Disclaimer: As usual, Harry Potter and its characters and universe are the property of J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers. The lyrics and song titles used in this story are property of Dexter Holland and The Offspring, for they do indeed rock. Stondyr in Ireland is incredibly made up, and I hope no Irish people take offense that I made their nation slightly politically ... um … unstable, I guess. Similarly, I have nothing against French prostitutes. I've heard they're the best in Europe.
Summary: In which Harry takes a holiday and we experience something of Occlumency. (I'm tearing my hair out because aren't putting my --- page breaks in, so I apologise in advance if at any point scenes change without warning – their fault not mine! If anyone has any advice on dealing with this problem, please let me know.)
Harry had spent the last four days hiding. He hid from Hermione, who apparently now also knew about his dreams; he hid from Snape, which was made easier by the fact that Snape also seemed to be hiding from him. He most especially hid from himself, from the quiet repressed little voice that told him what he was doing wasn't right. It probably wasn't.
Harry had never been a selfish person. That was something other people, like Dudley Dursley or Draco Malfoy, had as a fault. He just wasn't very good at anything. That was the reason he had to go.
Now was the night for his departure. He stood atop the Astronomy Tower for a final look at the Hogwarts grounds he would be leaving behind as the stars above him came out into bloom, thousands upon thousands twinkling down at him. Thousands and thousands of people fighting, people in danger. He was just one man.
"Why?" he asked the knowing stars. They knew the answer, but would not tell him.
The air smelled of rain. It was warm enough that the snow had largely melted away, leaving the ground muddy and wet. Harry was glad he was leaving his best boots behind. He would hate to get them dirty for such a guilty act as running away.
I'm not running away. I'm doing it for Mum.
He repeated this to himself over and over as he walked down the gravel path towards the great iron gates. He carried on repeating it as he apparated to the Hogsmead portkey station, and while the guard checked his ticket, which had been bought under a false name. It became his mantra as he lay a finger on the dusty table lamp, alongside an alarming number of other frightened and guilty looking people.
By the time he felt the pull behind his bellybutton and the earth shift from beneath his feet, he realised it was too late to go back. The solid earth was already re-forming beneath him and the world was beginning to stop whirling. The throng of people stood on a hill, the night sky unfolded above them, as clear as it had been at Hogwarts. Harry felt as if it was still so near, as if he could walk to the bottom of the hill and the castle that had been his home for so many years would still be there, as grand and magnificent as the first day he saw it.
The families who had travelled with Harry huddled together and left quickly, as though trying to get a head start. Those who were alone took longer to disperse. Harry guessed that most of them had planned this journey as quickly as he, and also had no where to go or stay the night.
In the end, Harry and the other silent, lonely wizards and witches trudged down the hill, heading towards the small group of lights a little way down the dirt track at the hill's base. The village of Stondyr was a remote wizarding community that only took incoming portkeys. It had no actual station. That was why Harry had chosen it – it was a one-way ticket to starting afresh.
"Excuse me, Hermione," said a soft voice from behind her.
Hermione grimaced. Her head hurt and she did not want riddley conversations. "Yes, headmaster?"
She looked up from the Arithmancy text she had been pretending to study – actually just enjoying the silence of the library after a rough night. The old wizard was smiling, but Hermione could see his eyes weren't twinkling.
"I was wondering, have you seen Harry today?"
She shook her head. "I wasn't feeling up to breakfast this morning, and I haven't seen him around the castle. He's been getting a bit reclusive lately – Busy with marking or something, I expect. Why?"
"Harry did not join you in the Three Broomsticks last night, then?"
Hermione frowned. "No."
Dumbledore sighed and eased himself into the chair opposite her. "Would you mind awfully if I asked you to betray a possible confidence?"
"I'd rather not, but I'm not entirely sure I understand the circumstances. Is something wrong?"
"I visited Harry's rooms early this morning to discuss some rather disturbing developments." He waved his hands at Hermione's attempts to interrupt. "It will wait a little longer. This is more pressing. Harry was not in his rooms. I have looked around the castle, searched his usual haunts, and can find neither hide nor hair of him. The portraits haven't seen him since last night. I was rather hoping you could shed some light on his whereabouts. Is there anywhere else you can think of that he would have spent the night?"
"One or two, both very unlikely. He and Severus are still being annoyingly indifferent, and I haven't heard him talk about the Weasleys since I-don't-know when." She sighed, rubbing her forehead. "He's not been himself the last couple of days, and we haven't really talked properly for a while. To tell the truth, we've been quite worried about him."
She tried her best to avoid his gaze, knowing that she had not been given permission by either man to discuss Harry's dreams with Professor Dumbledore, but she could see no way around it. "Severus and I. It really should be him telling you this, though. He's been worried about Harry for a while now. Harry's been having funny dreams. Severus heard him talking in his sleep, but when I asked him about it he told me they'd stopped. He said everything was OK."
"Thank you, Hermione. If you wouldn't mind accompanying me to my office, I shall summon Severus and see if we can glean anything further."
I really see no point in this exercise in futility, Albus. If Potter has vanished then he doesn't want to be found."
Hermione scowled at Professor Snape for the first time in two years. "This is assuming he's vanished of his own free will and hasn't just been killed or kidnapped or something."
"If you could kindly stop squabbling, children." Dumbledore had a face of thunder that quelled their arguments to mutual glares of disapproval. "This is more important than either of you know. The reason I was attempting to contact Harry this morning in the first place was because Alastor Moody made a request of me this morning. He has asked that all non-essential forces be moved to the Hogsmead gates. There are numbers gathering there. They are not being stealthy and they are in no rush. I believe his words were, 'if patience could be brazen, this lot are painted up worse than a French whore house.'"
"Such a way with words, Moody."
Whatever the words of his message, its meaning was very serious and I have sent preliminary forces into Hogsmead. I wished to inform Harry that a choice was before him: to stay and wait for them to reach the castle, which we know they will, or to go into Hogsmead with Remus and the others and hold them back for as long as possible. Now it would seem there is no choice to be made."
There were a few minutes' silence. Severus steepled his fingers, frowning. "Intriguing, is it not, that they choose the day Potter buggers off for a holiday to make the final push."
"I don't think any of us are foolish enough to take that as a coincidence, Severus," Hermione said quietly.
"I am certainly of your mind, Professor Granger. But now you see why my urgency to bring Harry back. The entire war pivots on him. By being elsewhere he places himself and all of us in danger."
Severus shuddered inwardly, knowing Harry's dilemma himself. Since his ousting from the Death Eaters, he had heard nothing but professed fear for his safety. Where once he had led an active role in the fight against the Dark Lord, he was now trapped in his own home teaching brats who couldn't care less. It only now occurred to him that he had not been the only prisoner in Hogwarts – both he and Harry had been kept 'safe' at the castle. Perhaps now would be the time to stop hiding and actually do something to help. "What can I do?"
He did not look up, fearing the response would be the customary 'nothing', but instead, "I need you to contact him. If someone has already been using Occlumency against him, as you suspect, his defences should be relatively low, and he has grown so used to your mind I feel sure that you would receive the best reception."
Severus snorted. "That would depend on your definition of 'reception'. I have reason to believe my reception would be rather frosty."
Albus and Hermione shared a look of combined incredulity. "I think on this one occasion we may risk Professor Potter's ire, Severus. Now, if you could just find some sort of location, a name, anything would be helpful."
Severus sighed and closed his eyes, clearing his mind and falling into the familiar rhythm of his breathing and the darkness of the subconscious. Although it had been over two years since he had last attempted breaking the barriers into Harry's mind, he knew the best route and could easily find his way through the dark and distance to the mind that felt like Harry's.
He had been surprised the first time he practiced Occlumency with Potter. It was rare to find any wizard that kept their mind as open, knowingly or not, as his. For most people, the subconscious held darkness and secrets, but with Harry it was all laid out before him. Warm fuzzy Quidditch memories stretched out alongside cold bullies and duals, each memory as easy to grasp as the next. Now almost all images had been closed behind tall, black doors, although Severus was disturbed to see how lax Harry had grown in the last two years. Many of the doors were ajar, and some of the more recent memories – Severus caught a brief glimpse of his own face close up, eyes closed, being kissed – were open to clear display. "Explains a lot," he muttered to himself.
He carried on down the partially lit corridor, searching for the end, not knowing what he would find when he got there. As what he had witnessed thus far proved, a lot of a person's mind could change in two years.
A solid black wall made of damp stone. He arched an eyebrow. This was a wall he recognised. The stone were all large and roughly cut, and there was a square dent where a window had been blocked up. It was the wall outside his chambers in the dungeons at Hogwarts.
"Very funny," he mumbled, fingers lightly stroking the wall, testing for flaws. In the silence he could hear voices on the other side of the wall. That wasn't a good sign. Not only did it mean the wall was exceptionally thin – thinner than it should be – but it meant Harry was not alone in there.
"Enough games, Potter. Now let me in."
The dank earth shuddered beneath his feet, and for a glorious moment Severus thought it really would be that simple.
"No!" he heard yelled from the other side of the wall in a voice that was not Harry's.
"If you can be at home to stranger then you can most certainly be at home to me. Stop being a brat and let me in."
The wall warmed beneath his hands – Severus could feel Harry chuckling. A scraping noise was coming from the wall itself. The blocked up window's stones were starting to come loose, dust from the cement between them falling to the floor. He pressed his face against the wall, trying to peer through the crumbling mortar. Orange light glowed through it. This was Harry's essential mind. It had darkened and grown since Severus had last met with it, but he tried to look past it to what Harry was seeing. Candle light and a bar, glinting amber bottles, a woman wearing a black shirt with a silver tree printed on its front.
Severus jumped away from the wall as a green snake slithered through the crack in the mortar. It grew before his eyes, rising up and baring its long, sharp fangs.
"No," he whispered, slowly backing away as the snake hissed menacingly. "No .. Albus…"
His head swam and he was moving away quickly. Too quickly, he felt. The earth was falling from under him and the comforting dark had been replaced with bright white light.
"Severus, open your eyes. You're quite safe now."
He cracked his eyes open. He was still in Albus' office, the light was only the winter sun shining through the window. The room lurched around him, and then swam as tears filled his eyes. He closed his eyes against them, furiously trying to catch his breath as his heart hammered in his chest. "The White Oak," he muttered, his mouth dry and the sound coming from it making more than the room lurch. He tried to swallow but couldn't. "Stondyr. He's in Ireland."
He vaguely saw Albus nod and stand, before the room swam out of focus for good and he was back in the dark.
AN: The next installment is well on the way, and I think the end is beginning to be in sight. Please remember to review.