Disclaimer: All characters and universe belong to J.K. Rowling.
This story is a loose interpretation of Canon. I have used some direct quotes from POA, and manipulated the events and dialogue as well.
I had started writing the story before I found out that there was a similar challenge over at Potions and Snitches, so I've credited the person who issued the challenge, Wolfsbane, even though my story does not strictly meet the criteria of that challenge. Also I used the name of the challenge for the title of my story because I thought that it was brilliant.
Many thanks again to my beta ObsidianEmbrace for once again dipping into her own time to help me.
Harry could feel the hot tears prickle at his eyes. He ripped his glasses off his face, and winced at the throbbing in his eye. A dark, yellow and purple bruise was beginning to form around his eye. He wiped his glasses with the sleeve of his jacket. It didn't help. They were still smudged from being fogged up by the rain. The ancient trunk bumped over the uneven pavement, and the dampness gnawed at his fingers.
Harry shivered, but not from the cold, as he came upon the park at the corner of the street. The heavy winds whipped the turn-about around, and the creaking of the heavy chains of the swings rocking back and forth, wrenched the night air.
He sat his weary body down on the curb, and hugged his knees tightly, while resting his chin atop them.
The wind swirled around him, whipping dried, wet leaves through the air. He began trembling, and hugged himself tighter to stop the bitter, damp air from penetrating his thin, hooded jacket.
In the distance, he could still hear Aunt Marge's shrill screams as she floated further and further away.
Harry clenched his fists, and tried to calm his fury from rising again to overwhelm him.
He hated that cow. It was bad enough that he'd had to endure Uncle Vernon, and Aunt Petunia's snide comments about what a freak he was, how his parents were useless freaks, but to have his Aunt Marge desecrate the memory of his parents in such a manner. Well that was just unacceptable. He hated the lot of them, and even though he knew that he'd probably be in big trouble for using magic, he wasn't sorry that he'd blown his aunt up.
Harry was starting to feel a little scared now though. Where was he going to go? He had no one to turn to. He was quite certain that Dumbledore would be peeved with him for running away like that, and he wasn't sure if even Mrs. Weasley would approve of the fact that not only had he run away from home, but he had blown up his aunt, like a balloon.
Before he could properly examine his feelings of anguish and anxiety however, he felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck.
He heard the rustling of leaves. His heart began to race, and he wiped his sweaty palms on the rough fabric of his jeans.
Okay, calm down Harry. It's just your imagination. It's probably just one of the many stray cats that wandered Magnolia Crescent, prowling through the trash bins for food.
Harry almost jumped out of his skin when he heard a low growling coming from the bushes.
Two dark, glittering charcoal eyes stared back at him.
Harry jumped back and rubbed his bruised tail-bone after scraping it on the hard cement of the curb.
Suddenly, Harry's eyes widened in shock when a pair of bright headlights that belonged to a violently purple triple-deckered bus appeared out of nowhere and came dangerously close to where he lay sprawled on the pavement.
Suddenly, the doors swung opened and a thin, pimply-faced young man, only a few years older than Harry himself, dressed in a garishly purple conductor's uniform, stared down his long nose at Harry.
"What'cha doin down there?"
Harry looked up at him indignantly.
"Fell over," he grumbled.
"What'cha do that for?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "I didn't do it on purpose."
"Oh well, that's okay then."
He put out an arm to Harry and helped the young man to his feet. Harry stared down at his torn jeans, and winced at the sting in his cut and bloodied hand.
"Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transportation for the stranded witch or wizard. My name's Stan Shuntpike, and I'll be your conductor for this evening."
"Really?" Harry's hopes rose. Maybe if he went to London, he could find a place to stay until he could sort things out.
"How much to go to London?" Harry asked uncertainly. He wasn't sure how much Wizarding money he had in his trunk.
"Eleven sickles, but for fifteen you could have a cuppa hot-chocolate." Stan peered closely at Harry. "What's that on your head," he asked suspiciously.
Harry panicked. He hadn't considered that someone might recognize him. He patted down his fringe to hide his scar, and answered quickly, "Nothing."
Stan still looked at him suspiciously though. "What's your name?"
Harry scrambled around for the first name that he could think of. "Neville Longbottom," he stuttered.
"Hmm, okay so Neville, have a seat."
Harry's eyes widened as he took in his surroundings. Take a seat? There were no seats. There were only a half-a-dozen brass bedsteads that stood beside the curtained windows. There were brackets beside each bed, with a candle in each one, illuminating the wood-paneled walls of the bus.
Stan shoved Harry's trunk under a bed, and motioned to the young man to have a seat on the nearest bed.
"Oh, and hold on tight. Ernie has a bit of a heavy hand," he chuckled.
He turned to the driver, who was rather elderly and frail-looking, and small, beady eyes peered back through thick, heavy lenses.
"Take it away, Ern."
Heavy hand? He has to be bloody kidding, Harry thought, as he clutched onto the metal pole with both hands in a death grip. His lip was still tender where the hot chocolate had scalded it, when he had futilely tried to sip it as they were winding through the busy streets of London, squeezing in between lorries, and cars at breakneck speeds.
Ow! The pain radiated through his aching forehead when the hard metal made contact with it.
Harry was trying to figure out how Stan could sit there, so relaxed reading the Daily Prophet, not a hair out of place. He didn't even seemed unnerved as Ernie took the next turn at the speed of lightning and the tray cart rolled back and forth down the aisle of the bus.
"Hey, who's that man?" Harry exclaimed at seeing a sunken-faced man with maniacal eyes, and long stringy black hair staring back at him from the front page.
Stan peered at Harry over the top of the newspaper.
"That's Sirius Black, that is."
"I saw him on the Muggle news," Harry said thoughtfully.
Indeed, when Harry had walked into the kitchen this morning, he caught the tail-end of the news reader's report, "...The public is warned that he is armed and dangerous. ...We are setting up a hotline..."
"What did he do?" asked Harry curiously.
Stan slapped the newspaper down abruptly on his lap.
He looked at Harry wide-eyed. "What did he do--you ask?"
Harry shrugged his shoulders.
"He killed thirteen people, he did. In broad daylight!"
Shivers tingled down Harry's spine.
"He was a big supporter of You-Know-Who. I reckon I don't have to tell you who he is?"
"No," Harry whispered quietly.
Stan went back to reading the newspaper and Harry grappled onto the rung of his bed as the bus continued to rock back and forth and bump over the cobblestone streets of London.
"Where you want to go in London?" Stan asked suddenly.
Harry had to think quickly. "Diagon Alley."
He figured he could go to Gringotts tomorrow. He thought that he had enough to get a place at least for the night, and probably a small meal. He was looking forward to a hot bath, and resting his battered and sore body. Uncle Vernon, after seeing that capturing Aunt Marge was a hopeless case, had come after him with fists flailing. Harry hadn't even had a chance to brandish his wand, because the bigger man had knocked him and the wand to the ground. Harry didn't think that there was a spot on him that wasn't bruised.
Harry sighed in relief when the bus skidded to a halt in front of a pub called The Leaky Cauldron, which was right behind Diagon Alley.
"There you go, Neville," Stan said to Harry as he retrieved Harry's trunk from under the bed, and carried it down the stairs of the bus for him.
"Uh, thanks Stan, Ernie," Harry said thankfully; and Harry was bloody thankful to have arrived with more or less all his limbs still intact.
Harry's gut twisted again with anxiety. He knew that he couldn't have stayed with the Dursleys any longer, but he could feel the fear once again seeping into his mind. Dumbledore was going to eventually find out, and the Ministry as well. What would happen to him? He thought with a thrill of fear. Would they send him to Azkaban? Would they try to send him back to the Dursleys? No, he thought vehemently. He was never going back there. He'd run away again if he had to.
Harry pushed, or rather tried to push open the heavy wood door to the Leaky Cauldron, but a big, black, solid object blocked his way.
"Mr. Potter," a silky voice drawled.
Harry's stomach churned.
His gaze slowly travelled upward and met a pair of dark eyes, glittering with malice.
He gulped. "Professor Snape?"
Severus peered down his hooked nose at the disheveled boy before him. "What may I ask are you doing wandering around the streets of London by yourself?" he sneered
"Uh, I, uh-" Harry scrambled around for a plausible explanation as to why he was standing at the doorway to The Leaky Cauldron, trailing Hedwig's Cage, and a trunk filled with all his worldly possessions. Unfortunately, he came up empty.
" Well? I asked you a question," Severus snapped. "Does your stupidity render you speechless?"
Harry gritted his teeth, and didn't even wince at what felt like a knife piercing the palm of his hand, when he clenched the handle of his trunk with such ferocity that the metal dug into his skin.
Harry felt a wave of nausea wash over him. He'd been barely fed in days, and the beating he'd received from Uncle Vernon, had left him with a tender ribcage. He sucked in a painful breath, and started to totter on his feet.
"Since you seem to have lost your usual capacity to utter absolute dribble, I'll simply take you back to your relatives where you belong," Snape said.
When Severus went to take hold of Harry's arm, he was startled when the boy jumped back violently. He hadn't noticed with the boy standing in the shadows of the night, but when he looked closer he noticed the ugly bruising under the boy's eye, and the scratches on his neck.
Harry's face heat up in shame at his own reaction. No, he wouldn't show fear, especially in front of this man. He tried to put on a brave face, but was certain that he failed pathetically.
Severus studied the obviously frightened child, and made a decision.
This time when he went to take Harry's arm, Harry only stiffened but didn't attempt to pull away. Although he only put a small amount of pressure on the boy's thin arm, he noticed the wince that the boy tried desperately to mask. He retrieved his wand from his robes' pocket, and Harry breathed a sigh of relief as the heavy weight of the trunk lifted from underneath him.
"Come Potter," Severus said.
He led Harry inside, and Harry felt his face warm up as the loud, boisterous guffawing suspended immediately, and curious eyes followed him to a table in a dark corner.
Snape sat down across from Harry and pierced Harry with his cold, dark eyes.
Harry squirmed under the scrutiny, and sighed in relief when Snape tore his gaze away from Harry to flag down the waitress.
A young girl of about eighteen or nineteen came over. She had china blue eyes and cascades of red-gold curls framing her lovely face. She carried a tray with a parchment on it and bit on the end of her quill. She pulled the quill from between her perfect white teeth, and studied the two wizards curiously.
"What can'I get you sir?" She asked in a thick cockney accent.
"The boy will have the soup, and bread, and-" He studied Harry for a moment. "-and a glass of pumpkin juice."
Harry's eyes widened in surprise. The man was actually going to feed him? Who would have thought that the Greasy Bat of the Dungeons would have one up on the Dursleys.
"And anything for you sir?"
By the expression on her face, Harry had to wonder if she thought that he might ask for blood to drink. He did so resemble a vampire with his thick, curtain of greasy hair framing the milky-white complexion, with his long, black robes wrapped around him like a shroud, and from the sour look on Snape's face, he knew damned well what she, and Harry for that matter had been thinking. Harry often thought that the man could read his mind. No one could possibly withstand it when the Dark man bore into you with his piercing obsidian eyes.
"No," Snape snapped. "And be quick about it," he ordered. "We don't have all night."
Harry personally thought that Snape would be wearing the soup if her flashing blue eyes and flushed face were a sign. She simply glared at Snape, in tight-lipped fury however and spun around, stomping her feet and cursing under her breath. If Aunt Petunia heard him use such colourful language, he'd be blowing bubbles from his mouth. Harry was sure that his aunt bought the most foul-tasting washing up liquid that she could find, and saved it with Harry in mind.
Five minutes later, a steaming bowl of soup came floating out of nowhere and lowered itself with a thump onto the polished cherry-wood table, sloshing hot soup over the edges of the bowl.
Harry's mouth watered, as he eyed the thick, vegetable soup. It smelled heavenly, and Harry broke off a piece of thick, hot-buttered homemade crusty bread and dipped it into the soup.
Snape eyed him in disgust.
After two spoonfuls of soup and a couple of bites of bread, Harry's stomach revolted. He hadn't had more than an apple or a piece of bread in days, and the soup, while absolutely delicious, was quite filling and heavy on his empty stomach.
Harry took a couple of swigs of pumpkin juice, and patted his mouth with the heavy cloth napkin.
Harry was waiting for Snape to make some scathing comment about him wasting good food or being an ungrateful spoiled brat, but the man simply stared, studying him intently until Harry wished he'd say something already.
Snape stood up abruptly, rocking the table and clattering the silverware. "Come Potter," he said.
Harry's stomach sunk. "Where are we going?" he asked despondently. Was the man going to force him to go back to the Dursleys, now that he'd been fed? Over my dead body, Harry vowed.
Snape didn't answer, but motioned for Harry to follow him.
Harry nervously followed Snape as his trunk and Hedwig's cage followed along. Harry had let Hedwig out shortly after he ran away, with strict instructions for her to go to the Burrow. Ron would take good care of her. Of course, his plan hadn't been incredibly well-thought out, he thought caustically. He felt a pang of guilt. The Weasleys would have been sick with worry at Harry's owl showing up without him. He hadn't thought, or had the time to write a very lengthy note explaining his situation. Of course, he hadn't been sure how Mr. or Mrs. Weasley would react to his rash behaviour or loss of control.
Although Harry didn't have to carry his heavy trunk, he was beginning to feel quite weary, and slightly dizzy from worry and exhaustion. Not to mention that every time he breathed, he felt a sharp pain as though his ribs were poking through his skin.
Severus stopped suddenly and took in the boy's ashen complexion. He noticed that the boy's chest rose and fell at an alarming rate, and his breathing was ragged and shallow.
"Please sir," Harry gasped, "where are we goi-"
Harry's eyes widened in shock, when Snape suddenly wrapped his arms around Harry, and Harry felt as though he was being sucked through a vacuum tube.
Thankfully, Snape still had a firm grasp on him, when they landed with a thud in front of the black wrought-iron gates of Hogwarts.
Snape held Harry a few more moments, before being obviously satisfied that the boy could stay on his feet.
Harry was almost beginning to wish that Snape would say something. A quiet Snape made him very nervous. A bellowing Snape, he was used to.
But Snape had already spun around and was walking towards the entrance, his long robes swirling and billowing behind him; looking very much the big black vampire-bat of Hogwarts.
Harry felt somewhat soothed, that he obviously wasn't being dragged back kicking and screaming to the Dursleys. He was home. But then fear consumed him once again, as he began to worry that once Dumbledore found out what he'd done, he would insist that Harry return to his relatives. And then there was still the matter of his illegal use of magic...
When Harry realised that Snape was leading him to the hospital wing, he was thoroughly confused.
Severus motioned for him to sit on a bed. "Stay there and stay out of trouble," he said sternly. "I will go find Madame Pomfrey."
Harry wanted to retort, that how much trouble could he possibly get into in an empty hospital wing?
Severus looked back briefly at the boy, and tried not to let James Potter's son, see just how concerned he was at what he'd already determined were possible internal injuries. Severus had held his mask properly in place, but it had been a close call for the disciplined man not to react when he'd realised that Potter had obviously sustained injuries from what appeared to be a severe beating. Severus recognised the look of fear on the boy's face, and the panic in his eyes when he'd obviously thought that Severus was going to return him back to his relatives. He'd already come to the conclusion that there was a good possibility that the boy had been abused. Of course, he tried desperately to think of any other possibility, but Severus knew the signs--all too well.
Harry sat on the bed dangling his legs over the side, feeling small and vulnerable. He didn't want Snape to know anything about his home life. He didn't want anyone to know how his relatives treated him. The last thing he wanted was pity. But there was no way in hell he'd go back.