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Chapter Eighteen: Parley and Portkeys

As Snape listened to his bitter words fade from the campsite, he watched the Potter boy shift uneasily where he sat, wanting to protest Snape's statement but unable to do so. Either something else was holding his tongue or the boy was starting to use his brain for once.

After a moderately appropriate interval for thought, the boy spoke his protest albeit weakly. "Surely it wasn't actual conditioning. Maybe he just put a charm on you? A defense?"

A good argument, however misguided. "I've most of my memory back, Potter." Cursing himself at the unintended slip and the show of vulnerability, Snape plunged on quickly in the hopes the boy hadn't caught it, "I was able to compare some of what Voldemort did with what Dumbledore did- it was very similar."

"But Severus-"

"Do you imagine it was my choice to set my own energy against myself?" Snape snapped. "A charm is cast upon a person or a thing and uses the caster's power- not the power of the person it is cast upon. I was conditioned by Voldemort, and I was conditioned by Dumbledore on how to respond to it." The anger that surged through Snape lent him energy and he felt his spine straighten further where he sat, biting off his words as he spoke. "Remove your blinders and admit to the truth of it."

After a few moments of silence, the green-eyed gaze lowered with a flicker of internal pain. "I ... understand," he whispered sadly, and the silence grew further as the boy struggled with his emotions. It seemed as though he was hurt by the idea... another sign of his innocence being stripped away from him by others.

Snape sighed internally and let the boy think in peace while he considered his own options.

Remaining on his own, with or without the boy. Well, certainly being on his own would make it a lot easier on him to travel- but he couldn't remain on the run forever. One side or the other would catch up with him eventually, and he disliked being forced to go one way or the other. He would make his own decision.

Going back to Voldemort and trying to make his way there. Blatantly foolish.

Going to Dumbledore. He wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea, but he knew enough to realize that the sense of betrayal was fed by emotions and that there was likely a very good reason for Dumbledore's actions. At least one that Dumbledore had perceived to be good. It didn't mean he was about to give up his newfound anger and mistrust of the old fool.

As though his thoughts had been following similar pathways, the boy spoke up again- quietly as though to not startle a snake into striking. "Don't you think he deserves a chance to explain?"

Snape was about to snarl his reply in the negative, but again his brutal honesty made him refrain from doing so- instead, he got up and paced. Among the memories he'd recovered were the ones of Dumbledore's foolish trust in him, taking him in when his trust in himself had shattered- when he made his first break with the Death Eaters and Voldemort.

//Severus... Merlin- sit down boy. Here, let me help you; you'll be all right. ... You'll be just fine.//

Shaking his head to dislodge the recollection, he reluctantly growled, "Perhaps."

The boy again showed some wisdom in keeping his trap shut. Then again, when faced with a prowling ex-Death Eater on the edge of his temper it might be self-preservation instead.

Eventually he spun to a stop and faced the boy. "We'll need to get to the coast without any more dilly-dallying through the trees for secrecy. That means a direct line of flight which will take us over towns. And that means I'm going to have to cast an area invisibility spell to cover us both as well as the broom." Pausing for breath, Snape continued, feeling almost as though he were trying to convince himself of the necessity rather than informing the boy. "If you've paid attention to your lessons, you'll know that a spell grows increasingly difficult to cast when it is made into a range or area effect, and that the difficulty increases exponentially with each increase in size or distance. Once I cast the spell, I expect for you to remain silent and not distract me with your babbling or whining."

Unfair, Snape thought to himself, but he ignored it as usual. "We'll pack up the campsite once we've eaten, and fly to the coastline. It should take approximately five hours. We-" he emphasized with a dark stare, "-will use the portkey at that time and return to Hogwarts. Once we are there, you will go to the hospital wing and Poppy will check you over while I have a discussion with the Headmaster."

With that he turned away from the boy, ignoring him in favor of preparing a quick meal from their purchased supplies. His movements were efficient as customary, and he put effort into ensuring they remained that way in front of the boy. He was all in favor of intimidating him into silence, especially as it ensured he wouldn't have to answer any questions at that moment. Behind him, Potter set about packing up the blankets, rolling them into a tight bundle with the ease of someone used to doing chores.

Stirring the stew over his magical fire, Snape wrinkled his nose at the smell of the chemical preservatives that Muggles customarily put into their manufactured foods. Yet another reason to not remain on his own in the Muggle world. Food heated, he served out portions and set one down for Potter to claim. Snape found that these Muggle foods were best tolerated when they were heated, so he consumed his as quickly as he could manage.

While the boy at his portion, Snape set about to packing away the rest of the supplies and removing traces of their presence in the area. When Potter finished, Snape cleaned the dishes and banished them to join the rest of their supplies to be shrunken and pocketed. The portkey was wrapped in cloth and pocketed; Snape didn't trust shrinking and enlarging a magical item that was going to have to work over an extra long distance. With a last study of the area for anything missed, Snape waved the boy over. "Stand close and remain within five feet of me; I'm making the spell only as big as the broom is long; it will fit us both sitting on the broom as well. Once I've cast the spell, get on the broom behind me and keep quiet."

Feeling pale but curious, Harry nodded, waiting to see what shape this new spell would take and how it was cast.

With Severus' spoken commands, Harry watched as though in slow motion as power flared from Severus' wand, glowing softly as it was filtered from Severus' body. With the wand gestures that Severus made an outline took shape, forming itself into a circle around him, slowly rippling like black velvet billowing in the wind before taking flight to hover and surround him- surrounding them both.

Harry let his eyes fall to slits as though to savor the wind, however it wasn't wind he felt; rather he was able to sense the power flowing and encircling the two of them. For a moment it grew dark, and all he could hear was Severus' voice muttering the final words of his spell before the cloak-like outline shimmered to Harry's sight and turned clear. Harry couldn't help but breathe, "Beautiful..."

Severus scowled at him and gestured brusquely towards the broom, his brow furrowed as he continued to concentrate upon the spell. Sheepish and repentant, Harry quickly followed Severus' previous orders and clamped his jaw shut before getting onto the floating broom behind Severus.

Pushing them off from the ground, the flight path that Severus took this time kept true to his word; they traveled in a straight line, heading east towards the coast with small turns to avoid hills and the last of the mountains. It got easier and more interesting as they reached the towns that sprawled along below them. Small roads became larger ones which met with other ones bustling with the traffic of tiny cars, dotted increasingly with houses and then shops. Large roads met with more large roads and directed cars on and off of highways which lead to a very distant city.

Harry kept his balance mostly through his natural reflexes, but he found that he was never surprised by a change in direction and was able to lean into the turns without overbalancing or causing Severus trouble which he was thankful for. Not wanting to rub Severus the wrong way, Harry relied mostly upon this balance and avoided touching Severus whenever he was able; his Professor was still feeling shock and betrayal from his perception of the Headmaster's past actions and wasn't likely to appreciate Harry gripping his shoulders or waist.

Finally sighting the coast, Severus directed the broom along the beaches in search of an area they wouldn't be spotted; predictably the beachfront property was populated by some housing areas as well as a boardwalk and public beaches that were being enjoyed for the summertime weather. Looking down at people sunbathing reminded Harry that he wasn't wearing the most comfortable of outfits for the heat. Surprisingly however, he didn't feel that bad off; what he wanted over everything else was a bath and a comfortable bed.

As they found a place that wasn't as well developed as the others, Severus brought them in for a landing with his customary smoothness although Severus' aura was wavering with his exhaustion. Checking that there were no witnesses, both Harry and Severus were thankful as Severus cast a Finite Incantum on the invisibility charm and they came into view.

As Harry had expected, Severus' mind had used the five hours and multitasked enough to further consider his position during the trip. Now his aura showed that he was quite tired, and Harry didn't feel the freshest either. However, it was Harry's turn for his thoughts to turn down an uncustomary avenue. He could agree to find someplace here to rest before taking the portkey back, presumably to Hogwarts ... or he could urge Severus that they should return to Hogwarts now. It would mean more comfort sooner, but it would also mean that Severus would be worn down and perhaps slightly less guarded when he spoke to Professor Dumbledore than he would be when he was rested.

Did Harry dare trust Dumbledore fully to do what's best for Severus when Harry didn't know exactly what Dumbledore had done to him or why? The instinct to protect Severus remained, and Harry found that he didn't want to be sent to the hospital wing- especially if it meant Severus facing Dumbledore alone.

Decision made, Harry spoke firmly before Severus could. "Sev- sir," he rethought quickly, deciding that a little respectful formality would help his case. "You'll be coming back with me, won't you?" When Severus nodded distractedly, Harry continued with relief. "I think that we should either rest before using the portkey and returning, or that I should come with you when you speak to Professor Dumbledore."

Brow furrowed again, Severus growled, "Do you think that I require a chaperone? A guard, perhaps?" His tone of voice was a promise of dark things to the person who gave him an answer he didn't like.

"I think that you should have ... a witness with you." Harry stubbornly frowned back at Severus, "And this isn't only about you. This is affecting us both now, and I want answers, too."

"You'll get your answers in your own time. You are a student who has been hurt, and it is my responsibility to have you checked over by Madame Pomphrey upon our return." Severus' tone was factual, and if there was a show of concern it was well hidden from Harry's eyes, even in his aura.

"You were hurt too," Harry argued, "Even worse than I was. Much worse."

"I am an adult and as such am responsible for myself. I will visit the hospital wing once I've ... discussed things with the Headmaster." Although there was no trace of emotion in Severus' voice or features, his aura roiled with his suppressed anger and hurt.

"I'll agree to go to the hospital wing if we rest here first before taking the Portkey," Harry returned, going for the brave and straightforward 'Gryffindor way' and hoping it would work. "You're too tired now to deal with the Headmaster about this serious a subject. Not alone."

Severus' anger grew as he paced despite his weariness. "My healing potions are effective, but nothing replaces treatment by a trained mediwitch. You're going to the hospital wing- tonight."

"I'll go to the hospital wing when you do, after your- after *our* meeting with Dumbledore." Mulishly, Harry added, "The sooner the meeting is done, the sooner I'll be in the hospital wing."

Severus was plainly at the end of his patience, but between the practicality of there being a witness to monitor Dumbledore's actions and the logic of getting it all over with the soonest, Severus finally snarled, "Fine. We're using the Portkey now," and reached into his pocket for the item; a carefully shaped clear crystal. Socks and trash were for shorter distances.

Harry reached out to touch it as Snape firmly grasped the broom, and the two of them were suddenly linked as they were lifted and pulled by the navel. Seconds passed during which everything but Severus was a blur, and finally they were lightly dropped to the ground in a landing smoother than Harry had yet experienced with portkey travel.

With grass under their feet and trees just behind, they turned as one to behold the structure standing across the field from them.



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