Disclaimer: I do not own anything from the Potter Universe. It all belongs to the amazing J.K. Rowling, who, I might add, is a genius! I only like to force the characters to do things they would never do without the assistance of chemical substances!!!!

Pairing: Harry/Severus …. If this freaks you out, then PLEASE don't read any further

P.S. Harry is underage, even in the U.K. okay? He's in his 5th year in this fic, but don't worry, it doesn't get really heavy for a while…

Summary: Harry tries a blood magic potion to better understand his summer potions homework, but mixes up the name with another potion that binds the drinker to his or her most compatible match in ability – a soul mate, if you will. Guess who Harry gets bonded with?

Spoilers: All the books except the 5th one because I started writing this before that came out.

Author's Note: Oh my god. I'm back. I can't believe it. This story is COMPLETELY AU now, but that's ok, according to all of the reviews I've gotten. I can't thank you all enough for hanging in there. Here we go:

Chapter 13: Being Prepared

The next morning found Harry slack-jawed and exhausted. He had gotten about three hours of sleep due to a constant stream of doubts, worries, and bouts of anger over Snape and Malfoy. The last thing he remembered before falling asleep had been Malfoy's question to him that first night; "Are you confident?" If he was honest with himself, he hadn't been that confident, and now, he was ready to throw his arms up into the air and give up. Not only did he have to deal with the normal pressures of school and being a teenager, but he had soul mate and the impossible task of changing all of Lucius Malfoy and Voldemort's handiwork. Failing wasn't an option. Harry was beginning to understand how Snape must have felt that night he had returned to the castle no longer a spy.

"Hey, mate, alright?"

Harry turned groggily to Seamus and nodded. "Didn't get much sleep, that's all."

"Wonder why," said Seamus, waggling his eyebrows at Ron. "It wasn't Neville's snores that were keeping us all up!" Seamus and Dean howled with laughter, and even Neville chuckled at the joke. Harry rolled his eyes.

"Shut up, Seamus," Ron hissed as Hermione made her way over to them. There was a scuffle as Ron shoved Seamus down a seat to make room for Hermione. Harry looked on as Hermione and Ron exchanged awkward 'good mornings', then looked down at his uneaten toast. It was so easy for them. They were the same age and in the same house, and were friends, not to mention opposite genders…it was easy for them to be close.

'Wait a minute, Harry,' he thought, rubbing his hand over his eyes. 'Don't get soul mate confused with something else.' How could he even be thinking that way? Snape had already made it clear that the small period of understanding and civil conversation had been a fluke of some sort. They had nothing in common; no link to speak of, except the link created by a series of unfortunate circumstances. That was all…Harry felt like he had just chugged a can of stone cold soup, like the kind Aunt Petunia used to give him for lunch.

"Well, c'mon Harry, Herbology is about to start," said Ron.

Harry sighed wearily, then picked up his bag and followed Hermione and Ron out to the greenhouses. It wasn't until he got inside that he realized that his limit was definitely going to be tested this year.

"Alright everyone, pay attention now," Professor Sprout tapped her wand against a glass tank filled with what looked like magenta coral with teeth. "We are starting this year with the study of underwater plant life. We will be making use of the lake many times this year, and we must go over safety regulations!"

"What about safety regulations when he's around?" someone whispered behind Harry. Instantly, Harry stiffened. No one around him had heard…Harry felt hot anger curling in his stomach, and the back of his neck burned. Whoever it was had been talking about him. He could tell, and he felt sick. It suddenly hit him that he was in a greenhouse full of Hufflepuffs. He hadn't been prepared for them to be angry at him. Upset, yes. Heartbroken, of course. But mean and cruel? That was what he had expected from Malfoy.

"As you are all aware, the lake is home to many creatures, including the giant squid and the Merpeople. Most of the plants we will study will be brought to us by them, but there will be days when we will go into the lake," said Professor Sprout. "I will of course inform you of when these days will be when the time comes. Today we will be looking at the most common underwater plant life. Everyone, gather around and meet the Snapping Snake-Coral!" Everyone shuffled forward, sounds of slight interest filling the greenhouse. Someone shoved into Harry's back.

"Oh, sorry about that," the same voice said again, sounding anything but sorry. Harry turned and saw a boy that he knew by sight, but not by name.

"It's okay," he said quietly. He felt almost as if he deserved whatever the Hufflepuffs threw at him. He knew what some of them must have thought; that he'd somehow been responsible, or that he was some pint-sized celebrity desperate for more attention. Well, he was responsible wasn't he?

Lunchtime found Harry in the library, reading up on the Snapping Snake-Coral. After the boy had shoved him, Harry had ended up tuning out everything that was said during the lesson. The only thing he had learned by the end of it was that the boy's name was Zacharias Smith, and he had been on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team with Cedric; he knew he had seen him somewhere. He had also learned that his worries that he wouldn't be able to talk with Malfoy because of his friends hanging around with him were baseless. Hermione and Ron seemed very keen to be alone – they didn't even notice when Harry had walked to the library instead of the Great Hall. Harry shook himself and turned the page. Now was the time to focus, not feel sorry for himself. He was just reading that the Snapping Snake-Coral preferred to grow in shallow water and nip at children's toes when a shadow fell across the page.

"Do you plan to survive on toast and syrup alone, Potter?"

Harry looked upside down at Snape, trying to think of a good comeback. When he couldn't think of one, he shrugged, and looked back at his book. Please let him go away.

"I suppose I shouldn't complain that you find your studies so riveting that you feel the need to skip a meal."

Harry pressed his lips together and put down the book. "What do you want?"

Snape let out a sarcastic chuckle and walked around Harry's chair so that he was standing in front of him. "I hope you don't speak to all of your professors with that tone, but it wouldn't surprise me if you did. I, however, will not tolerate it. A point from Gryffindor."

Harry gaped up at him, anger filling his gaze. This man was impossible. He grabbed Plants and Beasts of the Depths and stuffed it into his bag, meaning to leave.

"Sit down, Potter, I didn't come find you so that you could run off."

"Then what did you come find me for," Harry muttered, sitting back down, staring at his lap.

Snape sneered down at the mop of unruly hair, then said, "I came to arrange a time for you to meet with me for the tutoring we discussed."

Harry blinked. Oh, the advanced medical potions that Dumbledore wanted him to learn. 'For the war', Dumbledore had said. He said nothing and continued to stare at his knees.

"I shall inform the Headmaster that you do not share his sentiments regarding preparation for the troubled times ahead," said Snape tauntingly.

Harry's head snapped up, his eyes narrowed. He stood up suddenly, looking Snape in the eye. The fact that they were now mere inches apart didn't sway him at all.

"Don't talk to me about being prepared!" Harry whispered angrily. "Are you prepared? Are any of us? The Hufflepuffs hate me, the Slytherins want me dead, my own friends don't care, and you can't stand to be in the same room with me! How can anyone be prepared for that?"

Snape said nothing for a long moment, raising his eyebrows with narrowed eyes. Finally, he spoke, his voice low and smooth. "I am offering help, Potter."

The anger flew out of Harry like a deflating balloon. He suddenly realized how close they were and looked to his side. "What time did you have in mind?" he said, ashamed of his outburst.

Snape exhaled softly, then said, "Come to the O.W.L. placement Potions room after dinner. It's across the corridor of your classroom."

Harry nodded sheepishly and picked up his bag. Snape turned on his heel and began to leave, before turning back to say, "And don't skip any more meals, Potter."

Harry forced himself to swallow the meat pie he had been chewing. He felt like a Snapping Snake-Corral was living in his stomach, writhing and nipping. It was a good thing Ron and Hermione were too busy talking together, or else Harry would have had to come up with some explanation for his nerves.

Harry snuck another glance at the teacher's table. Snape was looking as composed as ever, apparently disinterested in whatever Professor Sinistra was talking to him about. Ever since their conversation that afternoon, Harry had been thinking about what Snape had said. 'I am offering help.' It wasn't what he had said that made Harry so frazzled, it was the way he had said it. He had sounded as if he understood, or at least felt empathy for what Harry was going through. And that low, rich voice had made it impossible to concentrate on what Flitwick's high-pitched squeak had been talking about in Charms. It looked as though he'd have to interrupt Hermione and Ron's flirtations for a few minutes later to ask for her notes.

Half an hour later found Harry making his way down to the O.W.L. placement Potions room. Most likely, this would be the only time he'd ever set foot in that room. Harry wasn't counting on getting the qualifying grades on his N.E.W.T.s, and Snape hadn't ever given him an 'acceptable', which was the bare minimum for the O.W.L class. Oh well, it wasn't like he would miss Potions: cauldrons exploding, Neville disasters, Malfoy messing with him, Snape…Harry stopped thinking about it and knocked on the door.

Severus strode to the door and opened it to reveal a nervous looking Potter. He sneered in greeting, then turned and walked up to the blackboard.

"We will begin with the basics, Potter. If you plan on taking the elective taught by Madam Pomfrey and myself, you will already be ahead." Snape said all of this curtly but without the usual scorn in his voice. Harry sat down at the desk in the front and pulled out his Potions ledger. He opened it, and saw his notes from yesterday's class and the note Malfoy had written.

"Professor?" he blurted. Snape swiveled around to look at him, a glare on his face from being interrupted.

"A question already? Are you so incapable that you –"

"It's not that," said Harry, ignoring the older man's glare. "Malfoy gave me this yesterday." He held up the note.

Instantly, Snape's expression changed to calculated suspicion. "Let me see it." Harry leaned across his table and handed him the note, chewing his bottom lip anxiously. "I don't know what to do."

Snape's eyebrows drew together as he read the note. "He's acting quicker than I expected," he murmured. Severus felt the beginnings of something that felt a lot like concern start to grow in his mind. He remembered when he found Malfoy on the stairs with Potter that first night. Instinctively he had intervened, but instead of wanting to cause Potter trouble, he had wanted to get Malfoy to release his hold on the boy. Malfoy easily could have overpowered Harry, could have easily thrown him down the stairs…an ironic end for the Boy Who Lived. This unpredicted feeling of concern dashed any thoughts of productive learning that Severus had planned.

"Potter, I do not wish to frighten you –" Severus almost stopped there. He had never thought he would say something that absurd to a Potter. "I do not wish to frighten you, but I do not want you to be alone with Malfoy. For any reason."

The boy's eyes widened. "But – but I have to make him see…Dumbledore asked me to –"

"Yes, I know what the Headmaster asked of you." Snape clenched his teeth. Damn that man. Manipulating the boy, just like always, making him feel that he had some sort of duty. "However, unlike Dumbledore, I know the Malfoy family. I know what Lucius is capable of, and I have no doubt that young Malfoy has been taught quite a few things at home. He may be a snotty brat," Potter's mouth curved slightly at this. "but he is also the son of an evil man." Severus' eyes took on the look of hot coals as he spoke. "Potter, if you ever find yourself alone with him, I want you to alert me. It does not matter what time it is or where you are, just do it."

Potter stared, dumbfounded. "How? I don't understand."

Severus began to pace. The feeling he had felt when he first asked the boy into his office was returning. That feeling of crossing a line, never to be uncrossed…but what choice did he with me to my rooms."

Harry couldn't believe it. He was standing outside of Snape's private chambers, about to go into the most dreaded place besides Filch's office. 'The Snake's Nest' as it was fondly called by the student body. He watched as Snape performed a complicated wandless spell with his hands, and glanced nervously up and down the corridor. He was still completely baffled as to what Snape was going to do.

"In," Snape commanded, holding the door open. Harry nervously entered, and Snape shut the door quickly behind him.

"Sit here. Don't touch anything. I'll be back." With that, Snape stalked over to a door across the room, threw it open, then slammed it shut, leaving Harry in the middle of what appeared to be a sitting room and a den combined.

Harry looked around taking everything in. The room was stone, like the rest of the dungeons, with huge tapestries covering the walls, most showing strange yet beautiful serpents. Harry looked at them all one by one, mesmerized by the colors and shapes. He felt awkward for having such a fascination with snakes, as it forcibly reminded him of Voldemort, but he couldn't help it; they were beautiful.

Finally, he tore his eyes away to look at the rest of the room. Along the right wall was a large bookcase filled with what Harry assumed were Snape's private potions texts, and a desk with neat stacks of parchment arranged on it. Harry walked over and examined a large black feather quill in an inkwell. Was this the feather plume that Snape graded their papers with? Harry reached out and smoothed it over with his fingertips. Did Snape ever do that? Harry smiled slightly, then remembered that he wasn't supposed to touch anything. He turned and walked over to a long couch that was situated in front of a dim fire set in a black marble mantle. Above it was the Slytherin crest. Harry sank down onto the sofa, his mouth slightly open, eyes locked on the crest. It truly hit him then. Severus Snape, Head of Slytherin House, Potions Master of Hogwarts, was his soul mate. Everything in this room was now a part of him, a part of his soul, because it was part of Snape. Harry had the urge to cry and smile at the same time. He vowed right then and there, that no matter what Snape said or did, no matter what happened, or what kind of relationship came from this, he would make it work. He didn't want to be scared anymore, he didn't want to be alone anymore. Tears prickled in his eyes, and he bit his lip, clutching the cushions of the couch. The door slammed open, breaking Harry's thoughts.

"Potter, where did you – oh, come here." Snape motioned for Harry with his hand, and Harry got up slowly and walked over to him. Snape didn't appear to notice a change in Harry's demeanor; he was preoccupied with a small rectangular box in his hands. He took a deep breath, then looked down at Harry with a serious look on his face.

"Potter," he began, straightening his back. "These are the Snape family rings." He opened the shining black box, white hands contrasting sharply against the wood. Harry saw two thin silver rings, inset with a band of black onyx. "They are passed on from generation to generation, meant for myself and one other person of my choosing." Harry looked up at Snape, sensing that something momentous was taking place. "And of course, there are several charms and spells cast upon these rings, one of which will alert the other when needed. Therefore it is the most appropriate method I can think of which will alert me to your needs." Snape looked slightly awkward now, a look Harry had never seen. "Also, since you are – ah, my soul mate," Snape paused as though needing to recover from that admission. "It seems only befitting that you should wear the other."

There was a short silence. Harry took a deep breath, then said, "Alright."

Snape cleared his throat, then put the box on his desk, and slid one of the rings onto his own ring finger. It fit perfectly.

"Now, there is a small ritual part to this," Snape said curtly. "All you have to do is say 'yes'. Can you manage that?" A small bit of familiar sarcasm entered his voice. Harry nodded, butterflies filling his stomach. He was beginning to get that feeling of heat in his neck and face again.

Snape picked up the other ring, and reached down for Harry's left hand. He held it gently in his own, and it struck Harry how much bigger and older Snape's hand looked. Not unattractive older, just…older. His face felt hotter than ever.

"Harry Potter," Harry looked up and met eyes with Snape, the man's low voice filling his ears. "Do you accept this ring as a symbol of our bond and the blood of the family that is present in me, Severus Snape?"

Blood pounded in Harry's ears. Family. That's what he had said. His greatest desire that he had seen four years ago in the Mirror of Erised.

"Yes," he whispered. It's all that I want.

Snape pushed the ring onto his finger. It fit perfectly.