"If you really think about it," Harry commented as he watched the smoke puff out of a pipe on the wall, "there's no real reason Snape ever has to know about the baby. Once we find him and sort him out – he doesn't have to find out."
Ron gave him a wry look. "You're joking, right?"
"Well, think about it," Harry leaned against the north wall of the castle while Luna and Hermione were inside, gathering things. "I was found on my aunt and uncle's doorstep in a basket. Why couldn't we find a baby in a basket on our doorsteps? I could make some remark about history repeating itself, and everyone agrees, and we take in this orphan child. Snape never finds out, the end."
"You don't think he'd notice that Luna was pregnant?" Ron raised an eyebrow.
"She was hit by a jinx that swells her stomach for a few months," Harry said.
"What if she breastfeeds the baby?"
"She wouldn't do that in front of Snape," Harry felt slightly embarrassed.
"What if the kid looks like you?"
"So you're telling me that you're going to run some mad story where Luna gets big around the middle, disappears for a while and comes back thin again, but with a baby she found in a basket, who happens to look like both of you, and Snape doesn't think anything is strange?"
"Well . . ."
"You're not even going to let the baby call you Dad? He grows up thinking you're a strange bloke who found him? What about when he gets older and wants to know the truth?"
"Then I tell him, and I make the baby tell Snape. Snape's not going to attack the baby. It's win-win."
"I know," Harry dropped his gaze and scuffed his shoe on the leftover snow on the rock walk. "But it's worth a go or at least pretending it's possible. That way I don't have to think about Snape taking my head off. "
"Maybe you could work out a barter," Ron shrugged. "At the moment you rescue Snape, tell him you're going to be a father and you need him to be okay with that information or you won't rescue him."
"That's kind of mean," Harry glanced at Ron. "Isn't that blackmail? It's not exactly heroic behavior."
"Neither is knocking up your girlfriend when you're both in school."
"I think Draco's rubbing off on you," Harry grumbled. "What's taking the girls so long?"
"Dunno. I was ready to go with you, but Hermione said we had to gather stuff up. What stuff? Can't we just buy things as we go along? Or do we have money? Wizard or muggle?"
"I have some money," Harry put his hands in his pocket and felt the coins. "Most of this Snape gave me as an allowance. Once we get to the Manor we can search it for anything that will help us figure out where Snape might be."
Ron was about to say something, but Hermione and Luna ducked around the wall and huddled close. Hermione held a large bag and Luna carried a small one. Hermione looked worried, almost panicky, but Luna was calm and resolved.
"All right," Hermione said in a whisper, "here's the information. The castle is guarded by spells that keep strangers from coming in, but not students from coming out. The charms are set to protect the younger students, but the older ones – fifth, sixth, and seventh year – they can step out without alarms blaring. Dumbledore knows who comes and goes, but because everyone has been coming and going in the celebration, the wards have been relaxed."
"That's good," Harry said.
"Once a student is of age, they can leave without permission because technically they're adults. I'm seventeen, and Ron will be in a few weeks, but Luna just turned sixteen and Harry won't be seventeen until summer."
"So?" Harry asked. "We aren't asking permission to leave – I'm doing it. My guardian's not here – I can do whatever I want."
Hermione shook her head. "No, no, that's not how it works. Now that Snape is not here, you revert back to the school acting as your guardian – loco parentis. While you're here, the school acts as your parents. Dumbledore would have first say, and then your head of house, and then the rest of the teachers. When you go home, your uncle and aunt resume guardianship."
Harry stiffened. "I am never going back to those people. I don't belong there. My home is Snapdragon Manor. My guardian is missing. No, more than that – Snape adopted me. My adoptive father is missing, and you're quoting rules at me?"
"Don't snap at her," Ron said.
"It's okay," Hermione said. "I'm not telling you what to do, Harry. I'm telling you how the wizarding world rules work here. Technically, you have to stay here because the school is your guardian. Those are the rules, but –" she bit her lips in concern and glanced at Luna.
"Tell him," Luna prompted.
"We could wait until later."
"Tell him," Luna repeated.
"We don't even know if anything is real or if we're superstitious or if –"
"Tell him, Hermione."
"Tell me what?" Harry felt his heartbeat increase. "What's wrong?"
Hermione stepped further back into the shadows of the wall and the other three followed her. "In my research, I tried to find out what would happen if a student got pregnant or got another student pregnant. Would they be expelled? Would the wizarding community force them to get married?"
"What did the rules say?" Ron asked before Harry could.
"That's just it – there are no rules. The castle is charmed. In the thousand years Hogwarts has been open, no underage student has gotten pregnant."
Harry blinked. "Well that can't be right. Someone, somewhere in history must have gotten pregnant somehow. Back in the 1500's, people got married at fifteen."
"But not here," Hermione said. "The rules were fuzzy on whether the castle wouldn't let people have sex or whether it just stopped pregnancy, but no one has."
Harry looked at Luna. "But then how did we –?"
"So far I can only think of two explanations. Maybe because you were in a teacher's quarters, the rules didn't work. You're still a student, but maybe the charms recognized you as a teacher's son in there rather than a student."
"That's true," Ron interjected. "The room is charmed to unlock and have the fire go on when Harry goes in. It could work under those rules, and not care about the student part."
"Snape's quarters always worked differently for me," Harry nodded.
Ron watched Hermione sharply, noting her still-worried face. "What's the other explanation?"
Hermione twisted her hands together. "This is all conjecture, and I'm sure it is the first explanation. I'm always wrong about everything."
Harry's eyes widened to hear her lie so explicitly.
"Hermione," Ron said quietly.
"The baby was conceived two days after Voldemort was defeated," Hermione stared down at her hands. "Harry killed him outright. And Harry bears the Dark Mark now."
"No!" Harry stepped forward, and Hermione jerked back. "No – this is not possession. I killed Voldemort. He's gone. The baby we conceived is just us – my stuff mixed with hers, a baby created the natural way."
"You got her pregnant on your first try," Hermione pointed out. "It was the first time for both of you, and she can already sense the baby inside her. Even for witches, that doesn't happen until the baby gets big enough to feel, at least two or three months. She could sense something instead – that's why she took the pregnancy test. And all this happened in a castle where pregnancy never happens."
"It was Snape's quarters," Harry stepped in front of Luna protectively. "Anything could happen in there."
"That's why I hope it's the first explanation," Hermione said. "I'm sure it's a coincidence, maybe a miracle."
"But you think it's a demon inside her," Harry said. "Some kind of dark force left over from Voldemort."
"I didn't say that – I just think we should get more information on this search for Snape."
"Forget it," Harry took Luna's arm, pulling her close. "You're off the mission. Luna and I will go alone."
"Whoa, mate!" Ron put his hands up in the air. "If you think I'm letting you two go off alone, you're mad. We come with you, or I go to Dumbledore and McGonagall and get them to put you under house arrest. And I tell them about the baby."
Harry felt a murderous streak rise up inside him, and desire to hurt his best friend, but Luna turned to him.
"I want them to go with us, especially Hermione. She knows enough to help us, and I want a girl with me in case I get sick."
Harry wanted to protest, he wanted to scream at all of them, but Luna felt fragile beneath his callused hands. They were right. He couldn't leave Luna behind, and he needed Ron's fierce loyalty and Hermione's keen intelligence to survive.
"All right, all right," Harry forced himself to nod. "You all can come, but I don't want to hear anymore about possessed babies or the rules of Hogwarts. We can search for information, but I don't want to talk about it until we find more information."
"Agreed," Hermione said. She pulled a map out of her pocket. "Here's a map of the grounds. The best time to sneak away is this evening while everyone is at dinner. The Ministry is coming for a celebration, but I told the teachers that we four are going to have a quick supper alone. I hinted that Harry was feeling ill again, and that way they won't expect you to make an appearance. Tomorrow is Sunday, so no one will really look for us until supper tomorrow night. That buys us twenty-four hours."
Harry had to admit that Hermione was invaluable. "How far can we get in twenty-four hours?"
"A muggle town is forty miles from here," Hermione pulled another map out of her bag. "If we leave with brooms and fly over the woods through the tree tops carefully, we could be there in under two hours. That would give us enough time to take the 7:35 train back to England. With one transfer and another two hours flying, we could be at the Manor by one o'clock tonight."
"We can't floo or Portkey?" Ron asked.
"Not without alerting them," Hermione said. "And flying brooms would take a whole day."
"We should reserve time for searching the Manor," Ron said. "I mean, honestly, how long can we stay at the Manor before they come to look for us there?"
"But we have to go there," Harry insisted. "Chances are we'll find out what Snape was doing this last year. I know he was working on the transference spell with Mrs. Longbottom, but it has to go deeper than that. He didn't die like a normal wizard. He's scattered, and I don't understand what that means."
"We've got a lot of work ahead of us," Ron said.
For a second, Hermione looked elated at the thought of all the research they would have to do, but she quickly schooled her features into a serious expression. "Yes, lots of work."
"But Luna has to take it easy," Harry said.
"Actually," Luna said, "I looked up wizard pregnancy while Hermione was reading on the rules. Witches are like most muggle women, and exercise and movement help the baby grow strong and make for an easier birth."
"We'll get her vitamins and health drinks once we're free," Hermione promised. "We're leaving in two hours, at five o'clock sharp. Do whatever you have to do in that time. Keep a low profile, get whatever money and clothing you want to take, but nothing more than can fit in a knapsack."
"That means no books," Harry told her.
"Only essential books," Hermione said. "Take a little food if you have it, but remember you'll be carrying a broom as well. I'm going to get more maps. Luna, I want to focus on getting your bag packed for whatever you think you'll need in the next month. Ron, you're responsible for getting our brooms down to this spot," she pointed to a spot on the map of Hogwarts, "by five. It's deserted, out of sight from the castle, and we'll fly over the wall once we all meet up."
"Can do," Ron said. He looked taller and stronger than usual, a man ready for adventure.
"Harry, you get your stuff, and then stay out of sight. If anyone sees you, pretend to feel sick and get away. No one say anything about where we're going or what we're doing – pretend like we'll all be here tomorrow."
"We all meet at that spot by five," Harry agreed.
"Good luck," Hermione smiled. She kissed Ron, and Harry followed suit, leaning in to kiss Luna on the mouth. She smiled back at him.
Then they all left in different directions.
Ron went to the dorm room to pack first, and Harry went to Snape's quarters to look for anything to take with him. Somehow, the broom Snape had given him for Christmas had made it to Hogwarts though Harry was sure it had been at the Manor in the woods last time he checked. But a few days ago, it had appeared in his dorm room, and Harry knew Ron would gather up both their brooms before going to get the girls'.
In Snape's office, Harry did what he would have never dared to do before – he went to sit in Snape's desk chair and pulled the drawers open. A few were locked, but Harry pulled and kicked them until the locks broke. He dumped the contents of the drawers on the floor behind the desk and searched through the piles. Mostly he found papers, but there were quills and bottles of ink along with coins and a few pieces of muggle money. Harry pocketed all the money, and he searched through the papers. He found a small black book, about the size of an address book, with spells written inside. Some of the spells Harry had never seen, and he stuffed the book in his pocket with the money, thinking Hermione could look at it later.
He proceeded to ravage the room, looking into every drawer and cabinet and nook and cranny. He found a little more money, and he even ducked into the potions closet to look around. He found several potions with labels he recognized – health potions, potions to slow down poisons, and to heal minor wounds. Harry took those as well.
Next was his room, but Harry knew where he kept his own allowance and he didn't think anything else would be of use. He felt slightly guilty as he stepped into Snape's bedroom, but that didn't stop Harry from tearing the room apart. He emptied the drawers in there, throwing clothes, robes, and undergarments all on the floor so he could get to the bottom of the drawers.
Snape had hidden several potions in the back, and Harry studied the labels. He wasn't sure, but he thought they were to counter heavy, intense pain, maybe even to help someone endure torture. It made Harry sick to think that Snape needed to take this in order to function normally, but Harry stuffed the potions into his pocket and kept searching.
Snape had a small box on one shelf, and when Harry shook it, he thought he heard the jingle of coins inside. Putting the box down on the stone floor, Harry stomped on it with his foot until the box broke. He felt slightly appalled by his own violence, but it felt good to get the rage out. He wouldn't have to be there, smashing Snape's things, if the man hadn't been determined to sacrifice himself. For all Snape's lecturing, he liked to play the hero as much as Harry did.
The box had a few coins in it but also a ring of keys. Harry had never seen the ring, but he did remember that Snape had keys for the Manor. Harry took the keys, but he reasoned that if any of the keys didn't unlock a locked door, he planned to take an axe to the locked door. No silly door was standing in his way.
By four o'clock, he had destroyed most of Snape's quarters and felt confident that he had found everything of value. His pockets were heavy with coins and potions, but he would put them in a knapsack as soon as he got to his room.
He snuck out into the hallway and made his way upstairs without anyone really noticing. He headed towards the backstairs, figuring he could climb the narrow winding stairs and avoid the grand staircase altogether. Most students never used the backstairs, and Harry thought he was safe to get up to his dorm and get his things.
"Mr. Potter!" a crisp voice called behind him.
Harry turned to see Professor McGonagall coming towards him. He backed up. "Oh, hello."
"Hermione told me you weren't feeling well," she said.
It was unnerving how they were the same height, but she seemed to tower above him. Her no-nonsense look was as severe as ever, and she regarded him with a critical eye.
"Yes, I'm going to lie down for a bit," he said.
Without hesitation, she reached out and felt his forehead. "You're a little warm. Maybe we should take you back to Poppy. She's worried about you."
"She's always worried," Harry tried to look careless, but he was fighting hard against the urge to back up. "I'm fine."
"Mmm," McGonagall pressed her lips together. "You look tired. You know you can always come and talk to me if you need to."
"Thank you. Dumbledore said the same thing."
"Very good. The teachers here all support you and sympathize with your loss. In the madness that followed, I'm not sure you've received the proper care that you need. You lost someone very dear to you."
"Yes," Harry swallowed, "I did."
"I want you to take care of yourself," McGonagall said. "And you tell me if you need help." She took half a step away from him and then hesitated. "Potter, what is in your pockets?"
He froze. "Oh, just some money I had hidden in Snape's quarters. I took it for later trips to Hogsmeade."
"What else?" McGonagall eyed his bulging pockets.
"Nothing – some potions I wanted to study."
"Which ones?" she held her hand out. When he didn't respond, she pushed her outstretched hand closer to him. "Now, Mr. Potter, or I'll have to fetch the headmaster."
Reluctantly, Harry handed her several of the potions.
She looked down at the labels and when she looked back at him, her face was taut with concern. "These are powerful potions to offset tremendous pain. Why are you carrying these around?"
"Snape had a few of them in his – his potions closet. I wanted to know how they were made," Harry put his hand out to get them back, but McGonagall shook her head.
"No, no, oh, your poor boy. These are too powerful for you to have. If you take too much of these, you go to sleep and you don't wake up. Are you in that much pain?"
Harry dropped his hand. "No, I was – I didn't know what they were. I picked them up by mistake and – and –"
"It's illegal for a student to have anything this strong," McGonagall's eyes were suspiciously red-rimmed. "I know what you're going through has been horrible, but you can't carry these around to numb the pain. I'm taking you to the headmaster and he can decide what we need to do with you."
"No," Harry backed up. "Don't tell Dumbledore anything. You can have the potions – I don't care about them. I really didn't know what they were."
"I can't let you just walk away," McGonagall looked sadder than ever. "At the very least, I have to take you to Poppy and let her assess you. This is too dangerous to ignore."
Harry looked around himself frantically. He considered running, but though he might be able to outrun McGonagall, he knew the other teachers would come after him, and the whole idea was to leave quietly, not with the entire staff of Hogwarts chasing them.
"I'll go to Pomfrey," Harry turned, but McGonagall took his arm.
"I'll take you there myself. Oh, Potter, I'm so sorry. We've ignored you so long, but we didn't want to add to your suffering by making you talk. I blame myself – as your head of house, I'm responsible for your well-being."
As they climbed the grand staircase, McGonagall kept blaming herself, and Harry felt sick. While they waited for one set of stairs to turn back their way, McGonagall even reached out and gently smoothed the back of Harry's hair. She was sniffing, but held her head high, resolved to get them both through the recent tragedy.
"We're going to get you the help you need," McGonagall assured him. "There are counselors and doctors. Someone can come down from St. Mungo's, or you can go on a nice trip somewhere until you heal. We're not going to ignore you anymore."
They reached the infirmary, and Pomfrey met them at the door. McGonagall silently stepped to a side table and put the potions on the table. "Take out the rest of them, Potter," she said calmly.
With his hands slightly shaking, Harry withdrew the rest of the potions. Pomfrey read the labels and turned white as a sheet. She put her hand over her mouth as she stared at Harry.
The clock on the wall read 4:15, and Harry knew it would take him at least fifteen minutes to run from the hospital infirmary to the spot near the wall. That left thirty minutes to get out of this new mess.
"I'm having problems," Harry said. "But I can't deal with them right now. Can I talk about this tomorrow?"
"Of course," the nurse said. "But I can't let you leave the infirmary until then."
Harry swore silently but kept his voice low as he replied, "Then may I get in bed here and be alone until tomorrow morning? I just can't handle talking to anyone right now."
"Certainly," Pomfrey stepped over to an empty bed and started pulling curtains around it.
Harry turned to McGonagall, and it tore him apart to see her face. "I'm really sorry. You've done so much for me. I'm sorry for everything."
She blinked, trying to keep herself together. "I would do anything for you, Harry. Any of the teachers would."
"I know," Harry hesitated, and then he said the words he needed to say, in case he didn't see her for a long time, "Thank you for everything you've done in the last six years. If I don't say it again, thank you."
"Hush, now," she said, "don't talk that way. You're going to bed, and Pomfrey will take care of you. Tomorrow we'll do whatever we need to help you, but for now you're going to rest."
She left, still sniffing, and Harry felt like a heartless bastard. He meekly stepped behind the curtains and took the red pajamas that Pomfrey handed him.
"I knew you'd be back," she fussed over the bed while he changed clothes. "I told Dumbledore that you needed to stay here indefinitely because I expected something like this to happen. How much heartache and pain do they think one boy can take? There, get into bed, and I'll start diagnosing you."
Pomfrey's tests took a while, and Harry waited apprehensively as the long hand of the clock grew closer and closer to five o'clock. At 4:40, he had a sinking feeling that she wouldn't let him be until she had conducted every health test ever invented. She used magic; she had him hold different contraptions in his mouth to gauge temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. She even made him take a medicine that made different parts of his body glow.
Trapped under her ministrations, he watched the clock tick to 4:45, 4:50, 4:55 with despair. It was all too late. He'd never make it in time. Would the others leave without him? Were all their plans for escape shot to hell because he had let himself get caught before they had even started?
"I think that's enough for now," Pomfrey pulled back and put her instruments on a floating tray. "I'm going to let you sleep for a bit, and then I'll come back later with some food."
"Thank you," Harry said glumly.
She pulled the curtains around his bed, and Harry heard her walk to the door and go into her office, probably to write a letter of report to Dumbledore.
Harry buried his face in his hands. Everything was lost now. Completely and utterly lost. They would never find Snape, Luna would be taken away, and he would spend the rest of his life talking to doctors about his grief instead of getting out and doing something about it.
A tap sounded on the window.
Startled, Harry sat up in the bed and looked at the window behind him.
Hanging in mid-air, the flying car was shining its headlights at him.
Harry scrambled to his feet and opened the window, letting in a blast of cold air.
The car looked better than the last time Harry had seen it: the windows were whole again and the sides weren't dented.
The car turned sideways and one of the doors opened. Inside was empty except for Harry's new broom. The broom bobbed up and down, almost motioning for him to climb in.
Harry jumped out of bed and grabbed his clothes, careful not to spill out the money from the pockets of his trousers. His wand was still in its case, strapped to his ankle as he had worn it since the days he trained with Snape.
But before he could change clothes, he heard the office door open. Incased in the curtains, Harry couldn't see anything, but Pomfrey called out, "Mr. Potter, what's that noise? I'm coming in there and you better be in bed."
Harry froze for a second, clothes in hand, and then he scrambled for the window as the nurse's footsteps grew louder.