The Longbottom's greenhouse was a massive, domed outbuilding with a structure of magically preserved iron that was as black and unblemished as the day the framework for the greenhouse had been erected and was enclosed by majestically frosted glass, which if one examined closely enough, one would see that the frost was made up of thousands upon thousands of moving, almost life-like runes that had been weaved together to create a multi-climate environment within the glass dome that enabled a grouping of Arctic Ice Flowers to be cultivated but a hundred paces from a patch of Sahara Desert Viper Pods with every plant from every possible climate grown in between.
Walking the narrow dirt paths, Harry applied warming and cooling charms upon his person accordingly, while side stepping several plants that he didn't know the name of and some that he did know by name, as they reached out to him, attracted to the magic that radiated from his person. He had a half a mind to call out for Neville, but decided against doing so, and instead carefully navigated the green jungle with its sporadic mix of color that filled the greenhouse around him, while marveling at what Neville was able to do with a proper greenhouse and the years necessary to cultivate such a space.
As he rounded a tropical bush filled with screeching seedlings, after several minutes of wandering about Neville's haven, Harry found himself in the southernmost portion of the greenhouse, as well as found Neville knees deep in a Capsus Lily infested pond and skimming a florescent algae from the water's surface with a cloth net and a floating collection bucket bobbing in the water off to his right.
Harry smiled at the sight of his friend working with the plant life in his familiar, gentle way. He ignored the hot humidity clinging to his skin and stifling his breaths in this particular portion of the greenhouse, despite the cooling charm that prevented his core temperature from heating to dangerous levels, and settled himself quietly on a boulder at the water's edge and waited patiently for Neville to acknowledge him.
Several minutes passed in silence between the two. Only the screeching seedlings, which sounded more and more like they were attempting to sing, and the soft disturbances in the water, as Neville dipped his net into the pool and withdrew it to plunk the algae in the collection bucket, prevented the minutes from passing in complete silence. The blond boy's only reaction to Harry's presence had been a slight stiffening of his posture, otherwise he hadn't and didn't appear willing to as much as looked at Harry or give any other inclination that he was aware that Harry occupied the greenhouse with him.
In silent rebuttal to Neville's impassive dismissal, which he knew it to be, Harry adjusted himself to settle more comfortably on his perched seat in a pointed manner – confirming what Neville no doubt already knew: that he wasn't about to leave without being told directly.
Neville sighed resignedly.
Several more minutes passed, but this time, Harry knew that his friend was using the time to compose his thoughts, rather than hoping beyond hope that he'd simply leave and let things be between them.
“You're not Harry,” Neville said softly after a time, while keeping his attention focused upon collecting the florescent algae. “I know my friend and you're not him.”
“I'm no longer the boy you knew.” Harry let a hint of an apology enter his voice. Though Neville kept his back to him, he plainly heard the accusation in the boy's voice. “Nonetheless, I am the son of James and Lily Potter, the one and only brother of Bethany Potter, and the godson of Sirius Black. I am willing to swear to this truth upon my life's blood, if you require proof of my words.”
Neville paused in his actions. “You said … that night … that we'd talk later –”
“This is later,” Harry affirmed.
Neville turned ever so slightly to look back at Harry, yet kept his gaze just to the right of the dark haired teen, not meeting Harry's gaze or showing any willingness to do so.
“I'm prepared to tell you a truth that is as close to the complete truth as anyone is ever going to get. You deserve to know who I am and what has happened to the friend you knew,” Harry said with nothing but honesty, while willing himself not to feel disappointment or insulted by the obvious distrust and the undercurrent of fear Neville displayed towards him, as he understood, on an intellectual level, his friend's reaction. “When I finish, I hope that you'll find it in your heart to continue to regard me as a friend, if not as the friend you've had all these years, then as a new one.”
It took a moment, but Neville nodded at last, deposited his net in the collection bucket, and moved towards the water's edge.
Harry waited for Neville to settle himself on one of the smaller boulders a few paces from him.
“Just so you know, I set privacy wards at the entrance,” Harry informed Neville, whose gaze had moved to staring at the pebbled shore beneath his bare, wet feet. “Understand that I do not wish for anyone to overhear what I'm about to tell you and that you can't tell anyone about what I reveal to you, Neville – not even your mum and dad. This is our secret. Okay?”
After taking a few seconds to consider the situation, Neville nodded somewhat hesitantly – yet, his eyes showed resolve.
“You know about the nightmares and what everyone was saying was wrong with me,” Harry began, “so I won't rehash it. Know that every bit of it is the truth – not my diagnosis, but the nightmares and all the daytime aftereffects that came with them. I wasn't acting. It most definitely wasn't fun. I had no understanding of what was happening to me, only the conviction that what I saw at night was real. Still, I supposes my years of suffering have finally paid off, you could say, so I can't complain. If the boy I was could have had a choice in all of this from the start, knowing what I know now, those years would have been endured with pleasure and without a doubt that to live those years as I did was the right thing for me, my family, and our nation.”
“What do you mean?” Neville asked, frowning.
Harry pulled in a slow breath and released it. “My family's history is …”He grimaced. “Well, it is what it is. Our cover as a progressive family of no great origins and living at the epicenter of the Malfoys' district was genius on Ignotus's part, considering all that we had been known for back then. But our cover as the Potters wouldn't have worked as well as it did or for as long as it did, if Ignotus hadn't taken a certain measure to ensure that our life as the Potters would last, permanently if need be.”
Harry watched Neville for the boy's reaction. When his words received nothing but a furrowed brow, he continued with a casual tone, as if he weren't speaking of forbidden magics and centuries old, obscure knowledge. “To do what he knew needed to be done, in order to preserve our bloodline and prevent our descendants from one day revealing themselves through their abilities accidentally, Ignotus sealed a portions of our family's magic within his son and heir to be passed down through the generations. For seven hundred years, my family has not dared to break Ignotus's Seal … not until me.”
“Why?” The question was simple and purely curious and was clearly asking why Harry had broken the Seal, when no one in his family had for the last seven centuries.
“There was an incident, when I was young – a life and death situation, where I thought for certain that I was going to die. I'd been having the nightmares before then, but just a few and they didn't have any true power behind them,” Harry said, easily deviating from the pure truth, to form a mixture of this world and the other world and what he believed had caused him to break through Ignotus's Seal in the other world. “The nightmares were always vague back then and I might have very well grew out of them with time, but then there were those three minutes where I thought I was as good as dead, felt another being threaten my life and render me completely powerless to save myself. I wished desperately to live, to survive the incident whole. I reached for something that day, deep inside me. I didn't know what I was doing, nor did I know not to do it, what I was risking. I shouldn't have been able to do it, not without taking the proper precautions first. There's a reason, after all, that generation after generation haven't risked breaking Ignotus's Seal.
“You see, the only way that Ignotus could make the Seal work the way that he wanted it to, a block on only a portion of our magical ability and not on our magic altogether, a block that would be applied hereditarily and would also pass down and preserve the Peverell's true heritage from father to son, while excluding our hidden heritage from being passed on by the Potter daughters, was to put a portion of himself into the original Seal, ultimately giving up his will, his memories, his magic … his very life.”
Neville had sat quietly, listening intently to Harry and visibly reviewing Harry's words in his mind. With Harry pausing in his tale and clearly expecting some sort of response form him, Neville finally looked up at his friend, while not quite making eye contact. “So, you're him then. Ignotus.”
“No.” Harry smiled. “Soul Magic is a complex branch of study. However, it is accepted as an absolute truth that it is impossible for two souls to coexist in a single body safely for any significant amount of time, even a whole soul and a portion of a soul. Ignotus burned up his soul in stabilizing the longevity of the original Seal, gave his life and all possible future lives he could have had – casting himself from existence – so that his son and all his descendants could have secure and hopefully long and fulfilling lives themselves. I can't be him for he no longer exists, but what I got from the breaking of the Seal is an imprint of all that he ever was.”
“So your nightmares …?” Neville asked, attempting to understand.
Harry nodded, though his nightmares in this world had very little do with him breaking Ignotus's Seal, if any portion at all. “By putting so much – having to put so much of himself into the Seal, the price of breaking the Seal became extremely steep. What I paid was nothing, compared to what I might have paid for breaking it. I've come out of the crucible strong with my sanity intact, for which I am immensely grateful. I got lucky. I only fractured the Seal six years ago and it's been able to breakaway through my nightmares in a slow integration of my family magic and Ignotus's memories. If I had shattered it that day, there's a very good chance that I would have lost my mind on the spot.” And he almost had in the other world, down in Voldemort's dungeons, without a clue as to what he had done or that what had ripped through his mind, body, and soul that day hadn't been the doing of the Death Eaters. After reading Ignotus's work on the Seal but days ago, he now knew better and understood that he'd not drawn on knowledge from one of his previous lives to survive and ascend from Voldemort's dungeons stronger than ever, but had called upon his heritage, preserved and gifted to him by his many times great-grandfather, Ignotus.
“Did your dad know … all this time?” Neville cautiously met Harry's eyes for a brief moment, before looking away again. “He always insisted you weren't sick. Did he know what was happening to you?”
“He had his suspicions, but he didn't know anything for certain and didn't want to risk telling me, in case if my awareness would cause the Seal to break instantaneously.” Harry ran a stressed hand through his hair and sighed. “Usually, we're told the truth of our heritage, once we come of age and have mastered the first level of the Mind Arts, Occlumency, well enough to protect the information.”
“Your trip to the continent?” Neville queried.
“Never happened,” Harry answered bluntly, before elaborating with a lie.“In the last month that I was at school, I began to understand more and more of my nightmares, as they became less like nightmares and more like pleasant dreams that I could relate to. I really thought I was starting to go crazy. I could differentiate between my life and Ignotus's life with absolute clarity, like I was living two different lives – one moving forward and one working in reverse. It wasn't until the Seal broke completely, upon my return home, that I understood fully and knew what I needed to do to retain my sanity. I spent that week that Dad, Sirius, and I were 'on the continent' unconscious, as I put my mind in order, fully assimilating the knowledge from Ignotus's memories and subsequently purging his memories from my mind, while Dad and Sirius kept watch over me.
“As I said,” he finished, “I'm not the boy you knew, but I'm still me, Harry. I guess you could say that I'm just a genuine Peverell now, instead of a Potter.”
Neville sat, looking like he was trying very hard to come up with something to say, but falling short. His jaw worked a few times, but he uttered not a syllable.
Harry stood, saving Neville from having to say anything at all. “I've a dinner to be heading off to, or so I imagine that I do – Mum usually keeps track of family affairs well enough, even if the rest of us turn up absentminded – but I thought you might like to be able to make sense of a least a portion of what happened the other night,” he said, looking down at Neville with the seriousness he felt the situation called for. “If you want to talk about the rest of what happened that night or anything at all – how your Venomous Snare is coming, Miss Hannah Abbott, why you've not been sleeping well – owl me. I'm going to be out of the country for the next few days and I've got business on Friday, not to mention a hundred other things to do in the near future, but I'll find time to drop by. You've been a good and loyal friend to me, Neville. I intend to repay all that you've done for me when you could have walked away and had an easier time by doing so. Goodnight, Neville Longbottom.”
Harry only made it a few steps, before remembering Dumbledore's request. He turned back to find Neville staring after him with pensive eyes.“Headmaster Dumbledore asked me to pass along that he wishes you well.”
With an incline of head in final fair well, Harry resumed his path out of the greenhouse, dismantling his wards at the entrance, as he did so. He progressed undisturbed, as he reentered Oakmere Manor through the sun room and left the manor through the entrance hall, heading down the gravel drive towards the gates. Upon exiting the manor's gates and stepping out from under the oppressive wards protecting the Longbottom's property, he spun on his heel and disapperated with a faint pop, his destination undoubted and fixed in his mind.
A familiar black door with its distinct silver ouroboros knocker was the first sight that greeted Harry, as the unpleasantness of apparation left him. Upon entering 12 Grimmauld Place, he was met by a barely recognizable version of Number 12 that had had it's wallpaper and carpeting repaired, chandelier cleaned and brilliantly polished, and banister and running boards restrained. There wasn't a speck of dust in sight and the repugnant smell of rot and mildew that had previously permitted the home, even after his father and his godfather's round of cleaning a month ago, had been evicted, as had the darkness that had once clung to the shadows of the home.
James and Sirius were loitering at the far end of the for once properly lit entrance hall, clearly awaiting Harry's arrival.
“Snape?” Harry asked, as he let the door shut and lock behind him and closed the distance between him and the two men with swift strides.
Sirius nodded his head towards the closed door that they all knew led to the kitchen.
“Any trouble?” Harry studied the two closely for any visible signs of an altercation.
“None,”Sirius said smoothly. “Albus was sufficiently distracted, no doubt preoccupied with the meeting you set with him on Friday. Good work on that.”
“Two birds, one stone, dear godfather.” Harry smirked. “Well, three birds, one stone, really, as I've to go to Hogwarts for my tests regardless and I doubt he would have allowed me to pass the day within his domain without attempting to invite me up to his office for a little chat.”
“Neville?” James asked.
“I told him what he needed to hear most.” Harry shrugged in regards to his friends overall wellbeing. Neville hadn't been ready to talk, not to him at least. That much he had observed. “I figured that Ignotus's Seal was a safe bet – at least as close to the real truth as will ever be told – seeing as Dumbledore detected it when he examined you for the Dark Mark and will expect an explanation of a similar nature to the one I just gave Neville.”
“You can't know that,” James countered, looking as if he weren't entirely comfortable with Ignotus's Seal becoming public knowledge.
“I was acting with a high enough level of certainty that I've no qualms one way or the other.” Harry met his father's narrow-eyed gaze nonchalantly. “Its not like I plan to make an announcement to the papers or anything like that. Plus, the initial lie you fed McGonagall was weak, especially considering our change of situation. Dumbledore wouldn't have accepted it as being the truth. By giving away Ignotus's Seal, we'll better be able to protect the full truth and I'll have a better chance of gaining Dumbledore's trust with afar more believable story – his trust which I must say I do not have even in the slightest at the current moment. I swear, the only thing that kept him from trying to break open my mind in that meeting was the fact that he knows I'm proficient in the Mind Arts.”
“Speaking of the Order meeting,” Sirius cut in, looking wary, “do we want to know what you saw when Elphias replayed the playback of Voldemort?”
Harry clenched his jaw at the reminder. “Probably not,” he gritted out,“but I'm going to tell you about it anyway, once I've finished with Snape.”
James opened his mouth, looking very much like he had a lot he wanted to say to Harry. For a second, Harry thought that his father would share what was on his mind, but instead the man closed his mouth with a snap and stepped aside, giving Harry unblocked access to the kitchen.
Wordlessly, with one last querying glance at his father, Harry stepped between the two men and headed the descent down the narrow stairs. His father and godfather fell into step behind him.
Upon pushing open the door at the bottom of the stairs and stepping into the kitchen, Harry saw that the space had been improved in a similar manner to the entrance hall. The cupboards had been freshly stained and were shut tight and resting perfectly on their hinges. There was no disorganized mess of cooking utensils strewn about the room in an unrecognizable organizational system. All wooden surfaces, from the sideboards to the massive oak table occupying the center of the room and the chairs placed around said table, were polished and free of dust.
Harry eyes were drawn to the far end of the dimly lit cavern, to the silhouette before the plain, brick hearth alight with a roaring fire, which provided the only source of light throughout the room outside of a few candles by the door. He felt deep satisfaction at seeing Severus Snape constrained to a plain, wooden, straight-backed chair with a blindfold pulled over his head. It was unfortunate that he wasn't going to be able to enjoy having the bastard at his mercy.
"Well, well, well," Harry jeered sportingly, as he made his way towards Snape, "look what the mutt dragged in."
"I take offense to that," Sirius objected on the opposite side of the oak table, where he was making his way to the far end of the room a pace behind Harry. "I prefer skillfully nabbed with the superior cunning of my birth and artfully arranged captive in the preferred dramatic fashion of His Lordship's pleasure."
harry grinned at his godfather, acknowledging the man's play at the egotism Snape so often accused him, his father, and his godfather of possessing.
Upon reaching Snape, Harry stepped around the straight-backed chair to stand before the man, his back to the fire. He took a step towards Snape, and as he directed his wand at the blindfold over his captive's head, his godfather came to stand a step to his left and his father a step to his right. A wave of his wand and the blindfold was gone.
Snape glared menacingly at the three towering over him through his greasy bangs, looking as if he'd love nothing more than to physically strangle all three at the same time, if he could manage it. The useless flexing of his muscles against his biddings suggested the same. He said nothing.
"So here's the deal, Snape; I don't have all night," Harry informed his potions professor coldly, allowing the frigid rage and the hate that he felt towards the man to infect his voice and show openly on his shadowed face. "A hindrance, which is unfortunate for the both of us, as I'm of the opinion that a low life, like you, who is willing to sell out infants to his megalomaniac master all for a few kudos and a pat on the back and who has taken up terrifying innocent children as his day job for the last thirteen years deserves a slow, excruciatingly painful death – a death I so happen to be in the mood to grant. You see, I've had a bad couple of days – have some issues to workout and all."
Snape sneered, though a brief flicker of worry passed in his eyes at the mention of selling out infants. His gaze momentarily settled on James.
Harry smirked in return. "Yes, what would he do to you, if he knew?What would my mother say? Then again, isn't it enough that I know."
Snape looked up at Harry with caution.
"So here's why my time being limited is very bad for you," Harry continued his previous monologue, knowing he had Snape's undivided attention,"it's bad for you, because I'm not going to torture you for the information I want. You won't be able to lie to me, nor hold anything back. I will take all from you, your every dirty secret and leave you with nothing. You'll be as good as dead, but not quite, and I may just leave you that way, instead of granting you the mercy of death. To live out the rest of your days trapped within your own ravaged mind, unable to so much as wipe your own ass, perhaps that is justice."
"You're bluffing." There was no false bravado in the statement, but rather a touch of uncertainty, perhaps fear.
"Oh," Harry said softly and lowered himself slowly to kneel on one knee before Snape, bring them at matching eye level. He leaned into Snape's personal space with unbound malice on his face and intent that couldn't be contested. "I never bluff. No, I deliver. You're pal, Demachi, knew it and that bitch who was too damn high on her own ego to realize it found out just as you're about to."
"But?" Snape prodded, as his eyes swept over his dimly lit surroundings in an assessing manner and with the intellect known to him. "You wouldn't be putting the effort into this show –"
"Today is your lucky day," Harry pushed himself up to stand. "I really don't have time for this shit." He indicated to the room offhandedly. "So you answer my questions truthfully and I'll kill you quick and clean. We all depart from this room in under ten minutes; you to the afterlife and my lot to what I assume will be my birthday dinner. Although, if you prefer to be difficult ..." Harry flicked his wand into his hand and leveled it at the center of Snape's forehead with a steady, assured hand. "Your choice."
Snape's eyes darted from Harry to the two men behind him, as if judging whether the two would really just stand there and allow Harry to deliver on his promised fate. He seemed to find something displeasing in the men's presence, as his lips pulled back and his nose scrunched up, as if he detected a foul odor. Upon his eyes settling back on Harry, he leveled a dignified look at the teenager.
"You plan to kill me or leave as good as dead."
"I do," Harry said simply.
"And what of Albus Dumbledore?" Snape asked with a predatory pull at his lips. "Surely you understand my role in the order. You really think he won't have something to say about my death, or almost death? That you will get away with this? Gold may purchase your freedom from the courts, like it did for dumb and dumber here, but Albus will never trust you. You'll lose your place among the Order, your place at Hogwarts. You'll not – "
Harry laughed, genuinely laughed. His mirth not only disturbed his captive, but his father and godfather as well. "Ha! You believe yourself to be in the presence of fools." He grinned madly and renewed his grip on his wand. As his grin slowly pull into a predatory smirk that matched the one Snape had previously displayed, Snape recoiled from the mirror image and looked far less sure of himself, particularly his understanding of the one holding him a wand point."If only my motives were so simple ..." Harry barked out a final laugh, one with a much darker edge affecting its sound. "You've no clue what you've placed yourself in the middle of, Snape. Not a damn clue. And just so we're clear, I don't give two fucks where your allegiance lie. Now," he commanded, "choose, or I'll choose for you."
"You won't get away with this," Snape tried one last time, attempting to speak with more confidence than he felt.
"Oh, I will." Harry's conviction was unshakable and he made no effort to disguise just how sure of himself he was. "What's a murder without a kill sight or a body? What's a mad man left to drool on the pavement but another poor soul destined for the asylum? Who will look for you when it is more likely that you fled or fell victim to Voldemort's wand?" Harry took pleasure in seeing Snape flinch at the mention of his master's name. "Last chance, Snape. Chose."
Snape glared at Harry, loathing and knowledge of the inevitable plain on his face. "What do you want to know?" He asked with resignation through a clenched jaw and a tone filled with resentment.
"How long ago did you discern that Voldemort was gaining strength?" Harry tilted his head knowingly at Snape's bound left forearm.