Chapter 5: Facades Slipping

I am so sorry for the wait! This is a super-long chapter, though, so I hope it makes up for it! Please let me know what you think!

Harry Potter belongs to J.K.

Please R&R~!


o O o O o

Harry took a deep breath and stepped into the Defense classroom that had been the home of some of his best-and worst-experiences at this school. Having Snape as Defense teacher this year hadn't been as miserable as the class had been under many others, but he definitely hadn't been enjoying it. Which was a shame, as he really loved Defense Against the Dark Arts. And when he thought about it, Snape really had taught them interesting things this year. If only he weren't always sneering at him and calling him out for practically nothing…

So now the question was…would things be different?

"Mate, what are you waiting for?" Ron asked, and Harry laughed sheepishly before muttering "Nothing" and following him in. Harry found himself heading for a desk closer to the front of the room than usual, and didn't notice what he was doing until Ron shot him a glare and hissed, "Oi, Harry! We sit back there!"

"Oh, sorry," Harry started to get up, but Hermione grabbed his wrist before he could. "Ron, you can sit in the back. Harry's going to sit with me today! Isn't that right, Harry?"

"Uh, sure…"

Ron shot her a glare and she sniffed at him. When Harry looked back and shrugged apologetically, Ron rolled his eyes but didn't seem too miffed, so Harry grinned and gathered his book and parchment, wand in his hand.

"You look excited for class today, Harry," Hermione noted approvingly.

"Oh, no I just…figured I could try a little harder today. You know, see if Snape might treat me differently if I do," Harry quickly contrived.

"Sounds great, Harry!" Hermione said happily, a little knowing smile playing on her lips. "Make sure you volunteer, okay? And just do your best! You're great in defense, so it should be no sweat!"

Harry rolled his eyes, but said "Sure, Mione," watching his studious best friend pore over their reading for the day.

Harry noticed, vaguely, that Crabbe was missing from the room, and Malfoy wasn't looking in his direction.

He didn't have time to consider that further, however, as Snape came into the room at that instant, his robes billowing around him majestically. Harry had to suppress a grin, wondering if the Professor practiced in front of his mirror to get his robes to make such an effect.

After drawing his customary glare over his students, Snape began the lesson. "Today, we are going to try for a more…practical lesson for part of the class. As you are now in your sixth year, and the world is …not as safe as some would have you believe, it is necessary that you have at least a reasonable supply of defensive and offensive spells at your disposal. All of you, books away and stand up!"

Hurriedly, everyone stood, and no sooner had they stuffed their books in their bags that the desks were all transfigured into plain, straight-backed chairs which quickly rearranged themselves in the back of the room.

"Take a seat. If you so decide to participate, you will join me in the middle, explain and demonstrate your spells. One offensive, and one defensive. Well? I don't have all day," he drawled.

The students all took their seats and Snape began looking around the room, his eyes tracing over his students like a bird of prey searching for a morsel. "Well, who wants to go first? Or am I wasting my breath?"

Hesitantly, Harry raised his hand. Snape raised an eyebrow, considering the dark-haired boy for a long moment, but then nodded once. "Yes, Mr. Potter? Something to contribute? I would assume, after your various school stunts that you would have at least one or two battle spells in your ensemble…"

Harry glared slightly, but then trained his face and took a deep breath. "Yes, sir."

"Very well. First, defensive. Explain it, including the incantation and wand movements."

"Er, sure." Steeling himself, Harry stood up and went to stand in the middle of the room. "Okay. First is the shield spell. The incantation is protego, and you need to wave your wand like this." Harry made a fast circular swish with his wand.

"That was as basic an explanation as they come, but I suppose it was permissibly accurate. Anything to add?"

Harry just stopped himself from rolling his eyes. Though in his usual acerbic manner, that was as close to a complement as Snape had ever given him in class, after all. "Oh. Yes, sir. Protego, of course, is not full-proof. Against certain types of dark magic, for instance, it can only block some of the spell, and of course it's useless against the unforgivables...oh, and how strong your shield is depends on how much magic you put into it. You have to focus to make sure the right amount of magic from your core is going into the spell. If you put enough, it can protect more than just yourself, and you can also do a long-distance shield to protect someone else entirely. Your intent is also important, and the focus and intended use of the spell effects how it manifests…"

Harry stopped, and then blushed, realizing how long he'd rambled. The room around him was silent.

He looked hesitantly at Snape, and noticed his professor was watching him with an inscrutable expression in his eyes. "Very well, Potter," he said, finally. "You seem to be moderately well-versed in the methods of use of this particular shield. Are you ready for a practical exhibition?"

Harry nodded. "Yes, sir."

Without further warning, Snape made a slicing movement, and a blue beam shot towards him. Harry was a little slow, but managed to pull up his shield in time. A jet of ice met the shield and clattered to the ground harmlessly.

Harry blinked and said, somewhat indignantly, "You didn't say you were going to cast a silent spell!"

"Oh? Must have slipped my mind," Snape sneered, and several Slytherins chuckled. But then Snape's gaze met Harry's and he said, more seriously, "Be aware, Potter, that to truly be of any use in a battle, you must be prepared for anything. And silent incantations are used constantly. You can be sure that your enemy will give you no warning. Battle reflexes, and a close attention to your opponent's movements, are necessary."

Harry bit his lip as he let this sink in before saying that he understood and Severus nodded. "Well? Your offensive spell?"

"Uh, yes. This is the blasting spell. The incantation is confringo. The wand movement is more of a little twirl and then a jab, like so."

"And?"

"And it can cause a lot of damage on a person-it's kind of like a grenade." At the blank stares, he said quickly, "Oh, that's a muggle bomb. Anyway, it blows its target apart, but if you shoot it at a wall nearby or a building or something, it can be useful to trap or injure an enemy if you don't mean to kill them. Again, you can control the power you put into it to determine how large an area you want to target, but since this is offensive magic, it draws more on your core, so be careful when you use it not to exhaust yourself, especially if you aren't used to battle magic."

Snape nodded and said "Very well, Mr. Potter. Shall we begin again?"

Harry half-smiled and nodded, suddenly realizing how much he was enjoying himself. With a twist of his wrist and a jab, he shouted, "Confringo!" And a red beam shot towards his professor. Snape effectively stopped it in place with a freezing charm which burned the blasting magic out in an instant, cooling it and rendering the magic harmless.

There were a number of impressed noises from the audience at the presentation of such an explosive practice battle, and Snape nodded curtly at Harry, letting him know he could sit down.

"That was great, Harry!" Hermione whispered excitedly, and Harry had to work to suppress his glee. Sure, he hadn't earned points, but the nods of recognition, and the slightly less-cold-than-normal tone of Snape's voice meant more than points to him, strangely. He noticed Malfoy was looking at him with an odd look. He looked frustrated, and somewhat wistful and, could it be…guilty? No way!

"Mr. Malfoy? Would you like to participate?" Snape drawled, and the blond boy dragged his eyes away from Harry to hurriedly nod and move to the center of the room.

"Defensive spells, Mr. Malfoy. What do you know?"

With another furtive half-glance at Harry, Malfoy muttered, "Expelliarmus, to disarm your enemy."

"Yes, that's quite a basic battle move, but it can be quite effective."

"The prat's stealing your move, Harry!" Ron hissed from behind, and Hermione shot him a glare as Harry leaned back to elbow him in the chest.

"Mr. Weasley! 10 points from Gryffindor for insolence and interrupting my lesson."

Ron glared daggers, but then, with a smirk, Snape added "And for putting an idiot in his place, 2.5 points to Mr. Potter," he ended. A hush sped through the classroom as almost everyone stared at Snape as if he'd grown horns.

Harry bit his lip. Things were definitely different now. Maybe Snape couldn't show it that well in class, but his snarkiness seemed funny rather than obnoxious now…as if it were just a big show, a big joke…and even though 2.5 points were pitiful compared to the 20 points Snape gave Malfoy for demonstrating a passable Cutting Curse, those 2.5 points were still the most Snape had ever given any Gryffindor as far as he knew…and to his apparently most hated student, no less!

Ron was still gaping somewhat stupidly, grousing about 'unfair greasy gits' as they were gathering their belongings, but before either Harry or Hermione turned to shush him, Snape said, "Mr. Potter, stay back after class. My office." Without another word or glance, he whisked into his office.

Harry nodded, but Ron grabbed him and said, "Oi, mate. Don't let the git get to you , okay? He's just-"

"He's not a git, Ron," Harry said softly, but firmly.

Ron made a face. "But Harry, how can you just forget how-"

"Just go on. I'll meet you later."

Before Ron could say anything else, Hermione pulled the red-head after her, shooting a commiserating glance at Harry. "See you at lunch, Harry!"

After gathering his books up, Harry took a deep breath and moved into Snape's office. The DADA office, simply by virtue of not being in the dingy dungeons, was already more pleasant than Snape's old office, but Harry had still found it unpleasant when he had visited it for detentions earlier in the year. Now, however, sparing the time to look around more closely, it wasn't quite as creepy as he had thought it was. There were many of the Potion Master's odd stores of ingredients lined up in top shelves, but in this less daunting office, he found them more interesting, really, than anything. Besides the never totally pleasant view of eyes of newt and pickled brains, however, the walls were crammed with books about Defensive theory and Potion-making, and the furniture was in a deep, rich Mahogany which made him feel calm, somehow.

"Sit down, Mr. Potter," Snape said, indicating a high-backed chair with a cushion that Harry had never seen before. Surely he wasn't going to let him sit in such a comfortable-looking chair, was he? But that was the only chair available, and so he sat. He smiled. It was comfortable.

"Um, what did you need to see me about, Professor?"

Seeming to ignore him, Snape looked down at an assortment of papers to be graded and said, after a while, casually, "Would you care for something to drink?"

Harry gaped. Was that a trick question? Snape wasn't trying to poison him, was he?

His Professor seemed to know what was going through his head, and smirked at him. "I assure you, Mr. Potter, that were I planning to kill you, I would do something more interesting than poison you with tea and biscuits."

"A-ah…I see."

Snape continued to smirk as he said, firmly, "Lakey!"

"Yes, Master Snape? What cans I gets you?" A squeaky-voiced house-elf asked as she materialized, done-up in all the splendor of a pink pillowcase.

"The usual. Make it for two."

"Yes sir, Master Snape, sir!"

With a pop, the little house-elf was gone, and Harry stared at Snape as if he'd gone mad. Snape didn't seem to notice his reaction, however (or, more likely, he chose not to acknowledge it), and continued to peruse student papers, liberally dabbing them with red, seeming to forget Harry's presence until the house-elf had returned with a tray of raisin scones and two teacups.

Snape thanked the little elf and then gestured for Harry to take a scone and a cup. Harry took each tentatively, muttered 'thank you,' but then waited for Severus to take his first sip and bite. When he didn't immediately collapse, Harry let out a slight sigh of relief, and then shot Snape a quick glance, worried he might have overheard.

For a moment, he was worried there actually had been poison in the Professor's tea, for the corners of his mouth were convulsing slightly. But then, to Harry's shock, his convulsions stopped as Snape actually smiled.

Harry blinked at him. Sure, it wasn't much of a smile, but the corners of Snape's lips were definitely ever-so-slightly turned upwards, and the man genuinely looked amused about something. Tentatively, Harry said, "Uh, is something funny, Professor?"

Snape took a long, leisurely sip of his tea before responding. "Yes, Mr. Potter. I must say, loathe as I am to admit it, that I find you to be somewhat amusing when I distract myself from wanting to wring your neck."

Harry stared at him for a few seconds before it hit him. Snape had just made a joke. Snape, known to be the most no-nonsense, strict, rule-advocating teacher on staff had just made a perfectly acceptable (and not half-bad, really) joke. Harry couldn't help it. He smiled and then burst out laughing, unable to hold it any longer.

Snape even chuckled a bit.

"Is that so, professor?" He asked, grinning.

"I see no reason to lie about such things," he responded evenly. The two made eye contact, and Harry half-grinned again. The two then settled in to enjoy their tea and scones in silence for several minutes. As he sipped at his tea Harry found himself glancing up at Snape occasionally, half-waiting for him to start talking, to tell him what the real reason he was here was. For Snape had NOT invited him over just for tea. That just wasn't possible!

Wanting to say something, but hesitant to interrupt Snape. For no matter how the man's attitude towards him seemed to be changing, he was still the same irascible man he had known for the last 5 years, right?

Eventually, though, Harry decided he couldn't suffer the silence for much longer and settled for a simple "Oh, um, thanks for the tea and scone, Professor. They're really great."

"I thought you could use a pleasant surprise for a change," Snape responded offhandedly.

"Sir?"

"You were quite good in class today, Mr. Potter," Snape said suddenly.

Huh? Where had that come from? "Oh, well…thanks, Professor Snape. I just…I like Defense and it was a good lesson. Practical demonstrations are really useful and so…"

"Thank you. Good to know I'm not wasting all my time on complete dunderheads."

Harry chuckled again. "I guess it probably feels like that sometimes, huh?"

"More than you can imagine, Potter. And just try to get through a day's worth of the chicken scratch you little insolent brats call homework! Tell me, Potter, is this part of some conspiracy to get me out of teaching by going blind?"

Harry laughed again. When Snape turned his insults on their sides, they actually made quite reasonable jokes. "I wouldn't put it past some of them, Professor," he responded, grinning. "I'll have to ask Ron about that one."

"Ah. Yes. No need to ask the older Mr. Weasleys Fred and George. We all know that nothing they do is without some apparently humorous intention."

"Yeah…they're a riot, those two."

It was a while before it hit Harry how odd it was that he was sitting in Professor Snape's office, drinking tea and eating scones and making friendly banter! Ron would definitely think he'd gone off the deep-end. Also odd was the fact that, well…it didn't feel odd. Harry didn't feel any inclination to bolt off or make excuses. Talking to Snape like this somehow felt…natural and liberating in a way.

Around Snape, he didn't feel the need to pretend to be someone he wasn't. After all, it wasn't like he had much to lose in front of the man. Snape had thought the worst of him for years, after all, so he could hardly make the man think less of him by being honest about himself. Strangely enough, the professor seemed to respond much better to him when he was more open. But what, exactly, had caused such a drastic change in the man's attitude towards him? Could he really trust that the man wouldn't turn on him again? How many adults in his life, after all, hadn't deceived him in some way?

At the moment, he really didn't want to worry about it. Strange as it was, he was enjoying himself. For the moment, it almost felt as if he and Snape were, well…on good terms. Almost like, dare he say it? Friends. But that couldn't last, could it?

"I feel the need to let you know, Mr. Potter, that for various reasons I must continue to treat you…somewhat reprehensibly in class," Snape then said, taking Harry for another loop.

"Wh-what, sir? You…I mean, you were fine today. You even gave me house points!"

Snape scoffed. I gave you 2.5 points, and then only to make up for the 10 points I took from Weasley for making a decidedly Weasley-ish comment. I awarded Draco with points he deserved far less than you did for two comprehensive and clear explanations of your chosen spells and a presentation of each."

Harry gaped at him. Snape felt bad about how he'd treated him in class? But he was much nicer than usual, and had he really thought that about Harry's performance? Harry smiled. It felt inordinately good to be praised by someone with such high expectations as Professor Snape.

"Thank you, Professor. I thought I did okay, but-"

"You did well, Harry. You should be proud of yourself for having learned anything in Defense over the years considering your other teachers were either death-eaters or dunces."

Harry opened his mouth to protest, but Snape raised his hand and sighed. "I know. Perhaps Lupin wasn't a total dunce. As a teacher, that is. My personal feelings excluded, I admit he taught you quite well concerning dark creatures."

Harry smiled. That was just about as much as he could possibly hope for, considering Snape's past with the Marauders…As that thought passed him by, Harry frowned. It still made him uncomfortable to think about how, from the memory he'd seen that day last year, his father had truly been every bit the arrogant bastard to Snape the Professor had always said. Harry soon found himself curious to know more, and before he knew what he was doing, blurted,

"Professor, I wanted to…uh, apologize."

Snape definitely looked confused, and Harry smirked at the un-Snape-like face.

"For what, Potter?"

Harry sighed. "Well, uh…last year, I…well, I…went into the pensieve and saw…" without looking at Snape to see his reaction, he hurriedly said, "Look, I didn't mean to spy on you personally. That was the year Dumbledore was avoiding even looking at me because he knew about my connection with Voldemort and people had been keeping me out of the loop with the Order and everything and I was frustrated and tired of feeling so useless and sick of being kept ignorant and I…thought there would be something about the Order meetings in there. I should have thought it through, and I regret being so impulsive. I'm really sorry, Professor, but I promise it gave me no joy to see that!"

Harry's voice had reached a passionate note, and he finally looked up to meet Snape's eyes, which were watching him inscrutably.

"You see, what I was thinking when you got me out of there was that…well, that you were right. My dad was a real arse. At least to you…and to my mum, judging from what I saw in that memory. I uh, didn't understand how they ever got together after seeing that. She was nice, at least, but he was like…well, like…"

Harry cut off suddenly, but Snape thought he knew where he was going. "Like a bully?" He asked softly, and Harry nodded.

Snape watched him in silence over his steepled fingers before replying, softly, "Well, yes. I was a skinny, awkward, antisocial bookworm. Naturally, I had plenty of experience with bullies. Somewhat of a bully-magnet, really," Snape said wryly.

"I understand," Harry said suddenly, and Snape raised an eyebrow.

"Well…that is, er…my cousin, sir, he's…a lot bigger than I am and he always used to bully me. He and his friends would play this game-they'd call it 'Harry Hunting.' I was smaller and faster, and I got pretty good at avoiding them by climbing up trees and stuff, but I couldn't always outsmart them, so…" Harry grimaced. "And then, of course, whenever anyone was nice to me at school, Dudley would threaten to beat them up, and so I never had any friends. It, uh…kind of sucked."

"I can imagine…" Severus said softly, and Harry was again struck by the sincerity in his voice. Severus was quiet for a while, now. He was quite pleased, and rather surprised, that Harry was opening up to him so quickly like this. He could go in two different directions, and he needed to tread carefully…

"Did your…well, did your Aunt and Uncle ever do anything to stop this?" Severus felt like a bastard after asking the question, and strained to keep his voice casual, not letting on that he knew the answer. After all, how could he explain that to Harry without the boy taking it badly? Could he even?

Harry sighed. "Well, no. They uh…they don't care for me much, actually. And of course Dudders is the little perfect boy in their bloody blind eyes." The bitterness in the boy's tone was tangible, and Severus smirked slightly.

"Language, Potter…" but before Harry could say anything, he said, "But to be fair, I suppose it sounds like they deserve worse language than that to color their names."

Harry smiled more widely at this. "Thanks, sir."

Snape nodded.

"Uh, guess I have to get to lunch or else Ron and Hermione'll worry about me. But, it's been er…well, I enjoyed talking with you, sir."

Severus nodded curtly.

Harry paused at the door, hand poised over the handle. He wasn't sure if he should ask this…would it mess everything up? But he had to know or else it would bug him to death… "Uh, sir? If you don't mind my asking…what changed?"

"Changed?" Severus looked genuinely interested.

"Yes, well…ever since you helped me that night you've been so…" He stopped, unable to find the words, but Snape helped him along, thankfully.

"I realized some things, Potter. I saw my blind spots and realized I would like to make up for them. As far as that is possible, that is."

"Sir?"

Severus sighed. Should he go ahead? He knew the boy wouldn't like hearing this, but Severus knew, now, that the boy held being told the truth to far higher standards than being protected and coddled. And so he started, slowly. "This is really a conversation for when we have more time, Potter, but in summation, as you know, your father and I never got along. To be frank, he made my life a living hell from day one. He and his friends formed a little gang and tormented me almost constantly, passing their hexes off as pranks. I defended myself, of course, but it was still four against one…and I, being a half-blood myself, wasn't popular enough in Slytherin to have many supporters to back me up."

"You're…you're half-blood?" Harry gaped at him.

Severus frowned. "No need to act so surprised. There are plenty of half-bloods in Slytherin. There are even a handful of Muggleborn students, though they, admittedly, often run into trouble with some of the older pureblood extremists our house tends to attract. It's unfortunate, but it's a vicious cycle. Slytherin's reputation has formed it to be as it is today. It isn't a house for dark wizards, but for those who think a certain way. Due to the pureblood fanaticism and Dark Lord scares, we've lost many of our would-be members to Ravenclaw, however. But know, Harry, that every one house is full of good and bad people, the same as any race or otherwise…"

"Yes, of course that makes sense." Harry was blushing. "It's so obvious, I feel…" He sighed, looking somewhat miserable, but Snape waved him off.

"You shouldn't fault yourself, Potter, for getting pulled into the general assumptions and prejudices this school never ceases to reinforce. I, myself, as you well know, am perhaps guilty of showing outward favoritism to Slytherin, as your house members constantly enjoy pointing out."

Harry raised an eyebrow, wondering where he was going with this.

"But you see, Potter, I do that because there is already an established prejudice against Slytherin students which makes them the black sheep of the school the instant they are sorted. I do my best to make them feel they have some sense of community, and to let them know that someone in this school has their best interests at heart."

Harry stared at him with a new level of respect as he processed the man's words. It had never occurred to him, but now that Snape pointed it out, it was obvious. A chill ran through Harry as he remembered how close he had been to being sorted into Slytherin. If he had never met Ron, would he have been treated like a Dark Wizard simply because the Sorting Hat directed him to one table over the other? Harry's mind was spinning, and he decided he needed to think on this more, later. "That…makes sense, sir," Harry simply said softly. "I think you're doing the right thing. Everyone needs someone they feel is trustworthy."

Snape regarded him in silence before smirking slightly. I wonder if Potter will eat his words when I turn them on him?

"To be honest, Potter, the separation of houses is a problem in the first place…"

Harry noticed he sounded unaccountably bitter and suddenly, an intriguing thought occurred to him. Something that just might shine some more light on the enigmatic Potions Master.

"Um, sir? If you don't mind my asking, was there…someone you er, wanted to be in the same house with but…weren't able to be?"

Snape froze at this unexpected leap of perception. He hesitated, wondering how much he should say, but then sighed and gave in. If he wanted Potter to open up to him, he would do best to be as open as possible, and painful as it was for him to talk about this particular topic, he had to admit that Potter did have the right to know…some of it, at least. "Actually, yes. That was…what convinced me of my views on this point. You see," he sighed, "I was separated from my best friend…and unfortunately, our friendship never recovered after a disastrous day in our fifth year."

"That's awful! But what could have been so bad that it could have ruined a friendship like that?"

"Maybe you'll be able to figure it out," he said wryly. "She…my best friend…was the only person I can truly say I've ever really cared about. We met when we were 8. I…didn't have the happiest home life. I'll leave it at that for now, but leaving home to play with this girl was like a paradise island amidst the stormy ocean of my life. I noticed her magic and was the first person to tell her she was a witch."

"She was muggleborn, then?"

"Yes. Anyway, she made my life more than it ever had been before. She had an incredible capacity to love and to enjoy life. She taught me how to enjoy each day, rather than fear the next. We were so excited to go to Hogwarts…we rode together on the train. And then…she was sorted into Gryffindor."

Harry frowned. Considering the animosity between Gryffindor and Slytherin, that definitely could have caused problems, but it sounded like the Professor really cared for this girl. If so, how could their friendship have fallen apart?

"What happened, sir? You stayed friends through most of school, then?"

"Yes. Again, I didn't have many friends in my own house, and Li-my friend and I continued to meet and study together in the library. We were, of course, the objects of plenty of school gossip and ill-intentioned rumors, but we endured. We were both strong in potions and always sat together in class. We even won an award together…but…" Severus sighed and Harry bit his lip.

"I was weak. My friend had other friends, and…she was very popular. The Marauders, in particular, were always after her attention. I…perhaps in spite of a misguided attempt to prove my own independence to her, I accepted when some of my Slytherin dorm mates offered me the seeming olive branch of their friendship. In truth, it was one of the worst mistakes of my life."

"But-but that's understandable. I mean, you're always with your house, so trying to just not be friends with any of them is…"

Snape grimaced. "Well, looking back on it, I'd change it in an instant if I could."

"But…what happened in fifth year?"

"I…snapped. I was already made to feel helpless and worthless at home. Dealing with Potter at school on top of that…I was angry. And bitter. And she tried to stop them and I…resented her for it, because I thought it only made me seem weaker in front of everyone, and especially Potter, who fancied her himself…"

Harry gasped, realization dawning.

"I called her an unforgivable word. I will…never forgive myself for that. If only I could return to that day…I didn't mean it. I respected her more than anyone, for god's sakes. But this is my cross to bear."

Harry leaned closer to Severus and stared at him as if he'd never seen him before, an odd emotion glinting in his eye before saying, slowly, "Your best friend…was my mum, right?"

Slowly, Snape nodded, and a torrent of emotions welled up in Harry's chest.

"Thank you…for telling me, Professor."

Severus blinked and watched him with a curious expression in his eyes.

Harry smiled and shrugged. "No one's…well, no one has really ever told me much about my mum. It's always been superficial stuff about my dad, and how he was a chaser in quidditch…Professor, you just told me more about my mum than anyone ever has before and…I appreciate it."

His smile was so genuine, that Severus couldn't help return it slightly.

"So, mum was good in potions, was she?"

"She was brilliant," he whispered, his throat oddly tight.

"I see. I guess Slughorn mentioned that, come to think of it. Well, guess I didn't get her brains in that department," Harry said, somewhat sadly.

"That's…not necessarily true, Harry."

"Huh?"

"I…am aware that I sabotaged your experience in potions. I was cruel to you from your first day. I practically doomed you to perform miserably, when, in fact, you aren't bad when you aren't distracted. Put in a little extra effort and I'm sure you will be fine…but," Severus narrowed his eyes slightly. "Slughorn informs me you're a right little prodigy in his class. You wouldn't have an explanation for this, would you?"

"Uh, no sir. I'm just using my textbook," Harry said hurriedly.

"Ah. May I see it?"

"Wh-what? I don't have it with me, Professor," Harry fibbed wildly.

Before he could do anything else, Severus had wandlessly (and wordlessly) summoned his book. Harry watched in horror as he opened it and began to flick through the pages.

Harry bit his lip as he waited, but Severus' face seemed more…amused than anything else.

"Mr. Potter."

"Y-yes?" Harry squeaked out.

"I just might let you keep this temporarily, though I suggest you get a different book for in-class usage…if you can figure out a little puzzle on your own."

"Sir?"

"Who did this book belong to?"

Harry furrowed his eyebrows. "Well, according to the year…well, that's my mum and dad's year so…your year, Professor, right?"

Snape nodded.

"Half-blood prince…" Well, okay, a half-blood, but I don't know anyone in their class except for him and my parents, but he wouldn't be so amused if it wasn't something personal, right? Well…and then it hit him. A stroke of inspiration as he stared at the somewhat familiar writing. "Sir? Was your mum a muggle, or your dad?"

"My father," Severus spat, and Harry looked up, feeling guilty for having mentioned it, but then pressed on. "And your mother's last name…it wasn't Prince, was it?"

Harry then received the shock of the first true smile he had seen on his grouchy potion master's face.

"Well deduced, Mr. Potter. Much faster than I would have believed possible for you mere days ago."

"Uh, thanks sir," he said, only slightly put-off by the backhanded complement, "But…so you're the half-blood Prince? Really?"

Severus chuckled at his excitement. "I suppose I am."

"That's…I mean, that's incredible, sir! I just…I mean, your methods are much better for potion-making, and they make sense and there are some really useful spells in the margins-"

Suddenly, Severus' expression darkened, and he slammed the book shut. "Are you an idiot, Potter?" He hissed.

"Uh, wh-what?"

"You actually tried those spells without knowing what they did first?"

"Well…well…but you made them, right sir? So they must be-"

"I"ll have you know, Mr. Potter, that I am totally innocent, nor was I when I was a student! There are several incredibly dangerous spells in here, if I remember, and I believe I conveniently forgot to write down their counter curses!"

Harry looked embarrassed and slightly sick at the thought. "Oh…like, curses that could kill?"

"Absolutely. This curse, Potter," and Snape flicked to a page half-way through. "This is sectumsempra."

"Oh, yeah. I read that. 'For enemies.' I kind of guessed that might not be totally innocent, but-"

"You are an idiot, Potter. But I, it seems, was quite an idiot, too, to have written this down so casually in my textbook without any privacy charms." He grimaced. "This spell, which I was so proud of myself for designing, calls up a slough of invisible swords to instantly slice up whatever-or whoever-you ask it to. It could cut off a limb, cut an object, or slice a human body to bits. Do you understand what I'm saying? Do not use this flippantly. It will usually lead to instant death of one's opponent, or a delayed one by blood loss. Beware if you are not sure how you want your opponent to end up."

Harry gulped. "S-Sure, sir. Thanks for…warning me."

Severus scowled a little but nodded. He then cast a quick tempus and said, "Well, seems I've almost made you miss lunch after all, Mr. Potter. If you'd like, I could call some food for us here, and you can just tell Mr. Weasley and Ms. Granger that I had you clean every cauldron in the dungeons for spite."

Harry chuckled. "I'm sure they'll be fine. I'll see them next class anyway. But sure, lunch would be great."

The two discussed lighter topics over club sandwiches and crisps and it seemed too soon when Harry packed his bags and went to the door for a second time.

"Thanks again, Professor Snape. I…had a really nice time talking with you. Er, maybe we could…do this again?" Harry blushed. "I mean…if you wouldn't mind sometime telling me more about my mum or…"

"Understood, Mr. Potter. You may stop by during your free periods. If I'm not in my office, knock on the portrait of the three Desert Cobras-that's the entrance to my personal chambers. I'm usually in one place or the other. Otherwise, if you would rather wait until after the weekend, you may expect me to arrange a meeting with you."

"Sir?"

"Professor Dumbledore," he couldn't stop himself from biting out the name, Harry noticed, "would like me to take some greater responsibility for your education. Though I don't disagree with him that you need to be able to defend yourself better than at present..."

"So like…you'll be teaching me something?" Harry couldn't stop the grimace which made its way onto his face as memories of the excruciating occlumency lessons came back to him.

Severus noted the boy's expression and said, "I would like to help you with occlumency to a certain extent, but I would also like to work with you on high-level Defense spells. Try not to worry, Potter. We will determine the best course for you in our first meeting, which you should expect on Tuesday after dinner."

Harry's face brightened significantly at the thought of extra Defense, though that didn't stop his gut from squirming unpleasantly at the thought of occlumency.

"Ah, and Potter. It would be best to keep quiet about our lessons. If you must, you may tell your friends Weasley and Granger that you are taking extra courses as dictated by the headmaster, but leave it at that if you will."

"Sure, sir. I'll do that." Making his way to the door, Harry turned back and smiled once again. "Thanks again for, er…well, everything." He then gave him a slightly cheeky grin, causing Snape to raise an eyebrow. "I'll see you tomorrow, Professor! Hope the chicken scratch doesn't give you a headache!" He winked, indicating the mountain of student papers Snape still had to work through.

Severus mock groaned and then growled out "Insufferable brat! Get to class!"

Chuckling, and feeling lighter than he had in a while, Harry waved before shutting the door and began to race down the corridor. He only managed to school his expression to the morose and sullen features expected after him having spent so long in the potion master's dungeon upon entering his History of Magic classroom.


Thanks for reading! Please drop me a review if you have a minute! I appreciate it so much!

Thanks again and let me know what you think! Did Sev open up too much, too quickly? Was it too OOC to have him giving Harry points in class? Even so few as 2.5? The plot will thicken in the coming chapters! :) Keep reading and reviewing!

tess4aria