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Chapter Forty-Four: Blacks and Potters and Snapes, Oh My!

Harry was still wracking his brains for a solution by the time Sirius had led Harry back to the steps of Hogwarts, cheerfully expanding upon ideas he was having on future arrangements and the things he and Harry could do together. Ordinarily, Harry would have been ecstatic at the idea but at the moment he was caught in the spiral of frustration and worry over the still unconscious Severus slung over Sirius' shoulder. The fact that Sirius wasn't exactly being careful with him probably wasn't going to help Severus' condition; Sirius could have easily cast a Mobilus Corpus or conjured a stretcher if he had his wand with him.

It was when they started climbing the steps that put Harry into shock. Trailing behind in yet another attempt to covertly make contact with Severus and heal him at least minimally, Harry saw drops of blood which hadn't been there before. Once the impact passed, Harry determinedly caught up with Sirius and tried to steady Severus' body so it didn't move so much with Sirius' strides.

Feeling Harry behind him, Sirius looked at what he was doing and waved him away, "I can handle Snape, Harry. He's not a heavyweight, and I'm stronger than I look," he noted with a grin. "Let's go find Albus."

Uneasy from what he'd just felt from Severus, Harry appealed to Sirius' nature - at least that which he'd been able to get to know during the short amount of time Harry had been able to spend time with him. He figured that he must be right about him because the only reason he could think of for carrying Severus the way he was would be if Sirius wanted to show off to his godson. "Sirius, couldn't we drop Professor Snape off at the hospital wing before we go? Maybe the Headmaster will let me stay while you make your report and we could have some tea and biscuits."

"Hmm, I dunno." Sirius regarded what he could see of Severus with suspicion, "I wanted to find out just what he wanted with you out in the Forbidden forest like that. The Headmaster should know about this."

With a touch of irritation, Harry sighed, "The Headmaster /did/ know about this; Professor Snape told him during lunch."

"He did, did he?" Sirius readjusted Severus' body with a slight jostle. "Well then, I suppose we can ... drop him off," he allowed with a smirk.

"Carefully," Harry warned, and his tone of voice made Sirius give him another of his puzzled stares. For the first time since the summer, Harry was relieved to see Dumbledore come into view, rounding the corner on a path that intersected their own.

Concerned at the sight of Severus being carried over Sirius' shoulder, Dumbledore exclaimed, "Sirius, what in Merlin's name happened to Severus?" It occurred then to Harry to wonder whether Dumbledore had ever changed his behavior towards the Golden Boys of Gryffindor. It seemed as though it didn't even occur to Dumbledore that Sirius was the one who had happened to Severus, even despite the long-time grudge between the two.

"Ah, he fell back too hard against a tree when I came up to him," Sirius hedged. "Hit his head on it, looks like. I was taking him to the Hospital Wing before coming to give you my report, Albus." Sirius looked very much the hopeful youngster caught in an adult's body as he smiled up at the Headmaster.

Dumbledore shooed Sirius on to proceed ahead, "Well, let's get him there, Sirius. We'll talk in a while once he's seen to."

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

In the Headmaster's office, Severus was shaking his head in negation, in denial, trembling as he found himself suddenly sitting. It was all a lie. Father joined Voldemort because of lies and falsehoods. His brain was trying to accept Dumbledore's assurances, but his heart was clenching in pain.

Voldemort had sent a Death Eater to kill his mother. A muggle was given the blame for the deed and killed for it. Voldemort had manipulated his Father and himself, and now his Father was paying for it in Azkaban.

The Ministry would not allow both Severus and his Father to be spoken for by Dumbledore, to free both men who bore the Dark Mark on their arms. The Ministry had their culprits, and wanted to keep them. It was only through Headmaster Dumbledore's intervention that he was released from Azkaban at all, kept safe by the Headmaster's promises and bargains with the Minister of Magic.

Severus wished his Father could be the one released instead of him. He wanted to cease to exist; he couldn't stand the thought of his Father being slowly destroyed, that brilliant mind eaten away by the Dementors.

"Take a sip of this, Severus ... Slowly ... Yes, that's right."

He remembered how it felt; insubstantial fingers reaching into his thoughts and tearing them from him. How he was helplessly plunged into the worst memories of his life, re-experiencing his guilt and horror. How he saw gaping holes being rent in his memory ... how it almost felt as though those holes had been there for years already, numb and shadowed, hard to see.

"Take a deep breath, Severus. Calm down, my boy. Good. Another..."

How the thoughts newly torn away left ragged edges of pain and void, sharply contrasted darkness against that which remained. How those dark holes seemed to drip like blood running from the edges-//

"Severus? Wake up, my boy."


Opening his eyes against his will to the almost blindingly white walls, Severus groaned in sudden pain and nausea as they overwhelmed him. The first person he was able to focus upon was Dumbledore who was sitting in a chair at the side of his bed.

At first Severus thought he was still in the Headmaster's office, his thoughts spiraling around the nightmarish vision from the past. He tried to curl in on himself as though doing so would also protect his mind from the Dementors haunting him, but catching a glimpse of Black off to one side only served to entrench the thought of Azkaban itself firmly upon Severus' confused mind. The sound of suffering screams and quiet whimpers of protest bubbled up in his memory and stayed there like the cloying odor of a failed potion experiment.

Struggling to breathe past the knot of panic in his throat, Severus dimly heard something else that somehow seemed familiar, but he couldn't get a firm handle on it. His thought were scattered and unorganized, his eyes felt as though they were being stabbed with daggers made of bright light and his head throbbed unbearably, distracting him further. He closed his eyes.

"I'll get Madam Pomfrey," The Voice said before the sound of rapidly pattering feet echoed far too loudly for his comfort.

"Stay here afterwards, Harry. Sirius and I will join you in the Great Hall for a late dinner once we've finished speaking," the Headmaster called after The Voice which replied an affirmation from a distance.

Severus jumped in startlement when he felt the warmth of a hand soft with age but tingling with power settle upon the back of his neck. He could feel himself trembling still as he tried to reconcile thoughts with reality; Dumbledore must be visiting him in Azkaban. But ... the bed was soft and clean, as was the air. The prison was dark and cold, and this place was anything but. A visitor's room, perhaps? No- Dumbledore had visited him before. He remembered it; he'd asked if he could see his Father and he hadn't been able to. He'd been taken back to his cell when Dumbledore left. The visitor's room was cleaner, but it wasn't warm or bright like this room. The light glowed on the other side of his eyelids.

His voice, when he tried to use it, was raspy but surprisingly didn't pain Severus as he expected it would. It would only be logical for speaking to hurt when he'd either refrained from speaking for weeks on end, alternated with weeks during which he'd screamed in pain during his ... special treatments. "Where ... where are we?"

Severus thought he heard Black snort at his words, but the Dumbledore-hand only soothed at the back of his neck. Fleetingly, he thought that it felt nice. Dumbledore's words were nice as well; he said, "We're in the Hospital Ward, Severus. You've had a nasty bump on the head, I'm afraid."

It was an effort to decide what was real, now. His heart was trying to escape his ribcage. His scattered memories were telling him he was in Azkaban, but Dumbledore said otherwise and he felt compelled to believe him but his memories his thoughts azkaban dementors father thoughts rippingbeingripped-

"She's coming, Headmaster. She's just gathering a few potions."

The Voice. Clear. Ringing. The Voice was not in Azkaban. It was ... in Hogwarts.

"We'll be going now, Severus. Get some rest, now."

Sleepy ... He was so sleepy, the weight dragging him down. But he wanted to see The Voice. He heard the rustling of robes as someone-Dumbledore? got up from his chair and moved away. Voices lowered to a murmur as they consulted. A door opened and closed.

A moment passed, and then, "Severus," The Voice whispered with concern, "Are you awake?"

Yes. He was ... sort of ... but he wasn't supposed to be. Get some rest, now. Get some rest. But, The Voice. He opened his eyes.



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