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note: this continues after 'The First Path In'. A sincere thank you to all who have reviewed my writing. I'm very glad to have found a few kindred souls who enjoy angst, hurt and comfort. As I have no beta readers, please feel free to e-mail me and offer suggestions/corrections. I appreciate them! ~Raven Dancer

Alternate Routes

Speaking Truths

As Harry left Dumbledore's office, he thought about how he'd tell Hermione and Ron about the last two and a half weeks. He didn't like to keep secrets from them and this was a pretty big secret. He idly wondered if they thought he and Severus were having a quick squeeze on the couch like Lupin did initially. As if.
Although he had been a bit surprised, he really was concerned about the Snape's well-being. He also found the entire aspect of comforting, uh, interesting. Not sex, just comfort.
Harry imagined being comforted all his life. To be snugged into someone's arms, someone bigger and warmer and, and. Well, like when Mrs. Weasley held him after Cedric died. Like how Severus had held him that night in the locked room. Heck, even the group hugs from his team when they won quidditch games. Feeling like he was part of something more than just himself, that he was completely accepted without explanation. That he was Safe.
He knew his mom and dad had taken care of him when he was an infant. That he had been held and cuddle every bit as much as a baby could wish for. But life with the Dursleys was pretty much hands-off. He could not think of one time any of his relatives touched him with any affection. Dudley's punches did not count.
Life at Hogwarts was fairly hands-off, too, when he thought about it. Although he relished touches. Dumbledore's hand on his shoulder. Hermione's concerned hand in his, or brushing his arm. Ron's nudge against his shoulder.
The ability to touch someone else, even Snape (he grinned ruefully) filled a large part of the void, too. He craved human contact and he didn't feel guilty one little bit.
Well, unless the contact was Cho Chang. Then he blushed like a tomato. But that wasn't comforting. That was insatiable, a hunger, a yearning. He shook his head at the stray thought.
Maybe there was a latent healer inside him. The desire to nurture at times was pretty strong. Maybe. He never did know what his mother or father did for a living. What traits he might have inherited. He idly wondered who he could talk with about his feelings. He mentally checked off the adults in his life, discounting each including Sirius Black. He was left with Remus Lupin or Albus Dumbledore. Hmm. Definitely something to do more thinking about.
He found himself in an empty Gryffindor common room. He quickly checked his room for Ron, but it was empty too. That left the library (Hermione was riding both of them to study for their OWLS) or outside. He chose the library first but was disappointed in his quest. Outside then.
He allowed his thoughts to return briefly to comforting Snape. Of all the outlandish, crazy things he could imagine doing, being even civil to the Potions Master was not one of them. If the man hadn't been so worn down by a variety of hexes and curses he would probably still not have imagined it. But the gaunt figure, hungry for more than just food, had struck that nurturing chord in his body. He, too, seemed to have that same need, to be accepted without question. Especially to feel safe. Something a spy could not easily feel.
He suppose Dumbledore provided some emotional security. He'd never really thought about the faculty being friends. Strange concept. What would they talk about? Each taught different subjects, each thought their own subject most important. Heck, Professor Binns had died and he kept teaching, history transcended death for him!
Which brought him back to speculating which staff member or members were cursing Snape. Especially this last set which seemed to include pretty heavy-duty timed charms. From the paper he'd put together for McGonagal timed charms weren't easy at all. There was a subtlety to setting them, like the spring on a mouse trap. Set it wrong and *snap* it would backfire nearly immediately. Either hit you or hit someone near you (if you brought along company).
Now there was an interesting line of thought. Who else in the castle had been sick lately? Either puking out intestines or not sleeping. He was mulling over his lengthy list of possibles when he felt a hand snatch him backwards.
Hullo, Harry! Ron said, laughing.
Ron, leave him be, can't you see he's thinking, Hermione joked, rolling her eyes.
If he's thinking of ways to get Snape, we'd better, Ron retorted, and seriously this time. His friends watched him carefully.
Let's go for a walk. Dinner won't be for several hours, Harry replied and turned to walk down to the lake. Ron shrugged and followed, Hermione close at hand.
Harry put a good distance between them and the castle, going around the edge and then turning into the open fields. Here there were no trees, no shrubbery to hide in. No place for a bug to crouch listening. Hagrid's sheep kept the grass short and neat. The small flock was some distance off grazing peacefully.
Finally Harry threw himself down. He could see open area for quite a distance and didn't have to worry about eavesdroppers. The road to Hogsmeade wandered well below them but was empty. Ron and Hermione joined him, dropping onto the grass, and all three contemplated the clouds that floated without threat above them.
First off, I'm sorry I've been such a stuck-up prig lately, Harry began, waving his friends quick denials aside.
I have, and I got lessons from the best! he chortled.
You mean Snape? Hermione shot him a strange look.
Oh, yes, he sneered, lip raised in an absolute perfect imitation. Ron scooted a bit away.
Watch it Harry, your face could freeze like that!
"Only if you hex me," he said, pulling himself up to sit and face them both.
"Of course, I've learned a few new ones myself lately
so you'd better be careful," again the sneering leer.
Ron broke first, laughing at his friend. Hermione waited a moment, watching his face dissolve into a chuckle before she joined in with a broad smile.
"Honestly, Harry, what's been happening?" she asked as soon as Ron was able to catch himself.
Harry looked at them ruefully.
"I'm sorry I couldn't tell you everything as it happened,
but Snape, Dumbledore and I had an agreement to keep
things between us."
He launched into a retelling of the night in the locked room. Both Ron and Hermione had numerous questions about what he now accepted without pause. Ron especially had difficulty in believing Snape could be anything but vile and evil. He did his best to restrain his disbelief as Harry continued discussing having breakfast tea with Dumbledore.
"So, Snape has been cursed by some unknown persons over
the past few months?" Ron asked, "and this is bad, how?" he mumbled under his breath.
Harry sighed and shook his head.
"Let me try again. Snape's Death Eater's tattoo gives him
warning of Voldemort's movement. It's one of Dumbledore's
safeguards. He's also powerful enough to be one of the
main protectors of Hogwarts."
"According to Dumbledore," Ron was loosing his objectivity.
"Yes, according to Dumbledore," reiterated Harry.
"Ron, just be quiet," huffed Hermione, "Snape can't honestly
be all that evil if he's working for Dumbledore. He has to
keep a public persona with all the Death Eaters' children
going to school here, especially in his own house of
Ron just shut his mouth. Harry could see the disbelief written there, but decided to continue, explaining why he'd drawn both detentions and what had happened during each. Hermione made him show her immediately how to transfer energy. They practiced on each other for nearly thirty minutes before Hermione felt she knew enough. For the moment.
"We can practice more later," she allowed.
Harry picked up the narrative, telling how Lupin had been following him and Snape for over a week.
"I don't know why he was so concerned about me and
Severus," Harry said.
Hermione and Ron looked uncomfortably at one another.
"I guess we have some confessions, too," Ron said carefully.
"Yes," Hermione picked up, "we, uh, thought you and Snape's problems were escalating. We tried to talk to you, but you wouldn't listen. So we went to Professor Lupin."
"We just asked him to be sure Snape didn't hurt you or
anything," Ron shrugged.
Harry nodded.
"Makes sense, I guess I'd do the same if it had been
one of you."
He finished detailing Lupin's accusations and then healing Snape of most of his hexes. Ron was particularly upset Lupin thought there was something sexual going on.
"As if you'd be interested in a guy, much less him," he sniffed.
Harry made a mental note not to explain his enjoyment of hugs and comfort. He knew Hermione would understand right off, but he wasn't up to convincing Ron. He reflected it might seem a little perverse if you considered it as Ron did. Of course, if you looked at it as a protective, paternal/maternal comfort, it might sell. He silently bet Dumbledore would understand completely.
"Harry?" Hermione touched his arm.
"Sorry, thinking again," he gave a contrite smile. He told them about Saturday's tea and Snape's anger. Ron nodded grimly, as if the return to anger validated his belief Snape was evil. Hermione rolled her eyes yet again at the thick-headedness.
"So today I went to visit and ended up helping Severus
with lunch," he neglected the personal parts.
Do you know why Professor Lupin left so quickly?" Ron interrupted."
"He nearly ran us over getting out of the gates and apparated as soon as he was able, Hermione finished.
"That's because of what happened after lunch," Harry said. He launched into Snape's unwanted nap, the various sneak-o-scopes and protectants going off as well as Dobby going berserk. He related what Snape had done and what happened when Dumbledore and Lupin had arrived.
"So that's why the owls were acting so weird," Hermione mused and quickly filled Harry in on the afternoon flight through the great hall.
"I've never seen old Dumbledore move so fast!" Ron added.
"I guess he knew one of the guard wards had been cut," Harry said.
"Anyway, he sent Lupin to get a healer from Hogsmeade and
able to!" Harry smiled warmly,
"I hated not being able to tell you about Snape and ask for
your help. Especially trying to decide who besides Malfoy
and Pomfrey are cursing him."
Ron opened his mouth about to retort when they saw Lupin appear on the path with another man carrying a bag on his shoulder. He was younger than Lupin and stepped quickly behind the Professor. The three friends watched them hurry off to the castle.
"That must be the doctor from Hogsmeade," murmured Hermione.