The Sugar Quill
Author: Aeterna  Story: I Am With You  Chapter: Counting and Counting On
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I am With You

I Am With You

by Aeterna

 

A/N: If you haven’t read the prequel to this, You Are With Me, it isn’t a big deal if you read this story first. There isn’t any huge revelation in the prequel that you haven’t already read in HBP. But if you read this and like what you see, by all means, read You Are With Me, too!

 

~~*~*~~

Part One: Counting and Counting On

~~*~*~~

 

It has been sixteen minutes.

 

Seventeen.

 

Perhaps not an unnaturally long amount of time, but certainly Harry would come as soon as he had gotten the message?  Certainly he would have understood what it meant?  Though perhaps seventeen —

 

Eighteen

 

— minutes is, after all, not quite enough time.  Perhaps young James Peakes got held up?  Perhaps Harry got held up?  But surely he would realize —

 

Grind. Whirrrrrrrr.

 

The staircase.  He is here.

 

BANG! BANG! BANG!

 

He is angry.  He must be, as he is apparently attempting to break down my door with his bare hands.  This is an unexpected obstacle.

 

“Enter.”

 

Perhaps the anger will dissipate of its own accord once he remembers the task at hand?

 

“Well, Harry, I promised that you could come with me.”

 

He does not understand, but I should have expected as much.

 

“Come… with you…?”

 

“Only if you wish it, of course.”

 

“If I …”

 

Now he gets it.

 

“You’ve found one?  You’ve found a horcrux?”

 

“I believe so.”

 

His eyes tell me of conflict, and we must probe to the heart of it.  I allow myself into the edges of his mind, sensing a newfound excitement for the task ahead clashing with anger and… something else… an emotion I cannot quite distinguish…. Could it be fear?

 

“It is natural to be afraid.”

 

“I’m not scared!”  He tells the truth.  It appears I was wrong.  However, this bears further exploration.  “Which horcrux is it?  Where is it?”

 

“I am not sure which it is….”  I assign a portion of my mind to the task of explaining these new developments to Harry.  I’ve gone over them a substantial number of times in my own head, and they hardly require thought any more.  What’s more important is Harry’s currently agitated state.  I attempt to probe further into Harry’s mind, but it is difficult.  He seems to be in a state of shock, which has numbed all coherent thoughts.  On top of this, his anger rampages through his mind, confusing everything still further.  With some effort, I find an image of a dark figure crouched in front of a door, obviously eavesdropping… the image fades too quickly, however, and it has no discernable context.

 

My explanation comes to a close, and I focus my attention on reality once more.

 

“Harry, I promised you that you could come with me, and I stand by that promise, but it would be very wrong of me not to warn you that this will be exceedingly dangerous.”

 

“I’m coming.”

 

An admirable sentiment, but his anger still is not vanquished, nor has it remained subdued.  It resurfaces, boiling hotly as ever.  But what could have caused…?

 

“What has happened to you?”

 

“Nothing.”  He’s lying.

 

“What has upset you?”

 

“I’m not upset.”  Another lie: he needs convincing.

 

“Harry, you were never a good Occlumens —”

 

Here erupts the volcano —

 

“Snape!”

 

This again?

 

“Snape’s what happened!  He told Voldemort about the prophecy, it was him, he listened outside the door, Trelawney told me!”

 

Oh.

 

Oh, dear…

 

“When did you find out about this?”

 

“Just now!”

 

Another explosion is imminent —

 

“AND YOU LET HIM TEACH HERE AND HE TOLD VOLDEMORT TO GO AFTER MY MUM AND DAD!”

 

Grief.  The indecipherable emotion is — but I should have known.  Harry has always been one to misinterpret his grief as anger.

 

No, not always… his experience with the Mirror of Erised…

 

But all that aside, Harry stands — paces — in front of me, a young man in need of an explanation, an explanation which must be given before we depart.  I cannot risk Harry’s emotions interfering with his judgment and intuition; this task is far too dangerous.

 

“Harry, please listen to me.”

 

With some effort, Harry ceases pacing.

 

“Professor Snape made a terrible —”

 

“Don’t tell me it was a mistake, sir, he was listening at the door!”

 

“Please let me finish.”

 

Please, Harry.

 

Harry nods, but as I begin my explanation, I can see that he has lost none of his skepticism.  It is difficult to choose the correct words to explain myself.  Privacy might never have been explicitly brought up during my conversations with Severus all those years ago, but I would hardly expect Severus to approve of my disclosure of them to anyone, let alone Harry Potter.  Drawing near the end of a factual recounting of events, I begin to approach the fragile topic of Severus’ motives, but I am cut short by Harry’s laughter, cynical and bitter.  It sounds so unnatural coming out of his mouth, and I am taken aback.

 

“He hated my dad like he hated Sirius!  Haven’t you noticed, Professor, how the people Snape hates tend to end up dead?”

 

“You have no idea of the remorse Professor Snape felt when he realized how Lord Voldemort had interpreted the prophecy, Harry.  I believe it to be the greatest regret of his life and the reason that he returned —”

 

“But he’s a very good Occlumens, isn’t he, sir?  And isn’t Voldemort convinced that Snape’s on his side, even now?  Professor…” he hesitates, “how can you be sure Snape’s on our side?”

 

I am at a loss.  What can I say that wouldn’t jeopardize the trust that Severus has put in me?  Anything that I could say to convince Harry of Severus’ innocence would reveal too much.  All I can do is state my belief, and hope that Harry will accept it and move on.

 

“I am sure.  I trust Severus Snape completely.”

 

But no: I can see that he will not let this go.

 

“Well, I don’t!”  His voice rises.  “He’s up to something with Draco Malfoy right now, right under your nose, and you still —”

 

I will not be spoken to like this.

 

“We have discussed this, Harry. I have told you my views.”

 

“You’re leaving the school tonight, and I’ll bet you haven’t even considered that Snape and Malfoy might decide to —”

 

“To what?”  I am not sure he even knows where he’s heading with this.  “What is it that you suspect them of doing, precisely?”

 

“I … they’re up to something!”  As I suspected.  “Professor Trelawney was just in the Room of Requirement, trying to hide her sherry bottles, and she heard Malfoy whooping, celebrating!  He’s trying to mend something dangerous in there and if you ask me, he’s fixed it at last and you’re about to just walk out of school without —”

 

“Enough.”  We have wasted enough time here tonight.  “Do you think that I have once left the school unprotected during my absences this year?  I have not.  Tonight, when I leave, there will again be additional protection in place.  Please do not suggest that I do not take the safety of my students seriously, Harry.”

 

“I didn’t —”  His anger begins to fade at last.

 

“I do not wish to discuss the matter any further.”  There is work to do.  “Do you wish to come with me tonight?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Very well, then: Listen.”  If he agrees to this, it may just be a minor miracle.  “I take you with me on one condition: that you obey any command I might give you at once, without question.”

 

“Of course.”

 

But he doesn’t understand, not yet.  “Be sure to understand me, Harry.  I mean that you must follow even such orders as ‘run,’ ‘hide,’ or ‘go back.’  Do I have your word?”

 

“I —” He hesitates.  “Yes, of course.”

 

We must be absolutely clear on this.  “If I tell you to hide, you will do so?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“If I tell you to flee, you will obey?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“If I tell you to leave me and save yourself, you will do as I tell you?”

 

Will you?

 

“I —”

 

I cannot blame him for being torn.  Were our places reversed, I myself would probably refuse, but I cannot risk this.  His life is more important than mine.

“Harry?”

 

Please.

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

So miracles do happen.  “Very good.  Then I wish you to go and fetch your Invisibility Cloak and meet me in the entrance hall in five minutes’ time.”

 

~~*~*~~

 

Five minutes.

 

Harry should be here at any moment, though if I know him well at all, he will be talking to Ron and Hermione, filling them in, giving them instructions.  That is to be expected, as well as admired.  Of course, at a time like this, even such an admirable quality, if time-consuming, might prove a hindrance.

 

But a hindrance to what, precisely?

 

Six minutes. He is late.

 

All things considered, what difference would it make were this expedition postponed for one day?  I know Harry’s accusations of Severus to be false, but on the other hand, I know his accusations of young Draco Malfoy to be the truth, and if it is true that Draco has finally found a way to execute whatever plans he has been formulating, should I, perhaps, remain here?  Is my school in more danger than I thought it to be?

 

Seven minutes, though I’m not sure it is doing any good to count anymore.

 

How important is it, really, to complete this task now at this moment?

 

But I know what Draco’s plans are.  He plots to kill me.  And if he succeeds?  Certainly, I am not concerned about my own death, but this task…  I was in that cave.  I felt the magic there.  Harry cannot do this alone, not yet.  I must go with him.

 

And we must go now.

 

This is more critical than saving the students right now at this moment.  This is about saving those who survive from a life under the tyranny of Lord Voldemort himself.  There is no postponing this task.

 

Quick footsteps.  Heavy breathing.  He is here.

 

I turn to him.

 

“I would like you to wear your cloak, please.”

 

Harry obeys.

 

“Very good. Shall we go?”

 

And thus, the journey begins.

 

The air is still tonight and heavy with expectation.  It tells me to stay, but I cannot.  Perhaps this is not the safest course for me to take, but not all wise actions are advisable.

 

“But what will people think when they see you leaving, Professor?”

 

“That I am off to Hogsmeade for a drink.”  It feels good to offer a simple explanation, something that is concrete fact.  I’ve grown tired of abstraction.  “I sometimes offer Rosmerta my custom, or else visit the Hog’s Head… or I appear to.  It is as good a way as any of disguising one’s true destination.”

 

“Professor, will we be Apparating?”

 

“Yes.  You can Apparate now, I believe?”

 

“Yes, but I haven’t got a license.”

 

Ah, yes, I always forget about those new Apparition laws. Of course, seeing as said laws have been in existence for around eighty years now, one can hardly call them new anymore.

 

“No matter.  I can assist you again.”

 

The conversation stops here, and I am left to my own thoughts, which have recently been tending toward regret and recognition of my own weakness.  I can no longer repress visions of Molly Weasley, glancing warily at a clock that shows her what no mother or wife should ever have to see, and of Remus Lupin, smiling serenely and self-deprecatingly as he pushes away all the people who love him most, and of Emmeline Vance, whose young life was cut short because I tried to be more omnipotent that I actually was….

 

“— and stay out!”  Rosmerta’s sharp voice wakes me from my morbid thoughts.  She seems to be having trouble with her patrons once again.  She shoots one last nasty look at the banished wizard, and then sees me.  “Oh, hello, Albus… You’re out late…”

 

“Good evening, Rosmerta, good evening… forgive me, I’m off to the Hog’s Head…. No offense, but I feel like a quieter atmosphere tonight….”

 

As I pass Rosmerta, I get a vague, unsettling feeling that something is not quite right with her.  This feeling has troubled all of my recent interactions with her.  Unfortunately, all of my recent interactions with her have also been troubled by an urgent need to attend to business elsewhere.  Such is again the case tonight.  I continue down High Street with Harry, suppressing a twinge of regret, and adding it to the ever-growing collection in the back of my mind.

 

As we approach the Hog’s Head, I consider the idea of entering, and seeing my brother.  A tentative voice in the back of my mind suggests that perhaps this might be the last time I might see him, but I ignore it.

 

“It will not be necessary for us to enter, as long as nobody sees us go… now place your hand upon my arm, Harry.  There is no need to grip too hard, I am merely guiding you.  On the count of three… One… two… three…”

 

As the darkness of Apparition engulfs us, I sense my right hand — the cursed one — attempting to part company with my body.  I force it flat against my side, struggling against the pull, and then, with the sound of crashing waves and the tang of maritime air, I find that we have reached our destination.  Looking down at my right hand, I am relieved to note that it is still intact.  It is hard to know by feeling, because most of the feeling in that hand is gone now.

 

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly, calmingly.  I have had far too many close calls with splinching of late.  However, I have been unwilling to tell anyone about it, as it would probably result in the revoking of my Apparators’ license, yet another indication of senility I would prefer not to acknowledge.

 

Dragging myself back to the task at hand, I turn to face Harry, who stares at the scene with some surprise.  “What do you think?”

 

Harry continues to survey the scene for a moment before answering.  “They brought the kids from the orphanage here?”

 

“Not here, precisely.  There is a village of sorts about halfway along the cliffs behind us.  I believe the orphans were taken there for a little sea air and a view of the waves.  No, I think it was only ever Tom Riddle and his youthful victims who visited this spot.  No Muggle could reach this rock unless they were uncommonly good mountaineers, and boats cannot approach the cliffs, the waters around them are too dangerous.  I imagine that Riddle climbed down; magic would have served him better than ropes.  And he brought two small children with him, probably for the pleasure of terrorizing them.  I think the journey alone would have done it, don’t you?”

 

Harry is silent, but the horror in his eyes as he stares at the cliffs behind us is answer enough.

 

“But his final destination — and ours — lies a little farther on. Come.”

 

With some difficulty, I lower myself over the side of the cliff, managing to catch the first of the footholds, and then the next, and the next after that. My right hand cannot grasp onto the slick, sea-soaked rock with any degree of tenacity, so I must rely mostly on my left, as usual.  This makes the climbing slow and tedious.  Above me, Harry waits patiently as I continue my cautious descent downward. 

 

At last, we reach a rock just a few feet above the roaring waves.  With the help of my lighted wand, I can see deep enough into the water to ascertain that there are no jagged rocks lurking just beneath the surface.  We should be able to jump without being impaled.

 

I turn my wand toward the face of the cliff, searching for the narrow opening I’d seen before — yes, there it is.

 

“You see?” I indicate the fissure to Harry, who observes the entrance, his features set with bold determination.

 

“You will not object to getting a little wet?”

 

“No,” is Harry’s immediate answer, his eyes focused unblinkingly on his destination.

 

I find myself smiling, confident in the knowledge that from this point on, I can count on Harry to be completely focused on this task.

 

“Then take off your Invisibility Cloak — there is no need for it now — and let us take the plunge.”

 

Now it is my turn to focus.

 

With that knowledge, I place my lit wand between my teeth and jump without looking back.

//
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