The flash of sickly, pale blue light arched from its creator's wand to its victim in a single beat of its creator's heart, sizzling through the air and leaving the odor of heady ozone so common to the Dart Arts in its wake. Its victim's chest heaved once … twice … lungs rattling for one last, desperate breath … then nothing. Stillness, accompanied by the silence of death, followed.
Harry stared into the blank eyes of Severus Snape and felt vindication, not only for himself, but for Neville. In the back of his mind, he existed detached from the kill, understanding the clinical part of it: that he had just neutralized a threat to his and the Order's operations and, of considerably more significance, a lethal enemy combatant. Nonetheless, Snape's death was personal for him foremost, as he had known that it would be. He made no effort to oppress the feelings coursing through him that evoked pleasure within him at the sight of Snape's slackened, lifeless form, as well as a lingering twinge of disappointment that he hadn't had the time to give Snape the death that the bastard truly deserved. What Snape had done, bring the Prophecy to Voldemort's attention, wasn't something any amount of remorse felt or apologies given could redeem a man from – not in Harry's eyes, not after he'd lived through the war in the other world and bore the weight of being the Chosen One. Not that Snape had truly felt remorse for the child he'd doom, or had ever truly switched sides in the war.
Harry cut his wand up through the air in a short swift movement of his wrist and curved it back down in a smooth 'S' pattern. Snape's corpse rippled with the effects of the magic and shifted to an ordinary, unassuming piece of fire wood. He vanished the bindings left loose on the chair and banished the chair back to its place at the table, as he picked up the chunk of fire wood with his free hand. Returning his wand to its place on his wrist, he turned to face the fire, which had burned hot at his back throughout the duration of Snape's interrogation. Without ceremony, he tossed what remained of Severus Snape upon the hungry flames. The wood caught alight instantly and was fully engulfed by the flames in a matter of seconds, burning brightly and crackling and popping like any other piece of wood.
For a long moment, Harry stared into the flames, watching all viable evidence of Snape's murder be consumed and erased from existence. A few whispered words and a measure of concentration on the flames on his part and he had the fire burning white hot, eating through the wood fueling it at a rapid pace. He would vanish the ashes and the evidence of the hearth having been used, as well, once the fire had become nothing but coals –for good measure. This world's Magical Britain, after all, wasn't even aware that it was at war.
As the seconds stretched to minutes, Harry looked up at his father, whose eyes he had felt the weight of even before entering the kitchen. James stared back at him, his face closed off and his posture rigid.
“Do we have a problem?” Harry asked, regarding the man with a penetrating stare.
“No,” James answered flatly.
“You're certain?” Harry pressed. He damn well knew that the man had something to say to him. His father had had something to say to him before they entered the kitchen and no doubt had more to say to him after what he and Sirius had stood witness to.
James inclined his head the slightest bit, issuing a challenge of his own. The silent communication told of his assent to share what was on his mind, if Harry really wanted him to, yet asked if Harry really wanted to hear what he had to say, or if there was even a point in him voicing to his thoughts, which they both knew Harry would pay little heed to in favor of his own agenda and would only strengthen the existing rift between them.
Harry cut his gaze over to his godfather and raised a querying eyebrow at the man, choosing not to answer his father's challenge.
“You were going to tell us what you saw in the playback?” Sirius asked with an assumed casual air, attempting to look unaffected by the ruthlessness Harry had displayed in his handling of Snape just now and the cold blooded way his godson had killed an unarmed, bound man, even if said man had been one Severus Snape.
“Voldemort is manifesting his free essence,” Harry spoke with the absolute conviction he felt, after having interrogated Snape. He hadn't learned a lot from Snape, if anything at all. Mostly, Snape had confirmed much of what he had already deduced. Voldemort had started to gain detectable strength back in '91. About a year ago the Dark Mark had begun to darken visibly. Two weeks ago it had become the darkest its ever been since Voldemort was last at the height of his power. And as Harry had suspected, Voldemort had yet to summon Snape, or a majority of his Death Eater for that matter, let alone make it known to said followers that he was in the country.
Only those who are too useful to remain ignorant or those who are absolutely loyal, Harry accounted for the Death Eaters that he and his father had witnessed in Voldemort's presence. He's strong enough to allow others to perceive him, but not strong enough to risk full disclosure of his return.
It was good and bad news, but confirmed, along with the cumulative of Snape's answers, that Voldemort wasn't possessing his horcrux. If he'd been possessing his horcrux, his strengthen wouldn't have been any where near turning the Death Eater's Dark Marks a deep coal, almost pure black.
“Which means that he needs Neville's blood more than anything, more than I initially thought.” Harry pinned his father and godfather with a grave look and began to explain just how unstable Voldemort's form was, yet how powerful Voldemort could become in his current form, stressing that there was the potential for Voldemort to become as strong as he had been when he had had a body.
It was a little over a half hour later when Harry, James, and Sirius entered Potter Cottage and were greeted by Lily, Mayra, and Remus in the entrance hall.
Harry forced a smile onto his face and returned his mother's embrace, while his father clapped Remus on the shoulder in their accustom greeting and his godfather treated Mayra to a chastised peck on the lips and a secretive smile in answer to her question of where they had gotten off to. A question that Harry found in his mother's eyes and saw plainly on Remus's pensive brow.
“I flooed Alice and she said you left over forty minutes ago.” Lily frowned with concern.
James gave his wife a sheepish look. “Well … I … er … promised Harry his first drink.”
Harry looked to his father with wide, startled eyes, clearly questioning his father's sanity. Instead of the tongue lashing he expected his mother to treat him, his father, and his godfather to, however, she just threw her hands up in the air, as if to say that she had had enough and didn't know what to say or think anymore. She detached herself from their group and headed back up the hall towards the kitchen muttering unintelligibly under her breath. Mayra followed her, pausing just long enough to give James and Sirius disapproving looks.
“Funny that I don't smell a whiff of alcohol on any of you,” Remus commented idly, once the kitchen at the end of the hall had shut behind Mayra.
“Figured I'd own up to.” James shrugged carelessly. “Not that I had planned to ...” he grimaced, before brightening and pulling Harry into a fatherly, one armed embrace. He ruffled Harry's hair as he had done countless time over the years, a gesture that had become so familiar to them that James have never thought twice about the action until amonth ago. “Kid's legal to buy his own alcohol now,” he said with a proud smile. “Family tradition dictates that his old man owes him his first drink.”
Remus shook his head with exasperation and disapproval. “The Bethany, Aries, and Mira are out back, setting things up.”
“How is Bethany?” Harry couldn't help but ask after his sister.
“Better than when we left. I think the day was good for her. She was very insistent that we not wake Caelum from his nap, almost motherly in fact.”
“As long as I get my kids back in one piece, she could be screaming and I'd be happy,” Sirius quipped and headed up the hall with an eager jaunt and an easy grin.
Harry grinned at his godfather's exclaimed “Ouch!”, upon his father catching up to the man and whacking him up side the back of the head. It was all show, purely for Remus's benefit, he knew, but it made him grin nonetheless.
“So where were you really?” Remus asked softy, as he and Harry watched James and Sirius exit the house and heard the squeals of delight from the Black children at their father and Uncle James's return.
“Out for a drink.” Harry raised an eyebrow at Remus, silently asking if the man had truly expected an different answer.
“You wreak of Dark Magic, Harry,” Remus said seriously and tapped his nose, reminding them both that he wasn't exactly human. “All of you, but you in particular.”
Harry stepped into Remus, deciding to put an end to Remus's prying, before the man got himself into trouble that the man wouldn't be able to get out of. The last few weeks he'd ignored the suspicious way Remus had regarded him when the werewolf had thought he wasn't aware. He had side stepped the man's inquiries and many not-so-subtle attempts to trip him up. For all that Remus claimed that he trusted him and believed him, believed that he was James and Lily's son, the man watched him and was plainly waiting for the moment that he could declare him an impostor.
Though Harry was shorter and his shoulders had yet to broaden, Remus shrunk back from Harry. His body acting of its own accord and locking up at feeling tangible, highly potent magic wash across his skin and encompass his being. He shivered, picking up on the acute control and deep well of power the boy before him possessed seemingly as easy as breathing his next breath.
“My father, Sirius, and I were out for a drink,” Harry spoke with finality, his eyes boring into the side of Remus's skull, as the paralyzed man had stepped back and turned partially away from him the moment that he had closed the distance between them. “I suggest you put no further thought into the matter, Uncle. The risk is not worth the reward. I assure you. And while we're having this conversation, I suggest that you rid yourself of the notion that I'm not who I say I am for I am James and Lily Potter's son and a whole lot more.”
“James and Lily's son would never do anything like this,” Remus said with conviction, still frozen in place. “If you were our Harry –”
“I'm not. I'm not that boy anymore.” Harry met Remus's startled gaze, as the man turned to look at him, with indifference. “I'm serious, Remus.” He narrowed his eyes at the werewolf. “Cut the shit. I don't need the distraction and I don't look forward to you forcing my hand, to having to do something we'll both regret with me being the only one who remembers it. I've my reasons for what I do and don't do, reasons for what I say and don't say, reasons Dad and Sirius support. If you can't bring yourself to trust me, trust them. But don't think that I'll hesitate to protect the truth when I tell you that Dad, Sirius, and I were out for a drink or that we were having a holiday on the continent last month. My affections for you are a secondary priority in all of this.”
“In all of what?” Remus demanded, looking wounded by Harry's last remark.
“You're a smart man.” Harry stepped back and reigned in his magic. “I'm sure if you give it a few minutes of thought, the larger picture will become much clearer. Now, if you'll excuse me, I do believe I'm the guest of honor at this little soirée.” With that, he turned on his heel and head for the back garden, resigning himself to the birthday party awaiting him.
The evening passed into night quickly. Harry remained somewhat distracted throughout the whole affair, his mind making plans and calculating which risks were truly worth the risk and what actions had priority over other, less important actions. The garden was beautiful, lit with fairy lights and candles, the table filled with dishes emitting tantalizing aromas, and the air celebratory – not that he noticed. He did thank his mother for the wonderful meal (his favorite steak pie and side dishes of scalloped potatoes and stir fried green beans) and to complement Mayra on the cake (chocolate with vanilla frosting).
When if was time for him to open his presents, Harry made sure to tune in and acknowledge each one. He made a show of how much he liked the dragon hide vest that Aries supposedly got him, knowing that the boy had only picked it out and that it was really from Sirius and Mayra, but also knowing that Aries looked up to him as an older brother of sorts and had wanted to impress him with his choice of gift. He was less enthused about Mira's choice of gift, an ostentatious looking dictation quill, but he expressed how useful it would be to him and the young girl smiled, pleased with herself. Caelum's gift was surprisingly decent considering that the two year old said (and his parents confirmed, not even patronizingly) that he had picked it out all by himself. The boot polish was high end and something he'd definitely use.
“Boots!” Caelum exclaimed, pointing at the dragon hide boots Harry was wearing, as if he knew just how useful his gift would be to Harry.
“He asked what you'd liked,” Mayra explained. “I told him that I didn't really know, but you'd been insistent about your boots when we went shopping and seemed to like them. He's seen Sirius polishing his boots so ...”
“Thank you,” Harry said genuinely and gave Caelum, who was sitting in Mayra's lap, his best grin. “And thank you, Caelum.”
The toddler beamed with pride in response.
The present Harry received from Bethany consisted of an assortment of fudges from Honeydukes and a leather bound journal that looked fairly expensive and possibly cost his sister a month's allowance.
“You're always writing,” Bethany mumbled, as she pushed her cake around her plate without appearing to be all that interested in the party or too enthused to be speaking to him.
Harry thanked her and decided then and there that they'd have a long conversation once he returned from Egypt, not only about the summer, but about Romilda Vane and how things were going to have to be when they returned to Hogwarts. After all, James and he had left her in the dark about him claiming the Peverell Lordship due to the fact that they hadn't wanted to risk the Prophet catching wind of what they were up to until he had declared himself and made their heritage public. They hadn't been able to trust her not to run her mouth off to the Vane girl, plain and simple.
Remus gifted Harry a Muggle history book that covered the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.
“Thanks,” Harry said, not quite sure what to make of the gift. Remus's accustom gift was a book, but never had he given him a Muggle book, let alone a history book. The book did look interest, nonetheless. The few pages he had flipped through discussed military tactics.
“Be sure to read it through to very end,” Remus said cryptically and proceeded to excuse himself for the evening, which was fast approaching night.“The day has done me in. I'm sorry, but I really must go. I'll end up falling asleep right where I sit should I stay,” he gave his excuses to James and Lily, yet leveled Harry with a cold look when he didn't think anyone was looking.
Harry answered the look with a cold look of his own.
The goodbyes were swift and Remus took his leave, leaving the party to resume and Sirius to present Harry with his next gift.
Harry unwrapped it carefully with hands that he had to force to keep steady, the gift bring forth within him a painful sense of nostalgia from the last time he'd unwrapped a package of the exact same shape and size from his godfather back in the other world and the many memories – some good, some downright horrible – attached to said gift. He couldn't speak, as he stared down at the brand new Firebolt lying out on the table before him. He want to say thank you, express his glee at having one of the finest brooms ever crafted in his possession once more, but not a word of his thanks managed to make its way out of his throat. Finally, after gaping stupidly for a full minute, he stood and walked around the table to where Sirius and Mayra were sitting. He hugged Mayra first, making sure not to crush Caelum in the embrace, before turning to hug his godfather in a manner that he hope expressed just how much he liked the gift and how much it meant to him, even though this Sirius had no way of knowing that his counterpart had once gifted him a Firebolt in the other world that had ended up meaning everything to him, after the man's death.
Sirius didn't immediately react to Harry's embrace, too surprised to do so right off. When he did return it, at first his touch was tentative, as if he weren't sure what Harry wanted from him or would accept from him. Upon realizing, however, that the hug was genuine and not a front with an ulterior motive, which he'd come to expect from Harry more often than not over the last few weeks, he tightened his arms around his godson in a rib crushing hug, taking advantage of the contact extended to him and drawing Harry close to him, as if he didn't want to let go, didn't want the moment to end.
When Harry pulled free from his godfather, he pretend not to notice the way Sirius didn't quite look at him or the watery sheen in the man's eyes, realizing in that moment that the strain between them was far greater than he had estimated. He promptly returned to his seat and accepted his gifts from his mother, who was glancing between him and Sirius with confusion and worry.
“I … I wasn't certain what you'd like,” Lily rambled, as Harry peeled back the wrapping paper of the closest gift to him. “Your preferences are so different. If you don't –”
Harry drew a surprised breath, upon opening the unadorned box he'd unwrapped. He had no clue how his mother had gotten her hands on a Scryer's Medallion. They were rarer than rarer and a non-tradable item in Britain. He delicately lifted the silver medallion from the satin pillow it rested upon. Its thin, silver chain dangled freely, as he studied the intricately designed, reflective surface of medallion closely, tracing the magic at work through his palm. He felt a momentary jolt of shock when he picked up on the familiarity of his mother's magic at work within the medallion, powering it.
“It's amazing,” Harry said wholeheartedly, looking up at his mother with new found respect. He so did not have the patience to create a Scryer's Medallion, let alone have the natural talent necessary in Divinations to do so – few did. He placed the medallion around his neck and slipped the cold medal down the front of his shirt, allowing it to come to rest against his chest. Looking at his mother once more, he just stared at her, as his hand unconsciously gripped the medallion through the fabric of his tunic. There was no telling how many times her gift would save his life in the years to come.
“It won't help against sudden attacks,” Lily said anxiously, “but maybe ...”
Harry nodded his understanding, saving her from having to finish her statement. His death was a very real possibility, a fact all of the adults at the table were aware of and not one of them fell comfortable with accepting. “I'll never take it off,” he vowed.
“I'm glad you don't think it's too much,” Lily smiled softly, seeming to gain asmall amount of relief from his promise, “that I'm being paranoid or overprotective. I wasn't sure if you'd even know what it was.”
“What is it?” Aries piped up.
“I'll tell you later, sweetheart,” Mayra promised, causing Aries to pull a face and sit back in his chair to pout.
The two other gifts from his mother consisted of the Hebridean Black gauntlet and bracer set that he had eyed when he'd picked out his boots and the final installment of The Royal Knight Trilogy that he'd been following since reading the first book of the trilogy a little over three years ago. He didn't know when he'd have time to finish the final installment of the trilogy, but put reading The Rise of a King on his list of things to do someday when he had a bit of free time.
He thanked his mother for all his gifts and gave her a warm hug, which she returned happily and placed a gentle kiss on his forehead.
“I didn't actually buy you anything,” James confessed, as he stood and presented Harry with two flat, wooden cases that looked like they'd been crafted and designed by a master caver. One was a deep walnut, while the other was a honey color. Neither was all that large in size with the honey colored case at least twice the size of the walnut case, which was hard deeper or wide than a deck of cards. He set the honey colored case before Harry and held out the walnut case to his son. “What I give you, Harold James Peverell, son of my blood and lord of my person by rightful claim, on this day of your birth fourteen years ago is worth far more than anything all the galleons in the our family vault could buy. By all that you are, I release to you that which is rightfully yours.” He finished with a deep bow, lowering himself down on one knee in a show of the strength of his respect for who Harry become to him.
Harry acknowledge the man's words and actions by opening the walnut case as his father presented it to him. His brow furrowed and he reached out gingerly for the archaic key that was entirely unremarkable in its appearance outside of its apparent age. He frozen, his hand hovering less than an inch above the key, at feeling the intensity of the magic that the key possessed. With a bracing breath, not know what to expect, he curved his fingers downward and nimbly lifted the key from the ruby silk it rested upon. For a second, he felt nothing from the key, but that only lasted for the brief moment it took him to grasp the key fully. The instant that his hand closed around the key, his vision blurred and he felt the key's magic slithered up his arm, lick along his neck with a not unpleasant feeling, and flood his mind. Instintually, as if he knew what the key was and what he must do, he opened his mind to the magic and surrendered to the feeling of flight that he was all too familiar with.
He was soring over an ancient forest, beating his black wings in time with the updraft propelling itself and him over the spread of hills before him. A thrill ran through him at the feeling of flight, loving the rush of the wind against his body and the high noon sun soaking into his feathers. He beat his wings harder, propelling himself towards the sun, before diving down into the hidden valley that was nestled between the tree blanketed hills. He let out a shrill caw, as he glided around the cut of a river bend – the roar of the water speeding downstream exciting him and filling him with anticipation. As the river curved in the opposite direction, he flew upwards and regained his height above the tree line. It was as he rose that a majestic castle appeared to him, tucked back against the steep slopes of the hills around it. He let another shrill caw, one filled with joy and that told the creatures of the land of his delight at finally returning home. As he circled around the castle, with regret, he banked back the way he had come, consoled by the the knowledge that he'd return soon and when he did, he'd be able to find the castle on his own.
Harry regained his awareness of the present just as quickly as he had lost it. Looking around surreptitiously, he noted that no one had notice that he'd checked out from the party mentally to take an afternoon flight over the forests of northern Derbyshire. He wasn't surprised, considering the happenings within the mind always seemed to work outside of conventional time. He replaced the key clutched tightly against his palm back within its case and set the case with his other gifts at the edge of the table. He would not need the key again, nor would its magic work a second time. It was nothing more then a trinket now.
“Rise,” Harry told his father and the man did so promptly. Harry stood as well in a swift, elegant motion. He looked to his father with respect that mirrored the respect the man had displayed towards him. “Just as no amount of galleons could buy what you've given me, no words can express the immensity of my gratitude towards you for all that you done for me, not only today with the gifts you've given me or even all you've done for me and this family over the last month. You've honored me every day of my life, Dad. Know that I respect you, love you, and will always hear you out, difference of opinion or not,” he said sincerely, hoping that his father could hear the absolute honesty in his words. “Not everything must change between us,” he murmured for only his father to hear.
“It won't,”James answered quietly, as he pulled Harry into an embrace. “I won't let you destroy this,” he whispered into Harry's ear, as he held his son close. “Test me all you like, push me beyond my limits.” His arms tightened around Harry with the fierceness of his whispered words. “I promise you, Harry, I won't let you lose yourself in this war and destroy everything good and decent in your life in the process.” He hesitated, before continuing with the same fierceness and unmistakable conviction. “But know, son, should I somehow fail in my promise and allow you to give yourself over to the what lingers at the edges of you mind, I will be the one to kill you. You're my son, my responsibility. Do you understand?”
Harry swallowed hard, knowing that his father wasn't bluffing, and nodded numbly.
When they pulled apart, Sirius was the only one who seemed to understand what had transpired between the father and son hadn't exactly been a loving embrace.
Harry resumed his seat and pulled the honey colored case towards him, acting as if everything was perfectly fine – a falsehood his father imitated, as he returned to his own seat up the table.
“Is this goblin made?” Harry asked, as he removed the plain handled dagger from the honey colored case and withdrew it from its sheath.
James nodded.“Every Baron of the Peak has carried that dagger from the time of William Peverell, who received it as a gift from his father,” he said, no hint of his previous words in his voice.
Harry ran his fingers over the raven engraved into the blade, which was six inches long, narrower than average, and visibly sharp. It was the style of dagger that he had favored in the other world. “It's perfect.”
“It's not a toy, Harry,” Lily said with warning, clearly in disagreement with his father giving him something so 'dangerous'.
“I know that, Mum.” Harry sheathed the blade compliantly and replaced it in its case.
“To Harry,”Sirius raised his glass in a toast as soon as Harry had set the case aside with his other presents.
“To Harry!” echoed around the table and final wishes of a happy birthday were issued to Harry as well.
Not long after, the Blacks departed for the night and the residents of Potter Cottage hauled themselves up to bed, seeking sleep after the long and trying day that they had had.