Harry surveyed his bed in the dorm room sadly. He groaned and wondered why everything always happened to him. Deciding that there was nothing he could do to change it, Harry levitated his trunk out the door and down to the common room.
"Ready, Draco?" Harry asked.
"Yeah," he replied, gesturing to his own trunk.
"Are you sure you want to go?" Harry asked, looking at his friend with concern. In his mind, only a mad person would want to go spend a year away from family and friends, in the arctic no less.
"Absolutely," Draco assured him. "I've always wanted to go to Durmstrang."
"Alright," Harry said. Though he probably would have chosen Draco to accompany him anyway, Harry really had no choice. When he had returned from Snape's office the night before, he found Ron angry and unwilling to talk to him. They had fought and were currently not speaking. Harry felt fully justified in defending his side; Ron had not even considered the possibility that Harry truly did not put his name in the bowl and still refused to consider it. Harry could tell that Ron was just jealous of him despite repeated assurances that Harry would trade places with him in an instant. Nevertheless, he had not said a word to Harry all day and now it was almost time to leave.
Harry briefly entertained the idea of taking Hermione but dismissed it quickly enough. He knew that she would be reluctant to disrupt her school work and honestly could not see her wanting to go. When Draco was obviously willing, there was no reason to concern her with it.
"Be safe, both of you," Hermione said, hovering over the two of them like a mother hen. "Don't you dare try to enter that competition."
"I wouldn't dream of it," Harry said.
Hermione's eyes narrowed at him trying to discern whether or not he was being sarcastic.
"Really," Harry insisted.
"Okay, well, write often," she instructed them. "Tell me everything."
"We will," Draco said. When she turned her head towards the portrait hole that had just opened, he mouthed to Harry, "Not".
Harry grinned until he realized that Ron had just entered the room. He spied the three of them there and gave them a surly once over.
Harry sighed, not wanting the time apart to solidify the end of their friendship.
"Ron," he called and motioned for him to join them.
Reluctantly, Ron sauntered over.
"I'm sorry," Harry said. He didn't know what he was apologizing for but he hoped it would do the trick.
"Sorry that you didn't at least tell your best friend before you entered your name?" Ron asked with a generous dose of attitude.
Harry gritted his teeth. This was what had started it the night before. "I didn't put my name in that bowl!" he insisted with force.
Ron rolled his eyes. "Sure." He turned to Draco. "Goodbye, Draco. Have fun with the Golden Boy, here."
Harry clenched his fists but kept quiet. Draco looked uncomfortable. Hermione simply looked sad. Ron gave them all one last look before heading up to the dorm.
"I'll work on him," Hermione promised.
Harry grunted and moved his trunk towards the portrait hole. "I'll meet you in the Great Hall in a half hour," he told Draco. "I told Snape I'd come down there first."
"Right," Draco said. "See you."
Harry walked down to the Great Hall and dropped off his trunk before proceeding to the dungeons. He knocked lightly on Severus's door before he entered.
Severus looked up immediately.
"Hey," Harry said.
"Harry," Severus acknowledged, immediately laying aside whatever it was that he was working on. "Come, sit down."
Harry closed the door and took up his customary seat.
"Harry, there are a few things you should know before you go," Severus said, then hesitated.
"Like?" Harry prompted.
"Like the Headmaster is, or was, a Death Eater."
"What?" Harry exclaimed. "How is he allowed?"
Severus shrugged. "That is not of consequence. The point is, you must be on your guard at all times. I have no idea who he has chosen to employ."
"Right," Harry agreed. "Anything else?"
"Durmstrang has been known to teach Dark Arts rather than defense against," Severus stated dryly. "You are not, under any circumstances, to do Dark Magic."
"What if I have to go to a class? We are taking classes with them, right?" Harry asked.
"Some. And it would be better for you to be reprimanded for sitting in a corner and refusing to participate than for you to perform Dark Magic."
"That bad, huh?" Harry asked nervously, scratching his neck.
Severus looked tense. "The Dark Arts take something away from you every time you use them. I would rather you never lose any part of yourself to them."
Harry considered Severus with compassion. After a moment, he shook himself, thinking of the horror that Snape would feel if he knew someone was pitying him.
"I won't, I promise," Harry said.
Severus eyed him narrowly. "Do not make promises you do not intend to keep," he said challengingly.
"I didn't," Harry shot back.
"I should go say goodbye to Sirius," Harry said, standing.
"I am sure he will come see you off," Severus said dryly.
"I know," Harry replied, "but I told him I'd stop by his office beforehand." He moved towards the door. He hesitated. "You'll be down at the Great Hall when we leave, right?" Harry felt a little embarrassed by his need for reassurance in this.
"Of course," Severus replied, implying he would be foolish to think differently.
"Good," Harry said, turning back to the door.
"I will miss you, Harry," Severus said, voice quiet. Harry turned back. He looked at Severus, knowing how much voicing that must have taken out of him.
"I'll miss you too, Severus," Harry said quietly, feeling undone. With one last look, he hurried out of the door before he lost it completely.
"I wanted to give you this," Sirius said after greeting Harry. He handed him something mildly heavy wrapped in a shimmering black cloth. Harry pulled the cloth away to reveal a mirror with a silver wrought frame. It looked old.
Harry studied his reflection, wondering why he would want a tarnished mirror.
"Um, thanks?" Harry asked skeptically.
"It is a charmed mirror," Sirius explained with some amusement at his reaction. "Just say my name and you can talk to me. I have its counterpart."
"Wicked," Harry said with a grin. "Thanks, Sirius. I get the feeling I'll be using this a lot."
"I encourage you to," Sirius said earnestly, leaning against his desk. He moved forward and gave Harry a hug. "I'll miss you, kid."
"Miss you too, Sirius," Harry said with feeling.
Sirius let him go. "Be safe," he instructed him sternly. Then, he added, "But do have fun."
"I hope I will," Harry said. "I have to go; I told Draco I'd meet him in the Great Hall."
"Okay," Sirius replied.
Harry was at the door in a moment, but stopped. "Hey, Sirius? Can you do me a favor?"
"Yeah?" Sirius asked, willing expression on his face.
"Watch Severus for me," Harry said. "I don't want him to go back to how he was before."
"Before he adopted you?" Sirius asked for clarification. "How was that?"
"Mean and cruel," Harry said. "Well, meaner than he is now."
"Wouldn't want that to happen," Sirius breathed. "Sure, Harry, I'll try. Still don't think he likes me much though."
Harry shrugged. "Share the mirror with him. Then he'll like you more."
"Maybe we can charm him one," Sirius mused.
Harry smiled. "That'd be great."
"I'll work on that," Sirius promised. "Want me to walk down with you?""Sure," Harry agreed easily.
Sirius joined him and they walked in a comfortable silence to the Great Hall where many of the students had already gathered. Harry received more than one hostile look as he made his way to the luggage he had placed on the Gryffindor table. He then headed over to the knot of students going to Durmstrang. Harry eyed the Slytherin girl for a moment, trying to remember her name. She was short with sleek, cropped brown hair. She eyed everyone with an air of mild haughtiness. Lane, Harry remembered. Her name was Lane.
Harry glanced around for Draco and spied him talking to Severus in the corner. He frowned lightly as they moved to join the rest. Harry went over to them and a few of his friends extricated themselves from the crowd to join them.
"Good luck, Harry," Neville said as they approached Severus and Draco.
"Hopefully I won't need it," Harry replied.
"Oh, yeah," Neville said with a frown. "Well have fun, anyway."
"Great chance of that happening," Harry breathed sarcastically, mood souring quickly. Neville didn't seem to have heard him.
"Hey, Draco," Harry said, coming closer. "Severus," he acknowledged. Severus's dark eyes peered at Harry, unnerving him. They hadn't done that in a long time. Harry looked away and fond Hermione to his right. She embraced him tightly and gave him a sad smile before moving on to Draco.
"Everyone traveling to Durmstrang, please come to the front now. Place your bags at the podium and then stand together with me," Dumbledore's commanding voice instructed.
Harry's heart picked up speed. He wasn't ready; he didn't have enough time. He looked almost frantically at Severus and struggled to say something meaningful. These would be his last words to his guardian in person for months yet he could come up with nothing. He had the strange desire to thank him. For everything. Harry opened and closed his mouth. Severus stood across from Harry in the small circle of people and he gazed at Harry intensely.
"Bye," Harry finally managed. So much for profound words.
Severus stepped forward and embraced Harry in the middle of the circle, surprising everyone, Harry included. He noticed that everyone gathered seemed very uncomfortable but at this point, he didn't care. He was reluctant to let go of his guardian, for that would mean he would have to leave and head off into uncertain waters. Eventually, Snape pulled back and Harry was forced to do so as well.
"Be safe," he intoned, then stepped back.
Harry bit his lip and nodded, picking up his trunk and the cage that held Carmax that Neville had brought for him from the Owlery. Draco joined him and they stepped away from the group. Sirius gave him a pat on the shoulder as he passed.
Moving in a daze, Harry put his things down as directed and joined the knot of students at the front of the hall. They stood in a ring next to Dumbledore. Harry took up a spot between Draco and the tall, handsome boy with short hair that he knew to be Cedric.
Dumbledore gave them all a kind smile. "I hope you are all prepared for this."
A few nodded. Harry simply gulped.
"Is there anyone here who has not taken a portkey?" Dumbledore asked casually, as if he were trying to strike up a conversation over dessert. No one volunteered. "Very good. Fawkes, here, is a... unique creature," he said with a twinkle in his eye.
The bird fluttered its wings for effect as it sat on Dumbledore's shoulder. Harry wondered with concern where he was going with this. Dumbledore conjured a perch in the center of the circle and Fawkes landed on it.
"While Fawkes is most definitely not a portkey, touch his tail as if he were," Dumbledore said. "Like this."
He toughed the tip of his gnarled finger to the crimson tail feather of the phoenix. Everyone else did the same, some rather reluctantly.
"All good?" he asked. "Three, two..."
Harry glanced back over his shoulder and glimpsed Severus's almost dismayed expression before he masked it for a reassuring nod. He turned back to the group as Dumbledore finished counting.
A burst of red flame enveloped the world as a warm tingling sensation spread through the finger that was touching Fawkes. It was not wholly unpleasant and was not anything like a portkey. When the warmth had spread through his arm, chest, and eventually legs, Harry began to feel almost relaxed. By the time it had touched his toes, something had changed. What was truly a normal sensation felt like cold as it seeped up from his feet, banishing the comforting warmth of moments before. Harry could feel it seeping through him and when it reached his finger, it flowed outwards and Harry could see once more.
He blinked several times, trying to regain his bearings. Harry looked up towards the sky as his vision cleared. A fiery phoenix hovered fiercely above them, burning brightly against the white background of the snowy sky. They had arrived.