Severus leaped up from the chair by Harry's bed when Poppy rushed into the room at last, shattering the silence that had stretched between Hermione and Severus since they had sent the Patronus.
"Harry!" Poppy said, her hand up against her mouth.
Severus glanced to Hermione, and they shared a look of relief.
"You said he just collapsed, did he?" Poppy asked breathlessly as they made way for her to kneel by his bedside.
"Yes," said Severus, worry gnawing at his gut. "It was a few minutes after he'd finished having a breakdown over Black. I think he finally realized it wasn't his fault. But I cannot be sure. Better safe than sorry ..."
Madam Pomfrey nodded, feeling Harry's forehead.
"He's so cold," she said, sounding alarmed. She waved her wand a few times, repeating various patterns, at last saying nervously, "I don't know what to make of it, Severus. I hope you are right that this is what is happening, because I haven't seen anything like it before."
"You think he's changing back, then? It isn't something else?" Hermione asked, the fear evident in her voice. She was shaking, and her eyes were filled with tears as she hovered at the end of the bed.
Hesitantly, Severus edged a bit closer to her, and grasped her shoulder. The tremors seemed to dissipate slightly, and while Hermione did not say anything, she did not shy away.
"I think that must be it," said Poppy, although she still looked concerned, and uncertain.
The sound of hurried footsteps on the stairs reached their ears, and before anyone could even greet him, Dumbledore was kneeling by Harry's bed, a hand on his Harry's wrist and feeling his pulse. After a moment he moved the hand to Harry's forehead. Harry moaned softly in his state. The air seemed to ripple slightly. The thunder outside crashed loudly.
"Yes," he said, "yes, he's returning to his previous state. I am quite sure of it. It seems to match what little is in books and papers about this phenomenon. You can feel the magic too. I am glad you informed us. I am glad to be here for this, just in case."
Severus stood still, and concentrated, thinking of Dumbledore's comment about the magic. He too could feel the tingling feeling over his body now that he had calmed down a bit.
"Thank Merlin," he said hoarsely once he had found his voice, his hand still on Hermione's shoulder. Dumbledore turned to him with a look of concern.
"Severus, there was something besides this that you wanted to discuss with me," he said. "I believe it will take some time for Harry to fully change back to himself. We might as well have our discussion in the meantime."
"I will be watching over Mr. Potter," said Poppy.
Severus looked at Harry, then to Hermione, and Poppy. He hated to leave Harry, and it made him self conscious to know that he couldn't hide his concern. But, Severus knew that Poppy would know when to come and get him or Dumbledore if something went wrong, which it likely wouldn't. He also knew that sharing with Dumbledore the things he had learned were of utmost importance. If Harry was changing back, the last thing he wanted was for him to be shipped back to the Dursleys'. The sooner he talked to Dumbledore, the better.
"Alright," he said slowly, taking his hand off of Hermione's shoulder and walking over to the door, where Dumbledore was standing. "But, Poppy, come and get me if he begins to wake. I want to be here."
"Alright, Severus," she said, a trace of a smile evident on her lips as she took the chair Severus had been sitting in.
"Oh, and Miss Granger," said Dumbledore before he and Severus left, his eyes twinkling, "that was an excellent Patronus. Given the circumstances, I would award you a hundred points for that, were we in school."
Hermione blushed. "Thank you, Professor," she murmured.
"You are most welcome," he said with a smile.
He swept out of the room, and Severus followed.
"Albus, I require your pensive for this," Severus said shortly.
Dumbledore nodded. Severus went on a quick trip to his room to retrieve his wand. He entered the kitchen to find Dumbledore standing by the table. Within moments Dumbledore had performed an elegant twisting motion with his wand, and as though it was made from smoke, the pensive materialized on the kitchen table. It looked so out of place in a room that was ordinary in every way. Severus moved to stand before the pensive.
"You should not have put this off," said Severus in a low voice, unable to stop it from shaking with anger. "You really should have come when I said so."
Dumbledore seemed to have opened his mouth to explain, but Severus cut him off, giving him a look that clearly said "later". He raised his wand to his temple, his left hand steady as a rock now that the time had come for him to pull through for Harry, just as he'd promised. A silver strand was pulled from his temple, and the gossamer thread of memories was lowered into the pensive. Severus looked pointedly at Dumbledore, who stepped toward the pensive, and lowered his face to the surface. He sunk into it, and Severus plunged into the bowl after him.
They arrived on Privet Drive, and up ahead, while he was unable to see himself, Severus knew he was walking beneath the invisibility cloak.
"This way," he muttered to Dumbledore, and they walked forward, sliding dreamlike across the landscape until they reached number four. Severus saw the door knocker move, and as the door opened Petunia was pushed aside by the invisible force, her shocked expression evident.
Dumbledore and Severus entered the house. They watched as the memory Severus pulled the cloak off, as he threatened Petunia, as he snarled and pushed his way into the kitchen. Dumbledore tore his gaze from the memory, and looked over to Severus with curiosity.
"I got tired of waiting for your explanation," Severus explained simply, though his voice was biting. "Just because I cannot cast spells yet, does not mean I cannot apparate."
"Well, you never were one to sit idly by," Dumbledore said quietly, sounding rather impressed, to Severus' irritation. They fell silent again as the two people before them began to talk.
It was not long before the memory of Severus had Petunia spilling her darkest secrets. Severus, who had been hearing Petunia's confessions every time he went to sleep for the past few nights, watched Dumbledore instead of himself. He wanted to know how much Dumbledore knew. The evidence against Petunia piled up, steadily growing. It got worse as she continued, just as it had the first time. Only Severus knew what was coming now, and it made it all the more horrid.
"A good wallop to the back of the head smartens him up," Petunia's voice echoed. Severus glanced at her in disgust, finally able to show his true feelings. "He's pretty quick though, and hard to catch, but the lesson sinks in all the better when you finally do get him."
Severus turned to look at Dumbledore, and he was alarmed by the shade of grey that he had gone. He sneaked glances at him every so often, and Dumbledore did not improve in his appearance.
The minutes ticked by, and Severus tried to block out the sounds of Petunia's grating voice, for every word she said was making the old anger within him rise like hot lava. He could feel the tingling at the tips of his fingers and toes, and this sensation was an entirely different one than he had experienced when he had been in Harry's room earlier, and Dumbledore had pointed out the magic in the air. That magic was benign, but this ... this was destructive. Severus took a deep breath, and he felt the feeling reduce.
He shook his head slightly, and upon noticing himself and Petunia moving into the hallway, he followed. He swallowed thickly, his throat dry. Despite the fact that he knew what was about to happen, he still felt sick.
"Where was he before?" he heard himself ask in regard to where Harry used to sleep.
"The cupboard," was the haunting reply he'd heard too many time to count since the visit. He shut his eyes, not wanting to see the look on his own face. He could hear the picture frames shifting ever so slightly, the memory preserving this detail well. It was odd, because he could feel the magic in the air. Severus frowned. Pensive memories were not that powerful, were they?
He opened his eyes and looked at Dumbledore, and felt his mouth open with surprise. The magic was not from the memory, but from him. Sparks crackled in the air, and a pulsating kind of aura seemed to surround Dumbledore, who had a look so terrible on his face that Severus backed up, the years reminding him of the night he had first gone to Dumbledore, begging for Lily's life. The hatred was intense, and Severus was reminded of why Dumbledore was so feared.
When the door to number four slammed the memory went black, and moments later they were in the kitchen again. The only noise to be heard by Severus was the rushing within his ears, and his senses felt strangely dead with no magic coursing through the air. It was gone. Dumbledore's face was no longer terrifying, but the look that had replaced it was even worse than before. It was the look of despair.
And for the first time since Severus had known Dumbledore, he seemed lost for words. Feeling weak at the knees, Severus sunk into the chair opposite Dumbledore.
"I ... I am sorry, Severus," Dumbledore muttered at last, he too sitting down. "I am sorry I did not come immediately. I had important things to do - and I guess I thought they were important enough that I could wait a few days before coming to see you."
"What was so bloody important," hissed Severus, "that you pretty much ignored everything I was saying?"
Dumbledore took a shaking hand, pale and clammy, and he reached it into his robes. He pulled out a crisp newspaper. It was stamped with tomorrow's date.
"I thought this was the best thing I could have been doing at the time, for Harry," muttered Dumbledore, eyes dull, their twinkle lost. "The past month I've been in and out of the Ministry. I had to testify this week, and talk to a lot of people to get it all sorted out. A lot of evidence was required."
Curious, Severus picked up the newspaper, shaking slightly from the residual anger. He read words splashed in bold print across the front page.
"Sirius Black declared innocent - Albus Dumbledore testifies," he muttered under his breath. Beneath it was a large photograph of Sirius Black, grinning and laughing with James Potter, looking just as Severus remembered him at school. He looked away quickly.
He cleared his throat slightly.
"I ... I understand," Severus said quietly as he stared down at the words again. "This will mean a lot to him."
To his own surprise, Severus felt a bitter, and yet relieved laugh rise from his throat as he threw the newspaper down on the table.
Dumbledore looked at Severus, his expression questioning. Severus replied after a moment.
"Until now, I thought that you knew about Harry's home life already. I suspected that you were working against me."
When he looked up from the paper, still lying on the tabletop, he was amazed to see that Dumbledore's eyes were damp. Dumbledore looked away, staring out the window, where the rain was running over the glass.
"I am a fool, Severus," he muttered, his words rasping. "A fool too caught up in ideas ... too willing to believe in the good of people to see the horrible things like Petunia Dursley are capable of. Forgive me."
"It is not my place to forgive," muttered Severus, trying to keep the biting tone from his voice. "It's Harry's."
"You are right," Dumbledore replied, clearing his throat slightly before continuing. "How could I have been so blind? I ... I knew things were tense between Harry and his relatives, I knew from the very start they would be. I knew they punished harshly, but not like that ... not like that. Harry could easily have suffered serious harm from them. All those years I simply wrote off his protests as being to insignificant, considering that it is ... or was, the safest place for him to go. And even with your letters ... perhaps ... perhaps I merely did not want to believe that things were as bad as you said so in the letters. I thought some of it was merely Harry's sudden transformation into a child ... his withdrawn nature ... the anxiety ..."
"Harry cannot stay there," said Severus firmly.
"And I agree with you. We will find somewhere else for him to go. There is no sense protecting him from those outside Privet Drive if the ones inside pose a threat as well. I never thought that Petunia would consider ... striking a child simply for being different." He shook his head sorrowfully, looking down at his clasped hands in his lap. "Even given the circumstances ... no child should be treated that way."
Severus felt a rush of relief at the last statement, for he had feared that Dumbledore would see the evidence and still say Harry must stay - he had a whole list in his mind of all the memories that would prove his point - that Harry had been abused. He was grateful he did not need to break Harry's trust and show them, that Petunia's confession was enough. He had been so afraid that Dumbledore had known all along, that he had simply decided it was a necessary evil to ensure the Dark Lord's defeat - toughen up their freedom fighter while he was young, and send him out the door with his fists raised and his armour thick. Severus did not think it was possible to sum up the vastness of the weight that had just been lifted from his shoulders.
"He can stay here, with me," Severus said, his voice shaking as he fought the fears deep inside him ... the old fears. He tensed, hoping he would not be interrupted and told he wasn't good enough. "He asked some time ago to stay here. Of course, he was acting very childish at the time ... but if he still wants to ... I would be willing to become his guardian."
"Is that so?" Dumbledore said, genuinely surprised.
Severus nodded, his eyes darting from his lap to Dumbledore. "He's ... he's different now. Well, no, it is me that has changed. Or, maybe we both have."
"You need not explain," replied Dumbledore with a soft smile. "I trust that your reasoning is sound."
"And ... while ... while we are on the subject of bad situations," said Severus hesitantly, "I am worried about Hermione."
"And what of Miss Granger?"
"Her Great Aunt Isobel seems ... rather hard on her, and Hermione seems to be displeased with going to live with her. As I understand, the arrangement was only made because of a sudden change in circumstances, and because she only had a little while before she could live on her own. I worry that she will be unhappy with her. Would you, perhaps, be able to suggest an alternative living arrangement for her?"
"Can you?" Dumbledore asked, smiling.
Severus felt his neck grown hot, and he spluttered slightly. He looked down, then back at Dumbledore.
"She wouldn't want me for a guardian," he said. "Harry's one thing - I mean, he has nobody to compare me to. And, sure, Hermione and I get along well now, but ... really, me as her guardian? As a mentor or sorts perhaps, but I do not know anything about young girls. The ones in Slytherin baffle me. Hermione wouldn't want this ..."
"Severus, she was able to conjure a Patronus from here."
"With difficulty. It took her a couple tries."
"I am willing to bet the memories she tried first were of her parents."
"She ... she mentioned that," Severus said, staring at Dumbledore with narrowed eyes.
"And did she say what memory was the one that worked?"
"Well," said Severus, pausing to think. He had been so panicked he had only considered her reply for a moment. "She said that she thought about Bell Point."
"Is that so?" he said, unsurprised. "My, she really must find this a beautiful place to live if she can create a Patronus simply by picturing the scenery of the cottage."
"Don't be daft, Albus," Severus said before he could stop himself, thinking of an old saying of Lily's. "It's the people that make a ho -"
Severus fell silent and looked at Dumbledore, his mouth half open.
"Ah, yes," Dumbledore told him, beaming. "About time, Severus. About time."
"You ... you really think that means ..."
"Yes!" Dumbledore replied before chuckling softly. "If you work up the courage to ask her, I have little doubt that she will say no, if she is as unhappy as you believe. The signs are obvious Severus - it is only your fears that blind you to them."
Severus did not have much time to respond to that, for a sudden interruption cut their conversation short.
"Harry's waking up!" called Hermione urgently down the stairs.
He leaped up from his chair, and rushed up the stairs as quickly as he could.
When they entered the room, Severus was amazed to see that Harry was no longer a child. He was once again fifteen, skinny and lanky where he lay in the bed. He was still wearing the childish clothes, the overalls he had been wearing re-sized to fit him. Severus moved to sit by his bedside, and did not pay much attention to Poppy or Dumbledore leaving the room. Hermione hovered again at the end of the bed, anxiously awaiting her friend's return to consciousness. Harry stirred slightly, moaning a little bit in his sleep. His feet kicked again, the covers half off of him.
Harry was falling. He had started falling a long time ago, really. Ever since the night Sirius had left him for good. He had been stuck for a while in weightlessness over the past few weeks. But that free fall had returned full force when he felt his hand slip from Severus'. Harry didn't feel himself hit the floor, or hear the startled voices which logically should have met his ears. Instead, he was met with nothing. After a moment, the nothingness was replaced with an uneasy sensation. A crack of thunder up above - or was it in his mind? Then, hot lightning was running through his brain, like a whip it cracked the still processes into action, triggering a memory. The vague recollection of that first collapse at Privet Drive was brought to mind, and Harry was semi aware of the fact that he had collapsed a second time, that he was unconscious. But this was nothing like the first time, when he had fallen into a darkness, and cold, consuming numbness. This was dark ... but it was not cold at first. It was like standing outside in the middle of the night, the world pitch black and feeling the heat of a storm coming on your skin. Then, just as in the storm that night, the lightning consumed him once more, the memories taking over fully.
Like a flickering picture from an old film projector he saw Sirius' face across the forefront of his mind. The pictures of him as a young man twisted together with those of him in Azkaban, the wasted dead look in his eyes imploring Harry to save him as the Dementors swooped down, as the veil swallowed him up, as he disappeared forever. A sharp, painfully cold feeling washed over Harry in waves, taking over the previous warmth until it was replaced by a strange sense of detachment. The memories were replaced by a new, unfamiliar scene. And yet, there was something vaguely familiar about it even so, but it was not a memory. It did not seem to be real either, however. It had the unmistakable twisted image of something akin to a dream.
He was flying over water, a grey, dull blanket spread out beneath him, the chill of the sea spray stinging his face. Before him, Harry could see blackened stone walls of the fortress, crumbling in spots from years of being worn away by the sea. As he rushed toward it he looked down at his hands, amazed. They were not small anymore. He glanced back up, his hair whipping back as the tower grew nearer. His heart hammering, he landed softly on the rock that housed it. His feet touched the ground, but they did not feel like they were properly in contact with it. He drifted dreamlike through the iron doors that had sprung open, and he was blown into the hallway by a bitter and icy wind. It was damp and freezing in here. His insides turned to ice when he saw them: Hundreds of Dementors were lined up in rows along the walls, stock still and yet terrible all the same. Their rattling breaths filled him with a poisonous chill. Harry's legs became heavy and he fought to drag himself forward. He had no strength to raise his wand, and his throat was too dry to make a sound. He felt his eyes dragged down to his feet and he stared at the blackened stone, walking forward but going nowhere. It might have been a lifetime that he spent walking down that hallway with the blackness of the motionless Dementors' stares boring into his skull.
At last, a tiny flicker of something ignited in his chest, and he wasn't sure what it was, but for a moment, he was able to look up to the end of the long, draughty corridor. There was a dim sort of glow at the end of it, not bright, but rather like fire, a flickering sort of quality that made it come and go. It filled Harry with a sense of longing, and he broke into a run despite the aching in his bones.
When that first running step fell with a heavy thud a noise like a thunderclap sounded and another flash snaked across his vision. He fell hard on the stone floor, his cheek resting on the cold ground.
"TAKE HARRY AND RUN!" he heard a distant voice yell, soft and echoing. A flash of green light passed over his eyes, but he shut them tightly. For one, short moment the echo of his mother yelling for Voldemort to take her instead pierced his mind. It was only an echo, and a soft one at that, but it cut like a knife anyway. Not a moment after she had fallen silent he heard his own voice, yelling for Sirius as the black curtained veil swallowed him up, but his mouth was closed tightly. It was a memory and nothing more. Silence fell once more, the kind that presses down like a weight.
Shivering and shaking Harry pushed himself off the ground, and opened his eyes, his vision blurring. As he did so, the cold left, and all around him he realized that the grungy, blank walls of what he assumed had to be Azkaban had changed, no Dementors in sight. They were now crumbling, and the sunshine was pouring in through cracks in the walls and roof. The dusty, empty cells were illuminated by beams of light, and vines and moss were taking over the bars as he watched. Harry walked, the silence filling his ears, his footsteps making no sound on the mossy stone as he looked into each cell. They were not as empty as he had believed.
Harry did a double take as he passed the first cell. Sitting on one of the horizontal bars was a tiny, dusty figurine. It looked familiar. Harry lowered his face down to it, and blew some of the dust off it. A little tin soldier with chipped red paint stared him in the face. He tried to touch it, but his fingers passed straight through it. He frowned.
He crept forward, edging through the silent world as warm sunlight poured on his skin. He paused beside the next cell. This one was very overgrown, but not with vines. Somehow, the metal bars could not hold the contents of the cell; the door was open and rich, dark soil spilled out of it. Growing in it, bending around the bars and out the window and along the floor were dozens upon dozens of white lilies. Their perfume was sweet and soft, and Harry breathed it in. It was the most intoxicating scent he had ever come across, and he was tempted to lie amongst the flowers and simply exist, letting them envelope him. Yet, a strange sense of urgency invaded his senses before he could do so. Something was pulling him forward, so with a longing glance at the soft flowers, he continued. Yet, as he took a step away, he thought he heard a small childish giggle come from the lilies. He paused to look around, and for a moment he was sure he saw a pair of small, deep brown eyes, but he blinked and they were gone. Unnerved, he moved forward.
The next cell puzzled him a little bit. It held nothing but a small, child-sized school desk facing him, with a few pencils scattered about on it. He tried the door, hoping to go in to see if something was inside the desk, but the iron would not budge. Harry moved on, not bothering to look back, He trod softly, continuing to observe the contents of each barred room: Muddy paw-prints in one cell; birthday cakes all lined up along the far wall in another, their candles too far to blow out; a rusting old lawn mower; Mrs. Figg's living room (complete with cats), perfectly reconstructed with a metal door that only opened partway; a thousand letters and care packages addressed to him from his parents, all stuffed out of reach; a replica of Delores Umbridge's office with an idle, sharp quill; a giant model of Harry's own pair of glasses through which you could see shadows of people if you looked long enough.
It was the last cell that held what he most hoped to see since the high walls of Azkaban had come into view, and when he had reached it, the door locked, Harry saw someone with his back to him and standing at the window. His heart jumped into his throat, and he tried to open the door, but it wouldn't budge. The familiar figure did not look over to him, but was instead looking serenely out the window at a distant shore, which was just visible on the horizon. The window looked more as though it belonged to Hogwarts than a jail. Harry rattled the door handle further, his throat suddenly too tight to call out. He tried harder to open it, but after a long struggle, he let his hands drop in defeat.
"Sirius, let me in!" he said at last, tears now running down his face. "It's l-locked - please."
At last, when he stopped trying the door, a soft voice called out to him, the voice of Sirius.
"Try it again," called Sirius patiently, still staring out the window.
Harry frowned sceptically, but put his hand on the door anyway, and taking a deep breath, Sirius' voice still echoing in his ears, he turned the handle. It opened without any trouble, and it swung open on well-oiled hinges. Sirius turned around at last, and he looked just as Harry remembered him in those last days, only smiling in such a way that he had not for a very long time.
"How did you unlock it?" Harry asked dazedly, standing stock still with disbelief, his eyes drinking in Sirius.
"I didn't," Sirius said with a twinkle in his eyes that Harry had only seen in old pictures. "It was never locked."
"But ... I ..." Harry stared blankly, and as Sirius' words sunk in he felt a weight lift from his shoulders. In that one short moment, he thought he understood something more than just the words that had come from Sirius' mouth. It was also in that moment that he saw in the look upon Sirius's face the man that had loved him like a son, a best friend, and a younger brother combined - someone who had never been angry with him, and while it had come to him earlier that it was not his fault, right now he understood that it hadn't been a mistake, or accident. As Severus had said, Sirius fighting at the Ministry was a risk he had believed worth taking, and right here Sirius' face showed it.
Sirius did not say a word, and nor did he need to. He opened his arms. Harry ran forward and wrapped his arms around Sirius' neck, holding on for dear life.
"Thank you," whispered Harry, shaking uncontrollably, wishing there was something more he could do for Sirius, some way he could repay him for his sacrifice.
"There is no need to thank me," whispered Sirius in his ears. "I would do it again."
It seemed like forever that the two hung onto eachother, until at last, Sirius broke the silence.
"It's time to let me go, Harry," was the muttered phrase in his ear, as though he had heard Harry's thoughts. "Your life falls into the hands of another now ... Lily would want it." His voice was heavy with regret, although there was a small trace of what Harry thought might have been hope, but he was unsure. "I will miss you, and no doubt you shall miss me as well, but when it gets dark, and you feel all alone... remember that I never left."
With these words echoing in his mind Azkaban vanished, the sunshine and the dust as well. For it was at that moment that he came to, and whatever dream, or fantasy, or encounter he had been having disappeared, and he found himself instead with his arms wrapped around Severus. Severus seemed rather surprised from where he was sitting right beside Harry's bed, but he had returned the embrace, to Harry's amazement. From what Harry gathered in that split second, he had simply shot up from where he was lying and pressed his face into Severus' shoulder. Severus seemed smaller, somehow. That was until Harry realized it was because he was no longer trapped in the body of a four year old. His return to the age of not quite sixteen made him realize just how silly the situation might seem. He coughed slightly and released Severus.
"Sorry," Harry muttered. "Dreaming ... you know ..."
"I don't mind," said Severus despite the slightly alarmed look on his face. He noticed Harry's worried look then continued. "I was merely a little surprised. You had barely stirred before you sat up."
Harry felt himself go red anyway, but a wave of relief had washed over him. For a moment he had been afraid things were back to the way they had been before this summer, but he had been wrong. He searched for his glasses and put them on, more for something to do than anything. He plucked at the fabric of the overalls he had been wearing. They must have been resized. It was strange to see them, for it felt like years ago that he had collapsed, and yet he doubted it could have been longer than a few hours.
His eyes came into focus, and at the end of the bed he saw Hermione hovering anxiously. The sight of her made him grin quite suddenly.
"How are you, Hermione?" he asked.
"Never better," she said, smiling suddenly, the anxiety that had been upon her face breaking like a wave on the shore, relief replacing it.
"That brings me back ..." he muttered with a chuckle, a lopsided smile upon his face as he sunk back onto the bed. He stretched his arms up over his head with a small moan. A loud rumble interrupted his stretching, but it wasn't thunder. He felt his cheeks go a little bit red at his stomach's complaint.
"How about that grilled cheese?" Severus said with a slight smirk. "I did promise."
"Yes, please," Harry said with a grateful grin, hardly daring to believe his ears.
Severus got up from his chair, looking to be very relieved.
"Poppy wants to give you a quick check-up," he said to Harry. "I will send her up. After she says you can get up and move around, you can go down to the laundry room where your trunk is. It's got all of your regular clothes in it, so you can go get those and change into them. After you come downstairs Albus and I want to have a word with you over a few things."
"Okay," Harry said thoughtfully, wondering what they wanted to talk to him about. He decided it probably had to do with his return to his normal state. Hermione and Severus filed out the door, leaving Harry in the empty room.
A gnawing feeling in his gut announced its presence, this sensation entirely different from hunger. It was an aching sort of wonder, for it was only at that moment that he realized he had forgotten to ask Sirius if it had been him standing beneath that tree earlier, trying to make him understand. Still lying in his bed, he stared out the window. The blackness of night pressed in on him; the rain slapped the window pane.
The answer came to him simply, and while his mind told him that what he thought was impossible, his heart told him otherwise. For in this room he was alone. The night was dark. And Sirius had never left. Not really, anyway, and that was the thing his heart had needed to know all along.