Okay, this is purely out of the blue. Harry/Snape ... not so much friendship as a moment of understanding. I've no idea where in the timeline this would go, if it goes at all. AU, probably. Anyway, enjoy!

Disclimer: I don't own the Harry Potter franchise. If I did, I'd be a lot richer.

If You Offered

"Leave me alone! Just GO AWAY! Go away!" Harry cried, and ran, leaving Ron to wonder what the hell he'd done wrong this time. The bewildered Weasley watched as Harry ran out by the lake, gradually disappearing from view behind a group of trees. Living in a house full of people, Ron knew what it was to want some alone-time, so reluctantly he decided to leave his friend be for now, and let him get whatever was bugging him out of his system. Shaking his head at a concerned Hermione, he turned back inside, hoping that whatever had been wrong with Harry for the past couple of weeks would pass soon. He missed his friend.

It was only when dinner came and went with no sign that they really began to worry about the missing Gryffindor. By nine o' clock, they were frantic. No-one had seen hide nor hair of Harry since he ran off. Ron was beside himself, cursing his stupidity in letting him go. Finally he and Hermione had to report Harry's absence. Ron ran for McGonagal, while Hermione went straight to Dumbledore. Before long, the entire staff and half of Gryffindor house were out searching for Harry, looking apprehensively out at the growing gloom. It was not a night for anyone, let alone the Boy-Who-Lived, to be out alone.

Oblivious to the worry and panic he was causing, Harry wandered the Forbidden Forest alone, unfazed by the approach of darkness. His tears had long since abated, leaving him hollow-cheeked and dull-eyed. His first mad dash for the safety and cover of the trees had torn his robes and scratched his face and hands, but he ignored this, too lost in his melancholy musings to really notice the pain. Besides, it was nothing much compared to what he had known in the past. He was vaguely aware that he wasn't supposed to be out here at all, let alone at night, but he was so fed up of doing what he was commanded that it made little difference. He wandered in a daze, thinking only that if something did kill him, then Dumbledore and everyone else would be sorry to lose their 'chosen one'. The thought made him spit.

"Careful, Mr Potter. Spit on someone else, if you please," came a silky voice from the shadows. Harry stopped, but didn't startle or run. He looked at the dim, looming figure of Snape without interest, eyebrow quirked in a mildly annoyed expression that would have done the man himself proud.

"Which one sent you after me?" He asked bluntly. "Dumbledore or Voldemort?" This time the raised eyebrow was Snape's. The man was silent for a few moments, merely studying the boy in front of him. Finally he spoke.

"Would it really matter to you which it was? You don't really care either way, do you?" Harry shook his head, and Snape nodded, sighing suddenly. "Well. I was waiting for this. Walk with me, Potter." Harry almost balked, then reasoned that there was little point. He followed his potions master further into the gloaming, vaguely surprised that they weren't headed back towards the school. Well. Guess that answered his question. He wondered how Riddle was doing these days. Probably better than he was, all things considered. Maybe the man would be nice enough to kill him quickly.

"Potter? Mind where you're going, please. You might not care who or what you bump into, but I do. That happens to be a fairly sizable crevasse you almost threw us into." Harry blinked, taking in his surroundings for the first time in about fifteen minutes. Snape stood before him, arms crossed, face almost glowing in the moonlight, it was so pale. They stood in a clearing, surrounded on three sides by seemingly impenetrable undergrowth, and a yawning crack in the ground on the fourth. Two more steps, and he would have walked into Snape and pushed them both over the edge. He glanced up at his teacher's stern face. Snape stared back impassively, showing no sign of anger or reproach. Strange, that. Even his voice hadn't held its usual note of derision. Harry looked away again, wondering where they were, and why. He supposed he should be concerned about what the other intended, but could only work up a mild curiousity.

"Sit, Potter," Snape commanded brusquely, gesturing towards a fallen tree to one side of the clearing. Harry complied, rather glad for the rest. Snape sat beside him, on the only part of the truck that would allow a comfortable seat. They sat in silence for a long time, both seemimgly just thinking. Harry glanced sideways at the older man from time to time, wondering about him. Wondering about this situation they found themselves in, sitting side by side on a rotting treetrunk in the middle of the Forbidden Forest, almost companionably. It was rather nice, actually. Peaceful.

"I used to come here, you know," Snape began softly. Harry listened. "I found it after running away from your father in my second year. No-one missed me until the next morning, and by then I'd returned. No-one knows of this place, save the centaurs. They come here occasionally. It's not like that with you. Half the school is searching for you. And Dumbledore sent me, by the way. Not to the forest. I thought of that on my own. But he sent me to look for you."

"He wants his hero back," Harry said indifferently. "Not me. The Boy-Who-Lived, not Harry." Snape didn't deny it, and this intruiged Harry. He listened, wanting to hear what his teacher had to say, for perhaps the first time in his life.

"Perhaps," Snape said equally. "He does have a certain caring for Harry too. But perhaps it is really his hero he wants returned. Does it bother you?"

Harry shook his head. Nothing much bothered him anymore. Nothing mattered that much anymore. Snape nodded.

"You don't intend to return. I can see that much. Do you know where you'll go? Or doesn't it matter? It probably doesn't. Everywhere's pretty much the same, after all. Everywhere you could go, people will look at you the same way. People will treat you the same way. No-one really cares for the person behind the persona, do they? Not that it matters all that much anyway. Not anymore."

"Are you in my head, sir?" Harry asked in mild surprise. That was incredibly close to what he felt and thought. But Snape shook his head, and for a wonder Harry believed him. But then how could Snape know these things?

"That was more polite than usual, Mr Potter," Snape smiled slightly. Harry blushed. "You don't like me, I take it," Snape continued. "You needn't answer that. I would incredible surprised if you did, considering how I've gone out of my way to make life miserable for you. You react to what you're given, Mr Potter. Hate to hate, friendship to friendship, respect to respect. Challenge to challenge. I challenge you, and you fight back. Isn't it wonderful? Quite the little game of oneupmanship we've had. I've rather enjoyed it, myself. I don't suppose you have though. I've had more practice, you see, so I win that much more often. You're quite a talented amateur, though." He turned to smirk at Harry, and for some reason Harry felt proud at this back-handed compliment.

"You've been hurt." This came out of the blue, and Harry reacted instinctively, moving to deny and then leave. Snape forestalled him. "I don't know or care who or why. Maybe it's everyone. Maybe you're simply tired of being a figurehead, expected to do certain things, act a certain way, be friends with certain people. Maybe you just want to be allowed to be yourself, even for a few short moments. Or maybe it's worse. Maybe it's everywhere. Maybe no matter where you go or who you speak to, there's no reprieve. Maybe you can't stand one more condescending tone. Maybe you'll explode if you hear one more person direct your life and say it's 'all for your own good'. Maybe you wish that instead of always telling you what you have to do and expecting you to get on with it, someone would just help you. But no-one ever does. Am I close?"

Harry could only stare in wonder. That wasn't close. That was it! That was exactly how he felt. But how could Snape, of all people, understand him like that?

"How do I know? I am a spy, Harry." Harry jerked at the use of his given name. Snape ignored this. "I survive by reading people. But here, with you, it's deeper than that. I'm not in your head, Harry. You're in mine."

For the first time, Snape turned to face him fully. There was a look of indescribable sadness in the older man's face. Harry stared, swallowing. "You echo me, Harry. You echo me too strongly. I've never been comfortable around you, because it's like looking in a mirror. You thought I couldn't stand you because I saw your father in you. I don't. I see me, and that is a thousand times worse. Mine is not a fate I would wish on anyone, to be torn this way and that, to be forced to fight a battle that is none of your choosing, because there is no-one else. I became a spy when I was sixteen. You became the chosen one when you were eleven. Neither of us has any choice, and both of us would do anything to escape. But we can't. We can't, Harry. Because like it or not, there is no-one else. We are each alone."

Harry swallowed back tears. No-one had ever said it out before. Always, there had been some attempt to cushion him, to comfort him with false promises of support. He hated that. It was all lies. He knew, had always known, deep down, that he was alone, like this man said. There was no-one else. But there should be. There should be someone to help. They couldn't have meant to hand the fate of their world to him alone. Could they?

"They ... No-one would help, would they? No-one who could really do something? They say they want to, but no-one does anything. No-one wants to really try."

Snape looked sadly at him. "If someone offered their help, would you really believe them?" Harry bowed his head. He wouldn't. No longer, anyway. Once, he'd have taken them at their word, grateful for their support. Now, he knew better. 'Support' just meant someone else with expectations of him. 'Support' just meant more responsibilities that he didn't need, and could no longer support. But ...

"Maybe ... Maybe I'd believe one person. Just one." Snape raised that eyebrow, urging him on. "Maybe I'd believe the only person who's never lied to me. Maybe I'd believe the only one who's never given me false praise or encouragement, the only person who treats me like a normal recalcitrant student. Maybe ... Maybe I'd believe you, sir. If you offered." He trailed off, dipping his head so he wouldn't have to see the refusal on the other's face. He jumped slightly, then, when a hand landed gently on his shoulder.

"Maybe ..." Snape said softly. "Maybe I'd believe you too. If you offered."

Harry smiled. A deal. Something he could offer someone else, in return for something he needed. Something where they would both benefit, where they could both feel helped. He'd like that. He really would.

"Maybe that could work," he replied softly, taking the offered hand in his own. "Maybe two can succeed, where one would fail. Maybe we can try it, sir?"

"Maybe we can, Harry. Maybe we can."

They returned the next morning, to find they had been missed. The wizarding world wanted its spy and its hero back. They complied, each knowing that for the first time, neither was alone. There was, finally, someone else. It was enough, for both of them.


Well? Rather random, but anyway. R&R?