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Complete header information may be found in Part One.

Return to Part Nine

Acts of Will, Part Ten

For a moment, Harry's courage flagged as he thought he might have said the wrong thing, but he forced himself to betray nothing of his fear as he stared at the woman.

Yaxley's mouth twitched again, into what Harry decided passed for a smile for her, and a scroll appeared on her desk; with a flick of her eyes, she sent the scroll flying toward Harry. "Read and sign that."

Harry unrolled the scroll and read:

"I, Harry James Potter, seal by ink of my blood—"

That's pleasant, but not unexpected, I guess.

"—this agreement to study the history and wielding of natural magic under the aegis of First Sorceress of Mysteries Yerbaya Arva Persephone Williamina Bede Dumbledore—"

"'Dumbledore'?" Harry asked, looking up from the parchment. "You're related to—"

"My lineage is no concern of yours. Continue."

"—Yaxley until such time as she shall deem me a master of same and her appraisal of my mastery be ratified by the Council of Mysteries."

What the hell is the Council of Mysteries? Harry asked himself. Best wait to ask that.

"The form and direction of my course of study shall be dictated by First Sorceress of Mysteries Yerbaya—"

"Yerbaya"—that's not like any name I've ever heard before.

"—Arva Persephone Williamina Bede Dumbledore Yaxley and approved by the Council of Mysteries, and I shall make myself available for instruction as directed until released from my tuition.

"I, Harry James Potter, further agree that, should I fail to uphold this agreement, I will be bound by warded means and compelled to face a Constraining Hearing before the Council of Mysteries."

"I have a few questions," Harry said, as he completed his reading.

"Ask them," the First Sorceress replied, her expression remote and impassive.

"What kind of name is 'Yerbaya'?"

"Mine."

"That isn't an answer."

"It is all the answer you shall receive at this time. I would have thought you would be more interested in the Council."

"I am. I'd also like to know why there's no 'Department' in your title."

"Ah, you have a quick eye. I told you, Mr. Potter, that Mysteries is not exactly part of the Ministry. We have been an institution unto ourselves for . . . some time. You will learn more about us as your course of study progresses. What else?"

"You said before that I hadn't done anything disturbing, but . . . but I killed people, and—"

"You speak of the revenge you took, I believe."

Harry didn't even bother to ask how Yaxley knew about it. If she's any relation to Albus Dumbledore . . . . "Yeah," he replied, too impatient to want to consider the First Sorceress' "lineage."

"It is that precise act of vengeance against Bellatrix Black Lestrange which precludes you from becoming an Unspeakable, but I feel you will not conduct yourself thusly in future. Is not that correct?" she asked, her eyes boring into Harry's.

He swallowed. "Uh, yeah—I mean, yes, it is. I won't."

"You have additional questions."

"I think I'd like," to get the hell away from you, "to, uh, arrange a schedule with you—if that's all right. The 'as directed' business is a bit too vague for my comfort."

"Easily remedied—shall we say that, in forthcoming, alternating months, you will meet with me for five concurrent days out of seven, to begin in March?"

Surprised to find Yaxley so reasonable, Harry readily accepted the arrangement, and the language was added to the agreement. "Um, this Council, they're your superiors?"

"In a matter of speaking. You may think of them as being akin to the Wizengamot."

"All right then. I suppose the only other thing is that the agreement's too open-ended. I don't want to be a student the rest of my life—and . . . and what if something should happen to you? Does that make the contract void?"

The First Sorceress and Harry discussed his concerns, among other topics, and then he used a bloodletting spell to drip his blood into an inkwell he conjured. For good measure, he also conjured his own quill, and, while the First Sorceress seemed amused by his caution, she said nothing as he signed the scroll—which disappeared in a puff of greenish smoke afterward.

"It is now part of Mysteries' archive. You will find a copy of it waiting for you at your home."

"And the amulet?"

"Can you not feel that it is gone?"

Harry looked down. "Damn. That was subtle."

"Subtly is, perhaps, something I might endeavor to teach you as well, Mr. Potter. Now then, please accept this phial in thanks for your . . . cooperation. It is an antidote to the Draught of Living Death."

"Thank you. I didn't even know one existed. I thought I'd have to figure out how to brew it on my own," Harry replied, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck rise as if the room were being charged for a spell.

The First Sorceress suddenly peered sharply over his shoulder and said, "There are benefits to befriending scholars."

Harry turned to see Severus' body resting on a writhing mass of elemental serpents. "Take Severus Tobias Snape to Twelve, Grimmauld Place and then disperse—harm no one as you do this," he ordered them, before turning back to Yaxley.

She was no longer sitting at her desk, but Harry heard her apparently disembodied and fading voice say, "Present yourself in the Atrium of the Ministry at dawn on the first day of March. Someone will conduct you to me."

"S—sure, of course," Harry stammered, feeling a bit unnerved. He laughed at himself for it. I could do a good disembodied voice if . . . if I wanted to, he thought, electing to walk out the way he'd been led in rather than Disapparate through strange and possibly damaging wards.

When he opened the door leading out of the room, he found himself in the circular room with the rotating doors that led one to other parts of Mysteries; despite the fact that his door was open, the room was spinning, and its floor appeared to be a vortex of rapidly swirling water.

Fuck. She's testing me, Harry thought, closing the door and then opening it again.

This time, the floor appeared to be calm, still water, and the door directly in front of him was open.

Taking a tentative step into the room, Harry thought, No, she's guiding me.

Harry wasn't sure if there was much of a difference between being tested or guided by Yaxley, and he didn't particularly want to think about it, but, as the circular room remained still, he decided he'd best be going on with the "tour."

So, what is it you want me to see? he asked, walking slowly toward the open door, taking a deep breath, and entering the offered room. Great. Just . . . super. It's the sodding Death Chamber.

The First Sorceress, alarming though she was, hadn't struck Harry as being a cruel woman, so why she wanted him to enter this particular room was a mystery to him.

"A mystery. Ha bloody ha," Harry whispered, suddenly feeling as though he were a balloon out of which all the air was escaping. Exhausted, he sank down to the stone floor and leaned his back against the door, which had shut behind him. "I just don't think I can do this right now," he said, hugging his knees to his chest and resting his chin on top of them. "Severus, I'm so sorry. I need a moment, just one sodding mom—"

*

Harry dreamed of bees. They were buzzing around his ears, knocking themselves against his glasses, and getting caught in his hair; no matter how many times he swiped at them, they wouldn't leave him alone—but they didn't try to sting him.

It was odd that they didn't, and this oddity caused Harry to awaken.

When he looked sleepily around, however, he only found the one bee, and it was zipping about in circles, each one drawing closer to the stone archway in the center of the pit.

Still being tested, I guess, he thought, stretching, standing, and feeling, he had to admit, much better for his nap. "Fine. You want me down there, I'll go." Even though I don't want to. Even though I think you're a bitch for bringing me here . . . to where Sirius died.

There were voices emanating from beyond the tattered curtain in the archway as he approached it, but, to his relief, Harry didn't recognize any of them. What he could recognize was the sound of bees, loads of them—and the strong scent of honey wafting toward him out of the archway.

"What do you want me to do, conjure toast and tea?"

A hand appeared in the archway; it caught the curtain and pushed it aside. Harry's eyes flew open and he caught his breath.

"Do step back a bit, dear boy. I don't want to walk through you."

"Professor Dumbledore!"

Harry's elated exclamation echoed in the chamber for some time as he stared at the unexpected wizard, who smiled and replied, as the lone bee came to rest on his nose, "Oh, it's just Albus now, Harry, for one can't teach much to bees that they desire to know."

"Y—you're here—but how? And are you . . . ."

"Quite dead, but it's not at all unpleasant. I'm pleased to see you looking so well. You've been feeding yourself up. That's good. You always were a tad on the skinny side."

Harry tried to laugh, but it stuck in his throat. "I . . . how?"

"I'm afraid—and I hope you won't be too cross with me—that I cannot explain the hows of this meeting. I only know the why."

"Well, all right. Why? I mean, it's good to see you sir, but—"

"Shall we sit?" Albus asked, moving to the steps.

Harry followed him and sat down. "You must be a ghost, but I can't see through you."

"I must be a ghost, indeed," Albus replied, his eyes twinkling, "and you must be anxious to get back to Severus."

Harry did laugh then. "You always know everything," he said, and then he realized the implications of his words and blushed furiously.

"I wouldn't want to know everything, of course, but I do know you've experienced several great shocks of late. It seemed remiss not to enquire after you before you left here."

Harry supposed, after all, it wasn't such a shock to find that Albus had known he was visiting Mysteries. "So, are you, uh, disappointed in me—for what I did? I've promised not to do it again, and—"

"Young man, I am nothing but proud of you. Rest easy on that score."

Harry felt a rush of happiness to hear these words, but he didn't reply. He couldn't stop staring at Albus, who looked so . . . real.

"I am real, to a degree and by some definition. Alas that not everyone can manage it, or perhaps—well, let us say that everyone, all of us, we are all proud."

Harry sniffed and blinked, fighting tears, as it occurred to him that what Albus was intimating. "They . . . they're all well?"

"And waiting, but do not expect to see your family soon, dear boy. You've a long and happy life ahead of you. That is, I expect, why I'm here. To reassure you of that."

Harry hung his head. "So much has happened. I'm so tired, and I wanted, I mean, I tried—but I didn't—Severus stopped me."

"Yes, I thought he might. I'm glad, Harry. Severus is difficult, but loyal and dedicated to a fault. Your friendship will benefit you both."

"This is surreal—not that I'm complaining, of course. I just can't believe I'm talking to you like this."

"That's easy enough to understand, but I expect that you'll have many more such moments as you undertake your studies. Just see to it that Arva doesn't bully you like she bullies me—she'd be most annoyed if she knew I'd come to visit you."

"Arva—the First Sorceress?"

"Albus, what are you doing?"

Harry turned to find Yaxley glaring down at him—at Albus. "Oops," he said, turning to smile at the wizard. "I suppose that means we need to say goodbye."

"So it does," Albus replied, winking, and then he whispered, "You're calm now, Harry."

Harry blinked. Albus and the bee were gone, and he did feel amazingly calm, much more so than he had upon waking. His sense of peace was further strengthened by the fact that the First Sorceress, when he turned around to look toward her, was gone, as well.

As he climbed the stairs, he heard the buzzing again, and then Albus' voice inside his mind, saying, The trick to the room of twelve doors is to think about what it is you want to see on the other side of any of them. They're all the same, you see, and they each lead anywhere you require to go.

One small act of will later, Harry found himself in the Atrium of the Ministry, observing the well-ordered chaos of people going about their routines, and he smiled.

"I don't know how I'm going to manage it, studying with Yaxley 'five concurrent days out of seven'," he murmured, Disapparating at once to Grimmauld.

He found that he'd actually Apparated down the street from Grimmauld, which was just as well because there were annoyed-looking, unfamiliar Aurors lurking just inside the wards surrounding the house.

Wonder how long they've been here—and what they think they're here for? I feel like I've been gone for a year, and Severus must be thoroughly naffed off about—oh, for fuck's sake!

There was, Harry noticed, a familiar-looking photographer just outside of the wards.

He must've heard the Aurors were sent this way, he thought, taking a moment to hex the bloke's camera—using his wand, of course—before Apparating directly into Grimmauld's kitchen.

~*~

"What are you doing?" Severus demanded, glaring at The Magic of Birth's avatar as she settled Hermione into a prone position on the table-cum-bed in the kitchen. "She should be squatting. Do you not read yourself?"

The avatar clucked cheerfully in a supposedly soothing manner at Hermione and ignored Severus.

"I know you can hear me, you dried up bit of ink and parchment," Severus said, despite the fact that he didn't know any such thing. "She doesn't need the additional stress of—Harry."

Hermione grunted through a contraction, held steady by Ron, who had turned with Severus to stare at Harry.

"You're back," Ron said. "And the body?"

"Now, now, husband of pregnant witch, that is no way to pay attention to your beloved. Pay. Attention. My. Dear."

"Idiot avatar! You should tell them to take her away to St. Mungo's—or to call for a competent mediwitch," Severus demanded of Harry, who gave a weary sounding chuckle.

"Are you all right?" Harry asked Hermione.

"Does it . . . look like . . . it?" she demanded, in between taking deep breaths. "No . . . no amulet?"

His eyebrows raising, Ron asked, "The First Bint, she released you?"

"Ron!" Hermione exclaimed, obviously outraged.

Severus smirked. He found himself enjoying the marital dynamic of the Granger-Weasleys. It, along with his irritation at The Magic of Birth's outmoded ideas of birthing, had provided him with ample distraction while he'd been awaiting Harry's return.

Severus, is everything really all right here?

It's not—well, yes it actually is. Everything is under control, Severus bond-sent to Harry, relieved to know that he once again could connect to him in that intimate manner. I want to know everything, but I expect you'll wish to remain for this.

"What the hell happened?" Ron asked then.

"Husband of pregnant witch, do pay attention to your beloved," the avatar urged. "She is crowning."

Severus moved closer to the table, concerned that the avatar might try something drastically old-fashioned like a forceps-spell to speed the birthing process. "You'd best stand near the fearless Auror there, Harry. He's looking a bit green."

"I'm so . . . it's not . . . would you get this out of me?"

"Should I really be here?" Harry asked.

"Settle down, 'pregnant witch'," Ron teased, taking Hermione's hand—and then shouting. "OW! Oi! I was just—I'm sorry!"

"You're lucky she didn't hex your bollocks off, making such a crack at such a time," Severus muttered, feeling Harry's mirth ripple into him. "Well, he is. Why are they married? I can see no plausible reason for the union."

Harry laughed.

"What's so fucking funny?" shouted Hermione.

"Nothing. You're doing fine, Hermione," Harry said.

Severus heard Harry send to him, I don't think you should say that sort of thing about other people's . . . uh, relationships. We're kind of odd, ourselves, to which he could think of nothing to say. And then he heard the forceps-spell about which he'd been so worried and rushed to the birthing book, snapping it shut.

The avatar disappeared with an annoyed squawk.

"Hey! Why'd you do that? Snape, was that you? Snape, open the book!" Ron shouted.

"H—Harry," Hermione gasped out, "spell yourself sterile . . . and deliver . . . deli—grnt!"

Severus couldn't ever remember seeing Harry move so quickly, and, just as he moved into position, the loud, lusty cries of Cedric Harry Weasley were echoing off the kitchen walls. "Well," he said to Harry, "you're . . . you're good for more than saving the bloody world, it seems."

The way you're acting, anyone'd think Cedric was yours.

"Don't be ridiculous," Severus snapped, suddenly concerned to see the slightly hurt expression on Harry's face.

Before he could say anything, however, Harry had turned back to Ron and Hermione.

Fuck, Severus thought, listening as Harry praised the baby.

"—and he's so big."

"'Course he's big," Ron said proudly, hastily reopening the birthing manual to release the avatar again. "You tell Snape to leave it open. Neither of us knows anything about afterbirth and cord-cutting and—"

"Oh, how beautiful," The Magic of Birth said, taking Cedric and performing the necessary postpartum spells before handing the baby to Ron and tending to Hermione, who asked, "Is . . . is he normal?"

~*~

Harry stood in his bedroom, shaking with relief to be able to feel Severus again. In general, nothing but Cedric was normal, but things were quiet.

And now it's just us, he thought, staring at Severus' recumbent body and absent-mindedly sliding the phial Yaxley had given him out of his robes as he took comfort from the feeling of Severus in his mind, and also the knowledge of how protective Severus had seemed of Hermione. The house feels almost as if there's a family in it.

Severus slid his arm around Harry's waist then, asking, "What's that?"

"Hmm? Oh," Harry replied, raising his left hand to look at the dark red bottle he held. "This is an antidote to the Draught of Living Death. The First Sorceress gave it to me."

"Ah."

Waves of nervousness emanated from Severus, and Harry found he also felt unsettled at the thought of what was to come.

"I can't decide if it would be best to dose you first, or re-embody you," he whispered. "What do you think?"

"I have no wish to become an Inferius, no matter how briefly."

Harry coughed. "Severus, I'm not . . . I don't exactly know how to undo this. . . . I'm afraid, to try to restore you, I mean," he continued, turning his face into Severus' shoulder.

Wrapping both arms around Harry, Severus replied, "This First Sorceress, the head of Mysteries, she obviously believes you can do it. So do I."

Harry favored Severus with a half-smile. "I'm glad you do, and I suppose she does . . . but she's not exactly the head of Mysteries. There's apparently something called the Council of Mysteries, but Yaxley wouldn't tell me much more than that."

"What did that woman say?"

"I've taken an oath to become her pupil . . . in the Dark—I mean—in the wielding of natural magic."

"Interesting. Pure of heart, are you?" Severus replied in a bitter tone, but Harry could sense that the bitterness was not directed at him.

"Something like that, and Severus?"

"Yes?"

"She wants to meet with you, when you're feeling up to it—after."

"Oh?"

"She wouldn't tell me why."

"Of course not," Severus remarked, turning his head in the direction of his body. "Yaxley enjoys being enigmatic."

Harry snorted. "I don't think Yaxley can help it, myself."

"If you're to study under her, it's 'First Sorceress Yaxley'."

"Nice to see you haven't changed—but you know, lack of respect? It's not going to be a problem. She, uh, she unnerved the hell out of me."

"An interesting way to put that," Severus replied, squeezing Harry tightly.

Harry closed his eyes and thought of how touching Severus would change once he'd been re-embodied, wondering if Severus would still want him once he knew . . . about everything. The First Sorceress had already begun his instruction while answering some of his questions, telling him, while they were discussing Severus, that "Lies create chaos in the soul."

Isn't that the truth. "Uh, I know I went a little . . . I'm just sorry—no, actually, I'm not sorry about what I did, but I didn't mean to upset you."

"You want to tell me something more, don't you?" Severus asked, turning to look at Harry.

"Well, there is something I should tell you, something I did tell you once before, but it, uh, it didn't count—you weren't 'haunting' me then."

"What is it?"

The concern in Severus' eyes gave Harry strength, but he still closed his own against it, fearing the worst. I don't want him to leave, not after everything that's

"Harry?"

Opening his eyes and drawing in a deep breath, Harry confessed in a rush of words, "I murdered Bellatrix Lestrange. I traded Lucius Malfoy his life for her location and . . . and somehow Shacklebolt knew and told Percy and that's why I went to Riddle House—I was planning to murder you."

"So that's what Albus was talking about," Severus murmured.

"Albus? You talked to him?" I should ask Severus about Yaxley's connection to him.

"Perhaps I did—before I left . . . as I was becoming aware of myself again. I can't explain it."

Harry thought about everything he'd done that he never wanted to explain and said, "Then you don't have to. Just say you forgive me? If I hadn't . . . delayed, none of this might ever have happened to you."

"I'm not angry with you, and there's nothing to forgive—but Lucius is dead now, isn't he?"

"Yeah. I, uh, I killed him the same day I brought you here, killed him at Godric's Hollow, right before . . . ."

"Good for you."

"'M not actually sure that's true, but it's done, and I don't regret it."

*

"Do you regret Lestrange?" Severus asked, as he released Harry and considered a confession of his own.

Harry's face hardened. "No."

"I expect you will by the time Yaxley's done with you."

"I notice you don't give her a title."

"I was never her student," Severus replied, frowning, "so there's no reason for me to use it."

"Well, I probably will find studying with the First Sorceress difficult," Harry replied, smiling slightly but looking, Severus thought, rather worried. "You seem . . . like you want to say something to me, as well. What is it? And . . . why don't you want to touch me?"

"You have no idea how much I do want to do that, but . . . but there is something I should tell you, about Draco."

Harry stood a little straighter and bit his lower lip. Severus felt his cock twitch to see it, but his arousal diminished somewhat as he considered what he had done to Draco and how he might never properly taste Harry's lips if he told him about it.

I fucked him, Severus thought, I fucked him to keep him preoccupied and away from that slut, Carrow, and I would have continued to do so had not—"Draco is . . . attached to me," he interrupted himself then, relieved to see how Harry's posture relaxed at his words. There, you see? You cannot tell him. He needs you too much, needs to know that he's your only focus. "I'm afraid I may have inadvertently . . . encouraged this attachment while at Riddle House as a means of—"

"Keeping him near you—keeping him safe?" Harry asked, a hopeful expression lightening his features.

"Yes, and after I'm . . . myself again, I'll need an opportunity to," Obliviate him, "explain matters to him, alone. You understand that, I trust?"

"Of course I do. Why wouldn't I?"

"You are somewhat possessive of me, Harry," Severus replied, smiling slightly.

Harry grinned. "Don't worry. I won't set any snakes on Malfoy," he promised, holding out his free hand.

Severus took it, and raised it to his lips. "I want us to be real," he said softly, before pressing his mouth to it.

He was delighted to see how Harry shivered at the contact, how he reached down to press his cock with the heel of one hand.

"Let me help you with that," Severus said hoarsely, kneeling before Harry and undoing his trousers before chuckling to find him wearing nothing underneath them and taking his prick into his mouth.

"Oh," Harry gasped, grasping Severus' shoulders, "feels so good."

It will feel better when I'm using my real mouth, Severus thought to Harry, using one hand to guide Harry's shaft up and down his flattened tongue, and his other to manipulate Harry's balls. Give me back my body, Harry, so that I can take yours.

"Yes!"

Severus felt Harry give himself over to the pleasure he was giving him, felt Harry draw upon his magic, and his lips curled into a smile around Harry's cock. He continued to lave it with his tongue, but craned his neck so that he could watch his body as it was surrounded by an energy wave; sparks snapped around it, in the manner of a curse being broken.

And that's the end of the Inferius Curse, he thought, pressing a finger into Harry's arse.

"Fuck, fuck I need, I want—I will have you, Severus Tobias Snape!"

Suddenly, Severus found himself jerked up into a visible blue pulse of magic that burst from Harry's body, and then everything went dark.

*

The hot sucking stopped abruptly, and Harry staggered toward the bed. He saw that Severus wasn't moving, and realized that he'd forgotten the antidote. Looking frantically around, he saw the shattered remains of the phial lying where he'd just been standing. There was no trace of moisture on the shards.

I must have incorporated it into the energy. "Did it work? Severus, are you there? Severus?"

*

Severus opened his eyes to the sounds of Harry's frantic questioning. "H—Harry," he said, his voice raspy from under-use. "Worked. Like the . . . the Parseltongue. I want—"

There was no need to explain, Severus realized, as Harry pressed his lips to his own and began running his hands all over his body, and Severus found he'd never felt better—and as odd as it was for him to think that so soon after his re-embodiment, he couldn't bring himself to care as Harry's hand wrapped around his erection. Groaning, Severus sat up, relieved that Harry had exercised his limbs to keep them strong. He pulled Harry to his chest, and rolled him over onto his back to ground his prick into Harry's own.

"I'm going to fuck you now," he growled, casting Lubricus and positioning himself, never taking his eyes off Harry's as Harry blinked back tears and wrapped his legs around Severus' waist.

"Yes."

"Say that again," Severus demanded, thrusting himself into Harry's welcoming body, unbearably aroused by the sound of Parseltongue and the heat—the real heat—of the tightness of Harry's arse. "Say anything."

"You feel so damned good, Severus. I want . . . I need . . . I can't—going to come!"

Harry's undulating clenching of his cock was too much for Severus, and he came almost immediately after him, collapsing on Harry's chest and breathing heavily. "So good. . . . So real. . . . So you."

"You," Harry replied, laughing through gasps for air. "Sorry to . . . so soon, I just—"

Repositioning himself, Severus kissed Harry quiet. Love you. Only you. Sleep now.

Hell yes. Sleep, Severus heard Harry think back. "We can . . . talk . . . tomorrow."

We can do everything tomorrow, Severus thought, for once indulging in the sensation of hope that being with Harry inspired in him, the hope that he'd feared might diminish once he'd returned to his flesh. "Everything," he promised, settling himself firmly against Harry and allowing sleep to take him as thoroughly as had his love for Harry.

*

Harry, curled into Severus' chest and half-asleep, found himself happier than he'd ever been to know that there would be another tomorrow—to spend with the man he loved. And nothing will prevent that, he promised himself. Nothing, and no one. "Not even me."

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