By Ebbtide Cheque
DISCLAIMER: First of all, I do not have any copyright or personal ownership of the Harry Potter Universe. I simply find it fascinating and wish to play with the characters in a story of my own. I'll only romp with them - maybe whump a few - but I promise not to use this to make any money, etc, etc. J.K. Rowlings has sole ownership of the Harry Potter ...stuff.
AUTHOR NOTE -- This is totally A.U.
The dungeon stones were warmed from the intense heat wave outside the castle. Professor Severus Snape stalked down the hall in a black t-shirt and shorts, it being much to hot for his usual cloak and robe. His lips were pressed together in a thin line and anger radiated from him in waves. Although his mouth never seemed to move, a constant stream of curses echoed off the walls around him. He repeated a single word after each, Potter.
It took him mere minutes to reach the Headmaster's office at the brisk pace he kept. Once there he glared daggers into the gargoyles stone eyes and spat out the password.
The stairway opened for him with a grind, and he stepped on for the short ride up to Dumbledore's office. The door banged off the wall from the force of his push when he barged in.
"Headmaster, I demand an explanation!" There was no civility in Snape's tone.
Professor Dumbledore looked over his glasses at the intruding teacher. He didn't say anything right away, but instead motioned for Snape to have a seat and then, once Snape had complied, the old man held out a bowl of sweets.
"Would you like some?" He asked.
Snape ground his teeth in impatience and merely shook his head. He did not trust himself to speak - too many unforgivable words were running through his mind and, no matter how erksome Dumbledore could be, the man did not deserve that.
The Headmaster relaxed back into his chair and studied the younger man before him. "I must say that I did not expect to see you out of the dungeons this summer...with the heat wave out-."
Snape cut the man off with an abrupt wave of his arm. "It's this infernal heat wave that I have come to speak with you about. I know that it is your doing and I am at my wits end! The dungeons are no longer a safe retreat for me, the heat has penetrated them as well. You must turn away this weather. What is it all for, anyway?" He demanded, shooting the older man a dangerous look.
Dumbledore sighed heavily and slumped a little, a sad light appeared in his eyes. "I did not mean to cause you so much discomfort, my friend." He said finally. "However, it came to my attention this last school year that Hogwarts is unneccessarily rainy, and that this type of weather pattern makes students prone to meloncholy."
"That may be true." Snape growled. "But it is summer, Headmaster. Why must you keep it up now."
"Why, for Harry of course. He has stayed on this summer to prepare for the seventh year NEWT exams. I expect you did not know he was still here - it has been a long time since you were out of your dungeons." The Headmaster said.
Snape tilted his head to one side as he thought this through. "So, Potter is here, is he?" He muttered under his breath.
It had been the welps fault, he thought victoriously. Everything could be traced back to the actions of the Infernal-Boy-Who-Continued-To-Cause-Problems. Harry Potter.
"Is he being tutored by McGonagall?" Snape asked curiously.
He knew it was not uncommon for failing students to stay behind the summer before their seventh year, but he did not know that Potter was so badly off in any of his classes. Save potions, of course. That boy could not spot a decent potion if he had it forced down his throat!
"No, I am tutoring him. I had meant to speak with you this week about teaching him some practical potions while he is here."
Snape growled at the implications. "No."
He held the Headmaster's gaze, not giving an inch.
Harry Potter sat in the Gryffindor common room studying his transfiguration text book. His mind kept going back to the day of summer leave.
Harry said goodbye to his two best friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, at the train station and then warily made his way to the parking lot. He instantly spotted his Uncle's vehicle and readjusted his shoulder bag before he walked over to it. His Aunt Petunia sat in the driver's seat, an angry sneer twisting her face.
"Get in boy! What are you waiting for?" She called through the open window. Her shrill voice caused people passing by to stare. She glared back at them. "Now look what you've done. They see you for the freak you are - everyone's looking!"
Harry hurriedly put his things in the back and got in, buckling up.
"You should thank me for coming instead of your Uncle. You know how he gets when you do things."
Harry barely stopped himself from commenting that it was her that everyone had been starring at, not him.
"Thank you for picking me up, Aunt Petunia." He said obediently.
A half an hour later they pulled up to the unremarkable house of 4 Privet Drive and Harry carried his things inside and up the stairs to his room. Hedgewig was staying with Ron that summer so that she could get plenty of fresh food and exercise.
After setlling in, Harry reluctantly went downstairs to start on the list of chores that his Aunt would have ready. On the way down he passed Dudley who was coming up the stairs. The older boy laughed evilly and with a great push, sent Harry tumbling down the stairs.
"See what you get for coming back, Freak!" Dudley whispered fiercly. "Should've stayed with the rest of your kind."
Harry stood up and brushed himself off - a pange of loneliness burned his eyes and he shook his head to stop the tears from pooling. He missed his friends so much and it was only the first day of leave. He knew that more of the same treatment was all he had to look forward to, worse once his Uncle got home from work.
It was late that evening when Uncle Vernon arrived. Harry had the table set and dinner ready to be served when the large, mean man came in the front door.
"Good evening, Darling." Aunt Petunia gushed as she sloppily kissed her husband. "How was your work today?"
He muttered something gruffly that Harry could not - and made no effort to - hear.
"No thanks to the Freak."
That, Harry heard. He glanced quickly over to his Uncle and waited for more insults to come, but Vernon had sat down with his back to the kitchen area.
"I expected a raise, but then I got a call from some of those Freaks and the raise went to someone else."
Harry knew that his Uncle must be reffering to a Wizard or Witch, but the only ones he knew with telephone access and the ability to use the device, was the Weasley family. He wanted to ask who had called and why, but dared not. He could not afford to draw any more attention from his irrate Uncle. Still, he kept a sharp ear on the table conversation as he started cleaning the kitchen up.
"Why would they call you at work, dear?" Aunt Petunia asked in a low tone. She leaned forward and her eyes kept twitching left and then right as if she expected a Wizard to suddenly appear. "Was it...HIM."
Harry glanced up at that suspicious referrence. His Aunt's long face was void of color and her hands were shaking slightly.
Uncle Vernon shook his head firmly. "No. It was some Freak called Lucius..." He hesitated a moment as if trying to remember. "Malfoy."
Dudley cried out in surprise when the glass that Harry had been drying fell to the floor and splintered into a million pieces.
The memory of that broken glass scattered across the floor remained fixed in his mind's eye as Harry tried to get his emotions under control. An unwanted tear slid down his cheek, but he didn't notice.
A Death Eater - Lucius Malfoy - had come to number 4 Privet Drive that night...only Harry had survived. The sound of a door being blasted off it's hinges followed by the dying screams of his Aunt had alerted him to the danger he had been in. There hadn't been enough time to get to Uncle Vernon or Dudley. It had been over so fast.
Harry's hands were white from the intense grip on the handle of his wand. Footsteps sounded up the stairs and a quiet muttering in Latin, then the masked, robed figure with flowing white-blonde hair had appeared in his doorway.
The teenage boy raised his wand. "Expel-."
Harry felt himself falling before he had even finished the spell.
At the very moment that Harry thought his life was over, Dumbledore had appeared beside him and the pull of a portkey had taken over his senses.
That had been two days before. Two days after summer break and everything he had ever known no longer existed. His family - however dysfunctional and small it may have been - was gone. Another tear followed the first and he sniffled away the urge to sob. Harry shook his head and wiped at his eyes. He would not be so weak; he had survived much worse than this in his life.
He stood, trying to focus his mind on anything other than the overwhelming feeling of loss. For some reason, over the past day he had become convinced that if they had lived the Dursley's would have eventually grown fond of him. This caused him to regret their deaths even more. Everyone he ever cared for died, except Remus Lupin, but he was never around anymore...always off on secret order missions.
"Harry, I thought I might find you up here. Why don't you come down to lunch, there is something that I would like to discuss with you."
Harry jerked around at the unexpected sound of Dumbledore's voice. Instead of finding the Headmaster at the common room door, he saw a strange bird-like patronus glowing in midair.
The patronus nodded to him politely before flying off at an incredible speed. Harry stared at the place it had been in shock. He had not known that a patronus could be used to send messages. He finally decided that it worked for Dumbledore because he was such a powerful wizard.
He grabbed up his robe from where he had lain it on the back of the couch and threw it on as he hurried past the portrait.
"Have a good lunch, Dear." The Fat Lady said.
Harry stopped short - the term "dear" had been a special favorite of his Aunt's and hearing a woman's voice saying it brought a flood of memories through his mind. He saw his Aunt standing at the top of the stairs shouting orders down to him; he heard her welcoming home his Uncle; he felt one of her rare caresses as she congratulated him for a job well done when he had impressed the visiting business man with his cooking.
Harry touched the back of his head, where she had touched him. For a brief moment he almost felt like she was still there, that somehow he could still contact her, then the feeling was gone and bitter emptiness was all he had left.
"I am so sorry." He whispered into the still air of the deserted hallway. "It's my fault that you're dead."
The sound of the portrait door closing brought him back to the present and Harry hurried down to the Great Hall where he knew Dumbledore would be waiting for him, hopefully with some news on the Death Eater's movements.
When he entered the Great Hall, Harry was surprised to see Professor Snape sitting beside Dumbledore with an angry sneer firmly fixed in place. Harry felt his fists clench at the sight of the man's black clothing. They reminded him of the Death Eater uniform Lucius wore that night. With the unusual warmth of this summer, he had seen little of the disagreeable man.
"You wanted to speak with me, sir?" Harry asked Dumbledore once he reached the head table.
The old man nodded. "Yes, Harry, my boy, take a seat here." He motioned to the chair between himself and Snape. "And then we'll let the house elves serve us before we do anything else."
Harry reluctantly sat in the offered place, he unconsciously leaned a little more towards the Headmaster, wanting to stay as far away from the Professor as possible.
He had barely sat down, when suddenly plates laden with luscious food appeared in front of them. The plate directly in front of Harry had a serving of something that he had never seen before, but it looked very good so he started eating, forgetting for a moment that Snape was present.
"You have the most deplorable eating habits, Potter."
Harry paused. "Excuse me?"
Snape pointed to a small fork that Harry hadn't noticed. "That is what you are suppose to eat it with, not your fingers!"
The teenage boy looked down at the tiny buscuit like morsel that he held between his thumb and forefinger. He didn't see how anyone could eat it with a fork, the crust seemed much too flakey, like it would fall apart if someone tried.
"I'll eat it however I want, thank you." He sniped back. It felt good to vent for a change, even if it was over something so trivial.
There was a growl from Snape at this impertinence, but Harry didn't look over to see the expression on the older man's face.
"Now, now, gentlemen." The Headmaster interrupted before house points could be lost. "I don't think that this is very advantageous to us, considering what we are here to talk about."
"What would that be?" Harry asked curiously.
"Severus has offered to tutor you in potions for a few hours everyday since you are here for the summer." Dumbledore answered nonchalantly.
Harry's mouth dropped open at this announcement. "He what?"
His heart sank even lower as he realized that things could, in fact, always get worse.
"Now, Potter, I expect you to pay close attention to everything I say. Take notes, if you think that you need to, but do not interrupt me when I am speaking and do not - yes, what?" Snape demanded impatiently.
Harry lowered his hand. "What exactly will you be teaching me? Applied potions? Basic formula?" He hoped it wasn't the latter.
"I will assess your individual weaknessess and we will improve on those areas." Snape responded.
"Okay, what about Occlumancy?" Harry winced as he thought of the pensieve disaster the year before.
Snape smiled in a predatory manner causing the boy to shiver. "Are you asking for me to teach you?"
Harry quickly shook his head quickly. He took a step backward. "No, s-sir."
"Good, becuase not even the Headmaster with all of his considerable skills could not persuade me to do so."
Harry exhaled in relief. He looked around the room and his gaze fell on a cauldron that had been set out with supplies evenly lined on either side.
"What will we start on?"
To his surprise, Harry found himself looking forward to doing something that wouldn't remind him of the Dursleys. Anything to get him thinking about other things would be a welcomed break for the Boy-Who-lived.
Snape led the way over to the table that the cauldron was set up on. Harry watched with rapt attention as the older man explained every step carefully as he began a simple wart removal potion.
"Since the room temperature is much hotter than normal, due to this infernal heatwave, the fire must be doused five minutes ealier than the directions demand." Snape said.
Hours passed as Harry learned more about the world of potions. It obsorbed him completely and before he knew it, dinner time arrived. Even Professor Snape seemed surprised that time had possed so quickly.
"Until tomorrow, Potter." He said curtly, the sneer firmly fixed in place.
Harry ran up to the tower to change out of his potion stained clothing before going down to dinner. During the meal, he found occasion to ask Snape more questions about the things that he had learned that day, and that night he went to bed with a contented sigh.
"Professor, do muggles become ghosts when they die?"
Snape looked up sharply. Harry sat a few feet away stirring a pot of honeybee eggs as they simmered, his face a mask of concentration. Snape was not even sure if the boy was aware he had voiced the question aloud. After a brief hesitation, he answered honestly.
"I am unsure, Potter. To my knowledge, one must be magical to a significant extent before such a transition can be succesfully achieved at death. No, I do not think that they can." He hesitated again, before pressing on. "I have heard of a muggle heaven where their dead are suppose to live for eternity. Although, I cannot verify the validity of that either. Honestly, I am unsure where muggles go when they are dead."
He waited, studying the boy, to see if there would be any enlightening confession after such a strange question. Harry looked thoughtful for a few seconds, then his face fell and a strange emptiness filled his green eyes.
"Do you wish to talk about it?" Snape asked, his silky voice non-judgemental.
He had seen too much death in his life, and he recognized the signs of grief. A picture of Lily Potter flashed through his mind. Harry shifted uncomfortably on his seat.
"No, that's okay. It's not a big deal, I can handle it myself." The boy's reply was filled with false bravado.
Snape narrowed his eyes at this refusal. Deep in his heart, the potions master felt a stab of pain at the distrust he saw in the teenager's expression. Knowing that he had done nothing to earn trust did little to soften the blow to his pride.
"Fine." He spat out harshly.
Let the little welp deal with it on his own! It's not as if Potter cared about anyone, anyways. The grief was probably over a lost pet - nothing so dramatic as another human. The spoiled brat could just go mope about in his little tower, for all the potion's master cared.
"We are finished for the day." Snape said, taking the stirring spoon out of Harry's hands. "Goodday, Potter."
Harry shot him a stunned look, but did not protest when Snape propelled him forcefully towards the classroom door.
Harry stared at the window pane in front of him. Each breath left a small fog on the glass since the summer heat of just days ago had disipated without warning. A large gray cloud covered the sun, rain threatened to follow the ominous rumblings of a nearby storm. Harry rested his head on his arm and tried not to think about his "family". It wasn't working.
Aunt Petunia smoothed the non-existent wrinkles on her pink dress and tidied her brunette curles.
"Come down, Dear, it is almost time for the show to start. We do not want to be late." She called up the flight of stairs.
On the second floor the heavy footsteps of Uncle Vernon stomped from the main bedroom to the stairs and then he appeared coming down them. When he reached the front door, Petunia gave him a loving peck on the cheek as she straightened his bow tie. They left arm in arm.
Harry had watched the exchange unseen from the living room. Once they were gone he sank into one of the plush chairs, unable to contain the emotions the display had triggered in him. He wished for the hundreth time that he had known his parents. Harry sighed heavily; he didn't even know if they ever really loved each other. A few moving pictures and the Prophecy were all he had left of his parents. Remus had talked of them a number of times, but never for long or in great detail. The subject was hurtful still for the werewolve.
Harry wondered if his mother was anything like Aunt Petunia. The woman, although arrogant and controlling, could show love to those that she cared about. Harry had seen Dudley hugged and smothered in motherly kisses more times than he could count. There was so much love that these muggles had to offer, the Boy-Who-Lived only wanted a little.
Now he never would know what it could have been like. Now he would have to live with the fact that they were killed by his enemies. No matter how cruel or insensitive they could be, nobody deserved to die by the hands of a Death Eater. Harry shuddered and rolled away from the window.
Outside the sky gave way to tears and the parched grass looked up hungrily into the darkening light.
Harry trudged down to the dungeons the next afternoon arriving just in time for his scheduled lessons. After the cold dismissal two days before, he had half expected Snape to call the whole thing off. Then he had received a written note from the potion's master with the time and date of his next lesson.
"Good evening, sir." He greeted the teacher civially.
He did not want to get sent away early today. Depression weighed to heavy on his heart and he knew that potions would distract him enough for it to lift. Possibly, it was the only thing that could. Maybe that had been Dumbledore's plan all along, he mused silently.
"You will start on a skin purifying potion, Potter." Snape said, handing the boy a large instruction book. "You will do it alone today."
Harry took the heavy book and sat it on the table. Carefully, he got out all of the ingredients that he would need. The main potion ingredient required a familiar one hour and fifty-five minutes of heating before the rest could be added. They waited the time away in silence, Harry focused on the time and Snape grading papers at a nearby desk. Once the time was up, the boy reached for the first set of three ingredients that would be sifted in together.
"Isn't this the same as the wart removal?" He asked, his green eyes skimming across the pile of familiar ingredients.
"No. It is not! If you had paid any attention last time, you would know that." Snape snapped.
Harry hung his head, stung by the Professor's harsh words. He had hoped that they would make it through this lesson until the end, now it didn't look like that was going to happen.
"I'm sorry, sir. I - I must've forgotten." He mumbled the apology. "It won't happen again."
Snape huffed impatiently. "See that it doesn't, Potter. Your family may accept partial effort, but I do not."
The older man turned away then to pick up the potions instructions. Harry used that moment of privacy to mask the hurt that the referrence to his "family" had brought to the surface. More memories - these ones less than sunshine-and-roses - flashed through his mind.
"Get the work done, Freak! Vernon's friends will be here soon and I want the place spotless." Aunt Petunia's grating voice shrieked from the living room.
A seven-year-old Harry bent over the floor, scrubbing until the tiles shown like new. He had been working since dawn to make sure every inch of the downstairs was clean for the expected arrival of Vernon's friends. It was a wonder to the small boy that his Uncle had any friends at all. He definently didn't see anything friendly about the mean man.
"Hurry up, Freak!"
Harry scrubbed harder.
"Did you hear a word I just said, Potter, or were you too busy day-dreaming again?" Professor Snape spit out the question.
Harry stumbled into a desk as his mind snapped back to the present.
"Yes - No - I'm sorry." The words tumbled out of his mouth. For one aweful moment he had thought it was his Uncle talking. This seemed silly now and he had to stop himself from groaning, this was not working out well at all.
Harry blushed at the penetrating stare that Snape fixed him with. Onxy eyes studied green. Finally, Snape shook his head.
"I doubt if you will get anything substantial done today. Go back to the tower, if you cannot get this under control, I'm afraid I will have to suspend lessons indefinently.
"Sir, I'll try harder, really I will - it won't happen again, I promise." Harry begged. He did not want to go back to the lonely tower.
"I will not have my time wasted, Potter!" The Potions Master threw his arm out, black robes flapping, and pointed to the door. "Out!"
Harry's shoulder's slumped and he bent down to pick up his bag. When he reached the door and was about to leave, he hesitated a second and glanced back over his shoulder.
"I really am sorry, sir." He said queitly.
Snape turned back to the potion on the table and did not look up or acknowledge the words, his face hidden behind a viel of shiny black hair. With a heavy sigh, and a heavy heart, Harry left the dungeons. He made his way to the tower, where boredness and memories awaited.
"How are your lessons going, Severus?" The Headmaster asked a few days later during their afternoon tea.
Snape shook his head in distate. "I do not know if I am truly helping him. At times, I can almost see him starting to understand - and then it is like he simply shuts down and does not even try anymore." He hesitated. "I must admit that I have sent him away on more than one occasion."
"It is unfortunate. I thought he would be over the depression by now." The old man remarked. "After so many days of distraction...I had hoped."
Snape looked at him. "Depression? Why would the Boy-Who-Lived be depressed? Doesn't he have all of Hogwarts catering to him? And on a summer no less."
Dumbledore sucked in a shaky breath. "Is it true that you do not know?" The wrinkled hand holding his tea shook and he set it down so that it would not spill. "How could this be?"
Snape sat forward, searching the Headmaster's eyes anxiously. "What is it? What should I know?"
"The boy's family is dead - killed by Death Eaters. If Voldemort did not tell you this, he must be suspicious."
Snape paled as he realized what this would mean. "The Dark Lord no longer trusts me."
"It is what I fear, if he did not tell you something such as this." Dumbledore nodded. "The boy's family was slaughtered the night of summer break. I barely got him out alive through the use of a portkey."
Snape sat back in his chair, stunned. "I think I may have been too hard on the boy, Headmaster." He admitted softly, sudden realization dawning.
Dumbledore smiled softly. "You have plenty of time to make up for any harshness on your part, now that you know." The old man sighed heavily. "However, I fear for your safety, my friend. I can no longer ask you to spy for the order. Any contact with the Dark Lord or his followers could prove disasterous for you." The Headmaster's eyes shone with worry. "We will figure out a way to stifle his call. I will work on a way to release you from him, Severus, I promised you I would when the time was right. It seems that time has been chosen for us."
Severus Snape walked up the stone stairs that led to the Fat Lady's portrait. He muttered under his breath about the foolhardy Gryffindor behavior of one Harry Potter.
"Damn hero complex." He said to the floor.
"And what business do you have in my common room?" The Fat Lady asked suspisciously when he finally reached the base of her frame.
"I am here to see Harry." He announced.
She looked sad. "Poor boy, I'm afraid he's not here."
"Do you know where he went." Snape asked shortly.
She frowned at the tone. "No. You might try asking some of the other portaits. They get around a lot more than I do, they might know where he is."
Snape sighed as he realized that finding the boy would be harder than he had anticipated. In a flurry of black robes, he turned on his heel and started back down the stairs.
He finally found Harry, curled up in the library with Quidditch Through the Ages tucked up to his chest.
"I need to talk with you, Potter." He cut to the chase.
Harry looked up. "With me?" He asked nonplus.
Snape crossed his arms over his chest. "Yes, with you!"
Harry shut the book and set it down on a shelf. He stood and moved to leave.
"We can talk here..." Snape started uncertainly. "If it would make you more comfortable."
The teenage boy nodded and sat back down. Snape used his wand to levitate another chair closer and then he sat as well. A hard silence fell between them. Finally, Snape cleared his throat.
"I am not very good at this, I apologize."
Harry's mouth fell open. For a brief moment he thought someone had used a polyjuice potion to trick him, or that Professor Snape had somehow been infected with a Imperius curse. Why would this man apologize to him?
Snape shifted in his seat and his gaze jumped all over the room as he focused on everything except the boy in front of him. This would be much harder than he had thought.
"The Headmaster told me about your family this morning. I hadn't know."
Harry relaxed at this. Now at least he knew why Snape was acting so out of character.
"Weren't you there?" The words came out of his mouth before he could stop them. He winced and waited for the Potions Master to go cold.
There was no anger in the older man's expression or voice. Harry swallowed.
"Lucius tried to kill me. It was him who killed my...family. I thought there had to be other Death Eaters there, but I didn't see them." He swallowed again, this time to hold back the bile rising in his throat as his Aunt's dying scream played through his head accompanied by his mother's. They blended into a strange harmony and suddenly he couldn't breath.
He became aware of firm hands on his shoulders and a voice by his ear, but he couldn't understand the words. A roaring sound filled his head, it felt like it was about to explode. Colors swam together, he could just make out a black blob in front of him, but he couldn't force himself to focus on it. Never before had his emotions got so out of control. He struggled futiley against the pull of darkness, the screams seemed to go on forever. There was no way to stop them. He threw his hands over his ears and clenched his jaw against the memories of death.
The yell broke through his panic and he sucked in a long breath. His lungs felt like they were on fire and his throat felt raw, like he had been screaming too. He shut his eyes tight, wanting his memories - his reality - to just disapear. Maybe, if he wished it long enough, it would happen. He stayed like that, breathing in sharp gasps.
"Harry, calm down. You are at Hogwarts - no one is screaming." The voice seemed to be coming from far away. "You are safe now."
He kept his eyes closed, not wanting to face what he knew waited for him when he opened them again. He recognized the voice now, it was Snape. How was he ever going to live this down? The Potions Master would surely think him weak and pathetic after this unprovoked display.
The hands on his shoulders moved, one started rubbing circles on his back and the other checked his pulse rate.
"You are safe now." Snape repeated quietly.
Another shaky breath filled his lungs and Harry opened his eyes. He didn't want to look at the teacher, didn't want to face his fears.
"You have nothing to be ashamed of, anyone would cry." Snape said softly.
Harry's brow furrowed in confusion, then he felt the wetness on his cheek. Tears were sliding unbidden down his face. He blushed again, this time feeling totally mortified by the situation. He had never cried in front of anyone in his entire life, and now here he was in the arms of a teacher who hated his guts - crying for the loss of people who never cared for him.
"I'm sorry, sir." He said roughly, swiping at his face with a sleeve of his robe.
"As I said, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Grief is natural...anyone in your position would react the same."
Harry wondered what exactly his position was in the Potion Master's eyes. "It's just so hard." His confession surprised even him, and he felt the hand on his back freeze at the heart-felt words.
"I know." Snape confided softly. "It is hard to lose a loved one, and this is not the first for you, which would be even harder."
"They didn't love me." Harry admitted to himself. "They never would...and I think." His breath hitched. "That makes it even worse."
"I take it, you talked to the boy?" Dumbledore asked during their next evening tea.
"Yes." Snape replied carefully. "I believe he holds himself responsible for their deaths. He did say something strange though, he said 'they never loved him'." He looked up at the Headmaster. "Do you have any idea what he meant by that? I tried to get him to open up more, but grief counciling is not one of my strongest ...areas of expertise. He left immediately after saying those words to me. I haven't seen him since. The Red Baron informed me he was occupied in the Gryffindor Tower."
Dumbledore nodded at this news, as if he already knew. "I will speak with the boy, but I would appreciate it if you continued to show him support this summer. Whatever animosity you felt against his father - I sense that it no longer dictates your attitude towards the boy, make sure he sees that as well."
"No one should have to suffer through this kind of loss alone, that does not mean that I like Potter." Snape said adimently, setting his tea cup down on the table. "And I will not be manipulated by you, old man. I will help the boy - I would help any Hogwarts student - but that does not make me his friend." He sneered out the word.
With that, the Potions Master said his goodbye and stalked out of the room in his usual fashion. Dumbledore watched the door close behind the former Death Eater; he listened as the stairs groaned their way down a level, then he smiled. A full, mischeivious grin that stretched from ear to ear. A bright twinkle flashed in his wize blue eyes.
"Friendship forms in the most unlikely of places, Fawkes." He glanced over at the phoenix at rest on it's perch. The fire red bird raised an eyelid curiously, and the man continued. "I do believe they will reach an understanding."
His grin fell, and more serious matters clouded the temporary twinkle from his eyes. "However, there is more than one life to be saved here. The cure to Severus' problems may lie with you, my pet." He stood and carefully picked up the bird in his arms, stroking the warm feathers.
Harry sighed heavily and tried not to think about what had happened between him and Snape in the library. He had been at his weakest, emotionally, and how Snape used that information could prove disasterous. The random shadows of kindness the teacher had shown him over the past week had left its mark, and now Harry felt torn over whether to trust the man or not. If Snape was sincere in his attempts to help, Harry knew that he could use that help...if it was a ploy of some kind-. He shook off that disturbing thought.
A sense of loneliness fell over him, smothering him. He pushed up from the chair he had been lounging in and began to pace across the length of the common room. The lessons with McGonagall had stopped the day before when she had been called back home for a family emergency. He assumed it was nothing to urgent - as she had promised a soon return. With the extra time on his hands, Harry knew he had to do something to keep his mind busy. Searching the castle for more hidden passageways to add to the Murauder's Map had taken less than a day with the help of the portraits and ghosts. They had been all to willing to help with his endeavor, but no significantly useful passages had been located. Aparantly, Wormtail, Padfoot, Moony and Prongs had discovered all of the good ones.
He smiled a little at his first memory of the map; The excitement that came from knowing he could go anywhere he liked; The hatred when he saw Petigrew's name scrolled in tiny letters; The saddness when he realized that Sirius would never see the map again.
With a heartfelt sigh, he sat back on the chair. Pacing just took too much energy and he didn't want to think about his dad, Sirius or the map any longer. He spent to much time thinking.
"Harry, someone is here to see you."
Dumbledore's cheerful voice called from the doorway. Harry looked over and saw the same bird-like patronus.
"Come down to the Great Hall."
This time it did not give him time to reply before flying back through the doorway. Harry stood, wondering who could be there to see him, and went out the door after it.
"Harry, it's great to see you!" Remus Lupin said.
Harry smiled up at his father's best friend as they withdrew from a long hug. The werewolve was thinner than ever and his patched clothing fell off of him in folds.
"How are you doing, really, Remus?" Harry asked in concern, eyeing the man's significantly slight frame.
Remus laughed. "It's not as bad as it looks, Harry. I've just been very busy these last few months..." He paused. "I heard about your family, and I am so sorry."
Harry looked up into the honest brown eyes. "It's okay. I'm okay." He lied readily. For a moment he didn't know who he was lying to, Remus or himself. "I've been keeping busy, taking extra classes. Even Snape has been teaching me some more advanced potions."
He smiled and tried to make everything appear normal. The last thing Harry needed was for the last person he loved to fall ill from concern - and if there was one person in the world who could, it would be Lupin. The man's protective tendancies were inhanced by his werewolve instincts.
"I'm glad to hear it, Harry." Remus said with a grin of his own.
Dumbledore clapped the man on the shoulder and started towards the door. "I'll just leave you two alone, I'm sure that you have a lot to talk about."
Once the Headmaster had left, Remus and Harry sat down on a bench at the Hufflepuff table. Harry toyed with the yellow House cloth, while they talked about unimportant things like the weather and Quidditch scores from the sixth year finale game.
"Have you finished grieving?" Remus asked unexpectedly.
Harry watched the man from under his long, unruly bangs. "I've grieved - yeah, I'm finished - I mean, of course, it's been almost two weeks."
"Harry," Lupin said softly. "Time has nothing to do with it. I still feel the loss of your parents, and Sirius...everyday." The man fell silent.
The Boy-Who-Lived shifted uncomfortably and winced at the mention of Sirius.
"Why don't we go to Hogsmead?" Harry asked, to change the subject. "I really have been meaning to go, and you aren't around very often. I need to get some things before school starts and -."
Remus cut off his babbling with an amused chuckle. "Of course, I'll take you to Hogsmead. Let's just get us some coats. Accio Harry's Coat. Accio Lupin's Coat." His wand waved in the air in a circular pattern.
Harry smiled fondly at the man as they both shrugged into their coats. Maybe today wouldn't be so bad after all, he thought hopefully. It wouldn't be until later that he would remember the Potions lesson with Snape that afternoon.
"Where is that infernal brat?" Snape demanded of the potion he was stirring rather too vigerously. "Can't even show up on time for a simple lesson, how does he ever expect to defeat the Dark Lord." He muttered.
An echoe of running feet sounded suddenly outside the classroom door and then there was a timid nock. Snape rolled his eyes at the ceiling.
"Come in, Potter. You've taken long enough getting here, I do not need you wasting the next hour directly outside the door."
Harry walked in uncertainly. "I'm sorry, I lost track of the time, Professor."
"Ah, so it's Professor now, is it." Snape said snarkily. "Remember that next time you address me."
"Yes, sir - Professor." Harry corrected.
Snape nodded in satisfaction. "Now, today we will be assessing your knowledge of healing potions."
Harry felt a little encouraged by this, he felt confident of his abilities in this area. After all, he had drunk so many healing potions in his life, he knew most of them by taste and smell. He started towards the work table, convinced this would be a walk in the park.
Harry slumped down in his chair at the dinner table that night. Potions had been far from a walk in the park - it had been more like a drive through rush hour. He hadn't known which way was up by the end of Snape's "assessment".
"You seem tired, are you feeling alright, Harry?" Remus asked in concern.
Harry tried to smile brightly, he only half succeeded. "Yeah, I'm fine. Potions just took a lot out of me, that's all."
There was a snort from Snape's end of the table, but the Potion's Master refused to elaborate.
"When are you leaving again?" Harry asked as he buttered a piece of bread. He hated having to ask that question. It seemed so ...final.
Remus ate a spoonful of his soup before answering. "I will be leaving tonight." His tone softened. "I am sorry that I couldn't stay longer."
Harry felt like he'd been hit in the stomache. He had been expecting the man to stay at least a few days. He shut his eyes tightly, wishing 0away the world for a brief second, then he opened them again and tried to smile through the pain.
"Well, it was really, really good to see you, Remus." He added softly. "I'll miss you."
Remus reached over and ruffled the boy's dark hair. "I know. I'll miss you too."
"I'll miss you." Harry said softly.
Severus heard the longing, fear and heartache in that single sentence. He stop mid-chew and studied the young man. Harry's smile appeared forced as was the cheerful expression and light words that followed. Under all of the pretense, Severus could see the wounded, grieving soul of a lost child. How he had ever missed it, he did not know, but at that second of recognition he vowed to do anything it took to see that look gone forever. No child deserved to feel that much pain, not even James Potter's welp. For one second, the Potion's Master thought about re-thinking his hatred for the boy...then the werewolve and Harry stood and left the room and whatever flicker of compassion he had felt died out. There was no way that he would give up the decade long grudge against Potter. Any Potter.
Harry watched the moon rise slowly through the sky. Remus had left hours before, with a teary farewell and promises of more visits soon. Harry felt a sob catch in the back of his throat. A strange foreboding left him with the feeling that he would never see his friend again.
Everyone left him.
With a troubled sigh, Harry rolled over in his bed and fell into a dark sleep haunted by nightmares.
Snape ate a bite out of a cookie as he turned the page of the potions theory book he was reading. Suddenly, his arm burst into flames of pain. He lunged from the chair and grabbed a handful of floo powder. He knew the routine.
"Dumbledore's Office." He said through clenched teeth when he stepped into the fireplace.
Instantly he was tumbling out of the Headmaster's floo, ash flying around him. At his desk, Dumbledore looked up concerned.
"Severus?" He asked.
Snape stumbled over to a chair, his arm held close to his chest as if to ward of the pain. "He is calling me to him."
Beads of sweat formed on Harry's face. He twitched in his dream as a vision slowly started to form, taking over his mind.
"You were correct, my Lord. Severus has not apparated here yet, he must be the spy." Lucius Malfoy reported kneeling in front of Harry's line of sight.
"He will pay for his treachery." Harry felt his own mouth form the words, but they came out as Voldemort's oily voice. "I will summon all of our number. You, my loyal servant, will fetch Snape to me!"
Lucius bowed his head and donned the white mask he had held in one hand. "Yes, my Lord."
Harry awoke with a start. He jerked up into a sitting position and gasped in panic. They were after Snape! That meant Lucius would come to Hogwarts. The boy got out of bed and stood on shaking legs - the visions always left him disoriented - and started down the stairs to the common room. He could floo the Headmaster from there.
Once at the fire place, Harry grabbed up a handful of silver powder and flung it into the fire, then he stepped in.
"Dumbledore's Office." He enunciated clearly.
He arrived even more unstable than usual. The screams of pain that met his ears almost made him fall to the floor. He clapped both hands over his ears at the disturbing sound. Looking for the source, he saw Professor Snape curled up on a transfigured sofa, his right arm clutched tightly against his body.
"Headmaster!" Harry called out to the older man at Snape's side. "The Death Eater - Voldemort is sending a Death Eater here!"
Snape heard this and his cries of pain ceased momentarily. "Lucius?" He asked, his voice raw.
Harry nodded, his stomache flipping at the pure terror that flashed across the Potion master's face. "Yes. He knows you're a spy...Voldemort is calling all of the Death Eaters to him. He sent Lucius to come and 'retrieve' you." He swallowed against the bile rising in his throat.
"Then we will just have to be ready for him." Dumbledore said, his jaw set in determination. "Fawkes." He called to the phoenix. It swooped into the air and came to land on the old man's shoulder. "Do what you can for Severus, my pet."
The bird nodded it's head and jumped the short space to the sofa, where Snape lay. The mythical bird walked carefully across the man's chest and rested it's head on the man's marked arm. A single tear trickled down it's feathered face and soaked into the dark robes. Instantly, Snape's entire body relaxed.
He breathed in relief. Snape looked up at Dumbledore, a bemused expression on his face. "You didn't know if it would work, did you?" He asked weakly.
Dumbledore smiled grimly. "No. I did not, but we need you to be ready when your former friend arrives."
Snape sat up, his hand resting on Fawke's head for a brief moment. "Thank you, Fawkes." He said softly. The bird bowed it's head in silent acknowledgement and then flew back to it's perch by the Headmaster's desk.
"Do you have a plan, Headmaster?" Harry asked.
Voldemort narrowed his red eyes, scanning the courtyard in front of him. A full moon lit the stone arch that led to Hogwarts' main door.
"Spread out. Lucius, bring Severus to me."
Black forms seperated into small pockets of Death Eaters and they all melted into the shadows, save one, which walked forward with wand raised.
"Yes, my lord." Lucius said.
He walked up the stairs and with a forceful Alohamora, entered the school building. Under the combined dark powers of the entire Death Eater clan, the school's massive wards fell as one. Leaving it completely open to attack. With only a few teachers on the ground, and the Potter child, they would not meet too much opposition.
"He's in the building. There are at least twenty of them, maybe more. Lucius is alone." Harry reported, his eyes glazed over as a waking vison showed him what Voldemort saw in the dark halls many stories below.
Minerva, Snape, Dumbledore, Madam Pomfrey and Filch all sat around Harry, their eyes fixed in expectation on the young boy. Every living soul in the school had flooed to the saftey of the Headmaster's office and now all they could do was wait. Disconnecting the floo had been the first thing they had done, followed by a myriad of wards for the door and gargoyal guarding it.
"I feel so ...happy." Harry whispered in a monotone voice. His muscles were completely relaxed and he seemed no longer aware of where he was. "So happy...Dumbledore won't expect it ...the boy will be killed. I'll kill the boy-kill the boy-kill them all!"
"Harry, wake up." Dumbledore ordered softly, laying his hand on the boy's shoulder. Harry jerked his head up and caught the old man's gaze. "It's okay, Harry, we're here to protect you."
Harry shivered. "I hate being inside his head, sir. I hate it so much." His eyes brightened, but he blinked away the tears before they could fall.
"I know, my boy, but it will all be over soon."
Harry nodded and hugged himself against the coldness growing in Voldemort's mind. He had to be strong and ready to fight when the evil man arrived.
"There's no one here." Snide Gnot, a junior Death Eater, announced with disgust.
"Of course there is, you nitwit! They're hiding, that's all." Another Death Eater admonished from the shadows of a deserted class room.
"Shhhh! Will you two shut up, what if they hear us." A third added angrily.
"Right, and you call yourself silent, do you?" Gnot muttered under his breath as he entered another darkened room, his wand at the ready.
Out of nowhere, a white figure appeared and then Gnot felt himself falling backwards, a broken vase rolling away on the floor. He dabbed a hand to his forehead and drew it away to find blood. Standing up, the man backed quickly away from the doorway, and back to where his fellow Death Eater's were still arguing.
In the blackness of the classroom, behind a cuboard, Peeves laughed silently into his hand.
Voldemort steadily made his way towards the Headmaster's office. He knew where they were, he could already sense Harry Potter in his mind.
"You won't escape me this time, boy." He said, knowing that Harry would hear him, or at least feel his intent. His gray hand tightened around the pheonix feather wand in his hand. The boy would know who killed him. He would beg for life before the end.
Lucius Malfoy gritted his teeth in anger as he finished searching Serverus' private rooms. The teacher wasn't there, and it looked like he'd left in a hurry. The Death Eater stared at the plate of cookies and overturned book that lay beside a plush black chair. Severus had probably been having a quiet, relaxing evening when the Dark Lord had called to him. Lucius smiled as he imagined the look of surprise and pain that must have flashed across the traitors face.
Lucius glanced once more around the empty room, trying to find some clue that might lead him to the traitor's location. His silver eyes stopped searching when his gaze fell upon the fireplace.
"The Headmaster's office." He announced victoriously.
"He's here." Harry warned at the exact moment that a blasting curse bounced loudly off the outside door. The teen jerked his head towards the door. "He's alone - for now."
"Alright, ready then?" Dumbledore asked those around him.
MInerva nodded and shook her wand out of a hidden sleeve in her cloak arm, Flich stroked Mrs. Norris as if nothing out of the ordinary was about to happen while Madam Pomfrey came to stand beside Snape, who was still feeling some ill effects from the intense pain his tattoo had caused. Dumbledore came to stand protectively in front of Harry, both of them had their wands drawn.
"Sir." Harry started uncertainly. "We know, from the graveyard, that Voldemort's wand and mine own cancel each other out. Maybe, I should be in front."
The Headmaster looked back. "Absolutely not."
Then the door burst open. When the dust settled, they all saw Voldemort standing in the doorway.
"Cowering, like frightened children." The evil man spat out angrily. "I expected more from you, Dumbledore."
No one responded to this.
"Are you prepared to DIE like frightened children?" His red eyes sought out Snape. "Traitors and cowards, how appropriate."
"None of us will die today, Voldemort, but your future is not looking so bright to my eyes." The Headmaster said finally. "You are evil, and we will destroy you ."
Voldemort laughed. "You destroy ME? I would dearly like to see you try, old man." His lips twisted in a manic grin. "Die now. Avada Kadav-."
The green spell hit Voldemort instantly killing him. Every eye turned to Snape, who stood unsteadily next to the sofa, his wand held in a shaking hand. His dark eyes were fixed on Harry.
"He's dead..." Snape said slowly. "You killed him."
"NO!" Another voice interrupted in horror.
Everyone turned at the unexpected cry. Lucius Malfoy, his Death Eater mask held in one hand, stood just outside the room starring at the dead body of his lord in anguish. With a frantic gesture the man turned and ran, disapearing down the stairway. The next second they heard a distant pop of apparation.
Twenty Death Eaters captured
Harry didn't go on to read the rest of the report, he set down the borrowed copy of the Prophet and went back to eating his fried eggs. The day before seemed like it had happened years ago, not mere hours. His hands were still shaking from the adrenaline, he hadn't been able to rest at all since the darkest of curses had left his wand. With Voldemort distracted by Snape - and his own voice - it had taken little skill to quickly send the spell, but the fact that his Avada Kadavra had worked worried Harry. Any wizard able to complete the curse required a large amount of dark energy. This he had learned in DADA, sixth year. He stopped eating, his fork clattering to the table top. He was a dark wizard, he had comitted murder. These two thoughts seemed to override all others. Without a word to anyone, Harry left the Great Hall and went to the Gryffindor common room.
Snape watched Harry carefully all morning. He knew what kind of tole killing had on the innocent. He still remembered every detail of his first murder, the clear memory only served to increase his concern for the silent Boy-Who-Lived. Harry had not spoken a single word since the kiling, and Severus was afraid for him.
When Harry got up unexpectedly and left without finishing even a third of his food, Snape began to follow him, unsure of what the teenager would do to himself. The man knew how it felt to discover ones-self capable of the most horrendous crime. The fact that Harry's actions had been out of self-defense and not evil intentions made the difference between what Severus had done and what Harry had been forced to do.
The boy didn't seem to notice that he was being tailed as he walked slowly up to the Gryffindor common room. Snape watched from the base of the stone stairway as Harry wearily said the password and entered through the portrait door.
Harry slumped on the couch, unsure of what to do next. He did not feel like reading Quidditch Through the Ages, but then neither did he feel like sitting there doing nothing. Ever since last night, when he had said the unforgivable, memories of the night his family had been killed flashed through his mind. He had not heard Lucius actually utter the Avada Kadavra that had killed them, but now he knew what it must've felt like. He was a killer now. A killer had murdered his family. He had murdered.
Shaking his head to stop the strange flow of thoughts before he could reach a more disturbing conclusion, Harry stood and began to pace across the common roomfloor. He wished, not for the first time, that Ron and Hermione could be there with him to help him through this, but he knew that with the Death Eaters at large with no leader the school still wasn't safe for more people. At present it did not appear that the school would even be opening at the beginning of the year. With the wards damaged so severely it would be months before they were back up to full strength, although anti-apparition ward had already been put back in place by Snape and Mcgonagall. Harry thought for a long second trying to remember when the Gryffindor House leader had returned. Last he had heard the woman had been home. He shrugged and turned back towards the window.
Outside it was a beautiful day. Blue skies seemed to beg for him to fly, while a cooling breeze softly blew white clouds past the distant mountain. A sudden urge to escape the confines of the castle siezed him and Harry found himself down the stone stairway outside the common room before he had even formulated a destination. Hagrid's Hut. The half-giant wasn't actually there, but the large crowded room always seemed like a second home. The strange - and often illegal - creatures housed inside were more comforting than frightening. Now that he knew they wouldn't eat him alive, that is. Harry remembered his first reaction to the baby dragon Hagrid had presented first year. That seemed like ten life-times ago. Instead of years ago.
His feet beat a path through the courtyard - he felt a tingle of residual dark energy as he passed through - and to the large stone path that wound it's way down the side of the hill. It had rained early that morning and the stones were slippery and reflecting the morning sun. In another two hours they would be dried and no evidence of the rain would remain. That is how Harry felt about his life. With Voldemort gone, he would just drift into the background of everyone's lives and eventually fade forever. At least, that is what he dreaded would happen. It wasn't that he wanted to be worshipped or anything, but at least he had been useful before. Now, he was just another paragraph for the history books.
A soft sigh brushed past his lips as he pushed the heavy wooden door of the hut open with his shoulder. Flobberworms groaned from a darkened corner; a brown fur pelt lay on the floor below a window serving to keep the rain off the floor since the window had been left cracked open for the bats. Harry turned in a circle and let his gaze wander, searching for something to keep his interest. His green eyes settled on a partially covered book leaning against the wall by the door. It was covered in mud and water stains and appeared to have been used as a doorstop on more than one occasion. The fact that Hagrid - who couldn't read or write - would have a book in his house seemed peculiar and so Harry stooped down and picked it up. He had to rub a streak of dirt off the spine with his robe sleeve so that he could discern the title, Quidditch Through the Ages: Edition 1. Harry felt his breath hitch as a suspicion bloomed, he hastily opened the front cover and stared at his mother's flowing script on the inside flap. It read, To James Potter from Lilly Evans.
Tears started to flow then and Harry let them. For once he wasn't going to feel ashamed, for once he didn't have to. No longer was he The-Boy-Who-Lived; no longer was he the only hope of the Wizarding World. Weakness didn't matter anymore. He had killed Voldemort and in the process murdered every expectation that had ever been placed heavily on his young shoulders. Sobs cut through the hut, but no one was there to hear. Harry hugged the book to his chest possessively and made his way over to a giant sized wooden chair at the head of the table. He sat in it and weeped for all the years of pain he had hidden from the world. At that moment, he decided not to hide ever again. It might be hard to change, but he was not going to be governed by other people's wants anymore. His life belonged to him now and not Voldemort or Dumbledore or the Wizard's Ministry of Magic. It belonged to Harry Potter.
Snape muttered a frantic lumos and spared barely a glance for the obviously empty room before moving on to the next. Harry, the confounded boy, could not be found! Dumbledore had discovered the boy's appsance when he had called him down for lunch. Now it was well past three in the afternoon. The wards were still up, so no lone Death Eater had entered the castle unknown. That meant that the boy was hiding from them, on purpose!
Snape snorted as he left another empty room. It would be just like that arrogant Potter to think that he did not have to inform a teacher if he chose to go off in a corner and mourn lost innocence. It was no mystery to Snape that last night's Avada Kadavra would be the foremost on Potter's mind. Probably accompanied by the suicidal tendencies of the weak A soft growl made it's way up his throat at this thought. The last thing he needed was a dead Potter on his hands the day after being liberated from a lifetime of servitude. This day should be one he spent celebrating! Instead, he was searching old classrooms in the dungeons while the other teacher's searched the rest of the school grounds. Minerva had volunteered to do rounds outside the castle, Snape suspected she wanted to meet a lone Death Eater attempting to access the school. After all, she hadn't been able to join in last night and the Gryffindor had a mean streak to her that occasionally outshown her maternal tendencies.
"Where is he." Snape muttered darkly to the hall floor as he made his way to the next section of doorways.
Minerva frowned at her dew covered hem and muttered a few choice words in Latin. Instantly, the dampness was gone. With a satisfied nodd, the Head of House stepped onto the large stones that lead down to Hagrid's Hut. She had already made a circuit of the castle grounds and this was the last remaining place to check for Harry. Her brow furrowed in worry as she thought of how long the boy had been gone. What if he had been overcome by panic, or accidentally crossed the ward bounds - Dumbledore assured her this was not the case and his monitoring spells would have alerted them instantly - where he could've easily been nabbed by a lingering Death Eater.
She reached the door and used her wand to open it soundlessly. The last thing she needed was a bunch of awake flobberworms greeting her with their grotesque noises. She shivered just thinking about the revolting creatures. Seated at the table, in a very large wooden chair, Harry Potter slept with his face resting on a dirty old book. Minerva relaxed marginally and sent her sphinx patronus to the others to let them know the boy had been found.
"Harry?" She shook his shoulders gently.
He moaned and turned his head away still asleep, this new position revealed tear tracks and puffy red eyes.
"Oh. Oh, dear." Minerva tutted and shook the shoulders more firmly. "Come on Harry, wake up, my boy."
"Hmmm?" He asked, looking up at her sleepily through lopsided glasses.
"You need to wake up. You have been gone for hours, we missed you at lunch and got worried when we couldn't find you."
Harry readjusted his glasses so that they rested straight on his nose. "I fell asleep."
"Yes, I can see that." She smiled a little. "Now, come on, we need to get you back to the castle."
"Okay. I found something. It belonged to James - my father." Harry brought the book up to his chest again and hugged it close.
Minerva stared at it for a long moment, there did seem something familiar about it now that the Harry mentioned it.
"Lilly's wedding present to your father. A first addition, I believe." She said finally. "He never went anywhere without it."
Harry looked down at it in awe. "I can keep it?" He asked. At her conferming nod he grinned.
"We must be getting back. It is almost four in the afternoon."
The boy gaped at her. "No way!"
With a shooing motion, she got him out the door and then they went back up to the main school building.
The Headmaster sipped his tea slowly and thoughtfully.
"We must find a suitable place for Harry until the wards here have been strengthened. It must be secure, but I do not think that Grimwauld place is satisfactory - too many memories there for the boy." The old man stroked his beard.
"What about Minerva? She seems to have taken to him like a second mother." Severus suggested, his voice dripping of disgust. "They're perfect for each other. Together there would be enough Gryffindor idiocy to keep any Death Eater at bay."
Dumbledore glared over his glasses. "I did not have time to tell you before, but Minerva has requested a few months of leave. Her husband has been sent to St. Mungo's. It is believed that a Death Eater subjected him to a prolonged cruciatus curse in an attempt to rid the school of another teacher before their strike last night."
Severus nodded. "That is likely. So, not Minerva's. Where then? All of the other teachers here at Hogwarts either have family or poorily defendible dwellings. I suppose you could take him?"
"No, with Voldemort dead the entire Wizarding goverment is going to be re-orginized. That will take some special handling." There was a dark hint in the old man's voice.
Snape frowned. "You really must stop manipulating everyone. It is becoming a habit."
Dumbledore shrugged, a twinkle in his eyes. "Perhaps."
Severus took another sip of his tea and worried the cuff of his black robe sleeve. "That doesn't help us at all with the question of where to send the wel- uh, Potter."
"Harry." Dumbledore stressed the word. "Is in more danger now than he was before. Instead of Riddle attempting to stop a prophecy from fullfillment, we have an entire clan of Death Eaters seeking revenge. They are not going to be rational and hardly predictable. I need to know that he is safe." There was a long pause during which Dumbledore stared hard at Snape as if deciding something. "I believe that you should take him. No one else will be able to think like they do and...frankly, you have a more secure home than I do, and that is truly saying something."
Snape froze in mid-swallow, the hot liquid burning his throat. "What?" He sputtered finally. "You want me to take the wel-Potter?"
"Harry." Dumbledore stressed in exhasperation.
"Harry." Snape conceded grinding his teeth together loudly. "What am I suppose to do with him for months? He hates me!" He stated victoriously as if that settled the matter.
"Oh, I think that hate is a little strong."
"No! He does. . .just ask him." Snape grinned smuggly. "If he willingly agrees to come and live with me then I will agree to have him. And no manipulation!" He added quickly. "It must be an independent decision."
The Headmaster smiled. "Agreed."
"You can put your trunk over there, the ride is a long one and you will probably want it handy." Snape said acidically, pointing to a far corner of their shared train compartment. Harry quickly went to do what he was told. Then he sat down on a seat opposite Snape.
There was a lurch beneith their feet and then the train started forward slowly at first, gaining speed with every second. Harry contented himself with looking out the window at the passing scenery. Two days ago Voldemort had attacked the castle, two days ago the world changed. Everything looked different to him now. Before whenever he looked out the window he was thinking of that blasted prophecy, or his Aunt and Uncle, or the mystery of what magic was. Now, he had fulfilled the prochecy, lost his family, and knew magic could not solve all of life's problems.
"You seem pensive. I assure you that the trains accomodations are not at all what you are used to." Snape broke the silence with a wave of his hand, he was motioning towards the benches they sat on. "All you have to do is touch them with your wand and say 'Transform' and a bed will appear."
Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise. "How come nobody told us first year?"
Snape gave him a stern look. "Over a hundred unsupervised teenage students of mixed gender...in compartments. A bed would hardly be appropriate, don't you think?"
Harry blushed. "I guess you're right - um, yeah." He stammered embaressed. Honestly that had never occured to him.
Snape ignored his discomfort and reaching for his own bag, he pulled out a copy of that days Daily Prophet and proceeded to become immersed in the gossipy columns.
It didn't take long for Harry to get bored, and then as always his thoughts turned to the Dursleys. Their dying screams, the crash of his Aunts body falling. Lucius standing in his doorway, wand raised. The killing curse on his tounge. His breathing hitched and Harry tried to squelch the urge to cry again. He felt annoyed with himself, it seemed that he couldn't go ten minutes without crying! It wasn't as if he never lost anyone before, why was this hitting him so hard. He felt confused and unsure, hugging himself the boy curled himself into a corner of the bench and closed his eyes. Maybe it was just stress and lack of sleep, if he took a quick nap it might help him regain better control of his emotions. With this comforting thought, Harry allowed himself to fall asleep, lulled by the rocking motion of the train.
Snape watched from the corner of his eye as Harry fell into a deep sleep. As soon as he was sure the boy would not awaken anytime soon, the Proffessor folded his newspaper and replaced it in his bag, instead pulling out a thick book Dumbledore had given him that morning - Teenage Wizards and How to Raise Them - along with a bag of chocolate chip cookies. He munched on the treats as he speed read the first few chapters of the book. Two hours later the Potion's Master set his book aside with a heavy sigh. Being a Head of House, he was responsible for the well being of over a hundred students each year. As a Proffessor, his expertice was used to teach all of the students in the field of Potions. With all of this previous experience at his disposal, the man still felt lost whenever he thought of Potter being alone with him for over two months.
Two hours with the boy rarely turned out good, and never ended positively. The fact that Potter hated him did not bother the man, but knowing as he did that the teenager probably wouldn't even attempt civility once they arrived at the Snape Estate erked him. The book had a few insightes that might come in handy - such as negotiation - but to his great distate it appeared to have been written by a Hufflepuff. Emotions and feelings were mentioned every other word and it even went so far as to advise daily "talks" with the boy. Ugh, as if he didn't have enough problems already! The Dark Mark may have faded into oblivion - he looked down then at the bare forearm and smiled briefly, rubbing the clear skin - he was still left with wondering what to do with the boy. He could hardly teach him Potions for two months straight, and Occlumancy was out of the question.
With a sigh, the man resumed his reading. An hour later, he heard a sleepy moan from across the compartment.
"Proffesor, did I miss the lunch cart?"
Snape looked over at Harry, who was stretching and rubbing sleep out of his eyes. The man frowned.
"No. It won't be lunch for another hour." He looked down at his cookies guiltily. "However, you may have a few of these if you like." He held out the bag reluctantly.
Harry stared at him in surprise for a moment before accepting a few of the chocolate chip cookies. "Thank you, sir."
Snape grunted an unintelligible response.
DESPITE THE WORST INTENTIONS
Harry munched happily on the cookie Snape had given him and looked out at the unfamiliar scenery flashing past he window. They appeared to be speeding past a tall cliff face, but every so often a break in the wall would reveal a giant waterfall a few hundred yards from the tracks. The falls were beautiful and reflected the dimming light in multi-colored rainbows.
"Do you know how long it will be until Hogwarts is opened again?" Harry asked curiously, turning his gaze away from the sight.
Snape shook his head abrupty, annoyed at the interruption, but he forced himself to answer in a flat tone. "A few months, I presume. Professor Dumbledore will need time...he has not yet mentioned a specific date to me or any of the other teachers. I would recommend you use this time wisely, Mr. Potter." A light sneer entered his tone at the name.
Harry frowned down at the remains of his cookie, suddenly no longer hungry. A few months with Severus Snape seemed like a death sentence. Although they had been getting along well during potions lessons, that was for mere hours and even then they rarely got along long enough to finish the entire lessons. Snape would probably throw him out after the first few days. With Death Eaters on the loose, Dumbledore and the other Professor's busy and no home to return to, Harry felt true fear grow up within him. His palms began to sweat and he wiped them on his pants, trying not to think about what the next few months had in store for him.
"I think I'll just sleep a bit more." He decided aloud. Without waiting for a reply - if, in fact, Snape would give any - or looking over to see the man's expression, Harry lay his head against the wall by the window and let his eyes fall closed. Once again, the train's motion lulled him into a peaceful sleep.
Snape watched Potter sleep for a few moments his oft-denied conscience sternly pointing out the uncomfortable position the boy had somehow found himself in - halfway slumped into the corner of the seat, his face pressed up against the wall, arms relaxed and hanging off the edge. The Potions Master re-opened the book and chose to ignore Potter. It wasn't as if he cared that the boy would wake with a crick in his neck. Worse things had happened, he thought with a snort of derision.
However, as he read on, his onxy eyes kept drifting back over to gaze at the boy. Every time he caught himself, the man would shake his head firmly and continue reading. After the third time, he growled in irritation and threw the book down on his seat a small part of him hoped that the noise would wake the boy up, but Potter remained unmoving.
"Albus, what have you done to me?" The man muttered darkly. "Months with this welp!"
He pulled out his wand and waved it at the boy. A few latin words later and Harry was resting comfortably on a full feather bed, covers wrapped securely around him and several fluffy white pillows piled under his head.