I don't normally include warnings, but some material in this chapter may be potentially triggering to some people. Please read with caution if you think you may be affected.

Harry placed his quill to the parchment, letting his words flow freely onto the page. The black ink covered the paper, leaving smudges in some spots and large, distracting blobs in others, but only the words on the page really mattered. Harry wanted to be sure that his message was perfect. He yearned to express the feelings he'd been repressing, all of the things he hadn't let himself think about. He needed to make them understand.

Harry had felt cold for a long time. Not the cold that came from lacking a warm coat in frigid weather, but a cold that came from the inside. A cold that pervaded every cell and every nerve of his body, leaving him numb. He felt it travel from within him, originating in his chest and then swiftly moving throughout his stomach, arms, and legs, leaving a trail of goosebumps and hair that stood on its end, before proceeding to his head where it caused a slight tingle and lingering emptiness.

He wondered if anyone had seen it in his face. Had his eyes suddenly glazed over and grown dull? Had his expression frozen and turned blank? Had they noticed at all?

When did it change? It was as if suddenly everything had shifted. His whole world was on its side. He remembered joyous days of flying through the air on his broom with Ron, laughing and joking. Those days had been replaced with darkness, filled with gory images of corpses that taunted him, and isolation that left him feeling like he was completely alone in the world.

Now, he didn't have the friends that had kept him sane. He didn't have the teachers who looked upon him proudly as if he was something special. He didn't even have himself. It was as if he had no control.

Harry saw disappointment in the eyes of many, and encouragement in nearly none. No genuine words were spoken, but he heard their voices all the same. He was a failure. He was a disappointment. He was nothing.

He'd lived his whole life trying to please, attempting to be the golden boy that had defeated the dark lord and who would have made his dead parents proud. When did he screw up? Was it when Marge had died from the heart attack he'd given her? Was it when he'd pulled the trigger and felt a man bleed out on top of him? Had it happened even after that?

The change had occurred gradually, so slowly that he hadn't even noticed. Then, suddenly, he was the outcast. Where he had once been the center of attention, bombarded by friendly voices and laughter, he'd turned into a pariah, a recluse.

He felt himself distancing more and more from his old self, but he had no desire to change back. Harry just didn't care; he found no reason to, because no matter how hard he tried, he still felt empty. He couldn't make the cold go away. It was a chronic pest, clinging to his soul like a tick sucking what little life was left inside him. He hadn't known how to make it stop, but he finally had an idea.

Before Snape had said it, the thought had never occurred to Harry. Sure, he was ready for the pain to end, for himself to finally be free, but he always assumed he would die by another's hand, not his own.

When Malfoy's spell had shot toward him, he was sure it was all over, and he finally felt at peace. Harry had seen the blinding, blue light rushing toward him, and he'd felt lighter, even before he had been swept off his feet. His body had been weightless, and a new emotion filled his chest. He didn't know how to describe the feeling, but it was almost as if he wasn't afraid to die. He wanted it to be an accident, so that he didn't look responsible, and Malfoy had provided the perfect opportunity. At least until Snape intervened.

The man had saved him, and Harry didn't know whether to be surprised that Snape cared enough to keep him alive or to be disappointed that he was still alive. Why had Snape decided to spare him? The professor knew better than anyone what a pathetic wretch that Harry was, yet he had stopped the Slytherins

Harry had never heard of Snape standing against his own house. Even though Harry had been given detention as well, he could tell that Snape hadn't wanted to punish him. The man's piercing gaze had pleaded for him to tell the truth. But Harry knew the truth didn't matter, so he'd been silent. Still, Snape had attacked Malfoy and his cronies, berating them for hurting him. What happened afterward had shocked him even more.

He had seen a whole other side to the man, and he was confused by what he observed. Professor Snape had taken him to his office, given him potions for the pain, cleaned and bandaged his cuts, and tried to make him comfortable. Harry wasn't sure if he believed that Snape had pure intentions, but he'd decided to take a chance. For the first time, the git really spoke to him, and Harry was able to speak back without repercussions. He'd been able to curse in front of the man, call him out on his own transgressions, and Snape had still called him Harry for the first time.

For some reason, hearing the professor speak his name without feeling the venom in his voice or seeing a grimace on his face lifted Harry's spirits. For a moment, it was as if someone actually cared. He felt comforted and safe.

But, underneath those feelings of renewed happiness, Harry was still cold and bitter. Snape had ruined his moment of freedom. It was as if the shackles around his hands and feet were just being lifted only to be slammed back on him again. Harry was a bird that yearned to soar high above, and he had been roughly shoved into a display cage to rot. But he now knew how he could obtain his freedom again, thanks to Snape.

The man had asked if he was suicidal, and Harry had to think about what the word meant. Never before had he considered taking his own life. He hadn't even known that he wanted to die. But Snape had said it, and now he knew.

He knew it wasn't a conventional idea. The thought of anyone else killing themselves would ordinarily make his skin crawl. For some reason, when he thought of himself doing it, the thought didn't bother him.

Harry supposed that the difference between himself and others was that he was inferior, and unlike them, he deserved it. Like Malfoy had said, if he just died, then he would be doing a favor to everyone. No one needed him or depended on him apart from his canine friend and Hedwig, but he could arrange for someone to care for his pets. He had no reason to wait any longer; he would do it tonight.

Later, once everyone was asleep, he would creep to the astronomy tower. No classes were being held there until tomorrow night, so he was sure that he would not be interrupted. He'd bring the gun. It would all be so simple.

The yellow stained paper began to quake slightly in his trembling hands. Harry let out the breath he'd been holding, a breath that he seemed to have been holding in for months. His letter was done. After scrawling his name at the bottom of the parchment, he folded it gently and placed it in the pocket of his robe.

Harry smiled sadly and took in the scene before him. From his position in the armchair near the fire, he could see Ron and Hermione hunched over a chessboard and speaking animatedly to each other. Ron appeared to be winning the game, and Harry assumed he was gloating while an irritated Hermione lectured him over the history of chess. It was just the type of situation that reminded Harry of the good old days.

Merlin, he missed them. He hoped that they would realize how much their friendship had meant to him. His friends had been the one bright spot in his life, and he regretted pushing them away this year, but he knew that it was for the best. They would be okay; they had each other.

Ron declared checkmate, causing Hermione to pout, and then muttered something that made them both burst into laughter. Harry was overwhelmed with a sense of nostalgia at the familiar, jubilant noise; it was his favorite sound. He rose from his chair and made his way towards the staircase. Glancing once more over his shoulder at them, his eyes fixated on their carefree expressions, Harry tiptoed up the stairs to his dormitory.

When the sounds of Ron's bear-like snores finally reached his ears, Harry threw the bed covers off himself and peered hesitantly around the darkened room, searching for the slightest sign of movement; all was still. He placed the handwritten note on his pillow and then plunged his hands beneath the mattress, searching blindly until they brushed against something solid. Harry grabbed the metal object and stowed it in his bag. Stepping slyly around the piles of clothes and quidditch gear strewn around the room, Harry maneuvered his way out the door.

Under his invisibility cloak, he slipped unseen through the halls. He had one more stop to make before the astronomy tower. Turning to the right instead of climbing up the staircase, Harry traipsed out of the castle and toward the forbidden forest.

The dog bounded out of the trees before Harry had even finished removing his cloak. The canine nuzzled against his legs, and then plopped down in front of him, staring expectantly.

Harry hoped that his furry friend would be alright when he was gone. But he'd written to Ron about the dog and Hedwig, and he was confident that his friend would make sure that his pets were taken care of. Pushing those thoughts away, he rummaged in his bag and pulled out a turkey leg that he'd swiped at dinner.

Immediately the dog began to salivate, snatching the treat from the boy's hand. Harry stared sadly down at him, wishing that he'd take his time eating. But the food was gone in no time, and Harry was left staring at the furry beast, at a loss for words.

When the Gryffindor didn't sit down as he usually did, the dog cocked his head to the side, offering a confused expression.

"I can't stay tonight, boy," Harry whispered, his words getting caught within his throat.

The canine whimpered and nuzzled into Harry's leg.

"Really." Harry told the dog. "I need to go to the astronomy tower now, but I just wanted to say thanks. I know that you don't realize it, but you've helped me a lot."

The dog's eyes seemed to shine at his words, and Harry felt himself growing teary eyed. He sucked in a deep breath and then continued.

"I'm really gonna miss you, but Ron will take good care of you. He's real nice. You'll like him."

Harry knelt down, burying his face into the dog's thick mess of fur. He wrapped his arms around the beast, letting his tears fall silently. Then, with one final pat on the head, Harry composed himself, rose from the ground, and offered his furry friend one last sad smile.

"Bye, boy."

Harry slipped the cloak back over himself and started running. He didn't look back.

Before he knew it, he was in the astronomy tower.

The soft pitter-patter of footsteps filled the empty tower, as Harry took slow, hesitant steps toward the center of the room. From his position, the bright, twinkling stars shown clearly in the night sky, streaking the room with broken light.

Harry's legs felt heavy, as if his body were filled with cement; it reminded him of when he'd tried to run from Vernon. His limbs had felt so heavy and foreign then, as if they were only partially connected to his body, but somehow, he'd made himself move and found a way to reach the bedroom. He'd grabbed the gun. He'd shot someone. He'd never forgotten a moment of it.

Harry smelt whiskey from another time, and felt the lingering, hot breath on his neck once more. He envisioned the chilling scene of a man drenched in blood and spattered with bits of his own flesh as he lifted the weapon from his bag.

This is it. Harry raised the pistol to his temple, feeling the slick metal dig into his skin.

No more cupboard. No more nightmares. No more pain. He placed his shaking finger on the trigger.

Now I can fly away.

Some people have complained that the story is moving too slowly, but it should really be picking up in the next few chapters. Thanks for continuing to read! Please leave me a review, and let me know what you think!