Disclaimer:The world of Harry Potter belongs to JKR. Most of this plot belongs to the lovely Severitus or one of the other talented writers that have attempted her challenge. I'm just giving you my version. --Piton
Chapter One - To Locate the Truth
The sun was setting on a perfectly ordinary neighborhood. It was that period at dusk where all is quiet and still, the youngest children are asleep and the oldest still out causing trouble far from home. The neighborhood lay in lazy silence until the peace was broken by a small figure creeping out of the front door of number 4 Privet Drive. The figure was shrouded in a huge, hooded black cloak, and while it was impossible to discern the sex of the child, it was obvious that, male or female, the figure was not in good health. Bent over at the waist, the figure staggered down the street, finally stopping at a corner out of sight of his point of origination. No sooner had the figure thrust up his arm than there was a great flash of light, followed by a purple double-decker bus. As soon as the figure had managed to haul himself aboard, the bus was gone, and Privet Drive returned to the previous hazy stillness, the neighborhood completely unaware they had lost an occupant. Harry Potter had had enough.
No more than half an hour later, when darkness had completely fallen, the serenity of number 4 was again disturbed. A series of cracks rang through the air, and the shadows around the house began to move as thirty men crept through the door. Clad in robes of utter black, they may have been invisible were it not for the white masks that gleamed softly under the streetlights. As the door shut behind the final man, a scream shattered the night, only to be cut short by three flashes of green light visible through the first story windows. The silence became even more profound than before, only to give way to an ungodly shriek, "Where is he? With the echoes from the outburst still ringing in the air, the house, as if in response, exploded into flames. Three bodies and a lifetime of possessions were almost instantly reduced to ash, and soon the only reminder of the house that once sat on that spot was the shimmering green sign above the rubble.
"I think it's pretty clear I'm no longer trusted, Albus. I believe he may have found evidence of my treachery while delving through Potter's mind." Severus Snape paced impatiently in Albus Dumbledore's office, calling out his suspicions to the man in the next room. "Several mentions have been made of Voldemort's 'grand plan,' but if there are details set I have not been made aware of them. For him to plan anything important and not inform me cannot mean anything good."
Receiving no reply, he heaved an exaggerated sigh and threw himself into a chair. While awaiting Dumbledore's return, Snape gazed around the office. Much had been repaired since Potter's little tantrum in the spring, he noted, although Albus's desk was missing most of the shining silver ornaments it had displayed in previous years. The only instrument Albus had bothered repairing was a large silver sphere, made of thin chains of silver linked together in a lacy pattern. Severus had always found this ornament particularly repugnant. As he stared in loathing, the sphere began to spin rapidly, emitting flashes of various colored lights before settling on a sickly green hue. The effect resembled a manic Easter egg, and Snape's mood sank even further. "Disgusting," he muttered. Raising his voice he called out, "Albus, could you possibly explain why you chose to restore the most emphatically bourgeois piece in your little collection of silver toys? How can you deal with something spinning and flashing all the time? As much as I appreciate the Slytherin green, it's really--"
Snape trailed off mid-rant as Dumbledore tore through the door, halting just inside the room as he stared, fire in his eyes, at the little instrument twinkling steadily. "It would appear that we have discovered Voldemort's grand plan, Severus," he remarked gravely. As Snape gawked, Albus took a deep breath and shut his eyes for an instant before continuing his flight into the room, where he began a sequence of urgent movements. He stepped over to the fireplace, threw a handful of powder into the fire, and leaning in shouted, "Minerva McGonagall!"
After a slight pause, the assistant Headmistress's head appeared. "What do you need, Albus?"
"It has happened, Minerva," Dumbledore responded shortly. "Please come through."
McGonagall's head disappeared, only for her body to emerge from the fireplace. Snape could not help but notice that she was shaking so hard she barely managed to stay on her feet upon arrival, and her face was pale and drawn. "What does the sphere say, Albus? Has the worst happened?"
Dumbledore's air of power and strength disappeared for a moment as he answered heavily, "Unfortunately, that does appear to be the case."
Snape, in spite of himself, was beginning to feel a sense of unease. Covering it with anger, he snapped, "Will someone please tell me what is going on? If you don't feel it prudent to inform me, perhaps it would be better if I left for the dungeons."
Dumbledore and McGonagall exchanged a look before Albus replied. "That bourgeois silver toy, as you so eloquently labeled it, works as a sensor for Harry Potter's house." Seeing the potion master's mouth twist into its most vicious sneer, he hastily added, "The spinning means that the wards are down."
Severus began to feel a peculiar numbness in his legs. "And the light?" He asked emotionlessly.
Dumbledore regarded him seriously, blue eyes seeing through his heart. "The appearance of the light indicates that one or more curses have been used on the premises. The color of the light indicates the type of curse."
Silence rang throughout the room. Nothing more needed to be said; all three wizards were far too familiar with the only curse to show that particular shade of green.
As soon as the Knight Bus departed after depositing Harry right outside the gates of Hogwarts, he collapsed painfully. Struggling to stay conscious, he began to crawl toward the castle, shaking with exertion. In his panic, it seemed that he was not moving in the slightest. While he inched forward laboriously, he contemplated the reaction his appearance would cause.
'Dumbledore will be upset that I haven't improved in my Occlumency, but as long as he pays attention to my information, I don't really care,' he thought sourly. Even though Harry knew, deep in his heart, that Sirius's death the previous spring was the fault of no one and everyone (although primarily the fault of Bellatrix Lestrange and Voldemort), there was a part of him that could not stop blaming Dumbledore for his godfather's death. Even this part of him acknowledged that more of the fault lay elsewhere than with the Headmaster. 'Yeah, it lies with Snape,' another part of him snorted angrily. Snape had been immature and behaved badly, Harry knew this. All these parts, however, were minuscule compared to the part of him that was shouting, 'It's all your fault, dolt! You killed the only family that ever cared about you, and you almost killed most of your friends in the same go! Everything that Snape said about you was right. You are reckless, and arrogant, and just as Hermione said, you have an awful hero-complex.'
'Shut up!' Harry retorted to himself. 'At least my hero complex is not acting now. I'm coming to Dumbledore with my vision, like a good little boy, instead of trying to help where I might be needed.'
Harry's internal argument came to an abrupt halt as his hands slipped on the wet grass and he went sprawling. Since the ground was on a downward slope at this point, Harry began to slide, then roll, picking up speed, unable to break his momentum. Just before the bottom of the slope he rolled into a tree with a soft grunt. Slightly stunned by the impact, he lay motionless at the base of the tree, trying to withhold a screech of pain. 'Just what I needed to get me moving faster,' he thought sarcastically.
The summer, so far, had been going exceptionally badly. The Dursley's reacted gleefully to the news of Sirius's death, gloating over the fact that Harry's wellbeing was no longer the concern of a convicted murderer. The first thing Uncle Vernon had Harry do upon his return to Privet Drive was write a huge pile of letters for Vernon and Petunia to send to "the freaks from the station" every three days. After that, Vernon began his campaign to beat the magic out of him.
'It wasn't so bad,' Harry thought dryly, 'at least I got plenty of practice dressing wounds. Maybe Madam Pomfrey would take me on as an assistant.' He was desperately hoping no one would notice him until he got into Hogwarts. He was too frightened, even on the grounds, to attempt any magic concealing his injuries--he didn't want another hearing at the Ministry! He was counting on the magic of Hogwarts covering a couple concealment charms once he got through the doors.
Gritting his teeth, he used his good arm to push himself up. After an abortive attempt to stand, he realized he would have to continue at a crawl. 'At least I'm harder to see with my belly dragging through the grass,' he thought in resignation.
The tableau in the Headmaster's office finally managed to break into action. "Fawkes!" Dumbledore called, and with a trill the beautiful phoenix flew to his side. Dumbledore hastily scrawled two messages to give the bird. "The first goes to Arthur Weasley at the Ministry, and the second to whoever's on duty at the Order headquarters." Fawkes nodded his head regally and disappeared in a burst of flame.
"Minerva!" Albus continued. "Go to Privet Drive and see what you can find out. Apparate to Arabella Figg's house and have her go with you." Minerva nodded her head slightly before leaving the room.
Alone again, the two remaining men regarded each other. "Severus," Dumbledore began, "Check the castle and grounds for Harry. If he somehow managed to escape the attack, it would be reasonable for him to have headed for Hogwarts. If he cannot be found on the grounds, contact some of your former friends and see if they know where he is." Dumbledore's voice deepened dangerously in the last sentence.
More shaken by the sight of the sphere still flashing its alert than he would like to admit, Severus sneered as he stood. "Potter was probably out with his little friends, receiving adulation from his fan club," he commented derisively.
Dumbledore stared at him evenly for a second before brushing past him toward the door. He paused in the entrance, and turned back slightly. "Severus?"
"Yes, Headmaster?" The reply was automatic and slightly mocking.
Dumbledore turned fully back into the room, and he and Snape locked eyes. "You know how it feels to do something hurtful to someone else. Harry is not his father. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. If you happen to find him, listen to what he has to say. The two of you are more alike than you think." Before Snape could respond, Dumbledore was gone.
Snape sat back down heavily. He pulled out his wand and commanded, "Point me Harry Potter." The wand spun crazily for a moment, finally stopping with such a jolt that Severus dropped it onto the floor. He stared at it blankly, almost afraid to touch it. "It does not appear that any of us will be finding Potter, Albus."
Harry was making his slow way up the stairs to the main entrance when the doors flew open, revealing one pissed off Severus Snape. Harry cringed and shrank into the side of the staircase, hoping he would not be seen in the shadows. He had forgotten that Professor Snape was a professional at skulking. Still, the professor had passed and Harry was about to breath a sigh of relief when a hand shot back and jerked him to his feet. Letting out the slightest whimper, Harry stood, weaving slightly, keeping his face lowered so as to be hidden in the shadow of his hood. 'So close,' he thought, waiting with baited breath. 'Of all the people in the world, Snape is the last I want to see me like this.'
Snape studied the figure in front of him. He knew it had to be a child; only Flitwick was that short as an adult. The figure listed drunkenly, and Snape pushed down his haste and reached out to push back the hood, in order to identify what had to be a student, back in the summer for reasons unknown. The reaction was immediate.
With a yelp, Harry scrambled away from the fast approaching hand. Breathing rapidly, he stepped back so shakily that he fell down the stairs. At the bottom, he lay motionless, biting through his lip with pain.
Snape stared, bewildered. In all his years as Hogwarts' resident heartless bastard, he had never seen anyone react to him that way. Uneasily he made his way down to the child, stopping awkwardly on the step above him. Crouching, he spoke softly. "Listen, boy, I am going to lift your cloak and make sure you're not hurt. Just lay still."
He slowly reached for the hood and pulled it down. As he caught sight of the boy's face, a small tic in his jaw was the only indication of a reaction. The boy's face was a mask of bruises, dried blood, and scabs, with several deeper cuts still oozing slightly. The hair was matted with blood and dirt, making it impossible to discern the color. Having no idea who he was speaking to, Snape continued awkwardly. "Are you able to speak? Can you tell me your name?"
Harry remained silent. As long as he was unidentified the professor was being almost civil; he wasn't stupid. After a long pause, Snape sighed in resignation. "Very well, are you able to walk? If not, I will have to carry you to the hospital wing."
Harry gingerly lifted his head as he slowly pushed himself up. Leaning on the stair rail, he managed to reach an almost fully upright position. Snape looked at him doubtfully. "There are not rails to hold all the way to the infirmary, boy. Can you walk on your own?"
Feeling a flush of anger at Snape's condescending tone, Harry let go of the rail and tried to take a step. The movement caused a wave of dizziness, and his vision started to fade as he felt himself falling. No longer fully conscious, he hardly realized he hadn't hit the floor--instead, he was floating quickly to the hospital wing. Harry tried to investigate his situation. No longer bothering to try seeing out of his swollen eyes, he listened to vaguely familiar sweeping footfalls. Leaning his head into the strong chest behind him, he smelled a combination of lavender, mint, and... mandrake root? 'That can't possibly be right.' Harry decided dizzily that he did not care who was carrying him, and he snuggled his head against the shoulder behind as he dropped fully into unconsciousness.
Snape halted, looking down in irritation at the annoying boy that was currently cuddling against his chest. 'Heaven save me from whining infants,' he thought in irritation, as the boy let out a soft sigh and finally relaxed, cuddling closer. He knew the child had passed out, and began walking even faster, trying to ignore the niggling little voice in the back of his head that was commenting on how good it felt to receive the smallest indication of appreciation.
Harry woke up to the sound of voices.
"Good Lord, Severus, who is that? What happened?" Madam Pomfrey exclaimed in shock.
Snape's voice cut her off. "I don't know who it is or what happened, I was leaving the castle to look for the Potter brat when I saw this boy hiding in the shadows. I brought him here because I thought you'd be able to answer those questions instead of spitting them at me like I hold the answers of the world."
There was a short silence, then Poppy's indignant huff as Snape carefully and surprisingly gently laid Harry onto an empty bed. He took a step back, then snapped, "Well what are you waiting for? Do your job, woman!"
Harry could almost hear Poppy's eyes roll as she waved her wand and began listing injuries. "He is a 15-16 year-old boy, I'd guess he hasn't eaten a full meal since he left here for the summer. He has a broken left arm, two cracked ribs, sprained right ankle and jaw, broken collarbone, and multiple bruises and lacerations, including two hand-shaped imprints around his throat. There is some evidence of internal injury, although I would need to test more thoroughly to know for sure. It appears that he has been whipped with a belt or small stick at least twice." Her voice trailed off in alarm. "Gods, what happened to him?" She breathed.
"Considering the timing, I would guess he either ran away from home or should have," Snape responded dryly. "I know he fell down the main entry stairs about five minutes ago." He paused. "Have you heard from Albus?" He asked carefully.
Poppy's voice sounded confused. "Not since this morning, why?"
"Oh, it's nothing," Snape answered hastily. "I suppose I should head off then." Footsteps moving away, and then Harry vaguely heard him mutter, "Point me Harry Potter." A slight pause before Snape's wand clattered to the floor, and a longer pause followed before Harry heard Snape take a deep breath and ask almost timidly, "Poppy?"
Bustling around the room, Poppy barely heard him. "What is it, Severus?"
He swallowed audibly. "Have you figured out the boy's identity yet?"
Her footsteps came to a sudden halt. "No, why?"
"Well" Snape seemed, for once in his life, to be at a loss for words. "Just look at this." Harry managed to pry his blackened eyes open in time to see Snape, wand once again in hand, repeat "Point me Harry Potter!" The wand remained still for a moment before swinging over to point directly at Harry, then spinning crazily for a couple seconds, then repeating the entire cycle before plummeting to the floor. Severus and Poppy stared at the wand, then at each other. As one, they swung the heads over to stare at Harry.
Uncomfortable both physically and emotionally, Harry attempted a smile that came out as more like a grimace. "Hello, sir, madam," he mumbled as politely as he could.
The three might have stood there indefinitely, the two teachers staring into Harry's emerald eyes in bemusement and Harry staring shyly at the floor, were it not for the arrival of the Headmaster. "Severus, here you are, have you finished searching the grounds?"
Snape slowly turned his head to Dumbledore. "Not quite," he managed in a strangled tone. "Albus, can you please try the Point Me spell for Potter?"
Dumbledore looked pointedly at the wand clasped in the potion masters hand, but answered mildly, "I don't see why not. Point me Harry Potter." The occupants of the room stared in varying degrees of disbelief as Dumbledore's wand performed the same acrobatics Snape's had. The Headmaster slowly shook his head before stepping over to the bed. "Harry?" He asked in an uncharacteristically uncertain voice.
Harry looked up at him timidly, remembering their last meeting. "Professor," he responded flatly.
Dumbledore looked intently into Harry's eyes, studying him for a moment as his face began to register a strange combination of incredulity and comprehension. He bent down, picked up his wand, and, with one last glance at Harry, intoned, "Point me Harry." Unswervingly, the wand immediately turned to Harry.
Catching on, Poppy raised her wand and spoke. "Point me Potter." The wand spun aimlessly and fell. The nurse and Headmaster looked at each other for a long moment while Snape, forgotten in the corner, turned an unpleasant shade of green.
Harry was the first to speak. "What does this mean, Professor?" he slurred through a sprained jaw.
The reappearing twinkle abruptly left Albus's eyes. "We'll discuss it when you are feeling better, Harry," he said firmly, and before Harry could complain, he felt a hand on his forehead and everything faded away.
A/N: Like it? Hate it? Have a favorite color you want the world to know? Please review--I need all the help I can get. Flames will be used to create a festive bonfire around which I will sing anything but Cumbaya.