Summary: It's Harry's third year and he defeated Voldemort, for real, in his second year… Voldemort had only made one horcrux, the diary, which he destroyed and then Harry met up with Voldemort during the summer and killed him. Now he's back at school. The prisoner Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban, and people are behaving strange around Harry. Even more strangely is the way his feared Potions master is treating him. The story is clearly AU, despite some similarities. Sorry if the summary is bad…

Harry hadn't slept well in over two weeks. He didn't even know the cause of his insomnia. What could possibly interrupt his thoughts, when school was going well and Voldemort had been defeated? He didn't know, but he wished that it would stop.

He woke up at three in the morning the Monday of insomniatic week three. By Tuesday night he could barely think because of his exhaustion. He knew that his schoolwork had begun to suffer from his constant tiredness, and it wasn't a comforting realization. That was why after dinner on Tuesday he found himself reluctantly sitting down at a table in the far corner of the Common Room and pulling a piece of parchment towards him, beginning a Potions essay that was due the next morning.

Harry woke up some hours later, finding his face against a piece of parchment. Great, he thought, sitting up slowly and rubbing the back of his neck. Bloody brilliant. He stretched out slowly, trying to not avail to rid himself of his various cricks and pains . He 'd have to remember that wasn't the best sleeping arrangement.

Harry looked back at his Potions essay… Or w what there was of it. Snape had assigned four feet of parchment, and Harry found himself looking at a miserable paragraph and a half. He let out a groan. Snape was going to have a field day.

He glanced at the last sentence of his so called essay, only to be interrupted by the sound of a small sniff behind him. Having thought he was along in the Common Room, it startled him a bit. He glanced at the clock on the wall and was surprised to see that it was seven a.m. He sighed. He'd be working through breakfast in order to get this done in time for Potions class first period, and even ten he couldn't hope for a good grade… But if he finished it, at least he could avoid a detention.

Just as Harry was setting his quill to his parchment again, he heard it- the same sniffle he'd heard earlier, followed his time by a muffled sob. Harry frowned, knowing full well that whomever was crying in the corner had likely come down when he was asleep, hoping for some peace and quiet. Yet now that he was awake, how was he supposed to ignore them?

He frowned and turned to see who it was, and upon recognizing a familiar head of bushy brown hair, he knew that ignoring the crying was definitely not an option. He slipped his incomplete Potions essay into his bag and made his way over to her in three strides.

"Hermione?" he asked quietly, placing his hand on her shoulder. She shuddered at the touch before looking up to see Harry, and then she bit her lip at the realization of how she'd reacted.

"Hey, Harry," she said, wiping away her tears with the sleeve of her arm and attempting to regain her composure.

"Hermione, what's wrong?"

"Nothing."

Harry snorted at the inadequate response and raised a disbelieving brow.

"Okay, something," she admitted, "But I don't want to get into it right now."

"Come on, Hermione!"

"I don't want to talk about it!"

Harry sighed. He felt like that, too, sometimes. But he felt all too helpless looking at her when she was so clearly upset and not being able to figure out why. "I won't make you talk about it, Hermione. I just want to know."

She looked at him as if tempted by the offer, and then shook her head, "You're going to want to talk about it."

"I won't, I swear. Pinky promise," Harry said, feeling stupid that he had to resort to such childish means at gaining her trust. He relaxed again when she gave him a grateful smile.

"Fine, but the second I tell you, we talk about something else, okay?" she asked.

"Deal," he said, interlocking pinkies with her and feeling idiotic at the same time. When they were done, he stood back expectantly and waited.

"I broke up with Ron," she said softly.

"What?" Whatever Harry had been expecting, that wasn't it. She and Ron had only been going out for a month and a half, but they had both seemed more than happy at the situation. He couldn't believe that she had just broken up with him, and felt a need to demand why… Then he remembered his promise to her, and knew that he'd have to keep his mouth shut, at least for the time being. Instead, he racked around in his brain for something else to speak of. At last he said, "Quidditch."

She looked at him in surprise at the sudden change in topics, but seemed more than a little grateful. She tried to find a way to connect to what he had just said before remembering that November began in four days time and Quidditch would be the only other thing on her friend's one-track mind. "That's right, you have your match against Hufflepuff next week."

He nodded, but found that he was really too distracted to carry on a conversation about that subject. Besides, Hermione could have cared less about Quidditch, if truth be told. He was spared the necessity of coming up with another topic of conversation, however, by the door to the boys' dormitory opening up. He heard Hermione's sharp intake of breath beside him as both of their eyes snapped upwards automatically, only to be met with the site of a rather disheveled looking Neville.

Hermione sighed beside him, and Harry realized that she had thought it would be Ron. He was glad for her sake that it wasn't this time, as she clearly needed to gather her thoughts, but he knew that as it was about time for breakfast, soon it would be Ron. He just hoped that his best mate wouldn't be angry when he discovered what Harry was about to say. "Hermione, you want to go down to the library?"

She looked up in surprise, giving a blank reply, "The library?"

Of course, it was the last place Harry would ever want to go in any normal circumstances, but it was the only place he could think that Ron wouldn't find them. He didn't want Ron to think he was taking sides in this agreement, as he hadn't enough information to be anything but neutral, but what he did know was that Hermione needed the support of a friend right now. No doubt that Ron would, too, but he had a whole slew of friends other than Harry that he could talk to, and Hermione had never really made many friends. Not that Harry wouldn't be at Ron's side later that day, but honestly, he couldn't be two places at once and he knew that for right now, his place was with Hermione.

By way of explanation to her, he said only, "I have homework to finish and I daresay you can find something to do."

She smiled gratefully and they both left the Common Room. Harry knew that Hermione was simply thankful at the suggestion, and he really did need to get his homework done, so it worked out okay. However, as soon as they were in the quiet confines of Hermione's undeniable sanctuary, Harry found it impossible to concentrate on his studies. All he could think of was how upset Ron was likely to be, and he was trying to figure out what he could say to his read headed friend to comfort him. More than that, Harry wondered if it was possible that Ron would be mad at him for comforting Hermione this morning. He was sure that he hadn't done anything wrong, but Ron was known to be irrational when he was hurt or upset, and Harry feared that he would sense betrayal in Harry's actions.

Harry barely heard the warning bell that signaled first period would begin in five minutes. Luckily Hermione did, taking Harry by surprise as she jumped up and grabbed his arm. "Let's go." He followed her into the corridor, watching nervously as she wrung her hands.

"I don't know how I'm going to do this," she said, looking at him, "I can't go down to lunch with you, obviously.."

"What are you talking about?" Harry halted in the hallway, staring at her, "Of course you're coming to lunch!"

"But, Ron…"

Harry cut her off impatiently, "If Ron as a problem with it, I can assure you that he'll leave," Harry said, "and if he doesn't, I'll sit between you. You can't just not eat, Hermione, and you've already missed breakfast."

She sighed in resignation and set off wordlessly towards Potions once more. Harry followed half a step behind, realizing that was the best answer he was likely to get out of her right now. He'd press her later that day, and no matter how angry Ron was at Hermione or how much Hermione wanted to avoid the situation, he would make sure that she didn't starve herself. That just wasn't an option.

Harry couldn't force himself to pay attention in Potions that day. Oddly enough, Ron had seemed perfectly normal when he'd entered the classroom, and somehow that worried Harry more than if Ron had been completely lost looking. It just wasn't right for Ron to act like this. Harry was used to his friend throwing mad temper tantrums or something when he was upset… Was Ron not upset about this? Harry found it hard to believe.

He realized he hadn't been paying an ounce of attention to what Snape had been saying to them about Boomslang skin and winced. He was sure that he'd regret it later. Snape always seemed to know the parts of his lectures that Harry missed and was pretty much guaranteed to put it on his quizzes. Normally Harry would have no problem borrowing Hermione's notes to study, but looking over at her, he realized that she hadn't been taking any. What the heck? With Ron seemingly fine and Hermione nearing an emotional breakdown, he felt like he'd stepped into some kind of twilight zone.

That was before Snape had begun to come around for their essays. His apprehension brought him crashing back to the stark reality of his situation. Snape had asked for four feet, and Harry had a measly foot and a half. He was dead and he knew it. He placed the parchment on his desk and waited for the explosion.

Snape's face was annoyingly close to Harry's. He could feel the man's hot breath on his cheeks and smell the acidic scent of his mouth. When he spoke, it was in an icy whisper that sent a chill up Harry's spine. "A bit short, Potter."

Harry let out a breath he hadn't even realized he was holding. There wasn't even an insult in there about him being lazy or thickheaded. "My apologies, Professor." He never would have managed such a level tone on a normal day, as his speech when addressing his teacher before now had almost always been defiant, but he didn't think it wise to push his luck as he was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"Care to explain?" the voice was as icy as ever, but Harry found himself amazed nonetheless. Never had Snape given him the opportunity to explain himself before… Now presented with the option, however, Harry found that he couldn't explain. His eyes darted to Hermione and then to Ron, and he knew that neither of them would appreciate having their personal lives spewed forth in front of the whole class. He'd just have to suck it up and take whatever Snape doled out to him.

"No, thank you," he said, and then, realizing Snape might think he was being flippant, he added, "It's a long story."

As Snape stood up from his bent over position, Harry's eyes widened. Had he really gotten off that easily? Then Snape looked back at him with his cold black eyes, and he realized that the worst was yet to come. "Stay after class, Potter."

Harry spent the rest of the period dreading what Snape would say to him once class let out, but grateful at the same time that Snape hadn't addressed him in front of the entire class as he usually did. After class, he saw Ron and Hermione hanging back, both of them carefully avoiding the other's eyes and staying away from each other, but not so much that they wouldn't wait for Harry together. Harry felt a surge of relief which was quickly diminished as Snape strode from the store cupboard he had momentarily stepped into and his black eyes snapped together at the sight of Harry's friends standing right outside the doorway.

"Weasley! Granger!" he growled, his tone quite frightening, "I believe you both have a class to be getting along to. I daresay Potter is perfectly capable of escorting himself when we are through talking."

The two teens nodded obediently and set off down the chamber as fast as they could. Neither of them dared to upset Snape further by even attempting to hang around, for fear that he would take out his anger at them on Harry.

Harry, for his part, hadn't moved from his seat since class had let out and now found himself gripping his chair rather nervously. He felt himself a baby for doing so- did he honestly think Snape was going to hit him or something?- but couldn't bring himself to stop, either. Not that Snape seemed to notice.

"Potter, follow me to my office," the man commanded.

Harry didn't think to disobey, grabbing his backpack and trudging grudgingly behind his professor. It was only when he was in the corridor and noticing that the other students had all but dissipated that a new fear seized him. "Sir? I have class in, like, five minutes. Professor McGonagall will kill me if I'm late."

Snape turned around to look at the boy, his eyes flashing dangerously. "I am well aware, Potter."

Harry sighed as the man continued his route. Well, if that wasn't a less than adequate response, he thought with irritation. The man could at least have said he'd give Harry a pass or something when they were through talking. That would have lessened Harry's nerves about McGonagall. But, of course, that wasn't in his nature.

Harry's apprehension only built as he stepped inside Snape's office. The room was cold and dimly lit, and the wall was lined with jars of dead animals and strange plants suspended in various potions. Disgusted, Harry tore his eyes from the site and turned instead to the man's room, shuddering at the icy décor. He was more than glad when Snape strode across the room and lit a fire in the fireplace, only to be surprised once more as Snape threw into the flames what Harry immediately recognized as floo powder.

"McGonagall!" Snape spat, staring at the flames, "I'd like a word!"

McGonagall came a moment later, seeming less than pleased at the Potion's master. "Really, Severus. I have a class about to start, as you well know! Could this not have waited?

"No," Severus replied coolly, "It couldn't." As he spoke his next words, he indicated to Harry, "He and I have a situation that needs to be dealt with… I'm pretty sure that it would not do to let this incident go on much longer, and I'm quite adamant when I say that Potter can not wait until this evening to have it addressed. How important is the lesson you're about to teach?"

Harry looked at Snape in surprise. He didn't know what the man was going on about. Surely not finishing his Potion's essay wasn't as important as all that? He frowned, but decided it wise not to get into it. Anyway, he was pretty much positive that McGonagall wouldn't let Snape excuse Harry from her class.

"Every lesson I give is important, Snape!" she hissed, and Harry allowed himself a smile, thinking that he'd won. He was wrong. "However, if you insist on speaking to the boy now, I will talk him through what he missed later this evening."

Harry looked appalled as Snape gave a satisfied nod. What was happening here? When had he lost all control of the situation? How could McGonagall be giving him a detention- for that was what he considered it- when he hadn't done anything wrong in front of her? Harry didn't allow himself to dwell on it, though. If Snape was angry, as he obviously was, then Harry had much more important things to worry about.

When McGonagall left, Harry turned apprehensively to Snape, ready to defend himself against whatever insults the older man was ready to hurl at him, but they didn't come. Snape merely peered at him for a moment before saying, "I've just bought you a chunk of time, Mr. Potter, which I assume will be adequate for you to tell me your so called long story."

Harry looked at Snape for a moment as if the man had grown two heads, but seeing as he didn't look like he was joking, Harry nodded. Clearly, he'd have to speak to the man or else risk getting in serious trouble. He paced for a moment, and was surprised when Snape made no move to stop him. Finally, he found his voice.

"I fell asleep doing my homework," Harry began, but stopped when he heard Snape snort. He looked at the professor expectantly.

"That was your 'long story'?" Snape snapped.

"If you'd given me a chance to finish!" Harry retorted hotly, "I had just started."

Snape's voice, when he chose to reply, was remarkably calm, "When a person chooses to begin a tale, Potter, they usually do so from the beginning." Seeing Harry's confused look, he added, "The story might make more sense if I knew what possessed you to fall asleep doing homework. I'm quite sure that particular ailment has never plagued you before now."

Harry didn't miss Snape's sarcasm at the end of that, but chose to ignore it. He was thinking about what Snape had said about starting the story from the beginning. It seemed obvious now that explaining his insomnia might be prudent, but before it had seemed like he would be giving away too much, and quite possibly boring the man with his details. Now, though, he realized that if he was to keep Snape's patience for long, he'd have to begin his story, as the man had said, at the beginning.

"I haven't been sleeping well for about two weeks," Harry began again, wrapping his arms around his chest as though to keep the words from coming out, to no avail. He didn't know why he wanted to keep such secrets, but he did. "I don't know what's been keeping me up. I've never had too much trouble sleeping before now… Anyway, I guess it's started to take its tole on me. I'm exhausted, practically all the time. I can tell my schoolwork is getting shoddy, and I hear myself getting short with people, but it's like I can't help it. When those thoughts hit me, it's even harder to sleep, like some sort of never-ending cycle that's driving me someplace I don't want to go. And even when I manage to fall asleep, I don't stay that way… Like Monday, I woke up at three in the morning and couldn't get back to bed." He looked up at his professor to see if the man seemed to want to interrupt, but Snape, who was leaning casually against his desk, said nothing, and Harry continued.

"Naturally, I was exhausted yesterday. After dinner last night all I wanted was to curl up in my bed and get to sleep, but I had tons of homework which I'd barely made a dent in, and I knew that if I was going to avoid getting detentions from now until Christmas, I'd have to suck it up." Harry heard Snape snort, but chose to ignore it. Now that he was talking, he couldn't bring himself to stop. He figured that it was probably his lack of sleep that was causing him to let down his guard and open up to Snape, of all people, but at the moment he didn't care.

"I started your essay first. I hadn't even touched it, my lack of sleep putting me in no mood to think about my wor- er, most challenging- subject, and as I have Potions first period I thought it would be wise to get it over with right off the bat. Next thing I knew, it was morning. I'd written barely more than a paragraph."

He stopped, hoping against all odds that would be enough information for his professor. After all, he'd babbled on for quite a while now, definitely attaining his 'long story' status. Although he had admittedly had little trouble speaking to his professor thus far, he wasn't keen on speaking of Ron and Hermione's life if he could help it. No such luck.

"Clearly, you know nothing about telling a story, Mr. Potter. Before you began at what was not the beginning and now you're ending at what is not the end. In fact, if I'm following correctly, Mr. Potter, we have just reached what you had previously called the beginning of your story. Care to enlighten me on the rest?"

Harry winced when he realized that he hadn't gotten out of finishing. Snape would know right off the bat if he was lying, too, as Harry knew full well. His professor had an uncanny way of knowing when he was being deceived.

"It wasn't that late in the morning," Harry said reluctantly, "and I thought I could still get the essay done, if I worked through breakfast. I knew I wouldn't do a good job, mind you, but I figured I could avoid any real trouble. That was, until I heard crying behind me. When I saw that it was Hermione who was crying, I stopped caring about the essay altogether with. I was already certain to get bad marks on it, and I'd take a million detentions before I'd let Hermione cry and not do anything about it!" He said the last a bit more defiantly than he'd hoped, and he paused a moment to allow himself to calm down before continuing.

"When I finally got Hermione to talk to me, she said that she'd broken up with Ron. I didn't expect it, and I wanted to ask about it, but I'd promised her before she said anything that I wouldn't make her talk." Looking back, it had been a kind of doltish thing to promise, but it had seemed like he'd had no choice at the time. "I took her to the library afterwards, knowing that she needed to get out of the house before Ron got up for breakfast and also knowing it was the least likely place he'd wind up finding her. Plus, I still figured that I'd have a go at my essay… But it was pretty much impossible to concentrate at that point."

Miracle of miracles, Snape nodded at Harry as though he accepted the explanation. Harry was beginning to look at the man as though he were some new species that Harry had never seen before, and indeed that was how Harry was feeling, to an extent. Who was this man and what had he done with Professor Snape.

"Finish your homework," Snape commanded, pointing to a chair across his desk that he meant for Harry to occupy, "Unless you really do want detentions from now until Christmas."

Harry obediently complied, not allowing himself to wonder about the professor as he opened his bag and began to work on his various essays. He barely noticed time going by as he moved swiftly from one assignment to another and was surprised to hear the bell ringing that signified the end of second period. He looked up at his professor, wondering if he'd be allowed to go now or if Snape meant to get him out of another class.

"During your study period, check with Professor McGonagall to see what time she wants you to be in her office tonight, and then come here. No dilly dallying," Snape commanded, and Harry knew that he was dismissed… For now. He couldn't help but worry about what his study period held in store for him.