Harry froze, wide eyes staring unseeingly at the ceiling. Oh no, not again, please, please, not again!
Harry squeezed his eyes tight shut, praying for the sound to go away, not to exist, to be a figment of his imagination. It did not listen.
Scriiiitch… Harry flung off the covers and scrambled desperately to the floor, snatching his wand off the bedside table as he raced for the door. Panic painted his mind a complete blank, but even the roaring terror was not quite able to drown out the soft, skittering sounds that were following close behind him.
Leaping the over last few steps down to the Gryffindor Common Room, Harry hit the floor at a run, streaking past the handmade jack-o-lanterns which had seemed like harmless fun during the day time.
Now they leered maliciously at Harry as he shot past, the flames flickering behind those gaping mouths, producing soundless, malevolent laughter, adding to Harry's torment. And all the while, there was that soft, stealthy skittering; like claws across ice.
And, like ice, chills crept, ever faster, down Harry's shivering back.
Fear gripped Harry's heart like never before as he burst out from the Fat Lady's portrait, garnering an offended 'I say!' out of her. Her voice made him run even faster on his jelly-like legs, which felt like they were about to collapse out from under him, rendering him helpless against the mercies of whatever was following him.
Get away, get away, get away! was the only thought in Harry's head, pitifully repeating itself over and over, making Harry want to drop to a ball in the ground and scream in pathetic terror for someone, anyone to help him.
Adrenalin pounded through his veins, desperate breaths rasping in his ears, as he leapt down the first staircase, four steps at a time. Harry prayed that he would not fall. For Harry, every second counted.
He did not fear Filch this night, or any other natural denizen of the Hogwarts' night-time. In fact, he probably would have flung himself at their feet, calling out 'Thank God you're here!' or begging them to help him, protect him, save him from the monster that had, for the past three nights, made Harry its quarry.
Instead, to Harry's horror, the corridors and staircases of the ancient castle were deserted, as if all those who roamed the corridors were hiding; like the prey animals who run and conceal themselves once the predator has singled out its kill; not helping the unfortunate creature, not caring.
And so Harry ran, faster than he had when Dudley was after him, faster than he had when Voldemort had chased him in the graveyard, faster than he ever had in his life, save on those two previous nights when the creature had hunted him. Both times the creature had almost caught him, and this fact was true for this night as well, for when Harry finally reached his Guardian's door, panting and shaking violently, he heard the telltale snick of claws as they hit the ground at the bottom of the staircase.
Pounding frenziedly on the door, Harry screamed with all his might, terrified that this time the monster would win, that this time, his Guardian would open the door too late.
"Severus! Seeeveruuus! Open the door! Please! Quick!"
And, as on the previous times, the door flew open like a shot within a few precious seconds of Harry's fist first hitting the door.
Harry dove through the door, slammed it shut – knowing the second the lock clicked, it was warded with the strongest spells available – and flung himself into his Guardian's arms. The soft hiss and whine of the monster's disappointment didn't matter to him now; he was safe, and Severus would protect him.
"Harry, what's the matter this time?" Severus sleepy voice cut across Harry's relief. Strong arms came up and around him, holding him tight. Harry didn't answer, just waited for the trembling to slow and stop, not wanting to let go of his Guardian ever, ever again.
Slowly, and slightly unsteadily, Severus led Harry over to the couch in front of the fire, causing it to magically flare up once they had sat down. Harry leaned into Severus' grey nightshirt, still panting with breathlessness and panic, letting the soft fabric over his Guardian's strongly beating heart sooth him a little.
Harry risked a peek at Severus' face and felt a moment's guilt as he realised Severus must have been deeply asleep before Harry had woken him. Only a moment's though, as the mere thought of the creature hunting him was enough to start the shivering again. He was pretty sure Severus would prefer his ward to wake him from the deepest slumbers, than to find out from Professor McGonagall that the child had been found dead and horribly mangled. The shuddering increased.
"Easy, easy, Harry," murmured Severus sleepily, gently running a hand up and down his back, evidently too tired to care just yet why he had been woken up. They sat for several minutes in silence; the cold, hard fear and panic dissolving further with every second Harry spent quietly in his Guardian's presence.
Eventually Severus cleared his throat and conjured two glasses of water, sipping slightly at his own while handing the other to Harry. After Harry had taken a large gulp, Severus fixed his ward with a mild glare.
"Care to tell me why I find myself woken from my rest for the third night in a row, Harry?" When Harry failed to say anything, a faintly mocking sneer appeared on his Guardian's face. "Oh, don't tell me, it was that monster again, wasn't it?" Severus asked, his tone a clear indication of precisely what he thought of that idea.
Harry felt his bottom lip protruding out a little and tried to suck it back in an effort to stop his pout. To his relief, the terror of the corridors had faded away a little, but that didn't make it any less real.
"There was a monster, Severus!" Harry bit his lip. Could he have sounded any more childish? "It was in my room, and then it ch-ch-chased me all the way down to your rooms! I know it's real, I heard it!"
Severus sighed and pulled the water from Harry's shaking fingers, gentling his voice as he spoke to the frightened boy. "Harry, aren't you a little old to start believing in monsters under the bed?" Smiling, he reached and smoothed a little hair off the indignant child's forehead. "I am not trying to make light of your obvious fear, child, but merely pointing out that there is no evidence whatsoever that what you are saying is true. In fact, after last night, I went and placed several strong wards around Gryffindor Tower to prevent anything of a truly dark nature with dark intent entering. Child, you know this! You watched me, for pity's sake! Nothing could have got through those wards."
"But it did, Severus! I heard it! It was right behind me, all the way down here. If you hadn't opened the door when you did, it would, it would-" Harry broke off, gulping several times before continuing. "We're not in the Muggle world, Sev, where little children are told it's not possible because monsters don't exist. Here, they do exist, and what's more, we know they do. Whatever's h-hunting me ripped through your wards like it was Halloween candyfloss. Please let me stay tonight. It's still out there and it'll hurt or kill me the first chance it'll get."
Harry looked up into his Guardian's dubious face, wishing there was something he could say to make Severus believe him. Harry already knew Severus wouldn't send him away because Harry only asked for things if they were very important to him, but it would have made him feel better to at least be believed.
"Just tonight, I promise. It's Halloween tonight and that's the one night of the year when all dark creatures are strongest. Just tonight, and then I'm sure it'll give up and leave me alone for the year."
Severus sighed and pressed his cheek onto Harry's unruly mop. "And next year, Harry? If it comes back for you next year, will you run and hide then, only putting the inevitable off for another year? Have you even a good look at the thing that is supposedly hunting you?"
Harry felt warmth kindle in his chest. Severus may not quite believe him, but he was trying for Harry's sake. That alone was enough to make Harry brave enough to want to go and open the door to see if he could see whatever had been chasing him. But not brave enough to make him want to step out into the corridor again.
"No, I was too busy trying to not let it eat me at the time, as for next year, I don't know. I always used to get funny feelings around Halloween; I thought it was do with my parents dying, but now I'm not so sure." Harry sighed and snuggled deeper into his Guardian's embrace. "As long as you're with me, I'm not afraid, though."
Severus gave him another quick squeeze before letting him go. "Good, I'm always here for you if you have need of me. Now, let's get you off to bed and see if either of us can get some sleep before we have to go to lessons."
Severus' theatrical shudder made Harry laugh and he readily followed the older man into the small bedroom Severus had labelled Harry's own since he had gained custody of Harry several months previously.
Since Severus' public objection to Harry competing in the Tri-wizard Tournament a year ago, the vicious baiting of Harry had ceased. Instead, Severus had started dropping hints and tips which Harry found to be very useful in the coming tasks, causing him to take a second look at the teacher who had hated him on site over three years previously.
After Harry had got over the disbelief that Snape was actually concerned about him, a tentative alliance had sprung up between the two of them, which had gradually blossomed into a vague friendship that grew stronger with each successful Tri-wizard task Harry completed.
Until the third task.
In fact, Severus had rarely left Harry's side those first few days after the terrible ordeal, regardless of Sirius' strong objections. It was these actions which finally cemented the friendship into something strong and permanent. Yes, Snape was still sharply snarky, very temperamental and unfair to all students except the Slytherins, but he genuinely cared about Harry.
It was these strong feelings of trust that led an emotionally vulnerable Harry to tell both Sirius and Severus about his true treatment at the Dursleys' and how he desperately did not want to go back, especially after Cedric's death in which he felt mostly responsible.
Upon hearing the neglect and emotional damage Harry had been subjected to, both men had appeared livid, and Snape had slammed back the chair at Harry's bedside and stormed out of the Hospital Wing doors.
Harry had been worried that Severus was disgusted at Harry for not standing up to the Muggles, that this was the end of their friendship. Harry had been very subdued after that, despite Sirius' attempts to cheer him up, until barely half and hour later. Harry could still remember the crystal clear events on the night his life had changed for the better…
The doors to the Hospital Wing crashed open and Harry jumped, staring up from the half-hearted game of Wizard's Chess he'd been indulging in with Sirius. Striding towards him, face set with grim determination, was Snape, closely followed by the Headmaster.
"Se- Professor Snape, Professor Dumbledore, what are you doing here?" Harry asked incredulously.
Wordlessly, Snape had pushed an open document into Harry's hands and stepped back. It took Harry several minutes to realise what he was holding.
Guardianship papers, or Adoption papers; they were one and the same thing in the Wizarding World, and Harry was currently clutching a document made out in Snape's name, complete with Snape's, Dumbledore's and the Dursleys' signatures. There were only two blank spaces; the one beside Harry's name, and the one beside Sirius'. Harry could only stare, barely hearing the heated discussion between the three adults.
When he'd finally pulled himself together, all he'd been able to say was, "Could someone pass me a quill, please?"
Harry smiled happily at the memory and leaned against the doorframe, startled when Severus lazily waved a hand back and forth in front of his face.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Harry said sheepishly. "Just remembering when you first gave me the Guardianship papers…"
Severus sneered at him, but Harry could tell he was pleased. "There will be plenty of time for maudlin reminiscing in the morning. Bed, now! Just hurry up and go to sleep so I can go back to my own bed."
Harry grinned at him and slid beneath the thick duvet, the sheets warm against his cool skin. Harry closed his eyes and relaxed, calm in the knowledge that Severus was here, for the man would never let anything bad happen to him.
After a time, the room went dark and there were footsteps out into the corridor, but Harry knew that Severus had only pretended to leave; he would wait outside the bedroom door until absolutely certain that Harry was asleep. When Harry had been younger, and hadn't know Severus as well, Harry was sure he would have resented such an action, but now he could see it for what it truly was; concern, caring and maybe a way for Severus to content himself that Harry really was safe. Harry relaxed completely and drifted off into dreams.
Harry woke abruptly, cold sweat trickling down the back of his neck; his body reacting to what his conscious mind had not yet discovered. Harry opened his eyes, slowly, carefully, straining to discover what had woken him…
Harry's stomach twisted almost violently in his panic. Oh God, it's here, it's in my room. Oh Go-o-od! Harry wasn't sure whether he wanted to cry, vomit or wet himself in his fear. All he knew was that he had to do something, anything. But his body had frozen in unadulterated terror at the knowledge that not even Severus' magic could keep him safe anymore…
Have you even a good look at the thing that is supposedly hunting you? Severus' words came back to him in a rush and Harry forced his shaking hand to clumsily reach out and snatch up his glasses, jamming then onto his face even as the next scritch rang throughout the dungeon.
Taking in great silent gulps of air, Harry slid out his wand from under his pillow and gripped it tightly. His body had gone unnaturally still; the calm before the hurricane.
Forcing himself to prop himself up on his elbows was the hardest thing Harry had ever done, including fighting Voldemort. Slowly, slowly, Harry peered over the edge of the bed; the dimmed wall sconces casting flickering images on the floor. Normally Harry found this comforting, but now, every changing shape could hide something dangerous, something deadly.
The creature was moving slower than usual, though Harry knew it could move lightening quick if it wanted. It must be trying to discover where I am, trying to do it near silently, so that this time its prey has no chance of escaping… Oh, I hope it isn't already under the bed, Harry thought desperately.
It happened so quickly, Harry barely had time to think. One terrifying moment he was staring at his empty doorway, and the next, a blunt muzzle with red, slitted nostrils and wide jaws agape had edged around the side of Harry's door. The snout paused to sniff the air, mouth open and panting, rows of thin, identical, needle-sharp teeth displayed to the glinting torchlight.
Harry felt every pore in his body break out in a cold sweat. He could do nothing, nothing, as he watched a long, sleek head follow on behind the snout and a sinuous neck curl around the door like a snake. And then, the creature was completely in the room with him.
Harry saw it's sharp, almost dragon-like head sway from side to side, side to side, scenting out the room, and the juicy prey it could smell hiding and sweating in fear.
Harry's mouth went dry. His wand was so slippery in his grip that he felt like it would fall out of his hand. He stared at this huge lizard-like creature with mounting horror as each second passed.
It was over five feet long; the body sinuous and powerful and corpulent.
Sharp vicious spikes made up its claws; cruel and wicked.
Its skin was silver and scaled. The torchlight caught on several scales flaking off and drifting onto the floor, the ground scarring briefly wherever it touched, before the floor appeared to heal itself. A ridge running down along its back and tail was covered with thin, black barbs.
Harry watched with horrified fascination as the tail scraped over the floor every now and again, the scritch, scritch created by the barbs' close contact with the harsh stone.
A red, red tongue lolled in its open mouth, far too humanlike to truly belong to any lizard.
Harry could only stare in disgusted horror as the thing stilled, slitted nostrils dilating excitedly. And then, as if time were moving through treacle, the thing raised its head and looked directly at Harry. Its eyes were black, a silvery sheen painted over the dark surface. A corpse's eyes.
Harry couldn't get enough air into his lungs, for he knew, in that moment, that he was going to die. That he would become one of these corpse-like abominations of nature.
The repulsive mouth widened and the human tongue slowly licked along the rows of gleaming needles. "Mine," it said, and its voice was a human's, wheezy and broken; nothing like the serpentine hiss it should have been.
Harry couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't think of a single spell to defend himself with. The monster lowered itself to the ground as if to spring and Harry's mind went urgently blank. He needed help, desperately.
And then, like a blaze of light, forcing his synapses to start working again, he heard Severus' voice from earlier in the evening; I'm always here for you if you have need of me. In that instant, Harry opened his mouth, and screamed.
It was a raw, wordless, high-pitched scream, which caused the thing on the bedroom to flinch and shake its head violently. And then, the door at the other end of the hall burst open, and Severus was in Harry's doorway before Harry could even draw breath for a second scream.
For the barest fraction of a second, a tired Severus stared in confusion at Harry. The moment passed as soon as he caught sight of the creature. All signs of sleep vanished and a look of fear passed across his face. But it was not fear for himself. It was fear for Harry.
Before the monster could once more crouch to leap at Harry, Severus had his wand out and trained on it, the first syllables of a spell already out over his tongue.
"Lux maxima, venire et delere huius draconis obscure!"
Harry yelped and hid his head in his lap as a beam of intense light rebounded throughout the small room, causing his eyes to smart and water, and the monster to give a soft whine. Then there was a soft hissing sound. Then nothing.
Harry raised his head and stared around the room. Severus was slumped in the doorway, panting, but whole. A fine covering of yellowish dust was spread out across Harry's floor, originating from the place where the monster had been crouching. Harry leaned over and squinted at a sharp, silver object, about six inches long, lying in the midst of the debris.
Harry shook his head and looked up at his Guardian once more, who seemed to have regained his breath, but was hiding his face from Harry behind long strands of his greasy hair.
"Evanesco," Severus whispered, immediately clearing the floor of all debris but the silver object, which he promptly picked up. Harry watched his Guardian's actions, frowning as he watched Severus gently set the object on the bedside table and sink onto the bed beside Harry, all the while hiding his face behind his hair. Harry crossed his legs and waited patiently, feeling his shaking limbs relax due to his proximity to his brave, clever Guardian.
"It's called a 'corpse dragon' or 'shadow dragon', you know," Severus told him conversationally, but his tone of voice seemed off somehow. "It hasn't been sighted for over one hundred years, so the wards protecting Hogwarts from them were dissipated and used for other things; such as the anti-Apparition wards." Severus sighed and hung his head. Harry was about to place a hand on his back when Severus finally looked up, his eyes haunted and dull.
"It almost killed you; almost turned you into one of its own because I was too blind, too stupid to listen to you." Severus words were full of self-hatred and bitter recriminations. "I should have learned my lesson by now. My son, can you ever find it in yourself to forgive me?"
Harry's stomach swooped in an extremely pleasant way. My son. In the whole of Harry's memory, not a single person had ever called him that, so the feelings those words brought out were both wonderful and terrifying, rendering Harry temporarily speechless.
With difficulty, Harry wrenched himself back to what else had been said. "What? Of course I forgive you! You saved me after all, I knew you would." Harry shuffled over and leaned against Severus stiff body. "Everyone makes mistakes – that's what you told me after Cedric – but they're not necessarily to blame, when they do, for anything except a lack of foresight which, as you said, can happen to anyone."
Severus huffed and pulled Harry closer against his side. "When did the insolent whelp get so wise?"
Harry grinned up at him. "Probably about the time he signed his guardianship over to the greasy git!"
Harry laughed as Severus clouted him over the back of the head, the tension and lingering fear in the atmosphere dissolving completely. Harry jumped up and tugged on Severus' hands.
"Come on, we're not going to get any more sleep tonight, so let's go up and watch the sunrise."
After a bit of grumbling from Severus and a warmer, transfigured set of clothes, they found themselves walking along the dark corridors of pre-dawn Hogwarts.
The heavy tang of fear that had lingered in these corridors for three days was now gone. In fact, Harry and Severus spotted several cats and rats returning to their old haunts now that the danger had passed. Their absence from the corridors had gone largely unmarked in a school for adolescents, where most of the inhabitants only cared about grades, relationships and appearances.
When Guardian and ward opened the door to the top of the Astronomy Tower, the first streaks of dawn had already spread across the sky, and the birds were all singing loudly, giving the world an air of peace that had not been apparent to Harry for three days.
Sitting on the ramparts, Harry once again leaned against Severus, stealing warmth from him in the chilly air and listening to the man's heartbeat. After a significant, though not uncomfortable silence, Harry spoke.
"So, what else can you tell me about the lizard thing? What was the silver thing left behind once you'd incinerated it?"
Severus sighed and, once again, his arm snaked around Harry's waist, holding him safe. "A shadow creature. They feed off corpses and other rotting things, and steal the life force from occasional humans, making the human in question into a creature like them; a living corpse. They can come in many different forms, though the lizard is the most common. The silver object," Severus pulled the small, silver stake out of his pocket, "is essentially chemical waste, for them, which they store deep in their bodies. It is all the purity they devoured while destroying human souls, and, consequently, no other corpse dragon can come near it once it is removed from its original host. I shall have to give it to Albus to recalibrate into the wards."
Severus paused. "A most interesting fact is that they usually hunt people who have no one else in the world, those who have lost much… or orphans…" The last was said so quietly that Harry had to strain to hear it.
"But that doesn't make any sense! I've got you, and Sirius, and Ron and Hermione, and-"
Severus held up a hand to stall Harry's vehement account. "Up until today, I thought the same. Now however, I am inclined to think you see me – and all your other companions – as temporary fixtures in you life which will leave you behind the second we no longer find you interesting."
Harry swallowed hard against the lump in his throat, which was as good as an admission to Severus.
"Let me make myself perfectly clear; you are going to find it very hard, in fact, nigh on impossible, to get rid of me, Potter. And I daresay I can say the same for all of your friends, and even your beloved dogfather! I have every intention of staying in your life, and even if some unfortunate accident happens to claim me, I shall not leave you alone that easily. In fact, I would take great pleasure in coming back and haunting you, do you understand?"
Harry gulped again and nodded, pressing himself even more firmly into his Guardian's side, trying to deny the tears sparkling in his eyes. Wiping them away roughly, he looked up and smiled widely at Severus.
They both laughed; Severus a low chuckle, Harry a delighted giggle. The sun was now almost clear of the treetops. Severus and Harry went back to watching it for several minutes, comfortable in each other's company.
Not looking away from the sight, Harry said casually, "Did you know that fathers are supposed to love their sons?"
Severus snorted derisively. "Not all fathers love their sons, Harry."
"Oh," Harry said, trying not to appear too crushed. "Oh, all right, then."
Severus grabbed his chin and yanked Harry around to face him. "Idiotic child! I should think, since I chose my own son, I wouldn't be able to do anything but love you!"
Harry flung his arms around Severus' middle, too happy to care about the other man's complaints at this treatment. "Thanks… Dad."
Severus smirked. "Humph, you're welcome, brat."
The Latin should translate to "Greatest light, come and destroy this dragon of the dark" - I'm pretty sure I've got the grammar right, but if not, please let me know!
Well here's my Halloween story for everyone! Please let me know what you think; is it scary/laughable/sweet/unbearable to read? All comments are welcomed and appreciated!