I have to admit, I was rather surprised by the amount of people that supported Harry's decision to run away, more than just sympathizing with him. An even more surprising amount of people wanted Harry to hang out in the forest for a while. I suppose you'll see how that turns out now. ;)

This chapter is a bit angstier than normal, but I felt it was called for. Besides, I have family/drama labeled as the genres for this – and what drama have you ever seen without some angst? So there. Fluff can be in a different chapter, but this one is almost pure angst with some hurt/comfort thrown in at the end.

Siyamak – Snape

Ulysses – Lucius Malfoy

In the time that Harry Potter had disappeared, the entire Wizarding World was in an uproar. Rumors abounded for the reasons he'd left, and not all of them were kind. Everyone knew by now of his nude appearance in the Great Hall at lunch – it was impossible to keep it quiet after he disappeared, and people were clamoring for someone to lay the blame on. Some supposed that he must've left out of embarrassment, though that wasn't a popular opinion – anyone who had seen him that day had seen quite clearly that he was anything but embarrassed about his nudity.

People speculated on where he'd gone, and the Hogwarts students seemed to agree largely that he had found some forest, seeing as he had called it his "home" many times before. It was split though on which forest he was living in – many seemed to think he was in the Forbidden Forest, but others said that if Hagrid had been unable to find him after two days of searching in what was essentially his second home, then he had to have moved on to some other forest. Ideas of how he got to another forest circulated – some seemed to think that he moved with vampiric speed so he could move quickly without being seen, while others said that it was more likely a case of accidental apparition.

His friends worried about him, of course. They didn't know what had happened to make him run – it seemed so unlike him to just abandon the people he was close to and protective of. Sadi stayed mostly with Hermione the whole time, sure that when Harry returned – and it was too painful to consider that he might not return – he would find his best friend first. Hermione could clearly see that Sadi was worried – and for good reason – because she didn't even mind being in Gryffindor Tower when Hermione had to go to bed, even though people muttered their disapproval about a snake being there. She also thought it might be extra protectiveness that kept Sadi with Hermione – now that Harry was gone, it was her duty to keep the girl safe.

Hermione hadn't been too worried at first – she remembered several months before, when she had woken up and Harry was gone, gone to the forest to think and get advice from a big snake, but he had returned after a few hours. She didn't start worrying until he had been gone for a whole day without a word or appearance. She wasn't sure why Harry had left, but as the days went on and her fear increased, she knew that it had to be something much bigger than some confusion assimilating to human rules.

Neville was just as worried, and actually ended up getting in an argument with Ron Weasley when the other Gryffindor had said he hoped "Potter never comes back – don't know what the big deal is, anyway". That had ended in a detention with Snape for both of them – there may or may not have been slugs spewing from Ron's mouth when he was finished with him, of which Madam Pomfrey had said she could do nothing to stop it, and he had to just bear through it until the spell wore off.

Blaise was just as worried, but being a Slytherin, he was much better at hiding it. The Weasley twins were worried when they couldn't find "snake boy" on a certain map…and then Luna wasn't worried at all, simply saying with utter certainty that he would be back soon. But this only caused more people to whisper about her being "Loony" – no one was inclined to believe her, and some were more vocal about it than others.

Of course, Sirius and Remus were mindless with their worry and fear of Harry's disappearance. They remembered all too well how Harry had been missing for ten years before, and they were terrified that he might be missing again for just as long. They had searched in the Forbidden Forest for almost two days straight after he'd disappeared, calling Harry's name in increasingly desperate tones – but decided after that time that if he had been there, he would have left by then, and returned home in the hopes that when Harry returned, they would know of it there.

Neither slept, and every little noise – every Floo call – they jumped at, hoping that it was Harry returning, or news of someone having found him. They knew he would be safe, on some level, but their logic wasn't staying with them too well at night, causing them to sleep very little. The reporters pestering for a story of what had happened – what caused the Boy-Who-Lived to run away – certainly didn't help their stress levels any. The reporters learned quickly that any questions, by Floo call or in person, would only cause them to be hexed. It didn't stop a few brave reporters from trying again, though, and they would've sealed off the Floo completely if they weren't afraid that they would miss a call telling them Harry was back.

They were especially wracked with guilt at the knowledge that he had run away because he didn't trust them. They couldn't say they blamed him, after his words about Snape, but they honestly hadn't realized that he was so afraid or distrustful of the Potions professor. Surely if it had been too bad, Harry would've told them earlier, rather than continuing to go to his class every week?

A few days after Harry had been gone, they had gone to Dumbledore, telling him that if and when Harry returned, they would be pulling Harry from the class entirely and he would never serve a detention with Snape. Dumbledore had tried to argue, but the two were unflinching. They had repeated Harry's words thousands of times in their heads the past few days, remembering their last conversation with him before his disappearance, and they didn't want Harry not trusting them because they apparently couldn't guard and protect him. Finally Dumbledore had compromised that they would discuss this at further length after Harry had returned – and he was certain that he would indeed return. His assurances did nothing for the worried parents, however – they would believe him when they saw Harry again.

Severus Snape had watched the practical rioting of the Wizarding World with a perpetual sneer on his face, voicing how ridiculous it was that people were so worried about a spoiled brat's disappearance. Inwardly, however, he constantly remembered Lily, and what she would say if he just sat back when he could do something. He wasn't quite sure what he should attempt, or how he might be better suited at finding Potter than anyone else, but the feeling was still there.

Finally, four days after his disappearance, Severus made the decision to act. He spent several hours brainstorming, not completely present while teaching his classes even as he planned. After classes were over, he skipped dinner in favor of making his way to Knockturn Alley for an item that wasn't completely ethical and was generally only used in Azkaban. For the exchange of a few secrets and a potion or two, he bought a specialized bracelet and the seller's silence on his purchase.

It was in the earliest hours of Saturday morning that he made his way to the Forbidden Forest – despite what everyone else thought, he was certain that Potter was there, just in his Animagus form of a snake. No one else knew of his abilities – he had kept his silence on that front – so they didn't know what to look for. He was certain that even Dumbledore didn't know – though he probably suspected something.

It was rather disgustingly easy to find Potter – with a simple "Accio snake Animagus", a green snake came flying toward him, landing without harm on the ground in front of him as Snape stepped back. The boomslang instantly began hissing threateningly, trying to get away, but Snape, in an almost bored manner, shot the Animagus revealing spell at the boy, encasing him in blue light before he changed back to the boy everyone knew as Harry Potter.

The boy hissed in shock and surprise, and Snape bent down quickly before he could regain his bearings, pulling him to his feet and snapping the Animagus suppression bracelet around his wrist.

"What did you do to me?!" Potter cried, clearly having discovered that he was unable to change back into his snake form. "Let me go!"

"I'm not going to hurt you, Potter – I just need you to listen," Snape said, still keeping a hold on one wrist.

"Let me go!" Potter pleaded, frightened tears forming in his eyes as he tried jerking away. "Please – please don't hurt me!"

Snape tightened his grip just slightly, enough to let the boy know that he wasn't going anywhere but not enough to hurt him. Potter was doing enough of that anyway, in his tearful attempts to jerk away from him.

"Stop struggling, Potter!" Snape snapped. "You'll only hurt yourself. Just listen to me, and I'll let you go when I'm through."

"Please – please don't hurt me," the boy whimpered tearfully, not seeming to have processed what Snape had said.

Snape sighed – he wouldn't get anywhere if Potter wasn't going to stop struggling long enough to listen to him. Reluctantly, he released his grip, though he kept a hold of his wand in case the boy tried running.

But as soon as he was released, Potter didn't run – he seemed to realize that it was useless. He backed away until he fell against a tree, and curled up, hugging his knees to his chest protectively while his eyes continued to spill with frightened tears. His eyes caught on the thick silver bracelet encircling his wrist and going up his forearm a couple of inches – he tugged uselessly at it, seeming to understand that this was what was keeping him from being able to turn into a snake again.

"What did – why…" he stammered, seeming unable to form a coherent sentence through his fear.

Snape wouldn't have done it with anyone else, but clearly their size difference and the fact that Snape was more magically powerful and knowledgeable was scaring the boy further. So, he sat down on the forest floor across from Harry, a couple of meters away. The boy flinched, but he didn't seem quite as frightened as before – though that could just as easily have been his hopeful imagination.

"That is an Animagus suppression bracelet," he explained calmly. "While you wear it, you will be unable to change back."

The small boy's fear grew once again. "You – how long…?"

"If you listen to me, it won't be for long," Snape assured him. "If you were in your snake form, I know that you wouldn't be able to listen as much as you could if you were unable to change back. After I am done telling you what I have come here to say, I will remove it and be on my way."

Potter clearly didn't completely believe him, but helpless as he was, he had no choice but to listen. Staring at him wordlessly, he seemed to say for him to get on with whatever it was he had to say.

"Firstly, you need to understand that I pose no threat to you or your pet snake," he said. It spoke to how frightened the boy was when he didn't vocally protest against his use of the word "pet". "I'm sure you've realized by now that I specifically requested overseeing your detentions, but this is not because I hold you at ill will and want you alone to more easily hurt you – or because of whatever other fear that brain of yours has come up with.

"You, of course, know who the Malfoys are," he abruptly changed subjects. At the boy's slightly confused look, he prodded, "Lucius is the one you bit when he tried to hurt your snake – Draco is the one currently a Slytherin in your year."

At Potter's lack of confusion now, Snape gamely presumed that the dirty boy understood. Going on, he said, "While I do understand that you found it necessary to bite Lucius after what he was trying to do, it also caused him to be suspicious. Or, to put it more aptly, his wife Narcissa is much more intelligent than her husband, and when she saw the bite she immediately recognized the venom as coming from a snake. Sharing this with her husband caused him to become suspicious of you, because he knew that you were the only one to bite him – and in human form – so he knew that you were somehow the cause of having snake venom flowing through his bloodstream.

"First he told Draco to give him as much information about you as he could. Luckily Draco received the intelligence genes from his father and hasn't figured out anything substantial. Because of that, Lucius called me in to discuss you and figure out what secret you were holding."

The boy's face was white with panic. "Did – what did…?"

"He has no idea of your Animagus form," Snape said firmly. "And I'm going to keep it that way. However, I thought it prudent to bring you into my confidence, because as slow as Draco is, he would eventually figure out something that would cause a ripple effect as to your abilities – should you continue on as you are."

"You're not going to…?" Potter asked to be sure, looking distrustful.

"I'm not," Snape said firmly, feeling a pang of sympathy for the scared child that he quickly and forcefully shoved away. "I have led Lucius to believe that you are something of a hybrid vampire – one vague enough that there is little information about them in books that can be matched against you, but with enough clues that it is a possibility."

"What…what's a vampire?" Harry – Potter – swallowed, looking as though he was afraid to be hurt for speaking out of turn – which, when pondered on, he likely was.

"A normal vampire is someone who was once human, but after being bitten and changed, drinks human blood to survive, is immortal, moves faster than the eye can see, and burns to ash when exposed to direct sunlight," Severus explained. "But there are known to be hybrids to the normal vampire – ones who can walk normally in the sunlight, with nothing more than a headache, and ones who have more control after they get a taste of human blood, and can feed without killing someone. Many vampires have different venom that promotes the change – some so different that they can't turn a vampire. Some venoms mimic others but don't have quite the same effects, and some lack venom entirely."

"Why…why are there so many…hybrids?" Potter asked, curiosity overcoming his fear for just a moment.

"Most vampires started out as Muggles," Severus explained. "They have nothing with which to fight the venom that changes them, so their body is forced into compliance. But if a witch or wizard is bitten, it's more common for them to die. Their magic fights against the foreign entity, and eventually the venom will overtake the exhausted magic – but because the magic has been fighting so hard to get rid of the venom, when it finally reaches the core the magic is too tired to accept the inevitable and help the venom along, so the venom kills the magic – and no witch or wizard can survive the disappearance of their magic. It can be locked down and unavailable and they would live, yes – but a person's magical core is tied to their health and well-being.

"However, if someone has strong enough magic, or if, for some reason their magic accepts the venom more readily, then a magical person can make the change, and some can even still retain their magic. These are the vampires that become hybrids – the ones that started out magical. There is little information on them for a few reasons – one of which is because most of the time there are spells that can fight against a vampire, so it is more uncommon for a magical person to be attacked – the vampire is dead before they can. And then there is that each person's magic is different from the other, so their vampirism can manifest in a large number of ways. There is also someone's environment that can influence what traits they acquire.

"Therefore, it was fairly easy to subtly suggest to Lucius that you were one of these hybrid vampires. Some hybrids can look like they're aging normally, after all, and keeping up this charade as long as possible would be most beneficial. Everyone knows you were raised in the forest, and you've made it fairly clear that it was by snakes – who's to say you weren't found by a nomadic vampire and changed as a young child? Because you were with snakes, and likely a Parselmouth by then if your learning it there is to be believed, then you would be likely to acquire snake venom rather than a vampire's venom. Your status as the Boy-Who-Lived lends credence to this, as people assume that you must have great power and strong magic to defeat the Dark Lord"—he sneered just slightly at this—"and therefore it would be entirely plausible that your magic would accept the vampire venom in order to keep you alive."

Severus was silent for several moments, letting the boy process his admittedly long speech.

Finally Potter looked up at him and said with great hesitation and disbelief, "You…you're helping me?"

Severus glared. Of course after all of that, that was the only thing that would stick out in that foolish brain of his.

"Yes," he said shortly, not liking to admit it and not wanting to dwell on it. "It would not be good for anyone were the Malfoys to discover your Animagus abilities, and should any trouble ever come your way because of hybrid vampire rumors, they can be easily disproven. But by having this excuse readily available should anyone else get suspicious, and as long as you appear to be trying to keep this a secret, no one will suspect that you are covering another secret with it. But there need to appear to be some slips in the hybrid vampire theory, so that the rumor can be kept alive. And thus, why I now need to tell you. I would have told you this in a 'detention', but obviously you took exception to the idea. Now I suppose those detentions can be spent brainstorming for your ruse."

"I'm not…" Potter hesitated, clearly afraid again, before he firmed his resolve and finished, "I'm not going back, though."

Severus raised a single eyebrow, unsurprised with his words. "And why is that?" he asked in a bored voice, though he already knew the answer.

"No one needs me," Harry said quietly, looking away. "And I don't trust them."

"'Them'?" Snape repeated. "I assume you mean the dog and the wolf?"

"Everyone," Harry whispered. "If they haven't betrayed me yet, they will later. I know they will."

"Really?" Severus said sarcastically. "So I suppose in addition to your other abilities, you have Seer blood as well? You can see the future with a surety now?" he clarified when it was clear Potter didn't know what he meant by 'Seer blood'.

"No," Harry said, struggling to think of how to say what he had to say. "But I know they will. I trusted Sirius and Salim, but they didn't try and get me out of danger, like they're supposed to. They let Grímur put me in detention with someone they knew I saw as dangerous." He glanced at Snape before looking away again. "I guess now I know that you're not going to hurt me, but I still don't trust you. And I didn't know before, either."

"And do you assume that Black and Lupin knew I was dangerous to you?" Severus said calmly. "Or perhaps they knew, as you did not, that I wasn't going to harm you and thus, they didn't see the need to be sure I stayed away from you?"

Harry now stared at him. "What?"

"Potter, one thing you seem to be having an enormous trouble realizing is that the life you know in the forest is very different from human life," Severus began with a sigh. "There is, of course, the obvious – speech, wearing clothes, using silverware to eat food you haven't hunted yourself. But there is also the less obvious that I don't believe your guardians have ever clearly explained to you. People think differently than animals. We don't think in terms of who will hurt us and who we can hurt – we think more of who is friendly and who is not. These are, of course, very broad terms, but that is the main gist of it. Typically we don't avoid someone because we're afraid of being hurt by them – we avoid them because we don't like them or they're rude. There are exceptions, of course – there are always the people who want to hurt others weaker than themselves – but normal people typically just want to get through a happy life, and don't worry about any slim chance of danger or have the desire to hurt other people.

"Black and Lupin fall somewhere in the middle of these two types of people," Severus continued. "They are well aware of the fact that there is danger in the world – and people who will hurt others for their own gain – but they also use that normal part of them to assess the possibilities of danger in a person. Typically it's easier in someone they know of course – and we have been acquaintances"—here he grimaced slightly—"for twenty years now. Although we have frequently been at odds with each other, they are well aware that I mean you no harm, and therefore saw no reason to intervene with your detention."

"You hurt Arjun," Harry protested. "And I'm a snake too – why wouldn't you hurt me?!"

Snape sighed, resisting the urge to rub his face tiredly. "Potter, this comes back to how people think. Firstly, you are not a snake. You are a boy who can turn into a snake. It would be quite illegal for me to hurt you, and frankly too much hassle to deal with the fallout were I to try. Secondly, I don't speak Parseltongue. How was I to know that the snake was in pain? There has never been any evidence of snakes experiencing true pain while their venom is extracted – only discomfort that they can easily get over. That snake could have been dancing, for all I knew. Thirdly, I wasn't extracting venom with the intention of hurting a snake; I merely needed the venom for potions – potions that help people. And as much as you don't like to acknowledge it, humans and snakes are on very different levels of the food chain. Sometimes for humans to survive, lesser animals need to be hurt or even killed. Just as vampires are above humans, and drink human blood to survive, humans are above snakes, and sometimes humans need their venom or their fangs for potions that will keep them alive. It is not a matter of one being better than the other – it's merely life."

Harry was scowling darkly at him, but he could say nothing to dispute his words. It was the same general idea that held true in the forest after all, so it was something he knew was true.

Severus finally allowed himself to sigh, and rose to his feet. "Think on my words, Potter," he instructed, removing the Animagus suppression bracelet with a wave of his wand. "It is your choice whether or not you come back, but you should know that living in the Forbidden Forest can't be a forever plan. Someone will eventually find you."

He turned away and walked back in the direction of the castle, leaving the twelve-year-old staring after him.

It had been a hellish week. Not knowing where your godson was was one thing, but it made it worse when you knew on reflection that it was all your fault.

"What is it that you're even doing as my guardian? Aren't you supposed to guard me, and protect me?"

Sirius hung his head between his arms, resting his elbows on his knees and clasping his fingers behind his neck. Those words had echoed in his head over a million times since the time Harry had run away, and they ate him up all the more with each repetition.

Remus was hurting just as much as Sirius – reasons not the least of which being Harry's last distrustful comment – calling him "Wolf" as though he was nothing of more importance. As though he was just a werewolf – nothing he wanted anything to do with. It only ate at how much more badly he felt – that he had betrayed him enough that the boy he loved more than anything would want nothing more to do with him.

Neither had slept, showered, or eaten in the past week. Dark shadows rimmed their eyes, and their unshaven faces made for a roughened and prickly surface. It was a frightening parallel to their panic and worry and fear of eleven years previous, when Harry had disappeared the first time. This time felt worse though; they felt responsible for it, had seen the look in Harry's eyes as he left the Hospital Wing – though perhaps that's just because it was the most recent, and they were still in the midst of his absence.

Sirius' head suddenly shot up when he heard the back door creak as it had done in the past three months whenever it opened. He hadn't felt the wards alert him to an intruder, and outside of he and Remus in the house, only Harry was keyed in to them, which meant…

Harry's head peeked around the door just before the rest of his body followed. He looked dirty from the outside and nervously tentative, as though he wasn't sure whether or not he was welcomed inside.

Sirius shot to his feet, thinking of none of these things and only of the precious child in front of him. In a flash, he was over to Harry and hugging him tightly, pressing kisses repeatedly in his hair and over his face, uncaring for the dirt.

"Oh, Harry," he murmured, choking on tears while Harry tentatively hugged him back. "My boy – my precious, precious child." A pause, and then Harry was hugging him more surely, tightly, as though afraid to let him go.

A few moments later Sirius pulled away slightly to look into his face, holding it between his hands and thumbing Harry's sorrowful tears away.

"Are you hurt?" he demanded, wanting with everything he had to make sure that his boy was alright and unharmed. "Anywhere – are you in pain?"

"No," Harry admitted. "I'm okay."

"Harry?"

Harry looked up to see Remus enter the room, while Sirius had eyes only for his godson. So Sirius was clearly able to see the guilt and pain that crossed his face when his eyes rested on his other guardian.

Harry pulled away from Sirius to run to Remus, throwing his arms around the man and hugging him for all he was worth.

"I'm sorry," he cried, burying his face in Remus' sweater, muffling his words. "I didn't mean it – I know you're safe, I do! I'm sorry!"

"Sh, Harry – it's alright," Remus assured him, hugging him back just as tightly while tears of relief trickled down his cheeks. "You're alright – that's all that matters."

In a moment, all three of them were joined in a group hug, all thankful that they were back together once more.

Sirius and Remus were too relieved at Harry's return to allow him to go back to Hogwarts that day – not that Harry was complaining. Seeing as it was Sunday anyway, they decided that it just wasn't necessary for him to return quite yet. He would spend the night there, and could Floo back to Hogwarts in the morning.

Of course, Harry's running away didn't go ignored after he'd returned. In stern tones, Sirius and Remus had taken turns in telling him exactly why running away was not allowed, and exactly what that worry had done to them in the week he was gone. However, any sting their words may have caused was negated by the constant hugs he received every other moment from the both of them. They made Harry promise to talk to them before deciding to run away, should the urge ever come again, and Harry readily agreed. He was ashamed at how childlike his actions had been – following impulse rather than stopping to think like a snake was meant to do.

Remus had called through to Hogwarts to let Dumbledore know that Harry would be back the next morning for classes, and with a beaming smile, the old man promised to let Harry's friends know so that they could stop worrying as well.

The rest of the evening was spent talking, as they should have done immediately after their supposed betrayal of Harry's trust. Then Sirius asked the question – what had made him decide to return?

"Siyamak found me two nights ago," Harry explained. "And he…well, the stuff he said made sense."

"Snape?" Sirius asked disbelievingly, while at the same time Remus questioned, "What did he say?"

Harry decided to answer Remus' question – Sirius' seemed rhetorical, anyway. Shrugging slightly, he said, "I don't know – it was…he was telling me about how people think, and how it's different than how I think. He made me realize that I'm thinking differently from you, and that's why I thought you didn't care that I was going into danger.

"Oh, and Siyamak is helping me," Harry remembered before the other two could comment on his previous words. "He's making Ulysses think I'm a vampire."

"What?" Sirius and Remus chorused in shocked voices.

"Why?" Sirius demanded.

"A vampire?" Remus repeated.

"Well, not a real one," Harry amended. "A hybrid one, since it can explain my aging and why I have snake venom even in human form."

"You have snake venom even in human form?" Remus repeated in curiosity, the scholar in him finding this especially interesting. "How?"

"I think it's just when I get really angry or scared," Harry remembered. "After I bit Ulysses in Grímur's office, his mate found snake venom in his neck, and I was the only one to bite him, so…" he trailed off with a shrug. "But Siyamak said he's been implying ever since then that I'm a hybrid vampire, and tricking him into thinking it was his idea, so he won't think I have an Animagus form. Then if anyone tries giving any trouble for it, I can easily disprove it. I just need to make accidents that make it look like I might reveal I'm a vampire."

Sirius shook his head, squeezing the bridge of his nose between his thumb and two fingers. "Nothing is ever simple for you, is it?" he complained.

Harry smiled angelically at him. "I suppose this means I will need more Blood Pops."

I was surprised at the people who wanted to stab Snape…I was sure that someone would pick up on his alliances sooner! So, now at least you know what's going on in his head. ;)

Not sure when I'll be getting the next chapter up – for once, I haven't even started the next one. I have it planned in my head, but as soon as I sit down to type it I'm frozen with massive writer's block. So it may be a little while before you see the next one – but at least this chapter didn't end with a cliffhanger!

Thanks for reading!