Chapter Twenty-One – A Lesson in Being Gryffindor

"No! Absolutely not!" ordered Snape, not for the first time.

"Profess–" Harry tried in vain to interrupt, also not for the first time.

"Why are you still speaking? I said no!"

"Severus, please sit. I do think we ought to hear Harry out on this," was Dumbledore's long awaited input.

Harry might have laughed at the speechless stare Snape directed at Dumbledore if the situation hadn't been so serious. Ever since Harry had finished explaining his vision in as much detail as he could manage, Snape had been ranting about the certainty of Voldemort having gotten hold of Harry's mind and the foolishness of doing anything other than destroying their connection – even if it meant giving in to the undesirable notion of drugging Harry with twice-nightly doses of Dreamless Sleep potion.

Harry's suggestion that they at least talk about the capture scenario had caused Snape – to coin a Muggle term – to "go off the deep end." Harry hadn't been able to get a word in edgewise since.

Now, however, they were all three as silent as Dumbledore had been most of the time Harry and Snape had monopolized the conversation.

Not surprisingly, Snape broke the silence first. "Albus. You cannot seriously be considering this for anything resembling truth. An apparition has given your golden boy the message that he must allow himself to be captured by one who will not only kill him, but first will become invincible through the use of him. There is nothing to discuss!"

"Sit, Severus," Dumbledore commanded calmly. Too calmly. Harry looked closely and thought he saw a slight tremor in the old man's hands. It shouldn't have reassured him to see that, but it did. If a powerful wizard such as Dumbledore could feel uneasy enough for Harry to see it, then he felt a little bit better about his own rising apprehension.

Snape sat in the chair opposite Dumbledore and Harry, his jaw set into a hard line, waiting for Dumbledore to speak.

The drawing room felt very small to Harry, seated as they all now were around the small table. The fact that he had yet to change out of his nightclothes didn't help; it only made him feel more like a little kid in the middle of a worsening nightmare. Snape, on the other hand, looked just as he always did: head to foot in his usual black garb – only, lately he'd been without the robes Harry was used to seeing. Despite the solemnity in the air, Harry couldn't help the curious thought: Did the man sleep in his clothes, too? Just to be at the ready for emergencies such as this? (If he even slept, of course, which Harry had previously decided remained to be determined.)

"Harry? Alright, there?" came a voice through his thoughts.

"Huh?" Harry jerked his head toward Dumbledore's voice. "Oh. Um, yeah. Sorry, just…thinking." He grasped his water glass tightly, taking a sip simply because it was there. Even wondering about Snape's strange habits was preferable to figuring out whether he needed to let himself be captured by his mortal enemy. He shivered, then took another sip.

"Let us examine the facts," Dumbledore stated composedly, continuing with the original conversation. Snape crossed his arms in a childish display of stubbornness, which Dumbledore ignored. "This person of Harry's visions has seen the future previously. Two instances were so brief and inconsequential as to be easily explained away by a teenaged imagination. However, in light of his more important knowledge of a prophecy previously known to only two trustworthy individuals, I…am inclined to at least explore the possibility that this vision of Harry's is true."

Snape scowled. "This is foolishness, Albus! Even discussing–"

"And yet I have decided that we will discuss it," interrupted Dumbledore. "I have not rendered my opinion as yet, but every avenue must be explored and weighed and decided upon. The fact remains that Harry's vision did hold a grain of truth that neither you nor I can deny."

Harry looked back and forth between Snape and Dumbledore, biting his tongue even though a few minutes before he had tried his utmost to speak. For now, he was just glad that they weren't kicking him out of the room to discuss this without him.

Dumbledore went on, still speaking directly to Snape, "Voldemort has been singularly focused on his goal of locating Harry. He will not stop until he has captured him and believes that he has obtained all that he can obtain from him. Come September, I…I am very afraid that enough Hogwarts students are loyal to Voldemort's side already to make Harry in grave danger no matter the protections I place over him. However, if Voldemort truly believes that he has accomplished his goal and that Harry holds no more gain or threat for him, he will no longer pursue him, thereby leaving Harry free to prepare for his inevitable role in this war."

"Do you have any idea how ridiculous you sound?" Snape exploded, leaning forward so that his hands tightly gripping the sides of his chair were the only things keeping him from rising to his feet again. "This is not the first time he has sought after Potter, and never before has something so daft been suggested! The Dark Lord might have a chance of snatching Potter, so we may as well hand him over of our own volition? Damn it, Albus! He may win the entire war; shall we hand over victory in its entirety right now? Give me the floo powder and a white flag – I'll do the honors!"

Dumbledore said nothing for a moment, his silence more effective in commanding Snape to get his temper under control than any words would have been. As soon as Snape sat back into his chair with re-crossed arms, Dumbledore went on, "Harry's vision was also correct that if Voldemort does manage to take him during the upcoming year, there will be no apparent avenue of escape."

"And just where is this supposed avenue of escape now?" Snape burst again, his temper apparently not satisfied with remaining under control. "Despite that apparition's flattering assertions that I may be able to retrieve Potter, the Dark Lord is not exactly known for welcoming hated traitors back into the fold! My communications having been cut off from all save one decidedly unreliable avenue, it would be nearly impossible to discover where they are holding him, who is holding him, how they are holding him, how to penetrate that location, when –"

"Professor Snape?" Harry didn't know how he managed to pull the confidence to speak loudly enough to stop Snape's rant, but he did. Now that the attention was on him, though, his sudden inspiration didn't seem quite so magnificent. "I, um…that is, wouldn't he…let you back in if he thought you weren't really a traitor?"

Snape sneered. "Thank you for that brilliant deduction, Potter. I do not suppose you have thought of a way by which I may convince one of the most powerful and intelligent wizards in the world that I am not the traitor I have already undeniably proven myself to be? I do prefer it to be before he familiarizes me with his favorite killing curse, of course."

Harry licked his lips nervously. "Um, actually…if you were on his side and just falsely accused of being a spy, wouldn't it make sense that you'd want to prove yourself with some grand gesture? So…make a grand gesture. Something he would never think you'd do if you weren't still his man."

Snape laughed, but it was a laugh void of amusement, a laugh Harry hoped never to hear again. "Shall I lick his boots, then? Tell him a secret he already knows? Or perhaps I should help him to destroy Hogwarts – aid along another one of your futuristic visions?"

Harry shivered at the reference. " Actually, I was thinking the grand gesture would be something more along the lines of…me."

For once, Harry seemed to have surprised Snape into silence. Harry continued, "Well? It makes sense, doesn't it? No spy for the light would ever willingly bring me to what he thought was my death, especially knowing that it would make Voldemort all-powerful, right? If we wait for him to capture me, you'll still be a traitor and I'll wind up dead. But if you take me to him, not only will it prove in his mind that you're loyal, but then you'll be in place to help get me out of there!" Harry leaned forward, excited at how much sense it all suddenly made. "That's got to be what Other Harry meant about me being captured on my own terms! And if we do it right, Voldemort won't even have to know it was you helped me escape, and the Order will have its spy back! It makes perfect sense, don't you see?"

Snape said nothing for a moment, then he abruptly leaned forward, his face close to Harry's. "You. Are. Mad," he hissed before abandoning his seat to resume his previous pacing around the room. He stopped long enough to send Harry another glare. "Completely mad!"

Dumbledore reached over to place a hand on top of one of Harry's. His eyes were kind. "Do you fully understand what you are suggesting, Harry?"

Harry nodded, gulping as he did so. "I…I'm not saying let's go find him and do it right now, or even ever, at least without a plan or anything. I'm just saying…well, it makes sense, doesn't it?" He searched Dumbledore's attentive gaze for some kind of confirmation. "Doesn't it?" he repeated, actually hoping the headmaster would say that it didn't.

"It does," agreed Dumbledore gravely, to which Snape immediately shot him a murderous glare. "To regain Professor Snape's position and simultaneously remove you from Lord Voldemort's most wanted list would be quite the accomplishment," Dumbledore went on, "but truthfully, I am as yet unconvinced. There are many variables inherent in a plan such as the one which you are suggesting. And I will not allow either one of you to partake in so dangerous an endeavor without proof that this is, indeed, the way by which the war must be won."

"Oh." Harry felt a mixture of relief and disappointment, strangely enough. He didn't know why he believed his vision so much, but he did. And as afraid as he was to be incapacitated in a cold, dark basement, something deep inside of him was screaming at him that it was the only way.

Which reminded him…

"My vision self said that Voldemort's plan was flawed," Harry gave voice to his thoughts. "He said that Voldemort would gain strength, but that he had to gain that strength in order for me to defeat him. What…um, do you know what he might have meant by that, professor?"

Dumbledore thought for a moment, a contemplative gleam in his eyes, before answering, "I do not know, Harry. If given a certain amount of time to ponder the possible outcomes of Lord Voldemort's plan, I would no doubt be able to uncover a host of possibilities. But…no, I do not know what he meant by that statement."

"Does it matter?" Snape entered the conversation again, having thoroughly exhausted the room with his pacing. "The vision is an apparition! We were willing to consider the possibility that it may be Potter's Inner Eye, but in light of this revelation, we can obviously not consider that possibility any longer –"

"Why not? It saw the future!" Harry insisted.

"It saw pudding and cabbage, Potter! It fooled you!" Snape rounded on him, eyes blazing as he hissed, "And now it intends to kill you as well! Are you not the slightest bit concerned at the prospect of risking your life, you foolish, arrogant child?"

Harry felt his temperature rise. "Arrogant? We're back to that? Well, why don't you make up your mind already just what I am, professor? 'Cause it's getting hard for me to keep track!"

Snape's eyes narrowed, as if taking measure of Harry right then and there. Despite himself and his ire, Harry shrunk a little lower in his seat. Certainly, being appraised right then and at such intensity wasn't quite what he'd had in mind when he had issued the challenge. He glanced at Dumbledore for some assistance, but the headmaster didn't look too inclined to interrupt this latest disagreement.

"You, Mr. Potter," Snape finally spoke, slowly and deliberately, "are arrogant."

Harry narrowed his eyes and felt his jaw involuntarily clench.

"Perhaps you are not arrogant to the degree that I have supposed you to be these past five years," Snape conceded quickly, as if to get the words out and be done with them, "but based on the simple fact that you are willing to throw your life away without regard to those who may be left behind in your wake, implies nothing but a certain degree of arrogance."

"W-what? Hold on! I'm not throwing anything away! I am thinking about everybody else, don't you see? If I don't do this, he'll kill more people!"

"If you do this, he will kill perhaps even more people through his heightened abilities!" argued Snape.

"So…then what? We do nothing? Wait to see how many people he'll kill before we decide it's too many and we've no choice?"

"No. We avoid making a rash decision based on too little information, which will most certainly involve worsening an already dire situation!"

"No! I believe the vision!" Harry exploded, startling even himself with his own vehemence. Neither professor made any immediate move to say anything in response to his declaration, so he continued, "I didn't believe it at first, but even then, I knew I'd have to believe it, because I know that he's right! If I don't do this – if I don't go to Voldemort now, it'll just get worse for everyone later! Turning myself in is the only way everything can turn out alright…um, well, if I get away, I mean…" he trailed off, losing some steam at the very real possibility that he might be unable to escape. No. He shoved that thought from his mind and went on, "So the only other thing stopping us is that he could become more powerful after getting his hands on my blood. Well, if Other Harry was right, and his plan really is flawed, then that's not an issue either!"

"If?" Snape ignored Harry to direct his incredulity to Dumbledore. "We cannot hinge the war on "if," Albus! Especially with a plan which requires the discretion of a 16-year old boy unrehearsed in the art of Occlumency!"

Snape began to pace once more, his words gaining more momentum with each step. "The Dark Lord will see the truth in his eyes upon first glance, especially in light of the doubt Potter will exude at every difficult turn. The boy does not trust me, Albus! We have established that fact. While I am unconcerned with trust or lack thereof on Potter's part toward myself, at the first sight of me among the Dark Lord's ranks, Potter will convince himself that he must act alone and indulge in one of his trademark rash actions, thereby betraying the entire plan, and by extension, both of our lives!"

Dumbledore answered Snape quickly, but Harry only half listened. All he could think about in light of Snape's rant were Other Harry's words:

There is only one person thoroughly capable of rescuing you from Voldemort's lair, and that person must be in a position to do so. Now is the time to decide if you trust him enough to place your life in his hands.

…Now is the time to decide if you trust him…

It was all so odd, sitting here in the familiar surroundings of Grimmauld Place's drawing room, contemplating the implications of allowing himself to put his complete faith in his worst enemy. Well, okay, second to worst enemy. He did, perhaps, rate slightly better than Voldemort.

His chest began to close in, and he forced himself to breath slowly. The situation was suddenly becoming more real. The reality of being all alone in a dark basement, practically comatose at the mercy of Death Eaters...with a lone spiteful Death Eater as his only route to safety…

Harry shivered, by now completely tuning out his professors' continuing arguments.

He had to do this. Other Harry had said so. And he knew that he could carry through with it…if only he could trust Snape.

If. That was a big word when pitted against his very life.

If he could trust Snape, this plan could leave Harry freer to prepare to fulfill his own prophecy without the constant threat of Voldemort behind every pillar.

If he could trust Snape, this plan could restore the place of the Order's spy.

If he could trust Snape, this plan could save the lives of whomever Voldemort had next decided to capture for information on Harry.

If he could trust Snape…Harry might have a future.

Despite all that he might gain, that was still a big if. He wrapped his arms around himself at more thoughts of basements and a super-powered Voldemort.

Harry exhaled loudly. He could be brave when it came down to it. He was a Gryffindor, after all, he thought with pride. But…that didn't mean he wasn't scared. Or feeling more terrified by the minute.

"I'd do it," he said suddenly, before he could change his mind or let the terror take over. He looked up to find both professors turning to stare at him. Harry had obviously interrupted them. "I'd do it. Er…you know, if you decide it's a plan. What…what I mean is, I – I'll trust Snape. Professor Snape, I mean," he added. "I…um, I would trust you to get me out of there," he added quickly to Snape, keeping his gaze steady. He knew despite his words that he didn't totally trust Snape yet, but he could choose to, and that's all that really mattered for this to work…right?

Neither professor spoke in response to his declaration, and Harry smoothed his fringe with nervous fingers. Dumbledore looked to be deep in thought, and Snape…well, Snape just looked about as near to caught off guard as Harry had ever seen him. Well, it was really no wonder, Harry managed to reason. If he'd heard Snape announcing that he was going to trust Harry with his life, he'd probably be in a state of shock himself.

Of course, the shock promptly turned to a scowl. Harry knew Snape well enough by know to know that the professor couldn't believe for more than one second that Harry really was capable of trusting him to that degree.

It was Dumbledore who answered finally, softly, "Thank you, Harry, for your bravery." He paused to glance at Snape before continuing, "However, it appears that Professor Snape and I have come to the agreement that to proceed immediately with a plan of this magnitude would be unwise. We simply cannot risk it without more concrete information."

Harry nodded, eyes on the table. He felt relief. And, at the same time, he felt doubt and guilt. Because the longer they put this off…the longer Harry continued to run...well, who would Voldemort hunt next in his quest to find him? Would he forget about Harry's neighborhood and go after his friends next? The Weasleys maybe? Or Hermione?

"I should go," Dumbledore said into the now silent room. "Discovering more of the plan which Lord Voldemort has concocted is most certainly the key to my decision in this matter. While I am away, perhaps the two of you will wish to discuss your possible roles in this endeavor?"

A response not forthcoming from either Harry or Snape, Dumbledore moved toward the fireplace, and few moments later, he was gone in a swirl of floo powder.

Harry chanced another glance at Snape, who was still staring at Harry with a scowl on his face.

Harry shifted nervously. Maybe he should say something. But…what? He'd already given his declaration of trust; any more insistence would serve only to further convince both of them of the opposite.

Thankfully, before Harry could say something that he'd only regret later, Snape turned on his heel and swept abruptly from the room. He paused in the doorway, seeming to make up his mind about something, before turning ever so slightly toward Harry. "Come," he commanded, then disappeared toward the stairs.

Harry followed, of course. Where else was he going to go? He'd never be able to go back to sleep with all that was going through his mind, and homework seemed so trivial in comparison to thoughts of Voldemort and capture.

Snape had already begun gathering ingredients by the time Harry caught up to him in the laboratory. Uncertain what was expected of him, Harry lingered in the doorway, merely watching Snape's methodical movements. It didn't take the professor long to gesture for Harry to join him at his usual spot against one wall of the lab or to hand over a sheet of instructions.

"An Exceeds Expectations student should theoretically have no trouble brewing this potion. It is time to prove that your grade was not a stroke of luck or the result of cheating, Mr. Potter," Snape announced briskly before moving to his own set of empty cauldrons.

The comment could have been entirely snide, prompting Harry to respond with a sarcastic retort of his own, but Snape hadn't said it with his usual degree of malice. It was a good thing, too, Harry reflected, because his heart wasn't into coming up with a reply.

And so, with a shrug, Harry got to work, wordlessly chopping ingredients alongside an equally silent Snape.

It only took a few minutes of starting his brew and chopping ginger roots for Harry to acknowledge to himself that he was grateful to have something – even if it had to be Potions – to keep his overworked mind occupied. Having something to do besides thinking about Voldemort or, even worse, explaining to somebody else what he was thinking, was…well, it was nice. Not that he would admit to Snape that he'd just thought of anything involving Potions as "nice," of course.

Anyway, he still didn't enjoy it enough to understand why Snape spent so much time at it, but he supposed he could start to understand why it had such a calming effect upon Snape. Harry figured it had something to do with Snape's love for solving problems and puzzles. He mentally shrugged. Maybe all it took to make Snape bearable was to have a problem to solve, but the part Harry was beginning to enjoy was the mindless repetition of it all – chop this, grind that, stir once or twice. It gave the mind a well-needed rest.

"What is your greatest fear, Potter?" Snape asked suddenly.

Harry started at the sudden break to their silence. He turned to look at his professor. "Huh?"

"It seemed to me a simple question. If you require repeating, however, I –"

"No – um, I heard. I – um…w-what do you want to know that for?" Harry didn't particularly like thinking about what Snape could want with the answer to that unexpected question.

"You stated to me only recently that despite my knowledge of certain aspects of your life, I do not, in fact, know what matters most to you." Snape pierced him with a stare so sharp that Harry immediately looked away. "To paraphrase your words, I believe you said that I do not know what you think or feel about your childhood thus far, nor how it has made you selectively brave or afraid. We – you and I – are now perhaps approaching circumstances in which we shall be forced to trust each the other. You, that I would, in fact, deliver you from the Dark Lord's hand and me, that your fragile grasp on Occlumency would not give away our entire plan and both our lives. In light of that, I am well aware that despite your heartfelt declaration earlier today, you are not, in fact, prepared to trust me."

Harry thought for a moment and decided not to lie. "Okay, fine…maybe not," he answered honestly. "Maybe I'm not ready trust you. But…but I'm choosing to trust. And don't our choices define our actions? It's what Dumbledore says, anyway, and I…well, I believe that."

"Noble sentiment, Potter," Snape sneered, "but noble sentiments do not mean anything without solid evidence. Prove that if we proceed with this foolhardy plan, you will not destroy our chances of succeeding through a momentary lapse in your resolve to choose."

Harry didn't answer. He couldn't answer. There was no way – no way he was going to confide something so personal to Snape. He clamped his lips together in silent refusal.

Snape stalked closer to Harry, stopping short of reaching distance, so that Harry was forced to look into the dark tunnels that were his eyes. "I am well aware of the impossibility of you, Harry Potter, willingly depending upon me in such a situation. Our past does not support your trust, and my performance as the Dark Lord's servant will not earn it. Additionally, it is more than likely that with you so available to him, the Dark Lord will use you in some capacity as a further test of my loyalty. If that time comes," he stressed, "I must know beyond a doubt that you will not reverse your decision to see such a plan through to the end."

"No," Harry whispered, unable to look away from Snape's mesmerizing stare, "No. What I mean is…I, um – I don't get it. You want me to prove that I won't give you away by telling you my greatest fear? How will that –"

"I want you to prove your readiness by handing me a weapon and trusting me not to use it," Snape stated, calmer now that he had Harry's undivided attention.

"But you will use them!" Harry insisted. "As soon as we get back to school, you'll use them! You're a Slytherin! And you keep trying to make me think like one, too! Well, maybe I'm not as cunning as you want me to be, but I'm smart enough to know that words are just words. You can say all you want that you won't use it against me, but when the time comes, we both know that you will!"

Snape's eyes gleamed with something nearing triumph as he responded simply, "As you say, Mr. Potter, words are just words. You can say all you want that you will rely upon me, but when the time comes, we both know that you will not."

Harry opened his mouth to reply, but he shut it when he couldn't think of a good enough retort.

"Very well," said Snape, turning back to his potion. "I will inform Dumbledore to halt his research. We will not give any further consideration to this plan."

"But – but we have to!"

Snape stirred the contents of the nearest cauldron with one hand, his back still to Harry. "We will not embark on a joint undertaking unless you can prove to me that you are prepared to see this plan through to the end."

"But what about you?"

"What about me?"

"Well, you said yourself a few minutes ago that I'm not the only one who needs to trust in this whole thing! You need to trust me, too, right? So…what about you? How are you going to prove to me that you won't ruin the whole thing by doubting that I'll do my part? If I've got to prove I can make the choice to trust you, then don't you have prove the same thing to me?"

"No. I do not."

"Yes, you do!" Harry didn't even care that he sounded childish, so indignant was he at Snape's double standard.

"No, I in fact do not, Potter!" Snape turned back to face him, glowering. "I am your elder and an accomplished spy. I am quite capable of making sane judgments under extraordinary pressure. You will complete this conversation because, quite simply, when the Dark Lord forces me to torture or possibly maim you, the knowledge that I am not utilizing what I know to be your greatest fear will serve as a reminder to you that we are on the same side throughout this foolhardy plan!"

Harry blinked at Snape's passionate speech. "Oh…um. Oh," was all he could say at first. "Well, why didn't you explain it like that in the first place?"

"I did!" Snape sounded thoroughly exasperated.

"Uh, well, no. You didn't."

"I di–" Snape stopped mid-word, rubbing the bridge of his nose in obvious frustration. After a moment, he snapped, "Just answer the bloody question!"

"What good is it going to do answering a question if I don't even know what point I'm proving to you?" Harry pointed out with forced calm. "If this question isn't only so I can prove to you that I trust you now, but more…more so you can prove to me that I can trust you later on…well, that's a different way of looking at it, isn't it?"

"I would imagine this will aid in both points, eventually," Snape snapped.

Harry thought for a moment, not caring about Snape's impatience to get this conversation over and done with. He studied Snape for a moment, then looked away. "You know, for all your claims to always be thinking Slytheriny –"

"'Slytheriny' is not a word, Potter –"

"Yeah, okay," Harry all but ignored him, "So for all your claims to be thinking Slytheriny all the time, I'd have thought you'd start out with the best way to get me to answer the question rather than beating around the bush so much."

"And I'd have thought you would see what 'beating around the bush' has to do with cunning!"

"Not the way you defined cunning yesterday! Well…okay, it's not like you really defined it exactly," Harry corrected, "but you're always thinking about how best to get what you want. I'd have thought you'd figured out by now sometimes the whole truth up front is the way to get what you want."

"Are you trying to teach me a lesson now, Potter?" Snape questioned, and Harry couldn't decide if the man looked amused or affronted. Maybe a little bit of both. Well, Harry figured, either one of the two was better than the anger he was radiating just a moment ago.

Harry couldn't help half-smiling to himself at the sudden humor of the situation. "Er, yeah. Yeah, maybe I am. A, erm – lesson in being Gryffindor." He chuckled before he could stop himself, then immediately straightened his face with a swift glance at Snape. Still no anger. He let out a small sigh of relief. "You know, Professor, just judging from everything you've got to have done for Dumbledore and the Order, and risking your life and all as a spy and everything, well…that's got to take an awful lot of bravery."

Snape's eyes narrowed swiftly in suspicion at what sounded dangerously close to a compliment, but he made no response.

"I mean, I was just thinking…for someone who hates Gryffindor House so much, you, er…" Harry paused, collecting himself for the amount of trouble he was about to be in, "Well, you do have the main quality of a Gryffindor."

Snape visibly shuddered. "I am a Slytherin, Potter, not a sodding Gryffindor! Do not try to assign attributes to me which I do not possess. I am not in the least foolhardy or headstrong, as is practically every last member of that pompous House!"

"Yeah, well, I'm not a bully!" Harry shot back.

Snape crossed his arms, jaw set stubbornly, before he deigned to answer. "I do not recall having accused you of being such."

"Exactly!" Harry couldn't stop himself from getting worked up now. "You, yourself, told me that people are sorted by their positive attributes, not their negative! Well, the sorting hat wanted to put me in Slytherin because I had a thirst to prove myself, not because it thought I could be a bully! So me saying you've got Gryffindor in you doesn't mean I'm saying you've got all of what you think are the bad qualities!"

Snape narrowed his eyes again at Harry. "Are you trying to articulate that you are paying me a compliment, Potter?"

Harry flushed. "C-compliment? N-no!" he denied automatically. "I'm just saying, um…well, I mean it, um…just struck me, is all, you know, that maybe you're not as totally Slytherin as I always thought, just like I'm maybe not as totally Gryffindor as you always thought…or, you know, something like that…" Harry flattened his fringe as his ramblings trailed off. What had he been thinking, opening up this whole can of worms? He closed his lips firmly, determined not to open them again unless he absolutely had to.

Snape crossed his arms, leaning his back against his potions table as he did so. After a moment, he spoke quite suddenly, "I do not like you, Potter."

The timing, if not the statement itself, was unexpected enough to cause Harry to bring his eyes up to meet Snape's.

Before Harry could fully process it, Snape continued his calm bluntness. "I have hated you, in fact, from the moment you were born. I will not bother denying a fact which we both know to be true: I would have been quite happy had you never come into existence."

It wasn't like Snape's words were surprising or anything why did Harry felt as if he'd been stung? "Um…uh, gee. Thanks. Way to earn my trust," he muttered darkly.

"Despite that," Snape continued as if uninterrupted, "I have never wished harm to come to you."

Harry stared for a moment, then forgetting his earlier resolve, shot back, "Like hell you haven't!

"Well, not permanent harm at any rate," Snape conceded.

Harry just glared at him that time.

Snape threw up his hands. "Fine, Potter! I have never wished death on you! Are you quite happy now?"

Harry stared for another moment. Dare he say what was on his mind? And then he figured he may as well, if he'd been thinking it anyway while staring into the eyes of an Occlumens. "I don't believe you," he stated simply. "The only reason you maybe don't want me dead right now is because of the war. Other than that, you'd kill me yourself. Don't bother denying that that's a fact we both know, either."

Snape held his gaze for a long moment, and at the man's silence coupled with his piercing black stare, Harry felt a sudden chill consume him. Oh, god. Maybe it was the confusion of the past few days, but even as Harry had said the words, he sort of didn't want to believe them anymore. But now… he knew that it was true.

Harry backed involuntarily toward the door. It was true. Snape wanted to kill him. Right then, right there. And maybe…maybe this time Harry had made him mad enough to actually do it, regardless of the war, regardless of everything else. He backed up another step, hardly aware that he was doing so.

"I am not going to harm you, you foolish boy," Snape hissed, not moving. His eyes bore into Harry's. "What is wrong with you? One moment you are headstrong, more foolish than brave, and the next you are cowering out of fear that I might kill you."

"I don't cower!"

"No, Potter," Snape conceded with surprising speed. "You do not cower. But you wear your emotions on your sleeve. I have learned in the past few days that I do not perhaps know you as well as I previously thought, but that one thing I have known since the first day you set foot in my potions class. I always knew when you were angry enough to nearly lose control, or intimidated enough to not fight back. It is a weakness that the Dark Lord will use and exploit if you allow him to see it." That said, Snape turned back to his potions, visibly giving up on the fruitless conversation.

After a moment, Harry returned to his ginger roots, feeling stupid for his rash assumptions. It was just…that look in Snape's eyes. Harry knew he'd hit a nerve. Either he was right, and Snape simply had enough self-control to not kill him before the war was over, or he was wrong…in which case there was something else driving Snape's hatred of him other than outright wanting him dead.

He'd never put a lot of thought before into why Snape disliked him, only that the professor was a git and that he didn't like Harry's dad. But he saw with real clarity at that moment that the person Snape hated wasn't really Harry – how could it be? He'd never bothered to know the person Harry really was, separate from his father or his schoolmates. Snape had merely decided long ago that he wanted to hate him, so he looked for reasons to justify that hatred.

Snape wasn't talking, so Harry chanced a question. "Why…why do you hate me, sir?" it was an honest question, and Harry asked carefully, without sarcasm or complaint. It struck him briefly how surreal it was to even ask it. Only a week ago, he'd have rather died a gruesome death than pose such a question to Severus Snape.

Snape's movements paused, his back still turned to Harry. He turned slightly so that Harry could see his profile. His sneering profile.

Harry cut Snape off before he could begin. "Look, professor, you know I'm not spoiled, and I know I'm not the best student or rule-follower. But whatever you want to say, I'm not an idiot." Harry winced at setting himself up for a scathing retort. He rushed forward, "You hated me before you ever met me. It had nothing to do with me. So what is it? My dad? Is that it – the whole reason? Or is it about Sirius? Did I meet you and pull your hair as a baby? What?"

In contrast to the outrage Harry expected to see on Snape's face, the sneer on his profile actually turned to a smirk.

"What?" Harry questioned, then immediately started. "Wait. Did I meet you as a baby or something?"

Snape turned all the way round to face Harry, crossing his arms as he leaned against the counter. "Once. I sneered; you cried. It was very satisfying."

Now Harry was uncomfortable. "I…I didn't know that," he responded lamely.

"It was after your parents were killed," Snape offered guardedly. But he offered. And it was more than Harry had expected him to offer.

Harry barely knew what to say. "But…I thought I was brought to my aunt and uncle right away. How could we possibly have met?"

Snape shifted, and if Harry didn't know better, he'd have thought Snape looked a bit nervous. Then it dawned on him. "You went to see me? After I was with the Dursleys?" he asked incredulously.

Snape hesitated a moment before admitting, "I needed to know with my own eyes that the rumors were true." He lifted his chin a bit, though it didn't erase the distinct air of discomfort that surrounded him. "Very few people in our world knew at that time where you had been placed; I was one of them. So I went."

Harry couldn't speak. Hell, he could barely breathe. The thought of Snape going to see him as a baby was…well, it was weird, to say the very least.

"If I had wanted you dead, Potter, I could have easily killed you then," Snape stated evenly, and Harry felt his eyes pulled into the professor's black gaze. "You were alone in your relatives' yard, barely walking and unaware of the danger a visitor represented. I could have easily lured you away from the wards which surrounded you, but I did not."

Harry lowered his gaze again, not thinking of anything to say to that.

"I did not kill you then, and regardless of the consequences I will exact upon you for wasting perfectly good potions ingredients, I have no desire to kill you now."

Harry spared a glance at his potion then, the murky substance in his cauldron attesting to its failure. Never mind that it was Snape himself who pulled him away from it, resulting in its ruin. Harry didn't want to change the subject though. There were too many important things to think about.

"So…if you really don't want me dead…why do you hate me, then?"

"What do you fear?" Snape countered, getting back around to the question which started it all.

Harry crossed his own arms, mirroring Snape. "Are we doing the question for a question thing again?"

"No. I do believe we are beyond that, Potter. From now on, you will answer my questions because you have made the tremendous claim of being able to trust me, despite all past and recent actions denying that fact. You will answer my questions because otherwise, I will refuse to accompany you on any possible missions."

Harry jerked his head. "You mean…you'll agree to the plan if I answer you?"

"I mean that I will consider the possibility of its merit," responded Snape. "What do you fear, Potter? What do you fear more than anything else?"

Figuring that was the best he was going to get, Harry reluctantly gave in. Unfolding his arms, he leaned onto the counter as he considered his response. "I…I guess my greatest fear would be…well, I think…death."

"Death," Snape stared at him disbelievingly. "Pardon, Potter; I find it incredibly difficult to believe that you, with your rash behavior and penchant for attracting and looking for trouble, fear death more than any other possible horror."

"I don't!" Harry denied automatically. "I mean, not like you thought. It's not like I want to die or don't get scared about the idea, you know. It's just, that's not what I meant. I didn't mean my own death." He took a deep breath and plunged in, "I meant…death of people around me. They always die – take my parents and Sirius for example. Just when someone starts to care about me, they leave me and I never see them again. And…" Harry looked away from Snape while he tried to come up with the words to describe what he was feeling, "And…it's…um…pretty much always my fault. And that's what, um…scares me. I'm afraid that something I do or some wrong decision I make is going to be what kills my friends. Or that just knowing me might be what ruins their lives. See, I never had friends before I started Hogwarts. Not even one, not really. So I really need them – I need my friends. But…maybe they'd be better off not knowing me. And…um, that's what scares me."

Silence permeated the air for a long moment, which to Harry seemed like hours. He couldn't meet Snape's eyes after what he had just confided.

Just as Harry felt he was going to die of embarrassment before getting a response, Snape spoke briskly, "Thank you. You may resume your work. Empty the contents of your cauldron and begin again."

Harry did look up then, and stared. "Wait. That's it? I tell you all of that, and all I get is a 'thank you, you may resume your work'?"

"I am sorry, Mr. Potter; were you expecting to jointly commiserate over your confessions? I was under the impression you understood that I was not arranging the question as an introduction to a heart to heart chat."

"Well, yeah. I know that, but –"

"But what, Mr. Potter?" Snape fixed him with an inscrutable stare. "I heard your answer; it was enlightening. Now resume your brewing."

Harry turned back to his potion, as he was told, but not before muttering a few choice words under his breath. Of course he hadn't been expecting to talk about it, but he had been expecting…he didn't know…some sort of acknowledgement, maybe? It's not exactly like that was the easiest thing in the world for Harry to confess.

Or, well…it shouldn't have been easy to confess. Harry stopped his chopping as a thought hit him. Maybe that's what was so bothersome – even though his confession had been hard to vocalize, it wasn't near as hard as it should have been to confide such a thing to his hated Potions master.

Was he starting to trust Snape? Like, really trust him, not just claim to? Harry shivered suddenly and shook his head, even while he was thinking those thoughts. He hated Snape! He'd sworn to hate Snape forever!

He stopped pretending to be working to turn and stare at Snape's back. He hated the snarky, greasy git…didn't he?

Didn't he?

And with that question fresh in his mind, Harry hissed and closed his eyes at a sudden, sharp pain in his scar.

The last thing Harry felt before delving into Voldemort's angry mind was a warm body catching him as he collapsed.