ANNOUNCEMENT: Sectumus Prince, whose writing I am addicted to, will be co-authoring a fic with me. Be excited. Read his works, Crashing Into Darkness will not disappoint.
Thank you, Theo for betaing this chapter!
Chapter 13 - A Life Sentence
It was funny, after years of Azkaban, after losing her sister, again, Bella had never felt so… in control of her own actions.
Her thoughts were steady, well, she still wasn't exactly a normal person, but that had always been to try. She was far too exceptional to ever be considered 'normal.'
Still, independence suited her. As Harris grew more withdrawn, Bella was left more and more on her own.
And she enjoyed it.
Though Harris kept the bracelets on, she welcomed his presence. Welcomed her freedom while not being alone, welcomed the increased strength of their combined magic. The bands allowed him to read her intent when using her magic, so he rarely if ever prevented her from using it.
This night, however, something had woken her.
She got out of bed, the satin of her nightgown brushing against her thighs as she padded through the silent apartment.
She didn't knock before she softly opened the door.
"Harris," she whispered, as she approached the bed.
Harris was curled around himself, the blankets and sheets kicked off the bed. His breathing was heavy, his muscles tense as he battled demons in his nightmares.
She pulled the sheets up over him, then the covers. He didn't wake up, so she climbed under the sheets with him. He shuddered as she touched his side, but he didn't strike her. As she settled, making herself comfortable on his pillow, Harris turned abruptly, wrapping his arms around her. Holding her close against his chest, he pressed his face to her hair.
His breathing evened out and slowly, ever so slowly, the tension eased from him. Harris sighed, and breathed into the night, "I love you."
Those words weren't for her. He was asleep, he didn't know who he held, and she knew, she knew, those words were for a dead woman.
But still, at least for tonight, she let herself believe it was meant for her. Where no man had ever said those words to her, never felt that for her, she let herself believe that this man did.
That she was loved.
That she was deserving of love.
When she woke, she was alone in Harris's bed. He made no mention of the night nor his nightmares as she sat down for the breakfast that he served to her wordlessly.
They never spoke of that night.
But whether it was her traitorous hope or reality, something seemed to change between them after that.
She was no longer his ward, and him, no longer her warden.
Harris was relieved that Bella was coming back to herself. Relieved that the Black Family was growing close and closer.
As he slipped further and further away.
Bella and Regulus were especially seen in each other's company, their shared experiences pulling them close. Oddly, Sirius and Bella were almost equally so for the same reason.
He found it hard to feel anything at all, much less make friends.
It was as if the world had gone grey.
He had never quite understood why Sirius had found being a dog more comforting than being himself.
His own kestrel form… well, the little falcon had always made it hard for him to remember everything he needed to. The wind and sky were distracting.
But now, that's all he wanted, to forget, to cease existing… to join the wind and sky and never return.
The only thing that kept him attached, grounded to the world, that made him care, even a little bit about continuing to breathe, was Bella.
The bonds that kept them together, their magic entwined.
Her magic, her spirit, was a burning flame of life, playful and angry, sorrowful, and joyful.
Watching her heal, helping her become the person she never had the chance to become, the woman she, herself wanted to be.
She was beautiful.
She was worth being human for, but when she was away, with the others, he took to the skies.
It was truly a pleasure to meet your friend Harry. I quite like him, more so because of how he treated you. A true gentleman.
I look forward to the next Hogsmeade weekend to have tea with both of you again. Perhaps my friend will be in town, I'm sure he would love to talk to you and to Harry about the Bird Club you helped him start.
Sneaking out of the dorms early in the morning seemed to be the easiest thing to do. So any hour and half before the last hour of breakfast, a large majority of the Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff houses made their way to the Room of Requirement for a lesson in Defense Against the Dark Arts.
Harry hadn't imagined he'd be able to teach that much, no class at Hogwarts was offered everyday, but with so many students, of so many age groups, including some first years and seventh years, the time was needed.
Harry was honestly glad of the extra work, as it meant he could spend more time studying with Hermione, Neville, Fred and George, in addition to Theo, Baise, and Luna.
But really, the best source of information on teaching turned out to be himself.
His self from the future, that is. Keeping a steady coded correspondence with the older man had been a treat.
Harry never thought he could be as smart as Hermione, but Harris Black had put the work in and was a veritable genius when it came to Defense and Charms. Not unlike Dumbledore in some ways.
That scared Harry, but then most everything about Harris Black scared him a bit.
Harry thought he understood pain and suffering, but he couldn't imagine the hurt Harris had gone through.
Harry hadn't understood before that the people that had the most power over you weren't your enemies, your rivals, or even the people who were supposed to love you. No, the most dangerous people were the ones you loved.
He tried most days not to think of Harris as his future self. While at the same time, he found the motivation to try, to believe in himself and his magic.
This particular morning, Harry was happy people were reviewing because his mind wasn't on his studies. Harry had already asked Theo and Blaise to come with him and Draco to the Black family for the winter holidays. He had mentioned it to Luna, but she hadn't confirmed and…
And Harry had another question he wished to ask.
Looking at the hour, Harry clapped his hands together, "Alright everyone, great work, time for breakfast. I think everyone deserves the upcoming vacation. We will meet up a week after the start of the next term."
The Weasleys started herding people out, "You heard the bossman, shoo."
Harry found Luna in the crowd and they hung back, Theo and Blaise smirked at Harry as they went on ahead.
As they walked, Luna and Harry were soon left alone in the sunlit halls.
Harry swallowed hard before asking, "Luna, um there was something I wanted to ask-"
"My father said yes, we will come to Yule."
"No- I mean, that's great, I'm so glad, but I also wanted to ask-"
Harry froze, his shoulders stiffening, and Luna stepped away from him as if he had some contagious disease. But it was too late.
Turning slowly to face the pink toad, he internally cursed himself for not checking the map before leaving. He had just been so distracted.
He had done such a good job of avoiding Umbridge, they all had. All her stupid rules, none of them had given her cause to give them detention. They had all bowed their heads and pretended to obey. Pretended that a war wasn't coming, that Voldemort was out there making people disappear.
But today, today, the last bloody day before winter break, she had caught them.
Umbridge's smug curl of lips made his stomach twist, "Educational Decree Number Twenty-Six, boys and girls are forbidden from being within fifteen centimeters of each other."
Harry didn't hesitate, "It was my fault."
Umbridge was too eager to punish him, or more precisely, use him to get rid of Dumbledore. So she waved Luna away as she told Harry, "To my office, Mr. Potter."
Go, Harry mouthed to Luna as Umbridge grabbed him by the shoulder and half pushed, half dragged him to her office.
Luna gave him wide eyes but nodded.
He fought not to look back at her as irrational fear filled him.
Or maybe not so irrational, every Defense professor he's ever had has almost killed him one way or another, including Remus.
But something about Umbridge… Just seemed like she would enjoy hurting him. Practically throwing him into the room, Harry felt his heart rate kick up. The look on her face was the same expression Dudley wore when he and his gang cornered him.
"Sit," she ordered.
"Tea, Mr. Potter?" she asked as she walked around her desk.
"No, thank you," he answered.
"But I insist," she said, clinking the tea cup down on the table in front of him.
He didn't touch it.
Umbridge sat, with tea in hand, she began to stir, while she began to stare at him and stair at him.
"Are you going to drink your tea?" she asked in a condescending tone.
Swallowing a sigh, Harry picked up the teacup, and pretended to drink it.
The toad continued to stare at him.
So he took another false sip.
She began her interrogation, "Where were you and your classmate congregating each morning?"
He raised a brow, "Going to breakfast?"
She huffed, "Drink your tea."
Harry looked down into the cup and asked slowly, "So, it's poisoned?"
It was the wrong thing to say.
"You little brat," she snarled.
Harry dropped his tea as he tried to reach for his wand, but letting go of the tea cup took a hair's breadth too long.
Umbridge's spell had ropes wrapped around him, exactly like Wormtail had done to him. His breathing grew harsh as Umbridge's heels clicked against the floor as she hurried back around her desk. He was twisting his wand, when she snatched it out of his hand.
"What are you-"
She quieted him by grabbing his jaw with the same intensity that Aunt Petunia used. She pulled a vile from somewhere with a clear substance and tried pouring it down his throat. But he kept his mouth shut.
Aunt Petunia had washed his mouth out with soup, and only once.
Because he had fought her after that.
Like he fought now.
But Umbridge went as far as plugging his nose and her grip was bruising. He almost feared she would break his nose as he tried to shake his head. Eventually he had to breathe and the potion slid down his throat.
It was tasteless and cool and instantly fogged his mind. But his heart was hammering still and felt-
He began to fight against the bonds as the panic set in.
He needed to run.
"Where were you this morning?"
He shook his head, his muscles tensing further to the point where he felt he might snap.
The compulsion to answer finally overcame him, "In the hall."
Truth serum, Veritaserum.
He said the first thing that came to mind, "Because I was going to ask Luna to be my girlfriend."
Umbridge slapped him, hard enough that he tasted blood in his mouth. "I meant, what have you been doing against the school edicts?"
He almost smiled, "Standing too close to girls?"
Umbridge smiled at him sickly, "With your classmates, answer me."
Though Harry felt compelled to answer her, the feeling felt similar to that of Imperious curse.
He knew how to play this game.
So though he answered her, it was never in the way she wanted.
He never betrayed his friends.
Umbridge practically snarled at him before looking at the clock.
"Tell me, Mr. Potter, where have you and your cohorts been gathering each day and for what purpose?"
Harry smiled at her, despite the spinning in his head, "I already told you, in the Great Hal-"
She spun on him, her wand pointed, "Crucio!"
Pain lanced through him and only his stubbornness kept him from screaming.
She released him a moment later, "Now, I think it is time you start sharing the truth."
Harry didn't stop to think, he flung himself back hard, hard enough that one of the chair legs split along with a chair arm. Something in his arm hurt as well, but it was negligible to the pain of the of the torture curse.
Umbridge tsked, before saying almost lazily, "Crucio."
Sound escaped from his lips this time as white hot fire burst through his bones, but he turned his scream into a shout as he flopped around on the ground like a fish caught in a net. This time, when she lifted the spell, he didn't stop struggling, he kept fighting. He was able to wiggle out of the ropes now that one of the arm chairs had loosened the summoned ropes.
He kicked the remains of the chair at her as he scrambled toward the exit. His legs were shaking so badly he ended up half crawling to the door.
"Help!" he called, "Help me!"
"The door is locked, Mr. Potter," Umbridge purred stalking toward him.
Harris Black could do wandless magic, which meant Harry could too.
Without hesitating, without wondering for a moment if it would work, he cast as reached for the door handle, "Alohomora!"
The door opened with a click.
"No! Crucio!" she roared in outraged disbelief.
But Harry was already out.
He had run away on a fractured ankle for an entire summer from Dudley 'Harry Hunting' before it healed. He ran now and didn't look back.
She didn't cast the Unforgivable as he entered the hall, just a series of stupidfies.
Harry's every breath hurt, but he kept running as if his life depended on it.
Because maybe it did.
Severus Snape was tired. Tired of the Dark Lord, who had tortured him through Potter. Tired of Umbridge who insulted him in his own classroom, and exceedingly tired now that Dumbledore had confided in the staff that Grindelwald was at large again…
He sighed, the last thing they needed was another dark lord at large.
One that they couldn't even be sure of his motives. They couldn't even be sure what were Grindelwald's crimes from their Dark Lord's.
Minerva sighed, "This year just isn't going to get easier, is it?"
Severus shook his head, his steps faltering as he heard someone screaming, "STUPIFY!" Down the hall.
Minerva halted as well, "Is that… Dolores?"
Harry Potter came bolting down the hall, the look on his face blank with fear and determination. He didn't see them.
Severus braced as the boy ran into him, reaching for his wand. Potter only slowed a bit before he collided into him. On instinct, Severus pulled the boy to his side, angling the boy slightly behind him as he pointed his wand toward the sound of scraping heels.
Sure enough, Dolores Umbridge, hair askew came around the corner, spells blazing, "Stupify-"
Severus flicked the spell aside and Minerva transformed the horrid woman into a toad.
A toad that Severus took the liberty of stupefying.
"Mr. Potter-" Minerva began, her words falling short as they had time to get a good look at the boy.
He was shaking.
Severus settled a hand on the boy's shoulder, softening his voice as best he could, "Mr. Potter, what spells did she use on you?"
Lily's green eyes looked up at him, "Veritaserum… she tried poisoning my tea, but when I didn't drink it she-" Potter cut himself off, "she forced it down my throat."
"What did she want to know?" Severus asked as he felt Minerva radiate with fury.
"I didn't- I didn't tell her anything important."
"Then what did you tell her?"
"Nothing," Potter said, stepping back from him, "She used crucio on me and-" He looked away, "I'm sorry."
Severus glanced at Minerva, her face was a mask of fury. Her steps were clipped as she walked toward the toad, half strangling it.
"I'm taking her to Amelia and Kingsley now," she said.
Knowing that Harry had apologized because of what the Dark Lord had made him do to Severus and Poppy months ago, Severus shook his head. "This is not your fault Mr. Potter."
Harry looked down at his feet, "I want to go home."
"I think it's best if Madame Pomfrey sees you first, Mr. Potter," Minerva said.
"This isn't your fault," Severus said again, knowing that Harry's reluctance came from the incident of possession they both were remembering. "Poppy and I both know it was the Dark Lord who attacked us, not you, Harry."
Harry looked up at the use of his first name, his shoulders sagging as the adrenaline eased.
Minerva's fist tighter around the toad, "She will serve a lifetime in Azkaban for this."
"No one will believe me," Harry said morosely.
"They will believe us," Minerva said in a voice that broached no argument.
"Come, Mr. Potter," Severus said, "I'll escort you to the hospital wing."
Wand still in his grasp, he summoned his Patronus. The silver doe appeared in a white-blue mist, and Severus told it, "Tell Mr. Black, that his charges are ready to go home before the Hogwarts Express tomorrow morning."
"She has my wand in her office," Harry said, stumbling. Severus caught his arm, helping him walk. "Accio Potter's Wand," he cast, after a minute, the wand came around the corner. He handed the wand that rang with more power than a wand alone should have, back to the boy.
With his wand back in his hand Potter finally allowed himself to be led to the hospital wing. Harry's every step required more of Severus's help to continue.
Harris apparated to Hogwart's boundary and shifted to his kestrel form, entering the hospital wing through an open window.
His younger self was sitting up in bed. Theo, Blaise, and Draco sitting in chairs at his side.
"What happened?" he demanded as he shifted out of the air, already walking toward the boys and Snape who was scowling at papers in his hand.
"Umbridge," Blaise said. "Used Veritaserum and the torture curse on Harry."
"Well, if that's all," Harris said, as he came to Harry's bedside.
Harry looked up at him, "Can you really take us home early?"
"Yes," Harris said, apparating four children with him was well within his capabilities. He summoned a chair so he could sit by Harry's bedside as well.
"The Bird Club," a name that had come from naming the Defense Club after Hedwig that eventually just became dubbed by Luna and taken up by everyone else, The Bird Club. "That's what she wanted to know about."
Harry nodded, "I didn't tell her anything, she couldn't make me talk."
Harris and Harry had been exchanging coded letters frequently, to the point where he had been practically teaching through his younger self. As much as he knew Harry enjoyed teaching, this… it had reached a point where it was too much.
"Would you like me to come back to Hogwarts as the Defense professor?" Harris asked him.
Harry's eyes widened, "No- I mean you're going through-"
Harris caught his hand, again, Harry reminding Harris more of his son James than himself, "I'm an adult, Harry, and I've been Hogwarts' Defense professor for a great many years. I think you've had enough trouble this year, don't you?"
Harry looked at him, his face pinching for a moment, as if he might cry, but he blinked fast, "I want to go home."
Harris stood, tugging on his hand, "Then let's go."
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