by The Velvet Ghost
"Perhaps one more drop... careful, careful... there. And now?"
"Uh... we've done the saltwater base, we've added the flaxseed oil, the beetle wings went in... oh! Flobberworms?"
"And to think, I doubted you for one fraction of a second. Indeed, the flobberworms. How long have they been pickling for?"
Stripping off his dragonhide gloves, Harry turned to check on the huge glass jar sitting on the scrubbed wooden bench beside their cauldron. It was full of luminous green liquid, and floating in the jelly-like substance were twenty flobberworms, each of them curled up into a little boil. They had naturally been dead since before they were pickled. As with ninety percent of all flobberworms cared for by Hagrid's classes, an overdose of lettuce had polished off these ones. Another twenty sat in a sack at the bottom of the store cupboard.
"I put them in there half an hour ago," Harry said, biting his lip. He drew out a thermometer and slid it smoothly into the gooey green gel, watching the reading soar upwards. "They're at eighty degrees."
"Then they are ready, are they not?" The voice was, as always, gentle yet insistent. Harry had learnt over the course of many nights that obedience and effort were rewarded greatly, and the voice became a reward in itself. "Take them out, make sure the liquid has mostly drained away before adding them."
Harry moved across the room to fetch one of the metal ladles hanging on the back of the workroom door. He retrieved one, and as he turned around, he saw his mentor inspecting his work so far. Snape's hair was tied back loosely, though strands escaped the band and hung around his face as he peered down into the belly of the cauldron, and a thoughtful frown touched his features.
"Is it okay?" Harry asked.
Snape nodded. "It is. In fact, it has turned out surprisingly well."
Harry smiled quietly and carried the ladle over, scooping out the flobberworms and pouring back as much gel as he could. "I was worried about how much oil we used."
"No, it appears to have done it some good," Snape mused. He stepped to one side as Harry approached the gigantic cauldron and began to empty in the flobberworms. Snape's black eyes watched all this with silent approval.
"Do I need to add them all?" Harry asked. He turned to look up at Snape, but already, his mentor's face was fading away and some other world was beckoning.
"No," Snape was saying, the voice echoing away. "Just a few... Potter? Pay attention, you're dropping these worms everywhere. Potter? Harry, are you listening?"
His eyes snapped open. Above him, the canopy of his four poster bed was shaded in darkness and the stone walls of the dungeon were gone. He looked down at his hands, searching for the ladle he had held, but it was gone.
Ron was looking confused. "Harry, you alright?"
Harry reached up to wipe his forehead, quietly. His expression was falling. "Yeah... yeah, fine."
"You were saying something about flobberworms," said Ron, with a look of extreme concern. Behind him, the other boys in the dormitory were watching sleepily, their hair tousled and eyes very wide.
"You had a nightmare, Harry?" Dean asked.
Harry nodded numbly. "Yeah. Sorry if I woke you all up."
"S'okay," said Ron. He yawned. "Well, if you're alright. You were talking pretty loudly. Something about all the flobberworms."
"Weird dream," said Harry. He laid back down in his bed, pulling up the covers around his neck. "Go back to sleep, I'll try to keep my mouth shut this time."
Ron clamboured off his bed, crossed the room to his own and reached for the candle. With a gentle hiss of the extinguished flame, darkness came again. After a few minutes had passed, Neville's snuffling snores filled the dormitory, and Ron's whistling breaths came inbetween each grunt.
Harry rolled over to face the wall. There was now sweat on his forehead, even though his dream had been nothing frightening. What bothered him was that this was the fourth dream in a row that had concerned Professor Snape. Of course, he had dreamt of Snape before, but usually he was drowning the vile Potions teacher in a cauldron of boiling dragon fat, not making potions with him. For four nights now, Harry had enjoyed the company of Professor Snape, and he was beginning to worry.
Yesterday, he had mentioned casually to Madam Pomfrey that he was having odd dreams, but she had just told him they were usual around exam time. Somehow, Harry did not think that his night-time visits to the Potions workroom were caused by exam stress. The first time had been a little odd but forgettable, the second time was even more odd, the third time was slightly worrying and this fourth dream was no longer a coincidence. He could not ignore this any longer.
It was time to do the unthinkable. In the morning, he would ask Hermione what it meant when you dreamt about the same person night after night. If anybody knew, it would be her. He could also trust her not to laugh too much. Ron would never forgive Harry if he found out that every night, he went off and made potions with Professor Snape, even if it was only a dream.
He huddled against the wall and closed his eyes, the sheets drawn tight around his neck. Before he knew it, his troubled thoughts were drifting into the realm of the subconscious, and once more, he began to dream.
"Something on your mind?"
Harry looked up. Those familiar dark eyes met his gaze, and he realised that he had been halfway through slicing up some knotgrass. He shook his head and picked up the knife again, quietly sliding the blade through the next bundle of grass. "No, not really."
"You've been quiet tonight. Normally, I can hardly get you to shut up for a moment."
"It's nothing," said Harry. He chopped off the next length of grass, handing it to Snape, who took it to their cauldron and sprinkled each delicate strand across the surface. A cloud of bright white smoke erupted from the belly of the cauldron with an insistent hiss and bloomed across the ceiling, snaking over each stone like a living creature.
"Too much salt," murmured Snape, eyeing the smoke still sneaking about the roof. He started idling through jars on a shelf nearby. "How much did you put in?"
"I can't remember," said Harry. "Just what you told me to."
"You can usually weigh and measure accurately."
"Then why not tell me what preoccupies you. If it is terrible enough to affect your potion skills, you cannot tell me it is nothing."
Harry found himself twisting a few strands of knotgrass together in a sort of plait. After a few seconds of quiet, he said, "I have to speak to Hermione tomorrow."
"I keep having weird dreams that I'm making potions with you."
Snape was silent. Harry didn't look up as he heard the professor walk towards him, until Snape was too close to ignore. He glanced up from his plaited knotgrass. The Potions master was watching him with a faintly painful expression, standing by his side at the bench.
"Granger will not be able to explain things to you."
"Oh," said Harry, quietly. He looked away. "I suppose I won't ask her then."
"Only one person can."
"Who?" asked Harry.
"Me," said Snape. He reached out and took the knotgrass from Harry. "See me after the lesson tomorrow."
"Alright," said Harry. He shuffled absent-mindedly. "Will I stop having the dreams?"
Things were growing faint again. Harry could feel that familiar echo, the feeling of space, of drifting away, and as he turned to look up at Snape, the teacher's face was fading out of focus.
"You'll understand some day, Harry."
"Harry, what is wrong with you? You've been twitching all lesson." Hermione was looking at him sternly over the rim of their cauldron, absent-mindedly adding doxy venom to the solution. "Did you sleep last night?"
Harry nodded quickly. "Oh yeah, I'm fine, Hermione. Don't worry about me."
"Then will you stop twitching? This is a very complicated potion and you need to hold that candle still."
He sighed and tried to stop his hands from jittering quite so much. He glanced up across the classroom as Hermione began to work on their potion again. At his desk, Snape frowned and raked his hair back with one pale hand, inking something onto the parchment before him. Harry's hand shuddered.
Hermione, halfway through delicately adding another droplet of venom, jumped up and stamped her foot, angrily. "Harry! You're heating it in completely the wrong place! You have to hold it still!"
"I'm trying," said Harry angrily. "This is so stupid. Why can't I just get a stand and put it there?"
"Then it would be at the wrong angle," said Hermione. "So just hold it still and stop shaking."
Harry frowned and got down onto his knees, holding the candle carefully with the flame licking gently at the marked spot on their cauldron. Hermione sighed, drew back her hair and began to work again.
"How much longer?" grumbled Harry.
"Oh, only another two drops," she sighed. "One more... there. All done. You can put it down now." She drew back and put the venom carefully back into the holder on her desk, then moved over to the potion again, peering inside. "It's still very aqua. We were supposed to get cyan... I suppose there's nothing else we can do though. Except... maybe if we put in some saltwater, just a drop, that might lighten it a little."
Somewhere in the depths of the school, a bell rang.
Snape, without looking up, called throughout the room. "That was the bell, though as I'm sure none of you have forgotten, this lesson lasts for two hours. You may have a three minute break. Do not leave any flames unattended. Waterhouse, I'm looking in your direction."
The class all sighed and stubbed out their candles, wiping sweaty faces with the backs of hands and heading for the door. Hermione grabbed her bag.
"I have to go and take a library book back, Harry," she said. "Somebody needs to stay with the potion though. Can you - "
"Yes," said Harry. He had realised that everybody was leaving. He would be the only one left in the room with Snape, and maybe, just maybe, he could get some answers.
"See you later," said Hermione, and she left the room with the others.
Silence filled the classroom. Harry went to wash his hands, uncomfortably aware of the quiet, and then returned to his desk, pretending to chop up some gillyweed for the next stage in their potion. Snape apparently hadn't noticed he was still there.
"What is it, Potter?" The teacher's voice was cold and cruel, irritated at being disturbed. "If you haven't noticed, I'm busy."
"I know, I'm sorry, but... can I talk to you for a second?"
Snape glanced up. "You mean you haven't been doing so already?"
Harry felt the heat rising in his cheeks, but he had to know, he just had to. "I mean... you... you told me to come and see you."
"I did, mm?"
"Yes... last night."
Snape was frowning. "What are you talking about, Potter?"
"Last night," said Harry. "In the workroom. I was cutting knotgrass."
Snape was staring at him as though he had gone mad. Harry found himself more confused and troubled than before. As his face flushed scarlet, he said, "Um... maybe I was wrong. Sorry. I'll go and, uh, find Hermione."
He hurried for the door and left, closing it behind him.
Snape watched him silently, then sighed and rubbed his forehead. He reached into a jar on his desk and sprinkled a pinch of glittering powder into the candle that Andrew Waterhouse had left burning.
Within a second or two, a quiet and good-natured voice had spoken from the candle. "Yes, Severus?"
"Talk to Potter. He knows."
The candle sighed. "Severus, you must tell him yourself. The boy is your responsibility."
"He is not my responsibility," Snape bristled. "Tell him. Call him to your office. You know how to handle these things."
"I'm sorry, Severus," said the candle, lightly. "But you knew this would happen when you agreed to become his magical guardian. You knew you would have to tell him one day. There is nothing I can do."
The candle went out. Angrily, Snape stubbed his quill against the desk, breaking the nib and watching the ink flow across some Hufflepuff's illegible essay.