Harry sat on the small stool inside his tent anxiously bouncing his knee and picking at the wood grain with his fingernails. It was a quiet night and a crisp summer breeze was gently ruffling the tent flap as the smell of charred grass floated in. Harry breathed deeply and closed his eyes; Sirius was pressing down on Harry's chest, "never give up" he'd was standing only feet away from Harry, his pale face illuminated by an almost full moon, "wake up!" and finally, hands were firmly holding onto Harry's face, "you must leave Godrics Hollow! Trust Snape...find Kreacher!" Three times Sirius had come to Harry's side; helping him, warning him, and instructing him. And in that mist… the white place that Harry only half-remembered and half-imagined…had Sirius been there too? Snape said he'd called out for him but… Harry pulled his cloak tightly around his body…. He needed Snape to understand how badly he needed to leave. How badly he wanted to protect the Order and his friends! His godfather had shown him the way, somehow…if only Snape was as easily convinced.
Across the yard the tiny lamps illuminating the other tents were being extinguished one by one. Harry squeezed his eyes shut forcing down the lonely ache that had settled along his back, 'thunk' Harry's eye's shot open as he swiveled around and surveyed the empty tent behind him.
'Thunk…thunk…thunk…' ripples flowed across the tent's other entrance.
Harry cautiously stood up, 'thunk...thunk' came the sound more rapidly. 'THUNK!" Harry reached out and pulled loose the knot that was holding the flap secure. As it fell gracefully away a crisp breeze swept though the tent in the newly created draft. There was a small pile of rocks at Harry's feet and as he squinted down at them two ends of fleshy pink string were tossed onto the pile. Harry immediately recognized the Extendible Ears and followed the string away from the tent and out into the darkness. Two black mounds were lying down at the foot of the grassy knoll. Quickly Harry seized the Extendable Ears, holding one end up to his ear and the other near his mouth.
"Harry?" He could hear Ron's whisper as if they were standing next to each other.
"Are you okay?" Hermione interrupted.
Harry's heart leapt into his throat, quickly looking over his shoulder to make sure the coast was clear, he replied, "yes I'm okay." –for having just murdered forty-three people Harry added to himself. "I'm sorry Hermione—"
"No Harry, this wasn't your—", but she trailed off as Harry scoffed. No one said anything for a short time; "This really wasn't your fault Harry." Hermione said more timidly.
"It doesn't matter if it was my fault or not," said Harry sighing, "it could happen again at any time."
"No -," "That's not—" Ron and Hermione said talking over each other, "Dumbledore said that You-Know-Who wouldn't try again, he said—"
"Not even Dumbledore can say he knows what Voldemort will or won't do. It's just a matter of time before he tries something else. Besides, if everyone is so sure, then why have I been confined to this tent? Why have they put a ward around me?" Ron and Hermione were silent. "Exactly, they can't be sure."
"They're just scared Harry."
"Not, of you-" added Ron hastily.
"Then of what?" Harry asked seriously. If they weren't afraid Harry was going to be possessed again, as they all kept saying, then what were they scared of?
"They're scared for you," said Hermione rationally, "they just want to keep you—"
"Safe." Harry finished for her rolling his eyes. "Listen," Harry finally whispered, "I saw Sirius again—" Harry was sure Ron and Hermione were exchanging meaningful looks, "—and so did Snape."
"He did?" asked Hermione incredulously.
"What happened?" added Ron. Harry quickly told them everything that happened the night Sirius had appeared at his bedside. "And Kreacher say's this is a real place?" Ron asked.
"Yes!" Harry whispered enthusiastically.
"Are you sure….are you sure it was real Harry?" Hermione asked.
"Yes!" Harry said again, "I'm positive, I could feel him touching me, he was totally solid and then he just—sorta faded then disappeared right in front of us."
"But how-?" asked Hermione.
"I dunno." Harry sighed in frustration, "all I know is that I have to get out of here!"
"And go with Kreacher?!" Hermione was getting frustrated now, "How can you trust him?"
"He can't lie to me anymore, and Sirius said—"
"Harry, Sirius is—gone! Even if somehow he's coming back, how can you let him lead you into danger? What if it's a trap?!"
"Snape definitely thinks it is, and I guess it could be" Harry said seriously, "but I won't know for sure unless I try."
"But—" Ron finally piped in, "but why not just wait, we'll be back at Hogwarts soon and then you'll be away from here…if that's what you want?"
"It's not just that-shhh!" Harry sat frozen, listening hard but the night was still. Harry continued but lowered his voice, "it's not just that Ron. How can I go back to Hogwarts like this? I can't even leave this tent, what would I do there? Anyway—I never, I wasn't ever planning on going back."
"You're not serious?" Asked Hermione, "I thought—I mean, even if you went to the Saiph Forest—you'd come back to Hogwarts…eventually right."
"I don't know, Hermione."
"But we know You-Know-Who wants something from Hogwarts! Don't you want to find it first?!" Ron whispered furiously back.
"Yeah, but it could be anything."
"You'll just have to—" but Harry went silent again as Mrs. Weasley's voice rang out into the night. "RON! HERMIONE!"
"We'd better go" said Ron hastily.
"Wait—just promise me you won't say anything! Swear you won't tell anyone what I said about Sirius or Saiph!"
"Ron, we've got to go—"
"PROMISE!" Harry nearly shouted.
"Fine, we promise!" and the Extendable Ears were tugged out of Harry's hands and pulled back into the night. Harry tied up the flap to the tent as two dark shapes circled around one of the houses and reappeared innocently next to Mrs. Weasley.
The next day seemed to drag by as Harry waited for night to fall, however it only brought the reappearance of Severus Snape. He arrived in one of the foulest moods Harry had ever seen him in, he kicked open his trunk and viciously threw in his cloak and mask; slamming the lid shut atop them. He spared Harry a withering look before storming back out and striding purposefully across the yard. Harry watched as Snape approached Dumbledore, who immediately walked away from Mad-Eye, and together they moved towards the remains of Harry's old house. Madame Pomfrey was swiftly approaching the two, however Snape and Dumbledore waved her off in unison and she was forced to turn around indignantly. Moody and Harry locked eyes from across the yard briefly before Harry slunk back into the tent.
Hermione and Ron, who were nearby sorting through one of the piles of damaged furniture, had also noticed Snape's appearance and glanced over at the pair whenever Mrs. Weasley's back was turned. Finally Snape threw his arms up, turned on his heel and stormed away from the Headmaster. He re-entered Harry's tent and threw himself onto his own cot without a word.
"What's happened?" Harry asked.
Snape glared at Harry out of the corner of his eye.
"What's Voldemort—" Snape flinched dramatically and stood back up.
"Not now Potter!" and he took off towards the medi-tent.
Finally night had arrived and Snape hadn't returned. Harry was sitting anxiously next to the back entrance and it wasn't long before he heard the familiar 'thunk' signal him. He hastily grabbed the ends of the Extendible Ears and poked his head out of the tent.
"What's happened?" All three asked at the same time, "I thought you'd know!" they all replied. Despite themselves everyone laughed quietly.
"Something's definitely up." Harry said.
"Definitely," Ron agreed, "they've been in the main tent for hours!"
"Snape didn't say anything to you?" Hermione asked hopefully. "I thought he was supposed to be keeping you in the loop?"
"Only when it suits him I guess—" replied Harry.
"Did you see him and Dumbledore arguing?" added Ron "it must be something bad."
"Yeah—but what isn't these days." Harry checked behind him, though the gap in the tent he could still see many lamps lit.
"Harry—" said Hermione, her voice more solemn now, "I don't know how much time we have tonight, with everyone still awake, but I—I just wanted to say—"
"We wanted to say" Ron corrected her, "that we're going to come with you."
"We're better together Harry, we always have been!"
"Look at what happened at the Ministry!" Harry said forcefully and louder than he should have, "You were attacked by a brain Ron, a brain! And Hermione, you we're nearly killed! I won't put you in that kind of danger again, that's the whole point!"
"It's not too dangerous for us, if it's not for you!" Ron replied and Hermione made a sound of agreement.
"It'd be more dangerous for you to be alone with me, especially when I'm—when I'm like this." Harry rubbed the scar on his forehead absently, "there's no changing my mind, you guys can't come with me, I just—I just wanted you to know what's going on."
"But you can't go alone, what if you get hurt or sick, what about the bond? How will anyone be able to get to you!? To help you?!" Hermione said feverishly.
"I'm not going alone," Harry whispered.
"I have to take Snape don't I? You're right, he was right, I have no idea what's waiting in the Saiph Forest or if it's a trap or dangerous and I can't do magic until school starts again. I have to take Snape."
"You're taking him over us!" Ron said incredulously.
"It's not like I want to Ron!" Harry added, "I've got to, because of this stupid bond and because…Sirius said to trust him, what else can I do?"
"You could come with us to Hogwarts…" she trailed off feebly, knowing her arguments would fall on deaf ears.
"But how are you going to get there?" Ron asked filling the silence.
"I've almost sorted it out! I'm just waiting for—the right moment," Harry actually smiled, proud of his own plan, "it's got to be soon though and definitely before you go back to Hogwarts."
"That's only two weeks away!" Hermione said surprised.
"But how are you going to get there?" Ron asked again.
"I don't want to say, just in case Dumbledore finds out."
"We promised not to say anything," Ron replied, "and we won't"
Hermione squeaked, "No, we won't say a word, but Harry…"
"I know Hermione, but I've already made up my mind. I'll be okay!" he said loudly after Hermione started to protest again, "Once I'm gone you two need to get the DA back together, and try and figure out what Voldemort is looking for at Hogwarts."
"Oh Harry…" whispered Hermione.
"Bloody hell" said Ron "you're the one who always knows what to do Harry."
"That's not true, just stick together."
It was well after midnight when the Order finished their meeting; the air was filled with the sound many 'pops' from the witches and wizards leaving Godrics Hollow. Harry barely heard Snape return to the tent, and he was silent as he undressed and went to bed.
Harry waited, feigning sleep, and listened to Snape's regular breathing. The cot squeaked as Snape rolled over and wrapped his arms around himself; after an hour had gone by in silence Harry lay mirroring Snape with his arms wrapped tightly around his body and for reasons unknown he now felt very frustrated and tense. At exactly the same moment, Harry and Snape kicked their blankets from their cots, flipped over and punched their pillows, aggressively fluffing them. They locked eyes and said nothing.
It was a battle of wills now; the first to blink, Harry had won that but by the way Snape had casually blinked he thought perhaps that Snape wasn't playing. Next was the first to break the silence. This was a game Harry knew Snape was playing, as they had done it many times before, and he was determined to win. Snape was examining Harry, measuring every bit of him and weighing it out. Harry was thinking about the Gryffindor common room and how this oddly reminded him of talking to Ron before they went to bed, definitely a demented version of it at least. He was trying very hard not to dwell on his burgeoning plans to, technically, kidnap Snape; hence the Gryffindor common room.
Snape began cracking his knuckles purposefully. Harry cracked his neck in return.
Snape opened his mouth, Harry suddenly though 'victory!', and Snape shut it again.
Now brooding silence…
The sky was lightening outside and Harry's eyes were starting to droop; the first to get tired, Snape's victory. Harry pinched his arms and ground his teeth, willing himself to stay awake. Besides, he didn't have anything better to do the next day.
Puffy bags were hanging heavy under Snape's dark eyes and for the first time his lank black hair was pushed away from his face, sharply exposing the curvature of his skull. Harry's eyes lingered on the profile of Snape's protruding cheekbone, following it down to the hollow just below, to the slightly turned up corner of Snape's mouth.
Harry quickly averted his eyes when he realized that Snape was smirking at him; another loss, the first to look away.
Dawn was now swiftly approaching. Harry's back was sore and he wanted terribly to roll onto his other side. His eyelids were heavy and blinking became harder and harder, until finally they stayed shut and he fell asleep.
A bright warm light was creeping in though the canvas waking Harry quite peacefully. Lingering with his eyes closed, letting the warmth kiss his face, Harry felt very calm. Until with a jolt his eyes flew open and he whipped his head around, Snape's cot was empty.
Over the next few days Harry saw Snape sporadically as he was being summoned more often than usual. For Harry this was quite frustrating as the last piece of the puzzle depended entirely on Snape. Harry needed him not to be summoned right away, and he needed time with Kreacher before he took Snape, but not so long that Kreacher would be noticed. The timing had to be perfect. Harry had already packed and repacked his trunk several times. He'd peeked into Snape's trunk as well but it was so perfectly organized that Harry didn't have to do anything at all.
Hermione and Ron had come back to speak with him but they hadn't learned what the Order was up to, and they kept pressuring Harry to take them with him to Saiph. At their last conversation Harry had thrown the Extendible Ears back at them in a huff, clearly stating that their conversation was over. When they came back the next evening they thankfully didn't mention it again. Instead Harry finally let them in on part of his plan. He needed them to create a distraction with some of Fred and George's decoy detonators so he could summon Kreacher to question him.
"But how do you know when Snape's coming back?" Asked Hermione for the fifth time.
"That's the biggest problem, and I won't know when he's going to have to leave again either." Harry felt rather stupid exposing the gaping hole in his plan and trying to gloss it over with optimism.
"That's gonna be a problem Harry," Ron said rather obviously.
"I know, but sometimes, I dunno—" Harry felt suddenly embarrassed, "sometime he says things like, 'I shall be here for a while," Harry said imitating Snape's voice, "Potter! The Dark Lord will not require me for a time, so act like a civilized wizard and clean up!" Ron was sniggering until Harry heard Hermione smack him on the arm and say, "This is serious Ron!"
Harry received his own proverbial 'smack' when a voice growled behind him, "That's correct, Potter."
"Bloody hell!" Harry yelled jumping up and dropping the Extendible Ears. Snape's livid eyes flicked towards them like a hawk, then zeroed in on Harry's.
Harry knew what was coming, he could almost feel Snape's mind reaching out towards his, searching for a weak point and a quick strike. Before that happened Harry said, "Kreacher," and a loud 'CRACK' filled the tent and reverberated into the silent night. Lights popped on in the distant tents as Snape spun towards the house-elf. Kreacher moved surprisingly quick and narrowly avoided Snape's spell. "KNOCK HIM OUT!" Harry yelled frantically. He could hear people rousing in the distance and Ron and Hermione whispering out to him as loudly as they could.
'CRACK!', 'CRACK!' Kreacher had disapparated and apparated in quick succession, missing another of Snape's curses and landing on his shoulders; simultaneously he swung a small cauldron onto the top of Snape's greasy head, and they crumbled to the floor.
"Quickly Kreacher, shrink Snape's trunk and cupboard and put them in my trunk! Hurry!"
Kreacher's large hands gestured towards the trunk and cupboard and they both shrank to the size of a brick and sailed into Harry's open trunk. Harry's heart was pounding against his chest, he could see Mr. Weasley and Mad-Eye running towards his tent. Harry stuffed Snape's wand up his sleeve and grabbed Snape's upper arm as tightly as he could. In the other hand he gripped the handle of his trunk and stared directly into Kreacher's suspicious eyes. "Take us to the Black house in the Forest of Saiph!" Harry said as seriously as he could, "—and make sure we land somewhere completely –safe, without danger." Harry added hastily as the house-elf grinned evilly.
Mr. Weasley was waving his wand to lower the boundary around Harry's tent, Kreacher was reaching out towards Harry and an unconscious Snape. Mr. Weasley was at the entrance, his expression a mixture of horrified and afraid, and Moody was right behind him, both were yelling incomprehensively over each other; Kreacher clenched Harry and Snape's shoulders in the same instant.
Then they were gone.
Hermione and Ron had reeled in their Extendible Ears and crept back into the darkness; Hermione had tears in her eyes and squeezed Ron's hand tightly.
"Well," Ron said, "let's hope You-Know-Who doesn't require Snape for a while" and despite herself, Hermione smiled.
Harry felt as if he was being forced through a narrow tube, compressing his organs so tightly that all of the air in his body was squeezed out of him to the point of suffocation. Kreacher's hand was gripping his shoulder as they spun continuously into darkness, then without warning, Harry crashed heavily onto the floor sending shooting pain through his knees. Plumes of dust billowed up around him like a thick, dirty fog, in which Kreacher stood obscured up to his waist.
"Are we here?" asked Harry thickly. Kreacher nodded his head slowly; his large protruding eyes gleamed with happiness and something else that Harry couldn't quite place. "Light the candles please Kreacher—if there are any." Harry whispered to him. The house-elf clicked his long fingers once and several tiny golden flames flickered to life. The light was weak, but it was enough to fill the small space with a drowsy glow. Harry stood up, disturbing more dust as he went, and surveyed the room they were now in.
It was small and crudely constructed; the walls were made of large stones stacked one on top of another; they weren't secured by any mortar, but by many twisting and knotting vines and roots. They wove in and out of the stone in an intricate tangle and towards the ceiling the roots grew so dense that Harry could barely make out any stone at all. The floor was made similarly, however the stones were polished smooth by the wear of time, and not a single plant had crept low enough to take root. There weren't any windows or doors on any of the four walls either; the only break in the stone was a small square skylight on the ceiling in which moonlight was caste, penetrating the darkness and highlighting the foliage that dangled there serenely. A small fireplace had been carved into one of the walls and a stout, rusted cauldron still hung from the iron peg inside; next to the fireplace was an ancient water pump that had turned completely orange by rust. A squat, square table leaned precariously towards the floor, two of its legs were splintered in half and scattered beneath it as if something heavy had fallen, or been thrown, on top of it. Two equally squat stools lay on their sides not far away from the broken table. Dominating the small space was a large dilapidated cabinet, one of its heavy doors hung limply by a single hinge and the other was entirely gone; several drawers were pulled out, their contents spilled onto the surrounding floor. In the opposite corner was a child-sized pallet covered with a heap of moth-eaten blankets and a lumpy mattress. Everything was in ruins, torn or stained, splinted or drooping, rusted or decaying; all the while resting comfortably under a thick blanket of dust that stirred and puffed into the air with the slightest movement.
The longer Harry stood there the lower his heart sank into his stomach, what had he done? This place looked like the Shrieking Shack's little sister, less cluttered, less damaged but by all means just as disused. The only remotely magical thing that Harry could see was the old cauldron but how could that help him? Why had Sirius sent him here? Harry had been expecting an ancient mansion, full of dark magic and much more similar to Grimmuald Place than this. He'd pictured dark corners possibly filled with equally dark creatures, portraits of ancient witches and wizards bemoaning Harry's presence, and definitely more overall grandeur. He had not been expecting a one-room hovel, basically filled with old muggle furniture and dirt. Panic and self-doubt were quickly replacing the space that Harry's heart previously occupied, 'there has to be something here' Harry thought to himself, otherwise Harry was royally buggered.
With nervous energy Harry strode over to the large cabinet and peered inside. It was mostly empty, only a large silver plate and a couple wooden pitchers still remained. On the floor by his feet were moth-eaten linens, broken teacups and several cloudy vials that tinkled when Harry nudged them with his foot. It was all rubbish; Harry took two steps and was in front of the fireplace, there was nothing inside the caldron. He moved on to the pallet, pulled up the lumpy mattress, tossed aside the wilting blankets and lifted up the wooden underbelly. There was absolutely nothing there; nothing but stone, and dust, and earth. Harry was now frantically re-searching the fireplace, the cauldron, up the chimney; he tried pumping on the old water pump but it wouldn't budge, he checked under the table, inside the cabinet again and went through all of the drawers. Harry even pushed the cabinet several feet to the right, the wood screeching in protest against stone, but there wasn't a hidden door behind the cabinet and the stones did not reveal any secrets.
Harry stood clutching his wild hair and staring hard at the mess he'd created. All of the contents of the cabinet now mingled on the floor with the splintered legs of the table, the holey blankets and moldy mattress and the caldron Harry had tossed on top. 'There must be something here!' Harry thought to himself turning in circles, eyes raking over the stone walls, 'Sirius had promised answers! Not all of this useless crap, not some hovel in the middle of nowhere! This was supposed to be…
…was supposed to be…'
The back of Harry's neck prickled, like a soft breeze had just blown by. He turned, and the hairs on his body stood on end as if electrified.
Snape was awake.
On instinct Harry backed away from him as far as he could. Snape, like a monstrously large bat, was groggily rising up from the floor, dust billowing around him like brown smoke. He was rubbing the back of his head and struggling to remain upright. Harry watched, wide eyed, as Snape focused on Kreacher, who was sitting nonchalantly on Harry's trunk and was polishing a dirty silver cup with his equally dirty loin cloth. Snape snapped his head around wildly, his eyes lost focus and his skin blanched, until finally they landed on Harry standing none too boldly in the corner.
"What have you done?" Asked Snape in his deadliest whisper and quickly, too quickly, Snape tried to move forward but he stumbled and fell before unsteadily regaining his balance. His hands fumbled inside his cloak and his black eyes narrowed into slits, "Where's my wand?"
Harry was holding his palms out defensively between him and Snape, "this was the only way." Harry said, though now they were here Harry was having some serious doubts.
Snape took a lurching step forward, stumbled, and fell headfirst into the open cabinet causing more dust to plume around him. "I will kill you Potter." Snape growled as he launched himself out of the cabinet and toward Harry.
Harry had been waiting for this, and just as Snape pounced Harry easily danced around him so they had now exchanged places. Snape's outstretched hands dug into the wall strangling an invisible Harry.
"Give. Me. MY. WAND!" Snape shouted. Harry stayed silent as Snape slammed his fist into the wall and sucked in sharp breaths. Cradling his fist against his chest Snape leaned against the wall, letting his head bow forward and hiding his face in a curtain of hair. Snape peered at Harry through the greasy black veil and looked murderous, "my wand," he growled again.
Harry knew that Snape wasn't going to hear anything he said; there would be no reasoning with him in this state. A cold sweat broke out along Harry's back and neck, Snape tensed his limbs and Harry sensed an attack. He was right, for nearly without warning Snape sprung away from the wall with his arms outstretched. Harry moved simultaneously with Snape, diving to the left and around the pile of junk he'd made, Snape spun on his heel leapt over the wreckage and landed bodily on top of Harry. Harry had dropped to the ground, quickly rolled over and away only narrowly escaping; Snape was breathing hard his knuckles were white as he looked up at Harry from all fours, "ACCIO WAND!" he screamed with such intensity that Harry visibly jumped.
Immediately Snape's wand responded and Harry felt the wood slide past his arm and out the sleeve of his cloak. Harry clenched his hand, it was too late to substantially grab the wand but it was just enough to knock it off course. It clattered to the ground between Harry and Snape; they dove.
Harry was closer but Snape's long limbs compensated and they slammed together hard. Snape howled in pain as Harry's shoulder knocked into Snape's, but he didn't relent. They scrambled for the wand; hands, feet, knees and chests were dislodging so much dust that it hid the wand under a thick veil. Harry started coughing as he inhaled a large mouthful of dust and his glasses were completely clouded. "ACCIO-"Snape tried to call again, but Harry rugby tackled him to the ground before he could finish. Snape twisted under him, finally with as much force as he could muster, he shoved Harry off of him and pinned him to the ground. Snape held Harry's head flat to the floor with one hand and pressed his knee into the middle of Harry's back. Snape easily summoned his wand and it jumped quickly up to him, only a few feet away from where Snape and Harry had been searching. Harry kicked out his legs trying to dislodge Snape but he froze when the tip of Snape's wand pressed into the side of Harry's neck.
Snape held Harry in that position for several moments, all Harry could hear was Snape's labored breathing and he felt the mounting pressure as Snape's wand dug further into the soft flesh of Harry's neck. "You've been very foolish." Snape said leaning in close to Harry's ear. Harry could only cough in response as his entire head was obscured by the thick dust cloud. In one flourishing motion Snape stood up to his full height, spun Harry over and conjured thick black ropes that quickly bound Harry from head to toe. A softer 'thump' and indistinguishable noises told Harry that Kreacher had found himself in the same predicament.
To an observer the room might hold an alluring glow; the dust had turn to a shimmering gold in the soft candle light and Snape rose up from its depths like a great black tower. His anger was radiating off him in waves, his wand was clenched so tightly in his fist that it threatened to break. "Tergeo!" Snape spat and all of the dust was quickly sucked out of the room by an invisible vacuum. Another twist of Snape's wand and Harry was pulled upright, his toes hovering only inches away from the stone floor so he was eye-level with Snape whose face was flush and his teeth were bared in a snarl. Without warning he backhanded Harry across the face with the full force of his uninjured hand, and Harry spun rapidly in midair. Before Harry had even slowed down Snape had pushed him hard into the wall and an invisible hand wrapped around his throat.
"Do you want to die Potter?" Asked Snape when they were nose to nose.
"N—N—No!" Harry choked out.
"No?" Snape raised one thick black eyebrow skeptically, the grip around Harry's throat squeezed and dark spots danced before his eyes. Harry's mouth opened and closed mouthing works of, 'no', 'stop' and 'please' but the grip did not relent and all Harry could only see was the inky depths of Snape's livid eyes and as he started to lose consciousness a seed of anger sparked in his chest. Snape was going to take him back to Godrics Hollow, probably to be sedated until convenient, and though Harry knew Snape wouldn't actually kill him, he was not on his side. He was on Dumbledore's side and Dumbledore wanted to control Harry, but he couldn't from here. Not while Harry was in the Forest of Saiph; no, here Harry was free. It was that simple truth that made Harry angry, that he had won and lost his freedom in a matter of minutes and he'd have to go back to Dumbledore, to dampening potions, and to whatever else they had in store…
As this thought hung precariously in Harry's mind the tiny seed of anger in his chest began to grow, sprouting roots and took hold, "NO!" Harry shouted expelling the invisible hand and landing awkwardly on his feet. The ropes around him fell away and disappeared before they hit the ground and Snape took a staggering step back, fear flashing before his eyes for the briefest of moments and he kept his wand trained on Harry's chest.
"I will not go back." Harry said firmly.
Snape twisted his wrist and blue sparks shot of his the tip missing Harry by millimeters and erupting along the stone wall leaving a large black scorch mark. Harry shouted as Snape raised his wand again and another spell went sizzling past Harry's head. This time it rebounded off the wall and soared back towards Snape, who easily deflected it and sent another spell at Harry.
"I WILL NOT GO BACK!" Harry yelled and he felt a burst of power shoot out of the center of his chest and hurtle invisibly towards Snape, whose wand flew from his hand and clattered against the far wall.
With a snarl Snape bared his teeth and ran full tilt towards Harry. Harry tripped on the bottom of his cloak as he hastily scrambled away from a charging Snape. However, the moment it took for Harry to regain his balance was just long enough for Snape to launch his lanky body off of the worn stone floor and into the middle of Harry's gut. Harry was lifted off of his feet; he closed his eyes briefly preparing himself for the immediate pain about to ensue as he and Snape hurtled towards the very solid stone wall. Then a familiar sensation overcame Harry, weightlessness and that lurch you feel in your stomach the moment before you're plummeting into thin air. However, the sensation was brief as Harry suddenly felt his heels connect and drag across stone before the rest of his body quickly rushed down to meet the ground.
His calves hit the floor first, then the back of his knees, but Harry's torso continued to fall a split second longer than it should have and when it finally connected with the ground it felt as if, in quick succession, he was flogged hard with a thick rod in equally measured distances across his back. Snape still had hold of Harry around the middle where their bodies had first collided and their combined momentum had forced Snape head-over-heels backwards. Snape was now clinging to Harry desperately, instinctively, which lifted Harry once more into the air and caused him to follow Snape down. Pain was erupting all over his body; he flung his arms out widely as his legs flew over his head, forcing him into a backwards summersault. Harry was being ricocheted between hard stone, Snape's tangle of limbs, and what could only be large stones steps leading in circles downward. Harry saw flashes of red and stars danced before his eyes every time Harry's head bounced against one of the stone surfaces. Above the commotion there was an audible snap and Snape howled in agony, uncontrollably Harry slammed into Snape causing him to scream louder and tumble further down the stairs.
Harry reached the bottom first, rolling a few times before Snape's boney shoulder slammed into Harry's stomach once again. If Harry had any breath left in his lungs Snape's shoulder would have knocked it out of him. As it was, Harry gulped down mouthfuls of air clutching his sides, which were on fire. Harry's ears were buzzing; his vision blurry and shooting pains were bursting across Harry's body like he'd swallowed one of the Weasley's fireworks. He could hear Snape groaning somewhere close to him but Harry barely registered his presence, until a loud piercing scream unlike anything Harry had heard filled the air around him and reverberated in his skull. Adrenaline coursed through his body as he scrambled to his feet, forcing badly broken glasses onto his nose, and staggering as he looked upon Snape's writhing form.
Though the image was fractured because of his broken lenses Harry could clearly see a large dark mass raise a large diamond-shaped head and quickly strike out at Snape; another piercing scream ripped through the air and Harry cried out "NO!"
The darkened mass moved quickly, raising it's large head once again so it was now level with Harry's own and it shot forward so suddenly that Harry fell back down, hard, onto the very last step. Something cold, slick and scaly was pressed against his face; flush with his forehead, flattening his nose and painfully digging his glasses into the soft skin under Harry's eyes.
"Who are you?!" Demanded a rough and raspy voice. Harry was petrified and merely stared wide-eyed into two large, black orbs that reflected the whites of Harry's back at him. Momentarily forgotten, Snape moaned and struggled on the floor, Harry and the monster both ignored him. "Who are you?!" it repeated, Harry felt something brush his chin and cheeks several times quickly. Snape was attempting to pull whatever it was away from Harry and there was a loud hiss, then the dark mass was instantly away from Harrys face and striking out at Snape. Summoning his voice again Harry cried out in panic, "NO!" and as if commanded, the mass fell to the floor, snapping its jaws shut just inches away from Snape's raised arm. It turned quickly back to Harry hissing softly, dangerously.
Harry saw clearly for the first time what was attacking them as the torches that had ignited themselves along the walls of the stairwell threw a flickering red light into the small landing they were now in. Harry's shadow obscured most of Snape's prone form but the monster had risen above the shadow and into the red light. It was the largest snake Harry had ever seen, besides the basilisk that had lived in the Chamber of Secrets, but definitely larger than Voldemort's snake Nagini. It's black scales reflected the torches light giving off an ominous red glow and fire was reflected in its large dark eyes. It hissed again sharply and flicked it tongue out towards Harry rapidly. "Who are you, Master of Snakes, why have you come to my dwelling?"
"Master of…? Your dwelling?" Harry stammered in Parseltongue, though he was not conscious of it.
The great snake bobbed its head up and down slowly.
"Kreacher uh—," Harry replied. The snake lifted up several more feet from the ground hissing louder and more vicious than ever.
"That traitorous House-Elf?!" The snake raged and shot forward once again but its large head darted past Harry and began ascending the stairs.
"Wait!" Harry cried and in seconds he was inches away from the deadly, diamond-shaped head. Harry pressed himself against the wall, pure terror welling up inside his chest, mingling with the adrenaline that had forced all pain from his body, "I made him bring us here!" Harry wasn't sure, as the snake's head was backlit and obscured, but he thought those large eyes narrowed as it's tongue lashed out tasting the air around Harry.
"How?" The snake asked Harry, "That elf belongs to the Blacks!" The snake was bobbing and weaving its head furiously around Harry, tasting the air all around him. "You are no Black!" it hissed!
"I'm…I'm…" Harry stammered, his heart thumping so hard and fast he was surprised his shirt wasn't bouncing with each beat, "I'm Sirius Black's heir!" Harry finally forced out, "all the Black's are dead, and Sirius left everything to me!" The snake held Harry's gaze, still flicking it's tongue in and out.
"Show me the mark," it hissed quietly.
For the first time since the snake had appeared Harry looked into the eyes of the Potions Master, who lay crumpled and clutching his side which was rapidly darkening his long, pale fingers with blood. Snape's leg lay twisted at an odd angle and his skin was as white as bone and though gasping for air and in obvious pain he was still reaching feebly towards the snake's tail. Fear, pain and determination mingled in Snape's usually stony gaze but he couldn't speak as blood started pouring from his mouth, choking the little air he was taking in. And though Harry didn't know how he knew what to do, and though he was trembling with fear and all his instincts were telling him not to, he reached up and pulled the collar of his shirt down exposing the back of his neck. The snake hissed and fluidly rose up, nudging Harry with it's snout to better see the small black Grimorie Mark that was tattooed there. Immediately the snake's tone changed. Not only its hissing became less aggressive, but it sank slowing back towards the landing, easily coiling upon itself and resting a foot or so away, eye-level with Harry like an oversized cobra.
Harry stood shell-shocked, his gaze darting between the snake and the Potions Master, who was rapidly beginning to bleed out. The snake followed Harry's gaze, licking the air as it did so. "He's dying…" the snake rasped nonplused.
"Har…" Snape gurgled pointing feebly towards the stairwell behind Harry's head, "Run..." The sight of blood bubbling out of Snape's mouth and the sound of his garbled voice reverberating down Harry's spine and he lurched mechanically towards Snape.
"Hold on!" He cried, reaching under Snape's armpits and attempting to pull him up, but pain coursed through Harry's back causing it to spasm and release Snape, who hit the floor with a dull thud. "Arrrgh!" Harry cried, his mind racing, he looked at the snake that sat immobile, gazing at Harry. "Help me!" He cried desperately, "The potions are upstairs!" thinking of Snape's cupboard of potions that he had packed in his trunk only hours before.
Again, as if commanded, the snake gracefully uncoiled itself, knocked Harry aside with it's powerful head and swept under Snape once, twice, then it begin to swiftly carry him up the stone steps and out of sight. The snake moved so easily that before Harry had righted himself, he only saw the last flick of its black tail disappear around the curve of the wall. Harry rapidly began to half-crawl, half-run up the stairs, which seemed to take a much longer time than it did to fall down them. Dizzy and frantic Harry scrambled against the cold stone and sped up his ascent when Kreacher let out a loud throaty scream. Finally Harry reached the top step and threw himself into the room in which they had arrived. He barely took notice of the doorway that had appeared in the middle of the previously blank stone wall, but took in fully for the first time the vast size of the great black snake. It had to be at least sixteen feet long as it's bulk took up most of the floor space and it was as thick as a child's waist with a head the size of Hagrid's fist. Kreacher was screeching from atop the rickety cupboard and Snape lay propped up on one of the snakes' massive coils, his breath was rapid but shallow and blood continued to pour from the wound on his side. The snake turned it's head towards Harry and hissed, "lift up his robes, if you want him to live."
Harry staggered forward, his entire body was visibly shaking and his limbs were unnaturally jerky. He tried to maneuver quickly over the many coils of the snake's body and he fell twice in his haste. Harry could feel the strong muscles flexing under the large scales when he pushed against the snake for support. His mind was buzzing, but he finally reached Snape and was yanking up his robes over his head without hesitation. Snape's white, lean torso was exposed and two pairs of inch wide holes were bleeding profusely above his hipbone. From over Harry's shoulder the diamond-head had zeroed in on the wounds, and for a jarring instant Harry thought it was going to strike again, but instead it's long forked-tongue lapped at each hole once, twice, three times until each was smoking and sizzling as Snape's skin knitted back together and blood stopped pouring out of the holes.
Harry gasped and choked when Snape took a deep rattling breath and moaned in agony. The snake's huge body began to move, scales upon scales crisscrossed in every direction as Snape's body was slowly lowered to the floor. Harry was left kneeling next to Snape as the snake once again coiled itself like a giant cobra and stared silently at Harry. Kreacher's screaming had reached an ungodly pitch, which caused Harry to shout, "SHUT UP KREACHER!" and though the House-Elf's mouth was still stretched wide no sound escaped his lips. Harry looked away from Snape's blood stained face and down at his twisted leg. Now that they were in better light Harry could see the splinted point of Snape's thighbone where it had ripped through the muscle and skin. Blood was still pumping out of the wound, which had already created a pool underneath him and was smeared across the floor where the snake had slithered away.
Harry's mind was reeling as he tried to think of the potion that would save Snape's life but his mind was coming up blank. "THINK" Harry screamed at himself as he looked down, every second Harry wasted motionless, Snape's life force was slowly being forced out of him by his own heart; widely Harry jumped up, slipped on Snape's blood as he caught sight of the formidable black serpent, and fell onto Snape's chest. Snape's black eyes suddenly flew open and he sputtered and coughed while trying to scream. Without bothering to apologize Harry quickly got back to his feet and climbed over Snape, he threw himself against his trunk and wrenched open the lid. Pulling out the small potions cupboard, as the tiny vials inside clinked together threateningly, and set it on the dusty floor. "Enlarge the cupboard Kreacher!" Harry shouted, as he had a sudden memory come to him not seconds before he jumped up. Skele-Gro, would fix Snape's broken leg as it had re-grew Harry's entire arm in his second year, and Blood-Replenishing Potion, like Mr. Weasley had been given after Nagini attacked him at the Ministry. With these two potions in mind Harry opened the little door to the cupboard, his hand wavered when the tiny vials tinkled back at him tauntingly as, Harry should have remember, they were all unlabeled.
Unbidden, an image flashed before Harry's minds-eye, Snape's long white hand held palm out towards the cupboard and the sound of his deep voice echoed in Harry's head, "Murtlap Essence" and a tiny vial flew into his palm. Harry brought his own shaky hand up to the front of the cupboard, "Skele-Gro!" he half shouted in panic and immediately a small vial jumped into his hand. "Blood-Replenishing Potion!" He said again and another vial came as easily as the first. Relief started to seep into Harry as he dashed back over to Snape as quickly as he could. Crashing rather ungracefully to his knees Harry poured the first vial into Snape's open mouth. Pained black eyes sought Harry's green as Harry tipped the second potion into Snape's mouth. Snape's face contorted in pain but his breath deepened and color, pale though it was, returned to his sunken cheeks. Harry's eyes were drawn from Snape's as a loud snap broke the silence and Harry jumped back shocked when the bone forced itself back into place through the wound it originally made. Snape's muscles were still exposed, though the blood and stopped pouring out of the wound. Harry looked to Snape expectantly, "tell me what potion." His voice was still more panicked than he'd have liked.
Snape took a deep breath, and growled, "dittany." Harry retrieved the potion as quickly as he could and was approaching Snape's head when he stopped him and said, "no … on the wound..." from between clenched teeth. Harry obeyed and poured some of the sparkling liquid onto the wound, and with only a few drops the muscles began to reknit themselves together and stretched pink skin formed over it. Unexpectedly, like everything else tonight, Snape had clenched one fist around the neck of his cloak and yanked Harry bodily over and behind him. Forcing most of his body in front of Harry, keeping a tight grip with one hand and steadying himself with the other, Snape looked into the eyes of the silent snake. It hissed lowly in response and Snape's fist twisted Harry's cloak tighter, almost choking him.
"Where's my wand?" Snape asked Harry out of the corner of his mouth.
Harry's mind was blank; with all that happened in the short amount of time they'd been here, it had made Harry a little fuzzy on the details. The fight that ensued after Snape had regained consciousness seemed like days, even weeks ago. He frantically searched the floor of the small room for Snape's wand and spotted it laying only a yard behind the coiled snake. Harry opened his mouth, but shut it again when a voice in the back of his mind said "wait..." While Harry struggled internally the raspy voice cut through the room, Snape went rigid.
"He needn't worry," hissed the snake, "I will not strike him…again." It bobbed its head once slowly.
"What did it say?" Asked Snape in an alarmed whisper, "where's my wand?" he added more viciously.
Harry's eyes darted to the wand, then back to the snake. "It said, it wont strike you again, " whispered Harry back. Snape replied by shaking Harry roughly and twisting his cloak.
"In English!" Harry gaped at the Snape for a split second then repeated what he'd said in English. Snape turned his eyes back to the snake who bobbed it's head once more as though in response.
"Who are you?" The snake asked for the fourth time tonight.
"It wants to know who we are." Harry repeated for Snape who narrowed his eyes.
"It said –" Harry's mind went back to the landing where he had been nose to nose with the snake, "it said, this was it's – dwelling…" Harry's voice trailed off as the snake darted it's head forward quickly twice, striking the air with its tongue.
"I grow impatient!" the snake hissed aggressively.
Both Harry and Snape leaned back instinctually, "say nothing." Snape repeated.
"You are not a Black, and you bear the Mark! Who? Are? You?" It punctuated the last three words by slithering a foot closer swiftly and easily.
"It's asking about the Grimorie Mark.." Harry whispered to Snape, but before he could say, "say nothing" again Harry had already started speaking again, this time in Parseltongue. "I am Sirius Black's heir." Harry said as confidently as he could, "Sirius told me to come here." The snake hissed aggressively in response and Harry shouted, "I'M HARRY POTTER AND SIRIUS BLACK SENT ME HERE FOR ANSWERS!" The snake backed away a few feet apparently satisfied, "how do you know about the mark?" Harry asked in a jolt of bravery.
The snake twisted its head slightly looking almost curiously at Harry, if snakes can look curious. "It's the mark traditionally given when the last member of the direct blood-line dies, and names a new heir." Thesnaketasted the air, "though usually the heir has some loose ties with the blood-line… you though… taste different…." Tasting the air again it nodded its great head towards Snape, "I taste you all over him… its very strange…"
"What!?" Said Snape and Harry at the same time, though for very different reasons, but Harry didn't have time to explain, "What do you mean, you taste me all over him?" Harry tried to tug away from Snape, but his grip was firm though he had slipped lower down and was now leaning on his elbow with great effort.
The snake didn't respond right away but kept flicking it tongue in and out, "you're not…no…"
"What?" Harry asked again.
"You're not… bonded to this wizard, are you?" The great head of the snake swayed.
Harry's mouth opened and closed like a fish several times before he could respond… "How did you…"
"You are?" The head lifted a foot higher off of the ground in surprise; Snape blanched but held Harry as firmly as he could.
"What's going on Potter."
"He knows..." Harry said stupidly, "He knows we're bonded."
In one fluid motion Snape let his body fall to the ground, stretched out his free hand into the room and pulled Harry down behind him, "ACCIO WAND!" he shouted. The thin wand soared into the air and gracefully fell into Snape's outstretched fingers. However, in the seconds it took for Snape to retrieve his wand, he had passed out cold.