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Romance

Of Debts and Debt Collection by Anastasia [Reviews - 10]

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Disclaimer: No money, fame or glory. Nope, still none. Not here. Just admiration.

AN: Many thanks to Ariadne. ;-)


"Aren't you going to do anything more than drag a comb through your hair?" Hermione called from the sitting room.

Severus stood staring into the bathroom mirror with a comb in his hand and said to himself, "How did she...?"

"Such high expectations for a visit from Potter..." he muttered and, tossing the comb, cast a spell to arrange his hair into something respectable. Hearing Hermione greeting Harry, Severus stepped into the sitting room.

Harry stopped dead and stared at the locket around Severus' neck in wonder. "Is that?"

Severus glanced down and fingered the locket. "Yes, it is. You'll be happy to know it's been taken care of, you might say."

"You? How did you find it?" Harry asked, clearly surprised. His eyes were fixed on the locket, as if it couldn't be true.

Taking a seat by the window, Severus asked Hermione, "Since I do not enjoy repeating myself... Hermione, would you please Floo Minerva and ask her to please join us?"

Harry took a seat, his look of disbelief shifting into one of hope.

Minerva stepped through the fireplace and was brushing off her robes as she said irritably, "Severus this had better be—"

Looking up, she trailed off at the sight of the locket around his neck. "Is that?"

Severus nodded and held up the locket so he could look at the engraving again.

"How did you find it?" Minerva said, her eyes shifting to Harry as she took a seat.

"That is the beauty of it. You see, it found me," Severus said with a slight grin.

Silence fell as Severus finished recounting his meeting with Narcissa and Draco. Minerva had a look of quiet contemplation, as if she was performing complex math calculations in her head.

A frown spread on her face. "Severus, do you truly believe they'll bring another?"

"I dare say it's quite a bargain," he said with a nod. "If they value their lives, they will take the offer seriously. Being a Death Eater is far from an easy existence. Throw in Voldemort becoming more delusional by the day, and you have an excellent recipe for disaster. The fact that he tasked a child to kill Dumbledore is direct evidence of his mindset. That was pure revenge for Lucius' failure in that fiasco at the Ministry."

Staring hard at Harry, Severus added, "Trust me when I say that if you fail to deliver on your commitments, you will become intimate with the dirt at his feet, and the sky will know your scream very well."

Hermione allowed herself for a moment to think about all the times Severus went to what he knew was going to be certain torture. To do that while everyone else both rested easily and hated him was beyond her ability to comprehend.

After an uncomfortable silence, Severus said, "Whatever happened to Draco will look like a tea party compared to the punishment for another failure. Voldemort will be expecting information concerning our plans very soon, and Draco is in no position to even make a random attempt at lying. Narcissa knows this and is in a complete state of panic."

"He couldn't possibly expect Draco to be capable of spying," Minerva said, shaking her head slowly. "And in that state? Narcissa is a still a mother, Severus. She only cares for her son."

"Despair does wonders for the complexion," he said softly, ignoring Minerva's comment. His eyes held a satisfied look at the memory of the distraught witch.

Hermione didn't care much for that look and then reminded herself that the man before her was hardly an angel.

"Severus, must you enjoy the pain of others?" Minerva said disapprovingly.

Raising an eyebrow, Severus said plainly, "Minerva, life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

Minerva pressed her lips in a thin line and said nothing.

"Allow me to remind you that Narcissa is just as much a Death Eater as Lucius. Yes, they are quite a matched pair when it comes to taking pleasure in the evils of this world. Let us not forget it was she who forced me to take the Vow that ended in Albus' death. I have absolutely no reason to suddenly have pity on her."

Sneering, he added, "In my opinion, she deserves to shed every tear, suffer every sleepless night, and stare into the face of her ruined son every day for the rest of her wretched life."

Minerva looked saddened at his position, but said nothing, choosing to let the matter lie.

Hermione asked, "Do you think Voldemort has told anyone of the Horcruxes?"

After thinking for a moment, Severus said, "No, not all, but as we know from Lucius' little escapade a few years ago, he was in possession of the diary. Lucius would be a start, and our path to his knowledge is through a certain highly motivated witch and her son."

Hermione and Harry exchanged a glance.

Severus crossed his arms as a perfectly evil grin spread on his face. "Yes, I expect to hear back from them very soon indeed."

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"Take my advice, did you?" Severus asked, a slight smile playing on his face.

The question needn't have been asked, the way he was walking. It was as if the weight on his shoulders had been lifted... a light shining only on him, and a perpetually sappy grin on his face.

Harry didn't immediately grasp Severus' meaning. "Oh – Yes, sir."

Severus made a lazy "go on" motion with his hand. "And?"

"She said 'yes,' so we're together again... sir," Harry said uncomfortably. He still couldn't get past the absurdity of being tasked with getting back with Ginny as homework.

"Good. Let's try this again, shall we? Clear your mind."

Harry closed his eyes and imagined he was in a large empty room. There was a well-worn desk piled high with parchment and books in the center, and the only light was from a dusty window. Setting to work, he systematically removed the clutter, placing books in the drawers and tidying the parchment. Once the desk was cleared, Harry placed a single picture of Ginny in the middle. Making sure the frame was straight, he took a deep breath and opened his eyes slowly. This time, Harry felt a wash of peaceful emotion come over him.

Harry said quietly, "Ready."

Leaning forward, Severus took possession of Harry's eyes and whispered, "Legilimens."

Severus attempted to move into Harry's mind, but was met by strong resistance. Entering an empty room, he could see nothing to grab onto, as memories and emotions were shut behind a barrier. He could hear Harry's thoughts from some far away place chanting at him to leave, and something was pushing him back. Deciding to use more force, Severus increased the pressure. Soon, he was able to advance a fraction deeper before being shoved backwards again. He could only see dim images of Ginny's smiling face. She was looking at Potter with such fire and... love?

The image switched over, and now Severus was looking at Potter sitting in front of the mirror of Erised. Lily and that prat James waved back at him. Lily's eyes were filled with so much love for her son.

"Those eyes..." Severus thought in a haze.

"NO!"

Suddenly Severus felt a tearing sensation and was shoved out of Harry's mind.

Harry leaned back in his chair, shaking his head slightly. He looked at Severus in confusion for a moment before saying, "I kept seeing..."

"Her eyes?" Severus said distractedly.

"Yes..."

Severus said nothing for a moment. This is my personal hell. To have to stare into her eyes in this damn boy.

"This time I shall be more forceful. In a duel you may use your wand; however, try to resist at the first touch."

"Yes, sir," Harry said, readying himself.

Severus nodded and whispered, "Legilimens."

Immediately upon entering Harry's mind, Severus felt himself pushed violently backwards. When he raged against the resistance, he was shoved even harder. Gathering himself, Severus threw his mind full force and progressed far enough to grasp onto a few traces of emotion. Happiness... love... hope... yes, it was all there. Trying to grasp onto those fleeting glimpses was like touching smoke. The images flashed too fast to see, blurring, a rage building at the intrusion, then a crushing blow.

Severus awoke to find himself on the floor, his legs and robes tangled in his overturned chair.

A shocked looking Harry Potter came into view over him. "I'm sorry, sir. Are you all right?"

"Yes, of course," he growled, trying to regain his composure. He brushed Harry away and got to his feet, setting the chair back upright and taking his seat again.

"Once more. Legilimens."

Once again as he entered, Severus was met with a wall of resistance. Prying with all his energy, he could not advance more than a few inches through the wall. Memories and emotions lived on the other side of a solid wall. Voices could be heard, fading, leaving.

Trying one last time, Severus could only move far enough to grasp onto that fleeting glimpse at what he knew Voldemort could not possibly endure. For him, a fate worse than death... love.

Severus withdrew and studied Harry for a moment. Silence stretched out between them as he thought before saying, "That was quite impressive, Potter. No one has ever been able to resist me quite like that. Not even full-grown Death Eaters. The test, however, will come in our next duel to see if you can keep that up." Severus looked relieved as he leaned back in his chair. "Yes, quite impressive."

Harry only stared at him in stunned silence.

"Yes, Potter, you heard correctly."

As Harry continued to await the usual sarcastic remark that would negate the praise, Severus said, while rolling his eyes, "Oh, do close your mouth."

Catching himself, Harry managed to respond, "... thank you, sir."

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"Just how many times can one study the exact dimensions of a room and memorize the texture of the walls?" he thought bitterly.

Yes, you can watch as whatever natural gray light creeps along the wall, playing on the shadows where the stone was carved. The crushing feeling of impending doom may lift slightly as the day brightens for a short time, taunting, offering fleeting hope, before descending back into the deep fog of despair. Time becomes a mystery, something to be constantly calculated for fear of forgetting, of losing contact with the basics of society, to not know what day it is, or, even worse, the time. Sometimes they feed you, all the while with disdain, muttering about the frivolous waste of food on the condemned. At times, the voice in the center of the mind is relieved at the prospect of eating; other times it considers that poison wouldn't be such a terrible idea.

He replayed the memory of that night over and over in his mind. It was as if it was compulsive to relive your worst memories there, to delve into the maze of decisions and possibilities, alternate outcomes and fantasies of success. What could have been, if just one variable had fallen into place, changed or been removed.

He had ceased raging long ago, but a ferocious hatred had taken root, devouring what little soul he'd once possessed. The loss of his position within the inner circle was particularly painful. His careful balancing act between both worlds was in ruins. When he heard of the raids on the mansion, he felt nothing, but when he was told of his son...

Narcissa had ceased visiting him, saying it was hopeless. That even without the Dementors, the place was the very gaping hole of mental torture and death. Even a person of evil tendencies retained some sort of self-preservation, so she turned her back on him.

Moving slightly, he attempted to at least get more comfortable to pass the rest of the day (or night). Passing time is a frivolous effort when there is a goal at the end. When there is nothing but death as the destination however...

A shadow crossed over him as he heard footsteps echoing on the stone floor.

"Malfoy!"

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"That's wonderful, Harry!" Ginny said, smiling, after he shared the results of his Occlumency lesson.

"Yeah, I just hope I can keep the bastard out of my head and from tearing a limb off," Harry muttered, glancing across the room at Severus. As he spoke, Ginny tried to fix his hair.

"Ginny! I don't think my hair needs to look neat for a duel," Harry said, laughing as he took her hands in his.

"I'm sorry, I'm just nervous," she said, blushing slightly. "I'll just go over with Hermione and sit then."

Ginny took a few steps away, but then spun back to return to him quickly. She paused for a second before leaning in to kiss him. Although she meant for it to be a quick kiss for luck, it quickly moved into a soft lingering expression of everlasting support and love. To Harry, it was as if no one else was in the room or, for that matter, in the world.

"If you insist on continuing, I shall need to direct you two to get a room."

Ginny's eyes tracked upwards, and she quickly left to sit with the others. Harry turned to find Severus standing directly behind him. He could swear that there was an amused look in his eyes.

"Sorry, sir."

"So, here we are once again, Potter. Care to make it memorable this time?" Severus said, then, leaning closer, added, "You can do this. Remember, there is a clear difference between confidence and arrogance. Do not cross that line."

"Severus, Harry, if we may begin?" Minerva called.

"Now, let's try and kill each other like civilized people," Severus said with a smirk.

"Good evening to the two of you. Now, we are yet again using the Room of Requirement as Severus cannot contain his desire for destruction." She paused, hoping to shame Severus. When he gave no indication of caring, Minerva frowned slightly and moved on. "We shall allow the room to determine what is needed. If you both are ready?"

Harry and Severus both nodded, holding each other's eyes.

"Fine then, begin!" Minerva said and left the middle of the room.

As Harry readied himself, the room changed around them. The torches were obscured, and shadows closed in to encircle them. Looking around, he could see huge trees appear with long winding limbs stretching to the ceiling. He watched as soil flowed in from the outskirts to wash over the stone. Once the floor was covered, moss appeared at the base of each tree, creeping upwards on what would be the north side, if the Forest were on the seventh floor of Hogwarts Castle.

As if to complete the mood, the ceiling dissolved into stars, and a cool mist appeared around them, moving effortlessly around the trees as a night wind blew gently.

While room's transformation completed, Harry looked up to find Severus gone. Swinging around and not seeing him anywhere, Harry cursed to himself. Left with little more than what passed for dim moonlight, Harry moved slowly to the nearest tree and cast Lumos.

His wand had barely time to illuminate when he was struck and thrown across the clearing into the base of a tree.

"Not exactly a stellar idea to notify your opponent of your location, Potter," a voice said from somewhere nearby. Harry moved quickly to his feet, throwing himself behind a boulder as the tree he had just been lying beneath exploded, throwing chunks of wood out onto the ground. Using the light of Severus' wand to locate him, Harry quickly threw a Disarming Spell, which was blocked. The spell flew upwards, severing limbs and sending them crashing to the ground.

"Fascinating," Severus said tauntingly, standing far enough in the darkness to be hidden.

Harry moved low as he tracked Severus by his voice. Keep talking, you arrogant bastard, he thought to himself while trying to not tangle his legs in tree roots.

As Harry moved past another clump of roots, a jet of light grazed him as it shot past. The spell tore open his sleeve and streaked fire down his arm. Blasting into the ground, it spread flames out like liquid before dying out. From the angle it seemed like it had come from...

Above?

Another bolt came, and he barely had time to block it, sending it spiraling off to the side and then bouncing along the floor.

"Potter, we could play hide-and-seek all night if need be," Severus teased, clearly enjoying himself. A low chuckle in the dark.

When Severus finished speaking, Harry had come full circle, and Harry was certain he was behind him now. He pushed through some low brush and listened carefully in the dark. Taking a chance, he silently cast Sectumsempra and watched as the spell flew, illuminating the mist below. It found its mark, striking Severus squarely in the back. The light died before Harry could see what it had done, but he didn't need to be told he should move fast.

Severus never saw it coming. As the spell ripped his robes and reopened old wounds, he was thrown forward, barely catching himself before he could fall. He allowed himself no time to contemplate his condition and openly stalked to find Potter. In a rage, he set fire to the nearest sapling, spreading the flames onto adjacent bushes. When he heard slight movement on his right, Severus sent a spell directly into the junction of two large branches, tearing one off and sending it end over end to land in flames in a clearing.

Harry, sensing that stealth was no longer an option, launched himself out into the open and threw several spells. The space between them rose in the light, bright enough for Harry to see the fury in Severus' eyes as he blocked them all. Streaks of light flew in all directions, crashing into trees, rebounding off of rock and slamming into the simulated sky. As Severus advanced, one of the stricken trees gave up its fight, delivering its last protest with a great crack before collapsing to the ground.

Taking the distraction of the falling tree as an advantage, Harry threw two Disarming Spells as he scrambled to take cover. Severus blocked both of them, and was impressed to find that the prat was throwing more.

Now we're getting somewhere.

Severus was able to dodge the series of spells, sending them spinning wildly on their way off into the darkness. The only indication that the forest was, indeed, a room with real boundaries was revealed when the spells rebounded and came back. Something in his instinct told him to turn, but he was too late. Severus caught two Stunners square in the chest and fell.

Dimly, he heard Harry mutter, "Ennervate," and he rose to his feet.

Harry immediately backed off and prepared to strike again. Before Harry could raise his wand Severus snarled, "Legilimens." Satisfied when he felt an incredible fight even before he could begin to invade, he broke the connection.

Severus threw a barrage of spells as Harry fled to the nearest cover. The ground around him broke apart as he ran, forcing him to almost fall several times. Bark flew in all directions as trees were grazed, and a flurry of leaves, some aflame, sailed though the air. Harry had almost made it to the deeper woods when he caught the last spell in the leg, sending him crashing to the ground.

Severus watched in satisfaction as Harry tried to drag himself and his uncooperative limb behind a tree.

"Willing to give, Potter?" Severus said, with a taunting glint in his eye. While Harry looked to be plotting something, Severus took the opportunity to cast Legilimens, forcing himself into his mind. He felt anticipation and nervousness, but also confidence, love and determination. Images, as before, flashed at a blazing pace, memories, fleeting thoughts, pictures, anything from the mundane to the night on the Tower. Getting lost in the confusing flurry of emotions, Severus failed to realize that Harry was preparing to cast a Stunner.

Severus was thrown out of Harry's mind as he heard Harry's thoughts scream, "Stupefy!"

Harry quickly gathered himself, disarmed Severus, and released the spell.

The room cleared, pulling the trees and brush down, sinking into the floor as the light brightened. Harry lay back, not wishing to look at his leg. He could hear Severus breathing hard, the silence worrying him more than anything.

Harry had no idea how to handle the fact that he had won. Silence seemed to be the best strategy.

Between struggling to keep his breath, Severus said while staring at the ceiling, "Good, Potter. Tonight, it is I who would have been dead."

Raising himself up on his elbows, Harry said sincerely, "Thank you, sir."

"Tonight, you may call me 'Severus.'"

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"It's your lucky day, Malfoy. You have visitors," a jeering voice called.

Lucius saw Narcissa standing outside of his narrow cell with a mix of fear and anticipation on her face. Off to the side, a robed figure stood, a hood obscuring his face.

Looking at her with disgust, he said, "You must want something. It's not difficult to determine that you are not here on a social call, wife."

Watching as the guard left the corridor, Narcissa moved closer to the bars and whispered urgently, "Lucius, I need to speak with you..."

"Leave me be, Narcissa. I'm not interested in anything you have to say. I haven't forgotten you've abandoned me here to rot," he said coldly, glaring at the floor.

"Lucius, you must listen to me," she whispered, glancing around to ensure no one was around. In a rambling voice bordering on panic she said, "Severus has removed his Mark and turned against the Dark Lord. We met with him, and he agreed to remove ours and hide us if we deliver another Horcrux. We gave him the locket and—"

"WHAT?" Lucius roared, wide-eyed. He shoved himself from his cot and rushed to the cell bars.

Gripping the cold metal, he snarled viciously, "You dare to even think of turning against the Dark Lord?"

Narcissa recoiled, clasping her hands to her chest as he raged. "Traitor! When I get out of here, I shall return to my place beside the Dark Lord! My first task will be to seek out and kill Snape first, then you!"

"Lucius, how can you still be faithful to him after what he did to your son?" she gasped. Grabbing hold of Draco's robes, Narcissa reached up and jerked his hood back. "Look at him! This is what the Dark Lord has done to our son, and you are still faithful?" Narcissa cried frantically.

The rage in Lucius suddenly switched over to revulsion at the sight of his son, his face disfigured so that he was just a shadow of what he once was. Draco pushed his mother away roughly and threw the hood back over his head, hiding his face once more.

Lucius first stared at her in shock, then, in degrees, his eyes moved to the floor. Slowly, he sat again and remained silent for a time. Narcissa held her hands up to her face and cried softly.

"Father?"

Lucius flinched at the sound of Draco's voice. He sat on the cot, head down, his hands balled into shaking fists.

"The Dark Lord has tasked me to spy on the Order. I-I can't...There's no way they'll trust me. He expects information soon. He'll know if I'm lying and will kill me if I fail him again..."

Lucius continued to stare at the floor, his jaw muscles working as he ground his teeth.

"He has spoken about you, too. About the fight for the prophecy," Draco said quietly.

Lucius said nothing but tilted his head slightly, indicating some form of interest.

"He has said that you should count yourself lucky to be in Azkaban, escaping true punishment. The others laughed."

Lucius snorted softly and shook his head as he sat on what passed for a bed. Liar.

Draco said with sadness, "He said he has no place for a failure and coward like you."

Narcissa stepped forward, keeping her voice low, "Lucius, has the Dark Lord shared this information with you?"

Watching the conflict playing about Lucius' features, she pleaded, "Lucius, please. We have no choice..."

"This is my fault. My failure," said Lucius quietly. Resignation spread on his face. Taking a deep breath, he stood and came to the bars. Fingering the welds where the iron crossed, he motioned them close.

"Narcissa, you know of the room below the drawing room floor?" Lucius asked quietly.

"Yes; only you and Dobby have ever gone down there," she said, leaning close and placing a hand on his.

After a long pause during which Lucius looked to be making a life-altering decision, he said, "You will need Dobby to open the door, as it is charmed to only the elf or myself. In that room there is a cup charmed to appear black. It is in reality the Hufflepuff cup and a Horcrux. The cup is protected by Dark Magic, so you'll need to bring Severus to help. He will know what to do."

Once finished, Lucius ran his hands through his dingy hair and said, while hanging his head, "What have I done?"

"The right thing, Lucius," Narcissa said, and, looking over at Draco, repeated once more to herself, "The right thing."

After they had left, Lucius leaned back against the cold stone wall, a disturbing smile sliding onto his face. A low chuckle escaped him as he whispered to himself, "Traitors."

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"Sir? I mean – Severus?" Harry said awkwardly. He watched as Severus, lying on his stomach in the hospital bed, opened one eye lazily. The scars across his back were atrocious, to put it mildly, and a large jagged gash now ran the length from his left hip up to his right shoulder. Harry felt ill as he watched it flex with each breath Severus took.

"Yes?"

"During the duel, you said you'd have been dead..." Harry began, thinking hard.

"Your point?" Severus said irritably.

"Well, I couldn't help but notice that if you had cast the Killing Curse the first time you hit me, I would have been—"

Severus sighed. "Potter, I could have killed you thousands of times. Easily. Even without a wand, I have the power to throw you with enough force to snap your neck instantly. If in an experimental mood, I could curse you in such a way that it would make the Cruciatus look like a blessing."

Harry stared at him, stunned.

"Take what I am about to say very seriously. What we have been doing to date has been to disarm or incapacitate. When you are faced with Voldemort, you will be fighting to the death. In the final battle, you will not be allowed such luxuries as a moment of inattention."

Wincing slightly as he raised himself up onto one elbow, Severus said, "There is one key point here that is crucial for you to understand. Voldemort is more powerful than you; of that there is no question. The difference is, he will most undoubtedly be the same arrogant bastard he ever was and will severely underestimate you."

Harry nodded, his mind still absorbing how much Snape had been holding back.

Severus said seriously, "Your strength lies in his arrogance. When two wizards can cast the Killing Curse, the only question is of the timing."

"How should I? I mean, should I have a game plan or something?" Harry asked, hungry for advice.

Shaking his head, Severus said, "No. What you did tonight was pivotal in that you played off of my weakness. I continued to underestimate you, and you used that to your advantage. I also have been trying to settle old scores with the ghost of your father."

Harry's eyes widened at Snape's admission. He wisely remained silent.

"For that, I was wrong. It will not happen again."

After the initial shock of Severus' statement wore off, Harry said, "Thank you."

Severus nodded and looked at Harry intensely, "You need to understand, there is nothing more in this world I desire more than to see him dead. I will do anything within my power to make that happen, regardless of my vow."

Light was scarce as the clouds obscured the moon; however, Harry could see Severus' eyes shine with a light of their own as he promised, "I give my you word. I will be there."

Somewhere in the hospital wing, a clock began to chime. A faint sound of glass bottles against each other could be heard as Madam Pomfrey took her potions inventory.

Harry nodded. "Thank you... Severus."

"You're welcome, Potter, and it's after midnight, so it's back to 'sir,'" Severus said with a slight grin. He then lowered himself to lie down once more.

Harry chuckled and said, "Yes, sir."

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"You take pleasure in my frustration."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Oh, stop being so melodramatic. This is hardly the first time."

"Get on with it then and finish," he said through his teeth.

Hermione stifled a laugh as she put more healing balm on the gash on Severus' back. After he had stalked the hospital wing for most of the night, Madam Pomfrey had thrust the balm into Hermione's hands as soon as she arrived and ordered Severus out.

"There, it's done now," Hermione said in a condescending voice and patted his head. The wound looked like it would only take another day or two to heal. "You can come out now and stop trying to hide your groaning in the bedding," she said, grinning. "I've heard you before, you know."

"So I remember," he said with amusement.

"I – wait, what is that?" Hermione said suddenly and listened. She stood and went into the sitting room in search of the noise and found an owl urgently pecking the window. Not a school owl, and no one I know...

As she opened the window, the owl hopped onto the table and took flight, soaring into the bedroom. She came to the doorway to see the owl sitting next to Severus on the bed.

Severus recognized Narcissa's owl as he opened the letter.

Please meet us at noon and bring Dobby the house-elf. You and the elf are needed to obtain the item you are looking for.

Hermione came to sit next to Severus and shooed the owl away. It didn't leave; it simply hopped to the other side and rested there, waiting. Severus was lying on his side, scowling as he reread the letter.

As if reading his mind, Hermione handed Severus a quill from the nightstand. He simply wrote, "Agreed," and sent the owl on its way. With a soft rush of air, the bird took flight and arced left into the sitting room.

After reading the letter, Hermione said, "Severus, this doesn't sound right. It's too dangerous."

"Hermione..."

She interrupted him, saying, "No, you can't go. Now you even have this wound, and there's essentially a death warrant out for you..."

"This isn't up for discussion, Hermione. We cannot pass up this opportunity at another Horcrux," Severus argued, attempting to keep his temper under control.

"What if it's a trap?" she said, with true concern in her eyes. "I can't bear to think—"

"I shall deal with that on my own," he said, avoiding her gaze.

"You are not alone. I'm going with you," she said obstinately, crossing her arms as she leveled her best glare at him.

"No," he growled and moved to get up. "This conversation is over, and I am going to fetch an elf," he said irritably. "Do not follow me."

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him and said quietly, "Fine."

Severus raised an eyebrow at her lack of a good fight. Wincing as he put on his robes, he moved to leave after looking at her once more. She was watching him go with a mix of love, anger and fear, but did not move to follow.

After a few minutes of indecision as to the best way to follow Severus, a thought struck her. "Severus and house-elves?"

Hermione quickly headed to the kitchens.

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Dobby stared defiantly at Severus with his hands balled into fists. "Dobby is free and does not have to do what you say!"

The other elves in the kitchens were in various states of distress, staring wide-eyed as Dobby dared talk back to a wizard. Severus had a poor reputation amongst the elves as being the least desirable resident to look after. Often they drew lots, and the losers had to attend to Severus' rooms for the week.

Trying to control his temper, Severus stated in a stiff voice, "Elf, you will come with me even if I have to hex you."

"Miserable, nasty wizard cannot tell me what to do! You is not my master!" Dobby cried as he pointed up at Severus.

Several of the house-elves gasped and looked between Dobby and Severus, their hands up to their faces in shock.

Dobby yelled, "You is nothing more than slime on bottom of a soup pot, and not the good part!"

House-elves scattered as Severus strode forward, snarling, "Revolting freak of nature... HOW DARE YOU?"

"Severus, I really think I should... come..." Hermione said as she entered the kitchen. Her voice trailed off at the sight before her. Severus was gripping Dobby around the throat and shaking the elf with such ferocity that he was nothing more than a vibrating gray blur with his feet swinging in the air.

"SEVERUS SNAPE, YOU PUT THAT ELF DOWN THIS INSTANT!" Hermione yelled, leveling her wand at him.

Severus stopped throttling Dobby long enough to glare at Hermione. "Hermione, this thing needs to be taught respect!"

Approaching him with her wand raised, Hermione said dangerously, "Put – the – elf – down."

A battle of wills played out as they both traded looks that would kill while Severus stood, gripping the struggling elf. Finally, a scowl spread on his face, and Severus held Dobby out from him. He then not only dropped the elf, but made sure he hit the floor harder than necessary.

"Severus!" Hermione cried. "I said to put him down, not throw him!"

Severus smirked and waved his hand dismissively.

"Semantics..."

After shooting Severus a glare, Hermione crouched down and said, "Dobby, Harry needs your help. Can you go with Severus?"

Dobby jumped to his feet and said excitedly, "To help Harry Potter? Yes! Dobby would love to!"



AN: *rubs hands together* So... How is everyone? Oh, I know you're out there... I can hear you breathing. ;-)

"Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something." and " Now, let's try and kill each other like civilized people." ~ The Princess Bride


Of Debts and Debt Collection by Anastasia [Reviews - 10]

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