Chapter 1

I had long discarded the notion that this world was just.

Tell me, how could a just world snatch away the first true love of an orphaned, seventeen year old and blame the mourning boy for her death?

Yet, that was what had happened. Cho Chang and her family had been found dead yesterday, with the Dark Mark glowing brightly above their roof in the moonless night. Today, a dozen Howlers from the family's relatives were sent to the girl's boyfriend, blaming him for the assassination. They said that Cho Chang's proximity to him had caused her to be targeted by the Death Eaters. Although the truth was that the Changs had fallen victim because of their involvement to defy that damned Dark Lord.

And these were the people we labeled "innocent civilians" who we tried to protect from the villain's clutches!

But who was I to judge? After all, I was just about to treat Harry Potter with the exact heartlessness those people had shown earlier.

"Mr. Potter, do you realize that your inattentiveness to this particular lesson can get someone else killed? Again?" His girlfriend's death and the Howlers incident had severely distracted him in my class today. Not that I blamed him. But my fa├žade must be maintained; there were too many things at stake. Lucius' brat had been watching me like a snake with its prey since I had rejoined that blasted, megalomaniac Dark Lord's group.

"Sorry, Professor." His face was pale and his eyes had lost their usual glow. There was no sign of anger over my cruel remark, and this infuriated me even more than his usually bratty attitude. It enraged me because I realized what he had been thinking. He blamed himself for the Changs' death.

I almost shouted at him how absurd it was. Instead, I clenched my fist hard. "Detention, Mr. Potter. Tonight, seven o'clock in this class. Don't be late or I'll deduct points."

He nodded and returned to stare at the blackboard with vacant eyes. I turned my eyes from him and continued the lesson.

"Dragon saliva makes an extremely explosive substance when mixed with sulfur."

Needless to say, my mind was far from dragon or sulfur or whatever that came out from my lips that morning. It was a miracle how someone could function so automatically when they were distracted. I was very grateful for it, because I couldn't possibly say out loud of how I fervently wished that Harry Potter wouldn't break under pressure, could I?

********

He arrived at precisely seven o'clock, knocked on the door, and entered before I bid him to, as was his usual mannerless habit. Like me, he too had been functioning like a charmed tool: performing his task without emotions or thoughts.

Without a word, he obeyed my instruction to clean up the cauldrons while I pretended to be fascinated by the Potions Journal in front of me. The truth was, I had been watching him as he worked absentmindedly. I was speculating about the true feelings behind his composed feature. Composed for the untrained eyes, of course. I was a spy and prided myself on my observation skills, which now told me a lot about him.

First of all, he was grieving deeply. The escalation of the war had made him lose so many people: Diggory, Molly Weasley, Hagrid, and now his own girlfriend. It was a wonder how he could still bear all the grief so stoically. I had never seen him cry, nor wallow in self-pity, and I respected him for it. I used to think that his girlfriend's death would be the last straw for him. Yet, here he was, cleaning cauldrons without any sign of fury over the callousness I had inflicted upon him.

Of course, it wasn't acceptance that made him stay quiet; it was guilt. He really did feel responsible for those deaths. Albus had once told me that Potter would trade his life for theirs if he could. Stupid boy! Didn't he know that he was the hope of the Wizarding World? The beacon to which we looked when we despaired? Didn't he know that those victims were merely casualties that must exist in every war, but he was our banner, which must not fall?

"Potter, self-blame is unbecoming of you," I spoke with a low tone, startling him so that he dropped the sponge to the floor.

"Sorry, Sir." He quickly picked up the sponge and dried the floor with a cloth. "Did you hear me, Mr. Potter? Or have you become deaf? Self-blame is unbecoming of you."

"I heard you, Professor."

"Then stop it. Stop taking the blame for other people's misfortune."

"Excuse me, misfortune, Sir? His eyes were narrowed and there were some sparks of rage in them. Green fire, I called it. The fire that had been haunting me ever since I beheld it six years ago. The fire that usually lit when he was angry because of my unfairness in class. Imagine if people had known that my only reason to treat him with such spitefulness -- more than was necessary to conceal my true loyalty - was simply to see the green fire flaring in his eyes.

But now, I taunted him not for my usual self-serving purpose.

"Yes, misfortunes. This is war, and they are the unlucky ones who fell victim to this mess," I say indifferently, as if those deaths had meant nothing to me.

"They died because of me," he said in a low voice. "They died because Voldemort is after me."

"Don't be so vain," I snarled. "Do you think the world revolves around you?" Actually it was mostly true, at least for the wizarding world, but I was most reluctant to tell him that. Let him harbor an illusion that there was still one person in Wizarding World that didn't see him as more than a mere boy. "The Changs were killed because of their involvement in the Order of Phoenix, not because the Dark Lord suddenly had a sadistic streak to break your heart."

"How about Cedric? He died because I insisted that he take that bloody Cup? And Mrs. Weasley? And Hagrid?" He had the cheek to snarl back. Good. Better an angry than a depressed boy.

"I hope that the Diggory boy incident is lesson enough to discard your foolish Gryffindorish nobility. And for others," I shrugged, "As I said, they are just the casualties of war no one can avoid."

"You. You heartless bastard!" he spat with all the venom he could muster. His eyes were blazing, God, he was such a beautiful sight when he was furious! So alive, like a human in the midst of mannequins, like a colorful picture in the midst of black and white photos.

"I am, aren't I?" I chuckled. I should have stopped the cruel taunting, but I couldn't. The green fire enthralled me again, and I needed to see more, to feel more of the heat of his fury, his spirit, his youth, his life. "You must wish I was the one who died instead of your girlfriend. Too bad not all of your dreams can come true," I said in a casual tone. "But do be grateful that you can still inflict your tormenting presence on me."

"Grateful? How can I be grateful when people are dying around me? Are you grateful because people die because of you?" He had gone too far, and he knew it. But once the dam had been broken, there was nothing you could do to stop the flood. "I'd rather die!"

How could this boy be willing to throw away the life had been granted? His fire, his strength, his beauty that I so secretly desired? I couldn't bear the thought that suddenly emerged in front of my eyes, the image of a pair of lifeless green eyes in a cold body. I shuddered. "Don't you dare say that!" I became furious.

I stood up and approached him with anger radiating from every pore of my being. He noticed and cowered slightly. There was an unusual fear in his eyes. "I am sorry, Sir," he said, almost stuttering. "I didn't mean to."

I grabbed his wrist. "You.! Don't. Ever. Say. That. Again. EVER!" I roared.

"Ye.. yes, si... rr," he stuttered in fear. I must have looked more dangerous than Voldemort, judging by the trembling in his body. I took a deep breath and let his hand go, berating myself for losing control.

"Don't say things you might regret, Potter." I sighed. Damn the boy, always made me dead with worry.

He merely nodded. His eyes were watching me warily; perhaps for fear that I might explode again.

"Go back to your dorm." I dismissed him, though he had only cleaned one cauldron out of twenty.

Wisely, he didn't say anything. He packed his bag and left with a still stunned expression. "Good night, sir."

"Good night, Harry."

************

I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned in my bed, but the image of the dead green eyes kept haunting me through the night: a green flame dimmed, from a blazing fire to a dying spark, then became glassy and dull, and died. All of these happened while the body was still breathing. Alive but dead. Like so many living corpses in the world. This image was even more frightening than the boy's dead body. For one's spirit is immortal even after its body fades, but who can revive a dead soul? God maybe, but I was a skeptic whether or not such a divine being existed.

The bright light should not die, or the world would fall into darkness, Albus had once said to me. I didn't understand him back then; I thought he was merely justifying his tendency to give so much leeway to the brat. Now I understood that Albus had been correct all along, Potter was the hope of the Wizarding World at large, and mine too, for I desperately needed something to hold on to as well. I truly regretted ever belittling his fame as a Boy-Who-Lived. Who would have guessed that Voldemort would return? And with him, the terror that haunted all of us? That in the end, I too, must look upon the scar I used to ridicule to find a small hope, that went fainter every passing time, that we were not fighting a losing battle, that the Light would vanquish the Dark eventually?

No. There was no way I was going to let him die inside.

But who would prevent Potter from breaking down, especially when no one noticed his condition? People always put him on a pedestal. If they found any flaw in him, they'd just throw him away altogether, just like during his second and fourth year. I remembered that even his closest friend had left him once in his fourth year, when that foolish red-head couldn't suppress his jealousy over Potter's fame. People either worshipped or condemned him. No wonder he hated his fame so much. No. His friends were not an option.

Albus? He was too busy with the Order. I had never seen him look so weary and old. He probably hadn't slept for days lately. Moreover, the death of the Changs had caused more losses on our side. Poor old man. I certainly didn't want to be in his shoes right now.

Minerva? As much as I respected her, she hardly knew how to take care of her own House, let alone dealing with such a problematic, depressed boy. She would probably send him to Poppy who would drug the boy with the strongest anti-depressant and lock him in the Infirmary. Or worse, send him to a counselor who knew nothing but some psychoanalysis rubbish, brainwashing the boy about how much he had been wrongly treated by his Muggle relatives, and that his imperfect upbringing had caused him to develop some nonsensical complexes.

And certainly not that mongrel! I couldn't possibly leave such an important duty to that reckless irresponsible mutt. Look at what had happened to the Potters years ago! I wondered why on earth did Albus trust Black for the important missions he had been carrying. Perhaps for the lack of resources on our side.

There was no one left to take care of that brat but me.

I sighed.

I was not a babysitter, much less to an insufferable mannerless boy such as him. A Potter to the core, but with more cunningness. Slick as a Slytherin, foolhardy as a Gryffindor, strictly loyal as a Hufflepuff, and perceptive as a Ravenclaw. Though I often stalked him around the school, I had never caught him red handed. Was it nearly a remarkable amount of sheer dumb luck that he had or was he truly sneakier than me? I didn't know. If he really was sneakier than me, then it meant a lot, considering that I had been a spy even before he was even born.

Besides, I was not a nice guy and never would be. He hated me for it. Not that I blamed him, but it made my job a lot more difficult. What should I do?

The clock chimed four times. I groaned. Too late for me to take the Dreamless Sleep Potion now; it would make me sleep until lunch if I drank it. That dratted boy deprived me of sleep again. Today, I had to teach four classes, one of which was Slytherin and Gryffindor second years. Not to mention my increasing nightly call from that blasted Dark Lord who badly needed to get laid. Not much of a chance there, I though wryly, who wants to shag a skeleton with red eyes?

Speaking of that Dark Lord, I had to be careful in approaching Potter. No one save he and I could know my change of demeanor toward him. I could arrange some detentions so I could talk with him in private. That was not a problem. But how on earth I was supposed to gain his trust while I treated him like rubbish?

The problem lay in me. I was not known to be nice, and never would be! Talking with my Slytherins was easy, they always held me in high regard because of my blatant favoritism toward them, and because they didn't need cuddling or that kind of luxury. Unlike the Gryffindors.

Gryffindor. Lupin.

No! Not that irritating werewolf.

I'd rather tutor Longbottom for a month. In my chamber. With the most explosive ingredients.

But choice was an indulgence I was not allowed to have. Lupin knew how to approach Harry; they were friends when he was still teaching. And Lupin was the only one who knew Harry that I could respect, though grudgingly, for his calm and rational traits.

I got up from my bed and heading toward my desk. I grabbed a quill and parchment, and write:

Lupin,

It has come to my attention that Mr. Potter has developed some sort of emotional instability due to the recent tragedy that involves the death of the Changs. As I deem no one in this castle is available for this demanding task, I set upon myself the responsibility to help Mr. Potter through his problem. I grudgingly admit that you possess more knowledge in interpersonal skill than me. Because of that and due to the fact that you have developed some kind of trust with Mr. Potter during his third year, I decided to ask if you have any counsel in this matter.

Severus Snape.

There. Formal and aloof. My attitude toward the werewolf was clearly stated. If I could help it, I would never have anything to do with him.

"Gwaihir," I called my owl. He flew through the only window in my room, and perched on my chair, looking very much annoyed for being called while he was hunting.

I scowled, but he ignored me, being one of the few who were not affected by my infamous attitude.

I tied the letter to his leg. "Go to Remus Lupin and don't return until he replies. Got it?" Gwaihir hooted once and flew away.

************************

Three days later I received the reply.

Dear Severus,

I am glad that you are concerned so much for Harry. He certainly needs someone who's dependable and cares for him. Don't fret too much about how to gain Harry's trust. He is a wonderful trusting boy and I am sure you'll find a way. One's method is hardly fitting for others, isn't it? Nevertheless, I am pleased that you decided to contact me. Would you please keep updating me about his condition?

Sincerely, Remus

Damn, werewolf! If I had known how, I wouldn't have asked you. I shoved the parchment to my desk furiously.

Looked like I was all alone in this matter.