Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world belong to J.K. Rowling. This story belongs to me.

A.N - Greetings my wonderful readers! Thank you for all your support for this story, particularly the lovely reviews you've all given me. As a reward of sorts, here is a brand new chapter, and it is by far the longest one yet. I won't say too much, because I know you're all dying to know what happens next, so without further ado, enjoy!


~Strength in Weakness~

The Choice


Still staring at the House-Elf, Harry paled slightly and weakness hit his limbs as the full extent of the revelation sank in, almost blinding him to the point where he could barely comprehend anything but fear warring with anger. He clenched his fists, the skin turning white with the force of his fury, but otherwise he was rooted to the spot, half of him wanting to confront the bitch and the other half wanting to run as far away from her as possible.

Umbridge. Why did it have to be bloody Umbridge?

He should have known, Harry thought bitterly, groaning slightly as the full force of the revelation continued to sink into him bit by bit. He dropped his gaze, determined not to appear weak in front of Snape, but not quite yet in control of his emotions, nor even really fully aware of exactly how it was he felt.

Of course the toad had poisoned him, Harry thought, knowing that much at least. He really should have known. It seemed so obvious now; she'd been bullying and torturing him all year, what was a little poison to her?

Harry ran a shaky hand through his hair as the initial anger began to seep away into the back of his mind. Oh god, what was he going to do? Had it been anyone else, Harry would have been confident that Snape, Pomfrey and Tonks would be able to capture the perpetrator and somehow bring them to justice…but Umbridge? The woman had already got rid of Dumbledore and now had complete control of the school; who else stood a chance against her?

Even with rock-solid evidence, Harry just couldn't see how they could go against the Ministry. Fudge would back her, Harry knew it without a doubt. Even if Harry did end up accusing her of being the poisoner, he knew that Fudge would just end up calling him a liar…

"Damn that infernal woman!" muttered Snape suddenly, snapping Harry back to reality and away from his scattered thoughts. With slight trepidation, Harry turned to Snape, only to see the man angrily turn away from him.

"Sir?" Harry asked unsurely.

"Give me a moment, Potter," Snape snapped, pinching at the bridge of his nose. The Professor seemed to have visibly sagged at the House-Elf's confession, not in relief, but rather as if an invisible weight was pressing him further towards the earth. And he was angry. Harry hadn't expected him to be quite so angry…

At least I'm not the only one who's not happy with this little revelation, thought Harry, though truthfully, sharing the same thoughts as Snape was not an entirely comforting situation.

"Nellie," Snape spoke finally, his words strained but clear as he turned his attention back to the House-Elf. "What did Umbridge threaten you with in exchange for your complicity and silence in this plot?"

"It is being the….the ultimate punishment, Sir," Nellie replied gravely, a faint shudder running through her body in fear at the very thought of such a punishment. Harry had an idea as to what it might be…

"Freedom then," Snape nodded, agreeing with Harry's silent conclusions. "Then as I see it, we have only one option left to us."

Without another word, confusing and annoying Harry even more if such a feat was possible, Snape marched from the room, leaving Harry and a terrified and distraught Nellie behind him as if they had not even been in the room to begin with.

When Snape returned again, this time carrying the item he had clearly left to collect, Nellie squeaked and promptly burst into tears.

"No, Sir. Please…Master…"

Snape looked on, unmoved by the display, but Harry felt an uncomfortable twinge of pity enter his heart. Harry had an idea what might be coming, and he couldn't help but feel sorry for the small House-Elf.

"Nellie, you are hereby freed," Snape said gravely. He held out the black sock, and it was taken with a shaking hand by the small House-Elf that - despite the minor fact of having been poisoned by her - Harry had grown to like. She didn't deserve this…

"Sir, you can't do that," Harry quickly, pity overtaking any residual anger he might have had for the House-Elf who had poisoned him and nearly killed him. "It's…none of this was her fault!"

"I am aware of that, Potter," Snape replied slowly, his expression unchanging, with not a hint of pity on his face. "However, I do not see that we have any other choice. Umbridge will undoubtedly call upon Nellie to continue to administer poison to your double. Under the threat of freedom and banishment, Nellie would have to obey. I have removed that threat."

"By doing the very thing she's scared of!" Harry shook his head stubbornly as Nellie burst into a fresh round of tears. "That's not fair!"

"Life isn't fair, Potter," Snape snapped. "This is the only choice we have."

"But…what will she do? She…she needs a family to serve…"

Nellie was not like Dobby, Harry could see that as clear as day. She did not welcome freedom; in fact the concept seemed to terrify and shame her, not unlike it had when Winky had been granted freedom from Barty Crouch Snr. In this instance, however, there was no twinkly eyed, benevolent Headmaster to take her on at a moment's notice…

"I will take her on," Snape said matter-of-factly, as if that had been the plan all along. Maybe it had.

Nellie's eyes grew wider than Harry would have ever believed possible of such a small creature, and her soft sobs seemed to die in her throat as shock overcame her.

"Master…master is wanting Nellie to be his very own House-Elf?"

Snape frowned, looking down on Nellie with an air of distaste that seemed to have nothing to do with her and everything to do with the situation.

"For the moment, yes," Snape began slowly, as if it was the last thing he wanted to do. Even so, he held the House-Elf's gaze firmly. "You will serve me and me alone. You will relinquish your role at Hogwarts now that I have granted you freedom and you will take up residence in my quarters until further notice. When this…situation with Umbridge has been resolved, I will free you once again, after which you will be resume your service at the school. Is this agreeable?"

The thought crossed Harry's mind that it was all a bit of a moot point, since Snape had already granted Nellie her freedom, but he kept this to himself. He couldn't quite bring himself to wipe the huge beaming smile from Nellie's face.

"I…I is being honoured, Sir," Nellie exclaimed excitedly, all previous desolation forgotten.

The small House-Elf closed her eyes, and before Harry could even understand what was happening, he felt a rush of magic move through the room, flowing past him and towards Snape. It was all over before Harry could even say anything – or indeed ask what the hell was going on - but truthfully he didn't really think he needed the confirmation. The deal had been done, he realised. Nellie belonged to Snape now.

"Can you do that?" Harry asked as he turned to face Snape, the question bursting out before he could stop it. Snape glared at him, but Harry held the stern gaze with barely a flicker. The truth was, Snape wasn't quite as….scary now as he had always seemed to be in the past.

"Potter, do you recall when I told you that all Professors are essentially equal masters of the House-Elves currently in residence at Hogwarts?"

Harry nodded, and Snape took this as confirmation to continue.

"Well, as a master, I am perfectly within my rights to dismiss any House-Elf under my command, for any reason I see fit. In this case, it is so that Umbridge does not hear that we are aware of her murderous plan. It gives us the advantage, however brief an advantage it may be."

"She'll find out thought, won't she?" Harry asked. "When Nellie doesn't answer her call, I mean."

"Yes, which is why we must act quickly," Snape began, before turning back to the small Elf. "Nellie, unless I require your immediate presence, you are to go back to the Hogwarts kitchens and resume your old post."

The House-Elf frowned in confusion and Harry couldn't help but mirror her feelings. What was Snape playing at…?

"Nellie does not understand, Sir…?" Nellie began unsurely.

"For now, I need you to act as if nothing has changed," Snape explained. "That is my order. You must act as if you are still under the employment of Hogwarts castle, even though you are now solely under my command."

"And what if the Lady Headmaster calls Nellie?" the House-Elf asked, apparently starting to catch on.

"In such a case, you will report to her and tell her that the potion has already been administered," Snape replied, rubbing his chin in thought. "Then you will inform me immediately."

Nellie nodded unsurely, glancing towards Harry with uncertainty. "And I…I is not supposed to poison Master Potter, Sir?"

The question was said so seriously that Harry almost choked on the glass of water he had been drinking. Hadn't they made it clear enough already that poisoning someone was very, very bad?

Snape hesitated for a long moment at the question, though Harry doubted he was actually considering it seriously. Harry was sure Snape was doing it just to annoy him. At least he hoped he was…

"No," the man said finally, and Harry couldn't help but let out a small breath of relief. "You must not harm the boy in any way. If that infernal woman asks if you have poisoned Mr Potter, you will answer in the affirmative. You will lie, do you understand?"

"I do, Master," Nellie replied solemnly. "I is understanding."

"Then you are dismissed," Snape said with a nod, and without even a glance in Harry's direction, Nellie left as quickly as she had appeared, with a load crack and another slight breeze.

In the aftermath of the House-Elf's exit, Harry wasn't sure how to react. Although initially the news that Umbridge was his poisoner had sent chills down his spine and anger through his heart, truthfully the revelation still hadn't quite sunk in yet?

What happened now? And honestly, did he have any choice in the matter?

Slowly, and without looking at Snape, Harry walked back over to the kitchen table and sat down, his gaze dropping to the chess set as he tried to make sense of his jumbled feelings. Absently his gaze wandered down to one of his fallen pawns, and with a shaky hand, barely aware of his movements, Harry picked it up.

Was this him?

Was he the pawn? Meaningless and relatively unimportant, unless he could get rid of a bigger, more important piece? Something to be sacrificed for the greater good? Something to be moved around the chess board of life, suiting the player but never protected and always part of the bigger picture?

Since the moment Voldemort had returned to his full form, Harry had been trying to work out what his role would be in the upcoming war. Would he fight? Protect? Attack?

Or would he be manoeuvred once again? Manipulated?

And did he get a choice? A part of Harry was scared, terrified of facing Voldemort, but would that part ever get a chance to run away? Did he have any control over what happened next, or was it once again going to be down to the adults to decide something, leaving the consequences for him to face alone.

Harry knew that he was being unfair to some of the adults in his life. He knew they all meant well, but often their attempts at shielding him, protecting him, had the opposite effect. Should Snape take control of the Umbridge-Poisoner situation now, Harry certainly wouldn't feel any safer. Truthfully, he needed to stay in control…

Harry glanced up at Snape, the pawn still held firmly in his hand. Despite every other question that was pounding at his mind, there was one that bothered Harry more than any other.

What choice did he have…?

"Potter," Snape said suddenly, interrupting Harry's thoughts. "What in Merlin's name is going on in that mind of yours?"

"Nothing," Harry muttered immediately, his gaze dropping back on the chess board as he replaced the pawn in its rightful position.

"Potter," warned Snape dangerously, moved to take a seat at the table himself.

"Look, there's no point in talking alright," Harry said, trying to pre-empt Snape. "I get that you think it will help, but in this case, I just don't see how."

"What are you talking about Potter?"

"It just…it doesn't matter what I think about this." He gestured vaguely to where Nellie had just disappeared from. As much as he desperately wanted control, Harry wasn't naïve enough to expect it. "Umbridge is the poisoner…big whoop. It's not like I can do anything about it. I'm just a kid."

"Potter…"

"Look it doesn't matter what I choose, it never has," Harry interrupted quietly, his thoughts running through his mind. "What I want, what I decide…it's all pointless, because at some point, someone somewhere is going to decide something different, and my choice will get shoved to the back of the queue. What's the point in even trying anymore? I give up. Do what you want."

He knew it was true. As much as he desperately wanted control over this Umbridge situation, a part of him was just not willing to fight for it anymore; what was the point?

Control or no control? Merlin, his thoughts were all over the place…

"Damn it Potter," snapped Snape. "I just about to specifically ask you what you wanted, and what you thought. I…would like your opinion on the matter."

Harry frowned in surprise, but he resisted the urge to look up. "Why?"

"Idiot boy," Snape muttered angrily, before continuing. "Because, as you have said numerous times, it is your life."

"But the poisoner is Umbridge." Harry replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Which he supposed it was.

Snape frowned in annoyance. "Yes, but that is important, why?

This time, Harry's frowned deepened. "Because it's not just about me, is it? It's not just my life at stake. She is the ministry. She controls Hogwarts, she got rid of Dumbledore…" He took a moment to gather his thoughts. "I supposed...I just don't see how we can fight her, Sir. If we try to do something about this poisoning…what if it backfires?"

"How inept do you think I am, Potter?"

"I didn't…"

"Do you honestly believe that I would simply walk up to her and demand that she place herself in Azkaban? That I would go to Fudge with anything less than an absolute undeniable collection of evidence?"

"I…that's not what I was trying to say," Harry argued, annoyance rising up in him. Why did Snape always seem to twist his words?

"Would you let her get away with it?" Snape asked suddenly.

"I don't see how we have any other choice!" Harry snapped. "She's too powerful!"

"She is a third-rate witch with a less than basic grasp of the rudimentals of magic!" Snape argued back. "A two-year old child could best her in a duel."

"If I even thought about duelling her," Harry shot back. "I'd have my wand snapped before I could say 'unfair'."

"And that is reason enough not to do anything at all? To let her get away with it?"

"I never said that," Harry snapped in reply. "Although honestly, what other choice do we have?"

"We have all the choice in the world, Potter," Snape argued, his voice calm once again, an intense look on his face as if he had just realised a very important point that he wanted Harry to understand.

"I don't think I do have a choice though, not really," Harry replied, brow furrowed as he tried to work out where Snape was going with this. "There's too much at risk."

"You always have a choice, Potter," Snape began. "I understand that you are…scared of the consequences should we fail, Potter, and I even, to some extent at least, agree with you. But I fail to understand why that means that your opinion, your choice in how you act now that you know your poisoner, is no longer important."

"Choice isn't important, really," Harry said quietly, thinking back to all the points in his life where his choice certainly hadn't come into things. "Not for me."

"Choice is the most important thing, Potter," Snape replied seriously. "It is what defines us. What separates us from the people we fight."

Snape gave him a long hard look, as if trying to see through Harry's eyes into the soul beneath. Harry did his best not to blink or flinch away under the intense scrutiny of his Professor, but he couldn't help but feel vulnerable, as if the man could actually read his thoughts. Had Harry not already experienced the unique sensation of having Snape invade his mind, he would have thought the Potions master was trying to repeat the feat now.

"Make yourself comfortable, Potter," Snape said wearily after a long moment, dragging his eyes away from Harry. "I think it is time that we had another…discussion."

"Now?" Harry asked, though in truth he was too exhausted to fight. Now that he knew it was Umbridge, it was as if the fight had left him. The initial anger was gone. There was just no point…

"When else?" Snape retorted.

"I just…I thought…what with Umbridge…"

"You thought I would need to go and arrange a way to deal with that infernal woman," Snape guessed.

"Well, yeah."

"I will not make a decision that centres so much on you, Potter," Snape replied. "Not without first understanding your opinion on the matter. You might feel that your opinion has no relevance, that it is unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but I'm afraid that I simply don't agree. Your opinion does matter, and equally, so does your choice. Even if you cannot act on your choice, the very act of making a choice is far more important than you seem to think. I know that, in the past, I have somewhat ignored your preference on certain matters, but that time has gone. Now we must work together, and to do that, you must tell me your thoughts on the matter."

"But…I…"

"Potter, you are important. You, Harry. Not simply the Boy-Who-Lived, but you." Snape gave Harry a long considering look before continuing. "It is strange, but sometimes you can appear so arrogant, and yet other times, it is clear that you simply don't know how to separate yourself from the bigger picture."

"I'm not arrogant," Harry muttered stubbornly.

"I realise that," Snape replied quietly, "But in this case, it is acceptable to think a little selfishly. It is even perhaps expected."

"No, it isn't," Harry argued.

"Yes it is, Potter," Snape sighed, running a hand through his greasy hair. "It should not be this difficult. You have a brain, you have thoughts. Why are you keeping them to yourself?

"It's none of your business."

"What are you hiding from me?" Snape asked suddenly, as if the thought had just occurred to him.

"I'm not – "

"Are you planning to deal with this yourself?" Snape interrupted. "To try and accuse Umbridge yourself? Foolish boy!"

"That's not…You don't understand – "

"No, Potter, you do not understand," Snape interrupted harshly. He appeared to take a deep steadying breath before he continued. "I realise that you are used to diving head-first into every life-threatening situation you come across, but if we are to see the…Headmistress face justice for what she has attempted to do, it is going to require a much subtler approach than your tiny Gryffindor brain can even comprehend."

Harry flushed, but straightened his shoulders defiantly, anger starting to run through his veins again. "You know nothing about me, Snape."

"We both know that isn't true now, don't we, Potter?" Snape shot back, his expression blank, but with a challenge and warning clear in his dark eyes.

Harry ignored both.

"I don't always rush in head-first," Harry argued defiantly. "It's just that most of the time I don't have much choice in the matter…"

"Oh, but you do, Potter" Snape replied, repeating his earlier point. "You always have a choice. The fact that you fail to see more than one way to defeat an enemy simply shows how right the sorting hat was when it placed you in Gryffindor."

"You know nothing," Harry repeated quietly, a challenge burning in his eyes.

"Come on then, Potter," Snape replied, apparently choosing to accept the challenge. "Tell me which part of my reasoning was in any way false-"

"I..."

"Yes, Potter - ?"

"I wasn't supposed to be in Gryffindor," Harry interrupted hoarsely, his heart beating loudly in his chest.

"Excuse me," Snape replied, his brow raised in surprise.

"I wasn't supposed to be in Gryffindor," Harry repeated, much more firmly this time. "The Hat…it wanted to put me in Slytherin. Said that it would help me on my way to greatness."

"The hat wanted to place you in my house?" Snape considered, eyebrows raised.

"Yeah," Harry muttered with a scowl. "Some Gryffindor Golden boy I am…"

Snape shook his head slightly as if trying to come to terms with this new information.

"You believe the fact that the hat wanted to place you in Slytherin means that you do not belong in Gryffindor?" Snape asked with a frown.

Harry replied with his own frown. Apparently this revelation of Harry's had distracted Snape from his earlier point about Umbridge, though Harry wasn't sure how he felt about that. On the one hand, he didn't really want to talk about Umbridge, but on the other hand, he really, really didn't want to talk about his sorting either. Merlin, why hadn't he just kept his mouth shut?

Harry dropped his gaze. "Well, yeah…"

"Despite the fact that in your second year you pulled the sword of Gryffindor from that same hat?"

"Look, Snape," Harry began, "It's just…what if the hat was wrong about that? What if I really do belong in Slytherin?"

"You do not," Snape replied shortly.

"But – "

"Potter…"

"I begged it to put me in a different house," Harry admitted, head bowed. "I begged it to put me anywhere but Slytherin."

"Why?" Snape asked intently.

"Because…I'd heard things already. I'd made friends with Ron on the train, and he just kept telling me how all the evil wizards came from Slytherin."

"That is preposterous, Potter," Snape interrupted with a scowl.

"I know," Harry mumbled. "But I was eleven, and I didn't know anything about the school, except what Hagrid had told me. Ron just kept telling me about the House rivalries, about how everyone hated Slytherins, and I couldn't help but think that if I did get put into Slytherin, he wouldn't want to be my friend anymore."

"Potter…"

"It might sound stupid, Sir," Harry interrupted, "And I know it's pathetic, but he was my first friend - well, except Hagrid, I suppose. I just wasn't willing to risk losing him."

"And that is the only reason why you decided to beg to be put anywhere but Slytherin?"

Harry frowned. "Well, I met Malfoy on the train as well, and...he just acted like a first-class tosser. He reminded me too much of my cousin, and when he got put into Slytherin…well, I just wanted to stay well clear…"

Snape frowned, but didn't ask any further questions. Harry watched as the man rubbed at his chin in thought, and he couldn't help but wonder what Snape was thinking about. Umbridge, and how to deal with her? Or was Snape thinking about how close he'd come to having the Potter spawn in his House…?

"Well, it seems fairly clear to me, Potter," Snape said finally.

"I…I don't understand, Sir?"

"You are scared that the Sorting Hat was wrong all those years ago to place you in Gryffindor. That you are no more a Gryffindor than I am."

Harry swallowed, his mouth worryingly dry despite the water he had been drinking. How did Snape always manage to wheedle out Harry's worst thoughts and feelings, everything he had always managed to keep secret?

Snape frowned when Harry didn't immediately reply. He fixed his dark eyes onto Harry, intensity burning clearly in them. "It is you who is mistaken, Potter. It is strange, but most people, I find, seem to misunderstand what exactly it is that the Sorting Hat does."

"Sir – "

"No, you will listen, Potter," Snape interrupted. "This is yet another misconception that needs to be corrected. I will not let these things slide any longer, not when they have been left to fester in your mind for too long already."

"I..."

"Just listen, Potter," Snape ordered, though his voice was less harsh than usual. "The Hat is neither right nor wrong, though I cannot blame you for making that assumption. Society teaches us that there are good and bad people, smart and stupid people, loyal and brave and cowardly people. We are continuously categorised, placed into boxes and judged on our character."

Snape sighed slightly, pausing in his words, but Harry remained silent. Truthfully, he still didn't know what to make of Snape when he got like this…

"Do you fit in a box, Potter? Are you simply good or bad? Am I? Is anyone?"

The questions came quickly, and with an intensity that forced Harry to really listen to what Snape was saying. Harry got the distinct impression, however, that the questions had been rhetorical, so he didn't reply.

"Labels are just labels, Potter," Snape continued, confirming Harry's thoughts. "They are superficial. People are not black and white. I find, instead, that people are both good and bad at times, smart and stupid. We all within us carry the potential to be any of these things. We are so much more complicated than a Sorting Hat could ever properly categorise."

"But that doesn't mean that the Hat was wrong to think that I belong in Slytherin, Sir," Harry argued.

"No, but your choice does," Snape continued, sighing deeply as he began to speak. "It is not who we are that defines us, Potter, at least not completely. It is not our qualities that make us who we are, but rather the qualities we choose to act on. As I have said, Potter, we humans are complicated creatures."

Snape sighed deeply before continuing, and Harry kept his eyes fixed on the Professor, somehow unable to tear himself away from the man's words.

"I have no doubt, Potter," Snape continued. "That you care capable, at times, of cunning and even subtlety, that you carry within you the potential to become as Slytherin as I."

He paused. "And yet you do not. Make no mistake, I have little patience for your rash ways and your hot-headedness. But they are a part of you, a part that has shaped the person that you have become."

"I don't understand what you're trying to say," Harry mumbled truthfully.

"All those years ago," replied Snape, "When the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor instead of Slytherin, it was not simply doing it because you had begged it to do so. It was doing it because you chose it. You defined yourself that day, Potter."

"I…I talked to Dumbledore about this," Harry admitted. "You know, after the Chamber of Secrets thing in my second year. He…he told you pretty much what you're telling me now."

"And you did not believe him?" Snape asked in surprise.

"I did for a bit," Harry began, "Look, you won't understand."

"Try me," Snape replied simply.

Harry took a deep breath. "I just…I feel so angry, all the time. It's like I don't know how to feel about anything anymore. Even with this Umbridge thing…a part of me was angry and another part of me just wanted to give up and run away. There are times…I feel like I can't control myself, that I can't make a choice anymore, to be good or evil…"

Snape looked concerned. "It is the Dark Lord."

"I know," Harry muttered. "But sometimes I think…maybe it isn't just him. What if I'm becoming like him…?

"You are not," Snape replied.

"But – "

"You are not," Snape repeated. "Have you not listened to anything I have said? You feel like you are losing control, but it appears to me that the opposite is true. Whenever I witness the Dark Lord even begin to try and take control of your mind, I see you fight it!

"But I don't always win."

"No, but you fight it, and that is what is important," Snape replied. "So long as you fight, you are still you. So long as you continue to choose to defy him, instead of giving in, you are still you."

Snape paused, giving Harry a long look. The next time he spoke, he seemed to choose his words carefully.

"Choice is what makes us who we are, Potter. And as I said at the start of this infernal conversation, you have always had a choice."

"Not always – "

"When you were eleven," Snape interrupted, "Why did you attempt to protect the Philosopher's Stone?"

"I…what?"

"Articulate as ever, I see," Snape shot back. "I shall repeat my question then…why, when you were only eleven years old, did you attempt to protect the Philosopher's Stone?"

"Because…I had to," Harry replied, still not seeing where Snape was going with this.

"Did you?"

"Well, yeah," Harry replied uncertainly. "I…we tried to tell a teacher, but McGonagall…she didn't believe us. I couldn't risk Voldemort getting the Stone…"

"But don't you see, Potter," Snape began. "You could have."

"I…I don't understand."

"Were you forced to go down that trapdoor?" Snape asked.

"No."

"Were you perhaps manipulated into that particular action?"

"No."

"So…" Snape prompted.

"I chose to go there," Harry finished, finally understanding what Snape had been trying to explain all alone. "But it wasn't really much of a choice really…"

"Not to you, Potter," Snape replied. "And that, is what makes you who you are. I assure, Potter, there are many people in the world who would not have made the same choice that you made that day, who would have hidden beneath the covers of their bed, waiting, hoping for someone to save them from the very thing they feared most. Some would have continued to try to get help, even if no help was possible, others would have given up and simply not cared about the consequences. But you…Potter, on that day, at just eleven years old, you chose to fight. That is far more expressive of the person you are than any qualities or abilities that you might possess. Do you understand?"

"I…I think so."

"The same applies to Umbridge," Snape continued, bringing the conversation full-circle. "You feel as if there is not much choice in how we deal with her, but that is not true. There is always a choice."

Harry wasn't sure what to say to that. He still didn't think there was much point in trying to defy Umbridge, but Snape was starting to make a lot of sense…

"At the beginning of this…discussion," Snape continued. "I mentioned that your inability to see more than one solution to a problem was proof that the Sorting Hat had placed you in the correct House. In truth, the Sorting Hat's decision is of little consequence. It does not guide your life unless you choose to allow it to do so. Cowards have lived in the House of the Brave, just as idiots have lived in the House of the Intelligent. The Hat…it can be mistaken. Sometimes…Sometimes I believe that we sort too soon… or that perhaps we should not sort at all."

Snape held his gaze firmly. "When you jumped headfirst down that trapdoor at eleven years old, you were acting like a Gryffindor. Bravery and stupidity all rolled into one. But it was not because the Hat made you into a Gryffindor that you acted like that. No, you chose that. So, Potter, it is time to choose who you are now. Do you still give up and let Umbridge take that from you as well?"

Harry thought about that, his mind burning as the questions rolled around furiously. More than anything, Harry wanted to believe Snape, but it was difficult. He couldn't get past the fact that choosing to act didn't bring him any more control than he already had over the situation. Sharing his thoughts didn't mean anything would actually change, and trying to continue to fight, to resist, didn't come without risks. It certainly didn't mean he would be successful...

However, Harry reasoned, if Snape was to be believed - and in this case, Harry thought that he was - choosing how to see a situation was an act upon itself. Maybe, since he couldn't have control over the situation, he could instead wrestle back a little control over himself.

"Sir?" he began finally, decision made.

"Yes, Potter?" Snape said, apparently pulling himself back from wherever his mind had been.

"What choices do you think we have now, Sir?" Harry asked. "About Umbridge, I mean."

Snape met his eyes evenly. "What choices do you think we have?"

"I still don't think we have any choice at all, Sir," Harry replied.

"Potter – "

"No, I don't mean like that," Harry interrupted. "I just mean…I can only see one way we can act now. Umbridge…she deserves to pay for what she's done. Only, recently you've been telling me that sometimes the best thing to do is to avoid a fight. So really...I suppose I don't know what the hell to think."

"In some cases, Potter, it is best to avoid a battle that can be avoided," Snape replied. "But this battle cannot be avoided. We cannot allow Umbridge to go free any longer. That would put the pupils of this school at risk much more than choosing not to act ever could. And even now, I am not asking that you fight her directly, that you risk everything on making her pay. I am simply asking that you resist, that you do not let her win. That you choose not to give up."

"I'm not giving up," Harry muttered stubbornly.

"It certainly seemed that way not too long ago," Snape shot back. "How many times must I say it, Potter? You are not alone. You have support, you have back-up. You are not ever going to be facing Umbridge alone. Why do you continue to isolate yourself so needlessly?"

"I already said that you can deal with it as you see fit," Harry mumbled.

"Why can we not deal with it?" Snape asked. "Together?"

"I…didn't think about it like that," Harry mumbled truthfully.

"But you admit, it is possible," Snape continued. "A Snake and a Lion working together does seem far-fetched, I'll admit, but I see no real reason why it cannot work. We have not always seen eye-to-eye but with a common enemy, I'm sure that we can put our differences aside long enough to deal with her. And who knows, Potter, perhaps our differing qualities may lend us an advantage. Combining Gryffindor brashness with Slytherin cunning…why we'd surely be unstoppable."

Harry couldn't help the small smile that made its way slowly onto his face at the man's words. He still had his doubts of course, but at least Snape was willing to try.

"Choose to act, Potter," Snape implored. "Choose to resist her."

"I…okay," Harry said finally. "I'm in. What's the plan?"

Snape sighed but nodded his acceptance of Harry's words, his voice hardening as he continued to speak, almost oblivious to Harry's presence. "It will take some thought, Potter, some serious consideration and creativity, but know this: she will pay for what she has done. One way or the other, we will make her pay."


A/N – Okay, so not a lot happened in this chapter action-wise. It was transitional chapter really - a really long one, I admit - but I think it's an important one for character development. I also think it's something that Snape would do, because he doesn't strike me as the kind of person who would let Harry just give up, or push everyone away. Hopefully you agree? Please let me know, but for now, thanks for reading!