Toby and Jim´s Long Journey Home
"Blocked again! Tell me, Potter, does anything I say ever penetrate this thick skull of yours? I´ve been telling you to occlude! Why don´t you end my misery and just surrender to the Dark Lord?"
Professor Severus Snape, potions master, spy and unwilling duelling coach of Harry Potter, was livid with rage. He stood towering over the youth, whom his last – defensive – spell had propelled against the wall of the Room of Requirement.
Harry glared up at the man, equally furious. He propped up on his elbow. "You´d like that," he hissed, "wouldn´t you? And while I´m at it, why don´t I ask you to hand me over to him? I´m sure your reward would be beyond your wildest dreams."
Snape returned the glare unblinkingly. "You know nothing of my dreams, Potter. Now get up and try again and for Merlin´s sake, occlude!"
"I´m trying," snapped Potter, "only you´re not telling me how!"
Snape returned to his position and waited until the boy stood. "Ready?"
"It wouldn´t hurt to give me a minute to catch my breath, you know!"
"The Dark Lord won´t give you a second!"
"You are not the Dark Lord!" Potter didn´t sound entirely sure.
Snape smirked. "On the count of three. – Three!" He threw a hex at the panting boy. They had been duelling for more than two hours and Potter hadn´t had a second of rest during the whole period of time.
The boy raised his wand at admirable speed, given the grade of exhaustion he was suffering. He attempted a shield charm, but due to his fatigue it was feeble and the hex cut through it like a hot knife through butter.
With a howl of pain Potter collapsed against the wall. Snape was at his side with three long strides. "Are you hurt?" Usually the boy refused to give his teacher the satisfaction of voicing his agony, no matter how hard he was hit.
Concerned, Snape took in the boy´s moist eyes and the fact that he was biting his lip to keep himself from whimpering. His heart missed a beat when he saw the unmistakable traces of red on Potter´s chest. Crap! He hadn´t meant to injure the boy.
Snape knelt beside his charge and started chanting a healing charm. After a short while Potter stopped to tremble and his expression of pain changed back to one of fury.
"What were you thinking you were doing!" he burst out and pushed Snape away roughly. "A cutting hex! Was it Sectumsempra? Did you use Sectumsempra on me? You ... you ... " for a moment Potter seemed to be lost for words and Snape wondered whether it was because he hesitated to call his teacher names or because he couldn´t think of a name bad enough to call him.
"Did I ever use a spell on you to seriously hurt you?" Potter rambled on.
"What?" Snape´s voice was dangerously calm. "Do you mean to tell me that all those weeks I have been trying to teach you how to duel you have been holding back for fear of hurting me?"
Potter nodded sheepishly.
Snape seized the boy´s bloodied robes and pinned him against the wall. "Of all imbeciles I ever met you´re the worst, Potter! I´m giving up my free evenings to coach you, I risk my life! Have you any idea what he´s going to do to me if he ever catches a glimpse of these lessons in my mind? And you´re holding back?" Spit flew from Snape´s mouth as he shouted at the top of his lungs.
Potter at least had the decency to shrink by some inches at the verbal assault.
Abruptly, Snape let go of the boy and started to pace the lenght of the room, murmuring under his breath.
He was interrupted by Albus Dumbledore entering. The headmaster was dressed in robes of magnificent purple with moving pink fairies on them.
"Ah, my dear boys," he greeted them jovially, ignoring the fact that a trembling Harry Potter was leaning against one wall. "I´m glad to find you both well."
Snape stopped in his pace to glare at the headmaster. The whole situation was after all the man´s idea and therefore fault.
"The room alerted me that there was an injury," the old wizard continued, oblivious of the potions master´s fury. He stepped closer to the boy leaning against the wall, making it obvious who he cared for more.
Snape blushed at the jolt of jealousy he felt.
"I see, I see," murmured Dumbledore as he examined Potter´s robes.
"It was unintentional," Snape heard himself say.
"Of course, dear boy, of course," mused Dumbledore. "I see you healed the damage." He straightened. Two of the fairies on his robes started a game of catching. "Nevertheless I think Harry needs cuirass robes. And now that I think of it, you should have some, too, Severus. Harry may be unskilled, still, but we mustn´t forget that his raw power surpasses yours by far." – Snape winced. – "We don´t want you to get hurt once he learned to avoid your defence. You´ll go to Diagon Alley next Saturday. It´s a Hogsmeade weekend and the two of you will not arise suspicion if you leave the castle."
The headmaster turned to leave, but Snape called out to him and he stopped. "Headmaster," Snape hissed through gritted teeth, "I´m confident that Potter´s parents left him enough to buy cuirass robes, but my salary certainly doesn´t allow..."
"Don´t worry, my boy, don´t worry," a third fairy had joined the game and the three tumbled over in a heap when a fourth tripped them up. "The Order has decent operational funds. You won´t have to pay for your robes yourself, nor will Harry." He turned again.
Dumbledore turned again with a trace of impatience. On his left shoulder three fairies were beating up a fourth.
"I can´t be seen with Potter at Diagon Alley. I´d lose my position as a spy if the Dark Lord ever heard of it." And his life if he went back to him afterwards. It remained unsaid, but the message was clear without voicing it.
"I won´t risk your health during these lessons, Severus," Dumbledore said gently. "In fact, I shouldn´t have allowed them to start before you both were sufficiently protected. The lessons, however, have to continue, they´re too important. Harry needs to learn how to fight."
Snape observed the brawling fairies leave their victim behind and resume their game of catching.
"What if we´re ambushed? The Lord and his followers have been abducting shoppers and threatening them into joining for over a month!"
"I remember your report, my boy," admitted Dumbledore, "but we have to take the risk."
"You´d risk Potter?" Snape snorted.
"You have four days to develop a strategy to get you two out of trouble if you meet deatheaters," Dumbledore pointed out benignly and with this said, he left.
Snape snorted and turned back to his student. "Any suggestions?"
Potter, still leaning against the wall, shook his head. "I can´t believe he wants us to go into the lion´s den!"
"Diagon Alley is hardly the lion´s den. They have been abducing shoppers, but they aren´t permanently present. If we´re lucky, we won´t be bothered at all."
"There´s still the problem of you being seen with me in public," Potter pointed out. "I really appreciate what you´re doing for the Order and I feel bad jeopardising your safety."
"Now there´s something new," grumbled Snape. "We´ll change our appearance."
"Sorry, but I´m not really good at that. I barely managed the yellow eyebrows Flitwick made us conjure last week and even if I did, yellow eyebrows won´t do the trick."
"I´m afraid not," Snape agreed reluctantly. "And a spell-induced change of appearance can only be made by the wizard himself, so you´ll have to go as yourself."
Potter nodded. "But you´ll change?"
"As I´m not suicidal, I will," said Snape. "We´d better end this lesson and meet again tomorrow. Try to think of a way to escape an ambush. We need something you have mastered already. Raw power won´t help," he couldn´t help to sneer.
They met again the next evening. This time the Room provided them with two squashy armchairs in front of a roaring fireplace as there wouldn´t be any more duelling until they had their protective robes.
Snape sat in one of the chairs, ignoring the steaming teapot and the biscuit barrel on the coffee table between them. "Did you think of a way to escape?"
Potter showed less reserve and poured himself a cup of tea. "In fact I did. I mastered the animagus transformation some months ago. My form is small and quick, I guess I could flee in my animagus form." He added honey to his tea.
"Quick enough to outrun spells?" Snape asked doubtfully.
Instead of an answer Potter touched his index finger with his wand and transformed. A big black tomcat sat on the other chair and fixed Snape with its intense green eyes. Then, very suddenly it jumped. One moment the cat sat on the chair, then it was on the mantlepiece and another moment later it landed on the backrest of Snape´s armchair. With a last elegant jump it returned to Potter´s armchair and wand. An instant later Potter was stiring his tea again.
Snape lowered his eyes and poured himself a cup of tea to buy himself some time. "Impressive," he croaked at last. He took a sip and allowed himself to bask in the comforting warmth of the hot liquid for a minute. "Can you do it without a wand? You should as it´s a question of power." He rose his hand to stop Potter from answering. "Don´t tell me. Let´s make it a lesson."
Potter shrank back in his armchair. His knuckles turned white as he gripped his wand.
"Legilimens!" Snape shouted without further warning.
Potter´s mind was open like the Chamber of Secrets the day he had saved Ginny Weasley. Snape searched for the information he seeked at leisure, making sure he touched some humiliating memories during his quest.
"Very good," he smirked when he finally withdrew from the boy´s mind. "The transformation part, not the occlumency, obviously. Was that really a girl who beat you up or was it just a longhaired boy? Do muggle boys wear their hair long?"
Potter was pale and he shivered, like always after Snape had invaded his mind. "I´d like to see you, when you were seven and Eloise Fisher had a go at you," he spat defiantly.
Snape ignored the angry remark. "So in case we´re ambushed you´re going to transform and run."
"That´s none of your business," Snape took another mouthful of tea. "Of course you´ll have to leave your wand behind. I´ll try to bring it along. – So her name was Eloise?"
Potter pulled up his legs and hugged his knees with one arm. He reached for the biscuit barrel and peeked inside. Ignoring Snape, he produced a chocolate biscuit and nibbled at it, positioning the barrel safely between his knees and his chest.
Snape glared at the boy. It wasn´t that he wanted a biscuit, but the gesture of withholding him the pastries was of unbearable cheek. They sat, their eyes locked unblinkingly, for quite a while, trying to outstare each other. Potter continued stuffing biscuits into his mouth. At some point he let go of his legs in favour of hugging the biscuit barrel protectively.
At last Potter surrendered the barrel. Snape ignored the fact that it was empty by then, but sneered at the boy superiourly before he set the dish aside.
Saturday started with a brilliant sunrise, which Snape saw for a change as he waited for Potter to turn up beside the main door. He had used some disguising spells on himself and even his bathroom mirror had been content with the result. Snape thought he looked a bit like Lucius Malfoy, with his blond hair and grey eyes, but he hadn´t changed his shape as he needed to try on robes later. He also wore a different hairstyle. Short.
Good. Potter didn´t recognise him. He had been a bit worried whether his nose was going to give it away. He had shrunk it a bit, but couldn´t bring himself to making it too small.
"At last," he growled at the boy.
They both wore plain robes, without a Hogwarts crest, Snape black and Potter donned a dark grey. They had agreed that it would be better to not be recognised as Hogwarts staff or students.
Potter gawked at his professor as they walked to the gates in silence. Now that was a masterful appliance of self-transformation spells. Was Snape a metamorphmagus?
Snape extended an arm as soon as they had passed the apparition border and Potter obediently stepped closer. The potions master gathered his charge closer and apparated them to London.
They materialised in a small park, which was used as an apparition point by shoppers frequently. There were plenty of bushes to protect the arriving witches and wizards from muggle eyes and it was only a short walk from the Leaky Cauldron.
Snape let go of the boy as soon as they arrived. Potter stepped back and took in every detail of the surroundings.
"Will we meet here, if something goes wrong?" the boy asked.
Snape nodded. "You can sit in a tree. That should be relatively safe. Don´t change back until I join you."
Potter looked up into the tree-tops as if searching for a comfortable place to sit.
"Let´s hope we won´t need that plan at all," Snape startled the boy out of his musings and left the bushes. He brushed some dry leaves from his robes as he stepped on the path. The boy followed close behind.
They had barely reached the edge of the park when Snape felt the tingle of magic. Crap! Crap! Crap! Several hooded figures wobbled into existance as concealment spells were dropped. Snape had his wand out in an instant and with a hint of pride he registered Potter having his ready with equal velocity.
"What a wonderful surprise, it´s Potter," drawled one of the masked men. Snape wondered why Lucius bothered with the item when his stream of nearly white hair gave him away anyway. The deatheaters closed in on them. Snape watched them from the corner of his eyes, but never let Lucius out of sight. He knew the blond from various activities in the service of their Lord. When Lucius bothered to go out on a raid, he insisted on the first shot at his prey.
Potter turned a little and Snape mirrored the movement to bring them back to back.
Lucius snickered. "You´re not thinking of fighting us? You´re outnumbered two to nine."
"Thank you for doing the counting for me, Malfoy," drawled Potter. "And don´t worry. Nine cowards hiding behind masks are nothing to two brave men."
The blond rose to the bait and removed his mask. He stared at them both maliciously. "May I point out to you, Potter, that neither is your companion brave, or we would have seen him before, nor are you a man. And now hand over your wand, boy, and you shall live until the Lord has decided about your fate."
Potter snorted and Snape couldn´t but admire his guts in the face of danger. "We both know, Malfoy, that none of you would life to see tomorrow if you dared touch what Voldemort considers his."
Lucius´ face contorted with rage. "How dare you speak his name, you filthy halfblood!" He threw a hex at them, but Potter was quick and cast a shield. The blond´s curse was the signal for the others to join the unequal fight.
Curses flew from both sides and Snape was able to injure one of their attackers, but soon it became clear that they were fighting a losing battle. All he could do was open a gap for Potter to escape. "Run now!" he screamed as he shot a series of hexes at what he recognized to be the weakest part of the ring of deatheaters. With relief he registered a black blur disappearing in the nearby bushes.
Snape gave Potter a minute to hide. Then he admitted defeat and fled himself.
The potions master stayed under the bushes for nearly three hours. He didn´t dare to go up into the trees to look for Potter in case the deatheaters were still around, although that was not very probable. After decades of serving the same Lord it was unlikely that Lucius would mistake his wand. No, if one thing was certain, it was the fact that the Dark Lord had been informed about Snape´s treason as quickly as possible.
There was no purpose in hiding any longer. It was best to get Potter and try to come up with a plan what to do. Snape slid out of his hiding place on soft paws and looked up into the tree-tops. Ah, there was the boy, lazily lounging in a fork. On first sight he was asleep, but his twitching tailtip gave him away.
Snape flexed his muscles and went up the trunk in a flawless motion, using his claws as climbing-irons. Cautiously he balanced towards Potter. The boy opened his eyes when Snape was only two feet away. First, they were narrow slits, but as he took in who was pawing nearer, they flew open, big and round.
"Meouw?" the big black cat sounded inquiring.
"Meouw," affirmed his smaller companion. Snape´s fur wasn´t as thick and shiny as Potter´s, but thin and shaggy though as black as the boy´s. His eyes were the colour of honey. The potions master sat carefully and then transformed. The branch bowed a bit when it had to support the weight of a grown man instead of a cat.
"I think the branch is strong enough, you can transform," said Snape. He held onto his airborn seat with both hands.
Potter obeyed. "Why didn´t you tell me you were a cat, too?" he asked eagerly.
"Tell you a secret? Knowing how abysmal you´re at occlumency I know better," spat the potions master, but his words lacked the usual sharp tone. He sighed. "I wasn´t able to save a wand," he informed the boy.
Potter blinked. "Will they recognise yours?"
Snape refrained from stating the obvious. "Unless you learned wandless magic in secret, Potter, we´re stuck," he went on in his evaluation of their situation. "For me, the animagus transformation is the only piece of wandless magic I´m capable of."
"No better luck over here," sighed Potter. "So what will we do now? Can we go to the Leaky Cauldron? Tom could inform Dumbledore."
Snape shook his head. "Foolish boy! They know we´re somewhere nearby and wandless. They will observe any spot where they suspect us to be able to call for help. The Leaky Cauldron, Grimmauld Place, the Ministry. Everything out of reach at the moment."
"So what will we do?" For the first time Snape heard something akin to fear in the boy´s voice.
"Walk? Where? Not Hogwarts! You want us to walk all the way up to Scottland? Did they hit you with a spell? It´d take us days!"
"Make it weeks, Potter. If we´re lucky, we won´t have to walk all way. The headmaster will look for us when we don´t return in the evening."
"So why don´t we wait here for him?"
"And risk that the Dark Lord comes looking first?"
Potter bit his bottom lip. "We´ll attract the muggles´ attention." He motioned at his robes.
"We´ll travel in cat form."
"Do you think that´s wise? Most muggles don´t fancy stray cats."
"We can´t help it," shrugged Snape, "we can´t stay here and we can´t travel openly in robes. So in catform it is."
Potter nodded although he didn´t look convinced. Snape was content that the boy was ready to follow his lead for the moment.
"One more point," said Snape, "we can´t risk anybody to find out who we are as long as we can´t do magic. So don´t ever mention my name as I won´t yours."
"But what am I to call you?" Potter asked curiously.
The boy was right. They couldn´t travel for weeks without ever adressing each other. So better use aliases. "You can use my middle name. It´s barely known, so it should be safe."
"Your middle name. It is ...?"
"Tobias. Then let´s stick to middle names. You can call me James."
"I will not use your father´s name," Snape spat without second thought.
The boy looked hurt.
"It carries too many bad memories," Snape said softly. "Can I make it Jim? I never thought of him as Jim."
"I´d like that," beamed Potter. "But then I´ll call you Toby."
Snape stiffled a sigh. Better keep the boy content. "Toby it is."