Chapter 49 - The Forgotten Summer

He was alone in an unfamiliar room. Fear gripped his heart, and a rush of adrenaline quickly followed. He rose on his elbows as quietly as he could and took stock of the room. He didn't know where he was or who else might be here, but the way his life had gone so far, he could just as easily be in the home of a murderous sociopath as that of a kindhearted friend.

The air smelled nice, like cooked vegetables and herbs. It calmed him as he surveyed the room, for surely murderous kidnapping sociopaths didn't do beautifully mundane things like cook vegetables with rosemary and thyme. It was a small room, but comfortably furnished. The bed and a chest of drawers were the largest pieces of furniture in the room. A chair sat next to the bed, the cushion slightly askew as if someone had recently sat in it. A more comfortable chair sat a little farther away next to a small table strewn with a several books. A nightstand next to Harry's bed held a lamp, several potions vials, a glass of water, and a small folded cloth.

It was very ordinary. Harry took several deep breaths to calm his racing heart. Ordinary was good. It was really good. He could handle ordinary. He could definitely handle ordinary.

The sound of footsteps drew his eyes to the door in time to see Snape enter the room. The man stopped short as he met Harry's eyes, clearly not having expected him to be awake.

Harry immediately sat up. "Thank Merlin," he said, relieved. No murderous kidnapping sociopaths. Just Snape.

The man lingered uncertainly in the doorway for another moment before purposefully striding forward. He withdrew his wand and waved it over Harry. Seeming satisfied about something, he asked, "Who is the Minister for Magic?"

Harry blinked. "Um. Fudge?"

"What are the five main properties of Acromantula venom?"

"Uh…why? Is this some sort of test?" If it was, then he would fail miserably. He sort of remembered learning that in Snape's class, but it's not like he memorized everything he learned in class.

Snape gave him an assessing look and sat in the bedside chair. "How do you feel?"

"Okay," he said, but at a knowing look from Snape, admitted, "Sore. All over. And I have a bit of a headache."

Snape gave a brisk nod and handed him a potion from the nightstand. "Drink."

Harry obeyed, downing the potion in one go, and handed the empty vial back to his professor. He was pleased to feel his aches and pains immediately lessen, though less pleased to realize that he couldn't remember being injured. "Where are we?"

"What is the last thing that you remember?" Snape hedged.

"Um…" Harry frowned, thinking. His mind was clear, but his memory was hazy. He felt suddenly confused, not certain of anything. "We left Grimmauld Place, right? Went to…" Where did they go? His mind grappled for something to trigger his memory.

"Kneader's Point," supplied Snape.

Kneader's! Right! Occlumency on the beach. Homework with Hermione and Ginny. A hawk-eyed Order member who was maybe-friends with Snape. A new snake friend. It all came back to him in a rush. "Why'd we leave?"

Snape gave him an odd look, and Harry bit his lip, trying to remember what Snape seemed to think he should already know. Snape leaned forward, staring intently at him. "Do you remember what happened in the meadow…with Lupin?"

Harry was starting to feel scared. Why couldn't he remember whatever Snape thought he ought to remember? Was something done to him?

Snape must have read the fear on his face - or performed Legilimency, which Harry didn't even mind right then - for he explained, "Your mind was affected by a potion. Temporary memory loss is not to be unexpected. It will all come back to you shortly, and it shouldn't lapse again at this stage of your recovery."

"How shortly?" Harry squeaked, but didn't wait for Snape to answer. "Lapse again? What do you mean? Wait, how can you be sure I don't have amnesia? I mean, the permanent kind?" His heart was starting to pound.

"Because I personally developed the potion you ingested," Snape said with a casual wave of his hand. "There were some unknown factors, as the potion is a new formulation, but several side effects we can treat as certainties. Temporary confusion, memory loss, and decreased control of the extremities are among the most obvious."

That gave Harry pause. He held up a hand to his face. "Oh," he said as he watched in fascination as his hand wobbled and twitched, then he looked up in realization of what Snape had said. "Wait. You gave me an amnesia potion?"

"No," Snape crossed his arms as if offended. "Of course not. I merely developed it. And I deliberately developed it in such a way as to decrease the intensity of the side effects, I might add."

Harry drew his brows together in confusion. "So what happened? Just…just lay it on me. I can handle it."

Snape took a breath, then watched him carefully as he bluntly stated, "You were captured by the Dark Lord."

"I…" Harry stared, half horrified, half waiting for his memories to return. They didn't. "But I…but I got out," he said to reassure himself that he already knew the ending to this story. He was here, safe, with Snape, so he had managed to escape somehow. Or…or been rescued. "You got me out?" he asked.

"Do you remember anything?" Snape asked without answering the question, but that was all right with Harry because it was obvious that Snape must have had something to do with his escape. "A spark of a memory, anything about your time as the Dark Lord's prisoner?"

Harry shook his head. He was pretty sure his hands were shaking out of fear now. "How long was I there?"

"Almost two weeks," answered Snape, and Harry clutched at his blankets with white fingers. "You were held prisoner for four, almost five days, under the Dark Lord's potion for a little over a week."

He shook his head furiously now. "No. No, that's not possible, because that would mean that I've lost that much time, and that's not supposed to happen. Two weeks isn't supposed to just up and vanish!" he insisted. "And…and school!" His eyes widened in horror. "Hogwarts! That means…that means classes have started, and I'm not there! I'm already behind! And…and what did he do to my mind?" He hated that his voice had started to wobble, but he couldn't help it. He had lost weeks of his life, and it seemed to have happened so easily, and that scared him. "And my body!" he yelped, holding up his hands again as if to make certain they were both attached. He quickly threw the covers off his feet and wiggled his toes. Still ten, and all still moving. Not remembering what had happened to him made him feel so…so violated.

A hand grasped his arm, and he looked up to meet Snape's steady black gaze. "You are well. He did nothing to your body that will cause lasting damage. Your mind too will heal."

Harry gulped, trying to keep his breathing under control. He could feel panic trying to overtake him, and the last thing he needed was for Snape to witness him having another panic attack. The professor had already seen him break down more than once. Any more, and he'd start to think Harry was mental. If he didn't already. He took a deep, slow breath, like Snape had taught him, and then another. When he felt like he could talk without breaking down, he asked, "Why can't I remember? I remember the rest of the summer. I remember every detail, all of it, but I can't remember anything about You-Know-Who." He rushed on to prove his memory, words coming quickly, "I remember…I remember…you showed up at the Dursleys, and you tried to kick me out of my own bedroom, but then you let me go with you, away from my relatives. And Dumbledore, he let me stay at Grimmauld Place, and you made me cut up toads and loads of disgusting things, and then Ron…" His breath caught, but he pushed on. "You taught me Occlumency, and you gave me that letter, and my mum's stone, and I had those visions, and we went to Kneader's. I talked with a snake and did homework, and you showed up, and we talked, and-" His eyes widened and he stared at Snape, willing himself not to cry or to hyperventilate. "I'm so sorry. I swear, I didn't think about how you'd feel about me listening in, I just wanted to know, and I'll never do it again! I mean it, I'm so-"

Snape cut him off with a raised hand, and it was all Harry could do not to flinch. Judging by Snape's wince, he guessed the man knew that, or that maybe he'd flinched after all. Snape immediately lowered his hand. He looked away. "I will not hit you," he said quietly and then cleared his throat. "I know that our history and my…my temper does not support your trust in that statement, but I give you my word nonetheless. Striking you before was inexcusable on my part. You need not fear that in future. I will not assault you as did your uncle."

Harry stared. He hadn't expected that. He'd expected anger. Maybe cold indifference. Not reassurance. He couldn't think what to say to that, so he tentatively asked, "Aren't you angry?" He certainly had been the last time they'd seen each other. The last time Harry could remember seeing him, anyway. The memory of Snape's cold, angry eyes nearly made him flinch again.

Snape took a long, slow breath, studying Harry with an inscrutable expression as he did so. It was nerve-racking, and Harry's fidgeting was made worse by his twitching fingers. "We both have made mistakes, have we not?" Snape said, his words slow and measured. "I have recently been on the receiving end of forgiveness. I find it exceedingly unreasonable to not repay in kind."

Harry stared in silence for a long moment. "You…are you saying you…forgive me?" He wasn't certain he'd heard correctly. The man in front of him certainly looked like Snape and sounded like Snape, but the words didn't seem very Snape-like. He narrowed his eyes. "What did I make at Kneaders? When we talked about Potions?"

Snape sighed. "Biscuits. I am myself, Potter."

"What memory did I use during our first Occlumency lesson this summer?"

"Being chased by an infernal dog," Snape said in a long-suffering tone. "I am Severus Snape."

Harry bit his lip, not sure what to say. The Snape he'd known for so long would never have forgiven him. The Pensieve incident was bad enough, but this…this was almost worse because they had started to build some trust between them. And Harry, while not entirely meaning to, had thrown it back in his face. The Snape he knew would never shrug it off so easily.

Had things really changed so much between them?

"Um. Thank you?" he said hesitantly, still not entirely certain that the offer of forgiveness could be real.

Snape tapped his fingers on his legs, cleared his throat, and asked brusquely, "Can you stand?" It was clear that while Snape meant what he'd said about forgiveness, he wasn't very comfortable talking about it. And oddly, it was Snape's discomfort that relaxed Harry and made him more comfortable. This was the Snape he knew. He might have changed over the summer, but he wasn't a completely different person.

"I dunno. I can try."

Snape stood and offered his right arm, which Harry grasped to haul himself from the bed. His legs shook when he planted them on the floor, but they supported his weight. He stumbled a bit as he tried to put one foot in front of the other, but Snape's arm stayed firm in his grip, helping him as they made their way to the doorway. Snape guided him through the hallway to a small room off the side. Harry peeked in to see a toilet, sink, a chair, and a claw-footed bathtub. He tried not to blush as his professor guided him in, hoping against hope that he wasn't going to offer to stay in here and help with anything. If he did, Harry might die of mortification.

Thankfully, Snape only guided him to the sink, withdrew long enough to turn on water to the bathtub, and said, "Soap is there. A towel and fresh clothes are on the chair. I'll have a meal prepared for you when you are done. I trust you can take it from here?"

Harry nodded quickly, and Snape retreated. He sighed as he clutched the edges of the sink for stability. He caught sight of himself in the mirror and gasped. He looked awful. His hair was sticking up more than usual, his face was too thin, and he had bags under his eyes. He reached an unsteady hand up to touch his face. There were bruises…or the remnants of bruises. They were faded, nearly healed, but he could make them out like shadows on his forehead, jaw, and cheekbone. He turned over his hand and leaned against the sink for support so that he could roll up his sleeves. More shadows of almost-healed bruises. What had happened to him?

He was suddenly afraid to remember.

"How come I can remember other things but not the last two weeks?" he asked in between small bites of steamed carrot. He felt loads better now that he was clean, and true to his word, Snape had a simple meal of unseasoned meat and vegetables ready for him in the kitchen. ("Plain fare, until your body is accustomed to food again," the professor had explained.)

"You wouldn't remember your time under the potion," Snape pointed out from across the small table. He must have eaten already, for he was sipping a cup of tea. "As for the rest… You cannot remember due to trauma, I expect."

Harry tapped his fork thoughtfully against his plate as he chewed and swallowed. "Trauma? I can remember loads of pretty traumatic things," he countered skeptically.

"Yes, I am certain you can," murmured Snape, and Harry eyed his carrots with feigned interest, hoping they weren't about to delve into any of his horrible memories right then. Snape cleared his throat and clarified, "Recent trauma. And of a certain sort. I really would not worry myself over it. Your memory will return shortly. Within the span of a week at the longest, but more likely by the end of the day."

", how traumatic was it?" he asked. Snape had to have seen his twinge of panic, but he thankfully said nothing. "Like…was it the stuff of nightmares? Or…" But who was he kidding? Of course it was the stuff of nightmares. He'd seen enough of the shadow-bruises on the rest of his body to gather that much. He had a particularly nasty one on his side that was still more than a shadow, and which twinged if he moved too fast. "You know what? Never mind. I don't want to know. I'll remember when I remember." He stuffed another bite of carrot in his mouth to squash his curiosity, but then he thought of something else to ask and had to chew and swallow quickly. "You mentioned Remus. He's okay, right? Nothing happened to him? Last I remember, he was still recovering from being captured himself."

Something dangerous flashed in Snape's eyes, and it took Harry a moment to realize that it wasn't aimed at him. "Lupin is well," he clipped. "He suffered an injury, but he is no doubt fully recovered by now."

Something about Snape's tone warned Harry off asking any more questions about Remus, so he didn't. "When are we going back to Hogwarts?" He frowned at another thought. "It's not a weekday, is it? You're not missing class or anything to be here?"

"We will be returning to Hogwarts this morning. It is Saturday."

Harry sighed. "So I missed the Hogwarts Express, the welcoming feast, the first week of classes, all of it?"

"The headmaster has spoken with your professors," said Snape. "They will give you some time to catch up. It has only been a week."

"Only a week," Harry echoed miserably. "And how many assignments have you already handed out to your students in only one week? It'll take me forever to get caught up in all my classes. And-" He widened his eyes. "Quidditch tryouts will be this week! I can't miss Quidditch tryouts!"

"Merlin forbid," said Snape dryly as he sipped his tea.

"I'm serious! I love Quidditch. Do you know how awful it was to be banned last year?"

"Ah, yes," said Snape smoothly. "The ban. I don't believe that was ever officially lifted."

Harry stared at him in horror. "I…I assumed…"

"Oh, calm yourself, Potter," Snape smirked. "The headmaster wouldn't dream of allowing any decrees from Umbridge to stand, especially not where you are concerned. And no one is going to force you from the team if you are not yet well enough to attend tryouts for new players."

"But I'm awake now. Surely I can-"

Snape leaned forward, pierced him with his best silencing stare, and growled, "You just woke up from a highly potent potion, and you can hardly walk without tripping. If you so much as attempt to approach a broomstick before Madame Pomfrey clears you to do so, I will personally ensure that Professor Dumbledore reevaluates that ban in some formulation."

Harry shrank in his seat and mumbled, "yes, sir."

Snape gave a short, satisfied nod and rose from the table. "Finish eating. We will leave within the hour. I've owled the headmaster to expect us." He swept from the room, presumably to straighten the room or gather their things.

Harry chewed a forkful of meat without tasting it. He didn't know what to think or feel right then. Frustration, confusion, and fear warred for dominance. He didn't know whether he was more disappointed to have missed the first week of school or more fearful to be missing time and memories. Important memories, too. He wasn't sure he wanted to remember what had happened, but he needed to. Missing time was disconcerting, to say the least. Knowing that he had been with Voldemort and couldn't remember it was downright horrifying. Yes, he decided. He would focus on that, focus on remembering. He couldn't rewind time, but he could try to figure out his own mind.

And at the same time, he would look forward to Hogwarts and Quidditch and classes and…as soon as he thought of his friends, his mind honed in on one. Ron. He felt chilled at the memory that Ron had already been in a bad way the last time he'd seen him. And now… Oh god, now he could be… He mechanically swallowed the last bite of food. He needed to know if Ron was better or worse, or at least know that he wasn't…

No. Ron was okay. He had to be.

But as much as he wanted to know, he couldn't bring himself to ask when Snape returned. He was too afraid to know the answer, too afraid to see a harsh truth in his professor's eyes before the answer could be given out loud.

They took a Portkey to a different house, this one slightly rundown and abandoned. It was on a large plot of land, open, with no other houses or people in sight. The inside was simple but clean. It didn't look lived in, more like somebody had stopped in to dust and stock it in the last month or so.

"Another safe house?" he guessed as Snape led the way to a fireplace in the corner.

Snape nodded, holding onto Harry's arm as if he might fall over if he let go. He found that he didn't mind the support. After that Portkey, he wasn't feeling very steady. With a wave of Snape's wand, a fire was lit and he gestured for Harry to scoop some Floo powder from a jar on the mantel. Harry glanced up expectantly.

"Dumbledore's office, Hogwarts," the professor instructed.

Harry raised his eyebrows. "Dumbledore's office is connected to the Floo Network?"

"Not usually. Today it is. Go on," Snape gestured and let go of Harry's arm, stepping away.

He threw the powder, stepped in, and yelled clearly, "Dumbledore's office, Hogwarts!" A blur of green ash and a few seconds later, he found himself stepping out of the fireplace into the headmaster's office. Well, stumbling out. But he preferred to pretend he hadn't nearly fallen headfirst into the headmaster's robes.

"Steady there, Harry," said Dumbledore gently as he kept him from falling entirely. When Harry looked up, he could see both concern and relief in the man's eyes. "Alright there?"

"Sorry," he muttered and straightened.

"No worries, no worries at all." Dumbledore kept a hand on Harry's arm. "I am happy to see you alive and well, my boy. You had us all worried." He could see the truth of that in Dumbledore's face. He looked tired, like he'd spent too many nights pacing instead of sleeping.

"Sorry," he repeated automatically.

Dumbledore tsked, warmth in his eyes. "No need for apologies, Harry. What happened was far from your fault."

Harry nodded, not sure what else to say and not needing to say anything anyway, as Snape stepped out of the fire behind him.

"Severus," Dumbledore smiled happily. "I was worried about you as well. It puts my old mind at ease to see for myself that both of you are well."

"Potter needs to be seen by Poppy," Snape said without bothering about pleasantries. "The potion is mostly out of his system, and his injuries are not serious, but she should examine him to ensure that I missed nothing."

"Of course, of course," murmured Dumbledore, "and I will insist that she look you over as well."

Snape looked like he might object, but Dumbledore's eyes were stern, and he nodded with obvious reluctance. Harry grinned at seeing Snape treated like a child. He remembered the last time the man had had need to be seen by Madame Pomfrey. He hadn't been thrilled to be fussed over then either.

He made the mistake of meeting Snape's gaze with his grin in place, and the man's narrowed eyes told him he knew precisely what he was grinning about.

He told himself he shouldn't comment, but he couldn't seem to help himself. "Don't be scared, professor," he said in mock seriousness. "If you're a good patient, Madame Pomfrey might give you a licorice wand."

Snape glared, but there was no malice behind it, and it only made Harry grin wider.

"Come along, my boys," cut in Dumbledore. His eyes were twinkling as he gestured back to the fireplace. "By floo again, I think. No sense exacerbating your tiredness with a trek through the castle."

The Hospital Wing was quiet when they stepped through. Harry supposed that after only one week of school and no Quidditch practices, there hadn't been too many opportunities yet for students to injure themselves. The examination itself didn't take long. After Poppy greeted them, she performed a few diagnostic spells, proclaimed that nothing was very amiss that a few potions and some rest wouldn't sort out, gave him several potions and a pair of pajamas, and led the professors away.

It wasn't very difficult to obey her order to rest, for he fell asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

He was drawn from his dreams by a whispered conversation. The whispers were hardly whispers, really, but it was apparent that the speakers were trying to be quiet, even if they weren't at all successful.

"It's Saturday, Hermione," argued a girl's voice.

"And?" another girl's voice - a very familiar voice - answered. "He'll never be caught up if he doesn't read at least one more chapter today and complete two essays tomorrow."

"What are you, his mother?" the first voice teased.

A harrumph sounded, but it was good-natured. It was obvious that the girls weren't angry with each other, so it didn't bother Harry. He breathed deeply and let it out. He felt himself drifting back and forth between sleep and awareness. There was a lengthy silence, as if brought on by his sigh.

A third voice broke the silence, a boy this time. "I'll do it later, 'Mione. I swear. Let's wait till after Harry wakes up, yeah?"

"But you definitely won't do it then," she sighed. "Why not do it while he's asleep, and then you'll be able to visit without worrying about it?"

"He's behind too, isn't he?" There was a rustling, as if somebody shifted in a chair. "We can work on it together. It'll be better for both of us. Motivation, you know."

"I suppose…" she answered skeptically.

"Really, why'd I have to miss a month of summer?" the boy groaned. "They couldn't have cursed me on the first day of Herbology? I wouldn't have minded missing a month of school."

A girl's voice protested the horror of having so much make-up work to do, but Harry barely registered it, for his brain jump-started at a very sudden realization. He was hearing Ron's voice. Ron!

He jerked awake and shot into a sitting position as soon as his eyes opened. He caught a blur of bushy brown hair as a girl shrieked and jumped up from where she had been sitting on the foot of his bed, and he quickly fumbled for his glasses on the bedside table, put them on, and took in his visitors. A startled Hermione was clutching a textbook, a wide-eyed Ginny was sitting next to her in a chair, and…and Ron. His friend was sitting in another chair closer to Harry, the freckles on his pale skin standing out against his red hair. He looked…he looked…alive. More thin and pale than usual, but alive.

"Oy, mate, you alright?" Ron asked, and Harry blinked. It was him. It was really him! To his embarrassment, he thought he was about to cry. He could feel tears welling up behind his eyes. He was fairly certain he wouldn't be able to speak, so he tried to get out of bed instead. Only, his legs were still unsteady, and he didn't do more than toss aside the covers and pivot to sitting on the side of the bed before Hermione protested, "Madame Pomfrey said you have to stay in bed. We're only allowed in here on the condition that we let you rest!"

Harry didn't care about Pomfrey's orders, but he was grateful that Ron had stood and was now within reaching distance. He didn't have to test out the steadiness of his legs to grab his best friend by the shirt and pull him, yelping, into a hug.

"Mate, you alright?" Ron asked again, softer this time, while he returned the hug. "We were worried about you."

Harry barked a laugh and quickly swiped away a tear that escaped. "Me? You're the one who was in a Death Eater coma!" he said hoarsely.

Ron pulled away and shrugged. "You mean my battle with old Voldy's henchmen? I fought back, you know. And I made it, didn't I? I've even got a scar to prove it!" Grinning, he pointed to the hairline next to his right ear. Harry didn't see anything, but his vision was a bit watery.

From behind him, Ginny rolled her eyes. "He's been going on about his 'grand battle' ever since he woke up, and it gets more grand every hour. That's not even a scar, Ron. It's a scratch. You probably got it brushing your hair."

"It's a scar." He threw his sister a glare and turned back to Harry. "The way I hear it, I'm not the only one to have gone into a Death Eater coma. It's brilliant, mate - we've both missed classes and have to catch up, so we won't have to be miserable alone!"

Hermione cleared her throat and dryly added, "Not that what happened to you was brilliant, Harry."

Ron waved her off. "Y'know what I mean."

Harry had so many questions, but most pressing was, "How long have you been awake?"

"Few days. Mum made me stay in bed most of the time. Bloody boring, that was. Made me complete some of my homework too, but I only began attending classes yesterday." He nodded a chin in Hermione's direction. "Hermione's taken notes for us, so we'll be caught up in no time."

"Thanks, Hermione," Harry grinned, and she beamed.

"Really though, how are you?" she asked. "We've been worried sick. Dumbledore told us in strictest confidence that they had a way to get you out, but that's all we were told for over a week! Nobody's even said what happened, other than that Voldemort was involved."

"I'm fine. A little sore, but fine," he assured them, but all three were looking at him with expectant faces. "I…um, I can't really tell you what happened."

"Oh," Hermione said, clearly hurt but trying not to show it. "Order stuff?"

"We're practically in the Order, Harry," wheedled Ron. "C'mon, you can tell us. It's not like we're going to blab about it to Malfoy and his cronies or something."

Harry winced apologetically. "No, that's not it. It's not that I can't…it's that I…um, can't." Three faces looked at him with confusion. "I don't remember."

Ron scratched his ear. "Like, can't remember the Death Eater coma? Well that's alright, Harry, neither can I. Nobody expects you to remember that bit. We're talking about what happened when you disappeared from Kneader's. I hear you caused a big ruckus with that disappearing act. Oh," he added conspiratorially, "speaking of, I met that Kneader bloke. My mum says he helped heal me, but if you ask me, he's kind of shifty, don't you think?"

"Ronald. Focus," said Hermione.

Harry wrinkled his nose. "No, you don't understand. See, I really can't remember. Snape says whatever potion I was given messed with my memory a bit. I'll get it back," he assured at Ron's look of horror. "Soon, hopefully. As soon as I know anything to tell you, I will, I swear."

"Oh Harry, that's awful," moaned Hermione. "It doesn't affect your mind in other ways, does it? You're still going to be able to start classes on Monday?"

"Yes, because missing classes would be the absolute worst thing that's happened to you this year," Ginny said so seriously that Harry knew she wasn't being serious and grinned. Hermione only rolled her eyes and grumbled something under her breath about "Weasleys."

"Well, what happened at Kneader's?" Harry asked. "Maybe you can tell me something that'll jog my memory."

"I guess I'll sit this one out." Ron sat back in his chair. "I was still out of it. Because I'd been been gravely injured in a wizard's duel," he said loudly and narrowed his eyes at Ginny as if daring her to contradict him, but she ignored her brother.

Hermione motioned for Harry to settle back into bed, which he did, and then reclaimed her perch next to Harry's feet. "What do you want to know?"

Harry shrugged. "Everything. Anything. Snape said something about Remus and a meadow? I don't remember talking to Remus at Kneader's though. He was still sleeping off his injuries. The last thing I remember is talking to my snake friend, and then…nothing."

"Lupin was under the Imperius Curse," Hermione said gently.

Harry's eyes went wide. "He what?"

Ron nodded. "You-Know-Who did it! They say he's got all these powers now, and they didn't know Lupin could still be cursed, but he was, and-"

"I thought you removed yourself from the conversation," interrupted Ginny, "seeing as how you were recuperating from your mighty battle."

"Don't you have somewhere to be?" Ron shot back.

"Harry doesn't mind me being here," she said sweetly. "Do you, Harry?"

"'Course not," Harry shook his head, too distracted to be either amused or irritated by the squabbling siblings. "Remus didn't…he didn't take me to Voldemort, did he?" he asked, horrified for his dad's friend.

Hermione put a reassuring hand on his leg. "I don't know how it happened, only that he had something to do with your capture, and that he's fine now. I don't know where he is, but Mrs. Weasley said he's not under the curse any longer. I suppose Voldemort released him from it after they had you. I saw him when he came to. He felt really, really bad, Harry."

Harry nodded, feeling sick for Remus. How awful, to be forced to betray a friend and not be able to stop yourself from doing it. "Did Snape see it?"

"Yeah, what's with that?" Ron cut in. "Why'd Dumbledore make the git go with you to Kneader's too? It's like he wanted to give you the worst holiday in the history of holidays."

Harry hummed a non-answer, not sure he wanted to go into his changed attitude towards his Potions professor right then. He could only imagine Ron's reaction, and it wouldn't be good. Or calm. Or rational. He'd probably assume Harry'd been left brain damaged by Voldemort's potion or something.

Judging by Hermione's sympathetic glance, she understood a little of what was going through his mind. "He wasn't there," she graciously deflected from Ron's question. "But he arrived soon after. He was the one who raised the alarm, told us you were missing."

Ginny nodded. "Charged in there like the place was on fire. I thought there'd been a Death Eater attack for sure."

"When he told us you were missing, made us search the house for you in case he was wrong, we were so worried," added Hermione.

"When we didn't find you-"

"-and then Kneader brought Remus in with that snake bite-"

"-we thought the worst-"

"-the absolute worst! We were afraid we'd never see you again!" finished Hermione with a slight wobble to her voice. She jumped up and gathered Harry into a hug. "I was so scared I'd lost you both!" she cried against his shoulder.

"'S okay, Hermione." Harry patted her back comfortingly. "I'm fine now, really. So's Ron."

She held him for another minute, sniffling, and then swiped a hand across her wet eyes. "Don't you ever do that to me again! Either of you!" She swiveled to include Ron in her fierce glare.

Harry held up a hand. "I promise on my life I won't die yet."

"Me too," said Ron. "May my ghost be driven insane by a flock of flying Fwoopers if I die or get all coma-fied again before you say I can."

Hermione gave them both a small wobbly smile and a laugh before returning to her perch on the bed.

"Now, are you ready for the Hogwarts news?" inserted Ginny excitedly. "Because we've a new DADA teacher and a terrible beast living in the second floor of the west wing, not to mention mysterious rumors from the castle paintings."

"Oh yeah," Ron chimed in. "They've all gone nutters. More gossipy than a gaggle of witches at a robe shop. Hey!" He rubbed at his arm and glared at Ginny.

"Don't mind them, Harry," added Hermione. "The new DADA teacher seems normal and adequate, the 'beast' is Hagrid's quite tame - really - find that Dumbledore's already located a new home for, and the paintings are only gossiping more because there's a war going on and you were missing. We're all together again, nothing is amiss, and we're going to have a perfectly ordinary year."

Ron scrunched his face in her direction when she wasn't looking, and Harry secretly agreed with him. Perfectly ordinary years did not seem to be their lot in life. But a perfectly ordinary conversation could be, so he said, "Tell me all about it, Ginny. Don't leave anything out."

She obliged, and they all talked and bickered and laughed until they lost track of time and he couldn't prevent himself from yawning. His body was tired, but his soul had needed this. Being with his friends, seeing them again and knowing that Ron was awake and going to be fine, lessened a weight on his heart that had become so constant, he'd almost forgotten it was there. It wasn't until a dark shadow fell over them that they realized the curtain had been opened and they weren't alone. The conversation died down and then stopped entirely as the four students registered Professor Snape's presence.

"Mr. Potter requires his rest," Snape sneered at his friends. "It is time to say goodnight."

Ron looked as if he smelled something foul, and Harry jumped in before his friend could say something to get himself into trouble. "You'd better go. I am pretty tired. We can talk more tomorrow morning, yeah?" He glanced at Snape, half afraid he was going to say something about his friends not visiting him again so soon, but the professor merely stood there without expression and watched them awkwardly exchange their good-byes.

As soon as they'd left, Harry said, "You don't even have to try to kill the mood, do you?"

"It is a gift," Snape sniffed and placed some folded items of clothing on the bedside table. Harry recognized them as his own, and Snape answered his questioning glance. "The clothing you were wearing when you were taken. I'm afraid they're rather worse for wear, but they are clean at the very least."

"Thanks," murmured Harry, and his eyes lit up at the next thing Snape handed him. "My wand!" He fingered the smooth wood, joy spreading from his fingertips through his body. "I must have been out of it today. I didn't even think about it till now. Why was I without it?"

"It was taken from you," was the simple reply. "The headmaster kept it safe."

The next thing Snape handed him was his class schedule. He curiously looked it over. Transfiguration, Herbology, Charms, Defense… He was disappointed to see the lack of Potions. Snape hadn't changed his mind, then. He mentally sighed. He supposed he'd have to see if there was any other way around the Auror requirements. He turned it over and was surprised to see another sheet of parchment attached. It was filled with several columns and lines of writing. "What's this?"

"Your study schedule for the coming week. In addition to attending classes, you will be expected to devote ample time to completing missed coursework. If you follow the schedule, which also allows for adequate time for your mind and body to rest, you will be entirely caught up within two weeks' time."

Harry dropped it to his lap and heaved an exaggerated sigh. "I don't even get one day to myself first?"

"On the contrary," countered Snape smoothly, "you have already had precisely one day." Harry half-heartedly glared, but Snape was unfazed. "You will begin tomorrow. Madame Pomfrey has already been instructed that your friends are not to stay for an extended length of time unless they are actively instructing you in your missed classes."

Well, Hermione would be pleased, at any rate. Ron, not so much.

"I trust that you completed your summer assignments?" Snape's look communicated that the answer had better be yes, and Harry flushed.

"I…er, need to finish my Herbology essay," he mumbled and quickly added, "I have a good start, and I would have finished if I hadn't up and lost the last week of summer."

Snape shook his head and muttered something about "had all summer." Louder, he said, "You will complete that first, and you will keep Professor McGonagall updated on your progress. You will also not forget to rest. And no Quidditch until you are caught up. Understood?"

Harry nodded, though he was feeling overwhelmed. The first month of school was difficult enough without starting out behind everyone else. He looked over the schedule. It was so…so structured. He grimaced.

Snape looked ready to leave, so he rushed to ask, "What about Occlumency?" He knew Snape had only agreed to help him until the end of the summer, but they had made real progress in their lessons, and maybe now that he had forgiven Harry, he would consider..? "Are we, I mean, am I going to have a schedule or something for that?" he fished. "I still have loads to learn, so…"

Snape's face was carefully shuttered as he said, "As planned, the headmaster will be overseeing your Occlumency tutelage from this point. You shall need to inquire of him when he wishes to meet."

"Oh." Harry tried to keep the disappointment from his voice. That had been the plan, after all, and a plan that he himself had wanted. He really shouldn't be disappointed. "But…you'll be, um…" He hesitated, not sure precisely how to ask what he wanted to know. Will I still see you? sounded needy. And it didn't seem to cover it. With no Potions and no Occlumency, and now with the entire staff of Hogwarts to keep him safe from Voldemort, what role would Snape even need to play in his year anyway? Or in his life, for that matter?

He knew the logical answer: none. Their arrangement was for the summer, and now the summer was over.

"McGonagall will oversee your academic progress," Snape said neutrally. His expression was closed off and had been throughout his visit, and Harry had the feeling that he was doing it on purpose. Probably to make it clear that now that they were back at Hogwarts, Harry shouldn't expect anything from him. And the message was received. "Madame Pomfrey will see to your physical needs." He frowned and added, "If your memory returns, you are to summon Madame Pomfrey immediately, do you understand?"

"Why?" Harry asked numbly, trying not to be disappointed that he was apparently supposed to forget that the entire summer even happened. It figured that after years of hating Snape, he finally was free of him just when he was starting to enjoy his company.

"It might be a shock to your system," explained Snape. "I can't say for certain. If that should be the case, Madame Pomfrey can help you with a calming draught so that you will not be blindsided by a rapid deluge of memories and emotions."

Harry nodded absently, though he didn't really care about that right now. He was still focused on Snape, still trying to think of an excuse to see him without looking pathetic for wanting to do so. "What if I, um, have questions about Occlumency and Professor Dumbledore isn't available?"

Snape hesitated before saying, "If you have any immediate need, of course you can come to me." Those were the words that Harry wanted to hear, but the tone said something different. Snape was so stiff when he said it, it was obvious that the last thing he wanted was for Harry to come around bothering him with his silly teenage problems. Now that he had returned Harry's things and made certain he knew his schedule and responsibilities, he was going to retreat to his dungeons. He had forgiven Harry, and they wouldn't actively hate each other any longer, but that wasn't enough reason for the professor to want to stay in his life. And that hurt. It hurt way more than he'd ever thought a rejection from Snape, of all people, could hurt. But it's not like Snape owed him anything, did he? So he jerked a nod and mumbled, "thank you, sir."

And that time when Snape left, his goodbye filled with formality and politeness, Harry had no doubt that the professor was saying a more permanent goodbye.

He removed his glasses, settled into his bed, and was glad nobody was around to see him blinking the wetness from his eyes.

Twisters. So many twisters surged through his mind, filled with ropes of memories and strings of emotion. He no sooner pulled on one string, than he became overwhelmed with sadness or anger or fear and had to pull another to escape it, only to find himself awash in joy or hope or love. Then he switched to the ropes, but that was even more jarring. Memories. Too many memories. Bits of spoken words flew through his mind with dizzying speed:

Dog-human sssmellss of evil.

Harry Potter. How kind of you to drop in.

Love never toppled nations, boy. That takes power.

Did you imagine that he felt love for you? He never had a child of his own, after all.

Wee wittle baby Potter is going to cry!

Revenge is yours, Harry Potter. Take it.

You should have been my son.

Now…we live.

He gasped and opened his eyes. He remembered. He remembered all of it - capture, torture, fear, hope, horror, secrets, shock, forgiveness, death - and it was so sudden, so powerful, so overwhelming. He felt ripped apart from the inside, raw and bleeding. He needed something to ground him. He reached into his pocket, where he kept his mother's stone, but he wasn't wearing the same trousers. He threw the covers off him and scrambled to the folded clothing Snape had left.

He hitched a breath as he realized that the trouser pockets were empty. The stone was gone. Between Voldemort's clearing and the week he was under the potion, or maybe through the course of Snape's rescue, the stone had to have fallen out of his pocket. The only thing he had from his mother besides one page of an old letter, and he'd lost it.

He slid to the ground and hugged his knees to his chest. He shivered violently as a sense of loss ripped through his heart as if it were a physical blow. It was a just a tiny, worthless stone, he knew, but it had been priceless to him.

His fingers found Snape's ring on his hand where Voldemort had left it after forcing him to use it. The dark wizard hadn't found it useful anymore, Harry supposed, so he'd forgotten about it. At least he hadn't lost that, though he assumed Snape would want it back soon. He took a long, slow breath and let it out, flexing his fingers to feel the weight of the ring. He didn't use it. He was tempted to, but Snape had said it was for emergencies. If he used it now, it would probably only be taken away sooner.

But still…he wanted Snape. He felt like a little kid admitting that, even if only to himself, but it was true. He was afraid. He knew he was safe at Hogwarts, safe in the Hospital Wing, but he felt exposed and scared. Throughout his ordeal, he'd felt safer whenever Snape was with him. The man always had a plan, always knew what to do, and he always made sure that Harry made it out of danger okay. Just knowing the man was nearby helped to keep some of the nightmares at bay, or at least helped him to know that he could survive the nightmares.

But he was no longer Snape's responsibility. The professor clearly wanted to forget this summer ever happened. It wasn't a surprise; he'd expected it. Why would Snape, of all people, be any different than the other grown-ups in his life?

His mind knew that, but his heart didn't care. It also didn't care that he was too old for nightmares or for fear. It just cared that his mind was filled with an influx of horror and torture and hunger and of watching his teacher die-but-not-die, and Pomfrey wouldn't do; he needed Snape. Over and over, so desperately that he wondered that his thoughts couldn't be heard out loud, he wished for his professor to remember this summer and to come help the nightmares from taking him over.

But Snape never came.

Update notice: I am going on vacation! Yay! (Well…for me...) ;) In order to allow myself the freedom to relax without worrying about to-do's, I am leaving the next update date open-ended. It will NOT be posted in two weeks, but will instead be a random surprise in your inbox. Don't worry - we'll be back to regularly scheduled updates after my vacation. Thanks for continuing to follow along with OME! I'm so encouraged by all of your notes of support and enjoyment! :)

Guest/Unsigned Review Replies:

loki lover 1234 - I think we'll have to see how things play out before you'll have your answer about whether Snape will be kinder to students. There are several factors at play right now. But the simple answer is in Harry's own words: they're both works in progress. I agree - it would be fun to see all the Marvel magic-users in one storyline! Thanks for the story rec! I wrote it down and will check it out. :)

JackyPotter - Thank you! I'm glad you loved it!

Cerisafera (ch 47) - In answer to your questions/observations: 1) Lucius not calling Poppy by name was condescension, not ignorance. 2) Snape wouldn't have let Remus die. Thinking about letting him die was his way of being snarky and letting out frustration/worries. He's a better person than he gives himself credit for, and crediting Remus's survival to Dumbledore's and Harry's disapproval was a way of saving face to himself. 3) I don't recall anything about Snape and Harry being about the same height, but let's be honest: even if Harry had grown taller in canon, I don't really care. OME is a fanfic and has officially diverged from canon: Harry is shorter than Snape and will continue to remain so. I like it that way, and I'm the writer, so I get to have things my way. ;) Re: the rest of your review - yay for snake pantomime! lol. Hmm...the eternal question of whether murder is ever necessary and if it is, then whether it is murder. Ethics 101, here we come! And do you really think I'd make it this far only to kill off Snape? JKR already did that. It's so 2007. ;)

Guest (6/14) (ch 9) - So many chapter titles, so little time! ;)

Guest (6/14) - Thanks for the review! High/drunk Harry is one of my favorite tropes. I had to try it at least once. :)

Guest (6/14) - Every now and then, I like to surprise readers by not leaving them in suspense, lol.

Guest (6/14) - I won't tell Snape you called him sweet. (But I secretly agree.)

CaptainSparkles - Thanks for the kind words! It was just the mood & motivation boost I needed this month. :)

Latte Hot-tay - It was definitely nice to write a light chapter for a change. :) Haha I love the image of a head full of wrackspurts.

Blue fire - Yeah, I don't envy the Death Eaters who let Snape and Harry escape! Voldy's not a happy camper right now. Eek!

mysnecret - I love it when my story can make people laugh! That's the best compliment. :)

Alex Marcell - There's just something about innocent Harry and fatherly Snape that gets us all in the heart, isn't there? :) Happy studying - you got this!

Guest (6/16) - Updated! I'm glad you like. :)

OpalReads - Sometimes a break from the action is really, really needed. That last chapter was a well deserved break for our boys, I think. :)

Guest (6/17) - Aw thanks! I'm so happy you like OME!

Lyrical Lazuli - You forgot the camel! ;) Yes, sometimes the trick to getting around magic is to…not use magic, haha. Or at least not in the expected way. Yes, I almost hate to add one more big angsty kink into their relationship, but it felt more real for Snape and his personality complexes to pull away now that he cares about Harry. Never fear - it's not over quite yet!

Paco519 - You found some awesome words. My favorites were "treasure trove," "slayed," "died laughing," and "pile of mush." They very deservedly put a smile on my face. ;) I'm so glad you enjoyed the chapter so much!

Kate A - Thank you! Your review made me so happy. :)

NoNeed2CallMeSir - Well, sir, I made you cry. That means we're friends, right? ;) I'm glad you enjoyed the crack. Yep, Snape is such a dunce sometimes. He thinks he can't be what Harry needs, meanwhile going right along and being what Harry needs. *facepalm* Yes - spoiler alert - the distancing will be temporary. I have no desire to drag it out too long. And even if I did, I never manage to keep Snape away from the story for very long. It's just not as fun when he's apart from Harry. ;)

BradleyontheHill - You're totally right, but I won't tell Snape, promise. I have to wear a mask everywhere I go now anyway…he wouldn't understand me if I tried. And I'm glad you like what I did there. :) No final Voldy battle in this story, I'm afraid. Maybe if I write a sequel…actually, potentially only if I write a second sequel. I'm more concerned about the journey for these two characters than about ending the war. There's something about the threat of Voldemort hanging over their heads that makes for good mentor/guardian/dad scenarios. ;)

Elisabeth - So glad you liked it that much! Yep, Snape has a soft, gooey center, and we've all seen the evidence in the hug! :)

dreamy-bananas - I'm sorry back for the delay in posting. It's been a crazy month, I tell you! Yes, it will be interesting to see Ron's reaction to all the developments that Harry hasn't shared with him yet. Poor guy, he wakes up and he's missed summer and his best friend's gone mental! Oh, I would love to post OME chapters for eternity…you know, if that meant they were pre-written and I could just sit reading reviews all day. ;) Writing this story has been such a fun experience, but I'm ready to get to the point where I can put finishing touches on it and then sit back and enjoy the "complete" label. Whew, what a day that will be!

AnonymousFan - References to past chapters are some of my favorite things - looking back at how far they've come is so fun, plus I've read several long fanfic stories in which it feels like the author has become detached from the earlier chapters and it's like they never happened. I just like to remind everyone (myself included) that these are the same people from 40+ chapters ago, even though they've gone through a lot of changes. Yes, sigh, Harry's gone through too much rejection. He just needs one adult in his life who doesn't leave in some way. Is that too much to ask? (Why, no. No, I don't think it is.) ;)

Effie - Thank Merlin for magic - makes cleaning up breadcrumbs so much easier! And I'll happily have some toast, if you have jam to go along with it. Strawberry, maybe? I'm glad you liked adorable Harry. :) Yes, I think Snape being willing to learn is going to be one of the keys to this thing working out in the end. He has no experience to prepare him for Harry...well, other than teaching. I suppose that counts in a way, but his brand of teaching doesn't exactly prepare one for tucking a kid in at night, lol. I can totally see Snape suffering from some touch deprivation disorder. I like the description of him as french bread. :) Yes, I agree with you - Severus was definitely sorted correctly. I wonder if he might have made better choices though if he'd been sorted into a different house and fallen in with Ravenclaw or Gryffindor friends. Not that all Slytherins are dark wizards, but many Slytherins naturally are, and it's the bad influences of the Death Eaters in training around him that I think made it easier for him to follow his darker impulses. They say you become like the five people you spend the most time with. Eh. Either way, I'm glad he got sorted there so we could have a fun character and dynamic to work with. ;) I get what you're saying about teachers. I was shy as a youngster, so I appreciated the soft spoken tactful types...but when I got to high school and college, I learned to appreciate those teachers who were crystal clear in what they expected of me and whether or not I'd met their expectations. There's nothing worse than a sweet teacher who doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, so nobody knows they're not up to par until they bomb the final assignment and then take away nothing from the class. I love your ammo for future Snape, lol.