NOTE: THE LAST CHAPTER IN THIS STORY HAS BEEN REPLACED. IN ORDER TO FORTIFY THE ORIGINAL LINE OF THE STORY, AND MAINTAIN FOCUS, I AM STEERING IT BACK INTO ITS INTENDED DESTINATION. I APOLOGIZE FOR ANY CONFUSION AND FOR ANY DISAPPOINTMENT.


{A/N:

Hey everyone,

I'm so sorry that it has taken me so long to update this. I have taken a break from my fanfics for a few months, due to a new job and hectic schedule. It wasn't until this morning that I realized how much I needed to continue them. I hope to force time between my college endeavors and chaotic time at work, to grace myself and my readers with this needed gift. Please, therefore, if you are taking the time to read this, do me the favor of a needed review. My readers are really what keep my stories going, and give me the courage to write them. . . if you do me the favor, of course I will try to return yours.

In addition, note that this chapter may require a bit of last minute editing. This is my grand attempt to pick up the marvel of fanfic after a long delay, and it's been awhile since I read my own stories! Please, therefore, let me know how the effort appears. I really benefit from your input- let's call it a bit of a welcome home gift, perhaps? :)

Anyhow, happy readings my darlings!

SM }


It had been only a few days since Snape's last transformation, and Harry was growing amused by the predictable reactions his friends had to his changes. Harry sat with his head rolled back, staring idly into nothingness as the fireplace which Hermione had once again lit began crackling. Snape was in the kitchen preparing some kind of a potion that the three of them were more than eager to evade, but Hermione had insisted upon staying with him in order to watch the process. Harry had warned her against Snape's irascible behavior, and both he and Ron thought that she was barking mad to attempt to learn a potion when their summer was not yet over. He didn't think it would be a very good idea to spend more time around Snape than normal anyway. At that moment, just as he was beginning to grow amused by his own colorful ideas, he heard a shriek of, "Harry!"

Quickly, he dispatched himself to the kitchen, just in time to watch one of Snape's frequent transformations. His black hair started to shrink comically, as he rolled up into a little ball of nonexistent black fur. This seemed to be his wont these days, and Harry found that he enjoyed the circumstance. However, Hermione did not unfortunately, and he had to look around the room for several minutes, before he finally realized that the small, now shivering, whiff of a black cat was slinking between the chairs.

"He's over here, Hermione," Harry called, though his voice quickly lost its amusement. As he looked at the cat's face, he saw, for a brief instant, the fleeting body of a shadow cross the bright eyes. There was- something eerie about them, some trait of the peculiar nature which Harry Potter could not name. It was almost as though he was looking into the eyes of some nefarious creature with an unfathomably small mouth. Harry could not help but to look upon Snape for a moment with a grin. Hermione quickly made her way over to where the small cat sat facing them, unyielding. She put her hand up to his face for a moment, and Snape, to Harry's astonishment, pressed his cold, wet nose against her palm. She scratched behind his ears for several seconds, and Harry thought that he heard a soft purr arise from its body.

"Ohh, Harry, isn't he sweet?" Hermione cried, pulling Snape against her, hugging him.

"Erm- " Harry scratched his head, not really coming up with an adequate response. Ron, who, for once, Harry noticed seemed to be completely beside himself with the bliss of ignorance, could not grace the party with the knowledge of his words. Harry and Hermione quickly took charge of the situation, as she continued to cuddle Snape, using every single effort to wrap him in the bliss of motherly comforts. Harry, as he looked on from the distance, could not help but to feel slightly touched by the exchange which took place between them, unable, for that minute, to bring himself to think of the fact that it was Snape she was holding. She cooed softly to him from a partial kneel, and Harry, watching Snape brush up against her, was touched by a faint curiosity- it almost seemed, to him at least, as though the Potions Master was unaware of his actions. However, in a swift moment he would turn his head away from Hermione with a vicious look on his face.

Harry watched the scene for several minutes, bemused. He found it to be an incredibly rare scene that was taking place in front of him, and he found that he was transfixed by the interaction.

Snape flicked his tail back and forth for several moments, baiting with a fury as Hermione attempted to grab him and bring him back to their circle. There was a ball of yarn laying just a few feet away, which she had conjured with a spell. Harry could not help but to smile at her. The cat actually turned a full hundred and eighty degrees around, when Hermione finally grasped him over his back, wrapping her arms around his stomach.

Snape looked back and hissed at her, spitting. Just lovely, Harry thought to himself dryly.

A few feet away from then, Ron, who had finally moved in closer to the scene, was now struggling to hold in his laughter. Harry looked up at his friend, and flashed him a warm smile. There was a twinkle in his eyes that seemed to creep into his eyes without his consent. He could not stop himself from looking at Ron for a few moments, trying to convey what he could not put into words, and they were both thinking that perhaps there was something more to this relationship- something, perhaps, that they had not seen.

As Hermione continued to stroke the animal, it did not seem that she was willing to pay them any mind. Harry decided that his efforts there were being wasted, and so he beckoned Ron to follow him out of the door. Ron, without wasting a moment's time on putting words to his thoughts, followed him silently. When they had reached the door, Harry turned towards him, and without ado, the two of them stepped out into the cool, chilly night.

The air around them was light and windy, as the sun had finally gone down and Harry could see it slowly meandering through the trees. In its slow path, Harry thought that he saw, for a single moment, the shadow of a dancing fairy. However, he blinked once, and a second later it was gone. He stood staring at the spot upon the sun for several minutes, almost as though he were hoping for something to appear. Whatever it was he sought, though, appear to be nonexistent.

"Harry?" Shaking his head slightly, Harry turned. Ron was shuffling back and forth between his feet, blinking slowly at the sun, almost as though he were stymied by it.

"Yeah?" Harry asked him. Ron almost started. It was clear to Harry that he had spoken without conscious effort.

" I was just wondering- do you think it's possible for us to tell Dumbledore that we can't figure out this spell?" He paused, and his eyes shifted towards the ground a bit guiltily, "we've been attempting to analyze it for several weeks now without success." He looked towards the door a bit wryly. Harry could not suppress a grin at his reaction.

"Ron, I'm sure that Professor Snape will be more than happy to discuss the matter with us when he is once again human." He paused, and his grin widened. "Unless you'd like to bring it up to him now?" he ventured. Ron, who'd now stepped back from him a pace, balked, as he threw his hands up.

"No, no o' course not . . . " he said, trying to sound cool and unaffected, though obviously failing ceremoniously, "that is to say- I'm sure that everything is under control. It's just taking us a little bit longer than usual to figure out the problem, I am sure. Snape- well, you know Snape . . . I'm sure he's got a handle on it . . . so yeah . . . " Harry smiled at him, and he had to force himself to contain his laughter.

Hermione, who was still inside with the cat-Snape, suddenly giggled loudly, wrenched from him a rather embarrassing, involuntary snort.

"She's really taken with him, isn't she?" Harry, still chuckling, nodded his concurrence. "Maybe one day Dumbledore will just figure that Snape suits the world better in an alternative form, and make it permanent."

Harry smiled at him. Although he did not say it, agreeing with the notion was not overtly difficult. Just as he was about to verbally agree with him, though, he noticed a soft shadow slipping through the trees at the edges of the short hill they were on. The shadow was not moving as a typical shadow would, a trait which immediately gained Harry's eyes. Ron glanced up, suddenly realizing that Harry stopped speaking, but he held up a hand to stop him. As he continued to watch, the shadow slipped through the wanton trees, which were eerily waving in the night's breeze. Harry watched for another moment, and when the shadow slipped by them he turned back around.

"Ron- did you see that?" Ron, who did not seem to have noticed anything unusual, looked up.

"What?" Harry's eyes pierced the distance, but again, he was unable to see anything unusual, the trees as neat, and unobtrusive as they had ever been. Harry blinked several times to clear his vision.

"I saw-" he pulled back on his words, not really too sure what to say, "there was a shadow of some kind- it looked like it was- " Harry suddenly had a perfect sense of deja-vu come over him, as he realized what the shadow must have represented, and his mind recalled that day in Snape's house. Ron, now looking in the direction which he indicated, was unable to decipher more than a few shades of darkness, which could very well have been divulged from the branches.

"Um- Harry- I guess I don't really see anything," he offered him, rather unhelpfully, Harry could not help but to think. He said nothing for several minutes though, merely continuing to watch the trees in silence. However, it soon became irrefutably clear that whatever had passed by him had left the premises. Harry, though, now filled with an untraceable feeling of dread which he could not shake, decided that he had spent enough time out here, and that . . .perhaps he would do better to assist with Hermione's efforts. Yes, that would be a much better venue for his abilities . . . best to forget the whole thing.

He turned abruptly on his heel, and Ron opened his mouth to protest his awkward departure. Harry did not look back, and he did not care to think anymore about what that shadow had meant. He had rather spend his time better by spending works of munificence in the role of a good friend.

Hermione looked up as he entered, and her face immediately lit up with happiness at the prospect he provided. Harry, still hurriedly ejecting all thoughts of the dark omen and its details from his mind, looked to Hermione and stepped more closely to the singular scene. When he swooped down towards Snape, and he was on a level, his face mastered a sly grin, which he was not sure was appreciated by his recipient. Hermione, who was standing slightly above and behind him, gave a slight 'ssss' noise between her teeth, obviously with dissent.

"I confess that I am quite abashed by your attitude, Harry. I thought you, of all people, might understand how Snape feels about this whole long, dreadful occurrence. It seems as though your incessant need is to make fun of Professor Snape and to provoke him. . . you really should re-think your actions." Harry, slightly surprised by her zealous defense of Snape, looked up at her, his brows raised. He was scratching the cat absentmindedly behind the ears, and had not really paid her much mind.

"Hermione, I-" Harry didn't really know what to say to this. How was he to tell his best friend that he had just seen an omen which may portend a dreadful fate? Just as this thought passed through his mind, Professor Snape, who was now slinking beneath his hands in an eerily charming manner, took up the focus which he'd held.

"Hermione . . . " Harry lowered his voice, so that it slipped like an invisible glass liquid through the space. His head was now lowered slightly, in affirmation of his inner thoughts. "I just saw a shadow a few minutes ago. It wasn't an ordinary shadow," he added quickly, as Hermione opened her mouth just at the peak of his statement, priming to interrupt- he began to grow faintly annoyed. "This was the same one that I'd noticed that day at Snape's house, the one I mentioned in our discussion. I told you that it was nearly impossible to understand its implications because- well, because I didn't really know what it meant, or what it hopes to achieve by following us- urrrgh." Harry suddenly pulled on his hair with annoyance, for at that point, he had realized just how ridiculous he sounded. Hermione was still looking at him dubiously.

"Harry . . . " she began.

"I know," he began quickly, seeing her expression. "I realize that it doesn't make any sense, Hermione, but I was sure- I am still sure that it was the reason that we left. Snape left the house with me on the same night that we saw the shadow, and there was no other reason that he would have left," he finished, sure that, once she looked at this rather logically, she would be able to see the inevitable probability of the fact.

"Harry . . . " Hermione tapped her foot upon the ground, appearing to be in deep thought over these details. "Did it ever occur to you that there may have been a reason for the fact that Snape left the premises when he did? That, perhaps, it was only part of the headmaster's plan for you to leave? Don't you think it possible that he may have wanted to drive you away from there? This cottage was quite obviously set up for a purpose," she added, narrowing her eyes a bit, as if to internally reprimand a serious oversight.

"Hermione . . . " Harry spoke in a low, guttural tone of defeat, not seeing any reason now to continue, if she was not going to listen to him anyway. He could not help but to notice that the cat which was now insinuating himself beneath his hands, though, had stiffened slightly, and he pointed this out. Hermione paused, and immediately discerned Harry's statement. Snape was now swaying back and forth in the most lucrative fashion. He was sitting on his haunches, and there was a bulging spot in his belly from this angle he noticed, which, to Harry, looked very grotesque- although he did not tell Hermione that.

"I think he understands what I'm telling him," he mused, watching the cat more intently now. Hermione, who had her hands on her hips and was watching him with a faint curiosity that she was trying to mask, sighed exasperatedly.

"Well of course, he understands what your telling him, Harry . . . he's not a normal cat." Harry ignored her, however. For the first time, he desperately wished that Professor Snape was in his human form, since as wearisome as his natural personality may be, he really needed to discuss the matter with him. Although he did not tell Hermione as much, he needed to speak with Snape about the man that he'd seen. However, the cat appeared to be at the height of gaiety- to the extent that a cat feels such- slinking around Harry, and to licks his lips and meow- a grotesque sensation on Snape which made Harry's skin crawl.

"Awwww, look, Harry, he's hungry," Hermione suddenly said, her attention diverted. Harry wished, in that very moment, that he could bang his head against the wall. As she walked off to attend the would-be Snape, he looked down at the scrawny little cat and griped,

"Do you know, I think that your purposely doing this to me?" At his words, the cat straightened, and his ears immediately flattened like dough mounds. There was a knowing look in his bright yellow orbs which made Harry take a slight step in retreat. Irritated to no end by Snape's persistent evasion, and Hermione's reaction to this slippery form which shied away from their problems, he went back outside the cabin.

Ron was still standing where he had left him, and, as Harry walked up to him, he noted that his face held distant features. He waved his hand in front of his face. Ron looked up at him, blinking, for about the space of one, lucid moment, and then back at the blackened nothing, just staring into the distance. Harry did not know what to think about the change, and he looked into his face blankly.

"Ron? Hey, mate? You okay?" Ron, now lifting his hand in an odd gesture that made Harry look into the night's sky around them. The trees were as silent and impenetrable as they had been a few minutes ago, before Harry had left him.

"Ron?" he questioned again. He gave him a slight shake. Ron's head swayed back and forth, but he did not seem to have heard him. Harry stood a bit taller, making himself eye level with his friend, and looked directly into his pupils. They were unfocused, and bereft of awareness. The hairs of the back of Harry's neck stood up, as he swiftly swiveled on his heel, and searched the clearing around them rapidly. Not seeing any sign of anything which looked out of ordinary, he placed one of his hands on Ron's shoulder. The arm was as stiff as a board, and Harry had to clench his hand tightly enough to gain leverage against his heavy, now deadened weight.

" Ron, I'm going to have to get you into the house." He took both of his arms and attempted to drag him onto the front step. "I know that it's not the most ideal way to travel," he muttered incomprehensibly, trying to ignore the painful, dead anvil which now sheer weight his arms.

Hermione was still frolicking with Snape when they stepped through the door, bounding upon the floor in a gregarious fashion. Harry had no sooner stepped close upon the small, plush rug arcing around her feet than Ron slid down, landing ungracefully into the chair behind him. Hermione looked up from Professor Snape's antics momentarily long enough to register the fact that they now had visitors. It took her a full minute to finally look at Ron's indisposition, at which point she gaped at him aimlessly.

"Ron- what- " she stopped, looking to Harry for an explanation. Harry, who was still deeply concerned about his predicament, was observing him carefully now, his brow furrowed in consternation. Hermione's eyes were coursing between the two of them in a river of torrid questions, but- something told Harry that speaking would not be a good idea. They were both completely silent in that moment, and the air around them held within it a strange feeling which told him something was amiss. Harry's mind was slowly fingering through his initial experience with the inky shadow which had discovered them when he was with Snape.-

"Harry," Hermione gasped, and Harry quickly shook himself, glancing into what he deemed as a faint terror. Ron, who had been staring into nothingness moments before, was now widely staring at them with both of his eyes- the problem was, that his brown eyes were no longer his own. They were a flaming red that washed his entire features with redness that was only bred from a cold fury. At that point, something in Harry's heart stopped its thumps.

"He's being possessed," whispered. She had reached down to pull Snape into her arms and was now holding him close, protecting him against any voluntary harm that may meet him. Her swimming orbs met his, and in them a clear message was bumbling up to reach out. In a torrent of hellfire and clamoring terror, which were fighting against each second of their fated time she was telling him to move. Harry did not need telling twice. Adrenaline rushed through his body in a pulsating, mad, torrent they both raced towards the door, Hermione with Snape bumbling and flailing through her maddening movements. A strange whining was emitting its way out of Ron's throat, being issued by what could not be named, though Harry was certain that there was more within its motive than his friend's innocence. They reached the door, stopped, and then, they turned back around.

Hermione was clutching Harry's arm so tightly that it was a cold hurt that was pressing into him. In that moment, however, he would have given over his very life to ensure that she could continue to clutch to her every wish. He was sure, as he looked upon Ron's now slitted, red-streaked focus, boring into their souls, that they were going to die there, together in this odd, this particular moment. His last thoughts were that he would really like to eat a chocolate frog before he was to go. But Hermione's grip had tightened upon him like a screw, and all he could do was stand there with his eyes tightly shut while he prayed.

Just as Ron was making his way towards the end of the room in a trancelike state, and they struggled against the door so they could flee him, a bright light enveloped the entire room. Harry felt it through his closed eyes, and when he opened them, the room was stuck by a dazzling, loving sun- perhaps he had died. Or, what thought it was the sun, in a vibrant array of purple and pinkly cut garments. Harry and Hermione both gasped. Standing neatly in the center of the room, with his hat fitted perfectly to his tailored, and obviously patented style which was hand-made to suit, Albus Dumbledore now stood. Harry let out a deep breath, and he felt Hermione sag weakly, washed by relief. Without his knowledge of it, his breathing started to even.

Professor Dumbledore smiled brightly at him, and then- before Harry could even register what had happened, flicked his wand towards Ron, who had frozen into his place as though he were a strange splint.

It was then that Hermione began to flail her arms, protesting.

"Professor!" She cried, "please- he didn't know what he was- that is to say, we think Ron is being possessed, we think he-" But at that very moment the headmaster had held up his hand to stop her. Harry was watching the process play across his vision with utter confusion.

"Ms. Granger, you misunderstand," he said cheerfully, looking at them both over his half-moon spectacles, and Harry's mouth fell open, utterly aghast, as he pulled Ron, who was now hanging in the air with a low suspension from his want, as though he were a master's long puppet. "I do not think for one moment that Mr. Weasely meant you or Mr. Potter here the slightest bad intention." As he drew Ron closer to his robes, the light which was emanating about him finally began to vanished. The professor seemed to be controlling both Ron and the light at the same time, for at the point when the light finally vanished, Ron had become tied to the headmaster's very robes.

"Professor- " Hermione questioned, "what are you doing to him?" Albus Dumbledore merely smiled at her, and he continued to toy with his wand enigmatically, not really acknowledging them, but not totally seeming disinterested. Harry looked at Hermione, as dumbstruck as she was by this strange behavior. As though Dumbledore was completely unaware of what had just occurred, he stated, his tone as natural as though he were speaking about the weather,

"Ms. Granger, if you would be so kind as to bring Professor Snape to me, I think we may be able to solve this little dilemma." Hermione watched him for a moment uncertainly, but, characteristic as her nature was, of course she obeyed him, and carried Snape (who remarkably was still situated in her embrace) closer to the headmaster.

"Thank you, Ms. Granger," he said, his tone remarkably- Harry thought- still cheerful. To Harry's now weather beaten surprise which was as strong as the dust mites populating the air, their potions master sat beside the headmaster with what appeared to be a rather regal stance. To all appearances, he seemed to be perfectly calm. Dumbledore flicked his wand through the air several times, and Snape started to take on a faint yellow glow. At the same time, Ron incurred a glow that was magnificently yellow, but the color was spotted by red. Dumbledore frowned slightly, and then, before either of them could have registered the movement, he flicked his wand at both Harry, and then Hermione. They both became immersed in the same yellow image, though, Harry noticed that Hermione's looked paler, and seemed more similar to Snapes's. Professor Dumbledore's eyes narrowed.

"Interesting," he murmured. Then, before either of them could say another word, he gave his wand a very faint flick, and the lights which were around them vanished. He then pointed it once more at Ron, who was still hanging from his invisible, yellow thread which the headmaster had conjured to hold him, and Ron was released from his bonds. Harry, afraid of Ron's reaction, moved out of concern to grasp him, but before he could think twice about his action the headmaster was already steering him towards the chair behind them in a gentle fashion. There was a pause for silence, as the headmaster seemed to be considering something which he was not willing to name. Harry was starting to grow anxious.

"Professor Dumbledore," Hermione said at last. She had placed one foot forward, and was looking directly into the headmaster's eyes. "What is it? What's wrong with him?" The headmaster looked over his half-moon spectacles at her once again, and gave her a brief smile.

"Mr. Weasely is just fine," he told her, and then he paused. Harry's heart was started to beat a bit more rapidly. The headmaster's restraint was beginning to grow unnerving, and he needed to know exactly what was causing his reaction. "But you Ms. Granger," he paused, and seemed to think over his statement, "you and Professor Snape have somehow managed to surprise me." He paused and tutted a bit, now swirling his wand around absently. He paced back and forth for several moments, as Harry and Hermione both watched him, their trepidation growing. Finally he stopped, looked at them, and stood there for a moment. His blue eyes were swirling with the depths of his contemplation, though when they reached out to them, Harry could see that he had reached a conclusion.

"It seems that you and Professor Snape have been privy to an interesting area of magic, one that is not often studied. There is a strong bond between caretaker and all animal forms which have been derived from a witch or wizard. A special bonding generally takes place as a natural reactant to the animal's stimulus, and it tends to connect with one or more persons." He put his wand away in that moment, appearing to have completed the line of thought that he meant to provide to them. He turned rapidly on his heel, his sun-splashed robes billowing lightly around him, swept on by an invisible wind.

"You Ms. Granger," he said, his voice sounding enigmatic as he put one foot in the fireplace to leave, "you and Mr. Potter will prove to be crucial in this test." And then, before either of them had a chance to try and stop him, he stepped into the fireplace and vanished, the echoing words of his last statement swirling around their ears.


If you stay tuned, explanations of Ron's behavior and Dumbledore's words are forthcoming. I know that it has been ages since I've updated this, so you probably will not believe me, but note that your reviews encourage me. Thus, the more I get, the more added strength you will provide me to update through my busy life. And, note that if I am behind in reviewing your stories, then I will be catching up :)

SM ~