17 - Escape

Looking up, Harry felt the blood drain from his face. Dementors. Three of them, at least. He felt the cold only an instant before he felt their touch.

Scabbed hands, grey, reached for Harry. Wet, icy fingers brushed across his skin, numbing him from shoulder to the tips of his fingernails as if he'd stuck his arm in the freezer and left it there. He felt as much as saw the light around him dimming, sucked away, while in the distance the all too familiar sound of a woman's terrified scream reached his ears and pierced his soul. NO! Not real!

Blinking, Harry fought the unnatural despair, reaching for the memories he could use like a shield as he fumbled for his wand. Ron's laughing grin. Hermione's warm smile. Ever so slightly, the darkness receded from the edges of his vision, just enough so that he could make out the dark forms drifting before him, and between them, the empty street beyond, beckoning. Harry threw himself forward, ramming his already numb shoulder into the nearest of the dementors. The renewed contact staggered him, and for an instant, everything was dark, all hope sucked away like the outrush of a midnight tide. And then light returned, blinding bright, as Harry stumbled past the foul creatures and into the deserted street.

Heart pounding, he ran. Behind, he could feel them following, their rattling breath at his neck, water freezing into dagger-like icicles in his wake. He had to get away. Racing, only a step ahead of black despair, Harry tried to remember what it felt like to zoom over a quidditch pitch, the crowd roaring, the sun bright on his face- but the image twisted, and instead he recalled a moonless night, desperation, and frozen needles of rain impaling him as he tried to find his way over countless Muggle towns to a destination impossibly far away.

Harry flew down the street and around the side of the building- one, two, three doors, and then he was at their room. Yanking the door open, he flung himself inside, quickly turning to slam the door shut behind him and throw the bolt closed. Taking a step back, he pointed his wand at the door, sucking in mouthfuls of air, his heart thudding loudly in his chest. The words to the Patronus charm were on his lips, but Harry hesitated, remembering – Don't cast any more spells until you get to Hogwarts. . . the ministry can track you when you use magic.

At least for the moment, the door was holding them off, though he could still feel the unnatural cold raising goosebumps across his skin. Without daring to take his eyes off the backside of the door, Harry set down the bag of pies he still clutched (amazingly) in one hand. Then, fumbling along the top of the dresser he felt for the lamp switch. There.

Flipping it on, he took one more step back away from the door, and all hell broke loose. Dim yellow light flooded the room, and at the same time, his foot caught on something behind him. Feeling himself tripping, he tried to recover, grabbing for the dresser with his free hand and taking another step back to balance himself, but whatever was behind him caught that foot too, and Harry went down, hard. Grabbing wildly as he fell backwards, he succeeded in catching the edge of his duffle, only to pull the bag down with him to land in a tangle of clothes and belongings. There was a sharp intake of breath by his side, a strangled cry, and Harry realized what he had tripped over – Snape. On the floor. For who only knew what reason.

Disentangling himself from the potions master, Harry frantically snatched up his wand from the amongst the scattered mess of his most treasured possessions, lurching back to his feet as the door began to rattle ominously. Snape, still sprawled on the floor, was glaring daggers at him, but Harry hardly noticed, only dimly registering the red-rimmed eyes and change of clothes. The wood around the bolt on door was flexing, back and forth, cracks appearing, growing- it wasn't going to hold.

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Snape pulling himself up to a half-crouch, half-kneel, the glare fading as his black eyes fixed instead on the rattling door.


"Dementors! Three of them!'

Snape's eyes widened, and he looked back and forth between the door and Harry, as if he desperately hoped this was all some sort of horrible prank.

But before Harry could explain further, a whip-like crack cut through the air as the wood around the bolt finally tore apart, splinters flying. The door burst open and unnatural cold poured in, riding a tide of darkness. Harry felt terror rising in him, even as he began to speak, wand pointed at the advancing creatures.

"Expecto-" But he didn't finish, something was off- his wand, it wasn't right- didn't feel right – his eyes widened –he wasn't holding his wand. What- his gaze darted back to the floor. His stuff was everywhere; his photo album lay on top of an old shirt, his shrunken trunk rested on its side several feet away and the invisibility cloak had spilled his mum's locked box and books in front of the bed, the box apparently popping open in the fall. He saw his own wand where it had rolled up against the dresser, at the same time realizing that the only place the wand in his hand could possibly have come from was the now-open box. His mum's wand.

Mind reeling, Harry looked back up, seeing the dementors closing as if in slow motion. The room faded from view and the sound of screaming- his mother's screams, filled his ears. He felt his fingers go limp, and he was floating, falling in a gray swirl-

Then suddenly everything slammed back into focus, a sharp stab of pain blossoming across his backside as he landed awkwardly atop the lunchbox-sized school chest. Gasping for air, the room turned white around him, and Harry though for an instant that he was now under some new assault, but then he realized- Snape.

Snape crouched on the floor, holding the wand Harry had just dropped in his left hand, the right pressed across his chest, still as possible. A silvery white mist issued from tip of the wand, not a corporeal patronus, but enough to keep the dementors at bay. For the moment. The effort was clearly costing Snape- little beads of sweat stood out on his ghost-pale forehead, and the wand, Harry's Mum's wand, trembled visibly in his grip.

Harry took in the situation in a heartbeat. They had to get out of here –Now. Snatching up those of his possessions within reach, he shoved them back into the duffle indiscriminately, quickly moving to scoop up the remainder as well. Slinging the bag over his shoulder, he grabbed his own wand, sticking it into his pocket as he stood.

"Come on, we've got to go! If you can hold them off, we can get to the car."

Snape's eyes flicked to Harry briefly, but he made no reply. Instead, using the edge of the bed for support, he pushed himself up to a shaky stand, breaths coming fast and shallow, the silvery mist wavering.

"Car?" He was blinking rapidly, confusion reflected in his dark eyes.

Harry felt a flush begin to work its way up his cheeks. Refusing to meet Snape's eyes, he took a step toward the door, reaching for his broom. Behind, Snape tried to follow, but at the first step he swayed, the unformed patronus suddenly evaporating.

Then, several things happened at once. Harry abandoned his broom, but managed to catch Snape before he fell, pulling the potions master's left arm around his shoulders, forcing Snape to lean on him for support. Two of the dementors, which had been hovering just outside the light cast by the non-corporeal patronus, immediately began to advance, one raising its hands to its hood, as if to lower it and expose that awful gaping hole that passed for a mouth on these foul creatures. And Snape, seeing this, flicked Lily's wand back up, weakly mouthing the words 'Expecto Patronum'. Silvery mist re-ignited at the tip of the wand, though far weaker than a moment before. But it was enough to keep the two dementors stalled, Harry glancing around wildly for the third as he half-pulled, half supported Snape beside him.

Stepping over the threshold, Harry realized he had no idea where the Muggle's car was parked. Had there been a car outside the office? Or was it the one across the street? Bloody Hell. Stumbling to a stop, ignoring Snape's muffled grunt, Harry dug through his pocket for the keys. There had been one of those clicker-things on the ring, the same type as he remembered Uncle Vernon once proudly demonstrating to the neighbors when they'd gotten that new company car. There. He had it. Pulling it out, he saw it had several buttons, two small black ones and a big red one. Having never been permitted to actually touch Uncle Vernon's car keys, Harry wasn't sure exactly which button did what. Mentally shrugging, he chose the big red one, and pushed it.

Immediately, a loud claxon began to sound, and from the direction of the hotel office, a dim glow could be seen, pulsating red and white light eerily reflected in the fog. Harry felt Snape stiffen at the sudden noise, and he hit the red button again, but the alarm kept on. Bugger- he knew one of the buttons had to shut it off – there- one of the little black ones silenced it.

"This way," Harry breathed, dragging a stumbling Snape along with him toward the front of the hotel, hoping the noise hadn't woken the slumbering Muggle. But luck was not with them this time, as when they rounded the corner and got a clear look at the office, the Muggle in question was standing at the entrance, one hand scratching through his scraggly beard and the other searching through his pocket for keys that weren't there. Luck was not with the Muggle either though, as the dementors hovering just outside the dim glow of Snape's unformed patronus suddenly spotted easier prey.

Horrified, Harry hesitated, but Snape had finally put two and two together and had no intention of stopping now. He staggered the remaining few steps to the car and fell against it, breathing rapidly, the silvery mist at the end of his wand flickering out. Straining to keep one eye on the dementors, Harry tried the car door and found it unlocked. Yanking it open, he helped Snape half-sit, half-fall into the passenger seat, throwing the duffle in after the potions master. Slamming the door closed, he ran around to the driver's side, and was just about to get in himself, when he abruptly turned back. The dementors were hovering over the Muggle, who was lying, unnaturally still, on the pavement before the door.

One hand on the open car door, Harry drew his wand with the other, knowing what he had to do.

"Expecto Patronum!"

The great stag leaped forth, bounding straight for the dementors, Harry shouting, "Get them!"

And then the-boy-who-lived ducked into the car, slammed the door shut, and staring blankly at the steering wheel before him, remembered he had no idea what he was supposed to do next.

"Keys, Potter," Snape hissed, "Start it!"

"Right – keys." Harry was still holding the keys in one hand and he stuck them in the ignition, his mind frantically searching through every movie and TV show and memory of being in the car with his family, even the flying car with Ron – why hadn't he paid attention to what they were doing? But he figured it out, eventually turning the key, and the car sputtered to life.

Looking around, Harry saw he was going to have to back up –right- there was a lever for that, he found it- shoving it next to the letter 'R', hoping dearly that it stood for 'reverse'. And before he'd even figured out for sure which pedal was the accelerator, and which brake, the car started to roll backwards. Frantic, Harry slammed his foot onto one of them, and the car jumped back with a rush. Not that one – he switched pedals, jerking to a halt, throwing himself and Snape forward with a thud.

The potions master let out a muffled cry as his injured shoulder slammed into the dash, then slumped back, eyes squeezed shut.

"Sorry," Harry muttered apologetically, though looking up, he realized that at least they had backed up far enough that he could try moving forward this time. Shifting the lever to what he hoped was 'go' (he didn't see a 'G' ) he felt relieved as the car started to creep forward. Barely daring to press the accelerator this time, he stiffly turned the steering wheel, and angled out of the car park and into the street.

Picking up speed, Harry guided the car down the narrow avenue like a snake, swerving, no sooner successfully avoiding one obstacle than he'd find himself aimed at another. He had no idea where he was, or what direction he was currently moving in, only that it was away.

. . .

Remus Lupin trailed behind Mad-eye Moody, watching as the old auror made a slow circle through the air. Below them stretched Little Whinging, the orderly streets laid out in perfect rectangles, no one out of place, and each house practically indistinguishable from the next. There was nothing to indicate that a wizard had just entered one of those houses, or that no less than four acts of underage magic, one instance of legillimency, and a silencing hex had all occurred just a short time ago, a mere stone's throw away.

Moody appeared to be sniffing at the air. Watching, Lupin idly wondered how this so-called 'bloodhound' potion actually worked, though he supposed it had already performed quite well in at least one thing - keeping three young Gryffindors fully occupied to the point of exhaustion. When Moody had collected the finished potion from them just a short time ago, Ron had already been nodding off, and Hermione and Ginny weren't far behind. With luck, Remus thought, they'd have Harry back and safe before those three had a chance to wake and plan any ill-advised teenage rescue missions.

Suddenly, Moody let out a howl, and shot off, leaving Lupin struggling to catch up on his old Cleansweep. Apparently Mad-eye had found the trail, or caught the scent, such as it was. Below, the Muggle houses flashed by as the two wizards zoomed over the outskirts of London, headed in a roughly northerly direction.

After about an hour of following the invisible trail that marked Harry Potter's flight, Lupin guessed they were somewhat to the north of the city, the land beneath a mix of country estates and the occasional small town. It seemed they were following a highway, the Muggle vehicles beneath close enough that Lupin's sensitive nose was itching at the fumes left in their wake. Ahead, a low lying fog, likely leftover from last night's storm, lay like a blanket over the land, obscuring the view of the ground below as surely as the disillusionment charm obscured the two wizards from any Muggles who chanced to look above.

Ahead, Moody abruptly pulled up.

"Trail goes down there," he said, gruff, his magical eye fixed on the gray blanket of mist below.

Despite the early morning sun at his back, Lupin shivered. Noticing, Moody grunted, " 's not natural, that fog."

Lupin's mouth formed a thin line. Harry, and probably Snape as well, were down there, somewhere in that slowly swirling mass. "Not natural? – Why do you say that?"

"I can feel it – it's not right. Feels like-" Moody's grizzled brows came together in concentration, "Feels like Azkaban. . .feels like dementors." He growled the word, drawing his wand. "Be ready."

Lupin paled, but palmed his own wand as well, inclining his head toward the sinister fog, "Shall we?"

Moody didn't reply, but giving the area a last sweep with his artificial eye, he turned and descended, disappearing into the thick grey swirl. Following, Lupin shivered as he felt the cool tendrils of mist curl around him, cutting off the warm glow of the sun above as surely as if somebody had just flipped a switch.

. . .

Miles away, but in a location most would find just as foreboding, Bellatrix Lestrange sat, toying with a small multifaceted cube. Across from her, Narcissa Malfoy reclined, a fur lined housecoat wrapped about her thin shoulders, as she delicately sipped a dark amber liquid from a crystal glass.

"Snape wasn't at the meeting last night." Bellatrix stated, a smug edge to her voice.

Narcissa took a long sip from her glass, letting her pale eyes drift over the sitting room, ignoring her sister. Her gaze slid across a line of formal portraits, lingering on one of her husband and son.

"And Wormtail said he never returned to that Muggle-dunghill he lives in, either." Bellatrix continued, giving the top of the cube a twist. The small object shimmered briefly, a finger sized hole appearing in one of the surfaces. Intrigued, she poked at it with her wand.

Narcissa stared silently at the portrait. It was recent, made just prior to the disastrous events of several weeks ago.

"Rabastan was quite disappointed – I think he was hoping to have a little more fun with-"

Narcissa's eyes finally turned to her sister, affronted, "Fun?" she said, her voice little more than a breathless whisper.

Bellatrix frowned, as if just remembering that Narcissa had been subject as well to the Dark Lord's displeasure when Bella had let slip about the unbreakable vow.

"Cissy, now, the Dark Lord doesn't blame you! He understands! Draco's your only son! But still, of course you had to be punished, you should have never gone to Snape- I told you, it was a bad idea!"

"You didn't have to tell the Dark Lord about it!" Narcissa snapped, her voice suddenly shrill. But she regained her composure almost instantly, only the slightest of ripples in the surface of the remaining amber drink giving away her continued agitation.

Bellatrix's lips curled into a pout, and she abruptly changed the subject.

"Harry Potter left his home with the Muggles last night – after casting no less than four spells."

"Then shouldn't you be out searching for him?" Narcissa said pointedly.

Bellatrix's expression took on the appearance of a thundercloud, and she rolled her head to stare directly at her sister, the cube falling to her side, forgotten.

"I should be! The honor should be Mine! I am his most loyal, most faithful! Nott, Mulciber- they are sniveling fools!" she spat, "I gave Snape what he deserved!"

Now it was Narcissa who looked smug as she said icily, "Ceratinly, Bella, the Dark Lord doesn't blame you – he understands – you just got a little overzealous in your eagerness- it wouldn't be the first time. But still, killing Severus, when the Dark Lord told you otherwise – that was a bad idea, of course you should expect punish-"

"I didn't kill Snape!" Bella snarled, her face gone splotchy, "That traitorous half-mudblood is hiding behind Dumbledore's skirts on purpose! Coward! "

"Perhaps," Narcissa allowed, draining the last of the liquid in her glass.

"Oh yes," Bellatrix continued, her voice a low snarl, "He'll come crawling back next time, full of excuses and explanations- filling the dark Lord's ears with his lies, trying to claim the place at our Lord's right hand- MY place, mine- his most trusted – most loyal – most-"

Bellatrix was sputtering, panting heavily, but before she gather herself to continue, a soft pop interrupted the tirade, an old house elf appearing before the two witches.

"Beg pardon Mistress, but there is a visitor wishing to see Mistress Bellatrix."

Narcissa straightened, setting her empty glass down. She looked to her sister, but before she could speak, the door to the sitting room burst open, and a tall man in a dark travelling cloak entered, showing himself in.

"Rodolphus, what a pleasure to see you so early this morning," Narcissa said, her voice icy.

"Narcissa," he nodded politely, ignoring the blonde woman's cold tone, his attention focused instead on her sister.

"Bella! Come! They've found the boy!"

"Potter! Where? Who-"

"In some Muggle village, near London- one of my dementors found him. Come, hurry – if we act now we can be the ones to catch the boy and present him to the Dark Lord!" The man replied, holding out his hand for Bellatrix, who took it eagerly, a feverish gleam in her eyes as she rose, the two of them dissapparating on the spot.

Forgotten in the silence that followed, Narcissa Malfoy found her gaze once again returned to the portrait of her husband and son, wondering how long before they were both lost to her.

01 NOV 2011

REVIEW! (really, it's sooo easy, the link's right there...Also, if you want to ask questions in the reviews, that's awesome, but remember, I can't reply if you are not signed into or if you have PMs disabled, and I'd rather not litter my story with a bunch of long A/N's everywhere, though I have no problem answering questions...answers are easy...now, whether or not it's the answer you want... ;) )

Thanks to all those who read and reviewed, and have been waiting so patiently (and I use that term loosely) - Hope you all like this chapter. I know some of you were curious about the Death Eaters, so hopefully you find this little glimpse entertaining...even if I have left you with two or three trains, all about to collide ::evile grin::