A Way Out
Harry drew his knees up to his chest and rested his head upon them, listening intently to the owls chirruping and hooting softly to each other in the Owlery. The book he had borrowed from the library on Animagus transformations had said he needed to be calm and in a secluded place to concentrate upon finding his chosen animal.
The book had also said that he would instinctively be drawn to the species of animal he had an affinity for. He slipped out from beneath his shirt the large World Encyclopedia of Animal Species that he had snitched from Dudley's room over the summer, it had been gathering dust on his cousin's bookshelf, he would never miss it.
He had begun studying the Animagus book over Christmas break as a way to focus on something other than the awful nightmares he still had over the last task of the Triwizard Tournament, where Cedric had died, killed because he was in the way of the real target—Harry. Harry, whose blood had been forcibly taken from him to resurrect the hellspawned wizard Voldemort from the dead.
Harry still had nightmares of the blood ritual performed, of the way loyal Pettigrew had cut off his arm to enable the wicked sorcerer to regrow a body so his fetid spirit would have a receptacle to dwell in. When Pettigrew had pulled the bloody glistening creature out of the cauldron . . .the size of a five-year-old child, but wearing the cold cruel face and eyes of a serpent . . .eyes that had seen the far side of death's doorway and yet still bore all of the evil he had done in life . . .Was it any wonder Harry woke up screaming bloody murder?
Of course, his relatives had been patently unsympathetic, yelling at him to pipe down and go to sleep, he was bloody annoying, waking up in the middle of the night whimpering and wailing like a puking whiny little brat. Harry had learned to sleep with a corner of his pillow or sheet stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams.
Or, most nights, he didn't sleep at all, couldn't bear closing his eyes again and seeing Cedric falling, a look of astonishment and disbelief on his open honest face . . .his life snuffed out before it had barely begun. Bring my body back, Harry. Bring my body back. Over and over he heard Cedric's last dying request and then he would jerk awake, howling in denial, shivering and sickened to his soul.
So he had taken to studying his texts, figuring anything was better than hearing that in his head. And the Animagus instruction text was interesting and allowed him to focus solely upon that aspect of magic, an aspect he desperately yearned to master.
His godfather had told him that James had become an Animagus in his fifth year, he, Sirius, and Pettigrew had all learned how to transform then. So, Harry reasoned, he should be able to as well.
He had told no one of his decision, after what had happened to Diggory, and after the Ministry had almost expelled him over defending Dudley from dementors, he trusted no one. It was better if his friends didn't know what he was up to, in fact it was better if he didn't have any friends, then they could not be killed for being associated with him. Not that they want all that much to do with me lately anyhow. All Ron talks about is Quidditch and making the team and trying to decide whether he wants to snog Lavender or Hermione more. And Hermione is obsessed with OWLS and studying and wouldn't know if a bloke fancied her if he got down on one knee and announced it in front of the whole school.
Between the Prophet running daily articles about his being crazy and people whispering about him behind their hands and all, was it any wonder he preferred the solitude of Owlery? Dumbledore had been avoiding him all term, Sirius had his own problems to deal with and Harry didn't feel comfortable placing an extra burden upon him.
He had taken to sleeping alone in the common room, or here in the Owlery, on some old blankets he'd snitched from the supply closet. That way the only ones he disturbed with his fevered dreams were nocturnal animals and dust bunnies. No need to add fuel to the firestorm already burning.
He flipped the pages in the animal encyclopedia again, and again his thumb came to rest upon the pages labeled birds of prey. This was what kept drawing him. Raptors. Magnificent birds who soared upon the winds and only left the sky to hunt and sleep. He stared longingly at the pictures of hawks, falcons, eagles, his own snowy owl gazed out at him from a glossy eight by ten picture.
His eyes were drawn again to the hawks, one hawk in particular, a species not even native to the British Isles.
The red-tailed hawk.
There was a picture of the brown hawk with the distinctive red plumage flying in a brilliant stretch of sky. Harry's fingers tightened upon the book and he trembled, looking at the picture, examining it intently as if trying to absorb it into his flesh.
So beautiful. So wild and free. It can go wherever it wishes, as it wants, it can fly wherever the wind takes it.
I wish . . .oh, I wish . . .I had that kind of freedom.
Crushing loneliness assailed him then and he shook his head, determined not to indulge in despair.
He needed to find the key to unlock his Animagus form. It was the only way out of his dreary miserable life.
He bowed his head and concentrated, willing his magic to awaken, willing himself to focus.
Please, please, I need this. I need to get away, I need to fly, to feel the wind beneath my wings. I don't want to be Harry Potter anymore. . . I'm sick of being the Boy-Who-Lived, the crazy savior that no one gives a damn about.
I just want to be . . .free.
And something deep inside of him awakened at long last, called forth by need and desperation.
He felt himself shivering, stretching, his body at once was burning hot and yet bitterly cold.
The book slipped from his hands, because he no longer had hands to hold it.
He had wings, and talons, and a great hooked bill, his eyes were sharp, he could see the individual grains in the wood beneath his feet and the pinions on the brown owl closest to him.
He opened his mouth to speak and what emerged was the high kree-eee-ar of a red-tailed hawk.
The owls rustled upon their perches, eyeing this newcomer with suspicion and mistrust.
The young hawk that had once been a boy named Harry sensed the irritation and unease and sought to escape from it.
Ignoring the glares and warning hisses, the red-tailed hawk walked awkwardly to the large open casement and perched upon the edge.
The sky was just darkening from rose-gold to indigo, and the hawk suddenly felt a tremendous longing to spread his wings and soar into the vastness.
The wind swept about the tower, whispering a seductive refrain. Come and fly. Come and fly.
Unable to resist the siren lure, the hawk spread his wings and launched himself off the tower.
His wings caught an updraft and for one heart-stopping instant he soared above the earth, unfettered and free.
But then a crosswind slammed into the newly fledged Animagus, and his wings faltered, the hawk instinct overwhelmed by an instant of pure human terror.
An instant was all it took.
The wind picked up the light-boned avian and flung it across the sky. Panicking utterly, Harry tried to flap his wings to stay aloft, but without the hawk instinct to guide him he had no idea how to fly anymore than a baby knows how to walk.
He found himself falling, screeching in terror, the wind slammed him hard against the stone of the tower. He felt something crack and there was a shooting excruciating pain in his wing.
Then he was tumbling over and over, his left wing hanging limply, until he struck the ground with a sickening thud. He felt something give way in his opposite wing before he couldn't stand the pain any longer and blacked out, sinking into a deep black pool, his single bid at freedom shattered in one split second.
* * * * * *
He blinked, once, twice and slowly opened his eyes, to discover he looked upon a world of darkness. He gasped, opening his mouth to cry out a question, and hearing the faint distressful call of an injured red-tail.
"Quit moving, you fool bird," ordered a soft voice, silk yet with hints of ice. "You'll hurt yourself worse if you struggle. Be still!"
The hawk stopped moving then, for he was in tremendous pain and frightened, yet somehow the voice sounded familiar. And familiar was good. The hawk settled, hunching his head into his chest, feeling ill and yet secure, his feet were gripping a cloth-covered forearm, held against a strange warmth that made an odd sounding ka-thump, ka-thump!
The noise should have frightened the injured bird, but it was strangely soothing. The hawk huddled deeper into the cloak that had been hastily wrapped about his broken body and fell into a half-aware state.
He could tell by the vibrations and the echo of footsteps that he was being carried down somewhere, but that was all. The hawk shivered, making small noises of distress as the Potions Master carried him back to his lab, for every movement jarred his broken wings and was agony, try though Snape did to walk quickly and carefully.
"Hush. I would Apparate if I could, but the Headmaster has set up Anti-Apparition wards and that means we have to walk," murmured the silky voice, and the ice was gone from its tone. "Relax, we'll be at my lab soon enough, and then I can see what you've done to yourself. You must be some falconer's pet, escaped, for red-tailed hawks are not native to Scotland or England."
Is that what I am? Wondered the hawk dazedly. Yes, it must be. For I cannot remember anything else except flying and then falling.
The hawk meeped, a shudder running through him as he recalled that sickening plunge and the awful pain that followed, and nestled deeper into the dark rescuer's chest, trusting that the voice would make the grinding pain cease, one way or another.
This was inspired by a special I saw on TV about red-tailed hawks, plus my lifelong fascination with birds of prey. Hope you all like this one!
Next: Severus tries to fix the hawk's wings, but no one ever said Harry was an easy patient.