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The Emergency Spell Ward looked like organized chaos to Harry's untrained eyes. He saw Healers in white robes and other hospital personnel wearing light blue robes with the insignia of a silver teardrop outlined in blue flame bustling to and fro and barking out orders. Dumbledore stood right beside Sirius's stretcher, one hand upon the Animagus, who whimpered softly even in his unconscious state.

All of Harry's nerves were numb, he felt as if he could barely think straight. He stuck a hand into his pocket and felt the cool roundness of the true prophecy and froze. The real prophecy. I have to tell Severus. But not now. It can wait. First, I'll make sure Sirius is well. Then he recalled something else and he tapped Severus on the arm.

"What is it?" The Potions Master turned to look at his ward.

"Sirius . . .he's still wanted by the Ministry. How can they treat him if . . ."

"The Headmaster will take care of it. Watch." Severus jerked his chin in the direction of the stretcher.

Harry looked up just in time to see Dumbledore wave his wand over Sirius, and Sirius became much younger looking, with light brown hair.

A fresh-faced medic came over and asked what the matter was.

"This is John Doe," lied Dumbledore smoothly. "He has been in a duel with Death Eaters and has been struck down by a curse. I would like him examined by the best Spell Damage Specialist you have." Though the old man's tone was polite, it was also firm, and it was clear he wouldn't accept anything less.

"I see," the medic's eyes widened and she said quietly, "I shall tell Healer Sandrilas to be available immediately, sir." She ran a quick diagnostic spell on Sirius, noting down his vital signs and writing them on a clipboard. "Follow me, sir. Are you a family member?"

"Yes. I am his godfather," Albus interjected calmly. He followed the intern down the hallway, the stretcher floating next to him.

Severus and Harry fought to keep from gaping. They had known the Headmaster was devious at times, but they had never seen him lie with a straight face to another person.

"Black's godfather?" Severus hissed. "Merlin help us all if that were true!"

Harry slanted a glance at his mentor and whispered back, "What if it was true? I mean . . .it could be true, right?"

"You had better hope not, Potter," Severus frowned. "Come along."

"Do you think they can break the curse?" Harry asked, his green eyes bright with trepidation.

"It is the Healer's specialty, Harry. If he truly has earned his reputation, he should be able to break the curse over Black." Then, because he could see Harry was close to panicking or going on a major guilt trip, he gave the teen a pat on the shoulder.

Harry bit his lip. He wished suddenly it were him lying on that stretcher instead of Sirius. He hated it when someone close to him was hurt, it made him feel helpless and anxious and he was feeling horribly guilty since Sirius had taken a spell meant for him. And now look what had happened. It should have been him lying there. He should have stayed out of the battle like Severus instructed. Instead he had acted like an impulsive idiot again and cost Sirius his sanity. He hung his head and began to pray that the Specialist could heal Sirius. I'll never forgive myself if he . . .dies. He swallowed hard. Or has brain damage or something.

He mentally shook himself and tried to think of something else . . .something positive . . . "Uh, Severus . . .what does that symbol on the Healers' robes mean? The tear with the blue flame around it?"

"The Healers' symbol is a phoenix's tear surrounded by magical Healing fire." Severus explained. "A phoenix's tear is considered one of the ultimate healing sources, curing even the most virulent poisons and healing wounds as well."

"Could phoenix tears cure Sirius?"

"No. Phoenix tears cannot cure curses. They have to be removed, not neutralized." Severus said, a faint lecturing tone in his voice.

"Oh." Harry tried not to sound devastated. But he was terrified and suddenly all he wanted to do was cling to Severus. But the next instant he was berating himself for acting like a baby, he had killed the bloody Dark Lord in Animagus form and yet here he was, falling apart over a curse that had not even killed his godfather. Pull yourself together, Potter. It'll work out. Whatever that bitch hit him with isn't incurable. I hope.

He drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Then he slowly turned the handle of the door in the treatment room where Dumbledore and the intern had brought Sirius.

Once more he felt a hand on his shoulder, and he leaned slightly into his mentor. Severus did not speak, but he allowed Harry to huddle into his side for a moment, and that moment gave the boy the necessary courage to go into the room.

At that moment, Harry was never so grateful to Severus for being there, because just the fact that Snape was nearby gave him comfort. He was not alone. And that made all the difference.

Harry walked quickly into the room.

Sirius was lying in a large bed with blue sheets and a darker blue blanket. Blue seemed to be the preferred color around here, he thought inanely. The former Auror seemed to be in a deep sleep, his chest rising and falling evenly. Harry began to hope that the curse might have worn off somehow. But his hope was shortlived. Sirius began to thrash and moan, tossing his head from side to side, foam flecking his mouth.

The tall Healer in the white robes with the blue border, a man of about forty, quickly turned and held out his hand over the groaning man and said, "Dormius immobulus." A glowing blue light emerged from his hand and settled over Sirius.

Immediately, the Animagus quit thrashing and became still, falling back to sleep.

"I have spelled him asleep, for the moment," Healer Sandrilas explained to Dumbledore. "But I fear, given the nature of his curse, it will not hold him for long." The Healer had sandy blond hair and a narrow face with large green eyes. He glanced up to see Snape and Harry standing in the doorway. "Excuse me, but who are you? Only relatives are allowed on this floor in the treatment room."

"I'm his godson," Harry said swiftly, wondering if that counted as a relation in wizarding terms.

Apparently it did, for Sandrilas relaxed. "I see. And you, sir?"

"I am this young man's guardian," Severus answered evenly. "He goes nowhere without me."

Harry opened his mouth to protest, Great Merlin, Sev, you make me sound like I'm five and need to hold your hand! But he shut it at Snape's pointed warning look.

"Very well. Close the door, please." Sandrilas ordered. When Severus had complied, he continued, "As I was saying, this curse is very powerful. I have to say, it is not your standard Confundus Charm or Bewilderment Hex. All of those I could counter easily. This, however, is unique."

"How so, Healer?" asked the Headmaster.

"It affects not only his waking mind, but also the sunconscious. And it also draws forth the animal mind of his Animagus form-a dog, I believe you said? It engenders confusion, aggression, fear, and insanity. He cannot differentiate between his dog mind and his human mind, and therefore is trapped somewhere inbetween."

"But you can cure him, right?" Harry asked, his voice coming out high and thin despite his best efforts.

Healer Sandrilas frowned slightly. "Right now, I will be honest with you, young man, and tell you that I do not know. I will be running several more tests and reversal charms, but since this curse is not one I have ever encountered before, I cannot say how effective I will be. What I fear most is that the longer Mr. Doe remains under it, the greater the chance that his mind may be . . .irrevocably damaged."

"You mean . . .he'll be insane . . .forever?" Harry whispered, stricken.

"It's a possibility. Of course, I will do my best to see that does not happen, but given the strength of this curse . . .I am sorry. I wish that I had more positive news for you. But you will just have to wait and see."

"For how long?" Albus asked then.

"I will try to work more upon him in an hour or so, in the meantime I shall research as much as I can. If only he were not an Animagus. That complication makes it difficult to treat him. I may need to consult a Magical Creatures vet."

"Do whatever you need to make him well again, Healer," Dumbledore entreated.

"I shall," the Healer promised, somewhat stiffly. "I shall keep you updated on his condition, sir." He bowed to Dumbledore and nodded politely to Harry and Severus.

"Thank you, Healer," said the Headmaster. He turned to the professor and his student. "Well, it appears there is nothing more we can do at present. John is in capable hands, I think we ought to return to the school."

Harry cast a forlorn look at the comatose figure tucked into the blue bed once more. It was then that he noticed the straps about Sirius's shoulders and ankles. "Hey! Why is he . . .tied down like that?"

"Because the curse makes him violent and prone to lash out at anyone while he is under it," answered Sandrilas. "It is for his own and our own safety. I have no wish to be bitten by a half-transformed dog man. That way, he is manageable."

Harry stiffened, wanting to say something about how demeaning that was, but he held his tongue. He supposed it was better than putting Sirius in a straitjacket, the way a Muggle hospital would have done. "Oh. Well . . .thank you for telling me, sir."

"Come along now, Harry," Severus placed a hand on the teen's shoulder and steered Harry from the room. "At least he is resting for the moment. Let us leave the Healer in peace to do his job."

Then his arm tightened about Harry's shoulder and before Harry could protest, Apparated away to the gates of Hogwarts.

By now it was late evening, they had missed supper, but Harry was not even hungry. As they re-crossed the grounds, he suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to just take off and fly, anywhere and everywhere, because the guilt he felt was smothering him.

Dumbledore turned to him and asked gently, "Harry, would you like a cup of tea in my office? I would like to discuss-"

"No!" Harry interrupted. "No, I don't want to talk about it . . .sir!" he added belatedly, recalling his manners. "Please. I just need some time . . .alone. That's all." He shot a questioning glance at his mentor.

Severus nodded and then Harry blurred into Freedom and streaked off into the sky.

"Severus, where is he going?" the Headmaster cried in alarm. "Hawks don't fly at night."

"He does, on occasion. Let him be, Albus." Severus said wearily. "If you like, I shall give you my report on recent events. As well as discuss some information about Potter that I doubt you know. Where have you been all of this time, Albus?"

"Ah, well, Severus, your question should not only be where have I been, but when as well. You see, when Fawkes used his powers to escape with me, he pulled me not just away from the school and to a place of safety, but through time as well. I have been residing on a small island in the vicinity of Bermuda, a few days prior to when Dolores discovered the children meeting. The effects of the time warp wore off and I received an urgent owl from Minerva while you were in the Department of Mysteries, explaining that you were attempting to set a snare for Voldemort. I Apparated there immediately afterwards. I take it that Dolores is no longer in residence here?"

"No longer a resident of this earth," Severus said coldly.

"She has died?"

"Yes. She ventured too close to the forest and roused the Stymphalian Bird. It was quite hungry, if you take my meaning."

"Oh my! That really is . . .unfortunate!"

"Yes, I hope the bird doesn't have indigestion. It would be a shame if such a rare creature were poisoned by its own dinner." Severus said dryly.

"Severus!" chided the Headmaster.

Snape arched an eyebrow. "Oh, come now, Albus. I will not pretend to mourn such an evil witch and you cannot tell me that you do either, for all your bleeding heart tendencies. She got exactly what she deserved."

They headed back to Dumbledore's office, where Severus told the Headmaster all that had occurred in his absence, including Severus's mentoring and guardianship of one Harry James Potter, and the fact that he could no longer return to the Dursleys.

Albus, predictatbly, began to protest, "Severus, my boy, that is out of the question. He must return to his relatives. I have set blood wards in place that-"

"-are rendered ineffective if the subject does not consider the house or the people he shares it with his true home and family," Severus cut in, his voice hard as granite. "And it has become clear to me that Potter was never accepted at his relatives' home. Albus, they treated him worse than a house elf! I cannot permit you to send him back there."

"Permit, Severus?" Albus frowned. "I do not need your permission to send Harry back."

"Oh, yes you do!" Snape declared triumphantly. "The agreement I made with Harry for his apprenticeship was done accrding to the old laws, Albus. I am now his legal guardian until he comes of age, he signed that willingly, and as such he may choose to stay with me over the summer holidays and breaks."

"But . . .how can you . . .the blood wards should have pre-empted such an action . .. " sputtered the Headmaster.

"Only if they were working properly," Severus countered. "But they were not. How often have you checked and renewed them since placing Harry there?"

Dumbledore looked away. "There was no need to renew them. I did not think they would fade. Petunia is Lily's sister, after all."

"And she bears no love for her sister even in death, or her child. That is why the wards failed. But that is moot. Voldemort's body has been destroyed for now. He cannot resurrect himself again for at least three months, or longer. Making your point of sending Harry back to those . . .Muggle bastards totally unnecessary. Harry stays with me."

"What about your duties to the Order?"

"You hardly need my services as a spy now that the Dark Lord is gone. The Death Eaters will scatter now that he is not there to unite them, eventually. Do not fight me on this, Albus. You will lose."

There was a fierce protective glint in the other's eyes that had never been there before in regards to Harry Potter, but seeing it then made Dumbledore realize that nothing short of death was going to break the bond that had formed between these two, unlikely as it seemed. Nor did he desire to. These two needed each other, had always needed each other.

Albus eyed him shrewdly. "You have changed, Severus."

"Yes," was all Snape replied. "And now, if you will excuse me, I need to check that my ward has returned to the castle."

"I would like to discuss several things with Harry as well, Severus."

"I shall tell him you wish to speak with him and let him choose a time when he feels comfortable doing so. Right now would not be a good time. He is still upset over Black."

"I know. I had hoped . . .he might let me help him." Albus said. "But perhaps you are right, and he needs some space. Very well then, I shall see you at breakfast tomorrow, Severus."

Snape bid the Headmaster good evening, then left to see if Harry had returned from his flight.

He met the boy coming back into the castle. Harry looked weary and worn, the light was absent from his green eyes, and his perpetually messy hair, which had always irritated Snape, looked even worse than normal. But strangely, Snape felt no desire to comment on it, though usually he would have told Harry to go borrow a brush before birds mistook his hair for a nest. Not tonight.

Tonight, the Potions Master tilted his head and asked, very softly, "Are you feeling all right, Harry?"

"Yes," Harry replied, too quickly. "I'm just tired. I probably should go to bed."

"Would you like a Sleeping Draft perhaps?" suggested Severus, figuring Harry might have trouble sleeping given what he had just experienced.

Harry hesitated. He doubted if he could fall asleep, he would probably be awake all night, replaying the events of the battle and wondering what, if anything, he could have done differently. It can't hurt to have it and if I don't drink it tonight, I probably will some other night. "I . . .guess that'll be okay."

Snape removed his traveling potions kit and pulled out a vial and gave it to him. "Here. Drink the entire vial and then go directly to bed."

Harry took the vial and cradled it against his cheek. He almost asked Severus if he could spend the night in his quarters, but then he vetoed that idea. He was not a baby, to go running to Severus for everything. Still, a part of him dreaded facing the other students, he wondered what they would think of him after he hadnearly passed out in his exam. He prayed Hermione hadn't mentioned anything about his vision, so he wouldn't have to answer any awkward questions. Hermione was level headed, so perhaps she would realize that she should keep her mouth closed. Holding the vial in his left hand, he quietly bid Snape good night.

"One more thing, Potter. The Headmaster wished to speak with you. It is up to you when you choose to talk with him, though I would suggest to simply go and get it over with."

Harry looked uncertain. "Does he know about the guardianship?"

"Yes. I have informed him of it."

"Was he angry?"

Severus gave him an odd look. "No. He was . . .surprised." Severus did not bother discussing the fact that the Headmaster had wanted Harry to return to his abusive relatives. The boy was exhausted, they could discuss that another time. "Get some sleep, apprentice. I will see you tomorrow after your class."

Severus gently shooed him towards Gryffindor Tower, watching as Harry climbed the stairs before departing for the dungeons. Strange, he mused, how he had come to care and look after the boy so much after only a few months. Once he would have sworn he would dislike and resent Dumbledore's Golden Boy forever, but now . . .Now he is no longer the Headmaster's hero, but my fledgling and ward. And I will not let anything or anyone hurt him ever. No matter what.

* * * * *

Harry slowly climbed the stairs to Gryffindor Tower and gave the password to the Fat Lady.

"Busy night tonight, dearie?" queried the portrait. "Been working hard grading?"

"Uh huh," Harry said noncommitally, entering the portrait hole.

He found only a few Gryffindors still awake in the common room. Hermione was studying, of course, in her usual corner, Ron was playing chess with Neville and trouncing him and Dean was trying to explain Muggle football to a bored-looking Lavender.

All of them looked up when he entered.

"Hey, Harry," Ron waved at him. "You recovered from that killer headache you had in History of Magic?"

"Yeah, I'm better now."

"I would have gotten a headache too, if I'd had to take that OWL." Dean said sympathetically. "Thank Merlin I could skip it, on account of I won't need it if I become a Quidditch coach."

The others all nodded in agreement, except for Hermione, who raised an eyebrow. Harry made his wriggle twice, which meant he would talk to her later.

"Did Snape or Pomfrey give you a potion for it?" asked Lavender.

"Yes and they made me stay in bed all day until now," Harry said, trying to look grumpy, the way he would if he really had been forced to stay in bed all day. "And then they tell me I have to get a good night's sleep!"

"What? But that's . . .crazy!" Ron cried. "Why would you need more sleep when you've already slept all day?"

"Search me, Ron. You know adults make no sense whatsoever sometimes." He went to go up to his dorm, thanking Merlin that at least they didn't seem curious as to why he all of a sudden got splitting migraines.

"Will you get to take your OWL over?" Hermione asked. "Because it would be unfair if you didn't. It wasn't your fault you developed a migraine. Maybe it was stress related."

It sure was! Harry thought and almost smiled. "I guess I will. I'll know tomorrow."

Once he had reached his dorm room, he set the vial of Sleeping Draught on the table. At least someone had made his bed. He undressed, feeling the weariness sweep through his muscles. As he removed his robes, he felt the smooth globe in his pocket.

Ah, bloody hell! I forgot to tell Severus about the new prophecy! He groaned silently. He would have to wait until his Housemates were asleep before slipping down to Snape's quarters with his Invisibility Cloak, since he didn't have Severus's permission to transform into Freedom. One side of his mouth quirked at the irony of how he now obeyed the Potion Master's rules without a fuss when last term he would have totally ignored Snape's dictates outside of the classroom. But all of that was changed, and he could now see Snape's rules for what they were-meant to ensure his safety, and proof that Snape cared for him as more than an apprentice.

Of course, he didn't always care for some of Severus's rules, but that was true of almost any child and parent relationship. He had heard several of his Housemates complain about the rules their parents made them follow-curfew at ten-thirty, no flying brooms at night, no playing Quidditch in the house, no drinking Firewhiskey until they were of age, and no stealing flying cars-that last one was a Weasley rule, of course-along with the usual get good grades and don't be cheeky to teachers and do your homework. He was certain that once he went to live with the Potions Master for the summer, Severus would have all those rules plus do not risk your life or I will throttle you added to the list.

He nearly dozed off waiting for Ron and Hermione to come up and ask him what had really happened, and what the vision had meant.

"Psst, Harry. You there?" It was Ron, poking his head around the door.

"Yeah, mate. I'm here."

Ron came in, and seated himself on Harry's bed, followed by Hermione. "Quick, pull the curtains and cast that weird spell you know, the one that makes people not be able to hear you talking."

"Muffliato," Harry said. "Snape taught me it." He did so.

"Now," Hermione said, sitting crosslegged next to him. "Tell us what happened after Snape took you away. Was the vision real? Did You-Know-Who really attack the Ministry?"

Harry deliberated on how much to tell them, and ended up telling them mostly everything, save for the new prophecy and Severus's Animagus form. Those things were private and not to be shared. When he came to the part when Voldemort had died in Animgaus form, Ron whooped so loud Hermione almost fell off the bed.

"Ronald, honestly!" she glared daggers at him. "Must you scream like a banshee?"

"Oh, come on, Mione! He's dead! We're free of him forever! Right, Harry?"

"I don't know, Ron. It's possible. But Dumbledore and Snape thought there could be a chance he can come back again."

"But . . .he died twice!" protested the redhead.

"Is he really immortal, Harry?" Hermione asked in a hushed whisper.

"No. Least I don't think so. I don't know how he keeps coming back, but maybe there's a way we can stop him. But for now . . .he's gone, most of the Death Eaters with him were arrested, wounded, or dead, and we can relax a little." He gave his friends a tired smile. He wished he could share in their delight, but he had an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach that this was not over yet. There was still the prophecy to interpret and he had a sickening feeling that there was more to killing Voldemort than he knew. Severus said he had split his soul, whatever that means. Maybe I ought to ask him tonight. He didn't want to get into any of that can of worms, and so he said nothing, letting Ron gloat over Lucius's lost eye and Voldemort's defeat.

Then he told them about Sirius.

Both of them felt terrible about his godfather.

"Oh, Harry, I'm so sorry!" sniffed Hermione, putting an arm about him and hugging him gently. "That's terrible! Someone ought to grab that horrible Bellatrix and make her take the curse off!"

"If they could find her," Harry said gloomily.

"Well, don't give up, mate. The Healers at St. Mungos are the best there is. They'll find a countercurse if anyone can."

"I dunno, Ron. The best Healer there didn't sound too hopeful," Harry sighed, feeling the guilt gnaw at his vitals again. He sighed and yawned. "Guess I'm tireder than I thought. I'd better turn in." He cancelled the Muffliato.

His friends bid him goodnight and Hermione left the room. Ron changed and crawled into his own bed and fell fast asleep between one breath and the next.

Harry waited for what seemed like an eternity, then summoned his cloak and robe, wrapping both about him and casting a Creep charm upon himself, a spell he had also learned from his mentor. Harry would bet his whole vault at Gringotts that spell was how Snape always managed to walk about the school unheard and unseen.

He patted the globe in his pocket, then left the common room, making his way silently and invisibly to Snape's quarters.

"Semperoccultus!"

The wall shimmered and he tapped four times upon the door, in a pre-set pattern developed by Snape to signal him that Harry was there. He just hoped Severus was still awake and could hear him.

The door swung open and Harry stepped inside, throwing off the Cloak and folding it away.

"What's the matter? I thought you would be sound asleep by now." Severus said, he was sitting on his couch in a pair of lounge clothes sipping a cup of Black Bohea tea. "Come, sit down."

Harry did so, fishing in his pocket for the sphere. "I'm sorry, did I wake you?"

"No. As you can see, I was having tea before I went to bed. What's so important that it couldn't wait until morning, Harry?"

"This." Harry pulled the gray sphere from his robes.

"That's a sphere of prophecy. You took it from the Hall of Prophecy?" Severus exclaimed.

"Yes. Because you know how the prophecy I was sent there for was the false one created by Dumbledore? Well, when I went looking for it-I heard this one calling to me and when I went to pick it up, I saw it had three names upon its tag here," Harry held out the sphere's tag for Severus to inspect.

Severus read the three names and then a look of utter astonishment passed over his face. "But then this would mean . . .there is a new prophecy . . .One that concerns you and me and bloody Voldemort, may worms gnaw his liver!"

"I know. Here, listen to it." Harry handed Severus the sphere.

The sphere glowed and began to speak the prophecy to Severus.

The Potions Master listened, spellbound, as Trelawney's voice recited the new prophecy--"The shadow of the Dark One shall rise to cover the land . . .but the shadow shall be vanquished . . .by sacrifice and truth and two hawks flying. Together they shall find what is hidden and teach death to die!"

"It is a true prophecy. Made without any prompting from Albus." Severus mused, stunned. "But it gives us hope that he can be defeated. If we can find all the Horcruxes."

"What's a Horcrux, Sev? And what did you mean, before . . .when you said he could split his soul?"

Severus drew in a deep breath. "Harry, these are dark matters, what the Dark One did is considered one of the most heinous of crimes . . .the creation of even one Horcrux is darkest sorcery, and I believe, as does the Headmaster, that V -Voldemort-" Snape grimaced but forced himself to speak the name of his former master. "-created more than one, and split his soul to a fragment in doing so."

"How?"

"That is a long twisted story, not one you should be hearing right now."

"I'm not a baby, Severus!" snapped Harry irritably. "I won't come crying to you during the night because you told me a scary story."

Snape frowned. "Mind that tone, young one. I do not hesitate because I fear giving you nightmares, though Merlin knows you ought to have them anyhow, given what was done tonight. I hesitate because it is a long convoluted tale and you need sleep."

Harry pouted sulkily. "I can stay awake. If you don't tell me, Sev, I won't sleep a wink, because I'll be too busy trying to figure out what a Horcrux is."

"Not if I hold your nose and pour a Sleeping Draught down your throat," his mentor threatened silkily.

"Severus! Just tell me! Please?" he wheedled, giving the other his best I-have-my-mother's eyes-and you-know-it stare.

Severus looked away, scowled, then turned back and leveled a stern finger at his ward. "Very well, you sly little scamp. I will tell you what I know of Horcruxes, but afterwards you will go to bed-here or in Gryffindor Tower-no arguments!"

"All right. No need to get all pushy."

"With you, Potter, pushy is the only way to get somewhere occasionally," Severus returned. Then he cleared his throat and told Harry what he knew about the creation of Horcruxes in general and what he suspected about Voldemort in particular.

"I believe that he placed parts of his soul into several objects and his familiar, the great king cobra Nagini."

"But you said a Horcrux could only be placed into an object."

"Traditionally, yes that is so. But you and I both know that Voldemort has never followed tradition, he is a rebel of the first order. He should not have been able to split his soul so many times, yet he has most likely done so. Dumbledore and I believe another Horcrux might be in some family heirlooms as well."

"Such as?"

"A ring that once belonged to Marvolo Gaunt, Riddle's maternal grandfather, and a locket from Salazar Slytherin." Severus told him. "Other than that, we can only guess at where and what he might have done with them."

"How many do you think there are?"

"Six or seven is my guess."

"Why didn't you or Dumbledore ever tell me this before?" demanded Harry. "It would have been nice to know."

"We were not certain he had really done it, we had started to suspect after his return, but the death at the Ministry confirmed it. He should have died then but his spirit dwells on because of the Horcruxes. And the prophecy confirms it. Two together shall find what is hidden and teach death to die. That is our mission, to search out and destroy the Horcruxes. Only then will Voldemort stay in hell where he belongs."

"When . . .when should we start searching?"

"Not just yet. You have school to complete, once the term is finished and I have done some more research, we can begin."

"School? We're supposed to go off on a quest and you're worried about me finishing school?"

"I am indeed. Education is important and should never be wasted. Besides, we have time to discover Voldemort's weaknesses. So . . .concentrate on your marks, Mr. Potter. Understood?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "Oh, yes sir, I understand that you want me to collapse from overwork."

"Quit being overdramatic, brat." Snape scolded lightly, giving the boy a light cuff on the ear. "Prioritize your time as I showed you and get some sleep and you won't be collapsing over anything. Focus on your lessons and your classes right now and worry about the Horcruxes later."

Harry made a face at him. "Slavedriver."

Snape gave his ear a pinch.

"Hey! What was that for? Ow!" Harry rubbed his ear.

"Insolence. I am still your mentor as well as your guardian, and as such you should treat me with a modicum of respect."

"Fine. I'm sorry. I bow to your wisdom and experience, oh wise mentor."

"Incorrigible child! Go to sleep, Mr. Potter, before your mouth gets you into trouble and you spend the last week of term scrubbing my apartments with a toothbrush."

"Yes, sir." He gave Snape a smirk from beneath his wild fringe. "Can I stay here? I don't feel like walking back to the Tower."

Severus pretended to look put upon. "As you will." He summoned a pillow and a blanket and tossed them at Harry. Harry removed his robes then, since he was wearing his pajamas beneath them. "Bed, Mr. Potter."

Harry quickly placed the pillow behind his head and pulled up the blanket.

Severus was about to Nox the lamp when Harry said abruptly, "Sev, leave a light on, if you don't mind. I . . .have . . .um . . .issues with . . .the dark." He felt himself flush a brilliant scarlet. Why did I tell him? Why? Now he'll think I'm a coward, a crybaby, oh Merlin, why did I say anything?

But Severus did not sneer or mock him for that humiliating admission. All he said was, "I am not surprised, growing up the way you did. I will dim it only."

Then he turned and left the lounge, heading into his bedroom.

Harry curled on his side and fell asleep. He slept uneasily, however, restlessly tossing and turning until it was time to get up in the morning. He ate breakfast with Severus, then asked if they should inform Dumbledore about the prophecy.

"Wait a little," Severus advised. "Albus has a way of manipulating prophecies to suit his own ends."

Harry nodded, that was for certain. He finished his breakfast and dressed for his morning class of first-years. Then he looked at Severus and asked, "Will I have to take my History of Magic OWL over?"

"Did you complete it?"

"No."

"Then, given the nature of your interruption, I would say you will be allowed to re-do the OWL."

"Oh, that's good. I guess." He left and walked quickly to the second dungeon, where his class was waiting. They were all discussing last night's events, since the Prophet had been running headlines about it all morning.

Harry unlocked the door and the students preceeded him into the room. It took him awhile to get them settled down, but once he had taken points for discussing subjects unrelated to potions from both sides, they quickly focused on their class.

After that, his day went by swiftly, and he did his best to ignore the stares and whispers that accompanied him wherever he went. He decided to postpone his chat with the Headmaster until he heard about Sirius. The examiner for the History of Magic exam allowed him to finish his exam upon a written request from Severus explaining what had happened to his ward.

Harry managed to complete the exam and then had potions lessons with Severus. During that session, Snape received an owl from St. Mungos.

Harry was on tenterhooks watching Severus read the letter.

"Severus? Is it from that Healer? Sandrilas? How's Sirius?"

Severus looked up from his letter and said gravely. "His condition has worsened somewhat . . .they have had to sedate him a second time, he nearly bit a Healer come to check his vitals, he morphed into a dog before the Healer realized what he was about. As a human, he babbles nonsense and drools and doesn't recognize anyone."

"They haven't figured out a counter?" Harry asked, his heart breaking.

"Not yet."

Harry's fist clenched. "I wish I could kill Bellatrix!"

"I cannot blame you. Stir the cauldron ten times counterclockwise and then in a figure eight pattern."

Harry turned back to his potion. It wasn't fair! How come Bellatrix got away without a scratch when Sirius . . .was going utterly insane? My fault. If I had stayed out of it, he wouldn't have been forced to protect me from her. But I was an impulsive idiot and now Sirius suffers for it. Some hero I am!

He barely ate lunch or dinner and went to bed early, ignoring Ron and Hermione and even Neville's concerned glances.

* * * * * *

Two days later another letter from Healer Sandrilas arrived and it bore no better news than the first. The Healer was apologetic yet frank and said that he did not think there was a chance of breaking the curse without totally damaging Sirius's mind beyond repair. "I do not have enough information on this curse to work a counter, and the best I can do is to put him in stasis for a few months. After that, I cannot say. I am sorry. But I will not cease trying to formulate a counter."

Harry felt something die within him when he read those words, and all at once he turned and raced out of the potions lab, running as quickly as he could through the secret passage, blurring into Freedom a moment later.

He flew through the air at an insane speed, as if trying to outrun his guilty conscience, or the broken heart that accompanied it. No hope. None. Not now, maybe not ever.

He flew over the forest, not caring if he disturbed any vicious denizens. He flew in loops and spirals and did not even notice the goshawk shadowing him a few feet up.

Warrior watched as Freedom flew , sensing that the flight was one way to ease tension. Stupid mutt-you had to go and get yourself cursed by that bloody psycho harridan, didn't you? The goshawk thought angrily, but he really didn't blame Sirius, for the Animagus had put himself in danger to save his fledgling, knowing the cost. Only Black had never realized that Harry would torture himself with guilt.

Warrior kept pace with the agitated red-tail. They flew for an hour an a half until Freedom spiraled down to land in the glade. There he huddled miserably upon a branch, head tucked into his chest, wings flattened, his whole body screaming with guilt and grief.

Warrior followed, landing in the middle of the glade a moment later. He shifted back to Severus , who peered up at the tree where Freedom was perched and called, "Freedom, I know you're there. Come to me. It does you no good to remain up there, drowning in grief and guilt. Come down and let me help you."

Freedom gave a soft cry of denial.

Severus sighed and decided to wait it out.

He sat down on the grass and waited.

Freedom remained where he was and Severus meditated.

An hour passed.

Then two.

Severus came out of his trance and noted that Freedom was still in the tree.

The Potions Master heaved a huge sigh. What now? How did one coax a reluctant Animagus to come down and let his mentor give him comfort? I am not cut out for this, Merlin save me! But I will try.

He pitched his voice loud enough to carry to the depressed hawk and said, "Harry, I know why you think being a hawk now is better than being a person. Because hawks don't cry. I know that . . .you blame yourself for what happened to Black . . .but you should not. You should not. It wasn't your fault, Harry, it was Bellatrix's."

Severus tried to make his voice soothing and convincing, encouraging the distraught Animagus to trust him.

Freedom shivered, feeling as if his heart were torn apart. Flying was not enough. He needed . . .no, wanted something more. He wanted Sirius to be all right, he had hoped that working together might have brought both guardian and godfather together. But now that would never be.

Freedom gave a soft harsh cry of despair. WHY? Why is it that every time I love someone, I lose them?

"Harry, for the love of Merlin, come here." Severus called, standing and holding out his wrist.

Freedom automatically bated and then flew down to the Potion Master's wrist. He looked at Severus with an expression of hopelessness that had never been seen upon a hawk's face before.

"Change, Harry. Let us discuss this, if you don't mind?"

Freedom trembled. Then he blurred into his human form.

"It's my fault. I should have stayed out of it. It's because of me Sirius is insane."

Severus took his apprentice gently by the shoulders and shook him once, twice, firmly. "Stop that! Bellatrix is responsible, not you. And you don't have the right to feel guilty over the choices another makes. Sirius knew the risks and he chose to take it."

"I know . . .but . . ." Harry gulped hard, fighting back tears. His hands twisted a fold of his robe around and around. "I'm cursed by bad luck."

Severus looked hard at his ward. "Harry, that is superstitious. You are not cursed at all. Unless I hex you for being so bloody stubborn." Severus scolded, and steered his apprentice down on the grass.

"How can you say that, Sev? Everyone dies when they're with me! Everyone!" Harry shouted, figuring if he got angry enough he wouldn't be tempted to cry.

"I am with you, and I most certainly am not dead."

"Who knows, you might be next," retorted Harry bitterly.

"Hush, fledgling. It's . . .common for you to feel bad over Black. But do not place blame where it is not earned. Did you know Bellatrix was going to cast that curse? Did you know that Black would jump in front of you? Well?"

"N-no," Harry could feel the chinks in his armor widening. "But he did it for me, Sev. And look what happened!"

"Yes, Mr. Potter, let's take a good look at what happened. You were bait for a trap, and you played that part very well. During the Ministry battle, you were trying not to be noticed and watching while people you knew fought for their lives. You would not have been human if you did not react to that. Black chose to protect you, as he had sworn, and he did. As I would have done, had I been there. But that is a choice only he could make. You need to realize and accept that, Harry."

Harry's face twisted. "No! I'm not worth it."

Severus reached out and pulled Harry to him abruptly. "Never ever say that again! Never. You are worth every sacrifice, because we care very much about you. You might not have mattered to the Dursleys but you damn good and well matter to me. And you mattered to Black." His hand tightened on Harry's back. "It is a choice he made willingly, to fight for you, and you could not have prevented it, short of killing him yourself."

Harry bowed his head. What Severus said made sense, and yet . . ."How do you know that?"

"Because it is what I would have done, what Lily and James would have done and did do, it is instinct for most parents to sacrifice their lives for their children if need be."

"I didn't ask him to do it," Harry cried, his words muffled somewhat by Snape's robes.

"You would never need to."

"It's not fair," came another mumbled reply.

"No, but such is life. Feeling guilty helps no one, not yourself or your godfather. Let it go, Harry. Hush." He patted the back of Harry's head, the boy was trembling with the force of his emotions.

Harry shook his head stubbornly. He needed the guilt to hang around, since it prevented him from feeling the grief that lurked just below the surface. I'm a hawk and hawks don't cry.

Severus continued rhythmically patting and rubbing Harry's back. "There now. All may not be lost. While he breathes, there is yet hope. But let the guilt go, Harry. It will cripple you worse than the Cruicatus Curse."

"How would you know?"

"Because I felt this same way when Lily died. I swore there was something I could have done, should have done, to prevent her death. There was nothing. I could not have known Voldemort would take the false prophecy so literally, could not know your parents would be betrayed by their Secret Keeper. Yet I tormented myself for years and nearly allowed my guilt to consume me. Don't make the same mistake I did. What's done is done. You don't have to like it, just accept it. Do you understand?"

Another nod, followed by a muffled whimper. Then a whispered, "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"All of . . .this. You don't need it."

"Hush, fledgling. This is my choice. You are not alone. A burden is best shared." He continued holding the boy, and the combination of words and touch finally penetrated the shell Harry had erected about his emotions and he felt Harry start to cry, quietly. "It's all right."

The tears, having been suppressed for three days, flowed out of the Animagus like a river, and he was helpless to stop them. He cried softly at first, then began to sob as he recalled what Sirius had looked like after the curse, " . . .help Sirius . . .if they can't, maybe we can . . ." he sobbed.

"All right, fledgling. We will try," Severus agreed, continuing to pat his ward's back.

At that, Harry cried harder. " . . .don't want him to die . . .not like Cedric . . .please Severus . . ."

"Shh. We will figure something out." Severus soothed.

Reassured, Harry curled up in the shelter of his mentor's arms and allowed himself to grieve over what had happened. He wept for a long time, till the black robes were soaked, and the shame flowed away along with the guilt, until all he felt afterwards was relief and gratitude. And a lingering tiredness that encouraged him to lay his head down and fall asleep.

So he did.

And Severus said not a word, simply held him close, giving the boy the comfort he had never known but secretly craved, as a guardian should. And then he vowed to find Bellatrix and discover the counter from her own lips. Because Harry did not deserve to lose someone close to him twice in one lifetime and not even his former rival deserved such a terrible existence. Bella held the answers and he would discover them, for he was not a master spy for nothing, and she had dared to hurt his fledgling.

You will regret that, LeStrange. That much I promise you.


 



Chapter End Notes:


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