A/n: Hey everybody! Sorry this took so long! It's also short, but I really needed the chapter break. I've been working on where this story is going, so the next chapter may also take quite a bit of time to get out. Sorry!
Harry broke into a run as soon as he hit the hallway, too furious to think on where he was going or what he was doing. Soon he hit the more populous areas of the school, but he kept going, out the front door of the castle and down the hill towards Hogsmead. By then, he knew what he was doing. There was a guard on the gate, but he was facing outward, and noticed too late when Harry went flying past. As soon as he was past the anti-apparition barrier, he stopped and apparated, landing in the middle of Diagon Alley. Quickly, he got out of the way of traffic, and stopped to catch his breath.
Snape was going to tell Dumbledore. Possibly immediately. That meant he had today. He had to find a Death Eater now. Which meant Knockturn Alley. Which wasn't far from here.
He was just about ready to set off when he realized. DAMNIT! Snape. Snape would alert the Order. Who would mount a rescue. Which would get more people killed. Cursing, he apparated again, landing back in Hogsmead only minutes after he'd left, just in time to meet a very angry Severus Snape coming down the path towards him.
The man didn't even say anything right away, just grabbed his ear in bony fingers and started dragging him back up the hill.
"What- let me go!" Harry protested.
The fingers only tightened, and Harry winced and pulled away.
Snape let go, startling him enough that he almost tripped. But Snape was speaking. "Fine, Potter. Walk on your own two feet. But move. I have no objections to carrying you bodily up to the castle if I have to."
Harry turned away from him, walking fast up to the castle, but still Snape dogged his steps, and finally Harry slowed down to an amble. Immediately, Snape's hand was on his shoulder, and the man shoved him forward up the hill. After that, he kept Snape's pace, and got up to the castle quickly.
"My office, Potter," the man demanded when Harry hesitated inside the door.
Great. At least they weren't going to Dumbledore's office right away, though. And he really didn't have a choice either way – he wouldn't put it past Snape to actually levitate him to the dungeon.
When they got to Snape's office door, Snape pulled in front of him to open it, motioning Harry inside.
Harry clenched his teeth, but entered. Snape turned towards him rapidly, and for a moment all the man did was glower, fury clear in his gaze.
"If you persist in this-" the man started finally, before stopping, and starting again. "If you continue this, Potter, you may succeed. You have proved yourself adept at avoiding those who mean to protect you. It would take only one slip up for you to leave the school and find yourself a Death Eater without anyone noticing. Therefore, we have two options." He paused again, briefly, and Harry found himself listening intensely. "One," the man said finally, holding up a finger. "I go to Dumbledore and tell him your intentions, and you are escorted everywhere you go by a member of the Order who could be put to much better use protecting people who actually do want to live and you go about being the determined idiot you've always been." The man spat the last words, furiously, and stopped again, taking a deep breath.
Harry listened, tense. That Snape would actually do it was obvious. There was nothing Harry could do to prevent him. Shit.
"Two," the man continued after a moment, staring at Harry intensely. "You swear to me that you will make no further attempts to get yourself killed. You dedicate yourself to learning what you are here to learn, and eventually you confront the Dark Lord and kill him."
"Meanwhile more people die," Harry said flatly.
"It is a war, Potter!" Snape spat back, losing the momentary calm he'd gained. "People are going to die! People are going to die, and you will not/be able to stop it, and that is life in these times. What does it take to convince you that you cannot save everyone, Potter? Have you not yet lost enough loved ones to figure out that that is simply what happens, what will happen until Voldemort is dead?"
Harry stared at him, horrified. Even he hadn't thought of it in terms that stark. "That's why I want to kill him now," he told him.
But Snape didn't soften. "You cannot always get what you want, Potter," he snapped back. "Yet another thing I would have hoped you'd learn by now."
Harry shut up, unable to speak around his anger and frustration. The man talked about this 'want' like he wanted more sweets, or something. Like he was a child.
"Your death will not automatically kill the Dark Lord, Potter," Snape said forcefully. "Dumbledore may be able to do it, after that, but realize that he has failed to do so for nearly thirty years, and you have only been alive for sixteen of them."
Harry swallowed. That was true.
"I want my friends to be safe," he said.
"They won't be, Potter," Snape said ruthlessly. "Not unless they drop out of the fighting, and letting the Dark Lord murder you is hardly a strategy that will get them to do that. If by some miracle your strategy succeeds, there will still be plenty of desperate Death Eaters, and plenty of people dying to take them out. Your only option is to live."
"I won't live," Harry retorted angrily. "Either way, I won't live."
"The prophesy only requires one of you to die, Potter," Snape said. "And it says specifically that you have the ability to make sure it's him."
Harry shook his head. Snape really thought he could live? Yeah, right.
"Either way," Snape continued, "people will die, before, during, and after. Some of them probably known to you."
He paused, then slowly continued. "You can kill him, Potter, or you can roll over and die, but either path leads to death. Every path leads to death. The only choice you can make is whether to be one of the fighters, or one of the victims."
"Or both," Harry added aggressively.
"Or both," Snape agreed unexpectedly. "That is the path your parents and godfather took, and certainly I would be the last to disrespect that. But you can choose to fight, and either live or die, or you can choose to not fight. But the latter is the path of complacency to the point of cowardice, and will eventually lead to death anyway."
"I am not a coward," Harry argued.
"Then fight," Snape said implacably.
"I can't," Harry said. Fighting had proven to be the stupidest thing he'd done in his life.
"You can learn," Snape said. "You can and will learn, Potter, because your other option is that I tear your world down around your ears. I will not give you a second chance."
"How can I learn?" Harry shot back. "How, Snape? By staying here? You want to know what I'm learning here?Today I learned to spout water, and to make a potion that makes people sleep." He paused for a moment, pretending to think, before continuing. "Oh I know! Maybe I'll pour it into Voldi's morning pumpkin juice, and then attempt to drown him while he's snoring."
Snape gave him a look of disdain. "Your current plan, Potter, is to walk up to him and beg for death. Trying to drown him would be preferable."
Harry stared at him, once again at a loss for words, and Snape continued harshly.
"So which will it be, Potter? Do I alert the Order, or will you fight?"
Harry clenched his teeth. "I don't like the choices," he bit out.
Snape's tone sharpened even further. "I do not care what you like, or don't, Potter. Those are your options. You will not get a third, and I will not ask again."
"I hate you," Harry told him.
"I'm hurt," Snape said, deadpan.
Harry stared at him, and the man met his eyes soberly. "Swear, Potter. Swear to me that you will make no further attempts to end your life, and that should you be captured through accident that you will fight to survive."
Harry swallowed. What the hell else could he do? "Damn you, Snape," he said softly. "Damn you."
Harry stared at him, and finally looked down. "I swear."
"Good boy," Snape said quietly.
Harry's eyes snapped up to meet Snape's. Was that meant mockingly, or not? Snape met his eyes for a moment before his lips canted up in a smirk.
"Now finish your lines."
He'd already lost so completely that obeying was barely painful. He dropped into his seat and got started.
"Anyone we know dead?" Ron asked Hermione the next morning as she pored over the Daily Prophet.
"No," Hermione answered. Harry looked to her quickly, something in her tone alerting him.
"Who is dead?" he asked her.
"Couple of muggles, early this morning," she answered him. "They lived in the next neighborhood over from me, but I didn't know them."
"Names?" he asked her.
She just handed him the paper, pointing at the article. It was a tiny section in the obituaries – Lisa and Gareth Thomas, ages 26 and 28, respectively. Dead of mysterious causes, likely Death Eater attack.
Reaching into his book bag for materials, Harry wrote down the names, with a date. Lisa and Gareth Thomas.
"What are you doing?" Hermione asked him curiously.
Harry shrugged like it didn't matter. "We're alive, they're dead," he said casually. "Somebody ought to notice, don't you think?" They're dead because I'm still alive, he reminded himself. Like he needed more things to keep him from sleeping. Getting up, he noticed Snape watching him. He turned his back on the man and headed for his dorm. Lisa and Gareth Thomas.
Lisa and Gareth Thomas, he remembered again. He wouldn't forget.
"Kreacher," he called.
The elf popped into existence right next to him and glared. "Filthy mudblood loving master," he started up immediately. "Kreacher will obey him, yes, but only because he is forced to."
"Good to know, Kreacher," Harry said indifferently. "I need you to get me something."
"Kreacher will be ashamed to do whatever Master wishes," Kreacher said in mock-obsequiousness.
"I need you to get me a blood quill," Harry said.
Kreacher stared at him. "Great Master of filthy mudbloods and blood traitors wants Kreacher to get him a dark object?"
"Ironic, I know," Harry drawled in a parody of Snape before returning to business. "Anyway there should be some that Umbridge left last year, but if not come back and I'll give you money to buy one."
Kreacher actually smiled at him. "Kreacher is doing as Master says," he said.
"Thanks, Kreacher," Harry said. "Oh-" he remembered. "Don't tell anyone or let them see you, and don't approach me unless I'm in private."
Kreacher bowed. "Master is not wanting protecting controlling wizards to know. Kreacher understands, Master."
Protecting controlling wizards. Pretty much, yeah. "Thanks, Kreacher," Harry said again. "You're awesome."
What he was, was totally unscrupulous, but Harry could work with that, right now. Kreacher bowed again and popped away, and Harry went to class.
Pain, Harry told the chamber that afternoon before lunch. Just give me fucking pain. Kreacher was working on it, he was sure, but the elf was too damned slow. No marks, he told the chamber. No marks, and when I cry mercy you stop.
The chamber was quick it its work. As soon as Harry entered the room it came flying, a spell that ripped across his skin and made him scream and fall, cowering to protect his head and abdomen. "Aiiii!" Another came – he could hear it in the air – and he curled up tighter, unable to keep from tensing away. This time he was ready, though, and clenched his jaw against the pain. A third and fourth flew and hit, and he jerked hard at each one but still stayed silent. Lisa and Gareth Thomas, he told himself. Two innocents, and they're on your bill. The fifth blow was harder, and he couldn't hold back a yell through his clenched teeth. Lisa and Gareth Thomas.
Ten, he told himself. I will get through ten.
By the seventh, he was yelling again, and it was with tears in his eyes that he finally screamed out "MERCY!" on the tenth. Shaky and nearly crying, he stayed curled on the floor of the chamber, breathing hard and hiding his head between his knees. Finally he uncurled, but lay out flat on the floor, exhausted.
But he felt better, he realized. Way, way better. His brain felt like it could work now. It worked even better than hitting his head had. He stood up a little shakily, and shook himself out, strangely disappointed to find that, indeed, the ordeal had left no marks. Somehow it felt like he should bleed and scar. Lisa and Gareth Thomas.
But right now he needed to go to lunch. He probably wouldn't eat much, with this much adrenaline running through his system, but he'd manage to talk to his friends, at least. He hadn't felt this good in quite a while.
He'd work on the bleeding issue when Kreacher found him.