Harry wondered for the tiniest part of a second if he'd broken his shoulder, but didn't care. Again and again he threw himself against the heavy doors and then, pulling back, started kicking it. He was still wearing his heavy boots from Antarctica and they put sizeable dents in the wood without letting him hurt his toes.
The wardrobe rocked. The wood around the hinges started to splinter. That wasn't enough for Harry.
There was a study desk next to the wardrobe -- empty of quills and paper -- and a wooden chair. Harry picked up the chair by the back and began bashing it against the wardrobe door as hard as he could. When the legs broke off he kept hitting the wardrobe with what was left.
He kept hitting it until he was left with a only couple of sticks of wood. He threw them away, not caring that one rebounded off the wall and hit him on the shin.
By now the doors were a lot the worse for wear. One was hanging by one hinge.
There was a brief pause for breath.
That finished, Harry ripped the door off its last hinge and lifted it over his head, bringing it down again and again on the wardrobe.
BANG! CRASH! BANG!
When he finally dropped the remaining board and sank down to one knee he could see again. The red mist was gone. One lone basilisk's head grinned up at him from the dismembered panel. Harry threw it across the room where it skidded with a clatter under a dresser.
realised that he'd forgotten he had company...
He looked around. Still curled on the bed, the Ice Dragon was awake again and staring at him with wide, astonished eyes.
Snape... Harry could barely bring himself to look at the slimy git... Snape's expression was as imperturbable as ever.
"Well? Are there any blankets?" asked Snape, as if nothing as amazing as Harry Potter going berserk had happened.
A-ha. Snape's method in Harry's madness. Harry picked himself up wearily. "I'll have a look."
The wardrobe had seemed like the sort that ought to have been filled with monsters terrible enough to rival the ones carved on the panels. It should have had a gateway to another world -- if not Narnia then somewhere in the nearby neighbourhood.
There were a couple of robes -- too small for Harry now that he'd grown so much in the last year -- an old Cleansweep that looked as if it had done its previous owner a great deal of service, the inevitable shoes, a couple of shirts and pairs of trousers that seemed to Harry's unpractised eye to be of good cut and material, and...
"Here we go," Harry said as he lifted a large woollen blanket off the top shelf. "Just the one, I'm afraid," he added as he checked further back with his hands that were trembling so bad now that he wondered if he'd ever be able to hold a wand again without accidentally casting a spell.
Snape nodded. "Then it will have to do."
Harry carried it over and tried to tuck it around Snape, only to be pushed away irritably.
"Honestly, Potter; don't you think you're in more need of the warmth than me?"
Harry decided not to answer that one. Especially now that he was boiling hot under the dragonhide parka.
<bangcrashbangagain?> was accompanied by the image of a Harry-whirlwind destroying everything in the room. <notthisbed> the Ice Dragon added adamantly with a haughty sniff. <soft+comfy=MINE!>
Harry laughed weakly.
"Something amusing, Mr Potter?" Snape voice had lost its nasty edge and just sounded tired, now.
"The Ice Dragon is staking out the bed as his territory," Harry explained. He thought back to it: <yourssafe-yesyesyes> and pictured the dragon curled up on the bed sleeping happily with a smile on its face.
<?> The Ice Dragon didn't understand why its mouth should be curling up at the corners.
Harry laughed again. The laugh rose too high and desperate and he stopped it by clapping his hand over his mouth. He took firm hold of himself. He couldn't be weak. Voldemort was dead and he'd thought he could rest after that but now there were people still wanting him to go out and slay dragons that he didn't want to slay and Harry couldn't be weak and he couldn't rest and he had to stay strong...
Snape, seemingly not noticing Harry's lapse, was standing again and managed to lurch closer to the Ice Dragon. It hissed a little when he got too close, but more in a way that suggested it was nervous of him rather than aggressive.
"Can you ask it how it feels?" said Snape, swaying slightly.
Harry closed his eyes. <?>
He received in return something like the mental equivalent of a shrug. "Seems better," he reported. He opened his mind again.
<sleep> the creature advised him. <darkhairedboysleeping -- sleepingquietly -- darkhairedmanwatchingoverus>
Harry raised his head. That last thought hadn't been from the Ice Dragon. He looked at Snape. The man had his eyes half-closed and the lids were slightly puffy from exhaustion. He wasn't looking at Harry.
The next thing Harry knew was Snape was sprawled on his back on the floor -- Harry had some memory of thumping him in the chest -- and he, Harry, was kneeling over him, pummelling him with his fists and shouting: "NO! NO MORE! I WON'T LET YOU DIE TOO!"
From behind the up-flung arm that protected his face Snape's eyes were wide, but Harry barely had time to register that, let alone enjoy finally having got under the Slytherin's skin, when he felt
exploding down through his shoulder and lancing up through his back just over his right kidney and knew that it wasn't Harry's pain it was Snape's and he, Harry, was causing it.
He subsided, still clutching handfuls of Snape's robes. "Not you, too..." he whispered.
Cautiously, Snape pulled himself up into a sitting position. "Potter? What is it?"
That silken voice finally used to show caring was Harry's undoing. He put his hands over his face he tried to turn away, tried to curl into himself, tried to be anywhere but here and ashamed and confused...
Hands, gentle hands, pulling him back against someone's shoulder. Scent of blood, the shoulder wincing but Harry was too confused to register that... "Don't die," whispered Harry into the shoulder.
"I have no intention of doing anything so silly."
"I heard you -- you said you wanted to lie down and die."
A faint, startled hiss of indrawn breath. The arm tucked around Harry tightened briefly. "That... I..." Snape sighed. "We can't always help the things we think. Thoughts come and go -- most of them are just passing fancies -- impulses that fade. Nothing more. I want to poison your wretched godfather at least a dozen times a day and he's still alive -- what more proof do you need than that?"
"You wanted to die." Harry's voice was muffled but didn't lose its accusatory edge.
He felt the shoulder under his face lift and Snape winced again. "I was tired. I'm hardly about to kill myself. Not now..."
"You're not going to die?"
The answer was firm. Decisive. "No."
"But everybody dies..."
"Mist- Pot- Harry. We are safe here. You've been through... you..." Snape was struggling for words. "It's all right now. Everything will be all right."
Finally hearing that -- and hearing it from Snape who never said anything positive if he could help it, Harry could almost completely believe it -- broke something inside Harry. The wall that he'd always needed to stay strong. But now even that couldn't deal with the fierce storm that had raged inside him for so long.
With harsh, tearing sounds that came from deep inside of him as if he were being ripped from the heart out, Harry wept.
It took a long, timeless time. His tears soaked into Snape's robes. And then, slowly, under the skin of Harry's cheek was the tingle of magic.
It was this that made him realise that he was still alive and not alone in the world. He sat up, careful not to jostle as he remembered that Snape had been wounded.
The rips in the black robes from the creature's claws still gaped. Beneath them -- Harry remembered it vividly in colours that stood out from the rest of the grey world -- had been raw red wounds. As he watched, those wounds drew together and sealed off, not even leaving scar tissue. Harry raised his fingers hesitantly. "Did you do this?"
Snape brought his own hand up to carefully prod at his shoulder. His fingers came away rusty-red with drying blood, but the reason for the bleeding had vanished. "I believe it was you," Snape replied.
"H- how?" Harry's voice was creaky.
"Your tears," Snape said softly. "They have healing powers."
Harry's nose was running. He sniffled.
Snape dug into his robes for a white linen handkerchief and handed it to Harry. "It's only the tears that heal," he said. "Here, blow your nose."
Harry smiled a little as he obeyed. "Was that a joke?"
"I'm not noted for my sense of humour."
"No. But," continued Harry, cringing with embarrassed that he'd let himself go in front of Snape of all people and wanting to move the subject along as fast as possible. He wondered if he should give the handkerchief back. Perhaps not -- it was a bit squishy. "But how can my tears heal?"
"I suspect it has something to do with your Animagus form."
Good. Another topic. Harry grabbed it like a lifeline. "But I'm not an Animagus." Although he really wanted to be.
"Everyone has the potential to be an Animagus. Most people never bother, but it's there. Help me up."
Harry climbed up and took Snape's hand, pulling the man to his feet. Snape nodded towards a door opposite the remains of the wardrobe. "That should be an en suite. I... think it best if I washed up before the smell of blood makes the ortho hungry."
"It wouldn't..." Harry almost said that it wouldn't eat anyone, then remembered an image he'd got from it: the smell and taste of hot wizard blood washing over his tongue. From the Ice Dragon it had been the most delicious thing imaginable -- better than pumpkin juice or butterbeer or medichocolate. Harry realised Snape was watching him with a raised eyebrow. "It would, wouldn't it."
Snape nodded. "Better to be safe than dinner." He limped off into the en suite and closed the door behind him. Soon there was the sound of running water.
Harry looked at the Ice Dragon.
The Ice Dragon looked at Harry.
"I don't think you'd eat him," Harry said quietly.
The Ice Dragon blinked with solemn deliberation, an exercise given an extra eerie element by a thin membrane coming out from the inner corner of each eye to sweep across the silvery eyeball, then yawned hugely, showing rows of pearly teeth that seemed to be in stages of continuous growth outwards like a shark's. It closed its jaws with a sharp snap that echoed in the room, settled back down on the bed and, after a cursory scratch of its pointy nose, went to sleep.
Snape stumbled as he came out of the bathroom but Harry, tired and shaken by the day though he was, managed to stop him from falling. He received a grunt of thanks for his trouble.
Keeping in mind the injury on Snape's back -- it was hard not to forget, as when Snape had walked out of the room Harry had had a good look at the damage -- Harry steered his professor over to the couch again and eased him down. It must have still hurt, because the hand on Harry's wrist clenched until the knuckles went white and Harry bit his lip to stop from crying out.
"Sorry," Snape said as he unclenched his trembling hand.
"'S okay," Harry reassured him, and sat down too.
Snape snorted. "Gryffindor."
Harry grinned. "That's me." Snape's cloak -- Harry felt a brief pang when he realised his father's Invisibility Cloak was somewhere in Antarctica -- and the woollen blanket were slung over the back of the couch. Harry managed to double them together to make a warmer covering and leaned up against Snape and pulled the blanket-cloak over them.
Snape didn't complain about the proximity. Like Harry, he was shivering still, and Harry suspected that in Snape's case the shivering was more from physical pain than cold. The man's black eyes were half-lidded and the lines on his face made him look even more forbidding than usual, but from the thin thread of thought Harry was picking up through the dozing Ice Dragon, Snape was too exhausted to do anything so petty as take points off Gryffindor because Harry was using him as a hot water bottle. If anything, Harry guessed, trying hard to pick up what stray impressions he could via the link with the creature, Snape was content just to sit back and be still.
"What did you mean when you said it was my Animagus form that let my tears heal you?" Harry asked.
"Everyone has an Animagus. After the ... incident... with Voldemort at Grandmother's Pool..."
Incident. Harry liked that.
"...when he cast the Killing Curse at me I, ah... What do you remember?"
Harry squeezed his eyes shut. Too much. He remembered Snape lying on the ground at Voldemort's feet after having been tortured to the point where he could hardly speak. He remembered how Burd Helen when she was still a kea had flown in front of Snape to protect him. He remembered the sound of her soft, feathered corpse hitting the snow after she had been hit by the green light from Voldemort's wand. He remembered the darkness that is the taniwha engulfing the Death Eaters and washing them away into the taniwha's pit of night. Wormtail's silver hand had reached out to grab Harry and Harry had knocked it away. Wormtail, the betrayer of his parents, had been taken by the taniwha that night... But that wasn't what Snape wanted him to remember. "I remember Helen flying to protect you."
There was a brief silence. Snape swallowed audibly before he could continue. "Before that," he said, his voice strangely gruff. "Before that. The first time Voldemort tried to kill me... do you remember?"
"I... I tried to block it..."
"You did block it."
Harry shook his head. "It hurt. I remember that. It was like my head wanted to explode. My scar... I just threw something out to stop him."
"Mm. What did it sound like?"
"Sound like...?" And Harry remembered. His eyes went wide. "Phoenix song," he breathed. "Does that mean my Animagus is a phoenix?"
"I had wondered," Snape said slowly. "And tonight your tears confirmed it. But..."
And Harry sensed a pensive hesitation. Was Snape jealous that Harry would be able to turn into a phoenix? "What's wrong with being a phoenix?"
"All the Animagus forms you know... list them for me."
Harry rolled his eyes -- but not so Snape could see. After everything he'd been through was today turning into another Hogwarts lesson? "Um... Stag, dog, rat..." he snarled the last -- Wormtail had been the rat, all right. "Cat, of course, Professor McGonagall... beetle..."
"Who is the beetle?" Snape enquired.
"Really? Well, well, well. Any others?"
"Not that I can think of." Harry wondered what this was all leading up to.
"And what do all of these forms have in common when contrasted against a phoenix?"
And then Harry saw. "Oh. They're all non-magical. Does that mean I can't...?"
He felt rather than heard Snape sigh. "I'm afraid so, Mr Potter. A phoenix is already a magical beast. This is intrinsic within its biology and beyond the powers of witches and wizards. By its nature you would have to give up your own magic if you wanted to properly take on its form."
"But... the tears healed you..."
"Yes. You can use some of its powers -- I strongly suspect that's how you achieved such communicative ease with the Ice Dragon -- but if you ever successfully changed then you would give up the powers inherent in Harry James Potter."
Harry was angry again -- angry at Snape. Angry at the unfairness of letting him have something so beautiful and then snatching it away. He looked over at the Ice Dragon as it twitched its ears and stirred in its sleep, and told himself to calm down. It was hard -- part of Harry was still raging at the unfairness of the universe -- but he remembered what Snape had said about how sometimes thoughts were just passing impulses. Then he remembered the first time he had seen the Ice Dragon and how beautiful it had been... if they couldn't rest now and heal it then it would lose that beauty... Harry couldn't allow that. He wouldn't allow that. He stared up at the ceiling, which was shadowed now as the sun set outside, and contemplated his situation for a minute. It hurt that he would never be able to be an Animagus. But if there was one thing the Dursleys had taught him it was that the bitter realities of life could be smoothed out with small joys if you knew where to find them. His tears had healed Snape. He had cast a shield that had blocked the Killing Curse. And Snape thought that Harry's ability to talk to the Ice Dragon was due to having a phoenix as an Animagus form.
Harry took a deep breath and, for the first time since Voldemort's final defeat, knew that he would be all right.
"I would have liked to have been an Animagus," he said, expecting Snape to sneer.
Snape surprised him. "I wanted to be an Animagus, too."
"What did you want to be?"
"They can go wherever they like. They can eat any sort of rubbish so they don't have to worry about being limited by food. They... they blend in and don't get noticed."
Harry realised that Snape had just opened up more to him than he'd probably ever opened up to anyone other than Rona or Helen. He felt warmly privileged. "I wanted to be a bird, too. I like flying. I thought if I could be a bird then I'd be free."
"Unfortunately most Animagus forms don't bother with practicalities. There is a technique to see what someone's Animagus form will be... I thought it wasn't working when I looked at you as I'd never heard of anyone being a magical creature before. If it's any comfort most of the people in Hogwarts would be wasting their time trying to master the intricacies of such a demanding transfiguration."
"How do you mean?"
"Take Professor Sprout. Her Animagus is a white butterfly. Hardly practical when you consider that most of her plants eat white butterflies..."
"What about Ron?"
Harry grinned. "Neville?"
Snape groaned. "Rhinoceros."
This got a laugh out of Harry. "Does Helen have an Animagus form? I suppose hers would be a kea."
"Actually, hers is a white heron. I suspect Grandmother had a hand in that. But Helen's magic is, shall we say, a little unruly. I doubt she will bother trying to change form again."
"Helen's a witch?"
"Not precisely. Grandmother imbued her with a little elemental magic, which is tricky."
"Oh. What is your Animagus, sir?"
By the slight twitch of Snape's mouth Harry knew that the "sir" had been seen as exactly the tactic it was.
"Mine is... impractical," Snape replied ambiguously, and put his head back against the padded back of the couch. "Now get some rest, Mr Potter."
"Where are we?" Harry had to know.
Snape's eyelids had drifted shut at last, but Harry knew he wasn't asleep. "Worried someone will take you to task for destroying a valuable old wardrobe, hmm?"
"No. More worried that someone will hex us silly for trespassing."
"Then don't be. This place is deserted. Even the house-elves are gone."
"How do you know?"
The line between Snape's eyes deepened. Harry waited for an answer or an outburst. "Because this is Malfoy Manor," said Snape finally.
Harry tensed automatically at the name. "But..."
"Stop fretting, Potter. No-one lives here anymore. It's empty. Lucius Malfoy is dead -- that's one death I shan't regret, especially as he was trying to kill me at the time."
"Did you kill him?" Harry whispered, not sure how he'd feel if Snape said "yes."
But... "No," Snape replied with a faint sigh as if he regretted this. "I didn't."
"Was it really this dragon?"
"Enough questions. I'm tired. You're tired. I expect the Ice Dragon is tired, too. He's asleep -- why don't you follow his example?" Snape was beginning to get irritable again.
Harry rested his head on Snape's chest and pulled the blanket up around his chin. Snape's arm was around him and for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime Harry felt warm and protected. He fancied he could even feel the tenuous threads of Snape's magic knitting themselves back together and that in itself was a wonder in a day of wonders. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to stir up Snape's bad temper, but... There was one thing he needed to know. Harry decided to risk one more question. He wanted to know what had really happened to Lucius Malfoy. He wanted to make sure the man was dead and couldn't ever come back to hurt him or his friends. If anyone could find a way to put Sirius back in Azkaban it was Lucius Malfoy...
So it surprised Harry when he found himself saying: "What happened to Draco?"
Snape went very, very still. Even the magic in the wizard slowed to a standstill. If Harry hadn't been resting his head on Snape's chest and able to hear his heart beat he would have thought the Potions master had been Petrified.
Through the link there was that terrible sense of loss and guilt from Snape again. And Harry guessed what had happened before Snape said quietly:
Harry thought of Draco as he'd last seen him, someone who had decided to take his life into his own hands and forge it into what he wanted rather than what he'd been taught it should be. For a short time Harry had almost found himself liking Draco. And been horrified by that. The time they tricked Crabbe and Goyle had been fun. The fun had been balanced out by the shock of finding out that Draco had been accessory to the murder of an old Muggle, but Harry seen that probably for the first time in any Malfoy's life, Draco had run the gauntlet of his conscience and learned from it. Then there had been something going on, something strange, that had driven Draco up to the top of Astronomy Tower in the wee hours of the morning just to stand in a cool breeze. Harry had seen the hints of metamorphosis, but much more than just a physical one. After Draco had left Hogwarts he'd thought about him occasionally, and in his mind he'd wished his one-time rival luck and learning. He'd hoped that with Lucius dead Draco could finally come out of the shadows and decide on his own life the way Harry had been allowed to do when he had first left the Dursleys' to come to Hogwarts. And now... Unconsciously Harry wrapped his arms around Snape, frightened by all the ghosts in his life.
Harry began to cry for all the potential that had been drained from the world by that monster Voldemort, but he cried softly this time and without anger or bitterness, and his tears were like rain after a drought. And when they finished, Snape was still there, with his good arm around Harry's shoulders, and Harry realised that most of the people in his life were still alive.
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