"What did you put for question four?" Ron frowned at his parchment and chewed on the end of his quill.
Harry rustled through his own pile of papers in search of the corresponding sheet. "Er," he peered closely at the scrawl to decipher his own writing. "Abysinian Shrivelfig. I put that its shrinking properties can help to reduce the potion by absorbing excess water."
"Good." Ron exclaimed in relief. "That's what I had to."
"You should add that the Shrivelfig needs to be removed before you add the elf wine." Hermione added distractedly as she wrote her own notes out for a third time.
Each boy made some grunt of thankful acknowledgement as they hastily annotated their notes with their friend's wisdom.
The Golden Trio had hidden themselves away in the Room of Requirement for their intense study session after the library had been too crowded and the common room too distracting. The Room provided plentiful snacks from the kitchens, good lighting and quiet, so was perfect for their needs and they had been happily situated there all afternoon.
"Right." Ron threw his quill down conclusively. "That's enough." He called an end to their study session, even convincing Hermione that they had done enough, and moved the three of them to a sofa area around the fireplace.
Ron and Hermione cuddled onto the two-seater sofa and chatted quietly leaving Harry to settle contentedly into an adjacent armchair. He kicked off his trainers and picked up his feet, sitting cross-legged as he closed his eyes to try some meditation.
It wasn't quite meditation he supposed, but more focusing on one's internal magic, as Snape had described it to him in their former training session. Ron and Hermione's gentle conversation meant that it wasn't as quiet as the times when he had done it with Snape, but Harry found their reassuring presence quite soothing and he seemed to manage the task as well, if not better than he had before.
Mentally, Harry reached within himself to find and amplify the buzzing sensation of his magic. The idea was that he could release the excess energy gently rather than allowing it to build up until it exploded out of him.
Exploratively, Harry tested the sensation; pulling and stretching until the feeling became more concrete within him. He could now feel, quite clearly, the magic flowing around his body and he imagined his magic riding on the tide of his blood around his circulatory system. He imagined the magic moving down his arms and into his fingers and then could feel it happening, pulsing in his fingertips. He pushed more, heightening the sensation until his hands felt like they were full of electricity, like he could start a spark from clicking his fingers. Harry rested his hands on his knees, palms up, and allowed his fingers to fall open, relaxed. He breathed in and out slowly, deeply, lungs filling to capacity and then exhaling with his whole body. He imagined the magic leaving him with every exhale, flowing from his hands in gentle waves. Somehow, he could even feel it happening, leaving him like a cool breeze.
Harry became aware, quite suddenly, that the room was too quiet. He blinked his eyes open to see that Ron and Hermione had stopped talking and were staring at him in astonishment. Harry's eyes adjusted and he could see more; could see what they were seeing, waves of indigo light rolling around the room like scarves of silk in a breeze. He had done what he had imagined. His magic was leaving him. Not in the violent pulses of energy that had escaped him when he was out of control, but released, softly, willingly, into the air in gentle streams of magic that flowed, trickled and then dissipated into nothingness.
Somewhat startled by what he had achieved, Harry's calm ended and with it the steady flow of magic ceased, settling still inside him once more.
"Bloody hell." Ron croaked as the last ripples of magic curled around them. The light diminished and the room returned to its ordinary state.
"Harry," Hermione said breathlessly. "That was…beautiful."
"It was bloody awesome." Ron raved. "I could like – feel your magic. So weird."
Hermione smacked his shoulder. "Not weird. Incredible."
"I've never seen magic like that." Harry said, still somewhat awed. "I mean, we sometimes see certain lights and colours for specific spells, but I've never seen it do that before."
"What exactly is it that you were doing?" Hermione was beyond intrigued.
"I was imagining that I could feel my magic and then allow some of it to release gently like Snape told me to do." Harry answered. "Didn't think it would actually work though."
The trio sat back quietly for a few minutes, recalling the experience and savouring the feel of it in their memories.
"So," Ron broke the silence. "Are we going to talk about whatever it is that Snape has done to you this time?"
Harry looked over at his friends and nodded reluctantly. They waited patiently while he gathered his thoughts, knowing Harry would talk to them when he was ready.
"A while ago," Harry began. "Snape was asking me about the Dursleys. He worked out, I guess, that I didn't have the best childhood and I told him a bit about what it was like there. He…wasn't happy about it" He grimaced at the memory of a furious Snape having discovered that Harry slept in a cupboard. "But we didn't really talk about it after that. I didn't want to talk about it. I thought he had let it go."
"And then?" Hermione prompted gently.
"Then I went to see Dudley." Harry continued, surprising his listeners with a jump in the story. "He said that some weird stuff had been happening to my aunt and uncle. I asked Snape and McGonagall if they thought it could be Death Eaters messing with them." A steely edge crept into his tone. "It wasn't. It was McGonagall. I'd told Snape privately and he went and told McGonagall and Kingsley and who bloody knows who else!"
"So you're pissed at Snape for talking?" Ron asked.
"Well yeah." Harry rose from his chair, frustrated and still annoyed at Snape. "He only told because he wants some kind of revenge on the Dursleys. Him and McGonagall went behind my back to ask Kingsley about ways of prosecuting them. They never spoke to me about it, they never asked me!" He paced in front of the fireplace agitatedly. "I found out after the Order meeting and me and Snape got into a big fight." He sighed. "I don't know what to do. I feel bad about the fight, but I'm still pissed off with him. Why can I never trust anyone?"
"Oh, Harry." Hermione got up and enveloped her friend in the warmest hug she could manage.
Ron stayed on the sofa, leant forward, his elbows rested on his knees. "Mate," he began cautiously once Hermione had squeezed Harry to her satisfaction. "You never really told us how things were for you at the Dursleys."
Hermione, who still had her arms around him, felt how Harry tensed at the question. He moved out of her hold and shrugged with false nonchalance. "You know most of it, really."
"I'm not sure we do, mate. We've guessed a lot. I saw some stuff, but you've never actually said what happened there."
Harry was quiet again, looking away from them. "You don't have to say if you don't want to." Hermione soothed.
It took another minute, but Harry began to talk. "Before – before I came to Hogwarts, I didn't have a bedroom." He paused to look at each of his friends, to see how it settled in. Ron looked confused, but Hermione seemed expectant, waiting for what Harry would say next. She moved to stand next to Ron, a hand on his shoulder in preparation. "I slept under the stairs."
Hermione's fingers twisted. "Under the stairs?"
"In the cupboard."
Hermione was ready. She pushed down hard with the hand on Ron's shoulder. It was the only thing that stopped her boyfriend from jumping out of his seat in furious outrage. Hermione did everything she could to not react. She kept her voice as steady as she could. "What else happened, Harry?"
Harry told them everything then. He always thought that the cupboard was the worse bit. If he could say that bit, then he could say the rest. He told them everything – more than he had told Snape. He told them about the chores and the food and how he learnt how to duck quick and run fast.
It took a little while, with some gentle prompting from Hermione, and Ron did have to get up, pacing aggressively around the room while Harry spoke. Eventually they were still again, quiet again. The three of them squeezed onto the sofa together, Hermione sandwiched between the boys. She was now satisfied that Harry had let it all out and could let herself feel the weight of everything he said. Tears slipped from her eyes silently as she held on to each boy tightly.
"I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually agree with the old bat." Ron said eventually.
Ron shifted, turning his back against the armrest so he could face Harry on the other side of Hermione. "I want to kill them, Harry. I actually want to hurt them for what they did to you. Snape was wrong to go behind your back, but I can't fault the man for wanting revenge. I reckon he knows as well as I do that you'd never demand it for yourself."
Harry received a letter from Bill Weasley, which was a nice distraction from his conversation with Ron and Hermione and his on-going conflict with Snape. Bill had been pondering Harry's questions about the wards and offered his free Saturday to come and have a look with him. Harry would have to get permission to have a visitor at the castle, of course, and though he had no doubt that Bill would be permitted, Harry didn't really want to speak with either the headmistress or her deputy.
"Just ask Charlie." Ron suggested. "He's our Head of House and he's got the authority to approve a visitor – especially his own brother."
"Brilliant." Harry agreed and had soon spoken with Professor Weasley who approved Bill's visit with very little question.
On Saturday, Bill flooed into Charlie's office and met with Harry who waited there. Together, they walked the long track down to the lake, headed to the spot where the path met the ward barrier, the place Harry had investigated the wards before.
"How have you been, Harry?" Bill asked as they wandered out past the greenhouses.
Harry glanced to his left, assessing how loaded the question was. For once Harry tried not to put his blocks up, to speak openly instead of defensively. "Okay, I guess. I did something cool with my magic the other day."
"I'm guessing you've heard about the whole 'super magic power' thing by now?"
Bill chuckled, "I had heard something on the grapevine, yeah."
Harry nodded, accepting of this undeniable fact of his life instead of frustrated. "Well, I've been working with Snape on releasing my magic slowly instead of it basically exploding out of me, and the other day I actually managed it."
"Really? That sounds awesome. I bet even Snape was impressed."
"Er," Harry grimaced. "He wasn't actually there at the time and I haven't told him about it."
Bill turned his head to look at Harry as they walked. "Why not?"
Harry's nose scrunched up. "We're not talking at the moment."
"I thought you two seemed to get on quite well at the last Order meeting. You know, as much as Snape can get on with anyone." Harry couldn't resist a slight smile at that. "So who is responsible for the lack of talk between you?"
"I guess, my fault that we're not talking and his fault that I made that decision."
"Fair enough." Bill nodded, satisfied.
They reached the spot on the other side of the lake and stopped to assess the wards. For a while Harry wasn't needed. He sat on a rock and watched Bill cast a series of investigative spells at the wards to test their strength and efficacy. Harry didn't recognise any of the spells, but he watched Bill with fascination, intently interested in the ward magic.
"Well there's nothing wrong with the wards." Bill concluded eventually, tucking his wand away. "Though they will probably need some updating soon. Why don't you show me what you saw happen with your own magic."
"Alright." Harry got up, withdrawing his wand and allowing Bill to perch on his rock. He didn't cast anything yet, instead reaching out to feel the ward with his fingers like he had before. "Do you feel wards?" He asked Bill.
"I can certainly sense them when I am close. I think I have attuned to them more over the time I have been working in curse detection." Bill's head tilted in consideration. "Do you feel them, Harry?"
The young wizard nodded. "When I touch it, it's like one of those static electricity shocks."
Harry grinned. "Story of my life, mate." He brandished his wand, "Lumos."
Harry did exactly as he had before, sending his ball of light up towards the ward dome. And just as it had before, the sphere of magic past through the ward seamlessly until it bobbed out the other side.
Bill's eyes widened and he stood slowly. He stared at the Lumos in surprise. It happened just as Harry said, but Bill couldn't have known what it was until he saw it for himself. Not that he knew what this was. He could only hypothesize.
"Can you bring it back through?" He asked Harry, who nodded and flicked his wand to call back the spell.
The glowing orb obliged and, this time, Bill watched closely how Harry's magic interacted with the Hogwarts wards. He could see now how Harry's magic seemed to seep into the very structure of the wards. The Lumos was fully part of the ward until the moment when it popped back to their side.
Harry extinguished the light. "What do you think?"
Bill scratched his stubbly chin thoughtfully. "That's not something I've seen before. It seems like your magic is being accepted by the magic of Hogwarts. Wards don't usually behave that way, but Hogwarts is more sentient than most places." He explained to Harry, who listened with interest. "You and this castle have probably gone through more than the rest of the student body. It appears as though that may have formed a kind of connection between your two magics."
"That matches how it feels." Harry agreed. "Sometimes it's like Hogwarts is reaching out to me, calling me in some way."
Bill nodded. "Let's try some other spells and experiment a bit, then we can have some lunch." He patted his pocket where a magically shrunk and preserved picnic was stored. "I stopped in at the Burrow this morning and when I told mum what I was doing today she wouldn't let me leave without whipping up a plethora of pastries and pies to 'restore our energy.'" He wriggled his fingers in the air to quote his mother.
Harry grinned. "Excellent."
In the Great Hall that lunchtime, Severus was, as always, looking for Harry Potter. He seemed to spend a disproportionate amount of his time, in fact, looking for Harry Potter. Potter didn't have to be there of course; the 8th years only had to eat dinner with the rest of the school, but it was unusual for Potter to be absent when his friends were present. Severus cast his eye over the tables for the usual suspects. The remaining two-thirds of the Golden Trio were there, plus the other parts of his loyal ministry group, Longbottom, Lovegood and, of course, the Weasley girl. Severus even located Draco's slicked platinum hair since he and Potter seemed to have formed some sort of alliance whose sole purpose was to irritate Severus. Hagrid was here so Potter wasn't having lunch in the half-giant's hut and Severus was sure that it was not Potter's scheduled weekend to visit his Godson. His friends did not seem at all concerned, which meant that Potter's mysterious absence was merely an annoying puzzle for the Deputy Professor and not an actual cause for concern.
"Alright, Severus?" Charlie asked next to him with his usual easy airs.
"Do you know where Potter is?"
"Yeah, he's down on the far side of the lake."
"He's what?" Severus hissed causing Weasley's eyes to widen in surprise. "You knew, and thought it was acceptable for him to go that close to the ward boundary unsupervised?"
"He's researching the wards – "
"I am aware of that." Severus interrupted furiously. "I specifically told him that he was not to go down there alone." Severus was quite certain Harry had done this just to contradict his instructions and when he got hold of the boy Severus would let him know just how idiotic that notion was.
"Woah!" Charlie placated as he witnessed Severus' rising anger, some of which was most certainly still directed at him. "First of all, if anyone is able to defend themselves, I'm pretty sure Harry can. And secondly, he's not alone, Bill's down there with him." Charlie watched the wind leave Severus' sails instantly. "Bill offered to look at the wards with him. Harry didn't tell you?"
"No." Severus admitted quietly. "We have not been speaking."
"Ah, which explains why Harry asked me for permission to have Bill come visit."
Snape nodded, keeping his face passive. It disappointed him how much his relationship with Potter had been damaged. Before the Order meeting, they had been getting on well, meeting regularly, and Severus had enjoyed the mentoring role Harry had allowed him to have in his life. Now, Harry would not even speak to him to make a simple request.
After lunch, Severus left the castle and made his way to the lake, ignoring the self-discipline in which he prided himself. He knew he was neither required nor wanted, but his curiosity overwhelmed him and he desired nothing more than to see what Harry and Weasley would discover. He had meant to stay back, but he was drawn in watching Harry's magic and somehow Harry seemed to have a sixth sense for when he was around.
With a start, Harry stiffened and then turned sharply. Freezing Severus in place with his piercing green eyes. Bill, following Harry's gaze, turned and saw him too.
"Hello, Professor." The eldest Weasley greeted him warmly.
"I'm not alone." Potter blurted out defensively. "Bill's here."
Severus could have rolled his eyes. Apparently Potter's propensity for stating the bleeding obvious had not diminished during their period of silence.
"Yes." He drawled slowly. "I can see that."
Bill looked between the two of them, assessing their dynamics, though he seemed unsurprised by the tension that was evident between them. "Harry has been showing me how his magic interacts with the wards." Bill explained needlessly. "Did you see?"
"I did." Severus had watched Potter and Bill levitating rocks up to the wards. Bill's had gone no further than the invisible shield but Potter's had happily floated through the barrier and out the other side. "And what have you concluded?"
"I think that Harry's magic has made a connection with Hogwarts." Bill theorized. "When Harry's magic makes contact, the wards accept the magic and it becomes briefly part of the ward magic until it has passed through."
Severus nodded thoughtfully. It certainly fit with what he had seen, though it didn't quite explain why this connection between Harry and Hogwarts had occurred in the first place.
Bill gave the pair of them another look. "Harry was telling me about some of the things you two have been practicing."
"Yeah, you were saying how you managed to release some of your magic the other day, right, Harry?"
Severus' eyes swung sharply to Potter who somehow managed to look sheepish and defensive in equal measure. The controlled release of his magic was something they had been working on during Potter's training sessions, but Potter hadn't quite managed it before he stopped attending. "Have you?"
Harry only nodded his confirmation.
Bill went on cheerfully, as though he couldn't see the silent tension that stretched between the other wizards present. "The way you described it sounded awesome, Harry. Do you think you could show us it now?"
A pregnant pause reigned between them as Harry looked searchingly at the Professor. Severus did his best to remain impassive as the boy examined his face for something. Apparently he found what he was looking for as the next moment Potter appeared to make a decision.
He nodded. "Sure, I can try. I'm not sure if it'll work again though. I've only managed it once and I was with Ron and Hermione and really relaxed."
"Of course." Bill agreed easily. "No pressure. You can give it a try, if it doesn't work, no worries. We'll try not to distract you."
Harry headed over to his rock. Instead of sitting on it, he cast a cushioning charm and sat down on the grass in front so his back could lean against the rock in relative comfort. He looked up at the other wizards who were both still stood and watching him intently.
"I don't think I'll be able to do it if you are just standing there looking at me." He complained.
Bill smiled. "Sorry, Harry. You're right, we're not exactly helping you to relax. Is there anything we can do?"
Harry shrugged. "Just sit down or something. Last time it worked because I could hear Ron and Hermione talking quietly around me. I knew I was safe with them around me, but I could tune out their conversation."
"Sure, we'll sit just over here." Bill agreed. "Come on, Severus, we've still got some pastries left from lunch."
Severus went to join Weasley on the grass with minimal reluctance. "I have already eaten." He declined the offered treat.
"Surely even you couldn't turn down some of mum's cooking."
A smile graced Harry's face as he heard Snape's grumbling reply. He closed his eyes and allowed their conversation to drift away from him. He felt comfortable with them around him. Bill was essentially an older brother to him and Snape was – Snape. Harry might have misgivings about trusting the man but he was safe.
In some ways it was easier now than it had been in the Room of Requirement. He knew how it was supposed to feel when he allowed the magic to flow out of him and he knew now that it was possible to do so. His legs were crossed as they had been last time and Harry rested his hands palm up on his thighs. He merely had to remember how it had felt and push that excess energy into his hands again and then it was happening.
Harry knew by the sensation when he had been successful. He relaxed into it, breathing deeply. Their little clearing had gone quiet as Snape and Bill watched, but this time Harry was able to remain focused and continued to release his magic in gentle waves for a minute or so more. Only when he was ready did Harry open his eyes to take in the awesome picture he had created. The streams of coloured light flowed away from him, caressing the grass and swirling around the observing wizards. Somehow the deep purple colour still seemed to glow. Harry's gaze followed the path of one wave of magic that headed towards the ward boundary. There, instead of dissipating as the magic had appeared to in the Room of Requirement, Harry's magic seemed to be absorbed into the ward itself upon contact. The two magics combined, much in the way Harry's spells had, and the wards glowed indigo as the magic spread far above their heads. He gasped a little at the sight and slowly closed the valves from which his magic escaped. It took a minute until the colour had disappeared from the air around them and a further minute for the magic in the wards to dilute enough that they returned to their usual absence of colour.
During all of this the three wizards held their silence. Harry turned his eyes to the Professor and held the intense stare between them. They seemed to be communicating something between them but Harry wasn't sure that he could articulate what that was.
"Merlin's teeth, Harry!" Bill exclaimed. "I've never seen anything like that before."
"Yeah," Harry rubbed the back of his neck. "That thing with the wards was new."
"I'm guessing Hogwarts has used your magic to infuse the wards." Bill turned to the Professor, "Don't you think, Severus?"
Severus had stood but kept his distance from Potter since he wasn't sure that his presence was acceptable to the boy. "I believe that is plausible." Harry looked back at him again and Severus wished he could see what was going on behind those emerald eyes.
The Professor knew that Weasley was not as oblivious as he was appearing to be. Bill could read the disquiet between Severus and Harry but chose to ignore it cheerfully. "I had a good time experimenting with you, Harry. You'll have to let me know what else you discover."
"Yeah, it was good fun. I learnt lots." Harry answered Bill without taking his eyes off Severus. It was an intense calculating look but at the conclusion of this long pause Harry seemed to have decided something. "We could do some more testing in the Room of Requirement, couldn't we Sir?"
It was an invitation. An offering of, perhaps not forgiveness, but acceptance; a willingness to move on at least. Harry kept a blank expression, neither hopeful nor apathetic, but Severus knew him well enough by this point to spot the tell-tale twitch of vulnerability.
"Of course." Severus answered watching for the subtle sign of relief on Harry's face when it came.
Bill looked between the two of them and grinned. "Excellent."