Disclaimer – Isn't mine.
Chapter 10 – Priceless Rewards
By the end of the meal Harry was exhausted; the constant state of heightened alertness tiring him greatly. Every time a sharp noise sounded Harry jumped and when two fourth years began yelling at each other for something, Harry almost dived from the table into the corner, only the headmaster's arm kept him in place.
Finally all the students left, Ron and Hermione waving to Harry before pushing the other Gryffindors from the hall. Harry was almost asleep, his head resting on his hand as the teachers all moved to stand.
'Harry.' Snape whispered, placing a gentle hand on the boy's arm. Harry stiffened slightly before relaxing and glancing up.
'Can we go now?' he asked blearily, looking and sounding more like six than seventeen.
Snape smiled. 'Yes, Harry, let's go.'
Harry stood with the rest of the staff and came wearily around the table before almost stumbling head over heels down the steps.
'For Merlin's sake, you can't actually walk with your eyes closed you foolish child.' Snape muttered, picking the boy up in his arms.
'Sure you can.' Harry mumbled into the potions master's shoulder before yawning. Snape rolled his eyes before glaring at Minerva and the others who were looking at him in stunned disbelief.
'Not a word.' He ground out.
'What?' Harry murmured.
Snape's expression softened. 'Nothing, go back to sleep.'
Without another word Snape walked quickly but quietly from the hall, Harry cradled in his arms like a ten year old. The fact that Harry wasn't actually much taller than your average ten year old and certainly nowhere near as heavy made this seem much less unusual than it might have. Well, if it had been anyone other than Severus Snape, anyway.
When pressed Albus just smiled and the rest of the staff left the hall muttering wildly. It was, all in all, an interesting evening.
Harry woke the next morning feeling brighter than he had in ages. He hoped classes today would okay. Hell, he just hoped breakfast would be okay. He hopped out of bed and showered, quickly pulling on some clothes before walking slowly down to Albus' office.
'Good morning, my boy.' The headmaster said jovially as he poked his head through the portrait. 'Are you ready for breakfast?'
Harry nodded and Albus smiled inwardly at the lack of hesitation before the gesture. Taking the boy's hand they walked down the spiral stairs and through the corridors of the school. The hall was only half full when they arrived but his friends were waiting for him. Albus stopped beside them and they greeted the headmaster respectfully.
'Hi Harry.' Hermione smiled brightly at him and Harry reached out and squeezed her shoulder gently.
'Do you want to sit down?' Ron gestured to the empty seat opposite him and beside Hermione. Harry glanced up at Albus, his expression pleading.
Albus read it correctly. 'Harry will eat with me for the time being, Mr Weasley, but thank you.'
Harry sighed almost inaudibly but Hermione, who was sitting at his left shoulder, caught it. 'Whenever you're ready, Harry.' She whispered.
Harry gave her a small smile and dutifully followed the headmaster towards the head table where they sat down to eat.
Less than ten minutes later the doors flew open with a bang and Snape stormed through and up towards the head table glaring murderously at the Slytherins. Albus had caught Harry halfway out of the chair and was surreptitiously keeping the boy in place while whispering to him all the while.
Harry swallowed several times, his eyes darting nervously around the hall as Snape approached. The potions master caught the panicked look in the boy's eyes and he immediately slowed his steps, his face dropping its previous expression as he looked at Harry in concern. He came slowly around the table and slipped into his seat, sighing thankfully when Harry didn't pull away.
'Harry, I'm sorry if I frightened you.' He whispered.
'Y…you didn't.' Harry stammered. Snape arched an eyebrow. 'Well, maybe just a bit.' Harry gave him a wan smile. Snape reached over and clasped the boy's hands within his.
'I would never yell at you Harry, always remember that. I may yell at others but never you.'
Harry nodded and gave him a genuine smile and once again all was right with the world.
Harry's first class was interesting to say the least. Professor McGonagall escorted him from breakfast and had him sit in the corner nearest the door. Harry gave her a grateful look as she moved to her own desk and the other students filed in.
They were transfiguring inanimate objects into animals, a rather complex spell to make something a living breathing thing.
When the class as one pulled out their wands Harry almost fainted dead away, he found his eyes frozen at the sight and his breathing became quite unsteady.
'Harry?' Hermione whispered softly from his side. 'Are you alright?'
Harry nodded and swallowed heavily. 'Fine.' He croaked out, wishing he was anywhere but where he was.
McGonagall set them their task and walked across to Harry, kneeling beside his desk and placing a gentle hand on his arm. 'Mr Potter.' She said softly. 'Just take a couple of deep breaths and look at me.'
Harry did as she asked and she gestured to the students who were trying, and failing to look as if they weren't watching.
'The wands are pointed at the desks. I promise you no student will raise a wand at you in this class.'
Harry nodded but didn't speak, instead pulling out his wand and beginning the task. Hermione kept a worried eye on him as he struggled to change the feather duster into a bird. He couldn't concentrate, his eyes were too busy darting nervously around the room, to check the wand movement and eventually he just gave up and put his wand away.
'It will take some time, Harry.' Hermione whispered kindly and Ron nodded in agreement.
Harry sighed. The others could see Harry wanted nothing more than to curl up into a ball and shut everyone out again. Hermione raised her hand, giving McGonagall a look that made the professor make her way through the classroom towards them.
'Yes, Miss Granger?' she asked softly.
Hermione glanced at Harry, who was paling by the minute. 'Can we please be excused just for a minute?'
McGonagall glanced down at Harry before looking back at Hermione. 'Take him down to Professor Snape.' She said quietly. Ron, Hermione and Neville stood and Hermione gently clasped Harry's elbow and tugged him slowly from the room.
Harry sighed audibly as the door closed behind them and he stopped to lean against the wall, his head buried in his hands. 'You can do this.' He whispered over and over.
'Harry?' Hermione asked tentatively. Harry had begun trembling and Hermione was hesitant to touch him. 'Neville, you go get Professor Dumbledore. Ron, you get Professor Snape.' She instructed and the two boys shot off down the corridors in different directions.
'They won't hurt you. You can do this.' Harry continued whispering as if trying the soothe himself. His breathing became more erratic and Hermione was afraid he would pass out there in the hallway. Running footsteps sounded and Hermione quickly pulled her wand causing Harry to flinch violently.
'Harry.' Snape's soothing baritone filled the hallway and Harry's head snapped up.
'Professor.' Harry's eyes were still darting nervously and Snape quickly moved towards him, dropping to one knee and reaching out to clasp his shoulders.
'It's okay Harry. No one is going to hurt you.' He said softly.
'Professor.' Harry gasped again.
Snape pulled him forward so that the boy was leaning against him and began gently rubbing his back. 'You're okay, Harry.' He said again before standing again; placing an arm around Harry's shoulders and gently guiding him towards the headmaster's office. At the end of the corridor he stopped and turned back to the stunned Gryffindor.
'Miss Granger, I have left Mr Weasley in charge of my first years. Would you be so kind as to go and save him before, between them, they rearrange my dungeons.'
Hermione didn't know whether to be more shocked that Snape had been nice to Harry or that he had left Ron in charge of a potions class or finally, that he had made a joke about it. Deciding that thinking too hard about it was going to make her head explode, she quickly fled.
The potions master smirked inwardly and continued guiding Harry towards the Headmaster's office.
'What happened, Harry?' Dumbledore asked after Harry was changed and tucked firmly into bed, his two father figures sitting either side of him and looking down at him in concern.
'T…T..too many wands.' Harry stammered. 'They all had one. It was just stupid. I was stupid.'
'Don't say that Harry.' Snape scolded.
'It was my fault, Harry.' Albus said sadly. 'We should have started with some of the other classes like Magical Creatures or Potions that don't need a wand. Transfiguration and Charms was probably not a good way to begin.'
'It's alright, Albus. Honestly. My head knows they won't hurt me, I just can't get the rest of me to agree with it.' Harry sighed.
Snape squeezed his hand. 'The rest of you has never listen to your head before so why should it start now.' He joked.
Harry's eyes narrowed and he scowled at the older man. 'Ha, ha.'
Albus' eyes began twinkling again as Harry settled back into his comfort zone. 'How about you just rest up here for a while and Severus will come and get you after lunch for your potions class.' He suggested.
Harry glanced at Snape before nodding. 'Okay.'
Both men clasped his shoulder tightly before leaving the room and Harry pulled out his book and began to read.
It was several hours later when Snape returned. Harry had actually fallen asleep but the gentle shaking woke him and he managed to stop himself before he shied away.
'Harry, come on. Class starts in ten minutes and I don't want you walking through the halls when they're full of students.' Snape insisted.
'I'm up. I'm up.' Harry moaned, pushing the blankets off him and standing slowly. His panic attack had really wiped him out.
A few minutes later with Snape's arm around his shoulders he walked quickly through the corridors towards the dungeons. They arrived without incident and Harry took his seat directly in front of Snape's desk.
The bell rang and the students began filing in. Malfoy's eyes widened at seeing Harry and he immediately made a beeline for the seat next to him before the Boy-Who-Lived's friends arrived. Halfway across the room he was stopped by a firm hand on his shoulder.
'I think not, Mr Malfoy.' Snape said softly, steering the Slytherin to a seat on the other side of the room. Malfoy knew it was useless to argue and settled for trying to catch Harry's attention. Harry for his part, seemed oblivious as he set up his cauldron and pulled out his book.
Snape waited until they were seated before turning a glaring look at them all. 'Today we are skipping several chapters and will be brewing the Dreamless Sleep potion. This is a very complicated potion that will explode so I want no idiocy in this classroom or the consequences will be dire. Do you understand?' His voice lowered dangerously.
'Yes, Professor Snape.' The class chorused.
'Good. Instructions are on the board, you may begin.'
Harry glanced at Hermione as the students rushed towards the supply cupboard. She interpreted the look quickly. 'I'll get your ingredients for you.' She offered.
'Thanks.' Harry whispered.
'Yes, thank you Miss Granger but that will not be necessary.' Snape moved to stand in front of the desk and slid the required ingredients across in Harry's direction.
'Just take it slowly Harry.' He whispered. Harry swallowed and nodded and began shredding the Boomslang skin.
An hour later he was more than halfway through the potion, finding the repetitive stirring rather soothing.
Suddenly a cauldron on the far side of the room exploded and Snape moved to berate the hapless Hufflepuff up, down, and three ways from Sunday.
'Clean up this mess you utter dunderhead, you can come back and finish it tomorrow night. Eight o'clock. Do not be late.' He sneered cruelly. Harry had stiffened at the tirade but had rigidly kept stirring the potion, determined not to let the potion be ruined.
'Harry.' Hermione hissed gesturing to his potion which was going a sickly green colour.
'Oh no.' Harry whispered.
Suddenly a hand closed over his and changed it stirring from clockwise to counter clockwise. 'Just relax, Harry.' Snape said softly and it was all Harry could do not to lean backwards into the comfort the older man provided. The potions master tossed a pinch more Leech juice into the cauldron and continued stirring it, his hand still held tightly over Harry's before almost ten minutes later pronouncing it done and telling Harry to bottle it.
Harry was relieved to do it and moved to grab some spare vials from his potions box as Snape moved to berate another unfortunate student whose cauldron had melted.
It quickly became clear to all in the room that the nice Snape, the calm gentle Snape, was for Harry only.
Harry continued sitting as the rest of the class filed out and smiled as Snape came around the desk to stand beside him. In his hand were the eight vials of potion Harry had bottled and left on the potions master's desk. Harry looked at him quizzically as he handed them back.
'I thought you might more easily trust a potion you made yourself.' Snape told him.
Harry glanced down at the vials in his hand. That was why Snape had skipped the other potions. So that Harry would be able to make his own Dreamless Sleep. Finally he looked back up to see black eyes watching him intently. 'I trust your potions, Sir.' He said softly.
Snape smiled. 'Thank you, Harry.'
Dinner that night was the same as the last and Harry was grateful when he could finally go to bed. Harry's eyes lit up as he walked into his room to find the rocking chair had been moved from Grimauld Place. He looked hopefully up at the potions master who rolled his eyes.
'Fine, but go and get ready for bed first, you brat.' He drawled.
Harry quickly washed his face and brushed his teeth after changing into his pyjamas. He slipped back out into the bedroom, dragging his covers off the bed and wrapping them around him before climbing onto the potions master's lap.
'Once upon a time.' Snape began, a small voice in his head asking him what on earth he thought he was doing. Snape ignored it. He knew what he was doing. He was doing what he could to rid the world of the cruelest wizard of the age, and he was helping a neglected and broken boy find out that he meant to the world than just as a weapon. The rewards to both tasks were priceless.
The next four days passed quickly and Harry settled, if still a little nervously back into school life. He finally made it to Transfiguration and Charms but could not make himself stay the entire class, instead having to leave partway through and stand outside the door as he tried to push away the image of the thirty wands in the class all pointed at him. By the end of the school week he was exhausted and looked forward to sleeping in the following day.
That night, swallowing nervously, Harry finally made his way into Gryffindor Tower, the headmaster and Snape by his side. The rest of the house watched in silence as Harry glanced around the common room before moving to the stairs and walking slowly up to the boy's dormitory.
Harry crossed the room and sat tentatively down on the bed that had been his for almost six years. His shaking hand reached out and smoothed the wrinkles in the covers. His head replayed that night over and over.
Being woken by a sharp smack from Lucius Malfoy's cane only to be put under the Cruciatus for what seemed like hours. The curse had been so strong, even now Harry could remember that his entire body felt like it was burning. His blood felt like it was boiling in his veins and he thought his head would split wide open. He shuddered visibly as the images flashing before his eyes moved onto the later that night. After he had been taken, after they had woken him up.
Tears began falling unchecked down his cheeks as he remembered what they had done to him that night. Until that night, even after all that had happened, he hadn't realised just how evil and cruel and bitter Tom Riddle really was.
The Dark Lord had sat on his throne, a small smile of satisfaction on his face as Harry had been subjected to every kind of torture he and the Death Eaters could come up with. He had held Harry's gaze, a triumphant gleam in his eye as he watched the only person ever to have beaten him reduced to noting more than a broken toy until Harry finally was unable stop himself from screaming.
Riddle had grinned maliciously at that point and told them to stop. Harry had thought he would just kill him then but it was not to be. They threw him into a tiny room and left him there until the next day before bringing him out to do it all over again. It seemed Riddle didn't want him dead. He just wanted him broken.
Harry stood abruptly. 'I have to…' he trailed off but both men knew what he wanted and quickly wrapped arms around his shoulders and led him from the room.
The common room was silent as they passed again until Hermione spoke.
'Please don't.' Harry croaked without raising his head, and the three quickly slipped through the portrait leaving Gryffindor House feeling as if someone had died. None except Harry's closest friends knew just what Harry had been through but the look on his pale, drawn features when he had come downstairs was enough to show them that it was not something he was going to be able to get over quickly, if at all.
When they got back to Harry's room the potions master immediately sat down in the rocking chair and pulled Harry onto his lap. He held the boy tightly as he cried and hummed softly until he fell asleep. He knew Harry had exorcised a demon tonight. Second only in size to when he would have to face Tom Riddle himself. He only hoped the boy would stay calm for as long as he had tonight.
Two days later Ron, Hermione and the others came knocking on the headmaster's door.
'Good morning Gryffindors.' Dumbledore said brightly, his eyes twinkling as he took in the broomsticks held in several hands.
'Morning, Professor.' Ron stepped forward slightly. 'We were wondering if Harry would like to go flying with us.'
If anything the headmaster's eyes twinkled even brighter. 'I believe that might be just what he needs, Mr Weasley. Just what he needs.' Dumbledore disappeared through the portrait still mumbling to himself. The others looked around the office in interest as they waited and it was only minutes before Harry and Dumbledore returned.
'Hey guys.' Harry gave them a small smile.
'Hiya, Harry. We thought you might like to go flying.' Ron held out his Firebolt.
Harry's eyes widened comically as he reached out to grasp the broom. 'You kept it.' He said reverently.
Ron snorted. 'Of course I did mate, I knew you'd be back for it.'
Harry looked up and gave his friend the first genuine smile he had given anyone bar Dumbledore and Snape since his return. 'I can't believe it.' He then turned to Albus. 'Can I?' he pleaded softly.
Albus smiled. 'Of course, but just let me check with Severus and Minerva. I want at least one of them outside with you.'
Harry nodded, he felt safer with an adult there anyway. Dumbledore tried McGonagall's rooms first, no answer before tossing in some more powder and calling for the potions master. Snape's head appeared in the fireplace.
'Ah Severus, good morning.' Albus began. 'How are you today?'
Snape rolled his eyes. 'What do you want, Albus?' he drawled.
Dumbledore snorted and moved slightly aside so that he could see Harry, Firebolt clutched tightly in his hands as he practically bounced on the spot.
'Ah, I see.'
'Do you have time? I have to go and see Fudge in less than half an hour.' Dumbledore explained.
The potions master glanced back at Harry who was looked at him hopefully and sighed. 'I have time.' He said in acquiescence. 'I'll meet them in the Entrance Hall in five minutes.' He said before his head disappeared.
Harry waited as Dumbledore grabbed his cloak and the headmaster walked then downstairs.
'Will you be alright with Fudge?' Snape asked as he met up with them.
Albus nodded, his arm still around Harry's shoulders. 'It was magically binding, Severus. There is nothing the Minister, or anyone else can do.'
'What does the Minister want to do?' Harry asked curiously.
Dumbledore and Snape exchanged glances. 'I won't lie to you Harry.' Albus said quietly. 'He wants you. He's trying to break the adoption.' Harry paled significantly. 'It won't work.' Dumbledore went on quickly. 'It's binding, like I said. There isn't a Ministry or a Wizingamot in the world that could overturn it.'
'Really?' Harry asked hesitantly.
'Really.' Albus confirmed and Harry smiled again.
'Oh good. Because I really hate that pompous git.' He said simply. Ron, Hermione and the others all snickered wildly and even Snape's mouth was twitching.
'Shall I let him know how you feel?' Albus asked jokingly.
Harry nodded. 'By all means.' That did it, even Snape laughed and, as the group walked outside, it was the most relaxed Harry had felt in ages.
They bid the headmaster goodbye and in Harry's case, good luck, and walked slowly down towards the pitch. Ron, Seamus and Dean took off into the air as Hermione and Neville climbed the stands to sit with Snape. Harry threw a leg over his broom and gently took off after the others.
The minute his feet left the ground his heart soared. He had forgotten just how much he enjoyed flying. How his troubles seemed to fade and the weight lifted from his shoulders. Where he was praised for something he had accomplished not for the simple fact that he had lived and others had died.
Harry lay down flat against his broom and took off around the pitch, looping and weaving around the stands. He swooped low to the grass and shot high in the sky. He was in heaven.
Ron called out to Harry and he flew down. 'We're going to play two on two, do you want to play or ref?'
'Play.' Harry said immediately. Ron grinned and waved at Hermione.
'Told you. You'll just have to referee from there.' He called out. Hermione gave him a cross look but obligingly put down her book and conjured a scoreboard.
Harry and Ron were versus Dean and Seamus, one protected the hoops the other flew as fast as they could from one end to the other. Ron played Keeper while Harry Chased.
Dean started and Harry shot off after him. It didn't take long for Harry to catch him and he purposely bumped him hard enough that he had to grab the broom with both hands and drop the Quaffle. Harry ducked underneath him and grabbed it, practically spinning on a penny to shoot back towards Seamus who was guarding the other goal hoops.
He feinted left and threw right and it flew straight through.
'Go Harry.' Ron yelled from the far end of the pitch.
The game went on for over half an hour, Dean finding a new way of holding the ball between his legs and arms so that even if he had to grab the broom with both hands he wouldn't drop it. Partway through they all swapped brooms to make fairer to Seamus and Dean.
Harry had just managed to get the Quaffle away from Dean and was bearing down on Seamus a bright glint in his eyes. Once again he feigned left and threw right but Dean's broom unlike his own didn't imitate his movements and instead of twisting towards him , went the other way and Harry soon found himself tumbling from almost twenty feet up.
He heard Ron yell and Hermione scream and he felt Snape cast a strong cushioning charm but it wasn't quite quick enough and he hit the ground hard, hearing the bones in his left wrist snap.
Snape watched Harry zooming around the pitch, glaring outwardly but grinning inwardly. He almost cheered when the boy agreed to play with his friends and decided that the look on Harry's face was worth the three ruined potions he had left in the dungeons.
His heart almost stopped when Harry and his broom parted company and within moments he was up cushioning the fall before sprinting from the stands, Neville and Hermione right behind him.
Ron, Dean and Seamus had flown down to land beside him but were still very wary of touching him and were just calling his name.
'Harry?' Snape could see the boy's shoulders shaking and prayed to Merlin that the fall didn't turn the boy off the one thing he really loved, well, other than Albus anyway.
'Harry, come on.' Snape placed his hands on Harry's shoulder and turned him over, cradling him gently. 'Are you okay? Don't cry, we'll get Poppy to fix you straight up.'
This seemed to make Harry cry even harder and it took several moments before Snape realised he wasn't actually crying but laughing instead.
'Are you laughing?' Snape asked incredulously, looking up at the boy's friends as if they could explain it but they looked as clueless as he was.
Harry tried desperately to stifle his laughter as tears poured down his cheeks. 'S…sorry.' Harry stammered. 'It's just so funny.'
'What's funny?' Snape was getting quite perturbed at this point.
'I hurt myself.' Harry chuckled. 'After so long of everyone else hurting me, I hurt myself, no one did it for me. It was no one's fault.'
Snape's eyes widened and he caught Hermione's hand covering her mouth in horror as he looked back down at the still chuckling boy in his arms.
'Harry, stop that. Injuring yourself is not funny. Come on, you're going to see Madame Pomfrey and then you and I are going to have a little talk.'
'Uh oh.' Ron groaned and Harry burst out laughing again.
Snape rolled his eyes and picked the boy up in his arms and marched towards the castle heedless of Harry's friends that were staring open mouthed at him in shock.
Albus swept into the hospital wing like a man possessed. The message on his desk from Snape alerting him to what had happened with Harry wasn't really specific. It only said that the boy had been hurt and was in the hospital wing. Albus had visions of Lucius breaking into the castle and attacking the boy.
When he saw Harry leaning back against Snape, surrounded by his friends and laughing as he ate an enormous block of chocolate Poppy had given him, he almost had to leave the room. The emotion that overcame him at the sight of Harry looking so…well, normal was almost too much for him. Instead he quickly crossed the room, smiling brightly as Harry's eyes light up as he quickly sat on the edge of the bed and gathered the boy up in his arms.
'Are you sure you're alright?' Albus asked, pulling away and trying to inspect every inch of him.
'It's just a broken wrist, Albus.' Snape said soothingly.
'Madame Pomfrey's fixed it, see.' Harry held up his left hand and waved it about. 'She just wants me to stay here so she can fuss over me.'
'No, you're here because you need to rest that arm.' Poppy cut in as she crossed the room. 'However, as the headmaster is now here, you may go.'
'Excuse me?' Snape said indignantly.
The medi-witch scowled at him. 'You don't look after yourself, Severus Snape, let alone any one else.'
'Hey, he looked after me just fine.' Harry said firmly smiling up at the potions master.
Poppy looked between them dubiously before finally relenting. 'Well, you don't look that worse for wear I suppose, although he loses marks for letting you play that infernal game. I swear, if God wanted you to fly he would have given you wings.' She muttered shuffling back across the room, leaving the Gryffindors fighting down their laughter.
'What do you say we make a run for it?' Snape suggested, knowing quite well just how difficult it is to get away from Poppy Pomfrey.
Harry and his friends nodded eagerly and together with the headmaster they snuck quietly from the wing.
Harry lay back on his pillows and picked up his book. His friends had gone and he had received the promised talk from the potions master with Albus adding his two cents. Afterwards he could see why they had been so concerned but he still thought it was quite funny.
Dobby had brought him his dinner and afterwards he decided to read as he waited for Snape to return as he always did every evening without fail. Just as he was reaching the part where the goblin rebellion began he heard shouting from downstairs and quickly slid from the bed and pulled on his robe.
He found Phineas Nigellas was calling for him. 'Potter, quickly. Down in the Great Hall. Dumbledore needs you.'
Harry didn't hesitate, flying from the room and down the stairs. He took off at a flat out run down the stone corridors, hearing screams and cries and several moments later he burst into the great hall only to stop dead in his tracks and look around him in horror. He could have cheerfully strangled Sirius' great uncle at that point. Well, if he wasn't already dead anyway.
He had stepped into a war zone. The great hall was full of students and teachers battling black robed Death Eaters, or they had been until Harry had burst in. Now they all stared at him.
The Death Eaters seemed to take advantage of the students' sudden shift in focus and within minutes most were disarmed and herded to either side of the hall. Harry struggled to push down his memories at the sight of so many black robes. A cry of pain from the head table caught his attention and he looked through the now clear aisle to see Dumbledore on his knees under the Cruciatus.
'Stop it.' Harry yelled.
The figure holding the wand turned and red eyes narrowed. 'Ah, Harry Potter.' Tom Riddle hissed. 'I told the muggle loving fool that you wouldn't be long in coming, and in your nightclothes no less. Aren't we honoured.'
Harry could see his guardian struggling not to cry out again.
'I said stop it.' Harry sprinted towards them. He stopped as Riddle lifted the curse and turned his wand on Harry. It was a moment or two before Harry started breathing again. His anger finally overriding the sight of the wand pointed at him.
'My, my Harry. To think it has come to this.' Voldemort hissed. 'Killed in front of all your friends in your pyjamas. How very plebeian.'
Harry scowled. 'I'm not the one dying today, Tom.'
'CRUCIO.' Riddle yelled and Harry shrieked but stayed on his feet. Riddle only held the curse for a minute but to Harry it felt like days. He could hear the students crying and Hermione and Ron were screaming for him. 'Do not call me that, you insolent child.' Riddle spat.
Harry was breathing raggedly but even that almost stopped completely as he felt a figure come up behind him and place an arm around his shoulders, pulling him back against the taller body. Harry steeled himself to stand still and not collapse to the floor in a ball. There was no where to flee to, all avenues of escape were blocked and now was not the time for Harry to abandon his friends and loved ones.
That resolve wavered heavily though as the figure's head bent and licked the side of Harry's ear. 'Little Harry.' Lucius Malfoy drawled silkily and Harry stiffened closing his eyes and clenching his fists. He swallowed convulsively, tears leaking from the side of his tightly shut eyes as Malfoy's hand moved to roam over his chest. 'I missed you, Harry.'
'Get your filthy hands off him!' Snape roared, instantly gaining the attention of all in the room, including the Dark Lord.
'Ah yes, the Traitor.' Voldemort hissed, never taking his wand from Harry but signalling with a nod to the four Death Eaters holding Snape to let him go. 'Severus, Severus, Severus. You have gotten fond of your precious Boy-Who-Lived, haven't you?' he said snidely.
'Leave him alone.' Snape growled dangerously, his cold black eyes never moving from Harry's trembling form.
Albus was just standing up, with Minerva's help. There was a slightly glazed look in his eyes that Harry knew would take him some time to shake off. 'Harry.' He croaked and Harry wanted to do nothing but run to his guardian and hold on to him tightly. 'It is time.'
Harry nodded, desperately trying to push away the hundreds of swarming hands that Malfoy's touch seemed to inspire.
'Yes, I too think it's time.' Riddle hissed. The Dark Lord pulled his wand from Harry and moved it back and forth between Dumbledore and Snape. 'Who shall I pick first, Harry? Your guardian or your saviour? You tell me.'
Harry's eyes widened and he looked helplessly between them. Snape was still glaring angrily at the man holding him and Dumbledore who was looking at him in sorrow, his face suddenly weary and making him look older than Harry could ever remember.
'No.' Harry whispered, raising his right hand and summoning his weapon with the wand that was still hidden in his robe pocket.
The speed it flew into the room and smacked into Harry's hand had most people craning their necks to try and figure out what it was. It was only as Harry elbowed Malfoy hard in the stomach and kneed him in the groin before turning back to Riddle and raising the weapon so it was pointed straight at the Dark Lord's heart that they could actually see what it was.
Riddle actually laughed as Malfoy groaned from behind Harry. 'You can't use that Potter.' Voldemort scoffed. 'What would the wizarding world think?'
Harry smiled grimly. 'News flash, Tom.' Harry said quietly. 'I don't give a damn what they think.' He fired; three shots in quick succession. Two in the chest, one in the head and the Dark Lord dropped like a stone. There was no magic used in the death of the Dark Lord and so his soul was safe from wandering the earth like the last time.
The rest of the hall, who had clapped their hands over their ears and ducked at the gun's report, began looking up as the gun fire stopped and saw the prone figure of the Dark Lord in an ever increasing circle of blood. The Death Eaters were looking between Harry and their master in stunned disbelief. Harry had yet to lower the weapon.
He heard a noise behind him and spun to see Lucius Malfoy on his feet, wand in hand and a malicious expression on his face. 'That was a mistake, Potter. Do you really think the wizarding world will forgive you for using muggle weapons, even if you are the Boy-Who-Lived?'
Harry growled, keeping the gun pointed at the blond aristocrat. 'Do you really think I care, Malfoy? After all that has happened, after all the wizarding world has done to me, do you really think I would stay in it anyway?' Harry distantly heard Hermione gasp.
Malfoy glanced behind Harry at the body of the Dark Lord. 'You could have at least duelled with him like a man. That wasn't fair, Potter.'
Harry's eyes narrowed. 'And ten Death Eaters kidnapping a sixteen year old boy from his bed in the middle of the night was?' Harry said incredulously. 'Don't talk to me about fair, Malfoy, you wouldn't even know how to spell it, let alone what it means.'
The blond man raised his wand. 'You're still going to die tonight, Potter.' He hissed.
'EXPELLIARMUS.' Came a yell from the side of the hall and both Harry and Lucius Malfoy looked to see a slightly pale and extremely nervous Draco Malfoy holding both his wand and his father's.
'Draco, what an earth are you doing?' Malfoy Snr hissed.
Draco lifted his chin. 'I'm doing what is right, Father.' He said quietly.
Malfoy bristled and began stalking towards his son, intent on retrieving his wand.
'Don't take another step.' Harry said firmly, raising the gun once more.
Malfoy turned back and eyed him contemplatively before sauntering towards him. 'You wouldn't shoot me, Harry.' He said softly. 'You couldn't shoot me.' He came to a stop with the gun resting against his chest as he reached out and gently carded his fingers down Harry's face. 'You could never hurt me, Harry, I know you too well.'
Harry stiffened and swallowed convulsively. 'You don't know me at all.' Harry whispered before lifting his arm above his head and stepping forward at the same time as bringing the butt of the gun down as hard on Malfoy's head as he could.
It wasn't all that hard but it knocked the Malfoy patriarch out cold. Those students who still had wands quickly moved to stun or disarm the Death Eaters. The teachers caught a few more but most escaped out the door in the aftermath.
Harry stood like stone in the middle of the hall, almost everyone afraid to approach him, even his friends, while he still had the gun in his hand. His head was bowed and most could see him visibly shuddering as he struggled to push away images his friends knew would be trying to swamp him.
'Harry?' Albus said softly. The headmaster could see Harry struggling to calm his breathing and he wanted nothing more than to gather him in his arms and tell him everything was okay. He couldn't do it though, it had to come from Harry. The touch of Lucius Malfoy would have brought forth memories Harry had been trying desperately to forget.
'Harry?' he said again. Harry finally looked up; fear and relief both evident in his eyes as he looked at the headmaster.
'Albus.' He breathed, dropping the gun and lunging forward into the safety those elderly arms provided. Albus gently stroked his hair and he felt Snape come and place a gentle hand on his back.
'Well done, Harry.' Snape murmured and Dumbledore released him so Snape could wrap an arm around his shoulders. Harry looked up at the tall man.
'Can we go now?' he whispered. Snape looked up at the rest of the staff and the student body, most of whom were still looking at Harry with shock, some of that shock however, was turning to betrayal and worse still, disgust.
'I think that might be prudent.' Snape said quietly. Albus looked around and nodded.
'I think you could be right. Severus, take Harry up to my office and then floo to Grimmauld Place. We can't stay there but it will do for tonight. We can work out the details tomorrow. I have to stay here and alert the Ministry and deal with Fudge.'
Snape nodded and Albus gave Harry one last hug before allowing the potions master to gently guide him from the hall. Harry caught Draco's eyes as he turned and nodded. Draco gave him a small smile and Harry turned away.
The explosion of noise when they finally walked through the doors was enormous and Harry allowed two tears to fall softly from his cheeks. It was over. It was finally over.
Snape saw the tears and gently swept the boy into his arms allowing him to cry on his shoulder as he let out the stress of the last hour.
'It'll be alright, Harry.' He whispered. 'I promise.'
Ten minutes later they were at Grimmauld Place and Harry was curled in Snape's lap, in their special chair, which the potions master had thoughtfully shrunk and brought with them, and was fast asleep.
Aurors and Ministry officials swarmed the castle as soon as they were alerted and the students were sent back to their common rooms. Almost forty though, had been injured in the battle and they filled the hospital wing to the brim. Three had lost their lives.
Fudge was standing in the middle of the hall, levitating the weapon with a distasteful expression on his face.
'I wouldn't do that if I were you, Cornelius.' Albus told him as together with Minerva walked towards the Minister. 'You don't know what sort of effect magic will have on live ammunition.'
Fudge ripped his wand away and the gun clattered noisily to the floor. 'Dumbledore.' The Minister snapped. 'I insist you hand over that boy this instant.'
Albus shook his head, leaning down to pick up the gun. 'I think not, Cornelius. Harry has done what the Ministry couldn't and it's time you left him alone to be a child.'
Fudge bristled at the insult to the Ministry. 'He killed a man Dumbledore, he can't just be patted on the head like an errant five year old.' The Minister's lime green bowler was certainly taking a beating this evening.
'He destroyed the Dark Lord, Cornelius. It was what your very own Aurors have been trying to do for over a year.'
'He shot a man!' Fudge yelled.
'Oh so it's because he used a gun.' Dumbledore said calmly.
'Yes of course it's because he used a gun! We don't use muggle weapons. It just isn't done!'
The shouting had the effect of garnering the attention of the entire room. Most had been cleaning up, studying the effects of Harry's weapon on the Dark Lord while casting disgusted glances at the gun held casually in the headmaster's hand.
'Look Minister.' Albus snapped. 'Harry did a job the only way he could. Do you really think he could have duelled Lord Voldemort after all he had been through? The fact he could even stand in the same room as that creature was an accomplishment, let alone having the courage to face him head on. I won't stand here and let you railroad that boy again. He is just a little boy and he has been through enough!' Albus was breathing heavily by the time he concluded the tirade and the Minister looked shocked at the fervour of the speech.
'I...I...' Fudge just didn't know what to say but Albus didn't want to hear it anyway and before the Minister could regain enough mental faculties to stop him he swept from the hall.
'Severus?' Albus knocked softly on Harry's door and smiled as he found his two favourite people in their usual position.
'He's asleep.' Snape whispered. Albus crossed the room to stand sit on the end of the bed beside the chair and he reached up and gently stroked the hair off Harry's face.
'Dear boy.' Albus murmured.
'I gather the buzzards are circling?' Snape said quietly.
'Unfortunately. We will have to leave here in the morning. Fudge will not stop until he finds him, and I won't let that happen.'
'But here is safe, isn't it?'
Albus shook his head. 'No. Too many people know where it is. They could quite easily bring Fudge and the Aurors here without telling them the exact address.'
'You can't honestly think they would betray you like that.'
'Severus, you and I both knew when we chose this path for Harry that we were in it together. No one will believe Harry procured the weapon himself or that he trained himself to use it. There are some in the Order who will think that we have betrayed them.' Dumbledore said sadly.
Snape was silent before several moments before sighing. 'I never did like teaching anyway.'
Albus smiled and patted his arm. 'Why don't you move to the bed?' he suggested. 'You need to get some sleep.'
'What about you? Where will you be sleeping?'
Albus shook his head. 'I have several letters to write and things to take care of.'
'Albus, you've been under the Cruciatus, you should be resting.' Snape scolded softly.
'Severus, I have to get this done before morning. Please just trust me.'
The potions master eyed the older wizard carefully for several minutes before nodding slowly. In one movement he stopped the slow rocking of the chair and stood, moving to the bed and placing Harry gently down on it. The boy whimpered and Snape quickly lay down beside him, pulling the small figure into his arms and Harry settled once again.
Albus walked to the door and stopped, turning back to the bed. He opened his mouth to say something but Snape pulled out his wand and held it loosely in his hand. 'With my life, Albus.' He said quietly.
Dumbledore smiled and pulled the door closed behind him.
The next morning when Harry woke the bed was empty but he knew where he was. It was still early, the sun only just peeking up over the horizon but the events of the night before flashed before his eyes and he quickly leaped from the bed and bolted for the stairs. He heard murmuring in the kitchen and darted through the door.
'You would think after last night, he would be a little more tentative before bursting into a room.' Snape drawled from his seat at the table.
Harry glanced at him, seeing the amusement in the black eyes and stuck his tongue out before taking the offered hug from the headmaster who was flipping pancakes with his wand by the stove.
'Good morning.' Harry said softly.
'Good morning, Harry.' Albus smiled, laying a plate of pancakes down in front of him.
'I thought those were for me.' Snape drawled.
Harry smirked as he drowned them in syrup and Albus placed a hand on Snape's shoulder. 'Don't worry Severus, I will make you some more. I know for a fact that it will take Harry three times as long to finish them anyway.'
'Hey.' Harry mumbled indignantly around a mouthful of pancake.
The potions master snorted and they all sat silently until finally breakfast was served and Albus took his seat. Harry swallowed his current mouthful and glanced at the two men.
'What happens now? Does Fudge want me?' he asked hesitantly.
Albus sighed. 'I won't lie to you, Harry, the Minister was not happy, he wanted me to hand you over to him for trial.'
'For killing Tom?'
'For using a gun.' Snape corrected him quietly.
'Oh.' Harry's appetite left him and he lay down his fork.
Albus laid a hand on Harry's arm. 'We're not letting you go Harry.'
Both older men could see Harry's body tense up and his eyes dropped to his lap. 'I...maybe I should just go back to the Dursley's, if they would take me.' He whispered.
'Harry, no.' Snape said instantly. 'There is no way you are going back to those monsters. Besides, the Ministry knows where they live. You would not be safe there.'
Harry raised his head and they saw pain and fear in the green eyes but something else was plainly evident too, determination. 'I guess I'm on my own then.'
'I think not, Harry. We are in this together.' Snape said calmly.
Harry looked between them again. 'What?'
'Harry, did you honestly think we would allow the wizarding world to lay all the blame for the decision to use the weapon solely at your feet. You are a child Harry and were doing what you were told to do.' Albus said simply.
'For once.' Snape murmured softly and Harry scowled at him.
'When Severus and I chose this path after your return we both knew that the wizarding world would not only be un-accepting of yourself, but of us as well. Too many in the Order know it was our decision and too many did not agree with it.'
'Just think, no more brats.' Snape mused idly.
Harry, for his part, looked horrified. 'But you can't.' he said incredulously. 'You can't give up the wizarding world for me. You are too important, both of you. You can't. Just take me to Fudge, I will tell him you both had nothing to do with it.'
'You will do no such thing. I am no longer of any importance.' Snape said firmly. 'And I'll not have you ruining your future just so that I can live by myself like a hermit somewhere because I can tell you right now, the wizarding world will never accept me.'
'And you can close you mouth, Harry.' Albus interrupted as Harry did indeed open it to protest. 'I am you guardian, your Father now, and if you think I am giving that up you have another thing coming. I have spent my life working for others and now it is time to retire. I am over a hundred and fifty years old after all.'
'But you...but there isn't...but you can't.' Harry tried to voice his concerns several times.
'There are no buts, Harry.' Albus said bluntly, standing up and clearing his plate with a flick of his wand. 'Now, have you finished breakfast because we really should get going before someone comes looking for us.'
Harry sighed but nodded in resignation. He knew it would do him no good to argue. He glanced down at his pyjamas. 'I don't suppose you managed to bring me something to wear. We might be a little conspicuous if I walk around in these all day.'
Snape snorted. 'In your room, foolish child, laying on the end of your bed, which you would have seen if you hadn't been in such a hurry to get down here and burst into a room of which you had no idea of the occupants.'
Harry gave Dumbledore a look and rolled his eyes. 'I'm never going to live that down, am I?' He stated dryly before ducking from the room, hearing the elderly wizard's laughter quite clearly as he mounted the stairs.
Harry found the jeans, t-shirt and jumper and pulled them on together with the thick woollen coat and the scarf. Obviously Dumbledore and Snape were taking the job of looking after him the whole hog. Once his shoes were tied he ducked back down the stairs only to burst into laughter. Waiting at the foot were Dumbledore and Snape. That in itself wasn't what was funny. It was the fact that Snape was in black jeans, button down shirt and leather jacket and Albus was wearing Brown corduroy pants, and argyle sweater, coat and a cap. Funniest of all however, was the short beard the headmaster now sported.
'S..sorry.' Harry stammered, desperately trying to stifle his chuckles. 'I've just never seen you dressed like that.'
Albus beamed and Snape cuffed him over the ear before slinging an arm around him, both men just happy to see him laugh.
Together the three men walked out of Grimauld Place and out of the wizarding world forever.
(More than two years later)
'Go Leo.' Snape yelled and both he and Albus cheered as Harry darted around three players on the opposing team and head for the net on the far side of the field. He feinted left and kicked right and the ball sailed between the keeper's outstretched hands.
'Yes.' Snape yelled again, grinning brightly as Harry turned around only to be swamped by his team mates and hoisted onto their shoulders as they carried him around the field. Snape thought it was only right, the boy had won them the final after all; six goals in all; four from Harry's team and two from their opponents. Harry had scored all four of his teams'. They said he was very good. A star, they said, and Snape smiled proudly. He knew Albus was doing exactly the same thing to his left. It was several minutes later before Harry ran up and hurled himself into their waiting arms like and exuberant ten year old.
'We won, we won.' He chanted and both men laughed as they hugged him tightly.
It had been such a long road to recovery for their boy, which was how they now thought of him. They had moved south to London, enrolling Harry at an exclusive private school, Snape posing as his father and Albus as his grandfather. Harry still kept in touch with his friends but through the muggle post via Hermione.
Extra tutoring had almost caught the boy up with his muggle counterparts although he remained a few of years behind peers of his age. Thankfully his small stature raised no questions and it was comically easy for Harry to pass as a not quite sixteen year old instead of his actual age of nineteen.
Just then Harry's coach walked up to them, two men in suits beside him. 'Leo,' the coach said with a big smile. 'Great game son. I have a couple of people I want you to meet. This is Dave Michaels, head coach of the under 18's national football team and his assistant Gerry Wild. Gentlemen, this is the young man I have been telling you about, Leo Dore.'
The two men stepped forward and shook Harry's hand. 'You played very well today, Leo.' Dave Michaels said quietly. Harry blushed and smiled.
Thank you.' He whispered.
'Are these you're relatives, Leo?' The national coach stepped forward and raised his hand in Snape's direction. 'Dave Michaels.' He offered.
'Hello, I'm Steven Dore, Leo's father and this is his grandfather, Albert.' Snape said politely, shaking the man's hand. Albus did the same.
'Pleasure to meet you both.' Dave Michaels told them.
'What do you want Leo for?' Albus asked.
Dave's eyes widened. 'Your grandfather is a perceptive man, Leo.'
Harry laughed. 'You could say that.' He chuckled.
Dave smiled and looked at each of them in turn. 'We want Leo to play for us, to play for England.' The coach waited for a response as Snape leant down to whisper in Harry's ear.
'Just can't be anything but special, can you Harry.' He murmured.
Harry surreptitiously trod on his pseudo father's foot as he caught Dave Michaels attention. 'I'm sorry Mr Michaels, but I just play for fun.' He said softly but firmly.
'I did tell you he wouldn't.' Harry's coach muttered in the background.
The two English coaches for their part looked stunned. 'You're turning us down?' Dave Michaels said incredulously.
'No, I'm just not accepting your offer.' Harry said simply. Snape eyes glittered as once again Harry Potter shocked two fully grown men into silence with his unique view on things. Harry's face softened further as he took pity on the two men. 'Don't take too badly.' He said softly. 'It's just that I have everything I need and I don't have anything else to prove. But thank you for the offer.' He added.
He looked past the two men to his coach who was struggling to hide his amusement. 'Thanks coach. I'll see you next season.'
'You bet, Dore. Have a good holiday.'
Harry grinned as he took his "grandfather's" hand. 'We will. Nice meeting you, gentlemen.' He said politely to the two coaches before allowing Snape and Albus to guide him towards the car.
It had been a good year and it was going to be an even better summer.
Harry just couldn't wait.