A/N: Okay, this is a scene as I imagine it from the upcoming sixth book. Not, of course, that J.K. would ever write this, but I imagine Sirius's death made Harry do a lot of growing up. So here we are. This may become a rather long, multiple-chapter story, if it appears anyone's reading it. So, my take on what happens when you combine one Harry Potter, a godfather's death, Severus Snape and some Occlumency lessons that never quite got done. In other words: chaos. Enjoy, and adieu!
Disclaimer:I own nothing, besides a barking dog and a cell phone that gets really sucky reception. Trust me, you want neither.
Have you ever watched a man die? It changes something in you, makes you wonder what it feels like. Makes you wonder . . why not me? Why must the others always pay? And you know . . deep inside . . it's because you're special. I hate being special.
- Harry James Potter
Harry stood in the doorway for a long moment before he crossed the room to Snape's desk. He hesitated, Griffindor pride warring with a Slytherin's keen instinct for self-preservation. And the memories he bore made it easier to say the words:
"I won't waste my time again, Potter." Snape didn't look up, didn't pause in his methodical marking of the papers, considering the conversation closed. But as Harry turned to go, curiosity got the better of him. "Where in Merlin's name did you get up the guts to actually come down here and ask me to continue your Occlumency lessons?"
"It has something to do with the fact that I watched my godfather die, and knew that the most direct cause of it was me." Potter's voice was eerily calm. "Or maybe it has a bit more to do with the fact that the first spell I performed on returning to Hogwarts was a Silencing Charm around my bed . . . because I wake up screaming every night, and I don't want anyone else to know. Maybe it's because the next death I see may be Lupin's, or yours. Voldemort has very intriguing methods of entertaining himself, doesn't he?"
Snape froze. Denial rose to his lips, never voiced. Potter knew – that was enough. They shared those memories. But Snape had been given the escape of closing his eyes when a prisoner's pain became too much for him to watch. Harry, viewing the scene through Voldemort's red eyes, wasn't given that liberty.
"It would please him greatly to know that he nightly disturbs my dreams – that no matter how many doses of Dreamless Sleep I take, I cannot block his touch. I think he kills, sometimes, just to see how far he can push me before I snap. Not for his own pleasure, but because he knows it hurts me. Last night was . . . very bad."
"I wasn't there."
"I know. Thank God you weren't. I think it would have made you sick; I know I spent several hours last night throwing up, because I couldn't wipe my mind free of his influence. He takes pleasure in watching them die, in making victims of those smaller and weaker than he is. And when I'm in his head, I can't help but feel that . . . that rush too." Harry shrugged. "I take comfort in that he still considers me a threat – still believes there's something about me that he's not capable of destroying. God knows I can't find anything special enough in myself that four people have already sacrificed themselves for me."
"Your parents . . . Black." Snape couldn't keep a hint of curiosity from his voice as he tried to think of the fourth.
"And indirectly, Cedric." Harry shrugged. "I don't care how many times I'm told that one, at least, wasn't my fault. The Death Eaters meant to have me dead; it was my decision to have him take the cup with me that brought him into it. One death, for certain, that I cannot blame upon Voldemort."
"You know, Potter, I suggest you discuss these feelings of inadequecy with a pyschiatrist, because frankly, I have no interest in your litany of complaints."
"Inadequate?" Harry laughed, but there was something bitter, almost serpentine, in it. "That's a weak way to say it, I suppose. Accurate enough, though. I am quite possibly the worst person this world could have picked to be their hero. The Boy-Who-Lived. God, what a morbid title. Interesting, isn't it, that I only possess that little epitaph because of the deaths of so many other, likely worthier, people? What a label to stick on a child." His hand came up, and he ran his thumb over the length of the lightning-bolt scar. And when his fingers came away, he looked at the blood upon them with the utmost indifference.
"Should see the Headmaster about that," Snape drawled.
"It wouldn't matter," Harry said simply. "To try to stop it would only cause more damage, only frustrate the Dark Lord further. Deprived of his easiest way to torment me, he might devise others . . . that would harm more innocent souls than mine. Good night, Professor."
Snape didn't raise his head to watch him go, steeled himself to simply let the child walk away; God knows it would be best, in the long run. But he saw the mark of exhaustion in the boy's slumped shoulders, read horror after horror in the depths of Lily's emerald eyes. And knew how it felt to have nowhere else to turn.
"Potter." He didn't look up. He hadn't entirely fixed upon this course, refused to be swayed by what pity he felt for the Potter boy. "How often do you have these . . visions?"
"Every time there is a meeting?" Snape persisted, though he couldn't quite imagine such a thing. Voldemort insisted upon absolute devotion from his companions, and called them often for no more reason than to catch them unawares.
"I haven't had a vision in two, almost three days."
"Only when you sleep, then." He snorted at Potter's look of surprise. "It takes no wealth of observation skills to know you haven't slept – at least not well – for the better part of a week." He hesitated. "It takes some trust, Occlumency. Frankly, Potter, I doubt you trust me enough to make it work any better this time around."
"Professor Dumbledore trusts you." And there was a new interest in Harry's eyes – interest, and more than a little amusement.
"Yes, he does. He has reason enough to do so."
"So he says," Potter drawled, dismissing the words with a wave of his hand. "But I seem to have lost faith in the Headmaster's . . . beliefs." He finished the sentence with a sneer oddly reminiscent of Snape's own.
"Then why make the suggestion?"
"Because I have my own reasons for believing in your utter devotion to this cause, Professor." He laughed softly. "I've seen every Death Eater meeting for the better part of a month, and they happen frequently enough that I can't quite understand how his men recover enough between curses to be of any use to him."
"Fear is a powerful motivator – even greater than pain, at times."
"He nearly killed you for refusing to torture the girl," Harry said easily, almost glibly, but Snape saw the pain beneath the carefully cultivated mask. "A lot of men have broken under the Cruciatus . . . at times, I doubt my own ability to stand against his fury." He shrugged. "I doubt your humanity, Professor, but not your loyalty . . . or your strength."
"Why me, and not Dumbledore?" Snape queried, curiosity rising to the fore.
"Because you, at least, never lied to me." Harry hesitated. "And because I think you would be more inclined to agree to teach me something of the Dark Arts, if only on the off chance that one might backfire on me."
"I heard, from Bellatrix Lestrange, that you had attempted to cast Crucio on her after she murdered Black. But, of course, I dismissed the rumor. The Gryffindor Golden Boy would surely do nothing so disdainful." Snape fixed him with a discerning glare. "Does Albus know?"
"He knows everything else, doesn't he? It's never been mentioned," Harry went on, in response to Snape's patented glare. "I expect he suspects, but it's never been said. I think it frightens him, to realize that I have that inside me."
"Would you have killed her?" Snape said, quietly.
"No. But not for altruistic reasons. Fudge has refused to remove the dementors from Azkaban. And if those creatures can have such an effect on me, when I am innocent of anything but a violent past . . . it would have pleased me a great deal to throw her into a cell and watch her own crimes eat her alive."
"Your anger at Dumbledore, your hatred for Voldemort and Lestrange, could make you very proficient in the arena of Dark Magic. You have enough hatred in you to make a very vicious, vindictive dueller, a force to be reckoned with. Dumbledore's Golden Boy, indeed."
"I should hope so. I'll have to be, to defeat the Dark Lord." Unconsciously Harry copied Snape's derisive term for Voldemort.
"I should think Dumbledore would quite take care of that end of things."
"I doubt it," Harry commented, ignoring the sneer in Snape's words. "If you believe in genuine prophecy, that is. I am, supposedly, the chosen one destined to kill Voldemort or be slaughtered by him. As it stands, the second appears the far more likely. I am hoping to rectify the situation before Riddle and I meet again."
Snape eyed him almost warily. "So you, Potter, are the Order's last hope of salvation?" He waited for Harry's nod before letting out a pained sound and closing his eyes in resignation. "Damn."
"Chose a none-too-opportune moment to renew your vows of loyalty to Dumbledore, didn't you?" Harry grinned in response to Snape's snarl.
"I do believe we should begin that training of yours directly, Potter. Beginning with the casting of the Unforgivable Curses and your animagus training." Snape fixed him with an appraising look. "Considering your hero worship of Black, I would be greatly surprised if you haven't at least put some thought into your animagus form."
"I know what I'll be, if that's what you mean . . and where your past history as a Death Eater will become something of an advantage. Hermione is the only one of my friends I would trust to give me advice on the transformation, and until recently, she wouldn't have been able to see me." Harry waited for it to dawn on his professor, and was vaguely pleased by how quickly Snape arrived at the proper conclusion.
"You're a thestral?"
"Yup," Harry said easily. "Very apt, I'd say. Hagrid mentioned that they were once believed to be bad omens – and merely being in my presence does seem to get people killed a little too often to blame it on bad luck, doesn't it?"
"Blame it on the Dark Lord," Snape advised. "It's safer, for all of us."
"Very well. Voldemort killed them, because I was too weak to prevent it. I stood there, and I watched when Pettigrew killed Cedric, very much the way one would drown a puppy. I wasn't three feet away when Bellatrix Lestrange pushed Sirius through the veil. And I did nothing." Harry raised a hand to forestall the protest he saw in Snape's eyes. "No, I didn't want them to die. But it happened. And I will never be that helpless again."
"I understand that, believe me. But I cannot condone it."
"Tom Riddle asked me once . . what was special about me, what extraordinary talent I possessed that I could defeat the most powerful Dark Lord in our world as a year-old baby. And eventually he decided that there wasn't anything special about me at all. I intend to prove him wrong."
"Indeed, Potter . . . I thought, when you chose to support Light, that you had proven something to the rest of us, if not to yourself. You are not . . what he was."
"No. But that proves nothing. Tom Riddle didn't grow up with the intention of becoming the next Dark Lord. Things happened to him that he couldn't deal with, and he made the decision to never again be helpless, to never place his happiness in any hands but his own. He chose an easier way . . . he doesn't care for anyone. That makes him cold, but it keeps him safe – because he'll never feel deeply enough for anyone to make their life worth more to him than his own."
"Demons are never born . . only made." Snape shrugged Harry's look of brief surprise. "I believed that kind of philosophical discussion beyond your range of intelligence, Potter."
"I understand his choices, Professor. I don't agree with them, but I know why he did what he did. On the other hand, I envy him . . because he, at least, had a choice."
"He chose wrongly." And Snape's eyes were wary.
"Yes. But so did the people around him – the father who abandoned him, the professors who refused to see that life in an orphanage was killing him, bit by bit. And Dumbledore, who still hasn't learned that the people without families make good soldiers, better generals, and the best murderers. I wonder what he'd say if I told him only Draco Malfoy prevented him from having not one, but two dark lords on his hands?" Harry mused. He laughed at the bemused expression on the Potions Master's face. "Well, I'm hardly Ravenclaw material, and I'm no Hufflepuff. It was down to two, almost from the moment that Hat touched my head. It was leaning toward Slytherin – I convinced it not to put me there, because I'd already had words with Malfoy."
"Thank God for that."
"Yeah. I thought it too, later." Harry paused. "There are some things – not many, but a few – that even Slytherins seem to hold sacred. If I could offer you one of those things, Professor . . . . could you be bribed into giving me lessons in some of the more deadly, destructive Dark Magic curses?"
"I should assign you a year's worth of detentions for even suggesting that, Potter. And lacking that, I'm not easily bought. Merlin knows, the Dark Lord has tried."
"The Chamber of Secrets, Professor?" Harry asked softly, and Snape glanced at him.
"Albus told me you'd found it . . . I wasn't certain I believed him. You fought a basilisk there?"
"Yes. That wouldn't happen again, of course, even if there were another basilisk. I was too young then to appreciate just how powerful an ally that damned snake was to Voldemort's teenage reincarnation, and too green to realize that I had every bit the control over it that Riddle did . . . he might have been Salazar Slytherin's true heir, but I am a Parselmouth nonetheless."
"So, in return for teaching you to kill things, you'll show me that historical Chamber?" Snape considered.
"Yes." Harry didn't say more, didn't try to convince him. The past year might have brought out the latent Slytherin in him, but his pride was all Gryffindor. He wouldn't ask again, because he wouldn't be refused.
"Very well," Snape said at last, rising from his chair. "Let's see this chamber of yours."
"In the chamber, if it is so secret and secure," Snape returned, and Harry inclined his head slightly in acceptance of a point scored.
"Deal." Silently Harry left the room, glancing back only once to assure himself that the Potions master had followed, before setting off at a jog for Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. Snape hesitated before following him in, but didn't comment as Harry crossed the bathroom's flooded floor and leaned over the taps, searching for the tiny snake etched there. "Open," he hissed, turning to take in Snape's expression of dazed wonder before gesturing for the man to precede him down the tunnel. With a warning look, Snape obeyed the unspoken command. He didn't relax until he heard Potter's landing, and let out a breath of relief. It shamed him, the admission that for a moment he'd been truly afraid that Potter had lured him here to kill him, perhaps, or to simply abandon him here, miles beneath the school, in a place only Potter and Weasley could find, and only Voldemort and Potter could enter.
"Not much to look at, but it's real enough," Potter commented, leading the way to a set of enormous golden doors, which opened obediently at a hissed command from Potter. Snape stepped forward, and Harry swept him a mock bow, waving him on into the chamber proper. "Slytherin's vaunted Chamber of Secrets. The genuine article." Harry paused a moment to enjoy the startled wonder on Snape's face, but hurried forward as his keen ears caught the barest hint of disgruntled hissing from somewhere behind the Slytherin head statue.
"Be damned if there's another of the things," muttered Harry. "Speak to me Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four!" he called up to the statue, and pulled his wand automatically as the heavy stone slid aside, revealing the dim passage behind.
"Master? Here?" The questioning, timid hiss was accompanied by the gleam of light on scales blacker than the passage that concealed it. Snape came toward him, wand at the ready, and growled in mild displeasure as Harry brushed him out of the way.
"Yes, pet." Harry went farther into the blackened tunnel, emerging a mere second later with a snake, perhaps the size of a fully grown python, wrapped around his waist, its head lolling carelessly along his shoulder. The long black tail tapped gently against his shin, and the snake nuzzled his neck in the affectionate manner of a dog or cat. Harry was hissing crooningly to the creature, and even in Parseltongue, the words sounded faintly like the kind of nonsensical baby-talk people use with infants and young animals.
"What in Merlin's name, Potter . . . ." Snape didn't get far in his reprimand. The snake, feeling the anger fairly radiating from the professor, abruptly decided the loud man was too close to her newfound king, and lifted her head from Harry's shoulder to fix incredibly large, golden eyes on the Potions master.
"No!" Harry snapped, rapping the snake sharply on the nose. It winced, whimpering an apology, and Harry's voice gentled. "You must not even try that, not here. That one – Snape – is cruel, but for the moment, he is needed. He is . . my . ." Harry fought to find a word that properly described Snape that could be understood by the young animal. "Teacher." In Parseltongue it translated more as 'parent' or 'sibling', but Harry figured it was close enough.
"Potter, that better not be what I think it is." Snape's tone was ominous, and Harry sighed.
"She," Harry emphasized the distinction, "is a baby basilisk, probably only a few months old . . . the only offspring of the basilisk I killed. I doubt she could kill you the typical way if she wanted to, but as her fangs are every bit as deady as her gaze, I thought it wise to clarify your status as 'definitively off the menu'."
"She might be small now." Snape paused, looked the snake over, and added, a bit wryly – "Relatively small, but you don't know that she won't turn on you, even kill you accidently, just by looking at you."
"It's willpower . . controllable . . the killing-people thing," Harry clarified. "She doesn't want to kill me – you either, now – and she won't. As to the other, Professor, she's only a baby, untainted by Voldemort's touch. She knows me . . . knew only the older nestmate who tended her egg. But he is gone now, off to join Voldemort, and she is alone. I won't have to teach her to hate Him, Professor. She's already seen him tear her family apart."
"Nonetheless . . I doubt the headmaster's tolerance for you will extend to an immensely dangerous serpent," Severus sneered.
"He will permit it, regardless – because I can control her, and because he wants me to stay here, to be his . . . symbol."
Snape fixed the boy with eyes that suddenly saw more than Gryffindor pride and James Potter's face. There was a new confidence in Potter's every movement – the self-assured certainty that comes only of power. Potter was growing up, maturing into an adult Snape would be more than willing to follow. There would come a time, very soon, when Dumbledore and Potter would part ways – not in convictions, but in methods. There was a new cruelty in the set of the boy's jaw, a kind of savage elegance in the high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes previously obscured by the insecurity and boyishness that had plagued Potter's early years. Dumbledore wheedled, cajoled, convinced. Potter, Severus felt sure, would demand . . . and Snape was already certain that the frustrated members of Dumbledore's Order – even the more radical Death Eaters – would rally to him.
Snape smiled faintly. "This is going to be interesting."