Harry stupidly gaped at Snape. Was he already hallucinating from hunger? Cause it was no way his dour Potions Professor was standing a few feet away from him in the middle of a muggle playground. It must be one of those surrealistic dreams that confused your senses in a manner that you couldn't say if it just your mind playing a trick on you or it was real. Honestly, the boy couldn't decide right away what he would prefer. Both variants were unlikely to be welcome.
Harry automatically clenched his fists ready to brace himself in a heated argument. And when he felt something squashed under his fingers, did he remember what he was holding and what his less favorite Professor had witnessed. All blood was drained from his face. It could have been anyone to cross upon him in that hour but usually luck just happened to disappear when it came to Harry Potter. If the Malfoy family and Voldemort himself were present as well, the party would be a rousing success. They all – including the Dursleys of course – would have been circling around him and laughing at a pitiful picture Harry Potter represented. And a reporter from the 'Daily Prophet' who was certainly passing by at that exact moment (what a coincidence!) would have fainted with excitement at seeing all of this, already plotting what he would spent his future fee on.
Potter, now you are officially in deep shit, Harry congratulated himself bitterly.
"Didn't your relatives teach you not to chew on rubbish, Potter? You are supposed to be a human child not some stray whelp. At least you were the former one when I last checked on you", Snape's lips curled in disgusted smirk.
Oh, sod off, Snape! Blowing out a touch of longing in his eyes, Harry angrily threw the leftover sandwich back into the trash can and blatantly wiped his hands on a fabric of his jeans as if trying to convince the man he checked on him probably too long ago to make any resolute claims.
Trying to get a grip on his temper and not strangle the brat right here and now (surely, Dumbledore wouldn't agree with his disciplinary measures), Snape showed his annoyance only by arched eyebrow, silently demanding the boy started to explain himself.
At first the young wizard wanted to pretend he hadn't detected any hint at all but then he thought better of it as it was more than difficult to resist this burning glare. He had to make up something and quickly if he didn't seek the opportunity to obtain a reputation of a nut case among Hogwarts habitants with the gracious help of a certain git.
"Er… You see, Professor", Harry muttered incoherently, "I and my cousin–"
"My cousin and I", Snape corrected and waved his hand at the boy to continue.
"My cousin and I", Harry barely restricted to roll his eyes, "have recently had an argument on who will be able to eat more pieces of pizza with pineapples". Harry pretended to cringe at the very thought of it, now, however, ready to consume whatever was edible. "My cousin has a greater appetite than I so obviously I lost a bet". Well, it should be suit the image the Greasy Git had of him. Harry attentively was peering at the man's face trying to find out if his babbling had boosted any suspicions.
Snape sighed and wearily rubbed at his face. "Let me get this straight: you, like a truly dim-witted Gryffindor, decided that it would be beneath you to lie to your cousin and instead you found an idea of stuffing your face with garbage brilliant?"
It did sound foolish, Harry had to admit but only to himself. One was not supposed to be a Slytherin to lie about such a thing. Even an amoeba possessed enough level of cunning to avoid a more than unpleasant situation. And Harry supposedly – according to Snape – was in his development somewhere between a mere single-celled organism and a human being. Snape had been constantly telling that the boy was behind any stunt that occurred at school… and for good reason. So, it left a chance that the man who was currently scowling at him wouldn't believe him.
At the boy's infuriating shrug Snape decided to let the matter drop for now. The boy was breathing, standing by himself and remained his usual cheeky self what the Potions Master could consider as a normal state for Potter. The faster he got to the point the sooner he washed his hands of all of this and returned to his Manor to enjoy his vacation in peace. What the boy was up to during his summers was none of his business actually.
"Hurry up, Potter", Snape spun on his heel and led his way off of the playground, not once checking if the boy was following him.
Harry chased after him and when he caught up with him the boy tried to remain out of the man's reach, just in case. Harry knew he had the right to ask what the heck was going on but nonetheless he was hesitant to do so. Maybe if it was someone else, he would be more at ease. And Snape was, well, himself that didn't help at all. He hardly gave the impression to be an approachable man. They weren't now within the safety of the school walls where the boy allowed himself to feel less subdued than he used to be here. If it were dungeons Snape intended to take him to, Harry would have thought twice before he obeyed the man. Now he was apprehensive to appear so exposed without his wand, his school robes to cover ragged clothes that never fitted him, with glasses held together only with tape, bruises all over his body as a sad proof he was nothing more than a freak to his last remaining relatives, and having Snape dangerously close to the Dursleys' house (Harry refused to consider 4, Privet Drive his home).
To Harry's comfort Snape got indeed too close to look behind the façade of the famous Boy-Who-Lived. Being a teacher and a man who had saved his life at least once, Snape wasn't his enemy like, for example, the Malfoy prat, but at the same time he wasn't a kind of person whom Harry might put his trust in. That's why it might be concluded that keeping the man in the darkness was really a wise option.
Snape was staling along a street with long strides and soon Harry started to fall behind, finally stricken with exhaustion from the lack of food and proper rest. It was a little fuzzy now as his body gave up and the boy stopped, panting. It took Snape a while to realize that he wasn't accompanied any more.
"What is it, Potter? I don't have all day", the man came back to his student already jumping to conclusion that the infuriating child was going to throw a tantrum as they were almost at place. Potter knew he was in for lazing about and staying in the streets late. Some fear served him right, the man mentally nodded.
Snape grabbed at his right shoulder intending to push him forward but at split second Potter suddenly hissed and backed away from the touch. He arched a questioning eyebrow as he had done before and Potter helplessly groaned knowing he would be obliged to explain it.
"Another argument, I presume?"
Harry glared daggers at the man who was undoubtably enjoying himself but then pulled himself together. He rationally assumed not to put a fight. He was too weak and tired for this kind of thing at the moment. There would be his chance to retaliate once at Hogwarts. He was sure of that, house points be damned.
"Nuh-uh", the boy scoffed. "You got it wrong. You are losing your touch, Professor. Oh, I know. I'll give a book "How to read Harry Potter. 101 tips" as a Christmas gift".
Despite Harry was feeling sick from the pain he found that he was quite amused with the rage shown on the Potions Professor's face. The man could consider himself an ice rock all he wanted. Harry knew the ways how to drive the man crazy. He just gave him what Snape expected to get from him, nothing more. But it would be downplaying to say that the boy was only slightly scared with the words so carelessly slipped from his lips. Oh boy, he was so dead.
Snape once more seized the injured shoulder and menacingly drawled in the boy's face, "You will show me respect, boy, or else you'll find yourself in detention till the next summer. And I highly doubt that such a mediocre student who has no concept of self-control may know something about reading other people".
"As if you know!" Harry shouted. To his embarrassment, his eyes became teary as the pain escalated. Actually, he wanted to use a phrase "a sociopath like you" but his self-preservation gained the upper hand this time. He wouldn't like his Professor to completely twist his arm, would he? "Lemme go!"
If it was his Uncle, he would have already payed for his rebellious behavior, cause he had been taught to take his punishments obediently and most importantly without a spare peep. Also, Harry should have been honest if only with himself. Snape's words about reading other people or whatever stuff he had referred to offended him. And the boy was quite unsettled about this moment of prescience. He wanted to yell at the man, accuse him in making his mind up on things (about Harry, about James) he didn't know. But it would bring him no good. What he was preciously aware of.
Harry locked eyes with Snape. Green emeralds with obsidian abyss. As if goading to look through then, right into his soul. The man was the first to avert his eyes. For a second Harry thought that he caught a glimpse of something similar to remorse in them, but it disappeared so quickly that the boy blamed it on his dizziness.
Snape recoiled in ambivalent feelings. On one hand, he was mad as the devil at how the boy dared to act around him as if adamantly asking for trouble. On the other hand, however, he was experiencing a sign of guilt, curled up in his chest like a snake, just waiting to raise its head and bite at his heart. Even if his actions were unintentional, he had caused harm to one of his students. To Lily's child he had sworn to protect.
The Potions Master cleared his throat a little bit awkwardly, "Let me help with your injury, Mr. Potter".
Wiping at his eyes with his hand and wholeheartedly hoping that this disgraceful moment would remain only between two of them, Harry took a deep breath and cautiously closed the distance with his Professor, not fully believing it was such a good idea. But, at the same time, forfeiting some pain in favour of his own sake sounded nice. He would have to do his chores tomorrow after all.
Snape waved his wand above his shoulder. It tickled a bit. "Dislocated", the man finally stated as if Harry didn't know it himself. It left him only to huff. Snape grounded him with his hand on the boy's left shoulder and warned, "Brace yourself".
One explicit Episkey and the ensuing muted moan later, Harry tried to move his right shoulder and found it to be as good as new. Feeling genuinely grateful, he uttered, "Thank you, sir".
"Humph", eyeing the boy, Snape started to become irritated again. Potter had no regard for his own wellbeing whatsoever. "With this settled, pray tell, Mr. Potter, how did you end up like this?"
The brat shuffled his foot not particularly looking Snape's way. "Er… I was killing the time on a swing and then sort of decided to discover how far I'd be able to jump from it. It was not a soft landing, I guess.
"It was not indeed", the man confirmed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Potter didn't need the Dark Lord to harm him. He succeeded in the job on his own. As an apology Snape decided to indulge Potter's curiosity on the matter of 'reading people' as he put it earlier. Maybe new information would be able to recede that anguish he had seen in the child's eyes. "There is an ancient magical art which is called Legilimency".
"Legilimency, sir?" Now Snape had all Harry's attention.
"Yes. It allows one man to enter another's mind. A long time ago it was widely used in our judicial system to draw memories out of those, suspected in serious crimes. People with such an ability were very rare and therefor highly valued. Unfortunately, as it always comes to pass in our world, people are afraid of those who possess unusual skills. One moment you are precious, the other you are convicted in abusing your power and proclaimed to be a threat to society. Which is what has happened then. Now Veritaserum – truth serum – is in demand".
Whoa, that was really interesting. Boring instructions and brutal snarls during potions lessons were nothing compared to that soft flow of words which drew attention no matter what you wanted. Harry didn't even know that his snarky Professor could speak with him of all people without usual disdain. Maybe it was someone else disguised with the help of the Polyjuice Potion? Yet, even so, it was already late to probe.
"But it's unfair!" Harry gave a cry of indignation. He oh well knew how it felt to be misjudged without even been asked your point of events. He had been lucky enough to get the full impact of it during his second year at Hogwarts after he had been accused in sending a snake at Justin Finch-Fletchley though he had been trying to save him. Bugger!
"Life is unfair, Potter, you'd better get used to it", Snape snorted and then continued, "But I am inclined to the thought that the fear of Legilimenses is not quite unfounded. You see, Mr. Potter, one of those who possessed this skill was none other than He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. It was in his power to flip your mind inside out, to use your most hurtful memories against you making you relive them time and again until you became insane.
Harry swallowed heavily. It couldn't be a coincidence that he somehow had witnessed the conversation between Wormtail and Voldemort. Maybe it hadn't been just a stupid dream after all? But if the man was a Legilimens, why it was Harry who had seen things? Nonetheless it would be for his benefit to shut the connection down no matter who had entered one another's mind. So he asked, "Sir?"
"Yes, Mr. Potter?" Snape casted a suspicious glare at his student as they both resumed their track. The boy sounded apprehensive.
"Um, is it a way to counteract it?"
"The counter-skill to Legilimency is Occlumency, by which one can compartmentalize one's emotions, or prevent a Legilimens from discovering thoughts or memories which contradict one's spoken words or actions". Snape explained. "Why?"
Harry faltered oddly but then did he sprang it on his teacher, "I had a vision… sort of… and there were Voldemort and Wormtail speaking about Bertha Jorkins… Wormtail killed her in Albania, I guess. There was a muggle, he was murdered too. According to Voldemort's words, he is planning to do something after the World Cup this summer. And–", Harry sighed resignedly as he was going to sign his own death warrant, "my scar hurt when I woke up".
Snape stopped walking at once, the situation started to give him a headache. Just what they needed! Now he reconsidered that today's task was utterly useless. Dumbledore would certainly want to know this interesting piece of knowledge. In addition to his own grave suspicions, now the boy was telling him that Voldemort existed in more solid form than some years ago when he had been parasitizing on the back of Quirrell's head. The darkening of his Dark Mark now made sense.
"And prey tell, Mr. Potter", Snape asked when he was positive that his voice wouldn't tremble, "How often did you have these visions?"
"Only once, sir".
"As soon as you have another one, you report to the Headmaster immediately", the man pressed firmly. "Or to myself if he is not available". He prevented the boy's rising protest. "You are not under any circumstances to take this matter into your own hands as you have used in the past. You will not appreciate the consequences. Did I make myself clear?"
"Yeah, I mean, yes, sir", Harry muttered. "But, Professor, what do I have to do about it?"
Snape gave him a quizzical look and answered, "It appears, Mr. Potter, that now we have to let you in the art of Occlumency. And knowing the Headmaster's irritating pattern to relegate most unpleasant obligations on my shoulders, I guess the one of teaching you Occlumency will be assigned to yours truly".
"Oh", it was the one thing Harry managed to spit out. His anticipation to see the start of the new school term was somewhat lessened. Spending more time with the Greasy Git in cold and unwelcoming dungeons was not his idea of fun. And according to the manner Snape screwed his features into a scowl, the man wasn't pleased either.
"Oh indeed", Snape agreed. "And as we've already wasted enough time for today, I suggest we hurry up".
And with that he frog-marched Harry all the remaining way to his relatives' house. The boy didn't resist as he had a lot on his mind to contemplate. Harry decided, he should talk with Ron and Hermione about it. Cause it was strange that Snape now knew about his 'little' problem, and his best friends who had been his confidants for all these years did not. And being too private information, his homelife issue, well, didn't really count, right?
"Um, what exactly are we doing, Professor?" Harry asked when they eventually stepped a foot on the Dursleys' lawn.
"We, Mr. Potter, are getting you out of here".
"What?" Harry panicked. Could it be that all this time Snape knew and just tried to distract him from the matter? Hadn't he bought his tales about pineapple pizzas and leaps from the swing? The boy couldn't imagine another reason for Snape of all people being here. Oh no, oh no, oh no, he chanted to himself. Suddenly it started hard to breath. He couldn't take it! Frantically Harry was surveying his surroundings in an attempt to flee.
"The Headmaster asked a favor from me to bring you to Weasleys'. So go pack your things. You have ten minutes, starting now", Snape elaborated calmly, pretending that he hadn't noticed the boy's strange behavior. As if he was going to deliver him to Death Eaters meeting, for Merlin's sake!
Harry relaxed and nervously smiled. He knew that it was a common courtesy to invite a guest inside and it was rude to make him wait out of the front door. But inside there were too many signs that Harry Potter was no more than a pitiful deadbeat without any right. Though it seemed his Professor had no wish to enter and was comfortable where he was. So, repressing his internal struggling, Harry walked in by himself.
His relatives were found in the living room watching TV. After promising to deal with him later for avoiding his duties, Uncle Vernon demanded to bring him another can of bear from the fridge. Dudley sneered at him spitefully and then turned his gaze back to the telly. Before Harry could say something, it was his Aunt who saved him. Well, there's a first for everything, he mused.
"Vernon dear, the boy is going to leave. One of the freaks came for him".
"Well, good riddance. But before you kick your arse out of here, bring me damn bear!" the man barked.
Harry rolled his eyes. Nothing new. However, this time he got off easily, so who he was to complain.
Aunt Petunia opened the cupboard door so that Harry could grab his trunk. Upstairs it took him only a minute or two to gather his belongings. Thrusting them into his trunk and closing the lid, Harry felt that a part of the weight that had been welling up in his chest for the past month now dissipated. Very soon he would be fed, sent to bed, and, above all, welcome.
Yeah, it would be nice to pretend being one more Weasley child but with dark hair… and bloody lightning bolt scar.