The chill of late November brought a new excitement to the air as the Quidditch season had officially started. Only a few people seemed immune. Severus himself showed no outward love of the sport even though he made sure to rub it in Minerva's face about how the Gryffindor team could never win without a decent seeker. Yet that wasn't what was bothering him. It was two of his students, two of his Slytherins. Something seemed to be very wrong and yet they hadn't come to him for help. True, in the beginning he hadn't been making any effort to give them a reason to trust him but he had been trying lately.
He was also ashamed that he hadn't notice the signs right away, he was supposed to protect his Slytherins and help them when they were in need. With these two he seemed to have failed miserably. Harry and Blaise usually held themselves slightly aloof from others, something that wasn't all that unusual among the Slytherins, but gradually he had noticed that they were becoming even more reclusive. It had really hit home that something was wrong with them as he watched over them during the Quidditch game. It had to have been the first time they had ever watched the amazing and fast paced sport, but they hadn't seemed to take any of it in. Instead that had sat with their heads bowed close together, occasionally exchanging a few words and making discreet gestures that would have went unnoticed by most.
Thinking back on it Severus realized that the signs had been adding up ever since the beginning of the month. Their quality of class work had remained the same but it was as if they were doing things absently. Watching them train had also been different. Their sparring matches had almost seemed-fiercer somehow, as if they were trying to fight to forget or ignore something. Their jogs had also grown longer as they tried to push themselves to limits even he could tell were beyond their reach. If he hadn't been watching over them and made it a priority to try and understand them he would have never noticed anything that went beyond their well-cultivated masks. It was time for him to act like the head of house the rest of the Slytherins knew him to be and get himself involved in the affairs of his two most enigmatic students.
~~ ~~ ~*~
The Quidditch match was over and Slytherin had won but neither Harry nor Blaise really cared at this moment. They were too worried about their fathers and both were ready to come up with some half-cocked scheme and go find them, consequences be damned. The two weeks had passed and no mail had come from Trevor or Manuel, but they hadn't panicked right away. They knew that things didn't always go according to plan and had given it a few more days, but still no mail had arrived from their dads. Now three-almost four-weeks had passed and there still was no word, a thing that was worrying the two to no end. When their fathers said they would contact them in two weeks they did, give or take a few days. The worse thing for Harry and Blaise was that they had no way of contacting anyone back home and the guards had no way of contacting them. None of the other guards knew anything of the wizarding world to their knowledge and there were no telephones in Hogwarts, no electricity whatsoever. Suddenly Blaise spoke up voicing a thought that Harry hadn't wanted to acknowledge that he had also been dwelling on.
"What if there is no one left? What if we have no home and no fathers left to go home to?"
"Stop it!" Harry whirled on Blaise, fear and anger lending a harsh edge to his tone as he tried to suppress his own vivid imagination "don't even think that! Don't say it! Nothing has happened to them, they're better than that, they just lost track of time or Trevor can't find his owl so he can't send mail since Ciara is here with us..."
Harry couldn't go on and gazed downcast at the ground while pulling Blaise into a comforting hug, ashamed of his fearful outburst that had only succeeded in scaring both of them even more.
"I'm sorry Blaise, I just feel so helpless here. Any other time we would be with them, we would know what is going on."
That was how Severus found them after the match and it only confirmed that fact that he knew something was really wrong with Harry and Blaise. Even though they were away from most of the other students it was an uncharacteristic display of emotion he saw in the two. Sure they laughed and smiled, and their feelings of friendship for each other were apparent most of the time, but those were only surface emotion. Yet here they were, out in the open, desperately holding onto each other for comfort.
"Mr. Potter, Ms. Zabini" he said in soft tones that drew the two apart and regretfully brought their masks back up "may I have a word in my office, please."
Nodding the two followed him back into the castle and through the labyrinth of the dungeons until they reached his personal office.
Inside the surprisingly comfortable office their head of house started a fire in the fireplace and motioned them into two soft leather chairs around a table while he called to a house-elf for tea before taking the third chair. Both Harry and Blaise had a feeling they knew what this was about and with a shared glance decided to confide to an extent in their head of house as they knew they should be able to. Both of them were out of ideas on what they could do in their situation, but perhaps Professor Snape could help them.
Severus had caught the glance and took the initiative "I can tell that there is something wrong and would like to ask if there is anyway I can help? As I said in the beginning of the year my door is always open to a Slytherin in need."
Blaise began "we're worried about our fathers. We haven't heard anything from them for weeks."
Harry took over then as Blaise seemed unable or unwilling to continue "we received a letter from them Halloween night telling us that they would be out of contact for two weeks. We haven't heard from them since and when they say two weeks it means two weeks, this isn't like them to not get in touch with us. Something's wrong, we know it, and yet there is nothing we can do."
Severus looked at Harry and Blaise with growing compassion. He now knew he could no longer cling to even the smallest thread of thought that Harry was in any way like James Potter. James Potter wouldn't have cared about such things, only how it ruined his fun. He now also had a name for the hooded emotion he could see in the children's eyes: helplessness. It was the same emotion he had felt during Death Eater meetings when he had watched innocents get tortured or had been unable to prevent an attack.
"Do you still have the letter from your fathers" Severus couldn't help but ask.
Harry shook his head, he had burned it not long after reading it and even if he still had it he didn't think he would show it to Snape; there were still some secrets to be protected after all, and their childhood was one of them.
Severus sat back with a sigh "there's not much we can do unless you know of someone you can contact though I suspect you would have done so already if there was. If you haven't heard anything from them by the time Christmas holidays are here than I will leave the school with you to help. Until then all our hands are tied unless you wish to involve the Headmaster?"
Naturally Harry and Blaise declined going to the Headmaster with their troubles, but accepted the help of their head of house. They finished their tea in silence and the duo stood to leave, Harry holding out his hand to their head of house. It seemed to Severus as if the boy had found an inner well of strength to draw from now that they had a vague course of action to fall back on should their fathers not show up before the holidays.
"Thank you professor" Harry said gravely as they shook hands "we'll see you tomorrow morning during training, but right now I think there is a party in the common room that we should get to."
~~ ~~ ~*~
Severus did join Harry and Blaise the next morning during their training session, taking the comment the night before as a hinted invitation. In all his morning runs he had yet to enter the secluded grove where the two practiced and was surprise when he got there a little after dawn to see them already warmed up and hard at training. Blaise was at one end of the grove using a stout stick as a staff and working her way through a series of moves, occasionally using a tree as an opponent for blocks. Harry on the other hand was using a tree as a target and throwing knives at it. He watched in surprise as Harry cursed when he missed the spot he was aiming for yet again and after gathering his knives turned and noticed him standing there. He had never thought they would be doing such things in training and had also never seen the boy swear as a result of frustration; usually Harry kept up a blank faÃ§ade and went on as if nothing was wrong.
Casually Harry walked over to Blaise and tapped her on the shoulder even as he instinctively ducked the swing she made at him with her makeshift staff.
"We have company" he whispered before moving to greet Snape.
"Good morning professor" both students chimed together before Harry took over "we saw you practicing the martial arts a while back and though you seemed a bit rusty we can tell that when you have practiced a bit you will be a lot better than us. Quite frankly we need someone to help us train more and push us to our limits without allowing us to overdo it. So if we help you get back in shape, will you help us further our training while we are here at school?"
Severus looked hard at the two in front of him. The offer was decidedly Slytherin, but all three of them knew that he could get them in trouble if he desired to. Yet they also knew that he was trying to gain their trust. And if he took the offer none of them lost anything but they did all gain something in return.
Slowly he extended his hand as Harry had done to him the night before "we have ourselves an arrangement."
They spent the next half hour or so limbering up before Harry engaged Severus in a brief sparring round. Severus had the advantage of height, weight, strength, and experience on Harry but he was out of practice. Harry on the other hand was in top form and had been taught how to use an opponent's strengths against them, he was also light and fast on his feet. So it was during a tricky move that had Severus thinking he had managed to pin the younger Slytherin that Harry brought an end to the sparring match. He quite literally swept his head of house off of his feet. Severus accepted the offered hands up and shook his head at being beaten by an eleven year old before the trio fell into an easy jog that took them about the lake. Breakfast would be starting soon and they would all have to shower after their workouts but no of them wanted to end their training session without a jog to help stretch tense muscles.
~~ ~~ ~*~
Days passed and soon an early snowfall was covering the grounds of Hogwarts, forcing Harry and Blaise to do their training indoors once again except this time they were using a room in the dungeons that Snape had set up specifically for this reason. They had fallen into an easy routine and a simple trust had built between the three Slytherins. Severus didn't ask Harry and Blaise questions that didn't concern him and if they needed someone to talk to they came to him. Yet for all their training together Harry and Blaise still walked the Path alone. Harry had tried to follow the magic of Hogwarts to the outside world as he had unwittingly done a few times before in search of his father, but the more he tried the more elusive the magic was until he finally stopped trying and did the routine in a light trance as he had done when at home.
But the increasing snowfalls also brought miracles and hope as during the morning mail a weather battered owl flew crazily in with the rest and crash landed in front of Harry and Blaise. One look at the writing on the letter and they threw Slytherin decorum out the window and grabbed up the message, leaving the owl to recuperate, as they raced out of the Great Hall. The Slytherin table was buzzing with speculation over the letter that had caused such a reaction in two of their most stoic housemates; Dumbledore was frowning slightly and thinking that this might be a chance for him to try and find out more about Harry when Snape swept from the hall after the two. If Severus had looked back he would have seen Dumbledore lean back in his chair, eyes twinkling in satisfaction. He would also know that the wily manipulator would be planning to try and exploit any information he could gain from the growing trust being forged between Harry, Blaise, and himself. But Severus didn't look back as he made his way to the training room where he knew the two Slytherins had headed with their letter.
And Severus did indeed find them in the training room, hugging each other happily with big smiles on their faces. It was the freest he had ever seen them be with their emotions except for the one time after the Quidditch game, and at his questioning look Harry handed him the letter.
Harry and Blaise, we are home and safe now. Sorry if you were worried. We will see you soon when you come home for the Christmas Holidays and we'll explain then. Love your dads, Manuel and Trevor
It was a short and to the point note, much like Severus imagined the first one to be, but he understood how to Harry and Blaise this simple missive was worth more than a three page letter explaining everything. They knew their fathers were alive and they would see them soon, and to them that was the only thing that mattered at this moment in time.
Harry and Blaise stepped off the train at platform 9 Â¾, their luggage floating behind them as they scanned the teeming mass of humanity that had turned out to collect whatever child belonged to them.
"Harry" Manuel's strong and sure voice rang out over the cacophony of noise to be followed by Trevor's call of "Blaise!"
Neither could repress their grins as they squeezed their way through the throng of people toward their fathers so that they could be wrapped up in warm hugs, though Harry couldn't help but notice the fact that his father's greeting was one armed thanks to the other being in a sling.
"Let's get out of here" Manuel said after a moment, knowing that the children desired answers "we have some catching up to do and this isn't the place."
The ride home was a silent one as well, the two guards that had been waiting outside the station with the cars especially tense and ever more vigilant than usual. It seemed that no chances were being taken as they took many turns on a roundabout way home, stretching a simple trip out into one that was over three hours long to make sure that no one was pursuing them. Trevor had also discretely checked both Harry and Blaise for any form of tracking or detection charms, magical and muggle, before they had left the station. So it was that the group happily pulled up in front of the Darkov mansion and made their way inside the safe haven they called home.
~~ ~~ ~*~
Dumbledore slumped back in his chair just after one of his ex-students left his office, the girl was currently in Auror training and he had asked her to unofficially follow Harry Potter to 'make sure he got home safely.' He had wanted to send Severus but knew that it would be suspicious if the man was spotted by his quarry, he also didn't want to ruin the little trust Severus seemed to have gained with Harry and Blaise. Severus may not have been able to find out much about them yet but given time the spy would prove his usefulness. The girl had almost lost Harry and Blaise in the crowd of Platform 9 Â¾ but had managed to tag them again in the main part of the station. She had lost them again once they had gotten into a car but fell back onto the contingency plan they had devised only to find out that the tracking charms had been disabled. She also hadn't been able to give a clear description of the men who had picked up Mr. Potter and Ms. Zabini. Tracking the duo had turned out to be a failure but he had assured the young Auror-to-be that she had done everything that she could have done and sent her home.
Albus sighed and turned to Fawkes "it seems they aren't going to make this easy for me and the wizarding world cannot afford to lose Harry Potter."
~~ ~~ ~*~
An hour later found that Manuel, Trevor, Harry, and Blaise had gathered into Manuel's study and were lounging in their usual spots. They went through the usual routine any parent subjected a child to once seeing them after school: how has school been, what are your grades like, have you gotten into any trouble? Then came the questions normal parents didn't ask: have you been training, is anyone an immediate threat to you, have you been forced to use your weapons any? Harry and Blaise decided that it would be easier to just tell their fathers what happened instead of trying to answer every question individually so they started by detailing their thoughts and impressions gathered from the train ride and their sorting up until Dumbledore's greet-the-holiday speech before sending the students going home to the train. After that it was time for their interrogation of their father's to begin.
"What happened to your arm dad" Harry asked, turning their conversation to more serious matters.
Manuel sighed and glanced at Trevor.
"As you know we sent you a letter detailing Code Black and hinted that we were heading to New York. There had been a security breach in one of the labs there and Trevor and I felt that we had to go personally to straighten out the resulting mess. The breach came from the inside and it didn't take us long to get to the bottom of things. Unfortunately the organization working against us was larger than we expected and one slight misstep had us captured."
Trevor decided to take over the story then "we were exposed to the royal treatment of blindfolds, gags, and cuffs before being thrown in the back of a van and taken to Merlin knows where. They didn't even have the decency to give us one of the more deluxe cells and they must not know that torturing powerful guests is really not the mark of a good host. They broke Manuel's arm and my ribs, they were the most serious among a bunch of other milder injuries, but we're fine now. It just took a while for the men to get in there but we wiped the bastards out after they did. Only a few stragglers are left of the organization and we have the Daggers after them."
Harry closed his eyes but could still see the tears in Blaise's eyes as her father held her gently to him. If Trevor was trying to act flippant about this whole ordeal then things had been much worse than they were letting on and for the Daggers to be out after the few that had managed to escape-the Daggers weren't deployed lightly, they were the top assassins working under Manuel and they weren't set out on petty clean-up jobs. But dinner was about to begin soon and the time for talk was over. Harry just took the time to ask one last question of his father as they both parted ways to clean up for the upcoming meal.
"Why the Daggers?" Manuel leveled his dark gaze at Harry and told his son the truth "the stuff they got from the lab can be replaced and updated, the wounds Trevor and I suffered will heal, but those bastards threatened you and Blaise. Not even Hell will dare have mercy on them."
Harry bowed his head; there would be no more discussion on this topic even though it upset him that he was his father's greatest weakness. He had learned long ago that no one ever threatened his safety and got away with it, not with Manuel Darkov as his father.
~~ ~~ ~*~
By Christmas Eve a powdery layer of snow had arrived to cover the grounds of the Darkov Estate and everyone took advantage of it. The guards acted like kids and attacked each other in flurries of snowballs. They raced horses through the downy powder when it was safe to do so without worrying about injuring the horses, the white flakes flying with each heavy hoof-fall. And when they were done fooling around outside there were warm fires inside and plenty of hot cocoa, tea, and coffee to go around. It was a cheerfully tired group that went to bed that evening and Harry felt sorry for those that had to stay awake that night for guard duty.
Early the next morning found Manuel groaning in exasperation and exhaustion as soft footfalls made their way across the floor of his room. One would think that after eleven years of being a father he would finally be used to being woken up early on Christmas morning when he would rather sleep in. Experimentally he cracked open an eye to be greeted with the smiling face of his son.
"Half an hour more" he pleaded quietly to the youth while holding open his covers in invitation to be rewarded when Harry settled into bed next to him.
He was glad that Harry had acquiesced so easily, he didn't want to know what tricks his son now had up his sleeves after almost four months at a school of magic.
They were both woken again a bit later by a sharp 'tap tap tap' sound. Manuel looked around for the source of the disturbance even as his grip tightened on the gun under his pillow and his free arm pulled a wriggling Harry closer to him in a protective gesture. But Harry easily recognized what the noise was and confirmed it by spotting an impatient looking owl at the window.
"It's okay dad" Harry pointed out the disgruntled owl perched on the window sill "it's just owl post."
Manuel relaxed and allowed Harry up to let the bird in but the haughty creature merely shoved the package at Harry and immediately flew away once relieved of its burden.
Surprisingly the package was from the twins and Harry was glad that he had thought to send them some muggle prank items. Grinning he opened the parcel to find that he had also been sent some prank items with a note on top and remembered when he and Blaise had revealed themselves as Hogwarts newest pranksters to Fred and George a few weeks ago. They had been a bit peeved to know that they had been blamed for at least two of the duo's pranks but also agreed that they were obvious suspects for the teachers. Together the four had become good friends and sometimes combined pranks, Lee Jordan occasionally helping out though Harry and Blaise didn't know him too well. Needless to say most of their housemates weren't too fond of this friendship that broke the bounds of house rivalries, especially since Harry and Blaise still weren't trying to make many friends within Slytherin.
Our Dear Harry and Blaise if you're there,
We would like to wish you a very merry Christmas and a prankful holiday. We know you will put this gift to good use. Mum also insisted, more like demanded, upon sending you Weasley sweaters and Fudge (the candy, not the git Minister). Ickle Ronnikins was disgusted since you are Slytherins, so wear them proudly. And excuse the attitude of the bloody owl, we stole him from Percy, and they insist upon acting alike.
Gred and Forge
Digging a bit deeper beyond the initial layer of pranks Harry found the fudge and sweaters. One was a dark smoky grey, which he took to be his, with a silver and green serpent poised to strike and the other was a forest green color with silver colored vines twining into a S. It seemed that Mrs. Weasley was very talented with a pair of knitting needles. He would definitely have to send her a thank you card.
"I'm going to take this to Blaise" Harry grinned at his father, the joy of Christmas in his eyes "and then it's downstairs for presents."
Manuel found it funny that during the holidays even the most disciplined of his men could lose their hardened demeanor as they tore into presents. It was as if the child in them had finally found the outlet it needed after spending most of the year being faced with the serious nature of their line of work. It was also a bit surprising to see some of the gifts they exchanged with each other. Quite often they gave each other weapons or electronic devices, but the best presents seemed to be the gag gifts or childish presents they exchanged. The strangest game he had ever seen played was when a few of the men had combined their presents to turn a simple game of Mouse Trap into a war zone after they somehow combined it with the game of Clue and some miniature army men. For some reason he was thinking that in the end it was a red mouse that killed Colonel Mustard in the trap with a piece of cheese while smoking the lead pipe, only to be assassinated by the army men who revolted and claimed Miss Scarlet as the spoils of war because the ghost of Mr. Boddy told them to.
Then of course there had been the one year when a spy had managed to get onto the grounds, relying on a freak snowstorm to cover his tracks. The storm had shut down power to the house and left them running on the barest of security in order to stretch out the use of the generators as they didn't know how long they would be without their main power supply. The unlucky men on duty who had spotted the spy had decided to forego using their freezing guns and had attacked the man with snowballs and ice-sickles instead. At first it had been fun and play until one of their own took a bullet from the intruder's gun; the sounds of return fire had filled the air then and hot, red blood had splashed everywhere to steam gently in the falling snow. Manuel shook his head at remembering that one; they had definitely had some strange holidays around here, especially when you took in the diversity of the men's beliefs. In the end many in the household had adopted a variety of beliefs and mixed them all together to form a new way of spending the holidays.
A gagging sound pulled him from his musings.
"What the fuck was that!?"
One of the men had spat out what looked like a half-regurgitated jelly bean and was now looking suspiciously at a box of Jelly Bellys "it tasted like pickled slugs."
"Watch your language" one of the guards shouted playfully from across the room "there are little ears in here!"
Harry and Blaise looked offended for a moment before someone else added "yeah Trevor, cover your ears so you don't pick up any bad words."
Trevor flicked them off as a few others looked at the first man oddly and one dared ask "how the hell do you know what pickled slugs taste like?"
Manuel looked over at Harry and Blaise who were laughing quietly and watching as pillows and wrapping paper flew across the room between a few of the men as they teased the one about eating pickled slugs. It seemed that even Trevor couldn't help but smile; only those two would have mixed in Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans with innocent Jelly Bellys. Manuel shuddered remembering his first run in with the wizarding candy; he should have paid heed to the warning on the box and realized that when it said every flavor bean they meant every flavor.
"You do know that since the cleaning staff has the day off you guys are going to have to clean up your own mess don't you" Manuel dared to tell everyone only to find himself being pelted with wadded up wrapping paper as everyone turned on him.
"Mutiny!" he cried with a laugh as he tried to fend off the projectiles and fling some back in return "how dare you! I am your leader!"
~~ ~~ ~*~
They were back on the Hogwarts Express and heading towards Hogwarts. Sadly the holidays were over and Harry and Blaise had to leave their father's behind once again. Blaise was reading one of the fantasy novels she had been given and Harry was idly examining the new guns that he had gotten from his father for Christmas; they were a new pair of black and silver 9mm Russian Makarovs and while they had been through the lab for minor adjustments they hadn't had to be specially designed for his size as his other weapons had. He was also much more comfortable with these guns than his others and had left his old firearms at home; they had been designed for him when he was seven and had begun to feel a bit small in his hands. The latch jiggled on the compartment door and Harry slid the guns away and pulled his wand out to cast the counter charm to the locking spell he had placed on the door, allowing Draco and Theo to walk in. For Christmas Trevor had taken the Ministry tracking spells off of his and Blaise's wands though Harry didn't understand why he hadn't done it that summer instead of making them wait. Harry could only guess that he had wanted them to learn some control at Hogwarts before setting them free with untraceable wands in a muggle household.
Harry and Blaise allowed Draco and Theo to draw them into conversation, things were much more relaxed in this informal setting without Crabbe and Goyle leering over Malfoy's shoulders, and it was time they started paying more attention to their dorm mates. The train ride passed with a surprising pleasantness as they talked about their holidays and played exploding snap while freely passing around their candy. The feast also passed with everyone in a good mood even though class were about to resume, and many were too full of holiday candy to eat much of the wonderful food spread out before them. Harry realized that even though he had been ecstatic to go home and spend time with his dad, he had also missed Hogwarts and the magic the practically crackled in the air surrounding him. He also knew that if it ever came down to a choice between Hogwarts and the Darkov mansion that he would forsake the castle for his home with his father. Contentedly he and Blaise followed the rest of the Slytherins to the dungeons that night, flashing covert smiles at the questioning look Severus gave them when they passed by. It was their way of letting him know that everything was fine now, and they were pleased if not a bit surprised to see a small smile sent back their way.