AN: You're all brilliant.


Chapter 6

November passed as a blur for Harry. He was making every effort possible to not think of the quidditch match, and the spectacle he'd made falling out of the sky after seeing the Dementors. Of course, Draco Malfoy was doing his damndest to remind Harry at every turn, but Harry knew hexing him wouldn't be worth the punishment.

He kept the splintered bits of his Nimbus wrapped up in an old towel, out of sight at the bottom of his trunk.

He kept fairly busy though, between studying for classes, his lessons, and mediating the arguments between Ron and Hermione. Crookshanks seemed dead-set on attacking Scabbers, and Hermione had taken Ron's anger about the whole thing as a personal attack.

Harry had progressed fairly well with his lessons, to the point that he cast a shielding spell over his class cauldron without a second thought and had branched out to learning personal shields. He'd even come up with an answer to Snape's assignment of the danger marker, which was a small tattoo on his hand that, when pressed, sent a signal out.

Harry had thought the idea genius, himself. The mark would resemble a mole on the inside lower knuckle on his pinkie finger. He could press it with the thumb on the same hand, in case he was ever detained, and it required an odd enough finger movement that he wouldn't hit it by accident. Snape's face had taken a rather disconcerting expression at Harry's idea, and it took Harry another hour in the library to find out why.

Still, even though Voldemort used it for his followers, Harry argued that a tattoo wasn't necessarily a bad idea if it was used the way that Snape wanted Harry to: as an emergency call, to be used only when Harry's life was legitimately in danger. Snape tabled the idea, and while he didn't outright say no, he sent Harry back to the drawing boards to see what other methods of emergency tracking he could find.

In between studying for classes, listening to Hermione bemoan the mark on her essay that Snape had set for Defence ('but how does Lupin know that werewolves don't get fleas? It's not in any book I've found'), and researching parental tracking methods; the Weasley twins introduced Harry to an entirely new way of tracking the residents in a giant building.

….

Harry's shoulder glanced off a jutting piece of rock as he ran down the tunnel toward the school. It spun him slightly, and he stumbled for a second, but picked right back up and ran faster. Harry was fairly certain that the last time he'd run this hard had been when the basilisk was chasing him. He'd only been 75% sure that the basilisk would kill him, but this time–this time–if Harry didn't get back to the castle before Draco Malfoy did, he had absolutely zero doubt that he was going to die. And somehow, he knew Snape's methods would be worse than the basilisk's.

As the incline of the path began to steepen, Harry felt a faint flare of hope that he'd make it back to the castle in time. Draco had had a head start, but he would have also needed to find Snape to report Harry's head floating above the ground outside the Shrieking Shack. Reaching the end of the tunnel, Harry gasped out the password and slipped back into the school corridor. He could hear heavy footsteps pounding down the hall around the corner, and wiped his muddy hands as fast as he could on the inside of his jeans. There weren't many places he could hide, so he started walking as quickly and as quietly as he could away from the statue.

"Potter!" Snape bellowed, his angry voice echoing down the hall. "Come with me, now!"

Harry gulped, feeling uncharacteristically guilty for the lie he was about to tell.

"Sir?" Harry asked, feigning innocence. "I dropped a galleon when I ran into Neville, and came back to get it."

Harry was not prepared for the look of utter disappointment to flash over Snape's face.

"One more word and you will be in detention for the rest of this school year," Snape warned, pointing down the hall toward his office.

They did not go into Snape's private flat. Instead, Harry sat in the uncomfortable visitor's chair in Snape's office, trying his best not to squirm under Snape's unnerving glare. He'd been made to turn out his pockets, and Snape had studied each object (Zonko's bag, two galleons, seven sickles, and a knut, the blank Marauder's map, empty Honeyduke's candy wrapper), but hadn't said a word. Harry could tell he was fuming.

"It was me!" Ron suddenly gasped, bursting into the room and seeming not to notice the tension between Snape and Harry. "I bought –that –stuff from –Zonkos –ages ago."

He was holding his side, as if he'd gotten a stitch from running all the way back from Hogsmeade, and his eyes were wild.

"Get out, Weasley," Snape snapped, not even turning to look at Ron.

"But," Ron started, staring between Harry and the stuff on Snape's desk.

"OUT!"

Harry winced as the door slammed shut, but didn't try to shield his eyes away from Snape. He'd been remarkably stupid to taunt Draco from under the invisibility cloak, and though he knew most of the regret he felt was for disobeying his orders to stay in the castle, part of it was for getting caught on his first time out.

"So. Famous Harry Potter has decided the rules don't apply to him, regardless of who is out there trying to kill him," Snape started, his voice surprisingly soft for how mad he was. Snape was leaning over his own desk, his eyes flashing with anger as he glared at Harry.

And Harry knew he was in deep trouble. Famous Harry Potter, that definitely wasn't good. Snape liked John over the summer, tolerated John and was begrudgingly pleased with John's defence achievements. Snape did not like Harry Potter.

"Tell me, exactly, what crossed your little defunct mind when you decided to go against my direct order and go to Hogsmeade," Snape demanded, his voice soft and dangerous. "Why you thought Sirius Black, a man who has already broken into this castle, wouldn't easily pick you off the street like a hawk snatching a mouse."

Harry started to open his mouth, but shut it again. He didn't have a valid reason. And he knew just how well Snape would take being lied to again.

"Was it worth it?" Snape continued, remaining behind his desk. Harry didn't know if it was to distance himself from Harry, or because Snape was itching to smack him.

"It was…I thought it would be. I wanted to have fun," Harry said, unsure of where the catch in his voice came from. The last time he'd cried when he'd been admonished was when he was three, and Aunt Petunia had scolded him that only worthless little boys wet their beds.

"That's what your father's excuse always was. He just wanted to have fun," Snape said, nearly spitting out the last words. "And now his son, told specifically that there is a deranged lunatic after him, decided to go out to Hogsmeade regardless, for fun. That is your official excuse, Potter? You reason for going?"

Harry shook his head, meeting Snape's glare. Once he'd gotten back to the tunnel, and was running back to school, Harry had very clearly realised that all of his excuses for going were rather pathetic.

"I didn't have a reason."

Snape's face contorted into an ugly expression.

"Oh? Is that what you want on your headstone then, Potter? I didn't have a reason?"

"No," Harry ground out. "The Boy Who Had a Life would be fine."

His hand flew up to his mouth, as if to physically stop anything else from coming out, and he could almost hear the muscles in Snape's arm straining to reach out and strangle Harry. There was silence in the room for another few seconds, and while Snape seemed to have calmed down very slightly, Harry could see his hands clenched into fists.

"Obviously, despite what I have tried to teach you, you do not have a single regard for your well-being," Snape said, his lips very tight, but his voice pulled together enough that Harry didn't think he was going to get hexed. "As such, your lessons are done. Good luck in your endeavours, Potter, and remove yourself from my office immediately."

"What?" Harry blurted, knocking over the chair as he bolted out of it. "But I still need help! I don't…I can't fight Voldemort now!"

Snape stared at him with the most impassive expression Harry had ever seen, and Harry felt a flush of coldness as he was thrown back to the first day of potions class, when Snape had made it very clear that he found Harry to be as irritating as an insignificant stone caught in the tread of his shoe.

"I rather agree, however, it is no longer my concern," Snape answered. Harry felt a rather strong push of magic shepherding him to the door, and as he turned to plead his case, the only thing he saw was the door to Snape's private office slamming shut behind the man. His things were still on the desk; as if Snape cared so little to not even bother confiscating them.

….

Harry almost felt like he was going to cry. It was an utterly bizarre sensation, and as he wandered around the castle, he tried to convince himself that he wasn't even that upset. He didn't even like Snape.

But that wasn't exactly true anymore.

He passed the Great Hall, where Hagrid and Flitwick were cheerfully arguing about the best way to decorate the giant Christmas trees. Flitwick was arguing for a themed look, whereas Hagrid seemed to enjoy a more chaotic decorating sense. Harry found himself wondering what Snape's style was, and if he even bothered with a tree in Lower Tarrow. As far as Harry could remember, Snape spent the holidays at Hogwarts.

Even though he knew the cancelled lessons were his fault, Harry allowed himself to wallow in self-pity as he'd made his way back up to the Gryffindor common room. He could always take up Lupin's offer for patronus lessons after the holidays, but Harry somehow knew they wouldn't be as good as Snape's.

"Oh good, I thought he'd tried to murder you," Ron exhaled, as Harry came back through the portrait. "Did he take all your stuff?"

"No," Harry blandly said, passing through the empty room for the boys' dorm. Both Hermione and Ron followed, but Harry didn't offer any more information. He just went into the room, and climbed up onto his bed.

"What happened, Harry?" Hermione asked, sitting at the edge of his bed. Harry was by the headboard, his arms wrapped around his knees. None of his other dorm-mates had returned from Hogsmeade yet, and there was a raucous game of gobstones happening in the common room.

Harry closed his eyes for a second, wondering exactly how much he should tell his friends, and how they would react. He scratched the back of his neck out of habit, his fingers finding the nametag on his jumper. This one did not say H Potter, as the jumper wasn't his. It was one that Snape had thrust at Harry when they'd gone to the café to meet Snape's potion supplier, and the faded tag said S Snape.

"Snape threw me out of his office," Harry started, his voice still low. Jeers and laughter from the younger students playing echoed up the stairwell, and Harry scowled.

"Well that's not too bad, is it?" Ron asked, confusion on his face. "He's not making you scrub bedpans, is he?"

"No," Harry answered, with a depreciating huff. "He's also cancelling all of my defence lessons. Because I'm not worth teaching."

There was silence in the room for a moment, and Harry reached over to grab his summer notebook from the bedside cabinet. This was the one he'd made his own observations in, and had not shown Snape the contents.

"I told you he hadn't lost any weight," Hermione finally said, glancing at Ron.

Affronted, Harry looked down at himself.

"What? I'm not fat!"

"That's a bit rude, Hermione," Ron interjected.

"No," Hermione said, rolling her eyes. "Harry's been running twice a week, ever since he came back to school. But he's never lost any weight. So the running's been a cover for…defence lessons with Snape?"

"Oh," Harry said, still self conscious about how he looked. "Yeah. It started over the summer, he took me from the Dursleys after I blew up Aunt Marge."

Ron looked blessedly confused, as Harry had never told his friends that he'd left the Dursleys, but he didn't seem to be angry, which Harry thought was a positive sign.

"So, you've been willingly taking private defence lessons with Snape? The evil git?" Ron asked, and Harry shrugged his shoulders a little. Not quite angry, but a bit put out he'd been lied to.

"Who better, Ron? He's fought Voldemort, and you should have seen him when he offered. He was really cross that I'm expected to fight off Voldemort when I'm just a kid, and no one's properly taught me how."

"That makes sense, Harry," Hermione nodded. "After all, he did save your life in first year, and you've been pretty lucky so far, but…"

"Yeah, thanks," Harry glumly said. "I'm well aware that my luck's running out."

"Is he any good at teaching?" Ron asked, sceptical. "He's a bastard teaching potions, and if he's like that in tutoring, you should be happy right now."

Harry could see the logic, as he'd also been damned surprised to find out that Snape was a good deal more patient when teaching one on one.

"Do you remember Lupin getting rid of the Dementors on the train?" Harry asked instead, drawing out his wand. His friends nodded, and Harry concentrated on the ecstatic feeling he'd had upon finding out he was a wizard, and that he was leaving the Dursleys.

"Expecto patronum!" Harry called, and was satisfied to see his silvery stag shoot forth from the wand. He still couldn't hold the spell that long to fend off a Dementor (Snape had found a boggart three weeks earlier, and Harry had indeed proceeded to pass out several times), but it was still an impressive patronus.

"WHOA!" Ron exclaimed, slinking off his bed, his entire focus on the patronus as he walked around it. Even Hermione looked impressed, and, to Harry's not quite surprise, slightly jealous.

"He taught you that?" Ron asked, holding his hand out to the stag. Harry already knew from experience that the stag would nuzzle Ron's hand, a rather ticklish feeling.

"Yeah. And scoffed at Professor Lupin, for not thinking to teach me right away."

Harry let the stag go, feeling the same warm and accomplished feeling inside that he had the very first time he'd conjured it successfully.

"I really didn't want to start liking him, Harry," Ron deadpanned, and Harry laughed for the first time since being Hogsmeade.

"Ron!" Hermione warned, but she was smiling too.

"It doesn't matter now anyway," Harry said, losing his smile as he shook his head. "Snape cancelled the lessons, and made it very clear that he wants nothing to do with me. He said it was obvious that I still had no regard for my own life."

"Yeah, right," Ron said, sprawling onto his own bed and unearthing Scabbers from the blankets at the end of it. "I'd like to see Snape resist going to Hogsmeade, with an invisibility cloak."

"Is that exactly what he said, Harry?" Hermione asked, giving him a calculating gaze.

Harry nodded, trying to not get upset as he remembered Snape's exact words. "He agreed that I'm not ready to fight Voldemort yet, but said that it wasn't his problem anymore."

"Well. You have to show him that it is," Hermione immediately answered, a smile taking over her face. She looked like she'd just finished a particularly difficult essay.

"Show him that I still don't know everything?" Harry asked, not quite seeing where Hermione was going with her response. From Ron's expression, Harry could tell that Ron hadn't a clue either.

"No," she smirked, leaning against one of Harry's bedposts. "You need to impress him. Show him that you are willing to learn, and that you want to."

"I really don't think that'll work," Harry doubtfully said. "He's taken probably two hundred points from you, for doing that exact same thing."

"Yes," Hermione said, flushing slightly. "But, he's never offered to teach me outside of class. Harry, he's probably insulted, and thinks that you don't care about his efforts."

"Of course I do," Harry immediately answered. He'd never thought about it before, but it was rather evident now. "All right, so how do I impress him?"

"It's Snape," Ron scoffed. "How can anyone impress him?"

"Well, he's a Slytherin. They're pretty smart," Hermione mused, ignoring Ron. She paused for a second, likely thinking of Crabbe and Goyle. "Usually," she amended.

"Wait, there is something," Harry said, unsure if he'd later regret laying all his cards out. "Last year, in Professor Dumbledore's office after we rescued Ginny, Dumbledore said that Voldemort was in Albania."

Ron nodded, clearly remembering the conversation. Hermione was paying rapt attention, and Harry knew she was itching to take notes.

"Snape's been studying great circles and such, and he was told in the summer that there was a giant shipment of weird potion things being sent off to Albania."

"Great circles?" Hermione asked, picking up on the unfamiliar term.

"They make apparition really easy, and you can go really far," Harry explained, unable to help feeling slightly smug that he knew something Hermione didn't.

"Which would make it easy for You-know-who to travel back and forth between England and Albania," Hermione pondered.

"Yeah," Harry agreed.

"And he's using the potion ingredients?" Ron asked.

"I don't know," Harry admitted. "It just seems a bit suspicious, that these weird things are being shipped to Albania, and that's where Voldemort's supposed to be."

"What are they?" Hermione pressed. She'd given up on sitting still, and snatched a workbook from Seamus's bed. One page was torn out, and Hermione was scribbling on it.

"Uh," Harry said, flipping through his notes to double check. "Graphorn, runespoor, and lethifold. Maybe lethifold."

Ron shuddered visibly on his bed.

"The spiders were horrible last year. If there's a real lethifold, I'm not going to help with this," Ron warned.

"There isn't," Harry assured him. "Someone else bought it, not Snape. Not that I know of."

"Okay, so we'll do some more research on these, to show that you've been paying attention and you want to figure it all out too," Hermione said, still taking notes.

"We?" Ron asked. She ignored him completely.

"And you could also teach yourself another spell, to show him you're serious about learning defence."

Harry thought about his assignment from November, of the marker. He still thought his tattoo idea was brilliant, but maybe he could come up with a plan b.

A sudden hissing noise broke up the brainstorming, and Hermione jumped off the bed as an orange ball of fur leapt toward Ron.

"Get that thing out of here!" Ron yelled, covering Scabbers with his blanket to protect the rat from Crookshanks.

"He's a cat! That's what they do!" Hermione answered, all flustered. She did scoop up Crookshanks though, and stormed out of the dorm room.

"Stupid cat," Ron muttered.

Both Harry and Ron watched her go, and Harry turned a confused look at Ron's next statement.

"You should buy him something too."

"What?" Harry asked. Ron was burying Scabbers back between the blankets, to keep him safe.

"Whenever we've cheesed off Mum, we buy her something for the house. Or a new Warbeck record," Ron said, a very slight hint of a blush on his face. "She's still angry, but a bit less so, because we've been thoughtful."

Harry contemplated that for a moment, running through memories of the Lower Tarrow house in his mind.

"You think Snape would fall for that?"

"Well, not a Warbeck record," Ron conceded. "But he might. I don't reckon he gets a lot for Christmas."

"Hm," Harry hummed. "I can't go back to Hogsmeade."

"No," Ron scoffed. "Too bad you can't get one of Santa's elves to shop for you."

Harry laughed.

"I wonder if they'd look like house elves," he joked.

"Of course they do," Ron said, a mixture of seriousness and disbelief on his face, as if he couldn't imagine how Harry wouldn't know that.

Harry's jaw opened a bit, and he narrowed his eyes.

"Are they house elves?"

"Sure," Ron said. "How else do you expect he gets to all those houses on Christmas Eve?"

The door opened again, cutting off Harry's confused thoughts.

"Well? Are you two coming to the library, or not?" Hermione asked, hands on her hips. "We should visit Hagrid later, as well."

"Fine," Ron grumbled, getting off his bed. "It's only Christmas holiday, why shouldn't we be in the library?"

"Hang on," Harry said, picking up his notebook and moving slowly as his friends left the room ahead of him. "Santa's a wizard?"

…..

The library was as empty as one would expect it to be on the first Saturday evening of Christmas holiday. Hermione set up a command centre of sorts, procuring a large sheet of parchment from Madame Pince and making a chart of ingredients. The sections for runespoor and graphorn filled rather quickly, as both were used in a variety of different potions. The lethifold section, however, remained stubbornly empty until Ron happened upon a mention of the leather in a sports book.

"Look, right here," Ron said, his voice confident and proud as he'd been the first to find something.

"Lethifold leather was originally used for a sort of rugby game for kids, but they stopped using it because it kept slipping away."

Harry was writing that down as quickly as he could, and Ron continued.

"It was also used to make Keeper gloves, however the leather kept constricting the wearer's hands, and causing their fingers to go numb."

"That doesn't sound pleasant," Hermione tusked, skimming through an older version of Fantastic Beasts. "But then, lethifolds aren't. They sneak into bedrooms when people are sleeping, smother them, and suck the life out of them."

"And then," Ron continued, still excited about his find and not paying attention to Hermione. "It was discovered by a group of potion masters in Northern Ireland that using lethifold leather to line the inside of a cauldron will allow properties of the lethifold to infuse into the brew."

"That's creepy," Harry said.

"Figures someone like You-know-who would find a use for it," Ron muttered, going back to the book.

Harry had stumbled across a stack of old Daily Prophets, and was trying to keep himself calm as he read about Sirius Black. Snape had accused him of not knowing the danger, so Harry was researching Black as well. It seemed like his parents had known Sirius Black well enough to name him as Harry's godfather, and Harry felt his stomach churn. How had his dad been such a bad judge of character, to keep such a man as his best friend?

"Do you really want him to teach you?" Ron suddenly asked, startling Harry out of his thoughts. "I mean, Lupin's so much…nicer."

Harry looked up and shrugged apologetically at Ron.

"Nice isn't going to help me the next time Voldemort tries to kill me," Harry bluntly said.

"Well you never know," Ron stubbornly answered. "Don't the Muggles have a saying about 'kill them with kindness'?"

Harry let out an honest laugh, feeling much better than he had earlier.

….

Harry made the walk to Dumbledore's office early on Christmas Eve morning. He'd written his request out in a note, figuring Dumbledore might not be awake (and ready for visitors at six am), and planned to ask the guardian gargoyle to pass along his note.

It was a simple request, really. He and Ron had gotten into a long discussion the night before on what would be the best gift to break the ice with Snape. Ron had suggested a book, or something potion-y, or coffee since Snape liked it so much. When Harry protested that he had no idea what type of coffee, or what genre of book Snape liked to read, Ron had just shrugged.

"Dad's never told me off for giving him the wrong type," Ron had said.

"Your dad isn't Snape," Harry had muttered in return. The phrase had stuck in his head for the rest of the evening, as Snape wasn't Harry's dad either, and yet, he was not only upset that the man had turned him away, but actively thinking of ways to resume their twice-weekly training sessions.

"Could you give this to Professor Dumbledore?" Harry asked, finally reaching the Headmaster's office. He didn't want to go in, even if Dumbledore was there, because Harry didn't want to explain why he needed such a last minute gift, when owl orders had been going out all month. And from a Muggle store, no less.

After dropping the note in a post box to the left of the gargoyle (which in his two and a half years at Hogwarts, Harry had never noticed before), he proceeded down to the Great Hall. Breakfast wouldn't start until 7, but the fires would be lit already in the fireplaces, and Harry could sit quietly and watch the sparkling trees. The Dursleys had never really put much effort into their Christmas tree, and Harry found the ones at Hogwarts were always just as magical as the school itself.

The tree Harry chose to sit beside was done in blues, silvers, and whites, with fine silvery garland string wrapped around it. He huddled on the bench, even though the fireplace was quite warm, and thought about the year so far. Five months gone without Sirius Black being captured, though the man had managed to get into Hogwarts. Not a single word from his relatives since the night they'd told Snape off (not all together surprising), learning how to cast a patronus–something even seventh years had trouble with, and losing his broomstick at the last quidditch match.

And the lessons.

Harry was trying to avoid thinking about how much he enjoyed the lessons. How Snape no longer treated him like an idiot, and how Snape pushed him harder and harder, knowing Harry could handle things.

His head snapped up as he thought he heard a sound, withdrawing his wand and not pointing it at the door but keeping it tightly gripped in his hand. A dark figure was leaning against the doorjamb, studying him, and Harry didn't know how long Snape had been standing there.

His first instinct was to explain why he'd not noticed Snape right away, like he often did in the lessons when he'd not performed at his best, but before Harry could utter a single word, Snape spun from the doorway and disappeared into the dark hallway.

Neither Harry nor Ron really enjoyed Divination class, but they both had to admit that Professor Trelawney made Christmas dinner rather humorous. Harry paid close attention when a fight nearly broke out with dessert, when Trelawney insisted on Christmas pudding for all, and dark mutterings about 'revolting fruitcake meatloaf' came from Snape.

Harry was the first to stand from the table, closely followed by Ron, earning himself more dire predictions about being the first to rise from a table of thirteen. Privately, Harry didn't think his luck could get any worse, so he shrugged off Trelawney's warnings. When he and Ron had reached the staircases, Ron turned bright red and took off down the hall, stammering about not sending a Christmas owl to his family. Harry laughed, and proceeded back up to the dorm on his own. Hermione had stayed behind to ask McGonagall something, so Harry figured he had a good twenty minutes to go up and admire his new Firebolt again.

Christmas hadn't turned out too horribly. Snape had not made a single mention of the parcel Harry had sent him (coffee from a near-ish Muggle village, plus a copy of all of Harry's research and observations over the last four months), but Harry wasn't surprised. He'd not seen the man all day, and Harry knew that making a scene during the Christmas supper in the Great Hall was not something Snape would ever do. Still, Harry had caught the assessing black eyes on him more than once at dinner, and had been a tad unsettled by their steady gaze as he left the room.

"Happy Christmas, Potter!" a young, male voice suddenly called, as Harry's stairs took a swing toward the seventh floor corridor. Instead of turning to see who it was, Harry's instincts told him to duck.

He scrambled up the stairs just as a large rock sailed just over his head, adrenaline already racing through his system. The voice behind him was laughing –no, voices, there were two–and Harry could tell that at least one of them was on the same set of moving stairs as he.

"Aguamenti!" Harry yelled, twisting around and pointing his wand in the general direction of the voice. His spell was strong, and Harry was hoping to knock his assailant off balance with the jet of water. He caught a vague glimpse of student robes, before the second assailant, on the floor below, cast the strongest nox Harry had ever experienced. The staircase hallway plunged into darkness and the portraits started gasping and shouting, though the stairs never stopped moving.

Harry was used to the dark. He'd grown up in it.

Clutching his wand, Harry scrambled further up the stairs, able to use his hands to figure out the top ledge. It wasn't quite to the corridor yet, and though he could jump and most likely escape down the hall to his dorm, he wasn't sure how big of a gap there was, and if the assailants knew how to get into the dorm.

Another rock flew at him, and this one glanced off of Harry's left shoulder. He bit back a grunt, keeping silent enough to not give away his position, and made his choice. Springing up from the steps suddenly, he jumped into the darkness and crossed his fingers. The landing hit not a second later, and Harry had never been more grateful to crash onto a stone floor. While he'd fallen more than seven stories just a month earlier, it had been on the quidditch pitch, and Dumbledore had been there to catch him.

He could hear the assailants cursing, and Harry didn't get a chance to wonder how they'd known he'd jumped off the stairs. He pulled himself up instead, and took off running toward the Gryffindor common room. There was a little sliver of light that Harry could see, down the hall, and he aimed for it.

He made it six steps before running into a solid object, which put a cloth bag over his head and petrified him.

….

Harry had never been under petrificus totalus before, and as he was carried down several flights of stairs, he found one positive thing about the spell. His entire body was stiff, and though Harry was feeling a complete panic, it wasn't outwardly obvious. He did, however, feel temperature start to drop as they walked further and further, and his heart figuratively plummeted. Hogwarts likely had all sorts of hidden chambers and rooms like last year's Chamber of Secrets, and no one probably knew that he'd been kidnapped.

Harry fought his panic, just enough to force himself to think clearly. He'd spent four months learning from Snape, and even though the man hated him now, Harry going to use that training. He started listening to where he was being taken, noting the dampness of the air and the silence, and tried to guess how many levels they'd gone down.

He was taken into a room and placed on a chair, his arms magically restrained but the petrificus totalus spell removed so Harry could sit. It was a wooden high back chair, as uncomfortable as the one in Snape's office, and Harry could tell by the echo of footsteps that the room he was in was a fair size. The cloth bag was lifted slightly, and Harry wondered if he'd be able to see, before strong fingers grasped his nose and pinched it tight. Harry gasped, his mouth popping open for air as he struggled, and he felt an eyedropper of sorts stuck against his lips. The medicine, potion, or poison within was squirted into Harry's mouth before he could think to spit it out, and now, now the panic was overriding his thinking process.

"Harry Potter," a roughened voice said. Harry twisted his head slightly, trying to listen harder and fight the urge to scream, or be sick all over the floor. He needed to calm down, and take control of himself. He still had the cloth bag covering his head though, and couldn't see a thing.

"There are so many people who've been waiting to meet the great Harry Potter," the voice continued. It was a smoker, Harry thought, by the rough hack behind some of the words. Harry tried to think of what else he could figure out from the man's voice and the room, as he found it was making his panic subside enough to be rational. The darkness was helping, and he kept tricking himself that this was just a bad dream, and he was still in his cupboard.

"I think we should play a little game, first," the man suddenly said, as the bag was pulled off Harry's head.

"Are you afraid to die?"

Harry winced at the suddenness of light, unable to see anything beyond the shadow of the man in front of him. Even then, he felt an odd compulsion bubbling up inside of him, making him desperately want to answer that no, no he wasn't.

"No," Harry answered, blinking rapidly to clear his vision. The man in front of him looked familiar, almost like Snape.

"Wrong answer, John."

Harry's mouth dropped open as the stars in his eyes finally faded, and yes, that was Snape standing there, and they were in his office in the dungeons. Snape. Not a Death Eater, not Voldemort, not a Malfoy.

An overwhelming bubble of relief nearly exploded inside him, fuelled on by a strong, white anger.

"ARE YOU CRAZY!" Harry shouted. "You utter bastard! I thought that…that I'd been kidnapped!"

Snape hadn't released Harry's arms from the binding spell, which was probably because Harry wouldn't stop himself from hitting Snape. Instead, Snape leaned against his desk, merely watching Harry.

"You can't just kidnap people!" Harry yelled further. "I thought I was going to die!"

"But you weren't afraid," Snape interjected, stopping Harry's rant cold. "You've been given veritaserum, so you cannot lie. And yet, even though you thought you'd been kidnapped, you said you were not afraid to die."

"No," Harry huffed, panting from his anger, pent up adrenaline, and relief. "I'm not."

He wasn't afraid, hadn't been when he lived at the Dursleys, and wasn't now. Dying simply meant being with his family again. He didn't want to hurry things along, now that he'd made friends and had a school he actually enjoyed attending, but he still wasn't afraid. But it was not something he was ever going to tell Snape.

"Interesting. Do you think I am a Death Eater?"

Harry was astonished at the blunt question. The potion he'd taken was pushing him to answer, but Harry forced himself to fully think about the question. I am, Snape had said. Present tense. Harry was fairly certain that Snape had been one, giving his predilection for kidnapping people and terrorizing them, but he didn't think Snape was any longer.

"No," Harry answered, gritting his teeth as he struggled against the magical arm restraints. "Not any more."

"Then I believe it is time for a discussion," Snape crisply said, holding up a single sheet of paper that Harry recognized. His letter, which he'd included in the Christmas apology package.

Snape turned and walked down the hallway to his flat, releasing Harry's restraints as he did so. Harry still wanted to punch the man, but now that the adrenaline was receding, he just felt cold and irritated. Still, as Harry walked to the door behind the desk, he pushed several scrolls and books off of Snape's desk in a fit of pettiness.

Coffee awaited him in Snape's flat, and there was an extra knitted blanket on the couch where Harry had sat the last time he'd been in there. Snape was sitting in an armchair, and behind him, on the corkboard above his desk, were Harry's notes. The map was still there, the great circle lines darker than before, and Harry could see the chart he and Ron and Hermione had made about the potion ingredients.

"In your letter," Snape began, watching Harry slump down onto the couch. "You stated that you wish to continue the lessons."

"Yes," Harry immediately answered, still very much feeling the insistent push of the veritaserum. "Why did you pretend to abduct me?"

Snape had a funny little smirk on his face.

"To prove that you were serious. You wouldn't be worth teaching if you hadn't fought back."

"Is that why you said my answer was wrong?" Harry asked, holding onto the cup of coffee and letting the warmth seep into his hands. Now that he knew he was safe, he just wanted to sleep. "That I should be afraid to die?"

"If you aren't afraid," Snape carefully said, "as you had proven by deliberately ignoring the hazards and going to Hogsmeade, how would I possibly know that my efforts would not be going to waste?"

Harry thought about that for a moment, but he didn't have an answer for it. The potion seemed to realise that as well, as Harry didn't feel compelled to speak.

"This is the starting point, Potter. We will begin training again, but you will not lie to me, you will not purposefully risk your life, and you will listen when I tell you something."

Snape leaned forward in his chair, snatching a biscuit from the plate next to the coffee mugs.

"You'll teach me again?" Harry asked, trying not to sound like a hopeful eight year old talking to Santa.

Snape looked him over, and glanced toward the corkboard on the wall over the desk.

"Your research has brought up an angle I had not yet considered. If it is correct, there is the possibility to end this war before it properly begins."

Harry swallowed tightly, and nodded.

"All right. I promise."

Snape considered that, before holding out his hand and waiting as a piece of parchment floated over.

"As much as I would like to trust your word," Snape said, the sarcasm rolling off his tongue, "I require written proof."

"I thought I was under veritaserum," Harry said, trying to find that inner compulsion to tell the truth about everything. It was still there, but much less powerful than before.

"The effects do not last long," Snape explained, not looking pleased about that particular quirk of the potion.

Harry held the piece of paper, reading it over carefully. In exchange for Snape resuming their defence lessons, Harry's signature on the page would promise that he would not run off on foolish adventures, that he'd complete any and all assignments set per the lessons, that he would help with the research, and that he would request permission for any and all errands that might possibly end in death or maiming.

Snape's duty list was much smaller, and said that he would do his best to keep Harry alive. There was a clause, in small print, that also said that Snape would provide interference between Harry and the Dursleys, which Harry thought was more for Snape's own personal entertainment than Harry's safety.

"This pretty much makes you my guardian," Harry muttered, with a bit of an amused huff. He signed the document anyway, knowing that the lessons were what he wanted most, and that strangely, he trusted Snape to keep him safe.

Snape took the paper from Harry, signing it as well.

"You are forbidden from going to Hogsmeade," Snape deadpanned.

"Hah, hah," Harry said, stretching out his feet. "Can I stay down here for the night? For some reason, I don't really want to walk through dark corridors at the moment."

He tried, and utterly failed, to make Snape feel guilty for the staged kidnapping.

"I suppose one of the house elves can fetch your things and inform your friends," Snape said, his expression bored as he took the mugs into the kitchen area. After calling forth a house elf, one that sounded suspiciously like one of the fake assailants from earlier, Snape moved to his desk to pick up some of Harry's notes.

"It was my mother, wasn't it?" Harry asked, his voice very soft as he watched from the couch. "She turned you against him?"

Harry had had a lot of time to puzzle it out, and really, it hadn't been that difficult. From Snape's reaction over finding out what Harry's last memory of his mother was, to his fear that Harry would have remembered the man being there, to knowing (and mutually hating) his Aunt Petunia, it seemed to click together. Even some of Snape's anger was explainable, as his mother had married the man who'd tormented Snape when they were younger. And Harry happened to look just like that man, so he could see how Snape could cultivate an instant distaste. Maybe.

Harry had thought about what he'd do if he saw someone that looked like Dudley or Malfoy, or was just named Dudley, and had to admit that he'd probably have an instant foul taste in his mouth as well.

Snape stood still, the paper in his hand as he stared ahead at the corkboard.

"She did not turn me away from the Dark Lord," Snape said, his voice gravelly. It was the rough tone he normally had when he did not want to speak of something. "Her death did."

He took a few seconds to compose himself, but Harry wasn't going to ask further. Snape was the kind of man who held his cards tightly, and he'd promised during the summer to tell Harry the story someday. He didn't want to wait, but Harry would.

"So I was right about the lethifold, too? Voldemort's going to use it, with the graphorn and the runespoor?" Harry asked, changing the subject.

"Yes," Snape said, twirling to face Harry. It didn't quite have the same imposing effect, as he wasn't wearing his teaching robes. "In a potion, of indeterminate legality."

"To bring himself back to life," Harry miserably said. He'd kicked off his shoes, and turned to stretch out on the couch.

"Very good," Snape said, his voice almost snake-like and a twisted grin on his lips. He did not look warm and friendly, like Professor Lupin, and Harry was a bit wary of the slightly manic look in Snape's eyes.

"Have you figured out the usefulness of great circles?" Snape suddenly asked.

"Uh, they're great for travelling faster and with less…" Harry started.

"Geographically," Snape interrupted.

Harry stopped talking and glanced at the map on the wall again, looking at the sweeping arch between England and Albania.

"You can tell where someone is going to land. Along the line," Harry said, the realisation coming to him.

"With a reasonable accuracy rate," Snape said, pleased that Harry had figured out the answer so fast.

"Does Dumbledore know about all this as well?" Harry asked, yawning into the blanket.

"I am certain that the Headmaster is doing his own research yes," Snape dismissed.

Harry got the message. Once again, like in the summer, Snape was picking and choosing what information he was sharing with Professor Dumbledore. Harry didn't know why, as Dumbledore to him had always seemed like a benevolent grandfatherly sort, but Snape must have had some sort of legitimate reason behind his choice. And the signed piece of parchment on the coffee table, which Harry plonked his glasses down atop of as he burrowed in the blanket and Snape muttered further to himself, promised that Harry wouldn't question it.