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Complete header information may be found in Part One.

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Acts of Will, Part Four

Harry had finally accepted that he needed help sorting out more than himself. He wasn't certain, however, as he stood watching Hermione's face change expressions so rapidly that he couldn't catch what she was thinking, that she'd been the right person to ask for it.

"You can't leave him like this," she whispered, her voice thick with emotion.

Swallowing, Harry protested, "But he's not dead."

"He might as well be."

"Don't say that! Don't, just—look, I'm sorry, Hermione. Please, don't tell—"

"I won't," she interrupted, rounding on Harry and slapping him.

"Wha—"

Hermione slapped him again. "Wake up, you imbecile! Can't you see what you're doing to yourself?"

Harry steadied himself and rubbed his cheeks. "You hit pretty hard for a girl."

"Damn it!"

That's frustration. I know that one. "Look, I shouldn't have told you. Just . . . just forget it—and don't tell Ron."

Eyes widening, Hermione placed her hands on her hips and sucked her lips into her mouth before exhaling. Harry watched, somewhat dazed and with a hammering heart, as she took several deep breaths.

I should probably hide the care log, Harry thought, glancing at it.

"Look at me."

"Looking."

"It's obvious what you're doing, at least to me. You're torturing yourself over things that weren't your fault. What Voldemort did wasn't your fault. What happened to Professor Snape wasn't your fault."

"But he—"

"Isn't your responsibility, either," Hermione continued, glancing at the rocking form of their former Potions master. "Well, that won't do," she said, picking up the nearby flannel and wiping Snape's mouth with it. "Harry?"

"Yeah?"

"Why is he nude?"

Harry coughed, suddenly and violently, and turned away from Hermione to compose himself. "Easier to, uh, keep him clean that way?"

"I note that the bed linens are reasonably fresh."

"Well, I . . . ." Fuck. "I don't know why," Harry whispered, as the words of a spell echoed on the walls.

When he dared to look, he saw that Hermione had clothed Snape in a simple black nightshirt.

"You can keep that clean as easily as bed linens."

"Yeah, I suppose I can."

"Harry?"

"Yeah?"

"Finish taking care of Professor Snape, and then join me in the drawing room," Hermione instructed. "If you don't, if you Apparate off somewhere, I'll do more than tell Ron about this—understand?"

Harry didn't understand much beyond Hermione's threat, but he nodded, and Severus, who had been shadowing Potter since his return from Albus' tea party, decided that Unspeakable Granger-Weasley was the best of witches.

*

"I'm sorry, Snape—Severus—"

"I never gave you leave to call me by name, Potter!"

"—Profes—sor Snape," Harry stammered, as he fed the wizard's body its nutritional potion. "I wasn't thinking."

No, you weren't, Severus silently replied, intrigued that the brat seemed to have heard him.

"I suppose I haven't been thinking for a long time."

Have you ever?

Harry shivered. Why does it feel like you're here? he thought, standing and setting aside the empty phial. "I've just been—I just couldn't—they might have killed you."

Severus sighed to see Potter in such a pathetic state. "They" would have killed me—and thrown me into the ground with a medal pinned to my chest.

Harry shivered again. "I'll be back, and don't worry—I'm not going to let her take you away."

"From me," Severus added, as he watched Potter leave.

He had to accept that Potter was attempting to protect him in his own way, but knowing this didn't inspire any feelings of gratitude.

Profound loneliness, as he well knew, often inspired terribly selfish acts.

At least he isn't a pervert, Severus thought, feeling strangely animate as he realized that his body's future was most likely being discussed abovestairs.

Not wanting to miss anything, he willed himself after the wounded brat.

*

"Drink this," Hermione told Harry, handing him one of Grimmauld's own tea cups.

Looking around the room, Harry said, "You cleaned," as he accepted it and drank.

"Someone had to, and you need to stop stealing your neighbors' china. It's not nice."

Harry almost spat his tea. "I'm keeping a be-spelled and . . . poisoned wizard in my sub-cellar, and that's all you can say?"

"Accio Harry's log book!"

"What are you doing?"

"My homework," Hermione replied, looking expectantly at the door.

Nothing levitated through it.

"Of course not," Hermione muttered, before casting, "Accio Harry's personal journal!"

The book floated obediently into the room just moments later.

"How'd you know?"

She's not an idiot, Potter.

"Am I going to find the sordid details of what passes for your love life in here?" Hermione asked, plucking the journal from the air.

In spite of himself, Severus found Potter's sudden flush of skin appealing.

Calmly, Harry replied, "You will," before draining his tea. Burn, burn, burn.

"Stop that!" Hermione shouted, casting an anti-fire charm at the journal, which had begun to smoulder in her hands. "You're a right mess, aren't you."

"And badly in need of a spanking," Severus said. What the hell?

Harry started. "Did you hear that?"

Severus bit his fist in an attempt not to feel too animate.

"Are you having auditory hallucinations on top of everything else?"

"No!"

"Should I believe you?"

"Yes, of course you should. It was probably just Walburga."

The ghost materialized, demanding, "What is it, now?"

"Leave!"

Severus watched Mrs. Black sniff, contempt plain on her features, as they faded with the rest of her. He was relieved. He hadn't yet encountered her alone since their first meeting, and he didn't want to until he'd worked out how best to use her.

Hermione rose. "I should be going, as well."

"But what—"

"Harry," Hermione said, laying a hand on his shoulder, "I won't tell Ron—but no more clubs, no more allowing strangers to hurt you—understand?"

Potter's eyes welled with tears, and Severus, who knew how to respect a man's privacy, turned away.

Yes, be good enough to allow those of us who know you to do that, he thought, intrigued by how his perceptions of his metaphysical body were beginning to intrude upon his consciousness and determined to explore the matter more fully.

He still despised Potter, but the glimpses he'd had of the brat's well-sculpted backside as Potter had tended him had unexpectedly enlivened certain of his bits.

Pervert, he chastised himself, albeit not too harshly.

His self-hatred, whatever fed it, was no longer much of a burden to him.

~*~

Severus stared at himself, which was easily done as Potter kept the sub-cellar lit by sconces set high on the walls.

Where I—it—can't reach them.

By Severus' standards, there were no decent Potions texts in the house beyond what Potter used to brew the nutritional potion, so he had felt, however unwilling he was to be in his disensouled form's presence, that a direct observation of it was in order.

It shambled, rocked, drooled—but evinced no murderous impulse.

It has no master. Of course it doesn't.

It shat regularly, so Severus assumed that Potter had included a fiber component in its feeding solution. Happily, because he had no real desire to smell his own waste, he found that he didn't.

Interesting.

The thing's flesh was, despite the familiar imperfections, un-decayed. Severus took great comfort in that—but he couldn't quite grasp how the interaction of the draught and the curse had worked to evict his incorporeal essence from his body and preserve the shell—while not causing it to sleep—he suspected that sleep might require the presence of a mind to direct, but he needed to do more research on the matter.

I need texts on the metaphysical philosophies, Potions, and

The drooling made him lose his train of thought. Severus hated the drooling most of all and wanted very much to wipe it away from his chin.

But I don't have my wand, so there's no—idiot! You have your mind. Use it.

Even ghosts could direct enough energy to move things. With this in mind, Severus focused on the flannel on the bedside table and attempted to levitate it toward his body's face.

Nothing happened.

Severus tried again, repeating his attempt until he couldn't take the failure another moment. "Gah! I can turn a doorknob, but I can't move a sodding flannel?" he asked himself, tearing at his hair.

It hurt. Severus stopped—but then began to pull his hair once more as a thought occurred to him.

It hurts because I know I can do it and what my reaction should be.

Not hesitating, Severus stopped hurting himself, walked forward, picked up the flannel in his projected hand, and efficiently rubbed away the drool from his body's slackened face.

"Ha!" I know I have a hand, so I can use it. Right, then—no more failures of imagination on my part—magic is an act of will, and I've obviously got enough of that.

It occurred to him that he might possess enough will to influence Potter's behavior beyond what he'd already achieved by keeping the brat from calling him by his first name, and he decided it was important to try.

Because that woman has done him enough damage.

The thing that was his empty, fleshy self issued a sound like the deflating of a balloon.

"Not too empty, I note," Severus murmured, hastily leaving before he was treated to another bout of defecation.

~*~

Harry stared at the word above his finger. "'Suicide'. That's a cheerful bloody word."

Since Hermione had taken his journal, he'd been recording his daily words on a scrap of fish and chips paper.

Grim, aren't they? he thought, scanning the list:

 

"abortifacient

"crust

"despair

"rot

"murderous

"anticlimactic

"horde

"bereft

"wasting

"suicide"

Harry couldn't remember if his earlier words had all been as unpleasant. A voice in his head, the sound of it familiar and rich—and increasingly insistent—had told him they hadn't been. Being honest with himself, Harry couldn't even remember why he'd initially been drawn to the dictionary, which, he had to admit, had always frightened him a little.

You know what the covers are made of. Walburga told you, didn't she?

He hadn't felt compelled to call for Walburga in days, and wondered if that was why he was suddenly thinking more clearly.

Could be you're thinking more clearly because you haven't called for

Suddenly, things became yet more clear to Harry, and he balled his hands into fists and tried to hold back the overwhelming feeling of rage his realization made him feel.

Some hero I am, letting a spectre influence me like that. Well, I've had enough. "Walburga!"

"Don't you think I've better things to do than answer your peremptory summonses?" she asked, materializing next to him by the library stand.

On impulse, Harry tore out the page upon which "suicide" was defined in answer.

"How dare you!"

"I'll dare more than that if you don't stop playing with me."

The candles in the room flared so highly that their flames scorched the ceiling, and Walburga drew in a reedy sounding breath before saying, "I . . . I won't allow you to harm this house or anything in it."

Harry smiled, one that felt both ugly and good as it spread across his face. He could hear the change in Walburga's tone, and it pleased him to find her so frightened for a change. He moved to one of the display cases to retrieve Bledsoe's, flipping through its pages until he'd found the ritual that he now knew from his earlier research Walburga had to have used to keep her shade young.

She faded a bit before him and wrung her hands.

"Interesting. You're losing your looks there. Want help making it permanent?"

"Y—you hateful boy."

"Ah, ah, ah," Harry chided. "I told you, no insults. For that, you deserve more than a spanking."

Walburga thrust herself at him, her fingers splayed, but her raking digits passed through Harry's head as nothing but claws of extraordinary coldness, and he laughed.

He also began to chant.

~*~

Severus stood just inside the door to the drawing room and watched Potter in amazed horror.

That's a Dark spell.

Mrs. Black, partially dematerialized but held by Potter's power, shrieked and clawed at her face. Severus couldn't see it, but he knew what Potter was doing to it.

He's torturing her—and enjoying it!

It seemed that Walburga Black had driven the brat to what was, for him, a sort of madness, and Severus couldn't allow him to give into it: no wizard of Potter's power could be allowed to indulge in the Dark Arts.

That won't do, he thought, striding forward to tear the grimoire out of Potter's hands; he elbowed him hard in the ribs, as well.

Potter went flying into a display case.

"You bitch! How did you do that?" he shouted, struggling to rise amidst broken glass and cutting himself on the shards in the process. "Walburga, don't you—"

Severus didn't give Potter time to complete his thought; instead, he punched him in the mouth.

It was gratifying.

"Fuck! This is my house now, you bitch! Mine!"

"It shouldn't be," Severus told Potter, putting as much force into his words as he could in hopes of distracting him from doing some other stupid thing.

It didn't work well; Potter was too exercised to "hear" him, so Severus, unwilling to watch his caretaker damage himself further, did the first reasonable thing that sprang to mind: he grabbed the flailing wizard and forced him back to the floor by lying atop him before grinding his hips into Potter's own.

"Get off me, you bitch!"

Idiot, Severus thought, feeling himself harden as he poured himself into Potter's consciousness. "Witches don't have pricks."

Potter stilled as quickly as if he'd been hit by a stunning spell. "S—Snape? Snape, is that—can't be," he said, looking wildly about.

When he began to struggle again, Severus slid himself forward into a kneeling position on Potter's chest, thinking, See me, see me, see me, and grunting in satisfaction when Potter's eyes widened in shock.

"Mad. I'm . . . must be—"

Potter went limp as he lost consciousness, and Severus allowed himself to sag forward in relief.

It was short-lived.

From above and behind him, Mrs. Black said, "If you can do that, then you can kill him."

Continue to Part Five