AN: Just my endless thanks to all of you.
Covent Garden was a much busier place than Diagon Alley had been, and Harry was glad that Snape had disguised them with Muggle clothing. Not that there weren't plenty of odd people about in London – Harry just preferred not being one of them. In the department store Snape had led him directly to the clothing section, given him a list of the basics to buy, and left him to his own devices. Harry at first had been hesitant to choose things, but Snape had explained along the way, rather sarcastically, that the money they were using had been set aside for some secret group of Dumbledore's to use, and Harry's well-being was slightly important to said group.
When Snape found him again after half an hour, Harry had a good collection of shirts, some trousers that weren't uniform dress ones, jeans, some knitted jumpers like Mrs Weasley had made him, new pyjamas, and the dreaded undergarments. The only things he'd missed were shoes and a coat, so Harry left his stuff with Snape and went off in search of something that he liked.
The freedom of being able to choose what he wanted (Snape had only rejected one pair of jeans because they were pre-stained – 'a foolish selling point if there ever was one') was rather brilliant, and Harry knew he'd have to control his urge to buy things in future shopping trips because he only had so much in his vault, and it had to last his whole time at Hogwarts.
"All right, I'm ready," Harry announced, carrying two boxes of shoes, and a jacket slung over his arm.
Snape was sitting next to a bored looking teenage girl, the pile of Harry's clothes in a basket by his feet. The packages of Harry's underpants were on top of the shirts and trousers, and Harry flushed as he dropped the shoeboxes over them.
He glanced up at the girl beside Snape, who gave him a little smile before standing up. Harry, face already slightly embarrassed because of the underpants, suddenly realized that his stupid puberty-ridden body was very much enjoying the mere seconds of attention she was giving him.
"Take your things, John," Snape said, shoving the basket into Harry's hands. Harry held it close, right in front of his midsection, and gave the girl an answering smile as she wandered away.
"Go away," Harry muttered to himself, watching the girl leave.
"Be careful," Snape warned, his voice undertoned with mirth as he walked toward the cash. "That's not the kind of accidental magic one wants to wish on oneself."
Harry's eyes widened as he followed Snape.
"It wouldn't be permanent, would it?"
Snape didn't answer, and Harry tried not to think too much about it. He was quickly distracted by the amount on the cash register, which kept getting higher and higher by the minute. Snape explained, once again, that the money was not for Harry to worry about, but the Dursleys had never given him anything freely, and Harry couldn't help the ingrained training that this would cost him.
"Someone went through a growth spurt?" the woman asked, a grandmotherly smile plastered on her face as she looked down at Harry. Harry fought the urge to scowl as Snape handed over the bankcard. He wasn't some two year old who'd grown into big boy pants, for pity's sake.
"No, more a late reward for good end of term grades," Snape replied, flashing an amused smile as the purchase went through. Harry blinked as he picked up the bags, wondering if Snape was referring to the Basilisk slaying, or the fact that he and Ron had gotten rid of flashy Professor Lockhart.
Harry carefully made his bed before he hefted his trunk up onto it. It was more than half as tall as he was, but the shop keeper he'd bought it from had been nice and put some sort of charm on it to keep it light. His small fingers traced the black outline of the Hogwarts crest on it, before he fit his palm over the centre. The crest was bigger than his hand.
"This is real," Harry whispered to himself, watching as each clasp of the trunk clicked open under his nimble fingers. Behind him, Hedwig chirped softly in her sleep.
"This is real, and you're real, and I'm a wizard," Harry told her. Downstairs he could hear the telly blaring, and his Uncle laughing at something. His room was silent, but Harry preferred it that way. The silence was his.
In the trunk were all of the books on his list, stacked neatly according to size and strapped together with an old-fashioned leather strap. He had a small mint tin in the corner of the trunk, which held a few quill nibs for the practice quills he had, and Harry had placed all his feather quills in a Walker's shortbread box that he'd salvaged from the recycle bin. His potions equipment had been wrapped carefully in a shirt that was still acceptable to wear, and his robes folded neatly and placed on top of the pile.
Every article of clothing had his name in it. Harry had spent two evenings cutting up even strips of an old pair of shorts, printing his name neatly on them, and sewing them into his clothes. His fingers still hurt from pushing the needle through the thick winter cloak, but he was determined that he would follow the requests of the supply letter perfectly.
Harry smiled at his collection of school items. He was ready, and he'd never looked forward to going back to school as much as he did now. Though the trunk was packed (for the fourth time – Harry had re-arranged things to fit them better and ensure nothing would be broken), he still felt that the trunk was missing something. His initials were on each end, and it had a small metal wheel trolley for it. Inside the lid was plain, save for the logo of the trunk maker set amongst the diamond patterned lining paper. It was a foreign name, German sounding, and to Harry made his journey to Hogwarts seem much more official.
Harry looked about the room to see if he could figure out what was missing, and it took a few minutes to sink in. The trunk wasn't really his. It could belong to any student. Slowly, he crept about the room (though he had every right to be in there) and looked for something to add. Drawers were silently opened, toys shifted about in the closet, and Harry peeked under the bed as he looked for a few things. Finally, he had the additions he was missing. A battered copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a thick pair of warm socks, a Jacob's ladder that Harry had fixed a week earlier, and a park map of the London Zoo. Harry planned to cut out the logo from the map, and sello-tape it to the inside of the trunk lid.
Harry nodded to himself, satisfied with the plan, and locked the trunk up again. He carefully placed it at the end of his bed, putting it on his desk chair so that he could see it through the night.
Slipping under the covers of his bed, Harry glanced at the calendar up on the wall. Three days to go, and he and the trunk would be on their way to Hogwarts.
He was going to be a wizard.
"Yeah!" Harry startled, limbs jerking and head shaking as he came to awareness. He was sitting on the foldaway bed, leaning against the bookcases, and had his clothing sorted in piles on the bed around him. His trunk was open on the floor, with last year's clothes, books, and the Jacob's ladder strewn about. Harry had two dress shirts hanging on Snape's office chair and he watched dumbly as Snape picked up one of the shirts.
"Is there a space enlargement spell on your trunk?" Snape asked, holding the shirt by its collar and rubbing something on it with his nail.
"I hope so," Harry said, looking around the room and shaking the image of Privet Drive from his mind.
"You may find this method much easier," Snape replied, withdrawing a piece of paper from his pocket. It had nothing to do with the space in Harry's trunk, and as he passed it over, Harry noted the name 'Cash's' at the top.
"Five points for resourcefulness regardless," Snape finished, flicking the shirt inside out, and his hand holding just below Harry's handmade 'H POTTER' tag.
Harry's lips set together as he felt a rush of defensiveness rising. He'd done pretty damn well for himself as a child and was about to say so, but Snape left the room without saying anything else about the handmade labels. When Harry glanced down at the paper he was holding, he saw it was an order form for school uniform labels. Likely the same company Aunt Petunia used for Dudley's things, and Snape had even filled out this address for the delivery. Harry was surprised that he'd not also filled out 'JOHN SNAPE' as the label name.
"Are you actually…People know you as Snape here? In this town?" Harry called out, failing to make his question into any sort of sense.
Snape must had been studying the house picture in the hall, as it only took him three seconds to glance back into the room and look at Harry as if he were stupid.
"The order form will be sent to a Muggle business, Potter. Even so, if you or one of your idiot schoolmates were to look for me in the telephone directory, there are plenty of Snapes that live in England."
"Right," Harry said, embarrassed that he'd asked.
"I have it on good authority that this is not the sort of place the students imagine me living," Snape mused, sweeping his hand out in reference to the office.
Images of bats, vampires, spooky castles and coffins popped into Harry's head.
"No, probably not," Harry wisely answered. He put the order form down on the bed and gestured to it. "I don't have any galleons to pay..."
Snape waved his hand, as if he was flicking an irritating fly out of the air, already turning to leave the room.
"You will be meeting the Weasleys in Diagon Alley, the day before you return to Hogwarts. I'm certain a visit to Gringotts can be arranged."
Harry broke into a grin, thinking about zipping through Diagon with Ron and hopefully Hermione too. And since he'd already bought his books, he could spend some time looking at fun stuff, like the newest quidditch supplies.
The room was pitch dark, with the blinds drawn over the small window that was mostly blocked by the mill wheel. Harry had been sleeping in the room for two weeks now, and knew which floor planks in the office squeaked, what each groan of the house was, and what shadows came on the walls during the night.
He did not recognize a noise just outside his door, and only partially woke up to listen. There was silence for a few seconds, and when Harry glanced toward the office door he didn't see anything. Putting his head back down, Harry stretched his one hand up under his pillow, holding tightly to his wand. Feeling much more secure, Harry drifted off to sleep again.
He only managed to drift for another ten seconds, before he thought he heard another creak and sat bolt up in bed, his wand pointed at the door. Instead of it being empty again, Harry saw that Snape was standing in the doorframe, leaning against it.
"Very good, Potter," Snape said, sounding both satisfied and smug.
Harry, who'd felt a twinge of panic since the first noise that had woken him, exhaled a large breath.
"What was that for?" Harry demanded. According to the clock on Snape's desk, it was almost one in the morning.
"Training you would be absolutely useless if someone could attack you in your sleep," Snape said, still watching from the door.
"Great," Harry said, flopping back down onto the bed. "So for the next however many years, I can't sleep?"
"Get up," Snape ordered, flicking on the light.
Harry hissed and drew his hand over his face.
"Are you serious?"
"Get. Up," Snape barked, stepping into the room.
Harry threw the covers down and pulled himself out of bed, still gripping his wand.
"We will be discussing personal safety wards for sleeping when back at Hogwarts," Snape said, as Harry blinked his eyes in exaggeration, to wake himself up. "As for now, we are going outside."
"It's one in the morning," Harry dumbly said, staring at Snape.
"Warm socks, then," Snape snapped, walking out of the room and down toward the kitchen.
The night wasn't super cold, but it was windy, and Harry did not want to be facing one of Snape's obstacle courses or the damn dodge balls in the middle of the night. Not when he'd already bounced off the doorframe of the office on his way out. His co-ordination wasn't even close to acceptable and he knew he wouldn't be able to dodge anything.
Surprisingly, that wasn't on Snape's list of activities. Snape led him to the side of the back garden, and Harry could see where the mill wheel was that Snape had set up target practise. On each slat of the wheel was a target, and the water current was strong enough for the targets to keep rotating.
"You want me to hit targets in the middle of the night?" Harry confirmed.
Snape stood beside him, arms crossed and a satisfied look on his face.
"If you are attacked in the middle of your beauty sleep, I expect you to pick off your assailants, yes."
Harry shrugged, lifting up his wand. Snape had taught him a marking spell, which allowed him to fire a small burst of colour from his wand, marking the target paper. It was only after Harry tried the first shot when he realised that the targets were not the same size, and that Snape had set some sort of charm on them that they moved side to side as the mill wheel brought them around.
"You must hit at least twelve, Potter, or you'll be out here all night," Snape warned.
Harry seriously considered firing at Snape instead.
On the night before Harry was going to Diagon Alley, Snape made steak for dinner. It was a nice night out, and Harry's mouth watered at the smell.
"Celebrating the end of summer?" Harry asked, getting a glass from the cupboard.
Snape paused in consideration, before putting a baked potato on his plate.
"To your continued survival, if you'd like," Snape replied, going to sit at the table.
Harry smirked, filling his glass with water and serving himself dinner.
"You didn't think I'd survive living here, did you?" Harry asked, feeling proud that he'd managed to prove Snape wrong. He wasn't a spoiled rich brat who expected the world to bow at his feet.
"I had my doubts," Snape acknowledged, in a very dry tone.
"Hah," Harry said, plunking down in his seat. "I actually learned a few things too."
"Will wonders never cease," Snape continued. Harry ignored the sarcasm.
"And we'll be continuing? Two days a week, during school?"
"Yes," Snape responded, expertly cutting his steak. "Which your friends will not be informed of."
"What?" Harry asked, his fork jammed into the potato. "I have to tell my friends."
"You won't," Snape responded, pointing his knife at Harry. "This is part of your training. Trust no one, Potter."
"I need to trust my friends," Harry slowly said. "There's no way I can do all of this alone."
Snape shook his head, rolling his eyes slightly as he did so. He took a sip of beer from his glass (Beer! Harry was still surprised to see him drink it), before answering again.
"I am well aware of that. I am testing you on your ability to keep important information hidden, as you can not, no matter how much you want to, ever be fully transparent to your friends."
"So I can tell them at some point," Harry asked.
"Yes. For now, there is such a false sense of quiet security in the wizard world that your friends will not be convinced of the danger, nor your need to be trained."
Harry started on his steak, remembering that both Ron and Hermione had followed him when he'd tried to protect the Philosopher's Stone.
"I don't know about that. They were there, when Quirrell tried to get the stone."
"Following out of blind loyalty, no doubt," Snape said. "In any event, I have no desire to deal with the complaints and little detective adventures of Weasley and Granger every time I poison you."
Harry smiled as he took a sip of water, remembering how ridiculous some of their ideas had been to find out if Snape was evil, or if Malfoy was the heir of Slytherin.
"Hang on, you're going to poison me?" Harry asked, blinking at Snape.
"Yes," Snape answered, calmly eating some of his salad.
Harry's jaw dropped slightly.
"Not now," Snape huffed, pointing his knife at Harry's plate. "That is perfectly good steak that you will not waste."
Harry picked up his fork again, but didn't take a bite.
"But, poison?" Harry meekly asked.
"Veritaserum, at the very least," Snape explained, to the complete non-reassurance of Harry.
"Ver.. - a truth serum?" Harry slowly said, working out the Latin.
"Precisely. Oh don't give me that look, Potter. I assure you, I have no desire to know all the deep dark secrets within your little head. But you should experience veritaserum, and feel the draw of it, in order to learn how to defeat it. If any of the Death Eaters capture you, I wouldn't put it past them to use it for a little entertainment."
Harry's upper lip turned and he stopped eating for a minute. Something ugly twisted in his stomach.
"For entertainment," Harry repeated.
Snape took another drink, giving Harry a considering look.
"Perhaps not thoughts for a thirteen year old," Snape conceded, no hint of derision in his voice.
"Professor," Harry said, staring straight at Snape and trying to steady his voice. "You've...you know Voldemort well. I need to know why he wants to kill me. I need to know why… why his followers will have some sort of... of... sick entertainment planned..."
Harry's speech had speed up by the time he got to the end of the sentence, and Snape pushed Harry's glass of water toward him.
"Drink, and then breathe," Snape ordered.
Harry tried, but he still couldn't help the rising panic in his chest when he realised the severity of what he was facing.
Harry looked up, and was surprised to see a soft look on Snape's face. Not sympathy – Harry couldn't ever imagine Snape looking at him the way that Mrs Weasley did. But his tone sounded oddly protective, and Harry found it reassuring.
"The Dark Lord has targeted you, because he believes you are the only one who can defeat him."
Harry's eyes widened, and he slumped in his seat.
"That's what he believes," Snape answered, scorn seeping into his voice again. "But you will not fight him alone."
Harry nodded, looking at the edge of his plate.
"So that's why you're throwing dodge balls at me. And making me run an obstacle course in the middle of the night. For entertainment training."
Harry allowed a bit of dark humour to show, as he was feeling overwhelmed and that was usually his default way of handling it.
"And poisoning, torturing... that sort of thing," Snape immediately agreed. He picked up his knife and fork again to continue eating his steak.
"Torture? Are you going to use torture spells on me too?"
Snape didn't miss a beat eating his dinner.
"The Ministry frowns upon that sort of thing."
Harry snorted into his glass of water.
"Yeah, but you burn post from them. I don't think you care much about what the Ministry has to say."
"You would do well to remember that," Snape said, rising to get more food from the stovetop.
Harry woke up early in the morning, partially out of excitement for seeing his friends again, and also because the very next day they'd be headed back to Hogwarts. His summer hadn't turned out too poorly, once he'd left the Dursleys, but that was a very odd thought considering whose house he'd ended up at.
Instead of thinking it over too much, Harry stood up and stretched, scrunching his eyes tight against the bit of morning light that came through the edges of the window curtains. He could hear Snape moving about in the washroom next door, so he didn't bother rushing. Instead, Harry made the bed, put his trunk up on top, and packed his two notebooks inside. The clothes he was going to wear today were already on the chair beside him, and Harry didn't think he needed anything else from his trunk. Just to remember to pack his toothbrush from the washroom.
Harry changed quickly into his regular clothes, and as he did so, made a mental list of what he wanted to look at in Diagon Alley today. He'd seen, when he was there with Snape, that there was a new broom on display at Quality Quidditch Supplies, and while Harry was perfectly happy with his Nimbus, he still wanted to have a look. And maybe look at getting some new gloves from there, and perhaps a team shirt. Ron was a die-hard fan of the Cannons, but Harry wanted to check out some of the other teams before he bought one.
"Dressed?" Snape asked, knocking on the door.
"Yeah," Harry answered, rolling his pyjamas up and shoving them at the top of the trunk, covering the Jacob's ladder.
"We will be apparating in half an hour. Breakfast is in London," Snape said, picking up something of his own from the desk.
"All right," Harry said, looking around to see if he missed anything else. He closed and locked the trunk, setting it down to the floor, and turned to retrieve his toothbrush from the washroom.
Snape's waving wand caught his eye, and Harry glanced back over his shoulder to see that his bed, the folding one, had disappeared. Snape left as well, muttering to himself as he went into the kitchen, but Harry stayed where he was, looking at the empty spot where his bed had been only seconds before. For the rest of the half hour before Snape called him to the apparition spot, Harry couldn't figure out why it bothered him.
Snape's breakfast cafe choice was a small little place about ten minutes from The Leaky Cauldron. It didn't appear to be magical at first, but Snape was reading the Daily Prophet as he ate his breakfast, and no one else around them seemed to notice the oddly moving photo on the front page.
"What are you reading?" Harry asked, swishing his fork on the plate to get as much egg on it as possible.
"Ingredient listings," Snape answered, his eyes still skimming the pages.
"Don't you know the prices by heart already?" Harry smartly asked, smirking to himself.
The paper slammed down onto the table and Harry nearly splattered egg yolk over himself as he dropped his fork.
"I am not looking for prices, John, I am looking for oddities," Snape said, his finger pointing on one entry in the paper's Market Place section.
Harry reflected that outside of school, when he didn't have a large audience, Snape's brilliant side showed far more than his nasty, vindictive side.
Lethifold leather, 27 galleons, 5 inch square piece.
"That's…expensive," Harry said, working out the math in his head. He still converted things to Muggle pounds to get an idea of worth, because he hadn't used wizard money often enough to be familiar with the value.
"It's leftover," Snape said, and Harry wasn't sure if he was talking to Harry, or just to himself. "There hasn't been a lethifold advertised for months, as they're difficult to capture. And now a five inch square piece…meaning the rest has been used in a potion."
Harry vaguely recalled seeing something about lethifolds in his Fantastic Beasts book, but he didn't remember anything about its use in potions.
"Wait," Harry said, shaking his head. "I'm not disguised as John right now."
Snape gave him an odd look, as his eyes glanced from Harry's forehead scar down to his glasses, plain clothes, and trunk sitting beside him.
"Indeed, you are not. And now that you have returned to being Potter, you should know what to expect upon your return to school," Snape said, recovering quickly.
"You mean that you're going to be an utter git again at Hogwarts?" Harry asked, regretting his words immediately after they'd slipped out.
"There are many reasons, Potter, behind who I am. There are also, though things are currently calm, many who are carefully watching both you and I at the school," Snape said, his voice low and steady. His eyes showed a bit of anger, but he didn't reprimand Harry for the insult. "It is for that reason that no one shall have the slightest doubt to the fact that I detest you, Potter. Do you understand?"
"Yes sir," Harry said, blinking. Snape's face was so serious as he looked at Harry, serious and imposing and strict.
"You played a big part in the last war, didn't you?" Harry quietly said, the question coming out more of a statement than an enquiry.
Snape sat back in his chair and was silent for a moment, as if he was figuring out exactly how much to tell Harry.
"I believe we are only beginning to scratch the surface of this oncoming war, Potter, and if anyone finds out that I have been training you, the price to be paid will be a lot higher than a mere reprimand."
Once again, Harry felt the wind knocked out of him from Snape's words. War. It had happened before, when Harry was a mere baby, and Snape was training him for when it happened again, not if.
"Thank you," Harry said, pushing away his plate. It was mostly finished, but Harry couldn't take another bite. "Thank you for training me, and for letting me stay this summer."
Snape glanced at him over the paper, where he'd been skimming the For Sale ads again.
"And for not treating me like a child."
"With the exception of the first morning in my home, you have proven rather un-childlike," Snape mused, smirking at Harry's blush.
"I'm not usually fond of dogs," Harry muttered, glancing down at his hands where the bites from Ripper had finally healed. "What I meant though, I think Professor Dumbledore expects me to go off and fight this battle, without really telling me why. And you don't. So, thank you."
"You are aware that there is far more to this than you will ever know?" Snape asked, and his meaning was clear. There were things that Snape knew, had been affected by, which he planned to never tell Harry.
"Yeah," Harry said. "As long as I survive, I guess."
Snape rolled his eyes, before folding up the newspaper and rising from the table. He left some Muggle bills to cover the cost of breakfast, and waited for Harry to gather his things.
"Quit being so maudlin. You're not the one who had his reputation destroyed by a mere toddler."
Harry laughed as he followed Snape out of the café, and enjoyed the summer sunshine on the walk to Diagon Alley. He spotted the Grangers outside The Leaky Cauldron, and his smile grew wider.
"Stay out of trouble, Potter," Snape said, standing beside him. Harry wasn't that surprised to see that his features had transformed into those of 'Uncle Sebastian.' Harry suspected that as a teacher on summer hols, he wouldn't want to run into Hermione the star student either.
"That's always the plan, sir," Harry cheekily said, before darting off down the road to meet his friend.
The weather was still miserable in Hogsmeade, and the carriages that took the students to the school barely stood out against the dark trees and muck surrounding Hogsmeade Station. The ride was thankfully short, and Harry felt sorry for the first years, who'd be crossing the lake in rainy boats.
He was still feeling like rubbish from his encounter with the Dementor, but his spirits lifted as he, Ron, and Hermione walked into the warm school.
"Home," Harry quietly said, speaking to himself as he looked up the giant walls of the grand staircase.
Harry's face fell as he spotted his Head of House, and he reluctantly said good-bye to Ron as Hermione tugged him over to the west staircase.
"I don't need to go to McGonagall's," Harry grumbled, following Hermione up the steps to where McGonagall was standing.
His muttering continued as he walked, and Harry let out a surprised 'oof' when he ran into a solid black wall. Or, as Harry realised, the black wall ran into him.
A sarcastic response immediately flew to his lips, but was halted when he looked up and saw Snape's expression. Snape's eyes were flicking rapidly over Harry's face, as if he was assessing Harry's well-being just on visual cues.
"Only just back to school and already desperately seeking attention, I see," Snape sneered.
"Severus," McGonagall tutted, from the landing above. "You know the Dementors…"
"Yes, yes," Snape irritably interrupted, flicking a second's glance at McGonagall. "And apparently Potter does too, as he has chocolate all over his face."
Snape gave the tiniest of nods and stalking off. Harry blinked, wondering about the utterly bizarre behaviour, before Hermione tugged his sleeve.
"You know, he is a Professor, but I have to say, I'm really not fond of him," she confessed.
Harry bit his lip in effort not to laugh too loudly, and was only slightly surprised to taste leftover chocolate on it.
"Mr Potter, we do not hex other students. One detention and five points from Gryffindor."
Ron sputtered beside Harry.
"Malfoy was taking the piss –" Ron started, silenced only by the glare Snape levelled at him from across the front entrance. At the doorway to the Great Hall, Malfoy was giving them a very smug look.
"Forget it, Ron," Harry muttered, glaring up at Snape. "What's a detention after Trelawney just predicted my death?"
Harry pretended not to notice the curious look on Snape's face as they entered the hall. Malfoy and his friends followed after, and Harry easily ignored the Dementor noises they were making.
"It's not right, Harry," Ron shook his head. "He's a git to give you detention on the first bloody day."
Harry straddled the bench as a new wave of lunch dishes appeared.
"At least we have Hagrid's class next, and not potions," Harry reasoned, reaching for some meatloaf.
As Harry made his way down to the dungeons, he realised that he didn't actually know if Snape intended to give him a real detention or not. It didn't remove the smirk from his face though, and he hoped that this was just a cover for the twice-weekly lessons.
"Wipe that look off your face," Snape snapped, holding open the office door. "It wasn't that funny."
"No, it really was," Harry said, remembering the bawling Malfoy had faked after Buckbeak scratched him. He slipped past Snape and walked to the one hardback guest chair that Snape had in the office.
"Potter," Snape warned.
"I was bitten by a basilisk and I didn't even cry. Malfoy was howling over a tiny scratch," Harry argued back.
Snape pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers, as if Harry had said something terrible.
A muttered spell locked the office door, and another was cast on the fireplace.
"How will you be explaining your absence from your friends?"
There was a tea set on Snape's desk that Harry hadn't noticed before, and Snape took his time pouring tea as he waited for Harry's answer.
"I took up running," Harry proudly said. He'd had the flash of genius in this morning's shower, and had chanted the word 'running' in his head until he could get back to his desk and write it down. "I took up running in the summer, but I'm not very good at it, so I still prefer to run alone."
Snape handed Harry his tea mug, looking slightly impressed. It was enough to make Harry feel accomplished.
"Very good," Snape conceded. "Your first lesson was going to be on shield charms and wards, but in light of yesterday's events, I have decided to teach you how to conjure a patronus."
Harry flushed with irritation.
"I'm fine. I only blacked out for less than a minute, and I had plenty of chocolate afterward."
"Which is plenty of time to cast the Killing Curse," Snape countered. He was sitting back in his ornate desk chair, looking like a bloody king.
Harry's jaw dropped slightly, and he could not think of a suitable response.
Snape held up his hand, stopping Harry from speaking, even if he had something to say.
"It is sometimes difficult to remember that you are merely thirteen."
Harry nodded, before finding his voice again. "So the patronus…"
"It won't protect you from the Killing Curse," Snape bluntly said, sipping his tea. "But it will stop the Dementors."
Harry shuddered, grabbing a biscuit from the plate on the tray.
"Are they really going to be here for the entire year?"
"Until Black is captured, yes," Snape answered, though Harry could tell he wasn't pleased by the fact.
Snape refilled his own teacup, before starting to talk about patroni. Harry had brought down one of his summer notebooks, and scrambled to open it fast enough to take notes as Snape highlighted the background behind the spell, its original use, and the current adaptations. He detailed what the patronus is said to represent, and fired off a list of things that the patronus would defend Harry against. Finally, after a good twenty minutes, he told Harry the incantation.
"You must have a happy memory in mind," Snape said. "It is absolutely essential, and without one, the effectiveness of the patronus will be severely degraded."
Harry grimaced, thinking of his childhood memories.
"What if I don't have one?" Harry quietly asked. "One that is happy enough."
Snape studied him, and Harry knew he was doing it so he didn't look up from the notebook. Snape had often given him the impression that he could read people's minds, and Harry didn't want to share his memories of growing up at Privet Drive, where his cousin tripped him on the stairs and locked him in the back garden, and his Aunt and Uncle kept him shut away in a cupboard.
"I am quite certain you and your two friends have had more than one overly saccharine moments within the walls of the castle," Snape said, trying to sound derisive, but not quite achieving it.
Harry shrugged, as if struggling to find a happy memory wasn't that big of a deal.
"Your first Christmas, perhaps."
A smile formed on Harry's face, as he remembered sitting in the Great Hall with Ron and his brothers, enjoying Christmas dinner.
"Okay," Harry said. "I've got it."
"Very well, stand up and wand at the ready," Snape said, moving to stand behind Harry and monitor his wand movements. "Let the memory consume your thoughts, and then focus the magic out through your wand."
Harry nodded, raising his hand and taking a breath.
His wand warmed slightly and the barest hint of light, much weaker than a lumos, appeared at the tip.
Harry shrugged his shoulders and held his wand out again, focusing on his happy memory. He could feel Snape staring at him from behind the chair, but after two full years at Hogwarts, Harry was accustomed to people staring at him as if he were some sort of sideshow.
"Expecto patronum!" Harry cast again, his voice louder and his eyes barely open. He was thinking very hard, remembering well enough that he could almost smell the evergreen boughs that had decorated the Great Hall, but still nothing more than a silver light came from his wand.
"So, not an easy spell then," Harry said, uneasy with the silence in the room.
"I'm surprised the great Harry Potter hasn't thrown a fit at not being able to cast perfectly on the first try," Snape commented, and there was a teasing tone to his voice but Harry felt his temper rise all the same. He turned to look up at Snape and had a scowl on his face.
"You know that's a load of boll-"
"Watch your language," Snape warned, pointing his finger at Harry.
"Rubbish," Harry angrily continued. "I've never been some super powerful wizard."
"And yet you defeated a basilisk with merely a hat and a songbird," Snape said, circling Harry and raising Harry's arm to the proper casting height again.
"I had help," Harry countered, sounding almost as if he was sulking. "There was a giant sword in the hat."
"Potter," Snape growled, the frustration on his face accentuating his frown lines. "Most grown men would have wet themselves facing such a beast. Your reputation is built on your luck, courage, and sheer stubbornness. Put that bloody mindedness to work and cast the spell!"
It almost sounded like a compliment, and as Harry yelled the incantation once more, he was amazed to see what appeared to be antlers forming out of the ball of silver light hovering above his wand. Unfortunately in the excitement, his concentration wavered and the ball disappeared.
Snape remained standing still behind him, but had a pleased smile on his face.
"It would seem that yelling is sufficient motivation," Snape commented. "What memory did you use?"
"I didn't," Harry said, slightly embarrassed. "I just wanted to prove you wrong."
Snape visibly rolled his eyes.
"Sufficient for now, however, I doubt it will work when you face a real Dementor."
"Yeah…what do you mean when? Isn't this just a precaution?" Harry asked, putting his wand in his pocket. It was getting late and Harry figured Snape wouldn't keep him until past curfew. Not this early in the school year.
"You will be tested," Snape said, waving his hand as he moved to his back office wall shelf, and began searching through the potion phials there.
"…why?" Harry asked.
"So that I know you can properly defend yourself against a Dementor. Potter, I have very little patience for stupid questions."
Snape pulled a bottle out of the back of the shelf, one that looked suspiciously like some of the liquor he'd seen in his Aunt Petunia's living room cabinet.
"But you won't test me until after I've done the spell properly, right?"
"Naturally. I have very little use for you fainting all over my dungeons. Now, take this to your Head of House, and be ready to try the spell again on Sunday morning, at nine."
Harry took the bottle, unable to read whatever language the label was written in.
"It was only for a second," Harry grumbled.
Snape walked around the desk and to a small door behind it, which was labelled 'brooms'. He opened it, and Harry saw that behind the door was not actually a broom cupboard, but the entrance to a small flat.
"Dismissed, Potter. Good evening," Snape said, stepping into the doorway.
Harry felt an odd pull to follow, imagining he'd find Snape's kitchen and office and sitting room, just the same as in Lower Tarrow.
"Night, sir," Harry said instead, slipping out the main office door and into the cold dungeons.
Harry dropped his book bag at the end of his bed and slumped down onto the comfortable covers, letting his feet dangle over the bed. An hour of practise, and he'd still only managed the small ball of silver hovering at the end of his wand.
"Scrubbing cauldrons, Harry?" Seamus asked, tapping his pencil like a drumstick against his own notebook.
"No," Harry replied, eyes closed. "Cataloguing potion ingredients."
"Boring," Ron huffed, from the bed next to Harry. "That's almost as bad as studying potions."
"It is studying, Ron," Harry complained, sitting up and kicking off his shoes. He shimmied back far enough that he could lean against the headboard, and took out one of his small summer notebooks.
"And stuff that we've never used before. If he keeps this up by exam time, I won't know which is stuff I need to know for this year and what isn't important," Harry said, pretending to sound annoyed.
In his notebook he circled the two ingredients he'd written down during the summer. Graphorn and Runespoor, the two ingredients that Harry knew they'd yet to use in class. Picking up a pencil that was on his bedside cabinet, Harry added 'lethifold leather'. He made a mental note in the morning to stop by the library and see if they had a general encyclopaedia of potion ingredients, or something he could cross-reference.
"Hermione will tell you it's all important," Ron said, tossing a ball up toward the canopy of his bed. It was an orange Chudley Cannons ball, and Harry instinctively ducked out of the way as it bounced wrong and came toward his head.
"Not bad," Ron said, not bothering to get up and retrieve the ball. "You expecting the cavalry after you?"
"Prat," Harry smiled.
Harry wasn't quite in a foul mood, but he wasn't ecstatic either. He'd had another lesson with Snape the night before, and though his patronus had taken form for a second, it hadn't lasted long enough to discern what exactly the form was, nor be of any use to defend Harry. As the Defence class made their way through the castle, Harry's thoughts were distracted by any happy memories he could bring to mind. Perhaps the one he had selected wasn't happy enough, and that was causing his patronus to not form properly.
Harry was only slightly worried that he wouldn't be able to find one strong enough. The memory he was currently using was of Christmas morning, unwrapping his gifts with Ron. His first knit sweater from Mrs Weasley didn't fit anymore, but Harry still kept it folded neatly in his trunk.
In the staffroom, Harry kept his eyes diverted from Snape, ignoring Ron's seething at Snape's cheap jab against Neville and Hermione. Now that he knew it was partially an act, it took some of the sting away.
"Neville! First up to the cupboard, that's right."
Harry stood near Ron, lost in his thoughts as he watched Professor Lupin teach Neville how to defend himself against a boggart. He didn't mind Lupin, didn't have the instant distaste like he'd had with the previous two Defence teachers, but there was something about him that struck Harry as slightly different. Harry didn't want to necessarily focus on Lupin's clothes, and the fact that they were shabbier than any of the other staff at school. Harry had grown up with shabby, ill-fitting clothing, and refused to judge others for it. But though Lupin seemed to be a nice man, he did seem to watch over Harry more than the other students (and if it was because of the Dementor on the train incident, Harry was going to quickly prove that he wasn't a wimp), and while he didn't exactly antagonise Snape, it was obvious that they didn't like each other.
Harry smiled when Neville's boggart stepped out of the cupboard, the familiar black swirling cloth around the Snape impersonator. Harry held his hand up to his mouth to cover his snort, remembering Snape over the summer, sick with a cold and wrapped in a bathrobe as if he were the bloody king.
"Imagine it, Neville!" Lupin commanded.
"Riddikulus!" Neville shouted, stammering slightly over the first syllable.
The boggart Snape transformed, changing into a dashing moss green dress with a fancy hat to match.
The snort Harry was trying to keep in escaped, and he heard Hermione's giggle start just seconds before Ron's laugh. A waltz started playing as cross-dressing boggart Snape stared about the room in confusion, and Harry decided to laugh as much as he could now. He knew somehow that Snape would hear about this, and they'd all pay for it later.
It wasn't long before the boggart started transforming though, as different students went to the front and became the focus of it's ire. Harry was too amused looking at the different reincarnations to wonder what his version of the boggart would be (likely a giant basilisk, he fleetingly thought), but the smile fell from his face as an instant chill took over his body. The boggart turned into a mass of black robes, and Harry at first thought it was Voldemort. He started to feel slightly faint, and then realised that what he feared most was a Dementor.
A high pitched woman's scream, very quiet at first around the edges of his mind, started growing louder as the Dementor came closer to Harry.
"Riddikulus!" Lupin called, dashing in front of Harry. Harry barely caught a glance of Lupin's boggart, something round and bright, before shaking his head to clear the chill from his mind. He could still hear the waltz playing, and looked at his two friends to see if they'd been as affected.
Ron had a confused look on his face, and Hermione seemed very concerned. Once again, Harry realised he was the abnormal one.
The bell clanged for the end of class, which distracted the other students from pestering Harry.
"You guys go ahead," Harry quietly said, as the rest of the class filed out of the staffroom around them. "I want to talk to Professor Lupin."
"See you in the common room, mate," Ron said, trailing after Hermione.
Once the students had left, Harry pretended to look around the staffroom a bit more as he worked out how to word his question. Professor Lupin though, seemed to know exactly why Harry had stayed behind.
"You want to know why they make you so weak," Lupin said, studying Harry.
"I'm not weak," Harry denied. "But, yes. No one else hears the screams, and no one else almost blacks out."
"Who do you hear screaming, Harry?"
"I don't know. Just a woman," Harry said. He felt a pang of sickness seconds after the words had registered in his own mind, and he wondered if it was his mother.
"Hmm," Lupin softly said, his face crumpling a little further into itself. He seemed to gather his thoughts before adding, "your boggart turning into a Dementor suggests that what you fear is fear itself, Harry, as that is what the Dementors cause. They prey on your worst fears, and suck the happiness out of you, all your good memories, leaving you with nothing but the worst experiences in your life."
Lupin started to pack away the music player and Harry watched him, feeling chilled again.
"So the screaming is a memory," Harry blandly said, staring unfocused at the floor.
"I'm afraid so," Lupin answered, holding the record player in front of him. They walked to the door, and joined the bustle of students headed back to their dormitories. "The Dementors will only come around if you're out of school bounds. You're safe within the castle, Harry, and I assure you, we are all quite looking forward to Black getting caught, and for the Dementors to leave."
Harry didn't feel like that was an agreeable solution, but at least Snape was teaching him how to cast a patronus, so he could deter them.
"So for now?" Harry asked, walking with Lupin back toward the west corridors of the castle.
"Stay away from boggart infested cupboards," Lupin said, in an oddly friendly smile that stretched all of the scars on his face to an almost invisible white.
Four days after Lupin's boggart lesson, Harry showed up in the dungeons. It was eight am on a Saturday morning, and he was dressed in track bottoms, a sport sweater, and running shoes as he knocked on Snape's office door. Under his sweater, tucked into the waistband of the bottoms, was his summer journal.
"In," Snape commanded, in a nasty tone that to anyone that overheard sounded like he was irritated with Harry. Once the office door had closed, Snape's scowl lightened somewhat. Not much, but enough that Harry spoke.
"I have another memory of Voldemort," Harry said, pulling out the notebook. "Of him killing my mother."
*I can't for the life of me remember how Mum ordered the name labels for our clothes, and of course now everything is by the internet. So we'll just allow for some creative licence here, and pretend the paper order forms are correct.