All was well up until Christmas Eve. It always seemed to happen that way, an unsettling pattern that Harry and Severus couldn't shake. And, as with the year before, the break in their happiness was completely out of their control.
Harry had been trying to avoid being alone with Severus, for fear that whatever had happened a few nights ago in his office would happen again. Since Sirius was staying with them for the holidays, it luckily wasn't too hard to limit their time together.
The night of Christmas Eve started out wonderfully, with Sirius, Severus and Harry gathered in the sitting room. A roaring fire blazed in the fireplace, casting a warm orange glow throughout the room. Midgy had just provided them with steaming mugs of hot chocolate and freshly made biscuits, which Harry had no trouble digging into despite his full stomach. The tree in the corner towered over a sizable pile of gifts, twinkling in the light of the fire.
Sirius was prattling on about something when Harry finally tuned in. "...then I was standing there, and this troll was looking at me like I was dinner. So I pulled out my wand, readied a spell, and I stood up straight and looked him right in his big huge, stupid eyes." Here he paused for a sip of chocolate.
Severus surveyed him dryly. "And then you ran for it, didn't you?"
"Yep," he replied without missing a beat. Harry laughed and Severus gave a slight smile. Sirius couldn't hold back a grin. "Yeah, this working for the twins business has been awesome. It's like my Hogwarts days all over again, only I don't have teachers to give me detention." He winked at Harry.
Severus shook his head. "Harry, know that if one day we return to find the house destroyed or infested with Nefrantian slugs, I am holding you entirely responsible."
Harry's mouth dropped open. "But-"
"Should have thought of that before giving the twins a fortune to work with," said Severus, cutting him off. Luckily, his voice was laced with amusement.
Harry snapped his mouth shut and Sirius chuckled. A moment of silence passed before Sirius said, "Man, I'm glad to have us all together again. I mean, I love the Order, but...Grimmauld place can get so stifling. And the same old people come and go."
With a grin, Harry pointed out, "And to think, you and Severus hated each other with a burning passion just two years ago. I was afraid to turn my back, I thought you might rip each other's throats out."
Severus raised a brow. "He hasn't seen my present to him yet, nor I his. We still might."
"Oh? What'd you get me?" Sirius asked excitedly. "Can I shake it?"
"Have at it," Severus said, gesturing with his left hand towards the pile of presents. Halfway there, his arm suddenly jerked, sending his cup of hot chocolate crashing to the floor.
Sirius snickered. "And you say I'm clumsy."
The humor of the moment died away with appalling speed. Severus stiffened, his face flickering with fear before grimacing in pain. Harry jumped up from his seat, ready to rush over to his guardian when his vision blurred. His scar seared with pain, but that wasn't the biggest thing on his mind at the moment. It was far overcome with hatred, anger, and bitter loathing of Severus. His hand moved to his wand. Harry wanted nothing more than to see his guardian dead.
No. Harry, the real Harry, fought internally. He didn't want to kill his guardian. He loved Severus. Harry's hand gripped his wand tighter, his knuckles going bone white as the anger resurfaced. He took a step forward.
Sirius must have noticed that something was wrong. "H-Harry?"
This distraction gave Harry temporary relief from the whispering presence in his mind telling him to kill Severus. He looked at Sirius whose eyes had gone wide with fear and surprise.
And Voldemort won once more. Harry smiled. He turned back to Severus, who had pulled the sleeve up on his arm and was fumbling for cream. Harry raised his wand, pointing at Severus's head. Severus looked up at him in alarm, trying to comprehend what was happening. When he understood, he went rigid. "Harry. Harry, occlude your mind. Keep him out. Don't let him win!" he said, voice strained with stress and pain.
Some part of Harry's mind heard that, and agreed. It fought the control of Voldemort, grappling internally. Harry tried to force the wand down, while Voldemort's control bore it up.
"Harry..." Severus said.
Teeth gritted with effort, Harry heard his guardian's words and used them as strength. He forced the wand down to touch the dark mark on Severus's arm. Severus gasped, but Harry didn't move. This time, when the hate resurged, Harry didn't fight it, but kept control long enough to mutter, "Finite incantatum."
He let Voldemort's mind take his, Voldemort's power surge through his wand and into the Dark Mark. The ink lines raised up in rigid patterns, straining at the skin. Then the black broke through and the spell faded. Harry blinked. Voldemort was gone from his mind. Severus was staring in shock at his arm. Tentatively, he touched one of the lines. Black ink stained his fingers, wiping off of his arm. Beneath was clean, smooth skin.
Suddenly exhausted, Harry slumped down onto the couch, holding his pounding head in his hands. Sirius looked between the two of them in confusion, shock and even fear. At last, Severus looked up, studying Harry as if he had never seen him before.
The minutes of silence stretched on. "Harry, that was-"
"Horrifying?" Harry suggested glumly.
Severus inclined his head. "You've removed my mark."
"I- what? That actually worked?" Harry asked in surprise, raising his head.
His guardian nodded, using his sleeve to wipe away the rest of the ink, revealing the bare skin beneath.
"Wow," Sirius breathed.
Harry gulped, frowning. Severus was watching him intently. "Are you alright, Harry?"
He nodded. "Killer headache, but fine."
"I didn't mean strictly physical."
"Right," Harry muttered, casting his gaze down.
Severus continued, acting as if they were alone in the room. He paid no heed to Sirius. "Harry, tell me what happened."
"I...Voldemort got inside my head," Harry admitted. He kept his eyes firmly fixed on the floor. "He...Well, he was trying to use me to kill you. I just felt so angry at you. I hated you. I wanted to kill you. I'm sorry. Oh, Merlin, I'm sorry."
"Do not apologize," Severus said gently, placing a hand on Harry's arm. "You were not yourself. How did you know what was happening? Did he speak within your mind?"
Harry shook his head. "Not directly." He hesitated before adding, "This wasn't the first time."
"No?" Severus asked in alarm.
"The other night in your office."
"Ah." There was a pregnant pause. "And he is gone now?"
Harry nodded. "As soon as the spell finished."
"How did you manage that?" Severus asked.
"The spell?" Severus nodded in confirmation. Harry drew in a breath, "I got a moment of control and muttered the spell, but let him take over before it actually took effect. So I was, like, in his mind as I cast it. Or he was in mine. I don't know. I really didn't expect it to work." Harry was quiet for a moment. "I was so close to killing you."
There was another moment of tense silence. "Harry, look at me." Reluctantly, Harry raised his eyes. "Thank you," Severus said quietly. "You have no idea how much I wished there was a way to erase that mark off of my skin, even if I cannot erase it from my past."
Harry touched his scar. "I might have some idea." Severus smiled slightly. With a gulp, he ventured, "Do you think he'll come back? Into my head again?"
Severus thought for a moment. "I do not think he will be eager to try that again. My guess is that you retained a little too much control for him to be comfortable, and as a result, he lost his means of controlling me. Also, I imagine that without his connection to me to serve as a bridge between you two and allow him access to your mind, it will be more difficult to get in. This is all speculation, of course, but I believe you are safe for the time being, though. Do keep practicing Occlumency, especially now that you know how important it is."
Harry nodded. In an unusual move, Severus wrapped him in an embrace, and Harry remembered then that Sirius was still there, sitting just a few feet away. He let go and smiled wanly at Sirius. "I can't even imagine how freaky that looked," Harry said.
"I know, Severus never gives hugs."
"I meant the whole me-getting-possessed thing," Harry said, rolling his eyes.
Sirius grinned. "Yeah. That was just as freaky. I guess it all worked out, though?"Harry looked at Severus and nodded. "Yeah. It did."
The fire crackled as Midgy appeared to clean up the spilled hot chocolate. Harry watched the flames dance in the fireplace and hoped that the rest of his holiday would be peaceful. He'd had enough of Voldemort trying to screw up his life.
AN: So some of you have brought up the excellent point that Severus already knew about the Triwizard money from chapter 6, and that is no one's fault but my own. I took such a long break from this story that I completely forgot what happened, so I asked someone who had actually read the thing (I haven't) to tell me if there were any plot holes that needed wrapped up, and that was one she mentioned. It seems she missed that chapter, and I simply forgot about it. So accept whichever scene you prefer, and when I get the chance I'll go back and edit it. For the moment, though, time is in short supply, so it'll have to wait. Thank you for pointing that out, those of you who did! It's comments like that which keep me on track :) Also, if there ARE any other plot holes I'm missing, feel free to tell me.
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