– –

The justice of the cause is conspicuous; for that war is just which is necessary, and those arms are sacred from which we derive our only hope.

Niccolo Machiavelli

– –

Severus Snape apparated into an out of the way alley not far from the West Norwood Rail Station and began a brisk trek down Norwood Road before turning off on Dunbar Street. He pulled a small slip of parchment out of his pocket and checked the address one last time before turning down a small cul-du-sac and finding a circle of nearly identical 2-story tan-bricked buildings with dark brown roofs.

Finding the one labeled #27, he walked up the small path and knocked on the dark brown painted door. He glanced around, wondering if any of Albus' lackeys were attempting a watch today. He suspected that if any had, they'd probably already been chased off. Potter hadn't packed up and left yet, but he had repeatedly tossed out the various 'guards' that Dumbledore had tried to station, in secret, near the boy's summer flat.

No matter what magic they used to conceal themselves – from disillusionment spells, invisibility cloaks, Polyjuice and glamours – it didn't matter. Potter always came out, walked right up to them and demanded that they leave. He'd even called the muggle police on a few of them, which Severus would secretly admit he found rather amusing.

According to Kingsley, the one time that he'd been roped into doing an attempt at watching over Potter's flat, the boy had come out, walked right up to where he was standing under a very strong disillusionment spell, and somehow managed to wandlessly finite the spell, making him visible again. The boy's only response to the sputtering auror's demands to know how the boy had done it, was to say that Finite was an easy spell and to then explain that so long as he was standing next to an adult wizard, the Ministry wouldn't be able to detect or accuse him of having used magic – and since he had not used a wand, there would be no proof at all. That obviously wasn't what Kingsley had asked him to explain but it was all the boy had said.

And now Severus found himself standing at the boy's front door, wondering how he would be greeted. With respect? Or as another nuisance?

The door opened suddenly and there stood Harry Potter, clad entirely in muggle clothes – a pair of washed out blue jeans and a white t-shirt with some sort of faded gray design on it that Severus didn't care to pay any attention to. The boy was barefoot, his hair was even messier than usual, and he was not wearing his glasses.

"Sir," Potter said with a curt nod of his head before taking a step back and motioning Severus into the small entry hall. It was a cramped little space, honestly. Directly to his left appeared to be a closet; directly to his right, a door to the loo, and right in front of him an open arch leading into the reception room. Severus followed Potter inside and took stock of the room. Two doors were visible from here – one, open, leading to a kitchen and the other closed, most likely going to a bedroom. Just a small, simple, 1-bedroom flat. Modest, if not a bit run-down, but he supposed Potter was being economical, and he only had to live in the place for two months.

The furniture was a mis-match of things that looked like they'd come from a second-hand store. Nothing really went together, nor was anything new, but it did look clean and it looked comfortable.

"Tea, sir?" Potter asked, already walking towards the door that lead to the kitchen.

"Yes, please," Severus responded as he walked over and sat down in one of the armchairs. He absently rubbed at his left forearm and frowned as he looked around the room and waited. It was less than a minute later when Potter reappeared with a tray and two cups of tea.

When Severus accepted the cup offered to him he was surprised to find the tea prepared just the way he liked it, despite never having had tea with Potter before and he sent a suspicious glare at the boy, who just smirked slightly from behind his own cup.

"So what brings you here, sir? Surely Dumbledore hasn't roped you into trying to guard me?" Potter asked a few moments later.

"I have come because... I am concerned," Severus bit out in a slow, reluctant drawl while keeping his eyes firmly locked on a spot on the wall.

Potter slowly raised a single eyebrow. "Concerned?"

"You have clearly figured out that Albus has more than simple motives for his intense desire to protect and keep track of you. I will admit that I am not sure exactly – how much you know... but I suspect it is more than seems reasonable," he sneered, piercing Potter with a suspicious and scrutinizing glare.

The corner of Potter's mouth turned up even further, although most of his smirk was still masked behind his teacup. Slowly he set it down on the small tea table. "You mean, how he wants to make sure I'm alive and well and in the right mindset to fulfill the prophecy when the time comes?"

One of Severus' eyes twitched, violently, but he managed to restrain any other reactions from being visible on his features.

He closed his eyes and slowly set his own cup down. "So you do know about it."

"Of course."

"Are you also aware that the Dark Lord is not nearly as dead as the rest of the world seems to be content to believe?"

"Of course," Potter said again with a bored sigh as he sat back further in his own armchair.

Severus again paused to shoot a long, speculative look at the boy sitting opposite him.

"We have – reasons to believe that He is back – or at least, attempting to make a return. You would be in great danger if He, or any of his servants, were to find you here. You would be defenseless without the use of your magic to defend yourself, and even with it, you are but one boy and anyone who would come for you would likely come in numbers."

"I would be fine," Potter said, again sounding rather bored, if not put upon for having to even deal with this conversation.

"You would not be fine, you stupid boy," Severus snapped, feeling his temper flare.

Potter snorted and smirked over at the man as if his outburst simply amused him.

"I would be fine," he repeated more firmly.

Snape glowered across the space at the arrogant, defiant child he was faced with. He wasn't sure what he hated more about this whole situation. The fact that Potter was so idiotically refusing their offer to help keep him safe, or the fact that he himself was legitimately worried about the boy. He had grown annoyingly fond of him – which peeved him to no end.

"I am not comfortable leaving you to your own devices, so unprotected, for so long," Snape bit out through a tightly clenched jaw.

"I have less than a month left before going back to Hogwarts," Potter said with a sigh.

"And a lot of things could go wrong in that time," Severus growled.

Potter paused, tilted his head to the side and eyed Severus speculatively for a moment before a wide grin spread across his face. "Why... Professor – are you truly worried about little ol' me?" he asked sweetly and even batted his eyelashes. It was all Severus could do to refrain from hexing the brat.

"You are in legitimate danger, you arrogant, stupid little boy.

Potter snorted. "I'm hardly a little boy," he muttered and almost sounded bitter by the fact.

"You are a boy. You are just barely turned twelve years old, and there is a murderous madman, bent on your destruction, newly resurrected, and out there somewhere."

"Are you so sure that he's resurected? Has he called you to him yet?" Potter asked so simply, you would think he was asking about the weather.

Severus came up short and sat up straighter in his chair. "What?"

"As he summoned you yet? Or is all this fuss just because you're mark is getting darker and starting to itch and burn?"

"How would you possibly know about that?" Severus whispered hoarsely.

"I know a lot of things, Professor Snape."

"You should not know that."

"I shouldn't know about the Prophecy, either, but I do."

"How do you know about the Prophecy?"

Potter just smirked at him for a moment before reaching down and picking up his tea cup again to take another sip.

"You didn't answer my question," Potter said, instead. "Have the Death Eaters been summoned yet?"

"You didn't answer mine," Severus bit out spitefully.

"If he is not powerful enough to feel comfortable calling his inner circle before him, then he is not powerful enough to try coming after me. He wouldn't risk it. Getting a body back and rebuilding some of his power base and support structure is far more important a goal than seeking revenge and killing me. If it weren't, he would have tried to kill me while he was possessing my Defense Professor, all of first term last year."

Severus' eyes went wide and he blanched. "You knew about Quirrell?"

"Of course. You're not the only one bearing a mark from the man," Potter said and reached up to tap at his forehead. "Honestly, I'm surprised that being so near him didn't cause some reaction in your Dark Mark, but I suppose he was dormant most of the time, simply riding on the back of Quirrell's head like a parasite."

Severus sucked in a breath at the suggestion that Potter's scar marked him from the Dark Lord. That it could somehow act as a conduit through which Potter could somehow have known that the Dark Lord was near by. He would admit that his Dark Mark had acted up, a few times, over the previous year, but the occurrences were mild and sporadic at best and he had dismissed them.

"Did you know Quirrell was carrying around the Dark Lord even last year while he was there?" Snape asked incredulously.

"Yes."

"Why the hell didn't you say something then!? You stupid, blasted boy! You could have been in danger! He had extensive access to you the whole time he was there! And if you had warned us, we could have done something about him! We could have prevented him from –"

He stopped and closed his eyes, trying to calm down his raging fury.

Would have, could have, should have...

"I didn't want to," Potter said simply after a few moments of silence. Severus opened his eyes and slowly looked up at the boy, incredulously.

"Didn't – want – to?"

"No."

"You idiotic boy!"

"I do wish you would stop calling me that."

"I will call you what you are!"

"You really have no idea what's really going on here," Potter said in a bored tone.

"Of course I don't! You won't tell me!" Severus raged.

"Do you really want to know?"

"Of course I do!" he bellowed.

Potter sat motionless and staring at Severus with his piercing green emeralds for an unsettlingly long time. Finally, when Severus was about to crack and say something scathing, Potter opened his mouth.

"Do you know why I didn't die that night? When Voldemort shot the killing curse at me?"

Severus nearly blanched at the unexpected question but slowly shook his head in the negative. Sure, Dumbledore had given him a few flimsy explanations about Lily's love, but it all seemed rather ridiculous to Severus.

Potter gave him a small crooked grin. "It's because of you."

"Me?" Severus echoed incredulously.

"Yes. You. You're the reason that I'm still alive today. It is also the only reason I'm even willing to consider telling you the truth."

"How could I possibly be the reason you live today?" Severus asked with a mixture of disbelief and denial. If anything, it was his fault that Lily was dead and Harry had no parents. If only he hadn't told the Dark Lord about that Prophecy...

Potter stood up suddenly and Severus watched as the boy went over to a small writing desk against one wall, surrounded by bookshelves and piles of books on the floor and various end tables. He dug around in a drawer for a moment before pulling out a sheet of parchment and grabbing a muggle-looking biro pen. He returned to his previous seating arrangement and handed the parchment and pen to Severus who took them reluctantly before glancing down at it.

"A secrecy contract?"

"Yes."

Severus looked up at Potter through narrowed eyes. "Like the one you had your dorm mates sign at the start of last year?"

"Not quite. This one is a bit more straightforward. It's also more severe," he added with a serious tone. "This one states that you cannot repeat or relay in any way, any piece of information I have expressed to you, with the intent of confidence, to anyone I have not given you express permission to do so. Once having signed the contract, should you ever begin to rub up against the edge of breaking it, you will experience an unpleasant prickling all along your skin as a warning. If you continue with the intent to betray my confidences, it will become more painful, and if you flat out try to tell something of significant importance, you will instantly begin to asphyxiate until the time that you stop trying to speak and betray my confidence, or the point where you die; whichever comes first. The contract signed with my dorm mates has no such extreme consequences, but I have made it a point to not reveal anything to them that I deem extremely sensitive."

"But if I sign this, you will reveal extremely sensitive information to me?" Severus asked with an arched brow.

"Yes. Feel free to read it first. I would expect nothing less."

Severus narrowed his eyes and paused for only a moment before turning his full focus on the magically binding legal document and reading it thoroughly. It took several minutes to read and re-read it enough times that he was sure he understood all the fine details. It was clearly a professionally drafted magical contract, so it would also be legally recognized without any option for argument.

His curiosity was burning deep inside him to know the truth about Potter, but at the same time he was also quite hesitant. This was certainly not something to take lightly...

"More than anything, I suspect that Albus deeply wants to know that someone that he trusts, knows what is going on with me, and is in a position to take an active role in looking after me," Potter began to speak lazily after several minutes of silence. Severus looked up at him through narrowed eyes, but remained silent. "Sure, he would be annoyed that you were being prevented from telling him the secrets you would now know, but I think it would also ease some of his concerns knowing that at least someone knows something. Especially someone that he trusts."

"Trying to convince me?" Severus drawled, cocking one sharp brow.

Potter chuckled and shrugged. "I'm not really sure, honestly. Perhaps part of me does want to tell you. Part of me feels like I owe it to you."

"You hardly owe me anything," Severus muttered and looked away.

"Well, you don't owe me anything either. And yet you still have managed to find it within yourself to be concerned about me."

"You are a member of my house. I look out for my students," Severus said, sitting a bit straighter.

Potter chuckled quietly. "We both know that you wouldn't be going to quite this much effort or concern over just any student in Slytherin House. Are you doing this because I'm Lily's son? Because of your Vow to Dumbledore? Or because of the Life Debt you owed to my father?"

Severus sucked in a sharp breath through his teeth. "How could you possibly know of any of that?" he whispered harshly.

"Because if it has anything to do with my father's life debt, I officially release you from it," Potter went on blandly, totally ignoring Severus' question.

A light flashed around the two of them and Severus gasped as he felt a flash of magic and a sudden lightening of his shoulders.

"What have you done?!" Severus exclaimed.

"I released you from the debt," Potter said with a nonchalant shrug before taking a sip of his tea and then making a face at it, most likely because it had gone cold. "We both know that my father didn't save you that day out of a desire to protect you, or out of any sense of remorse or a sense of right or wrong. He only did it to protect Lupin. It may be true that if he hadn't intervened you would have either ended up dead, or infected, but I don't think that's enough for you to owe him a Life Debt. His actions were more selfish, or at the very least, out of a desire to protect his friend – not you. Nothing noble about it. And it was your debt to him. Not me. I don't believe in inheriting Life Debts."

"How do you even know about the Life Debt!?" Severus demanded. "How do you even know about that day?! Who told you? Was it Lupin? It couldn't have been Black, he's in bloody Azkaban!"

Potter chuckled and shook his head. "If you want your questions answered, you'd have to sign the contract.

"You manipulative little bastard," Severus hissed and Potter just smirked back at him.

"Surely you've accepted by now that the Hat knew what it was doing when it sorted me into Slytherin."

Severus snorted and looked away, scowling.

"I'll offer you one bit of free information," Potter started a few moments later. "Free from the contract, so you could even repeat it to Dumbledore, or whoever else you wanted. Interested?"

"Of course," Severus snapped in annoyance.

"Okay, then I have a story to share. The story starts in the winter of 1980 in a dingy pub in Hogsmeade where a young Severus Snape watched Albus Dumbledore and a strange, eccentric-looking witch enter the pub and then go up the stairs to a private room. Taking his new duties as the Dark Lord's spy seriously, young Severus Snape stealthily followed them up the stairs and eavesdropped at the door. It turned out it was little more than a job interview for the Divination post, but at one point it actually became interesting when the eccentric witch's voice shifted low and she began to speak a prophecy.

"Unfortunately, young Severus Snape only heard the first three lines before the pub's owner caught him eavesdropping and tossed him out. But those three lines were enough, and the young Death Eater ran off to his Lord to report what he had heard. It was more than half a year later before the young Death Eater heard anything else about the Prophecy, for that is how long it took before the prophesied child was born and anyone could truly be sure whether or not they fit the mentioned specifications."

Severus sat in dumbstruck silence, hating every passing word and wishing desperately that he could tell the boy to stop speaking, but not finding the strength to do it.

"When young Severus Snape first learned that his Lord had identified his childhood friend and one true love, Lily Evans – now Potter – as the woman who had birthed the child of prophecy, young Severus was distraught, for he knew that the prophecy had sealed her fate. The Dark Lord would kill her and her child, and he was sure there was nothing that could be done to stop him.

"And so the young Death Eater went to his Lord and begged him to spare the girl; feeling utterly sure that it was a hopeless cause. After all, she was a mudblood, and a member of Dumbledore's Order, and the Dark Lord would surely not allow her to live.

"But much to young Snape's surprise, the Dark Lord agreed. He told his servant that he was very pleased with Severus for having brought him the Prophecy and would give him this one boon. His reward for having been such a good and loyal follower. But this was the moment when the Dark Lord sealed his fate. For you see, his own belief that the Prophecy was so monumentally important, and his belief that your bringing it too him was a monumental occurrence – a fated occurrence – put power behind his agreement that he did not intend. That, combined with your own terribly powerful wish for Lily to be spared bound the two of you in a naturally spawned Unbreakable Vow. Just as powerful – just as binding – and just as deadly – only without the bothersome ritual or flashy lights.

"But in that moment, the Dark Lord was truly grateful and appreciative of what young Severus Snape had brought him, and did, in all honestly, intend to honor his promise."

Potter paused and allowed Snape a moment to breath and process before resuming his 'story'.

"It took nearly a year before the Potters gave up running from one safe-house to the next and settle down in Godric's Hallow. Raising a child while on the run was exhausting and beyond bothersome. They had grown weary of it and had wished to simply find a way to remain in one spot and be safe. So Dumbledore had suggested a spell called the Fedelius, which would protect their location in the heart of someone they trusted – a Secret Keeper. It seemed perfect, except that there was one rather monumental mistake that they made. They trusted the wrong person.

"They made Peter Pettigrew their secret keeper because he seemed the least likely person for the job. Sirius Black was the one everyone expected, and he set himself up as a nice decoy, letting everyone believe that he was the one guarding the secret to the Potters safety. –"

"What –? But you're wrong. Black was the secret keeper," Severus interrupted, frowning in confusion. "He killed Pettigrew –"

"No. You're wrong. The only reason that Black went after Pettigrew was for revenge. Black was the only one who knew that Peter had been the one to betray my parents, and Sirius was utterly devastated and crushed by the loss of my parents, when he had been the one to insist they switch to Peter. You see – Peter had been a marked Death Eater and secret spy for nearly a year by the time my parents entrusted him with the secret of their home in Godric's Hollow. He had wasted little time in going to Voldemort and revealing the secret, and then the Dark Lord had laid in wait for three weeks until All Hallow's Eve, when he went to our home and attacked.

"Black had been the only one who knew the truth about who the real secret keeper was and he had gone after Pettigrew for revenge. But Pettigrew set Sirius up. He accused Sirius of having betrayed my parents in a crowded street to lay the blame, then cast a bombarda at a gas main, killing the muggles and faking his death. Then he transformed into his unregistered animagus form – a rat – and escaped through the sewers, leaving Sirius in a state of guilt-ridden despair, where he was found by the Aurors minutes later."

"Black's innocent?" Severus whispered in disbelief.

"He is. He never got a trial – or was ever really questioned, for that matter. But right after Voldemort's death, there was a state of martial law declared, and it was easy for people to shove the details of his arrest under the rug for the sake of swift justice. But we've diverged from the main path of our story. What's important next is what happened after Voldemort arrived at Godric's Hallow."

Severus flinched and grimaced at the use of the Dark Lord's name, but didn't say anything else to interrupt.

"The Potters were utterly unprepared – they assumed that they were completely safe and protected. Voldemort arrived and Lily took baby Harry and raced up the stairs while James turned to race for his wand. He was not fast enough, however, and he was quickly felled by the Dark Lord's wand.

"Said wizard then leisurely climbed the stairs to find Lily Potter standing in the nursery, also wandless, and blocking the crib where she had placed young Harry. The Dark Lord told her to stand aside. He told her that she did not need to die. Three times he told her to stand aside and again and again she refused, all the while begging that he take her, but spare her son. Take me, not my Harry. Please, just take me.

"And the Dark Lord finally raised his wand and aimed it at her chest and said 'Very well', and in that moment, the natural magic of the vow recognized a shift in the terms of the agreement. In place of having to spare Lily Potter's life, the Dark Lord was now required by the agreement that he had made, to spare her son's life instead. So when he turned his wand on young Harry Potter in the crib and shot loose the killing curse, he damned himself to a decade of suffering. Under any normal circumstance, he simply would have died – felled for his own defiance of the unbreakable vow he made – but the Dark Lord had too many safeguards in place to die so easily. So instead Magic destroyed his body, leaving him little more than a formless wraith.

"And that, dear Professor, is how you are responsible for my being alive here today."

Severus sat there, dumbstruck and gaping like some sort of idiotic dying fish. It was utterly unbelievable, and yet it was also the most logical and reasonable explanation he had ever heard. In fact it was the only reasonable explanation he'd ever heard.

Potter had given him permission to repeat this story to whomever Severus might want, but at this moment he was almost positive that he would never tell a soul, till the day he died. He most certainly wouldn't want the Dark Lord to ever know. That was for sure.

The man would likely kill Severus without even the slightest hesitation. The mere insinuation that Severus had any blame in what had transpired would be enough to warrant a death sentence – of that, Severus was sure.

He wasn't sure how Albus would react to such a story, but he couldn't quite find it within himself to want to share the story with Albus either. What did it really matter, anyway? It was the past, and hardly meant anything anymore.

Severus found himself closing his mouth and some small part of him hated the fact that his mouth had been open that long at all. He swallowed the horrified lump in his throat, closed his eyes, and took in several long, slow breaths, to try and calm his racing heart.

"How... how could you possibly know all that?" he whispered hoarsely.

Potter merely leaned forward, reached across the tea table and tapped his finger on the contract, while giving him a look.

Severus nearly growled in frustration before reaching forward, grabbing the pen, and signing the damn parchment.

"There, are you happy now?" Severus bit out angrily.

Potter merely grinned widely, shifted forward in his seat, grabbed the pen, and signed his own name on the parchment. It glowed briefly before the two of them each glowed with a gentle yellow light. The light then shot back into the parchment that proceeded to disappear with a flash.

"A copy of the contract will be filed with the Ministry and kept on file with Dodge E. and Dodge E. R. solicitors at law firm," Potter stated, all business, as he sat back in his chair, looking entirely too pleased with himself.

Severus scowled darkly. "Answer my question," he bit out.

Potter nodded a few times slowly before sighing. "Yes, I suppose I will. Okay. I'm cursed."

"Cursed? How so? And what does that have to do with anything?"

"I can't properly die, and I have no idea why."

"You just said the reason you didn't die from the Dark Lord's killing curse was because –"

"I'm not talking about that," Potter said tiredly, rolling his eyes. "I mean, even after I've lived a long ass life, long after killing Voldemort or whatever other nonsense I get up to, as soon as I die, I am instantly back to the day of my birth. Over and over again. I've been born twelve times already. Lived my life twelve times – to varying lengths – before dying and being reborn back at the beginning, cursed to do it all over again."

Severus slowly sat back in his chair, staring at the boy in front of him and trying to comprehend what he'd just been told.

"You can't be serious."

"I'm perfectly serious. The reason I know all the things that I know is because I've had multiple lives to learn it all. Multiple lives during which various people have told me different things. No magic divination, or secret sources. No third sight or whatever other rubbish people might think up. And I'm not some sort of child prodigy – I'm not even all that terribly exceptional at magic. I'm probably only mildly above average for your normal fully-trained and old as dirt, wizard. The thing is that, as far as anyone else can tell, I'm twelve, and no one expects a twelve year old to have the magical ability of a fully trained adult wizard with literally centuries of life to give them experience to draw from. So they see me and they think prodigy."

"Merlin's beard... you're serious," Severus whispered in stunned shock.

"My first life, I fulfilled the prophecy, defeated Voldemort, married my school-age sweet heart, had a load of children, grandchildren, and lived a very long and full life. Then I died and found myself a newborn infant again. No clue why. No idea what the hell was going on or why it had happened. But I thought, maybe this is an opportunity to do things over and do them better. Get the prophecy fulfilled faster. Save more people. Prevent the war. So I did. There were some bumps along the way, and I would hardly say I was thrilled with having to be a helpless child again for so damned many years. But I did do things 'better', I thought, and once again, I lived a long and pretty full life – although that time I remained a bachelor, and adopted several orphaned magical children instead.

"But then I died of old age again, and once again, found myself a baby. Starting over again. I was confounded. I could not understand why this was happening, and in all honestly, I did not want to do it all over again.

"That time I came clean with Albus. I told him everything and we worked together for years, trying to work out what the hell was going on with me. Nothing came of it though. Once again, I defeated Voldemort pretty early on, so there was no war, and no additional deaths. I resigned myself to living my life again, and tried doing a few other things 'better', in hopes that this would be the last time I had to relive my life.

"But it wasn't.

"Again and again, I lived my life over. Trying different things in hopes of not waking up the next time I died. I've been a Gryffindor, a Hufflepuff, and a Ravenclaw. Then I got fed up and killed myself before even reaching Hogwarts age. Tried several different methods for killing myself in fact. Even got myself kissed by a dementor because – surely, if I had no soul, the cycle would finally be ended.

"But it wasn't. I woke up screaming out my first breath, all over again, to find the exhausted, sweaty face of my mother, smiling tearily down at me." Potter paused and heaved a very long sigh, frowning deeply at a far wall. "To be quite honest with you, I'm entirely sick of it all. I've tried out preventing my parents from being killed, but that's never worked. I've tried preventing Sirius from being carted off to Azkaban, but thats never really worked either – although I have gotten him out a lot sooner in most of my previous lives. I just didn't bother this time around... mostly because I just stopped caring. I'm just tired." He paused in his story to let his head fall back against the chair and he stared up at the ceiling. He did, in fact, look tired. That was certainly true.

"Do you have any idea how monumentally depressing it is, living each day, knowing that it's all for nought?" Potter asked softly. "Knowing that it's all pointless? That someday, you're going to die, and everything you've done will be wiped away with the blink of an eye, and you'll have to start all over again?"

Severus just gaped, silently. He rather doubted that he ever could have imagined that the explanation for Potter's bizarre behavior and knowledge was this. He rather doubted that anyone could possibly make up a story this crazy.

He found himself once again, slowly closing his mouth and attempting to find a coherent thought to express. His mind latched onto one thing and he pressed forward.

"You said that in some of your – previous lives, that you'd killed the Dark Lord before he'd even gotten a body back. Why – why haven't you done that this time?"

Potter sat forward in his chair, looking across at Severus and actually smirked. "Ah, but you see – each time I've bothered to let a life go beyond the first few years of life, I've always decided to try something different, in hopes that maybe this change will be what fate wants in order to finally grant me my reprieve. But during every one of those lives, there was always one consistency."

He paused for dramatic effect and Severus nearly snarled at him with his impatience.

"I always killed Voldemort," Potter said, still with that obnoxious grin. "So I figured... why not change that? Maybe, what I need to do differently is not fulfill the prophecy. I hadn't tried that yet. Why not let Tom win? I'm at the point where I don't give fuck all what happens to the rest of the world. I fully acknowledge that I'm being a selfish bastard, but I just don't give a shite anymore. Besides, chances are that this won't work either, and when I do finally die, I'll just redo it all, all over again, and I'll try something else."

"You... you're... you've got to be joking!"

"Why not? Why not let him win?"

"Because he killed your parents! Because he's a lunatic!"

"Hey, you're the one who signed up to his little crusade at one point. You've got admit that some of his ideology isn't that bad. Especially his political work back in the 60's. The muggle-enslavement thing didn't come along until the late 70's when he finally went totally insane."

"But that's just it! He's insane!"

"I actually have a theory for fixing that."

Severus came up short. "Fixing that?" he echoed incredulously.

Potter hummed and nodded his head. "Yeah. I know what caused him to totally lose his mind, and I know of a way that will probably counter-act it. The trick will be persuading him that it's in his best interest to actually do it."

"You intend to try and persuade the Dark Lord to fix himself?" Severus sneered with disdainful disbelief.

"I intend to try, yes," Potter said calmly. "If he kills me, I just start over again, so what's the big deal?"

"What's the big deal," Severus echoed sarcastically, rolling his eyes.

"Hell, maybe I'm supposed to let him kill me. I haven't tried that yet," Potter said with a shrug.

"You are utterly ridiculous!"

"No, I'm hundreds of years old; extremely bitter, and mildly insane. Probably more than mildly... but I think it's difficult to gauge one's own sanity level."

Severus let out a cough in incredulity before letting his face fall into his hands. This was so far beyond anything he had been prepared to hear. He had no idea what to do with this information.

"You truly intend to let the Dark Lord win?" he muttered through his hands.

"I'm the one that helped him get the Stone."

Severus' head shot up and once again, he found himself gaping at the boy.

But that did make sense – didn't it? It had been far too easy for Quirrell to get through the obstacles on his first go. And Albus had apparently been so sure that his last one was fool proof.

"So he knows you're helping him, then?"

Potter shook his head. "No. I sent him an anonymous letter. I didn't think he was quite ready to know it was me – plus I didn't want to risk revealing my choice of side to the wrong source, too early."

Severus continued to bury his face in his hands, trying to process all of this. It was really rather too much to handle, honestly.

"Why have you told me this?" he whispered finally.

"Well... for one thing, you said you wanted to know."

Severus raised his face just enough to glare at the boy... who wasn't really a boy, he supposed.

"Secondly... I don't know... I like you, I guess.," Potter said with a chuckle and a shrug. "And you are the reason I survived the first killing curse. Plus you loved my mum." Severus flinched. Potter continued.

"I wanted to give you a chance to chose which side you want to stick to. I know that Dumbledore made you give him a vow that you would always do everything in your power to protect Lily's son... sooo... I know that puts you in a bit of a pickle as far as these things are concerned. Especially if you end up deciding to stay on Dumbledore's side, seeing as how I intend to go the other way."

Severus groaned and returned his face to his hands.

"I need time to think," he said after several long minutes.

"Take all the time you need," Potter replied easily. "I'm not going anywhere – well, not unless Dumbledore's Order people do something exceptionally annoying, but even then I intend to go back to Hogwarts in the fall.

– –

Harry didn't hear from Snape again for the rest of the summer. Dumbledore's Order members continued to sporadically show up around his flat, and every time one of them tried to stay beyond a simple sweep of the area, he would go out to greet them and tell them to fuck off – admittedly, without saying explicitly that, but the intention was the same.

The end of August drew to a close and Harry ended his lease and put his furniture back into storage – which meant he shrunk it all down into a tiny box and stuck it into his Gringott's vault. He got to King's Cross station rather early and after getting himself a croissant from a vendor, he headed to Platform 9 ¾ and then directly onto the train.

It was quite some time later before he had any company, and it came in the form of Draco Malfoy, along with Vincent Crabbe and Greg Goyle flanking him. They joined Harry without even asking, not that he really had any problem with that, and Draco quickly set about the task of recounting how utterly awesome his summer had been, while Harry didn't honestly even bother pretending that he cared. Draco honestly didn't care if Harry cared. Harry figured that Draco just liked hearing himself talk.

Eventually a few other Slytherins from their year joined them, and the group socialized as twelve-year-old's do, while Harry sat comfortably in the corner with his nose tucked firmly in a book. The others had seemed to accept long ago that this was just how he was and to not bother trying to draw him into conversation because it simply wouldn't work.

Harry was honestly surprised sometimes how easily the Slytherin children had accepted him. When he'd decided that he wasn't going to fight the hat in the least and just let it put him where it wanted – and it had always wanted to put him in Slytherin – he had honestly expected to be scorned by the whole house. He wasn't entirely sure why he had been so sure of this outcome. Probably because in every life he'd lived, no matter what house he'd ended up in, the Slytherins had hated him.

But during those lives, Harry had always clearly been the beacon and icon of the enemy. Even when Harry had been a Ravenclaw, that had also been the life that he'd spent so much time with Dumbledore trying to work out some explanation for why he was stuck in some sort of bizarre infinite loop.

Even during the lives he'd lived where Voldemort was never able to make a return, and thus, there was no second war, Harry had still been seen as the 'enemy' by the Slytherins. He was on Dumbledore's side – even when he really hadn't been – and he was the Boy-Who-Lived; the boy who vanquished the Dark Lord.

And while he had given absolutely no indication to anyone that he had any fond feelings for Albus Dumbledore, in this life, he had still been fairly sure that being 'The-Boy-Who-Lived' would be enough for the Slytherins to at least be mildly hostile. Surprisingly, they really hadn't.

He was still a Potter, and while his blood was tainted by his mother, the Potters were still a very old line and had at one point been very influential. They'd intermarried with the Black's, the Longbottom's, the Brand's, the Gamp's, the McMillian's etc – and they descended from the Peverells. While most of the ancestral details were not all that well known these days, it was still a good pedigree, and the idea that he came from good breeding was still firmly embedded in the minds of the pure-blood raised children.

And Slytherins had never really been known for loyalty. They were more the sort that took whatever strategy was most beneficial for them, when it was most beneficial. The stronger Slytherins sought power for themselves and equally powerful allies; the weaker Slytherins sought to gain the favor the of the stronger Slytherins. Pretty much all of the Slytherins understood the value of establishing ties to other powerful Slytherins. After all, they were all taught by their parents how important the power of good networking was. Many of them had parents who were pure socialites, and in their world, it was all about who you knew.

Becoming friendly with someone who was powerful, was always a 'noble' goal for a Slytherin. Harry had quickly been perceived as powerful. Everyone knew, of course, the fact that he'd survived the killing curse and 'destroyed' Voldemort, as a baby, but if he had come to Hogwarts and proven to be a complete imbecile, that legend would have done very little for him in Slytherin. No – it was his academic performance, his demonstration of practical spell knowledge above his years, and probably also his aloof behavior, that had gained their favor.

Best of all, Harry did not come off as pompous or arrogant. He knew he was stronger than most all of them, and they probably knew it too, but he didn't flout that fact in their faces, and they appreciated that. It was a skill that Draco had not yet learned for himself. He had more power than most of them because of his father's political influence, and their significant fortune. Draco held nothing back in making sure that everyone else was fully aware of just how powerful Draco thought himself to be. And most of the other students were inclined to suck up to him on some level simply because he would probably be a very bad person to be on the bad side of, later in life. One day he would be the head of the Malfoy family and it's fortune, and he would inherit their six seats on the Wizengamot and most likely end up in some sort of powerful political position within the Ministry. No one wanted to be his enemy, but not many people – older students especially – were all that fond of him.

Draco had learned early on, however, that Harry was not the least bit impressed by any of his political clout or family wealth, and had switched tactics with his attempts to woo favor with Harry. Basically, he'd treated Harry like an equal – with respect and the occasional friendly banter. Harry had been surprised by the approach, and continued to remain mostly aloof with the other boy, just as he did with all of his house mates. It had taken nearly all of their first year before Harry finally found himself warming up to the blond prat a bit. He'd even allowed him to start calling him 'Harry', which had brought about the most amusingly smug smile to Draco's face. Like he'd just accomplished some especially tricky spell and been given a prize for it.

The train arrived at Hogsmeade station and the group of Slytherins piled out and into one of the carriages. Harry's eyes lingered on the Thestrals wondering if any of the other children that surrounded him could see them. He decided there was little reason to hold back on his curiosity and so he asked them. Several of them didn't even realize that something was pulling the carriages, and had never even heard of Thestrals, but Draco, Greengrass, and Zabini all knew what he was talking about. Zabini was the only one who could see them though. Harry wondered who he had seen die, and then wondered if the boy had actually born witness to any of his many step-fathers mysterious ends. He decided it would be tactless to ask, and so he didn't.

No one asked him who he'd seen die. They probably assumed he was his parents.

The feast was totally uneventful. Obviously, Harry and Ron had not taken a flying car and had not landed in the whomping willow. Harry had only ever done that his first time through, and it was so distant a memory at this point that he barely spared it a thought. He tried not to compare things to previous lives, but it always seemed to happen anyway. It was one of the reasons he'd started trying to make things drastically different between each incarnation of his life. Fewer things similar, fewer things to remind of of what he'd lived and lost.

His eyes met briefly with Snape's, during the actual feast. The other man had looked back with an utterly blank expression and Harry wondered how the man would treat him this year. He tried to tell himself it didn't matter, but he knew that some part of him would hurt if the man spurned him, utterly.

One of his earlier lives, he'd become quite close to the man. He could hardly even tell you how it happened, just that it somehow had. He certainly didn't hold anywhere near the same level of animosity he had for the man during his first life. Of course, during that life, Harry had killed Voldemort, not joined him. Snape had firmly left Voldemort's side as soon as the man had killed Lily Potter, and as far as Harry knew, he hadn't looked back since.

Harry had heaved an annoyed sigh as his eyes traveled further down the table and fallen upon Gilderoy Lockhart. He was not looking forward to Defense this year. He knew Snape had been overworked the later-half of the previous year, covering half of the defense classes after Quirrell had left, but Harry couldn't help but wonder if he could find some way to get rid of Lockhart so that Snape would once again teach them Defense.

Maybe he could even get a time turner for Snape to use, so he wouldn't be quite so horribly over-stressed.

When Lockhart was introduced during Dumbledore's speech, there were excited twitters among the female population of the school, and a lot of rolling eyes from the boys. Harry was wondering if he could trick the man into obliviating himself within the first month and save them all from a completely wasted year.