Category: gen, h/c
Summary: Harry is adjusting to his new situation with Snape, but a death at Hogwarts soon complicates everything. Secrets breed ugly misunderstandings, and the past haunts the present.
Disclaimer: The characters and situations of Harry Potter do not belong to me. I make no money from this story. Please don't sue.
Series: Sequel to "Surreality;" I would suggest that it be read first.
Author's Notes: "Surreality" was written before HBP was published. As such, it and its sequels are AU. (More AU than I ever would have imagined they would be—but that's a conversation for a different forum.) For the purposes of this series, the events in Half Blood Prince did not take place. This is my version of Harry's 6th year at Hogwarts.
That said, there may be a few HBP spoilers later, mainly in the form of information that is now canon about Snape's past.
Chapter 1: Transitions
…Harry Potter was wrestling with his broom, having to work to keep his seat and grip in the buffeting wind…he knew the Quidditch field and his team were somewhere beneath him, but he couldn't even see them through the dark, angry clouds…the dementors came out of nowhere, and his thoughts rushed as he choked on his emotions…then there was the sensation of falling, the ringing sound of a female scream…
Harry came out of the memory abruptly. From his position on his knees, he glanced up at the man standing a few yards away.
Snape sighed as he lowered his wand, looking more than a touch exasperated.
Harry looked down again, frowning slightly. He almost wished they could go back to the way things had been last year, with Snape yelling, pissed off at his inability and belittling him. That would certainly have made Harry angry, but anger was almost better than this. As it was now, he knew he was disappointing his Professor, and he actually cared what the man thought.
And no matter how frustrated Snape might be, he wasn't yelling. In fact, he was perfectly silent until Harry recovered himself well enough to climb to his feet once more. Then he stepped closer, stern gaze locked on him. "We both know that you are quite capable of clearing your mind. You do it every night. But then you have quiet, and time...and safety."
Then perhaps part of the problem was that Harry now felt safe here, too. Maybe he should be doing this with Dumbledore, he thought darkly. He no longer trusted his thoughts and feelings in the Headmaster's presence.
Snape was continuing, "Obviously that will not always be the case. But you do know how to do this; you must try harder."
Harry said nothing, just nodded contritely as he looked away, purposefully not holding the eye contact.
Snape sighed again, sounding less frustrated and more resigned. They obviously would not be making any major accomplishments with this session.
Harry had made progress since they'd begun Occlumency again this semester, especially since they had become more amenable to each other. Snape was right; he was perfectly capable. He had learned to calm himself by clearing his thoughts at random parts of the day, and to occlude his mind at bedtime. Those skills were the foundation for all of this, so it was certainly something to be pleased with. But in these sessions, when he was called upon to do it quickly and completely with the threat of forced intrusion, he couldn't do it. Pounding adrenaline seemed to inhibit his ability to shut down emotions and thoughts.
"I'm sorry, Professor. Let's try again," he said gamely.
A tad of surprise crossed Snape's face before he eyed Harry critically. "No; I think that's enough for today."
Harry frowned, and now he was the frustrated one as Snape turned back towards his desk. Harry was silent for a moment as he watched the Potions Master approach the small cauldron perched on the edge. Even across the room, Harry could make out the silvery streaks swimming around inside. "I can do it," he insisted before Snape could begin replacing the memories. "Give me one more chance."
Snape turned back to him again, unreadable now. "You're exhausted from the five attempts we have already made," he stated frankly. "The mind can only take so much. Though I am not pressing hard, it is still unwise to strain you."
Harry's expression softened, his resolve slipping a bit. He was still frustrated, but in the last few weeks he had found that his temper could be suppressed fairly quickly by Snape's hints at concern for his well-being. He finally nodded. "All right."
Snape nodded as well. "You should get to dinner, Mr. Pot…Harry," he corrected a bit awkwardly. "I shall see you there."
His first name coming from Severus Snape still sounded odd. Harry was grateful for that, because it gave him an excuse to still be grinning every time he heard it.
He tucked his chin and turned to go, casting a glance back to see Snape turning back to the pensieve. His grin dimmed slightly.
He spent the walk to the Great Hall bothered by that pensieve.
Intellectually, he understood the need for it. He was certain that there was much in Snape's memories that would only disturb him, as well as personal memories that had nothing to do with Harry's defense against Voldemort.
But emotionally…he still had moments when he wrestled with his trust in Snape. He didn't really think that the man was hiding anything treacherous; it was more an issue of Snape trusting him. He wanted to know more about him, and the presence of the pensieve just reminded him that the information was being carefully and purposefully withheld. Through that, he was being held quite firmly at arm's length.
He had been rather frank about his life with the Dursleys. He hadn't dwelt on it or gone into a lot of detail, but Snape had seen more than enough in their Occlumency sessions. In fact, Snape knew essentially everything about Harry's life.
Harry had rather hoped for something in return—even just a glimpse into his Professor's past. Something as small as parents' names would have allowed him to satisfy his curiosity with dry facts in the library. But Snape had never offered, and Harry was not yet secure enough to ask.
Thus he had begun drawing conclusions of his own—some of them rather wild—from the few scenes he had witnessed.
He'd seen Snape as a teenager alone, looking bored. Granted, that was nothing terribly odd about that, but coupled with the other memories Harry had assumed that it was a very common scene; that his Professor had been lonely and friendless through his teenaged years.
He'd seen him slightly younger, unable to mount a broomstick as he was laughed at. That added credence to the loneliness theory and suggested that he'd also been inept at physical activities like Quidditch.
He'd seen the small boy crying in the corner, while a man he assumed to be Snape's father had yelled at what was likely his mother. Every time he thought of that, he told himself firmly not to blow it out of proportion. And yet, every time, he was shortly wondering if the man often went beyond yelling, and if the actions often extended to his son.
Then there was the entire scene with Sirius and James Potter back in Snape's 5th year. Initially that memory had upset him horribly, but on account of his father—not Snape. There was a kind of cruelty there that made him cringe. He still wasn't really past that reaction, but now the scene was disturbing for different reasons, because he felt real sympathy for the boy being taunted. Again, there seemed to be no one to stand up for Snape. Harry had always had Ron or Hermione vehemently on his side in encounters with the Slytherins, and he couldn't quite imagine having to always go it alone. He wasn't sure he could have withstood it.
Sometimes, when he was sitting in the dungeon classroom watching Snape stalk about and generally terrorize his students, Harry wondered what he might have been like if he hadn't met the Weasleys on the train platform that first day. If Ron hadn't sat down with him in his compartment, would he have had any real friends? Would he have become a bitter loner who couldn't trust anyone who tried to get close?
Fate had not twisted that way, thankfully. As he entered the Great Hall, he was greeted with a call of "Oi, Harry!" and a group of Gryffindors waving him over. He smiled as he made his way down the table and took a seat with his energetic and rather loud dorm mates.
"So she tells me that because we're in a relationship, we're supposed to share everything," Seamus Finnigan was saying, exaggerating the words in a feminine tone.
Harry listened half-heartedly as he dug into his food, a grin pasted on his face between bites for appearances.
Dean responded, "You should've shared one of the lozenges we got at Zonko's. Remember what it did to Neville?"
At Harry's side, Neville grimaced. "We remember," he muttered, cheeks tingeing slightly.
Across from them, Ron chuckled at Neville's reaction. "You should have seen your face. You turned about five shades of purple—and that was before the boils popped up."
They all laughed at that. Well, all but Harry, that is. Funny, but hearing about it secondhand somehow made it sound more cruel than amusing. Neville was laughing too, but then, he always did. Harry's brow furrowed as he looked from friend to friend, wondering what else his new, distanced perspective would bring to his attention.
Ron's laughter fizzled out as he took a good look at Harry's face. "Guess you had to be there," he mumbled.
Unfortunately, Seamus hooked onto the words and not the reason behind them. "Yeah, Harry, you're missing all the fun. Do you know when you'll be moving back in?"
Harry forced a wry grin. "No. Sorry."
Moving in with Snape had been the best way to develop his Occlumency abilities, so he could protect himself from Voldemort's—and Dumbledore's—intrusions. But with Snape's delicate position as spy, it had been necessary to keep the arrangement quiet. The only ones who knew the truth were Ron, Hermione, a few select professors, and—of course—Dumbledore. His roommates and anyone else who cared to be curious had been told simply that Dumbledore had temporarily moved him to different quarters where he could be better monitored. Neville, Seamus, and Dean knew about his nightmares and visions, so the story hadn't been too hard a sell.
Of course to those outside his circle of friends it simply looked as if Harry was receiving preferential treatment. No other student lived outside the dorms—not even the Head Boy and Girl. For that reason, Harry was endeavoring to keep even the cover story as quiet as possible. He still spent time in the Gryffindor common room, and didn't broadcast when he left for the night.
Seamus shrugged sympathetically at his answer and went back to the conversation. Harry suspected that they didn't miss him all that much; except perhaps for Ron. Truth be told, Harry was in no hurry to move back to the dorm.
He tuned them out now as his eyes sought out the teacher table. His thoughts had gone to Snape, so his attention naturally followed.
But there was nothing to focus on. Snape's regular chair was empty.
Harry scanned the whole table, brow furrowed. Why would he disappear in the middle of a meal?
Mid-scan, his eyes caught Dumbledore's. The Headmaster raised his chin slightly and held his gaze.
In the past few weeks, Harry had taken to avoiding Dumbledore's eyes—and everything else about him—like the plague. But now he stared right back, his own eyes narrowed a bit in accusation, his mind filled with nothing but questions about Snape.
With some effort, he turned his attention back to Neville. "Yeah?"
"You've been staring at the teacher's table for like five minutes now. Something we should know?"
Ron glanced up at that, looking to the empty chair on which Harry's gaze had been locked. His eyes came back to Harry, questioning.
Harry could only shrug, trying for nonchalance. "Sorry," he addressed to Neville. "Just distracted, I guess."
After his realization, dinner couldn't end fast enough. He had been quick to say goodnight to his friends, and ignored Ron's curious attention and Dumbledore's unnerving gaze as he escaped back towards the dungeons.
He wasn't really surprised to find the quarters empty. What had surprised him was the empty classroom and office where he had stopped first. By this point, he had a strong suspicion. But he was half-afraid to confirm it.
Nevertheless, he went immediately to his room, where he stopped just inside the doorway to wonder exactly when he had begun thinking of it as 'his.' After a moment he shook himself, tabled that thought for later, and went to his bag full of things in the corner. He dug to the bottom, finally coming up with the old, folded parchment.
He turned and went down on his knees before the bed, spreading the Marauder's Map over the bedspread and pulling out his wand.
"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
Most of the students were back in their dorms by then, which made searching the map a bit easier. Ten minutes and two careful scans later, Harry finally admitted that he had been right.
Snape wasn't anywhere in the castle.
"Mischief managed," he sighed. Somewhat deflated, he picked himself up off the floor and tucked the map back into hiding before moving back into the main room.
Perhaps he was overreacting. Surely there were several places off campus where a Hogwarts Professor might be.
But he suspected he was just deluding himself now. Snape had said specifically that he would see him at dinner; he had planned to be in the Great Hall. Whatever had called him away was sudden and unexpected. There was really little doubt in his mind that Snape had been summoned.
He sat down heavily on the couch. This wouldn't have meant much a few months ago, when he'd never really thought about Snape's encounters with Voldemort. But then he'd witnessed Snape's memory, and he knew that these meetings sometimes involved more than a little talking and some occlusion.
And of course, a few months ago, he really hadn't much cared what might happen to Snape. Now, there was an uncomfortable sensation in the pit of his stomach. He found himself watching the clock, knees pulled up to his chest as he sat tensely, waiting.
Eventually he shifted to lie back against the pillow on the couch arm, trying to calm himself. It wasn't as if panic attacks had become a pervading problem, but he was rather afraid he might be heading for one now. He tried to clear his mind, getting himself to a point where he could think more clearly.
But without Snape, he couldn't seem to empty it sufficiently. His thoughts kept drifting back. He decided that he needed a distraction. He got up and went to put on his pajamas and brush his teeth. Then he headed into his room for his Defense Against the Dark Arts textbook and brought it back to the couch, determined to try to study.
He tried to focus on the words. He forced his mind to stay with the topic. And yet, it was incredibly dry reading—rather matching their new DADA professor this year. Even Umbridge hadn't managed to make Defense class this boring, and she hadn't taught them a thing.
It wasn't as if the spells were boring—not in practice, anyway. Perhaps the problem was that he had practiced most of them, last year with the DA, and reading the dry how's and why's about them just couldn't compare. Nevertheless, he continued trying to focus on the textbook…
He snapped awake when the room was suddenly illuminated, blinking rapidly and taking a moment to realize that he'd been drifting off to sleep. He glanced about, getting his bearings, and his heart jump-started when the figure suddenly loomed over him.
"Potter. Why are you on the couch?"
The tone was flat and suspiciously devoid of emotion. Harry mentally groaned that he'd gone back to simply, 'Potter,' but as he pushed himself up and took a closer look at Snape, he became occupied by other things.
"I didn't know where you'd gone or how long you'd be; I was waiting for you…" he answered absently. Meanwhile, he took in the slight slump of the shoulders, the dead expression, and the very faint lines of pain around the dark eyes.
Snape moved away from his scrutiny, coming around the couch to stand silhouetted by the fire as he spoke. "You were quite asleep when I first came in. Did you not even attempt to occlude your mind?"
Harry blinked at the anger that had abruptly infused the tone. "I did. Kind of…"
Snape raised a doubtful eyebrow and looked pointedly at the textbook lying open and forgotten on his chest.
Harry grimaced. "Well, I did try to clear my thoughts," he defended honestly. "It just didn't work all that well. So I moved on to studying."
Snape heaved a disgusted sigh. "Bed, now."
Not wanting to push things further with Snape in this mood, Harry hastened to comply.
He stumbled a bit with the head rush as he got up too quickly, but blinked it away and moved past Snape into his room. He threw back the covers and quickly got in.
Snape had followed, and sat down heavily on the edge of his bed. "You should be able to do this yourself by now, except perhaps in times of extreme distress. You are becoming far too reliant."
It was perhaps true, and Harry might have thought more about it if he weren't preoccupied with the hand Snape had brought up to help ground him.
Snape was trying to hide it. But when the fingers rested for a moment on his upper arm, he could feel the slight tremor running through it.
Snape didn't answer; just shot him a sharp look that clearly told him to drop it. Then he forewent the gentle touch that couldn't hide the shaking. Instead, he fastened his fingers around Harry's wrist in a tight grip. Harry winced involuntarily at the pinch.
He supposed he should be thankful that Snape was back in one piece—or even that he had come back at all.
But what was disturbed him most was the warring emotions he felt. He was concerned for Snape and wanted to be with him, to make sure he was all right—despite Snape's prickly mood. At the same time, he knew the man had been in the presence of Voldemort. And with that thought, he couldn't stop his skin from crawling.
He had the uneasy feeling that it was going to be like this from now on, whenever he didn't know where Snape was. And though he knew that Snape was important to the fight, he suddenly had a strong and utterly unquenchable desire to keep the Potions Master far clear of the Dark Lord.
He wrestled his wrist from Snape's grasp to tug off his glasses and set them on the bedside table. Then he submissively offered the wrist back to the blurry form.
It had the expected effect—it gave Snape pause. Then the man sighed wearily, and didn't regain the death grip. Instead he laid Harry's arm across his chest and then abandoned touch altogether, using just his voice to coach him. Harry shut his eyes obediently.
But despite that he was tired, sleep refused to come back easily. He kept twitching restlessly and cracking his eyes open. Without the anchoring touch, it was as if his semi-conscious mind needed to be sure Snape was still there.
Snape eventually moved to lean against the headboard, unable to entirely hide his exhaustion. He took to petting Harry's hair, which concealed the shaking while allowing contact. He was doing it a bit too heavily, but Harry didn't complain. It was still rather soothing. And with the motion, he was slowly able to drift off to sleep.
AN: I have the grand intention of sticking with a two-week updating schedule with this story. So I hope to see you all again Saturday, October 1st.
Feedback is a great motivator:)