‘We have to go now Snape,’ Tonks shouted urgently through the open door, dragging her own cloak round her shoulders and checking once again on Harry, who had remained blissfully asleep. It was normal sleep this time though, his breathing light and shallow, his whole body drooping forward in the wooden chair. Assuring herself he was not about to wake she slipped from the kitchen, heading back towards the staircase as she tried to peer into the gloom above. She called for Snape again, starting upwards when she received no response. A small line of light from a pale Lumos charm could be seen under the door to the bathroom as she reached the top of the stairs, flickering slightly as though the hand holding the wand was struggling to keep it steady. She approached the closed door without a sound; footfalls soft even in the heavy boots she had opted to wear, listening carefully for any noise as she pressed her ear against the rough wood.
‘If you are going to skulk around out there you may as well be of some help,’ Snape snapped irritably from the other side, causing her to jump backwards guiltily, hand inches from the doorknob. Reaching out quickly she grasped it and turned, pulling open the door.
‘We have to go,’ she said plainly and with no remorse for having been caught spying, even as she looked round the tiny room in an attempt to discover what was keeping Snape. The sink was blocked from her view though, Snape’s hunched back all she could see, framed by the shaking light from his wand.
‘We have a minute.’
Snape turned slowly, thrusting a small yet sharp knife towards Tonks, who took it with confusion. Slowly he unbuttoned the cuff of his robe, rolling the heavy fabric above his elbow so the Dark Mark stood out, burning black against his pallid white skin. ‘Cut it off.’ He ground out
‘Are you nuts?’
Snape quirked an eyebrow, looking vaguely amused by her disgust at the notion. ‘You were the one who wanted to drag me along with you,’ he said, pitching his voice with an accusing air and accompanying it with a knowing tilt of his head. ‘Cut the blasted thing off. I guarantee it will hurt no more than it is at the moment.’
Tonks looked surprised at the admission. ‘He’s calling for you?’
‘Has been for the last ten minutes,’ Snape replied with forced blitheness, as Tonks examined the brand that almost seemed to pulse, its very presence suggesting burning heat even though it remained quite cool to the touch, the tips of her fingers brushing it lightly. ‘I think it safe to assume he has realised I am not coming.’
Tonks didn’t lift her gaze, her hand trailing down from his arm as she just stared at the bare skin, nausea churning her stomach. ‘I can’t.’
‘You have too,’ Snape said flatly, lowering himself to sit uncomfortably on the rim of the bathtub and holding his arm over the sink, ‘or do you not have the courage to act on your conviction? Removing the damn thing will prevent him from following us, at least for a short time.’ Tonks looked ill. ‘I am still willing to remain here whilst you leave, if you would rather,’ Snape offered with a snide snarl, causing Tonks to steady herself purposefully with a glare, lifting the knife to press its cold blade against his skin.
‘Be sure to remove the whole thing,’ Snape tensed, his fingers curling into a fist before he forced them to relax, letting his arm rest limply against the chipped ceramic, its cold surface drawing a trail of goose bumps along his flesh. ‘It will slow its regeneration. You may need to cut quite deep.’ Tonks nodded slightly, her breath shallow as she steadied her hands and pushed, ignoring Snape’s hiss of pain as the skin dipped slightly before yielding. A stream of blood poured steadily across his arm, dripping down the curved white surface towards the drain in rivulets and coating the handle as she fought to stop her fingers from slipping, glancing upwards to Snape, whose eyes were screwed shut.
‘What do you want me to do with it?’
‘Leave it,’ Snape replied, his voice trembling slightly as he awkwardly tore a length of heavy fabric from his robes, wrapping it tightly round the wound.
‘Will you be all right?’
‘It will heal quickly. The Mark will see to it.’ He secured the temporary bandage with a spell, flexing his fingers gingerly. ‘We have to go,’ said as if nothing had just happened. ‘Have you everything you need, as we will not be able to return.’ He pushed himself unsteadily to his feet, swaying slightly and turning a ghostly white as his hand reached out to the wall for balance. Tonks looked away, knowing Snape better than to either comment or stare with unnecessary concern at his weakness.
‘Harry is ready.’
‘Can you apparate the both of you?’ Tonks nodded, not mentioning the fact that Snape looked barely able to apparate himself.
‘Will You-Know-Who not be able to track us?’
‘No,’ Snape said simply and with complete surety. ‘He will know we have left, but the spell residue will be here, not at the destination.’ He turned on the tap, cold water splashing into the sink and mingling with thick, red drops that remained as he cupped his hand under the flow, dashing his face before gently cleaning his damaged arm, carefully rolling his sleeve back down to cover it. ‘Just in case we will apparate somewhere within walking distance, but not too close.’
Tonks nodded, opening the door and making back out into the hallway. Her stomach seemed to have settled again, but she still felt unnerved and faintly light-headed. ‘Thank you,’ she said softly, pausing in the frame and smiling weakly, running a hand nervously through her hair as though expecting Snape to cut her down for the gesture. ‘Really, you have done so much. Albus would be proud.’
Snape grunted dismissively. ‘Thank me later.’
Tonks slipped away quietly, leaving the door ajar as she disappeared down the stairs, Harry’s sleeping form resting against her when Snape joined them back in the kitchen, his arm slung over her shoulder in an attempt to keep him upright. She cast Snape a quick look up and down, as though to verify he were still actually alive and not taking his time in catching on, grinning sheepishly at his exasperated expression.
‘There is a small park near the house,’ she offered quickly, directing the conversation back towards urgency. ‘It will no doubt be deserted at this time, and is the safest place I can think of.’
‘It is a little near, but it will suffice,’ Snape agreed, casting Harry a cursory glance of his own, sighing with displeasure before sweeping hurriedly from the room with the look of someone who has forgotten something important. He returned a few minutes later, as Tonks shifted her weight nervously from foot to foot, anxious to leave. ‘This belongs to Potter,’ he said with a grimace, throwing the tatty cloak across the boy’s shoulders. ‘No doubt it will help keep him warm, and prevent him from either losing his temper or risking his life to retrieve it were he to wake to find it left behind.’
‘Didn’t know you cared,’ Tonks said with a grin. Snape merely scowled again, casting the room one last perfunctory look before apparating with a loud crack as Tonks increased her hold on Harry, her arm tightening round his waist before following.
The park was deserted, the ground still damp with early morning dew, the air humid under the rising sun whose heat was far from reaching its peak and was instead content to slowly dry any stray errant of moisture that had managed to accumulate in its absence. The creak of metal had Tonks jumping round fretfully as a nearby swing swayed under a stiff breeze, its hinges brown and peeling with rust. Sheltered by trees and protected from sight she once again hoisted Harry, groaning as the blood started to return to the arm she hadn’t even noticed had gone dead, pins and needles stabbing relentlessly under the skin as she gritted her teeth and waited for it to pass. Struggling under his weight she drew her wand, glancing around the immediate vicinity to ensure there were no witnesses, with the intention of lightening him.
‘No,’ Snape whispered softly, pushing the wand downwards until Tonks lowered it of her own accord, staring up at him questioningly. ‘We mustn’t use magic, not here.’
‘He can’t possibly watch the entirety of the Muggles every minute.’ Tonks tried to reason incredulously, letting out a small, fraught chuckle.
‘Why not?’ Snape said enquiringly, cocking his head as Tonks searched for an answer she was sure should have existed. No one should have been able possess that much power and influence, but she struggled to put her finger on exactly why. ‘Besides, he doesn’t need to,’ Snape offered to appease her growing dissatisfaction at her own inability to formulate a suitable response. ‘Despite desires to the contrary, the Dark Lord is not quite yet omnipotent. He took the device for detecting underage magic and copied the basic principal for his own purposes. It will light like a beacon to the smallest charm cast outside the borders to our World.’ Tonks looked inexplicably comforted at the rational explanation. The Dark Lord had been terrifying in prospect from the second he had risen again and she had been in a position to fight him. He was even more so now she was in a position expected to serve, and years in the pretence of bowing and scraping to his name had left its irremovable mark. The genuine fear of His servants and His subjects had rubbed off on her more than Tonks cared to think, and occasionally she found threads of the fanaticism embedded in her own doubts and uncertainties, no matter how far fetched they appeared to her logical mind.
‘We should have changed into something less conspicuous then,’ she said lightly to disperse the tenseness, nodding at Snape’s black robes, definitely unsteady on her feet as her arms strained to support Harry.
‘It is too late for that now.’
‘The muggles will notice.’
‘They’ll brush it off as eccentric,’ Snape dismissed, stepping out from the thin cover the overgrowth provided, boots sinking slightly beneath him, leaving indentations in the thick grass that remained even after he moved on, cushioning against the hard and cracked earth beneath. A slight drizzle had started to fall, barely noticeable apart from the dampness on his face as a lone, dark cloud scuttled hurriedly across the sky. Covered from head to toe in thick, black fabric, Snape would have drawn disbelieving gazes even if it were not tailored into a robe. Despite the freshness that lingered from the previous night the day promised to turn sweltering in an instant. No muggle would wear anything more than the bare minimum required for decency in this heat, and even in the prim and proper district of Little Whinging they would consider reassessing these standards for the sake of comfort.
‘Never spent much time in this neighbourhood, did you?’ Tonks offered.
‘It’s still early,’ Snape replied, glancing towards the low sun and across the small open space to the concrete path that stood grey in the distance, the hum of a car following the line of trees behind them and fading away. ‘We must hurry. If we’re lucky most will still be in bed.’ He paused as Tonks moved slowly forwards with great effort, Harry’s feet dragging uselessly into the grass as her free arm curled under his knees to lift them also. ‘Can you manage him?’
‘Better than you could,’ she nodded in the direction of the arm he was cradling protectively to his chest, the familiar scowl once again returning to Snape who let it drop back to his side, his face set rigidly expressionless without a trace of pain or discomfort. He kept his pace slow and unhurried though, stumbling occasionally on the uneven ground until they reached the path.
The streets were fortuitously empty as they moved hastily through them, earning a couple of strange glances from the early risers, those out walking dogs or delivering papers, who stared and frowned at their odd attire and looked away quickly whenever either of them glanced round. They eventually reached Privet Drive without incident though, as they considered the street carefully. ‘Doesn’t look any different,’ Tonks commented hopefully, taking the brief moment to lean tiredly against a nearby fence.
‘It strikes me that even in one hundred years it would struggle to do so,’ There was something horribly indestructible about the monotony the street embodied, a monotony that resisted not only outsiders but also the effects of time itself. Snape stalked ahead, towards the familiar garden he vaguely recalled from his past, pausing to let Tonks go first less out of politeness than realisation that, out of the two of them, she was by far the less threatening.
They both felt it in the air as Tonks stepped on the path that sliced cleanly through the immaculate garden. The awakening of something old, something powerful that wrapped itself round Harry as though an old friend. It surged through him, latching onto his existence whilst leaving him totally oblivious to its presence, weaving its way silently through his blood. Tonks felt it though as a faint prickle against her skin, a questioning intrusion seeking her intent as she spun round to gape unbelievably at Snape.
‘I guess that answers the question,’ she said with a sigh of relief as the feeling subsided, releasing the breath she didn’t realise she had been holding, sagging with relief as if most of her burden had all ready been lifted.
‘I doubt it went unnoticed.’ Tonks looked alarmed at Snape’s words, her respite brought to an end as she dug down for her last reserves of energy, her legs weak and tired beneath her as she stumbled back round, off balance as the body in her arms tried to pull her over. ‘You must get in the house.’ Tonks was all ready running forward as fast as she could regardless of the warning, hitting the door with her side to stop her momentum, her free hand rapping loudly on the wood as she looked behind her to where Snape wasn’t standing but should have been.
He was still at the border of the path, flinching against an invisible force, his entire body rigid even as he still seemed to be fighting to push through.
‘Snape,’ Tonks cried in alarm, placing Harry carefully on the doorstep before sprinting back to the property line, reaching out to grasp Snape’s shoulders and push him backwards. She found herself fighting against a force that seemed to want to hold him in place, certainly not allowing him any further forward, and reluctant to release him to the outside either. ‘What the hell?’
‘The wards,’ he ground out, words gasping as a tremor racked through him, almost buckling his legs. ‘They won’t let me pass. Get back in.’ He managed to step backwards with difficulty, Tonks helping him to force himself free, relief flooding his face as he did so before being schooled back to objective detachment, daring the World or anyone in it to remind him of the devastating predicament he now faced.
He made no move to attempt to approach again.
‘Damn,’ Tonks exclaimed, looking round frantically with no real purpose, hoping for an unlikely solution, a miraculous way out. ‘Can we bring them down?’
‘That would be catastrophically stupid,’ Snape commented.
‘Do you know how they work?’ It was a ridiculous question, as Snape doubted Albus had explained them fully to anyone, let alone him. It was depressingly likely that Albus had never even been completely sure himself. They existed on a premise as flimsy as love; no doubt they were controlled by something equally insubstantial.
‘It’s blood magic,’ he shrugged unhelpfully, hissing at the pain the slight movement caused, ‘which is known for being notoriously uncontrollable.’ He didn’t particularly care if Tonks appreciated his short tone or not, her look of frustration telling him all he needed to know about that. It occurred to him that in all his years he had never even wondered what effects the wards of the house would have on anyone they deemed unworthy, but then again he had never expected to be subjected to them.
‘Harry!’ Tonks declared all of a sudden, her eyes lighting up as she clung with hopeful desperation to her first thought of a potential resolution. ‘They are tuned to him, so he must have some control over them.’
‘He won’t be able to help you.’ Snape tried to dissuade her from wasting valuable time.
‘Why?’ He certainly didn’t expect the suspicious question, hurled at him like a whip as Tonks regarding him distrustfully. ‘What else do you know that you aren’t saying?’ He would have laughed at the hypocrisy did his lungs not feel empty and useless, incapable of supplying enough air to breath let alone speak.
‘Nothing,’ he said scornfully, ‘except that I just fed him a rather potent sleeping potion. Having had to drag him halfway across the country I would have thought you’d remember. Even if you do manage to wake him, he will be even less coherent than normal.’
Tonks didn’t look sorry for what she said, paying no heed to Snape’s resentment of her comment or his reasoning as she ran back to the sleeping figure, shaking him fiercely as his head lolled to the side. ‘You have to wake up. Come on Harry,’ she encouraged as his eyes fluttered open, although didn’t seem to focus on anything. ‘You have to let Snape in.’
‘Huh.’ Harry gazed blearily up at her face, squinting against the sunlight that reflected from his glasses, recognition barely even registering in his fogged mind.
‘The wards at your Aunts,’ Tonks said slowly, grasping his arm to pivot him round slightly and pointing to where Snape stood on the far street. ‘They won’t let him pass. Change them.’
Harry’s forehead creased in concentration and bemusement, his voice thick and slurred as he forced his tongue into motion. ‘How?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘What do you expect me to do then?’ he yawned and twisted back to the side, head resting on his arms as sleep once again battled to claim him.
‘Look,’ Tonks said gently, shaking him back awake and ignoring his mumbled protestations. ‘Albus may have created them, but they belong to you, they protect you. You must have at least some measure of control over them. Concentrate.’
‘What if they’re not letting him in for a reason?’ It was a remark made less out of concern than simply to get rid of Tonks so the potion that still flooded his system could pull him wonderfully back to sleep, where none of this was real.
‘They keep out followers of the Dark Lord,’ Harry tried to brush her away again, his arm gesturing weakly as Tonks grasped it, pulling Harry back round so he had no choice but to look straight at her through hooded eyes, the uncomfortable pressure of being held in such an awkward position the only thing keeping him conscious. ‘Snape has effectively been following him for quite a while now. You can’t blame them for being a bit confused.’ The words seemed to sink in slowly, as Harry frowned deeply and with intent consideration, churning them over as if to analyse them from every possible angle so he could find what they were hiding from him.
‘No,’ he tried to push himself up feebly, an urgent message spurring him into semi wakefulness as Tonks pushed him firmly back down. ‘They keep out people who mean me harm.’
‘Snape doesn’t mean you harm,’ Tonks argued, infuriation at the same old argument tainting her retort and making it less credible even to her own ears.
Harry’s response was sulky and childish as he pouted. ‘The wards say different.’
‘You have to trust him.’
Harry glowered angrily. ‘You keep saying that.’
‘Because it’s true,’ Tonks sounded tired, wishing not for the first time that she had the words to convince Harry, or that he would be slightly more forgiving and accepting of the man he had every right, but no real reason to hate. ‘You said you trusted him to get you home at least.’
‘I know you don’t like him,’ Tonks continued emphatically, each word heavy with emotion and understanding, ‘and I know you don’t want him here, but you have to let him in.’ Harry stared into the street with confusion, mind still numb with sleep as he closed his eyes again.
‘Fine,’ he muttered, curling up on himself, ‘Snape can come in.’ Tonks look round to where Snape moved forward tentatively, the wards striking him down again, stronger this time if his reaction was any indication.
‘That isn’t enough,’ she said desperately, not thinking the wards would let him go a second time.
‘Try harder,’ Tonks demanded forcefully. ‘Before the Dark Lord finds him or the wards kill him, because then we really will be in trouble,’ she paused, her voice dropping to a low and almost menacing tone laced with a barely noticeable trace of guilt at what she was about to say. ‘Unless, of course, you want him to die because of you.’ Harry’s eyes slammed open instantly, haunted and horrified. ‘Unless you want to be responsible for another death.’ Harry winced at the harsh words at the same instant Snape tumbled onto the front lawn, wheezing loudly in between bursts of chesty coughs. Remorse wasn’t enough to keep Harry awake though, as he started to drift slowly back to a sleep much more fitful than before. Mumbling an apology Tonks left him once again, running to Snape’s side and easing him carefully on his back, trying to ignore the splatters of blood that stood out vividly against the green of the grass even though no trace of the source was evident on his dark robes.
‘Nice to know his propensity for guilt has some function,’ Snape finally observed dryly, pushing himself shakily to his feet and disengaging himself forcefully from Tonks support and help, even as the door to the house opened revealing a bulky figure who stepped onto the front steps, almost tripping over Harry but somehow failing to see him. The man rubbed his eyes and yawned.
‘Who is making so much noise at this ungodly hour,’ he grumbled, glaring at the scene on his front lawn with growing agitation. His nose curled in disgust as he took in Snape, who would have stood out as different even without the robes. The gaze hardened when it fell on the wand he was still clutching, quickly shifting to Tonks and verifying that there was one in her hand also. ‘No,’ he said firmly, retreating back into the house. ‘Not likely.’
‘Mr. Dursley,’ Snape stepped forward, earning himself a glare from the man who bristled as he fumbled for the latch, face darkening to a furious red.
‘Go away, I thought we’d seen the last of you freaks. Potter isn’t here, thankfully, and he hasn’t been for years. You’re wasting your bloody time.’ The roaring of his voice in the early morning stillness had roused Harry again, who blinked as he tried to follow the noise, head tilting backwards so he could look up at the man above him.
‘Uncle Vernon?’ Harry stared drowsily from his seat on the hard steps, eyes unfocused as the massive head turned wordlessly towards him, mouth open and agape yet speechless as Harry tried again, his initial statement seeming somehow wrong. ‘Dudley?’
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