|The Black Road XIII: The Memory of Sin
Author: Guede Mazaka
“You may my glories and my state depose,
* * *
“This is familiar,” Sirius said.
Severus ignored the man hanging over the arm of his couch like a gargoyle. This time, he’d woken up on the couch face-down, but the residue of his latest meeting with Voldemort was still the same. It actually should have been far worse, but the Dark Lord was so agitated that he’d spread his anger liberally instead of focusing it. Even dullards like Nott had begun to notice.
“He’s lost another Horcrux, hasn’t he?”
That made Severus sit up fast, though his body roundly punished him for it. “Where did you hear that word?”
“You, wasn’t it?” Black swung his legs off the arm and idly kicked out like an errant schoolboy. If said errant schoolboy was attending classes in the land of the Four Horsemen. He flicked an overly casual glance at Severus, then looked at his dangling feet.
After a moment, he looked back and this time, he held Severus’ gaze. His pupils slowly grew large and distant and dark, as if he were seeing things only given to the damned or the dead to see.
“I think I remembered it,” Sirius finally replied. He slid off the arm without offering further explanation and began to walk out of the room.
The smart bastard…Severus’ resentment easily overcame his pain and he went after Black, catching up with him in the hallway. He seized the other man by the elbow and swung him around—Sirius was surprisingly light—so Severus could blockade him against the wall. “Don’t play games with me, Black. I’m tired of them.”
“Really? And here I thought you didn’t do anything else with your life.” Sirius slumped against the wall with his jaw tilted arrogantly upward and his eyes narrowed, and for a moment, he nearly captured his old aura of careless privilege. Then he laughed, and the harsh, bitter sound of it spoiled the illusion. “Honestly, Snape. If you want to fuck, then just go ahead. Don’t bother with the foreplay.”
Severus’ lip curled so hard that the muscle began to ache. He was hard-put to control his revulsion long enough to simply push away from the wall and stalk down the hall instead of—damn Black. Damn him, and damn the world for twisting everything so opposites were interchanged, and damn Severus himself for not being strong enough to stand up against it, but instead let himself be bent along with it.
“Hey. Hey.” When Severus turned around, Sirius had pushed himself from the wall and now stood with hunched shoulders in the middle of the hallway, turned so his side was presented to Severus. His body was so thin that looking at him side-on was looking at a sliver of the man. “So was I right? Are we down to one and him?”
“How do you—all right, yes, we are. And I want to know how you know. I—I cannot work completely blind. No one can, and yet you and your damned godson persist in thinking that that’s possible,” Severus snapped, slewing round. He walked back up the hallway in a rising fury that locked his hands in fists so tightly that he began to feel a hot stickiness well up around his nails. “We may be wizards, but we are not miracle-workers and we are not gods.”
He stopped when the tips of his boots hit Sirius’ bare toes. The other man didn’t flinch at that or when Severus’ momentum carried him forward a few more inches so their noses actually brushed. Instead Sirius seemed to…be actually thinking. Perhaps. He jerked himself a few times and muttered things that made Severus suspect the man’s awareness of time was lapsing again; Severus reflexively put a hand on Sirius’ shoulder to shake him, and Sirius came to an odd, tense attention.
His eyes dropped to Severus’ hand, then rose to show a little of that preternatural consciousness that also sometimes cropped up in him. “Are you working for Harry?” Sirius asked. Then he shook his head and went on before Severus had time to answer. “Doesn’t matter what you think—you are. Listen, Snape. There’s lots of ways to kill wizards, but they’re not all stored in the Department of Mysteries, are they? But the Veil is.”
“What’s your point?” Severus exasperatedly said. “What’s different about it?”
“It goes to Hell.” For a moment, Sirius’ face whitened and his eyes…his eyes were looking on a world far worse, but also perhaps far better, than Severus could ever imagine. Then he shrugged and turned his head to the side, a touch of death in his crooked smile. “Some part of it, anyway. I’m—you see, you get in and you can’t get out so easily, even if you’re supposed to be somewhere else. It’s just how they made the place. So—”
“—so you’ve been sent back to carry out some task before you’re freed. Like Harry.” Severus couldn’t help taking a step back.
Sirius’ smile widened unpleasantly when he noticed. “What, afraid I’ve infected you? Don’t worry. You only get out under specific contractual obligations, and mine don’t include you. And it’s not trading for freedom, you idiot. I’m dead. That’s unchangeable no matter what I do. After this I go back to being dead. But—” his voice had gradually hardened, and now it softened suddenly “—I have to see Harry one last time. That’s why I agreed.”
It took several seconds before Severus could formulate any sort of reply, but there was no pause at all between when Sirius spoke and when Severus reacted. He was a little disgusted, but more surprised, to find anger and grief mixed into his reaction. “You die?”
“I told you you’d miss me. Hate the idea of being the only one left, do you? With not even an enemy around to remind you of old times?” It would have been better if Sirius had stayed on that line of thought and tempted Severus’ temper till it overwhelmed the odder feelings in him, but as usual, Black did what was worst for Severus and turned serious again. “I need to see Harry,” he said in an insistent tone. “That’s the only reason I’ve been putting up with you. Let me see him, and I’ll go to Voldemort tomorrow and that’s the end of your worries.”
“That’s the end…” Severus found the implications there worrying. “You never answered my damned question, Black. And I think I deserve that, considering what I’ve had to put up with from you.”
Sirius started to snap something in return, then rocked back on his heels. He smiled like a wolf. “Always watching out for your end. I’ll tell you if you tell me that you can get me to Harry before we go to Voldemort. Because damn it, that’s the only reason I’m doing this and time’s running out, you fucking selfish bastard. If I don’t, then you can be damn sure I’ll take you with me.”
“Selfish?” Severus incredulously repeated. His temper, only barely mended from its snap a moment before, gave way again and with even greater violence. “Of all people, you—never mind. Never mind—don’t you think I know that time’s running out? Your godson tasked me to find those damn Horcruxes, but have I? No, not really, because I’ve had to spend all my time tending you. And he’s not been in to tell me what he’s been doing to keep Voldemort in an uproar, which makes trying to find out anything difficult—nor has he left me any way to contact him—”
Black was regarding Severus with dark amusement thinly layered over impatience. “You said he might go to Grimmauld Place. I remember that.”
Caught in mid-flow, Severus stammered embarrassingly for several seconds before he regained control of himself, and then only partially so surges of frustration and anger repeatedly broke through. The first two attempts he made at replying were total failures because of that, and the third, successful try was made in a seething voice so infuriated that Sirius actually flinched. “Grimmauld Place. Yes. I did say that. I can’t get in.”
“Why would you be able to?” Sirius calmly asked.
Severus clamped his teeth together till they were on the verge of snapping. Then he loosened up, and was about to reply when Sirius beat him to it.
“Or should I say—why don’t you want to go? Except I’m not really interested. Just send me, damn it—you can put a time constraint or whatever you’d like to make sure I come back, but—”
“I am going with you, as you haven’t fully explained to my satisfaction what you are,” Severus said very slowly and carefully. “But we can only spare a few hours at most—I have no idea when Voldemort might call on me—and I cannot guarantee that Harry will show.”
Sirius shrugged and turned away. “I’m willing to take that.”
“Fool.” Severus turned on his heel and stalked towards his laboratory. “I’ll be back in ten minutes. Try to retain your memory for that long, because I am not looking for you if you wander off.”
Why didn’t he want to go? Well, that showed the limits of Black’s perception, however much more it had been stretched by his…unique experiences. By this point, Severus’ defenses felt stretched so far and so thin that a child ought to have been able to know why. Because Sirius might claim that he only put up with Severus to get to Harry, but his actions in Severus’ bed proved differently…and Severus might claim that that was a success, since Black’s dependency on him meant Harry would be more likely to spare him, but he was beginning to fear it hadn’t stayed a one-way road.
And because, Severus viciously thought, once Sirius and Harry met, then that was the start of the falling curtain. Severus had been through too many battles and wars not to know when the turning point came, but before there’d been far more people on the stage. Now…now it was almost saddening how one came to depend on hatreds. Depend on them, and wish for them to linger because emptiness was so very much worse.
It was amusing, he decided. For all his vaunted aloofness, he’d never managed to spare himself from the consequences of any fight.
* * *
Much to Lucius’ surprise, they didn’t end up in any place he recognized, or even in any location that contained Death Eaters upon which Harry could vent his fury. Instead they went from Hogwarts to a nondescript street somewhere in Muggle London, and from there into a shabby but not particularly noticeable Muggle house.
“Draco used this place to meet with resisters,” Harry said as they passed through the doorway. He glanced down at a dark stain on the floor, then made an elaborate show of stepping over it. “When he wasn’t drinking himself under the table, anyway.”
“I thought we were going to see Severus and your godfather.” Lucius looked around the inside once, then did his best to ignore it. The rooms were cramped and derelict, and if Draco had seen this place as a better alternative, then…it was better not to think of Draco, either.
Harry stopped and turned about so fast that Lucius almost ran into him. Something blurred about the level of their chins, and then a hard, blunt object was prodding at Lucius’ throat. He carefully backed up a few inches—slowly, so if Harry took offense to that, he wouldn’t push too far into Lucius’ throat.
After a moment, Harry stepped back as well and casually flipped the object in his hand as he lowered it. Then he snapped his fingers still to show what he was holding: Lucius’ wand.
An explanation immediately presented itself, and it was such that Lucius had difficulty not laughing hysterically. “Macnair’s dead?”
“Yeah.” Oddly enough, Harry seemed disinterested in gloating over his possession of the wand. He wandered into the next room, came out and then ducked into the room after it. Then he stuck his hand out of the doorway to wave Lucius after him.
Once Lucius had walked in, Harry pointed at the sole piece of furniture in the room—possibly the sole piece of furniture in the house; someone had done a thorough job of stripping this place bare quite recently, as lighter patches of wallpaper and dust-free areas of the floor marked where the other chairs and sofas had been. Lucius hesitantly sat down while intently watching Harry’s face, which as it turned out ensured that he was taken completely off-guard by the spell shooting from the wand.
The force of it rocked him back in the chair. He dimly heard the chair-legs clattering as he tipped it back on two legs, then crashed it back down. A blast of intense pain hit his chest and quickly spread outwards, but surprisingly enough, it just as quickly turned into a soothing coolness. When his vision returned, he found himself slumped in the chair, breathing heavily while Harry restlessly paced around the room.
Even more surprisingly, Lucius was largely free of the various sores and aches he’d accumulated since Harry had took him from the Manor, and when he examined himself, he did in fact appear to have been healed.
“Do you have any idea what the last one is, or where it is?” Harry abruptly asked. He glanced at Lucius long enough to catch Lucius’ headshake, then strode over to the window. There he leaned against the sill and parted the curtains with one hand. His other hand suddenly tossed the wand to Lucius, who was too startled to catch it and let it slip to the floor. “Well, then you’re really no use to keep around, are you?”
“But you’ve never been to Severus’ estate before,” Lucius said. He leaned over to retrieve his wand, but the action was absentminded and all his attention was on Harry.
With a shrug, Harry let the curtains fall back together. He stared at the heavy folds with their moth-eaten holes and faded colors all run to black. “Yeah, but I don’t need you specifically for that, do I? You aren’t the only one who’s been there.”
A suggestion for an alternate made a chilling entrance into Lucius’ mind. “You swore you’d leave Draco out of this.”
“I mean besides both of you.” Harry sounded a touch irritated. But there was also a touch of something else, something that bent inward when pushed instead of holding rigid.
He pushed away from the sill then, and after a pause he turned on his heel and started to…dissolve. Since Lucius had never directly seen it happen before, but only had it happen to him or out of his sight, at first he didn’t recognize what Harry was doing. Then he did, and a fearsome desperation sent him lunging across the room to grab onto Harry; his knees hit the floor and his hand wrapped around Harry’s ankle just as it began to vanish. “No! No, damn you, you aren’t—”
Potter didn’t leave. Lucius had the dubious honor of seeing and feeling his hand simply fade off his wrist, but then it was back and it was glancing off Harry’s shin because a furious Harry had kicked Lucius over. His toes cracked Lucius beneath the chin and a bare second later, Lucius’ head was connecting painfully with the floor. His vision jagged out, then flooded back in just as a weight thumped down on his waist.
The first thing he saw was Harry’s eyes, blazing with fury—but not the same kind of fury as before. Not the fury that drove him to such shockingly spontaneous violence that they’d reduced Lucius, jaded from years of Voldemort’s calculated tortures, to the frightened adolescent he’d never quite been, but a fury that was directed completely inward.
“What? What, are you getting fond of me, or something twisted like that?” Harry sneered. His voice at these times was always on the edge of coming explosively unhinged, but now it had a backlash to it that caught him as much as its forward force did Lucius. “God, you’re fucking insane. Well, get this through your fucked-up mind—” he grabbed Lucius by the throat and jerked him up “—there’s no cutting deals with me.”
“There’s no easy way out either—is that what you were going to say next?” Lucius snapped. Somehow he squeezed a semblance of a snarl out past Harry’s tight grip. He grabbed onto Harry’s arms and used them to pull himself up so he had the air to finish. “You can’t leave me like this. Not after all that you’ve done. Not after—not—you’re responsible for this!”
Harry’s lips drew back from his teeth. He rattled Lucius till Lucius thought his neck would break under the jostling, then abruptly stopped so they were almost nose-to-nose. “I’m responsible for killing Voldemort. Like you said when we met, I’m dead. Dead people aren’t responsible for the living.”
“Don’t—play—word—games,” Lucius hissed. By this point, he was pulling on Harry’s arms simply to get enough breath to prevent himself from passing out. “You can’t simply walk away. There is an afterward.”
“And afterward I’m still dead! I don’t get to come back! I don’t get to start my life over again, I don’t get to see the people I actually care about and I don’t even get to see people I hate like you until they die!” Harry shouted. Then he froze. He shut down, but not before Lucius glimpsed something like regret in Harry’s face.
After a long moment where they breathed in each other’s poisoned air, Harry simply opened his hand and dropped Lucius. He started to get up and Lucius lunged for him in a mad scramble, sliding his arms up Harry’s and trying to bring up his knees to trap Harry from behind. Of course, Harry had no problem eluding that, but he didn’t avoid whatever strange, disordered frenzy took Lucius afterward. Lucius’ mouth hit Harry’s throat half on the skin and half on the collar. Then Harry twisted away and Lucius moved forward so his mouth landed on Harry’s jaw, jostled its way to Harry’s mouth, and desperately tried to forge some kind of connection.
Harry’s fingers stabbed upward through the base of Lucius’ tail of hair to scrape at Lucius’ scalp, and the kiss briefly deepened from surface-scrabbling despair. Then Harry yanked Lucius back.
“So kill me,” Lucius rasped. He dug his nails into Harry’s coat. “You said Voldemort wouldn’t, and if you leave me here, he will.”
An incredulous laugh started out of Harry’s mouth, but almost immediately dribbled away into something that was more of a choked snarl. He pulled at Lucius’ hair again, but it was indecisive whether the motion was supposed to be forward or backward. “You fucking idiot. I don’t go back to the afterlife, either. Harry Potter’s dead, and what came back isn’t him. Isn’t human, either. It’s something that collects deaths, that shows up at your bedside or your dining room table and drags you out from the middle of everything when it’s over.”
Lucius sucked in his breath and tried to understand what Harry was saying. “But you said—there was a deal, and that implies—”
“It just means I don’t have to collect on Lucifer’s debts afterward. I don’t have to go out and kill people for him when they default.” Harry gave Lucius a ghastly smile. “I just wait for them to go whenever their time’s naturally up.”
“And then you reap, but never enjoy the harvest,” Lucius breathed. He momentarily closed his eyes. Of all the feelings he could be—should be having towards Harry, pity shouldn’t have been one of them. Neither should have been a fierce sense of the unjust nature of the situation…no, that did make sense. That meant Lucius had suffered himself to be broken and reset, and all for something that offered no more stability than plain life. “Then why did you do this to me? You didn’t need it to get to Voldemort.”
Now Harry’s smile bled alive with ferocious rage and hatred. He suddenly reached out and ripped off Lucius’s hands to pin Lucius by the wrists to the floor. “Because I hate what I am now, and I hate you, and I can’t do anything about me.”
Then his mouth came down, and the rest of him followed like the whip-winds of the storm’s edge. He never let Lucius up. He ground Lucius’ wrists to powder while he shredded and slashed away what was left to Lucius, and Lucius cried out for it and welcomed him. His teeth drew blood from Lucius’ lip, jaw, shoulder even as his body drew it down to swell Lucius’ prick, then left it painfully stagnant there while Harry took Lucius in slow, erratic strokes that eviscerated him into a pleading, senseless mess. And then Harry finally let him drop.
Lucius remembered, dimly, that Harry hovered over him for some moments, and that the expression on Harry’s face was strangely pensive.
After what seemed like ages, Lucius convinced his unstrung muscles to pull together just long enough for him to roll over onto his hands and knees. What was left of his clothing was wet with sweat and twisted up against him, while a deep burn retraced its way from between his legs to high up along his spine every time he moved. He breathed with his mouth open in short, ragged pants.
Harry’d left, of course. And Lucius had dropped his wand sometime during the whole proceedings, but now it rolled to hand. He stared at it. Then he leaned down and rested his forehead against his hand and laughed, long and loud and hard. He had an idea. Courtesy of Potter, tasting of him, but he had to try it because it was his last choice.
Once he’d gotten cleaned up, he would attempt to see Voldemort. It really was the only thing left to do.
* * *
Draco barely made it through to number twelve Grimmauld Place. He didn’t think the difficulty had much to do with the house or any of its wards, but rather his damned hand—it flared up during the transfer and the resulting clash of magic almost derailed Draco into Merlin knew what. Dragging the Portus spell back into line used up all his energy in the blink of an eye, so when he finally appeared in the foyer, he promptly crumpled to the floor.
He spent quite a few minutes lying on his back and trying not to breathe like his lungs were all torn up inside. Then he realized that that was exactly what he’d been trying to accomplish, the wonders of medicinal magic notwithstanding, and got out a cigarette. Managed to call up a lighting spell from his twisted wand-hand without burning off half his face. He had just enough time to take one relaxing drag before he heard footsteps nearby. “Harry? About time you showed up. I’m completely botching my attempts to self-destruct and thought I’d get some pointers from the expert.”
“It’s not Harry,” Lupin said.
For a moment, Draco was in fact quite shocked and worried. Then he shrugged, figured this sort of thing would happen, and went back to smoking. The feeling in his feet was starting to come back, so in another few minutes he’d be able to stand. “Oh. Well, I suppose one of you lot had to have a brain. Honestly, all that damn fuss and none of you thought to ask me where I found Ginny.”
“I told everyone we’d smuggled a Portkey to her in case of extreme emergency. I’m still the only one that knows you have a Portkey here.” Lupin walked over to stand above Draco. His eyes were their usual color and he didn’t seem nearly as edgy as previously, so apparently he’d dosed himself up quite thoroughly before following Draco. Nevertheless his wand was conspicuously in his hand. “I took the liberty of putting a tracking spell on it while you were recovering.”
“And I suppose you also failed to mention Granger actually made more than one Portkey for here,” Draco muttered. He rolled over onto his side, then pushed himself up on his elbow. Some ash flecked onto Lupin’s shoe; Draco didn’t bother brushing it off. “Well, Lupin. We’re here and Harry’s off killing whomever he happens to be killing now—also possibly fucking my father into insanity—so now what?”
A frown appeared on Lupin’s face. “Didn’t you come here to do something?”
“What, like plot and scheme my way into having both sides annihilate each other so I can have a bloody smoke without someone breathing down my neck?” Draco blew smoke rings up at Lupin. They rose to the other man’s waist before they ran up against Lupin and dissipated. He kept a half-hearted eye on Lupin’s face. The sensible thing to do was to use Lupin’s temper against him, then hit him before he could aim at Draco, but frankly, Draco was having a hard time concentrating on how to think like that. “Maybe I just came here because I wanted some privacy and you lot have some damned nerve—first you toss me at Harry and clearly don’t care if he kills me or not, and then you’re surprised when I’m not really all that fussed about whether you survive? Really.”
“Really,” Lupin echoed. He walked off a bit, still watching Draco, and put one hand on the staircase. He glanced down, then looked again. All the color drained from his face. It would have been the perfect moment to hex him, except just then a surge of pain went through Draco’s hand.
It was accompanied by a bizarre crackling of white lightning; Draco smelled something burning and yanked up his hand to see a scorch mark on the floor. The whole thing was over before Draco could fully grit his teeth against it, but by then Lupin was paying attention again. So instead of attacking the other man, Draco slowly got himself into a standing position and scattered ash all over the floor. “Right there. So Harry’s not been back yet. He would’ve cleaned up the blood.”
“Would he?” Lupin abruptly raised his head and looked at Draco. His eyes held a tightly compressed fury that didn’t seem to be directed towards Draco. “I thought…he tried to reach out to me, when I saw him, but he smelled too…so I thought whatever had happened to him, he still cared. It was only that circumstances were pinning him down, like they do all of us. But Ginny and Hermione…we’re being killed and he has to know something of it, at least. But he’s done nothing about it.”
Draco didn’t reply, since he didn’t hear an explicit question in Lupin’s words and wasn’t inclined to share his own speculations regarding Harry. He stuck his cigarette between his lips and looked at his hand: some of the bandages, which were supposed to keep the damn thing from going off like that, had come unraveled. He did his clumsy best to re-wrap them to cover as much of his hand as possible, then tied off the bandage around his wrist.
“Don’t try to run,” Lupin suddenly said. He stepped off the stairs and favored Draco with a look so ironic it was almost sympathetic. “Believe me, you can’t outrun this. It’s nice to think you can always opt out, but I don’t think even death is an obstacle.”
“Thanks for the lecture, but I already got it from Harry,” Draco dryly replied. He shoved his still-aching hand beneath his arm. His fingers didn’t bend. Compared to everything else, this detail was relatively minor, but nevertheless he felt a surprising swell of revulsion and frustration at it. “So is that it? I’m not up to the evil mischief you think I am, so you’re going to haul me back to your squalid little fight? Do I have to watch you all pretend you’re still better than me, pretend that you can still hold the moral high ground and win this? Merlin. At least Harry has the right idea about that.”
“Harry?” They had company, and it came suddenly crashing up the basement stairs to swing so madly through the doorway that Draco thought it’d snap itself against a nearby table. But no, the man righted himself just in time and turned mad dark eyes on Draco. “Where is he?”
Lupin had turned white again, but of course, the situation intervened a second time to keep Draco from hexing him and at least trying to get free of this whole disaster instead of resigning himself to it. “Sirius,” Lupin finally croaked.
There was someone else with Sirius Black. They’d continued walking so quietly that it was only because Draco was now intently listening for footsteps that he heard them. They abruptly stopped when Lupin spoke, then slowly started again. Draco moved around to see.
“Well, Professor. I see it’s going to be a full madhouse this—” Draco started.
Snape didn’t hesitate. He already had his wand leveled. “Stupefy.”
The bastard, was Draco’s last thought.