Saturday came with a flourish, the students all abuzz with talk of Quiddich and Apparition classes, which had been announced earlier in the week. During the day, the students mostly clung to their common rooms, as he rain outside made it undesirable to venture out for long.
Harry sat in the corner of the room, half listening to Hermione as he looked over the chess board. He was missing something, he was sure of it, and knew very well that Ron would use it to his advantage. The more he focused on the game, the less he heard of what Hermione was saying. Nothing unusual really, he expected she was going to begin bartering for their attention with a raised voice in a matter of moments. He wasn't disappointed.
"Are either of you listening to me at all?" She asked, slamming her hands down on the table, near enough to the board that the little pieces jittered about.
"Aw, now don't go ruining the game! I've almost got him!" Ron said indignantly, trying to right one of his knights, which had been unlucky enough to fall over.
Harry smiled softly, and tried to calm her down. "Just let us finish the game, then you'll have our undivided attention." He smiled a bit more at her slight scowl. "Ron's going to have me out in a few more moves anyhow. And we still have a few hours before Quiddich try-outs."
She seemed to mull that over in her mind for a moment before she slumped into a chair next to Ron. "Fine. But you had better listen then!"
"No problem!" the redheaded boy said brightly as he moved his rook and took out Harry's queen. "Check Mate!"
Harry blinked and looked at the board again. Now he saw plainly what he had missed. Ron had set up a ruse, and he'd fallen for it, completely missing the opening he left. He grumbled a bit and helped Ron clear the board way before turning his attention to Hermione, who was, at this point looking a little more patient then she had been just a few minutes prior. "So, what were you saying before?"
She took a breath and straightened up in the chair before beginning. "I was asking if you'd gotten anymore out of Professor Snape last night."
He shook his head a bit and looked thoughtful. "Nothing specific. He did say that there were other ways to get into someone's mind, besides Legilimency. And he said you wouldn't always know they were doing it either." He frowned, as did his friends. "Well, I can't say he was talking about her specifically. I didn't know how to ask without looking like we were up to something."
"Yes.. He doesn't need any help thinking that." Hermione smirked. "So he didn't single her out, but didn't put her in either. I suppose it's possible she doesn't have the ability.." She paused a bit and used the time to pull a book from her pack. "I found this in the library. It's about various mental abilities, but what I was looking for was occlumency, which it says quite a bit on. Incedently, how's that going?"
He glanced at Ron, who seemed curious as well, then shrugged. "He said I made some improvement, but that really isn't saying much at all. What does the book say about it?" He leaned closer and peered at the book as she flipped through the pages, seeming to look for something.
"Well, it says that Occlumency is the direct opposite of Legilimency. It also says to know one, you should know the other."
"So he should be teaching me Legilimency too?"
"Well.. no. That's the catch. Legilimency isn't forbidden, but it might as well be. It's highly frowned upon."
Ron smirked. "Explains why Snape knows it."
She gave him a pointed look, but for once, didn't correct him in saying 'Professor Snape'. "Actually, it is a dark art. Aurors have to learn Occlumency." She looked at Harry, and he nodded reluctantly, getting her meaning. He'd have to learn it sooner or later, so long as he still wanted to be an Auror himself.
"Still," She continued, reading directly from the book, "There are very few who are accomplished enough in Legilimeny to cause trouble, as even one without any knowledge of Occlumency would know of the intrusion."
"Snape said that some people don't need wands to do it though.. so someone has to be that good. Right?"
"So I would think." She frowned, looking thoughtful again. "I wonder how good Professor Snape is? He has to be fairly good if he's supposed to teach you."
"I don't know. I feel it every time though. It's not exactly pleasant."
Ron sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. "D'you think he's faking it? I mean like, making it look like he's not as good as he really is?"
"I wondered that myself." Hermione stated, flipping through the book once more. "It doesn't say anything about making it look bad. But I thought maybe he would for your benefit."
"My benefit?" Harry looked completely lost. "It hurts Hermione. How could that be to my benefit?"
"Well, if there aren't many who are that good, it would probably be better for you to at least be able to recognize when it's happening, then get better at actually blocking it."
She had a point, but he didn't want to admit it. "I guess." He said, noncommintantly.
"Anyhow," she stood, closing the book. "It doesn't do us much good to speculate right now. We simply haven't got enough information. I'll keep looking, of course. You," she pointed to Harry, "Keep digging."
He sighed, watching as she walked away, to go join Ginny and some of the other girls near the fire. "Yeah. Great."
"I don't understand what purpose this will serve." He didn't bother to school the scowl on his face. His patience was growing thin. Each day Albus' games were driving him further and further into madness. Well, perhaps not true madness, but it sounded good, didn't it?
"Relax Severus. All is well for the moment."
"For the moment indeed. You realize bringing her here puts her back on their list? I understand he's already inquired." He needn't mention the punishment that had, and would, come as well. His muscles still ached with the phantom pains from ages ago, reminding him of what would be in store for him when he was next called. After all, it had been his original failure.
"When do you think he will call on you?"
"Soon, I believe." He pinned the headmaster with a dark gaze. "He will question my loyalties again."
"Of course he will." The older man waved a withered hand.
"That does not concern you?" He'd be surprised if it truly didn't.
"Oh, certainly it does. I however, have faith in you, my boy." Severus bristled mentally. He was infuriating! "Once again, I must apologize for what you must endure on behalf of the Order.." Now it was the Slytherin's turn to wave the comment off. They'd been over this countless times since Voldemort had been rejuvenated. "But it is unfortunately unavoidable."
"Sometimes I wonder what drives you to impart such.. faith," he half sneered, as he stood and stepped toward the door, "in me." He knew he covered his tracks well, and that questions from either side could be fielded with moderate ease. Sometimes, when things got hairy, the line blurred, and he himself wasn't so sure what side of it he was on.
"Ah." The old man smiled, his eyes glittering in the dim light from the fire. "But you see Severus, I knew she was alive. And I know that above all else, you cannot betray her.." He pinned him with a knowing gaze, making the potion's master wonder at his meaning.
"I haven't the foggiest what you're on about."
The Headmaster sat back, settled in his chair comfortably as he smiled once more. "No, of course not." He watched the younger man look as if he were going to growl, then spoke up as he reached for the door. "Ah Severus. One more thing." His hand remained on the door, but he stopped and glanced back over his shoulder. "I suspect things may get more difficult. I agree with you that Riddle may call upon young Mr. Malfoy in the absence of his father. Please do keep me informed."
He looked back to the door, studying the grain for a moment as he gathered his thoughts. "You have a plan were that to be the case?"
He didn't have to turn to know the wise old sorcerer was shaking his head no. "No plans can be made without knowing what we are dealing with in this instance. That knowledge is the key. But I fear.. that Riddle will force our hand." He waved it off. "We will speak of it again."
Severus nodded as he pulled the door open. "I'm sure we will."
He descended the stairs, wondering just how long it would be until he was called. Later in the day or the next, he was almost sure. 'More difficult indeed.' He needed some air. Preferably, air that was not being polluted by the chatter of the students.
Outside, the rain continued to make it near impossible to do anything. Raven was making her way back to the castle from Hagrid's, where she had gone to ask a few questions about the creatures in the Black Forest. Hagrid was the best person to ask, and so she had made her way down to the small cabin despite the rain. If she was to make sure all was being done to ensure the safety of the school, she had to know about the biggest unknown in the equation. She hadn't been particularly pleased with the answers. A Centaur herd was fine, she supposed, but if they were truly disgruntled with the school, she wasn't about to place her trust in them. The Amantulas were helpful, but still, not something that was a certainty, as they mostly seemed to stick together anyhow. There was a lot of forest to cover after all.
A particularly sour look cross her face, and she was glad no one was around to see it. Rain was good for that. Out here, she was far enough away from the students to almost feel alone. Almost. But that was better than nothing. Her rooms in the dungeons were far too close to the Slytherin common room for her to be at peace. Not that she thought the kids were bad, she knew better, but because her ability to sense others didn't really account for walls. She always felt as though they were all in one giant room together, even if she knew they were not.
She slowed her walk, and eventually came to a halt. She'd stopped headed back to the castle and instead made her way around it, toward the lake. To the casual observer, she looked as if she was simply enjoying the view of the rain upon the water. For a moment, she focused on the roar of it, since she couldn't actually see it.
She would have liked to see it though. She sank to her knees, cursing herself for allowing the weakness into her thoughts. She would never see it, so there was no use in wishing for it. There was no use thinking of it at all.
She stayed there like that, just enjoying the relative solitude, despite the onlooker she had.
He watched her in the rain, watched the water fall over her pale skin. In his mind's eye, he could recall a similar night, seemingly so long ago. But that night had been filled with terror, and sent her away from him for too long.
He let his mind drift to that time,. or shortly before. It was only days after he had graduated, days after he'd received the mark that had damned him. He could remember that night in swift detail, despite his own attempts to forget.
She'd come to him, congratulating him for graduating. He hadn't seen her in nearly a year, as she had already graduated, and he'd never seen her away from the school. But that night was filled with oddities really, things he'd never expected of her, or perhaps even of himself.
She'd come to him when it was just the two of them, though she never quite said why she had done so. They talked more than he could ever remember doing so. Though he'd claimed her as a friend at school, they'd rarely said much of anything then. At least he felt it so. After hours of catching up, of exploring each other's memories and stories, the rain had started. It came down hard and fast, forcing them to flee to a small tavern, hidden away from those who wouldn't know how to find it. Dark and sparse with patrons, he realized that she'd been staying there, but wouldn't know until later quite how long she had done so.
She showed him to her room, and he'd explored her offered body with little thought of the promises he'd made just days ago. He loved her, he'd realized then, though the words had never managed to spill from his lips. He wondered now, if maybe they would have changed how things ended, but he knew now, and even then, that she probably knew how he felt. Still, saying so may have been what she was searching for.
His eyes narrowed, watching as she sank to her knees in the mix of slick grass and mud. She looked now as she had that day things fell apart.
It was early morning, mere hours before dawn when things had begun to shift away from dreams to reality. The nearly forgotten mark upon his arm began to burn, jerking him harshly from his sleep. But it had also roused her. The dark magic was easy for her to sense when it became active, and she'd seemed so frightened of it, and of him. She'd run from him, and he'd had no choice but to let her go. Again, he'd failed to say what he should have said, but he was needed elsewhere. If he didn't go, the consequences would be dire.
It would be later that night when he would manage to see her again, but not nearly in so cozy a scene. There had been struggle, and she, the target. While he had wished he could help her to escape, he knew he could do nothing. Her heated words were filled with anger, sorrow, and something else he couldn't recognize. She'd accused him of selling his soul, and warned him of the dangers of his choice. But much more could not be said, as his fellows had appeared. He was supposed to rally her to their cause, a cause he was rapidly realizing he had been duped into in the first place. In the failure of claiming her power as their own, they were cited to take her out of the game. His comrades had fallen into this task so easily it made his stomach turn. Self loathing crept upon him, and he'd held back as she fled, and they gave chase. He'd only caught up to them in time to see her miraculous escape. While he known there would be consequences for failure, he no longer cared. Somehow, he'd known that he would never see her again, and somewhere inside, his heart had shattered.
She allowed him his moment before she stood and turned to look straight at him. Or seemingly so, considering her limitation. He lowered his head just a bit, though he didn't look away. He felt something akin to guilt as he was so obviously caught, but he couldn't bring himself to do anything about it. He stepped forward, out from under the alcove that had been protecting him from the weather, but even as the rain started soaking his robes and slicking down his hair, she turned. He stood there, not caring about the water or the cold he felt was settling into him straight to the morrow. All he could do was watch as she walked away.
He'd made sure he didn't cross her path again for the rest of the day. He'd returned to the dungeons about the same time as the hopeful Slytherins who'd been out on the pitch, vying for their position on the House Team. They were laughing at something one of them had said.
The sopping group spotted their Head of House, who also appeared to be soaking wet. "D'ya think he was out watching the tryouts?" One of the beater hopefuls asked.
"Who knows, I could hardly see a thing through the rain!"
"Don't make excuses just because you can't play!"
The boys laughed as they filed into the common room, save for one. Draco held back just a moment, glancing down the corridor in the direction Snape had gone in such a hurry. His eyes narrowed momentarily, then with a shake of his blonde head, he disappeared into the opening to join his fellows.
I want to thank my good friend Mae for beta reading for me And thanks to everyone for the reviews! I apologize for my sluggishness for getting this chapter out.. Unfortunately, I read HBP and derailed my train of thought on this. Fortunately, I've made a few decisions and hopefully will be able to keep going without too much trouble.
On that, I should note that this does deviate form the books after OotP, though as you may have noticed, I'm going to incorporate some aspects from HBP. As always, I must bow to the awesomeness of J.K.Rowling :D