Author's Note: I just wanted to quickly address something a lot of people have been bringing up: the grading system. The way I take it, the O (Outstanding)-T grading system is for the OWLs and NEWTs as Harry isn't familiar with it before having it explained to him in OotP in reference to those tests (sort of like the SATs or AP tests, they're graded on a different scale). Their grades, then, must be based on a different scale, and though I'll freely admit I have no idea what scale British schools generally use, I chose to use the A-F grading system for their grades, not the O-T one because Harry's not taking either of the aforementioned tests in this fic. Hope that clears things up! I hope everyone enjoys this chapter and for the opportunity to get early future chapter, see the writing/art contest at my yahoo!group! (link on my profile).
After Snape's conversation, Hermione and Ron took their roles very seriously. Hermione nagged Harry about eating while Ron did the same about sleeping, and both had to ignore the annoyed looks Harry shot them each time.
But Harry began to look better; the effect was almost immediate. Soon, he had no circles under his eyes, his face looked less pale and he even looked as if he'd gained a little of the weight he'd lost since the previous year. Granted, he was still studying as much as he could during his free time, even at the dinner table, but at least he was getting sleep and food, and that took a bit of a weight off the shoulders of those looking over him.
It took Snape by surprise when Harry approached him to ask for Occlumency lessons once again, but agreed once Harry admitted he'd been having scar pains and strange dreams he couldn't exactly remember. They set up a schedule to meet three nights a week and this time around, Snape tried to aim for more neutral memories, not wanting to add any more stress to Harry's life at the moment.
It seemed to everyone that Harry might finally be on the road to healing from Lupin's inflicted damage.
Harry, shouldn't you be eating more?" Hermione pushed as usual, looking weary herself from trying to get Harry to eat like a normal person. Her friend didn't even look up from his Charms book, but pointedly took a bite. Unfortunately, he then just set his fork back down and Hermione and Ron exchanged a concerned glance.
"Mate, come on, we aren't bugging you about studying at the table, can't you just eat everything Hermione put on your plate?" Ron tried.
"It's too much," Harry said dismissively, turning the page. "It's not my fault she overloaded my plate."
"Harry, I put on less than Ron and I are eating, and you can't even finish that?" Hermione asked in a pleading sort of tone.
"I'm just not hungry tonight, okay? I'll make up for it later, after this exam," he said, tapping his book. He began muttering instructions on how to wave his wand while trying to actually duplicate the effect with his actual wand.
Ron let out a loud sigh of exasperation. "You always say that! There's always some exam; it's never over! You can't keep making excuses! I don't even know how you've gained weight since last quarter, it's not like you eat any more than you used to, you just do it in the Great Hall. And you still look like you're half-starved!"
Harry looked up from his textbook to glare at his friend. "Thanks Ron, but as much as I love being told how ugly I am, I really don't think it's any of your business."
"He's not saying you're ugly, Harry," Hermione said gently. "You're good-looking, you just look a bit unhealthy this year and we're worried because we know you look it for a reason."
Harry rolled his eyes and stabbed a piece of his food with his fork and reluctantly eating it. "Happy?" he asked in annoyance, putting his fork back down.
"No, I'm not!" Hermione said insistently. "You're still not eating enough! You're a teenage boy! You should be eating more than what's on your plate rather than barely any of it!"
"You're not my mother, Hermione," Harry snapped angrily, glaring at a group of third years who had been staring at their fight in interest. Their gazes immediately darted away from the trio.
"Well somebody should be since it's obvious you can't take care of yourself!" Hermione retorted heatedly.
"I've been taking care of myself my whole life, thank you," Harry growled.
"Harry," Hermione said quietly, more sympathetic now, "I understand that you really want a parental figure in your life, Merlin knows you deserve it, but this is too high a price. It's not worth this."
"What?" Harry asked defensively. "I don't know what you're talking about. I'm doing this because I want to be an Auror."
"Harry…" Hermione started, but Harry cut her off furiously.
"And what would you know about it anyway? You two and your perfect families, you can just sit there and tell me it's not worth it?" Harry barked bitterly. "Well you don't know anything because it's all just so easy for you two. Your parents are always proud of you. Well, nobody's ever been proud of me, okay? So excuse me for wanting for once in my life to know how that feels." He slammed his book closed and cradled it to his chest, standing up from the table.
"Harry," Hermione pleaded, voice tight with emotion. She reached for his hand, but Harry yanked it away.
"I have work to do," he said coldly and stalked out of the Great Hall.
Hermione and Ron exchanged a now familiar look; a hopeless one that communicated the obvious fact that neither had a clue of what to do.
That night, when Harry arrived for Occlumency training, Snape first sat him down for a cup of tea, watching with a raised eyebrow as Harry squirmed in his seat anxiously. He knew Harry was probably thinking of a thousand more useful things he could be doing with his time than sitting around drinking tea. It was obvious the Gryffindor had completely forgotten how to relax.
"What happened at dinner tonight?" Snape asked bluntly. Harry nearly dropped his cup.
"Nothing," Harry grumbled.
"You seem to be arguing with your friends quite a bit these days," Snape commented calmly.
Harry shrugged. "I told you it wasn't a good idea for me to eat with them," he said with only the slightest hint of accusation to his voice.
"Apparently it wasn't if it's not getting you to eat more. The bargain is changing," Snape said suddenly, knowing he'd regret his impulsive idea later. "Tomorrow evening you will join me in my quarters for dinner, and you will not be allowed any books at the table."
Harry looked at him aghast. "That's not fair. You can't keep this blackmail going forever!"
Snape looked at him sharply. "First of all, had any other professor found you intoxicated, you would have been given punishments much harsher than regularly eating and sleeping person and they would have handled it with much less discretion. Second, I am spending my own personal time to not only give you extra tutoring in Potions but also in Occlumency. I would think you would regard me with a little more gratitude."
Looking a bit shamed, Harry nodded. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "That was really rude of me. Are you sure you'd want me as a dinner guest?" he asked insecurely.
"If it would ensure your eating of an entire meal, and that is what you will be doing, then I won't object to your presence," Snape said, careful to sound indifferent. But at the flash of self-consciousness across Harry's face, he himself felt a flash of doubt, unsure playing indifferent was what he should be doing. But really, what else could he do?
Harry picked at his food, checking the clock. In the first few of his dinners with Snape, he had tried to wolf down his food in order to get back to studying sooner, so Snape had made it mandatory that he stay at least an hour. Yet while he was not allowed schoolbooks at the table, apparently his professor was. Instead of relaxing as he was supposed to be doing, Harry couldn't help but feel anxious in the silence.
Snape looked up at the boy, and wondered if he should be talking to him. After all, he didn't look very relaxed. He had not had a dinner guest in a very long time, and those had always been about business. He wasn't sure how to go about entertaining company if he didn't have a set topic to address. During the last few meals, he had spoken to Harry about the only thing Snape had felt comfortable talking about with the boy: school. Harry had spoken eagerly about his classes, but it too soon turned to his grades rather than what he was learning. He had then fallen back on the one thing he himself could talk for hours about, but knowing Harry was only listening to his Potions talk in case Snape decided to use any of the material on a test put a damper on the conversation. He had thought it was perhaps better to have silence, but it was clear that wasn't working either. This was why he hadn't wanted to get involved with the teenager, it was obvious that he couldn't relate and was failing miserably with whatever it was he was supposed to be trying to do.
McGonagall had finally spoken with him about being worried about Harry. Apparently she had attempted to talk to Dumbledore about it, but didn't feel the headmaster truly understood the severity of what was going on, as he seemed to think it was good that Harry was going beyond the classroom so to better deal with Voldemort later. He had looked so stressed, that McGonagall hadn't pushed it with him, and had gone to Snape instead after Harry had mentioned during one of their tutoring sessions about having dinner with him.
Snape had responded with much sarcasm as to the amount of time it had taken her to notice, though he had to admit to himself that he had been trained in seeing things that other people couldn't. He had been relieved that McGonagall was finally seeing it though, so he could pass the problem onto her, where it should be, but to his frustration, McGonagal seemed to think that Snape was the best person to handle it since Harry had "clearly developed a trusting relationship" with him. Snape was sure she'd gotten into some catnip somewhere, it was all completely ridiculous. But though he had scowled and sneered and even refused when she announced that she believed the best course of action was to continue having Harry over for dinners on occasion, he still found himself demanding the boy come every time he saw Harry ignore his plate in the Great Hall for a few days. He was disgusted with himself for acting so Hufflepuffish, but just could not sit by and watch the boy slowly kill himself.
"How was your day?" he asked suddenly, causing Harry to start lightly and blink in surprise.
Snape rolled his eyes. "No, Potter, I was addressing your dinner plate," he responded sarcastically.
"It was fine. How was yours?" the Gryffindor replied cautiously.
For some reason, Snape hadn't quite expected the question to be returned and found himself slightly taken aback. After all, nobody had asked him that for a long time. "Average," he said curtly.
Harry looked at him curiously, bored enough to actually pose the questions he was thinking. "What exactly is your average day? What do you do besides teach and intimidate people? Not that that doesn't sound like a thrilling day…"
Snape fixed him with a glare and Harry ducked his head, taking another bite of his food. He didn't look afraid, however; he simply seemed resigned that his questions would go unanswered.
"Well it appears as if my intimidation is losing its touch if you are bold enough to make such comments," he commented with a raised eyebrow. Harry looked up in surprise and his expression soon turned slightly amused.
"Oh, no, it's not, I promise," Harry assured him. "Still very intimidating."
"You haven't appeared very afraid of me lately, Potter," Snape challenged casually. "Perhaps I'm going to soft on you and your classmates. I believe I may have to be a bit more harsh on your class to assure that I don't lose my touch."
"No really, there's no need," Harry jumped in with a slight smirk. "We all still dread your class and are well aware that each time we step into your classroom our morale, self-esteem and dignity will be chipped away at, sir. Really, I only act like I'm not afraid as a defense mechanism. It's necessary for my psychological survival, or so I've heard," Harry said with an amused grin. He watched Snape carefully when he was done, as if trying to see if he'd pushed things too far.
"Is that so?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
Harry nodded. "Of course. No need to worry, Professor. There are probably Hufflepuffs wetting their pants right now just thinking of your class."
"Thank you for the reassurance, Potter, though that last image crossed a line into disturbing," Snape said evenly, sipping his wine.
As the two fell into silence again, Harry's expression turned into a desolate one.
Snape cleared his throat awkwardly, trying rapidly to think of a non-grade related question. He would have asked about Quidditch, but he had heard that Harry had quit the team earlier in the year and didn't want to depress the boy more. Besides, that line of questioning would most certainly lead back to his marks, as it was no mystery that he had quit to be able to use the time for studying. Harry was angry with his friends so even that was an undesirable choice for conversation.
"I'd imagine you'd be eager for the year to end," Snape commented.
"Depends. Hopefully Remus'll be taking me in and I won't be going back to the Dursleys. That'd be great," Harry said with a surge of excitement.
Snape cursed himself for ending up on that topic. He nodded distractedly.
"What about you, Professor?"
Once again Snape wondered at Harry's apparent indoctrinated politeness. He was fairly certain that most teenagers felt the world revolved around them that they could not be bothered to be curious about anyone else. He wasn't sure if this proposed interest was born of a constant effort to turn attention away from himself, his relative's insistences that he wasn't as important as others, genuine interest or something else. Whatever the reason, it was disconcerting, especially because people were supposed to be mortally afraid of the harsh Potions master.
"A break from teenagers who would rather whisper about the latest mundane gossip than pay attention enough not to blow up my Potions classroom? What do you think, Potter?"
"Why even teach then?' Harry asked, a bit exasperatedly.
Snape could not count the number of times he had asked himself that same question.
"I suppose I find entertainment in torturing students," he said with an evil smirk.
"No kidding," Harry muttered.
"What was that, Potter?" Snape asked knowingly.
Harry ignored the question and adopted a thoughtful look as he chewed his food. "I think you're still hoping to find students who are interested in Potions and talented enough to be worthy of your teaching, so you can mold them into the next big names in Potions. I think you may be an eternal optimist, sir," Harry said with an apologetic shrug.
"Don't count on it, Potter. And don't speak with food in your mouth. It's distasteful."
Harry swallowed pointedly.
"Good," Snape nodded. "If you gain nothing else from these meals, I hope you will at least learn some basic table manners."
"See?" Harry asked, making sure to swallow his food beforehand. "Eternal optimist."
A stern glare met a cheeky grin.
Dinners continued awkwardly for awhile, as the two didn't really know what to say to each other, but after a while, they began to relax and became less reluctant to talk about mundane things such as what had happened that day, Snape's potions research, Harry's homework and other such topics that got them through dinner. Harry became increasingly interested in Snape's personal life, but Snape truthfully admitted there wasn't much to tell. Harry tried to make him feel better by admitting that his summers were spent doing chores and trying not to get beat up by Dudley's gang.
They were both a little disconcerted that they got on so well with each other, as it shattered a few belief systems both had thought were rock solid.
But Snape became increasingly worried as Harry seemed more and more exhausted, and surreptitiously asked Ron if Harry was going to bed on time, and Ron insisted he was.
But both suspected something wasn't right.
Ron groaned and looked at his clock.
"Three bloody A.M.," he grumbled as he slipped out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom.
It was on his way back to bed when he noticed something was off. On a hunch, he peaked through the crack in Harry's bed curtains, and then threw them back completely, sighing in disappointment at the empty bed.
"I should have known," he muttered to himself. He angrily stalked over to Harry's trunk to search for the Marauder's Map, but it looked like Harry had taken it with him. It didn't matter, though; Ron was pretty certain where Harry had gone.
He threw on his cloak and angrily made his way toward the Room of Requirement, not running into anyone along the way. After all, it was even past time for those patrolling the hallways to be out.
After hurriedly walking past the door three times, he yanked it open. He watched as Harry jumped and looked at him with a startled, guilty look. Ron entered and slammed the door behind him, causing Harry to wince.
"You've been doing this every night, haven't you?" Ron asked angrily. "Fooling me into thinking you were sleeping and then sneaking off to study. Do you realize how ridiculous this is?"
"Look, Ron, I have a test tomorrow and two essays due. Plus, I was supposed to look over chapter thirty-three for my Transfiguration tutoring session tomorrow…"
"I don't care!" Ron yelled. "I don't care about your bloody grades, Harry! Look what it's doing to you! You have no appetite because you're too stressed over whether you've finally got a higher grade in Potions than Malfoy or because you can't see anything in the damn crystal ball in Divination! And obviously you're not sleeping! And you never make any time for me or Hermione, you'd rather spend your time with your stupid books and notes! And where has it gotten you, Harry? Has it been worth it?"
"Sure it has. I have a much better chance of getting into the Auror program…"
"Enough with the damn Auror program! Who are you trying to kid!" Ron snapped. "We both know this isn't about the stupid Auror program."
Harry glared at him, as if Ron had just personally insulted him by not playing along with his game.
"I don't know what to do anymore," Ron said, shaking his head. "You're my best friend, Harry, but you've gotten completely out of control. I'm going to have to tell Snape about this."
Harry's eyes widened and he jumped out of his seat. "You can't! He'll tell Remus…" he cut himself off before he revealed the events of last Family Night. It seemed as if Fred and George had kept what happened to themselves and Harry didn't particularly want his friends to know he'd gone off and gotten plastered with Draco Malfoy.
"Tell him what, Harry?" Ron asked with a humorless laugh. "That you don't have the top grades in one of your classes? That you got less than a hundred and ten percent on a test? Who cares what Remus bloody Lupin thinks? That man is messed up as far as I am concerned."
"He is not! Just shut up," Harry shouted. "I don't say mean things about your family so lay off mine!"
"So now Remus is your family?" Ron asked incredulously. "How can you think that, Harry? You never told us what his excuse for not showing up for the last Family Night was. That's the third one he's ditched you on!"
Harry looked as if he'd been slapped and to Ron's horror, he could tell Harry was trying not to cry. "Things came up," he lied, not meeting Ron's eyes. "But he's coming to this next one."
"You're not serious. You can't actually think that, Harry! Just forget about him! My family…"
"Your family can follow us around and pretend like they give a rat's ass about anything I did! I'm not a charity case, Ron, I don't need your pity!" Harry yelled and Ron felt an odd sense of irony as if the tables had flipped. It was odd to think they both were worried about their friends treating them as a charity case, though in such different ways. "Come on, Ron, don't tell Snape. It's not that big of a deal and I won't do it again."
Harry had always been a bad liar and Ron was angry that he would make false promises to Ron's face.
"And then you'll just wait until I'm asleep and sneak off again. I can't keep an eye on you all the time, Harry, and I just don't know what to do so I'm going to let Snape know and hope he has an idea of how to get through to you."
"God, Ron, you're not my fucking babysitter!" Harry snapped furiously. "Why don't you mind your own damn business for once in your life! I thought you were supposed to be my friend!"
"I'm doing this because I'm your friend. And you know, Harry, I thought you were supposed to be my best friend but frankly, I don't even know who you are anymore. What happened to the Harry who used to procrastinate on homework with me and do half-arsed jobs on it? What happened to the Harry who used to be satisfied with just slightly better than average grades? What happened to the Harry I used to have fun with, who I could talk to and just hang out with?" Ron asked desperately.
"He realized he wasn't normal like his friends and that unlike them, he couldn't keep arsing around anymore because not taking anything seriously was only getting him into trouble," Harry said coldly.
"Yeah? Well I liked the old Harry better," Ron said darkly. "I just hope you'll come to your senses soon and realize who you really are."
"What? A loser?" Harry asked harshly.
"No, my best friend. If you see him around, tell him I'm looking for him," Ron said, sounding tired in a way that wasn't attributed to the early hour. "Better get in all the studying you want because I'm telling Snape tomorrow."
He turned toward the door, but was froze when Harry desperately pleaded for him to wait.
"Please Ron," he begged shakily. "Please, I'll do anything. Don't tell him. I won't do it again. I'll give you my word I won't sneak out again. And…and I'll give you my Firebolt."
Ron whipped around to face his friend, completely stunned. "You love your Firebolt," he said in slight horror.
"You can have it," Harry said, eyes filled with desperation.
"Sirius gave it to you," Ron reminded him, as if Harry could have possibly forgotten that fact.
Harry took in a shuddering breath and nodded. "I know. But he's not here anymore. But Remus is here and he's all I've got. If you tell Snape it'll ruin everything. Please Ron, you've always liked my Firebolt, right? I'll never even ask to borrow it. It'll be all yours."
"I'm not taking your Firebolt," Ron said, having a difficult time believing Harry was actually trying to bribe him with something that held such sentimental value, but really, what else could he have bribed him with? Everything Harry owned of monetary value held an even greater sentimental value. Harry just wasn't the type to spend his money on expensive things, and it would be awkward to offer Ron money, though Ron was starting to think Harry wouldn't be above that either. "Okay, if you come back to bed right now and swear to me, and I mean give me your word as my best friend, that you will never sneak out to study in the middle of the night again, I won't tell Snape."
Harry looked as though he might cry with relief. "Thank you. Thank you, Ron. You don't know what that means. I'll buy you the best birthday present ever. Just tell me what you want, anything, I swear."
"Obviously, you don't know me much anymore either," Ron said with a glare. "All I want from you is your word."
Harry nodded and reluctantly swore he would never sneak out again at night.
Yet Harry's exhaustion during the day didn't cease and Ron was constantly worried Harry had broken his word. He set his alarm for various times during the night and checked the Marauder's Map, which Harry had forfeited to him for the express purpose of allowing Ron to easily make sure Harry was keeping his word. There were never any lights coming from Harry's bed curtains. Ron wondered if Harry was lying in bed at night going over facts in his head, but there wasn't much he could do about that save hope Harry's exhaustion would finally catch up with him and he'd eventually get used to sleeping at night.
But he and Hermione both felt something was off, and it was because of that they decided to see what they could find. They would never have invaded their friend's privacy under normal circumstances, but they were worried and at their wits end.
Therefore, while Harry was off studying as usual, the two guiltily began going through his things, not even sure of what they were looking for.
It didn't take them long before Ron found something.
"They're letters from Remus," Ron said, rifling through the very few pieces of paper. The two sat side by side on the edge of Harry's bed, reading through the letters in increasing horror.
"Merlin, listen to this," Hermione said in disgust, reading off a passage, "Harry, how can you ask me to forgive you for causing the death of my best friend when you haven't even tried to make up for what you did? When you can prove to me that you're making up for the lack of effort you put into your Occlumency last year, then I will come to this Family Night affair. If you actually focus on learning this year, perhaps you can cease being the cause of death and begin to prevent it."
"Yeah, in this latest one he's basically told Harry that what he did last quarter wasn't good enough and if he really wants to prove he's sorry, he'll learn Occlumency too. And listen to this: This quarter, I'd really like to see you work. No more slacking off. You would have wanted your parents to be proud of you, wouldn't you?" Ron read off in a deadly tone. He wanted to go kill Remus for doing this right then and there. "He said he didn't show up for last Family Night because he realized Harry wasn't really proving himself. Bloody hell, no wonder…"
"What the hell are you two doing!" came an enraged voice. Hermione and Ron froze as they stared guiltily up at Harry who snatched the letters from their hands.
"I thought you were supposed to be studying," Ron said stupidly.
"Yeah, until the charms that let me know if people are going through my drawers went off! I thought it would be Colin or someone rooting around in there! I can't believe you two! I thought you were supposed to be my friends!" Harry yelled, looking betrayed. "These are my personal things! How could you just go through them and read my letters!"
"We just wanted to know what was going on, Harry!" Hermione yelled. "You don't talk to us anymore. When we ask, you brush us off. How were we supposed to find out otherwise?"
"It's none of your business anyway!" Harry screamed.
"It is our business because you're our best friend and we're worried sick about you!" Ron shouted.
"Friends respect each other. They don't go through each other's things! Drop the whole friendship pretense and own up to why you were really going through my stuff!"
"Harry, don't be stupid, it's not a pretense. You're our friend!" Ron insisted.
"God, haven't I made it clear? You don't have to be my friends anymore!" Harry yelled wildly.
The two looked at him incredulously.
"What do you mean have to be your friends'?" Hermione asked in a frightened tone.
"I know you guys are letting me stick around because Snape asked you to keep an eye on me and because you think I can't take care of myself, but I can so you don't have to let me tag along anymore or pretend to care," Harry said, sounding angry, upset and lost at the same time.
"Harry, no…" Hermione started, tears forming in her eyes, but Harry cut her off by flinging the papers at them.
"Fine, you know what? Fine. You want to read them so bad, go ahead. You can report back to Snape and be done with your little task; I don't care," he said, sounding so weary that Hermione actually did begin to cry. "I have to get to Occlumency lessons, now and when I come back, you better be done because I don't ever want to talk to you again."
Harry practically ran from the room, and Hermione and Ron were left terrified that they may have just lost their best friend.
Snape opened the door and immediately turned worried as he saw Harry. He let the boy by, watching him closely. Harry was obviously quite upset about something.
"Professor Snape?" he asked, almost frantically. "Can I ask you a favor?"
"You may ask though I may not grant your request," Snape answered, watching warily as the boy fought to control his emotions.
"Please," he begged. "I just…before we start lessons for tonight, can you just look at a happy memory of mine so I can see it? Not try to Occlude, just see it?"
Snape was surprised by the plea and more than a little disturbed by it. It seemed as though Harry was falling into a depression of sorts if he couldn't remember his happy memories for himself.
"Do you have a particular one in mind?" he asked vaguely, not yet answering the appeal.
Harry nodded. "When Remus was teaching me to do the Patronus and he was saying he was proud of me," he beseeched, his desperation outweighing his embarrassment for the request.
Snape frowned. That was definitely not what Harry needed right now, a reminder of what it was like for Lupin to be proud of him. He didn't want it to set Harry off in an even greater determination to gain Lupin's approval.
"I'll let you indulge in a pleasant memory, but I will choose which one," Snape bargained.
Harry looked as if he was about to argue but changed his mind and nodded with a bit of disappointment.
Snape led him to a chair and looked into the wide emerald eyes. So full of pain, he thought but shooed his sympathy away.
He quickly found what he was looking for, something much better to remind Harry of.
Ron and Harry were sitting near the fire in the Gryffindor common room, laughing as they ate sweets and played chess. To mix the game up a bit, they had designated each chess piece as a person they knew so the game became a challenge to not only win, but to save the people they liked and get rid of the ones they didn't.
"I should sacrifice my knight, but that's me," Ron muttered as he deliberated his next move.
"Uh oh, Ron, you better watch out," Harry laughed. "Millicent Bullstrode is right behind you," he said, pointing to the white bishop near Ron's black knight. "I think she's going to ask you on a date."
Ron made a face and quickly tried to figure out any way of getting his piece out of there, even if it meant ruining his game.
"You two should really be studying rather than playing silly games," Hermione scolded them lightly.
"Well, Hermione just got sacrificed to Malfoy," Ron declared and set his queen up to be taken, even if it was sudden death for his chances of winning.
At Hermione's indignant look, Harry and Ron began laughing.
Snape was taken aback when Harry pushed him from his mind.
"They're not my friends anymore," Harry said in a defeated tone.
"What happened?" Snape asked in concern.
"I'm sure they'll tell you all about it, but I, for one, would rather spend my time learning to keep Voldemort out of my head than relive stupid fights." He stood, looking frighteningly deadened. "I'm not eating in the Great Hall anymore. I'll get food from the kitchens."
That certainly caught Snape by surprise. "We agreed…"
"We agreed I'd eat with my friends. Well I don't have any friends so it shouldn't matter where I eat."
"This is not a negotiation, Potter."
"If you tell Remus, I'll just say you're lying and that you're trying to keep me from my studies," Harry said regretfully. "Look, Professor, I don't want to get on your bad side, but I just can't eat in there anymore. I'd really like to continue Occlumency with you, but I could go to Dumbledore for lessons if you decide not to."
"You will eat dinner with me then," Snape decided.
"You can't, remember? You said last time that you were getting close to making that potion you're inventing for the Order to work and didn't have time for Occlumency and a sit-down dinner. I'd rather have the Occlumency and eat dinner on my own." Snape frowned in frustration and Harry continued. "Look, you're busy; I'm busy. I'll eat, really I will, but don't turn dinnertime into something we both resent," Harry reasoned.
Snape looked at him sternly. "If I find you're not eating, and I will know if you're not, Potter, there will be hell to pay, understand?"
Harry tried to find time to eat, but when he did get food, his stomach was already churning with panic over some test or assignment, that he couldn't get much down. He had also found some charms that allowed him to have a light in his bed but not have it shine through the curtains for Ron to see when he woke up to check on him. He also had a charm that would allow him to know if Ron was coming to physically see him instead of relying on the map. Despite how angry he was at Ron, he still felt that at least he was technically keeping his promise. He had not snuck out to go study since Ron asked him not to…he'd been doing it in bed. After their fight, he told Ron to bugger off and leave him alone, but also didn't want him telling Snape he hadn't been sleeping much.
He'd been using the concealment charms for a while now, and they worked to cover up the dark splotches under his eyes and the pinched look to his cheeks. When he'd first realized how thin his face was beginning to look, and that his clothes were fitting him more loosely than usual, he'd tried to eat more, but the result of forcing down food when he was so insanely nervous about exams and papers was that he would just throw it back up. He only had a few weeks left. He could make up for it during the summer. Because if he did all this, Remus would surely take him in and then he'd be able to eat as much as he wanted. Remus would probably be concerned for him and make sure he gained the weight back and that would be really nice.
The nights began to sort of blend into the days as he began to feel weak and tired all the time. He had a bit of a scare when he went to go owl Remus on his progress and later awoke in the secret passage he used to get there with a bump on his head and his last memory being of just walking along. At first he thought he'd been attacked, but when it happened again a few days later, he realized it was because he was so exhausted he'd passed out, injuring himself in the fall. After that, he meant to schedule in more time for sleep, but never seemed to get around to it, always telling himself he'd make up for the sleep he was missing the next day.
Ron and Hermione were devastated that he wouldn't speak to them anymore. Hermione nearly burst into tears whenever she saw him and Ron had adopted a perpetual look of worry and distress. They both believed that Harry was falling apart, but since Harry actually looked better than he had in awhile, they didn't have anything to back up their suspicions.
Harry was irritable and tired and he'd developed a nasty cough that made his throat and lungs burn horribly, so he found himself snapping at anyone who tried to talk to him for too long about anything non-school related. Everyone backed off and left him to his solitary ways, except for Hermione and Ron who kept coming back no matter what he screamed at them.
"Harry, you should go to the hospital wing," Hermione told him, when she and Ron ambushed him in the library. "You don't seem well."
"Bugger off," Harry growled at them. "If you're looking for entertainment, why don't you go look through the rest of my stuff? And hey, there's three other innocent victims in my dorm room you could spy on."
"Harry, please," Hermione begged tearfully.
Harry stood up quickly and gathered up his things. He started for the door but felt a wave of dizziness and fatigue and had to steady himself against a bookshelf.
"Harry!" the two yelled simultaneously, racing over to him. By the time they reached him he had composed himself.
"If you'll excuse me, I have Occlumency lessons," Harry said, head held high as he marched passed the two of them, hearing Hermione burst into tears once again as he started toward the dungeons.
Snape looked at Harry warily as the boy entered the classroom looking dead on his feet, wand drawn in a hand that shook slightly even when resting at his side.
"Potter, take the day off," he said, but Harry shook his head, looking almost scared of the thought.
"Please, Professor, can we just do this for a bit? I really want to show some improvement in this in case Voldemort tries to invade my thoughts again," Harry pleaded.
Snape knew he was lying by now. He was annoyed with himself that he had believed Harry's stories about his scar hurting in the first place. He knew why the Gryffindor wanted to learn Occlumency as soon as possible. The fourth and final Family Night was looming ahead and Harry was determined to do something that would get Remus to come even if it killed him. But he worried that if he ended these lessons, he would lose the "trusting relationship" McGonagall insisted he had with Harry. He didn't fool himself into thinking Harry trusted him implicitly, but he admitted that he was closer to getting through to the boy than anyone else at the moment, not that that was saying much.
Against his better judgment, Snape nodded and stood face to face with Harry. The emerald eyes shut as Harry attempted to clear his mind, something that Snape knew must be hard for someone who was as stressed as Harry was.
When Harry indicated that he was ready and opened his eyes, Snape raised his wand. But at the sight of the slight glassiness of the emerald orbs that had nothing to do with meditation and everything to do with sleep deprivation, Snape couldn't do it. As he lowered his wand, Harry looked at him incredulously.
"Please, sir, I can't practice on my own. I can't push myself out of my own mind!" he protested.
"I think you already have, Potter, and that's the problem. Look at you! This is a shell," Snape barked, gesturing at Harry. "You're dead on your feet, you've distanced yourself from your friends, you've lost interest in everything you used to enjoy, all you do is study."
Harry glared at him. "Isn't that what teachers are supposed to want? Look, my grades…"
"What do grades matter when you're killing yourself? Merlin, Potter, have you seen yourself in a mirror?"
"I don't care!" Harry shouted. "Remus will only come if…"
"Gods, Potter, he's not going to come! Open your eyes! The man has lost it and is taking his anger and resentment out on you even though you do not deserve it. It's disgusting and why you go for such lengths for such a pathetic excuse for a person, I cannot fathom!" Snape snarled.
"He's going to come," Harry said, sounding a little more unsure of himself. "He'll forgive me and he'll come."
And Snape finally understood. This wasn't only about Harry wanting desperately for a parental figure to acknowledge him and take pride in him. This was about forgiveness. He was using Remus as an indicator to see if he could forgive himself, and Remus wasn't allowing Harry to do that. If Remus forgave Harry enough to come to this Family Night, only then would Harry be able to stop blaming himself for what had happened to his godfather. That was one reason why Harry was trying so hard, because the guilt was eating him alive.
"Potter, sit down, we need to talk," Snape said seriously.
Harry stood there, putting one hand to his head dizzily. "He's going to come, you'll see. I just have to learn Occlumency and get top marks. He'll….he'll come…"
His other hand shot out to try to grab onto something as his head swam, but there was nothing there to grab onto.
"Potter?" Snape asked worriedly. He darted forward and grabbed Harry just as the boy's legs gave out. He sank with the boy to the ground, cradling his upper body in his lap as he tried to keep Harry conscious. "Potter. Potter! When was the last time you ate anything? Hell, when was the last time you slept?" he asked urgently.
"He'll come," Harry whispered before going limp in Snape's arms.
As soon as he lost consciousness, it was obvious that he'd been using glamours to disguise his appearance as the charms ended, revealing dark circles under his eyes, a frightening, unnatural paleness to his complexion and a weight decrease that was truly worrisome.
Snape cursed and scooped the now horrendously light boy into his arms. Thinking of the hoards of students roaming the halls, he hurried into his office and awkwardly managed to light a fire with his wand and get a pinch of floo powder into it. Cradling the Gryffindor against his chest as best he could, he flooed to the Hospital Wing.
A/N: If I didn't have at least one chapter ending with Harry unconscious, it just wouldn't be a Celebony fic, hahaha. Please Review!