Somehow, Harry had survived his exams. He didn't want to admit that it was because of Snape's help, but deep down, he knew that it was true. Without the snarling potion's professor, he would have never managed to pass his tests. He'd never get the chance to thank the man, as he didn't plan to see him or anyone else from Hogwarts for the next several years, but that was just as well. He didn't think he could show his appreciation without losing his dignity, and Snape would probably be just as uncomfortable if he expressed any gratitude.
It surprised Harry to recognize that he would almost miss some of their meetings together. Perhaps the dungeon bat had never been as bad as he'd though him to be. He'd saved his life more than once. Even if he hadn't been the kindest man, some of his actions were still admirable. Perhaps one day, Harry would write him a letter telling him that.
He was definitely going to write to Ron and Hermione, even though he'd probably wait a few months to make sure it was safe. He wanted them to know the real story as he had promised to tell them eventually. They would be shocked, but at least they would know that he was safe and being cared for properly. Harry believed that they would be happy for him.
Today, after months of turmoil, Harry was finally going to live with his godfather. Sirius was going to meet him at the Dursley's address and apparate him to a safe location. Then they would be free to live as they wanted, both shielded from the world and able to heal from their own demons. Each of them would learn more about the other and bond until it was like they had never been strangers. Harry couldn't wait.
He had already packed up all his belongings. He'd cleared everything out of his dormitory, ignoring the looks he received from his dormmates who had only packed a few things. Now, all he had to do was wait for McGonagill. She would be there any minute.
Harry glanced around the familiar common room, feeling nostalgic for all the good memories he'd experienced there. He fondly remembered evenings spent with his friends by the fire and quidditch match celebrations. He would definitely miss it at Hogwarts, but with Sirius it would be better.
Ron and Hermione were huddled by the portrait hole, speaking about the exams. Apparently, Hermione had nearly cast the wrong charm during the practical exam, but she hoped Professor Flitwick hadn't noticed her hesitation. Harry doubted that it would matter. Hermione would still be at the top of the class. Ron told her so, yet she continued to rant. Harry expected he would hear much more about it on the train ride home, but he wouldn't complain. It would be the last time he saw his friends for a very long time, and he wanted to make the most of it.
The door to the portrait hole burst open and Professor McGonagill appeared, looking a bit flustered. Harry suspected that she was running a bit behind schedule. Fred and George had mentioned a prank, and Harry had a nagging feeling that her appearance was related to their antics. Harry was definitely going to miss the twins. Maybe he could write to them as well.
The herd of Gryffindors followed McGonagill out the door, clutching their trunks and bags. Harry fumbled with Hedwig's empty owl cage. He had allowed his owl to fly free last night, informing her that she was to meet him outside the Dursley house. The bird had nodded at him with eyes far too intelligent and then darted out the window. He hoped that she would get there on time; he didn't want to leave her behind.
Just as Harry stumbled out of the common room, a tall figure with a long, swaying beard stepped out of the shadows.
"Harry, I need you to come with me," Dumbledore said, leading him away from the other students.
"Right now?" Harry asked. "I can't miss the train."
The old man nodded seriously.
"I'm afraid you won't be taking the Express with the other students. For your own safety, I will be escorting you home."
"Oh," Harry said dumbly. He didn't know what else to say. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ron and Hermione looking at him worriedly before McGonagill ushered them around the corner.
This was all wrong. This wasn't part of the plan. If he went with Dumbledore, he would have to go into the house. If he went into the house, he'd never make it out. If he didn't make it out, he couldn't be with Sirius.
His heart was suddenly pounding so fast that he feared he might pass out. The steady thumping noise seemed to block out everything around him.
"I need to meet with the Minister, but it shouldn't take long. You can stay up in the common room and I'll come get you when we've finished. I've already informed your relatives, and they'll be expecting you. I've also requested to have a little chat with them. Professor Snape mentioned that there may have been a misunderstanding about your aunt."
Harry couldn't even speak. His mouth was filled with cotton. He only nodded in response.
"Well, I'll see you in a little while. I shouldn't be longer than an hour." With those words, the man disappeared down the hallway, leaving Harry rooted in place.
Harry waited until the footfalls faded away before pulling the Marauders map from a pocket of his bag.
"I solemnly swear that I'm up to no good," he said clearly, moving his wand across the parchment. Small, foot-shaped dots appeared all over the map, most of them moving toward the entrance to the castle. Harry could see a set of footprints with the name Albus Dumbledore moving away from him at a rapid pace. There were no names on the staircase to the seventh floor. But should he risk it?
Harry wasn't sure what to do. If he tried to make it to Sirius and he was caught, he'd be risking the safety of his godfather. But if he managed to make it there in time, he still had a chance of obtaining the life he'd always wanted.
He couldn't stifle his need to be free of the Dursleys and the people who didn't know the real Harry. He started running, letting the map lead the way.
He reached the entrance to the room, letting out wheezing breaths of exhaustion. His lungs and legs burned with the effort. He placed his knuckles to the wall, tapping strategically, and the doorway materialized in front of him.
Sirius appeared, looking more startled than Harry had ever seen him.
"Harry, what are you doing here? I was just getting ready to sneak out."
"Dumbledore's apparating me to the Dursley's. I don't get to ride the train!" Harry exclaimed. "If I go in that house, I don't think I'll ever get out. We need to go now!"
"Slow down, Harry. Deep breaths," he coached, waiting for Harry to stop panting. "When is Dumbledore taking you?"
"Less than an hour. As soon as he gets done talking to the Minister. He told me to wait in Gryffindor tower, but I used the Marauder's Map to get here instead," Harry explained.
"Okay," Sirius said, appearing deep in thought. "Show me the map."
Harry handed the parchment over.
"Alright, he's in his office now. The Minister hasn't even gotten there yet," he said pointing to a dot near the Great Hall labeled Cornelius Fudge.
"So, we have time?" Harry asked anxiously.
"We have time," Sirius assured him. "But we need to go now."
Severus walked down the hallway toward Gryffindor tower, clutching the golden amulet in his palm.
After his meeting with Harry on Wednesday, he couldn't squelch the nagging feeling that Harry might not be treated well at his relatives' house. Even though the boy had insisted his home life was fine, Severus felt that he was hiding something. The problem was that he had no real proof to remove the child from their home.
Instead, he'd decided to give Harry the amulet. It would be completely invisible once around his neck, and when pressed, it would send out an alert directly to Severus. If Harry was in any real danger, he'd be able to help the boy. Maybe that would make the Gryffindor less anxious about returning home. Perhaps it would make Severus less anxious about the boy returning home as well.
He'd informed Albus of the gift, although the old man had insisted that Harry wouldn't need it. Apparently, Albus was going to sit down and talk with the Dursleys, and he was going to be very clear how they should be treating the boy. Severus wasn't sure if the conversation would help or not. Harry hadn't seemed to think that it would.
Regardless of the headmaster's opinion, he was going to give Harry the amulet as an extra precaution. He expected that the boy would appreciate it. It was important for him to feel safe and secure.
Severus reached the portrait of the fat lady and gave the password. After using the special unlocking charm placed by the headmaster, the portrait swung open, revealing the empty common room. Severus stepped inside.
He'd never been inside Gryffindor's common room before, and he couldn't help but crinkle his nose at the gaudy display of maroon and gold decorations. From the floor to the chairs to the ceiling, everything was covered in Gryffindor colors. It was the visual equivalent of someone screaming directly into your ear. He needed to speak to Harry, but then he was getting the hell out of there.
"Harry!" He called. His voice echoed in the cavernous room, but the boy didn't appear.
Deciding that the boy must be up in his dormitory, Severus ascended the staircase.
"Harry!" He called again, but the boy didn't appear.
He knocked three times on the surface of the door to the third-year boy's dormitory, but there was no answer.
Perhaps he's asleep…
Severus threw the door open. The room was practically devoid of belongings. Only five identical beds sat against the walls. The boy was not inside.
Where is he?
Severus was beginning to panic. He'd met Albus on the way up the stairs, and the man had assured him that Harry would be in the tower. Had something happened to Harry after he left? Or perhaps the boy had decided to try something foolish, like run away. The latter seemed like the better explanation, but either way he needed to inform the headmaster.
He left the tower, scanning the halls for signs of the brat. He hoped that Harry had just decided to wander the castle for his own amusement, but the worried rumbling of his gut didn't cease.
By the time he'd reached the headmaster's office, his apprehension had turned to dread. What if Black had found the boy again? What if this time Severus wasn't there to save him?
He spoke the password to the gargoyle, feeling ridiculous for saying the words "Sherbet Lemon" to a statue. Without hesitation, he climbed the stairs and burst into the room. Albus and Cornelius both appeared startled by his intrusion.
"Ah, Severus, is something the matter?"
"The boy is missing," he stated plainly. He saw no reason to beat around the bush.
"You searched the tower?" The headmaster asked with concern.
Severus nodded tersely. "He's not there."
He found himself growing aggravated at the older man. He should have known not to leave Harry alone. The boy was a magnet for trouble. He should be watched constantly for his own good.
"What boy?" The minister chimed in.
Severus and the headmaster shared a worried glance.
"Harry Potter," Albus said finally.
The Minister looked astonished.
"I'll lock down the castle," Albus stated. "We need to be on the lookout for Black. Most of the staff members have already left, but I think Minerva and Filius are still here."
"I'll inform the dementors," Cornelius insisted. "Black won't get far once they're in the castle."
"Is that really necessary? For all we know, Mr. Potter is just wandering around by himself. He doesn't deal well with dementors," Severus said.
It was likely that Harry was trying to avoid being sent back to his relatives. After his anxious behavior about returning home, it made sense that he would try to run. Severus doubted that Black was even involved.
"Do you really want to take that chance? Besides, they won't harm the boy. They're trained to catch Black, not an innocent student. The dementors weren't allowed inside last time, and Black got away. We can make sure that doesn't' happen again," The Minister shot back.
Severus resisted the urge to growl. If something went wrong and a dementor hurt that boy, there would be hell to pay.
Harry scurried down the hall beside the invisible dog, adjusting the bag on his shoulder. As all of his belongings had been shrunk to fit in the single rucksack, it was quite heavy and troublesome to maneuver, but he ignored how it dug into his back as he ran.
He glanced over, only seeing the dark, gray walls. Before leaving the room, he'd hidden Sirius beneath the invisibility cloak, so the only indication that the man was beside him was the sound of his heavy paws drumming against the stone floor.
He glanced apprehensively at the map again, his throat closing up at the sight of it. The Minister was leaving. Harry could clearly see his dot moving back toward the castle entrance at a brisk pace. At any moment, Dumbledore would go to the tower and find it empty. Could they make it out in time?
"Sirius," he whispered, glancing around for the hidden canine.
He heard the heavy paws ahead of him halt and turn around.
"The minister is leaving," Harry said.
From beneath the cloak, he heard the shrill whine of the dog, which he assumed meant that they needed to hurry.
The two of them hurdled down the staircase, taking them two at a time. They were nearly to the bottom, when Harry spotted a pair of feet on the map charging out of an empty classroom on the next floor. McGonagill was only a corridor away.
"We have to go right," he said frantically, swerving onto another platform.
Harry's short legs stumbled over a few more steps and he saw the entrance to the owlery in the distance. He glanced toward the map again, noting that no one was inside. Another glance told him that the few inhabitants of the castle were scurrying around like mad. Flitwick was running up a third-floor staircase, McGonagill had moved on to the corridor near the Hufflepuff common room, Dumbledore was checking one of the secret passages, and Snape was… Snape was headed right for them.
There was no question. The teachers knew he was missing. He suspected that the exits to the castle had been blocked again.
"Come on," he panted, hoping his godfather would follow him.
Harry knew what he had to do. They could restore his broom to its original size and fly out of one of the vast windows. Hopefully, they could make it off the grounds before anyone saw them. They darted into the room, and Harry latched the door closed behind them.
With dexterity he didn't know he possessed, Harry seized his broom from his bag and performed the wand movement in one fluid motion.
The Nimbus 2000 grew within his sweaty palm.
"Get on behind me," Harry instructed, when the man appeared beside him.
"Are you sure, Harry? We've never flown together. It won't be the same as flying by yourself."
"I can do it," Harry assured him. "Put the cloak back on in case someone sees."
Sirius looked like he wanted to argue, but the severity of the situation forced him to obey. He climbed on behind his godson and disappeared.
Harry shivered and pushed off from the ground, trying to control the trembling of his numb fingers.
He was covered in sweat from all the running, so why was he suddenly so cold?
"Hurry, Harry!" Sirius cried, the fear evident in his voice.
Why did he sound so panicked?
Harry obeyed, shooting out a large, rectangular hole in the wall. They soared above the castle grounds, that were only barely lit by the dwindling sunset.
Sirius had been right. There was definitely a significant difference between flying alone and carrying an extra person's weight. His Nimbus would only move half as fast and he found that he had very little control.
"They're coming," Sirius hissed, his voice dripping with dread. "We need to go faster."
"I'm going as fast as I can."
Using all his strength, Harry veered slightly to the right, narrowly avoiding one of the castle's pointy towers.
"Up ahead," Sirius instructed forcefully. "Go toward the gates. The wards will end as soon as we pass them."
Harry could barely register his godfather's voice over the chattering of his own teeth, but he followed the man's directions.
Suddenly, a black mass blocked his view of the distant gates.
"Wha-" he started to say. But then the sky and the trees and the ground were disappearing all around him. The howling of the wind turned to screams. Vines of dread crept around his body, coiling across his arms and legs and tugging until he feared he would be torn apart, limb from limb.
He vaguely heard his name being screamed, but it sounded so distant, so far away. Perhaps it wasn't even real.
He felt himself falling. Down. Down. Down. He was diving, diving head first into the pool of liquid darkness. Would he drown in it? Would the dark substance fill his lungs and his veins until he was completely full? Would he disappear beneath it, sinking and sputtering until he ceased to exist?
"HARRY!" someone yelled again, and then he felt himself being hurled violently to the right.
A tree materialized in the periphery of his vision. Then another whizzed by on his left. Then he registered that he was still on a broom.
They were descending at a rapid pace, traveling much too close to the ground and numerous other obstacles to be safe. He anticipated the collision seconds before his knees rammed roughly into a mound of dirt. His body glided across the ground, twisting and contorting until he lay motionless in the grass.
Ow… He rose shakily from the ground, feeling as though he'd been hit by a truck. The world around him spun slightly. He scanned the area around him for his godfather, but he couldn't find him.
"Sirius!" He called frantically. "Sirius!"
He heard a hoarse cough nearby and watched with relief as his godfather appeared from beneath the invisibility cloak.
"I'm here, Harry," he said weakly.
"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to. I couldn't see," Harry blurted.
"Hey, it's not your fault. It was the dementors," he assured him. "Now, we need to find a way out of here, they were right behind us."
The dementors. Of course. Harry should have recognized the familiar feeling of happiness being drained from his body and the coldness that left his insides frozen. But how could they escape? His broom was lying broken in the grass, shattered upon its impact with the Earth. They could try to run on foot, but it was unlikely they had the stamina. Both of their bodies were weak with fatigue.
The first traces of frigid air began seeping back into their bones. They were back.
"What do we do?" Harry asked worriedly, locking eyes with Sirius.
The man's gaze was filled with agony and intensity.
Harry raised his wand, imitating his godfather's stance, but as soon as the dementors drew closer, his grasp on reality began to fade.
The blackness swirled around him like a tornado, groping at him with long, scraggly fingers. From within the darkness came a voice that spewed slurred words. Black breath tainted with alcohol reached his nose and stung his eyes. Black arms twisted around his torso. A black tongue trailed down his cheek.
Harry staggered back, attempting to escape, but the black was everywhere.
Screams of a woman and screams of his uncle and even his own screams filled the air and echoed in the night. Flickers of cold, dead eyes pierced his soul. Then someone pushed him down roughly. His shoulder bones dug deep into the dirt, and his face was squashed beneath a heavy mass. The man from the alley was back, and this time he couldn't escape.
Black was with the boy. Severus could just barely make out the two figures near the entrance to the forbidden forest. They appeared to be locked in an intense battle with their wands raised, all while a herd of dementors circled around, struggling to decide which one of them to kiss.
The coldness nipped at his core as he got closer, and he found it difficult to keep moving, but he strode onward. He'd sent his patronus to Dumbledore the second that he'd spotted the two of them, but now he wished that he hadn't. If one of the dementors attacked Harry, he would have no way of stopping them.
He knelt down near a small shrub and pointed his wand at Black. From this distance, it was nearly impossible to get a clear shot, but he had to try. If the opportunity presented itself he would use the killing curse without batting an eye, but Harry was his top priority, and he couldn't risk hitting the boy.
One of the shadowy, cloaked figures hurled itself toward Black who thrust a wand up high in the air.
A small wisp of white fog fizzed from the tip of his wand, only barely deterring the dementor. It wasn't long until the formless cloud dissipated, leaving Black defenseless again.
This time though, the dementor lunged for Harry, who stumbled backward clumsily.
Black launched himself in front of the boy, shooting off a spell.
At first, Severus thought he was attacking Harry, but instead a flurry of white fog covered them again, causing the dementors to scatter.
How odd… Perhaps Black has a more sinister plan for the child?
The black figures assaulted the two wizards again, and this time, Black's spell was not successful. He couldn't even complete the incantation before the hooded figures were too close. They crowded all around the two of them, dancing in a spherical pattern like demons in the night.
Severus had been so transfixed by Black's actions that he neglected to watch the boy who was cowering with empty eyes as a dementor descended upon him. Severus jumped up from his position, ready to do anything to protect the child. His heart seemed to stop completely in the seconds that followed.
He watched Black, who was staring with an identical expression of horror, launch himself at the boy and attack- No… Not attack. Protect.
Black threw his own body on top of Harry's, burying the boy's face with his thin torso. The convict left himself completely unshielded from the crowd of black hoods that were close enough to touch. The floating figures leaned forward and took turns drawing every last breath out of the ragged-looking man. Silver tendrils of light burst from the man's lips as they sucked what little life was left within him. They kept sucking until the last flickers of light bled into the night, casting them all in shadow.
Severus heard movement behind him and turned to see his patronus racing back towards him. Just as it disappeared back into his wand, he cast it out again.
A shining, silver doe erupted from the tip of his wand and raced toward the boy, throwing the dementors back with little effort. The hooded figures fled in terror, disappearing into the trees that lined the forest.
Severus rushed forward as fast as he could will his legs to move, shoving the limp body off of the boy. Harry lay completely still beneath him, eyes wide and staring up at the dark sky.
"Harry?" Severus asked. He placed a gentle hand on the boy's arm, trying to prop him into a sitting position.
His cloudy emerald eyes were suddenly alert. They darted all around, finally landing on the shell of Sirius Black.
Harry launched himself at Black. His small hands pulled at the man's shirt, trying to elicit a response.
"Sirius!" He screamed. "Sirius, wake up!"
"Harry," Severus spoke gently. "Harry, he's not going to wake up. The dementor kissed him. He's gone."
"He's breathing," Harry argued. "Look!"
The man's chest rose and fell, but that was the only sign that he was still alive. Harry didn't seem to understand that the man was dead in every way that counted. He would never wake. He would never be the man that Harry had known.
"Harry, his soul is gone. He's just a shell," Severus pleaded, willing the boy to understand.
"No, Sirius wake up!" he sobbed, clinging to his godfather. The boy yanked at the man's arms, trying to pull him up, but his small frame was shaking too furiously to make much progress.
It was only then that Severus recognized they were not alone. The remaining members of the castle were now out on the lawn watching with tear-filled eyes as the boy tried to revive his godfather. Minerva had her hand covering her mouth, Filius was openly crying into a handkerchief, and even Dumbledore had a few tears lingering on his cheeks. The minister however was not fazed. He looked more annoyed at the situation than anything else.
Cornelius walked toward Harry and scoffed. "Stop this nonsense, boy," he commanded sternly.
When Harry didn't stop, the Minister leaned down and attempted to pry his fingers from the corpse.
"NO!" Harry screamed, fighting against the older man's hold. The boy lashed out, kicking and flailing his arms, but Severus rushed forward and held him tight.
"He's a murderer. This is exactly what he deserved," Cornelius shouted at the boy.
"NO! HE'S INNOCENT!" Harry insisted, swinging a fist toward the Minister.
Severus's grip on the bony child nearly faltered as Harry fought against him. The boy was much stronger than he appeared.
"He's brainwashed you, boy," Cornelius spat mirthfully.
"Fuck you," Harry snarled.
The Minister looked taken aback by the child's malicious tone. Severus had never seen the boy look so angry. His eyes blazed with uncontrollable rage. He flailed against Severus trying to lunge for the old man, but the potion's master managed to restrain him.
Cornelius banished the body with the flick of his wrist, causing Harry to let out a feral scream.
"He's gone," Severus whispered gently in the child's ear, his voice thick and dry. "He's gone, Harry."
The boy's screams faltered. "No," he choked, his body becoming limp. He turned to face Severus and then stumbled forward.
Severus clutched the trembling child to his chest and curled his arms around him. Feral sobs racked the boy's body, escaping from his mouth with each gasp for air. From within his embrace, Severus could hear Harry's voice, raw with emotion. He was mumbling something so silently that it was nearly impossible to decipher. But then, suddenly, Severus heard it.
"He promised." Harry whispered over and over, gripping Severus's robes as if they were the only thing keeping him upright.
Severus leaned his head down closer. "What did he promise?" He asked softly.
"He was supposed to take me away," Harry cried, burrowing closer to the man. "Why does everyone leave me?" The glassy, tear filled eyes turned to look up at him.
Severus stared into the anguished face and felt a lump growing in his throat.
He ignored the fact that Sirius Black had been his enemy for as long as he could remember. He ignored that the man had been an escaped convict that was charged with several murders. He ignored all of his instincts and focused on Harry. The boy had obviously cared for the man, and from what he had seen, Black had cared about Harry too.
"I don't know," he replied seriously, at a loss for words.
The boy's face crumpled again, and the tears ran down his face freely as his legs gave out from beneath him.
They sank to the ground together, Severus still holding him close. He wasn't sure what to do. He wasn't the gentle type. Should he be patting his back? Were his actions only making things worse? This would be a much better job for Minerva, or anyone else actually, but for some unknown reason, he still couldn't bring himself to let go of the broken child sobbing in his arms.
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