"I do, brat," Severus said, reaching out to cup has hand around the back of Harry's neck as they walked towards the entrance. "But it's all packed away for safe keeping while we renovate, and it's therefore far easier to start here. I could always try the internet as well."
"No way," Harry said in disbelief. "You couldn't research magic that way!"
"Of course I can," Severus said. "That's why I purchased a computer." When the teen cast him a doubtful look, he continued, "There is a muggle fringe culture, both here and in the states, of people who are fascinated with wizarding folklore that the muggles think is imaginary. Lexicons have been established on the internet for people to reference, to get exact information about characters and story universes that they believe to be completely fictitious. I stumbled upon several websites that actually have real magical references available in the guise of this style of lexicon."
"Wicked," Harry said. "Will you show me?"
"Ah, there you are," Lucius greeted when they reached the door. He studied Harry with a visible touch of apprehension. "Alright, my lad?"
"Yeah," Harry said, going straight up to his pseudo guardian and hugging him. "You?"
"I'm fine, Harry," Lucius said, returning the embrace. When they pulled apart, he winked at the boy before clapping a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Severus."
"Lucius," Severus returned. "We are on a quest to either locate or create a means to witness memories that does not require bending over and dunking ones head into a basin."
"Ah," Lucius responded with interest, but his tone clearly said good luck with that. "Do let me know how you fare. I will be reworking the interior blueprint for your home. Something is not quite adding up with the dimensions. Is there a secret room, or something unplotted about the property?"
Severus raised his eyebrows. "I don't believe so. I've always been under the impression that my mother was the first magical person to inhabit that house. I believe she would have told me if she'd created a secret space."
Research in the manor library yielded a number of books on transfiguration, memory development, and spell generation. Harry sat down with a volume called On The Spot Nonverbal Casting, and soon became absorbed. Severus' comment over lunch had struck a chord with Harry. He'd been paying closer attention to his senses while he'd dueled the few additional times with Severus. As he read the text on self monitoring ones own magical response to his own wand verses a borrowed one, it dawned on Harry that he had been studying magic all along, literally watching and mimicking the nonverbal spells he would see, and very likely had more often than not created his own variation. When he'd had the blackthorn wand in the Forest of Dean, and then later with Draco's, he'd done this exact thing and had adjusted his magic to respond to each of those wands. The book went on to describe the occasions when nonverbal casting was not ideal. Thinking on this, Harry reflected that he still liked to shout his spells at times, feeling that the force of his voice set the intensity of the magic for certain applications. His mind wandered as he made a plan to have Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna, and Ginny if she was around, come over to Grimmauld Place this week to have a go at what Lucius had referred to as dueling games. They could all pay closer attention to their casting and share insights.
"And, here I was just about to compliment you for actually reading a book, but there you go, off to who knows where," Severus teased in a softened version of his professor persona.
Harry quirked a half smile at him. "I'm thinking."
"Hmmm. Scary, that." But the squeeze to Harry's shoulder blatantly contradicted the taunting in the words.
"We've got company," Lucius called into the room as he walked past the library to go open the front door.
Severus frowned as he and Harry left their books and followed Lucius to the manor entrance.
Kingsley Shacklebolt stood in the foyer with Lucius and Narcissa as they approached. He turned when he heard them. "Oh good. I thought I might find Harry and Severus here as well," he told the Malfoys. "I need to speak with all of you about a matter of some urgency."
"Certainly," Lucius said calmly, but no one was fooled. He was alarmed. "Let's gather in the conservatory then."
Kingsley didn't waste time with minor chitchat after saying a brief hello to Draco, who had sensed the Minister's arrival through the wards, and had come down from his room to join them. "Lucius, I need to know if any of you have had any contact with either of the Lestrange brothers?"
The Malfoys each had a look of distaste on his or her face at the question, as if speaking the name Lestrange had released a foul stench into the air.
"Someone has attempted to breach our wards twice in the last ten days," Lucius said slowly, an edge to his voice that could be read as unsettled, or haughty, depending on how well one knew him. "I hadn't detected any damage."
"Uhm hmm," Kingsley thought. "How powerful would you rank those two wizards?"
"Quite," Lucius said. "I hadn't thought it possible that either would be foolish enough to remain in Britain. Of all of the unaccounted-for Death Eaters, those two would be the only two with whom I'd fear a confrontation. I suppose if they have stayed all of this time, or have returned… the fact that they've possibly shown up here is not a good sign. It confirms that they are angry with me." He looked over at Severus. "You would be a target as well."
Harry and Draco shared a worried look. "How well is Spinner's End warded?" Harry asked Severus.
"As well as this manor, and Grimmauld Place," Severus told him. "None of us are in immediate danger as long as we are in our homes, correct, Minister?"
"Yes," Kingsley confirmed.
"What about the Weasleys?" Harry asked. "Molly could be a target."
"I just came from the Burrow. Their wards are the strongest I've seen outside of Hogwarts. Between Molly and Arthur and all of their children, they've got a masterful web of protection set up for themselves. I'd like to make sure each of your homes have the same."
They had split up to scan the wards around the manor. Harry and Draco were in the back area beyond the pond, at the property boundary. Harry was walking with his arms stretched out, wand in hand, sensing the magic quite strongly. He'd studied the Malfoy's wards before, out of curiosity, when he'd first started coming over here. (It never hurt to pick up some tips for methods of protection from fellow wizards, especially those renown for their power.) So he was confident he would sense a weakening, if any area had been compromised.
"Why aren't you scanning too, Junior?" Harry asked. Draco shot him an irritated look, which pleased Harry to no end. Point scored. "Are you so magically attuned that you don't have to have your wand out?"
"Actually I am, little man," Draco returned. "But then you know that. So why don't you get to the point?"
"Okay," Harry said, more seriously. "Why don't I ever see you use your wand? Is your new one a bad fit?"
"No," Draco said. They'd stopped and were facing each other now. "I actually just… I have a lot of restrictions set on what I can do with my magic while I'm on probation, Harry. It's probably paranoia, but I am reluctant to use it too regularly, in case I do something on instinct that triggers the trace to alert the aurors."
"Oh," Harry said. "Would that mean you won't join the dueling match I'm planning with your dad and Severus?"
Draco's eyes lit up, but in a flash, the enthusiasm died. "It's not that I wouldn't want to, but the fear of Azkaban trumps my desire to have a bit of fun tousling with all of you Gryffindors, you see."
"But you are allowed to use your wand pretty much as you please on these grounds, though, right? As long as it's nonlethal? If we held it here, wouldn't anything that you'd cast in a duel be within that range? Or is there something I should know about your interpretation of sport?"
"Hah hah," Draco said defensively. "I know how to play, Potter. Don't forget, Severus is my godfather."
"That's true," Harry said thoughtfully. "Are you going to spend time with him, regularly again, now that he's back?"
Draco shot Harry an uncomfortable look. "I know you need to work stuff out with him. I don't want to get in the way of that."
"You wouldn't be," Harry said quickly. He was not oblivious to Draco's unhealed wounds, by any means. "Honestly. I know I've been a bit of a headcase, but have I really left you thinking that I need that much of his attention? You make it sound like every waking moment is spent working through my problems."
"Isn't it?" Draco snarked. "Headcase."
"Oh, give it a rest," Harry barked back with feigned annoyance. His eye caught a movement in the grass and he watched for it again. "Hey, Draco, is either one of your uncles an animagus, by any chance?"
"Rabistan is not my uncle, Potter, and actually Rodolphus is no longer either, now that Bella is out of her misery-" Draco caught himself. "Wait, why are you asking? And I have no idea if either one is an animagus."
"I actually hadn't thought of it until now, but would the wards be able to keep out animagi?" Harry asked as he stepped closer to the snake he could now clearly see slithering towards them. He pointed his wand at it, his stomach clenching as he focused his complete attention on the reptile. "Hello there, little one, where exactly are you headed?"
"Why don't you speak its language to it?" Draco asked, stepping closer to Harry, aware that the dark haired wizard had his wand at the ready, and instinctively palming his own.
"I thought I was," Harry said in a rush as the snake suddenly reared up and gave the impression it would strike.
Both Harry and Draco cast simultaneously, and for a flash of an instant, each fully expected to find a hogtied Death Eater on the grass before them. Except that that wasn't the case. What was before them was an angry and confused five foot long Mud Snake, now ineffectively bound in ropes from Draco's attempt to restrain it and slipping away without further efforts to impede it from the two wizards.
"And to think I called it little one." Harry muttered. "I'm rather glad I can't understand what it's saying just now." The thought made him laugh, until hilarious laughter overpowered him so intensely, he fell to his knees.
"What are those two doing over there?" Lucius asked out loud as he watched Harry fall down laughing while Draco stood shaking his head at first, but then leaned forward with hands on his knees to try to contain his mirth.
"Harry appears to be in hysterics, and Draco is likely egging him on," Narcissa said with a smile. She found the sarcastic banter between her son and Harry to be entertaining, although she didn't often openly let it show, lest they see that as encouragement and get too carried away. Merlin forbid it get out of hand in polite company.
"I never really knew when I was speaking parseltongue," Harry said, wiping his eyes. "That time in second year, when Lockhart had us dueling, was when I found out I was doing it. I'll never forget the looks on everyone's faces."
"So you could speak it because of the horcrux?" Draco asked. "And when he died, so did your bilingual capabilities?"
"Apparently," Harry said sardonically. "This was the first time I'd tried it out."
"Well, thanks for the laugh, Scarhead. I can always count on you for that," Draco told him.
"Nice." Harry returned sarcastically, but he was enjoying the barbs.
"I wanted to ask you something, Harry," Draco said with a touch of hesitation.
"Alright," Harry said. "Have at it."
"I miss brewing with Severus. I was going to ask if he'd like to set up a lab again and we could spend some quality time together. We used to spend hours at a time on potions."
"Do it. I've no objections to setting up a lab at my place," Harry said. "I don't think Severus did much brewing while he was overseas. He hasn't said much about it yet, so maybe he needs a little push."
"The wards are still flawless, as far as we can tell," Kinglsey told the group when they'd reassembled in the conservatory.
"You had mentioned the new practice of mixing magical sources in ward layering, Minister," Lucius said. "I'm quite interested in a demonstration."
"Excellent," Kingsley said. "Severus and I will apply the warding that we employed as Order partners. Harry, you could join your magic in with ours to intensify the effect even more so. And Lucius will tie in his so that all Malfoys will have the power to dismantle them, if needed."
"Alright," Harry agreed. He knew what Kingsley was referring to because he'd already done this with Grimmauld Place. He'd warded it himself, then had Ron and Hermione join him to create a second layer of variations of the wards they'd used around their tent in the Forest of Dean.
"We'll begin on the front half of the property and work our way around the perimeter. The interior will be done afterward," Kingsley said.
"Minister," Lucius started, and the edge had returned to his voice. "This sudden concern for our security has reminded me that much of the success of the Death Eater raids was possible because there are so many wizards in our society who do not know how to sufficiently protect themselves and their property. I would like to volunteer my own and my family's service to helping others properly ward their own homes and businesses."
"I am grateful for the offer, Lucius," Kingsley said, his voice deepening with sensitivity to what his next words would cost Lucius in pride. "But the limitations of your probation, and Draco's, would put you at risk if you use your wands for such powerful magic off your property. I'm sorry. I know it's a flawed logic in the legalities of your sentencing, but it is what it is, and it's not likely to change in the immediate future."
Lucius nodded tersely. "Understood," he said. But his nostrils flared as he struggled to hold his emotions in check.
"And just to be sure we are all agreed, I believe travel by floo is the best option for all of you while this potential threat still exists," he grinned at Harry. "It's not that I don't know you can look out for yourselves, of course, but at the very least, I believe limiting the visibility of your travel habits is a good idea at this time."
"We agree, Minister," Narcissa said, taking Lucius' hand.
"Actually, sir," Harry asked, "how many layers is practical, do you think? I'm wondering about adding some more to Hermione's flat."
"That's a good question, young man, and I believe it should be decided by the individuals within the household. Don't forget, there are occasions when wards need quick dismantling, and too much complexity could waste precious time in an emergency."
"Right," Harry said. He glanced around and saw that the others were in deep contemplation as well.
"I am utterly famished," Harry declared as he stumbled out of the fireplace. By now, when using the floo network, Harry had at least gotten to the point where he always stayed on his feet, and used a wandless nonverbal cleaning charm on himself without really thinking about it.
Severus had arrived first and turned to lead the way to the kitchen. "That's likely due to the magical drain warding can cause. An early night would be a good idea."
If he expected an argument from Harry, he didn't get it as they entered the kitchen to find an attentive Kreacher serving up bowls of beef stew and setting a plate of crusty bread out on the table.
"Perfect choice, Kreacher," Harry praised gratefully. The shriveled elf preened under the praise and bowed deeply before disapparating away to his cupboard. Harry sat down and immediately started eating.
Severus followed suit and for the next several moments, the only sound was of cutlery clanging against stoneware, as they both ate hungrily. Finally, Severus broke the silence when they were nearly finished. "If I set up a lab here, you could brew with Draco and me," he suggested carefully.
Harry looked at him quickly and swallowed the bite of food in his mouth. "No," he said flatly.
"You wouldn't consider an opportunity to practice your skills? Perhaps create a stock of common remedies for your household stores?"
Harry held Severus' eyes, his expression cold. "No. I've a vault full of gold that can buy the best. I'll go that route."
"Your scars from my teaching methods are long reaching, then?" Severus asked quietly.
Harry's mouth quivered.
"What's behind that mask of indifference on your face, Harry?"
"Rage," Harry told him coldly. "This is not a productive topic for us."
"Understood," Severus said. "I won't ask again, but if you were to ever decide you felt differently, you have an open invitation."
There was a long, tense silence, and neither of them touched the remains of their food. The teen was trying to compose himself and had cast his eyes off in the distance, clenching his jaw while his chest heaved with unreleased tension.
"Tell me something good, Harry," Severus suggested. When the boy's eyes shot back at him, Severus asked, "Was there ever a singular moment when you saw me in a positive light?"
Harry's face softened slightly. "Yeah," he said gruffly. "In second year, when you showed that ponce, Lockheart, what real magic looks like." Now the boy's mood visibly shifted. "I can remember nearly seeing you as cool. Nearly."
"I've never been cool in my life," Severus said awkwardly. He regretted the question, and had been knocked off balance by how quickly Harry had shut off his anger.
Harry gave him a quizzical look. Then he smiled a warm smile of understanding that made Severus even more uncomfortable. "You bring a whole new definition to the word, Severus. And it was because of that day in second year that I was willing to trust you with our first duel last week. I remember when I'd heard that you were the new Defense professor in sixth year. Even then, with all of our bad history, I knew you'd be good at it. And it never occurred to me that I might be in danger while facing you with wands drawn in your class." The tables had turned and Harry definitely had the upper hand in this conversation as he watched his former professor struggle with what he was hearing. "But, that doesn't mean I didn't dread setting foot in that room each and every time I entered it."
Severus could only nod his acknowledgment of the sentiments the boy had shared. He wished there was more that he could do, to undo all of the horridness he'd inflicted. The heaviness of guilt seemed to double his body weight suddenly, and he was sure if he stood, he'd have to hunch over to support it. "At the risk of redundancy, I have only the deepest of regrets over my behavior, Harry."
Harry pushed his plate aside and lay his arms on the table with his hands clasped, then leaned forward and put his chin on his hands. "I don't know what I need to hear from you," he said thoughtfully. "I know why you had to keep me in a negative light in your mind. I get it. And I get that if you'd done otherwise, it's quite likely neither one of us would be here today, or at the very least, neither of us would be living free of Voldemort."
"I would happily pay a penance, if there was a way for me to do so," Severus said quietly. "But I suspect that the mere act of engaging in honest dialogue is the most effective way to repair the damages."
"Yeah," Harry said. "And so is backing off when we touch on something that sets me off. So, thanks for letting it go, about brewing." He looked meaningfully at Severus. This was different than the conflict he'd just hashed out with Lucius. He didn't need to be threatened with having the truth smacked out of him to say things to Severus, but he needed his limits to be respected. And Severus clearly sensed this. "Thanks," Harry said again.
Severus' eyes had reddened around the edges as he'd watched Harry process his thoughts. He needed to go work off his own tension. "Will you be alright if I step out for a bit?"
Harry sat up straight again. "Sure." He clearly refrained from whatever else he wanted to say.
Severus strode briskly down the street, putting distance between his heart and his past with each step he took away from Harry and Grimmauld Place. He was about to break down and bawl his eyes out, and the only place he knew he would find privacy to do so was Spinner's End. The floo to his home was currently shut off, and the wards could only be reversed by him, from his own fireplace. He kept his wand handy as he walked along, not foolish enough to miss the irony that if he were a character in a suspense-thriller plot, this would be the time for someone like him to be attacked or kidnapped. Severus rounded the corner, had a quick look around to be sure he was not in plain sight of any muggles and that there were no enemies about, and popped out of sight.