A/N: This fic was originally started before HBP was published. I have tried, as much as possible, to keep to canon up to and including OotP. As such, the prophesy about Harry is known, but the horcruxes and Deathly Hallows don't exist, so I created my own version of the Harry vs. Voldemort storyline. All the Snarry, sadly, is AU as well.
For the first time in his life, Harry thought three weeks after leaving Hogwarts, he was almost happier locked up with the Dursleys on Privet Drive than at the school. He still recalled his first night in the Gryffindor dormitory and the first real feeling of home-coming he'd ever experienced. But he no longer wanted to be home. Hogwarts, Dumbledore, even Ron and Hermione, all reminded him of what he'd lost.
"Sirius," he thought as the familiar pang of loss and guilt swept over him. His wand and books remained in his trunk, unopened since he arrived at the house. He barely even looked at Hedwig anymore, except to send out his promised letters every three days. As much as he wanted to avoid thinking about anything having to do with the wizarding world, he knew that Moody and Mr. Weasley would be true to their word, and if three days passed without a letter from him, he'd likely look outside to see Tonks entertaining the neighbors with her newest hair color as Moody laid siege to the house. No, the last thing he wanted was a visit from anyone.
The Dursleys, though, did not know anything about what had happened in the past few months. Harry was disinclined to share, and the Dursleys certainly would not ask. The peace, though, was starting to fade. His Aunt had started making comments about him being even more depressing than usual, and his uncle could not resist grunting and rolling his eyes whenever Harry indulged in some well-earned self pity.
And worse, Harry knew that outside the walls of his habitual summer prison, war was fast approaching. As painful as such thoughts were–they all began and ended with his godfather's death–Harry's conscience refused to allow him to forget the lives that were still at stake. But always, grief won out as Harry cried himself to sleep on more than one night.
Last night had been such a night, and a bad one at that. It was always worse when he had to write to Moody and the Weasleys. The letters were always short–just enough to keep the Aurors from "rescuing" him.
"Dear Mr. Weasley," the latest had read. "I continue to fare well. Tell Moody and the rest (and Ron and Hermione) that they needn't worry about me."
But he was lying. He was not fine. Yes, his uncle was too terrified of Moody, and worse, Tonks with her ever-changing hair color (What would the neighbors say?), to so much as raise his voice at Harry. But, still, Harry was anything but fine. Sometimes, he wanted his uncle to yell, to scream, maybe even hit him, to lash out, so Harry could feel something besides his terrible loss. That never happened, though, and so Harry was left alone to his mourning last night, just like all the nights before.
A soft flutter of wings and the gentle ringing sounds of Hedwig settling into her cage woke Harry from another restless sleep. With a soft hoot, Harry's beloved owl noticed him waking and dropped a folded slip of paper from her beak. Harry glanced at the parchment, which bore no writing on the outside, before stepping over it and getting dressed.
Harry was in no rush to read another letter from any of the Order members. He had already received enough of them, all sympathetic, all offering to share his loss as they, too, had known and cared for Sirius.
But dammit! They didn't love him the way Harry had. They had their own brothers, their own fathers, their own uncles–Uncle Vernon certainly didn't count as an uncle in anything but name. Sirius had become his entire family, and now he was gone. No one could understand how much he had lost, and he resented them for pretending they could. And the letters from Ron and Hermione were almost worse. He had made it perfectly clear during the last few days of school that he did not want to talk about Sirius at all. Even as he read their transparently upbeat letters, he could see them dancing around the subject. That depressed him even more.
So, it was much later that day, after helping his aunt clean most of the house, that he finally succumbed and picked up the missive. He knew he would be expected to respond, and putting it off would not make it go away.
This letter, though, was not what he'd expected. Not at all.
Your Occlumency lessons were never really completed, so I will be teaching you from now on. It is imperative that we begin immediately. Enclosed, you'll find a small packet of Floo Powder. Use it to meet me in Diagon Alley tonight at sundown.
With a sigh, Harry reached toward his trunk, then stopped. Did he really want to go back? The answer to that was simple: no. But he also knew that if he stayed, Remus, and perhaps the rest of the Order, would be here to save him from his uncle. Better to tell Remus face to face, Harry decided, noticing that it would soon be dusk. He rummaged around his trunk and finally found his wand, along with a robe so he could blend in better in the Alley. Grabbing the promised packet of Floo Powder, he headed downstairs quietly.
The sound of the door closing let Harry know that Uncle Vernon had gone out to water the front lawn. The back lawn, of course, had a sprinkler since there was no point in watering a lawn if the neighbors could not see you doing it and comment on how nice and green your grass was. Aunt Petunia was in the kitchen, just starting to wash the evening's dishes. He would have a few minutes to explain to Remus that he had no desire to learn anything and get back before he had been missed. No problem.
In Diagon Alley, Harry had just brushed the soot from his robes when a strong hand gripped his shoulder. "Hang on, 'Arry," Hagrid's rough voice whispered from behind.
"Actually, Hagrid, I . . . " Harry's words were cut short as the Alley disappeared from sight, replaced with the now-familiar Grimmauld Place. Harry turned to Hagrid as the giant stowed a brightly colored baby's rattle inside his heavy coat.
"Portkey." Hagrid explained, glancing nervously about.
"Where's Remus, Hagrid?" Harry explained, "I don't have much time. I'm going back to the Dursleys. I just came to tell Remus that."
"Not now, Harry." Hagrid gripped Harry gently, but with a power that Harry knew he would not be able to struggle from. "Remus sent me to get you. E's out. Everyun's out, actually. Tonks got 'erself into some kind o' trouble wit some Death Eaters, an they went t'help." Hagrid spoke as he half-led, half-dragged Harry to the door marked "12."
The Black's familial home was the last place Harry wanted to be. As much as Sirius hated the place, it did, and always would, remind Harry of his godfather. The now-familiar darkness filled his heart as he gazed around the hallway.
"What about Tonks?" Harry suddenly remembered what Hagrid had told him. "Is she okay?"
"'Fraid I don't know. I just come in m'self when Remus gave me th' Portkey an sent me after ya. Everyun ran out with 'im." Hagrid could not hide his own concern. "I'll put some food on." The giant made his way quietly into the kitchen, leaving Harry to wonder briefly what the Dursleys would think once they found him missing. He had expected to be back by now, and he knew Hagrid better than to think he could convict the groundskeeper to let him leave the house without a direct order from Dumbledore.
"Not quite everyone left, actually." Harry flinched as Professor Snape stepped into the hallway. "A benefit of being forced to hide my allegiance is not having to run to the aid of fools."
"Professor Snape," Harry said coldly. Snape was another reminder of things he wanted to forget, and he still held the Potions Master partially to blame for Sirius's death.
"I'm surprised to see you here, Potter," Snape's sneer deepened. "I expected you to be pining away at that muggle halfwit's all summer."
"I don't want to be here," Harry responded. "I'm going back as soon as Remus returns."
"Tsk, tsk, Potter. Is that any way for a hero to act? Of course, if Black had been as willing to hide away as you are, maybe he'd still be alive."
"Never speak of him again! At least he died without that bloody Mark on him!" Harry forgot who he was talking to as his fury took over. How dare Snape talk like that about Sirius? Snape was the one who kept goading Sirius, prodding him and laughing at him until he finally could not stand it anymore. It was Snape's fault Sirius was so angry at being forced to hide that he had left to the Ministry that night. All thoughts turned to anger as Harry reacted. Hand balled tightly into a fist, Harry swung up at the tall teacher, landing a punch squarely on Snape's jaw.
Harry realized what he had done immediately and began shaking with terror. The only other person in the house was Hagrid, and the giant could only do a few spells at most, despite being banned from all magic. If Snape decided to kill him, Harry knew he would be unable to defend himself.
"Pro-professor . . . " Harry stammered, "I . . . "
Snape had not moved a muscle the whole time. He did not even look surprised or angry at what Harry had done. That just made Harry even more frightened. After an eternity, Snape's lips curled in the smirk that all Slytherins seemed to learn before they could hold a wand.
With a raised eyebrow, the professor coldly said, "Stop shaking. I don't intend to punish you for that. It is, after all, not the first time I've been struck by a Potter. Your father would be proud. I imagine your godfather would be as well."
Turning smoothly, the former Death Eater strode from the room, leaving Harry, still shaking, to slump against the wall and slide into a nearby chair.
Damn him! Harry fumed as his fear of retribution subsided. How can he talk about Sirius that way? How can he make what happened into a joke? Sirius never would have hidden away if it hadn't been absolutely necessary! He wanted to be out there fighting with everyone else.
Where I should be.
The thought came unbidden, but Harry knew immediately that it was right. So many people had died fighting Voldemort. Even if he could hide forever, he owed it to them all to keep fighting. He owed it to Sirius, and he owed it to his parents.
With that, another thought came unbidden. Snape's comment about making his father proud. He had never really gotten to speak to Snape about what the Pensieve had shown, and that troubled him. After Dumbledore's talk with him at the end of last semester, Harry had finally realized something that, while so obvious, also shocked him. Adults were not perfect. Not Dumbledore. Not his father. Even Sirius was not, though Harry was still angry at Dumbledore for pointing out so many of Sirius's faults that night.
But he could not blame Snape for hating him anymore.
Still shaking slightly, as much from his state of mind now as the heat of the moment earlier, Harry stood and stepped toward the door of the parlor Snape had disappeared into. As he cracked the door open, he could make out the shape of Snape's form in an overstuffed chair. The room's dim gloom made for a surreal sight, as the instructor's pale skin contrasted with his long black hair.
Gathering his courage, Harry opened the door and stepped inside. "Professor Snape?" He asked hesitantly. "Professor, I'm terribly sorry."
"Don't bother, Potter. I've already explained that you won't be punished. This, after all, is not Hogwarts. There are no house points here, and I have better things to attend to than some makeshift detention."
"I know, sir. I mean, I know you aren't going to . . . do anything to me. But . . . " Suddenly, his apology seemed meaningless. How much had Snape suffered at his father's hands? What he had seen in the Pensieve had been bad enough, but he knew from Sirius and Remus that that was just one day in a long line of humiliations. And now he had done the same. He knew the danger Snape put himself in by betraying Voldemort, but Harry had thrown Snape's mistake of years passed in his face before following it with a physical blow. As hard it was to think that Snape might have emotions, Harry knew which attack must have hurt Snape more. Harry's voice was very small as it stumbled through the darkness between them. "I'm sorry." He was no longer talking about what had happened in the hallway. Not entirely.
Harry could see the Potion Master's eyes on him, the whites reflecting in the darkness. "Close the door behind you, Potter."
Harry obeyed silently, leaving the older man in the dark parlor and heading into the kitchen to find Hagrid.
"Alright, 'Arry?" Hagrid asked.
Harry nodded. "I just ran into Professor Snape in the hall. I didn't expect to see him here."
"Oh, right, I'd fergotten 'e was still 'ere. Too dangrous fer 'im to do anythin' direct against You-Know-'Oo."
Harry nodded again and sat down at the table.
"You sure yer aright?" Hagrid looked concerned.
"I'm sorry, Hagrid. I'm okay, really, I am. I'm just worried about Tonks."
"Ah, she'll be fine. She's a tough 'un, she is."
Harry smiled weakly.
The pair sat in silence for some time, Harry lost in his thoughts about Sirius, Snape and his father, while Hagrid tossed what looked to be sausage and several unidentifiable ingredients into a pot and let it simmer over the fire. The smell of whatever Hagrid was cooking was moments away from being unbearable when the front door slammed open.
Harry rushed to the hallway to see a mass of robes, cloaks and wands push through the doorway. One cloak separated from the group, and Harry was relieved to see bright pink hair sticking out from beneath the hood.
"Harry!" the young Auror exclaimed and pulled him into a hug.
Blushing, Harry asked, "Are you okay? Hagrid said everyone had gone out to rescue you."
"Rescue!" Tonks snorted, "Hardly a rescue. I just needed a little help, is all."
They were interrupted by Moody's gruff voice, "Everyone make it back? I caught a flash coming from one of the Death Eater's wands right when we Disapparated." Moody pulled his cloak off and examined the group in the doorway, his magical eye turning as always.
"Where is Mr. Lupin?" Harry immediately recognized Dumbledore's voice.
The remaining group quickly shed their cloaks, revealing worried faces as they realized the rescue mission had not been as successful as planned. Mr. Weasley, who Harry had not noticed till now, spoke. "I'm going back for him." He had his wand out and the door halfway open before Moody grabbed his arm.
"It's too late," Moody grunted. "There were too many of them, Arthur. And it's been too long. He either got away, or that curse I saw killed him, or . . . " Moody's voice died away. No one wanted to accept the third option.
"I refuse to accept that!" Mrs. Weasley said. " If he's hurt and on the run, he needs our help. If they've got him, they may not be able to take him to You-Know-Who right away, depending on the curse they used."
Dumbledore nodded slightly, "Yes, Molly, of course you are right. As long as this place is secure, we have nothing to lose by looking for him, and everything to gain. Molly and Arthur, return, quietly, to the estate and see if you can find any signs of what happened. I expect you to return immediately should you come across any Death Eaters, is that understood?"
The Weasleys both nodded with a fierce look on their faces he had never expected to see on the two jovial parents of his best friend.
"The rest of us have our own means of finding information. I suggest we all look to our contacts," Dumbledore finished.
"And I shall look to mine." Harry jumped as Snape's cool voice came from just behind him.
"No, Severus, I think it would be best if you stayed." Dumbledore raised a hand to silence Snape's objections. "Though I am sure Remus would thank you for your concern."
Snape gave a snort in reply, "If Lupin has been taken by the Death Eaters, it is quite possible that the Dark Lord will allow me to be present at his torturing." The group, especially Harry, winced at Snape's directness. Typical Slytherin, Harry thought, and immediately regretted it.
"It is also quite possible that I will be asked to administer Veritaserum. As much as I dislike doing Lupin a favor, I can see to it that the potion kills him quickly." Harsh words, but even Harry knew that death would be a favor to anyone being questioned by the Death Eaters.
"No, Severus," Dumbledore shook his head again. "You are far too skilled a Potions Master for Voldemort to believe you would accidentally kill someone as important to him as Remus. If you did that, your life would be forfeit, and he would certainly look to question you next. I will not put you both in that danger. And yes, I do know that you are in danger now, however," Dumbledore's face looked pained, "Everything Remus knows, you know also, but there is much that you know that Remus does not. If one of you must be questioned, it is better for us, better for all of the wizarding world, that it be Remus."
The old man gestured to the others gathered, who quickly donned their cloaks again and headed into the night. Dumbledore prepared to leave as well.
"I must return to Hogwarts. I have artifacts that may allow me to scry Remus's location. Severus, in the meantime, I ask you to once again take over young Mr. Potter's Occlumency lessons."
Harry grew pale at Dumbledore's words, and he thought that if Professor Snape was not already white, he would have done the same.
"I know I do not ask an easy thing of you, but Severus, this is important. He cannot be shielded by us forever, and the Dark Lord will not forget his link to Harry simply because his last plan failed. The Black family had a Pensieve in their artifact collection. And Harry, I will not remind you of why these lessons are so important. I had intended to return you to the Dursleys after your lessons each evening, but Voldemort's followers have been growing more aggressive in the past few weeks. You will stay here for the time being. I will inform your Aunt."
"Yes, sir," Harry replied. No matter how many people told him it was not his fault, Harry knew that if he had taken his lessons with Snape last year more seriously, if he had not made Snape hate him even more by looking into the Pensieve, then Voldemort never would have lured Sirius into the Ministry of Magic that night. As for informing his Aunt, he supposed that at least their mind would be eased from the worry that he might be returning soon.
And suddenly, Harry was alone again with Professor Snape. Even Hagrid had left, as the Groundskeeper had spent the past month getting some intelligent creatures to spy on several Death Eaters.
"Well, Mr. Potter, once again you will have an opportunity to fail to impress me with your mediocre skills." With a spin, robes flowing around him, Snape turned around and headed back into the parlor. A bit unsure of himself, Harry remained in the hallway. As it always was when dealing with Snape, the decision to hesitate was wrong. "Exactly what are you waiting for Potter? Creevey is not here, so you will have to get used to coming into rooms without a photo being taken of your grand entrance."
With a sigh, Harry entered the parlor and sat down across from the imposing teacher. Confused, Harry realized that the Pensieve Dumbledore had spoken about was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps in the attic?
"In order to protect one's mind from intrusions . . . " Snape began as soon as Harry had sat down.
"Uh, sir?" Harry dared to interrupt. Surely, Snape was going to use the Pensieve. "The Pensieve . . . "
"Do not interrupt, Potter! The Pensieve is not here as the Pensieve is not needed. We will not be performing any magic tonight." Snape's lip curled into a dark sneer. "Do you really want to be connected to my mind should the Dark Lord discover I am a spy for the Headmaster?"
Harry started. "But he can't find you here, can he?"
"Professor." Snape reminded him calmly.
"Uh. He can't find you here, can he, Professor?"
"Honestly, living with those muggles has destroyed what little of your brain existed. He does not need to find me. The Mark is enough. It binds me to him, and he can use it at his will. There is no hiding from it."
Harry shivered at the surety of his tone. Now the Potions Master was eyeing Harry.
"In fact, Mr. Potter, I am going to offer you something. A chance that every Gryffindor who has ever fumbled his way through my class would have given anything to have." From the black folds of his robe, Snape pulled forth a small bottle and set it on the table between them. Harry studied the bottle curiously but did not reach for it. The bottle was clear glass with a thick black substance coating the inside. The stopper, too, was glass and held in place by a metal band.
"Sir?" Harry asked.
"Poison," Snape said simply. "If Lupin is brought in front of the Dark Lord, it will be at most a matter of hours before I am discovered." Harry opened his mouth to defend his friend, but Snape cut him short. "That was not an insult, merely a fact. No one can bear the Dark Lord's scrutiny for long. I know that better than anyone. I carry that bottle for the day that my betrayal is found out. So tell me, Mr. Potter. How many times since you first got to Hogwarts have you wished me dead?" Snape smirked at the boy.
"Sir!" Harry was horrified to hear the instructor speak of his own death so casually. "I never–I mean, I didn't . . . "
"Of course you did, Potter. All students do. The mark of a good teacher is the fear and hatred they instill in their students." Snape chuckled without mirth. "Honestly, Mr. Potter. You never wished the evil Potions Master any harm? Never hoped for the day when you could turn the tables on me and make me suffer?"
Snape was baiting him, and Harry knew it. But Harry refused to rise to it. He simply agreed, "Well, sir, I suppose I have, but as you said, it's only the silly fantasies of a student." And he continued. Somewhere, he'd decided that it was important to show not just Snape, but the entire Order, that he was no longer a child. Dumbledore was finally realizing it, and Harry understood that petulant objections that he was not a child only reinforced the image that he was. "But if you're asking me if I'm willing to use that potion on you, the answer's yes."
Harry was treated to the brief expression of surprise that swept across Snape's visage. "If Voldemort finds out about you and attacks you through your Mark, I'll feel it too. At least, I have before, so why not now?" Harry was trying to sound as nonchalant as Snape had, but his voice shook as he continued, "I've felt him kill before. I've been there, watching from his eyes, when he . . . t-took his time . . . When he wanted them to . . . to suffer. If I have to, sir, I'll kill you." Harry met Snape's unreadable gaze. May I never have to make a promise like that again, Harry thought.
"Extraordinary, Potter. In one breath you've killed me and managed to make yourself a martyr in the process. An easy task for the Boy Who Lived, no doubt."
Harry managed to swallow his anger. I only said that because he asked me! He noticed, though, that the glass bottle remained on the table, placed within easy reach should Harry need to get it quickly. He finally shrugged it off as Snape being Snape as the instructor began lecturing on the theory of Occlumency.