To Walk Through Fire
Disclaimer: Once again, I do not own Harry Potter and the characters associated with him. They belong to J.K. Rowling. I am not making money off of this story. So please don't sue.Chapter XIX: Of Intentions and Deceptions
He wasn't sure what woke him. Perhaps it had been the lack of warmth on his right foot, or maybe it had been the distinct sound of a door closing – that could have been a dream though. He did not care what it had been . . .but it had, in effect, caused his current dilemma. Awakened his body had begun to feel the discomfort of a full bladder. No matter which way he turned and tossed, the annoyance would not go away, in fact moving seemed to make it far more insistent.
He shifted onto his left side.
A few seconds past, but it felt like forever . . .
Then onto his back.
Unable to stand it anymore, Harry slipped out of the pile of blankets Sirius had bundled him in and dashed across the floor, oblivious to the cold stones beneath his bare feet. Having been a patient of the infirmary on a frequent basis, he knew the way to the bathroom very well.
Relief flooded through him.
Finally content, Harry turned on the tap to wash his hands. Only after the tap was turned off did he dare look upon his reflection, scared of the ghastly sight he'd see. Harry by no means was vain, but he had seen some of the pitying looks Sirius had given him when his godfather thought he wasn't looking. With not a small sense of apprehension, Harry gathered his mangled courage and looked up into his own green eyes.
Shock flooded into him. He felt his legs give way beneath him.
The reflection was not as bad as he thought it would be . . .no it was worse.
The pale boy he had seen in the mirror was not the same image he had seen every time he had looked in the mirror for the past fifteen years.
This pale image was worse.
The black hair was still there, and the green eyes. But the black hair remained flat, and the slant to the eyes was one he had only ever seen on one individual. There was no denying it. The ashen face he had seen in the mirror looked like none other than Sirius Black's . . .
Sirius grumbled to himself about useless meetings and indecisive individuals as he dashed back towards the infirmary. He hadn't wanted to leave Harry alone, but Albus had "insisted" – demanded more like it – that he attend this particularly meeting. Expecting a decisive move to be made, an action planned on behalf of the Order, Sirius had been extremely disappointed. There were so few of them there and yet no one could agree on what needed to be done, except Dung who had agreed with Sirius the whole time – not that he had said too much being preoccupied with Harry.
Poppy had promised to keep an eye on his son, but it wasn't the same. Harry needed him nearby. Harry had asked him to stay, and yet he had left the moment called – well after some . . .a lot of arguing. He was a terrible father. What kind of dad promised his son that he would stay and then leave when beckoned? What kind of father never told his son the truth?
The hospital wing was deathly silent as he entered. A strange foreboding filled him. The soft sound of gentle breathing was non-existent. Fear racing through his veins, Sirius dashed to Harry's bed . . . only to find it completely vacant with blankets pushed towards the bottom.
No! Voldemort couldn't have! Not here! Not in Hogwarts!
A strange sense of déjà vu washed over Sirius as he quickly headed towards the sound. Perhaps it wasn't Voldemort . . .maybe Harry had headed to the loo and was still too weak . . .but maybe there was a way to get into Hogwarts from over there . . .maybe Harry was unconscious on the floor . . .dying . . .or dead . . .or drowning . . .or . . . Thousands of scenarios flashed through Sirius's head in the seconds it took to reach the bathroom and yank open the door . . .
Of all the scenarios he had imagined, he had never thought of this.
There Harry was, sprawled on the floor with his back against the wall staring in horror at his hands, shaking his head as if in denial.
"Harry?" Sirius whispered softly bending down beside the boy trying not to startle him.
Harry's eyes turned towards him eerily blank and empty.
"Harry?" Sirius said again, louder this time, insecurity resounding in his voice. When Harry still didn't respond, Sirius moved his hand forward to touch his son, to rouse the boy from his shocked state.
"No!" Harry screamed and jumped up. "You traitor. You betrayed them! You betrayed him, my dad . . .but I guess he's not really my dad." He bolted up before Sirius could move too shocked by the boy's words . . .they came too close to the truth for Sirius to deny. With that Harry escaped out of the hospital wing. Sirius could only watch in shock as the boy ran barefoot across the stone floor.
It took only a moment of shocked hesitation for Sirius to run after Harry, but a moment was enough, Harry had disappeared.
Harry couldn't remove the thought of Sirius's betrayal out of his mind. No matter how fast he ran the image in the mirror haunted his thoughts. Why? Why would Sirius and his mum betray . . .James like that?
He wouldn't think it! Not of Sirius. Sirius could not have . . .And his mum . . .
No! No! No! It was not possible. He couldn't believe it.
His eyes fell on his hands – similar and yet so different from the ones he had seen for the past fifteen years. This was no dream. His body even felt awkward as he stumbled and tripped around.
Suddenly the floor came up to meet him.
Harry cried and sobbed on the floor where he had fallen – shuddering breaths echoed harshly off stonewalls.
It was too much. Too much. He just wanted to block out the world and disappear into oblivion. He would gratefully accept oblivion now.
But he didn't deserve it.
He couldn't stand the guilt anymore.
Or the pain.
Too much! Too much!
It reverberated through his mind echoing around and around. He saw flashes of his uncle advancing on him. Fudge gleefully declaring his punishment. His parents glaring at him accusingly. His dad now whispering how he was a symbol of betrayal of Sirius and Lily. Ron and Hermione in danger again because of him. His Aunt – dead. And Sirius. . .No! He couldn't think of Sirius. He had trusted the man, even loved him . . . and yet Sirius had betrayed him and his father – he stubbornly clung to the fact, trying to find a defining point in his collapsing identity. But it was all slipping away from him.
And the identity he had struggled to retain in Azkaban, through his uncle's punishments, and Voldemort's cruelty suddenly slipped through his grasp.
Who was he?
It must have been hours, not that he truly noticed, before his sobbing had resided to a soft sniffle. He felt completely exhausted and utterly alone. Nor could he find any warmth, the stone below was slowly seeping it away. Hopeless and lost, Harry could do little but lay on the cold ground thinking of nothing. It hurt too much to think. There was too much to think of, and so little of it was pleasant.
Perhaps in desperation of trying to keep his mind blank, or perhaps in a pitiful attempt to keep himself warm, Harry dragged his lead heavy body off the stone floor and sat curled on the parapet of the astronomy tower. It was funny. He didn't remember running up here – it was far from the infirmary. All he could recall was his frantic dash away from his thoughts . . .those terrible, threatening thoughts. They still hadn't left him. No not even now – they still remained buried deep within his jumble of thoughts and pain.
Harry stiffened as the footsteps came closer.
Please don't be Sirius. He didn't want to, couldn't see Sirius now. Whatever strange, lonely equilibrium he had managed to find now was so precarious that one small push, a feather light touch, and he would topple once again into that terrible river of pain and memory.
Staring wide-eyed at the approaching figure, Harry felt his heart pound quicker at the sight of a dark head . . .he was caught!
The memories and pain came threateningly closer.
No. No! NO! This couldn't be happening. He couldn't bear to see his –
Professor? Harry nearly chocked on the expelled air as he sighed in relief and gasped in horror. Not Professor Snape. Why? Why would the professor be up here? Why now of all times? Why did it have to be him?
"Harry," the dark man said in acknowledgement. All Harry could do was gurgle in reply, had that man just called him Harry? The man who had hated him since he had set eyes on him?
The Potions Professor said nothing, just stood nearby, a dark and foreboding, and yet eerily comforting presence.
Harry suddenly burst out laughing. He didn't know why but thinking of Snape and comforting in the same sentence was hilarious. Actually it was hilarious that Snape was standing beside him, out of all the places the man could be.
Perhaps he hadn't finished shedding tears, for his hysterical laughter began to feel an awful lot like sobs. He felt someone hold him as he cried. He knew that the touch was unfamiliar, but it was warm and gentle. It was something strong and tangible to hold on to. Something he had been desperately craving for so long. It seemed like forever and yet barely a moment before he could quiet himself. Habit had kicked in and he forced himself to stop crying. Fifteen-year-old boys did not cry. He wasn't supposed to cry. He was not allowed to cry. It only led to more pain.
It seemed surreal to be sitting there huddled next to Snape. But so did everything else that had happened within the last week. He didn't care that it was his greasy git of a potions professor holding him, or that he had let the man see his weakness. Snape wasn't a part of his regrets, or fears now. The man simply existed.
Suddenly a thought came to him. "Do you recognize me Professor?" His voiced croaked.
"Of course I do Harry. Why wouldn't I?" It was strange to hear Snape speak without malice and even weirder still, to hear his name spoken by that voice. Well Snape probably couldn't call him 'Potter' anymore. Did the man even know?
"I'm different professor. I don't look like me anymore." Harry declared pulling himself up to look at the professor.
"Of course you look like yourself," Snape sneered sarcastically. "But not as you did. I suspect Black will tell you everything if you ask him. It's not as sinister as you think Harry."
The professor must have known then. He hated Sirius. He would want Sirius to be seen in the worst possible light . . .but then why would he say it was not "sinister"?
"What do you mean?" Harry couldn't help but blurt out. Could it be true? He squashed his hope mercilessly. Hope only brought despair and trouble.
"Black did not betray Potter in anyway." The man nearly spat out those names, almost sounding regretful. "Harry, Lily would never betray anyone. I can assure you."
Harry just stared at blankly at the professor. Did he just say "Lily"?
"Despite his immaturity and stupidity, would Black truly make such a bad father?"
Harry was taken aback by the question. "No." He immediately said before his mind could completely comprehend those words. "I wanted him to have that role in my third year, but now . . .how could he be? I mean mum and dad were married. Everyone says so." New possibilities expanded before him. Harry didn't have the energy to quash them and hope slowly filled him. Perhaps, now, he could truly have a father. A real family.
But he didn't deserve one. He quickly destroyed the notion before his imagination could go any further.
"Perhaps you would do well not to listen to the opinion of the public. In general, the public tends to be idiots." Snape shifted his position a little to gather Harry, who was shivering uncontrollably from the cold, back into his arms. "There are some things the general public cannot know, and that is one of them."
"Why?" Harry craned his head towards the man. His mind seemed to be going in too many directions at once and he could hardly focus on his professor's words. Why was the man talking to him? Why was his hated potions professor helping him?
"That's best for Black to answer. I don't even presume to know what's going on in his idiotic head."
"No, I meant why are you being so nice to me?" Harry couldn't help but ask. Here he was, clinging to his sanity by a thin strand, feeling so alone, and the only one to sit here and comfort him was a man who had proclaimed hatred of him for the past four years.
"Because I can't afford to have a student jump off the astronomy tower." The man snapped with such vehemence that Harry flinched and tried to move away, only to find himself pinned by a strong arm.
"I wasn't going to jump." Harry stopped struggling and looked at the man with wide eyes as the words the professor had said penetrated his panicked mind. "No matter how bad things got I could never ever commit . . . Mum gave her life for me. The least I could do was keep it, curse or no." Harry was whispering by the time he had finished his declaration. He felt very small under that dark gaze.
"At least you have some sense." The man muttered, almost as if to himself. He refused to offer more of an explanation though.
"Would you come with me back to the infirmary now?" Snape asked softly.
Harry looked at him hesitantly. He felt exhausted and cold, but still he didn't want to see Sirius.
"Look Harry, Black is out of his mind with worry, and despite my dislike of the man, he is making a large amount of racket looking for you, disturbing the peace. Would you please come down and just listen to what he has to say?"
Please! Professor Snape had said please!
Harry nodded reluctantly and let the man help him up. A flash of worry dashed through Snape's eyes as Harry felt his legs buckle. But it was gone so fast that Harry suspected he had imagined it. Why would anyone worry about him? He wasn't worth it. Forcing himself to stand without aid Harry followed the bat-like figure down the stairs, refusing to let himself collapse.
Severus Snape did not know what had gotten into him. He had just left his guard down to a boy he had swore he would never show affection to. The supposed son of James Potter – the boy he had promised to keep safe, but never to love. No, not even for Lily could he do that. And now. Now he had let his guard down.
It was just so that the child would not jump off the astronomy tower. Or so he tried to convince himself. He couldn't have the boy fall apart now, not when he was so integral to the destruction of the Dark Lord. A weak Boy Who Lived would not help them much. Since no one else had been there, Snape had taken it upon himself to comfort the sniveling child. Maybe now he could focus more on the school and learning, and eventually defeating the Dark Lord rather than his personal problems.
He had held the child solely for his own selfish needs.
But the child was so much like Lily . . .
When he had seen the boy sitting there on the ledge, so close to death, he had felt his heart stop. His thoughts had immediately gone to the worst possible scenario; the boy was going to jump! He had near run towards the boy, only to find that the child was sitting there unmoving, frozen in cool summer night.
But, just for a moment, he had seen Lily sitting there instead of Harry. That's why he had hurried over. He had held the boy because of his promise to Lily. And the boy needed to find comfort somewhere, even if it was from him . . .
So he had taken it upon himself to give the child some comfort. It was only because he wondered how much could one expect a child to take? Azkaban was enough to break a grown man, much less a child who had seen the deaths of so many people. And his whole world had changed. Severus had quickly deduced that Black hadn't had time to tell Harry what had truly happened. Why else would the boy not be seeking comfort from Black? And that lost look in those green eyes so much like Lily's . . . he had seen that look in Lily's eyes only once and he had never wanted to see it again.
It was those eyes that truly broke him. And he had found himself holding the boy to comfort him. It was a rare known fact within his Slytherins, a whisper of a rumor, nothing more, that he gave comfort to some of the lonely children who came seeking him for guidance. Draco knew. So did several of the others who had not been treated kindly by their parents or peers. Those individuals had spoken nary a word, afraid to be mocked by their fellow Slytherins, and in loyalty to Severus himself. He could tell when his students needed comfort. And Harry had needed it then.
So he had held the boy.
Bellatrix glared at the hideous rat in front of her. How dare he get them lost! He was supposed to know every small crevice of this castle. And now they were – only Merlin knew where! She was going to strangle that rat when she managed to transform back into herself. That rat would pay! Oh yes . . .she could think of many delightful activities she and Wormtail could do together . . .particularly downstairs in the Dark Lord's current fortress. Oh it would be perfect!
Madness glinted in her eyes as she walked forward, imagining all the terrible things she could do . . .Perhaps he would enjoy to lose another finger? Or maybe a foot this time?
She cackled, although it sounded more like chocking in her rat form, causing her companion to look at her for one instant, before he turned away too frightened to face her for long. The Dark Lord would punish them for the lack of information . . . but she would punish this traitor a hundred times more.
End Chapter 19.
Authors notes: Thank you to all those who reviewed! Sorry it has taken so long for this chapter…this first semester was harder than I suspected it would be…I'm still wondering why I majored in the sciences. I hope this chapter is decent enough. Thank you to my beta who gave excellent feedback on this chapter. Hope you all enjoy. Merry Christmas.