Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any of its characters.  The whole kit-n-kaboodle belongs to the ever-talented J.K. Rowling! I'm just a mere fan (and a poor one at that ^_^;) putting some thoughts/dreams into words. This disclaimer applies to this chapter and all chapters therein of this fan-fiction. Thank you!

Chapter 1

"Funny, the way people's minds work, isn't it?  Professor Snape couldn't bear being in your fathers debt."

             Harry sat in the Gryffindor common room, silently scratching on a parchment scrap, hearing Dumbledore's words from years before replay in his mind.  Burning with guilt, he sighed and corked his ink jar.  "I can't concentrate on this tonight," he muttered under his breath.  He crumpled up the piece of paper and slammed his Potions book shut. 

            "Blimey!  You're finished already?  I can't make heads or tails of this stupid assignment!" Ron growled through his teeth.  "I can't even balance Quidditch practice alone, and now this?  It's too bloody hard!"  He tugged the arm of his ever-snug pajamas down, taking a mental note to ask for a new pair next Christmas. 

            Harry glanced up at the clock.  It was only midnight, though he felt like his body had been running for days.  He glanced over at Hermione, who was deeply reading her Arithmancy book on the couch. 

She absentmindedly kicked off her slippers, stretching out her toes.  She lifted an arm up behind her head, scratched the back of her neck, and settled back down into silence, sighing softly.  Harry wished he had her concentration and drive, now more than ever.

Ron and Hermione had changed into their pajamas around nine, but Harry hadn't bothered.  He figured the softness would only make him fall asleep faster.  Why had he let Hermione talk him into making his Friday evening a study night?  They had been working since dinner….

He stood up and stretched, yawning deeply.  Realizing he had ignored Ron's question, he said, "I'm not done, no.  I'll try and come up with something better tomorrow.  Snape's made it pretty clear I'm going to fail Potions anyway, so what does it matter?"  Even speaking Snape's name alone made his stomach cringe.  He felt the never-ending frustration roll over his insides, his temper sparked once more.

            Finally setting her book down, Hermione narrowed her eyes and said, "Do you really want to fail your O.W.L.S, Harry?  What if you have to repeat your fifth year?  I don't want to be stuck with Ron by myself, you know!"  She ducked her head as Ron threw his Potions book at her and scowled.

            Harry shot a pierced look at her, picked up his bag, and made off for the staircase.  His tolerance was extremely low, his brain pulsating against the sides of his head.  It was best to leave before he said something he'd regret in the morning.  Had this been a good day, he would have simply tossed her constant nagging aside.  Climbing the staircase, he wondered when his last "good day" had been.   

            He turned left at the foot of the stairs and silently fumed.  He slammed his fist against the wall, breathing heavy.  Gritting his teeth, he punched it yet again, sliding down to the floor.  His knuckles were lightly grazed with blood, scratched by the stone's textured surface, but Harry couldn't feel the pain.  He half-wanted to go back downstairs and apologize to Hermione and Ron for his behavior, but the other half just wanted to be alone.  Explaining his situation to his best friends was the last thing he wanted to do. 

Closing his eyes tight, he swallowed the anger once more.  Cupping his bruised hand, he leaned his head back and sighed softly.  He sat there for several minutes, breathing rhythmically, caressing his fist.  He needed to get a grip, but how?

            His eyes peered into his shared dorm.  He could hear Neville snoring softly from inside, and could only assume Seamus and Dean were doing the same.  Harry stood up and silently made his way over to his own four-poster, running a hand through his untidy black hair.

He pulled his clothes off, letting them fall to the floor with a rustled, heavy sound.  He reached for his school trunk and fumbled for a pair of thin pants to sleep in.  It was still spring, though outside it felt like mid-summer.  He crawled into bed and laid only a sheet over himself.  He set his glasses on the nightstand and sighed once again.  Since when had things become this difficult?  Was this merely a part of "growing up"?  Why didn't his friends seem to have the same burdens as he? 

            He closed his eyes, tracing his constant-burning scar with his fingers.  His stomach rolled over again.  Occlumency lessons.  How could he look Snape in the face again?  Dumbledore said it was vital to keep practicing, but even he wouldn't give Harry the time of day.  Since the trial at the Ministry, Dumbledore wouldn't even look him in the eye.  Was he disappointed in him?  Maybe even Dumbledore had begun to think Harry was lying about his last encounter with Voldemort?  No, he thought sternly.  No, just stop it, Harry.

            Harry's insides burned with jealousy and rage.  He needed to shut it out, but it was all too much.  He kicked out of bed and put his glasses back on.  He was half-tempted to storm straight out of Hogwarts and back to Privet Drive.  Even the Dursleys' antics would be better than this. 

            He crawled up onto the windowsill next to his bed and stared out into the night sky.  For the first time since he arrived at Hogwarts, he felt truly…alone.  He wrapped his arms around his legs and pressed his face down into his knees, letting out a long growl of frustration.

            Why did he feel so guilty?  Snape had done so many cruel, dishonest, downright degrading things to Harry over the years at Hogwarts.  But…why did Snape also save him from falling off his broomstick during the Quidditch game in his first year?  Dumbledore had said it was simply so Snape felt he didn't "owe" Harry's father anything for saving his life, but that wasn't good enough for Harry.  Not now, not after everything.  Not after . . . 

            "Harry?"  The whisper jerked back to reality with a jump.  It was Ron, tiptoeing toward him.  "Hedwig brought you a letter."  Smiling, Ron's eyes had that same concerned look as they always did, which made Harry's stomach sink even lower.  They were the same sad eyes that Mrs. Weasley carried around him since last summer, since Cedric's death.  Cedric.  Harry could see his still, lifeless form everywhere.  The wide-eyed look he gave before falling under Wormtail's Avada Kedavra curse.  Harry couldn't take it anymore!  The pain was too great, almost too much…

            "Oh?  Why didn't she come up here then?" Harry snapped, unable to help himself.  He knew snapping at his friend would get him nowhere, but at the same time he couldn't stop.  Neville snorted and rolled over, falling deeply into sleep once again.  Harry glanced around the room and saw everyone was still asleep.

            "Er—I'm not sure," Ron replied, trying to keep his smile, though obviously frustrated.  He had black ink splattered over his face and neck, leaving Harry only to assume it was Hermione's payback for being hit with a book.  "She wouldn't let me take it from her leg, so she's down there with Hermione."

            "Right.  Sorry," Harry mumbled.  He followed Ron back down to the common room where Hermione sat sprawled out on the bigger couch, petting Hedwig lovingly.  Somehow, he felt quite unimpressed with his owl.  How hard could it have been to just bring the letter to his room?  Maybe Hedwig sensed he should be with his friends and not alone, for once, but that didn't stop Harry from still being annoyed.

            Hermione was staring at him by the time he slumped down beside her.  "Shouldn't you put a little more on, Harry?"  Her cheeks flushed with a bright pink as she shifted her gaze to the lit fireplace.

Harry raised an eyebrow at her, shrugging his shoulders.  He then realized she was talking about his thin pants.  Rolling his eyes, he said, "And we've known each other…how long?  Five years?"  Though only fifteen, and still very skinny for his age, his chest and shoulders had become considerably broader than the year before—a sign of real manhood on its way.  To Harry, though, it was unnoticeable. 

Hermione said nothing, but instead looked over at Ron.  Harry noticed she was trying to say something to him with her eyes, but Ron just shrugged, his mouth pressed thin.  He, too, focused his gaze elsewhere. 

Harry scowled at them and said to Hedwig, "Where's my letter, then, since you're too lazy to fly up and give it to me yourself?"  Hedwig hooted contentedly, ruffling her feathers under Hermione's caresses.  She simply closed her eyes and kicked a leg out for Harry, not even bothering to move from the couch.  If he didn't know better, Harry would assume she hadn't even noticed his presence in the room. He snatched the small note from her foot, untying it roughly.  Perhaps he wasn't paying as much attention to her as he should, but still . . .this?

            Harry half-debated on asking why his friends were acting so odd, but realized he was too tired to have another outburst.  He unwrapped the crinkled parchment, hoping it was a letter from Sirius.  He was missing him more and more every day.  One of the few hopes he had left would be to spend even a week of his summer holiday with his godfather. 

However, in thick, black ink read:

                        Potter,

                        I demand a meeting in my office tomorrow evening, promptly following dinner.

                                                                                    Professor Severus Snape