title: An Acceptable Weakness
auther: Dreadnought
pairings: hp/ss
rating: R
summary: Voldemort shows up and things get complicated, especially when Harry gets taken to safety by Snape. Story goes from Year Six to Post-Year Seven.
disclaimer: I don't own these characters and don't pretend to. The owners are pretty much a given anyway. Not into homoerotic, find something else to read--you have been warned.
other notes: This story is for Amy, who wanted a Romantic Snape/Harry story. Let's hope I succeeded.
Chapter 1 - Revenge's Children

Harry was angry. And in pain. He pulled himself along the forest floor a few feet and with a grimace, put his head down on his arm to rest. Last year's leaf remains crunched under his arm as his head rested upon it. Harry imagined all kinds of miserable, painful deaths for Draco Malfoy; none seemed anywhere near sufficient.

Malfoy had warned Harry that he would get even for his father landing in Azkaban and he had been true to his word. Only three weeks into the school year and already Malfoy had managed to execute plans he probably spent the summer holiday plotting. He and Nott had caught Harry alone outside the changing rooms at the Quidditch Pitch after practice. Harry didn't know what spell they had used, but he'd woken up out here, deep in the Forbidden Forest; woken up to the feel of Malfoy's boot kicking him in the ribs. The two Slytherins wore mock Death Eater outfits, complete with homemade masks. Harry had made fun of that until he'd regretted it, dearly.

The throbbing in Harry's side had eased, but his shins still throbbed enough to make his eyes water. Harry had heard them crack when Nott had hit them with a Crushing Curse. The first thing Harry intended to do when he got out of the hospital wing was look up the Counter to that one.

A cool, forest-floor breeze chilled him. It was starting to feel far too optimistic to imagine a future that included leaving the hospital wing. Nott's last threat of telling the Dark Lord where he could find Harry had not bothered him at first, but now it weighed on him harder as his sense of helplessness increased. Harry would not have thought anything of it at all if Nott's close proximity had not made Harry's scar tingle. He crawled over to a close, smooth-barked tree and sat against it. Tears of pain were mixing now with tears of frustration. What the hell was he going to do? he wondered. He was only guessing the correct direction and although it was early afternoon, even with two good legs, he would have a hard time making his way all the way back to the castle.

Harry tipped his head back and looked up at the tree branching into the cloudy sky. It looked very tall from this angle, with the top of his head pressed against the bark, dizzyingly so. He looked down at his debris-covered robe and sighed in frustration. No one was going to know where he was. A slow death was clearly what Malfoy had in mind, one where he and Nott were clearly in view at Hogwarts while Harry was stuck out in the wilds. He was pretty sure this was the plan--after the Crushing Curse they had departed hastily.

Harry wasn't certain Malfoy and Nott were stupid enough to let something slip to another student, or a teacher, in time. Dumbledore always seemed to know where Harry was, at least he did when Harry himself was getting into trouble. But if Dumbledore were going to come, he would have been here by now. If Sirius were still alive and Harry had the two-way mirror, he could come. That was clearly the wrong line of thinking, Harry realized, as he felt for the thousandth time the crushing weight of that mistake. And it was his mistake--his alone. As much as he wanted to blame Dumbledore for keeping Sirius locked up, to blame Snape for goading his godfather and for not making it clear he had understood Harry's message, it was really his own damn fault. His gullibility coupled with Sirius' unswerving loyalty had killed his godfather. Harry took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, glad for the moment that he was alone.

A pair of crows interrupted his self-loathing by cawing loudly as they crashed through the trees above him. After dancing around on the upper, swaying branches in a kind of battle, they flew off again, side-by-side.

Another brisk breeze came through, picking up the leaf litter and tossing some of it over the hem of Harry's robe. Alarmed by that, Harry closed his eyes and thought through his options with fear pumping his heart in his ears. Walking was impossible. He did not have a wand or a broom. He needed to get a message to someone--that was clearly the only way. He stepped through the ways, Wizard and Muggle, of passing messages to someone. Owl, telephone, silver bird, paper airplane, mirror, Harry ticked them off in his head and frowned. Voldemort never had this problem; he could always send Harry messages, true and otherwise, but he was the last person Harry wanted to reach. He would rather take his chance on the centaurs stumbling upon him in a good mood.

Something about that would not let Harry go; he was missing something there. His heart started to race as he thought about it more. Could he reach someone that way, with Legilimency? Maybe someone he had done it with before. Harry hit his head back against the tree and exhaled hard. Legilimency supposedly only worked eye-to-eye, but Voldemort didn't need that, apparently, and Harry was desperate. Eye-to-eye, Harry thought and wondered what time it was. Snape would be teaching an afternoon class right now, Harry figured, as he closed his eyes and pictured the Potions classroom.

Severus Snape stood in the front of the second year Potions class and discussed the use of poison toads. The students' quills scritched like little insects as he spoke. He paused to give them a chance to catch up as he scanned the tops of all of their heads leaning over their writing. They would learn better to write while sitting up straight, but that happened around third or fourth year. Odd, for a moment there, Snape was sure one of the students was watching him, although a quick survey of the room showed them all either writing or rereading.

"Other parts of the poison toad are useful, beyond the poison sacks themselves. The liver is generally useful, similar to all genus Bufo." Snape paused. The odd feeling had returned, only this time it made his side heat up and his shins ache. Several of the students finished writing and looked up. He paced across the front of the classroom and back again. "Page fifty-seven in your textbook has the synthesis of today's potion. Read it." The students hesitated and then all of them reached for their books and opened them.

Snape scanned the tops of their heads again. He had two choices, he could Occlude his mind and resist this strange invasion or he could welcome it in, which he did not like the thought of. Again the sensation of being observed flowed over him like cold water, accompanied by a desperate panic. He could feel a set of eyes upon him, from the second row where a blond, long-haired Hufflepuff now sat, reading intently. Potter's usual seat.

Snape closed his eyes and took himself back to one of those horrible sessions of instruction the headmaster had forced upon him, one where Potter had actually grabbed control of the spell. This time he felt pain starkly enough that he worried his legs were not going to continue supporting him. Where are you, Potter? Snape thought.

Harry's eyes snapped open. He had actually reached his Professor. Relief made him breathless. Harry looked around himself for some kind of landmark. Downhill from him lay a very large, fallen tree. Its blockage of his path daunted his thoughts of continuing on. A quick look around again revealed that to be the only significant thing.

That does not narrow it down, Harry sensed, could actually hear the sneer as though it had been spoken.

It is really big, Harry insisted. Three times the diameter of everything around and it didn't fall that long ago. Indeed, dead leaves still clung to a few branches. Harry didn't sense any reply, which left him feeling despondent again.

Professor Snape put the instructions for the potion on the blackboard. "Supplies are there. No one is to leave or make any trouble." He stalked out.

In the Slytherin common room he found Walton, the seventh year Prefect. He led the boy out into the hallway. "Take my second year Potions class for a little while, I have an important errand to run. And I would appreciate it if you didn't say anything to anyone," Snape added.

Walton nodded with a knowing smile and headed away toward the classroom. Snape watched him turn the corner before he went to his office to collect his broom. As he took off from the astronomy tower, he sent a silver bird to Madame Pomfrey, asking her to follow.

At the first large fallen tree, he landed and called out. Only silence and the startled rustle of small creatures answered him. He took off and flew to the next. As he landed, something larger shifted in the leaf fall and Potter's voice said, "Professor?"

Snape sent a flare spell up above the trees for Pomfrey to follow before he stepped over to Harry and crouched down. "What happened, Potter?"

"Malfoy and Nott," Harry said with a frown as he made the mistake of trying to sit up straighter.

"Stay still, Potter. Madame Pomfrey is on her way."

Harry rubbed his eyes. "Thank you for coming, sir," he said quietly.

Snape's brow furrowed at that. "You seriously believed I might not have?"

He shrugged. "I don't know."

"Potter, you are as much my responsibility as Professor McGonagall's. Things would go much easier if you trusted me just a little bit more," he added sharply.

Harry grimaced, but didn't reply.

"Where is your wand?"

"Malfoy has it."

Snape looked him over. "I would prefer to wait for Pomfrey, but if it is more than another few minutes, I will take you myself." He spelled splints around Harry's legs in preparation. Harry gasped and then relaxed as the pain eased some. "I am going to see where they are," Snape said and then took off on his broom and rose quickly through the trees.

Harry watched him go and wondered that he had not expected Snape to know how to fly that well. Moments later the teachers landed: Sprout and Pomfrey as well as the Potions Professor. With noises of sympathy, they bundled him up and used a tethering hover charm to tow him along behind Pomfrey's broom. Harry kept his eyes closed until they approached the castle. Flying on a broom was one thing, being hovered was another, but the combination was something else entirely. Flying with absolutely no visible means of support made him panicky.

Pomfrey settled Harry into a bed and quickly spelled his legs back to their old selves. She then did the same to his ribs, gave him a potion to swallow and set a stack of chocolate frogs beside him. "I think you are all set Mr. Potter," Pomfrey was saying gently when the headmaster stepped into the wing.

Dumbledore stepped over in his stately way and clasped his hands before him. "How are you, Harry?"

Harry shrugged casually as he unwrapped a sweet and replied, "Okay." He wanted to play down his earlier fear and the potion had taken away the little aches that reminded him of being helpless.

"I'm very glad to hear that." Dumbledore picked up a chocolate and unwrapped it. "Ah, my one weakness," he said with a wink at Harry. "Amphococamorte," Dumbledore murmured as the candy moved to leap from the package. It froze in mid-leap and the headmaster took a bite of it. He set the rest of the box aside and pulled Harry's wand out of his pocket and presented it to him. "I found this," he said.

"On Malfoy?" Harry asked.

"Hm," Dumbledore murmured and sat down on the edge of the bed. "I need to speak to you about that, actually," the old wizard said quietly. He patted Harry's arm and said, "First off let me assure you that I do not wish to appear unsympathetic to what happened to you. Your safety is, as you know, very important to me. Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Nott on the other hand are valuable in ways you may not realize. What they have done is more than sufficient grounds for expulsion, but that is something I wish to avoid."

Harry stared at him, mind running furiously. He had just been lying here thinking how nice it would be to finally be rid of them. Swallowing his immediate outburst with difficulty, he crossed his arms and stared at the shape of his feet under the bedcover. He did not look up until the door to the hospital wing opened and Professor Snape appeared.

Snape's dark eyes jumped between the two of them and he nodded at Dumbledore. The headmaster waved him over, aborting his immediate move to depart. Snape frowned and stalked over. Dumbledore said to Harry, "Malfoy and Nott have been given Memory Charms to make them forget what they did."

Snape gave the headmaster a meaningful look and shook his head slightly.

Harry interjected, "That wouldn't have been a good idea with Nott," and garnered a piercing look from Snape. "I can tell," Harry explained. "He makes my scar tingle."

"It was only a matter of time, I suppose before Mr. Nott was pulled into the fold," Dumbledore sighed.

"I gave Nott a potion to make him believe he dreamed attacking Mr. Potter. It will be reinforced by Mr. Malfoy not remembering at all." Snape said this to Dumbledore, but did not take his gaze off Harry.

"Nott hasn't told Malfoy, I don't think," Harry thought aloud.

Dumbledore gave Harry a curious look. "Hasn't told Malfoy that he is a Death Eater, you mean?"

"Yes." Harry thought a moment. "They both had fake Death Eater costumes. Presumably, Nott has a real one and doesn't want Malfoy to know."

Dumbledore stood up as Madame Pomfrey stepped over to them. "Interesting theory, Harry." To Pomfrey he said, "Is Harry free to go?"

She smiled at him. "Yes, he is."

Harry rubbed his hair back hard to try to control his emotions. He was stung and angry at the situation but determined to see it through.

"All right, Harry?" Dumbledore asked.

"Yes, sir," Harry said evenly as he reached for his shirt, held out by Madame Pomfrey.

"Perhaps it is best to explain the bruise on your chin as a Quidditch practice accident," the headmaster suggested as he turned to leave, gathering Snape up with a look. "And do try to have someone else with you at ALL times from now on when you are outside the Gryffindor Tower."

Harry nodded and dropped his gaze. After he dressed he headed up to the commons room. Hermione and Ron were studying in the corner with Neville.

"Harry, what happened to you? You missed-" she stopped when she saw his bruise.

At that moment as Harry opened his mouth to lie he remembered reading that bludgers could react very badly to spell tampering. He leaned in close. "As I was putting stuff away after practice, I thought of trying to spell a bludger the way Dobby did so the Slytherins would have to deal with it during their practice this evening."

"Harry! Don't you know they can go berserk if you try that?" Hermione said crossly to him.

"I do now," Harry said.

Colin came over, fortunately without his camera. "Harry, you look terrible."

"I lost an argument with a Bludger," Harry said to him, intentionally loud enough for the whole common room to hear. Everyone turned to them. Harry addressed the room and turning red-faced, announced, "Don't ever try to spell a Bludger to go rouge. Not worth the attempt."

Some students tittered a little. Others expressed sympathy. Blushing more, Harry turned to his schoolwork. Later, after Neville left, Harry explained what really happened. Hermione was incensed by the lack of punishment for the Slytherins.

"Things are getting bad," Ron reminded her. "My mum and dad don't sleep well anymore and their letters are all a sentence long if they find the time to write at all. Dumbledore can't afford to lose any advantages."

"Nott gets to be a Death Eater--why don't we get to join the Order?" Harry griped in a whisper.

The next morning, Harry grimaced at himself in the mirror. He ran down to the commons early to meet Hermione. "Can you spell this to be fainter?" Harry asked.

"Embarrassed, Harry?" she teased him.

"No, I just don't want Nott to be suspicious at all."

She looked his face over thoughtfully. "I can make it a lot fainter for a few hours."

"Please?"

She spelled him and studied her work and spelled him again. "There, that is almost not noticeable."

"Thanks, Hermione." He had her show him the spell so he could renew it later in the day.

After breakfast followed Potions. Ron waved to them as he headed off to Divination without them. In the corridor to the stairs, Hermione pulled Harry aside. "You really managed to reach Professor Snape with Legilimency?" she asked. "That is rare at that distance, Harry. I did some reading on it last night."

"I was desperate," Harry pointed out.

"That would make it harder, Harry. It takes a lot of focus."

Harry shrugged and started to walk toward the stairs. Other students were coming down the corridor behind them. Hermione put a hand out to forestall him. "I'm sorry you have to face Malfoy and Nott after what happened," she said in sympathy.

"Yeah," Harry breathed. "But I don't have any choice. I'll get them back, don't worry about it." He walked away before the other students came abreast. Hermione rushed to catch up to him at the top of the stairs.

In the classroom, Harry took out his notes and quill and reread the last few pages of parchment. "How do I look?" Harry asked his friend very quietly.

"Fine. I'll keep an eye on the spell; don't worry," she assured him.

Malfoy and Nott strutted in together at that point. Harry pretended to ignore them as he put a heading on his parchment with the date and the textbook chapter. A minute later, Snape strode in behind the stragglers, giving them dirty looks as he made his way to the front of the classroom to begin. "Today we are going to brew the first part of a three-part potion, so we are going to talk about stasis spells briefly."

Harry levelled his expression before he looked up from his notes. Snape gave him one piercing look as his eyes surveyed the room, then ignored him for the rest of the class.

As they headed up to the common room afterward, Harry commented, "That worked out well."

"Don't count on it lasting, Harry," Hermione pointed out.

Harry didn't count on it, which was just as well. Snape returned to his previous vindictive self by the next class but Harry had little time to worry about it. Between Ron muttering concern over the short notes from his parents and Hermione muttering concern as she read between the lines of the articles in the Daily Prophet, Harry felt that worrying about one class was petty if nothing else.
Notes Okay, force me to post another story to comment on the last one, go ahead. I apologize for the previous ending, but the part of my brain that comes up with this stuff is also the part that doesn't want do the dishes right after a meal, leaves the tools lying around after fixing something, and doesn't go to bed until really late at night.

If someone has ideas for wrapping Dungeon up a little more neatly, please post them to me. I don't want to go more than two more chapters, although I like my last line, so it would be something inserted before the last scene with Ginny, I expect. I really have no ideas that are inspiring enough to type them out. I don't want to make it 200 pages and finish Voldemort, etc. so where to end, really?

Now, this story does do in the big V so we are in better shape here.

An NC-17 version of this will be posted elsewhere when I figure out the best place for it.