Skullduggery felt a familiar quiver run through him as he sensed Harry slip free of his body and enter the astral. The raven, perched upon the back of Snape's recliner, came instantly alert and cried, "Sev, Harry's sleepwalking again!"
Severus, who was in the middle of writing a pithy comment on a student's homework, scrawled a jagged line across the page. He snarled a swear word and vanished the mistake then set his quill down and stood. "Call Ghost," he ordered the raven, moving across the room to Harry's bedroom, where he could hear the boy banging at the door.
The Potions Master opened the door and found his ward all blank eyed and lifting a hand to pound on the door again. Severus gently caught Harry's hand and lowered it, saying softly, "Harry, it's all right. You need to go back to bed, Harry. You need sleep. Skull, can you sense him in the astral?"
"Yes, shall I go to him?"
Before Severus could answer, there came a knock at the door.
"Severus, it's me, Ghost."
Severus turned and gestured, the door opened and Ghost strode in with Shriek flapping overhead.
The shaman took in the situation in a single glance. Then he dropped bonelessly to the couch, sending his spirit soaring effortlessly into the Place Between Worlds. The tall wizard's body slumped to one side as if passed out. Shriek vanished as well, crossing over fully as only a raven could.
Harry knew he wasn't supposed to Travel without permission from Ghost or accompaniment by one of the ravens, but his sleeping self refused to stay put. Restless and anxious, it wanted to roam, and so it did, meandering in the fields and plains of the astral, figuring the longer it wandered the less chance it would have of taking the dreaded History of Magic final. It was a ridiculous resolution to the problem, eventually he would have to take the test, he had no more chance of avoiding it than a fish did of getting wet. But right then he was not thinking logically, and his subconscious thought it a perfectly valid solution.
Vaguely, Harry realized his corporeal self was also inclined to wander, but somehow that didn't seem important right then. He was so focused on avoiding the subject he detested that he was unaware of the danger that stalked him.
Suddenly, there came a low snarl from behind him, and Harry turned to see an odd creature crouching in the grass. It was about seven feet tall with silvery blue fur and the rangy body of a large cat, muscles rippling beneath the coarse fur. It had a long snout, similar to a wolf's, filled with huge fangs and it had six claws on each foot. It gave a strange high pitched whine, similar to that of a dog when it spots its quarry, which scaled upwards into an eerie laugh, like an insane person's.
Instinctively,. Harry backed away, sensing that this creature meant him harm. He wasn't positive, but suspected this vicious looking creature was the Spirit Devourer Ghost had warned him repeatedly about. Acting on instinct, Harry conjured a Shield Charm, surrounding himself with a bubble of protective energy.
The Spirit Devourer half-snarled, half-laughed and then lunged with terrifying swiftness at the vulnerable young Traveler standing at the edge of the meadow.
Harry had never seen anything, except perhaps the revenant, move as fast. One moment it was across the grassy verge, the next on top of him, clawing and gnawing at the delicate blue shield. Harry could feel the shield quivering under the relentless assault and he poured more magic into the construct.
A loud screech resonated through the air and something white smote the clawing screaming Devourer right between the shoulderblades, knocking it off balance.
"Shriek?" Harry cried, amazed at seeing the white raven here. He looked immediately for her master, since one rarely saw Shriek without Ghost being far behind.
Sure enough, the shaman stepped out of thin air, cradling his staff in one hand. Quick as lightning striking, he brought the staff to bear, and a brilliant green light shot from its tip, blasting into the Devourer and sending it flying across the meadow.
Harry watched in awe as the Devourer, fur smoking from the magical blast, got to its feet and sprang at the shaman, screaming a battle cry. He was sure it would tear Ghost apart now.
But the resourceful shaman was prepared, and brought his staff about in a circular sweep, conjuring a shield that repelled the monster with stunning force.
Knocked on its back, Shriek flew down and tred to peck out its eyes while Ghost chanted a banishing charm.
The Devourer thrashed and writhed, but Ghost's magic was too strong, and soon it had been sent far away through the ether where it wouldn't bother anyone.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief and banished his own shield charm. Then he looked at his mentor, somewhat apprehensively. Was he in trouble?
But Ghost did not look angry. He eyed Harry calmly, then said, "Let's find a better place to talk."
"Right on, brother!" Shriek exclaimed. "This place stinks of fried Devourer . . .ugh!" The white raven flew down and perched atop Ghost's staff.
Harry just nodded and came to stand beside his mentor.
Ghost took his hand and the world blurred and then they were somewhere else.
A place with trees and flowers and a stream running cool and clear through it. Ghost sat down and indicated Harry should do so also. Harry did so, then said, "I . . . I didn't even see that . . . umm . . . monster until it attacked me."
"Spirit Devourers are notorious for ambushing their prey, especially younglings like you," Ghost said calmly.
Now Harry felt very stupid. "I'm sorry. I don't even know how I got here. I fell asleep and then . . ."
"What were you feeling before you went to sleep?" Ghost queried gently. "Were you feeling anxious? Upset?"
Harry tried to think about it. "Umm . . . I was kind of . . . nervous I guess. I hate studying for History of Magic, it's so bloody boring. But my uncle insisted and so . . . I made myself."
"I see. Were you worried about the mark you might get?"
Harry nodded. "Yeah. I don't want to fail, then Uncle Sev will be disappointed and mad at me. But I just feel like studying for it's a waste of time. So I guess I just . . . ran away from it."
"Yes, I'd say so," agreed the shaman. "Have you ever considered talking about it with Severus?"
Harry heaved a long suffering sigh. "Well, no. 'Cause he'd just tell me I have to learn it and that's that."
Ghost raised an eyebrow. "I mean, not complaining about the work, but asking him for help." He doubted if Severus, no matter how strict he might seem, would refuse to help his ward.
"Umm . . . no."
"Perhaps that would be a better alternative than taking a stroll through the astral?" the shaman reproved.
"Yeah. But I don't know how to stop myself from doing it."
"I do. I can set a few mind blocks, so you can't access the Place Between Worlds . . . temporarily."
"Oh. I guess that would be all right. Ghost, how did you defeat that thing?"
"A Devourer is easily distracted, and that one was only paying attention to you. It only paid attention to me when I hurt it."
"And me too!" Shriek reminded.
"You too, my fine warrior," agreed Ghost, ruffling her ivory feathers. He looked back at Harry. "What happened to making yourself disappear?"
"I forgot," he admitted, flushing.
"We'll have to practice that some more," his teacher said. "But for now, you need to be getting on back to bed. You're losing sleep."
"I am? But isn't my body resting?"
Ghost shook his head. "No. It's sleepwalking. Shriek, go back and tell Severus to make Harry's body go back to bed. I want him there before I let his spirit return."
"At once, O Great One," Shriek, said, giving her master a mock bow before vanishing.
Ghost and Harry waited several long moments before Shriek returned and said it was done.
"Come along, Harry," Ghost urged, taking Harry's hand and starting to walk forward. "Concentrate on your body."
Harry did and before he could say Snitch he was back in his body, lying on his bed. He opened his eyes to find Severus, Skull, and Ghost standing at his bedside.
Severus put a cool hand on his forehead, looking relieved. Then he murmured, "Harry, go to sleep. You're safe now."
Harry gave his guardian a small smile and whispered, "Night, Uncle Sev," before shutting his eyes.
He heard Ghost chanting something in his native tongue, then felt a sweet warmth settle over him. Before he realized it, he had fallen asleep.
The two sorcerers made their way out of the room, leaving a small lamp on.
"What was that you cast on him?" queried Severus. "A Sleeping Charm?"
"No. It was a charm to prevent him from accessing the astral in his sleeping state," Ghost replied. "It does, however, tend to make one sleepy." He moved over to sit on the couch.
Severus summoned two cups of herbal tea and offered one to the shaman, who took it gratefully. "Did he say what triggered this episode?"
"I believe his sleepwalking is caused by anxiety." Ghost began. "His subconscious mind reacts to stress by attempting to flee from it."
"Anxiety?" Severus repeated. Harry had never struck him as the nervous type.
"It has to do with what caused him to Travel in the first place. When he first did it, he was seeking an escape from his evil godmother. The second time he did so he was trying to reach you. Both times he was under a good deal of stress and anxiety, and so his subconscious mind now associates anxiety with Traveling. Thus, the sleepwalking and Traveling episodes."
Severus frowned. "When you put it that way . . . it makes sense. Did he tell you why he Traveled this time?"
"Yes. He mentioned his loathing of a certain subject—History of Magic. He was nervous he wouldn't be able to learn the material and would fail the exam, which would make you angry with him."
"Well, I would be upset, naturally, but I would never . . . hurt him over a bad mark," Severus said, sounding hurt. "Surely he doesn't think I would!" Did Harry trust him so little, after all this time?
"I don't know. All I know is that he was anxious, and when I asked him if he ever thought about going to you for help, he said no."
"He could come to me anytime, Ghost!" objected Severus.
"You know that, and I know that, but Harry doesn't. Or he's forgotten," Ghost added after seeing the hurt look in the other's eyes. "Maybe you should talk to him about it tomorrow. Knowing he can come to you for help might ease his anxiety a great deal. I'll work with him some more tomorrow on his masking technique."
"I will speak to him about it first thing tomorrow," Severus said firmly. The last thing he wanted Harry to think was that he couldn't come to his guardian if he needed help. "Thank you for bringing him back."
"No thanks are necessary, Severus. It's what I'm here for," Ghost said modestly. He tapped his finger thoughtfully alongside his nose. "Please, forgive me my insatiable curiosity, but I can't help wondering why you didn't just adopt the boy instead of becoming his guardian?"
Severus looked slightly uncomfortable, and Ghost bit his lip. "Forgive me, I should mind my own business . . ."
"No, it's a fair question," Severus found himself saying. Oddly enough, he didn't feel awkward telling the shaman about his past, perhaps because he sensed the other man would not judge him for mistakes he'd made as a young man. "My situation is a unique one . . . I once was a spy for Albus Dumbledore, though before that I almost succumbed to the false promises of the fiend you know as Voldemort . . ."
Ghost listened without interruption to Severus' story, his face impassive.
" . . . and so, I had a hard enough time getting people to accept me as Potter's legal guardian, never mind his adoptive father. I also didn't want to push him into anything. The guardianship seemed enough, and I wasn't sure I was equal even to that, never mind a true adoption."
"Now I feel . . .as though I could be a decent parent. If he'll have me."
"He admires you greatly, you know," Ghost said. "From what I've seen, he cares about your opinion a good deal. Among my people, an adopted child is treated the same as a blood relation once the ceremony is completed. And many a shaman has adopted an orphaned apprentice. Family is very important to the Mesquakie, we don't believe anyone should be without one. A person without family is a lost one indeed, and so we do everything we can to give a person back what he or she lost."
"A noble sentiment."
"And a necessary one. You and Harry, forgive me for being so bold, belong together. You both need each other. Now that you no longer need to fear Voldemort, I recommend you consider adopting him, Severus. It'll grant him a sense of permanency which he badly needs."
"You're right, Ghost. But he needs to agree to it."
"Is there a reason you think he won't?"
"Perhaps. I can never be like his real father."
"True, but since the kid never knew his real dad, I doubt he'll be comparing the two of you much."
Severus supposed that made sense, but he was still nervous. Adoption was a big step for both of them. He already regarded Harry as his son, so did he need to make it official? Was Ghost right, and would Harry feel more like a part of a family if he did so? He knew the only way to get an answer to his questions was to ask Harry. If only he didn't feel so vulnerable! Had it been anyone else, he would have rolled his eyes at getting all worked up over the opinion of an eleven year old boy. He was thirty-two, for Merlin's sake, not fifteen! Yet he still feared Harry's rejection, despite everything.
"Don't worry, Sev," Skullduggery broke in from where he was perched on the couch back, cuddling next to Shriek, who was asleep with her head tucked beneath her wing. "Ghost is right. Harry loves you. He would consider it an honor to be adopted into your family."
"Do you truly think so, Skullduggery?" Severus asked softly, hesitantly.
The raven bobbed his head in an affirmative. "Yes, Sev. But don't take my word for it. Ask Harry. Then you'll see I'm right . . . as usual." Skull began to preen himself.
"Vain bird!" Severus mock-scolded. "I suppose that's the only answer. It appears we'll be having quite the discussion tomorrow."
"I can't wait to hear it!" Skull chirruped, his black eyes gleaming. "I just love a good heart-to-heart talk between fathers and sons, don't you?"
"Whoever said you'd be invited to hear it?" Severus demanded.
"Of course I'm invited to hear it!" Skull said indignantly. "I'm your familiar, we share everything."
"Right," Severus snorted.
"You'll have to tell me how it went," Ghost said teasingly, his eyes dancing with suppressed merriment.
"The both of you are worse gossips than teenage girls!" Severus scowled.
Both raven and shaman chuckled, neither of them dismayed by Snape's label.
Severus bit back a groan. "Very well. You can listen, Skullduggery, as long as you give your word not to repeat anything to anyone save Ghost."
"But . . . but . . . Severus!"
The raven heaved a tortured sigh. "Spoilsport! Agreed!"
Severus relaxed a bit. At least if the talk didn't go well, he wouldn't be the subject of pitying or sneering glances.
Ghost yawned. "Well, I'm off to bed. I'll see you in the morning, Severus." He gently placed his empty mug on the table before rising and lifting Shriek onto his wrist. Cradling the white raven to his chest, he quietly made his way out of the room, leaving Severus alone to ponder the wisdom of asking Harry to be his adopted son.
A/N: First, I'd like to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans.
Second, should Sev adopt Harry?
Third, sorry this took so long to update, but I've been having more eye trouble and have recenltly learned as of two days ago that I have type 2 diabetes. Hopefully it will correct itself once I'm on meds. Please review so I know you're still reading. Thanks!