Harry sat in the corner of Severus' chambers the rest of the night, wordlessly holding himself, thinking who knew what thoughts. Severus was worried about him, and didn't know what to do for the boy. So he kept a close eye on Harry while he graded his papers for the next day, but Harry neither moved nor spoke. The more time that passed, the more Severus became concerned. The clock chimed eight, and still Harry hadn't moved or said a word. Severus hadn't made him go to supper, and so neither of them had eaten.
He rose and stepped into another room, softly calling Dobby to bring them some more leftovers. Happily, the house elf brought Severus two plates of pot roast and vegetables. Severus thanked the elf, and brought the plates back into the room where he set them down on a small table.
"Harry?" he asked gently. "Dobby brought you some food." Harry didn't respond, but instead just looked away. At least the boy moved.
"You need to eat." Harry didn't react. Severus supposed this was going to be a terribly one sided conversation. He remembered all too vividly his own grief after losing Lily.
"Harry, I know how you feel. It took me over a week to eat again after your mother died, and over a month to leave these rooms. I don't want to see you go through that too. I didn't have anyone to help me at the time. Please let me help you."
"Can you tell me about her?" Harry whispered, his voice hoarse from crying and screaming earlier, and then disuse.
"Of course," Severus replied. "I have some pictures, if you would like to come and see."
"I'm so tired," Harry sighed as he let his head fall against the wall. Severus got up and reached to Harry. Harry grasped Severus' hand and he helped the boy up and over to the chair. Harry slumped over the table, picking up the fork and playing with his food. Severus stepped aside and began to rummage in a trunk. After a moment, he returned with a photo album.
"Here," he said, handing Harry the book. "These are the pictures I have of your mother and me from our school days." Harry accepted it, and began to look at the pictures. Most were of the two of them doing various things at school, Lily in her Gryffindor uniform, and Severus in his Slytherin one. A few were from before Hogwarts, and during the summer, when they wore Muggle clothes. Lily always sported a wide smile, and often, so did Severus.
"You're not wearing black," Harry commented when he reached the pictures from their summers together.
"I've never moved past that stage of my mourning," Severus said softly.
"Oh," Harry eloquently replied. "I'm sorry."
"Thank you," Severus whispered, barely keeping a control on his own emotions. They fell silent, and Harry didn't eat anything on his plate, but Severus was grateful that he had managed to elicit any sort of reaction from him. After a few minutes, Harry got up and returned to his former place and position. Severus' eyes followed him, sadly, still not sure what course of action to take. He sighed hopelessly.
Time wore on, and the hour grew late, and finally Severus rose to make sure Harry slept. He lowered himself next to the boy, who didn't react at all.
"It's time for you to go to bed," Severus murmured softly.
"Nightmares," Harry whispered back.
"I can't give you another vial," Severus continued. "That's what creates the dependency. It would be incredibly irresponsible of me to do that. I'll be here though."
"Don't leave me," Harry whispered, slipping his smaller hand into Severus' larger one.
"I won't," Severus promised. Harry leaned against the man, and relaxed into a light slumber. Severus picked Harry up and brought him to his own personal bedroom. Severus laid Harry out on his bed, and pulled the covers over him. Then he transfigured a small cot next to the bed, so that he could monitor Harry through the night for any sign of nightmares. He shoved the cot close, and held Harry's hand in his own, so that Harry would know he was there, even in his sleep.
Next morning, Severus woke before Harry. He rose and fixed two cups of tea, waiting for when Harry would wake. As time marched along, and class time was approaching, Severus intended to wake Harry. He looked up and saw a figure.
"Black!" Severus shouted. "What took you so long? You have a godson who's been distraught over your untimely departure. Do the honors and wake him up. He's had a fitful night." Sirius went into the other room and woke Harry. Severus heard a delighted scream, and smiled softly to himself.
Harry rushed out of the bedroom, and just looked at Severus' knowing face and smiled. Severus was satisfied that he had made the right choice.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Harry asked, his face wet with tears, but this time, it was because of joy. Harry stood by Sirius, his gaze darting between his godfather and Snape.
"Because we didn't know if it would work," Snape tried to explain. "No one had ever tried it before, and we had no way of knowing if it would work. I didn't want to give you false hope."
"Oh," Harry said, like he didn't quite understand.
"If it hadn't worked," Sirius began, "and you placed all your expectations on seeing me again, and I never returned, how much more devastated would you have been?"
"I see," Harry said. "Thank you."
In the wizarding world, it was commonly believed that dementors ate the souls of their victims. This was the story that was passed from parents to children, and no one remembered where this story originated. It was just something that everyone knew. The more critical thinkers of the wizarding community argued that this was impossible, because if the dementor ate the soul of its victim, there was nothing left to move on past the veil. Some wizards believed this to be the case, that the souls of those fed to the dementors were condemned to never see eternal rest, and they used this idea as a reason to be opposed (sometimes violently) to the use of dementors in the justice system.
Those who maintained that the dementors did not truly eat the souls of their victims said that what the dementors did eat was the energy released upon death. They proposed the theory that when the body and soul of the individual were separated, a great burst of energy took place, and it was this energy which fed the dementors' never ending hunger. Some even went as far as to say that this explained why dementors targeted wizards specifically, as when a wizard died, the burst of energy was exponentially greater than any other living being on earth. Muggles produced the next largest burst, due to their intelligence, but not as large as wizards, due to their lack of magic. Animals created a much smaller burst, since they lacked intelligence in the human understanding of it. Dementors would target Muggles, or even animals, if their pray was scarce, but in general, they preferred wizards.
But everyone's opinions were just that - opinions, conjectures, theories. No one had ever done an experiment to see what the truth was. Who would want to potentially sacrifice their eternity for a matter of curiosity? Let the philosophers and the scientists argue about it. Ordinary people had no reason to want to challenge either side.
Sirius Black was not an ordinary person, and neither did he have ordinary qualms.
"Why didn't you run, Black?" Severus asked, as soon as Albus had gone.
"One of the teachers heard the commotion," Sirius explained.
"Alright. I can't let you out, or make it seem plausible that you overpowered me somehow."
"I know," Sirius said. "I never expected you to."
"If I could, I would, for Harry's sake."
"Good. I have an idea, though. It may not work. I haven't heard of anyone trying it under these circumstances. I will assist you if you want to try."
"What is it?" Black asked, curious.
"You could become a ghost."
"A ghost. I would expect you've seen them before," Severus drawled.
"Can we do it even if I'm being Kissed?"
"I don't know," Severus admitted. "That's what I'm not sure about. If it is successful, you will be a ghost forever. There will be no going back. You'll see Harry grow up, grow old, and eventually die. And you'll still be around. You'll see his children, if he has any, grow up and die. And you'll still be here, stuck between the Veil and the living. Is this something you want to do?"
"Harry's probably pretty upset right now, isn't he?" Sirius asked.
"Yes," Severus confirmed. "I left him with a sleeping potion, so he shouldn't be in any trouble, from nightmares or otherwise."
"Thank you," Sirius said. "I don't think I can leave Harry forever, not if there's another option."
"Does that mean you want to attempt to become a ghost?"
"The Hogwarts ghosts don't recommend this course, you realize," Severus continued. "I don't want to be responsible for not warning you of the consequences before we begin."
"I understand the consequences," Sirius said. "The Hogwarts ghosts became ghosts because they were afraid of death. They didn't become ghosts for someone else."
"Perhaps become a ghost for someone else is harder," Severus pointed out quietly. "If you try to escape death, you've succeeded. You'll be a ghost forever. If you become a ghost for Harry, Harry will eventually leave you behind. There's no saying how long he'll live." Severus didn't want to say that Harry might even end his own life, but it was a possibility.
"Perhaps it is harder," Sirius agreed. "Perhaps someday I'll regret this decision. But right now, I'll regret not doing it if I don't."
"Then that is your final decision?"
"Yes, it is."
"Then I will help you."
"Thank you, Severus."
Severus conducted a ritual designed to produce a ghost upon death. They agreed not to mention this to Harry, so as not to give him false hope. If it failed, Harry would be more devastated than if he had never been told about this possibility. As a new day dawned, the ritual was complete. Severus was exhausted, both from lack of sleep and the drain on his magic.
"That's all I can do," Severus sighed. "If it's possible to become a ghost, you will be one."
"I appreciate your time and skill," Sirius returned.
"You're welcome, Black," Severus said.
Later that day, upon Harry's orders now that he was the heir to the Black estate, Kreacher brought a golden locket to Severus. It was the horcrux.
"I believe this is yours," Sirius said, handing Severus the locket. He could feel the evil coming from it, and shuddered to think what sort of a person could stand to wear it and be unaffected.
"Thank you, Black," Severus replied. "Harry!" He had been keeping an extra close eye on the boy and was requiring him to spend a few days under his watch rather than getting into trouble back in the Gryffindor common room. Harry stepped around from another room, and looked nervously, alternating, at Severus and Sirius.
"A horcrux," Severus explained. "There's no time to lose destroying it." Severus retrieved his basilisk fang, and together, kneeling on the ground, Harry and Severus raised it above the locket. They brought it down, but the fang bounced off.
"I - I think we have to open it," Harry said.
"It's possible," Severus said, clearly disappointed. They tried to pry it open, and nothing they could do would work.
"Maybe Parseltongue," Harry suggested and tried to focus on summoning the right sounds. Nothing would come. He tried again. Still nothing.
"Is everything alright?" Severus asked.
"I can't speak Parseltongue anymore," Harry panicked. "It's gone."
"Have you tried since you destroyed the horcrux inside you?"
"No," Harry admitted, suddenly realizing what it meant. "We can't destroy it." Severus was agitated at the thought that he couldn't destroy the man who had caused him and the ones he loved so much misery. He would always have a nagging fear that the man could return again, and haunt them. He covered his mouth with his hand as he sat back on his heels. "I'm sorry," Harry murmured.
"If we had known," Severus began, "your horcrux should have been the last. Instead, it was the first. There was no way we could know the order they had to be destroyed. It's not your fault."
"I know," Harry said. "I'm still sorry."
"Black," Severus said, addressing the silent ghost who stood behind them, "I want you to take this as far away as you can, bury it as far beneath the earth as you can, and forget where you put it. It may be a tiny bit of the Dark Lord which remains, which can one day be used to bring him back, but we can make that as difficult as we can. If there is no record of its existence, if we report that we destroyed it, then no one will try to look for it. The winners write history, and right now, we're the winners."
"I will do as you say," Sirius said, and vanished, locket in hand.
"We still have to look for two other horcruxes," Harry pointed out once Sirius was gone. "It might not get rid of You-Know-Who forever, because of the locket, but if we can destroy the missing two, it will limit his chances."
"Of course," Severus said, still reeling from the horror that he couldn't rely on the knowledge that his master would be dead forever. "And with a ghost on our side, research becomes much easier," Severus continued. "Black can pour over the tomes in the library at all hours, no need of sleep, and he can consult with the other ghosts much more effectively than we can."
"I just wanted to say - thank you for that."
"For what?" Severus asked.
"For helping Sirius become a ghost. I - I can't imagine - " Harry stopped and looked at Severus.
"What can't you imagine?" Severus prompted patiently.
"I can't imagine you suggesting it to him," Harry continued. "That you would offer him a way to still be here, and that you would help him with it."
"If I didn't, you would have suffered much more," Severus said quietly.
"But you'll have to put up with him for the rest of your life!" Harry exclaimed. Severus snorted.
"I believe I can tolerate a mutt if it means you'll actually eat and speak to me."
"Well, still. Thank you."
"You're welcome. We can work on tracking down those next two horcruxes later as we find time. I still have your blasted essays to grade!"
"Sorry," Harry smiled.
"Take note, Harry," Severus said, his voice oddly calm. "As your father, I ask that you avenge me, because one day you will find me drooling in the corner, unresponsive, and it will be because I had a stroke. And it will be entirely the fault of all those dunderheads." Harry gaped slightly before swallowing.
"Right...avenge…" Harry nodded. "Any particular hex or curse you have in mind?"
The days came and went. OWLs came and went. The year came and went, and Harry found himself at the parting feast, having performed at least an "Acceptable" on all of his OWLs, with Snape's help and tutelage. Harry sat with Ron and Hermione, on the far end of the Gryffindor table, the one closest to the exit. Harry still preferred that seat. It was convenient for a quick escape, something he still did occasionally, though it was becoming rarer.
Harry spent the night in Snape's chambers more often than not. He found it much more comfortable to deal with the dark potions professor, now his father, than a common room full of Gryffindors. He still had nightmares - regularly - but Snape was always patient and helped him through them every time. Some found his sleeping arrangements odd, but Ron and Hermione respected Harry's choices without a word of criticism or demands for explanation. Harry still spent time with them, and for that, they were grateful. They didn't want to see their friend slip away from them, and as they had proven, they were willing to fight for him.
The school still talked, but the rumors and the whispers were becoming less. Perhaps Nott's death, and Malfoy's injuries, had something to do with that. It certainly sent the message "Don't mess with the Boy-Who-Lived." Most of the students refused to talk to him. Harry wasn't disappointed with this arrangement. He was more than happy to not talk to them as well, and as long as they left him alone, he was happy to leave them alone.
No new articles had been published in the Daily Prophet since the interview with Malfoy a couple months previous. Perhaps it had something to do with Sirius - accidentally - squishing a small pink beetle in Snape's quarters one day. No one could be sure, really, because there was no pink beetle in the registers of animagi. The three of them felt that the conspicuous lack of articles regarding Harry confirmed their suspicions.
With Sirius' help, he and Snape were able to track down both Helga Hufflepuff's cup and Rowena Ravenclaw's diadem and destroy them. Neither was hard to find with the right information. The thought of the locket still preyed at Snape's mind, Harry knew, because sometimes, in the middle of the night, he could hear Snape vomiting, and sometimes, he would watch as Snape's eyes grew distant and he began to pace anxiously. When that happened, Harry would try to say something to distract Snape. Maybe about homework, his lessons that day, a question about his parents even. This would usually bring Snape back to the present moment. Harry feared the day when it would no longer work, and prayed that it would never come.
The Feast went well. Harry chatted with his friends, and ate a decent amount. Not a lot for an average fifteen year old boy, but Harry was not an average fifteen year old boy. Snape had said he was pleased with Harry's eating progress, and this time, Harry didn't have to fear lack of food at the end of the school year.
Snape had told him that they would be spending the summer at Spinner's End, Snape's own personal home. Snape had warned him it wasn't much, a run down house in a run down neighborhood on the far side of England. Snape warned him that it was shabby and ill-stocked in the way of things Harry would like. Harry had told him he didn't care. It would be better than Dudley's second bedroom, he was confident. Even Snape had nodded and agreed it would be better.
As the students prepared to get on the Hogwarts' Express, Harry hung back and waved to his friends. They wished him good-byes, waves, and friendly smiles as they disappeared into the train. Harry felt a small twinge of remorse at saying good-bye to them for the summer, but he didn't feel sad, properly speaking. He would see them again soon, and they had promised to write to him. No, he didn't feel sad.
Harry turned to his left and looked up at Snape, who stood by his side, and then to his right, where he saw the shimmering outline of Sirius. He waved one last time at the train, which had started to chug away with increasing speed, and smiled.
My apologies on forgetting to post House Cup numbers on the last couple chapters.
Slytherin wins with 1625, Ravenclaw with 1225, Gryffindor with 860, Hufflepuff with 390.
Eternal gratitude to my beta, mandancie, without whom this story would be much more boring, much more confusing, and much less fun for me to write. (Psst...go check out her stories too.)
I am purposely leaving this open for a sequel. If you wish, you can follow this story, or me as an author, for when I begin that project. When I do, I will post an epilogue as such in connection to this story.
In the meantime, my next work, "Pen Pals" will appear shortly on the scene.
Thanks to everyone.