"We will begin by actually commencing with this remedial potions lesson, as it seems apparent neither you nor I will be going back to sleep anytime soon." Snape said quietly as he pulled his clipboard to himself and looked over his notes. Harry shifted in his seat on the stool, thoroughly alert and wary of how this would go. Snape had basically admitted he knew what he doing when he berated Harry all the time but had all of a sudden made a deal to be nicer if Harry would trust him enough so some bond could form between them—to help his mind in those sessions, and nothing more. And for reasons Harry hadn't time nor will to think about, this made him feel edgy, scared, repulsed and upset.
And now Snape had gone back into teacher mode, as if this was all normal.
Snape snapped his fingers impatiently in front of Harry, a youthful scowl on his face as he looked at the emerald-eyed boy. "Already day-dreaming, Potter? I see I have my work cut out for me if I am to teach a dunderhead with the attention span of a goldfish." Harry glared back, accusation dancing in his eyes as he took a breath to call out young Snape when said boy raised his hand for silence rather lazily.
"I am merely stating what I see Potter. It is your job to prove me wrong—however impossible that may be." Harry' cheeks tinged pink. An implied insult was still an insult, and already Snape was going back on his promise!
"I am not going back on what I said, but you cannot expect me to not verbally reprimand you should the instance arise. " Snape said without looking up from his notes, he taking this pause to scribble something the margins of his text. Harry looked shocked that Snape knew what he was thinking…or possibly deduced from his sullen silence…
"As such, I hope you realize this civility is to be enacted by both parties involved. Do not think you shall not receive comeuppance if you intentionally bait me. My retaliation will not break our agreement in such circumstance. Am I clear?"
Harry nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Snape looked up then. "A verbal response is always demanded as it is good form, and required when eye-contact is not being made." Snape said, but surprisingly without malice as he usually would. Harry gulped and piped up a "Yessir'" to satisfy the man before thinking that perhaps Snape really was tired… or else he wouldn't have responded so amiably. Forget the agreement, Snape did as he well pleased if he could get away with it. Already he found loopholes while Harry had barely registered what he was doing. Sneaky snake. At least he explained what Harry had done wrong for once.
"Your Potions curriculum for this upcoming term will deal with the making of the Draught of Peace, a potion which, when brewed correctly, causes a peaceful sleep. When brewed incorrectly—" He looked pointedly at Harry when saying this, "it can induce a coma or even an eternal slumber, which is closer to death than it is living…"
Harry thought on the implications of that. It sounded like a potion he sorely needed himself…but if it was that finicky to brew, he'd better not chance it on his own. And if he had a chance of getting some from Snape, he already would have, instead of the ridiculous choice of mind-magic lessons. But then, an eternal slumber sounded rather agreeable… Harry shook his head to rid his head of that particular thought as Snape went on.
"However, we will begin with something easier that you will still encounter later this term. As Lupin gains his health, he will be in need of a boost to speed his recovery. Such can be provided by an Invigoration Draught."
"Wait, you're brewing potions for Remus too?"
"What about that surprises you Mr. Potter?" Snape looked genuinely confused.
"I…I dunno. I just…you don't like him so…"
"And I do not like you. However, we all must endure the tasks we are given." Snape replied, setting his clipboard down.
"Am I a task to be endured then?" Harry narrowed his eyes, to keep them from welling up with the emotion he was trying to fight back down.
"Yes… I do not find how this is especially relevant to our current situation." Snape replied. He thought he was being rather generously fair, being honest with the child but without his usual snark and bitterness. Yet the teen before him looked to be battling some force of emotion the professor could not fathom.
"Whatever, fine. Can we just get on with this?" Harry snapped back.
Snape hoped Potter was thanking his lucky stars he was making the effort to hold in his temper. The urge to smack the tufty-haired teen nearly overcame his being every few minutes, despite his will to gain favor in those emerald eyes to get what information he needed. He knew he wasn't being half as genial as he could be, but for him this was a record. And it would look strange if all of a sudden he threw all his hate out the window and coddled the child as everyone else did. Not only would that go against lessons he learned as a spy, but it made his stomach twist as this was his bitter enemy's son. Even if he was supposedly half Lily's. All the darned boy inherited from her was the eyes…
Snape blinked. Oh yes, the remedial lesson.
"Grab that empty flask on the shelf to your right and we will begin."
"How are you, Moony?" Sirius called softly as his last best friend in the whole world shifted restlessly in his nest of covers and pillows.
"You need cushion for your delicate state."
Remus turned to give an incredulous stare, not quite coherent enough to determine whether Sirius was being Sirius or serious.
"I need to go to the loo, that's what I need." Unfortunately, he hadn't the strength to remove the mounds of quilts put upon himself.
Remus had had a difficult time reawakening, and as such would only have spurts of decent alertness for short periods of time, at least until the potions healing him ran their course over the next day or two.
"You have a bedpan…"
"Okay, now I know you're joking."
Sirius bust out laughing and Remus shushed him. The last thing he needed was to waken the entire house. He had a feeling it was morning as Sirius's old clock read DISGUSTINGLY EARLY at the moment.
"At least you're up." Sirius commented as he helped Remus out of the tangles of his bed and into the lavatory. He quickly regaled what transpired in the kitchen with Harry, and then Snape's inopportune appearance. Sirius leaned against the door frame and talked while he could with Remus before the man conked out on him again due to his next dosage.
"And so Harry is with Snape." He said sullenly.
"I can't go with you standing there." Yawned Remus.
Sirius made an impatient 'tch' noise and closed the door and leaned against it instead.
"That doesn't help—" Remus tried to say but Sirius cut him off.
"It's what muggles call 'fishy', Remus. Something 'fishy' is going on." Sirius continued.
"I don't think that's a thing, Pads." Came Remus's muffled response.
"Yes it is. Now why on earth would Snape choose such a time as this to tutor Harry? Hmm? He's lucky Harry went without a fuss or I'd have—" he was interrupted by a flush.
"You'd what, Sirius?" Remus said, more tired than minutes earlier. He began to wash his hands and face to awaken him more.
"I don't know. Stop him from harassing our Pronglet! Merlin knows what he's done all these years while you and I were out of the picture…but with his reputation I'm sure he hasn't been peaches and cream." Here the door opened and Sirius was thrown slightly off balance as his lean-to was moved. Remus stepped out, his pajamas askew, wrinkled and rumpled and his hair sticking up on one side, and gave him a look.
"Sirius, you said Harry was up because of a nightmare. Merlin forbid more than one." Remus sighed, hoping that wasn't the case. "And so Severus was up too. I see no better way than to keep his mind off of troubling memories than an impromptu potions lesson, however dismal. Besides, we both know Harry needs the extra help in that particular subject, and Severus has always shown great talent in it, just as you and James did in Transfiguration."
Sirius grumped rather than reply. Remus rolled his eyes and stepped around his taller friend to make his way back to the den of his bed.
"I still don't like it."
"You just don't like Severus." Remus replied, snuggling back into his covers. He had gotten rather cold all of a sudden.
"And you do?" Sirius accused softly, and Remus sighed knowing he'd better phrase his response carefully. While he had no true problem with Snape, he cared for Sirius much more as he was one of his first friends he had ever made. Snape seemed to hate his guts, though he couldn't quite blame the man.
"I am not overly fond of him, no. But I also see no reason to hold grudges from the past when we face so much in the present." This seemed to satisfy his friend, who plopped onto the bed beside him. Remus then took his prescribed potion—courtesy of Snape himself he knew—and laid back down, nestled in for the remainder of the morning.
"That's true. I just don't want Harry hurt, y'know? Especially not if I can help it." Sirius replied quietly.
"Me too." Remus yawned again and turned over, facing a familiar bottle with shimmering swirls of memory. Remus barely registered what it was when he fell into a deep sleep, his body aching while it healed.
It was half past nine in the morning when a knock on the door echoed in the room, making Harry jump. He had been hunched over his cauldron all morning—hours it felt like—perfecting his skills. He had made six flasks full of the draught that had been satisfactory enough for Snape. Right now he was on his seventh, having practically perfected this one after being at it for so long. Snape had somewhat helped, but for the most part just left him to it, which was okay with Harry. He had no problem with the silence either, except that it gave him time to let his mind wander, which in his current state wasn't too wise. But neither Snape nor Harry really understood this.
At least he found himself getting marginally better. He never knew potions could be perfected with time and practice. He often associated it with maths—something that if you didn't get the first time, there wasn't much hope unless you were determined. And Harry James Potter was not determined when it came to potions—at least not till now, if only to have something to do rather than face sleep again. And for the first time in forever, Snape had left Harry alone rather than harass him. Oh, he did watch subtly from afar and corrected mistakes he saw Harry about to make, but he also explained why and the way to remedy the mistake should he make it in future. It was beyond surreal to Harry, but he kept quiet and didn't ruin the miracle he was currently experiencing.
The door creaked open when Snape murmured "come in" from his own work station down the table from Harry. He was working especially hard on the cauldron with orange liquid, and rather frustrated with another which held an almost magenta hue.
An auburn head popped into view and Harry smiled despite his current sullen mood.
"Ahh! Sirius told me I'd find you here. Young Ronald seemed rather distraught to find you out of bed when he woke a bit ago. I assured him you were fine as Professor McGonagall told me she had seen you earlier. And what is this? Still at your lessons my dear boy?"
Harry sneaked a look at Snape who had caught his eye before he turned around to dip something foul-looking into the magenta potion. Harry looked back to the headmaster.
"Yes sir, improving too I think…"
"By a miniscule margin." Snape added. Harry shot him a glare.
"Really now?" Albus leaned against the door, his face lit up as if Harry had told him he had gotten him a trunk full of woolen purple socks rather than that he was doing a tad better at a subject he was hopelessly dismal at.
"Indeed. It has only taken him five years to actually care to try, but I believe Potter has some worth in that brain of his." Snape said without turning around. Albus made a reprimanding look though Snape deigned not to see and Harry felt slightly put off, wondering if that was an insult or a compliment…or a compliment wrapped up in an insult.
"Well, I knew you'd do well, dear Harry. Now, you two have been holed up far too long in this dark damp space, and it's quite time to get out for a break, hmm? Breakfast is cooking, and by the smell, it's a specialty of Molly's."
"Yes sir!" Harry agreed happily, jumping off his stool. Snape cleared his throat.
"You have a potion that needs simmering, Potter."
Harry's face fell. Albus pushed off of the door frame and pulled out his wand. With a small wave the smokey mist emanating from Harry's cauldron froze in place, as did its fire beneath.
"A simple stasis spell should do, hmm?" Albus beamed as Harry rushed out his thanks and bounded out of the room and back to civilization.
Snape had turned around now and glared daggers at Albus.
"I hadn't dismissed him."
Albus ignored the silent accusation of undermining his authority to more important matters.
"Well? How are things? Minerva told me she found a rather haunted-looking Harry Potter sitting alone in the kitchen…reading a book…"
"Yes, and then that oaf Black came along and cheered him right up before I pried him away into my evil clutches." Snape said.
"Don't be so melodramatic. That's not what Sirius told me."
Snape stopped to give Albus a look.
"Not verbatim anyhow." Snape sighed and continued his work.
"He's still having nightmares."
"So Sirius told me. And it worries me…" Albus sighed.
"I think I have found a niche in which to attempt to resolve the matter." Snape commented, trying to comfort Dumbledore despite himself.
"We will begin more extensive lessons tonight." Snape said nonchalantly. A bit too nonchalantly…
Albus knew Snape was hiding some agenda here. Not a bad one, but an important one. But he would be patient until Snape felt ready to divulge his true intentions, as he always did. Besides, he had an inkling it had to do with their shared wonderings of what Harry seemed to be hiding.
Snape could feel the twinkling calculations of Albus and huffed in annoyance.
"Is there anything else or do you enjoy standing there for no apparent reason?"
A moment of silence and Snape was about to sigh in relief thinking the man had gone when he heard him speak again.
"What is it you're working on?"
"The cure. I suspected you were going senile, but dementia as well?"
"No no, not the cure. That one you're currently stirring." Albus chuckled and Snape snapped about, still stirring, but counter-clockwise now.
"Another…side project." Snape replied evenly but slowly, all of a sudden suspicious at Albus's curiosity.
"…Which is?" Albus knew he was being annoyingly intrusive, but he enjoyed getting Snape riled up on occasion.
"…Wolfsbane." Snape ground out through clenched teeth.
Albus widened his smile and eyes.
"How admirable of you, Severus! Still working on it after all this!"
"Don't you have somewhere to be?" Snape tried as he turned back around.
"Is it for Remus especially?" This earned a withering glare that normally made Firsties cry.
"What difference would that possibly make?"
"It is, isn't it?"
"It was why you were working on it to begin with…"
"No it was not!" Snape now was flailing his arms in exasperation.
The two stared at one another for a moment.
"Me thinks you protest too much."
Snape wanted so much to smack the smirk off the man.
"I am trying to perfect the potion so that mangy wolf can be of more use to the Order! That is all!"
For a moment the playfulness in Albus's eyes vanished to a subdued sadness.
"Why won't you allow yourself friendship, Severus?" he asked quietly. Snape was caught off-guard by this and simply stared wide-eyed before narrowing them and looking away completely.
"I will not befriend a man who almost killed me in youth, Albus."
"Not this again…"
"It is not only that! He stood by while his friends made my life living torture at the only haven I had!"
Albus looked down sadly as Snape calmed down.
"I have no need of his companionship. Or anyone else's besides you, Albus." Snape said quietly. He turned to put a stasis spell on the potion which had begun to emit small teal bubbles "And besides, it is too late" Snape said even quieter.
"It is never too late, my boy." Albus tried to convince him. Snape, looking to where Potter had been sitting saw he had left his book—that atrociously conditioned spell book of Sirius's—and so grabbed it up and took it under arm, knowing he'd better take it to the boy rather than chuck it in the fire as he truly wanted.
"It always was for me, headmaster." Snape replied, then left the room to go get some rest after he found Potter, finally exhausted enough that his mind would not plague him in slumber.
"Always" he whispered to himself as he left.
"And that's all he had you do? Make a potion over and over all night?" Ron asked incredulously. The Trio had found their usual spot on the stairs and were sitting on the steps while the other house residents were in the kitchen.
"Well, yeah. But it was technically early this morning. I couldn't go to sleep anyhow." Harry replied, fiddling with the laces of his ratty old trainers, a hand-me-down from Dudley, as almost all his things were. He had briefly explained all that had happened between him and Snape so far, and while Hermione thought this a good thing, Ron thought it a trap. Harry really didn't want to think about it at all.
"I think that while he's a hard man," Ron snorted as if this were a compliment to Snape, "he must realize fighting amongst ourselves will get our cause nowhere. And he's doing it to help you! I looked up this magic. He said it was called Occlumency right?" Hermione said, far too bright eyed for this time of day.
Harry shrugged, barely remembering what he had for supper the night before.
"Well, I think so. It fits the description I found. Anyway, what it does is strengthen your mind against those who may try to possess it."
"Excuse me?" this caught Harry's attention.
"Well, you know, take it over, or see your memories."
"Mum and Da' have always told us to be careful. They say there's ways people can sort of take you over, or use you against yourself. Like the curse we learned last year, the Imperius. Except, they can do it with their minds." Ron contributed.
Harry didn't like the sound of that at all, even if he had been able to throw off the Imperius.
"But if Snape teaches me…will he be able to see my memories?"
Hermione hesitated and that was all Harry needed to know.
"You forgot this." Came a voice above them. The three craned their necks to see Snape standing there on the stairs and holding Harry's beloved book out as if it had been dropped in the loo or some such other disgusting place and wanted as less contact as possible with it.
"How much did you hear?" Harry asked in a grimace, taking the book after standing up and striding up a few steps to reach. It took a lot for him not to snatch it away.
"Enough to know that you must have zero secrets if you blab to your two little friends the first chance you get, Potter." Snape replied.
"I do too have secrets!" Harry snapped back rather loudly before he could help himself.
Snape just stood there and Harry felt incredibly small and stupid all of a sudden. He hadn't meant to say that. And he knew Snape knew it.
"Then we shall do our best to ensure they remain that way from those who would use them against you." Snape said slowly and quietly, as if taking care to phrase it in that way. He then made a glance to Hermione and Ron, back to Harry and then left.
Harry dropped back on the stairs, heaving a heavy sigh.
"What was that about?" Ron asked hesitantly.
"I don't even know." Harry sighed again, clutching the book to himself like a teddy.
"…Secrets, Harry?" Hermione ventured tentatively.
Harry looked up, panic in his eyes before clouding over.
"From him." Harry half-lied. Hermione looked like she didn't buy it, but she let it drop.
Mrs. Weasley started scolding the twins for something from the noise coming from the kitchen, and then Sirius began to laugh. It did little to comfort Harry though.
"Do you…do you think Voldemort has anything to do with this?" Harry asked barely above a whisper.
His best friends shared a startled but understanding look.
"I dunno mate. He always seems to be the root of your troubles though, eh? Wouldn't put it past him, the nasty git." Ron said and Harry smiled a small little smile at him.
"Maybe not Harry…maybe it's just because of all you've went through. What we've gone through together…you really ought to talk more about things. I can tell Remus and Sirius really want to hear your side of things, they've been left in the dark so long about you." Hermione whispered back.
"It's the past, 'Mione. And I don't think it'd help them feel any better about my well-being if they knew half of what we've been up to the past few years." Harry replied, but tucking away her suggestion for later thought.
"Well, not just Hogwarts then? About…about living with your Aunt…" Hermione tried. This wasn't exactly the time nor place she wished to bring any of this up, but now that it fit the conversation, she had no choice. Harry looked at her as if she were crazy, and a bit of fear.
"No, absolutely not."
"Why? You don't even tell us much about them mate. And every year you come back from them looking so horrible—" Ron added.
"Thanks Ron." Harry said sarcastically, pulling he knees up to his chest and the book he held there.
"None of that is important, okay? What's important is making up for the time we lost. And figuring out Voldemort's angle so we can fight him and win." Harry spat.
"Harry…" Hermione started.
"No. Okay? No. It's bad enough I got Remus hurt and—"
"That wasn't your fault Harry!" Ron exclaimed.
"Yes it was! All of this has been my fault, since the day I survived that bloody curse!" Harry jumped up.
Ron and Hermione did too, but Ron was first to argue back. "That's nonsense and you know it!" There was silence then and when Ron spoke next there was such compassion in his voice that Harry almost lost his fight with his emotions. "Don't you?"
Harry just stood there looking down at his trainers.
Just then Mrs. Weasley bustled in slapping away Sirius who was licking a finger of pancake batter.
"Sirius Black! Out of this kitchen until I am done actually cooking this food!" She scolded.
"You're so cute when you're flustered Molly-dearest." Sirius chuckled, whipping a muffin from behind his back and barking a laugh when she threw her hands up in utter frustration and leaving him be.
"Oiy, what are you three doing hanging about the stairs, hmm?" He asked, tossing the muffin to Ron.
"Just, er…talking." Hermione replied. Sirius's expression faultered a bit, getting the hint, but put on a genuine smile-albeit softer-when he looked upon his godson.
"Yeah." Harry smiled back. Sirius could tell it was a lie by the hooded look in his eye and peering from beneath his fringe. Merlin, he even lied the same as James! Ah, but the determined look came straight from Lily. And it all mixed to form one unique Harry.
"Come one then, I think it's time to harass your mum some more, dear Mr. Weasley." Sirius winked and bounded back into the other room in his dog form, causing Molly to shriek and pots to clatter.
The trio giggled at his antics (which was the effect Sirius hoped for, to lighten their moods) and then followed to join the chaos. Harry entered first, with an almost apologetic look to his two friends as he escaped to join his godfather. Hermione put a hand on Ron's freckled arm pulling him close for a moment. The red-head nearly blushed as she leaned in to whisper.
"This isn't over. You realize that don't you?" Ron nodded with a sigh.
"He's gonna go barmy he is."
"Ron don't say that!"
"I mean it as a concerned friend!" Hermione shushed him.
"We need to help him. Somehow get him to talk…."
"You can't force Harry to do anything. Least of all talk. Mum and Dad always leaves Percy alone until he's ready to talk when he's upset." Ron murmured back as they watched Harry and the twins sneaking a muffin each while Sirius distracted Molly.
Hermione sighed. It was at that moment a very distraught Snape was pushed through them and into the room. Seconds later a smug McGonagall swaggered in.
"How dare you!" Snape yelped.
"You are not to sleep one wink until you eat a bit of something Severus! You're as thin as Harry!" she argued back in a tone that booked no argument. Albus peeked through the doorway then, beside a bewildered Ron and Hermione. "She has a point Severus."
Snape narrowed his eyes so much only the glint of the light fixtures could be seen reflected. He turned to spot Harry who had frozen in mid-munch of his muffin. The boy looked so incredibly young and innocent right then. Snape ground out a "Fine." And sat down at the very end, farthest possible from everyone. Sirius felt it just fine to ignore him as he sat down a few places down, Harry choosing to sit at his right, but stealing a look every so often at Snape, with whom the Headmaster had decided to sit with, as did McGonagall who tried to bribe Snape to forgive her with a cup of hot chocolate. Harry was then totally surprised to see the action work as Snape's expression softened and he took the proffered drink somewhat contentedly.
"Bit weird seeing them…so domestic." Ron said softly as he sat next to Harry, and Hermione choosing to sit across from them.
"Yeah." Harry agreed.
"Can you pass the sugar, Mr. Potter?" Snape asked in what must've been the most neutral tone he'd ever used in speaking to Harry. Harry, dumbfounded, did so and was rewarded with a polite "thank you" from the child-Snape. The Trio exchanged a look and Sirius stole a glare to which Snape just smirked and went to adding a tiny bit more sugar to his hot chocolate. It was one of the few things Severus thought to be entirely non-seasonal; he'd enjoy a cup even in the summer, as it was now. And to throw off Black with his beginning good will to the Potter brat was just icing on the cake. It was only slightly damped when he felt the twinkle twinkle of Albus.
The meal continued happily, the twins sharing jokes to make Sirius laugh, Ginny talking with Hermione about some letters she had received from friends and mentioning a girl Harry hadn't heard of before…Luna something or other. Mr. Weasley had popped through the Floo to grab a couple biscuits and to tip his hat before leaving for the Ministry. Molly soon herded her three other children back to the Burrow after cleaning up, and Sirius left to check on Remus once again while Albus and Minerva had withdrew to the library once again.
Snape had slunk away long before, but he still remained in the back of Harry's mind for the rest of the day.
The day went by fairly well. Harry caught up on some Transfiguration homework, Hermione read a book called The Great Gatsby and Ron disdainfully tried to tackle his Potions essay. Sirius had joined them and helped Harry when McGonagall was sure not to be about. They worked in the comfy living room, only stopping to break for lunch which Molly had sent via Floo. They continued like this for the remainder of the day, being joined by Albus for a bit, then McGonagall and a short visit from Tonks.
It was just after supper when Snape had called upon Potter for his lesson. Harry steeled himself for the horrid experience he was sure to have and went on, taking what he was sure his last look at his beloved friends and followed Snape back into the living room.
He was to begin his first lesson in mind-magic. And Harry was sure he wasn't quite ready for what Snape had planned.