Summary: Sometimes it is as difficult to survive a victory as it is to survive a defeat.
Notes for readers:
This story begins in fifth year, and is as per canon up until conclusion of Triwizard Tournament.
1. Harry has fallen further behind his age-mates in size.
2. The words of the original prophecy are widely known. Harry has known since the end of first year. There are other, similar prophecies.
3. Severus Snape is not quite as scathing toward his students as in the original books.
Note that this is essentially the same story as 'The Broken Bond' except that it has a quite different ending. Significant differences start from the beginning of chapter 18.
J. K. Rowling owns Harry Potter and his world, a fanfiction author, whose pen-name is Beren, created the characteristics of the species, Hecatema, though I am responsible for the idea of the 'Hecatema Chase.' Other concepts from the world of fanfiction have also been used, such as the idea that the Potters were an old family, and some of the characteristics of Veela. The Bijn Yusdu are my invention.
Severus Snape returned to the front desk after inspecting the progress of the potions that the fifth years were working on. Only two weeks until OWLS, and the general standard was a touch higher than usual, he thought. The students were working in pairs, Granger and Weasley doing well as usual, Malfoy and Nott doing well also, and Potter and Longbottom already finished, with an apparently perfect potion. Longbottom and Potter worked well together. Longbottom had lost a lot of his quite unnecessary nervousness, and Potter needed the taller boy to reach for the supplies when they were out of his reach.
The hope of the wizarding world, Snape thought wryly. The so-called Chosen One. The one that Prophecy said had the power to defeat the Dark Lord, Lord Voldemort. He was the size of a twelve-year-old rather than a fifteen-year-old, and far too thin. He wore glasses, and was prone to illness. He didn't look like he had the ability to defeat a pussy cat.
Class finished and Snape said, "Samples on my desk, please. Also homework."
Longbottom was one of the first in line, Potter the last. The boy said casually, "I didn't do the homework, Professor Snape."
Snape was surprised, but automatically resorted to the sneer that he used as a weapon to intimidate students. "What, no time, Potter? Quidditch too important or something?"
Harry shrugged, "Just didn't do it."
"And why not? You weren't sick again were you?"
Harry grinned ruefully, and said with a trace of irony, "Not for three months now, Sir. I'm quite proud of myself." There was a mutter of laughter from those students not too terrified of their formidable teacher.
"So any other excuses?"
"No, Sir. I just didn't do the assigned homework."
Snape had orders not to be severe with Harry Potter, but he could not ignore this. He said curtly, "Detention, eight this evening, my office."
Half past eight, and Harry was working quietly at the lines he was assigned. Snape finished marking the pile of homework, and sat back in his chair. Harry looked up and put down his pen. "I'd like to talk to you please, Sir. I need something."
Snape gave his automatic frown, "You need something?"
Harry nodded. "You want me to defeat Voldemort. Everyone wants me to defeat Voldemort. I am winning at the moment. Every week or so, we have a battle, and he's losing, probably because the connection between us is stronger one way than the other. Professor Dumbledore says I have to go to my relatives for the summer holidays, as I usually do. He refuses to believe that they don't treat me reasonably. The problem is that if I'm weakened now by too little food or by physical abuse, I will be unable to beat Voldemort. It's a war of attrition now."
Snape asked slowly, "What do you mean, battles?"
"Battles in our minds. At the beginning of the year, he was hurting me, but I've learned to stop that now, mostly, and then I started learning how to attack. He didn't realise at first that I was influencing his thoughts. It's why he killed Malfoy as the traitor instead of you."
Snape stared at the boy, who returned his gaze, unflinching. Snape snapped, "You're mad. I don't believe you."
Harry gave his evidence. "I was watching the last meeting of Death Eaters. You were there. He spoke of trying to get to one of the professors and put them under the Imperius Curse, in order to kill me. Abernathy asked why he didn't use you, and he said that he needed you in the Order, and trusted."
"How much have you told the headmaster?"
"A little. I say I have dreams, sometimes. But Dumbledore's judgement is severely lacking. Maybe he was wise once, I don't know. He looks wise, yet I've been lucky to survive his decisions regarding my life, and I will not trust him any further."
Snape regarded the boy, who waited, it seemed, patiently. Snape had idolised the headmaster in the past, but the previous year, he'd insisted that Potter compete in the Triwizard Tournament, in spite of his attempts to refuse. The boy had only conceded after he'd spent a few days in hospital with a blinding headache, apparent proof that it was a 'magically binding contract,' as the headmaster insisted. Except that Dumbledore had requested, and Snape had provided a potion that would have that exact effect. And the result of Potter competing? The boy nearly died, another student did die, and Lord Voldemort had returned to full strength.
He asked, "So what do you want?"
"What I need for summer is someone who will give me what I need, and yet someone who does not care for me. I may succeed, but when he dies, I could also die because of the connection between us. And of course, I might fail. Dumbledore would interfere, and someone like Mrs. Weasley would be impossible. I'm not asking for much, and I won't interfere with you."
"Why do you think I could keep you safe from him?"
"You've been a double agent for many years. If you don't have a safe refuge, I've overestimated your intelligence."
Snape nodded slowly, "I have a safe refuge. I would have thought someone else far more suitable, even so."
"I can't think of anyone. And I expect by the end of summer, it'll be over, one way or the other."
"We'd best talk it over with the headmaster."
"We'd best not talk it over with the headmaster. He would not agree. He seems still to expect me to muster some hidden reserve of power which I simply do not have. Voldemort has power, experience, and he knows spells I will never know. This is the only way I might be able to defeat him, because of the connection he forged when he did the original Death Curse, and then enhanced when he used my blood to help him become stronger."
Snape studied the boy, noticing how his eyes burned with determination. For the first time, he thought that the boy who looked so small and almost fragile, might have the ability to succeed. He nodded abruptly, "I will provide a home over summer, as safe as possible. I will ensure that you have sufficient to eat, and I will not physically abuse you. Is that satisfactory?"
"Very satisfactory, thank you, Professor Snape. Please do not tell Dumbledore."
"I will not tell Dumbledore."
"If I leave on the train as usual, and then you pick me up from my relatives' house that evening. Is that OK?"
Snape said with a twist of his lips, "You really interfered in Voldemort's mind?"
Harry laughed suddenly, "Two days ago, I made him take to Nagini with a knife. The poor snake fled, and now he doesn't have a single friend in the world." His mood changed, and he said quietly, "I'm sorry for him sometimes. He has disciples, who worship him, and yet he can't trust any of them."
"You say he still trusts me?"
Harry nodded, "I'll give you warning if possible, when that changes. For now, you're fairly safe, I think."
"You're not. Did you know there's a price on your head?"
"I know. He thinks he could easily die if I get killed, but he's afraid of what I'm doing to him. He's decided to take the risk."
Snape nodded and said abruptly, "You may go. Take care."
Quietly, Harry started picking up his things. He turned at the door, and said, "Thank you, Professor Snape." Snape nodded curtly.
An hour later, Snape still sat in the chair, thinking about the unexpected discussion. It was hard to believe that Potter could not only know what the Dark Lord was doing and thinking, but that he'd actually influenced his thoughts. That he'd been behind Voldemort's decision to kill Lucius Malfoy, when Malfoy had been a loyal and intelligent lieutenant. Maybe Harry was behind the Dark Lord's increasing paranoia and decreasing rationality. The boy had convinced him. Potter might look like a child, but his eyes were adult, a bit tired, almost haunted. Severus Snape found he believed every claim the boy had made. Would Dumbledore? Probably not.
Snape suddenly smiled. For the first time in many years, he thought he might outlive Voldemort. Would Harry? The connection was closer than he'd realised, almost like a Soul Bond. The boy was right. One could easily die if the other died. He needed someone who would support him, but without any sentimentality that would only weaken him. He would do his best for the boy, and he would not tell Dumbledore. He hadn't quite admitted it to himself before, but while Albus Dumbledore had always been manipulative, now he was foolish.
Harry prudently chose a roundabout route back to Gryffindor Tower. It was not only that he feared murder attempts, but that even a quite minor injury at this stage might give Voldemort the advantage. He reminded himself again that he could only do his best. He was not responsible for saving the world just because of some stupid Prophecy. On the other hand, he could not be free until Voldemort was out of his head and out of his life. There was no doubt in his mind that the evil man deserved to die. He'd felt the pain of his curses, had seen his victims. He would kill Voldemort. Nothing else was important in his life.
Hermione and Ron were studying together, and looked up in surprise. Ron said, "He didn't keep you long!"
"No, I was lucky."
Hermione asked, "Why didn't you do the homework? Serving detentions only wastes study time."
Harry shrugged, and unloaded the box he held, three hot drinks and several cupcakes. He'd stopped by the kitchen. Ron sat up fast and reached for a cake. Harry grinned, "Leave a few for me. I've got some growing to do."
Ron looked him up and down, and said, "I'll say. You look like an ickle Firsty!"
Hermione said, "Thank you, Harry. It was very thoughtful." She eyed him severely, "Not that I'm going to let you out of studying."
Harry shook his head. "Not tonight, Hermione. I'm having an early night."
"It's OWLs soon! You have to study!"
Harry smiled at her with some fondness. Hermione would never understand that exams could be of very minor importance.
He always felt a little claustrophobic with the bed curtains drawn, but he always did it now, and then cast a Silencing Shield on them. Voldemort had taken to attacking him when he thought him most vulnerable, in the early hours of the morning. It was impossible not to scream when he felt that first lancing pain in his head. But then battle was joined, and mostly now he was able to make Voldemort hurt. He only seemed to manage real damage though, when he was the one to attack. But not tonight. In the morning maybe.
Hermione asked Ron, "How's Harry this morning?"
"He says he's taking the day off."
Hermione bit her lip. She knew what that meant - he was going to take the fight to Voldemort. By evening, he'd look like death.
Ron said, "He apologised for walking back alone last night. He said he just forgot. And Fred and George are staying with him today. They say they can do private study, and anyway they don't care about NEWTs."
Few of the Gryffindors knew exactly what Harry was doing, or why he was so often absent from class, but every one of them supported him. He was a hero to them. He'd won the Triwizard Tournament, had faced Voldemort then, and again when he'd attacked the school at the beginning of September. The Ministry of Magic had initially tried to deny that Voldemort was returned, but that had come to an abrupt end with the battle at Hogwarts. Whether adults in the wider world were still inclined to believe that Harry Potter was nothing but a neurotic boy, Hogwarts students had seen him at the forefront of the fighting. He was the best duellist in the school, but a teenager was still no match for Death Eaters, and certainly not for the Dark Lord.
After breakfast, Fred and George brought their books to the table in the common room, while Harry turned a chair to face the wall. His face was impassive. George asked, "What do you want us to do?"
Harry glanced at them, "Don't do anything. Just make sure no-one interrupts. If I'm not finished by lunch-time, make a Silencing Spell around me."
Fred suddenly pulled him close, and gave him a hug. "Good luck."
Harry offered, "It scarcely hurts when I go for him. It's not like when he takes me by surprise."
"It'd be better if there was a private room."
"It's safer here than in a disused classroom, and there's no room for a comfortable chair in the dorm."
The older boys started to work, pretending not to pay attention to Harry, who was pacing restlessly, reluctant to start. He visited the bathroom, had a drink of water, and finally sighed and took his seat, turning further away from the twins.
Harry closed his eyes. He liked to start quietly, learning what he could before his enemy became aware of his intrusion.
On a hidden estate in the North of England, Voldemort rubbed his eyes, and reached for a pot of coffee. His hands trembled slightly and he felt weak and headachy. It was taking him longer each time to recover from an attack. The blasted Potter boy. He'd have him soon. He had a few strings to his bow. If the Liddicombe brothers couldn't manage the job, he'd pick him up from King's Cross at the end of the year. It was a convenient tradition that every student travelled on the Hogwarts Express at the beginning and end of each year, even when there were quicker means of travel. The Blood Magic was strong, but all it would take was to kill the aunt and cousin, and there would be no blood ties to protect him. He'd put Abernathy onto that. Abernathy was about the brightest of the Death Eaters who remained to him. There was also the hope that the boy could be lured to Hogsmeade. He'd have him in no time if he was rash enough to leave the school grounds. One way or another, Potter would be dead soon.
Harry gently, carefully withdrew from the mind of his enemy. His relatives were neglectful, and in earlier years, had been frankly abusive, but he didn't want them killed. The Hogwarts Express itself was supposedly protected, but the journey from the station to his relatives' home was potentially risky. Restlessly, he prepared himself a cup of coffee, ignoring the twins. Now that Voldemort knew that he was sometimes overlooking his mind, would he be able to change his mind without him knowing? Really, it was amazing that the Dursleys had not been attacked long before, whether or not Dumbledore had woven additional protection spells around them.
Harry sat again, closed his eyes, forgetting about his untouched coffee, and made the attempt. Just the thought of the Dursleys to bring it to the forefront of the mind of his enemy, and then trying to carefully instil the conviction that it was useless trying to overcome the Blood Magic. That attacking the Dursleys would inevitably mean the death of Voldemort.
Fred and George looked up as Harry made a sudden outcry and grabbed his head in pain. Harry grimaced and started to fight back. Instead of a subtle invasion of Voldemort's awareness, now he imagined his mind as a slashing, cutting weapon.
George put a restraining hand on Fred's shoulder. They hadn't seen it before, but Ron and Neville had described it. That Harry would look as if in distress, that he might shed tears sometimes, even scream in agony. But that they should simply wait until it was over. On no account should they interrupt his concentration. They could see his determination now, his lips compressed, his eyes squeezed shut. He was pale and getting more so. And he was sweating.
It went on and on, and after a bit, they returned to their books, though finding it impossible to concentrate, even with Harry's back to them.
Voldemort sank into unconsciousness, but Harry didn't stop. He had to do as much damage as he could. And this time when he tried to instil the idea that he must not attack the Dursleys, he simply forced it through. He wanted to do the trip on the Hogwarts Express. It could be the last time.
A few students filtered in, needing to exchange books before afternoon classes. Harry opened his eyes, and started to make his way towards the stairs that led to the dormitory, but stumbling. The twins got quickly to their feet, and took an arm each. Harry muttered something that could have been a thank you, but then fainted. Fred lifted him and remarked to his twin, "Good thing he's small."
Neville came in and regarded the white face cradled to the chest of the seventh year, "It was bad?"
"I wish I could know whether he won or was ignominiously defeated."
Harry stirred, and Neville said, "Get a drink of water for him please, George. Also a wet face-cloth. We'll put him to bed."
Harry opened his eyes when he was settled in bed, and Neville reached out, and brushed the sweaty hair away from his forehead. "All right?"
Harry answered weakly, "Better than he is."
George handed Neville the face-cloth, and he bathed the white face. Harry closed his eyes, not resisting the care. Neville said, "Me and Hermione this afternoon."
Hermione arrived and raised her eyebrows at Neville. Neville said, "He says Voldemort's worse."
"By the look of him, we'll need a pair to stay with him tomorrow morning as well."
Harry didn't answer, only shifted in the bed, his eyes still closed. Hermione touched his hair, and said, "You can sleep now, Harry. Have something to eat when you wake." Harry murmured something indistinguishable, and a moment later, his breathing became deep and even.
There was a staff meeting after lessons. A few routine matters, and then Dumbledore told them that he had received confirmation that there was a very large reward offered for Harry Potter's death. "I've told the prefects that he is never to wander alone. So please don't penalise students if they are escorting him."
Professor Trimble asked, "Who is organising this escort?"
Dumbledore projected his air of benign wisdom, "Leave it to his friends to look after him. They are loyal, and it will make the situation seem less threatening for the poor child."
McGonnagal said doubtfully, "The Ministry has offered a team of Aurors to ensure his safety."
"I declined. It's better that he trust his school to protect him."
"He must be terrified!"
Trimble put in, "He missed Defence today."
McGonnagal nodded, "He missed all his classes."
Dumbledore said gently, "He is just a boy. It's understandable if things are too much for him sometimes. Once he's grown into his power, then I think we'll see a different Harry Potter. For now, give him sympathy and understanding. No punishments."
"He'll never pass his exams if he's not studying."
"I will remind him to do his best, even if he is finding it difficult."
McGonnagal said, "Knowing you're on his side, Headmaster. Nothing will help him more."
Dumbledore's complacency grew. The poor orphaned boy idolised him, as of course, he should. One day, Harry Potter would defeat Voldemort, and it would be because of him, Albus Dumbledore, and the way he'd fostered his growth. Carefully graded challenges, so that he understood the vital importance of working at his defence skills, and filtered information, not giving him too much at a time, so that he regarded the headmaster as the fount of wisdom. But it was leaving him with the Dursleys that had been the master stroke. Harry would never outgrow the conviction that his Muggle relations had instilled in him, that he was worthless, a freak. That he owed something to the world because deep down, he was worthless.