Sequel to Mine
The presence was unmistakable, that dark shape looming out of the shadows, red slitted eyes gleaming. Immediately he felt the burning pain under his skin, burrowing to the surface like maggots in his flesh. He slapped his hand to the mark and pressed hard, as if trying to push the pain and the brand of shame back into him.
Snape woke with a gasp, wincing in pain at the tight grasp of his hand around the flesh of his forearm. With a word his lamp shone to life and he lifted himself awkwardly to his elbow, flicking limp hair from his eyes and squinting down at his white fingers.
It took a real effort to force his fingers to unfurl, with dread he blinked the sweat out of his eyes and stared down at the revealed flesh. Snape would not at all have been surprised to see the Dark Mark there in all its glory, leering up at him.
But all he saw was white skin reddened by the marks of his own fingers, muscles moving beneath it as his hand flexed convulsively. With a gasp of relief he collapsed back against his pillows. He couldn't believe that for a moment he'd actually expected to see the tattoo on his skin. Even now he could feel it burning and the memories it roused caused a sullen pain in his chest to throb dully.
On his bedside table a charmed globe flared into life and chimed softly. Snape covered his eyes with one hand, cursing under his breath. Harry was awake and had lit his night light.
Snape's hands were still shaking slightly as he thrust his legs out from beneath the covers and groped for his robe. Harry was prone to the occasional bad dream but still seemed disinclined to seek comfort from his father. Or perhaps the boy didn't feel up to braving the dark corridors after one of his night terrors.
The soft glow of the nightlight shone between the chinks of the drawn bed curtain and Snape swept the fabric aside gently so as not to startle the boy.
"Harry?" he whispered.
Harry was a quivering bundle in the centre of his bed. He sniffed and raised his damp face at the sound of his father's voice, then he was lifting his arms in a mute plea for comfort that Snape gladly gave, oddly comforted himself by the warm weight that pressed against him and snuggled gratefully into his shoulder.
He sat on the edge of the bed and patted the child's narrow heaving back. "Bad dream, son?"
Harry nodded, little pointed chin pressed hard to Snape's breast bone. He was already half asleep again, content as usual with the reassuring contact of his father's arms to soothe him. Snape had never asked him what he dreamt about on these occasions, thinking perhaps it was better quickly forgotten. But tonight he felt himself curious. As he held Harry close his gaze was drawn to the mullioned window where the dull gleam of the full moon glinted against the ancient diamonds of glass.
What ill power haunted the swollen moon, that wizards beneath its gaze were visited by dark dreams?
Tonight, driven by the memory of his own ill dream, and the low burn still pressing beneath his skin, Snape shifted Harry a little higher in his arms and peered into that sleepy face.
"What did you dream about, Harry?"
Harry squinted against the moonlight, his eyes slitted and dark, his face seeming younger and more vulnerable without his glasses.
"I don't know," he mumbled. "The green light again, I think."
Harry nodded, eye lashes fluttering as he frowned a little.
"It's a scary light. And someone's afraid and calling for me." The little boy shivered and Snape held him closer.
"It's all right, Harry," he murmured. You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
"And my scar starts to hurt," Harry continued dreamily, eyes closed now. "And I can smell the forest around me. I'm small, but not scared now. I'm angry. And I want to get stronger. To get stronger. To get stronger..."
To Snape's horror Harry's face went slack as he mumbled his litany, skin stretching like a white mask over the fine bones of his face, breath coming faster. Instinctively Snape shook the boy and the dreamy expression was jerked away as his head nodded and his eyes opened.
"What?" he said crossly, lifting his fists and knuckling his eyes. "What's wrong, daddy?"
Snape breathed out at the sight of the cross little face, the sleepy voice. Harry's voice.
"Go to the toilet before you go back to sleep," he managed hoarsely and Harry gave an obedient nod and reached for his glasses. Snape wrapped the child's dressing gown around him and walked him down the dim corridor to the bathroom, collapsing in the chair as Harry trotted inside.
What on earth had just happened? With a start he realised his fingers were wrapped around his forearm again, absently rubbing the flesh.
What was going on?
"Is it the curse scar?"
Dumbledore steepled his fingers before him and gazed over them at Snape. "If it is, then it's only confirming what we have both feared for some time."
"That he's alive," Snape breathed in horror.
"And that he still has some connection with Harry."
Snape turned and gazed blindly out of the window. Below him students roamed the grounds, re-exploring their school home, and in some cases discovering it for the first time. "And the pain I felt, from the Mark? I would have sworn that it had appeared again, as it only did when the Dark Lord himself summoned me."
"Similar to the pain Harry felt in his scar, I imagine. If Harry is in tune with him in some way and you are in tune with Harry..."
"In tune with him?"
"Attuned to his magic, his moods." Dumbledore smiled at him kindly. "It's not unusual for parents and their children to feel that closeness, Severus."
"I wouldn't know," Snape said numbly. "I just know I dreamt he was near at the same time Harry was in tune with him, as you put it. As if for those moments he and Harry were... one."
"Not quite how I'd put it, but close enough. It's almost reassuring, in a way."
Snape shook his head in disbelief. "Reassuring?"
"Well, isn't it? If Harry really did connect with Voldemort last night then it's a Voldemort vastly different from the one we knew. Small, powerless, and I would guess very far away from here."
Snape met calm eyes searchingly. "What makes you assume that?"
"Harry was his downfall," Dumbledore said simply. "Powerless as he is he will not take our boy on again so soon."
Snape shivered. "So soon," he whispered.
"I think we both know the time may well come..." Dumbledore broke off as a huge blackbird fluttered at his window. "Excuse me for just one moment." The old wizard jumped spryly to his feet and hastened over to the bird. He bent his white head and appeared to listen politely to it and then he nodded and reached into his pocket. The bird took the morsel with a snap of its beak and was back out of the window and away.
"How interesting," Dumbledore said mildly. "It appears the Minister for Magic is on his way to Hogwarts."
Rattled, Snape's anger flared to life. "Not him! Not now!"
"Alas yes." Dumbledore tapped his bearded chin thoughtfully. "I must admit, I've been expecting him ever since that article abut you and Harry appeared in the paper. There has been a great deal of strong talk from certain powerful people about your appearance in Harry's life."
Fear overrode anger. "What powerful people?"
Dumbledore gazed at him sympathetically. "I think you can guess who's driving this. It would suit some folk very well indeed to have Harry under their eye and close to their hand should the occasion arise that he became a danger again."
"Malfoy," Snape spat, hearing many of his own fears in Dumbledore's words.
"Amongst others. But you mustn't let it worry, you, Severus. I've sought advice from the highest in the land, in this matter wizard law is absolute. You are the boy's father, and only magical relative. No one can take him away from you."
Snape set his jaw and kept his own council. He knew the letter of the law, he had made discreet enquiries himself. But unlike Dumbledore, he didn't trust that the men who upheld the law did so with any interests but their own at heart. Should it suit such men to bend said law, then less powerful men like himself could find themselves very quickly on the outside looking in.
In such cases all he could do was rely on his own powerful friends and the influence they wielded. As Supreme Mugwump of the Wizengamut there could be no more important friend than Dumbledore right now. Snape contented himself with a nod of his head.
"Is Harry with Poppy?"
Dumbledore's eyes were still kind, still sympathetic, but there was also a knowing light in them that had Snape frowning at him for a moment, slow to answer. Did Dumbledore trust Fudge's law any more than Snape did? What cards was this old wizard playing close to his chest?
"Oh, yes," Snape hurried to reply. "With the full moon falling at the start of term Lupin won't start school until tomorrow at least."
"And Neville arrives tonight?" Dumbledore acknowledged Snape's nod. "Good, this is probably the best time then. Stay here with me, Severus, let us get this meeting with Fudge over and done with and hear the worst he has to offer. Then maybe we can breathe a sigh of relief and get on with the term."
"You think it will be that easy?" Snape said cynically.
"No, I think we will probably have to submit to a hearing."
"A paternity test?" Snape said, trying to sound unconcerned.
"At the very least. And why not? We've nothing to hide and everything to gain! Once Harry's paternity is established before the Wizengamut itself, for of course I will ensure a full and open hearing of this matter, then Harry's place will be assured, and no one can seriously oppose it again."
"You make it sound like something to look forward to," Snape said snidely.
Dumbledore leaned forward. "Trust me, Severus. I promise you, no one will take our boy away!"
"Oh, you're here," Fudge blurted out as he entered the circular stone room and spotted Snape.
"Professor Snape and I have been having a little visit, Cornelius," Dumbledore said pleasantly. "Discussing the potential of our First Years."
"Ah, of course," Fudge said, schooling his face like the politician that he was. "And how do they rate?"
"Abysmal," Snape said shortly.
Fudge looked taken aback. "Oh."
"Do sit down, Cornelius. I must say, this is a surprise. Your owl last night didn't mention a visit?"
"Had a bit of an opening in my schedule," Fudge said smoothly. "Thought it might be the best time to get a bit of unpleasant business out of the way." He cast a look at Snape. "Private business," he said pointedly.
Snape didn't move a muscle.
"Ah, private business," Dumbledore said in surprise. "So it's nothing to do with Harry Potter then?"
Fudge sent him a fulminating glare.
"Or perhaps you mean private business between yourself and young Harry's father?" Dumbledore jumped nimbly to his feet. "In which case I'll just pop out for a moment and leave you two to discuss it in private. Back in a mo!" With his bright skirts trailing behind him he whisked his way out of the room.
"Well, really," Fudge said grumpily.
"Is it about Harry that you've come?" Snape asked softly.
"I don't know why you would assume that," Fudge said defensively. "I do have other business to attend to, don'tcha know. Plenty of very important business to attend to as Minister for Magic!"
Snape stared him down, keeping is face impassive. "Then it's not about Harry?"
Fudge met his gaze for a moment and then harrumphed and subsided. "Well, since you're here I suppose we might as well discuss a few things." He looked over his shoulder at the closed door behind him and frowned. "For example, last time I was here you mentioned a deal you had with Dumbledore. I'd be very much obliged if you'd tell me about it."
"Deal?" For a moment Snape was thrown off track, forgetting the cool face he'd shown the Minister on his last visit. How long ago that seemed now! He'd been frightened then at the threat the other wizard had posed, but how much more frightened he was now. How much more did it seem like he had to lose.
"Yes, yes," Fudge said impatiently. "A better deal than the job I offered you, it seemed."
"Ah, a deal," Snape recalled. "Did I really put it so oddly? I merely meant the understanding the headmaster and I have come to over our living arrangements. My work here in return for a home for Harry and myself."
Fudge stared at him, narrow eyed. "And that's it?" he said after a long moment of silence.
Snape inclined his head. "It seemed important at the time," he explained. "To ensure my son's safety," he added deliberately.
Fudge snorted irritably. "Safety? You and Dumbledore are singing the same tune it seems. Talking about the boy as if he has enemies behind every tree. Harry Potter is as safe in this world as a babe in its mother's... arms..." Fudge trailed away as he realised what he'd said, his already ruddy face reddening further.
"Perhaps not the best analogy," he said gruffly while Snape tried to suppress a smirk at his hated enemy's discomfiture.
"Perhaps," Snape murmured.
"At any rate, it seems to me that both you and Dumbledore are exaggerating the situation for your own gain," Fudge blustered.
Snape lifted a brow. "Gain?"
The Minister leaned forward. "Harry Potter," he hissed. "It's become very apparent to me that Dumbledore is keeping young Harry Potter under his thumb, as it were. In his clutches."
"When you want him in yours?" Snape wondered innocently.
"Yes! Er, no, of course not!" Fudge slammed the hat he'd been holding in his lap onto Dumbledore's desk. "We want him in our care, to protect the boy, of course. But mainly to study him, to learn from him, if you will."
"Study," Snape repeated coolly. "Study?" The last thing he wanted was to show Fudge any sort of emotion, he'd held his temper thus far despite the other wizard's dismissal of him as almost irrelevant in his own son's life. But now he could feel the edges of his control fraying. "Harry is six years old!"
"A mere child," Fudge confirmed with an eager nod. "But how much younger was he when he struck down You-Know-Who? How much more power might he have now?"
"You accuse Dumbledore of wanting to exploit him," Snape said bitterly. "But it is you who wants to do that!"
"Not at all!" Fudge denied hotly, jumping to his feet. "We want to learn from him! What if another evil faces us? We need to know how to defeat it!"
"Harry doesn't know how to defeat it," Snape dismissed sharply. "He doesn't even remember it."
"So you say," Fudge sneered. "But I've only yours and Dumbledore's word for that." He mastered his expression again and faced Snape with a more calculating look. "And of course I have the safety of the public to think about as well. The other students at this school, for example. What if whatever power the boy has emerges again? Who knows what havoc he might wreak?"
And now Snape understood that this was the weapon that Fudge would use against him. Whatever the circumstances of Harry's paternity test he would find some way to twist it. Whatever the results he would find some way to bend them to his own will. Snape felt the suffocating pressure of a cornered animal fill him.
"Why did you come here today?" he forced out.
Triumph lit Fudge's smug face. "The Ministry has decided a test must be performed on the boy. One of parentage, not just paternity."
Snape absorbed this, almost absently noting the sense. After all, this child might be any boy calling himself Harry Potter, any boy who was son to Severus Snape at any rate.
"And when it is proven that Lily Potter and I are Harry's parents?"
"You seem very confident that it will," Fudge said hardly. "But whatever the results, it seems to me that we have other options. Declaring the boy a National Treasure, for one thing. One too important to remain in the hands of someone of your... lineage."
Snape nodded dully. Yes, and that was the next step. It's what he would do, if he were in Fudge's shoes. Find whatever weapon was to hand, put pressure on any handy lever... Idly he wondered which house the Minister had been in, back in his days at Hogwarts.
"I'm speaking of course about your father. Vissius Snape, wasn't it?"
"My father is dead and buried," Snape said distantly. He understood now, how it would go. Arguing with this man would get him nowhere, relying on the rules would see him brought to naught. All he had to do now was get through this meeting.
Then he could begin making a plan.
"The story I heard is that he got himself murdered," Fudge said with glee. "Vile moneylender that he was. In fact, the story I heard was he leaned on the wrong debtor at the wrong time of the month. Got himself attacked by a werewolf. Nasty business."
"And nothing to do with events here and now," Dumbledore said gently from the door.
Fudge swung around, looking disconcerted for a moment. Then he rallied. "Perhaps, perhaps," he agreed insincerely. "But on the other hand it's hard to say how the public will take such stories. Hard to judge how such things will go."
"You seem sure enough about the outcome?" Dumbledore said curiously.
"Well, I am a politician. And a successful one," Fudge said proudly. "I do pride myself on knowing the will of the people."
Unable to take any more Snape stood, feeling himself surprisingly steady. In a way it almost was a relief, as Dumbledore had predicted. He knew which way the coin would come down now.
He knew what he had to do.
Dumbledore took a step and laid a hand on Snape's shoulder, smiling at the Minister. "Perhaps you'd better let us know when this hearing will be, Cornelius?"
Fudge didn't seem at all surprised that Dumbledore knew about the hearing, in fact his lips curled a little in satisfaction.
"January," he said and Snape started in surprise.
"That's four months away!" he blurted out.
"Yes, well." Fudge picked up his hat and straightened his cloak about his shoulders. "Have to convene a full council, notify the Wizengamut, prepare the test. No need to rush such things."
Snape opened his mouth to protest but closed it again as Dumbledore's hand tightened on his shoulder.
"January then," the headmaster said with a smile. "Send us an official notice with the date and so forth, will you? My memory these days isn't what it used to be."
Fudge jammed his hat on his head. "Oh, it will all be very official," he said smugly. "I wouldn't dream of doing this any other way. Snape." He nodded at Snape who stared stonily back at him. Fudge smirked and extended a hand to Dumbledore who took it and shook it heartily. "I'll contact you by owl over that goblin business, all right? By the end of the week."
"Glad to be of service, Cornelius," Dumbledore said sincerely. "May I see you out?"
Fudge waved his hand airily. "No need, no need. I think I know my way after all this time. Good day."
The room echoed with silence after he was gone, only the distant grinding of the stone staircase as it revolved its way downwards ringing in Snape's ears.
"Well, that went pretty much as I expected," Dumbledore said, rubbing his hands together briskly. "I could do with a cup of tea. Severus?"
"I have to go pick up Harry," Snape said distantly, heading for the door. It slammed shut in front of him and slowly bolted itself. Turning he saw a spinning pot appear and Dumbledore conjured up a pair of china cups.
"I really do think you'd better have that cup of tea, Severus."
Snape took a deep breath and stumped back to the table.
"I'd offer you a biscuit but I think you'd choke on it."
"Harry will be worried if I don't arrive soon."
"Harry's fine, I was just with him explaining that you were delayed." Dumbledore poured the tea and sat back with a sigh. "We had a lovely chat and he confided in me how much he was looking forward to the school year. Seems you promised him a long weekend at the seaside in half hols, and he and Neville have some rather exciting activities planned for broomstick and bicycle. It would be a shame to deprive Harry of all that and take him on the run."
Snape's head snapped up. "Reading my mind now?" he spat.
"Really, Severus, I'm surprised at you," Dumbledore said mildly, ignoring the accusation. "Why on earth do you think Cornelius has given you four months to sweat about this hearing? He's trying to frighten the life out of you, dear boy! He's trying to drive you to make the very mistake you're contemplating!"
"Harry is still mine until they say otherwise," Snape shot back. "I'm free to take him anywhere I like!"
"With a hearing of such importance pending?" Dumbledore threw back at him. "Do you want Harry taken away from you and kept away from you for the next four months?"
Snape jumped to his feet. "They will have to kill me first!"
Dumbledore sighed. "Yes," he said quietly. "I assume that's occurred to some people as well."
"Probably not Cornelius," Dumbledore conceded. "Although doubtless if it happened he would be quick to take advantage of it. I was thinking more of those other folk who are pulling his strings. Those who seem determined to drive us towards some bitter end."
Snape clutched the back of his chair convulsively. "They mean to take him from me, headmaster," he said hoarsely. "By fair means or foul. How do I fight that?"
"With help from your friends," Dumbledore said gently. "By not going off half cocked. By sitting down and finishing your tea so you can begin to think clearly."
Snape subsided into his chair but did not pick up the tea. He was afraid his hand might tremble, although why he bothered to hide anything from the headmaster was a mystery. The man could clearly see right through him.
"Fudge thinks he can manipulate both the law and the public to achieve his ends. Well, perhaps he can. He will certainly try. But he gave away a lot more than he meant to today, although I doubt he's realised that yet." Dumbledore smiled reassuringly. "I'm sorry I left you alone to get on with it, my boy, but Cornelius is always cautious around me. I sensed the two of you together might strike some sparks and I was right. We now have some idea of what he means to do. And how he means to do it."
Snape couldn't take comfort from the older wizard's reassuring glance. He could already feel a creeping tide of despair.
"How does knowing his plan help us fight it?"
The headmaster laid a finger along the side of his rather long nose and dropped a wink. "I know one or two things myself," he said with a twinkle. "In the meantime you must live life as usual. Give Fudge no reason to suspect your treatment of Harry."
"Go on as usual?" Snape huffed a bitter laugh. "I've forgotten what usual is. The child I fathered for the worst of reasons has become my life's work. I spent the morning facing the thickest bunch of dullards ever to stand before a cauldron. And now the Minister for Magic is gunning for me."
Dumbledore grinned. "Bang goes your chance at that Order of Merlin, First Class."
Snape snorted, lifting his hand to his brow and rubbing wearily. "Why is life so bloody unrelenting sometimes?"
"I have no idea," Dumbledore said sympathetically. "But I've found a cup of tea always helps. Shall I freshen the pot?"
Snape heard Harry's piping voice before he pushed open the wide infirmary doors, and he paused for a moment in the doorway, shaking his head at the sight that greeted him. Harry, swathed from neck to knee in one of Madam Pomfrey's starched aprons, standing on a footstool dusting at a cabinet. Snape covered his mouth with his hand. The boy even had a head scarf on.
The mediwitch was next to him, similarly garbed, pointing out spots he'd missed as she twitched bottles aside with her wand for him to dust under. Harry was carrying on one of his usual one sided monologues, espousing his favourite theory; the excellence of broomsticks. Long experienced with children, Madam simply nodded and pointed out a new spot.
Watching the happy domestic scene Snape felt the worst of the tension from the meeting draining out of him. There was no denying it, Harry had changed his life. He had inadvertently placed enormous burdens on his shoulders and was rapidly striving to turn him grey before he was thirty. But looking at him now, small and vulnerable, bursting with life, chattering nineteen to a dozen, Snape could only marvel at the twist of fate that had bought him to this time and place.
His boy was a wonder.
"That can't be Harry Potter cleaning up," Snape said as he strode into the room.
Harry turned, his eyes lighting up.
For me, Snape thought. Has anyone ever been as glad to see me as Harry always is?
"Is that really my boy under there?" Snape said doubtfully.
Poppy patted his bescarfed head fondly. "It certainly is," she announced. "He's been a wonderful helper."
"I'm helping!" Harry beamed.
"I'll remember that next time I ask you to clean up your room."
Harry shrugged and grinned, flicking his duster.
"Finish up now, Harry. It's nearly time for tea."
"We're having sausages tonight," Harry explained to Madam as she helped him off with his apron. "Mr Pickle knows they're my favourite and he makes them 'specially for me." Harry held out his hand and measured with dusty fingers. "Little tiny sausages."
"Well, you've earned them," Madam said with a smile. She rummaged in her apron pocket and pulled out a sweet, covered in bright foil. "And you've earned this too, although you must save it for afters and not spoil your tea."
Harry accepted the prize and beamed up at her. "Thank you, Madam."
"You bring him back any time you need to, Professor Snape," Madam twinkled.
"I appreciate it," Snape said sincerely. At this moment he appreciated all the help he and Harry received from their friends.
He had the feeling they were going to need a lot more before they were done.
End of Part Seventeen