Story for the Bingo-Fest. Using the green bingo card, this story has:
20 points (5 for each of the 4 prompts fulfilled)
10 points (for the story itself)
20 points (for getting a bingo [4 prompts + free space])
Written on impulse. Hope you enjoy it!
1. Chapter 1 by OutriderIvyHill
2. Chapter 2 by OutriderIvyHill
3. Chapter 3 by OutriderIvyHill
The kid turned his head to spit onto the pavement, not breaking eye contact. His opponent rolled his shoulders, putting on a cold sneer that he had often seen send even the most cocky of teenagers running. That seemed like a lifetime ago, now.
“Can’t leave well enough alone, can you?” asked the aggressor, rolling his tongue over his teeth, a gleam lighting his angry blue eyes.
“I could ask the same of you,” the sneering teen responded, discreetly sliding his right foot back into a fighting stance.
“I was only havin’ a little fun.”
“You can find your ‘fun’ elsewhere. Those kids don’t need you to make their lives any more miserable.” Although shorter, the sneering teen was practically radiating fury.
“You bleedin’ ponce. You think you’re so much better ‘an the rest of us, ‘cause you grew up spoiled?”
The sneer dropped into a growl. “That’s not the word I’d use.”
“Sure. Look, you should run back to Mummy. Only the rich can afford to ride that high moral horse you’re on.”
“You think that just because you’re the biggest kid on the block, you can get away with being an arsehole.”
“At least I spend my time doin’ somethin’ I like. You spend all day thinkin’ of words with four syllables so’s you can talk down to the rest of us.”
Later, if you’d asked either teenager who started it, neither would remember. In the end, it didn’t matter. A passing citizen would have noticed two dirty boys rolling in the refuse of a narrow alley. They would probably have hurried on, turning up their coat collars and averting their eyes so they could continue living in their safe little bubbles, willfully ignorant of the suffering of the over 81,000 homeless children living in London.
To the two boys tussling on the ground, however, the outside world was irrelevant. There was only the sound of each other’s panting, ragged breaths and the blood rushing to their heads.
The blue-eyed boy rolled the shorter teen onto his back, landing a solid punch to his jaw. The pinned boy, desperate to get free before his head was irreparably smashed against the pavement — a favorite move of the aggressor — scrabbled behind his head with a bruised hand, searching the refuse for a weapon. When his frantically groping fingers brushed against the top of a glass bottle, he smiled grimly.
In a swift move reminiscent of his days as a star athlete at a faraway school, the shorter teen smashed the bigger end of the bottle over the blue-eyed boy’s head. He turned his face away and squeezed his eyes shut against the rain of broken glass, then took advantage of his enemy’s confusion and pain to push him off, leaping immediately to his feet.
The other boy, dazed but too full of fighting rage to back down, staggered to his feet, one hand braced against the brick wall of Petrelli’s Deli Meats and Cheeses, one of the buildings between which they were brawling.
“Give it up,” the shorter teen said, holding the wickedly sharp broken bottle in between the two of them as a barrier.
“Go to hell,” the other snarled, leaping forward.
The shorter teen rammed the fractured bottle into his shoulder without hesitation. A couple of months ago, he would have been horrified at the idea of cutting a peer so ruthlessly.
A couple of months ago, the shorter boy hadn’t been so desperate.
With a pained grunt, the blue-eyed teen yanked free of the bottle, clutching his shoulder and gritting his teeth. When he still seemed unwilling to surrender, the shorter teen tossed the bottle aside and tackled him.
The injured teen slammed against the wall, crying out as his shoulder made contact with the unyielding brick. In a last ditch effort, he kicked at the shorter boy’s knee with all the force that desperation could muster. He pressed his advantage as the boy stumbled back, grabbing his shoulders and throwing him to the ground again.
“This is stupid,” the shorter boy gasped, rolling his eyes. He’d already won the fight when he’d cut up the other’s shoulder, but the injured boy wouldn’t give up.
Blood loss and pain finally getting the better of the other boy, the shorter teen took advantage of his opponent’s increasing weakness to ram an elbow into his injured shoulder. The boy gasped and rolled off of him, stunned by the sudden pain. The shorter boy climbed to his feet, not rejoicing in his victory, but glad to have made it out in one piece.
Before he left, the winner turned his blazing green eyes to pierce the panting boy’s gaze. “Oh, and by the way? My mum isn’t alive anymore to run to. Maybe you should listen to yours more. Then you wouldn’t be in the state you’re in now.”
Harry Potter walked out of the alley, shaking long black hair out of his eyes. It had become overgrown in the two months since he’d made his way to London, but he didn’t care enough to bother cutting it. It was easier to hide his telltale scar this way.
Keeping his head down and his fists in his pockets, Harry slinked past everyone else walking in the street. He could see some people staring out of the corner of his eye, but did his best to ignore them.
Not really having a destination, Harry let his feet take him where they would. He kept strictly to the poorest Muggle areas of the city, ever aware of the danger. Even now, he was constantly on the alert as he wandered.
It was because of this hyper-attentiveness to his surroundings, a skill quickly honed by nights on the streets, that Harry became suspicious that someone was following him. He turned abruptly, staring at the crowd behind him with narrowed eyes, but nothing looked out of the ordinary. If he’d been asked what had tipped him off, he would have had no answer, but the lack of a visible danger did nothing to ease the sudden tension that had him wishing for the bottle again.
He started walking again, moving with a purpose this time. He ducked in and out of alleys to throw off a casual follower, but the feeling persisted.
Swearing as he realized that his stalker wasn’t going to be easily put off, Harry decided to keep to the main roads. If his shadow wanted to do something to him, they’d probably be put off by a crowd of witnesses. Two half-asleep drunks and someone smoking an opium pipe wouldn’t cut it.
He thought he saw a flash of black out of the corner of his eye. Whirling around and seeing nothing, Harry grew increasingly frustrated. The panic threatening to take over his feet and make them mindlessly run was getting harder and harder to resist. He pushed his hair back from his face and ears so he could listen better, and the first thing he heard was a harsh whisper that he’d hoped to never, ever have to hear again.
“Thank you, Andre.”
“No problem. I hope you find him.”
Severus nodded, nerves frayed nearly to the breaking point as he exited Petrelli’s. The owner was a squib, and one of the spy’s contacts during the war. He’d never had to resort to it, but the place had always been available as a hideout in case he needed it. It’d also been a valuable source of information on the daily condition of the muggle world, a resource Severus had often utilized during the years of the Dark Lord’s power.
He paused outside the shop, taking a few deep breaths. He’d been searching every weekend since school started, just like half of the staff and the entire Ministry of Magic.
When Dumbledore’s Golden Boy Gryffindor, Harry Potter, ran away from his muggle family in what was no doubt a fit of pique (although not without using accidental magic to blow up his poor aunt), Severus had been less than surprised. He’d always known that the brat was spoiled and selfish; this only proved it.
As the weeks dragged on with no sighting and no leads, however, Severus was beginning to become more and more worried about finding a body instead of a recalcitrant teenager. Sirius Black was still on the loose, and Cornelius Fudge had been admitted to St. Mungo’s for two days last week for a sinus tachycardia because of the stress of it all.
Severus wasn’t at all certain of finding Potter in Muggle London anyways. A check at the Dursleys’ house had lead Minerva McGonagall to declare that all of his magical things were gone, including his trunk, broom, and Hedwig’s cage, so the many people trying to find him had speculated that he’d probably gone into hiding in a magical area. Still, Severus was one of the people best suited to search this Muggle section of town, and Dumbledore had wanted to leave no stone unturned.
About to head across the street, Severus glanced to the right and left. He’d almost started walking when something he’d seen down one of the sidewalks registered in his tired mind. Looking over again, he saw the hunched back of a black-haired teen shuffling down the road.
It’s probably nothing, he thought, being no stranger to false alarms over the past several weeks, but he still had to pursue it.
He followed the teenager at a discreet distance, trying to get a closer look at the boy. After several minutes of following him, the child stopped suddenly and turned. Severus melted into the crowd, still trying to get a better look. He was too far away to make out anything other than a pale face, but Severus wasn’t about to give up.
He was tempted to just march up to him, but that might send the skittish boy running. If he grabbed him from behind without being absolutely positive it was Potter, the child would scream and Severus would get glares from everyone around as if he were the troublemaker.
Promising a thousand detentions to the Potter brat in his mind, as this was preferable to imaging the child’s lifeless body, Severus refused to give up.
The teenager, apparently having caught on to be followed, began engaging in basic evasive maneuvers. Severus, an accomplished spy, easily kept up, but he was slightly impressed by the teen’s competency. The chances of this being Potter dwindle by the moment.
When Severus’ target returned to walking solely in the most populated areas, Severus frowned and sped up. If he lost him now, the Potions Master would never know if he’d let Potter slip through his fingers or not.
He was only a few feet away, concealed behind the rather rotund figure of a man heading in the same direction, when the teen turned and shoved his long hair away from his face.
Green eyes, lightning-shaped scar, and the face of James Potter.
Severus felt a wave of relief, immediately eclipsed by a blinding rage.
The teen froze, and wary green eyes met flaming black ones.
When the boy made a movement as if to run, Severus stalked forward, tongue lashing out. “Don’t you dare run. I will hex your legs together right here in the middle of London; I don’t care who’s watching! The entire Ministry would be more than happy to forget the whole thing after the stunt you’ve pulled!”
Passers-by eyed the two and skirted around them as they walked along, but Severus didn’t care. Potter was looking up at him with a mixture of defiance and dread.
Rage making him momentarily unable to form words as he stared down at the child, Severus crossed his arms.
“I’m not going back there,” Potter said.
Severus opened his mouth for a scathing retort before his gaze, quickly checking Potter for injuries, was arrested by an alarming sight.
He drew closer and grabbed Potter’s arm to keep him from running. “You’re covered in blood.” His voice sounded strange to his own ears. Slightly incredulous, mostly hollow.
“It’s not my blood.” Potter pulled his arm free, glaring at Severus. There was something new, something wild and dangerous in the boy’s stance. Severus was taken aback, but did his best to hide it behind a sneer.
He opened his mouth to say something when a bossy, uptight female voice came from a few feet away.
“Is something the matter?”
Severus looked over to see a stout Muggle woman standing with her arms crossed, looking between the two of them. She’d clearly witnessed at least part of the conversation, and Severus didn’t need Legilimency to know if she was wondering whether Severus was trying to kidnap or hurt Potter.
“I’m afraid,” Severus said, gritting his teeth at the necessity of forcing himself to be civil to people who got involved where it was none of their business, “that my son has been getting into some trouble.” He dropped a hand to the back of Potter’s neck, grabbing tightly and squeezing a little when the boy opened his mouth to argue. Potter winced slightly and cut Severus a look full of hatred.
“Well, if you’re alright…” she looked doubtfully at Potter who, after another painful prompt, gave a tight nod.
When the woman had walked far enough away to make further interference unlikely, Severus bent down until his face was inches from Potters’, still not releasing his neck. In his most dangerous voice, he whispered. “You have no idea how much trouble you’ve caused. Hundreds of people have been searching for you. A mass murderer has escaped Azkaban, and here you are, having a little jaunt through London.”
Half a glance showed Severus that whatever the boy had been through over the past two months, it could hardly be described as a jaunt, but the boy didn’t debate the point. Smart.
“We are going to go to the Leaky Cauldron, where you will change out of these disgusting rags while I contact the Headmaster to inform him that you are, unfortunately, still alive. Are. We. Clear?”
With a jerky nod, Potter slapped away Severus’ grip on the back of his neck. “Yeah. I get it. You want to see me get expelled.”
“I wish.” Severus grabbed his forearm and began marching towards the Leaky Cauldron, ignoring the fresh stares. “I promise you, I will do my best to see it happen, but I somehow doubt that it will come about.”
“No more talking. You will be silent until we reach the tavern.”
“No!” The arm was yanked out of Severus’ grip, and the man turned to see Potter looking at him with barefaced animosity.
“What?” Severus hissed.
“You’re going to answer my question, or I’m not taking another step.” Potter’s chest heaved with emotion as he practically spat the words. Severus almost recoiled. What had happened to the teen? It was like the mildly insolent boy had been replaced by a wild animal.
“What question,” Severus ground his teeth, trying to prevent a full-out scene from breaking out.
“What do you mean, I’m not expelled? I used magic outside of school. I already had a notice from the Ministry from last year—which wasn’t even for a spell I cast, by the way—and blowing someone up is a bit worse than a levitation charm. I’m not going to go back there only to get formally kicked out.” Severus pinched the bridge of his nose, suddenly feeling all of the exhaustion of the past two months crash down on his shoulders at once.
“Did you miss the part about the mass murderer?”
“Sirius Black? Isn’t he just some Muggle bloke?”
“No, Potter, he isn’t ‘just some Muggle bloke’. He’s the reason your parents are dead, and he’s escaped to indulge in the pleasure of killing you.”
Potter’s face paled slightly, and the anger was replaced by something else. Shock? Probably.
“I see you’ve done no research into the history of your parents,” Severus sneered. “I will explain the rest if you would only come on.”
Potter stared at him for a moment, appearing to wage his options, before nodding slightly. “Fine.”
“Wonderful.” Severus rolled his eyes. “Now, if you would care to get a move on? We’re becoming a tourist attraction.”
Potter scowled but began walking. Severus kept close, ready to grab him if the teen made a sudden move to escape. Still, a massive weight was cleared off of Severus’ chest. The boy was alive, if not undamaged. Sirius Black hadn’t killed him after all.
Severus hadn’t failed in his promise to keep Lily’s child—Lily’s idiotic, arrogant, brazen child—alive.
Harry could barely believe his luck. Caught, and by Snape? He would have thought it was karma for cutting that kid if he wasn’t already convinced that the universe was out to get him anyways.
Snape made him walk all the way to the Leaky Cauldron. The man remained close, and Harry felt slightly claustrophobic. When the dingy tavern came into view, he felt dread begin to pool in his stomach.
Snape had said he probably wasn’t expelled. Was that just a ploy to get him to come quietly?
They entered the tavern, which immediately fell silent. A glance at the room through his fringe proved that everyone was staring at him, several with open mouths.
Then a cacophony of noise erupted from the various patrons, and Harry flinched. A sinewy hand pressed between his shoulder blades and propelled him towards the staircase as Snape shouted for everyone to keep their distance. Harry would have been grateful if it wasn’t Snape, and if he hadn’t been so convinced that he was going to be yelled at and expelled.
He probably would have run back in the street if he hadn’t known Snape as he did. The man had been practically apoplectic, and would not have hesitated to bring him here by force, whether physical or magical. As soon as Harry had been spotted, it had all been over.
Tom, the bartender, met Snape at the foot of the staircase leading up to the rooms. A quick whispered conversation later, and Snape was dragging Harry up the narrow stairwell.
Tom opened one of the doors and Snape towed Harry inside.
“Sit,” he commanded, pointing to the edge of the bed.
Harry grudgingly obeyed, watching Snape as he pointed his wand at the fireplace. It erupted into flames, and Harry winced, forcing painful memories to the back of his mind.
His captor tossed a handful of floo powder into the fire, and Harry immediately began planning his escape. If the professor stepped into the floo network to talk to someone or bring someone in, he’d still be out of the room for long enough for Harry to sprint—
But the man only knelt on the floor and stuck his head into the flames. “Dumbledore’s Office!”
Harry watched, open mouthed. He didn’t know you could communicate with people like that!
In fact, there was a lot about the wizarding world that Harry didn’t know. He morosely wondered if he would ever be able to learn more, or if he was forever ostracized…
“I found him,” Snape said. After a pause, he added, “Yes, alive.”
Harry couldn’t hear the other end of the conversation, but figured that he was probably talking to the Headmaster.
“No sign of Sirius Black… wandering around Muggle London-!... I’ll bring him through as soon as he’s fit to be seen.”
“Oi!” Harry protested, but the man ignored him.
“Yes, yes. Happy indeed.” The man’s tone was quite dry. “Good day, Headmaster.”
Snape pulled free of the fireplace and turned to glare at him. Harry met his gaze levelly. He wasn’t the same frightened first year that Snape had enjoyed taunting in Potions class anymore.
“Where are your things, Potter?”
Harry was momentarily distracted. “What do you mean?”
Snape scowled. “What do you mean, Sir?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “You’re not my professor anymore, are you?”
Snape looked ready to strangle him. The man took several deep breaths, then asked in a tone of careful control, “Your things. Where are they?”
Harry was nonplussed. He hadn’t really owned much of anything out on the streets. As for everything else…
“Didn’t you check at the Dursleys’ for me?” he asked.
“Wha—of course we did,” Snape asked, apparently confused at the question.
“Then shouldn’t you already know?” Harry spat, acid rising up his throat as he thought back to the night he’d run off.
“Know what, Potter? We went to their house, found your trunk and other belongings missing, and assumed that you had taken them with you.”
“Ha!” Harry exclaimed. “Yeah, sure. I’d be running around getting into street fights if I had my invisibility cloak.”
“Were they stolen?” Snape asked, brows coming together, no doubt at the thought of several magical artifacts floating around London.
“No,” Harry said bitterly, looking away. He glanced out the window, observing the people walking around in Diagon Alley. “They never even left Privet Drive.”
“What are you blathering on about?” Snape snapped.
“The Dursleys! They burned them! They burned everything! My trunk, my cloak, my broom… everything except my wand’s gone! Then they kicked me out, so I ran, because I didn’t want to get expelled, and I knew the Ministry would be looking for me, so I ended up in Muggle London.” Harry was breathing hard, glaring at Snape, who seemed taken aback.
The man’s face was pale, and when he spoke, his voice was quiet. “Is that true?”
“Of course it’s true!” Harry yelled, burying his face in his hands. Even two months later, the memory of it all still hurt. He’d managed to free Hedwig before the cage was thrown on the bonfire, and she’d dove at Uncle Vernon, screeching in rage. She’d clawed at his face, but he’d slapped her away and hit her wing. She’d made it over the fence, flying erratically when Harry screamed at her to get away, but he’d never found out what happened to her.
Snape seemed at a loss for words. Harry vindictively hoped that he was feeling bad, then scoffed. Snape, possess any feelings even close to human decency?
“So I’m sorry about the ‘disgusting rags’ that I’m wearing, but they’re the only clothes that I own.”
Finally finished, Harry slumped and looked down.
The silence seemed to stretch on forever. Harry began to wonder if Snape even believed him, but didn’t look up from his tattered knees.
“Have you eaten today?” Snape finally asked.
Harry’s head snapped up. “What?” Why did Snape ask? What did he care?
“It’s a simple question, Potter,” Snape said.
“No, I haven’t,” Harry said. “I forgot.”
“You… forgot.” Snape sounded doubtful.
Harry thought back to this morning. He’d been on his way to Petrelli’s to snatch some food from the dumpster when he’d seen that one kid bullying a couple of younger children and stepped up. After the fight, he’d totally forgotten to search for something to eat, too angry with the kid and just wanting to get away from the scene. “Yeah. I forgot.”
Snape stared him down for a moment, then walked to the door. “Stay here.” He left the room, and Harry frowned. He considered running for it again, but figured that he wouldn’t get past the crowd of people that were almost certainly waiting for him to come down so they could get another look at him.
Snape soon returned with a tray of food. Despite himself, Harry felt his mouth watering and couldn’t take his eyes off of the food.
Snape plunked the tray down on the table near the fireplace and pointed at the chair next to it. “Eat.”
Harry didn’t need to be told twice. He leapt to his feet and hurried over, picking up the first piece of toast before he’d even sat down.
Harry was unaware of Snape until the man tapped the tabletop with two fingers. “Slow down. You haven’t been eating much lately. If you eat too fast, you’ll throw it all up again.”
Harry hadn’t said anything about his eating habits besides that morning, but since it was true, he didn’t contradict him. He did slow down, though. Marginally.
There was a knock and Harry froze, eyes flitting to the door. He carefully set down the sandwich he was eating and pushed the chair back slightly, preparing to jump up and get out of the way of any danger.
From the way Snape looked at him, the man had noticed, but he walked over and opened the door. “Thank you,” he said to the person on the other side. Harry couldn’t see who it was, as the door blocked them, but when Snape shut it and turned to Harry, the teen was surprised to see that the man was holding a change of clothes.
“When you’ve finished eating, you can take a shower.” He pointed at the only other door in the room, which Harry assumed led to a bathroom. “Then you can put these on.”
Harry looked at the change of clothes on the bed, a strange feeling closing his throat. He swallowed and said, “Where did those come from?”
“I paid Tom to send a serving boy to get these from a shop in Diagon Alley.”
“I… don’t have any money,” Harry said confusedly, not understanding why his heart would beat harder at the thought of anyone going out of his way to help him like that.
“It wasn’t much, I assure you. Do not worry about it.” Snape seemed slightly uncomfortable, and since Harry didn’t know what to say, he returned to his meal.
He only finished his sandwich before grabbing the clothes and hurrying into the bathroom. He showered quickly, turning the water to full heat to try to cleanse himself of the slime of the streets. Afterwards, he found that the clothes were a bit loose on his skinny frame, but fit much better than Dudley’s old castoffs. He tossed the bloodied, ripped things he’d been wearing before into the rubbish with a smile.
“You need a haircut,” Snape said when Harry returned to the main room.
Harry brushed his wet hair away from his face. “It’s not terrible.” People didn’t stare at his scar when it was covered.
Snape snorted, taking a sip of tea from the cup that must have arrived while he was showering. “You could compete for a spot in a Muggle rock band.”
Harry tried not to smile, but the sight of his former professor sitting there in an armchair, sipping tea and telling him to get a haircut was just too strange.
“Now that you look somewhat presentable, we will go to the Headmaster’s office.” Snape moved to stand, but a sudden wave of anxiety made Harry say,
“What?” Snape asked, sitting back down.
“You said that you’d tell me about Sirius Black.”
“That can wait.”
“No. It can’t.” Harry braced his feet, determined both to get an explanation and stall for time.
Snape looked at him, and Harry got the feeling that he was being assessed.
“Sit, then,” the man said.
Slightly startled that the man acquiesced so easily, Harry plopped down in the chair opposite Snape.
The man, between sneers and many insults to the name of Black, told Harry about how his parents’ best friend betrayed them for Voldemort’s favor. Harry felt himself growing sick as he heard the tale, and a buzzing in his ears started to grow louder as he thought about the man who was largely to blame for his becoming an orphan.
When Snape finished, Harry stared at the tabletop, mind racing.
Harry had straight-up stabbed a kid his own age for kicking around a couple of little kids that probably got ten times worse from their folks, and he’d felt no hesitation or remorse. What would he be willing to do to the man that had happily betrayed his parents to their deaths?
“He can’t get away with that,” Harry said.
“And what are you going to do about it, Potter?” Snape asked, thumping his cup down on the table. “Black is a fully trained wizard with a vendetta and no conscience. He’s already killed thirteen people. Do you want to become the fourteenth?”
“No,” Harry muttered, kicking the toe of his new sneaker against his chair leg.
“No,” Snape repeated with a sneer. “Come on, Potter. The Headmaster is waiting.”
Harry stood, swallowing hard. After the conversation with Snape, his time spent as a muggle seemed like the distant past. Just like that, in one afternoon, Harry had been hurled back into the wizarding world, whether he wanted to be or not. Still reeling from the news he’d just received, Harry followed Snape to the fireplace.
Severus made Potter go through first, just in case the teen made an attempt to run while Severus was in the floo. By the time he stepped out, an intriguing scene was before him.
Minerva had dropped the cup she’d been holding, and tea soaked into the carpet amidst the shards of ceramic. Potter rubbed the back of his neck, looking awkward, while the Headmaster peered at the boy sadly.
“And that, Minerva, is what I was trying to tell you,” Dumbledore said, assessing Potter critically. “Ah, Severus! I’m glad you were able to find young Harry.”
Severus nodded. At Dumbeldore’s urging, Potter sat in one of the chairs facing the Headmaster’s desk.
“Sir?” Potter asked into the silence.
“Am I expelled?”
“One would think, Mr. Potter,” Minerva said shakily, waving her wand at the teacup to repair and sitting weakly in another chair, “that if you wanted to attend school, you wouldn’t have run away.”
“I didn’t run away!” Potter burst out, then cringed slightly. “At least, not at first.”
“No?” Dumbledore said, lacing his fingers together.
What followed was a conversation that, for Severus, was unbearably long, but they managed to extract the full story of the Dursley incident out of the child. He would not, however, reveal much of what happened during his two month stint on the street, other than the fact that he didn’t eat every day and no one injured him too badly. Severus chose not to mention the large stain of fresh blood on the teen’s shirt, for which Potter seemed grateful, but spared no details in relating their interactions in both the street and the inn.
“Well, Harry,” Dumbledore said, smiling gently. “We’re all very glad to see you back. Tomorrow, someone will take you to Diagon Alley to get new things. You’ll return to class on Monday.”
Potter sat, slightly open-mouthed. “That’s it? Back to class like nothing happened?”
“What do you think we should do?” Dumbledore asked, raising an eyebrow. “Do you wish to be punished?”
“I assure you, Mr. Potter, the mountain of makeup work that you’ll have to do will be punishment enough,” Minerva cut in, and Potter grimaced.
“Go on, Harry,” Dumbledore urged. “No doubt your friends will be eager to see you again.”
Potter stood uncertainly, and Minerva nodded. “The password is Pixie Wings.”
As soon as the door closed behind Potter, Severus turned to the Headmaster. “Surely the child is to be punished!”
“I believe,” said the Headmaster heavily, the twinkle noticeably absent from his eyes, “that the last two months on the streets have been punishment enough.”
Minerva bowed her head, hands shaking slightly. “Oh, Albus. He’s so…”
“Skinny? Skittish? Wary? Distrustful?” Severus supplied.
Dumbledore gave him a slightly reproachful look, and the Potions Master sighed as he collapsed into a chair. “Alive.”
“Alive,” the other two agreed.
Harry took the side hallways to get to Gryffindor tower, not wanting to meet anyone along the way. He could imagine how quickly news would spread once he was spotted, and didn’t want Ron and Hermione to hear it from anyone besides him.
It was only when he reached the portrait hole that he realized they might not be in the tower. It was, after all, a Saturday afternoon, and the weather hadn’t gotten too cold yet for October.
“Pixie Wings,” he muttered, his face tilted towards the floor.
“What? Speak up, I can’t hear you,” the Fat Lady huffed.
Harry looked up, grimacing when she gasped. “Well I’ll be! It’s—”
“Pixie Wings,” Harry said loudly, interrupting her exclamation.
“Alright,” she frowned, opening.
Harry stepped inside the Gryffindor Common Room and stood still as, for the second time that day, an entire room of people went silent at his entrance.
This time, however, there was no Snape to hold off the crowd, and everyone jumped to their feet at once, shouting.
“I can’t believe it!”
“We thought you were dead, mate!”
“What happened?? Where were you?”
Harry immediately turned to this last voice, the only one not shouting, met Hermione’s brown gaze.
He cleared his throat, mouth suddenly dry. “Hey, Hermione,” he croaked.
She stepped forward slowly, as if in a trance. Her eyes were quickly tearing up, and he wanted to look away, but couldn’t.
“What… why…” she cleared her throat. “Where were you?”
Aware of the crowd of listeners, he only said, “London.”
She looked him up and down. “You look awful.”
“Thanks,” he said wryly.
Suddenly, she threw her arms around him and buried her face in his shoulder. “We were so worried about you!” she sobbed.
Harry rubbed her back awkwardly, spitting out strands of bushy hair. “I’m sorry ‘Mione, really, I am.”
She pulled back, sniffing, then froze, staring at a spot behind his shoulder.
Harry turned to see Ron standing in the open portrait hole, clearly having just entered. He was panting. “Ginny found me… said Harry…” he trailed off.
“Hey, mate,” Harry said, smiling weakly.
Ron walked up to him, disbelief on his face. “Harry, is that really you?”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“You… look terrible,” he said, breaking into a grin.
Harry grinned back, relieved. “Count on you two to tell it like it is.”
“No Harry, really,” Hermione said, tracing his jaw with her fingers. “You have a massive bruise.”
“I’ve got more than one,” Harry admitted easily. The others seemed to think this was a bigger deal than it was, but allowed him to change the subject to classes. Predictably, Hermione sighed.
“Oh, you have so much work to make up! Of course, I’ve been keeping a detailed list of all the assignments you’ve missed, and you can borrow my notes. I’ll draw up a study schedule so you can get it done as quickly as possible.”
“Leave off it, ‘Mione!” Ron said, grinning at Harry over her head. “He’s only just got back!”
She put her hands on her hips. “Harry’s got a lot of stuff to do, Ronald, and you can’t be distracting him.”
“Mental, this one,” Ron whispered as they followed her out of the common room, ignoring the stares of the still-watching crowd.
“I heard that!” Hermione called from up ahead.
Harry felt nearly giddy with happiness. Over the past two months, this had been what he’d missed more than anything else.
“Glad you’re back, Harry,” Ron said.
“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “Me too.”
The adjustment back to daily life was just as difficult as Harry had expected it to be, but not for the reasons he’d thought.
He’d known that his disappearance and reappearance would be a cause of a lot of gossip amidst the student body, but after a week, people seemed to accept that they wouldn’t learn any more than “London” about Harry’s whereabouts and moved on to other topics.
He told Ron and Hermione the whole story, of course. Both had been horrified to hear of what the Dursleys did, and Hermione had cried for fifteen minutes after he did a brief recounting of his time on the streets. While her face was buried in her hands, Harry had shown Ron the jagged scar on his forearm from the first knife fight he’d gotten into. He’d whistled quietly, shaking his head.
“I’m glad you’re alright, mate,” he’d said, absently patting Hermione’s shoulder.
Making up his late work was hard, but Hermione was really helpful. The study schedule she drew up meant that he was steadily chipping away at his missed assignments, and in two weeks, he’d read up on most of the material and started on the essays.
What he hadn’t counted on, however, was the jumpy instincts honed during his “stint on the streets”, as Ron called it. One time, one of Neville’s spells had backfired with a loud noise, and Harry had leapt to his feet, looking around wildly. Another time, Malfoy had tossed a pickled toad towards Harry’s cauldron, and Harry had batted it away with such speed and force that it slammed into the side of Pansy Parkinson’s table and exploded, leaving her covered in toad guts and screaming. His classmates had all noticed his twitchy behavior, and even his friends had taken to announcing their presence before touching him after Hermione tapped his shoulder from behind and he’d almost broken her nose.
It all came to head in the Dungeons on Friday. He’d been held after class by Snape, who had been returning some of the late essays Harry had finished and turned in. The halls were empty; it’d been the last class of the day, and everyone was eager to get outside for what was probably the last nice weekend of the year.
Harry was distracted, pondering Snape’s recent behavior changes when he’d been badly startled by a cough behind him. Without thinking, since the sound had reminded him of a strange old man that used to peer at him oddly in London whenever he passed by his alley, Harry pulled out his wand and shouted “Flipendo!”
It wasn’t until Ron was flung back and cracked his head against the wall that Harry realized who it was.
“Ron!” Harry cried, leaping to his friend’s side.
A thick trickle of blood was oozing down the boy’s temple, and Harry had a flashback to another boy with blood on his face. That time, Harry had been fighting for his life, but Ron was his best friend.
Shaking, Harry felt Ron’s head. A lump was rising where he’d smacked against the stone wall of the corridor, and his eyes were shut.
He must have been waiting for Harry to get out of Snape’s office.
If they hadn’t been so near, and Snape hadn’t just been so surprisingly patient, Harry would have never even thought of going to the man. Now, however, he ran to the classroom he’d just vacated.
He pounded on the closed door, trying to not panic. It flung open moments later, and Snape looked down at Harry.
“Please, sir,” he gasped, clutching his side. “It’s all my fault.”
“What is it?” Snape asked sharply.
“Ron,” Harry said.
Snape followed him down the hall and around the corner to where Ron still lay, unmoving.
“I didn’t know it was him,” Harry said, running a hand through his still-uncut hair.
“Then he won’t blame you for cursing him,” Snape said shortly, pulling out his wand and running a diagnostic over the unconscious boy. “He’s alright, just concussed.”
He conjured a stretcher and levitated Ron’s body onto it.
Harry walked alongside Snape all the way to the hospital wing, mentally blaming himself the whole way.
When Madame Pomfrey saw her patient, she turned to the two who brought him in.
Harry opened his mouth to explain, but Snape cut in first. “Mr. Weasley hit his head against a wall. No spell damage, just concussed.”
Madame Pomfrey nodded and went to fetch a potion.
“Mr Potter, if you would accompany me to my office.”
Casting one last mournful look at Ron, Harry followed Snape back the way they had come.
In the man’s office, Harry was instructed to sit in the uncomfortable visitor’s chair provided. Snape remained standing, leaning against the desk with his arms crossed, watching Harry contemplatively.
“I didn’t mean to,” Harry finally whispered, the silence becoming too much for him.
“I know,” Snape said.
Harry looked at him.
He didn’t know what to make of Snape anymore. Ever since the man had bought him food and clothes that day Harry was discovered, his behavior had changed. He was still snarky and irritable in class, but it seemed to Harry that his insults were less personal. No one else seemed to have noticed, so Harry kept quiet.
Snape had also been the teacher to take him to Diagon Alley. The professor really hadn’t said much of anything at all during the trip, which in itself was unusual, but he had given some good advice on good casual clothes to buy. Harry didn’t know much about wizard casual clothing, and still wasn’t sure why Snape would know anything, considering how Harry had never seen him in anything beside all-black dress robes, but he finally owned clothes that weren’t a uniform but still fit.
Snape shifted slightly, tilting his head. “You should tell someone what happened during those two months in London.”
“I told Ron and Hermione.”
“Good.” He cleared his throat, then said, “You know that you are safe here, correct?”
“Yeah, that’s why they have Dementors posted all around the school. ‘Cause its ‘safe’,” Harry said without thinking.
Snape didn’t take points, however. He only nodded. “True.”
Harry hated loud noises, but he was beginning to hate louder silences more.
Snape abruptly pulled out his desk chair and sat down. “When we go through something traumatic—”
“Sir, please don’t give me a pep talk.”
Snape raised his eyebrows slightly. “Do I look like Oliver Wood?”
Harry waved a hand in frustration. “Everyone’s told me the same thing. ‘You went through a difficult thing. It’s okay to get scared sometimes. Time will heal. You’ll be back to normal soon.’ I’m tired of hearing it.”
Snape pursed his lips. “Yes, I suppose you are. Don’t worry, that’s not what I was going to say.”
“Well, good,” Harry muttered, then blushed at how childish he sounded.
“I was going to remind you that your experiences shape you. You shouldn’t expect yourself to forget the lessons that life taught you. The instincts you developed in London aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Those two months taught you to be prepared for danger from any direction, to be ready for anything. While you are no longer on the streets, you are not, unfortunately, out of danger.” He gave a small, sardonic smile. “You’re Harry Potter. Danger seems to follow you wherever you go.”
“Thanks,” Harry muttered, twisting the hem of his T-shirt in his hands. “I feel so much better now.”
“What I am trying to tell you is that you shouldn’t be trying to return to your former complacency.”
“That instinct might keep you alive where nothing else will. What you do need to learn is control.”
“And how do I do that?” Harry asked, feeling exhausted.
Snape sighed. “I suppose it’s different for everyone.” He paused. “Many people who fought in the war went through the same thing you’re going through now. They had to learn how to adjust to the situation. It might behoove you to work with one of them. Remus Lupin, for example.”
Harry nodded slowly, mulling over what his professor had said. He lifted his gaze to meet Snape’s serious stare. “What about you?”
Snape was clearly taken aback, although he quickly smoothed over his expression. “Me, Potter?”
“Yeah. You fought in the war. Didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Then why don’t you teach me? You were able to keep up with me in London after a lot of people would have gotten lost, and you never miss a thing in class.”
Snape seemed at a loss for words for a moment. Just when Harry thought he was going to give him detention for his insolence, Snape said slowly, “I will think about it.”
Well, that definitely wasn’t a yes, but Harry felt a spark of hope ignite in his chest anyways. “Thanks, sir.”
Snape nodded, then gestured to the door with his chin. “Now, get out of here. Everyone else is no doubt ignoring their homework and wasting time outdoors.”
Harry smiled and rose. “Yes, sir.”
As he left the office, Harry wondered whether things just might be starting to look up.