cried out faintly and staggered. Harry pushed himself to sit up, limbs singing with pain, gripping his wet and gritty wand. Voldemort's wand flashed with another Blasting Curse and Harry squelched this one right on time. Voldemort went airborne, met the wall beside the library door, and slid down it, stunned.
Harry stood up and brushed himself off. "I see you have a new wand," he said, indicating the elder wood wand Voldemort held.
Voldemort blinked, still returning to his senses. He held his wand up to examine it dazedly. Harry used a Expelliarmus to knock the wand away and it clattered along the wall where came to rest, glowing out of the shadows. As much as his distorted face would allow, Voldemort's expression grew sly and Harry felt a shifting in his inner vision, a flutter like birds changing direction in flight. In that instant, Harry sensed them, all the servant shadows, all at once. Breathless again, he teetered on his feet. He knew how to send a disturbance into that connection to irritate their Marks, but he had not known how to Summon. Summoning was not dissonance, it was more like song, tuned strings vibrating in the presence of a matching tone of music, rising and falling, calling all of them.
Harry cut it off. He threw his mental weight against the siren vibrato coursing through his inner mind, deadening it utterly. The room remained still.
Voldemort, growing wary, began to stand by clawing his way backwards up the wall. He tugged another more familiar wand out of his robes and aimed it at Harry.
"Sure you want to use that one?" Harry asked. "The one Dumbledore wanted you to have?" Harry bit his lip and gestured at himself with his fingers. "Come on. Want to show me what you can do with that one?"
Voldemort glanced at Harry's wand. Harry with vicious helpfulness said, "I can change to that one, if you'd like," indicating the fallen one across the room.
Voldemort's eyes flickered to the other wand and blinked, giving away that realization struck, and it was not a pleasant realization. His eyes were caught then by something else across the room that made his lip curl. Harry assumed he had spotted Snape, but did not risk turning to check.
Harry set his shoulders and drew his attention back at himself. "I'm tired of this. I'm tired of you killing my friends of you tormenting Muggles and wizards you don't approve of. I'm tired of this war."
Voldemort spelled a Curse, something that threatened to balloon to fill the entire hall. Harry did not even take the time to resister what it was beyond that, squashed down, the backlash was sufficient to knock Voldemort down again and force him to scrabble for his second wand. His hand shook before he got it aimed again, shoulder wedged against the wall to hold himself upright with his feet trying to find purchase.
Harry aimed his wand between Voldemort's scarlet eyes, yearning to finish this. His breath came in heaves as he fought the instinct not to just crush the darkness slithering before him, but to slip into its place and Summon his followers, to breath in not air, but unfathomable power and reach. Harry bit his lip hard, hunched over with the effort of resisting. So easy to just climb into the center of the web shimmering smokily right before him.
Weak with tormented effort and suddenly damp and cold in his clothes, Harry managed to hoarsely mock, "I've decided to take your advice and I'm not playing around any more, Tom. This is the beginning of the end for everything you've wanted."
This was not his place, Harry adamantly reminded himself. Snape waited. Candide waited. His friends would suffer. He could not risk killing this Voldemort. This world's Harry would have to fulfill his role. He himself could only escape this place, at best.
Voldemort lowered his wand, and Harry's jerked, triggered by the movement to ready a Counter. A ruffle shook Harry's robes and, with a burst of inky smoke, the other wizard vanished.
Harry turned to check the room and found Snape in the doorway to the drawing room, wand drawn. For a second he seemed to consider keeping it up against Harry, but he lowered it.
Harry was still catching his breath when Snape joined him, simple air no longer felt sufficient.
Snape considered their project for several breaths, mind elsewhere based on his expression. He finally said, "I was going to have you check the anchoring on the Device, but I think it is sufficient, given your state."
Harry stumbled up beside him. "No, I'll see if I can check."
Ignoring Snape's hand of assistance, Harry stood unsteadily before the Device, calmed by the glow of its ever breathing tapers. Snape took Harry's shoulders and tugged him aside. "Why don't you rest a moment?"
"I don't know how much time we have," Harry argued, desperate to go, to escape his rampant instincts to reach out and grab what should not be his. With a great swallow and forced calm, Harry asked, "How long do you think he'll be gone?"
Snape shook his head, hands still clasped on Harry's arms as if fearing he may slip free. "I have never seen him run like that, so I do not know." He patted Harry's sleeve and turned him more away from the Device. "Better yet, why don't you talk to me a bit."
Harry could not possibly describe what he felt. A dreamy sense of skirting above everything, untouchable warred with feeling bound into intimate contact with an entire army, if he just would let it be true. "We should go, Severus."
Snape gazed at him narrowly before saying, "Whatever you are going through . . . will it end when we leave this place?"
Through a haze of willful deceit, Harry managed to faintly shake his head.
Snape's fingers now hurt where they gripped. "Will it improve, at least?"
"Yes." Harry repeated. "Yes."
Snape turned him to the Device and held him there by the arms as they both gazed into it. Harry moved his toe to avoid bumping the closest candle, Snape forcefully stepped him back, like a puppet. Harry did not think he needed so much help. "I'm fine," he said, raising his arms to shake free of help.
"If you are certain," Snape said, remaining close, but letting go.
"I didn't kill him," Harry argued his case. "I wanted to."
"I noted that," Snape said. "But you do not seem quite yourself."
Harry brushed his hair back. "I'm the same self I always am," he muttered sadly, and felt better for admitting that. They stood side by side in silence, woven into their own thoughts until Harry said, "Let's get you home."
Snape took his arm again, grip hard as ever. "You will follow?"
Harry, who had not contemplated otherwise, blinked back at him in surprise. "Of course."
This calmed Snape considerably. "All right." Harry restrained him from entering the device, saying "Let me check it first."
Snape allowed himself to be pushed back out of the candles' immediate light. Harry drew in a deep well of air and relaxed his mind, pushing aside the cloying web of power that tried to smother him as he did so. The Device sat like an immovable island in a universe of chaos, and within it, Harry read peace, or at least relative peace: a place unstalked by Voldemort, where a few struggled to straighten out the Ministry of Magic after many battles, both for power and otherwise. Harry sensed himself, struggling with things beyond his maturity and innate coping skills, wishing for guidance from someone too far away to provide it. The candle flames veered and righted as he returned to the here and now. Smiling wryly, Harry stepped back and gestured like an invitation to Snape. "Feels okay. Better than here, for certain."
Snape uncrossed his arms and after handing Harry the instructions, held up his robes to step safely into the star-shaped void. "You are right that we must hurry. But that said, do be mindful of what you are doing."
With care to avoid igniting his robes or his hair, Snape crouched and uncurled himself, reaching out to align each limb along an arm of the pentagram before resting his head back on the unyielding floor. Harry dropped his eyes away from the sacrificial vision before him to squint at the phonetic notations beneath the original obscure alchemal codes. On the next sheet, the anchoring process was indeed repeated. Harry puzzled over this, wondering if he should try to execute that part. Haste weighed on him, and he began reading, figuring he could do that section if the spell failed without it.
Harry's voice sounded stilted and meaningless as he read, but the Device hummed to life, gathering a halo more substantial than the candles could account for. The last words of the incantation fell from his lips and he lifted his wand to copy the complex tracing in the air, trying very hard not to shape what was happening with his innate skill, but it was near impossible to hold back. He could feel the gateway contorting as it yawned wide, could sense possibilities stacking to infinity, making his knees weak. He wanted that peaceful place where the only enemy was his own weakness and his largest need for help from the one who, through atonement, had allowed him to find himself. In such a place he could imagine successfully overcoming what remained of Voldemort's legacy, and he ached with hope to get there.
The Device latched firmly and dilated open, making Harry hold his breath, steering without trying, but fearing to hold back. A rush of wind threatened the candle flames, sending them seeking outward from the Device in all directions. Visions shot along the flat edges of the pentagram then the wind rushed inward. Then silence.
Harry blinked at the still candles. Snape was gone. For an instant Harry stood there on his toes, startled by the sudden cessation of shifting Planes, but then alarm took over: Snape's counterpart had not arrived in his stead.
- 888 -
- 888 -
Having been mangled and shunted through an impossibly narrow and acid-cold gap in reality, Severus Snape found breathable air and a hard floor to be an almost insultingly mundane conclusion to his experience. The inconceivable faded and the paralyzing cold took over. His limbs barely obeyed his will, shaking violently when he tried to pull out his wand. His fingers refused to work properly, and he had to wedge the wand against a knot in the floorboards to hold it steady while spelling a Heating Charm into the wood beside him. Gradually, the blessed heat spread under him and eventually, the tremors eased enough that he could breathe normally and sit up.
Snape was in his house, but not. Dust carpeted the floor, disturbed by his struggles. Joints protesting, he stood and out of paranoid habit wiped clean the evidence of his arrival by returning the dust to a smooth sheen. He added another spell to his feet to continue masking his presence.
The house stood empty, but unlike the one he just exited, it remained undamaged, and smelled of nothing but old wood and mold, long unoccupied. Where was he? he wondered, flinching at a random pain when he turned to study the un-boarded upper windows. Someone had seen fit to only protect the house from casual marauders.
Snape sat down cross-legged beside the invisible Device to wait for Harry. His charge would be hurrying to straighten things out, in that Snape had faith. How long it would take him to work things out remained a looming question, but Snape would not make things more difficult by straying away.
A cloud moved across the sun, muting twin four-squares of light beaming down from the upper windows. Despite being intact, the house was not warm. At risk of chills, Snape stood to warm himself by moving about. He circled the hall, glancing into each room, finding fleeting familiarity with how the house had been when he had bought it. Perhaps it was not actually his, just an unsold property. At least he could be assured by its state that no one would be arriving home from work. If their steering of the spell was of any reliability, Voldemort should not be a threat either. Only Harry was of any concern, back in that other dark world, working frantically to rectify things.
Snape circled around to the library and found his best books stacked with apparent haste on the lower shelves and floor. The dust around them had been disturbed recently. Snape backed out of the room and crossed to the hearth, where he could evaluate the hall floor with the advantage of the backlight of the upper windows. Old footprints wandered everywhere, dust filled, so of no immediate concern, but still mysterious.
Snape puzzled this before giving up and returning to occupying himself in a book entitled Transient Concoctions, a primer on brewing short-lived potions. The house had no chairs, so Snape sat on a stack of the largest books, precariously resting the one he was reading on a narrower tower. He was passing into the second chapter when the sound of Apparition brought his wand to hand without thought.
Snape peered around the doorframe into the hall and stopped in surprise. A figure resembling Harry stood with his back to the library, hand on the decorative metalwork supporting the stairway banister. Snape stepped fully into the doorway, subconsciously thinking to call out, but his better instincts prevailed and he remained there, motionless.
The figure dropped his arm and moved to the mirror under the stairs. He trailed a finger over the Celtic knots weaving around the frame of it, looked up, and stood unmoving, fixed on Snape's reflection in the doorway opposite. In slow motion, his hand came off the mirror and he took a half step back, but did not turn. He hung there, his pure green eyes apparent even at a distance. His hand reached for the frame again, running his hand along the side of it, as if expecting it to trigger something.
Snape crossed his arms, and this caused the other to spin, his expression revealing that he believed the reflection to have no real counterpart. Seeing no way to back out gracefully now that he had missed that chance, Snape stepped forward.
"Pr . . . Professor?" Harry stammered, growing more stunned, not less. He swallowed hard and teetered between stepping closer and falling back against the mirror.
Snape dryly stated the obvious as the best opening. "I take it you weren't expecting me."
Harry's mouth tried to smile but uncertainty overcame it. "I'd say," he said, and swallowed hard. Ever finding some inner well under pressure, he said more solidly, "I realize it's your house, but still."
From behind Harry's eyes, Snape gained a fuzzy impression of fatal violence involving himself, but it was pushed aside too quickly to perceive in detail.
"To what do I owe the visit?" Snape asked.
"What? Oh." Harry reached back to touch the banister again, explaining, "I come here to think. The spells on this place are really good, and no one, not even an owl, can find me. It's nearly impossible, otherwise, to get a break from things," he explained, sounding tired. He began to pace, falling into his complaint, but alarm reasserted itself and he spun to face Snape again. "You don't look like a ghost." He indicated the floor. "You aren't leaving any footprints, but . . ." He came closer, raising a hand, but withdrawing it before it got halfway to Snape's sleeve.
"What are you?" Harry asked.
"Not a ghost, fortunately."
"That's good," Harry said, clearly relieved.
"More an echo," Snape explained.
"An echo?" Harry pondered.
Snape shrugged and paced away, towards the Device, worrying now that his Harry might choose that moment to come through.
Laughing nervously, which made him look much younger, Harry said, "It's true I didn't expect to find you here."
"I imagine not," Snape nebulously replied.
Harry paced him at a distance, like an eager student, saying, "I didn't expect it, but I've wanted to talk to you."
The obvious underlying pain in that statement made Snape stop and return his full attention to the immediate. "Have you? I can't imagine," he said, falling easily into his old self, the one he estimated was expected.
"I did what you said," Harry obliquely stated.
Snape tried to catch the young man's thoughts but they were running roughshod over each other, and it was impossible beyond the bizarre sense of welcoming the enveloping green of a Killing Curse.
Harry went on, "I'm sorry I didn't understand."
Snape now wished he did. There may be something to learn here for his Harry.
"I saw all the memories you left and I did what you said," Harry repeated earnestly, clearly needing to unburden himself of these words. Again, his thoughts were chaotic: Lily as a child, Dumbledore, the green light again. While Snape pondered the inexplicableness, Harry plowed on, gathering strength from confessing. "And I feel bad that we didn't try harder save you," he helplessly admitted, arms falling loose at his sides.
Snape got a crystal clear picture that time, of Nagini's evil coils, of his own death.
Harry swallowed hard, clearly saddened, but then his eyes narrowed, ever slow on the uptake but guaranteed to get there. "Your neck . . ." He leaned in and down to better see before straightening. Suspicion bled into his movements.
Snape tipped his head back and forward, bluffing. "Your point? I'm not a ghost, as we have already established."
"You're an echo," Harry stated. "Whatever that is."
Snape shrugged. "I am dead, but I am here. Call it what you will."
Harry crossed his arms, and tapped one foot. "Tell me something only you would know."
Snape longed to steer Harry back to the previous conversation. He made a tiresome, in character noise. "Such as?"
Harry bit his lip and gathering determination said, "Tell me what memory of yours I saw that made you quit giving me Occlumency lessons."
Snape topped Harry's standoffish pose with a raised chin. "Oh, the indignity of death and now the indignity of your father's miserable treatment of me. Thank you."
Harry deflated. "Sorry."
Snape gave him now time. "Apologizing for your father now?
Harry gave a useless arm movement. "I suppose. Yes. Now that I understand better. It's the best I can do. I didn't expect to get the chance, really." He turned to pace alone now. "All I can ever manage is to do my best. It's not always enough, I realize. But I am sorry . . . for everything."
Again, there was too much pain. Snape came back like a whip. "Potter, stop apologizing."
Harry froze and stared at him, derailed from his circling thoughts. Snape did not give him a chance to recover. "You defeated Voldemort, correct?"
"Yes," Harry confirmed with that cloying earnestness Snape had gratefully forgotten about. "I did as you said. It wasn't easy, but I did."
Since Harry's thoughts were singular this time, they came through clearer. Snape demanded, "You stood still for a Killing Curse and believe you have anything to apologize for?"
Harry's mouth moved but he gave up and fell silent.
Snape stepped closer. "May I give you some advice? Give up on the self pity, it gets you nowhere." He waved to indicate the house surrounding them, growing more forceful. "Give up on the past, you owe it nothing."
Harry gaped at him now. "But . . ."
"No buts, Potter," Snape chastised him.
In mild wonderment, Harry said, "No one talks to me like this."
Snape put up a finger to accent his point. "That may be your problem."
"Maybe. Well . . . they all smile and nod, but getting them to actually change things at the Ministry is bloody well impossible."
Snape sighed. "You're nineteen, Potter. Leadership takes time to learn, and to earn."
"So, I'm realizing."
"You cannot singlehandedly fix things," Snape pointed out, guessing at the trouble. "And leading your little friends about is sorry preparation for long entrenched political powers."
"I know that," Harry replied, defensive now. "But what else can I do? Things still aren't back to how they were before, even as sloppy as that used to be. Wizarddom can still self-destruct if the Ministry doesn't get back to normal soon."
Snape suggested, "Perhaps a Muggle course in management?"
Harry laughed. "Are you being facetious?"
"Do I sound facetious?"
Harry fell sober. "I can't tell. I don't understand you, really. Didn't," he corrected, falling sad and introspective.
"Potter, move on," Snape insisted. "It is all well and good to take responsibility for things, but clearly you are letting the past hold you back."
Harry stared at him, eyes unveiled, drinking that in.
"And learn some Occlumency," Snape added. "You are a political liability as open as your thoughts are."
Harry turned away, chagrined. "It's been suggested, but I didn't want to. I remembered how badly it went-"
"Yes, yes, let go of the past," Harry chanted, pacing a short way. He slowed to examine the room with what may be new eyes. His face went through some expressive transitions before he said, "I found this place in the records at the Ministry. I got curious about you. I wanted to understand." He touched the railing again as he passed. "The other place seemed to be where you were living, rather than here. It was like you were saving this place for a better time." He turned his gaze to the ceiling. "Like you had hopes, plans, for the future."
Snape swallowed, having nothing to add to that.
Earnest again, and almost shy, Harry asked, "Have you seen them, her, my mum, beyond the veil?"
Snape shrugged. Oddly enough, he had. "Yes, of course."
"Oh, well, that's good." Whatever he had been leading up to, Harry let it drop, and stuck his hands in his back pockets and hunched over like a teenager.
Snape jerked his nose at a familiar scent, a whiff of the dry rotted earth that accompanied Harry's gateways to the underworld. Nonchalant, Snape turned to where the Device had dropped him off. The dust was disturbed again, in the pattern of a pentagram. And now Snape felt a tug, akin to a Portkey, drawing him that way.
His Harry was not going to come through himself. He was reversing the spell. Snape wandered that way, retaining his posture despite a rush of absolute relief.
His silence let Harry build up to another confession. "I AM sorry for what happened."
Dredging up some semblance of his stricter self, Snape snapped, "Stop apologizing."
Harry glared at him. "NO."
Snape tried to estimate where he stood without glancing down and drawing attention to the floor. He tipped his head from side to side. "That's better."
His praise derailed Harry again. Harry regrouped and said softly, cathartically, "I needed to tell you. I didn't imagine I'd get to."
Snape feared he would be unceremoniously sucked away at any moment. He ignored his bones wincing at the thought and urging him to jump clear. He said, "Well, you have. And I have to go, now."
Harry pulled his head back. "What? Go where?"
Snape let out a pent up breath and glanced up to where, in his world, Candide had hung a small abstract weaving. "To a place like this, but full of light, and color, and a family."
"Is there such a place?"
"I hope so," Snape replied. A rush of something circled his feet, tracing the lines of the Device without leaving a mark. When Harry took a step forward, Snape raised his hand and commanded, "Stay back."
Harry circled sideways and away, giving the spell more space. "I am sorry," Harry insisted over the faint sizzle of the spell, sounding more stubborn and less pained.
Snape crossed his arms. "I heard you the first time." And then the world collapsed around him.
- 888 -
- 888 -
Snape came to in the glare of candlelight, with Harry shaking him lightly, saying, "Sorry."
"Ach," Snape uttered in exasperation.
Harry jerked aside, patting down his smoldering trouser leg and the scent of burned cloth drifted in the air. He crouched more carefully and adjusted the warmed cloak over Snape, explaining, "I figured out what the second anchoring is for; it's to lock the spell to a person, rather than just a place."
Snape could barely think let alone move. "Ah," he managed.
"I can execute it again, but I think you need time to recover."
Snape nodded weakly. "As much as I'd like to hurry . . . perhaps . . ."
Harry lifted the cloak off, reheated it and settled it over Snape again, then rested his hand on Snape's chest. "Let me know when you're ready."
"In a minute. Or ten."
Harry smiled painfully. "Where did you go?"
Snape shook his head rather than reply.
"You're all right, though?"
Harry's sigh of relief joined the collective hiss of the candles. He patted Snape and stood, wand out, on guard.
- 888 -
Snape signaled that he was ready, and Harry, worried, asked him twice if he was certain.
Snape lifted his head with obvious effort. "We don't have much time here, nor at home."
"Right," Harry agreed and raised the wand to repeat the spell properly.
This time, the candles drew inward, almost to the center of the Device and their flames appeared to fish up a nearly identical form before fluttering back to normal. Harry let the fitful energy ease out of his shoulders and stepped forward with a warmed cloak.
The other Snape, an impostor no longer, lay senseless, and Harry was loath to leave him alone and unprotected. He tucked the cloak up around Snape's neck to better warm his blood and began to count to sixty. His own Snape lay unaided at home and he could not wait beyond that.
Before the count ran out, Snape stirred and raised an arm. "Don't ignite your sleeve," Harry warned, tugging his hand to safety and helping him sit up.
"Wonderful. Home," he drawled.
"Go to Grimmauld Place. They'll take care of you there."
"Bloody likely," Snape slurred with a shiver.
"I wouldn't lie to you. My adoptive father has been laying the groundwork for you to help the Order, and you are badly needed. Dumbledore's portrait somewhat understands the situation and will help you."
Snape stared at him. "Dumbledore," he uttered. "I am safe from no one."
Harry stepped back. "I have to go. Get yourself to safety," he said, nearly pleading. "Voldemort was just here."
Hand buried in his hair, Snape took that in. "Where is he now?"
"I scared him off."
Snape let his arm fall, breathing, "Of course you did."
"Good luck," Harry said. Snape gave a half wave full of derision, and Harry slipped away through the floor.
Harry wasted no time imagining home and falling away into it. Again a clinging shadow seemed to follow him, but this time he expected it, and willfully ignored it.
On the shiny clean floor of their own main hall, Harry struggled to his half-numb feet, which refused to move exactly how he commanded them to. He staggered across to where Snape lay, spread out as he had been in the corresponding hall in the other Plane. Harry dropped to his knees beside him, willing his own body to function despite every fiber of him resisting.
Harry breathed deeply several times as though preparing to dive into deep water. This at least cleared his head, even if it did not give him any strength. With clumsy hands, he grabbed hold under Snape's arms and hauled him up.
"Candide will be home soon," Harry said, as a kind of apology for the manhandling.
Snape's head lolled, and Harry believed him unconscious until Harry muttered, "I should just hover you . . ." And received a firm, "NO."
Harry laughed, and they staggered together to the stairs. "Come on then. We have to get you to bed; pretend you have the flu or something."
Halfway up, with Harry needing one hand to keep them from falling forward onto the stairs, Snape said, "I have raised you with a properly devious mind. That makes it all worthwhile."
Harry shook his head and led him to his bedroom. Movement seemed to be helping more than warm blankets. Snape almost stood on his own when they arrived.
Harry applied heating charms to the bed and the extra duvet from the trunk in the corner. Snape tugged off his shoes with difficulty while Harry worked at warming everything nearby.
"I can get those for you," Harry said, but Snape shook his head. His second shoe thudded to the floor and he fell back.
Moving quickly, Harry covered him firmly. "You'll be all right in a few minutes," he assured him. "I usually am."
"You are much younger than I," Snape pointed out peevishly.
"And I don't usually do three in a row. Sorry about that."
Snape raised a long index finger into the air. "Please don't . . ." he began, but the Floo roared downstairs.
Harry stood, glancing quickly about the room to make sure everything was as it should be. Downstairs he slowed to what he hoped was a normal pace. Candide stood at the table, sorting her post. She jumped upon seeing him there, as if, in Harry's overtired imagination, he did not belong.
"Harry, you're home," she said with great emotion and a hug. "Were you able to figure things out for yourself?"
Harry shrugged. He had not had time to figure anything out, at all, and felt daunted by the creeping concerns of his own reality.
Harry took a silent, much needed breath and easily let slip, "Severus has a touch of the flu, I think."
"He does?" Candide asked, alarm clear. "Where is he?"
Candide slid by him to the door. "Did a Healer look in on him?"
Harry shook his head, safe with the lie: "He doesn't want one." She grumbled and started up the stairs with purpose. On her heels, Harry quietly said, "I told him that if he wasn't feeling better by midnight, we'd contact one, no matter what he wanted."
"Good," she said, businesslike.
Harry hung in the doorway while she entered and directly went to sit on the bed. She brushed Snape's hair back even though it was not in his face. Harry thought he probably needed that more than the warmed duvet.
"Sure you don't want a Healer?" she asked.
Snape replied, "Don't be preposterous. Of course I don't."
Continuing to brush his hair back, despite how difficult the impostor had been recently, she said, "You'd insist on calling one for Harry in an eye-blink."
"My mum insists on taking me shopping this evening and I'm sure she will insist on a visit home, but I can stay."
"Do not do so. It is unnecessary."
Harry could see her frown even from where he was. "You do feel slightly feverish," she said, which reduced Harry's concern that Snape might not be warming up. "If I leave right after dinner, I expect I'll be back by eleven."
Snape grabbed hold of her hand as she moved to stand. "If you do not return by midnight, I will send Harry to apprehend you."
She laughed lightly. "My mum couldn't argue with him; that's for certain." She sent Harry a glowing grin. This time Snape let her stand. She said, "We'll let you rest."
The two of them had a quiet dinner. Candide finished quickly and departed in the Floo after checking in on Snape. Harry pretended to be arranging his books and notes before him on the table, but as soon as her feet spun out of view, he went upstairs.
Snape appeared to be sleeping when Harry approached the bed. With the bedside lamp tweaked up, Snape's face appeared deeply lined by stress. Harry sat on the bed, wanting to speak to Snape, but not willing to wake him.
Winky appeared with a bowl surrounded by the overpowering aroma of chicken broth. Harry set the tray on the side table for later, but Snape roused from the steamy scent. He gingerly rubbed his eyes and forehead and sat up partway. Harry quickly shifted his pillows for him, which startled Snape slightly.
"Winky brought soup," Harry said solicitously.
"Yes, I noticed." He leaned his prominent nose in the direction of the tray and Harry carefully handed it over.
Snape ate ravenously once he started, making Harry ache. "Do you want something more substantial?"
Snape shook his head between bites. "Winky is spot on, as usual."
Finished, he handed the service back to Harry, who set it on the floor. He looked Snape over, wanting to do something more. He said, "I'm glad you're home."
"Not as glad as I am."
"No, I think so," Harry countered, pained.
Snape shifted forward to lie flat again. He stared beyond the ceiling in silence before saying, "You said something to me once, quite wisely, regarding my faith being your home. I did not realize how true the reverse of that was at the time."
Harry patted his arm through the duvet. "You must really be exhausted, talking like that."
Snape shook his head in amusement and doggedly went on, "I have learned a great deal from you, Harry. Having to force myself to behave as I used to I now fully appreciate just how much. " He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose before continuing. "One must give oneself up to truly discover oneself. You have to give yourself away, totally. It requires enormous faith in those around you to manage it. I know now it was fear that prevented my doing it before; fear borne on lack of trust. You have been wise enough all this time to know what it has taken me this long to learn."
Harry dropped his gaze. "You really will regret this later," he insisted, in a light sing-song.
Snape punched him lightly on the arm and slowly went on, "I didn't know who I was before. And I was so terribly certain of it at the time. How very delusional of me." He paused again before saying, "I owe you quite a lot."
Harry smiled teasingly. "You still haven't learned, really," he criticized. "If you think there is accounting in this."
Snape's hand clumsily found Harry's sleeve. "We have some things to discuss, I think. But later."
"After you've seen a Healer, you mean?" Harry prodded.
"I'll be fine in the morning," Snape insisted, eyes falling closed. "We can talk after your training tomorrow."
"I'm not going," Harry said, finding that statement very easy.
Snape cracked an eye open. "We will definitely be talking in the morning, then." He studied Harry with slitted eyes before saying, "Feeling better?"
"Yes," he said. He had not tried reach out to the shadows here, and did not know how tempting it would be to grab hold if he tried. He wanted Snape to rest and not worry. "Much better."
Snape, as usual, seemed unconvinced. "Tomorrow," he insisted, patting Harry on the arm.
Next: Chapter 39
"I don't know," Harry said. "Had to be someone who knew he was alive. Oh, that's another thing . . ." Harry, hemmed, "Tonks told me you arranged for someone to confess to my crime, to get me out of prison."
"I did that," Snape stated, half questioning.
"Remind me in the future not to be replaced by an impostor."