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Complete header information may be found in Part One.

Return to Part Two

Acts of Will, Part Three

"I'm sorry about this," Harry told Snape, as he completed his bathing of the man's body. "It's good you don't know. Good," he repeated, choking back a sob and rising so that he could replace the soiled bed linens.

He never used magic in the course of these particular duties, despite the fact that he knew how humiliated Snape would have been to have found himself, chained and naked, to a camp bed in Grimmauld's sub-cellar being tended to by someone he'd despised. Some days, it was almost too much, caring for Snape's needs, but it was increasingly rare that he'd find what was left of the wizard staring vacantly at nothing, staring at him. Even though it was a soulless one—perhaps, especially, because it was—Harry found Snape's gaze impossible to meet.

"Right. You need your nutritional potion, and then . . . ."

Harry went still. Something was different. The room felt almost charged by a presence, one that was fading.

That's not Walburga.

Afraid, he looked down at Snape, whose eyes were closed. Steeling himself, he knelt over the wizard and gently opened one of his eyes.

"Nothing," he whispered. "Just scaring myself."

Snape drooled as if in response, but Harry couldn't bring himself to wipe the spittle away.

"I should have killed you," he said, as he released Snape's eyelid and recorded what he'd done in the log.

The care entries were almost always the same, but, in his researches, Harry had learned that it was necessary to keep track of everything. In his guilt, he'd taken to using the log as a personal journal, as well, a record of his shame for someone to someday find—because it seemed appropriate to Harry that people should know what kind of coward, what kind of monster, he'd become.

Suddenly, Harry laughed. Alert and restless after the false fright he'd just experienced, he wanted to something more than wallow in self-hatred.

"Sod this—I need a shag."

~*~

No matter the mind-body disconnect, Severus felt the muscles clenching in his stomach as he retched, and his sick felt real enough. Confusion, disgust, fear, hatred, humiliation—his emotions were undeniably real, as well.

Potter was going to pay.

"I'll kill . . . him," Severus choked up more than said, between heaves. "I'll . . . rip out . . . his heart . . . for this outrage!"

Severus had always despised Potter.

I never believed him capable of such . . . perversion, he thought, falling back on his arse and hugging his knees to his chest as he remembered what he had seen of himself in Potter's lair.

The more rational part of his consciousness pointed out that surely such a golden boy could have found a shag without resorting to keeping a pet, but Severus wouldn't listen to it.

"Why? Why else would he keep me—like that?"

The less-exercised part of his mind suggested, quietly, that the matter required investigation, that perhaps Walburga Black had done more than she knew.

"No. The old prude wouldn't have driven Potter to . . . keep me," Severus told himself, impatiently wiping away the tears he realized he was crying. "But you're—I'm," he harshly corrected himself—"right. I have to know what Potter's playing at."

"Then perhaps you should have a bracing cup of tea before you rejoin the game."

Severus craned his neck so quickly toward the speaker standing above him that he felt something inside it tear.

"Albus?"

~*~

The bloke Harry had followed outside the club was tall, unhealthily slender, pale, and dark-haired. His nose was wrong, and he was pissed—Harry generally preferred his partners to be sober—but he wasn't in the mood to be particular.

Ignoring the man's off-putting giggling, Harry pushed him into the wall and slid to his knees, pulling down the zip before him without ceremony.

"Easy!" the bloke protested.

"Belt up," Harry ordered, reaching into the bloke's denims for his prick.

In his hurry, he grabbed a bit of boxer shorts, too, and froze.

"Can't be the first cock you've ever seen."

"I," Harry began, shaking his head to clear it, "I—this is . . . ."

The bloke giggled again and thrust his hands into Harry's hair before pulling him forward. "Don't be such a tease."

Sheep. The arsehole's wearing sheep underpants. Who does that? "Sorry," Harry mumbled, jerking himself out of the other man's grasp. "Changed my mind. It's just . . . all wrong."

He was walking away and wondering what his chances were of finding a proper shag when he felt the sharp pain burst across the back of his head.

Bottle, Harry thought, falling forward.

"There's nothing 'wrong' with my prick!" shouted the now-enraged man, as he began to kick Harry.

Rolling away from his attacker's feet, Harry cast an unspoken weather charm, curling up into a ball as hail began striking him, as well.

Stunned by the unexpected precipitation, the bloke cursed and fled into the club, leaving Harry shaking with humorless laughter as ice pelted his shivering body.

Absurdly, all he could think was, Snape would have conjured a brolly.

~*~

Albus wasn't there.

"Wishful thinking," Severus spat, trying to convince himself that he hadn't just ripped a tendon in his neck.

It seemed clear to him that, somehow, his consciousness was whole, and his mind was trying to trick him into thinking he had a body—and a friend.

"My own loneliness is causing this stupid reaction," Severus told himself, standing up. "I suppose it's a consolation of sorts, going mad in this manner—at least my hell will be of my own making." And I don't need Albus for that. I never needed him.

That was a lie, of course, but he didn't care. He was furious, disappointed, and he knew that he wouldn't be in a position to vent his spleen on Potter until he'd regained the use of his body, so he began distracting himself by naming every possible way of removing a soul from its living flesh that he knew.

"If you don't stop doubting me, I can't help you, dear boy," Albus said, again, sometime later.

Severus tore at his hair. "Stop it, man! You know he's not real. You're just ima—"

"If you continue to take on like that, you'll just un-imagine me. Wouldn't you prefer to talk?"

"Why should I talk to you? What help have you ever truly given me?" Severus yelled, in the general direction his mind told him he'd heard Albus speak. "Fuck!" he shouted, when he actually saw the wizard—and what he was wearing.

"Told you so," Albus responded, his eyes twinkling, as he removed his bee-keeper's hood.

Severus didn't know what to think about that, so he didn't think about it at all. Summoning the shreds of his dignity, he said, "If you offer me a sherbert lemon, I'll—"

"I offered you tea. It won't be real, but you'll think it is, so why not have a cup?" Albus asked, as a tea service materialized in between them. "I can promise you honey."

Severus blinked, and, when he opened his eyes, he was standing in Albus' office at Hogwarts.

"Are you doing this, or am I?"

"Perhaps we both are. To be honest, I'm not completely certain how all this works. I only know that I caught the scent of your despair and came to find you."

"You came to find me," Severus said, remembering how he'd willed himself into the entrance hall at Grimmauld. Perhaps I'm not going mad.

"Now then, sit down, drink your tea, and tell me how it is that you're here when you shouldn't be."

"How do you know that I shouldn't be here?"

"You're not . . . ethereal enough—and I gleaned from your earlier display and subsequent self-debate that you can move between this plane and that of the living. If you were dead, I doubt that would be possible."

Severus sat down and scowled at Albus as he took the cup the other wizard had poured for him, ignoring the Albus' gesture toward the honey pot.

"Well?"

"Your precious Potter has me chained to a camp bed."

"Ah, yes. Then what he reported is true."

"'He'?"

"Kingsley. He died near the end of it, and was, as you might recall—"

"Percy Weasley's contact in the Order. I remember."

"Kingsley tells me that he witnessed Tom's attempt to turn you into an Inferius, only the curse didn't take. Odd, don't you think?"

Severus dropped his tea cup, memories flooding his mind.

"What is it?"

"The Dark Lord said once that it would be 'interesting' to cast the Inferius Curse upon a living person. He asked me if I thought such an experiment would be feasible."

"And what did you say?"

"I told him that the animative magics of the curse required a corpse to act upon. To my mind, an undead servant should be . . . dead," Severus replied, shuddering.

"I agree."

"You act as if we were merely speaking of the weather."

Albus sighed. "Kingsley also told me that Draco Malfoy attempted to save you by dosing you with the Draught of Living Death."

"What?" Severus asked, stunned. "How would sleep be able—"

"It isn't just sleep that the Draught of Living Death causes."

"No, it preserves—it places the drinker in a magically suspended state."

"But the Inferius Curse, one presumes, would rip the consciousness from the body of a living victim."

Severus stood. "Potter, was he present when—"

"You see? A cup of tea is a steadying thing. You understand now, a little better, what happened."

"Was he?"

"He was. Kingsley sent Percy to Harry for help while he gathered the Order, and Harry sent him away. Kingsley then sent Percy back to Harry with a piece of information that he thought might motivate Harry to help rescue you, and he agreed."

"What information?"

"That's not for me to say. You'll have to ask Harry after you've sorted yourself out."

"Your optimism is all well and good, but—"

"Unfortunately, they arrived too late. Tom had cast his curse, Draco had poured his potion—and you'll forgive me, I can't give you an exact sequence of events because Kingsley was dying as he gathered his last information, but I do know that you were thought in need of killing. No one wanted to add to the plague of Inferi, of course."

You never were one to share everything, even when giving information, Severus thought, irritated but relieved to have something to focus on. "Then how did I end up in the sub-cellar?"

"Harry has always taken too much upon himself, Severus. He's like you. He believes everything is his fault."

"How, damn it?"

"He apparently Disapparated with you before returning to rout the Death Eaters remaining at Riddle House."

"Yes, the Dark Lord knew an attack was coming. That's why I thought he'd summoned me. He would have left others behind to give himself time to escape."

"Indeed. Do you remember anything else?"

"Lucius Malfoy. Lucius Malfoy damning me as a traitor. After that, all I remember is darkness."

"Was Draco with you when the summons came?"

"I always kept him with me, or tried to."

"And did you drink anything with him?"

"I . . . hells. Yes, I did. He must have known. Lucius must have told him. I . . . I was concerned that my wits weren't sharp enough to Occlude my thoughts as we went to see the Dark Lord."

"So Draco gave you the potion, and then Tom cursed you. Interesting. Thinking about it now, the Draught of Living Death could offer protection against the Inferius Curse—one can't animate the de-animated, however preserved."

"Albus, if my body weren't chained to a camp bed in a sub-cellar, I might find all this as fascinating as you, but—"

"You'll need a conduit. There is nothing wrong with either your mind or body, and, given time, you most certainly could brew an antidote to the draught, but you'll need a way to re-enter your body. I believe Harry might be able to help you there."

"How?"

"There is a life debt between you. I should think that's why Harry's been caring for you, my boy. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to be getting back to my bees."

"Wait!" Severus exclaimed, as the office surroundings began melting into a warm summer meadow. Please don't leave me again, he thought, unable to say it. Instead, he asked, "You know, don't you? That we won?"

"I do," Albus said, smiling sadly. "There are many old friends here now." He raised his tea cup in toast, continuing, "I hope I'll see you again, much later," before releasing his grip on the china.

It disappeared with the meadow—and Albus—leaving Severus with a great deal to consider.

Continue to Part Four