Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters or the concept of Harry Potter. Just the plot of this ficlet is my own.
Thank you to everyone who read the story and a big thank you to everyone who dropped a line or reviewed. I've tried to get back to everyone, but a couple of e-mail addresses listed on Ffnet are bouncing. Sorry. I really want to extend an extra special thank you to my beta/ editer-in-chief/ compardre Sepia for all of her hard work. You don't get enough credit for the hard work and the ideas you put into the story.
And a big big thank you to my guest beta TexasJeanette who has kindly agreed to help me out. Thanks Jeanette for all of your hard work and your ideas, not to mention your encouragement. No body (except Sepia) knows how much of a thank you you deserve for having to plough through my extremely rough drafts full of mindless ramblings and random waffles.
"I'm never going to drink again," Harry moaned, holding his head in his hands, hoping that he might squeeze the pounding migraine out of his skull.
"Me either," Draco groaned, just as painfully. "No, wait, I think I said that just last week."
"Wha – whasshappening? Some'ody turn the light off, will ya?" Ron complained hoarsely.
"Ssssshhh!" Draco hushed him. "There's no need to yell!"
It came as an enormous relief to discover that they had been drunk last night. It explained a heck of a lot, like why Harry felt like he had a herd of wild hypogriffs thumping about inside his head, why he'd fallen asleep sprawled across Ron and Draco, and why none of them had woken up with their shirts on. Three empty liquor bottles sat on the coffee table and one lay near Draco's feet – the obvious culprits for their condition this morning.
"I have some potions in the kitchen," Harry muttered, getting to his feet after several clumsy attempts.
"Sweet relief," Draco sighed, using Ron as a leaning post and spoiling Ron's own uncoordinated attempts to stand.
Harry always made a point to keep some of his more useful potions tucked up in various handy places around his rooms, like the kitchen cupboards or the drawers in the bathroom, for emergencies such as the one he found himself in this morning.
He grabbed enough potions for the three of them and joined the others at the kitchen table.
"You're going to have to go without water. I'm not feeling up to finding glasses and serving drinks. In fact, I'm not feeling up to doing much more than collapsing right here," Harry said, practically falling into a seat at the table.
"I can live without the water. I'm not so sure I'll make it without those potions, though," Ron said, accepting two vials from Harry and gulping them down.
"Potions!" Draco cried reverently, barely pausing for breath as he drank first one, then the other.
"We have to be at breakfast in about twenty minutes," Harry groaned, swallowing the potions and putting his empty vials together with Ron's and Draco's in the middle of the table. "The potions should have kicked in by then," he continued, putting his head down on the table.
"I hope so," Draco said, following Harry's example and dropping his head on the table. "If we're any later than that, Ginny and Hermione will come looking for us, and I don't want to have to explain this to them."
"Speaking of explaining things, if either of you remembers why we woke up half dressed, don't tell me. I just don't want to know," Ron said, sliding out of his seat and making himself comfortable on the floor.
Harry and Draco grinned at each other. They could have a lot of fun with this.
Kingsley Shacklebolt was talking with Hermione and Severus when Harry arrived at the breakfast table.
"Have you got a minute?" he asked Harry.
"Of course," Harry said, following Kingsley out of the Great Hall and into the first empty classroom they came across.
The Auror locked the door behind them and cast a silencing spell about the room. "I thought you should read this in a place where there aren't any innocent ears about to hear you swearing at it," Kinsgley said, handing Harry the Daily Prophet, and taking a seat on one of the student desks behind him.
"I don't believe it," Harry muttered, reading the front page.
"It's a little unflattering, isn't it?" Kingsley asked, conversationally.
"You could say that," Harry replied, re-reading the article that told the world that he was a washed up wizard who missed the attention he had received when he was younger and who arranged for the Ministry to be attacked so that he could stage an elaborate rescue and enjoy the attentions of the Ministry. Minister Fudge had even come out and lent his support to the writer of the article, going so far as to allow the newspaper to carry a quote from him that publicly rebuked Harry for this shameless act.
Unable to bring himself to read another word, he threw the paper across the room. "That man is the biggest idiot I've met, bar none! How could he have known what happened yesterday? From what I've been told, he didn't see very much of it. He ran into a wall and knocked himself out before anything much happened."
"I was speaking to Severus earlier this morning. Nobody would treat an attack on the Ministry lightly. Some of the hostages would have reported it to the newspaper as soon as they were released, and this would have put everybody on the alert that there was a potential major threat to the wizarding world. The Aurors would have been called in to investigate and Ministries of Magic across the world would have been on alert. We would have been silently preparing for a war against whoever wanted to overthrow the Ministry. Voldemort won't want anybody to prepare for war until he's ready for one. I don't think that's the case right now. He's still doing his ground work, just like us, so this story is probably the only one that could have been run that would have explained away the apparent attack on the Ministry and made it appear less suspicious than it really was."
"That story is so far fetched, how on earth could it possibly have explained it?" Harry cried.
"It doesn't, but it will probably generate enough of a debate among the community so that the attack on the Ministry won't get treated with the priority it deserves. You know better than anyone that you're very unpopular with certain parts of the community – and you're very newsworthy. They'll try to get as much mileage as they can out of this article."
"Snape said something yesterday about how what happened yesterday didn't fit Voldemort's style, that it wasn't his way of doing things. I never thought I'd say this, but I agree with him. Attacking the Ministry was a very elaborate way to get some files out of the building," Harry said dubiously.
"If that was even the reason behind the attack," Kingsley added. "We questioned everyone who was sealed inside the Ministry. Most of them told us that they were being tested. If they could catch you and deliver you to Voldemort, then they would earn a place in the circle of Death Eaters."
"That's ludicrous," Harry snorted.
Kingsley looked closely at Harry. "That doesn't sound like you. I'll be the first one to say that you're a difficult person to catch, but don't tell me you've gone and developed an ego while my back was turned."
"No, I didn't mean it like that. I meant that they could have had this 'test' anywhere. Why did they choose the Ministry?" Harry asked.
"They didn't. Voldemort did. There were a few Death Eaters among the group that were sealed in the Ministry. They all told us that Voldemort had no intention of admitting the others into his circle of Death Eaters. He said that the main reason behind the attack was to find and deliver certain documents to him."
"Did they mention what they were going to do with the hostages?" Harry asked curiously.
"They said that they were told to 'take the most practical course' with the hostages," Kingsley replied.
"I've never heard of Death Eaters taking hostages. They kill on sight. Voldemort has enough spies inside the Ministry who can access whatever information he wants. There's something wrong about this whole thing," Harry frowned.
"We can talk about this more at the next Order meeting. Albus will be back soon and I'm sure he'll have some ideas about all of this. Anyway, what will you do about this article?" Kingsley asked, summoning the newspaper from where it had landed when Harry had thrown it.
"Nothing. What can I do about it?"
Kingsley folded the newspaper back up and tucked it back into his robes. "Nothing, I suppose. If you did say anything you might just be adding fuel to the fire. Hermione said that that she'd have a word to the students this morning over breakfast about this article. It's impossible to stop people talking amongst themselves, but she seemed pretty confident that, at the very least, they wouldn't give you a hard time about it directly. I didn't understand exactly what she meant, but she mentioned something about how memories of detentions with you and Snape aren't easily forgotten."
Harry couldn't help grinning. The Daily Prophet had printed an article some months ago accusing Harry of behaving inappropriately with one of his students. It had become common knowledge among certain students that Theresa Chan, a young Ravenclaw, had been privately tutored by Professors Potter and Snape. Certain students came to believe all three were involved in a sordid love triangle. Unfortunately, they made the mistake of letting Professors Potter and Snape hear them say this. Word of the grueling evening detentions they had served with both Professors quickly spread and, just as quickly, silenced the students on this issue. If they still spoke about it, it was behind closed doors with no chance of being overheard.
"What did you do?" Kingsley asked suspicously, after seeing Harry's evil grin.
"Nothing fancy. I just took them for a bit of a stroll through the Forbidden Forest," Harry said, trying to suppress his grin. "Don't look at me like that. You don't know the whole story. It was appropriate. Why don't you ask Snape what he did to the students? At one stage, he had them believing that they were testing experimental potions."
"That sounds like him," Kingsley nodded.
Curiosity replaced Harry's anger. "Speaking of people making a fuss about this, shouldn't the school be full of reporters?"
"Well, yes, but considering you immobilised the last group of journalists who came to the castle looking for you, I'd be surprised if any of them came back."
He had immobilised the last group of journalists who had come looking for him and had called on the castle's house elves to escort them all off the premises. "It hasn't stopped them writing rubbish stories about me though."
"You are newsworthy. Nothing will stop people printing stories about you."
"I guess. Anyway, yesterday, you said you wanted to see me about something," said Harry.
"Nothing urgent. I just wanted to see how you were doing. It's been a while since we've been able to sit down and talk. How often are you getting visions? You get that look about you when you've had one of your visions or nightmares. It's different to just tiredness. I taught you how to make potions so that you could have a supply of potions on hand for when you need them without having to look to an outside source for them. Are you still keeping a stock of potions with you or are you using the school's potions?"
Most people knew Kingsley Shacklebolt as a skilled Auror, but it was a little known fact that Kinglsey Shacklebolt was extremely proficient in the field of potions. He may not have been an accredited Master, like Professor Snape, but he had given Harry a very practical education which had sparked his interest in the subject area as Professor Snape's classes had never been able to do. Harry found that doing something so methodical as preparing and brewing potions helped him to relax and unwind – something which was difficult to do at the best of times during those dark years.
"I make my own," Harry assured him, breathing a sigh of relief that he was able to. He wouldn't have been able to stand the thought of having to ask potions from Snape. "And I take them when I need them, so don't worry. Anyway, I have to get back. Class is about to start."
"I need to be on my way as well. Minister Fudge wants to see the whole Auror Division. He's unhappy about what happened yesterday and, no doubt, he's going to try and blame us for it.
Harry walked his old teacher to the front doors of the castle before he hurried off to his own class, who were already lined up outside his classroom. He unlocked the door and watched them all file past him with their heads down and their eyes turned deliberately away from him. They were trying so hard not to stare, or even look, at him that he was surprised they didn't trip over or walk into the wall on the way past. One brave lad looked stopped in front of Harry and said: "We don't believe a word of it, sir. We think it's bollocks," before continuing on his way into the classroom.
He didn't know what Hermione had said to them, but he made a mental note to thank her profusely later on.
A sharp knock on the door interrupted Harry's class and it was difficult to say who was more surprised to see the Potions Master let himself in – Harry or his students.
"Can I help you, Professor?" Harry asked, quite pleased that he managed to sound less surprised than he felt.
"I would like a moment of your time. I shall wait here until your class is over, if you do not mind, of course," Professor Snape replied.
"No, of course not. In fact, the bell should be ringing any minute now," Harry replied, thinking what an irony it was that such exquisite manners should come from someone like the Potions Master. "Alright, you did really well today, and I think you've earned an exam hint: If you study 'protection' and 'deflection', you'll do well on certain parts of the test. Study hard," Harry said to his class as the bell rang.
The students packed up quickly and practically ran out of the class room. It was no secret among the teachers, and students alike, that there was no love lost between the two Professors, and while the students were curious to listen in on their conversation, none of them wanted to anger either one of the two Professors. No one wanted to risk earning a detention from either of them.
"You give exam hints to your students?" Professor Snape asked, quirking an eyebrow.
"If they learn those spells for no other reason than to pass my exam then I'll be happy. At least they'll be able to defend themselves if, or when, they ever need to," Harry replied seriously. "Now, what can I do for you, Professor?"
Without a word, Professor Snape closed and locked the classroom door and cast a strong silencing spell over the room.
"It's going to be one of those conversations, is it?" Harry asked, watching the Potions Master closely. He had said he only wanted to talk, but Harry wouldn't put anything past that man. After all, he had never been the professor's favourite person…
"I am concerned," Professor Snape began simply.
"About what?" Harry asked, still watching the other man carefully. Professor Snape hadn't put away his wand.
"You have provided information to the Dark Lord. I need to know what else you have revealed to him."
"Wha-what?" asked Harry, who was too surprised to think of anything else to say.
"Yesterday you made reference to the fact that the Dark Lord wishes to kill you in order to swing a Prophecy in his favour."
Harry mentally slapped himself for being so careless.
"When you left school, the Headmaster revealed the contents of the Prophecy to only a very few of us – Mr Lupin, the Weasleys, Miss Granger, as she was then, Minerva and myself. The rest of the Order were informed when the war ended. To the best of our knowledge, the Dark Lord had never discovered what the entirety of the Prophecy foretold. When I asked you how he knew about it, you said that you had told him."
"W-when did I tell you this?" Harry stammered.
"While you and Mr Weasley were settling your differences."
Harry hadn't realised that he'd revealed that information. Looking for an excuse to cut their conversation short, he hurried back to his desk and began to pack away his notes and other materials.
"You are the last person who would assist the Dark Lord. The information must have been forced from you. It is critical that I learn what other information you have disclosed," Severus said, staying where he was. "Did you tell him that Draco and I were spying on him?"
"If he'd heard that information, you wouldn't be alive right now," Harry said without looking up from his desk. "And, for the sake of accuracy, I didn't tell Voldemort anything. I told his Death Eaters. I think," he added, whispering the last part so softly, that Severus couldn't have heard him.
"Very well. I am prepared to accept that. However, there can be no mistake that by providing Death Eaters with information, which they will have inevitably revealed to their master, you have put many people at risk," Severus pressed.
Harry dropped the notes he'd been holding and looked up. "Either my hearing must have gone bad or Hell just froze over. I could take an oath that I just heard you talking about your concern for other people – you know, people other than yourself."
"Do not presume to know anything about me, Potter," Professor Snape said, glaring dangerously at Harry. "And you may save your censure. I am not the one who put them at risk in the first place and who refuses to help them now. The over-decorated hero of the last war, no less. Do my ears deceive me, Potter?"
Harry glared icily at his former Professor.
"I find it curious that you did not tell us that you had given information to the Dark Lord before now. One would have assumed that the appropriate course of action would have been to tell us of this occurrence as soon as you were able to so that we might have the opportunity to assess the risks and take steps to minimise them. I note that you did not do this. In fact, you are still unwilling to do this."
Harry slammed his hand down on his desk. "I would have told you, but I…I…I didn't know. And then, when I remembered, it was too late. The war was over and there was no reason for anyone else to know. Anyway, if he was going to act on the information, he would have acted on it during the last war. The risk would have already been dealt with. In any case, for all that I remembered, it might not even have happened. It might not even have been real," he babbled.
Severus looked utterly confused. "What do you mean you did not know? What was not real?"
"I just don't know. It might all have been something else. I just can't tell. It's all so vivid, but…I just don't know."
"I am a skilled enough legilimens to be able to sift through your memories and extract this information," Severus offered, still puzzled.
"You'll do no such thing," Harry snapped, gathering up his notes and heading for the door.
"Do you really believe that there is no longer a risk? The Dark Lord may have acted on your information during the last war, but he may not have. Alternatively, he may be better able to use the information now, particularly as the Order is still laying its groundwork to prepare for the upcoming battles. It is important that you give me the information that I seek. If you would prefer, the Headmaster is also a skilled legilimens. More so than I. He will have no difficulty extracting this information."
"He can stay out of my head too. And don't even think about trying to access my mind without my permission. You two aren't the only legilimens in the castle. I got to be quite good at keeping unwanted people out of my mind. Now, if you don't mind, I'm running late for my next class."
"I hope this is a decision you do not regret making," Severus said coldly as he removed his spells and left the room.
Harry hated to admit it, but the Potions Master had a point. Regardless of how he felt about the matter, it could only be to the Order's advantage to hear the information that he had given to Voldemort and his Death Eaters – if in fact, he'd given them any at all. Unfortunately, this would mean they would find out certain things that he didn't want them to find out. He wasn't proud of the person he became during those dark years, and while he didn't care what most people thought of him, there were certain people he cared about and whom he didn't want to disappoint.
Realising that Snape was right – painful as it was – was one thing, but deciding what to do about the problem was another. Snape had given him two options. He'd rather not take either one of them if he could help it, but as he saw it, he didn't have much of a choice.
"Are you going to tell me what's happened, or am I going to have to get you drunk again tonight? You've been acting weird all afternoon," Draco asked, as their last class of the day left the classroom.
"Nothing's happened," Harry said, helping Draco to straighten up the classroom.
"Uh-huh," Draco said, flicking his wand and sending a desk skittering across to its normal spot in the room. "Well, if you need any help, you know where to find me."
Harry lowered his wand. "Nothing's wrong, but there's something I have to do, and…I really don't want to do it."
"Story of our lives, isn't it?" Draco said, letting the last chair slide into place. "The offer still stands too, so feel free to take me up on it."
"It's alright, I don't need any help-" Harry began.
"I didn't mean that. I meant that if you still need me to get you drunk tonight, come and find me. I know the girls would disagree, but sometimes alcohol is the best friend you'll ever have."
"Er, I might stay away from the drinks for a while. I'm still feeling the effects of last night's drinking party."
"Suit yourself. Oh, and speaking of the girls, they're looking for you."
"I know," Harry mumbled. "They've been looking for me for a couple of weeks."
Draco raised his eyebrows. "I guess it'd be hard not to notice. Anyway, I just thought you should know. I'll see you at dinner," he said as he left the classroom.
Harry gathered up his teaching material and left the room.
"Harry, fancy running into you here," Ginny called out to Harry as he locked up his classroom.
"You mean, outside my classroom?" Harry asked.
"I promise you, I had nothing to do with this," Ron said, looking like he'd rather be anywhere but where he was.
Hermione elbowed him sharply in the ribs. "Shush."
"Er, look …" Hermione began nervously. Harry cringed. She had that look. So did Ginny. It was the look that all women seemed to get when they had something gushy and emotional to say. Every man on the face of the planet recognised that look, and most of them ran as far as they could whenever they came across it.
"I'll hold them off. If you start running now, you might just make it out of the castle before they get past me," Ron suggested helpfully, cringing under 'the look', even though it wasn't directed at him.
"They'd get past you?" Harry asked Ron.
"Of course they would. Have you seen them when they're angry? Scary," Ron replied, shuddering. Both girls glared hard at Ron.
"Come on inside," Harry sighed, unlocking the classroom door and showing them all inside. He'd already made it clear that there were certain things he wasn't prepared to talk about and he sincerely hoped that they weren't going to question him about them again.
"Harry, we haven't really had a chance to sit down and talk properly since you came back. We know that you haven't wanted to, and that's fine, but if you ever need us, you know that we're here for you. Just like in the old days. Nothing's changed between us. I don't care who you are, or who you think you are. You're my best friend, and that's all there is to it. Okay?" Hermione asked.
"That's right. You're like family to me, and nothing's going to change that," Ginny said firmly. The girls looked a little teary eyed.
"Thank you," Harry said quietly. He had been deliberately avoiding talking to them.
"I…I know that you mean it when you say that the way you feel about me…about us… hasn't changed, but you know that things can't be the same, don't you? I mean, we were apart for nearly ten years and we've all changed. I'm not the boy I used to be. Actually," Harry said, looking thoughtfully past them, "I can't even remember the boy I used to be."
"We all evolve and grow up," Hermione said.
"Well, some of us do, anyway," Ginny added with a meaningful look at Ron.
"Wha'd I do?" Ron asked in wide eyed innocence.
"I see the boy I once knew every time I see you talk with your students, or help some of the other teachers, or even when you're just spending time talking with us. He's still there, Harry," Hermione assured him.
"No, he's not. He's definitely gone," Harry said sadly. "I don't even feel him anymore. But that's beside the point," Harry said, changing the subject. "When I came back here, I thought we might be able to pick things up where we'd left them off, but nothing feels the same anymore. Not even us. You must feel it too."
"I have felt it," Hermione said, breaking the awkward silence that had fallen over them. "At first, I thought you'd left us, and I'm not referring to the fact that you lived as a muggle for eight years. You didn't want to spend time with us the way you used to and when we were all together, you didn't talk to us the way you used to. But I thought about it and I realised that we were all having some trouble feeling comfortable as a group again. I know I just said that when I looked at you, I could see the boy I once knew, but I can also see that you've changed. A lot. Sometimes I've seen you just sitting on your own and, well, I've never seen anyone look so sad, Harry," Hermione said, blinking back her tears. "Other times you look so angry that it scares me. You're right. In light of everything that's happened, our relationship can't be the same, but that doesn't mean that we can't build a friendship on new footing and new terms. We're not expecting to be able to pick up where we left off, but we are hoping that you'll stop avoiding us and try being our friend again."
Harry didn't know what to say. He'd forgotten how selfless and generous they could all be – and how smart Hermione could be.
"I haven't been avoiding you," he mumbled.
"You have," Ginny protested. "You ran the other way when you saw Hermione and I coming down the hallway last week."
"Oh, that. I wasn't running from you. No, I was…er…being called by someone, that was all," Harry stammered.
"Right," Ginny snorted.
"If I saw the two of you marching toward me I'd run too. There's nothing unusual about –" Ron began before being punched by his wife and his sister.
Things suddenly seemed much brighter.
"Oh, by the way, the editor of the newspaper is going to print an apology in tomorrow's edition. As I recall, he said he'd make it a large and lengthy one too, on the front page." Ginny said.
"Really?" Harry asked, surprised.
"Oh yes. He was very keen to be helpful," said Ginny, grinning broadly.
"Very keen," Hermione agreed. "Particularly when Ginny told him that if he wasn't willing to be helpful and retract that pack of lies, she'd ask Draco to come down and try to persuade him to do the right thing," Hermione added, grinning just as broadly as Ginny.
"Thanks, but it isn't going to make one bit of difference. Whoever believed that rubbish will still believe it, and whoever didn't, won't."
"Maybe, but I think it will be good for people to see a public apology. At the very least, it will bring the idiocy of that article to everyone's attention," Hermione said, trying to be helpful.
"I still say you should have waited for my classes to finish so I could have come with you," Ron mumbled.
"You had a full day of classes," Ginny pointed out. "We couldn't wait."
"Yeah, and you were looking a bit peaky this morning, anyway. I thought you might have been ill. Are you feeling all right now?" Hermione asked.
"Er…peaky, you say?" Ron asked, glancing quickly at Harry. "No. Your eyes must have been playing tricks on you. I feel fine."
Neither Harry nor Ron were about to tell Hermione that they had spent the night getting thoroughly drunk. Hermione was very responsible, and getting drunk on a school night most definitely wasn't.
"Come to think of it, you didn't come to bed last night. Did you spend all night in Harry's rooms?" she asked.
"Well, yes. You know how we used to get when we played chess. The time just got away from us," said Ron a little lamely. Harry groaned inwardly. Ron still couldn't tell a believable lie to save his life. His efforts were just downright embarrassing, and now they were stuck with that ridiculous story.
Ginny and Hermione looked suspiciously at the two boys. "Chess? All night?"
Harry shook his head. This was going to be difficult to explain.
Harry waited until the students had all reported back to the House dormitories for the evening before he went in search of the Potions Master. He was sure he'd find him creeping about the castle, trying to catch students out of bed after curfew. When he was a student, Professor Snape had managed to catch him wandering about after curfew enough times to make him think that guarding the corridors of the castle against errant students was something he did every night without fail beginning when curfew was called and only giving up his watch when everybody came down to breakfast. But to his surprise, the Professor wasn't making any rounds of the castle floors. Instead, Harry found him in his rooms.
"Yes?" the Professor asked bluntly when he opened the door to find Harry on the other side.
"You were right," Harry said, getting straight to the point.
"That does not surprise me, Mr Potter. Now, what, in particular, was I right about?"
Harry looked cautiously about him. "About what we talked about this morning," he said quietly.
"I suppose you had best come in. We certainly cannot have this conversation out here," Snape said, standing aside and letting Harry into his rooms.
Immaculate. The man was still so tidy and organised at eleven o'clock at night! Not a thing looked out of place in the Professor's rooms except the two books that lay open on the lounge and the single mug sitting idly on the coffee table. He even managed to look immaculately groomed at eleven o'clock at night. Gone were his teaching robes. Instead, he wore dark robes of charcoal grey, which were every bit as stern and imposing as his Hogwarts attire.
"I've interrupted you," Harry said, making an effort to be polite.
"Of course you have," Professor Snape huffed, standing in the door way with is arms folded. "However, I shall overlook it…this time. Now, what do you want, Potter?"
Harry rolled his eyes at the Professor's antics. "You told me that you wanted to find out what I'd told Voldemort. I'm offering to tell you. I would never intentionally do anything to hurt the people around me, but if I have, I want to do what I can to fix that."
The older man narrowed his eyes. "That aside, why are you are offering to tell me?" he asked suspiciously.
"Believe me, if I could think of a better way of doing this, I'd do it."
"I would have imagined that I would be the last person you would wish to speak to."
"Tell me, Professor, how many people do you know who can break a memory charm without torturing someone, and without leaving them with permanent brain damage?"
"It is not a widely spread skill, as most people have little, if any, opportunity to practice it. Success rates are also not very high, largely because each mind is different and is subject to different circumstances and pressures. Nonetheless, I believe the Headmaster is capable of retrieving suppressed memories, as is Minerva. I would imagine that they would be more suitable candidates for this task than myself. You have kept this information to yourself up until now. They are due to return in a few more days. I do not think it will make any difference if you keep it secret until then."
"They'll make a fuss. I know it. So will everyone else. I don't think you will. Not in the same way everyone else will, anyway."
"How do you mean?" asked Severus, sounding more curious than irritable now.
Harry gave him a very chilly look. "You were right when you said that I would never do anything to help Voldemort, or his Death Eaters. Whatever they learned from me was forced out of me. They poured Veritaserum down my throat and they…well, I'm sure you know what I'm getting at."
"You realise, of course, that I will be reporting whatever you disclose to me to the Headmaster who will, in turn, tell the rest of the Order."
"I know that. I'm sure you'll tell him what he needs to know, without exaggerating anything or making a big deal out of whatever you've seen or heard. There are certain things that I don't want anyone to see or know about, but since you used to be a Death Eater, I think it would take quite a bit to shock you. In fact, you might even enjoy this, well, parts of it anyway," Harry said, coldly. Of course the Potions Master would be delighted. Seeing Harry being tortured might be the first thing to put a smile on the older man's face. Harry tried to picture the Potions Master grinning with delight, but eventually gave up. The idea was just too unusual.
"Then I look forward to it. Follow me," Severus said flatly, leading Harry into his sitting room. He drew his wand and gave a tiny flick of his wrist and the books on the couch closed themselves and stacked themselves neatly on the coffee table, next to Professor Snape's forgotten mug.
"Sit," he commanded, pointing to a spot on one of the lounges, which Harry obediently sat in. It was more comfortable than he imagined it would be and it would have been easy to sit back and relax – if he wasn't in the Potions Master's private rooms, sitting only a few feet away from a very irritated looking Potions Master.
"You made little sense when we were discussing the matter this morning and you are making even less sense now. I do not understand what you mean when you say that you can remember some things but not others, and that some things may not have been real. Begin again, and tell me everything. Do not leave a single detail out, regardless of how unimportant you believe it to be," the Professor instructed, taking a seat on one of the other lounges.
"It's not that simple."
"Over the years, I have found that nothing is ever simple where you are concerned," Professor Snape replied. "Tell me what you think you know."
"Alright, I know I told you that Voldemort knows about the Prophecy, but, to be honest, I don't actually know if he does or he doesn't –" Harry began.
"If that is the case, why did you lead us to believe that he did?" Severus asked.
"I don't know. I didn't even know I'd said it. I don't know what I was saying yesterday. I didn't intend to say anything. Ron got me so mad, I just blurted out the first thing that came into my head," Harry explained.
"So the Dark Lord does not know what the Prophecy says," Severus said, trying to understand.
"I didn't say that. I said that I don't know if he does or he doesn't," Harry replied.
Severus sighed and massaged his temples. "I am getting a headache trying to follow your explanation. Begin again. This time, start at the beginning."
"I don't know how else to explain it," Harry cried. "I don't know where to start."
"Some things never change," Severus said, shaking his head. "Begin with the information you gave to the Dark Lord. We have established that you did not volunteer it. You were captured and it was forced from you."
The man had no tact at all. Then again, he'd always known that. The only thing that surprised him was that he had actually expected the irascible potions master to show some sensitivity about a topic that he didn't find easy to talk about.
"I didn't actually tell Voldemort anything. I told his Death Eaters. Apparently Voldemort wanted to kill me himself but he ordered his lackeys to find out what I knew first."
"Yes, he often delegated the more menial and less important tasks, like information gathering, to his servants," Professor Snape nodded.
"I told them who was in the Order and what I knew of the Order's plans."
"You became aware of my own involvment with the Order the summer of your fifth year. Did you tell them of this also?" Professor Snape asked.
"Yes. But I don't think the information got back to Voldemort. If it did, you would have been killed as soon as he'd heard of it. My friends came for me and they got me out – once, I escaped on my own – but we made sure that whoever had heard the information I'd given wasn't able to tell anyone about it."
"That was extremely fortunate, both for you and for Draco and myself. I trust the measures that you took were permanent," the Potions Master said, carefully.
"They were. I made sure to tell Albus everything anyway, just in case I'd missed something or someone, though," Harry assured the other man.
"Now that I think of it, there were times when the Headmaster would pull both Draco and myself to the side and warn us that there was a chance that someone had stumbled onto our secret but each time he did this we assessed our situation thoroughly and there was never any substance to those rumours. I had always wondered where the Headmaster had come across this information, since none of our other sources had ever heard anything of the kind," Professor Snape thought out loud. "This does not, however, explain how the Dark Lord may, or may not, know of the Prophecy."
"I was just getting to that," said Harry "I don't dream very often. If I do, I don't usually remember them, but I remember dreaming a lot during the war, and for a while after the war. I'd have terrible nightmares about –" Harry cut himself off before he said too much. "But after the war, something weird started to happen. I'd be having a dream about being caught by the Death Eaters. They'd be…well…doing what they were doing," Harry said vaguely, unable to bring himself to be any more specific than that. Somehow, it was less painful if he didn't actually use the word. "And I'd be telling them what I knew and then everything would change and I'd be in an entirely new dream. I'd still been caught by the Death Eaters, but this time, they were holding me down and I was reciting the Prophecy for them and telling them about the protective wards around Hogwarts. I don't remember doing that, but there I was."
"How could you possibly know about the school's protective wards?" Severus asked, wide eyed.
"In my third year, I thought Sirius was trying to kill me, and when Sirius managed to get into the school Hermione Ron and I did some research on it. We also asked Albus about them. I wanted to know how safe I really was in the castle," Harry replied.
"I see, continue."
"Other times, I would be dreaming and then everything would change and I'd be watching the Weasleys, or Ron and Hermione. I wasn't a part of what they were doing, I was just watching them from further away."
"I am no expert on human psychology, however, I believe that it is normal to dream of fictional scenarios that are based upon real events, particularly at times of great stress."
"I thought the same thing, but a few weeks ago, I had that same dream where I was telling the Death Eaters about the Prophecy and the wards around the school, but this time I saw more than I'd ever seen before. I was fighting them and when there was only one Death Eater left standing, we threw spells at each other at almost the same time. All I remember is that I saw black and when I came to, I couldn't remember where I was or what had happened."
Professor Snape looked thoughtful for a few moments. "I do not think you realise the significance of what you are suggesting. If these events happened, and if your memories were suppressed, then what you are suggesting is that your own mind broke through a memory charm, or several as the case may be here, that it was restrained under. I accept that it would have been an unconscious action on your part, but nonetheless, I had no idea that it was even possible."
Harry looked confused.
"Consider this: there is only one way to break a memory charm and that is to apply enough pressure to it that it yields under the strain. When people are tortured to break through their memory charms, the stress and distress generated by the torture is enough that the whole mind itself comes under an enormous physical and psychological strain which can be enough to dispel a memory charm. However, this normally results in irreparable brain damage. When I circumvented the charm placed over Dobby's memories, I isolated a particular part of his mind and applied pressure to one specific area, rather than applying pressure generally over the entire area and damaging otherwise healthy parts of his mind."
Harry still looked confused. He began to suspect that the Potions Master spoke in lengthy and convoluted sentences deliberately.
The Potions Master sighed impatiently. "A mind that is under the confusion of a memory charm should not be able to navigate itself and find the exact location of this charm, much less remove it. If this is the case, I am surprised that you did not cause yourself any brain damage. Though at times like these I am forced to wonder…"
"Alright," Harry cut him off. "We're in the middle of something which, according to you, is very important. I know it's hard when I'm right in front of you, but try not to let your tongue get carried away with itself."
"What nonsense are you babbling about, Potter?" Professor Snape huffed, colouring slightly and folding and unfolding his arms across his chest. "If I am to search your mind for suppressed memories, we had best begin."
The Potions Master got up off the sofa and sat on the table in front of Harry.
"Wait a minute," Harry said, as Professor Snape pulled his wand out and pointed it at him.
"What is it? This will take some time. The sooner we begin, the sooner we will finish," said the impatient Professor.
"I know that, but I, well –," Harry interrupted before the Potions Master could begin. He thought he'd been ready to do this, but now that the professor was about a half a minute away from getting inside his head, he wasn't so sure. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so exposed, like he was about to run a marathon – naked.
"If there is nothing further, let us begin," Professor Snape said some few moments later, raising his wand again.
"You only need to search through my memories of those three years or so after I left the Castle and until the war ended. Don't look through anything else," Harry warned him.
"I had no intention of wasting any more of my time. Searching through your memories of those three years will be a large enough task. However, they are not at the forefront of your mind. Those memories are buried under at least eight years of more recent memories. I will need to navigate through them to get to what I'm looking for."
"What? What if I made sure they were at the forefront of my mind? If I concentrate on the day I left the castle, would that help? Would you just be able to go straight to it?" Harry asked.
"It would certainly help, but you will not be conscious while I am doing this, so it will make no difference," Professor Snape replied.
"I'll be perfectly conscious while you're inside my mind, thank you very much. I'm not letting you wander around in there unsupervised," Harry told him firmly. The memory of Snape's occlumency lessons were hard to forget.
"You do not understand what you are saying," the Professor told him. "If you move while I am searching your mind I may make an error and injure you."
"I won't move," Harry said firmly.
"You are still so stubborn. Breaking through a memory charm is very painful. As hardened as you think you have become, I assure you, you will not be able to remain still through that."
"If you were in my place you'd be just as stubborn." Harry had every intention of having his own way.
Harry and Snape glared at each other, locked in a silent contest of wills. "Very well. If you insist on remaining conscious – Petrificus Totalis." Professor Snape said finally, as he cast the spell and locked Harry into a full body bind where he sat. He had cast the spell so quickly and unexpectedly that Harry hadn't even had time to look surprised. "This will hold you motionless. Should I, however, discover a memory charm, the body bind will do nothing to deaden the pain. Incidentally, you should have been able to anticipate that spell. With reflexes as slow as they are, one wonders how you managed to survive for as long as you have," Snape smirked at Harry who could do nothing but stare back at him.
Harry had to satisfy himself with swearing loudly at him inside his mind.
"If you have nothing further to say –"
Harry added a whole new string of insults to his internal mutterings.
"-we shall begin."
Even though Harry knew what Snape was going to do, his mind reeled each time it felt the other man trying to intrude on it and it threw him out. He had spent so much time trying to protect his mind from intruders that throwing people out of it had become something of a habit. He didn't even have to think about it anymore, he just did it. Harry thought that, all things considered, it was perfectly understandable, but he doubted that it would make one jot of difference to the Potions Master who was looking more and more irritated as each of his attempts failed. Besides, in the state he was in, it wasn't as though he could offer any explanations anyway.
"We are getting no where," Professor Snape sighed after Harry had thrown him from his mind for the third time. "I would rather not use any more force than I already am, so you must let me in. Relax your mind."
Harry was about the farthest from being relaxed as he could be. Hogwarts' irascible Potions Master was about to forcibly violate his mind and see and hear things that Harry had never wanted anyone to see or hear. Relaxing was impossible.
"If you are ready," Professor Snape began again, "I shall try again on three."
Harry concentrated on what was about to come.
"One, two, three."
As the Potions Master probed at the edges of his mind again, seeking entrance, Harry grabbed the link that he'd extended and pulled him inside, directing him to the part of his memories that began after he left Hogwarts at the end of his fifth year."
Professor Snape's intrusion into his mind was just as quick, painful and direct as it had been all those years ago when he was giving Harry occlumency lessons – just like the man himself. And yet, despite having all the softness of touch that one could expect from a Hungarian Horntail, he was able to execute the most complex and delicate of tasks. The man was a walking monument of contradictions, but then, so was he.
"Now let go. Let me go," Snape instructed. "If you do not, I may not be able to get out again."
Harry was finding it difficult to let him go. In fact, he found himself becoming intertwined with the link to him and he could see the edges of some of the Professor's own memories. He saw Snape fighting with his father and Sirius in a large old house, and then he caught sight of a very young Snape taking the Dark Mark before he saw Snape crying over the body of a woman.
"Stop it," Snape cried, shaking Harry loose but Harry grabbed hold of him before he could leave his mind altogether. "Do not force the link. Open your mind and release your hold on me."
Slowly, he eased his hold away from the professor's link and concentrated on following the professor's movements though his mind.
It seemed that the Potions Master was simply skimming through Harry's mind, stopping every now and then to look a little more closely at something or other before skimming past them again. He stopped again and pulled one of Harry's memories to the forefront of his mind.
Harry couldn't understand why the other man was so interested in this particular recollection of himself having a meeting with Joshua at a small muggle pub in London. Aside from their conversation about a rare book that Joshua had managed to acquire, which wasn't altogether interesting in the first place, there was nothing special about that particular memory.
"Brace yourself. This will hurt," the Potions Master said. Thanks to the body bind he'd been put in, there wasn't much that he could do though.
Professor Snape was swift and exact and he probed Harry's memory with the precision of an expert. Once, twice, three times. It felt, to Harry, like someone was hammering a chisel through his mind. It wasn't painful. It was blinding. Excruciating. Harry felt Snape strike at his mind again and again before he couldn't take any more and he let the numbness of unconsciousness claim him.
The professor looked critically at the young man on his sofa. "That was impressive. You held out longer than I expected you to. Now, what have you been hiding from us, Potter?"
Harry opened his eyes but squeezed them shut again against the light in the room.
"And how is he?" a voice asked, sounding worried. The speaker sounded very much like the Headmaster but that couldn't be right. He wasn't expected to return to the castle for another few days, was he?
"I will not be sure until he wakes up, but there did not seem to be any out of the ordinary neural activity. The fact that there appeared to be any neural activity at all was a surprise in itself."
That could only have been Snape. But why on earth was Snape, of all people, here? And where was he? Deciding that he didn't have the energy to think on the subject right now, he pushed the thought to the back of his mind and let the blackness re-claim him.
"Severus, your tongue is sharper than a guillotine," Albus admonished him, taking a seat at the foot of the lounge where Harry was resting and looking fondly down at the young man who was snoring lightly.
"I suppose so, but when have you ever known me to be any different?"
"He is no longer the self conscious student you once knew," said Albus, giving Severus an odd look. "Since his return here, I have seen him deal very harshly with people who would seek to treat him badly or speak badly of him, except you and Ronald Weasley. I understand that Harry and Ron have always been very close, but I wonder why it is that he has let you carry on as you do."
"I believe you are imagining things. He and I continue to argue and threaten one another, just as we have always done."
"I see," Albus said. "Well, perhaps you are right. I am getting old and my eyes are not what they once were. It would not be the first time I have been mistaken." Albus got to his feet and showed himself to the door. "Come and see me when you are ready and give me your report on what you have found out from Harry."
"Of course, Headmaster," Severus nodded, showing Albus out. "But what exactly did I find out?" he asked himself, shutting the door behind him and heading back into his room.
By the time Ron took his seat at the staff table in the Great Hall, breakfast was almost over.
"You're late – very late – but I've decided that I don't want to know." Ginny huffed as Ron walked into breakfast hall.
In utter confusion, Ron looked to Draco who mouthed "women!" and shrugged helplessly.
"I saw that," Ginny said to Draco without even turning around.
"Hey, where's Harry this morning?" Ron asked, quickly changing the subject before he and his brother-in-law could get into any more trouble.
"I don't know. I thought he was with you," said Ginny. "Come to think of it, Severus isn't here either. That's not like him."
"I was given a message this morning that Severus and Harry are running an errand for Albus which might take a few days," Draco recited.
The others stared at him in disbelief.
"Harry and Severus?" asked Ginny.
"Yes," Draco replied.
"Severus Snape – the manwho hates all things Potter?" Ron asked, dumbfounded.
"That was the message. Apparently it was something only the two of them could do," Draco shrugged, trying, very hard, to stifle a grin.
Severus had sent him an Owl message letting him know that he and Harry would be missing from their classes for a few days. The Potions Master had suggested that he inform everyone who asked that he and Severus were running an errand for the Headmaster. The message had ended with a brief promise to explain everything to him as soon as he was able, and Draco had to admit that he was looking forward to hearing an explanation for why his friend was planning to run off with Harry for a few days.
"Do you think Harry will be alive at the end of it all to tell us about it?" Ron asked his sister.
"I think so," Ginny replied, sounding as skeptical as her brother looked.
In a dark room that was lit by only a single candle that stood on a small marble table, the Potions Master sat in his favourite chair, reading a book and waiting for his young charge to finally wake up.
"Oh man, I'm never drinking again. I mean it this time, Ron," Harry moaned, mournfully burrowing further down into the blanket.
"That is likely the most intelligent thing you have ever said," replied a familiarly sarcastic baritone.
"What in Merlin's name are you doing in my room?" Harry asked, bolting out from under the blanket.
"Your room?" Snape asked, raising a single eyebrow.
A quick look about told him that he certainly wasn't in his own rooms. This place was much darker and gloomier – though that might have had something to do with its owner. "Oh, terrific," he muttered, remembering what brought him to Snape's doorstep in the first place.
"Indeed," the Potions Master agreed. "You have been here for three days, as have I –"
"I spent the better part of one and a half days analysing the state of your memories. You recovered from the experience more quickly than I expected, however, whether your mental agility has been affected…remains to be seen." Professor Snape smirked.
"Accio glasses," Harry whispered, catching his spectacles in mid flight and throwing them on his face. "And what did you find?"
"Only one of your memories had been suppressed by Death Eaters. It was the one in which you recited the Prophecy for your captors and you had been able to unlock its contents for yourself."
"There were a few memories that had been suppressed…at your own request," Professor Snape said, with uncharacteristic diplomacy.
"That's not something I want to remember," Harry said, remembering what he'd begged Kingsley Shacklebolt to erase from his memories. He looked like he'd just swallowed something sour. "But it had to be done."
"Why would you even think that you had to go to those lengths?"
"Would you rather I hadn't?" Harry snapped.
"I suppose not, but I would not have expected it, particularly from you."
"…me either," Harry admitted, fidgeting with his glasses.
"Nonetheless," Professor Snape said after a long and awkward silence, "having your mind tampered with like that is extremely dangerous. You could have been permanently impaired."
"I trust Kingsley. He was very careful. So you really didn't discover anything useful, did you?" Harry interrupted.
"It does not appear so."
"So this was all for nothing?"
"I do not actually believe you would have wanted me to discover that you had, in fact, endangered us all."
Harry was about to protest but changed his mind. The Potions Master was absolutely right. The idea that he might have put his friends in danger had been gnawing away at him and had driven him to seek out his least favourite professor in the first place.
"What will you tell the Headmaster?" Harry asked carefully, trying not to look at him.
"I will most likely tell him that I have discovered no cause for concern."
"He's going to want to know more than that," Harry said dubiously.
"Of course he is, and I shall tell him that you have made it extremely clear that you do not want me to divulge that information to anyone. At the moment, he is very willing to keep you happy and I do not think he will press me any further than that – for now."
Harry looked skeptically at his former professor.
"I am seldom wrong on these matters," the Potions Master assured him.
"You could tell him that I erased your memory right after we finished," Harry suggested. "In fact, I could really erase your memory –" he stopped. The look on the professor's face spoke volumes and Harry was quite certain that if he even tried to tamper with this man's memory, he would live to regret it.
Harry turned away, unable to look at the other man any longer. His mind was still reeling from the effects of having his memories stirred up and agitated by the Potions master. Memories better left forgotten in the dust of eight years ago were still trying to settle themselves in his mind – a steady stream of snapshots from the past and the looming presence of the one he feared the most. The one who threatened to destroy all the decency and humanity left in him.
"It is after dinner, but I would advise that you do not try to return to your rooms before student curfew is called. In case you should meet anybody on your way back, you should know that to explain our absence for the past three days the Headmaster has circulated the story that you and I are assisting the Aurors with their inquiries about our role in the recent incident at the Ministry."
"It must make you feel good to know that you were right – again. You've been right all along. That's a very annoying habit of yours," Harry said quietly, still looking anywhere but at his former professor. "They've all put their faith in the wrong person. After everything I've done, tell me, how can I claim to be the good guy in all of this? How can I look anyone in the eye and claim to be doing the right thing?" he sighed,
"Never mind," Harry interrupted, slowly getting up off the lounge. His already throbbing temples pounded even harder with the effort. "I forgot who I was talking to for a minute."
"You should take a headache draught before you leave," the Potions Master said, noticing Harry's silent grimace.
"Ah, I'll be fine," he said, quickly declining the offer. It was only a headache. He would endure the pain until he could take one of his own potions, which didn't taste like he'd washed out his dirty socks in them, the way the Potions Master's did. "I'll be going. There are a lot of things I need to catch up on and I can't afford to waste any more time," he said, stumbling towards the door.
"I will not have a random student see you staggering out of my rooms," Professor Snape said, ignoring the insult and moving toward the fireplace. "If you will insist on ignoring my advice and leaving now, I suggest that you travel by floo. My network is connected to the Malfoys' network. I believe they are spending the evening with the Weasleys. If your floo is connected to their network, you may return to your room from there. If not, there is only a short distance between your rooms, and you will look far less suspicious leaving their rooms than leaving mine," he said, offering Harry a pot full of floo powder.
Harry looked at it suspiciously.
"Well? What are you waiting for?" Professor Snape asked impatiently.
"I've seen the kind of booby traps you've got around your room. There's nothing in there that's going to rip my hand off or anything, is there?"
The Potions Master glared at his former student. "Of course not."
"You can't blame me for asking," Harry muttered, taking a handful of floo powder and stepping into the fireplace.
"Besides. I would never be able to explain such a thing to the Headmaster," Professor Snape smirked just seconds before Harry disappeared from the room.
Harry landed with a sooty thud in front of Ginny's and Draco's fireplace.
"Harry?" Draco asked, startling Harry who was still wiping soot off his glasses.
"Oh, er, hi. Sorry about…well…dropping in…er…"
"Don't worry about it. What happened to you? Where have you been? Do you want a drink?" Draco asked, quickly throwing some papers behind the cushion beside him on the lounge and heading for the drinks cabinet.
"No. Definitely no drinks right now, thanks," he said, getting to his feet. "I wasn't expecting anyone to be here right now. I'm really just passing through on my way to my rooms. I hope you don't mind."
"You're right, Ginny and I were supposed to be having drinks with Ron and Hermione, but I don't know how you could have known about that. You don't have to rush off. Feel free to hang around here for a while. I'd love to know where you've been. I got a note from Severus saying that you and he were running some sort of errand for Albus but it didn't say anything more than that. So what were you really doing for the last few days?"
"I don't really want to talk about it," he sighed, dropping into one of Draco's lounges.
"You know the girls are going to have questions for you, don't you?"
"Yes, and I was hoping you'd help me fend them off."
Draco looked closely at Harry. "Alright. I'll do my best to keep the girls – and Ron – off your back. You look like you're about to fall asleep standing up. I know you said you were heading back to your own rooms but you're welcome to crash here if you like. Ginny's sleeping at Ron's and Hermione's."
"Are you two having problems?" he asked, looking puzzled.
"No. Ginny and Hermione are having a girl's sleep over. They do that every now and then. Ron usually comes round here or locks himself in a different room," Draco replied.
"Oh. Well, I'll head back over to my room. Sorry again for dropping in unannounced."
"You know, you should connect your floo to ours."
"It's not that far to my rooms," Harry replied.
"That's not what I meant. We're preparing for another war. There might come a time when you need to get out of your rooms in a hurry and find one of us. On the other hand, there might come a time when you need to see certain people without your movements being traced across the school, or when someone might need to get to you in a hurry. Severus is the most paranoid person I've ever met but he's connected to ours, the Weasleys' and Albus'."
"He's connected to Ron's and Hermione's fireplace?" Harry blurted out.
"Ron, Hermione and Ginny, more so than the other Weasleys, have been very loyal to him. We all started working together when I started dating Ginny. After that, we all changed our opinions of each other, but I guess depending on each other to keep you alive will do that to you.
"Alright. I'll open up my floo tomorrow. Right now, I just want to find a headache potion and fall into bed," he sighed, letting himself out of Draco's rooms.
Once Harry had gone, he retrieved the parchments he had stashed behind the lounge cushion and hid them safely between the pages of one of the books on their bookshelf.
He penned a short note to Ginny, in case she should come back to their rooms before he did, and hurried over to their fireplace. Harry might not have wanted to talk about where he'd been the last three days, but Severus might.
"So what exactly were you and Harry doing for the last three days? He told me he's exhausted and that all he wants is to go to bed and get some rest. The mind reels at the possibilities," Draco grinned. He stepped through Severus' fireplace and casually brushed a few specks of loose soot off his clothes.
"I know of at least ten ways to kill you right now and make it look like an accident," the other man said without even looking up from the book he was reading. "You were not supposed to be in your rooms this evening."
Old habits were hard to break. During the last war they had always made sure the other knew exactly where they were at all times. At first they could only trust each other. Their fates as spies were intertwined. If one was given up, the other would be as well, so they always made sure that the other could find them if they needed to. It was a habit that carried on well after the war had ended. They had played a dangerous role in the war and no one could convince them that they were safe.
"I had to change my plans. I got some mail from a…well informed friend."
The Potions Master lowered his book.
"And what did they have to say?"
"The Death Eaters are taking new recruits, and they're trying to recruit some of the students."
"I expected as much. He cannot breach the castle's defences, so he will attempt to recruit those who are already inside. We have already anticipated this. The Headmaster has privately alerted all staff, and yourself and Ginny. There is nothing more we can do for now," Severus said, sending his book back to the crowded bookshelves behind him with a quick flick of his wand.
"We might have suspected before but now we know it's going to happen. I don't like the idea that my wife is going to be exposed to Death Eaters who will have every opportunity to hurt her just so that they can hurt me," Draco said, balling up his fists.
"Your wife grew up with six brothers and she's the wife of a Malfoy. She is more than capable of protecting herself. Besides, I have never seen a more protective family than the Weasleys. She will be well looked after. In a way, I feel sorry for the person who does try to attack her. I would not wish an attack by a full Weasley and Malfoy clan upon anyone. I assure you that your wife will be safer here than anywhere else. At least at the school, the threat is limited to a group of students who have not reached their full magical potential."
"You're not an idiot. You know just as well as I do that Voldemort will teach them how to wield his brand of magic," Draco argued.
"I am aware of this," Severus said, making his way to his drinks cupboard and pouring them both a tall glass of scotch. "But you must be aware that whatever he teaches them is tempered by their talent and their skill. You became a school-age Death Eater. Even with the Dark Lord's training, how skilled would you say you were? I will concede that you were able to cast the killing curse, but I believe that this skill was learned during the training we had together, rather than the training you were given by the Dark Lord," he added, magically sending one of the glasses over to Draco.
Draco dropped down onto the lounge, making sure not to spill his drink. "You're right. I know you're right. And having been on the receiving end of an attack by the entire Weasley family, I can honestly say that I was lucky to be alive at the end of it," Draco grimaced lightly, absently rubbing an old wound on his chest.
His first meeting with the rest of the Weasley family didn't go as well as he would have liked. He didn't scare easily, but he wasn't ashamed to admit that he felt real fear that day. The whole family had gathered to meet Draco. Even Ginny had been surprised. It was rare for the whole family to be able to get together. Draco privately suspected that they had all cancelled their appointments for that day to make sure that they could be there to keep an eye on him.
His near death-by-Weasley experience had happened after lunch. Ginny was helping her mother carry the lunch dishes into the kitchen when Draco had noticed a bee hovering near her head. Ginny was allergic to bee stings and the last time she had been stung Draco had had to take her to the hospital for treatment. Without thinking about where he was, he drew his wand intending to remove the danger. A split second later, he was bludgeoned by seven spells and he was set upon by three large Weasley men.
It was a long time before he visited the Weasleys again.
"Anyway, you haven't answered my question. Why did you and Harry disappear for three days?"
"I am sure I sent you a message," Severus said, seating himself on the other lounge and sipping casually at his drink.
"And it couldn't have been more vague. If you don't want to tell me, that's fine. You know I trust your judgment," Draco offered, swirling the ice in his drink, "but I have to admit I'm curious. Harry just dropped into my fireplace looking like he's just seen a ghost – or worse. He tried to cover it up, but he didn't do a very good job of it. Here's a man who was able to fool everyone into thinking that he was a different person, but tonight he couldn't have been more transparent. He was scared. What on earth did you both do that could have effected him like that? And if it effected him like that, why are you so calm and unaffected?"
"When Mr Potter and Mr Weasley were settling their differences, Potter mentioned that the Dark Lord was aware of the contents of the Prophecy. Were you not curious to know how the Dark Lord came by that information?"
"I don't remember – no, wait a minute. My brain must have gone to sleep. I didn't think anything of it at the time."
"Potter admitted that he thought he might have been the one to have revealed that information. He admitted that he had been captured by Death Eaters on some few occasions and forced to give them certain information."
"I suppose that explains some of those creative lines we saw on his body," Draco snarled.
"He also admitted that he thought his memories had been altered and that while he could not remember giving them any other information, it was possible that he had and that those memories had been hidden from him. I spent the last three days searching through his memories of the final three years of the war trying to determine whether or not this was the case."
"And what did you find?" Draco asked.
"I found that nothing that would suggest that we are in any more danger than we thought we were," Severus replied.
Draco sighed. "You have a very annoying habit of not answering the question while you're answering the question."
"He had in fact given more information, but each time he was captured, he escaped, but not before eliminating everyone who had heard the information he had given."
"That's sensible," Draco nodded approvingly. "But why did he tell you about this now? Why not before?"
"He believed he'd taken enough steps to eliminate the danger. I managed to persuade him otherwise. I can be very persuasive when I want to be."
"You must have been very persuasive if he let you look at his memories of the war. He always gets so touchy whenever anyone asks him about it," Draco said, looking carefully at his friend. "So for the last three days you've been inside Harry's mind?"
"No. It only took one day. It took him two days to recover."
"So you stayed with him for two days while he recovered?" Draco asked curiously.
"I am not leaving Mr Potter alone in my rooms. Merlin knows what state I would have found it in if he had woken up before I had returned from my classes," Severus huffed.
"I don't know. It's not that I don't believe you, but there's nothing in what you've told me that explains what I just saw. When Harry dropped into my room he looked scared. I saw real fear in his eyes. That must have been some recovery process," Draco said dubiously.
Severus looked into his glass. "His memories are still in a state of disarray. They are trying to find their place in the order of his mind and he is seeing them all again as his mind reorganises itself. He recovered quickly, perhaps a little too quickly. He should have slept for at least another two days to allow his mind to rest. I imagine we might also look troubled if we were forced to face who we were in the last years of the war."
Draco looked up so quickly that he nearly knocked over his drink. Severus Snape was empathising with Harry Potter. He looked suspiciously at his glass of scotch. Maybe there was more alcohol in it than he thought…
"What did you see in Harry's memories?"
"I felt a great sadness echoing off the walls of his mind," Severus said, getting up and pouring himself another drink. He brought the whole bottle back with him when he returned. "There is sadness, with overtones of anger and revenge. A dangerous state of mind."
"I'll ask Ginny, Ron and Hermione to keep a closer eye on him," Draco said, watching his friend, who had been staring into his glass for some time now.
"What are you not telling me?" Draco asked.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I've known you for a long time and I can tell when something's eating away at you. What is it?"
Severus put his glass down. "He saved our lives. Not once, but several times. I'd had my suspicions since we heard him talking to his friend, the one who owns the book store in Knockturn Alley. It was not simply something he did in passing either. He went to great lengths to ensure our safety time and time again."
"I had always wondered why none of the Dark Lord's circle ever questioned or suspected our loyalties. Nobody is so clever that they do not make a few mistakes. It would seem that Potter was able to obtain information from even the most closed of circles within the Death Eaters and he made sure that everybody who suspected our movements disappeared."
"What sort of lengths did he go to?" Draco asked.
"You needn't concern yourself with specifics," Severus said dismissively.
"In your language, that means you're not going to tell me, doesn't it?" Draco asked.
"That is correct. I have assured Potter of my secrecy with regard to the contents of his mind and I am not so dishonourable that I would make the contents of another man's mind general knowledge among the community."
Draco chewed thoughtfully on a cube of ice. "I told you, didn't I?"
"Excuse me?" Severus asked, confused.
"He really isn't turning out to be the man you thought he was, is he?" Draco asked.