"I'm sorry I flipped on you," Harry said apologetically when his friends came to visit a week or so later. "I guess I overreacted a bit."
"It's alright, Harry," Hermione offered quickly.
"Yeah, I mean, we should have told you earlier," Draco added. "Sorry."
Ron simply nodded. Harry looked between the three of them. He tried not to notice the fact that none of them had offered for him to join them at Draco's.
An awkward silence formed, broken by Hermione, looking intent. "So how have you been, Harry?"
"Pretty good. Sirius and Severus have been kind of busy so, you know," he shrugged, "a lot of time to think."
"Think on what?" Ron asked.
"Voldemort," Harry replied bluntly. "The fact that my scar keeps burning randomly." The fact that he was left alone here with nothing to do, nowhere to go, Harry added in his head.
"Your scar's been burning?" Draco asked worriedly.
"That's not good," Hermione agreed.
Harry shrugged. "It's not so bad."
"Does Snape know?" Hermione asked.
Harry shook his head. "He's got enough on his mind."
Ron frowned. "Like what? School's out, I mean, what else is there for him to worry about?"
Harry looked at Ron in bewilderment. "Oh, nothing except maybe the fact that Voldemort's back?"
"Well, yeah," Ron admitted. "But isn't your scar part of that? You're not really adding another worry, exactly, you're just increasing the one that's already there."
Harry blinked at him. "What?"
"Oh, forget it. I've confused myself, even," Ron said with a light amusement.
"Glad I'm not the only one," Draco muttered.
Harry shot him a grin. "So what have you been up to?" he asked, immediately regretting it.
"Not much, actually," Hermione admitted, seeming honest. "A lot of cleaning."
"Cleaning?" Harry asked skeptically.
Draco nodded. "Really, you've got it better here. Want to trade?"
Harry shrugged. As another silence fell, Harry stood abruptly. "Want to go for a walk? It feels like a month since I've gotten outside."
"Why?" Ron asked. "Don't you fly in the summer?""Severus thinks it's dangerous outside the wards and the wards don't extend very far. Sirius seems to think that if I go with you guys, though, that he'll let me. Want to try?"
"Sure," Draco replied for the others. "I bet we can pressure him into it. If he doesn't agree, leave it to me."
Harry grinned. "I knew that there was still Slytherin in you."
Harry led them to Snape's study where he sat looking over a diagram of some sort. When Harry entered the room, he promptly rolled it up with the tap of his wand.
"No," Harry replied. "I just wanted to know if we could go for a walk."
"We've never seen around here, sir," Hermione piped up. "It seems like a nice little town."
Severus looked at them in consideration. "How far will you go?"
Harry shrugged. "A couple blocks? Not too far, it's just that it's such a nice day..."
"I do not think it is safe."
"That's alright, Harry," Draco broke in. "I told you that if he didn't agree then you could come over to where we're staying and play two-on-two quidditch."
The look that Severus shot Draco was incredible. Harry figured he must have hit a nerve somewhere but Harry couldn't figure out what it was. After all, they'd gone to the Malfoy Manor before and Severus had never objected when Mrs. Malfoy offered to have Harry come over.
"Fine. But two blocks only and be back in a half hour at the outside. If you are not, I will assume something horrible has happened and you will be grounded for a week upon your recovery."
"But if something horrible does happen, not that I think it will, why would I get punished for it? Why wouldn't you ground the person responsible?" Harry asked, lightly taunting his guardian.
"Begone with you."
"Thanks, Severus. Come on," he said to his friends, leading them from the room. "Draco, have you picked up Legilimency? You knew exactly what to say. Good work."
Draco shrugged. "Lucky guess."
Harry, leading the group, missed the glance that passed amongst his friends. Soon enough, they were walking in the warm sunlight and Harry was feeling better than he had been in a long time. Maybe all he needed was a bit of fresh air. Strolling along and chatting idly, it was easy to lose track of time. Luckily, they had Hermione with them.
"Harry, it's been twenty five minutes. We ought to head back," she said conscientiously.
Harry sighed. He knew she was right; he had no desire to get Severus worked up or to earn himself a week's "detention" of sorts. "Okay."
They turned on the spot and began walking back to Harry's house, the forest on one side of the path and the road on the other. Looking idly across the street, Harry noted a charming little house made of stone with a sprawling, tangled rose garden lining the cobblestone pathway. The white picket fence didn't seem quite so Dursely-ish in front of this house. Instead, it lent a comforting, homey feel. Harry smiled slightly, remembering that not all muggles were as tasteless and banal as his relatives. They passed several yards where people were out weeding or playing ball. It was odd to think that they had no idea who Voldemort was or that he was back.
Suddenly, Harry stopped dead in his tracks.
"Do you feel something... off?" he asked his friends who had continued a few feet ahead before realizing he had stopped.
"Off how?" Draco inquired.
"It's too cold for a day like this," Harry said, glancing up at the sky.
"I feel it too," Ron piped up.
"Dementors," Harry said definitively.
"Dementors?" Hermione asked, looking at him in surprise. "Here? It's a muggle village."
"We need to get back to the house," Harry said urgently.
"Agreed," Draco said. "Come on."
Harry felt jumpy as they hurried down the sidewalk. He glanced back over his shoulder several times but saw nothing. His house was almost in view when Harry chanced another look behind him. Two huge dark shapes were hovering at the edge of the trees, closing in on them rapidly. As Harry's began to choke out a warning to his friends, his shoe caught in a crack in the sidewalk and he went down with a thud. His head hit the pavement and he knew no more.
Snape glanced at the clock once more, the furrow in his brow growing deeper with each successive look. Harry was to have been home five minutes ago. Had it simply been Harry, Severus would have dismissed it as simply getting distracted, but the fact that Hermione Granger was with him changed matters. In fact, she had been part of the reason Severus had let Harry go, for he knew that she was anal enough to keep close track of the time and get them back as scheduled.
Suddenly deciding that something horrible had happened, Severus scooped up his wand and strode from the house, steps long and brisk. It was odd; he thought that it was a sunny day but at the moment dark, heavy clouds blocked out the sun. Hurrying down the sidewalk in the direction that Severus guessed Harry would go, Severus heard something. He rounded the corner and found four figures on the ground and two dark forms swooping in for another pass.
Wand raised in an instant, Snape bellowed a spell, trying to keep the anger and fear from his thoughts. "Expecto Patronum!"
A glowing blue doe shot from the end of his wand, cantering into the oncoming dementors and causing them to scatter. It looped in a wide circle before coming to a stop in the center of the children, standing guard. Maintaining the spell for safe measure, Severus hurried over to the four, stopping at Harry first. He rolled him onto his back and found blood that made his stomach roll. Bleeding from a gash in his head, Harry seemed unconscious. The others were also knocked out.
"Rennervate," Severus muttered, pointing at each of them in turn. He could not levitate four at once and, since it didn't look like the others were injured, they could walk themselves. Finally, he revived Harry who, like the others, sat up blinking rapidly. He tried to bolt upright but swooned at the quick motion. Severus grabbed his shoulder, holding him still. "Are you alright?"
"Killer headache," Harry muttered. "What happened?"
"Dementors," Severus said gravely, glancing at the others. "You are all fine as well?"
They nodded, still looking pale. Severus looked around and, seeing no sign of the dementors, let the patronus fade.
"Come, we have to get inside," Severus said, turning to Harry. "Can you walk or should I levitate you?"
"I can walk," Harry insisted. "It's just around the corner."
Severus helped him to his feet and with a hand around Harry's shoulders, led him down the road towards the house. The other three followed, rubbing their arms as if chilled.
"Where did the dementors come from?" Severus asked.
"Out of nowhere," Hermione answered. "Harry and Ron felt them in the trees before they appeared. We started to run back but Harry tripped and got knocked out. We couldn't leave him. They came down on us and... I don't remember anything else." She sounded shaken and rightfully so.
"You ought to be taught how to cast a Patronus if you continue to hang around Harry. They seem to have an affinity for him," Severus said dryly.
"Sir," Draco began, "I don't think it was random."
Severus brow furrowed as they stepped onto the walk leading up to the house. "What makes you say that?"
"We started running a good while back. I know they're attracted to people in general, but there were others along the way they could've gone after. They followed us, waited for an opening. It was eerie," Draco admitted, naturally pale face even more devoid of color than usual.
"That is a cause for concern," Severus acknowledged. "Thank you for informing me. Come, we should find you all some chocolate."
"The one thing I like about dementor attacks," Harry muttered with a weak but wry smile.
Severus gave him a sideways look. "If you can manage to avoid being attacked, you may have all the chocolate you wish."
"Mmm," Harry replied, swaying a bit dizzily.
Severus tightened his grip on Harry and kept him upright, guiding him through the door. He lowered his charge into the closest seat at the kitchen table.
"Midgy," Severus commanded. When the elf appeared, he instructed, under Hermione's watchful eye, "Bring my kit then get everyone some form of chocolate."
Severus noticed that Harry had closed his eyes and with a jolt, he realized that Harry was still losing blood. With the dementors and all, Severus had not even thought to close the wound. He berated himself for his foolishness. Muttering a string of words, he aimed his wand at the gash and a thin layer of skin closed over it. It was not healed on the inside but at least the external tissue would prevent further blood loss.
Midgy reappeared and handed Severus a worn black box. He opened it and it unfurled into several collapsable layers, each stocked with a different set of potions. Choosing one carefully, he glanced at the bottle before shaking Harry lightly by the shoulder.
"Drink this," he instructed as Harry opened his eyes.
Harry took the uncapped bottle of muscle knitting potion and downed it with a grimace. "Gross, as usual."
"The worse it tastes, the more potent it is," Severus stated.
When Winky reappeared with a tray of fancy chocolates and a chocolate cake, Severus remembered rather suddenly that he and Harry were not alone in the room.
"Eat," he told Harry's friends, who were looking around in a daze.
They did so and color began to return to their cheeks, thankfully. It would not be fun explaining to Narcissa and Molly about their catatonic children. After several minutes, they had recovered, for the most part.
"I think it would be best if you three Floo home," Severus said. Harry had closed his eyes once more. "And if you would, tell Black that I need to speak with him. Here."
Draco nodded. "We'll tell him."
Severus watched as Draco helped Hermione up, not that she needed it, and walked with her to the Floo, Ron trailing behind with an intense expression on his face. Harry seemed to have fallen asleep and Severus figured that might be best. This way, he and Sirius could have a conversation first. After the three Gryffindors had gone, Severus gently levitated Harry to the couch where he would be more comfortable. Just as he tossed a blanket on Harry, the Floo flared and deposited Sirius.
"You wanted to talk to me?" he asked, stepping out with a look of deep concern on his face. "Is Harry okay?"
"Yes," Severus replied curtly, turning to Harry's godfather. "Harry is no longer safe here."