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Everything I Am

Chapter Text

 "I need to know the way you feel.
I'll give you everything I am
And everything I want to be
I've put it in your hands "

~ The Color of the Night


"Seamus, wait!" I try to stop him but I can't.

He shrugs my hand off his shoulder. "Dammit. I've told you before, I’ve got no time for this," he snaps. He leaves so fast, without looking at me.

It's always like this. Every time I try to get him to explain - explain us - Seamus looks busy and excuses himself, taking off as quickly as he can. He'll avoid me for weeks. I'm sure that today and tomorrow he'll enter the dorm just in time for bed, take off his robe with his back to me and jump into his bed drawing the curtains. All without looking at me.

As if I haven't seen him naked before.

As if I'll burn him by looking.

As if there's nothing between us at all.

It'll likely go on for two or three weeks, and then one day he'll swagger up to me in an empty corridor after dinner and breathe into my ear, skipping the hello's: "Potter, do you wanna...?"

His lips will make 'Potter' sound obscene, like a curse. Like a password.

We'll slide into an empty classroom or check if our dormitory is empty. And then we'll do what he calls 'wanking together' and I don't, because I don't know what this thing really is.

Every time I try to figure it out, I ask Seamus about it. When I do, he’ll say "Harry", like we're friends - just a pair of mates who had a row - if you could call a weeks-long silence a row.

This time, I watch the empty corridor he disappeared into and I am sick - sick and tired of it all.

I don't know how to end it.

 


 

Ugh. I must've caught a cold during yesterday's practice. My throat hurts and a chill runs down my spine in waves that make me shiver. Yesterday was bad for flying: too windy, but Ginny kept us at it ‘til dark. At least it's February and it gets dark early. I didn't even feel myself getting sick last night but today I barely made it through lessons.

I should go find Madam Pomfrey, get a Pepper-up or two but I feel feverish and tired. I’m too exhausted to move so I stay in the empty Transfiguration classroom and stare at the wall. I can still hear Seamus' last words. My mind spins, overtaken by recent events. 

When Angelina picked Ginny as captain nobody took it seriously. But she was really good at it and in the end we all took a vote. I raised my hand with relief: at least it left me out of the running. I just wanted to get back to playing, to being the Seeker, to hearing the spectator shouts, excited or disappointed, no matter, as I finally catch that stubborn golden ball. We’ve already won once this year, and everyone was so happy. They carried me up to the common room and started singing me praises.

I like it, but I'm no leader! I can't be responsible for all of that. After Dumbledore's Army stopped meeting, the whole school was allowed to learn Defence openly, and we no longer have to train in secret. I'm back to being a student. Just another ordinary bloke. Except I've got this scar.

And, also, I'm not into girls.

Hermione had been the first to inform me of that fact. Of course.

It was a couple months ago. We were in the library, getting ready for the next class. She asked me for a book she needed but had forgot on the shelves. I brought it to her, set the thick tome down on the corner of the desk and gathered her hair back from her face, without much thinking. Hermione pushed her hair behind her ear and muttered 'thanks' and I said 'no problem' back.

I sat and stared at the formula for Snape's next Potions homework due by the next lecture. I can't say I'm a genius at Potions but I don't make as many mistakes as I used to. Maybe I finally developed an immunity to Snape's contempt, or maybe he just stopped paying attention to me. In any case, he went along with having me in his class again - dunno what Headmaster Dumbledore did to persuade him - but in any case, I'm back in Potions for now. Even my brewing ability has improved, now that Snape’s started ignoring me during lectures.

A minute later Hermione rose to her feet and said quietly, so Madam Pince couldn't hear: "Let's go for a walk."

I blinked and looked at her. "A walk? As in a break from studying? Are you feeling alright?"

"Let’s go!" she commanded, ignoring my sarcasm. "We need to talk."

We turned in our books and left the library.

"Where to, the common room?" I asked.

"Outside," she answered, far too focused. She seemed concerned.

So outside we went. It was winter and it was getting dark early but we still had about an hour and a half of daylight left. We put on our cloaks and walked toward the iced-over lake, on the bottom of which the giant squid lay happily hibernating.

Hermione was silent and I didn't prompt her. Ron and I had had enough of "Hush! Lemme think!" thrown in our faces, so I kept quiet.

At last she faced me and touched my sleeve, bringing us to a stop. She even looked like she was about to say something, but as our eyes met she looked down.

I didn't like that.

"Hermione?" I started cautiously. "Are you alright? What happened?"

She shook her head frantically. I noticed her cheeks were scarlet, and not because it was cold - we had our winter cloaks with fur collars and our warm hats. We hadn't even walked far, so it couldn't have been the weather. I had a bad feeling about where all of this was going, very bad. I pushed the nagging sense of something terrible away and tried to ignore it. But I couldn't help but wonder: does she suspect? And so I shifted from foot to foot like an idiot, staring at her fringe and her ears turning bright red. At last she got the blush under control.

"Harry," she said softly, her eyes narrowed, "So we're friends. You, me, Ron. Right?"

"Yeah," I answered warily, not even sure what she was getting at.

"You know you can always tell us the truth."

I hate when someone asks for the truth! When someone says I don't want to tell them something, it’s never a good sign! Bloody hell, I thought, I’m not even sure what truth I'm supposed to be telling.

"All right. Just do it. Ask what you need to," I said, with a half-smile.

She wavered for another few seconds and then she spoke, selecting each word so carefully: "It's probably none of my business... tell me if it's not. Just, please, don't be mad. Um... Harry, I get this feeling you’re not interested in girls much, are you?"

I had been afraid of her asking this for awhile and I still wasn't ready to answer. I froze in front of her and couldn't even make a sound, I was just blinking at her through my glasses and kept pushing them up and fixing them on my nose. She stood in front of me all embarrassed, tugging on the bright fringe of her Gryffindor scarf. At last, I found my voice.

"What? Why would you even think that?"

"I’ve noticed something about you. You are different with us: with me, with Ginny, with Luna, I don't know who else, with all the girls. Except when you were with Cho, then you acted normal. Didn't you notice? Ron's all shy and embarrassed, and Malfoy is impossibly smug. Finnigan thinks he's better than us and you're just... friendly. But then I look at how you act with the boys - well, except for Ron - but I suppose you just get along well them, especially the boys in our House… and, oh, forget it, all right, nevermind!" she cried out at once. "It's nothing. Just, please, don't be mad! You can stop staring at me like that any second now."

She said a few other things about how she’d done some reading in the Forbidden Section and that I shouldn't be ashamed and she was sorry and that she just wanted to be supportive. But I hadn’t heard anything past 'Finnigan'. And so I went along with it. I confessed, and I also confessed that I didn’t consider myself a miserable freak and that I'd definitely share if I felt I had been. Hermione made me swear to it and that seemed to make her happy. She must've thought telling her made me feel happy. Apparently I’d seemed all gloomy and depressed. I said I felt better already because we’d talked and it was all good now. After that we headed back to the castle. Since then I tried not to give anything away and I’ve avoided her keeping an eye on me for weeks since.

I lied. Freak or not, I felt miserable. I still feel miserable.

With all the effort I can muster, I rise from the bench and walk in a daze to the classroom door. I need to get to the infirmary. I can't be sick, I can't! Not when there's a Quidditch match against the Slytherins coming up.

 


 

In the evening, when I've had enough of both medicine and Madam Pomfrey's scolding ("Potter, how old are you? You should've said something earlier! Do you want to get pneumonia?") I lie in bed and watch the others turning down the sheets and fluffing up their pillows. They'll undress, turn off the lights and some time later the silence will only be interrupted by peaceful snores.

... or by the rushed, ragged breaths of someone trying to go unheard.

It's a bad habit, listening into the silence until the entire tower quiets down, but it made me realise who I was interested in. I don't like what it's called. At all. In the Muggle world they call it queer but I'm not a Muggle and I don't know yet if I even want to use that word to describe me.

In any case, I know some blokes in our dormitory don't bother with the Silencing charms. When I hear someone moan softly, like that, it makes me want things: to grope my way around in the dark to them, jump under their warm bed covers, find that hand, same one that's rubbing at that hard cock and cover it with mine. Then replace it. I want to find dry lips in the dark and whisper: "Can I help? You'll like it..."

I know I won't do it. Not anymore, no matter how hard I get at the thought that someone might touch me back after, to be nice. No matter how much I want them to be gentle as they do so, I have too much to lose if ever give into this madness. That's how it all started with Seamus.

I did it once, I went along with my hottest fantasy, knowing that I was mad and only expecting a fuck-you in return. But Seamus was too aroused to protest and didn't push me away. Even better, after he arched up and came in my hand and caught his breath, he fumbled with his hands over my body, going lower and lower and making me choke back a moan, biting down on my own knuckles. Seamus pushed my hand away from my face and attached himself to my mouth: all fury and teeth, fucking my mouth with his tongue in the same rhythm that he rubbed at my cock. I came so fast, it was the first time anyone had ever touched me and it was so brilliant that every part of my body reached out for him. Not even my body alone: I thought I was in love with him in that very moment. I bent down to kiss the hollow between his collarbone, a fast, still broken up, but already mocking whisper interrupted me in my tracks. "Well well, Potter, didn't expect you to be such a freak. You're not so bad at it."

I stopped mid-action and looked up. At least in the dark he couldn't see how red my face was. My cheeks were so hot, and I could feel my eyes getting wet. Seamus carried on. "At least I know who to go to if I’m bored with wanking alone. I'll call you for help, yeah?"

I didn't answer and it felt as if I’d fallen from the sky and was being trampled in the dirt. He tugged on my hair. "Deal?"

I gave a miserable nod. Seamus responded with a jaw-cracking yawn and added lazily. "Right then. Clean up my sheets already and go back to bed. You can't sleep here."

I didn't sleep that night after what had happened: I was so relaxed and sated, but so humiliated. Can you blame me? Even if I did cry, so what? No one saw me. I kept my breathing quiet, I swear.

We all do things in the dark that no one's supposed to know about. And if the Boy Who Lived didn't cry fighting Voldemort, he surely wouldn't bawl after someone tossed a tiny insult towards him after he’d experienced the most wonderful thing that can be shared between two people.

I was so certain I wouldn’t be able to face Seamus again after that night but he acted like nothing had happened between us. I was relieved at that, but it was a bitter satisfaction: I was disappointed and hid it.

That evening in the common room he walked up to me and whispered in my ear:

"Well, Potter... wanna?"

My heart leapt for joy and collapsed somewhere in my stomach. Not even knowing what I was about to do, I turned and faced him, and I probably looked like a puppy, begging. It must've been such a dead giveaway that he continued with a teasing snort: "Oh, come on. You'd better not come on the spot."

We went up to our room in a hurry - not together, of course - he went first and I followed three minutes later. When I walked in. Seamus cast a locking spell on the door, although I never heard him cast it. He stood before me naked and his prick was pointing almost straight up, teasing me to taste it. With a strangled groan, I walked over to him and put my hands on his shoulders, stopping myself from falling immediately on my knees and taking him in my mouth. I think Seamus liked me hesitating. We were almost the same height - he's a bit taller maybe - so it was no problem for us to meet mouth to mouth. When I regained my senses, after a kiss burning hot like mulled wine, Seamus was fumbling with the zipper of my trousers. His robe lay on the nearest bed next to his other shed clothing, his shirt spread open. When he freed my aching cock I clung to his shoulders, losing my balance along with my wits.

He chuckled. "Let's lie down before you fall down."

Not lifting my hands off his body, I let him lead me to bed. It was his bed, and I fell down onto it, dragging him with me and putting my arms around his neck in a frantic embrace. I thought I'd lose it as soon as our bodies touched but Seamus pushed my hands away, despite my protests, and pulled back, watching me. I lay there, unbuttoned, my glasses crooked; he fixed them and then jumped off the bed as he grabbed my trousers by the pant leg and pulled. He had to sit down for that and as he straightened out, with one easy, natural move he took my prick in his mouth and wrapped his fingers around the base and - I cried out, I think. And then I exploded so hard!

I made love to him, afterwards, gentle and careful, kissing every inch of that tanned, lean body long after he came, only wishing that our hour before curfew never ended. But again, Seamus shook me off and said to fix myself up and clean the duvet.

We went on for weeks like that, sometimes every day, sometimes every two or three days. I couldn't relax, I was so afraid I’d give us away by one wayward glance or word.

And then I wanted to be sure in what I was already over-confidently calling 'us'. I didn't need a daily confession of what he felt, I just wanted to hear it once. The truth.

But it was over.

We weren't close enough, and now we never will be. When I tried to push him too hard on something so delicate, he might've called me 'Harry', but it sounded just as cold and formal from his lips as 'Potter' spat out by the likes of Snape.

Finnigan pushed me away and left me high and dry for a week; I wanted him three times as badly. I must've looked so thin and so sickly that even Ron asked if I was all right, and Hermione suddenly began talking of 'depression' treatments. Was it then that she began suspecting something's wrong with me? Her logic and intuition are good. Too good. But when it's all said and done, Seamus said those magic words in my ear just before Potions class, and it made me shudder. I can't remember how I waited til the end of the lecture; Snape gave me a Dreadful but it didn't matter, nothing mattered when it came to waiting for Seamus.

We did it again: made love, that's what I call it; or mutual wanking, that’s what he calls it.

I couldn't wait for long: I asked him again a few days later what he thought of our unusual relationship, and again I was left high and dry.

And then again.

I learned at last that I'd likely be waiting alone forever before he ever said anything kind to me.

In the rare moments we are together still, Seamus' touch is so sensual. And still, he pulls back further and further from me, or perhaps I can see that he does so much clearer now. He does not need me, maybe he never did.

God, I want him. So much.

Everyone undresses, trading jokes and going over today's happenings. I watch them from under my eyelashes, pretending to sleep.

Seamus comes in last, he doesn't even look in my direction. He seems so happy he’s nearly purring. Bile rises unwillingly against the back of my throat. Why is he making me feel so miserable, so dirty, as though what we're doing together is shameful and wrong? How can he be so happy about it all? Doesn't it bother him, not knowing where we stand?

Is he just using me to get off? Can't be! But why else would he treat me like dirt? Is it because I’m someone who needs more than just getting off? Yeah, a freak. Am I supposed to just be OK with that?

Finnigan throws me a brief glance and then walks over to his bed. I can smell him from here, he smells so good. Then he starts to undress.

I can't see him, and I'd give anything to be able to just turn my head his way and watch him. But he’d know I am doing it on purpose, that I’m still awake.

He's provoking me just to get a reaction.

At last, the creaking of the bedsprings signal that everyone's gone to bed. The dorms grow darker and in that darkness I hear Seamus.

"Daaamn, guys, Patil's just as good as they say."

All the laughter and follow up jokes aren't even registering. I find the strength not to cover my face with my pillow, I know he's still watching me. Seamus is so hard to fool.

I just stare into the dark, remembering that I forgot to draw the curtains. Of course not, I waited to see him come in!

It must've been how he knew I was still awake.

It's OK. It's going to be OK. So many things are OK in the dark.

It's a long, long time until I manage to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

When I wake up, my head hurts. Maybe it’s the cold.

Sunlight fills the dormitory, shining against my watery eyes as I squint and turn away from the window. I’m the last one to get out of bed, and only Ron and Seamus are left in the room. Ron bounces impatiently and fusses, asking me to hurry up if I still want tea, at least. Usually he goes ahead and saves me a seat, but I want him here. I don’t want to be alone with Finnigan.

Finnigan isn’t in a hurry. I’m not looking at his bed but I can imagine him without needing to look. He’s taking his time: whistling, tying his shoelaces and putting on his robe, adjusting his tie. I used to watch his routine so much that I don’t need to look at him to know what he's up to.

It’s quiet and even Ron is uneasy with it, as he hurries me along, but just as I’m about to grab my bag and go, Seamus suddenly says “Listen, Ron, can you save us a seat, we’ll catch up in a second. Seriously, or we’ll miss breakfast for sure, you’re the slow one.”

If Seamus’ request - usually directed at Dean Thomas - annoys or surprises Ron, he doesn’t show it. He just nods at me and mumbles “I’ll be there, Harry,” and runs out the door. We’re alone together.

I grab my bag and head for the door as well, but Seamus stops me.

“Potter.” My heart skips a beat and I tense up, hoping he won’t notice my sudden apprehension. “Harry...” Seamus says, contemplating, “I wanted to tell you. You know...”

At that moment, something pushes me to say something I know I’m going to regret horribly in a few minutes. “Don’t bother. Good luck with Parvati, yeah? Or anyone else at Hogwarts, or out of it. You don’t owe me, I don’t owe you. Anyway, we were just fooling around, so what. You’ve got yourself a great girl now, so no worries! And good luck.”

My grin fools even me. It doesn’t hurt, I knew what I needed to do, I had been planning it for hours. I just didn’t expect to say it so soon, without more time to prepare. But I might as well go through with it.

Seamus is visibly shocked. I watch his face and it’s as if I’m watching him from far away, observing him as he looks for any trace of a lie, or vulnerability. When he doesn’t find what he is looking for, his face darkens.

“What did you expect? That I’d ask you to keep it up?” I face him without blinking and add with a completely sincere tone. “Let’s go have breakfast, yeah? As long as there’s nothing else you wanted...?”

“No... Potter?”

Merlin, my name on his lips is like a punch in the gut. “Mm?”

“You weren’t asleep last night, since you heard about Parvati,” he keeps prying, trying to catch me.

“I was, actually. But I woke up as soon as the lights were off. You know how it is.”

“Yeah... Harry? I don’t want this to come between us. Friends?”

‘Friends’. So that’s how it’ll be from now on. Peace and hugs and all things Gryffindor.

I toss out a casual: “Su-ure, mate. Don’t worry about it!” and even manage a laugh. “Let’s go get breakfast.”

Seamus nods, confused and mildly annoyed, and we walk out.

For the life of me, I don’t remember the rest of that day. At all.

 


 

“Harry! Harry! Come on!” Ron and Hermione both shake me by the shoulder and rub my hands. I stare at them blearily and can’t quite figure out why.

They practically drag me toward the center of the Astronomy Tower. Hermione unwinds her scarf and starts rubbing my face and my ears with it. I push her away, then try to wave it off, and it’s only then that I notice: she’s crying.

That snaps me out of it. “Wha? Hermione, what happened?”

“Happened?” Ron says tersely, “Oh, nothing ‘happened’, just us looking all over the castle for you for two bloody hours! I can’t believe it. Harry, are you bonkers? You’ve only got that Invisibility Cloak, you bloody loony, that thing wouldn’t even stop a summer breeze! It’s the middle of winter!"

I look down and sure enough, they’ve draped Ron’s winter cloak over my shoulders and the hood of my Dad’s cloak underneath it is down. So they must’ve been searching about the castle by feel until they found me, and the hood of my Invisibility Cloak blew off, or got pulled down by sheer accident.

“We didn't even think to look for you here!” Ron says hotly. “All your things were back in the dorms, so you must’ve stayed put. We turned everything upside down, even checked at the Slytherin dorms. Do you know who told us to come here?”

“Who?” I ask without really caring.

“Snape!” says Hermione. Her voice doesn’t shake any longer, as she opens a flask pulled from her inner pocket and then pushes it between my lips. “Drink up!”

I don’t fight her. Frankly, I don’t remember how I made it up here at all. The last thing I remember is that I really wanted to jump and that I had no right to do that, since I’m the hope of the entire fucking Wizarding World. I don’t remember what happened next. I don’t even know how many hours I’ve been out here. I probably ended up passing out from the cold.

I take a gulp from the flask. It’s hot and tastes sharp and sour enough to make my face scrunch up. I can’t force myself to take a second gulp but Hermione insists. She holds up the flask in front of me and waits. So I gulp it down again.

“Two more,” she insists, “Drink, or it's off to the infirmary with you.”

It must be a healing potion she made. I drink it down.

I start to shiver, as heat and energy return to my frozen body, and my friends look worried. They don’t ask questions, but I still have to explain myself to them. I must’ve had the entire castle looking.

“We broke up,” I tell them and my voice doesn't cooperate, all deep. I look down and wish I never had to look at people again. Ron’s going to ask ‘who’s this we’ any moment now and then he'll be disgusted, I know he will.

But then nothing happens besides Hermione’s curls making their way under my elbow as she presses herself against me. I don’t even realise that she’s hugging me at first, and then Ron does too, his freckled hands all around my shoulders. “Harry, we know,” he says softly.

I lift my head. “Know what?”

“Harry,” Ron says. “I’m not a complete idiot. I don’t know when Hermione figured all of this out, but I could tell all along that you weren’t straight. Fancying blokes is nothing to be ashamed of. I just want you to know, there’s no reason to hide it, not from us. I don't care if you're ever going to tell us what went on with the other bloke. I don't care about him, I care about you.”

All the tightly coiled tension from the past day goes out into one convulsive sigh. I pull Hermione close and squeeze Ron’s calloused hand. My eyes are wet; I'm trying my best, but they're still wet.

“We know that you had a fight and broke up,” Hermione says against my neck. “That’s why we didn’t tell the entire castle that you were missing. Just asked around here and there if anyone’s seen you. We’re on your side, Harry. Don’t you forget it. Friends don't let friends disappear like that.”

After a long hug, I let them lead me back to the common room.

As incredible as Ron’s confession was, the fact that he knew - that it’s OK for wizards to fancy other wizards - calms me enough to accept what I am now. Fine, I still feel like a freak, a pervert, the nature's dirty little secret. I’ve never met anyone else who fancied their own sex.

And likely I never will.

 


 

When we are back in the common room, my friends are surrounding me looking so casual, as if they hadn’t just sworn five minutes ago that they wouldn’t let anyone hurt me. I tried laughing it off, but they didn’t give me a choice, just nodded to each other and clapped me on the shoulder, Hermione from the left and Ron from the right.

Almost everyone in our entire House is in the common room: studying, chattering, staring at the flames dancing in the fireplace. I hope I won’t see Seamus there, I’m not going to look, I won’t. I promise myself.

Against my will I find myself staring at Seamus' strong, graceful body. He’s talking to Parvati, and judging from how close together they are, neither is concerned about discretion. Her face lights up when she looks up at Seamus and her smile is truly happy. I look away.

Ron and I go up to the dormitory while Hermione stays behind for some ‘research’. Considering her eavesdropping skill, I’m sure her ‘research’ will be a success, even if she’s not likely to share what she learns.

In any case, I just want to sleep. I walk up the stairs in a daze and then into the room and start taking off my robe. And then Ron’s hand squeezes my shoulder. I look up. He stands before me with a very serious expression. I turn to him. “What?”

“Um,” he says quietly. “Please don’t try that again. Hermione nearly took the entire castle apart, brick by brick, and... well, if something’s wrong, you come to us, you hear? We can't count on Snape to find you next time.”

I nod.

The second mention of Snape tonight stirs my tired brain awake and for the life of me I can't figure out how he’d know where I was. Maybe the Marauder's Map has ended up in his hands. Since he wouldn’t know how to turn it back into a piece of blank parchment, it would keep showing him where everyone is. I was a complete idiot to lose it back in September. Until now, I didn’t have a clue who’d found it.

Ohshit. Just the thought of it makes my stomach churn. It's such a terrifying thought. What if Snape knew where I was every second of the day? Snape!

But then why would he have even looked at the map today? He wouldn’t’ve checked it only after Hermione asked him ‘Excuse me, sir, have you seen Harry Potter?”

He would have had to check it beforehand to see where I would go. And then he’d have to tell my friends! But why would he ever do that?

Ugh! I don’t want to even think of that now. I just want to go to bed and sleep. And finally, that's just what I do.

Chapter Text

Not much happens in the next few weeks, except for the Quidditch match, which we win. And Slytherin lose. Again. Snape’s face is pure fury and Professor McGonagall looks incredibly proud and happy. I catch the snitch thirty-eight minutes into the match.

No one knows anything about me, but in any case, when Seamus breaks up with Parvati a month and a half later, rumours fly all over the Gryffindor common room. Patil handles it like a proper lady, or at least like a proper witch: throwing books and yelling out such unmentionable curses at Seamus that the portraits on the walls either cover their ears or run off for a visit into other frames. Hermione finally tells us that Parvati tried to claw her replacement’s face off and then sobbed into her pillow for several nights in a row.

I don't hear my name mentioned in the overall gossip, thankfully. Finnigan never told anyone about us. Only there wasn't ever any 'us'. There was only me.

I’ve grown used to being a freak, maybe I can deal with this as well.

I even start paying attention to girls. Not the way I did before, when I thought that a simple nod in return for 'pass the sugar, Harry' at the table was enough, but playing along with how my classmates act around them. Now I keep my eyes on their faces, stammer on purpose, pretend that my robes are suddenly so interesting to stare at, grumble ‘sorry’ if I bump into them in a corridor. I think that keeps me from looking so strange, if you don’t count the whole Boy-Who-Lived thing.

It’s funny to think back on how much bravery it took for Ron and I to invite the Patils - gah, Patil, again - to the ball in our Fourth Year. We blushed and stammered and got tongue-tied. Before Hermione had told me that I act so comfortable around girls, without much awkwardness, I didn’t even think to compare the memory of that evening with the current idle chatter with them, be it with Lavender or with Luna.

When did that change? I don’t know what caused it, maybe it was because Cho finally picked Michael Corner over me. I hadn’t wanted to imagine being with anyone else but her. She stayed in my thoughts, almost til the end of my Fifth year.

And then that... stopped, and summer came.

It was just another crazy summer at the Dursleys. They avoided me like a ticking time bomb, ready to go off at any minute: or that’s what Aunt Petunia said about me.

My summer was filled with the never-ending absence of Sirius, quiet and relentless. It was spent around others, since I was free to visit my friends, free to receive owls, but still I felt alone.

Afterwards, I came back to Hogwarts to find that my schedule was filled with all the extra classes with Professor McGonagall, with Professor Flitwick and with Snape. I had no time to think about girls, or to ask myself why I wasn’t thinking of them. There was a war on!

Only in mid-September did I admit that I was lying to myself. When our lives became threatened by danger, everyone’s mood ran hot, and not just mine. The whole school went mad as a March hare, and carried on and on. Notes were passed openly, and the dates were set and accepted in plain sight.

Meanwhile my dreams had turned sudden and obscene.

I awoke, groaning, my cheeks burning and my sheets stained. I dreamt of centaurs, proudly lifting their front legs, their arms caressing each other’s muscled, naked bodies. Of centaurs showing off their huge, brilliant cocks. My imagination didn’t spare me, I saw them mating, saw their dark anuses opening under their proud, windblown tails, heard their whinny turning into passionate stallion cries, smelled the sharp scent of their heated skin. I don’t know if there are any centaurs that ever tried even a fraction of what I dreamt they were doing. It’s not like I can come up to Firenze and ask: “Excuse me, do you usually mount just the mares or...?”

The centaurs were only the beginning. It was like a dam had suddenly burst open and my dreams were full of sex. If I’d been awake I’m sure I couldn’t have imagined half of it. Voldemort, what Voldemort? He surely couldn’t have found his way my mind at all through all those flared-up fantasies. I had a hard enough time functioning day-to-day.

I even dreamt of Dumbledore once, not the tall old man we were used to seeing but a strong, grey-haired wizard with shining eyes and a mouth twisted with pleasure. He was fucking someone - I couldn’t tell who - long hair waving all around covered the faces. I could only see their wide shoulders, which Dumbledore’s nails dug into, and a flat hairless chest. They were against one of the teacher’s desks and I wasn’t able to get any closer, as if I was spying on them through a keyhole. But I could see clearly they were both men.

I wanted to see the face of the second wizard so badly but just as he tilted his head up and cried out the dream ended abruptly. I woke with my cock aching. It was just terrible, if my dream hadn’t been interrupted I would’ve already come.

I listened into the dark, trying to figure out who had awoken me. I was ready to hex whoever it was. Maybe someone had been talking in their sleep or had turned over in bed and damn them for interrupting such a dream! But then my ears caught the sound of quickened breath slowing and turning normal. Someone forgot to put their Silencing charms up again, the kind that let you hear the outside but covered up your own sounds. Someone that had been wanking or just had a wet dream must have woken me with their final cry.

At that thought my hard-on ached and I reached out and touched myself, trying to imagine the rest of the dream but my mind stayed on whoever it was that now was falling asleep sated and relaxed, after coming a few seconds ago, and I didn’t need to think of much. A few strokes were enough. It’s good that I never forgot to cast my own Silencing charms on the curtains.

From than night on, I woke up regularly, just to listen to the dormitory in the dark without thinking too much on how completely creepy it was to be aroused by my own housemates.

My same-sex housemates.

“Mister Potter!” Professor McGonagall’s disapproval pulls me away from the unwanted questions of my private perversions. Advanced Transfiguration is the last place I should be thinking of them. I shake myself out of it, rub my forehead, and quickly start taking notes. It doesn’t matter what I write, just so I write enough to pretend that I’m paying attention.

My ears burn: the next lecture is also Advanced, and too important to be distracted, I have to pay attention and stay awake all the way through it. All because it’s Advanced Potions and it’s Snape’s class. He’s stopped sniping at me for no reason, but his sarcasm hasn’t lost its edge one bit. It’s stupid to provoke him and fuck, I’m still hard, after thinking about my dreams. I use them as daydreams a lot, just to take the edge off. Crap, I give up. I can’t think about anything else and more than anything I want to ‘handle it’ right now to be done with it. How am I supposed to last through Double Potions with Snape?

That’s it! It's official, I’m completely mental. I grit my teeth.

Suddenly, a hand is on my shoulder and Professor McGonagall’s stern voice inquires with sincere concern, “Potter, are you feeling alright?”

I’m sweating. Cold sweat. Did she notice? Can she see it on my face? I fight back my pounding heartbeat and look up. My Head of House is staring down at me with a slight smile.

“Ah, springtime,” she mouths, and adds loudly: “Perhaps you should visit the Infirmary, hm?”

Whew. Even though it’s probably not allowed during a lecture, Professor McGonagall must have figured that I’m daydreaming. I shake my head and mumble that everything’s fine now as I, at last, start paying attention to the lecture.

 


 

Despite my finally-not-so-outstanding problem, I make it to Double Potions without much trouble. Or mostly without trouble: a five-year habit of expecting Snape to be up to no good in anything related to me or my House, forces me to watch what I’m doing around him, every word, every move.

Ever since Hermione and Ron found me, frozen, at the lookout of the Astronomy Tower, I’ve tried more than once to work out how Snape knew where I was. The simplest, the impossible, way to find out would be just to go up and ask him. But I still have some pride and we’re hardly on speaking terms anyway.

I can’t stop myself from staring every now and then, and I'm either mad at him or confused by him. A few times he must have sensed me staring and looked up from his parchment, when he was at his desk, or turned mid-step and stared as he was prowling the room. Our gazes crossed like invisible rays, mine curious ‘cause I couldn’t help it, and his unreadably questioning. It was like crossing swords, because even the silence would ring in my ears like a sharp blade. I always looked down first when I noticed the first spark of anger in his eyes. After the time he threw me out of his office last year who would want to provoke him twice?

Why do I keep staring at him?

Snape’s coming down the aisle between our desks, oozing casual annoyance with every gesture, every turn of his head. He looks coldly astonished that he ever agreed to teach us ‘halfwits’ for two more years. The halfwits, us students, are trained to hide behind our cauldrons, afraid to make a sound and attract the disdainful stare of the Head of Slytherin.

How was he chosen as the Head of Slytherin anyway? He’s relatively young, the youngest out of the four Heads, and the others would remember him as a student. That won’t have won him any favours, especially considering how his student self looked in that pensieve. What prompted the Headmaster and Professor McGonagall, who must’ve been the Deputy forever and ever, to even make Severus Snape Head of the most troublesome House with the worst reputation in the school?

This is the same Snape that had been dangled upside down by the Marauders, who must’ve beaten the hatred of Gryffindor colors into him for life.

Is that why Snape favours Malfoy? Cause Draco Malfoy hates Gryffindors just as much as him, now that his parents are in Azkaban awaiting a hearing.

I reckon hatred must unite people. In a way, hatred is as strong as love. Snape never got even with the Marauders for all their student pranks. He’s probably pleased when someone gets even with us in his stead. Like Malfoy, or Goyle, or Crabbe. Snape still has to look at the Marauders every day: my Dad, Sirius, Remus, he sees them in every one of us, the entire Gryffindor House showing up in the dungeons for his lectures, our red and gold insignia ablaze on our robes, all of us remind him of his childhood bullies. Dumbledore once said, some wounds run so deep, they never heal.

I shudder. What if he sees us as the Marauders? Ron and Hermione and me, all 'cause I remind him of my Dad.

But I only look like my Dad. I’m not him, I even know more than Dad because I had to face what he's done wrong. I was never the school’s favourite, I'm a freak, and that lets me see things differently.

Unlike Dad, I doubt I will ever have kids. I doubt I’ll ever marry, well, not in a conventional sense, anyway.

I’m not Dad. I’m...

Bloody hell! I’m trying to justify Snape's actions. Snape! Never thought I'd sink that low! But just having Dad's name is enough to make Snape hate me! And why wouldn’t it? Snape hates all Gryffindors just 'cause the House reminds him of my Dad and his friends. It's horrible just to think about it.

Still, why can’t Snape just get over it already? Ten points from Gryffindor for sneezing, Potter! Twenty points from Gryffindor for dropping your notes, Potter! Fifty points from Gryffindor, because I'm a greasy git who woke up on the wrong side of the bed! The only difference between last year and now is that he isn’t constantly picking on Neville and me, instead he's harassing everyone else.

And I can't help wondering about one thing, the way a splinter doesn’t hurt much but keeps you from moving your fingers anyway. How did Snape even know where to find me? Does he have the Marauder’s Map? If he does, he’d’ve been able to get me expelled already. He's that petty, so it would make perfect sense.

I don't get why Snape would keep this sort of thing quiet.

But he had to, there’s no other explanation. He couldn’t have spotted me while I was under the Invisibility Cloak as I climbed up that tower. I wanted to stay there until Spring, until Seamus would've forgotten everything about me. Stupid, impossible thing, but I wanted it so much.

Now Spring's here and I’m in Potions. ‘This is Advanced Potions, Potter. Do you even know the difference between the General and the Advanced? No? Then start taking notes.’ And I’m thinking about something completely crazy.

Snape’s got no reason to protect me. He’s got no one to protect me from. The other Professors never hated me. I’ve always been the hope of Hogwarts, from the first day I came here. Every now and then it gets old, but I’m a hero in their eyes whether I want to be or not. I’m under a constant spotlight, and everyone's always watching every single move I make.

What kind of loony would choose this sort of life? And yeah. ‘Clearly, fame isn’t everything.’ Yes, I know! What would Snape say if I ever asked him: Do you want to be me? Huh? Because I sure didn't ask for it.

Would he yell at me? Throw me out of his office again? Or would he spit out, thin-lipped, that he dreamt of such honor since he crossed sides as the watchful eyes and the loyal ears of Albus Dumbledore.

Maybe Professor Snape was made the Head of Slytherin because Dumbledore wanted him to spy on the unreliables while pretending to be loyal to them. In any case, he can’t be kicked out now, and it’s making everyone's life worse, except the Slytherins’.

It's turned him confident, controlling, and cruel. A dry nod here and there at best, but never a smile.

He takes his memories of being bullied and takes them out on all of us, including me.

Sure, he saved my life but I know he hated it every single time.

Sirius died because of him, I know it.

But if he took the Marauder’s Map, he must have enough evidence to expel me by now, so why hasn’t he tried? That's what he wants, isn't it?

I don’t get it. I can understand getting another T, he even says it every time he hands my papers back, that's business as usual. What’s unusual is why he's keeping quiet to protect me.

As we leave the classroom Hermione grumbles, “Harry, when are you going to focus on what you should be doing? You can’t just show up and expect to pass, it doesn’t work that way. That look Snape was giving you makes me cringe!”

What look? This stops my thoughts racing. “When did he look at me?”

“He didn’t just look, he kept staring! On and on!”

“Huh?” I am trying to remember. Really trying. “He kept his back to me during the entire class.”

“Harry,” Ron interrupts, “C'mon. Time to eat.”

Hermione shakes her shoulders in annoyance, but pushes her hair behind her ears and starts walking faster.

The smell of hot chocolate in the Great Hall makes me forget all about what worried me during Potions. Perhaps that only happens when Snape’s around, and it doesn't do me any good. One thing you can always rely on Snape for, is that he's really fond of handing out Ts.

Chapter Text

My behavior in Potions has consequences.  At first it’s just a stern talk with Professor McGonagall.

“You need to pay attention to Professor Snape’s lectures. Don’t forget, what you learn today will decide your future. Didn’t you want to become an Auror?” I don't answer that, and she adds sharply, “Are you even listening to me?”

“Yes, Professor McGonagall,” I reply without thinking. When I hear ‘Snape’ I blurt out “How did you talk Snape into letting me into Advanced Potions?”

Professor Snape,” she frowns, correcting me. “And I didn't talk him into anything. Headmaster Dumbledore had a conversation about you, although I sincerely doubt that anything you did would have affected the final decision. Professor Snape is quite capable of professionalism, despite any personal animosities he may harbor.”

I snort at that. 'Capable'? Yeah right!

Professor McGonagall stares at me. “Mister Potter, he is your instructor, in case you’ve forgotten. Unlike you, he takes his duties seriously. Besides,” she pauses awkwardly and I hold my breath to hear her add, “I do believe Sirius Black’s death left its mark on all of us."

“Sirius’? How can you even-”

“That’s enough!” She's visibly frustrated with me. “This discussion is over. Do make an effort to pay attention to the subject of Potions and not only to the Potions Master himself. Just because you are allowed to be in his class is no reason to neglect his lectures. That’s why the next time you’re in trouble, I’ll leave the matter of detention up to him. Consider this my only warning.”

Getting a warning doesn’t make things any easier. Now, instead of hating him like I used to, I’m also curious as hell. It’s annoying. I don’t want to do this to myself.

I really do my best, until mid-April, but then I just have to try his patience somehow. It's for a good cause! He’s stopped picking on me and that’s suspicious in itself! It really is! It's worth checking out. There’s no way Snape would ever do anything just out of the goodness of his heart. My marks prove it ten times over.

My next concoction gives even Neville a scare. It’s muddy-green and slimy like tar and it smells just awful. Snape is forced to dismiss everyone five minutes early.  Of course everyone flees, only Ron and Hermione wait up for me, but Snape’s icy stare sends them running like everyone else.

“Sorry, mate,” Ron whispers, sneaking around Snape. Snape approaches my desk, seething silently, and waits until I'm all alone.

Why the hell did I even think this would be a good idea? Am I this eager to die?

Why did I do it? Why? keeps spinning in my thoughts as I’m left to stare at the murky goop in my cauldron. Even the sound of the door closing no longer matters. Suddenly, the cauldron is no longer there and I jump. And then Snape’s wand taps against my chin, forcing me to look up.

Don’t hex me! I wince. How did I ever think that Snape had gone soft? I’m clearly bonkers.

Patiently, Snape waits until I look up at him and then points his wand at the smelly cauldron he’d moved. “Evanesco!”

The failed brew which should, supposedly, be some sort of burn salve vanishes and Snape flings the pewter cauldron aside. It falls with a bang. Snape leans over, nose to nose, over my desk and hisses “Do explain yourself. Even you can’t possibly produce such stench-inducing scum by accident. Make no mistake, if this was an accident it would have been your last in my class. But no, I think you planned this tasteless prank. Aspiring to brew the worst failed potion in the history of Hogwarts? You're disgusting, you always were,” Snape carries on, as it’s a topic he’s rather fond of, “You always have to be the center of attention, just like your father!”

He throws that last in my face and suddenly everything I thought of him in the classroom comes right up. Professor McGonagall had warned me but fuck it! It's like a storm brewing through my thoughts, I don’t even hear myself as I shout back, “I’m not my dad!”

What. Did you say.”

He's furious at being interrupted. Ohshit, I don't want to die like this. But wait. What can he really do to me? Sirius's dead already. He's dead and I’ve stopped being afraid. I’ve already faced the worst, in the Department of Mysteries. Dying's not the absolute worst that can happen, so why should I ever be afraid of Snape again?

I look up and for the first time since I’ve known Snape, I'm not afraid. I watch him draw his breath and then I continue: “I am not 'just like my father', sir. I never was.”

Silence. Judging by the look, I should have probably made my will before class. So what's growing a spine going to cost me today? At last, Snape draws himself up to full height and looks at me down his nose. Ridiculous, his stare says, and I blink at that. Then he speaks and yeah, this is madness. He isn’t even shouting at me or insulting me anymore. It’s as if he doesn’t want to stoop so low as to show any emotion at all. Or maybe he can’t feel any! Not even hatred.

“Surely you don't expect me to list the obvious before throwing you out of my classroom. No, that would be a complete waste of my time. Oh, you will be free to go,” he waves toward the exit, “after I get an explanation. Why. Did. You. Do it? Now, Potter!"

“I didn’t mean to, sir,” I answer, hardly able to speak. It's shocking. I didn't know he could be so indifferent, or this calm. What did I expect? “I should’ve added the puréed squid tentacle after the goldenglow and-”

“Potter,” Snape interrupts, velvet-soft, “Who do you think you're speaking to? What I need from you now is the reason why you botched your potion, after which you may leave!”

“Why did you even think I did it on purpose?” I protest.

“I saw you do it.”

Touché. How can anyone argue with that? What’s worse, I can feel my cheeks burning. Fuck. Who knew Snape had eyes in the back of his head?

Well, can't sink any lower, and that happens far too often around Snape, damn him. Still, I ask: “Sir. Why were you watching me?"

Snape hmphs. “I am a Professor, it's my responsibility to watch. To stop all of you from blowing your own heads off, empty as they are.” He turns and strides to his desk. Did just I imagine that flicker, of something, in his eyes as I’d asked my question?

I stay seated, not daring to get up; my knuckles are white.

Snape settles in his large armchair, unfolding some kind of parchment, and starts reading. At times he ‘hmphs’ and underlines whatever’s in it with his dark quill. Its tip sweeps over his lips now and then.

I exhale softly. This was my last lecture for the day, Snape must know that. Now he’ll just try to hold me here indefinitely and I’ll be forced to skip Quidditch practice.

All because I don’t have an answer for him.

I can’t claim I’d done things because I cared about what Snape really thinks of me. If he maybe changed his mind. If he'd changed. People like Snape never change. Hate doesn’t change. Why’d I even bother?

I take a deep breath.

“Oh, stop your huffing, Potter,” he says from behind the desk. “Your presence is tiresome enough. Now, if you have an explanation for your endless slacking off during my lectures as well as today’s imbecilic behaviour, you may give it now. Then you may go.”

I don’t answer, and he’s beginning to lose his patience. “Martyrdom doesn’t suit you, so stop wasting my time. Either you answer me now, or it's a week’s detention.”

Silence.

“Very well,” he snaps, raising his eyes from the parchment, “You’ll be here at eight o’clock sharp, starting tomorrow and for the next seven, - no, ten - days. Don’t be late. Now, get out!”

This part I know far too well, and wow, am I glad to hear it. At last. I grab my book bag and do just what he says for once, without looking back.

Ron and Hermione are waiting for me, all worried, just past the door.

“What happened?” Ron asks, and Hermione ‘hmphs’, hinting that it’s all my bloody fault but she's still worried, like Ron. She's looking at me funny but I don't care.

“Detention,” I mumble, dragging them up the staircase away from the dungeons. “Two whole weeks!”

It’s not exactly two, but might as well be. Snape and me in the same room every day: it'll grow in no time. It's not like I want two weeks, but it’s Snape, and I might as well plan for the worst.

“Two weeks?” Ron gasps. “That monster!”

“Ron!” Hermione chides him.

As we’re dragging ourselves up the stairs I wonder why I’m not furious, or even particularly angry. Maybe 'cause with Snape breathing down my neck for the next two weeks I might be able to find out what happened to the Marauder's Map. Yeah, that’s it!

But how am I going to go about it? I never ask the right questions. Even with Sirius or Professor Lupin, and they're practically both my Godfathers, one taking the other's place. If I couldn't do it then, so what chance do I have with Snape? He'd hex me for even trying.

He probably wouldn’t even break out the really terrible hexes right away since he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty with an 'imbecile'. He always thought I was one, so why is it suddenly bothering me so much now? Can't be 'cause I thought we shared something in common for once. Or because I thought, for a moment there, that he doesn't hate me quite as much.

What the hell? Why?

I've got no good answers for any of it. I can never explain why Snape does what he does, especially lately. I only know that I don't like it one bit. I have enough puzzles in my life without trying to puzzle out the Potions Master - the two-faced greasy git, always swooping around like a giant bat just because he can.

 

Chapter Text

I wake at last, tangled in my sheets, after a night of sweating and thrashing about. I need to ask Dobby to start airing out the dorm before bed.

Ugh, onto Herbology. Professor Sprout's talking about the effects of the dried fern flower, mixed with the powdered mandrake root. It's supposed to enhance the magical ability of a witch or a wizard. Seamus interrupts: "Professor Sprout, are you teaching us Potions?"

She raises her curly head high, in that funny green hat, and measures Seamus with a disapproving stare: "Of course, Mister Finnigan, or have you not been paying attention?"

"It's just, Professor Snape already teaches us this sort of thing," he continues, shamelessly.

Just as he mentions Snape, I recall that my first detention of many starts today. Ugh. I completely forgot about it this morning. As if on cue, the day turns darker, the springtime sun isn't as welcome anymore, just an annoyance blazing down through the glass roof, making the greenhouse all stuffy. Sweat rolls down my forehead as I hear Professor Sprout's next words, directed at Seamus: "It's common knowledge that fern blossoms only one night a year, Mister Finnigan," she looks at her class, checking that all of us are paying attention. Some of us are nodding along and she carries on, "What's not common knowledge is that the fern flowers don't just serve as a symbol of love and granted wishes, they are also a potent magical weapon. And this is why they must be gathered at a certain time of the night, depending on their use. Mister Finnigan, can you tell me what effect might one get from a fern flower gathered at midnight? No? What about three o'clock or at dawn?"

Seamus turns red and looks away, and Professor Sprout goes easy on him. "Today's lesson will cover the effects of this herbological miracle, in combination with another potent ingredient. I am not planning to teach you potion-making in this class, but let's examine the fern's properties as a potions ingredient and then the challenges of growing ferns in a glasshouse like this one. For maximum potency, you should take one fern blossom, gathered exactly at four o'clock, and mix it with a crushed mandrake. The gathering process takes time, so you must always have supplies on hand. How do we grow or harvest these properly?"

Hermione raises her hand but Professor Sprout just nods and motions us along toward the far side of the greenhouse. Everyone follows, watching their step; it's a bit crowded with all of us inside.

Suddenly, a whisper, "Potter!"

I turn, no time or energy to pretend I didn't hear or didn't understand Seamus. My feet stop by themselves, as Seamus whispers into my ear. "Let's talk tonight."

"Why?" I try to act cool. I can't possibly show how excited that makes me, "We've got nothing to talk about."

"Potter, please." We're both leaning close and whispering so we're not overheard, and my face is warm, and growing warmer, when he calls me Potter. "I just want to talk to you. You've gotta hear me out. I was wrong about you."

I don't know what to say. I hmph, and hope I don't look too needy. It must've worked: Finnigan passes me and gives me one final stare. He looks genuinely sorry for once. Strange.

And then I catch Hermione staring. Has she followed us? How long was she here? Dunno. Doesn't matter anyway, she saw how Seamus looked at me just now. She knows. Where's the corner to hide in when you need one?

Hermione finds my hand in the folds of my robe and squeezes it tightly. She's got a strong grip, warm too, and I'm not so embarrassed now, not anymore. I squeeze her hand back and she grins, looking up at Professor Sprout, deep into her lecture surrounded by the tufts of greenhouse ferns.

At lunch, I wonder if everything that happened during Herbology is a prank, just another one Seamus came up with. Maybe he's bored without a girl to keep him busy, or maybe he's just checking if I forgot what we used to do together two months ago.

It's been slightly more than two months.

It happened in February. It's now mid-April. But it's not like I'm counting how long it's been since then. I'm not that desperate.

He must be bored, I try to convince myself.

Hedwig swoops in from the sky in the Great Hall and I just about drop my fork. She hoots happily after such a short trip, and sticks out her leg with the letter tied to it. Heart in throat, I open the scrap of parchment and read the note.

Potter. Is it OK to call you Harry? Let's meet. 8:15. Hagrid's hut. I really need to talk. S.F.

I look up, but Finnigan isn't in the Hall, so he must have sent it just now. In any case, I know his handwriting. Why the hurry? Weekend date stood him up, I squash a bitter thought.

It's a terrible idea to see Seamus again. I don't know if I even want anything like what we had anymore. With anyone. No matter how much I pretend around others, I'm still a freak, I definitely feel like one, like they'll find out about me at any moment, so why give anyone another reason to mock me?

Is it the same outside the Wizarding world? Or do Muggles just not care? Doesn't matter, I'm stuck here for at least another year. Alone. Wanking in the dark. So what's the point in wondering about something I can't ever have?

We've got nothing to talk about, anyway! I blink at Seamus' note and can't even read it.

It's nothing. We've got nothing.

The sad part is, I know I'm going to see him, and I hate it, but I'm going to go mad wondering otherwise. I'm going to see him because at least he didn't mind touching me before and I don't want to keep doing things all alone.

Let Seamus explain things, I want to know what he says.

With that settled, I fold the parchment and stick it in my back pocket. Fortunately Hermione ran off to ask Professor Flitwick something before class, or she'd see me daydreaming and know. Ron's having a serious discussion with Lavender, incredibly so, judging by his red face. Good.

I'm about to leave the Great Hall, when a thought jolts me out my reverie. I take out the note and read it again.

'8:15. Hagrid's hut.'

Quarter after eight! I'll have detention then! If I miss it, I'm dead or as good as. I hate every single second of it already, who in their right mind would want to spend time with Snape?

I'm not going to see Seamus until tonight. We don't have any more classes together and he's disappeared anyway. Only the house elves would know how to find him. I've got Hedwig but she flew off already.

I hate Snape. I hate him, there's no other word for it.

 


 

It's two minutes 'til eight and I'm in front of the massive door of the Potions classroom. I wish I could turn back time! Not for long, just so I can make a passable brew for Snape's class and avoid detention. But I don't have a time-turner, do I? Wonder if any of his previous students tried staring a hole right through the engraved iron hinges? As soon as I'm done, I'm out of there, I tell myself. I won't waste a single minute with the likes of him!

The door swings open all by itself. I step back, and as if on cue a mocking voice rings out: "Are you going to stand there all night? Why, I haven't seen such enthusiasm from you since last year's lessons."

"Yeah, looks like I'm still learning," I grumble back, not too loud, just enough to be heard, as I go in. What else can I do?

Snape sighs his disappointment. "You haven't learned a thing, so why start now? There'll be no more pensieves for you to stick your nose into and if you ever touch what's mine again, you will regret it. Mark my words," he barks, taking a long stride toward me. He's completely mad. First, the mocking, then the threats. He's glaring at me, and he is right here! Close enough that I can see his pupils dilate.

Why does he insist on invading my personal space? I step back with a nervous nod. He probably thinks I'm afraid of him 'cause his lips twitch in a pleased way and so does his brow. Well, two can play this game. I meet his stare, arch my brow and then ask, polite but impersonal, "So what am I supposed to do here?"

"'What am I supposed to do here, sir!'" Snape counters, not hiding his disgust, "You're practically begging for more detention. You do realise I have far more important things to do with my time." I knew it. Two weeks, at the very least, maybe more after this. Now I'll never escape the dungeons. I'm probably scowling at him, just thinking about it.

"What am I supposed to do here, sir?" I repeat, hoping beyond hope that he'll leave it at that. I hate that he's standing so close. I can't keep sidestepping him all evening!

Controlling sod, probably enjoys that everyone's backing away from him, happy to see them cower. What he probably doesn't get is that nobody wants to catch a whiff of whatever horrid thing he probably stinks of. I take a cautious sniff, hoping I smell something really bad, 'cause Snape would deserve that tenfold.

He smells a bit like smoke. Smoke and that's it. Grr.

What is wrong with me? I haven't felt this furious around him in a long while. It's been a year or more of putting up with the greasy git.

All right, I practically marched up to him and begged for detention. How was I to know he'd go along and give it to me? Maybe, like Professor McGonagall said, Sirius' death left its mark on all of us, even on him.

Oh come on. Snape will always be Snape. He'd have to be on the death's door not to torture me for an evening. I'm such an idiot to expect anything less of him.

And on top of all that, I missed seeing Seamus 'cause of this bloody detention. I don't know if I'll ever get another chance. I'm not going to ask for another, that's for sure. One lesson learned, right there.

Snape turns and strides over to his table, apparently ready to assign my duties. I glance at the clock: ten after eight.

I'm not gonna make it now. Not like there was any chance to begin with.

"What's so interesting about my clock, Potter?" Infuriating bastard, when did he even notice me looking?

"Nothing, sir," I say, hoping it'll be enough.

No such luck, he stares right through me: "Late for a date? Such a pity. Clearly our present engagement takes priority, and you should have thought of this before class."

I know exactly how to deal with Snape by now. Don't react, no matter what, and still, he makes me shudder. He's doing it on purpose, I swear! Oh, forget it, I let my anger show and stare at him, as my face grows hotter, but I don't look away until I see that smug smirk.

"You'll never be an Occlumens," he drawls, "I should have known instead of wasting all that time on you. I ask you a simple question and you're still an open book. Sloppy. So easy to surprise."

"I wasn't aware this was an Occlumency lesson, Professor," I snap back. There goes the last of my calm. "I remember showing up for detention, not this." What is this? Interrogation? But he's not actually interrogating me. Maybe it's his way of holding a conversation. And here I was hoping he'll give me work to do and bugger off in peace. Ha! I run out of things to say, so stare at him, and once again that silence between us rings, like two swords crossed in a duel.

He cuts it short, spitting out the latest insult: "Here you are, the Boy Who Lived, Hero of the Wizarding World, failing Potions so badly that you are missing out on your date. How will you ever survive the night of not feeling up another brainless fan of yours? The tragedy! You could be drooling over another paramour, but instead you haven't got a single soul to stare at you while you clean out my shelves! My heart bleeds."

Silence.

"Well, what are you waiting for? Get started." Snape unrolls a parchment and settles down at the table.

I can't quite wrap my mind around it. I really can't. It's not something Snape said. It's something he didn't say. Like 'girlfriend'. Or 'girl'. Or even a single 'she', he was so careful not to say it. Is that on purpose? How does he think I spend my nights? Does he know?

Or is he torturing me as usual, for no reason other than he gets off on it?

"Did I stutter? Get to work!" That jolts me right out of my thoughts. Thankfully, I don't think he noticed my reaction, and I'm off to look through his wooden floor-to-ceiling cabinets, filled with all sorts of things. Mostly books, but also various homework scrolls from the previous years, the experimental cauldron models, and a crazy amount of quills: new quills, broken quills, mended ones. If I look closer, I'll probably find that magazine Snape confiscated from Hermione in our Fourth Year, the one with Rita Skeeter's article in it.

The only thing I won't find here is the Marauders Map. Snape probably stashed it away somewhere safe, so he can look at it at his leisure. I know he's got it, I just know it.

Merlin's balls. I'm so glad it only shows where I am, and not what I'm doing. Or Snape would know everything and there's no way he'd keep quiet then. Yeah, if Snape ever found out I'm queer, he'd taunt me with it first thing, the bastard.

Calmer now, I pull at the handle of the first cabinet in the long row, and it won't budge. I stop yanking and turn to Snape. He's got his arms folded forbiddingly and looks far too smug. Probably counting all the ways I'm an imbecile. Again. His tone only confirms it. "These are warded. I am far too busy to be confiscating loot from every halfwit who dares to rob me. Like yourself. Consider it your only warning, I will find out the second something goes missing, one way or the other."

Now that's just insulting. I stare without flinching. "I haven't stolen anything from you and you have no right to search my things."

"Oh?" The next thing he says is clearly a threat. "So it's all just a big misunderstanding, I am sure. After all, the great Harry Potter would never stick his nose into things that don't belong to him." I bite my lip, thinking of his pensieve and Snape nods, confirming my worst fears. "Your Muggle upbringing is no excuse for ignorance. Magic exists, and it will alarm me if you so much as think of taking something."

I snort, and he stares bleakly. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing," I cough to cover it up and picture Snape as a sullen security guard in the supermarket, peering into all the trolleys. I can actually see it. "Sir, how do I open these doors?"

"With a spell. Here," Snape rises and approaches me, again with no consideration for personal space. His robes are much wider than what the rest of the professors wear, the sleeves flare wide enough to catch my shoulder when he turns around and presses the tip of his wand to the door: "Alohomora," he says, just as I expect, followed by a complex set of movements around the latch. Two seconds later it flips open with a soft clang.

"Are you capable of following simple instruction?" he inquires, turning to me. I nod. "This is for your eyes only. I will change the spell as soon as your detention ends." I nod again. Snape's not only a controlling sod, but a paranoid one as well. And no wonder, considering he spies for Headmaster Dumbledore. "You may proceed. The leftmost cabinet across the hallway is off limits. You are not to look inside."

I nod for the third time, already peering at the numerous shelves. Have they ever been cleaned? It's a complete mess.

"Sort out the books, the beakers, and the fresh quills, if you find them. The books must be dusted and placed back on the shelves. The order is irrelevant. And don't even think about dawdling. If you expect to get by with cleaning one shelf for a week, think again. The length of your detention depends on how well you perform your task, so if I were you, I wouldn't bother watching the clock."

After such quality tirade, Snape exits the room, leaving me to contemplate the utter chaos of the tall cabinet shelves.

 


 

Two hours later, I stretch out with a groan. Odd how something you think is impossible to complete starts being kind of calming. Cleaning up Snape's mess isn't so bad after a while. Considering I've got my wand with me besides all the dusting cloths, so shifting books and cauldrons around isn't too terrible. On the floor beside me grows a rubbish pile and I happily add more and more to it. An old practice dummy. A parchment with either a love note or a scribble of Snape himself. After the fourth scrap of parchment, I stopped looking at them. Turns out that all the students are rather predictable when it comes to that sort of thing. It's odd that he's held onto it at all. I would've thought Snape would Incendio these on the spot instead of filling up his cabinets.

After the eighth shelf out of ten, I am exhausted and look up to check the time. Whoa! Is it quarter after eleven already?

Seamus won't even be in the common room when I'm back. Am I disappointed? Not really. I must have calmed down picking through all of these old grimoires.

How much longer is this going to take?

The door swings open and silent as before, Snape shows up. Speak of the devil. He surveys my nearly-clean cabinet as dispassionately as always: "Very well, you're free to go. I expect you back tomorrow at eight. Do not be late, Potter."

I head for the exit. As take one final look behind me, I see Snape aiming his wand at my rubbish pile.

"Incendio!" he breathes as I shut the door. Odd, the spell sounded almost like a sound of relief.

 


 

The climb to the Gryffindor tower has never been so long and so tiring. Probably 'cause I'm climbing up all the way from the dungeons. When the next staircase finally turns and stills at my feet, I feel I've climbed all the way up to the sky. The tower windows show the stars, the moonlight spills across the castle and its grounds. I stop for a second and lean against the windowsill, breathing in the fresh nighttime air. I don't want to move an inch.

You can smell springtime here, especially at night. How do Slytherins spend seven years cooped up in the dungeons? No wonder they're all complete pricks, suffocating in their stone prison. And what about Snape? He never leaves that dungeon of his. Wait, no, he does roam the hallways at night. But outside, who knows?

What do I care about Snape anyway? One detention a day is more than enough. I shrug, give the password and march into the common room, past the Fat Lady. "If you're seeing someone, do consider daytime strolls, dear," she mumbles. Not that I'd listen. Instead, I check the room. There's no reason to panic, none at all.

It's completely empty.

The fireplace embers are warm and dark, crackling now and then. Everyone must've gone to bed by now. Good. No questions for tonight. I cross the room and sink into a chair, staring dully at the fire.

I don't like anyone asking me questions after detention. Not since my Fifth Year, when Umbridge made me write those awful lines and my friends found out about it.

It left a scar, despite Madam Pomfrey's best efforts. She's tried everything, spells, potions, but even now, the back of my left hand says 'I must not...". "Well, the 'tell lies' part is gone, so now I mustn't do anything at all," I laughed it off at first. Only Ron didn't laugh. He looked at me and his eyes, usually light blue, were so dark, as he confessed he'd cast the Cruciatus Curse on Umbridge if he could.

Ever since then, I hate talking about detention. I don't want to think of Umbridge, or her 'I must not tell lies' any more than I already have. I tried my best to tell everyone that there's a war on, that it's here and it's happening, and we can all die! We've nearly lost a year, and more than one life.

We lost them, because it doesn't matter if the lives are Muggle or magical, we're responsible for all of them. And Voldemort started attacks on the Muggle world, on people who didn't even know he exists. In the past year and a half, the government wrote it off as social and political unrest, as a natural disaster, a flood, a fire over London, but ask any witch or wizard and we need no cover up. We all know who is behind it.

I sigh. Yeah, Fifth Year was no picnic, something that's hard to even think about before sleeping. All of it isn't helping me gain hope for the future. I'm just a student, and last year was the worst. Where do I even start? Cho's unpredictable demands, Headmaster Dumbledore leaving, training in secret. Umbridge, who threatened everyone, even Snape.

Sirius. Gone.

After Sirius, I stopped holding onto hope that I have any family left. Not the kind that really cares. Thinking back now, I hope, if I'd told Sirius about me, he'd've been OK with it. He seemed like someone who'd listen, and understand, even about the daydreams. Even about my other dreams.

I can't help but feel trapped here, at Hogwarts, 'cause I can't tell anyone.

Who am I going to tell? Hey Ron, let's talk about how queer I am! And even Hermione! Ugh, she'd probably dig up some medical book just to tell me 'it's all perfectly natural.'

Damn it all! There's nothing natural about it! I can't stop thinking about dirty things. And if that's not enough, all of Hogwarts has gone mad this spring. Winter wasn't bad, but lately, you don't know which way to turn. Love is in the air! Everyone's happy, everyone's together. And I stick out like a sore thumb amid all the bliss.

Right then. What if I didn't have to be alone? What if I found someone? How would we ever manage a relationship? Everyone would be laughing behind our backs. No thanks. I'd rather be alone than be in the spotlight again. If it wasn't for that sickening feeling of dread, I'd be just fine. Oh, who am I kidding, I can't go on like this!

And Seamus isn't helping matters. At all.

Odd how I haven't had the chance to think of him since I looked at the clock in Snape's classroom. But now he's back in my thoughts and it stings. Even if Seamus did suddenly come down right now, I don't want to talk to him. I'm exhausted, and talking to him needs my full attention. I'm sick and tired of being steered into things that won't lead anywhere.

Suddenly, I feel calm. Let Seamus go out of his way to set things up if he needs to talk. Why should I do all the work?

I brushed it off before, but his actions in February hurt me, a lot. Seamus doesn't need to know that though regardless of what he wants from me, or I from him.

I shouldn't be thinking about any of it at all. Not about Seamus. And especially not about what he wants. The second it hits, there's a pang in my belly and the warmth in my cock. I sign and slide my hand under my robe, undo my zipper, take myself in hand. Fuck, I'm already hard. Just from thinking of him.

Seamus, flushed with need, spread across his messy bed. Legs apart to offer my hands and my mouth a better reach. I touch him, hungry, fast, we haven't got enough time, but I don't care, he's aroused easily. He pulls my hair as he comes, and his grip hurts so good. He cries out, arching off the bed, almost floating. Then he looks up and reaches for my neglected hard-on.

"A favour for a favour, Potter."

I could yell at him a thousand times for being so callous, for making me feel so humiliated, but it doesn't matter because he's touching me and his hand knows exactly what it's doing too; oh, he does. He's so very good at it. And so I can't do anything other than close my eyes and hope he can't tell just how ashamed I am of what I need.

I exhale, frantic, at that last memory, and I can't possibly stop now, I am so aroused I can't even take a short walk to the dorms and put up the silencing charms, I have to come, now!

I grip my cock and stroke it, trying not to make any noise. Breathe. Just breathe. Ohfuck yes! Right there! I bite my lip as I come, my entire body shakes. Whoa. I sink into the chair, as I'm trying to catch my breath.

Fuck it. Fuck it all. Why am I this way?

I get up and stumble up the staircase to the dorms.

Time to sleep. I'm so, so tired.

It's dark and quiet in the dorm. I take my robe off, trying not to make any racket. Thankfully, the moon is out and I can actually see in the dark. I get into my bed and stretch out on the crisp sheets. So good.

"Potter," someone whispers. "Do you hear me?"

Seamus? "Why are you still awake?"

"Just 'cause," he says. "What happened to you?"

Good question. How am I going to answer this one?

"Detention. Then went for a walk," I say the first thing that comes to mind and it seems truthful enough.

"In the castle, after curfew? What if they catch you?"

"They didn't," I fake a yawn. "Try being stuck in the dungeon, you'll need some fresh air too."

"I hear you," Seamus commiserates and adds, just to keep me from falling asleep, the bastard, "I waited up for you."

"M'sorry," I tell him, and it's almost even true. "We should have timed it better. I messed up a potion in Snape's class, and he's got it in for me now, sadistic sod."

"What did he have you do?" Seamus asks, curious. I hate questions about detention. Hate them.

"Had to clean all of his cauldrons. Polished them too." Why did I even say that? Now if Snape ever talks about it, I'd be caught in a lie. A useless one.

"Of course," Seamus sighs. "Nothing new there. Dean's been at it all December. The greasy git must be using them for mirrors, why else would he want them that spotless?"

"Dunno." Don't know, don't care. I just want to sleep.

Only Seamus waited up for me after all. Wow.

"Hey, Potter," he murmurs, pushing himself up and leaning over. "Wanna go for a walk?"

"Wha?" Did I hear him right.

"We need to have a talk."

Apparently, I did hear him right. A walk, at this hour, he's completely mad.

"Seamus, listen. Not tonight, yeah. I really gotta get some sleep," What if he doesn't go along with it? What if he...

I am worried for nothing.

"Um, yeah," he fires back. "Let's just find somewhere quiet next time."

"Sure." And before he has the time to say anything else: "G'night."

The silence seems almost disappointing until his quiet "Good night, Harry," and then I'm in bed wondering what exactly he wants to talk to me about, so private that it can't be said during the day.

Chapter Text

The alarm rings and I blink blearily. I've had a good night's sleep. I don't even remember the last time I slept this well. No dreams, nothing to keep me up for hours and hours at night. Even the headache that's been bothering me all week isn't there. Whew. I touch my forehead with my hand.

Unbelievable.

My body and my mind never felt so rested, even waking the morning after winning the Quidditch match. It's not like yesterday had anything particularly refreshing to offer. Must've been the night sky and the fresh air.

I bounce out of bed, whistling a tune, and quickly get dressed. Trousers, socks, shirt, my Gryffindor tie. When I reach for my robe, I meet Ron's stare. He seems surprised, but doesn't ask. That's what I love about Ron. He never bothers me about anything. He is just there when I need him, but he never asks stupid questions. Not like Hermione, who, well, Hermione's questions are something we've all gotten used to.

As we come down, Seamus catches up to me on the stairwell. I tense up, scared of what he might do, or is it anticipation? It's like I need to hear him whisper 'Potter!' in my ear, but he passes me by on the stairs and I don't know how to feel about that. Satisfied? Disappointed? With everything that's happened, it's all a complete mess.

"Oi, Susan, wait up," Seamus calls out in the corridor. Susan Bones turns to him and gives him a friendly smile.

My good mood vanishes in an instant and I feel like punching the wall. What did I think would happen? That Seamus would want to talk to me about us? That's what I get for being such an idiot.

I don't want to look, but I do anyway, just in time to see him offering Susan his arm. I hope Ron didn't hear me grinding my teeth just now. Time to go.

Lunch is something completely tasteless. If anyone had asked me then, I wouldn't even be able to tell them what I ate and if I ate it at all.

Transfiguration is next, right after History with its incredibly boring Wizarding Wars, but things don't look as bad afterwards. This is Advanced Transfiguration and we have a special assignment. So while the rest of the class, huffing and puffing, write up their essays of suitable length and content, we - as in Dean, Neville, and a dozen others - are to demonstrate the basics of transforming a person into an object and back.

We went over this in our Second Year, and then it seemed far too easy. Now, four years and many more lessons later, we aren't so sure. But Professor McGonagall's class has always been one of my strongest, and people even clap when I turn Neville into a wooden cabinet. Professor McGonagall joins in and exclaims "Bravo, Potter. Twenty points to Gryffindor!" and then she peers closer at the carved oak shelves. I fidget as she does that.

"Er, Professor, may I turn him back?" I offer in a hurry. She nods absentmindedly and I mutter the counterspell. Neville sits down next to me, all flustered with the attention, and Professor McGonagall stares off into the distance and murmurs. "Hm, now where have I seen these shelves before?"

Ohno. Nonono! Don't think of the shelves, do NOT think of the shelves! Maybe Professor McGonagall knows exactly what kind of detention I'm supposed to report for. Why did I even think turning Neville into one of Snape's cabinets would be a good idea? I didn't mean to, it just happened. And now Professor McGonagall will recognize them and ask me about my detention duty, and Seamus would put the two and two together and realise I lied to him. Why did I ever tell that lie?

Oh, to hell with it. It's just one tiny lie. Seamus lies all the time.

Lying isn't right, but still, this lie felt good to tell. I look up at Professor McGonagall.

"I can't recall," she says. "Oh well."

Whew. That's a relief. Next, Dean's trying to turn Lavender Brown into the Ottoman Empire seat. The result resembles a chair, so it's something anyway. He couldn't manage even that a few days ago, but he's stubborn and gets ten points from Professor McGonagall for persistence alone. The Slytherins watch us somberly. There's five of them, and none of their group got it right yet.

The dinner in the Great Hall is filled with whispers, laughter, conversations, so we can talk without really being overheard. Hermione thinks so anyway. She's complaining loudly that the dresser she's turned Pansy Parkinson into had mirrors which were far too dull to be normal.

"All of Parkinson's bits are far too dull to be normal, if you ask me," Ron reassures, ever so helpfully. I snort and quickly turn away, from her questioning stare.

And then, there Snape is, preoccupied with his food. Or maybe not, since he's looking in my direction.

I jump, but then keep it together enough to give him a nod and mouth, "Good afternoon." Snape must've seen me nod, but he looks right through me and doesn't even nod back. Just keeps on eating, and scrutinizing something important on the wall right behind me. The castle brickwork must be fascinating to study it this long. Ha.

Huh. Not that I wanted him to notice me or anything. I turn my attention to the roast.

I'm not even sorry that I have detention with him today. Not anymore. Not if I get to sort out all the old parchment and rare grimoires. I saw a couple yesterday that I really wanted to borrow, if it wasn't for the stupid rules. But the rules might as well be a dare. Besides, cleaning Snape's shelves seems to clear my head.

Another thing too, I pause, raising a spoonful of pudding to my lips, while I'm serving this detention with Snape, I don't have to sort anything out with Seamus. It's not like I'm avoiding him or anything, but hey, it's a good reason to stall something I'm not quite ready to hear.

My gaze sweeps over the High Table. What am I looking for anyway? And then I see it, an empty seat. Snape must've left while I wasn't paying attention.


 

A bright, summery afternoon goes by in a flash, and we know it's completely over when Ron stretches, rising from his seat in the library and rubbing his face.

"Ugh, that's it! Hermione, are you even alive there? Ditch the books, come on!"

"Of course I am alive, Ron," Hermione lifts her head from a giant volume she's had on her lap for the past half hour, "Now when Professor Flitwick asks you about the magical energies of one of the dragon species tomorrow, am I to expect you'll have the right answer or will you stare at me and beg for help again?"

"Er," says Ron, slightly flustered by her ranting, but Hermione pays him no mind. She snaps closed an impressively large volume with gilt-edged pages, tosses her hair back, and strides over to Madam Pince, requesting her reading to be set aside until tomorrow.

Ron watches her go with a sullen look, then turns to me. "Coming, Harry?"

I shrug. I should be studying Herbology, but I can write a whole novel about the blooming ferns by now, almost as much as Hermione. So I'm just flipping through an actual book, not a textbook. I don't even want to get up, much less go anywhere.

"I'm gonna stay here for a bit," I tell him, and look down at the adventure novel in my hands.

"Huh," Ron peers at me, and now I have to pay attention. "It's five 'til. Don't you have detention to go to?"

Crap. "What did you say?" I ask, feeling cold sweat on my skin. And it's been such a warm day too.

"Five 'til eight," Ron says, showing me his heirloom Weasley watch. Clearly it's been passed around a lot.

'Tomorrow at eight. Do not be late, Potter,' Snape said. I've been hiding from Seamus in the library for far too long. I can't possibly make it to the dungeons by eight! I can just taste Snape's disappointment.

Oh well, what else is new?

I jump up, grab my bag, throw The Three Musketeers into it (Ron still has no idea that it's not a textbook) and with a sharp nod toward Ron and Hermione, I rush out the door. And then, Sixth Year or not, I break into a frantic sprint through the corridor. Thankfully they're mostly empty, and besides, who's going to be surprised at Harry Potter running off to his next detention?

Stairs again. Everywhere. So many stairs! Strange, the way down seems so much faster when we show up for Potions class, but now I can't possibly get down all of these staircases and turns in time.

What am I even running all this way for? Snape's detention? Hah. Who cares.

At seven minutes past eight, I swing the door of the Potions classroom open. Snape's there by the brewing equipment, watching some dark liquid bubbling in a round alembic. I stop in my tracks, trying to catch my breath, and doing my best to pretend that I hadn't run all the way here. Maybe I'll get lucky. He may not have even noticed I wasn't here.

Snape turns and sizes me up with his stare. It's too much like a snake, staring at its prey. Emotionless. Calculating. Just like a viper.

"You're late," he observes icily, showing off the chronometer in his left hand and then turning all his attention to the alembic.

You think? That's an understatement and a half.

I run my hands through my hair, trying to part it down the middle, or at the very least keep it off my suddenly sweaty forehead. I've got nothing clever to say in response. Yeah, late, so what?

"Good evening, sir," I greet him dispassionately. I don't even sound like I'm out of breath. Much.

Snape hmphs. "Such manners. Well, get on with it."

What? Just like that? Isn't he going to scold me for it? Well, I refuse to be happy about not being scolded. I set my book bag down and head on over to the rightmost cabinet. Yesterday I've had two more shelves to finish excavating from underneath all the clutter. At least it's just a single row of shelves, could be worse. Right across from me are the storage shelves all over the place, full of various creatures floating in jars, frogs or pixies. I squint. At least I think those are pixies. Yeah, plenty of shelves. And the cabinets are all huge. The one I turned Neville into during Transfiguration seems tiny in comparison, that's probably what threw Professor McGonagall off track.

Just thinking of that lesson makes me smile, as I point my wand at the latch, "Alohomora!" I draw a moebius strip over it, and then that complicated word. I don't even think it's a real spell, probably just a password Snape came up with as a part of the main incantation.

The cabinet door creaks open and I step back, admiring yesterday's work. Then I pull up my trousers, get on my knees and tackle the final two shelves. They're impossible to reach unless I'm on the floor.

It's pretty dark here, so I have to ask Snape, who's paying less attention to me than to a gnat, "Sir. Um, have you got a lantern or a candle or something? It's really hard to see. I could do this with Lumos, 'course, but that would slow me down."

I'm surprised at how calm I am when I say it, but Snape's reaction surprises me even more. He crosses over from his desk to his brewing equipment and produces a miniature lantern in the form of a bat with its wings all spread out. The tiny body is hollow and see-through, and it's got a brand new candle in it. At the touch of Snape's wand, the wick flares up to life, and the bat's beady eyes light up ruby-red.

"Well," he snaps, "I haven't got all day. You're the one who asked for it."

I nod, get off my knees and walk up to his brewing equipment. Wow. I've been around magic for years already, but still, when I see tiny magical trinkets like these… just wow! Amazing.

Carefully, I reach out, taking the lantern, and for a moment there, our hands meet, Snape's and mine. How odd, I always thought they'd be cold, but his fingertips are actually pretty warm, maybe from the tiny candle inside the see-through bat belly.

Snape immediately moves his hand back, and I'm forced to grab the tiny light by both of its leathery bat wings to stop it from tumbling down against his desk.

"So clumsy, Potter," he snaps, thin lips twisted in a frown. "Mark my words, if this is broken…"

"Yep," I agree half-heartedly, still staring at the tiny bat. Such a fine filigree it has, with the silver tarnish all over, but it looks so fuzzy and so alive. It practically invites you to pet it and see if it stretches out on your palm.

But not when Snape keeps staring at me like that.

I give him a nod, yeah, yeah, got it, and return to the cabinets.

About a minute later, Snape gives a satisfied huff, puts out the flame, and uses a pair of tongs to take the alembic, now with a different color liquid, off the open fire, reinforcing it in some weird frame. He points his wand at it, "Locomotor." The alembic rises off the desk along with its frame and floats toward the door, and Snape follows it, keeping his wand pointed at it.

A second later, the door swings shut behind him.

I'm alone in the dark, in the stale dungeon air. Actually no. I glance at the bat light. Not all alone. I have company.

I look around first, to make sure no one's watching, and then pet the lantern carefully along its spine. It's warm from the candle, and for just a second there, I feel the brush of warm fingertips. I shrug, as if putting some inner argument to end, and get back to work.


 

Snape materializes right behind me without any warning whatsoever. If I didn't know you couldn't Apparate at Hogwarts, I'd've sworn he appeared out of thin air. What a terrible habit, sneaking up and scaring people half to death. And couldn't he have stayed gone a little while longer? Couldn't he run his potions experiments somewhere in his own rooms and leave me in peace? What's he got against that?

I jump up from my seat that I dragged over to the second cabinet to reach the top shelves, and give him a stern look. The answering stare I get is just as stern, "Are you planning to spend the night? Or are you're too much of an imbecile to keep an eye on the time?"

I blink back at him. Is he kicking me out of here early? What's the time? I glance back at the clock. For that, I need to peek all the way around the heavy cabinet door, trying not to shoulder past Snape as he stands and watches, as unhelpful as ever.

Whoa! Well, that's something. Half past ten, just like yesterday. I didn't even notice that two and a half hours flew by. I can't believe it.

I scratch my head and turn to the cabinet. There's less clutter now than before. I managed to clean out nine whole shelves out of ten, and the pile of rubbish on the floor looks truly impressive.

Yeah, time to run before Snape really thinks I'm an imbecile.

I draw a breath and point my wand at the bat-light's apparently everlasting candle. "Nox." The bat eyes wink out, and I push the cabinet door closed.

"Tomorrow at eight," Snape intones icily. "Do make an effort to be on time."

I was late today, so why wasn't he petty enough to keep me seven minutes past the deadline? Well it's not the first time I can't figure Snape out, and it won't be the last.

It's best not to think about it.

I'm no closer to discovering where the Marauders' Map is, might as well wave it goodbye at this rate.

"Good night, sir," I tell him, cursing out my sudden, unexpected and unexplainable, embarrassment. Then I grab my bag and run out of the potions classroom, swinging the door shut behind me. At least I've got something covering my back when he fires one of his icy glares my way.

I never do get a reply.


 

I'm visiting the Slytherin dungeons a couple times a week, but I never really paid attention to the dark corridors lit by the occasional enchanted torch. It's always so silent.

There's the brickwork that looks older than any other castle wall, as if all these bricks were laid much earlier than the rest of Hogwarts. If you didn't know that the entrance to the House of just about every dark wizard in the world was nearby, you'd think it's even peaceful, quiet and cosy.

Not for long, mind, 'cause I turn the corner and run right into Malfoy himself.

"Potter," he says in a sing-song voice, scowling smugly at me. The older he gets, the more he looks like some rabid animal, a ferret or a stoat. I saw those in an encyclopedia once. Ew.

Draco's small sharp teeth glitter under the flicker of the torches. The whites of his eyes are bright with disdain. Shit! I'm such an idiot, sightseeing near the Slytherin den. Malfoy always acts so conceited in his territory, and we're alone to top it all off. He's gonna lose it for sure.

He never let me forget that I managed to best his father in the Department of Mysteries. I held my own against Lucius Malfoy, not for long, but for long enough to count, to get help. It all comes back to me as if it was yesterday. The Department Of Mysteries. The Veil. Sirius.

This one's for Sirius! I arm myself, preparing for attack, or maybe defense, depends on which one of us gets a hit in first.

"Draco." I drawl, almost politely. After all, it's Malfoy's dad, Lucius who taught me to be friendly in the face of the enemy right before delivering a strike. It infuriates them just as well as waving a red flag in front of a bull.

It works. Malfoy shivers with disdain and hisses, face to face with me. We're so close, it's almost intimate, "Don't ever call me that again, you scum," and right there and then, his wand is in his hand and he points it at me.

Malfoy's pretty smart, he's not about to cast anything that can be revealed with the Priori Incantatem later. He aims for my eyes instead.

Ha! All that spoiled life in the Manor didn't prepare him for an actual fight. Try living with Dudley, you prick! I grab him by the thin wrist and twist it behind his back. We're so close, it probably looks like a hug.

"Call you what? Your name? Oh, sorry, Draco," I hiss, pointing my wand right in the center of his forehead, right between his eyebrows. I press it in and he winces.

"How dare you, Mudblood!" he squeals.

I just grin, right into that ferret face. "Half-blood, if you want to be accurate about it." I twist his wrist further. "Don't waste your insults on me like you do with Hermione, you arrogant prick. Do you want your arm broken? 'Cause it sure sounds like it!"

"You won't know what hit you one day, I swear," Malfoy hisses through his teeth.

"Did your dad teach you to stab people in the back or was it Snape? You sound just like him, you fucking traitor!"

Malfoy roars and twists himself out of my grip. "Don't talk about my father that way!" A vein twitches over his eye and he looks particularly murderous.

"Why not finish me off right in the dungeons?" I spread my arms and advance on him. "That'll show them. Show everyone just what you are!"

He huffs, helpless and he knows it. We both know dueling is banned on the castle grounds, and besides, Headmaster Dumbledore made me swear not to get involved with the ferret. But Malfoy doesn't know that. Or maybe the Headmaster made him swear too, who knows what he does behind anyone's back.

I almost miss it, the moment when Malfoy lunges at me. But he's a spoiled rich boy and I'm not, and every move he makes in a fight, besides his spells, is predictable. I sweep my leg under him and put an arm around his skinny throat.

Malfoy hisses, choking, and tries to kick me.

"Do it again and I'll break your neck, I swear I will," I strengthen my hold on him.

I don't hold back, not anymore, and say precisely what I think. For a long, terrible moment Malfoy thrashes and gulps for air like a fish out of water.

With a hiss, I let go, throwing him against the wall, towering over the pale shit. We're the same height but he only looks taller because of how he holds himself, well, not anymore.

"You'd better remember this," I tell him slowly, deliberately, as if tasting an Unforgivable, "the next time, only one of us will be left standing."

Malfoy doesn't answer and we lock glares. I hear the beat of my heart rushing through my ears.

Suddenly the silence is broken by a familiar tone. Where the fuck did he come from? Just when I was getting started.

"Potter. What are you still doing here? Are you that eager for detention? And do explain what precisely are you doing with Mister Malfoy at this hour."

So that's how it is now? I'm just a 'Potter', and this pompous arse with his head still attached is a 'Mister Malfoy'! I don't even watch my tone, if he can be rude, so can I, what's he going to do, stop me? "You've already asked last year, yes? So," I shove my fist into Malfoy's solar plexus, "this time around I couldn't decide what to hex him with. Ideas?"

Malfoy's completely frozen, not even fighting back. Probably thinks that the Head of his House is here to save him. Ha! That's where he's wrong, I hit him again. I don't care what Snape's going to do. What the punishment is. Malfoy's ran into me first. So he's obviously asking for it!

"Potter! Are you completely mad?" Snape asks, infuriated, grabbing me by the arm. "Do you want detention?"

"Like I care!" I cry out. So after all this time whispering around Malfoy, I actually shout at someone. Even I know by now that whoever loses control first loses the fight. The last year taught me that.

"Thirty points from Gryffindor and get. Out." Snape hisses, placing himself between Malfoy and me. He must've reacted instantly and now I don't even have the satisfaction of spitting in that smug ferret face. It may cost Gryffindor another hundred, but who cares now. Why did Snape have to leave his rooms, what brought him out prowling? He ruined everything!

"One day, Malfoy!" I grit my teeth and hiss. "One day!" Malfoy's silent, just glares at me with narrowed eyes.

Snape loses it. "Get the hell out! Now. I don't ever want to see you here again. And twenty points from Gryffindor!"

It's a stupid move, but I have to ask. "What about my detention tomorrow? Er, sir?" Why the bloody hell am I calling him 'sir' now?

"If you think acting like a crazed halfwit will ever stop your punishment, think again!"

Got it. Yep. Time to go.

My housemates won't thank me for losing fifty points in one night, but still I feel light enough to fly.

The Slytherin corridors wind like serpents, and on my next turn, I look back. Snape and Malfoy are still where I left them and judging by Snape's stance, he's trying to heal Malfoy's sprained wrist. Ha! A sprain may be healed but the bruise will never fade on that pale prick. He's got such tender skin, the spoiled bastard, that it's going to be around for a long, long while.

I reach the Gryffindor tower without any other trouble, sneak into the dormitory and dive into bed. I don't dream at all.

 

Chapter Text

A long, clear bird trill wakes me from my sleep. It was such a good dream too, before the bird just had to show up and start singing. Where is the pillow on my head when I need one?

I blink blearily and pull up the bed curtains with a clumsy hand. Ugh, sunshine.

Back to bed it is. And the bird isn't the bird after all, but my alarm. Where'd the night go? I only managed to close my eyes ten minutes ago. Sleeep!

Shit. Who invented these nine o'clock schedules? This means breakfast at eight, for all the students and the staff. I reach for my glasses by the bed, not even looking past the bed curtain yet, trying to keep the illusion going for as long as possible. Why does it have to be morning already? I don't even want to think about talking to anyone just now.

While I'm fumbling around the empty top of the nightstand, I try to remember where I set my glasses down last night as I came to bed. Just as I am about to give up with a final sigh, someone stops me and puts something in my hand.

I grip around the object, and feel the familiar round frame, the cold lenses. Someone gave me my glasses back. Who was it?

Ron, clearly. Who else would even care that I'm absolute crap at getting around without them? It's like I'm swimming underwater.

"Thanks," I mutter, and hook the glasses over my ears as always, then move the curtain over and put my legs down on the floor. Bleargh. The first time glimpse of the sun makes me blink and it takes awhile to get used to it, to actually look around and focus on something.

I look over at my friend holding my glasses case and - Whoa. Seamus?

"Good morning," he grins from ear to ear. "You were sleeping like the dead, Harry. We even had the alarm ringing twice, and nothing!"

I give a small smile and everyone around me is howling with laughter, Seamus too. I focus on his face, and sure enough, the laughter didn't reach his eyes at all. I tense up.

"Last one out, Potter," he chatters on. "Listen, while you get ready, I've got to say a few words. Do you all mind?"

Nobody seems to. Only Ron gives us both a look. Had Seamus been a cautious sort, a stare like that would put him on guard. But Seamus doesn't see things like that. Or maybe doesn't want to see.

So while everyone leaves the dorm, we're now alone with Seamus, and I've got a problem, a big one. I have to change from my pajamas into my robes and for that I've gotta take it all off first, and Seamus is standing close enough to touch me, staring at me like I'm a hot meal.

A few seconds of silence, and I'm still plotting my next move. And then, it gets really annoying. You know what, forget it. Let him ogle me. It's not like I'm coming onto him.

I pull my pajama top over my head and replace it with my shirt.

Oh great, done. Now onto the hard part.

"What did you want to tell me?" I ask Seamus, turning around and trying to act as carefree as I can before pulling the bottoms down.

Finnigan's voice deepens, and I don't think it's 'cause he's got a cold or anything. "Well, I thought maybe we'll have a chat now, but you're always so slow, I think maybe another time…"

I feel a light breeze on my back and as I straighten out, pulling my pants up, I almost bump into him as he comes around. I can't really tell from his look what that's all about, I can just see he's not too pleased.

And at once, he reaches out and presses his palm right against my crotch. I am hard, I can't very well hide it, and my hard-on presses right against his hand, but I do manage to look calm as I back up, pretending to reach for my trousers.

Seamus isn't buying it, he follows me, trapping me between the window and my bed, and reaches for me again, but this time, for my face, tracing his knuckles over my cheek. He's got a wild, dark stare, and I feel the heat rising, my heartbeat quickening.

I pull back, but I have no space to run from him.

"Harry," he murmurs hoarsely, "Forget breakfast. Let's… talk."

"Seamus," I give a small laugh and it sounds nervous but it's the best I can do. "What the hell? What do you want me to say? We haven't got the time to go over whatever it is you have in mind. Or am I wrong?"

Finnigan's quiet. I think he's surprised at me saying no to him. I use that to sidestep him and slide into my trousers, pull up the zipper with significant effort, and put on my robe.

"Come on," I call out, swinging the door wide, "Let's not do anything we'll both regret."

"Regret?" he echoes, peering at me with a confused stare. "Why?"

"Because, Seamus." I have to see this through to the end. I have to be strong. "We've gone over this. What's there to talk about? Now, we're late and I want to get some breakfast before that Herbology test."

He doesn't answer me, just flies past me so fast that his bag hits my side, and leaves the common room without looking at me. The door swings shut behind him, and I lean back against it, stare up at the ceiling and try to breathe past that horrible tightness in my throat. I blink a few times, to try and get the focus back, I hate that my vision goes bad like that right out of nowhere, and head on out to the Great Hall.

My steps are pretty steady, that's something.


 

Hermione was just finishing up her coffee as I joined them, and now she's interrupting my routine, asking various questions about the test we're about to have. I try to answer them, looking all worried about it, but it's Ron who loses his patience first, "Leave it, Hermione. You're bothering him," he grumbles when she starts another lecture to expand on my 'far too brief' of an answer.

Hermione's lips thin out in a frown, but Ron continues, "If you want to quiz someone, just go right ahead and keep on interrogating me. Why, it's only been half-hour. Harry's had one hell of a morning already without you making it worse."

I feel my face grow hot. Why did he even say that! Hermione takes a sharp breath and turns to me, "Harry, is that true? Sorry, I am too nervous, I didn't even notice you weren't well."

"S'ok." I shrug, hoping that'll end that line of questioning. Ron will likely tell it all to her later anyway.

Hermione puts her hand over my shoulder. "I'm so very sorry. I didn't mean to…"

I nod and thankfully she does direct all of her energy at Ron for awhile. He suffers through the worst of the questions and even her know-it-all answers to them with a stoic stare.

They wait until I'm done with breakfast and then we run over to the farthest Greenhouse. Professor Sprout planned a hands-on test, her third one so far this year.

First, we show off what we've learned about cruciferous crockets, about lesser mandrakes, and flowering ferns, identifying the plants, their age and maturity, and then write down all the facts Professor Sprout managed to pack into our brains for the past few months.

Let's see… Magical properties, environmental factors, use in magic, use in potions, use in medicine.

Hermione was the only one who hadn't lifted her head from the moment her quill touched the parchment. The rest of us keep trading glares and whispers, until Professor Sprout interrupts now and then, of course.

So at the end of it all, Ron is the one who looks the happiest. He sat between me and Hermione and alternated copying lines, first from her, then from me, so it didn't look too obvious that he cheated.

Hermione ran out of time, as always, to write down everything she meant to write, so she's quite cross, and I'm just thinking back and wondering whether I've covered everything I meant to write about the cruciferous vegetables. I've read lots about them, sure, but half of the time I got busy with The Three Musketeers instead. Hermione caught me at it and what a lecture it was! Madam Pince even had to kick us out of the library for all the noise. I tried to tell Hermione that a bit of a change now and then helps me study better, but that didn't help a bit. So the most vivid thing I remember about the types of cruciferous vegetables is Hermione yelling at me.

I go over what I remember writing down in my head and sigh out my frustration. Oh well. What's done is done. Can't do much about it until we get our work back.

I grab Hermione's elbow and nudge her toward the Charms classroom, to the tune of her worried "I can't believe I didn't write that down when I had the chance, if only I had five more minutes!"


 

Professor Flitwick fulfills Hermione's wildest expectations, and calls on Ron to explain all about the magical energies of the male Hungarian Horntail. Ron groans and stares at Hermione mournfully. Hermione sits, unaffected, and stares straight ahead, offering no help whatsoever. Well then, I suppose it's my turn to bail him out. Between the two of us, we come up with a decent answer, after some effort. Well, the answer is all Ron's, of course, 'cause me whispering dragon facts to him doesn't really count.

Professor Flitwick nods along, not sure if in surprise or disapproval, and says in his high tones, "Well, Mister Weasley, not bad, if somewhat sparse. But, I believe you've earned five points to Gryffindor." He climbs up the textbook stack which squeaks mournfully under his tiny, stout body. "I do hope you will all remember this will be on the exam this year. By the way, the House Cup will depend on your individual effort in examinations."

Whispers start to carry, especially among our Gryffindor mates. And here we've been hoping to earn the House Cup through Quidditch alone.

Flitwick lifts his tiny hand, "That's right, everyone. You must all know by now that in today's wizarding world knowledge is far more important than sports scores."

"Professor Flitwick," Malfoy's nasty tone interrupts the speculations and all I can think of is, I had the chance to squeeze that scrawny throat harder, yesterday. Why didn't I? "Could you tell us how many points we have so far?"

Of course. Malfoy had heard every word of Gryffindor losing fifty points yesterday, thanks to Snape, and now he's just waiting to rub it in, in front of everyone. We worked so hard for that second place, but now we'd be lucky to come in third, if not last. So I'd be stuck explaining to everyone exactly why I couldn't keep a lid on my temper. I've gone through it a few times already, but they always forget just how many points I earn back in Quidditch.

I know I'm not being fair. But what does it matter, if it adds up in the long run.

Professor Flitwick draws four long horizontal lines in the air forming a table. Then he scribbles four letters: H, S, R, and G. With an elegant wave of his wand, more letters line up along the rows, adding up to the full names of all four of our houses. They're sorted by their current number for points and I'm scared to see if Gryffindor is going to end up on the bottom after all.

I blink. What? Hufflepuff?

I can't believe it! With a pang in my chest, I look up at the line above it.

Ravenclaw.

Gryffindor House is still in second place. We even have ten points more than yesterday.

That can't be! I, of all people, know exactly how impossible it is. It was two twenty yesterday, minus fifty since last night, and that surely isn't two thirty that I'm seeing in Professor Flitwick's handwriting now.

Did Snape really forget to take fifty points from Gryffindor?

I look over and see Malfoy's sour scowl two desks over. I turn before he sees me looking. He looked just as shocked as me, but I'm not about to tell him that. I put on my happy face and clap Ron's back, asking as loud as I can, "Hey, not bad of a chance for the House Cup, right?"

"Dream on, Potter," Malfoy spits at my left and I turn around, as slow as I can manage.

"We will. How's that arm of yours, Malfoy?"

"Bastard," he growls, turning red and spotty, jumping up from his seat. Crabbe grabs his robe, and yanks him back down. "I'd better not catch you sneaking around after this."

"If you care to lose your wand hand, sure," I call out back.

It's almost fun to bait him.

As strange as it is, I haven't been punished for yesterday. How did that happen? When any of the Professors take points, their words alone are enough to remove the gems from the giant hourglasses tracking our progress. It's a basic Hogwarts rule.

Snape surely didn't give me those points back. He never gives points to Gryffindor, it's absurd to even think he might. Maybe it was one of the other Professors in the morning. But who? And when? And why did it happen outside class?

Completely confused, I stare in front of me and even manage to answer Professor Flitwick's question about the Hungarian Horntail's egg-hatching habits before the lesson ends.

The magical energy which all dragons possess by nature weakens as is used up almost fully as the female broods her clutch. Without that energy, the new hatchlings would be underdeveloped and sickly. The male contributes only after they take first flight and his magical influence affects their growth into adulthood.

It's pretty easy to talk about, since I've read all about the Horntail in Fourth Year, before I fought one of them. Professor Flitwick looks impressed, and even Hermione cheers after I sit back down, "Good job!"

"Ten points to Gryffindor, Mister Potter," summarizes Professor Flitwick.

Ron gives me a congratulatory clap on the shoulder. Yeah! Fifteen points in one go. Ten points to Ravenclaw, and zero to either Hufflepuff or Slytherin.

It's something to celebrate but I keep asking myself, what did happen to those fifty points from last night. In any case, I'll find out soon enough. Advanced Potions is next on the schedule after all.


 

Still full after our meal and pretty happy with the day in general, we climb down the staircase to the dungeons. Hermione looks worried. I pull the sleeve of her robe. "What's going on?"

She tilts her head, her lips in a thin line. "Malfoy looked pretty mad at you there. Harry, why would you even threaten to break his arm? What happened?"

I huff, thankful to be explaining this to Hermione, and not to the entire Gryffindor House as I apologise, like I thought I would have to not long ago. "It's fine, the usual, you know how it is with Malfoy. He just can't stay away from me."

Hermione isn't amused. "I don't like that look on his face. Especially since you have to walk through the dungeons late every night. What if he's planning something?"

I stop myself from telling her the whole thing about last night. Why give her something else to worry about? Instead I just pat her shoulder, "Don't worry so much. Malfoy's a coward. Even if he does grow enough of a spine to sneak up on me after hours, I can handle him."

"Ron and I can meet you and walk you back," she offers tentatively.

They really shouldn't put themselves through all that trouble. I pause on the half-lit steps. "Don't even think about it. If you're that eager for sparring practice for DADA, I'll help you out."

Hermione tries to protest but I quickly add, "You really don't need to bother with me. I'm fine."

She gives me a look, then agrees with a long sigh. "All right."

"Promise me that you're not going to go wandering through the dungeons at night just for my sake," I press.

"Fine," she sighs, and that's much better. Hermione's word is as good as gold.

We get to class and I find myself smiling, just a bit. It's still a smile though. It's strange how for the past three days, I've been in this room more often than any other student, including the Slytherins.

I've seen this room grow so very quiet, the real kind of quiet, the kind you get when you don't hear a bunch of people breathing in the same class.

I know now that the heavy door, which I've used for six years now, worried that it'll catch up and smack me right on the arse, is actually pretty easy to persuade to open, if I nudge it with my shoulder against that spot over the massive doorknob.

I found that out yesterday, when I looked around the classroom, during my short break from all the cleaning. I walked around the entire room and looked at every wall. All those desks and benches, shelves and cabinets. I even touched Snape's blackboard, all black and scratchy. And then I swung the door open and closed a few times, just to see how it felt.

Dunno what Snape would've said, had he seen me at it, but after that one stroll through the classroom, the room doesn't make me so nervous. Not any more. It's as if I trained myself out of a childhood fear.

Or maybe replaced one with another.

"Check out my work," I mutter to Hermione, as we take our seats. She glances at me quizzically, and I explain, "I've had to clean all those shelves in detention. The two cabinets over there. Just keep it between us." I still don't want Seamus knowing.

Hermione gives me a look, her favourite 'I know something you don't' look. I shrug. What's so wrong about enjoying a chore or two. Cleaning relaxes me. She's the one to talk, she's been knitting tiny hats for the house-elves. Her last few efforts were even shaped like a proper elf hat.

Hermione checks out the cabinets I just pointed out to her and her eyes widen in surprise. "Er, did you say you've been at it for two days so far?"

"Yeah… What about it?"

"Well, you've done pretty well, considering. How much more left?"

"Dunno. I have to go through them all, I suppose."

"There's eleven altogether," she calculates. "So slightly less than one cabinet per night. You've got just under ten more nights of work, right? Didn't you say Snape gave you two weeks of detention? Hm…" she bites her lip and frowns.

I am not that eager to confess that I've exaggerated a bit about the full two weeks. Besides, I'm not allowed to even touch one of these cabinets, Snape said so himself. So, does that mean I have only nine days of work left? He did say my only task was to clean up all the mess on the shelves. And that's it, I'm done.

But who can explain what Snape's planning, so I shrug, "He'll likely think of something else to keep me," busy? Right, it's Snape we're talking about, "toiling away like a house-elf." It's not as if I want to be stuck here with Snape every night, as if I've got nothing better to do!

Hermione nods and turns away, but a second later she startles, her elbow jamming into my side, and lunges at Ron, who snuck a peek at her homework while we were busy talking and managed to copy half of it at least. She breathes angrily as she's reaching for his scroll, as Ron stops her with one hand and holds his copy up high. "One last time, I swear! Please?"

I bite my lip to stop myself from laughing, but I can't even do that. Just as I'm overtaken by the roaring laughter, looking at them go at each other, the classroom door slams shut. Snape!

He looks just as he always does, looming, bony and pale. As sullen as ever, casting that stormy look over his classroom. Well, I suppose if I was in Snape's shoes, and had to see so many Gryffindors at once, almost every day of the week, I wouldn't be too happy about it either.

I really want to catch Snape off guard and make him tell me whether he gave back those fifty points. But I really shouldn't. The last time I tried to challenge him, I ended up in detention, which isn't even half-over yet. I really don't want to spend the entire year in the dungeons.

The lesson carries on as usual. In total silence, Snape explains the properties of yet another potion and the order in which we should add the ingredients. This time it's a modified Sleeping Draught, and it looks rather easy so far. Well, as far as I can tell, as we start our work.

But thirty minutes into it, one of us manages to mess it up. Snape swoops down, only happy to hound yet another Gryffindor. Oh Neville, not again!

Snape approaches his bubbling cauldron and extinguishes the flame underneath with a single flick of his wand. Not wasting any time with the insults this time around, he hisses, "Twenty points from Gryffindor, Mister Longbottom!"

All is silent, and then I hear Dean Thomas mumble under his nose, "Twenty points? Five would've been more than enough for that."

I cringe, expecting an icy tirade and say goodbye to thirty more points. Snape must've found out all about the missing fifty points this morning and wants to knock us out of that second place the first chance he gets. So we aren't so much of a threat to his dear Slytherin House's chances at the Cup.

I'm right, aren't I? Snape, in the middle of the aisle, turns in Dean's direction so fast, his robes sweep over someone, but as he draws his breath to say something particularly nasty, Draco Malfoy cuts in, "Good. Maybe this time it'll stick for good and all these points won't turn back up in the morning, unlike some nights!"

In the resulting silence, I feel my heart jump in my chest. All of us in the classroom, Slytherins and Gryffindors, are holding our breaths.

Snape turns as slow as a viper, but just as dramatic without the robe flung back, and stares at Draco Malfoy.

"What. Did you. Just. Say?"

His voice is so soft, I didn't even know he can sound like this. Even the air around him vibrates something fierce as he rumbles, "Did I hear you correctly or did you just doubt my ability to assign or to take the precise number of points from the right House of the right student, Mis-ter Malfoy?"

Malfoy is both frustrated and terrified. It doesn't help him any. He makes a mistake and speaks. "No, sir-"

"Enough!" I startle. Snape's low tones can seem as loud as a roar when he wants to. And he didn't even raise his voice that much. I guess I'm already used to him being so quiet, like a snake waiting to strike. How fast did I forget that he can really yell when, well, after I made a mistake of looking into his Pensieve, that one time. Now it's all coming back.

Malfoy must've never heard any of his elders take that tone with him. Or maybe Lucius Malfoy did, who knows. He lowers his gaze and clenches his shaking hands, enough to turn his knuckles white.

"At your convenience, do check the number of points for your own House," Snape says softly, but with just as much impact, "I'm sure you'll find you've just lost Slytherin ten points."

The Slytherins hold their breath in shock, and we're all just staring at each other, not sure whether to celebrate. I've never seen Snape take any points from his own House.

I stare at him, and can't even blink. There's something awkward and alarming about all of this, but I can't put my finger on why, and then Snape senses somehow that I'm looking at him and turns. Our eyes meet. For just one second. And then the corner of his mouth curls into something like a sneer and he turns away.

I keep my head down and carry on with my brewing.

Another half an hour of sweating over the cauldron, I can guarantee that the end result is clearly one of my best efforts. Hermione's looks perfect, but that's Hermione. Even though I don't dare to hope for any praise from Snape, I still risk attention. When he asks us whether we're done, only three of us raise our hands: Hermione, myself, and Millicent Bulstrode. Snape gives Bulstrode a nod, tilts his head toward Hermione, and directs his stare at me. For two long seconds, I wait for him to approach and say something. It's the first time I've actually got something to show off! But of course, he's not going to give me the satisfaction. He merely arches his brow at me and turns away.

His contempt never bothered me before, so why is it so infuriating today? I stop myself before I do something completely stupid. So what if a teacher didn't call on me. What am I, a firstie?


 

Neville catches up to us after class. He looks miserable.

"Harry," he stutters. "Do you know what Professor Snape just told me?"

"What?" Ron jumps in, "I saw you stayed after class. What happened?"

"He s-said," Neville takes a deep, shaky breath. "He said that if I have to be this abysmal in Potions, the least I can do is do what Harry does to improve." My jaw drops as Neville continues, "Cause it's working apparently. Harry, what exactly did you do today in class? Apparently he liked it. C-can I sit by you the next time around?"

I can't explain it. Snape liked my work? He didn't even see my work. Even Hermione looks stunned. I give Neville a friendly nod as he drops his shoulders and hurries on ahead. Ron speaks first, "Bloody hell, Harry, what did you do to Snape during detention? I've never seen anything like this happen at Hogwarts! He took points. From Malfoy! And now he's singing your praises?"

I have no idea how to respond to that. I'm just as shocked. But Seamus is happy to fill in the silence, as he passes by and leans over to join our group, "Psst. I know exactly what Harry did. He's the next great Potions Master, he is. Snuck a love potion into Snape's stew and got away with it. You all saw him. Must be that house-elf of yours, Dobby, is it, that helped out a bit?"

I come to a stop, as quickly as if Seamus threw a punch. But before I can gather my thoughts, Seamus runs off. My friends trade awkward glares. Ron seethes, even his cheeks turn red, and he spits out, "If I hear Finnigan say anything like that ever again, he'll be sorry he ever opened his mouth." He lunges after Seamus but I catch his sleeve in time.

"Ron, wait," I breathe. "I can explain."

"What's to explain!" Ron yells, trying to break free.

"We need to talk," I tell him, and can't bring myself to look him in the eyes. I have to tell him. "Let's go somewhere quiet."

Hermione and Ron nod. There are no more lessons today so, completely justified, we head out to the lake, where they found a nice quiet spot, shielded by the trees, and thus out of the view of the main castle, and blocked by some huge set of rocks to boot, in case anyone happens to go by. The footpath ends just before the rocks, so as we finish that short climb, it seems we're all alone in the wilderness.

The intimacy of the small cove makes what I'm about to tell them easier, a bit. Maybe they've been here before, making out, I think absentmindedly, sitting down on the mossy warm boulder. My friends settle right beside me and wait patiently for me to start.

I shake my head, close my breath and let out on a single breath, "Remember how you found me that day in the Astronomy Tower and didn't really pry about what was wrong? I didn't tell you then, but it was about Seamus."

It's suspiciously silent. I look up at them, ready for two shocked stares, maybe, even disgust. But they're both smiling. Ron's is sympathetic, and Hermione's a bit smug. She pushes her sunlit brown hair back and says affectionately, "Harry, we know."

Oh god. "How?"

"We've known you what, six years already?" Ron cuts in, "And you still can't figure out that we care and worry about you? Come on, I bet you know all sorts of things about us that we didn't have to tell you, 'cause they're that obvious."

"Like what?"

"Like what Ron and I are planning to do after school's over," Hermione offers.

"Likely get married as soon as your parents agree to it," I mumble.

From the helpless look on Ron's face, now we're even for all they've put me through.

"Wait," he stammers, blushing up to the roots. "How'd you know?"

And then I feel calm at last. Even the headache that kept bothering me lifts.

"I'm your friend, Ron. And I care and I worry about you," I fire back.

Hermione giggles.

"OK, but," she asks, her tone somber again, "What happened this morning? Ron tells me you were late to breakfast because of Seamus." I nod. "And now he's spreading rumours? I'm sorry if it's none of my business but… have you had a fight?"

I look at her and it's so easy to see that she's a good friend, a caring one, and it's hard to be mad at anyone prying if they care.

"We didn't fight, not really," I tell her in an even tone. "I just don't want to go along with whatever it is he wants me to do. Well, it's too late now, but there was a time when it mattered a lot, like a whole lot. Like. I'd've probably frozen to death in the Astronomy Tower had you not…" I anchor my elbows against my knees and put my hands together and have to put my head down, my knuckles pressing against forehead.

"Bloody hell," Ron explodes, "Cruciatus is too good for that monster."

I laugh softly. "Let's not. I just don't want to hear any more of his propositions. Or any of it."

Hermione tries to keep calm, but I can hear how uneasy her voice is. "What does he want from you now? It's been weeks, and I'm guessing you've not had a chance to sort things out since. Intimately, I mean," she adds, and doesn't even stammer or blush. Looks like she isn't really bothered all that much by me being queer.

Damn. Actually she's always took the effort to show me she's not bothered. And still, I was afraid she would be. Hey, I can ask her all sorts of questions, even about sex, and she wouldn't even mind. Best not let Ron overhear though. Ha! Can't imagine him sitting through one of Hermione's gay sex lectures from start to finish, that would be just awkward.

"I don't know what Seamus wants from me," I tell them the truth. "I don't understand it myself. We had nothing to do with each other for two whole months, and now he's trying to act like nothing's happened."

"And you don't want that," she clarifies.

Do I? I think about it before putting it to words. "Not sure. I just remember how he strung me along and dropped me at every convenient turn."

Just great. Now I get to spill my guts out. They'll get to hear all about me running after Seamus. I try to hold off but I can't. I just can't. I've kept it to myself for so long, I have to tell someone.

"I don't want Seamus thinking I'm at his beck and call," I spit out. And maybe I'm only focusing on the past few days, trying to avoid that one talk with Seamus which we never got to have.

"Are you trying to get even?" Hermione bites her cheek, as she always does during exams.

I pause for a long time, then shrug. It's not getting even. I don't want that. I just want us to be on equal terms for once. And if I give into what he wants again, I'll just be miserable. He's good at making me miserable already and I don't want to encourage any more of it.

Ron stares off into the lake, sullen and silent. It ripples lightly. Somewhere further in, the Squid must be swimming through its thawing depths.

"He still deserves a good honest thrashing," Ron grumbles, and I can see his lips forming a silent curse. He doesn't say it aloud, not with Hermione around, I guess.

Hermione's silent too, and when she speaks next, she doesn't sound too happy about things either. "Harry, I may be wrong, but I maybe Seamus thinks you're trying to get even over something that happened between you both. He probably doesn't even know he hurt you, and he's frustrated. Once you told him to back off - and did you actually have a talk about that? - he probably won't leave you alone. I remember how he chased after Parvati when she started dating that Ravenclaw."

"Whoa!" Ron turns to her. "What Ravenclaw?"

Hermione shows him the tip of her tongue. "Curiosity killed the cat, Ron."

"But he dumped her first!" I protest. "This makes no sense."

"Hmph. It makes perfect sense. Parvati dared to replace the memory of Seamus by spending time with another guy. He'd been stalking her until Gilbert stepped in, and - what did you call it, Ron? - gave him a 'good honest thrashing'."

"Whoa!" Ron exclaims, far too excited, "I had no idea you spoke 'normal', Hermione."

"Don't even start this with me," she warns. "Anyway, Harry, if, or when you start seeing anyone again, Ron will likely have to have a talk with Seamus. Just so he doesn't spread any terrible rumours."

"Seeing who?" Really. Who? I pause for emphasis. "I've got no one. There's no one in the entire castle who's like me."

"Nonsense!" Hermione interrupts, rising to her feet and arranging her robes. "Of course you'll find someone. And you'll go on dates, and you'll fall in love, and it'll be true and real." How easy does she make it sound. Wow, I wish I was as optimistic as her.

"You know, that's what I don't get," Ron adds, "Why would Finnigan pick Snape, of all people, for his prank?"

"Who knows," Hermione cries out, "Because he's a complete and utter imbecile? In any case, we really must get back, it's time for dinner."

We follow her back onto the path leading back to the castle, and I must say, I've learned two more new things today.

Seamus isn't likely to leave me alone. Ha, we'll see. At least I'm not alone, I've got friends and they're on my side. That makes it all so much better.

Hermione's far too optimistic about love. I'm not about to find any of that at Hogwarts, that's for sure.

Not any more at least, that is. No, not ever.

Because what I and Seamus had was never about love. I don't want to remember him when I think of love, ever. We wanked together. And that's it.

What's more important to think about right now, is, first, those fifty points that mysteriously re-appeared overnight. And second, how did Snape ever know my work was good if he didn't even see it up close?

Why am I interested in Snape? No, that can't be right. I'm studying him. That's better. I'm really bored and I've got to put up with him for… well.

I chuckle to myself.

Eight more cabinets to go.


 

"You may begin."

Snape doesn't even turn my way and besides that one phrase, doesn't even act like he noticed I showed up. I shuffle from one foot to the other, not quite ready to pass by his desk. I really don't want to be in the range of his vision when he does decide to pin me with his stare.

I take a few steps forward and freeze, like an complete idiot. What's with me today?

I keep looking around the classroom, until I find the clock. It takes a few moments for me to realize why this is all so awkward. Now I get it. The minute hand is not pointing straight up yet. It's stuck between ten and eleven.

I'm here early.

I'm early by enough time to make up for yesterday. Damn. I didn't mean to, I really didn't. At least he isn't holding a chronometer on me this time.

I bite my lip and hurry on over to the third cabinet. At the very least, I am pretty sure Snape isn't going to complain about me showing up ahead of time. The sooner I start, the more rubbish he has to burn later, right?

I cast the familiar spell and the cabinet doors spring open. I give the bat-light a friendly wink, as if it was a living pet. At least I've got something friendly here, in Snape's domain.

I pull up the bench and climb up on it, a move that's already become familiar in so little time.

Snape's marking a huge pile of papers, and I suspect, is quite happy to ignore me completely. That leaves me with the extra spring in my step, besides, I've moved my bench so close up to the shelves, you can't even see me behind the wooden frame. So, almost invisible, I can actually feel myself relax, and what am I even thinking, being stressed to begin with. There's no reason to be afraid of Snape, none whatsoever. And I'm not stressing at all what he might be up to. No, not stressing. Merely not interested.

So why am I so nervous?

It's either that Snape's classroom follows its own rules of time and space, or, more likely, the cleanup routine, what with its books and papers and all the stray bits and bobs, takes my mind off things when I put my hands to work. I don't feel tired at all. Then again, I sleep like the dead, right after. But here it's all pretty easy, I just go with the flow.

A few times, I stop myself from muttering my thoughts aloud, it's an old habit, left over from my time in the cupboard under the stairs, and it's hard to shake. It's lucky that the Hogwarts corridors are pretty empty at night, when I roam through them with my cloak on. Or people would get such a fright for sure, if they'd heard me mumbling, while seeing no one around, not even a ghost.

Even now I have to bite my cheek once in awhile, to stay quiet, since I'm not the only one in the room. At first, I'm nervous knowing that Snape's right there. I'm still waiting for him to unleash all that punishment he promised me when he caught me with Malfoy.

Oh what wouldn't I give to find out what happened to those fifty points taken from Gryffindor and mysteriously moved right back to the top half of our giant hourglass!

But where do I even begin asking him that? So instead I just shrug now and then, letting my thoughts roll along, and hmph quietly. I've got plenty to think about without worrying about Snape.

After awhile I drag the bench over to the table it belongs with. Wow, that's actually Malfoy's table, I realize with a vengeful cackle. No reason to clean my dusty boot prints off the bench now, who cares if they stick out like a sore thumb? The cabinet I've been cleaning out was full of papery dust, and if Malfoy isn't careful, which he likely won't be, the dust will end up all over his fine robes as he plants his arse here next.

Having returned the bench back, I stretch out with a sense of accomplishment, and suddenly, for a second, all goes dark. I must've overdid it carrying such a heavy thing all the way over here, trying to avoid dragging it and making too much noise. My head spins suddenly, and I grab onto the corner of the table, so I don't send myself tumbling backwards, but then my back meets something very solid. I turn around, bewildered, and jump in complete surprise. Snape's right behind me. When did he even have a chance to get near me? And why? Suddenly, he steadies me by pressing his palm flat between my shoulderblades.

Snape pulls his hand back as soon as I stand up straight. He steps back and stares right through me, with his usual contempt.

I lick my lips, nervously. "Thank you, sir." What else am I supposed to say to him?

Thin mouth twitches, forming a familiar unfriendly smirk. "You're covered with dust. I'd rather not get my robes dirty."

What the hell am I thinking? I match his smirk and meet his eyes with some sort of a dare. "Thank you anyway. You caught me from falling actually."

"Weak in the knees, are you?" Snape inquires sarcastically, checking over the half-cleaned cabinet number four behind my back. Apparently he's pleased with the results, because his face isn't quite as sour as usual.

I realise I'm staring and lower my gaze. My curiosity is really going to get me in trouble one day, but I can't help it. I can't figure him out. I can't even tell if he's going to kill me on the spot or actually answer anything I ask him. Well, considering I've been here, I glance at the clock, for the two whole hours and survived to tell the tale, maybe I'm going to get out of it alive after all.

"Sir…" I consider my next words carefully. "May I ask you something?"

Snape pins me with his stare until I look away. No. That's likely not going to work at all. I sigh, admitting the utter impossibility of holding a conversation with the man. If he isn't snarling at me, then I'm snapping back at him. That's how it always was. I can't possibly be calm around him to discuss a thing. It's been this way for years. Who knows, maybe no one in the entire world can hold a decent conversation with Snape, except maybe Headmaster Dumbledore.

"Something tells me," he drawls, "that, just as Mister Malfoy, you are curious about what happened to that inexcusably small handful of points which I was forced to take from Gryffindor for your repulsive behaviour."

I don't answer so he continues. "Well?"

I nod with unease. Snape obviously reads minds just for fun, and I hate that. Especially when it's my mind he's reading.

"Had you half a brain left, you'd see that I had nothing to do with restoring the points to your wretched House! Trust me, if it was ever up to me, they would still be missing!"

I stare at him, in disgust. I can't even explain what's making me more angry at him, his smug confidence, his arrogance, or his habit of insulting Gryffindor right and left, It's really hard to keep myself from hitting him. It's a senseless, stupid need and I gather up all my will to stay still. Malfoy may have gotten away with a sprained wrist, but Snape, no, with Snape I'd go right for the nose.

"So, who else would-" I ask, through clenched teeth but he stops me mid-sentence.

"Silence! Unless you want to spend the rest of your school year in detention. Trust me, I have more than enough reasons. Your behavior last evening alone proves my point. All insolence and no common sense. Somebody ought to teach you a lesson."

I clench my teeth so loudly, even he must hear that. So now he's going to hold my encounter with Malfoy over my head for as long as he can. And I can't do a thing about it.

Why did he even stay sitting around here watching me work? I hate having him around. I remember now just why I never tried talking to him in the first place, and likely won't ever try again.

Snape turns and heads for the door. At the doorway he glances back and adds icily "You have thirty more minutes of detention left. After that, I do not want to see a glimpse of you until tomorrow."

Go to hell, I think, standing helplessly and staring at the door as it closes. I drag myself over to the cabinets. He's ruined my whole day.

After all of that, the classroom suddenly seems very, very empty. Thirty minutes later I stop what I was doing and leave, slamming the door shut behind me.

I sleep soundly that night, just as before.

Chapter Text

The next two days pass without any incident. Seamus keeps giving me all those sulky stares, he can almost compete with Malfoy. Malfoy himself only scowls, when he runs into me in the corridors.

If you don't count that I still have to show up in the dungeons every bloody evening, all is relatively normal. Except maybe one thing: instead of calling Snape a greasy git and moving on with my life, like I did for years, I am actually wondering why he does what he does.

Yeah, it's unusual for me. I wasn’t used to lying to myself before, so it's probably too late to get any good at it. I'm actually worried about detention. I'm worried about Snape.

I'm worried about his absences. Yesterday and today, he'd stayed for fifteen minutes after I showed up for detention, then left without even scolding me. I'd turn a deaf ear when it comes to him picking on me, but it's impossible to ignore an empty Potions classroom. It's so silent, it seemed abandoned.

When Snape comes to release me from detention, it's always "that's enough for today," with a brisk wave of his hand towards the door, and that's it. His words are so sudden they make me jump. Maybe 'cause it's not really peace and quiet when a bloke cloaked in black hovers over you.

It's annoying, that's what it is.

Oh, what am I even thinking? I scold myself later, as I climb into bed. I was dropping things right and left in Potions class, tense all over, when Snape was around. And now he goes missing for once and that's disturbing? Not even often enough to make a habit of it. I should be happy that my pleas are answered and he stopped that infuriating hovering behind my back. And that leads me to the thought of a steady hand between my shoulder blades. The hand that had stopped me from falling when I was so lightheaded. Snape had come over to check my work. And then "I'd rather not get my robes dirty," he’d said.

Bastard. He could've stepped aside like a normal person, but he had to help me, just to humiliate me right there and then. It's no surprise I was all dusty. He must know that his storage is a huge mess.

Life's full of better things, and none of them are about Snape. So why am I so annoyed at the thought that if I go down to the dungeons today, he'll disappear in fifteen minutes flat? Annoyed and maybe a bit worried.

There's nothing going on, I try to assure myself, even though it doesn't work. Snape just makes me nervous, like always, ruining my every evening to the point that, even as I leave detention, I can't get him out of my mind. That's gotta be it.


 

I nearly manage to persuade myself that there is nothing going on with Snape, when Headmaster Dumbledore calls me to his office. It's six in the evening and I have no idea what he would need me for. I have a bad feeling about it, as I give the gargoyle the password from the note that Hedwig brought me. Today it's just 'lemon drops' even though he's usually better at picking something complicated.

The spiral staircase spins, taking me to the platform with the closed door, which slowly swings open. My arrival is expected. I take a determined gulp and step in.

The Headmaster gives me a friendly smile and offers tea. I wish him a good evening and wait for him to tell me what's going on. I've learned not to feel at home in the Headmaster's office. Who knows what kind of news he'll throw at me next.

This time, I'm worried for nothing. The Headmaster just asks me about my dreams, like he did three months ago. He regularly checks if something's bothering me, or if my scar's been hurting, or if I had any visions.

Sometimes, after all that questioning, I feel like a complete lunatic on a rare good day. The kind everyone treats kindly, but keeps a close eye on anyway. I'll never tell anyone about it, of course. Headmaster Dumbledore would likely be offended, and Ron and Hermione, well, they've got enough on their hands knowing I'm queer. Besides, being friends with The Boy Who Lived (to become a murderer one day) can't be easy. Sometimes I think I'd give anything for a spell that would let me hide my scar for a while, to blend into the crowd, to be normal, at least on the outside. But it seems my mark is here to stay. I haven't found such a spell yet.

I tell Headmaster Dumbledore that I've had no dreams. Nothing related to Voldemort at least. To be honest, I don't remember having any dreams lately. Not even the wet sort. I just go to sleep and wake up energised.

I can't explain it, considering that I was used to roaming around before bed, hiding under the Invisibility Cloak, but lately all my evenings are spent in the stuffy dungeon. Well, the lack of air is not really the issue, but it's no walk in the park, that's for sure. I should be having more migraines, but instead I feel good.

After the second cup of tea with the Headmaster, at least his tea service is as miniature as it gets, I hesitate for a while, then make myself ask: "Sir, so how are things outside Hogwarts? I mean, it's been almost a year, and we've heard nothing from Voldemort yet."

I know about the countless attacks on Muggles, they’ve gotten worse over the past three months. I also know about a few more serious skirmishes, the kind even the Ministry couldn't cover up, and they made it into the papers. But all of that pales in comparison to the real war we've been expecting, which would start as soon as Voldemort attacks.

There's a saying that whoever starts a conflict will likely lose it. I never thought that's true, for as long as I’ve studied the History of Magic. But Dumbledore made the decision that we must watch, and wait for things to develop, like a slow forest fire, let it spread wider and wider, without making the first move.

"Sir." He's not answering me and I try not to lose my temper. The Headmaster is someone I admire. He's great at strategy. But since he'd told me the prophecy, 'neither can live while the other survives', at the end of my Fifth Year, I'm sick and tired of half-truths. I'm either dead or a murderer. It may be enough for the rest of the school, or the rest of the world for that matter, but I can't stand not knowing.

I don't know what brings on this red-hot wave, so much like anger, but I continue staring at the surface of Headmaster Dumbledore's desk as he rests his hands on it, and feel the tips of my ears turning warm.

"The world is... " The Headmaster says after a long pause, "on the brink of the Third World War. The Muggle governments cannot make sense of the diplomatic tension and the social unrest across all of Europe. People are openly revolting against the way things are. Too many in charge have lost power, and were forced to resign. Harry, I do not want to trouble you with all of the details, but I must tell you this: we all know who is behind it, who is spreading chaos for his own gain."

I nod, in shock. After such a blunt reply, I'm not sure I want to know more. We're safe behind Hogwarts walls, protected by the magic that has seeped into its very foundations, under the Wizengamot's protection. We can afford not knowing. We can afford staying calm. I'd be surprised if any of the Professors knew what's happening on the outside. Not just in the Wizarding world, but the Muggle one too, outside Britain, all over this planet. Blood is spilt, and people die. And I'm the only one who can try and stop it. Stop him.

I must destroy him.

A chill rushes through me. I fold my arms over my chest, dig my nails into my forearms, trying to ward it off. Headmaster Dumbledore regards me with concern. He doesn't speak, and I'm thankful for that, almost. I want to hear something hopeful, something encouraging. I want to hear him say that all this waiting for the world to fall apart is not happening just because I, The Boy Who Lived, his best weapon against Voldemort, am not ready to take my exams and haven't learned enough duelling spells yet.

"Sir," I ask, trying my damnedest to sound upbeat, "what is the Wizarding World doing to stop the war?"

"Many things, my boy," the Headmaster answers calmly. "But first of all, we mustn't panic."

"Is covering it all up really the best we can do?" I don't mean to ask it, but I do anyway, and I really tried to hold my tongue. It's important to ask that, isn't it? I'll be a part of the war sooner or later and I can afford to be rude about it.

"It's not," Dumbledore rises and steps to the window, looking off into the distance. "But it's not the worst thing either. All the Professors here are aware of what's going on. We're making sure that the students are ready as well, but we can't afford to rush into things. To act on an impulse. You already know, my boy," he draws a breath and keeps staring at the jagged ribbon of the Forbidden Forest, as the sun sets over it. "What you might be forced to do. However, there's a good possibility that I might be alongside you then, and I will do everything in my power to prevent you facing Tom Riddle alone. You are too young to - you'll always be too young. None of us are ever old enough to kill."

I know he's sparing me the worst, trying to raise my spirits, but I can't help it. It's no use. I don't really have a choice, but I'm glad he at least attempted this one white lie. I am too tired to wonder about the contradiction. Minutes ago, I was furious at him for not telling me a thing, and now I want to undo it and not ask at all.

I get up from my chair and straighten out my shoulders with a significant effort. At least I didn't learn anything new about myself this time, and I can't do anything about what I've learned right now anyway. I mustn't think about it, not until the time comes. This isn't the time yet.

The carpet muffles my footsteps as I walk around, looking at the various portraits on the walls, at the open birdcage with Fawkes inside, and at the tall shelves, with the sunset caught in the glass. They look just like Snape's cabinets, maybe even the same type and make, assembled by the same hand.

I come up to one of them and peer over the thick tomes sitting on the shelves. The contents are perfectly clean, not a single thing out of place. The books are all in order and beneath, on the bottom shelf, is some scrap of parchment, on top of the volumes.

For a second, I stare at it blankly, but then, forgetting all about Headmaster Dumbledore, I pull the door to the cabinet wide open. It's not locked. It squeaks a bit in protest as I pry it open but I pay it no mind. Dumbledore must be wondering what I'm doing to his things, but that doesn't matter either.

I look down at the parchment in my hands. And here it is. The Marauders' Map.

For a second, all time stands still. The fine enchanted lines weave together and scatter apart all over the parchment. Numerous dots, students and teachers, move along the passageways and the hallways. The map is still lit up, just like the last time I saw it, when I must've dropped it during my nighttime stroll.

Blood rushes to my ears and I hear it thud dully. I glance at the lower left corner of the parchment. The dungeons. The Potions classroom. Snape. His dot isn't moving, he must be sitting at his desk.

I bite my lip. Snape didn't have the map after all. But then, how did he even know I was in the Astronomy Tower? How?

"Harry?" I lift my head with a shake, looking up at Headmaster Dumbledore beside me. I've raided his stuff without asking for permission.

"I'm sorry," I tell him, as fast as I can. I have so many questions, but I mustn't ask. I just want to leave, to be left alone, somewhere where these watery eyes aren't watching my every move.

I need to think.

"No harm done." I swear that Headmaster Dumbledore is surprised, but his face is the same good-natured mask. "I know that this map once belonged to your father, and his friends. I know that you've had it for a long time. I can only guess that you didn't expect to find it here like this. I'm sorry to say it, but I cannot allow you to keep it. We both know how much harm it might cause should it fall into the wrong hands."

I nod instinctively, going along with his every word, even if I do want to snort at that last warning. And here I thought it was in the 'wrong hands' for the past few months! I don't understand it.

I hate that I can't understand it.

"Sir," I interrupt, "How long have you had this?"

"Professor McGonagall found it one evening near the Statue of the One-eyed Witch. It was after curfew, back in autumn, as I recall," he answers while watching me. I expect he'll have questions.

I rub my scar and pretend I've got a migraine coming on. After it's been discovered that I'm linked to Voldemort, my migraines aren't anything new, and everyone's sympathetic. And to think, before all of that happened, Seamus kept on teasing: "I don't get how your head would hurt at all, it's all bone, innit?"

Thankfully Dumbledore goes along with it. He lifts his hand to my forehead and I freeze for a second, worried he'll call my bluff, but he just says with a soft sigh: "Well, I think this is enough for one day. I want you to get some fresh air before your detention with Professor Snape." Of course, this is the Headmaster, he's bound to know about that. "Unless you would like a third cuppa?"

I shake my head and try my best to look miserable.

"You might want to go see Madam Pomfrey," he advises, concluding our conversation, "She'll have a pain-relieving potion on hand."

"Of course, sir," I tell him, and head for the door. I try not to rush it, or Dumbledore would think I'm running away, but still, I'm in a real hurry. As I close the door behind me, he calls out: "Harry, how are you getting along with Professor Snape?"

"He's horrible!" I spit the first thing that comes to mind. Well, at least I'm honest. Maybe even a bit too much. Dumbledore sighs, but then gives a small smile and wishes me good evening.

In the corridor at last, I check the time: seven twenty-five. Whew. I have to be in the dungeons in half an hour. I can't imagine how I'm going to manage to stay calm through all of it.

I can't keep showing that greasy git just how much I'm bothered by him.

Obviously, I skip the trip to the infirmary, but a twenty-minute walk through the castle grounds does help to calm me down. As I descend the staircase into the dungeons, I keep on thinking to myself: please, for Merlin's sake, let me not do or say anything completely mental this time.

I kick the stone wall. Ow. I should've known all along who had the map. It's not like I expected to find it lying around Snape's office or anything, and I didn't even think of how I was going to get it back if I did. But there was a dim hope that it was there. How else would he know where I was that day and be able tell Ron and Hermione where to find me?

But the Headmaster has it. He must've been watching my every move. I'm worried sometimes about all the extra freedom I'm allowed. Dumbledore likely knows all about my nighttime wanderings, which obviously ended the day I was given detention with Snape. I've got no energy left to go anywhere after Snape's through with me. Or maybe I am worn out just enough to have a peaceful night's sleep afterwards.

A good night's sleep after toiling away at Snape's beck and call, I add inwardly. OK, enough of that. I've got too much on my mind to try and dig all of that up again. I'm already confused.

I don't have much time to figure things out anyway. There are eleven cabinets assigned to me, one of them is off-limits, and I managed to clean seven so far. The mess on the shelves is reigned in bit by bit the more ground I cover. So I'll manage to get the rest done in two nights' worth of work, that's including today. Snape allocated ten days, but I'll definitely exceed expectations, since this is only my sixth evening with him.

What if I'm late again?

I enter his classroom, after knocking, but not waiting for that icy "Yes?" that he usually spits out when he's needlessly disturbed. Snape is behind his desk, scribbling something on a curling piece of parchment. His quill seems to hover over it in a straight line, but I've seen enough of his handwriting to know it only seems that way. He's writing rapidly and for a moment I am even curious to know what it is. Surely it isn't some unlucky sod's homework.

It must be a letter.

"Proceed," he snaps, without even looking at me, without so much as a nodded 'hello'. Well, I'm on time at least, so he must know exactly who I am without bothering to turn and check.

How odd. When did I start thinking about Snape with some strange form of humour instead of my usual seething? Huh.

Spring. Love is in the air.

He keeps on writing just as I open the next cabinet. The usual spell is an instinctive scribble by now, I don't even think about it. The heavy glass doors swing open and I think I notice a stare thrown at me. I turn quickly, to catch him at it, but no, I'm wrong. Snape didn't even move and his head is bent so low, he can't possibly see me without lifting it.

Every time I try to guess what he's going to do, I'm wrong.

I cough in disappointment and keep out of his field of view. It's easier to stay in the shadows, behind the wooden part of the doors, where we both can't see each other.

It's good that the cabinets are so huge, twice the width and the depth of any other cabinet, to suit the classroom. I poke the cool glass with my finger. Once I'd been afraid of their fragility, that a stray elbow jammed through the door could send the whole icy mess crashing down, beyond even magical repair. Now I know that it's quartz, magically spliced into the wood. You can shoot any spell at it and it won't leave a scratch. The watery surface reflects my face and I turn as soon as I realise just how intently I've been watching something. Curiosity did kill the cat, probably plenty of them. I don't want to end up like that.

Half an hour passes. I've already moved onto the other bench, this one seems to be Parkinson's, and cleared out three more shelves. Funny how the cabinets are all on the Slytherin side of the classroom. Good, I don't plan to clean my boot prints off this bench either.

I don't want to rush today. Am I really stretching out these detentions? No, it must be the fact that Snape's here that makes things that much more awkward. Why did I ever think the classroom was so empty without him in it? Now he is here, and it's making me clumsy, and it's infuriating, that's what it is! Especially considering that I still have no clue how he knew that I was…

Enough, I chide myself. It's not like I'll ever find out. Or even if I do, what's the point? What do I even care that Snape knows about the Astronomy Tower? What will it change?

I'd be wondering about the reappearing points instead.

Grr. And to think, I was perfectly calm just a few hours ago!

During the day, I worry about Snape going missing. Now, I'm mad he's around. Ugh, what is wrong with me?

"Potter." Right behind me.

I startle and nearly tumble off the bench right onto the floor. How did he sneak up on me without making a sound? Could be worse, I could've fallen off and broken his neck, with my dusty robe and all. Could've fallen right into his clutches. Wonder if he'd actually drop me ‘cause he doesn't want to get his hands dirty. OK, enough! I'm a complete idiot, but I'll deal with that later.

It's time to jump off and give Snape a semi-daring look. "Yes, sir?"

He's looking strange. I am used to him being so focused, but now even that is amplified. He practically oozes tension. His sallow face has sharper angles than usual with those teeth clenched. His fingers clutch the sealed parchment in a frantic grip.

"You are to keep working until half past ten," he says, staring right through me at the cabinet. "Tomorrow, you will arrive and start your work, regardless of my presence or my absence. The door is charmed to unlock at eight, so don't be late. If you ever think about running off early, consider that Tracking spells exist. So don't get any ideas, or I will know about them. Is this clear?"

I nod, and can't stop looking at that one furrow of his brow. A mission for the Order, has to be, runs through my head. And I'm stuck here unable to do anything worthwhile besides sorting through the trash from several generations of students. I belong out there, on the frontlines!

"Potter." His voice brings me back out of my reverie and I startle. "Don't you have work to do?"

I'm staring at him again, I realise. I feel my cheeks grow hot. Snape sees it, of course, and can't help but comment: "Do I have something on my face? Instructions for an imbecile perhaps?"

I fight the unexpected smile. I never heard anything even remotely funny from Snape before. It must be that difficult conversation with Dumbledore, or the fact that he's going on a mission for the Order, I don't know how to explain it, but I know he's loyal to us.

I can almost feel the soft parchment of the Marauder's map in my hand again.

I know nothing about him. Have I ever considered it as clearly as right now? I hated him, absolutely despised him, shouted him down in my nightmares, swore to get even for making me see the not-so-heroic side of my dad, and of Sirius. I swore to kill him like the traitor he was. Foul bastard with his greasy hair and his forbidding sneer. My personal enemy. My tormentor.

I never understood him, but why am I only grasping the truth of it now? I have no use for it, no reason to.

With a shake of my head, on a single breath, I ask: "Will you be gone long, sir?"

Snape's surprised slightly. His eyebrow twitches: "What, are you planning to throw a farewell party? It's none of your business."

"Yes, but when are you coming back?" I'm shocked I find the bravery to ask. Now please don't kill me.

"I'll examine your work tomorrow night," he says with a strain in his voice. "It's in your best interest to keep your speculations regarding my absence to yourself." I blink and he clarifies. "You're an open book, Potter. Speaking of, I would not voice that next thought if I were you," And then Snape's index finger suddenly presses right against my parted lips, in a universal gesture. Hush!

I nod and he pulls back. In Slytherin territory, even the walls have ears.

Snape answers with a nod of his own, then gestures at the clock, hinting I must resume my task. I shuffle from one foot to another and watch as he strides toward the door. Obviously he isn't going to waste time saying farewell.

What's gotten into me? I follow him, follow fast, but I can't reach him in time, so I call out: "Professor!"

Snape comes to a stop in the doorway, just like I did today, in Headmaster Dumbledore's office. He's likely far too busy, or he is eager to leave, but he actually turns to me, his nostrils flaring with frustration.

"Good luck," I mouth at him. Don't let me be blushing. I can't believe I just wished Snape luck instead of wishing him dead!

Snape’s stare bores into me for a few seconds, and then, the door closes behind him.

I return to my open cabinet, letting my conscience do all the work of proving just how much of an idiot I am. I'm free to do so now, as I resume my cleaning and quiet questioning. I haven't got any answers and there are so many questions left.

The magic crackles behind me as I leave the classroom. I guess these doors will only open for me when I'm back tomorrow, so I leave them be and climb the stairs.


 

I wake up suddenly and stay still in the dark. It's been a while since I've been awoken like this. I've forgotten how the twilight takes over everything past the bed curtains, even in the warm spring night. I don't know what roused me, so I lift up, listening.

I've already grown unused to insomnia, that's quick, a thought strikes and when did I forget to pay attention to the dormitory? An audible moan breaks the silence. My lips twist in a smirk. Speaking of silence, someone forgot their Silencing Charms.

No, not someone. I know that moan. Seamus.

I'm all ears now, as I carefully lean back against the pillow, cursing myself for being so damn weak. I know the exact time in his routine when he fails to keep quiet, and then bites down on the corner of his blanket, with that rumble in his throat. His scent ghosts my nostrils, musk and come, the kind I once kept on my fingers just so I could lift my hand to my nose later and remember what we've done at night, together. Even if it wasn't really together at all.

That last thought washes over my heated face like a bucketful of melted ice. Did he forget the Silencing Charms on purpose, knowing he would wake me up? He'd known all about my sleeping problems a couple months back.

He's leading me on.

It won't work. It's not working right now. To my surprise, my heartbeat calms, and my hands, clenched into fists so I can't shove them under my sheets, relax. I'm still hard, who wouldn't be, hearing someone else's pleasure? But I won't be taking care of that. I don't want Seamus. Not anymore.

I turn to my side, ignoring the ragged breathing coming from the nearby bed, and slowly will myself back to sleep. A drowsy thought dawns: what exactly affected my self-control so much? I don't want to answer that. I sleep.

Chapter Text

The desperate scream of an alarm startles me out of my sleep. Someone's charmed it to hop away from my hand, avoiding capture. Three minutes later, I'm no closer to catching it, so I rise and draw back the bed curtains, wincing because of the sunlight in my eyes. The dormitory is empty. Not too odd, considering breakfast was served half an hour ago. Am I making up for all these months of insomnia? Still frustrated with myself for sleeping through anything, I get dressed and make myself presentable in a rush and hurry out the door.

Ron and Hermione greet me with matching smiles. Eggs and bacon are already cold, but the coffee is steamy, and I immediately gulp down my breakfast. I reach for the salt as Hermione says: "Oh, by the way, there is no Potions today. For some reason, we have Transfiguration on the schedule instead."

"Harry, did Snape choke on one of his own brews by any chance?" Ron pitches in from the side.

I chew on buttered toast and shake my head. Absolutely not. They wait for me to swallow as they stare expectantly. I arch my eyebrow, and pointedly look around the entire Great Hall. This is so not the place to talk about that! Hermione's mouth forms a small 'oh', and she starts studying some textbook with a dismissive sigh, moving her empty plate aside. Ron's still looking at me with that weird expression, enough to make me question if I've got crumbs all over, or something. But then he just snorts at me and waves his hand.

"Nevermind. Are you done yet?" I throw aside my napkin and leave the table. Hermione shoves her book in her bag and follows me out.

As we leave the Great Hall, she exclaims: "Harry, this is wonderful news! We haven't done anything together in ages!"

"Like homework!" Ron mocks her excited tone, and receives an elbow in the ribs for his trouble.

I snort, watching their usual bickering and intervene: "Yeah, but I still have detention tonight." Their faces turn sour. "Snape's got Tracking Charms on me, he'll know if I'm late. Besides, he's going to be back today."

"Wish he wasn't back at all," Ron answers me. "Wish he hadn't even been born! Dropping dead's too good for the likes of him."

A pang in my chest stops me in my tracks. I glance at Ron and see that his glee quickly turns into confusion. I exhale with a hiss and say softly, shakily. "Think of what you just said. For once. Just think."

Ron looks at us both in disgust, but it's obvious Hermione's on my side. He shrugs, clearly mad at us. "Idiots," he says. "Who'd ever miss that greasy git? It's Snape."

I don't know if I stopped myself from grimacing in time. I don't. I turn around and walk away, not really watching where I'm going. A hand on my shoulder stops me, I shrug it off angrily but it's Hermione and she runs in front of me and says, persistent as ever: "Wait!"

I try to push her out of my way, but she's stubborn. Ron hasn't followed us, as far as I can see. Good.

"Harry, he didn't mean it," Hermione says.

"Didn't 'mean' it..." I echo and realise, with a sense of dread, that my voice shakes. "Oh, he meant it, all right. Why don't you explain to him how the world works? Maybe you're clever enough and can get through his thick skull what dying actually means. He has no right to wish it, on anyone, even-" My throat seizes, but my eyes are dry.

After Sirius died, I've lost all ability to cry. At first I blamed Snape, then I blamed myself. I can't cry anymore, but I'm shaking.

"Ron hates Snape," Hermione tells me. She's pale as death after I've thrown her words back at her, but she's still determined.

"Who doesn't!" I cry out. "He can curse Snape at every turn for all I care. But it’s still no excuse for wishing someone dead! It's not a joke, or did you forget about Sirius?"

It's good that the corridor's empty. We're probably late for class, but it doesn't matter. Ron joins Hermione, his hands on her shoulders, and stares at me grimly. "Don't yell at her."

I give him a nasty smirk. "I wouldn't have to, if you'd just learned to shut up!"

We'd probably get into a fight any minute now, but Hermione steps between us. "Enough!" she hisses through her teeth, soft but persuasive. I still my hand, afraid that I'd hit her instead of Ron.

I pull back and, for a second, see everything as if from a distance. I picked a fight with Ron, again. And for what? As if I care about what happens to Snape. As if I really care. Ha! The world's gone absolutely bonkers.

Ron would likely agree, but he's not about to talk to me about it now. Though he does spit out something at least: "You haven't been yourself since your stupid detention. First you rush off like you have a date, and then you're impossible to deal with. If you like it so much, why don't you go cosy up to the Slytherins? A two-timing traitor like your precious Snape. You'll fit right in."

If I let myself answer him now, it would be with a punch. Ron casts me a searing look, but I pay him no mind. I look at Hermione. Her eyes are wet and she's breathing hard and fast and doesn't look down. I don't know what's right anymore. I reach for her hand and squeeze it lightly. "M'sorry," I tell her and then turn on my heels and flee down the corridor. I'll be missing Charms, but who cares.

I need space.

I don't want to see a single person for the rest of the day. Screw it all. I want to walk on over to the lake, climb over the rocks and perch on the same mossy boulder on which I aired my problems to Ron and Hermione. My face twists in a sour scowl as I think of it. Ron and I have not had a fight for a while now. Not a real one. Not since Fourth Year.

We rarely fight, but when we do, it's loud and we make up afterwards. I am not sure I'm ready for that today. And not just because of Snape.

If not Snape, then why?

Dammit, why can't I just go outside? It's spring out, a bright warm day, and I'd find all the answers if only I could sit and stare at the lake all afternoon. But today Transfiguration is scheduled instead of Potions. And Professor McGonagall shares a trait with Snape: ignore her and perish.

I sigh and settle on a compromise. Since Care of Magical Creatures is next, after Charms, I can go see Hagrid and wait with him until the class starts. He'll go along with it.

His door is ajar, I see it walking up to his hut. I climb the stairs and push in. "Hagrid?"

The hut is empty. Maybe he's preparing for his next class. I lower myself onto a chair, fighting my bad mood.

Of course it's not about Snape. It's about Ron, and about me, if anything. Ron's the same old Ron: mad about Quidditch, follows Hermione around like a pup. And I haven't been the same since Fifth Year. When I was ready to kill, and almost killed someone.

I still dream of screaming 'Crucio!' It's impossible to forget, like Bellatrix Lestrange's distorted face. I still remember how sweet that curse tasted then, every single syllable of it.

I've changed. I live from moment to moment, knowing that the current calm is just postponing the inevitable. I take in as much as I can, learn as much as I can, so I can use it later, make myself repeat the spell I'll need when all goes to shit.

I tried to like that, to enjoy it as much as I can, to see just how far I can take it.

All so I didn't have to think about that slow twist of Sirius' body and his soft smile as he fell through the Veil.

I hate seeing people die just as much I hate Voldemort, and I want that fucker dead, madly, desperately. I want him gone. And as much as I don't want to be the one to finish him off, I can't make anyone else do it in my place.

At least I know enough to admit that I want to enjoy my revenge. Hate binds us both together, Voldemort and me. Who knows, maybe that's what will end us too, as we both finish each other off.

I have no way to tell.

One thing's clear, I can't just stand there and watch Ron, who's seen the same things, the same deaths as I have, wish death on someone so casually. On someone who's not even the enemy. On someone who isn't actively working to kill us.

Life is not a toy, it's life. And wishing it gone is a curse in the truest sense. Bad omens or not, what if it does make something terrible happen, and then all that evil rebounds right back to the source?

It doesn't matter how we feel, or how I feel, about Snape. He's cynical and cruel and unbearably biased against our House, but still, he's on our side. I've come to terms with that already, it's nothing shocking. Time to move past personal apprehensions. We'll be fighting side by side in the war soon, so wishing Snape dead is as good as shooting a fellow soldier.

I find myself frowning, so hard it hurts. I touch my scar, smoothing out my furrowed brow, and can't stop thinking about Ron. I don't feel angry at him. I just feel regret.

That trip into the Department of Mysteries has changed me. We've never talked about it, but I'm pretty sure it has changed Hermione too. Ron didn't change though. He was so ready to die for his friends, but he still can't see past his nose. To be honest, I didn't want to scare Ron or Hermione with what I've learned from Headmaster Dumbledore. Besides, when would I have had the time?

So now Ron is going to think I've picked a fight for no reason. Or ‘cause I'm wishing Snape good fortune, Snape, whom I can't even look at without wanting to punch the bastard in that great big nose of his.

I see now why Ron looked at me funny during breakfast, when he asked what happened to Snape. I arched my eyebrow, just like Snape does sometimes. It's just an old habit, but probably didn't help matters, not with Ron seeing that…

He can't have thought... Oh no!

My own sudden laughter sounds so very hollow. Even he can't possibly think that I… that Snape...

Maybe he did. I don't know what to believe anymore. At first I thought he took the news of me being queer even better than Hermione. Now I'm not so sure. After all, Hermione's not the one losing her head over whom I might fancy.

For a long, terrifying moment, I wonder if Ron's 'cosy up to the Slytherins' had another meaning after all. I stare at the carved table top and then rest my head against my folded arms.

I don't get it. I really don't.

I've admitted it to myself before, just never voiced it. I always thought Ron and I was the one true thing that could stand up to anything. I don't want to lose that. I don't want to lose Ron. I must talk to him, explain to him that he's wrong about it all.

But how?

'Ron, it's wrong to want Snape dead.' He'd just say that Snape's an evil git hated by all, including half of his own House. If I even try to explain why I don't want to hear any of it, he'd give me that look and I don't know what I'd be forced to do next!

That'll be one way to ruin our friendship. It'd turn into meaningless banter in the Common Room. No more library trips, no more adventures under the Invisibility Cloak. No more heart-to-heart, no more comforting claps on the shoulder. He's like a brother to me, even though I‘ve never had one, and now…

I can't finish that thought.

I don't know what to do. I hate that I don't know. And I hate Snape: this is all his fault!

I get up, might as well walk up to the Forbidden Forest to find Hagrid. Sitting here and torturing myself is pointless. And on top of it all, I got Hermione involved in our personal fight. Might as well show up to the next class with a sign on my back saying: imbecile. Malfoy would laugh himself stupid.


 

I manage to reach the door of the hut when a sharp pain shoots through my skull. Everything goes white and loses focus. Without thinking, I curl in on myself and sink onto the floor. It's a miracle I didn't just fall down. As soon as my knees hit the floorboards, I know that this is no mere migraine.

My scar.

I've almost forgotten how that feels, the hot blade stabbing at my forehead again and again, my skin burning like it's been filed off. I lift my head and grit my teeth, waiting out the worst of it.

It hasn't been this bad in a long time, that alien feeling of someone invading my mind. But Voldemort's connected to me, and I to him, and this is the result.

At some point the pain lifts and I draw a shaky breath. It's good I'm not in the castle, too many prying eyes all around if I collapse in some corridor.

I have no way of telling when the new attack, tearing my mind in two, will start, but when it does, it dawns: he's distracting me.

He's using pain to get inside my mind. Why, I have no idea, but the last time it happened, I lost Sirius.

He wants my memories. Or he wants me. Again.

The thought of Sirius makes me open my eyes with a shout. I should not have done that. Now, besides my head throbbing, my eyes sting as well and I need to vomit. My scar is so raw, it feels as if it's about to burst open. Please let me pass out, so I won't give him anything, but as I struggle, I suddenly hear Parseltongue spreading through my brain.

"Harry Potter. How long has it been?"

"Fuck you," I counter with chilled lips. Something warm runs down my chin, I think I bit my lip and it's bleeding, but I'm too numb to really feel it.

"Manners," Voldemort chides. He's mocking me, I realise, chilled to the bone, with the impression that my insides are slowly pulled out, "I only need a little favour, Harry. Just a few insignificant details will do…"

I try to shake my head, but I can't. All I can do is groan in protest.

"In that case…"

He's lost patience. If this is his good side, I'm as good as dead. There’s no one to call for help. Headmaster Dumbledore is too far away. What can I possibly do against Voldemort? He'll reach into my thoughts, enter my mind and simply take all he is after. I can't fight him. I can't.

I scream.

An invisible hand turns over all of my thoughts and desires, checks memory after memory. If he finds what he's after, he'll hurt someone. And I can't do a thing about it, except writhe in pain.

A scorching wave of agony twists me inside out. I hit my head against the bricks in desperation.

"Free your mind! You are arming him against you. Free your mind, now!" Another voice. I don't understand, I just know it's all happening inside my head.

I don't even remember whom the voice belongs to. Something to do with a past memory, an unpleasant one. Doesn't matter. Nothing matters now against pure evil. I can't fight him.

I grit my teeth and try to put up a mental shield in Voldemort's path.

He detects it and laughs, if you could call that hissing sound laughter. "So brave. So pathetic."

For what comes next I have no words and no comparison. Somewhere deep inside I'm surprised that I'm not mad with pain and haven't dropped dead yet. With the last of my willpower, I hold up the mental shield to stop him from getting in. I'm sure there's no point, but even if so, I have to try and die fighting.

Apparently my resistance has some results, because the pain that burns through me gains a hint of something new. Almost impatient, if pain could have a flavour.

"Stubborn boy," hisses the disembodied, disgustingly-real voice, "Who taught you that? Dumbledore?"

Now I can definitely tell he's in a hurry.

"Until we meet again, Harry Potter. You'll give me what I want, one way or another."

I don't have the chance to grasp the meaning of that last phrase, because everything ends. The pain leaves my body so suddenly that I collapse against the wall of the hut. I am shaking with tremors. Hot tears run down the sides of my face. I break down with uncontrollable sobs, a delayed reaction to all I've been through.

And only then, I pass out.


 

I can't open my eyes. My eyelids are unbearably heavy and their inside feels like sand. I want to curse whoever's cruel prank it is, but my throat only lets out an inarticulate sound, something like a cry.

There's a rustle of robes at my side, and then Madam Pomfrey says: "He's awake, Headmaster."

Yeah, I am. And in the infirmary. Why?

I hear the quick footsteps approaching my bed and try again to open my eyes. It's so hard to figure things out by sound alone.

"Harry," says Headmaster Dumbledore and his sure, not at all elderly, hand grips mine. "At last, you're awake."

I am. I'm trying to think why I might be here. I got in a fight with Ron, then went to find Hagrid before his class, right after Charms, which I missed. I went into his hut, sat there alone for awhile, then went to find Hagrid 'cause I needed someone to talk to…

The memory surfaces, heavy as cast-iron. Of course I'm in the infirmary. A wet cloth spreads over my forehead, and I have a bitter taste in my mouth from some remedy. What's wrong with my eyes?

"Headmaster Dumbledore," I try to speak, but there's only a hoarse croak, and I immediately choke up, doubling over in a coughing fit.

"Hush, Harry," I hear Madam Pomfrey and the rim of a glass touches my lips. It smells of herbs, probably tastes bitter, but I don't care. I obediently part my lips and allow her to pour the thick brew into my mouth. My cough subsides and I try to speak again, more softly this time. "Sir, what's wrong with my eyes?" Somehow that's the most important thing now. I don't know how I can possibly live without being able to see.

"It's nothing to worry about, Harry," Professor Dumbledore says. "Just a healing bandage."

"What for?" I start coughing again and Madam Pomfrey tsks and asks me to stay silent, I think. I can't hear her well between the coughs. When that passes, perhaps the medicine has worked, she says, and I can practically see her thin lips moving: "You have broken blood vessels in both eyes, your vocal cords are significantly damaged, and that's nothing compared to the harm done to your face!"

"Enough, Poppy," the Headmaster stops her. "Calm down. Harry lives and he will be fine."

"'Fine'? He's far from fine!" she exclaims in indignation. "For Merlin's sake, what happened to him?"

"It's over now," Headmaster Dumbledore answers her and I can hear in his voice that he knows. He has to know.

"I need a few minutes with Harry," he says politely. Madam Pomfrey apparently does her best to resist but the Headmaster insists, with an even softer. "Please."

For a few seconds, there's only silence. Then, a heavy sigh of disapproval, and her fading footsteps. As soon as I hear the door shut, I try to sit up. I have to make sure that my eyes are OK.

I can barely lift my hands to the almost imperceptible elastic bandage over my eyes. Everything hurts, like I was on the receiving end of Voldemort's Cruciatus.

Professor Dumbledore nudges me back down, but I keep trying anyway.

"Harry," he tries to calm me, "Don't try to sit up. I promise you, you'll be able to see again. It will just take three or four hours for you to recover."

I give in with a sigh.

Silence.

"As I understand it," Professor Dumbledore says, "You've had an encounter with Tom."

I nod, not risking straining my throat again.

"I'm sorry to force you to speak, but I must know. What happened?" There's concern in his voice, and I try to give a small, reassuring smile. Just with a corner of my mouth, since my lower lip is all swollen.

"Nothing happened," I rasp. "Snape. It worked."

Professor Dumbledore is shocked into silence. Maybe he didn't understand what I was aiming for and I try to add something but he stops me before I do. "You've used Occlumency that Professor Snape taught you last year, didn't you?"

Ah, so he did understand. I nod again.

"You've told me that your lessons were of no use, that they did more harm than good," I hear surprise in his voice. If I wasn't feeling so terrible, I'd be surprised as well.

"Course," I agree, hearing myself so hoarse is odd. "Had nothing else to try. Didn't expect the attack."

Headmaster Dumbledore squeezes my hand.

"My dear boy," he says softly, but then his tone turns somber. "What did Tom learn while you were fighting him?"

I shake my head. "Dunno. Nothing? He wanted my memories." That takes me right back to the recent agony and I wince.

"You did very well," the Headmaster says slowly, as if I'd answered some question he had. "As I believed you would. Thank you."

What for? I want to tell him. As if I'd let anyone invade my thoughts without fighting back. But I have no strength left to speak. And so I only ask: "Sir, how'd you find me?"

Hagrid saw you after he came back from the Forbidden Forest. You were passed out on his floor. He brought you here and even wanted to cancel his lecture. We had to ask him and your friends to let you rest.

Oh. Ron and Hermione came to see me after all. Something warm spreads through my chest and I take a deep sigh. One more thing. "How long have I been here?"

"Not too long," I hear the cover of his pocket watch snap open. "It's nine p.m. Hagrid brought you here around ten this morning."

Not too long! Speaking of understatement. And why can't I remember anything in between?

"You took a while to come to your senses. Besides, we didn't want to interrupt your curative sleep," he answers a question I hadn’t even asked him. "I believe it's time for you to rest. Tomorrow, Madam Pomfrey and I will decide whether you're well enough to be released."

I hear a smile in his voice and try to smile back. It doesn't work all that well. I'm too tired. Nine o'clock already. Oh well, it's time for bed. I drift into a sleepy haze, sensing Professor Dumbledore's quiet presence by my side. I've missed detention. At least it's a good enough reason, so I won't be in trouble with Snape.

I stir and try to open my eyes again, forgetting all about the bandage. The dreamy haze lifts and with a chilling thought, I ask, already dreading the answer.

"So, Snape - Professor Snape… Is he back yet?"

A long silence follows. My heart beats eleven times until he answers: "No, Harry, he is not."

Chapter Text

I leave the infirmary the next day. Madam Pomfrey calls out after me, trying to keep me for a while longer. I don't care. I don't want to be stuck in bed, not on a warm morning, when I can smell the fresh leaves after last night's rain. Not when I am worrying about everything that can go wrong. No thanks!

I'm instructed to stay out of the direct sun and to keep the strain on my eyes to a minimum, so no note-taking, but I want to attend the lectures anyway.

"You only have one pair of eyes," she reminds me, taking off the bandages. I blink hard when the light hits them.

"Nox," Madam Pomfrey says and the room dims.

"Open your eyes, dear," she says, softer, and I relax and try to move my eyelids. Just a little bit, as I peer through my eyelashes, not risking opening my eyes further. It's unreasonable to be scared of going blind now, when I know I can see, but I can't help it. Losing my sight is a nightmare. If I can't see the enemy, how can I ever fight?

At last I push that fear aside and look at Madam Pomfrey, narrowing my eyes so I can keep everything in focus. Madam Pomfrey reaches out and pulls down my eyelids, examining them, then checks my face. It hurts, but not too badly.

"Very well, Mister Potter, you are free to go," she says with a dissatisfied tone, but I hear relief underneath it. I think she was prepared for the worst. Whew! It's good I didn't hear that tone yesterday, brr! I feel around for my glasses. She offers them to me.

"Thanks," I say and slide behind a small screen to change into my robes. When I come out, the room is empty. I glance at the bed and it's already been made. If not for the echoing pain in my body, you would think that nothing at all had happened.

If only that was true.

I sigh and head out of the infirmary, eager to leave it behind.

Ron and Hermione are waiting below and I'm surprised to see their worry, although they give me careless grins. Ron stares at me stiffly and I grab his hand, setting aside the memory of yesterday. He squeezes back, and holds it for a long while.

"Why aren't you in class?" I ask, when we take the turn toward Professor Sprout's greenhouses.

"We asked the Headmaster to tell us when you were out of the infirmary," Hermione says. "He sent Dobby. It was during History of Magic, so we left."

I am in shock. Hermione voluntarily left class? Ron, I can see, but Hermione? She catches my stare and huffs: "You said it yourself, Professor Binns is deathly boring!"

"Hermione, you skipped class?" I can't picture her doing it.

"We left so we could check on you right now instead of having to wait until dinnertime," says Ron. I suddenly feel very sorry for that stupid fight of ours yesterday. If I explain what's going on he'll surely understand. He has to!

We reach the greenhouses and sit down in the shade, on the age-darkened wooden bench, since I have to stay out of direct sunlight.

I know that Ron and Hermione expect some sort of an explanation, but I don't know where to start. I don't want to remember it. I can't not remember it.

Hermione slides her socked feet out of her shoes, pulls her knees to her chest and puts her joined hands over them.

"Harry," she starts, unsure, and I'm thankful to her for filling the silence. "We were supposed to have double Advanced Potions first thing today."

I can hear Ron's frantic breathing at my side but he doesn't cut in, so she continues softly, obviously afraid to be overheard, "We didn't have it. They've scheduled Arithmancy and Charms instead, just to keep us busy. Harry, have you heard anything? Is Snape back yet?"

Suddenly it's very hard to swallow, my throat is so dry. I shake my head. No.

I've spent half the night trying to go over what happened in Hagrid's hut, and the last time I saw Snape in his Potions classroom. I can't shake the terrible suspicion that the piece of parchment Snape had in his hands when I saw him last wasn't a letter at all, but his final will.

It can't be a mere coincidence that Voldemort decided to attack me now, and provided he did, things don't look good, at all.

Had it happened last year, I'd've thought that Snape betrayed the Order and Voldemort's visit is the actual evidence of that betrayal. After all, Riddle must have learned something from him, something to help him invade my mind when I'm awake and supposedly safe from his influence.

I can't think that now. It's more logical to assume that the link between Snape's disappearance and Voldemort showing up is of a different nature: that Voldemort tried to get something related to Snape out of me. Maybe even the evidence he needed to carry out the death sentence.

I shiver, folding my arms. Even in full sunlight, during the day, the idea of it is as frightening as ever.

Even Professor Dumbledore, along with the rest of the Order, always believed that Tom Riddle trusts Snape fully. That the words said in the cemetery after he's found his new form were in relation to Karkaroff, or someone, anyone else but Snape. 'One, too cowardly to return…' the ghostly tone rustles through my memory, 'One, who I believe has left me forever… he will be killed.'

All of us, including me, had assumed that Snape was the one 'too cowardly to return'. It has been decided that Snape had "dared to overcome his fear" to return to the Dark Lord's fold, to spy for the Order once again, despite the terrible danger. Every moment of being around the resurrected Voldemort was like balancing on a cliff.

What if Voldemort knows that Snape has been loyal to Dumbledore all along?

I've been up half the night, sick with worry, tossing and turning under the sweaty sheets. It even overshadowed my fear of losing my sight. What if Voldemort waited us out, and Snape was no use to him anymore and was caught by Riddle, who was in the right mood for an execution? But first, he had to be sure, the easiest way possible, by invading my mind, I arrive at the bitter conclusion. He wanted to shake the facts out of the source or confirm his suspicions. He wanted the truth.

You've got nothing. I clench my fists. You hear me? Nothing. Not this time. My throat is hoarse and I realize I may have said that out loud.

One way or the other, the recent events are all linked together. I know it. I'm sure of it. And if I believe it, Dumbledore must too, although he'd be the last I would talk to to address my fears.

I emerge from my reverie to find myself being pulled into a warm hug. I force myself to stop shaking and try to smile nervously at Hermione, but it doesn't work and she wouldn’t believe it if I had anyway.

"Harry," she whispers, pulling me close to her, "Don't you worry. Snape is a powerful wizard. He can do this. He'll be back. And it's not like Dumbledore is going to abandon him, right?"

Somehow I am not so sure. Would the Headmaster really sacrifice a life so he can… stop the war? 'Cover it all up'? Isn't that what it's all about?

I give Hermione a grateful nod and try to smile. Really try, though it doesn't work any better than before. She lets go of me and I turn to Ron, who looks bewildered.

"What the hell is going on?" he asks, looking from me to Hermione and back. "Who are you talking about?"

I rub my forehead. My scar is still sore, but I don't care. Hermione gives Ron her summary of the events. I listen with half an ear and marvel at how alike our conclusions are. She thinks Snape could have been outed as a spy after all that's happened recently. Not the best outcome by far.

I sniff unhappily. It's as if Ron's words brought all of this on, I swear. Now we are all sitting here and wondering what will happen if Snape's gone for good. He's our best hope at spying on Voldemort, but that's not the point. Not at all.

What is the point anyway?

The bell rings somewhere inside the castle, and half-a-minute later the courtyard fills with students. Despite the upcoming exams, everyone's eager to spend their break outside and not in the library. I notice our mates, dragging their feet and heading in our direction, not too much in a hurry to enter the stuffy greenhouses.

I come to a decision, and get up, glancing back at my friends. I don't want to see anyone right now. I only hope they won't mind.

"Listen," I say awkwardly, "I've got this thing..." I can't even look at them. They waited for me in the infirmary and now I just want to run off.

"Go on, Harry," Ron says, oddly enough. He meets my eye and adds, "We'll say you weren't feeling well."

With my throat tight, I give Ron a second clap on the shoulder this day. Then I nod at Hermione, grab my bag from the grass and take my leave.

I head for the dungeons.


 

I reach the Potions classroom, inevitably reminded of the fact that I was supposed to come here yesterday. At the time when Snape instructed me to return, standing right across from me, gloomy and just as unhappy as always. I thought that I'd learned everything I could from my nightly trips to the Slytherin dungeons.

I've learned that the Marauders' Map is not here.

I still don't know what happened to those fifty points that re-appeared overnight.

I have no idea what Professor McGonagall meant when she said that Sirius' death changed Snape too.

It's frustrating that I won't find out the answers to that any time soon, but I can face that frustration now and work on other ways to find out the truth, to put an end to all of this useless wondering.

In the last few days I didn't know what I wanted more, leave it all be, yell at Snape after his latest icy jab, or fight back and try to get him to lose his temper, just to see what else I can find between all the insults he'd throw my way.

Only yesterday, that was the only thing I was preoccupied with. Frustrated, but preoccupied nonetheless, more than with the books on Snape's shelves, more than with the pile of rubbish with the student limericks, bawdy drawings, and random notes.

Only yesterday, I was ready to dive into cleaning his cabinets, so he'd show up and see how much I was able to get done.

It's like years had passed since then.

I stop in front of the classroom door and look around, checking that no one's watching. Do I need to take off my Invisibility cloak? Will the Tracking charms work with it on? But then there's a crackling in the air and the fresh warm breeze ruffles my fringe. The doors swing open, swift and silent. I've never been able to enter this classroom so easily.

These doors have only ever let in Snape the way they let me in now.

I enter and lock them behind me.

Then, as if driven by some unknown need, I go to my seat. I throw my books down and pull the Invisibility Cloak off my shoulders. Then I sit, rest my elbows on the desk, and lower my chin in my hands.

I look the classroom over.

To think, I know this space as well as any Slytherin. If not better. They just show up for the lessons and the detention, and Snape's detentions usually mean cleaning cauldrons or dicing up the ingredients for the next lesson. Neither task is suited for dawdling and studying the surroundings.

My own detention was a bit different.

Snape must've given it some thought, finding something not too complex, but still tiring. Something other than ingredient preparation, considering he can't very well allow his precious ingredients to be ruined by one of his worst students. And that's not counting that time he thought we robbed him in my Fourth Year. No, I'd naturally never be allowed access to his private stores.

But what I've been doing so far in detention needs patience. And obviously it helped clear my head, I smirk. Well, I'm definitely after a clear head now, in Snape's abandoned classroom, all locked up, until the time he comes back, if he ever does.

It's easy to think here, with no one interrupting.

So I must think things through.

But my thoughts are swimming and I can't possibly make any sense of them. As if in a slowed-down film, yesterday's events play through my mind. I can't forget them even if I tried. "Until we meet again, Harry Potter. You'll give me what I want, one way or another."

Merlin, if what I have experienced so far is not the worst, I am not going to survive the next time this happens. My only regret in that case would be that I'll die without a having a chance to throw a hex at Voldemort. My teeth clench in frustration.

On the other hand, I got lucky this time around. After all, something distracted Riddle enough to keep him from completely destroying my shields. Something stopped him that time, or possibly spooked him.

I can't count on being this lucky a second time around.

Even luck wouldn't be of much help if I couldn't 'free my mind' and get myself under control, comes a somber thought. Yeah, what self-control? I screamed like a firstie and almost gave away all of my secrets to Voldemort.

But still, I survived, I'm left standing.

I did it. The thought hits, paralyzing me 'cause it's so important, so significant. I really did it. No matter how you look at it, Voldemort didn't get anything out of me this time, my mental barrier held up.

It was Occlumency. All thanks to Snape.

I'm going to have to thank him, but I don't want to so much that it's making me sick. When I see Snape again, I'm going to have to admit that his lessons have left a mark after all.

I don't think I'll ever tell him I'm sorry about the Pensieve incident. I'm afraid he'll kill me if I try to bring it up again. But I ought to tell him that his lesson on how to close my mind against danger made a difference on my conscience, if not well being, at least.

No matter how much it pains me to admit it, Snape's not so bad of a teacher after all.

When he's back.

If he's back.

I'm tired to my bones, and my eyes grow heavy. I don't care where Snape is, or what's happening to him. I just don't want him to die right now, thinking all the while that I could care less about what happens to him, as I always had done. No matter how much he hated me, turns out he was always able to set it aside.

I've heard that before. But where?

"Professor Snape is quite capable of professionalism, despite any personal animosities he may harbour," I hear in Professor McGonagall's voice.

Yeah. That's for sure.

Unfortunately that turned out to be true in every way possible.

I put my head down over my folded arms and try to squash that nagging frustration over something, or someone. I am not frustrated with Snape. I'm frustrated at him leaving me alone with all these questions in my head.

A heavy sigh later and I'm still trying to get comfortable over the hard wooden desk. My eyes close on their own accord. No wonder, since I haven't slept well last night.

I didn't even notice how tired I am, and then, I sleep.


 

Some time passes between me falling asleep and opening my eyes again. My head still rests over my crossed arms. I can't feel my face hurting, not even where my hands touch my skin. Maybe it's healed already.

The light is still dim around in the dungeon, so it can't be too late.

I always wondered how the Slytherins lit their dormitories and their classrooms. The hallways are lit with the torches, but the classroom chandeliers light up brightly only when it's dark. The rest of the time, the walls themselves emit a dull sort of light, like the cold phosphorescence of glow worms. It reminds me of the sunlight on a cloudy day, when the sky is covered with storm clouds.

So, judging by the lights, it must be what, say, four o'clock in the afternoon? Must be still light outside, considering it's May.

Well, that's easy enough to check.

I shift, just enough to peer from my watch to the clock on the wall. Hm. Nine o'clock already.

Couldn't've fallen asleep in the Hospital wing, last night, could I? I've no more excuses. I was far too tired to worry about Snape then.

Speaking of Snape, I've gotta keep busy, for some reason I think, I hope, he'd show up just about now.

It's that strange resolve that forces me to get up and take a couple of steps, stretching my legs to approach yet another cabinet. I wasn't here yesterday. I hate that I don't hate this: looking around for a suitable bench, opening up the cabinet doors, muttering Lumos to wink hello to the bat-light left inside.

I ought to be annoyed by the fact that I've been stuck here. The whole damn day.

OK, not quite the whole day. It's not my fault I fell asleep. Besides, it's calmer here than in the infirmary. I just overdid it, that's all. It doesn't mean anything if I decided to get some rest in the first comfortable seat I've found all day, right? In fact, should've taken one of the benches instead, leaning against the desk like that is going to hurt like hell later.

Hmph.

I draw a breath and start clearing out the shelves.


 

A rumble distracts me from my thoughts. I startle, spinning 'round on my bench, but the room is empty as always. Another one. I pat my midsection. I'm hungry, that's all it is.

No wonder, it's been almost two days since my last proper meal. What time is it? I check my watch.

Then I jump off the bench, and peer around the cabinet doors at the clock on the wall. In the past day I've realised just how easy it is for me to lose track of time, must be something related to this room. So yeah, time to get out of here before I starve to death or fall asleep again. I want to sleep in a familiar bed, to stretch out and flip through The Three Musketeers before Hermione interrupts my reading, again.

I'm certain she's had a talk with Ron already. Only she can possibly explain the reasons we fought in the first place. We're lucky to have Hermione. Well, Ron's lucky to have her more, but I don't mind sharing. I even snort at the thought of him being lectured again. Well, anyway, time to go, considering it's almost eleven o'clock.

I close the cabinet, pull my cloak over my head and throw my bag over my shoulder. Then I look at the cabinet I cleared today. I wonder if any of the students have noticed the growing order to these bookshelves.

It's satisfying to see the fruits of my labour, for some strange reason. At least I'm showing up for detention fair and square, not even skipping out on any of the work, sorting through years of rubbish and working off stress.

Can't do much else with it, can I?

So, pleased with myself, I head on through the door. It swings open, as if on command.

As if I'm supposed to step through it right now, as if I have a right to be here, in Snape's space, the domain of the most hated Head of House. I should check what charms are on the door.

As I exit, I check the corridor. Even with the Invisibility Cloak, the other doors don't seem any likely to swing open in front of me. The corridor is empty and I take a relieved breath. There's a crackle of the locking spell behind me, and for just a second I have to wonder: If I try to get back through, will it let me?

But I'm also hungry. I really need a bite to eat, so I'm not interested in experimenting with Snape's doors right now. I step away from it and head upwards toward the kitchens. Dobby'll feed me.

I honestly am not thinking about Snape, or how he's not back yet.

Not even for a second.

Not even a little bit.


 

I haven't roamed the Hogwarts halls under my dad's cloak for ages and it takes time to feel invincible again. A few times I jump into the shadows when the Prefects make their rounds, and stop myself from kicking Mrs. Norris. I hate that cat!

Only then does it dawn on me: why am I even hiding? I'm safe. Filch already accepted that the upper years are only going to get caught during the holidays, when they've had too much butterbeer and are too distracted with making out or sharing bawdy jokes. There's no way he'll catch me these days.

The one man who could sniff me out from under the Invisibility Cloak isn't here, is he? Good. I've got nothing more to say about that, despite all my worries this morning. He's missing, but that's none of my business.

Had I not been wearing the Cloak, one of the Prefects would stop me for sure and ask where I'm headed. I would've explained I had detention with Snape, who isn't here today. Even though I had counted on him to come back.

They'd look at me like I'm an idiot and ask me to come up with a better lie next time. They’d probably dock points too, for telling the truth! Ironic, but somehow I can't laugh about it.

"Dobby," I drop my hood as I enter the kitchen. "Have you got anything to eat?"

I drop into a low chair by one of the fireplaces and stare at the flames as Dobby and the house-elves fuss around, bringing food over. My friends are probably worried because I've been missing for so long. And even if Hermione did guess where to find me, it's not like Snape's classroom door would let them in. I didn't hear anyone knocking, since I was asleep.

I get an odd feeling, just like the moment when I was leaving the dungeons. As if it's some questionable perk to find myself outside of the Gryffindor tower after curfew. All because, a week ago, Snape gave me detention and fixed up the wards to let me in.

It doesn't change the fact that I'm sick of him. Even if his lessons did save my life.

Nothing's changed.

I try not to eat my roast beef and my potatoes too fast. Only now do I realise just how hungry I am and clean up the plate the house-elves presented me with in no time. I stop only after the plum pudding is all gone.

The warm weight in my belly spreads throughout my entire body and I'm starting to feel sleepy again. Hm, didn't I have enough of that today?

I thank the house-elves, funny things. They rush to bow, grinning and gazing up with their huge button eyes. I grin back, at last I can smile again, and take my leave.

It's not until I'm in the common room that I realise: I could've easily peered into his private cabinet. When would I get such a chance again? Why didn't I use it? When Snape's back…

If he's back, that is.

Everyone's asleep, and I undress silently behind the bed curtains, checking twice where I put my glasses on my nightstand, just in case. I don’t need light for this, so when I lean against the pillow, I am surprised to hear a rustle under my cheek.

"Lumos," I whisper and point my wand at the note folded in two.

Harry, everything's all right. Hermione guessed where you are. We told everyone you're still in the infirmary and are not to be seen. Just let me know, in case you want to talk or anything, yeah? -R.

Oh Ron, I grin and go to sleep.

Chapter Text

Ron and Hermione don't even blink when I tell them I have detention. They don't ask why I'm going, despite Snape’s absence, and on a Sunday no less. Whew. Not that they stopped asking questions altogether, mind.

I don't know why I'm in the dungeons again. The tenth cabinet turns out to be almost clean already. It takes me all of forty minutes to open the door, check every shelf and, at last, finish everything Snape has asked of me.

I'm done. But no one's here to check my work and complain bitterly about missing a spot here and there.

I can call one of the other professors, of course, but I don't want to. I just climb onto the bench by the cabinets and sit with my knees drawn up to my chest, like Hermione did yesterday in the sun, and stare off into the empty space. Not completely empty of course, but that massive black door sure looks like it. I know by now that it makes noise only when it lets the students in, but not Snape himself. But it didn't make any sound when it let me in this evening. The hinges were as silent as if they were oiled yesterday.

Perhaps this classroom hates visitors, or maybe it's got a bad temper, just like its owner, who's far too fond of Tracking spells. Of course he'd done it, with the expectation of them being needed only for two hours in one evening. He probably didn't plan on a third evening passing without him being back.

"Harry, we should probably go see Professor Dumbledore." We are eating dinner and I look up at Hermione, who broke our silence.

"Why?"

"Shouldn't we check what's going on with Snape?"

"No!" I snap. I'm surprised by my abrupt answer. It's got nothing to do with that empty seat at the High Table, of course. Dumbledore catches me eyeing it. He is as carefree as ever and it's not even frustrating anymore. It's maddening. "I don't want to."

"But why?"

"’Cause I don't," I snap, hoping that'll be the end of Hermione's questioning.

She does stop, but Ron continues on: "But what if Snape's gone? As in, for good?"

"Shut up!" I glare at him, and then add, completely unexpected. "I've had it up to here with dying!"

They grow silent but trade a couple of serious glares behind my back. It's not like I don't notice, and I face Hermione until she sighs and tries to explain: "You hiding out in the dungeons isn't going to bring him back."

I crumple the napkin and stand up abruptly. Dinner's almost done, so it's not like anyone would care. I lean forward, bracing myself against the table and whisper, even though with all of us whispering to each other we might as well be speaking Parseltongue: "And going to Dumbledore will? You needn't worry, I'm not going to go crazy over it or anything. I am just sick and tired of mourning the dead. Even Snape."

They lower their heads and nod. I toss down my napkin, mumble 'sorry' under my breath and run off.

Just thinking about that particular conversation makes me sigh. I should probably admit to myself by now that Snape's dead. It's been three days since that day he must've been captured. How long can anyone last under torture?

It's easiest to go ask Headmaster Dumbledore, of course, but what am I going to get in return? Maybe silence, maybe distraction. I don't want to hear any of that. I can't help but wonder if all of Dumbledore's grand strategic plans rest on me being irreplaceable, unlike everyone else, as cynical as it sounds. If that's true, Snape's likely doomed. Did he ever expect such a fate?

I shiver and push my knees together. No one expects to die, of course. He could've been killed as soon as he Apparated into that Death Eater meeting. Or maybe he's alive still.

In any case, why am I even here, for the second evening in a row, ignoring my Quidditch practice?

I'm bored with Quidditch.

I was so upset the first time I realised that. It took months for me to accept that I am no longer excited about the game, even going back to it regularly in autumn didn't help. I'm still happy to fly, of course, but there's no adrenalin rush, no heart in my throat as I catch the snitch over the cries of spectators.

Professor McGonagall said to me once that I shouldn't stop looking for the brighter side of life, for the happy, memorable moments. I nodded then in agreement, but now I honestly don't get how I can go on playing Quidditch while there is a war on, or as good as. The news of it can break at any second. Not a skirmish, not a few dead Death Eaters, but an actual war.

The worst thing about waiting is that it's so very exhausting to do it. Sometimes I just want it to be over. Then at least I'd have a place in life and a clear purpose.

I know what Voldemort's waiting for, or at least I think I do. He doesn't know the truth about the prophecy, but he knows about our mutual link. It's only a matter of time before he tries to invade my mind again. I wonder when it'll be? The stone walls of the dungeons give me no answer, no matter how hard I stare at them.

He lost last time, even though I am still trying to figure out how exactly. I never did manage enough Occlumency to protect myself, even from Snape's attacks. Snape would have seen plenty in my head during those few, terrible sessions.

His lessons had never been kind and Occlumency was the worst of all. I remember how he turned deathly pale when I actually, only once, managed to break through his mental barriers. I had used Protego then and didn't really know what I was doing, but yesterday I apparently managed to stop Voldemort just by will alone, and Voldemort must be far stronger than Snape.

I must figure this out, I must. I haven't got much time before the next time he strikes.

I sigh, admitting defeat in finding the answers for now. I could've asked Snape when I had the chance. Who knows if I ever will now. Isn't it funny? Now it’s the first time I actually want to talk to him and he's not around.

With a shake of my head I turn to my memories. It's not hard to contemplate here. The classroom is huge and the shadows gather along the corners. Anything I might do here, breathing, coughing, or laughing, is muffled. The stone walls block any footsteps or conversations from the corridor. Now, having spent a couple evenings here in uninterrupted silence, I can truly say how peaceful it is. It must be chilly here in winter, but now's the beginning of May and even the walls have had the chance to thaw.

I turn my head to the cabinet door and look over the row of desks. Here's my usual seat, the far left, second table before last. Here's where Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan sit. And here's Lavender and Parvati's seats. It's almost impossible to think, in total silence, that this place carries voices and ringing laughter during the day.

But any laughter surely dies when Snape shows up. We never laugh then, he practically freezes us as soon as he looks at us. He delivers discipline like one would deliver electric shock.

I remember being utterly terrified of him up to my Fifth Year. Not only because I couldn't trust him, I practically expected him to fling a curse around the corner at me. I expected one even after the incident with his Pensieve, especially after.

I lower my head and press my forehead to my knees.

I'm still ashamed of having done it. What sort of prying creep sticks his nose into Snape's private memories?

It's not like I saw anything good in them.

I saw the worst of my dad. I saw three boys picking on one, and no one except mum tried to stop them.

What would I have done had it been my memories instead?

I'd've attacked the intruder on the spot, for sure, realization dawns. I can't catch a break these days from these run-ins with my own conscience.

Yeah, someone like that wouldn't get by with just a slap on the wrist from me. But Snape didn't even slap me, only yanked me and threw a cockroach jar. He didn't even aim it at me, but at the doorway.

He must have incredible self-control.

I sigh deeply. If I am to be honest, he wasn't terribly cruel to me during the Occlumency lessons. Ruthless, yes. Unwilling to explain anything, yeah, sure. I doubt he was happy to hear the news of his new duty from the Headmaster, who must've been afraid of finding Riddle looking through my eyes. Snape sees my dad in everything I do.

"I'm not my dad."

That's what I told him during detention. It seems a thousand years had passed since, but it's only been days.

I doubt he believed me.

My legs are numb. I've been sitting like this for the past couple hours and I'm too lazy to move. I get up just to stretch my legs and then sit down again.

Why am I even here? I don't know. Maybe because it's quiet here. And maybe 'cause I don't really have anywhere else to go. It's weird, all my friends are waiting upstairs. Seamus, who can't stop himself from giving me dirty looks, is there. Headmaster Dumbledore awaits, as well as the entire wizarding world: warm, summery, ready to suffocate me with the idea of the Boy Who Lived being its only hope.

I feel so completely alone. I don't want to go anywhere. Can't I stay here until Snape's back?

At the very least, I'll be safe with the wards charmed to let in only me. I'd never again have to hear that hiss of Seamus' breath by my ear: "Potter. Wanna…?"

Damn him. Damn it all! I don't want to be with Seamus. I've had enough of feeling humiliated. I'm sick of it.

I can't even think of anyone that way, much less go through all the trouble of wanting someone. Either I'm bored of hearing their happy chatter or they're bored of me. I rarely laugh nowadays, and barely talk to anyone besides Hermione and Ron. Or Snape, at least lately.

Thanks, Seamus, I think with a sad scowl. It's thanks to him I'm cured of wanting to share my joy with someone else. I don't know if I'll ever want to try again. What joy is there in always trying to initiate encounters, offering my touch, and hoping, only hoping, that I'll be touched in return? On top of that, there was the question of who got to be in charge, in the bed we rarely shared.

Even the most vivid of memories leave me empty somehow. As if I'm broken.

I simply can't make someone want me on command. I don't want to make peace with the fact that I have to beg for a shred of tenderness and keep initiating every move.

Why am I even thinking of Seamus now? I bite my lower lip and worry at the fresh thick scar that stops me from smiling. It's from me biting it, in Hagrid's hut. Madam Pomfrey said that it would take a month or so of applying the salve for it to disappear. I reach into my pocket for the round jar. Even closed, it's got the fragrance of mint and the bitterness of wormwood.

As I put it on, I wonder who exactly makes these salves for the hospital wing. Probably Snape, it's not like he leaves Hogwarts during summer.

Who is going to make them with him gone?

It's five minutes til ten and I really have no reasons to linger here. It's time to go. I wonder how many times I can come back here before the wards stop letting me in.

I close the cabinet and drag the bench, its surface still warm, back to its proper place. I look over the row of cabinets which are already so familiar. The bat-light's reflection shimmers in the glass doors of the nearest one. I light it by habit every evening, in any case this little figure gives me an excuse to mutter to myself. The lantern stands on the edge of one of the tables.

Well, time to tell it goodbye. I swing the cabinet door open for the last time, put the lantern onto the middle shelf and tell it "Nox." The red eyes wink out and I close the door on it.

And then, in the resulting twilight, I stare at the leftmost cabinet. Snape's personal one.

For a second, I want to forget the instructions and peek inside. Perhaps I'll even find something that would explain where he is now. Maybe even how to find him. Even though I distinctly remember that the sealed parchment he's prepared that last day was in his hands as he walked out the door.

I thought I was looking for something special in the Department of Mysteries too, and look how that went.

Of course the last thing I expect is for Snape to show up and catch me red-handed, like last year. That would take believing that life's fair and I stopped believing that long ago.

Stil, I refuse to believe that Snape will never again be here to take points from Gryffindor. Never again, 'cause he's...

No, I can't finish that thought! I just can't.

But my initial urge has died down already. I stare at the massive cabinet and don't take another step toward it. Instead, I sit down at the nearest desk and lower my head onto my crossed arms. Like yesterday.

Everyone around me keeps dying.

I want to fight in this war. I want to stop the next death from happening.

My eyes are so dry and hot, but the tears aren't coming, so I just close them tight and wait for the feeling of utter helplessness to pass. It's a month until the exams and then it'll be summer, but this time around I won't let anyone lock me away at Privet Drive, no matter what Headmaster Dumbledore says. Not even the bond of blood charm would protect me from Voldemort now, so how is Grimmauld Place any less safe than the Dursleys? At least I can be useful there.

Wait...

My thoughts slow and my heart skips a beat. For a second, I sit there, frozen, and then, as if in a dream, I lift my head.

I have heard neither a door creaking nor footsteps echoing. The black robes blend into the twilight, so all I really see at first is a sallow face and pale hands against the blackboard.

Snape!

He stands at his desk, as still as a statue, and for a second I think he's a mirage. I'll blink any second now and then he'll surely be gone. I must be seeing things, after sitting here for hours, going through every single bleak thing about my past, present, and future.

I blink and stare at him again. He's still there, on the same spot, and the chair usually placed by his desk has toppled over and fallen onto the floor. It must've been the noise of it falling that broke me out of my reverie.

Snape doesn't even try to lift the chair.

I sit here, unable to say anything, without the energy to alert him of my presence. Silence fills my ears and I'm drowning, like in a deep water, unable to make the slightest move.

He's returned.

He's alive.

It finally strikes me there's something odd in the way he's standing. He's supporting himself with both hands against the table, gripping it tightly; and the more time passes, the more his head lowers and the more hunched his shoulders get. He clearly can't see me watching him. He'd kill me if he knew that I saw him show such weakness.

"Professor!" I jump up from my seat and reach him. Quick. No time to worry about him staring at me now. Just in time to put my hand against his back, to keep him from toppling over, from getting his robe dirty. As if black dirties that easily!

I run up to him and realise he didn't hear me calling. Maybe didn't even hear the noise of the chair falling either, overcome by the noise in his own ears.

I am just in time to get my arms around him before his knees give out. He'd've likely passed out by now if he'd been alone. My presence keeps him barely conscious.

I thought Snape was pale before, but now he's practically white as a sheet.

I am determined to drag him over to the chair and sit him down, noticing how a vein throbs in his temple, and how his upper lip is twisted in a suffering scowl. His teeth are far from white, but they're even. And now they're gritted so hard, that I can't picture him ever unclenching his jaw.

I wish he would.

He's making an effort to focus on me with abnormally wide eyes. They're dilated with shock, but Snape isn't in any shape to complain. I wish he'd make a sound, any sound. I look at him, and on instinct, grab his hand. It’s cool and damp and stretches across mine lifelessly, and I pet it slightly, in confusion. I have no idea what to do next. There's gotta be smelling salts somewhere here, he could use some right about now. I am not even sure I can lift him to carry him to his rooms if he passes out.

Maybe I can call for help, but no, I can't leave him all alone. I'm terrified he'll disappear again.

The hand I'm squeezing twitches, and Snape pulls it free. I realise now, as I've stared down at him, showing every single emotion from relief to pity on my face, that his lips are moving and he's trying to say something. He almost succeeds.

"What's that?"

"Why… are you here?"

Even at death's door, he's addressing me in that arrogant tone. My neck still remembers how his hair brushed against it. He dropped his head on my shoulder when I carried him over to the chair, but he's already regarding me as a particularly insignificant bug. Right, doesn't matter. That's for later.

I answer him with a question of my own. "How can I help?"

He scowls and spends a few seconds gathering strength to answer: "Best if you leave. Now."

"No way!" I tell him, not taking my eyes off him. "What were you looking for? A potion? I'll get it, just tell me where it is."

"Potter… Get out. Get the Headmaster."

"Later," I tell him in a forbidding tone. "How can I help? What's wrong?"

He doesn't answer, his shoulders twitch. He just closes his eyes, breathes: "Go. Anyone but you…"

That's enough. I am full out of patience. I've got plenty of that famed Gryffindor stubbornness left in me though. In any case, I know the spell to unlock every single cabinet in this room. Even if his personal stores are protected with something different, it wouldn't hurt to check. He came here to find something that wasn't in his quarters. What if it's an anti-venom for some slow acting poison? Or maybe he's been hexed and is trying to fight the after-effects, but he couldn't reach the cabinet in time… He could die if I rush off looking for help. And another funeral is the last thing I want to face.

I give him an angry stare and snap: "OK, then. I'll look around myself."

Black eyes widen and he gives me a fierce stare. "Don't you dare!" He fights back a groan and bites his lip with a hoarse cry.

"Then tell me what to look for!" I yell at him. His fingers are digging into the arm supports. He must be completely mad to keep resisting me for so long.

"No."

I forget that he's barely breathing, and in my frustration shake him by the shoulders, waking him to full consciousness. He's got that furious stare but I don't care about any of it. I shout, face to face with him: "WHAT DO YOU NEED?"

He blinks in surprise, and now he's going to take hundreds of points from Gryffindor for sure! I'm going to pay for this. Doesn't matter, please just don't die! Not when you're back, at Hogwarts, not now!

"Third shelf… Tall blue phial..." he exhales, growing weak against my hold. I let him go carefully and tilt his head back against the support of the chair. He stares blankly, his pupils wide, sweat on his face, and I answer with a stare of my own, the kind I'll be horrified to think about tomorrow. I've never looked at him quite like this. Without any hatred at all, only an offer of help.

For the first time, the silence between us doesn't ring like two crossed blades.

Even Snape's surprised. He gulps, tries to say something, but I cut in: "Same password?" He nods, and I turn away from his face, which is twisted by a pained grimace.

And then I run down the aisle into the far corner of the classroom. One spell, and one complicated scribble of my wand later and his personal space opens up before me, past the heavy cabinet doors. It's the only cabinet without the see-through glass, and it is pristinely clean.

I have no time to think that only an hour ago I refused to touch it, for now it is of vital importance to get inside.

"Lumos," I cast, and the tip of my wand lights up frantically, as if fed by my panic. The narrow blue phial stands in the middle of the shelf, light reflecting from its sides, refracting through the cut glass. It's beautiful, like a decoration of sorts. I grab it with shaky fingers, terrified of dropping either it or my wand right now. Then I push the doors shut and run back to Snape, afraid for the worst.

Snape's deathly-pale, stretched out with his head supported, but still conscious. His chin is lifted high, and if it wasn't for the chair's sharp curve, I'd assume it's a gesture of contempt toward me. Half-lidded eyes watch my every step from under those lashes, as I twist the lid of the phial. Then I tilt the phial to his lips.

He swallows and winces. It probably tastes terrible, but his cheeks start to gain colour. He doesn't look quite as horrible anymore.

He takes a breath, trying to control his shaking, and gives me a somber stare. It doesn't work.

I twist the lid back on and set the phial on the far side of the table, so I won't drop it. I've never seen glass this shade of blue-green before.

I can't bring myself to face him. In our awkward silence, I hear that horrible ringing of crossed blades again, even if I'm not looking at him.

"Potter."

Fine. I'm going to have to. I take a deep breath and raise my eyes. He regards me, and maybe he doesn't quite have the handle on his expressions from all the pain, because I can make out he's curious. I've seen icy irony and I've seen him enraged, but never this. It's mesmerizing, the sight of his lips, without the downward twist to them, and the eyes that stare up from under calm, lowered brow. One twitches in surprise.

"What are you doing here?"

The first time he asked I was far too panicked to even answer. Strange. Maybe he's lost enough memories to not realise exactly what I'm here for. "Detention," I answer with a shrug.

Snape makes a soft sound, and is that a huff of… laughter? "Did the Headmaster make you?"

I don't like that icy tone one bit. If that's normal for him, let him sit here fainting next time, see if I care. "Nobody made me," I answer with anger, and he's giving me that look again, the curious one.

"You’ve finally faced your duties. Unbelievable. Worth the two days of…" he stops short and I can see the physical reaction on his face of just what he's been through in these two days. It's twisted so much, I feel a wave of sickness myself.

And so, before I can weigh my chances, I take his hand again and squeeze, anchoring him to the present.

His thin, wiry wrist tenses under my touch, but he doesn't pull back. I'm not letting go either. If it's anger that keeps him distracted from what he's been through, let him be angry at me.

"Potter." A mere whisper. I release my grip on him. His hand falls past the arm rest, and he raises it with a visible strain, fingers in a tight fist. He's breathing heavily. Apparently that small effort has taken a lot out of him.

"Yeah?" I call out, feeling the heat spread over my face. I get how what I did might seem unusual to him, but I've got no explanation either. Where would I start? Surely not with telling him that I've reconsidered his teaching skills and thanking him for all the time he spent teaching me.

I probably won't ever be able to tell him that, no matter how much he'd pry. Even with Veritaserum. It's not like he's going to believe any of it!

"It's best if you get help." He doesn't say 'the Headmaster' this time and that's strange. What reason does he have not to?

"Why?" I ask. "Do you need to be in the infirmary? I can help get you there. Or to your rooms. Debrief can wait, or is one night going to make a difference?"

He presses his lips together and stares at me. Yeah, didn't expect that, did you? Thought you had me all figured out, the Boy Who Lived, not to give a damn. Well then, I care about people not dying on me, take that! I don't want to regret not having the chance to say the right things to yet another person who died to protect me and I want you alive, you Slytherin bastard!

"Dumbledore will wait," I tell him firmly. I wish I felt as sure as I sounded. "You need to lie down."

He grinds his teeth and I cross every boundary. Making my voice sound commanding, like his, I ask: "What? Tell me I'm wrong. Do it."

He draws a deep enough breath, his nostrils flare, and answers, obviously trying to keep a tight control over himself: "I'm gathering strength to reach my rooms. Now you have what you came here for. You can waltz on out of here and tell all your friends you've seen me feeble enough to faint. Just go!" he roars suddenly, pushing himself up from the chair and leaning toward me. I'm perched on the edge of the table, so I can't really step back, and merely blink up at that demented glare. For a long moment, it seems he'll strike me. Then the tension fades and I fight the urge to laugh back. I still have some sense of self-preservation.

Snape's eyes close and with a small groan, he collapses back into the seat, so fast his greasy hair strands scatter against the back of the chair. Tentatively, I reach out and grab onto one long, black strand. It curls at the end. I lace my fingers through it and yank hard. Snape's eyes snap open and widen instantly.

"I don't care if you're weak," I answer him, so damn grateful that he can't just incinerate me on the spot with his stare alone, "I care you're alive! There's a war on, and we can't afford to lose even a single wand hand, I get that! Just as much as you do. So why would I even bother telling anyone I've seen you like this?"

He tries to say something but it's hard to stop me when I'm like this. Maybe it's 'cause I've been so quiet for the past few hours, maybe 'cause he really has no fight left in him to argue. Maybe it's 'cause I know I'm right, I just know it, and that lends strength to my voice, making it deeper, more certain.

"If you can't get to bed on your own, then act your age and ask for help already. Come on, take my hand. Let's go."

He's been piercing me with his stare for the duration of my rant, and now he sneers again and I can't tell what he's thinking anymore. Just a few seconds ago, his face was readable, as if a mask had lifted by all the spasms. Now he's my Professor again, one that knows my place and what we are to each other. The lines on his face deepen as he narrows his eyes. The folds below his nose are more noticeable, the narrow slit of his mouth curled into a grimace.

And still, it shocks me to see, Snape's much younger than I thought. Now that I can see him up close, I can tell it. His face carries the strain of stress, and hostile nature, not age.

He's the same year as Lupin but looks older by at least a decade. Odd how I never noticed that from a distance. How old would that make him? My dad turned twenty when I was born, so… thirty-six, no older than thirty-seven. He's not old at all, I realise, to my complete surprise.

"Seen enough, Potter?"

Yeah, he's better all right! His legs may be collapsing under him, but the skill to scrutinize me is back. And the bitterness in his voice too. I sigh and rise, waiting on him, and then offer him my hand. He pushes it aside and tries to stand up. His long fingers are shaky with exhaustion, as he digs them into the armrests. A shiver spreads through his arms, his shoulders, and his entire frame, but he gets up. On his own. And then, shakily, he takes a step past me to the door, paling, turning nearly green as I watch him. I bite over the the scar on my lower lip and follow him. Judging by his pace, he's not doing so good.

Snape's shoulders are wide and his spine is so straight, I'd probably buy it had I not realised by now it's all for show. All for my sake. Or maybe for his own peace of mind. Maybe it lets him keep his pride that I let him walk on his own so I go along with the farce. But when it comes to the danger of fainting and cracking his skull open on the stone floor, pride is secondary.

I'm a half of a step behind him, and I can hear his frantic, shallow breathing. He doesn't have the strength to even snap at me right now, so he's certainly not well enough for anything else.

The classroom door swings open before us and swings shut afterwards, the faint breeze from it reaches the back of my head. I don't have my bag or my cloak today, so my hands are free. I follow the Head of Slytherin down a corridor I've never explored before, letting Snape pretend that he's perfectly capable of walking on his own.

He must have an iron will. Even though he's using up all his strength just to stay upright, we manage to reach the door to his rooms.

I almost don't reach him in time, no matter how much I try to watch him carefully.

Without a single cry, he topples over. I grab him and almost fall with him too. Afraid to lose my balance, I hold out my hand to brace the back of his head, and then slowly stand back up with significant effort. I grab him and slide his arm over my shoulders.

"Dammit," I mutter with Snape's unsteady form draped over mine. I offered him help! But did he take it? Noo! Slowly I drag us up to the door. So how am I supposed to get us in now? I don't know his password. Snape's passed out. What can I do, short of lowering him to the floor and slapping it out of him without any access to smelling salts? "Damn it all," I say, helplessly. Damn him. How am I supposed to guess the password?

"Ocimum sanctum," he breathes, right by my ear. I shudder. Merlin, he's awake after all. "If you'd stop cursing and just let me…" I snort, and then repeat it louder. It must be a latin name for some plant. Not like I'm going to ask him the meaning now.

The door opens and as soon as we walk in, Snape tries to free himself from my grip. I am not about to let him. I drag him over to the chair by the unlit fireplace, and lower him in it. I cast "Incendio," put a locking charm on the door, and only then do I collapse in the second chair beside it and catch my breath.

He stares at me and his whole expression shows just how unwelcome I am.

I pretend I don't see it, and look around instead.

There's a couple of armchairs, a writing desk in the far corner and another desk beside it, holding a complex alchemical contraption of alembics, flasks and a few burners. A cabinet, just like in the classroom, only the wood it's made of is a reddish brown, not black. Oddly enough, there's a huge rug on the floor. I always thought Snape's rooms would be cold and empty. The room is not cluttered, sure, but it's not chilly either. It's rather cosy now that we're sitting by the fire. Maybe this is the living room, because I notice two more doors. Perhaps they lead to his office and his bedroom?

Will he be able to reach his bed himself or take every single point from Gryffindor if I try to help?

I dare a glance at Snape. He's so pale that it scares me. His eyes move nervously under his closed eyelids, his hands are folded together, elbows digging deep into his sides. It's as if he Apparated to Hogwarts on instinct and then went to his classroom right away, without even bothering to check in his rooms first. And now he's finally resting, for the first time after three days.

That's probably it, I realise, looking at how his stiff body softens and sinks into the armchair. What if I wasn't in the room when he showed up? Would he even be alive at all?

"Professor," I call him softly. "Professor!" My voice is interrupted by the clock striking eleven thirty. I examine his face. There’s not even a twitch of an eyelash.

He's asleep.

Well, that solves the issue of getting him into bed. I get up, looking around. He's gotta have something, anything… it's gotta be around somewhere… there! My eyes find a large, woolen blanket, all folded up and shoved under the chair he's in. I bend down and grab it, and for a second stay still, afraid to wake him if I touch him. Finally, I take my chance and cover him, tucking the blanket around his shoulders. It's long enough to cover his feet, so, after a few moments' pause, I pull his boots off, and turn the corner so it wraps his feet in a warm, scratchy cocoon too. I set his boots by the fire.

Well, they probably won’t let me spend any more nights in the Potions classroom, considering Snape is back and the lessons are likely to resume now. Back to the Gryffindor dormitory it is.

I pause, glancing at him, before I go. Albus Dumbledore's spy. The most hated Potions Master.

It’s odd, but I can't come up with a single insult for him now. All my old ones refuse to linger like an annoying tune that's played for far too long and stopped being relevant. Well, it's not like he's not going to have the chance to inspire new ones after tonight. Probably soon, after he remembers how I disrespected him today, all the times I didn't call him sir, and all the times I yelled at him...

At least that would mean he's all right. And that he's alive for sure.

I leave the dungeons without looking back.

Chapter Text

I wake in a surprisingly good mood. The kind that strikes at the end of brutal exams, when I don't have to go home just yet, but there's no reason to study either, and I have all the time in the world to sit under the sun, swim, or play cards all day; or read the books I want to read, not the ones I have to.

But it's only the beginning of May and we didn't have any exams yet.

I enjoy a deep stretch and jump off the bed, pulling aside the curtains. Dunno why, but I actually want to see everyone around me in a good mood too. Laughter greets me and they all wonder why someone so eager to sleep in as of late actually awoke at dawn. "Harry, hang on, it's not even breakfast."

I throw a joke their way and quickly change from my pajamas, putting on my jeans and my white shirt with the rolled-up sleeves. I knot my tie so loose, I can leave the top of my shirt unbuttoned, and then let out a carefree whistle as I tie my shoes.

Maybe it's been awhile since I've even smiled, so Ron stares at me with some bewilderment. I widen my eyes and tilt my head at him, but he just laughs and waves his hand. Strange.

Seamus, on the other hand, doesn't look even remotely close to smiling. He stares at my neck and my bare elbows so intently, that for a second I'm ready to reach for my cloak. Then, I bite my lip, undeterred by my new scar, and face his stare. He is the first to look away. Even Seamus can't spoil my morning cheer.

As we head to breakfast, a strange feeling settles over me. If only I'd've thought just a little bit harder about yesterday, I'd find the reason why everything seems so good this morning. As it is, I've got no explanation for why I'm so cheerful. I'm afraid to look closer, 'cause I know I'd remember some detail then. And then it may turn out that there is no reason to rejoice at all.

I decide not to chance it. I haven't felt this good for awhile, I want it to last.

Hermione's waiting for us at the table. She's a morning person, so she's among the first to have breakfast. Usually she waits for Ron and me, but this morning she's holding up a parchment with two heavy seals. The mail must've arrived already. We slide onto the benches: I'm the last one down, and greet her. Ron echoes me, but he's not as cheerful.

"Good morning," Hermione says and she practically sings out 'good'. "Don't you love getting letters from friends? I do!" she grins wide until she meets Ron's stare. His blue eyes are stormy and I can see his cheeks redden, to match his hair.

"Krum again?" he grumbles.

"So what if it is?" Hermione tosses her wild mane back, rebelliously. "Stop being so jealous, Ron, it's silly. Victor is my friend, and that's it. He is never jealous of you, by the way!"

I need to get breakfast before they start another fight. I quickly grab the porridge.

"M'not jealous," Ron says timidly. He looks around at our classmates eating breakfast. Apparently, he finds what he's looking for because he suddenly gets up, steps over his seat and heads for the other end of the table. We watch him. I'm confused and Hermione's doing her best to pretend it's none of her business. Ron finally reaches Lavender and leans over to her, saying something, as his cheek nearly touches her blonde curls. Hermione sniffs fiercely: "Well, that's just out of line! What is he trying to prove?"

Lavender gets up from the table, grins flirtatiously, which makes Hermione's jaw twitch, and takes Ron's arm. Ron grabs her bag and the pair of them pass us, while Lavender chatters on and on, all the while staring up at Ron as if…

What wouldn't I give to keep Hermione from seeing that stare. I turn to her, but it’s too late. Hermione's face darkens with hurt and she keeps twisting the parchment, the letter from Krum, in her hands. I carefully take it from her fingers, before it's completely wrung out.

"He's just jealous," I tell her, trying to catch her eye.

"I know," she says dully, not even raising her eyes at me.

Sigh. It's times like these that I know for sure that all these relationships my friends are so preoccupied with are just not worth this sort of trouble. But it's not my place to give advice, I just reach for Hermione's hand and get up from the table. She takes my hand, and we go to our respective lectures: hers is Advanced Arithmancy and mine is Transfiguration. Just as I'm leaving, I remember I've left my bag behind.

I apologise to Hermione and hurry back.

The Great Hall grows empty, most students already left, and I glance at the High Table to see Professor McGonagall's getting ready for the lecture. She rises from her spot and I'm about to turn away when I see a movement right behind her back. The small door the professors always use opens and lets Snape in.

That's the reason for my good mood today. Snape survived Voldemort's clutches. Again.

I can't see from here if he's overly pale or not, like yesterday, but his gait is sure. Good. Now I definitely know why I'm so happy: we won't have to bury an empty coffin or an unrecognizable corpse any time soon.

My joy fades, leaving behind a feeling of a job well done. At least now we're even for at least one of the many times he’s saved me.

I watch him sit down carefully and lift a cup of coffee with shaky hands. Headmaster Dumbledore turns to him. He must have been so worried, just as I was.

I'm about to look away, but then Snape raises his head. Our stares meet and I freeze mid-step. What do I do?

It's perfectly reasonable to pretend that I've got bad eyesight and didn't even notice how his stare pierces right through me. But no, he's not going to be fooled by that. With a physical sensation ghosting over my skin, I know that he is focusing on my face. I sigh, look down and look away. And then I hurry toward the exit, feeling his stare as a prickle down my back.

What else am I going to do? Stop and wave hello?

At the doorway, I pause, and look back. Snape is talking with Professor Dumbledore and is not looking at me at all. Disappointed and relieved all at once, I hurry to the Transfiguration lecture.


 

An exhausting class ends with a promise of an even more exhausting homework assignment. We jot down the task of turning our study partner into a force of nature, for example a forest fire, the size of a cubic meter, the kind you can put out with a rain spell. Our groans rise, but McGonagall is relentless, especially toward the end of the double lecture.

We drag ourselves over to the Great Hall, already tired just from thinking about it, and I really can't process much by then. That's why I give Ginny a blank stare when she runs into me.

She's as red with fury as her brother was this morning.

"Harry!" she calls out, in that ringing tone of a team captain. "Have you got any shame left?"

I blink at her in surprise: "What did I do?"

"What do you ever do?" She'd probably resort to shouting if that wouldn't draw too much attention in the Great Hall. "Where have you been?"

"You know where," I mumble, buying time, trying to figure out what would have set her off. "Detention, 'course."

"How can you have detention when Snape wasn't even here?" she yells and draws another breath. "The match is tomorrow, and you're our Seeker, or did you forget?"

Whoa! The match.

"Have you been sulking in the dungeons this entire time?" she shouts, this close to grabbing me by the robe to shake me. "Tell me you weren't waiting around for Snape to come back. It's Snape. Good bloody riddance."

What?

Her words force me to look up at her. Ginny stops mid-word and regards me with some awkward sort of nervousness. "What? Harry, I..."

"Are you saying," I ask her, deadly-calm, prompting her to step back, "Really saying that you don't care if a man dies, because it's Snape and 'good bloody riddance' to that? After all, who'd miss the greasy git, right? Absolutely no one."

"No, Harry, I meant…" Ginny tries to answer, but I'm not listening.

"After all he has done! Do you even remember the Order?" she nods and gulps. "Or is everything really all about school and homework and Quidditch? You just insulted someone who risked his life for us. You included."

"Harry," she breathes, stunned by my tone. I don't think I've ever talked to Ron's little sister like this before.

When did she stop being Ron's little sister? Still, just like Ron, she only gets it after a big loud fight.

"OK, listen," she stammers, avoiding my stare, "What if he never comes back? Are you going to keep wandering off, thinking about who's going to die next? We've all got lives to live! Right here, and right now."

I'm shocked, for a second. Does she think I'm mourning Snape? That I've got nothing to live for because of it? Ha, right!

"You were at breakfast early today, weren't you?" I ask.

She blinks. "Eight o'clock, why?"

"When did you leave?"

"Half an hour later maybe… how's this relevant?"

"Well, had you stayed another fifteen minutes," I conclude, "You and that brother of yours would have seen for yourselves that it's far too early to write Snape off as dead."

I turn on my heel to go, but then think of something else that went unsaid. "I'll be at the game tomorrow, but after that, find yourself a new Seeker. There are far more important things than Quidditch! Like the war."

She looks shocked.

"The war?"

"Yeah, Ginny. The war." I never thought I'd ever be pleased about Ginny looking so scared.

She must be thinking I've gone mad. I look at her reaction. She'll think I'm hiding from the world because I'm afraid to live my life.

"Goodbye," I tell her, and continue on to the tables stacked with food.


 

The day thankfully ends on a calm note. We've only got History of Magic left, and even Hermione yawns so wide during class, she almost twists her jaw out of place. Ron sits by Lavender and pretends he doesn't know us. What is it with the Weasleys these days?

I'm feeling genuinely sorry for Hermione, so after class, I drag my reluctant friend out for a walk. She whimpers something about the exams, but I don't yield. I stood up to Snape last night, I think with pride. After that, Hermione's no big deal. So we walk around the lake for a few hours, skipping stones over the lake surface, and chat about our summer plans. Hermione, to my surprise, supports my decision to try and spend the summer at the Grimmauld Place. The bond of blood charm would disappear after I turn seventeen anyway, she says, so it's best if I am among friends who are capable of casting spells, rather than all alone with a family of Muggles.

I tell her that Snape's back at Hogwarts. Not unharmed, but alive. I think she's relieved.

We don't talk about Ron or Seamus, and I feel, as I haven't felt in a long while, that everything's going OK. I have no doubt that my friends will make up. They have far too much in common not to, besides who else would put up with these two if they have a falling out?

It's why I'm not too terribly worried about the details of Hermione's talk with Ron, right after that one encounter, from which we almost walked away with a black eye, both of us. She assures me she explained why I was acting the way I did, and that's good enough for me.

Seamus on the other hand, is completely irrelevant.

As we return to the common room after five, I regret my previous thought.


 

Just as I sit down to get some studying done, first, there's still exams to be had, and second, Hermione needs moral support, Finnigan shows up and leans over the table. I slide my gaze from his fisted hands upwards to his toned arms and his shoulders, and only then do I look at his face. When Seamus stops growing, he'll be bigger than I am. Maybe not taller, but wider in the shoulders and stockier, like a small bear.

I arch an eyebrow. "What do you need?"

He gives me a nod and I can see his jaw moving. "Let's talk. Somewhere."

"Here's good," I drop carelessly as if we're just chatting about the weather.

He regards me with narrowed eyes and then leans forward to whisper in my ear. "Why are you avoiding this? Afraid, Potter?"

I'm not as easy to goad into things as before. I give him a slow smile and say loudly. "Not at all."

"Then let's go."

I shrug and get up. Hermione gives me a worried glance over the stack of textbooks, but I respond with a reassuring nod. She shakes her head and sticks her nose back into the Arithmancy textbook, while I follow Finnigan out of the common room.

"Where to?" I ask, looking around. Odd, I'm not nervous at all right now.

"Outside, probably," Seamus says. He looks even more nervous now than when he first started talking to me. I nod.

We don't trade a single word on the way out. The silence bothers him, I suspect, but I'm not about to be the first to break it. He is the one who asked for this! I can only guess what it is about, and am not going to help him out.

We turn toward Hagrid's hut and to the left, under the shade of the trees. A felled trunk lies in the grass. We're out of the sight of anyone who might be looking from the castle, and Hagrid's hut has no windows on this side.

I sit down, and pat the scratchy tree bark, waiting for Seamus to start talking. He takes a while, and finally sits a fair bit away, reaching into his trouser pocket for a pack of cigs. I hmph.

"Check this out," says Finnigan. "Dean's got them when he last got out for a trip back home."

Such a well-run place we are. Hogwarts students popping in and out for a home visit without checking in with the professors.

What's wrong with me? I should be happy my Gryffindor mates got around the rules, but now it just seems like a stupid, risky thing to do.

When did I start thinking like that?

Seamus lights up a cigarette, and after a pause, offers me the pack. I grab one, and wait for him to pass over his lighter. I don't want to waste effort with the Incendio just for the sake of one smoke. But Finnigan doesn't pass it over, he strikes it and offers it up, his hands folded around the flame. I arch my brow, trying to keep my expression calm. What is he driving at? Is he hoping I'd lose control just from seeing those hands up close?

I breathe in the smoke, and let it out slowly, wondering how my rounded lips must look to him. When Seamus speaks, he's got an odd tone. Maybe I've just forgotten how he sounded when we were…

"I didn't know you smoked."

"Sometimes," I answer. The pack is a decent one, even expensive, considering Muggle prices, and it's best to stretch it out. I have a feeling we're not just here for a smoke though.

"Potter," he watches me intently, waiting for a reaction. I've got none. I've been practicing. "I’ve wanted to talk to you for awhile now."

"Yeah."

"What?"

"Nothing. OK, go on," I nod and stare at him, noticing awkwardness. Strange, Seamus is never like this.

He pauses for a while and then speaks on a single breath: "Harry. I know you're mad, 'cause of Patil, or Lavender, or someone else, I don't know. Only that's not fair!"

"I'm not mad at you, Seamus." I tell him the truth, but he stutters and continues.

"I can see that you are. And that's not fair. I don't owe you a thing!"

"I know." The conversation is starting to amuse me. I'm amused because I don't feel anything, not joy, not my previous pain. Nothing at all.

"Then what about, you know, we get together like before? You know what I mean, right?"

Ah. That's what this is about.

"You are the one who asked me to stop, Seamus." I put the cigarette out with my boot. "I'm not someone you can toy with. I'm sorry if you didn't see that."

"Potter," he sounds flustered. "That's exactly why, listen, I'm sorry, really, I wanna…"

I laugh.

He jumps up with an offended stare, and stands in front of me, blocking my view.

"Sit down," I tell him. Somehow it even works. "Seamus, I thought we sorted things out long ago." The words come easily, and the stone wall of the Astronomy tower, which my fingers had dragged across as I climbed up, is so vivid in my mind. Ron's steady hands grip my shoulders and my mouth tastes bitter like Hermione's potion. "I don't think there is anything more to discuss. If I remember right, you agreed. So what changed?"

He stays silent for a long while. I give up on getting an answer out of him, but then he speaks, staring straight ahead, as if he saw something fascinating in that dark grass, "You felt good. Better than anyone."

Now I'm the one who is silent. Seamus probably considers my silence as an approval, or awkwardness, or some other thing, because he suddenly approaches me and puts his arm around me, so my head is resting on his shoulder, and then presses his mouth to mine.

It's a kiss that not so long ago would've had me gasping, almost to the point of being spent, especially when his hands got involved. I don't even have time to decide if I want it, my body decides and reacts to his bite, to the thrust of his tongue, to the weight of his hand between my parted legs. That hand starts moving against me and a soft cry escapes Seamus' lips.

I pull myself closer to him, frantically gripping the bark of the tree we are sharing as a narrow seat. Seamus pulls back for a second, to yank on the collar of my shirt, and then presses his mouth to my neck, whispering something I can't make out.

He's done that before, when we were going at it in his bed. In the morning, in full light of day, I asked whether it meant anything.

"I've told you before, I’ve got no time for this."

The words ring in my ears as if he'd just said them. My eyes fly open, and I use my hands at last. Not to counter his touch, but to pull that head of his away. His eyes glisten and his breath is hot against my skin: "What is it?"

"Nothing," I say. "We need to stop."

"What?" he moves closer. "Potter, what's the matter with you?"

I've had enough. Enough of feeling like a freak. Enough of not believing in myself. Enough! I don't need Seamus.

I stare at him in silence, letting him read my expression, and then I stand and pull my shirt up. Luckily, my buttons survived the assault.

"I've told you before, we'll stay friends." It's not like I am lying.

"You have someone," he breathes, staring at me with unseeing eyes. "You really do."

Interesting thought. What if…

I shake my head, not giving him the satisfaction of learning the answer, and then start walking up to the castle.

Seamus shouts something after me, something about finding out who it is and then, I stop listening to him. Hermione's worried words come into my mind, but I chase the worry away. Finnigan won't do anything to me. I won't even need Ron's help on this. I can handle it alone.


 

The Gryffindor common room greets me with silence. A few people are diligent enough to study, surrounded by books. Hermione is deep into her Charms homework and Ginny sits right by her in an armchair, reading some fiction book.

Hermione's not complaining either. Amazing. I approach them and put my hand on Hermione's shoulder. "You aren't making Ginny study, that's not like you at all."

Hermione doesn't have time to answer me.

"There's Quidditch tomorrow," my Quidditch captain announces, as an explanation for everything in the world. But that's true. We don't even have any lectures. Ginny gives me a wary look. "Harry, are you ready for it? You've skipped the practice."

"We've talked about this," I answer evenly. "Hufflepuff. Nine o'clock. I've got it. Want to check my reflexes while you're at it, too?"

She grins and it's not the happiest grin in the world, but at least it's a true one. So maybe I'll have to play Quidditch until the end of the school year after all. I'm the best Seeker we've got, not just the House, the entire school. When did I stop enjoying the game, anyway?

"Perfect," Ginny turns past me. "Hermione." Hermione nods, not looking up from her essay, and Ginny goes up to the dorms.

"Good talk?" she inquires, in a whisper, giving me a look. I nod, hoping she leaves it at that. I suppose she can read it all on my face anyway, because she is doing her best to look nonchalant. "You've been gone awhile."

"Went for a walk..."

I went for a walk, trying keep from calling myself every name under the sun during that self-destructive mood of mine. I walked round and round the Whomping Willow, sometimes getting way too close and then jumping away, as one of the branches, leaves all a-whistling, swung at me with the intent to maim. I kept walking, until the heat in my crotch subsided, until my lips stopped stinging, all swollen from Finnigan's brutal kissing.

I suppose he finally admitted to himself he swings both ways. Hooray. And now he tried to show me just how much.

I curl my lips in a sneer, forgetting that Hermione's there watching me, but she pretends not to notice.

What if I did have someone, like Seamus said? What right does he have to complain? Maybe, just maybe, I don't want to be The Boy Who Lived (to be alone) for the rest of my life.

Now, I know I'm alone. And that I'll stay alone forever, but that shock on Seamus' face was so very much worth the lie.

I'll always be alone. Always.

With a small sigh, I wish Hermione good night, even though the sun hasn't finished setting yet, and go up to the dormitory. I've got no detention tonight, well, the time isn't up yet, but I'm done with everything Snape told me to do and it's not like I've got anything else to do in the dungeons anyway.

I don't want to go down there. Yesterday, I've reached all limits of insolence Snape can put up with for the entire year.

It's enough that I went there while he was gone, but for now, it's best that I do everything in my power to let him heal without extra stress. Considering all the lines on his face, he's got plenty of that already.

And if I've got nothing to do with myself while I'm skipping detention, well, I refuse to be sorry about that.

Chapter Text

Quidditch! Wind in my face, an aerial pursuit with my broom responding to every nudge of my knee. The snitch shines brightly under the sun.

Or, a stormy sky, as the wings of the snitch fling raindrops at me. My broom is so slippery, I have to focus all of my strength on keeping from falling. Who cares about the rest of the game?

Or, a snowstorm, snow in my eyes, and the stinging icy wind pounding my cheeks.

But despite the weather changes, some things stay the same. The roar of the spectators, the commentator's shrill voice, the faces of the Heads of House on the main platform, still with tension.

I like Quidditch. In all the years I spent here at Hogwarts, it became an irreplaceable part of my life, my favourite sport, the game that allows a fair challenge between the Houses. I especially love Gryffindor-Slytherin matches. Or I used to love them.

I don't know what's been happening to me since the end of this past winter. Everything seems like a terrible waste of time, a time better spent elsewhere. On more serious matters.

Headmaster Dumbledore commiserated a few times about that: "You hadn't had a real childhood, Harry, even though we tried so hard to give you one."

Failed effort that was. Eleven years in the cupboard under the stairs is not a happy childhood. And then, there was the knowledge that someone wanted to kill me almost as soon as I was born. They didn't succeed yet but there's a good chance that is going to change some time soon.

My first year was the gift of Voldemort and Quirrell, hexing my broom at my first Quidditch match. Hermione singed Snape's robes when we suspected he was up to no good, that he was trying to murder me. Snape was the referee for the next time match, to stop Quirrell from getting to me, and everyone decided he did it just to throw the game, to get an unfair win for Slytherin.

He was pale with fury when the match ended like it did, when I caught the snitch, and Headmaster Dumbledore was there watching all along, and turned out we had nothing to worry about, really. But Snape had no way of knowing that.

Today's match is refereed by Madam Hooch, as always, and I duck the bludgers and sweep the space in front of me right and left to compensate for my lack of vision. I'm on the lookout for the snitch, but random memories resurface, keeping me from being grounded in the present. The Hufflepuff Seeker is rubbish, but who are they going to find that's better than Cedric was?

Cedric Diggory… We were at the cemetery together, and he died from the curse I somehow managed to deflect. I duelled Voldemort then, our third encounter since Quirrell in my first year and Tom Riddle's diary in my second.

I used the portkey to return to the Tournament, right into Barty Crouch's clutches. If it wasn't for Headmaster Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and Snape, he would've ended my short career as a savior of the wizarding world right then and there.

We all felt it then, the approaching storm. We can still see the flash of lightning, but the thunder hasn't reached us just yet…

Snitch! I shake my head and dive, evening out my broom just before I hit the ground. Faster, come on. Gryffindor’s side of the stadium starts chanting something and up, up, up, to the blinding sky and -

It's gone. Damn.

Fifth Year. My dreams, the Department of Mysteries. Occlumency lessons with Snape. The Pensieve and the shocking prophecy that I will need to take a life to save the world. I've had enough of remembering my Fifth Year to drag out any more of it to the surface of my memory.

A hundred and thirty versus ninety. Gryffindor is in the lead.

Last year, I was banned from playing, but the Headmaster intervened and all it took was a nod. I was so excited! It was good for me too, all the flying around chased away the somber thoughts, cooled me down from rushing into things. We won the Slytherin match, as well as the one against Hufflepuff. Hannah Abbott never was the fastest, but she's trying.

Snitch! To the far right of the stadium. Hannah's much closer than I am and no one in their right mind would think I can cover the distance in time.

No, they'll never let me quit being a Seeker. Ron would murder me.

The snitch disappears again and Hannah's face shows disappointment. It's good that Hufflepuff is scheduled to play Ravenclaw this year, because I don't get to see Cho. I try not to look at her too often. Never would've thought it would be so awkward to be reminded of… that.

The mistletoe, that soft, warm kiss. And Seamus' kiss yesterday, like he tried to devour me where I stood. I think I've got all the wrong ideas about kissing, regardless of whether it is a girl or a bloke. I always try to wipe my lips afterwards, they always seem too wet. And I can't shake the feeling that if I want to, I can easily overpower the mouth kissing me. Maybe it's normal, but it just feels weird. Not very inspiring at all.

Right, the game.

McGonagall's stare follows me now and then with worry. There's no need to worry now, it's not like there are dementors around. And not like I'm going to die falling off a great height, higher than the Astronomy tower. Headmaster Dumbledore is here, he's not about to let anything bad happen.

The tower… the snow settling on my cheeks, slowly melting and sliding down my neck, under my collar. I sat, my head tilted all the way up, thinking of nothing at all. It was good to not have to think of anything. Good to forget for awhile that I couldn't risk myself, because who'd kill Voldemort then?

Sometimes I hate Dumbledore, for that moment when he didn't leave me any choice, at all.

Hermione rubbing my ears, pouring some herbal brew down my throat. "Do you know who told us to come here? Snape!" I never did learn how he found out.

Snape, still in his armchair, waiting out the spasms. Blue phial clutched in my trembling fingers. Me shouting at him without any respect whatsoever.

Fluttering wings touch my cheek. I turn my head to the left and the tiny golden ball hovers trustingly right by my face. I reach out, not believing my luck, and the snitch lowers itself into my palm like Ron's tiny pet owl. I stare at it, too shocked to raise my fist and shout victory. And then I notice the score: a hundred and eighty to a hundred and sixty, Hufflepuff is ahead. I fly up to Madam Hooch and silently open my fingers. For some reason she isn't looking at the snitch at all, she's looking at me, and then whistles to signal the end of the match.

Gryffindor has won.

Hannah and I land and exchange our usual handshake. I want to tell her that I didn't expect such an end to the game, but she is too upset to listen.

I suffer through grinning at the crowds, and having survived the congratulatory cheers, head for the locker rooms. I'm one of the last ones in, stooping and dying to take off all my sweaty gear.

I just want to sleep. Why do I want to sleep so much? I want to draw up the curtains and stare up at the dark-red velvet folds. Not that anyone would let me, not now.

Ron and Hermione are waiting for me at the edge of the Quidditch pitch. The professors slowly descend the main platform, and I can hear Professor McGonagall's satisfied, slightly shrill, laughter. She doesn't laugh often.

No, I can't possibly quit being a Seeker, but I'll try anyway.

I get the feeling someone is watching me and spin around nervously, but the pitch is already empty. Then I look up, squinting against the afternoon sun, but only see the dark silhouettes of the professors, leaving their benches. One figure stands out, standing by the edge and looking down. Who's that? I can't see anything against the light. I put my hand up to shield my eyes from the sun, but the figure has already moved away from the edge and I cannot see it. Who was it? Someone decided to ogle their fill of the Golden Boy… Ha!

We've won the match.


 

"Are you really going to leave the team?"

"Ron, would you stop talking with your mouth full? It's rude!"

Thanks, Hermione! I manage to gather my things. I'm eating my rice without really tasting it, even though I soaked it in sauce.

"Who told you?" I ask Ron, without looking at him. I know what he's going to say.

"Ginny." Of course!

"Gonna lecture me now?"

I really try to be nice, but Ron tilts his head. "Why are you mad all of a sudden?"

"I'm mad? You-" Ron should see me when I'm really mad. "I've already told the captain," I say. Yes, the captain. Ginny that is. "There's nothing to discuss. If you want something to talk about, don't you think you've got something to say to Hermione?"

At that, Ron turns red and stares directly at his plate. Hermione continues buttering her toast methodically, but then her knife stills, just for a second. So they didn't make up yet. Ron tried, this morning, but got a chilled "Yes, of course," for his trouble. Hermione's patient. He'll be dancing around all week trying to get a smile out of her. She isn't talking to him, not really, just answers if Ron asks her a direct question.

I hmph and push my empty plate away.

"Ron," It's a petty thing to say but I just have to go there. "My decisions are mine to make. I can handle my own life by now without you hovering over my shoulder, don't you think?"

What's wrong with me? I'm turning into a complete bastard. After Voldemort invading my mind, I'm constantly on my guard, expecting the next attack. I hate fighting with Ron, but I can't seem to help it.

I catch myself wanting to be left alone. Ron probably thinks being alone is what's turning me into a complete bastard. The kind of being alone that sends me running to the empty dungeons. That gives me an idea. I get up from my seat quickly and grab my bag.

"I'll meet you back in the library," I whisper to Hermione and she nods.

Hiding out in Madam Pince's solemn domain accomplishes a few things at once. There's the studying for the exams and then there's peace and quiet. My evening will be spent productively with Hermione, who'll definitely show up, and away from Ron, who keeps stressing me out.


 

"What!? That's completely unfair!"

I agree with Neville. Potions has been replaced by other lectures all week, but to find out now that we have Advanced Potions instead of Herbology, twenty minutes before the start of the lesson… ouch.

"I didn't prepare!" Dean slaps his hand against his forehead.

"Snape's getting even with us," Seamus pitches in. "Imagine how many points we are about to lose."

We crowd the corridor, staring at the modified entries in our schedules. Someone already had the sense to run over to the main one and check that the changes aren't a prank.

"So, who knows what it's all about? I haven't looked at anything," Ron says.

Dean elbows him. "Just sit next to Granger and you're set."

I'm standing there, listening in on their conversation and it dawns on me that if anyone starts asking me something, I wouldn't even understand half the words.

Merlin's balls.

Ohshit, Advanced Potions! In fifteen minutes! I really don't want to see Snape right now, I'm not ready. Had I known in advance… but I didn't! I had no time to prepare.

Maybe I should skip it. Not that anyone can skip Potions without consequences. More detention then? I shudder thinking about the empty, half-lit classroom. Even the fact that he's back isn't going to magically erase the memory of evenings spent there alone. I don't want any reminders.

I sigh and surrender myself to my fate.

We're walking down and I'm trying my best to look displeased instead of scared. Hermione's not fooled. She touches my shoulder lightly: "What is it?"

I want to tell her that everything's OK, but only draw a deep breath. "I don't want to see him."

Hermione's eyes widen, but there's a smile in them, weird. "You've seen him come back and survived that, I doubt Snape would do anything horrible to you if he hasn't done so by now."

She doesn't know half of it. I told her that Snape caught me on the way from the dungeons. That he had lectured me, as always. Snape always does as soon as he sees me. Hermione doesn't know about me shaking his shoulders and shouting right in his face, without any respect whatsoever, the kind schooled into my blood and bones over the years. I treated him like I would treat Ron, not one of my teachers.

I am going to die during class for sure. He's probably looking for the most convenient way to arrange that right now…

We enter the classroom and I bite my lip and try to pretend my heart isn't beating as loud as a drum. Everything's so different here during the day: the voices, the faces, the creak of the benches against the stone floors. All these sounds kill the memory of silence. I settle in my seat and get out everything I need for the lesson. Maybe I'll be lucky and he won't notice me.

"Silence."

His even voice makes me jump in surprise. I'm not the only one. Snape appears so suddenly, the door has let him in just now and he's already striding down the aisles, scrutinizing the classroom. I lower my head, hiding my face, and pray for him not to stop by my table.

He strides past me towards his desk.

"Considering you've had no Potions lectures so far this week, I expect you've used the allotted time wisely to prepare and review the material needed for today's lesson."

I sneak a glance at him from under my lashes. Snape's face is unreadable, but I could've sworn he's smirking. Of course he bloody would. It's written on everyone's face that we haven't prepared worth a damn!

"I take your silence as a 'yes'. Not to worry, you'll have plenty of chances to demonstrate. You have already heard about the salves used to dissolve scars. However, in order to remove scars resulting from magical curses as well as their residue, salve alone is not enough. It must be supplemented by an elixir intended for internal use, the brewing of which is significantly harder. You will have two hours to brew the elixir. The ingredients are on the board."

He waves his wand and the entire class releases a collective sigh. The ingredient list is long, terribly so, but we don't dare complain aloud. The kind of groans you usually hear in Transfiguration are all muffled before they get a chance to escape our throats in Potions.

"You'll find everything you need in the potions stores, as usual."

I stiffen up nervously at that. I know that these are not the cabinets I've been cleaning up during detention, and not his personal cabinet either, the one I never opened without permission. The ingredient stores are along the wall behind his desk. The doors open wide at the flick of his wand. In order to reach them, I must pass Snape, who settles back into his chair and again sweeps his gaze over us.

I must walk right past that chair. Right past Snape.

I sit still and can't make myself get up. "Scared, Potter?"

Somehow, I even remind myself of Malfoy. No, of course I'm not scared!

Then why am I still sitting down?

A salve for dissolving scars. I know what he meant by that, I bet. I reach into my pocket for the small jar with its fitted lid. I lift it to my nose and inhale the light minty smell. I think the elixir is meant to be paired with this sort of salve and should probably smell similar.

I open the jar and apply the salve to my lip. The smell is comforting somehow. It makes my head feel lighter, as if I'm dizzy.

And so, I cover the scar which I got fighting Riddle with salve. I won that fight, didn't I? And the reason I won it is all thanks to… I stick the jar back in my pocket and rise to my feet abruptly. I go to the ingredient shelves hoping that he won't pay attention to me. I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't do anything wrong, I repeat like a mantra at every step.

No, I did do something. I saw his weakness. Would he ever forgive anyone that, especially me?

I collect the ingredients listed by Snape. I want to take all of them back in one go, but it's simply too much to carry. Fine. I head back to my spot, not even looking his way. If I'm forced to avoid him like this for the rest of the year, and then back at Grimmauld Place, he'll definitely conclude I'm now afraid of him.

If I'm not afraid of him, why am I being such an idiot?

The time passes excruciatingly slow. My diligence today would have been laugh-worthy to myself just a few days ago. I don't want to be the target of his mockery. Not until I have the chance to start thinking of him as my Professor again. Until I put aside the image of his pained scowl and those wide dark pupils on his death-pale face.

Now, sitting on his usual spot, he seems like an integral part of Hogwarts. Someone who has nothing to worry about when it comes to harm. Dumbledore's prized chained hound, the threat to every dunderhead at Hogwarts. His robes make him seem taller, I'd never have thought he's only half a head taller than me. I'm so used to thinking of him as the tall statue, but when I had to lift him up, I confirmed that he's thin and wiry, so thin I could feel his ribs right through all the layers.

For the life of me, I can't reconcile the two different versions of him, the one I’ve seen for six years and the one I can't forget after our latest encounter. One thing's for sure, Snape himself isn't going to be of any help. I'm surprised he didn't Obliviate me yet.

"Hermione, help, please! Could you fetch the rest of this stuff for me?"

When the lesson is almost over, I am watching my brew change colours with a satisfied grin. Another four minutes and it should turn the right shade of purple. And yes, it smells exactly like the stuff on my lips.

I pour the potion into the phial and carry it over to Snape’s desk, trying to hide behind everyone else's back. The smells in the classroom range from 'rotten fruit' to 'way too minty'. I turn, sniffing the air, and run into Hermione, nose to nose. Her elixir is far too minty as well. I can't believe it, Hermione overdid it on the brewing. It's the first time I ever recall her doing that. She doesn't look too unhappy about it, so I don't say anything, just give her a parting look. Then I set the phial, marked with my name, on his desk and return to my seat.

Three minutes later, Snape is counting our phials, all lined up in a row like soldiers on a death march, and raises his eyes at us. I regard his crooked nose and hope he isn't going to assign us something completely impossible. He's likely to, mind. Judging by the faces in the room, not everyone's attempt has succeeded all that much. I was lucky, I went by the smell of my salve, and it may have saved me. Of course, surely mine isn't the best try out there. Firstly, I am a Gryffindor, and secondly, I'm Harry Potter. But still this is not going to be a T, I bet. Besides, I really, really do not want to get stuck writing another teeth-grinding essay about, say 'basil and their usage in the fine art of potion brewing'.

Huh, why basil? It hasn't been anywhere near today's ingredients. I think about it and really can't imagine where I got the basil from.

"I will now examine your attempts," says Snape with a sour face, sniffing scornfully at the results of our suffering. He winces. I'd wince too if I were in his shoes. And then he assigns an essay about the properties of the salve, paired with the elixirs which we have attempted to prepare. I release a relieved sigh. Madam Pomfrey has already told me all about it!

I gather my things and look forward to following everyone out the door and forgetting all about Snape until the next class.

"Stay here, Mister Potter."

His voice gives away nothing, his tone is carefree, and I can feel the chill running down my spine. I thought I'd gotten away with it. Looks like the rest of the day will be a disappointment.

I stay in my seat, noticing a side glare, sneakily thrown my way by Malfoy. Then everyone leaves us alone and I hope for my death to be quick and painless.


 

A few seconds after the door slams shut behind the last student, the classroom plunges into silence. I hear my own breathing and the surface of my desk is suddenly very interesting. What does he need me for?

"Are you planning to sit there all day?" Snape inquires derisively. "Come here."

I march up to him, as if to my execution, and glance at the board which still holds the list of ingredients for the lesson. Pausing a few steps away from the desk, I start studying the pattern of the wood under the lacquer. I've braced myself against that surface not so long ago.

I lift my head at him.

He regards me, absentmindedly tracing his lip with his finger. His narrowed eyes study me and force me to stand up straighter. How terrible of a transgression can it be, keeping Snape from fainting?

"Yes, sir?" I say, just to fill the silence. Snape places his hands on his desk and folds them together. The contrast of his pale, sallow skin marked by the impeccable white cuff, against the dark polished wood is so stark, I stare at it, happy to find something to focus on. I am not quite ignoring him and at the same time not irritating him with my stare either. At least I hope I don't.

"I understand you have shown significant improvement, Potter. That is unlike you." He continues, after a short pause. "You are done with your detention. I must say I'm surprised that you resisted sticking your nose into my private cabinet."

I open my mouth to counter that, but he doesn't let me.

"I've checked the wards. They've only been broken once."

Yes, I remember.

"I expect you will refrain from wasting my ingredients so carelessly from now on. As you've demonstrated today, you're quite capable of promising results."

Wasting ingredients… Is he referring to my spoiled potion that caused me to show up here, cleaning up his rubbish for days? Still, I'm surprised. What is he praising me for? I look Snape in the eye and he narrows them. I quickly resume staring at his hands.

"I'm curious, however," his tone gains a searching note, "About the first evening of my absence, when you've neglected to come in for detention. Tracking charms don't lie, Potter. Do explain yourself."

First evening… That evening when he didn't return to Hogwarts and I was in the Hospital Wing with the bandage over my eyes and that idiotic, irrational fear for his well-being.

I cough. "I was unable to come, Professor."

"Why?"

He must certainly have heard the details by now, from Headmaster Dumbledore. He can't not know that we were both attacked, likely at the same time.

"I spent the evening in the infirmary," I answer, my mouth dry.

"Yet another ill-advised adventure?" Snape's voice oozes contempt, but I think I also sense his worry behind it all.

I nod and snort. "Sort of. Had to take care of an unwelcome guest. Voldemort."

Snape's hands aren't folded anymore, he bangs his fist on the table. "Don't. Say that name."

"Sorry," I shrug.

"So what happened during this encounter?" Snape's voice is still icy, but I clearly hear concern in it.

"Didn't Headmaster Dumbledore tell you?" I peer at him in distrust. Can't be so.

"Answer my question." He anchors his elbows against his desk and leans forward. Even though his desk is between us, I step back, faced with that furious stare.

"Nothing happened, sir. Er, I managed to use Occlumency against him." My ears burn, but I don't look away. "Vol - You-Know-Who, tried to get my memories, I think. It didn't work."

Snape leans back against the seat and starts drumming his fingers on his desk, as if considering something. I use the moment to add: "I spent the evening in the infirmary and came back to detention the following day, sir."

"Why were you in the infirmary?"

I'm torn. I don't want to admit just how many hours I've spent unconscious. Even though I've spent a recent evening keeping him from the same fate.

"I fainted," I tell him. "I've had some broken blood vessels in my eyes and face. I don't know why that happened."

Snape gives a curt nod. "That's an expected reaction. What puzzles me is how you managed to Occlude, since you were a complete disaster during our lessons."

"I don't know, Professor," I answer softly. I must tell him. I may not get another chance. "But I want to thank you. If it wasn't for your lessons…"

Snape huffs so loudly that it startles me. "You should thank the Headmaster. I would never have bothered if not for him. I don't possess your sense of chivalry."

Those last words sound almost like a threat. I know what he's driving at. I take a deeper breath. "I don't believe you, sir. Volde- er, You-Know-Who didn't think you taught me, he blamed the Headmaster. But you were the one to spend the time…"

Snape's brow arches. "So considerate of you to notice, Potter."

Well yeah. What did he think? That I wouldn't remember it?

"It's just, I've had all this time to prepare myself," I tell him before I even realise what I'm saying.

He's surprised. "Prepare?"

"Yeah, I knew, thanks to your lessons, to expect some sort of attack sooner or later."

"When did you reach that conclusion?"

"While I was cleaning out your cabinets these two evenings."

While I was waiting for you to come back, is more accurate, but I'd rather lose my tongue than admit that.

A deep sigh emerges from the direction of Snape's desk. I risk a glance at him. He's rubbing his temples as if trying to ward off a headache. Then he stares at me and says: "I consider your explanation acceptable, for now. At least we've learned that instructing you is not a complete waste of my time, in some ways, when you actually manage to apply yourself."

It's pointless to try and expect praise from Snape, or at least I thought so for six years. So why do I get the feeling for the second time, that he has offered me praise?

I don't know how to feel about that. I don't know what to say.

Thankfully, he continues: "Needless to say, Potter, you must keep the events of our previous encounter a secret. Or did you already spill it to the entire Gryffindor House?"

My face grows hot. The topic makes my stomach churn, the smell of mint from my salve is making my head hurt. I lick my lips, by habit, and the taste of the salve keeps me focused. "I didn't spill it! You know I didn't tell anyone!"

Of course he doesn't know. But I'm too furious to pick my words carefully.

"I get it, you'd rather die than let me see you like that. You'd turn down any help! Anyone would've been a better man for the job. Anyone but me!"

"That's right, anyone but you," Snape hisses, pinning me with his glare and I can't help but think of his head thrown back against the seat, about his closed, twitching eyelids. Go. Anyone but you…

"Why do you hate me?" I cry out, my fingers curling in a furious need to grab him by the shoulders and shake. "I've done nothing to you. Nothing!"

"Shall I list the reasons why?" His unbreakable calm quenches my anger, I grow silent, feeling the heat of my cheeks, the wetness in my eyes from all the intense staring.

A moment passes, two. He releases a smug snort: "If you're truly interested in the reasons for my contempt, Potter, you needn't look far: just to your prank from last year. Have you forgotten already or do I need to produce a Pensieve-full again for your viewing pleasure?" he speaks without raising his voice, but that controlled fury in his tone makes me back away from his desk. I hate the ease with which he makes me feel like a firstie again.

"You've seen my past," I counter. "You know that it's not that different from yours. I've been bullied too."

"Of course," he barks. "Except I had nothing to do with your personal humiliations, Mister Potter!"

Touché. I stare at my toes. Why doesn't he just throw me out and be done with it? Why didn't I flee already?

Maybe it's 'cause we're finally talking. About despising each other, about what we think we owe and owed in return. A conversation with Snape is no chat over tea and lemon drops, that's for sure. But he's still talking to me and not hexing me, that's something.

"Sir… I'm sorry," I say, knowing well enough it's a useless gesture. I am right.

"Spare me the apology," Snape hisses through his teeth, looking through me.

I gulp and risk it: "I know you don't want to hear any of it. But I'm glad you're back."

He stares with fury, but there's surprise in it. Somewhere.

"You - what?"

"I'm glad you came back," I tell him and only now realise just how sincere I am. "I was wrong about you."

"Oh joy," Snape counters tartly. "Shall I celebrate now or…"

"Sir?"

"What did you mean when you said you were wrong?" he asks with utter annoyance.

What did I mean? ShutupShutUpShutUP, don't say it.

"I don't hate you," I tell him, cursing my own stubborn tongue.

"Shocked, I am."

I snort, for the first time appreciating his sarcasm. This entire conversation is bordering on absurd, so I might as well make it worse. "I'm glad that you know," I say with newfound determination, "You aren't going to believe it, but I am."

"You're free to go."

That's… it? Isn't he going to say something? Or shout at me? I'm disappointed.

"Er?"

"Why are you still here?" Snape raises his head from the pile of homework he just pulled to him, "Didn't I tell you this conversation is over? Do you want to be kicked out?"

"Sir!" I have no clue how he'd react. "Vol - You-Know-Who said something, about seeing me again in the near future."

I watch him grow pale. Black eyes focus on me and dilate, or did he simply stop squinting? "Why the hell have you kept this quiet? Have you spoken with the Headmaster?"

I shake my head. I didn't. I don't want to stay locked up in the Hospital Wing forever and ever.

"Potter, you complete fool!" Snape rises from his desk, rounds it and again steps into my personal space, so close I can make out the stitches in his robe: "Do you understand you're risking your life trying to resist the Dark Lord?"

"Don't call him that!" I mumble, too shocked to come up with anything clever. I expected him to accuse me of not taking the safety of others into consideration, not my own.

What an utterly impossible man! Why do I even care about his sudden concern? Even when he's saving my arse, he still rips my head off.

"You must inform Headmaster Dumbledore," Snape says sternly, grabbing my shoulder and turning me toward the door. Are those fingers actually steel? They don't look that strong.

"M'not telling him anything!" I shout back and twist out of his grip, "You mightn't care but I don't want to be the resident loony, with all these voices in my head. You didn't want to be seen by Madam Pomfrey either, so why should I be fussed over? Go on, tell the Headmaster yourself, you always wanted to get even with me, here's your chance!"

"Do you even hear yourself?" His face is so close to mine that I suddenly remember I wanted to touch it, when I placed him in that chair. I really wanted to touch that sallow skin.

Something must have changed in my stare, because Snape pulls away, but he's just as angry with me: "How do you know that the next time won't be your last?"

"Well yeah, who's going to save the sodding world if I'm gone?"

I should be shouting, but my throat spasms with dull pain. For a second I pause, then rush past Snape to the door. He reaches me halfway. My arm's going to bruise, but that doesn't matter now, I want to be as far away from him as possible. I release a shuddering breath and do not look at him.

"Potter," his voice is right there, by me, and I squeeze my eyes shut. Focus. "Why did you tell me about the Dark Lord, when you couldn't tell the Headmaster?"

"Because," I cough, hoarsely, "Cause I wanted to ask… Could you start teaching me again?"

The silence is as thick as a gel. You can cut it into pieces. At last, Snape releases me. I rub my forearm as it tingles and he steps back, turning his back to me. I look at those tensed shoulders - he's crossed his arms over his chest - and try not to think of how much of an idiot I am. I've so many ways to prove to myself I'm truly insane.

Snape turns and I meet his eye. It's not the first time he's about to insult me and he'd be right. He'd turn me out on my ear any second now. Probably won't bother with detention. Can't have the Boy Who Lived taking up all of his precious time…

Screw that. Screw him!

"Today is Wednesday," he says plainly. "You will be here this Friday, at six. If you're so much as one minute late, I will cancel."

I stand there, unable to move, unable to process what I've just heard. He said yes!

Snape's going to teach me Occlumency again.

I willingly asked him to teach me. He agreed. The world has truly gone mad.

I nod.

"Do close the door on your way out."

I nod again, grab the handle of my bag and rush out of the Potions classroom.

The door shuts silently behind my back.

Chapter Text

I've gone mad. Completely, totally insane, I tell myself the entire Thursday, but on Friday I've apparently had enough. It's true, so what? Only a complete loony would say what I've said to Snape.

I've told Snape that I want to spend time with him, willingly, and it's less than a month until the exams. Hermione's going to kill me.

But what can I do? Asking Headmaster Dumbledore to teach me Occlumency is just as bad. That's a fact. After the Encounter (as I've come to call it), the Headmaster could have offered to teach me to defend myself, but he didn't. Even Snape had seemed more worried than that!

Maybe Snape is just being rational and knows my chances of resisting Riddle are next to none. I'm not the Saviour to him, I'm a pain in his - his everything really. An annoyance. He's certainly not going to baby me and raise my hopes up.

What is he going to see that's worse than what he's seen already?

Seamus…

Shit. Why didn't I think of Seamus?

The idea that Snape would somehow learn that I'm queer, and just how much headache that's caused me, haunts me even during the night. I toss and turn in bed and cannot fall asleep.

Let him find out, I try to reason with myself. What's he going to do? Tell everyone? I didn't tell anyone about what I saw in that Pensieve of his. He doesn't want it known either and that's my only hope. If I have to threaten him with something, I can use that.

On the other hand, Snape's likely never told anyone what he saw in my memories. Maybe he didn't think my childhood and school time troubles were worth mentioning, but I really, really didn't want him to see.

Oh, the things he can dig up in my head now!

No kidding, it'll be an overnight sensation: The Boy Who Lived to Become Queer.

I snort at my own joke, but Ron says from the bed next to me: "Harry, are you done?"

"Sorry," I whisper back and push my face into my pillow, muffling my nervous laughter.

There's only one thing I can do to keep the whole school from knowing my secret: I must block Snape from reading my thoughts. All of them.

I must succeed in a skill that I still can't master, and I must do so while I'm in full control of my mind, not half-mad with pain in an extreme circumstance.

A reminder of Voldemort stops my doubt. I know now that these lessons are necessary. No matter how many embarrassing things Snape sees in my mind, what do I have to lose?

What is there to lose? My last name, the fame that followed me since birth?

"Clearly, fame isn't everything…"

Yeah, that's true. I just hope he spares me and doesn't drag me through the mud when he finds out just how little I resemble the Golden Boy.

I need to learn Occlumency, I must. There's too much at stake if I can't shake Riddle off next time.

Who knows what the bastard wants! At first I thought it was about Snape, but maybe not.

The Order of the Phoenix doesn't know how much information Voldemort has exactly. If he ever sees a glimpse of Grimmauld Place in my head, I'll have to say goodbye to Sirius' home. I can only hope that the house stands empty at the time of the attack, it's not like I can warn them right away, even if I do survive. Just look what happened last time.

Snape's not the only one who is concerned about safety and secrets. See, see, I'm trying! Trying the best I can, without involving the Headmaster.

I remember how Snape pressed his finger to my lips before he disappeared. As if he was afraid I'd say the name of the Order in earshot of someone. Half of the Slytherin upper years probably already carries the Dark Mark and the rest is getting ready for it. I'm not about to go around talking, but Snape didn't know that, so he must've erred on the side of caution.

The memory of his touch makes me wipe my lips furiously. He didn't waste any time with words or with threatening scowls, just gestured for silence and that was it. What if there was a faster way to tell me to shut up, would he even have touched me then?

He doesn't hate me for me specifically, but 'cause I'm a Gryffindor. I've overheard him once, talking to Zabini, instructing him to head to the 'lion's den' to give someone details regarding a detention. So if we're the lion's den, what are they? A serpent’s nest through and through.

I huff and flatten my pillow with my fist.

He wouldn't even bother with touching me. He avoids the smallest contact already! He only does it if - I rub my forearm, the one now carrying a bruise - if he's got no other choice.

… what if I do manage to learn the basics of Occlumency? That one time, when I did break through his mental shields and saw his memories, he wasn't very happy about it. In fact, I was afraid he'd murder me. But I'm not that Fifth Year anymore, I've changed. I'm not about to let Snape push me around like that again.

I did ask him, but he could still say no, especially if he ever catches me being rude in his presence, which won't take long.

Something tells me Snape won't refuse though. Maybe it's because he's trying to get even for last year's humiliation with the Pensieve, which ended our lessons. Or maybe it's the same reason that made him turn so pale yesterday, when he'd heard that Voldemort's planning another attack on me.

I wish I knew why.

Even if I do manage to break past Snape's shields and into his memories, he'd likely turn into a right beast, but he won't kick me out. And I'm not about to expect a fair warning from him first, he'd cast as soon as he flicks his wand.

I haven't managed to resist Snape yet.

I did resist Voldemort.

We'll see what the next time brings.

I'm lying there in the dark, picturing the very moment I break past Snape's mental shields. Scary, isn't it? I'll once again see all his fears, all he's ashamed of and everything he never wants to think about again. I'll see him as a student about my age, or even younger. I don't know anything about him and just a while back I couldn't be bothered knowing.

Merlin help me, but I'm curious.

Is Snape doing the same thing now, lying in bed and thinking about our next lesson? Yeah right, I huff. I haven't gotten a wink of sleep yet, and he's probably sleeping like the dead. It's three a.m. already.

Once more, I turn from side to side and finally get an hour of sleep. Damn Voldemort, damn Snape, damn the entire bloody war! It's making me face things I absolutely hate.

Myself included.


 

"Harry, you haven't had breakfast and you're now skipping lunch too and you look like a mountain troll has run you over. You were meant to turn Dean into a flower vase instead of -" Ron's holding it together all throughout Hermione's speech, but can't resist a snort and starts giggling as she finishes a detached "a floral chamber pot. And you've got bags under your eyes! What happened?"

"No yelling at Hermione," Ron warns me, clenching his hand into a fist under the table and not quite hiding it. "We're friends and all, so I'll beat you up like a true friend. Right from the bottom of my heart."

I snort and cover his fist with my hand. Yeah, right.

"All right, Ron. I solemnly swear to tell the truth, and be calmer about it than my aunt on valium."

Hermione snorts at that, then throws her head back, so her hair falls back from her shoulders, and laughs. Ron stares at us and shakes his head. His face is puzzled: "What's a valium?"

"Muggle thing," I grin. "Ask Hermione later."

"Harry," he groans. "You're avoiding the question."

I sigh but still I keep grinning. And I'm going to keep grinning even if they faint from surprise right into their vegetable stew.

"I asked Snape to continue teaching me Occlumency."

Whoa, didn't quite expect that reaction out of Ron. But Hermione gasps, covers her mouth with her hands and then rushes over to pull me into a hug. I bat her hands away, mortified, and ask her to save all the hugs for the common room, at least, but she beams at me and her voice rings with joy: "Good job, Harry! I was hoping you'd realise you had to try! Would you like me to do some research?"

I can't help it and give her a one-armed hug, my hand right over her wild curls. Ron is now serious, at least, after his utter shock. "Thanks, Hermione," I tell her sincerely. "I could use some help, if I can make it through today's date with Snape alive, that is."

She snorts and bumps her fist against my shoulder. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you're such an idiot, Harry. You've got a twisted sense of humour."

Where's the twist? I happen to think I'm very funny all the time. Otherwise I'd've ended up dead long ago. My entire life is practically one big joke, I just don’t have the time to laugh about it.

I feel the corners of my mouth twitch and am happy Hermione isn't looking. She probably wouldn't like my expression. I give her shoulder another quick pat and let her go.

I get the odd feeling that I'm being watched. So I peer around, trying to see who it is. No one is watching me.

Strange.

When I turn to the High Table, I notice a shadow of movement - the black hair sways as Snape turns to Professor McGonagall, passing over the sugar with his ordinary expression. Had he had the milk in front of him, it would certainly have curdled.

It had to be him, boring a hole through the back of my head with his stare. Is it 'cause I was lying awake last night, thinking of what's to come?

Wonder if Headmaster Dumbledore knows? I haven't even thought about telling him. It's easier to think of that as Snape's problem. How exactly he is going to run it by Dumbledore, I don't care, as long as I don't have to. It's infuriating enough to have to worry about putting up with Snape for more than necessary.

But that's not quite true though, is it? I want to see him. I want to take another peek underneath that mask of his, to see what I saw before, on that evening.

The Snape I thought I saw then doesn't exist, I remind myself sternly. Even if he did, it's not like I'd ever see that side of him again. Snape's shields are always up.

That's exactly what I was planning to do during the lesson, try to get past his mental shields, innit?

Enough! I cut that line of thinking short. I don't like the way my thoughts are headed. I focus on the noise of the Great Hall. Huh, Ron and Hermione are holding hands. Apparently the fact that Ron stepped in to defend Hermione has got him in her good graces again. Well, that's one problem solved.

I get up and wave my hand in front of the two very blank faces. "Hey, we've got Herbology!"

Two pairs of eyes, blue and brown, break their eye contact and look at me with such affection, that I'm suddenly feeling shy. Perhaps they were still thinking about each other.

Well, who else would they think about? Not me, surely.

They both grab their bags and Ron holds onto Hermione's books as he walks. We all head for the next lecture.

Herbology, last one of the day.

At least for everyone else. I've got Occlumency with Snape two hours later.


 

As I come down to the Potions classroom, I try not to think about how familiar the path to the dungeons has become, so familiar I can walk it with my eyes closed. I can avoid Filch and Mrs Norris without the aid of the Invisibility Cloak. I know every turn of the corridor, all the hiding spots behind the tapestries. Snape would probably find me right away, but I'm here with his permission, so it's not likely he's going to hunt me down any time soon.

I'm used to the door easily swinging open in front of me now, so I'm almost offended when it stays still. I pause for a few seconds and then realise that Snape must've taken off his Tracking charms and revised his wards. They've been up for longer than he had expected anyway. Had it been up to him, he'd probably keep me out for good, away from his cabinets and himself.

Like that evening, when….

I'm doomed to keep remembering, apparently. Snape wouldn't be pleased to learn how fresh it all is in my memory, if he ever breaks in. Or when. I shudder and knock.

"Enter," comes from inside and I yank on the handle. It's not locked, I just haven't checked if it was. And Snape would hate to see me show up without knocking anyway. A bad feeling lingers as I enter the classroom, reminding myself that I will need all my self-control.

"Potter." Snape locks one of the cabinets. They've locked themselves before, as soon as I closed their doors. He must've changed the wards already. Paranoid git.

"Good evening, sir." I don't want my voice to shake. Enough. There's no reason to panic! It's not like he's going to practice the Killing Curse on me.

"Spare me." He stares into my eyes. "The sooner we start the faster we'll end this necessity of sharing a classroom again."

'Course he wouldn't bother being nice to me. What did I expect?

"I've spoken with the Headmaster," Snape continues, scanning me with his stare. "He gave us his approval."

I can't contain my snort and he arches his brow at me: "What's so funny?"

"Nothing," I answer him. "Just, what wouldn't the Headmaster approve of as long as the ends justify the means?"

Snape reaches me in a few strides. I don't like it when he's so close! Bland, simmering frustration rises like tea leaves in a cup as I take a pointed step back. He sees it and smirks: "Care to clarify that, Mister Potter?"

What does he want me to explain? I wish I understood Headmaster Dumbledore myself! I bite my lip, even though I've chided myself for that bad habit just a few minutes back. It's a nervous reaction and it gives me away. I stare somewhere in the direction of Snape's shoulder. "I just think that…"

"'I just think that', sir! You will learn respect or you will find yourself on the other side of my door."

I turn my head and stare somewhere between his brows. Sirius' brows nearly met in the middle, but Snape hasn't got a single hair out of place over his nose. It's as if he grooms them. It would be funny if he did, especially considering the rest of that face. Quite a vision! A picture of something, all right.

"I'm sorry, sir, I just meant that Professor Dumbledore would approve anything that would help us keep You-Know-Who from gaining the upper hand, or to just slow him down. He's made us work together last year, knowing full well that you hated me, and he's made me attend anyway, knowing I wanted nothing-" I stop talking in time. Snape's sallow cheeks gained a pink hue when I mentioned he hated me and now they're red and splotchy.

"Well, go on, Mis-ter Potter. Since you know my feelings toward you so well, enlighten me regarding your own. You must've been aching for some form of corporal punishment."

"I already told you I'm sorry! I-"

"You don't 'hate me'. Yes, I recall. Such a grand gesture on your part. Although, concerning the Headmaster, perhaps you're right, more than you know."

He steps away from me and I gasp in surprise. His last admission feels like a punch. This is me he's talking about. It's not the fact that I'm right - I am! - it's that he agreed I was.

"Sir?"

"The Headmaster does indeed go along with many things which are unthinkable, or merely unpleasant, in peacetime. War has its own rules. Or haven't you learned that already?"

All's fair in love and war. That brings me back to earth, on my spot in front of the Head of Slytherin House, who’s looming over me, his arms crossed over his chest, and examining me with that thin, almost nonexistent smirk. The man who made my life difficult from the very first moment he saw me, or did he?

"Professor. Er, maybe we should start."

He arches his brow. "Such diligence. Fine. I suppose an hour's worth of practice should be sufficient."

I give him a strained nod and pick a spot. I remember falling a lot last year and I really don't want to crack my head open on his writing desk. The floor isn't going to be any better, but at least it's flat.

Snape moves in front of me and raises his wand, but then lowers it abruptly and points it at the classroom door instead, muttering the locking spell. "Does anyone know where you are?"

"Just Ron and Hermione, so they wouldn't worry. They knew about it last year too, sir. Well, they knew I had lessons with you, at least," I add hastily. A shadow of a smirk graces Snape's face, but otherwise it's unreadable.

"Well then, all the more reason for the Locking Charms. Your friends are too fond of turning the castle upside down looking for you. I hope knowing your location would deter them from asking unnecessary questions."

"Of course they wouldn't be asking," I protest and then I get it. "Sir." I know he won't answer, but I have to ask anyway. "You've been questioned about our lessons, haven't you?"

I face him and stare and he clearly doesn't like it one bit.

"Are you here to learn Occlumency or to banter?"

"You can tell me. Please!" I have to know if they questioned him. It's not just idle curiosity, it's important! Please tell me, please! I think at Snape. I've got to know.

"Very well. I may answer your questions when you show progress," he says unexpectedly and audibly snorts at me. "Let's consider this your motivation, or possibly reward, as it may. Now, one, two…"

I close my eyes, I know that he's not going to finish counting. I know it!

"Legilimens!"

Dudley catches up with me on the street in the evening: "Who's Cedric? Your boyfriend?" Stinging pain and fury… Dementors. They're coming for us, for Dudley and me, and the air freezes in my lungs. No, please!

Sirius, at Grimmauld Place, yelling at Kreacher. Yelling at Snape in the kitchen. They whipped out their wands and I'm right between them, with my hands against their chests, trying to push them apart. Don't, Sirius! Killing him is not worth it.

I know what's coming next, my worst memory. The Department of Mysteries. The Veil. Nonono!

I gather all my strength - there's so little of it - and try to put up a shield against his magic, which is rubbing my memory scars raw. I try to focus on Snape being the whirlwind of memories, I know, he's gotta be here somewhere. But I don't see him. I see our first Occlumency lesson, his furious glare against my own. Just one more terrible memory…

I've gotta fight it, I've gotta…

"PROTEGO!"

When I come to, I'm on my knees, with my hands against the floor, and I'm wracked by dry sobs. Snape stands in front of me, his wand lowered.

Shakily, I rise and straighten my shoulders: "You've stopped."

"Yes," he snaps, taking a step toward his desk and rifling through the drawers.

"Why?" I didn't expect it to come out so angry myself.

"Because you didn't resist me." To my surprise, his voice carries no contempt, or at least, not more than usual. "You can't."

"I must. I have to, don't you see?" I am shouting. He's probably going to throw me out for that, but Snape merely lifts his head and tosses something in my direction. I catch it and recognize it as a bar of chocolate, the same kind that Professor Lupin used to have. I'm far too surprised to say anything and he seems impatient.

"Eat. I'm not going to poison you."

"Thanks." My legs give out and I collapse against the nearest desk. He follows me with his stare and hmphs. Fine. I stand up again and sit down on the bench to unwrap the bar.

"You wouldn't have managed it, not the first time," Snape's voice is calm. "You've had no preparation, except one extreme circumstance, which does not count. You didn't practice, even though I specifically made it a part of your homework assignment last year. I doubt you even thought of preparing for today."

"I did," I answer him grimly. "It's no use."

"You won't make any progress without constant practice," he growls in the tone that he used to explain the difference between slugs and snails my first year. "If you apply a certain amount of effort…"

"I will," I assure him, gulping down the chocolate. "Don't have any choice, do I?"

"I'm glad you finally realised that."

Why am I not particularly bothered by his snide remark? I put the foil back over the rest of the chocolate bar and take my place across from Snape.

"Sir, should we continue?"

He sighs. "Yes."

A while later, I rise from the floor for the fourth time, not even really caring that all the memories Snape has seen so far haven't been the ones I was most afraid he’d see. There's no Seamus in the images floating through my head, but that doesn't matter as much as before. In any case, those memories aren't important, so there's nothing to worry about.

I haven't made any progress either. And on top of it all, my scar hurts. Not as much as it does when Voldemort tries to break in, but enough to erase any hope of a good night's sleep. I'm too far gone to put up a fair fight, let alone try to get into Snape's mind, like during our first lesson.

"Will you stop doing that!" My voice breaks. Maybe I'm shouting, but I don't hear it as I'm bracing myself for the next round. "I'll never learn if you keep taking pity on me!"

He gives me a strange look. "I'm not pitying you. I am trying not to kill you."

"K-kill me?"

"Yes. You were in serious danger when the Dark Lord invaded your mind. You fight back so desperately, without any finesse, it's as if you're swinging a club in a sword duel. Do you even understand the concept?"

"Sure I do. Duels! I've read The Three Musketeers."

"You have a terrible taste in books. Doesn't matter, as long as you grasp the idea."

"I get it." I grow frustrated. "How can I learn to defend myself when you've explained nothing so far?"

"This means precisely that you don't 'get it', Potter." Snape stops and then sweeps his hand through his hair, throwing it back from his forehead. "Occlumency has no set rules for shielding yourself from danger. Everyone works theirs out on their own. It's my job to make sure you don't harm yourself trying. Your memories shouldn't be too painful, or it would harm you. You must train yourself to resist me on the bearable level of discomfort, slowly increasing the threshold. I am keeping you from being overwhelmed. As you may have noticed, the memories you are seeing are far from the absolute worst. It's my duty as your instructor to make sure of that. But until you stop being afraid of what's in your head, we won't make much progress."

I press my hands against my burning forehead. Maybe Snape's right and does the fact that I haven't seen Sirius dying so far mean I'm not remembering the absolute worst. Hm. Then what about Voldemort's resurrection? That felt like I was living through all of that again. When Snape stopped the spell, I saw him going white, he probably doesn't like that memory any more than I do.

So as long I'm afraid…

"So fear stops me from consciously resisting?" I ask, to make sure I'm right.

"Yes."

"Then stop taking it easy on me!" I jump to my feet and can't help but groan. Pain pierces my scar. I press my palm against it and rub my eyes dry.

Huh. My vision's affected too, who knew? That's why I've had damage to my eyes then.

Snape regards me, deep in thought, and then walks past the row of desks to the far corner. To his personal cabinet, I notice, as I squint at him. He opens it and takes something out, carrying it unhurriedly over, hidden in the folds of his robe.

"As you see, if I don't 'take it easy' on you, this lesson is useless. You will pass out from shock. You haven't reacted this strongly before." His index finger almost touches my scar. "Perhaps you're fighting physically as well as mentally. Do you feel yourself rejecting the invasion?"

"I am not sure..."

"In this case, you should listen to those who are. I have no desire to levitate your lifeless form to the infirmary every time you faint on my floor. There will be questions and your Head of House would assume I've finally managed to rid the school of your presence."

I snort, just picturing that, but still I tell him: "I want to learn to defend myself. I don't want a repeat of what happened before. Even if I have to pass out to learn it."

"Have you no self-preservation?" He frowns.

"It's not my fault my body's reacting. If you don't stop casting, maybe it'll stop doing it after awhile."

"And you might die. The last thing I want is a comatose student in my classroom."

We grow silent. Finally, Snape asks softly: "Why do you insist on rushing this? You have potential and you have some time. You even have my consent."

"I'm scared," I tell him, and my voice is even. "I can't see anyone else die because of me. If he ever learns things. I just can't."

"You are afraid that the Dark Lord will try to take over your mind within the castle walls?" He looks surprised. I nod. "Or are you afraid that you will have to face him alone, without help?"

I shudder and don't answer that. I’ve already said too much. Snape releases an impatient hmph and pulls a round jar out of his pocket. These glass jars must be part of a set. "Take this. You may apply it to your scar to keep it from hurting at night. Our next lesson will be a week from now."

"We need to do this sooner!"

His lips thin. "If you insist."

"I insist!"

"Very well." A displeased sneer. "Sunday evening. Don't forget to study, for our lesson and for the exams."

"Thank you." What else is there to say?

"You're free to go."

I start walking toward the door when he calls out: "There's no reason to be afraid. As long as you have the will to fight, you'll have the opportunity to call for help."


 

I walk through the dungeon corridors, bathed in torchlight, and consider what Snape told me. I have to stop being afraid of what's in my own head to successfully stop others from invading it. Perhaps that even makes sense. Voldemort didn't use Legilimency on me because he didn't even think I could fight it off. Instead he bluntly tried to break my mind. Maybe he'd even have succeeded if he’d had more finesse.

In any case, I'll see soon enough if that's true. No matter how optimistic I try to be, Snape's final words keep echoing in my head. Let me have enough time to prepare, so I'm not stuck waiting helplessly for the next attack.

Odd, what did Snape mean, when he said I'll have a chance to call for help?

I can practically feel his stare, as it stills on my face: "Have you no self-preservation?"

That's probably true, Professor.

I smile lightly. Every single Hogwarts Professor, including Snape, has managed to get into my head that I must exercise caution. After all, I'm Riddle's bait. I'm the Boy Who Lived to stop him. Or so the prophecy claims. All of it is on me. I get it now, and it makes me feel like a weapon, a precious, deadly weapon that's been kept around to be used at the right moment. And if that's so, I want to be as deadly a weapon as possible. I know whom they'll point me at. It doesn't matter if I want to kill him or not, I have no choice in the matter.

I reach the next turn and stop. This is the exact spot where Malfoy has ambushed me before. I haven’t seen him here since. I suspect it's not because he's truly scared of me breaking his wrist. I'll have to give it some thought, something's going on.

When I left Snape's classroom, the corridor behind me was all empty. But now I can't shake the feeling I'm being watched. What the hell? Malfoy? I spin around. It's better to look like an idiot than chance a blow in the back. But no one is there in the uneven light of the torches. I must've imagined it after all.

Still, I hasten my step and look around me a few more times before I reach the other part of the castle.

When I enter the Common Room, it's around seven-thirty. I didn't even realise Snape and I have been at it for more than an hour. Ron and Hermione wave at me, looking up from their textbooks at once. I walk over to them and sit down in relief. My head spins and my scar aches. I'd forgotten about that on the way here, suspicious of being watched. So I prop up my chin on my arms and look through Ron's notes. Just a few sparse lines. Must be the beginning of Potions homework. I sigh, trying to make it seem lighter than I feel, and my friends stare sympathetically.

"How'd it go?" Ron asks softly, with a touch to my shoulder.

Finnigan enters the Common Room. The Fat Lady yells something after him, but he doesn't even turn around to acknowledge her. He stops by the fireplace, a few steps away from us, and puts his hands over to the fire. Strange, 'cause the evening is warm, despite the fact that I'm freezing.

"Horrible," I answer Ron just as softly.

"How do you feel?" It's Hermione's turn to pry.

"Barely made it here," I answer honestly. "Everything hurts. It's like he tortured me all evening, not -"

"Shhh," Hermione shushes me. "Do you want to give everyone an earful of what you've been up to?"

"Harry, how can you even put up with that!" Ron seems concerned and surprised at once. "You know how he is. He's not going to take it easy on you!"

"At least he's agreed to do it," I answer, taking out the salve jar that Snape gave me. I open it and carefully apply it to my scar, trying not to put too much pressure on it. The salve must have a cooling effect, 'cause my head stops feeling like a hot poker has been applied to it, and the pain lifts.

"Whoa," Hermione gives the air a sniff, "Smells wonderful. What's that?"

"Something he gave me," I tell her, putting the jar away and closing my eyes in relief. The salve has a faint, but fragrant smell of apples, enough to pass as a perfume. Hermione gives it another sniff and asks: "Does it have a label?"

"No." I just want to put my head over my arms and sleep for a week.

"That's a pity." Her face looks disappointed. "I wanted to see what it's made of."

"You'd best tell me what the bloody salve from class is made of," Ron mumbles gloomily, sticking his nose back into his essay.

"Ronald," Hermione snaps. "I've told you half an hour ago! Didn’t you take notes?"

"I did," Ron grumbles. "But what about the rest of the properties, do you know? And what's the final colour?"

"Not sure yet," Hermione says hiding behind some large textbook. "Give me forty minutes. Now about the colour…"

"Pale blue," I cut in, grinning.

Hermione sets her book down and turns to me. "Of course! Why didn't I see it myself?"

Ron blinks at us. "Er. How?"

"That's how," I take a small jar out from my back pocket, and set it on the desk in front of them.

"Ohhh," Ron smirks. "Harry, you've got a collection, just like Snape. The greasy git always carries a load of them. Or so they say."

"Stop talking nonsense," Hermione cuts him off. "Let me smell this, ahha, it is mint! I suspected it would be," she exclaims in triumph. "Did you get this one from Snape too?"

I snort at the question. "No, from Madam Pomfrey, after she let me out of the infirmary. I have to apply it on my lip for a month."

"Wonderful texture!" Hermione's already opened the lid and is admiring the salve's surface. "Whoever brewed it definitely knew what they were doing."

"Probably was Snape all along," Ron huffs. "Who else'd be brewing potions for the Infirmary? To think of it, we've all been drinking Snape concoctions and didn't even know about it. Blearh!"

"Ron, you're impossible," Hermione returns the jar to me and I put it away. "I think I've got the properties figured out. Let me write it down."

"Hey, what about me?" Ron asks, giving us a persistent stare.

"Fine." I snort, feeling my headache ease up enough to not feel like my head's splitting in two at every sound. "I’ll tell you. Go on, start writing."

"Harry!" Hermione exclaims.

"Thanks!" Ron cries out alongside her.

Hermione looks at us for a long second and then snorts. "Fine, carry on."

It's my turn to be surprised. "Sure?"

"Yeah." She nods somberly. "I'm tired of telling him how to do his homework, so it's your turn. I think all this time with Snape is going to do you some good," she adds softer. I raise my eyes at her.

"Really? But I keep screwing it all up. Even if I want to do it right. I'm trying but it's not helping."

"Be patient, Harry. Maybe you just need to get used to each other. Things will get better." She squeezes the fingers of my hand. I think about her words and then nod. I don't have anyone else to ask for advice anyway.

I lean back in my chair and stretch out, with a satisfying snap. I catch Seamus' biting stare from where he still stands by the fireplace. Instantly, he turns on his heel and flees. I realise belatedly that he probably heard us talking, regardless of how soft we tried to whisper. He's always had good hearing.

I shrug to myself.

"So, the first property of the salve paired up with the elixir is…"

They both lower their heads and start writing down my words. I grin at them and catch myself thinking that I haven't felt this calm in ages. Just because my good friends are with me, and maybe because of something else too. Maybe because I was able to share my pain with a man who knows about Voldemort's methods.

I don't want to think about that: not now and not here. For now I'll just enjoy this fleeting sense of safety that settles over us.


"Harry. Harry, wake up!"

Who the hell is shaking me? I mumble something and turn away, sticking my head under my pillow. Ron's insistent, yanking off my blanket and tickling me, the bastard. I cry out in surprise and sit up, frazzled, displeased, and completely sleepy still.

Where are my glasses?

Finally as I pick them up and put them on, I stare at Ron through them: "Wha?" My voice is so hoarse, must be from sleep. Or did I cry myself hoarse last evening during the Occlumency session?

"Time to go, it's noon already," Ron exclaims.

I give him a deadly stare. "So what?"

"Hogsmeade weekend, that's what. Hermione and I have been waiting for ages, everyone else has already left. Two hours ago!"

What stopped them from leaving without me? Let them. But I don't want to be rude to Ron, not today. We've done enough fighting lately.

I sigh and get up. The dormitory is filled with sunlight, the beds are made. It's really rather late. Strange. I wonder if the salve I've used on my scar is a soporific? Even though I struggle to open my eyes, I feel as if I've slept for a week. I yawn wide and start changing into my robes, happy not to have Finnigan skulking about. For the last few days his presence has been annoying me just as much as during our Fifth Year, when he didn't believe I told the truth about Voldemort.

Finally, we come down. Hermione raises her eyes from her knitting needles and some speckled creation which the needles add onto on their own, obeying her spell.

"Finally," she grins. "And it's not even nightfall yet. Good morning, Harry!"

"G'morning." The hoarseness in my voice makes her frown but she doesn't say anything, just digs through her bag and offers me a sandwich. "Breakfast. We'll drop by Madam Rosmerta at Hogsmeade and have a proper lunch then."

"Have you skipped breakfast too?" Strange.

"Well, we've… overslept. Like you." Hermione blushes. Ahha. I see what's going on. Ron turns practically red alongside her. Most of us probably went to bed early in anticipation of Hogsmeade and they must have stayed up in the Common Room after everyone was gone. It's hard to find a place where you can be alone at Hogwarts.

I nod, pretending I didn't notice them blushing, and smile, even as my heart turns heavy. I've got no one to kiss at night. I'm not like them, besides, the scar on my forehead doesn't help matters. I nudge my friends to the door before my self-pitying thoughts have a chance to settle in for the day.

Hogsmeade it is.

In the evening, as I dive deep into my Charms textbook, I lazily think that the day has gone quite well. We didn't even run into Malfoy and his gang, even though we used to do so every time we left school. Luckily, because that one encounter by the Shrieking Shack was enough, ugh.

We visited every shop and went to see Madam Rosmerta afterwards. Then we went to the forest clearing by the village, until I started to suspect my friends followed a secret plan: take Harry for a good long walk. When I felt as if my legs were about to drop off, we sat down. Hermione took a fluffy handkerchief out of her bag and transfigured it into a large plaid blanket.

We all collapsed onto it, staring up at the blue sky. Ron took a nap. Hermione was thinking about something deeply and I didn't want to bother her. I felt so very calm, as if the world had no Voldemort, no prophecy, no looming threat of the Third World War, no need to learn Occlumency…

Strange. What made me think of Occlumency? Probably the blanket, which my hand has been resting on, fingers digging into the fluffy texture without really thinking. I'd seen a similar one before, in Snape's rooms.

Even that image didn't ruin my peaceful mood. My head was empty, empty enough that I couldn't even feel anything, much less think about it.

After that we went back and cleaned out our dinner plates twice, devouring the contents. I don't remember the last time I was that hungry. But considering I hadn't had a bite the day before, it was not surprising.

I set my book aside and check my watch. Eleven-thirty. It's time to sleep, ‘cause tomorrow evening I get to see Snape again. I'll need all my strength for that. I refuse to hope that with all the time I've got to spare on Occlumency, it's going to work any faster than before. It's more likely that I'll be barely alive by the time it's all over. Just like yesterday.

But we haven't got the time to cut the sessions to just once a week. Screw the exams, Voldemort's much more important.

I am afraid he's going to attack me again, and soon.

I really hope I'm wrong.

Chapter Text

"Come in." The voice behind the door is annoyed, as if Snape has grown tired of constant visitors. Considering he never gets them, that's probably his normal state. In any case, at least it's not a growl. I open the door, pushing at it with my shoulder just right so it doesn't squeak and go into the classroom.

"Good evening, sir."

Snape hmphs without raising his head and continues writing something. For a second, this vision of him is so familiar that I get a sense of deja vu. He was also writing something when he last went on a mission. Can't be the second copy of his will, but still, I grow unsettled.

"Sit, Potter. And keep quiet," he commands, leaving me no choice in the matter. I walk to the first row of desks and sit down, folding my arms in front of me and resting my chin over them. At least five minutes pass in silence.

Then Snape seals the parchment and calls out a short name. I can't really make it out. A house-elf appears and gives Snape an admiring stare.

"Ravenclaw Tower, Diana Perkins," Snape says. With a nod, the house-elf disappears into thin air. I sigh in relief.

Immediately Snape turns to me. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing." I shake my head. "I thought you were planning to go somewhere, again."

He stares at me as if considering something and I just know: he understood where my thoughts had gone. He'll likely say something particularly murderous now, just to address it.

"Potter, I left behind a list of instructions then, in case I was delayed or failed to return," Snape drawls. "I’m not in the habit of making such lists every time I am forced to leave. You'll likely be disappointed to hear it, but I am not going anywhere."

He sounds mocking, but I'm not offended by the tone. The words on the other hand… Does he think that I count the days until he leaves again? Even if that means -

Heat rushes to my face, I raise my eyes at him and notice a smirk.

A second later, I answer his smirk with one of my own. That's an interesting way to calm down.

Snape arches his eyebrow and gestures invitingly.

I nod, leave my seat, and take the position across from him.

"I'm ready for my lesson, sir," I tell him, staring openly at him. He said it himself, eye contact is important for this. I only wish I could learn to resist his glares along with learning to resist his magic.

Snape nods and takes his wand out of his robes. "Have you practiced clearing your mind?"

"Yesterday. An hour before bed," I answer honestly.

"Why only yesterday?" Is that curiosity in his voice? When did I start recognizing his tone?

Since I started thinking about him.

Enough of that, I chide myself.

"'Cause the day before, I used the salve you gave me and slept all night," I confess just as honestly.

Snape seems rather satisfied at that, but before I can give it any more thought, his wand aims right between my eyes. "One, two… Legilimens!"

Aunt Marge sits at the dinner table talking about Mum and Dad. "If there is something wrong with the bitch, there'll be something wrong with the pup." She swells up, losing all human form.

Umbridge's making me write lines with my own blood, my hand aches, but my scar hurts even more.

Lucius Malfoy in a dark mask stretches his hand out toward me: "Give me the prophecy, now…"

Ron's trapped by the tentacles of the brain from the aquarium in the Department of Mysteries.

Dementors again, gliding across the lake toward me and Sirius, closer and closer.

The pain in my knees from hitting the floor resonates through my entire body as I fight back, pushing through the thick fog of my nightmare. "No!" I cry, voiceless. I don't want to see this! I don't want to remember! It's over!

Snape's face materializes through the hole in the Dementor's hood, and I realise now where I am. Magic pours out of the tip of his wand, dragging all my fears to the surface, draining my will, and I try as hard as I can to put up a barrier in front of that horrible spell, something, anything, like a mirror.

Maybe I even manage to do it, because I am overcome with the sensation that I am all stone, surrounded by flowing water: the magic streams around me, reflected and refracted by the mental barrier, without penetrating my mind. I even see Snape's grimace, a portion of his own spell must've rebounded.

And then I collapse onto the floor and darkness takes over.


 

"Potter, wake up!" Warm fingers rub my hands. The stench of smelling salts assaults my nose and I cough, opening my eyes, trying to focus on something.

I'm in an armchair and Snape's leaning over me, a handkerchief in his hand. The handkerchief has a strong, specific smell. I eye it and wrinkle my nose. Snape hmphs and straightens out, stepping back. The unreadable mask falls over his face again and I'm not sure if I'd imagined the glimpse of concern in his eyes, when we were just a couple feet apart.

I try to sit up, but my body isn't listening and I lean back down.

"Stay still." I notice his hand offering me my glasses. I take them. "Well, to summarise, it's a good start. Even if you did lose consciousness, you managed to put up a barrier."

"And fainted right after." I hope whatever grimace I'm forcing my face into at least looks like a smirk.

"A side effect," Snape responds in a detached tone. "I've already said that you're still resisting physically as well as mentally. When you shift focus to the mental shields only, the fainting should stop. Save your strength for shouting back at me inside your mind instead." Now his tone is familiar, the usual mockery.

I have an idea. With my shaky fingers, I quickly put on my glasses, so I can see Snape more clearly. "Sir, since I've actually managed to block you, does this count as progress?"

"Yes." Such a short answer but I get the feeling he understood exactly what I'm aiming for, all I haven't voiced yet, since I haven't had a chance to process it.

"So, may I ask you a question?"

Snape turns to me, his robes swooping behind his back, and measures me with his stare: "Just say it. You aren't usually the one to hold back."

I want to know the answer to my question so badly that I even cleaned out ten cabinets in this classroom to get it. Now I can finally ask.

Let's see what he's going to say to this.

"Sir, once Ron and Hermione asked if you knew where I was." I form the question slowly, looking up at Snape. His brows furrow, deepening that line between them, but he's silent. "You directed them to the Astronomy Tower. So um…" my voice softens on its own accord, until I'm whispering, but I don't look away from him. "Can you tell me how you knew that?"

Deep silence fills the room. Snape stands, looking at me, and is perhaps calculating something, coming to a decision. Is it that difficult for him to answer me? I don't think he's going to lie to me, but there's something holding him back.

Or maybe he's just so amused by this, he's spent half a minute smirking at me.

"Careful, curiosity can be deadly, Mister Potter," he drops, and the corner of his mouth twitches. "It's best if you see something first."

"But you promised!"

"A moment," he cuts me off, and walks around his desk, bending over and taking something from the bottom drawer. He hasn't offered me chocolate today, haven't had the chance yet, and definitely isn't going to do so now.

Sallow fingers straighten out the parchment he has just pulled out of the drawer and set it on the desk, empty side facing up. I watch as he pinches the fold with his fingers, as he puts his whole palm down flat on the sheet, and I can only guess what it is. He smirks again and I grow restless just from that look in his eyes.

He then turns it and pushes forward a paper for Advanced Potions, signed 'Harry Potter'.

I blink down at the parchment. It is covered in red ink and there is no grade, not even a T. I don't remember ever getting this back from Snape. When did this happen?

But that's not the strangest part. I don't even remember writing a paper on the uses of grindylow skin in medicine and potion making! I can't just not remember it, can I?

I look at Snape and open my mouth, but I really don't know what to say. Maybe I should ask him when he assigned something like that, since the paper isn't dated.

My question doesn't come out when I see the expression in his eyes, as if he's observing an amusing scene about to unfold. If this wasn't Snape, I'd think he's about to laugh. But Snape never laughs, not that I heard, and I have no idea why he's suddenly so pleased.

As if I walked right into something he'd planned.

I gulp and ask, trying to sound nonchalant. "How's this paper going to help answer my question, sir?"

Snape eyes me mockingly: "Care to tell me the date of this… creation?"

Huh? So he doesn't know that I don't remember it? Strange.

I shrug.

"I don't expect you to name the exact day," he says, and that uncertain wave is making me doubt my own sanity. "Name a month, at the very least."

That's not helping at all.

I don't know if he's going to be cross with me, but I've got nothing, I just shrug again. "I don't remember."

"Then," I really want to know why he's looking so smug, damn it! "Look at the middle marked by the fold and if you can, read to me exactly what you see on the line below it."

I blink and peer at the parchment, examining my own handwriting: "... grindylow skin has, aside from what's already been said, too many specific properties to list here, for example…" I read timidly. And then I stop, and a deathly chill runs down my spine. Because the words that have anything to do with my Potions paper stop right there.

'He left me. For good.' Illegibly scrawled, but it's there. And after those five words, the same somewhat even handwriting, 'Its use in anti-burn ointment regenerates skin and also accelerates regeneration of skin…'

Ohgod.

Shitshitshit.

How'd this happen?!

I know now why I don't remember writing this paper. I don't even remember what happened that day, only that evening. Ron and Hermione dragged me down from the Astronomy tower. I was half frozen to death and dreaming I had been dead when they found me.

'Do you know who told us to come here? Snape!'

I lift my hands to my face, feeling my ears burn.

Through the noise of blood in my ears, I hear his voice: "Given you have no idea how these words have ended up in this eyesore I cannot call a school paper, Potter, let me enlighten you. The subconscious is a fascinating topic. You had been daydreaming, and without any second thought, written down something that bothered you far more than my homework assignment. Afterwards, you ignored all my remarks regarding this paper, did not answer a single question and left your homework behind when you exited the room. I assigned detention. You nodded and never showed up."

I stare at Snape through the spaces between my fingers and wish I was dead already. He strides back and forth by his desk, and his tone is as even as if he's reading from a book.

"I waited forty minutes and then I tasked the house-elves with finding you, but they returned empty-handed. Then I asked the Headmaster for help."

"And he showed you the map," I mumble, my hand still over my face.

"Precisely," his tone has a note of satisfaction. "I planned on fetching you myself, but on the way there, I saw your friends. I am not fond of Miss Granger, but she looked concerned. As I had suspected, you were apparently missing. Since their questioning spared me a trip out in the cold, I sent them to take care of the issue."

He grows silent and I guess there's nothing more he can say. That definitely answered my question, didn't it?

How am I ever going to face him after this? How am I going to turn in my work during his lectures? How am I going to fight alongside him if we ever have to, if I can't even lift my hands from my face at the sight of him?

I have to ask, even if I'm about to die from shame on the spot. "Why didn't you remind me about detention, sir?" My voice is so hoarse, and I can't really think of anything.

He doesn't answer me. The silence stretches on and on. I don't dare lift my fingers from my eyes, even if I look like a complete idiot, sitting in this bloody chair and crouching in a small ball.

At last, the silence breaks. It's not a snort or a shout.

It's a sigh.

"Potter. Put your hands down and look at me."

The tone is unfamiliar. It seems tired and somehow indulging. It doesn't make sense in light of anything I expected to hear, so I do what he asks. Slowly, timidly, like pulling a bandage from a wound, I take my hands away, squeezing them into fists, so I don't lose my determination.

If he kills me with that sneer alone…

Well, it hasn't killed me so far and he's known for weeks. Why?

I stare flatly at my desk and cannot force myself to look up at him.

"Look at me," he snaps, impatiently. He's probably annoyed.

I sigh. This is the absolute worst. Fine. I lift up my head feeling the wet warmth in my eyes, tears of complete shame.

His expression is calm. Calm as the breeze. There’s no disgust, none of the usual contempt, and the smugness that I was afraid of isn't there either.

We're done pretending.

Snape studies my face and pauses to check my cheek. It must still have the traces of my nails digging into my skin. He sighs lightly. "I didn't take you for a coward, Potter."

I am speechless with shock. He continues, evenly, softly, "Being ashamed of your own difference is as inane as being ashamed of the colour of your hair. It's cowardice at its finest, because one's desires do not define one's character. Bravery, loyalty, wit, greed, betrayal, lies, all of that has nothing to do with what you perceive as a flaw. You ought to be ashamed of your undeserved fame more than the fact that you fancied some boy." Snape huffs and stands right in front of me. "I'm far more bothered by that, in any case."

"You hate my fame?" I try to smile and can only hope that it's not a pitiful grimace.

"Are you surprised? In any case, I hadn't called you into detention and obviously no one had reminded you of it either. Do you know why? I felt sorry for you. But, I thought you would get over your breakup and your tendency to think of yourself as a freak. It doesn't take a Legilimens, your face is an open book. There's no point in being ashamed of yourself. This is not something you ought to worry about. I assume Miss Granger at least tried to convince you of that?"

"She tried." There's a smile on my face, an actual smile.

I'm not going to think about the fact that I'm grinning at Snape with such tremendous relief, I won't. Not now.

It's like that time when I told Ron and Hermione about me, but it's even stronger. Somebody other than them thinks I'm not a freak. Wow.

"I believe this answers your question. If you're able to walk, I won't keep you further." Snape turns distant and solemn again and I am happy to see him back to normal.

Actually, no. He's not the same at all. He knew about me all this time. He knew it when I showed up for detention, knew about it even earlier when I stared at him in class, when he caught my stares, and stared back, in that silence that rang out like two crossed blades.

When did it stop ringing like that?

I need to be alone. I need to think. But no matter what I'll come up with, one thing's for certain. Things between Snape and I will never be the same. Even if I'm the only one who knows it.

I thought he had my map, wondered why he didn't rat me out. He didn't have the map at all.

He could have told my bigger secret to the entire Wizarding World, but he didn't. He kept his silence.

He knew and he did nothing.

He's answered one question of mine, but in its place are now a thousand more.

I rise, checking if I'm lightheaded, but it seems OK, and then I ask him, sounding as indifferent as I can: "Sir, when's the next lesson?"

"Tuesday," answers Snape, checking his schedule on the edge of his desk. "If you are up to it."

"I am."

"Six o'clock then. Go."

His voice stops me in the doorway: "You have exams coming up, so do try to conserve your strength. And don't forget to apply the salve tonight."

A strange warmth rises in my chest and I nod and close the door behind me. It takes me a few steps to realise I'm grinning.


 

I walk through the empty corridor, swaying from exhaustion. Occlumency practice, passing out, ache in my scar that pulses now and then as a reminder. Everything I've learned today from Snape is all far too much for one evening. Far too much for one hour.

Snape knows I'm queer. And if I hadn’t asked him about it, I'd've finished the year happily oblivious about it all.

Oh god. What if Snape's not the only one who knows? Somehow I don't think that's the case though. All my schooltime troubles inevitably come down to Snape, so it's only fair that this time he's overachieved as well.

And yet… His tone held no contempt, and his stare was so close to sympathetic, no matter what he said about me being a coward, or unable to accept who I was. Snape knowing my secret is not a problem I need to fight against.

I stop in the middle of the corridor and simply stare at the wall. If I had directed that stare at the Fat Lady, she'd think her paint had chipped or something.

Snape is not the problem. He's part of a solution.

I walk faster, wanting to get out of the castle, go out to the lake, when a hand on my shoulder stops me. I jump and spin around, wand in hand. A second later I release a breath and put my wand back.

Finnigan stands before me.

"You scared me," I tell him, blinking up at him. "What are you doing here?"

He sneers and it's not really a smile, never saw him do that before. "No, what are you doing here? You practically live here these days."

I shrug, puzzled at his hostility. "None of your business. Excuse me." I turn so I can continue walking out of the dungeons. We manage to cover some ground in silence until he grabs me by the shoulders and pushes me against the wall.

I cry out sharply, from surprise rather than the show of force, and at first I don't even fight back. Seamus looms over me just like I've recently loomed over Malfoy. But if the ferret is about as tall and big as I am, Finnigan's much bigger and taller.

He moves in, his face against mine and smirks: "I should've guessed months ago. I thought you were just full of it, but you're getting some on the side, aren't you? Couldn't pick someone less ugly than that? The ugliest git in the entire castle!"

Is he completely mental?

"Seamus, have you gone out lately?" I ask.

"What?"

"'Cause you must have had a sunstroke or something. What are you on about?"

Finnigan's fists form and I notice that he's shaking. Is he shaking with anger? He's gone mad!

"I'm not a idiot, Potter," he shouts. "I've got eyes and ears."

"So I see, and?"

"Heard you talking that you've got aches in all sorts of places. Granger told you to shut up in time, probably disgusted by all the filth you're spewing."

I blink at him for a second, not quite understanding, and then… Oh. Ohh! Seamus thought I visited Snape 'cause… Wow!

Today's been full of revelations.

Finnigan stares at me, pausing for some effect, but when my face doesn't show what he expected, he adds: "I've been watching you. You keep wandering up from the dungeons like you're drunk, all weak at the knees. Do you think I can't tell what you're up to? I wasn't good enough for you and for what? That?"

Seamus is so fast to twist everything around to suit him. But I'm interested in something else: "Have you been spying on me this Friday too?"

He sneers. "Yeah, you really can't hear a damn, so it's not even worth hiding from you."

"Fine," and suddenly I'm so very tired of it all. "You're free to think whatever you want. I don't care. We're over. I don't like feeling like I owe you the world for every nice word, I don't like kissing you, I don't like touching you. Excuse me, I need to go."

With that, I push myself away from the wall and again climb the staircase. On my third step, he shouts: "Do you think I won't tell anyone, you Slytherin slut? Fucking poofter."

I turn, as the chill runs down my back.

"You say that to my face, you-"

"I said, you won't get rid of me that easily, you fucking freak. If you're so eager to be buggered by someone, I'll tell everyone, I-"

He doesn't finish that sentence. Something explodes in my mind and my vision goes dim and I don't see him in front of me anymore, not really, but through the drumbeat of blood in my ears, I hear his voice. That horrible voice insulting me with the words I was always scared to hear. The words that would brand me forever, so everyone would know exactly what I am!

I leap down the stairwell and attack him, not even aiming my blows. I slam my head right against his face. I'm shorter, thankfully. Blood pours down from his nose. I must've broken it.

The next blow, while his hands are still raised, is right against his gut. It makes Finnigan double over and I sink my knee into his ribs.

He straightens out and with a dull roar, slams his fist right where my head just was. But I've learned from my mistakes around Dudley's gang and Seamus isn't likely to teach me anything new.

He's wrong to take his hand away from his face, so I aim for the nose again, feeling the crunch of it with my knuckles. They'll heal the broken nose soon enough. Hope it grows back all crooked.

Finnigan cries out.

Hurts, doesn't it? Well, I was hurting too.

I’ve been hurting for so long, that now I am making up for every sleepless night, every insult, every smug 'favour for a favour, Potter', every single thing, blow by blow. I throw in all the loneliness, all the humiliation, all the bitterness of being rejected by him again and again and again.

I've just thought of myself as normal for the first time ever, and now this prick shows up to call me a freak again? Yeah no, that kick in the face won't work with me, Seamus, you're just going to end up striking the wall. Ha! What are you hissing for? It's not like you know Parseltongue.

I dance around him, ducking the blows, and once in awhile catching some part of him with my fist: his jaw, his ear, his solar plexus. Finnigan cries out with fury, but his pain blinds him, stops the aim of his blows, he only ever managed to catch the side of my face that one time, and get a couple of kicks in. That's nothing. I've been through much worse. At least my glasses are OK, more than OK!

He tries to trap me against the wall, 'cause he sticks his hands out and leans forward, looking like a bear rising. He comes towards me with an angry stare, his face all bloody, the red drops on his shirt darkening quickly.

Think you can catch me, do you? Do you?

I yank him by the arm, risky, but I've got the element of surprise on my side. He leans even closer, and I step up, and it's as if he's about to hug me, only my head's far too low for a kiss.

Before he realises what I'm up to, I clasp my hands together and slam the resulting weight right against the back of his neck.

One gasping sigh later, and Finnigan sinks to the floor at my feet.

I step out from in between his sprawled arms and lean against the wall, in exhaustion.

What a day. Occlumency lessons indeed.

I must look like a complete looney, 'cause I start to laugh. A real laugh, even if slightly crazed. What am I going to do with Finnigan? Professor McGonagall will be furious at us for fighting. And if Finnigan ever says why… Not gonna happen! I decide with a flash of anger, so I drag his passed out form against the wall, putting him in a sitting position. I'd rather Obliviate him first.

Strange how the corridor still has no people in it. They’re probably still partying somewhere, or maybe sitting in the library. In any case, it's time to get this over with.

I grab my wand and point it at Finnigan's face, commanding: "Ennervate!" It's the first word I say to him after his insults.

Grey eyes open and stare up at me blearily. He tries to feel up his face, hand shakily tracing his nose.

"Fuck! Potter, you lunatic! You’re gonna die for this," he moans.

I wait until he quiets down and state: "Listen up. M'not gonna say it twice, do you hear me?"

He reaches out somewhere to the side. I watch the movement: his wand fell and now he's trying to reach it. With a vicious sneer, I press my boot down on his fingers. Finnigan hisses and I continue: "Do you hear me? Well?" I press harder and he nods, staring at me with utter fury. "Good. This is how it's going to go. You won't tell anyone we fought. I don't care how you're going to explain your bruises, that's your problem. You won't be spying on me again, ever. And if you ever say one more fucking word about me and Snape, I'll break more than your nose. Who I'm with is my business. Mine. Not yours!"

My voice is even, for which I'm thankful. Finnigan seems to be in shock. He's never met this side of me before. I hope he enjoyed meeting it.

"So if you ever think about getting even with me, or with Ron and Hermione, if you even speak to someone about it. Remember, I've duelled Voldemort and lived. What's that? Oh, Voldemort, yes, that's his name, innit? I've duelled Voldemort and won," I wish that was true! "So I'm warning you, do not fuck with me or you'll regret it. Do you understand?"

His stare drills through me and he tries to get up. I thin my lips and put my weight on the foot that's over his hand, risking to break his bones. My wand is still pointing at his face. "Stay still. Answer me!"

A cry.

"Well?"

"I get it, Potter." He's got tears in his eyes. Oh.

"And one more thing," my tone is almost friendly. "Call me by my name next time, and don't you forget it. Good day."

I free his hand and leave the dungeons.

I don't know what I should be feeling but there's a sense of dull satisfaction. Everything's been said and done. We're even.

Seamus Finnigan. He didn't believe me last year when I said I saw Voldemort resurrected.

He's reinforced my belief that no one would ever like me, no one besides him that is. But I was the one to let him do that to me.

Seamus, that dark blond hair down to his shoulders, long lashes, tanned hands.

He's the first bloke I've kissed. When did this end, I wonder? With his bloodied face and narrowed eyes, full of tears and powerless fury.

He'll think twice before calling me names now.

I leave the castle and march toward the Forbidden Forest. I'm overcome by nervous shaking, and feel a sneer frozen to my lips. It's angry, or maybe just miserable, but who cares, not like anyone can see me now.


 

It's only at night, in the deep silence of the sleeping tower that I realise, Seamus sounded so certain about Snape, it's as if he knew something I didn't.

But what? He didn't even insinuate, he knew, or thought he knew, that I'm shagging the Head of Slytherin.

Suppose he's right, then, when Snape spoke to me today, did he speak from his own experience? Is Snape just like me?

I sit up, suddenly, in my bed and so many images flash before my eyes all at once.

Snape, sitting at his desk, writing that letter.

Snape, striding down the corridor with that light, silent gait of his.

Snape, his head thrown back against the armchair. "Go. Anyone but you." Why shouldn't it be me, anyway?

Snape, mocking me, as his long fingers trace my writing, ever so carefully.

Snape's fingers rubbing my hands, his eyes are so close and there's concern in them. "If I don't 'take it easy' on you…"

Snape, standing right in front of me, always invading my private space. No one else's proximity frustrates me so. Why?

Oh god. I don't want to know. I don't even want to ask the question!

I don't know what to do if Snape turns out to be queer, like me. With the full knowledge that I am queer, like him. I don't like him, I really don't! He can't just show up like this and ruin everything, even he can't do that!

I can't live with it.

Even as sleep overtakes me, I realise one more thing. I promised Seamus I'd break more than his nose if he told anyone about me and Snape. It even sounded great at first.

As if Snape and I are a thing that exists.

Shit!

Chapter Text

"Harry," Ron hisses into my ear; it tickles and I make a face. "Did you see Seamus by any chance?"

"What?" I face him with a blank expression.

We're in the Potions classroom and I am concentrating on avoiding Snape's eye. I don't know if I'll ever be brave enough to look at him again. It's one thing to know that he knows about me, but it's a whole new deal to wonder if he's maybe, possibly, interested in blokes. I haven't met any others who were, so I have no idea how they would act. Maybe I'm supposed to recognize it in Snape’s mannerisms, or his tone, or his stare.

Hopefully not his stare. I can't imagine how I'm going to practice Occlumency with him if that’s the case. I'd be fixated on that one thought and the worst that could happen, would happen, and then Snape would peruse through my thoughts like he was watching it all on a giant screen. Brr!

I can't ask him to cancel the lessons either. Ugh, why do I have to be the Boy Who Lived to Be Queer? Had it been anyone else in my stead, they'd live quietly from day to day, without opening up their private thoughts for someone else’s perusal almost every other evening. I, on the other hand, have no choice.

I've got no privacy, none at all!

"Harry," Ron elbows me.

"What is it?" I forgot he had asked me a question.

"I said, have you seen Seamus?"

"When?"

Ron blinks. "Er, when he didn't come into the dorm yesterday night. Dean said he's in the infirmary." Ron frowns. "I think he went walking in the Forbidden Forest and ran right into a sleeping thestral. Dunno if he can see them or not, but the thestral certainly saw him."

I press my lips together to keep myself from laughing. Seamus is quite a storyteller.

"So, anyway," Ron continues. "The thestral wasn't happy Seamus stepped on him and reared up. Wham. A hoof right in the face! Seamus almost died, but barely made it to the Hospital Wing. Now he's all bruised up, doesn't want to see anyone. Madam Pomfrey isn't letting anyone in. She said they should ban such beasts from the school grounds."

The press of my lips isn't helping matters one bit, so I bite down on my knuckle. Fortunately Ron isn't looking at me and continues whispering, making use of the moment Snape's in the far corner, on the Slytherin side of the classroom. "What was he thinking, going for a stroll in the Forbidden Forest, of all places? It's full of monsters! Those spiders alone, ugh."

"I thought thestrals never attacked unless you attack them first," my whisper seems too loud in the dead silence of the classroom, and out of the corner of my eye, I notice Snape lifting his head from someone's homework.

Oh no. But I'm about to be overcome with laughter and I can't whisper any softer.

"Well yeah," Ron answers me. "Poor thing, was probably having a nap somewhere in the shade, and here comes Seamus trampling through and steps right onto the tender bits."

At that, my laughter bubbles up and I clap my hands over my mouth and press myself into the desk. Laughter rolls through me and I keep sobbing with it and can't pull myself together. Ron's version of events is more accurate than he knows. I'm like a poor fucking thestral with his balls being stepped on. Tears stream down my eyes and I can't stop.

Yesterday it was dark when I got back to the common room. I was calm, even smiled, and my friends were pleased to see me happy. Hermione concluded that my Occlumency lessons went well, and she was kind of right about that, which I told her. I went to sleep, avoiding thinking of Seamus' empty bed, and laid there awake for two hours. Not because I was worried for Seamus' well-being or anything like that, but because of Snape.

Snape!

I can sense his proximity 'cause my skin crawls: I can practically feel the hairs on my arms rising when he approaches our desk. I can only guess how shocked Ron is, but I can't raise my head, I simply let it drop against my crossed arms. The silence is deafening, you can hear every held breath in the room.

What's he going to do to me now?

"Potter, are you quite done with your hysterics?"

"Yes, sir," I answer hoarsely. His tone doesn't work on me today and I am suddenly calm and raise myself upright. I blink away the wetness in my eyes.

And then I look up at him.

My cheeks feel hot, but I have no trouble keeping my gaze steady. If I keep this up, I'm going to be proud of myself for that. Three minutes ago, I wouldn't've chanced looking at him for all the gold in Gringotts.

I get the feeling he can see right through me; it's new, but apparently isn't going to disappear any time soon. I feel the chill on the back of my throat, my heart starts drumming faster and faster. What do you see in me, sir? Why are you helping me?

"If you're so eager to get buggered by -" Seamus' hiss resonates through my mind. Crazy thought. I blink and feel myself getting sick, and still I can't tear my gaze away from Snape's, like a bird mesmerised by a viper. The silence between us thickens and I feel my eyes widen. How long has it been? Half an hour? An hour?

Something fills my chest, blocking my breathing like an expanding balloon. If Snape's like me… but what does Finnigan know about Snape?

Snape stares at me without looking away and I know somehow that if he were to tilt his head, I'd tilt mine as well, and if he throws his hair back, I would copy his gesture. We're eye to eye and I'm as terrified as if I'm staring over a precipice, and realise suddenly that no matter what happens, I don't want this strange connection between us to end.

Maybe I let it show on my face, because the muscles of Snape's jaw twitch, almost unnoticeably, but I can visualize him so vividly it'd burn right into my retinas, and I'd still see him without my glasses, with my eyes closed. I notice everything about him.

There's the indignation in his eyes at my impudence and also… amusement? Not the lethal kind.

"Ten points from Gryffindor for disrupting class and arguing with a Professor, Mister Potter." His voice vibrates through the muffling silence.

Arguing? What? My eyes widen and I stare back at him, almost amused now. Staring back now counts as 'arguing', does it? Snape turns away and I catch a glimpse of something unparseable in his dark, tar-coloured eyes.

There's a pang in my chest and I breathe in deep. Has it been a second, or two, three? No one’s noticed us. No one saw a thing.

I want to smile suddenly, but bite my lip before I can. No, no one must notice a thing. It's bad enough that Ron is staring at me in complete confusion.


 

"Good job, Harry."

"What are you on about?"

"I am talking about Seamus, of course." Hermione and I are taking the path toward the small cove where I've told them about myself.

"What about him?"

"Don't worry," she grins. "You don't have to pretend you had nothing to do with it. I figured it all out during Potions, when Ron started talking about that 'accident'."

She leans over to pluck some plain-looking flower and Ron and I stare at her back in shock. As she straightens out, Ron's the first one to gain control over his speech. "What do you mean, figured it all out?"

Good question.

"Seamus didn't run into a thestral last night, did he?" she says airily, rubbing the blossom between her palms and raising them to her face. "Hmm, smell this, isn't it wonderful?" She offers her hands to us and we take our turns sniffing the bitter freshness. It smells like the sea.

"It's a remarkable plant, the best migraine cure I know," she says, and sticks her nose against her palm again, looking up at us with a smile in her eyes. Whoa. And here I thought no one would find out.

I frown and Hermione immediately grabs my hand. "Harry, I'm the only one who knows, don't worry. Even Ron's confused, see?"

"Yeah, that's right, Ron's very confused," Ron echoes her, thinking it over. "So Harry, you and Finnigan had a fight, is that it?"

I nod. Pointless to deny it now.

"Merlin! He's been through hell apparently, they still aren't letting us see him. How'd you manage that?"

I shrug. "Dunno. He really got on my nerves."

"What did you do? Use your fists?" Apparently Ron's shocked at that thought the most.

"Well yeah, what else am I going to hit him with, a rock?" I blink up at him.

"Er, a wand!"

Oh. I've got my wand with me. Magical duel. How did I not think of that?

"Ron," Hermione chides him. "Have you forgotten that Hogwarts has strict rules against duelling? The entire school would've been there in no time, including the professors!"

"Ouch. Right." Ron must be picturing Professor McGonagall's face when he winces.

"Besides," I cut in on their conversation. "I'm raised by Muggles, remember? I still don't think of my wand as the solution to everything. My fist is what he really deserved, for stepping on, um, people's 'tender bits'."

Ron stares at me blankly for a second, and then bends over with laughter. "Ha, so that's what set you off in Potions!"

"Yeah."

Now we are all laughing. When we make it to the cove, we're stumbling with exhaustion.

I stare at the steely waves of the lake and remember that they seemed much more stormy before. They're warmer now. Maybe even warm enough to swim in.

It's such an odd feeling, as if a weight has been lifted off my chest, even my shoulders are wider. I haven't been this relieved in awhile. Is the fact that I finally made Finnigan see sense, by physical means, really the reason for my mood?

I don't want to keep digging into that now. I lean back enjoying the heat of the sun-warmed boulder and close my eyes.

"Harry," Hermione calls out unsteadily, a few minutes later. "How are your lessons with Snape?"

I lazily open my eyes and glance up at her. Her cheeks and her eyes are bright. They were probably snogging just now. Ron looks away with a smirk as I give him the look.

"S'fine." It's almost the truth. "Snape says I've got potential. Maybe next time Voldemort strikes, I'll be ready for it."

I want to believe that, at least.

"When's your next meeting?"

Good name for it, the Meeting. Not a lecture, not a lesson. A meeting, in which Snape's unlike his classroom self. Not at all like I remember him being for six years. What's the difference, anyway?

"Tomorrow."

"Should we meet you right after?" Ron suggests.

I hmph. "Hermione’s already offered twice."

"Why don't you want help? What if Finnigan catches you?"

"What, Malfoy doesn't count anymore?" I joke, but it doesn't come out cheerful at all, so I state plainly: "He's caught me already. Yesterday. On my way back from Snape."

Hermione pulls at a hair strand nervously. Ron winces: "What'd he say? Why was he after you?"

"He said he's been following me around," I explain. "Spying on me, and said he gets now why we broke up."

"Why is that?" Hermione's stern voice has no shade of a smile left. I release a weary sigh. If I tell them Finnigan's point of view, will they help me figure out where he even got it from?

"He thought I kept seeing Snape for sex."

They look surprised, but I expected them to be more shocked than they are.

"Sex?" Ron mouths. "Harry, that's mental! Why would you ever want Snape like that? He's a Slytherin, and besides, I can't see the two of you ever -"

"Wait," my voice is small. "You mean to tell me you thought all along that Snape's that way?"

"They say Snape actually is," Hermione tells me calmly. "No one knows for sure though. He's so secretive. You interact with him more than any of us and even you can't tell one way or the other."

"But how?" I stammer. "How do I tell?"

"I've no idea!" Hermione raises her arms up in the air. "Something must give it away. Has to."

I am stunned into silence. Ron and Hermione are saying the same thing Finnigan yelled at me yesterday, in different words, but I wouldn't've even suspected a thing it it wasn't for a complete coincidence.

Maybe that's for the best. It's too hard, difficult dammit, to think about anyway. But I've already tried not thinking about it. I can't.

"Harry," Hermione reads the concern in my silence. "You're all worried for nothing. I mean, it's a good thing, right? It proves that you're not the only one at Hogwarts who's gay. That must be a relief. And Snape doesn't even know that you're…"

"The same as him?" I hmph. I would rather admit I've dreamt about Hagrid than confess that Snape knows about me.

One thing's for sure, if I ever find out that Snape is actually queer, I won't tell anyone about it, not even Ron and Hermione. It's none of their business.

What about me? Is it even any of my business?

I don't know. I don't understand myself lately. Too many things in my life are related to Snape these days.

I'm taken with him, but in what sense, I can never tell. I don't have a clue myself.

He teaches me Occlumency and he still takes points from me during class, and he's got that scrawny body and that stinging tongue. Just the way he's used to speaking, really.

The Hogwarts Potions Master. The spy for the Order of the Phoenix.

He rubbed my hands, trying to rouse me to consciousness one minute, and called me a coward the next.

And on top of all that, he may be queer, like me.

I sit up on the boulder, focusing on its rough sides. My friends watch me, surprised at my sudden move, but I jump off and walk away.

"Where are you going?"

About that. I turn and smile at them. "I think I forgot my Charms textbook. See you at dinner, yeah?"

Ron looks pleased and moves toward Hermione. She peers at me from under the shadow of her hand, her face stern: "All right. See you then."


 

I draw the curtains shut and fall back on my pillow. My eyes refuse to stay closed, even if it's already nearly midnight. Had it not been mid-May, I wouldn't have had to waste energy on exams, and on the utter torture with Snape that is called ‘training my mind’.

I would have been roaming the Hogwarts halls instead. It's been forever since I hid under the Invisibility Cloak, since I've heard the nighttime hush settle over the castle. What wouldn't I give to take a walk for two or three hours and then come back and drop into a deep sleep.

Instead, I'm lying down and trying to talk myself into relaxing, 'cause I shouldn't be going anywhere. I've got classes first thing tomorrow and the professors pay no attention to the fact that we're already sick and tired of studying. They’re even asking three times as much from us!

Besides, it's Tuesday tomorrow. As if I haven't seen enough of Snape already. We're meeting each other so often, he's almost a part of my daily routine. And to think I've asked Snape for this myself. Sirius must be turning over in his grave.

I sigh and turn to my side. The dorm is quiet, everyone's probably asleep by now, even Seamus. He was so desperately avoiding me when he got back from the infirmary this evening, that I wanted to laugh. And when he's started talking about the thestrals again, I wanted to pinch Ron, 'cause Ron turned redder by the minute, and then stood up abruptly and left. I shrugged, gave everyone an apologetic nod and went after him. Ron stood on the top flight of the staircase leading to our tower and snorted with laughter. I laughed with him too, even if not so loudly, and asked him to be quiet, or he'd give everything away. I didn't want to explain to everyone in Gryffindor why I beat up the most handsome bloke in the entire House. Ron nodded and we went back. Seamus stared at him suspiciously, but stayed silent. He didn't look at me once, but no one has noticed that so far.

I close my eyes again. I really need to sleep. 'Clear my mind', like Snape instructs, and fall into a deep sleep. I try to focus, to get all the images out of my head, to go back to that sunny silence and emptiness that came over me during our Hogsmeade outing.

It's not working.

But I'm stubborn. I've gotta do this, and I'm going to try doing it, be it once or a thousand times over. Had I been practicing last year, maybe Sirius would still have been alive.

I hiss through my clenched teeth and see stars through my tightly shut eyes. There!

Clarity, emotionless stillness, calm, the kind I could never reach during the day. I can solve any puzzle, figure out any person and even make myself dream of everything I want.

The pain strikes me so suddenly, that I let out a scream and then bite down on the corner of my pillow. My scar. Again. The lightning bolt on my face seems inflamed as if I've been branded with it, but the pain is duller than the last time. It's not Voldemort himself then. Perhaps he's just in a bad mood, or maybe the exact opposite, a good one. I’ve been lucky the entire year, my scar didn't hurt as much, just ached dully now and then.

Maybe it was a break, but now it's over and Riddle has a new plan. Plan or not, I know from Professor Dumbledore's words that we're almost out of time. Soon it'll run out for good.

Damn, it hurts.

"You may apply it to your scar to keep it from hurting at night." I recall Snape's words. He gave me the salve so I could soothe my scar after our training. Maybe it'll help.

My vision blurs, pulsing pain fills my head, squeezes at my temples. Gonna have a migraine tomorrow.

I roll out of bed and check the pockets of my jeans.

No, not there. The nightstand.

The thick, pale-blue paste gives off a dull glow in the dark, as I twist the lid and dab a thick layer over my inflamed skin.

"Some polysaccharide must be part of the mixture. Also menthol."

"How'd you know?"

"Unlike you, Ron, I pay attention in class. We haven't covered this particular recipe yet, but Snape discussed a similar…"

Yeah, Hermione knows far more than we do. I would've never guessed what it's made of, but she just rattles it off.

The cooling effect must be menthol and anise oil.

The pain calms and releases its hold, but doesn't disappear completely. I carefully prod my forehead with my fingertips. At least my skin's not abuzz and the scar has stopped twitching.

How am I supposed to clear my mind like this? I barely managed to do it the first time around, now what? I hope that my small victory and my scar hurting right after are not related. Who would know?

Snape would know.

Snape again. It's getting absurd. Laughable.

Or maybe, not funny at all.

Or maybe it is good for a laugh. So what am I going to do about it?

Why am I lying to myself? It's not. Not even a little bit.

What was I going on about with my problem-solving skill when my mind is clear? Apparently I'm applying it well. Almost as well as Hermione.

Why isn't it funny? It should be. Snape apparently solves all of my problems. Snape, whom I hate, Snape who…

I can't stop thinking about him.

That's not true, it can't be!

He may be queer, just as I am.

What do I care about that? It's not like he'll ever be my type.

I think of him all the time.

I think about many things. All the things in the world.

Is that really all there is to it?

He's only training me 'cause he wants me to have a chance against Voldemort, just like everyone else. 'Cause he wants me to save the world.

Or maybe so I could feel like a person for once instead of a weapon.

Nonsense! He doesn't care about me.

He looked at me today. That stare of his...

And before, when he stopped me from falling in detention, when he pressed his finger to my lips, when he grabbed my arm to keep me from leaving. What does that all prove anyway?

I've gotta think it through. On my own.

I am thinking. And it's plain to see: I'm completely insane. Snape would make me the laughing stock of Hogwarts if he ever finds out what I'm thinking right now, about those few times he actually touched me, on accident.

Was it an accident? All these years, he's never really touched me, not without wanting to give me a thrashing. But now… Isn't that strange?

Enough! But my thoughts keep spinning. Even my headache doesn't stop them, if anything, it's making them bolder.

It's something to consider anyway…

Stop. What's there to consider?

Snape.

Snape again. Dammit.

Am I avoiding thinking about him? Am I avoiding even thinking about avoiding?

What's there to avoid? He's the grand nightmare of Hogwarts, Professor Severus 'I demand you expel Potter instantly' Snape. Who'd want to be besotted with that? I'm not an idiot.

My thoughts quiet down. It's so exhausting, being in my head. It's hopeless, that's what it is. I haven't convinced myself of anything good and I have this terrible suspicion that my thoughts will keep coming back to it over and over again.

The pain in my scar is a dull presence, it waxes and wanes, but there's some other sensation beside it as well. I don't like it one bit.

Ohno. I want to scream with frustration, but only exhale fiercely. It can't be. I've thought of all the times Snape has touched me and now I'm hard. This isn't happening. Nonono!

As if to boost my shame, my mind supplies a couple more images: me helping Snape after he returned to Hogwarts, dragging him to the chair and giving him the antidote, his hands on mine, fingers rubbing circles into my palms, waking me from unconsciousness. I was sitting in the very same chair he did when…

He's never said one kind word to me. He's never even called me 'Harry'. He's never given any hint that I'm more to him than a reminder of youthful humiliation. Ohgod.

My cock twitches and grows harder still, despite the weight of the blanket and any common sense I may have left. I haven't touched myself for awhile. Maybe that's why. Maybe it's all the thoughts about me not being the only freak at Hogwarts, regardless who else shares my fate. Is that it? I shouldn't. This is so wrong.

I have no idea how to stop.

My hand's itching to reach under the blanket, without any consent from me, just as stubborn as my other body part. One is drawn to the other and I can barely fight off the urge to forget it all and let my fingers curl around my cock.

No. I've gotta think of something. Anything other than this.

I try to imagine how I was lying here, sleepless until dawn, how I felt so ashamed and so devastated because Seamus knew my secret. I don't ever want to go through anything like that ever again with another.

Pleasure washes over me, along with a shiver, and I realise I'm thrusting against the sheet, as I pull it tightly across my lap. With enormous effort, I unclench my fists and release the sheet, and can't stop a helpless moan. It's not working.

I bite my lip and allow my hand to dive under the blanket, push past the elastic of my pajama bottoms. With a last sensible thought, I thank my habit of putting up Silencing Charms every evening.

And then my fingers grip my cock and it's hot and it feels so, so good, so right. I'm practically sobbing with relief when I touch the slick head. My body doesn't care if it's right or wrong. A few thrusts and my brain stops caring as well. Pure need sweeps over my reality and takes over my senses.

A proud face materializes in front of my closed eyelids. I can see today's stare so vividly in my mind's eye. My own eyes open, but the vision doesn't fade. We're duelling stares. Only Snape doesn't look away this time when I openly look at him, but instead leans closer and closer until his hair falls forward and touches my cheeks.

Oh god… ohgod… ohhh.

I don't hear my own moans, but clearly feel the tips of his black strands as they tickle my cheekbones. When his sallow lips part, and press against mine, I slow down my thrusts, trying to hold off and I can't - I have to come - I do, with a shaky sob.

And then I push the hot sheets off me and take a deep breath, trying to calm down my heartbeat.

I must not think of this when I see him next.

I must not ever think of it again.

I must not ever do this again!

It's just the heat of the moment, it's got nothing to do with Snape.

I almost succeed in convincing myself of it too.

My scar stops hurting. I sleep.

Chapter Text

I wake up feeling weightless all over, in a daze, and for the first few minutes wondering what brought all of that on. Can't be anything else besides the pleasure I felt fantasising about Snape last night.

My mood sours, matching the dim and cloudy morning.

I rise grumpily and go through my morning routine. Only then do I notice that the dorm's almost empty, only Ron and Seamus are still around. Ron's pointedly hanging around the window and Finnigan is getting dressed, nervously not looking at us and obviously rushing through it.

I remember a different morning we stood like this, when Seamus asked me to skip breakfast to 'talk'. I said no, but he kept insisting. That hasn't led to anything good.

Actually, it has, in a way. I don't think of myself as a freak anymore, surrounded by all the 'normal' blokes. I can't forget I'm different, not ever, but it doesn't define me.

I paid Seamus back for every torture he has subjected me to, tenfold. I don't think he'll risk going after me again. I can imagine what he saw in me when I threatened him, he'll never underestimate me like that again! Last year everyone was afraid of angering me, afraid I was possessed by Voldemort himself. This year I'm much calmer, at least on the outside.

Seamus must've enjoyed having the Golden Boy at his personal beck and call. Must've amused him. That's why he was so angry when he imagined me with Snape.

Fine then. Enough of that.

"Ready, Ron?"

He nods, and we leave the dormitory, leaving Finnigan behind. Ron squeezes my hand stealthily and I smile back: "S'ok."

When we approach the Great Hall, we see an interesting scene unfold. Hermione, her arms crossed, faces down a flushed Lavender Brown. Lavender's blonde curls are all over her shoulders and her eyes are furious. Hermione's got a bored expression, but I notice her relief when we approach. Lavender notices it as well, she frowns and gives Ron an indignant glare. He seems visibly embarrassed, but doesn't slow down. We come to a stop beside them.

"Hi."

"Hello." Hermione nods to us both. Lavender releases a loud sigh.

"What's going on?" Ron asks timidly. He places himself right behind Hermione and if I didn't know her better, I'd say she didn't notice him moving into position at all. But I do know her and Ron does too. It's the most self-control she can show without a triumphant hmph.

Lavender notes Ron's position as well, as she keeps trading glares, first with me, then with Hermione, and then Ron again. At last, the awkward pause is broken, but not by a 'hello' or a tirade, but by the sharp sound of a slap. Ron's head jerks to the side and Hermione immediately grabs Lavender's hand, which is readied for a second blow.

"You'll regret that," she hisses through her teeth. "All anyone needs is you throwing a fit in the Great Hall!"

"Stay out if it," Lavender cries. "I've got nothing against you!"

"So you always greet people with a slap?" Hermione answers her, keeping her hand tightly clasped over Lavender's wrist. Her grip is far too strong and I intervene, carefully pulling Hermione's fingers off, weakening her grip. Lavender pulls her arm back and Hermione stares at me with a frazzled expression on her face. I keep holding her hand in mine.

"You've got a good thing going for you here, Granger. Two blokes in one go," Lavender says, her voice ringing, as she still stares at Ron. Then she looks somewhere past us and turns on her heels, walking away. I turn around and come face to face with Professor McGonagall. Her lips thin out so much, I can barely see them.

"Sixth years!" she says with an icy tone. "Have you not learned how to behave in public? And you, Miss Granger! Gentlemen," she addresses us. "You're adults. Why have you allowed this outrage to go on? Is Mister Potter the only one with some sense?"

"What did I do?" Ron rubs his cheek.

"What didn't you do?" Our House Head draws herself up over us. "Brawling in the middle of the Great Hall with the entire school watching! Have you any sense to keep your personal squabbles outside the castle walls?"

It's good that Professor McGonagall doesn't know about my fight with Seamus. ‘Cause then I wouldn't get away with just a stern lecture.

Professor McGonagall steps around us and heads for the aisle leading up to the High Table. Lavender sits, crouched, and doesn't pay any attention to her.

"Miss Brown!" Professor McGonagall's voice isn't particularly loud, but everyone quiets down anyway. "Ten points from Gryffindor for your disgraceful behaviour."

Lavender's head drops and she gives a nod. I hear a smirk at my side: Finnigan sets his bag on the bench next to us and, judging from his expression, has seen the entire thing. "Ten points for a slap," he mumbles. "If I wasn't in Gryffindor myself, well I would…"

I know he meant that for me. Ron and Hermione can probably hear him too, but they're still in shock. I turn to him and mouth: "What? Tell everyone?"

He stares with open disdain and I want to punch him again right there and then. I raise my chin and give him a sneer: "They think I'm mental, you know. A violent nutcase. Remember that."

Ron and Hermione spin around, but Finnigan has already turned away from us. We round the table and sit on the other side. Hermione looks both happy and nervous at once.

"So Ron." I spread jam on my toast. "Are you ready for Hagrid's exam?"

He scratches his head. "If you mean survive with my limbs intact after yet another encounter with his beasties, then yeah, I think so."

"I suspect we developed some survival skills in his class." Hermione shrugs. "Personally, I'm more worried about Arithmancy."

"You've got Astronomy too," I tease. "Want me to quiz you about stellar rotations?"

"Quiz me about life," she answers immediately. "On what to do when a girl whom Ron's been going out with for all of two days threatens to tear your hair out!"

Ron chokes on his tea and Hermione returns to her oatmeal as if nothing has happened.


 

"Mister Potter, you're making spectacular progress!" Professor Flitwick's voice, usually high, squeaks even higher. "I bet you'll be named best in Sixth Year across the four Houses! Silencing charms, Locking charms, charms to identify a magical object, incredible! Bravo!"

I feel my face grow hot. It's not like that's anything special. I just went through all the recommended reading, trying to learn as much as possible about the wards in Snape's classroom and the charms Snape used during my detention.

Apparently my efforts impressed Professor Flitwick. I smile, satisfied.

"Harry," Hermione whispers, leaning in my direction. "This is rather awkward, but could you show me the Silencing Charm again? I can never manage it quite right." Her cheeks turn red, and I pretend I didn't notice.

"'Course. After class, all right?"

"Just not today," she says quickly. "Later this week maybe."

I nod. Today doesn’t actually suit me either. I've got my Occlumency lesson later.

Professor McGonagall also praises me, even though there's really nothing too hard about turning Dean, Neville, and Seamus into trees. We now practice transfiguring people all the time. It may help us defend ourselves, hard to curse back when you're stuck as an ash-tree, for example. And it may help us disguise ourselves if needed. The hard part is making the spell last for just the right amount of time.

Neville makes a fine oak, Dean - a sycamore, and Seamus turns into a beech, causing muffled snorts. Yeah, I get it, ha-ha. Very funny. I snort myself, glancing at our Head of House.

"Perfect, Mister Potter," she says dryly. "You've even kept the required dimensions during the transformation. I take it, had you been casting outside, the trees would have changed size accordingly?"

"Of course, Professor." I push up my glasses. "I just need to -"

"Enough," she stops me. "I can see you've prepared. Now let's check how everyone else is doing…"

Only Hermione raises her hand. Professor McGonagall gives her a grateful nod and again turns to me: "You may reverse the transformation, Mister Potter. Then you may begin working with Miss Granger for the rest of the class. You're well matched to practice together."

Hermione grins happily. I say the reverse spell and head over to her desk.

"What tree am I going to turn into?"


 

I knock on the door of the Potions classroom, having a hard time imagining our next lesson. The last time I've managed to put up a barrier, but also fainted. The last thing I want is to make that a habit.

I knock again, but no one answers. Strange. I pull on the door, but it doesn't open. Completely weird. Where is Snape?

I glance at my watch. Six in the evening. I'm on time. Should I check his office next? I hmph to myself and turn the corner, with the corridor curving. I've walked here before, not so long ago.

Office first, the next one over is his private rooms. I gather my courage and knock on the first door.

It opens so suddenly that it makes me sway back. Snape appears in the doorway, stormy but not too mad, I hope. He measures me with his stare: "Potter, why are you in such a hurry? Wait a minute."

I blink in confusion and he continues: "I'm brewing a medicinal potion for the Hospital Wing. If you have nothing else to do, you may enter and do your best to pretend you are not here."

I don't know what to make of such cordial invite, but Snape doesn't let me think it through: "Now! Either in or out. I don’t have time to waste."

I rush in and he heads for his desk without a glance in my direction. There, I spot the same small alchemical laboratory that I first saw in his living room. Does he have one for every room?

"Sit. Stop dawdling about," he says without looking at me. I arch my eyebrow and look around for a chair. I do find one. Strangely enough, it has a plush back and seat and ornate armrests. Nearly a throne. I sit down, trying to blend into my surroundings and look around at the same time. Nothing's changed here since Snape first tried to teach me Occlumency. I remember that it happened here and not in his classroom.

It's sparse and lifeless, just an average Professor's office. Homework scrolls, multiple alembics in boxes fitted for their round bottoms. The products of labour of many students, I guess. The writing desk with a chair of the same kind that I'm sitting in, and a table for his experiments, next to which he's standing now. The stone floors have no rugs, not even by the fireplace. There are no armchairs around either. His private room is much more cozy.

Hm, why am I suddenly worried about that?

"Well, Potter." I startle and jump up, as he puts out the flame and turns to me. "I'm ready to waste my time on you once again. As you see, had you waited for three minutes, there would have been no reason for you to break into my office."

"My scar hurt again. The last time it happened, it was Voldemort and then you disappeared," I answer, not even trying to be calm. "When you weren't there, I thought that…"

"Your scar was hurting?" He crosses the room with a couple of steps and stares down at me. Thankfully he interrupted me talking. "Let me see you."

I shrug and Snape releases a displeased huff: "I meant your scar." His fingers part my fringe. They're cool, and they make me startle. Snape pulls his hand away immediately and moves his face closer instead, checking the lightning bolt. It's still swelled up a bit, I know, and it's not the prettiest sight. One of Snape's strands falls, brushing my cheek and I shiver.

"What did you feel, Potter?" His deep voice hides his worry, but I still hear it.

"It felt like I was burnt," I answer, forcing myself to be still. "Not like when Voldemort…"

"Stop saying his name!"

Whoa. Did he not notice me saying Voldemort's name the first time around? Best be careful, the last time he cursed me like this, a jar of cockroaches exploded over my head.

"Not like when You-Know-Who invaded my mind. Then it felt like a blade sliced my scar open." He winces. Yeah, I'd be wincing too. I did.

"Sir, do you know," it's important for me to hear what he'll say. "What could cause such a thing?"

He keeps his silence for a long while, deep in thought, and even paces a few steps across the room. He reaches the fireplace and turns back, looking at me again.

"Have you cleared your mind before sleeping?"

"Yeah." I nod. "I even managed to, for the first time ever and then the pain hit me, like a whip." I look up and his dark eyes are narrowed, staring at my forehead, his brows furrowed.

"How did you manage the pain? Or did it end on its own?"

"I used the salve you gave me, it helped with the sensitivity." I'm lucky he isn't asking when my scar stopped hurting altogether. I am not going to blush. I won't! Even as those thin lips part and…

"In that case, Potter, it must have been caused by our practice. I warned you that twice a week would be too much, even for an adult. We should cut down."

"I'm not a child!" I exclaim, forgetting all about feeling ashamed. "You know full well once a week isn't enough. Sir."

He snorts, quiet but mocking, and arches his brow. "Mis-ter Potter, surely you aren't offended you are not deemed old enough?"

"I'm old enough to know I'll have to kill a man," I answer tiredly. "You can think I'm a toddler at sixteen all you want. I can't stop you."

"No one thinks you're a toddler, Potter," he grumbles. "You said it, not me. I meant that your body is not yet formed to withstand such strenuous mental activity so often."

"I haven’t got a choice, do I?" I look up and give him a sombre smirk.

Professor Dumbledore would lie, promising me to help lift the burden of necessity. What would Snape say?

"You are correct."

I thought hearing that would be hard, but it's actually makes my mind lighter. At least someone at Hogwarts has the guts to tell me the truth. It's as if his admission that I don’t have a choice has actually given me a chance. For what? I've no idea.

"Thank you, sir."

Snape hmphs again.

"If you want, we can practice here," he offers suddenly. "There are fewer chances of someone knocking."

"You've got the doors soundproofed, don't you?" I check.

"Certainly. But since I'm the spell caster, it's going to be an distraction," he says in his Professor's lecturing tones. "I'd rather keep my full attention on the work at hand, to prevent unnecessary risks."

"Fine." I shrug. Why would there be risks? Is Snape afraid to lose control? I never believed he'd be worried overly much about my pain threshold.

Or maybe I do now. Damn.

"What precisely is 'fine', Potter?"

"Let's do it here, sir, like last year," I specify politely.

He gives me a sharp nod. "Take your position."

Right. Away from the furniture, fortunately there isn't much of it. Right across from Snape…

"Ready?"

"Yeah."

"One… two… three…" Three? Wow. "Legilimens!"

The Veil. Without any preparations, without the images of previous years…

The Veil.

Sirius and Bellatrix dance around each other, trading sneers. "Let's see what you can do," echoes in my head.

Red light bursts forward from her wand and hits my Godfather square in the chest.

NO!

The mirror.

Silvery, brightly-shimmering, it looks as if it's made of mercury and as thin as a soap bubble. I separates Sirius and Bellatrix, covers up the Veil and covers me from the soulless, cruel curse…

Imago! I don't waste time on saying it, just holding onto the silvery protective skin, stretching it, knowing somehow that it would hold even against the mental Avada Kedavra.

I don't see Sirius falling.

I lower the mirror spell like a curtain before the Killing Curse hits, closing off the scar in my memory, and detect Snape before me. The Department of Mysteries pales and washes away like a night terror.

Dammit, why did I fall down on my knees? That hurt.

Snape slowly lowers his wand, with its tip glowing a dim orange colour. Then he regards me with care: "How do you know the Mirror Curse?" His chilly tone doesn't suggest a heart-to-heart, but his eyes… Well, what don't his eyes show?

They've got nothing, flies through my mind. In any case, nothing I'm used to. No anger, no mockery, no hatred. Well, I haven't seen hatred in his eyes for a long, long time. There's almost pride. What does Snape have to be proud of?

"Potter. It's a stone floor, do you mind getting up?"

Right. I get up and check my abused knees. They're bruised. Should I ask the house-elves for a rug, just so I can use it to soften the fall during the Occlumency lessons?

"I asked you a question, Potter. The Curse?"

I shake my head: "I don't know it, sir. I just thought of it. I didn't even think it existed."

"Not thinking has been your key quality so far. You let others do your thinking for you." He frowns, analyzing what I said.

"Well yeah. Others do the thinking and make all my choices for me," I snap, wincing at what's to come after it.

Snape arches his brow: "I see you're feeling better. Your well-being must have improved significantly, judging by your current level of disrespect for me."

"Sorry," I tell to his back with embarrassment.

Was it Snape who had pre-planned my life for me? No.

He doesn't have any control over his own.

"I can't believe my ears. A Potter, apologising for being rude? Are you quite well?" Well, now everything's back to normal. He's back to his usual barbs. I tighten my fists to keep to warm politeness.

"Yes I am."

"I wouldn't've guessed. Until Thursday, Potter. Keep practicing clearing your mind before bed. The pain should hopefully stop soon."

Encouraging, not. "When's soon?"

"Sir." He corrects me by habit.

Along the same habit, I echo. "Sir?"

His lips twist in a sneer. Didn't I just do exactly as he asked? "I don't know, Potter. I can only guess. If you think these lessons aren't in your best interest…"

"I don't think that."

"If you are going to insist on treating me with disrespect," he starts, in a threatening tone.

"Professor Snape, I don't believe I should stop my lessons. Since I can barely do anything at all yet in them. May I be dismissed, sir?" I'm asking for it, aren't I? Why do I keep this up? He's already said goodbye and the lesson ended.

He gives me a parting stare. "Get out. Until Thursday."

Right. I knew it. All that's left is to draw a deep enough breath to bid him goodbye.

He doesn’t answer, of course.

I come out of the Slytherin maze of corridors wondering why I managed to do what I did, when I couldn't do it before, under less stress.

Maybe I finally stopped wasting my energy and directed the efforts properly.

Or maybe Snape let me see my worst fear on purpose, persuaded by my words that I'm an adult, fully capable of handling the worst life throws at me? Knowing the sadistic git, this was probably his version of a pop quiz.

No matter how it happened, it worked, didn't it?

I remember his glare, studying my scar. For the third evening in a row, I shake at the thought of how terrible it'll all be if all the rumours about him turn out to be true.

Is Snape queer or not? I'm so, so scared to learn the truth.


 

"No matter which way you look at it, it's tragic that we haven't had any Defense Against the Dark Arts this year."

"Never thought I'd agree with you about more lessons, but yeah." Ron raises his head from his Transfiguration textbook and meets Hermione's eye. She makes a funny face at him.

I can't help it, I snort at them and they turn to me. "What is it, Harry?"

"Nothing. Just picturing Ron all bitching and moaning that he doesn't have enough lessons and you encouraging him to ditch the class and go to Hogsmeade."

"Never!"

"Harry, do I look nuts to you?"

"No, but you're a good influence on one another," I explain. "Besides, you're protesting too much."

"Harry." Hermione tilts her head looking at me from under her fringe. "You're really asking for it now. Isn't he asking for it? A proper thrashing." She looks like a stubborn young bull with a smile hiding in the corners of her eyes.

"Don't." I notice Ron tense up. "Don't you dare. That was a joke-"

I don't get to finish that sentence. They jump up from their chairs and pile up on me. No one is in the common room, it's far too late for that, and we've used the proper charms, so we can shout all we want.

Just as I suspected, Hermione's wand position was a bit off for that particular charm, and it didn't take too long to show her the right way.

Hermione's been very absent-minded lately. I still remember the minty smell from her Potions brew. Snape gave her an Acceptable, probably for the first time in her school years. But she didn't seem too affected by it. I am missing something, but I can't put my finger on it. Somehow I've stopped being able to predict her all the time.

"That's it! All right. I'm sorry! Hermione, you'll never ditch class. And Ron'll never start studying!" They stop tickling me and sit down on both sides of me on the couch. Hermione sobers up and her face turns calm. Ron gets up to grab his textbook and sticks his nose into it. I am still trying to contain my laughter.

"Harry, what's going on with your Occlumency lessons?" Hermione asks without that mischievous smile.

I'm pleased she cares enough to ask, so I answer honestly: "Got somewhere for the first time."

"Really? That's wonderful." She exclaims and grabs my hand. Ron raises his eyes from his textbook and catches my eye, showing he is paying attention with a brief nod. What else is there to tell?

"Were you able to deflect Legilimens?" It's much easier to answer that.

"Yeah, I don't even know how I knew, but I knew the exact spell to do it." It's as if I read about it in a half-forgotten fairytale, and then tried just 'cause and it worked. "I just tried it and it worked."

"Ohh, what's the spell?" Hermione asks, eagerly.

"Imago. The Mirror."

"Hm." She seems surprised. "This is strange. It's an Auror-level curse, so they don't teach it here. Did Snape show you?"

"He didn't show me a thing," I say with disappointment. "He said I should figure out how to defend myself all on my own and he's just there to watch… so I don't cross some pain threshold in my memories."

"Well, that's probably the best course of action," Hermione reasons, pressing her hand to her cheek. "Your own way is going to be much more effective than anything anyone else shows you. It is your own mind, after all."

"What if I would have completely lost it?" I interrupt grumpily. "Why is it so hard for Snape to just say upfront during the first practice: 'Potter, this is the spell used to block mental invasions.'"

Ron sets aside his textbook. "You sound like Professor Flitwick," he says. "With all the big words."

"Oh stop it," Hermione chides. But Ron's apparently not finished with me yet.

He blushes and asks me a question: "Do you remember what we talked about at the lake?"

Thankfully it’s quite dark in the room and we're not anywhere near the fireplace. He can't see my reaction when I search for the right words.

"What was it about, again?"

"About Snape. Er, which way he swings and all."

Hermione tsks and kicks Ron's shoe with her socked foot. He doesn't react. How am I supposed to react?

"Yeah, I remember. What about it?"

"Have you… learned anything new?"

About Snape? Hell, no. It's enough that I keep thinking about how he knows all about me, every time he passes by. Fortunately Snape didn't bring it up today, not even a word about it. Or perhaps he’s had his say and really could care less about it after all.

"Ron, I'm not going to ask him and I don't want to know anyway." Why is my voice so… ugh. It was fine around Snape, I was even calm during my confrontation with Seamus, but now I can feel the strain in it.

I don't want to be asked questions about Snape. It's hard enough to be around him, but to discuss it afterwards? I only want to think of him in the moment, when I see him in front of me. I haven't got very far with that lately.

Last night I did. An echo of my own moan rings through my head and my cheeks feel heated. It won't happen again. I won't let it. Even if my body did betray me so awkwardly, when his hair brushed my cheek today.

I've gotta be stronger than this. It's either that or feel ashamed for the rest of my life.

"Too bad."

Ron's stubbornness must be a Gryffindor trait somehow, 'cause all the Weasleys I know have it and end up here.

"How so?"

"Well…"

"Ron, I swear, just shut up already." That's it, Hermione's fresh out of patience. I’m lucky.

"Why are you all mad at me about it?" Ron grumbles.

Too late, she already gathers up strength for a rant: "I'm mad? Excuse you! I merely don't see why you'd care so much about Snape's personal preferences. Do you worry about Harry's the same way?"

The question corners Ron and I smile watching him try to get himself out of this one. "Well… no. But Harry's my mate, and Snape… Snape is…"

"So Harry can grow a second pair of ears and still be your mate, but Snape can't have any private life without being tarred and feathered, is it?"

"Er…"

"Let me finish. There's no shame in loving someone of the same sex. But you gossiping about it is plain rude. Regardless of whether the rumours about Snape are true, he's probably in the same boat as Harry when it comes to finding someone. They can even bond over a nice long chat about it all."

"Wha?"

"Why would you even think that?"

Ron and I ask our questions at the same time, as we stare at Hermione with our jaws dropping. She gives us a skeptic look: "Seriously? Have you not realised by now how proud and closed off Snape is? Besides, considering his work," she pauses to hint at the Order, "he doesn’t have time to think of himself. Why would he even try, if any day can be his last? Honestly, it's rather sad. Oh, I'm sorry, Harry." She catches herself.

I shake my head, showing that all is well, then get up from the couch and walk to the fireplace.

She's right. When every day can be your last, why waste time on stuff like long courtships or flirting, regardless of which way you swing? Why risk having it cut short?

Much easier to climb into someone else's bed and get right to it.

Or not try at all, avoid any closeness, that's safer and easier. No one to stab you in the back and call you a 'Slytherin slut' afterwards.

It's easier to be alone: and here I thought that was my discovery. My idea of peace and quiet, a bitter end, but a reliable one. My personal, never-shared snippet of wisdom.

But what if I'm wrong?

Chapter Text

"... throughout history, Muggles have been involved in Wizarding Wars. Naturally, Muggles had a different view of these wars than the Wizards they fought alongside with. But the destruction of both worlds, Muggle and Wizarding, has distinct parallels, which in the case of Muggles was obviously impossible to explain. It might even be true that Muggles have sustained the worst of the damage: we are better at restoring our communication and our societies. Reviving the government and repairing a curse-damaged castle, with time-tested principles and with wands at hand, is immeasurably easier than recreating the foundations of Muggle societies or rebuilding the ruins of a Muggle city. Nevertheless, Wizards have never tried to protect Muggles from the consequences of our own conflicts. Case in point, as the Muggles call it, the 'twentieth century'. We have already studied the First Wizarding War, propagating into the world as the Muggle Second World War. I suppose there is no need to revisit. The topic is among your exam questions and you will cover it in detail then, less than a calendar month from now…"

"Professor Binns," Hermione's voice breaks the sleepy silence. "You said that we never tried to shield Muggle societies from the effects of Wizarding conflicts. Why is that?"

The ghostly Professor Binns raises his head in confusion. He doesn't get questions often and when he does, it's usually from the same student.

Making sure that it is indeed the case now, he nods at Hermione and drones on unhurriedly, "Because, Miss Granger, often the starting point for the open hostilities was the emergence of a charismatic leader of mixed upbringing. Usually such people live a Muggle life, then as latent magical ability emerges, they enter one of our magical schools or academies. For example, Adolf Hitler was a student at Durmstrang and used his newfound skills and experiences to gain world domination. Fortunately, he did not have the strength to fight on two fronts: we joined forces with Muggles to stop him. I remember Mister Hitler from my time as a visiting professor in Durmstrang. A plain boy with an indomitable thirst for knowledge. His desire to control the human race arose later, but by that time he was already expelled for an attempted murder. He did not remain in the Wizarding World, instead fighting for control among the Muggles. He constructed his background, which allowed him to pass freely, claiming an ordinary education, and then the whole world suffered for it. To answer your question, Miss Granger, the wizards do not feel obligated to protect the world beyond our own, because it is from that world that the greatest calamities are usually born. We cannot stop teaching children with magical traits born to Muggle and Mixed families or it would effectively cut off the Muggleborn chances of learning and realizing their true potential. Instead we reveal our world to them and they are stronger and more competitive than what they would have been without."

Hermione turns an angry shade of red and I listen in on the whispers coming from Malfoy's desk.

Professor Binns continues, as apparently he's getting into the lecture again. "Salazar Slytherin once predicted this precise outcome, suggesting that such children should not have access to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This viewpoint is easily traced throughout history. In our present time, there is another powerful mixed heritage wizard with a fierce thirst for power, the strongest our society has ever seen. Muggles do not know his name just yet, but we do. It's…"

"Voldemort," I say, softly, but in the silent classroom it rings like thunder. My classmates shiver on pure reflex and turn to me. But thankfully that stops Hermione from hearing Malfoy's gleeful hiss: "Time to clean up the Mudblood filth!"

Binns shakes as well, his see-through shoulders twitch and his stare finds me: "That's correct, Mister Potter. Tom Marvolo Riddle, also known as You-Know-Who, parallels Hitler in his destructive power, but is also hundreds of times stronger. There are a couple of differences between the situation in the 1930's and the current day. Firstly, Tom Riddle completed his education and secondly, he did not yet start an open World War. However, we cannot simply hope that it might not begin at all."

"That's right," I agree with him in an even tone. "We can't count on him disappearing. Voldemort's not about to drop dead all by himself, tenacious sod."

Everything quiets down. Professor Binns gulps with his ghostly throat and his tone sharpens: "Mister Potter, I do not recommend calling a Dark wizard by his name on the school grounds."

"Why?" My eyes widen in interest. "We'll have to start at some point, when the random attacks turn into full-blown battles. Besides, I don't see how you can make me stop doing it, considering I've met him more than once already."

The looks around me grow wary and I snort: "Sorry, sir." What's come over me? "You keep going on and on about the Wizarding Wars as if they're over, but this one’s just begun."

Quiet. So quiet that you could follow a buzzing fly in the classroom, had it been here, and aim a spell at it just by ear alone.

"Perhaps you are right, Mister Potter," the ghost tells us. "Maybe so. In that case, I believe we should continue discussing the strategy and tactics of human wars: Muggle and Wizarding alike, waged against Dark wizards throughout history. Let us postpone our next topic, the sentient spikewing rebellion in Sumatra, for another day and carry on with our present discussion. How does that sound?"


 

As we leave class, Parvati walks up to us, weaving through the crowds. She smiles dreamily, and the spark in her eyes is unusual, almost teasing: "Good job, Harry. You've managed to get Professor Binns to sound interesting. I didn't even know that History of Magic could be used for anything besides taking a nap and playing castles."

I should ask something sensible, but "What's castles?"

"Well, there are two players," she answers cheerfully. "You charm your parchment, split it in two, draw a castle tower, and then your opponent tries to steal your bricks. And you try to steal theirs."

"OK, but what's the point of it?"

She snorts. "Well, the bricks make up your walls and you've got to steal as many as possible, and draw enough of your own. They're different colours, you see, so if you've got more opposite colour bricks than your own, then…" she doesn't finish that sentence.

"Right," Hermione cuts in, grabbing my hand. "This is even worse than the Exploding Snap or the duelling chess figures. Harry, let's go!"

She pushes Parvati aside and drags me with her. Ron huffs somewhere behind our backs. One turn, another, and Hermione practically pushes me into the wall: "Harry, are you insane? Why would you even mention V-voldemort during History of Magic?"

Ron sniffs quietly, but she ignores him. "Do you want to give Malfoy and his ilk more reasons to hound you? Don't you have enough troubles to add 'potential Dark wizard' to the mix?"

"What are you on about?"

"You're Muggle-raised, Harry, and a Half-blood, and you're clearly skilled at leading others."

"And you're Muggleborn, so what?" I yank my hand from her grip and give her an angry stare. "What am I supposed to do, sit and wait for you to start your crusade for world domination?"

"Hmph, point," says Hermione. "Perhaps your historical fiction novels did make a difference on your education."

"Course they did!" I'm not angry with her anymore. I sigh. "Even if Malfoy decides to cry on every corner how I'm the biggest threat to Hogwarts, he sure isn't going to kill Voldemort for me. And since I get to be the one to fight Voldemort soon, why even worry that I'm calling him by his name instead of snivelling in the corner like the rest? Malfoy is the last thing on my mind. Who cares what rumours he's spreading? I can say what I want."

"You said it so I wouldn't hear Malfoy whispering, didn't you?" says Hermione somberly. "I get it."

I blink at her, lost.

Hermione stares up at me and then gives me a hug, her curls tickling my cheek. Ron puts his arms around our shoulders and we are all quiet for some time.

"All right," Hermione sighs, pulling back. "We should probably get something to eat. By the way, Harry, why are you so sure that you have to kill Voldemort alone? We'll never allow that. Besides, even Professor Dumbledore-"

"Don't." I say it fast and firm and they stare at me in indignation.

"Why not?"

"Headmaster Dumbledore can't change fate and undo the prophecy. Even he isn't capable of a miracle. And I won't let you get swept up in this with me. It's not your responsibility, it's mine. You shouldn't be forced to deal with this, this..."

They try to argue but I wave them off. "Don't."

And then I turn and go, feeling my shoulders sag. No matter how hard I try, I can't keep myself upright.


 

We eat in silence. Since no one is sitting nearby, the quiet is not too noticeable, but still it's hard to deal with Ron and Hermione's disapproving stares.

I told them something I've thought about a lot this past year, about me having to kill or aid in killing. No matter which way I think about it, I have no choice. I don't have to like it, none of us do, but it doesn't change the situation.

I reach for the salt and catch someone staring at me from the High Table: Headmaster Dumbledore.

Of course he knows everything I say and do. Someone must've already let him know.

Who, Snape? I glance from Headmaster Dumbledore to the figure in black, the sallow profile facing Professor Vector. His eyes are lowered and his entire form communicates indifference bordering on disgust. If he hates company so much, why doesn't he eat in his quarters?

Then again, why does he insist on teaching me, the only student that bothers him as much as the rest of the school combined? Or am I exaggerating?

Does he do it to hone my fighting skills? To build a perfect weapon to smite Voldemort?

In any case, I doubt Snape is informing the Headmaster about me. Otherwise Headmaster Dumbledore would've called me in by now to interrogate, no, to discuss my scar hurting.

It's all so strange.

What if this continues? Whenever I think of my scar hurting from now on, I'll keep thinking of that night, touching myself. And ogling Snape the way I was doing…

At least my Occlumency practice is going well. Whew.

I startle, faster than realising what actually happened. Snape's stare meets mine and I don't think I've answered any of the questions projected in that sombre look.

I don't even think I have the questions right, even for all the gold in Gringotts.

I nod and mouth "Good afternoon."

He shrugs, almost imperceptibly, and turns away.

Of course he would. There was no question. There are no answers. It's all in my mind.

Why the hell did I even greet him at all?

Didn't we just go through that before? Technically it was not so long ago, but it seems like a lifetime.


 

Hogwarts corridors seem so ancient and grand at night when the crowds disperse. The stones in its foundation tell the story of Hogwarts being built, stones split and laid by hands no longer with us, soaking up the memories of the past. It's as if time itself has no effect on the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

I step silently over the stone floors, enjoying the solitude and the sense of half-forgotten calm. My Invisibility Cloak hides me from anyone who may come my way: Filch, Mrs Norris or even Snape.

Somehow it seems that even without my cloak, I'd be able to escape their not-so-friendly attention. I have already walked the Hogwarts halls without it once, on that evening when Snape came back -- I was waiting for anyone to notice I was out of bed after curfew. But either my instincts got sharper, or it was plain luck. In any case, I wasn't seen. That stopped me from being afraid.

It's not as if I've got anything to be afraid of, at all, when wearing dad's cloak.

Not here at Hogwarts anyway. It has all these thick walls and the oldest of magics protecting its grounds from harm. My home of six years, the true kind, the kind Grimmauld Place could've been without its screaming portraits and with Dobby and Winky at my side instead of Kreacher. But it wasn't meant to be.

And so I returned to Hogwarts instead. I don't know what stopped me from considering this place as home to begin with, maybe it was my Second Year. The memories seen in Riddle's Diary, the words in one such memory: "I'd much rather stay at Hogwarts than go back to that… that…"

I've got no other home to go to either, but I didn't want to voice wanting to stay, even to myself, as if I was afraid to repeat them after Riddle. I didn't want to admit that my actual home has always been here and I don’t have any other.

When did my attitude about it change? I don't remember. Maybe, after Sirius' death, I finally understood that Voldemort is a threat not only to the Wizarding world, but also to these aged walls. Hogwarts was never home to Voldemort. He used it when it suited him, of course, but he was ready to destroy the castle for the sake of destroying one occupant who'd witnessed the Dark Lord's first defeat.

I don't want Hogwarts to fall.

I walk past the tall windows that let in the moonlight and once in awhile touch the rough brickwork.

I love this place.

I don't want Voldemort to destroy the school.

I'll do anything to stop him. Anything.

Taking a turn toward Gryffindor Tower, I notice, out of the corner of my eye, a movement in the corridor I just passed. By instinct, I press myself against the wall. Of course it's him! I'd laugh at that if I wasn't so afraid to be spotted. Snape moves so silently, he's likely tuned into any noise, even the sleepy snores of his students.

Blending into the dark corridor, I peer into the distance, so I can watch Snape approach and pass me, and only then I sigh, forgetting about my own invisible state. He strides toward the dungeons in an even, habitual step and I once more head to the dorms, dreaming of a soft bed and some restful sleep.

The thoughts of my bed somehow lead me to remember Snape again and I almost curse out loud. The joy of not being caught, a childish kind, that became a habit, the rush of excitement in my blood, that arousal bubbling up stronger with every heartbeat across my entire body…

I really hope my hard-on disappears when I get to the dorms, or that I'd find a somewhat sensible explanation for it at least. For now, I wrap my cloak tighter around me and march onwards.


 

"The Dark Mark was over the building. Everyone saw, even the Muggle workers, what do you call them, the firemen."

"Who'd overlook that? Smoke or not, can't miss it."

"Yeah. Do you remember the Quidditch Cup?"

"Last year, the Obliviators asked for a raise, just like the time when he first came to power."

"Who?"

"You-Know-Who!"

"Potter's coming."

"Quiet, Potter's here!"

I walk into the Great Hall, followed by whispers and stares. Hermione may have been right, I shouldn't've brought up the threat of the war in class yesterday. Now everyone will think I know more than they do and don't want to share the news. They are probably wondering just how I know.

The British Library. Voldemort's got an odd taste for destruction. Why does he hate books so much?

"The Muggle Observers are in shock," Hermione reads the Daily Prophet quietly. "One of the largest libraries in the world has lost over half of its collection. Not a single book remains unharmed by the attack. The library contained over ten million books. London has suffered a tremendous loss today, but the entire literary world is in mourning. The reason for the fire is currently unknown, nor can we tell at this time why it spread so quickly or why the usual measures did not appear to prevent the catastrophe. The British government has yet to release an official commentary. The Muggle world is stunned at the disaster and news organisations all over the world demand an explanation…"

She stops her reading and throws the paper down. Ron and I stare at each other in silence.

"Of course they don’t have an explanation!" Hermione cries. "And they never will! People never get to hear one. And the Wizarding world is going to keep silent, just as we've always done!"

"Shhh," I caution, giving her shoulder a light shake. "Not so loud."

"Harry, do you know what this means?" Hermione's eyes sparkle with something that looks suspiciously like tears. "It's one of the largest libraries in the world! Was! And now it's…"

"We knew this was coming," I say softly, carefully eyeing the High Table: Headmaster Dumbledore frowns, looking at the same page of the Prophet that Hermione just finished reading. He doesn't look at us, but I feel a distinct need to get away from his attention. Before he invites me to have another talk. In light of yesterday's outburst in front of Professor Binns, he'd probably tell me to be more cautious.

I don't want to be cautious! He can take caution all he wants! I don't want to keep sticking my head in the sand. Isn't it better for all to know and to be ready for an attack? Be it on Hogwarts or the British Library, doesn't matter.

What are we waiting for? Why? Voldemort keeps provoking us into an open war and we're sitting here, twiddling our thumbs.

I am gripping my mug of cocoa too tightly, the thin sides are about to crack. I stop myself from flinging it against the nearest wall and set it carefully on the table. Enough of that. I can't cause a scene now.

We finish our breakfast in a hurry and we're not the only ones to do so. As I look around, I think that the house-elves would probably be upset with us, since the first years are the only ones eating their fill, not caring about any news or conversations between upper years. To them, summer's about to start. And who cares about the exams? They're still as happy as anything.

What if the library burning down during the night and ending up in all the morning papers, Muggle and magical, is a signal for an attack? I wish I hadn't thought of that now. I look up at the Headmaster again.

Headmaster Dumbledore has a gloomy look to him, as if a stormcloud had moved in on the spotless May morning. He looks over the entire hall, house by house, pausing significantly over the Slytherins, and then his eyes find mine.

Just as I thought.

But Professor Dumbledore doesn't make any secret gestures, he merely tilts his head and I feel my face grow hot and give him an answering nod. I forget to say hi.

Cheerlessly, we rise from our tables, grabbing some cinnamon buns on the way out. I really don't want to sit in class now, but they haven't been cancelled yet.

Right then, might as well go wash my face. My head is exhaustingly heavy, a sure sign of a migraine coming on. I give my friends a nod and tell them I'll catch up. Then I take the corridor to the nearest loo.

Maybe it's just hot here, that's all. If I wet my hair, my forehead may stop burning.

The understanding of what's happening reaches me too late. At least I'm away from the Great Hall when it happens. I lean against the wall and slide down it, my feet bucking under me. Maybe one of the professors will see me.

At the edge of my hearing is a bell, marking the beginning of the next lecture.

No one's going to see me.

The world explodes with blinding pain.

Tom Riddle, Lord fucking Voldemort, back just as he had promised.

"Harry."

Like a saw against my bared nerves. I don't waste my time with a reply, that's one thing I've learned from my Occlumency lessons: talking back means wasting strength.

I didn't have enough lessons, never enough, I can't possibly raise my mirror shield now, when my life is depending on it, and maybe not just mine either.

"Tsk. How rude, not replying when spoken to…"

Icy smirk, enraged fury. I try to cast the thin-as-silk protective bubble of the spell, try to close my mind against his blunt force, like a fist pounding against the door.

He rips my Imago to shreds, just as I try to raise it.

The agony in my scar is so strong, I forget my own name. I can't pass out. I don't know if he can read my mind if I am unconscious, but I can't take that chance.

My reality melts away around me and I sob with pain, but I can't hear myself scream. I get the feeling I'm being sliced into pieces.

"The hell do you want?" I don't ask, my pained grimace asks for me.

"Nothing much… just a few crumbs of knowledge." Voldemort managed to get me to talk to him and I can feel his incorporeal smugness.

That terrible realisation clears my sight for a second. I don't want this monster going through my thoughts! I try to lift my head and focus again.

"Imago!"

The silvery shimmering veil of the mirror curse appears in my mind's eye and I direct every effort left in my body and my thoughts towards it, making it stronger, making it invincible.

Voldemort hisses like a nest of angry vipers and strikes against my spell with his full fury.

"You won't last long, Gryffindor." I'd rather lose hearing than listen to him. "Even your bravery can't stop me now. I need information about the Order named after Dumbledore's pet. Who's in it? Where are they hiding? Stop fighting and give me what I need."

"No!" It can't be stronger than a whisper, but it feels as if I'm shouting.

"Yesss. You don't have the strength to fight against me. Yield and your death will be far less painful than you deserve."

"NO!" Perhaps all of my fainting during Occlumency practice and the resulting pain in my scar have prepared me somewhat for this moment. At least I'm still conscious, even though dying seems better and better by the minute. If I die, I won't feel pain.

There's not enough pain in the world…

"Don't you want an easy death?" Mocking laugh, with a hint of confusion. "Or do you prefer to suffer?"

"If it means we suffer together, I'm ready." I desperately try to hold onto consciousness. My scar pulses with pain, making me sick with every wave of it, my ears are filled with a deafening roar.

I can't pass out, I can't!

I can't feel anything anymore, my arms or my legs, whether I'm sitting down or have collapsed onto the floor. All I feel is the concentration of agony.

The torture is comparable perhaps only to a non-stop Cruciatus Curse. How long did the Longbottoms fight this, I wonder? But I'm still alive. I can still think.

Voldemort, apparently tired of our bickering, focuses another blow at my shield. I don't feel it directly, just the surge of noise in my ears, which is almost calming.

I don't have the time to figure out what that means, just put all my effort into holding him off.

The second blow comes and it feels as if my head's exploded into a brand new galaxy. My body is so weak, too weak to resist anything. Just one hit against the nervous system and pain renders us useless.

Oh god. Hurts.

Third blow. I've got to hold on, if I can't do this, who else can? No one else can withstand him, we both know that.

Gotta hold on.

The edges of the outside world grow distant and I try desperately to find something to anchor me to reality. Voldemort doesn't waste time talking anymore and every beat of my heart echoes with pain inside my chest.

My body won't be able to handle him, he's too strong.

I don't risk thinking about how long I need to last. If he can go on indefinitely, I'm done.

I drag my teeth against my lip, trying to bite down, but it doesn't work. My mouth is slippery with the salve I've put on my lip after breakfast and I don’t have the strength to lift my fist up to my mouth. My body won't listen to me right now.

I've gotta find a distraction. Something real, a physical sensation that would remind me I'm still alive and this hellish torture, this mental invasion, is just in my head. I turn my head for something to bite into, to keep me processing reality around me.

"You're dead!" His voice deafens. It's as if someone shoved earplugs into my ears and now Voldemort's thundering in my head as if in a padded cell.

"Your stubbornness will be your undoing, boy. You'll perish in agony."

Strange, but I don't doubt his words, even for a second. I know this is the end for me. Who can fight a demon that's not even there, but only strikes from the inside?

He didn't get my thoughts out of me. At least I'll die with a clear conscience.

I hear the utter silence in my head and understand that he's gathering strength. I will not survive the next blow. Riddle may be incorporeal, but the pain he causes is very real.

My heart will probably stop.

For the last time, I try to bite down on my lip, so I can die without screaming and my teeth bite into something warm.

Something alive.

I don't care what it is, I just clench my teeth over it.

Must be someone's fingers, pushed into my open mouth. I've drawn blood and that salty flavour suddenly kindles my will to fight. The blood on my tongue and the realisation that I'm no longer alone. It feels as if someone has grasped me from behind and pulled me against them tightly.

I hear and feel with a thousand senses how my pitiful mirror shatters Voldemort's curse. Even through my closed eyes and with the lack of colour in my mind, I know it's bright green. There is a wide circular ripple in the surface of the spell that makes me shudder with a painful chill, but the mirror stays. It stays up.

And so I rise with it and it feels as if someone's got a palm pressed flatly between my shoulder blades. I exhale, staring into the blind darkness: "Get… OUT!"

I fall back, into the warmth and safety and close my eyes. Absorbing the resulting silence.


 

I don't know how much time has passed before I open my eyes again. I want to get up, but my legs refuse to hold me. It's rather comfortable, because my back is propped up against something warm. Someone warm.

Who?

With a valiant effort I turn, not getting up from the floor.

Snape meets my eye, dark eyes so close to mine that it makes me blink, trying to focus on them.

So it was him.

Snape's right arm is placed over my chest, I only notice it now. I keep looking at him as I slide my hand over it. He winces when our fingers touch. I carefully lift his hand, every move is agony still, and examine the purple blood-filled bruising where I must've bitten down. The tips of his index and middle finger look swollen and the rest of his hand looks pale in comparison.

I look back at him, wondering why nothing's interrupted the silence so far. Snape regards me with his usual emotionless stare. Yeah right. Next he'll be telling me he ran into me by pure chance. Had wrapped himself around me cause he couldn't think of anything better to do. "You'll have help," he said to me. When the time comes. Back then, I didn't believe it.

Slowly, ever so slowly, I lift his hand higher and, never taking my eyes off him, touch his wounded fingers.

To my lips. An apology for hurting him.

Silence. It's welcome, but far too deep. He sighs, not hiding the exhaustion on his face any longer.

I feel that sigh with my entire body, since I'm practically sprawled on top of him, unable to lift myself. But I don't hear a thing. Hm?

He frees his hand and it disappears past my field of vision tracing along my ear, along my neck, and then returns and I see blood on his fingertips.

I blink with confusion at the thick, congealing substance and then copy his gesture, exhaling softly as I discover the reason for the silence.

That's gotta be it. I can't hear a thing. My eyes are probably in a similar state, if even my ears couldn't hold up this time.

Quite a sight, I bet. Why hasn't he shown any disgust yet?

"I can't hear," I think I say that aloud, 'cause I start to cough. Snape frowns, then nods, and pulls back, propping me up against the wall. Then he rises to his feet, looking down at me.

It was much warmer when we sat together on the floor. I am still amused at the thought, mostly by my own reaction.

Snape offers me his hand and I take it as I rise. Or I think I get up, at least. In reality, I almost collapse back down as soon as I'm upright.

He grabs me, placing himself so close to me that I can see his slowly expanding pupils.

If I weren't deaf already, the silence between us would ring again. As it is, I can only feel his solid warmth in such close proximity to my body. I'm fortunate that meeting Voldemort kills any want whatsoever, or…

Yeah, I'm very, very lucky.

He starts speaking then stares at me. I frown in response. I don't know how to read his lips.

He waves me off in frustration, lets me go and reaches for his wand. Hm, is he planning to levitate me? I give him a hurried shake of my head and almost fall down again. His hand returns to my back, so he can hold me up.

His face shows distinct frustration, but he puts his wand away. Then nods in one direction. Yeah, I get it, I need to be in the Hospital Wing.

"Together?"

I don't hear myself ask it, but the bout of coughing confirms that I spoke the words out loud. Snape inclines his head, signalling agreement, and then his arm winds around me, helping to hold me up.

I don't think anyone has ever held me like this. I've always been alone when I met Riddle before.

Oh, who am I kidding. No one’s ever held me like this, period.

Enough speculation. I conclude, only with a fraction of my previous horror, that in the near future, the memory of Snape's arms around me will haunt me during the night, in the privacy of my own bed.

We slowly trek toward the Hospital Wing through the corridors. Somewhere in the castle, in class, Ron and Hermione are probably worried by now, but I'm on the way to the infirmary and can only think of all that warmth that my body soaked up during its contact with Snape's.

The edges of his robe sway sometimes, right against my leg. We don't meet each other's gaze anymore.

Chapter Text

Madam Pomfrey is shocked by our sudden appearance. She gestures, rolls her eyes up and starts muttering something, looking at Snape and me. Snape replies with something bitey, apparently, 'cause Madam Pomfrey stills and heads right for the medicinal supply cabinet. Snape watches her moves with an unpleasant expression on his face.

She lights a fire, which is good, since I am getting the chills again, while Snape settles me into a chair and steps away. Then he comes back, gesturing that I should take the seat near the fireplace instead. I try to lift myself up with my elbows, but fail completely. Snape managed the task far better when he was at death's door.

He extends his hand to me and after a second, I accept it. He helps me get settled in front of the fire and then addresses Madam Pomfrey, or was she the one to ask him a question? In any case, he turns to her, as she is going through multiple phials and jars with medicinal potions. His features become sharper and even more sombre in the firelight: huge nose, stubborn jaw, thin lips. Now that he's not looking right at me, there’s nothing there to soften the view.

When did I start thinking that Snape's eyes were his strongest feature again?

Probably right after staring into them for the past half-hour.

They stop bickering, or is it conferring, and Snape disappears into the fireplace. I stare after him in confusion, then glance at Madam Pomfrey. She doesn't look particularly pleased.

Then she approaches me and proceeds with the examination.

I'm already covered with all sorts of healing salves. My eyes must hold a couple pints worth of sight-restoring medicines by now. When she pours the tenth potion down my throat, which leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, Snape emerges once more from the fireplace. In his hand he holds a tall, transparent jar filled with something black and smelling of pine. I instinctively note that the fingers of his right hand are bandaged up neatly, separately, to not impede movement.

I hang my head low, remembering the taste of blood in my mouth. Had I known it was Snape's before…

What would have I done differently? It saved me from Voldemort.

Madam Pomfrey accepts the items brought in by Snape, a couple of flasks he pulls out from his pocket, and starts mixing the contents, talking all along. I can see the movement of her lips and the stillness of Snape's jaw.

Then she approaches me, with a glass jar in one hand and a scary looking pipette in the other. From her gestures I derive that I am to lie down on the nearest bed and allow her to apply the mystery medicine to my ears.

I nod, as a sign of understanding, and get up on my own at last, approaching the nearest cot. Snape stands at the head of it.

I lie down and strong fingers immediately hold my head still. They're warm and I make a decision to trust Snape once more, what else do I have left? Madam Pomfrey's lips thin and she nods to Snape, measuring precisely two drops of the mixture right into my ear.

One, two. Ohshit! It's probably easier not to get my hearing back at all. I held off Voldemort today, but still unexpected tears well up in my eyes and a sharp shout must've emerged from my throat. I try to get up, but Snape holds me down on the cot. My ear burns as if a swarm of earwigs has burrowed into it.

And I still don't hear a thing!

After a few very long seconds, nothing happens, and Madam Pomfrey gestures for me to turn over. I know it's necessary, but I can't force myself to obey.

Snape's arms turn me with that inexplicable force, making me tilt my head up. He sees my tears, and I twist myself out of his grip, pushing my face into the pillow. Why are they torturing me?

And then there's a cautious touch, as his fingers, ever so carefully, slide against the back of my head. I am too shocked to believe it. Steady fingertips glide at the base of my neck, then move up to the top of my head.

It's so surprising, and so impossible, that I force myself to turn, just so I can see his face. It does not reveal a single thing, his eyes are cold and his lips twist in contempt. And yet, his fingertips don’t stop their silent caress for an instant. It's the only reason I turn to my side again and allow them to pour the burning mixture into my other ear. Again, I am overwhelmed with pain, so much, it forces tears out of me. I wipe them away with shaky fingers as soon as I can.

Madam Pomfrey gestures for me to sit up and I do so, looking at her distrustfully with still-wet eyes.

Her bedside manner is rubbish!

Snape points his wand at me and says something long and complicated, or maybe several somethings.

As if a cork had burst from a bottle of champagne, the sounds crash over me so suddenly that I put my hands over my ears, and try to persuade them to be quiet. Or am I screaming for it?

Judging by Madam Pomfrey's reaction, it's the second.

"Young man, do behave yourself," she says angrily, "I've had enough of one of you acting like a toddler in my infirmary!" I move my hands a bit. Snape behaved like a child? Hmm.

"Instead of consulting the Headmaster, he insisted I must keep your medical condition a complete secret, even forced me to take an oath that I won't reveal it to anyone! Mister Potter, since you just happened to stumble in here under Severus's arm, perhaps you care to explain what has left your ears and the rest of you in such a state?"

Snape shudders and gives her a murderous glare. Pomfrey responds with a hmph and looks at me, expecting me to reply.

"Did you already swear to silence, Madam Pomfrey?" I ask gruffly, weirded out by how odd my voice sounds.

"Mister Potter!"

"Well, did you?"

"Yes," she seems angry enough. Oh well.

"Thanks. I can't really explain it, not this time, I'm afraid." I rise from the cot and shakily head for the exit. "Sir, may I spend some time in the dungeons? I'd like some quiet."

I breathe out the final word and Snape gives me a second-long stare, ignoring Madam Pomfrey, who’s red with frustration. "You're too weak, Potter, and it's too far. Since you wish to avoid Levitation, might I suggest the Floo?"

I'm shocked into silence as he continues.

"Well, are you joining me?"

Obviously, he isn't planning to wait for long. I nod and step back from the door. Snape turns to Madam Pomfrey and says with utmost politeness: "Thank you, Poppy. I think I can manage Potter's residual effects from here, we have no urgent need of you or your medicine supply any longer." With that, he gives a sharp nod, throwing a handful of powder into the flames and steps into the fireplace, calling me to him. I shrug and climb in, pressing myself against him involuntarily, to fit into the narrow space.

"Closer," Snape specifies with a dejected tone. I put my arms around him as he says: "Professor Snape's Office."

The hospital wing disappears and the last thing I hear is Madam Pomfrey's quiet complaint. "What am I going to do with these boys?"

I guess she meant both of us.


 

We end up in his office almost immediately. My knees hit the stone slabs and my eyes are greeted by a familiar image. Jars with random nasty things inside, a stack of parchment on the writing desk.

And also silence. I feel as if I can almost touch it, so softly does it fill my ears.

Snape steps over the low grate, heading for the desk. It's as if I'm not here at all and he was disturbed for some minute reason from his important work. I leave the fireplace after him and stop staring at the back of his head. How am I supposed to talk to him?

Looks like Snape's got the same problem. He doesn't sit down, merely continues to stand, bracing himself against the back of the chair, without turning to look at me. I see how tense his back is and think for a moment that he's probably already regretting inviting me in. I take a few steps around him and come to a stop a few feet from him. I need to say something, to break the silence. The deep silence calms my wrecked nerves, but at the same time fills the space with tension. I cough.

Snape raises his head and measures me with his stare. His brows are furrowed, but he doesn't look too angry. "Yes, Potter?"

"Sir…" My voice is hoarse, as if I’ve been shouting for days in the winter winds, but I can't do anything about that. Even Madam Pomfrey's medicines can't cure a sore throat in fifteen minutes.

I want to ask him to take me somewhere I can be alone, but at the same time, as I try to put it in words, I glance at his hands. At his palms, pressing into the chair's back. At the fingers of his right hand, covered with thin bandages. And suddenly I say something completely different from what I was going to say: "I'm so sorry."

"What for?" It's a simple question, but I have no clue how to answer it. I'm sorry that you saved me again? I'm sorry that you are paying dearly for it? Sorry for hurting you?

"For your hand," I tell Snape, looking past him. Anywhere but at him directly. With a wave, Snape dismisses my apology and I realise I am again staring at his hand. As if those bandages have magnetic properties attuned to my eyeballs.

"It'll heal," he says plainly. "Now, have you managed to keep the Dark Lord out of your head?"

The question takes me off guard. Didn't he witness it himself? And if he didn't, if he wasn't sure, why did he fuss over me so?

"I did it," I answer quietly, taking a chance to raise my eyes at him. "I cast the Mirror curse, all thanks to you."

Snape responds with a small shake of his head, as if contradicting me, and steps away from the chair, measuring the room with his steps. He's thinking, I can tell, but I don't care to guess what about, because all this standing is twisting my stomach into knots.

"Sir." I hope I sound coherent. "May I sit?"

He turns his head for a second. "Sit down."

I lower myself onto the nearest chair I barely drag myself to. I wouldn't've made it to any other, further away. That sticky, weak feeling of near-fainting subsides, and I feel Snape's stare on me, with the entire surface of my skin, despite Madam Pomfrey's countless salves.

"Well, let's assume you've fought him off this time," Snape mutters under his nose. "Although there is no reason to believe you will be so lucky next time around."

Lucky? Didn't he know what happened to me? Maybe he just found himself in the right place at the right time. Of course he won't answer me if I ask him, but I can't resist asking "Sir, how did you know? That I was..." The words refuse to roll off my tongue.

That he was killing me. That I was in trouble. Those are not the right words for Snape's ears.

"I said you'll have an opportunity to call for help, do you have a problem with that?"

"I don't, I just don't get how…"

"You ask far too many questions," he says grumpily. "Had you applied yourself with equal drive to your lessons…"

"I'd be a Prefect by now." I hmph. It's an old prank the twins are fond of. "I'd make a perfect Prefect," they'd tell their mum, and then push poor Ron forward: "But one's enough, innit?"

"At the very least you'd be an average student," he states, unperturbed.

Strange. Does he not consider the question about saving someone's life worth answering? Especially when it's my life at stake and he's the one saving it. Like Hermione once said, that's just out of line. What's he trying to prove?

My doubt is apparently so apparent, that Snape stops circling around the room to halt right in front of me.

"In certain circumstances, Occlumency sessions allow me to maintain a mental link. It cannot be detected and is completely safe. I cannot hear your thoughts or see your memories, just as you cannot reach mine. Usually, such a link is established seconds into the spell. It's a prerequisite. Afterwards, I attempt to enter your mind, risking rejection. Usually this severes the connection. However, a simple spell allows me to keep it in place. I have used such a spell on you when you told me about the possibility of the Dark Lord invading your mind again."

Snape looks at me mockingly, as if checking whether I absorbed the lecture. Ron's right, he never dumbs things down. But I've grasped the most of it, anyway. "So you knew when Volde- sorry, You-Know-Who attacked me?"

"Precisely," he nods. "I sensed the tremor resulting from the invasion in your mind. And since I was nearby, I decided to check and see how you were."

'Check and see'... I feel the warmth of his body again, as he pressed me against him, and I can still taste the coppery salt on my tongue.

"M'sorry," I repeat without even knowing why I need forgiveness. Snape doesn't understand either, apparently, because he scowls back.

With a heroic effort, I rise, and he watches me, his eyes half-lidded. "Sir, do you mind letting me into the Potions classroom for awhile? If you've got no use for it," I ask, as politely as I can manage.

He stares at me in surprise: "Why?"

"Well, I need some rest," I tell him in an apologetic tone, staring at the wall behind him. "I already tried that once. I promise not to break anything." It's stupid, I know, but I really don't want to walk all the way to the Gryffindor tower.

It's so noisy there, and so full of people.

Snape studies me as if thinking something over. The Potions classroom is probably best for me right now, considering. Who knows if Voldemort might decide to strike back right away? I don't even know if these attacks tire him out. Maybe they do, but likely much less than they tire me.

I can't be around people right now. I've got no energy left, I won't make it through a single lecture.

I wrap my arms around myself, trying to contain my shivering. Snape notices it, apparently, and makes a decision, ‘cause he says in a determined tone: "Follow me." And then he heads for the door.

Trying to keep myself upright, I follow after him.

We leave his office and I lean against the wall, waiting for him to raise the wards. I'm getting ready to turn in the right direction, because he's leading me to the classroom, obviously, not to the Hospital Wing, surely? But Snape turns away from the exit out of the dungeons and takes three long strides toward a nearby door. My vision swims, but it all becomes clear after the two short words he whispers against the door.

"Ocimum Sanctum." I recall just enough Latin to recognize the words. Holy basil. I thought of basil that one time in Herbology too, after I heard Snape saying his password. Why hasn't he changed it yet?

I don't have time for questions that are never going to be answered. The door opens and Snape stares at me in a silent offer, or possibly command, to enter.

I comply.

My legs carry me over to the chair and I collapse into it, helplessly. Snape meticulously puts up the locking charms to the other doors in the room which I'd noticed during my first visit. This time around, our roles are reversed.

He kindles the flames in the fireplace and Accios the footstool. It hits me against the shin and drops down next to the chair. I don't even wince, the pain is insignificant in comparison to what I've been through today. Apparently this is the limit to Snape's care, and the most hospitality I can count on. The world has gone mad, I summarise my day, moving closer to the fire and putting my feet up. And then, I raise my head.

The world has not only gone mad, it has tilted completely off its axis, turning into a mystery, as delusional as one of Professor Trelawney's visions in a crystal ball. Snape's holding a plaid blanket. Is it the same one I used to tuck him in?

I peer at him distrustfully as he folds out the blanket, holding it by the corners, and then the warm wool covers my shoulders. I toe my boots off on my own, staring blankly into the fire. I can't very well start bawling like a firstie! I can't! That would be completely crazy. Then why do I feel this tell-tale warmth in my eyes for the second time today?

I’m better now that I'm warm, and I recline, closing the eyelids weighed down by tears. Time to sleep. That's why he brought me here, didn't he?

Sleep.

I can do so now, knowing Snape is here, that he'd chase all the demons from my mind if they decide to show up again. Because we're sharing that one mental link, the Head of Slytherin and I, and it can't get any scarier than that. Severus Snape, Hogwarts Professor that I'd never even begin to understand.

"Sleep, Potter," he says evenly, without a hint of unease. Cool. Calm. It makes me calm down too. "I'll notify your instructors."

Near-silent footsteps head toward the door and I force my eyes open: "Professor Snape?"

I haven't called him that for awhile. I think he even startles a bit when I call him out, but turns around dispassionately nonetheless. "What is it, Mister Potter?"

The same old formality. Oh well. I gulp and ask, focusing on his hand raised to the doorway. "What did Madam Pomfrey mean when she said that you acted like a child?"

He snorts. "Do you prefer to give the full account of your encounter to the Headmaster?"

I shake my head just imagining the entire horrible 'heart to heart' in Professor Dumbledore's office. Brr! What does the Headmaster know about me anyway? Just what he's able to see. Whatever I choose to reveal. Not so long ago, I thought he knew every single thing in my head.

I chase that thought away.

Snape nods in an answer to my frantic headshake. "This is why I've asked Madam Pomfrey to keep our visit a secret. She was not pleased."

Asked. I wonder just how he phrased that question. I haven't heard a thing, but Madam Pomfrey looked pretty displeased. Pity I'll never know what Snape used to persuade her.

"Thank you."

"Such manners." Snape answers mockingly and prepares to leave. I cough a bit and he turns to me once more: "Do you need a cough potion?"

I can't answer in words, afraid of a new coughing fit, so I nod. He crosses the room, opens a reddish-brown cabinet using an unfamiliar word and reaches for a phial.

"Drink."

His narrow palm is right in front of my face, the phial touches my lips and I drink obediently, not even wincing. Everything in my mouth turns numb and cool, but then the itch in my throat fades. It's as if I've taken a hundred cough drops at once.

"Sleep now. You need to rest." Snape returns the phial to its proper spot, locks the cabinet and returns to my armchair, as if to check if I need anything else.

I signal my agreement by looking down. I haven't even asked him if we're going to practice Occlumency today. Then a thought strikes that the potion he gave me is probably not only a painkiller, but has a soporific effect as well, like the salve for my scar. I don't get the chance to voice any of it, because I am falling asleep. Someone touches my forehead lightly, or am I dreaming? I must be, since no one's around but Snape and why would he bother?


 

I wake up somewhere that's not the Gryffindor dorms. For a few seconds I keep my eyes closed, trying to figure out where I am. I am reclining, or so I think, in a very soft armchair. There's a fireplace to my left: I hear the crackle of the coals and feel the warmth of the fire. It's comfortable, in a way that even lying in my own bed isn’t.

Where am I?

I open my eyes and look from the armchair across from me to the stone walls which catch the flicker of the flames. There are no windows here, but I guess it must be evening.

So, I'm in the dungeons. With Snape. My memory returns so suddenly that it startles me. Voldemort. The Hospital Wing. My ears. I quickly say "I'm Harry", just to make sure that I've got my hearing back. What happened here anyway? Snape brought in some potion, or an ingredient, I reckon. Madam Pomfrey put those awful drops in my ears, and then we Flooed together, Snape and I. That's how we ended up here. Not here here, but in his office, and then I asked if I could use his classroom so I could nap for awhile, but he took me to his rooms instead. Wow!

This is the second time in two weeks that I ended up in his private quarters. Hm, does anyone else ever come in here, besides Headmaster Dumbledore? Today is the strangest day I've had at Hogwarts. Snape tucked me in, commanded me to sleep, and I did fall asleep, right after I took his cough potion.

Now that I'm awake, I'm trying to puzzle out if I'm still in my right mind and whether I dreamed it all. What I've seen today goes against everything I know about Snape.

Then again, I've got that annoying thought at the back of my mind, something about Snape, always Snape, that I can't quite recall.

I might as well admit it: I want to know if he's like me.

No, I really don't! Why would I?

What part am I avoiding, precisely? The fact that I want to know or the fact that he may be queer?

Both?

Am I lying to myself?

So not the time and the place to lie back and wonder about it.

Time to get out of here then before I go completely mental, arguing with myself. Ron and Hermione might be looking for me already. Snape might have warned the Professors, but probably didn't bother to warn my friends as well.

I rise, carefully, listening to the way my body moves. Thankfully, everything seems fine. I'm not dizzy, or shivering like a leaf, so I'm on the mend. Even faster than the last time i was in the infirmary. Maybe I got off easy this time around? Doesn't seem so though. It may have lasted a bit longer, but I felt the same indescribable agony. Things stopped being so hopeless, only after he showed up to save me.

Strange, I'm not even thinking about Snape by his name anymore. It's just 'he' or 'him'. I know whom I'm thinking about, it's not like I'm going to be confused. It'd be just weird to refer to him as 'Sir' or 'Professor', in my head at least, I've called him the 'greasy git' a few times though. Oh, what does it matter, as long as I know who I mean?

What's wrong with this picture, I can't even figure out how to call him? Really? "Snape" is fine, dammit.

Speaking of, where is he?

I fold the blanket and set it down onto the armchair. I wonder what he thought about that night, on the second of May, when he woke up. What did he do? Did he remember how I dragged him into this room, forcing his password out first? The basil. He didn't change it afterwards. Why? I can't believe he would trust me with it. There are probably additional charms on the door, to recognise him. He'd certainly know what he's doing, all the tracking charms he used on me alone… that was pretty brilliant. So maybe if Snape's around, the door would let anyone in, including whoever's with him. And if he's not, well… yeah, something like that.

I check my pockets for my wand, to make sure it's still there, and grab my bag from the floor. I don't remember bringing it with me into the Hospital Wing. Snape must've picked it up. And anyway, I don't remember how we got to the infirmary either, it's all pretty much a blur. I remember a few things: black eyes studying me, noting the sweat on my brow, how pale I must've been, gliding over the scar on my forehead. Snape's eyes, obviously. And then I also remember his wiry body in my embrace, just a second of it, as he threw the Floo powder into the fire and Flooed us to our destination.

This can't be happening. I don't want to think about that!

I push at the door, it slides open without much effort, and I enter the corridor. A tell-tale crackle at my back shows that I wasn't wrong about the charms. So what next? Should I just go? Seems awkward to leave without saying something. I take a few steps toward his office and open the door without knocking.

He's inside.

I stick my head into the gap between the wall and the door and am pinned by a stare. It's an icy one too, his face holds no particular concern, not the kind I saw this morning. If it was there to begin with. Maybe I just imagined it all.

"Haven't you learned to knock?" Or maybe it was there. I shrug and slide on through. Dunno why I'm bothering. Snape sets his quill aside. What is he constantly scribbling anyway? And then he squints at me.

"I just wanted to tell you I'm awake, sir," I say, studying the floor under my feet. The floor hasn't changed much since the last time, that's for sure, same old stone slabs.

"I see."

He's definitely not about to chat with me, is he? I sigh and spin on my heels, prepared to leave. He stops me. "Potter."

I glance over my shoulder. Snape has his arms folded and is staring at me in a way that would have chilled me to the bone as a Firstie. Now I've got some slightly denser bones, but still it's not something I'll ever enjoy. It's as if I'm a splayed frog and he's about to cut me open. His lips are in a thin line, and when they part, I suddenly can't look away.

He releases a sharp sigh, and my reverie melts away. What is wrong with me? It's the same as when we traded stares in class, I had the same old feeling, as if the ground under my feet was shaking. I can't write it off as plain dizziness, that's for sure.

"How are you feeling?"

For a second I'm far too surprised to answer, so I blink and look up at him instead. I never thought Snape'd do this on purpose to unsettle my nerves: first the contemptuous stare, then the concern, just so I can't figure him out. He's probably enjoying it too!

"I'm well. Thank you." He looks at me mockingly, as if expecting more. I add: "Sir."

Snape gives me a sharp nod, his hair falls over his face, blocking his view, and he throws it back in a practiced gesture. Why doesn't he pull it up? It's easier. And no one would be able to tell it's so greasy either.

If it was pulled back, I wouldn't have this constant need to reach for it, to wrap a couple strands around my fingers and pull hard, hard enough to make him hiss, with his upper lip raised, like a bitey hound. And he does bite, with his words. Quite often and quite painful.

"Potter, what is the reason for all this staring?" Snape inquires not even raising his voice. Even the angriest cur in the entire world had some reason to be that way. And to think how many times Snape's life has bitten him in the arse.

"No reason," I answer. "I was just thinking."

"Well, kindly stop," his shoulders twitch. "Unless there's anything else…"

"Yeah, about that," I mumble. Instead of leaving, I approach his desk, shaking from my own audacity, and put my hand on the parchment he's been so defiantly reading after I started speaking. He raises his head, seething, this time really losing his temper, and he even opens his mouth to speak, but I don't let him. "Thank you. If it wasn't for you, I'd be dead. For sure. You saved my life. Are we going to keep practicing Occlumency?" I stare him right in the eye. We are so close, I can see every wrinkle.

Snape arches his brow and leans back in his chair, twisting his mouth in a sneer. "We'll discuss it, as soon as you recall that I'm your Professor and thus need to address me accordingly."

"Sir!" I'm frustrated so it comes out stronger than usual. "I know you're my Professor. I know I respect you. Why do you always insist on a reminder?"

"Basic etiquette dictates," he answers ever so softly. "That you address your elders with respect. I am in fact your elder, so 'sir' will do. I do insist. Is. That. Clear?"

"Well no," I start something terrible and cannot stop. I look Snape in the eye and feel that a second more of this and I’ll throw myself at him and try to stop that horrible smirk by any means possible. I don't care how I'll do it. My fists worked with Seamus, and I'll think of something here too. "Actually, sir, I'm confused. Do you think I disrespect you every time I don't add 'sir' at the end of a sentence, sir, or just sometimes? Sir. Am I so insignificant to you that you need a reminder I'm your student, even here, when no one else is listening? You've taught me to fight off You-Know-Who. You've saved me time and time again, and you still think I'm a stupid, aggravating boy! I'm trying, all right! I'm not a boy and I appreciate everything you've done! I don't have to call you sir to tell you that! We're not in class! And it's not like I'm prancing around calling you by your first name."

I feel I'm shaking all over, must be nerves that make my teeth chatter so. I wanted to tell him this for the longest time, but didn't think it'd be so soon, or like this. Something in my final words makes Snape twitch. He pushes himself away from his desk and rises from his chair. Then he sidesteps and squeezes the back of the chair, like he did a few hours ago. At least a few feet separate us from one another, and suddenly I hope that he'd invade my personal space like before. So I could grab hold of him and shake! But what am I going to do, chase him around the room for that? I lean across the desk and lean forward, staring at him all along. I hate him so much that I forget any nervousness I felt around him before. He's just one man, after all. Granted he's my Professor and a strong Wizard to boot.

He's not even a Dark Wizard, like Ron says. Snape saved my life. And I saved his, eleven days ago. That counts for something, doesn't it? We're connected now. For good. Strange but true.

Meanwhile, Snape's face hardens into his usual emotion-free mask. It's weird he even let me see him without it for once, for all of his self-control. If I wasn't looking right at him, I wouldn't notice the shiver that went through his eyelashes. Snape isn’t the only one skilled at reading people, I'm practicing it too. Dunno why, best not to ask.

I try to calm down. Why did I get myself so worked up, anyway?

"Have you ever considered that it's my duty to make sure you are aware of where you stand?" Snape breaks the silence between us. "Yes, certain circumstances have aged you beyond your years. Even if you do disguise yourself as a complete halfwit, if it wasn't for our lessons, which reveal the truth. Even you can't ignore the obvious. Firstly, your mind is a product of survival, not of any deep thought. You fail to process the simplest directions. You barely pass exams. What will you do when a situation demands a cool, calculating thought? Fail a test? Secondly, I am your Professor, and that's not a label I am willing to peel off on a whim in private. And finally, I am your better. I'm more than twice as old as you and have the full right to demand whatever respect I see fit!"

He nearly shouts that last phrase and then plants himself back at his desk, pulling an open book in leather binding to him. Some sort of calendar, probably. I look at the tilt of his head, the fingers of his left, unharmed, hand, squeezing the corner of the page so tightly that his nail beds are all white.

I don't have anything to say in return. He's pulled all my arguments apart with simple logic. I should leave, but can't find it in me to walk away, so I just stand there, stubbornly, still pressing my knuckles into the desk. At last I gather the courage to speak. "Sir, are you still planning to teach me?"

He looks up sharply and meets my stare. I startle, but keep looking at him without looking away, feeling all the strength and the weight of him staring. My heart keeps thumping in my chest hard, as if I am lacking air. Snape seems so tired and his voice is dry: "I said I would. Are you doubting my words?"

He did promise... When did he do that? A week ago, maybe. So nothing's changed. I nod, relieved.

"Go, Potter. I'll see you in two days from now."

I have no reason not to listen this time. Quietly, I head for the door and open it with a nudge of my shoulder. Before I close it shut, I peek into his office one more time. He doesn't raise his head, as if I'd already left. That makes it all the easier to say what I was going to.

"I think you're wrong, Professor, you're not old," I let out on a single breath. And then I pull the door shut behind me and rush through the corridor. I haven't seen the reaction on his face, and I'm not particularly afraid he'd chase me, but best to be careful, innit?

Two days from now. Saturday. Next lesson. He can tell me off then, if he cares to keep a grudge. I am almost asking for it, anyway.


 

I enter the Gryffindor common room, looking around for Ron and Hermione. They are further in, by the fire, quietly reading their textbooks, and not paying attention to anyone or anything near them. Wow. I would've thought they'd turn the castle upside down looking for me. I get a bit closer.

"Hi."

Hermione lifts her head and her face lights up with a friendly, if worried smile. "Harry! At last. Everything OK?"

"Did you get enough rest?" Ron adds trying to look nonchalant.

Do they know where I was? How? "How'd you..." That's about all I am capable of at the moment.

"Yeah, we knew," Ron nods. "Professor McGonagall told us after class."

"And Professor Snape told her," Hermione adds in a whisper. "Had to be him. I saw them talking. We didn't really understand what happened. Professor McGonagall said you passed out in the corridor and Professor Snape let you use his office, because it's cooler there."

She examines me as I try to process all that she told me and pretend that everything really did go as described. So Snape didn't tell anyone what really happened. Probably didn't want the Headmaster to know. Wow. Who'd've thought.

He also didn't tell anyone I was in his rooms. Probably 'cause he didn't want anyone to bother me there, showing up and asking how I was.

Suddenly, I feel truly and deeply ashamed, enough so I scratch my forehead with a groan. I've been yelling at Snape half an hour ago. All because of some stupid grudge.

"Harry," Hermione asks, rising from her seat. "Are you OK?"

"M'fine. My head hurts." I give her a pained smile, not really paying attention.

"So why'd you need to get into Snape's office all of a sudden?" Ron whispers. "We've been there and I didn’t notice anything fun. I get that you weren't feeling well and all, but taking a nap in the dungeons? Really?"

"It's quiet," I answer, not really thinking about it, and Ron looks around with an offended stare.

"And we do nothing all day but shout? Ri-ight. Was it something else?"

He's suspicious and that won't lead to anything good.

I don't want to tell them about Voldemort. 'Cause it's hard to talk about it, and 'cause I trust Snape who had come up with a plausible tale. Why ruin a good story? If I tell them the truth, they'll only ask questions.

"No, just passed out from all the heat," I tell them in a bored tone. "It's embarrassing, really. How do witches do it all the time?"

"Do what exactly?" Hermione snorts.

"Well, the fainting. Aren't you supposed to, you know?" I put a hand to my forehead and roll my eyes.

She hmphs in my face, and then I look at the clock, for the first time today apparently. Whoa, a quarter to ten. Did I spend the entire day napping? What did Snape give me? I can't just keep drinking things out of his hands or I might not even wake up afterwards.

But the thought is not bitter, just tired, like my grin. I don't want to think about Snape all the time. Why do I keep torturing myself?

"Harry, I think you should go get some rest," Ron declares giving me a careful look. "You're acting all weird. By the way, did you actually just take a nap in Snape's office? Or did you look around by any chance, check things out?"

"Just napped," I nod. "In that big armchair."

"What are you talking about?"

Dammit. I'm going to set a record in spewing nonsense today, I know it.

"Well, not the armchair, that one chair he's got behind his writing desk," I describe as carelessly as I can. "It's pretty soft and armchair-y. Got armrests."

"Wicked," Ron says, turning up his chin and making his face all icy. Then he straightens up in his chair and crosses his arms. Probably playing Snape, or me-as-Snape to be exact. "I'm your new Potions Professor," he drawls, his teeth pressed together. "Potter. Harry Potter. Oh come on, don't tell me you haven't tried this yourself! You did, didn't you?"

I force myself to laugh. Stupid habit, I can't pretend worth a damn when it counts. Hermione watches my attempt to share Ron's amusement and then covers his hand with hers. Ron startles from the unexpected caress, and turns to her. She looks at me and then gestures toward the dormitories with her stare. I give her a thankful nod and take a few silent steps away from their seats. As Ron stares at her lovingly, I manage to get to the steps, and then I turn and run up to the very top of the tower, not looking back once. I get the feeling today is the day I keep getting pulled into the conversations I never wanted to take part in.

Hermione probably understood much more than I've explained to her. I'll have to be careful and find out what exactly she thinks she knows.


 

I pull the curtains around my bed shut and yank my robes off with determination. Maybe Snape's brew, whatever it was, hasn’t stopped working yet. My head is still buzzing, heavy as anything. I want to sleep and forget all about this terribly long day.

Especially the way it began.

But the ending too, if that's an option.

I get under the sheets and suddenly I am not sleepy anymore. Nor completely awake: my eyelids are still heavy, but my mind is clear as anything.

Snape. His fingers between my teeth. His hand over my neck, gathering up the blood streaming from my ear. Snape, taking me to the Hospital Wing, and I, embracing him before we came to his office. His plaid blanket, covering me, his potion that made the roof of my mouth go numb. His touch to my forehead, light and almost imperceptible, but I am sure he touched me. Did he?

I woke up feeling no pain. I tried to get out quickly, but I wanted to drop by his office. Why did I even want to? To feel his stare on me, with his face up close, as close as only Seamus got before. To confirm once again that he doesn't care whether I'm alive or dead. He doesn't even want to talk to me. I came up to him, getting close for the first time, and he pulled away, as if it was suddenly important to build distance between us. So important that he jumped up from his chair. I said some things I'm ashamed of. Not because they aren't true, but maybe because they are true. He interrupted me and I was annoyed, I wanted to hurt him! Wanted to see but a shadow of those emotions I thought I saw this morning. Wanted to see at least something directed at me.

Oh wow, all these years Snape kept invading my private space and I hated him doing that. And now I turn around and do it to him, and turns out he hates it too. What does that even mean? That he doesn't mind saving me, but he's bothered to share the same air as me? I don't believe that one bit! I don't think he saved me out of some misplaced sense of responsibility. He didn't even want any thanks for it. But for a second there, we shared something, something important. We were equals, fighting together, and that warmed me up and brought me back from the brink of consciousness, that helped me fight off Voldemort, and all of that was 'cause of Snape. For the first time in my life. That's why I went to see him afterwards. To get some proof that things between us shifted just a little bit. But look at how that went. He went livid when I even mentioned it.

Ok, that's enough. Really enough. I bite down on the corner of my pillow. Why is this upsetting me so? I wanted to grab hold of him and shake him. Then I was ashamed I ever thought of it at all. So on and off, 'round and 'round it goes. Why can't I stop thinking of it? Enough about Snape. Time to sleep.

But I can't sleep, not even a wink. Once again, I picture how he leans back in that chair, how he stands up and grips the back of it, staring at me with pure fury. As if he's stopping himself from…

Grabbing hold of me and shaking.

Damn it all. What if I'm right?

What would I have done if I had allowed myself to do anything I wanted? Let's see now, I'd walk around that chair, and step up right to him. I'd grab Snape by those wiry shoulders, hidden under all the soft folds of his robe. I'd lean even closer, and I'd bring my hands to his hair, twisting it 'round my fingers just so, and then I'd pull. Strong enough to hear him hiss, strong enough to pull him close, his face right next to mine. And then I'd look at his parted lips, and I'd press my mouth right against them in a furious kiss, not a hint of softness or of shame.

Ohgod. I've gotta stop this.

It's too late. The heated wave of need rushes right through me. I can't fight it, not with my will alone. I groan in frustration and stick my hand down my pajama bottoms, gripping my hard cock with nervous fingers. Once, and again, up and down. Ohyeah! Now, come on. The Silencing Charms on the curtains. Quick!

I murmur the spell on a single breath, and then drop my wand on the floor, overcome by madness. I've done this once before while thinking of him. I said I'd never do it again. Doesn't matter, my hand refuses to separate from my cock and my mind just stops, leaving a parting gift: Snape answers my kiss. His mouth pulls away from my lips and he presses it against my neck instead, biting, sucking on the skin of my shoulder.

Up and down. Again, again, again!

His hands glide down my body, unbutton my jeans, and it's not my hand anymore, it's his cool fingers caressing me, gripping me, moving faster and faster.

Just like that. Again. Just about there! Yes, more, just one more! A feverish tremor overcomes me, an uncontrollable moan escapes my throat, and then a cry, a name.

Faster, harder! Yes. Yesss!

Severus!

I sink back against the sheets. My fingers are sticky with come. My cock twitches still. And I try, between all these sobs, to even out my breathing.

I said I wouldn't do this again. How could I guess that it would be the most vivid orgasm I ever remember having had? With his name on my lips.

I know I am mad at him. I want him. Ohgod. I need help. I want Snape.

I won't ever be able to look him in the eye again, no matter whether he's like me or not. I can't look at him, 'cause he'll be able to tell in an instant, just by staring at me, that I want him.

And then he'll send me away, just like he did today.

I turn to my side, not even enough strength in me left for a Cleaning Charm. My hand is sticky and smells of musk. By habit, I lift my fingers to my face, breathing in my own scent. And then I stick out my tongue and carefully try tasting it. Bitter, liquid, still warm.

How does his taste like, I wonder.

I groan from my own idiocy, and try to think up some sort of spell on myself to stop thinking of him. I've got what I was after, relief, so it's time to sleep. But my body refuses to listen. My thoughts fly, gaining form once more.

Snape's sitting in his chair, and I'm against the edge of the table right in front of him. I touch his hair, carefully winding one curly strand around my index finger. It's black, shiny like tar, and greasy. As if he hadn't washed his hair in three months and puts oil in it. Snape opens his eyes and his stare bores into me. And then he runs his long fingers through my grown-out fringe. His fingers are cool on the back of my head, they glide of the the top of it, just like today in the infirmary, and then press my head down, and pull me toward him, closer, and even closer still.

My cock gives a twitch and hardens again. Why do I keep being punished? Isn't once enough?

Closer and closer, his thin lips part, just like in his office today when I lost any ability to speak, looking at him. He tilts my head, presses his mouth against mine.

With a groan, I push my hand down again. My body's in control, and whatever I may think about it doesn't matter anyway.

My hand grips my slick, heated cock and that's the exact moment someone enters the dorm. Neville? Judging by the voices, Dean as well.

My breath hitches, and I beg myself to stop this madness. But it's impossible to fight the growing need, I push my face into the pillow and hope that they won't decide to check whether I'm asleep.

"Did Harry go to bed already?" Neville's voice.

Don't check on me, Neville, I beg you. Not this time, don't you do it! My fingers grip my cock in a desperate attempt to get back to reality, but that just causes a wave of convulsions, down to the clattering teeth. As soon as someone pulls the curtains open the silencing charms will fail and then… I try to stop myself from moaning, but one still escapes, low and rough. And then suddenly I think about how I cried out in pain and then pushed my back against something so warm.

Faster, dammit. Fuck it. Fuck everything! Back against that solid, hard...

Ohgod. Don't care, even if the entire dorm would hear.

Snape stretching out his hand, helping me get up from the floor. I stand and he's so close to me. Touch me! Please put your hands on me!

Again, again. Harder. Ohyes! Like that.

Severus!

"Maybe he's asleep. Don't disturb him!"

Whose voice is it? I can't even tell through my own laboured breathing. You generous soul! That's right, don't check on me please, I'll just go quietly crazy right here.

The heady, sharp smell of satisfaction, of desire, hangs in the air. It's not at all like my time with Seamus. It's as if someone turned up the concentration several notches. Thankfully, the curtains are heavy. I fall into a deep sleep, no strength, or will, left to take my slick hand out of my pants, to pull it away from my crotch, even if the touch is almost too much against my skin, rubbed raw.

I sleep, and my last thought before I do, is that I wish I knew what a shared desire smelled like. The real human need that's split into two.

Chapter Text

I wake with the sound of the alarm and spend a few seconds in the morning gloom, with my eyes closed, trying to orient myself. I'm stiff, must've spent the entire night in one position. Without opening my eyes, I turn around until I'm on my back and stretch slowly. My body feels so light, light as a feather. It doesn't combine well with the feeling of dread that is seeping into me, slow and inevitable, like a stormcloud over the sun. What has happened yesterday? Why am I feeling this way?

I slowly open my eyes, sit up and put my bare feet down on the floor, looking for my shoes. I am either ready to sing aloud or curse out my life for good. I can't decide which. Strange.

My pajama bottoms are difficult to peel off, probably 'cause I'm still shaky on my feet. But when I shove them under the pillow by habit, I notice… I lift them to my nose and sniff. That smell.

I fling myself back on the bed, crumpling the fabric in my fists. Brilliant. Just brilliant. Explains everything. I came yesterday, thinking about Snape, shouting his name, came twice, and if I don't start thinking about something else right now, there'll be a third time. Rock bottom, is it? Might as well hang myself and be done with it.

I've been so successful at avoiding this lately, that it's embarrassing to rehash this one giant failure of mine now. He's ugly, he's strict, he's impossible to please. He saved my life yesterday, tucked me in and now I suddenly want him.

How am I supposed to live with that?

I dress without hearing the alarm ringing, not answering my mates when they call me from outside the room. I'm ready to pull the curtains open when I notice that one of my socks is inside out. At least these aren't multicoloured or I'd be walking around looking like a copy of Dobby.

I put up a friendly face - or as friendly as I can manage - and greet the world.

My fully-dressed appearance causes a few pauses, then Neville wishes me good morning. Dean and Seamus stare with some confusion and Ron asks: "We thought you were asleep, why didn't you answer?"

I shake my head. "Sorry, haven't slept all that well."

I lie, I've had a wonderful night. Now as the sleepy daze fades, I feel joy ringing in my every fibre. Why couldn’t I have picked something else to get me in such a state? Something other than Snape?

We leave the dormitory and I keep up the cheerful banter by habit, even though dread is spreading through me.

I've got to ask him to cancel our lessons.

But I just asked him for more!

Still, I've gotta cancel. In light of… new circumstances.

I can’t cancel, I need these lessons.

How am I supposed to have them if I can't even look at him?

How am I supposed to see him today, how am I supposed to face him ever again? Should I only see him in class? But he's completely different there. I grew used to him being…

Exactly. I grew used to him like to a bad habit. It's time to quit before I regret it.

Who says I would regret it? If he's also like me, then…

Ohgod, there's no 'then' here, is it? Regardless of which way he swings, he won't ever stoop so low to consider me. And I'll keep torturing myself night after night wondering about it.

I was horny. I thought about him because of all the rumours. Who else am I supposed to fantasise about? Seamus?

Ohshit, who cares what I was feeling? Imagine what would happen if he ever finds out about it in my mind!

He won't, he can't. I know how to cast the Mirror Curse now.

But he's much stronger than me...

He can't see this. I won't let him!

This is not going to end well.

After I’ve crammed my breakfast in my stomach, I stare at Hermione sulkily. I want to talk to her about this, but I don't even know where to begin. Should I just tell her everything? And die from shame on the spot? I can't keep all of it in, not when she said that Snape and I may have something in common regarding our trouble with finding someone. I want to know what exactly she meant by that.

It's the fourteenth of May already. Normal people worry about exams, but I, unable to concentrate, mindlessly sketch the goldenglow that Madam Sprout is showing us. I want to grab my Firebolt and go, gaining speed and height, taking in all the warmth and all the colours of the upcoming summer, shouting my unidentified joy to the wind simply 'cause I'm alive and well and everyone around me is also alive and safe.

Or I want to sneak into Hogsmeade, talk Madam Rosmerta into selling me some Firewhiskey and get completely hammered. So I can forget that I'm a freak and what's waiting for me in the near future.

All this daydreaming is pulling me in two separate directions. Had it been one, I'd have skipped class for sure. The goldenglow shines like an afternoon sun, making us squint, even though we’re wearing the dispensed sun shades. Even Ron wipes a tear from his cheek when we leave the Greenhouses to get some fresh air.

The Astronomy Tower is home to the magical telescopes, allowing us to observe the stars even on the brightest of afternoons. It doesn't matter where we are, we can see the whole sky, as it surrounds our planet. The entire year we've been studying theory, after last year's basics. The Advanced course required note-taking, models of various galaxies, and finally the fieldwork to supplement our theoretical studies. From now until the exams, we’ll get a chance to use the telescopes again, so we can correct any written mistakes. And then, we'll have our exams, just like last year.

I push my eye against the rubbery eyepiece and peer at the stars. The rubber seals itself around my eye socket, not letting any light through. The sky opens up before me, completely black as if it's a freezing winter night. In the endless dark, the lights of distant worlds blink back at me.  

Leo. My constellation. The stars of July-August. Muggles make their horoscopes according to the twelve star signs of the Zodiac, as far removed from our actual lives as only these stars themselves can be.

I turn my telescope a few degrees to change my view of the cosmos. We don't believe the kind of horoscopes that generalize an entire group of different people, who only happened to be born under the same sign. A proper horoscope should be built individually, over the course of a couple of days. It's good that Professor Trelawney isn't teaching that topic. But obviously we know when certain signs are the strongest. It affects Herbology, since the plants react differently under a different star, and Arithmancy, Hermione's best at explaining that bit, and finally Potions. Snape has schooled us in the knowledge of Astronomy many times prior to brewing one potion or another.

I turn my telescope again and stare up at the distant Capricorn. I eye it for awhile, wondering whose sign it is, but can't come up with a single name. If I was attending Divination, I'd likely know someone. Parvati and Lavender had once asked everyone when they were born, but I don't have Divination this year, like Ron and Hermione. I've had enough of prophecies to last me a lifetime.

Maybe I do know someone… Wintry day, the corridor was half empty, but there were two Professors walking through it. I hid behind a pillar ‘cause I didn't want to talk to anyone. One of the Professors scowls at the world and the other beams with a sunny smile. "Well, Severus, congratulations are in order. Happy birthday!"

I'm such an idiot.

I jump off the telescope platform feeling my ears burning. It's a newfound torture I'm subjecting myself to. Muggles say 'don't think of the elephant in the room'. I've got a brand new version just for me: 'don't think of Severus Snape'.

Since when am I calling him Severus?

I bite the half-healed scar on my lower lip and then slather it with salve by habit. The salve makes my skin softer and my mouth brighter. It's a strange effect.

That's it. I've had enough of Astronomy for today. I let someone else take my spot and hurry down from the tower, before I get the urge to jump down: for the sake of flying or for the sake of getting rid of my thoughts once and for all. Enough. Time to eat.

Hermione considers and follows after me, keeping me company. Ron stays behind. He loves Astronomy. Giant spiders wouldn't chase him away from the telescope.

We enter the Great Hall, which is filled with mouthwatering smells, when something unexpected happens: Malfoy comes up to us, followed by his entire entourage. He narrows his eyes haughtily, seemingly copying someone else’s expression, maybe his dad's. I wonder, would Malfoy Senior’s face still be capable of showing that icy contempt when he gets out of Azkaban (one way or another)? Bellatrix Lestrange's stay hadn't been kind to her.

"Potter," Malfoy drawls, arching his brow. No, that expression isn't his dad's, it's purely…

"Malfoy."

"They say the Golden Boy fainted again. Did you, Potter?" He scowls. "Such a gentle soul you are. First Dementors, now the heat. Just like a little girl. Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

"Are you quite done?" I ask politely. Malfoy's appearance did me a favour, in a way, it's as if a door shut on yesterday's memories and I am breathing easier now. When Malfoy's around, I can focus only on him. Great.

The Slytherins let out synchronized snorts and Millicent Bulstrode regards me with sudden interest.

"I've also heard that our Head of House let you take a nap in his office," Malfoy says, with a sour smirk. "Is that true?"

"Why don't you ask him?" I mirror that smirk back at him. "I take it you're very close. So go on, ask."

Red splotches spread upwards across Malfoy's neck. "What do you mean by that?"

"Just what I said," I keep my tone even, amused by his reaction. "Oh, wasn't he friends with your father? He must have stopped visiting after your dad got thrown into Azkaban. Or is he still paying visits to your mum? I just don't know, Draco, I am only guessing. Did you hear something you didn't like?"

"You shut up." Malfoy moves in, with a threatening look. Hermione, beside me, takes a step forward, but I stay still and grab her hand, pulling her back. I'm not about to step back.

"Malfoy, I haven't said anything rude," I drawl, not recognizing my own soft tones. "Please try not to throw a fit over it."

"I know about you, Potter," he whispers, glaring at me with those bright grey eyes. "I know everything , got it? If you ever bother Professor Snape, you prick…"

"Hm," I interrupt him softly. "Jealous, are you?"

"Ahha." He ignores my latest insult and I promise myself to think it over later. "So you aren't denying it!"

"Denying what?"

"That you were with him."

"Is that what got you all twisted up? I didn't know he banned you from his office."

I don't have the time to wonder what Malfoy meant by knowing 'everything' about me. Snape wouldn't tell him anything. It's absurd, but I trust Snape fully. And Finnigan wouldn't dare say anything. So it's all a bluff.

"You freak!" Perfectly manicured fingers fold into fists and one of them aims for my nose. Whoa, did Malfoy completely lose his mind, picking fights in the Great Hall? Professor McGonagall takes points for less! And I'm involved again.

I grab him by the wrist and twist his arm behind his back with a practiced move. Crabbe and Goyle rush toward us, but I stop them with a warning stare.

"Shh," I warn. "Move and I’ll break his arm. I don't care about points."

Malfoy sobs something by my ear. We are so close to each other that nobody would be able to make out what's happening. I whisper to him, softly, so no one else would hear: "I'm gonna let go. And you're going to walk away. Deal? Or else."

Malfoy exhales convulsively and then gives me a weak nod. I slowly loosen my grip and he pulls away, cradling his wrist. Crabbe jumps forward, but Malfoy stops him with a snap of his fingers. Just like a trained dog. Wow. Well, glad that's over. Oddly enough, I'm even feeling better after it all.

We are facing each other and I'm amused. We're both channeling Snape. Hope no one else notices. I wonder who's got the routine down best.

"What's going on here?"

Speaking of Snape, why does he have to show up when we least expect him? I draw a breath to answer, but Malfoy's first: "Nothing, Professor."

Yeah, not interested in drawing attention to his dirty prank, is he?

Snape looks over our unusual gathering and his stare pauses first on an outraged Hermione, then on me. My face feels much cooler than it should be, and I face his stare calmly. Well, up to the point when I recall what exactly I did yesterday. The corner of Snape's mouth twitches and I look away. Yeah, time to cancel those Occlumency lessons…

"Ten points from Gryffindor," he states his unusually gentle verdict and then brushes past us to the High Table.

We part in silence. The Slytherins obviously concerned with Malfoy's defeat and the fact that I didn't have to pay for my insolence. Malfoy casts me a mysterious stare. Is he planning to jump me later or what?

Well, if he does, we'll sort it out then. I'm getting better at fights. Especially one on one. Dudley usually had all of his gang with him...

We are halfway through the potato casserole when Ron emerges. He seems excited and immediately starts saying something about the Tropic of Cancer, but Hermione interrupts: "You've missed out on all the excitement."

Whoa. I thought Hermione didn't approve of fighting. Ron listens to her tale, wide-eyed, groaning now and then at missing such a spectacle. Gryffindor and Slytherin picking a fight, and we won too! Or at least walked away unharmed, even after the local hound had swooped down on us, the Head of Slytherin himself! Life is full of adventures, it seems.

We finish up and leave for Care of the Magical Creatures. I don't need to look back to be aware that at least one pair of eyes is following me all the way to the door.


 

At night we spend a good hour healing the scrapes and bruises left by Hagrid's latest critters. He doesn’t have a name for them yet. The creatures have a long scorpion tail, mean claws at the end of their joined legs and the horrible habit of spitting fire. We've learned our lesson, of course, with the Blast-Ended Skrewts, but it turns out the tails of these beasts are venomous, so half the class ended up in the Hospital Wing, but at least Hagrid's pleased with his lecture.

When we finally drag ourselves into the common room, we've don’t have any strength for homework left. Hermione's got angry scratches over her arms, she turned out to be allergic for the venom, or is it the spit, of Hagrid's newest pets. Madam Pomfrey just raised her hands to her head when she saw the damage. Fortunately, after Hermione's arms were slathered in some mysterious transparent gel, the worst of the stinging stopped and now Hermione's the most energetic of the three of us.

"Come on." She steps up to us, as we collapse on the couch. "Budge up, I've got something to tell you."

We obediently sit up and move our legs out of the way. She gets comfortable and takes the morning copy of the Prophet out of her bag.

"There's an article here about the fire at the British Library, an accurate one. See?"

Chill rolls down my spine at those words and I straighten out stiffly and stare at the paper, expecting Hermione to explain.

"Well, and..." Ron says, breaking the pause.

"It turns out," Hermione whispers softly, "that You-Know-Who didn't mean to destroy it at all. It was the Ministry's doing."

"What?" I don't believe my ears, but Hermione nods. She looks angry and miserable at once. I can understand, books are the second most important thing to her after people.

"You-Know-Who planned to attack, but we found out about it. One of the spies must have delivered the message. They couldn't save the library, or its contents, and it was a race for who’d get there first. It was down to minutes!" She smacks the newspaper against her lap. "The Death Eaters were after some important manuscript and a grimoire. Very ancient. But the library contained thousands of ancient manuscripts, so there's no telling which one V-voldemort was after. The Necronomicon alone! And all the dark books kept there as rarities! It's impossible to count it all. Muggles don't even know how dangerous these can be, they should have been destroyed long ago!"

"What was he looking for?" I ask, remembering that the fire happened right before Voldemort’s visit to my mind, that second time around.

"The secret to eternal life, considering everything." Hermione closes her eyes and reclines against the couch. She is silent for a long time, and when she speaks again, her voice is hoarse. "He didn't get it, we were there first. But at what price? Oh Harry." she turns to me and I see she's crying. "You were right all along. I'm so sorry."

"What are you on about?"

"Remember Professor Binns' class, when you cautioned us all to be vigilant, said the war is on? I get it now. You weren't entirely honest, were you?" I give her a slow nod, not breaking the eye contact. "The war's already here and we're already sustaining losses. Incredible losses. And the Muggles don't even know whom to blame for it all. You were right, we should have been preparing for this, every single day."

"He hasn’t won yet." I slide my hand over her shoulder. "He hasn’t. The battle's still on."

"If we keep fighting like this, then -" Hermione points at the rustling pages. "How long will it be until we have nothing left to fight for? There won't be anything left, no art, no music, nothing to remind us of who we really are!" She covers her face with her hands, then mutters an apology and runs up the stairs to the dormitory.

We sit quietly, staring at the floor for quite some time. Then I rise and ask evenly if Ron wants to come up to the dormitory with me. He stares up at me and shakes his head. Maybe he's surprised by how calm I am. Well, no wonder, Hermione just sprung it all on him, but I have known about it for almost a year, thanks to Professor Dumbledore. Ron can handle the truth. I wish him goodnight and go up myself.

I'm too tired to want anything tonight, so I manage to fall asleep with one small concession. I pull my blankets to myself and hug my pillow, pressing into the weight of them as if I'm holding onto someone. I sleep, refusing to think further about what it might mean.

Chapter Text

In the morning, I'm one of the last to come down to the common room. I try to find Hermione first thing. She's sitting down, all focused on her rune sketches, probably preparing for the Arithmancy class. Her hello is friendly, but pretty strained. Well, I am not dying to talk either. It's been harder to talk to anyone about things lately. Maybe we can stick to doing coursework instead. That conversation by the lake about Seamus and me had happened so recently, but so much has happened since. I'm out of breath and energy. I keep thinking about things, but I don't get anywhere. I gave up figuring myself out and yesterday's urge to talk to Hermione has dwindled to nothing too. So I just sit down next to her, enjoying having her close even if we're quiet. Hopefully I won't be bothered by recent memories here.

Last night I fell into a deep sleep and then awoke from my own moan and a deep need burning in my chest, my cock hard, almost bursting with oversensitivity. I don't remember what I dreamt about, but didn't need to. A few thrusts were enough, along with an image I didn't ask for. Occlumency lesson. Snape's turning me around so he's at my back, pressing his hands against my hips, pushing my jeans off… I just imagined how warm his touch would feel, right back there, and I was gone, gasping. Ohgod, I'm losing my mind.

It hasn't been this bad, not even when Seamus and I were… together. What's wrong with me? Is it 'cause I'm a teenage boy? Why am I even remembering - no, this is not a memory, I have no point of reference for anything like this. Seamus would hurl if I ever made such an offer. Thankfully, there's Hermione and her skill of finding the most fascinating books in our library or I wouldn't even have known this was possible between two blokes.

The book I read from cover to cover made me have the wildest dreams, which tortured me for most of the winter. That one dream with Professor Dumbledore and some bloke who looked like Sirius, well, I've held onto that image for several months, conjuring it up every now and then when I was touching myself. And then everything stopped, after I broke things off with Finnigan. Since then I've had insomnia, sure, but it wasn't anything like what I'm going through now. Now I’ve hit rock bottom. And it's all about Snape, all the time and I can't get away from him even for a second. Why am I still thinking of Snape? I'm about to go see him. If, just my luck, he gets a glimpse of my mind and learns just how much I want him, there goes my calling as the Saviour of the Wizarding World. And my entire life, to boot.

Maybe that would be for the best. I'm tired of all of this. So, so tired.

"What's wrong?" Hermione pushes up my fringe. I must've been thinking too deeply.

"Nothing, why?"

"You look sad."

"Really?" I give her a grin. She doesn't believe it and keeps running her hands over my fringe, to rearrange it. When she touches the back of my head, I pull back with a shiver, even though it's rather warm here. Hermione's brown eyes are filled with concern. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No," I answer abruptly. "Nothing to talk about."

"Sorry." She doesn't seem to be too upset about it and returns to her notes.

I look at her profile, at the soft cheek, brown with the first tan of this year, and say, unexpected even to myself. "Hermione, you look good."

She controls herself well, as she puts her quill down on the table and pushes her writing aside before turning to me. "Thank you. That's unexpected, coming from you."

"How so?"

"Well, you tend to think of me in more abstract terms than that," she answers with a light smile. "You're not so bad yourself, you know."

"Oh, stop it!" I feel my cheeks grow warm and try to turn away, but she stops me, pulling lightly on my ear.

"I'm serious."

"I say one thing without thinking it through and now you have to go and tease me over it?" I grumble.

"So you don't think I look good after all?" she concludes.

"No, course you do." I bite my lip and stare at my joined hands. Stupid move. Why did I even say it? Now I won't hear the end of it…

"Well, I'm dead serious," Hermione answers. "Had you been interested in girls, you'd notice everyone eyeing you all the time."

"They aren't eyeing me, they're eyeing my scar!" I answer dully.

"Idiot. They're eyeing you. Who cares about that scar? You're a fascinating person, honestly." She reddens when I look at her, but nods, as if to confirm her own words. "Have you looked in the mirror lately?"

"Yeah, every morning," I grumble, feeling like a complete fool. I also look in the mirror weekly to cast a spell to keep my face from sprouting whiskers, but there's no need to mention that.

"You don't see yourself as the rest of us see you," Hermione says with utmost authority on the matter. "So you can't really appreciate it."

"And you do?"

"Well, yes."

"Why?"

"Because girls are smarter," she huffs. "Though I'm sure I've caught a few boys staring at you."

"Ha! Yeah right, the entire castle is practically pining for me." I jump up, pushing the chair aside, but she grabs me by the sleeve.

"S'ok. No one can hear us here."

That's true, there are a few people in the common room, but they're all far away. Still, I don't want to keep talking about it. It's as if I’ve somehow started the conversation I was thinking about yesterday. Only we aren't really talking about anything that matters… Or are we? Ugh, I'm full of contradictions today.

"Harry, do you want anyone in particular to notice you?" Hermione asks, fixing me with her searching stare.

Oh yeah. He's particular, all right. I want him to notice me so much, that must be why I had all these dreams of us fucking. It's been happening for a month now, maybe two. But it all started that February.

"No!"

"Is that why you're upset?"

"Just drop it. I'm not upset, how many times do I need to tell you?" I hiss, giving her an angry stare. "I've got enough problems already, I'm not about to add a sordid affair into the mix."

Did I just say 'affair'? Well then, she'll know I'm exaggerating, surely. Everything's fine.

"Fine." She pretends to go along with it. "Who am I to argue about your feelings? It's just odd, that's all. Remember our fight with Malfoy yesterday? Snape should have taken far more than ten points, but he didn't. Think about it. Just think."

Back in Snape's office when we were arguing about how right I was about being his equal - crazy, to think of it - Snape just calmly shattered my every argument and asked me to leave. Ohgod, wow, he didn't assign detention, didn't even take a single point! Why didn't I think of that until now? What does that even mean?

Did he suddenly stop wanting to punish me and found a long lost affection for everything Gryffindor? That's about all I can think of. There's no reasonable explanation for it at all. Maybe Snape wants me to feel sorry for what I've done. Well, it has sure caused me enough grief. A couple thoughts about him here and there at night and it has started an avalanche. I've been ready to burst at any second for the past few days. Not even in the fun way, though all the erections are a bonus, sort of.

NonoNO!

I don't get Snape's angle in all of this. I'll never be able to prove he returned the fifty points he took from me for fighting Malfoy in the dungeons. But he's the only one who could possibly have done it, I checked. None of the other Professors knew anything about it.

I look around. Colin Creevey raises his head and grins at me. Parvati Patil's whispering to her visiting sister Padma and a few firsties are doing homework, sighing mournfully now and then. All is peaceful.

I can't stand the sight of it.

I get up and go back to the dormitory. Thankfully, it's empty. I jump into bed, close the curtains and put up a Silencing Charm. I hope no one walks in on me. It's not my fault I've gotta do it. It's not! It's just that I have to see Snape in a few hours and I can't possibly let him see me like this. This is madness, but I've gotta. At least I'm the only one who knows about it. No one else needs to, including Snape. I've got it under control. It's just been awhile for me, that's all. I haven't been with anyone. And I still don't want to be with anyone. There, that's a perfectly natural explanation.

I press my palm against my zipper and slowly move my fingers alongside it, feeling the growing heat at my crotch. I repeat the movement upwards, feeling the resulting shiver all the way through my spine. Should I fight it? Should I give in? I pull the zipper down and free my aching cock. Already hard. Apparently Snape and erections go hand in hand nowadays. Fuck!

I wince and push my hand down into my underwear, grabbing hold of the head. Damn all the layers. Damn it all. I just want to… I need this. I couldn't for so long. Except for last night.

I pull my jeans down along with my underwear, push them off me with a few kicks, and with a relieved sigh, draw my knees apart, giving myself a better reach. A familiar rhythm, the kind that makes my breath hitch and makes precome well up at the head. Once, again, up and down, my thumb tracing over it. I'm almost there when an idea dawns, making me shiver with arousal. I wet the middle finger of my left hand with my spit and reach for the small, wrinkled opening. My arse. Ohgod.

I don't even try to push in, just a light touch, in tune with my other hand. I hasten my pace, as I press my finger inward again.

I'm absolutely mad with need, I've got only one thing on my mind now… faster, faster. Again. Ohyeah, again!

And then, I won't say it, I'm not about to, I won't!

Fire explodes before my eyes and I moan and can barely hear myself. Severus! I arch up from the bed and come, panting hard.

I couldn't even keep my word. I failed.

Why do I keep saying his name? Why?


 

At twenty till six, I set aside my History of Magic homework and straighten out my robe, looking at myself critically in the small mirror, the only one here. With Hermione singing my praises today, my ears kept burning. So now I'm standing here and ogling my own reflection like a complete fool. While shirt. Blue jeans. Loose tie. I yank the tie off. I've got the shirt unbuttoned anyway. And now Snape's less likely to think I'm a copy of my dad. At least from the first glance at the doorway.

I look up and meet my own gaze in the mirror. My stare's cold. Why am I looking so glum lately? My lips are far too bright, a side effect of Madam Pomfrey's salve. Black hair falls down to my neck, covers my eyes. It's almost long enough to pull back into a ponytail. Professor Dumbledore once said that in the ancient days, wizards and witches grew out their hair because they considered it a source of their power. Now it's just fashionable, I suppose. Lots of my mates wear it long, even Ron's hair reaches his shoulders. Mine's still short compared to his. I don't really mind. The longer my fringe gets, the less you can see of the scar.

I really haven't got anything special in the looks department. I'm skinny, not too tall. Taller than Hermione, but shorter than Neville.

Nothing much to look at.

I push my shirt down under my belt and close the dormitory door behind me on the way out.


 

I am standing in front of the door to Snape's office and gathering courage to knock. Things were so much easier when I was only afraid of him looking into my memories! When I wasn't afraid of Snape's stare directed at me, didn't shiver at the thought of him approaching. What if he wants to revisit our previous conversation? A chill runs through me and I force myself to knock on the heavy door before I turn on my heels and run. There's no answer. I sigh and pull on the door handle. It lets me in easily, so there's no other choice but to go into his office and stand there, a sizeable distance from his desk, not raising my eyes at him. I could curse myself three ways from Sunday and I still wouldn’t be able to bring myself to look at him.

Snape pays me no mind and continues studying some phial with a silvery-grey liquid inside. He takes at least three minutes of checking the colour against the light, bringing it to his nose carefully and snapping at the glass now and then to mix it up. I completely forget all the things I was planning to say to him when I walked to the dungeons and think only that it's all his fault, he's torturing me with all this pointless waiting around. At last, he sets the phial on the wooden stand and directs his heavy stare at me. I blink, but put up with it, since there's no point in being here otherwise.

Snape likely draws the same conclusion as I do, since he smirks and inquires: "Considering that the famed Gryffindor courage couldn't keep you away, you might as well summon enough respect to greet me properly, Mister Potter."

It's strange how formal and distanced he can make himself sound, even without the 'Mister Potter' added in. The tone leaves no doubt that I'm to stand far away from him and show him my gratitude. How different that tone is from all the times when I've really put my foot in it, like with the Pensieve, or when he was saving my life, or when he offered his help with the Occlumency lessons. The thought of his Pensieve leaves a dull worry in my chest, like a half-formed question.

"Good evening, sir."

"Speak up! Or have you lost your tongue? You weren't so quiet the last time."

Ohgod. No, don't! I must have a noticeable grimace, because Snape hmphs at the result. Carefully, I raise my head at him. Nah, he's as sullen as ever, even if there is a glimpse of mild satisfaction in his eyes. He would be, the bastard, since I'm too mortified to move. And to think of it, I haven't told him anything but the complete and honest truth the last time we spoke.

"Well, if you're planning to stand there and huff from embarrassment all day, should we reschedule until you're capable of basic comprehension?"

I was thinking of cancelling just this morning. With one of my heads, at least.

"No, sir."

"Louder!" He rises and walks right up to me. Dammit.

"No, sir, there's no need to reschedule."

What was I on about before, about Snape and personal space, wondering if he'd be afraid if I started crossing boundaries? Maybe he only reacts like that when I show initiative. Now he's not confused at all. But I, on the other hand...

A weak eucalyptus scent from his robe reaches my nostrils. My heart skips a beat, so strongly that I take a step back, looking up so I can face him, head on. I'm not about to let him think I'm afraid of him!

I focus on the line of his high cheekbones, his hooked nose, and force myself to look him in the eye. Well, at least that answers that, the stare I saw in the mirror this evening is far from the most sullen ever.

Snape furrows his brow, taking the bait.

His eyes are so dark, maybe there's a spaniard or two in his family tree and he has their eyes. The pupils blend into the iris almost completely, but I feel them, right here. No, can't look down now. I can't blush either. I've gotta stay calm. As if resisting a trance. As if resisting his Legilimens in my head, although we didn't even start practicing yet.

Snape shakes his hair and I turn my head away immediately, afraid that it would brush against my cheek like that one time. We're so close, but then I step back, even if it means losing this, whatever it was. Yeah, I definitely lost this round. The corners of his mouth curve in contempt, making his face even more grotesque, and he steps away, pulling out his wand. I stand still, feeling small and tired. Already? I still have to cast the Mirror Curse, and hopefully more than once…

I hate him, a saving thought dawns. But then I remember just why I do.

No, not here! Not now!

Strangely enough, my body listens and I can put all that hatred into my stare without any shame attached. My other thoughts about him, well, they're under lock and key in the Gryffindor dorms, stashed behind the bed curtains. There's no place for them here.

"Take your position." His voice seems tired and my fury at him changes into something like surprise. I didn't know I could tire him out. Is he still going to practice with me?

I hurriedly step across from him and close my eyes, expecting the countdown. Snape is silent for so long, that my eyelids tire out of my expectant wince and I carefully open them. He's looking at me strangely, rolling his wand in his fingers.

"Potter, what is it with you today?" He sounds so distant and emotionless, it sends a pang of worry through my chest. Can he see how confused I am?

"Nothing, sir. Everything's fine," I answer softly, trying to force my face into a focused, or at least peaceful, expression. It doesn't work, especially not when he's staring at me like that.

"You don't seem fine. Are you feeling all right? Well, say something!"

"M'fine."

Snape steps close enough for me to touch him. "Have you had any nightmares or premonitions regarding the Dark Lord? Has anything happened?"

Well, I've had dreams… Yeah right, as if I'm going to tell him about those. I force myself to keep still, since it's either that or break into nervous laughter. "Nothing happened. I swear."

"Well then, do control yourself!" His tone is pure steel, and I suddenly feel relieved. Might as well move to St. Mungo's if I'm pleased that Snape’s mad at me.

I nod and don't have to wait long. Snape doesn't even waste time on preparation or on a verbal warning. He just takes a couple of steps back and points his wand right at my forehead as he speaks loudly. "Legilimens!"

The Mirror. I must cast the Mirror. I can do this.

The night of the Astronomy exam, fifth year. Professor McGonagall falls, hit by the red blasts of curses.

Dumbledore tells me about the beginning of the Third World War.

Hagrid's hut. My first encounter with Voldemort, pain tearing at my scar, his voice in my head, digging into my very soul.

Hurts. Hurts so much. NO!

Imago! Imago!

The thin surface of the spell shines like mercury as it spreads against the targeted spell, but is sliced in two in no time. I hear my own scream growing deep within me, I'm so helpless!

The Mirror, please, I gotta…

A felled tree in the Forbidden Forest. The last of the sunset shines over those folded hands, offering me the light. I know these hands.

Snape must not see the face.

IMAGO!

It's all goes dark.

"Potter, you need to work. You can't keep passing out." Sharp smell fills my nostrils and I start coughing, my mind suddenly clear. Snape holds up a piece of cotton with some ammonia to my face, with an emotionless glare. I narrow my eyes - this stuff is making them sting - and try to make out at least something in his expression. Anything to let me know that he didn't see Seamus in my memory.

"I don't care who it was," Snape says, as indifferent as ever. "I see the study of human psyche is lost on you, as well as a lesson in manners. Are your worst memories truly all about your own self-worth? You're only afraid of yourself. It's pointless."

He stares at me and I bite my lip, wanting to drop dead right there and then. Or at least sink down onto the floor from my chair and curl in on myself.

"You should be ashamed, not on my account, but your own. You're only capable of success on the verge of passing out, during the worst of your pain. In the most extreme of circumstances. That's truly unfortunate. Besides, your blocking technique is terrible. You focus all your strength on one thing. You make it almost easy for me to penetrate your defences elsewhere and extract the very memories you're trying to protect.I've spared your pride this time but it's all pointless until you yourself realise why you're so afraid. At least try. I am not always going to be around to protect you!"

I cover my mouth with my hand. It's a childish habit and an admission: I've lost, but I can't help it. Snape took pity on me. He could've seen everything. Everything. Just the idea of it sends a sense of horror through me.

He'd be so offended if he found out just what my lust is capable of. It's like I'm dying of thirst. He'd simply murder me for it if he knew. But here he stands, telling me there's nothing to be ashamed of.

"Mis-ter Potter, do control yourself. I'm not yet finished."

His voice brings me to present moment and I lower my hands, chancing a glance at my watch. Five after seven. Has it been more than an hour already? Can't be.

He waits for me to raise my eyes at him, or at least at his chest, and continues: "Teaching you is a futile task, but I must admit, you gave me some cause to doubt my good sense. You've made progress, even if not as quickly as we both would like. However, you simply fail to grasp the importance of quiet resistance, your mind screams bloody murder every single time. Do you know what that means?"

"I'm wasting my magic," I answer.

"Precisely. Now why, with the full knowledge of theory, do you fail to apply it in practice?"

I managed to fight Voldemort off. Why can't I do the same with Snape?

"I don't know, sir."

"Neither do I. Perhaps one day you'll cease to assault my senses with your beastly wailing. It's clearly pointless to school you in it."

Is he mocking me? What am I supposed to do, call him 'sir' while he penetrates my mind? I snort weakly, it sounds pathetic, but I don’t have the strength to argue. Snape directs me off the floor into the chair, and walks toward the cabinet. He searches through it for something and then returns, offering me the chocolate bar. Just like before, the first time.

"Eat. I'm starting to suspect you haven't recovered fully since the incident."

His tone holds no previous frustration, only a stricter note. Thankfully. I unwrap the chocolate and only now notice the cool sweat on my palms. My armpits are soaked as well. Even the roots of my hair are sweaty. Maybe Snape's right. I'm still weak.

"Thank you, sir."

He releases a sigh, or I think he does, can't tell for sure. I am not looking at him, not even when I need to, so I can't read him at all. Why is it that just when he seems to hate me somewhat less, it's twice as hard to be around him? It was easier to put up with his fury last year. But now? Chocolate. Smelling Salts. His hands rubbing mine in circles as I came to, after passing out.  For a second I want to pass out on the spot, just to see if it happens again.

He's almost dislocated my shoulder trying to drag me out of his memories once and that was far easier to bear than having to see him almost every day.

Hold on. His memories…

"Professor," I can't not ask the question now, that I know how to ask it. "Why did you stop using the Pensieve?"

Snape turns to me, in an openly threatening gesture. "My past didn't scare you off? Haven't you had your fill already? Or do you want to finish perusing your father's pranks?"

Ohgod, why did I ask him?

"No, I just…"

His stare cuts like a knife, his nostrils flare, as if reigning in his own wild fury.  "You. 'Just'. What?"

"I just wanted to know, all right!"

"Curious, are you? Well, I do not need a Pensieve, Potter. Because first of all, you've already seen the worst of it, and secondly: at this rate, you will never break through my defences. If today is any indication of your skill."

I put my own arms around myself, crouched on the chair. My cheeks burn like they've been through the stinging nettle. I've already seen the worst of it. So his memories of serving Voldemort, of being tortured by that beast, are not as horrible to him as this one glimpse of his past I spied on? I know it won't matter to him, but…

"I'm sorry."

"Sorry? What are you sorry for? You have always got away scot free with your childish pranks. When did you ever start paying attention to other people's secrets?"

"You're twisting it around! You don't get what I'm trying -"

"Oh, I 'get' it perfectly. Maybe even better than you," he breathes, looming over me and his lips part in a nasty smile showing his clenched teeth. I am actually watching him smile for the first time and it's so revolting that I try to pull away from him. I can't. I'm blocked by my chair.

Fine, since I'm already pretty much dead…

"You never told anyone about what I did to you," I tell him, refusing to look down, leaning forward once more.

Something shifts in his face, but he puts up the usual mask and draws himself up. "Whyever for? It's hopeless to expect any semblance of punishment, not to mention anything else."

He sounds bitter and suddenly I'm struck by the urge to touch him. Just to show him I'm here. Let me be a complete troublemaker, let him hate me for it. I just want him to… my right hand clenches into a fist and I force myself to stay still.

"Sir, I'm truly sorry. I wish you believed just how much," I whisper, knowing it's all for nothing.

"You have only one reason to want anything, Potter," Snape answers calmly. but I can see a stubborn vein pulsing madly on this throat. "To clear your juvenile conscience, now that you're forced to spend more time with me after class. Thus you are forced to beg for forgiveness now, so you can then promptly forget your own grave offences.That is all."

He's right. How can I argue with that? Even if Snape's not totally innocent, if he's far too eager to hand out Ts for my work, did I really pay the price for what I did? Had he been my peer, we'd sort it out the old-fashioned way, with fists. A pity we can't. Cause what I did with his Pensieve haunts me up to this very day.

And he's still teaching me Occlumency.

The silence between us hangs heavy and long. He turns his side to me, his eyes half-lidded, and it's as if he's listening to something. Perhaps he can hear the beat of my heart. Should I ask for forgiveness again? He's not going to listen, is he? Well then, time to go.

I gather my remaining courage and rise, pushing myself up against the armrests. Snape's stare focuses at me from under his lashes: "Have you had enough? Can you make it back on your own?"

Oh god. My throat is tight and I can only nod at him, looking up with a silent question. I don't have any strength to voice it.

"Monday at six," he answers, snapping his fingers impatiently. That's where Malfoy gets it from! "Well, aren't you leaving?"

I walk toward the door and turn back in the doorway. Snape is right where he was before, only his head is lowered. I fuss with the button on my collar and say in a lackluster voice: "Good bye."

He doesn't answer, as usual.

Chapter Text

Sunday starts with a downpour that practically slams down onto Hogwarts. The wall of water separates us from the Forbidden Forest and the students are forced to spend their time in the common rooms. Or in the library, like Hermione, who has been camping there all day. I'm in bed, reading "The Use of Integrated Medical Charms in the Treatment of Magical Damage", eating an apple, and trying not to pay any attention to distracting thoughts.

This time my distractions have to do with my encounter with Malfoy. I peer at the page, but can only see his smirk and his pale grey eyes seeking something out on my face. Something doesn't make sense. If Malfoy hates the thought of me being in the same room with Snape, why did he insist on showing it so openly, where everyone could see? Strange. He can't really be jealous of me. Even if it did seem to rattle him.

Imagine if Malfoy's grand secret turns out to be that he's queer. There'll be three of us at Hogwarts then. We'll cheerfully fling the closet doors wide open under Snape's watchful guidance.

I snort loudly, covering my eyes with my hand. Neville, perched on his bed, raises his head: "What?"

"Nothing," I shake my head and return to my reading. Apparently I don’t have any doubts left that Snape is queer. Oh, who cares about that? Malfoy's more important right now. It's good to be ready for whatever he does next. And that's always for certain, the ferret's just waiting to stir up some trouble. He already tried! Why did he do it, anyway?

What if he was not bluffing when he said he knew 'everything'? Should I expect him to spread rumours across the entire Hogwarts? Brr. I fight off a nasty shiver. Merlin, what a disaster that would be.

"I didn't take you for a coward, Potter," rings in my mind. I've heard it not so long ago.

I'd give anything to find out exactly why everything I’ve encountered lately leads back to Snape, why I'm so hard when I think of him, even when it’s just his name. I'm probably lucky that I'm too stunned in his presence for my body to react to him.

All right, let's imagine Malfoy knows exactly why I'm a freak. And he is afraid I'll corrupt his precious Head of House. Then there’s still the thing that Snape wants nothing to do with me! I've got nothing to do with him. Sure, I can keep having all these dreams about Snape fucking me, doesn't mean reality's anything remotely close.

"Harry!" Ginny peers into the room and everything seems brighter because of her mane. Dean blushes, drops his Tarot cards, which he's been trying to interpret for the past half hour, and waves hurriedly at her, as if she'd miss him by accident. Their eyes meet and Ginny grins and nods. Then she turns to me and her smile's gone. "Headmaster Dumbledore wants to see you."

And my day was going so well, despite the downpour. Impervius isn't hard to cast. I could ask Ginny to tell Headmaster Dumbledore she couldn't find me, but we haven't been getting along since the Quidditch match, and besides, it's pointless to hide from the Headmaster. He probably already knows where I am. So I thank Ginny for passing along the invitation, close my book and get off the bed, trying to sigh as quietly as I can about the impending doom. Headmaster's office it is. Every time I leave the dorm these days, I'm only running into trouble.

Ginny waits for me behind the door. "He said the password is 'peppermint pastilles'."

Before I have a chance to be surprised that those are sold around here, or to say thank you, she turns around and runs down the staircase. Her red curls bounce over her shoulders. She's still mad at me then.

I shrug and head for the office.

It takes me awhile to get there, because I have to wait for the moving staircase to turn back around, but then I reach the main hallway, refusing to rush, and stand in front of the gargoyle, giving the new password. It creaks and turns around, letting me through. Without much joy, I step up to the spiral staircase, which brings me like an escalator to the Headmaster's office.


 

"Headmaster Dumbledore?"

"Yes, Harry." He turns to face me standing by the window. "Do come in."

I walk into his office, nod hello to Fawkes who spreads his wings in greeting, and sit down on the edge of the large seat. He'll ask me to sit anyway, so I don't think I'm being rude, just assuming. Headmaster Dumbledore strides to the table and settles across from me, setting his elbows down on the wooden surface. His stare over the half-moon glasses seems tired, without the usual sparkle. I look at the network of wrinkles covering his face and realise with concern that he's an old man. No wonder he's tired of shouldering responsibility in front of the entire Wizarding World, in front of the Ministry. In front of me, as well.

We're silent and I feel unsettled. Why did Headmaster Dumbledore call me in? Surely not for an idle chat, about my quarrel with Malfoy. Something probably happened. But what?

"Headmaster, what's wrong?" My voice is panicked, but I note with surprise that I have been much more panicked lately. Maybe I'm just afraid of being afraid. Voldemort's waiting for me behind the school walls, the entire school might start spreading rumours that I'm queer. I don't know what's worse, but I'm sick and tired of it all.

"How are your Occlumency lessons with Professor Snape?"

Oh no, not Snape again! I fight the need to laugh. Everyone seems determined to remind me of him. First Hermione and now Headmaster Dumbledore.

"They're fine."

"Fine?" He nods, inviting me to expand on that.

I continue: "I managed to counter his Legilimens, sir, a few times, and P-professor Snape said that it's worth wasting his time on me."

Dumbledore pretends that he didn't notice my stutter and gives me a slight smile: "That's a strong compliment, coming from him."

"Really?" The question leaves my lips before I even think it over.

"Yes, Harry." Headmaster Dumbledore wipes his glasses with the corner of his robe. "He is an experienced Legilimens and a stern teacher. He never gives praise without a reason."

Huh, apparently his insult was praise. Wow. I'll have to think more on it later, ‘cause Headmaster Dumbledore says: "Would you like to study Occlumency with me, Harry?"

I can feel my lips turning numb. Strange, what am I afraid of? Surely not of the fact that I won't be walking down the stairs to Snape's office at six anymore?

"No sir, thank you," I answer calmly.

I think Headmaster Dumbledore is surprised. He gives me a careful look and then asks: "Why?"

'Cause when I needed you the most to make me such an offer, I was forced to ask Snape for help, I want to say. 'Cause Snape didn't tell me no, no matter how much he wanted to. ‘Cause I always get this strange feeling after studying with him, and I'm not even sure if it's bitter or not. But I want to find out, so I pay attention not only to him, but also to myself during our lessons, and they may look like torture, but I chose them! I made a choice and it's Snape.

"I'm used to working with Professor Snape, sir," I answer instead, lowering my gaze so I don't give out a sudden surge of spite.

"Perhaps you're right, my boy," Headmaster Dumbledore answers, and suddenly I feel him in my head. Is he trying to penetrate my mind? Without a spell, without so much as a warning?

Anger wants to force me to my feet, to make me cry out, but I stay still and merely cast the Mirror Curse right there and then, not bothering to say it out loud, just picturing the thin invincible membrane blocking Headmaster Dumbledore's gaze. Those blue eyes under the grey eyebrows widen, betraying surprise, while I, teeth gritted, hold off his attack. He pushes in further and I feel the surface of the spell shudder, threatening to break or to tumble down. The Headmaster isn't feeling it out, he merely pushes his way inside with all his magical strength. Snape's tougher on me, I think suddenly. His Legilimens is sharp, like a foil, piercing through my defenses. Does this mean I'm making progress, if Snape's not taking it easy on me, but teaching me the hard way?

"Bravo, Harry." Headmaster Dumbledore leans back in his chair, applauding my effort, and there's a genuine smile on his face. The pressure on my mind stops. Whoa, talk about suddenly pulling me aside to check me for mental fleas. Surprise!

"Sir, you didn't even warn me!" I accuse, and his smile disappears.

"Precisely," he answers honestly. "I don't think your enemy would warn you either. If I remember right, Tom isn't the most polite when it comes to knocking. Unfortunate as it is."

No kidding.

"This is why I was forced to see for myself that Professor Snape was successful with his instruction, just as he reported yesterday night."

Yesterday night… he was so angry at me for mentioning the Pensieve! But after I left he went straight to the Headmaster and bragged all about my success apparently. I don't get him, at all, but what else is new?

"So did you… make sure, sir?"

"I did," he laughs. "Professor Snape's time with you has been well-spent."

Well of course it was! When it comes to Snape and private lessons, you either die or succeed. There's no third option. Strange how I didn't understand any of that my Fifth Year. But I didn't understand a lot back then. I certainly never thought of Snape the way I do now.

"Harry," Headmaster Dumbledore sighs. "You must forgive me. I knew you would feel my presence inside your mind, but I had to be sure that you are safe. Had I warned you about it, I would have lost the element of surprise."

I nod to signal my agreement and he continues: "I am beyond pleased with what I've seen. Professor Snape swears that you can only protect yourself in the most extreme circumstances, but I think he is incorrect. You are clearly able to resist a calm intrusion from me. To be completely honest with you, not many people have been able to do so, but you have."

Great. Just great. I've managed to fight off the Headmaster, practically managed to hold my own against Voldemort, but I can't bring myself to do any of it with Snape!

"This is very important, Harry. I’m glad that Professor Snape has agreed to teach you again. Unfortunately I was unable to step in, too many things required my full attention. As it stands, I asked Severus to continue instructing you at the beginning of school year, which he refused. Enough to put a resignation letter in front of me. I truly care about your safety, Harry, but even I cannot deprive the school of its Potions Master. Besides, Voldemort cannot get past the school's protective wards. The accident you've experienced in Hagrid's hut will not be repeated. I've taken care to expand the wards onto a larger territory. They are tuned to my and your magics alone and increase the usual protective charms tenfold. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Headmaster."

I get it, all right. All those security measures aren't worth a damn to Voldemort. Snape knows, that's why he's kept up the mental link with me.

In the fall, he was ready to sacrifice his job and the Headmaster’s goodwill so he didn't have to see me, but in May he agreed to teach me. Because I asked him to.

And he didn't breathe a word about it to the Headmaster, despite saving me two days ago. He didn't say anything about Voldemort invading my mind, despite all those protective charms. I'm the only one who can truly resist him. Did Snape ever tell anything to the Headmaster, anything at all about me, not related to the Occlumency lessons?

"... rather worried. The Muggle government seems to show quite a bit of resistance and I'm afraid we cannot ignore it. The fire at the British Library should have been the last straw, but instead it became the start of something new. It would please me greatly, Harry, if everything I say here remains between us. I don't doubt your intentions, but I just don't see the need to trouble the students in these dark times and cause-"

"Unnecessary panic," I finish for him.

He gives me a quick glare. "Precisely. Unfortunately the Imperius curse is quickly becoming the weapon of choice. The time of peace is long gone, so its use in and outside the Wizarding World has spread. The Muggles affected by it wreak havoc everywhere. Acts of terrorism, ecological disasters, financial ruin… The threat of this war pales in comparison to the chaos in the rest of the world. Even we cannot turn away any longer, hiding in our magical spaces. Localised conflicts flare up again and again, like in the Balkans, which has seen its fair share of wartime tragedies recently... Am I boring you, my boy? You must forgive me for keeping track of the world beyond Hogwarts’ walls and subjecting you to the truth. I believe you should hear it. You must be prepared for the difficult summer ahead, Harry. But if you wish to stay -"

"N-no, you're absolutely right, sir," I say softly, looking at my shoes. "I'd rather be informed."

Headmaster Dumbledore stares at me sadly, probably trying to picture himself in my place at sixteen. He should give that up right now. He didn't have the weight of having to kill someone on his shoulders. He wasn't told he'd either have to die or live with the memory of murder for the rest of his life.  

"Thus we must meet Voldemort in an open duel soon, before he plunges the entire world into his particular brand of chaos," Headmaster Dumbledore concludes. "He is far too fond of death and destruction."

I snort at that. Of course he is. That's his entire life, right there.

"When will it happen?"

"What do you mean?" Headmaster Dumbledore purses his lips glaring somewhere into space. This is not the time for him to wonder where he went wrong in this conversation with me.

"When will we actually enter the war that he's forcing us into?" I specify, raising my head. I suspect I don't have a pleasant stare. Enough of treating me like a child! Talking about the world's happenings is all well and good, but what about the rest? Is it another secret? I've had enough of those.

"When you graduate from Hogwarts."

The words are like a bucket of melted ice, up-ended over my head. In more than a year? I stare at Headmaster Dumbledore in disbelief and echo his words back at him. He nods: "I know it's hard to process, Harry, but you must realise that we may need your help."

"But… it's going to be too late by then!" I shake my head and nearly shout, "We may not have anything left to save!" "No art, no music," Hermione's sobs ring in my ears.

Headmaster Dumbledore doesn't answer me for the longest time. He stands up and walks up to Fawkes' cage, petting his fiery wings through the bars.

"We can't risk it," he says softly. "You are not ready yet."

For war, he means. Well then, at least he’s telling me the truth about the final battle. It brings a sudden calm to understand it. I can't escape it. The inevitability of it rests like a stone slab on my shoulders, but I refuse to crouch under its weight. At the very least, it'll all be over soon and the Wizarding World will stop dissecting my life. I'll either die or I'll win and change my name and face. I didn't think I'd have to wait that long for it though. I'm not Professor Trelawney, but some feelings don't lie.

"What must I do, sir?" I ask Headmaster Dumbledore as his back is turned.

"Learn," he answers dryly. "As much and as well as you can. And do continue your studies with Professor Snape. I hope you're getting along better?"

"Not really," I try my best to sound unimpressed. "But that doesn't matter. I'll study with him anyway, sir. I'll use all of my spare time."

We share a long silence and then he offers me tea, likely considering the serious part of the conversation to be over.

I don't refuse, and blow at the steaming cup, biting into the melon jelly slice. I always thought it strange, this habit of his, to offer tea at any opportunity. He would barely taste it right now, but the tea fills the silence and helps formulate the most pressing questions to discuss, setting emotions aside for awhile. For a few moments, all we do is focus on the spinning tea leaves at the bottoms of our tiny porcelain cups.

But my sense of dread is hard to wash down with tea, so when Headmaster Dumbledore wishes me good evening, I can't find the will to smile at him. Even the slanted sun rays, beaming through the storm clouds, do not break through the bleakness that settles in me after our talk.

I felt so heavy leaving his office on the day when Dumbledore's Army was discovered, when the Headmaster disappeared and Umbridge celebrated victory. But now, my heart is even heavier.


 

I return to the Gryffindor tower and try to go straight to the dorm, not wasting time on any idle chatter. It all seems so empty now: our banter, our games, our quarrels, even preparing for the exams. For the second time I am hit with the realization that the walls of Hogwarts are not as strong as we think. Its halls and its battlements, its towers and its dungeons, the common rooms, the professors' offices, all wrapped into anti-Apparation spells, identification and protection charms, none of it will save us if we decide to sit this one out. If true evil decides to enter, it may waste some time on a siege, but Hogwarts will fall eventually, like any medieval Muggle fortress. Unless we face our enemy and take this battle to open ground, instead of hiding under the vaulted arches of the castle. I desperately want to do just that. I want to run beyond the castle grounds and shout into the spring sky, at the top of my lungs "Come and get me, you bastard! Get over here and fight!"

I press my hands to my ears, close my eyes, and slow down my steps. What if he really comes? What if he shows up and kills me right there and then, not even with the Killing Curse, but merely invading my mind? I can't shake him as it is. The war will be over before it has even began and there will be no chance to fix anything. I've managed to stop Headmaster Dumbledore today, but it was probably only luck, or maybe he didn't use his full strength.

"Harry!" There's a careful hand is on my shoulder. A gentle touch nudges my hands down from my ears. I raise my head. Hermione is there, sombre with understanding. Maybe Ginny told her where I was or she guessed that we didn't talk about the weather. I look at her, but can't give her a smile or an answer. Not because my throat is tight. I can breathe. I just have nothing to say. My reality has shrunk to the size of my scar and the entire world's fate depends on me defeating the man who marked me with it. I look at Hermione, at Ron, who just joined us, and they shield me from the others, with genuine worry on their faces. I stare at them and keep silent. I'm the first one to look down.

"Harry, what's going on, mate?” Ron's freckled hand pushes my fringe off my forehead, but I give my head a stubborn shake, leaving it where it was. I didn't want him to look at my scar. My hair falls into my eyes and I exhale to get it off my lashes.

"What's wrong? What can we do?"

Just stop me from knowing all of this. Stop me from being Harry Potter.

This autumn I was always able to stop my bad moods and didn't allow my thoughts to travel that direction. Be it with the help of my Firebolt or lessons, whatever it took, but I was able to chase the moods away. Something's changed, ‘cause I can't do it as easily anymore. But hey, I've gained the skill of discussing politics as an equal with Headmaster Dumbledore. I would trade it all to travel back in time, even if for a second.

"Harry, Ron, shhh." Hermione’s looking at me still. "Let's go up."

"Er. Up to… our dorm?"

"No, Ron, ours. Do feel free to talk the staircase into letting you up."

I picture the way that the stairs to the girls' dormitory turn into a stone slide under the feet of any bloke and grin. Ron scratches his head and nods, as we climb up.

When we enter the dorm, I walk silently to my bed and collapse into it, covering myself with a blanket. I'm not cold. I'm just shivering a bit.

Hermione sits down on the edge of the bed and presses her fingers against my cheek. I look at her, blinking once in awhile, and keep quiet. Thankfully she doesn't ask me to talk. She's the one talking and she sounds so very grown up.

"You've got wrinkles all around your mouth, Harry," she informs me in a near-whisper, tracing the lines leading from the sides of my nose. "I never knew it was possible for anyone our age. When it's all over, we'll take you to a professional. I know one. Never thought magic's capable of such wonders with therapy of all things. Mum says he's lifted a decade's worth of worry off her shoulders. So when it's all over, we'll take you and…"

"When what is over?" I ask hoarsely, my eyes not leaving hers.

"The war," she says softly. "I told you I understand. One day, this will all be in the past."

"Good way to think of it," I want to smile and my lips even twitch a bit, but I close my eyes. "Maybe one day we'll all believe it."

"I know I want to. Very much."

I look up and watch the sunset burn in the window.

"Maybe one day, it'll even be true."

"Huh?" Hermione notes with a tone of surprise in her voice. "I always thought you had green eyes."

"Yeah, so what?" I look at her and blink a bit, chasing away the shiny spots in my vision.

"They're almost grey now. And your pupils are tiny."

I'm just tired, they get this way when I don’t have any energy. But when I've got the mood for it, my eyes shine green. Only I haven't been happy for a long time, so I don't even remember how I look when I do. I want to answer her, but then say something else: "They just change depending on the weather. S'fine."

Hermione bites the inside of her cheek and traces her fingers over my brows, from my nose outwards. It's a calming gesture.

"You wanna tell us what the Headmaster said?" Ron asks.

"Nah." The calm is gone now and I'm wide awake.

"Just give us the summary then."

"I've gotta study, and study, and study some more. And then learn Occlumency."

"That's all? Waste of time if you ask me," he grumbles, pulling off his robe. "As if you don't know already that Snape's a mandatory torture."

"Ron, shush." Thanks, Hermione.

"Why do I always have to shush? I always do. And now Harry's all out of sorts over it."

"Because he actually has to study, poor thing, or because he's got extra Occlumency lessons?" Hermione snaps. I laugh, I can't help it.

"What's so funny?" They turn to me. I stop laughing and just smile looking at them both. I'm not going to tell them anything. They're my best friends and I don't want the weight that settled on my shoulders to touch their lives as well.

"Nothing. Just, trust me on this, Ron. Snape's not the worst that can happen."

He peers at me with distrust. "Well, you know best and everything, but from where I'm standing…"

"Of course he knows best," Hermione interrupts. "Harry said that Snape has helped him many times. He's not a monster, he's just a complicated man."

That's right. Snape's definitely not a monster. But thinking of Snape makes me despise myself so much, I close my eyes.

I hate that I can't control myself when I think of him.

I hate that he says one thing and does the exact opposite, first he mocks me, then he praises me in Headmaster Dumbledore’s office, and goes off to save my life.

I hate how he strides down the corridors, not even noticing my 'hello', and how he offers me chocolate.

It's all far too much to handle, and I don't enjoy it one bit. I don't want to think about him, I am sick of these thoughts. I've had enough of Snape. I've had Snape yesterday, I'm going to have Snape tomorrow, and yeah, going to see him in Advanced Potions too.

Enough is enough.

I turn and stare at the frame that holds the curtains. I want to be left alone, but I don't want my friends to leave either. Maybe Hermione understands, because she takes a book out of her bag and settles down on Ron's bed. Ron also continues his reading, and I get a feeling that it's not the first time they’ve sat on his bed like this.

I feel the sudden urge to offer Hermione my Invisibility Cloak, because I really don't need it all that much right now and she could probably use it, in case I'm not the only one making use of Silencing Charms around here. It's probably hard to leave the dormitory and constantly having to cast Sleeping Spells on everyone. Or maybe I'm completely wrong and nothing has happened between Ron and Hermione besides a few kisses here and there. Still, the Hermione I remember would never sneak into the boys' dorm just to read. And now it seems she's a frequent guest here.

It's none of my business anyway. But still, I ought to offer her the cloak. Just have to handle it properly, find the right words. Well, that solves that, I'm never going to stop myself from saying something inappropriate. I can never manage anything remotely delicate.

I sigh and sit up. I rub my face and run my hands through my hair. Then I get up, pulling my shirt down, and grab my cloak from the back of the chair. In any case, I feel like a third wheel, even if Hermione did come in because of me. It's not fair to either of them if I stay around all evening. Might as well go for a walk.


 

I'm in a rush 'cause I'm frustrated and angry and that makes me collide with Nearly-Headless Nick, who is languidly turning the corner. Brr, feels so strange, as if I've ran through an icy cold shower, or got hit by a snowball. I turn right around: "Sorry, Nick, didn't mean to!"

"I guessed as such, Harry," he answers complacently. "You're probably not happy about those goosebumps either."

"Goosebumps?" I glance at my arms and sure enough, Nick is right. But I don't feel cold anymore, not enough to cause them. Strange. The last thing I need is to catch a cold. I've been chilly ever since I set the empty teacup down in the Headmaster's office.

Nick is apparently excited to chat, but I'm not letting him get started.

"Sorry again. I'm in a hurry," I mumble and turn to go.  

An audible soft mutter follows me: "It's the same every spring. They all lose their minds. Can't have a proper chat, even this lad's in a hurry. Ah, and he was so nice to talk to…" The veiled flattery ends at that, because I'm too far away to hear it.

"This lad"... Nick saw me for the first time during my first day at Hogwarts. And he had seen hundreds of children before, as we slowly grew up and reached adulthood. Would he remember me at all, had I not been the Golden Boy?

Maybe it would be best if he doesn't remember, that would give me hope that I'd have a chance at a normal life someday. I’ve thought for awhile, since winter, that I had stopped standing out of the crowd so much. I was wrong and I can't see a way out of it. Even Professor Dumbledore told me to prepare for a difficult summer. I don't want to think about how difficult it would be.

"Check that out."

"That's Harry Potter, or did you not pay attention?"

"Oh, didn't notice the scar. But the way he's strolling around, daamn…"

Two Ravenclaw girls stare at me as I run down the last flight of stairs and through the main entrance of the school. If it wasn't for this scar… It's practically a label on my forehead for all to see. I claw at my fringe angrily, pushing it down, covering up my brand. My personal Dark Mark. Sometimes I hate it even more than usual. So they like the way I walk, do they? I was rushing down the corridor like a hurricane, my robes lifting up like sails. It's an unspoken rule, once you reach the end of Sixth Year, you're probably not supposed to run anywhere at Hogwarts.

Hagrid's hut winks at me, with the sunset sparkling in its window. It's quiet and warm, I can't hear any birds or grasshoppers. The nature fills the space and soon enough the bell will ring for supper. I think I'll skip it. I'm not terribly hungry and I don't have the will nor the strength to drag myself to the Great Hall and stuff food down my throat, trying to keep up the banter. Even Hagrid's rock cakes sound better than that. At the very least, his company is always light and reassuring. He doesn't pretend that everything's well when it comes to me.

We can talk about the unicorn foals that he brought back from the Forbidden Forest a month ago. Their mother died in childbirth and he couldn't locate the dad. No sense in looking either, you could only save the foals with magic, they were barely alive as is. So he rushed to Hogwarts and nearly threw Professor Dumbledore over his shoulder in his rush to save the little ones. They did survive and imprinted on Hagrid as family. Turned out the smartest beasts when it comes to training. I suppose Hagrid has only one regret, namely that they're unicorns instead of dragons.

I don't go up the steps, knowing from experience that Hagrid's not likely to be inside. I go around the hut and sure enough, his wide back is right there. He's bent over the wicker enclosure for his critters, the ones that are 'completely harmless, I swear' and he's talking to his pets. The unicorns are the size of an average young horse and are lapping the salt off his hand. Their golden baby horns hit each other now and then, giving off a dull metallic ring.

"Hagrid!" I call him carefully and he stands up straight, turning right around.

"'Arry!" His ruddy face produces a wide smile and he shakes my offered hand. If he were using full force for that grip of his, Madam Pomfrey would have to grow me a new set of fingers. "Are yeh here for a visit?"

"Yeah, if you aren't busy."

He looks at me with surprise. "When did yeh ever need an invitation? You know I'm always happy to have you. Are yeh all alone? Ron an' Hermione back at the castle?"

He looks so cheerful to see me that I can't help but laugh as I answer: "I'm giving them some time alone. They've got the dorm all to themselves. Dean and Seamus have Apparated to Dean's, won't be back 'til midnight at least. Neville's probably in the library."

"Apparated?" Hagrid echoes, his brow furrowed.

"Well, they probably walked outside the school grounds, of course. It's not like they can Apparate from here."

"I know yeh can't Apparate from here," Hagrid interrupts me. "They're students. They're only allowed to Hogsmeade and back, an' only during the holidays."

"What can I say? Gryffindors!" I snort and he stares at me from under his shaggy brows.

"Yer a Gryffindor yerself, arentcha?" It looks like he forgot all about Dean and Seamus.

I smirk with the corner of my mouth, remembering the conversation that revealed Dean was apparating home during the weekends. Finnigan started following me around shortly after.

"'Course I'm a Gryffindor." My answer is not as proud as it ought to be. "It's just that I've been thinking lately and Gryffindor seems like it's two-thirds bravado and one-third stupidity."

Hagrid murmurs something under his nose, pushing the hut door open and then turns to me: "Yer wrong, Harry. Yer mum and yer da sorted Gryffindor, an' the Sorting Hat decided-"

"The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin," I say softly, and Hagrid's jaw drops. "It was sure I'd do well there, even after my Second Year." In the dungeons. In the common room and the dormitory covered in green and silver instead of the red and gold. Besides, about that Slytherin House and its Head… "I don't want to talk about my dad. Not about him, not about Sirius."

"Oh? What brought that on?" Hagrid puts the kettle on with such clatter, that Fang, napping on his rug in the corner, startles and lifts his jowled muzzle.

"Cause I don't want to," I cut him off and hear an unlikely calm in my own tone. I used to have such explosive temper, what happened? Scary.

"Yeh know, Harry, never thought I'd hear that from you." Hagrid pulls on his beard and starts pacing from his stove to his door, paying no mind to the mournfully squeaking floorboards. "What did yer parents and yer godfather do to you?"

"...you've already seen the worst of it…" Yeah, I've seen it, but no one else had, not the students and not the teachers here at the school today. Except maybe the Headmaster.

Did he expect me to tell anyone? Probably… so why not?

"I didn't say my parents did anything, I said my dad, and Sirius, and Profe - er, Mister Lupin.  Mum's got nothing to do with it."

"Ah, Evans, don't make me hex you."

"Take the curse off him, then!"

Yeah, my mum really has nothing to do with it.

"If not one thing then another," groans Hagrid, grabbing at his forehead. "Who's got yeh all mixed up, 'Arry?"

"As if anyone can." A basilisk would be proud of my icy grin. "No one bothers with that anymore. Everyone tells the truth. I'm just always the last to hear it, that's all."

"What are yeh on about, lad?" He flings himself onto the chair in front of me and leans forward, his knees apart, his palms propping him up against the seat.

"As if you don't know already!" I might as well start a list going: people I've offended today. Might come in handy.

"Do yeh mean, You-Know-Who?"

"Yeah, Voldemort."

Hagrid shakes mightily and gives me a scared glare. "Don't call 'im by name!"

"Why's that? Can't spend my entire life pretending I didn’t get my scar from him," I counter, tilting my head up and staring at Hagrid.

He turns away. "Yeh've turned harsh, didn't use ter be that way."

"Didn't use to be many things," I mumble softly, trying to get out of this awkward conversation. The kettle on the stove is cooling down and the teapot sits open, waiting for the hot water to be poured into it. Hagrid's apparently deep in thought. And I don't have the energy to get up and do it for him.

"You've mixed up with some bad company, that's what!" he raises his head, waiting my reaction.

I blink and ask innocently: "What sort?"

"Dunno what to tell yeh, 'Arry. Just that all these lessons with Snape are a bad influence on yeh. Yeh've learned to bite back from somebody, must've been him."

"Headmaster Dumbledore recommended those!" I arch my brow. "He thought that Occlumency lessons would do me some good. Besides, you just haven't heard me biting back before. Just ask Ron."

"Headmaster Dumbledore knows best, I reckon," Hagrid says without his usual conviction. "You've picked up a few things though. Always arguing, for one thing."

"It's just common sense."

"An' angry…"

"I'm just tired of everyone censoring themselves around me!"

"What do yeh mean?" He rises from his seat and takes the biscuits out from the cupboards. Judging by their looks, they've been baked sometime in the last century. I don't want to touch them, even to be polite, but I make myself bite into one, without breaking a tooth.

"I mean," I finally finish chewing, "Snape doesn't pat me on the head with one hand and nudge me to go murder someone with the other."

"Murder!" Hagrid stares at me in shock. "Is this about the prophecy? Well, Headmaster Dumbledore didn't just make it all up on the spot, did he?"

"So what difference does it make?"

"Well, the tricky thing about them prophecies is, they always come true, whether we like it or not. Can't do a thing 'bout that," he quotes someone, obviously Headmaster Dumbledore.

"Hagrid," I say so softly that he's forced to lean closer to hear me. "Did you ever think that the Headmaster could've kept from me that the prophecy ever existed? Let it come true without me knowing about it? But I would've had a choice, a real choice! Who cares if it's fake, it would've been mine. Anything's better than this awful doom. But nooo, he spelled it all out for me. Go on, live, Harry, but always remember what you've gotta do one day, ‘cause it's gonna happen whether you like it or not!" I raise my voice and jump up, putting my arms around myself.

Hagrid shakes his head timidly, maybe in disagreement, or maybe in understanding. He is silent.

I'm ashamed of what I just said.

"I'm sorry," I tell him with an effort, lowering myself back on my seat. "Really, I am. It's just… please don't lecture me, just don't. It's too late anyway."

"Oh, 'Arry," he sighs mournfully. "Don't worry 'bout that for now. There's still tea. Yeh just take care o' that before it cools down."

I wrap my hands around my mug, trying to stop the nervous shiver. Hagrid slides his large palm across the polished tabletop, as if straightening out the wrinkles of an invisible tablecloth.

"Don't insult the memory of yer da an' godfather. They're good men. Were good men," he says with an effort, and I see only one way to stop our trip down memory lane.

"I won't, Hagrid. I promise. Just don't ask me any more questions."

He clearly wants to argue, but then waves his hand. "Oh, 'Arry. Do yeh talk to all yer friends like that?"

"Sure I do," I answer and continue before he has time to comment. "They haven't dropped dead of shock so far."

We drink our tea in silence and then I put my mug down and stand up. I walk up to the door, turn to say goodbye and then I'm pressed against his great big chest. Hagrid pats me on the head gently and then squeezes my shoulder and opens the door for me. I nod thanks and go down a few steps, hearing the floorboards squeak behind me. Usually, conversations like these leave me wiped out, but considering Professor Dumbledore's last talk with me, I'm only exhausted.

I pass the Great Hall, where dinner has long ended, and climb the steps to the Gryffindor tower. The dormitory is empty.

There's only one thing to do. I drag myself to bed and for the second time today, collapse in it, covering myself up with a blanket, no time or effort to spare for taking off my robes. I just want to wrap myself into the wooly cloth like in a cocoon and stare blankly out of the window, watching the sky change colours.

My head buzzes dully, like the electric box near the Dursleys' house, but sleep doesn't come for quite a while. I have the time to get up, pull my sheets down properly, draw my curtains closed and climb into bed again. My mates return, and Ron whistles joyfully, getting ready for bed. I have a feeling I did well getting out of his and Hermione’s way today, but the knowledge doesn't bring any joy or even satisfaction. I just don't care.

I look at the velvet folds of the curtains that separated me from the world, even before Neville returned. He was the first to come in, and even called out my name, but I pretended to sleep.  Maybe they think all I do is sleep lately. I could be reading, of course. The curtains are thick enough to block Lumos. I've checked.

What do I care what anyone thinks? About me, or in general.

The dormitory is already silent by the time I finally fall into a restless sleep.

Chapter Text

My alarm goes off like a bomb and I lift myself up, unrested and completely broken. My eyes burn as if I hadn't had a wink of sleep last night, but there's nothing I can do about that now. Nothing at all. It's hard to make even a single move. I stretch and want only one thing: never to leave this bed. The outside world is not somewhere I want to be right now. Let them all do what they want, let them see that I'm skipping class. I don't care. I can tell everyone I'm sick, go down to see Madam Pomfrey, and ask for something to help me sleep. I don't remember my dreams, but I remember their colours, way too much red: deep dark-ruby and bright orange hues. Blood, fire. They were probably nightmares, judging by the state of my sheets and pillow. I put my palm against it, feeling the damp surface. Must have broken into cold sweat during the night, but at least I didn't wake up screaming. I've had that before.

"Hello, Harry? Did you hear us?" The curtains shake as if someone's grabbed hold of them, but isn't sure whether to open them or not.

"Yeah, I did," I grumble, and suddenly Ron slides in through the opening. He gives me a critical stare.

"How's everything?"

"How's what?" I blink up.

"Well, things!" Ron specifies in a whisper, shuffling his limbs. "You were quiet yesterday, not even a word in our direction, so… how are things?"

I give him a rushed nod. "Fine. Honestly, m'fine. Just…" What is it? Need sleep. My head hurts. I've told him that so many times already, he isn't likely to believe me.

"Our direction". "Our". I'm so jealous of Ron and Hermione.

Ron nods slowly, contemplating my haze. "Well, tell us as soon as you figure out what it is. You've got friends and don't you forget it."

"Oi, Ron, Harry? What are you doing in there? We're wondering… gonna rejoin the land of the living any time soon, lovebirds?"

We glance at each other, not needing to explain. Seamus. Is he completely suicidal? I think, rushing to my feet so fast, one'd think my underwear was on fire. Ron blocks my way. "Maybe leave him for now. Have a chat later, no witnesses…"

"I've spoken with him already," I hiss, throwing my shirt on and pulling the knot of my tie tightly. "It's that selective hearing again."

I only need a couple minutes to get dressed, but Seamus manages to squeeze out: "Always thought you two have been way too intimate. That's something special, all right. You should write a ballad, all about your deep and upstanding bond. Why, it would just penetrate the heart!"

Is it me or is the mockery worse than usual?

Ron turns red and follows right after me, but I don't notice. I see myself as if witnessing it all from afar. The bed curtains fall open and I find myself in front of Finnigan in one great stride, hair wild, hands on my hips. Dean and Neville are standing off to the side, likely confused. They didn't join in when Seamus was testing my patience. I am all out of it today. The desire to punch Seamus grows bigger and bigger. Maybe my eyes give away that I heard exactly what he meant, so I narrow them, to hide it. Dudley learned the hard way a couple years back that my narrowed eyes mean nothing good.

"Seamus!" Ron and I roar in sync, surrounding him. He gives us a fake-surprised stare.

"What?"

"Say that again, to my face," Ron urges, pushing up his sleeves. I also give Seamus a stare, pausing on his left wrist, which I'd almost crushed under my boot once.

He shrugs. "It was a joke all right! Don’t you have any sense of humour?"

"None," Ron says somberly. "We're hard of hearing too: you'd best repeat yourself. What did you just say?"

"Idiots," Seamus hisses, raising his head. "I'm not going to get in a fight because of some joke. This is mental."

"Imagine how late we're going to be for breakfast then," I cut in, staring at him all the while. That does it, Seamus' face breaks out in angry red splotches. No wonder, it's one thing to call me a freak, but quite another to admit it yourself.

"So, Seamus," Ron resumes the discussion. "If you don't explain what crawled in and bit you in the arse today, we're honestly done talking. Harry and I are going to skip breakfast for the occasion, Neville and Dean here are getting an Obliviate thrown in their face, and you, well, I wouldn't want to be you, mate, that's for sure."

Dean and Neville exchange a couple worried stares, and Neville suddenly speaks up: "No need to Obliviate me, haven't seen a thing."

With that, he heads to the table, gets his textbook out of his bag and pointedly stares at it. For a second I just want to grab his hand and shake it in gratitude, until he knows just how great it feels that I still have a friend willing to cover my back. We never did talk about the Department of Mysteries and I thought Neville likely blamed me for all that madness. But here he is, sticking around in case things go sour, or maybe he's planning to drag us apart if the fight gets too heavy.

Dean, apparently, doesn't share Neville's point of view.

"Two Gryffindors against one?" He says warily, approaching. "That's fair. Not. Looks like someone needs to teach you how to count."

"Don't bother," Seamus gives his sandy hair an arrogant shake. "Let them think they're so clever and cunning, huh, Potter?"

So Dean knows about me. Fine. I whip out my wand and put the Locking Charm on the door. Four pairs of eyes watch me do so.

"Didn't I warn you once already, to watch what you called people behind their backs?" I say evenly, putting my wand away. Seamus releases a sharp sigh of relief and I smirk. "Need a reminder?"

Ron and I advance, and right then, Neville tackles Dean, dragging him off to the side: "Don't get involved," he advises and his grey eyes flash furiously, so unlike good old quiet Neville.

"He's my friend!" Dean kicks back. "Let me go! What are you, nuts?"

"I am warning you, don't!" Neville roars. "It's none of our business. And you ought to pick your friends more carefully next time!"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just what I said. Sit down. We're going to stay here, have a nice, calm chat and we're not going to tell anyone what we saw, no matter what happens, 'cause nothing did!"

Oddly, that works, and in the resulting silence I hear a bell calling the students to breakfast. I haven't had supper last night, and looks like I'm skipping breakfast too. Hopefully Hermione takes pity on us and grabs us something to eat.

I stare at Seamus. Sweat shimmers on his top lip, right where it's marked by a thin line of a nearly-invisible mustache. He turns to Ron and me, apparently deciding how to resolve the situation without losing his pride.

Funny, but I don't feel a single shred of excitement about what's to come. He's brought it on himself, and I'm tired of being startled by every careless comment.

Yeah, I'm queer. I'm going to be alone for the rest of my life. Yeah it's such a mess that I'm sick and tired of merely existing these days. But that's no reason to let Seamus get away with every snide remark!

"Planning to rat us out?" Ron fingers his wand.

"You'll get yourselves expelled." Seamus watches Ron intently.

"Why's that?" I cut in. "It's not like we're going to start flinging curses. I can think of a better use for my wand."

He's about to say something nasty. I can just see his lips moving, but something stops him from making that reckless decision.

"Same here," Ron echoes. "And let me tell you, being poked by something this sharp in the right places, hurts like hell. I'll just let Harry take his frustrations out on you first and wait for my turn."

"Fine, you idiots," Seamus looks away. "It was a stupid joke. I'm sorry, all right."

"Try again, without name-calling," I tell him dispassionately.

"I was joking!" He yells, staring at me with utter hatred. "I told you already. I'm sorry!"

He looks broken, but I know that's a lie. It won't last long.

"Keep dropping jokes like that, and whatever your thestral did to you is gonna seem like a ride on the merry-go-round." Ron promises grimly, putting away his wand. I snort and Seamus meets my eye. Yeah, Ron knows! Take that! I stare at him.

We leave the dorm at once, but not together. Dean follows Seamus out silently, not really realising what just happened. Neville manages a brief grip of my hand. He's done it without prompting, and the gesture warms me up, as I reply with one of my own, thanking him for the support. And then the gloom hits me once more. I don't even know why. My mood never seems to rise beyond Acceptable these days. Especially given our schedule: Transfiguration, Advanced Potions, double Charms. Nothing easy for the entire day.

We arrive at the end of breakfast and sit separately: I, Ron and Neville. Finnigan and Dean walk on. Hermione gives us a worried glance, but Ron simply says: "Later." He seems so commanding, that for the first time I wonder if he can actually hold his own against Hermione's pushy self.

"Harry, eat." Hermione nudges the plate with eggs and bacon in my direction. "I know you haven't had anything at all last night."

"Thanks," I answer as if by habit and grab my fork.

Ron leans over to me and says, so softly even I can barely hear him: "Dunno if you saw, he's afraid of you, Harry, more than he's afraid of me. You've had that look about you… I've never seen him so scared."

"What look?" Hermione already said yesterday my eyes seemed greyer. What now?

"Dunno. Grim, I guess." He tries to find the right word. "Like you don't care what'll happen, you'll do anything."

"Well, I don't care what happens to him," I answer in a whisper. "You've got that right."

"What if he starts talking?"

I shrug. "So? If I have to kick his arse again, I will."

"What are you whispering about?" Hermione leans over.

Ron only gives her hand a pat, concluding "I don't think he'll risk it, not after today."

I nod, my mind already focusing on something else. Or is it nothing at all? I chew mindlessly. We finish breakfast in complete silence.


 

"Mister Potter, what has come over you today?" Professor McGonagall's voice projects stern disappointment, and I look away from the window in which I've counted four passing owls so far. Must be the morning mail.

"Sorry," I answer mindlessly, returning to my attempts to transfigure the cactus on our desk into a candlestick. Why are we even back to the simple stuff?

Hermione's just as surprised as I am. She even raised her hand and asked about it first thing, but Professor McGonagall just said in a strict tone: "Miss Granger, I am sure you're well aware that practice makes perfect. It's vital to check how well you remember your basics now, before moving onto the more complex spellwork in the curriculum."

Hermione blushed and reached for her textbook. I, on the other hand, discovered just how little I know about casting a Second Year spell. As a result, Hermione took over the transfiguration completely, treating me like I'm slow or something.

In a sense, I am a bit sluggish, sometimes a shiver just takes over and I don’t know why. I'm not sick or anything. I’m counting on Professor McGonagall not to notice Hermione's small deception. At least it's almost the end of the lecture, so I can just sigh, shrug, and admit defeat in the face of the bloody plant.

"Potter, stay," our Head of House commands as soon as the lecture is over. I obediently shuffle over to her desk.

"We'll wait for you," says Ron as he is passing me by. I nod.

"Harry, what's wrong?" Professor McGonagall asks softly, as soon as we are alone. I didn't expect to hear that from her, so I raise my head at her, meeting her sympathetic grey eyes.

"Nothing's wrong, Professor," I answer quietly. "Everything's fine."

"You've been very absent-minded lately," she contradicts, looking me over with a sigh. "And just look at you, all grown up," she adds suddenly.

I don't know what to say to that, but she's not waiting for me to say anything: "May I help with anything? I understand, believe me, the spring, the exams… Is something else troubling you?"

I fight the urge to laugh. What exactly is there to understand? Nothing! Nothing at all. I smile and shake my head, feeling an odd sensation, aching and almost superior, at Professor McGonagall's words. She thinks I'm worried about nonsense like the exams or my spring fever. She's still trying to protect me.

In the meantime, I'll have to try to protect her!

Professor McGonagall interprets my smile quite differently: "In that case, I suggest you pull yourself together. You've picked the wrong time to let yourself go. I don't know if you're simply tired, or developed a misplaced crush, or anything else, but you can’t let it affect your work. Am I clear?"

"Yes, Professor," I answer quickly.

Professor McGonagall measures me with a strict stare: "You're free to go. Go on!"

I nod, fix my bag and head out of the classroom. She watches me leave, lightly tapping her nails against the surface of her desk. Maybe something in my answer set her off, even though I tried to act respectfully. Doesn't matter. The only thing that matters now is Advanced Potions, in five minutes. Five! And I've got to get all the way to the Potions classroom from here. I'll be late for sure, but even that doesn't make me speed up my step.


 

I see the door to the Potions classroom, still open, and for a second think I may make it in time after all. Suddenly, Snape rounds the corner with a steady stride, coming from the direction of his office and his private quarters. A time-honed instinct makes me step aside and plaster myself to the wall of the corridor. Big mistake, I realise at once, but what's done is done. Snape walks into the classroom and shuts the door behind him.

It would have been so much easier to run into him in the corridor. What could he do? Kill me? But now, I'll have to walk in as everyone glares and snorts at me, and I might even get detention for all the trouble.

On the other hand, he probably wouldn't assign detention just for this. Lately, he's been taking points, but even that's pretty mild. He probably thinks that Occlumency practice is punishment enough. Didn't he say when we first started that he'd had enough of me without having to supervise my detentions as well?

For a brief second, I want to skip class and be done with it. I can go hide out somewhere in the sun, prop my head up on my hands, and wait for the lesson to end. Hm, and then I'd have to drag myself to the Occlumency practice tonight and never hear the end of it. Fine. I give the door a determined knock and push it open, staring blankly at the opposite wall.

Snape is by the board, which already contains the list of ingredients for today's potion. He doesn't even turn around at my knock, and reacts only to my subsequent cough and: "Sorry, sir, may I come in?"

Whispers spread over the classroom and all eyes focus on me. Snape lowers the hand with the pointer that a second ago had been pressed against the top line of the list. Black eyes glide over me with hostility. "What is the reason for your tardiness this time?"

I stare at the wall silently, not letting my frustration reflect on my face. He doesn't care about me answering, it's just going to give him another reason to mock me in front of everyone.

"He was delayed by Professor McGonagall, sir!" Hermione answers, raising her hand high. I don't look at her. I can't blame her for not waiting for me, being late to Snape's class is a sure suicide. Case in point, me.

"Sit down, Miss Granger," Snape spits through his teeth, without raising his voice. "Potter, are you deaf?"

I stay silent and allow myself a small sigh. How hard can it be to either let me in or kick me out? But nooo, he has to put me through this spectacle so everyone can enjoy my embarrassment.

"Sit." The ringing tone in his voice would make me shudder on any other day. Today I just tilt my head and go to my seat. Thankfully, most of the Gryffindors could care less about me, and the Slytherins are too busy hanging onto Snape's every word. Why didn't I notice such obvious groveling before? Only Malfoy throws a scornful scowl my way, and Pansy Parkinson presses her folded fingers to her eyes to mock my glasses. She looks even more foolish than usual. I sit down and stare at the board.

"So, as I was saying," Snape continues the interrupted lecture, "Dreamless Sleep is a potion which allows us to interrupt harmful dreams or repeating nightmares. It is well known that in deep sleep, our mind is more vulnerable and open to dangerous invasions."  

He stares at me as he says it. Yeah, I get it, I remember the Department of Mysteries. And all of my dreams from last year.

"Therefore," Snape continues, "it is recommended to take this potion to counteract any invasion of the mind under the influence of sleep. I expect all of you are suitable test subjects at this moment, excluding, perhaps, Mister Malfoy and," his lips curl into a scowl, "Miss Granger. But I do hope you will find the task at hand manageable. Those who do not complete it by the end of the lesson will spend the rest of the school year cleaning cauldrons. Am. I. Clear?"

He is answered by dead silence. All of us are squinting at the ingredient list on the board, and the next hour is measured only by the peaceful tap of our knives against the wooden boards.

Dreamless Sleep, or any sleeping draught, would've been useful last year. Why didn't he assign it then? Sirius might still have been alive. They overestimated my abilities, or maybe just didn't think it through in time. Probably the first. I was left alone to deal with all of it. For the entire last year. Doesn't matter now.

The only constant things in life, it seems, are the mortal danger, and Snape, always ruining my day or saving me.

I don't want to think anymore.

I put the knife down next to the cutting board, the blade facing it, and look at its dull shimmer. Then I touch it again and trace the sharp edge with the tip of my finger. It's probably not allowed. But when did I start caring about rules? I break them all the time and I'm still alive.

I'm surviving, never letting myself remember just how much I want it all to end.

What is this all for?

To kill Voldemort. Then everyone will finally leave me alone.

What if I save Voldemort all the trouble? Let the world worry about saving itself.

Why am I even bothering?

"Kingsfoil, two ounces… Yarrow, three pinches… Paramal, one ounce…" Ron murmurs next to me, measuring the ingredients with shaky hands. "Are you mad we didn't wait for you?"

"Tansy, seven blooms," I whisper, adding the dried blooms into the boiling water. "Yarrow… oh, you've added that already. Mint next, how much was it? 'Course I'm not mad. It's better if Snape's breathing down just my neck, than all of us getting caught."

"Honestly? You aren't?"

"Yeah, don't worry about it." I sigh, adding the ingredients to the fragrant base, checking my steps with the list on the board. Even someone with my horrible eyesight can still read the small, dense script. Snape's got legible, but prickly handwriting. He's just as prickly himself, right down to his stare.

"Don't forget the clover!"

"I won't. Snape's got strange recipes, doesn't he?"

"Hm, but they get the job done." I take the time to take out my jar with the remainder of the pale blue salve on the bottom, and slather it over my lower lip. My scar's pretty much gone by now, even sooner than Madam Pomfrey promised.

"I guess so…"

"Potter, Weasley, do you plan to spend the entire time on idle chatter?" Snape's voice resonates right at my ear, and I shiver at the idea of him being so close to me.

"Sorry, sir."

He sniffs, to demonstrate exactly what he thinks of me being polite, and passes me by. At least he didn't take points for 'talking back'.

After forty minutes, the brew has an aroma of honey, mixed with the scent of tansy. The mixture of sweet and bitter is so intense that we both gulp.

"I wanna try it," Ron says reverently, giving it a sniff. "What do you think, Harry?"

"I don't," I tell him evenly. But it does smell good.

Snape starts stalking down the aisles, measuring our work, and pauses at almost every table. We obviously didn't get our work done in time. Hermione and Malfoy managed to get it done, of course, but the rest of us, well… Snape passes only two or three cauldrons without a remark, and now he's heading toward us. Here comes the inevitable rant.

He, indeed, slows down, and then stops in front of our desk. His widened nostrils draw in air, and his brows furrow. He seems annoyed and surprised at once. So are we.

"Potter, Weasley, who was in charge of instructions?" Silence. "I asked you a question."

"I was, sir," I answer blankly, without raising my eyes. Let him take points.

"Weasley?"

"It was Harry, sir," Ron answers.

"Ten points," Snape says with utter disgust and strides away. We look at each other and Ron asks, staring into nowhere: "Did he take ten points or give ten points?"

I shrug. Faint curiosity at the question breaks through my apathetic haze.

"So," Snape concludes, returning to our table, "to summarise, this class is a complete and utter failure. Granger's work deserves an Acceptable, Mister Malfoy earned himself a passable mark as well, but the only decent brew I've seen so far has been prepared by Weasley and Potter." He says it as if all of his teeth are hurting at once. "Everyone else has to turn in a five-feet essay on the properties of this or similar brews. And by that, I mean the Slytherins. As for the Gryffindors, you will pair up and make yourself available for cleaning cauldrons starting today, after classes, in alphabetical order."

Ron's stare has a sparkle of joyful madness, but at least he's got enough restraint to keep quiet before Snape changes his mind. I fold my hands together and stare at the board blankly, watching the ingredient list disappear line by line. As if an invisible hand is erasing it ever so slowly.

"Class dismissed." Snape turns away from his audience and strides around his desk, to sit down in his chair. Then he raises his head and our eyes meet suddenly. His do not hold any of the contempt I heard in his voice, but I can't quite tell what took its place. Doesn't matter anyway.

"Harry!" Hermione joyfully makes her way toward us. "You're making progress in Potions! This is wonderful. I've always said that all you need to do is apply yourself properly."

"Potions or not, I'd rather have the old Harry back," Ron murmurs. "Right now it’s like talking to a blank wall."

We pass by Snape's desk, and I think he even overhears us. I chance a glance back at him to see his expression. I was right.

I rub my forehead in exhaustion. It's impossible to get any expression to stay on my face today. My brows are flat and I stare ahead with a blank look. Am I supposed to care about that?

"Harry, are you mad we didn't wait for you?" Hermione asks, with her hand on my arm. I shrug it off. There's a queue forming in front of the doors, someone's bag tore and spilled all the contents. And so we are stuck there, five steps away from Snape's desk. Snape eyes the students with a sombre look on his face, clearly waiting to be left alone.

"I'm not mad," I tell her, looking flatly ahead. What does it matter? In any case, she’s defended me in front of Snape today.

"Well, let's go eat at least," she smiles, not as sure as before.

"Not hungry," I answer, and she gives me a look that rivals Mrs. Weasley's.

"How are you not hungry? You've barely had any supper, you skipped breakfast, and now you're skipping lunch too?"

"Shh, quiet down," Ron winces at her.

"Why?" Hermione's indignation is about to boil over. "I'm asking because I care about him."

"Can't you do it somewhere, where-" Ron gestures at Snape's desk with his eyes, "people aren't listening in?"

Hermione's eyes widen. "You mean…"

"Yeah, I do. I'm not a complete dunderhead."

A few days before, I'd be laughing at their usual bickering, but now I just give Snape another glance. His face is carefully blank. The queue in front of the door finally vanishes, and we exit the classroom, with Hermione at our heels. "Straight to the Great Hall, both of you, march! No arguments!"

"Hermione!" I protest weakly.

"I didn't ask, did I?"

I shrug. Fine, lunch it is. I'm not hungry anyway.


 

"Harry, aren't you cold?"

Why does she keep asking me? My jaw twitches angrily, but my voice is calm. "No."

"You look-"

"M'fine." There is a warning in my tone, but Hermione doesn't listen.

"I don’t think you are, and -"

I am not even hiding my annoyance at all that questioning. "I said I'm fine!"

I'm doing something wrong since arguing with her isn't working out in my favour. They made sure I ate, eyeing every spoonful of stew I put in my mouth, and now they're trying to wrap me up so I'm not shivering. I can't even tell them to back off.

I don't really feel cold. It's just as if I couldn't warm up properly for the past few weeks.

Maybe not weeks, but months.

I've never been the one to hide under the blankets to read in bed, but I do it now sometimes. I even put a jumper on.

I've only ever felt warm in the afternoon sun, lately, but I rarely see it from the inside of the castle, so even the breaks between classes lost their charm. The fireplace warms me up, at least until I walk away from it, or when I leave the armchair that I pulled all the way over to the fire. I've only done that once.

I shrug. It's become a new habit. I am not cold. I am just not warm anymore either. I can't explain it.


 

"Do pay attention, class," Professor Flitwick's high-pitched voice assaults my ears, and I watch him, as if for the first time, noting his strange stature and his nervous demeanor.

He's no less of a professional in his craft than Professor Sprout in Herbology or Professor Vector in Arithmancy. He clearly explains how to perform the Hot Air Charm, so the opponent feels his lungs burning with every breath. The elements of duelling magic are a welcome addition to the curriculum.

I'm still bored.

I'm wondering what would happen if I remove part of the charm responsible for the localized effect and try it out on Malfoy. Or maybe on Finnigan too. A few coughing students working in pairs already demonstrate how successful it can be. Ron is choking on air and giving me a thumbs-up, and before that, I've been coughing hard for a good half a minute, as if I'd choked on a moth. Professor Flitwick is pleased.

Why are we even learning this? What's the point? The Death Eaters know just as many curses as we do, likely more, and it's not like they've tried teaching us Unforgivables, not since my Fourth Year anyway.

I could use some of the things Barty Crouch spoke about. Who cares if he wanted to kill me? From him I've learned about Imperius, Cruciatus, and the Killing Curse as well. It's best if we practice before jumping into battle, isn't it?

But this year, Defence Against the Dark Arts isn't taught at all. They'd planned to, actually, and even came up with the name: Battle Magic Basics, but then they spread the curriculum out to the other lectures. Professor McGonagall covered some of it, Professor Flitwick a few other parts, and Snape picked up the rest. Apparently I wasn't the only one who thought that reading about all the spells we don't learn to use is essentially a waste of time.

Headmaster Dumbledore must've thought so too, so now they're teaching us to defend ourselves against the 'hostile intentions of the hypothetical opponent.'

Screw hypothetical! Voldemort's far too fond of practicing his curses on unwilling victims.

I yawn. The second part of Charms comes to an end, and Professor Flitwick goes over the points earned by each House. He does it more often than the other teachers. I still remember that table he drew in the air, listing everyone's points. Gryffindor was second on the list instead of last then.

Feels so long ago.

But it wasn't, not really, my mind insists and there's something of Hermione's persistence in that thought, but I don't really pay attention. I don't remember. Maybe it hasn't been too long. Who cares about points anyway? We are ahead by a couple dozen, so what?

Dean tries to stop me after class; he's been dying to talk to me all day. Did he finally figure out what this morning's incident was about? I shake my head at him, and wave off Ron and Hermione's rushed chatter, as I go outside. They don't follow me. The lectures are over, so I'm free to do what I like until six.

Alone at last, I make my way into the courtyard, ready to laugh at myself. I'm always alone no matter what, aren't I?

It's an unfair thought. I don't care.

I've had enough.

I'm sick and tired of it.

I just want it all to end.



Chapter Text

"Enter."

I open the door to his office and walk in, looking straight ahead. Snape sits at his desk, deep in his reading of a massive volume bound in black leather. Probably some Potions text. I close the door and wait until he turns his attention to me.

"Sit, Potter." He's using the same tone as during class today.

I walk to the already-familiar chair and arrange myself in it, lowering my elbows on the armrests. I've studied my shoes enough times to have memorised every scuff mark by now, but it's better to look at them than study the walls or the ceiling. A few seconds pass in silence and a thought glides through my head: even Snape wants nothing to do with me today. There've been days when I would've celebrated the occasion.

At last he closes his book, sets it aside effortlessly, and stares at me. He's definitely in a foul mood. I can tell because the corners of his lips twitch now and then. Before, I always thought his expressions were unreadable, but now I've become pretty good at telling them apart, even though they're mere shadows.

"Have you cleared your mind before bed?"

Crap. Forgot. Does Headmaster Dumbledore's attack count as practice?

"Yes, sir," I answer calmly.

"We shall see."

He's so focused today, it's as if I'm in trouble again and he's dying to punish me. Just waiting for me to make my first blunder. Didn't he punish me enough when I was late for his class?

I get up from the chair and wait for Snape to step away from the table and join me, in our usual position, with his wand drawn.

"One… two… Legilimens!"

I'm planning to resist before he finishes saying it. I managed it somehow in the Headmaster's office. Imago, I whisper; the blood rushes away from my face. Imago!

Short, painful glimpses of my childhood again. Dudley chases me around the house with a stick in his hand: he decided to play a vampire slayer. I was supposedly the undead and needed to be stabbed in the heart, or at least stabbed in the back.

The boys from Privet Drive, teasing me for my glasses and my worn clothes.

Hermione in the Infirmary, still as a statue, with glassy eyes.

The basilisk, its open maw glistens with arm-length fangs. I've got a sword in my hand, but it feels like a toy in comparison.

Imago!

I'm on all fours again, braced against the stone floor. Definitely progress: I've put up my mental defenses and I haven't fainted, I'm not even crying. Not bad. But it was so easy with Headmaster Dumbledore. Am I only reacting like this with Snape?

I breathe heavily through gritted teeth and rise to my feet with a heroic effort. I'm swaying, feeling physically sick, but I still get up. I square my shoulders and stare at Snape with only a shade of my former hatred. Sadistic prick. But what do I care? My body is so exhausted it's forgotten to feel pain. I don't feel much else either. Might as well end this. I'm too tired.

"Pull yourself together, Potter." His icy tone breaks through the noise in my ears. "You lack confidence. I am not pleased."

Strange. And here I thought I was doing well. What's he complaining about?

"Since you haven't fainted, we'll try again. Clear your mind! Forget who is in front of you and fight the magic alone. It'll be easier."

So Snape knows it too. He knows he's the only one that gets that reaction out of me. So what does it all mean? I've gotta think… Gotta..

"... Legilimens!"

I don't have time to prepare, can't even brace myself, even though I should've expected it from him, just as I was thinking of…

"Do you think I won't tell anyone, you Slytherin slut? Fucking poofter."

"You say that to my face, you-"

"I said, you won't get rid of me that easily, you fucking freak. If you're so eager to get buggered by someone, I'll tell everyone, I-"

I punch Seamus with violent frenzy, unable to break free of the memory, forgetting all about being watched.

Then the memory shifts. I am in the Gryffindor dormitory, in my own bed. My hand grips my cock, my lips parted in an exhale. I'm about to breathe a name. Heat floods my senses even now, and I'm desperately casting the Mirror Curse, before he hears, before he sees that -

Imago. Imago, dammit!

I stand in the middle of the office, feeling the chill settle over my face. I bit my lip so deeply, I don't even feel it hurting anymore. That's it. It's all over. He's going to murder me on the spot and it will be a small mercy. And if he doesn’t do it, I'm going to go fling myself into the lake first thing.

"Potter," Snape lowers his wand and approaches. I can't look at him. I can't ever look at him again.

Three fingers push my chin upwards. With a wince, I close my eyes. I don't even have it in me to blush. All I want is to die, right here and now. If it wasn't for the past few days weighing on my mind, I'd probably be sobbing. I'm a perfect target for Voldemort. I won't be able to do a single fucking thing. Snape should just finish me off. It'd be a mercy.

When I feel the touch against my cheek, I startle, as if shaken by a slap. It forces my eyes open more than any command. Snape carefully traces his cool fingers from my temple to my cheekbone, examining me so carefully. When I stop wincing, our eyes meet. The panic that greets him is probably amusing, since he responds with a rueful smirk.

"How many times do I need to tell you there is no place for shame in the complex and subtle art of Occlumency? I know your secrets. I could tell you I don't care, if that helps. Yet time and time again, you make the same mistake, allowing me deeper into your memories. Even with the Headmaster you were more successful than with me. I can only conclude that the reason behind your failures is myself. Correct?"

He grows silent and instead of the previous chill, I feel a wave of heat flood in my cheeks. I was stupid to hope he wouldn't see the obvious.

Snape sighs, his gaze still fixed on me. His finger is right below my ear, as if he has forgotten to lift it, and I'm forced to feel that touch all over. He's never touched me like this before.

"I've told you to stop feeling so ashamed. As it appears from your fight with Mister Finnigan, you may have somewhat succeeded. And yet, you persist in pursuing this same nonsense during our sessions, despite the fact that our efforts are meant to keep you alive." He suddenly pulls his hand back, freeing my chin. Small shivers run through me and I'm cold again. I try to look away.

"Look at me." When did his voice get so deep? I stare at Snape with utter horror, practically feeling my pupils dilate as a treacherous warmth spreads through my body. I command myself to resist it. It's better to be cold. It's better to freeze completely than…

"Potter, keep looking." He lifts my chin again, now using four fingers, almost his whole hand. His tone is as personal as it gets. As personal as it ever got, I have no doubt of that. It's an execution and any moment now, he'll deliver the final blow. I see something sparkle in that dark stare and it seems he's about to laugh at how completely helpless I am.

"So what we have here," he says thoughtfully, throwing his hair off his brow with a casual gesture, "is someone so lost in his own head, that he cannot focus on what's important. You are too afraid of giving away your secret. What would that secret be, hm?"

I wince and shake my head. No way. I can wait it out and keep silent until it's all over. He can't really pry anything out of my dead body.

"Open your eyes," Snape commands. His voice sends an uncontrollable chill down the back of my spine. I look up and see him staring. He tilts his head a bit and gives me a slight smirk. "Very well, I'll say it for you: you want me."

Everything's spinning. I'm about to fall and he'll never ever look at me again… Please let the earth open up and swallow me already! Please!

Snape takes a step forward, mesmerizing me with that stare. "I've been seeing it in your eyes for weeks now, Potter. I'm not a fool, nor am I blind. I can see only one way to correct your abysmal performance during my lessons. Considering that our task is not complete until you manage to fight off your main fear successfully."

He seems so calm, for a second, it feels as if I'm dreaming. It's a bright, colourful dream that couldn't be further from reality. It has to be a dream, because Snape would've murdered me as soon as he knew… I should've been dead long ago.

I grope for the edge of the desk blindly, and lean against it, awaiting the inevitable rant.

There is none.

"So the Saviour of the Wizarding World prefers his own sex. I can only guess you've asked yourself before whether I do as well. Am I like you?" Snape says distantly, again tracing my cheek with his hand. I'm shivering like a bird in front of a viper, unable to move from my spot. Let me go, please. But he's not keeping me here. Just touching me. I don't want him to. I don't want him to stop either. Doesn't matter, I know how this ends. He'll throw me out with an icy look and a parting demand never to darken his doorstep again. Until then, I want this to last.

"Well, Potter?"

My lips move, but I've got no words for him, I just stare. He doesn't need to order me to look at him anymore, I’m already doing it. I can't look away from these twitching eyelashes, these furrowed brows, and these dilating pupils.

"Cat got your tongue?" he says suspiciously. "Pity. Let's get this out of the way."

His eyes fill my whole field of vision, and I don't have a chance to understand what it all means, because his thin, hard lips press against mine. So tight and so ruthless, so dry and warm, they do not ask for permission. He invades my mouth and I feel a wave of dizziness. I nearly fall, but those lips anchor me like a magnet against steel. Strong arms wind themselves around me, bringing me closer, and before I can catch any of my scattered thoughts, I answer that burning kiss. Snape drinks me, his tongue pressing between my teeth and feeling carefully at the top of my mouth. I reach for him to answer in turn, to show him how incredible, how impossibly good this is, so good that it's worth being dizzy for.

I can hear my own moan as if it's coming from someone else, and it sounds like a groan of pain, so weak, it echoes in my throat, because Snape's not pulling away at all. He drags me into a vortex of sensation, red ink blots dance in front of my eyes, and I am no longer cold, not at all, I am so, so…

Snape pulls back just enough to push his hand down between us and I couldn’t let go of him even if I tried. My arms wind around his neck, my fingers dig into the hair on the back of his head, dragging him even closer. Snape's silent, only his breath grows hotter. His teeth, without any particular tenderness, nip at my mouth, worry the scar on my lower lip. I'd give everything, everything good that's ever happened to me, to make this kiss last forever. Let me run out of breath, let these unexpected tears run down my cheeks, it doesn't matter one bit.

He takes care of my belt and I can't hold back a muffled cry against his mouth when his strong fingers grip my cock. The realisation of what he's doing is enough to to take me to the brink.

As if Snape doesn't have enough of my convulsive trembling and my moans, his other hand glides over my face, over my closed eyelids, along the line of my jaw. For a second, it seems he is satisfying his own need, such open sensuality seeps through his every move. Is this… whatever it is, mutual? And then his palm glides from the head to the root of my cock and I forget it all, I forget what I was thinking, I forget my own name, and shake with my entire body, pressing myself into his fist, desperately thrusting against him. Now I'll really die from lack of air, and Snape probably senses it too. He releases my mouth and I gasp for breath with a cry as he caresses my cock as surely as his tongue was just thrusting against mine.

"Ohgod," a desperate cry bursts from me, and I squeeze my fingers in the hold around his neck, pulling him in a crushing embrace. "Oh my god, please! Please, more!"

He's probably uncomfortable. I am preventing his freedom of movement, but I cannot pull away, I cover his face with my kisses, forgetting any emotion I may have felt for him before, except the one that controls me now: overwhelming gratitude. I bite his neck, bury my face in his long hair, and all the while I continue to moan and thrust into his hand, furiously praying for more, not hearing my own cry.

"Ohgod. I need... Please! Again!"

I'm not a freak, a comet-bright thought dawns, I'm completely normal! I want him, and he's here with me. He's touching me. He's touching me and it's real.

I'm sobbing between breaths, I dig my fingers into his shoulders and shudder, overcome by an endless tremor of piercing pleasure. "Yes, please! Yesss."

He doesn't push me away, he doesn't demand that I lift my head when I press it against his neck, he doesn't take his hand away from my unzipped jeans. I take in that light eucalyptus smell coming from his robes, mixed with the musk in the air around us. I never want to move. It feels so, so good. It feels so wonderful, I hope this moment never ends.

Just this morning, I wanted to die.

So absurd. Why would I want that? Everything will get better, it has to. Now's not the time to panic or give up.

I don't think of the way I'm looking right into his eyes. I don't worry about the ways things will change between us. I just carefully kiss Snape where I bit him before. Please don't make me leave, I want to tell him, but I've forgotten how to form words.

He sighs softly in answer to my touch, and hugs me, pulling his hand from my damp pants. I hesitantly pull it around my shoulders as well. It's so comfortable like this.

What was I going on about earlier, how I can always take control over kisses so easily? Turns out no one has ever kissed me and made it count until now.

I press closer to him, allowing a sense of peace to come over me.

It's as if I’ve been hungry for months and have now finally been allowed a fresh, hot meal. My eyes are closing and I feel drowsy.

I can't fall asleep! I don't want to wake up in my bed doubting whether this has happened at all. Besides, I still want him.

That thought makes me shiver. Snape loosens his hold right away and stiffens. I notice only now that he was nearly calm, embracing me, as I'm pressed against his chest. Does he think I finally realised what happened and am going to try to get away? I wind my arms around his body hastily. I don't want to let go of him, ever.

"Professor." The most inane word I could have come up with leaves my mouth, but he doesn't seem to be mad. His breath ruffles the top of my hair, and with confusion, I realise that he must've touched my head with his lips. "Please, don't make me leave."

The words escape in a hoarse whisper, and I cannot imagine he heard me at all, but he responds, soft and very quiet: "I'm not."

"Really?" I turn my head and a treacherous drop falls heavy from my lashes, traces the path down my temple to disappear in my hair. I'm not crying, I'm just looking at him very, very intently. Snape wipes the wet path with the tip of his finger and nods.

"OK then." I am half-numb with my own boldness. "Kiss me again. Please."

"Haven't you had enough?" He arches his brow. "As it is, I'd lose my job in an instant for a dalliance with a student."

"You've already kissed me." I'll keep on asking. Don't deny me this. For the first time in my life, I want to live so fucking much! I put all my need into that one stare and Snape's eyes soften. He tilts his head, and carefully, ever so carefully touches his lips to my kiss-swollen ones. I shiver from it, from the slow movement of his tongue in my mouth, and don't feel a drop of shame for sitting here in my robes all askew. My hands, timid and unpracticed, glide over his shoulders, over his back, feel the curve of his spine, grab hold of his narrow hips. I stop, but only for a second, repeating his recent gesture, pushing my hand between our bodies. Snape tears away from our kiss and grabs a hold of my wrist. He stares at me with something resembling anger.

"Please!" I whisper, holding my own against that stare. "Let me. I want to - together..."

"No," he answers, not raising his voice above a whisper, but not leaving me any hope. "We can't. You were unwell. I allowed myself to apply a radical method which…"

"Is this therapy?" I ask in a dead voice, breaking our shared trance. He shakes his head, not quite in disagreement, but not confirming my words either.

I straighten up, pushing myself away from the desk, pushing myself past him, and button up my jeans. "I'm sorry, sir, you're absolutely right."

I'm not going to cry. I haven't cried because of Seamus and I'm not going to cry now.

"You really helped me. I'm sorry for talking up your time, it won't happen again."

I turn 'round and hurry to the door. My glasses are fogged and I take them off, wiping them as I go, feeling for the door handle.

"Potter, wait."

I sigh and turn the door handle, but Snape's faster than I am. He always is. The Locking Charm sounds so immediate, and I find myself stuck.

"Get back here." His voice is not overly pleased, but it isn't furious or even angry. Just tired. "I told you to come back."

I shuffle back dejectedly, and stop in front of him, not raising my eyes. Snape tilts his head to the side. "What you're doing has a name. You won't like it. It's called emotional blackmail, and you're well aware of that."

"No." My answer is barely above a whisper, but he doesn't ask me to repeat it. He tilts his head to his other side and continues to watch me.

"Why do you need me to let you touch me? Haven't you had enough confirmation that I am not indifferent to your charms? That my intentions are far beyond pedagogical?"

"I…" my throat doesn't listen to me and seizes tightly. "I need more. Please."

"If so, what - dare I ask - will be enough for you?"

I swore to myself I'll never say this in his presence. Why is my voice so even when I speak? "I want you. Wanted you for awhile."

"I know," Snape breathes, without any particular joy. "I can even guess when it started. It was during your detention, wasn't it? You’ve never told anyone how you helped me to my rooms, that alone was enough of a sign."

I feel my face turning hot. Yeah, I was definitely interested, but…

"How did you know?"

"I've lived longer," he shrugs. "If even you have had your doubts about me, reading a sixteen-year-old's behaviour is not a challenge to a man of my age."

"Don't talk about it like you're old," I protest hoarsely.

"No?" He frowns. "I'm old enough to be your father."

"Doesn't matter!"

Snape's brow twitches, but he doesn't look away and I deliberately lean closer to him. Am I making a conscious choice or do his eyes simply have that effect on me? "I don't care how old you are, you're-"

"Yes, Mister Potter?" His intonation is pure mockery, but I don't buy it.

"You've already thrown me out of here for lack of respect." I reach him, press my forehead against his shoulder, and carefully put my arms around him, holding him in a loose embrace.

Snape's silent. I don't know how to handle that silence other than start talking myself. "Please, just, please, don't make me leave. I'm already so confused." It sounds pathetic, but I can't help it.

"Confused?" He puts his hand over my cheek, turns my face to him. I'm looking at him again. "Are you scared that you won't be able to figure things out from here on?"

"I'm not scared." I'm honest, letting him see through me, as deep as a stare would let him.

"What do you need? What must I do right now to stop you from hurling yourself from the nearest tower?"

I startle. Is it a hint or an insult? His eyes are calm, or does he make them seem that way with everything he's got?

"I want to feel normal," I say, an inch from his face. My breath is probably tickling his skin.

"Didn't you 'feel normal' ten minutes ago?" he asks ironically, curling his lips in a likeness of a smile.

I shake my head, "S'not what I meant."

"I know what you meant. Should I assume that if I refuse, you will go straight to the Headmaster?"

I try to snort at that, but it doesn't turn out well. Snape shakes his head: "I don't know what I want more, to murder you or to protect you."

"I'll take the second," I murmur in reply.

"By despoiling a sixteen-year-old?" His brows furrow. "This is beyond improper."

"You're saving me," I say with conviction.

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions," Snape breathes. Suddenly, he turns around, taking me by the hand. "Must I repeat that this will ruin me should it be made public?" he says, for a second turning into the same arrogant Snape who sniffed the steam rising from our brew in contempt.

"It won't happen," I reassure him, wanting nothing more than a peek under his mask. Before now, I wanted to break into his memories. Once. Now I want something else.

"Your attempt at blackmail is pathetic," he concludes. "And you yourself are insufferable. I do not wish you to have any illusions regarding this. This isn't the time, I suppose, to list your shortcomings, since you still fail to recognise them as such."

I mechanically nod in response to every word and my fingers are limp in his hand. I am not making any effort to free myself and Snape doesn't open his lightly folded fingers. Did he actually agree? The world has long gone mad and I don't care that what I'm asking for is improper, I just know that the craziest dreams can come true if you want them to be true more than anything. The most desperate wish I have right now is Snape.

"I won't tell anyone," I repeat, and my fingers come to life at last and wrap around his hand, not letting go.

He sighs deeply. "Remember. This is a necessary measure. Follow me."


 

We leave the office and Snape applies the Locking Charms with a flick of his wand. Afterwards, he gives me a brief look, but I can't make sense of his expression. I am holding onto his hand with all my might. If I let him go, he'll disappear. And I'll be left here with a sea of unanswered questions. At the moment, I have nothing to worry about, not when his eyes are on me. Snape opens the door to his rooms. I'm not expecting to be invited in, only hoping he won't shut the door in my face.

Warm fingers squeeze my hand and pull me inside with him. I don't even dare to lean against him, and take a quick step in. The door closes, and Snape, gloomy and solemn, is right in front of me. There is one more locking charm, and I think a silencing charm as well, the kind he uses during our Occlumency sessions. And then, we're all alone.

The silence is only broken by his breathing and his stare, that dark burning stare, as if he's decided to do something wild. I hope he doesn't change his mind.

"Have you changed your mind?" he asks evenly, but I sense the tension, and every fibre of my being shakes.

"No." My voice hitches, but I'm firm.

He sighs and nods toward the left door, then walks toward the cabinet and takes something from the shelf. I can't see what it is. I walk up to the door and stop, unsure. Should I be walking in before he does?

The situation doesn't seem as absurd anymore, but I still have a surreal feeling. I want to pinch myself, just to make sure I'm not dreaming.

He silently appears right at my back, but I feel his proximity. I'll always feel him close now, after this. I want to lean back, press right against him, but I'm scared to death he'll refuse whatever this is, so I can't take that chance. Snape pushes at the door, and for a brief second his sleeve brushes against me. I shiver. Every sensation is so intense, if he shouted at me right now, I'd surely go deaf.

"Enter."

The bedroom is dark, with another fireplace inside, which lights up at the wave of his wand. The room has one wide, single bed with green bed curtains, and a fuzzy rug on the floor, pearl-grey, the same kind as in his living room. I toe my shoes off and step onto it with my bare feet. There is an armchair and a desk with neat stacks of journals, sorted by year, has to be Potion-making. I walk up to the chair and stop, unsure what to do next. Snape closes the door and leans back against it, his arms crossed, and examines me.

I lower my gaze, fighting off an unfortunate surge of confusion, but then I cross the room and hide my face against his chest, putting my arms around his shoulders. He hmphs softly, and hugs me back. There, my shoulders drop, the shivers that overtook me as soon as he let go of me, subside. A necessary measure, he said. Well, let it be that. I shut my eyes so he can’t look into them.

"Let go," he says softly, but decisively. I release a shuddering sigh and press closer against his frock coat. Snape carefully opens my arms. Then he steps away from the door, not letting go of my wrists. I'm now facing the fireplace and he's studying me intently. What is he trying to find?

"Are you certain you want this?"

I nod hastily.

Yes. Of course I am. My father's bitter enemy, my own hated teacher. How many times has he saved me now? I can still taste his blood on my tongue, when he allowed me to bite down on his fingers. Now, that taste is overshadowed by the taste of him kissing me and the past dims, overtaken by fog, except for the past two weeks. Snape’s the only one who can stabilise me so.

I observe his face openly, for the second time ever. The first time was in the Potions classroom the night when he returned. I was waiting for him, worried so much, and he came back, as if my blind hope had ripped him away from the jaws of death.

"Professor," I say again. It seems out of place right now, but what else am I supposed to call him? "Please…"

I don't understand what I'm even begging him for, but Snape seems to, better than I do. He frowns and shakes his head. For a brief second I am afraid it's an outright 'no', but then he explains his reluctance. "There might be discomfort. And you cannot undo it if you regret this later."

"I won't." How much longer do we need to discuss this? If he brought me here, doesn't that mean he's not about to kick me out with a stern lecture about avoiding making a mistake?

"Well, if you insist." He stares at me with an odd look, probably seeing the irony of this too. The son of the worst of the Marauders, the student he hates the most, standing here in his bedroom, aching to end up in his bed.

I entwine my fingers with his, reminding him that we're still holding hands, and Snape suddenly pulls me to him. He stares into my eyes once more and his face reflects something besides composure. I part my lips to ask what, but before I can, he covers my mouth with his.

Our kiss is long and unhurried, and I desperately try not to ask for more, reminding myself to enjoy the moment. He's not going to make me leave, he's not chasing me away. We've got time. Snape releases my wrists and hugs me, his arms around my shoulders. I slide my arms around him, feeling heat spread through my entire body. I’ve never felt so good, a thought dawns, I’ve never felt quite like this. He's like me. He's just like me. He doesn't like curves, he likes the feel of a hard, muscled chest under his hands. Seamus clearly was wrong to consider himself a Casanova, I wouldn't even have dreamed it could be this good with him.

Then the thought of Seamus is chased away, and a moan is forced from my throat, because Snape chooses that moment to release my mouth and press a kiss to my neck. My breath hitches from the careful slide of his tongue against my skin, from the pinch of teeth against me. I had no idea, none, that it could be so, so…

I have to focus on every moment. I have to remember this. Forever. Every minute, every second of it. Because this is the first time. Because it's with him. Because I -

I want him so much.

His slender fingers unbutton my shirt and every touch on my bared skin makes me shiver. If this is just the beginning, what'll be next? I cry out when his fingertips pinch my nipple lightly, when they glide over my treasure trail and into my jeans… I'm already hard and I don't know how long I'll last like this. He said it himself, I'm only sixteen. I grab hold of his hand, stopping his fussing with the zipper and press it against my crotch, unable to hold back. I rub against him with a moan and press myself into his hand, closer and harder. Snape pulls his hand free, careful but sure, and resumes the battle with my clothes.

I'm not trying to help him, we don't say a word, and for the second time today I get the feeling this is not happening to me. I never… ohgod, yes, YES, again… His fingers grip the base of my cock, not letting me come, and with a roar, I lunge at his mouth. Snape answers my kiss, firmly, fiercely, as he holds me in an iron grip. He's breathing heavy, and with a mad, wild joy, I feel his hips thrust when I press closer to him.

He wants me! I have to show him somehow how incredible that makes me feel, but I don't know where to even begin. I just know I want to be with him. Not just today, but always. For as long as I can. I want his hands touching me and his teeth biting my lips like this every night… This is mental!

"Stay still." Snape takes a few steps back. His eyes shine, his expression focused. I obey him, only now realizing I'm completely naked. I look down on myself. My chest moves heavily, my heart is pounding so hard that the pulse is visible on the skin over my ribs, my cock is hard, practically begging for his touch. I can't help myself and squeeze it, crying out, feeling my legs about to give out. If he stands still and just looks at me like that for a minute more, I won't even need his touch.

"Take your hand away," Snape commands, looking at me intently.

That's easy for him to say! I can't! I'm about to tell him, but I bite my lip, trying to obey him. My hips tremble as I force myself to listen to him. Snape gives me a satisfied nod and steps so close to me that I break out in goosebumps from the warmth of the air between us. I lean forward, without thought, but he doesn't let me press against him. He slowly circles me until he stops behind my back. Warm, hard hands trace my spine, knead my shoulders, squeeze my arse. I can't guess what he'll do next. I don't have the strength to stay quiet: with every touch he wrings a soft cry out of me and I suspect he likes it. His thumbs stroke my neck and move toward my ears, his fingers trace my collar bone, and then he bends down and kisses me, his hair warm and ticklish spilling over my shoulder. I can't stand it anymore, I press my back against him: "Professor, please!"

A warm huff of air against my skin: "You wanted this."

"I'm about to c-come." The plea in my voice makes him chuckle.

"More than once, I should hope. But only when I let you."

I don't even understand what he's trying to do, but I'm too far gone for an explanation. Snape's in front of me again. His lips are twisted in a smirk, but his eyes aren't smiling. For a second, I feel a pang of worry. I've already agreed to anything he's about to do to me, he can't possibly not know that at this point. I can take anything.

He reaches out and holds my throbbing cock in his hand. I draw in a breath through my teeth and gather all my pride so I won't howl with want.

"Listen to me." His thumb moves slowly around, circling at the head. "Listen carefully. Ready?"

"Yeahh," I breathe out with a moan. I'll do anything, anything, as long as he starts moving.

"You'll no longer fill your head with thoughts that you are different, that no one wants you, that you lack something important, and whatever else you keep punishing yourself with." His thumb moves so slowly. "Every time you get such an idea, you will remember today, and everything I'm saying to you. Do you understand?"

I don't reply. I can't catch my breath and Snape's hand stops. It forces a groan out of me.

"Do you understand?" His hand does not move.

"Yessss. Please, do it, please."

"Patience, Potter. You've tested mine enough," Snape says with satisfaction, his thumb is starting to stroke me again, so slowly that I can't possibly come, but can't think of anything else either. His words sink into my clouded mind and I'm ready to agree with anything he says. As long as he takes pity on me. As long as he keeps touching me.

"Now look me in the eyes. Pay attention. I want you to remember what I tell you next. Can you?"

I nod, feeling as if I'm going completely mad. The warmth of his palm on my cock and that captivating stare… He's fully dressed and I'm not sure I would have the strength or the patience now to rip his clothes off him, even if he lets me.

"You are beautiful." His words echo his movements. "You are attractive, you are not stupid. You have every chance to succeed in life. Forget everything. Just look into my eyes. Keep looking."

I'm trying, I want to say, but my throat is so dry. It doesn't matter though, nothing matters but us, right now, right here. I would gladly close my eyes if he'd let me, just to focus on that wonderful sensation of his hand on me.  A bit more.. Yeahh, just like that.

"You are not allowed to come unless I tell you." Snape's voice, the meaning of it, doesn't hit me at first. "Only when I tell you."

Is that a joke? I look at him, feeling surprise at the back of my mind. And then my entire body strains to keep from exploding - please, just two more thrusts - he grips my cock firmly at the base, his other hand pulling at my balls.

"When I tell you." His self-possession is maddening.

"Ohgod!" A cry is forced out of me, and it does something to my self-control, as if a dam breaks open - "Please, sir, please. I can't. Let me, please… Don't make me, oh god, I'm… I'll die… I can't."

"You won't die." If it wasn't for the noise in my ears, I'd almost call his voice gentle. It has never sounded so unlike him, not at all what I'm used to. "You'll want to live. And you will live. You haven't seen the best of life yet."

"Ah…. Ahhhh. Sir, please… let me... Please! I'm - I need." My eyes are warm and wet, but I don't notice my own tears, I can't hear a word he says, until a command falls through, into the center of my fading focus, and overwhelms my hearing.

"You may... Now!"

One twist of that knowing hand and pleasure rushes through me, the likes of which I have never felt before. I collapse and he holds me up, pressing me to his chest, kissing my eyelids, my cheeks, my lips. I'm crying from relief, trying to get a grip of his robes, but I don't have the strength, just the feeling of flying. Ah, of course, he’s carrying me to his bed. He lays me down and is about to pull away, but I grab him, staring at him with clouded eyes, with a face that's probably covered with bright red patches. I know he wants me. I'm not going to ever let go.

I lift myself and grab a hold of his shoulders, pulling him down against me. He doesn't fight it as much and I respond with a weak smile: "Thank you."

"It's nothing."

"Thank you." I don't listen. I kiss him instead, first his cheekbone, then right next to his earlobe, feeling a shiver in response to my touch. It’s so easy to reach for his ear and whisper: "Take me."

A long pause, as I force myself to be still, to hold onto him with all my might, but then Snape pulls away and gets up decisively, taking the corner of the blanket. "Move over."

I do, and he yanks the cover down, exposing the white sheets. "Now back."

I return to my previous position, feeling the warmth of my body on the sheets. I'm naked, but not at all cold and I don't want to cover myself. Snape's already seen me from every angle, it's too late to feel shy. I curl up on my side and watch him undress, methodically, as if he is preparing to sleep. He hangs his robes over the back of his chair, as well as his frock coat and the shirt with the cuffs I've seen so often peeking from under his robes. Firelight dances on the skin of his bare chest. I watch hungrily and Snape must feel my stare on him, because he turns to the bed and tilts his head in question. Before he asks, I tell him quickly: "I haven't changed my mind."

He snorts. "I hadn't hoped."

His trousers follow his socks, his shoes are already under the armchair. Now he's only dressed in black underwear. Snape dims the flames in the fireplace halfway and I give a soft sigh. He hears it and comes to bed, lowering his hand over my shoulder. "Don't worry, you won't be cold."

Promises… I nod and move aside in a hurry. Snape settles near me. He's pale, bony, and so very real, enough to make me bite down on my lip and press my face into his shoulder. An arm winds around me and another covers me from the top. Elegant fingers glide over my shoulder blades, trace the curve of my back. He seems calm, but I'm pressed so close to him, I feel him breathe with my entire body. He's holding himself back.

Suddenly, I want to see that face twisted with pleasure, want to see his eyes roll back and close when he comes.

I push my hands underneath his hold and hug him back with both arms. I can't help it and squeeze him tightly. Snape answers by caressing my back and sliding his fingers into the crease of my arse. I sigh at that and arch up, right against that hard cock still covered by his underwear, pressing into my belly.

Quickly, I push my hand down between us, past the elastic, down, down, before he can stop me. Not now, I've just about -

Snape exhales sharply and shivers, but keeps an incredibly tight control on his reaction. He's almost as thin as I am and his body doesn't look two decades older. He is, perhaps, wider in the shoulders than me, and his muscles are more pronounced. But he's got that self-control, fine-tuned by the years of working for the Order. There, that's the main difference. I'm annoyed by that self-control more than ever. I want to see it break.

"Take me," I breathe into his ear, carefully licking the curve of his earlobe. "Please," I add, slightly louder. "Please."

"If you insist," he answers in a near whisper, and I think I sense a hint of mocking in that. Or perhaps simply a smile.

He presses me down, under him, and starts covering me with kisses. His mouth explores my nipple, his fingers glide over my ribs, tickling softly, his tongue dips into my belly button, startling a laugh out of me. But as he reaches my cock, I have no other choice but to moan from the impossible torture of it all.

His mouth is as experienced as if he has known my body for many years already, instead of tasting me for the first time. His slick tongue glides over the head of my cock, for a second dipping into its slit, and down to the root, licking my balls and then back to the head. My begging cries leave him unaffected, but then at last, that stern mouth sucks me in and I'm ready to cry with need.

Oh god, this is nothing like my own hand. Comparing it to that would be like comparing a flame to the sun. Burning pleasure forces my hips to start thrusting against him, and against any common sense, I grab hold of his hair, trying to force my own rhythm on him. He doesn't listen, and my arousal drags on and on, as he forces a slick finger inside me. A second of awkward discomfort, but Snape's mouth doesn't stop moving, and I feel a second finger join the first as he hits something inside me, something so… oh.

My world shines blindingly white and dims slowly.

"Wow," is the first word that leaves my lips, when I have the ability to form any words at all. Snape's on his knees between my thighs, his fingers still inside me, and his lips glistening. Did he really swallow my come? He looks at me questioningly, and I nod. "Yes."

He adds a third finger and that's uncomfortable as hell, but I'm not afraid. He's stretching me and I stare at him, unblinking. For that sight alone I'd let him do anything to me. Anything. There's worry and want, which he isn't hiding anymore, or maybe he's unaware that I can see it. I suddenly want to just throw my arms around him tightly and tell him that everything's going to be OK. That he can trust me, that he's making me feel so good.

What's he done to me? I don't have it in me to get hard again, but still, there's an odd sense of pleasure coursing through my body.

"Harry?"

In surprise, I lift myself up with my elbows, staring right at him. Did I hear him right? "Mm?"

"Is this the first time you're doing this?"

It's probably too late to blush, but I can feel myself blushing.

"Yes."

"If you are uncertain, we can stop anytime." His tone is very serious.

I laugh and fall back against the pillow, letting my limbs spread out. No way! "I'm sure. I want this. I want you."

I shudder when he pulls his fingers out. A shiver runs through me from the loss, and turns into trembling anticipation.

Snape slowly pulls off his underwear, and tosses it on the chair. Oh wow, he's so… I can't think of any other word: beautiful.

Straight and long, his hard cock twitches with arousal, and Snape stares at me, his chin lifted high. Is he inviting me to look my fill or trying to hide any self-doubt?

I sit up on the bed quickly, crawl up to him and rise to my knees. He kisses me carefully, on the offered lips, and I answer him just as softly, rubbing my forehead against his neck like a cat.  And then, I dip my head down and kiss the dark tip of his cock. It tastes of salt.

His sigh reaches me from above, and I whisper, certain he won't hear me and so softly that only my breath touches his skin. "Severus."

And then I fall back down on the bed and part my legs in invitation.

He lifts my knees until they're pushed up against my chest and I'm bent double. I'm happy he didn't think of putting me on all fours. I don't think I'd've lasted long in that position. He meets my eye again when he spreads the lubricant over himself. So that's what he took from the cabinet, I finally realise. He suspected all along that I would talk him into doing this. There's a careful thrust of his two fingers in me, probably making sure I'm not too tight, and suddenly it's hard to breathe, 'cause I need him. I thrust against his hand and his fingers disappear again, replaced by the blunt pressure of his hard cock against my hole. The entire world pulls into that one point of contact, where our bodies are joined.

He enters me slowly, trying not to cause discomfort, and I want to laugh and cry at the same time. Hermione's right, a crazy thought enters my mind. I'm not alone at Hogwarts. Not any more. Maybe she knew more than she said.

I'm actually having sex. We're doing this together, Snape and I. I no longer need to provoke him into cursing me, no longer need to be ashamed of wanting him, of thinking of him day and night, because he's right here. He's with me. In me!

Snape pushes in completely with a sharp thrust and stops, his teeth pressed together so hard that the muscles of the jaw clench visibly, and sweat glistens over his temples. I carefully lower my legs, cross my ankles over his back and open my arms to him. He lowers himself, anchoring his head against my shoulder. I trace my fingertips over the side of his face. He's shivering and I feel a sudden spike of tenderness toward him. How long has it been for him? He seems ready to fuck me through the mattress and here he is, waiting for me to grow used to the feel of him.

"Don't hold back."

"I don't want to hurt you," he answers, unbelievably calm. "You're so tight."

"You won't hurt me," I answer with a slight shake of my head. "Severus." I say that last word in a bare whisper, but he shakes as if he's been shot, and his head is immediately raised. Is he really going to lecture me about respect for my professors now that his cock's inside me? I smile and I think it's a slightly nervous smile, as I meet his eyes. He turns his head teasingly, accepting whatever this is.

"Potter, I'll break you in two." His hips punctuate with a deep thrust. Is that a promise?

"Good," I agree so easily, meeting that thrust. I don't know how I know that, but apparently I'm a fast learner. Judging by his reaction, at least. His stare loses focus for a second and he draws a deep breath. I smile and repeat my thrust.

"Fuck," he hisses through his teeth, and then his tongue is inside my mouth again. His cock is in me. His hands are on me. I'm moaning and discomfort blends into sharp bursts of pleasure, and soon I've forgotten why I am even crying out to him.

"Yeah-more," I say, kissing him wherever I can reach, digging my nails into everything I can hold onto.

Snape's muffled cries are my answer. He doesn't say a word, just kisses me, deep and dizzying, and the thrusts of his tongue into my mouth match the pace of his thrusts in me.

There's a short gasp, resonating deep within me, that I will never forget. The admission that he's not just repaying me for saving his life. A gasp that proves once and for all just how he wants me. An "Oh!" and a full body shudder, and his teeth sink into the skin of my shoulder, and his embrace afterwards that lasts forever.

"Severus," I breathe back, my mind incapable of basic thought, as he's holding me, even when it's all over.

We lie silently, listening to our heartbeats slow down again, inhaling each other's smell, and now I know at long last how it feels to share pleasure with another.

And then, we sleep.

Chapter Text

I open my eyes and for the first few moments, I don’t know where I am. The bed curtains are drawn, so I can look around, but I'm too lazy to move. The firelight dances over the ceiling, inky shadows lie deep in the corners of the room. Can’t be the Gryffindor dorm, since I don't see any windows here.

Where am I?

My body holds a memory of soreness, but not enough to worry me. I carefully turn to my side, lift my head from the pillow and look for my glasses. They're at the head of the bed and I quickly put them on.

My eyes are used to the twilight now, so I can see the man beside me. He's asleep, hooked nose pressed into the curve of his arm, long black hair strewn across the pillow.

Snape.

So I didn't dream it all. I sigh cautiously and look at him, wanting to wake him up and at the same time wanting him to stay asleep for as long as possible.

It really happened. I don't know how, but it did, and now all those rumours about me having sex with him are actually true. I wouldn't take back a single moment. I've never felt anything like this, and never even dreamed it could be this good. What happens now? How's he going to react when he finds me in his bed?

I admit to myself, I'm worried about what's next. I can't just pretend nothing happened. It was amazing and I want it to happen again.

This is impossible. I'm lying here in a loose embrace with the man I hated with all my heart just a year ago; I despised him so much that I thought I couldn't stop myself from killing him, should it come to that. And there have been plenty of opportunities too, when I caught him at a vulnerable moment. Like, for example, right now. So what am I going to do about that?

I reach out and touch his bare shoulder.

Snape startles so suddenly, as if I'd rang a gong over his ear, and I quickly pull my hand back, stopping its subconscious wandering over his shoulder and neck. A disheveled head lifts from the pillow and his stare fixes on me. The firelight doesn't reach his eyes, so they're dark and deep and seem very stormy. I look back cautiously, not sure what to say.

"How do you feel?" That sleep-hoarse voice hasn't lost its commanding tone.

I snort, without it sounding too bitter. "The treatment worked. I'm not about to jump off the nearest tower."

He winces in annoyance. "I'm asking about your state after what we've done, not your general outlook on life."

Ah. That's what he meant. The question makes me uneasy, but I try to grin at him. "Dunno. Fine, I think."

"'Dunno' doesn't count," he grumbles. "Have you tried leaving the bed?"

"No! I just woke up."

"I see."

We're silent and I think that it's probably late at night. The entire day has gone by, and I'm not spending the night in Gryffindor Tower. It's probably going to be awkward if they spot an empty bed tomorrow, but I have no interest in sneaking back in right now. I can tell them I spent the night at Hagrid's. That's completely believable, isn't it?

I want to talk to him, but can't imagine where to start. I called him by his first name and he heard me, twice, and didn’t hex me, though we were both distracted at the time. I feel my face flush and Snape exhales in amusement as he watches me.

"I didn't think you'd be shy now, Potter. Are you going over the key parts?"

Yeah, I don't think he'd respond to 'Severus' well right now. Even if we're naked and sprawled inches away from each other. His bed is wide enough, but still, it's meant for one. I realise that my foot is pressing against his ankle and wonder if it makes sense to pull back now. I don't want to. I won't.

What am I going to do about this all?

"No," I answer honestly. "I am wondering what to call you now."

"Why is that an issue?" he asks and once again it seems there are deeper emotions hidden beneath all that calm in his eyes.

I meet them and smile. "I liked calling you by name."

Snape scowls and looks away, but I'm stubborn. I put my hand over his shoulder and he immediately pushes it off. "You're forgetting who you are speaking to, Potter. I did not give you permission to use my first name."

"I know that," I answer softly, and Snape seems to soften as well. Only his voice is as icy as before.

"I think it's about time you find your own bed."

"Yes," I say obediently, trying not to give myself away with a sigh or a worried look. "I know that too."

"Perfect. Get dressed."

"Sir…" it's easy to fall back on 'sir' when he's so dry and restrained. "Are you going to let me see you again?"

He hmphs. "I did not relieve you from our Occlumency lessons. As I said, today's incident was a necessary measure. You can't possibly deny-"

"I'm not denying anything," I tell him quickly. "You really, really helped. But there's something else."

He looks at me attentively. "Go on."

"Well… " As if it's that easy! "You see, I liked... " having sex with you, "what we did. I've never… I think you liked it too, didn't you?"

Snape lifts himself up on one elbow, looking at me with open surprise, and I grow uncomfortable under his stare. I sit up quickly, throwing my arms around my knees, his sheet still covering my lap.

A sharp twinge of pain in my backside forces me to exhale sharply and lean back, and immediately, his steady hand holds me up and lowers me carefully onto the pillow.

"Are you hurt?"

Whoa, there's real worry in his voice. I try to focus my eyes on him, through the sensation of having an actual stick up my arse, phantom or otherwise. "Not really. S'fine."

"Stay still." He rises from the bed and produces a long robe from behind the bed curtain, wrapping himself in it. He disappears into the room nearby, the living room, I remember. The one that still has the fireplace fully lit, and I see his shadow through the doorway. He’s probably looking for some potion for me, I think lazily. Those shelves seem to have one for every occasion. Or almost every one. He had to stop by the classroom that one time…

My thoughts stop abruptly, as I watch his shadow: Snape puts his arms above his head in a full stretch, growing even taller. Then he rubs his hand over his face and opens the cabinet door.

Why didn't he stretch in front of me? So he has that same lazy exhaustion in his body as I have. It makes me want to stretch out and then press myself against him, since he caused it to begin with. I wonder if he feels the same? We'll see.

"Drink." He returns with a phial in his fingers and a teaspoon. Hm, if a remedy is measured in  spoonfuls, it's gotta taste terrible. That's practically a rule.

He sits down on the corner of the bed and I immediately picture myself pulling him down on it, kissing his brow, his temple…

I obediently open my mouth and swallow down the thick, gelatinous and sour brew. Afterwards I lick my lips, to get rid of the sticky feeling, and meet his eyes. They are carefully blank.

Snape gets up and takes everything back with him to the living room. When he returns, I'm still lying down, only across his pillow now. It's higher, for one thing, and besides, I want to leave behind a small reminder, the smell of my hair. I know it’s stupid. He'll probably just use cleaning charms first thing after I leave.

"Now about your inane conclusions about how I 'liked' having sex with my student." Snape starts in the tone that would make me freeze on the spot if he was talking about my work in Potions. "I must assure you, Mister Potter, that it is not covered by my job description. Moreover, if you suspect that I was driven by something deeper than the desire to save your sorry hide, you are sorely mistaken. Perhaps you liked the method to which I was forced to resort to, and may have even noticed that it was not entirely… unpleasant for me either. Our preferences might be matched, but young men like you seek romantic ties: Love. Affection."

He says the words with such contempt that it brings out an echoing shudder in me. 'Love'. 'Affection'. I'm sick and tired of both! All I want is sex, some normal, ordinary sex, with someone like me. Someone who likes men, who doesn't cringe every time my come hits him.

"I can't offer you either," Snape continues blankly. "In fact, I advise you to forget what happened as you would a bad dream. As I understand it, you were under stress because of your last conversation with the Headmaster regarding your future and were horrified by the idea of having to partake in the battle, a terrible prospect for a young man such as yourself. Heroics are, after all, best suited for peacetime, don't you agree?"

"No!" I interrupt him decisively. Snape's lips thin. "That's not it at all! I'm…" I grow frustrated under his studying look. "Sir, I'm tired of being a pawn, a prophesied weapon. Ron and Hermione aside, nobody but you sees me as a person!"

He hmphs and I continue: "I know war is coming. I know. But it's one thing to join the fight willingly, and quite another to live knowing you are forced to kill someone to win." Snape doesn't interrupt, doesn't argue, he just listens as I share my long-harboured anger. "It doesn't matter if you saved me today or yesterday or tomorrow, none of it matters, because I know I'm only needed so the bloody prophecy can come true. At least you weren't a lie. Your body didn't lie either."

I don't hear myself yelling and I don't feel myself grimace in a parody of a smile. "I'm well aware that you don't love me."

"Perish the thought," escapes from his mouth with an unkind laugh, but I don't let him interrupt me.

"You wanted me anyway. Really wanted me. I felt that and it was brilliant. What stops you from doing that again, Professor? You don't hate it, and no one would know, I swear. All you have to do is touch me once in awhile, so I remember I'm not just the Boy Who Lived to someone!"

I nearly cry out the last words, but Snape doesn't seem to care. He looks deeply into my narrowed eyes and then asks slowly: "You'd have sex with me, knowing that there's nothing more to it than satisfying a physical need?"

"If it's an honest need," I answer, softer, "then yes. That's enough."

"Aren't you afraid it would not be enough for you?"

"I’ve already told you I'm not afraid. It was good. We were good." I don't lower my stare, meeting his. "I've had enough of love. I just need sex. It's more honest this way."

He raises his brow, contemplating my words and then hmphs. "I never thought to hear that from you. Very well, there's no reason we can't reach a compromise. If I agree to having you in my bed every now and then, you must stop your idiotic pretence during our Occlumency lessons. Deal?"

"Deal," I answer coarsely, examining him. He's agreed to this far too easily. I don't recall him agreeing to anything with this little persuasion. What's wrong?

"Do I have your word?" His voice would drive me completely insane, if it had even a bit of that intimacy he showed when fucking. I can't make it sound any truer than that.

"Yes." I sit up carefully, checking if the previous twinge of pain is back. His hand supports me under my elbow and I shiver at his touch. I don't feel anything, I realise with a relieved sigh. The potion must've worked.

"One more thing." Snape says. "We mustn't indulge. No more than necessary."

"How necessary is necessary, sir?" I inquire, fighting against my lips curling into a smile.

He answers with a similar twist of his lips. "I trust you'll find that out for yourself. Do try standing up."

I get out from under the blanket, feeling a sudden awkwardness. Is it too early to ask for a robe of my own, now we've settled our further plans? Does it even make sense to cover my bits with my hand anymore? After a few seconds thinking it over, I face my embarrassment head on, and take a couple of steps stark naked. Snape observes me with a blank stare, as if his fingers didn't leave bruises on my hips, as if his teeth didn't mark out the path across my skin: down, down, down. Fine, be like that.

"M'fine," I report, rather cheerfully.

"Perfect. Get dressed and go," he answers. "I need my sleep."

I dress and then stand in the middle of his room and give a cautious look toward the utter mess of the bed. Snape catches it. "Did you forget something?"

"I think… er, I think it's best to call Dobby," I answer, ignoring his mocking tone. "Maybe from the living room?"

"Dobby?"

"Yes, he's a house-elf."

"Why would you need a house-elf in the middle of the night?" Snape inquires with an annoyed tone.

"That's the point! How am I going to explain where I've been if I'm caught after curfew?" It's incredibly satisfying, it is, to see that look on his face. Full confusion, for about a second. Didn't think of that, did you?

"You make it sound as if it's entirely my fault you're out past curfew," he snaps acidically.

"Not completely." I smirk. "Just some of it. I'll call him from the other room," I add quickly, under that fiery stare, and excuse myself before he decides to answer.

I call Dobby from the living room. He doesn't express the slightest bit of surprise seeing me in Snape's rooms. That's lucky!

"Dobby, I need my cloak," I explain to him in a whisper. "It's right under my mattress. You can't wake anyone up. Please hurry!"

"Dobby understands, sir!" In one odd leap, he disappears into the air, and seconds later he's back again. "Here's what you asked for, Harry Potter, sir!"

"Thank you!" I breathe with a sigh of relief and Dobby disappears. I put my cloak down on the armrest of one of the chairs and peek through the half-open door. Snape's by the fireplace staring into the flames. I cross the room silently and press my cheek against his shoulder.

"Good night, Professor."

His fingers run through my hair. "Can you make it on your own?"

"S'not my first time," I answer him with a grin, and judging by his look, he's looking for a mocking reply. For so many years he’s tried to catch me under my Invisibility Cloak, and here I am, leaving his rooms wearing it. I sigh and he says nothing.

"Go," he commands shortly, and his hand rests against my cheek, just for a second.

I cautiously rub against it. And then I go.


 

Nighttime Hogwarts has its charm. The torchlight of the corridors, the gallery arches, the moonlight streaming through the tall windows. And then there's the silence. I walk through the sleeping castle with the feeling that, had I been wishing just a bit harder, I'd be able to fly. My gait is so light, I forget gravity exists. Maybe Snape's potion is still affecting me.

Before going up to the Common Room, I press my cheek against the wall by my favourite window. Clear sky glows pink in the West: it's probably around four, since I can hear the first birds chirping. It's the first time that I've been out this late, but I've never been on a date before. That's how I'd call it if I had anyone to talk to about it.

No one can know. I promised him that, and I intend to keep it. No one will hear about it from me.

I come up to the sleeping portrait of the Fat Lady and take off my Invisibility Cloak. It folds up very neatly and I hide it behind my back, coughing and calling out: "Peruvian Vipertooth".

"Wha?" The Fat Lady shakes herself awake. My voice must be far too cheerful for the hour.

"Peruvian Vipertooth, ma'am." I shrug and give her a guilty smile. My smile is a bit too wide, and she probably won't believe me, but I'm really, really sorry to interrupt her sleep.

"Harry Potter," she says mid-yawn, "have you any shame? You've interrupted a most pleasant dream."

"Sorry, ma'am. I just want to get into my room," I explain.

She studies me carefully, and she doesn't look sleepy anymore. "A date, has to be," she declares with satisfaction. Just what I was afraid of.

"Ma'am, may I come through now?" She always lets me through without delay, without any bickering. Why is today any different? Why is she staring? Do I have something on my face?

"Password?" she asks absentmindedly.

"Peruvian Vipertooth," I repeat for the third time.

"Never liked dragons," she chatters, opening the passageway into the Common Room, "Whoever picked that one? Wasn't you, was it?"

"G'night," I say diplomatically, rushing inside. I don't have any desire to stay outside any longer, chatting up portraits and subjecting myself to their stern scrutiny.

"Good morning," she mumbles after me, and closes herself shut.

I reach the dormitory and for the first time in my life apply Sleeping Charms to its inhabitants before walking in. I don't want to wake anyone as I get undressed.

The curtains of my bed are lowered. At first I don't notice it, but then, pull them up with a slight feeling of dread. No one is inside, but it's made up so neatly, even the corners are turned down. It looks as if I walked back in after a long holiday and the room is freshly cleaned by the house-elves. Hm. I close the curtain.

"Dobby," I call him in a whisper and he immediately appears as if he was waiting for me.

"Harry Potter was asking for me, sir?"

"Did you do all this?" I nod at the made up bed. Dobby nods back, his round eyes pausing as he looks at me. "Is something wrong, Harry Potter, sir?"

"No, everything's fine," I am feeling sheepish, but I must ask. "Dobby, did you wake anyone when you fetched my cloak?"

"No, of course not!" he seems almost offended. "Dobby knows how to be unheard and unseen. Dobby thought that friends of Harry Potter mustn't know Harry Potter isn't in the dormitory, since Harry Potter asked for cloak to stroll around the castle. Is Dobby wrong?"

"Dobby is absolutely right," I grin. I'm ready to laugh. I didn't expect this particular partner in crime. "What did you do, exactly?"

"I let down the curtains and wished everyone a deep sleep, sir." Dobby gives me a cunning grin. "Harry Potter's friends may decide Harry Potter returned very quietly after waking, sir." Dobby gives his ears a funny twitch and gives me a sideways look, expecting praise. I sigh and nod.

"Thank you, you really helped me today."

"Dobby is always happy to help Harry Potter!" he says cheerfully. "Good night!" He disappears and I collapse onto bed, meaning to think things over. How am I supposed to act now? Everything around me has changed.

I don't have a chance to think. My body's deep, tranquil exhaustion takes over. My thoughts are empty.

The world hasn't changed, I realise keenly. I have.

I pull my blanket over my head, and for a second just breathe in that faint scent of arousal and semen on my skin. I don't want to use the cleaning charms just yet. It'll wait until morning. For now, I just sleep, with the strangely calming scent in my nose.

Chapter Text

"G'morning."

"Hi." Ron grins when I climb under my bed curtains, dressed and rested, with my hair in less disarray than usual. Small miracle, that is, considering I've had so few hours of sleep.

"What time is it?" I ask, lacing my shoes. Late enough that Ron and I are the only ones left in the dorm, in any case.

"We're late for breakfast, as always," he laughs, confirming my guess. "Harry, did you know that Fred and George are into party planning nowadays?"

"Yeah? How so?" I grab my bag and we rush toward the Great Hall. Ron's grin shines like a polished knut, and I listen to him happily. He's fun to listen to.

"Well, they decided to branch out from retail," he explains excitedly. "They're happy to help out with any and all wizarding celebrations! Weddings, banquets, probably even orgies. They organise everything for you and they've got the music figured out, and the... what do you call a Muggle that plays music in front of a dancing crowd?"

"A musician. No? DJ?" I guess and Ron nods.

"Yeah, that. Pity, we've got another year until we’re done with school. I'd ask them to do something here, they'd go along in a second."

"You think they'd want to show their faces at Hogwarts again?" I tell him, unsure. "Remember they flew out of here so fast, even their brooms whistled."

"Oh, that's nothing, Harry. They were trying to give Umbridge exactly what she deserved," Ron argues. "They don’t have anything against the school."

"I doubt Headmaster Dumbledore would ever allow your brothers on the school grounds again," I snort. "They'd blow Hogwarts to bits if he did."

"Pfft, they're respectable adults now, businessmen." Ron shoves his elbow into my side. "Settle down, you're worse than Hermione, I swear."

"Well if you're going to be like that, fine. And here I was going to say it was all pretty exciting." I put up my hands in front of him. "I can't wait! There, see, I'm not a complete nerd."

We laugh as carefree as if we were kids again and Ron suddenly says: "Harry, you're just like before. I'm glad to see that, I really am."

"How am I 'like before'?" I ask him, immediately squashing down my laughter.

He shrugs. "You're happy and calm. Good Occlumency lesson, I take it?"

"It was fine," I answer, wondering just how it happy it makes me to appear normal for once. Ron's sort of normal, and my own sort of normal too, the 'normal' sex bit that suddenly flashes through my mind's eye. Ron doesn't have to know about that.

We're almost there. I walk into the Great Hall letting Ron in first. I am not quite ready to raise my eyes at everyone at the High Table. I don't know how to behave. The worst thing in the world would be if I blushed when seeing him. I don't even want to think about crossing stares with him. No, it's best to shuffle ahead and pretend I'm incredibly hungry. Which is also true, by the way.

"Good morning, Hermione," we wish her in sync, and she raises her head from the morning paper. She seems deep in thought.

"Good morning," she says. "Hurry up and eat. You're late again."

"Did something happen?" Ron asks, peeking over her shoulder into the newspaper.

Hermione folds it and sets it aside. "Hush and have breakfast first. The sooner you do, the sooner you will have access to items with printed words."

I giggle and they stare at me with blank faces. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing," I grin. "The more I watch you bicker, the more enlightening it gets, I swear."

Hermione grimaces and can't contain a smile. "That's only to be expected, an average human learns from their experiences after all," she gestures toward Ron by rolling her eyes. "Certain exceptions only confirming the overall rule, of course."

We stare at each other and Ron raises his eyes from his plate and blinks. "Oi, what are you on about? Philosophy before breakfast, now that's just plain wrong."

Hermione and I laugh, and I clasp her offered hand, as our laughter rings out under the high ceiling. Ron also starts laughing, uncertain first, and maybe even slightly grumpy, but Hermione grabs him suddenly and presses her cheek to his shoulder.

Just like…

I stop myself from completing that thought. Thankfully, my friends do not notice, far too preoccupied with their own moment of shared silence. I cough, bringing their attention to the present. Hermione's never behaved like that around Ron, not when everyone could see, and I don't want to think what it might mean, or whether it means anything at all. I just don't want anyone to be staring at them.

"Er… yeah." Ron hurries to finish his toast and Hermione shoves her nose into the newspaper.  The people around us turn their attention back to their own plates. Hermione nudges me carefully with her elbow.

"Harry, do you have some time after breakfast? I need to talk to you."

"Yeah, sure," I answer, confused at what it might be, and with a slight nod, she dives into her reading. Analysis: Prognosis and Perspectives of Blending Muggle and Magical Worlds, the headline says. Maybe she's getting ready for a class. Or maybe she's just curious. Hermione reads far more than assigned at Hogwarts.

After breakfast, we head to Herbology. Hermione decisively lets Ron walk ahead of us and pulls me aside from the main crowd. I give her a concerned stare. "What happened?"

"Nothing happened, yet," she says, and she's blushing. "But I have to warn you. In case it does."

"Sure. What's wrong?" I don't like it when she blushes like that. It usually makes me suspicious that she's going to start talking about me.

"Harry, you are incredibly happy," she says so quietly that I practically have to press my ear to her mouth to hear her. "Yesterday you were worse than a stormcloud, Ron and I were so worried. But now you're actually laughing again! Can you remember how long it's been since you laughed?"

I don't remember. But I think I get what she's trying to say.  A hot wave rushes through me and I force myself to stay still. "What's wrong with laughing?"

"Nothing's wrong!" Her shoulders shift. "Only, do you remember how I ruined my potion in Snape's class? It stank of menthol, so stupid."

"Yeah." I don't see what that has to do with anything. "So?"

"You were keeping an eye on me then, probably waiting for me to be upset, and you looked so surprised when you didn't have to go through all the trouble of consoling me for once."

Oh. Maybe I get it now. We're mostly alone, away from the main crowds, almost by the Greenhouses, and we can speak louder, but I'm still whispering to her. "So when you say this, you really mean…"

"You're my friend, Harry," Hermione says in near whisper, all red in the face. "I trust you and I don't want you to get hurt. I was really stupid that day, and Lavender must've guessed something and well… Do you see what I'm telling you?"

"Yeah, I see," I say slowly, staring at her curls. So I was right. She had use for my cloak after all. But now I have greater need of it.

"Harry, I'm not saying this to… anyway, you don't even have to explain anything to me, just hear me out, OK?" she says insistently, even if she can't bring myself to meet my eye. "You've got to be smarter than I was. Especially if your good mood is anything like, well, if it's related to your Occlumency lessons, be very careful. You know better than I do that people are watching. Especially since you're not the only one who can get in trouble this time."

I feel my face heat up. Dammit. She's right. I'm not going to say anything, but that won't count if it's written right on my face.

"I get it," I mumble, biting my lip, and dragging my teeth against the scar by habit. It's barely noticeable, but enough for my teeth to tell the difference. "I really do. Thank you."

"Was I right?" she smiles softly, and I feel myself stronger and taller than I am, just because of that smile. Her prying's not helping one bit. But if I had a sister, I’d want her to be just like Hermione. Oh, who am I kidding, Hermione's already like a sister to me.

I stare at her, not sure what to say, without any strength to even nod to answer her question, to pay for her trust with my own confession.

She pats me on the shoulder. "Well now that's over with, come on, forget I said it. You don't have to say anything, by the way. I didn't mean to pry. Anyway, the class is about to start."

Hermione is already heading down the path that leads to the Greenhouses, but I catch her hand to stop her, and she turns to me. No, I don't think she's angry with me.

"You know I care about you, a lot. You and Ron both," I tell her.

Her eyes are so bright at that. Wow. That stare. It's like she's thirty-six on the inside, not sixteen, but I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to say that to a girl. Even though it's a good thing.

"I know, Harry," she says. And before I realise everything else she leans over and kisses my cheek. "Come on, Ron's going to murder us both!" she giggles. Perhaps she isn't as annoyed at Ron's jealousy as she always says.

We hurry toward the Greenhouses, and Hermione asks, changing the subject completely: "Have you heard about Fred and George?"

"Party planning, huh?"

"Yeah, Ron's been bragging all day yesterday. They've got the newest gadgets, and even charmed the speakers. There's this place in London, they've taken it over from Muggles, according to Ron, and it's completely wild. Ron's dying to drag me there to see what they've come up with, but there's no way I’ll go, not during the exams."

"Don't you think it's sad?" I ask her. "Muggles made all those gadgets and they won't even hear the music, not by the time Fred and George are done with it. Dunno what's sad about it, maybe it's 'cause you and I haven't been raised here. It's like, there's these two worlds, and so many don't ever get to see both, not like we do."

"It's ironic too," Hermione says, continuing after catching her breath keeping up with me. "You said 'you and I' so easily about us back then. I've read about you, you know, even before Hogwarts, after I got my letter, and you weren't like me at all. You were a Wizard, and I was a Muggleborn..."  

"Oh, please." I don't even stop to roll my eyes. "Next thing you'll be telling me all about my heroic calling."

"That's Colin's job," she snorts.

"Oh no, anything but another adventure of the brave Harry Potter." I press my hand against my chest, but Hermione giggles and pulls me toward the end of the path, because the bell rings to signal the start of the lecture.

"Harry, I mean it, do try to be careful," she whispers, squeezing my hand, as we hurry to take our spot between Ron and Neville.

I squeeze back. "I will. Thanks."


 

"I can't imagine how I'm going to survive until the end of the year," Ernie McMillan says mournfully in the Great Hall and Ron, sitting just across the aisle from him, sighs in full agreement. Hermione raises a sceptical brow, but keeps silent. I shrug. "Ron, what have you got to be sorry for?"

"Dunno, Harry. I don’t know about you, but I'm not going to survive both Arithmancy and Advanced Potions. How'd we ever manage to brew our way this far into Snape's class? And why did I even bother?" he says glumly.

"Don't worry about it so much," I try to cheer him up. “It's the same every year. We've managed to get our O.W.L.s out of the way last year, didn't we? Yeah, we've got some work ahead next year, so what? One lecture at a time, yeah?"

Ron sighs again, and Hermione mumbles toward me: "You're asking for a T, Harry. When are you actually going to study?"

"Hey," I turn to her. "I study."

"Not enough," she declares, only her eyes hold her grin. "And don't give me any of those 'I'm special' excuses, you've got none. Not after you tried to prove to me how ordinary you were just this morning. Or should I bring Colin over?"

I don’t have any excuses. Really, I don't.

I am not going to tell them about the empty corridor, or Voldemort's second visit to my head. I'm not going to tell them that I've got so little time to study these days that I've taken to reading textbooks at night, when I'm not too exhausted from everything else or busy with other things. Hands-on studies, as Ron calls them. You'd think they'd be less hands-on now, that I've got a chance to… Argh.

"Yeah, very funny," I answer. "But honestly, I study!"

"I'll quiz you myself, you know," she warns me.

"Oh, OK!" I grin, with a happy nod.

Hermione snorts, covering her mouth. "You're suspiciously agreeable."

"Yeah, about that. It'll pass," I assure her.

"Pity, if you had a few hours for assigned reading…"

"Now? Or during Care of Magical Creatures?"

"Don't be such a lazy layabout, I'm not making you read it now."

"Huh," Ron cuts in. "Could've fooled me."

"It's mid-May and you're still joking around!" Hermione waves her hands with a tragic look on her face, before going back to her soup.

"You fail to process the simplest directions. You barely pass exams. What will you do in real situations demanding a cool, calculating thought? Fail a test?"

Until yesterday, I'd have dismissed that question as irrelevant, but today's different, somehow.

"What's today again?" I ask, and I must have asked at just the right moment, cause even Hermione's looking at me with complete shock.

"Tuesday, Harry. Eighteenth! Have you completely lost track? That's it, I'm going to supervise your study sessions, for both of you. Don't look at me like that, Ron, and no arguments! Next thing I know, you're going to ask what exam we're having next."

"Help," Ron whispers to me, "I'm scared already," he winces from the resulting slap.

"Not scared enough! That can always be arranged."

I don't listen to them that closely. Instead I glance at the High Table, forgetting that I gave myself my word not to look. Snape is eating chicken with a nasty expression on his face, and I note the efficient movements of his hands. I can't look away. He stares into the hall and for a second I start to suspect why he isn't resting his eyes on me.

He doesn't want to remember how our stares crossed just this morning.

Does he even want to remember what happened at all?

Well, I'm going to study, I promise myself. I'll do my best to finish Advanced Potions with a decent set of marks. I'll prove it all to him. I don't know what I'm going to prove yet, but it's going to be brilliant.

My chest is warm as I let my gaze rest over his profile.

Snape isn't trying to be liked, by anyone. He wouldn't be the type to ever hide the stressed lines on his face, the kind Hermione pointed out on my own face recently. He wouldn't hide his icy demeanor either. If someone had ever told me how gentle those steel-steady fingers would be, I'd've laughed.

After today, I'd simply lunge at them in a fit of protective fury.

Why? It's not like Snape belongs to me or something. Fine, I don't care anyway. I have no designs on the git. He's just really, really good at what he does. Like, for example, sex. And I want him to do it with me, and only with me. Is that so wrong?

An impossible, strange feeling comes over me at that thought: why, I'd fight anyone who'd dare to! But dare what? Get in my way? Take my place?

It's not really fury.

What is it then?

Speaking of Snape, he hasn’t scheduled our next Occlumency session yet. Did yesterday count as one?

I think it counts. Well then, the next one is tomorrow, at six.

I turn and dig into my steak.

We're already leaving the Great Hall as I turn and look back. Snape's drinking tea and having a chat with Professor Dumbledore.

For a second, a happy thought dawns, that Snape's an experienced Legilimens. He knows how to close his thoughts to anyone, so even the Headmaster won't see a thing in them.

And then I catch up with Ron and Hermione.


 

Something happened, it must have. Our lessons are over for the day and I have never seen Professor McGonagall like this. She is holding a newspaper, probably the Prophet. Odd, Hermione's already read the news this morning and it didn’t contain anything that might've scared Professor McGonagall. I've never seen her so afraid. Until now.

Hermione stayed behind to look at the unicorn foals, and Ron and I are on our way to the library. Professor McGonagall doesn't see us turning the corner, the bright sun from the windows is beaming right at her. Besides, she isn't paying attention to her surroundings, completely focused on her conversation. We see her face perfectly in the light: worried and angry.

I take Ron’s hand and pull him into a hiding spot, behind a suit of armour, and we press ourselves against the wall. The habit to listen in on other people’s conversations isn't very Gryffindor-like, but it saved me many times.

I learned loads of things doing this, and trying to… clarify matters by listening in hasn't harmed me once yet.

"Albus, this is terrible," Professor McGonagall says, trailing after Professor Dumbledore turning the corner. His expression is tired but calm. Only his wrinkles seem deeper, and his eyes lack that sparkle.

"I agree, Minerva, this is a tragedy, but we mustn't be surprised by it." His voice is soft but commanding, and Professor McGonagall nods, as if persuaded by his tone.

She shakes her head. "Does this mean… war?"

Dumbledore doesn't answer and I fight back a snort. Whatever happened to make her so shocked? If we're talking war, doesn't Professor McGonagall already know it's inevitable?

What did happen anyway? Ron huffs at my shoulder and I regret not grabbing my Invisibility Cloak when I had the chance. Then the Professors would never notice us watching them in the empty corridor, for sure. As we are now, I can only hope that the suit of armour is sufficiently tall and bulky to block us from view. I listen and don't take my eyes off them as they approach.

"What would happen to the students?" she asks, continuing their previous discussion.

"Perhaps they will be divided among the remaining schools," the Headmaster says, his hands clasped behind his back as he looks ahead with a focused stare. "As for the war, I think there's no need to bring that particular matter up just yet. Igor followed Voldemort up until his fall and never returned after the resurrection, unlike Severus. That is why he was in hiding two years ago. I don’t know what prompted him to resume his duties at Durmstrang, but it was a bad decision."

"Albus, I'm not worried about Karkaroff's death right now. We must think of the students! It's the third week of May, the exams are coming up. Will Hogwarts accept those who want to continue their education? Will we hold them to the same standards as our own?"

Professor McGonagall's tone is dry and sensible, and this helps me keep still. They're standing five feet away, not noticing us. And while they're deep into their conversation, a sudden, unreasonable fear grips me.

So Karkaroff was caught, likely as a traitor. They got to him at long last.

Or maybe not, maybe they murdered him in his sleep. No one's here to tell the story and I care about that about as much as Professor McGonagall, to tell the truth. I'm worried about something else.

Did Karkaroff say anything about Snape before he died, something to reveal Snape as a spy? Did he even know that Snape betrayed his ‘Dark Lord’? If so, then…

My breathing hitches and I feel myself freeze. They won't break into Hogwarts, I tell myself, they can't. They will not take him away. Not as long as I'm here.

I don't think about the specifics, like how I am planning to stop all of Riddle's armies to accomplish that. Doesn't matter. I'm not gonna let it happen.

"Minerva, most of Durmstrang lies in ruins." Professor Dumbledore's voice reaches me. "Voldemort has not wasted any time learning new methods of destruction, including Muggle ones. If certain chemicals are enhanced with magic, in the correct proportion, there is no telling how potent of a weapon they may be."

"Dear god, Albus," Professor McGonagall says sharply. "We can't sit here and watch the destruction of magical schools across the world! Beauxbatons was barely restored, but Maxime had used up all her influence. Now it's Durmstrang, so what's next? Hogwarts? Do you understand, this is a call to arms for all of us."

"For myself and Harry in particular," the Headmaster interrupts her, and then takes her by the arm and leads her down the corridor. "But we cannot risk it before Harry's magical skills develop fully. I do not wish him to die without a proper chance at victory."

"But must we stay silent? The last time we've kept it out of the papers, but not today. It's a small miracle we've had the opportunity to recall the Prophet, before the delivery-"

"If Arthur Weasley hadn't been there." I overhear as the Professors disappear around the corner.

Ron and blink at each other in silence, as if we both just awoke from a dream. Ron is probably surprised to hear his dad's name.

"So Karkaroff's dead," I summarise as calmly as I can, feeling my fingertips go numb. "Durmstrang's destroyed. Beauxbatons - attacked. Professor McGonagall's right, they'll be after Hogwarts next. He's going to come after me."

"Harry," Ron says with a helpless look, "don't blame yourself for this, you haven't done anything wrong."

"I have," I answer him sternly, even though I'm mostly angry at myself, not Ron. "I'm not strong enough to face him. This has gotta be him calling me out to fight," a thought dawns so suddenly that I laugh in surprise of it. "Until I face him, he'll keep it up, striking closer and closer all the while. And while we are waiting, Riddle will pick apart communities and schools one by one. He needs me. He wants the bloody prophecy to come true."

I can't keep on living while he survives. We're meant to finish each other off, and no matter where I run, it'll still be true.

My laughter turns dry and sharp, but I've shaken my previous sense of heavy hopelessness. Strange, it might seem like the perfect time to give up, but I'm just ready to fight. I've had enough of hiding.

The next time we meet, I'll do everything I can to make it our last.

"Hey, you still haven't reached the library, what's going on?" A grinning Hermione comes up to us and her smile dies as she looks at our faces. "What happened?"

"Looks like the entire Durmstrang's going to show up to take their exams, whatever it is they call their N.E.W.T.s, here." Ron grumbles, scratching at his long, almost shoulder-length, hair.

"Why?" Hermione looks at us, and I exhale on a single breath: "They've caught and killed Karkaroff, Durmstrang's destroyed, apparently by Voldemort. Hogwarts is next."

Hermione pales, leaning against Ron and staring at me with an open sense of dread. "It's begun, hasn't it?"

"Nothing's begun," I give her a bitter smirk. "Just hasn't stopped."

They hug each other and I can't bear it anymore. I turn on my heels and rush down the corridor, away from them, not even realizing where my feet take me until I see the staircase to the dungeons.

"We mustn't indulge. No more than necessary."

It's absolutely necessary! Oh so very necessary for me to see him. Right now! I need it.

Thundering heartbeat covers all other sound, and I don't understand at first why no one answers my knocking on the office door. I yank the handle in desperation. Nothing.

I bite my lips, not risking taking out my wand and saying the password. If he's inside, he'll murder me for barging in. I don't care if he does. But what if he's not inside?

I knock again, with my fists, with my feet, screw being overheard or seen around here, it doesn't matter anymore.

Silence. No one's there.

I don't say the password, probably 'cause it's useless to think he might keep the same one for his rooms and his office. Speaking of his rooms…

Why am I even thinking this?

I want him to look at me again. He can mock me all he wants. I just want to feel like all my worries are a stupid product of my imagination, and things aren't as bad as they seem. That I'm not doomed for what's coming to me, without hope, and without any time to spare.

I want to grab hold of his hand again, and for a second feel smaller and protected because of it.

I want to close my eyes and hear: "You're a mess, Potter. Do calm down."

"Ocimum Sanctum," my lips whisper without my prompting, as I'm still fighting against any common sense, and I'm really lucky that the corridor's empty when the heavy door swings open.

Just in time, quick. I can hear voices coming this way. I rush into the living room and bolt the silvery door shut.

He's not here.

For a second, I want to curse myself for being so stupid. He's not here, and he's likely going to ask just why I came barging into his rooms. His wards would surely inform him I was inside, that's unless Snape's…

The thought of it is so sudden and so terrible that I shake my head to try and chase it away, and only then realise that I'm right next to his bedroom door. I lean against the doorway, looking at the smooth polished wood, and touch the door lightly with my fingertips. It's not locked. I silently creep down over the rug that muffles my footsteps, not taking my shoes off this time. It seems inappropriate to take them off now, it would only make me remember. No.

I observe that wide, impeccably made bed, which I didn't want to leave. Yesterday, I had sex in it. Does it mean I'm not a virgin, the thought comes to my mind for the first time.

I'm left with the memory of how right it felt, out of all the images going through my head. They rise to the surface of my memory unexpected, and flood me, until I am on my knees by the bed, pressing my face into the blanket, and just waiting myself out, waiting for my mouth to stop twitching all of a sudden.

Please, let it not be the worst I'm thinking of. I want to see him again, I want us to have sex again. I want him to breathe my name in my ear.

Let him be absent due to his duties, but let him come back! Oh god, please let him come back. This can't happen now, not when Riddle's so close and I know with every fibre of my being just how much I don't want to die. I want to live.

Some time must've passed before I rise to my feet again, straighten out the blanket and leave the rooms, checking carefully if the corridor is quiet. The last thing I want is for Malfoy to catch me.

It's a small fortune, not how I want it, but fortune nonetheless. I can't find Snape anywhere, but the Slytherin students don't notice me leave the dungeons either.


 

I take a long walk by the Forbidden Forest, sit on the felled tree by which Seamus tried to kiss me and return to the common room only after dark. I can't stay still, even for a few minutes. No textbook can hold my attention. The Fat Lady murmurs something after me, as I ask her to let me in for the fourth time, and then leave once more.

I take my Invisibility Cloak out of my bag and wait on the Grand Staircase. I don't know what I'm waiting for, it's probably best to ask the Headmaster up-front. Hermione'd agree. But Hermione and Ron are out somewhere, and I am not about to ask Professor Dumbledore for anything, not if I can help it.

How did I manage to wait for him for so long back in April? I was calm and focused, and I even imagined that he may not be back at all. Now I'm shaking just thinking of it, and I've lost any capability to reason with myself.

The clocks strike midnight when he appears in the hall. I must've been napping with my eyes half-open, sitting on the top step and leaning against the railing, 'cause I don't even realise at first that it's him going toward the dungeons. He's got something in his hands, something with grass stalks peeking out from the inside. Was he restocking his ingredients? Why would he do that at the very end of the school year? Maybe getting ready for the exams.

I don't have that same crazy need to hug him close to me that brought me down into his rooms. One long look at him is enough, and I take in the sight of that distant figure, drinking my fill, until I let him disappear out of my sight. He'll likely learn all about my visit, change the password, and absolutely murder me first thing tomorrow morning.

I snort and stretch out my arms. I'd much rather Snape murders me than someone else.

The Fat Lady doesn't turn around for the longest time, demonstratively pretending to sleep, but at last she opens the entrance. I silently creep into the dormitory filled with the light snores, and draw my bed curtains closed. Only Ron and I do so these days, now that the nights are brighter near the summer. It's more comfortable in the dark, for me anyway. I fall asleep as soon as my head touches the pillow. I think I'm smiling still.

Chapter Text

The Durmstrang students arrive in the morning. They're pale, with far-too-warm for the weather uniforms, all silent and grim, as they sit at the table allocated to them. The Hufflepuffs had to scatter to the available spots amid the Ravenclaws and Gryffindors. Except for the teachers, we're probably the only three people in school without the open question on our faces: what happened? Listening in on conversations can be a useful thing, no matter what Hermione says.

Headmaster Dumbledore rises from his chair, waiting for the noise to quiet down, and spreads his arms in a welcoming gesture: "Good morning! I think our guests need no introduction." He smiles and gestures toward the Durmstrang students, who nod in reply.

Their bright red robes contrast with the colours of Hogwarts. Even our Gryffindor red isn't as bright. It looks like the table's on fire when they move. It's an ugly colour. I look away from them.

"Some students from Durmstrang have already visited us a few years ago, during the Tournament," the Headmaster continues. "I think they remember that Hogwarts is always happy to host guests and will be pleased with the reception."

Pleased! Yeah right. I sniff to myself. When the Goblet of Fire spit my name out, all thanks to Barty Crouch, they looked the same sort of pleased.

I'm apparently not the only one who remembers. Several people turn to our table and find me among the crowd, wrinkling their noses. Well then, it's not like any of us wished for this sort of reunion.

They're just here for the exams and then they'll go back. The Durmstrang Institute will surely be rebuilt before the next school year.  

"It appears that most of these young men and women will be staying here until the end of the school year," Professor Dumbledore addresses us, grinning widely. "Thus, I have taken it upon myself to assign them a House. Since there are so many of you," he nods toward the Durmstrang students, "you will be split into two groups. Those sitting on the left will join Ravenclaw, with Professor Flitwick as your Head of House."

Professor Flitwick nods and stretches out to his full height. I wonder how they're planning to fit everyone in the dormitories. Are they sending any of the students over to us?

"Those who are on the right, will join Slytherin, with Professor Snape as your Head of House." I don't even blink when Headmaster Dumbledore says his name, my reaction doesn't betray anything. So that's how it's going to be. In addition to all the green robes filling up the dungeons, I'll get the horribly-red ones too. At least I've got my cloak. I've grown lazy lately, what with all the empty corridors.

Snape raises his head and nods, examining those who are about to join his House. Odd, but he doesn't look disappointed, even though they all know who he is. His friendship with Karkaroff must've not ended after that one chat during the Tournament.

I watch him carefully, as he brings his cup to his lips, pausing for a second, as if testing if the coffee's warm, and then carefully taking a sip. His throat moves as he swallows and I realise I just mirrored that gesture.

I'm just so happy he came back yesterday. I'm also happy we don't have Potions today, so I can concentrate on getting ready for the evening and my Occlumency lesson.

We should've had a Potions class, it's on the schedule, but Headmaster Dumbledore must've asked Snape to spend the time on the new students. The Gryffindors aren't going to miss the class, and the Slytherins won't miss out on much, since they get to see him all the time anyway.

"Well, that's that," the Headmaster concludes. "Bon appetit. I do hope you'll make new friends soon and won't ask too many questions of your new housemates as they settle in."

Huh. He sits down and I smirk to myself. Was that a warning? Don't talk too much. Don't ask questions. Yeahright, the entire school will be abuzz with the news tomorrow. Unless the Durmstrang students themselves have been told to keep it under wraps. But why?


 

"But why?" We're outside. Hermione asks the same question that's been bothering me all day. "Why aren't they talking?"

The newcomers have indeed been very quiet. They've been clustering together, sitting down at their own table, and haven’t even introduced themselves. It's not very reasonable of them, considering they're going to stay here awhile.

"Maybe they're scared," Ron ponders. "Their Headmaster was just murdered by the Death Eaters. There's not even a body left to bury, they just blew the castle. Hm, wonder if they've got the same anti-Apparation wards as we do."

"Why do you want to know?" I ask him, surprised.

"Well, Karkaroff could have Apparated away from the blast. Or do you think he's really dead?"

"He's dead," I say. "Otherwise Professor McGonagall wouldn't have sounded so sure."

"Oh, I get it now," Ron exclaims. "They're afraid we'll think they're the Death Eaters! Who knows what they've been taught? As if we don't have our own Slytherins to worry about."

"Ron, do you ever listen to yourself? You sound like a toddler," Hermione sniffs. "Do you really think the students knew that about Karkaroff? They're half scared to death. Their school is in ruins. Their friends and teachers have been killed. They're in shock."

"We know Snape's a Death Eater," Ron argues. "So why wouldn't they know about their teacher?"

"Former!" I hiss, quietly, with a tone that makes them both raise their heads. "He's a former Death Eater."

"'Course he is," Ron says. "Only you can't get rid of the Mark that easily."

"So?" I narrow my eyes at him. "I've got a mark on my forehead and I want to be rid of it. And don't even start about me getting mine against my will and Snape asking for his."

Ron's probably been thinking just that, because he shrugs in confusion. "Sorry, fine. I take it Snape's off limits."

"Yeah," I sigh, surprised myself at my outburst.

"Well, he'll have his hands full now," Hermione states, chewing on a blade of grass. "As if he didn't have enough Slytherins to worry about. Wonder if they all belonged to the same House. Does Durmstrang even have Houses?"

"Haven’t you ask your precious Krum already?" Ron says pointedly.

"We had enough other things to talk about," she smirks in reply.

"I wonder where all the injured students ended up." I interrupt them, before they have a chance to start a squabble.

"Some of them must be in St. Mungo's, and those who made it out, here or at Beauxbatons," Hermione snaps. She is not in the best of moods, but who is, on a day like this?

I am, actually, I realise to my own surprise. Despite everything that's happened, despite all the new students now staying at the school, despite the fact that the war is coming closer and closer to Hogwarts.

Here I am, noticing that the spring storms have become a rarity; that the grass at noon smells so good, you want to roll in it forever, brushing your fingers through it and staring up at the blue sky.

It'll be summer soon and that alone is reason enough for my good mood, for the second day in a row.

I don't ask myself why, I just don’t want this to ever end.

"So," Hermione spits out her blade of grass. "We need to talk."

Ron already turns to her and I follow his example. When Hermione's using that tone, you know we're not going to hear anything good.

"I've received a letter from my parents, did you see?" she says softly. I turn around, looking around by habit to check that no one's listening in. No one is near, and we're sitting in the shade of a huge chestnut tree almost by the lake's edge. The lake shines under the sunlight and a light ripple spreads across its surface: the Squid must be circling 'round.

"Yeah," I nod, as I stop looking around. "So, what's going on?"

"Well," Hermione hugs her shoulders, her knuckles are white as her fingers press into her robe. "You probably haven't a clue about the Muggle economy or politics, either of you."

"Try us," I hmph. "We're not complete dunderheads."

"Maybe you have some clue," Hermione nods. "We've already talked about growing up like we did. But poor Ron here…"

"Oh, just go on already," he waves her off, his eyes sombre as he watches her.

"Well, all right," Hermione exhales. "The international stock markets are approaching crisis level drops, which means financial ruin and economic disaster across Europe. Mum and Dad have been keeping an eye on the news. There's military conflict. NATO's involved and it seems the conflict will spread more and more. I wish you'd been wrong about that, Harry. In any case, they also expect a political assassination, someone high-profile. There's no proof yet either way, but worth looking into."

"Wait, wait, where are you getting all of this?" Ron stares up at her, pushing against the grass and rising to his feet. I stay still, watching the slow ascent of a ladybird along the grass blade.

"I told you, I had a letter from my parents."

"Some letter…" Ron whistles and I smile at that. "Are they dentists or political spies?"

"They know about V-voldemort," she pushes herself to say the name. "And it's not like they've been living on the moon all this time. They try to keep me informed."

"They're doing a good job," I admit somberly. "Headmaster Dumbledore would be proud."

"Wait, have you heard all of this before?" Hermione's eyes widen and she looks at me.

"Some," I nod. "In any case, I know Voldemort's planning to infiltrate Muggle governments and cause chaos."

"And you kept quiet?"

"Didn't want to worry you for nothing."

"Why did Headmaster Dumbledore suddenly decide to tell you all this?" Hermione ponders. "What good will it do?"

"Why are your parents telling you any of it?" I counter and add after a pause. "I think he told me so I know there's no other way."

"Way to do what?"

"To win, Ron." How easy it sounds right now in the light of day. I don't even believe it's my voice. It’s not hoarse, my breath isn't hitching, and my tone is soft. "Dumbledore thinks I must understand the importance of my duties."

"That's all good, but," Hermione shakes her head, "he didn't even give you a chance to decide that for yourself."

"It's why I didn't tell you," I confess. "It's enough I know I'll have to kill someone. I can deal with it, but I didn't want you to worry."

She reaches out and carefully, even timidly, places her hand on my shoulder. "We're with you, Harry. We're always with you."

"I know. I'm not scared."

"Of course you aren't," Ron mumbles. "Why do you have to go and keep something like that to yourself?" He sits down under the tree again, but on my side now, so I'm between them.

"What would you have done, Ron?" Hermione says dully. I think she's about to cry, but is holding back. "I shouldn't've said anything. Sorry, Harry."

"You're doing the right thing," I tell her. "It's better to know the enemy. What he's up to, how he fights, how he acts. It may be useful in the future."

Somehow I have a feeling I will not have a normal Seventh Year. But I don't want to think of that at all. Professor Trelawney has predicted my death so many times.

"Wait, wait." Ron grasps the chance to change the topic. "Why would You-Know-Who and the Death Eaters even need to stir up trouble among the Muggles?"

"Well, to discredit their government for one thing," Hermione starts counting on her fingers. "If the Muggles can't trust their own leaders, it's easy to rule them. Divide et impera, as they say. Also, as I understand," she lowers her voice and we lean closer, "he enjoys death and destruction. He truly gets pleasure from it."

"Headmaster Dumbledore said something like that." I pull a clump of grass from the ground and throw it in front of me. Hermione brushes the mud from her skirt absentmindedly.

"And finally, Muggle politicians do not stop to consider whether we're good or bad. All of us are a danger to them. It doesn't matter if we're fighting amongst ourselves, if they decide that these fights are a provocation against them, we'll end up with another battle on our hands."

"But Voldemort's going to have to deal with the same thing too," I protest. The topic is starting to interests me. Wow, who knew. I wonder what Hermione wants to do after school. She'd be great at the Ministry, that's for sure.

"He will, but for some reason he doesn't care," Hermione agrees. "Maybe he thinks it's worthwhile to prevent us from seeking Muggle help, or maybe he thinks he can handle both."

"I don't want anyone to die," Ron says suddenly. "Especially not that Muggle princess. She's high-profile, isn't she? The one with the kind eyes."

We both stare at Ron and he blushes up to the roots of his hair.

"Wait, how do you even know her?" Not the best question to ask, but we do. Ron's not Muggleborn, where would he get to see Muggle princesses?

"Dad brought some Muggle newspaper home from London," Ron says. "I don't remember much else from 'em but one picture. Don't even remember the name of it…."

"The Times?"

"I guess… Dad liked that picture too, enough to get whacked by mum's best stirring spoon. Anyway, hope she's OK!"

He laughs and we do too, not in a happy way, more like absent minded, as we stare at each other. We share that one look and it feels as if just beyond the corner of my hearing, some invisible clock is counting down seconds of calm. The grasshoppers sing, the chestnut tree rustles in the wind, our backs or sides pressed to its weathered trunk. I want to stop the clock right here, so this afternoon hour will never end, and it'll always be fifteen 'till six. Then I won't have to remember that we're walking on the edge of a volcano about to burst, that we're already feeling the first tremors.

"Dunno how much our wishes can help the matter," Hermione says, and I listen with a quiet smile. They won't help at all. "But we must do our best to make them reality."

"Yeah, I get that." Ron closes his eyes and falls back, resting his head against the rough tree bark. "It was so simple before. We just got up in the morning and didn't worry about these things. We didn't even know!"

"We knew." I shake my head. "It's just we only knew the bare basics."

"I suspect even if You-Know-Who can be stopped," says Hermione and her tone is somber, as if voicing her thoughts. "We can't fully stop what he's already put in motion. It's like stopping a moving train. He's got so many supporters, Muggle and magical."

"You mean the Imperius Curse?" Ron asks.

"I wish," I scoff. "My uncle would bend over if he were told he'll get rich doing it. It doesn't matter who's giving the order."

I picture a cowering Uncle Vernon, with his constant panting, among the Death Eaters. Snivelling like Wormtail, just without any magical power.

"I guess you're right," Ron agrees, bringing his fist down against his knee. "I just wish, for once, everything was over already. Can't You-Know-Who kick the bucket from some sudden heart disease?"

"Won't work," I answer. "He'll survive that. I'll have to finish him off myself."

"Harry, stop talking about it as if everything's been decided for you," Hermione says with emotion, reaching for my hand. "Have you given up hope?"

"Me?" I feel a sudden smile curling my lips, try to stop it but can't. "I haven't given up anything. You've no idea."

"Just two days ago, you looked barely alive!" Ron notes, eyeing me with suspicion.

I laugh. "So what? Are you going to remember every bad day I had for the entire year? I'm fine now. I'll be just fine too."

I don't know why the sudden optimism strikes. I've heard Madam Pomfrey say during my Second Year, when she was talking about Ginny, that depression sometimes eases up just enough to make you think that everything's great, until it strikes back with a vengeance. But I'm not Ginny. I am not about to go stare longingly at the nearest blade either. I am going to fight and I'm going to win.

I rise to my feet and bend a few times, stretching my sore sides. My friends watch me with curiosity. "Where are you going?"

"To my Occlumency lesson." If Hermione's stare hides a sudden understanding, I pretend not to see it. "I'll see you back in the common room later. Enjoy the evening."

"See you," they say as I move away, and when I glance back a few seconds later, they are already walking on the shore. Ron's arm is around Hermione's shoulders.


 

I knock on the door of the office for the second time when I hear an annoyed: "Yes."

I pull the handle and enter.

"Good evening." There's no answer and I feel uncomfortable under the sudden scrutiny. I step from side to side a few times before stepping forward. "May I come in, sir?"

I sometimes think Snape's eyes are capable of burning and freezing me both at once. I haven’t even done anything lately to deserve that glare.

"Sir?" Somehow I can't bring myself to call him 'Professor'. It's as if there's something taboo to it now that we've… anyway. Looking at Snape today, from the corner of my eye, it's hard to believe we shared something, and especially that. His face shows no expression, as usual. Almost as usual.

"Mister Potter, do close the door behind you," Snape commands softly, and I feel shivers running down my body.

Don't we still have a lesson today? I won't ask him, I won't! I slowly turn to the door, ready to leave the office, as he stops me. "I meant, close the door and stay here."

I hurriedly move the latch to lock it. I'm not about to apply Locking Charms with the owner of the office watching me! Even though I've seen Snape do it plenty of times before.

"Come here," he doesn't even say it, he's ordering it, and I comply, watching him with confusion. What did I do now? I stand by his desk like a firstie who got into trouble.

"Do explain what you were doing in my rooms." Snape seems completely indifferent, only his fingers are tapping against the armrests.

I freeze. I'm an idiot. How did I forget? I saw him come back whole and unharmed and completely forgot about my worries. Time to pay the price.

"Sir, do you know Karkaroff's dead?" Counter-attack is sometimes the best defence. His eyebrows furrow in a deep frown.

"You're quite the source of gossip today, Potter. Yes, I do. May I ask where you heard that?"

I lower my eyes and press my lips together. His tone's making me blush already.

"I heard it from Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall," I tell him, looking at his robe. I know how it smells.

"How splendid. Completely accidental, I presume." His tone drips with sarcasm.

I give him a furious look. "You don't have to believe me, but that's what happened."

"I'll be the judge of that," Snape says in deep tones. "You're avoiding my question. Why were you in my rooms?"

"I told you," I snap back. "Karkaroff's dead."

"Shh!" Snape hushes me with annoyance, and then gets up and takes his wand out of his robes. The Silencing Charm, reflected in his eyes, flares gold, and I suddenly remember when he said that spell last. The day before yesterday.

There was no desk between us then, only our clothes. And then there wasn't even that. Did that really happen?

"What does Karkaroff have to do with this?" Snape's shoulders twitch, he probably regrets having to waste time dragging the answers out of me. Well, it's not fun for me either. I go around the desk and stand in front of him, with my chin raised.

"I was worried, sir. I didn't know if Karkaroff had given away anything… I looked for you and you weren't there. I only wanted to know if you were OK, that's it. Did you think I'd steal anything? I won't." My voice rings out, heavy with frustration.

Snape snorts so suddenly, that he stops me from talking. He rises from his chair with a sudden move. I grab him by the hand, and he pulls it back, but I'm stubborn. "If I wanted to rob you or spy on you, I'd have done it a thousand times already! You haven't changed the password."

Ever since that night. Only I thought that the door would only let me in if Snape was with me.

But I was able to get in and I was all alone. What the hell?

A pause hangs between us, and we're duelling stares again, as I try to hide the worst of my thoughts from it.

"I didn't think you would steal from me," Snape answers softly. "I want an answer as to why you were in my rooms."

I can't do this. Not anymore. I dig my fingers into his hand and take a step forward and press my forehead against his shoulder. "I was so worried." My breath hitches when I say it, but it's the whole truth, and I don't want him to keep suspecting me of anything.

Snape doesn't react, but doesn't pull away either. In the heavy silence, I hear my own heartbeat. And then his other hand covers mine. I release a sigh and relax my death grip as Snape's fingers move against the back of my hand.

"I didn't take you for the nervous sort," he says mockingly, and his breath ruffles the hair by my temple. "As you can see, I am fine."

"May I ask you something?" I reply in a near-whisper. I know the answer, but I want him to keep talking and I don't want to pull away yet.

"Try me," Snape leans against the back of the chair and I take a step towards him to stay close, my head still bent down.

"Professor…" That word connects us somehow. Did I notice a slight change in his breathing? "Where were you?"

"Replenishing the supply of ingredients stolen by nosy students." His tone brings me back to Second Year. But he never knew it was us! We needed that Boomslang skin. We tried to figure out what was threatening the school. And I wasn't the one to steal the Gillyweed for the Tournament, that was all Dobby.

My shoulders stiffen and Snape gives a snort at that. "Don't assume everything is about you, Potter."

I sigh. It's even worse if he decided it wasn't me. Now I'll feel guilty about it. Perfect.

"I thought you could owl-order them from London," I tell him to fill the silence.

"Some herbs retain their potency only when added to the brew by the same hand that picked them."

His voice must have a calming effect on me. We're both calm now.

"My turn to ask," he says evenly. "Who told you about Karkaroff's involvement with the Death Eaters?"

"Barty Crouch." I inhale sharply and find the strength to pull away from him, but I still don't release his hand. Snape regards me carefully, as if thinking when that could've taken place. "This was after the tournament ended, he brought me back to his office and… He was Professor Moody then."

"I remember," says Snape, tossing his hair back from his face. His stare turns sharp, inquisitive. "What else did he tell you?"

"He wanted to know if Volde- er, You-Know-Who forgave those who were with him at the cemetery. Sir, do you think anyone can hear us?" I ask, lowering my voice to a whisper. Snape shakes his head.

"The protective charms on this office were cast by Professor Dumbledore and Professor Flitwick themselves. We may speak freely here."

"OK," I nod, rubbing my forehead. "Then he said that Karkaroff ran off, right after he felt the call. That he was a coward and a traitor."

"I see," Snape narrows his eyes. "What else?"

For a second, I wonder if the scene that appears in my mind's eye holds any importance to him. Crouch is revealed, Fudge is trying to prove that I'm lying, that Voldemort's not real, and then Snape appears before them, pushing up his sleeve, with the Dark Mark clearly on his arm.

"Nothing much." I shake my head. "Then you showed up. Thanks, by the way."

"Don't mention it." His lips curl. "The Headmaster is to be given credit for our prompt arrival."

"That's not what I mean." I squeeze his hand. "You showed your Mark to Fudge to prove it that I was telling the truth."

"I didn't do it for you." His shoulders move. "I did it for… doesn't matter now."

"Of course." I agree, lowering my eyes and looking down at the hand I'm holding. It's his left.

I shake from my own daring, and then slowly move my fingers over the cloth-covered forearm. Snape shudders and then decisively withdraws his hand. That time we were together, I didn't even remember to pay attention to his Mark. I was so distracted by him. Will he ever let me look at it, just to see it up close?

"M'sorry," I tell him quietly, raising my eyes at him. His impossible stare is boring right into me, and I give him a weak grin: "Sir, are we going to practice today?"

"If you remember what we've agreed on," he snaps, with his usual anger. It seems all for show, though, not something directed at me personally.

"I remember." I step back a bit and close my eyes to clear my mind.

Snape doesn't let me focus: "Legilimens!"

He didn’t even count! Is he punishing me for talking back to him?

Well, he wanted me to stop being ashamed of him, fine then.

What doesn't he know about me yet? What bad memories hasn’t he already seen, in full detail?

Imago!

The spell's still bright at the tip of his wand, but my Mirror is already there, thin and smooth and glowing silver, protecting me against his eye or his magic. This is what I couldn't do before, but it's so easy now! So very easy. He hasn't got a hold of a single secret, couldn't exploit a single gap in my defenses. It's as if remembering Snape and that night gives me strength. He has stabilised my magic.

"Legilimens!"

My Mirror doesn't even shake and I see Snape's face through it as vividly as if I'm watching from the distance. He's incredibly focused. The most skilled Legilimens besides Headmaster Dumbledore and Voldemort.

Thanks to Snape, I've managed to resist them both, successfully, but I couldn't do much against Snape himself. What happened then, if I'm able to even reason with myself while holding the spell active in my own mind? It feels as if the confidence which feeds the spell is fueled by something good in my own head. Snape told me to stop being afraid of myself, didn't he? Perhaps it's the lack of fear. He was right after all, when he said we won't progress far until I conquer it.

Snape lowers his wand slowly and the orange flare on the surface of my Mirror dies down. I'm about to take it down, but change my mind for some reason. It's a good thing too…

"Legilimens!" Snape exclaims, immediately throwing his hand up, and his spell crashes against my shield once more, startling me and almost sending me to the floor of his office. Oh no, I'll have bruises on my knees for weeks again. I keep my balance and my Mirror, the first one's harder, and straighten out, looking at him with certainty, but without an open challenge.

Snape again lowers his wand and says evenly: "Not bad. I see you've finally displayed sufficient interest in the subject."

Sufficient interest my arse! What have I been doing all this time, according to him? No one's forcing me to drag myself down here every other day. I'm ready to laugh or throw something stupid back at him, like 'that's the deal, innit?'. I wonder how soon he'll decide I've upheld my end of it and tries to fulfill his?

I hold my tongue and don't say anything back, but there's that persistent need to touch him again. I put my hands behind my back, so I don't annoy him too much.

"That's it for now. You surely know the schedule: the day after tomorrow at six."

I am silent, not sure what I can get away with, and he adds, showing me the door: "Good day."

I know it's my time to go, and I go along with it and even turn as one question falls from my lips: "Sir, did you really think I would steal from you?"

Snape shakes his head in annoyance. "Mister Potter, the fact that you entered my rooms doesn't say anything about the strength of the enchantments on my personal cabinets. I doubt you could."

"Just because of that?" I ask, tilting my head. What did I expect him to say?

"Don't. Interrupt." He snaps his fingers and I feel myself blushing.

Why am I doing this? What is so important to make me stand here feeling like a complete fool in front of him? What am I turning into?

"You're likely wondering why you were able to enter my rooms at all. Why I didn't change the password after I gave it to you. Oh, don't just stand there blushing, you have the question practically written on your face. I hardly need Legilimency to see it."

What else can he see? It's like he knows me better than I know myself. And that's… scary, and also fascinating. I give a hesitant nod, staring at the floor cracks.

"To save you the trouble of wondering why - not that it stops you for long - I've left the password as is, precisely to allow you to enter my rooms in case of extreme circumstances, such as your scar hurting again or the Dark Lord invading your mind. I had hoped that you would not abuse the privilege."

I quickly shake my head, feeling my cheeks growing warm at the thought of his trust.

"In any case, the password will be changed, since I've been proven right once more. You've made me think something had happened, while nothing had. I do not intend to encourage such behaviour in the future."

I raise my head at that and stare at him angrily. "Worrying you're dead is a good enough cause to me! I was sick with worry!"

"Potter," Snape smirks. "Do you take me for a fool?"

"I don't care if I am one." The lower his voice gets, the louder I answer him. "What I do care about is why won't you believe me."

"Why?"

The question disarms me.

"Because I need you to," I say stubbornly, not looking away. Let him read my thoughts! Let him see!

Snape regards me carefully. Just a while ago, such a stare would make me wish I was invisible, but I'm probably immune by now.

"That's not an acceptable answer," Snape says, finally stopping his study of my outraged face.

"Go on then, change the password," I tell him, shrugging. "I'll just show up and sit in front of your door next time."

"Are you threatening me, Mister Potter?" He seems almost interested in that turn of events.

"Maybe I am!"

I've waited for him in his classroom that evening when all the students hoped that he wouldn't return. If I put my mind to it, it's hard to stop me. Slytherin shares that particular trait with Gryffindor.

"Just wonderful," Snape says with a grimace. "One night of indulging you and you are determined to push your luck."

I'm not going to think what else I want to do to him besides pushing my luck. I won't.

I step forward and find myself right next to him, so close that I can feel how warm his body is through the fabric of his robe. The urge to touch him returns again, stronger than ever, and I reach for his hand so carefully, as if Snape's about to smack me.

I look him in the eye: that usual impenetrable stare that only once had turned dark and hot as I observed it. I know somehow that he knows it too, as we stare at each other. Maybe he remembers how my eyes looked as I pulled him down on the bed.

"You don't have to indulge me," I tell him, my lips dry, as I press myself against him, aware of my own shamelessness, but unable to stop. "Just leave the password as it is."

Snape smirks with the corner of his mouth. I must've somehow copied that smirk that makes my friends so worried. His fingertips trace my cheek.

"Such an odd way to put it. It sounds like blackmail."

I don't know if I ought to disagree with him, but he's not waiting for me to. His thin lips are so close, just an inch away, as Snape touches me, with a light, almost weightless kiss. I only let out a small gasp and grab hold of his shoulders, answering with a hunger I didn't know I was capable of. Everything is swimming in front of my eyes, when his solid, sure arms wrap around me, and I only pull back when I'm completely out of air.

If this continues, I'll develop an addiction to him.

An addiction to sex with him that is, I correct myself.

I can't. I shouldn't. I can't keep doing this every time I see him.

I catch my breath and stare at him. Damn that expressionless mask. I want to see his eyes shine again!

"Sir, please. Leave the password as it is," I plead hoarsely. "I promise, I won't use it. Only when it's important."

"I'll think about it," Snape answers, turning away. "Time for you to go."

"Good bye," I say against his back.

"Good bye."

Chapter Text

Thursday starts with the telltale taps against the windowsills and the wind blowing the bed curtains wide open.

"Whoa!" Dean keeps trying to close the window, fighting against the chilly gusts. "Look at the size of that hail. It's going to rain rocks soon."

"Spring's finally here," Neville jumps in. The unease that dwelled between him and Dean right after our encounter with Seamus is long over, so their interactions are once again easy-going.  Finnigan now only speaks with Dean, ignoring the three of us completely. Dean turned out to be, if not smarter, then at least more sensible about that.

"Spring? Ha! It's almost summer!" Ron huffs, and the heavy window that has stayed open since April finally gives in and slides closed, thanks to our group effort. The room is now much quieter, despite the rattling tap of the hail against the glass and our laboured breathing.

"The weather's been so crazy lately. If this keeps up, my head's going to explode," Dean grumbles. I know he gets migraines too.

"Haven't seen a May like this in a long time. First the storms, now this." Seamus jumps into the conversation, apparently having waited for Dean to speak first.

"There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio," Ron mumbles, giving Seamus a dirty look.

"What did you just say?" I stare up at him and try to figure out where he knows that from. I can understand him remembering a photo of the 'Muggle princess' from the Times, but quoting Hamlet? Really?

"S'nothing. Why?"

"Who are you quoting, Ron?" I ask him, smiling.

"Hermione of course!" he says with an awkward grin. "Was she quoting someone too?"

"Well yeah, Shakespeare," I snort.

"Who's that?"

"Oh, just a Muggle poet."

"Harry's such a scholar these days," Seamus says softly. "I'm fascinated by what falls out of his mouth. You can tell he's been raised by Muggles. Such a catch."

I let it be. In any case, Seamus is listening to me: he hasn't confronted me since, hasn't insulted me, and always calls me by my name.

Ron gives him a meaningful stare and Neville automatically steps in between them. I never thought to be wary of Neville before in a fight, but he seems to pick up on the mood of the dormitory with barometric accuracy, calm as can be. I wonder if The Department of Mysteries aged him as it did with me.

"Breakfast?" I ask nonchalantly, giving Neville a nod of thanks. Neville waves me away, but his stare is serious. We go on, the three of us, leaving Seamus and Dean behind to sort out their textbooks.

"Harry, can I borrow your galaxy model?" asks Ron as we go down the staircase.

"Sure," I say, slightly surprised. "I thought you had one."

"Broke it," Ron says mournfully. "To tiny little bits. Can't even Reparo it back."

"How'd you manage to break it?" I can't believe my ears. "You've been hoarding that thing for weeks."

"It was brand new too." His ears slowly but surely turn beet-red. "I've been holding onto it. But took it down to the common room yesterday, thought I'd check the angle of Saturn again, well, so I set it on the desk and…" he pauses.

"And then what?" I ask.

"Nothing. I was sitting there, got all my formulas down properly, and everyone had gone to bed." Ron looks around. Neville ran into Hannah Abbott and has been trailing far behind us. "Then Hermione came over and thought to check my calculations, so her elbow caught it by complete accident and boom! No more galaxy." He stops talking and I am biting my lips to keep from laughing. It would take more than Hermione's elbow to break one of those models.

"Ron," I tell him as I manage a straight face. "I'll give you mine. Just, don't ever try to lie again, you're worse at it than I am."

"What do you mean?" Ron turns red to the point where even his freckles fade.

"Nothing, just saying, I've never heard that thing shatter. Hermione must've got the Silencing Charms down, huh?"

"Harry…"

"Fine, fine." I cover my face with my hands. "Don't hex me over it."

"Hmph," Ron can't hold it in anymore and breaks into laughter. So do I. "When did you turn so clever?"

Still laughing, we enter the Great Hall, shoulder to shoulder. I cast a quick look to the left of the High Table. I think our eyes meet, that Snape noticed me entering, but he isn't even looking in my direction. Well, fine, so what?

"I've gotta get better at this now, with you around." Still red, Ron stares at me with the mixture of surprise and worry.

"Why's that?" I answer him, fixing my glasses on my face.

"Well, your lessons with Snape must be going well, since you're now reading thoughts and all," he jokes, but neither of us is laughing.

"Ron, stop being such an idiot," I tell him somberly, making my way to our usual spot. "First of all, I need a spell for that, and secondly, I'd never use it on you to begin with!"

"Well, that's good."

"Good morning," Hermione peers up at us. "You are early. Is it because of the weather?"

"Yeah, the weather." I raise my head up at the enchanted ceiling. The hail has stopped, but the storm clouds are still heavy and forbidding. "Glad our Greenhouses aren't Muggle-made."

"I like the storm," Hermione disagrees with me. "It makes it so much easier to breathe. There's the lightning, the thunder, and then the sky calms down and everything's just so peaceful."

Her response brings out something within me, but I don't want to start digging deeper.

"Why were you laughing back then?" Hermione continues as if nothing has happened, switching topic.

Ron turns red again and an intrigued Hermione attacks him, trying to fish out the answer. As they talk, I eat my eggs and bacon without paying much attention to anything else.


 

"I must say, the idea of pairing up Mister Potter and Miss Granger during class does have some merit." Professor McGonagall studies the dark grey pup that strolls from one side of our desk to the other with the expression of never having been a sofa pillow before. "Whose work was this?" Hermione points at me proudly.

Transfiguration's easier these days. Maybe because I can fully concentrate on what I'm doing now instead of getting distracted by pointless daydreaming or worrying. I finally figured out the reason behind it in the first place, so those thoughts have been cornered into a dark portion of my mind and placed under lock and key. I think of Snape only when I see him, and the rest of the time he's just present in my daily routine, not distracting or frustrating me, as he strides with his dark robes billowing freely through the corners of my mind. He isn't interrupting.

Besides, it helps to think that I can count on his touch now, if I come down into the dungeons. It even makes me feel better. Imagine that, thinking of Snape is making me feel better! Well, I guess if anything's better than the memory of great sex, it's more of it. I liked kissing him. It's good that I'm not smitten by him or anything, or I'd really be alarmed.

"Go on, Miss Granger, it's your turn," Professor McGonagall gives Hermione a nod and walks away.

Hermione stares at me with a miserable look. "Help. I don't know what's wrong with me today, I just can't seem to focus."

For a moment, I want to tell her that her nightly study session adventures shouldn't distract her from school, but that's far too mean, and insulting. She probably still regrets breaking Ron's galaxy model. I should try to comfort her instead.

"Relax your wrist," I advise her softly, then take her hand and put her wand at the right angle. "Then cast."

An orange kitten appears instead of a pup and it makes me smile. Had to be that colour, didn't it?

"See," I tell her. "You've got it down. Just please remind Ron to grab my galaxy model after class. I'll be late. Professor Sprout asked someone to repot the napdragons.

Hermione controls herself better than Ron ever did. She merely turns her head: "Thanks." Her eyes say more than words do, and I understand that she's thanking me not just for the Transfiguration help but also for having her back on this.

It's rather awkward, really. Getting into someone else's life like this. She isn't prying every single detail out of me, so why am I so insistent on getting into her love life? It's between Ron and Hermione. They're in love. And I'm… well, I'm still figuring out this sex thing.

Still? As if there's more to it. My eyes widen and I try to dig into my own head. Yeah yeah, there's no reason to worry. It's not like I'm planning a grand future with Snape or anything, or like there's any great love between us. Eventually I'll have that with someone, but not Snape. And it'll all work out. And the skies are going to have rainbows to boot. Whew, well then, that's a relief.

"Meow." The kitten on the desk completely ignores Hermione petting it and tumbles down onto my lap. It's awkward and warm and its paws are all clumsy-cute and its eyes aren't cloudy at all, but clear and conscious. Yeah right. I'd recognize that former sofa pillow anywhere. Why did it even pick me? I gather it up from my sleeve, prying the miniature claws off my robe one by one and I want to grab it by the scruff and be done with the spell. At the last second, I take pity on it, and I give it one last skritch before the counterspell hits.

Hermione watches me carefully as I give her a questioning stare. She shakes her head in the sign that everything's all right and then says: "He has Crookshanks' looks. I never thought I could manage his likeness that well."

I know full well that the reason the kitten is fiery-red is not because of the giant beast living in her parents' house, that traded Hogwarts for a Muggle kitchen and a daily dose of cream. It was that colour because she was thinking of Ron. She lied, even though it's easier for her to talk to me than Ron. Why is that anyway, is it 'cause she's just a friend?

I shrug and whisper back: "Do I have something on my face? You're staring."

"It's nothing," she answers just as quietly. "I'm just thinking you could use a cuddlier pet than an owl."

"Me? Oh come on." I blink in shock. "That's what's going to make my life complete? Where am I going to keep a pet? The Dursleys'? Or maybe in the dorms, right around Finnigan's bed…"

"Sorry, didn't think of that," she says with a guilty look, but still has that look about her. "Still, you should have something to cuddle once in awhile. Never thought you to be so sweet around animals."

"I've got enough of people, you know," I grumble back. "And enough of animals too, actually. Or haven't you seen me during Care of Magical Creatures?"

"Pfft," she snorts. "Hagrid's beasties can't compare to, say, a puppy."

"I don't want a dog," I tell her evenly. "Sirius was enough."

"Oh," she covers her mouth with her hand, forgetting all about Professor McGonagall's stern stare. "I'm so sorry, I don't know what's come over me today. So stupid of me."

"You've got your mind on other things," I tell her in a neutral tone. "Don't worry about it."

She probably understands what I mean, because she frowns. "How do you not worry about it?"

Well, it all depends what I'm thinking about. There's plenty to remember, but thinking about it - why worry? I'm pretty happy with how it all turned out so far.

"I manage," I say with a nod.

"Lucky you," Hermione sighs, but her mouth curves in a smile. "You know, it's kind of nice and all, being able to talk to you again. Especially about… these things."

"Mister Potter, Miss Granger," Professor McGonagall cries out. "If you think that after completing the assignment you may waste your time on idle chatter in this class, you are sorely mistaken! I do hope your notes contain the spell and counterspell details already. I will also expect the description of parameters of the transfigured object in relation to its origin. Well?"

"This would require a clear mind and a night's worth of work," Hermione whispers back, ever so quietly, and puts down the first lines of her answer on parchment.

I can't help but laugh.


 

"I don't believe you. How do you not think about these things?" Hermione continues as we leave the Great Hall after the meal. Ron's chatting with Ernie McMillan.

"And here I thought I was preoccupied with being a teenage boy, " I call out. "Maybe you'd make a better one. Is there something in particular?"

"Yeah, it's you, I suppose. Kind of."

"What about me?" I stop but Hermione drags me by the hand.

"Keep walking, don't cause a commotion. I'm sorry, Harry, but, you with a Hogwarts Professor, don't you think it's -"

"No, I don't think," I adjust my bag angrily. "No one is getting hurt over it. So what's the problem? Or do you think I'm a freak too?"

"No! Of course not!" she almost shouts in protest. "It's just… what are your plans? Ron and I are planning to marry after school. Have you both got something, anything…"

"There's no 'us' to speak of," I answer. "There really isn't. There's him and there's me. And then there's some great sex. And if school's over, well, who knows what will happen then? Why keep guessing? I just want to live my life!"

"You think you've got nothing in common with him except…" Hermione bites down on her knuckle. "Oh. Wow. You slept together."

I stop again, looking straight at her. I thought she'd guessed long ago.

"I thought you warned me to be careful 'cause you already knew," I tell her with an onset of exhaustion, and turn away. "I'm sorry if it surprised you. Just… don't tell anyone."

"I did know it," Hermione says in a frazzled, confusing tone. "It's just I didn't expect you to talk about it so calmly. I'm glad. You finally realised you're an ordinary human being, just like the rest of us. Snape deserves a thank you for that, if you ask me. It doesn't matter to me who he is, if he's affecting you for the better."

"It's not Snape's fault -" I start, and then stop myself.

Hermione gives me a studying look. "You know, Ron's already calling me a walking encyclopedia, but it's better to regret what you have done than what you haven't. Though I hope there are no regrets either way. Come on, History of Magic's about to start."


 

I come out of the Greenhouses exhausted from the heat and the humidity. The napdragons, magical flowers crossbred a few centuries ago, demand constant attention and specific conditions: a warm shade, constantly moist soil, and watering at a certain time of the day. Professor Sprout was so happy to see me, she handed me the mask, instructed to keep it on and secure at all times, and sent me off to work. I've been saddled with repotting the young flowers from the communal flower bed into their individual pots, trying not to harm the tangled root system.

It was hard to breathe at first, through the wet cloth, and my head was spinning, but as I mentioned taking off the mask, I nearly cost Gryffindor twenty points. Turns out that dried napdragons make up a key component of sleeping potions, measured out in microscopic doses. If one were to forget oneself and breathe in the scent of a fresh napdragon, inhaling a tiny portion of the phosphorescent pollen, Professor Sprout informs me, I'd be sleeping for days or even end up in a coma.

After that, I pull the wet cloth right up to my eyes. I very much do not want to die this week.

What did Hermione say? I finally realised I'm an ordinary human being? Maybe she's right.

The clock shows seven when Professor Sprout lets me go. She thanks me, noting that none of her students ever volunteer for such a chore, and grumble about doing it while serving detention. I give her a shy grin and quickly leave, taking off the mask at last and breathing in deeply for the first time in ages. It smells of rain, after the morning hail, the sky hasn't cleared and the storm Hermione likes so much has hit at three in the afternoon. The thunder drowned out Professor Binns' sharp voice during History of Magic.

The grass is still wet and I'm trying to stay on the path that leads to the castle. It takes much longer to follow the winding road, but I'm not about to get my jeans all wet. When the path turns around the corner of the castle, I hear voices, and before I even make out who is talking, I slide back into the shadow, not worrying about getting wet anymore. I hope I haven’t been seen. I peek out carefully.

Sure enough, Malfoy stands amid his companions informing them of something, as he taps his wand absentmindedly against the wet leaves of the hedge. I hear 'Potter' and I'm all ears. I've got all the time in the world when it comes to kicking Malfoy's arse, but maybe I can get something interesting out of him first.

"I don't even hate him. One can only hate an equal." His schooled tones make me laugh. Of course, what mere mortal would ever dream of comparing themselves to the great Draco Malfoy? "Potter disgusts me, that's all there is to it." Malfoy shakes the branch with force, and the rosebush shivers, shedding its last drops of rain.

"Not how I would put it, Draco, but whatever helps you sleep at night." A mocking high-pitched voice prompts me to look once more. Millicent is looking at Malfoy, not deterred one bit by the icy expression on his face.

"Enlighten me."

"Potter's interesting." Her tone is slightly condescending, but I remember how she looked at me a few days ago, maybe she's pretending not to care after all. Does she have a crush on me? A Slytherin. Just what I need. "You just can't appreciate a handsome lad when you see one, Draco."

"Do shut up." Judging by his voice, Malfoy is mad. "I've had enough of Professor Snape taking pity on him for some odd reason, and now you too?"

"How's that?" Crabbe's gruff voice cuts in.

"Are you completely blind? Have you seen what he's been up to?"

A chill runs through my body. He can't know, he can't!

"Professor Snape isn't taking points, isn't calling him names, even invited him to his office for some reason," Malfoy lists. "Besides I never got a decent explanation why it was even necessary!"

Right, and you never will.

"Did you try to interrogate Professor Snape or something?" That's gotta be Goyle.

"It is within my full right to ask Professor Snape a question, considering our unique relationship," Malfoy proclaims with a tone of great significance. "How long are you going to make me stand here and explain things to you idiots? Let's get back to the castle already, I need to dry off."

"You asked us to come out here yourself." Millicent seems disappointed. "Besides, the weather's amazing!"

Another fan of thunderstorms, looks like.

"Well, if you want to get your feet wet, go right ahead," Malfoy's sarcastic tones seem so familiar, especially considering whom he always copies. I press my back into the wall and grit my teeth, trying not to miss a single word. I have a feeling I'll have a lot to think about after this.

"Stop being such a prat already," Millicent grumbles a few steps away from me. I hope she doesn't decide to walk off alone, and run right into me as a result. "You're not yourself and it's all Potter's fault. It's like you've got a crush on him or something. What are you, jealous?"

"Me? Have you got any brains left under all that soggy hair?" Does he always yell at his friends like that? Even his dad being in Azkaban hasn't given him any common sense. "If I had to be jealous, I'd be jealous of Professor Snape."

"Ha, you? You're as straight as they come, Draco," she laughs. Is she mocking him on purpose?

"That's right!" I glance around the corner and see Malfoy turning to Millicent, lifting her chin with his index finger. "But when it comes to my favourite Professor, as we both know, all these labels tend to peel off in a hurry. You're welcome to come and check for yourself though, if you're so worried about my love life. I'll invite Pansy along. I don't think she'd mind."

Just a normal chat between Slytherins, nothing to see here. Ugh. I wince at all the dirty images that make me want to take a shower. Making plans for the night with Crabbe and Goyle standing right there… just, no!

"You do that." Millicent must've started walking, because Malfoy calls after her. And then I hear a muttered curse and the sound of footsteps. Just as I thought, Malfoy catches up to her and tries to throw his arm around her shoulders. She pushes it off twice, and then sighs -- her shoulders move -- and calms down.

The group of Slytherins disperses and I am left alone, shivering so hard that my teeth rattle. My back's all wet from being pressed against the wall, and my jeans are soggy and heavy, but that's all secondary to what's going on in my head right now.

"Our unique relationship…" "my favourite Professor…"

What else am I supposed to think? How else am I supposed to interpret Malfoy's words? Awhile back Malfoy said he knew everything about me, probably because it's written on my face, every time I think of Snape, that's why. Nonsense, it can't be. I've had enough of Seamus with his dubious morality and double standards. Malfoy can't be pursuing Snape, he can't be with Snape.

But, to think of it, why not? Malfoy's handsome enough, I suppose, with that blond hair, those pale eyes. Snape held his hand back then in the dungeons, trying to fix his fractured wrist. How did I not see what was right in front of me?

I stand there with my shoulders lowered and then punch the stone wall with a shout. Again, and again, and again. No one's here anyway, no one's going to see. I've been a complete fucking idiot all this time, how did I not know it?

Two-faced snakes, the lot of them. Lying, faking, cheating bastards. They'll stab you in the back at every turn, they can't ever be trusted. Why did I ever trust him?

I roar with fury and then stare blankly at my bloodied knuckles. I grab the small jar of salve out of my pocket. He's had that same exact jar for the lubricant he used… Fuck!

The jar hits the wall with a dull thud. It's cracked, but not broken. I pick it up and throw it again, and again, until it's nothing but an explosion of silvery dust. Glass shards spray everywhere, it's a miracle I didn't get any on my face. My glasses saved me from the worst of it. Who cares if that was all of my salve supply? Who cares if my scar's still even there? Let it. I've got one scar already, so who cares if I get another one or a dozen of them? It doesn't matter one fucking bit if I'm covered with them, does it? I'm meant for it all anyway, the Chosen Hero, the Boy Who Lived, the Saviour of the Fucking World. I'm meant to have all the scars I can carry 'til I die. If I win, they'll be grateful for awhile, if I lose, it won't matter anyway, cause I don't fucking matter. No one cares, no one at all. I'm all alone.

Warm fingers between my teeth, not letting me bite down on my own lip, offering to take the damage instead…

My fury fades, and I'm left hollow. I press my shoulder against the wall, not having any strength to get up. The anger is still there, slowly seething, and there's only one way to take care of it. I push myself away from the wall and rub my face with my hands, forcing it into a calm, or, at least, credible mask. And then, I force my heavy feet to move and walk on toward the castle, into the dungeons.


 

"May I come in?"

An abrupt 'yes' echoes my knock, the tone confirms that the man who said it won't be pleased to have his solitude interrupted. I walk in anyway, not even waiting for him to invite me in, and close the door behind me, quickly latching it as well. Snape's concentrating deeply on marking homework. The desk contains two stacks of parchment at each side, the tip of his quill taps against his lips, and his eyes are gliding over the current paper.

I look at him and don't know what to say. Too late now, a thought strikes. I come up to a chair that has become familiar and sit down, gripping the armrests.

Snape raises his head and graces me with his usual expression which betrays absolutely nothing about his thoughts on the matter of my arrival.

"Mister Potter, what is the reason for your visit?"

"Oh, nothing much," I answer, narrowing my eyes. "Just thought I'd see you. Sir."

That last 'sir' sounds like an insult even to my ears, and his brow arches in disapproval.

"That's unexpected. Haven't I seen you already?"

"It's been awhile," I tell him calmly.

"Then stay still and do not interrupt. As I recall we haven't scheduled anything for today."

"Oh no," I mock his tone. "Your plans for today don't include me. Not at all."

"Potter, do you have a reason for this insolence?"

"Am I insolent, sir?" I smile, feeling my lips stretch, but have no idea how it might look. In any case, I'm almost polite, I can control myself after all.

"If I didn't know better I'd ask if you're drunk." Snape peers at me with that aggravating calm of his.

"No, sir. Sane and sober."

"In that case, I blame your rotten upbringing," he concludes and returns to his work.

"You're probably right," I reply sharply. "Terrible childhood, Muggle relatives, cupboard under the stairs. Where would I learn any manners? Not like your precious Pureblood students."

Snape scoffs. "Having second thoughts about your behaviour? They'll be composing songs about today for sure."

"I'm happy with my behaviour." My lips are numb, but despite that, I force a smile on my face, not taking my eyes off him as he arches his brow again. "At least I tell the truth. And don't try to put on airs. Like some."

"Do you have a specific example in mind?" His tone is even but I can tell he's angered. Well, what do I care?

"No sir, wouldn't dream of pointing at him, sir." I'm tired of making my voice sound like it isn't a complete mockery.

Snape rises from his desk, goes around it and perches at my table, crossing his arms. "This is no longer amusing. Could you explain to me why you are here, besides attempting to insult my House, my students and myself?"

"Why do you need an explanation?" I lose my assured tone for a moment, but try to make myself sound normal. "What does it matter? If I tell you, you're just going to use it against me. Silence is gold anyway, haven't you taught me that? In any case, I see I've taken enough of your time!" I jump up from the chair, unwilling to spend another second in the same room. It's making me cringe, all of it, the sight of this desk (I leaned against it then), the sight of the stone slabs (he picked me up from them), and the sight of Snape himself. I press my shoulder against the door, wanting to get as far away as possible, but Snape's ahead of me and I just get a bruise for my trouble.

He lowers his wand, after casting the Locking Charm, and conceals it somewhere in the folds of his robe.

"Open it!" I stare at him, furious. "Let me out!"

"Not until I am given the reason for this nonsense," he says icily.

"No! I don't believe a word you say!"

"I see," he says in the exact tone he'd use to describe a colour change in the potion as it's observed mid-brew. "Never thought you'd develop the taste for theatrics, Potter. Come. I said, come here. Right now."

He stares at me furiously and I don't have any other choice but to lift my head and approach him again, my hands clenched into fists.

"I await your explanation," Snape informs me, not at all affected by my stare.

"Oh, just take a hundred points already," I suggest. "Why do you need me to explain? Just don't tell me it's cause you care. You're just like everyone else. I'm just a weapon to you, a subject of a bloody prophecy."

"So it's back to that," Snape notes. "As you recall, I've heard it all before. And I do believe I even had the dubious pleasure of proving you wrong."

When he says 'dubious pleasure' does he mean the night we shared? For a second my sight dims, and I don't even fully realise what I'm about to...

"Potter!"

He's gripping my wrist and my awareness returns, as I realise that he's stopped me from hitting him just now. Oh god. I probably turn pale, because his face shows an unkind smirk. "How many times do I have to tell you to control your emotions? Hotheadedness rarely leads to anything good. And I, unlike Mister Finnigan, refuse to be the target of your street brawls."

"Let me go," I tell him hoarsely, looking past him. "Let me out, take points, give me detention. I don't care what. I am not going to bother you anymore. I promise. I won't be back."

"Couldn't you just tell me what's going on?" The question is so sudden that I take my eyes off the pickled newt and look back at him. Snape looks odd, but I don't know why or how, and I don't care to go looking for something that isn't there.

"No!" I shake my head. "Doesn't matter now anyway."

"So breaking into my office, shouting, starting a fight, and then leaving without getting to the bottom of it is a feat worthy of your average Gryffindor?" he asks in that same even tone, letting go of my hand.

I turn on my heel and head for the door, just to make sure for the second time that it is still locked. I turn, feeling righteous indignation rising in my throat. "Open it!"

"I will, as soon as I find out what's the matter with you." His calm aggravates me like nothing else would.

"Why do you care? I told you it's over. Sir!"

"Potter, you sound as if you've invented a new curse with that word, don't you think?"

He's as calm as if we're discussing the weather.

"So throw me out, already!" I roar, striding up to him again. "What's the matter? You've got the perfect chance to take points before the exams, kick me out, and then call up Malfoy to celebrate."

Snape bursts into laughter. It's as dark as his robes, loud and somehow incredibly sincere. I expected anything from him, anything but this. I stare at him in shock, not seeing any reason for this unique spectacle.

After he's done laughing in my face, his upper lip curls in contempt. "All these years spent at Hogwarts just to witness a jealous fit thrown by James Potter's son in my own office. I can now truly say I've seen it all."

I gulp for air, unable to say a word in return. Jealous? Is he mad? What the hell does jealousy have to do with it? It's what he's said to me: completely outrageous. Yes, that's gotta be it! That's it for sure!

"You said you don't sleep with students. That it's against what you believe in. That you'll lose your job for this! But Malfoy doesn't even try to hide that he's bending over for you every chance he gets!" His face is still blank, and I continue hastily: "You didn't have to pity me if you were so disgusted. Oh yes, let me guess, you were saving the life of James Potter's son. How could I forget? I should thank you for it! Truly. My apologies, sir!" My last 'sir' sounds like a slap in the face, but it doesn't chase away his sneer. "Enough," I tell him evenly, gripping my own hand behind my back. "I can't stand the sight of you. Let me go!"

"Entirely mutual," Snape sighs, and the corner of his mouth twitches.

Well then, that's settled.

In the next second, his fingers dig into my shoulders and his eyes are right against my own, making me blink.

"Stupid, stupid boy," Snape spits, giving me a single shake. "Whatever you think you heard, do you really believe it gives you the right to behave the way you did?"

"Liar," I breathe against his face. "You cheating bastard, I know everything, Malfoy wouldn't lie -"

"Mister Malfoy will have the chance to explain his own words, especially if he's so quick to say them in a public place where he can be easily overheard," Snape says with a shake of his head. "You are behaving like an absolute fool. Jealousy doesn't suit you, Potter."

"I'm not jealous!" I interrupt him. "I'm..."

"Go on."

I am so angry I want to bite something, someone, anything to stop him from mocking me outright. Snape probably reads it on my face because his stare changes slightly. There's a deeper, warmer side to it, and I realise with utter horror that I'm losing myself in his stare again, losing grip on anything else.

"Let me go," I say in a near whisper, pushing him away, shrugging his arms off my shoulders, just to feel him embrace me.

"So you can assault my door and insult me again, hm?" He appears to consider the option with a serious look. "No, I believe I won't."

"I'll go." I summon the strength to say and then inhale sharply, overcome with a bout of coughing because Snape chooses exactly the wrong moment to lower his mouth to my neck.

He releases a sharp laugh and waits for me to stop gasping. I'm scared of my own reaction to him. I stare up in his eyes, and my hands aren't asking for permission, I put them on him, pull him close, close enough that we barely have an inch of space separating us. I hide my face against his chest and murmur, ever so quiet: "Liar." I don't know who I'm calling a liar.

"Pot. Kettle. As I recall our agreement included sex. Nothing else," his deep voice reminds me, whispering right against my ear. "It certainly didn't cover today's episode." His tone is sharp, but his hands glide over my back, calming me down, contradicting his words. "But then you insisted on staking out your territory, planting the flag, and insinuating you have the right to tell me whom I choose to invite into my bed. Is that correct?"

I nod before I even realise what I'm doing. "Go right ahead! Start inviting. If you're so ready for me to murder someone!"

"Appalling, Mister Potter," he sneers. "Completely inappropriate."

"Why inappropriate?" I answer hoarsely, inhaling the scent of his robes deeply and rubbing my cheek against the fabric.

"How else would you call a death threat over something you can't even acknowledge?"

"And you've got everything figured out, have you?" Something pangs, deep inside me, as I wait for him to answer.

"Yes. I'm not the one stopping you from taking a lover," he emphasises, pulling me closer against him. I exhale and do the same, pressing myself close to him, feeling that telltale warmth inside me spreading outwards, in reaction to Snape's closeness.

"Well, I don't want you to have one," I inform his suit in a whisper. "And it's not something I am willing to argue about."

"Perish the thought," Snape snorts. "I have an invested interest in my office actually outlasting your fits of fury."

"Y'mean…?"

"I mean, you completely shattered a teapot, which was a gift from former students, as well as a coffee set," he answers, and then his palms start rubbing my backside in circles and I can't keep myself from letting out a low moan.

"You know how you said, no more than necessary," I whisper madly, remembering his promise. "Now is really fucking necessary!"

"Look up," Snape commands softly. I listen to him, but don't stop hugging him to me. "Is it worth the risk?" he asks, and looks at me carefully.

Yes! A thousand times yes. I want him to read it on my face, and his answering expression is almost pained, but it disappears so quickly, in a blink of an eye.

"Are you sure?" Snape checks, not stopping that mirrored movement of his hands against my back.

"Yes," I nod and press my hips against his leg to punctuate just how much I'm sure.

"Not here," he huffs, in answer to my body language. "If you want more than a casual grope, I'd much prefer the bed."

I pull back, obediently, waiting for Snape to straighten something out on his desk, and then follow him quietly. He unlocks the door, takes down the charms, and leaves. The impossibly heavy door shuts in my face.

For a second, I'm confused, and then I hear voices in the corridor. A pack of Slytherins, no doubt, passes by, and when the voices die down, Snape lets me out with an extremely displeased expression. Has he ever tried to hide from his own students before, and not just any dirty secret, but Harry Potter himself?

I exit the office silently and wait for him to unlock his rooms before sneaking in, just as quickly and quietly.

The Locking charms, the silencing spell. Everything's like the first time, only feels a bit different. Am I just tired after that entirely useless scene I've subjected him to? In any case, whatever it is, I don't feel that overwhelming awkwardness anymore.

I take his hand and press it to my cheek, giving him a slightly guilty grin. Snape doesn't answer with a smile.

"Kiss me," I whisper, closing my eyes and leaning up to him. He wavers, and I open my eyes again and carefully put my lips closer to his. He listens at last, answering with a quick and dry kiss, pulling back again, but letting me hold onto his hand.

"Let's go."

We enter the bedroom and I am struck with the the memory of entering this space that evening when he wasn't around. Was it only two days ago? I was so scared that he wouldn't come back to me.

As he lets me in ahead of him, I turn to him on impulse and wrap my arms around him, forgetting all about how much I hated him just half an hour ago. I try to kiss him everywhere at once, his forehead, his brows, his chin and his eyelids. His hands catch my jaw and hold me still, and then dry, warm lips touch mine.

The kiss forces me to forget any remaining composure. It's good that we are by the bed already, because I grab hold of Snape, and we fall across it, not breaking our embrace or our kiss. My fingers are fighting against his buttons and losing so candidly that I hear fabric tearing. His hands glide under my top, confidently finding my nipples and teasing them with a brief touch.

At last his waistcoat and his shirt are a conquered territory, and I press my hands to his body, feeling all that smooth skin with raw, real lust. I run out of breath and for a long second we stop kissing, desperately getting rid of the rest of our gear. I pull Snape down to me, feeling my need for him burn and grow, like thirst on a hot summer day. He's the only one who can satisfy that need. There's no one else, no one.

A warm, sure hand grips my cock, making me sigh and arch against him, but I bite my lip with desperation and stop him: "Please, together."

He looks at me for a moment and then nods and summons lubricant. The viscous mass glistens on his fingers as he's ready to put them inside me. I fight off the need coursing through my entire body, and get up on my knees: "Wait."

His surprise quickly disappears as I dip my fingers into the jar, and start applying the lube to his cock, which jumps at my touch. I want him in me. I want him to feel so, so good that he'd never even consider replacing me with anyone else.

I lean down and carefully wrap my lips around the tender head. Snape shudders, but I don't pull back. My slick hand glides over his cock and my lips move in the same rhythm. I've become pretty good at giving head with Seamus, but never really expected how arousing it can be. I can feel my balls drawing up to my body and I grip the base of my cock with my free hand, just like Snape did the last time. It's easier then, and I continue on, letting myself lose control in the moment, pushing Snape onto his back and bending over him. No matter how much I fight it, a moan escapes my throat, and the reality of what we're doing is so vivid, it feels like I'm losing my mind.

"Wait." His fingers pull my hair, forcing me to pull back. "Wait! Come here."

I stretch out right beside him on the bed, and suddenly I'm under him, and his deep kiss seals me like one'd seal a contract, most likely forever. I don't care. Strong fingers caress the entire length of my cock and I'm shivering so hard that even he has to feel it. I am holding myself back with my remaining strength, I only want to come when he's inside.

"Harry," he breathes in my ear and my entire body is overtaken with release. I shout, gripping him in my arms, and then grow relaxed, with the same hold on him. My legs are completely weak, my knees falling open.

"Do you want to stop here?" Snape asks me softly, and immediately I blink and shake my head, staring up against that serious stare with a scared one. That stubborn vein throbs over his temple. He wants me so badly, he's gritting his teeth, as strongly as he can.

"I need you," I tell him, hoping it's enough of an answer. He grips me tighter, and if I didn't know better, it almost seems like a gesture of gratitude. How did I ever imagine him and Malfoy together?

"You should feel less discomfort," he says, as his slickened fingers glide over my hole, massaging the tight ring of muscle. It doesn't feel as odd, maybe because I just came, and maybe it's because he's doing it and I want him to. I want everything to be just like that Monday night.

Snape turns me over on my stomach, presses the pillow under my hips. I am still shaking with relief and with the arousal that did not quite leave me. And then the head of his cock presses into me, and I can't even breathe. I want him so much.

"Yes," I say hoarsely, closing my eyes. "Yesss…" and he enters me slowly, as slowly as he possibly can.

I take him in, feeling incredibly full, and Snape embraces me then. He runs his fingers through my hair, and I feel, for some reason, that I could cry from the intensity of it. He's breathing so shallow, as if every breath hurts. I turn my head to look at him. "Severus." Just a movement of my lips, no sound.

"Yes?" It is almost silent, and I can't stand the moment of stillness, with our bodies so tense against one another.

"Don't hold back."

"I've told you…" he starts and I don't listen, thrusting my hips against him, forcing an 'oh' out of him, and again, and again.

"You won't hurt me, I don't care… Come on!"

He manages a snort, his head tilted back, but then starts to move, carefully, slowly, but I don't let him control the pace, no matter how much he holds me down. I move against him, destroying his self-control, until he's not silent anymore, until I get a groan out of him. "Don't…"

"Come on," I challenge, so aroused from the thought of what I'm doing to him with my thrusts, "Come on, yeah, like that, just like that, ohhh…."

His hand slides down to grip my cock, as it's rubbing against the sheets, and I'm the first to come, crying out and nearly passing out afterwards.

Snape doesn't take long after that, just a few more thrusts as he bites his lip and holds me down, his fingers an iron circular grip around my hips, so hard it may bruise later. I want it to.

"Are you going to kick me out like before?" I ask, not in a hurry to let go of him.

"Not until we both get some sleep."

I shake with exhaustion, turning my head and the view is worth it: the corners of his mouth lift in a parody of a smile. He pulls out of me, and I let him lie back on his side, just so I can press myself against him and put my face against that pale chest. Did he ever have a tan in his entire life?

A cleaning charm, an 'Accio blanket', and then silence, our breathing calms ever so slowly.

If he ever tries to take someone to bed besides me, I know I will commit murder.


 

This time I remember where I am even before opening my eyes. I am not in a hurry to open them and merely go over the events which once more led me to his bed.

One overheard conversation, likely unplanned, but still a lie. I believe Snape's version now.

A resulting scene in his office after I showed up there. I only meant to show up and air out my frustration and leave right after. Was Snape right? Is this jealousy?

There were his eyes and the anger in them slowly fading into worry. I could be wrong about that, of course.

And then there was his bed.

Our bodies together is all I need to make me want to live, really live. If anyone had told me before that sex could give you energy, I would not believe them myself. But it does, even if I can hardly move right now.

It's likely late at night by now, I'll have to call Dobby again and ask him for my cloak. Still, I really don't want to get out from under the weight of the blankets, and Snape's arm, which he's wrapped around me in his sleep.

Seamus never let me fall asleep beside him. What if someone saw us? Or maybe it's because people are vulnerable when they are asleep and he didn't want that vulnerability with me.

Snape isn't afraid of that, apparently. I catch myself thinking that now, I am finding him much more pleasing to my eye than before: those sharp features, that wiry body, the hair always falling over his face. He smells so good, especially when the smell from his robes mixes with the scent of his skin.

I like sleeping with him. I don't want to leave to find my own bed.

I sigh and open my eyes. There are shadows gathering in the room, the fireplace is unlit and it's getting dark and cold. I'm still comfortable here though.

I carefully lift my head to look around. What else haven't I seen here yet? I'm met with a thoughtful stare.

He's not asleep. I couldn't even tell that he wasn't.

I release an uncertain sigh and fall back onto the pillow, not wanting to look away from him. Why do I always ask myself when I find myself in Snape's bed: how did I ever get here?

"Sleep well," he comments rather than asks.

"Yeah." I don't know what to tell him, I like it best when we aren't talking to each other, too busy with something far better.

"Great. Time to go."

I knew he'd throw me out. I wish I could find out how long has he been staring at me. And why.

I stare at him and wonder how even in my thoughts I don't dare refer to us as lovers. With a glare like that, I feel like a firstie who botched up the very first potion in his class, and not a…

"Are you planning to spend the night?" Snape inquires in a calm tone.

It's not like he's going to let me.

I'm not getting up until he takes his hand away. There. That's fair.

My previous question of what to call him now returns with a vengeance, but Snape predicts its return faster than I can voice it.

"I expect our previous roles to remain as they are. Any changes in your behaviour toward me are unwelcome. Is that clear?"

"Crystal clear, sir." I look him in the eye remembering how I pressed that heavy head toward me, how I whispered his name, how I begged for him to take me. My lips are dry and I lick them by habit.

Snape arches an eyebrow. "If that's an attempt to provoke me, it's unsuccessful."

I shake my head slowly, not looking away, and then reach out from underneath the blanket, slowly sliding my arms around his shoulders, trying to pull him close. Snape doesn't let me. "I believe both of our appetites are sated. Let's try not to assume there's anything more to it than satisfying a basic need."

"Mutual need," I argue with the sense of my own righteousness. He hmphs and stays still. Fine then. I join my hands behind his neck and rise up to him, so I can pull him back down. He braces himself with his elbows on both sides of my shoulders and puts his hands down on the pillow.

"What are you trying to achieve?"

I shake my head. "Nothing," I answer in a whisper that seems out of place when I glance at his pursed narrow lips. I'm not scared away by their inaccessibility and reach up for a kiss. "May I come here tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow? Do you mean today?" Snape reclines back and stretches.

Such a completely human gesture, it doesn't seem to go with his forbidding image. I'm overcome with desire to climb on top of him and repeat everything we've just done in this bed. What's wrong with me?

I sit up, put my feet down on the floor, and get up carefully, remembering the pain I felt last time.  He was right when he promised I wouldn't be as uncomfortable this time around. It feels odd, but there's not much to it.

I arch back, feeling the blood flow to my sleepy limbs. Then I bend down to pick up my underwear. For some reason, the sight of the floor littered with clothes from the both of us leaves me with a pleasant feeling. His shirt is missing two buttons. Just one more argument in favour of good old quidditch-style tops. It's none the worse for wear, even after all the rough treatment it's been through.

I hear movement behind me, and I'm unsurprised to see Snape already in his trousers and his shirt, a new black one, his white shirt is still on the floor.

He looks at me. My soggy jeans and cool shirt send a chill through my body and I shiver. He picks up his robe from the floor. I expect him to nag me for all the rough treatment of his things, but Snape just produces a wand out of nowhere and casts a drying spell on me. I nod thanks.

"Are you sore?" he asks with utmost indifference.

Of course he's asking 'cause he doesn't care one bit, right? I give him a slight smile and shake my head.

"Then call your house-elf and ask him to help you vacate my rooms as soon as possible." Snape levitates my things onto the armchair.

"Er, sir, may I see you tomorrow?" I ask again.

"If I remember correctly, the Sixth Years have Advanced Potions then," Snape answers. "I imagine I'll see you there."

"What about Occlumency?" And why is my tone so worried all of a sudden?

"Soon you won't need additional lessons at all, Potter." Snape ignites the fireplace and his face shows stern shadows. I can't see his eyes as well, and his voice definitely reveals nothing besides the obvious. It was better to watch him in twilight. "You've managed to put up a decent defense, blocking access to your mind. Everything that's needed from you now is to maintain that level of control. I can even say that you've shown skill and quick wit thinking of the Mirror spell. It shows magical potential, which you frequently waste on utter nonsense. You're more than capable, Potter. Your trouble is that you do not apply yourself fully."

"I'll be there anyway," I say stubbornly. "If I don't need Occlumency, maybe you can teach me Legilimency instead."

He looks surprised. "What for?"

"So I can be fully armed," I answer softly, looking away. "Vol... You-Know-Who hasn't shown himself in a while. I'm worried."

"What are you worried about?" he asks sharply, coming closer to me. I turn.

"Everything. Mostly that I won't be able to fight back when my life's on the line. Mine or someone else's."

"You've already fought him off." Snape takes me by the shoulders and turns me to the fire. "You are capable of shielding yourself."

Instead of answering, I take his hand and lift it to my eye level. My teeth marks may have faded from his skin, but I remember where they were, and trace their former place with my finger. Then I release his hand and breathe out: "If it wasn't for you, I'd be -"

"If it wasn't for me, you'd manage just fine, Potter." He frowns in annoyance. "Why the sudden cowardice?"

I stay silent for the longest time and then look at him, unable to keep my face unaffected. It's a question, and Snape knows it is. He understands it. "You may come here, but I can't promise a lesson. I have plenty of work to finish."

"Are you going to get in trouble because of me?" I ask softly.

"Because of you?" Snape snorts sarcastically. "My troubles began with you being born!"

"I mean, are the Headmaster or Professor McGonagall going to ask questions?" I persist.

"They haven't asked yet. I expect I'll be able to explain myself as long as you keep quiet." I nod in haste. "It's far more prudent to worry about your friends losing track of you."

"Nah," I answer quickly and Snape gives me a suspicious look.

"Potter, are you completely insane?"

"You aren't listening," I tell him somberly. "It's just Hermione and in any case, they're too busy with each other. Hermione and Ron that is…"

"Just perfect. All Hogwarts needs right now is a teenage pregnancy," he interrupts me abruptly, shaking his head.

"What are you on about? They're old enough," I exclaim. "They know what they're doing."

"A sixteen-year-old is not an adult!" Snape hisses with contempt.

"Yeah, what about me?"

A pause continues on, and we stare at each other in blank silence. Then Snape says softly: "You've always been an exception to the rule. Perhaps because you insist on breaking them."

It gets easier to breathe.

At least he thinks of me as 'old enough', that's a start, isn't it?

Especially when he understands what I'm going to say in the next hour before I even know it myself.

Oh, enough of that already.

"Why are my friends suddenly such hopeless idiots, but it's perfectly normal for Malfoy to hold orgies with Parkinson and Bulstrode, simply 'cause he can't possibly go through the trouble of choosing one?" That's a decent argument in Gryffindor's defence if I may say so myself.

"Leave Mister Malfoy out of this." Snape winces. "I've had enough of your squabbles."

"But this is actually true! I heard it with my own ears."

"You have a gift for selective hearing, especially when it comes to things which are none of your business."

I am starting to see red. "You're the one who asked if Ron and Hermione are going to look for me, so I am answering. What do you have against that?"

"You've told me they are aware of present developments! What am I supposed to do? Cheer you on?" Snape replies with an acidic tone.

"Not they, just Hermione! And Hermione won't tell anyone."

Snape taps his fingers against his chin and shrugs. "I should feel fortunate Mister Weasley isn't involved."

"What have you got against Ron?"

"Nothing, despite him being a slow child, but what can you expect from a Weasley?"

"Stop insulting my friends!" I step up to him, pressing my fists against my hips.

"Stop flashing me looks. I'm merely stating my mind. Aren't you dressed already? Then do feel free to leave."

I'm silent as I head to the living room and repeat my method of procuring my cloak through Dobby. I'm holding onto it in half a minute. I should really keep it stuffed into my bag from now on.

I head back to the bedroom again, to say goodbye, and nearly run into Snape in the doorway. I step sideways, allowing him to proceed, and he walks to one of the cabinets, mutters something unrecognisable, and grabs a bag of coffee beans and a coffee grinder.

For a short moment I want to stay and watch how Muggle contraptions work when commanded by a wizard's wand. But I really outstayed my welcome.

"Professor." I say softly, distracting him from placing the coffee beans into the grinder.

He raises his head with a look that shows his utter surprise at me still being here. Nothing unusual here.

"Do you know what time it is?"

"Slightly after midnight. Don't you have a watch on you?"

"I took it off before helping Professor Sprout."

I stand there in one spot, not knowing how to even start leaving, and Snape shakes his head, comes to me, and with one untraceable movement touches my face with his fingertips. "Go. Sleep."

I put my cloak on and turn away, so I don't have to see his face at my sudden disappearance. And then I leave. The door closes quickly behind me.

The corridor is empty. I walk to the Gryffindor common room, moving my legs with significant effort, similar to the one when I was walking here. But my mood is much lighter now.



Chapter Text

I'm finishing the sandwich I grabbed at lunch and stare at the moving picture in the textbook for Care of Magical Creatures. To be honest, we've seen none of the creatures mentioned in the book, only Hagrid's home-grown hybrids, and what’s the use of learning to look after those anyway? No one has the guts to voice their concerns out loud. In any case, the examination will be alright if Hagrid doesn't make us pet a Manticore during it or something.

I hmph, tracing my finger over the drawing of a small black dragon. The Peruvian Vipertooth, the current password of the Gryffindor tower. At least it's not the Norwegian Ridgeback. I flip through the text and stare at Norbert's relative.

"I thought there'd be a crowd," Ron reasons, not caring enough to lower his voice. "There were about eighty of them at the table, but it looks like there are only five new students in Transfiguration."

"Eighty? Honestly? More like sixty-five," Hermione lectures. "Durmstrang only ever had about three hundred and fifty students. Considering all the casualties and the injured, or those who have gone home to recover," she mutters a series of numbers under her breath, "yeah, it's not much at all. Though we've got more of them than Beauxbatons."

"Lucky us," Ron groans. "Have you seen their robes?"

"No," Hermione raises her brow. "Why?"

"The Ravenclaw group is fine, but the Slytherins…"

"Well, go on."

"They've got the House crest on and everything!" Ron hisses with newfound anger. "Probably celebrating they made it into Slytherin. And you didn't believe me when I told you from the start they were Death Eaters!"

"Will you stop making a fool of yourself?" Hermione stops him with an annoyed tone. "Do you really think that the Death Eaters only sort into Slytherin?"

"Why not? Look at Draco Malfoy for instance!"

"So you think Malfoy has the mark? Just because his father serves You-Know-Who?" Hermione's nearly screaming now, and I jump off my wide windowsill to step between them.

"Enough already!"

They're both stunned into silence and stare at me, their jaws dropping. I use it to my advantage. "Can't you pick a better topic to bicker over? Durmstrang and the Slytherins? Come on!"

"Well, he's kind of right," Hermione rubs her nose and winces.

"I knew it," Ron says with a strange tone of voice. "Both of you haven't got a leg to stand on about Slytherin or Durmstrang."

"Meaning?" I am not even surprised anymore at my own even tone, or newfound politeness. I know exactly where I got it from.

Ron gives me a crooked smirk. "Don't preach peace and love to me, mate. We both know you're practically at home in the dungeons."

"What's that supposed to mean?" I ask cautiously.

I've only ever talked about it with Hermione. She couldn't have said anything, she promised. I trusted her not to tell anything, in front of Snape, no less…

I look at Hermione and she gives me an adamant shake of her head. Ron doesn't see it, he's not facing her, he's been staring angrily at my collar.

"What do you mean, Ron?" I ask him again, after a long and awkward pause. He's been looking angry and concerned all at once, giving me sharp stares now and then. I can't imagine what in my behaviour would've caused that reaction.

Ron says something, but his words are drowned out by the bell ringing. The break is over and it's time for Charms. I shrug and throw my bag over my shoulder. "Fine, I don't care anyway. Just think it over the next time you try insulting someone!" We're standing nose to nose, just as we did back when Ron first mentioned I was far too worried about Snape's disappearance.

All I had to do is think of Snape and there is an unexpected warmth in my chest.

"What have you got against Ron?"

"Nothing, despite him being a slow child, but what can you expect from a Weasley?"

"Stop insulting my friends!"

His voice rings in my ears so clearly that I get a distinct need to turn around. I know he's not behind me, he can't be. He's teaching the Fourth Years now, and us afterwards.

I'll see him again soon. I don't know if I want to. Why did I even beg him to hold the Occlumency session if he clearly wasn't looking forward to seeing me?

Snape again. And again. As always.

Ugh.

I pass Ron and head to the Charms classroom. Hermione follows me, hurriedly rifling through her bag. I think she realised she forgot her Charms essay, because her expression turns stormy. The entire break she's been giving us a lecture about Durmstrang numbers and completely forgot about her own homework.

"I can tell him you're going to be a bit late," I tell her, grabbing her bag. Hermione gives me a grateful nod and rushes toward the Gryffindor tower.

Ron trails beside me and huffs now and then, not having enough courage to continue what he started, probably, cause it'll lead to us picking a fight again. Or maybe he just doesn't know what to say to me. I'm not saying anything to him, but suddenly he takes a few quick steps and stops in front of me blocking my path. I stare at him grumpily. "What?"

Instead of answering, Ron reaches out and brushes my hair forward, so it covers my ear and my neck. I pull back from him. "What's gotten into you? You've been acting odd all day!"

"Oh, you've noticed," he says with a chilly tone. "I thought you were going to nap the entire class. You didn't get back until what, morning? Where did you go?"

"None of your business, that's where." I walk past him. "Come on, we're late already."

"Of course it's none of my business. It's nobody's, except for the great Harry Potter himself. Only, Harry, you should've checked the mirror before you left, if you want to keep all of that business of yours to yourself," Ron hisses in my direction, keeping up with me as I walk.

I stop, surprised. Why was he ogling my neck anyway? I glide my fingers over the side, and there's an answering twinge of pain. It makes me hiss.

Oh crap. Nononono!

"Ron," I want to laugh, but I know that'd come out guilty as hell. "What did you try to cover up?"

"You mean you didn't notice?" he blushes beet-red. "Just ask Hermione for a mirror. Or a healing spell or something. She's pretty good at those."

"Just tell me what it is already!"

"You've got a bruise. On your neck. And there are teeth marks in it," Ron says carefully, looking me right in the eye. "I'm guessing that wasn't a girl. And considering you came in pretty late with your cloak on and all…"  

"So what's it to you?" I inquire sharply. "I am not asking what you and Hermione get up to. Or are you so disgusted by the thought that I'm --"

"It's not about that! It's not because of you, I swear, it's 'cause of who you're with. M'sorry, Harry, it's just all so… ugh!"

Ron turns around and I rush out, feeling his stare at my back.

At least he was honest. There's that, the thought strikes my mind.

I run into Hermione by the door. She's out of breath, but happy, carrying the scroll she was after. We are even on time, blending into the returning crowd. So we walk in, take our seats, and Hermione asks me a reasonable question: "Where's Ron?"

"Late," I mumble, not taking my eyes off Professor Flitwick, who is climbing onto his chair.

"He's been so odd lately," Hermione says. "I haven't seen this side of him for awhile. What crawled into his arse and bit him?"

"More like, he's all bothered about someone biting me." It's easier to admit to it than I thought it would be. I carefully move my hair and part my raised collar. Hermione, with her lips pressed in a thin line, examines my neck and then, without a single warning, flicks her wand and aims a healing spell in my direction.

Whoa, that was fast. I wonder which one of them's fond of leaving these, Ron or Hermione. Oh well, what business is it of mine?

"What exactly did he tell you?"

"Just 'ugh', it's clear he was disgusted," I quote with an even tone. Didn't I bring this on myself?

"Ouch." She covers her eyes with her hand, as if ashamed of Ron. "Please don't take it too seriously, he didn't mean it. He's just worried about you!"

"He's so worried I'm feeling like crap now, isn’t he?" I spit out. "Sorry."

"S'fine. Why did he say it to you anyway?"

"Dunno. Probably 'cause he thinks me having sex with, well, you know, is that vile." She nods and I lower my voice even more. "You haven't seen him! You should've been there," I conclude bitterly and turn away.

"Harry," Hermione puts her hand on my shoulder. "Ron doesn't know who you were, um, with. I haven't told him and no one else would ever find out, I swear!"

"So he's guessed it himself! You realise that it's all over if this ever comes out?"

It's been worrying me all this time.

"What's 'over'?" Hermione blinks. "Ron? Are you planning to pick a fight with him again?"

"What does Ron have to do with it?" I wave her off and mouth "Snape!"

Hermione reads his name from my lips and then shakes her head madly. "Do you mean for having sex with a student?" She covers her mouth and I slowly nod, completely horrified at that particular outcome.

Why can't I have sex with whoever I want, instead of worrying about what people would think? It's terrible to think that Snape is risking everything, much more than me, just to be with me.

Why did he even agree to it in the first place?

"Don't worry, no one is going to find out," Hermione interrupts my questioning. Her voice seems so sure. "I promise you, Harry."

At that same moment, Ron slides into the classroom, sneaking down the aisle to his seat; he sits down not giving me a second look.

"Good day, class," Professor Flitwick addresses us in the resulting silence.

"Used to be pretty good," I grumble, resting my grumpy stare on the robes of Durmstrang students. At least they haven't changed into green and silver, but they are wearing the Slytherin crests. Ron was wrong, the sixth year class has not five, but seven of them, the others are likely younger. Snape's probably got another headache to deal with, considering the thirty new students added to an already sizeable House.

Snape has caused Ron a headache though, considering how much Ron's trying to avoid me right now. I didn't expect him to be that rattled about it, to tell the truth. He might've been OK with it in theory, until he saw it in practice and then, well, what's done is done.

I can guess the exact moment I got this bruise. Snape pulled me into a crushing hug and moaned into my hair and then pressed a kiss to my neck. Of course I didn't have a reason to worry then. In another world, I wouldn't have considered removing it. I want to keep it, it's Snape's mark on me.

Wow, my life has really, really gone downhill.

A hot wave of desire spreads outwards from the pit of my stomach, and I force myself to think of something else for once. It's as if yesterday has changed something in me. Should Hermione ask me now if I’m thinking about 'those things', my ears would be burning in no time.

I think so, at least.

I don't know why, I don't know how, but I am thinking about those things. Thinking as if I'm not satisfied with what I've got already.

I behaved worse than a child with him, I should be ashamed of all the things I said. I think I even threatened him. He had a smile in the corner of his eye, I remember. Back then it seemed as if he was mocking me, but now, remembering it, I don't see that at all. I just want to disappear off the face of the Earth at the thought that he'll be looking at me in an hour. Even if he doesn't look at me, I will end up following him with my eyes the entire lesson, as I bend over my notes and let my fringe hang low over my eyes.

He's just good at it, that's all there's to it.

Hm. Good at what exactly?

Having sex?

A week ago, I'd've just called it fucking.

Why can't I call it as it is, what's the difference anyway?

There's no fucking difference!

Oh, enough of that already.

"Spells from the Strengthening Charms category will of course save you from perishing at sea in a broken boat, if you use the Mending Charm, but that's not their only use. A Fixative Spell, for example, cast by a mage with significant magical power, may stop an earthquake. Not for good of course, but long enough to allow those around them to escape. We'll start by learning the most basic spell of this kind, the Support Spell. It is used for building a house, fortifying the walls to make them stronger and longer-lasting."  

Professor Flitwick's high-pitched voice is putting me to sleep, but you can't be distracted during Charms, his owlish eyes are watching everyone. I finish taking notes and set my quill aside, preparing for the demonstration of the spell. On his table is a house of cards, erected by a mere flick of his wand. The entire Tarot deck has gone into its creation. The construction looks so flimsy that even a stray breath in its direction all the way from this fourth row might send it tumbling.

Professor Flitwick points his wand at the top card, which is spinning helplessly like a weathervane, and then says some spell. It isn't in the textbook. If we're going to have an exam on this, we're completely screwed.

Professor Flitwick jumps on the table and lifts the house with both hands. The cards aren't even shifting as he spins it this way and that way, as if it'd been carved out of a solid block of wood. The class breaks into applause.

"Now, good, good," Professor Flitwick sets the house back on the top of his desk and says the counterspell. The deck falls down, individual cards scattering. "Write this down and start working on your own casting, you have thirty minutes to practice. Yes, Miss Thorpe?"

One of the newcomers has her hand raised. I suppose I should call them Slytherins, since they're going to spend the rest of the year as such.

"Professor Flitwick," she says with a faint accent, pronouncing every syllable, "are the charms from the Strengthening category ever applied to people?"

He turns his head in a birdlike manner. "Are you asking about Love Spells, Miss Thorpe?"

She turns red, but it's not even that visible against her bright-red cloak. "I just wanted to know…"

"So I see," Professor Flitwick nods. "Go on, sit down. Yes, Love Spells are a part of the general Strengthening Charms category as well. I think there is no need to tell you, as you are all grown-ups here, that they are forbidden to practice, and their unsanctioned use would result in serious detention or, if the act takes place outside of school grounds, a large fine."

A loud noise from the audience drowns out his final words, and everyone seems to be asking the same question: Why?

Professor Flitwick raises his hand in a commanding gesture: "Quiet down, please."

The resulting silence carries his words, they are so soft that the further rows have to lean forward to hear him. "Love Spells are meant to simulate an emotion we are used to calling 'love'. This is imprecise. Love is a force of nature, it's unpredictable, and doesn't often become the reason for emotional conflict, unlike lust, which is often confused with it.

Love Spells are meant to generate desire, as well as a heavy dependency on another human being. They are noted for inducing complete dependency on the other person, leaving the victim unable to focus on anything but the subject of one's desire, not necessarily physical. They deprive the subject of freedom to choose, as their words and deeds center only on one goal, to belong to another or to own them. History marks a few unfortunate instances when the Love Charms succeeded in bringing two people together, all of these had come to a tragic end, for both parties involved.

Don't confuse desire with love, class. Love never appears at random, it is justified by life, by the chain of experiences, by friendship, at the very least. If there is no such base for its growth, no Love Spell would bring you happiness, despite an illusion of control over someone you desire. Thus, Miss Thorpe, Love Spells are considered dangerous and are not to be used in our society. Despite some hardship recognising them, an experienced Wizard or Witch can always identify these and dispel the illusion, tracing the magic to the caster.

Always think more than once about justifying such a step," Professor Flitwick addresses the class. "And do seek other ways in which you can connect with the person whom you feel is worth such a drastic measure."

I sit and stare blankly at my notes. I can't stop thinking about all of it. Love and desire. I always thought they were one and the same. Turns out I'm wrong.

How do you call a crush then?

How do I call what I had with Seamus?

What about just sex alone, the kind of sex that makes me want to sing and press myself against Snape's warmth?

Strange, how Professor Flitwick just based his entire lecture on magical ethics. He doesn't usually do anything remotely similar to this. Odd how it had this effect on me.

I wish I could draw a breath, stand on the spot and ask: "Sir, how do you classify sex? Does it fall under one category or the other? Or should I just not worry about it and it's neither?"

Argh, I've gotta focus! I've been staring at the empty parchment for half a class already, trying to sort out my thoughts. Maybe it's all because it's almost exam season and all the studying has gotten to me. I even sleep with my eyes open.

"Harry," Hermione's hand waves in front of my eyes. "Are you alright?"

"Fine!" I answer without much certainty in my voice. "What'd he call the spell again? Sticking?"

"Support Spell," she giggles.

Ron doesn't even smile at us once.


 

"What's our first exam, do you know?" I ask.

Hermione is between us again, acting as a link. Ron and I aren't talking to each other. If he wants to be like that, fine! See if I care.

I am actually feeling insulted. What he said about my choice of a lover feels like a stab in the back, just like Seamus Finnigan's biting comment at the bottom of the staircase outside of the dungeons. Seamus was completely wrong then, and I still punched him. But Ron… what am I going to do, pick another fight? He doesn't even understand that by insulting Snape like that, he's also insulting me. Try the next time someone flings 'mudblood' at Hermione, see how calm he's going to be.

"I think if you'd paid attention to the schedule in the Common Room, you'd be better off," Hermione says in an overly cheerful tone. "As I recall, we've got Charms, Herbology, Transfiguration, Advanced Potions, and Astronomy. I'm going by Harry's schedule here. I've got a couple more in addition to that. Can't recall yours, Ron, sorry."

"That's no surprise," he grumbles.

"It's no surprise that you can't remember your own exams either," she fires back, frowning. "How many days in a row have you asked me?"

"Yeah I've asked you for days and you still don't know, Harry asks you once and you rattle out the answer for him!"

We stop in the middle of the corridor. Hermione turns to Ron with her voice ringing and inquires: "Ron, if you woke up in a foul mood, don't expect me to use it as an excuse for your lack of manners."

"Fine, then don't." He narrows his eyes. "Go on. Better yet, ask Harry if you can tag along to the dungeons already. You might even like it, all that research…"

I'm not the only one who hears the sharp sound of a slap. At least most of our classmates have already left ahead, I don't see many familiar faces around us.

Have we all gone completely mental and I didn't even notice? Yesterday I was about to rip Snape a new one, and now my friends are at it again.

I stand there and it's as if I'm watching us from a distance. Ron turns his head away from the blow, and stares at us heavily, ready to turn around and leave. Hermione grabs him by the hand. He turns, apparently hoping for an apology. He doesn't get one, not the kind he expects.

"You're such an idiot, Ron!" she exclaims. "You can't just voice every thought that comes into your head to us and expect us to put up with it. If this is not working out, fine, go ahead, and tell us, but if you say one more word about Harry behind his back, I - I've had plenty of time to learn hexes this year, and you're going to be sorry you tried."

"I see," Ron spits. "So you know. Managed to heal his neck while you're at it too?"

"She did," I cut in angrily, holding myself back from finishing Hermione's rant.

"Fine! Just perfect! You know, Hermione, I never thought you'd be such a fan of - well, forget it."

"Just say it!" I stare at him without blinking.

"To hell with that. I'm not going to fight with you." He waves his hand and turns away. "M'not going to tell anyone either."

He walks away, his shoulders sagging, and Hermione turns to me in complete confusion. "Do you understand anything about what just happened?"

"I think I do," I answer and I even manage a small smile.

"He's gotta understand, Harry. He just has to," she says dejectedly, mumbling to herself. "Ron always said he doesn't care about things like sexual orientation."

"Did you talk about me?" I don't even feel surprised anymore.

"A few times, last winter, when we both weren't sure. Ron told me himself it's all good, I didn't even have to lecture him."

"It's easier to say it than to mean it, I suppose," my tone is bitter. "Come on. Advanced Potions is about to start."

"Yeah, let's." Hermione gives me a determined look.

We are almost there when Hermione glances at me. Her eyes are sad, but there's a calmness to them as well. "How are you doing in class? His class, I mean. I can't tell if he's favouring you or anything."

"Are you nuts?" I snort. "Might as well wish for a snowstorm in July. I don't even think about any of it unless we're alone," I whisper to her. "Least of all during lectures. Honest!"

"I guess I can see that," Hermione nods. "It's like he's two different people, one to others and one to you."

I don't answer her, though there's some sense in what she's telling me. I want to think there's only one Snape, and that's mine. Not even a lover, I can't think of him as anything but Snape or 'him', not even a name to go with it.

Why am I so concerned about seeing him differently from anyone else?

Does he treat me differently from how he treats others?

Is it any of my business anyway? Should it be?

It should, and I'm not going to let him treat anyone the way he is with me!

Oh god, what am I going to do?

Why am I even bothering?

He's sleeping with me. I'm sleeping with him. It's great and everything. Probably even good for him too, since he's taking such a risk. He makes me want to live, he makes me feel normal for a change. We've got great sex. And that's it!

All of that, it's just desire, like Professor Flitwick said, it's not like it's real. It's not as if we've got anything developing from shared experiences or even friendship.

It's only a physical need. Plus my idiotic jealousy to boot.

He's two different people, one for me and one for the rest of the world. Severus Snape.

I enter the classroom without lifting my head at him.


 

"So, during our previous session you have prepared a potion called Dreamless Sleep, though it's more prudent to call it a waste of ingredients. Thus, today you must repeat the procedure, with what I hope would be a more successful outcome. Otherwise, you will suffer my extreme. Disappointment."

Snape walks among the aisles, and the students all lower their heads to their notes, as if by habit. I remind myself that I must follow suit, and quickly take my eyes off him, noticing only that Ron has wrinkled his nose pointedly without looking at me. He's probably laughing at me inwardly, or thinks I'm so dependent on Snape, I can't even stare at him openly so we aren't discovered.

I sigh, count to three, and raise my head. Just in time to meet Snape's eye. He's a good teacher, I've gotta admit. My heart may be pounding when I see him this close, but my face stays carefully blank, slightly displeased. His face doesn't show anything either, he looks at me as if regarding an empty spot and passes by me.

"I assigned homework on account of failed potion brewing," he continues behind my back. "Mister Zabini, please collect everyone's work. Those who couldn't manage a successful brew in previous lesson may start their next attempt. Mister Malfoy, Miss Granger, as well as Weasley and Potter, and those who are only joining us now…"

My last name brings a tone of disgust to his lips, and it's oddly hurtful. It's just for show, I remind myself, fighting against my own sense of deep annoyance. There used to be a time I could care less what tones Snape's voice held when he mentioned me. And now, even if I know he has to keep up the pretence, I'm still angry. It's such nonsense to be mad about too!

"... you will work ahead with the next potion amid the same series of healing brews. The ingredient lists are on the board. I encourage you to pay attention so you do not confuse yourself with a wrongly chosen set. If you brew an incorrect potion, even a successful attempt on your part will result in an appropriate punishment. Though I can't imagine this class can accomplish anything successfully since some of you still manage to confuse spearmint with foxglove after six years of study." Neville turns bright red at that and several people snort, covering their mouths.

I go over the lists and wonder what Snape would say if Ron and I were to split up and brew our own potion this time.

Today we are brewing the Dreamful Sleep. I never thought that dreams could prompt so many potion recipes to begin with. This one apparently helps the drinker choose their dream on demand. I catch myself at the thought that I should like to try it when it's done. If it turns out alright, of course.

In any case, I have no desire to work with Ron today. Judging by his expression, it's probably mutual. I walk toward the ingredients cabinet and start collecting the ingredients as I check the list on the board. I don't even look in Snape's direction, afraid of some odd thought or other appearing in my head. Now I have to think of the assignment. And how to manage the recent tension between Ron and me.

As I walk back, my elbow almost hits Snape's sleeve as he searches for something in the drawer of his desk. That's where he keeps the chocolate bars, a thought strikes. Under lock and key, probably, so they don't escape and start biting back like their owner. Ha! I slide past him and return to my desk.

Ron watches me with a sullen stare as I sort out the herbs, the dried dragonfly wings, and the crushed turtle shell in front of the cutting board. As I fill the cauldron with water and start slicing the first portion of Bitter Buttons. Apparently it's a key ingredient in all the Sleeping Draughts.

"I don't get it," Ron asks in a hissing whisper as he breaks the silence. "What am I supposed to do here?"

"Fetch your own cauldron and ingredients," I say softly, gulping down against the tightness of my throat.

"You mean…" red eyelashes move, blinking, as if he can't believe his eyes. "Are we brewing separately or what?"

I don't answer even though his displeased huff must've been heard by half of the class. Hermione must've heard it perfectly, even among all the tapping of the knives against the cutting boards.

"I don't want to work with you," I tell him, in an even tone.

I won't fight him. I am not about to try explaining anything or asking for an apology. Why torture either of us? We're both free to make our own decisions.

I can even see his point of view. Honestly, I do. It must've irked him like a piece of dust stuck in the eye that I'm a freak. But that's not all of it, I had to go and start seeing Snape behind his back. The greasy git himself, as Ron calls him. Called. Until I stopped him, that is.

I get it, I really do. I'm not even mad at Ron right now.

I just don't want to work with him anymore.

I don't want to talk to him either.

Just because I get it, doesn't mean I forgive him.

For some time Ron sits staring at my hands, as I'm throwing dried blooms into the cauldron. Then he puts his elbows down and puts his chin over his crossed arms. "You know, I'm not going to do a thing today. He's probably got all the points figured out by now. You won't get anything taken off, but I'll put us hundred points behind, just watch me."

I don't waste time arguing, just shrug at him. I don't even hear his words, he's an empty spot to me. Funny how I don't even have to try hard. I can shield my mind not only from harmful invasions, but also from Ron's presence. Ha!

I crush bits and pieces of turtle shell in my mortar and let my thoughts flow from subject to subject, not focusing on anything in particular.

Today is Friday. Only three days ago I thought there was no sense in living, that I'd only be a murderer or dead at the end. That the only way I could fight back against the perceived injustice was by taking matters into my own hands and kill myself. I haven't even voiced the thought once, but I remember that greying empty fog around me all too well. Desperation isn't always sharp or blinding. It can be pale and dim and squeeze all the air out from your lungs. It robs you of your ability to see the possibilities of tomorrow.

What does Ron know about a feeling like that? Does he know at all how it feels when someone pushes you back from the brink, proving to you once and for all not in words but with deeds, that you are needed here? Not needed to fulfil a duty, but wanted, truly wanted, not to some abstract magical society, but by one real person.

Ron doesn't know anything, I tell myself. He's lucky not to! I'll be glad if he never finds out what it's like. The longer he'd stay naive the better. But what am I going to do about the fact that we can barely talk to one another? Why can I talk to Hermione with such ease, but can't mutter a word toward Ron? When did it first start?

I have all these questions, but none of the answers. Maybe it started in April. When Ron found out I was sleeping with Seamus and had to come to terms with the fact that Cho Chang was a mistake for me. All the wrong bits. But Seamus was one of us at least, we shared a dormitory for years. And then comes Snape, a bloke twice as old as we are and who hates our guts.

Well, if you think of it, I didn't really sleep with Seamus, not really. Sleeping isn't just about fucking. It's about falling asleep together too. And about waking up feeling someone's hand reaching over your shoulder in their sleep. It's about sex bringing you joy, and not just relief. I'm so glad I finally know enough about it to be able to put it into words.

What would Ron say if he knew this? His relationship with Hermione reminds me of myself this spring, still trying to figure everything out. Usually people try to sort out their feelings when there's nothing left to sort out. Finnigan has taught me that. It's when we've got something on our mind bothering us, then we can't voice it. Even the closest friends like us grow silent and torture each other over a distance for a while before offering a hand.

I'm not about to be the first one to do that.

That name that makes Ron shiver when he hears it, as if seeing a spider, is attached to a man who saved me from myself. I don't care if we're not in love, there's honesty in what we've done together. I know it as much as I know that Snape used to hate me. That he wouldn't want me out of some misguided need to save me, or to do the right thing. I still annoy him. So he's honest with me. He wants me. And, oh, the way he wants… Hermione and Ron probably wouldn't dream of such overwhelming sensuality, those demanding kisses alone. They'd never understand, Ron especially!

Snape's like me, exactly like me, and I can see Ron giving me dirty looks over it. As if Ron's trying to imagine how I am with Snape, how we do it. He never asked me about it upfront, probably embarrassed by it, or by me. It's been like that for awhile, Snape and I that is, and Ron and Hermione secretly running off to the Prefects' Bathroom together.

Snape is capable of looking at me in a way that makes me feel every bone in my body, every muscle and every nerve. His stare make my heart beat faster. I wonder if Ron's ever felt anything like that. Would he understand any of it? Would he understand how Snape isn't wary of what I want, what I need from him, and that makes it all worthwhile?

There. I won't be able to say even half of what I'm thinking to Ron, especially since it's not my place to make excuses for what I am. That's how I was born. I've accepted that at last. And if someone like Ron doesn't like it, or is sick of it, they can bugger off. I won't hold them back, just as surely as I'm not going to toss a rock in their direction as they go.

It's simple really, the next lesson we'll probably sit apart. And won't tell anyone what happened.

I really, really wish Ron would apologise. But he doesn't even understand what to apologise for! So that's all useless.

I breathe in the spicy scent coming from the boiling cauldron. Why does it smell like cinnamon? Strange, I didn't use cinnamon. I slowly release my breath so Ron doesn't suspect anything wrong. He didn't even try to keep up with the class. He's just sitting there and staring at me, as if he wants to interrupt me with his stare and keep me from concentrating and make me chop my finger off with a knife or something. Does he really think I'll feel guilty and offer to split our work? Ha, right! If Snape takes points from him now, it wouldn't be for any ruined ingredients, but for being a lazy sod.

At the end of the class Snape starts making his usual rounds. Today his stops are shorter, a sure sign that most of the people have completed their work successfully. He stops for two seconds by our desk and heads to Hermione and Neville's, but pauses for a second, and returns.

"Who was responsible for this?" he asks quietly, so viciously that it startles Ron. I sneer inwardly. I'm not about to be afraid of Snape's icy tones now, I could shout back at him anyway. Poor Ron seems to be stuck between absolute fright and absolute disgust. Yeah, you'd better picture us together when you look at him!

"Both of us," says Ron calmly.

For a moment, I lose my ability to speak. What? I turn my head and meet Hermione's questioning look. Her eyes are wide and lost. She's staring at Ron's back, without blinking, and suddenly, as if coming to a decision, raises her hand. Snape doesn't see it yet, and I'm shaking my head, denying her offer to clarify things. We'll sort this out. The proper way, without witnesses. Like Ron says.

"Fifteen points from Gryffindor," Snape drawls. "For idleness and for lying. The next time, Mister Weasley, I’ll invite you to ruin your work in my class with greater enthusiasm."

After that he continues on and stops by Neville and Hermione's cauldron. Many in class are benefitting from brewing in pairs over a shared cauldron. Neville has actually got some decent marks out of it. Hermione on the other hand…

How'd Snape notice anyway, that Ron wasn't helping? Was he watching the entire lesson? Ron's been covering it up pretty well toward the end.

I didn't interfere of course, not to stop him, not to account for whatever it is he was doing. Maybe Ron was waiting for me to intervene, and when he realised I wouldn't, well then, decided to speed up the process I guess.

Why is it so difficult anyway? It's like the whole few recent months are tied together, and the fact that I'm finally feeling normal for once, with an actual normal sex life, means I'm left without a friend, is actually a logical sacrifice. Did I trade one for the other? Or did Ron trade me for his puritanical ideals?

I don't know anymore.

We leave the class separately and I can't help but glance in his direction. He seems angry and embarrassed all at once. Let him make the first move if he wants. And if he doesn't, so be it.

I know for sure that Snape isn't looking at me as I walk away. I also don't turn in the direction of his desk. I'll come down to the dungeons in the evening and that secret knowledge lets me carry my head high and despite everything my chest is still warm.


 

I head to the library. Today is the twenty-second, and less than two weeks remain until the first exam. Even though I stopped reading any books besides my textbooks, it's still not enough. How did we manage our O.W.L.s last year? Maybe the teachers simply took pity on us with all the questions. Right now, all the classes appear to be headed toward the inevitable disaster, impending doom creeping closer and closer with every single day, and my head is still filled with piecemeal facts, formulas, and properties that refuse to be sorted out. What if I fail my course work and am expelled from Hogwarts? Would it the first time that ever happened?

I press my palms against my temples. Hermione tells me not to worry and to prepare for the exams in the order they're listed. Fine. I read the Charms textbook, going over the basic properties of every general group of spells and with some time my thoughts of Ron and his actions in Advanced Potions take second place to what's going to happen when one or another spell is cast.

I manage to concentrate at last when Hermione runs into the reading hall. She runs up to Madam Pince's desk, receives an impressive stack of books and finds me with her gaze. I wave at her absentmindedly, getting her attention and she sits down on the chair next to me. Her face is thoughtful and her eyes are dry and had I not known her for six years already, I would not have even suspected she’d been crying at all.

I don't want to make it worse… but I have to know.

"Did you talk to Ron," I whisper, touching her hand. Hermione sighs and nods.

Well, that explains everything. Not. I better check. I wouldn't pry like this, but Hermione sighs again and tells me in a near-whisper, so she isn't heard by others: "I believe we're supposed to take a dive down straight to hell, or at least according to Ron we ought to. I've learned quite a lot about myself. So many new words." She looks like she's about to cry again. Hermione, really?

I want to see Ron. Right this instant. I have no idea what I'm going to tell him, but that doesn't matter.

It's as if Hermione can read my thoughts. "Harry, don't try to do anything. Ron won't say anything about you, he's not like Seamus."

"I don't care about that!" I forget that I am in the library and raise my voice to the point of Mrs. Pince staring at us sternly. "Why should you suffer because of me?"

Hermione gives me a weak grin and squeezes my hand. "It's nothing to do with you, Harry. You're just the motive, not the real reason. Don't get involved, please. This is between Ron and me."

"What am I, a stranger? He's my friend too!" I argue.

"Please don't!" she repeats and looks at me with those eyes. "Do you remember how you asked us not to get involved with you and Malfoy? We listened, didn't we?"

I remember. I clench my teeth and nod, not quite looking at her.

Hermione lets go of my hand and opens her book. It's Charms again, from what I can see on the cover. We grow quiet as we read.


 

I raise my head when the hall lights shine brigher. The candles in the main candelabra flare up, followed by all the candle sconces on the walls. Hermione is still reading, her brows are furrowed, perhaps from concentration and maybe because she's still thinking about Ron. Wonder how long she has been doing that? My brain is completely dead from all the useless facts that have been crammed into it. I pull my sleeve up and glance at my watch. Twenty till ten.

Ten? Whoa.

At first I can't quite comprehend why it worries me so. Then I understand. The dungeons. Occlumency!

"You may come here, but I can't promise a lesson. I have plenty of work to finish."

I've been begging him for a lesson myself and then didn't show.

If I come down now, he'll probably murder me before listening to any excuses.

I comb my fingers through my hair and push my fringe back a few times, from my temples to the back of my head. An odd shiver runs through me, ticklish from the inside. I'm probably just tired. I stretch and push back so my chair is balanced on two legs. Then I get up. What stopped me from taking my textbooks down to the dungeons? I could have spent all the time there waiting. Then I wouldn't have been late.

Maybe I'm not late yet, maybe he completely forgot about me.

"Hermione, I think I'm done for today," I say, leaning toward her.

"Yeah," she answers without much thought, flipping to the next page. I stick my book into my bag and check my cloak. It's good that it's practically weightless and doesn't take up much space.