Complete header information may be found in Part One.
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Acts of Will, Part Two
Harry forced himself to bathe and dress in clean clothing before seeing to his breakfast because Ron had said, after Harry had noted that he didn't need a bodyguard to pick up a few books, "Of course you don't—that smell of yours would keep anyone away."
"You don't seem to mind it," Harry had grumbled.
"That's because I'm your best mate. But if you don't start taking better care of yourself, Hermione'll set Mum on you."
That wouldn't do, would it? She'd only make a fuss over me and tell me I needed to get out more—with some "nice daughter of."
A little over two years after the Victory, Harry remained largely a recluse, so much so that no one—except Skeeter—was stalking him anymore. He did get out with Ron and Hermione on the odd occasion, but, on his own, he only went to a Muggle club that was popular with not-so-nice sons of.
"I can't tell Mrs. Weasley that," he muttered, his mouth full, before cursing as his partially chewed bite of toast fell into the sink. "Some catch I am, living like a slob and hiding in books—speaking of which . . . ."
Wiping his mouth and forgetting about the remainder of his breakfast, Harry took himself off to the drawing room.
"'Wife'," he read, as he opened his eyes to see what word his finger had found.
He wasn't pleased. Neither had Ginny been, but Harry, who had already exerted himself beyond his customary depressive threshold the previous few days, had no desire to think about Mrs. Ginevra Zabini.
That said, the idea of sending a death of Inferi after her charismatic second husband did, suddenly, hold a certain charm.
"Don't think about it too hard," Harry cautioned himself, resolutely turning his mind back to the problem of Walburga, who he'd purposefully made his friends' problem, as well.
Can't have them focusing too closely on me, now can I?
The sulphurous smell was still present, but so too were the new scents of dust, leather, and jealousy. Severus wouldn't have credited it as being possible to perceive an emotion so if he hadn't been doing it.
He found it oddly stimulating, now that he had knowledge of all his bits, but, for the most part, he just wanted to find the books he knew must be close by—and also a source of light.
"There are four spells, two potions, and nine rituals for binding the dead, the dying, and the 'spirit elements' in Bledsoe's," Harry informed Hermione the following week, "and they're all disgusting."
"Don't elaborate," Ron ordered. "She gets enough of the weird stuff at Mysteries, and she doesn't need to be absorbing any truly Dark information now."
"You're the most superstitious man I've ever known," Hermione told Ron, before asking Harry, "Why not just hire an exorcist? The subject's obviously upsetting you."
"Because she's my problem. Besides, that would be a lovely headline for Skeeter, wouldn't it?"
"She does seem to follow you about," Ron said. "'Course, she wasn't around last week, and one of us could always hire—"
"She follows you, as well," Harry interrupted. "Only Grimmauld's Unplotting seems to throw her off."
Hermione sighed. "I suppose it's a good thing it does, given where you're wont to go."
"Hermione!" Ron exclaimed.
"It's just not healthy."
Harry couldn't even bring himself to blush as he retorted, "It's just sex."
"You know, if you were dating wizards, you wouldn't have to bother with those condone things."
"Ron!" Harry protested, now actually feeling something akin to mortification.
"Oh, honestly! You mean 'condom things'!"
"Whatever you call them, they sound horrible."
"You get used to them," Harry said. Shit, I didn't just say that.
Ron scowled. "What kind of wizard are you?"
That's what I'm trying to find out, you prat.
"Is it because of Molly?" Hermione asked Harry. "Is that why you won't—"
"Stop it. Please. I don't want to discuss—"
"Molly just wants you to be happy. The only reason she's so angry with Percy is because Scrimgeour's married."
"Well, it's not like the man could leave his wife—he's a politician!"
"That's no excuse, and you know . . . ."
Why are you married? Harry wondered, not for the first time, as he listened to his friends' bickering.
He noticed that, even though they were arguing, they were still touching one another.
They're . . . almost cheerful, he thought, which made his sudden swell of ingratitude for their company difficult to bear.
Ron and Hermione had put up with a lot from him—for him—but sometimes Harry hated them for the easy intimacy they shared, an intimacy that he'd never experienced, himself. Closing his eyes, he Disapparated to his rooms, unable to take one more moment of what passed for Granger-Weasley marital bliss.
He knew that Ron and Hermione would show themselves out. They always did.
Severus, having followed the almost overwhelming scent of self-pity—he'd given up trying to understand how it was possible that his olfactory sense could be led by emotions—opened the door that had appeared before him and stepped into a vaguely familiar room. Candles lit it, despite the fact that there were gas lamps set into the walls, and his nose wrinkled against the scents of stale sweat, old food, and dusty tea.
A quick glance in the direction of the hearth revealed a great many dirty cups, none of the same pattern, all of which had leaves dried to their bottoms. A coverlet folded messily over itself laid near the cups on the floor, empty cartons were strewn about, and books, too, were everywhere—some stacked by the hearth, many shoved into display cases, and others lined up, standing, before the heavy, closed curtains.
There was also a tapestry hanging on one wall, in front of which a library table had been placed. Severus' eyes were drawn to the large book resting on it.
A dictionary, he thought, approaching the stand, and one frequently consulted, judging by the smudges on—
The burns in the tapestry caught Severus' attention and stopped his thoughts. He knew that tapestry. He knew, suddenly, exactly where he was.
"Why am I here?"
"What an excellent question," a menacing, feminine voice asked, from behind him.
It occurred to Severus then that he might have better spent his time in the void searching for his wand.
"What the hell are you doing here? I could have hexed you into oblivion!" Harry remembered shouting at Percy.
He couldn't stop the memories, no matter how many definitions he absorbed, or Dark researches with which he distracted himself; Walburga's company wasn't even enough to keep his mind off what he'd done, or how everything had started.
"I knew you wouldn't," Percy had said, before explaining how he, Scrimgeour, and Snape were all Dumbledore's men.
Only Voldemort, by virtue of Lucius Malfoy's intelligence, had known it, as well.
At first, Harry had refused to believe it, had refused to even consider mounting a rescue mission, but Percy's pointed question about Malfoy's recent "escape" from Harry's custody had stopped his protests.
No one had needed to know that he'd traded Malfoy his life for the bitch's who'd murdered Sirius, and, to Harry's knowledge, no one did know.
Percy was only guessing, playing on the guilt he assumed I'd feel if I had inadvertently caused the betrayal of an Order member, Harry thought, remembering with almost photographic clarity each spell he'd used in his second and final duel with Bellatrix Lestrange.
They hadn't been Dark spells, but they might as well have been because, when he'd finally agreed to go with Percy, he'd been of the mind that killing Snape would help him handle the loss of his godfather.
They'd left too late.
Harry wiped the back of one hand across the unshed tears stinging his eyes and Disapparated to the sub-cellar.
"I've just made everything worse," Harry said, to the unmoving figure lying before him, "haven't I?"
Snape—whatever he was—didn't respond.
"You weren't haunting this place the last time I was here," Severus said to Walburga Black.
"The half-blood usurper 'felt' my soul and freed me," she replied, gliding past him toward the center of the room before stopping and spinning upon him. "Why are you here? Shouldn't you be haunting your corpse, such as it is?"
Severus didn't remember much of what had happened to him after receiving the Dark Lord's summons, but he was certain that he hadn't died at Grimmauld Place.
"I don't understand."
"How odd. You don't appear feeble-minded. Now, the usurper, he is rather more an imbecile than not. I don't believe he understands what he did when he destroyed my portrait."
Severus stared at Mrs. Black, who was clothed in the very garments worn by her image in the portrait that he knew was permanently affixed to the wall of the entrance hall. Without saying anything, he turned to leave the room with the intention of verifying the witch's story—and found himself standing in the hall.
The disorientation passed quickly.
"Fuck, I am dead."
"No," Mrs. Black, who was now standing next to him, replied, "I don't believe you are. The usurper keeps you prisoner here, as well."
Severus felt his blood run cold, which made it run colder still; ghosts weren't supposed to feel anything.
If I'm not dead, then—
"I'll ask you again. Why are you here? Have you been skulking about all this time and spying on me?"
"That's . . . an interesting choice of words," Severus said cautiously, as Lucius Malfoy's enraged visage rose in his mind.
The overwhelming sense of betrayal and alarm he felt then caused him to have to fight to maintain his composure.
"Is it? I thought it was a fairly straightforward question. I've never seen you here, not like this, in months."
"'Not like this'?" Severus asked, Mrs. Black's earlier comment about his "corpse" finally penetrating his confusion and half-remembered fear. "What have you seen? How have you seen me before?"
"My, but you're vulgarly eager. Why should I answer your questions? I take you for the usurper's enemy, but that doesn't make you my friend," Mrs. Black said, fading somewhat.
"Don't leave—please. I am no friend of Potter's, of that, I assure you."
Lucius' expression, rising behind Severus' eyes, turned mocking.
"Bastard," Severus hissed.
Mrs. Black laughed, a mirthless, dry sound. "He might as well have been, given the mud in his veins. Do you know, I believe he murdered the Dark Lord. I can't think how, but those dreadful creatures he has in to visit often speak of it."
Lucius vanished from Severus' mind, and he turned away from Mrs. Black, his shoulders sagging in relief. We won. Some of us survi—
"Oh, you feel that keenly, do you? I didn't realize—you were with the blood traitors before, were you not? So you must forgive me for mistaking you."
"Of . . . of course," Severus murmured, steeling himself to face the spectre behind him. "I was a spy—for the Dark Lord."
"I thought you might have been, so I can't think why the usurper keeps you the way he does. It's unsettling."
"Unsettling," Severus lied, "is . . . discovering that one's service has been—"
"That is only proper. Of course, your body doesn't seem to be suffering from decay. Perhaps you might find your way back to it and do me a service—in memory of your master?"
"You wish me to kill Potter," Severus said flatly, as his mind raced with possibilities that might explain his corpse's lack of decomposition.
At the same time, he tried not to dwell on the idea that he had a corpse.
"I can't very well do it myself, now can I?"
"Mrs. Black, why are you here, and how is it that"—your spirit doesn't reflect your age?—"you've managed to retain your youthful beauty?" Severus asked, deciding that flattering the old hag would be the best way to secure her assistance.
"Having none yourself, it's no surprise to find that you recognize beauty," the witch almost purred.
"I can't tell you how gratifying it is to have someone intelligent with whom to converse," she continued, "so I shan't keep you in suspense."
Severus counted slowly while Mrs. Black did, in fact, pause for the sake of suspense.
"I bound myself to my portrait. The ritual was a simple one, really, and the reason, well, someone had to remain here until Narcissa's boy came to reclaim the Black birthright."
"Well, of course! He'll come. I know he will—he's the last one. Regulus is lost, and my niece enjoys her manor far too much to rout the usurper, but, when Draco comes, I'll have much to teach him."
Even in death, the Black insanity survives, Severus thought, trying to focus. "And, as a . . . youthful guide to Draco, you feel you'll be more effective?"
"Most definitely," Mrs. Black asserted.
Severus was disgusted. Trust Potter to botch a simple exorcism. As soon as I've figured out what the hell is going on, I'm going to banish—"Whatever I can do, madam, trust that I will."
"How gratifying that is to hear. I, myself, have done much to push the usurper into madness. He's easily led—wandering about with his nose in books and looking up words in Father's dictionary—I've been guiding him to whichever ones seem best suited to disturb him further, based on what I've overheard from his friends."
Severus almost laughed. Potter, studying? The Chosen—and Victorious—One, unable to manage a low-level, malevolent haunt? What the hell have you been doing with yourself, you ridiculous brat? What have you done to me?
"You seem almost cheerful, now."
"That's to do with your edifying company, of course." Now take me to my body so that I can fix matters, you old harpy.
He was certain that he wouldn't need his wand to manage something as simple as that, and he wasn't at all surprised to find Potter, as usual, in need of a rescue.
"—too complicated for me. I've tried, but I don't know that I'll be able to save you," Severus heard Potter say, through the door to which Mrs. Black had led him.
"You'll forgive me if I don't go in. A lady shouldn't be subjected to—well, you'll know to what soon enough," she said, dematerializing.
Even though he suspected that he was merely the manifestation of his own consciousness, Severus couldn't stop himself from shaking as he reached for the doorknob. The mind likes that which is familiar, and Severus' wasn't used to doing without the agency of his body to move himself through the world.
Potter was on his knees before a camp bed, his back partially obscuring the torso of the person lying on it. No matter what Mrs. Black had told him, Severus wasn't prepared to believe her words without first verifying them.
The bitch could easily be toying with me for her own amusement, he thought, swallowing hard as he moved to a better vantage point.
Whatever he had been expecting to see, however, was not what he saw; horrified, Severus found himself running through the returned, welcomed darkness of the void to escape it.
Continue to Part Three