Title: (Open Up) And Breathe
Author: Tale Kayler
Pairings and Main Characters: Harry/Draco, background Harry/OFC
Summary: Harry Potter wasn't reintroduced to the wizarding world when he was eleven. When they find him, nine years later than they should have, things are much different.
Word Count: 84 245 (broken into seven parts)
Warnings: Character Death (not Harry or Draco), Violence
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended. Any mistakes are mine.
Author's Notes: An extra big thank you to my lovely beta, subtlefire, who without, I don't think I would have finished this! Any remaining mistakes are my fault. Written for hd_bigbang 2011.
"Hagrid is bringing him," Albus says serenely, but there is a touch of sadness that laces through his words.
"You think it – wise – to trust Hagrid with something as important as this?" Minerva whispers back, not daring to break the silence that exists between them and the Muggle world like a sheet of glass. "Something like this, Albus–"
"Dear Minerva," Albus reassures her, "I would trust Hagrid with my life." His tone brooks no room for argument, and Minerva's lips draw together in a thin line.
It is not even four minutes later that a roar breaks the stillness of the air, threatening to shatter that delicate pane of glass. The pair looks skyward just in time to see the descent of a giant motorbike.
Hagrid climbs off the bike, carefully positioning his hands as he cradles the baby in an effort not to wake it.
Albus smiles at Hagrid, his eyes twinkling, reflecting a light of their own in the darkened street. "Thank you, Hagrid," he says, reaching out to relieve Hagrid of his burden. Despite what he has told Minerva, he sounds as if a weight has been taken off his chest with the giant's arrival.
Minerva leans in close, peering inside the nest of blankets surrounding the babe. There's not much to see, other than an unruly mop of black hair and a livid lightning scar on the forehead. The child stirs, its hand breaking loose of the blanket's hold; the fingers curl around the edge of the blanket, holding tightly to the material as if it was the last link to home.
"He'll have the scar forever," Albus says, somewhat sadly. He knows that the scar is bound to cause trouble for the boy, give him nightmares and show him twisted versions of the past, present, or future. Albus cannot know exactly what the connection between the two is, not until he is able to talk to the boy properly once he is grown.
It is a silent walk towards the front doorstep of number four; the only sound is the great sniffling sobs from Hagrid. Minerva waves a hand for him to try and quiet, lest the Muggles are alerted.
Albus places the babe gently on the cold stone of the step, pausing only long enough to place a letter on top of the blanket and trace a gentle finger down the boy's cheek in a farewell gesture.
"We shall meet again, Harry Potter," he says as he straightens. His robes sweep behind him majestically, light from the moon dancing off the silver buckles on his boots. He is a sight to behold, full of a power no one could comprehend. But Albus knows that what he has is nothing compared to the small boy, just barely past a year old.
Minerva slinks away in the form of a cat, her tail flicking as the wind begins to pick up; Hagrid rises into the sky once more with a roar; Albus stops at the corner of the street to gaze back at the small bundle. "Until then," he says into the wind. With a snap of his robes, he is gone as well.
The air currents shift, dancing and remaking themselves as they swirl into a powerful gale. At the eye of this storm is number four, and more specifically, the wrapped bundle on the doorstep. His hair stays unruffled; he gives a small yawn and shifts in the blankets with a crinkle of paper.
The air around him is warm, a dim red glow encasing the small form and running caressing tendrils through his hair. It will protect him as best it can, sheltering him from those wishing to do him harm, from those who want to use him for personal gain, and even from itself.
It is not long after when Mrs Petunia Dursley opens the front door and finds him.
And it is not long after that when number four, Privet Drive, is waiting for new occupants.
Albus paces the headmaster's office anxiously, his robes swishing about his ankles as he turns at each far end. The eyes of headmasters and mistresses past watch him, some just as worried as he, and others who try to look unconcerned.
On the twelfth turn about his office, Albus returns to the desk and glances down at the ancient book open on the surface, the book that holds the names of magical children. Minerva stands just off to the side, her face white and her lips thin.
It has been almost ten years since they had left Harry on the doorstep of number four.
"You are sure, Minerva?" Albus asks in a strained tone.
"Positive, Albus. The letters are not finding their way to him, and owls are thrown off course. At first I thought it had to do with the Muggles, but–" here she shakes her head, looking as if the world has dropped out from under her feet without her permission. "I went back to check, Headmaster, just to make sure. The family–" she breaks off to clear her throat before she continues, "–the family there now is not the same as the one before."
"And Arabella didn't notice anything?" Albus is near frantic. How could such an important child go missing without anyone noticing? Arabella was there to make sure that Harry stayed safe, to make sure that no harm fell upon the boy as he grew.
Minerva shakes her head sadly. "No. It was as if the Dursleys were there one minute, and then the next…" She flaps a hand distractedly, as if parting a curtain. "Gone, Albus. There is no way to tell for sure where they disappeared to, or when, or even if they took Potter with them. Arabella remembers having him over as a little boy, but only recalls very vague things as the years went by. She doesn't think she's missed anything, which makes me think she's been Confunded, or there's been some sort of illusion placed around there."
Albus refrains from raising his hands to his forehead to rub at his temples. It would not do well to show a sign of weakness, not now, when Minerva so clearly needs someone to lean on; it's a trying time, and a bad omen.
Albus knows that there is no way anyone can be blamed for this, no one but himself. This is a special case – this is Harry Potter. Albus was the one who was supposed to keep a close eye on Harry, to make sure that he grew up safe and whole, if not in the best environment.
Perhaps Minerva was right all those years ago. Maybe Harry would have been better off in a wizarding family.
Albus feels a stray thread of hope, though; surely if Harry had been taken by Voldemort's followers they would have heard something about it. Voldemort would have already risen if he had been able to. There'd be a sign somewhere that Harry had been taken, and so far, nothing has come out.
Albus doesn't mention any of this to the other professor. He nods sadly, assuring her one more time as she leaves that she couldn't possibly be at fault, before he seats himself behind his desk. He leans forward, resting his elbows on the table and pressing the tips of his fingers together. He rests his chin lightly on them, his eyes staring straight ahead, but not seeing anything.
It is in this pose that Severus Snape finds him.
He bursts into the office and strides up to his desk in a fury. "You said–" he begins to snarl.
"I know what it is I have told you, Severus," Albus says sadly. "I would hate to lose you at a time like this."
Severus stops just past the doorway as he tries to regain his breath. His fists are clenched at his sides, his chest heaving. Most likely he has run up here from the dungeons, after hearing the news of Potter-gone-missing.
"How am I to protect the boy if I do not even know where he is?" His voice is low and dangerous, but he knows that he is unable to threaten the headmaster. After all, he owes Albus more than he can hope to repay in a lifetime.
"Be at ease, Severus," Albus says, sounding as if he has aged thirty years in one moment. "It is my belief that the boy is still safe. We would have heard otherwise if things were different."
Severus' lip curls. "That is only what you choose to believe," he says.
"What else would you have me believe?" Albus asks. He lowers his hands until they are resting on the desk, folded together comfortably. "You know as well as I do that he is our only hope."
Severus stalks forwards, holding his robes before him as he lowers himself to sit in the chair facing Albus. "The Dark Lord has been quiet for nearly ten years, and yet you still believe that he will come again?"
"I do," Albus replies sadly. "There is no way he would not. Voldemort has done things only the most knowledgeable have figured out, and that the most intelligent have avoided."
Severus' brow furrows, but he knows better than to question that. He knows it is nigh impossible to glean any answers from Albus that he does not already give freely. "So what will you have me do? Go and search for the boy?"
Albus is silent for a while, thinking the proposal over. He knows he needs the Potions Master here, at Hogwarts. "No," he says slowly. "No, I think that when it is time, we will find Harry ourselves. Magic works in mysterious ways, Severus. Until then, I need you here."
Severus huffs out a breath and pushes a greasy strand of hair out of his face. He thinks he knows what Albus is on about, what he needs him here for, especially considering this coming year. "You suspect something will happen this year, then?"
"Most certainly," Albus replies. "If it is any inclination, it has already begun with knowledge of Harry's disappearance." He refrains from saying It can only get worse from here on out, but he knows that the words still ring true.
Severus knows enough not to ask anymore. He takes that as his cue to leave, abandoning the office in a swirl of black robes.
Albus is right, though. Things do become more difficult, and sometimes it is hard to see the ray of light that is fighting for that spot in the clouds to shine through. Even if the spot will be short lived.
Voldemort has plans to return, and though they are troublesome, it assures Dumbledore that Harry is still safe. Each plan Voldemort makes to fully come back is bested, but each has its cost. The school sees death over the years, dreadful accidents, things that have happened right under his nose. Some, like the young Malfoy boy, get away lucky from encounters with Voldemort. Others, like Ginny Weasley, aren't so lucky.
Albus has promises to fulfil, so he takes Draco in, explains things to him after the brush Draco has with Voldemort in the Forest during a detention. Draco already has a somewhat close relationship with Severus, so it's easy to encourage the boy to seek him out for help, for reassurances. It's luck that gets him the first Horcrux, the diary, and it costs Miss Weasley her life.
There is good though, in between the bad. After capturing Pettigrew, they gain an ally in Sirius Black after finding that he has been framed. It's a small victory, but Albus takes it.
It is in the fourth year since Harry's disappearance where things begin to take a darker turn. There are whispers of disappearances, hints that evil is underfoot, and it is no longer uncommon to hear You-Know-Who spoken in undertones. It is also in this year that Lord Voldemort returns at the loss of another student during a tournament that never should have happened.
This is the year when Albus begins to lose hope.
There has been no word of Harry, not a whisper in the wind. Albus has checked various wizarding countries, nearby towns and cities. He has gone so far as to dabble in the Muggle world, wondering if Harry Potter even knows he is a wizard. But at this stage, he supposes that no news of Harry is good news. He clings to that hope, always on the lookout and sending people to scout.
Albus decides he can no longer wait for Harry's return to the wizarding world. He has held off destroying Voldemort's Horcruxes for as long as he is able. He has, however, spent the years previous gathering information, finding locations. He does not know if the boy has been trained in magic or not, or even if the boy is still alive.
Because if he has died without anyone's knowledge, then all hope has died silently as well.