Disclaimer: I do not, nor ever will, own Harry Potter, its characters, or its ideas (much as I wish I did). That happy power falls in the hands of J.K. Rowling

PLEASE READ THE AUTHOR'S NOTE, IT'S IMPORTANT!

A/N: Okay, I've decided to turn this into a series of a sort, going under the general heading of In A Heartbeat. It is NON-SLASH and will focus on the relationship between Severus and Harry, just moments in time from Harry's schooling years. It is completely AU, and one of the many facts it is based upon is that Sirius Black was murdered by Peter Pettigrew the day of the Potters' murders by Voldemort (see In A Heartbeat: Upon the Wings of Eve for the full story), so Severus sort of steps in to fulfill the role of a father figure/mentor to Harry. Some general information to keep in mind is as follows: (a) Minerva McGonagall, Remus Lupin, and Severus Snape are all the same age in this particular series (b) Minerva, Remus, and Lily Evans (Potter) befriended Severus during their time as students at Hogwarts---they were in the same year c Severus started spying for Dumbledore at the age of fifteen and (d) Severus, Sirius Black, and James Potter did not get along well, not until after Graduation when they discovered that Severus was part of the Order of the Phoenix, and even then, they never really could be considered "friends"; they were civil and respected one another, but that was the extent of their friendship.

I hope that helps! Please R&R!

"Speaking"

/Personal Thoughts/

AU. Sixth Year. One-Shot.

.:In A Heartbeat: Found:.

By Sentimental Star

An ear-splitting series of whistles. A lurch. And then the Hogwarts Express began to steam out of Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, headed to its destination---Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley sat nervously in their compartment. Neither spoke and both worriedly eyed the door, praying, hoping beyond hope, that the one they wanted to see appeared.

And he did, around five minutes later. A skinny, lanky, sixteen-year-old boy with a lighting-bolt shaped scar quietly slid open the door and offered a weak smile to the two within, looking quite disheveled.

"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed, jumping to her feet and grabbing the boy---who was roughly three inches taller than her---in a tight hug.

He hugged her back fiercely. "'Mione," murmured. Releasing her, he turned to the taller boy, still with a faint smile.

Ron stepped forward and gave him a huge bear hug. Releasing his best friend, the red-haired wizard stepped back and swept his gaze over the other teen. "Mate, how've you been?"

They shut the door behind him and sat down. Or rather, Hermione and Ron sat. Harry slumped, and buried his face in his hands. "I've been better," muttered.

"Nightmares?" Ron prompted.

The Boy-Who-Lived nodded wearily, rubbing his face. "That and I have a bloody constant headache."

Concern lined his two friends' faces as they watched him. For the first time ever, perhaps, they realized exactly how much weight rested on the other teenager's shoulders. There was silence a few moments, that none dared breach. But Hermione, at last, spoke up. Hesitantly. "Harry. . . have you heard about Snape?"

At this, Harry's head immediately jumped up and concern seared in his eyes. "Snape?! Why?! Is he all right?!"

Hermione and Ron exchanged glances. Saying nothing.

"Well?!" Demanded.

Hermione turned back to him. "Harry," she advised carefully, "he was captured."

At that, Harry completely deflated, sinking back into the chair and hiding his face again. "Oh, Merlin, why?" he moaned, mostly to himself. When he addressed his two friends, his voice was hoarse, "When?"

Ron answered this time, "The end of July."

"My birthday. . . I had a nightmare that night. Snape was in it. The Death Eaters had uncovered him as a spy," this said weakly. With sudden strength, he lashed out at the wood paneling. His fist connected soundly with it, making a sharp cracking sound. "I should have seen it coming!" Cried in anguish.

The two facing him jumped slightly. "Harry. . ." Hermione started again. "There's more."

He turned quickly to face them. "Well? Go on!"

Another exchange of glances. "They haven't found him, yet, Harry," murmured by Ron.

That was like a sock in the gut. "They haven't found. . ." Weakly. "A month. . ."

"Yeah," confirmed Ron softly. "No one knows if he's alive anymore, or. . ."

"Let's see. . . a month spent under torture from who knows how many Death Eaters," Harry choked. "Nope, don't see much chance of him coming back. I know I certainly couldn't!" And abruptly, he shoved to his feet and burst out the door of their compartment into the hallway of the Express. Dodging past other startled passengers, he kept his head down, valiantly fighting against tears.

He was worn thin. For all people believed Snape hated him, he had a rather different opinion. That man had so many levels to him, so many different masks. Over the past six years, Harry had learned the subtle differences between a least a few of those masks. And while he may not especially like Harry, at least that the teenager could see thus far, he most certainly did not hate him. He rather fancied that hate was directed elsewhere.

Whatever his thoughts were, there was one thing Harry knew for certain--- somehow, inexplicably, he had come to care very much about the Hogwarts Potions Master.

It was, then, perhaps, due to the preoccupied state of his mind that the young Gryffindor did not notice the rather tall and daunting figure striding down the hallway in the opposite direction from him. This figure was dressed in all black, though his robes looked to have seen quite a bit of wear and were even torn in some spots. To say he looked like a ghost or a shadow would not have been a lie, for certainly, he looked like he had gone through the fires of hell and back.

Met the devil at the very least.

In spite of his gaunt appearance, and in spite of the scars which marred what visible flesh there was, he nevertheless had a bearing all his own. A sense that someone had tried to break him---tried, but ultimately, failed.

Cold as his obsidian eyes were, they instantly warmed at the sight of Harry, becoming suspiciously bright as not-quite-alleviated fears were at last put to rest.

The young wizard, however, noticed none of this, keeping his head down as he hurried along towards the back of the train.

Which is quite possibly why the very startled sixteen-year-old accidentally collided with the figure.

"Oof," came two identical grunts, the taller of the two automatically reaching out to steady the smaller. Large, shockingly cold hands settled on Harry's shoulders, wracked with slight tremors.

The young Gryffindor, however, felt the tears hitting their breaking point. Quickly, he pulled away and bowed deeply to whoever it was, not daring to look up lest they read the emotion threatening to overflow in his face. "F- Forgive me," his voice was horribly unsteady. "I. . . I did not mean---I'm sorry!" And with that, he tore away, breaking into an all-out sprint down the corridor as those few passengers who had not yet found a seat scattered to get out of his way.

"Potter!" The very familiar voice, calling out a very familiar address, went unheeded. "Potter!!"

(The Gryffindor Trio's Compartment)

In his wake as he rushed out of their compartment, utter silence fell. His two friends remained riveted to their seats a full minute, staring after him.

At last, Ron broke it---not exactly tactfully: "Bloody hell!" he was breathing somewhat unevenly. "What was that all about?"

Hermione was on her feet. "Ron, this isn't funny! We've got to go after him---who knows what he'll do!"

The red-haired boy quickly grabbed his smaller, female friend's hand, holding her back. "'Mione, don't!"

"But, Ron---!"

"Let Harry alone for a while, he needs time to himself. Unless Professor Snape shows up suddenly, in which case, I'm the first out of the door to find him. But since there's no possible chance of that happening---"

At that moment, the door to their compartment opened. The person began speaking even before fully through the door, his voice deadly, implying that he wanted answers and wanted them now. "Mr. Weasley, Ms. Granger, a word with you on Mr. Potter. . ."

Twin cries of surprise and relief went up as the speaker stepped into the small room, startling the man as he fully revealed himself:

"Professor Snape!" the two Gryffindors cried together.

Severus eyed them in no little astonishment, caught completely off-guard. This was not quite the reaction he was expecting. "Glad you know my name, at least. Only took you six years."

Immediately, he was bombarded by questions and exclamations:

"You're alive!" this from Ron.

"You survived!" this from Hermione.

"What happened?"

"You are all right, aren't you, sir?"

"Why wasn't the press told you had escaped? It's been over a month!"

"Does Headmaster Dumbledore know?"

"Professor Lupin?"

"What about Professor McGonagall?"

Then, together: "Have you seen Harry, yet?!"

Severus stared at them in disbelief. "You need to breathe, you know," he pointed out, rather taken aback by the stream of words which assaulted him-- -from two Gryffindors, no less.

They saw his point. Taking a deep breath, Hermione continued alone, carefully, "Professor? You do know your capture was all over the wizarding newspapers in August, right?"

Severus snorted. "As I was made aware of when I boarded. But what does that have to do with Potter?"

Hermione bit her lip. "Well, sir, the first he'd heard about it was from us. He did mention finding out about the capture in a nightmare, but I think, maybe, actually discovering the truth behind it...He was rather shocked, sir. Upset."

"Now why in Merlin's name would he be upset about that?" Muttered to himself.

Or so he thought.

"Because he loves you!" this blurted by Ron.

Severus and Hermione whirled around, staring at the other occupant of the compartment in shock. The boy's face was currently as red as his hair.

Severus's heart was pounding. "What?" he breathed, voice hitching slightly.

Ron blushed harder. "I know it wasn't my place to say it, but since I'm here and Harry isn't, I figured I might as well give it a go. 'Mione, don't tell me you haven't seen it, a smart witch like you?" When the girl shook her head, he continued, "Every time you went out on a mission for Dumbledore, every time you were absent from class, Harry worried so much that he could barely get his work done, even in the Common Room! And you wouldn't know about the nightmares, 'Mione, being as you're in a different dorm than we are an' all. But I do. Sometimes he wakes up screaming for you, sir, sometimes not even aware of it himself."

Looking up at Snape, Ron was surprised to find an undeniably stunned expression on the older wizard's face. Stunned...and maybe just a bit awed.

"Sir?" Ron hedged. The Potions Master glanced down and nodded wordlessly to him. "I may never understand why he chose you, of all people, to become attached to, but I do know that hearing about your capture, knowing you hadn't been found in over a month...that tore him apart, Professor. Will you find him?"

It took a moment for Snape to respond. When he did, Ron was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling of being seen in an entirely new light. "You would make a very fine Auror, Mr. Weasley."

Ron gaped. "Sir?"

But Severus did not respond, merely nodded to Ron and patted Hermione on the shoulder, before sweeping out into the passageway and striding in the direction Harry had fled.

The two Gryffindors remained frozen in place for a full moment, before shaking themselves and darting after their teacher.

"Bloody hell," Ron muttered to Hermione as they rushed along, "what did Harry do to him?"

But Hermione, whose mind had been jump-started by the other teenager's entire tirade seconds earlier, had made rapid connections. "Gee, Ron, I don't know," the girl retorted, just a bit sarcastically, "but I think it might be something called 'love.'"

Ron simply blinked at her as they continued running.

(Platform On Back of Train)

Gasping and trying to control his ragged breathing, Harry flung open the door at the back of the last passenger car and more or less stumbled out onto the platform.

It was windy out there, and no one was around, but Harry could honestly say he did not mind. He needed time alone to sort through the mass of confusing emotions he was currently feeling.

And there were many: anger, fear, grief, love, worry, guilt, bewilderment, and an intense ache in his heart he could not quite place. They overwhelmed him, intruding his thoughts and making his chest oddly tight.

Much as he tried to Occlude his mind, much as he tried to focus his thoughts elsewhere, they simply would not leave him alone. In fact, they pounded at his mind as furiously as Voldemort did.

He wanted to talk to someone, anyone, but at the same time, could not stand the thought of facing them. Which left him in a rather miserable position.

The Boy-Who-Lived started rather badly when someone cleared their throat behind him.

However, drawing his wits about him and not turning around, keeping his eyes on the fast moving track as the wind blew through his hair and robes, he spoke before they could: "You're welcome to stand out here if you wish, but I warn you, you'll be subjected to a tirade if you do."

The person snorted, obviously not moved. Harry sensed them coming up behind him.

Incredulous, the boy asked, "You don't mind?!"

His companion sighed patiently, and a rustle of robes told him they had folded their arms in their sleeves, waiting him out.

Wondering at the sanity of this choice, Harry was silent a moment. At last, he murmured, "Have you read the newspapers, yet?"

He sensed rather than saw the negative shake of a head.

The young Gryffindor's voice quieted. "Then perhaps you are unaware of what happened over the past month or so."

No response.

Harry himself sighed, but continued, "A Professor from Hogwarts was captured. He was a spy for Dumbledore. Never liked me much, though, and I can understand why, after the way my father treated him when they were students. My father was a git." This said bluntly and Harry did not bother to hide the anger he felt. "He was too big-headed to realize what that Professor was doing at the time. Couldn't understand. He didn't know that the boy he hated was, in fact, a spy, even then. He didn't realize just how much danger he was putting himself in, time and time again, to save people who despised him, didn't even know him. That is far too much for a fifteen-year-old to bear, I ought to know," Harry choked, tightly gripping the rail he had been holding onto. "He...he's probably dead now. The Professor, I mean. He...he spent over a month under torture from Death Eaters and there's such a slim chance that he..." The sixteen-year-old wizard's breath hitched. "Why am I feeling this way?!" Cried. "I never hated him, I never could. I love him, I know that, but I don't know why I'm feeling this way! Why does loving someone have to hurt so bloody much?!" He started crying. Hard.

He sensed the other stir in their place at this. Then one large hand settled on either side of his on the metal rail in front of him. Black- clad arms lightly brushed against his own so that he was effectively caged between them.

Strangely, he was not alarmed. He knew that the Professors of Hogwarts often wore black robes, too, even though the only ones who would have even dared touch him with such volatile emotions roiling through him were Minerva and Professor Snape.

Barely there, was the feel of another body against his back. Rather colder and taller than him, but there nonetheless. That, at least, gave him a very faint sense of comfort.

He leaned back against his companion, seeking more. It was the simplest thing to crave, really, yet, Harry had craved it for many months. The other stiffened a moment before relaxing and shifting so that they held the teenager in a rough approximation of a hug. As they did so, the young Gryffindor's nose was suddenly assaulted by a terribly familiar scent, one he had woken up to on numerous occasions and which had so easily chase the nightmares away.

A sob, however, sounding suspiciously like Hermione's, broke through the silence which had fallen.

Both he and the other turned to face the direction it had come from at the same time, causing Harry's curiosity to peak. The sixteen-year-old smiled faintly when his eyes fell on his two friends. Ron was holding Hermione where they stood in the threshold of the passenger car. The girl had curled her arms around the boy's neck and was presently hiding her face against his shoulder, sobbing.

Ron himself looked rather misty-eyed as he glanced up at Harry. Still, he managed a tiny smile in return. His voice wavered slightly when he spoke: "Mate, look...look behind you."

Harry stared at his best friend, then swallowed unsteadily; his heart pounded against his ribcage. Could it really be...?

Taking a deep, shaky breath, the sixteen-year-old tipped his head back and glanced up. Tender obsidian eyes gazed back down at him from a face lined with emotion. A face he instantly recognized.

Immediately, with a cry of pure relief and gratitude, he fully whirled around and, without any hesitation whatsoever, grabbed the much taller wizard in a fierce embrace. Now he was the one sobbing.

Instantly, Severus froze up in shock from head to foot. Fine if he were the one hugging Harry. Quite a different matter if Harry were the one hugging him.

Sensing the older wizard's response, Harry hurriedly pulled away, his cheeks flushed and eyes averted. "I...I'm sorry, Professor, it...it's just that I...that I..." stuttered. He choked back a sob and attempted to brush away tears.

The Potions Master, however, reclaimed his limbs, and firmly gripping the younger wizard's hand, quickly knelt so that they were eye-level. Harry's breath hitched and he started slightly. Then, immensely surprising his student, Severus gently grasped the teenager's face.

Unsure of what else to do, the Gryffindor took another deep, albeit shaky, breath, and curled his hands around the Head of Slytherin's wrists. "S- Sir?"

The man shook his head. "Harry...first of all, call me Severus."

The boy stared. "Professor?" hushed.

"Severus." Insisted.

"Severus." Quietly.

"Second of all," the thirty-seven-year-old Professor went on, brushing away a few errant tears with his thumbs, "you have nothing to apologize for. At all. I...I just haven't..." he struggled to continue, "haven't...been touched like that...in many years."

Compassion stirred in Harry's chest. "Ever?" softly asked.

A tired smile. Humorless. Bitter. "The last time anyone hugged me was when I was fifteen. My mother hugged me the night before she disappeared."

Harry swallowed, trying hard not to break down crying again. "Wha-what about Minerva? Remus? The Headmaster?" He sincerely hoped he wasn't pushing it.

"Minnie tried once or twice afterwards. The same of Remus and Albus. I never let them," the Potions Master explained quietly.

"Why?" the question was barely audible. Harry could not understand why someone would dislike what he had wished for his entire life. Contact that let you know you were wanted. Cared about.

Severus's expression was pained when he looked at the teen. "I was a spy, Harry. A murderer. I had the blood of other living creatures on my hands. Humans and magical beings alike. No one in their right mind would want to be anywhere near me."

The young Gryffindor was shaking his head vigorously. "No! That's not true!"

Looking incredibly weary, the Head of Slytherin tried to reason with him, "Harry---"

"NO!" exclaimed fiercely. He shook his head even more violently, flinging tears in all directions. "I can't believe that! I won't! You have as much a right to be cared about and respected as anyone else, in some cases even more so! You aren't a monster, Severus, and you aren't a murderer! Voldemort's the murderer and the monster, not you!" His voice quieted. "I could never care about a monster as much as I do you."

Severus stared at the boy, wanting to say something---anything. Even a simple "thank you" would have done. But he found the words caught in his throat and was unable to speak them. Weasley, of course, had told him as much, but somehow hearing it from Harry himself made it that much more believable.

The older wizard swallowed thickly, feeling the prickle of tears behind his eyes, and leaned forward, touching his forehead to Harry's. Wrapping his hands around the back of the sixteen-year-old's head, he gently held him in place. The teenager slid his hands down to grasp his teacher's forearms, absently noting the scars, dirt, and dried blood which marred his skin.

After several endless moments, Harry carefully pulled away and straightened as the Professor stood. Meeting the Potions Master's gaze, the Gryffindor murmured, "Come on, let's get you fixed up as best we can before we arrive home."

And just as carefully, wrapped a supporting arm around the man's waist before leading him back into the interior of the Express.

(In the Gryffindor Trio's Compartment)

Roughly an hour had passed since Harry and Severus had reunited. Silence reigned in the small compartment, nothing save the splatter of rain against the window to interrupt it. Somewhere halfway into Harry's medical ministrations, the Professor had fallen asleep, emotionally and physically drained from his ordeal and the events following his reappearance on the Hogwarts Express, and the three soon-to-be-sixth-years loathed to break it.

Harry had been relieved to find that, although the torture had taken its toll on his teacher's body, the man would live. Furthermore, he would live because he had not broken, no matter how hard the Death Eaters had tried.

When they arrived at Hogwarts, precautions would have to be taken, but for now, the knowledge that the older wizard was here, safe, and not in grave danger of dying at the moment, was more than enough for Harry.

Abruptly realizing how tired he was from...well...everything, really, the Boy- Who-Lived yawned and curled up against the sleeping Head of Slytherin's side. He was in such a position that, should anything change in Severus's condition, he would instantly know. He was unwilling to chance losing him so soon after the man had returned. "Wake me up when we reach Hogwarts," he mumbled to his friends before shutting his eyes.

"All right, mate," Ron conceded softly from where he sat with Hermione across from Snape and their friend.

"Sure thing, Harry," the girl agreed quietly. Then smiled as she watched the Potions Master shift slightly in his sleep and unconsciously wrap an arm around the now-asleep Harry. It only widened when the boy pressed closer to the man.

She and Ron kept silent watch over their exhausted companions as the Hogwarts Express rushed swiftly through the gradually dimming light.

The End!