Disclaimer: No fame or glory here. Only admiration mixed with a healthy amount of obsession.
AN: Another thanks to my beta, Ariadne.
"Remus, save the 'I told you so,'" Tonks snapped as she strode quickly towards the gates.
Remus smiled to himself and wisely remained silent as they made their way to Apparate to number twelve Grimmauld Place.
After arriving in an alleyway, they looked around carefully before moving out to walk towards the house. As they walked, Tonks said quietly, with grave concern, "I feel terrible. Do you think it messed up their relationship? Hermione looked pretty upset."
Remus thought for a moment. "Severus is a survivor. He'll find a way out of this one."
"He seems to love her. You can tell when he looks at her. So romantic," Tonks said wistfully.
Passing for a couple out for a walk, Remus pulled Tonks close to him and smiled. "Severus? More romantic than me?"
Tonks laughed. "Preposterous idea, I know."
He then gently kissed her before saying, "Let's go."
"I still don't like this place," Remus muttered as they let themselves in carefully. He noted that the Fidelius Charm concealing the location of the house was broken.
"Oh, it grows on you," Tonks said, almost tripping over the threshold.
"I don't believe the locket is even here. Dung has probably unknowingly sold a piece of Voldemort's soul to some shop for a few Galleons," Remus said, trying not to cough from the stagnant air.
With their wands out, they carefully entered the hall. "The locking spell is still here. I'm not sure if all of the security wards Dumbledore put in place stay after death or if they fail, so stay close," Remus whispered.
Tonks nodded, and replied, while readying herself, "Anything can be in here now."
Dust floated on the air when Remus and Tonks both cast Lumos to light the way. While moving in the dark, Tonks quickly swung her wand in the direction of a creaking floorboard and froze. Remus came up beside her and stood listening as well.
After finding nothing, they went along their way, lighting torches to bring the decrepit house to some sort of life.
Once in the drawing room where the locket had last been seen, they settled in to search.
Tonks eventually said quietly, "Remus, do you trust Severus? I mean, the evidence of his life debt to Dumbledore may have cleared him of outright murder, but do you trust him now?"
"That's a sudden type of question to ask a person," Remus said, moving some odd looking picture frames out of a box. He coughed from the dust that rose, cringing to think how old it was.
Shrugging, she said, "Just a question to pass time. You needn't answer me."
Remus looked at her, his thoughts of Snape rudely pushed aside by how she looked in the dim light. He moved to sit next to her and placed an arm around her shoulders. "Do you have any idea how stunningly beautiful you are?"
Laughing, Tonks pushed him. "Remus! We need to look for this blasted thing, not get all lovey."
Remus placed a kiss behind her ear before returning to his search. "Can't help myself."
Several dust reduction spells later, Tonks said, "You didn't answer me."
"Hmm? Ah, yes. Yes, I do trust him," Remus said, shifting to reach towards a shelf. He was contemplating whether he should attempt to open a particularly sinister-looking chest. It was engraved with serpents who looked to be in a fight to the death.
Stopping to look at her, he said thoughtfully, "I have known Severus for most of my life and still have no idea what goes on inside of him. I can't help to think that if he hadn't been tormented in school, he wouldn't have turned to Voldemort to feel anything more than powerless. Dumbledore saw that drive for recognition and pride in Severus and, in a way, used that to fulfill his own needs in the end."
Tonks watched him in silence as he continued. "I do trust him because there have been several times when I have caught sight of the man within. Severus is a man with qualities that can be manipulated either for good or evil. He has taken training Harry seriously, even if it is partially out of pride. That, and now he is truly in love," Remus said with a small laugh. "Something I never thought I'd see from him again."
"Again?" Tonks asked, "You mean with Lily? But – that was never public, was it?"
Remus sighed. "No. Sirius and James would have torn him apart if they knew," Remus said sadly. "But I knew."
"And you said nothing?" Tonks asked, her hands resting absently on some odd bottles, their search forgotten for the moment.
"No." Remus looked at her for a moment before continuing. "Lily was quite popular, and I also cared for her deeply. When I saw Severus and Lily in the library night after night, my heart broke. I said nothing, even as Sirius and James searched for her. You see, even though I was not strong enough to stand up to Sirius and James, I could at least ensure him a chance at happiness. So I kept Sirius and James away from them whenever they were together. I made sure Peter didn't find out either."
Tonks smiled warmly and took his hand. "That was very nice of you, Remus."
Remus shrugged slightly and continued his search. After several hours, they decided that the locket must have been stolen. Taking one last look in the place where Kreacher slept, they gave up.
Leaving the house hand in hand, they didn't notice a pair of eyes watching them from down the hall.
A hooded figure cringed before Voldemort, keeping one eye on the snake moving in a circle around them. It tilted its head, locking its eyes on them as it undulated over the exposed roots and curled around the base of a nearby tree.
Voldemort regarded the huddled mass bowing low in the dirt with disgust before waving a hand.
"My Lord, they've returned to the Black house. I heard them talking about the Horcrux and Snape."
"Snape? What of the traitor? SPEAK!" Voldemort demanded.
The figure cringed, tightening like an abused animal, watching Voldemort's wand with wide eyes from beneath their hood.
"They have taken him back at Hogwarts," a trembling voice said, twitching when Voldemort stepped closer. "He is training Potter. They also said he is in love."
"Love? Snape? That wretched traitor!" Voldemort roared and stood over him. Snatching the wizard by the throat, he screamed, "WHO?"
"The Mudblood Granger, my lord," a stuttering voice managed to croak out.
After enjoying the pure terror rolling off the shaking form in his grasp, Voldemort pushed him away roughly, sending him to the ground.
"The traitor must die, that is certain," Voldemort muttered to himself, pacing in front of the gasping wizard who was still clutching his throat from being half-strangled. "He must have access to ancient Dark Arts information. No one knows how to remove the Dark Mark. Perhaps I underestimated old Severus..."
Turning to the mass of tattered robes cowering at his feet, he said in a cold voice devoid of emotion, "You will find out what they are planning. This Horcrux I expected to lose. I will not lose more."
"My Lord, I don't think he will trust me. Snape will see… "
"CRUCIO!" Voldemort roared without warning, watching in amusement as the writhing figure before him screamed to the sky, sending birds fleeing their perches.
Voldemort lifted the Curse and clutched the wizard's robes, pulling him to stare directly into his eyes. "You will go. If you fail me again, I assure you, I will not be as kind. You will beg me for death."
When the trembling wizard could do nothing but nod furiously in agreement, Voldemort sneered.
"You have your orders. Now go!" he roared, shoving him away and turning to leave. Nagini hissed and made a mock strike before moving around the far side of a copse of trees.
Severus stood looking out the window, lingering on his memories of Lily and how things could have been different. While the scenery was beautiful, his mind absorbed none of it, choosing to remind him of past failures and replay conversations with people who were long dead. He observed an owl's flight as it approached the castle, slowly registering the fact that it was soaring directly towards his window.
Must be for Hermione. No one in their right mind would owl me, unless it's a Howler or a polite invitation to report to Azkaban.
The owl indeed intended to deliver a message. It swooped to land on the window sill and pecked the glass impatiently. Severus opened the window, allowing the bird to hop inside and ruffle its feathers irritably before sticking its leg out. After retrieving the letter, Severus looked to see the owl was still waiting and eyeing his toast.
"Fine, you bloody bird," Severus muttered, giving the owl a crust and shooing it back outside. When it didn't leave, he realized it was awaiting a reply.
I have information for you. Please meet me outside the gates at midnight.
Raising an eyebrow slightly, he recognized the seal and to whom the owl belonged. Severus wrote out a reply and sent the owl on its way.
"Severus, do you think a modification of the Felix Felicis potion will help?" Hermione asked, watching him look through his notes. Severus' "filing system" irritated Hermione to no end, as it consisted of piles and piles of parchment and notebooks stretching upwards for yards. Spiders had created webs over some of the towers, and other stacks had used cauldrons balanced on them.
"Possibly, although that potion is delicate – to put it mildly. I do suggest that – if given the chance – Potter should take some; however, my issue is any conflict with the one we're developing," he said while flipping through a rather large, intimidating-looking book. All we need is an exceedingly confident Potter making crucial mistakes. Modification of one's emotional state is a tricky business."
Hermione nodded while trying to resist the urge to clean. How he could keep such an immaculate classroom and have this mess tucked away was amazing. The work area, however, was spotless; no doubt because contamination could be deadly.
"Oh, look at the time. Time to go destroy the castle a bit more," Severus said, smirking.
"You're enjoying yourself a little too much, Severus," Hermione said warningly.
"Oh, you just feel left out," Severus teased as he marked his place.
"I do not!" Hermione said in surprise. "Besides, I could hardly duel with you."
Severus nodded. "Because you'd lose."
"No," she said, laughing. "Because I couldn't try to hurt you, that's why."
"Oh, of course." he said with a grin. "This from someone who’s threatened me in a manner frightening to men more times than I can count."
Hermione rolled her eyes and shrugged. "Point taken."
As Hermione and Severus entered the Great Hall, Minerva approached and announced, "In light of the unfortunate destruction that is the usual result of your duels, I've thought of a solution. We will work in the Room of Requirement this time."
When they arrived on the seventh floor, Minerva walked past the blank space on the wall three times, and then entered. What met them was a deep room with a few chairs set off to the side. The walls looked to be of hard stone, without any adornments, and there were several wooden uprights throughout the room that could offer cover. Severus looked bored as he looked around the room.
As Arthur, Molly, Ginny, Ron and Hermione took their seats, Harry and Severus approached the center of the room. Madam Pomfrey stood off to the side, looking as nervous as usual.
"Now," Minerva said, looking much relieved that no more of Hogwarts would be damaged. "You both know the usual rules."
"Potter, tonight I will not be using Legilimency; however, I expect a quiet mind from you. Concentration," Severus said, shifting effortlessly into his former teaching role. "Go through the process we went over this morning. Understand that in a true battle the opponent would hardly stand and allow such a luxury. The more you practice, the better you will become. Eventually, you will be able to simply close your eyes for a moment to accomplish this. Begin."
Harry nodded and closed his eyes. He performed the mind-clearing exercise exactly as Severus had described, then, taking a deep breath, opened his eyes. "I'm ready, sir."
Minerva looked to Severus. "Ready?"
"Always," he said with a smirk.
"Right then, begin!" Minerva said, moving off to the side to join the others.
Before Severus could cast, Harry jumped and took cover behind one of the wooden uprights.
"Interesting strategy, Potter. Going to bore Voldemort to death are you?" Severus taunted as he walked towards the barrier. Raising both arms high, he slashed his wand, sending bolts of red light to all five of the wooden barriers. Showers of splinters rained down covering everyone within range.
Harry recovered quickly and, with eyes blazing, threw several spells one after the other at Severus as he moved to the side around the ruins of the nearest barrier. Looking bored, Severus blocked them all, sending them bouncing towards the rear of the room where they ended their lives harmlessly.
"Try harder, Potter. I'm growing tired of this messing about," Severus growled, advancing on Harry. Without warning, he waved his wand slightly and threw Harry across the room to crash into the stone wall.
"GET UP!" Severus roared.
Harry had barely gotten to his feet, rubbing his head when Severus attacked again. Harry successfully blocked several spells, which shot across the room and nearly slammed into where everyone was watching before angling to the right. The walls again absorbed the impact.
Charmed to not break I see, Severus thought with disappointment.
While casually deflecting another spell, Severus complained, "Oh, Minerva, you've made this dull."
"Severus, may I remind you this is a learning exercise, not a method to slowly destroy the castle," Minerva called, watching Harry dodge another spell, which then bounced easily off of the ceiling and faded away.
"Fine," Severus said through gritted teeth, throwing another series of spells. He snarled as Harry circled around, causing him to miss.
As Harry moved, he caught sight of Ginny and looked to lose concentration for a moment. He was then slammed by an Impediment Curse. He fell, rigid.
Severus leaned over Harry and growled, "Lost your concentration, it seems. Quite regrettable." Releasing the spell, Severus stood up, yelling, "MOVE!"
Before Harry could fully recover, Severus threw a Stunner which Harry attempted to dodge but caught in the shoulder, getting thrown backwards. Severus cast another barrage of spells, forcing Harry to throw himself to the floor. The combined spells blasted the door off its hinges.
As the door came to rest out in the hallway, the room's features wavered, and then solidified once more. The room now held mountains of objects piled nearly to the ceiling. Books, cauldrons, cleaning supplies, and all assortments of other things were teetering in great spires. Several winding paths cut through the mess.
"Severus!" Minerva's voice rang out from somewhere in the room.
Experimentally, Severus set fire to one of the books lying on the ground, looking satisfied as it burned. Muttering, "Better," to himself, he looked up at Harry, who was rubbing his injured shoulder.
"Continue, Potter," Severus growled, regaining the predatory look in his eye.
Harry readied himself and silently cast Sectumsempra, which Severus dodged. The spell slammed into a nearby tower of books, doubling it over on itself before collapsing into another, sending books and parchment tumbling down.
Batting away falling books, Severus' eyes were locked on Harry as he climbed over the clutter. While Harry was regrouping and looking for how to maneuver, Severus reached out, and, grabbing hold of him, cast Legilimens. The rage he felt fighting him was incredible.
Severus said, "Impressive."
Before Harry could react to the compliment, Severus threw a complex mix of jinxes and curses, ending with a Disarming spell. Harry successfully blocked all of them, sending them upwards to the ceiling. They arced gracefully over the top of the nearest tower, and both Harry and Severus were startled to hear the commotion as everyone on the other side dodged the spells.
Harry lunged forward suddenly and wordlessly cast Petrificus Totalus, which Severus blocked, but not before it knocked him off balance. Reaching out to steady himself, he tore into another tower of random parchment, pulling it down with him. As the assortment of books and heavy cauldrons fell, Severus snarled, and suddenly Harry was thrown violently backwards onto the growing pile of clutter. Scrambling backwards, Harry managed to block several spells as Severus crawled closer. Finally, Severus rose up and threw a Stunner, which Harry rolled to the side and avoided, but the Disarming spell that followed threw his wand out into the air.
Exhausted, both wizards lay panting. Severus said, "Passable, Potter. Still dead many times over. But an improvement."
Harry snorted and allowed a laugh. "Thank you, sir."
Severus smirked and said, "Better go check on our audience. We've given them quite a scare, I'm afraid."
As they rose, the room wavered once more, clearing the clutter away.
Minerva gave a disapproving look as Severus approached. "Did you change the room, Severus?"
"Now, Minerva, you know the room has a mind of its own. It provided what was needed. Potter needs to learn in a more realistic environment where things can be destroyed, and I need my entertainment," Severus said, suppressing a smirk.
Shaking her head and muttering something at the ceiling, Minerva turned and left without another word.
While Hermione and Severus passed by Harry and Ginny, Severus gave Harry a push and said, "Get on with it, Potter."
Harry looked startled for a moment, then nodded. He turned to a confused Ginny and asked, "Can we go somewhere and talk?"
Severus made his way to the castle gates, cursing the uneven ground and his still uncooperative leg. He pulled open the gates and readied his wand. He stood outside, watching the wind play with the branches, pulling them back and releasing, rocking their shadows. He relished the cool night air, enjoyed the darkness, the absence of distraction, the low, almost primal atmosphere, almost demanding quiet contemplation.
He did not, however, enjoy waiting, and so after only a few minutes started to pace. While fingering his wand, he entertained brief thoughts of Apparating away from it all to go into hiding. This particular thought was not new, but he now had a reason to stay. As he smiled slightly to himself, he sensed someone approaching.
"I was hoping you'd come," a figure in too-large robes said. A hood covered the majority of the face, with the shadows obscuring the rest. A slight stuttering in the voice betrayed nervousness.
"And why wouldn't I?" Severus said, sneering, "Have I not always tried to help you? I had no choice. You know that."
"Yes," a small voice came.
"What do you want with me?" Severus said impatiently, keeping his voice low.
"The Dark Lord is not happy about your desertion."
"Am I supposed to be impressed by this information?" Severus said irritably. "Tell me something I do not know."
The voice quivered slightly, then continued, "He knows of the search for the Horcruxes, that you have removed your Mark and turned on him. You are marked for death, but only at his hands. He wants to do it himself."
"I am overjoyed at the honor. I shall ensure I am wearing my best robes for the occasion," Severus said sarcastically.
"He also knows of your relationship..."
"What? How?" Severus snarled, roughly clutching the thin form and shaking it violently.
Quickly, the figure said, gasping, "I was tasked with monitoring the Black house now that the wards are down, and I heard them talking about you and that filthy Mudblood Granger..."
"Do NOT call her that!" Severus hissed and threw him to the ground. Part of his mind noted how light the body felt. The wind could have taken him down.
As Severus loomed over the fallen wizard, he froze as he heard him plead, "I'm sorry! I can't do it anymore. Please..."
Hearing the words dissolve into sobs, Severus scowled. He crouched down and reached out to push the hood away. What met his eyes was an atrocious mess. He snatched his hand back in revulsion.
Severus gasped in spite of himself. "Draco, what has happened?"
"The Dark Lord is what has happened to him," a voice said sadly from just far enough inside the forest to be hidden. As the voice's owner stepped forward, Severus' face contorted with disgust. His wand hand twitched slightly.
Severus stood up slowly and sneered at the new arrival.