Disclaimer – Told you in all the others. It isn't mine.
Chapter 1 – Shattered trust.
'Albus. Albus, in here.' Snape yelled and waited just outside the door to the small room. If it could be called a room. It was really a cell: six foot by four foot with no window and water seeping down the cold stone walls.
'Oh dear Merlin.' The headmaster breathed as rushed in, having no qualms about wading through the blood and gore and mess that stained the floor, to get to the bundle of rags that were hiding the beaten and bloody figure of the Boy-Who-Lived. The teenager they'd all been searching frantically for over the last four months. 'My boy, my dear boy.' Albus cried as he gently pushed back the filth and blood covered rag covering the young man's face.
'P…prof…fessor.' Harry croaked.
'Oh Harry, we're so sorry it took so long to find you.' The headmaster tried to begin checking the boy over but as soon as he removed the top layer of dirty cloth Harry froze, his eyes impossibly wide.
'No.' Harry breathed, trying to scuttle sideways but gave in to his injuries and collapsed with a small scream.
'Headmaster, you must go. There isn't much time.' Snape hissed from the doorway. Albus looked up and nodded before turning back to Harry.
'I'm sorry, Harry. Stupefy.' Dumbledore gathered the damaged form, rags and all in his arms and stood up. 'You have the antidote to the Veritaserum capsule?' Snape nodded.
'Hidden in my mouth already.' The potions master said quietly. 'Now hurry up and get out of here.'
Dumbledore's bright blue eyes dimmed. 'Are you sure about this Severus?' he asked hesitantly.
Snape rolled his eyes. 'For Merlin's sake, Albus, we went over this. He won't kill me, not yet anyway, he needs the information I provide about you. He's more likely to kill Lucius for telling me where they were keeping the brat in the first place. The Dark Lord believes you wouldn't hesitate in using Veritaserum if you could find your precious Harry Potter which is why I was never told in the first place. He'll probably just cast the Cruciatus a few times and let me go. And I always have the antidote if he decides to try Veritaserum himself.'
Dumbledore sighed. 'I still don't like it but please be careful, Severus. And come safely back to us.' Snape nodded. With one last sad look at the younger man the headmaster held the bundle in his arms tightly to his chest, activated the Portkey that was pinned to his robes and disappeared.
Snape, shook his head and bent down to pick up a largish rock that was being used to line the bottom of the stone walls. With a sigh he brought it up swiftly until it cracked against the side of his head. He had just enough presence of mind to drop the rock before darkness clouded his vision and he fell to the ground.
Poppy Pomfrey was ready for Dumbledore when he landed in the hospital wing. They had been planning the rescue for almost a week. 'Was he alive?' she asked.
Dumbledore crossed the room to place the bundle of rags on a bed. 'Just barely.' He said with a grimace. 'I had to stun him. He wouldn't let me near him. We'll have to give him a dreamless sleep before you can check him over.' Poppy nodded, summoning the blue filled vial and handing it over.
Dumbledore lifted Harry's head, positioning the vial at the boy's lips and nodding to the medi-witch.
'Enervate.' Poppy whispered.
'Drink Harry.' Albus poured the vial into Harry's mouth. Harry swallowed it unconsciously before seemingly to realise someone was touching him; and with a small screech, he threw himself out of bed and into the corner, heedless of his injuries. Moments later the potion finally worked and he slumped to the floor.
Poppy and Albus exchanged glances at the extreme reaction. 'That doesn't bode well.' She murmured, raising her wand and levitating the prone form onto the bed. The headmaster moved back a few steps to allow the woman to do her work. He glanced up at the magical clock on the wall, realising that his potions master would be being discovered at any moment. He only hoped the younger man would return relatively unscathed.
Apparently Harry had been visited several times a day with a regularity you could have set a watch by so he knew Severus would be found shortly by the usual two o'clock visitor.
A horrified gasp brought him back to the moment.
'What is it Poppy?'
The medi-witch moved to the side so that he could see the now naked figure in the bed.
'Merlin above.' Albus breathed, sitting abruptly on the bed beside Harry's. The figure was rail thin and it didn't look as if he had been fed since he was snatched right from his bed in Gryffindor Tower just before the end of April. There was barely a patch on the boy's skin that wasn't covered in some type of scar or cut or burn and there were so many bruises that his entire body was black and blue.
'Albus, I don't know if I can fix all of this.' Poppy said anxiously.
'Just do what you can Poppy.' He said with a calm he certainly wasn't feeling. 'We can call St Mungo's if we need further help.'
Poppy nodded and went to work as Dumbledore continued to watch the clock and his thoughts travelled back to that fateful April night.
'If that is all, we shall adjourn. Everyone knows there tasks for this week and remember, because Tom has been quiet probably means he has something big planned so make sure to stay alert and ready.' Albus told the assembled members of the Order of the Phoenix.
Just then there was a pounding at the outer door to the Headmaster's office, they Order members could hear the sounds of crying and sobbing even through the thick wood. Albus held up his hand to signal the members to stay in the meeting room as he together with the four heads of house moved into the office proper and opened the door.
A group of about twelve Gryffindors, all in different stages of shock burst into the room all but one wailing hysterically.
Albus looked at them individually, taking in the remains of curses and hexes that still lingered around them. He finally looked at the only student who wasn't crying.
'Mr Weasley, what happened?'
Ron swallowed, still cradling the sobbing Hermione to his chest. 'Death Eaters.' He said croakily, his hold on his emotions tenuous as best. 'They took Harry. We tried to stop them but they were ready for us.'
Dumbledore stared uncomprehendingly at the Gryffindors. 'Harry's gone?' he breathed.
'Ronald?' Ron's head swivelled to see his mother standing in the doorway to the meeting room.
'Mum.' Ron's eyes filled with tears and his face creased in sorrow. 'They took him. The bastards took him and I couldn't stop them.' Molly Weasley didn't hesitate, not even admonishing his language as she crossed the room to hug both sixteen year olds and the other members of the Order moved into the room and began comforting the students. Poppy immediately casting healing charms on the many cuts and scrapes the children had.
'Albus, we must do something?' Minerva hissed. Dumbledore looked at her, his eyes unfocused. 'Albus?' she said again.
'How did they get in?' Filius Flitwick squeaked. 'How many were there?'
Arthur Weasley, realising that even Albus was in shock, turned to his youngest son prying him out of his mother's arms and clasping his shoulders firmly. 'Ron, listen to me. If you want to help Harry you have to be strong. We need you to tell us exactly what happened.'
Ron swallowed and nodded firmly. 'About an hour ago I heard a noise and woke up.' He began softly. 'But before I could move I was hit with a stunner. I could still see and hear though and I saw them. There were about ten of them. Robed and masked but I know both Wormtail and Malfoy were among them. I recognized their voices.'
'What happened next?' Arthur said gently.
Ron stiffened slightly. 'Five of them cast Crucio on Harry, all at once.' Several stifled cries echoed around the room. 'They must have had a silencing charm up because I couldn't hear him. I could see his face though when they took it off. His eyes and his nose; they were bleeding.' He finished in a horrified whisper. Tears were pouring down Ron's cheeks but he didn't stop talking, wanting to get the recitation over as quickly as possible. 'Neville and the others had been stunned as well but they didn't know that Hermione was curled up in a chair in the corner.'
Many eyebrows shot skyward at that statement and a number of eyes turned in Hermione's direction. 'Harry had a nightmare. He was scared to go back to sleep. I stayed with him till he was, but he was still restless so I decided to sleep in the chair. It's very comfortable.' Hermione mumbled from her place still in Molly Weasley's firm grasp.
Minerva's eyes narrowed. 'Do you sleep there often, Miss Granger?'
Hermione flushed. 'Only when Harry is really bad.' she admitted hesitantly.
'And how often is that?'
'Every night practically.' Neville sighed. The adults in the room all exchanged glances.
'Why didn't anyone say anything?' Minerva finally spoke.
'Does it matter any more?' Ron suddenly burst out. 'Harry's gone. We should be out looking for him, not standing around here deciding if Hermione sleeping in a chair contravenes school rules. For Merlin's sake. That bastard has him. He could be doing anything to him.' The rant finished, sapping every ounce of strength Ron had and he dropped abruptly into a chair that was thankfully beside him. 'He's gone.' He whispered softly.
'Mr Weasley.' Albus knelt beside the chair, his mental faculties having returned. 'You are right, but we need to find out what happened next.'
Ron nodded, never lifting his eyes from the floor. 'Hermione woke when they were leaving. They had just flung him over someone's shoulder and they weren't being nearly as quiet when they left as they were when they arrived. She looked at me and I tried to tell her what was wrong. Thankfully she understood and countered the spell just as the door was closing. We released the others and managed to surprise them in the common room. We were sending curses loud enough to wake the dead and soon the others joined us from upstairs. The Death Eaters ran back to the statue of the humpback witch and went inside. It leads to the cellar in Honeydukes. We tried to follow them but they collapsed the tunnel. We didn't know what else to do so we came here.' Ron finally raised his head and looked accusingly at the headmaster. 'Why didn't you know? You should have known. You should have been there.'
Dumbledore suddenly looked old. 'You're a right, young Ronald. I do not know why the wards didn't trigger at the use of the Unforgivables but I will find out.'
Ron stared at him in silence for a moment. 'You will find him, won't you?' he pleaded. Albus looked up at his potions master who shook his head. Looking back at Ron he could only nod and hope he was able to keep that promise.
With a sigh he stood up, his command returning to him. 'Filius, Pomona, you may want to check your houses just to be sure. Severus, you know what I have to ask you?' he said sadly. Snape nodded, spinning on his heel and stalking from the room. 'Mad-eye, Kingsley, I need you all to check the rest of the castle and the grounds and Hogsmeade. I don't believe they would still be here but it's better to be safe then sorry.' The majority of the Order members left leaving the rest to help the students back to Gryffindor Tower.
'Come on, Ron.' Arthur Weasley gently helped his son to his feet, but Ron shrugged his hands off, immediately reaching for Hermione who folded into his arms without hesitation.
'We'll find him, Mione.' He whispered as they walked slowly from the room, the other Gryffindors following slowly behind.
The entire Gryffindor house was waiting in the common room when they returned with McGonagall, the Headmaster and the other adults. It was obvious that most had been crying and all looked to be either in shock or on the way to it. Albus was not surprised. To have a single supposed criminal try to break into your dormitory was one thing, to have ten Death Eaters cast an unforgivable before kidnapping a friend from the next room was quite another altogether.
He closed his eyes for a moment and held out his hands. He could feel something was off with the room and followed the trail of magic; the few students in his way quickly moving out of it as the rest just watched on in confusion. He opened his eyes as his hand closed over a small innocuous looking stone that had been sitting innocently on the mantelpiece.
'Albus?' Minerva questioned and Dumbledore looked up at her, his eyes tired.
'A ward stone.' He said quietly.
'How in Merlin's name would he have gotten hold on one of those?' Arthur Weasley burst out.
'Professor Dumbledore?' a scared second year asked tremulously, before the headmaster could respond. Dumbledore placed a hand on the boy's shoulder and watched as Ron and Hermione finally turned away and moved silently through the room, their arms still around each other to walk back up the steps to the boy's dormitory.
Molly moved to follow them but Arthur held her arm. 'Leave it, Molly. They need each other tonight.' He said softly.
Dumbledore nodded to himself before he realised the students were still waiting for him to speak. 'I'm sorry for what happened tonight but please know that everything is being done to ensure your safety. The castle and grounds are being checked and any other ways in will be blocked permanently. The wards will be readjusted as well.' He added looking down at the stone in his hand.
'Bit bloody late now.' Neville muttered sarcastically before moving towards the stairs. Dean and Seamus followed the rest of the room parting once more to allow the sixth years through.
'Quite.' Dumbledore said softly.
'I think you should all return to bed now. Hopefully we will have some news of Harry in the morning.' Minerva said briskly, pushing students towards their dormitories until the common room was empty.
That had been four months ago. Of course nothing had been heard of from Harry that next day or any day after that. It hadn't been until a week ago that Severus had overheard Lucius boasting and had managed to subtly goad the other man into telling him that Harry was in fact alive and where he was being kept. It was quite a feat, tricking Lucius Malfoy like that, even for Severus Snape.
They had planned secretly, only telling Minerva and Poppy just in case something happened. Snape had found out as many details as he could and then this morning after he knew that that shifts visitors had left and they had an hour before he knew the next ones would arrive, the two men had apparated to a forest nearby and snuck into the building, stunning and binding the two Death Eaters standing guard at the door.
Albus finally looked up as Poppy sighed and sunk down into the chair beside the bed. 'Do we need anyone else?' he asked softly.
Poppy glanced over at him and shook her head. 'No, but I'm not sure we've done him any favours.' She whispered, tears filling her eyes. Albus raised a curious eyebrow and Poppy turned back to look at the now heavily bandaged figure on the bed. 'Albus, I've never seen such injuries, and it's not just the outside. There are signs of scarring throughout his body that can't have been made with magic. They used him, Albus, like a toy. God only knows the state of his mind.'
'We will have to wait and see. How long will he have to be sedated for?'
'At least a few days, maybe longer. Particularly after that performance on his arrival.'
'The students arrive back in a week.' The headmaster said speculatively.
'There's no way, Albus. He will not be ready by then.' Poppy said firmly. 'In fact I don't know if he will ever be ready.'
Albus glanced back at Harry, reaching over to take the boy's hand in his own, grimacing at the almost violent flinch the young man gave, even in sleep. 'I'm sorry Harry.' He whispered. 'I'm sorry we didn't protect you but you're safe now. I promise. I won't let anything happen to you ever again.'
Poppy stood up and squeezed the headmaster's shoulder. 'I need to get a few more potions from Severus' stores. I'll be back.'
Dumbledore nodded absently, never taking his eyes from the prone figure as she walked out the door.
It was many hours later and quite dark when footsteps echoed up the corridor causing Dumbledore to snap out of his daze.
'Severus?' he called out tentatively.
'Yes Albus, it's me.' Came the potions master's hoarse voice as, together with Minerva, he swept into the hospital wing. Albus could see the haggard pallor and the slight trembling in the younger man's hands and knew that it hadn't been just a small amount of Crucio his boy had suffered that night.
'I gather he was upset.' He stated.
'Just a bit.' Snape murmured, casting an eye over the figure in the bed whose bruised and mottled face looked worse in the candle light. 'He was pretty rough on me, but I actually thought he was going to kill Lucius at one point. He believed the story, especially with the large lump on my head.' He fingered the sore lump that remained.
'Did he use Veritaserum?' Albus asked.
Snape shook his head and crossed the few steps to peer closer at Harry's face. 'No. But he did use your supposed use of it as a reason to show how wrong the light side can be.'
Albus snorted and crossed to stand beside the younger man. 'Poppy fixed all she could.'
'What of his mind?'
The headmaster shrugged. 'We do not yet know the extent of that. They may have used one too many Cruciatus on him.'
Snape shook his head again. 'No, it won't be from that, I skimmed Crabbe's mind. After that first one the Dark Lord forbade it; said that Potter couldn't get his just desserts if he was too insane to enjoy it. Instead they used just about anything and everything else. You can expect his nightmares of old to return with frightening vengeance. It may be better just to Obliviate him so he doesn't remember.'
'Wash your mouth out, Severus Snape.' Poppy said curtly as she crossed the room to cast another diagnostic spell on her patient. 'You may be able to Obliviate the memories but not the emotions that go with them. How would you explain to him the fear he feels when someone touches him, when they point a wand at him, when they try to kiss him goodnight or something simple like that.'
'You don't mean….' Minerva trailed off.
Poppy glanced at her sharply. 'I mean exactly that. Mr Potter has been abused in every way shape and form. I would be surprised if he manages to come back from this.'
'It can't be that bad, surely.' Minerva insisted.
'Watch this.' Albus told him and reached over to lay his hand over the boy's. No one missed the enormous flinch Harry gave, even under the sleeping draught.
'Great Merlin's ghost.' Minerva breathed, holding a hand over her mouth as horrified eyes looked down at her student.
'Are we telling anyone?' Snape voice was quieter now.
Albus shook his head. 'Not yet.'
'Albus, you must tell Mr Weasley and Miss Granger at least. I don't know how much longer they can keep going without any news.' Minerva insisted.
Albus sighed. 'Alright, but only them. I will call for them in a few days.'
The Gryffindor Head of House nodded in acceptance and the four adults sat down to watch the young man through the night.
They kept Harry sedated for three more days until his bruises started to fade and his cuts had all healed, leaving his body a cross crossing map of scars. On the fourth day Harry woke, immediately flinging himself off the bed and into the corner. Albus felt his eyes fill at the automatic reaction of going from full sleep to full wakefulness within seconds in order to be on alert for some danger. Poppy moved towards him but Albus stopped her with a hand on her arm. Harry's eyes darted wildly around the room. From Albus sitting in a soft armchair, his blue eyes twinkling kindly, set off by his robes which were of almost the same hue. Poppy stood behind him, her matronly white apron garnering no more reaction from Harry than Dumbledore's had. Minerva's green tartan little more but as Harry's eyes landed on Snape's black attire his eyes almost fell out of his head.
He curled into a ball smaller than thought possible as his eyes widened in fear, never leaving the potions master's black robes. 'Please no.' he whispered. 'Please don't. Please, I'm sorry. Please don't. No.' The begging continued for almost a minute before fading as the black robes turned into a bright yellow, courtesy of the headmaster's wand and much to Snape's disgust. Harry slowed his frantic pleading and looked curiously at the new robes. It was almost another minute before they saw comprehension dawn in Harry's dull green eyes.
'Harry?' Albus said softly but it was enough to startle the young man whose head whipped around sharply. 'Harry, do you know who I am?' He said it very softly and no one had moved yet.
Harry's fearful green eyes widened but he nodded. 'Yes, Professor.' He whispered hoarsely.
'Do you remember Professor McGonagall, Professor Snape and Madame Pomfrey?'
Harry looked at each one in turn before nodding. 'Yes.' He whispered. 'You can turn him back now. I don't think he likes yellow.' He added the tip of his finger peeking out at Snape from behind his knees.
'Are you sure?' Albus asked hesitantly.
Harry nodded. 'Yes, I just didn't see his face, only the black. Sorry.' He murmured.
The headmaster waved his wand in Snape's direction but instead of turning black they stayed a dark blue. Harry who had tensed in anticipation relaxed slightly and Snape decided it would be better for them to stay this way, at least for the moment. 'Quite alright, Harry. I do understand.' Albus said softly.
Harry looked up at him, his eyes filled with betrayal. 'Do you really? Understand I mean. And if you understood so well why didn't you come and find me.' He whispered brokenly. All in the room felt a wave of guilt wash over them, Albus more than the others.
'I did try.' The headmaster said honestly.
A single tear rolled down Harry's cheek and he turned away further into the corner, burying his face in his arms as his shoulders shook. 'Not hard enough.' He sobbed.
'Miss Granger, Mr Weasley. I have to tell you, before you go in, that Harry has suffered through a great ordeal. His physical injuries have healed but the mental scars could remain for some time. You must be very careful not to make any fast movements and whatever you do, don't try to touch him.'
Ron and Hermione exchanged glances. 'We understand, Sir. Can we see Harry now?' Hermione asked hopefully.
Albus sighed and nodded, pushing open the door to the hospital wing and gesturing to the two teenagers to go in. To their credit they didn't rush across the room and fling their arms around him as soon as they laid eyes on him, instead slowly walking across the room to stand nervously near his bed, as Harry sat curled up in a chair staring unseeing out the window.
'Harry?' Hermione said softly. Harry's head whipped around so fast he lost his balance and toppled from the chair. Hermione acted without thinking, immediately darting forward to catch him.
As soon as her hands touched his shoulders he let out an inhuman shriek, scuttling into the corner, curling into a tight ball and murmuring 'No, please no.' over and over.
'Oh my.' Hermione whispered, her hands over her mouth in shock as tears fell down her cheeks.
The door to Poppy's office opened and Dumbledore, Snape and the medi-witch came out, quickly crossing the room, Snape glaring at the two Gryffindors to move out of the way before both he and Poppy knelt down near to Harry but not close enough to scare the boy further.
'Harry. Can you here me?' she said softly. 'It's alright. No one is going to touch you.' Harry didn't move from his position and Snape rolled his eyes but obligingly began murmuring in a soft voice.
'Harry, come on now. You're safe here. Miss Granger and Mr Weasley have come to see you. They've been very worried about you.' The voice was soft but if you listened carefully you could hear the distain at having to talk to Potter of all people like this.
In spite of the tone Harry did stop murmuring and raise his head slightly to look at them through fearful green eyes.
'It's alright, it was just Miss Granger. She didn't want you to hurt yourself.' Poppy said softly. 'Why don't you come back to bed now, Harry. The stone floor must be very cold and uncomfortable.'
'Not when you get used to it.' Harry murmured but he did uncurl from his foetal position and crawl crabwise along the wall until he could get to his bed without getting any closer to anyone than he had to.
Snape and Poppy exchanged glances. 'Are you hungry, Harry?' she asked softly. 'You've barely eaten since you got here.'
Harry's eyes widened fearfully and with a violent shake of his head he curled back up in a ball. 'No food. Please no food.' He murmured.
Poppy's eyebrows shot skywards but Snape shook his head and summoned a house elf to bring a bowl of soup which he placed quietly on the table beside the bed. 'This is some soup for you Harry.' He said soothingly. 'You don't have to do anything for it. It's all yours. Just eat it when you feel like it. I promise we don't want anything from you for it.' With a hand on Poppy's arm he gestured for the medi-witch to move away and both crossed to where Dumbledore was standing with the two Gryffindors and herded them all into the office and waited, leaving the door open.
It took almost ten minutes before Harry, realising that they weren't going to come back, finally sat up and pulled the bowl towards him and began to eat. He did it nervously, his eyes constantly scanning the room to see if anyone was going to come back.
'What was that about?' Albus asked.
Snape glanced back, checking to see that Harry was still eating before answering. 'That's how they worked.' He said simply. 'They wouldn't have fed him unless they wanted something…or as a reward.'
'A reward. For what?' Ron asked quizzically.
Snape raised a sardonic eyebrow. 'Say for not screaming as they shattered the bones in his hand.'
Hermione yelped and Ron turned green and bolted through the door to the bathroom. As soon as the red head returned Albus spoke. 'As I told you before, the mental scars are going to take quite some time to heal.'
'What happened exactly?' Hermione asked.
Snape snorted. 'You really want to know Miss Granger?' he asked scornfully. 'I don't think your delicate sensibilities could quite handle it.'
'Hey.' Ron bit out. 'We want to know so we can help Harry.'
The potions master sneered. 'Knowing won't help you. It will just stop you from sleeping peacefully for the rest of your life.'
'Severus.' The headmaster admonished. Snape snapped his mouth closed and folded his arms sulkily. 'Mr Weasley, Miss Granger, I don't believe telling you exactly what happed would be in Harry's best interests. Just remember that the boy you knew four months ago is gone and a fearful damaged child has returned in his place.'
Hermione and Ron exchanged glances. 'Professor,' Hermione said slowly. 'Why did you stand over with us when Harry got scared before?'
Albus sighed, his eyes glazing slightly. 'Harry believes I have failed him. He doesn't get scared around me but his trust in me is shattered.'
'Past where it can be repaired?' Hermione voiced the one question they had all been avoiding over the last days.
'I sincerely hope not.' The headmaster murmured. The silence permeated the small room before finally Snape glanced outside and saw that Harry had eaten about a quarter of the soup before falling asleep.
Quietly the group made their way out into the main room. Poppy carefully removed the bowl and Ron and Hermione sat down on the bed next to Harry. 'Remember, don't touch him and try not to move when he wakes. Stay sitting down and just talk to him softly.' The medi-witch said quietly and the two Gryffindors nodded before turning back to watch their best friend sleep.
'I never thought we'd see him again.' Hermione whispered.
Ron looked at Harry's pained expression, even in sleep and shook his head. 'We won't.' he whispered back. 'This isn't Harry.'
'Of course it's Harry.' Hermione hissed incredulously.
'No, it's not.'
'He's under there somewhere. We just have to find him.' She insisted.
'Good luck.' Ron murmured. Hermione glared at him before turning back to the bed, startled to see green eyes watching them curiously.
'Mione.' Harry whispered. Hermione smiled and nodded.
'Sorry if we woke you.'
Harry's eyes widened slightly but he sat slowly up and shifted nervously closer. His hand was trembling violently as he reached out and placed it tentatively on top of Ron's. Both Gryffindors froze barely daring to breathe as Harry swallowed noticeably and licked his lips. 'I'm still here Ron.' He whispered huskily before pulling his hand back quickly as his breathing difficulties threatened to turn into a full blown panic attack.
'Harry, it's okay. You're safe here.' Hermione whispered, desperately stamping on the urge to move and comfort him. Ron and Hermione waited as Harry's curled up into his comforting ball once again and steadied his breathing. It took several minutes before he could look up again.
'Please don't leave me.' Harry whispered tearfully. Hermione and Ron both gasped.
'We won't.' Ron said firmly, his previous comments forgotten.
'We'll always be here for you.' Hermione promised, taking Ron's hand in hers.
With a nervous breath Harry moved closer once more and reached out that same trembling hand to clasp his two best friend's hands in it. Hermione moved to place her hand on top of his but Ron shook his head sharply and she dropped it back in her lap. They waited as Harry sucked in several lungfuls of air, his eyes darting wildly behind closed lids as he fingers clenched fearfully. Several times they felt him almost pull away but eventually he relaxed slightly and opened his eyes, giving them a wan smile.
'Thank you.' He whispered. Ron and Hermione just grinned at him.
In the office, where the teachers still watched, all three let out the large breath they had been holding.
'The brat is one strong kid, I'll give him that.' Snape murmured. Dumbledore beamed at him and all three continued to watch through the open door as over the next few hours Harry slowly came out of the shell he was hiding in and allowed his friends to get closer to him.