Harry was quiet the rest of Christmas Eve, and Severus was doing his best to not ignore Harry. Severus was in pain. He had been hit by several curses, and he had started to go about healing himself. What he wanted to do was to forget that there was anyone else on the face of the earth and either sleep or read. But that would have been cruel to Harry, he knew. But Harry was reserved that evening and the next day.
Severus noticed that Harry spent a large portion of Christmas day sitting on the sofa using the knife-made-journal. Severus, of course, had mixed feelings about it. It was a signal that Harry was struggling with something - undoubtedly the previous night's fiasco - but at least he was using an acceptable coping method. Severus wished that Harry would ask him to read what he'd written. Severus wanted to know what was going through Harry's mind. But almost more importantly, Severus wanted Harry to tell him what was going through his mind. It wasn't good the way Harry kept his thoughts bottled up inside. Well, he thought, it wasn't like he wasn't guilty of the very same thing. He never talked to anyone either.
So, Severus shrugged it off. He decided that he would let Harry write in his journal until Harry decided to come to him with whatever was bothering him. He would, of course, keep a close eye on Harry and make sure no harm came to him.
As the weeks continued to roll by, the little "fearsome foursome" as they were termed, continued to meet in the library and prepare for the upcoming tests. Hermione was being her usual know-it-all self, trying to get the rest of them to study like there was no tomorrow. Well, Ron had tried to argue, if there was no tomorrow, why should they bother studying today? Draco and Hermione, while they still despised each other, worked quite well together, they found. Both were intelligent and took school seriously. Neville tried to study but he was clumsy and it was difficult for him to get the right wand movement. As he became more confident with the group, though, his confidence rose and his wand work improved. Hermione helped and drilled him, which was finally beginning to pay off.
It was Harry Potter that brought them together, and it was Harry Potter that kept them together. More often than not, when two or more of them were preparing to rip each others throats out, simply a mention of Harry was enough to get them to lay down their arms and post-pone the disagreement indefinitely. Some, perhaps, wouldn't have called them friends. Every so often they themselves wondered if they were friends. But, for Harry's sake, they would do anything for each other - even Malfoy and Weasley - and so they began to apply the word friend to each other.
The Easter holidays came and went, and the Professors piled on the homework for them. It became difficult for them to find the time to see Harry, but each of them, even Hermione, set aside school long enough to spend one evening a week with him.
One day, Hermione came to their study table a few minutes late. Highly uncharacteristic.
"Something wrong, Granger?" Draco asked, when he caught sight of the look on her face. It was a combination of annoyance and worry.
"Hagrid's got a dragon," she announced.
"So kind of him to let me know of my namesake," Draco drawled. Ron made a face at him. Draco smirked back.
"Seriously?" Neville said.
"Yeah," Hermione said. "Norwegian Ridgeback. He got the egg a little while ago and it's hatched now."
"Doesn't he know those things grow?" Draco asked, incredulous.
"Of course he does!" Hermione snapped.
"Down, girl," Draco muttered.
"He just isn't thinking," Hermione went on. "And he's going to get in trouble if he keeps it much longer."
"My brother - Charlie - takes care of wild dragons in Romania," Ron interjected.
"You think he can take this one off our hands?" Hermione said.
"I don't see why not," Ron replied.
"The real question," Draco observed, "is why does Hagrid have a dragon at all?"
Harry continued to live in Severus' chambers, and all continued to go well. Harry learned how to journal, but even though Severus noticed that Harry would sometimes spend hours writing, never once did Harry discuss what he wrote or ask him to read it. Harry stayed out of trouble, almost religiously, and there were no further incidents over the next few months, for which Severus was rather grateful. The Death Eaters had been laying low since an expedition where the violation of a Muggle family had backfired.
None of the Death Eaters could figure out how it had gone wrong. But, mysteriously, there had been law enforcement surrounding the house. When Lucius asked why they were there, the answer had been that an anonymous informant had said that a gang was planning some stunt in that area. Who the anonymous informant was, the Death Eaters didn't know. Lucius had his suspicions - and he was correct - but he never said a word to anyone about them.
Harry's education continued to come along quite well, despite Harry's lack of magical demonstrations. Severus kept him on the routine of meditation, but with each passing week, Severus' confidence in his methods began to seep away. Harry wasn't showing any improvement, and for that Severus was concerned. How would Harry ever be able to defend himself against the numerous threats in the wizarding world if he couldn't even cast a simple spell? Because Severus had no other ideas, he continued with the regimen.
Spring was coming, and Severus began to allow Harry and his friends to spend their evenings outside in the little alcove behind his chambers. The weather was warming up, and they seemed to like being allowed outside. It had been a difficult day for Harry. The classes were the ones where he needed to cast spells, and he was frustrated because he still couldn't. Severus noticed that on these days, Harry always spent more time writing in his journal than on other days.
But Neville was coming over that night, and Severus hoped that that would help Harry cheer up. As per his usual, Harry was writing when Neville came by. The two of them went outside, Harry immediately forgetting his book on the table. Severus was drawn to the open book, left sprawling on the table. His eyes fell over that days entry.
I just don't know. Am I even a wizard? I can't do the spells the Professor wants me to do, and I just don't understand it. If I'm really a wizard, doesn't that mean I should be able to do spells? But I can't. He's really patient with me, Professor Snape. He hasn't punished me at all for it. He hasn't even yelled at me. But I can tell he's frustrated. He glares at my pine needle every so often, and sometimes I think that he's trying to be angry with it instead of me.
Hogwarts is a school for wizards. If I don't get my magic working by the end of the school year, I think I might be sent away. What school wants a freak who can't do the very thing that they're trying to teach? I'm not a Muggle, like normal people, and I'm not even a proper wizard. And if I'm sent away, what will happen to me? Professor Snape is very nice and everything, and he takes really good care of me, better than I deserve, in fact, but...but I can't expect him to take care of me forever, can I? He's not my guardian. If he's not even my teacher, then who would I go back to? I don't think I can face going back to the Dursleys. They'd kill me. I just know it. It's probably all I deserve, but I don't think I can face it.
Does that make me selfish? Because I don't want to go back there? Professor Snape keeps going on about how they abused me and such, and how I'm good and worth it, and how he loves me and my friends love me, but I'm not sure I believe him. I mean, I want to. But how can I? It's like there are two cliffs, one is Professor Snape's world, and the other is my own, and between them, there is an endless chasm. I can't jump over it, or I'll fall, and fall, and fall, and there's no bridge for me to walk across. If by my death I could help him, I certainly would.
The pit between our worlds is almost as dark as the nightmares too. I dream at night, and they're always the same. It's either about the Dursleys, or it's a dream with a green light and a lady screaming. I don't know what the second dream is, and that makes it all the scarier. I feel like I should know, but I don't. It only started after the mirror. I hate that thing, but I want to see it again. It keeps tugging at my mind, that I need to see it again. Professor Snape would be furious if he knew I wanted to see it.
I feel so confused and lost. He's been taking care of me for months now, but sometimes, sometimes I feel like I'm just as lost as when he first opened my cupboard door. I just don't know.
And that was where the entry ended. Severus hadn't intended to read it. He just had. Afterwards, he felt horrible that he had violated Harry's privacy, the very thing that he had promised Harry that he would never violate. Quietly, Severus closed to book.
At least he knew something of what was bothering Harry though. Harry was concerned about having to go back to the Dursleys, and Severus was determined that that would never happen. He needed to start working on getting custody of Harry, and after reading what he had, he knew he would start that day. If he could promise Harry that he would never have to go back, perhaps some of Harry's fears would be eased.
No one was quite sure whose idea it was by the end, but the fearsome foursome had contacted Charlie, and set up a date to hand the dragon over. Despite the fact that Hagrid was particularly distraught about losing his dragon, it looked like they were going to successfully deliver the dragon to its new keeper.
They were just started to celebrate on the stairs coming down from the astronomy tower when Professor McGonagall came down the hallway.
"Merlin," Draco hissed as soon as she spotted the four of them.
"What in heaven's name do you think you're doing?" she asked them. "It's one o'clock in the morning!" They looked at each other, not knowing what to say or do.
"I was showing them Mars," Hermione pitched in. "It's unusually bright, and it will be even brighter tomorrow." McGonagall gave them a long, hard look.
"Yes, ma'am," Hermione said, with a most convincing innocence in her voice. "We've all been studying together. I'm sure you're aware?"
"Of course I am."
"How else should we study for the astronomy exam than to be out on the astronomy tower?" McGonagall huffed at them.
"Then get to bed, all of you," she said. "I'm sure you've done enough studying tonight to get you through your third year test."
"Yes, ma'am," Draco said. "Thanks for your help, Granger. Now I can tell when the moon's in its zenith."
"You're welcome, Malfoy," Hermione replied.
"Lucius," Severus said, stepping out of the floo. "I need your help to get custody of Harry. I don't need to adopt him - just be his guardian. Do you think you can arrange this?"
"I'll see what I can do, Severus," he responded. "I was wondering how long it would take for you to get around to that."
"I was hoping that Dumbledore would do something, but apparently the old fool is intent on having Harry go back to his sorry excuse for relatives."
"I see," Lucius said. "I'm sure I can arrange something. I know that the trial is still on hiatus in the Ministry, but I'm sure I can bring enough testimonial evidence to child protective services that I can illustrate that you would be a person to care for Harry. I hardly have to point out that as long as his relatives are temporarily detained by the ministry that they are not much of an option. The only difficulty would be if Dumbledore manages to get their case thrown out before the end of the school year. Barring that, I doubt I'll have much trouble. Even if he is the Boy Who Lived."
"Thank you," Severus said. "I suspect that Harry and I will both sleep easier at night without that hanging over us."
"Then, sleep well," Lucius said.
Despite Lucius' assurances as to the simplicity of the task, apparently Dumbledore was doing his best to stop the process. Oh, it was all very subtle of course, but Severus was sure that Dumbledore was behind each and every difficulty that they encountered.
Exam week came, and Harry was doing his best to pass what he could of his exams. He was taking each exam with Professor Snape proctoring, and he could see that Harry was doing brilliantly at potions and herbology. The only thing Harry couldn't handle was the practical on the classes that needed spell work. He was perfectly prepared on the theory behind the spells though.
Then, after tests were finished, there was a week of vacation before the results were published. Harry had come a long way in the past year, Severus realized. He had found Harry a bloody, beaten mess in the corner of a cupboard, and now, though still lacking confidence and assertiveness, Harry was much improved, both in mind and body. There was still a long way to go, but progress was definite.
"Harry," Severus said after he had completed his History of Magic exam, "I think, if you want, you can leave my chambers and see what Draco and the others are up to." Severus figured that it was likely one of the safest times of year to let Harry out of his sight. It was the last week, with exams finished, and Harry had solidified his friendships with the others. Severus felt he could trust Draco, Neville, Ron and Hermione to look after Harry.
"Can I take my wand please?" Harry asked. "All the others have them, and well - "
"Of course," Severus said, without hesitation.
What could possibly go wrong?
"Harry!" Draco called, brightening up. As always, he was floating around near the edges of their fearsome foursome. Never quite accepted, Draco had some reservations about his presence in the group. He knew that they didn't accept him because he hadn't quite accepted them, and he was fine with that. "What are you doing here?" Draco ran up to meet Harry, who was walking cautiously down the hallway. More quietly, once he had approached, Draco added, "Does Professor Snape know you're here?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "He said I could go out and see if you were doing anything." Harry was nervous, Draco could see.
"Actually, yes," he said, "we are doing something. Want to get the run down?"
"Alright," Harry hesitated.
"So, ever heard of the Philosopher's Stone?" he asked. Draco proceeded to explain that the Philosopher's Stone was being held at Hogwarts, on the third floor, guarded by Fluffy. "Hagrid told some guy in a cloak how to get by Fluffy," he continued. "You have to play music and the dog goes to sleep. And we think he's going to try to steal the stone tonight. Dumbledore got a note to go to the Ministry of Magic."
"Who do you think the thief is?" Harry asked.
"Well, you see," Draco began, "that's a point of contention between us. Hermione and I, we think it's Quirrel. Neville and Ron, well, they think - they think it's someone else."
"Who?" Harry pushed.
"Just another teacher," Draco shrugged. "And whoever it is, they've put together some scatter-brained plan to stop him."
"Why would someone want it? The Philosopher's Stone?" Draco shifted his weight nervously.
"It's the Dark Lord," he whispered into Harry's ear. "He wants it to come back in human form again." Draco looked Harry in the eye. "I don't entirely know why I'm here with them, but I suppose it's to keep Granger from breaking her neck and your heart at the same time. Don't you dare get the idea that I'm working against the Dark Lord."
"Of course not," Harry said. Then, after a pause, "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Draco said, with a nod.
"Harry!" Ron called, only just then noticing that he was standing there.
"Hi," he responded.
"What are you doing here?"
"Professor Snape said I could," Harry said, suddenly defensive.
"Oh," Ron said. "See?" he said, turning to Draco and Hermione, "I told you. Snape's after the Stone!"
"What?" Harry said.
"Snape's after the Stone!" Ron repeated.
"Shut up, Weasel," Draco sneered.
"But he is!" Ron continued. "He's even getting rid of Harry so that he can go after it! And since we're onto him, if Harry comes with us, then he's gotten rid of his opposition too!"
"I said," Draco growled, "shut up!" Harry had gone pale at Ron's accusations.
"I'm sorry, Harry," Ron said. "But I just don't think that Snape has all the best intentions. And of course you'd defend him, Malware, you're both Death Eaters!"
"It's not Professor Snape," Hermione put in, "and honestly, it doesn't really matter. We just have to save the stone now that McGonagall doesn't believe us. Whether it's Snape or Quirrel, it doesn't matter, okay?" The others nodded. "Forgive Ron's ineptitude," Hermione said, turning to Harry. "There's no way Snape's after the Stone. So you don't have anything to worry about."
"Okay," Harry said, not sounding entirely convinced.
"So let's get going," Hermione said, leading the group to the third floor. With a simple Alohomora, Hermione opened the door to where the stone was hidden. Quickly, she pulled out a harmonica and began to play Jimmy Crack Corn before Fluffy could eat them. She motioned the rest of them to get down the trap door while she played.
"Who's going first?" Ron hissed quietly.
"Well, don't look at me!" Draco hissed back. "You're the Gryffindor!"
"Right, right," Ron muttered, as he jumped down the hole. "It's safe!" he called back. "There's a plant down here to break your fall!" One by one, the rest followed Ron, including Harry and Hermione.
"Merlin's pants!" Ron screamed. "The plant's eating me!" Hermione quickly cast a soft lumos charm, and began to look at what Ron was screaming about.
"It's Devil's Snare," Hermione said. "Likes the dark...likes the dark..." she muttered.
"Oh, come off it, Granger," Draco said. "Incendio!" In a moment the plant receded as Draco's fire began to burn it. They stumbled out of the Devil's Snare, and into a room with hundreds of things flying around.
"Keys," Harry observed. "The key for the door over there is one of these."
"Oh no..." Neville moaned. "How are we going to get the right one? Snape will have the Stone before we can try all of them!"
"Snape's not after the Stone!" Hermione snapped.
"Brooms!" Harry said.
"What?" Ron replied.
"There's brooms over there. Draco? Our tricks?"
"Yes," Draco said, with what would have been a truly evil grin in any other circumstance. Each of them grabbed a broom, and they rose into the air, circling in the keys.
"That one!" Harry cried, and they began to spiral around it, doing rehearsed moves until Harry reached out and caught it. "There!" Bringing it down, they fit it into the door and it opened. No one had even stopped to notice that Harry used a broom other than the Nimbus he'd gotten from Professor Snape. They stumbled into a dark room, but light filled it the moment they reached it.
"A chess board," Ron gasped. "We have to win the game of chess! Um - can I take this one? I kind of am the best chess player here."
"Go ahead," Draco said. And when a Malfoy admits a Weasley is better at something, that's when everyone else won't question. Ron assigned each person a piece and they began to play. Really, no one understood what was going on except Ron. Finally, they neared the end of the game.
"I'm going to sacrifice myself, Harry, and you need to checkmate the king after!" He explained how Harry was to move.
"But you can't do that!" Harry objected.
"It's the way of life, okay?" Ron snapped back. "Just keep that Stone away from Snape or whoever is after it!" And Ron ordered his piece to move to where it could be taken. Harry watched as Ron was thrown from the board, and lay still where he landed. So Harry checkmated the king, and the white pieces lay down their arms.
"Ron - is he - ?" Harry gasped to Neville.
"I think he's fine," Neville said. "Just unconscious. We need to move on."
"Okay," Harry said.
They all walked on, and saw a dead troll.
"Well, we already passed that test," Draco said wryly. After that, they spotted a table with potions, and a parchment with a riddle on it. Purple flames shot up behind them at the same time as black flames shot up in front of them. Hermione read the riddle aloud.
Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,
Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,
Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.
Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,
To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:
First, however slyly the poison tries to hide
You will always find some on nettle wine's left side;
Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onward, neither is your friend;
Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,
Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;
Fourth, the second left and the second on the right
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.
"Oh dear," Hermione said. "We'll never be able to sort this out."
"It's the short bottle," Neville said. "I do these logic puzzles all the time. The short one will get you through the black flames towards the Stone and the round one will get you back through the purple ones."
"Brilliant, Neville!" Hermione said.
"But there's only enough for one of us to drink in the short bottle," Draco observed. After a moment, he said, "I'll drink it."
"Oh, no you won't," Hermione said. "You might be a half-decent fellow some of the time, but you're not leading the charge against You-Know-Who. I don't trust you that much!" Draco glared at her.
"The who do you propose?"
"Excuse me?" Harry squeaked.
"Yes?" Draco said.
"Well, whoever's in there, he had to drink the potion to get in there right?"
"I would think so," Hermione said.
"And there's more potion here now, so wouldn't that mean that it never runs out of potion?"
"By Merlin, you're right, Harry!" Neville said. "We can all go in there!"
"Someone needs to take care of Ron, and get the Headmaster," Hermione stated. She paused, and looked at Harry. "How about you?"
"No," Harry replied. "I - I don't want to do that. You should."
"But Harry - it'll be dangerous," Hermione said, unaware that she was simply making Harry's case stronger. "You could be killed."
"So could you," Harry said. "I won't go help Ron, so - so...you'd better." Hermione made a face.
"Fine," she said. She drank from the round bottle, and before she left, her expression softened. As she passed Harry, she whispered, "Thank you." She didn't feel she needed to be saved, but she remembered the conversation with Draco a semester before.
Individually, the three remaining boys drank from the small bottle, which did in fact replenish itself, and stumbled through the black flames. Like Draco and Hermione had predicted, they saw Quirrel standing there.
"It is Quirrel," Draco said, triumphant.
"Well, well, well," Quirrel said, "three boys." He snapped his fingers, and ropes bound all three of them. "Sorry, Draco," he said. "But as long as you're hanging around with riffraff that is trying to oppose the Dark Lord, then I will have to treat you as such. For the son of Lucius Malfoy, you certainly have a strange collection of friends." Then he turned to Harry. "And Harry Potter," he sneered. "The great Boy-Who-Lived. Stayed away in Snape's chambers all year. I couldn't get a decent shot at killing you all that time." Suddenly another figure came through the fire. It was Professor Snape.
"Leave the boys alone," Severus growled.
"For one serving the Dark Lord," a new voice drawled, "you certainly do have a way of appearing to fight against me."
"My Lord," Severus said. "Quirrel is inept, and there have been many developments since your unfortunate disappearance. On the day you return, I will explain everything to you." While Severus was talking, Quirrel undid his turban, and revealed Voldemort's face.
"Of course, Severus," he said. "As you said, Quirrel is inept. He can't get the Stone. Can't figure out how the mirror works. Severus? You get it."
The three boys, watched in rapt amazement. Suddenly Draco started working to untie Harry's bonds. Severus stood in front of the mirror. He choked back a cry of shock.
"What is it?" the Dark Lord demanded.
"It's - it's not the stone," Severus stammered.
"What is it?" he repeated.
"It's Lily and - and Harry," Severus said, too shocked to lie. "I'm taking care of the boy, currently," Severus hastened to explain. "And he will be your faithful follower."
"Really," the Dark Lord said, unconvinced, but clearly curious.
"Yes, my Lord."
"He lies," Quirrel put in. He drew his wand, and aimed it at Severus, who took up an equally threatening position.
"Perhaps," the Dark Lord said. "There are ways - perhaps painful ways - but ways of finding out."
"Expelliarmus!" Harry's voice cried out. A light shot from his wand, as he shrugged off the ropes that Draco had just untied. Quirrel dropped his wand with the force of the impact, unexpected as it was. Severus let his jaw drop in amazement. But after a few moments, he collected himself, and casting a spell at the ceiling, brought down a boulder on Quirrel's head.
With Quirrel dead, Severus collected the group of first years, and brought them back to the third floor landing.
"I expect all of you to report to your heads of house," he growled. "Draco, meet me in my office."
"Yes, sir," Draco said. They scuttled off.
"And now, you, Harry," Severus said, not unkindly. "You. I don't know what to say to you." They began to walk towards his chambers. "You did magic."
"Yes, sir," Harry said, slightly pleased with himself.
"How did you do it?"
"I don't know, sir," he said. "It just - happened."
"Because you were defending someone," Severus observed quietly. They arrived at his chambers. "I will speak more with you in a few minutes," he said.
Harry entered the chambers and immediately went to his room. He knew what he had to do. He'd thought about it long and hard, and though he was scared, very, very scared, he would do it anyway. The fear and adrenaline he felt mounting were almost like a drug. He grabbed his Slytherin scarf and pulled the chair away from his desk. He tied the scarf in a loop and then fastening it to the ceiling.
"There are ways - perhaps painful ways - but ways of finding out." It had been what the Dark Lord had said. He'd caused Professor Snape enough pain already. What if the Dark Lord killed him one day? What if Professor Snape died trying to save him? Harry couldn't face that thought. So he was going to defend his professor in the only way he knew how - to kill himself.
Not even the fear of returning to the Dursleys had brought him to suicide. He wasn't going to be selfish. Killing himself was out of pure necessity, only to defend Professor Snape. Though escaping the Dursleys once and for all, in a place where no one could call him back, was what Harry though an extremely good side effect. Harry spent an untold amount of time looking at the noose he'd made. Finally, numb with fear, he slipped it over his head and kicked the chair aside. It thudded to the floor, as Harry kicked at the air.
Nitty heard a thud, and rushed into Harry's bedroom. She immediately disapparated to Master Severus' office, despite the fact that he was in conference with a student.
Severus knelt by Harry's bed, his hands clasped, as he prayed. He'd gotten there in time - barely - to save Harry. He was laying unconscious as Severus kept a silent vigil by his side. Harry coughed, and propped himself up on his elbow.
"Professor?" he gasped.
"Oh, Harry," Severus said, bringing Harry into a sloppy embrace, almost crying. "Why?"
"To protect you," he mumbled into Severus' robes. "The Dark Lord will kill you - because of me, won't he?"
"No, he won't," Severus assured Harry, rocking him slightly.
"What will happen to me now?" Harry said. "Will I have to go back to the Dursleys?"
"Absolutely not," Severus said. "I've promised you that will never happen, didn't I?"
"Yes, sir," Harry said.
"I have just received these papers this afternoon," Severus said, picking up an envelope from the foot of the bed. "They are stating that you are in my care - permanently."
"You mean - " Harry gasped, " - that you're adopting me?"
"Not adopting," Severus corrected, "but I am your legal guardian. Is that acceptable with you?"
"Yes, sir!" Harry said.
"It would have been a horrible first day, if you had succeeded," Severus said.
And Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Survived, brought his arms around Severus' neck in a gentle hug.
Hopefully, one day, I will write a sequel to this and deal with all the plot threads left hanging.
THE HOUSE CUP GOES TO RAVENCLAW! *hands around pumpkin juice and Every Flavor Beans* Congratulations.
I would really appreciate it if everyone would review! I will not award house points, due to the fact that Ravenclaw has won, but the reviews are still greatly appreciated. Thank you all for making this story such an enjoyable experience for me. You're all wonderful.
In other news, the next story I will be writing will be a 5th year AU, Harry and Severus, no slash. If you liked this one, you'll probably like the other one. It will be called "Those Who Grieve." You can follow me on my profile if you want to receive notification of my first chapter. It should be up in a few days. (I hope.)