A/N: Well unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it, this is the final chapter of this fic. Sorry guys – it just worked better as one section. IT is however quite long if that makes you feel better…
In any case Enjoy!
Severus took the rug with the plastic underlay and put it on the ground before they all hunkered down, close together. Harry noted that Remus and the Slytherin planted themselves very carefully on either side of Minerva who now simply looked like she could sleep for a decade. He wasn't certain where to sit himself but the logical part of his mind established from which direction the wind was coming from then did his best to shield his professor from it. They sat in silence for a few moments before Lupin struck up a conversation with him about some inane topic or other and they whiled away the minutes like that, but when the AA van pulled up Harry had never felt so relieved. Severus stood and went to speak to the technician and he moved down to take his place on the rug. It didn't take more than a few minutes for it to become obvious that the news wasn't good. Coming back up the hill, Severus crouched down in front of them.
"It's dead," he proclaimed. "But the gentleman says that he can drop us off at the nearest train station and we can move on from there."
"Well we could probably get a train to Edinburgh," Remus said, obviously racking his mind. "From there we'd have to cross the country though and go through Glasgow to get to Oban. That's as far north as we'd get but we could talk to Albus before then and arrange something for the last leg."
Compared to the palaver of the last few days this plan didn't seem all that ridiculous, but in true fashion it seemed that nothing was going to be easy. They managed to get to Edinburgh all right, and even the trip through to Glasgow was no great problem but that was where they started to come across delays.
"There's not a train that goes that far until eight o'clock," he told them, having searched the timetable boards. He could tell that Severus' patience was wearing thin and that this five-hour delay wasn't going to help matters much. Remus was sat on the bench with Minerva's head resting on her shoulder, and he shifted slightly to check the time.
"Well, I suppose we'll just have to wait then," he said.
"How long will the journey be?" she asked shifting and sitting up but still looking like she was totally exhausted.
"Three hours," he replied,
"Just a thought," she said after a moment, "but why don't we catch the next train to somewhere on the East coast line? Then we could head for Inverness and get the Inverness to Thurso train tonight. The station's only a couple of hours from the castle, I'm sure someone could pick us up from there." Remus headed back to the timetable and map display.
"We'd have to get to Leuchars for four-thirty and even then it's a hell of a lot of changing lines, but that would probably meet with Alastor's approval." He checked his watch and then the timetable again. "There's a train leaving here at three that ought to get us off on our way that gives us a half hour. So it's Glasgow to Leuchars, change at Dundee change at Perth change at Inverness arriving at Thurso at 11.45 tonight. Agreed?" Harry watched as Severus gave a quick nod. "Right then I'll go get the tickets then," said the werewolf trying to look cheery. As he turned and left Minerva went to get up as well until Snape put his hand on her shoulder.
"Where do you think you're going?" he asked pointedly.
"The bathroom," she replied shortly, reaching for the crutches, and with that she turned and set off, rather slowly and obviously limping. All three of them watched her progress in measured silence.
"I think we should send her straight back to the castle. There's a floo station somewhere in this bloody town," Severus said after a moment.
"Do you genuinely think she'd agree to that?" Remus asked.
"I didn't say that," the other man snapped. "Damn." He ran a hand through his hair. "Bloody woman. Right, stay with the bags Potter. I'd better try and get in touch with the Headmaster." The two men stalked off in the same direction though, heads close and obviously in deep discussion. He could already tell them now, what the eventual outcome of the debate would be; after all, it would appear not even Albus Dumbledore could tell the Head of Gryffindor what she ought to be doing.
Harry sat there, one eye on his trunk and the compact holdalls that they had rescued from the boot of the car, and the other watching the people scurrying back and forth around him. The two men arrived back, with coffee, chocolate and tickets a few minutes before Minerva came back into view. Remus had bought a newspaper and settled down to peruse the muggle news, while Severus sat scowling and obviously watching out for the return of his colleague. Harry spotted her first, but only by a second or two and once again Snape had jumped up and was approaching her before he could think to move. The fact that she didn't protest when he slipped an arm around her waist told him more than anything else though.
"Albus says he'll send someone with a carriage," Severus told them as Minerva sat down, slowly flexing her leg.
"As long as it's not Hagrid with the thestrals," Remus said with a smile. "We're leaving from platform 3 in about fifteen minutes," he continued. "Maybe we should head over there to wait?" The suggestion was slightly tentative and it was obvious that he was concerned that Minerva wasn't up to the trip yet.
"Sounds sensible." She replied though and hoisted herself up before they were even on their feet, and waited as they collected up their belongings. The train was on time, which seemed to be much to Severus surprise, considering how much he had been grumbling about the damn things for the last quarter of an hour. They found seats around a table and settled down for the first leg of their trip. The wind had picked up again and the train rocked gently as they travelled across its path. Within half an hour it became fairly obvious what the primary reason for the Slytherin's dislike of this mode of transport was.
"Are you feeling alright?" Lupin asked, looking up at the other man from where he sat next to Minerva, newspaper spread out on his lap. Harry looked up from his section of the paper to see that, if anything, Snape looked distinctly green. He only grunted in response before taking another sip from his bottle of water, leaning his head back and shutting his eyes. Remus grimaced in sympathy at Harry before turning to check on the woman sitting next to him, who had at last, it seemed, fallen asleep.
Severus seemed to manage to calm his rebellious stomach for almost half an hour before he suddenly stood and swept, even without the aid of his robes, down the aisle towards the closest bathroom. His abrupt departure seemed to wake Minerva as she stirred and looked around her.
"Where...?" she asked, obviously alluding to the Potions Master.
"It would seem that Severus and travelling by train are not a good mixture," Remus said with half a smile.
"Oh," she said, looking up the aisle obviously waiting for his arrival back, the mutual concern that they both showed for each other surprising Harry once again. In the end it was almost half an hour later when the other man returned and when he did he looked the worse for wear. He sat down silently, pushing some of his hair, which had escaped its ribbon, out of his face.
"Mint?" Minerva asked having dug the packet out of her pocket. He accepted silently.
"The rest of the journey should be less… well… rocky," Remus said sounding hopeful. "We'll be travelling into the wind," he added by way of explanation.
"Always assuming that the wind doesn't change direction," Snape pointed out acerbically, "Which considering our fortune in regard this trip so far seems highly unlikely." They had to smile at this. "None the less, I suspect that I'll survive."
As it turned out, he was correct, in that the weather shifted so that their trains seemed perpetually to rock from one side to the other for the entire duration of the trip. What between Severus looking distinctly nauseous, and Minerva hopping along, barely putting any weight on her injured hip at all, and with Harry and Remus laden down with all the baggage, they must have made quite a sight moving from one platform to the next. However, they made every one of their connections by some miracle and not once did Harry notice anything out of the ordinary enough not to be Muggle.
"It's odd," he said to Remus when they had finally all settled onto their last train. "I never really thought about us being spotted or hunted down when we were in the car, but here…"
"If it makes you feel better, we're on the look out too," Minerva said, shifting and grimacing in her seat.
"Are you…?" Lupin asked.
"Sore, stiff and tired," she replied with a smile, "but to quote someone it won't kill me." It seemed like the Head of Slytherin had finally been so worn out that he seemed to have gone out like a light when he had sat down this time. Hopefully he'd manage to stay that way when the train began to move again. Harry found that thought hard to compute, but genuinely felt sorry for the man, who obviously felt absolutely horrific. Remus fell asleep next, but Harry found that having napped on and off throughout the day he really wasn't drowsy. He watched his own Head of House from underneath lowered lids as she stood and used the backs of the seats to make her way up and down the otherwise deserted compartment. It seemed that she was trying to walk out some of the stiffness, which didn't seem like a bad plan until the train lurched and she stumbled. He couldn't see clearly even when he opened his eyes fully, but it seemed that she ended up falling onto an empty seat. Harry quelled his instant urge to jump up and make sure was ok, but watched carefully as she righted herself, testing each of her appendages in turn. Having obviously decided that she hadn't done any extreme damage she propped herself up and undid her hair, which seemed to mostly have escaped her braid in any case.
"You know what I'd kill for right about now?" she asked looking towards him and giving him a bit of a fright. "A nice cup of tea and ginger newt," she said with a smile. "It's the simple things." He couldn't help but return her smile at this. "I won't tell if you don't?" she said casually as she made her way back towards him, to all intents and purposes hopping.
"As long as you grant me diplomatic immunity from them," he said with a grin, jerking his thumb at the two sleeping men.
"I'll do better than that," she began sliding down into the seat. "I shall offer you afternoon tea, with ginger newts, any time you feel like it all summer." Harry was strangely touched by this offer: after all, it was Remus who was supposed to be looking after him and he was certain that the Deputy Headmistress had better things to do in the holidays than entertain him.
It was still raining and the wind was still howling when, at ten to twelve they finally drew in at the end of the line. Remus and Harry had perfected the art of loading themselves up with the bags, but left Minerva to usher the still groggy Slytherin out and into the open air.
"Over here," came a gruff but instantly identifiable voice from the shadows at the back of the platform.
"Is that you Alastor?" the Werewolf asked, moving away from the two other passengers who had disembarked.
"If it wasn't, I wouldn't tell you otherwise now would I lad?" he said, stepping just into view and pulling that ridiculous hat down over his magical eye. "Got the carriage out the front."
"The coaches that take us from the train station up to the school at the start of term?" Harry asked.
"Nope, this one has wheels and horses," Moody said. "Sorry we couldn't get a hold of another car, though Merlin knows what you lot did with the last one." They all but threw the cases into the closed carriage; Harry for one was past caring what happened to his trunk. It was a bit of a climb in but he managed it with a new hop in his step knowing that they were almost home. Minerva, seemed equally keen just to get on the way again and having handed Remus her crutches proceeded to take his hand to help her in. The two fine horses shifted a little in their fastenings and they rolled back and forward a little. Even from this little action it was plain to see that this ride was unlikely to be any smoother and the train journey, the light from up by the driving bench cast enough light on Severus' face outside to show his disinclination to join them.
"Get on with it Snape," the former auror snapped, and once more Harry felt a twinge of sympathy for the other man when he failed to come up with a typically acerbic retort. He couldn't help but feel that Moody was infringing on them, and despite not having any particularly strong opinions on the man, Harry found himself looking forward to him shutting the door and taking the reigns.
The gentle rocking of the carriage had almost lulled him to sleep when somebody sneezed loudly.
"Remus?" Minerva asked from the opposite bench.
"Damn horses," he muttered, searching through his pockets, presumably for a handkerchief. He sneezed again, several times all the while searching through his pockets. There wasn't much light but on an impulse, Harry reached up to see if there was a lantern somewhere above them. He found one, and by some fluke there was both a candle and matches were tucked inside so he lit it, after only a few attempts, and shut the glass box that surrounded it with a satisfying click.
"Thanks," Remus said thickly, finding what he was looking for and blowing his nose. Harry noted that his eyes were red-rimmed and watering profusely.
"You're allergic?" Harry asked and the other man nodded. Looking across, he saw Snape had lent down and put his head between his knees and Minerva placed a reassuring hand on his back.
"Won't be much longer," she said quietly. It might not have been much longer technically but that hour and a half seemed to drag on for a lifetime. If he hadn't been so tired and, on a certain level, concerned for the two men, he might have found it funny, he was sure that Ron would have, but instead he felt nothing more than anxious to set foot on terra firma once more.
When they did finally pull up outside the grand steps leading to the familiar oak doors of the school, they opened, light spilling forth onto the gravel path. Silhouettes framed in the doorway quickly descended the steps, the Headmaster and the School Nurse if Harry wasn't mistaken, followed by someone he thought might well be Professor Sprout.
"You're a sight for sore eyes," Dumbledore said, stepping forward to help them down as Moody held the horses fast.
"Good grief!" Madam Pomfrey said looking at them all in turn. "What a state you're all in." Harry turned to look at his three guardians for the last few days and had to admit that he could see her point. Minerva, who would once again be Professor McGonagall now he supposed, on crutches, pain and exhaustion etched on her features. Snape looked like death still, leaning against Remus whose eyes and nose continued to run excessively.
"Well it looks like you definitely came out of all of this the best doesn't it?" Dumbledore said, and there was hesitation in his eyes. Harry smiled softly in return; he knew that it would be a while before he felt that he could realistically trust the older man as he once had but he was willing to accept that he might have been a fraction quick to judge him.
"No come on," the mediwitch said, obviously trying to usher all four of them towards the hospital wing at the same time. Harry hung back, safe in the knowledge that he was definitely not going to be top of her to do list. He watched as Dumbledore placed a hand on his deputy's back, trying not to laugh when she shrugged him off and obviously bit his head off for some comment or another he made, and couldn't help but chuckle at the attempt the Potion Master made at scowling when Pomfrey started fussing and trying to take his temperature.
"Come on Mr Potter," Professor Sprout said from behind him. "I think you look well enough if all done in; how about I show you up to your room?" He accepted and was more than glad to find his trunk, and Hedwig, waiting for him when he arrived. Feeling that he ought to at least make an attempt at washing up, he stepped into the shower before stepping into his pyjamas. As he lay staring at the unfamiliar canopy above him, his thoughts returned to how strange the last three days seemed when looked at in relation to the rest of his life since he began at Hogwarts. He wasn't certain that he'd ever be able to come to terms with everything that he'd seen and heard over the last few days, be able to equate what he'd learned with the people he had thought he'd known, at least as well as he had wanted to. Whatever happened though, he knew it had been an enlightening experience that he would never, ever be able to forget and one that he wouldn't have missed for all the world
A/N: Much thanks to Rachel as always
Hope you all enjoyed this
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Thanks for reading