Am I dreaming? Did I fall asleep here and this is just some kind of crazy vision or whatever? Harry rubbed his eyes and scrubbed away all the evidence of his recent breakdown. He hated when he cried, he had learned long ago that tears were a weakness he could not afford and that gained him nothing save ridicule and laughter. They never solved anything and in fact only made things worse. So he had stopped giving in to the urge to cry, until tonight, when all of his pent up grief over Cedric's death and his guilt over dragging the other boy into a war he couldn't win, and the fact that he would now have to return to a place he detested overwhelmed him. That was when he had run from the common room, where the Gryffinors were celebrating his victory, a victory which was now rendered hollow and bitter by Cedric's death. He had told them all he was going to bed, that he was tired, and then he had gotten his cloak and slipped away out the portrait hole and found his way here, to this quiet meadow.
He had not even known where he was going, he had simply begun running and somehow his feet had taken him here. Where he was free at last to give vent to his awful guilt and sorrow and his misery. He found the reactions of his peers, who had been shocked and horrified at first, but were now willing to put Cedric's death behind them and celebrate Harry's unexpected win, to be shallow and immature. Cedric had died, a pointless death, because Harry had insisted they share the victory. Had he simply gone alone, instead of being so bloody fair-minded, then Cedric would be alive. That weighed upon his soul and tore him apart and so he had run, seeking a place to be alone, where he could fall apart in private.
Except the meadow was not as remote as he had thought.
"Where did you come from?" he queried, his voice hoarse from sobbing.
The horse stirred not a hoof, simply snorted and looked at him.
Harry did not have any experience with horses, having grown up in a suburb, but he was almost certain no ordinary horse would stare at him so intently. Could this be a magic horse? He wished he had paid more attention in Care of Magical Creatures and had really read the material instead of half- applying himself. Then perhaps he would know what kind of horse this was, that bore a white crescent moon upon his brow. The stallion was huge, at least Harry thought so, but the big animal did not move, apparently he was less skittish than most horses. Harry had read somewhere that horses tended to startle easily at loud noises, sudden movements, and stray bits of paper. He wondered if the same held true with magical horses.
"Do you belong to someone? Have you run away?" Harry asked, keeping his voice soft and soothing.
The stallion shook his head, almost as if he were replying to the boy's questions. I belong to no one save myself, Potter. The very idea! As for running away, don't be ridiculous. There would be nowhere I could go that I could escape my vow, even if I were inclined to do so. My word is my bond and I shall keep it, no matter how difficult you make it.
Harry stared into the brilliant dark eyes and for some reason felt that the horse could understand him. There was an intelligence in the animal's eyes that told him beyond words that here was no ordinary animal. "You're beautiful, you know. I've never seen a horse like you before. I think . . .I think you must be magical."
The black horse nodded his head again. Right, Potter, and you'll never see my like again, since I am one of a kind. Brilliant deduction there! I should award you points for not being as dense as you look. But that still doesn't answer my earlier question of why you're here and not tucked up in your bed in Gryffindor Tower.
Harry sighed and ran his fingers through his perpetually messy hair. "I guess you must be a wild horse, though I didn't think any lived around here. Guess I was wrong."
The stallion gave a derisive snort. Big surprise there!
Harry rose cautiously to his feet and held out a hand for the stallion to sniff.
The black horse dipped his muzzle and blew upon the outstretched hand. No, Potter, I shall not harm you, though you sometimes make me want to strangle you. Now quit looking so awestruck, like a giddy fifth year on his first date. Selene grant me patience!
Thinking of his goddess made him wonder if she had placed Harry in his path deliberately, so he could begin trying to fulfill that last most difficult part of his vow. He tossed his head, making his long forelock fall forward to cover his crescent.
Then Harry leaned forward and brushed his fingers across his cheek for a brief instant.
Moon Fire was startled, he had never let anyone touch him in this shape, and he jerked up and away, stepping back gracefully. I am no ordinary horse, you fool boy! Do not treat me like one.
Harry held up his hands. "Sorry. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you." He shook his head in disgust. "Figures, I can't even make friends with a horse, I'm such a dunce. Lately, all I manage to do was screw up royally."
Moon Fire was startled by the boy's honesty, and so he stayed, watching the youngster and trying to figure him out. It was clear something was bothering the boy and he needed to figure out what it was. He was also surprised that Potter hadn't confided in one of his little pals before this instead of running out here to fall to pieces all alone.
Harry did not attempt to touch him again, though he flashed the horse a look of longing before sitting back down on the grass, his knees drawn up, his green eyes haunted and woeful. "You're lucky you're a horse, at least you don't have to worry about getting people killed."
Ah, so that's part of it, Moon Fire thought. Grief and guilt, a volatile combination if ever there was one. He knew that better than any, who had borne more than his share of such burdens, especially over this one's mother.
Suddenly, his acute hearing caught the sound of feet moving up the path and he wheeled and bolted into the trees, not wishing to be seen.
"Wait!" Harry called, feeling oddly bereft. "Don't go! I won't hurt you!"
"Harry? Who are you talking to?" came Hermione's voice from out of the shadows.
"Hermione! What . . .what are you doing here?" he exclaimed.
"Looking for you," she answered, holding a spare bit of parchment in her hand. She drew her wand and tapped the parchment, saying, "Mischief managed."
"You used the map to find me?"
"Yes. I was worried, Harry, when I couldn't find you after the party and you'd said you were going to sleep. I'm sorry I went through your trunk, but I just had to find you and make sure you were okay." She hung her head guiltily, chewing on a fingernail. "Are you?"
"I'm fine. It's just . . .I kind of got annoyed, that practically the whole tower was celebrating when Cedric . . .had passed on. It just seemed so . . .rude and unfeeling. I just couldn't take it anymore so I came here. Sorry for making you worry."
"It's okay. You're under a lot of stress, what with You-Know-Who returning and all." She moved to sit next to him, and put her arm about him.
Harry leaned into her embrace. He had loved her long ago, but never dared to admit it—until now. They were almost a date and her concern warmed him to the core of his being, which had become frozen with shock and hard with anger.
"I know," Hermione said sympathetically. "I felt bad too, but I think . . .I think it was easier for them to celebrate the fact that you win the tournament instead of focusing on what it cost."
Harry made a derisive noise. "That's just plain stupid, 'Mione! You can't just pretend it never happened! Cedric is dead! He'll never come home again, never grow old, never finish school. He never even got to say goodbye to his family. And he was killed because of me!"
"No! Don't say that, Harry! Don't!" Her arms were about him then, holding him.
"Why not? It's the truth. I was the one who allowed him to touch the Goblet and because of it, we were taken to Voldemort and he . . .ordered Cedric killed because he was in the way. Or maybe it was a warning to me." His voice was thick with shame and unshed tears.
"Harry, please listen to me. It wasn't your fault Cedric was killed. They're evil people, they . . .they live for that kind of thing. They're like . . .like terrorists who hijack an airplane and crash it. I'm sorry Cedric died, I wish it never happened, but don't blame yourself. Cedric . . .wouldn't want that."
But her words fell on deaf ears. Harry was no longer listening, his mind was back in the graveyard, seeing the headstone labeled Tom Riddle, hearing Voldemort's soft mocking laughter and hissing order to Wormtail, "Kill the spare!" And then came the terrible flash of green light and Cedric was falling, a look of astonished disbelief upon his face. Falling to land lifeless at Harry's feet, his eyes open and staring at him accusingly.
There must have been something I could have done. Something. His mind spun in circles, like a rat running in a wheel, around and around, to no purpose.
"Harry? Are you listening to me?" Hermione shook his shoulder.
No, but I am, thought the dark stallion, who was standing a few feet away, concealed in a large patch of shadow beneath the trees. The two could not see him, but he could see—and more importantly hear—all they said and did. You surprise me, Miss Granger. It would seem you are more than just a walking recitation of a textbook after all. You have insight and compassion. And you also seem to care more than a little for Potter. Much like another witch I knew. Perhaps those rumors Skeeter printed in the Prophet contained more truth than lie. I only hope he's worth it.
"Harry!" She shook his shoulder harder.
"Huh?" He snapped back to the present. "'Mione, did you say something?"
"Oh, Harry," She stroked his unruly hair. "I was just . . .maybe I shouldn't bring this up but, I was wondering, what will you do when you go home?"
He turned his head and their eyes met. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, will you tell your aunt and uncle what happened this year?"
He shook his head. "Waste of time. They don't care about anything to do with the wizarding world. Or me. I've told you that before. The only thing they care about is not having their precious "normal life" disturbed. Or Dudley inconvenienced or upset. Because the world would stop spinning if that happened."
Strange, one would think he didn't care for his relatives . . .or maybe he's just jealous of this Dudley. Moon Fire mused. Only . . .something about that conclusion didn't ring true. Potter's comment about his relatives not wanting their "normal" life disturbed brought to mind Snape's own home life, where his father had forbidden both his mother and himself to use magic about him. I want a normal boy, Eileen, not some skinny freak! The big horse shuddered, even now those words still had the power to cut and leave his spirit bleeding, and they had been spoken over twenty years ago.
Hermione was frowning, her brows drawn down over her bright brown eyes. "Harry, maybe you ought to speak with Dumbledore again. Explain to him what the situation is and maybe he'll let you stay the summer with Ron or . . .or something."
"That's useless! He only hears and sees what he wants to hear, like all the adults. He wants to believe my life's a bed of roses, just like Snape wants to believe I'm a spoiled rich brat, like my father was. The truth doesn't matter." The boy said bitterly. "No one would believe me."
"I know." He hugged her back and they remained that way for a long time, just sitting under the stars, drawing strength from each other. "I can't believe you risked detention to come and find me. Never thought I'd see the day when you broke rules."
She winced. "I . . .you were gone and I was afraid . . .something might have happened, so I just . . .I didn't even think about what trouble I'd be in, for once. All I thought about was you."
He gave her a lopsided smile. "I don't think it's worth getting detention over. If Snape ever catches us out of bed . . .he'll use us for potion ingredients probably."
Humph! Any potion that needed your body part, Potter, would be a disaster. Anyone imbibing it would probably die on the spot. Not that you don't deserve to serve detention with me for the rest of the term for being such a reckless impossible child.
Hermione was laughing softly. "Harry, really! Professor Snape is not evil, he would never harm a student."
"You just stick up for him because he's a teacher and you think teachers are perfect."
"No. I just think there's more to him than meets the eye. He's a walking contradiction, Harry."
"What do you mean?"
Moon Fire's ears twitched and he waited to hear the too-perceptive witch's theory.
"Think about it. He claims to hate you, or you thought he did, but he protected you all year long when you were getting attacked by Quirrell first year. And in second year, you learned a valuable Disarming Charm from him during the Dueling Club. Third year, he risked his neck to follow us to the Shrieking Shack and protect us from a werewolf. Why would he do all that if he were evil, or out to get you? It doesn't add up."
"Maybe he just wanted to keep me safe so he could hand me over to Voldemort." Harry said cynically.
"He could have done that first year, Harry," said Hermione exasperatedly. "But he didn't. I think you ought to give him the benefit of the doubt."
"Ha! That'll be the day! Who knows why Snape does what he does? He probably only helped me because Dumbledore told him to."
Angrily, Moon Fire slammed a hoof on the ground, but it was muffled by the wind. I am no man's puppet, Potter! Not even Albus Dumbledore's. He doesn't pull my strings the way he does everyone else's. What I do, I do for love of your mother, and for what could have been. Had I spoken up sooner long ago, things might have been different. But I was afraid, and I waited too long, and then I became a secret agent, and a spy cannot have a family, it makes one too vulnerable. Still, I might have tried, if Potter hadn't come along and ruined everything. He quivered with suppressed sorrow and need. I loved her more than my life and to this day I miss her still. No one will ever know how much.
He lowered his head, a sick feeling in his stomach, and continued watching the two.
"I don't think even Dumbledore could command him to do something he didn't wish to. He's nobody's pawn."
"Since when did you become an expert on Snape?"
"I'm not an expert, Harry. I'm just saying that he's not the greasy git who's out to get you." She shivered because the night air had turned nippy and she wasn't wearing a coat.
Harry noticed and abruptly changed the subject. He didn't want to discuss Snape, of all people. "You're cold, let's go back to the castle before you freeze. Oh, and did you ever hear of any wild horses around here?"
"Wild horses? No, as far as I know. Why?"
"Because . . .I saw one, just before you came."
"Here? What did it look like? Where did it go?" she asked eagerly.
"He was a black stallion with a crescent moon on his face. He was awesome, Mione!"
"A crescent moon?" she repeated.
"Yeah and he was like . . .kind of glowing. What's the crescent moon mean?"
"It's the symbol of Selene, the Moon Goddess, and anyone or anything bearing that mark is high in her favor. The horse could have been her avatar or familiar."
"Oh. But why come to me? I don't believe in her, or much of anything." He rose and threw the Invisibility Cloak over his shoulders and Hermione's. "Whatever he was, he's gone now. He ran away when you came and I don't think he'll be back. He's probably halfway to China by now."
You wish, Potter! I am closer than your shadow. Moon Fire whickered loudly when they vanished from view. An Invisibility Cloak! So that's the brat's secret. I should have known! His bloody father had one that he used, perhaps this is the same one. And of course he uses it first chance he gets to break school rules. Typical Potter! I've a good mind to confiscate it and prevent future mishaps.
He sprang forward, racing hard and swift over the ground, taking a small short cut that would bring him to the castle before Harry got there, just in time to catch the two impulsive Gryffindors out of bed. Perhaps giving them a much-needed talking to and a detention would soothe his raw nerves and enable him to observe Lily's son more closely, who also was more than what he seemed.
Chapter End Notes:
In this version of events, Severus never used the Invisibility Cloak in POA because he knew of a spell that did almost the same thing, so he never learned Harry had the cloak.
Hope you all liked and thanks for all the reviews. Just got back from vacation so I haven't had time to answer reviews.