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The last day of term arrived, quietly and without a fuss, and found Freedom and Hedwig gliding serenely over the Black Lake. The red-tailed hawk wished to go for one last flight about the grounds before departing with Warrior to go first to King's Cross Station, since the Dursleys had not yet been notified that Harry would not be coming with them this summer, and then return to speak with Dumbledore before departing on the search for the Horcruxes.

You'll be coming with us then? Freedom queried, matching the larger owl easily as they spiraled lazily in the warm air.

Of course. This is one time, my wizard, when you shall not leave me behind to lose sleep and feathers wondering if you are going to return to me, Hedwig huffed. Your prophecy said two hawks together must find the Horcruxes, it never said anything about not having an owl's assistance.

That's true. Thanks, Hedwig.

You're welcome, fledgling. After all, someone must keep an eye on you while Warrior sleeps.

Freedom gave an indignant screech at the owl's choice of words, but otherwise did not remark upon it further. Hedwig, like Severus, put Harry's wellbeing before all else.

They flew in tandem for a few more minutes, soaking in the sun before Freedom spiraled down to a neat-footed landing and changed back.

"Bye, Hedwig! I have to finish packing, else Snape will have my hide." He hurried into the castle.

He had planned to finish that chore last night, but had gotten caught up in saying goodbye to his new Slytherin friends, Crabbe and Jace, as well as Marietta and Luna, who had bumped into Harry on their way downstairs, looking for Luna's shoes.

"I think the nargles took them," Luna said dreamily.

"Either that or somebody stole them," Marietta sighed. "See you next term, Harry! Have a good summer!"

"You too. Both of you." Harry said sincerely. "Maybe you'll see Vince over the summer, hey, Marietta?"

"Maybe," the girl allowed, blushing slightly. Since the prank on Malfoy, Marietta had started seeing Vincent Crabbe in a whole new light, a fact that had astounded both of them.

Harry hoped things worked out for them, especially since Crabbe's father had renounced all of his old ties to the Death Eaters after the round-up at the Ministry, or so Vince had informed him confidentially earlier that evening, upon discovering Harry alone in the potions lab, restocking a few vials.

"Da never really wanted t'be one of them, but Lucius insisted he join as part of his repayment of the debt Da owed him for getting' Da the job with the Ministry an' all." Crabbe spat on the ground. "My mum always warned him 'bout makin' deals with the kin of the devil . . .Anyhow, he's well shut of them now an' happen that Riddle's really dead this time, we can turn over a new leaf and bury the past for good and all. Da's been talkin' about moving somewhere else, like maybe up near North Yorkshire, where certain people won't find us." He stroked Vera, who was curled about his arm.

"Good luck with that, Vince. Your summer should be interesting."

"You could say that," the other laughed. "It'll sure be different from last year." He shuffled his feet and cleared his throat. "Well, I'd best leave you to your work, before Professor Snape catches you gabbing and peels strips off you. Take care, Harry, and I'll see you September 1st."

Farewell, little Speaker, Vera added.

"See you, Vince." Harry waved, and then hissed a goodbye in Parseltongue to Vera.

Then he returned to his task, musing on how different his life was now, and how much had changed since that fateful night he had sought a way to leave his old life behind. Who would have thought it would lead to finding a most unlikely mentor and guardian as well as making new friends and gaining a new perspective?

He left the potions lab and was walking past the Slytherin portrait hole towards the stairs when he spotted Jace coming down them, one hand holding a plate with two cupcakes on it. "Snitching sweets from the kitchen?"

"I get hungry sometimes at night," Jace said, half-apologetically.

"So do I, sometimes. Just don't let the professor see you with sweets. He's death on kids eating sugary snacks before bedtime." Harry warned.

Jace eyed him knowingly. "You'd know better than anyone about that, huh?" His hazel eyes widened. "He gave you detention for eating too many sweets before bed?"

Harry shook his head. "Not just for that. It was also 'cause I smarted off to him when he told me that too much sugar was bad for me and the last thing I needed was to be a hyper mess before getting to sleep. I was annoyed and my mouth reacted ahead of my brain." And he had paid for it by scrubbing Snape's bathroom and toilet with a toothbrush, just as the professor had threatened so many times, he thought ruefully. Sometimes Snape's rules were annoying, but Harry knew the man genuinely had his best interests at heart, and though living with Snape would probably never be easy, it was a hundred times better than Privet Drive.

"Don't worry, I know how to cast a Concealment Charm, Harry. 'Specially since Malfoy would make me give these to him if he caught me with them." The younger boy giggled suddenly. "Speaking of Malfoy, after McGonagall's detention he practically crawled under his bed, he was so humiliated. Some of my House were kind of glad he got taken down a peg though, and they twitted him over it and he blew up and hexed a few of them. Till Professor Snape walked in and caught him and then gave him another detention and took his wand away for the rest of the week. He's got it back now though."

"Maybe now he'll have learned his lesson," Harry said.

Jace shrugged. "Maybe. Whatever. All I want is for him to leave me be." He nibbled a chocolate frosted cupcake and asked innocently, "Umm . . .Harry, have you finished grading our exams yet?"

"Yeah, but the results are confidential, can't tell you anything till your marks get mailed out." Harry told him.

"Not even what I got in your class?"

"No. Now quit fishing, Witherspoon. Hogwarts rules, and that's all there is to it."

Jace sighed and scowled. "Ahh . . .I hate waiting for stuff like that. Drives me nuts."

"So does everyone." Harry said. He shook a warning finger at the other boy. "And no trying to read me either."

"Harry! I'd never do that!"

"Not even to find out your mark in Potions early?"

"No! I'm not a snoop!" the other snapped. "I know better. Prying into other people's heads is forbidden. My dad taught me that."

Harry held up his hands. "Okay, sorry! Didn't mean to insult you, kid. Didn't know you had a temper either."

Jace flushed. "I don't . . .not really . . .it's just well, readers used to have a bad reputation awhile back, 'cause people thought we spied on their thoughts and they kind of distrusted and feared us. That's why we made the Reader Codes, and all of us readers have to swear to follow them, for our privacy and everyone else's. Even so, some people still think readers are snoops, and that's why I keep my talent a secret mostly."

"Oh. I can see why that would be necessary. Well, thanks for trusting me and I won't tell anyone."

"I know. Otherwise I'd never have told you." Jace said quietly. "Sorry I snapped at you. Still friends, Harry?"

"Sure, kid." Harry clapped him on the shoulder. "Uh . . .would you mind sharing that other cupcake, Jace?"

Jace grinned. "Here." He handed Harry the other cupcake. "Uh oh. I'd better be going, otherwise I'll be out past curfew. Have a great holiday, Harry!" The boy turned before stepping into the portrait hole. "Hey, will you be teaching potions again next year?"

"Uh . . .I might, if Professor Snape asks me to. Why?"

"Because you're a good teacher, Harry."

Then the Slytherin ducked inside the portrait hole before Harry could say anything else, or even thank him. But his words made Harry smile all the way back to Gryffindor Tower. If he survived the Horcrux quest and completed the prophecy, he could consider teaching as a possible career, for while not as flashy as being an Auror, the rewards were just as great and perhaps greater, than capturing a dark wizard.

Recalling last night caused him to smile slightly once more as he finished his packing.

"Thought you'd finished last night, mate," Ron said, coming up and leaning against the wall next to Harry's trunk.

"Got tired halfway through and fell asleep," Harry admitted. "You all ready to go back home?"

"Yeah, can't wait to go home and sleep for the whole morning for once and eat some of Mum's shepherd's pie."

"She made that last time I was over. It was great," Harry said, thinking that pretty soon he would be dreaming about home cooked meals and living off of rabbits and mice while he searched for the Horcruxes in hawk shape.

"Mum's a great cook, I think." Ron said, sighing longingly. "You, uh, happy to be living with Snape then?"

"As opposed to living with the Dursleys? Hell, yeah. At least Severus promised me I won't be the bloody house elf. I hope he knows how how to cook. But if not, well, it's not like I don't know how." Harry shrugged.

"Don't let him bully you, Harry," Ron cautioned.

"I won't. Quit worrying, Ron. Severus has changed, he's not a greasy git to me any more. I'll be fine." Harry reassured him, then thought wryly Unless we happen to run into some Death Eaters or unbreakable dark curses.

"He was being a git to you the other day, when he gave you detention for eating sweets before bedtime, for Merlin's sake!"

"Ron, that was my own fault. I told him he was being ridiculous and acting like a bloody mother hen and I was too old to be lectured that way. What would your mother have done if you'd said that to her?"

"Uh . . .she would have grounded my arse. And probably whacked me one too," Ron admitted.

"Just like Severus did to me. Well, all except the smack. See, he's not totally unfair, though sometimes his rules make me nuts. But I knew what I was getting into when I signed those papers, Ron. He's not a perfect guardian, and I don't expect him to be. But he tries and I try and that's all that matters. We'll muddle through somehow."

"If you say so, Harry," Ron still looked doubtful. "How come you didn't go and live with Sirius and Remus at Grimmauld Place instead? I mean, now that Ministry's dropped the charges against him."

Harry sighed. "It's complicated, Ron. Just because Sirius was found innocent doesn't mean people believe it. Some people still think he really murdered Pettigrew, since his body was never found. They think Dumbledore railroaded Fudge into declaring Sirius innocent. And besides that, Sirius is still . . .kind of screwed up from what Bellatrix's curse did to him and his time in Azkaban. He gets . . .episodes, and Remus is the only one who can really handle him then and understand what he's going through. He told me himself, I'm better off with Severus." Harry knew just how difficult it had been for Sirius to admit that his godson wasn't safe around him. And that was why he had chosen not to tell the other man about the new prophecy, since that would only add to Sirius's distress. Better that he assumed Harry was safe with Snape, and actually that would be true, for even on this mission, he would be as safe as Snape could make him.

"That's terrible! Will he ever recover?"

"Yes, Remus has him seeing Healer Sandrilas. He says it'll just take time, and eventually Sirius will be back to normal."

"Well, if you ever need anything, just send an owl. And if you get so you can't stand living with Snape, send me an owl and the twins and I will come and get you. Where are you living, anyhow?"

"I don't know. He didn't tell me. Guess I'll know when I get there." Harry said. "And you know something else, Ron? Sev actually does have a sense of humor . . .it's just hidden and quirky. When I told him how we played that prank on Malfoy, he wasn't even mad. He thought it was hilarious. It was right after we'd cured Sirius, and he didn't bust up laughing then, but when we got back here and we were alone . . .he laughed so much he nearly cried."

Ron gaped. "Snape-laughing? At Malfoy being humiliated? You're having me on, mate."

"I'm not. Wizard's honor. He said served Malfoy right too and then he asked me to show him it-the memory, I mean. So he taught me how to use a Pensieve and take out the memory of us playing the prank and Malfoy's reaction to it, and then we both viewed it and ended up rolling on the floor-well I did, Sev's too dignified for that-laughing our arses off again."

Ron whistled. "Wish I could see that."

"Maybe someday I can borrow his Penseive and show you."

"Cool. One other good thing about this year is-no more bloody Voldy!" Ron shouted.

"You can say that again," Harry agreed. That'll really be true once the Horcruxes are all destroyed. He finished folding his school robes and placed them on top of everything else.

"Why were you screaming about Voldemort, Ron?" asked Hermione, sticking her head around the door of their room.

"I was just . . .celebrating his . . .death," Ron answered.

"Oh. Take care, Harry. I hope you have a nice summer with Professor Snape. Does he have his own private library? Because you could learn a lot about all kinds of subjects, I'll bet." She sighed in rapture.

Ron rolled his eyes. "Unbelievable! We just get done with school, and she's going on about learning and libraries! Are you sure you're fifteen, Hermione? I think your brain was switched with a professor's."

"Honestly, Ron! Sometimes I think your brain was switched with a five-year-old's, because all you think about is eating, sleeping, and Quidditch!" Hermione began angrily.

"Hold it, you two!" ordered Harry, stepping between them. "Stop fighting, okay? Let's just be happy that term's over and we can relax for a bit, however you choose to do it."

Ron and Hermione looked slightly ashamed and nodded.

"You're right, it's silly to quarrel," Hermione agreed. "I am worried about my OWL results, though," she groaned.

The boys just stared at her. "For Merlin's sake, why?" Ron asked. "You probably got the highest marks in school. Like-all O's, I'll bet."

Harry nodded. "Don't sweat it, Hermione. The only ones I'm sure I aced are Defense, Transfiguration, Charms, and Potions. History of Magic I had to re-do, so who knows how they marked that one. And I think I messed up in Herbology. Oh well, guess I'll find out when Hedwig brings the results to Severus."

Ron winced. "Now I really feel sorry for you, mate. If he's strict with you in class, what will he be like when it comes to you getting good marks on your exams?"

"We've discussed that one. He said he'll only punish me if I was found guilty of not trying and fooling around and stuff, but if I really didn't understand a subject, he'd try and tutor me in it and not nail my arse to a wall. But otherwise . . .I'd be in serious trouble."

"Like what? A smacking with a wooden spoon?"

"No . . .he'd never go that far, Ron. He'd take away my broom and ground me for the summer probably and make me do remedial work and stuff." Harry made a face. "After that, I'd rather take a smacking."

"But if you study hard, Harry, you won't have to worry about Snape punishing you," Hermione pointed out. "Oh, I do hope I did well on my Ancient Runes."

"I'm sure you did brilliant." Harry said, as Ron rolled his eyes. "Now relax."

"Okay. I'll try. Here's to a good summer, one without Voldemort in it!" She waved her wand and summoned some butterbeers from the kitchens and they all drank a toast.

Afterwards it was time for Ron and Hermione to board the train and Harry floated his trunk down to the dungeons where Severus waited. After saying goodbye once more, he followed it, arriving at the Potion Master's quarters a moment or two later.

"Do you have a bag packed of essentials like I told you?" Severus asked when Harry entered with his trunk behind him.

"Yes. " Harry opened his trunk and pulled out a knapsack, packed with clothes, a Sneak-o-Scope, snacks, and other essentials, including a magically refilling water bottle and his Invisibility Cloak.

"Good." Snape tossed down a handful of Floo powder and said, "Spinner's End." The fire turned green. "Make certain you have everything, then put your trunk through here. That's Spinner's End, my home in Yorkshire."

"Where my mum and you grew up?"

"Yes. But we won't be going there, at least not yet." Severus reminded.

"Right. King's Cross first and then back here to talk to the Headmaster."

"Actually, there has been a slight change of plans. We will not be going to King's Cross to . . .inform your relatives of your new status. Albus has volunteered to do that in our stead. It seems he feels that is the least he can do to atone for the past."

"He did?"

"Yes." Severus gestured to Harry to place his trunk through the green flames.

He also placed a black trunk into the flames, leaving only a large rucksack behind.

"So are we going to wait for the Headmaster?"

"That is no longer necessary either. He has briefed me on where to look for the first few possible Horcruxes. He believes, and I concur, that one of the Horcruxes has already been destroyed, you destroyed it second year with a basilisk tooth."

"The diary!"

"Yes. In that case we have only five left to find, since the diary and Voldemort's body have been destroyed. The first place we should look is the Riddle House."

"That makes sense, I guess. How do you destroy a Horcrux? With that potion you melted the Binding Cuff with?"

"That is one way, yes. But they will be difficult to find."

"Now there's a big surprise. Oh, by the way, Hedwig wants to come us."

"What is this, a bloody parade?" groused the Potions Master.

"Don't look at me like that, Sev! It wasn't my idea! She insisted. What was I supposed to do?"

"Like master like familiar. Always showing up uninvited somewhere." Severus ran his fingers through his hair. "Are you all squared away? Because if you forget anything, you'll simply have to do without it, for we won't be coming back here until we have all the Horcruxes. I have a case here with some of my Curse Dissolving potion, that is the potion I used to melt down the Cuff of Binding, hopefully it will last for all five of the remaining Horcruxes."

"I've got everything I need," answered his apprentice. "Is there anything else I ought to know about the Horcruxes before we leave, Sev?"

"Just this. Since the Horcrux is a cursed object, it's best to never handle one with your bare hands. Skin to skin contact might cause the dark magic to activate and affect you in some way, like the diary did to you and Ginny Weasley. So I have two pairs of Curse Blocking gloves courtesy of Alastor Moody here," he patted an inner pocket of his robes. "When we arrive at Riddle House, we should put them on." Severus instructed. "Oh, and one last thing." He fixed his ward with his sternest frown, making Harry wonder what the hell he'd done. That is, until his mentor said, quite firmly, "I want your word this instant, Mr. Potter, that you will obey me without question if there is need. If we are followed or attacked by Death Eaters, or have to break enchantments in order to find the Horcruxes, or encounter some kind of danger along the way, you are to obey me, no matter what. It is my duty to protect you and I will do that much better if you do not attempt to argue with me in a crisis and curb your impulsiveness. This is no Sunday stroll through the park, picking daisies. All of these objects will be highly guarded with complex master level workings, Riddle left nothing to chance. I do not want you falling under an irreversible curse because you foolishly disobeyed me. Because the consequence will be dire. Am I understood?"

"Yes, sir. I promise." Then Harry said sharply, "But don't you go risking your life either, Severus. Remember, the prophecy said two hawks flying will teach death to die. So that means you can't sacrifice yourself for me."

"Never you mind, mister, about interpreting that prophecy. And do not worry about me, I have been looking after myself since before you were born. But nevertheless thank you for your concern. I will be careful, Harry." Severus squeezed his ward's shoulder lightly, then rose to his feet.

He picked up his leather rucksack and slung it over his shoulder.

"Are we Flooing there, Severus? Or Apparating?" asked Harry cautiously, since neither were his preferred methods of travel.

"No. We are flying," Severus answered. Just as he was about to leave, there was a sharp pop and Twixie appeared. "Goodbye, Master Severus and have a good summer! It was a pleasure to serve you!"

Severus coughed, looking extremely ill-at-ease, he always hated it when anyone thanked him, for he never felt he quite deserved it. "You are most welcome, Twixie. I shall see you next term."

"And goodbye to you too, Master Harry. Take care of Master Snape now and make sure he eats properly and doesn't spend too much time brewing."

Severus was horrified. "Why you . . .who do you think you are-my mother?"

Harry had a hand over his mouth, trying to suppress giggles.

"Oh no, Master Severus. I would never dare to compare myself to your mother. But I . . .do care that you return here in good health, sir. Hogwarts would not be the same without you."

"Yes, yes, I understand, no need to get maudlin, you silly elf. Off with you now, Twixie. Goodbye."

"Goodbye, sir!" She hugged his leg for a brief instant, then vanished before the wizard could rebuke her.

"Merlin save me from overemotional house elves," he muttered, though Harry could tell he was touched by Twixie's heartfelt farewell, even if would never say so. He had learned, after so many months spent with the man, to read between the lines where Severus Snape was concerned.

The Potions Master glanced about one last time and stepped out of his quarters. He waited until Harry had followed him before spell-locking the door and allowing the wards to reset themselves.

Then he blurred into the great black goshawk with the snowy white breast and soared up into the air, hovering idly while Harry transformed into Freedom and joined him.

Five seconds later, goshawk and red-tail were racing through the corridor and out the Owlery window, where they were joined by Hedwig.

A chorus of farewell hoots and screeches serenaded the two hawks and the owl as they flew by.

Best of luck to you!

Fly high, see far, and find what is hidden!

May the wind keep you close, Freedom and Warrior!

Farewell, my sister! hooted Seraphina, the matriarch of the Hogwarts parliament of owls. Watch over thy fledgling and may the Lord of Winds favor your quest!

Warrior turned and clicked at Hedwig, How do they know what we are about? This was supposed to be kept secret!

And so it is, Warrior. From all but us owls, who hear the whispers in the night that you humans miss.

Humph! Don't give me that nonsense! Who told you? Freedom?

I did not! Why am I always getting blamed for everything? The young hawk skreed.

Leave Freedom alone, professor. If you must know, it was Fawkes who told us of the prophecy. Hedwig admitted.

Figures. Gossipy damn phoenix, grumbled the goshawk.

But your secret is safe with us. There are no better guardians of secrets than post owls, Hedwig said, somewhat smugly.

Warrior made a sharp derisive noise.

Freedom ignored the bickering as best he could and concentrated upon soaring higher into the deep blue sky, savoring the feeling of flying unfettered, the wind beneath his wings, the sun warm upon his back.

Suddenly he banked abruptly to the right and soared in a huge circle about the castle, giving the school one last look. He shot past the Astronomy Tower and Trelawney's retreat, letting out a triumphant shriek as he did so.


He was joined suddenly by a larger dark shape, who flew gracefully inbetween the spires and matched the younger hawk wingbeat for wingbeat, light flashing off his great hooked beak and curved talons.

Come, fledgling! We have some dark objects to find and destroy. The castle will be waiting for our return. Let us go and catch the sun!

The goshawk did a slingshot around Trelawney's tower, calling softly, daring the younger hawk to catch him.

An instant later, a brown blur with a distinctive red tail sped after the goshawk, shrieking in delight, as he attempted to outfly his mentor, heading in the direction of the rising sun, choosing his own way at last.

Following more sedately was a beautiful snowy owl, her soft feathers barely ruffled by the antics of the two other raptors. Patient and serene, she flew in their wake, the wise owl of the glacier peaks, seeing all and saying little.

From her tower suite, Sybill Trelawney watched the two hawks and the owl depart, leaning on the window sill, scarves fluttering, she smiled and lifted her hand in farewell.

Hunt well, my hawks, and find that which is hidden, and so teach death to die. You are our last best hope for peace. Merlin go with you!

Then the Seer turned away to fix a cup of tea, and felt a tingle run through her, as the magic of a true prophecy became active, and the event foretold was set in motion. But how it might end, not even she who Saw it knew. For destiny could not always be predicted, but must be chosen freely, and only in the doing of it could you determine the end of the story.

The End.

Chapter End Notes:

And so we come to the end of this story . . .but not really.

Sequel anyone?

The idea for sharing the prank via the Pensieve with Sev came from Mikee--thanks! :)

Thanks to everyone who have reviewed this fic and given me ideas and so forth, I really appreciate it!

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