A/N: In the beginning of this story, I stated the phrase, 'my stories tend to work themselves out.' I realize that this has been a long journey for some of my readers, and that, during the introspective processes of this piece I have lost some of those who were reading faithfully. Well here I am again, at the ending of this story, and I do stand by what I had before said. My piece has worked itself out, in the way that I had always planned, but perhaps did not fully realize. It is perhaps, a bit shorter than I expected it to be, but then I did not think that I would be turning my works into series- it just didn't have that end in good faith, that I could be satisfied with, because this journey is continuing. I am not sure how long that it will continue for, but I will be moving forward with it. I would appreciate it if you could offer me any feedback that you have, and that, in light of the fact that I will be proffering a sequel to it, that you let me know what your thoughts are at this point? Do you want it to continue? Your support is so much appreciated, and it fuels my inspiration. What do you all think? Thanks a many.

SM ~

A special thank you to hazeldragon for all of her awesome reviews.

{Disclaimer: Please remember that none of this is mine of course- of course! =) }

I am exhausted! Lol.

Chapter 17-

Epitome of Truth ~

Harry had sat down beside his professor, and placed his hands over his knees a century ago. The long, trailing robes of the master of potions, trailed over the grass between them creating a barrier of snake-like folds that seemed to undulate underneath the hot sun, whose intention must be to bathe them in a heat that was precarious and haphazardous- for who knew what would soon befall, if they were to sit here for ages thinking about who knew what malice, that would beleaguer their minds? Time swept slowly by them in the most horrendous fashion that was possible- and Harry feared it truly . . .

He felt the touch of a beautiful wind sweep past him in which he reveled, and he took the chance at that particular moment to seek out Snape's face, since for hours now they'd been ruled by fatigue- languishing underneath the possibilities of danger that hung over them as surely as did the warm rays of the disheartening sun, who with its bright smile cut off their energies- Harry could not personally discover that precious safety that he yearned for, as the blood pounding now furiously through his heart vessels was toxic, and insidious, as though every cell in his living body had been cursed by the deadliest nefarious spirit imaginable- Lord Voldemort. The sense of security and comfort that he had known at some point in his life was no longer existent, and in fact, if there was truly in the life that peace of the inner spirit, then his search was based within a failed act of the usual mechanisms on which the human, witch or squib or wizard- must run. He was a lost piece in the cog-work, and his blood was no longer real, or- well, healthy.

"Potter, I would truly appreciate it if you would kindly not place your person anywhere near to my robes." Harry moved his hand back as though it had been electrified casting Snape a look of unadulterated shock.

"I would never- " he spluttered.

"But it was, nevertheless upon my robes," Snape snarled, nastily. Harry sighed. The idea that he had taken such a measure . . . but nevertheless, he'd . . .

"In a manner of speaking, I am in your proximity upon Professor Dumbledore's wishes," Harry said stoutly, and his words were unfortunately followed by an ear-grating snort, which in essence meant that Snape had brushed aside anything that he wanted to say.

"Sir, if I can get you anything . . . " And now Snape turned to look at Harry, his face shifting aside ever so slowly, as though he were a dog that was discovering a new scent, one which he found to be absolutely repulsive while he stared down at him over his hawk-like features finally, in a manner that dictated a positively awful scorn. Harry however, stared directly back into those eyes, which were so dark that they almost seemed to shine brilliantly out of that soulless masquerade underneath which there must have been a life that could, really, never be fathomed.

"This is our secret." Suddenly Snape averted his eyes towards the ground beneath his endless apparel, but Harry continued to watch him closely, not knowing how to speak, forgetting, for the minute, where his vocal chords were located, but at the same time, realizing that he and Snape were barreling at break-neck speed towards an understanding could not be put into his vocabulary.

"You must not misunderstand this, Potter!" he spat, when Harry did not say anything to him in return. He shrugged.

"Is there any way that I would?"

"No," he said, his voice fathomless, in its soft and silky enumeration. The sunlight strands of black hair shadowed and his face away from Harry's view, although the beak-like nose still assailed the man, prominent as it stuck out, as if-

"I need you to perform magic, Potter." Harry wondered, with every particle of his suspicious tendril of his painfully oozing brain, why exactly Snape did not feel as though taking his own wand out of his pocket was a reasonable solution to the tiring issue of having Harry beside him during this vulnerable predicament. Was there a reason, to be completely honest, as to why he was not cursing him at this very moment? Slowly, his eyes rove up to the black, eerily glistening ones of Severus Snape, where they locked, and he felt as though he were trapped within an enchanting spell . . . before Snape could take it to its wonderful potential. Harry blocked this lovely but subtle skill with his own powerful one, foisting the potions master from his head with uncanny, and, in some manner, a remarkable diligence, for a bag such as he, pushing him magically back into the boulder behind the two of them . . .

Snape was not, however, one from which much nonsense could ever be gleaned from, despite those who despised him to the very depths, who called him names and taunted his nose, making a mockery of who he was, he was not a purple bat that had sporadically manifested within the dungeons- he was a dark and deep enigmatic force, one that was not an easy yoke, but a heavy burden. One should not trifle with the potions master. But it would seem that Harry already had.

"I didn't mean to push you back, sir, but that conversation is private," he said, his voice laced by a stubborn tinge that did not entirely suit him. Snape moved both of his long white, thin hands into the ghostly pockets of his flowing material and then struggled to stand up, accomplishing the feat with more effort than would be truly necessary under any normal circumstance. His ragged breathing complimented beads of sweat now trickling down his face, that were dewy-looking underneath the bright sunlight. Harry did not think that he had ever seen Snape without the nefarious color of black.

"You owe me an explanation, Potter." His teeth were gritted so tightly that Harry feared he might break one of them, and, to his surprise, he found that he needed to retain the information with force . . . then he realized that, while perhaps Professor Dumbledore may find himself in a quandary concerning Occlumency, Harry was still within his rights to share primary knowledge, so in this, he might as well appease Snape. As he cast a side-long glance at him though, he knew that Snape had been correct in one, particular assumption. He did need to perform. Discreetly flicking his wand in a complicated gesture, he muttered a rapid but effective charm underneath his breath. Nearly immediately Snape spun around, his mouth partly opened beneath his narrowed orbs of coal.

"What did you just do?" he hissed at him. Harry refrained from replying. A minute later, as he tactfully ignored the professor by taking a perceptive and, well- conveniently timely interest in the bland landmarks of practically nothing save for forest greenery- Snape abruptly closed his mouth as the effects of the cooling charm began to infuse themselves, his cheeks rather abnormally flushed. When he thought it safe to move, Harry turned around again, and said calmly to him,

"If there is information that you'd like to have concerning our discussion, I will be able to provide you with the essentials. At this moment, I cannot allow you direct access into my mind, because there are elements of the talk which I am not privileged to share with you." Harry bit his lip with force, hoping against hope that this explanation would suffice. A silence followed in which he could only hear Snape's breathing, the exhalations falling in a now smooth and rhythmical fashion.

"Alright, Potter," he conceded finally. Harry gave him a quick, perfunctory nod, relieved . . . before finally providing him with what the headmaster had not seen fit to, for whatever reason.

Harry spoke in muted tones although he did not have a legitimate reason for which to keep the soft and scarcely fluctuating rhythms of his voice so low, that he constantly pulled it lower, as if he found a dire necessity in dragging his words beneath an imaginary surface as he listened to his tones drop, and then drop lower. The trees swayed in a roaring tandem around him while he drummed his fingers against his knees as he finished, and he allowed his eyes to fall away. Snape was quiet, and Harry was aware that the information was not truly information. The dark tongue began to dark out between the thin white lips once again. The voice of Severus Snape meandered through the open space while the grass rustled underneath the strength of a wind that caused the hairs of his neck to raise and perk up. He could have heard that sound from wherever the wind rushed forth, as it was a colorful and a deep hiss, which was consuming.

"You- were correct to tell me this Potter, because now I will be able to trust you with what may in fact satisfy some of your wishes." Harry who had not an inkling as to what Snape was discussing, automatically opened his ears up with a fervent amount of interest, curiously nothing the curvature in his back, wondering why he had come to such a conclusion. The curve slowly became more pronounced as he let out a deep, sibilant hug, swiveling around. On his gaunt face was portrayed an elusive death of some kind-

"Last night Lucius Malfoy of course, impeded our journey when you and I traveled to our destination via this hidden mode of nefarious transit, which, until this space and point in time, shall we say, has been irrevocably marked with the footprints of the Dark Lord- and obviously, his followers," Snape added with the faintest trace of an invisible shadow which crossed over his face, and what Harry could barely discern as, perhaps a light shudder that swept through his body. He mused with an elegant ease that did not clasp onto any form of actual reality about the scream of the tortured souls that was somewhere beyond the path before them, when- unfortunately, yet inexorably and without any further ado Snape portrayed the picture in front of him, clearly . . .

"Potter, the woman in question last night who had been captured by the Dark Lord's followers for an indeterminable time length, knew of our whereabouts, yet she refused to disclose this information." Harry heard the potions master's words, but they meandered through his heart like a thick and less than flexible, gooey substance- as though he had swallowed a wad of cotton.

"Who was the woman?" He could not shake the flavor of black art . . . it was a power which Snape held over him, rooting him to the spot so that he could not move, and it sought to destroy Harry slowly but surely with evil. He swallowed, hard, over it. He needed to know what this horrible thing really was.

"It was Professor- ahem- " he turned a fraction away from him, his hand masking the lips from which the art of evil reached towards Harry's spirit- forever, like a dementor coming slowly ever closer with those stealthy claws of a gloomy, windy stream . . . "McGonagall." And there, that thing that was threatening to overtake his strength, was at last gripping him, noises rushing around him like nails that could not be stopped. Then he staggered forward, extending his hands towards the mass of black and held onto the front of his robes fiercely.

"Where is she?" he asked, his voice issuing in a bizarre, raspy semblance. "Where's the Transfiguration professor?" Harry knew with every ounce of the cells floating around in his head, that she could be the victim and the source of various endeavors that overly fervent, productive Death Eaters would enjoy, since after all, life had been a game, purely unadulterated it seemed- for Lord Voldemort. Harry stared into Snape's coal-black eyes and suddenly wanted to disintegrate, sink into the ground and be lost forever. The malicious but irrefutable love, which Lord Voldemort had for the evil art of insanity . . . this had been tried upon he himself and the games that were played inside his own head still rollicked around up there sometimes, although he really could not say that someone had left a stack of chess pieces, in his brain- they were the terrible products of images which would never leave The-Boy-Who-Lived without blame- they were the shadows of vivid portrayals of the acts which had endangered Sirius- which now endangered the Order. And perhaps Lord Voldemort was not yet finished- what had he done to the professor? Whatever evil deeds had been wrought upon her would be all of his, Harry's fault.

"Potter." Harry's eyes were wide and unblinking as he merely waited. "Potter, let go of the front of my person," he said insipidly, his teeth bared into a feral growl, making Harry relax his hold minutely. Upon the release that pushed him back so that he started to fall into a patch of white flowers behind him in a smooth gesture he succumbed to gravity, sitting down at last within the beauty of nature as the petals swam up to touch his knees in their remarkable depth of pure glory, which enabled the ability to cover the posterior of his body almost entirely. Snape lifted an eyebrow delicately at this strange picture, an act that almost caused Harry to laugh, so bizarre did this gesture look upon Snape's frame, even while he sobered simultaneously. The potions master coughed dryly.

"Be assured that you and the other dunderheads in the house of Gryffindor will still have your Transfiguration professor in the year forthcoming." Harry breathed a deep sigh of relief as he attempted to lift himself from the flowery spectacle of a gorgeous mess, thinking that the main reason for which no one else had walked this area was due to the unquestionably vast abilities of the climbing wall of this miserable bush of white.

"I never saw this bush of flowers," he mumbled, his head lowered during the movement while he tried desperately to maintain his dignity.

"Yes, well . . . " Snape murmured, elegantly turning to walk away from Harry.

"The professor didn't- she- what happened to her?" Harry asked, his voice wrought with a chord that indicated a worry which he wanted to hide, but the guilt washed over him, unable to be suppressed, and Snape paused, cocking his head infinitesimally.

"What happened during the time of Professor McGonagall's incarceration by the Dark Lords followers was wrought primarily by Lucius Malfoy, who upon his exit from Odgen's abode was forced to undergo added pressure from the Dark Lord himself that prompted him to capture her in order to attempt various methods . . . that would, hopefully, induce her to speak. She of course did not listen." Although his voice was grim in its quality, Harry could detect the faintest satisfaction that fascinated him, for he was the sheer epitome of an enigma it would seem. A chill, from a source that he could not with astuteness name, traveled up his entire spine.

"She was brought to our immediate vicinity in the additional hope that during our rescue attempt," he said, placing a silky emphasis upon the last two terms in that statement, "that we too, would as well be captured." His shoulders were curved in a carved statue that defined an unlikely strength rippling beneath the dark material, although Harry had become lost in another piece of time that eliminated the majority of the tangible scene before his gaze. He wanted to lay down yet again in that nest of white, feminine flowers- until Snape swiveled around as a hauntingly, deadly bat, and continued explaining.

"You do not understand fine depictions, Potter. And there can be no question that fortunate as it appears to have a bed of flowers at your disposal, you will not spend your time nesting in that repugnant white nuisance that must have been magically grown by one of Professor Dumbledore's friends," he said, churning the last word out slowly and with a nasty venom, as though he bid Dumbledore's compatriots nothing but the worst kind of dark magic. Harry couldn't help but to chortle. He swallowed over the lump in his throat, however, killing it before laughing since this was not a . . . the lump was possibly comprised not of mere laughter.

"I should have gone with you," he said in a hollow tone that forced from the other man a reaction. The bat nearly stopped pacing, so that he could look at Harry through those stringy black strands, over his long nose that was curved into a sharp scythe, when he spoke.

"I should have gone," Harry repeated. "If I had gone- "

"Then what exactly?" Snape hissed at him from his opposite location on the other side of the boulder. Harry did not truly know what he wanted to tell him for it was too deeply inside, imbedded in his mind. Therefore he merely shook his head allowing it to hang for a moment as though it were suspended, by the invisible thread that he couldn't break, as a faint movement made his ears become slowly more attuned, before he realized that Snape was right in front of him. A shiny, pointed black boot was tapping the green grass, causing Harry to feel inexplicably short-changed for some reason, although he could not really understand why.

"Look- into my eyes, Potter." Harry knew that he would not allow this. No. There was no way on this Earth that he was performing Occlumency on him yet again, not while he was feeling this heavy, anchor-like leaden guilt, weighing upon him so cuttingly and- while he felt what he might consider if he were to dig into the very core of his true motives, an ounce of compassion towards Snape . . .

"Look at me," he repeated, and, suddenly, Harry could not help himself from lifting his head, and meeting his gaze without the barriers that he should have respectfully put up in order to stop the flood from occurring, and so he allowed the thin man access, yet, as he pulled his gaze from Harry and folded his arms over his chest tightly, he could not bring himself to feel any amount of pique at his actions. Snape's eyes flickered slowly, like a light that was burning, yet which could not come to any sort of conclusion as to whether it should die or whether it should live- and Harry knew that Snape had seen more than he probably should have. He could not help but to feel slightly but painfully, in a tight, constricted manner- ashamed. It was more than merely compassion. He actually cared about Snape's well-being, for when he had almost died- he may have torn his own heart into shreds if it would allow him to feel less exposed than he now did, but obviously that was not a viable option for him. He only hoped . . .

"Pot- " Snape stopped and prevaricated for an unidentifiable amount of time, and it would seem as though he was contemplating about something that took a trying deliberation, one that appeared to be a bit unfashioned, in this particular instance.

"This is really a bit unreasonable, sir, and with due respect, I will freely admit to you that, well, I do care about your well-being, a lot, actually." Harry now averted his gaze. Snape too, had shifted his black orbs, as they both added strength to the atmosphere of pure tension. It was so tough and stringent that it would probably be difficult to cut it. "I was terrified the other night," he admitted, finally looking into the potions master's face once more, and he, too, fixed his black eyes upon Harry's bright greens. "I thought I had killed you- " he stopped, shaking his head as if there was a rather belligerent fly that was irking him- "and then, a few minutes ago, when you told me what had taken place, when I heard that scream- some of it," he added sheepishly, "I just could not completely absorb all of it." Harry shrugged, now finding an area somewhere above Snape's ear to be somewhat fascinating. A gruff sound, similar in its essence to a sigh but perhaps, not quite landing upon the tier necessary, meandered into Harry's brain, and vaguely he did not think that it might have, at some point, crudely amused him to see Severus Snape at a loss for his sharply, oftentimes repugnant, insidious snake instrument of a Slytherin, but now that his tongue had failed, Harry could not really, truly be glad about it.

"Potter, there is no reason for you to feel unwarranted guilt," he said finally, heavily. Harry was a bit surprised by this uncommonly candid remark, for it did not seem like it was extremely within his reason for the potions master to relieve someone's pressures in this odd way- and Harry found it to surprisingly be a bit soothing. He glanced up at Snape, who was leaning against the boulder once again in a questioning way, hoping that- if he were to be perfectly honest, he didn't really know what he was hoping for, or what he wanted anymore. Snape resembled a curved stone once again as his body molded into the shape of a rock- it looked as though he belonged there, standing there like that, and the curious hunch in his shoulders, Harry now realized, was perhaps- a bizarre way to relive muscular tension or something, he didn't know. All of a sudden he just felt weak, and awfully hopeless. How could he be anything like this person? How could he face the most evil wizard that had ever walked, with unbreakable shields that shut out his fervent probing, how could he close himself up like that, and still portray such an unwavering amount of sheer strength? He needed to have an answer. He needed to know.

"Please," his voice was barely above a whisper. Snape's arms were crossed over his chest once again, his gaze guardedly set somewhere beyond them in the distance. "Tell me how you shut yourself away like a rock, and how you deceived Lord Voldemort, as well as his followers. I don't know what I am doing," Harry said honestly, splaying his arms out at his sides, while looking at Snape desperately. He was beyond reproach, or concern or care at the moment. He simply needed to attain information- and if he did not receive it, then the results would be, well, at the least unbearable, but it would never be amiss to try. And Snape finally quirked a long finger at Harry, his long hair of shining black cascading around his features beneath the paradoxical sun as he beckoned him towards him. He spotted his pearlescent tinted owl nipping upon something that had burrowed itself in the ground beneath her soft orange feet that she eyed with a malicious air of pure disgust- Harry walked over to Snape, snorting slightly. His black eyes followed Harry's gaze for a moment.

"I see that your owl is enjoying our circumstances." A light sneer played about the thin white line which formed his mouth, but Harry found that he did not mind really. He did think, however much contrary to what Snape may have thought his solicitousness to be- that he should, perhaps, offer him some assistance right about now, since he looked as though he were fatigued to the brink of a precarious sort of danger.

"Sir- I think that- maybe you should sit down?" he asked, coughing slightly, and berating himself for the fact that it came out more like a question about fire-eating slugs. Snape raised his eyebrows at him prominently, creating an arc that was nearly as wide as his nose, making Harry blush.

"You look tired," he muttered, "I mean, you do know that Professor Dumbledore asked me to keep you in excellent physical condition . . . and, um- well I don't really think that this- " he gestured up and down Snape's person- "really counts, in a legitimate fashion, if you know what I'm trying to say- " Harry stopped, as his words started to become garbled. He truly and irrefutably felt like a blustering idiot.

"You did take care of me for several weeks now!" he blurted out loud, not really knowing from whence these tenacious gripping foes came from, as though to plague him. Why could he never close his own mouth? Would it truly be that terribly difficult? It wasn't as though he were a cockroach- he did have a mind in truth!

"I was working as a spy for the Order which you well know," he said in a remarkably calm, smooth tone of silk that Harry did not altogether understand. Nevertheless, he knew that Snape had bested him in this argument even while he tried to discern what was beneath those many layers that the potions master had hidden away, deep within the overlaying shadows of his person, something he could not fathom.

"What is it, Potter?" he snapped, forcing Harry to pull himself from his trance but he simply continued to stare at him oddly, finally saying his thoughts aloud,

"I am trying to figure you out. I just don't understand why you're so closed away, why you won't admit that your concern is present, why it exists, and that you do care for- me, and . . . the Order . . . I mean, it is not really that . . . "

"Potter," Snape growled at him, but Harry was already embarrassed enough to put a halt upon the words tumbling forth from him as though they had been loused by someone that had jiggled a cork in order to finally let the stream out.

"You are not a bottle," Snape said softly, and Harry, quickly realizing what was happening, averted his gaze. He sighed, and Snape tutted, but, then, to Harry's furious astonishment, began speaking, and Harry could not open his ears quickly enough- something fell to the ground from a tree, which scattered it into the distance beyond them, but, Harry tuned out every piece of the world in which they were living as the sound of a mad pumping swept through him, like two hundred lovely black racehorses- but then, that thought was odd. It took a while for the words to make any sense, but eventually they washed over him in a surprisingly, albeit deathly- harmonious semblance, cascading around him in a black arc of deep velvet strings, in the way that Snape's hair fell around his white face. Time had been suspended.

" . . . the headmaster and I disagreed over various issues, but he nonetheless sought your protection for more time than is absolutely worthy of recollection," the sneer coursing through is voice smote the material of the velvet crassly, to take away from the merit of one of Snape's finer moments in all the time that he could considerably remember.

"Challenging him was, as per usual, of little benefit, and so I agreed to oversee anything which appeared to be out of ordinary- "

"At the Dursleys?" Harry couldn't help but to scoff. Those black eyes flickered over to him for a minute, but then Snape continued as though he had not heard him.

"The headmaster boasts a few qualities that some deem to be highly unusual, so this would not be the first time in which his thoughts may be in the category of what can be deemed unique, but he is nevertheless well aware of the manner and the precise lifestyle of your relatives."

"I'm not sure what you mean," Harry said honestly.

"My thoughts on the matter are not important." He knew that in the man's own mind more was festering than he would tell him during this discussion, and that Snape was deliberately maneuvering away from the topic- it struck him that the reasons for which Snape had opted for ignorance in this case were special. Maybe it was a possible circumstance, an odd circumstance, that he was more familiar with his own relatives than anyone would possibly suspect. And then, like a light bulb that lit up the darkness in a deeply tumultuous, hazardous cavern it came to him in a flash.

"Aunt Petunia," he whispered. The words spoke were a mark of danger, and Harry knew that those tunnels should not have been lighted. Snape's eyes were burning so fiercely that they might have terrified him, were it not that he could detect another symptom burning in them- buried more deeply.

Before he even had the chance to stop himself from taking the action he knew he shouldn't have taken, he placed his hand upon Snape's bony shoulder.

"I'm sorry," he muttered, confused, as well as abashed by his folly. "I know that it's not exactly in your immediate plans for this . . . conversation." Quickly, he removed his hand, averting his eyes from the potions master. Snape ran a long, nail-splendiferous, finger across his mouth, yet he merely clamped his jaw together, air escaping his teeth in a strange hiss.

"There is no need to apologize," he said in the harsh tone of . . . granite. "The topic is not one that I can discuss with you at this time. Your mother and I were very close." He closed his eyes slowly, languorously even, as though he were relishing something, and, for a moment- Harry felt like he was an intruder to a pain that he never would be privy to, and he . . . well, he didn't like the notion, not really. His mother had been very much a part of Snape's life, but, for him it was like- butter, because although you could cut it with a knife that was made for this sole purpose, but this did not allow one- to necessarily- savor it in your mouth and enjoy it. The tools to someone who was close to his mum would never be opened through the potions master. He couldn't help but to feel a little short-changed. His father, after all had entrusted his son to Sirius Black- but, that was a moot point at this moment. Only Remus Lupin would now be able to unlock the doors that carved a path into his father's history.

"I know," he sighed eventually. "I'm not asking you to." He hadn't realized that he had closed his eyes, but when he opened them Snape was studying him with guardedness.

"I may tell you a little about her, sometime, Potter. At this instant it is not something that we can discuss." Harry realized that once again Snape had broken his Occlumency barriers into something that resembled quiet, serene pygmy puffs, and they were crumbling down slowly.

There was nothing that he could accomplish anymore by attempting to close himself away from Snape's interest, so . . . he did nothing at all about it. But the potions master did seem as though when talking that he did not wish to share anything with him, as if each word was costing him an immense effort, and Harry could not help but to wonder whether he would learn anything at all from Snape. But then, he continued speaking, directly after placing a finger across his lips delicately- he knew that it was a warning sign, but that was fruitless, for Harry wouldn't have interrupted him if Voldemort were to walk upon them, this instant- he had waited for this, it seemed, for an entire lifetime. Yet it had only been a few weeks in reality.

"When the headmaster instructed me to wait near the Dorsey's residence, fearful that you would, in fact, by an unlucky incident betray the magic of your residence, as you inevitably did when walking down the street one day with your cousin- I had not known then, that the circumstances would turn into such a dire drama of all sorts of nefarious happenings, nor that I would be ridding your body of the elusive bite whose rapidly-working venom almost took your arm- Spinner's End, as you are well aware, has been subject to every imaginable dark curse protection that I have knowledge of, and this is considerable, since I have delved deeper into the arts of magical darkness than most people would deem to be proper without some type of surveillance. Were it not for Albums Dumbledore's interference sixteen years ago, then I may not at this moment have access to anything which is centered upon the Order. As it is . . . " Snape here paused, coughing very slightly into his robed arm. Harry noticed that his brow was aligned with sweat once more, and, while he was still in the process of trying to determined whether he should do anything, the potions master continued to speak. He was staring off into the distance now- and the look upon his face was an expressionless mask- Harry, making it obvious that he was still listening, moved to Snape's left side, situating himself against the rock as he attempted to gain some sort of comfort.

"I was of course more than able to maintain you within my quarters, since Spinner's End is very likely the safest abode in the entire world of our kind, due to what would seem to be the most poignant danger," his tone was faintly mocking, "which those who were the closest to the Dark Lord were enlightened of unfortunately, and were provided access into my house, which is generally known to be unplottable, due to the extensive wards that I with the assistance of Albus Dumbeldore, have placed upon it. Yet . . . there were events that I could not foresee," he repeated again. "Spinner's House opened itself to Antonin Dolohov, and I did not figure out the reason immediately, although soon, of course, the reason was brazenly apparent." Snape's eyes traveled over to him, and Harry did not have to ask what it truly was. Deep down, he already knew the answer. "Your curse connection to the Dark Lord has remained steadfast throughout all of these years, and because of the refusal of the blood wards to continue to protect and aid you, it has grown even greater in strength. It is also my educated guesswork that Seraphina's venom has additionally fortified the working process of the connection, but- it has not been proven." His voice was a silky-soft chocolate and the chills running up and down his spine felt like spidery fingers- "If that is indeed the case," Snape murmured, "then we need to walk about our cause with exceptional caution." His eyes traveled up towards Harry's curse scar once more, and the foreboding feeling that tickled his spinal fibers only intensified. "Guesswork is all we can hope for," he murmured. Those long and elegant fingers were tracing the frame of his almost translucent mouth once again, and Harry found himself vaguely wondering whether he had every played the piano- mentally he shook himself.

"The Dark Lord took advantage of the mental needlework in any way that he could, and this created the various hallucinations that you experienced. Upon Dolohov's exit of our dwelling, and your concurrent imaginary figments, I knew that staying there was not safe- "

"Bats," Harry interrupted, and then immediately he blushed furiously. Snape's lip curled. For a moment he thought that Snape was on the verge of laughing.

"That was certainly one way in which the Dark Lord thought to try to entertain himself, although the visions, if I am not much mistaken, intensified later." Snape did not elaborate upon the idea, for which Harry was truly grateful. "It is difficult to predict enigma. One can begin breaking down a type of mystery and continually come to the wrong conclusion. Your own, proved to be rooted in deeper levels of dark magic than many people would dare to visit. Yet, I understood the Dark Lord's goals for you, and I knew what he intended to accomplish by continually impeding your thoughts and by creating around you an arc of continual melancholy, that, in many circumstances, would have tortured the victim into a death-like measure of insanity . . . " his dark eyes sought Harry's out once again, and he locked into Snape's tunneling holes. "You did well." Harry's mouth fell into an 'o' of surprise before he could stop himself. Snape now looked away from him once again. "I will freely confess my surprise at your ability to overcome the Dark Lord's inventions," he softly, now looking off into the distance. "It was . . . unexpected. I had nothing to offer you, obviously, save for my continual existence in the house, in addition to my proclivities for the arts of dark madness."

"You did help me," Harry suddenly blurted out, but Snape did not say anything. "You helped me more than- well, just being there, knowing that in some way you understood . . . " Snape now sought Harry out with a curious measuring, as though he were measuring him, Harry-

"What do you mean Potter?" he asked finally, curtly. Harry bit his lip. He wasn't quite sure how to explain himself properly.

"I don't know how I understood that you and I had shared it, but I knew that when I was undergoing continual bouts of madness, and you looked at me, that, during some frame of time, you had also been such a victim . . . " Harry trailed off. "- and survived," he whispered. "I admired you for it, and I grew to admire you for other qualities eventually . . . it just took me awhile to get my head cleared," he at the last offered Snape, his tone sounding fairly apologetic. Snape merely sighed though.

"I have been paying for past sins for an extremely long time," he muttered, his brow furrowed. Harry noticed that he unconsciously placed his right hand upon his left forearm, and then he experienced something foreign- feeling sorry for Snape. Although the potions master did not at first appear to see what he was doing, Harry slowly reached a hand out- then, as though he were afraid of being rebuked, he pulled Snape's clamped hand apart, moving it from its position. He sucked in a deep breath, glancing around at him. He watched as Snape visibly swallowed.

"I may have been wrong- about a few other items as well." For a strange, unfathomable reason, he appeared to be experiencing some slight breathing problems. "You are not as similar to James Potter, as I once proclaimed. In fact, you are in the essential qualities, much more like your mother." Harry's heart went up, all the way into his adam's apple and rooted itself there, cutting off all of his oxygen. He had never dreamed in a million centuries that Snape would pay such a compliment to him, and he felt himself, for the moment, completely overwhelmed. After a minute however, in which neither of them spoke, Harry could do nothing more than utter a quiet 'thank you.' He felt the ground shift a little and then realized that Snape, too, was probably a bit embarrassed. With an innate grace that he did not often show he possessed, Harry endeavored to move the conversation to another section.

"So, you- after you determined that- er- He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had not been able to break me entirely- " Snape sighed, again, and Harry wondered whether or not he needed to spell him.

"Sir- " he asked hesitantly, "do you want me to cast another cooling charm?" Snape frowned. He waved a hand aside quickly. "It is no matter," he said.

"I have not much information left, to give you. Everything is as I said. You are well aware of the fact, that, in light of your mental connection, and the fact that my abilities to spy are no longer existent, we must now follow the Order's directives, by working with its members rather than from the exterior." Harry felt his heart soar again, with a joy that he could not fully describe. It seemed to be nearly unimaginable that he would be able to be in his friend's vicinity once more- he looked up at Snape. There was a stretch of silence between them. So many sins had already been pushed away from many wizards, and so many were yet to be uncovered. He felt that, if it took him an entire lifetime, he would never be able to do what was expected of him, and . . . truly, he thought, as he watched his musings flit over Snape's features, reflected in those black holes- his Occlumency still left much to be desired.

"Yes, it does," Snape muttered. Harry couldn't help himself. He let out a loud, robust laugh. He felt so free from all of the world's wrongs at the moment, that he simply allowed the feeling to overwhelm him. Snape sighed, yet again, above him. His laughter was still by his next words- he didn't know exactly why it was so, but Snape's next words cut through him like a bloody knife-

"In the end Potter, time is all we have." He could hear more than truth in Snape's words. His eyes reflected a past that, for better or for worse, had been carved out, slowly, meticulously, and, even- murderously- by time. So much pain seeped through this thin and pale strength that was nothing but black clothing, and- in his black eyes, strange, enigmatic vehicles crept occasionally- the very edge of madness. Suddenly, Harry heard the crack of several apparitions in the distance.

"The Order," he murmured. Snape nodded confirmation. It seemed as though the sky had darkened, and Harry heard a raven cawing in a crass, tumbling semblance above them- it had no heed of anything save for its own failing, or falling blocks of musical melody, and, actually, Harry thought that it rather sounded like Aunt Petunia in the hot shower. He heard a low, barely discernible chuckling assail him- footsteps were coming nearer- and the two of them stood there, merely looking into one another's eyes, Snape the epitome of death, communicating even though there was really nothing that they needed to say-

No. That was wrong. There was everything left in the world to say, and Harry was going to make damn sure that they were both around to hear it said. He squared his jaw and reared his shoulders, like the boulder that he knew Snape to be.

"Stay with me," he said in a strong, clear voice, before taking a step away . . . he could hear his friends calling him. "And you can stop calling me Potter," he added, as he began to move back in a retro-fashion. "I think we've moved past that." The potions master inclined his head shortly.

He knew that Snape was correct. In the end, time was all they really had.

Let me know what your thoughts are, concerning the sequel and any other matters at hand. They are appreciated with love. I suppose that I shall say adieu for now . . . cheerio!