Authors Note: Happy New Year to all of my lovely readers! I hope everyone's holiday season was fantastic and it treated you well. Very sorry for the late update. I thought I would have time to edit and upload this chapter for Christmastime but the holidays are crazy in my household and it had to be put off.
That being said, here is the next chapter! Thank you to all of my reviewers as usual. Much love to you all. It seems that 20 reviews was a little too high of a goal, so let's try for 15 eh? Let me know what you think! We were going to get into some nice juicy angsty stuff in this chapter but the characters had ideas of their own. So look forward to that for next time.
It was getting towards the end of the October and autumn was in full effect. The leaves were turning and falling, coating the ground and a chill was setting into the air. On this Saturday morning though the sun was out in full force, warming the chilly air and making Harry smile. It would probably be the last truly warm day for a while so he, along with Ron and Hermione, were soaking it up as much as they could.
Harry smiled again as he looked at his friends. Not a whole lot could spoil his mood right now. He was finally ungrounded, Oliver had stopped being mad at him after he saw how hard Harry had worked at practice yesterday, and he had gotten the chance to visit Professor Lupin twice more without Severus finding out.
Ron startled and sat up from where he was laying in the grass and glanced behind him.
"What do you want Gin?"
"I just figured I would ask if you want to come flying with us. We figured it was a nice day for it" Ginny replied, gesturing vaguely over her shoulder. Sure enough, there were small groups making their way from the castle to the quidditch pitch with brooms over their shoulder. "Madam Hooch said she would come supervise and a few other professors said they may come down and watch as well."
Ron turned to look at Harry and Hermione to see what they wanted to do. Harry shrugged and smiled but Hermione was shaking her head.
"No way. You boys go on ahead. I'll just read a book or something."
"Oh come on Hermione," Ginny cut in before either of the boys could. "It won't be that bad. First year lessons are awful. I'll teach you and we won't go very high off of the ground. Just try? It would be nice to have another girl who knows how to fly out at the Burrow over summer hols."
"I don't know."
"It'll be fun Hermione, promise. Just try?" Harry asked. "Give it a go and if you still hate it you can sit in the stands and read."
Finally relenting, Hermione threw them a glare for good measure before standing up. Ginny just laughed and threw her arm around the older girl.
"I promise it won't be that bad. It's the heights you don't really like and we will stay close to the ground."
Ginny and Hermione made their way towards the storage shed by the Quidditch pitch to borrow some brooms while Ron and Harry ran up to Gryffindor tower to fetch their own brooms. Soon enough they were back at the pitch and Harry couldn't help but grin. There were over two dozen people down here from almost every house and year. Slytherins were thankfully absent. He really hadn't wanted to deal with Malfoy today.
The boys walked over to where Ginny and Hermione were standing near the end of the pitch, out of the way of kids darting around and the game of pick up quidditch that had started at center field using Junior League hoops which were only 12 feet off the ground. Glancing up at the stands, Harry noted that Madame Hooch had been joined by Professors Flitwick and Lupin.
"Okay just take a deep breath Hermione; you're gripping the broom way too tight. That's better. Now, you are just going to give a little push off the ground, nothing too hard. You'll hover a foot or two off the ground, nothing more."
Hermione did as she was told, her face pale but a look of determination on it. Harry smiled and hopped on his own broom, hovering slightly higher than Hermione and flying in a lazy circle around them.
"Great job Hermione! Just sit straight and you won't go anywhere."
"See, that's not that bad!" Ron added in.
"Okay good. Sit straight like Harry said. Now, push down slightly on the handle and you'll go down."
Hermione smiled as her feet touched the ground again.
"I did it!"
Harry smothered his laugh but Ginny didn't bother.
"Yeah Hermione. Now let's try again. Good, now pull up very gently on the broom and you'll go up. Don't give me that look, just do it. We won't go very high, promise."
Ginny kept her word and stopped Hermione when she was about four feet from the ground. With Ron and Harry's encouragement Ginny taught the other girl to lean forward to go forward and how to steer. Soon the four of them were doing a slow lap around the pitch, Hermione becoming more and more relaxed as they flew. The continued on like this for a few laps around the pitch, Hermione finally relaxing enough to join in their conversation as they flew.
Harry felt like he was overflowing with joy. Things seemed to be going well between him and Severus, his friends were still here by his side, the weather was warm, if not a little breezy, and he finally got to just fly for fun. They were nearing where the Professors were seated in the stands and Harry turned to his friends.
"Do you mind if I catch up with you in just a minute?"
"You have that silly snitch with you don't you?"
"Yeah." Harry replied sheepishly.
"Of course Harry. I'm fine here, really. Ginny and Ron, you go too. I know you wanted to go play quidditch with your friends Gin."
"If you're sure." Ginny trailed off uncertainly.
Hermione just laughed and made a shoo gesture with one hand, the other still firmly gripping the broom.
"I'll stay Hermione. Come on; let's see if we can go a bit faster."
His friends took off and Harry grinned again, making his way over to the professors.
"Good morning Madam Hooch. Do you mind if I leave this here for a bit? I'll grab it when I'm done. There's just a lot of people down here to leave it in the middle of the pitch."
The flying instructor happily agreed and Harry set the small box down on the bench in front of the adults.
"What's that you got there Harry?" Professor Lupin asked.
"What? Oh this? It's just a practice snitch. It'll stay within a certain distance of the box and will come back if I can't catch it."
At this remark, Professor Flitwick snorted. Lupin looked between Harry and the other Professor.
"I take it that it's rare for you to not catch it?"
"Well, I suppose there is a first time for everything isn't there?" Harry smirked.
He glanced down, set the snitch on hard and lifted the flap to release it. Counting to 10 in his head, he grinned and tossed a quick goodbye at the professor's and then took off in pursuit. He did a quick lap, pulling higher and higher so he could take stock of his surroundings. He could see most of the grounds spread out before him. Even more students had joined the ones down on the pitch while more still had spilled out onto the grounds, enjoying the sunshine. He could spot Severus watching him from the front steps of the castle and shot him a cheeky grin before doing a quick upside down loop. Further on, Hagrid was tending to the pumpkins behind his hut and on the other side Professor Sprout was coming out of the Greenhouses. Harry had to do a double take and glanced back towards the Greenhouses. Sitting in the shadows behind the structures was a massive black dog.
Weird, Harry thought. I thoughts Fang was the only dog on the grounds.
He was quickly pulled out of his musings though when a flash of gold caught his eye. The snitch was darting just above the students right below him. Aiming his broom almost directly downwards, Harry dove towards the snitch. It started weaving among the students and Harry pulled out of his dive just before hitting the ground, his toes brushing the grass. He didn't notice the good-natured shrieks and he took off in pursuit of the snitch, deftly weaving between, over, and under the students, never in danger of hitting any of them and they knew that. The snitch began to climb and Harry followed. The wind was starting to pick up but Harry barely noticed, nor did he notice that most of the students had stopped to watch him, cheering as he went.
Finally after a brief chase leading him zig zagging across the pitch and as high as the snitch could go, Harry caught it. Joy bubbled once again in his chest but quickly fizzled out. He murmured for the Snitch to return to it's box and released it once more, both hands returning to his broom to steady it from the buffeting wind. A cold started seeping in, chilling Harry to the core. He looked around in confusion. The sun was still shining brightly; it shouldn't have cooled off this much.
Harry tried to force himself to think, but his thoughts were becoming jumbled. Did he really think he could figure it out anyways? He really was just a dunderhead, just as Severus had always said. Harry shook his head to try to clear it. This wasn't right, something was going on. His hands were numb with cold now and were slipping off of his broom. Fuzzily, he decided he had better start heading down. He was very high up. Glancing down he noticed that most of the students were rushing down to where the Professors were now standing on the pitch. Harry barely had time to register this though as his attention was quickly drawn to the dozens of dark figures floating over the stands towards him and his vision started fading. Another gust of wind rocked his broom and he finally lost his grip, slipping over the side.
Harry only remembered snippets on his way down. Cold. Screaming. This time he was sure it was real as well as in his head. A bright white light bringing warmth. Was it a wolf? No. That didn't make sense. The ground coming closer and closer. Cold. Someone was yelling. The ground was almost there. Cold. His body seemed to snag on some invisible force and he slowed down. His shoulder hit first and a hot white pain exploded from his collarbone.
He swallowed his cry of pain and forced the blackness that wanted to intrude in his mind. Taking a few deep breaths, he forced his eyes open and took stock of his injuries. His collarbone was most definitely broken and maybe a sprained wrist. Did he hit his head? He couldn't recall but he probably had. So maybe a concussion.
The others had reached him and Professor Lupin shoved to the front of the crowd.
"Back up, give the boy some room. Don't move Harry, you might be seriously hurt. Here let me see."
Lupin pulled out his wand and Harry couldn't suppress his cringe. He sat up despite what Lupin had just said and attempted a smile.
"I'm fine professor really. Just a few broken bones I think. I just want to go up to the infirmary."
"We really should see what is wrong before we move you my boy. Trust me; I know what I'm doing."
A flash of irritation shot through Harry and he suppressed a scowl.
"No offense professor, but the last time someone said something like that, I spent a whole night regrowing all of the bones in my right arm. I really would like to just go see Madam Pomfrey."
Hermione and Ron pushed to the front of the group and Ron reached forward to gently pull Harry to his feet. Harry draped his good arm around Ron's shoulders and failed to stop a moan of pain from leaving his lips. Hermione hovered nearby, hands fluttering uselessly as she tried to figure out how to best help. Raised voices drew his eye to the entrance of the quidditch pitch where Severus was giving his best glare to Professor Flitwick who seemed to be trying to placate him. The short professor was right though; Severus couldn't come storming over without raising suspicions. A glance behind him showed that Professor Lupin had gotten over his shock at Harry's rebuttal and was approaching once more. He placed a hand on Harry's back and gently started leading him towards the castle.
"Uhh Hermione, do you mind talking to uh- Hedwig? Letting him- uh her- know I'm okay and that I'll see them later? You know how protective Hedwig is when I get hurt. And my broom. If you could find that, that would be swell."
Hermione gave him a baffled look before her gaze drifted over to Severus, who was glaring at the Defense Professor, and she gave a quick nod of understanding. Lupin on the other hand was confused and stopped to check Harry's eyes.
"Did you hit your head at all Harry? Does your head feel fuzzy at all? I'll have to let Madam Pomfrey know."
The next hour or so was long and arduous. The three had finally made it up to see Madam Pomfrey, who instantly started fussing over Harry. He was right about the collarbone and the wrist and had a cracked rib as well as a concussion to top it all off. The only good part about it was that she let him have bites of chocolate between all of the potions to help combat the effects of the dementors.
Professor Lupin had hovered nearby until Madam Pomfrey had shooed him out of the hospital wing. She had tried the same thing with Ron but he had stayed resolutely by Harry's side, refusing to move. Hermione had come in after about half an hour, Ginny trailing behind her. They had carried a bundle wrapped up with Hermione's cardigan. Apparently the teachers had herded students into the castle after the Dementors had come into the castle so the pair had to sneak back out to track down Harry's broom. Unfortunately, the wind had blown the riderless broom across the grounds and into the whomping willow, where it now lay in dozens of pieces in Hermione's cardigan. The girls had tried to apologize but Harry waved them off. It wasn't their fault after all. He had convinced them all to leave afterwards though, citing Madam Pomfrey's request that he get some rest as an excuse.
He had finally allowed his eyes to drift shut when he heard the door open again and Madam Pomfrey rushing across the long room. He didn't bother opening his eyes though, they were so heavy and he was still shivering from the coldness brought on by the dementors.
"Really Severus, now is not a good time. The boy needs to rest. He will be perfectly fine and doesn't need you bothering him right now."
"That is my boy Poppy, and I will see him now." Severus hissed.
Harry's heart leapt at those words. His boy? The very words that had grated on his nerves earlier when Professor Lupin had said them didn't bother him at all when Severus said it. In fact, the thought filled him with a warmth that chased away the last of the cold that had settled within him. Harry forced his eyes open and squinted against the dim light in the infirmary. Severus was closing the distance between them quickly with his long strides and Harry barely had to reach for him before he was enclosed in a gentle hug.
"Please don't yell at me."
"What?" Severus pulled back and studied Harry's face carefully.
"You can yell later, but not right now please."
"What are you talking about Harry? Poppy? Have you checked his head? Does he have a concussion?" Severus didn't even wait for a response and instead snatched up the chart at the end of the bed and glanced over it.
"I know I was being stupid. I shouldn't have been so high and I was showing off doing those stunts. I shouldn't have done that."
"Oh Harry," Severus murmured gently, sitting down beside Harry and letting him cling to the front of his robes as tears began to gather in the young boys eyes. "It wasn't your fault Harry. You did nothing wrong. You are a talented young flyer and while I would give hell to most other students for flying the way you do, I know you are competent enough to do it. It's no one's fault but the Ministry's for placing those blasted creatures here. Don't worry, I've spent the last hour giving Albus a piece of my mind about it."
Severus absentmindedly rubbed Harry's back as he talked, letting the boy cry for the time being. Harry was grateful for Severus being there. Finally Harry fought down the tears and managed to mumble out his biggest worry at the moment.
"I-it broke Severus."
"What did child? Your collarbone? Madam Pomfrey already fixed that. Does it still hurt terribly? I can fetch you some more pain potions if you need them."
Harry simply shook his head and sniffled again, gesturing at the bundle that was sitting on the bed next to them. Severus gently stood up and unwrapped it, staring blankly at the shards of wood.
"Is that your broom?"
Harry nodded miserably and had to fight back more tears. He knew it was silly to cry over a broom, but that had been his most prized possession up until that point and had been solid proof that for once he was actually good at something. It was pathetic to think of an object as a friend, but that broom had become important to him over the years.
"Harry, brooms are replaceable, you are not. The important thing here is that you are okay. How are you feeling?"
"Alright. Really, I am. I was scared and the dementors brought back my mum's voice again, but nothing that I haven't been having nightmares about already. I really do think I am going to be fine. I'm just tired."
"Okay, have you been working on the meditation techniques we learnt?"
"Good. And I want you to come see me if you need anything at all, okay? I'll be up again later to see how you are doing but you really should get some rest."
"I will. Thank you Severus."
Harry settled back into his bed and Severus pulled the blankets up high around him. He ruffled Harry's already messy hair and said goodbye before turning to leave. Harry's eyes drifted shut and he was asleep before Severus had even made it to the door.
"Harry? Are you still up? What are you doing?"
Harry jumped and opened his eyes, cheeks flushing. It was the day after the dementor incident and he was sitting cross legged on his bed, trying to meditate like Severus had taught him, when Ron had finally come up from the common room.
"Oh, I uh was just trying to meditate. It helps sometimes. But it was nothing, I'm going to bed now."
Harry practically dove under his covers.
"Hold up mate. If it helps you should do it. Maybe you could teach me too?"
"Really?" Harry asked, raising an eyebrow skeptically at the other boy.
"Bloody hell, you look like Snape when you do that, did you know? But yes, seriously. I'm sure there is some benefit for me too. You can't keep all the good stuff to yourself."
Ron lightly punched his arm and then sat down at the foot of the bed, looking at Harry expectantly.
"Okay fine, but I'm sure I am a rubbish teacher and there's no guarantee that it will actually work. We had to try a few methods to find one I wasn't awful at. He wanted me to 'clear my mind' or some rubbish but I was awful at it. Who can just make their mind completely blank?"
"That sounds like something I would be rubbish at too. So what do you do then?"
"Okay so first you want to sit comfortably and close your eyes. Now focus on your breathing, on taking really deep breaths." Harry tried to go for the calming tone that Severus had used the first few times he had walked Harry through the exercise. They continued just breathing for a few minutes before Harry moved on.
"Okay, now you want to create a picture in your mind. Severus said to pick a place that you feel calm and happy. I chose my bedroom at home but it could be anywhere."
"Would the Burrow work?"
"Yeah but you might want to pick a specific room or spot. That way you can really get the details."
Harry continued walking Ron through recreating the living room at the Burrow in his mind then he concentrated on bringing up his own room. It came a lot easier now than it had at the start. After a few moments he could see his room in his mind's eye. The curtains were thrown open and sunlight was streaming in. He couldn't see anything out of the window, just a soft yellow glow from the sun, but everything else was pretty true to real life. All of his furniture and books and toys were just as he remembered them.
There were a few changes though, not that you could see them. The window seat beside his bed now lifted up, which didn't happen in his real room, and a stone lifted up underneath his bed so he could hide things just like the floor plank under his bed at the Dursleys. Severus had urged him to create these hidden spaces to place the memories that others couldn't know about such as any to do with Severus taking Harry in. Harry had questioned the need for this. After all, this whole thing was just a meditation exercise. It's not like anyone else would ever see it. Severus had just brushed him off and insisted so Harry had done as he was told.
"Okay Severus said the reason that I couldn't do the other way was I have too many thoughts buzzing around so instead of trying to get rid of them and make my mind blank, I'm supposed to let the thoughts come and just put them away."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I don't know. It's easier to do than just to explain it. Basically I just imagine them as objects and put them away in my room. So for the ones that other people aren't supposed to know about, like anything with Severus in it, I usually imagine it as a little box I'm hiding away but ones of you or Hermione I might pretend they are pictures and add them to a photo album. You can come back to the memories easier this way too. I know it seems weird but it helps. It makes me feel calmer. Severus says eventually when I get really good at it, if I am panicking or something I can just come back to the room and it will help calm me."
"No, it's not weird. I like it. It's harder than it seems though."
"Oh yeah. It took me forever to really get it. I'm glad we moved onto this method though. Severus was getting so frustrated with me when I couldn't just make my mind blank."
Ron chuckled at this. The pair continued meditating for a few minutes before Ron heaved a sigh and announced he was giving up for tonight and going to bed. Harry finished 'putting away' his most recent memory of visiting Professor Lupin earlier that day before he too climbed under his covers. He had found that the stories Professor Lupin were telling him about his parents were materializing as actual books in his mind. He placed the most recent one on the shelf with all of the others and smiled softly. He had almost a whole shelf full now. He fell asleep with a smile on his face and dreamed of flying and playing quidditch with his dad.
Harry bit back a sigh as a bag was dropped on top of his potions essay and textbook. He turned his glare upwards and quirked an eyebrow at Blaise.
"I really hope this isn't going to be a habit."
Blaise just scoffed and sat down, scooping up his bag from where Harry had shoved it away.
"What are you even doing here? Where are your groupies?"
"Shouldn't I be asking you that Zabini?"
"Please, I don't have groupies."
"Right, I forgot. You are one."
"You insult me so Potter. I merely associate with those who bore me the least."
"How kind of you to say."
"So where is the weasel and the brain?"
"Hermione has class and Ron was playing chess with his brothers. I figured I shouldn't put off this essay." Harry responded, gesturing to his potions work.
"Ahh of course not. Wouldn't want good ol' Snape upset with you now would we?"
"I don't know what you are talking about Zabini."
Harry's face dropped into its blank mask and he lowered his gaze back to his work.
"Whatever you say. Mind if I work here? I haven't quite finished that assignment either."
Harry shrugged. He figured he couldn't actually refuse. The other boy had already taken his book and parchment out. The pair worked in relative silence for a while and the tension gradually eased.
"Why do you stay with them? Why doesn't Snape do anything about it?" Harry eventually asked quietly, not looking up.
Blaise froze for a moment before his quill kept scratching at the parchment. Harry thought he wasn't going to answer at all before the other boy finally sighed and looked up.
"We tried. Well not me, but my older brother. Snape tried to do something about it when he found out what was happening to my older brother, but my father - or stepfather really, but there's hell to pay if I call him that - ended up paying off all of the investigators and threatened the ones he couldn't bribe. Things got a lot worse after that and my brother begged Snape not to do anything else. I was still at home at that time and Rich couldn't protect me while he was here so we let things settle down. I thought - maybe that he would take me with him when he graduated but things didn't work out that way."
"Don't be. It's only four more years and I'll be gone too. Besides, it's not all that bad anymore. It's a big Manor and there are a lot of places to go to stay away from his ire. I don't seem to irk him quite as much as Rich did. Besides, he may be dead before that even."
"You really must keep up on the gossip Potter." Zabini chuckled. "Though the one's about my mother aren't exactly just rumours. Anyways, are you looking forward to the first quidditch game? You guys against Ravenclaw, right?"
Harry had to mentally shake himself and regarded Blaise shrewdly. The boy was looking at him expectantly, waiting for an answer as if he hadn't just been talking about his abusive stepfather.
"Oh, uh yeah. It should be a good one I'm thinking. It will be nice to play an actual game again. So you are a quidditch fan?"
"Of course. There's hardly anything else to be interested in in the wizarding world is there? That's one area the muggles have us beat in. They have so many different sports. Flying is bloody brilliant though, so you can't be too upset about it I suppose."
"You like flying? Why don't you try out? Or did you?" Harry trailed off awkwardly.
"There was no point. I favor Keeper, but that great oaf Bletchley has Flint in his back pocket so there's no way I would get it over him. Do you have a team?"
"Yes, Potter, a professional team you support." Blaise rolled his eyes. "Myself, I support the Ballycastle Bats. At first it was just to spite my father, who absolutely detests them, but they really aren't that bad. They've won the league a couple dozen times."
"Oh, I'm not really sure. Ron likes the Cannons-"
"They are complete rubbish."
"I know. All of his brothers bug him for it, but he keeps supporting them somehow."
"Well, something to be said for loyalty I suppose. Here, look through this and see what you think. Sometimes you just pick a team on instinct. Either way, if I am to continue to tolerate your presence, you must choose a team to support. You can learn a lot about a person that way, you know."
Blaise dug through his bag and tossed a Quidditch Weekly at him. Harry caught it reflexively and rolled his eyes at the other boy. He would have scowled but he could tell that Blaise was joking around.
"I'll see what I can do. I didn't realize that we were to continue tolerating each other's presence."
"Oh yes Potter. We are friends now, and as a general rule friends must tolerate each other."
"Yes of course. They also share answers. What did you put for the effect of counter-clockwise stirs in the Confusion Draught?"
"Oi, shove off! Why do you think I have the answer?" Harry asked, shoving Blaise back into his seat.
"I just figured a certain Potions professor might have given you the answer."
"Of course not."
"Whatever you say."
"It balances the effect of the scurvy grass."
This time Harry couldn't help rolling his eyes at the other boy, who started scribbling triumphantly. They continued to work in relative quiet once more, interrupting it once in a while to make a comment or ask a question. Eventually Blaise stood and started scooping his belongings back into his bag.
"Well, I better get going. It's almost time for Malfoy's daily whining before lunch. I'm serious Potter, you better have a team picked by the time I see you next!" He called over his shoulder as he made his way towards the Library entrance. "Granger."
Hermione gave a startled little wave as Blaise acknowledged her as he passed by. She made her way to where Harry was sitting, giving him a puzzled look.
"What - Was that Blaise Zabini?"
"And he was talking to you?"
"Don't even ask Hermione, don't even ask."