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Chapter 3: His Own Personal Teddy Bear.


‘He’s gone.’ Remus looked tired, dark circles lining his eyes, a splash of colour on his otherwise ashen face. He winced, shifting his position awkwardly on the seat he had fallen into mere seconds previously. Anxiety compounded the exhaustion he had battled to get here, and his hands clenched the chair’s arms with seemingly more force than the small movement should have necessitated. He was used to it though, being barely good for nothing for the first few hours after the change, and he quickly subsided again with muffled groan of both discomfort and distress. ‘The house is empty.’

‘And you didn’t hear him?’ Dumbledore looked fearful, almost confused. It was not a pleasant expression to have to witness on the Headmaster.

Remus glanced up guiltily at the question, grateful there was no disbelief or accusation in Dumbledore’s tone, since he felt fully capable of supplying himself with adequate amounts of either emotion. He had known the second he awoke - fully human and oddly distanced from sensation - that Harry was not in the house. It hurt deeply that it had taken almost an hour for him to care. His hands knotted together for a moment before resting with forced casualness on his lap. ‘I was drugged.’ If the statement shocked him, Dumbledore did not show it, stepping away from Remus and turning towards the fireplace, throwing in a handful of powder so that the fire spat and flared green.

‘Severus,’ he commanded as a face appeared in the flames, scowling at the interruption. Even the distance of the Floo was not enough to curb the hostility contained within the expression upon spotting the werewolf. Snape wasn’t given the opportunity to speak, however, as Dumbledore sharply continued with uncharacteristic curtness. ‘If you could join us for a moment, please, it is quite urgent.’ The flash of surprise, what was almost unease at the abrupt demand, was brushed from his face instantly as though it had never been there. Snape just disappeared again, mere seconds passing before he finally stepped fully through the fire, dusting the ash from his robes and greeting Lupin with barely a nod.

‘I trust this is important,’ he said effortlessly and without bothering to conceal his annoyance, knowing it would be ignored anyway. ‘I am reaching a very delicate stage in my brewing, and would hate to see an entire month’s work destroyed.’ He looked pointedly at Lupin, ensuring the nature of his work was known, if not specifically stated. He also managed to convey that there was a list of various things he could be doing that were of significantly more importance than preventing, what he considered to be, nothing more that a little lunar discomfort, but it was hardly surprising. No one could manage to get an entire life story into a single look quite as effectively as Severus Snape.

‘I fear it is already too late for such worries,’ Dumbledore said smoothly, his expression one of complete neutrality as he sank down into his seat, hands splayed on his desk as he regarded Snape over the rims of his glasses. Snape, for his part, managed to bite his tongue against a defensive retort. In all his years, Remus had never before met someone so consistently and unfalteringly vicious in the face of displeasure, and even distrust. Not that Dumbledore had ever shown himself to be distrustful of Severus, since his approval of the man had been widely vocalised, but that point seemed neither here nor there. Snape responded to the smallest of nuances, be they self perceived or not, with a contemptuous challenge no one else would have dared. It was as if he grew tired of waiting for the world to condemn him and was instead helping to prove it right, encouraging everyone to get on with it. Remus found himself wondering, briefly, how the Potions Master had managed to survive so long in the presence of Voldemort. He doubted the Dark Lord spoke fluent Snape. ‘Tell me, does anyone else, beyond yourself, have access to your work whilst it is in preparation?’ His gaze was calm as he watched Snape unfalteringly.

‘My private labs are sealed, as you well know,’ Snape replied flatly, crossing his arms across his chest and meeting the stare with an equal one of his own. ‘I doubt even the most determined of students could find their way through. However, a member of staff, should they feel the need to visit my rooms whilst I myself am not present -’ his voice had taken on a deeply menacing quality at the prospect that this situation would ever have need to arise ‘- would probably not find it beyond their skills. As always, there are exceptions.’ Dumbledore nodded slowly, some of his usual warmth seeping back into his posture in a way that helped Snape uncoil from his stiff bearing. At the very least, common sense prevailed long enough to permit him to continue with a little less scorn. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘The last batch of Wolfsbane you brewed was tainted.’

The comment bought the full force of Snape’s impressively limitless disparagement back into play. ‘Impossible,’ he declared resolutely, sniffing with distaste at the accusation, his head held high and entire body so stiff it appeared immovable. ‘I have made it so many times I could do so in my sleep, and still produce a more effective and worthwhile concoction than most self-proclaimed ‘Potions Masters’ in the country.’

Dumbledore nodded in tired understanding. ‘Yet, nevertheless, the dose Remus took last night had an unfortunate, and most unwelcome, side effect of being a rather potent tranquilliser.’ Plainly Snape had tired of trying to drag a reaction from beneath the depths of the Headmaster’s serene appearance. Instead he snorted in disbelief, head snapping round violently to glare down at the werewolf with unrestrained resentment. Remus met the hatred with all the composed disinterest he could muster in his fatigue, and resisted the urge to curl in on himself, knowing that at least half of what was coming was probably going to be true. Severus was good at cutting to the quick.

‘I hardly see how you can blame me for his inability to follow the simple instructions I gave him on the use of the potion. It would not be the first time a brainless and selfish oversight on his part placed a student in potential danger.’ Snape smirked cruelly at Remus’ palpable guilt. ‘Tell me, Albus, how many children must nearly die before you will admit he is more of a liability than an asset?’

‘Oh yes,’ Remus countered with a vehemence that surprised even himself, unable to remain quiet. He was playing into Snape’s hands, he knew, by rising to the bait, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. Whatever the potion had done to him had yet to shake clear of his head, and he had to mentally remind himself that Harry was probably somewhere in trouble whilst he was bickering like a five year old. ‘Because I would have struggled to get ‘make sure you swallow the lot’ right.’

Snape visibly bristled. ‘There was nothing wrong with the potion,’ he reiterated forcefully. ‘I would have known if there was.’ It was almost as if they were playing a game of pass the blame, with Harry’s life at stake. Groaning to himself, Remus placed his head in his hands and screwed his eyes shut, momentarily channelling all his limited energy into overcoming the horribly remote sensation he still felt swathed in. When he looked up again, Dumbledore was watching him with concern.

‘I do not believe a single member of the faculty would poison another…’ Dumbledore had barely managed to finish the sentence before Snape rounded back on him, eyes flashing.

‘No, you do not appear to have heard me,’ he ground out from between teeth clenched almost as tightly as his hands. Remus felt a momentary stab of pity for the man, who walked such a dangerous line between light and dark on the wisps of shadows, the man who somehow saw the personal defence of himself as a weakness, who would sooner be condemned by the truth of his words than he would risk being doubted. ‘It would not have mattered had someone managed to get past the wards on my rooms. I handed the potion to Lupin myself. I watched him swallow the damn thing. Were anything wrong with it, I would have known instantly!’

‘Of course, Severus,’ Dumbledore’s tone was far from placating, and Snape frowned angrily at having his vocation and skill doubted. Something in the words appeared to calm him though, as he lost some of the tenseness from around his eyes. ‘I would have believed no less. However the question still remains as to how.’

‘Perhaps something he ate.’ Snape glared back down at Remus, who shrugged in the indication that that could well be true.

‘Molly prepared a meal before she left, perhaps you would like to speak to her also?’ He suggested it with a worn smile, since Snape had reached quickly and without preamble to grab a handful of Floo powder before Remus had even given him the idea. He threw it unceremoniously into the flames, and his lips formed halfway around the instruction ‘Grimmauld Place’.

‘You might have more success with the Burrow,’ Dumbledore intervened solemnly, as Snape snarled.

‘Typical,’ he muttered, powder slipping between his fingers and onto the floor, grains skittering around his feet in a pattern of waves and swirls. ‘What Potter wants Potter gets. The Weasleys are fully aware that their wards are not strong enough to provide adequate protection. She should have known better than to take him back there, no matter how much the little brat whined.’

It was probably the quietness of the declaration that stopped Severus’ rant more completely than anything else could have managed. ‘Harry is not with them,’ Dumbledore said gravely, his eyes blank as he met the now livid gaze.

‘You left him alone?’ Snape gasped incredulously, almost hopefully, as though he couldn’t really believe it himself. Dumbledore wasn’t perfect, but he certainly wasn’t a fool.

‘Not exactly.’ Remus was glad the Headmaster was the one to have to speak and explain. He wasn’t sure when Snape became someone he dreaded giving bad news too, especially news involving Harry, but he had. Enlightening Sirius of everything that had happened to his godson had been hell enough, but not once had Remus ever conceived he would get anything but chilling, vengeful glee from the Potions Master at the prospect of disaster befalling a Potter. If recounting the horrors of Harry’s school years so far had taught him anything, however, it was that Harry was still alive, in large part, thanks to the repeated intervention of Severus Snape. He doubted the man put his life on the line so frequently for someone he hated so passionately, just to see it thrown back in his face by carelessness and ignorance on the part of his colleagues. ‘Remus woke this morning to find the house empty.’

Remus buckled slightly under the force of the glower Snape swung back to fix upon him. ‘I think I may have scared him somewhat,’ he admitted guiltily, lifting his eyes from the floor and smiling nervously. ‘He came into my room last night…’ Remus realised his mistake a second too late, having momentarily forgotten the infinite propensity of the man to pin the blame for everything and anything that happened on a Potter as soon as was physically possible.

‘Bloody typical,’ Snape had interrupted furiously, gesturing wildly with a wide, sweeping movement that had the remains of the clutched Floo powder flying from his hand. ‘I knew it was a terrible idea from the very start.’ A number of portraits muttered vague objections at the light rain of dust that assaulted them, to which Snape was oblivious. His finger jabbed accusingly towards the Headmaster, punctuating his every word. ‘The boy has no discipline and no self-control. I most expressly forbade him from doing such a thing…’ He trailed off as Dumbledore smiled ever so slightly, before the worry returned and the years once again piled upon his face. Snape was no more used to seeing the expression on the old man than Remus himself. If anything he looked even more disconcerted by it.

‘Severus, you really do have something to learn about children.’ Snape scowled, but there was little heart left in it. ‘Do you think this is why he has disappeared?’

Lupin shrugged in response, instantly regretting it as his shoulder muscles clenched painfully, but still finding himself reluctant to use anything as final as words. ‘Harry has never struck me as the sort to run away simply because he is scared,’ he managed to offer, despite the fact that the admission left few alternatives. Snape just snorted derisively at the statement, rolling his eyes at the obviousness of what the werewolf had just, in his infinite wisdom, declared.

‘I’m surprised he didn’t try to cuddle up next to you. His own personal teddy bear.’

‘Not that I would have caused him any harm, your potion saw to that,’ Remus riled immediately, reawakening Snape’s own irritation.

‘I would like to think it would have seen to that anyway, given the entire point of its existence!’

With some effort, Remus managed to bite down on his overwhelming need to say something, anything, in return. They didn’t need to fight and squabble: they needed to glean even the remotest idea of what had happened. They needed to summon the Order - they needed to find Harry!

‘Did you hear anyone enter the house?’ Dumbledore asked softly, giving Remus a moment of silence as he wracked his memory. Did he remember hearing anyone?

‘No, I was completely out of it.’ No matter how much he probed and concentrated, he recalled very little beyond the feeling of heaviness that was somehow, at the same time, incredibly soft and pleasant. He hadn’t wanted to lose the sensation, which was why it had taken such an unforgivable time for him to report the disappearance, and probably the whole point of it. He didn’t take much consolation in the fact that it would most likely have held him down if he had tried. ‘Barely even heard Harry until he was pretty much right on top of me.’

‘And you didn’t think to call for help?’ Snape sneered, still itching for the argument it was taking Remus every bit of his willpower to avoid.

‘Naturally, because as an unconscious werewolf, my means of communication were innumerable.’

Remus hadn’t meant for it to sound as an accusation, but he had the horrible suspicion that it had. He knew, with no doubt, that Snape had not drugged him, be it intentionally or by mistake. The former even felt the less likely of the two, and Snape never brewed with anything but absolute precision. Snape seemed at a loss for how to reply though, his expression cold and unforgiving. ‘You should never have been left alone to look after him,’ he snarled after a second, in a way that left Remus uneasy with the notion he had just lost something important.

‘It is too late for what should have been done,’ Dumbledore said sadly.

The comment didn’t appease Snape. If anything it made him angrier. ‘Surely you must have some means of locating the boy?’ He sounded sceptical, and it was hardly surprising. Remus remembered all too well the panic and sheer dread he had felt when Harry disappeared at the end of the Tri-wizard Tournament. Regardless of his own opinions on personal space and privacy, he would have quite happily slapped any number of charms and wards on Harry, with or without his consent, simply so he, Remus, never had to feel that way again. ‘I find it hard to believe he isn’t crawling with tracking spells, considering some of the escapades he has pulled in the past.’

‘Indeed he is,’ Dumbledore said with a confirming nod. ‘And I have checked each and every one repeatedly. He is not to be found.’

‘Could the Dark Lord be blocking them?’

‘It is possible,’ Dumbledore conceded after some thought, ‘but unlikely he could have identified each and every one, if any.’ It would have been arrogance in anyone else. ‘They are keyed directly to myself so that only I may be aware of their presence.’

‘They are obviously malfunctioning then,’ Snape stated hotly.

‘They are not.’

‘Then perhaps you have a better idea as to what happened to the boy, and why it is that the greatest wizard known to the world cannot accomplish even a simple tracking spell?’ Snape’s eyebrows rose challengingly, and even Remus was sitting forward more attentively in anticipation of the answer.

‘I do not have one.’

-oOOo-


Harry awoke with a jump, the air in the room unbearably hot and stifling as he gasped for a breath that felt as though it was burning his throat and lungs. The taste of the stale air left his tongue feeling gritty as he kicked the sheets to the bottom of the bed and swung his legs over the side. He wiped his sleeve across his forehead, which was damp with perspiration, grimacing in mild disgust. It wasn’t that he never woke sweaty, sticky and smelling, quite frankly, like he hadn’t bathed in a week. Normally, however, it followed a particularly bad nightmare, and Voldemort had been wonderfully quiet on that front for a while. Reaching for his glasses, he fumbled on the empty nightstand, finally opening his eyes properly and blearily looking down. His feet had landed in a thin layer of dust and grime that caused him to cough as it tickled the back of his throat from where he had disturbed it. The table was in no better condition, and his glasses remained stubbornly and absolutely not there.

Standing gingerly, Harry moved carefully across the room, shivering at the feeling of dust gathering between his toes and clinging to his pyjamas. He pulled on the door, muttering obscenities under his breath when it refused to move. Once again grabbing the handle, which was now slippery from his clammy hands, he braced his foot against the wall and pulled harder, feeling it stick for a second before giving way to the dark hallway beyond.

Leaning round the frame, he felt something cold slide against his chest, causing him to jump at the unfamiliar sensation. Reaching beneath his pyjama top, Harry pulled on a thin gold chain he didn’t recognize. It certainly wasn’t his; the Dursleys would never have allowed something like that to fall or stay in his possession. He hadn’t left Hogwarts with it either. There was something familiar about it too, as he flicked the small pendant that hung from a simple hoop, and watched it spin gently. It was cracked; no doubt he had rolled onto it during his sleep, which had never been particularly peaceful at the best of times. His sleep-fogged brain hoped the owner would understand. Tucking it back beneath his shirt he made a mental note to ask the first Order member he came across about it.

Making his way tentatively towards the Master bedroom, Harry knocked nervously on the door, the hollow rapping sound seeming far too loud in the stillness of the wide hallway. It was early morning now, and though not completely light, he guessed it was light enough.

‘Professor Lupin?’ he called carefully through the dark wood, his hand hovering above the handle for a second. After the night before, the thought of barging straight in was rather unappealing. Still, he knew the change was painful. He had been told about it enough times. And the professor was probably tired, he reasoned, and it wouldn’t be fair to disturb him if he hadn’t already woken. He could just peek in and have a quick look, for his own peace of mind, to make sure Lupin was still here and not in need of urgent medical attention.

The door offered more resistance than the one to his room had, as he pushed against it. It refused to budge an inch until he put his shoulder to it and heaved, and even then it only opened a crack. Still, a crack was enough for him to see that the room beyond was empty and had been for quite some time. It looked in even worse condition than his had.

Harry couldn’t help the wave of anger, as the first thought his drowsy mind could conjure struck him. ‘Bloody House-Elf,’ he muttered to himself, since no one looked to be around to comment on his use of language. ‘Years of not cleaning a thing, he probably thinks it’s just hilarious.’ He pitched his voice high and mocking. ‘Look at all the idiots running round cleaning up after me, snap.’ Harry snapped his fingers in time with his rambling, his feet purposely kicking up a new cloud of dust in his frustration. Everyone had spent so much time turning the place into something that could almost pass for a home, even in Sirius’ eyes - and he had hated the damn place! But now Sirius was dead, and the evil little snot of an Elf had probably charmed the whole lot back to how it was out of spite. To make it feel as if Sirius had never even come back, as the creature no doubt wished he hadn’t. ‘I’ll kill the ungrateful little bugger.’ Grimacing in disgust at the grime that now streaked across his hands Harry tried to wipe them on the cotton of his trousers, wishing he hadn’t left his shoes downstairs as his feet dragged on the stained floorboards.

The stairs creaked ominously beneath him, and Harry was reduced to clutching the rickety banister for all the limited support it had to offer. Gritting his teeth, he reminded himself that if he plummeted to his death there would be no one around to exact proper vengeance on Kreacher. He didn’t bother to hide his relief when he reached the bottom unscathed. Whilst technically Harry knew the Elf couldn’t harm him, he didn’t doubt that if Kreacher could get his slimy little brain round that problem his own life expectancy would be significantly reduced.

The kitchen was empty, cobwebs hanging from the corners as a Doxy soared past his ear and out the now open door. Drawing his wand at the memory of some of the more unpleasant things that had been removed from the house, Harry called for the House-Elf, his voice echoing unpleasantly around him.

‘Kreacher!’

Nothing.

He gave it a few moments before shouting again, louder and more aggressively, regardless of how Hermione would have chastised him had she heard, as he glared at the place in front of him where the Elf should have appeared.

‘Kreacher, get out here and fix this stupid mess now before I iron your hands for you!’

Still nothing, but at least it offered a potential explanation as to where Remus had disappeared too. Since everything that had happened, the stupid creature wasn’t supposed to be able to leave the house. If someone had broken him out, then Remus was probably the best bet to find him again. Sniff the traitorous little worm out and drag him back by his ears.

It didn’t explain why Harry was alone though, and the lack of company was quickly becoming uncomfortably oppressive. Surely Dumbledore would never have been so distracted by something as to forget to send a replacement babysitter along? Not that Harry felt he still needed a babysitter - and he was unwaveringly adamant - in any way, shape or form conceivable. In fact he found the whole concept quite insulting. But Dumbledore had always insisted, and a small and traitorous part of Harry’s mind commented that perhaps the Headmaster was right on this issue, given exactly what he was considering at that moment. There was still a pot of Floo powder on the mantelpiece, despite the fact it looked as though it hadn’t been used in a very long time.

Picking up the heavy and poorly made pot, he weighed the powder in his hands for a moment, thinking to himself, his fingers absently tracing the cracks in the clay. Surely the sensible thing to do would be to stay here? It was obvious really. After all, Dumbledore would never leave him in a situation like this willingly, and certainly not for long. And Snape had even told him that the Weasleys were expected that morning. He couldn’t really justify barging in on the Burrow early, uninvited and unexpected. Besides, it would be incredibly rude of him to interrupt their morning just because he felt a little uncomfortable and apprehensive about being left alone. They would just fuss over him excessively and worry more about him when he wasn’t with them. Not that they particularly needed a reason to worry more.

That, and there was also the fact that Dumbledore would probably never let him out again if he ever discovered that Harry had just up and gone off somewhere, especially after being so frequently told to stay put. He would find himself locked in the deepest cellar of Hogwarts before the day was out. Reaching out slowly, he placed the pot back in the ring of dust it had left behind, his fingers lingering on the rim. Leaving was not something he should be considering, even if it did feel wrong here, although Harry couldn’t quite put a finger on why.

But then again, Dumbledore would probably be able to find out exactly what it was that was so off about the place, beyond the sudden reappearance of several years worth of dirt. And Dumbledore had always encouraged him to trust his gut feelings, which were screaming at him to get away.

He made up his mind. Besides, Dumbledore couldn’t exactly complain about his leaving if Harry was planning on going to his very side - nor could Snape, for that matter, although he would probably try anyway.

The fire wasn’t lit though, and the hearth was stone cold, belying the fact that a fire had ever managed to lie there. Fortunately a few logs lay in the nearby wood box, discarded and disintegrating slightly around the grey and mouldy edges. Harry guessed he probably wasn’t the first person who had wanted to make a call and didn’t know how to either transfigure something or just zap the stuff out of thin air. He had thought he would wind up reduced to destroying furniture. He was still left with the problem of lighting it though, as nothing so Muggle as matches was to be found anywhere he dared to look. One of the nearest drawers had rattled alarmingly when he reached out towards it, and he didn’t fancy disturbing the nest of Doxies his previous errant encounter had no doubt come from. But then again, he had been left alone and unguarded for the first time in what felt like several years. If that didn’t warrant a minor breakage of the restriction of underage magic he couldn’t think of anything that did. Risking a muttered ‘Incendio’, the flames leapt to life, stirring up a rather foul smell as the dust surrounding it started to curl and crisp.

Throwing a handful of powder into the roaring flames he stepped carefully into them, glancing once again around the deserted kitchen before shouting ‘Hogwarts, Headmasters Office.’

He barely managed to jump out of the hearth in time, as the green spluttered for a moment before returning to its previous orange. Falling to the floor and wincing at his scorched foot, Harry stared at the fire in shock, unsure of what to do next. The Floo Network had never failed him before, and he doubted Dumbledore had warded his fireplace against the Boy-Who-Bloody-Lived.

Suddenly he felt painfully edgy and surprisingly vulnerable. The house no longer felt safe, no longer felt like it had ever belonged to his godfather. The walls crept up around him and closed in on him, and he grabbed another handful of powder without thinking, throwing it desperately into the flames and barely taking a moment to consider his destination. He wanted, no, he needed to be around people. It seemed the next logical place he would be likely to run into at least one member of the Order, too, or at least someone he knew. Hesitantly, he stepped back into the flames, wincing at the pain in his foot as he clutched his wand and shouted, his voice shaking only slightly, ‘Diagon Alley.’

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