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Longing of the Soul

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Longing of the Soul

AU notes: Harry et al are aged up one year to avoid underage issues. Hogwarts starts at age 12 as a result, not 11, and the dates are bumped up 1 year to reflect the changes as well.

The horcruxes are present in this story; however, Dumbledore doesn't know what they are beyond the journal and Nagini, so he never finds the ring, nor is he cursed by it. 

Save only for Harry's cloak, the hallows are not a part of this story.

  

STORY INFORMATION:

Main Pairing:Harry Potter/Severus Snape

Other Relationships:Hermione Granger/Ron Weasley; Neville Longbottom/Luna Lovegood; Draco Malfoy/Dean Thomas (eventually).

Major Characters: Harry Potter, Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore, Neville Longbottom, Dean Thomas, Luna Lovegood, Draco Malfoy, Ginny Weasley, Lucius Malfoy.

TAGS IN SUMMARY

CHARACTERIZATIONS

HARRY: Less sassy and whiny than in canon. He’s dealing with depression so he doesn’t fight back as much. He gains his spirit back slowly as the story progresses.

SEVERUS: True to canon in the first few chapters. Has a wake-up call partway in, and gradually softens and opens up. Ends up pretty soft (with Harry, at least—he’s still hard with anyone who hasn’t earned his trust), for the sake of holding onto his relationships. Also, please note that this Severus has several severe phobias and PTSD. Once his walls start coming down, the past starts coming back to bite him. He's afraid quite a bit during his recovery period, though he only shows it in private.

DUMBLEDORE: True to canon. He’s a manipulative berk but he means well. Mostly. He’s not evil, but definitely a morally grey character.

RON: He’s much less concerned with Harry and much more concerned with chasing tail and glory. He does grow up eventually.

HERMIONE: Gets sucked into her relationship and her studies to the point she alienates Harry, but comes to her senses before long.

GINNY: Think “Obsessive girlfriend meme.” Seriously, she has an unhealthy obsession with Harry. She isn’t a bad person—just sick. I’ve tried very hard to walk the line between making her evil and making her ill. It’s tough to make her somewhat sympathetic when she’s doing bad things.

SEAMUS: If you like him, you’re not going to like me much after this fic. He’s very much an antagonist for almost the entire book.

DRACO: He’s a decent kid stuck in a terrible situation. He’s not quite as snotty as in the books. Also, he’s gay. So… yeah, not quite canon.

LUCIUS: He’s pretty much worse than Voldemort here. Be warned.

JAMES and SIRIUS: In Severus’ experience, they are portrayed as the bullies and sexual assailants they are in canon. They might have grown up after school, but until then, they were awful. To Harry, they’re a mixed bag. The loving parents and godfather he remembers, and the bastards who broke Severus all in one. They are NOT portrayed in a good light here, in fact, none of my fics show them in a positive light unless Dumbledore is the bad guy and he’s compelling them to be assholes. If you’re looking for a fic that condones their bad behavior, look elsewhere. I don’t write it.

REMUS: Portrayed as the mild-mannered coward he is in canon. Harry is torn on his behavior. The man doesn’t stand by him like he ought to, doesn’t defend him well, doesn’t even show up in his life much after fifth year, and he stood by and let Severus be assaulted. Remus is avoiding Harry and Severus because of the fact that Harry is aware of his failures and he can’t face up to his mistakes.

LILY: She’s not given a pass either. She let her best friend be attacked. Even if he was a jerk at the time, she still should have helped him, in Harry’s opinion. Severus forgave her a long time ago as he has information Harry doesn’t. Harry’s view of her shifts when the entire story comes to light.

STORY NOTES:

There is a lot of past sexual abuse and domestic abuse in this story. It’s not graphic, but there are one or two short scenes where it is shown in flashback. I’ll post warnings at the top of each chapter to give those who would rather not read it a heads up.

 


 Warnings for this Chapter: past attempted non-con, not successful. Imperius dreams. Implied child abuse. Depression. 


 

Longing of the Soul

PART I




Chapter 1

The Dangers of Dreaming

7 July, 1997

Through a haze of pain and confusion, a sibilant voice hissed into Harry Potter’s throbbing skull. “Kill … kill them all ….”

Images of his relatives flickered through his mind, all dead in their beds, Harry standing over them with an expression of utmost hatred.

“Kill … kill ….”

But why would he want to? True, his relatives were terrible people and they deserved some pain, but to murder them in their sleep? No. He wasn’t that kind of monster.

“You are like me, Harry Potter. You feel it. You know it. Ssstop denying your dessstiny and kill!”

Harry’s limbs moved independent of his will, forcing him to turn, to sit—

“No!”

Harry’s garbled shout rang through the house, jarring him out of his nightmares, and the boy suppressed a wince. Shite, his uncle would not be happy with him. Though really, he should be grateful. After all, Harry had just stopped Voldemort from forcing Harry to kill his relatives for the third time that night. Gods, these dreams—they would drive him mad.

Or he would lose control of them one day and become what he feared worst.

At least Vernon didn’t know that Sirius had died three weeks ago—yet. Harry still had the protection of his godfather’s bad reputation, though how long it could last with Riddle poking through his mind every night was anyone’s guess.

“BOY!”

Harry cringed and staggered out of bed. If he had to deal with his uncle, it was always better to face him on his feet. Easier to dodge that way.

The door locks clicked one by one and, as the last one opened, the door slammed inwards, creaking on its hinges. Vernon hovered at the door in his plaid pyjamas, huffing and puffing like a mad bull, eyes popping with fury. Harry took a step back for his own safety.

“What do you think you’re doing, screaming like a bloody nancy boy every night! It’s gone far enough, I tell you! Some of us have to work in the morning, unlike lazy, good-for-nothing layabouts!” He stepped closer, and Harry backed away. “That’s it. You’re going back to that freaky school and never setting foot in this place again, do you hear me?”

Harry suppressed a snort. As if that would be a punishment. Even living with Snape would be more fun. At least the professor would feed him once in a while. Probably.

“All right then,” Harry said with courage he didn’t feel. “I’ll just send my godfather a note then, as he’ll have to be the one to pick me up. I’m sure he’ll be glad to see me.”

Clenching his fists, he breathed deep and fought the roiling wave of grief in his chest at the mention of Sirius. Every night, he relived it, that terrible moment at the Ministry when his godfather was lost to him forever, a laugh frozen on his face even as he fell through the veil. It still hurt like a lost limb to know he had lost the only person who had loved him since his parents, but he couldn’t let even a flicker of that show, not to his uncle, or his last remnant of protection here would vanish.

His heart panged with guilt at the thought of using his godfather’s name this way. Was it wrong to protect himself with the reputation of a dead man?

No, Sirius would think it all a grand joke, were he still alive to enjoy it.

The thought of what else Sirius had thought made for excellent laughs turned Harry’s stomach, but he kept that thought from his expression too.

Vernon’s blotchy red colour receded, leaving him with a complexion like badly-mixed strawberry porridge.

“Now, now. N-no need for that,” he choked out. “I suppose you can stay. But you’ll be working extra hard to make up for this tomorrow, you hear?”

Harry gave him a bored look. “So, the same as usual then?”

Vernon’s eyes bulged. “Don’t you sass me, you ungrateful little freak! We clothe you, feed you, shelter you, and you threaten us with your … freaky stuff and your criminal family—”

Fury sprang up, white hot in an instant. Magic rose in Harry and sparked on his skin.

“Get out. Out!”

Vernon took one look at the green-glowing teen and ran like the hounds of hell were on his heels.

Once the floor had stopped vibrating in the wake of Vernon’s retreat, Harry sank onto the bed and ruffled his hair, frustrated that he had lost control of his magic again. He shouldn’t let them provoke him—besides the fact that they weren’t worth the effort, any unauthorised use of magic would give the Ministry an excuse to torment Harry. He had no desire to endure another trial with the toad, but with the last of his family lying cold and lifeless beyond the veil, the insinuations on his loved ones’ characters just hurt too much to bear.

Even if … they were true.

Harry leaned against the wall and drew his knees to his chest, letting his tears flow now that he wasn’t in immediate danger. If things had only gone differently last month, Harry might have been at Grimmauld place with his real family by now. He could have spent the last few weeks playing chess with Ron and sneaking around the Order with the twins. He could have spent time doing his summer homework for once. Hermione would have been pleased. He could have spent some time in the air with the Weasleys, practising his favourite quidditch moves. He would been living with his godfather, making up for the past and learning what it meant to be part of a family. He would still have a godfather.

But, as much as he would have loved to spend the summer at his real home rather than in the Dursleys’ house of pain, how much would he have been able to enjoy it knowing what Sirius had done? Harry’s final words to Sirius hadn’t been kind, but even knowing that he had been so harsh with the man just days before his death, he couldn’t quite regret it. Harry had seen the dark side of his family in Snape’s pensieve that day and the knowledge had left a bitter aftertaste in spite of everything.

For years, Harry had operated under the misapprehension that Snape had been the bully. That, like he had singled out Harry as a target for his ire, he had latched onto Harry’s innocent father and godfather and tormented them for no reason.

It was a convenient story, something he had used to comfort himself even when the facts didn’t line up. When Sirius said something too cruel. When Remus, cheeks red and his eyes downcast, let Sirius go on about Snape behind his back for hours without a break yet pretended to be friendly to him when Sirius wasn’t about. When Molly looked at both men, approbation sharp in her eyes and her lips pursed, wooden spoon shaking in her fist.

Even then, Harry had clung to the belief that his family were good, honest people and Snape the epitome of all things evil. Well, behind Voldemort, of course.

But that day in the pensieve had ripped the blinders away, and all of Harry’s carefully-constructed beliefs had come crashing down on his head. Like it or not, Harry couldn’t deny that, at least during the memory he had witnessed, Snape had been the victim.

At first, he had denied it. He had tried to blame Snape for their behaviour. The man was mean, so maybe he had brought it on himself. The thought left a squirmy, slimy feeling in the pit of his stomach, but Harry denied it over and over again. He couldn’t let go of his beliefs. Maybe his family had been crueller than usual that day, crueller than they needed to be, but it still had to be Snape’s fault somehow. It had to be.

The fact that Snape had cut Harry’s mum with the sharp side of his tongue when she had only been trying to help had only given the idea fodder. Harry’s mum must have recognised the evil in him when she turned him away. Snape had been associating with Death Eaters and scum and he had only gotten what he deserved. Harry refused to admit any other possible explanation.

Until he got a taste of Snape’s medicine a week into the summer hols and realised just what an awful thing his parents and godfather had done.

Piers, Gordon, and Dudley had cornered Harry in the park down the street. Apparently Harry Hunting had lost its appeal, so the bullies had decided to branch out in their abusive ways. The scrawny, myopic Harry hadn’t stood a chance against three burly brawlers without his wand or access to his accidental magic, and so, when they tired of beating him and wanted to view their work first hand, Harry had no choice but to let them look.

 

Piers closed in, and Harry backed into the wooden slat wall behind the playground, but he had nowhere to run. “Oi! Get his shirt off, Gordon! Let’s see what the freak is hiding!”

Meaty hands grabbed Harry’s too-loose shirt and pulled it off in one swoop, the garment far too large to have provided any real resistance.

“Cor, look at ‘im,” Gordon said. “Skin and bones.” He ran a hand down Harry’s abused ribs, bringing pain and horror to the smaller boy.

Tears stung Harry’s eyes in spite of himself. “Stop it! Don’t touch me!”

“Aw, poor widdle freak is gonna cwy!” Piers snickered. “I don’t blame him either! Look, there’s not an ounce of meat on him!”

Gordon poked at Harry’s ribs far too hard, and Harry shielded himself with his arms, shaking and struggling not to keep his accidental magic from killing them all.

“Gods, he’s an ugly little shite, isn’t he, Big D?”

Dudley gave an uncomfortable sort of laugh. “Er … I guess, but don’t you think—”

“Cor, look at this!” Harry cringed as Piers yanked him around, revealing the half-faded belt scars on his back and hips, interspersed with fresh cuts. “What’s he gotten into then, D?”

Dudley let out a muffled cry of shock. “I … I dunno.”

“Must be that school, innit? They cane ‘em there, don’t they?” Gordon poked one of Harry’s scars, and Harry reeled around and swung at the bastard.

“Get off me, you bloody perverts!”

Piers and Gordon laughed. Dudley just looked horrified.

“Perverts?” Piers snickered. “We ain’t nancy boys like you! But eh, maybe we could use him for a trial run, Gordon? Get some practise in for the real thing? Big D could use some.”

Harry moved back, eyes wide with horror and heart stuttering in his throat. “N-no. No!”

 

To Harry’s immense relief, Dudley had pummelled his idiot friends for even making the suggestion that he force himself onto his cousin, or Harry would have had no choice but to release his magic. He could endure a hell of a lot, but rape? No.

Harry had been spared that time—and Merlin, he had never imagined the day would come that he would be grateful for his cousin’s bullying tendencies—but Snape? No one had come to save him. And now, Harry knew what it meant to stand there, helpless and scared, while a gang of bullies stripped him, mocked him, and threatened far worse.

How far had it gone with Snape? The man had pulled him out of the pensieve before the memory ended, but Harry clearly recalled his own father calling out, “Who wants to see me take off Snivellus’ pants?” The thought that he might well have carried out his threat made Harry sick.

If James and Sirius had truly stripped Snape naked and left him hanging there for the entire school to mock—maybe even done worse—then Harry couldn’t deny that Snape hadn’t been the bully. However he acted as an adult, then he had been a scared kid, one on four, then one on thirty, hanging upside down and helpless while the entire fifth form attacked him.

As much as the thought hurt, Harry’s family had been the abusers, not Snape. And he would never look at them the same way again. Not his family, and not Snape either.

He had once viewed the world in black and white. Gryffindors were good, honest people, and Slytherins were bad, evil prats. Snape was an absolute monster who had to be working for Riddle, and Harry’s parents were wonderful people Snape had a grudge against for no good reason. After all, since Snape was mean, he couldn’t possibly be good.

And maybe good was a stretch. However Harry’s views on the man had changed, the fact remained that Snape had blamed Harry for crimes he had no part in, had hated him because of the parents he didn’t even remember, and had abused him every day of his life in Hogwarts just because he happened to be James Potter’s son. That wasn’t something good people did.

Even so, Harry couldn’t see him as the personification of all things evil any longer, nor could he view his family as paragons of all things good and light. However they changed as adults, James Potter and Sirius Black had been criminals as children, and Severus Snape their victim. And Lily and Remus had let it happen, doing nothing to prevent Snape’s torture, when they might have spared him.

Merlin, Lily might have been the worst of them all. Harry’s mum had left him to suffer simply because Snape lashed out at her. Granted, the man deserved an arse kicking for using such a foul name against her, but to leave him there to be assaulted? Worse, Remus had told Harry that before that day, Lily had been Snape’s best friend! How could she abandon him like that? If it had been Ron or Hermione hanging there, Harry would have moved heaven and earth to save them, even if they did run their mouths. Hell, even if it had been Malfoy, Harry couldn’t have left him to suffer like that.

And what did that say about his family? Their ‘harmless pranks’ had broken Snape—that much was clear. The man was not just a bully, picking on any stray Gryffindor who happened to cross his path—he was damaged.

And Merlin, if that didn’t make hating the man difficult.

Harry sighed and wiped his tears. No doubt Snape would ensure Harry hated him again five minutes into the new term. He supposed there was time enough to worry about it then.

He looked at the clock over his desk—a broken one of Dudley’s he had salvaged—and groaned. It was only three in the morning and Riddle had already tried to take his mind over three times. Did he even dare go back to sleep?

Harry shuddered and pulled his threadbare blanket over his shoulders. If he didn’t at least attempt to sleep, he wouldn’t be able to work tomorrow. And if he couldn’t work, Vernon would starve him—and potentially strike him—regardless of his fear of Harry’s godfather. It seemed his cowardice only stretched so far before his hatred of his nephew took precedence. As much as the idea terrified him, Harry would have to try to sleep again and hope he didn’t dream.

He stared at his desk and debated for the hundredth time if he should tell the headmaster about his dreams. They had gotten worse since the DoM, when Riddle learned of his link to Harry, and they were certainly dangerous, but visions of chains and padded rooms danced in his mind, and Harry forced the idea away with a shudder. As long as he could resist the Imperius curse, he needn’t subject himself to the fate that awaited him should the grand manipulator ever discover the truth.

No. For now, he could control his nightmares. If that started to change, then he’d tell the headmaster, but not a moment before. Harry wouldn’t survive long locked up in a padded room with nothing but his dark, half-possessed mind for company.

With a sad sigh, Harry turned on his side and beat the lumps out of his makeshift pillow—a sack full of old, torn shirts. Dreams and grief and painful shadows haunted him as he drifted off, and, for the thousandth time that summer, Harry wished he had tried harder in Occlumency. Merlin, what he wouldn’t give for even a few hours without the bloody Dark Lord trying to take over his mind.

“Welcome back, Potter. Let usss try thisss again. Kill ….”

Chapter Text

Chapter 2
Haunted Homecoming

1 September, 1997

McGonagall’s stern voice called over the sounds of an idling steam engine and a busy platform. “No loitering this year, children. All students are to bid their families goodbye and board the train immediately.”

Her strident tones, amplified with the Sonorous spell, drilled into Harry’s tired brain. He winced and trudged towards the train, dragging Hedwig’s cage and his trunk in his wake. Gods, but he hardly had the strength to pull it even with the trolley.

It seemed Voldemort had a new plan for taking Harry out: to kill him slowly through his dreams. After two months of hardly any sleep at night and working like a house elf all day, Harry could barely keep on his feet long enough to hear her message through to the end.

Cormac McLaggen called, “Professor, why can’t we say hello to our mates? It’s tradition to have a bit of a romp before the train ride, you know.”

McGonagall gave him a sharp look. “I am well aware of what young students like to do before their return to rules and supervision; however, you will have to put your traditions of mayhem on hold this year. Or perhaps you haven’t noticed that there is a war going on around you?”

McLaggen paled. “N-no, ma’am. We’ve all seen the papers.”

Harry hadn’t, but he had heard the gist on the Muggle news. Mass murders described as gas leaks, bridge failures, and carbon monoxide poisonings every other day, while the Order sat on their arses and worried over prophecies and boy heroes. He suppressed the urge to snort, and then to yawn. Some hero. He could barely lift his wand in this state.

A chill passed down his spine as he realised that might be Voldemort’s plan. An attack while he was this weak would not end well. And if that prophecy wasn’t bollocks, more than Harry would suffer for it.

McGonagall returned her gaze to the platform at large and continued. “For your safety, a professor will guard the hallway outside each compartment.” Scattered groans and whispers met her statement. “I assure you, we do not particularly care to hear your conversations either,” the woman went on, a piercing look in her eyes. “As I said, we will be guarding outside the doors. Nevertheless, I do advise you to pick a compartment and stick with it as much as possible. Making our job more difficult will not go well for you should the train be attacked.”

A tiny first year cried, “But it’s the Hogwarts Express! It can’t be attacked … c-can it?”

McGonagall gave the girl a sad smile. “Miss …?”

“Rupert, Professor. Cara Rupert.”

“Miss Rupert then. Yes, it can and has been attacked. Dementors swarmed the train two years ago. Luckily, there was a professor on board who managed to drive them away before anyone was seriously hurt. Like that year, we will not be taking chances. Please, board the train in an orderly fashion and get settled in a compartment. Prefects, please guide the first years.”

Ron and Hermione patted Harry on the shoulder and went to help the first years onto the train. Harry searched the crowd for the professors while he waited his turn—he had to do something to stay awake—and winced at the sight of a too-familiar scowl near the end of the platform. Snape stood as still as a snake poised to strike, expression as cold as ever. Only his eyes moved as he took in every detail of the platform, tension and irritation radiating from him like a dark aura.

All the students save the older Slytherins gave him a wide berth. Harry would have done too, if not for the too-observant look in a certain blonde Slytherin’s gaze. He observed Malfoy through the veil of a glare—so their rivalry was good for something—noting that the prat never took his eyes off Snape. Even when Parkinson slung her arm around his neck and leaned in for a kiss, Malfoy watched Snape from under half-lowered lids. The hairs on the back of Harry’s neck stood on end. Malfoy had no reason to watch Snape that much.

No reason beyond orders to report the man’s behaviour to Voldemort, anyway.

Harry narrowed his eyes and debated warning Snape, but after spending a few moments in discreet observation of the man, he deduced that Snape already knew. Harry shook his head and moved towards the train, dragging both his feet and his trunk. He should have realised. The man was a spy. Honestly, how thick could Harry get? Of course he knew.

Snape probably knew Harry had been watching them both too, come to think of it.

With a shiver and faint heat creeping into his cheeks, Harry boarded the train, handing his trolley over to a luggage witch, who flicked her wand and Banished Harry’s trunk to Hogwarts. She gave him his owl cage, and Harry took Hedwig back with a muttered thank you. He found Neville and Luna chatting in an otherwise empty compartment and deemed it good enough to be going on with. Professor Flitwick, standing guard outside the door, gave Harry a friendly hello and a wave as he approached.

“Hullo, sir,” he said, voice slurring with exhaustion. “Have ‘Mione and Ron been by yet?”

Flitwick gave him a worried look. “They are still assisting the first years, Mister Potter, but are you quite all right?”

Harry forced a smile. “Just a bit tired. Haven’t slept well the last few days.”

Well, it was true. Of course, he hadn’t slept well the past couple of months either.

Flitwick nodded. “Then by all means, do get settled and have a nap, Mister Potter. It might do a bit of good anyway.”

Harry thanked him and trudged into the compartment. Neville and Luna greeted him as he came in, their expressions serious. Mostly. Nothing could ruffle Luna, apparently.

“Hey,” Harry muttered. “Just gonna … s’okay if I sit here?”

Neville stood and took Hedwig from Harry. “Merlin. Sit down before you fall down, Harry.”

“Thanks.” Harry flopped into the seat and watched as Neville secured Hedwig’s cage safely above the seats, tucked into a corner where the motion of the train would not dislodge his sleeping owl.

“What’s going on, Harry? You look like you haven’t slept in weeks.”

Harry gave him a wan smile. “That’s about the size of it.”

“What? Really? H-how are you functioning?”

“I’m not. Need a kip.” If he could control his bloody dreams. Maybe he should petrify himself first.

“Well, just go to sleep there then. Lu and I will put up a silencing charm for you.”

“Thanks, Neville. I might set the train on fire if I tried it now.” Harry leaned against the seat. “Listen, if I start talking in my sleep or act like I’m having a nightmare, wake me up, okay? Please?”

Neville gave him a sympathetic look. “Right. I understand. Too well.” He smiled sadly. “I’ll wake you up if I see it.”

“Thanks, mate.” Harry closed his eyes and fell asleep in seconds.




Sirius’ laughter cut short as red light struck him in the chest. His expression frozen in a mania-tinged grin, he fell into the swirling mists of death. The veil swallowed him whole, and the last family Harry had left vanished, torn from him forever.

“Sirius! No!”

“Harry, stop! It’s too late. He’s gone.”

But Remus’ anguished cry did not register. It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. Sirius wasn’t dead.

Mad with grief, Harry broke out of Remus’ restraining hold and chased after his godfather, running straight into the veil after him. A wash of coldness passed over him as he passed its boundaries, but on the other side, nightmares rather than death awaited him.

Sirius, healthy, hale, and twenty years younger, stood at the side of a young James Potter. Harry’s joy died at the sight of the vicious leers on their faces.

“No,” he whispered. “Don’t.”

But he was too late. Sirius held a snarling Severus Snape aloft, suspended in the air by his ankles and bare under his robes except for a pair of tatty, greying y-fronts. A gaggle of students gathered around, laughing and jeering.

“Serves you right, Sev,” Lily snapped, “for being so bloody mean!”

The young Snape—Severus, in Harry’s mind—cried, “Help me, Lils, please! Aren’t I your friend?”

But she turned on her heel and abandoned him.

“F-fine then, stupid mudblood.” The tears on Severus’ face revealed his hurt in spite of his cold words. “I-I’ll just … get down myself.”

“Hah! Just try it, Snivellus! I’m not done with you yet.” Sirius jerked his wand in the air, and a cracking sound made a long red welt across Severus’ chest.

Severus cried out and curled into himself, struggling to cover his exposed body with his robe and holding one arm against his chest. “Stop it, Black! That hurts! And, Lupin, aren’t you a bloody prefect? Do something!”

“I can’t. I can’t.” Remus turned his back and covered his ears, as if he could stop this horror from happening by pretending it wasn’t.

Severus cringed and cried, “H-help me, someone, please!”

Harry ran to Severus, but the moment he came near, his body vanished. He tried to cover the boy and help him down, but his smoky hands disappeared in Severus’ robes and went through his arms.

Desperate, Harry shouted, “Finite Incantatem!”

But the spell didn’t work, perhaps because Harry hadn’t the skill yet to use wandless magic. Once more, he struggled to tug Severus down, but the boy couldn’t see him, couldn’t feel him. Just like when he had fallen into Snape’s pensieve, he found himself utterly helpless.

James stepped up, twirling his wand and smirking. “All right, who wants to see me take Snivellus’ pants off?”

Severus’ scream rang in Harry’s ears.


Harry woke to someone pulling on his hand. His palm and left side felt too-warm and sweaty as compared to the rest of his body. Strange.

“Wake up, Harry!”

A feminine voice in his ear brought Harry around with a jolt. He registered pale skin and red hair, and muttered the first name that came to mind.

“Mum?”

She scowled, and Harry realised she had brown eyes, not green.

“Oh damn. Sorry, Ginny.”

Harry went to rub his eyes and discovered the girl had placed his hand in her lap. With a little shiver of distaste, he tugged at his hand. She released him, but her reluctance to do so left Harry cold inside. He edged away from her and rubbed his hands over his face. Maybe she had only intended to comfort him, but a shred of doubt remained.

“That must have been some dream to make you think my sister was your mum,” said Ron with a frown.

Harry looked up from his hands. Ron and Hermione sat cosied up in one corner of the compartment. Neville and Luna sat across Harry, both looking at Ginny with expressions of irritation. And Ginny, rather than sitting on another seat on the entire empty bench beside Harry, had spent the last who-knew-how-long plastered against his side. While he slept.

More than a little put-out, Harry moved into the corner with Hermione and Luna in pretence of greeting his friends.

“Hey, you two. Are the first years all right?”

Hermione snorted. “That was ages ago, Harry. We’re passing Edinburgh now.”

“Really? Merlin. How long have I been asleep?”

“Probably about three hours.” Ron looked at him like he was trying to figure Harry out. “What were you dreaming about, mate?”

Harry blanched. No way in hell he could tell Ron. The boy might keep Harry’s secrets, but Snape’s? Not a chance.

“The past. Bad memories and such.”

Another half-truth. It was certainly a bad memory, but not necessarily his own. If he kept this up much longer, he might prove to be more Slytherin than Gryffindor after all. Pity Snape wouldn’t care.

“Oh.” Ron gave him a commiserating look. “Sorry, mate.”

Harry waved him off. “I’ll be okay.”

That was true. Even with nightmares, he felt better for having at least a few hours of uninterrupted rest. At least he might be able to hold his wand straight if Voldemort attacked.

“Any reports of trouble yet?”

Hermione sighed and shrugged. “You know the … organisation. Even if there is a report of trouble, they won’t tell us anything until it’s right under our noses. I swear, they’ll ‘protect’ us right into an early grave one of these days.”

Harry grimaced. “True. And in that case ….” He stood and rolled the stiffness out of his shoulders. “I reckon we ought to get ready for a fight before they tell us one is coming.”

Hermione whipped out her DA galleon. “I can get a message to everyone. What do you want to say?”

Harry frowned, considering. “If I knew what we were facing, that would be one thing, but I don’t. He might send Death Eaters, or he might send Dementors, or something else we’ve never fought before. I don’t know. Just tell everyone to be on guard and watch for trouble.”

Ron gave him an annoyed look. “That’s it? No spells or anything?”

“You have a better idea?”

“Well, we could make some Patronuses ….”

Hermione shook her head. “That would drain our magical energy before we even know if we’re fighting Dementors.”

“Not to mention,” said Harry, “it would alert the professors that we’re not planning on being good little students and taking a fight sitting down.”

Ron frowned. “Shields?”

“Again, you’re draining energy and alerting the professors.” Harry sat beside Hermione again. Ginny pouted, but after waking up like he had, Harry had no intention of getting too close.

“Harry’s right,” said Neville, his face white but his eyes determined. “We can’t cast magic without letting the professors know we’re planning to fight. And if they know, they’ll stop us before we can do any good.”

“It’s never good to plant the burbleberries before the sunrise,” Luna added, her eyes oddly solemn for such a strange statement.

Harry gave her a wry look. At least that one he could make out. Maybe. “Right, Luna. We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. So, yes, Hermione, our message is to simply prepare for trouble—no defensive spells—and keep our eyes open.”

Hermione tapped her wand several times against her coin. “Done.”

“Thanks, ‘Mione.”

“You’re welcome. I just hope it proves unnecessary.”

Harry kept the thought that he doubted it would to himself. The fact that Voldemort hadn’t tortured him in dreams meant the bastard was planning something—or he was already on the way—but they didn’t need to know that.

Ron grumbled as if he had been denied a treat. “I still think it would be better to be ready for trouble when it comes. A Patronus charm would do some good, anyway.”

Harry levelled him with a sharp stare. “And if he sends giants, Ron? Or Greyback? Or vampires? What good will a Patronus do against them?”

Ron rolled his eyes. “For Merlin’s sake, Harry. It’s daylight. He can’t send vampires in the day.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Can’t he? Vampires don’t just turn to dust in sunlight like the Muggles think. They’re allergic to it, true, but the reaction drains them over time. And if they have a supply of fresh blood nearby—” He waved his hand to indicate the train full of students. “They can just heal themselves and ignore the sun as long as the blood lasts.”

Ron paled and gulped. “I-in that case, maybe we’d best save our energy.”

“Glad you could see it my way,” Harry muttered.

He moved through a quick routine to wake up his muscles and get his blood flowing. Ginny’s eyes followed him the entire time, unsettling him, but there was little he could do about it with her protective older brother hanging about. Later, he would have to set her straight. Quickly, before her attachment grew too strong.

Then again, if the girl had grabbed Harry’s hand and practically sat in his lap while he slept, it might be too late for that.

Ugh. Cho had decided him against females long ago. He had zero desire to attempt another round with Ron’s little sister. Merlin, no. That was a terrible idea.

Not to mention, she really did look like Harry’s mum.

He shuddered and sat between Hermione and Luna again.

“Harry, come sit over here,” Ginny said with a pink blush and a shy smile. “There’s a whole seat, and you don’t need to be crammed in over there.”

Harry gave her a weak smile. “I don’t take up much room. I’m fine.”

Ginny pouted again and crossed her arms over her chest, but didn’t argue, to Harry’s relief. Hermione gave him a searching look, but he brushed her off with a shake of his head. No, he most definitely did not want to go into this now.

A sudden surge of white-hot pain in Harry’s scar accompanied a rush of glee, emotion not his own.

“Shite!” Harry stood and jerked out his wand. “He’s done something. Get ready!”

As the others leapt to their feet, ready to fight, Hermione tapped the message out to the DA. She joined them a second later, wand out and face grim.

“Any idea what we’re facing yet?”

Harry shook his head. “I just know he’s really happy and plotting something.”

Neville grimaced. “Something not good for us, you mean.”

“Exactly.”

“So do we cast those shields now then?”

Harry shook his head. “No. We still don’t know what ….”

The temperature in the train compartment dropped, growing frigid in seconds, and an all-too-familiar icy chill crept up his spine. He turned and gasped, noting frost creeping up the windows and hundreds of grey phantoms soaring towards the train.

A voice in Harry’s head cried, “Not Harry! Please, take me instead.”

Screams broke out around him, and Harry wasn’t sure if they came from the students or his memories.

He shook himself and drew his wand. “Now you can make that Patronus, Ron!”

“I told you so!”

“Shut up and do it,” Neville snapped. “There are too bloody many to be arguing!” He closed his eyes and steeled himself. “Expecto Patronum!” A silver badger raced from his wand and down the compartments.

“Well done, Neville.” Luna’s hare joined his next, then Hermione’s otter, Ron’s terrier, and Ginny’s horse.

The compartment door opened and a squeaky voice called, “Oh, well done, children! Excellent charms work! Twenty points to each of you!”

Harry, swaying under the force of grief and bad memories and struggling to call a single shred of untainted happiness, cried, “Professor, is this really the time to be worrying about points?”

The diminutive man blushed. “Quite right, dear boy! Lost my head a bit there. Let’s see here. Expecto Patronum Magna!” Flitwick’s bluebird shot down the corridor, a hundred times the size of the actual bird, and raced to join the fray.

“Nice,” Ron muttered. “Gotta remember that one.”

“Takes quite a bit of power, Mister Weasley. Mister Potter might be able to pull it off. Do try it, Harry.”

Harry swallowed hard and scrambled for a happy memory. He thought of his mum, of seeing her face in the Mirror of Erised, of how brave she had been when Priori Incantatem had activated at the graveyard. But in an instant, it shifted to a flash of red hair whipping over stiff shoulders and a hot-tempered girl abandoning her best friend to suffer.

Cold crept into his bones. His wand began to shake.

“Lils … mudblood … help me!”

The cold sank deeper and shrill screams rang in Harry’s ears. He tried his father too, but the man’s gentle smile shifted into a cruel leer as he brandished his wand aloft.

“Who wants to see me take Snivellus’ pants off?”

No. No! He had to focus. There had to be something good left. Maybe his times with his godfather before death and truth swept his joy away?

But Sirius’ smiling face morphed into a vicious teenager assaulting his peers, and then to Gordon’s hands grabbing at Harry’s hips, and Ginny’s body pressed into his side without his consent. It all jumbled and twisted into Sirius’ manic grin as he dropped beyond the veil.

“Sirius, no!”

“It’s too late, Harry! He’s gone!”

The screams hurt his brain. He whimpered and held his hand to his forehead, struggling to come up with something—anything—happy, but everything inside him was broken and dim.

“I … I don’t think I can,” he whispered, and succumbed to the darkness.




Severus stood in front of his assigned compartment, his expression bored and his gut churning with an increasing sense of dread. He had expected an attack at the station. So had the other teachers, to be honest. It would have been easier for the dark forces to kill the children while they were scattered and out of reach of the adults.

Unless the Dark Lord hadn’t planned on sending Death Eaters in all along. Severus had thought—but if he wanted to keep identities quiet—and perhaps after losing so many Death Eaters to Azkaban last summer, he had no choice—he wouldn’t send them. He wouldn’t send humans at all, and that thought chilled Severus to his core. The Dark Lord commanded many varied forces of dark creatures. Severus and the other professors had no way to prepare if they had no idea which type of creature they would face.

Severus would have to walk a fine line too, if he wanted to keep his neck in one piece. Well, thank Merlin the professors had at least thought to place Severus far away from the Slytherins and the few Ravenclaws in the Dark Lord’s ranks. No one could report his actions to the Dark Lord if there were no junior Death Eaters about to see.

A commotion started in the compartment of Hufflepuffs behind him. A glance into the window showed them all staring at something in their hands, their expressions grim. The next instant, they all leapt to their feet and grabbed their wands, eyes scanning outside the windows and down the corridor for threats. At least two of them glared back at Severus as if expecting him to bite.

The brats knew trouble was brewing. And that could only be the work of ….

“Potter. Damn him to the furthest reaches of hell.”

Just what he needed. Ignorant children jumping in the middle of a battle meant for adults.

If any of them survived this bloody train ride it would be a miracle.

He reached for the door handle, ready to chide them and glare them into submission, but at that instant, a chill permeated the air and left him shivering. His breath came out in clouds and his fingers froze on the handle.

One of the Hufflepuffs cried, “Dementors!”

And that was all the warning Severus had before a silver badger damn near bowled him over. A badger? Who in Merlin’s name had a badger Patronus? Pomona’s was a niffler.

A horse joined the badger—another mystery Patronus—and Severus shook himself out of his shock. This was no time to be standing around with his mouth agape like a certain bespectacled ignoramus. He gathered his memories of Lily around him like a cloak against the chill.

Expecto Patronum!” His silver doe joined the veritable crowd of Patronuses prancing the train.

Severus narrowed his eyes and held his wand ready. Something was wrong. Why would the Dark Lord send Dementors again when he knew full well they hadn’t worked to destroy Potter the first hundred times? He knew Potter had mastered the Patronus charm—and come to think of it, where was the boy’s stag? Well, perhaps Severus simply couldn’t see it from here. Still, why would the Dark Lord waste time and effort on an attack the students and teachers alike would have known to prepare for?

No, something wasn’t right. Severus opened the compartment door and motioned the children out of his way.

“Move, or I shall put you in detention until your eighties.”

The Hufflepuffs scrambled to get out of his way, each of them looking at him as if he somehow made a more frightening adversary than a horde of literal soul-sucking fiends. Bloody cowards.

Severus moved to the window and scanned the horizon for trouble. The Dementors had backed off, floating beyond the reach of the Patronuses protecting the train, but beyond the silver shield, something sinister had shown itself. Black-robed figures zipped between the Dementors, hiding under their shadows and blending in, but Severus had seen the sunlight flash on a face. A human face.

“Vampires,” he whispered. “Damn.”

With a growl, he stood and glared at the students. “Sit down and don’t try to interfere, unless you would like to become a tasty snack for the nearest blood-sucking demon.”

The Hufflepuffs went stark white and slumped into their seats as one. Severus stalked out of the compartment, not bothering to check if they stayed there. Hufflepuffs, as a rule, didn’t act out once a professor—and particularly himself—had warned them against it, and he had bigger fish to fry anyway.

“Pomona!” The dumpy witch turned and gave Severus a wary look. “A flock of vampires are hiding under the Dementors’ cloaks. They are waiting for cloud cover, and then we shall find our hands full.”

Pomona turned ashen. “Merlin preserve us. Filius!” She turned to the next professor in the chain, and on his right, Minerva spread the message in the opposite direction.

Severus glanced behind him and just had time to register that the Hufflepuffs had risen to their feet again despite his warning before their window shattered and a snarling figure in black burst in.

Lumos Maxima!” Severus aimed the powerful light spell right at the vampire’s eyes, and a screeching hiss of pain met his attack. A quick Gladius curse to the beast’s heart finished it, piercing it through as if impaled upon a sword. Without a blink, Severus Vanished the corpse and blood before it could contaminate the nearby students.

“Stay,” he hissed to the idiot Hufflepuffs and dashed back into the corridor.

An annoyingly-familiar voice cried out the incantation for the light spell. Granger. So a vampire had escaped Filius then. Heart pounding, Severus dashed to the compartment two spaces down and gasped at the sight that met his eyes. Three black-robed vampires had Filius cornered, and another was hovering over a prone figure on the floor of Granger’s compartment.

A prone figure with messy black hair. Fuck!

Reducorporis!”

The vampire emitted a bestial screech and disintegrated, turning into dust before Severus’ eyes. He knelt beside Potter and touched two fingers to the boy’s neck. The brat still had a pulse, so despite the bleeding points on his neck, he had been neither turned nor drained. With a glare at the ignorant fools who dared to believe themselves capable fighters, Severus cast a specialised anti-dark shield over the hapless idiot and rushed to Filius’ aid.




Harry woke to not-so-quiet whispers and the smell of disinfectant. Dear gods, term had barely started and he was already in the hospital wing? Lovely.

Slowly, the fog around his senses dissipated and memories came back. He had been talking about preparing for a fight with the others, and then … right. Dementors. And Harry had failed to call his Patronus for the first time since that night in third year when he had rescued Sirius and Buckbeak—for all the good it had done.

And that was the problem. He had no happy memories left. Everything that had once brought him true joy had been fractured, leaving him with only hollow shades and a bleeding spirit.

“… Couldn’t call his Patronus,” someone whispered. “Never imagined Harry would—I mean, he’s brilliant with them.”

“He taught us all,” Neville murmured. “I don’t understand.”

Hermione sighed. “It’s … I think it’s Snuffles. It’s not been so long since he died. I don’t think Harry has recovered well at all.”

Neville gasped. “Merlin, you’re right. I should have thought of that.”

Ron muttered, “What do you think Snape was on about with that shield? Was he trying to drain Harry or something?”

“Of course not,” Neville snapped. “Do you really think that, even if Snape was a pure Death Eater, he would drain Harry in full view of the other students and professors? Merlin.”

“It wasn’t that anyway,” Hermione said, voice hushed. “It was an anti-dark shield. He knew the vampires would go for Harry, so he warded them away from him.” She sighed. “I tried to do the same thing after I used the Sunlight Charm. I thought for sure with as many times as I studied it, but I just didn’t have the power.”

‘Vampires?’ Harry swallowed hard and winced at a pain in his neck. Damn. He’d had a closer call than he had known apparently.

He made a note to teach his DA how to fight other dark creatures—including vampires, Inferi, and werewolves—as soon as he recovered. It wasn’t like they could depend on their defence instructor to do so.

“Thank Merlin Flitwick and Harry came through okay,” Dean murmured.

“I think you have Professor Snape to thank for that,” Neville said. “The man is an arsehole, but you can’t deny he’s a brilliant fighter. Merlin, we’d probably all be dead without his help.”

Harry suppressed a shudder. Dear gods. If Snape had saved their lives, he would be even worse than usual, probably for the entire bloody term. And perhaps not without good reason. Today had certainly proved Harry wasn’t as strong as he would like to think.

“I still can’t get over the fact that Harry couldn’t call his Patronus,” Ron said. “It’s just … he’s always been the best of us in Defence. Harry missing a defence spell is like Snape suddenly growing a heart. It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Snape saved all of our bloody lives and you’re still ….” Neville sighed. “Why am I even trying? Of course you are.”

“Oi, shut it. He’s a right bastard, whether he drove the vampires away or not. I reckon he just didn’t want to be a snack either. He sure as hell didn’t do it out of a burning need to protect Harry, believe that.”

Harry suppressed a snort. Ron probably had the right of it, at least as concerned Harry’s well-being.

Ginny murmured, “I wish Harry would let me protect him. Or any of us.”

At a brush of a foreign thumb across his knuckles, Harry realised the girl had his hand again and jerked it away. “Stop it.” He rubbed his aching forehead and tried to keep from sicking up. Between the pain and Ginny’s unwanted advances, he thought he might lose the battle.

Madam Pomfrey clucked. “Out, all of you out. If he’s awake, I need room to treat him.”

“But he shouldn’t be alone,” Ginny insisted.

“Just listen to her, Ginny,” Harry said with a groan.

“But—”

“Let’s go, Ginny.” Hermione pulled her up and away. “We’ll see you later then, Harry.”

“Yeah, later.”

With a pout, Ginny flipped her hair over her shoulders—again reminding Harry of his mum—and a fresh wave of nausea assaulted him.

“Gonna … feel sick.”

Pomfrey Summoned a yellow potion and stuck it under his nose. “Drink.”

Harry obeyed, though the taste almost caused him to lose the battle with his stomach. A moment later, his nausea quieted and the pain in his head eased. She handed him a dark red potion after that—a Blood Replenisher—and a green one Harry thought was probably a general Healing Draught. He choked all of them down in quick succession, and while he massaged his aching throat, a quiet crack at his side startled him. He turned to find Pomfrey breaking into a giant brick of chocolate with a hammer and pick.

She handed him a block as thick as his calf. “Eat.”

Harry attempted to obey. The woman stood over him, eyes sharp as a hawk’s as he choked down as much of the chocolate as he could stomach. It did take some of the coldness from his chest, so he supposed it had done something, though he feared nothing would ever make him feel truly warm or happy again.

“What happened, Mister Potter?”

“Dementors,” Harry muttered, avoiding her eyes. “And vampires, apparently.”

“You’ve not had problems with Dementors since third year.”

“Yeah? I had a godfather then, didn’t I?”

Pomfrey’s gaze softened. “I see. Well, that is to be expected. Grief takes time to heal.” She sat beside his bed and gave him another, thankfully smaller, piece of chocolate. “Would you like to talk about it?”

Harry shuddered. Merlin, no. Besides, even if he had wanted to, his grief now went far beyond the man’s death, and that story wasn’t his to share.

“No. I … I’m sorry. I just can’t.”

Pomfrey patted his arm. “Perhaps in time. For now, I want you to eat that chocolate, take another Blood Replenisher, and head down to the feast. Professor Snape stopped the vampire before it could do much damage, thank Merlin, and you’ve recovered well enough. Being around your friends and spending time in livelier atmospheres will help you recover from your grief too.”

Harry thought of all the staring first-years, doe-eyed girls, Snape’s glare of death, and Ginny’s hovering, and seriously doubted the feast would be of any aid at all. Still, anywhere was better than being stuck in the hospital wing talking about grief and being force-fed chocolate and potions.

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”

She squeezed his shoulder and handed him a dark red potion. “Go on as soon as you’re finished with that, unless you’re still feeling queasy?”

Harry bolted up and shook his head. “No, ma’am, not queasy at all. The potion did the trick.” It wasn’t strictly true, but Harry would be dealing with starvation-induced illness for the next three days or so while his systems went back online anyway, and he didn’t fancy spending those three days cooped up in the hospital wing. He bolted down the potion and forced himself not to gag.

“Off with you then,” said Pomfrey after a moment, her voice kinder than her words. “But do return if you start feeling woozy, get too cold and can’t warm up by normal means, or develop a headache.”

A headache? He suppressed a dark laugh. Between his exhaustion and the constant visions, he would never escape the Infirmary if he came every time his head hurt.

Harry gave her a wan smile and stood on shaky legs. “Thank you, Madam Pomfrey. See you around.”

“Not too soon, I hope,” she muttered, and went about clearing up Harry’s bed and the giant block of chocolate.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3
The New Abnormal

5 September, 1997

A sharp jab in the ribs woke Harry from the only normal sleep he ever got these days—a nap during history. He rubbed his side and glared at Hermione.

“Poke me again,” he hissed, “and I’ll hex you.”

She hissed back, “You have to pay attention, Harry. It’s NEWTs! They decide your whole future. Look, right now is history time. Then we have revision after lunch. Then—”

“Get this through your head, Hermione. Right now, I don’t give a damn about NEWTs. I haven’t slept in three days because of your bloody schedules! For Merlin’s sake, write in some leisure time!”

Needless to say, his first few days of school hadn’t gone well. Harry’s Imperius dreams had slowed to one or two a night—Hogwarts’ wards had probably granted the reprieve, small as it was—but his ‘normal’ nightmares and visions had more than made up for the difference. He was lucky if he got three hours of sleep a night, and between Hermione’s constant need to revise and his lack of time for naps, it was taking a toll.

A panicked, half-maniacal glint entered her eyes. “We don’t have time for leisure, Harry. These classes are too important—”

Harry stood and swept his book and parchment into his bag. “Then I’m making my own schedule from here on out. Yours is going to kill me. I’ll see you later.”

“Harry! You can’t just—”

“Yes I bloody well can.” He slung his bag over his shoulder and trudged from the room, so tired he didn’t even care when he caught his shin on a counter.

Binns droned on as if nothing had happened.

Merlin, why did Hermione even care about this class? All the idiot ghost ever talked about was goblin rebellions, which made up about five percent or so of their actual exams. If Hermione hadn’t all but force-fed Harry and Ron their texts last term, they never would have passed their history OWLs.

For Merlin’s sake, Ron wasn’t even taking a NEWT in history. Wasn’t like knowing the ins and outs of all 8,032 goblin rebellions would help him in any career except Gringotts, and Ron had no interest in counting gold. Neither did Harry, come to think of it. Not that the goblins would let them anywhere near other people’s gold even if they did.

So what did it matter if Harry slept through the one class that never covered anything important and had an instructor who wouldn’t notice if the ceiling fell on his head? Hermione was bloody well obsessed.

With a sigh, Harry staggered through the hall towards Gryffindor tower, but halfway there, froze at the sound of a familiar, cold-as-ice tone.

“Well, well, well, what have we here? A foolish little lion who thinks he is above the … inconvenience of attending the classes we professors strive so hard to provide?”

Harry winced and turned, stumbling a bit. “Sir? I … can’t.” He forced his head up and dragged his heavy eyelids open. “T-too tired.”

Snape narrowed black eyes at him. Those dark depths bored into the depths of Harry’s soul, but saw nothing. Snape didn’t want to. Not that Harry was surprised.

“Oh, I see. Up too late basking in the glow of your fame, hmm? The poor little Chosen One—so many parties celebrating the grand occasion of his return, so little time. My heart aches for your plight.”

Harry said nothing. It would do no good. No matter what he said, Snape would twist it against him.

Snape’s lip curled in a sneer. “Well?”

So much for keeping quiet. “I think you know I hate the fame, sir. And I don’t like parties either.”

“You expect me to believe the arrogant, spoiled, dunderheaded son of James Potter is a recluse?” Snape snorted. “Spare me.”

Harry slumped, too exhausted to keep his posture. “It’s nightmares, sir.”

“Balderdash. You are simply searching for an excuse to cover your own foolishness and ineptitude. Your exhaustion is your own fault. Detention, seven PM in the potions classroom. No need to bring your text or supplies.”

Harry barely suppressed a groan. Just what he needed. Physical labour when his body ached all over and he couldn’t stop his limbs from shaking. And how like Snape not to believe the truth. Nothing had changed there, Harry supposed.

“But—”

“Save your whinging for someone who cares, Potter. Had you not stayed up three nights in a row signing autographs and flexing your non-existent musculature for simpering fools, you mightn’t be so tired now.”

Harry grimaced. “It really is nightmares, sir. I nee—”

He cut himself off before he could be foolish enough to ask for a Dreamless Sleep potion. They were carefully regulated, and Snape hadn’t believed his story about nightmares the first time. If he continued to press, the man might take it into his head that Harry wanted to use the potion as some sort of illegal drug. It wasn’t true, of course, but Snape wouldn’t care, nor would the Ministry. Fudge might have been gone, but after Umbridge, Harry had no illusions that the dark supporters hidden in the wings wouldn’t jump at any excuse to expel him.

Not to mention, even if the Ministry did allow a fair investigation, they would still ask questions. More involved questions than he wanted to answer. Especially if they involved Veritaserum, Harry wouldn’t be able to hide the truth of his Imperius dreams from Ministry-trained examiners. And if the cowards in the bureaucracy got one hint that Voldemort was taking control of Harry’s mind, they would lock him away in a padded room at St. Mungo’s faster than he could say Lockhart.

Damn. Much as it galled him, Harry had no choice but to grit his teeth and take his unfair punishment. As usual. No one had ever stepped in for him and no one would now. And to resist would only make his situation more painful.

Well, he could bear it, he supposed. After all, it was no worse than what he endured over the summer. Snape wouldn’t hit him or lock him in a cupboard—probably—and at least at Hogwarts, he had enough to eat.

“Yes, Potter? Do tell me what the great Saint Potter needs.” Snape’s voice threatened death if he dared ask for anything. “I live for the thrill of providing more vapid entertainment for the wizarding world’s spoiled darling.”

With a weary sigh, Harry forced a reply out in a calm voice. Dim and lifeless, but calm at least. “Nothing, sir. I don’t need anything. I’ll just … try to go to bed earlier.” Not that it would do any good, but Snape didn’t care either way. And Harry just wanted to forget the day had ever happened and sleep. At least for a while.

The professor stared at him, eyes narrowed as if he suspected a trick. “Know this, Potter, if you attempt any tomfoolery this evening, I will have you in detention until your thirties.”

Harry forced himself to meet Snape’s eyes. “I’m well aware, sir. May I go now?”

Snape sneered. “No. Thirty points from Gryffindor for skiving off. Now you may go.”

Harry held in a shrug and turned towards the tower once more. Thirty points was an obscene amount for skipping class, but he didn’t care much beyond the principle of it and the sting of Snape’s continued hatred. What did house points matter when the world cowered in fear of a madman who killed on a whim? Of course, Harry didn’t look forward to dealing with his housemates’ ire later when they realised he had lost them points—again—but he would survive.

Harry had felt a rift growing between him and his dorm mates anyway. He had been branded and changed by war, forced to grow up too early, but they were still children, with children’s interests and dreams and understanding of the world. As Harry hadn’t much desire to play gobstones or talk about girls these days, they had little common ground.

Harry slammed into the Fat Lady’s canvas, having lost himself in his turbulent thoughts. She huffed and straightened her hair, eyeing him with disdain.

“Was it really necessary to bowl me over like that?”

Shite. He hadn’t meant to hurt her. “S-sorry! Are you okay?”

She gave him a wry look. “I’m a portrait, Harry. You can’t hurt me by simply running into my canvas. I’m fine.” She frowned. “You don’t look well, though.”

“Yeah, it’s been a rough day. Um … Libertas et Fides.”

The portrait swung forwards, revealing a doorway and a short staircase. “Take care of yourself.”

He clambered inside. “Thanks,” he muttered as he pulled the portrait door to.

With a massive yawn, he dragged himself up the stairs, his vision narrowed to a single point—the staircase to his room. As such, he missed the redhead closing in on his side until she took hold of his arm and dragged it over her own shoulders.

“You look done in. Let me help you to bed.”

Harry frowned. She hadn’t necessarily done anything wrong, but her constant touching without his consent was making him nervous. He pulled his arm back and turned, forcing himself to wake up long enough to drive the point home to the girl, but how could he let her down without turning his best friend against him?

“Ginny, I just lost my godfather. I … um … I don’t really want to be touched right now. Please, can you give me some space?”

She jutted out her chin and gave him a stubborn smile. “Harry, if you’re grieving, that’s all the more reason to be here for you, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. I suppose I could use help from my friends.” He hoped the slight emphasis he placed on the word would be enough to make his point.

Ginny frowned. “I-I guess, but I ….” She shook her head and gave him a hesitant smile. “Okay. But you do know I’m here if you need me, right?”

Harry nodded, relieved. “Yeah. Right now, I just need time to heal.”

A spark lit her eyes, and Harry almost groaned out loud. He hadn’t meant to give her hope.

“Well, I understand that,” she said with a smile. “Go on and get some sleep.”

“T-thanks, Ginny.”

She went back to her texts with a wave, and Harry wanted to hit himself. Dear gods. She might back off for a time, and he would be greatly relieved if she did, but his poorly-chosen words had all but guaranteed she wouldn’t stay away forever.

Merlin, he couldn’t worry about this right now. He was too damn tired.

With a weary sigh, he stumbled up the stairs and into bed. Dropping face-first without bothering to undress, Harry fell asleep almost before he hit the bed.




In his dreams, a young, terrified Severus Snape hung upside-down above the ground, half-naked and exposed, tears running down his face. Beside him, Harry hovered in the same position, his face wet and hot with shame.

Lily pushed her way through the crowds of students and stared at them, eyes wide and shocked.

“Sev? H-Harry? What’s going on?”

Severus murmured, “Lils, please. Forgive me.”

Harry winced and called, “Mum! Help us!”

But Lily turned her back and walked away, a sheet of red hair flying in the wind. Halfway out of the circle, she shifted into Ginny Weasley. Besides losing an inch or two of height, Harry didn’t see much difference from the back. A shudder rippled the base of his neck and spread down to his toes.

Merlin help him. Even if he could like women, that one was just too close to home.

James Potter came through the jeering crowd, the students parting for him like subjects before their emperor. The fur-lined, purple-spangled cloak over his shoulders—reminiscent of Dumbledore’s finest gear—added to the impression. James smirked and twirled his wand like a royal sceptre, lording over the other students and his prey.

“Look what I’ve caught for you, everyone! Bow down to the master of pranks!”

Severus whimpered. “Potter, enough! L-let us down!”

Harry forced his voice to work around a throat full of tears. “Dad, please. Please don’t do this.”

James came near and poked Harry’s ribs with his wand, bringing up a painful welt with each touch. “He’s so scrawny! Look, I can count every one! One, two, three ….” By the time he had finished on both sides, Harry couldn’t see for the rivers of tears pouring into his hair.

“Dad, please. You’re hurting me. Please stop.”

James listened at last, only to step two paces to the side and start on Severus’ ribs too. The boy cried out at the first touch of James’ wand and tried to squirm away, but the spell held him firm.

“Stop,” Severus shouted. “It hurts!”

But James didn’t care. On the next rib, his features shifted.

“Cor, I could play a tune on these ribs, I could.”

Harry cringed to see Piers standing before Severus, a long maple switch in hand.

“Reckon I can make you make some music, huh?”

Severus gasped and tried to escape, but he had nowhere to go. “N-no. Don’t.”

Piers whacked the switch over the curve of Severus’ ribs, leaving as painful a welt as James’ wand had done. “One … two … three ….”

“Stop! It hurts!”

Harry reached over and took Severus’ shaking hand in his own. “Merlin, I’m sorry.”

Severus whimpered and held Harry’s hand tight, murmuring over and over, “Please, please, help us, Harry. You’ve got to wake up.”

Harry grimaced. “I’m trying. I’m so tired.”

“I don’t care, mate. Wake up! ‘Mione says we’re due to revise and you’ve already missed dinner.”

“Revise? Dinner? What are you—”

“For Merlin’s sake, Harry, WAKE UP!”

The bellow finally got it through to him that it wasn’t Severus calling him, but Ron. The dream dissolved in a flash of red hair and angry blue eyes.


Harry bolted up with a gasp and ran a shaking hand over his ribs. No welts and he still had all his clothing intact. It was only another nightmare.

“About time, mate,” Ron grumbled. “Been trying to wake you for half an hour.”

“Half an … really? Merlin, I was more exhausted than I thought.” Harry dropped his head into his hands and rubbed away a growing headache. Gods, the lack of sleep was going to kill him soon.

“Yeah, well, it’s no excuse for how you treated Hermione in history today, you giant berk.”

Harry frowned. “Because I told her I would make my own study schedule?”

Ron glared. “You hurt her. She just wanted to make sure we pass and stuff.”

“All right, all right. I’ll apologise. But I’m still studying on my own time. She’s killing me. I’m not sleeping at all.”

“Slept enough today, didn’t you?”

“Have I?” Harry rubbed his face and tried to wake himself a bit more.

“Yeah, I brought you a sandwich back from dinner, not that you deserve it, really.”

Harry took the sandwich Ron offered—ham and swiss—and with a mutter of thanks, took a bite. The spicy Dijon mustard kicked his brain into gear, and Harry almost choked.

“W-wait, did you say I missed dinner? What time is it?”

Ron waved his wand and muttered, “Tempus.”

Harry blanched at the numbers shining at the end of his wand. “T-ten to? Shite, I’ve got to go!” He grabbed his cloak and his sandwich and dashed for the door.

Ron frowned and cancelled the spell. “Wait, go where?”

“Snape. Detention at seven. See you later.”

Harry bolted down the dormitory stairs, stuffing his face along the way, but Hermione had blockaded the portrait hole.

She stood akimbo before the portrait hole and glared. “Just where do you think you’re going? You’re late to revise, which you had better do since you slept through all your afternoon classes!”

“I’m also going to be late to detention with Snape unless you move,” he snapped back, annoyed with her imperious attitude. “I told you I’ll be studying on my own time from now on anyway.”

She sniffed and turned on her heel. “Detention? Well, it serves you right, Harry Potter!”

Harry’s temper flared, and words spilled out of him before he could stop them. “Oh yes, I deserve a completely bollocks detention because I dared skip a class no one but you cares about, which doesn’t cover anything on our NEWTs, and has a professor who wouldn’t notice if you dropped a bloody lorry on his head, and that because I was becoming ill from lack of sleep, which you continually interrupt to revise at all hours of the day!”

Ron bellowed from the staircase. “Oi!”

With a wince, Harry took a deep breath and raked a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry. I know you care, Hermione, but you’re going too far, and I’m going to be late.”

Hermione stuck out her chin, eyes full of tears, and glared. “Go then!”

“I bloody well have to, Hermione! It’s Snape.” With that, Harry remembered he had ten minutes to get down to the dungeons—closer to seven now—and dashed from the room. He’d figure out how to work things out with Hermione and Ron later. For now, he had to deal with Hogwarts’ resident viper and hope he came out of detention in one piece.




Harry was two minutes late. He had never had a more difficult and draining detention as a result. Snape had him clean fifteen soiled cauldrons—all which smelled foul enough to make him regret that hastily devoured sandwich—but the detention hadn’t ended there. As a punishment for his tardiness, Snape had ordered him to clean every phial and jar in the student cupboard with a specialised spell which required a hefty dose of magic. Even better, he had degraded and insulted Harry the entire time.

As a result, by the time Harry had finished, he left detention physically, emotionally, and magically drained. He somehow managed to drag himself up to the tower rather than going to sleep on a bench in the entrance hall, but when he arrived, he half-wished he’d given into the temptation. Hermione was waiting for him at the study table, her arms crossed and eyes sharp. Harry barely suppressed a scream of frustration and misery.

“Please. Please don’t do this now. Can you not see I’m past my limit?”

“Well, so am I!” Hermione shoved a stack of parchment at him. “You think it’s easy to revise all the time and plan your schedules and—”

“Stop.” Harry pushed the papers away as gently as possible under the circumstances. “I can’t follow this schedule, Hermione. I can’t revise at all hours of the day. I understand that you want to help, but you’re killing me. Literally. I’m not getting enough sleep. I’m sorry. I don’t want to hurt you, but you’re going to have to accept that I’m my own person and I can decide what’s best for me.”

“Harry Potter, you’re not revising at all! You’re just sleeping all the time and—”

“And it’s his choice,” said a quiet voice from a dark corner nearby. Neville came out of the shadows, his eyes full of approbation and fixed on Hermione. “Harry just lost someone important to him. He’s in mourning. He needs more sleep to deal with those dark emotions. Merlin, but I know how it feels. And all you’re doing by trying to force him to follow your schedule is driving him away. You’re hurting him, Hermione.”

Hermione gasped. “But I … it’s NEWTs and—”

“I know, but gods, Hermione, look at him. Look at the shape he’s in and tell me you still think he’s fit to revise at one in the morning when you two have Potions first thing.”

Harry groaned. “Damn it. Two more hours with Snape—just what I need.” He rolled his aching shoulders and rubbed his neck. “He really tried to kill me this time, I swear.”

Neville’s eyes widened. “Harry! He hurt you?”

With a gasp, Harry shook his head hard. “I didn’t mean it literally. He just … mean.”

Neville snorted. “No arguments here.” He offered Harry an arm. “Come on, mate. Let’s get you in bed. You’re absolutely done in.” He whispered in Harry’s ear. “And I asked Pomfrey for some Dreamless Sleep for you. Well, I said it was for me, but you know.”

Harry could have kissed the boy. As he knew full well Neville wasn’t gay, he refrained.

“Gods, you’re a lifesaver, Nev. Thanks. Might not pass out halfway through my potion tomorrow now.”

Neville nodded and braced Harry up. “Come on then. Bedtime for you.”

Harry gratefully accepted his help and let the boy guide him towards the stairs. At the foot, a sniffling Hermione gave him a hug. “I’m sorry, Harry. You can revise on your own if you really need to. I just … I only wanted you to do well.”

He hugged her back. “I know. And if I can ever get this sleeping thing fixed, we’ll talk about it again. For now, I just need to rest or I’m not going to survive to NEWTs.” He left it unsaid that he mightn’t make it that long either way.

“Okay. I won’t push any longer.” She gave him a wry smile. “Ron’s been asking me to spend more time with him anyway, so maybe it works out.”

His heart gave a painful tug. “Oh. Well, yes, I guess so. You should spend some time as a couple.” Never mind that their time together would leave Harry alone.

Neville gave him a worried look. “Come on, Harry. You look miserable.”

“Yeah.” Harry gave the boy a wan smile and let Neville help him up to their dorm.

Once Harry had taken a quick shower, struggled into some sleep pants and a tee, and climbed into bed, Neville handed him a capful of blue-violet potion. Harry took it with a grateful smile, not even minding the taste if it could get rid of his terrible Imperius dreams.

“Merlin, Neville, thanks for that.”

Neville patted his shoulder. “Maybe you won’t need it much longer. I hope so anyway.”

Harry forced a smile on his face. “Y-yeah. Maybe.”

Somehow, he doubted time would cure his ills. Still, perhaps the potion would help.

He lay back, already drowsy, eyes heavy as lead. “G’night, Nev,” he muttered.

“Goodnight.”

Within seconds, the potion had carried him off to sleep.

“Ah, hello again, Harry Potter. Back for another round, hmm? Go on. Out of bed. Get up and kill … kill … kill them all.”

Had Harry the ability to do so while unconscious, he would have wept.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4
A Growing Divide

Harry dragged himself into potions the next morning. Dumbledore had all but forced him into the subject despite the fact that Harry hadn’t met the requirements on his OWL. The man had used an excuse of extenuating circumstances, but Harry hadn’t bought it. It was just more meddling. But he couldn’t refuse the headmaster, so Harry had little choice but to go to a class he would have rather dropped.

Gods, he didn’t want to be here. Even if Snape hadn’t hated Harry, seeing the man and knowing why he had a reason to left Harry’s heart bleeding. But Snape did hate him, beyond all reason. And now Harry had two more years of utter misery to look forward to, no thanks to Dumbledore’s manipulations.

If only Harry could still hate the man back, it would be easier to bear. But he couldn’t. He understood Snape’s pain, not that he would ever let him see that. Harry would end up cut into pieces for potions ingredients before he could blink.

Hermione settled into the seat beside him and gave him a wan smile. “Do you need to read from my text?”

Harry held up the weatherbeaten copy of Advanced Potion Making Dumbledore had forced upon him. “No thanks. I’m all set.”

“Oh, good. Did you read ahead at all?”

He glared. “When, Hermione? I’ve had the book for all of three days, and you had me revising till midnight for two of them.”

She blushed and subsided, apparently deciding she would be better off reading her own text instead of poking at Harry about his. About damn time.

With a sigh, Harry opened his potions text and frowned at the front cover.

‘Property of the Half-Blood Prince.’

Prince? Well, someone had some delusions of grandeur, apparently. He turned to the first potion and blinked in surprise. The margins for the Draught of Living Death had notes scribbled in on all sides, including stirring diagrams, drawings of ingredients, and corrections to the original text. Merlin, but that handwriting looked familiar, too. He turned the book into the light and tried to figure out where he’d seen similar writing before, but couldn’t put his finger on a name.

“Urgh,” Hermione said with a scowl. “That’s utter blasphemy.”

Harry gave her a blank look.

“Writing all over the book like that! It’s … it’s just wrong.” She shot him a dark glare.

“Don’t look at me. It’s used. I got it like this, thank you.”

She scowled at the book as if it was Riddle himself. Harry just shook his head and tried to decipher the margin notes.

‘Crush the Sopophorous bean with flat side of silver dagger, releases juice better than cutting.’

A bit further down, another note read: ‘Add one clockwise stir after seven anti-clockwise stirs to obtain the clear colour faster.’

Hmm. Couldn’t hurt to try it. Snape would just Vanish Harry’s potion anyway, regardless of how it turned out.

Gods, Harry just wanted to crawl back into bed. Three hours of bad sleep after an awful detention hadn’t refreshed him nearly enough to face Snape right after breakfast. He closed his text and banged his head against the book with a groan. This would be sheer hell, he was sure of it.

“Buck up, Harry,” she said, worry in her eyes. “It won’t be that bad.”

Harry gave her a disbelieving look. “Not that bad? Where have you been for the past five years?”

She sighed. “I was just trying to cheer you up, you know.”

“Hermione, please. Dumbledore forced Snape to take me into this class despite not making the required grade. He’s going to be chomping at the bit to get to me—just watch.”

She grimaced. “M-maybe he’s calmed down since then?”

Harry snorted. “Sure. And next, Hagrid’s nifflers will donate their hoard to the poor.”

“Harry ….”

“Just be quiet. It’s going to be worse for me if we’re talking when he gets here.”

“F-fair enough.”

He crossed his arms over his chest, waiting for the professor to storm in, frothing at the mouth, most likely.

Just as the last student arrived, Snape stalked into the classroom, all black robes and dark glory, and slammed the door shut with a bang. Harry jumped, and at the look on the man’s face, sank further into his seat to avoid his wrath.

Hagrid’s nifflers wouldn’t become philanthropists anytime soon.

“Sit down and shut up.” Snape paced behind the professor’s desk, eyes crackling with fury, hands clenched into white-knuckled fists. “Welcome, children, to NEWT level potions.” Black eyes bored into Harry and sparked. “Or what should have been NEWT level.”

Harry swallowed hard and prepared himself for a morning spent biting his tongue.

Most of you,” the professor continued, his voice dark and frigid, “have displayed a high level of aptitude for the subject, and as such, have earned your place in this classroom.”

He gave Hermione a disdainful sneer and Malfoy what could only be described as a fond look—well, as ‘fond’ as a murderously angry Snape could get.

“And some of you ….”

His eyes snapped back to Harry, full of the utmost revulsion. Harry dropped his gaze and tried not to feel the knife twisting in his chest.

How could it still hurt so much? He had expected Snape’s wrath and, by now, he had no hope that the man would ever forgive him anyway. Snape would never see beyond Harry’s resemblance and relation to the men who had hurt him. Damaged him.

Harry should be angry. It wasn’t his fault his family had been traitors and abusers. For gods’ sakes, he hadn’t even been born when they had assaulted Snape. He should be furious that the man blamed him for events he so obviously had no control over.

But he wasn’t. Instead, he wanted to curl up somewhere and cry. Merlin, he was a fool to care, but Harry had seen behind the man’s mask, seen Snape’s vulnerability under his steel façade, and he could no longer overlook the humanity in his potions professor, much as he wished he could at times like this.

It was much easier to tolerate hatred and revulsion from a monster than a man.

“Some of you,” Snape repeated, his voice soft and lethal, “have earned your place in this classroom by merit of fame alone. Some of you do not deserve to look at a cauldron, much less touch one, but because the world bows at your feet, I have no choice but to succumb to the whims of fools and attempt to drill the art and subtle science of potion making into your empty skulls.”

Dear Merlin, this year was going to be awful. Harry supposed he could understand Snape’s irritation—a bit anyway. The man had thought last term he would be rid of Harry after seeing his Exceeds Expectations OWL scores. He had probably spent all summer celebrating the fact, only to be told that he would need to make an exception for Harry this year. To be honest, Harry would rather be just about anywhere but a class where Snape not only hated him, but was somewhat justified in wanting him out.

And Ron was hacked off about it too. Dumbledore hadn’t made exception for him. Of course, Ron had barely scraped an Acceptable on his OWL and Harry had scored just under Outstanding level, but Ron still saw it as unfair treatment. Especially since he couldn’t be an auror without potions.

Harry agreed it was unfair, but not for the same reasons. He had missed an O grade by ten points. If Snape had bothered to treat him with a modicum of respect during his earlier years, he might have done better on his OWLs and been able to take potions without hacking both Snape and his best friend off. As it was, he had little choice but to suck it up and bear another two years of hell. From both sides.

Well, it was no use fretting over it now. Unfair or not, Harry could do nothing about it.

“Potter!”

Harry jumped at the sharp call, snapping out of his thoughts with a vengeance.

“Tell me, Potter, where would I find the hair of a fire fairy?”

Hermione’s hand shot up. Snape, predictably, ignored it.

So they were to play this game again, were they? Harry suppressed a sigh.

“I don’t know, sir.” Of course he didn’t know. It was probably an ingredient of some master level potion no one but Snape—and Hermione—had ever heard of.

“Nothing?” Snape sneered. “Well then, let us try again. Where would I find the dewdrops of Diana?”

Hermione’s hand stretched higher, her eyes bright with impossible knowledge and the irrepressible thirst to prove herself. But of course, Snape did not acknowledge her.

“I don’t know, sir,” Harry said, his voice dull.

Gods, he didn’t want to do this. Why was he wasting his time in a class where he hadn’t a hope of succeeding? His time would be better spent sleeping. Or training for the war.

Hmm. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea.

Snape smirked. “Nothing again, hmm? Are you certain you have the capability to perform at the NEWT standard, Mister Potter?”

Harry looked around the classroom. Besides Hermione, everyone looked as lost as he felt. If those questions were anywhere near sixth year NEWT standard, Harry would eat the sorting hat.

“Well then,” Snape said, his voice deceptively light, “since the headmaster is so adamant that you belong in my class, let us try one more time, shall we? Tell me, Mister Potter, for what purpose would one choose to brew the Draught of Gunhilde?”

Beside him, Hermione gave a little squeak of dismay and lowered her hand. Harry had the mad urge to laugh. If even Hermione, know-it-all extraordinaire, had no answer for Snape’s question, how on earth could he expect Harry to know it?

“I don’t know, sir.” He barely resisted the urge to add a request to get on with the lesson now that Snape had had his fun. With his professor in this kind of mood, such cheek might get him killed.

“No? No idea?”

Snape gave Hermione a triumphant sneer, and Harry squashed a surge of anger. How dare he make fun of her for not knowing something no one else in the class did when she had known every other answer? It shouldn’t have surprised him that Snape would rub it in, though. Honestly, he should be used to this by now. Snape was only acting in the same role he had always done.

But the problem was, Harry cared now. He identified with Snape’s pain—or Severus’ at least. He wanted to belong, to heal the breach, hopeless as such impossible dreams were. Much as he wished he could ignore it, Snape’s loathing hurt, more than ever before.

“Well, it appears fame means no more now than it did in your first year.” Snape stalked to Harry’s desk and sneered, revulsion and rage apparent in every line of his face.

“For your information, not that I expect your pitiful mind to comprehend, fire fairies inhabit the Sahara Desert, and one might either search for a fairy there or purchase a phial of hairs from the nearby market, though they are hideously expensive. The dewdrops of Diana are a variety of moonflower that only blooms during the full moon, on the highest peak of Greece. And the Draught of Gunhilde is used to treat Gunhilde’s curse, an extremely dark spell that removes the victim’s intestines piece by piece over several days. It is important to administer the treatment quickly, or the victim will succumb to morbid infection regardless.”

He slammed his hands down on Harry’s desk, on either side of the boy’s closed text. “You may have slipped through the cracks by virtue of your blessed popularity, Potter, but let me make one thing perfectly clear: you do not deserve to be in this class, and I will make sure the world knows it before we are through!”

Harry bit down on a surge of indignation. The man was an utter bastard, but to speak up against him here would only make his life even more miserable.

“Yes, sir.”

Perhaps it was best to simply stick to that response in the future no matter what Snape said. After all, ‘yes’ did not necessarily indicate agreement, only that Harry had understood. The thought made answering without cheek easier in spite of the man’s continued abuse.

Snape floundered a moment, no doubt having expected a defiant reply. But Harry was tired, so tired, and what good did defiance do anyway? Nothing would change.

Snape recovered and sent Harry his patented glare of death. “Detention, Potter,” he said in a low, deadly tone. “Seven o’ clock. Bring nothing but your wand.”

“Yes, sir.”

Snape snarled, teeth bared and lips curling into a sneer. “Thirty points from Gryffindor for being a spoiled, arrogant, dunderhead, just like your father!”

Harry did not respond to the obvious bait. “Yes, sir.”

He could do this. He just had to pretend he was somewhere else. Anywhere else, and try to ignore the bleeding void draining his happiness—what little remained anyway. Merlin, if a Dementor found him now …. He suppressed a shudder and stared at his book. He did not dare look at Snape lest his new resolve break and the man see the angry, bitter tears crowding the back of Harry’s lids.

Hermione huffed. “Sir, that is not remotely fair! Harry has done nothing but—”

“Did I ask for your opinion, Granger?” Snape rounded on her, eyes blazing with rage. “Thirty more points from Gryffindor for being an insufferable know-it-all and incessant nagging! There now, idiot girl, did you get the attention you so desperately seek? Is that enough to quell your insurmountable urge to prove yourself the better of everyone within range for five minutes? Sit down, shut up, and do not speak unless I call on you, or it shall be fifty points every time you open your mouth without permission!”

Hermione lowered her head, tears heavy on her lashes. Harry did not dare attempt to comfort her, not with Snape so enraged and looming over them.

“And you,” Snape hissed, turning back to Harry, “you will not ride on Miss Granger’s coattails any longer, Potter, not in my class. You will create your potions on your own merit, little as that may be.” A vicious smirk crossed his face. “By the end of the week, the entire school will know what a pathetic excuse for a brewer—and I daresay, a human being—you truly are!”

Harry yelped as his chair relocated itself with him still in it, and landed with his desk in the furthest corner of the room.

“Now, you arrogant little guttersnipe, let us see what quality of potion you can produce without Granger spoon-feeding you the recipe!”

Harry closed his eyes to hide his tears and gave a muted, “Yes, sir.”

“Right,” said Snape. “Now that we have separated the deserving from the fools, let us begin. Do try and keep up, Mister Potter. The Draught of Living Death is used to emulate a state of lifelessness in its drinker ….”

Dear gods, if this was what Harry had to look forward to for the rest of his schooling, he wouldn’t even need to worry about Voldemort. Between his nightmares, lack of sleep, never-ending visions, and Snape’s viciousness, Harry would go mad long before he had the chance to fulfil his destiny—or die for trying.




The rest of Harry’s classes that day passed without incident, probably because he couldn’t bear to lift his head and meet anyone’s eyes. He hadn’t been able to keep from the release of tears—at several points during the day—and he couldn’t bear for anyone to see his shame either. Merlin knew he’d been humiliated enough that morning to last him for the next several years.

Snape had been even angrier when Harry’s potion hadn’t failed that morning. Actually, Harry was certain the Prince’s instructions had improved his brew. Unfortunately, as he hadn’t managed a perfect potion even with the extra help, Snape had taken great pleasure in pointing out every miniscule flaw. Then he had marked it as a D just for spite.

And Harry had a detention with the man to look forward to that evening. For nothing but existing. Breathing. Snape would probably be thrilled if he stopped.

Dejected and far more hurt than he could have believed possible, Harry crept up to the tower after classes and a quick loo break. He desperately needed to talk to his friends, to let off some steam and maybe do homework together, since he hadn’t been able to catch up on much of it yet. But when he arrived, Ron and Hermione were nowhere in sight. He couldn’t help feeling a bit betrayed.

Ginny and Neville were the only students Harry knew in attendance, each working on an essay. Ginny looked up as Harry came in and gave him a commiserating smile.

“Hey, I heard about Snape.”

Harry cringed. “I guess the whole school knows, then.”

Pink tinged her cheeks, and her smile crumbled. “Well, I ….”

“It’s fine,” he muttered, his voice dull. “Not like I could possibly be more humiliated anyway.”

Ginny sniffed. “You need to report him, Harry. That was … it was sickening.”

“Neither of you were there.” Harry kicked the carpet. “It won’t do any good anyway. It’s not like the headmaster cares.”

Ginny and Neville gave him shocked looks.

“That’s not true,” Ginny insisted. “Of course he cares.”

Neville hugged his chest. “W-why do you say that, Harry?”

“Took his time revealing the Prophecy, didn’t he? And it’s his fault I’m in that class in the first place. I didn’t want to take it at all.” Harry rubbed his scar—aching again already—and sighed. “Look, I’m just … it’s been a rough day, yeah? Do either of you know where Ron and Hermione went? They were with me when I went to the loo, and I thought they’d be here when I got back.”

Neville squirmed and looked away. “Um, well, Hermione was still pretty upset, so Ron took her out for a walk together. They didn’t say where they were heading. I’m sorry.”

Well, at least Hermione had found some comfort, but Harry’s sense of betrayal doubled. Shouldn’t they have been here for him? They knew he had suffered, but ….

He brushed off his emotions with grim determination. What did it matter if they had abandoned him? He had one purpose and one only: he was a weapon. Nothing more, nothing less. He had to remember that. If his friends left him in the end, it would only spare them pain when his purpose took his life.

Harry gave him a thin smile. “I’m glad Ron is taking care of her then. I’m just … I’m going to kip a bit before dinner, all right?”

Neville frowned and stood. “Harry, are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Snape is just a bastard and I’ve … it’s nothing new. Not really.”

The lies rolled too easily from his tongue. With a bitter smile, he bid them goodbye and dragged himself up to his bed. He really did need a kip, but with his heart torn in pieces and choking, suffocating shame dragging him down, he doubted he would find any repose.




Harry woke from another horrid vision of murder and torture—an entire Muggle family in Leeds this time. Gods, he would never forget the look on the children’s faces as they died. One of them, a little boy, had still been in nappies. Harry had wanted to rush in and rescue the tot, hug him close to his heart, and take him somewhere no one could hurt him again.

Instead, he had been forced to watch a toddler die screaming for his mum.

He buried his head in his knees and wept, bitter choking sobs for the tiny child, for his siblings and parents, for the grandmother who had tried to fight Voldemort with her frying pan, and for everyone else he hadn’t been able to save. For everyone who had perished in this bloody war, all because he wasn’t strong enough, brave enough to kill the psychopath responsible for their pain.

Gods, would it never end?

Once his tears quieted and he could breathe through the pain in his head, Harry staggered towards the common room. The sound of his name in conversation stopped him at the door.

“—Not even a week into term and we’re down ninety points because of Harry,” Seamus was saying. “I don’t know what he did to hack off Snape, but Merlin! He needs to fix it before we’re entirely out of the running for the house cup.”

“I … I don’t think it’s fair to blame Harry,” Dean replied. “I mean, Snape’s always picked on him for no reason. This is no different.”

“Yeah, but ninety points, Dean! It’s just … it’s a lot to make up for.”

“So what do you suggest? Harry can’t really do anything about it. It’s Snape’s problem.”

“Then he should stay the bloody hell away from Snape instead of making us all suffer!”

The bitter sting of tears had begun to feel familiar. Harry quietly Summoned his cloak, tugged it on, and slipped out of the dorm and into the common room. As he passed Dean and Seamus, playing chess and talking near the staircase to the dorms, Harry realised why they hadn’t bothered to lower their voices or use a silencing charm. Everyone was talking about him, even the first years. Only three of his classmates had refrained: Neville, who was glaring at everyone in the room at large, fists clenched in his lap and his mouth twisted in anger, and Ron and Hermione, who were too busy snogging to notice.

The knife of betrayal turned again in his chest and Harry fled. He slammed the portrait hole open and dashed away, not bothering to close it again in his hurry to escape the voices, the pain.

“Wait! Don’t just leave me hanging li—”

Harry turned onto a stairwell and the Fat Lady’s voice faded to nothing. Moving blindly, he raced up staircase after staircase. His feet carried him to the owlery, and he ran straight to a covered bench on the far side with a sob. The sound startled the owls—who couldn’t see him, after all—and a thousand shocked hoots and the rush of many wings filled the air. Only one bird knew the boy well enough to recognise her master, even under his cloak. Hedwig gave a sad hoot and landed on the bench beside Harry.

“Hullo, girl,” he murmured, voice breaking. With a sniffle, he took off his cloak and sat beside his owl, tucking his knees to his chest. Hedwig scooted close, and he petted her head.

“Glad you’re still here for me, even if no one else is.”

A low, doleful hoot was his answer.

Harry stayed there until dinnertime, petting his familiar and trying not to feel the bleeding hole in his chest. He wasn’t hungry, but he had transfiguration homework and it would be impossible to finish it after his detention.

“I’ve got to go now, girl. I’ve detention later. Snape’s got it in for me again this year. Not that it’s anything new.”

Hedwig clucked her beak and ruffled her feathers. Harry chuckled, warmed a bit by her outrage in his defence.

“Yeah. Me too.”

He looked around and, seeing no one, put a silencing field around them, one that would block their conversation from eavesdroppers. He had cast it around his bed so much since first year, he didn’t even need the incantation any longer.

“You know what, girl? I … I can’t really hate him anymore. Snape, I mean. I probably should, but I don’t. I’ve seen too much.”

Hedwig whistled, her eyes wide.

“It’s … it’s just that, we’re too much alike. Or we were once. He’s damaged, Hedwig. And now that I know that, and that it was my family who damaged him, I can’t … can’t keep seeing him as the evil bastard everyone else does.” He gave a bitter snort. “I guess I really am a dunderhead, huh? He hates me worse than anyone, and I can’t hate him at all.”

Hedwig hooted sadly and nuzzled his hair.

“Thanks for staying with me, girl. Go get some dinner and a nap.” He gave her one last pet and watched her fly back into the eaves. Then, with a heavy sigh, he turned back towards the staircase and headed for the tower, hands in his pockets and his head bowed, so as not to attract any further wrath.

For a little while at least, until all of Snape’s considerable hatred focused solely on him. Merlin, but he hated his life sometimes.




Hermione and Ron were waiting when Harry made it back to the tower. A quick wash of his face and a basic healing spell to his eyes had removed the evidence of his despair, but they knew him too well to buy his front.

Hermione laid a hand on his arm. “Harry, are you all right?”

He gave her a forced smile. “I’m fine. I can handle him.” It was their abandonment that left him cold inside.

She frowned. “You … you’re not fine. I can tell.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You need to talk about it, Harry. It’s going to eat you up inside if you don’t—”

Ron laid his hand on her shoulder. “Hermione, he said he doesn’t want to. You can’t make him.”

Her shoulders slumped. “But I just … I … Harry?”

Harry shrugged, avoiding her eyes. “I have to revise anyway. I won’t have any other time tonight.”

“But it’s dinner,” Ron cried, as if Harry had suggested giving up air.

“I’m really not hungry.” It was true. Harry’s stomach churned at the mere thought of food. “I’ll be okay. It’s the only time I’ll have where I won’t have to listen to the entire common room gossip about me behind my back.”

Hermione flinched and Ron looked away.

“Y-you heard, then,” Hermione said, blushing.

“Impossible to miss it,” Harry muttered, “given as no one was taking the trouble to lower their voices.”

“Oh, Harry. I … I’m sorry. I should have—are you okay?”

“I said I’m fine. Go to dinner. I need … I just need space right now.”

With a sniffle, Hermione nodded and led Ron away. Harry watched them leave, hollow and bitter inside. Maybe a while alone would make them realise they’d alienated Harry, but experience had taught him better.

Either way, he really did need to do homework. Or at least try.

After staring at a blank parchment for an hour without making the slightest progress, Harry gave up and went to his detention. Surely, it couldn’t be worse than the one before.

Snape soon proved him wrong.




Harry wasn’t surprised to find the common room deserted when he returned. He had half-hoped Hermione and Ron would wait for him, but knew better than to expect it, especially after he had asked for space. It was too much to hope for that they would understand what he couldn’t put voice to, that he felt betrayed and alone, and nothing that mattered to them mattered to him any longer. With a heavy sigh, he dragged himself towards the dorm.

As he passed the hearth, a muffled snort startled him. Harry turned to find Neville sprawled on the sofa, head lolling on one shoulder and a patch of drool on his shirt.

For the first time in weeks, warmth spread into the icy cold void that had become Harry’s world as of late. Neville had waited for him again. Perhaps Harry wasn’t entirely alone.

With a tentative smile, he went to the boy and gently shook his shoulder—the dry one. “Nev, Neville, wake up.”

The boy jumped and gave a startled snort. “What the … oh, Harry? Did I fall asleep?”

“Looks like it. Were you … um …?”

“Yeah, I tried to wait up for you.” Neville frowned and rubbed his face. “How late did he keep you this time? The fire’s down.”

“It’s ….” Harry cast a Tempus and winced. “Three in the morning.”

“Gods! That shitehead.” Neville sighed. “At least it’s the weekend tomorrow. You can catch up on your sleep a bit.”

Harry gave him a sad smile. “I could, if he wasn’t making me rearrange the student cupboard again bright and early.”

“He … he is?” Neville gave Harry a worried look. “Harry, I reckon he really is trying to do you in. I think we ought to go to Professor McGonagall tomorrow.”

Harry grimaced. “If you do, it’ll only be worse for me. Please. Just let it be.”

“But, Harry, this … it’s not right.”

“I know.” Nothing in his life ever was. “But it’s only for a while.”

“You have two more years of potions left. That’s a hell of a long time to be dealing with this level of abuse.”

Harry rubbed his toe in the carpet. “It’s not that bad.” Merlin, that was a lie. Everything in him hurt. “And it’s my choice, isn’t it?”

Neville sighed. “I guess. I don’t like it, but if you really don’t want to report it, then there’s nothing I can do but try to help.”

Harry gave him a sad smile. “I don’t think I’ll be in that class much longer anyway. It’s just making it horrible for everyone else. It’d be better if I left.”

“Harry! Don’t you listen to these prats. They’re all idiots.” Neville growled. “You’re not the one at fault. Snape deserves to be strung up by his ears and have his arse beaten raw for the way he’s treated you.”

Though Neville couldn’t possibly have learned about what Harry had seen in Snape’s pensieve nor what he endured at Privet Drive, the boy’s threat still struck a nerve.

Harry gave him a forced smile. “Y-yeah, maybe.”

“Harry?” Neville frowned. “Merlin, you know I didn’t mean that, right? I’m just angry.”

Harry gave a nervous laugh. “R-right. I ….” He shook himself out of his dark memories with a grimace. “Jesus, I’m sorry, Neville. It’s just been a rough night.”

Neville did not look entirely convinced, but he nodded and stood, bracing Harry on one arm again. “Come on then. Let’s get you to bed.”

“T-thanks.”




Harry woke to the sound of a blazing row in the common room. He came downstairs to find Neville at odds with Ron, both shouting so loud their silencing charm did nothing to cover it.

Neville cried, “—more important than your best mate? You didn’t see him yesterday, Ron! He was devastated because you couldn’t take five minutes out of your busy snogging schedule just to make sure he was okay!”

Ron snarled. “Well, he bloody well told us to take more time for ourselves, so we did! And Hermione was upset too, so yeah, I was trying to hold her together.”

“Hermione wasn’t the one being ripped to shreds!”

“Oi! I’ll have you know Snape was downright awful to her too!”

“For what, a moment? Maybe if he’d attacked her and her alone yesterday, I could see you taking off with her to make her feel better, but that’s not what happened, is it? Yeah, he turned on Hermione—I’ve already gotten the whole story from Daphne and Parvati, so don’t bother filling me in—but from there, he went on to tear into Harry the entire lesson, threatened him, isolated him, humiliated him at every turn. And you … you just left him to deal with it alone!”

“Thought that’s what he wanted!” Ron glared. “Besides, he’s been downright mean to Hermione since the beginning of term, so yeah, I thought it best to keep our distance for a bit.”

“Mean? Mean? Asking her to let him have a bloody kip was mean? Dear gods, Ron. You complain about her study schedules a thousand times a day, and yet you’re going to snap at Harry when he does it once? With a fair excuse, too?”

“He made her cry!”

“So did—”

“Enough!” Harry stepped into the middle of their row and pushed them apart. “Stop it. Stop arguing over me. I … I never wanted this. I’m just … I’m … I’ll talk to you later.”

“Harry!” Neville called after him. “Wait, I’m sorry. I just—”

“Don’t.” Harry Summoned his cloak and dashed out of the room, tears cooling on his cheeks.

This was what happened when freaks tried to have friends. Everything Harry touched, he destroyed. With a desolate, quiet sob, he thought maybe it was best for everyone if he just stayed quiet and out of the way.

Snape was pacing by the door when Harry came into the potions lab, tucking his cloak in a pocket. Harry didn’t bother trying to hide his misery. Snape might just ease up if he thought him to be in enough pain already.

Before ten minutes of his detention had passed, Harry wanted to laugh at his naiveté. Instead, he grabbed the next phial and hoped his faltering magic didn’t break it to bits. If this was his punishment for being alive, Harry didn’t want to know what Snape would do to him for breaking one of his precious potions ingredients. The man had made it abundantly clear he cared far more for the cheapest, vilest, most common ingredient in his stores—flobberworm snot, to be sure—than he did about Harry’s well-being.

He took a deep breath and tried to focus his power, or what little remained of it. “Defaeco Pulverum.” Weak yellow light washed over the surface of the phial and he released his tension in a sigh. The spell had managed not to break the phial, but he had three-hundred more to sort.

If he survived the term—or even the morning—with all his parts intact, it would be a miracle.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5
Different Priorities

2 October, 1997

After that detention, Snape eased up. Harry had, for a time, entertained the notion that maybe the man had recognised his suffering and switched to simple cauldron cleaning out of the goodness of his heart. By the next potions lesson, he wanted to laugh at his own stupidity. Snape couldn’t care less about Harry’s suffering. He had only eased up because the last detention had nearly killed Harry and he couldn’t afford to be sacked.

Harry shuddered with the memory as he made his way to lunch—alone, as usual. Merlin, he had never hurt like that in his life. By the end of his detention that day, he hadn’t been able to breathe without anguish, but Snape had driven him relentlessly. At least until Harry’s magic faltered and failed, and the berk had finally realised how dire Harry’s situation had become. The bastard had healed his magic, but it wasn’t enough to take away the pain. Even now, almost a month later, his bones still ached.

As usual for his new routine, Harry chose a seat far away from the other Gryffindors and ate his lunch in silence. The first years near him gave him a wide berth, having grown used to Harry’s despondent moods.

Neville, as per his usual routine these days, sat a couple of seats down from Harry. He didn’t talk. Harry had already made it plain he didn’t want to talk, but Neville kept him company anyway. Considering that Ron and Hermione had given up after the third day and were, even now, too absorbed in each other to notice Harry’s isolation, Harry welcomed Neville’s silent support. If only Harry wasn’t so afraid he would cause a war by speaking to him, he would open the lines of communication again.

But weapons weren’t meant to have friends. He couldn’t afford to forget it again. The last time had driven the entire house to war. And Harry had caused enough damage.

The memory of last night’s vision churned his stomach. “They sssuffer for you, Harry Potter. They die in your name.” Tears burned the back of his eyelids and Harry blinked them away. He would end it soon. He just had to find a way to kill the bloody bastard. Then, his purpose would be complete and maybe he could find the peace in death that he had lacked in life.

But when he remembered who would be waiting for him on the other side, he doubted he would ever find repose. He had several bones to pick with his family. Much as he wanted to, he couldn’t forget what he had seen in that pensieve. Much as Snape hated him, Harry still couldn’t hate him back.

Gods, he really was a fool.

“Hi, Harry.”

Ginny. She hovered near and stared at him over her food, but Harry ignored her as much as possible. He couldn’t avoid her altogether, but maybe if he pretended not to notice she would get the point eventually. Merlin, he hoped she would anyway. The girl’s constant ogling crawled on his skin like ants.

Harry picked at his sandwich and tried to choke down some steamed veg. It was easy to eat, easy on his stomach, and the nutrients would keep him alive even with his staggering lack of appetite. Who wanted food when every night was a new horror? Still, he had to try. He needed his strength to fight the Imperius visions.

Even if he sometimes wondered if it would be better for him to stop eating altogether. If he wasn’t around, maybe Voldemort would stop murdering people in his name.

Harry stifled a snort. Trolls would learn manners sooner.

No. He had to fight. He had to keep going, even if he wished he could just … stop. Just for a moment.

Weapons didn’t have that luxury.

He gave up and pushed away from the table.

“Harry,” Neville said, frowning. “Um, I think ….” He nodded towards the head table, and Harry glanced up to find Dumbledore approaching with an all-too-pleased expression on his face. The twinkle in his eyes made Harry wish he hadn’t tried so hard to eat after all.

“Ugh. I’m just going to pretend I didn’t see that. Thanks for the warning.”

Harry turned his back and started towards the doors.

“Harry, my boy—”

“Damn it,” Harry muttered and stopped, lest the headmaster do something drastic. “Yes, sir?” He turned, crossing his arms over his chest and staring at the headmaster’s eyebrow.

‘Never look the man in the eye. Not with what I’m hiding.’

“Harry, I wonder if you would join me in my office for a chat.”

Harry frowned. “I’ve Transfiguration in twenty minutes.”

“Yes, yes. This will only take a moment.”

Harry sighed, defeated. “Yes, sir.”

“Excellent. Just follow me, my boy.”

Harry pasted on a fake smile and followed the manipulative old goat out of the Great Hall. As soon as Harry sat down, Dumbledore flicked his wand and summoned a thick stack of parchment with something silver attached to the front. A badge or a seal of some sort.

The old man sat and handed the parchment to Harry, keeping the silver thing for himself. “Now then, my boy, I couldn’t help but notice you’ve looked rather, ah, as the youth put it, down in the dumps lately.”

Harry glared. “Really? I wonder why that could be.”

Dumbledore continued as if he hadn’t heard the sarcasm in Harry’s tone. “Ah, well, I took it upon myself to give you a bit of a … a boost, as it were. Something to bring you joy again.”

Harry grimaced and braced himself for another blatant manipulation. “And …?”

“Now, now. There’s no need to look so glum. I simply pulled a few strings down at the Ministry and had your lifetime quidditch ban revoked. Seemed they were quite happy to do so once I revealed the extent of Madam Umbridge’s … misplaced loyalties.”

Harry stared at the old man, wondering whether he should be shocked or not. “Quidditch. You think … this is about quidditch?”

Dumbledore turned pink. “Ah, well … no, my boy. I’m well-aware that you are mourning and—”

“And you think quidditch is going to fix it?” Harry gave a bitter laugh. “Tell me, sir, if I win the cup for Gryffindor, do you think it might bring Sirius back? Or maybe a big win for the lions could just … reverse the power of the veil and spit him back out, tail wagging?”

Dumbledore’s twinkle winked out. Good riddance. “Oh. Harry, no. Nothing will—”

“Exactly.” Harry fixed him with a sharp glare. “Nothing will fix it. Because of your blatant manipulations, my godfather is dead. You can’t just hand me a pass to play quidditch and expect that to make everything peachy again.”

Dumbledore sighed and rubbed his forehead. “I … perhaps not.” He held out a silver badge to Harry, the captain’s badge. “But you did used to find some joy in flying, Harry. It might do you good to have something positive to strive for.”

“You mean like ending the bloody war?” Harry scoffed. “I don’t have time for quidditch. Nor should I be on a broom in this state. Or, in your rose-tinted little world, have you failed to notice that I’m flagging?” He stood and tossed the badge back to the old man. “Give that to Ron. He actually still has some interest in the game now. I’d just bring everyone down, or end up killing myself trying to stay in the air on two hours of sleep.”

Dumbledore stared at the badge and sighed, shoulders slumping in defeat. “Harry, I … I’m trying to help you.”

“Help me by staying out of my business. You’ve meddled in my life enough.”

“You know I cannot do that, Harry. You are my student—”

“Your weapon, more like,” Harry muttered to himself. “Fine,” he said in a louder voice. “Do what you want. I don’t care. It’s not like you’re going to listen to anything I say anyway. But I’m not playing quidditch this year. Besides the fact that I have zero interest in the game at the moment, I’m not quite suicidal enough to get on a broom right now when it’s all I can do to stay upright.”

Dumbledore laid the badge aside with a sad sigh. “If the nightmares are truly so bad, perhaps you have a point. I will petition Madam Pomfrey to provide Dreamless Sleep for you. Perhaps by the time the matches begin, you’ll be feeling better.”

Harry resisted the urge to laugh in his face. Barely. “May I go now?”

“Yes, yes. But, you’re sure there’s nothing I can do to help, Harry?”

Harry shook his head and turned to go, but stopped at the door at the memory of his latest nightmare, one where he had endured Severus’ abuse in his place, with Professor Snape jeering at him instead of James Potter and Dumbledore reigning over the proceedings like an emperor on his throne.

“Actually ….” He wheeled on Dumbledore and glared, making sure not to meet the man’s eyes. “There is one thing I would like to talk to you about.”

Dumbledore’s fingers twitched on the desk, but otherwise he projected an aura of calm serenity. Harry took comfort in the fact that he could rattle the man’s infernal placidity even this much.

“Of course, Harry. What is it?”

Harry made sure the door was shut and took a step forwards, like a hunter closing in on his prey. “I’m assuming Professor Snape told you why he cancelled our Occlumency lessons last term?”

Dumbledore gave a strained smile. “I did hear something about a pensieve ….”

“And did he tell you what memory I happened to stumble upon in his pensieve?”

Dumbledore frowned. “Harry, I do not think it wise to reveal what you saw. There are many things Professor Snape endures that I am not privy to, and he—”

Harry advanced on him, fury boiling in his gut. “Don’t try to evade me, sir. I wouldn’t dare break his confidence if I wasn’t absolutely certain you already knew. The memory that’s haunting me happened during his time as a student, twenty years ago, on the grounds by the lake. Ringing any bells yet?”

Dumbledore sank back into his chair and frowned. “Ah, no. I do apologise, but that is quite a long stretch of time and many things happened—”

“No? Well, let me just tell you the star characters then and see if it jogs your memory. The first people I saw—other than the young Snape, of course—were my father and godfather, trailed by their loyal werewolf and pet rat. Oh, and mum was there too. It was just after OWLs, I think, and Snape was reading a book under the big beech tree by the shore. Anything yet?”

Judging by the way Dumbledore had paled and the sheen of sweat forming on his forehead, Harry had struck home.

“I thought so.” Harry plopped himself into his former chair, willing to be late for class if it meant he had the chance to right the wrongs his family had done to Severus, at least in some small way. “Thanks to my own stupid mistrust, I had the misfortune to witness my own family hang the young Snape up by his ankles and strip him to his underwear in front of the entire school. I have the sinking suspicion they did worse than that, but I can’t verify as Professor Snape pulled me out of the pensieve before I witnessed that horror.”

“Harry, I—”

But Harry wasn’t finished. “My father and godfather sexually assaulted an innocent teenager. Remus stood by like a coward and let it happen. Mum—who was supposed to be Snape’s best friend—abandoned him to be tortured. And you—” Harry stood, anger arcing from him in waves. “You let them all off! You did nothing! You validated Snape’s abusers and left him isolated and miserable, without any kind of help to recover from something that must have damaged him beyond belief, if he can still hold me accountable for it when I wasn’t even born!”

Dumbledore grimaced. “Harry, I gave them all several detentions and—”

Harry’s magic crackled around him. “Detentions! For sexual assault? They should have been expelled! Or suspended, at the very least! And Sirius, much as I loved the man, absolutely should have been expelled in seventh year after he nearly murdered the man.”

Dumbledore squirmed and pushed his spectacles up his nose. “Harry, please understand, I … I did what I thought was best for everyone at the time.”

Harry’s magic faded from the air, but his anger did not abate in the least. “Everyone, or the Gryffindors? Everyone, or those you thought you could turn to your purposes in the war?”

Dumbledore went ashen. “Harry! That is an unfair accusation—”

“Actually,” said one of the male portraits—Harry couldn’t tell which one. “I think he has the right of it.”

Dumbledore cringed. “Phineas, we’ve discussed your biases towards Slytherin House. Now is not the ti—”

“Oh, it is. It really is.” Harry crossed his arms over his chest. “You insist you did what was best for everyone. Okay, maybe you did. So let me ask you, did you send the young Snape to any kind of counselling or treatment after the attack? Did you even have Pomfrey check him over?”

Madam Pomfrey, Harry.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Madam Pomfrey then. Well? Did you?”

Dumbledore frowned and pushed his spectacles up his nose. “It is none of your concern, my boy—”

“That’s a no,” Harry charged on. “So what about Remus? He was there. He could have stopped it. He was a bloody prefect at the time—he should have stopped it. Did you punish him for failing to uphold his duties? Strip his badge, maybe, and give it to less of a ruddy coward to start with?”

Dumbledore coughed. “I-I really think we should—”

‘Phineas’ answered for him, a cultured-looking man with a pointy moustache, robes à la Lucius Malfoy, and a head of greying brown hair. “Lupin was the one to report the event. He received several detentions, but was not stripped of his privileges as a prefect despite my support of that course of action.”

“Not only yours,” said a stern-looking older man with a powdered wig. Harry peered at the nameplate. Armando Dippet.

A healer headmistress in a wimple gave a firm nod. “No, many of us agreed—if he lacked the fortitude to uphold the duties of his office, he lacked the character to keep it.”

A pointy-nosed man with a turban sneered. “But Albus insisted that he deserved a second chance. And a third. And a fourth. And so on.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Really? So I assume Remus was never stripped of his prefect’s badge even though he failed to intervene again? Several times, apparently.”

“I think we both know,” said Phineas with a scowl, “that Lupin’s prefect badge had less to do with his suitability for the position and more to do with Albus’ desire to collect him for the Order.”

Albus cried, “Phineas! That is quite—”

Harry nodded and talked over the headmaster. “Yeah, I could see how he might have uses for a werewolf in his debt. Or a boy hero too blindly devoted to notice he’s being used.”

The room went silent. Dumbledore grimaced and popped several of his lemon drops at once.

Phineas scowled at him. “To answer your question, Harry, since it becomes more apparent by the moment that Albus has no intention of admitting responsibility, no, Severus did not receive long-term treatment. Albus did refer him to Poppy immediately after the assault, he did not receive counselling to the best of my knowledge. Even though, if memory serves, Poppy requested to see him on a regular basis.”

Dumbledore gasped out, “Phineas!”

The man in the portrait shook his head at Dumbledore. “The boy already knows, and he deserves to understand as it was his family involved.”

Dumbledore winced. “Severus will not like this.”

“What is he going to do, throw water at my canvas?”

“He might burn it,” Dumbledore muttered.

“Paugh. He knows there are charms on our portraits to prevent such things. You are simply out of sorts because we will not let you hide behind your benevolent façade.”

Harry decided then and there he liked this Phineas character. Anyone who could put Dumbledore in his place deserved his regard.

“Right,” Harry said with a glare at Dumbledore. “You’re still not off the hook. If you really did what was best for everyone, what did you do to punish Mum?”

Dumbledore blinked. “Lily? But she neither hurt Severus nor watched it happen.”

“No, she just abandoned him to it. Both Mum and Remus were in a position to stop them and they didn’t. They should have been punished. It seems like the only one who got anything close to a reasonable punishment was Remus. And I’m guessing he only got it because you had to punish him after reporting such a thing or it would come down hard against you.”

Dumbledore stood. “Harry! That is quite enough.”

Harry gave him a disgusted look. “I reckon it is. I’ve had about enough of hearing your excuses anyway.”

“Young man, that is enough disrespect out of you. Twenty points from—”

“No,” said Phineas with a glare. “No, Albus. You’ve had your comeuppance for your actions that day coming for a long time. A stern talking-to is relatively light considering what you did and what you deserve. Sit down and eat your bloody lemon drops.”

Harry snorted in spite of himself.

Dumbledore’s face worked for a moment, but he did sit down. He rubbed his forehead and slumped over his desk. “Harry, I … Merlin. Of all the people to take me to task for that, I never imagined it would be you.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “I know injustice where I see it, sir. Whether it’s my enemy suffering or not.”

Dumbledore sighed. “Yes, I see that. Harry, I can do nothing more than apologise for my actions that day. You are correct that I should have taken a firmer hand and given Severus better care. I … the truth is, I had never seen such a severe case of bullying during my time as headmaster until then, and I was in a bit over my head. I had hoped several letters home, an entire term of detentions, and my disappointment in them would have been enough to affect a change in their behaviour—”

Harry scowled and cut him off. “You’re lying through your lemon drops! You weren’t in over your head. You didn’t punish them because you wanted them to be in your debt for the Order! But, even if you were telling the truth, it’s still not enough. Maybe you hoped what little you did would alter their behaviour, but it never did.” Harry shook his head and fixed Dumbledore with a grim glare. “It never did, and that should have spurred you to take further action. Especially against Sirius. But you didn’t.”

“Harry, I tri—”

“No. You failed them. You failed to show the young Snape he was worth your concern, you failed to admonish Mum for her utter lack of loyalty and betrayal, and you failed to teach the rest of my family that there are consequences to hurting people and acting like fools. And before you try to tell me you’ve seen the error of your ways since then, twenty years later, you failed us all again! And this time, someone died because of it.”

Harry stood and moved to the door. “Maybe you did your best for Professor Snape. Maybe you tried. It doesn’t look it to me, but I wasn’t there.” He laid his hand on the knob and glared at the headmaster’s eyebrow. “But don’t come to me now—after twenty plus years of failing me and my family—and expect a bloody quidditch badge to make everything okay again.” He turned and opened the door. “Tell Ron he has the captain position or give it to Katie Bell. I don’t want to play this year.”

Harry walked out, leaving a speechless, shaken old man behind. He hoped it would teach the bastard something. Maybe Dumbledore would grow from this, would learn his own actions had consequences too.

Somehow, Harry doubted it.




When Harry returned to the common room that night just before curfew, Ron was, for once, not snogging with his girlfriend. Hermione had her books spread out on the table near him, but Ron wasn’t revising with her either. He sat on the sofa near the hearth, Katie Bell and Ginny squished in on one side of the sofa and Dean and Alicia Spinnet on the other. He had the silver badge pinned to his chest for all to see, and the look of pride in his eyes made Harry smile.

So Dumbledore had taken his advice then. Perhaps that little talk had done some good after all. Harry was happy for Ron, too. He certainly wouldn’t tell Ron that he had only earned the captain’s badge after Harry himself had turned it down, even if Ron had become far too absorbed in his girlfriend these days.

Hell, Even Hermione had adopted a more moderate study schedule to make room for snogging. Harry wondered how it was affecting her grades. She always seemed to be the top of the class, so maybe she didn’t need so much revision time after all. Sometimes Harry missed studying with her, though.

Or maybe he just missed her.

If she had ever once apologised, if she had realised she’d been alienating him, he would have welcomed her company. But every time he looked for her, she had drowned herself in Ron’s arms or her books. After a few weeks, he’d given up and let them have their joy while it lasted. As miserable as he was all the time, he would only bring them down anyway.

Harry gave Ron a wan smile and made for the dorms, but he might have realised he wouldn’t escape confrontation so easily. As soon as Harry passed, Ron stood and grinned, going to meet Harry for the first time in weeks. If Harry didn’t know exactly what he wanted, he might have welcomed him. As it was, he just wanted to figure out a way to escape the coming confrontation unscathed. Maybe if he pretended to be asleep—

“Harry, mate, wait a mo.”

“Damn,” Harry whispered. He turned and put on a false smile. “C-congratulations, Ron. I know you’ve wanted it for a while.”

Ron puffed out his chest in pride. “Reckon it’s because of all those games I had to play after you were banned, Harry.”

Harry gave him a thin smile. “Yeah, maybe. Well, I’d best get to bed then. I can’t play, you know. Still banned and everything.”

Ron frowned. “That’s rubbish, mate. Dumbledore said you weren’t and to play would do you some good.”

“Did he now?” A spark lit in Harry’s chest. So much for his ribbing doing the barmy old goat any good. Meddling bastard.

“Well, yeah. Didn’t you know?”

Harry stared at his feet. “Uh, no, not really. I mean, they said a lifetime ban and all so I figured it couldn’t be revoked.”

Ron shrugged. “I reckon the old man pulled some strings for you.”

Harry’s eyelid twitched. “Reckon so.”

Ron gave him a bemused look. “Are you all right, mate?”

Harry stared at him. “Do I look it?”

“Uh … well ….”

Harry shrugged. “Never mind. I’m off to bed.”

“Yeah, but try to stay out of detention on Monday.”

Harry stopped dead. “Ron.”

“That’s our first practice, so you need to be free.”

He grimaced and turned, gaze sharp. “Ron.”

“Can’t have a quidditch team without our star seeker, you know.”

“Ron!” His shout finally got through.

Ron gave him an exasperated look. “What? Don’t tell me you’re already in detention?”

Harry raked a hand through his hair and sighed. “Ron, I’m not playing this year.”

“What?” Ron stared at him as if he’d grown a second head, then burst out laughing. “Oh, come off it, Harry. Great joke and all, but be serious.”

“No, Ron. I am serious. I’m not playing.”

Ron’s jaw dropped. “Wha … what do you mean you’re not playing? You have to play!”

The common room went dead silent and all eyes turned to them.

Harry shrunk in on himself. “Ron, please. I don’t want to play.”

“What? But that’s mad! You love quidditch!”

Harry sighed and gave him a sad smile. “I used to. But now, look at me, Ron. Do you really think I need to be on a broomstick like this?”

Ron grimaced. “Well, just get a good night’s sleep and you’ll be fine.”

“A good night’s sleep?” Harry gaped, hurt and betrayed that his friend could have missed something so vital. “Where the hell have you been the last month or so? Or the past five years, for that matter? I can’t sleep. Not even potions work.”

Ron squirmed and turned pink. “Well, I mean, maybe if you just … you know, try not to think of the bad stuff ….”

“Try not to—are you mad?” Harry grabbed his collar and pulled him down to his level. “You know I have visions. How do you reckon I stop thinking about those? Am I supposed to just ignore getting put under the bloody Cruciatus every night and watching babies murdered in front of their mums? Just to play a ruddy game?” He stepped back and scowled. “I can’t just not think about it. It haunts me, every moment of every day!”

Ron stepped back with a wince. “Mother of Merlin. B-babies, Harry?”

Harry tapped his scar. “How old was I again the first time he came to kill me?”

Ron grimaced. “Gods. I … I didn’t know it was that bad, mate.”

Harry relaxed a fraction. “Y-yeah. It is.”

“Well, maybe playing will take your mind off of it, then.”

Harry’s heart twisted again. “H-have you not heard a word I said? I can’t play, Ron! It’s too dangerous.”

“But … but it’s quidditch, Harry! If you don’t play, Slytherin will take the cup. We can’t let the snakes win!”

Harry stared at him, wondering when he had grown so different from a boy he used to do everything with. “I’m sorry, Ron. Given the war and everything else I have to deal with right now, quidditch just isn’t a high priority to me any longer.”

Ron reeled back as if struck. “What! You can’t be serious. Of course it’s a priority! We have to win! We just have to, Harry!”

“Or what?” Harry stood tall and faced him down, though he had to look up to do it. “Tell me, Ron. What happens if we lose? Worst case scenario, the Slytherins win, take home the cup, and are smug arseholes about it for the next year or so.”

“Well, yeah! That’s why it’s so important that you play, so we can beat those snotty bastards.”

Harry shook his head in disgust. “Okay, let’s say I listen to that utter rubbish and play in this condition. What’s the worst case scenario if, while playing, I have a vision on my broom, hmm? What happens then? I’ll tell you what happens. I plummet to my death and Voldemort wins the war! So you tell me, Ron, what’s more important here? The cup or my life?”

Ron coughed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, er, I mean, of course your life is more important, Harry, but Dumbledore saved you before. He can do it again.”

Harry gave a bitter laugh. “I see. So I’m supposed to hope Dumbledore’s quick enough with his wand to keep me from splattering to bits on the pitch, all so you can take home a cup that means nothing in the end.”

“N-nothing!” Ron spluttered and gasped, going tomato-red. “Nothing? How can you say that? It’s the quidditch cup, Harry!”

“And in the end, it’s nothing but a hunk of metal.” Harry hugged his chest and fought back tears. “I’m not playing, Ron. Glory, zooming around the pitch—none of that matters right now. There’s a war going on out there, and since none of the rest of you seem to care, it falls to me to fight it.”

Ron cried, “But the cup! The cup, Harry!”

Harry gave up. Ron just couldn’t understand. With a sigh, he Summoned his invisibility cloak and his knapsack, clutching both to his chest. “I’m going to the Room to revise tonight. Don’t follow me.”

“Harry! Wait, you can’t just—”

“Yes, he can,” said Neville from Harry’s side. He turned to Harry with a hesitant smile. “Do you mind if I come along to revise with you? I’ve quite a lot of Astronomy to catch up on.”

Harry shook his head sadly. “N-not tonight, Nev. I just … I need to be alone.”

Neville’s smile drooped. “O-okay, Harry. I … I guess I’ll just revise by myself then.”

“Harry—” Ron pushed Neville aside. “Wait a minute. You can’t just abandon us, mate. We’ve—”

“Look, just leave him alone,” Neville said with a glare. “He said no. You and your sister both need to learn the meaning of the word.”

Ron whirled on him. “My sister! What does Ginny have to do with this?”

“Well, she won’t quit ogling him and—”

“Oi!”

“Stop,” Harry called. “Just … just stop it. Please. There’s so much fighting out there—I can’t take it here too.” He unfolded his cloak and ran for the door, but Ginny was waiting for him there.

“Come on, Harry. We’ll go for a fly around the pitch, and you’ll feel better.” She took his arm and held it to her side. “You know you love to—”

“Ginny, get off of me!” He wrested his arm away. “I’ve already told you I don’t want to be touched!”

“You said to give it time and I have!” She pouted. “You can’t keep pushing everyone away, Harry. It’s not good fo—”

She reached for him again, but this time Parvati held her back. “Stop it, Ginny. Harry said no.”

Harry shot Parvati a grateful look and vanished out the door.

“Wait just a minute, young man,” the fat lady called. “It’s past curfew!”

At the same time, Ginny cried, “Harry, wait!”

And Ron shouted, “Oi! What do you think you’re on about, giving her hope and then—”

But Harry ignored them all and pelted for the stairwell. Gods, he couldn’t believe this. Ron thought a stupid metal cup was more important than Harry’s life, and Ginny—fuck. He couldn’t take any more of her obsession.

He headed for the Room of Requirement, tears blinding him, and set the locks to ward everyone out. Maybe he should just stay here from now on and avoid the others. In the end, he only brought everyone pain.

No. He couldn’t do that, unfortunately. McGonagall would drag him back to the dorm by his ears eventually. And she wouldn’t listen to Harry’s reasoning for being out before she docked points and shoved him in detention, either. Little as he cared about points these days, his dorm mates did, and Harry didn’t need still more of their ire heaped upon his head.

Shame he couldn’t just withdraw from Hogwarts and study on his own. Someone other than Harry Potter probably could. But between the war and his lack of family, he had nowhere to go. Besides, Dumbledore wouldn’t want to lose control over his dear little weapon. Harry would only be dragged kicking and screaming back to Hogwarts, and maybe locked up if they couldn’t keep him there any other way.

He shuddered and curled up on the bed, trembling at the thought of being so confined. No, as much as it sucked, he had no choice but to keep going back to the dorms and lie low.

With a sniffle, he curled up on the bed the room had offered, downed a Dreamless Sleep potion, and let it carry him to oblivion, if only for a moment.




None of the quidditch team—besides Dean—had anything to say to Harry the next day, and even Dean was hesitant.

“Harry, what’s going on, mate? I thought you liked quidditch?”

Harry groaned and gathered his courage for yet another confrontation. “I did, but the war is more important, and I’m asleep on my feet most days. It’s just too much of a risk.”

But Dean surprised him. “Okay. The team will miss your skills for sure, but I understand. I’d rather you stay in one piece.”

“Tell that to Ron,” Harry grumbled.

“Harry, he … he’s just ….”

“Being a berk,” Neville said with a shake of his head. “They’re all so focused on points and girls and other rubbish that they’re missing the important things.”

“I reckon you’re right,” said Dean with a sigh.

“It doesn’t matter,” Harry said. “Just let them have their happiness wherever it comes. The war is my battle anyway.”

“You don’t have to fight that battle alone, though.” Neville patted Harry’s shoulder. “You do have friends, Harry.”

Harry gave him a thin smile. The boy wanted to help, but he just didn’t understand. None of them did.

Still, Harry was getting awfully lonely these days.

The other Gryffindors sat in their usual space at lunch. All but Hermione, Parvati, the Creevey boys, and Ginny turned their backs as Harry passed to go to his solitary meal, but Harry paid them no heed. It hurt, of course it hurt that quidditch had outranked his life, but perhaps it was better that way. Then they wouldn’t be so damaged when the war destroyed him.

He sat in his chair at the far end of the table, closest to the staff and with three empty seats on either side. If he didn’t think Dumbledore would probably follow him and drag him back, he’d start taking his meals in the kitchens too. As it was, this was the best he could do.

A warm body and a plate settled beside him. He cringed, expecting to find Ginny pawing all over him, but it was only Neville.

“Thought you could use a friend.” He gave Harry a wry smile. “Even if you think you don’t want any right now.”

Harry blinked back a wave of sudden emotion, loss and grief warring with warmth that at least one person still cared. Dean sat across him and ignored his teammates’ dirty looks, and Harry’s eyes filled. Dean was risking stigma and losing his spot on the team to stay by Harry’s side.

Another warm body settled at his other side, and Harry blinked at the sight of long blonde hair and radish earrings.

“Luna? Aren’t you eating with the Ravenclaws?”

She gave him a dreamy smile. “Well, I usually do, but the Clarents told me that you need your friends beside you now.” Her smile turned conspiratorial. “Besides, we have you nice and boxed-in so Ginny and her buzzing cloud of Ticklebees can’t get too close.”

Harry choked back a laugh in spite of himself. “I … I guess that’s true. Um, t-thanks. All of you. I just … thank you.”

Luna beamed. “You’re welcome.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 6
A Rude Awakening

29 October, 1997

Orange streamers and flying black bats decorated the Great Hall. Merlin, but Albus did love holiday decorations. Sentimental as it was, it distracted from the grief of war, if only for a moment. Besides, children needed whimsy to grow without damage anyway. Severus and Harry had certainly proved that in spades.

As he sat at the teacher’s table and started on breakfast, Albus searched for his little hero—though perhaps anti-hero would be more appropriate these days. Merlin, but that lecture Harry had given him earlier in the month still smarted. Even more so because Albus’ attempts to bring Harry onto the quidditch team—for his own good, of course—had not only failed to convince Harry to play, but had also driven a wedge between him and most of the Gryffindors.

“You’ve failed us all again.”

Yes, he had done. Albus sighed and sipped at his pumpkin juice. Well, perhaps he might have handled that situation better. Still, he had only wanted to cheer the boy a bit. That counted for something, didn’t it?

Harry wasn’t at the Gryffindor table yet. Albus opened his mouth to ask Minerva about him, but just then the doors open and the boy trudged in, eyes glued to the floor, shoulders slumped, and posture radiating sorrow and weariness.

Some cheer. Merlin, Harry looked miserable.

What on earth was wrong? Albus had thought by now the boy’s grief for his godfather would have begun to abate, or at least normalise, but if anything, Harry looked worse by the day.

Of course, the rift between him and his house had to hurt, but Albus hadn’t expected this level of pain. And most days, it seemed as if Harry encouraged the distance. He certainly hadn’t warmed up to Neville’s efforts to befriend him. Neville hadn’t given up yet, thank Merlin. Maybe Albus should say something to Harry about him.

On second thought, that might set Harry against Neville altogether.

He gave a sad, slight shake of his head. It would be so much easier to help people if they simply went along with his plans.

A voice in the back of his mind, one which sounded too much like Severus, snorted. ‘Because that has worked out so well for him in the past.’

Albus popped a carrot into his mouth and let the crunch drown out those niggling shards of conscience.

In the meantime, instinct told him something more than the obvious was hurting Harry. Over forty years and two wars, he had seen hundreds of students mourn and fight with their classmates. This felt different. Deeper.

Perhaps it was his nightmares? Were they truly this bad? No. His Dreamless Sleep potion should have nipped those in the bud. Something more serious had brought Harry to this state of desolation, Albus was sure of it.

Poppy’s voice distracted him from his observation of his favourite lion. “Albus, I think something is truly wrong with Harry Potter.”

Minerva gave the boy a pitying look. “So I’m not the only one to notice then.”

“No, indeed,” Albus murmured, his mind racing. What was bothering the boy?

“I notice no difference,” Severus said, barely lifting his gaze from his breakfast.

“Then you are blind,” Minerva snapped. She softened her tone to speak to the others. “Albus, are you aware that his Patronus failed on the train this year?”

Albus nodded. “Grief does tend to make conjuring one difficult.”

“That boy’s life has been nothing but grief,” Poppy interjected, “and he has never had a problem before. Albus, I … something is wrong. He looks so ill.”

Severus scoffed, but Poppy rounded on him with a fierce glare, the kind that sent most students cowering back into their beds. Even Severus could not hide a slight recoil.

“You keep your foul comments to yourself, young man,” she chided. “I’ve half a mind to inquire of his classmates if the problem here is you. The way you’ve treated him over the years is absolutely shameful!”

Albus patted her arm. “Now, now, Poppy. I’m sure Severus has done nothing to harm Harry.”

The look he gave his potions professor indicated there would be consequences this time if he had done. Harry had hit the nail on the head in his lecture earlier in the month, after all, and having it brought to light so sharply had forced Albus to at least recognise his failures. He had let his favourite boys down, over and over, and they had both suffered for his weaknesses. Well, he wouldn’t make that mistake again.

Severus sneered and looked away. “Thank you ever so for your vote of confidence.”

Albus watched him a moment longer, but detected no hint of shame. Of course, if the man believed his rancour justified, he wouldn’t feel shame over his actions.

Hmm. Perhaps the situation warranted more attention.

“I just don’t know how to help him,” Poppy said after a long moment. “He won’t come to me, he won’t talk to anyone, and it’s clear he needs to. Merlin, the boy is practically fading.”

“But what can we do?” Minerva sighed and watched Harry pick at his food. “If we try to pull him aside, I doubt he’ll take it well. He hates the attention.”

Severus snorted. “Dear gods. Merlin spare me such utter foolishness.”

Minerva speared him with a glare that could melt stone. “Oh, do share your exalted opinion, Severus. I’m quite sure we’ll all find it riveting.”

He sniffed. “It’s blatantly obvious if you look at him without the rose-tinted spectacles you all wear. This is merely an act of melodrama in a quest to acquire yet more attention.”

“Is it?” Albus looked pointedly at the boy, sitting alone at the end of the Gryffindor table, three seats between himself and any of his friends, though Neville and Ginny wouldn’t be put off. “How curious that he has elected to seek further attention by withdrawing and isolating himself from anyone who would give it. I must say, I have never heard of such tactics before.”

“Ten points to Gryffindor for ingenuity,” Minerva said, her tone acid. “And thirty more for putting up with the likes of you, Severus.”

“Fifty from—”

“No,” said Albus, his expression cold. “You have deducted enough needless points from Gryffindor these two months to secure your other position for the whole of the term. You will take no more in retaliation, for nothing more than the purpose of bitterness and pride.”

With a scowl, Severus pushed back from the table and left, robes billowing behind him.

Minerva watched him go with a sigh. “He plans to take them the next class, doesn’t he?”

“Most likely, I am afraid.” Albus shrugged. “We shall simply have to give them back.”

“I am running out of excuses,” Minerva muttered.

“Honestly,” Poppy said, her eyes full of sorrow, “I think we have more serious matters to worry about than house points. The last time I saw someone look like Harry does right now—Merlin help us, it was Tammy McAllen, Albus.”

Albus froze, the implications of her statement leaving him hollow and his insides cold with terror. Tammy had been a quiet girl, content with her lot and happy enough in her potions apprenticeship under Professor Slughorn—until her mother’s murder halfway through the first war with Voldemort. Then, all the life had drained out of her. The professors had tried to help, to reach out to her, but nothing had worked.

Three months into that dark term, they had found her body in the student potions’ storage, already cold. The half-chewed leaves of monkshood in her hand had left no doubt as to the manner of her death. Horace had retired the same week.

Dear gods. Would they lose Harry to the same fate? The thought was unconscionable, and not just for his sake. Every Muggleborn and Light-sided person in Britain would die without him.

Albus considered the situation and observed the boy carefully. Harry seemed too self-sacrificing, too concerned for the welfare of others to do something so potentially damaging—in particular when one considered the prophecy and the burden of fate on the boy’s shoulders—but if grief had incapacitated him, it might not be enough to pull him back from the brink.

He had to know the truth, for the good of them all.

Harry looked up and turned, having sensed the headmaster’s stare on his back. Albus met his eyes and filtered through his surface thoughts, just enough to read his state of mind. Harry jerked his eyes away, his expression darkening with anger and betrayal. He was probably justified in his wrath—again—and would be less than congenial for quite some time, but at least Albus had seen what he needed to. The boy hadn’t abandoned his purpose. Not yet.

Better yet, Albus believed he had found the reason for Harry’s worsening condition and self-imposed isolation. He had seen traces of terrible visions, of Harry brewing secret potions during sleepless nights to deal with them on his own. If the child was enduring that kind of pain on a daily basis, Albus could only admire the boy’s resilience in holding himself together as well as he had done thus far.

He patted Poppy’s hand to reassure the terrified woman. “Harry is strong, Poppy. I have faith he will pull through. But in the meantime, I am going to see what can be done to mitigate his pain.” He shook his head and stood. “Though, I am afraid, neither he nor Severus will be best pleased with me before the day is done.”

Minerva glared. “Albus, what tomfoolery are you up to now?”

“Protecting him, Minerva. As always.” With that, he left his breakfast half-finished and prepared himself for what would most likely be a highly unpleasant conversation. Yes, it would be best to have a plentiful stack of lemon drops and a pot of hot tea ready for that meeting. And possibly a headache potion or three.




Severus’ heart raced as he made his way to the headmaster’s office. The summons had come after his NEWTs potions class. Had Potter gone and whined despite his arrogance and pride? It would be just like the boy to complain simply because Severus hadn’t shown him the adulation the rest of the staff did on a regular basis. For Merlin’s sake, someone had to teach the brat what his behaviour really deserved.

Still, somewhere deep down, a part of him worried he had gone too far. Potter was showing signs of exhaustion and despair. And there was that incident at the beginning of term when Severus had placed his detentions too close together and nearly drained the boy of all his magic. He had since relented—to an extent—and had the brat washing cauldrons through his numerous detentions, but even that would take a toll after too long.

Was Severus pushing him too hard?

He scowled at his own thoughts. No. Potter would do anything for attention and more fame. It was simply an act, just as Severus had told Minerva during breakfast.

Steeling himself, he wiped all evidence of emotion from his face and muttered the most recent password. “Fizzing Whizbees.”

Merlin, the passwords gained in imbecility each week.

 With a scowl, he stalked up the stairs and entered the office at Albus’ greeting. The hairs on the back of his neck went up as soon as he stepped inside. Albus had the tea tray and a giant stack of lemon drops already perched upon his desk. He never brought out the tea pre-emptively unless—

“Yes, Severus,” said Albus with a wry smile, “I do believe you will find this discussion singularly unpleasant; however, it must be done. Sit down, please, and do take a cup of tea.”

Severus’ heart jumped and his hands trembled as he stalked to the chair and sat. Had Potter complained about his treatment? He resisted the urge to make some kind of denial by will alone and Summoned a cup of tea, black.

“Well?”

“First of all, I would like to know if you have noticed any peculiar symptoms in Mister Potter.”

Severus covered a flinch with his teacup. “If by peculiar you mean he is even more vapid and irritating than usual, perhaps.”

Albus’ gaze turned to steel. “Enough. This is not a laughing matter, Severus. The boy is quite seriously depressed. If you continue to torment him as you have done, you will drive him to an early grave, and I believe you know that will cost us far more than the loss of a brave and honest young man.”

“He is an arrogant sod! Just like his father!”

Albus gave a wry laugh. “Like James Potter? Harry?”

Severus snarled. “They are practically twins!”

“Perhaps in looks, you may be correct. Harry does carry many of his father’s features, though his size appears to be all his own.” Albus frowned. “It is strange. I do not recall any of the Potter family having such a diminutive frame, and Lily was quite tall as well.” He shook his head. “Perhaps it comes from further back in his mother’s line, but I digress. I will admit that Harry does bear a superficial resemblance to James, but that is where the similarities end.”

Severus scoffed. “He is just as foolish, just as arrogant, always breaking the rules as if they do not apply to him, riding on the coattails of his intellectual superiors and his fame—he is utterly intolerable! If anything, he is worse than James Potter, and I never imagined I would utter those words.”

Albus leaned back and steepled his hands. “Hmm. I confess I have seen nothing of the traits you have described in Harry. In fact, if you had not mentioned names nor carried a grudge against Harry from the day he set foot in this school—or rather, since the day of his birth—I would have assumed you were speaking of Mister Malfoy.”

Severus turned his magic inward to disguise the heat creeping into his face. Albus had said nothing outright, but neither had Severus missed the implication in his comments. He had a right to bear the Potter scion a grudge. The ungrateful brat deserved every bit of his punishment.

He should have known Albus would side with Potter. The old man always had done.

With a glare, Severus brought the discussion back to the point. “No. I have not noticed any symptoms in Potter that you have not already mentioned.”

Albus’ eyes narrowed. “Nothing at all, Severus?”

Severus glared back. “No, Albus. Other than a suspicious lack of defiance, which I am sure will resurface the moment his ‘woe-is-me’ act ceases to bring him the attention he so craves, I have noticed no strange symptoms.”

Albus sighed. “I see. Perhaps it was a mistake to hope you could one day outgrow your prejudice, but I am afraid the fact that it appears you cannot leaves us in quite a bind.”

Severus could not control the urge to swallow and tighten his fists this time. Cold, slimy dread crawled down his spine and settled in his gut. Merlin help him, what devious plan did Albus have in store for him now?

“During breakfast this morning, Poppy mentioned fears to me that Harry is demonstrating signs of severe depression, to the point that we should fear suicide. Besides the fact that I do care about the boy, to lose him would be devastating for us all—yes, even you. And so, I … well, perhaps it was ill-done of me, but I performed a surface scan on his thoughts, seeking out his will to live.”

Severus snorted. “And you insist I am the unethical one.”

Albus’ smile held an edge of danger. “Oh? And am I to assume you have given up the practice of invading Harry’s thoughts whenever the fancy strikes?”

Severus clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. “Get on with it, Albus. I have far better things to do than listen to more sob stories for the poor, neglected Potter scion.”

“As you wish.” Albus took a lemon drop. “Harry is not quite to that state yet, thankfully. He has not given up on his mission. The prophecy and Voldemort’s obsession with him is—”

Severus hissed at a sharp surge of pain up his arm. Damn him, Albus knew of the link between the Dark Mark and the Dark Lord’s self-fashioned name. No doubt the old bastard thought Severus deserved a bit of pain for his treatment of the Potter brat.

A tiny voice in the back of his mind—one that sounded too much like Lily—whispered, “And he might be right, if you’ve driven him near suicide.”

Severus stomped on the voice with all his might and gave Albus a venomous glare.

Albus took another sweet and gave Severus a too-innocent smile. “Are you quite all right, my boy?”

Severus also stomped on the urge to strangle the old man. “Fine,” he gritted out. “Get on with it.”

“Very well. As I was saying, Harry is not yet suicidal, but his level of pain is alarming.” Albus pushed his spectacles on his nose and leaned on his elbows, his expression grim. “And, while I was in his mind, I believe I discovered the reason why he feels so poorly.”

Severus forced himself not to react, though he could not stop the blood from draining from his face. Merlin, but he had a bad feeling about this.

“And?”

“And, Severus, it appears Tom is sending Harry visions again. He knows the boy will not be able to bear their pain—he feels it, you know. And it will soon drive him straight to Tom’s clutches if the visions are not stopped.”

Fury rose white-hot in Severus chest. He jerked to his feet, knocking his lukewarm tea to the floor and not caring where it spilled. “No! Do you hear me, the answer is no! I will not teach that incompetent, arrogant, spoiled, vicious little brat!”

Albus Vanished the spilt tea and returned the cup to his tray. “Even if the consequence is the death of all you know?”

Severus snarled. “Yes, old man, or have you forgotten that I have already attempted it? The boy is a menace! He did not want to learn, did not even try to comprehend, and you dare ask me to repeat such an exercise in futility? I will not waste my time trying to drill a concept into his brain that he is too moronic to understand!”

Rather than the goading Severus had expected, Albus’ eyes filled with deep sorrow. “I see. So you will not teach him even though Tom is torturing him every single day? You will let him suffer the Cruciatus over and over, let him watch toddlers die screaming and bleeding in their beds every night and believe it is for him they perish? Will you still refuse to teach him, knowing the cost will be Harry’s life, and all of ours with him?”

Severus swallowed hard. Toddlers? The Cruciatus? He hadn’t considered it might be so severe. Even so ….

Severus huffed and sank back into his seat. “He is arrogant and foolish and does not want to learn. You ask the impossible.”

Albus lowered his head into his hand. “Then you may go, Severus. I suppose I will have no choice but to teach him myself. Perhaps it is better that way despite the risk, if you are truly so blinded by hatred as to believe his life is not worth a bit of inconvenience.” He flicked a hand and opened the office door. “Go. I cannot bear to look at you at the moment.”

Severus gripped the arms of his chair, unable to leave. “A-Albus ….”

“What do you want, Severus? You have already made it quite clear that you believe it is better to see the boy suffer terrible pain on a daily basis than attempt to instruct him. I confess such callous disregard for a human life fills me with doubt that I have chosen my … confidants well.” Albus gave a weary sigh and rubbed his forehead. “Perhaps you are not the only one who has been blind.”

The desolate, grief-stricken tone in Albus’ voice cracked Severus’ heart down the middle. He was a cold bastard most of the time—he had to be to keep his cover—but Albus was the only person who had ever stood by him. Albus was the only one who had ever given him a chance to redeem himself. And to know he had disappointed the man so greatly cut him to the core.

“I … you ….” Severus sighed and dropped his head. “Perhaps you are right. Very well. I … I will ….” He swallowed a surge of loathing and rage. “Teach the boy.”

Albus looked up, his eyes untrusting and uncertain. “Will you? Will you truly teach him and do your best to ensure he understands what he needs to know? Can you, when you value his life so little?”

Severus wrapped an arm around his waist, feeling raw and exposed. “Albus, please. I … am not fond of the boy, but for Merlin’s sake, I never said I wanted him dead!”

Albus stared at him for a long time. Eventually, he sighed and flicked his arm once more, shutting the door. “Very well. I wish you to begin lessons tonight, if possible.”

The twinkle returned to his eyes, now that he’d gotten his way. Manipulative bastard.

Severus growled, irritated at Albus’ skilful handling of his character. “I will do, on the condition the brat actually listens, but know this, Albus. If the boy so much as looks at my pensieve again, I will not be wrangled into teaching him a third time, consequences or no.”

Albus fixed Severus with a piercing stare, deep blue eyes staring into his soul. “You know, Severus, I do believe that if you had attempted to teach Harry in the first place rather than using his lessons as an excuse to hurt him, humiliate him, and rape his mind repeatedly, he would have trusted you enough to stay away from it at your request.”

Severus reeled, shocked at Albus’ blunt assessment. “I … y-you truly have so little faith in me, Albus?”

“In everything but this, I have the utmost faith in you. But you have carried a grudge and a blind spot for Harry far too long.” Albus’ eyes took on a note of steel. “I will not tolerate such rough treatment a second time, Severus. Last year, I had no choice but to overlook your abuse with the Ministry looking for an excuse to take over the school—one hint of such behaviour, and they would have had a reason to oust me, permanently. I am not so hindered now. If you are to teach him, you will teach him properly. Otherwise, I will assume control of his lessons and pray Riddle does not notice my presence.”

Severus swallowed bile and gave Albus a hesitant nod. Was it true? Had he hurt the boy so badly? He swayed, cold horror creeping down his spine.

“I-I will … take more care with his training from now on.” His voice came out shaken and raw. “I will not … a-attack him during his lessons.”

“Very good.” Albus Banished his tea tray and opened the door once more. “Then you are free to leave, my boy, and good luck.”

Stunned, Severus gave the man a dazed nod and made his way back to the dungeons. “If you had not used the lessons as an excuse to hurt him ….” Had he done?

No. No, it couldn’t be. Potter was just thick. It … it had to be that. He wasn’t willing to consider the alternative.

The voice whispered in the back of his mind, “Sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it?”

Severus Occluded with a vengeance. He wasn’t his father. He wasn’t.

With a growl, he shoved his confusion and shame to the back of his mind and set to work on the Infirmary’s latest batch of potions. The familiar motions would settle his wild thoughts and calm him.

Albus would see before long that Severus had been right. Potter was a hopeless case.




Severus waited in the shadows outside the transfiguration classroom, knowing Potter would come through those doors any moment. A Notice-Me-Not charm ensured the students would not see him as he observed. Albus believed Potter to be severely depressed. If that was true, Severus needed to see it for himself.

Not to mention, he had yet to tell the brat of their newly reinstated Occlumency lessons. If not for the fact that he would need to spend even more time with the boy, he would have anticipated the look on Potter’s face with glee.

He still might at that.

The door opened and students trickled into the hallway in trios and pairs, all murmuring to each other. Severus tuned out their conversations, but Potter’s name caught his attention.

“Harry’s not talking to anyone anymore,” Longbottom said to the Lovegood girl. “I … I’m really scared for him. He’s so miserable, but he won’t let anyone in. I don’t know what to do.”

Lovegood gave him a commiserating smile. “Yes, I’m afraid the wrackspurts are quite deep in his brain right now. He is floundering among the mist-creepers.”

Longbottom winced. “Translated, that means he’s really in trouble.”

“Yes, I think so.”

Longbottom cast a silencing charm, but Severus broke through it with a specialised eavesdropping spell. Lovegood turned as if she had seen him and Severus’ heart thumped into his ribs. Merlin. How had she seen through a spell even the Dark Lord didn’t notice?

Then again, perhaps she hadn’t. After a beat, she turned back to Longbottom without a word. Surely if she had noticed him, she would have spoken up?

Unsettled, Severus moved a bit further into his alcove and tightened his wards.

Longbottom sighed and clutched his books to his chest. “What do we do, Lu? How do we help him when he’s pushing everyone away?”

“Well, I suggest not fighting among yourselves for a start.”

Longbottom grimaced. “Luna, you haven’t heard them. They’re all blaming him for the points, and then quidditch—Merlin, Lu, I think Harry had the right of it when he said he couldn’t play seeker this year. He’s so exhausted, yet he never sleeps and even Dreamless Sleep doesn’t do a damn thing to keep his nightmares away.”

Lovegood gave him a sad nod. “Nightmares are more difficult to suppress when they come from a broken soul.”

“Broken soul?” He shuddered. “Gods. I hope it’s not that bad.”

“Yes, so do we all.”

He kicked at the floor and shook his head. “Honestly, Luna, I think it’s Snape doing this to him. You should have seen him when he came back from that one weekend detention early in the term. It’s not been as bad since, but that time, it was awful. I was so afraid he might not wake up again, but Harry threatened to sleep somewhere else if I tried to take him to the Infirmary. I was so afraid, Lu, but I was more afraid he would die in his sleep if I tried to force him to go, so I just stayed with him and watched him through the night. And gods, it was terrible. He was crying out in his sleep the whole time.”

Severus swallowed hard. It had to be exaggeration. Surely he hadn’t pushed Potter that far. He had healed the boy, for Merlin’s sake. Potter shouldn’t have suffered so much.

“And every night he has a detention since,” Longbottom went on, “he lies awake for hours and just … cries. He has a silencing charm up, but I … I’ve checked on him a few nights. I don’t know if it’s because Snape tears him to bits with his tongue or if he’s in pain, but gods, it rips the heart from me to watch him and know he’s suffering. But when I try to help ….” Longbottom sighed and let his shoulders slumped. “I don’t know what to do, Luna. He won’t let me in.”

Severus listened for Lovegood’s response, but the duo had gone around a corner and out of range of his eavesdropping spell.

Damn. He hugged his chest and tried to gather his wits. Potter was so miserable after every detention? No. There had to be a mistake. Potter was an arrogant sod. He didn’t weep, he expressed his irritation with anger and defiance. He always had done. And Severus would prove it, so help him.

The trickle of students slowed to drips, and still, Potter had not come through. Severus tapped his foot in irritation. The boy would pick that moment to drag his feet.

Potter appeared a moment later, eyes on the floor and books held tight to his chest. He trudged along the edge of the corridor as if trying to avoid notice, shoulders dropped forward and steps minced. He looked desolate.

Severus shook off a surge of guilt. It was an act! Just an act. He had to remember this was Potter, the attention-seeking prat. He only wanted pity.

Rage and indignation sparked to life in his belly—why should he have to teach this idiot anything? Severus called out the boy’s name and smirked at his startled gasp.

Potter froze and turned, eyes closed and expression tense. He gripped his books in white-knuckled hands and took a shaky breath.

“Yes, Professor?”

Severus sneered at his pathetic display of fear. “I am afraid the headmaster has … taken note of your lacklustre performance in Potions, not that I am surprised. He has made it all too clear that his precious golden boy is not to miss out on any chance for further glory, and so, we shall begin remedial potions lessons again tonight at seven.”

The colour drained out of Potter’s face. He slapped a hand to his scar and shook his head wildly. “No. I … no, please. Not that. Please, no.”

The fearful response confused Severus, but fury quickly overrode any doubt. He stepped closer, forcing Potter to back against a wall, and loomed over the boy.

“Do you think this is a game, Mister Potter?” The cut of Severus’ tone might have sliced through stone. “Do you think I wish to take time out of my busy day to cater to the ever-growing needs of an arrogant idiot with a saviour-complex, in order to afford you the freedom to slack off? Do you think I want to waste my evenings trying to pound some semblance of a cohesive thought into your woefully inadequate brain?”

Potter met his eyes, his expression flat and devoid of life. “No, sir.”

Severus scowled. Still pretending not to care. His trademark defiance would come back soon. He was sure of it.

He stepped back with a sneer. “Of course you don’t,” he said as if it were a foregone conclusion. “Thinking seems to be a pastime far beyond your menial mental capabilities.”

Potter simply straightened his posture and stared at Severus, saying nothing. If Severus didn’t know better, he would have thought the boy was waiting for the man to run out of steam. The thought unnerved him, coming so close after Albus’ earlier admonishments.

Severus moved back and glared at the boy. It wasn’t his fault Potter was so arrogant and rude.

“Ten points from Gryffindor for being a useless, arrogant sod. I am not fooled by your pitiful act of melodrama. Nor do I care. Your attention-seeking show of spineless despair does not fool me, so you can cease your simpering attempts to garner pity with me. Come to think of it, twenty more points for your deception!”

Potter dragged his head up and gave him a heartsick look, the weary, resigned expression in his eyes more of a reproach than any of his former diatribes had ever been.

“Yes, sir.” It was all he ever said any longer, even when Severus used his worst barbs. Merlin, Severus didn’t understand it. Why wasn’t Potter fighting back?

“If you are not careful, you will drive him to an early grave ….”

Shaken, Severus moved a few paces away and glared at the brat.

“Your first lesson will take place tonight at seven. Do not dare to be late.”

Potter closed his eyes, clenched his fists, and hunched his shoulders. A-ha! Now it was coming, his arrogance and defiance. About damn time.

“Y-yes, sir.”

Severus froze, having just gathered breath for an insult that made no sense now, seeing as Potter wasn’t fighting his fate.

“Well, right.” Severus turned on his heel and strode off by a few paces, but turned before Potter could completely escape. “Oh, and Potter?”

The boy stopped at the end of the hall, freezing as if someone had shot him.

Severus’ voice was hard as steel. “Should your much-lauded nose find its way into places it doesn’t belong this time, I will not be responsible for my actions.”

Potter flinched. “Yes, sir.”

“Get out of my sight.”

The boy ran as if the hounds of hell were on his heels. Scowling, Severus stormed back to his office, stewing the whole confrontation over in his mind. Over all their confrontations, in truth.

Since the start of term, Severus had goaded the boy relentlessly, yet Potter had never returned fire. Never said a word beyond acknowledging Severus. Where once he had fought back with all the fire of his father’s arrogance, the boy had become little more than a ghost. He looked defeated. As if he didn’t have it in him to fight any longer.

And Merlin, why had the mention of Occlumency terrified him so?

“If you had bothered to teach the boy, rather than using his lessons as an excuse to hurt him, humiliate him, and rape his mind ….”

Severus frowned, more shaken by Albus’ words and Potter’s abject fear than he wanted to admit. If the mere thought of Occlumency had rendered Potter into a state of gibbering terror, perhaps there might have been some truth to the old man’s admonishments. It merited some examination, he supposed.

Severus snarled and increased his pace. Damn it. He didn’t have time to be worrying about this.

Well then, he would just have to prove Albus and Potter wrong once and for all. Robes snapping behind him, Severus returned to his office, locked and warded the door, and took out his pensieve. Expression grim, he removed several memories of Potter’s lessons and placed them into the basin.

“Now we shall see who is in the wrong.”

With a deep breath, and not a little apprehension, Severus leaned forwards and ducked his head into the basin.




He came out of his memories shaking and sick to his stomach. Viewed objectively, from outside Potter’s mind, Severus could not deny the pain he had inflicted on the boy. By the end of each lesson, Potter had left white-faced and trembling, hands on his head and eyes narrowed in agony.

Of course, the boy was as much a spoiled, defiant prat as Severus had ever assumed, but Severus was not without fault either. He had indeed hurt the boy. He had used his authority over Potter to degrade him, taken pleasure of the sight of the lauded saviour on his knees before him, and used the memories he had seen in Potter’s mind as weapons. Granted, the boy deserved some punishment, but this kind of aggressive Legilimency was illegal, for good reason.

The memory of a particular session broke into his thoughts, where Severus had stood with his wand pointed between Potter’s eyes, casually threatening and insulting him. The boy had stared up at him, defiant, angry, but with tears of pain and humiliation running down his face.

“Stop it, sir! Please. You’re hurting me.”

“Do you imagine I care, Potter?”

The image of another scene superimposed his memory: of a twelve-year-old Severus kneeling before his father, weeping and pleading with him not to hit him again.

“You’re hurting me, Da! Please—”

“Yeah? Good!”

A strangled gasp escaped him. “I am not my father. I am not ….”

But no matter how he looked at it, every time he had forced Potter to his knees and used his own mind against him, wielded his trust like a weapon in the spots the boy was weakest, he saw Tobias Snape standing over his younger self, belt in hand and a vicious look of triumph in his eyes.

That day Severus had made Potter weep, he might have been his father’s twin.

As if that were not enough, another voice taunted him from the shadows of his mind—the dark spaces Severus tried never to acknowledge, a cultured, superior voice he tried so hard to forget.

“Well, well, little pet. It seems as though I have trained you well after all.”

Severus slammed his fist into the wall and instantly regretted it. What was wrong with him, punching solid stone? Then again, that evil bastard had always had a terrible effect on his better judgment.

Episkey.”  

With his split, cracked knuckles healed, Severus leaned his head in his hands and stared into the empty pensieve. As much as he would like to have blamed the failed Occlumency lessons on Potter—and perhaps his lack of desire to learn had made the lessons more difficult—the evidence against Severus was damning. His former ‘teaching’ methods were atrocious.

Potter’s tearful face flickered into his mind once more. “You’re hurting me!”

No. Not just atrocious, but tantamount to child abuse and mental rape. Severus had all but broken that boy and left him vulnerable to attack from the Dark Lord. The realisation chilled him down to his core. Besides that he had abused a child, the knowledge that they might have lost the war because of his wrath left him cold.

Appalled and shaken, Severus vowed to make more of an effort this time. Too much was riding on Potter’s ability to Occlude. Whether he loathed the boy or not, he had to teach him properly and not let his personal feelings interfere with their lessons.

Besides, Severus still had potions lessons to teach him the error of his ways. He would need to be kinder in Occlumency, but in potions class, he had plenty of opportunity to make sure Potter understood that whatever might have changed behind closed doors, he would never see the useless brat as anything more than his father’s son.

That would have to be enough.




Harry ran straight to the Room of Requirement after his confrontation with Snape, skiving off History. He had just five hours to learn some kind of basic Occlumency—at least enough to keep Snape away from his darkest secrets. Much as Snape wanted to win the war, the man wouldn’t hesitate to sell Harry’s secrets to the Ministry if it meant he never had to teach Harry another potion again.

Harry couldn’t endure St. Mungo’s. He couldn’t. And gods, what if they locked him up in Azkaban? He hadn’t done anything wrong—yet—but with the level of corruption within the Ministry, that mightn’t matter. Umbridge still worked in the court system, after all, and he had no doubt she would love to give Harry some comeuppance for that little escapade with the centaurs.

He shuddered and paced in front of the Room, shaking all over as he focused on his needs. “I need a secret room to learn Occlumency fast. I need a secret room to ….”

The door appeared on the third repetition, and Harry almost yanked it off the hinges in his urgency. He found himself in a blue and silver room with beanbag chairs and a shelf of fat books in one corner. With a sigh of relief, Harry tore to the bookcase and scanned the titles. He grabbed the first likely-looking book he saw and plopped into one of the beanbags, hands shaking as he devoured the text.

Four hours and forty minutes later, Harry still couldn’t block the Room-created dummy from learning his secrets. He paced the room, debating on not going to his lessons at all, but if he didn’t, Snape would do his best to see him expelled. Worse, Harry couldn’t depend on the headmaster to protect him any longer, either. No, he would have to go to his lesson and hope he could somehow distract Snape. Maybe if he gave him enough humiliating memories of the Dursleys to chew on, it would keep the man from his truly dangerous secrets.

Harry forced himself out of the room and down the stairs, shaking so hard he almost missed several steps on the way to the dungeons. Gods, he couldn’t do this. He couldn’t. Snape had been awful last year, of course, but ever since Dumbledore had forced Harry into his potions class, the man had made it his personal mission to see Harry break.

He didn’t even want to think of how much pain he would be in after the lesson this time. And Voldemort had gained easier access to Harry’s mind after every past lesson, too. Gods help him, what if Snape broke him down so far, Voldemort actually possessed Harry? Combined with his desire to Imperius Harry into murder … fuck. That would be awful.

‘Merlin, please—please—let my control hold enough to keep me in control.

He would have to hope that was enough, as he had arrived at the potions master’s office. He stood in front of Snape’s door, cold sweat pooling at the base of his spine, heart thundering. Was he really going to do this? Snape’s cruelty might risk more than Harry’s life and sanity this time. Maybe he should just go … but the thought of being dragged in here bodily, of Snape coming at him so hard Harry had no chance of keeping his secrets his own, forced him to lift his fist towards the door.

As terrifying as it was, he had no choice but to endure it. He would have to risk it and hope he could Occlude better with his life—and that of everyone he loved—on the line. Fear had been known to help him in the past, once.

‘Please, please … someone. Anyone. Please help me.’

Harry’s wand alarm went off. Seven o’ clock. He had no further time to dawdle. He silenced the alarm and, swallowing bile, he struggled to control the tears of sheer terror forming at the corners of his eyes and knocked on the door.

“It’s H-Ha-Harry, s-sir.”

Gods, he could barely talk.

“Stop stammering like a nitwit and get in here, Potter.”

Harry bit his lip to keep from whimpering and obeyed. He closed the door behind him and stood against the wall, gaze on the floor, breathing so fast, black spots formed in his vision.

“Oh good lord.” Snape grabbed Harry by the collar and deposited him in one of the chairs. “Cease your melodramatics, Potter. I shan’t delve into your secret adolescent fumblings tonight.”

Harry shook the fuzz from his brain, trying to comprehend. Surely he hadn’t heard that right?

“W-what?” Tears ran down his face in spite of all his efforts to control them. He winced and ducked his head, terrified Snape would see the reason for them if he dared lift his eyes.

“Stop snivelling, idiot boy. I said, I am not going to use Legilimency on you today.”

Harry froze, hardly daring to breathe. “Y-you’re not?”

“Have you gone deaf? How many times must I say it before it sinks in? Should I spell it out for you?”

“N-no, sir.”

Snape huffed and tossed a book into Harry’s lap. The corner hit him in the gut and knocked the wind from him, but Harry didn’t even care if it meant he might learn to protect himself before Snape learned of his Imperius dreams.

“Potter.”

When Harry looked up, Snape was frowning. “Are you hurt?”

Harry winced and jerked his gaze back down to the floor. Of course a book corner slamming into his stomach had hurt, but wasn’t fool enough to say so in Snape’s domain.

“I-I’m fine, sir.”

Snape eyed him for a moment, but apparently decided he didn’t care. Not that Harry was surprised.

“Good. Then read the first two chapters of that book and don’t bother me until you are finished, assuming you are capable of following such basic instructions.”

Harry ignored his jibe. Compared to what Snape had unleashed in potions earlier in the week, this was nothing. He took a deep breath and cracked open the book.

‘Clearing the Mind: A Primer.’

Harry could have laughed. A theory book. Gods, Snape was going to teach him the theory this time. Harry had time to learn to protect himself. Thank Merlin.

Giddy with sheer relief, he settled the book in his lap and forced his fragmented attention to focus upon the first page.

‘To clear one’s mind, one must first establish a safe place. Somewhere there are no other people, pets, or responsibilities to distract from the peace of an empty mind ….’

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

Over the Line

15 November

Hidden under his cloak, Harry sat in an otherwise empty corner of the Gryffindor stands, watching the first match of the season—Gryffindor versus Ravenclaw.

Colin Creevey’s excited voice rang out over the pitch. “—An excellent catch by Katie Bell. Oh, she’s passed to Alicia Spinnet, and back to Bell. Antonio García just smacked a bludger at—oh, nice dodge there, Katie. Lucas Stone is in pursuit of the quaffle, but Bell is almost to the posts—and she scores! Fifty to twenty, in favour of Gryffin—wait! I think Dean has seen the—oh, yes he has! Thomas is after the snitch!”

Harry watched from a quiet corner of the stands, almost hidden in the shadows, as Dean Thomas dove towards the Ravenclaw goals, robes whipping in the wind behind him, Cho in hot pursuit. The thrill of the chase illuminated his expression and set his dark eyes aglow. A smile crossed Harry’s face in spite of himself. Everything was dark and dim for Harry as of late, but he still remembered when chasing the snitch was the highlight of the day. He silently cheered Dean on from his corner and watched him zip about, staying just ahead of Cho.

“—And he’s got it! Dean’s caught the snitch! Gryffindor wins!”

Harry slipped out of the stands as soon as the match ended, slinking through the shadows so he might congratulate his classmates in the quiet of the changing rooms rather than fighting the crowd. He sat on the shower bench and waited, knees drawn to his chest, as memories of happier times inundated him.

Once, he had taken pleasure in flight. He had once loved bringing his team home the cup above all else. Somewhere in him, he still missed the euphoria, the excitement, the glory of a well-earned win—but distantly. He remembered the joy, but he couldn’t feel it any longer. Better someone happier, someone not weighed down and crushed under the burden of fate to take his place.

And Dean had done well. He was a better chaser than seeker, but the boy did have a sharp eye and had listened to Harry’s late-night pointers after the rest of the team had gone to bed. Then, they couldn’t muscle Dean away from ‘the rogue seeker.’

Harry supposed that nickname should have hurt, but all he felt was dim sorrow that his friends couldn’t understand why he had no choice but to leave the game in more capable hands. He simply didn’t have it in him any longer.

The team laughed and joked as they came inside. In spite of his lingering desolation and nervousness over the coming confrontation, Harry smiled in remembrance of when life had revolved around points and snitches instead of war and body counts. What was the tally now? He didn’t even know. Only that the number was far too high and he had no time to waste. No time, no energy, no joy.

Still, he could be there for his former teammates and friends, even if they were no longer there for him, even if they didn’t understand why everything had changed for Harry.

After all, he knew how much it hurt to be abandoned.

The team came around the corner and stopped dead at the sight of him.

“Harry!” Ginny moved towards him, but Dean held her back.

“This space is only for team players,” Ritchie Coote grumbled.

Harry stood and brushed off his robes. “I have no intention of staying.” He ignored Ginny’s pout and gave Dean a wan smile. “Congratulations, Dean. You did really well.”

Dean beamed. “I… I didn’t think I had a chance against Cho, but you were right. Once I was in the air, everything just… faded into the background.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” Harry looked at his former best friend and conjured a smile for him too despite the grinding pain in his heart. “Congratulations, Ron. The whole team played well.”

No one spoke—other than Ginny demanding that Dean let her go—so Harry sighed and made his way towards the door, head down as he slipped past the team on the way out.

Near the door, a hand caught his arm and stopped him. He turned, half-expecting a fight, only to come face-to-face with his former best friend’s sheepish smile.

“Harry, um, thanks. For coming.”

Harry nodded and stared at the floor. “Wouldn’t have been right not to support you.”

The team went silent. Did Harry imagine he felt a wave of shame from them?

Ron choked out, “Er… y-yeah.”

Harry looked up to find red tingeing everyone’s faces save for Ginny and Dean. Ron rubbed the back of his neck and rubbed his toe against the floor.

“Erm, Harry, about that… I’m sorry. I’ve been a right berk.”

“I… I reckon we all have,” said Alicia with her head bowed.

Katie nodded and hugged her chest. “Yeah. Um, are you okay, Harry?”

He gave them a wan smile. “I’m fine.”

Ron and Dean winced.

“Mate, I… look,” said Ron, “I know I’ve been a prat, but you do know you can still come to me if you need help, right?”

Harry suppressed a laugh. Did Ron think he’d been on vacation for the past three months while he had suffered alone? But Harry didn’t have the energy to fight—not again. He simply looked his once-best friend in the eye and gave him a sad smile.

“Yeah.”

It wasn’t worth it to argue, to point out his sins. It just wasn’t worth it.

Ron’s smile crumbled. “Oh.”

Harry lowered his gaze again. “I’m going so you lot can get out of those muddy clothes. Congratulations, all of you.”

With that, he turned and left.


2 December

Relations had eased somewhat between Harry and the rest of Gryffindor house. At least Ron wasn’t ignoring him any longer. He and Hermione both had been trying to heal the breach, and Harry, out of sheer loneliness, let them in. Yet he was much quieter than before, and their earlier abandonment left a distance between them he doubted would ever heal. They hadn’t been there for him when he had needed them, and they simply had different priorities these days anyway.

Gryffindor house had stopped shunning Harry since then too, at least actively. Harry still wanted to be left alone. The others just didn’t understand him, didn’t want to. Only Neville and Dean seemed willing to try to meet him halfway, and most of the time, Harry stayed near them even if he didn’t talk. It was safe there. Dean and Neville didn’t make demands, didn’t pressure him to be what he wasn’t. Neville, especially, had earned Harry’s respect with his devotion. Sometimes—namely, after potions class—he felt like Neville was the only friend he had left.

At least Occlumency with Snape had become less of a torture session and more of an actual lesson these days. Rather than attacking Harry ruthlessly as he had always done, Snape had spent several lessons simply going over the theory. The next few, he had begun practical training, but by then, Harry had enough of a grasp on the subject to keep his secret dreams hidden—the nightmares of Severus too. He couldn’t stop Snape from dragging out humiliating memories from his past, but those that truly terrified him stayed under wraps, thank Merlin.

But potions… gods, that was an utter disaster. The man spent every lesson making sure Harry knew how worthless he was. He capitalised on Harry’s misery and distraction, pointing out each miniscule flaw with undisguised glee. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he showed each of Harry’s potions to the class as an example of how not to brew, even when Harry’s potions came out decent. And when they came out perfect despite the man’s abuse, well, Harry had somehow cheated despite being metres away from anyone who might help him. He always botched his potions a bit after the first perfect potion. The points loss from his supposed cheating had turned Gryffindor against him again for days.

Even so, it didn’t seem to matter. After every lesson, the massive point loss Harry suffered for breathing in Snape’s vicinity reignited Gryffindor’s irritation. Only Neville and Dean consistently stood by Harry. Ron and Hermione, for all their vows to be better friends, had grown so used to being in each other’s company that they let him down more often than not.

And Seamus—Merlin, he was almost as bad as Malfoy these days.

Yet none of it hurt him like Snape’s baseless loathing. Every vicious remark cut Harry to the bone—particularly when he still dreamed of the young Severus every other day. Gods, it hurt. Each confrontation with Snape ripped the soul from him and left him bleeding. And when he remembered that, for all Harry himself had never done anything to Snape, the man’s hatred was not as unjustified as the rest of the world thought, he wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere and never come out again.

Still, Harry might have endured in silence had Snape not started attacking the other Gryffindors too.

Harry watched, horrified and sick, as Snape rounded on a shell-shocked Dean. “What is this rubbish? You call this a Wiggenweld Potion? This….” He dipped the ladle in Dean’s spoiled potion and dropped chunks of purple sludge back into his cauldron. “This isn’t fit to feed to maggots. Tell me, how did you manage to create an exact facsimile of the sludge Potter produces every time he looks at a cauldron?”

Harry flinched and stirred his own potion. It was perfect. He added a few more drops of salamander blood, just enough to drop his grade to an Acceptable without exploding his cauldron.

As Snape loomed and scowled into Dean’s cauldron, the boy cringed and leaned away. “Sir, I-I think I put too mu—”

Snape slammed his hands on the desk. “It was a rhetorical question, you utter nitwit! Do you believe I care to listen to the inane babble of idiot Gryffindors? Do not dare to dictate your mistakes to me! You are an arrogant, brainless twit to assume you even have the brain capacity to form a complete sentence, much less analyse the errors in a failed potion without Granger announcing it for all and sundry, like a pathetic little lapdog in search of treats! No, Granger, we do not need yet another tedious explanation of why we all fall short of your intellectual glory. Sit down and shut up.”

Hermione squeaked and dropped the hand she had raised halfway through Snape’s first rant. Harry’s hand clenched on his stirring rod and tears blurred the room into a mess of black and greenish steam. Gods. Why did it have to be this way? Harry just wanted to brew his potions and get out without causing trouble. Instead, he made life miserable for all of his classmates the moment he walked through the door.

Snape, on a roll, proceeded to denigrate Dean over and over until the placid, level-headed boy broke down in tears.

“O-okay,” Dean choked out. “I’ll d-do better, sir.”

Snape snorted. “Now that I should like to see!”

“Please, sir, please.” Tears streaked Dean’s face, and Harry’s heart cracked.

Snape’s lip curled in a vicious sneer. “Gods, Spare me. Snivelling like a toddler denied his treats. Do stop your pathetic whinging and tidy this ridiculous excuse for a potion!”

Harry dropped his stirring rod and stood, anger and grief mingling hot and cold in his gut. This was too far. Dean was one of the only people who had stood by Harry when the rest of the house abandoned him. Damned if Harry would repay him with more needless suffering.

“Enough!” He wiped his face and shook his head. “Enough. I’ll give you what you want, Professor. Just stop torturing the rest of them, please.”

Harry was done. He’d tried to hack it in potions despite Snape’s hatred. He’d done his best. But Snape would never give him a chance in this class, and the longer he stayed, the worse it would be for everyone.

Snape’s eyes narrowed to slits and his teeth bared. “What did you say to me, Potter?”

Harry bowed his head and blinked back tears. “I said it’s enough, sir. You win. I’m done.”

Snape went apoplectic, but Harry had no intention of staying to facilitate another temper tantrum. Perhaps the vindictive glee of finally ridding himself of the Potter brat would be enough to stave off his fury.

With a quiet apology to Dean, Harry Vanished his potion, packed his supplies, and left. Snape’s triumphant laugh echoed in Harry’s ears long after the slam of the classroom door had cut off the sound.

Gods, why did the man loathe him so much? True, Harry’s parents had apparently been arseholes, but Harry had never done anything to deserve this level of hatred.

“They are dying for you, Harry Potter. Can you feel their pain? Sssee their sssuffering?”

Tears choked him. Maybe he did deserve it. He didn’t know any longer. But Dean—no. Whatever Snape might say about Harry or his family, he couldn’t say it about Dean, Hermione, or the rest of his housemates.

Firming his resolution, Harry made his way to the headmaster’s office and wiped his eyes before he started guessing passwords. The door opened at “blood pops,” and he climbed the stairs to the headmaster’s office.

“Come in, Harry,” said Dumbledore before Harry touched the door.

With a wry shake of his head for Dumbledore’s preternatural awareness, Harry went inside. Dumbledore had just started decorating for the holidays, judging by the open box of garland and tinsel in the corner and the fairy lights surrounding disgruntled portraits. Phineas looked particularly grumpy. Humming cheerfully to himself, Dumbledore hung a sprig of mistletoe over Phineas’ frame just as Harry walked inside. The former headmaster turned on his heel and stalked away, scowling hard enough to make Snape jealous.

“Harry?” Dumbledore’s smile faded at the sight of him. “Come, child. Sit and tell me what is on your mind.”

“Hullo, sir.” Harry’s voice barely made a sound as he sat in one of Dumbledore’s purple chintz armchairs. “I… I’m here because I need to drop potions.”

Something hard flickered in Dumbledore’s eyes, but Harry sensed it wasn’t meant for him, and it faded to concern and confusion the next instant anyway.

“To drop it? I had thought you wished to pursue the auror corps after Hogwarts, my boy.”

Harry lowered his gaze lest the headmaster try to invade his mind again. “I don’t think that’s a good fit anymore, to be honest. What kind of auror can’t call a Patronus?”

Dumbledore sighed. “Oh, Harry. Grief makes finding happiness difficult. Your ability will return in time, when you make new happy memories.”

Harry didn’t comment on the likelihood of that while hatred and anguish made sport of his life.

“Why do you wish to drop potions, Harry?”

Harry swallowed and wrapped his arms around his waist. How much did he reveal here? Snape had been truly horrible to him and to his classmates, but on the other hand, if Harry got the man sacked, he’d be killed.

“They are dying for you, Harry Potter….”

No. He couldn’t do it. He remembered all the visions, the murders done in his name, and he couldn’t be responsible for the death of one more person, even if Snape did deserve an arse kicking.

“I-I’m just not very happy in it, sir. And I’m not doing well either, to be honest. It seems pointless to waste what little time I have on a class I’ll never pass.”

“I see.”

Dumbledore said nothing for a long moment. Before he spoke again, he summoned a pot of tea and a tray of shortbread biscuits.

“Have a cup of tea, Harry. It would do you some good, I think.”

Harry had no idea what Dumbledore thought a bloody cup of tea would fix, but he took one anyway to appease him. It did taste good, and lightened some of the burden of misery on his soul.

Ah. So the old man had dosed it. No wonder he wanted Harry to have a cup.

Well, it did help, so this once, Harry let the headmaster’s blatant manipulation slide.

“Now, I take it to mean that when you say you are unhappy in potions, most of that is due to your… problems with its professor.”

Harry stared into his cup and refused to answer.

“I see.” Dumbledore took a cup of tea for himself and sipped in thought. “Well, I don’t think it would do to drop potions, Harry.”

Harry whipped his head up and glared, remembering at the last second to focus his gaze above the man’s eyebrow. “Why? Do you tell other students they can’t drop NEWT level classes they don’t want to attend any longer, or am I just that special?” He spit the last word like poison.

Dumbledore sighed. “Harry, please. I will not make you attend Professor Snape’s NEWT class any longer, but you are too talented in the subject to drop it entirely. I would like you to continue to study potions under a different professor. An independent study, if you will.”

Something tight in Harry’s chest unwound. “I… I don’t have to go to cl—” He winced and changed his wording, fearful of implicating Snape by accident. “You mean I can learn it on my own? I didn’t know it was an option.”

“Well, entirely independent study is an option for many classes; however, potions is not among them. You understand that it would be too dangerous to allow an untrained brewer to attempt the labs without supervision?”

Harry nodded. “So someone else would be teaching me, sir?”

“Yes.” Dumbledore rubbed his beard thoughtfully. “And I do believe I know just the one. Madam Pomfrey is a certified potioneer and can guide you through NEWT level potions without issue.”

Harry frowned. “But will she have time? I mean, with running the Infirmary and all, won’t she be too busy?”

“Most days, Madam Pomfrey has plenty of time on her hands. I do admit there may be some days where there is an emergency and she must postpone your lessons, but I do not believe it will be enough of a problem to interfere with either your grades or her work.”

Harry slumped in relief. “Then that sounds brilliant, sir, if she’s okay with it.”

“I think she will be pleased.” Dumbledore folded his hands on the desk and gave Harry a sad smile. “We have all been quite worried for you, Harry. It is clear you are not coping well.”

Harry looked away. “I’m fine.”

“Harry, do me the honour of telling me the truth.”

Harry scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, why don’t you just take the truth if that’s what you want to hear? It certainly didn’t stop you the other day. I don’t even know why you’re asking me. Just rifle through my mind and find out for yourself.”

Dumbledore winced. “I suppose I deserved that.” He sighed and held his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “I apologise, Harry. I did enter your mind without your permission. It was wrong and unfair, but I would like you to know that I only did so because I feared for your life.”

Harry shut his eyes tight, terrified the sting of tears would turn into more than a threat. “I’m fine!”

“On the contrary, Harry, I think you are most certainly not fine.”

Harry said nothing. To reveal the hypocrisy behind the old man’s sudden worry about his well-being, he would have to reveal the truth of his life. He wasn’t ready to admit how much the Dursleys hurt him. Not to Dumbledore. Not to anyone.

“Harry, will you at least tell me a bit about what’s troubling you so? If you give me something to work with, perhaps I can aid you in some way.”

Harry clenched his fists and stared at his lap, struggling to keep his terror from his face. Dumbledore already knew about the visions, or he would never have forced Harry back into Occlumency. He knew about the nightmares too. And if Dumbledore was asking after his well-being again, he also knew something else was wrong, but not what. Not yet.

Gods, what should Harry say? He couldn’t reveal the truth about his Imperius dreams, but if he didn’t give the old man something, Dumbledore might pry in his mind again and find out on his own. Harry could hide it from Professor Snape as long as the bastard wasn’t invading his mind at random, but to hide his thoughts during a sneak Legilimency attack was beyond his current ability. Well, maybe revealing the inefficacy of his potion prescription would be enough to keep Dumbledore off the scent.

With a prayer his ploy worked, Harry gripped his knees and forced his voice steady. “I… it’s just… I’m still having nightmares, sir. A lot of them, every night. It’s hard to get any rest and Dreamless Sleep isn’t working. Between that and the visions—it’s just too much.”

Dumbledore gave him a sympathetic nod. “Yes, I could see that, given everything you have and are currently enduring.”

Hah. The old man didn’t know the half of it.

Harry froze as a horrible possibility flickered to life in the back of his mind. Dear gods, did the old man know? Had placing Harry with the Dursleys been a deliberate attempt to make him strong? To hone Dumbledore’s little pet weapon into a sword against evil?

Harry’s stomach lurched and his breath stilled in his lungs. Oh Merlin. It made a twisted kind of sense. It explained why Dumbledore always made Harry wait a couple of months before seeking out Pomfrey for his yearly physical exam. Why Harry was never allowed to spend even short holidays at Grimmauld or the Burrow when the Order could have protected him in either place.

And why Dumbledore would never let Harry stay at Hogwarts when he was just as safe there as with his relatives. More so, as he had enough to eat and didn’t have to worry about his uncle’s fists.

Comfort and safety didn’t go far in training a weapon to fight, after all.

Lost in betrayal and grief as he was, Harry almost missed Dumbledore’s next words. “Would you like to talk about your dreams, Harry?”

Was the old man actually trying to be sympathetic when he had made Harry’s entire life a ruin?

Harry glared and stood. “No. And if there’s nothing else, I’d like to get some revision done before Herbology, sir.”

Dumbledore frowned at his sudden shift in attitude, but didn’t comment. “There is one more thing, Harry. The visions. Have they eased at all?”

Harry cringed. “N-not as much as I would like.”

“Hmm. Professor Snape is not mistreating you during Occlumency?”

Harry shook his head, fearful of giving too much away if he answered verbally.

Dumbledore eyed him a moment, but when Harry offered no further information and avoided his gaze, he relented with a sigh. “Well, that is good to know. Perhaps your interactions with him from here on out will not be quite as antagonistic.” He folded his hands in his lap and gave Harry a stern look. “Nevertheless, I will advise you to pay attention in your Occlumency lessons and make a strong effort to improve. It is too important to let your history with the professor interfere with your ability to learn.”

Indignation and bitter grief boiled in Harry’s chest. “Oh really? And who was it again who concealed the prophecy from me and the reason I needed to learn until it was too late?”

Dumbledore frowned and took one of his lemon drops. “Harry, you know why I could not reveal it.”

“Do I?” Harry scoffed. “You know what, it doesn’t matter. It’s not as if you would care even if I did want to get into it right now.”

Dumbledore winced. “Harry—”

“Just, never mind. Can you really think, after seeing the last of my family die last term and knowing it’s my fault he was there in the first place, I don’t know the cost for failing?” He blinked back a sudden surge of tears. “I am trying. I don’t know why it’s so hard.” A bitter laugh escaped him. “Maybe Professor Snape is right and there’s just nothing in there to block with. Either way, I’m doing the best I can.”

Dumbledore dismissed him with a sad smile. “Perhaps the lack of trust between you is making it difficult. Well, off with you then. I’ll arrange your lessons with Madam Pomfrey and advise you of your new schedule as soon as possible.”

“Thank you, sir.” For that, at least. “I’ll see you at lunch.”

With a forced smile, Harry turned on his heel and tried not to make his escape look like fleeing.




Albus watched the boy all but run from his office with a heavy sigh. “Phineas.”

Phineas Nigellus stalked into his frame, his expression sour. “You knew I was listening.”

“Hmm. You do so like to hang about in shadows.”

Phineas glared. “Oh, thank you ever so for that glowing assessment. Now, what do you want?”

Albus rubbed his beard, grief and guilt weighing heavily upon him. “Were you also watching?”

Phineas gave a curt nod.

“He did not look me in the eye once, did he?”

Phineas snorted. “What did you expect, Albus? Or have you already forgotten your shameful handling of your last meeting?”

Albus grimaced. “I-I do not think such a thing would be enough to shatter his trust in me.”

“No, your own foolish behaviour has done that. Merlin, after all you have done to him, why would he trust you? He would be a bloody fool to.”

Albus sniffed. “That is hardly a fair assessment—”

“No? You don’t think it’s fair? Merlin, Albus. Wake up and smell the lemon drops. You consistently withhold information from him, some of which cost us my descendant and his godfather—and he is aware of it. You lock him in that miserable place every summer when we both know Hogwarts is just as safe—and I highly suspect he is aware of that, too. You have pitted him against trial after trial to test his mettle and nearly gotten him killed more than once. You tried to force him onto the quidditch team when he does not wish to play and alienated him from his house as a result. You break into his mind illegally and read his private thoughts without permission on a regular basis. And perhaps worst of all, you continue to place him where he is at risk from a man who seems to take great delight in punishing him for crimes the boy never committed. Did you honestly expect to earn his trust by such underhanded behaviour? It’s a wonder he hasn’t had you thrown in Azkaban yet!”

Fawkes gave a chiding trill, joining in on the lecture.

Albus winced at the blunt litany of his crimes against the boy. Much as he would have liked to defend his choices, he knew better. Phineas was right. And Severus’ treatment of Harry during potions had proved beyond a doubt, by placing those two in close proximity, he had been playing with fire.

The trouble was, the flame from Albus’ mistakes hadn’t burned himself. His ill-advised plotting—and Merlin, hadn’t Minerva warned him against it—had hurt an innocent child instead. How badly so remained to be seen.

With a heavy sigh, Albus Banished the tea tray and biscuits and drafted a note for his potions master, soon-to-be ex-potions master if he did not begin to act in a professional manner. For the sake of the greater good, Albus often had no choice but to let some level of abuse slide in certain situations, even if it scarred his soul. But he drew the line at abuse that threatened a child’s safety and survival, and it was clear Harry was ill and cracking under the strain. He did not know how far Severus had gone in contributing to Harry’s state of being and how much he could attribute to grief, visions, and nightmares, but he would soon find out.

Albus finished his note and called to his phoenix. “Fawkes, old friend, I need you to carry this to Severus. Do not wait for a reply.”

Fawkes took the letter and vanished in a burst of flames.




Once the thrill of Severus’ victory wore off, alarm and dismay set in. Dear gods, what had he done? He had been acting on sheer emotion and blind rage ever since Potter had wormed his way into his class—nothing like a spy should do. He had let his anger get the better of him like a bloody fool.

And now he was utterly fucked.

True, he had wanted Potter to leave the class. The brat didn’t deserve to be there, didn’t deserve to be anywhere near a cauldron, but Severus’ plan had been to make him feel as if he didn’t have the skills for potions, not to drive him away with his vitriol. Had Potter simply felt he wasn’t up to the task, he would have dropped the class or simply stopped coming. But now, there was no doubt the boy would go to the headmaster. And that would not go well for Severus.

Severus Snape had always lost when it came to the Potter clan.

He spent the rest of the lesson stalking around in silence, the chill of terror and squirming shame quelling his tongue. Merlin, he had done it now. Albus would sack him for certain, but if he lost his position in the school, he also lost his use to the Dark Lord. He would be dead before the week was out.

Was there any good will left in the old man towards him? He supposed he would know soon enough.

With ten minutes left in the students’ brewing time, Fawkes appeared at Severus’ desk bearing a missive with familiar loopy writing. Severus’ heart leapt into his throat and pounded in his ears.

That hadn’t taken long.

With the skill of long practise, Severus hid a sudden tremor from the students and took the note from the phoenix. The bird gave him a sharp look before vanishing in fire and fury.

Fuck. If even the bird was angry with him, he had no chance. With a tremulous sigh, Severus sat at his desk and opened the letter.


Severus,

I would like to see you immediately. Dismiss your current class and report to my office as soon as you receive this note.

Albus


Severus’ stomach dropped like a stone. Dear gods, he was in trouble. Albus was never so direct. Or curt.

His voice shook beyond his control as he ordered the students to bottle what they had finished of their potions and set them on his desk, clearly labelled. He waited, trembling and cold with dread, as they obeyed—or not. They dallied, and Severus didn’t have time. He snapped his head up, ready to chide them for taking so bloody long, but his reproach caught in his throat.

The students weren’t dawdling—they were terrified. All but two had their heads down—Daphne Greengrass and Draco Malfoy—and even Malfoy looked alarmed. Daphne, though, glaring at him in all her green-eyed, auburn-haired fury, was a slap across the face. Not only was Daphne one of his own, but she had always liked him. The disgust and disappointment behind her glare took him twenty-five years into the past, when he had hurt another green-eyed redhead and lost her trust forever.

Severus whipped his gaze away, unable to bear her scorn. “I am afraid an emergency has come up,” he said in a soft voice, lest he damage these children further, “and I must leave right away. Place your phials on the desk and I will grade them as soon as I am able.” He cast a warding spell on the door. “Once you are gone, the doors will seal until I return, so I advise against any after-hours attempts to alter your grade.”

He gave his students one last look, and the desire washed over him to apologise. To tell these terrified, traumatised children he would treat them fairly from now on.

But he couldn’t. Particularly if he was about to lose his position, to admit a desire to give the Gryffindors some semblance of dignity back was more than his life was worth.

With shame burning his face and icy-cold guilt pooling in the pit of his stomach, Severus swept out of his classroom—his for the moment anyway—and started the long trek towards the headmaster’s office.

The teapot and lemon drops were not in evidence when Severus arrived, but he had no idea how to interpret their absence. Albus might have decided not to sack him, not yet, or he might have decided that Severus had broken his trust and therefore did not deserve the simple comfort of a cup of tea.

The pensieve on his desk, however, left little doubt as to Albus’ intentions.

“Do have a seat, Severus.”

He sat and dared not speak a word. As Albus also seemed content to stare at Severus, his expression heavy with disappointment, the silence grew oppressive. Severus could hear nothing but the beat of his own heart. Too fast, too loud—if he hadn’t known it impossible, he would have feared Albus could hear it too.

After many moments, Severus could bear the tension no longer.

“Albus, say something.”

“Hmm.” Albus laid his folded hands on his desk and leaned on his elbows. “Have I made a mistake, Severus, in allowing you to guide our students’ potions skills?”

Severus swallowed hard and gripped the arms of his chair. Hiding his tells would do no good here—Albus already knew. “I… perhaps I have been too harsh with the class at large lately.”

“Too harsh?” Albus’ gaze burned holes in Severus’ soul. “I think abusive would be a better descriptor. Particularly with Harry.”

Severus scowled. “That boy—his arrogance knows no bounds. I suppose he told you I beat them or some other nonsense?”

“Actually, Severus, he told me nothing at all. He has said nothing but he is unhappy in the class, which anyone could see by simply looking at the child, and he avoided eye-contact so that I could not read the truth in his mind, either.”

Phineas Nigellus snorted.

Pink dusted Albus’ cheeks. “Well, I suppose I did rather have that coming. But the fact remains, Severus, that whether Harry was willing to reveal the truth or not, I was able to glean enough from his physical state, body language, and your behaviour to piece together the facts.”

“I am not abusive to him!” The image of Potter kneeling and weeping before him flashed through Severus’ mind and his insides squirmed. “It is not abuse. I… I simply take a firm hand with him, which none of the rest of you are willing to do.”

“Is that so?” Albus pushed his spectacles up his nose. “In that case, I suppose you won’t mind to provide me with the memory of your class today, and of the detentions you have been making him serve since the start of term? In particular, the session which you kept him almost twelve hours with hardly a break. In my experience, an eight hour detention going long into the night, then a four hour detention not four hours later is quite suspicious enough on its own, but perhaps the boy is stronger than I think.”

Severus trembled as he touched his wand to his temple and focused on the memories the headmaster had asked for. There was no use in trying to alter them or deny Albus the right to view them. To do so would be an undeniable admission of guilt, and while Severus would admit he had perhaps been too harsh at times, the Potter brat surely had it coming.

Albus stood and straightened his robes—magenta with purple suns today. “Thank you, Severus.” He looked down into the pensieve, revealing an image of Potter bent over his desk, shaking hands clenched into fists and tears dripping onto a red-slashed parchment, a raging Severus looming over him. “Considering that the pensieve selects an image most representative of the sum of the memories found within, I must say this is already quite damning.”

Severus looked away. “Just… go.”

“Go?” Albus gave Severus a smile like the curve of a scimitar. “Oh no, my boy. I am not going into these alone. We will be viewing the evidence together. Perhaps it will do you some good to observe your behaviour without the benefit of denial or, shall we say, rose-tinted spectacles?”

Severus barely repressed the urge to flinch at the return of his own ill-advised words. “As you wish.” He stood and moved to Albus’ side. “Will we be viewing every moment of these memories? Only they are rather long, and I have not made plans for the rest of the day.”

Albus raised an eyebrow. “Well, I suppose that depends on what I see here.”

Severus did not manage to suppress his flinch this time. “Albus….”

Albus gave him a sorrow-laden smile. “Severus, long ago, I placed my faith in you. I believed that, above all, even in spite of your past, you would be the best person to keep Harry Potter safe. I know full well what I see here will… disappoint me greatly.”

Severus swallowed hard and lowered his head. Only Albus had the gift of making him feel two inches tall.

“In spite of that, I still believe, some day, you can overcome this. Perhaps I am foolish to do so when everyone else has abandoned the hope that you will ever grow beyond your past. Yet, I cannot help but hold onto my belief in the good of your heart, or the faith I placed in a boy who once risked everything for the woman he once called his dearest friend.”

Severus shut his eyes around a sharp sting. Gods, he hadn’t wept in years. He wouldn’t start now, so help him.

Albus’ tone shifted to take on an edge of steel. “But I must make this clear, Severus. This is the first and only time I will afford you this opportunity to face your flaws and grow beyond them. I am willing to give you a second chance, but it is the only one you will get. I cannot afford—none of us can—to have Harry broken by a childhood grudge that never applied to him in the first place.”

Severus shuddered. “So you will let me go, knowing it will mean my death.”

“I think, after we view these memories, Severus, it will not be an issue.” Albus laid a hand on Severus’ shoulder. “I believe in you. Now, will you agree to take the blinders of hatred down, even if only for a few moments, and look at these with objectivity?”

Severus clenched his fists to keep from hugging his waist out of sheer grief and shame. “I… I can promise I will try.”

Albus squeezed his shoulder. “That is a start. Now, let us go.”

Severus took a deep breath, forced his emotions back, and tipped forwards into the basin.


He materialised at the beginning of Potter’s first detention of the term.

“Ah, I see you are two minutes late, Potter. It appears you assume that I, like every other professor in this school, have unlimited time at my disposal to cater to your whims. However, I assure you, this is not the case. As such, you will remain past your scheduled attention for two hours, in return for the two moments I lost waiting for you.”

Potter frowned. “That’s not….” He sighed and let his shoulders slump. “Yes, sir.”

“Get over there and scrub those cauldrons until they shine. I would tell you I want to see your face in them, but I prefer my cauldrons whole.”

Potter flinched as if struck, dropped his gaze, and walked over to the cauldrons without another word.


Albus paused the memory. “Severus, would you like to tell me what you have done wrong?”

Severus frowned. “He was late. I simply added on to his punishment as I would have for anyone else.”

“Anyone?”

The scene shifted, and instead of Potter, Draco Malfoy stood at the door. Severus sucked in a sharp breath. The boy had lost weight, judging by his gaunt appearance. He had dark rings under his eyes—both bloodshot and rimmed with pink. Had Potter been crying before his detention? He looked… well, miserable. Seeing Malfoy like this—a boy who took great pains never to appear in public with a single hair out of place—it was shocking, to be sure.

“Come now, Albus. Did you truly need to make Draco appear so woebegone to make a point?”

Albus raised an eyebrow. “I used nothing but a simple identity switching spell, Severus. The exhaustion and anguish you see here is also present in Harry.” To illustrate his point, Albus cast the specialised—and antiquated—counter, this time saying the words aloud so Severus could not possibly mistake the incantation.

Personae Revertis!”

The worn-down, trodden-upon Draco Malfoy shifted back into Harry Potter. This time, Severus could not deny the boy looked utterly exhausted. Albus must have done something to make him appear so. Severus couldn’t have missed that much misery… could he?

“And just to show that there is no duplicity at work here,” Albus said with a knowing smile, “Finite Incantatem Totalis!”

Nothing happened. The miserable, trembling waif hadn’t changed at all. Severus’ belly squirmed with guilt. Had Potter truly been so sick and Severus hadn’t cared to see it?

“Now,” said Albus, “I believe you know that the spell I have just cast, with my power, would cancel any glamour or alteration I could possibly have placed on a figure in a memory. Perhaps not to a true person, but a shred of memory can only hold so much magic.”

Severus nodded. “P-perhaps we should simply let the memory play now.”

“Oh, not quite yet. You have said you treated Harry just the same as you would any student in his position. Let us see if your treatment of Harry holds water when another student must endure it. Personae Permuto!”

Potter’s desolate, weary form shifted to take on the features of Daphne Greengrass. Severus’ breath caught in his throat. No. Daphne was nothing like Potter. She didn’t deserve this. Watching her endure Potter’s punishment would be sheer torture.

“W-why Daphne, Albus?”

“Because you have already proved to me you cannot watch Harry Potter endure your undeserved wrath objectively.”

Severus frowned. “I… I have?”

“Yes.” Albus moved around to stand by the girl and clucked his tongue at her obvious misery. “The poor child. How is he coping like this?”

He sighed and turned back to Severus, his expression full of sorrow and reproach. “I chose Daphne for a simple reason: you cannot hate her or ignore her pain. She is a Light-sided Slytherin with no ties to the dark. You cannot suggest she deserves the punishment due to her association with Death Eaters either, as she is innocent of such crimes. As well, I am aware you hold a certain fondness for her, so to see her in the same situation you have placed Harry will, I believe, be more effective in forcing you to see past your prejudice than any other person I could have chosen, save one.” He gave Severus a sad smile. “And I am not so ruthless as that.”

Severus shuddered. He couldn’t have endured watching Lily suffer his wrath. Watching Daphne, who had the same colour hair and eyes but no other resemblance, was bad enough.

“Now, I am going to restart the memory,” Albus said. “However, first I would remind you that Personae Permuto alters nothing beyond the surface. The memory student before you will have Daphne’s face, voice, and body, but everything beyond that is projected from Harry’s true state of being at the time this memory was recorded. Everything Daphne does, everything she says, every whisper of emotion on her face is a mirror of what Harry did, said, and felt that night. Remember that, and tell me if you still believe your punishment justified when we are finished here. Sileo Memoria.”

The memory restarted from the beginning, and the same scene with Daphne Greengrass in place of Harry Potter left a taste of iron in Severus’ mouth. He could not deny he had been rough with the boy. And Merlin, Daphne’s face at the implication that her appearance would break Severus’ cauldrons nearly tore his heart down the middle. Gods, had Severus’ callous words truly cut the boy so deeply?

Watching a girl with eyes and features so similar to Lily’s enduring his vitriol and spite for hours on end was appalling. Well, simulated hours, at least. Outside the pensieve, he doubted ten minutes had gone by.

Regardless, Severus wanted out long before the end of the first detention. He had been terribly cruel, and worse, the girl never fought back. She was never disrespectful, never raised her voice, never said a word except ‘yes, sir,’ or ‘no, sir,’ and even that much only when Severus demanded an answer. She showed no signs of arrogance and defiance at all, but took her punishment with quiet forbearance and resignation.

Though it galled to admit it, this proved Potter hadn’t deserved Severus’ ire that evening. The boy might have been an arse in the past, but that night, he had shown nothing but pain and despair.

And Severus had torn him to pieces for it.

Forced to see his ‘detention’ in this new light, Severus could not deny he had treated Potter appallingly. He had abused the boy. Broken him down and sent him back to the dorms in mental, physical, and emotional anguish, without so much as a pain potion to help him sleep.

“It’s nightmares, sir.”

Viewed in this context, Severus wondered if the boy hadn’t been telling the truth.

And yet—it simply couldn’t be! He couldn’t have been so far wrong.

Then Albus forced him to watch the third detention, the one placed so soon after a gruelling session the night before, again with Daphne taking Potter’s role. This time, Severus hadn’t been able to ignore the girl’s trembling form, the flinches of pain with every movement, or the moments when, pushed beyond her limit of endurance, she had given Severus a look full of dazed desperation. But she never spoke, not once. Instead, she had only given a weary sigh and turned back to her task, cleaning already spotless phials without a single complaint.

It hurt, that he had not trusted Severus enough to admit he was in agony.

Severus whispered, “Why, Albus? Why did he never ask me for help?”

Albus turned, sorrow heavy in his eyes. “What would have happened to you if you had asked your father for aid when you were in pain, Severus?”

Severus dropped to his knees, stunned and horrified. “No. No. I… I am not. It cannot be so terrible.”

At that exact moment, Daphne gave a muted whimper of agony and dropped the phial she was holding. Indeed, her hands shook so much, Severus was shocked she had aimed her cleaning spells properly at all.


“Foolish, idiot, worthless boy! Clean it up this instant, and you shall make up your mistake in detention tonight, too!”

Daphne stared at the mess, wand trembling in her hand, and shook her head wearily. With a shaky sigh, she sank to her knees and picked up the broken bits of glass by hand, piling them in a fold of her robes. Memory-Severus gaped, then grabbed the girl by the collar and pulled her away from the glass.

“Have you lost the bloody plot?” Severus jerked out his wand. “Show me your hands.”

Daphne flinched, but held her hands out palms down. She gritted her teeth and trembled, but did not move. The position struck some kind of familiarity in Severus, but he did not immediately understand why.

“The other way, foolish boy.”

Daphne looked at him in confusion. Merlin, she looked as though she would pass out at any moment. “S-sir?”

“Palms up, you imbecile.”

“O-oh. I thought….” She winced and obeyed, turning her wrists to reveal fingertips already streaked with crimson.

Severus scowled and jabbed his wand at Daphne’s injured hands. “What manner of idiocy are you playing at? Can you, in your utter imbecility, honestly believe for a second that I will allow you to show these to the headmaster? Did you truly imagine I would let you get away with such an ill-conceived plot? Well, unfortunately for you, I am not so foolish as to let you have me sacked! Episkey! Tergeo!

Tiny shards of glass removed themselves from Daphne’s fingertips and vanished, along with the blood. The girl barely flinched.

“Use your wand to clean it up, incompetent fool.”

Daphne shuddered. “I… I can’t. It’s not… so tired.”

Severus grabbed her shoulder and snarled into her face, “Don’t you dare play your pity-party games with me, boy. Do what I say or you shall return for another round tonight.”

Daphne whimpered and tugged out her wand. “Y-yes, sir.” Her hands shook as she aimed at the broken glass. “Evanesco.” Her voice was hardly a breath. A yellow light flickered on the end of her wand and winked out, and Daphne swayed and sank to her knees. “I’m sorry. I c-can’t.”


Severus watched, horror-stricken and shamed beyond belief as his memory self finally put the pieces together and understood “Daphne” wasn’t acting. After two days spent in detention using a massive amount of magic on top of classes and an almost complete lack of rest, the girl—Potter, rather—had succumbed to magical exhaustion. The boy was rumoured to have the same level of raw, magical power as Albus himself—not that Severus believed those rumours—and he had all but drained Potter’s reserves dry.

Beside Severus, Albus whispered, “Personae Revertis.”


Daphne shifted back into the form of Harry Potter. The boy was ashen, shaking all over, his head bowed and shoulders slumped with exhaustion. Memory-Severus conjured a rough seat and hefted Potter into it. The boy gave him a frightened, bemused look, but Severus ignored it and pulled out his wand.

Potter froze, petrified, as Severus pointed his wand at the boy’s forehead. “S-sir, please!”

“Oh do stop panicking like a snivelling infant,” Severus sniped. “Statum Corporis Magicae.” He paled at the findings and immediately Summoned several phials of magical restorative draughts. “Drink.”

Potter took the potion without a word and downed it, stunning Severus with his trust. “Thank you, sir.”

“Ten points from Gryffindor for your cheek. Do you imagine I care for your thanks? Just drink your potions and be silent.”

Potter grimaced and lowered his head, anguish apparent in every line of his form. “Y-yes, sir.”


Albus paused the memory and reversed it to view the numbers on Harry’s diagnostic. His finger tapped a red number. “Twenty. Twenty percent left, Severus.”

Severus dropped his head and pressed a hand to his mouth, trying not to sick up. Eighty-percent magical exhaustion. At ninety, a wizard’s systems shut down. At ninety-five, the condition became irreversible. It was fatal in every known case.

Dear gods, Severus had cut it far too fine.


Severus’ memory form continued feeding the boy potions until his numbers approached a normal level for a wizard in need of sleep.

“Get out of my sight,” he snapped. “And don’t bother returning tonight. I haven’t enough spare ingredients to waste on your fatuity.”

Potter staggered to his feet and forced out, “Y-yes, sir.”


The memory ended and showed the start of potions class that morning, but Albus paused it after a few moments and gave Severus a sad, reproachful look.

“I believe I have seen enough.”

Severus could only nod. He swayed as he came to his feet and followed Albus out of the pensieve.

Albus guided him to a chair as soon as they left Severus’ memories and gave him a cup of tea. “Sip it. It will help.”

Severus sniffed the beverage and detected the faint smell of calming draught. With a nod, he drank, relieved when the tea blunted the sharpest edge of horror and shame.

“Severus,” Albus said in a soft voice, “I trust there will be no need to repeat this… exercise in the future?”

“No,” Severus replied, his voice raspy and hollow. “No, gods no. I… I did not realise I was so far gone.”

“Yes, I know. I do believe if you had realised what you were doing was abusive, you would have put a stop to it. However, Harry’s heritage has always blinded you to the truth.” Albus fixed him with a stern look. “You do understand that what you have done to him was, in fact, some of the worst abuse I have ever seen take place under my leadership at Hogwarts? Only Tom Riddle himself did more harm.”

Severus dropped his head, struggling to hold back tears of shame and guilt. “Y-yes. I… I have failed to keep my oath. I was meant to protect him, a-and I… I hurt him. I have no excuse. I will take my punishment.”

“No.” Albus laid a hand on Severus’ arm. “No, Severus. I will not exact the punishment for it this time. As I said, foolish as it may be, I still have faith that you will overcome this one day. However, I have little choice but to remove Harry from your authority, for the safety of everyone involved. From this day on, he will be studying potions under Poppy, therefore, he is no longer your student.”

Severus grimaced. “And you do not think she will coddle the boy?”

“No, Severus, as I will be grading his assignments, at least until Poppy is prepared to take them on.”

Severus frowned. “You coddle him too.”

“Do I, Severus? Consider what I have asked of that child—what I have asked of you—and tell me if you still believe I am prone to coddling.”

Severus winced. Albus had a genial personality and did at least attempt to protect those he cared about, but Severus thought of his own double-agent role, of the fact that the Order had all but placed the fate of the world in the hands of a depressed teenager, and could not deny that Albus could be just as ruthless as the Dark Lord at times.

“No,” he murmured, chastised.

Albus nodded. “Since you have expressed worry that he will be graded unfairly, you will be grading his assignments for the first six weeks or so. Under my supervision, of course. And anonymously, since I fear to give your prejudice any chance to take root.”

Severus frowned. “How am I to grade his assignments anonymously when he is the only student not in my classroom?”

“Quite simply. I will take three samples of your students’ work, disguise names and handwriting with a spell, and you will grade each without prejudice. I will supervise and ensure that your grading is fair, since I am not entirely convinced you would not simply fail the lot to avoid giving Harry a passing grade.”

“Glad to see that your trust in me is so strong,” Severus said bitterly.

“With Riddle? The Order? I trust you implicitly. However, when it comes to Harry, you have a blind spot which cannot be ignored. I think we have seen proof enough of that.”

Severus bowed his head, unable to refute his claims.

Albus sighed and folded his hands in front of his chest. “Severus, I am giving you a second chance because I know there is goodness and honour within you. I am placing my faith in you that you will work to overcome your prejudice in the future, or if you cannot, that you will at least cease in your mistreatment of an innocent child.”

His voice took on an edge of steel. “However, I cannot simply condone what I have seen today either. I am afraid you will need to serve a three week suspension, starting immediately.”

Severus’ breath stilled and his stomach dropped. “W-what will I tell the Dark Lord?”

“I believe you will need to tell him at least part of the truth. That you became too caught up in the thrill of punishing Harry Potter and got carried away. As a result, I had no choice but to take action against you.”

“He will punish me, Albus. Harshly.”

“I am afraid it cannot be helped, Severus.” The ruthlessness Severus could sometimes forget existed in the man resurfaced. “After all, it is certainly no worse than the agony you have inflicted on an innocent. Magical exhaustion is not a painless affliction by any means.”

Severus cringed and dropped his head. “I see.”

Albus sighed. “Severus, I do not want you to be harmed, believe it or not. But if I do not take some kind of action after seeing such behaviour as this, it is I who will find myself in danger of suspension. And I think you know how dangerous that would be for us all. I have no choice but to act this time, Severus. I would not be beyond my rights to suggest a term in Azkaban for such abuse.”

Severus gasped and clawed the edges of the chair. “A-Albus, I….”

“Peace, child. I will not. I am not without guilt where Harry is concerned either.”

Phineas snorted. “You truly are the master of understatement, Albus.”

Albus cleared his throat and acted as though he hadn’t heard. “Ah, I merely mentioned Azkaban to impress the severity of your actions, Severus. I must discipline you, for an offence so grave.”

“I… understand.” Even though Severus’ stomach had turned to lead and his body trembled with dread.

Albus gave Severus a firm look. “My boy, a three week suspension is light for this kind of offence.” Phineas opened his mouth to make some smartarse remark, but Albus spoke over him before he could. “H-however, I do realise the pain it will cause you, so I will do nothing more.” His gaze turned sharp. “This time. You must learn to control your prejudices, Severus. I do understand that your position precludes kindness to Gryffindors, but that is no excuse for abusing them.”

“Y-yes, headmaster,” Severus murmured, once again feeling two inches tall.

“If you cannot learn to conquer your blind spots, I will have no choice but to take further action, Severus. I will not remove you from Hogwarts, knowing what the cost will be if I do. However, if you cannot learn to treat your students with a modicum of respect, then I believe it is perfectly clear you are not suited to teaching.”

The hair on Severus’ neck stood on end.

“I-I understand.”

Albus’ expression softened. “I have faith in you, Severus. Please, don’t disappoint me again.”

Severus bowed his head. “I will do my best.”

“That is a relief.” Albus rubbed his forehead. “I suggest you take the day to gather your wits and report to Tom tonight, before the rumours make it back to the Death Eater parents. Send a message to me before you go, and I will be on standby with Poppy for your return.”

“And if I return in no condition to call you?”

Albus gave him an enigmatic smile. “Your portkey sounds alarms in my office, but even without it, I believe I will find out, one way or another.”

Severus gave him a curt nod and stood, Occluding fiercely to keep the terror from his face and body language. Perhaps Albus was right and what he suffered at the Dark Lord’s hand was deserved this time, but that did not make the thought of enduring such agony less dreadful.

“I… if I do not make it back, Albus,” Severus started, but Albus cut him off.

“You will. I trust you. Show him that, if you must, to strengthen your case.”

Severus blinked back the burn of tears and nodded. “Then… with any luck, I shall see you in the morning.”

“Yes. Until then.”

Severus left the office in a cataclysm of terror. Even if he did survive the night, it would be a close thing.

Utterly fucked indeed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

Unexpected Aid

Harry hadn’t seen Professor Snape all day. Not that he wanted to after the fiasco that morning—Dean had been absolutely wrecked all day no thanks to Snape’s cruelty—but the thought that Dumbledore might have sacked the man in spite of Harry’s reticence left him chilled.

When Snape failed to show up for dinner, Harry could stand it no longer and went to Dumbledore’s office. The password hadn’t changed yet, so Harry dashed straight up the stairs and to the door.

As usual, Dumbledore called him in before he could knock. “Ah, do come in, Harry.”

The boy gave a wry shake of his head and walked in. “Sir, did you sack him?”

Dumbledore watched him for a moment. Harry lifted his gaze to meet the man’s on purpose, showing him his anger and fear for the professor in spite of everything.

Dumbledore smiled sadly. “Harry, you truly are too kind.” He waved to the seat in front of his desk. “Sit.”

“I’m not sitting anywhere until you tell me whether you sacked him or not. I don’t like the man, and he certainly needs a good kick in the bum, but he doesn’t deserve to be tortured to death!”

“No, Harry, I did not sack him. Have a seat, please, and I will tell you what I am able to.”

Harry let slip a sigh of relief and flopped into a chair. “T-thanks. When he didn’t show up today, I was scared.” He frowned. “If you didn’t sack him, where is he?”

Dumbledore shook his head. “That I cannot answer. I do not know.”

Harry went rigid. “You don’t know? Merlin, d-did you throw him out?”

“Harry, calm yourself. I am as aware of Professor Snape’s precarious position as you are, if not more so. I have not removed him from the premises either, and I will not. I do not know where he is because he has not told me. I assume he is either in his quarters or his private lab, but as I have not heard confirmation on either location, I cannot say so with certainty.”

Harry relaxed and gave a bitter laugh. “Why do I even care, sir?”

“Because you are, at heart, a kind young man. I do wish Professor Snape could see that too.” Dumbledore sighed. “I am sorry, child, that you endured such pain under his authority this term.”

Harry paled. “H-how? I didn’t tell you. I didn’t tell anyone!”

“Peace, Harry. I am not blind, child. I am afraid that he had hurt you was quite obvious. But as to how I know, I asked him myself.” Dumbledore gave him a sad smile. “Harry, I cannot say much more without breaking his confidence, but I do hope he will change from here on out. I believe that he will.”

Harry shook his head. “No offence, sir, but I’ll believe it when I see it.”

“I do not blame you for that.”

Harry snorted. “So I guess he just got a talking to then?”

It was what he expected—what he hoped for. Dumbledore couldn’t risk Snape’s position without risking his life. But just in case the old man had done something more serious, if Harry pretended to be irritated at him, Dumbledore might come clean. That lecture Harry had dished out earlier in the month was bound to smart a bit still, especially since Dumbledore hadn’t gotten his way in the end.

Harry scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s not like you’ve ever done anything to him when he’s hurt me in the past, is it?”

“Harry….” Dumbledore sighed and rubbed his temples. “I… I suppose I have let it go on too long. As it happens, no, he did not get a talking to this time.”

Harry jerked to his feet as if he were furious—he didn’t have to fake it with the barmy old goat either—and directed his glare at a point above the old man’s eyebrow. “So you let him off? I guess you never learn from your mistakes, do you?”

He knew better. The old man had done something foolish, for sure. Maybe Dumbledore might not have sacked Snape, but any overt punishment might threaten the spy’s life if Riddle believed Snape had lost his standing at Hogwarts.

Dumbledore winced. “Harry, please. I did not let him off. After what I saw today, I had no choice but to take action against him. I would have faced disciplinary action myself if I had not.”

Ah. So the headmaster had taken action against Snape, but not out of a desire to protect Harry or teach the bastard something, but simply to protect his own hide. Well, the other motives might have had some influence on his decision, but Harry doubted Dumbledore would have done a thing had his own position not been threatened. Typical.

“Really? But you wouldn’t have faced it for letting sexual assault slide? Interesting.”

Dumbledore rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Harry, please. Sit down.”

Harry obeyed, wary gaze fixed on the old man’s brow.

Dumbledore popped a couple of lemon drops and tugged at his beard, an action Harry had long since learned to associate with thoughtfulness or stress. “Since I am going to announce the situation at breakfast tomorrow anyway—assuming nothing prevents my attendance—I suppose I can safely share the truth with you now. I need not tell you that it should not be spread among your peers, I hope?”

Harry scowled. “I know to use discretion where Professor Snape is concerned, sir.”

“Very well. As I said, I had little other choice but to take disciplinary action. He was far too abusive and far too indiscreet for it to pass by with nothing but a reprimand. He has been suspended for three weeks, though I will not remove him from the premises for his own safety.”

Harry’s heart stilled. Oh gods. It was worse than he feared.

“Suspended?”

“I could not condone such behaviour, Harry.”

“R-right.” Harry crossed his arms over his chest and chewed on his lip. “Which means the Death Eaters will know by lunchtime tomorrow, if they don’t already.”

Dumbledore gave him a condescending smile. “It is nothing you need concern yourself with, my boy. We are already taking measures to ensure Professor Snape’s safety.” He stood and patted Harry’s shoulder. “Go and get some rest, child. You have had quite the traumatic day and could use some sleep.”

Harry scoffed and threw off the old man’s hand. “Let me know when you figure out I haven’t been a child for years, sir.”

With a scowl, he turned on his heel and stalked out of the office, his mind racing and his heart conflicted. Dumbledore clearly thought Harry was stupid. The Death Eaters would know about Snape’s suspension by the next afternoon, and if Snape didn’t report it himself first, Voldemort might just kill him. Which meant the spy would most likely be going straight into the lion’s den tonight.

Besides, after surviving—barely—several years under Dumbledore’s idea of protection, Harry wasn’t at all confident that Snape wouldn’t end up in pieces. Most likely, Dumbledore’s ‘safety measures’ meant waiting around for Snape to return and call for him, which wouldn’t work out very well if the man was unconscious.

Well, that left Harry little choice about how to proceed, though he had to be a bloody masochist for even considering such a mad plan. With a groan for his fucked-up life, he made his way towards the library. He had studying to do.

Merlin, this night would be hell.




Albus watched Harry go with a sad smile on his face. The boy was furious at him—again, and perhaps with good reason. But in this case, Albus’ hands were tied. Severus might lose control of his rage again if Albus revealed more than what he had to Harry, but Albus knew Harry well enough to understand the refusal to treat him as an equal would drive the boy to do exactly what Albus wanted.

Phineas Nigellus stalked into his canvas and gave Albus a piercing look. “More mind games, Albus? Are you certain you were a Gryffindor?”

Albus shrugged. “You know, lions do have a fair amount of cunning.”

Phineas looked to the door Harry had just left through. “Indeed. Old man, I think the boy was not the only pawn in play this evening.”

With that, the man left his canvas and gave Albus much to consider.




Harry staggered to the dorms, a heavy stack of books pressed to his chest and his face set in grim determination. As soon as he came through, he searched for Ron and Hermione out of habit, but they were ensconced in a corner in their own little world. He couldn’t trust Ron not to rat Snape out regardless.

With a sad sigh, he looked around to see who else was hanging about. Dean and Seamus were playing gobstones, but after what Dean had gone through that morning and how Seamus had been acting lately, he didn’t think it a good idea to bother them either.

Near the fire, Ginny was giving him hopeful looks over her quidditch mag, but Harry pretended he didn’t notice. He didn’t need to deal with her right now for certain.

Besides her, he saw only a group of lower years he didn’t know well enough to ask for help. Neville must have already gone to bed, or maybe he hadn’t come back to the dorm yet. It was early in the evening still.

With a sad sigh, Harry Summoned his cloak and grabbed it against his chest along with the books. As he opened the portrait hole once more, Ginny called out to him, but Harry acted as though he hadn’t heard and clambered through. Gods knew he needed help, but Ginny knew less on the subject than he did and she was driving him mad anyway.

He clutched his cloak tight and sprinted away lest she follow him. Another call of his name sounded behind him just as he turned the corner and entered the stairwell, but thankfully, the girl didn’t pursue him further.

At the landing to the seventh floor, Luna waved and ran to join him, dressed in a black shift and grey hood. Harry stared at her, bemused by the typically flamboyant girl’s sombre attire and sudden appearance.

Luna gave him a dreamy smile. “The Feathersprites warned me you would need help tonight. He’s in danger, isn’t he?”

Harry’s jaw dropped. “H-how did you…?”

“Oh, didn’t you know? The Feathersprites show me things. Lots of things, really. Some I would rather not see, if we are being completely honest, but then, time is not always a happy place.”

“Time? Things?” It clicked, and Harry gasped. “You’re a Seer!”

She cocked her head. “I suppose you might call me that. It’s really the Feathersprites who see things, but then, they do show them to me as well. I’m really more of a medium.”

Harry shook his head. “Er… right. Well, the… Feathersprites are dead on—I do need help, and yes, he is in danger. Will you help me, even knowing we’ll probably be out after curfew and might get in trouble?”

Luna chuckled. “Ask the thestrals.”

“Ask the… oh.” Harry supposed if the girl had been willing to fly on a thestral’s back straight into a fight with Voldemort and Death Eaters, rescuing Snape must seem like a walk in the park. “Right then. Come on. I have about five hours or so to learn how to heal, or at least some basic first aid.”

“Four.”

Harry grimaced. “Then I guess we’d best hurry.”

“Yes, we should go before the Nightprowlers find us.”

He had no idea what a Nightprowler was, but reckoned running into one wouldn’t be good if a Seer—or a medium—had warned against them.

“Right then.” Harry led Luna at a sprint to the Room of Requirement and paced in front of the tapestry. “I need a safe place to learn to heal. I need a safe place….”




Severus stared into the fire, half-empty bottle of firewhiskey in his hand. Though the alcohol dulled his racing thoughts, it did nothing to fill the bleeding void in his soul or the dread creeping into his heart, like ghostly fingers clawing at his chest.

What had he become? True, he loathed the Potter boy, but that did not give him the excuse to hurt him, to watch him suffer and gloat. Dear gods, the boy hadn’t even flinched when he picked up broken glass with bare fingers. Never complained, even when the glass cut him, and that atop a dangerous magical drain.

Fuck. Severus had suffered the Cruciatus under the Dark Lord’s wand enough times to know the feeling intimately, and he had no doubt a magical drain of that strength would hurt almost as much. Yet Potter had just endured it. Not a cry, not a peep, not a whimper until his body gave out.

How could the brat have such a high tolerance for pain? Even Severus would have shied away. The only way a child could have such incredible endurance… he would have to be used to high levels of pain. But his long string of injuries acquired over the past five years and the three or four short-lived Cruciatus curses Potter had lived through, terrible as they were, would not have given him the ability to endure pain in the long-term.

Perhaps, if Potter had lived his entire life in some level of anguish, he might have had the strength to endure such pain in stoic silence, but that was preposterous! Surely the Potter scion had been pampered all his life… hadn’t he?

Images from Occlumency flickered through his troubled thoughts—a dark, tiny cupboard, a meekly bowed head and a raging uncle, a five-year old boy serving dinner—but Severus dismissed them with a scoff. Perhaps the cupboard was a bit harsh, but the other punishments, no doubt Potter had done something to deserve them.

“Like he deserved to nearly be tortured to death by your hand?”

“Shut up,” Severus muttered to his own mind. Yes, he had gone much too far. He didn’t deny it. But neither would he believe that the Potter boy was an innocent victim. No spawn of James Potter would ever be completely innocent.

“Ah, but he is also Lily’s son—have you forgotten?”

With a snarl, Severus threw the alcohol into the fire and watched it blaze. As if he could forget her. Every time he saw anger and disdain in those deep green eyes, he remembered. He remembered his lost best friend and his worst sins.

“Perhaps that is the real reason why you hate the boy.”

“Enough!” Severus lifted a shaky hand and Summoned a sobriety potion. “This should shut you up,” he grumbled and downed it. In an instant, his alcohol-induced haze abandoned him, but rather than stopping, his thoughts raced like mad.

“Really, it’s not about him at all, is it?”

With a growl, Severus slammed down his Occlumency shields as hard as he could. His rebellious thoughts stopped, finally, but the void in his chest swallowed him, leaving him cold and desolate in the wake of his shame.

He had abused a child. His reasons didn’t matter. His past traumas didn’t matter. Whether Potter had deserved some kind of punishment or not didn’t matter either. The fact was Severus had vowed to protect Potter long ago, and he had abused the boy instead. Viciously. He had no justification. Arrogant brat or not, no child deserved what Severus had done.

Severus laid his head in his hands and closed his eyes against a wet sting. Gods. That morning, he had become one of the two men he hated as much as Tom Riddle: his own father. If the scene with Potter’s abuse had taken place in a Muggle home—a teenaged boy on his knees and bleeding, swaying from pain and sheer exhaustion under the authority of a much larger man—fuck. Severus might have thought he was experiencing another flashback of his own past. Gods. He even bore a physical resemblance to his father. The similarities were uncanny.

In a flash, Severus realised what had struck him as familiar about Potter’s position when he had held his hands out that afternoon. He had expected Severus to hit him! Potter had held his hands out palms down first because he expected his professor to strike him across his knuckles for his failures, much like Severus’ strict primary school teachers had done.

Dear gods.

How had Potter known about that punishment? Severus would never have hit him—as far as he had fallen, he had never been that kind of monster—but how had a pampered prince known about such a position at all? And even more telling, he had just stood there, not pleading, not complaining. Potter had prepared himself to endure agony in silence like one who had lived his entire life in suffering—and worse, one who knew daring to refuse his punishment or plead for mercy would only add to his pain.

The thought set the hairs on the back of Severus’ neck on end. Had Potter been abused?

No. It couldn’t be. It was mere coincidence, surely.

Wasn’t it?

Severus shook off his alarm and paced. Whether Potter had been abused before that day or not, the fact remained that Severus had abused him. In that moment, with a child in pain and bleeding before him while he terrified and taunted them, he had been no better than his father.

And that terrified Severus more than the prospect of what the Dark Lord might do to him for his failures. Long before, he had vowed never to become that bastard, but he had. Gods, he had. And not just with Potter. Thomas, Granger, all the students in his NEWT class had borne the brunt of his wrath.

No longer. Albus was right. Assuming Severus survived the night, he would have to make a change. Perhaps he could not afford to be kind to the Gryffindors—and truly, he did not have it in him to be kind to anyone anymore—but neither did he have to be a monster.

With that resolve in place, Severus Summoned several healing potions and his Death Eater garb, and gathered his courage around him like a cloak. The time had come to face the consequences of his failures, and he would accept them with forbearance. His punishment was just. He had failed in his mission, his oaths, and his honour as a man. He had some pain coming for what he had done.

He only hoped he survived long enough to implement his plan to change.

Severus focused on his time at the park with Lily, the same memory he always used to conjure his Patronus, but Potter’s tearful, pain-glazed eyes overlapped hers. And Lily’s ghost stared at him with sharp reproach in her eyes.

“He is my son too, Severus. My baby. And you hurt him.”

“Damn it.” He Occluded harder and focused on the memory, but that look in her eyes would not leave his mind. “E-Expecto Patronum.”

He might have expected the mist.

“Shite! I have to… this cannot be….”

But no matter how he tried—even using other memories—he never managed more than a vaguely doe-shaped mist.

“Oh gods.”

Like Potter, he had apparently lost the ability to conjure a Patronus. All of his happy memories involved Lily, and everything involving Lily now bore the stain of Severus’ guilt.

He had no joy left.

“Puts Potter’s problems in perspective, now doesn’t it?”

With a strangled cry of frustration, Severus made his way to the hearth instead and tossed a pinch of floo powder into the flames. “Albus Dumbledore’s office, Hogwarts.” It took more of an effort than he liked to keep his voice steady.

Albus appeared in the flames, looking confused. “Severus? Is something wrong?”

“I… I am leaving now to… explain.”

Albus nodded, his expression grim. “I will be on standby for your return. But, my boy, why did you not simply send your Patronus?”

Severus could not hold back a flinch. “I deemed the floo a safer option, old man,” he snapped, looking away so the old man mightn’t see through his thin lies.

“The floo? More secure than a Patronus message?” Albus speared him with a searching gaze. “I see. So we have two advanced defence users who have lost the ability to conjure their Patronus then. I wonder if there is some sort of… illness, or if this is a plot.”

Severus snarled and bit out, “Leave it, Albus.” He bowed his head and dug his fingernails into the hearth. “Please.”

Albus’ eyes filled with understanding. “Oh, Severus.” He reached through the floo and patted the younger man’s shoulder. “In time, perhaps you may heal. For now, you must try to calm yourself and gather your wits. It would not do for Tom to see this in your thoughts.”

Severus clenched his teeth against a wave of roiling dread. “To be honest, I doubt it will matter. Tom suffers neither fools nor traitors.”

“I have faith all will be well in the end. And keep in mind that I am prepared for trouble. I will warn Poppy as soon as we are finished here. You do have your emergency portkey?”

“For what it is worth, yes, but it will do little good as I will have no means to contact you now, if I am indeed in need of urgent medical care.”

“I have taken measures to ensure you are not left alone tonight, and I will hear your portkey alarms regardless, should you be so injured as to require it. Now, do you believe you can face this?”

Severus took a deep breath and lifted his head. He gave Albus a curt nod.

“Fate willing, I will return before sunrise. If I do not… you know what to do.”

“Yes. Good luck, child.”

Severus nodded once more and ended the call. With a sigh, he straightened his shoulders, tightened his shields to their maximum, and drained his emotions of everything but worry and a sense of shame—the Dark Lord would expect to see both. Merlin, even as a natural Zopath, It would take all his strength to keep his emotions steady and his mind free of traitorous thoughts, but he had endured many similar nights before. He had stared death in the face for nearly twenty years. Tonight was no different.

With one last deep breath, he disillusioned himself and swept away.




“Oh, here’s a good one, Luna,” Harry said, poring over a thick medical text. “This is a first aid spell to help the person breathe. Auxilium Spiritus. Could come in handy if Snape comes back in pieces.”

Luna nodded and added a pinch of bloodroot to her cauldron. “The Feathersprites say they like that one.”

Harry gulped. He had learned to translate a few of Luna’s creatures in working with her over the last few hours. The Feathersprites were her Seer creatures, so if they said Harry would need it, damn! That meant Snape wouldn’t be breathing when he came back.

“B-better get that one down quick then,” he muttered and shut the book. Like all healing spells, it required Harry to focus on love to use it.

Merlin, but this would be difficult when everyone he loved had either moved on without him or proved not to be so great after all, and when Snape was an utter bastard.

“Forgiveness is a type of love, you know,” said Luna out of nowhere. “I imagine you could find some, if you looked for it.”

“Forgiveness….” Harry stared at the manikin the room had conjured for him to practise on, imagining Snape’s face on its features. He jumped when the Room shifted the manikin to resemble Snape, bat robes and all. “Gods. That’s disturbing.”

Luna chuckled. “Good practise, though.”

Harry sighed and leaned beside the manikin. “True, I suppose.” He stared at the man’s hooked nose, sharp jaw, and lanky hair, irritation and despair mingling in his chest. “Luna, I’m not sure I… how do I forgive him when he’s hurt me so much?”

She gave him a dreamy smile. “I think you already have, or we wouldn’t be here brewing Blood Replenishers and learning emergency healing spells. How did you forgive him before?”

Harry lowered his head. “I suppose… I forgave him because I felt his pain. Some of it anyway.”

He touched the manikin’s cheek and jumped at the feel of warm skin under his fingers. Merlin, even the manikin’s faint breath brushed his knuckles. It was almost too real.

“What do you mean about his pain, Harry?”

He jumped again, startled out of his examination of the manikin’s features. “Er… well, he’s had a rough life. You know, I think no one has ever really loved him at all. And my Da and Sirius….” He shook his head and took a deep breath. “Well, they didn’t get along with him.”

“The Feathersprites are telling me sad stories,” Luna said with a grimace. “That’s not good. Not good at all. And you say you felt the same way?”

Harry shuddered. “Not something I want to talk about, Luna.”

“No, I suppose not. But you should, you know. Talking is good for healing, even if it’s only to your familiar.”

“Hedwig?” Harry smiled to himself. “Yeah. She won’t tell my secrets.”

“Of course not, but many people also love you, Harry. They would keep secrets for you.”

Harry lowered his head. “Do they, Lu? Do they really? Where are they, then?” He traced his fingertips along the manikin’s hairline and wondered if the real Snape’s skin was so soft.

Luna stirred her cauldron and gave him a sad smile. “Well, we do sometimes get carried away by pride and the Ticklebees.”

“Ticklebees?”

“They make us think of love. Of making families of our own.”

Harry winced. “Yeah. I’ve no interest in Ticklebees at the moment then. I’ve too many to deal with as is.”

Luna tittered. “Your Ticklebees are closer than you think, Harry Potter. Now, do try and focus on your spell. He’ll be back soon.”

Harry shuddered. “Merlin, you’re right. I don’t have time to worry about this.”

He shook himself and focused on Snape’s face, searching for a way to forgive the man who had hurt him so much. In sleep, he looked softer, less menacing. More like his younger self. Harry jolted at the realisation that Snape was still a young man, just past his mid-thirties. Too young to be so damaged, to be sure.

Harry touched the man’s hair, smoothing it, surprised to find it silky and not oily. It did look that way sometimes. Maybe it was all the potion fumes. Or maybe the Room didn’t think that level of realism was a good idea.

He was fully-aware that Snape would kill him if he ever realised Harry had touched even a manikin of himself like this, but as he was trying to work up forgiveness for the man, he didn’t stop. Harry tucked the man’s hair behind his ear and rubbed his temple, wondering if Snape had ever felt a caring touch. Honestly, he doubted it. Maybe it wasn’t so surprising a man who had been so damaged, who had grown up without a shred of love, would have turned so vicious. Especially with those who had hurt him—and their son, of course.

Thinking of what his parents had done to damage this man made Harry remember the young Severus. In his dreams, Severus—he couldn’t make himself refer to that scared, innocent boy as Snape—wasn’t the cold, bitter individual he had become as an adult. In Harry’s dreams, Severus held his hand and cried out to him for help. In Harry’s dreams, they were the same.

The Room shifted the manikin’s features to resemble the young Severus. Harry’s heart lurched and his breath caught in his throat. Oh Merlin, Snape was Severus. He had known—of course Harry had known—but seeing them shift, the similarities between the boy and the man had brought it home to him: his dream friend and cruel professor were the same person.

With a deep breath, he took the manikin’s hand in his own and held it tight. “I’ll save you,” he whispered. “Somehow I’ll—ughn!”

A sharp, searing pain split Harry’s skull. It wasn’t like his typical visions—Voldemort must have been trying to block Harry—but he saw enough to know their time was up.

“How very disappointing, Severus. You could have gone so far, but to throw away your chance on foolish revenge when I have warned you to take care? That is unforgivable.”

Harry forced away the vision and struggled to catch his breath. “Lu, is that potion done?”

She held up a pink and blue sequined purse, overflowing with dark-red, yellow, and green potions. “I am ready. The Feathersprites agree with you—we are out of time.”

“Right. Let’s go.” Harry grabbed Luna’s hand, threw the cloak over them both, and dashed from the Room.




Harry repeated all the incantations he had learned that night over and over in his head as he made his way down to the gates, Luna’s bag slung over his shoulder. Sarcio Vulnera would heal deep wounds. Sana Totalis would help stabilize Snape’s condition until Harry could narrow down what specialised spells he might need. Then there was Episkey, Ferula, and a host of other spells he could use to support the man until Luna could find Madam Pomfrey. Between the magic he had learned and Luna’s potions, Harry felt confident he could keep the man alive long enough to get him to safety.

Not that Snape would thank him for it.

Luna was waiting at the Entrance Hall, her expression grim.

“Lu?” Harry tucked her under the cloak. “What’s the matter? Where’s Madam Pomfrey?”

“Quarantined for the next three days. Two students came down with dragon pox, and she has been exposed. A substitute healer is coming from St. Mungo’s, but he won’t be here until tomorrow morning.”

Harry grimaced. “So we’re on our own.”

“Yes.”

“Merlin, we’d better hope these spells stick then.”

“I believe in you, Harry, and so do the Feathersprites.”

“Good to know!” At another white-hot surge down his skull, Harry grabbed Luna’s hand and led her through the doors. “No time. I think he’s here, or about to be.”

“Yes.”

They raced down the path to the gates—Harry was unsurprised to find them unattended. “Good thing I didn’t listen to the old codger. Some protection!”

Luna gave a noncommittal hum. “I think we are the protection.” A flash of blue light flickered and faded beyond the gates, and she gasped. “There! Look, that’s the light Nanotinklers make.”

“Nanotinklers? Lu, can you speak plain English, just for the moment?”

She giggled. “They make portkeys work.”

“Portkeys? He had a portkey?”

“Apparently.” She hesitated. “Oh. The Feathersprites say it was for emergencies. We had best hurry.”

“Shite!”

Harry ducked out from under the cloak and tore off full-speed down the path. He skidded to a halt beside Snape’s unconscious form and sucked in a gasp at the sight of him. He had landed face down, robes torn to strips over his bleeding, whip-lashed back, hair matted with blood, skin bone-white. His chest wasn’t moving, and a dark pool was rapidly forming under him.

“Oh dear Merlin!”

Harry ripped off his own cloak and laid it beside the man, then rolled him onto his back. Snape’s face had lashes over his cheek and temple and a burn mark down the other side, his elbow bent at a strange angle, and his thigh had more lashes, but by far, the worst injury was to his chest. His ribs had been slashed wide-open, as if someone had attacked him with a sword.

“Oh fuck!” Harry sank to his knees next to the man, horror choking him. “Oh gods. I d-don’t know if… so deep!”

He grimaced and shook himself out of his shock. He might not be able to save Snape, but unless he took action now, the man would die before he could find out.

Sana Totalis!” It wouldn’t help much, not with this level of injury, but it might keep him alive long enough for Harry to figure out what to do.

Well, the first step was obvious. He had to stop that godsawful blood loss before Snape bled out. He wasn’t sure his wound healing spell was powerful enough, but thankfully Luna dashed up to his side just then and pressed her hands over the man’s chest, holding his wound closed as best as she could. That would do for the moment.

Harry focused on Snape’s face and aimed his wand. Forgiving the man wasn’t hard, not after seeing him torn to bits. Whatever punishment Snape might have deserved, this was too much.

Auxilium Spiritus!” Snape choked and coughed up blood, but at least he was breathing again. Now, Harry had to focus on that sword wound. “Tergeo! Sarcio Vulnera!”

The blood vanished and the wound healed slightly, but not enough. Not nearly enough.

‘Shite!’

Harry focused with all his power, poured love and grief and forgiveness into his wand, and cast with all his strength. A massive surge of green light blinded him, but when he blinked the stars away, Snape was still dying.

“Oh gods, it’s not working. W-what do I do, Luna?”

She didn’t answer in words. The girl cocked her head, listening, then leaned down and started singing over the man’s chest. Harry opened his mouth to shout that this wasn’t the ruddy time for a lark, until he saw green light on her breath and realised she was healing Snape. A chant of some type? He listened, following the words.

With a deep breath and a prayer his voice wasn’t so bad it would ruin her spell, Harry let his magic pool in his chest and joined in.

Vulnera Sanentur,” he murmured, surprised to have found a lower harmony, one that made an eerie, ethereal sort of sound when blended with hers. He wondered if magic had aided him, then remembered he was supposed to be healing Snape and focused on the strange, musical spell. To aid it, he let love and forgiveness fill him and wove the emotions in with his chant, and the green light on his breath turned brilliant white.

Harry watched, fascinated, as the wound slowly closed and Snape’s breathing eased. He continued his song a moment longer, just to be sure it had sealed completely, but a movement above him startled him out of his chant. He gasped to find the man’s black eyes open and staring at him.

“Pot… ter?”

“Yes, sir. It’s all right. We’re….” But Snape had already fallen unconscious again. It was probably for the best. “Right. Lu, think that’s healed now?”

She nodded. “I can’t find any trace of a wound any longer.”

Harry carefully opened Snape’s bloodstained robes and examined his chest. “No, it looks okay now.” He hesitated before closing them again. “Reckon we should try to heal his back or get him into the castle first?”

“Potions before we do either one.”

“Right.” He carefully lifted Snape to rest across Harry’s knees and back against his arm. Snape flinched and groaned, but didn’t wake again.

“Here, this one first.” Luna handed him a Blood Replenisher. “Two of them, I think.”

“Er… but he’s unconscious.”

“Just pour them slowly. I’ll help him swallow.”

“You’re sure you know what you’re….” Harry remembered her miraculous find of the healing chant a moment before and shut up. “Right.” He tugged the cap off the potion with his teeth and placed the phial tip between the man’s bloody, parted lips. “Okay, I’m pouring it now.”

“Slowly.”

Harry nodded and tipped the phial just enough to get a dribble of potion into the man’s mouth. Below him, Luna massaged Snape’s throat, and to Harry’s relief, the man swallowed. Together, they kept this process going until Snape had taken two Blood Replenishers, a general healing draught, and an Anti-Cruciatus Draught Harry had taken from his own supply. Snape would never know Harry had brewed it, or so he hoped.

“There we go,” said Luna. “We should try to get him inside now.”

“Yeah, but where? If there’s Dragon Pox in the Infirmary, we can’t take him there.”

“We should take him to Professor Dumbledore, silly.”

Harry frowned. “Do you reckon he knows how to heal these wounds?”

“I certainly hope so, because he’s almost here.”

Harry grumbled, “About time.”

“Yes. He is running rather late.”

Harry harrumphed and conjured a handkerchief. With more care than Snape probably deserved, he gently wiped the blood from his face and neck, muttering healing spells as he went. By the time Dumbledore showed up, out of breath and ashen, Harry had finished with everything but Snape’s back, wrist, and leg.

He glared at Dumbledore. “That was some plan of protection you had in place, sir.”

“I….” Dumbledore panted and mopped his forehead with a red and green handkerchief. “You are right. It did not go as I had planned. Is he well?”

“I hardly call nearly bleeding to death before we could save him well, but I think he’ll survive now.”

“Merlin!” Dumbledore gave Harry a wan smile. “Child, I doubt Professor Snape will be inclined to thank you for this, but I do. Fifty points to Ravenclaw and Gryffindor.”

Harry shrugged. “He’ll just take them away when he wakes up. Anyway, what do we do now?”

Dumbledore tapped Snape’s broken wrist with his wand. “Ferula.” Splints and bandages formed around the injury and wrapped it tight. Snape flinched.

“I believe I can take it from here, children. Thank you, both of you. Go get some rest.” He conjured a stretcher and levitated Snape onto it. “Go on, then.”

Harry hesitated. “Will he be all right?”

“I am sure you have saved his life, my boy. The minor injuries I see here are not beyond my ability to heal.” Dumbledore waved them on. “Off with you now, and do not mention your… timely rescue of our potions professor, hmm?”

“Er, but….” Harry motioned to his gore-spattered robes. “Don’t you think this might draw some questions?”

Dumbledore frowned. “Quite right. Lavabisiccum.” Soap suds washed the bloodstains from Luna’s and Harry’s robes, then a blast of warm air dried their clothing from head to toe. “There you are.”

Harry looked over his freshly-laundered robes and grinned. “Well, that was handy.”

Luna tittered. “Yes, I’ll need to remember that one.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “Quite. Goodnight, children.” The authority in his tone was a subtle warning to obey.

“Er… right, goodnight.”

Harry handed Luna her bag and led her away. “How much do you want to bet Snape hates me even more for this?”

Luna shook her head. “Time and understanding heals all wounds, Harry.”

He gave a bitter snort and trudged towards the castle. Time and understanding, huh? The day Snape came to understand him would be the day Dumbledore learned fashion sense.

Luna parted ways with him on the staircase and left for the Ravenclaw dorms. Harry dragged himself up to the tower, exhaustion setting in fast on the heels of his adrenaline-fueled rescue.

The Fat Lady gave him a reproachful look as he came into view. “Curfew was two hours ago, young man. Where have you been?”

“Studying.” Well, it was partially true. He covered a yawn so wide, he thought his jaw might have cracked. “Vit-Vitam et Amor.”

The Fat Lady gasped even as her frame swung open. “Get that looked at, Harry.”

 Harry gave her a bemused frown, but shrugged it off and staggered up the stairs. Ron and Seamus were waiting at the door, both looking irritated. Harry eyed them in suspicion as he stepped into the common room.

Seamus snapped, “Where’ve you been then? Off losing us more points?”

Harry ignored him and started to push past, but Ron grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back.

“Wait just a minute, Harry,” Ron said, eyes sharp. “Seamus and I are here because we think it’s time for an intervention. I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately—quitting the team, pushing everyone away—but it’s got to stop. We’re already three hundred points down and it’s not even the Christmas hols yet.”

Harry just stared at him. Arguing would do no good. These boys were still children, and perhaps that was a good thing. Harry certainly wouldn’t wish his life on anyone.

“Look,” said Ron with a sigh, “you can’t just go gallivanting around after curfew right now. We’re in too deep.”

Harry glared. “That’s rich, coming from you.”

Ron scowled. “Yeah? Well, why didn’t you bring us along then?”

“You’ve barely spoken to me for two months! Why would I even try to ask you?” Harry scowled and turned away. “Besides, when I came up here looking for help, you were too busy snogging to even notice me.”

“Oi!”

Harry sighed and tried to push past them again, only to find the way blocked. “Guys, just leave me alone. I don’t need an intervention. I need sleep.”

“Yeah, well, maybe you wouldn’t be so tired if you’d stop running the halls all night,” Seamus fired back.

“I wasn’t. Most of the time I’ve been out, I was studying.” It was true, though these two sure as hell didn’t need to know what he had been studying or why.

Studying?” Ron scowled. “Merlin, you complain about Hermione’s schedules and then stay out at all hours of the night revising? I like that!”

Harry groaned and rubbed his forehead. “Look, I had to, okay? It was—”

“Merlin!” Ron jerked Harry’s hand down and gasped. “What the hell? What have you done to yourself?”

Harry frowned. “What do you mean?” He followed Ron’s gaze down and gasped. Red and brown stains covered his fingers and palms, even up to his wrists.

 “Shite!” He flushed and pulled away. “It’s not mine. And I told you I had to!”

“What the fuck do you mean it’s not yours?” Seamus stared at him, eyes wide. “Who’ve you been killing then?”

Harry reeled back, anguish ringing off his ribs to strike him in the heart. “That’s what you think of me? That’s really—all this time and….” Tears stung his eyes and he jerked back, hiding his face. “For your information, I neither killed anyone nor lost points! I saved a bloody life. Oh, and I gained you fifty points, not that it matters!”

“What?” Seamus snarled. “No wonder we’re losing points left and right if you think they don’t matter! Slytherin will have the cup at this rate.”

Harry fixed him with a glare so sharp, the boy gulped and took a step back. “And why the hell should I care about points when Voldemort is murdering ten, fifteen people a night and I have to feel them die?”

The colour drained out of both boys’ faces.

Ron reeled back and choked out, “W-wha—”

But Harry had been silent too long and words poured out of him before he could stop them. “Who the fuck cares about house points when Voldemort is doing the best he can to torture Britain to death—and me into the bargain—before he takes over? I reckon since it doesn’t affect you—yet—you don’t care, but I bloody well have to, or did you forget the prophecy already? So yeah, go on worrying about your fucking house cup and quidditch and snogging, and I’ll go on fighting a bloody war all of you seem to have forgotten has taken everyone, everyone from me I ever loved!”

His voice broke, and with a snarl, he shoved away from both boys and turned for the portrait hole. “Fuck this. Not like I’ll be able to sleep now anyway.”

“H-Harry! Wait!”

But Harry ignored Ron’s call and dashed for the staircases. The Room of Requirement would give him a place to sleep for one night, he hoped. Or at least to hide until morning.

After a quick shower and a change into a Room-provided pair of pyjamas, Harry crawled into bed and struggled to find repose, but lay awake long into the night. When he finally slept, he dreamed of Severus, hanging naked and crying tears of blood, his chest lashed wide open. Harry hung in the same position beside him and watched as Gryffindor house took bets on who would die first.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

A Heart Divided

3 December

Severus woke with a terrible headache, miserable pain in his chest, and various other aches and pains, but the fact that he had woken at all shocked him. The Dark Lord had ended Severus’ torture with a Sectumsempra straight to his chest. The curse should have been fatal within a minute, if that long, and Albus wouldn’t have been able to make it to his side so quickly even with his emergency alarms on standby.

Who had saved him? And how?

“Ah, I see you’re awake.”

Albus’ voice went straight through Severus’ aching skull. He groaned and buried his head in the pillow.

“Go away.”

Albus chuckled. “Not until you have had some potions and a bit of breakfast. I imagine some pain reliever will go quite a ways towards making you more sociable.”

“I don’t do sociable, old man.” Nevertheless, Severus grabbed the phial of blessed blue potion in his uninjured wrist and drank it down, but choked halfway through.

“Slowly, Severus. That sword wound did rather significant damage.”

“Sword wound?” Severus coughed and wiped his mouth. “What ruddy sword wound?”

Albus frowned. “The one that nearly killed you, I presume.”

“That wasn’t a sword wound. The Dark Lord thought it would be amusing to kill me with my own bloody curse.” Severus rubbed his chest and winced at the sharp pain of a healing wound. “H-how am I alive?”

Albus’ eyes went as wide as galleons. “Oh dear Merlin. That is a good question.”

Severus swallowed the rest of the potion and set the phial aside. “You didn’t heal it?”

“No. By the time I arrived, it would have been far too late.”

“Who?”

Albus gave him a wan smile. “Who else could it have been, Severus? Who else knew of your suspension?”

Severus went rigid, dread pooling in his gut. “Albus… who did you inform?”

But before Albus said a word, Severus already knew. He had thought it a dream—or perhaps a nightmare—when he woke in agony with a blood-streaked Potter kneeling over him. He hadn’t seen much beyond a flash of shock on Potter’s features, hadn’t stayed conscious long enough to hear much beyond an affirmation of the boy’s identity. He had thought Potter had come to exact revenge while he was weak, to gloat over him while his life bled away. Instead, it appeared he owed Potter his life.

Of all the fucked up ways to survive certain death.

“Potter!” Severus regretted shouting immediately. He swayed under a sharp surge of pain and gripped his chest.

“Do calm yourself, Severus.” Albus handed him a phial of calming draught. “I do mean that. You are in neither the condition nor the standing to become violent.”

Severus shuddered and drank the potion against his better judgment. “Potter, Albus? W-why? How? I never taught him the counter.”

“I do not know how, but why is quite simple, my boy. He knew the minute I told him you were suspended that Tom would punish you, and he did not believe you deserved to be tortured to death.”

Severus stared, unable to comprehend. “But… that… no. It cannot be. That is….”

“The truth, Severus.” Albus gave him a sheepish look. “I am afraid I have annoyed him again. You see, when you did not make an appearance around the castle yesterday, he came to my office after dinner believing I had terminated your teaching contract. The first words out of his mouth were a demand to know if I had let you go. At first, I admit, I thought he may have been hoping for such an outcome, and thus I was reluctant to tell him anything. Then he made eye-contact—for the first time in days—and willingly showed me his thoughts. He was furious, but not at you. He believed I had sent you out of the castle, knowing the danger, and was out for my blood.”

Severus choked and clutched at the sheets. “That’s preposterous! He would not—for Merlin’s sake, Albus, I have been a monster to him. Why should he even care?”

Albus chuckled wryly. “He asked me the same question.”

Severus opened and closed his mouth, utterly gobsmacked. “And… and what was your answer?”

“He cares because he is too kind not to care, even to those who have harmed him. As for why he cares about you specifically, when you have indeed been monstrously cruel, I suspect there is more I do not know. I had the sense that he identifies with you on some level when he allowed me access to his mind, but I do not know how he has come to that conclusion.”

“I-identifies with me? Our lives could not be more different if we tried.”

Albus gave him a sad smile. “On the contrary, Severus, I fear you are much more alike than you will ever admit.”

“I admit nothing! He is an arrogant, foolish… and… and I….” Severus could not stop himself from hugging his chest for comfort, unbalanced and weak as he was. He regretted it immediately and let his hands fall. “A-Albus, I do not understand. Why would he save me?”

“Perhaps you might ask him yourself, if you can do so without being cruel.”

Severus closed his eyes, his brain hurting from all the wild thoughts racing within. “You never explained how he learned the counter.”

“Because I do not know. I am aware he was up for several hours last night studying healing, but—”

“Why would he even want to go to all that trouble, Albus? Why did he insist on coming to my aid when he knew you were aware of the situation?”

Albus gave a deep sigh. “Because I have let him down, Severus. Repeatedly. Every year, I have promised him he is safe here, and every year, he has been harmed greatly in some fashion or another. I imagine he believed my protection would prove inadequate.” He closed his eyes and lowered his head. “And, once again, he was correct to doubt me.”

“Albus….” Severus gave the man a sorrowful look. “You have sheltered me all these years. And yesterday—any other headmaster would have dismissed me, if not thrown me in prison.”

“But last night, I was not the one to save you, Severus. Indeed, my aid would have come far too late. Harry saved your life. Harry, and Miss Lovegood, though I am convinced Harry did the brunt of the healing magic. He appears to have a great aptitude for it, to my relief.”

“You must be joking.”

Albus raised an eyebrow. “Hmm. Well, I do not know what state you arrived in, but there was little enough left for me to patch up by the time I arrived, and it could not have been more than ten minutes since I had first heard your portkey alarm. In that time, Harry had healed you of everything but a broken wrist and the lash wounds on your thigh and back.”

“That….” Severus frowned. “I would think the lash wounds would have been the most serious injury behind Sectumsempra, then my wrist. Why did he leave those?”

Albus shook his head. “I cannot say for certain. I believe he simply missed your wrist in his urgency to heal your chest and breathing, but as far as your lash wounds, I surmise he left those intentionally to preserve your modesty. Your clothing was… well, I had to Vanish it to treat you. Still, the boy did well, especially for his first time. Beyond your wrist, chest, and the lash wounds, I am not even aware of what other injuries you may have had.”

Severus stared, stunned. “Albus, I was tortured for hours. I was injured from head to toe. H-how is it possible any sixth year could have healed so much, let alone Potter?”

“As I said, he was up for many hours studying with Miss Lovegood and brewing potions to save your life—”

“He fed me potions he brewed, and I am not poisoned?”

Albus fixed him with a sharp look. “I believe Miss Lovegood brewed the potions as I am sure Harry anticipated such a reaction. However, he is more skilled than you give him credit for. I am almost certain he has been brewing potions to help with aftercare for his visions all term. Which includes Anti-Cruciatus draught, Severus, and you know that is high NEWT level.”

“So, in other words, Miss Granger has been brewing for him.”

“No. Harry has distanced himself from his friends, and you are well aware of this.” Albus sighed. “Severus, will you never see the truth of him?”

“I am the only one who does,” Severus grumbled.

“I had hoped yesterday morning would have proved you quite wrong on that point.”

Severus flinched. He had certainly been wrong about many things, but this? He… simply couldn’t wrap his head around it. Or anything else for that matter. Gods, had he fallen into an alternate dimension somehow?

“Just… let me rest, Albus. Please. I am in quite a lot of pain.” It wasn’t even a lie. He felt as though he had been hit by a lorry.

“Very well.” Albus stood. “Your opinions are your own, Severus, but I will not have you hurting the boy. Not for this. We would have certainly lost you without his assistance.”

“And Lovegood. I am inclined to attribute the bulk of my survival to her, much as it baffles me.”

Albus stroked his beard, eyes thoughtful. “I suppose it is possible; however, I do not believe that is the case. When I arrived, Miss Lovegood was Vanishing your blood, cleaning up a stack of empty phials, and tucking several full potions back into her bag. Harry was holding you across his lap, washing the blood from your face, and….”

Albus kept talking, but Severus heard little beyond….

“He had me in his lap?”

Albus snorted. “No, not quite. Harry had you lying astride his legs and his arm supporting your shoulders. I believe they had placed you in such a position so as to administer potions without suffocating you, as you were still quite unconscious. Did you hear the rest of what I said beyond that?”

“Nothing beyond he was washing my… my face? Are you sure he… I simply cannot imagine it.”

Albus tapped his temple. “See for yourself.”

Severus gulped and forced himself to meet Albus’ eyes. The old man lowered his barriers enough to show Severus a scene out of… if not nightmares, certainly the strangest dream he ever saw.

 

Albus approached the gates at a run, as fast as his creaking knees would carry him—a considerable speed for a hundred and fifteen year old man, but far too slow to save Severus’ life. Merlin help him, he should have listened to Harry. The boy had been right about his failures—again—but gods, how was Albus to know an attack of Dragon Pox would hit the Infirmary ten minutes before Severus needed Poppy?

There was no help for it. Albus just had to hope Harry had taken the bait earlier and somehow managed to find the skill to bring Severus back from the brink of death.

It wouldn’t be the first time the boy had pulled off a miracle.

Albus gasped at the sight of emerald green light glowing around three silhouettes, one prone. Merlin—Harry was healing Severus. Along with a friend. Mister Longbottom, perhaps? The light flickered on and off—was their magic failing or were they using several spells in quick succession?

He shook himself and put on another burst of speed, using magic to aid him. He would not arrive in time to find out unless he hurried.

And yet, a few yards before the gates, he skidded to a halt, speechless and rooted to the spot.

Miss Lovegood was in the middle of Vanishing a massive pool of blood and Banishing potion phials into a brightly coloured purse, but the boy… Merlin! It appeared even Albus could still be shocked.

Harry held Severus across his lap, cradling the man’s head against his shoulder. He dabbed at the unconscious man’s face with unbelievable gentleness, considering how cruel Severus had been just that morning. Soft murmurs fell from his lips along with bursts of healing light.

Albus stared, awe and hope flooding his chest. Not even Poppy had been able to heal like this at Harry’s age. Maybe Severus would pull through after all. He came a few steps closer, straining to make out Harry’s incantations.

EpiskeySarcio VulneraConsano Corporis….” The boy paused and rested his cheek against Severus’ mouth, his expression focused. “Damn. Still not strong enough.” He moved his face back again. “Auxilium Spiritus….”

Albus’ heart stilled. Dear gods. Severus couldn’t breathe!

He shook off his shock and dashed towards the gates again, just as Harry had started another round of healing spells, almost in the form of a chant. The light from his hands and wand glowed bright green, bright enough to eclipse the light from Miss Lovegood’s wand.

Harry looked up just as Albus arrived and glared. “That was some plan of protection you had in place, sir.”

“I….” Albus panted and rubbed his forehead, bemused and gobsmacked at the evening’s strange events. “You are right. It did not go as I had planned. Is he well?”

“I hardly call nearly bleeding to death before we could save him well, but I think he’ll survive now.”

 

Severus pulled back shaking. The way Potter had held him, had touched his face to heal him, gods. He hadn’t felt such touch in twenty years—and never without an ulterior motive. He might have thought Potter had one too, had Severus been conscious. There could be no manipulation or abuse if Severus hadn’t even been aware of his touch. And Potter hadn’t taken advantage either. He had simply cared for Severus’ wounds, held him and washed his face as if… as if he cared and wanted to ease Severus’ pain.

No one had ever shown him such gentleness. Of course Poppy had cleaned his wounds and Albus had sometimes treated injuries or comforted him after particularly bad Death Eater meetings, but this… no. Severus had no experience of it. Poppy used her wand to clean him after being injured. Albus was a bit more tactile in that he would pat Severus’ shoulder or rub his back.

Not since his early youth had anyone washed Severus’ face by hand. Nor had anyone held him or cradled his head against their shoulder. Neither had anyone ever touched Severus so softly, so gently, as if they cared about more than just his physical well-being. Besides his mother, the only person who had ever touched him beyond a purely physical release or the barest affection had used touch as a weapon against him, and he had certainly never been so tender.

It clawed at Severus, tore at his heart that the first person to have shown him such gentle, unadulterated care was none other than the same boy he had abused terribly not twelve hours before.

Shite. He couldn’t process this. It called everything he had ever known into question.

“Albus, I… I need a drink.” His voice came out rough and shaky. He hoped Albus would blame the quality of it on his injuries and not his emotional state.

Albus laughed. “No, you most certainly do not, not in this condition. You need rest.”

He draped a blanket over Severus’ shoulders, and the kind gesture reiterated the younger man’s raw, desperate ache for someone, anyone to care about him. Someone he could trust.

Well, perhaps Albus cared in his way, but Severus could not reveal his broken heart to him, even if the old man was the closest thing he had to a father. Albus was a general first and foremost. He would use Severus’ weaknesses against him in a heartbeat, if the greater good required it. Severus couldn’t begin to trust such a manipulative man with the softer parts of him—never again—but Merlin, how he wished one trustworthy person would show him unconditional love. Just once.

His mental voice interjected, “One did, just last night. Have you already forgotten?”

Severus growled and huddled into the covers. No… not Potter. There had to be a catch.

“Or you have simply been wrong about him this entire time.”

No. He couldn’t believe that. It was Potter, the son of the man who had so ruthlessly tortured him and the godson of his partner-in-crime. The laws of genetics alone insisted that Potter couldn’t be so different from his family.

“But he also has Lily’s genes. And he is no more blood relation to the Mutt than you. Less, probably.”

Severus bit back a whimper and buried his face into the pillow. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t.

Even if Potter was better than Severus had given him credit for, even if he wasn’t the spoiled brat Severus had always made him out to be, Severus had been brutal to the boy. Who could possibly have such capability for forgiveness within them? Daphne had always been one of his favourites, and even she had turned away from him in disgust. Of course, Daphne did not and could not know of his double life, but even if she had known Severus was in trouble, he doubted the girl would have rushed to his aid had he spent years making her out to be subhuman and using her pain for his amusement.

How was it possible that he owed his life to the one person he had hurt more than any other? He would have liked to insist that Lovegood had brought him back from the brink for the sake of his sanity, but no. after seeing that image in Albus’ mind, Severus could not deny that Potter had saved him. Perhaps she had assisted, in her way, but those rapid-fire healing spells Albus had seen took more raw power than Lovegood possessed.

So did the counterchant for Sectumsempra, come to think of it. Where in Merlin’s name had Potter learned it?

And how could the boy have found it within him to care, to have enough forgiveness and concern for his abuser to have touched him with more gentleness and love than Severus had ever known? How could he have dredged up enough love for his abuser to heal Severus at all?

Gods help him, what did all of this mean?

Albus’ voice broke into Severus’ troubled thoughts. “Are you hungry, Severus?”

“N-no,” Severus breathed. “No, I cannot eat at the moment.” His churning stomach would reject anything he dared put in it.

Albus nodded. “I thought you might not be up to it. It is rather shocking to have one’s world turned upside-down overnight.”

Severus shot him a dark glare.

Albus chuckled. “No need to shoot the messenger, as it were.” He stood and brushed off his robes. “Well, if you are not hungry, at least try to rest. I must leave for the Great Hall now, but I will return after breakfast. If you require aid before then, please call for Dobby and he will retrieve whatever you need.”

He left the room, leaving the door partially open, and Severus whispered a thank you into his purple chintz pillow. Wait. Purple chintz? So he was in Albus’ quarters then. Curiosity got the better of him, but he soon wished he hadn’t looked. Neon pink, orange, and green paisley wallpaper? Merlin. It was as if a radioactive fairy had vomited all over the walls. And the furniture wasn’t much better.

“He is trying to murder me by bad taste alone,” Severus muttered and tugged the covers over his head.

The shelter of his blankets blocked out the horrendous décor, but it did nothing to stop Severus’ crushing shame or the terrible, creeping feeling that he had been wrong all this time.

With a whimper he couldn’t prevent, Severus Occluded everything from his mind and let sleep bring him some semblance of peace, at least as long as it lasted.

 


 

Harry woke the next morning with a heavy pit of grief shadowing his spirit and a nagging shard of fear twanging at his spine. As he prepared himself for the day, he sorted through his wild emotions, struggling to think of what had inspired that creeping, sick feeling of dread. He cast a laundering charm on his clothing, and as he remembered where he had learned it, he realised what had frightened him so. He was worried about Snape, despite his bafflement that he should care at all.

Dumbledore hadn’t sent word that Snape had survived the night. Harry supposed he could reasonably expect to learn the truth at breakfast as the old man planned to announce Snape’s suspension then—if Snape had died in his sleep, he would be announcing a funeral instead—but Harry wasn’t hungry. Grief and dread had turned his guts into a churning mess. He had no desire to deal with his classmates anyway, not when their betrayal still cut too deep and the nagging feeling that he had missed something with Snape would not leave him be.

Harry sat up and stared out the window. Dawn had come and gone. His classmates would have already dressed and showered and been on their way to the Great Hall—without Harry. The pain in his chest doubled, but he ignored it. The cold pit of fear in his gut was stronger.

He pondered over the situation as he washed up and brushed his teeth. Snape was safe in Dumbledore’s care, and yet, Harry knew something was wrong. But what? They had sealed his serious wounds last night. Could he have developed an infection that Dumbledore had missed? Luna hadn’t had time to worry about cleanliness when she pressed the wound on Snape’s chest closed. Maybe it was possible.

Either way, Harry couldn’t rest until he knew what was going on.

With a sigh, he decided there was nothing else for it but to go to Dumbledore’s office and see Snape for himself. The man would probably excoriate him for it, but if Snape did have the strength to cut Harry with the sharp side of his tongue, at least Harry would know he had a fighting chance. Harry doubted he could concentrate on his classes with this strange prickling sensation down his spine anyway.

He ran over all the healing spells he knew as he tugged on his clothing from the night before, both those he had learned last night and others picked up over a thousand run-ins with the Infirmary. Confident he would at least be able to stabilise the man until he could get help, he went to tug on his cloak and frowned when it wasn’t there. Oh. Right—he had placed it under Snape’s back while they were healing him last night. The man must still have it then.

Seemed Harry had a reason to head to the headmaster’s office beyond instinct after all. It was too bloody cold on the grounds to go outside without a cloak and Hagrid wouldn’t mind if he was a bit late.

With a shrug, Harry buttoned his robe and tucked his wand in his pocket. “Dobby.”

The house elf appeared dressed in several pairs of Bermuda shorts, a purple and blue scarf, and a red jumper with tiny Christmas trees on the front. He had a Santa hat over one ear and a candy cane hanging off the other like an earring. The little creature fretted as if he was nervous, but hugged Harry in greeting as usual.

“Hello, Great Master Harry Potter sir. How’s can Dobby be helping you?”

“Um, I couldn’t sleep in the dorm last night and I don’t have time to go back. Would you mind to grab my books for transfiguration and charms, my knapsack, and my supplies, please?”

Dobby’s ears perked up. “Yes, Dobby will get it. I’s not have much more time than that though, Great Master Harry Potter, sir.”

“That’s fine, Dobby. I’m running short of it myself.”

“Oh! Then I’s will be right back.” The little elf vanished and reappeared with Harry’s belongings, already packed into his knapsack. “Here you are, Great Master Harry Potter, sir.”

Harry took his bag with a smile. “Brilliant! Thanks, Dobby.”

The elf wailed and gushed, but popped away much faster than Harry could usually calm him.

“Merlin, he really is in a hurry.” Harry frowned and slung his bag over his shoulder. “And so should I be, if I plan to make it to charms in time. Into the lions’ den we go.”

Steeling himself against the lion’s—or rather, the snake’s—sharp teeth, he threw on his invisibility cloak and made his way towards the headmaster’s office, though he took his hood off to identify himself to the gargoyle. Dumbledore had changed the password, but it didn’t take long to guess.

“Drooble’s best.”

The gargoyle gave Harry a worried look as it leapt aside and jerked its head towards the staircase.

Harry swallowed hard, nerves on edge. “Is something… wrong?”

But the gargoyle couldn’t speak. Heart hammering in his chest, Harry started up the staircase, but froze as soon as his eyes landed on the headmaster’s door.

It was open.

The headmaster would never leave an injured, vulnerable Snape behind an open door.

‘Shite. Something isn’t right about this. Silencio Motus!’  

The nonverbal spell—one of only a few Harry had mastered—silenced his movements and footsteps. Between his cloak and his spell, if there was anyone in the office who shouldn’t be, they would never know Harry was there. He tugged his hood back down, hid his wand under his sleeve, and hurried up the stairs.

All was quiet in the office. Fawkes had gone from his perch—why? Surely Dumbledore would have left the phoenix to guard Snape?

A tiny chirping from the bottom of the perch answered his question. The phoenix had gone through a burning day, but that made no sense. Yesterday, he had been in his prime, all red and gold plumage and tinkling trills. He should have been fine.

Unless someone had killed him—or tried to. Nothing could kill a phoenix permanently, but a well-placed curse might certainly render an otherwise capable bird helpless.

The hair on the back of Harry’s neck stood on end. Someone was here, someone out to get either Dumbledore or Snape. And as everyone knew the headmaster would be at breakfast at this hour, Harry had a fair idea which one they wanted.

‘Fuck. Dumbledore’s protection fails again. Should have known.’

Harry crept into the office and quietly closed the door behind him, searching for any sign of movement, straining his ears for the slightest sound. A door over the main office was open and, seeing nothing in the office area, Harry raced up the back stairs and slipped through it.

He found himself in an explosion of purple, yellow, and chintz that could only be Dumbledore’s quarters. A pink polka dot sofa and two lime-green chairs sat by the fireplace. Just ahead of them, a mahogany coffee table held a stack of transfiguration journals and a charms magazine. Bookcases of books and more of Dumbledore’s gadgets lined the walls, all except for three doors and a handful of scattered paintings consisting of a couple modern art pieces, a portrait of a young woman Harry didn’t know, and another of a young couple he guessed must have been Dumbledore’s parents. Two doors in the back beside a small kitchenette were closed, but faint snores resonated from behind the third door, hanging ajar near the painting of the young woman.

Thank Merlin, Snape was still alive. But where was his would-be attacker? Gods help him, were they already in the room? By the way all the portraits stared at a spot near the open door, eyes wide with horror, Harry judged whoever had come to hurt Snape was far too close to succeeding. He followed their gaze, but saw nothing until—

A tiny squeak at floor level caught his attention, and Harry jerked his eyes downward, wand trained on the place it had come from. There! A fat rat with a suspicious silver paw was creeping along the wall, heading for Snape’s door. Pettigrew!

Rage and terror surged to life in Harry’s blood. ‘Oh no you don’t. Not this time!’

Stupefy!”

The snores halted with a jerk, and a vicious little rat went down in a cloud of red light. Triumph and vindication rang throughout Harry’s body and flooded him with a grim sort of joy. His parents and Sirius would be avenged soon, at least in part.

The portrait girl applauded him, but didn’t speak.

With a whoop, Harry ran to the rat and made sure the bastard was really down. “And stay out, you bloody menace! Incarcerous!” Ropes bound the foul beast, but they wouldn’t hold him for long. “Fuck. What now?”

“P-Potter?” Snape’s voice had never sounded so frightened.

“It’s all right, sir.” Harry poked his head out of his cloak and around Snape’s door, scowling at the awful décor. “Merlin, what a colour scheme.”

Snape glared and pointed his wand at Harry. “I am not as helpless as I look, Potter, so do put aside any misplaced ideas of revenge.”

“Sir, please.” Harry sighed. He should have known Snape wouldn’t trust him. “I’m not after you. I actually just came by to make sure you were all right. The headmaster didn’t tell me if you survived the night and I was… I had a bad feeling.” He glowered. “And I was right to.”

Snape moved as if he wanted to sit, but Harry shook his head and motioned him to stay. “Please, don’t get up, sir. You’re still recovering. I just… would you happen to have an idea on how to contain a stunned Animagus until the headmaster returns?”

All the colour blanched from Severus’ face. “Pettigrew.”

“Yeah. I just caught him, sir. That was what you heard. I wasn’t attacking you.”

Snape stared at him, eyes sharp with disbelief.

With a sad shake of his head, Harry turned and went back into the main room. “I’ll just have to find something myself then.” He muttered to himself as he searched the quarters and kept one eye on the rat. “Maybe a cage? No, that wouldn’t work. The bastard would just slip through the bars. Hmm. I need something solid, something he can’t chew through or transform to break out of.”

The portrait girl mimed a box.

“Oh, right. A box would do.” Harry gave her a curious look. “Can’t you talk?”

She shrugged and looked away, and Harry gathered she had no interest in talking. Or couldn’t.

“Oh. I’m sorry. Um, thanks for the help.”

She smiled hesitantly and moved her arm like she was flicking a wand.

It took Harry a second to understand. “Oh. I guess I could try to conjure a box, only I’m not that good. And a metal box… damn. I don’t think I can transfigure that.”

A steel box with holes in the top levitated from Snape’s room and landed in front of the door.

“Oh! That’s good. Thanks, sir.”

Harry grabbed the rat by the tail and dropped the bastard into the box. “Sero!” The lid clicked and locked. “That’ll keep you.” He returned to Snape’s door. “Are you all right, sir?”

Snape dragged the covers up to his chest and snapped, “I will be better when you and that detestable rodent are out of my presence! I don’t know what game you’re playing by trying to place me in your debt, Potter, but I assure you, this only makes us even!”

“Debts.” Harry gave a bitter, dry laugh. “I should have known you would see it that way, sir. Don’t know why I… never mind.” With a sorrowful sigh, he turned and slipped out of the room. “You’re welcome,” he whispered, not that he had expected any thanks. He’d only saved the man’s life twice in twelve hours, but what did that matter when Snape was determined to see the worst in him? He should know by now not to get his hopes up.

A-Accio box.” He caught Pettigrew’s prison and carried it under one arm, despair and hurt sharp in his chest. He began to wonder if he would ever stop bleeding inside.

He paused at the door to Dumbledore’s quarters and called, “Professor, I’m locking this door behind me so no one else can get in.” At least for the moment. Once Dumbledore returned, Harry was going to have a little chat with him about his idea of security measures.

He had expected another tongue-lashing, but Snape said nothing. Perhaps the silent treatment was an improvement. Or perhaps he was just being silent for fear of giving himself away to their uninvited guest. Either way, it was probably best for Harry to just lock the door and leave him be. The portrait girl waved on his way out. Harry gave her a weak smile and closed the door.

Back downstairs, Harry set the box on the desk and knelt before Fawkes’ perch, helping the infant phoenix out of a pile of ash and burned feathers.

“Poor little guy. Never saw it coming, did you?”

The baby phoenix gave a tiny twitter and curled up in Harry’s hand. He held the bird to his chest to keep him warm and sat in the seat before Dumbledore’s desk, wand trained on the box. A terrified squeak emerged from the holes a moment later, and Harry smirked.

“Don’t get too comfortable, traitor. You’ll be getting a bigger box very soon.”

Harry sat back and watched the rat squirm.

 


 

After the boy had gone, Severus stared at his bedroom door in utter disbelief. Again. Not twelve hours had passed, and Potter had just saved his life again.

What was he playing at? Potter had said he was worried about him, but Merlin, why would he be? Severus had been terrible to him, and Potter had done his part, hadn’t he?

And yet… here Severus was, alive and whole, only because Harry Potter had the grace to check on his well-being and the intelligence to seek out and eliminate a threat to his life. Unless… what if the boy had sold him out? No. Surely he wouldn’t—not after going to so much trouble to save him. It boggled the mind.

Even so, Severus simply comprehend this level of forgiveness.

He contemplated the situation for a long time, trying to fit pieces together that didn’t mesh, until, at last, he recalled the elf. Perhaps Dobby could give him some insight into Potter’s true motives.

“Dobby!”

An elf wearing the strangest array of clothing Severus had ever seen appeared. Festive clothing. Severus contained the urge to scowl.

“How can Dobby be’s helping Master Snapey?”

“I would like you to… to find Harry Potter. Do not interact with him or show yourself—stay hidden. I would only like you to observe him and report to me what he is doing.”

Dobby narrowed his eyes. “Is you being hurting Great Master Harry Potter, sir?”

Severus choked back a snarl. Another Potter sycophant. Lovely.

“No. I only wish to know what he is doing.”

Dobby gave him a bemused look. “I’s be checking on him, but you is not to hurt him, you hear? He saved Dobby’s life.”

Severus snorted. “Join the club, elf. He has saved mine twice in twelve hours, and I would like to know why.”

The elf cocked his head, making his candy cane earring dangle. “You is a strange human, Master Snapey. He is saving you because he is good. Just like he is saving me.”

Severus rubbed his forehead, already irritated beyond measure. “Will you just check, please?”

The elf’s eyes widened. “Please? Oh, I is just an elf, sir. You is not needing to….” He smiled and shook tears down his face. “You is a good human too.” With that, he popped away, leaving a thoroughly shocked Severus behind.

“What in Merlin’s name just happened here?”

With a shake of his head, Severus settled back against the pillows and stared at the ceiling—painted purple and covered in Muggle glow-in-the-dark stars—to avoid looking at the walls. The elf’s words twisted something in his chest.

“You is a good human….”

But how good was he when he couldn’t believe a child capable of saving a man’s life out of pure kindness?

The elf apparated in and startled Severus.

“Great Master Harry Potter sir is being sitting in Master Dumbles’ office.”

Severus frowned. “Yes? And?”

“And he is having a metal box on the desk. He is pointing his wand at it and holding a baby bird against his chest.” Dobby frowned. “I’s didn’t think Fawkes was ready to burn.”

Severus shuddered. Pettigrew must have ‘killed’ the bird to take out his guard. “No. He was not. Will you please retrieve Professor Dumbledore? There is a Death Eater in that metal box, so I am obviously not as safe here as we thought.”

The elf squeaked and leapt back, flopping his Santa hat into his eyes. “Dobby will be getting him right away!”

With that, the elf vanished, leaving Severus alone with his troubled thoughts.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

Shattered Perceptions

Albus placed a bite of sausage in his mouth and fixed his gaze on the Gryffindor table, a pit of worry building in his gut. Harry had yet to show for breakfast, and the sixth year Gryffindors all had their heads together, whispering about something or another. By the sharp tone of Hermione Granger’s hisses and Neville Longbottom’s irritated glares, he had a fair idea what—or whom—they were discussing.

He sighed and sipped his juice. Merlin, poor Harry. The boy couldn’t go one day without some catastrophe falling onto his head.

Well, perhaps with Severus’ grudge nipped in the bud, things would start to improve for him soon. Albus certainly hoped so anyway.

“Albus,” Minerva murmured, “where is Severus this morning? And yesterday?”

He shook his head. “I will let the school know all at once shortly.”

Minerva paled. “Dear gods. What has happened?”

“Much, to be sure.” He poked at his remaining sausage, but much as he might want to indulge in another, he hadn’t the time. “And perhaps now is a good time to announce it.” He pushed his plate back, but before he could stand, a sharp pop beside his chair startled him.

“Master Dumbles, sir! You must come!”

Albus turned to find a panicking Dobby standing at his side, hand outstretched. “Dobby? Is something the matter with Severus?”

Minerva and Filius fixed their eyes on him.

“Yes, Master Dumbles. Great Master Harry Potter is catching a Death Eater in your office, sir!”

What?”

At Minerva’s startled cry, the students turned to stare at the head table as one. Albus patted Minerva’s shoulder. “I need you to take over for me while I sort this out. Will you let them know Potions classes are cancelled until further notice?”

Minerva glared. “Albus Dumbledore, I expect an explanation!”

Filius cleared his throat. “Perhaps it could wait until after the Death Eater has been dealt with, Minerva?”

She blushed. “Merlin. O-of course. I’ll handle it, Albus.”

“Thank you.” Albus motioned to Dobby. “Let me lead us away from the students first, Dobby.” He hurried out of the Great Hall with the elf in tow, leaving a stunned student body and several shocked professors behind.




Fawkes shivered against Harry’s chest. He petted the little bird and cupped his hand closer, but it didn’t seem to be enough. Perhaps his body just wasn’t warm enough for a firebird.

A quick scan of the office revealed a plush red cushion near Fawkes’ perch. Maybe Dumbledore used it for burning days. At any rate, he could cast a warming charm on it to keep Fawkes alive long enough for Dumbledore to come and help.

Accio pillow. Calefacius Modera.” He settled the hot pillow on the desk, well away from the box, and set the little phoenix in the middle. “There now. Is that warm enough?”

Fawkes gave a little sigh and curled up to sleep. Harry could just stand the air around him enough to pet the bird, and he stroked his little head to comfort him and keep an eye on his body temperature. After a moment, Fawkes stopped shivering and fell asleep. Harry cast a silencing field around him so the rat’s squeaking didn’t wake the exhausted little bird.

“Poor little guy. Sure has had a rough morning.” Harry slammed a fist against the box, earning a stream of high-pitched shrieks and squeals. “Your fault, you fucking piece of shite.”

Phineas emerged from a shadow of his painting and smirked. “My, what a mouth we have.” The man gave the mistletoe and fairy lights dangling above his portrait an ominous glare and settled into his chair. “Do you usually speak so crudely?”

Harry looked up, blushing. “Er, no. S-sorry about that, sir. You see, this… er… nasty little berk betrayed and killed my parents and also killed Fawkes this morning, and he was rooting around in Headmaster Dumbledore’s quarters earlier. Merlin only knows what he thought he was after.” There. If Pettigrew somehow got a report back to Voldemort, he would think Harry had caught him by chance and hadn’t known Snape was there. He hoped anyway.

The man in the portrait winced and mouthed, “Severus?”

Harry gave him a grim nod. “He’s okay.”

The man relaxed and bowed his head in acknowledgement. “Are you al—”

Another portrait, a woman in a wimple cut Phineas off and gave Harry a simpering smile. “Oh, I know you. You’re Harry Potter!”

Harry groaned. “Oh joy. You’ve heard of me.”

“Oh, yes. We’ve all heard how brave and handsome and, well, do you think you could—just here—” She tittered and pointed to a corner of her canvas.

Harry glowered. “You’re not serious.”

But apparently she was. “Oh, just there. Come on. There’s even a quill on the de—”

“I’m not signing an autograph for a bloody portrait! You’ve already got one!”

The woman sniffed and stuck her nose up in the air. “Well, I never.” She huffed and stalked out of her portrait, not that Harry was sorry to see her go.

Phineas snorted. “My, my. Do you greet all your fans in such a manner?”

Harry scowled. “You try being famous for a week and see how much you like it. It gets old. Fast.” He poked the box with his wand. “Especially when I didn’t do anything to deserve it.”

“The Boy-Who-Lived did nothing to deserve his fame?”

Harry glared and poked harder, earning a shower of sparks and a petrified squeak. “Mum made sure the Noseless Wonder died the first time. All I’ve done is run around blind and try to avoid the bastard, and I still somehow manage to get caught every single year like clockwork. It’s everyone else making it out like I’m something special. I’m just trying not to die.”

“You are going to transfigure that box by accident if you are not careful,” Phineas said with a devious smirk.

Judging by the panicked squeal from inside the box, it had been intentional.

“Nice one, er—” Harry investigated the nameplate under the portrait. He couldn’t call a former headmaster by his first name without permission. “—Headmaster Black. Wait, Black? You’re—”

“Family, yes I know.” Black sounded just as thrilled with the concept as Harry had about his fame. “When you are pureblooded, you are related to everyone.”

Harry laughed wryly, but kept his thoughts to himself about how one found a wife when all the purebloods were related. Somehow, he doubted the portrait would appreciate it. And, for all he knew, the man might have been gay. Or single. He remembered Sirius pointing him out on the Black family tapestry—with extreme disdain—but couldn’t remember anything else beyond the fact that he had had a brother who had died young with Sirius’ name.

“I would like to ask you a question, Harry,” said Phineas, jolting him out of his musing. “Why did you come here this morning?”

Harry frowned at the box. “I can’t say anything in front of him.”

“The spell is Obice Silentium. Imagine a barrier to prevent all sound around your head and my canvas, stretching between us and blocking everything beyond it out, and flick your wand like this when you cast.” Headmaster Black moved his wand in a sharp sideways motion.

Harry gave the man a wan smile and neglected to inform him about his long-time affinity for silencing spells. He said the incantation aloud to prevent suspicion too.

Obice Silentium!”

Cyan light enveloped his head and the portrait. It faded the next instant, but the magic still tingled where the barrier touched his skin, so Harry knew it had worked.

“Test it,” Phineas said.

Harry didn’t need to, but nonetheless, he snapped, “Oi, Pettigrew! I found this really handy spell to melt metal the other day. Reckon I should give it a go?” The level of terrified squeaking remained constant, but just in case the rat was acting, he aimed his wand through one of the air holes and stunned the bastard again.

“That works too,” said an amused Headmaster Black.

Faint shimmers disrupted the silencing barrier on his left.

Harry frowned at the area he had felt a disturbance. “Um, is that normal?”

Black’s eyes flicked to the door above the stairs. “Hmm. I think it is fine.”

Harry looked to the staircase too and understood. Snape was eavesdropping, the sneaky bastard. With a shake of his head, he turned to Black and sighed. “Well, you wanted to know why I came this morning, right?”

“Indeed. I should think you would be glad to be shot of Severus, considering how he has treated you.”

“I… it’s… not quite that simple.” He closed his eyes and turned his face away just in case Black was a Legilimens—and mind magic worked with portraits. He couldn’t talk about the young Severus here. Snape would kill him.

“It had nothing to do with… our history.” He hugged his waist and stared at the floor. “I mean, it’s true Snape thinks I’m a carbon copy of my father—”

“A what copy?”

“Er… Muggle thing. It means an exact duplicate.”

Black made a face of distaste. “Oh. Well, do go on then.”

Harry raised an eyebrow at the portrait but decided not to comment. The man was a Black, after all. A certain level of disdain for Muggles was par for the course.

“Right, well, like I said, Professor Snape thinks I’m just like my father and he hates me for that. He’ll probably think I saved him just so I can lord it over him later—or he might even have some other terrible idea in mind about me, like I did it to make him my slave or some other ridiculous nonsense. He really believes I’m that a-awful.”

He jerked his hand across his stinging eyelids. He wouldn’t cry. Not again.

With a deep breath, he continued in a soft, shaky voice. “So he’ll probably h-hate me even more for saving him, but it doesn’t matter. No matter how he feels about me, he’s still a human being and he doesn’t deserve to die.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “Besides, I couldn’t let one more person die because of me anyway. This whole damn war is already my fault.”

Black frowned. “Hmm. Well, how did you save him? The curse Riddle used is, ah… highly specialised and—”

A loud pop sounded through the office, announcing the arrival of Dumbledore and Dobby, and spared Harry from answering. For the moment, at least.

“Thank you, Dobby,” the headmaster said, and after his customary wailing and tears, Dobby apparated away.

Dumbledore rushed to Harry’s side. “Harry, are you quite all right?”

Finite Incantatem,” Harry muttered, cancelling the silencing charm. “Yes, sir, but I’ve found an uninvited guest poking about. Some track record you’re building here, hmm?”

Dumbledore sighed and settled behind his desk. “We shall discuss it once unfriendly ears are out of the room.” He frowned at the pillow and his sleeping phoenix. “So that is how he got past Fawkes. My dear little friend, I am sorry.” He placed another warming charm on the pillow and levitated it to a quiet space near the hearth. A moment later, a blazing fire made the little bird twitter happily and snuggle closer into his pillow.

“I already had a warming charm on that,” said Harry with a wry look.

“Yes, I sensed it, but phoenixes need quite a bit of heat to survive when they are first hatched. Enough that the pillow requires a flame-repelling charm.” Dumbledore poked the metal box with a frown. “Where did you get this?”

“Upstairs.” Harry hoped Dumbledore would understand the insinuation without needing further detail.

Dumbledore rubbed his beard and cast a new silencing charm, this time including Harry, the portrait, and himself within the barrier. Snape broke into the charm again not two seconds after Dumbledore set it, but the old man didn’t even blink. He had probably known the prat was listening in from the moment he arrived.

“Harry, will Pettigrew need to be Obliviated?”

“I don’t think so. I stunned him before I said a word to Professor Snape and he didn’t wake up again until I had him in the box and was back in your office.”

“And you did not discuss anything sensitive with Headmaster Black while I was away?”

Harry shook his head. “Not where the rat could hear anyway. I used a silencing field, sir.”

“Ah, good. In that case, I believe I will call Kingsley and hand our guest over to the aurors straight away. You should go on to class.”

“No.”

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. “No?”

“No, sir. I’m not going anywhere until something is done to keep your other guest from being murdered while I’m in class.”

“Harry, I do understand your concern, but it is not your place t—”

Harry slammed his hands on the desk. “It is when you’ve almost gotten him killed twice in twelve hours and I’ve been the one to clean up your mess!”

Dumbledore flinched—a small thing, but enough to show Harry he had struck a nerve. “Perhaps you have a point, but I must in—”

“I agree with the boy, Albus,” said Headmaster Black. “He has earned the right to this discussion. And you have proved your idea of ‘safety measures’ is not very safe at all.”

Dumbledore frowned. “I… oh very well.”

Black smirked.

Harry grinned at him. “You were a Slytherin, weren’t you, sir?”

Black chuckled. “Indeed, but whatever gave you that idea?”

“Well, first, because you’re a Black. Besides Sirius, you’re all Slytherins. And second, only Slytherins enjoy getting one over on Headmaster Dumbledore that much.”

‘Slytherins and boy weapons,’ Harry added to himself.

Phineas snorted. “Touché.”

Dumbledore looked between them with a wry chuckle. “Seems the two of you have been conspiring in my absence.” He sighed. “Harry, Severus will not be happy about this, you do know that?”

Harry scowled. “When is he happy when I’m involved? Unless it’s torture or something.”

“Harry, that is… well, perhaps that is neither entirely untrue nor undeserved, but it is disrespectful nonetheless.”

Harry bowed his head. “I… yes, you’re right. Sorry, sir.”

“Thank you. Now, what do you propose, Harry?”

“Deal with the rat first, sir, in case he can hear something in spite of the barriers. I’ve heard my roommates arguing over them before.”

Dumbledore nodded. “Very well. Then sit tight and we shall discuss Severus’ situation in a moment.”

Harry nodded and settled himself in to wait.




As it happened, it turned out to be a good thing Harry had refused to return to classes. Once Kingsley knew Harry had apprehended the rat, he had wanted to question Harry on how he had come to find him and what he had been doing in the headmaster’s office in the first place.

“Well, you see,” Harry said with a thin smile, “I came up here after my cloak. I left it in the office last night and I wanted to grab it before classes started. I was hoping I could catch Professor Dumbledore before he went to breakfast, but when I arrived, the door was ajar and the gargoyle looked upset. It put me on guard. Then I found Pettigrew poking around and the rest is history.”

Headmaster Black gave Harry a piercing look. Harry ignored it.

“Well, that’s all I need then,” said Kingsley with a nod. “Good work, Harry. We’ll be glad to have you on the squad one day.”

Harry struggled not to flinch. “Oh. Y-yeah. That’s… good.”

Kingsley patted his shoulder. “Buck up. NEWTs are tough for everyone. I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

Harry forced himself to smile. “T-thanks.”

Kingsley nodded and went through the floo, metal box and evil rat firmly in hand.

Dumbledore fixed Harry with a searching look. “Would you like to explain to me why you believed it necessary to lie to Kingsley, Harry?”

“Well, I was protecting Professor Snape, sir, but I didn’t actually lie. Everything I said was the truth. Or part of it, anyway.”

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. “Indeed?”

Harry grinned. “Professor Snape, if you wouldn’t mind, could you please open that door a tad?”

Dumbledore and Black both choked back a laugh.

Dumbledore’s moustache twitched. “How long have you known he was listening?”

“Um, about half an hour or so, but I reckon he was probably listening before then too.”

“Most likely.” Dumbledore turned to call up the stairs. “You may as well come down and join us, Severus, if you are feeling well enough to participate in the conversations you eavesdrop upon.”

Snape opened the door and grumbled, “Bloody impertinent Gryffindors.”

Harry smirked and raised his wand. “Speaking of, sir, Accio Harry Potter’s school cloak.”

A bolt of black fabric came zooming over Snape’s head and settled in Harry’s lap, much to Snape’s annoyance. “Potter! What is the point of saving my life twice if you attempt to kill me not an hour later?”

“It’s just a cloak, sir.” He held it up to show the others it was harmless. “Like I said, headmaster, I didn’t lie to Kingsley. I had put this under Professor Snape last night to keep the wounds on his back clean while we treated him, and somehow it didn’t get returned to me last night.”

Snape shuddered as if coming into such close contact with Harry Potter’s things would make him ill. Harry ignored it, and the rush of shame and anguish Snape’s hatred caused.

Black snorted. “You’re a rather Slytherin sort of Gryffindor, aren’t you, Harry?”

Harry chuckled wryly. “Ask the sorting hat.”

Snape shot the hat, nestled atop a bookshelf, a glare of death. “Do not dare suggest it.”

The hat glared back.

Harry perched on the edge of his chair, biting his lip as he watched Snape’s slow progress down the stairs. Gods, he could barely walk. If Harry didn’t know full well Snape would throw him down the stairs for the mere suggestion, he would have offered to help, but as it was, all he could do was watch and hope Snape reached the bottom of the staircase in one piece.

He let slip a quiet sigh when Snape’s feet landed on the lower level without trouble. He shuffled into the only other seat in Dumbledore’s office—a purple chintz armchair adjacent to Harry’s chair—and settled his arms over his chest with a grimace of pain and a huff.

“Whatever hare-brained suggestion Potter has concocted to ensure my safety,” Snape grumbled, “I won’t be taking it.”

Bitter grief twisted Harry’s heart, and he dropped his head to hide his flush of shame. ‘Why did I even dare hope for anything else? I know better by now.’ He stifled a sigh and stared into his lap. ‘Don’t think of it. Just don’t think at all.’

Shame he hadn’t learned how to Occlude yet.

“Now, now, Severus,” said Dumbledore, his eyes full of warning. “You will at least listen to Harry without being cruel.”

Snape scowled, but said nothing.

Nothing was good. Harry could deal with nothing. Snape’s refusal to accept him after everything Harry had done and was about to do for him hurt, but he could live with the pain. It was nothing new, after all.

And yet, as Snape shifted in his chair, obviously suffering and unable to reach out, a pang of sympathy and loneliness stabbed Harry in the heart. He wanted Snape to accept him, even if he knew better than to hope for it. The image of the boy Snape once was would not leave his mind.

Harry closed his eyes and wished he knew how to move on, how to let go of impossible dreams.




Severus sat and pretended to be as snarly and angry as usual, but inside, he could hardly think for shock. Potter’s words kept ringing in his head over and over.

“He’s still a human being and he didn’t deserve to die.”

Worse, the broken whisper he had uttered afterwards—“I can’t let one more person die because of me...”—had left a hollow in his chest. For sixteen years, some part of Severus had blamed Potter for his mother’s death, but he had never realised the boy blamed himself for it too.

He might have thought Potter was lying, but the boy couldn’t lie to save his hide. The only reason his excuses had flown when he acted to cover Severus’ arse—and Merlin, why on earth had he done that?—was because he hadn’t lied at all. When Shacklebolt had asked about the aurors, Potter’s story crumbled.

But that knowledge called many more of Severus’ core beliefs into question, and damn, he just wasn’t ready to deal with it yet. Because if Potter was honest, then all of the stories Severus had believed to be lies were true. If Potter was honest, then all of the beliefs Severus had held so dear about the boy were lies.

Gods, he couldn’t focus on this right now. His whole body hurt, and Potter was right about one thing: the Dark Lord hadn’t given up on killing Severus yet and staying here was a security risk. Merlin, even he had never imagined Pettigrew could get into the Headmaster’s office.

If Albus’ quarters weren’t safe, what place in Hogwarts was?

Albus Summoned a pot of tea and some biscuits. “Do help yourself, Severus. And, Harry, please try to eat something. Minerva expressed concern that she has not seen you eating since lunchtime yesterday.”

Potter looked away. “I haven’t been hungry, sir.”

Severus stared at the boy, confused. How could a sixteen year old boy go so long and not notice his hunger? Boys were bottomless pits at that age.

Albus wasn’t buying it either. “For an entire day, Harry?”

“Er, well, I mean there was a lot going on, and… I-I just haven’t had much appetite.”

Interesting. The first part was a lie—or an incomplete truth—but the second was true. He truly hadn’t been hungry. Another idiosyncrasy to assign to this mystery of a boy.

“Oh, do cease your melodrama and eat a bloody biscuit, Potter. We will get nowhere until you do.”

Potter gave him a bemused look, but took a biscuit and a cup of tea. Severus watched him eat it as they talked. He started out with slow nibbles, as if he really wasn’t hungry, but it must have given him some appetite back. Before Severus had updated Dumbledore on half of what had happened during his torture, let alone the morning afterwards, Potter had downed four of the biscuits and a cup of tea, and was pouring a second.

“Perhaps you should ask that mad house elf to bring Potter a sandwich before he moves on to eating the saucer, Albus? I have heard porcelain shards do tend to be rough on the digestive system.” Severus said it with enough malice that no one would believe him to be concerned.

But he was. Somewhere deep down, he was. And fuck all, what did that mean for him?

Potter froze and went ashen. His hands trembled on the teacup, his breathing accelerated, and the fine hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.

Gods, Severus had terrified the boy. But how? What had he said? His tone had certainly been cold, but for Merlin’s sake, he had been a hell of a lot crueller to Potter than that in the past. Nothing had garnered this kind of reaction before—well, except the day he had announced their Occlumency lessons, but then Potter had had some excuse for being upset. This was… he had no idea what was happening. Severus gave Albus a bemused look, but Albus looked just as lost.

“I’m fine.” Potter set down his teacup and dragged his knees to his chest.

“Harry?” Albus laid a hand on the desk, reaching out towards the boy. “Is anything the matter?”

“I said, I’m fine!”

But Severus was no fool. The boy was panicking and trying hard to keep them from prodding him.

Severus looked to his mentor, opening his mind for the man to see. [Albus, I do not know what I said to terrify him like this, but it was not intentional.]

Albus nodded almost imperceptibly. [I know, my boy. I am trying to get a read on his emotional state, but he is blocking me.]

[Occluding?]

[I cannot tell. It seems more like a blind. As if he is intentionally bringing forth feelings and thoughts he would prefer me to see than the ones he does not want us to touch.]

Severus gaped. [But that is a high-level mind mage skill.]

[I am aware. Perhaps he is simply burying his worries. Or perhaps he is better at mind magic than your assessment would suggest.]

Severus didn’t miss the implication that his bias had hindered Harry’s progress. [Do you truly imagine I want to stay in lessons with him longer? If the boy could Occlude, by Merlin, I would run to your office to tell you.]

Albus’ lips twitched. [You do make a good point. Hmm. It bears looking into. For now, let us get back to our discussion.]

[Indeed.]

“Harry,” Albus said in a gentle voice, “it is quite all right if you would like to have some breakfast while we talk. It is unhealthy for growing boys to go so long without sustenance.”

The look Potter shot Albus might have killed. Albus blinked and moved back, stunned.

“W-what did I say, Harry?”

“Nothing.” Potter lowered his gaze and stared at the floor. “I’m fine. I’ll go to lunch later. Can we just talk about the matter at hand now? Please?”

“Well, do at least have another biscuit and finish your tea.”

Potter blanched and shook his head. “Can’t eat anything else right now. Please, just move on.”

Albus opened his mouth to protest, but Severus cut him off.

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake, Albus. If the brat wants to starve himself, who are we to judge?”

Potter flinched as if struck and dropped his head onto his knees, but once again, Severus did not understand where he had gone wrong.

“I… what in Merlin’s name is the matter with you, boy?”

Don’t!”

Severus gave Albus another gobsmacked look. [Albus, what the hell is going on?]

[I confess I am at a loss myself.]

Albus prodded, “Don’t what, Harry?”

Potter made a strangled sound of frustration and dropped his knees. He grabbed a biscuit and shoved half of it in his mouth at once. “There. I’m eating now. Can we move on already?”

“I… I suppose.” Albus gave the boy a troubled look. “You’re sure yo—”

Black cleared his throat. “Albus.”

The old man sighed and relented. “Very well. Harry, seeing as you have had quite the eventful past two days, if you would like to eat before lunch, you may simply ask Dobby to fetch you something before you return to classes.”

Potter nodded, relief washing the tension from his frame. “Thank you, sir.”

“Not at all. Now, Severus, you were saying?”

Severus continued his story, watching Potter out of the corner of his eye. The boy laid the other half of his biscuit down and did not touch the teacup, to Severus’ consternation. He hadn’t intended to petrify the boy, but somehow, he had done, and now he couldn’t eat after almost a full day without a meal.

Obviously, the boy was just being melodramatic—there was no need to stop eating just because Severus’ offhand remarks had startled him—but why had they bothered Potter at all? The boy had endured far worse without a flinch.

Something strange had just happened here, and Severus didn’t like it. Perhaps he could get to the bottom of it during Occlumency lessons. He was sure, with some careful prodding, Potter would crack.

He would just have to take care that he did not break the boy in the process.

He poured himself a cup of tea as he talked and, out of the corner of his eye, caught Potter watching him. He used the opportunity to discreetly observe the boy’s reactions. Potter was pale and anxious, but the dark terror that had gripped him before seemed to have gone for the time being. Relieved in spite of himself, Severus sipped his tea and returned his focus to the matter at hand.




Oh gods. Harry wanted to melt into the chair and vanish. He was certain Snape hadn’t meant to bring up such terrible memories, but dear gods, he had. And Harry had let them see. His reaction had been so virulent, so strong—two men as intelligent as Dumbledore and Snape could not possibly have missed it.

Harry made damn sure to keep his eyes on the floor—or at least away from Snape’s and Dumbledore’s gaze—and listened to Snape tell his side of the story.

“After you left, Albus,” Snape said, his voice subdued and soft, “I… I thought on what you had shared with me for some time, but I must have fallen asleep at some point. I heard neither Pettigrew nor Potter come in, not until Potter stunned the rat. I….”

Snape swallowed hard and stared at his hands. Harry followed his gaze to realise the man was shaking.

“Professor, I really wasn’t aiming for you. I wasn’t even angry at you, though I probably should be.”

Snape wheeled on him. “Spare me your Gryffindor martyr act, Potter! No one is as saintly as you are pretending to be. There is… something off about this, and I will get to the bottom of it.”

“Severus,” Albus snapped.

Harry glared at the old man. “Let him speak his mind. He’s not actually insulting me. I don’t mind either way anyway. I’ve faced a lot worse—today.” He stared both men down, despair and mad grief weighing down his heart, but his shoulders squared with the determination to let neither of them see it. Not this time.

Snape scowled. “Wh—you want me to insult you?”

Harry gave him a weary look. “Of course not, sir. I’d prefer you to see me as I am. But I’ve endured six years of abuse from you, so it’s not like I’m not used to it.”

He dropped his head and stared at the floor, struggling to keep his anguish out of his voice. “Regardless of what you think of me, sir, I’m not stupid. I’m well aware you’ll never trust me or see me as anything worthwhile. If saving your life twice in twelve hours—and doing so fully aware you would only hate me more for the effort—if that isn’t enough to make you see anything good in me, n-nothing ever will be.”

He hugged his knees to his chest and stared ahead, at a blank space of wall lest one of the men try to read the crushing pain on his heart. “I know better than to hope by now.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry watched Dumbledore fold his hands over his lap and give Snape a pointed look. As it held less of a threat and more of a request for Snape to open his eyes and see what was right in front of him, Harry did not challenge him this time.

Snape stared at Harry as if he didn’t recognise him. “W-what is this in aid of, Potter? I… I do not understand. Why are you doing this?”

“I would have thought that would have been obvious by now, Severus,” said Headmaster Black. “Somehow, he cares about you in spite of your constant cruelty. He is absolutely crushed that you think so little of him despite all he has done to help you, has no hope that you will ever see the truth of him, and yet he still defends you. He saved your life despite your abuse—twice—and you still refuse to acknowledge any shred of humanity within him, all because he physically resembles a father he does not even remember, at least in his face.”

“Oh, I remember him,” Harry muttered.

Dumbledore, Snape, and Black all fixed him with a piercing look.

Dumbledore broke the silence. “How is that possible, Harry? You were only fifteen months when he died.”

“I remembered Hagrid on Sirius’ bike. I dreamed about it for years before I came here. But as far as my father goes, besides what I saw in the Mirror of Erised, Priori Incantatem in the graveyard, and….” He shot Snape a glance and gulped. “In other places, I remember the images I see every time a Dementor comes too close. ‘Take Harry and run, Lily!’ That’s the only real memory I have of him: the fear and determination in his face seconds before he died to save me.”

The office went silent. Even Fawkes’ twittering and Snape’s still-laboured breathing quieted, and an atmosphere heavy as lead choked the air.

“So yeah,” Harry continued in a low voice. “I remember him. A bit.”

A small, strangled sound on his left brought Harry’s attention around. Snape had his fists clenched on his lap, so tight Harry guessed he was drawing blood, and a fall of black hair covered his face. The man was shaking and tense from head to toe.

Dear Merlin, Harry must have hurt him badly, but how? All he had done was talk about his… oh. His mum—Snape’s one friend.

“Oh gods. Professor Snape, I’m sorry. I-I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

Snape gave another choked sound of grief. Harry wanted to comfort him, but wasn’t yet suicidal enough to risk it.

Dumbledore started, “Severus, my boy, are you qui—”

Snape whipped his head up and glared. Harry couldn’t help but notice the redness around his eyes. Fuck. He hadn’t meant to make the man cry. He hadn’t believed Snape still knew how.

Harry squirmed, his stomach writhing with guilt and shame. Maybe Snape wasn’t the only one guilty of prejudice.

“I am just peachy, Albus,” Snape snarled in a voice that proved just the opposite. “If we might move on from this… lovely walk down memory lane, I still have a story to tell. Unless you do not wish to know what the Dark Lord had to say as he tortured the life from me?”

“Go on then,” Dumbledore said, his eyes troubled. “What happened?”




After Potter’s story, it had taken all Severus’ strength to compose himself, but he wasn’t a spy for nothing. The dosed tea had helped him get through his tale more than he would ever admit.

“… And just after then, you arrived with that mad house elf.” Severus finished his story and set aside his empty cup. “Now, what are we to do about this mess, Headmaster? Obviously, I cannot remain here.”

“Well, Severus,” said Albus with a frown, “I confess I do not know. I had believed this to be the safest place to keep you. Unless….” He turned to Harry. “What about the place you used last year to teach your DA, Harry? You managed to keep it from the former high inquisitor for quite a while. Severus would be safe there, would he not?”

“If the DA wasn’t still using it to train and hang out sometimes, I’d say yes,” said Potter in a subdued voice. “If you put him there, he’ll be discovered in no more than two or three days, tops. And with everyone… angry at him, I don’t think they’ll keep his hiding place a secret for long, even if I ask them to.”

Albus’ shoulders slumped. “Oh, I see. That was the best idea I had.”

“You haven’t asked me yet,” Potter said, his eyes flashing with irritation.

Albus frowned. “Well, you are only a boy, so I hadn’t thought—”

Potter scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. “Underestimating me again?” He scoffed and kicked at the floor. “Should have expected that, I guess. But I’m not stupid, sir, and I haven’t been a child in a long time, regardless of my age. My first suggestion is Grimmauld Place.”

“And that rubbish idea is an excellent example of why we don’t include dunderheaded children in strategy sessions,” Severus said with a scowl. “What do you think will happen when Arthur Weasley discovers why I am there? Or Shacklebolt?”

Potter winced. “Good point. So you need to stay at Hogwarts, sir?”

“Obviously, Potter. If you used that space between your ears you refer to as a brain—”

“Severus,” Albus said, his tone fierce with warning. “Must I revisit our discussions from yesterday so soon?”

The admonition filled Severus with dread. He snapped his mouth shut and stared at the floor. He should have remembered Albus would take Potter’s side and throw him under the bus. It had been that way since his school days, and it would always be so.

“Headmaster,” said Potter sharply, “don’t you think Professor Snape has endured enough death threats in the past twenty-four hours? I can hack it. Really, it’s nothing new. So let’s just focus on the task at hand, please.”

Albus and Phineas both turned to stare at Severus, eyebrows raised. Severus dropped his head and struggled to keep a surge of heat from his face. Why did Potter keep breaking the bloody rules? He was supposed to be an arrogant tosser, not this… this self-sacrificing defender of Severus’ honour and life. Gods. He couldn’t comprehend any of it.

“He’s still a human being and he doesn’t deserve to die.”

Guilt wrapped cold fingers around Severus’ heart and squeezed. A human being….

Had he already forgotten that just yesterday, he had tormented this child to the point of sobbing in front of his classmates? Some of whom wanted Potter dead and would kill to find the boy’s weakness? Had Severus already forgotten the pain he had caused the boy in that detention which had come too close to taking Potter’s life as well?

Had he forgotten, in the midst of all his hatred, that Harry Potter was a human being, too?

Severus closed his eyes and lowered his head into his hands, utterly ashamed of himself. No matter what he thought of the boy, Potter had saved his life twice in twelve hours. Potter had gone out of his way to rescue a man who had tortured him and denied him the most basic of human needs.

Severus would not hurt him further. Never again. He had done enough damage.

“Harry,” said Albus, bringing Severus’ attention back to their discussion, “Severus is quite right about Grimmauld Place. As well as the danger from our allies should they realise what Severus has done to you—”

Severus barely suppressed a flinch.

“—There is also the fact that Sirius’ death has made Secret Keepers of everyone. It is simply too dangerous now to leave either yourself or Severus there, when any moment one of the Order may slip and reveal our safehouse. No, it is better for everyone involved that Severus remain within Hogwarts, though I admit, if I cannot keep him safe even within the headmaster’s private quarters, then I am at a loss as to how to protect him.”

Potter grimaced and closed his eyes. His shoulders bowed forwards in a protective posture and his hands clenched into fists. Something had frightened him, but Severus couldn’t understand what the boy had reacted to this time. Unless it was leftover grief for the mutt’s untimely demise.

“In that case,” Potter said in a quiet, uncertain tone, “there’s only one place in this school that’s secure enough to keep Riddle and his cronies out entirely. And even then, Professor Snape… would need help. But it would do. The only people who can get in and out of this place are Riddle and me, and Riddle is too much of a coward to charge into Hogwarts after the professor as long as you’re still here, sir.”

Albus frowned. “Yes, I believe you are correct about Tom, but what place do you speak of, Harry?”

Potter gulped and took a deep breath, eyes closed and fists trembling in his lap. “T-the Chamber of Secrets.”

Severus nearly choked on his tea.

Albus’ eyes widened. “Oh! That is a rather good idea, Harry.” He frowned. “But that would mean Severus would require your help on a daily basis until he is able to return to his quarters and his position.”

Potter gave him a grim nod. “Do you know another way to keep him alive until Riddle gets over his temper tantrum?”

Albus winced. “I do not.”

“Then I guess you’ll be stuck needing my help for a while longer.” Something about his tone smacked of bitterness, sorrow, and deep anger, but Severus couldn’t understand why Potter would detest helping him now when he had been doing so for the past day and a half without complaint.

Then again, this Potter wasn’t the headmaster’s sycophant any longer. Perhaps he wasn’t angry with Severus at all, but with Albus.

What had happened there? Hadn’t the boy trusted Albus blindly once? Was this sharp lack of trust all down to the mutt’s death and Albus’ failure to report the prophecy?

“I have failed him, Severus. Repeatedly.”

Hmm. No, something deeper had happened between the two of them. Something Severus had missed.

Merlin, he didn’t like that. If Severus’ hatred had blinded him to the cause of the fallout between Potter and the Headmaster, what else might he have missed in his determination to see Potter as the enemy? Oh, that didn’t bear thinking about.

Gods, he had to change. His hatred had cost him his honour, half of his skin, his value to the Order, and now his prided powers of observation had fallen to the wayside. What good was a spy if he couldn’t see past his own prejudice?

Well, perhaps none at all, now that Riddle had turned on him. Fuck. His hatred had cost him everything.

“I do think the Chamber is the safest place to keep Severus,” said Albus, pulling Severus out of his grim thoughts. “At least until the threats to his life diminish. Well done, Harry.”

Severus shook off the choking noose of shame and despair to focus on the matter at hand. The Chamber. Well, whether Potter wanted to help Severus survive within its walls or not, there was one problem with the Chamber. Two, really.

“Albus, you cannot be serious!”

Albus gave Severus a warning look. “I am quite serious indeed, Severus. And I would advise you to put your grudges behind you as you now owe Harry your life, thrice over.”

Severus winced. “I… it is not Potter I am objecting to. Has everyone but me forgotten that there is a bloody giant basilisk corpse rotting in there?”

Albus chuckled. “Nothing a few spells and a bit of spring cleaning won’t fix. I daresay the Chamber is in rather dire need of it even without the basilisk.”

Severus glared. “Albus, one cannot simply Vanish a basilisk corpse. It is resistant to magic, and besides that, basilisk venom does not react well to being tossed into non-being. Try to send an entire corpse there, and we will be teaching classes in a crater rather than a castle. Metaphorically speaking, of course, as we will all be dead!”

Albus winced. “Ah. Well, in that case, I am sure the house elves would be glad to help us remove it manually.”

“Er….” Potter shook his head. “No good, sir. The house elves are as terrified of that place as the spiders are. I might be able to convince Dobby to help once he knows the snake is dead, but I’m not sure.”

“Well, then we shall have to carry it out by hand ourselves,” Albus said with a frown. “It is not a task I relish, but I would like losing our potions master even less.”

“You’ll need brooms to get out. I would have said Fawkes could take us back and forth, but….” Potter looked to the sleeping fledgling and shook his head. “He’s too small now.”

“Yes, I am afraid Fawkes will need to learn to fly again before he can be of any help with magical transport.” Albus rubbed his beard. “But clearing out the Chamber is not impossible, Severus. Unpleasant, but not impossible.”

Severus shuddered. “Unpleasant is a gross understatement. By now, that corpse will be utterly vile and highly toxic.” And Merlin, what a waste of rare potions ingredients that was. “But even without the great rotting snake corpse, there is also the issue of my… communication problems to consider. As well as my needs. Perhaps I can conjure a loo, water, and a bed, but I cannot conjure food.”

“Ah.” Albus frowned and rubbed his beard. “All of these would be surmountable issues with the help of Harry or a house elf. Dobby!”

The elf appeared, his Santa hat flopped over one ear. The candy cane earring now had three friends dangling nearby, all in different colours, and he had added a tinsel garland necklace, complete with a Muggle Christmas elf ornament as a pendant.

“Hello, Master Dumbles, Master Snapey, and Great Master Harry Potter sir. How’s can Dobby be helping you?”

Potter motioned the elf to his side. “Dobby, we have a problem. Professor Snape was nearly attacked this morning, so we have to get him to safety. I think I know of a safe place, but the thing is, he won’t be able to get in and out easily on his own. Can you apparate to the Chamber of Secrets, Dobby? I promise it’s safe. I killed the basilisk there years ago.”

Dobby’s ears drooped. “I is being sorry, Great Master Harry Potter, sir. There is magic on the Chamber—nothing can apparate in, not even house elves.”

“So we would have no choice but to rely on Harry for assistance,” said Albus with a sigh. “Well, it will interfere with your class schedule, Harry. Are you certain you are willing to do this?”

Potter shot him a dark glare. “Since when have I valued grades over human life, sir?”

“Considering the fact that you are here during lessons, I would say never,” said Phineas Nigellus with a smirk.

Potter snorted. “True enough.”

“Very well,” said Albus with a wry smile. “Then I think we have little choice but to set the Chamber up for Severus and provide him with a way to contact you when he needs help.” Albus fixed Severus with a sharp look over his spectacles. “And you will not punish him for his assistance, are we clear?”

Severus glared and crossed his arms over his chest. Merlin, but his pride would take a hit before this nightmare was over.

“As I am not Potter’s instructor any longer, I am not in a position to punish him.”

“You will not be cruel about it either, Severus.”

“Stop,” Potter snapped. “I don’t care if he snipes at me. I’m not helping him to get in his good books. We all know Voldemort—”

Electricity and fire shot up Severus’ arm. He couldn’t hold back a gasp and wince.

Potter looked at him, uncertain. “Er… well, we all know Riddle would sooner switch sides and beg for forgiveness than Professor Snape will acknowledge my humanity. So let’s just focus on keeping him alive for now.”

Albus and Phineas gave a resigned nod, as if they accepted that Severus would likely never overcome his prejudice.

Two days ago, Severus would have agreed with them. But now, after everything he had endured the past couple of days, he wasn’t so sure.

Images from Albus’ memories flickered into his mind, of Potter holding Severus like he had never been held before, of Potter’s fingertips stroking Severus’ hair away from his forehead and a gentle hand washing his face.

He should be furious. He should be mad with rage that the Potter scion had touched him without consent. He should be terrified, given how much he hated to be touched by those he didn’t trust implicitly.

But all he could feel, as he lost himself in those bittersweet, confusing images, was a desperate wish that he had been conscious and capable of feeling that gentle caress.

Merlin, but this was going to be a long month.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

The Journey

Harry watched the potions master out of the corner of his eye, wondering what was going on in his head. He hadn’t spoken since they had settled on the Chamber as his refuge, and now he looked greatly subdued as they stood to leave the headmaster’s office. The man disillusioned himself and leaned on Dumbledore for support, but they had a long way to go, and Harry worried a man of the headmaster’s advanced age would not be able to hold Snape up for so many floors.

“Um, professors?” He edged towards them, twisting his hands over one another. “The entrance to the Chamber is in Myrtle’s loo on the second floor. Erm, it’s a really long way to go. Um, you… I-I know you hate me, Professor Snape, but it might be better to lean on me until we’re there. Especially since you’re having to bend a bit to support him, Headmaster.”

Snape snapped, “Potter!”

Dumbledore chuckled. “Worried for my age, Harry?”

Heat suffused Harry’s face. “Um….”

“It’s quite all right, my boy. I am in good health and perfectly capable of aiding Severus; however, should he become too heavy on the way, I will allow you to assist.”

Harry shook his head. “Too suspicious, sir. He’s invisible. It’s going to be difficult to get him situated, and anyone who happens to be walking by is going to wonder why we’re moving so oddly.” He frowned. “Come to think of it, they’ll wonder why you’re holding your arm out for nothing, too.”

Dumbledore shook his head. “My arm will be glamoured, dear boy. No one but the three of us will see the truth of it. And as to supporting Severus, well, perhaps you are younger than I, Harry, but Severus is far heavier than he looks. He is slender, but quite strong, and—”

Snape gasped out, “Albus!”

Harry couldn’t see the man, but somehow knew Snape’s face would be bright red. Shame and embarrassment practically radiated from him, though Harry wondered why his own cheeks had taken on a bit of heat too. Strange.

“Oh, do calm yourself, Severus,” Dumbledore said with a chuckle. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Now, as I was saying, Harry, Severus is rather heavy for his size and you are quite petite. I do not believe you will be able to bear him any better than I.”

Harry gave Albus a smile full of anger and grim knowledge of the old man’s numerous betrayals. “Maybe so, but it would be good training for the war, wouldn’t it, sir?”




Severus opened his mouth to protest Potter’s disrespectful tone, but froze at the sight of Albus’ face. The old man might be able to hide his reactions from the boy—or perhaps not, as Potter had apparently picked up on something Severus hadn’t—but either way, guilt was as plain as day in Albus’ eyes.

Something strange was indeed going on between Potter and Albus.

Training for the war, hmm? What kind of training had Albus forced Potter through to engender that kind of rage?

Merlin help him. What had Severus missed all these years?

Albus cleared his throat and gave Potter a thin smile. “Well, perhaps you do have a point, Harry. Severus, would you consent to allowing Harry to help you?”

Severus snarled, panic and distrust crashing through his veins. It couldn’t be so simple. No one could truly be so forgiving. Potter had asked for this to enact his revenge.

His own thoughts laughed at him. “He saved your life three times just to what, push you down the stairs? In front of the headmaster, no less? That makes perfect sense.”

He scowled and backed away a step. Perhaps it was foolish to think Potter would hurt him after he had done so much to save him, but Severus couldn’t abide the thought of being so vulnerable, of trusting Potter to support him when he was too injured to stand unaided. No. Even trusting Albus or Poppy in such a situation pushed him past his limits.

Severus growled, “Why should I be so foolish as to trust a mere waif of a boy to bear my weight? He would be bowed over in pain before we made it ten metres.”

Potter fixed Severus with a piercing look. “I believe we’ve already established I can handle pain.”

And hadn’t that cut Severus down to size? He snapped back, but inside, his heart was bleeding. The boy was right. Potter had proved himself capable of enduring more pain than even a spy could—pain Severus had caused him—and what did that say about Severus?

In the end, Potter shrugged and turned away. “Have it your way, sir. I should have known by now….” He shook his head and cut himself off. “Never mind. Let’s just get out of here before I miss the entire day. Hermione’s bound to be in a tiff as is and I’m not sure I can—um, well, let’s just go.”

Albus shot Severus a sharp look, his desire for Severus to go to the boy clear in his eyes, but Severus couldn’t move. He couldn’t trust Potter like that.

Even if… the boy might deserve it.

Perhaps Albus might have felt Severus trembling, as the glare slipped off of his face and understanding replaced it.

“Well, I believe we will be all right, Harry, if you would like to lead the way?”

Potter nodded and walked out the door. The moment he entered the hallway, he shrunk into himself and wrapped his arms about his chest, dropping his gaze to the floor. The sudden change shocked Severus. One moment, Potter’s posture had shown confidence in spite of his tangible despair, the next, he practically faded into the background. Something odd was going on with the boy, and the thought had Severus more than a bit worried.

Worried? Two days ago he had hated Potter beyond anything, and today he was worried about the boy? Gods, was it possible to have such a paradigm shift in twenty-four hours?

Apparently so.

Merlin help him, Severus’ mind would soon break under the strain of so much change, so much new information in such a short time. Maybe it already had done. After all, how sane was he to set up temporary residence in Slytherin’s secret chamber alongside a rotting basilisk?

He shuddered. Potter seemed to take great enjoyment in bringing chaos to Severus’ well-ordered life.

As he watched Potter duck around a corner to avoid a group of students with red on their collars—Granger among them—Severus wondered if he was the only one enduring chaos and torment.




That wasn’t what we discussed, Ron! You weren’t supposed to—”

Hermione’s irritated voice drifted to Harry’s ears from around the corner. He winced and turned into an empty hallway. It was a bit of a detour, but at least he could avoid her ranting for the time being. Not to mention, she might insist on coming along with Harry and the headmaster. And given that they weren’t alone, Harry couldn’t allow that.

He doubted Hermione would be as forgiving as he was. She hadn’t seen Snape the way Harry had. Couldn’t. No one who hadn’t lived through what he had seen and experienced would understand.

He gave a silent, dry laugh. Neither would most of those who had.

Maybe Snape had a point and Harry was screwed up somewhere. Between the visions, nightmares, Imperius dreams, the fallout with his friends, and Snape’s never-ending hatred, Harry wouldn’t be surprised. One of them would drive him barmy one day, if he wasn’t already there.

Just ahead, McGonagall ushered a group of chattering second years into her class and shut the door behind them. So second period had started and Harry was missing Defence. As they actually had a decent instructor this year—the real Moody—no doubt his classmates would be shocked that Harry hadn’t attended. Still, one lesson wouldn’t have much effect on his grade, even if he did enjoy learning from the wily old auror. Maybe Mad-Eye would be willing to give him the run down of what Harry had missed later that evening.

Hermione wouldn’t see it that way, though. Merlin, he wasn’t looking forward to going back to the dorms tonight. Maybe one more night in the Room was in order.

Harry frowned and shook his head. No, he’d have to stay in the Chamber with Snape, at least until the man could fend for himself—possibly for the entire duration of his stay. Joy of all joys, but the man needed help whether he liked it or not, and Harry was the only Parselmouth in the school. Or in Scotland, for that matter.

He sighed and gave up on his lessons for the day. There simply wouldn’t be time.

With classes in session, they met no one in the halls and the rest of the trip to the second floor went without a hitch. Maybe Dumbledore was stronger than he looked too. Harry filed that fact away for future use and led the old man at a gentle pace towards the broken girls’ loo, the silence only broken by Snape’s laboured breathing and his occasional grunt of pain.

At least until Harry stepped into the loo.

Myrtle popped up over one of the stalls. “Harry! It’s been ages since you—”

The headmaster and Snape came in at this point, and Myrtle squeaked and vanished with an almighty splash.

“Well,” said Dumbledore with a wry smile, “I daresay I hadn’t imagined my appearance to be quite that alarming.”

Harry gave him a wan smile. “She just didn’t expect you, I think.”

“Riveting,” Snape said, deadpan. “Might we hurry this expedition along before someone else discovers us?”

“No one ever comes here.” A gurgle sounded from one of the loos, and Harry stepped back just in time to avoid a minor flood. “And that would be why.” He Vanished the water and moved to stand in front of the broken tap.

“Dobby?”

The elf appeared with a bow. “Hello, great Master Harry Potter, sir.”

“Hi, Dobby. Um, could you please get my broom from my dorm for me?”

Snape snorted. “Too good to Summon it, Potter?”

Harry stared at the floor, unwilling to let the bastard see how much pain he was in. “I had thought a broom zooming unattended through the halls of the school might draw unwanted notice, sir.”

Dumbledore gave Snape a reproachful look. “So it would. Go on, Dobby, and please retrieve my broom as well.”

The elf shot a glare at Snape—invisible or no, the elf could no doubt sense him. “You is mean to Great Master Harry Potter, Master Snapey, when he is nice to you. You’s will be losing all your friends that way.” With that, he vanished with a crack and reappeared a moment later, carrying Harry’s Firebolt and Dumbledore’s old Shooting Star.

Another unexpected wash of Snape’s shame made Harry’s cheeks heat. Merlin. What was going on? Wasn’t the man Occluding properly? Maybe he was too injured.

Concern overrode Harry’s irritation. He had best nip Dobby’s irritation in the bud, for Snape’s sake. Even if the elf did have a point.

“Thanks, Dobby,” said Harry with a wan smile. “But, um, don’t worry about Professor Snape. He’s… uh, well, I can handle it. And he’s in a lot of pain anyway, so I don’t mind if he’s sharp. I don’t think he can help it right now.”

Snape snarled. “Potter!”

“S-sorry, sir. Just trying to….” Harry sighed and gave it up. No matter what he said, Snape would believe the worst of him. With a sad shake of his head, he turned back to the elf and patted his head, lightly so as not to squash his hat. “Thanks for trying to protect me, Dobby, but I’m all right.”

The elf’s eyes shimmered with tears. “Oh! Great Master Harry Potter sir is so brave, so kind!”

Harry winced at the elf’s squealing. “Er, that’s n-nice, but we’re trying to be quiet here. And I need to get them to safety. Quickly.”

“I’s be understanding.” The elf vanished, leaving them alone in the loo with nothing but the sound of Snape’s breathing and dripping water.

“Right.” Harry gripped his broom handle and edged closer to the sink. A cock of his head made the snake carved on the side of the broken tap appear to wriggle in the candlelight. “Open.”

The sink and tap melted into the wall and morphed into a person-sized hole. Harry, having no desire to slide down a slimy pipe, mounted his broom.

He kept his eyes averted and his voice low. “Professor, this is one time I really do think you’d be safer riding with me. Unless you’ve some talent with a broom I don’t know about, Headmaster?”

Dumbledore chuckled. “Not at all, my boy. I am afraid I am not particularly skilled in the air. Severus would most certainly be safer with you.”

“That’s debatable,” Snape grumbled.

“Well, you could slide down the pipe if you really don’t want to fly,” Harry said, looking down to hide his pain, “but it’s slimy and a rough ride, and with your injuries, sir, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Snape groaned. “Is there no other way?”

“Not unless you can fly without a broom.”

Snape sighed. “Not at the moment, to be sure.”

At the moment? Harry raised an eyebrow. “Can you fly on normal days then, sir?”

Snape snarled. “That is none of your business.”

Harry turned away and reminded himself not to attempt civility with Snape. The berk wouldn’t know it if it bit him on the arse.

Dumbledore cancelled the disillusionment spell to reveal a pale, shaking Professor Snape. He looked done in—and having walked down five floors and across a castle while injured would certainly have taken it out of him.

Harry motioned to his broom. “Sir, please let me get you to safety. I won’t let you fall.”

Snape glowered. “It would be quite the convenient way to rid oneself of an irritant, would it not?”

Harry gave a laugh tinged with hysteria. “Why do I even try? J-just ride with Professor Dumbledore then, if you really think badly enough of me that I would throw an injured man off of my broom not two hours after saving his life—twice!” Tears blurred his vision, and Harry was too miserable to even care.

Gods, why did he keep hurting himself? Hadn’t Snape given him enough indication that nothing would ever change? Harry rubbed his eyelids harshly, hating himself for caring.

“Severus,” Dumbledore said, his tone sharp, “that is enough!”

“Albus, you know it’s the truth. It would be all too easy to—”

Dumbledore’s gaze turned as cold and hard as steel. “I see. Well, if you still think so badly of Harry as all this, perhaps I have made a mistake in trusting you to treat him with more respect.”

Snape gave a strangled noise of alarm. “A-Albus, I—”

“Stop!” Harry dropped his broom and stood toe-to-toe with the headmaster. “That is enough from you too, sir. You can’t just give him death threats until he behaves. He’s not going to change until he wants to, if he ever does, and all you’re doing by forcing him is making him hate me even more! He’s going to resent us both for this soon, if he doesn’t already. And I, for one, have enough resentment to deal with in my life without you adding that to my tally too!

He turned his back and stormed back to his broom, leaving two shell-shocked men behind. “Not to mention, it’s bloody cruel to keep scaring Professor Snape like this, even if he is being horrible to me. It hurts, of course it does—but he’s not endangering my life by his sharp tongue. You are endangering his, and that’s too ruthless even for you, Headmaster.”

Dumbledore swayed, shock written all over his face. “Harry!”

Harry glared. Fuck all if he would take back a word.

Snape stared at Harry, eyes wide and complexion ashen. “P-Potter, why do you keep doing this? I… I don’t understand.”

Harry turned his face away. “You heard me the first time I explained, sir. It’s just you don’t want to believe it.”

Snape’s voice had gone soft and held a note of uncertainty. “I am not asking why you saved my life. Why are you being… kind? Why do you continually defend me? I… surely you are angry with me?”

Harry gave the man a sad, resigned smile. “Sir, all of that faded last night when I saw you whipped all over, broken, burned, and bleeding to death, and knew you had suffered because I didn’t have the strength to tough out your anger or keep your secrets.”

Snape staggered back, his eyes dark and shadowed with confusion and remorse. “I… because what? How can you…? This is incomprehensible.”

Dumbledore caught Severus and steadied him. “I must confess I am confused as well, but either way, I recommend we hurry and go down to the Chamber to discuss it before someone comes. I have a silencing charm over the room and Harry is correct that people do not come here often, but not often is not never.”

Harry suppressed a snort. Polyjuice potion took twenty-one days to brew and theirs had sat on one of the loos that entire time without being disturbed. Still, with his luck, this would be the time someone grew desperate enough for a loo break to risk Myrtle’s mercurial mood swings and random floods.

“All right. I’ll just light my wand and go ahead of you two then. Make sure you follow me exactly, or you might bump into the walls.”

Harry took out his wand, but before he could move, a tentative voice froze his feet to the floor.

“W-wait.”

Professor Snape, and he sounded frightened.

Harry’s breath stilled. “Sir?”

Snape sighed and limped to Harry’s side. “You will… be careful?”

Harry swallowed hard. “Yes, sir.”

He dared say nothing else lest Snape change his mind. Despite what the man might think, Harry wasn’t stupid. As small as it might seem to trust him with a broom ride, it wasn’t. The man was trusting a boy he had, until recently, thought subhuman with his life. It was a massive step for him, and Harry would be damned if he would say anything to discourage him.

As Snape cautiously settled onto the broom behind him, hands white-knuckled on the handle, Harry vowed he would protect the man. Even if he got snarky and mean again.

“Okay, Professor. Can you hold onto me?”

Snape flinched, but wrapped his arms gingerly around Harry’s waist.

“Tighter than that, sir. This tunnel is very steep. You’ll fall if you don’t hold on.”

A shaky breath warmed Harry’s neck and sent a strange ticklish feeling down his spine. Snape’s long legs settled on either side of Harry’s hips and his body pressed close, arms hugging him tight. Snape’s breathing came fast and shallow against Harry’s neck and his entire body trembled.

“Do try not to kill me, Potter. I have had one too many close calls over the past day.”

“Yes, I know, as I was there for both of them, sir.” He laid a hand over Snape’s arm, hoping he wouldn’t get slapped for it, and rubbed just a little. “It’s all right. I’ll keep you safe, sir. Just hold on tight.”

Snape clutched Harry’s chest, shaking hard against him, and laid his head on the boy’s shoulder. For a moment, Harry couldn’t breathe. Shock and something soft bloomed in his heart.

Maybe it wasn’t hopeless. Maybe Snape wouldn’t hate him forever after all.

Today, Potter.”

Or maybe that day was a long way off. With a little sigh, Harry gathered his wits and kicked off slowly, acclimating himself to the change in balance Snape’s weight had caused. Merlin, Dumbledore wasn’t kidding. Snape really was heavier than Harry would have given such a slim man credit for. He edged forwards to make up for the tail drag.

“Come forwards a little, sir. We’re unbalanced.”

Snape’s breath hitched and he scooted close, burrowing further in Harry’s shoulder.

“Ah, there we go.” Harry tested the broom a little and nodded. “That’s the ticket. Now, just hold on tight, sir. I’ve got you, and we’ll take this nice and slow. Here we go. Lumos.”

With a deep breath, Harry tightened his grip and flew into the pipe.




Severus held Potter tight and struggled to keep his fear in check. Gods, he hated brooms. And flying on the back of one with a boy who, in all honesty, had every right to chuck him to his death, made the experience even more terrifying. He couldn’t stop shaking, couldn’t lift his head from Potter’s shoulder, couldn’t move. He focused on his breathing, on the feel of Potter’s heartbeat against his arms, on his surprisingly soothing scent, and somehow managed to keep his panic in check until Potter alighted.

“Okay, sir. We’re here.”

Severus tried to move, but terror had rendered him rigid.

“Merlin.” Potter gently pried Severus’ left hand away—the one the Dark Lord hadn’t broken—and held it in his. “Breathe, sir. It’s all right. You’re here. You’re safe.”

Potter’s gentle touch rendered Severus breathless. The soft, sweet caress healed a broken part of his soul at the same time the anguish of clawing, keening need and the bitter ache of a broken heart ripped him apart.

No. He couldn’t bear it—he needed this too much. He would lose himself if he gave into it even for a moment. He wouldn’t be that desperate, lonely wretch again, dancing at the whim of another. No!

He jerked back, eyes wide and fear deeper than even his terror of brooms tearing away his composure. With a shake of his head, Snape yanked his hand away and dashed into the shadows. He stood panting against a wall and tried to gather his wits, shaking so hard his teeth rattled.

“Oh.” Potter sighed and moved off his broom, eyes downcast and full of sorrow darker and deeper than this blasted tunnel. “I’m sorry, sir. I s-shouldn’t have touched you. I won’t do it again.”

Dear gods, the pain in his voice ripped Severus’ heart to shreds. He looked up to find Albus watching the boy, guilt and deep remorse tingeing the sorrow in his eyes. Potter had his back turned to them both, one hand wrapped around the handle of his broom, the other arm hugging his waist. He slumped, head bowed, and the boy’s shoulders trembled with suppressed tears.

Fuck. Severus hadn’t meant to hurt him like that. He had reacted out of sheer mindless terror. But what could he do? As much as his soul longed for touch, his heart and mind feared it. He couldn’t let Potter touch him. He couldn’t open himself so far, not to anyone. Never again.

And yet, the boy’s obvious anguish made Severus want to fix what his fears had broken, somehow.

Heart hammering, breath rushing in short bursts, Severus took a halting step. Crunching under his feet shocked him, and he looked down to realise he was standing atop a pile of dried animal bones. With a shudder, he cleaned up the remains of the basilisk’s meals—a little-known spell to Vanish dangerous substances without backlash made sure they would not be blown to bits for his efforts—and attempted to collect himself.

“P-Potter.”

The boy flinched and turned, but did not lift his head. Severus winced at the sight of silvery tracks down both the boy’s cheeks.

“Come… come here.”

He wasn’t sure he could make it to Potter without support, given the way his limbs were shaking.

“Yes, sir.” The boy’s voice was flat and dim, and the sound of it hurt Severus.

Gods, how had he not seen how anguished Potter was before now?

Severus took a steadying breath and gathered his courage. “If you are amenable, I… I believe I have trespassed too far already on Albus’ reserves. Perhaps… you would a-assist me to the Chamber?”

Potter jerked up, eyes wide and rimmed pink. “But I would have to….”

Severus looked away. “I know. When I pulled away, I was not… it was not….”

Albus moved to Harry’s side and gave Severus a sad smile. “Would you like me to explain a bit, my boy?”

Severus clenched his fists and dropped his gaze. “No details. That is my choice to offer.”

“Of course.” Albus laid a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Harry, Severus is… ah, reserved, to an extreme. It takes a great deal of trust before he can bear touch from another person.”

“Oh.” Potter hugged his chest and dragged his toe along the floor. “Then I guess you’d rather the headmaster help you, sir.”

Severus tried not to snap. “I asked you, did I not?”

Potter smiled wanly. “Yeah. And that’s enough. You don’t trust me yet, sir, but knowing you were willing to try is….” He dropped his head and turned his face away. “It’s enough.”

Severus winced. “I….”

“It’s okay. Let’s just get started, sir. Otherwise we’ll be here all day.”

“He does make a good point,” said Albus. “Harry, can you close the Chamber entrance?”

Potter frowned. “Um, I can when we get to the main doors, maybe. I need to see a snake or something like it to speak Parseltongue. Otherwise it just comes out in English.”

Serpensortia!” A black and jade viper slithered out of Severus’ wand tip and landed on the floor before them. It reared its head and hissed, fangs extended, and Severus guided Albus back a step.

Potter gave the beast an appreciative look and hissed to it. After a moment, the snake’s irritated posture eased.

“Thank you, sir. She says she’s a Sri Lankan pit viper and her name is Isuri.”

Severus rolled his eyes. “Fascinating. I did not summon her for a chat.”

Potter grimaced. “C-could you, maybe not Banish her? It’s… I can’t stand it.”

“And what am I to do with a pit viper, Potter? Perhaps you have forgotten, but they are quite venomous.”

Potter flushed and looked down. “I-I’d be willing to look after her.”

“A brilliant idea,” said Albus before Severus could protest. “So long as you can extract a vow from her never to injure humans or any magical creatures about the area.”

Potter nodded and hissed to the snake again. The creature jerked her head in a parody of a nod and slithered up Potter’s extended arm to wrap loosely around his neck. He petted her neck and hissed once more, and a clinking sound above them signified the Chamber door had closed.

“Good work, Harry,” said Albus. “Perhaps you and your new friend would like to lead us on? This is not the primary Chamber, is it?”

“No, sir,” Potter said, still stroking the serpent’s scales. “The entrance is this way.” He paused. “Oh. But I do hope one of you knows a spell to clear a cave-in. Lockhart, genius that he is, nearly brought the tunnel down on our heads.”

Severus scowled. “And you did not think to mention this until now, Potter?”

The boy flinched and lowered his head. “I didn’t remember until now, sir.”

“There we have it. Official proof that you are, in fact, a—” The look on Albus’ face and Potter’s sudden shrinking posture killed the words on Severus’ tongue. Hadn’t he vowed not to hurt the boy again not half an hour ago? Damn. He just kept failing this child.

“Never mind it,” he said with a sigh. “Let us just get this over with.”

Potter hissed something to his new familiar and led them through a narrow tunnel, head bowed and steps slow and guarded. The more Severus watched him, the less the boy resembled the arrogant berk his father had been. Indeed, even their physical similarities lessened by the moment.

True, Harry had his father’s wild head of hair and his ridiculously out-of-fashion glasses, and the boy had definitely inherited his nose from the former head of Potter house, but James Potter had been… well, large. The boy had towered over Severus, even at the respectable height Severus had gained as an adult. Combined with his powerful, muscular form, James Potter had been a brute in more ways than one.

But his son… Merlin, the boy was tiny in comparison. He barely topped five feet and had nothing of his father’s musculature. The child was practically a waif.

The thought raised a memory from twenty-seven years ago, Severus’ first year. He hadn’t grown much until sixth year, and his small size left him vulnerable to the bigger bullies: Black, Potter, Avery, Rowle—all of them had dwarfed Severus, and their sheer physical advantage meant Severus hadn’t a hope of defending himself until he learned bigger, better hexes and jinxes than they knew. Eventually, he learned how to protect himself, but in first year, he hadn’t a prayer.


The prats were after him again. It was just luck that Severus’ small size lent him speed, or else he might never evade the bullies’ obsession with him. Why did they pick on him anyway? Just because he was small, poor, and Slytherin? What right did that give them?

Merlin, he wished he’d stayed in the library with Lils, but he had missed lunch—no thanks to the prats—and he was hungry. His mum couldn’t spare much, but she had sent him some shortbread biscuits a couple days before. He had wanted to grab a few from his dorm before dinner, but of course the prats had found him along the way, and now he was stuck hiding in the corner of a broom closet and hoping they would pass him over this time. It worked, some days.

Quick footsteps came closer, and Severus dropped to his knees and ducked his head. If he hid in the shadows and made himself small, maybe they would overlook him. That was the key to survival in the Snape home, and in school now, too. Gods, had he truly once believed that Hogwarts would be a safe haven? Ha!

The footsteps stopped, and voices sounded a few yards away from his hiding spot.

“Is it working?” Pettigrew. He sounded excited. The vicious little devil did seem to have a thing for blood.

“Maybe.” Black paused. “That look right to you, James?”

“Well the lines are a bit wonky, but it does look right. See, there’s a door here and it says the same there.”

“One way to find out, right?” Pettigrew gave his odd, snuffling laugh. “I get first go this time.”

“No way,” Potter fired back. “I’m the leader and I say I get the first go.”

“Not fair! You always do!”

“Yeah? If you don’t like it, then tag along with someone else.”

Pettigrew grumbled something, and the footsteps came nearer. Severus bit back a whimper and curled up tighter. The steps halted outside his hiding spot.

Potter called through the door, “Snape, I know you’re hiding in there, you filthy little coward.”

Severus forced himself not to speak, not to make a sound, and held his breath as the door opened.

“Aw, playing hide and seek, Snape? Guess I’ll just have to try again later, then.”

Severus’ heart pattered. Had he escaped?

“Caeliturpis!”

A green cloud of noxious fumes, like the entire world’s rubbish rolled into one foul punch, filled the room. Potter laughed and closed the door, locking in the stench. Severus held his breath as long as he could, but the hex didn’t clear, and he had to breathe before long. Oh gods. The smell made his eyes water and his nose and throat burn. He coughed and choked and gagged, but when he tried to escape, he found the door locked.

The brats laughed on the other side, mocking his pain.

“Let me out, you imbeciles!”

Black guffawed. “And ruin a perfectly good hex? Nah. You’re going to get all cosy in there for a while. Smells like home, doesn’t it?”

Pettigrew snickered. “A rotten old skip bin is more like it.”

“Exactly my point.”

Tears of pain and anger dripped down Severus’ face, relieving some of the awful burn. “S-shut up! You don’t know anything about me!” His retort ended in a coughing fit, making his tears run harder.

Oh gods, he had to get out of here before he choked to death. The prats wouldn’t release him, not without torturing him first, but hadn’t he seen a spell in the library earlier to unlock doors? Lily hadn’t wanted to record it, but Severus had run into trouble too often to overlook such a potentially useful spell. He grabbed his wand and pointed it at the doorknob.

“Alohamora!”

The door clicked, and Severus came rushing out, coughing and retching.

“You little shite!” Potter grabbed Severus by the collar and slammed him against a wall. “How did you break out of that? That’s two weeks’ work, wasted! I reckon I ought to make you pay.”

A hard punch slammed into Severus’ gut and doubled him over. He sank to his knees, winded and holding back the urge to retch by the barest thread.

“L-leave me alone,” he choked out.

“I don’t think so,” Potter snarled. “You ruined our test, now you get to pay the toll. Oh, does that scare you? Are you going to cry?” He laughed cruelly. “Look at this, boys. He’s over here snivelling like a little nancy boy.”

“If the shoe fits,” Black said with a barking jeer of a laugh. “His mum should’ve named him ‘Snivellus,’ much as he bawls.”

“Snivellus, huh?” Potter leered. “I like that. Oi, Snivellus! Get up before I make you.”

Tears blinding him, Severus looked up the length of Potter, towering over him and glaring with all his might, and obeyed. If he didn’t, they would only hurt him worse.


Severus shuddered, struggling to banish the pain of long-hated memories. Then the living Potter turned and motioned to a pile of rubble ahead, head bowed and stains of tear tracks still visible on his cheeks, and the similarity of their pasts struck Severus like the Hogwarts Express. He had put this child through the exact same kind of anguish Potter’s father and godfather had done to him, and like them, he towered over the boy.

Fuck. Harry wasn’t like James Potter—Severus was. The thought set his stomach roiling.

“Here’s the cave-in, sir,” Potter said, his voice low and dim, as if he was trying not to anger Severus again.

Severus was too busy reeling to be angry. Gods. Gods! How many of his abusers would he become before the day was through? First his father and now Potter Senior and Black. He supposed he should be relieved he had at least not sunk to the level of his two worst abusers, but he couldn’t think beyond the ringing horror in his veins, the aching nausea in his gut.

Appalled and shaken as he was, he hardly noticed as Albus cleared the rubble away, added structural support to the tunnel, and led him on once more.

The old man’s words from the previous day rang in Severus’ ears. “I had the sense that he identifies with you on some level….”

Severus watched as the boy hissed to a door with carved snakes on its surface, shock and deep remorse playing havoc with his heart. He still had no idea how Potter, the adored, pampered saviour, believed he could identify with the hated, cruel potions master, but never had Severus imagined he would find himself in a similar situation.

“Lily would be so proud of me.”

The thought cut deep, and Severus limped into the ancient Chamber of Salazar Slytherin in as subdued a mood as Harry himself.

Where had he gone so wrong?

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

The Generosity of a Hero

Albus entered the Chamber prepared to cast an air-cleaning charm, but it proved unnecessary. He wondered how a great beast could have lain dead in this place for so long without rotting until he saw Harry standing by it, looking at the pristine corpse with an expression of dismay.

“H-how did I manage to kill this thing as a second year?”

How indeed. Albus’ breath caught at the size of the beast. It was at least ten metres long and as thick as his waist. Merlin. A snake that size could have swallowed Harry whole then, let alone as a thirteen year old child. Adding in its murderous gaze and lethal venom, not to mention the half-formed horcrux Tom that Ginevra’s folly had awakened, the fact that Harry had survived at all was a miracle.

Beside him, Severus uttered a strangled sound of shock. “It is… preserved?”

“There must be a charm on the place.” Harry shuddered and turned away. “It’s just like when I left here. Even the….” He gagged and covered his mouth, edging away from a dark pool glimmering near his feet.

“Severus,” Albus muttered to his protégé, “is it safe to remove that blood?”

“I will do it.”

Severus Vanished the still-wet pool of blood from the boy’s feet with a flick of his wand and a strange incantation Albus had never heard. Perhaps Severus had invented it.

A shiver crept down Albus’ spine. Thank Merlin none but a Parselmouth could enter the Chamber. Envenomed or no, that blood could have cost them the war—and Harry—had Tom ever discovered it.

Harry shuddered and walked away from the basilisk corpse, instead staring up at the statue of Slytherin, his expression torn.

“I wonder if he really looked like this.”

“Considering he carved and built this Chamber himself,” Severus snapped, “I would say it is most likely a fair approximation, idi—”

He choked off the insult, pressed his fist to his mouth, and bowed his head in remorse. “Albus….”

The man swayed with exhaustion, cold sweat gleaming on his forehead, and Albus understood. The man was past his limit and snapping at them out of sheer misery.

Albus conjured a bed for him, well away from the serpent. “Rest, Severus. Harry and I will deal with the basilisk.”

Severus groaned as Albus half-carried the younger man to the bed. “Bloody pity, it is,” he muttered.

Harry gave him a bemused look. “What, the snake? I didn’t actually want to kill it. I had no choice though. It wanted to kill me.”

Severus sat on the mattress, shaking all over, and wiped his brow. “Not that, Potter—the corpse.” His voice came out breathy with weariness. “Other than the venom, which cannot be used for anything but dark purposes, that corpse is a fortune’s worth of rare ingredients.”

Harry shrugged and turned back to the statue. “So just keep it then.”

Severus gasped and went rigid, all the colour draining from his complexion, not that he had much at the moment to speak of. “I c-cannot. You killed the beast. By all rights, it is yours.”

“What am I going to do with a dead basilisk? Merlin, just take it. I don’t want it.”

Severus reeled. “T-take it? But that is worth millions of galleons!”

“And I don’t need the money. If you can save people’s lives with it, take it and welcome. I really don’t want it.” Harry shuddered. “Selling dead animal parts for money—gods no. Just take it, sir. Really.”

Severus sank onto the pillows as if he could not support himself any longer, his face white and eyes round as galleons. “D-did he just… an entire…? Albus, am I going mad?”

Albus chuckled and patted Severus’ shoulder. “Strange how the light of truth reveals things we never expected, isn’t it?”

“Albus. Don’t torment me further. Please.”

Harry nodded. “I agree, sir. He’s been shocked enough for one day. Besides, it looks like we have a basilisk to harvest.”

Albus stared at the corpse and sighed. “Merlin, we really do need house elves to help with this. It will take us weeks.”

“Well, Dobby can’t apparate in here, but I reckon I could just bring him down on my broom. And maybe Winky might feel better if she had some real work. And some of the other elves might chip in. I can ask around in the kitchens and see who’s willing and who’s not.”

“The kitchens.” Severus sat and gave Harry a piercing look. “Is there any location within this castle you have not… familiarised yourself with?”

Harry gave him a wan smile, obviously having caught the implication of wrongdoing behind Severus’ words. “Probably not, sir.”

“Well, it works in our favour for now,” Albus said with a nod. “Harry, do go question the house elves. In the meantime, I will ask Severus what we need to harvest this and make a list for Dobby.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll be back in a mo, then.” He hissed to his snake, and the beast slithered into his shirt, hiding under his clothing. “Right. Wish me luck.” With that, Harry turned on his heel and practically raced out of the Chamber, leaving Albus alone with Severus.

“My boy,” Albus said, eyes searching, “how are you doing?”

“How do you think? I am exhausted, injured, on the Dark Lord’s death list, and my entire system of beliefs has just been turned on its head. I need a pint of scotch and a full phial of Dreamless Sleep.”

“Come now, Severus. You know better than to combine alcohol and Dreamless Sleep. You might not wake up.”

Severus gave him a look full of grim understanding.

Oh.

“Dear gods, Severus. Don’t tell me you would rather die than accept the truth? So you were wrong about him. That is no reason to give up.”

Severus glared. “I am not suicidal. I only—it is… difficult to come to terms with. And I am….” He dropped his head, cheeks tinting pink and hands shaking, and Albus understood. Shame had overwhelmed him.

The old man laid a hand on Severus’ shoulder, but pulled away at his wince. “Severus, Harry has been remarkably forgiving. I believe it is not too late to heal the damage you have done, if that is your wish.”

“I… l-leave me be, Albus. Please.”

Albus sighed and conjured a notepad and quill. “Very well. As long as you are not being cruel to the boy, I will not push you to reconcile. For the moment, however, I do need a list of supplies and any special considerations.”

Severus took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I cannot believe—is this real?”

“Yes, my boy. Harry is quite generous, though I imagine this is the first time you have experienced that generosity and kindness of spirit for yourself.”

“It… I cannot understand it. How could the son of such a terrible man be… be so different?”

Albus raised an eyebrow. “I can think of one other instance where a child grew beyond the traits of his father.” His eyes hardened. “Most of the time.”

Severus cringed, eyes shimmering with grief. “A-Albus, no. No, I am not….”

Albus stared, knowing his protégé would never understand how far he had fallen without the comparison to his own past.

Severus shrank in on himself and buried his head in his hands. “I… I see.”

Albus sighed and relented. “You are doing better since last night. For now, Severus, what do we need for the basilisk?”

Severus sat and examined the corpse, eyes dark with terrible grief. “L-leave the head. Cut a metre below the base of the skull, seal the head in a blood-bound impermeable barrier, and do not break it for any reason. The venom is extremely dangerous. I will need specialised equipment to collect and dispose of it, and I would prefer to do so myself after I have had some time to heal.”

Albus peered over the rim of his spectacles. “You are going to collect the venom? Which can only be used for dark purposes?”

Severus winced. “Several phials for antivenin.”

“There is no antivenin for basilisk venom, not that I am aware of. Other than phoenix tears, of course, and only fresh from a phoenix.”

“That is true, and also why basilisk venom is so lethal. Who other than you and Potter has a phoenix to come at their beck and call? And even Potter has only your familiar’s loyalty, not a phoenix of his own.” Severus lowered his head. “That is why I… I would like to try to develop a potion form of antivenin, if Fawkes will consent to work with me once he is matured enough.”

It was a reasonable answer, but Albus sensed Severus had not been entirely forthright. “Hmm. Is it only because the venom is available, or is there more to your sudden desire to cure basilisk poisoning?”

Severus shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. “I have heard hints that the Dark Lord plans to use basilisk venom against his victims in the future. As of yet, I do not know what he intends to do with it, but I fear for the safety of our students.” He lowered his head. “And yes, I do know it is ironic for me to suggest such a thing not twenty-four hours after being suspended for abusing said students.”

Albus simply looked at him. If Severus did have other plans for the venom, the man would reveal it under pressure.

“Albus, please.” Severus dropped his head and clenched his fists in the quilt beneath him. By the colour of his complexion and the tremor in his shoulders, Albus gathered he was holding back tears. “Do you truly believe me so far gone as to use such terrible venom against human beings? I realise I am in disgrace, but you… you said you believed in me. I… I had hoped that you meant it.” Severus looked up, expression contorted with bitter anguish and deep anger. “Or was that simply another manipulation to bend me to your will?”

Albus did not need Legilimency to see that such a betrayal would turn Severus against him forever.

He laid a hand on Severus’ wrist, one of the few forms of touch the man could bear, even with those he was close to. “My boy, if I did not believe in you, I would have simply terminated your contract. But I do believe in you, Severus. And since this morning, I have seen proof my faith in you is not without merit. I simply wanted to know what your plans were, as you are correct that the venom is quite lethal.”

Severus took a deep breath and, slowly, the pain and betrayal left his face. “I will not use any to harm people, nor will I allow it to be used for such a purpose. I swear it, Albus. I will dispose of what I do not need to develop antivenin as soon as I am able.”

Albus nodded and poised his quill over the paper. “Very well, Severus. I will take you at your word. What do we need to harvest the body then, as well as for your habitation here? And is the shed skin in the tunnel outside usable?”

Severus frowned. “There was a shed skin? I did not see it.”

“I suspect you were too distracted by your pain to notice. There are probably many hidden in the Chamber somewhere. Perhaps Harry could help us search.”

“Perhaps. Concerning the one we are sure of, however, as long as the scales have not turned brown, it should be usable. As for the rest of the snake, you will need at least ten large collection bins, heavy-duty and reinforced against corrosive substances, thick dragonhide gloves for all of us, a diamond carving knife—I have one in my personal lab….”

As Albus recorded Severus’ needs, he said a little prayer for his protégé. In spite of all he had done wrong, Albus did love the boy and wanted the best for him. If Severus could grow past this incident and let go of his hatred, he might have some hope for a proper life after the war ended. Else, Albus wasn’t positive he could keep the man from Azkaban.

He cast a glance at the basilisk corpse and a thread of hope curled around his heart, warm and glowing, relieving a burden of fear he had carried since Severus’ first brush with that awful prison. Perhaps he wasn’t the only one who would stand up for his wayward potions professor, when the time came.

With a secret smile, Albus returned his attention to his list.




Harry had been right about Winky. Having real work to do had indeed cheered the elf up. He made a note to give her more to do in the future. Along with her, Dobby and one of the braver elves, Tippy, had agreed to help, but the rest were hesitant to trust him.

“I know it’s scary,” Harry assured them, “but I promise it’s dead. And there’s nothing else down there.” He paused. “At least, nothing interested in us. At any rate, between Professor Dumbledore and myself, nothing will hurt you.”

The elves whimpered and backed away.

A tiny female house elf asked, “I-is the headmaster ordering us to helps?”

“No, no. Of course not. We both know you’re all pretty scared, so if you don’t want to help, you don’t have to. It really is safe though. Just a bit of a pain since you can’t just pop in and out like usual.”

She nodded. “I’s being helping you then.”

“Great!” Harry knelt down to her and offered his hand. “What’s your name?”

“Berry, Master Harry Potter sir.”

“Nice to meet you, Berry.” Harry shook her hand and motioned to the waiting elves. “Would you join my friends here? We might have enough now. I hope so anyway.” Just as he stood, his stomach let out a huge rumble. “Oh. Guess my appetite came back a bit.”

Berry frowned. “You is hungry, Master Harry?”

“Yeah. Haven’t had much in the past two days, honestly. But we don’t really have time to—”

The house elves let out a wail as one.

“No, no!” Tippy rushed about and brought him a turkey sandwich and crisps. “We is not letting you go hungry, Master Harry! You is needing to eat something.”

Harry grinned at her. “All right, all right. I can see I’m outnumbered. Thank you.”

Another mass wail—happy this time—met this statement. He chuckled and sat down to eat his sandwich. It was good—made just the way he liked it.

“How do you lot know how to make food to our preferences?” He motioned to his sandwich. “You even knew I don’t like onions. How do you do it?”

“Is a house elf skill,” said Berry with a shrug. “We is just knowing.”

“I’m a bit jealous. Sounds like a good skill to have.” He gave a dark laugh. “Sure would have helped me in Professor Snape’s potions class.”

On second thought, Snape would have likely assumed Harry was cheating if he had pulled off a perfect potion, despite the fact that Snape had kept him isolated since the beginning of term.

Well, maybe those days were over now. Harry certainly hoped so. Snape had been almost kind—well, for him—in the Chamber. And he had even offered to let Harry help. Maybe it would be okay between them from now on. The thought relieved a dark burden of grief he had carried for far too long.

Then the door to the kitchen opened, and Harry’s hopeful mood evaporated like his Patronus mist before a Dementor.

Three younger Hufflepuffs came in—third years, probably—chattering and laughing. They stopped dead at the sight of Harry.

“Go on,” Harry said with a hesitant smile. “There’s enough room for more.”

All the colour leached out of their faces.

“I-I’m not that hungry, really,” said a girl.

The lone boy laughed nervously and backed towards the door, leading both girls with him. “Yeah, it’s not that long to lunch. I r-reckon we’ll wait it out.”

The last girl just stared, eyes wide and body shaking.

“Well, um, bye!” The first girl grabbed the boy’s hand and dashed out of the kitchens, dragging the others in her wake.

Harry watched them flee the kitchen with a sinking heart. After being in the Chamber again so recently, he couldn’t have missed the implication of their sudden fear. It was like second year all over again. Someone had spread some awful rumour about him, and given what he had endured last night in the common room, he had a fair idea who.

“M-maybe I’m not that hungry after all.” He pushed his plate away, but at the worry in the house elves’ eyes, sighed and choked down the rest of his sandwich. He did need to eat, he supposed, even if his stomach felt like lead.

“I can’t eat anymore,” he said once he had finished his sandwich and some of his crisps. “T-thanks for lunch.” He held a hand out to Dobby. “Are you lot ready to go then?”

The elves nodded, their expressions sad, and Dobby popped Harry away to Myrtle’s loo. Myrtle appeared over the top of her stall and gave Harry a curious stare.

“They’re saying you killed someone, you know.”

Harry flinched and turned away. It was worse than he had expected then.

Dobby shrieked, “Great Master Harry Potter sir would never be killing someone! They are liars and sneaks and deserve to have their ears ironed!”

Harry rubbed his ears, half out of sympathy and half from the shrill tone of Dobby’s protests. “Dobby, no ear ironing. And please be quiet. I don’t want to draw attention to this place.”

Dobby’s ears drooped. “But they is lying about you, Master Harry Potter sir.”

“It’s nothing new.” Harry gave Myrtle a sad smile. “I suppose they’re saying I attacked a Death Eater or something then?”

Myrtle shook her head so hard, her pigtails smacked her in the face. “No. They’re saying you killed Professor Snape for revenge.”

Harry choked. “Pr-Professor Snape? That’s utterly mad! Have you seen the man duel? I doubt I could get anywhere near him in a real fight. Not to mention, he’s not dead!”

Myrtle huffed. “Well, I didn’t start the rumours, so there’s no need to get tetchy.”

Harry sighed. “Sorry, Myrtle. I… it’s just been a hard day. Listen, if anyone asks if you’ve seen me hanging about your loo, don’t say anything, please. I’d really appreciate it.”

Myrtle tittered and blushed. “Okay. You know, that offer to share with me is still good.”

Harry swallowed a surge of utter revulsion. “Um, t-thanks, Myrtle. I’ll keep that in mind. For now, I’ve really got to go.” Trying to pretend he wasn’t fleeing, he turned to the tap and hissed to the engraved snake. [For the love of all that is holy, open!]

Isuri hissed a laugh in his ear.

The tap turned into a door, and Harry led Dobby onto his broom. “Hold on tight, Dobby. The rest of you, please wait here a tick. I’ll be right back as soon as I let Dobby down.”

Trying to ignore the bleeding ache in his heart, Harry hugged Dobby to his chest and zoomed down the tunnel.




Severus had finished giving his list to Albus, but Potter hadn’t returned yet. He found himself hoping the boy had gotten some lunch and shook his head at his change of heart. Merlin, he felt as though he’d spent the past couple of days in the centre of a tornado. His mind simply couldn’t process the massive amount of change he had survived since coming to realise Harry Potter was indeed a human being.

A human being he was desperate to figure out.

For five and a quarter years, Severus had based his opinions of Potter on lies and prejudice. He had come to see the error of his ways, but that left him at a disadvantage. He had vowed to protect Potter years before, and if he didn’t know Potter, he couldn’t protect him.

Not that he hadn’t already broken his vows, but he wanted to make it right again.

And he wanted to know the boy. He wanted to understand what he had missed all these years. How could Harry be so forgiving when his father had been so cruel and his mother had never accepted Severus’ apologies? How could he have cared about Severus at all?

He wanted to understand. He wanted to know more about Harry Potter.

And that knowledge left Severus shaken to his core.

Merlin help him, he felt as though he had crawled into an alternate dimension somehow. The past two days, Potter—Potter!—had defended him and saved him at every turn. And even after everything Severus had put him through—to the point of nearly killing the boy—he had still given the man an entire basilisk as if it meant nothing.

Had he truly felt bad about killing it? A monster?

Wait. Hadn’t Severus called himself a monster in the past two days?

Maybe Potter saw the beauty in beasts.

Gods. Severus had no idea what to make of any of this. He just didn’t understand, but he wanted to. He needed to. He needed to find his footing in this strange new world, and that had to start with Potter.

But by Merlin, he was so bloody lost. How did he even begin?

“Severus, are you quite all right?” Albus, having sealed the basilisk’s head behind a barrier and a Nox shield spell to hide it from sight, sat at Severus’ side. “All this about Harry is rather a lot to take in, isn’t it?”

Severus gave a bitter snort. “Understatement, old man.”

“Hmm. I am glad you are at least considering it. I had begun to fear nothing would get through to you.”

Severus dropped his head into his hands. “I… why? Why did I hate him for so long?”

“I suppose because you have never moved on from the past.” Albus patted his hand. “Perhaps Harry can help you with that.”

“Albus, be serious. I have abused him for five and a half years. Why would he care to help me? And even if he does, how do I even begin to make up for the pain I have caused him?”

“Start by showing him basic respect and go from there. I believe he has earned the right to your trust, if you can give it.”

Severus took in a shaky breath. “I-I will try.”

“Very good. I—”

The Chamber door opened, and Potter soared into the room with the Christmas house elf on his broom.

“Here’s Dobby,” Potter said, head low, voice flat. “I’ve three more elves waiting.”

“Ah, excellent,” said Albus. “Here you are, Dobby. This is a list of supplies we need.”

The elf took the list and frowned at its contents. “Where can Dobby be finding these things?”

“I have most in my personal storage,” said Severus, “and what I do not have should be available in the school supply closet.”

Dobby nodded and tucked the list in one of his many pairs of trousers. “Dobby will be right back with the supplies then. Great Master Harry Potter sir, will you be taking me out again?”

Potter nodded and helped the elf onto his broom. “I’ll be back in a mo.” He sounded subdued and grief marked his features.

“Potter, wait.” Severus sat, unnerved and unsettled by the broken look in the boy’s eyes. “Have I said something? I… I did not intend to hurt you.” It was as much of an admission of guilt as Severus could bear.

Potter froze, his eyes going wide and his mouth falling open. “Y-you… you care?”

Severus snarled, hurt and afraid at his statement. “I-if you are going to be transporting house elves down the tunnel, it falls to us to ensure you will not drop them to their deaths!”

Potter closed his mouth and dropped his head. “R-right. Well, I’m fine.”

“I believe it is clear that you are not.”

The boy looked away. “I’ll manage. I always do.” He clutched Dobby against him and shot out of the room before Severus could say anything else.

Albus gave him a weary look and sighed. “Severus….”

But Severus was already beating himself up for his sharp tongue and reactive temper. “Don’t, Albus. Just… don’t.”

Gods, he had to do better. He had to stop snarling every time Potter came too close to the truth.

With a sigh, Severus swore to himself the next time they spoke, he would be kinder. Potter had proved in spades, he deserved far better than this.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

Seeing Rightly

By nightfall, Potter, Albus, and the elves had managed to harvest all of the basilisk but the head and store it in Severus’ bins, after a fashion. Having neither the experience nor knowledge of how to handle such toxic ingredients, they had had little choice but to simply cut the beast into sections and store it whole in special bins for corrosive ingredients. Severus would sort it later. He would prefer to organise his harvest himself anyway.

He still couldn’t believe Potter meant him to have it.

Albus stood from the last load of parts and stretched his back. The cracking sound made Severus wince.

“Oh, that sounded painful,” Potter said with a grimace. “Are you all right, sir? I’ve some rather good healing spells now if you need them.”

Albus chuckled. “It was quite the opposite of painful, however it sounded. But we must soon go for the night. Harry, it is time for you to return to the dorms.”

“No, sir.”

Albus fixed him with a stern look. “Harry, that is quite enough resistance for one day.”

Potter glared back. “I’m not resisting. Or at least, not only resisting. Someone has to stay with Professor Snape—someone who can get in and out of this place easily.”

Albus frowned. “He can communicate with you if he needs you, Harry.”

Potter crossed his arms over his chest. “And how is he going to do that, sir? The elves can’t get to him here or get out, even if I left one with him. You could maybe make a coin with a Protean charm like Hermione did for the DA, but there’s no guarantee I’ll feel it if I’m asleep, especially if I’m in a vision. And he can’t send a Patronus without tipping off my entire dorm that I’m helping him. I imagine that’s not going to sit well with the other Death Eaters. Or my dormmates, come to think of it.”

His snake lifted her head and hissed at Potter. “Hmm. Isuri says she would be willing to watch over him—”

“Well, there you have it. Isuri may stay—”

Potter gave a derisive snort. “Oh yes, great plan, sir. Only one problem: what happens if Riddle does find a way into the Chamber again? Professor Snape doesn’t speak Parseltongue and even if Isuri does understand him, it would take her time to get from here to the tower—time he might not have.”

Albus sighed. “Then I will stay with him for the night.”

“That won’t work either, sir. You have a school to run. If anything happens, you have to be able to respond for the sake of the students, but if you stay down here, you’re trapped until I come again. Which might not be until late the next morning if I have trouble evading my dorm mates.” Pain flickered across Potter’s features, but he didn’t comment on whatever had troubled him. “Not to mention, if I have to keep making excuses, they’re just going to get suspicious and maybe follow me. If I’m here to start, they can’t track me down.”

Severus frowned. “And you believe sleeping elsewhere will not raise your dorm mates’ suspicions?”

Potter looked away. “Actually, they’ll probably be expecting that, given….” He shut his mouth and stared at his feet.

“Potter? What has happened?”

He gave a bitter laugh. “Apparently there’s a rumour around the school that I snapped and killed you, Professor. They’ll expect me to avoid the tower after that.”

Severus had the feeling Potter hadn’t told him the entire story, but he didn’t push. The boy had no reason to trust him—not yet, at any rate. He resolved to change that fact, but for now, he couldn’t push their nascent truce too far. Instead, he simply scowled and gave a huff of irritation for the students’ idiocy and capriciousness. Gods, the nonsense they conjured up got worse every year.

“That is utterly ridiculous.”

“That’s what I said. You’re a master of defence for Merlin’s sake. You’d have me on my back in three seconds.”

“Two,” said Severus, unable to keep his lips from twitching with mirth.

Potter gave a sad, weak smile, a painful thing that hurt to look at. “Most likely. But the point is they’ll expect me to stay away from the dorms now. I did it a lot last year when everything was too much and Seamus was spreading rumours about me.” He dropped his head and sighed. “Not that he’s stopped.”

Albus shook his head. “Nevertheless, Harry, you are still a student, and—”

Severus raised a hand to forestall him. “He is right, Albus.” Gods, he couldn’t believe he had just said that. “Potter is… right. I am not in the condition to remain here on my own, not yet, and neither of us can leave this place without his help. As Potter’s snake most likely cannot understand us—”

“She does sometimes, sir,” Potter interjected, “but not always. Um… she says it’s a new ability since becoming my familiar and she’s still learning to use it.”

Severus gave him a sharp look, but did not reprimand him for the interruption. “As his snake cannot always understand us, then that leaves only Potter to help me.”

Albus gave Severus an incredulous look. “You wish Harry to stay with you?”

Severus shifted in discomfort. “It is less about what I wish for and more about what is practical. Until I am able to return to my proper quarters, I need his assistance.”

“Severus… that won’t be until after the hols—if then. You’re talking about over a month in close quarters, and that’s assuming Riddle ceases these attacks when he sees you are still useful as a spy.”

“He will,” Potter said with a wry look. “If anything, headmaster, your protection and emergency portkey even after a suspension will convince him Professor Snape is untouchable and therefore a more valuable spy than he imagined. Riddle will be hacked off for a bit, but then Professor Snape will likely gain status within the Inner Circle rather than lose it.”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “And how do you know so much about the Dark Lord’s motivations, Potter?”

The boy snorted and tapped his temple.

Severus frowned. It was true. The boy had a connection and insight into the Dark Lord no one else did. Considering, Potter might know more about the way the Dark Lord worked than even Severus did.

Tentative hope built in his chest. Perhaps he hadn’t lost his worth to the war after all.

“Oh, very well, Harry,” said Albus with a sigh. “But you must still obey curfew, even if you are not reporting to the dorm for the time being.” He rubbed his forehead and grimaced. “Merlin, I will have much to explain to Minerva.”

Severus snorted. “I do not envy you that job.”

“Yeah.” Potter crossed his arms over his chest, looking vulnerable and small. “Sir, what will you tell the others about me?”

“Hmm. Has anyone seen you since last night?”

Potter nodded. “Ron, Seamus, and a few younger Hufflepuffs this afternoon. Not to mention Moaning Myrtle.”

Albus frowned and tugged his beard. “Then saying you caught dragon pox will not do.”

“I couldn’t attend classes if you said that, sir. Or leave. And that would severely hinder my ability to help Professor Snape.”

“Not to mention we would likely kill each other within a day,” Severus muttered.

Albus fixed him with a sharp glare. “You will not harm him, is that understood?”

Severus blanched and dropped his head. Perhaps that had been in bad taste, but he hadn’t meant it literally. He only feared that with their relationship so… unstable, in such close quarters with no breaks, any truce they might have had would fall apart.

Potter sighed. “Headmaster, I don’t think Professor Snape meant that like it sounded. It’s just close in here, that’s all. Even Ron and I would….” He closed his eyes and turned his face away. “Well, it would be difficult to share the same space all the time even if the professor and I were best friends, and we’re obviously not.” He gave Severus a wan smile. “But I can tell you’re trying, sir. And… it’s enough for me.”

Potter went to touch Severus’ shoulder, but flinched and drew back at the last second. “S-sorry, sir. I almost forgot.”

To his shock and dismay, Severus wanted that gentle touch. He wanted to know what it felt like to be cared for. The dark, deep, clawing need keened for it, tempting him to reach for Potter’s hand. He refrained, though it took more effort than he would have liked. He dropped his head and clenched his hands into fists.

With a little sound of dismay, Potter stepped back. “I-I’m sorry. I just… Merlin. I’ll move.”

Severus wanted to reassure him, to call him back, but his lips would not form the words. He stared into his lap and trembled, torn between a desperate desire to reach for Potter’s hand and horrible, crushing fear of what that vulnerability might cost him.

Albus looked between them, deep concern in his eyes. “Something tells me this is a terrible idea.”

Severus Occluded his secrets away and glared at the old man. “Do you have a better suggestion?”

“Unfortunately, I do not.” Albus sighed. “I suppose it cannot be helped. Harry, are your dormmates aware of your visions?”

Potter blushed and kicked at the floor. “I’ve used silencing charms since first year. Other than Ron, I don’t think so.”

“Longbottom is aware,” said Severus, watching the boy for signs of anger. “I overheard him speaking about them to Miss Lovegood several weeks ago. He was quite concerned.”

“Neville knows?” Harry grimaced. “Blimey. No wonder he’s been staying up with me.”

Albus gave him a sad smile. “I believe Neville truly cares about you, Harry. And this allows me a way to smooth feathers, so to speak. I will not be able to announce your location to the school at large, and perhaps that is to the best, but at least to your roommates, I will let them know you are safe, but will not be in the dorm or at mealtimes until after the hols.”

Potter gave Albus a wan smile. Something in his eyes suggested the boy would not be returning after the hols either. Merlin. What had happened? Was it only the rumours? No, Potter had endured worse. Perhaps Severus could unearth the truth in Occlumency.

Severus barely controlled a wince. No. Potter had shown him incredible faith and forgiveness. He would not return it by stealing the boy’s secrets without permission. If he asked, perhaps Potter might be willing to talk. And if not, he would investigate the matter on his own, as soon as he had the freedom to do so.

Damned if he would break Potter’s trust again.

Albus continued as if he hadn’t seen Potter’s tells, though Severus doubted the old man had missed anything. “If several of your roommates have noticed your difficulties sleeping, Harry, then I will be able to use the excuse that Poppy is treating you for your nightmares as they have not been responding to Dreamless Sleep. That is true, is it not?”

Potter nodded. “It… lessens them, but I still don’t sleep well. And it does nothing for the visions.”

Lessened them? Dear Merlin. Severus had never heard of Dreamless Sleep failing to silence dreams completely, but then again, Potter always seemed to be the exception to every rule. Really, given the boy’s track record, Severus might have predicted it. With a sigh, he made a note to experiment with the potion and attempt to find a version that would ward off Potter’s nightmares without harming him further.

“Then they shall have no way to poke holes in our story,” Albus said.

Potter crossed his arms over his chest and gave Albus a sharp look. “Maybe not the other Gryffindors, but as I’m not actually in the Infirmary, Madam Pomfrey could if they asked her.”

Albus gave the boy a grim nod. “I am afraid I will have little choice but to tell the staff the entire truth of the situation. Otherwise, they will not understand why you may need to leave classes in the middle of the day with no obvious reason.”

Potter’s eyes narrowed. “Really? And will Professor Snape be safe if you do that? You’re sure none of the professors are on Riddle’s side?”

“Scanning for the mark is compulsory before taking on a new professor, Harry. Severus is a special case, of course, but none of the others are marked.”

Potter scoffed. “That doesn’t rule out unmarked dark supporters, sir. After all, Greyback isn’t marked, but he’s worse than half of the Inner Circle combined.”

Severus jerked his head around, staring at Potter with thinly-veiled shock. That was the kind of argument Severus himself would have rebutted with. In fact, it had been on the tip of his tongue when Potter said it. Merlin. He hadn’t imagined the boy to have such intelligence in him.

Perhaps in this as well, Severus had misjudged the boy. Gods. He had missed so much while prejudice and hatred had ruled him.

Well, he would not do so again. A spy could not afford to be so blind. He settled onto his pillows and observed, intent on learning the truth about his new… roommate, even if it hurt.

“That is true, Harry,” said Albus with a sad smile. “And, unfortunately, I have no way of guaranteeing without a doubt that none of my professors are involved in the forces of the dark. However, if they had been present at the meetings, Severus would most likely have seen them before.”

Potter tapped his scar. “Did Professor Snape see Pettigrew before it was too late?”

Albus winced. “No.”

Severus wanted to wince too, but he refused to show his discomfort.

Potter nodded, eyes sharp with determination and anger. “So I reckon that means there might be Death Eaters under the radar—even in your own school?”

Damn. Severus had greatly underestimated Potter’s intelligence and discernment. Gods, he felt like an utter fool.

Albus sighed. “I think not, Harry, but as you have pointed out, I cannot say so without a doubt. Very well. I will only tell those I am absolutely certain of: Minerva, Poppy, Pomona, Hagrid—”

“Not Hagrid,” Potter said with a fierce shake of his head. “Absolutely not Hagrid. As much as I love the man, and as much as I agree with you he would chop off his own arm before joining the dark, he can’t keep a secret to save his life. How do you think I learned how to calm Fluffy or where the Philosopher’s Stone was? Merlin, he even gave me the flute I used. And that’s not even close to the extent of it. Every Gryffindor worth their salt knows how to wrangle a secret out of him before second year. Please, for everyone’s sake, do not tell Hagrid anything.”

“Potter is correct, Albus,” Severus said with a grim nod—and Merlin help him, now he’d said it twice in one evening. It was bloody surreal. “I strongly advise against informing him as well. Besides those you have mentioned, Filius and Aurora are the only other professors I would trust with such dangerous secrets.”

Potter nodded. “I can’t speak for Professor Sinistra, but I agree about Professor Flitwick, and I trust Professor Snape’s judgment.”

Shock rang through Severus. “You are a bloody masochist,” he muttered.

Potter gave a wan chuckle. “I’ve thought that myself more than once the past two days.”

“Indeed.” Albus gave Potter a searching look. “Hagrid told you how to pass Fluffy?”

All semblance of mirth vanished from Potter’s expression in an instant. He rounded on Albus, challenge and fury sparking in his eyes. “Are you really going to pretend as though you didn’t already know that, sir?”

Severus turned back to Albus just in time to see the old man cover a flinch and hide his guilt behind his usual genial expression.

Creeping dread crawled down the nape of Severus’ neck and settled, cold and writhing, in his belly. Merlin. Albus had hurt the boy somehow to earn such disapprobation—and deserve it apparently—but what had he done? Again, Severus had missed some crucial bit of information in his quest to hate Potter as much as possible, and that did not sit well with him. Some spy he had been.

“You already know….”

Hmm. Did Potter believe Albus had told Hagrid of the stone deliberately? That the entire encounter with Quirrell and the Dark Lord had been engineered?

A chill settled in Severus’ veins. Engineered? Had Albus used Quirrell to test Potter? To pit him against evil in his first year and see how he handled it?

It might explain why Albus had never listened to Severus’ warnings about the turbaned-terror. And how convenient that Albus had been standing by in the Mirror Chamber, ready to save the day the moment Potter began to flag….

Gods. As much as Severus wanted to deny the possibility, he knew all too well how cold Albus could be in pursuit of the ‘greater good.’ He had experienced it himself often enough, but the idea that Potter—a seventeen-year-old boy—already knew the grim truth hiding behind Albus’ genial façade, and had done since his first year at Hogwarts, left Severus cold.

Dear Merlin. Albus’ terrible ruthlessness was unconscionable even against an adult, but a twelve-year-old child?

He sent Albus a dark look. “Albus, I think you have much to answer for. Quite as much as I do.”

A pink blush crept up the old man’s cheeks. “I… I am sure I do not know what you are talking about, Severus.”

Potter snorted. “Why am I not surprised?” He said something to his familiar that made her give a hissing sort of laugh.

Albus coughed and turned the conversation back to the task at hand. “Ah, well, b-be that as it may, I will take your advice into account, boys, and only inform the professors we have all agreed upon of the truth of your situation. Is that acceptable to you, Harry? I’m afraid the story about your nightmares may place you in a bit of a bad light, but I truly cannot think of another way to explain your absence at night.”

“It’s fine, so long as you’re not announcing it to the school.” Potter’s head drooped. “Though it’s only going to inflame the rumours either way.”

“As I intend to announce Professor Snape’s situation tomorrow,” said Albus with a wry smile, “I do not imagine they will last long.”

Potter gave him a thin smile. “Maybe not.” Somehow, he didn’t sound convinced.

To be fair, Severus wasn’t either.

“Perhaps it would not hurt to make an appearance tomorrow, Albus. To assure them I am well, though I imagine the sound of their moans of disappointment will carry to Edinburgh.”

Albus chuckled. “I shall advise the staff to bring earplugs.”

Potter gave Severus a hesitant half-smile. “Sir, um, i-if it means anything, I’m glad you pulled through.”

Shock ringing through him for the umpteenth time that day, Severus searched Potter’s eyes and reeled at the honesty and sincerity he found within them.

Dear gods, the boy had meant it.

Severus gripped the sheets for balance and struggled to make some sense of his new roommate’s indomitable forgiveness.

“Potter… I don’t understand. Why? You of all the students have more than enough reason to wish me gone. I understand why you saved my life, but this… this concern, this relief that I am safe—I cannot comprehend it. Why do you care when I… I have been…?” He looked away and clenched his fists at his side. He couldn’t finish the words. Merlin forgive him, he couldn’t force his lips to form an apology, though if anyone deserved one, Potter did.

Potter ducked his head. “I… I just do, sir. I don’t always understand it myself, but I do.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “E-even if admitting it makes you hate me more, it’s true. I… I just wish….” He sighed and wrapped his arms around his waist. “S-sorry, sir.”

Sorry? Guilt and shame choked Severus. Potter was apologising for nothing, and Severus couldn’t choke out an apology for behaviour that, under any other headmaster, would have surely landed him in Azkaban. Gods, he had been a complete monster to this boy, and somehow Potter thought he needed to apologise.

Even more baffling, somehow, Potter still believed Severus worth saving, even knowing it would cause him pain.

Gods, none of this made sense! How could he care when Severus had all but broken him? Was Potter truly a masochist, or was there something… unique about him? Severus remembered his resolve to seek out the truth of Harry Potter and considered the situation hard while Albus tried to comfort the boy, however ineffectually.

“I believe Harry’s power—the power he knows not—lies mostly in his ability to love. His loyalty, his honour and sacrifice for those he wants to protect. I have rarely seen the like of it.”

Severus closed his eyes, buffeted by remorse as the memory of that conversation washed over him. Even in Potter’s first year, his depth of character had been apparent to everyone but Severus. With the blinders of prejudice gone, he could no longer deny that Albus might have had a point.

 “Sir?” Potter’s voice brought Severus out of his thoughts with a jolt. “Are you all right? Um, I-I can get you another pain potion if you need it. I think your last one wore off about ten minutes ago.”

He had been keeping track? Merlin. The boy truly did care.

“I….” Severus swallowed a strange tightness in the back of his throat. “I am well enough, at least for the moment.”

Potter gave him a small, hesitant smile. “All right. Just let me know if you need anything.”

Severus nodded, throat too thick with emotion to speak. Gods, he didn’t deserve this.

Potter looked down and rubbed his toe along the floor. “Sir, um… about tomorrow, t-thank you. It m-might keep the students from panicking if you can at least make it to breakfast in the morning. Just….” The boy ducked and hunched his shoulders, eyes closed as if waiting for a blow. “Um, j-just check your food for poison, please? Riddle won’t give up this easily and Fawkes can’t save you this time.”

Severus lowered his head too, tears of wonder and remorse creeping up the back of his eyelids and stealing his breath. Merlin, but it was a strange sensation to be so well-protected.

“I will ensure that I do so,” he murmured, voice rough.

Potter lifted his head, his eyes full of the same strange mix of wonder, hope, and wariness Severus felt. “Yeah? I-I mean, yes, sir.”

His twinkle blinding, Albus clapped his hands and startled Severus—Potter jumped too. “Well then, I will make the announcement at lunch tomorrow, boys.” The light in his eyes dimmed. “Do take Harry’s advice, Severus. Tom may indeed be prepared for your appearance.”

Severus nodded. “I am aware. And with that settled, I believe Potter and I will be well for the evening now, Albus.”

“Ah, one moment….” Albus conjured a bed for Potter a metre or so away from Severus’, with a Japanese folding screen between them. “There we are. I do hope it will make the situation a bit less awkward.” He gave them a hesitant smile. “Do be gentle with each other, and I hope to see you both well in the morning. Goodnight, my boys.”

Severus and bid him goodnight and watched as Potter flew him out of the tunnel. There was a slight delay, and an irritated Potter returned a moment later. Severus narrowed his eyes, waiting for an explosion. Perhaps Potter had only been so kind in front of Albus? But no. The boy merely flopped onto his bed and sighed.

“Gods, that barmy old coot,” Potter murmured under his breath, barely audible.

Ah. Again, Albus had incurred Potter’s wrath. What had the meddling fool said this time?

“Merlin, I’m knackered,” Potter said with a groan.

Severus gave a wry snort. The boy had certainly earned the right to it, running after Severus the past two days the way he had done.

“I am quite tired myself,” Severus replied, and meant it. Changing one’s entire world view so soon after a mortal injury took it out of a man, apparently.

“Maybe we should just go to bed early then.” Potter stood and stretched. “I need a shower first. Is that all right, sir?”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “You are asking me if you have permission to bathe after spending most of the day harvesting a dead basilisk?”

Potter grimaced. “Right. I’m off to the loo then. Unless you need anything first?”

“I am well. Off with you.”

“Yes, sir.”

Potter laid his viper on his bed, cast a warming charm over her, and dashed into the loo Albus had conjured a few paces from the beds. A moment later, the sound of running water echoed in the Chamber, reminding Severus of the rain on his childhood home’s tin roof. It was the only fond memory he had of the place.

It occurred to him to warn Potter that all conjured showers started out cold, but from the sound of the water flow, the boy was already under the spray and hadn’t issued a complaint. How odd. Severus would have expected a yelp from one not used to a cold shower. Perhaps the plumbing in Gryffindor tower did not function as well as that of Slytherin.

While Potter washed, Severus lay back and contemplated his strange situation. Merlin, he felt as though he had been turned inside out. He didn’t know how to make sense of anything any longer, especially Potter. And now he had four weeks alone with the boy. Would they come to an understanding, or would several weeks in close quarters turn them against each other once more?

To his utter shock, Severus found himself hoping they could reconcile. Forgiveness and compassion like Potter had shown him was rare in the extreme—particularly in Severus’ experience. As much as it unsettled him, he hoped for the chance to earn a place in the boy’s life, this time as more than a villain.

A man could do worse than to have the loyalty and trust of such a forgiving boy.

Either way, Severus wanted to make it right between them. He had never been able to heal the breach with Lily, but her son had given him a second chance. As much as the knowledge frightened him, Severus wanted to take it. At least, he wanted to try.

The shower cut off, and Potter emerged a moment later with wet hair and the same robes as before. He moved to Severus’ side, and the citrusy scent from his clothing reassured the man Potter had spell-laundered his clothing before dressing, much to Severus’ relief.

Twisting his hands over each other, Potter cleared his throat and bowed his head. He was bracing himself for a blow. “Um, is there anything you need before bed, sir? Are you able to change on your own?”

Heat crowded Severus’ cheeks. “I should hope so.”

Potter blushed too. “Ah, I… I just thought, with those lash wounds and the fact that your chest is still healing, it might be difficult to… um, those robes are pretty involved, I mean. Um, I d-don’t mind helping you if you need it.”

Severus swallowed hard. He could manage his clothing with spells, but…. “Ah, I… if you could help with my boots, I believe I will be well.”

Potter blushed to his ears. “Okay.” He knelt at Severus’ feet and lifted one booted foot into his lap. “Um, I’m sorry, sir. I know you don’t want me touching you. I’ll try to avoid it as much as possible.”

Severus was too busy shaking with anguished, desperate loneliness to respond. Gods, how could Potter be so gentle? He had never felt such a soft touch, especially not on his feet, and it left him hollow and keening with a soul-deep need for this tender, intimate moment never to end.

And yet, at the same time, he dreaded it. That need, the clawing ache inside him—he would die before he let himself fall prey to it again. He was lonely, true, but to let someone in, to reveal the softest parts of his heart… no. He would only be hurt.

As Potter removed his boot and sock, Severus sat frozen, heart pounding in his ears and fingers clenched in the sheets. Potter wrapped his hand around Severus’ bare ankle and lowered his foot to the floor, fear of his own apparent in his eyes.

“S-sorry, sir,” Potter murmured, his expression pained. “I’m trying not to bother you.”

Merlin, Severus wished he could find his voice. The boy was shaking, lashes lowered and cheeks dull red. Potter needed reassurance, and for once, Severus wanted to give it, but the words wouldn’t come.

Still, he had to do something. He couldn’t leave Potter in such pain, not when the boy had been so kind and Severus’ fears weren’t Potter’s fault. Potter couldn’t possibly understand what touch meant to a man like Severus, for whom intimacy had long-since been the enemy, but neither should he believe Severus hated him still.

Albus was right. Potter had earned Severus’ trust.

Potter lifted the man’s other foot into his lap, jerking his hands away as if burned. “I-I’m so sorry. I’m t-trying not to….”

His voice broke, and Severus couldn’t bear his pain another second. Despite his fears, he lifted a tentative hand to Potter’s head and smoothed his hair.

The boy froze, eyes wide as galleons and lips parted, cheeks fast turning crimson. “S-sir?”

“It is not… your fault,” Severus whispered, and let his hand fall.

Potter looked up, eyes shimmering and wet, a sad smile on his face. Did Severus imagine he saw the same desperate longing in the boy’s eyes? It couldn’t be, could it? Potter had never been alone, not like Severus.

“Thank you,” Potter murmured, and set about removing the other boot.

He moved efficiently, taking care with Severus and touching no more than necessary. His respect and patience left Severus bleeding inside.

Gods. He should have seen the truth about this young man so much sooner.

Severus clutched the edge of the bed and clenched his teeth, struggling to breathe through a combination of fear, remorse, and regret that he could not enjoy this moment, the first time someone touched him with kindness in over twenty years.

“Sir? Are you all right?”

Severus nodded, too overcome to speak.

“G-good.” Potter stood and gave him a shy smile. “Okay. What next?”

Severus shook his head and forced his voice to work. “I am able to remove the rest.” He flicked his wand, and his robe unbuttoned itself. A second swish had it flying across the room, folded neatly. A third changed his dress shirt and trousers to black pyjamas.

Potter gave him a wry smile. “I’m surprised you didn’t do that with your boots.”

Heat crept into Severus’ cheeks. “I might have done, but there are no spells to remove boots without harming their wearer.”

“Oh. I wonder why. Seems like something people would find handy.”

“It simply has not been invented yet.” But in time, perhaps Severus would find a working incantation and spell matrix for it. With the number of times he had been too injured to remove his boots, such a spell was a necessity. If only he could figure out how to unlace the damn things properly, he would have it done.

Well, he would have time to work on it over the hols. Perhaps he could have it finished before he returned to spying, if he returned.

“Ah. Well, I’m going to go change myself….” Potter looked around and blushed. “Or not. I don’t have anything to change into, do I?”

“I will help you.”

Severus flicked his wand for Potter this time, first removing and folding his robe, then switching the Muggle tee and black trousers he wore underneath to pyjamas much like his own, but crimson in honour of his house. Severus’ breath caught at the change. Merlin, Potter looked good in red.

Potter blushed and gave Severus a hesitant half-smile. “Thank you, sir. Um… do you need a drink or anything? I can get Dobby.”

“I am well. We can make water, Potter.”

Potter frowned. “Yes, sir. Um… sir, if… would it be too much trouble to call me Harry? I really don’t like my last name.”

Severus gave him a searching look. “Is there a reason?”

Po—Harry paled and turned away. “I just don’t. If you don’t want to use my first name or can’t because of your… other position, it’s fine. Just thought I’d ask.”

“Hmm.”

Severus watched the boy with growing concern. Why would he hate his family name? The boy idolised his parents, did he not? Then again, perhaps after seeing them in the light he had in Severus’ pensieve, he had become disillusioned. Either way, if Harry preferred his forename, it wasn’t much of a sacrifice on Severus’ part to use it.

Merlin, he had changed.

“Go to sleep, Harry.”

A shy, tentative smile and a spark of hope in Harry’s eyes rewarded Severus’ efforts. “Y-yeah. Goodnight, sir.”

“Goodnight.”

Severus watched Harry as he walked around the screen and listened as he settled in bed. After a moment, Severus lay down too, his mind full of conflicting thoughts and emotions.

Into the silence, Harry murmured, “Sir? You… you don’t need to say anything. I don’t want you to feel… bad or anything. But thank you for trying so hard. I… it’s just… oh Merlin, t-thank you.”

At the break in Harry’s voice, Severus wondered just how much damage his hatred had done. And marvelled that he did not feel it at all any longer. Somehow, Harry had conquered the walls of his past.

Well, some of them at least.

Yet, Severus could not respond, could not make himself vulnerable enough to admit that he should be the one to thank Harry. He had never known the kind of forgiveness Harry had shown him all day and he could not deny the profound effect it had on his heart, but neither could he admit it.

‘Thank you, Harry, and gods, I am so sorry, child.’

Perhaps, one day, he would find the strength to say it out loud.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

Facing the Music

4 December

Harry hung next to the young Severus, naked and terrified, tears pouring down his face. Severus, knowing this dream too well by now, slipped his hand into Harry’s and held tight.

“I’m here,” he whispered.

Harry laced their fingers together and tried to face his attackers bravely. Severus’ touch gave him courage to endure.

Eventually, the bullies tired of tormenting them and left, dropping Severus and Harry to the ground. Harry groaned and held his nose, which was broken and bleeding.

“Oh Merlin.” Severus, still naked, but uncaring now that their abusers had gone, brushed Harry’s cheek with gentle fingertips. “We need to get you to Madam Pomfrey.”

Harry winced. “Can’t. Don’t want her to see me like this.”

Severus stroked Harry’s face, wiping away tears and blood. “You’re injured, Harry.”

“The spell is Episkey. Focus on love and try to heal me.”

Severus’ cheeks burned. He held Harry’s face and leaned a bit closer. “Episkey.”

Harry gasped as his bones healed and the bleeding stopped. A ginger pat to his nose satisfied him it had set correctly.

“Thanks.”

Severus nodded. “Tergeo.”

The blood vanished from Harry’s face, taking its sticky-slimy feeling with it. Severus traced his fingertips across Harry’s temples and behind his ears. Merlin, but Harry wished he could feel it better.

Severus wrapped an arm around Harry and pulled him close. “Where did you learn that spell?”

“Healing you. I had to save your life.”

“Hmm. Then may I tell you something?”

The softness of his voice let Harry know whatever Severus had to say was important. Even as he nodded, Harry swallowed hard and tried to quiet a strange sense of anticipation.

“When I healed you,” Severus murmured in Harry’s ear, “I thought of—”

 

“Harry! Merlin, wake up.”

Severus—Snape?—called Harry’s name and pulled him out of dreams with a jerk. An odd sense of disappointment filled him. He wanted to know what Severus had thought of. Then again, it was only a dream, and the real Severus sounded panicked.

Harry’s breath caught at the feel of Snape’s hand on his face. Had that aspect of the dream been real, then? Gentle fingertips brushed the sides of his face, tracing across his temples. Definitely real. But why? Why was Snape touching him like this, particularly when the man had a phobia of touch?

“Harry!”

The man moved to pat Harry’s shoulder, and with the breeze Snape’s movements made, Harry understood. By the irritation under his lids and the wetness of his skin, he had wept during his nightmares. Snape must have been trying to wipe his tears away. The thought filled him with hope and a tender, fluttery feeling he didn’t understand.

“Harry, wake up. Please.”

The anguished tone of Snape’s voice cut Harry to the quick. He opened his eyes and took a sharp breath. Snape was sitting on the edge of his bed, hand gentle on Harry’s face and his eyes full of alarm.

“S-sir?”

Snape drew his hand back, leaving Harry feeling cold and desolate without his touch, and covered his eyes with the same palm.

“Gods, Harry. Why have you told no one your visions are so dreadful?”

Harry frowned. Visions? He hadn’t had any since early in the night. The Chamber’s magic went a long way towards blocking them out, apparently.

“Er… how long have you been sitting up with me, sir?”

“Perhaps twenty minutes. I came to wake you and you were crying out for help.”

“Oh. Then I don’t think you were seeing my visions. That was just a nightmare.” Though the ending hadn’t been so bad.

“A nightmare?” Snape dropped his hand and stared at Harry, eyes round with shock. “What kind of nightmare could hurt you so much, you weep throughout and cannot be roused?”

Harry winced and turned away. They had made so much progress. He couldn’t bear to tell Snape the truth knowing it would infuriate the man if he realised Harry had dreamed of his naked body, even if was a younger Snape and they had been suffering together at the time. Snape might never be ready to hear that.

Snape sighed and gently brushed tears from Harry’s temple. “Are you well?”

Harry closed his eyes at the soft touch; the familiar ache and clawing need for someone to end the loneliness brought fresh tears to his eyes. “F-fine. I’m fine.”

Snape pulled his hand away. “I will not trouble you.”

He stood to leave, and panic crashed through Harry’s veins. “Wait, sir, please. You’re not bothering me. I’m s-sorry.”

Snape paused. “You did not mind…?” He lifted his hand towards Harry’s face as if he would touch him again, but drew back at the last moment, his eyes uncertain.

Harry gave him a hesitant smile. “No. I don’t mind, sir.”

Something painful flickered across Snape’s features, and he nodded and moved away.

Harry swallowed a surge of fear and sat up. “D-did I say something wrong, sir?”

“No, but we will be late for breakfast if we do not hurry. You overslept.”

“Oh.” Harry sat and rubbed his eyes. “Do you need help with your boots today, sir?”

Snape shook his head. “I am recovered enough to manage them myself.”

“That’s good.” Harry gave him a hesitant smile. “Well, let’s get ready for breakfast then.”

“That is what I said.”

Harry chuckled and roused himself from the bed. He checked on Isuri, stroking her back gently. [Good morning, my friend. Would you like to sleep on my neck instead? I must leave to eat, but you are free to sleep here, if you prefer.]

Isuri slithered under Harry’s pyjama top and wrapped herself around his neck. [Master is warm. I will sleep here.]

Harry shivered at the strange creepy-crawly feeling and shook his shoulders a bit, settling her.

“Hold still.” Snape flicked his wand and transfigured the boy’s pyjamas back into his tee and trousers.

Isuri poked her head out and hissed in Harry’s ear. [Tell your friend not to switch your skins while I am under them.]

He turned his face away from the ticklish sensation, suppressing a giggle. “Isuri said she doesn’t like it when you change my ‘skin’ while she’s hiding under it.”

“Your skin?” Snape raised an eyebrow.

“Well, not everything in Parseltongue translates to English. Snakes don’t wear clothing, you know. I reckon they think ours is something like a shed skin.”

Isuri cocked her head. [It is not?]

[No. It is not a part of us. Humans do not have fur or scales so we must cover ourselves with….] He had to imitate the phonetics of a word that did not translate to snake language. [Clooothhhesss. They keep us warm and protect our soft spots. Think of it like… wearing leaves.]

Isuri shook her head and hissed her snake laugh. [Leaves are not much protection for your soft spots, Master.]

[That is why we have spells!]

Isuri laughed again and settled back into Harry’s shirt. He patted her and went about packing his knapsack for classes.

Around the other side of the screen, Snape called in a sombre voice, “Harry, you will not tell me what you were dreaming about, will you?”

Harry cringed. Gods, no.

“Um… it’s just… a bit too upsetting, sir. I’d rather move on, if that’s okay with you.”

“Very well. Your vision then. What happened?”

Harry sat on his bed and petted Isuri for comfort. “He k-killed a Muggleborn woman. An old lady who lived by herself. I don’t know her name or where she was. She… she fought so hard but….”

Snape came round the screen again fully dressed, though his hair was still mussed. He said nothing, perhaps there was nothing he could say, but he sat beside Harry and laid a halting hand on Harry’s wrist. His trembling fingertips tickled with their barely-there caress, but nevertheless, Snape’s hesitant touch—and the trust it implied—comforted Harry far more than any useless words could have done. Touch meant so much more from a man who feared it.

He let slip a shuddering sigh and leaned into Snape slightly. Merlin, but it felt odd to keep calling him Snape when they were doing well, but Harry wasn’t fool enough to dare utter the man’s forename without permission. Perhaps after some time here, Snape might allow him the small concession. At least in private.

For the moment, it was enough to remember this man and the Severus from his dreams were the same person. With Snape working so hard to overcome his prejudice and hatred, Harry could see it, at last, the gentle heart under his hard façade.

And yet, he was all too aware that one misstep would set Snape against him forever. He had to be exceedingly careful with this damaged, lonely man.

“Thank you, sir,” he whispered, not daring to call him what he wished.

Snape’s hand lifted from Harry’s arm, then settled closer to his skin. “It helps?”

“Yeah.”

Snape traced Harry’s arm lightly, then stood. He had Occluded all traces of emotion from his expression, but Harry sensed his cautious hope and hesitant trust nonetheless. It was enough.

“Come. We must dress and hurry to breakfast.” Snape paused. “Unless you feel you are unable?”

Harry shook his head. “Last night was actually pretty light in terms of visions. It’s still… it still hurts, but it’s nothing I’m not used to.”

Quiet horror and sorrow filled Snape’s dark eyes. “You witnessed a woman murdered last night and… and it is nothing new?”

Harry grimaced. If knowing he witnessed her murder had appalled the man, he had best keep it to himself that he had felt her die.

“When you… s-see five or so people killed a night, one is not as bad.”

Snape covered his face with a shaking hand. “Dear gods. Harry, I must find a way to teach you Occlumency. That is… h-how are you still functioning?”

Harry gave a bitter laugh. “I’m not sure I am. At least, not well.” He smiled hesitantly at the man. “But knowing you care helps.”

Snape sighed. “I should have….” He shook his head and turned away. “Come. If you are truly able to bear it, we should hurry before we are late.”

Harry stood and hoped his post-Cruciatus twitches weren’t too obvious. He hadn’t had time to retrieve his potions stock before bed the night before. Well, maybe he could ask Dobby to bring them today, or sneak up to his dorm and grab them himself. Either way, going a few hours without it wouldn’t kill him.

“I’m fine, sir. Let’s go.”

Snape gave him a piercing look, but if he had noticed Harry’s tremor, he didn’t comment. “Lead the way.”

 


 

For the sake of their safety, Severus had sent Harry along to breakfast by himself. Their hatred might have been fading in private, but in public, it was more than Severus’ life was worth to reveal he had lost his edge against the boy.

Harry went first, shifting into that downtrodden wallflower again before he stepped out of Myrtle’s loo. Severus had half a mind to call him back and ask why he tried to blend with the walls in public, but he couldn’t. Not yet. Not until they were safe within the Chamber again.

Severus waited two minutes exactly, then set out for the Great Hall himself, mulling over Harry’s revelations of the morning. Gods. To see so many deaths every night—how was the child still sane?

He stopped short just outside the second story stairwell, horror crashing anew down on him. Hadn’t Albus said Harry needed Anti-Cruciatus Draught for his visions? Did that mean he not only witnessed their deaths, but experienced them? Felt their pain?

Dear fucking Merlin, Severus hoped not. Even if Harry had been as terrible as Severus had imagined him to be before, he wouldn’t deserve that. Gods.

It couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t be so bad. If Harry endured torture and death—more than once—every single night, he would be utterly mad, if not dead himself. Perhaps he only needed the potions for the effects of coming so close to dark magic. Merlin, Severus hoped that was the case.

Thus reassured, he entered the stairwell and made his way to the Great Hall. His musing had made him late, and so, he arrived at the teachers’ entrance a few moments after the meal had already begun. Damn. Harry would be worried over him.

And gods, wasn’t that a strange thought?

Severus shook his head and cancelled his invisibility spell. Stranger things had happened to him—yesterday.

As he pushed the door open and made his way onto the teachers’ dais, silence descended on the hall. All faces turned to him, the professors with a mixture of relief and irritation, the students with wide eyes full of disbelief—and several with scowls of disappointment, the bloodthirsty little bastards. Well, it served them right for believing such ridiculous rumours.

He glared them all down and settled in his usual seat, taking great pains to conceal his limp.

Minerva whispered as Severus sat down, “Where have you been these past two days? The students have been spreading the most ridiculous rubbish, and I must admit I have been concerned.”

“You should know better than to believe that horde of babbling dunderheads.” Severus poured himself a cup of tea to give him time to formulate an answer, keeping his fingers well away from the inside of his cup and the tea itself, just in case Harry’s worries proved well-founded. “As to your concerns about my whereabouts, my… other employer took it upon himself to voice his displeasure with something I had done, and I have been convalescing.”

Minerva flinched. “Merlin. Are you all right?”

“I am here, am I not?”

“Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t in pain.”

Severus sniffed. “I am well enough. Perhaps not entirely recovered but enough to manage a meal or two.”

Filius frowned and gave Severus a look full of concern. “You will not be teaching today either, Severus?”

Severus glared. “Ask Albus. In the meantime, I would like to eat my breakfast in peace.” If one could call the blatant stares and whispering peaceful.

“Humph.” Minerva turned and went back to her own dish.

Severus waited until Filius’ attention had left him to perform a quick poison-checking spell on his plate and cup. He wasn’t surprised when both flickered dark red.

He Vanished the plate and cup with the specialised spell for handling basilisk venom, just in case the Dark Lord had decided Severus would be his guinea pig. The magic flickered violet and expanded, sending Severus scooting backwards in alarm, then his plate and cup Vanished, taking the dark aura with them.

Severus’ breath ran short and his heart slammed into his ribs. Dear gods! Had he not used his specialised Vanishing charm, the entire head table would have just been blown away. Merlin, that had been far too close.

“D-Dobby.”

The elf appeared at his side. “What is Master Snape be needing?”

“It appears someone has made an attempt at my life—upon all of our lives. I have neutralised the threat, but do alert the headmaster and, if it is possible, bring breakfast for me. Prepare it yourself and do not let any other hands touch the plate, and double-check that the plate and cup are both clean before you use them. Be careful.”

Dobby bowed and vanished.

“Severus?” Minerva whispered in his ear. “What just happened?”

“My other employer is still rather displeased with me, it seems.”

She paled. “Poison?”

Severus gave her the barest nod and whispered, “Basilisk venom, or something equally lethal and resistant to magic. Had I not used the Tegovanesco charm… gods help us all.”

She clutched at her heart and gasped. “Sweet Circe!”

Dobby reappeared with a new full English for Severus and a fresh cup of tea. Severus tested both before he nodded to the elf and began eating as if nothing had happened. He had expected the attempt, after all. Unnerving as it was, he would not let it trouble him. He had to do this, for Harry’s sake.

“Calm yourself, Minerva,” he whispered after realising his colleague had stopped eating. “The threat is neutralised. You are safe.”

Minerva swallowed hard. “W-would you… the charm to check your plate? Please?”

“Yes, for me as well,” said Filius, his usual jollity faded to ashen shock.

“If yours had been poisoned, you would be dead already, but if it will ease your nerves….” Severus performed the spell on all the professor’s plates at once. “The rest of the teachers are safe. There is no further danger.”

Minerva sighed and picked over her food. “I seem to have lost my appetite regardless.”

Severus snorted. “In that, I do not blame you.”

He looked up to find the entire student body staring at him and whispering behind their hands. Harry sat hunched over his food, poking at the plate with his fork while Granger hissed in his ear and Weasley stared at Harry as if the boy was a basilisk himself.

The Weasley girl rubbed Harry’s back and gave him a simpering smile, but Harry turned away from her and scowled. Severus frowned at Harry’s shudder and the revulsion obvious in his posture. He didn’t want her to touch him? How strange. Severus had imagined Harry would welcome affection by the way he had responded to Severus’ tentative touches earlier. Perhaps Harry simply had an issue with the Weasley girl.

Or perhaps he was much like Severus in that he only accepted touch from those he trusted. The idea left Severus breathless, stunned that he had so much of the boy’s trust when he had done nothing to deserve it.

Severus clenched his hand on his fork. From then on, he would, by Merlin. He would prove himself worthy of the immense faith the boy had placed in him, somehow.

Minerva muttered, “What in Merlin’s name is wrong with my lions?”

Severus’ voice came out unsteady. “How s-should I know?”

She gave him a worried look. “Are you quite all right?”

He replied with a curt nod, not trusting his voice, and struggled for mastery over his wild emotions. By the time he managed it, the Gryffindor table had turned into an all-out battlefield. He wasn’t surprised to see Harry slam down his plate and stalk out of the Great Hall, his eyes full of desperate pain. Severus wanted to go after him, but stayed in his seat. His attentiveness to a boy who should appear to be his enemy might get them both killed.

Granger and the Weasley girl stood to go after Harry instead, but Longbottom snapped at them. Both girls dropped into their seats, the former blushing in shame and the latter sulking and staring after Harry. Longbottom glared the Gryffindors into submission, then sent a glare at Severus for good measure.

Severus acted as if he hadn’t noticed, though Longbottom’s sudden ire at him unnerved the man. Since when had the most fearful boy in the school gathered the courage to glare at its most feared instructor?

Then again, Longbottom had fought at the Department of Mysteries last term. Perhaps after facing the Dark Lord and several of his best Death Eaters, a cruel potions professor didn’t seem so terrifying any longer.

But why was Longbottom so angry in the first place? Why was Harry so upset?

Severus returned to his meal, eating methodically despite a lack of appetite. Perhaps his reappearance hadn’t been such a good idea after all.

 


 

“Harry James Potter!”

Harry winced and ducked his head. So much for a quiet entrance. Hermione’s shrill shout had announced his presence to the entire hall as efficiently as a bloody banshee. Head down, he made his way to the far end of the Gryffindor table, hoping sitting away from her would avoid a messy confrontation.

He was not to be so lucky. Hermione picked up her plate and books and plopped down beside him, the other sixth years and Ginny following in her wake.

“Where in Merlin’s name have you been, Harry?”

“Busy.” What did she expect? Harry couldn’t tell her the truth, not with every ear in Hogwarts tuned in to their conversation.

“Busy! I hardly believe that! You’ve missed every single one of your classes, and don’t even get me started on revising.”

Harry shot her a dark glare and stabbed at his eggs. “I told you, I’m doing my revision on my own now, Hermione.”

“You haven’t been doing it at all!” She dumped a pile of parchment on his lap. “That’s everything you missed yesterday. You have to make it up. You have to pay attention this year, Harry! NEWTs are so important. You can’t just go gallivanting off wherever you like.”

Ron scoffed. “Been doing more than gallivanting, hasn’t he?”

Ginny shot her brother a glare and shoved him out of the way, sliding into the seat next to Harry. “You’re mad, Ron.” She gave Harry a shy smile. “You’d never hurt anyone, Harry. I just know it.”

Harry edged away. “Of course not.”

“I didn’t say he’d hurt someone,” Ron retorted, “but he’s gotten into trouble for sure. There was blood all—”

“Ssh!” Harry leaned across Ginny and clapped a hand over Ron’s mouth, willing to risk her unwanted advances if it kept Snape alive. “Stop it, Ron. It’s war stuff.”

Ginny leaned into his arm, squishy breasts pressing into his bicep, and Harry jerked back with a glare at the girl and a shudder of revulsion. Ugh.

“You use that excuse every time you don’t want to face up to the truth,” Hermione snapped. “I don’t know what you’ve been getting into, Harry Potter, but it’s high time you started caring about your grades and how they affect us as well as you!”

Blood simmering with fury, Harry slammed his fist on the table. “Excuse me, Hermione, for being too busy trying to keep someone alive yesterday to care about your bloody grades!”

Seamus snorted. “Murdering someone, more like. So who got it then, huh? Rumour has it Snape went mental on you his last class and I notice he’s nowhere around here this morning. Finally snap and put the greasy git in his place then?”

Harry stared at the boy, gobsmacked. “H-have you lost the bloody plot? Yes, Snape is an arsehole—” Merlin, he hated having to say that when the man had been trying so hard to make amends. “—but I don’t want him dead!”

“Of course you don’t,” said Neville, glaring at Seamus. “All of us with a brain know that.”

Dean nodded, his eyes wide with dismay and grief. Harry swallowed a pang of remorse. He had never wanted to come between Dean and his best mate, but something had gotten into Seamus last year. This wasn’t the same flamboyant boy Harry had grown up with.

Harry turned away from Dean and picked at his rashers. “It doesn’t matter even if I did want to hurt Snape. Do you really think I could? The man is a master in defence for Merlin’s sake, or didn’t you see him killing vampires on the train this year like it was nothing? You lot talked about it for weeks! And you think I could fight him? Please. I’m still in school. I’d have no chance against a dueller like that.”

Seamus fixed him with a sharp glare. “Yeah? Didn’t stop you from killing You-Know-Who, did it?”

“Oh, come off it, Seamus,” Ron said, irritated. “I told you Harry’s not like that.”

“You’re a sod, Seamus,” Ginny said, brown eyes flashing. “Harry’s a good person.” She slipped her hand over Harry’s. “And this is bound to hurt him.”

“Stop it.” Harry jerked his hand away and wrapped both arms around his chest. “All of you, just stop! I said I can’t talk about it here.”

Seamus scoffed. “Yeah, because you don’t want to be cau—”

The doors to the teachers’ dais opened and a familiar figure in dark robes glided in. Relief washing his irritation away, Harry watched Snape walk to his usual seat and pour himself a cup of tea, admiring the man’s ability to hide his pain.

He turned a cold glare on Seamus. “Well? What was that about murdering Snape again?”

Seamus blushed. “Well, maybe it wasn’t the bat. But you were out doing someone in! I saw your hands.”

“I’ve already told you I was trying to save someone, you git!”

Hermione nudged Harry’s side. “Wait. Look. What’s Snape doing?”

Harry watched as the man cast a spell against his plate, causing it to glow red. Snape Vanished his food in a strange purple light—plate and cup too—and jumped back in alarm. He Summoned Dobby and spoke to his nearest colleagues, terrifying them both.

“I know that spell,” said Dean, his face ashen. “The first one I mean. Mum made me study it when You-Know-Who came back last year. It’s… it glows red when there’s some kind of lethal poison in your food.”

Harry froze, terrified for his new… friend? “Oh gods. Is he…?”

A new plate appeared before Snape, and the man’s second test came up clear. Harry breathed a shaky sigh.

“Not trying to do him in, huh?” Seamus glared. “I reckon that’s all the proof I need.”

Ron edged away, eyes wide. “Harry, you didn’t!”

Harry’s heart cracked down the middle. “Ron, you can’t possibly believe—”

Seamus waved towards the teacher’s table. “We all just saw it, didn’t we? Guess when you couldn’t take down a ‘defence master’ in a duel, poison would work just as well, huh?”

Harry gasped, trying to breathe through the pain of betrayal. “Wait, wait just a minute. H-how could I possibly poison the man? I don’t make the food here!”

Seamus scoffed. “No, but you do know where the kitchens are, don’t you? You and Ron used to get us food after curfew all the time.”

Harry blinked hard, struggling to keep back his tears. He couldn’t cry here. “Yes, but I… I mean, it’s not like the plates are labelled down there. How am I supposed to know which one goes to Professor Snape? Might have poisoned myself if I’d tried it.”

“Could’ve asked, couldn’t you? I mean, you are friends with that ruddy house elf.”

“The same one who just brought Snape a clean plate, for Merlin’s sake!”

“Yeah, and he has to do what he’s told,” Seamus said with a scowl.

“Oh, don’t be so thick, Seamus,” Hermione snapped. “Harry wouldn’t and you know it.”

“But—”

“It’s okay,” Ginny murmured, too damn close to Harry’s ear. “I know you’re innocent, Harry.” She rubbed his back, and Harry scooted away, temper rising.

“Ginny! Stop it, will you? I told you before I don’t want to be touched like this!”

She glared, brown eyes defiant. “I’m trying to defend you! And you need comfort, I can see it.”

Harry groaned and dropped his head into his hands. “Please. Just… all of you stop. I don’t want this.”

“Harry’s right,” Hermione said with a huff. “The lot of you are acting like animals. Ron, Seamus, you both know better than to accuse Harry of such a terrible thing and Dobby is the only one of the elves with any sense anyway. He’s a free elf, remember? He doesn’t have to do what he’s told if he doesn’t want to.”

“But he’s mad for Harry, and we all know it.” Ron scooted back, horror painting his freckles in stark relief. “I… I reckon Seamus might have a point.”

Harry choked back his grief. “Ron, you can’t….” But Ron hadn’t exactly been a good friend lately, and Harry remembered it all too well. He turned back to his plate and struggled to keep his breathing steady, to hide the tears he couldn’t stop.

“Harry,” Ginny whispered, “let me help.”

He shuddered as the girl rubbed his back in spite of his lack of consent, but didn’t pull away. What was the point? No one was listening to him anyway.

“Oh, do stop being such an idiot, Ron.” Hermione scoffed. “You know Harry isn’t capable of that. And you also know he isn’t the only one who might want to do Snape in.”

Ron hissed, “Look at the evidence, ‘Mione!”

“I am, and I’m telling you it’s preposterous. You should be ashamed of yourself!”

Harry buried his face in his hand. “S-stop. Please, just—”

“All of you should be ashamed of yourselves!” Neville’s sharp voice made Harry cringe. “Seamus, you’re being a bloody arse! You know better than to make such awful accusations.”

Seamus snarled. “And I’ve the proof to ba—”

Neville charged on over him. “Shut it, Seamus. Just shut it. You have nothing other than a stupid grudge over points. And you, Hermione, you’re complaining because Harry hasn’t been around in classes, but where have you been the past three months, hmm? Where have you been when he’s needed you? What the hell gives you the gall to act so sanctimonious when you’re just as bad as any of them?”

Hermione opened her mouth and closed it again, dull red flushing her cheeks. Neville nodded and continued his diatribe.

“Thought so. And for Merlin’s sake, Ginny, Harry’s asked you to stop and you’re still touching him. Back off!”

Ginny glared and rubbed Harry’s back harder. “I’m trying to help him!”

“No, you’re bloody assaulting him. He said no. Learn the meaning of the word.”

She sniffled and jerked her hand away, crossing her arms over her chest and pouting. Harry shivered in relief. Gods, he wished she would turn her affections on someone else. Anyone else. Even if he hadn’t been gay, he wasn’t about to date his mother’s twin.

“Oi!” Ron glared at Neville. “She’s not hurting him! He’s been toying with her, giving her hope one minute and pulling away the n—”

Neville rounded on him. “Get over yourself, Ron! Are both of you deaf or something? He’s said no time and time again. And by the way, how the hell do you turn on your best mate like that? You’ve been friends for years, and suddenly you think he’s capable of murder? That’s disgusting.”

“N-Neville, please,” Harry begged. “Please stop. Please don’t fight over me.”

Neville hesitated, then gave Harry a sad smile. “I can’t let them say these things about you, Harry. I won’t yell anymore though. I’m sorry.”

“Well, I will,” Seamus retorted. “Are you blind, Neville? Can’t you see he’s bloody dangerous? First all that business with You-Know-Who and now this? I reckon maybe You-Know-Who poisoned him at the DoM last year. Maybe he’s all muddled now, like Quirrell was, remember?”

Harry gasped and shrank into himself. He wasn’t possessed! Just because he had dark dreams, he wasn’t possessed. He… he could control it. It was fine.

Wasn’t it?

“Oh, come off it,” Hermione snapped. “Quirrell had Voldemort plastered to the back of his head! As you can see, Harry has nothing but a bird’s nest back there.”

Seamus glared. “And how do we know that’s true? We never saw under Quirrell’s turban, yeah? We just had Harry’s word to go on.”

“And that should be enough!” Finally at the end of his tether, Dean slammed his hands on the table, jerked to his feet, and shouted them down. “I thought we were friends here! Harry’s had our back all these years, and suddenly we’re turning on him?” He glared at his best friend, eyes rimmed with tears. “What the hell is wrong with you, Seamus? You’re ruddy mad to think Harry is capable of murder after all he’s done to keep us alive, even if Snape is an arsehole.”

Seamus snarled. “I’m the only one who sees the bloody signs! But go ahead, ignore it and wait until he murders you in your beds!”

“That’s mad! Absolutely barmy! If Harry wanted us dead, he might have done it long before now.”

“Please,” Harry whispered, but no one could hear him over all the shouting.

“Oh, just stuff it, all of you,” Hermione snapped. “This isn’t Harry’s fault, and we should all be more concerned with NEWTs anyway.”

“NEWTs?” Seamus let slip a hysterical laugh. “Harry’s trying to off Snape and you’re more concerned about NEWTs?”

Ginny cried, “Harry’s not trying to off anyone, you bloody git!”

Harry jerked to his feet. He couldn’t take this anymore. Stomach roiling, heart bleeding, Harry raked a hand across his face and dashed for the door.

“Harry!” Hermione called. “Wait, don’t just—we have class in fifteen minutes! You had better not skive off again or we’ll never pa—”

Neville snapped, “Oh, do shut up, Hermione. Shove your self-righteous act and let the man have some bloody peace for once. And you, Ginny, sit down and stay the hell away from him already! Enough is enough!”

Harry slammed the door behind him and raced away.

 


 

After a morning spent dealing with the Ministry over Severus’ suspension and Pettigrew’s capture, Albus had been looking forward to a fulfilling breakfast, but everything had gone so terribly wrong. He had watched the Gryffindor table descend into chaos with growing concern, and only the fact that he was not the only professor frightened for his favourite lion had relieved his worries. Severus kept his interest hidden from the others, but Albus knew the man too well not to see the worry and remorse in his eyes.

At least he could be assured Severus had begun to heal, but Harry…. Albus watched the boy flee the Great Hall with deep concern. He sighed and turned to Severus, who had returned to his breakfast with the mechanical air of a man who would rather be elsewhere.

“Go,” he whispered to his protégé. “Take care of him. I will handle the others.”

Severus whispered back, “I must not leave too soon, and I… I do not know if I can provide him with what he needs, but I will try.”

“Thank you, my boy.” Albus stood and gave Minerva a grave look. “Minerva, if you will retrieve Mister Longbottom, Mister Weasley, and Miss Granger, there is much I must tell you. Please bring them to my office immediately.”

Minerva nodded, lips pursed in a thin line. “I’m not sure what just happened here, Albus, but I would rather like to give them a talking to myself.”

Albus looked out over the Gryffindor table, cloaked in unnatural silence and tension. “Yes, I quite agree.”

 


 

Harry ran blindly through the castle, hardly noticing where he was heading until he arrived at Myrtle’s loo. The ghost wasn’t about, to his immense relief, so he slumped against the wall near the broken tap and dropped his cloak over his head.

Merlin, he might have known his ‘reintroduction to Gryffindor society’ would be an utter catastrophe with the way his ‘friends’ had been acting lately, but for them to go so far as this? He hadn’t believed them capable of such a depth of betrayal. At least Neville and Dean had stood by him, but at what cost? Gods, Harry had never meant to cause trouble.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been standing there in tears, Isuri licking them away, when a small splash—a booted foot landing on wet floors—startled him out of his misery. Harry looked up to see… nothing. Ripples crossed the puddles, footsteps coming closer, then a gentle hand brushed his fringe back from his face.

“Harry,” Snape whispered. “Merlin, child. I… I did not anticipate my reappearance would hurt you so badly.”

Harry whimpered. “It’s not your fault. Sir, I… I’m s-sorry. I—”

“You have nothing to apologise for, Harry.” Snape paused and brushed a shaking hand down Harry’s cheek, barely touching, but the caress comforted Harry nonetheless. “Ssh. You do not need to fear me any longer. I… I simply wish to help, if you will allow it.”

With a little cry, Harry threw his arms around Snape and buried his face in the man’s shoulder. Snape tensed and gasped, and Harry jerked away.

“Oh gods, sir! I-I didn’t think—are you okay?”

Harry shrank into himself and trembled, his tears redoubling at the fear he had broken Snape’s trust already. Shite! Snape hated to be touched and Harry knew it. What if his impulsive need for comfort had ruined everything?

“S-sir, I… Merlin, I’m so sorry. Please, please don’t h-hate me again.”

Isuri whispered in Harry’s ear. [Your friend is not angry. Only surprised and scared.]

Harry slumped in relief. [H-how can you tell?]

[I can smell it.]

He patted her in thanks.

Snape laid a shaking hand on Harry’s shoulder. “I… I am w-well enough, if a bit startled, but come. It is not safe to discuss this here. Let us go into the Chamber. Ah, but first—Dobby.”

The elf appeared and reeled at the sight of Harry. “Oh, Great Master Harry Potter, sir! You is crying? Oh, what can Dobby be doing to help?”

“Dobby,” Snape said, his voice soft, “Harry is… distraught. Will you let, ah—Harry, what is your first class today?”

“C-charms.”

Snape watched Harry’s face, his eyes troubled. “Dobby, please let Professor Flitwick know that Harry will not be present in class today.”

Dobby bowed. “Yes, Master Snapey.” He gave the man a sad smile. “Will you’s help Great Master Harry Potter feel better, please?”

Snape bowed slightly. “I will try.”

“Oh, thank you, Master Snapey, sir. Please takes good care of him. I’s be off to tell Professor Flitwickies now.”

The elf popped away, leaving Snape and Harry alone in the loo.

Snape rested a hesitant hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Come. I… I am no great comforter, but I will try to help you, if you will allow it.”

Harry nodded and turned his head into Snape’s arm, not touching, but close enough to feel his warmth, to breathe in his scent—sandalwood and something uniquely Snape. The man did not draw away, but the slight tremor in his hand warned Harry he was too close. He sighed into Snape’s elbow, taking comfort in his trust and presence, and moved back.

“O-okay.” He turned to the tap and hissed, [Open.]

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

Safe Harbour

Severus climbed onto the broom behind Harry and shuddered all over. Gods, but he hated this. Heights, brooms, and being so close to another man—fuck, the whole thing terrified him. Harry had never let him fall and he couldn’t have asked for a more skilled companion, but gods! Three phobias in one was too much even for someone as brave as Severus.

Shaking with uncontrollable terror, he held the boy as tight as he could and buried his face in Harry’s shoulder, taking some comfort in his warmth and soothing scent. Apparently, Harry’s forgiving, protective nature had rendered him far less frightening than the flimsy twig between his legs.

Damn brooms to hell and back. The second Severus recovered enough to fly on his own power, fuck all if he would ever mount one again.

Harry ran one hand over Severus’ fingers as they descended, murmuring reassurance to him. “It’s all right, sir. I’ve got you. I won’t let you be hurt.”

Obviously. Severus knew Harry cared about him now. But dear gods, trusting his life to a bloody stick terrified him regardless.

The broom alighted, and like every other time before, Severus needed a moment to gather his wits before he could move. Harry did not push him away, but simply closed the entrance to the tunnel and continued his litany of soothing encouragement.

“We’re on the ground now, sir. It’s all right. We’re safe.”

Shite. He hated that Harry knew his aversion to heights too, but it couldn’t be helped.

Gods help him, Severus had to overcome his phobias, for the good of them all. The Dark Lord would not hesitate to use them against Severus should he ever learn of his weaknesses. But how did he move past them?

“I’m here, sir,” Harry murmured. “You’re all right. Just rest against me as long as you need to. I’ll protect you.”

Gentle warmth softened the edges of the ice in Severus’ chest and stunned him with its power to soothe. Dear Merlin.

Was it possible Harry’s unwavering patience might be the support Severus needed to recover? Perhaps, if their alliance went well in the coming few weeks, he would ask the boy….

Oh gods, what was he thinking? Severus shuddered. Merlin, the very thought of leaving himself so open, so vulnerable—sweet Circe, no! Harry might have earned his trust, but Severus couldn’t face the thought of revealing so much of himself to anyone.

He should focus on simply establishing a rapport with Harry for now. And he couldn’t take Harry’s help for granted regardless. Even if Severus found the courage to open himself so far as to ask for his help, the boy mightn’t want to invest so much time and effort into a man who had spent half a decade abusing him. Severus wouldn’t blame him.

“Sir, it’s all right. I’m here, okay? Whenever you need me.”

The warmth inside his chest doubled, and Severus sighed into Harry’s shoulder. Merlin, he didn’t deserve such care, especially not from one he had hurt so badly, but having it made him feel safer.

Even so, he had to get this under control. He was a spy, damn it, not a ruddy jellyfish.

With a slow, deep breath, Severus poured his focus into draining his terror and rebuilding his shields. After a few moments, he managed to pry himself away and stagger off the broom. Harry dismounted and turned to him, red-rimmed, concerned green eyes gazing at him and a wan smile on his face. He reached out to Severus, but his trembling hand stopped just short of Severus’ own.

“Oh, wait. No, I shouldn’t. I’m sorry.”

He withdrew and wrapped one arm around his chest, lifting the other hand to his mouth. His eyes held deep worry, revealing his inner conflict—the boy wanted to comfort Severus, but also respected his need for distance. Both Harry’s concern and respect relieved Severus, and his terror soon eased.

“C-come,” he said, unable to prevent a slight stammer. “You are more distressed than I.”

Harry gave him a wan smile and led him into the main chamber. “Are you all right now, sir?”

“Yes. I simply do not like brooms.” Or heights, or intimacy, or touch… damn it.

“Um… if it’s not too personal, would you tell me why?”

It was personal, but Harry’s gentle patience deserved an answer. “It is… difficult to trust them.”

Harry shoved his hands in his pockets and nodded. “I reckon I can see that. I mean, I like to fly—it makes me feel free—but I can understand why others might not enjoy it. It is rather dangerous, especially if you’re not particularly confident on a broom.” He glanced at Severus and quickly away. “Um… can you fly, sir? I mean, without brooms? I got the sense yesterday that you could, but you didn’t seem to want to talk about it. It’s okay if you still don’t. I just… you’ve been more open lately, so I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask.”

Severus nodded and suppressed the urge to close himself off. He could trust Harry this far. “Yes. I invented the spell as a… last resort many years ago in anticipation of the Dark Lord’s return. If ever I am discovered and must flee, I will not be able to mount a broom quickly enough to evade capture. Therefore, I created a spell that will both increase my speed and shock him enough to ensure my escape, or so I hope.”

He paused, clenching a fist in his robes and trying to calm his racing heart. Harry knew of his fears, so speaking about them wouldn’t make him any more vulnerable than he already was, would it? He took a deep breath and, recalling his resolution during breakfast, made an effort to trust the boy, to return some of the faith Harry had placed in him.

His voice came out soft and uncertain regardless. “I… I can manage on a broom if needs must, such as when I refereed that quidditch match in your first year, but it is difficult. I confess not all of the penalties I missed were due to my prejudice.” He closed his eyes and waited to be rejected or mocked.

Harry’s voice, though ragged with grief, was soft, gentle. “It’s okay, sir. You were afraid. It’s easy to miss things when you’re scared, and you kept me alive in spite of it. And making a charm to overcome your fears is bloody brilliant.” Harry blushed. “Er… s-sorry sir.”

 “I am not acting as your professor at the moment,” Severus murmured, “but do try not to take advantage.”

Harry nodded and moved closer, relieving the lingering ache of Severus’ insecurities. The boy hadn’t rejected him, but rather, had tried to understand. Hope surged through Severus. Maybe Harry truly could help him overcome his phobias and trauma, one day. Perhaps he could try, at least, if Harry was willing.

Harry gave Severus a tentative smile. “So the charm makes it easier for you to fly then, sir?”

Again, Severus shut down the urge to snap, to protect his soft underbelly. Harry deserved better than his snide defensiveness. “Y-yes,” he said, his voice breathy and uncertain. “With the charm, I rely on my own power and not that of an inanimate object. It is far less… daunting in such a situation.”

Harry’s smile brightened, a bit of life returning to his face. “That sounds brilliant, sir. Maybe will you show me someday when you’re recovered?”

Severus nodded, heat flooding his cheeks. “I suppose I will have to. Damned if I will ride a broom once I am recovered enough to use my charms.”

Harry gave a wan chuckle. “Yeah, I don’t blame you. If I had a spell like that, I imagine I’d never stop flying.”

Severus’ lips twitched in spite of himself. “I see.”

“Don’t suppose you’d teach me?”

Severus shook his head. “Not yet. Flight requires both incredible control and a massive reserve of power. You have the power. I do not believe you have the control yet. It is something you must work towards, however, if you truly do intend to face the Dark Lord someday.”

Harry’s fleeting smile vanished in an instant. “Right.” His shoulders slumped and his head drooped.

“Harry?”

The boy stopped and gave Severus a despairing look. “How? How am I to defeat him? I can barely hold my wand the right way and he—what am I supposed to do against a wizard that powerful?”

Severus swallowed, more affected by the stark terror in Harry’s eyes than he had thought possible. “I… there is the ‘power he knows not.’ It is not hopeless.”

Harry scoffed and turned back towards the Chamber. “The headmaster seems to think the ‘power he knows not’ is love. And maybe I am good at loving people. I don’t know. But what am I going to do, hug him to death?”

Severus snorted. “I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Harry wrapped his arms around his chest and kicked at the floor. “Yeah.”

The boy’s fear and despair hung heavy in the air, almost tangible in its power. Severus’ belly squirmed with the desire to take Harry’s pain away, to ease his fear. And yet, what could he do? Words meant nothing here, and he had no idea what to say regardless. He did not know what Harry’s unknown power was either, and if it did have something to do with his unique ability to love, he had no idea how the boy would use it against the Dark Lord.

And yet, Severus wanted to help, if he could.

He remembered the longing, the desperate sorrow in Harry’s eyes the night before, when Severus had forced his fears back long enough to touch the boy’s hair. If he hadn’t known better, he might have thought Harry to be as desolate and starved for affection as himself.

It couldn’t be, could it? Hadn’t Harry always been loved?

Severus closed his eyes to hide a wince. He had also believed Harry to be an arrogant idiot just twenty-four hours before, and Harry had since blasted that belief to bits.

Perhaps Severus had misjudged more than the boy’s kindness and intelligence.

A squirmy sensation settled in his chest. He knew, both from instinct and the memory of Harry’s impulsive embrace in Myrtle’s loo, the boy needed touch to heal, but gods, could Severus do it? The idea of reaching out, of opening himself to another after so many years of guarding himself from every potential advance… the mere thought left him shaken.

And yet, hadn’t he said himself he needed to overcome his phobias—and that Harry might be the one to help him do it?

Perhaps, if Severus simply started by offering tactile comfort in a controlled, careful manner, it might give him some mastery over his fears without revealing too much of his vulnerability. It was worth a try, at least.

With a deep breath to gather his courage, Severus brushed halting fingertips across Harry’s soft curls. ‘Soft?’ He had been too afraid to pay much attention to the texture of Harry’s curls last night, but this time, curiosity overcame his age-old fears. Merlin. He had imagined Harry’s bird’s nest would feel rough, coarse, but his wild curls whispered against Severus’ fingers like silk.

Harry gasped and stopped walking. “Sir?”

Trembling, Severus ran his fingertips through Harry’s hair, fearful of rejection and reciprocation at once, but Harry only turned into Severus’ touch and sighed, the sound heavy with relief.

Severus closed his eyes and dropped his hand to Harry’s shoulder, shaking with both the softness of feeling caressing Harry had brought him and the uncomfortable realisation that he hadn’t been afraid at all. What did it mean? He didn’t know, but he wasn’t ready to face it.

Harry murmured, “Are you all right, sir?”

“Yes,” Severus whispered. He let his fingers trail down to Harry’s wrist. “I… I wanted to….”

“Sir….”

At the gentle tone in Harry’s voice, Severus opened his eyes to find Harry smiling at him, tentative and fragile, but an actual smile.

Gods. The boy hadn’t shown a single sign of true joy in months. Had Severus’ pathetic little caresses truly brought about this kind of change?

“His greatest gift is his ability to love.”

Perhaps it was true, if the barest touch from Severus could make him smile again.

“Thank you, sir,” Harry whispered.

Severus nodded in acknowledgement, warmth softening the knot of worry in his chest. His attempt to comfort the boy must have done some good after all, and Harry hadn’t rejected his touch. Indeed, it seemed he took joy in it. The thought made the warm feeling in Severus’ chest grow and spread to his limbs, driving the last vestiges of fear away.

For the moment, at least.

They resumed walking, and Severus returned his attention to the conversation they had left off before.

“Harry, I… I do think you are capable of more… care than the typical person.” He bowed his head to cover the flush in his cheeks, the shame in his eyes. “I cannot understand why you would save me, why you would value me, when I have been so….” He swallowed hard and forced the words out. “So very cruel.”

Harry stopped before the Chamber door and gave Severus a searching look. “I just do, sir.” He turned and hissed the door open. “I’m glad you’re letting me in now, i-if it’s okay to say that. I never imagined we’d be able to talk like this.”

Severus nodded as the door closed behind him. “I… it is a new experience for me as well.”

“It’s not bad, though,” Harry murmured, so low Severus had to strain to hear him. “It’s… good. Even if I can’t….”

“Cannot what, Harry?”

The boy went bright red. “N-nothing, sir.”

Severus raised an eyebrow and waited.

Harry rubbed the back of his neck. “I… well, it’s not nothing, I reckon, but I don’t want to put pressure on you. It’s okay.”

From that, Severus gathered the boy was speaking of his reluctance to be touched and let it go. Perhaps they might conquer it in time. “Hmm. For now, sit with me—” He conjured a sofa and coffee table near the beds and guided Harry onto it. “—And explain to me what happened at breakfast that troubled you so.”

Harry swallowed and looked down at his hands, twisting them in his lap. The mad desire to hold one almost overcame Severus, but he resisted. He couldn’t bear the risk. Not yet.

Harry closed his eyes and leaned into his hands, trembling hard. “S-sir, is it okay if I… um, just lean on you a bit?”

Severus’ heart thundered and his breath ran short. “Lean on me?”

“Y-yeah. Maybe against your arm?” Harry sighed and turned away. “Never mind. It’s not fair to ask you when I know you’re afraid. I just… I feel so alone.”

Severus swallowed a rush of fear. He had to move past this. He had to. And Harry was so gentle, so understanding and patient. He took in the boy’s hunched posture, the way he pressed his fists into his stomach in imitation of a tight embrace, a vain attempt to drive away his grief and bitter loneliness. Gods, but Severus knew how that felt. He watched silvery tears build on Harry’s lashes and drop to the knees of his trousers, spots like blood against the dark fabric of his uniform.

He remembered the years he had left Harry to suffer like this, had caused his pain, and he could not let the boy’s pleas for help go unanswered another moment.

With a shaky sigh, Severus laid his hand on Harry’s wrist. “O-only my arm?”

Harry gave him a wan smile. “It’s all right, sir. You don’t have to force yourself.”

“I am not. I wish to… to….” Severus simply couldn’t form the words for: ‘heal all the pain I have caused you. To be a better man.’ Instead, he closed his eyes and carefully tugged Harry to rest against his shoulder.

Harry went rigid. “Sir, please. I don’t want to scare you.”

But, to his surprise, Severus wasn’t afraid. Perhaps since Harry had asked, since he had been so concerned about Severus’ welfare, this small touch felt safe and comforting.

“Ssh. I do not mind. Lean on me, Harry, and tell me what has hurt you so.”

Harry’s breath caught. He searched Severus’ eyes, tears gleaming on his lashes. “Really, sir? It’s… okay?”

“Yes.”

Harry sighed and rested his head against Severus’ shoulder. “Tell me if you’re afraid? I don’t want to hurt you.”

Cautiously, Severus brushed his fingertips against Harry’s hair. “If I become so, I am capable of moving away.”

Harry nodded and turned his face into Severus’ shoulder. “T-thank you, sir. This means a lot to me.”

Severus gave him a curt nod. He would have liked to say more, but the tightness in his throat and chest forbid it. Gods, he couldn’t believe Harry trusted him so much, liked him well enough to take comfort from his touch and presence, and that Harry’s touch didn’t terrify Severus in turn.

At least, not the small touches. Perhaps he wasn’t ready for hugs, but this… this felt safe.

He took a deep, calming breath and allowed the rare, precious feeling of warmth against his side to comfort him.

“Harry, tell me what happened in the Great Hall, if you are able.”

Harry shivered and spoke in a low, hesitant tone. “W-well, as soon as I came inside, Hermione attacked me for not going to classes. I had expected that, to be honest, but the rest of it came as a shock….”

 


 

Albus watched the Gryffindors gathered in his office, trying to determine what had happened before he spoke. Minerva stood akimbo by the door, eyes sharp and lips pursed. Granger’s expression altered between humility and self-righteousness. He wondered which had won out at the table that morning. Ron’s eyes were wide with fright and confusion. What in Merlin’s name had gotten into him? And Neville—he was glaring at them all.

No, Albus had no idea what could have set them off like this.

“Would one of you like to explain what happened at breakfast this morning?”

Ron shrank into himself and gave a breathy, “no.”

Hermione blushed and lowered her head.

Neville scoffed at his classmates. “I’ll tell you, sir. The second Harry came in the door, Hermione took it upon herself to lecture him on his attendance and grades. She acted as though NEWT scores were the most important thing in life and embarrassed him thoroughly. Then Seamus accused Harry of murdering Professor Snape—and of poisoning him later—and this idiot believed it! Ron really believed Harry capable of killing someone. It’s… well, I had thought better of them than this.”

Hermione winced and ducked her head lower. “I-it’s just that NEWTs decide our future and I want him to do well.”

Minerva fixed her sharp eyes upon the girl. “And you believed the best way to encourage him is to dictate his entire life, to plan it out to the last second, without leaving him any time to rest? Have you not noticed how ill Potter is looking this term? Something is wrong with the boy, and he does not have the energy to follow your schedules!”

Hermione hugged her waist. “W-well, he hasn’t been. He decided to revise on his own earlier in the year.”

“And that gave these two the perfect excuse to distance themselves,” Neville muttered. “Honestly, the two of you use revision as an excuse, but if you ask me, you’ve been doing a lot more snogging than studying.”

She blushed brighter and squeaked.

“Oi!” Ron jumped in. “Stop attacking Hermione, already. Harry’s the one we ought to be concerned about. He’s the one poisoning people!”

Minerva gasped. “Mister Weasley! Fifteen points from Gryffindor!”

A frown creased Ron’s brow. “B-but, shouldn’t you at least look into it, ma’am?”

“As it happens,” said Albus, fixing the redhead with a sharp stare, “there is no need. It was not Harry who tried to poison Professor Snape. It was Voldemort.”

Ron flinched. “But why? Snape’s a sp—”

Hermione clapped her hand over Ron’s mouth. “Neville doesn’t know!”

“That he’s a spy?” Neville snorted. “I figured that out last year.”

Albus gave Neville an appraising look. “Did you? And how, exactly, did you come to this conclusion?”

“Well, it’s just logic. The man is cruel, especially to Gryffindors. Which suggests an allegiance to You-Know-Who. But you wouldn’t hire him and keep him employed if he was really loyal to the Death Eaters. I mean, he could just be a Gryffindor-hating berk, but I don’t think you would have let him get away with half of what he has if that was the case. So just based on his behaviour and your defence of him, it’s the only explanation that fits.”

Albus smiled wryly. “Well done, Mister Longbottom. Ten points to Gryffindor. Yes, Severus is a spy. And until these past two days, he held a particular grudge against Harry. In part, he had to be cruel to the boy to keep his cover. However, he took it much too far, and that is what has resulted in the events of the past two days.”

He summoned a chair and covered it in tartan. “Have a seat, Minerva. This will be quite shocking for you as well.”

She sighed and folded herself into the chair. “I don’t suppose you have any of those infernal lemon drops?”

Albus chuckled and levitated a tray to her. “My special recipe.”

“Indeed.” Minerva took one and floated the tray around. “Mister Weasley, I suggest you take one of these as well.”

Albus suppressed a laugh. Minerva knew he dosed his drops with calming draught and cheering charms. All the staff did. As did Harry, most likely. It would explain why he never took one.

Ron took a lemon drop and relaxed after a moment. The others declined.

“Now that we’re all comfortable,” said Albus, “I will begin my story immediately after Potions this past Tuesday. Harry came to me in tears asking to drop the class. I have instead placed him with Poppy under private instruction; however, I suspected abuse, and so I brought Severus in for questioning. I reviewed his detentions with the boy and a bit of the class in question, and that was enough to determine he had, in fact, been quite severely abusive.”

Minerva paled. “Albus, what did you do?”

Albus sighed. “I am afraid I had little choice but to suspend him. He will not be returning to teach until January.”

Hermione gasped. “B-but what about our lessons? How will we pass?”

Minerva fixed her with a sharp look. “At the moment, I believe you should be far more worried about your friend than your grades.”

She paled and ducked her head once more. “S-sorry.”

Albus pierced Hermione with a gaze full of disappointment, but did not berate her further. It wasn’t in his nature, and Neville and Minerva seemed to have taken the task in hand regardless. “Professor Slughorn has agreed to return from retirement for a few weeks to take over Severus’ lessons, starting Monday.”

Minerva clenched her fists in her lap, the only sign of the fear Albus knew had taken her over. She did care for Severus, after a fashion, if she didn’t trust him entirely.

“I’m assuming Severus had little choice but to report this to You-Know-Who, Albus?”

Albus nodded. “He did indeed. And that is where the story turns to the… unexpected. Harry has stunned me these past few days with his ability to forgive. And I am not the only one who has seen it.”

Minerva gasped and cast a quick silencing field between them. “Albus, do you mean… Severus?”

Albus gave her a soft smile. “Yes, dear girl. The changes in him… it is astounding how far he has come in such a short time. He has gone to take care of Harry this moment.”

Tears pooled in the woman’s eyes. “Oh thank Merlin. You know I care for him, but it is difficult to—he hurt my lions so much, Albus.”

“I believe he will change from here on out, Minerva. In fact, he will most likely have no other choice, if he is to maintain his position as a spy after all this blows over.”

Minerva frowned. “Will it blow over?”

“Harry seems to think so, and Severus and I agree. Either way, he cannot reveal his true feelings in public until we are certain he has lost his standing perma—”

“Hey,” a scowling Ron interjected. “We’re still here, you know.”

Minerva cancelled her silencing charm and turned a glare on the boy. “Five points from Gryffindor for disrespect.”

“But—”

Hermione nudged him. “Stop it. You’ve done enough damage. Just be quiet and listen before we’re in the negative again. I can’t keep up when we’re bleeding points from both ends!”

Ron scowled and subsided.

Albus debated chiding the girl for her arrogance, but decided against it in the interest of time. “Well then,” he said with a sigh, “I imagine you would like to know what has happened with Harry and Professor Snape?”

“Yes, yes,” said Hermione, leaning forwards in anticipation. “We want to know every detail.”

“Well,” Neville said with a frown at the girl, “I would like to know what’s happened, but every detail isn’t necessary. If you need to keep certain things quiet to keep them safe, I’d rather you do so.”

Albus gave him a warm smile. “Ten points to Gryffindor for your understanding, Mister Longbottom.” He added mentally, ‘And fifty more for being such a good friend to Harry when no one else was.’

Neville’s cheeks pinked. Ah, so he hadn’t grown up entirely yet. Albus took comfort in knowing the boy still had some traits of the sweet, timid youth he had been, though hardship had rendered him a man too young.

“Thank you, sir,” the boy said. “Will you tell us what you can?”

Albus nodded. “Of course. You must promise not to speak of this with anyone outside of this room, however. That includes your dormmates and other friends. This information will not only risk Professor Snape’s life, but Harry’s as well. And perhaps your own, should it fall into the wrong hands.”

“We promise,” said Hermione, bouncing on the edge of her seat. “Please tell us now.”

Albus raised an eyebrow. “Patience, child. Ron, do you swear?”

“Yes, sir. I promise not to talk to anyone else but Harry about it.”

“Good. And you, Neville?”

“I promise not to tell anyone who doesn’t already know.”

The wording of his promise set Albus’ suspicions on edge. He checked the boy’s thoughts and, to his surprise, discovered some key information on one of his Ravenclaws. So Luna was a spiritual medium. Hmm. It explained how Harry had come across the counterchant for Sectumsempra. It seemed Severus owed Luna his life as much as Harry after all.

Albus nodded to himself. Luna was entirely loyal to Harry and Neville. She would not break their confidence.

“Very well.” He folded his hands in his lap and took a lemon drop. “After dinner, Harry came to my office and demanded to know what I had done to Severus.”

Minerva winced. “I suppose he wanted him sacked?”

Albus gave a wry laugh. “On the contrary, I imagine if I had sacked Severus, Harry would have been quite irate.”

Ron’s head jerked up. “What? ‘Course he’d want Snape sacked! We all do!”

“No,” Neville snapped. “Some of us can see past our own nose. Had the headmaster sacked Professor Snape, he’d have been tortured to death.”

Ron scowled. “Well, it’d serve him right.”

“And you dare to accuse Harry of attempted murder?” Minerva scoffed. “I am utterly disappointed in you, Mister Weasley.”

Ron blushed and dropped his head.

Albus fixed the boy with a piercing look. “No, Harry did not ask for Professor Snape’s termination. Instead, he insisted that I not terminate Professor Snape’s contract regardless of his poor behaviour. In fact, Mister Potter demanded to know what I had done to punish him.”

Phineas snorted. “Manipulated it out of you is more accurate, old man. I must say, it was highly satisfying to see your own mind games turned against you.”

Amidst the students’ outrage, Minerva smirked. “Well done, Harry. Twenty points to Gryffindor.”

Ron and Hermione gaped at her, but Neville gave the old tabby a curious look. Hmm. It seemed Albus would soon lose Neville’s trust, more than likely. He sighed and made a vow to get his meddling under control. He couldn’t afford to turn the entire student body against him.

Minerva poured herself a cup of tea and smiled like the cat that caught the canary. “So, Albus, what did Harry do after he weaselled the truth out of you?”

Albus’ cheeks pinked. “Ah, well, he judged correctly that Severus would report to Tom that evening and would most likely suffer for it. In fact, he determined that Professor Snape would most likely die before I could reach him, and took it upon himself to learn healing spells and first aid so he could save Severus’ life, should I be delayed.”

He sighed and lowered his head. “As it happens, he was correct to. Poppy and I were on standby, waiting for Severus’ alarms to go off—”

Hermione frowned. “Alarms?”

“He wears an emergency portkey at all times,” Albus explained. “Should he be gravely injured or incapacitated, the portkey activates and brings him to the gates. Would that it could bring him to the Infirmary directly, but the wards do not allow it. There are alarms attached to his portkey in my office, all set to go off when certain conditions are met.”

“That portkey won’t do him a bit of good if someone decides to cast the killing curse on him,” said Neville with a frown.

Albus nodded sadly. “No, I am afraid there is little anyone can do in such a scenario. The portkey is the best protection I can provide, unfortunately.”

Hermione drummed her hands on the edge of her chair and leaned forwards. “Well, yes, of course, but we all know that already. You were saying about the alarms going off?”

Albus gave her a look full of reproach. “Miss Granger, do be patient. As I was saying, Poppy was on standby; however, five minutes before Severus’ alarms went off, three students came into the Infirmary and tested positive for Dragon Pox. The Infirmary went on immediate lockdown to prevent an epidemic, and Poppy and the students were quarantined. She could not contact me before Severus’ alarms sounded, so I was forced to run after him myself.”

He lowered his head. “It was not enough. Had Harry and Miss Lovegood not spent the night learning healing and preparing for Severus’ arrival, we would have lost him before I could reach him.”

Minerva’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, Albus. What happened?”

Albus closed his eyes. “Besides torturing him for hours, Voldemort used a dark cutting curse on Severus, directly over his heart. He would have died in perhaps a minute had Harry and Miss Lovegood not been waiting for his arrival.”

Minerva gasped and blinked back tears. “Dear gods. Oh, Severus.”

“He is doing quite well now, Minerva.” Albus gave her a wan smile. “They saved his life. By the time I arrived, in fact, Harry had healed everything save for a broken wrist and lash wounds that would have required him to undress Severus. I then took over Severus’ care and set him up in my guest chamber.”

Albus shook his head sadly. “But it was not enough protection, and once again, Harry anticipated an attack. He came here early the next morning to check on Severus and retrieve his cloak, which he had used to lay Severus upon the night before, and discovered Pettigrew two metres away from Severus’ room. Harry stunned him and captured him, and Kingsley has him now in Ministry custody.”

“He… what?” Hermione stared at Albus, eyes round with shock. “I-in two days, Harry has learned healing magic—enough to save a man on the verge of death—and caught a Death Eater on his own?”

Albus caught the hint of disbelief and jealousy and frowned at her, reproach sharp in his features. “In a few hours, actually, as concerns the healing magic. Barely four hours passed from the time he left my office that night until Severus’ alarms went off.”

“B-but how? I wasn’t there to help him! How could he have learned it so fast without me?”

Minerva snapped, “Miss Granger, you would do well to remember you are not the only intelligent student within these walls. Ten points from Gryffindor for your arrogance!”

Hermione gave a startled cry and lowered her head, cheeks bright red and tears on her lashes. Albus hoped the reprimand did her good.

Neville shot Hermione a look of pure disgust and turned back to Albus. “So he captured Pettigrew then, sir?”

“Yes.” Albus popped another lemon drop in anticipation of an outcry. “He also pointed out the danger in leaving Severus where other Death Eaters could access him until Tom’s wrath passes. It seems Harry has taken the task of protecting Severus upon himself, and he is doing quite an admirable job. In light of that, I have given Harry permission to guard him until Severus returns to teaching. Harry and Severus will be staying in the Chamber of Secrets for the time being, and as such, he will not be present in the Gryffindor dorms or mealtimes until after the hols.”

The office rang with cries of shock and dismay. Only Neville appeared to be listening and taking the situation in calmly.

Albus chuckled to himself and gave Phineas Nigellus’ portrait a wry smile.

“Old man,” said Phineas with a snort, “you do love shocking people a bit too much.”

Albus raised his teacup to the portrait in salute.

 


 

 

Before the end of their talk, Harry found himself with his face buried in Snape’s shoulder. Snape allowed the contact, brushing tears from Harry’s face as they fell, and after going so long without a caring touch, Snape’s gentle concern broke Harry inside.

Sev comforts Harry Chapter 15

“Your Gryffindor friends will not be in the dark for long,” Snape murmured, his breath warm against Harry’s hair. “Albus advised me to take care of you before leaving breakfast, and told me he would handle the others. I imagine he is informing them of your new quarters as we speak. Perhaps they will be more receptive later.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Harry pressed closer, struggling to breathe through the pain of betrayal. “Ron’s been my friend since first year. He should have trusted me. Instead, he believed me capable of murder. I can’t forget that. And Hermione is more concerned about grades than the fact that the entire house has turned against me—again. Not to mention, she’s been so busy snogging Ron I hardly see her anymore.” Harry clung to Snape’s arm and choked out, “Even if they do wake up and come back, nothing will ever be the same.”

“Harry, you forgave me of worse. Why can you not forgive your friends?”

“Because you hated me then, sir. You thought I was awful, so of course you didn’t want to support me. But they were supposed to love me. They were supposed to stand by my side. And they didn’t. I….” Harry sniffled and leaned back. “I reckon I don’t know why it’s harder to forgive them—especially Ron. But it is.”

“Hmm. Well, it sounds as though you have true friends in Longbottom and Thomas, at least. And Lovegood, odd as she is.”

Harry gave him a wan smile. “Y-yeah. Maybe so.”

“I believe the fact that Longbottom and Thomas have stood by you this entire time and Lovegood has helped you as much as she can, being in a different year and house, is evidence enough that they are loyal and faithful.” Snape laid a tentative hand on Harry’s wrist. “Do not make my mistakes, Harry. Let them in.”

Harry gave a shuddering sigh. “I just… I don’t want to cause any more fights.”

“The other Gryffindors seem to be doing that quite well without your help. Their idiocy is not your fault.”

“I… maybe you’re right.” Harry sniffled and nodded. “I’ll try, sir.”

“Good.”

Snape leaned back a bit, and Harry interpreted the move as a need for space. He sat up and wiped his cheeks.

“Are you okay, sir?”

Snape nodded. “I am… well.” He frowned as if he couldn’t believe it. He probably couldn’t, given how afraid he was of touch in typical situations. “Harry, are you able to attend your next class?”

Harry gave him a grim smile. “I have to be. I’m a student. Not much point in that if I don’t learn.”

“Do you….” Snape’s throat bobbed. “Do you need anything?”

“You mean to calm down?” Harry gave him a hesitant smile. “If you’re really okay like this, would you mind just… staying with me for a bit?”

Pink coloured Snape’s cheeks and he lowered his head. “I… do not mind.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Snape nodded and sat in silence with Harry, his stoic presence steadying and comforting in the midst of such chaos.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

With Friends Like These

After the debacle at breakfast, Harry avoided most of the Gryffindors. He sat alone during Magical Theory class, but Hermione plopped down next to him anyway. To be fair, there weren’t many students to choose from. Besides Hermione and Harry, only Daphne Greengrass, Padma Patil, Zacharias Smith, and Draco Malfoy had chosen to take the class, and Harry sure as hell wasn’t sitting by Zacharias or Draco. He didn’t know the other girls well either, but maybe next class he’d get to know them if Hermione didn’t stop driving him mad.

Hermione scooted closer and pleaded with him. “Harry? I-I’m really sorry. I should have been concerned about you, not NEWTs, and… and you’re right. I’ve been a bint all term. You needed me and I… I wasn’t there. And gods! I’m so sorry about Ron.”

Well, maybe she was making an effort.

He opened his mouth to tell her it was all right, but, before he could speak, a strange sensation washed over him and stole his breath. Somehow, her thoughts and emotions imprinted into his mind. He couldn’t hear her voice, but he had the sense it hovered just out of reach, as if a little more experience with this strange phenomenon would enable him to read her thoughts plain as day—with or without Legilimency.

The second their eyes met, a lingering sense of superiority and a desire to mould Harry into a ‘proper’ student washed over him. She did regret her behaviour, but retained the obsessive need to shape him as she saw fit. Without her guidance, she believed his inferiority would reflect poorly upon herself.

What on earth? Harry shook himself, wondering if he had been imagining things.

“It’s only that I wanted you to do well,” Hermione went on, “and you haven’t been following my schedule or using my notes very much, so I worried you wouldn’t be able to keep up.”

Indignation coiled like a serpent in his chest. So he couldn’t learn unless Hermione hand-fed him the information, hmm? She had a lot to learn about humility before Harry could forgive her. He turned his back and ignored her apologies.

But Merlin, what had just happened? Clearly, he hadn’t simply imagined it, but how had he sensed her thoughts and emotions? He hadn’t been trying. And come to think of it, it wasn’t the first time this had happened recently. Hmm. Snape would know, maybe.

Harry shivered. No. He couldn’t risk telling Snape. What if he thought Harry would use that strange… power against him? Snape would shut their nascent friendship down, and already the prickly man was far too important to Harry to simply cast aside.

Harry didn’t understand that either, but it was true.

Maybe he could ask Dumbledore later.

Dear gods. What was he thinking? Ask Dumbledore? Harry would have snorted at himself if he hadn’t been in the middle of class. No, he most certainly would not be asking the headmaster anything, not if he could help it. He had no desire to become a guinea pig for the man’s latest schemes.

“Harry,” Hermione whispered, “please talk to me.”

“Not now, Hermione. I’m trying to pay attention. You know. Get good grades and all lest I bring the other Gryffindors down.”

That shut her up. She sniffled and turned her attention to her notes. He ignored her and focused on Professor Stonewall’s lecture. The gruff old half-dwarf was fair and knowledgeable, if a bit cantankerous, and it didn’t take Harry long to lose himself in the lesson.

 


 

After theory, Harry returned to the Chamber. Dobby had brought him sandwiches and tomato soup for lunch, all packed with plates, goblets, utensils, and various edibles in a neat picnic basket. The elf had insisted on riding down with him, and while Harry and Snape enjoyed a quiet lunch well away from the basilisk parts, Dobby busied himself with cleaning the Chamber and setting up a proper living area, complete with several shelves crammed with Snape’s books.

After the chaos of his day, Harry found Snape’s quiet company refreshing. Who would have thought.

“Sir?”

Snape looked up from his meal and gave Harry a curious look. “Yes?”

Harry dropped his gaze to his soup, fearful of letting Snape see too much emotion behind his words. “I… is it strange that I’ve liked eating with you more than in the Great Hall?”

Snape paused halfway through taking a sip of his ice water. “Hmm. You prefer eating lunch with me to spending the afternoon with your friends?”

Harry lowered his gaze to his plate, afraid to meet Snape’s eyes. “Is it strange?”

“No, but I do I find it surprising. May I ask why?”

“I don’t know. I reckon it’s less stressful. You’re quiet, you know. And here I don’t have to worry about people trying to slip me a love potion—or poison—and ogling me while I’m trying to eat.”

Snape gave a slow nod. “In that case, I suppose it would be preferable.” His eyes followed Harry as he went back to his meal, as if the man had questions, but whatever they were, he kept them to himself.

“Sir?”

“Hmm?”

“Would it be all right if… might I read some of your books too, if it’s okay with you?”

Snape hesitated. “Some are quite ancient and require specialised spells to read, and others are too dark. But there are many I have that would be suitable. I do not mind you reading those.”

“You don’t think I should read the dark ones?”

“You are seventeen, Harry.”

Harry met Snape’s eyes. “Do you really think I haven’t witnessed dark magic firsthand? I see it every single night, sir, but I don’t understand it. I don’t know how to protect myself from it, if there is a way to protect myself. And I reckon if I’m going to go up against the darkest wizard in history, well, it just makes sense to have a fair idea of what I’m getting myself into.”

Snape watched him, perfectly still, not a hint of expression on his face. After several moments where Harry stayed silent, afraid to say anything else lest he start babbling and ruin his chances, Snape gave a wry snort and shook his head.

“Phineas was right. You are a rather Slytherin sort of Gryffindor.”

Harry frowned. “Er… is that a yes or a no?”

Snape smirked. “One who needs to work on learning to comprehend subtlety, apparently. It was a yes, though I will ask you not to inform the headmaster.” A scowl twisted his mouth. “That man doesn’t want you—or anyone—exposed to dark magic, even the theory. I’ve always thought his judgment on the matter too naive. How can one fight what one does not understand?”

He took a sip of his water and met Harry’s eyes. “I will consent to let you read my books, as long as you only do so in my presence and under my supervision.”

Harry grinned. “Yes, sir.”

 


 

After lunch, Harry zoomed up to Myrtle’s loo, basket of magically-cleaned dishes and an excited house elf in hand. Dobby whisked away with the basket, claiming a need to help the other elves with the dishes, and Harry trudged out of the loo towards the entrance hall. Merlin, he hoped Ron and Hermione would leave him alone. He had nothing to say to them right now.

But of course, they ambushed him at the doors.

“Harry, look,” said Ron, “we’re both sorry. I mean, I guess it was pretty stupid to think—but it’s Snape, you know. He’s so evil.”

Harry shot him a dark look. “Leave me alone.”

“Harry, please.” Hermione tugged on his elbow, but Harry jerked it out of her grip.

“I said, leave me alone. Neither of you have learned a bloody thing! Just go snog each other and let me be.”

“But—”

Ron scowled and pulled Hermione away. “Fine then, maybe we will.”

“Go ahead.” Harry hid his hurt behind a mask of annoyance and increased his pace, hoping they would get the point and go away.

“I really don’t think this is the time,” Hermione snapped at her boyfriend. “Harry’s upset with us and we have to fix it.”

“Fix yourself first,” Harry fired over his shoulder. “I’m not going to have time to talk with you anyway, given that I have to catch up on all my revision. Wouldn’t want to make you look bad, after all.” With that, he stalked across the lawn towards the greenhouses.

“Harry!” Hermione ran after him. “Really, I’m sorry. Please—”

“Gods damn it, Hermione, leave—me—alone! I heard you the first twelve times you apologised. It doesn’t mean anything when you still think you’ve the right to tell me when and how I learn. It doesn’t mean anything when you still think yourself my superior because your marks are slightly better. It doesn’t mean anything when even now, even when you’re trying to bloody apologise, you’re still not taking my needs or wishes into account. I’m still angry with you, Hermione! Learn to listen to something other than the professors and leave me be!”

“Oi!” Ron snarled and grabbed Harry’s arm. “Don’t you talk to her li—”

“Get off of me.” Harry’s anger glowed, arcing around him in killing-curse green sparks of fury. “Now.”

Ron gulped and moved away. Harry jerked his knapsack over his shoulder and stormed towards the greenhouse.

“H-Harry,” Hermione pleaded.

“Don’t,” Ron muttered. “Stay away from him. I don’t know what’s got into him but he’s dangerous right now.”

“Ron! That’s terrible. You know better than t—”

Areatus Silentium!” Harry cast a silencing ward around his head—one that silenced the area outside the ward rather than the people within its protection—and breathed a sigh of relief at the sudden quiet.

He whirled at a tap on his shoulder, but relaxed at the sight of Neville. “Finite. Hi, Nev.”

Neville nodded in greeting. “Harry, um, about this morning, I’m sorry. I was angry with them, but I shouldn’t have put you on the spot like that. Are you okay?”

Harry got another flash of emotion, Neville’s. The boy was panicking, worried about Harry and fearful he might end up hurting himself if his depression didn’t turn around soon. He sensed no ulterior motive—just genuine concern and care for Harry’s life and health.

Relieved even as he wondered what strange ability had been born in him as of late, Harry gave Neville a wan smile and patted his shoulder. “It’s okay.”

A surge of relief and hope crossed from Neville to Harry.

“No, it’s not,” Neville said with a sigh. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have embarrassed you, but gods. I never thought they would….”

Harry crossed his arms over his chest and stared at his feet, watching his breath come out in frozen clouds. “Yeah. Me neither.”

They said nothing for a long moment.

“Hey, Nev? I… I’m sorry I’ve been ignoring you a lot lately. I just didn’t want to cause more fights, but apparently they don’t need me to do that.”

Neville gave him a sad smile. “I know. Luna told me. And I’m… if you need me to, I’ll just try to stay out of it and keep you sane instead of arguing with them.” He shook his head and huffed. “Not like any of them are learning anything anyway.”

“T-thanks, Neville. Yeah, I… I would like that, if it’s all right with you.”

Neville nodded. “I was only fighting with them to try to help you. If it’s not working, then obviously I need to do something different.”

Harry closed his eyes to hide the tears building in them. “You’ve really been a good friend. I’m sorry I’ve been rubbish.”

“It’s nothing, mate. Like you said, you were trying not to start a war and you’ve been going through hell. It’s okay.”

Harry nodded and hugged his chest. “I-it might be better now. At least with Snape, now I’m not in his class.”

“I sure hope so.” Neville gave him a shy smile. “Um, would you like to work with me today? I usually work with Dean and Seamus, but after this, not even Dean is talking to that giant prat. Dean might want to work with us too, come to think of it, if you’re okay with that.”

Harry winced. “I didn’t want this, Neville. I didn’t want to tear apart the whole house. I was just trying to keep him alive.”

Neville held Harry’s shoulder. “You didn’t do this, Harry. It’s not your fault some people are berks. You did the right thing.”

Harry sighed. “When I see him and know he’d have died without me, I know that, but no one else seems to get it.”

“Well, not a lot of people like him, mate.”

“No one knows I saved him.”

“I know. It’s just… well, everyone’s hated him for so long. Maybe they’re playing out some kind of twisted fantasy of their own and using you as a scapegoat.” Neville scowled. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”

Harry shuddered. “No. I wish people would find someone else to tear apart though.”

“So do I.” Neville opened the greenhouse door and let Harry in, but closed it before the other Gryffindors could follow. “So, do you want to work with me?”

“Sure. Not like I’d learn anything with the others.”

“I reckon I can fix that. I’ve a hell of a green thumb, as it happens.”

Harry chuckled and followed Neville to his station, where Dean was already waiting.

“Hey, Nev,” Dean said with a hesitant smile, “can I work with you today? And you too, Harry, if you want? I….” He cast a sad look at Seamus and shook his head. “I can’t work with him. Not after this.”

Seamus glared at them, muttering about losing points and detentions.

Neville snorted. “Idiot. He’s just hacked off because Professor McGonagall took sixty points from him and put him in detention for three weeks.”

“The berk deserves it,” Dean replied, his mouth set in a scowl but his eyes sad.

Harry closed his eyes to hide the blush of shame colouring his face. “Gods, I’m so sorry, Dean. I didn’t mean to cause so much trouble.”

Neville thumped Harry in the back of the head. “I told you, you didn’t cause it, git.”

Rubbing his head, Harry chuckled softly. “I… all right, I guess, but I still feel bad.”

Dean patted Harry’s shoulder. “It’s not your fault, mate. You didn’t do anything except be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s Seamus who’s got his head up his arse.”

Harry snorted in spite of himself. “Y-yeah.”

A searching look filled Dean’s eyes. “If it’s all right, Harry, can you tell me who you saved? I believe you, but I didn’t know anyone had been hurt.”

Harry winced. “Not here. It’s too dangerous and too long a story. Can it wait until after dinner tonight, maybe?” He frowned. “Ah, bugger. I can’t do that either. I have to go take care of him. He’s still injured.”

“Don’t worry about it, Harry,” said Neville. “If you give me permission, I’ll tell him about it later.”

Harry nodded. “Just so long as the both of you know never to tell anyone else. It’s so dangerous. He’ll die if the truth gets back to the wrong ears.”

Dean laid his hand over his heart. “I promise. And if it’s that dangerous, we should hold off discussing it here.”

“True.” Harry turned to their plant tray and gave the berry bushes a curious look. “Well, we can work together on these if you blokes don’t mind that I’ve not a clue about what these plants are or what to do with them.”

“I can teach you.” Neville moved to the middle of the station and lifted a handful of mauve berries hidden in fern-like leaves. “These are fritzberries. They make magic charges in the berries—see?” He squeezed one of the berries lightly, and a pink arc of electricity shot out. “The magic won’t hurt you. I imagine we’re to harvest it in class today, though I’m not sure what it’s used for.”

“Magic replenishing draughts,” Harry said with a wry smile. “It’s the key ingredient.”

“Ah. Good to know. Potions might have been useful for Herbology, but I just couldn’t take another ye—”

“Harry!” Hermione called again. “Please, I just wanted to make sure you were learning enough, and without me—”

Fury surged in Harry’s blood. “Areatus Silentium!”

He enclosed himself, Dean, and Neville in his silencing bubble and glared at Hermione, who was still ‘apologising’ beyond the charm’s barrier. She tried scooting within the limits of the charm, but Dean shoved her back and poked his head through the shield to shout at her. Harry couldn’t make out what he said, but his irritation spilled over through Harry’s new abilities.

Dean popped back into the charm’s range. “Gods, can’t fault her perseverance, can you?”

Harry gave a bitter laugh. “When it comes to grades, snogging, and trying to apologise even though she doesn’t mean a word? Absolutely not.”

Neville frowned. “Harry, I do think she means it.”

“Maybe. She does feel a prat from what I can tell. She also still thinks me too thick to wipe my own arse without her input.”

Neville grimaced. “In that case, let her stew.”

Harry gave a bitter laugh. “That was the plan.”

Thank Merlin, Professor Sprout came in at that juncture and Hermione had no choice but to go back to her boyfriend with her tail between her legs. Harry cancelled their silencing charm just as the professor took her place at the top of the greenhouse.

“All right, class,” said Professor Sprout. “Today we’re harvesting magic from fritzberries for Professor Snape. It seems he’s run out of magic replenishers, so we’re gathering ingredients.” She fixed them with a stern look. “And don’t even think of sabotage as a petty act of revenge or you’ll find yourself in detention—with Professor Snape—faster than you can blink.”

Neville grinned. “Called it.”

Harry chuckled and settled into the lesson.

Neville wasn’t kidding about his green thumb. Merlin. The boy taught Harry and Dean loads. Their fritzberry stock earned them the highest scores at the end of the class, much to Hermione’s consternation. Harry made a mental note to partner with Neville from now on in Herbology. The man was a genius with plants, and Dean’s Muggle scientific knowledge and Harry’s skill with other disciplines made them a damn good team.

After class, Neville and Dean lagged behind on purpose, keeping Harry company so he could avoid another confrontation with Ron and Hermione. Another silencing field let the couple know Harry wasn’t open to more arguments and, after a moment of useless pleading, they moved on. Harry and his friends followed at a safe distance, but Dean stepped away once they had made it to the Entrance Hall.

“I need the loo before class. See you two in history?”

Harry nodded. “Go on. We’ll be all right. Thanks for sticking with me.”

Dean patted his shoulder. “Of course, mate. See you in a bit.”

He scurried away, leaving Neville to finish accompanying Harry to class.

Neville sighed once he had gone and gave Harry a wan smile. “Are you okay, mate?”

Harry shook his head. “Okay is a stretch. But I’m… it’s not as bad as it could be. I’m better than I was yesterday anyway.” His shoulders slumped. “Ron and Hermione—they just keep trying, but I can’t forget that Ron believed I’d kill Snape. Hermione, well, maybe I can forgive her eventually—if she takes her head out of her arse and stops trying to turn me into some kind of trophy friend or what have you—but Ron… this is too far.”

Neville nodded grimly. “I know. I can’t forgive it either.”

They walked in silence for a while.

“Harry? Is… your guest, the one you’re protecting—is he treating you well?”

Harry’s smile was genuine this time. “Believe it or not, he is. It took some talking and I really had to prove myself, but he’s been taking good care of me since yesterday afternoon-ish. Actually, he held me together this morning. Let me cry on him—and didn’t even dock points for it,” he added with a wry laugh.

Neville frowned. “I wouldn’t have thought he had it in him. And I’m a bit surprised that you’ve done so much for him considering how badly he hurt you before.”

“I know.”

“Why did you do it, Harry?”

Harry froze, hurt and anger building in his heart. Why would no one understand? “He would have died without me, Nev. I couldn’t just let him die!”

“Oh, that’s not—” Neville patted Harry’s shoulder. “Easy, mate. I didn’t mean that. Of course you wouldn’t let him die. All I meant was that I would have thought it would be easier to forgive Hermione than… your guest.”

Harry shook his head and held his books to his chest, the sharpness inside easing at Neville’s explanation. “Oh. Well, he said the same thing, you know. I don’t really know why. I reckon it’s because they were my friends to start with and they should have stood by me, but they didn’t. My guest hated me, so of course he wasn’t going to be nice. Now that he’s… er… seen the light, he’s really trying, and that makes it easier not to be angry.”

“I suppose I can see that. I’m hacked off at them too.” Neville gave Harry a searching look. “But I reckon what I’m trying to understand is why you went so far out of your way to help him in the first place. I’m not talking about saving his life, so please don’t be hurt. It’s just… I mean, judging from what Dumbledore said and what you just told me, you’ve been good to him and he really doesn’t deserve it. Is there a reason?”

Harry walked in silence for a moment, considering what he could reveal without breaking Snape’s confidence. “I… I can’t say much, but last term changed how I saw him. I… stumbled on something I wasn’t supposed to see, and it showed me nothing is black and white. He’s not just an abusive bastard—he’s damaged, Nev. Broken. And… I don’t know. As mad as it is, after seeing him in the light I did, I guess it made me want to fix his broken pieces, if I can. Or at least help him heal.”

Neville frowned. “Really? He’s so cruel, I wouldn’t have thought, but then again, I haven’t seen him like you have. Is he okay?”

Harry shrugged. “I think he’s doing better anyway. Knowing I saved him in spite of everything—I think it helped him, somehow. I hope so anyway.”

A hesitant smile crossed Neville’s face. “Well, I’m not going to say I like the berk, but I guess he can’t be all bad. It looks like he’s helped you some anyway. You don’t seem as miserable, even with Ron, Seamus, and Hermione sticking their heads up their arses and half our housemates turning into idiots. Again.”

Harry shuddered and stepped closer to his friend. “Yeah. It’s been an awful term.”

“I know. I was really scared for you, Harry. I reckon if… your new friend can turn that around, if he can pull you out of despair and give you some hope, it’s worth giving him another shot.”

Harry closed his eyes, warmed by Neville’s gesture even if he wouldn’t likely have much of a chance to act on it. “Thanks, Nev. But, um… did Professor Dumbledore tell you what my… friend does for a living? Besides the obvious, I mean?”

Neville snorted. “Didn’t need to. I put it together for myself.” He whispered to Harry, “Yes, I know he’s a spy.”

Harry froze and cast a silencing barrier, the type to block sound in this time. “Nev, how did you figure that out? If he’s revealing himself in public, we’re all screwed.”

“He’s not, don’t worry. I just figured it out because I thought Dumbledore would have, um, sent him on his way by now if he was really what he projects. I expect most people think he’s done something sinister to cement his place here regardless, so I think it’s okay.”

Harry took a deep breath. “Oh. In that case, I’ll just warn him he’ll need to change when he… returns, and it should be all right. He’ll have to anyway if he wants to keep his position.”

“That’s what Dumbledore said.”

“Yeah.” Harry hugged his books closer to his chest, trying to calm his racing heart. Gods, he had been truly terrified for his new friend. Already, the idea of losing Snape hurt too much to contemplate.

“Harry? Are you all right?”

“Yeah. That just… scared me.” He shook himself out of his fear. Once he warned Snape, everything would be all right. He’d make sure of it. “Um, well, since you know of his work, you also understand he can’t be kind in public?”

“So long as he’s all right in private and you’re okay with it, I’m okay.”

Harry smiled. “I… I’m glad. I don’t really understand it, Nev, but it does make me happy. Maybe I’ve wanted him to accept me for a long time, you know? Either way, I… it’s been good to know he cares.”

“I’m happy for you, mate. Well, about that anyway.”

Harry looked to the History classroom, where Hermione and Ron were snuggled in each other’s arms as if nothing else mattered—including him. Harry couldn’t blame them entirely with how hard he was shutting them down, but still….

“Yeah. I know what you mean.”

 


 

Harry sat next to Neville for History too. And afterwards, Neville and Dean walked him to the second floor corridor after class.

“Tell your friend I said hello and to treat you well,” said Neville.

Harry chuckled. “I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.” He turned to leave, but the thought of Parseltongue reminded him of his other new friend. “Hey, Nev, Dean, wait.”

Neville turned, bemused. “I don’t think he’ll want to talk to us, Harry.”

Dean gave Harry a bemused look. “He won’t?”

Harry grimaced. “Neville will explain later, when it’s safe.”

Neville nodded and patted Dean’s shoulder. “Later, I promise. What did you want, Harry?”

Harry hissed at his new familiar and gently lifted the viper out of his clothing. “I wanted to introduce you to Isuri.”

“Merlin!” Neville gasped and inched back. “She’s… venomous, isn’t she?”

Dean, who had been staring at the snake in blatant curiosity, took a step back too. “Um… is she?”

Harry nodded. “I don’t think she’s that dangerous to humans, though. She says she’s not anyway, and she won’t hurt you regardless. She’s pretty content just to sleep around my neck most of the time actually.”

Neville moved closer. “You’re sure she won’t bite?”

Isuri gave the boy a curious sniff, tongue poking out, then sniffed Dean, too. ~Master, your friends are frightened. The brown one is less so.~

Harry petted her head. ~I know. Be gentle with them, okay? They really protected me today.~ Isuri nodded, and Harry turned back to his friends. “She was letting me know you’re afraid. It’s okay though. She really is a calm snake. She won’t hurt you. I promise.”

Neville gave the snake a hesitant smile. “She is lovely, even if I’m not as fond of snakes as you are. Her scales are so bright.”

“Yeah, she’s a beautiful snake,” said Dean. “Even has Slytherin colours!”

“She’s a Sri Lankan pit viper,” Harry said, pride swelling in his chest. He did have rather lovely familiars, in his opinion.

Isuri bobbed her head and flickered her tongue against Neville’s cheek. ~Thank you, humans.~ She repeated the gesture with Dean, and the boy gave a soft giggle and rubbed his cheek.

“Tickles!”

Isuri hissed her snake laugh. ~You are good friends. Keep protecting him, please.~

Harry eased the snake back from the boys. ~I’ll tell them, Isuri.~ She curled back around his neck and snuggled in for another nap.

“She said thank you and asked you to protect me,” Harry translated.

Neville nodded. “We will, mate. Tell her that.”

“She can understand simple phrases like that without my help, and she’s learning the rest. Just don’t tell anyone else about her, okay? She protects me too.”

“Sure thing,” said Dean.

“Of course,” Neville said with a nod. “You’d best get into the Chamber before we’re seen here, though. We’ll talk more tomorrow, Harry.”

“Yeah, thanks. See you then.”

Harry waved goodbye to his friends and slipped away to the second floor girls’ loo under his cloak. Dobby was waiting under a house elf invisibility spell with a basket of pasta and garlic bread. Harry took the basket with an appreciative grin and clambered atop the broom.

“Coming, Dobby?”

Dobby shook his head solemnly, candy cane earrings waving with the motion. “Dobby has work to do in the kitchens, unless Great Master Harry Potter sir needs him.”

“No, that’s fine. We’re pretty well set up in here now, at least for the moment.” Though Snape would soon miss his brewing, Harry had no doubt about that. “Thank you for dinner!”

After his customary wails of gratitude, which Harry silenced quickly, Dobby popped away, and Harry dropped into the Chamber. As soon as he had the Chamber doors shut, he cast a warming charm on his snake to keep her comfortable and set her down on his bed.

~I thought you would want to get some exercise after napping on me all day, but feel free to sleep here if you are still tired.~

Isuri lifted her head and looked around. ~There is a strong smell of snake here. Big snake.~

~Yes. There was once a basilisk in this chamber, but she is dead now. Stay away from the boxes and dark wall in the corner there. Her remains are still here and they are lethal. The rest of the room is safe to explore.~

Isuri nodded. ~I would like to see Master’s nest.~

~This is a… seasonal nest, Isuri, not a permanent one, but it is where we are staying for the time.~ He petted her head and turned, just as Snape called out to him.

“Harry? Is Isuri well?”

Harry came out from behind the screen to see Snape setting up their dinner table. “Yes, sir. She’s just going to explore a bit. I already warned her about the basilisk parts.”

Snape nodded. “If she is amenable, will you ask her to search for other shed skins? They should not be harmful to her, but tell her not to put them in her mouth. It is enough to let us know where she finds them, if any exist.”

“They’d have to, wouldn’t they? That snake was here for over a thousand years.”

Snape nodded. “I confess I am surprised the Chamber is not littered with old skins.”

“Hmm. Good point.” Harry frowned. “Sir, do basilisks generally live so long?”

“Unless killed, they are immortal.”

Harry shuddered. “Dear gods. Whoever made a giant, immortal snake with lethal venom, eyes that turn you to stone, fangs as long as my arm, and a seriously bad attitude should be taken out somewhere and shot.”

Snape snorted. “You will hear no argument from me. Though they do come in handy once foolhardy Gryffindors dispose of them.”

“For the opportunistic Slytherins, you mean?”

Snape shot him a glare. Harry gave a nervous laugh and held his hands up in a gesture of surrender.

“Sir, I was only teasing. I didn’t mean….” He winced and turned away. Gods, one stupid comment and he’d ruined everything. Why couldn’t he keep his big mouth shut?

“I’m sorry, sir. I… I’ll just tell Isuri about the skins now.”

Snape’s glare softened. “Harry, I am not accustomed to… teasing. It has been many years since anyone has attempted it without malice.”

Harry tried to smile, though he feared it came out as more of a grimace. “I-I’ll try to remember, sir.” He took a steadying breath and went to his viper, who was nosing along the base of Slytherin’s statue. ~Isuri?~

She looked at Harry and cocked her head. ~Why is there a giant human head made of stone here, Master? Did the basilisk kill him?~

Harry laughed in spite of himself. ~That is a good thought, but no. It is only a… an image of a human. Do snakes bring things into their nests to decorate them?~

She stared at Harry, tongue flickering in and out. He had the sense she was confused.

~Um, a decoration is something to make the nest… look attractive, or to make it smell good. It has no practical purpose other than to be pleasing to the owners.~

Isuri cocked her head. ~Some snakes might… decorate their nests, perhaps. Some like the smell of grass or dead things—I am not sure if that is decoration. And I have not had a nest yet, so I do not know if I will like to decorate it either.~

~I hope you have a big nest in the future, Isuri. But for now, this is a sort of decoration for our nest. The first owner of this place made it. I do not like it much, but it is too big and too dangerous to move.~

She bobbed her head in understanding. ~I see. The human who lived here before liked strange decorations.~

Harry snorted. ~True.~ He knelt at her feet and petted her head. ~Isuri, Severus would like me to ask you something, but it may be too frightening for you. It is fine to refuse if you would not like to do it.~

He might not be able to use Snape’s forename in conversation yet, but surely it couldn’t hurt to call him that with his snake, right? He hoped so anyway.

~What is it?~

~The basilisk that lived here before us was here for a thousand years, and its skins are very valuable. They can save lives, if we can find them. Severus and I are not able to find her skins on our own, and we would like you to look for them, if it is not too frightening.~

~Why would it frighten me, Master? The big snake is dead. She cannot hurt me now.~

Harry gave a wry snort. He should have taken the mindset of a snake into account. They didn’t mourn their dead like humans did, at least not in his experience. Some even ate other snakes, so the fact that Isuri didn’t appear to mind sorting through the shed skins of another of her kind shouldn’t have surprised him.

~Yes, you are right. I was thinking like a human.~

~You are a human. How else would you think?~

Harry laughed. ~Yes, I am glad I have you to remind me. So you do not mind looking for the skins for us?~

~I will look.~

~Severus said if you do find some, do not put them in your mouth. Just tell me.~

~Yes, master. Go to your friend. His stomach is making hungry noises and he is waiting for you.~

Harry chuckled and petted her head. ~Thank you, Isuri. I will go make sure Severus puts some food in his belly so you can concentrate.~

Isuri gave her snake laugh and slithered away. Harry watched her poke about the base of the statue for a moment before he went to the table, where Snape had already plated a giant bowl of Tuscan shrimp penne, a tray of garlic bread, and goblets of white wine. There was a bottle of pumpkin juice for Harry as well.

“Merlin, that looks delicious. Dobby is worth his weight in gold.”

Snape snorted. “Basilisk parts are more expensive than gold.”

“Then worth his weight in dead basilisk.” Harry sat down and smiled at Snape. “Thanks for setting this up.”

“It is no trouble. You are… aiding me. I must do my part to help.”

Harry lowered his head to hide the way such words affected him. He had never had someone to help him with the household chores before. Not a human anyway. Hogwarts didn’t feel much like a human home as the house elves did everything invisibly, but here, Snape and Harry had to clean up after themselves. That Snape was willing to share the load filled Harry with warmth.

“T-thank you, sir.”

“Harry? Are you all right?”

Harry nodded and took a piece of garlic bread. “I’m okay, sir. Let’s eat while it’s hot.”

“The food has warming charms, but I would prefer to start as well.”

Snape dished some pasta onto his plate, then passed it to Harry, and they settled in to eat. For a while, only Isuri’s occasional comment about finding a hole here or there and the sound of clinking utensils broke the silence, but once the sharp edge of hunger abated, Harry found himself curious about Snape and how he had amused himself during Harry’s classes.

“Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, how did you do here by yourself today?”

Snape acknowledged the comment with a nod, finishing his bite and wiping his mouth before he would speak. The man certainly had impeccable table manners. Harry made a mental note to pay attention when they ate and maybe learn some of Snape’s etiquette. It could only smooth relations if Snape didn’t find Harry’s eating habits atrocious.

“I did well enough, I suppose. My injuries are not entirely healed so I could not yet resume my usual training regimen—”

“Training?” Harry’s ears perked up. “What kind of training, sir?”

“Many types. Besides training my mind to keep my magic and mind skills sharp, I also train in defensive techniques, both Muggle and wizarding.”

Harry gave him a hesitant smile. “Um, w-would you be willing to teach me some?”

Snape raised an eyebrow. “You wish to train with me?”

“Well, if I’m going to have to fight Voldemort—”

Snape gasped and grabbed his arm. “Don’t!”

“Don’t say his name?” Harry frowned. “It’s only a name. There’s no need to fear it.”

Snape’s gaze sharpened to steel. “Do not insult me.”

Harry lowered his head and shut his mouth lest he ruin everything. Again. Appetite gone, he pressed his arm into his waist and tried not to show his sudden distress.

‘Damn it. I just don’t know how to talk to him.’

Snape sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Harry….”

Harry kept his gaze on the table and said nothing. What could he say? He had no idea what would and wouldn’t set Snape off sometimes.

“Harry, look at me.”

Harry swallowed hard and forced himself to meet Snape’s eyes. He hoped his fear and shame wasn’t obvious, but should have realised Snape would see through any defence.

Snape’s expression was softer, tinged with guilt. “I… I believe I handled that badly.”

Harry barely suppressed a gasp. He was admitting fault? Gods, the man had changed.

“I do not react well to being called a coward, Harry. At all.”

Snape’s statement forced Harry to react. “A-a coward? How on earth did you get that from what I said?”

“You suggested I was afraid of his name.”

“Er… but everyone is. I just… I thought—you’re not?”

Snape shook his head. “I do not want the name spoken in my hearing for two reasons. First and foremost, I must always refer to him as the Dark Lord as long as I am spying within his ranks. One slip and I am finished. As people tend to assimilate what they hear, it is dangerous for me to hear it.

“Secondly, the Dark Lord created a connection between his self-fashioned name and the Dark Mark. Whenever his ridiculous title is mentioned in the presence of a Death Eater, it causes them terrible pain through the mark. It is meant to be a way to teach us respect.” Snape’s scowl of disgust made his opinion of such brutality plain.

Harry winced. “Merlin. I’m sorry, sir. I won’t say it again where you can hear it. I don’t want to call him You-Know-Who and encourage fear of his name though. Should I just call him… er, Riddle?”

“That will do. It is highly unlikely I would slip with his surname. It does not come to mind in his presence at any rate. He is hardly human by this point, after all.”

“Oh.” Harry twirled his fork in his pasta, but didn’t eat. “Um, you were telling me about training?”

Snape gave Harry an assessing look. “Hmm. If I am to train you, you must promise to eat healthier meals and more of them. The training is intense and will drain your reserves quickly if you do not take in enough food to replenish your energy.”

Harry gave him a hesitant smile. “Yes, sir!” He took another bite of his pasta and found, with their argument settled, his appetite had returned. It was good pasta, after all.

The corner of Snape’s lips twitched. Harry’s heart filled with hope that one day soon, the man could smile again. Gods, he hoped so.

Snape’s breath hitched and his eyes widened.

Harry’s heart stilled. Oh shite. Just then, he had been looking into the man’s eyes and not shielding his thoughts.

Snape had heard him.

Face burning, Harry gave Snape an apologetic look and mentally kicked himself. Hadn’t he just thought the day before that he would need to be careful with this man? And here he was stomping all over their budding truce like a bloody minotaur in a china shop.

Snape’s throat bobbed, his eyes glimmered, and a pink flush spread across his cheeks. “Harry, I….” His voice came out rough and he cleared his throat. “I believe I was telling you what I had done with myself today.”

Harry nodded, smiling to himself. He shielded his mind as best as he could. ‘Hearing how much I care about his happiness must have affected him. Gods, I hope so. I hope he cares.’

Snape took a bite of his meal as if he needed time to think of his reply. Harry suspected he was trying to get his emotions under control.

“I spent much of the day reading about basilisks and the properties of their derivative ingredients, the venom in particular.”

Harry shuddered. “I’ve had enough experience with basilisk venom to last me a lifetime, thanks.”

Snape looked him over, his expression curious and calculating. “Harry, would you mind telling me of your poisoning? How it felt, how fast it worked, how it felt when Fawkes healed you? It is so rare that a victim of basilisk poisoning survives, there is hardly any information on the experience to be had. Such information is vital to developing an antivenin.”

Harry gulped and almost choked on a half-chewed bite of pasta. He swallowed it down with some pumpkin juice and wiped his mouth before speaking, as he had seen Snape do every time.

“I… well, do I have to do it now?”

“Of course not. I would prefer to record your account, and I cannot do so over the dinner table. I was simply asking if you are willing.”

Harry gave him a tentative nod. “Can I show you the memory? Would you be able to get more details if you could feel what I felt then, maybe?”

Snape paused, breath catching, and stared at Harry for a long moment. Then, to Harry’s shock and joy, he smiled. It was a small thing, fleeting and unsure, but a real smile.

“I cannot believe you trust me with such information, but yes, to share your memory of the event would give me a unique understanding of the effects of basilisk poisoning. It may be enough to save lives.”

Snape bowed his head slightly and Harry felt a rush of gratitude from him. A thank you! Snape had thanked him. Well, a bow wasn’t much of a thank you, to be honest, but from Snape? Gods, this was a huge step for him.

Harry smiled back, but decided not to draw attention to Snape’s display of gratitude for fear of making him crawl back into his shell.

“I hope so, sir.”

Hope. For the first time in months, Harry felt it. Maybe, just maybe, things would be okay again soon. Perhaps he’d never be the same with Ron and Hermione, but gaining Neville, Dean, and Snape made it easier to cope.

Snape nodded and returned to his meal. Harry watched out of the corner of his eye as the man fidgeted with a piece of shrimp, a faint blush colouring his cheeks. What was he thinking?

As Harry watched, wishing he could know the man’s thoughts, Snape’s voice drifted into his mind.

[I should ask him. He is being incredibly kind and I know he is distressed. His day must have been difficult with the divide in his house. I… but what if I ask him and…? I am so afraid.]

Harry ducked his head with a quiet gasp. Oh gods. He was sure Snape hadn’t projected that thought. What in Merlin’s name was happening to him?

Harry looked to Snape, wondering if he should ask about it, but decided this wasn’t the time. Snape would assume Harry had overheard his thoughts. And to know Harry had heard something so private… it would shatter their trust at this point. He would have to wait a bit, until their bond was strong enough to bear the blow.

For the moment, he decided to take the burden of decision off his new friend.

“My day… Merlin, it was rough.”

Snape’s expression shifted to pure relief, and Harry knew he had done the right thing.

“Ron and Hermione cornered me on the way to Herbology….”

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

Settling In

After dinner, Severus trained Harry in Occlumency. Something appeared to be bothering the boy, but Harry had plenty of excuse to be upset and Severus took the fact that he hadn’t been able to uncover the cause of Harry’s confusion and worry as a sign of progress. Merlin, but it was about time. Occlumency wasn’t the easiest discipline, but neither did it merit such struggle.

Perhaps their growing trust had helped Harry overcome his disinclination for the subject.

“Well done, Harry.” He handed the boy a headache reliever and put away his wand.

Harry downed the potion with a grateful look and dropped his head into his hands. Severus knelt beside him and lightly laid his hand against Harry’s scalp, soothing him with one of the many chants he had perfected over the years.

Sana Cerebra….”

Harry sighed and leaned into his touch. “Merlin, thank you. That’s so much better.”

Severus nodded and moved back. “Are you well enough to stand now?”

Harry stood and swayed a bit, but did not fall. “Yes, sir, I’m all right. Or I will be. These lessons always take it out of me.” He moved to the sofa and groaned. “Ugh. Feels like a lorry smacked me in the skull when we’re done, no matter how gentle you are about it.”

“You are showing progress, so with luck, we may not need to continue them for long.”

Harry frowned and lowered his gaze. “Maybe so, sir.”

“Harry?”

Harry gave him a wan smile. “It’s nothing. I just need a minute.”

Severus frowned. Harry wasn’t being truthful, not entirely, but he didn’t push. It was too early in their acquaintance to push for confidences if Harry wasn’t ready to give them.

Still, perhaps Severus could ask for them. And he knew just the question he wanted to ask.

He sat beside the boy and laid a gentle hand on his back, relieved that the touch did not frighten him. “Harry, I would like to speak to you about something. It has been troubling me since we discussed my living arrangements yesterday.”

Harry tensed under Severus’ hand. “Am I bothering you, sir?”

“No. At least so far, you have been quite an easy housemate.”

Harry relaxed again and gave him a shy smile. “I’m glad. I’ve liked it here too. Well, other than the dead basilisk—” He shuddered. “And the giant statue of Slytherin. It’s been nice to be here away from all the chaos.”

“You find my presence restful as compared to your housemates?” Severus grimaced. “On reconsideration and given what you have been through recently, perhaps that does make sense.”

“Yeah.” Harry gave him a wan smile. “I thought your company was restful before the fallout with Gryffindor though, or at least I did after you stopped hating me so much.”

Severus couldn’t stop himself from running his hand over Harry’s curls. Despite his fears, he wanted a touch for himself. Something soft and gentle to chase away the cold, bitter loneliness he had carried for so long.

Harry’s eyes closed and he turned into Severus’ hand. Merlin, he was like a cat. The thought brought a hesitant smile to Severus’ face… until he recalled Harry’s reaction to the female Weasley at lunch that morning. Why did Harry enjoy Severus’ touch so much when he did not appear to like it from his friends?

The thought made Severus nervous and he dropped his hand to Harry’s shoulder again.

Harry gave Severus a soft smile, full of trust and hope. Severus’ heart twisted. He didn’t deserve this, Harry’s trust and affection. And even if he did, fate always took away whatever made Severus happy. He couldn’t afford to become too reliant on Harry’s acceptance.

Even if the thought of losing his trust already hurt more than it should.

No. No. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t let Harry in so far. He had to protect himself.

Harry’s smile slipped, uncertainty rolling in like storm clouds. Merlin, Severus’ thoughts must have bled through his barriers and shown on his face. He composed himself quickly.

Harry winced and looked away. Perhaps he knew Severus was worried and hiding it. Why did he care though? Severus simply couldn’t understand how Harry could hold him in such regard, and he couldn’t trust it anyway. He had never been so fortunate.

“What did you want to ask me about, sir?”

Severus jumped—inside, at least. In the mire of his troubled thoughts, somehow he had forgotten why he had tried to soothe Harry through his touch in the first place. Severus had questions, and he anticipated they would be painful for the boy. With a little huff of irritation at his own maudlin sentimentality, he laid his hand on Harry’s forearm, tracing the greenish lacework of veins. This, at least, did not frighten him.

“It will likely trouble you, Harry, so brace yourself.”

Harry froze, eyes wide with fear. “H-have I done something wrong, sir?”

“No. Breathe, Harry. I am not angry.”

Harry relaxed. “I just didn’t want you to hate me again.”

“If I hated you, or was considering it, would I…?” Severus squeezed Harry’s forearm to indicate what he couldn’t say.

Harry smiled and shook his head. “I reckon not. All right. What is it then?”

Severus took a deep breath to calm himself and kept his eyes trained on Harry’s face, watching for the slightest reaction. “In Albus’ office yesterday, something concerning happened. I was rather abrupt with you; however, I have said much worse than what I did to you then, so your strong reaction to my words stunned me. Harry, why did it terrify you when I suggested you might eat the plate? You do realise I….”

But Harry had frozen. His eyes were wide, tears shimmering in the corners, all the colour draining from his face. He trembled violently against Severus’ side and shook his head so hard, his fringe flapped into his eyes.

“No. No, I can’t. Please. Don’t ask.”

Severus held his arm tight and brushed Harry’s fringe back with his other hand. “Even when I am here to help you?”

“Please. Please don’t. I can’t.”

“Are you able to show me the memory?”

“No! Gods, please. I c-can’t live it again. P-please.” Tears dripped down Harry’s cheeks, and Severus relented.

“Very well. I will not force you if it troubles you so. I am only concerned.”

Harry gave a shaky cry and buried his face in Severus’ shoulder. “S-sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Severus gasped at the touch, but in light of Harry’s severe distress, did not move away. “Peace. I am here. I have memories of my own that are too painful.”

But why should this terrify Harry so? Why should the mere mention of something so silly render him crippled with fear when nothing else could?

What in Merlin’s name had happened to him?

Heart troubled, Severus traced his fingers through Harry’s soft curls and tried to calm them both.

 


 

Harry knew he had revealed too much with his terror, but he couldn’t help it. The pain, the fear of that episode still left him screaming his throat raw in the night sometimes. He couldn’t speak of it even if doing so would not also reveal the horrible truth of his life with the Dursleys.

Snape had been abused too—he might even understand Harry’s pain and fear—but it didn’t matter. Harry couldn’t talk about it. He couldn’t admit his past, because the fear that the Dursleys were right and he was just a little freak who deserved all his pain still haunted him.

Snape held Harry’s arm and brushed light fingertips over his wrist. Merlin, Snape was terrified of touch, but he had tried so hard to overcome it for Harry’s sake. Harry wanted to hug the man and hold him tight, but restrained himself. This was as far as Snape could go, and that was more than Harry had ever expected.

“S-sir?”

“Hmm? Are you well?”

Harry shivered. “Y-yeah. I’m fine.” He wasn’t, but he didn’t want to remember. “I… I’m sorry I can’t talk about it.”

“I should not have asked you so soon. Perhaps you will be able to discuss it eventually, but at the moment, I fear our trust is still too new.”

 Harry nodded, though he doubted he would ever be able to discuss his life at Privet Drive. If Severus knew—if anyone knew—what a little freak he was, he would lose what little he had left. And Harry wasn’t sure he could survive if everyone abandoned him.

Perhaps he could talk to Isuri about it. A snake wouldn’t care what his relatives thought. The idea was compelling, and gave Harry some little hope he might one day overcome his past.

For now, though, he needed to pull himself together. He had two essays due the next day and he had barely a word written on either.

“Sir? Um, if you’re okay with it, I really do have a lot of work to catch up on.”

Snape released him and nodded. “Of course. Though, if you will, before you start, would you mind sharing your memory of the basilisk attack with me?”

“Do you need your pensieve? You can just keep it in there if you want. It’s not like I want to remember it.”

Snape gave him that small, tentative smile again. “That would be acceptable. However, if I am to experience what you experienced, I must use a special form of Legilimency.”

Harry nodded and focused on the memory of the basilisk attack. A shudder crept down his spine as the snake loomed up in his memory, so much larger than it had seemed yesterday, fangs dripping with liquid death.

“O-okay. I’m ready.”

Snape lifted his wand. “Do not block me this time. Just let me in. I will not harm you.”

Harry nodded tersely. “Will you… hold my arm or my hand, just so I know I’m safe?”

Snape swallowed hard and laid a hesitant hand on Harry’s wrist. He curled his fingers around Harry’s arm and slowly rubbed up and down his skin. “Will this be enough?”

Harry gave him a tentative smile. “Yeah. It’s good.”

‘I’d rather him hold my hand, but I don’t think he’s capable of it, not yet.’

He banished that thought and focused solely on his memory of the basilisk.

“Okay. Ready when you are, sir.”

“Good. Legilimens Oculitu.”

Harry gasped at the strange sensation that Snape was with him, inside his own mind as he relived the experience with the basilisk, the pain, the fear that he was done for. Snape’s gentle touch on his arm was the only thing keeping them separate, the only barrier between their hearts and minds. It was the most intimate feeling Harry had ever experienced.

“Severus,” he breathed—so close, he couldn’t form the man’s title.

Snape’s eyes widened, but he did not reprimand Harry. He simply traced slow, gentle fingertips over Harry’s arm as the memory resumed, and Harry reckoned that gave him permission enough to refer to the man by his forename, at least within his own mind.

Severus pulled back with a nod, leaving Harry empty without his presence, and briefly touched Harry’s hand. “That will help me immensely.”

Harry pulled himself together and gave Severus a shy smile. “I’m glad, sir.”

Severus looked into Harry’s eyes for a long, silent moment, then stood. “I would like to record what I experienced through your memory now, Harry. You may stay here to work on your assignments or return to your common room, if you would prefer.”

Well, that was an easy decision. “Here. I wouldn’t have any peace in the common room.”

“Very well. You may ask me questions if you wish, but I will remind you I am not your professor any longer and have work of my own.” Severus’ shoulders slumped. “Even if I am not free to continue teaching until after term.”

Harry cautiously laid his hand on Severus’ wrist. “I’m sorry.”

“You have done nothing to warrant an apology. My suspension is my own fault.” Severus gently removed Harry’s hand and moved back. “Off with you now. I must record this memory while it is still fresh.”

Harry nodded and dashed away.

 


 

Harry soon found Severus to be an ideal companion for studying. He was quiet and studious, and helped Harry understand if he came across a concept that made little sense. Harry made much more progress on his work than he had expected, and at the end of the night, Severus even reviewed his Transfiguration essay while Harry was in the shower.

“Your explanation of atom alteration in human-to-animal transfiguration is flawed,” he said when Harry emerged. “It is not the size or amount that changes, but rather the type. While heat or cold is required to alter the space between Muggle atoms, Magical atoms can condense when they need to become something smaller, or disperse when they need to create a larger object. Thus, when a human is transfigured to an animal, the number of his atoms and size remains constant, but they shift in distance to accommodate size, whether larger or smaller, and take on the characteristics of the animal in question. Review the explanation of magical atomic structure and alteration again, and I believe it will become clear.”

Harry grinned. “Merlin! Thank you, sir. That should help my grade.”

“This is an E level essay otherwise, I think. Well done.”

Warmth bloomed in Harry’s heart and face. “I… I… t-thank you.”

He turned so Severus might not see how strongly that praise had affected him. Gods, he had tried so hard to earn Severus’ approval for so long. Having it meant much more than Harry could hope to explain. He had no idea why it was so important to him, only that it was.

With a secret smile, he sat at his desk and corrected his essay while Severus showered. By the time the man returned, Harry had finished his Transfiguration essay and added another paragraph to his essay for Charms. Hermione had given him notes for both, but he couldn’t bear to look at them after that morning. Instead, he chose to read the material himself and form his own conclusions.

He learned before long that he preferred to work this way. If he made a mistake, the lesson would be more likely to stick—he had certainly learned from Severus’ lesson on magical atomic structure, after all. And if he succeeded, Hermione’s studiousness didn’t overshadow his efforts. Pass or fail, the work he did on his essays was his own. He smiled to himself as he finished his paragraph and laid aside his quill.

Severus was drying his hair with a towel and watching over Harry’s shoulder. He set aside his towel, letting a fall of silky black hair tumble down his back and shoulders, and Harry’s heart thumped.

Merlin. What was that about?

“May I?” Severus held his hand out, and Harry shook himself out of his confusion.

“What? Oh, the essay. Yes, sir.” Harry handed the man his essay and watched, biting his lip and shifting from foot to foot, as Severus read.

The man looked up with a curious expression on his face. “Granger gave you these notes?”

With a pang of shame, Harry lowered his head. Maybe he should have used her work after all. “N-no, sir. I… after everything, I didn’t want to look at anything from her. I tried to do it on my own.”

Severus’ eyes widened. “Did you? This is… surprising.”

Harry grimaced and hugged his waist, face burning. He should have known better.

“I-I’m sorry. I know I’m not that smart.”

“On the contrary, Harry, this is work I would have expected from your mother.”

Harry froze, breath hitching. “Mum? I… is that good?”

Severus frowned. “Has no one ever told you, Harry?”

Harry shook his head. “Everyone likes to talk about Dad. No one tells me much about Mum.”

Severus’ eyes flashed. “Is that so? Well then, I will tell you about her. She had a mastery in Charms, Harry. She was an Unspeakable, and this… this is the kind of unique, innovative understanding I would have expected from her.”

A hesitant smile blossomed on Harry’s lips. “Really, sir? You… you think it’s good?”

“This is an O level essay, without a doubt. Even Granger’s will fall short.” A shadow passed over his face. “How could I have forgotten that you are Lily’s son? So many years… here is the evidence before my eyes, and yet I ignored it.”

Harry stood and reached out, just touching Severus’ forearm. He wanted to hold the man’s shoulder or smooth his hair, but he didn’t dare. Severus had allowed Harry to touch his wrist in the past. Perhaps a simple touch there would comfort him, if Harry didn’t push the man beyond what he could bear.

He held in a breath, but Severus didn’t pull away, and Harry relaxed, slowly running his hand up and down Severus’ wrist.

“It’s okay, sir. It’s over now. You’re more than making up for it.”

Severus gave him a look full of deep sorrow and remorse. “I am only treating you as I should have done all along.”

“It’s enough for me, sir.”

Something in Severus’ eyes softened. He laid a trembling hand over Harry’s and held it against his arm for a moment.

“I am… relieved to hear that.”

Harry smiled and squeezed Severus’ arm.

Severus moved back and laid the essay on Harry’s desk. “Do promise you will continue to revise on your own.”

Harry gave him a bright smile. “I… yeah. I think you’re right.”

He thrilled in the warm, fuzzy joy running through his chest. He had done well and Severus was proud of him—just him. Merlin, it felt good.

“It is time for bed, Harry. Whether I am teaching or not, I must keep a schedule, and you do have classes tomorrow.”

“Yeah. Goodnight, sir.”

“Goodnight.”

They climbed into bed, and a moment later, Severus doused the lights. With Severus’ soft breathing turning into quiet snores beside him and the warmth of his praise still glowing in Harry’s heart, he had no trouble falling asleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18

Tides of Change

A flash of irritation and frustration jolted Harry out of dreams of his roommate’s younger form and into a grimy study he knew well, though he had never set foot inside its walls.

An unctuous, cultured tone called through the door. “My Lord, I have crucial information if you have a moment.”

A surge of anger ripped through Harry’s skull. He jerked the door open and glared at the self-important bastard who dared interrupt his plans.

“What do you want, Luciusss? Can you not sssee I am busssy?”

The dream faded, turning cloudy and unfocused.

“Pettigrew has been captured….”

Another sharp surge of anger dulled Harry’s senses for a moment.

“…House elves dwelling about the… heard voices… not in his office… he must be near….”

“Interesssting,” said Voldemort, and cut off the dream.

 

Harry bolted up with a gasp. Merlin. What had just happened? All Harry could make out was that Lucius Malfoy had walked in on Riddles’ plotting and he had looked awfully smug about something.

Harry hadn’t gleaned much of use from their conversation, but even so, a shiver of dread crept down his back and raised the hair on his arms. Anything that made Lucius Malfoy look so pleased with himself couldn’t be good.

Isuri poked her head against Harry’s cheek, startling him. ~Master, why do you smell of death and darkness?~

Harry winced. ~I do? It must be my scar. I see visions sometimes, and they are from the dark snake speaker. I think you are smelling him.~

~I see.~ She nuzzled his cheek. ~I was afraid for you.~

~I am well. Though sometimes the visions are quite bad, this one was not terrible.~

~That is good to know.~ Isuri lifted her head and gave a low hiss. ~Master, where may I hunt? I am hungry.~

Harry frowned. ~It is terribly cold in Scotland right now, Isuri. There is a lot of snow and very little game, but you might find something to eat around the castle.~ 

He hoped so anyway. When he’d taken Isuri on, he hadn’t exactly considered the best way to feed a carnivorous pit viper from the rainforest in the middle of a Scottish winter.

~You may hunt anywhere you wish. I only ask that you do not hurt the elves, people, or their familiars.~

Isuri bobbed her head. ~I will look for a castle rat.~

~Yes, that will do, only make sure it is not someone’s familiar, though I am not sure—is there a way to tell the difference?~

~Yes, master. Familiars smell of magic and are more intelligent. I will not bother them.~

~Thank you.~ Harry cast a warming charm over her. ~There. That should help keep your blood warm. Come back if you get too cold. The snow here is dangerous for snakes.~

~I will.~ She slithered out of bed and opened the Chamber door.

Severus jolted up. “H-Harry?”

“It’s okay, sir. It’s just Isuri. She was hungry and went to hunt.”

The door closed behind the viper, and Harry sighed in relief. “Thank Merlin she’s a smart snake. I’ll listen for the Chamber exit to close but it should be okay. Go back to sleep, sir.”

“Hmn.” Severus’ breathing regulated to light snores almost immediately.

The Chamber exit opened and closed again. Harry curled up and tried to rest, but his mind would not let him fall back to sleep. He kept running over everything, trying to sort the madness he had lived through. Mostly, everything that had happened with Severus.

Merlin, they had made progress, or so it seemed. Severus was trying hard to bridge the gap, and knowing he cared enough to make the effort healed something long-since broken inside Harry.

Exactly how long had he yearned for this? The idea left him unsettled. Perhaps the reason Severus’ barbs had always hurt so much had less to do with the quality of his insults than the source.

Overcome by sudden worry for his friend, Harry got up and tiptoed to the other side of the screen, watching the man sleep. Severus slept on his side and hugged his pillow, hair draped over his face and puffing out with his breath. The sight made Harry wonder if Severus felt empty inside, if the pillow substituted for the human warmth he had never found in life.

Harry winced at a sharp rush of pain through his chest. Gods, the thought of Severus living his entire life alone hurt much more than it ought to have for a two-day-old friendship. What was going on with him?

He frowned as he watched Severus sleep. Could the man breathe with his hair in his face? Especially after a chest injury, it worried him. With a sigh, he tucked the man’s silky hair behind his ear, keeping his touch light so as not to disturb his skittish companion. He pulled Severus’ blanket higher over his shoulders too and watched his chest rise and fall, glad to see his breathing was easier since two nights before.

Had it only been two nights? So much had changed Harry felt he could have squeezed a lifetime in the past two days.

Severus gave a muffled sigh, bringing Harry’s attention back to his face. Merlin, but he looked younger in sleep. Much like the Severus Harry couldn’t stop dreaming about.

Dreaming. Shite. He was staring at Severus while the man slept. Ugh. Severus would kill him if he knew. With a blush, Harry scurried back to his own bed and let Severus be.

‘Merlin, I’m an idiot. He would have panicked if he had woken up and I’d been standing over him like a bloody stalker or something. Best not to do that again.’

Harry hugged his pillow too and winced when the pressure against his chest and belly did take some of the sharp edge of loneliness away.

‘Gods, the poor man. Well, he has me now. I’ll make sure it stays that way.’

Though their friendship wouldn’t last long if Harry kept doing stupid things like hovering over the man while he slept and trying to hug someone who was afraid of touch. He shook his head and drove his embarrassment and shame to the back of his mind. He would just have to do better in the future. Severus was learning too, so maybe it would be okay.

Comforted, Harry hugged his pillow tight and closed his eyes. He had just started to drift when insistent hissing prodded him awake.

~Isuri? What is it? Did you not find food?~

Isuri slithered onto Harry’s bed and shook her head. ~No, Master. I did not have time. There is another snake in the castle, and she says she is looking for this place.~

Harry bolted up. “Oh shite! Sev—er, Professor Snape! Wake up!”

Severus jerked up with a snort. “Potter?”

“I think we have trouble, sir.” Harry hissed to Isuri, ~This other snake, did you tell her where to find our nest?~

~No, master. I do not want another snake in my nest. I told her it was the other way.~

Harry let slip a sigh. ~Thank Merlin. Well done, Isuri.~

“Harry?” Severus’ voice held deep alarm.

“Just a minute, sir.” He switched to Parseltongue again. ~Isuri, did this snake tell you her name?~

~No, master. She said her master said she was not to reveal it.~

~Not good. What—~

Severus appeared around the side of the screen, hair mussed and eyes alert. “Harry, what is it?”

“Sorry, sir. Isuri said there’s another snake in the castle looking for the Chamber. I’m trying to get information from her.”

Severus’ breath caught. “Nagini?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out.” Harry turned back to his viper. ~Isuri, this snake you met might be dangerous. What did she look like?~

Isuri’s body shivered, as if she were shuddering. ~She was very big, master. And had big fangs. I think she is very venomous.~

Harry cringed. ~What colour?~

~Ah… like the sky at twilight.~ Isuri’s body shivered, as if she were shuddering. ~She smelled of dark magic, master. Very dark. Like death and dying things, though she is alive.~

Harry’s heart slammed into his ribs. ~Dear gods. Like my scar earlier, Isuri?~

~Yes, master. Exactly like that.~

“Shite!”

Severus settled next to Harry and laid a hand at his shoulder. “Is it Nagini?”

“Yes, sir. I have the feeling she’s been sent after you.”

Severus paled. “And the Chamber will not block her entry. What do we do?”

“I don’t know.” Harry turned back to his familiar. ~Where did you see her, Isuri?~

~At the big door. It was cold there, so I did not want to stay.~

~Were there, um, hollow metal people near it and a hanging cloth with four colours? One like the centres of flowers, one like the sky, one like grass, and another like blood?~

Isuri bobbed her head. ~Yes, master. I came back here right after I sent her the other way. The snake went up the stairs.~

Harry sighed, the sharpest edge of terror abating. “Isuri says she just met Nagini in the Entrance Hall and came straight back here, but that Nagini went the other way. Isuri directed her away from the Chamber.”

“For now,” Severus grimly, “but she’ll find either it or the students eventually.”

Harry shuddered. “Oh Merlin.” He grabbed his wand and stood up. “What do we do? Kill her?”

Severus shook his head. “Somehow I doubt the Dark Lord will be pleased with me if I cause the death of his familiar. I could certainly not return to spying in that case.”

“What choice do we have if she’s going to kill us? I’d rather you lose your position as a spy than lose you, sir.”

Severus froze and gave Harry a searching look. “Do you mean that?”

Harry glared. “Of course I do! Merlin. Why is everyone so determined to think I don’t care about human life lately?”

Severus reached out and held Harry’s wrist in a trembling hand. “I did not mean that. It is only….”

His thoughts filtered into Harry’s mind. Harry wasn’t sure if the man had meant to transfer them or not. [It is only that no one has ever cared about me so much before.]

Harry’s glare softened. “It’s okay, sir. But I do care about you, so maybe we can decide how best to keep you alive before we worry about your position?”

Severus’ eyes shimmered. “Oh. I... see.” He slipped his hand over Harry’s, light and unsure, but definitely there. The tentative touch warmed Harry throughout in spite of his fear.

“Sir? Are you all right?”

Severus shook himself and let his hand fall. “Yes. Ideally, Harry, we need to plan to keep both my life and position. We will kill her if it is absolutely necessary, but it would be better to simply lock her out of the Chamber.”

“How do we do that? She’s a snake. She can get in once she finds it, and I doubt it will take her long. She’s probably following your scent by now.”

“An anti-animal ward would do it.”

“What about Isuri, though?”

“It would lock her in, not out. However, I am able to add her as an exception and let her pass freely, if she will permit me to take one drop of her blood.”

“We’ll need to do it with Fawkes too, and maybe Hedwig. Do you have an owl?”

“I highly doubt owls can get in here, but yes I do. His name is Solaris.”

Harry nodded. “I’ll take care of him with Hedwig then, if he’ll let me.”

“We shall go to the owlery tomorrow and I will introduce you. In the meantime, we must get a message to Albus so he can protect the students.”

Harry nodded and headed for the door. “I’ll go up on my broom right—”

“Stop!” A strong arm caught him around the chest and held him back. “Are you mad, Potter?” Severus released him and turned him around to face the man. “Nagini is searching for this place. She may be at the door this moment! You have no way to defend yourself against such a deadly snake, and Isuri is no match for her.”

Harry looked to the basilisk remains and shuddered. “Er… you’re right, sir. Maybe I shouldn’t tempt fate a second time, especially since Fawkes is too young to save me now. But then how do we get a message out?”

Severus wrapped an arm around his waist and lowered his gaze. “I… I will try.” He closed his eyes and held out his wand. “Expecto Patronum.”

Like for Harry, only mist escaped his wand. Severus scowled and stared at it, his cheeks red and his eyes full of bitter shame.

Harry winced. “Sir, um, is there another memory you could try?”

Severus would not answer in words, but a shake of his head communicated his despair well enough.

Harry swallowed hard and chose his reply with care. “I-I know how you feel, I think. It was the same for me at the beginning of the year—I’d lost all my happy memories. But… well, I think… there have been some happy moments the last couple of days, haven’t there? I… I think so anyway. If you tell me how to make it talk, I’ll try.”

Severus sighed and shook his head. “It requires time and practise to master, time we do not have. I will simply have to… Expecto Patronum.”

At the appearance of more mist, Harry laid a hand on Severus’ wrist, light and careful. “Maybe when I told you I’d give you my memory of the basilisk? You looked happy then.”

Severus’ cheeks flushed deeper. “Oh. I… I suppose I can try it.”

“Don’t be embarrassed. It’s all right. I’m having trouble too.”

Severus sighed and hesitantly took Harry’s hand. “Perhaps… this will help.”

Harry hardly dared breathe lest Severus’ courage falter. “Y-yeah. I hope so.”

Severus closed his eyes and ran a trembling thumb over Harry’s knuckles. Harry stayed stock-still, afraid to break the man’s concentration or scare him away.

Severus’ voice came out on a whisper. “Expecto Patronum.”

A silvery doe landed before him and shook out her fur. She bowed to Harry and gave her master an expectant look.

“A doe,” Harry breathed.

Dear gods. Severus’ Patronus was the mate of Harry’s stag. Maybe they were meant to be friends all along, and that was why Severus’ hatred had hurt him so much. Maybe their magic had been calling to each other for a while, if the reflection of it was so similar. Harry sighed at the thought, relieved to have an easy explanation for his strong emotions concerning his friend.

“Oh, thank Merlin,” Severus said, bringing Harry back to the present. “Calla, I have an urgent message for Albus. It is an emergency. Tell him Harry’s familiar has discovered Nagini in the castle. She is after me. We will ward the Chamber against animals to keep her out, but he must ensure the protection of the students and staff. Go now.”

The doe nodded and vanished.

Severus tugged on Harry’s hand. “Now that we have warned the headmaster, we must begin setting the wards immediately. Talk to your familiar about her blood.”

“Yes, sir.” Harry squeezed Severus’ hand. “Go ahead and start the wards, but know if it comes down to it, I’ll protect you.”

Severus gave him a brief, searching look, then nodded and swept away towards the Chamber door. “If you will open this, Harry?”

~Open!~

The Chamber door opened and Severus went through, Harry following on his heels.

~Isuri, will you allow my friend to take a drop of your blood? We are setting a barrier to keep the big snake out—she wants to kill Severus—but it will also trap you unless we add your… um… your scent to the barrier.~

Isuri weaved through the air to look at Severus. ~Just one drop?~

~Only one. Severus likes you.~

Isuri nodded. ~Then he may take it.~

Harry petted her head. ~I will get my owl to bring you a nice fat mouse for that.~

As Severus had begun a long stream of Latin, Harry did not dare interrupt him. Instead, he moved away so as not to disturb him and listened, attempting to translate what he could. Harry thought he discerned several standard wards mixed in with some he had never heard of.

A distant wailing, like an air-raid siren, sounded outside the Chamber. Harry shuddered and held Isuri protectively against his chest. Merlin, he hoped that didn’t mean someone had died. As Severus did not react, he deemed it safe enough for the time being and watched the man work.

After a moment, Severus turned and held out his wand. “Did Isuri give me permission?”

Harry nodded.

Severus held his wand near the snake’s tail. “I will try not to hurt you, Isuri.”

Harry translated, and the snake nodded. A small spark and a quiet hiss later, Severus had the blood he needed in a conjured eyedropper. He sealed the tiny cut and bowed in thanks to Isuri, then went back to his chanting almost without a break. Partway through, he dropped the blood onto the floor, where bright red-orange sparks shot up and vanished. Severus chanted a few more words and a vibrant orange light enclosed the Chamber, both the entrance and the room beyond. With a groan, Severus slumped back against the wall in exhaustion.

“It is done,” he panted. “I warded the entire area so she might not find a way in through the pipes.”

“Brilliant.” Harry offered a hand. “Let’s get you into bed, sir. You’re still recovering.”

Severus nodded and allowed Harry to guide him back to his bed. The gesture warmed Harry deep within, but worry for his dorm mates overwhelmed his simple pleasure in Severus’ trust.

“Sir, do you think they’ll be all right?”

Severus nodded. “That siren you hear is the warning against intruders. The moment it goes off, all the dorms and staff quarters go on lockdown—nothing can get in or out. Any students or professors caught outside their sleeping quarters when the alarm sounds are sealed off in safe areas until the threat passes. Nagini will get nowhere tonight. In fact, she is probably already on her way out.”

Harry eased Severus down to his bed and sat on the edge beside him. “Why were we not transported to safety when the alarms went off then?”

“I imagine because the magic on this place prevents it. At any rate, the school is as safe as we can reasonably make it, Nagini knows by now she has been discovered, and any easily accessible area has been sealed to her. If she is especially determined, she may still try to find this place, but she will be foiled in that too.”

Harry sighed and slumped over in relief. “Thank Merlin.”

“Thank Isuri is more like it.” The snake poked her head over Severus’ bed, and the man tentatively petted her back. “Well done, little one. You have saved many lives tonight.”

Isuri hissed her pleasure. Severus withdrew his hand until Harry reassured him.

“It’s all right, sir. She likes it.”

Severus nodded and tentatively petted her scales again.

Isuri slithered onto the bed and curled up between the humans. ~Master’s nest mate is a good man.~

Harry gave Severus a shy smile. ~Yes, Isuri. He is.~

Severus raised an eyebrow at Harry, but didn’t comment. For a long time, neither said anything. They sat in companionable silence until the sirens stopped and Dumbledore’s Patronus appeared.

“Thank you, boys, for the timely warning,” said the phoenix in Dumbledore’s low voice. “The wards indicate Nagini has left the castle, and no staff or students have been harmed. Well done. And well done, Isuri.”

Harry sighed and slumped against Severus’ arm. “Oh thank the gods. They’re safe.”

“Yes.” Severus continued stroking the snake, a concerned expression on his face. “Harry, how did the Dark Lord know to search here? I thought we had hidden my whereabouts well.”

Harry frowned. “I’m not sure. Someone must have tipped him off, but how is be—wait a minute. House elves… voices… dear gods! Malfoy did this. Malfoy must have overheard the house elves in the loo and told his berk of a father about it. I saw it in a vision—Lucius interrupted Riddle last night to tell him about the house elves and someone not being in his office. I couldn’t make out a lot of what he said at the time, but—Professor?”

Severus had gone rigid. His eyes held unspeakable pain and dark, bitter rage. Harry gulped and edged away, unsure of what he had done to set the man off.

“S-sir? What did I say?”

Severus laid a gentle hand on Harry’s shoulder and shook his head, then stood and stalked away, locking himself in the loo without a word. Harry stared after him, utterly bemused.

~Isuri, what just happened?~

~I… am not sure either, Master.~

Harry frowned at the loo door and wondered where he had gone wrong.

 


 

Severus enlarged the loo to give himself room and paced up and down the length of the bathtub, torn between blind fury and deep heartache, a bleeding wound that had never healed. Lucius. It shouldn’t surprise him that Lucius had been the one to turn Severus in. Jumped at the chance, probably. After all, Lucius had been setting him up to take the fall since Severus was twelve years old.

Twenty-five years later, and the man still hadn’t tired of his twisted games.

Severus sat on the loo and drew his knees up to his chest—then set them back down at a shock of pain through his ribs and the backs of his thighs. Merlin, that was stupid. Then again, Lucius had always prided himself in his ability to turn Severus, a typically brilliant man, into a sodding fool.

He rested his elbows on his knees and buried his head in his hands. All this time, and nothing had changed.

All this time, and Lucius still had the power to break his heart.

A gentle knock sounded at the door. “Sir?”

Harry. Severus froze, uncertain and afraid. What did the boy want?

“Um… I… I’m not going to come in or anything. I just… I don’t know what I said to hurt you like this, but I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad. And, um, I’m here if… if you want to talk.”

Harry paused, then his footsteps moved away.

Severus stared at the door, a curious warmth slowly patching the bleed in his heart. Perhaps one thing had changed. Lucius was still a manipulative sociopath, Albus would still use Severus for the greater good in a heartbeat, and Lily was still dead, but he had Harry on his side now. Perhaps having the trust and loyalty of one beleaguered boy wouldn’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things, but knowing Harry cared about him certainly made the world look less dark.

Severus gave the door a sad smile. “Thank you, Harry,” he whispered.

Someday, he promised himself, he would find the courage to say it to Harry’s face.

 


 

With a sigh, Harry turned from the loo and walked away, stopping as Isuri slithered down his arm and moved back to the door.

~Do not disturb him, Isuri.~

~I only wish to make sure he is safe. Master will be sad if he is hurt.~

Harry winced. ~True. Just do not go inside, please. That is a… private territory.~

The snake bobbed her head and sniffed, pink tongue tasting the air. After a moment, she returned to Harry’s arm and settled herself around his neck once more.

~Your friend said thank you, Master.~

Harry froze. ~He did? You are sure?~

~I am able to understand that much of human speech. He said your name too.~

Harry let slip a shaky sigh. ~Oh. That is… that is good.~

~Your heart is going fast, master.~

~Is it? I suppose I am worried for him.~

Isuri sniffed Harry’s neck. ~It does not smell like worry.~

~Relief then, I suppose.~ He patted her head. ~Are you still hungry?~

~Yes. I did not get to hunt.~

~Hmm. Can you eat chicken?~

~What is that?~

~Um… a bird. Humans eat it. I thought I could ask Dobby to bring a piece of chicken for you from the kitchen. Or… wait, you can eat eggs, right?~

~Yes, eggs are good.~

~Then I will get some eggs for you.~

Harry moved to the Chamber door, but hesitated before opening it. “Sir,” he called, “now that Nagini is gone, I’m going to ask Dobby to bring some food for Isuri, so don’t be afraid if you hear the doors open. I’ll be right back.”

Snape didn’t answer, but Harry reckoned the man probably felt awkward about talking while he was hiding in the loo. With a sad shake of his head and a little prayer that Severus would recover soon, Harry turned to the Chamber door and looked at his new familiar.

~Open.~

 


 

By the time Severus managed to compose himself, Harry had set out a dish full of raw eggs for his familiar and was watching Isuri eat them. The snake apparently liked to break into the shells with her fangs and suck out the fluid. Severus watched her for a moment before joining Harry on the sofa.

“I… I….” Severus took a deep breath and gathered his courage. “I apologise for leaving as I did, Harry.”

Harry gave him a hesitant smile. “It’s okay, sir. Are you all right?”

“I detest Malfoy.” Though he hadn’t always.

“You do?” Harry frowned and wrapped his arms around his chest. Something in his expression held deep-seated hurt and an edge of betrayal, but Severus couldn’t understand where it had come from.

“Harry? I was not angry with you.”

Harry nodded and stared at his snake, silent and radiating hurt, and Severus struggled to contain a cold pit of fear in his belly. What had he done? Was Harry angry that he did not speak of his past? But Merlin, Severus could not even talk to Albus about it. How could he possibly tell Harry?

“It’s okay, sir. You don’t have to tell me anything.”

Severus’ stomach jolted with surprise. He hadn’t said that out loud, had he? Harry wasn’t even looking at him, so he couldn’t have used Legilimency. Not to mention the boy hadn’t the power. How could he have replied to a question Severus hadn’t asked?

Well, perhaps the boy simply understood Severus better than he had thought.

“Sir, I just don’t understand,” Harry said, voice pained. “You like Draco, don’t you?”

Severus nodded. “To an extent. I believe I am far closer to you now.”

Pink coloured Harry’s cheeks and some of the anguish left his eyes. “Oh. I… t-thank you.”

“Harry, have I done something to hurt you? I do not understand why you are troubled.”

Harry sighed and dropped his head against the back of the sofa. “Maybe it’s stupid. No, of course it is. Lucius never abused you. Why would you hate Draco like you hated me? It was my family who hurt you.”

Severus inhaled sharply and slammed all his power into his mental shields. Fuck. Fuck! Lucius had never abused him? Harry couldn’t possibly know, but the man had made Potter et al look like saints. The kind of systemic abuse Lucius had put Severus through—it had ruined him. He had never been able to trust, never been able to love again, and never would do.

Thank Merlin Severus had pulled Harry out of his pensieve when he had, or the boy would have discovered a darker truth than Severus was prepared to admit. Or even think about, for that matter. For all the damage Potter and crew had wreaked upon Severus’ soul, as terrible as Severus’ own father had been, no one—no one—had ever hurt him as much as Lucius Malfoy.

And that raised an interesting point, didn’t it? Why hadn’t he hated Draco? The man was practically a clone of his father. Cultured, arrogant, spoiled beyond all reason, dangerous….

And yet, the core of him was good. Innocent, in spite of his harsh front.

Besides, Severus understood him too well to hate him. He had seen the bruises when Draco returned for term. He had helped him deal with nightmares as a first year and taught him to protect himself as best as he could. He had even tried to have the boy removed from the home for his own safety, but Lucius had too much political clout. The case hadn’t even made it to investigation before Lucius’ minions ‘lost the report.’ Even Albus’ power had done little to protect the boy.

Perhaps that was why Severus had never hated Draco. He had walked in Draco’s shoes, at least in part. He had never known wealth or prestige, but he knew what it meant to feel the cut of his father’s belt and the pain of his hatred. He knew what it felt like to flounder under Lucius’ thumb—and fists, and boots.

He couldn’t hate Draco because he knew what it meant to be Draco.

And Draco wasn’t the sociopath his father was regardless. The boy’s anger ran hot, not cold. He didn’t plot and plan for years to bring someone down—he lost his temper on the spot or chucked extra ingredients in their cauldrons. Despite the life he led, Draco was still redeemable. And Severus couldn’t help but hope someone, somehow, would help him find the way out of the darkness.

He looked to his companion and wondered if Harry’s incredible brand of forgiveness might just save more than one lost Slytherin.

For the moment, however, Harry needed reassurance. He needed to know Severus had changed—that he cared about him. Somehow, Severus’ regard had become immensely important to this young man, and Severus did not want to cause him any further pain. He had damaged this gentle, forgiving boy enough.

Forgiveness. Maybe… maybe that was the key. Severus certainly needed it, for all he had done.

With a sigh, Severus moved a little closer and rubbed Harry’s forearm. “I… Harry, for the way I have treated you, for all the pain and humiliation and misery I inflicted upon you….” He closed his eyes and bowed his head. “I am truly… sorry.”

Harry’s breath hitched. “Sir….” He sniffled and laid his head against Severus’ shoulder. Only then did Severus realise the boy was shaking from head to toe.

“T-thank you,” Harry whispered. “I… thank you, sir.”

Gentle warmth settled against Severus’ wrist, and he looked down to see Harry’s hand covering his arm, fingertips rubbing just over the edge of his sleeve.

“Is this okay?”

Severus sighed and let the warmth of Harry’s forgiveness wash his fears away. “Yes.”

Harry gave him the brightest smile he had seen in a long time.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

Reaching Across the Divide

5 DECEMBER

After their close call, it had taken Severus and Harry a while to fall back to sleep. Around three, Severus had finally succumbed to dreams, but he felt as though he hadn’t slept at all when he woke.

Tempus.” He frowned at the flashing numbers at the end of his hand. Five in the morning? He had set his alarm for seven. What had woken him?

He gasped as a strange creeping sensation washed over him. His heart slammed into his ribs and his breath hitched. Dear gods, he knew that feeling, like slime in his bones, ants crawling over his skin. It was the stain of dark magic, the same feeling he had every time the Dark Lord cursed someone in his immediate vicinity.

Fuck! Somehow, the bastard must have gotten through the wards after all.

Severus jolted up and grabbed his wand, but the utter silence confused him.

A hissing sound on his left registered, and Severus went rigid. Nagini? No, they had warded her out. He turned, wand trained on the sound, and let slip a sigh of relief at the sight of Harry’s viper, coiled up beside Severus’s pillow.

“Isuri? Is something wrong with Harry?”

The snake bobbed her head and slithered off the bed, moving towards Harry’s side of the screen. Severus gulped and followed her, mentally preparing himself for the worst.

Gods, if Harry had been killed….

Tears stung his eyelids. A week ago, Severus would have lamented the loss of the war and drunk himself into a stupor. Today… everything had changed. To hell with the war—he would mourn the loss of the first person who had truly cared for him in twenty-five years instead. The first person to ever show him unconditional trust and affection.

Merlin, the knowledge shocked him, but if Harry died, it would shatter Severus’ heart to pieces.

“Please, please be safe,” he whispered, and stepped around the screen.

Harry was screaming, but Severus couldn’t hear a sound. Shite! His silencing charms must have blocked it out. The boy writhed as if in agony and cried out, tears streaming down his face. “No, please. Don’t.” Severus didn’t need to hear it to understand.

Harry’s body arched up, bowed and straining against something invisible, and Severus shuddered at the creeping feeling of dark magic on his skin.

The Cruciatus. He had seen it cast too many times not to recognise it.

Dear gods. It had to be a vision. So that meant… fuck! Harry did feel the deaths of those Riddle killed in his visions. Merlin help him, the mere idea left every hair on Severus’ body standing on end and his heart frozen. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move at the sheer horror of it.

How was Harry even alive, let alone the gentle, brave person Severus had come to value so much in spite of everything? How had he survived so much agony, over and over, for gods knew how long?

The boy turned onto his side and clutched at his head, and Severus cringed. Harry’s scar was raw and bleeding.

The sight of his injuries kicked Severus’ mind into gear. Sweet Circe, why the hell was he just standing there, gaping like a bloody fool? Had the shock of the past few days rendered him a gibbering idiot?

With a gasp, he dashed through Harry’s silencing field and caught the screaming boy’s shoulders. “Harry! Harry, wake up!”

Harry gasped and jerked back, eyes flying open. “G-gods. Help me.”

Severus hesitantly touched the boy’s hair, smoothing his damp, wild curls with a shaking hand. Harry’s lip trembled, and he turned into Severus’ touch.

“Please,” he whispered. “Please stay.”

Severus’ throat tightened and his heart thumped. He settled next to Harry and placed a gentle hand on his temple. “I am here. You are safe now. Sana Cerebra….

The chant healed the injury to Harry’s scar and what must have been a terrible headache. Harry whimpered and pressed into Severus’ hand, tears streaming around the tops of his ears and into his hair. Gods. The sight ripped the heart from Severus and made his own eyelids burn. How had he ever imagined this boy to be spoiled and rude?

Accio Anti-Cruciatus Draught,” Severus called, too distraught to dare tempt it silently though he had been able to Summon without words or wand for ten years.

A bottle of yellow potion zoomed out of the small store of potions Dobby had brought during lunch. A memory sparked in his mind as Severus uncapped the potion and helped his flagging companion to drink it.

“I believe Harry has been brewing Anti-Cruciatus Draught….”

As Severus watched the tremors and pain subside from Harry’s form, he mused on Albus’ thoughts. Had the old man simply let his desire to believe in his favourite lion overcome reason or was there some truth to his assumptions? Had Harry somehow managed to brew a high-level NEWT potion without any aid and with an instructor who had a vendetta against him?

The implications of that thought left Severus nauseated. He had always assumed Harry had no talent for potions. His father certainly hadn’t. And the boy had blown up his fair share of cauldrons during his Hogwarts career. But Lily had been an excellent brewer, and somehow, Severus had forgotten that Harry had also inherited her genes.

How many of Harry’s failures in potions had been Severus’ fault?

Severus had made it clear from day one the boy had no chance to succeed in his class, and he hadn’t missed Draco’s frequent ‘additions’ to Harry’s cauldron either. Couldn’t afford to miss them. Had Draco ever chosen a dangerous additive, Severus would have had no choice but to intercede lest Draco kill them all.

Was it possible that Severus had stunted an innocent boy’s ability to brew?

He would have to investigate it over the next few weeks. Harry’s lessons with Poppy would tell Severus for certain how badly he had failed his students, and this one in particular.

Harry sat and wiped his mouth on the back of his sleeve. He was still trembling, but it lacked the twitchy quality of Cruciatus tremors.

“Are you in need of further healing, Harry?”

Harry shook his head and shivered. “N-not physically.”

Severus could imagine he would need mental healing after what he must have seen. “I will attempt to help. Are you able to speak to me of what you saw?”

Tears slid down Harry’s face. “He… invaded a Muggle home in Bath. They had k-kids. Maybe sixteen years old—twin girls. And he… he tortured them both to death in front of their parents. They… they screamed for them the entire time and I… I… c-can’t bear it.”

“Sweet mother of Merlin,” Severus breathed, appalled.

Harry gave an anguished cry and buried his face in his hands. “It’s m-my fault. He… he said he chose them for me. Because those girls were close to my age and had black hair like me.”

“He did what?” Rage and horror churned in Severus’ gut.

Harry curled into a ball, making himself as insignificant as possible. “H-he kept daring me to save them. To… to….” He broke into harsh, bitter sobs, unable to go on, but Severus had heard enough to understand.

Not only had the Dark Lord forced Harry to witness and experience the deaths of two children, he had used their suffering as a weapon against Harry.

Dear gods. It was utterly horrific.

He stood and paced, his wild emotions exploding forth in a scourge of vituperative fury. “That fucked-up bastard! Gods damn him to hell! How could he—how could anyone torment innocent children like this? Even at my worst, I never—shite. Fucking shite! He is a fucking monstrosity of a soulless piece of rubbish!”

Harry gasped, eyes wide and a pink blush staining his cheeks. “S-sir?”

“I… oh Merlin.” Heat stole up Severus’ face. “Gods, forgive me, Harry. I should not have spoken so crudely.”

“N-no, it’s… I’m the one who needs forgiveness.” Harry stared at his lap, tears pouring down his face. “None of this would have happened if not for me.”

Severus’ heart gave a painful thump. He grabbed Harry’s shoulders and held him firm. “Harry, look at me. Come. There you are.” He squeezed Harry’s shoulders, ignoring a shard of fear, and held his gaze. “Listen to me, Harry. Do not believe a word that fiend says. He is a psychopath. He chose them, he tortured and killed them, not you. It is not your fault.”

“But if I hadn’t been born—so many people are dead because of me!”

Severus rubbed his thumbs on Harry’s shoulders, pushing his own fears aside in the face of Harry’s stark need. “No. People are dead because the Dark Lord is a twisted, hollow shell of a monster. He may blame you, he may torment you and say you are at fault, but never forget, Harry, he is the one who holds the wand.”

Harry sucked in a sharp breath. “I… but I….”

Severus settled beside him again and guided Harry to rest against his shoulder. “It is not your fault, little one. Not in the least.”

Harry broke into bitter tears. “H-help me. It hurts so much. I just… I want it to stop.”

Severus used his natural powers to ease some of Harry’s suffering, draining his negative emotions into himself and Occluding them away. “Ssh. Harry, we will stop it. I will begin training you tomorrow afternoon.”

“Please,” Harry sobbed, clutching at Severus’ wrist. “D-don’t leave me, sir. Please. It hurts so much.”

Emotion crept up Severus’ eyelids and blurred his vision. Hoping his presence could soothe Harry’s pain, he held the boy’s arm and brushed his tears away. “I shan’t. I am here, Harry. I am with you.”

Harry turned his face into Severus’ shoulder and wept.

 


 

 

After his vision, Harry couldn’t go back to sleep. Neither could Severus, and Harry felt a bit guilty for waking him up when they had had such a rough night.

“Do not trouble yourself,” Severus said with a shrug. “I am used to little sleep and have nothing to do today besides harvest basilisk parts and continue my research on an antivenin. If I become tired, I will sleep while you are in class.” He frowned. “Will you be able to manage?”

Harry gave him a wry smile. “I’m used to it too, sir. If I get tired, I’ll come here and nap during lunch.”

Severus nodded. “If you need it, I will not disturb you.” He covered a yawn with his hand and trudged towards the loo. “I am going to shower. Will you be all right with Isuri for a few moments?”

“Yes, I’m better now.” Harry smiled, tears crowding the back of his lids. “Sir, I… thank you. It helped—what you said. That he’s the one holding the wand.”

Severus held Harry’s wrist. “Remember that, Harry. No matter what that… that demon does in the future, he is the one responsible for the people he has killed, not you.”

Harry nodded and held those words close to his heart like a shield. It wasn’t his fault. The words felt new and strange, but, as Severus made his way to the loo and left Harry alone with his thoughts, he tried to accept them as truth. True, he had done many things he wasn’t proud of, but he had never killed anyone.

‘It’s not my fault.’

He took a deep breath and committed the knowledge to memory, trying to ground himself. He was innocent.

One day, he would put that bastard in the ground and stop the killing. One day, he would end this madness, but until then, he had to be strong. He had to train his mind, body, and magical power. He had to learn to be the warrior the prophecy foretold him to be. Then, when he met the bald-headed menace again, he would be ready.

Determination drove the last of Harry’s guilt away, though it would be a long time before he healed from the memories, and he drew his focus back to the tasks he had to do that day.

“Tempus.”

Harry winced at the time. Gods, class started in a couple of hours and he still had to finish his Charms essay. Flitwick had given him a three-day extension over the coming weekend, but Harry didn’t want to press his luck. Who knew what might happen in the future? He might need more help later, and his essay was already a day late.

With a little shake to compose himself, he brought up what mental barriers he could and went to his desk. He only had a few more inches to go. He could manage that before breakfast, maybe. He frowned at the realisation that he also had the entirety of the first period to work—it would have been his potions lesson. Merlin, Severus must be feeling awful, considering.

Well then, Harry would just have to finish his essay and turn it in before first period. Maybe Severus would feel better if Harry gave him another chance to teach him. Firming his resolve, Harry dipped his quill in ink and set to work.

Before long, he had settled into his task, the words flowing from his pen almost faster than he could write. Hmm. Maybe Severus was right. Maybe he did have a knack for Charms. In spite of his altered perceptions of his family, Harry rejoiced at having something other than his eyes in common with his mother. That thought in mind, he did his best, hoping she could see from the world beyond and would be proud of him. He hoped he could make Severus proud, too.

Harry had written half of the remaining length by the time Severus came out of the loo, dressed in his white dress shirt and trousers, his long hair tied back with a silver clasp. Merlin, he looked good. Maybe Severus wasn’t beautiful, per se, but he had a slim, shapely figure and the half-back style of his hair complimented and softened his sharp features.

Severus frowned at him. “Did I miss something on my face?”

Harry’s cheeks flamed. “N-no, sir. I was just thinking it was nice to see you out of your robes.” He coughed, heat creeping into his hairline and horror into his gut. Dear Merlin! Had he really just come out with it? “Er, I-I mean, it’s nice that you trust me enough to show me—oh gods.” He covered his fiery face with his hands. “I’m just going to shut up now.”

Severus said nothing for a long moment, and Harry peeked through his fingers to find the man staring at him, eyes wide and pink creeping up his cheeks.

Severus coughed and cleared his throat. “O-oh. Considering all you have done for me, I would be a fool not to at least attempt to trust you.” His blush deepened to red, and he turned away. “I am going to work on my research. I suggest you finish your essay while I am busy.”

Harry smiled in spite of his embarrassment. The man was busying himself with his research on purpose to give Harry time to finish. He could sense it, somehow, from Severus’ stance and emotions.

“Yes, sir.”

Warmth healing the hole in his chest his visions had wrought, Harry returned to his work and poured his all into it. He finished just before seven and read over it once more, searching for errors. A few corrected spellings and revised wordings later, Harry felt confident he had done his best.

“I think I’m done, sir, if you’re ready for breakfast.”

Severus stood and rubbed his neck. “I would like to see your essay first, if you are amenable.”

Harry’s face flamed as he brought the man his work. “I, er, I tried my best.”

“I am sure. Let us have a look.”

Severus held the essay in his lap as he read, one long leg crossed over his knee. Harry stood by and bounced on his heels, hoping his work measured up to the high expectations Severus had from the night before.

“This is excellent,” Severus said with a smirk. “I imagine Miss Granger will be shocked when you take home Filius’ point lottery for the essay this round.”

Harry beamed, relief washing away his nervousness. “Really, sir? You think so?”

“I am sure of it. You did miss an ‘i’ here, in ‘ameliorates.’ Before the ‘o.’ Excellent word choice, by the way.”

Harry grinned and corrected his spelling. “Merlin, thank you, sir.”

“Not at all.” Severus stood and watched Harry finish. “Are you well enough to eat now, Harry? If I am to begin your training today, you will need the calories.”

Harry nodded, resolution and determination setting in again. “I’ll do whatever it takes, sir, even if you make me eat three breakfasts.”

“I shall not make you eat like Mister Weasley,” Severus said with a wry look. “A single meal will do.”

Harry laughed in spite of himself. “Yes, sir.” He shuddered, fear setting in at the thought of facing the rest of Gryffindor again. “I’m not looking forward to classes today.”

“If they harass you and you are not ready to speak to them, simply ward them out as you have been doing thus far.”

“Hermione will figure out how to break it eventually,” Harry said, shoulders slumping.

“Well then, I suppose I will need to teach you a stronger charm.” Severus’ eyes shone. “As I developed it myself for espionage, I imagine Granger will have a difficult time discovering the counter.”

Harry beamed. “Merlin, would you? That would be brilliant.”

Severus’ eyes sharpened. “On two conditions: one, you do not use this charm unless your friends’ harassment necessitates it. It is not to be used when a common silencing charm will do. And two, you are never to use this charm over your bed at night. I would rather you leave your silencing charms off altogether while you are here, but if you must silence your nightmares, then use a common charm. Otherwise neither I nor Longbottom will be able to assist you if the situation calls for it, nor will your snake be able to help you until you cast the counter.”

Harry nodded. “Yes, sir. But will I be able to use it with my… real friends, sir? Dean, Neville, and Luna have helped me a lot. I wouldn’t want to be cut off from them.”

“It makes conversation quite difficult even within its barriers, which is why I warned you not to use it as a typical silencing charm. It is only to ward yourself from harassment or keep you safe from Death Eaters. Are we clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Then let us begin your training.”

Harry beamed and took position next to Severus.

 


 

Ginny was loitering about outside the Charms hallway, talking to Dean and looking over her shoulder every few seconds. Harry almost turned around and decided to turn his essay in before Defence instead, but Ginny saw him and beckoned him over before he could escape. He approached warily, books clutched to his chest and eyes on the girl’s hands.

“Hi, Harry,” she said with a too-bright smile. “Reckoned I could walk you to class.”

“No, thank you,” Harry replied and tried to walk past her.

“Harry, come on. You can’t keep pushing everyone away.” A hand squirmed in under his arm and around his bicep.

Harry jerked away. “I said no, Ginny. I meant it. Leave me alone and find someone else to torment, for Merlin’s sake!”

“Torment! I’m trying to help you, Harry.” She tried to grab his arm again, but he evaded her.

“Ginny!” Dean grabbed her by the collar and pulled her back. “Dear gods, woman! Have you never heard of consent? He said no!”

Tears filled her eyes. “But I just want to—Harry, I mean, it’s okay. You’re just lonely and you need—”

“What I need,” Harry snarled, “is for you to take a bloody hint and leave me alone!”

She slammed one hand on her hip and reached for him with the other, but Harry had had enough. If she wouldn’t listen to reason, there were other ways to keep her away. With a quick apology to Dean, he bolted down the Charms corridor towards Flitwick’s classroom.

“Harry! Wait!”

Areatus Silentium! Protego Corporalis!”

Between his silencing charms and physical shields designed to keep unwanted objects and persons out, he hoped Ginny would get the point. Merlin, she was becoming a nuisance.

She pouted outside his shields for a moment, shouting so loudly, Harry caught a few words even with his silencing charm.

“Can’t you see… just want… Harry, listen to me!”

Flitwick stepped outside the room, his expression stern and tense with irritation. Harry dropped his silencing charms, but left his shields up.

“Miss Weasley,” Flitwick said, his voice sharp, “is there a reason you think it necessary to shout mine and Mister Potter’s ears off?”

Ginny winced. “I just—” She gave the professor a defeated look and shook her head. “I’m sorry, sir. I… I guess I’ll just talk to you later, Harry.”

“Not if I can help it,” Harry muttered under his breath as she walked away.

“Mister Potter,” said Flitwick with a concerned expression, “did you need something?”

Harry shook himself. “Oh, right. Yes, sir.” He dropped his shields and handed the tiny man the parchment clutched in his fist. “Oh Merlin. It’s my essay, but I think I squashed it.”

Flitwick chuckled. “Nothing a little neatening charm won’t fix. Tersus!” Harry’s essay straightened itself and the smudges disappeared.

“That’s handy,” said Harry with a grin. “Thank you, sir.”

“Not at all.” Flitwick levitated Harry’s essay onto his desk. “Well done. I’ll mark it with the others. Is there anything else you need?”

Harry shook his head. “I’m off.”

“I will see you on Tuesday then, Mister Potter.”

Harry waved and dashed for Myrtle’s loo before Ginny could corner him again. A few students cast him nervous looks and skittered to the other side of the hall, but Harry ignored them. Really, it was nothing new. It hurt, of course, but knowing he had at least won Severus’ trust took the edge off. Who cared what strangers believed about him? They would see the truth of the matter eventually, and if they didn’t, he had no time to waste on gossiping idiots.

Harry zoomed into the Chamber again to find Severus searching through his shelves and muttering to himself.

“Sir? Are you all right?”

Severus nodded and turned to Harry, a perplexed look on his face. “You’re sure that elf brought all my books?”

Harry frowned. “Are you missing some, sir?”

“Not some—only one. My personal copy of Advanced Potions Making. I had thought if I gave it to you, it would, perhaps, go some way towards making up for the grief I have caused you in class.”

Harry glanced to his knapsack. “Thank you, but I already have the text, sir.”

“Yes, I know, but I edited and added to mine. There are many changes to outdated brews I had thought would help you in your lessons, but I cannot find the book anywhere.”

A sneaking suspicion flickered to life in Harry’s mind. “Really? And would Dumbledore have had access to your books prior to term?”

Severus blinked. “Albus? Well, he is the headmaster. It is rather impossible to ward him out of anywhere within the school. I have warded him out of my private lab, but Hogwarts will still let him pass in case of emergency.” He frowned. “And yes, he did have access.”

Harry held out his wand and a hand. “Accio Harry Potter’s copy of Advanced Potion Making.” The text flew out of his knapsack and landed in his hands. “Let’s see.” He opened the book in the middle and turned to the first correction he saw. “Does this sound familiar, sir? For Euphoria Inducing Elixir, add a sprig of peppermint to counter excessive singing and nose tweaking side effects.”

Severus let slip a growl. “That manipulative old codger. He stole that from me, didn’t he?”

“And gave it to me at the start of the year, apparently,” said Harry with a shake of his head. “I knew that handwriting looked familiar.”

Severus sighed and motioned Harry over. “Well, never mind it. I would have preferred to give it to you myself, but no matter.”

Harry tucked the book against his chest. “You know, the past few weeks—when the team started avoiding me and I had no one else to talk to—the Prince felt like my only friend.”

“T-that moniker. Merlin.” Severus’ cheeks pinked and he squirmed, making Harry smile at his uncharacteristic display of embarrassment. “I… it is not quite as pompous as it sounds. You see, my mother’s maiden name is Prince, and I am a half-blood. So it is literal, in a sense. I would much prefer to denounce my father’s name and carry on my magical line.”

Harry gave him a shy smile. “Well, maybe you can one day, when this war is over. Prince is a good name. I like it.”

The pink shifted to red. “Oh. I am… glad.” Severus cleared his throat and turned away, probably to hide his face. “Regardless, the book should help you achieve better grades on your NEWTs than what you might have received otherwise.”

“Sir….” Harry moved to his side and touched Severus’ hand, but the man gasped and jerked away. Harry leapt back, chagrin and grief washing away his joy. “Oh gods. I’m sorry, sir. I only meant to thank you.”

Grief and bitterness hollowed Harry’s chest. Maybe Severus didn’t trust him as well as he had thought. Maybe he didn’t like Harry at all. Maybe he was just tolerating him whi—

Warm fingers closed on his palm and held his hand. Severus rubbed Harry’s fingers, though his own trembled, and moved away. His emotions poured into Harry—terror iced his gut at the same time shame set his face ablaze.

[I cannot bear it. Not even to comfort him—and that after holding his hand without issue last night! Gods. I am such a fool.]

From that, Harry understood Severus didn’t have an issue with him, but simply didn’t like being touched on his hands. Harry shoved his own in his pockets to avoid temptation and gave the man a hesitant smile.

“Sir, it’s all right. I should have asked.” He grimaced. “Merlin knows I understand how you feel.”

Severus gave him a bemused look. “Do you?”

“Chosen one, remember? People seem to think I’m up for grabs just because I’m famous or something. Especially Ginny. She’s driving me mad.”

Outrage flickered to life in Severus’ eyes. “She is touching you without consent?”

Harry grimaced. “Yeah. All the time.”

Severus scowled. “I see. You have told her to stop?”

“Except for Ron, most of Gryffindor has done.” Harry crossed his arms over his chest. Just talking about it had brought back that vulnerable, ants-on-his-skin feeling he endured every time she came near. “She’s not taking no for an answer and I honestly don’t know what to do about it. I had to cast a silencing charm and a physical shield around myself earlier just to hand in my essay. And she was still trying to shout over it.”

“Merlin.”

“I know. She just keeps grabbing at me and… and it’s actually scaring me a little.”

Severus grimaced. “So that episode I witnessed at the breakfast table yesterday…?”

Harry shuddered and wrapped his arms around his waist out of a need for protection. “I told her to stop—so did half the group—but she won’t listen.”

Severus scowled. “Is that so?”

“Yeah.”

Severus sighed and patted Harry’s shoulder. “Keep using your shields. I will speak to Minerva about her behaviour and see what can be done.”

Harry gave him a relieved smile. “Thank you. Merlin, thank you.”

Severus nodded, his expression troubled. “Perhaps you will pass a message onto your head of house that I need to speak with her soon?”

“Yeah, will do.”

Severus rubbed Harry’s shoulder. “Good. Since you are safe for the moment, I will begin harvesting the basilisk parts.”

Harry frowned. “Hmm. I had thought—” He shook his head. They really did need to get that basilisk out of there before someone got hurt. “All right. Is there anything I can help with?”

Severus shuddered. “I would prefer that you stay far, far away from this process, Harry. It is incredibly dangerous. Perhaps you might use this time to revise instead.”

“Actually, I think I should go up to the Owlery and check on Hedwig. I’ve not seen her since this drama went down and she’s probably worried. Not to mention, she’s never met Isuri.”

Severus frowned and rubbed his chin. “Hmm. I should introduce you to Solaris as well.”

“Well, let’s go see the owls and make sure they’re okay first, then you can come back here and work on the basilisk. It’s a two-hour period so we’ve the time. And all the students should be in class right now.”

Should being the operative word,” said Severus in a dark tone. “But let us go. You need to order supplies for your snake anyway.”

Harry paused halfway to the door. “Right. Do you mind if I make up an owl order for that first then?”

“Not at all.”

“Thanks.” With a nod, Harry ran off to write his list.

 


 

Harry kept his shields up all the way to Defence and ignored the redhead trailing him. Dear gods, he hoped McGonagall could do something about her. She was driving him mad.

Ron and Hermione were waiting at the door, but he just cast a silencing charm and walked past them. Neville looked up and smiled as Harry came in.

“You’re welcome to work with me, Harry,” he said after Harry expanded the boundaries of his charm to include Neville. “Dean is teaming with Daphne from now on, I think.”

Harry frowned. “Greengrass? Doesn’t she usually team with Bulstrode?”

“Well, Bulstrode is apparently dating Ernie MacMillan, so they asked to work together. Which leaves Seamus to work with Smith. Serves him right, the berk.”

“Bulstrode is dating MacMillan? Really? When did that happen?”

“During all the drama, I suppose.” Neville shrugged. “I’m honestly surprised Ernie could get over his prejudice, but he seems pretty taken with her. I hope so, for her sake. She’s all right this year.”

Harry nodded and slid into the seat next to Neville. “I think Greengrass has been a good influence on her. I hope so at least.”

Neville gave him a wry look. “That, and the fallout after the Ministry last term. I think it really hit home with her then that the Death Eaters are, well, deadly.” He crossed his arms over his chest and sighed. “I think it hit home for a lot of people then. Even Malfoy.”

Harry shook his head. “Malfoy hasn’t changed as far as I can tell.”

“Not on the surface, but Lu says there’s trouble underneath, something he’s trying really hard to hide.”

“Hmm.” Harry gave the Malfoy a worried look. “I hope he’s all right.”

Neville smiled at Harry, his expression soft. “You know, I believe you. I doubt most of Gryffindor would—they would probably call you a traitor for even thinking it, the prats—but I do. And you’re right. Arsehole or not, he doesn’t deserve to be hurt.”

Harry shook his head and dug his book out of his knapsack. “No one does, except maybe Snakeface and his merry men. Are you up to snuff on shields, mate?”

“Well, I think so. Ever since the DoM, I’ve been practising with Lu a lot. She’s—”

Just then, Professor Moody walked in. Harry cancelled his silencing charms.

“Everyone, put your texts away,” said Mad-Eye. “We’re duelling today.”

Neville winced. “I had to pick the best defence student in the school for my partner on a duelling day?”

Harry laughed softly. “I won’t hurt you.”

“We’ll see!”

Moody barked, “Everyone, against the back wall—take your belongings with you.” Harry and Neville obeyed and watched as the professor stacked their desks and chairs against the sides of the room. “Right. Now pair up and spread out. I’m not shielding individual areas this time, so be aware of your classmates’ spells at all times. Constant vigilance!”

Seamus whined, “But sir, that’s not fair. We can’t watch everyone at once.”

Both of Moody’s eyes fixed on the Irish lad. “Tell me, Finnigan, have you ever been in a fight for your life?”

Seamus blushed. “Er….”

Moody turned to Harry. “Potter, please tell Finnigan why I’ve told you to be aware of everyone’s spells at once.”

Harry sighed. Seamus would be even angrier at him now, but it couldn’t be helped.

“Because in a real battle with Death Eaters, curses fly every which way and, what’s more, you have to rely on yourself for shields. It’s possible an ally might shield you in time to save your hide if you forget, but more than likely, they’re going to be too busy fighting for their own lives. Not to mention, friendly fire can kill you just as fast as a Death Eater curse.”

Seamus muttered, “Not so friendly from you.”

Harry turned away, shame burning his cheeks and the backs of his eyelids. Gods, what had he ever done to deserve such hatred? Neville rubbed Harry’s shoulder and glared at the git, but said nothing.

“Well done, Potter. Ten points to Gryffindor.” Moody’s magical eye fixed on the pouting Seamus. “And you, laddie. Five points from Gryffindor, and don’t let me hear you disparage your classmate again or you’ll be in detention faster than you can blink. I’m sure I could teach you exactly why Potter has the right of it.”

Seamus paled and slid down the wall a bit. “Y-yes, sir.”

“Good. Now, get in your pairs and get started. I want to see some creativity—don’t do everything by the book.” His magical eye focused on Hermione, making her turn pink. “Use your heads, improvise. Death Eaters don’t care if your articulation is perfect or if you move your wand just so.” He gave them a gristly smile. “Just don’t make me send anyone to the Infirmary, you hear? I’d rather face a Death Eater than Poppy on a righteous rampage any day.”

Harry snorted. True enough.

 


 

Other than his classmates’ wariness, Ginny’s stalking, and Hermione and Ron’s attempts to get back in Harry’s good graces without actually changing anything about their behaviour, the rest of the day went well. It was a light day anyway. After Defence, he had only lunch and one more class—Ancient Magic. It became somewhat easy to avoid Hermione in that class—he simply sat beside Blaise Zabini, and Hermione decided she’d rather work alone than approach the Slytherin boy.

Zabini raised his eyebrow and gave Harry a wary look. “Is there a reason you’re sitting here and not with the bookworm, Potter?”

“Yeah. You sit by yourself most days, and I’m a bit fed up with the bookworm at the moment.”

Zabini chuckled. “Really now? What did she do? Must have been something to split up the golden trio.”

Harry squirmed and looked away. Confiding in Neville about Hermione was one thing, but Zabini…. “Not something I want to talk about, thanks.”

“Fair enough.”

Harry opened his book and turned to the page they had left off on the last time. Elf magic—only wood elves, not house elves, though they fell under the elf races too. House elves should be part of the class, Harry thought, but he doubted any wizard would ever ‘condescend’ to write of their unusual magic—to their cost. Well, maybe he would just do it himself. Dobby would be glad to help, he was sure of it.

Zabini proved to be a studious, quiet study partner and, like Bulstrode, he had dropped the superior attitude. Harry doubted Zabini would pair up with a Muggleborn anytime soon, but he no longer acted as though blood purity meant everything. He hadn’t referred to Hermione as a ‘Mudblood’ at any rate. Harry wouldn’t have tolerated that. Hermione’s recent lack of loyalty and her obsession with grades said a lot more about her character than her heritage.

After class, Zabini nodded to Harry and packed up to leave, passing him without trouble. Harry had actually found his quiet company relaxing—a bit like Severus. Were all Slytherins so reserved? He shook his head at his own thoughts. Malfoy sure as hell didn’t qualify. Nor did Parkinson, Greengrass, or Bulstrode, come to think of it. Maybe Harry just liked quiet people these days.

As Harry slowly gathered his things—always the last out the door on purpose, Hermione rounded on him, eyes flashing and face red with either embarrassment or rage. Or both, judging by the tenor of her emotional feedback. He really needed to figure out what that was all about.

Harry attempted to ignore her, but she would not be put off.

“What is wrong with you, Harry? How could you sit with Zabini over me? He’s a pureblood supremacist, and I have all the class notes anyway. You won’t learn a thing from the likes of him!”

Harry gave her a look full of disgust. “And that, Hermione Granger, is exactly why I’m not speaking to you.”

“Why, because I’m smart enough to stay away from Death Eaters?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry noticed Zabini stop dead by the door, all the colour draining from his face. A rush of shame and fear flooded Harry from the boy.

[Oh gods! If anyone thinks I’m spreading that around….] Zabini’s thoughts cut off, but Harry heard enough to get the drift.

“Hermione, shut it! Zabini is no more Death Eater than I am.”

Wonder and shock flooded him from Zabini. [He’s… defending me?]

“He’s a Slytherin,” Hermione cried, as if that explained everything.

Harry scowled. “Merlin. Just being a snake doesn’t make you evil. You’re even friends with Greengrass!”

“Not so much after that remark,” said a hacked-off Daphne from a few seats away.

Hermione blushed. “I… it’s just that all of the Death Eaters are Slytherins, and I don’t want—”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “All of them? That’s funny. I could have sworn I knew of at least one other in our house. You know, the one who got my parents killed? That Death Eater?”

Hermione gulped. “Well, I just meant—”

“And half of them are Ravenclaws anyway,” interjected Bulstrode, her dark eyes boring into Hermione. “Not all the swots you look up to so much are a decent sort, Granger.”

Hermione blushed redder. “O-okay, so maybe that remark was in bad taste. But you can’t deny that most of them are Slytherin, and Zabini—”

“Isn’t a Death Eater,” the boy himself said, raising his bare left arm. “Stop spreading that rubbish before your mouth gets me killed!”

“But—”

“He’s right,” said Harry with a glare. “And you’re lying. You might be worried about the Death Eaters, but that’s not why you’re in a tizzy. You’re hacked off because you think you’re more intelligent than Zabini—and everyone else for that matter—and that I can’t possibly learn without taking the notes you hand-feed me.” He snarled, “Well, we’ll just see about that soon enough, won’t we?”

Pink flooding her face, Hermione stuck her nose in the air and swung her bag over her shoulder. “Yes, I suppose we will.” She gave Greengrass an apologetic look. “Daphne, I didn’t mean you were a—”

Greengrass scowled. “No, just my house. Go on, Granger. I’ve nothing to say to you.”

“But I—”

By this point, even Professor Origa, a bookish Nigerian witch who rarely interfered in student affairs, had had enough. “I think Miss Greengrass is right, Miss Granger. You must go.”

Hermione winced. “But, Professor, I—”

Daphne gave Harry a wry look. “You know, Potter, I think I like your style for dealing with persistent pests.” She glared at Hermione and flicked her wand. “Areatus Silentium!” Her blue field enclosed everyone but Hermione, and the girl left with a sniff, her face red and eyes wet.

“Ten points to Slytherin for a beautiful charm, Greengrass,” said Professor Origa with a shake of her head, sending her braids flying everywhere. She huffed and went back to preparing for her next class, muttering to herself in her native tongue.

Harry cancelled Greengrass’ spell and made his way to Zabini. “Hey, um, I’m really sorry about that. If I’d have realised she’d go so far, I’d have just sat alone. Are you okay?”

Zabini hesitated. “I’m all right, I suppose, but confused. Since when do you care so much about Slytherins?”

Harry gave him a sad smile. “Since I was forced to grow up and learned the world isn’t painted in black and white.”

Zabini gave him an appraising look. “You know, you might be on to something there.”

Harry nodded and bid his classmates farewell, anxious to get out of there even if it meant he wasn’t the last out of the classroom. With a sigh, he headed back towards the Chamber. Severus would want to know about this for sure.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20

New Friendships

6 DECEMBER

Harry investigated the stacks of phials Severus had harvested yesterday with a curious eye, though he kept his fingers well away. Severus had lined an entire potions shelf with them and was working on a second.

“Looks like you’ll have plenty of supplies to experiment with.”

Severus flushed slightly and gave Harry his small smile. “Yes. Your gift will, with any luck, save many lives.”

Harry moved away from the potions and went to Severus’ side instead. The man was hunched over his desk, scribbling away in a leather-bound journal.

“Have you made any progress on the antivenin?”

Severus sat back and sighed. “In theory, but I do not possess the correct reference books to verify my hypotheses.”

Harry leaned his hip on the desk and crossed his arms over his chest. “Hmm. What do you need?”

“Rarer books than I possess, to be sure.”

“Would the library have them?”

Severus rubbed his chin. “Perhaps it might have some selection, but they are likely to be in the restricted section.”

“Oh. And you can’t really write me a note without getting yourself in trouble.”

“No.”

Harry frowned. “Well, we need the antivenin. What books do you need, sir?”

“References on basilisks, venoms, isolating poison strains, and the processes of venoms in the blood, specifically cardiotoxins, neurotoxins, and haemorrhagins.”

Harry grimaced. “Um, maybe write those down for me? I’ll never remember that.”

Severus snorted and scribbled a list down on a sheet from his journal. He handed Harry the list when he had finished. “How do you plan on acquiring those?”

Harry gave him a feral grin. “Dumbledore owes me about a few hundred favours by this point.”

Severus smirked. “That is rather Slytherin of you.”

Harry beamed. “Well I did miss being put there by the skin of my teeth. I reckon it’s time I started showing it a bit more.” He frowned. “Speaking of that, I’ll check on Zabini for you while I’m out.”

Severus bowed in thanks and returned to his work. Harry reached to touch his shoulder, a gesture meant in solidarity and comfort, but thought better of it and put his hand in his pocket instead. Severus wouldn’t find it comforting. Shaking his head, Harry turned to leave, but a hand on his wrist stopped him.

“Harry….” Severus’ voice was soft, gentle. “Thank you.”

Harry gasped, heart thundering in his chest. Severus had thanked him—out loud! “F-for the list? Oh, it’s not a big deal, sir. But you’re welcome.”

“No, for….” Severus squeezed his wrist. “For… understanding me.”

Oh. His aversion to touch.

Harry gave him a sad smile. “I don’t want to become your Ginny, sir.”

Severus shuddered. “Merlin preserve us from that fate!”

Harry laughed in spite of his discomfort. He wanted to touch Severus, just little things, but he also didn’t want to hurt the man.

Well, maybe in time Severus would be more comfortable with him. Harry would have to be careful not to push him, though. No meant no, even for what Harry considered casual contact. It wasn’t casual to Severus.

Harry pasted a grin on his face. “Yes, please. One Ginny is enough.”

“Too much, rather,” said Severus in a dark tone. “Do ask Professor McGonagall about meeting me later.”

“I will. I’ll be back soon, sir.”

“Good luck on your hunt, and with avoiding your fan club.”

Harry snorted and patted his neck gently, where Isuri was hidden. “I do have a secret weapon if they annoy me too much.”

Severus snorted. “Try not to send them to the Infirmary, Isuri.”

Isuri hissed a laugh against Harry’s neck, tickling him and setting him giggling. Severus’ eyes lit up and a small smile crossed his face.

“I am glad to see you laughing again, Harry.”

Harry’s heart thumped and a soft, warm feeling flooded his chest. “T-thank you, sir.”

“Off with you now, or we shall be here till lunch.”

Harry chuckled and Summoned his broom. ~Open!~ In an instant, he was zooming up the pipes.

 


 

After a successful Dumbledore-wrangling session, Harry headed to the library. Dumbledore had been altogether too willing to give Harry the books as soon as he mentioned Severus’ name. He had even loaned Harry some from his own shelves. The old man probably had an ulterior motive, but if he did, it wasn’t making itself known.

Well, maybe he wanted to support Harry’s alliance with Severus, or perhaps he was just trying to gain Harry’s approval again. The latter thought made him want to laugh. As if a stack of books would regain his respect. Merlin, he wasn’t Hermione.

The thought brought him a pang as he opened the library door and stepped inside.

Rapid hissing ahead confused him—it sounded like snakes, but Harry couldn’t make out any words. What in the world?

~Isuri, can you understand that?~

Isuri poked her head up and listened. ~No, master. I think it is not snake speak.~

~I see. Please hide yourself, little one. Many people may not take well to snakes here.~

~Yes, master.~

She curled back under Harry’s cloak and, with his refreshed Notice-me-Not glamours, faded from view. The hissing ahead hadn’t stopped. He frowned and moved towards the sound, and immediately wished he’d minded his own business.

Hermione, Ron, Ginny, and Dean were sitting near the front of the library, books and parchment strewn over their table. Ginny and Dean leaned away, both squirming in discomfort, while Ron and Hermione hissed back and forth over an open Herbology text.

“They beat us in Herbology last time, Ron,” Hermione whispered. “I’m not taking the chance that it’s a fluke.”

Dean snapped, “Oi! We worked hard for that grade, thank you very much.”

Hermione flushed. “Oh. I… I’m sorry, Dean. I’m sure you did.” But she didn’t look convinced. “It’s just, I can’t afford to fail.” She turned back to Ron and hissed, “We have to revise more. It’s just—it’s so important and I can’t fall behind.”

More like she couldn’t accept that someone else might be more intelligent or better at a subject than she was. Harry muffled his footsteps and edged away, heading towards the restricted section and hoping to avoid notice.

Ron hissed, “Hermione, come off it! We already revise too much as is. I want to spend time with my girl, and I’ve got to practise extra hard for quidditch since Harry isn’t on the team this year. We’ve got to make up the slack.”

‘Gee thanks, Ron.’ Harry scowled and moved faster, having heard more than he wanted to. What was that they said about eavesdroppers? Well, he had learned his lesson. Merlin.

He didn’t move fast enough.

“Harry! Oh, wait up.”

He groaned and restored his physical shield. “Ginny, for the eight-hundredth time, leave me alone!”

She pouted and crossed her arms over her chest. “You told me to wait, and I have!”

Harry rubbed his forehead, sick to death of this confrontation already. “No, Ginny. No. I told you I didn’t want to be touched at the time. I didn’t. I still don’t. I’m not interested. Please, please find someone else to fancy.”

“But—”

“Gods damn it, Ginny, I said no!”

She sniffled and turned away.

Dean moved to her side and murmured, “Ginny, hey, um, do you want to play a seeker’s match with me? I really do need to practise.”

She shot Harry a dark look. “I guess because someone isn’t interested, I might as well.”

She stormed off, to Harry’s relief, and Dean gave him a thumbs up behind her back.

“Thank you,” Harry mouthed to the boy. Dean nodded and led Ginny away.

As soon as the doors shut behind them, Ron snapped, “Oi! What’s with you, always leading her on?”

Madam Pince looked up from her desk and shot them all a glare. “Quiet! This is a library, not a quidditch pitch.”

With a nod to the librarian, Harry kicked at the floor and walked away without answering Ron, his chest cold and aching with his friends’ betrayal. Gods. He just wanted to get away. It hurt so badly that people he had once loved—still did, somewhere under the pain—could turn on him like this.

Ron grabbed at his arm, but Harry’s shield stopped him.

“Oi,” Ron snapped, voice low, but sharp with irritation. “Harry, what is this? You have a shield up?”

Harry wheeled on him and glared. “Yes. I had to put one up to keep your dear little sister from touching me without my consent!”

“Well, if you’d stop giving her hope and then crushing it….”

“I’m not giving her anything—she’s bloody well stalking me. Don’t you care at all?”

Ron scowled. “She’s my sister, you git! She’s better than that. You’re just being a berk to everyone lately. First you insult Hermione all the time and now thi—”

“Really? So I didn’t just hear Hermione suggest that I don’t have the intelligence to come up with a better grade on my own?”

“Well, it’s Hermione, so yeah!”

Harry turned on his heel and marched to the restricted section, ignoring Ron’s continued hisses. Eventually he would either get bored and go somewhere else or get so angry that—

Ron bellowed, “OI! You don’t get to ignore me, Harry!”

“That is enough, young man,” Pince snapped. “Out, out with you.”

“But—”

“I do have the authority to issue detentions, you know.”

Ron scowled and stormed out of the library, ears red with his fury. Harry slumped against one of the shelves, struggling to keep tears back. Merlin. Why couldn’t he have just five minutes of peace?

Madam Pince swooped down on him, eyes sharp behind her spectacles. “Mister Potter, what are you doing in the restricted section?”

“Oh.” Harry sniffled and handed her his pass with shaking hands. “S-sorry, ma’am. With all that mess, I f-forgot to give it to you first.”

Madam Pince’s hawklike stare softened. “Yes, so I saw. Are you all right?”

“I… I will be. Just, can you tell me where I can find these books, ma’am? They’re for the headmaster.”

Madam Pince’s eyebrow shot up. “The headmaster wants books on venom?”

Harry grimaced. He had a choice to make here, and either one might risk his friend’s life.

“Er… well, I think he actually asked for them for Professor Snape, but I’m not really sure. I haven’t seen Snape since Thursday. I reckon the headmaster has him doing some kind of research to keep him out of trouble while he’s suspended, and he asked me to get these since he’s snowed under in paperwork.”

“Ah, that makes a bit more sense. Follow me then.” Pince led him to the next shelf over and pulled several books from the shelves. She had to smack one to keep it from biting her. “Watch out for that one. Nasty teeth on it.”

Harry gulped and made a note to belt that one closed à la his Monster Book of Monsters.

Pince piled more books on his stack. He could have sworn one of them hissed at him. Isuri poked her head out of his cloak, but Harry put her back under it before Madam Pince saw.

~She is most likely frightened of snakes, Isuri, and I need her help.~

Isuri grumbled, ~I want to see the hissing leaf-tower.~

~Leaf-tower? Strange translation. Well, I will let you see all the leaf-towers you want when we are home.~

Madam Pince piled the last one up on his stack with a frown. “That book… does it speak Parseltongue?”

Harry’s ears burned. “Well, that’s what I was trying to find out. I heard it hissing, but I can’t make out what it said. If it said anything, that is.”

“Hmm. Interesting. If it does speak the snake tongue, will you tell me when you return them?”

“Sure. Thank you, ma’am.”

She nodded. “Take care of them like your children or I’ll have your hide.”

Harry winced and clutched the books tight against his chest lest the biting one break free and start chewing on the other titles. “Y-yes, ma’am.”

“Best to hurry back to the headmaster now, before he can think of some other errand to send you on.”

“Ah, yes, I’d better. Thank you!”

Harry didn’t dare release the books, so he gave her a nod instead of waving and scurried away. He detoured to the Transfiguration corridor before returning to the Chamber, however, and breathed a sigh of relief when Professor McGonagall answered the door.

“Enter!”

Harry obeyed, carting his books into the tartan-covered office, and grinned at the sight of a catnip toy on the floor by the desk.

“Were you having a bit of a romp between essays then, Professor?”

McGonagall blushed and pushed the cat toy out of sight with her foot.

Harry chuckled. “No worries. I won’t tell.”

A smile curved the corners of McGonagall’s lips. “Well, I don’t mind a bit of fun at my expense if it gets you laughing again, Harry.” Her expression softened to concern. “We’ve all been quite worried for you. I’m glad to see you’re looking better.”

Harry gave her a hesitant smile. “Well, I… I’m… it’s not all better.”

“No, I would say not. It takes time to heal, but I am relieved to see you’ve made some progress.”

Harry grimaced. “That’s not what I meant. I mean I still have serious problems, ma’am. Um, this office is safe, right? I can speak freely without endangering our mutual friend?”

She cast a silencing charm and warded the portraits away. “It is now.” Her eyes hardened. “Don’t tell me Severus is causing you trouble again.”

Harry shook his head hard. “N-no, ma’am. Just the opposite. Professor Snape has been… ever since Wednesday night, he’s been… Merlin, it’s like he’s a different person. He’s been so gentle. He’s been holding me together, to be honest. I probably would be broken into pieces without his help, and Neville and Dean too.”

McGonagall let slip a sigh. “Oh, thank Merlin. That poor man—he’s been so alone for so long and he refuses to let anyone in. Have you… do you think you can reach him, Harry?”

He flushed. “I… I’m not sure he’d want me talking about that.”

“Oh, poppycock. Severus is as much my friend as he appears to be yours. I imagine he’ll want to talk to me about you if things are going as well as you say.”

Harry bit his lip. “I really don’t want to make him hate me again.”

“Well, if you’re that worried about it, I won’t press.” She leaned on her desk and gave him a look full of pleading. “But if you can reach him, Harry, please try to heal him, if you’re able. He is completely broken inside, and none of us have been able to break through that shell of venom and spite.”

Harry lowered his eyes and nodded. “I… I want that too. To heal him. And… I don’t know. I might be able to. I think he trusts me.”

McGonagall rubbed her lip. “Hmm. Has he let you touch him? At all?”

Harry blushed. “I… he… you saw me run out of the Great Hall Thursday morning?”

She winced. “Yes. I am sorry for the way your friends have been treating you.”

“That’s part of why I’m here. But after that, I was a wreck. I… I couldn’t hold it together. But he held my arm and I ended up, well, h-he let me rest against his shoulder.” A blush crept up his face, and Harry looked away. “Oh, and last night, we were both having trouble conjuring a Patronus to warn the headmaster about Nagini, but he held my hand for a minute, and then he was able to call his. And, this morning, he took care of me after a vision. It was horrid, and I couldn’t get myself under control, so he had me… well, let’s just say I ended up leaning on his shoulder again.”

When Harry looked up, McGonagall’s mouth was hanging open and her eyes took up half her face. “Um… professor?”

She shut her mouth with an audible click. “Dear Merlin.”

Harry crossed his arms over his chest, needing the comfort. “I-is that… bad?”

“Oh, child.” Tears formed on her lashes. “Oh, Harry. No. It’s not bad. Not at all.” She conjured a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. “Forgive me. It’s only that I thought no one would ever be able to break through to him, and it seems you have done.” She gave him a tearful smile. “Whatever you’re doing, Harry, keep it up.”

Relief coursed through Harry, and he let his breath out in a rush. “I-I will. I promise.”

She Banished her handkerchief and cleared her throat, once again becoming his prim and proper professor. “Well then, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what did you need with me, Harry?”

“Um, well, Professor Snape wants to talk to you later today. Would you be okay coming to the Chamber with me? Just don’t shift into your cat form—it’s warded against all animals except my familiar, and we’re going to add Fawkes, once we have time. I don’t know if Animagi count, but I don’t think I’d want to test it. After Pettigrew, I highly doubt Professor Snape left that option open.”

McGonagall frowned. “I didn’t think owls could get into the Chamber.”

Harry winced. “My other familiar. I-I haven’t had her long.” At McGonagall’s piercing look, he sighed and reached for his cloak. “Um, I’ll show you if you promise not to make me get rid of her. She’s keeping me safe and she’s really docile.”

McGonagall raised an eyebrow. “Why do I get the feeling I’m not going to be a fan?”

Harry gave a nervous laugh. “W-well, I am a Parselmouth and… um… do you like snakes?”

McGonagall groaned. “Sweet mother of Circe.”

 


 

After dinner, Harry had gone to revise with Neville and Luna, leaving Minerva in the Chamber with Severus. He’d brought them tea and biscuits from Dobby before he went, so Severus sipped his tea while he tried to come up with something to say to her. He owed her an apology, to be sure, but those words had never come easy for him.

He found it easier to trust Harry, odd as it seemed. How he should have learned to care for and trust the boy so quickly after hating him so long left him dazed, but he did. Perhaps because Harry had forgiven him so completely, because he had faith in Severus, it was easy to have faith in him.

Not to mention, Severus owed that boy far more than just his life.

He rubbed his chest where the wound had all but healed. The curse had left a terrible scar, but he would live. Yet, if not for Harry’s unbelievable forgiveness and care for him even in his darkest hour, Severus would be dead. He still couldn’t wrap his head around it.

Severus shivered and opened his mouth to speak, but Minerva beat him to it.

“Severus, I am so relieved to see this.”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “To see me hiding among dead basilisk parts?”

Minerva snorted. “To see you beginning to heal, Severus. To see you cohabiting with Harry without killing each other. I confess I am hoping he can help you recover.”

“I am mostly healed,” Severus muttered, turning his face away to hide a blush.

“I think you know I didn’t mean physically.”

Severus coughed and sipped his tea. “Nevertheless, I have brought you here out of concern for Harry, not myself.”

She smiled like the cat that got the canary. “Harry, hmm?”

Severus’ cheeks burned. “He… asked me to use his forename. He does not like his last name, apparently.”

Her smile faded. “He doesn’t?”

“No. I do not know why, though I believe… well, perhaps I do have an explanation.” He set his tea down and gripped the bridge of his nose. “Did Albus inform you that Harry broke into my pensieve last term?”

Minerva nodded. “I cannot see what that has to do with his aversion to his surname.”

“He… he saw them, Minerva. Potter and Black. He saw them assault me.”

She paled. “Oh dear gods. You mean… fifth year?”

Severus gave her a grim nod.

Minerva cringed. “Oh! Well, I can certainly see how that would disillusion him.” She rubbed her temples as if she had a headache. “Albus has much to answer for. As much as I loved those boys, they deserved far harsher punishment, and not only for that incident. If he had been firmer with their blatant disobedience and bullying, perhaps it might have stopped before that day.” She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “You know, I did try to bring them back in line, but there was only so much I could do. Detentions did not work, and they did not seem to care for points either.”

“Neither does Harry, but I believe he has very different reasons.”

She gave him a sad smile. “Yes. Our Harry has grown up, far too soon.”

“I believe I am at least partially to blame for that,” Severus said, his voice rife with sorrow. “He has saved my life four times in three days, Minerva, and he is in so much pain. How have I missed it so long?”

Minerva patted his wrist, about all Severus could tolerate from her. “Well, you’re helping him now. Harry did not want to reveal much in my office, but he said he was crying on you? Well, rather he implied it. I think he was a bit embarrassed.”

Severus growled. “Those infernal brats.”

Her sad smile morphed into a glare. “Severus Snape! Harry has done nothing—”

He halted her diatribe with a shake of his head. “No, no. Not Harry. I was speaking of his so-called friends.”

She scowled. “Yes, I am sorely disappointed in Mister Weasley and Miss Granger—and Finnigan! I have no idea what has gotten into that child, but he has changed much as of late, and not for the better.”

“As much as I agree with your assessment of those three, the real problem is Miss Weasley.”

Minerva blinked. “Ginevra? Merlin, I had thought she was trying to support him.”

Stalk him is more accurate.”

Minerva’s eyes narrowed. “Indeed? Tell me, Severus, what have I missed?”

“My pleasure.”

 


 

After their talk, Minerva Summoned Harry with her Patronus and bid them goodnight, leaving them with a promise to deal with the Ginevra issue in the morning. When Harry returned from taking her up the pipe, Severus called him over.

“Harry, I am going to deal with the basilisk head and venom now. I need you and Isuri to stay well away from me while I work and keep quiet. This will be extremely dangerous.”

Harry nodded. “I’ve still my essay for Ancient Magic, so I’ll work on it while you’re busy. Just call for me when you’re done so I know it’s safe to talk.”

Severus gave him a tentative half-smile. “Very well. What is the topic for your essay?”

“Elf magic, but the book only includes information on wood elves and high elves, despite the fact that house elves fall under the elf umbrella as well. I thought I might add a comparison to house elves and the similarities and differences between their magic and the other species’. What do you think?”

Severus nodded. “It would make for an interesting study. I would like to read it when you are finished, if you are amenable.”

Harry beamed. “Brilliant. I doubt it’ll be as good as the Charms essay, but I’ll do my best.”

“As you should do. I am going to work now, Harry. I will speak to you later.”

Harry waved and moved to his ‘bedroom,’ but didn’t get far before his snake poked her head out of Harry’s collar and hissed for attention.

“Okay, okay, Isuri. I’ll let you down. Merlin.”

He removed Isuri from his neck and set her on the bed, hissing quietly to her. By the way Harry pointed to Severus and shook his head, Severus gathered he was warning the snake away from the basilisk. Reassured, Severus suited up in heavy lab gear, set several protective charms upon his person, and went to work.

Some hours later, he had harvested all he could. Carefully, he enclosed the remains in a specialised shield spell and took a deep breath. He needed to Vanish the mess, but one wrong move, and they would perish and bring the entire castle down with them.

‘Merlin, let this work.’ He held his breath, poured all his focus into his spell, carefully measured his power level, and whispered, “Tegovanesco.”

A brilliant purple light glowed within the shield and disappeared. He let his breath out and slumped in relief. Merlin, he hated working with such volatile substances.

“Thank the gods.”

After a few calming breaths, Severus performed the same spell upon his gear without removing it from his body. It wasn’t reusable, not after coming into contact with such powerful venom, and to attempt to remove it manually might poison him. One more careful spell removed the last traces of blood and venom on the floor, and he heaved a huge sigh. It was done, and no one had ended up as a crater.

Severus brushed his hair out of his eyes and looked up to find Harry watching him, obviously entranced. Heat surged into his cheeks.

“What?”

Harry blushed too. “Oh. You’re just so skilled. That was terrifying and gross, but also amazing.”

Severus’ lips curved up in spite of himself. “Ah. I… I admit I was afraid to breathe at some points.”

“So was I! Merlin, that stuff is so lethal.” Harry shuddered. “You’re safe, right? It’s done?”

Severus nodded. “I need to shower, but I will be fine.”

“Thank goodness.” Harry turned to his desk. “Go on and shower now, if you want. I’ve yet to finish this.” He laughed wryly. “I got a bit distracted.”

Severus’ face flamed. “How long were you watching?”

“I have no idea. Awhile. I was afraid for you.”

Severus closed his eyes and let the rare feeling of being so cared for wash over him. “I am well.” His voice came out rougher than intended.

When he opened his eyes, Harry’s expression had gone soft and warm.

“I’m glad,” he said, his voice as soft as the look in his eyes.

“Oh.” Severus’ heart thumped and his breath hitched. What in Merlin’s name? “I… I am going to take that shower now.” He fled to the relative safety of the loo and focused on dealing with the grime of hard work rather than sentimental emotions he didn’t understand. The fresh-scented soap and hot water cleared his head, and when he came out of the loo, Severus felt much better.

Harry was talking with his snake near one of the walls. “Hello, sir. Isuri said she found another skin near this pipe here.”

Severus nodded. “I will examine it in the morning. Did you finish your essay?”

“Not quite. I want to talk to Dobby first, and I didn’t want to disturb you while you were working on something so dangerous.”

“Ah.” Severus went to sit down and read, but Harry called to him in a soft, uncertain voice. “Sir, um, would you… maybe like to play chess with me?”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “Chess. You do know I am a strategist for the Order?”

Harry chuckled. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll beat me in ten turns, if it takes that long. But it’s just… it’s not so much about the game as… well….” He shook his head and gave Severus a sad smile. “Never mind. I’ll just practise for Defence or something.”

Severus sighed and Summoned Harry’s chess board and their pieces. “I will be black.”

Harry chuckled. “I don’t think that head start is going to help me much, but sure.”

“Well then, watch and learn.”

Harry grinned and settled across from Severus. “Yes, sir!”

Chapter Text

Chapter 21

Fruits of Hard Labour

7 December

Harry needed a break. He had spent half the morning training with Severus—and Merlin, he felt it. Severus’ usual routine had all but pounded Harry to bits. Thank the gods the man modified his training during the weekdays or Harry wouldn’t have been able to keep up. Even after several rounds of potions, every muscle in his body still ached.

No wonder Severus had advised him to eat more, especially protein. Harry would need the calories.

After training, he had finished his essay with Dobby’s help, then spent a couple of hours reading ahead. By the time they had finished with dinner, Harry was feeling a bit stir-crazy.

“Sir?”

Severus made a half-hearted effort to look up from his research notes, but the man was so absorbed, his head barely moved. “Hmm?”

“I’m going out for a bit. I’ll be outside or in the Room of Requirement, I think, so it should be safe to send me a Patronus if anything happens.”

“Oh, all right. I believe I am well enough for now.” Severus returned to his research and was back to muttering under his breath a moment later.

Harry suppressed a laugh. Even if he did find Severus’ study habits cute, he knew better than to draw attention to the fact. Severus Snape didn’t do cute, at least not intentionally. Harry watched him work for a moment, a soft smile on his face. Gods, the man was brilliant.

With a little shake, Harry Summoned his broom and zoomed out of the Chamber. As soon as he shook off Myrtle and made his way into the corridor outside the loo, Isuri hissed in his ear.

~Master, I am hungry.~

Harry removed the snake from around his neck. ~I will cast the hiding spell on you. If you take care not to startle the other students and teachers, it will keep you out of sight even away from me.~

Isuri hissed her agreement, and Harry let her down and cast his spells, including a warming charm and a Notice-Me-Not spell. A wavering mist, much like the air above asphalt on a hot day, shimmered around the snake’s form, letting Harry know the glamour was working properly.

~There you are, girl. Good hunting.~

~Thank you, Master. Shall I bring you back a fat rat?~

Harry choked and swallowed a wave of revulsion. ~N-no thank you, Isuri. I do not eat rats.~

She hissed a laugh. ~More for me then.~

Harry chuckled and petted her back. ~Yes. You may have all the rats you can catch.~

~Yes, Master. I will return to the nest when I am finished hunting.~

~Good girl. I will see you later then.~

Harry stroked her warm, slippery scales once more, then set off towards the Entrance Hall. Merlin, it felt like he hadn’t seen the outside world in a week. Well, he hadn’t really, save for through a window. Taking care of Severus and dealing with all the other drama surrounding his life had taken all his time and concentration for the past few days.

Gods, but he needed some fresh air.

He set a warming charm on his cloak just inside the Entrance Hall doors and stepped outside. As soon as the cold night air hit him, he breathed a sigh of relief. His breath froze in a wreath around his face, and Harry gave a soft laugh, making more frozen-air clouds. Ah, this was good. He had missed nature, and missed the joy he had once taken in the outside world more.

Healing the breach with Severus had done wonders for his morale, apparently, even if his supposed friends had yet to take their heads out of their arses. Strange, how one new relationship could heal him so well in the midst of a storm.

As he walked towards the lake, his feet crunching on fresh snow, he mused on his new… acquaintance? Friendship? Were they friends? He had no idea. He wanted to be, but he didn’t know if Severus felt the same.

Merlin, how had they come so far so fast? Well, in Harry’s case, he had always wanted the potions master to stop hating him. How long had he craved Severus’ approval and hadn’t known it? He shook his head. Maybe since that first class….

“Clearly, celebrity isn’t everything.”

Harry had marked Snape down as a heartless bastard from day one, even going so far as to assume the man wanted him dead. The Philosopher’s Stone had come as his first taste of the truth, and the pensieve had brought it home in stark relief—Severus was a human being, not a monster, and a damaged one. Ever since, Harry had wanted to help him, if he could.

“If you can reach him, Harry, please try to heal him….”

Merlin, he had never seen Professor McGonagall so emotional. She really did care for Severus. Maybe Harry should tell him.

He shook his head and turned towards the forest, thinking of walking along the perimeter a bit before returning home. No, it was best to keep that conversation to himself for now, but maybe someday in the future, Severus would trust Harry enough to hear it. Merlin, he hoped so.

Harry grimaced at the sound of a feminine voice near the trees. He was halfway through turning back to the castle when he recognised her.

“Well, the Wrackspurts are still chewing his ears, but the mist-creepers have mostly gone.”

Neville’s voice drifted to his ears in reply, “Oh, thank goodness. I’ve been so worr—oh! Harry! Come here, mate. We were just talking about you.”

Harry winced and turned towards the pair. “Not bad, I hope.”

Luna dug a hunk of raw meat from a burlap bag at her hip and tossed it towards the treeline. “Of course not. We were simply saying that you’re looking a bit less unhappy recently.” She gave him a wry smile. “I don’t suppose you could straighten out the Shadow-Keepers for us?”

Harry watched, bemused, as Luna tossed another hunk of meat into the trees. “Shadow-Keepers? And why exactly are we—?”

A thestral poked its head out of the trees and snatched up the meat, answering Harry’s second question.

“She asked you to tell us your secrets,” said Neville with a chuckle. “And we’re feeding the thestrals.”

“So I see.”

Luna handed Harry a bag of his own. “Here you are.”

Neville chuckled. “I was wondering who the third bag was for all this time.”

Harry gave in and took the bag, deciding not to argue against his apparent fate. Even if the meat was cold and squishy under his fingers.

“I guess I am happier,” Harry said with a shake of his head, watching as a thestral colt gobbled the chunk he had thrown in one bite. “But as far as why… I need a silencing charm. Will it scare the thestrals?”

Luna shook her head. “They know we mean no harm.”

“All right.” Harry flicked his wand and covered them in a bubble of silence. “Well, it’s just that… Luna, you won’t tell this to Ginny, right? Or anyone else?”

Luna grimaced. “Ginny isn’t as good of a friend as she used to be.” She gave Harry a wry smile. “The Ticklebees are buzzing so loud in her brain, she can’t hear herself think.”

Harry choked and burst into laughter. “True!” He stifled a snort and threw the next hunk of meat to a greying thestral hanging around the edges of the herd. “Thanks, Luna. I needed that!”

“Laughter is good for chasing Wrackspurts away,” she said with a grin.

“So I see.” He tossed in another hunk of meat, watching the aging thestral nab it before he spoke again. “Well, it’s Professor Snape. He’s been… well, like a friend these past few days. I was just thinking on the way here that maybe I’ve been wanting him to like me for a long time, because having his support has really helped.” He shook his head and fed a filly. “I guess I don’t really understand why it helps so much when we’ve been enemies so long. With most of my house turning on me, I should be miserable, but he makes me feel better.”

“Well,” said Luna in with a sad smile, “sometimes we can’t be picky where we find our friends.”

Harry patted her shoulder with his clean hand and resolved to spend more time with her. She did care about him and her strange brand of wisdom had helped him out of a pinch more times than he cared to admit.

“I’m sorry, Luna.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean you, Harry. You’ve been here for me as much as you can be. I… it’s only that Ginny was my best friend once, and now she’s… changed.”

“Seems to be going around,” said Neville with a bitter snort.

Luna cocked her head. “Yes, perhaps there is an epidemic of Panwhinglers in the air.” She tossed a steak to a heavily pregnant mare. “I should warn Madam Pomfrey.”

“Maybe,” said Harry darkly. “Or maybe they’re just not as loyal as we once thought.”

“Well, that’s what I just said!”

Harry and Neville laughed.

“Luna, you’re brilliant,” Harry said with a chuckle. “We should feed the thestrals more often.”

Luna giggled. “Not too often! They’ll get fat if you feed them too much, you know.”

Harry snickered and tossed another steak to the foals. “Well, they could use a little meat on their bones! They’re practically skeletons.”

Luna snickered. “They’re supposed to be skeletons.”

“That was the point!”

The three of them laughed, and when their mirth cleared, Harry felt much better.

“I… I’m really glad I have you two. And Professor Snape now.”

“He’s glad of it too, I think,” said Luna.

“I’m curious if this changes his teaching method,” said Neville with a frown. “Do you think he’ll alter it a lot, Harry?”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t think he can afford to be fair to Gryffindors and keep his skin on. The junior Death Eaters are always looking for… oh.” His stomach dropped into his feet and his heart stilled. “Oh sweet Merlin.”

He’d just told two students who didn’t know Occlumency that he and Severus had more than a bare truce.

“Oh shite. You two, I think I’m going to have to teach you to Occlude now. I shouldn’t have said anything—and now even if you’re not trying to reveal it, someone could see this in your minds. I-I’ve made you targets.” Terror ran through his veins, colder than the winter air. “Shite!”

Luna patted Harry’s arm and calmed him. “It’s quite all right, Harry. I’ve often thought I should branch out in my mind magic skills. Occlumency would be interesting, though quite the challenge.”

“You’re not kidding,” Harry agreed emphatically.

“I’ve been meaning to learn anyway,” said Neville with a wry smile. “It’s sort of a tacit requirement for the lords of pureblood houses.”

Harry’s fear abated. “R-really? You’ll let me train you?”

Neville grinned. “On one condition.”

Harry winced. Whatever it was, he’d have to do it. Severus’ life depended on their ability to keep his secrets. “Yes?”

“Train us to fight like you do too!”

Harry relaxed and gave a soft laugh. “A-all right. Professor Snape is training me, so I reckon I can just teach you as he teaches me.”

Luna stuck out her non-bloody hand. “It’s a deal then.”

Harry shook on it.

 


 

When Harry returned, Severus was reading one of the books he had brought—the biting one. “Hello, sir. Are you all right?”

Severus nodded. “I am simply trying to translate this monstrosity. It is written in such atrocious German I can barely make heads or tails of it.”

A curious smile spread across Harry’s face. “You speak German, sir?”

“It behoves a spy to know several languages lest his targets converse in tongues he cannot understand. I also speak French, Italian, and Irish Gaelic.” He closed his eyes. “I am technically Irish at any rate, though I have made my home in Scotland. And, as such, I can understand the Scottish form of Gaelic as well, though I am not as fluent in speech.”

“Wow!” Harry beamed and sat nearby. “That’s brilliant!”

Severus bowed his head in thanks, his cheeks pink.

“I should learn a new language one day, once the war is over. Won’t have time until then.” Harry looked around the Chamber and frowned. “Is Isuri back yet, sir?”

“Yes, she was poking around the pipes earlier. I have not seen her since.”

Isuri slithered out of a nearby hole. ~I am here, Master.~

Harry petted her slim body. ~Did you find any rats?~

~Yes, the kitchen elves seemed glad to have me. They said a snake will help keep the rodents away from the human food.~

Harry grimaced. ~Good to know.~

~Master, I think I have checked all the pipes here I can reach. There is one more small snake skin in this pipe, but I have not seen any others.~

~Hmm. Good work, Isuri.~

She nodded and slipped away, curling up on Severus’ bed for a nap.

The man gave the snake a wry look. “Do explain whose bed is whose, Harry,” he said with a snort.

“I think she knows.” Harry chuckled softly. ~Isuri, Severus said to tell you that is his nest.~

~And now it is mine. He is not using it.~

Harry laughed. “She knows.”

Severus snorted and shook his head. “I suppose she may nap there, so long as she will let me sleep when I am ready.”

“I’ll take care of it, sir.”

Severus nodded and went back to his book, and Harry dug out his Defence revision for tomorrow. For all he knew, Moody might ‘test’ them before the holidays.

As he opened the book, he remembered Isuri’s comments. “Oh, sir, I forgot to mention, Isuri wanted to let us know she found one more skin in that last pipe, but she thinks that’s it. She can’t find anywhere else to explore.”

Severus rubbed his chin, a frown on his features. “Only four skins for a thousand year-old basilisk?”

“I don’t know what to tell you. She said it was a small skin too, so I have no idea where the big skins are.”

“Hmm. Well, we’ll keep looking. Perhaps I might find a spell to help.”

Harry gave him a wry look. “Or you could just invent something. I’ve seen that book, you know.”

Severus shuddered. “Harry, some of those spells—you must promise me you will never use Sectumsempra. Of all the spells I created, that is the darkest.”

Harry nodded. “I promise, but what is it?”

“The cutting spell that nearly killed me.”

“Jesus! Bastard tried to murder you with your own spell? What a berk.” Harry frowned. “Sir, why did you invent that? It’s so… it’s brutal.”

Severus closed his eyes and clenched his fists in his lap. His emotions reeked of fear. “I… I cannot.” He took a deep breath and slowly unclenched his hands. “It is not something I am prepared to speak of, Harry. Simply promise me you will not use it against anything alive.”

Despite his curiosity, Harry thought it best not to push him to talk. “I have done, sir, and I meant it.”

“Ah, yes.” Severus shook his head as if coming out of a dream—or bad memories. “Well, I must make some progress on this translation. Go and finish your work.”

“All right.” Harry gave him a sad smile. “You do know that if you want to talk about things, I’ll listen without judgment, right?”

Severus lowered his head. “Would that I had seen it sooner. Yes, I am aware. Like your story with the porcelain shards, this is simply an aspect of my past I am not prepared to face.”

Harry shuddered at the mention of that horrible memory. “Y-yes, sir. I understand that.”

“Good. Go and finish your homework, Harry. I will speak to you when I am finished with this chapter.”

“Yes, sir.”

Harry settled into his revision, reviewing facts and figures. He knew the theory by heart, but names and dates sometimes eluded him. When he had studied as much as he could stand, he set aside his homework and went to sit with Severus. The man had stopped reading and was staring off into space, the biting book secured firmly with a binding spell. Ah. That explained how he had read the blasted thing without injury.

“Sir?”

Severus jumped and gave him a curious look. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah. I just wanted to talk to you earlier, but it didn’t seem like a good time with you working.” Harry drew his knees up to his chest. “I hope you’re not angry, but Neville and Luna know about you now. I talked to them about how we’re getting along better earlier—yes, I made absolutely sure no one else would hear it, and Luna and Neville won’t reveal your secrets.” He made a face. “Actually, I think Luna might know a lot more than I told her. She’s a Seer or something—well, a medium, she says. She talks to some kind of supernatural beings, that’s for sure.”

“A medium?” Severus gasped. “That is how you discovered the counterchant for my chest injury. Lovegood saw it?”

“Heard it, more like, but yes, sir.” Harry gave him a nervous look. “Will you… maybe not tell the headmaster that?”

“I suppose I can attempt to avoid it, but why?”

Harry’s gaze sharpened. “Because he’ll use her for his own gain and say it’s for the ‘greater good.’”

Severus tentatively rubbed Harry’s shoulder. “Why do you say that?”

Harry gave Severus a slight smile and leaned into his touch. “Because it’s true. It’s a good thing he works for the light, because the man is ruthless.”

“You misunderstand me, Harry. I am not asking why you think he is ruthless—as much as I care for the headmaster, he is rather brutal in his methods. I am asking what he has done to you personally to have earned your mistrust.”

“Besides dropping me at—” Harry cut himself off and buried his head in his hands. “A lot of things, sir, but the most recent was neglecting to inform me of the Prophecy until after Sirius was already dead.”

Severus stroked Harry’s hair, a touch that appeared to soothe them both despite Severus’ fears. It seemed the man had an easier time initiating contact than accepting it. Harry could deal with that, though he wished he could reciprocate. Still, perhaps if he was patient, one day he might help the man recover from his fears.

“Dropping you where, Harry?”

Harry froze, dread icy in his gut. “It’s n-nothing, sir.”

“It is not nothing. Can you not speak of it?”

Harry shuddered. “S-sir, it’s like your spell. I can’t talk about it. It’s not that I don’t trust you. I do. I just can’t… can’t relive it.”

Severus’ hand stilled in Harry’s hair. “You trust me?”

Harry leaned back so he could rest his head against Severus’ shoulder, like the man let him do when Harry was upset. “Yeah. You’re a good man, sir, even if we had a bad start.”

Severus paused for a long moment, then wrapped his arms around Harry’s shoulders and pulled the boy into his side. Harry’s breath caught. He hardly dared move as Severus embraced him, for the first time on his own will.

Harry turned his head against Severus’ shoulder and sighed, warm and content in the older man’s arms.

“I will not force you to speak of it, Harry,” Severus murmured, “but if you… wish to talk of what troubles you, I will listen.”

“You do all the time.” Harry gave him a sad look. “Like I said, I’ll listen for you too, you know. If you need to talk.”

Severus shivered. “I will try, Harry.”

“That’s good enough for me.”

Severus leaned back and returned his hand to Harry’s hair. “Did your friends take the news of our improved relationship well?”

“Yeah. Neville is glad for us both, though not in a hurry to say hello. And Luna… like I said, I think she knew all along.”

Severus gave a dark laugh. “Yes, I imagine Longbottom is quite content to stay far away from me.” He lowered his head. “Another child I have scarred.”

“I think… he’d forgive you, sir, if you wanted him to.”

“Perhaps I should make some kind of amends.” Severus sighed and leaned his head against the back of the sofa. “Merlin. I still have much to atone for, it seems.”

Harry brushed his fingers over Severus’ wrist. “You’re doing a good job with me, sir.”

Severus gave Harry that shadow of a smile, one that hinted at his lost joy. It hurt Harry sometimes, to see how little he had left.

“I am glad of that.” Severus stood. “Do you still have work to do tonight?”

“No, I’m fairly well caught up, and as it’s almost the end of term, the other teachers aren’t assigning a lot of essays and such. Are you asking me to let you get back to work?”

Severus shook his head. “Actually, I would like your help. Do you recall I wanted to create a spell to remove shoes for people who are injured?”

“Yeah, but I’m not sure what I can do to help with that.”

“I think your approach to charms may be just what I need. Would you be willing to work with me on the spell matrix?”

Harry reeled. “R-really? You want my help with… Merlin!” He jumped up and grinned. “Yeah! But, um, I don’t know how to do a spell matrix. We weren’t supposed to cover them in Charms until next year.”

Severus smirked. “Well, you shall have quite the head start.”

Harry laughed and followed Severus to the man’s desk. “Hermione will lose the plot.”

“I should think, given how she has treated you lately, that would be more incentive than otherwise.”

“Exactly.” Harry studied the charts on Severus’ desk and frowned. “Sir, do I need to know Arithmancy for this?”

“It would help, but no. I will handle the calculations. I need your help with the actual magic manipulation and charm work.”

Harry smiled shyly. “Okay. I’ll do my best.”

“Good. Now, the first step is to make the charm untie the shoes without tangling its laces or otherwise damaging either the shoe or its wearer, preferably both shoes at the same time. This is the step where this spell has always gone wrong in the past, ending up with laces cutting off legs or the spell unravelling the subject’s intestines along with their boots.”

Harry cringed. “Dear Merlin. Are you sure you want me—a novice—to help you with something so dangerous?”

Severus shook his head. “I have already managed to make a spell matrix that does not injure the wearer, but its current configuration does not unlace the shoes correctly either, nor does it work on both feet at the same time. Well, eventually, we will also need to take amputees and those with extra feet into consideration, but we must first create a spell that works on both shoes and only the shoes. I believe you are capable enough to help me with that.”

Harry flushed, thrilled with Severus’ confidence in him. “O-okay, sir. I’ll do my best.”

“Good.” Severus flicked his wand, revealing a complex web of magic upon his desk. “This is the current matrix configuration. Now, I have assigned this node here to the agnets, and this to….”

 

9 December

Harry snuck to the owlery while the other students attended breakfast. He and Severus had started eating earlier so while everyone else was filling their bellies, Harry could bring food for the owls and make sure they were healthy.

Over the past few days, Solaris had become more accustomed to Harry, though Isuri still startled him if she poked her head out. Harry had, at first, warned her to stay out of sight, but the owls had smelled her anyway. Neither one would approach until Harry had introduced them and explained that Isuri ate smaller prey and wasn’t hungry anyway.

By now, both birds were more used to Harry’s snake friend, and Hedwig had even gotten over her initial snit about Harry taking a second familiar. Informing her that Severus had Summoned Isuri as a way to save his life and Harry hadn’t been able to let him Banish her had helped smooth her ruffled feathers.

After the birds had finished their breakfast, Solaris landed on Harry’s outstretched arm and gave him a little nudge.

“Are you worried about your human, little one?”

Solaris bobbed his head.

“He’s doing well. He’s safe and recovered from the attack, and he’s been using his time in isolation to catch up on research he hasn’t had time to work on over the years. We’ve already made a new spell to take off shoes by magic, and we’re working on another to trace magic light through holes.” Harry sighed. “We’re trying to find out if there’s more to… our hiding spot that meets the eye. Isuri hasn’t been able to find much, not yet, and we’re hoping the light spell will help, once we finish it.”

Solaris gave a relieved hoot and nuzzled Harry’s cheek.

“You’re welcome. Go on up, though. I’ll be late for Charms.” He grinned. “I’m looking forward to it. Your human said my essay will make Hermione’s look trite.”

A wave of sadness washed over him. “Is it wrong that I’m eager to see her taken down a peg? She almost killed me trying to force me to revise and she’s been so awful lately… I don’t know. Maybe it’s not very nice of me. But at the same time, I can’t help but think learning she’s not the only person with some intelligence would be good for her.”

Solaris gave a soft whoo.

Harry smiled and petted his head. “Thanks. I’ll let your human know you miss him. Maybe we can sneak up here after curfew soon.”

Solaris bobbed his head and took off with a cheerful hoot. Harry watched him settle beside Hedwig before grabbing his rucksack and slinking down the owlery stairs. He’d gotten so good at blending in with the scenery, no one noticed him even ten metres from the classroom. Just in case, he ducked into an alcove and watched the others from the safety of shadows.

Ron and Hermione had snuggled up to one another, no surprise there. Dean stood a fair distance away from Seamus and scowled at him. Seamus glared back. Sally-Anne Perks, Lisa Turpin, and Lavender were gossiping away. The other students gathered around the girls, listening with wide eyes. Harry’s name came up too often for comfort.

Still, he had expected all of that. It was the other redhead waiting by the door that turned his stomach sour.

What the hell was Ginny doing there? She had her own classes, and McGonagall had already put her through the wringer for her behaviour. Merlin. Just how obsessed was she?

Harry suppressed a shudder and decided he was fine where he was, at least until Flitwick arrived.

A flicker of magic spread over him, and Harry turned, ready to hex whoever had dared cast on him without permission, but relaxed at the sight of Neville and Luna with their hands up in a gesture of surrender.

“Sorry to startle you, Harry,” Neville said with a hesitant smile.

“We didn’t want the Dinglegangers to overhear,” said Luna, solemn as the grave.

“Er… Dinglegangers?” Harry kept his voice low in case their voices carried over the silencing charm. “That’s a new one.”

“Gossipers and idiots,” said Neville with a snort. He turned to look at the crowd gathered before the classroom door and frowned. “Merlin. What’s Ginny doing here?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Luna shook her head. “The cloud of Ticklebees around her is so thick, she can’t see the Nootenwinds for the Weavans.”

Even Neville looked perplexed at that. “Um… so it’s more of her obsession then?”

Luna tittered. “That’s what I said.”

Harry gave Neville a wry look. “Mate, I reckon you ought to start writing a key for Luna-speak. You’re about the only one of us who understands.”

Neville chuckled and rubbed the back of his hair. “Maybe. It would certainly make my life easier.”

Harry laughed. “True. And speaking of making lives easier, my friend and I finished the boot spell last night. Works like a charm!”

“It is a charm, so that’s rather a good thing,” said Luna with a wide smile.

Harry grinned. “Yeah. It even works on amputees now. Well, we tried it on a medical manikin with one leg anyway. And on a lot of others with different combinations of shoes and more than two legs. We just had to alter the matrix so that it recognised the laces on the person as one entity rather than individual strands. After we did that, it didn’t seem to matter how many shoes it needed to untie at once—it worked the right way every time.”

Neville beamed. “Harry, that’s bloody amazing!”

Harry blushed. “Well, it’s just a simple spell. Nothing fancy. And my friend made the spell base—I just helped him get it to work right.”

“Still, no one’s ever been able to figure it out before you.” Neville clapped him on the back. “Well done. I have to say, knowing that you’re a spellcrafter now, I can’t wait to see how your essay turned out.”

Harry smirked. “You’re not the only one. My friend said he wants me to memorise every detail of Hermione’s expression for the pensieve later.”

Luna and Neville laughed.

“He does have a bit of a vindictive streak,” said Neville wryly, “but he cares about you. I never thought I’d live to see the day.”

“That makes… probably all of us, mate. Even him.”

Luna patted Harry’s shoulder. “You might not know it yet, Harry, but you’re healing his wounds. The Clarents tell me the number of Wrackspurts eating his spirit have gone down quite a bit.”

Harry frowned, bemused. “And what are the Clarents and Wrackspurts again?”

“Wrackspurts make a person grieve. Clarents tell me how people are feeling.” She gave him a curious look. “Harry, do you hear the Clarents too?”

“Do I?” He frowned. “Um… maybe. I’ve been hearing people’s thoughts and getting snatches of their emotions anyway. Not all the time though.”

“Ah!” Neville grinned. “You’re an Empath. So is Luna, so maybe you do hear her Clarents.”

Luna gave him a dreamy smile and a nod. “Though, I can’t hear thoughts on my own. The Windsprites do that.”

“Maybe it just works differently for Harry.”

“So this hearing other people’s thoughts and emotions thing, it means I’m an Empath?” Harry shuddered. “I don’t think I should tell my friend that. He might think I’m using it to manipulate him. Might be best to keep that to myself.”

“Perhaps for now,” said Luna with a frown, “but not always. It isn’t a good idea to keep secrets from your friends.”

Harry considered the number of secrets he kept and lowered his gaze. “I… there are a lot of things I just can’t talk about, Luna. Not yet.”

“Hmm, I understand. In time, I think you’ll be able to, at least with him.”

“Are your Feathersprites saying that?”

“No, just women’s intuition.”

Harry gave a wry snort. “Luna, between that, Empathy, and being a medium, you’re downright dangerous.”

She giggled. “Yes. Well, I’d best go for now though. I need to be in Transfiguration in a few moments.”

Harry gave her puppy dog eyes. “Can you possibly drag Ginny away?”

“Well, I can try, but she might not be able to hear me over all the buzzing in her brain.”

Harry stifled a laugh in his hands, afraid it would carry over the silencing barrier. “Gods, Luna. You’re amazing.”

She beamed. “I quite like you myself. I’ll see you later, boys.” With a wave, she stepped out of their silencing field, cancelled the spell over herself, and made her way to the door. Harry watched, curious to see what the girl would do.

“Ginny,” Luna said with a smile, “it’s almost time for Transfiguration. We shouldn’t be late.”

Ginny gave her a pout. “But Harry hasn’t come yet.”

“Well, considering that you’re stalking him, I can’t say I’m surprised.”

Harry and Neville stifled laughs.

Ginny frowned at her friend and stood akimbo. “W-what? Not you too, Lu. You know I wouldn’t do that. It’s just that he’s got a lot to deal with, and I want to help.”

“The Clarents say you’re doing the opposite of that,” said Luna with a shake of her head. “And class starts in one minute.”

Ginny scowled and set her feet. “I’m waiting to see him off.”

“You’re going to be waiting right into a detention,” said Hermione, frowning down her nose. “Luna is right, for once. Sort of. I think. Anyway, you really are stalking him—Professor McGonagall just boxed your ears about it Sunday, remember? And Gryffindor can’t afford to lose any more points either way. Just go to class, Ginny.”

“Oi,” Ron said, frowning. “Don’t be mean to her, Hermione. She just wants to help.”

“No, she doesn’t. And besides, she’s just driving him away like this.”

Luna fixed Hermione with a piercing look. “I think you should talk to the Narcissi.” She turned and shook her head. “Well, I am not going to be late. Bye.”

Luna vanished around the corner. Ginny watched her go, biting her lip.

Harry whispered to Neville, “What does she mean by Narcissi?”

“The story of Narcissus is a Greek myth about a man who fell in love with his own reflection and pined away staring at himself in a lake. She’s basically telling Hermione to look in the mirror.”

Harry snorted. “She should do!” He frowned and rubbed his chin. “You know, maybe I should read some about Greek mythology. I bet my friend has some books on it.”

“He migh—oh. Look.”

Professor Flitwick had just turned the corner. From their sheltered alcove, Harry and Neville watched as Flitwick ushered the students into the classroom and frowned at Ginny.

“Miss Weasley, this is not your class. I suggest you run along.”

“But I’m waiting for—”

“Nevertheless, you’re quite late for your own class, so unless you go now, I’ll be forced to take points.”

Go, Ginny,” Seamus snapped. “Harry’s gone and lost us enough without you taking more away. Don’t know what you see in him anyway.”

Flitwick shot Seamus a reproachful look. “That is quite enough from you, Mister Finnigan.” He waved Ginny on. “Miss Weasley, you are holding up my class.”

“All right, all right.” She scowled and turned on her heel, flipping her hair over her shoulder.

She hadn’t made it far when Flitwick said, “Ah, but where are Mister Potter and Mister Longbottom?”

“We’re both here, Professor,” Harry said, coming out of the shadows.

Ginny stopped and wheeled around. “Harry? Where did you come from?”

“Been there the whole time,” he muttered, and dragged Neville into class before she could start pawing him again.

“Wait, I—”

Flitwick guarded the door. “Miss Weasley, five points from Gryffindor. Off with you, now, before I add a detention.”

Seamus groaned. “Ginny!”

“Y-yes, sir.” She turned and stormed away.

Professor Flitwick closed the door behind the boys and gave Harry a commiserating look. “Believe it or not, I was more popular than I wanted to be in school as well. Something to do with my height, I suppose.” He shrugged and motioned them into their seats. “I don’t mind if you need to take cover until class starts, Harry. Just try to be here on time when you can.”

“Yes, sir.”

Harry gave a sigh of relief and sat at an empty table, one near enough to Ron and Hermione that he could see her without risking being drawn into unwanted conversation. Though it seemed after the debacle in Ancient Magic, she had stopped speaking to him. Not that he minded at the moment. After the way Hermione had been treating him lately, Harry could use a bit of peace and quiet. Merlin, he hoped Severus’ prediction panned out.

Hmm. Maybe Severus wasn’t the only one with a vindictive streak.

Well, he’d said it himself. Hermione needed to be brought back down to earth. She was completely obsessed with being the top student, and her self-righteousness really needed to be nipped in the bud. It could only do her good to learn others could also perform well in academic pursuits, and without her force-feeding them her notes or driving them to revise at all hours of the day.

Still, butterflies and doubt had begun to build in Harry’s belly. Severus wasn’t the Charms teacher. Maybe Flitwick wouldn’t feel the same way that Severus did about Harry’s innovations. Maybe he would prefer things to be done by the book and by rote, like Hermione always did. Or maybe it just wasn’t as good of an essay as they thought.

Well, he supposed he would find out in a moment.

“Good morning, class.” While the students responded, Flitwick climbed onto his usual stack of books and beamed at them. “Well, you all did quite well on your essays. I was very impressed with one in particular.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry watched as Hermione straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin. Beside him, Neville was watching her too. Harry barely suppressed a snort.

“As you know, I give ten points to the best essay in class, however this time… I confess I think I am inclined to give a few more. Not since Lily Evans—ah, Lily Potter, I should say—have I witnessed such brilliant understanding of the theory behind intent magic.”

A few scattered students turned curious looks on Harry. He crossed his fingers under the table and waited, his heart thundering. Hermione straightened her shoulders a little more and Ron gave her a besotted grin. Neville smirked.

“I must say, this time the winning essay came as quite a surprise.” Flitwick bounced up and down, his excitement palpable.

Harry’s heart jumped. Oh! Was it possible? Had he really done it?

Beside him, Hermione’s brows drew together and her lips turned down. That was a good sign.

Flitwick continued, “The concepts discussed—it was quite a treat for this old man to see such profound understanding and innovation in what is, without a doubt, one of the most complex concepts in magical theory.” Flitwick gave Harry a beaming smile. “Well done, Mister Potter. Twenty points to Gryffindor, and I would like to speak to you later about your thoughts on will transference, ah, if you have time, that is.”

Every eye turned to Harry, mouths wide open with shock. Hermione had gone dull red. Inside, Harry was ecstatic. He really had done it! Gods, he could hardly believe it. Severus would be proud, and somehow that thought made him even happier than his own success had done.

“Really?” Harry grinned. “Brilliant. I’d love to talk to you about it, sir.”

“Good, good. Perhaps we can meet af—”

“B-but, Professor,” Hermione cut across him without bothering to raise her hand. The diminutive man gave her a displeased look but did not interrupt. “How can that be? I gave Harry my notes to study from, so shouldn’t mine have been the best?”

Flitwick’s eyebrows shot up. “Hmm. Well, you may have given him your notes, Miss Granger, but it’s fairly obvious Mister Potter chose not to use them. Your essays are as different as night and day.”

She blinked. “He… they are?”

“Yes. And next time do raise your hand.”

Harry raised his hand and waited to be called upon. “Sir, I wanted to do it on my own this time. I wasn’t sure if it would… well, I was a bit worried you’d prefer me just to stick to the books, but I feel like I’ve been leaning too hard on others for too long. So, pass or fail, I want to be graded on my own merits from now on. Especially since I can’t always depend on others to be there for me when the going gets tough.”

Ron and Hermione sank into their seats a bit.

Flitwick chuckled. “Is that so? Well, please continue to do so in the future, Mister Potter. This is the best work I have ever seen from you, indeed, the best I’ve seen in twenty years.”

Hermione flushed redder and ducked her head. Ron scowled at Harry and rubbed her back, muttering to her under his breath. Harry ignored them both.

“Now, with that done,” Flitwick went on, “I’d like to discuss some of what Harry pointed out in his essay with you today. I believe you all can learn from it.”

Hermione flinched and sank further into her seat.

Neville whispered in Harry’s ear, “Somehow, I don’t think I need Luna’s Feathersprites to know your friend is going to be laughing his arse off later.”

Even though he felt a bit guilty for it, Harry couldn’t help but grin.

 


 

Harry went by the tower after classes to pick up more clothing from his dorm and see if Isuri’s supplies had come yet. Seamus scowled at him and moved away as soon as he entered the common room. Most of the younger years gave him a wide berth, too.

As Neville hadn’t returned from the Greenhouses yet, Harry made a point to get in and out. He sure as hell didn’t want to be caught in the common room alone when Ginny came back. With a nod to the Creevey brothers, who were working over Colin’s photos nearby, Harry dashed up the stairs with every intention to throw some clothing in his rucksack and dart back out of the tower.

But the dorm wasn’t empty. Ron and Hermione were sitting on Ron’s bed, and Ron was scowling. Hermione had that manic look in her eyes Harry knew all too well. Apparently their Charms marks hadn’t sat well with her, especially so soon after Harry’s group had wiped the floor with her in Herbology.

Merlin, he didn’t want to deal with her in that kind of mood. He debated on whether he would just leave and try to come back tomorrow, but he really needed to check his post. And Isuri needed her food and supplies. And he could only do with laundering charms so many times before they started wearing on his clothes.

Maybe he should just send Dobby after his post and belongings, but gods. He shouldn’t be afraid to go into his own bedroom… should he?

Hermione crossed her arms over her chest and stuck out her chin. “I’m falling behind, Ron. We’ve got to revise more.”

More? I already gave you another hour, ‘Mione, and we were revising five hours a day before then. Merlin, I don’t want to spend all my time revising.”

“Well, I want to pass! I’m a Muggleborn, Ron, and a woman! Unless I get the top grades, I don’t have a chance in such a patriarchal, class-driven society. I have to do well, I have to!”

“But it’s two bloody assignments, Hermione. Two. It doesn’t really matter that much in the—oh.”

Harry grimaced. They’d seen him while he was wavering in indecision.

“Uh… I’m just here to check my post.” Face burning, he pretended he hadn’t heard anything and scurried to his desk. Ah, Isuri’s terrarium had come—shrunken in a neat little cube and covered in preservation charms—and it appeared her mice had come too. Good. There was a letter under the terrarium as well. Harry picked up the missive and had unrolled the parchment halfway before Hermione snapped.

“What did you do to get such a grade on the Charms essay, Harry?” Her voice crackled with fury and accusation. “Your… guest wrote it, didn’t he? You got tutoring from him while the rest of us have to struggle on alone!”

Harry whirled around and fixed her with a fierce glare. “You don’t think I could have possibly come up with such a concept on my own? Never mind that I’ve crafted a new spell this week—with my guest’s help, of course, but I came up with the solution to the problem—and the fact that my mother was an Unspeakable and Charms master. I suppose because I’m not a walking textbook, I can’t have an original idea in my head.”

Hermione hissed, “You’ve never done so well!”

Harry scowled, fury forcing out words he hadn’t meant to say. “Well, yes, because I spent the last six years choking down your notes.”

She gasped and blinked hard. “You… you don’t mean that….”

Ron rounded on him. “Oi! You take that back! Hermione’s brilliant.”

Harry took a deep breath and tried to speak rationally. It wasn’t easy with indignation and rage boiling in his blood.

“I never said she wasn’t intelligent,” he gritted out. Another deep breath took the sharpest edge from his tone. “You are smart, Hermione, but you’re too bloody rigid. You won’t think outside the box at all, and that’s why I scored higher than you today. And no, my guest didn’t help me. Well, he corrected one spelling, but you’ve done much more than that to my essays before, so I don’t want to hear you shouting about it.”

Hermione slapped her hand on the nightstand. “But that just can’t be! There’s no way you could have scored so well on your own!”

Harry’s eyes sparked and he advanced on them, hands curling into fists and chest tight with rage. “So that’s how it is, hmm?” His voice came out icy-cold. “You’ve always been top in everything except Defence—and of course since there’s a reason for that, you don’t need to feel challenged. I’m supposed to be the best at Defence, right? Defeated or escaped Riddle umpteen times, then there’s the prophecy and all that, so of course I’m the top student. But in academic classes? Apparently anyone who does better than you is a cheat.” He turned his back and grabbed his post, tears burning his eyelids and fury boiling in his gut. “You’re just hacked off because someone beat you for once.”

Ron shouted, “Oi! You shut up about her!”

Harry wheeled on him. “Naff off, Ron! You were just whinging about it too, so don’t tell me I can’t tell the bloody truth!” He flicked out a wrist, blind to everything but rage and the bitter pain of betrayal. “Accio Harry Potter’s clothing!”

A veritable storm of black, red, and grey extricated itself from Harry’s wardrobe and trunk and slapped into his chest.

Ron shouted, “You can’t just—”

Isuri hissed in irritation and poked her head out of his shirt, stopping Ron mid-rant.  ~Master, please do not strike me when I am hiding.~

Harry petted her head gently. ~Sorry, Isuri. I did not mean to hit you.~

“S-s-snake,” Ron gasped out. “Wh-why do you have a s-snake?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Because she’s my familiar. Why wouldn’t a Parselmouth have a snake?”

Ron grimaced and edged away. “You’re turning into a S-Slytherin!”

Harry fixed him with a sharp glare. “You know what? The few Slytherins I’ve been around the past week or so have all been treating me a hell of a lot better than either of you, so if I’ve gone snake, then so be it!”

He shrank the pile of his clothing with another flick and stuffed the lot into his pocket. He added his post atop that and stormed out, fuming and holding back tears. Hermione called his name, but he ignored her. It was one thing for her to be irritated that Harry beat her. He had prepared for that. But to act as though he couldn’t beat her without Severus hand-feeding him his essay—that he wasn’t intelligent enough to outscore her on his own? That stung.

And Ron! Maybe he was her boyfriend and had to fight her battles, but at the expense of his friendships? He was only enabling her flaws—and complaining about them in the same breath.

Gods, Harry had thought better of them, but they had let him down in spectacular fashion, and it hurt. A knife had buried itself in his chest and his breath came at the cost of blood. He held back tears by the merest thread and, blurred as his vision was, he didn’t see the redhead approaching him until her arm had linked through his.

“Harry! There you are. I’ve been lo—”

“Stop!” Harry was beyond delicacy at this point. He’d been careful with her for Ron’s sake, but Ron had just broken his heart, and he couldn’t take her violations anymore. “For gods’ sake, Ginny, stop fucking touching me!” He backed away and jerked a hand across his eyes to clear his vision. “Let me make this clear to you now since you seem to have gotten some strange ideas about me into your head: I am not interested! I do not want to be your boyfriend! I don’t even like you as a friend any longer, what with the way you’ve been treating me lately. For gods’ sakes, leave me the hell alone!”

Ginny stuck out her chin and stamped her foot. “You… you’re just confused. You keep pushing people away but—”

She reached for his hand, but Harry snarled and backed away. His magic crackled around him in a spectacular display of green and blue light. Such was the power of his fury, his hair stood on end, prickling his scalp and swaying with the currents of his magic.

“Get it through your head, Ginny. The answer is no! Not maybe later, not wait for me—it’s hell-fucking-NO!”

At such a display of danger, Ginny finally backed down and, tears on her lashes, darted for the girls’ dorm.

From a nearby corner, someone clapped. Harry looked up to see Neville watching him with a look of pride and solidarity. He must have come in while Harry was arguing with his former best friends.

“Bloody hell, but that was brilliant, Harry. And very, very overdue.”

But Neville stood alone. The rest of the house, excepting only Dean and the Creevey boys, stared at him as if he would cut them all to ribbons any second. Harry’s magic sank back into his skin and the prickling sensation melted away. Tears blurred the sight of thirty terrified faces, and he turned away, shoulders hunched and heart shattered. He had to get out of there.

The sound of footsteps on the boys’ dorm staircase decided him. Merlin help him, he couldn’t deal with Ron and Hermione right now. Heart bleeding with the betrayal of nearly his entire house, Harry turned tail and fled.

He heard footsteps behind him and cringed, fearful Ron had followed to exact retribution for scaring off his ‘innocent’ little sister, but a quick glance over his shoulder showed Neville following him at a sprint.

“Harry, wait up.”

Harry slowed until Neville could run beside him.

“I’m sorry,” Neville pleaded, panting. “I didn’t mean to hurt you by that, Harry. I just thought she’s had it coming for a long time.”

“I-it wasn’t you.” Harry darted into an alcove and tried to catch his breath. If not for the anguish in his chest and the sobs crowding his throat, he might have done. “They all looked at me like I’d killed her.”

“Idiots.”

“A-and Ron and Hermione—”

“Yeah, Dean and Colin are busy giving them what-for right now.”

Harry winced and dragged a hand across his eyes. “That’s not—I-I just want to get out of here, Nev.”

Neville nodded. “You need your other friend.”

Harry sniffled and hugged his chest. “W-why does he make me feel so much better? I… I don’t understand it.”

“I don’t reckon we need to. If he’s what you need, then let’s get you to him.” Neville wrapped an arm around Harry’s shoulders, and Harry leaned into the comfort, covering his face to hide the tears he couldn’t stop.

“Come on,” Neville murmured. “Let’s go before the gawkers come.”

“Yeah.” Harry wiped his face and let Neville lead him. “N-Nev? Thanks.”

“It’s what friends do.”

Harry closed his eyes around a sharp ache. Not all friends, apparently.

Chapter Text

Chapter 22

Standing Together

Severus had to admit, he was looking forward to Harry’s return after classes. The boy’s essay would floor Filius, he had no doubt about it. Granger was an intelligent girl—no one could deny that—but she hadn’t an original thought in her head. She devoured and memorised every text she could get her hands on, regurgitating the proper passages whenever the need arose, but to see beyond the words on the page, to take those written theories and conceive of something new, was beyond her. Granger had a talent for retaining knowledge, but Harry had the talent to create.

Merlin, that boy would be a brilliant wizard one day.

And gods, he wished he had seen it sooner. Gods forgive him, Severus had the feeling he had destroyed Harry’s potential in potions. An innovative mind like Harry’s should have done well, but he had never given Harry a chance, had he?

Severus laid his book aside and paced. He missed brewing, and as he had finally finished harvesting the basilisk and the foundation of his antivenin formula, he needed to begin his experiments anyway. A part of him wanted to test Harry too, to get an idea of his skill level in potions without the pressure of hatred weighing the boy down. He hadn’t seen Harry brewing any potions lately, so he had no other basis to go by.

Then again, Harry hadn’t any potions lessons at the moment and he had said he had fewer visions in the Chamber. Perhaps something about the magic on the room blocked them.

That was a frightening thought. Harry had at least one vision a night. If that was relief, dear gods, what was his normal?

No wonder the boy had looked so exhausted before.

“It’s nightmares, sir.”

More than nightmares. Severus shook his head and kicked at the floor, ashamed at the part he had played in Harry’s suffering.

“I will make amends… somehow.” He would start by improving his Dreamless Sleep formula for Harry. Perhaps sleep without nightmares would go some way towards healing the breach.

The outer door to the Chamber opened, and Severus moved back to his chair, all maudlin thoughts vanishing in anticipation of seeing Granger knocked down a peg. Merlin, but that girl had all but driven him mad these past six years. A know-it-all who didn’t know nearly as much as she thought was irritating. Especially when she never said anything wrong—just uninspired.

Well, perhaps he was expecting too much from a teenager. She might grow into the size of her brain, one day.

Severus’ smirk of anticipation dropped off his face as the door opened. Harry zoomed into the Chamber on his Firebolt, blinded by tears, and almost crashed into the statue.

“Harry!”

The boy pulled the broom up short just in time and let it down. “S-sorry.”

Severus ran to him and visually checked him for injuries. “Never mind that, are you all right?”

Harry sniffled and hugged his chest. “I… no. I’m really, really not.”

With a sad sigh, Severus took Harry’s wrist and led him to the sofa. “I am listening.”

Harry gave a wry laugh and a tearful smile. “Merlin, things really are backwards, aren’t they? You’re helping me and… well, you’re trying so hard. Yet my supposed friends….” He cut off his words and dropped his gaze.

A fierce surge of fury and protectiveness surprised Severus. It had been so long since he had experienced those feelings for anyone other than Draco or Daphne, and even then, the urge to shield had never been so strong. With a frown, he sat next to Harry, tentatively guiding the boy to rest against his shoulder.

“What happened?”

Harry sighed and leaned against Severus’ side. “Well, I went to the tower after class to check my post and see if Isuri’s things had come yet. They have—I have them with me and a letter too—but when I got to the dorm, Hermione and Ron were already there and in the middle of a blazing row….”

 


 

Severus listened to Harry’s story with apparent aplomb, though inside he was boiling. How could they have treated him so badly? And to suggest Severus had spoon-fed Harry his essay? Utterly ridiculous. The brats didn’t know Harry and Severus had reconciled beyond basic trust and acceptance. Granger must have been mad with jealousy to have dared to suggest such tripe.

And he had half a mind to see the Weasley girl expelled if she didn’t learn some proper boundaries. Perhaps another chat with Minerva was in order.

Harry moved back and wiped his face. “Sir, thank you for listening. I feel a lot better.”

Severus patted his shoulder. “Well enough to eat, perhaps? I am famished.”

Harry nodded. “Do you mind if I just check this letter first? I didn’t have a chance to read it earlier with all the chaos.”

“Not at all.”

Harry gave him a soft smile. “You’ve changed so much, sir. I’m… it makes me really happy.” He blushed. “Oh. I hope… I didn’t mean that in a bad way. I… um….”

“You did not offend me. Read your letter.”

“R-right. Sorry. I guess all this upset has made me really insecure about my friendships.”

Harry opened his parchment to read, leaving Severus silently reeling from his words. A friend. Harry considered him a friend. A close one, if he had come to Severus for support rather than leaning on a boy who had been like his brother for six years.

He didn’t understand how Harry could hold so much forgiveness and affection for a man who had been so cruel to him, but the thought that Harry valued him, that he wanted Severus’ friendship and feared losing it left Severus feeling brighter and warmer than he had in twenty-five years. Not since Lucius had begun systematically stripping every bit of joy from Severus’ life had he felt so… light.

Merlin. He had a friend.

Fear came crashing down on the tail end of his joy. Nearly every friend he had ever had, he had also lost. He had only Minerva and Albus left, and already he was much closer to Harry than Minerva. And he trusted Harry far more than Albus.

Gods, Severus had to take care to keep his new relationship with Harry healthy. He couldn’t endure losing him, too.

“Oh!” Harry stared at his letter with wide eyes. “Oh Merlin.”

Severus shook himself out of his thoughts. “What is it?”

“It’s… it’s from Madam Pomfrey. She says she’ll be thrilled to teach me potions—but this… Merlin. It looks like our dear headmaster has been meddling again, but this time it’s not bad. As soon as he told her that I rescued you and how I did it, she decided she wants to talk to me about becoming her apprentice.”

Severus’ heart thumped, bubbling with both pain and joy at once. He was happy Harry had found a possible niche, but miserable that his own folly had taken the boy out of his classes. Now he would never have the chance to correct his mistakes.

“Well done, Harry.”

Harry’s smile made Severus forget his grief. Maybe he had screwed up, but as long as Harry was happy, that was all that really mattered, wasn’t it?

Still, the thought that he would like a second chance would not leave him alone. He mused on the situation through dinner and, by the time Harry finished revising for the night, had made up his mind.

“Harry?”

Harry looked up from his charms homework and gave Severus a warm smile. “Hmm?”

“Do you believe my hatred of you affected your abilities in potions?”

Harry’s cheeks went red. “Um… a-are you sure this is a good subject? I-I don’t want you angry with me.”

“Just be honest. I am aware I have stunted your liking for the subject. I would like to know if you also felt you could not perform up to standard.”

Harry turned away and twisted his hands in his lap. “Well, um, I… it was awfully hard to concentrate when….”

Severus winced. “When every spare moment, I was tearing you to bits.”

“Y-yes, sir.”

Severus sighed and wrapped his arms around his chest. “I would like to… if you are amenable, I would like to assess your abilities again.”

Harry paled. “Sir, please! I… I don’t know if I can do it well enough and I don’t want you to hate me again. Please.”

Severus sat on the edge of Harry’s desk and stroked his hair. “Peace. I shall not hate you. Indeed, I think I cannot.”

Harry leaned into his touch and closed his eyes. “E-even if I explode the cauldron?”

Severus’ lips twitched. “Even then.” He wrapped his arms around his waist once more. “It does not sit well with me that I have harmed your skill and appreciation in my field. And so, I wish to know how you do when I am not breathing vitriol down your neck.”

Harry stared at his desk and chewed on his lip. “You… you won’t attack me?”

“No. I have hurt you too much as is.”

Harry sighed and gave a hesitant nod. “I’ll get Dobby and Winky to help set up your lab.”

Severus bowed in thanks and gave Harry’s shoulder a brief pat. “I will prepare a space while you retrieve them.”

Harry nodded. “Just don’t expect much.”

“Hmm. I believe this time I will go into the experiment with no preconceived notions at all. Is that acceptable?”

Harry gave him a shy smile. “Yeah. Sounds good.”

 


 

Harry stood in front of Severus’ temporary lab table, heart racing and cold sweat pooling at the base of his spine. Gods, what was he thinking, trying to make a suitable potion for Severus? They would be enemies again in five minutes, if it took that long.

His breath hitched. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t lose Se—

A gentle hand settled on his shoulder.

“Harry, breathe. If you are truly so terrified, I will not force you.”

But the sorrow in Severus’ tone, the remorse, made Harry want to try, if only to take the pain from his friend’s voice.

“I… I’ll try. I’m just scared.”

Severus stroked Harry’s hair, and the soft, tender gesture made Harry’s fear evaporate in spite of his better judgment. Merlin, Severus’ touch soothed him like nothing else. He wanted to curl up against the man’s chest and soak up his affection. He wouldn’t, of course—it would only terrify his touch-phobic friend—but startling as it was, he wanted to.

And he wanted to prove himself to Severus. He just wasn’t sure he could hope to measure up.

Still, if he never tried, he would never know.

He firmed his resolve. Severus had said he wouldn’t hate him, even if Harry botched his efforts entirely. Perhaps it was time to trust him at his word and believe Severus truly had left the shadow of his former self behind.

“All right. What am I making then, sir?”

“Hmm.” Severus moved to stand beside Harry and flicked his wand several times without saying a word. Various ingredients floated from his nearby storage cabinet to land on the table. Harry noted the presence of burdock, feverfew, devil’s claw, and billywig stingers and gulped.

“Tell me, Harry, what potion are you going to brew?”

Harry coughed. Shite. Severus knew he’d been brewing his own potions. Well, it wasn’t like he had had a choice. It was either brew potions for his vision aftercare himself or suffer permanent nerve damage from repeated exposure and lack of treatment. Poppy would never allow him out of the Infirmary if she knew he was suffering under the Cruciatus curse every night.

“Er, Anti-Cruciatus Draught, sir?”

“Indeed. And would you like to tell me why you recognise it?”

Heat flushed Harry’s face. “B-been brewing it since fifth year. I had to.”

Severus rubbed Harry’s shoulder. “Peace. You are not in trouble. I only wanted you to tell me.”

Harry scowled at the ingredients. “Dumbledore told you, didn’t he?”

Headmaster Dumbledore, Harry.”

“Bah! That meddling old coot infuriates me.”

Severus snorted. “And I do not?”

“Not anymore!”

Severus moved to the side, and Harry gave an inward cheer at the sight of a half-smile on his face. That was progress.

“Now, show me what you can do,” Severus said, and Harry set to work.

Everything went well until it came time to add the billywig stingers. Then, as Harry went to chop them, he caught something out of place.

“Sir, why is this one purple?”

Severus’ breath caught. He moved to Harry’s side and carefully knocked his hand out of the way.

“Shite! That is not a billywig stinger—that is the spine of a death flower. Sweet Merlin, do not touch them. This entire sample has been contaminated.”

He flicked his wand and Vanished the contents with the same spell he had used on the basilisk venom. The containment field around the stingers turned dark purple before they disappeared, along with the phial and cutting board.

Harry’s heart slammed into his ribs. “Oh gods. Would that have—”

“Put your potion in stasis before it burns, Harry.”

Harry obeyed with a gulp. “Sir, that spine…?”

Severus gave him a grim nod. “It is quite as lethal as you imagine. Thank Merlin you saw it before you touched the stingers.” He shuddered. “Your seeker’s eyes have saved both of our lives. I am not sure I would have caught it in time.”

“Dear gods.” Harry swayed and Severus caught him. “I-it was Riddle, wasn’t it? Another attempt on your life?”

“Apparently so. I shall have to take great care in the future.” Severus sounded as shaken as Harry, but he pulled himself together. “If not for the fact that I am out of Anti-Cruciatus Draught and you have already had several visions this week, I would suggest we leave this where it is and continue when we are calmer, but it cannot wait. Are you able to continue or would you prefer me to take over at this point?”

If Harry’s seeker eyes had just saved Severus’ life, there was no way in hell he would let the man finish this potion. Not until they verified all of Severus’ remaining ingredients were safe.

“I’ll do it. Do you have more—”

In reply, Severus flicked his wand and sent a fresh bottle of stingers to Harry’s side. He turned out the entire jar onto a new cutting board and investigated the contents, then waited for Severus to do the same before he would touch them.

“Those are safe,” Severus assured him.

With a deep breath, Harry chopped the required amount of stingers and replaced the rest, removed his potion from stasis, and relit the flame. Once he had brought it to the right stage again, he levitated in the billywig stingers one at a time, watching the potion change colours. When it reached acid green, he stirred seven times anticlockwise, ten times clockwise, and tapped the cauldron three times to rid it of air pockets. The potion turned a bright lemon yellow.

Merlin, he hoped they were supposed to be that colour.

“Um… I think I’m finished, sir.”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “You think?”

“Er, no. I know. I’m just not sure how I did.”

“Well, you did not cause your cauldron to explode, which is more than I can say for most sixth year students attempting such a complex brew.”

At the anguished tone of Severus’ voice, Harry looked up to find the man staring at his potion, eyes tormented and his mouth turned down in more of a frown than a scowl.

“I ruined you,” Severus muttered.

Harry cautiously reached for the man’s hand, but paused at the memory of Ginny doing the same when he didn’t want to be touched. “Sir, can I?”

Severus stared at Harry’s outstretched hand. “Why do you want to? How can you forgive me? It is clear from this potion, had I not treated you so badly, you would have excelled. Will excel, under another instructor.”

Harry turned his palm up, offering his hand. “I just do.”

Severus sighed and took Harry’s hand in his own. “I am sorry, Harry.”

“I know. It’s okay.”

“It is not! I have destroyed your abilities—and this suggests you have as much of natural talent in the subject as Lily did. I… this is not okay.”

Eyes on his friend’s face, Harry carefully rubbed his thumb across Severus’ knuckles. “I… if it really hurts you so much, maybe you could help Madam Pomfrey teach me? I imagine she won’t have time some days and… well, I’d like to learn from you too, if you really want to make up for the past.”

Severus held Harry’s hand against his side and stared into the cauldron, grief warring with hope.

“It’s really okay, sir. We can just start over now. Clean slate.”

Severus sighed and squeezed Harry’s hand. “Yes. I would like that, but perhaps it is best to leave your marks in the hands of Madam Pomfrey. I fear I am too close to you to judge fairly.”

Harry gave Severus a radiant smile. “Brilliant.” He stared at the phial of billywig stingers and shuddered. “But, um, maybe tonight we could spend time going through your ingredients storage and make sure everything is safe first?”

Severus nodded. “Yes. I would appreciate your assistance. Do take great care not to touch anything until you are certain it is not contaminated.”

“Yes, sir.”

 


 

Harry had just climbed into bed, exhausted after a long night of sorting through Severus’ potions cupboard, when a bolt of white-hot pain shot down his scar and dropped him onto the pillow with a cry.

 

Irritation and impotent fury made Harry’s unusually-sibilant voice sharp. “Over three daysss have passsed and you ssstill have no information?”

Before him, a man with cold grey eyes and silver-blonde hair scowled. “Draco has not seen him since the day he discovered the poison at breakfast, my lord, but neither has Dumbledore announced his death.”

“How… disappointing.”

“My lord, I—”

“Crucio!”

Malfoy dropped like a stone, and Harry paced slowly along the length of his twitching frame, holding the curse steady as he talked to himself in hissing tones. “I have poisoned his ingredientsss, his cloak, and his food, cut open his chessst, and sssent Nagini and Peter to kill him, yet he lives. Perhapsss he has not compromised his position after all. It ssseems the old man is keen to protect him, at any rate.”

Harry scowled at Malfoy and released the curse. “Get out of my sssight.”

Malfoy staggered to his feet and limped towards the door, panting and twitching.

“Oh, and Luciusss? Do not disappoint me again. My pet ssservant mussst be quite uncomfortable in his current box, but I believe I can arrange one sssuitable to hold you ssshould the need arise.”

Malfoy grimaced. “Y-yes, my lord.”

The door closed, and Malfoy was gone.

“Well, well, well, Ssseverusss,” Harry muttered to himself. “Always one ssstep ahead. As a good ssspy ssshould be. Perhapsss I might have ussse for you yet.”

 

Severus’ voice broke Harry out of the vision with a jolt. Harry gasped and bolted up, nearly banging his head against Severus’. The man released Harry’s shoulders and sat beside him, rubbing a gentle hand along his back.

Accio Anti-Cruciatus Draught and Headache Reliever.” Two potions, one blue, one yellow, soared into Severus’ hands. He handed Harry the blue first, and Harry swallowed it with a sigh of gratitude. The sickening pain in his skull eased enough to keep down the next potion too, and Harry finished both off with a conjured glass of water.

Severus nudged Harry to rest against his shoulder. “How bad was it?”

“He wasn’t murdering people.” Harry gasped. “Oh shite. Sir, you need to test all your cloaks for poison too.”

“My cloaks? Why do you say that?” Severus’ eyes narrowed. “He was speaking of me?”

“Yes. He said he poisoned one of them.”

Severus went ashen and shuddered. “Dear gods. It could only be my winter cloak. It is still in my quarters. I have not yet worn it since the first attack, but I had planned to gather ingredients in the forest tomorrow night. I could not do so with the students present—and now I suppose I cannot at all.”

“You can borrow my cloak, sir. It’s a bit short, but you can transfigure it, I think.”

“Oh. I… t-that will do. I… if you’re sure?”

“Why would I care? It’s a cloak, sir. The only thing is—well, now that I think about it, maybe you can ask to borrow Dumbledore’s instead. He’s closer to your size for one thing, and I don’t want to leave you alone right now for the other.” Harry lowered his head. “Unless you’d rather go without me.”

“I think, given the circumstances, I should not go alone.” Severus leaned on his knees and laid his head in his hands, shaking so hard the vibrations passed to Harry.

Gods, Harry had never seen him so terrified.

Harry touched Severus’ wrist, a light brush in case he recoiled, but it seemed Severus needed the comfort. He slipped his hand in Harry’s and leaned close, trembling and cold.

“Harry, what am I to do?” Severus’ voice came out soft and unsteady. “I cannot test everything I come in contact with. If he is so determined to kill me, he will succeed eventually. Sooner rather than later, I fear.”

Harry watched Severus’ face for signs of alarm and stroked his knuckles softly. Severus shivered, but did not let go.

“Sir, I think you’re going to be okay.”

“How can you think—?”

“Easy, sir. It’s all right. He thinks the headmaster is protecting you. And because of that, he also thinks you’re still valuable. I’m pretty sure he’s going to stop attacking you from here on out, but it’d probably be best to keep checking everything you can for a while, just in case.”

Severus let slip a shaky sigh. “He… what did he say exactly?”

Harry grimaced. “Well, I could just let you see it, but… well, um….”

“What?”

“M-Malfoy was in it, and I don’t want you to be hurt again.”

Severus stilled. “Why would Malfoy’s presence hurt me?” But Harry heard his hidden thoughts. [No, gods! Tell me he doesn’t know!] His sudden fear choked Harry, jangling in his belly and setting his heart racing.

Harry swallowed hard and forced his voice to work. “Um… I d-don’t know exactly. You just didn’t react well the last time I had a vision of Malfoy and I don’t want to hurt you, sir.” He stared at their still-joined hands and tried not to move. “I… I can try to remember it if you’d rather not see it. I’m just not sure I’ll get all the details.”

Severus sighed and let go of Harry’s hand, wrapping his arms around his chest. “No, I will view it. Look into my eyes and focus on your memory of the vision.”

Harry obeyed and let Severus into his mind. He shivered at the sense of his friend’s presence and held his wrist, needing the ballast to stay calm. Severus lowered his arm to allow the contact, and Harry let his memory play.

Afterwards, Severus gave a bitter laugh. “Well, Lucius got a bit of comeuppance at least. And I must….” He held Harry’s shoulder and summoned his Patronus. “Calla, please tell Albus that Lucius is planning to break Pettigrew out of custody. Most likely through bribery, but he may use physical means, if his attempts fail. And, if possible, I will need to borrow or purchase a new winter cloak. It appears the Dark Lord has poisoned mine and the first crop of ice roses will be ready by tomorrow night. Off with you now.”

The doe bowed and bounded away.

“Now that’s done….” Severus turned back to Harry and motioned to his bed. “We are going to work on shielding your mind right now in hopes you might avoid whatever backlash the Dark Lord has planned tonight.”

Harry obeyed and gave him a soft smile. “Thank you, sir, for helping me.”

Severus gave his small half-smile back. “I… yes. I will do from now on.” He took a deep breath and stroked Harry’s hair. “I want you to focus on the sensation of my hand. Nothing else—simply my touch. Block out all other thoughts, all other sensations. Let nothing distract you from this.”

Harry hesitated. He needed Severus’ touch, but feared hurting him.

“Sir, it’s not… you’re sure it’s okay? You’re not afraid?”

Severus’ hand stilled on Harry’s curls. “Not of you, little one. Focus on my touch now, and let it guide you to a place of safety.”

“Yeah.” Harry turned into his hand with a sigh. “Safe….” He closed his eyes and let Severus’ soothing, calming caress clear the dredges of pain and fear from his mind.

For the first time in a long time, Harry had pleasant dreams.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

25 December

Harry woke with a yawn and stretched. A quick check of the clock above his bed startled him. Four AM? Why on earth he had woken so early? It was the hols.

He yawned and lay back down, then his brain kicked on. It was Christmas!

Harry grinned and sat up, ruffling his messy hair. He wouldn’t have any presents at the foot of his bed like every other year—neither Hedwig nor the elves could get into the Chamber—but… wait a minute. There were presents! And a tree! Sitting in the corner by Severus’ conjured hearth and their sitting area.

He whispered, “How on earth…?”

A hissing chuckle from the foot of his bed brought Harry’s head around. ~Isuri, why are there gifts and a tree here?~

She slithered up Harry’s arm and coiled around his neck. ~Questions later, master. I am tired.~

~Isuri! Please tell me. If someone can enter our nest despite the magic, I need to know.~

~No. The nest is safe. Your friend with big ears saw me while I was hunting two days ago and asked me to let him in last night, as he had gifts for my master and his nest mate.~

Relief washed over him. ~Dobby?~

~Yes, master. May I sleep now?~

A surge of affection filled his heart, and Harry petted the snake’s back with a smile. ~Yes, you have earned a nice rest. Thank you, girl.~

~You are welcome, master.~

She laid her head on Harry’s shoulder, and in a moment, was fast asleep. He wondered sometimes how she managed to sleep on him when he moved, but she never seemed to have trouble. Well, she was a rainforest snake. Maybe she was used to swaying trees and vines and the like.

With a giant grin, Harry clambered out of bed and made his way towards the tree, but the sight of his sleeping friend just beyond their screen stopped him. Severus’ hair was in his face again and he was trembling. His hand clenched and unclenched on the pillow. Was he having a nightmare? And how would Harry help if he was? Should he wake the man?

Well, maybe just moving his hair would help. Severus might have been scared simply because it was hard to breathe.

Carefully, Harry brushed the man’s hair out of his face and tucked it behind his ear. Severus sighed and turned into his touch slightly, and Harry’s heart jumped. A soft, sweet feeling flooded his chest. He would have liked to caress Severus’ hair and soothe his dreams that way, but no. Severus apparently feared touch much less while he slept, but to take advantage of him while he couldn’t consent would be unforgiveable.

Harry stepped back for fear of temptation and watched Severus sleep from the edge of the screen. He seemed comfortable now, his face soft and relaxed in repose.

The sight triggered a memory of the first time Harry had seen his sleeping face—on a manikin in the Room of Requirement while he trained to save the man’s life. Then, the change in his features had shocked Harry. Now, he had grown accustomed to seeing this softer guise, open and warm, a sign of the gentle heart Harry hadn’t believed Severus possessed once.

Gods, so much had changed since then. The past three weeks had brought him closer to Severus than he would have imagined possible on that fateful night in the Room.

The morning after they had organised Severus’ potions cupboard, the students had gone home for term. Of the Gryffindors, Harry had only said goodbye to Dean, Neville, and the Creeveys—who, while they ran in their own circles, had never been unkind to Harry. Hermione had approached like she wanted to apologise—or nag him again—but Harry’s dark glare had sent her packing. Of course, he said goodbye to Luna too. And, in hopes of developing new friendships—and gaining some ears in Slytherin house—he had also bid Zabini, Bulstrode, and Greengrass farewell.

 

“Call me Blaise,” the boy offered in return. His expression darkened. “I’m not so fond of my last name, you see.”

Harry snorted. “Really? What a coincidence. I don’t much like mine either.”

Zab—Blaise gave him a surprised look. “You don’t like Potter?”

“Nope.”

When Harry didn’t elaborate, Blaise shrugged and offered him a hand. “Harry, then.”

Harry shook his hand. “See you after the hols, Blaise.”

Blaise nodded and went his own way.

 

Greengrass and Bulstrode had also asked Harry to use their first names, and Harry offered his in turn. Astoria—Daphne’s younger sister and Luna’s dormmate—had offered her name and a tentative alliance, as had a few of the younger Slytherins. Harry had even caught Malfoy once looking at him like he wanted to approach, but as soon as he noticed Harry watching him, the boy scowled and turned his back.

Interesting. Maybe the boy did have some secrets.

All in all, it was a good start making inroads into the snakes’ territory. Harry knew he could trust Daphne anyway. Her thoughts and motives, as well as Severus’ advice, had made that clear enough.

Before the girl left to head to the station, he had pulled her aside and set up a silencing charm.

 

“Daphne, can I trust you with something that’s life or death?”

The girl raised an eyebrow. “Why me, Harry? Why not Neville?”

“Neville already knows, but I need help in Slytherin too, and you’re the one Slytherin I know for sure I can trust with something so dangerous.”

Daphne frowned. “All right. I guess you want me to keep the Death Eaters away?”

Harry gave a low chuckle. “Good luck with that. Somehow they always manage to find me at least once a year, no matter how ‘protected’ I am.” He shook his head. “Not away from me, actually. You’ll only make yourself a target. I want you to keep an eye on them for Snape.”

Daphne’s eyes boggled. “Snape! Mother of Merlin! W-why would you—he loathes you, in case you haven’t noticed!”

Harry closed his eyes. “And this is where I need to be able to trust you. This is life or death, Daphne—his life and mine. Will you promise not to mention anything I’m about to tell you to anyone who doesn’t already know? Right now, that’s me, Professor Snape and a handful of the other teachers, Neville, Dean, Luna, and the headmaster.”

Daphne stared at him, bemused, but after a moment, gave him her vow. Harry sighed in sheer relief. It would be all right now, he hoped.

“Thank Merlin.”

 

Harry had proceeded to give her a brief rundown of events concerning Severus and asked her to watch over the man as best as she could. Daphne agreed, and he had watched from the shadows as Daphne went to leave. She made eye contact with Severus, held his gaze briefly, and gave him a slight nod. The wave of relief Severus felt at her forgiveness and understanding had rocked Harry to his core.

Yes, it seemed Harry was definitely an Empath.

Once the students had gone, Harry went to Madam Pomfrey about his apprenticeship.

 

“Ma’am, Professor Dumbledore told you I saved Professor Snape’s life, right?”

Pomfrey gave him a warm smile. “He did, and Merlin, Harry, I am so proud of you. Well done, child. Well done.”

Harry’s breath hitched and warmth flooded his heart. Proud. Gods, he’d hardly ever heard it.

“T-thank you, ma’am.”

“Not at all.” She straightened her wimple and assumed her usual stern demeanour. “Now, Albus told me you healed Severus of a Sectumsempra curse straight to the heart, as well as numerous less dire injuries.”

Harry flushed and rubbed his toe in the floor. “Well, Luna helped.”

“Yes, so I heard, but Albus seems to think you handled the brunt of the healing magic.”

Harry glared at the floor. How would Dumbledore had known that unless the manipulative old codger had stood there and watched while Harry struggled to save Severus? The bastard had risked Severus’ life just to see who had more healing power.

“That barmy, lemon-headed berk,” he muttered.

Pomfrey snorted in spite of herself and lifted a hand to her mouth. “Now, now, Mister Potter. If you are to be my apprentice, you must conduct yourself in a professional manner at all times while under my direction… even if you might have a point about the headmaster.”

Harry laughed and gave Pomfrey a bright smile. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Now then, are you interested in becoming my apprentice?”

“If you’re really sure I’m up to the task, ma’am, I think I’d like that.”

“Excellent! We’ll have a little test of your skills later. First, I think I’d like to get you started on the potions lessons you’ve missed.”

Harry blinked. “Over the hols?”

“Is there a problem, Mister Potter?”

He gave her a wry smile. “No, ma’am. I suppose I am rather behind.”

“Yes, and you’ll be ahead by the time the others return.” She gave him a smirk. “We’ll show Severus what you can do behind a cauldron when he’s not breathing down your neck, hmm?”

Harry gave a nervous laugh and cast a silencing charm. “H-he kind of already had me brew Anti-Cruciatus Draught. And he was really miserable with remorse afterwards, so let’s not pick at him unless we have an audience and can’t avoid it, okay? Please? He’s really been good to me as of late and I don’t want to hurt him.”

Pomfrey gave him a warm smile. “Now that I’m glad to hear. Well, come then, and we’ll just do him proud instead.”

Harry beamed and cancelled his charm. “Sounds good!”

 

Since then, Harry had divided his time between combat training, potions and apprentice lessons, working on the light tracing spell matrix with Severus, and Occlumency. Mostly Occlumency, to be honest. Merlin, he just couldn’t get it. Severus was frustrated with Harry’s lack of progress, but instead of lashing out, he had simply wondered aloud what he was doing wrong.

 

“I don’t reckon you’re doing anything wrong this time, sir,” Harry said, nerves taut with the fear Severus might revert to his old ways if Harry couldn’t get the hang of this soon. “I… I mean, we all have subjects we’re bad at, right? Maybe mind magic is just the one I’m going to have trouble with.”

And maybe it had something to do with his Empathic abilities. Luna was having as much trouble as Harry, but Neville and Dean had grasped the concepts within a few days. Maybe Harry would let them take over their extra mind magic lessons come January. Well, the Occlumency side anyway.

The only way to test each other’s progress in Occlumency was to cast Legilimens on one another. And before the end of their first lesson, Harry had discovered an inborn talent for Legilimency. Luna was good at Legilimency too, but she said her spirits helped her, and even with that, she couldn’t match Harry. His skills in the doctrine grew so quickly, that by the third lesson, he didn’t even need the spell.

Not even Severus had that kind of power. The knowledge made Harry uneasy and hesitant to reveal the truth of his skills to Severus. Somehow, he knew the man wouldn’t take it well. At least, not yet. Harry hoped, one day, their bond would be strong enough to bear the blow. He hoped that, by then, he wouldn’t have held the truth back too long for Severus to forgive him, too.

“I’m sorry, sir. I really am trying.”

“I know you are.” Severus’ shoulders slumped in defeat and weariness. “I do not understand why you are having such trouble.”

Harry gave Severus a hesitant smile and decided to take a risk in hopes of easing Severus’ worries. He trusted his friend not to prod for the information he didn’t want to reveal. Merlin, he hoped he was right to.

In true Gryffindor style, he dove in and hoped Severus wouldn’t be upset.

“I-I think I might be doing better than you realise, sir.” Harry swallowed hard and clenched his hands into fists to hide their shaking. “I’m actually keeping a lot of things secret that I don’t want anyone to see, and you haven’t seen them so far. So maybe I’m not able to hide everything yet, but I am able to block some things.”

Severus gave him a curious look. “Will you tell me what you are hiding?”

Harry shuddered. “Please, please don’t ask me. I… I c-can’t tell anyone. It’s too awful.” And it would cost him one of his dearest friends.

Severus held Harry’s shoulder and nodded, though Harry felt his grief and remorse and hated himself for causing it. “Do you believe you might trust me enough, one day?”

Harry gave Severus a sad smile. “It’s not that, sir. I do trust you. It’s just that it’s… hard to talk about.”

And dangerous.

“Very well. But if you do choose to confide in me, I promise you, I will listen without judgment.” Pain filled Severus’ eyes and filtered into Harry’s chest, the professor’s remorse cold and heavy as lead in Harry’s gut. “I… I have failed you in the past, hurt you so much… I wish only to help you from now on.”

Harry rubbed Severus’ wrist, keeping his caresses light even on the one place Severus didn’t mind a friendly touch. “You’re not hurting me now. You’re my… well, you’re really good to me.”

He wasn’t sure Severus was ready to hear the word ‘friend’, even if the man had quickly become his closest companion. He didn’t understand where this bond had come from, given their history, but a bond existed, and Harry couldn’t bear the thought of losing it. And pushing such a wary man too far, too fast, would most likely break their friendship beyond repair. Severus would cut Harry out of his life to protect himself.

Harry had to be gentle with Severus’ damaged heart. As long as the man kept letting him in, even if only a bit at a time, he didn’t mind.

“Come on, sir,” he said into a heavy silence. “Let’s give it another go. This time, see if you can tell I’m hiding something—but please don’t push. Not there. I don’t mind if you see my other secrets, but these… please don’t.”

Severus bowed his head. “You have my word.” He lifted his wand and gave Harry his tiny smile. “Legilimens!”

 

Severus had kept his word and didn’t pry, and thank Merlin for that. If he ever caught a hint of Harry’s dreams, the man would kill him. Certainly, their friendship would shrivel to dust.

Well, Severus was making progress on an improved Dreamless Sleep formula for Harry. Maybe soon, it wouldn’t be an issue any longer.

With a shake of his head, Harry went to use the loo and shower before breakfast. Merlin, he had to get his head out of the clouds. Severus would wake soon, and Harry wanted everything ready for him when he did. He doubted the man had ever had a proper Christmas, and this time, he was going to offer Severus just that.

 


 

Severus woke to the sound of the Chamber door closing. Harry came in carrying a basket and gave Severus a warm smile.

“Happy Christmas, sir. The loo’s all yours if you’d like to wash while I set up breakfast and tidy a bit.”

Severus caught a glint of some ulterior motive in Harry’s eyes, but as it was Christmas, he decided to give the boy the benefit of the doubt and take his advice. Most likely, Harry simply wanted to surprise him with a gift. With that in mind, Severus pretended he hadn’t noticed and simply headed towards the loo.

When he emerged a half hour later, still working the water from his hair, Harry had set out breakfast and hidden their beds behind a new screen. Severus tested the screen with his palm, detecting the trace of magic.

“Um, the headmaster conjured that for me,” said Harry with a faint blush. “I’m not good enough to make something that detailed yet.”

Severus nodded and joined Harry at the table spread with a full English and cinnamon muffins. “Merlin! The elves certainly outdid themselves today.”

Harry blushed brighter. “A-actually, sir, it wasn’t the elves.”

Severus frowned. “Who then?”

“Um… w-will you still eat if I said it was me?”

Severus looked at the table and back up to Harry’s face. “You did this? How early did you wake up, exactly?”

“I-it’s Christmas! I always wake up early.” Harry stared at his feet, red to his ears and shaking. “Might we just eat before it gets cold?” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I can ask Dobby to bring something if it’s no good.”

Severus held Harry’s gaze. The boy had some dark secret about food. He was sure of it. Yet Harry couldn’t speak of it, and Severus didn’t want to push him. Especially not on a holiday that obviously had immense value to Harry.

With a small smile, Severus sat beside his companion and started filling his plate. “Thank you.” It had become easier to say as of late.

Harry gave him a nervous grin and made a plate for himself. He waited for Severus to start, so Severus took a bite of his eggs—done perfectly, and the taste… dear Merlin! With a little gasp of surprise and pleasure, he tried a bite of the muffin—and nearly melted on the spot. Sweet Circe, the rich, buttery-cinnamon taste left him salivating.

“Delicious,” he said, and set into his food with a relish.

Harry relaxed and started in on his own breakfast, beaming from ear to ear.

Severus was almost too busy stuffing his face to notice. Merlin, where on earth had Harry learned to cook like this? He had even put the house elves to shame.

As he finished the muffin and sipped some tea to clear his palate, his simple delight in good food gave way to guilt. “And here is more evidence of your brewing skills.” A heavy sigh crossed his lips. “I should have seen it sooner.”

Harry choked. “S-sir, there aren’t any potions in the food.”

Severus took one look at Harry’s startled expression and gave a stifled snort, holding back laughter by the merest thread. “You dunderhead.” His smile and his tone left no doubt he meant it as a gentle jibe and not the ruthless cruelty he had shown in the past. “I simply meant that you are an excellent cook. As the disciplines are closely intertwined, it follows that someone with skill in the kitchen will also have skill with a cauldron.”

Harry wiped his mouth and cocked his head, a curious expression on his face. “Does that mean you’re good at cooking too, sir?”

Heat flushed Severus’ face. “Ah, well, I have never had anyone to sample it, but I have yet to set the kitchen ablaze.”

Harry chuckled. “Really? Well, if you want someone to eat your food, I’ll happily volunteer.”

Severus smirked. “You simply want a free meal.”

“I’ll do your dishes.”

“We have spells for that.”

“Fine, I’ll clean your cauldrons.”

Severus neglected to tell Harry there were also spells for that, but by the scandalised look Harry gave him, he gathered the boy had worked it out for himself regardless. Merlin help him. Harry was growing too astute for his own good.

Severus gave the boy a wry smile. “I will make you a deal: don’t make me rescue you from Dark Lords or Death Eaters, and I won’t make you clean my cauldrons.”

“Hmm,” Harry said with a narrow-eyed smirk. “Considering I’ve plenty of interest built up by those parameters, how about a free meal from time to time?”

Severus gave a low chuckle. “I was merely teasing you, Harry. If you would like me to cook for you, perhaps I will sometime, when it is safe. I should like to know what others think of my skills, though I fear I will not measure up to this standard.”

Harry grinned, and Severus found himself proud to have made him happy.

Merlin, how the world had changed.

“Well, I’m better with breakfast than dinner,” said Harry, “so we might be able to teach each other something.” Something dark and painful crossed his face, but the boy pushed it aside the next instant. “Um, sir? I wanted to make sure it’s okay with you, but I thought we could ask Professor McGonagall, Professor Flitwick, and the Headmaster to come for presents, if you want.” A pink blush coloured his cheeks. “Thought it would make it feel more like a holiday.”

Severus’ breath caught at Harry’s forethought and consideration of his wishes, but he hid it with a gruff nod. “That is acceptable.”

“Great!”

Harry was off like a shot, his breakfast half-finished. Severus shook his head and laughed under his breath. The boy acted as though it was his first Christmas.

 


 

It wasn’t Harry’s first Christmas, but it was close enough. He’d never had anyone but Ron and Hermione to celebrate with until last year, so having his professors over made it feel more like he had a real family.

He might have invited Remus, but Severus and Remus had a lot of bad blood—for good reason—and Harry didn’t trust him with his secrets anyway. Remus had failed to defend Severus too many times in the past to believe he would protect him now. Not to mention the man had fallen off the earth since the DoM. Harry didn’t know if Remus blamed him for Sirius’ death or if he didn’t want to face up to his own failures, but either way, the respect Harry had once held for the man had dimmed to a low hum of disappointment.

He nudged Remus’ gift to him with his foot, debating on sending it back unopened for spite, but shook his head at his own folly. The man might have sent him something useful, and Harry didn’t want to be petty. Even so, he wouldn’t build up his hopes. Remus had let him down. Seemed to be the trendy thing these days.

“Oh, Severus, happy Christmas!”

Professor Flitwick’s jovial greeting brought Harry out of his dark thoughts, and he put his musing aside for another time. Remus or no Remus, today would be a good day for all of them—he would make damn sure of it.

 The professors all greeted Harry and Severus and settled around the fire, each bearing bundles for everyone in attendance. Harry gave Flitwick and McGonagall a brief hug, nodded to Dumbledore, and settled onto the sofa beside Severus.

“Merlin, I am so very glad to see you boys getting along,” McGonagall said with a smile.

Severus shot her a dark look. “I am not a boy.”

“You’re always going to be a boy to me, Severus,” said McGonagall, lips twitching. “Even when you’re eighty.”

Severus groaned. “Merlin, spare me.”

Harry laughed softly. “You’ll live.”

“Humph!”

Dumbledore chuckled and sat beside McGonagall. “I am glad to see my boys getting along as well.”

That earned him a glare from Severus and Harry.

Dumbledore looked a bit put out. McGonagall and Flitwick laughed.

“Severus,” said McGonagall, “I haven’t heard from you in some days. How is your work on the antivenin progressing?”

Severus shook his head. “Poorly. I cannot find a neutralising agent strong enough to counter such powerful venom. Even phoenix tears are not potent enough in their stored form, and I cannot simply stuff Fawkes into a phial.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “No, I think my feathered friend would not like that.”

Severus snorted. “He would simply regenerate and destroy all my phials in the process. But short of using the fresh tears of a phoenix, which is not a reliable cure, I can find no other remedy that works.” He shook his head. “Even so, I will not give up. There must be something to combat it. Some unusual combination of brews, or some exotic ingredient I have not thought to try.”

Harry patted his wrist. “You’ll find the way, Severus. I have faith in you.”

A rush of powerful emotion from Severus filled Harry with joy.

Flitwick gave Harry a bright smile. “Harry, your forgiveness and loyalty does encourage me so. As long as there is love such as this in the world, Riddle doesn’t stand a chance.”

Harry smiled. “I really hope so, sir.”

Dumbledore closed his eyes and sighed. “If only it were that simple.”

McGonagall nodded, her eyes dark with worry. “Nothing ever is.” She shook herself and gave the boys a stern glare. “Come now. I shall hear of no more talk of wars or megalomaniacs. It’s Christmas! We’re here to celebrate.”

“Quite right,” said an excitable Flitwick, bouncing in his chair. “And to that, end, let’s open our presents. I’ve one here for Harry.”

Harry took the heavy box from Flitwick with a grin. “Since you’re my professor, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is probably a book.”

Flitwick giggled. “Well, open it and see!”

Harry chuckled and pulled back the paper. As expected, it was a book. “Experimental Charms by Gideon Lockhart.” Harry gave Flitwick a wry look. “Tell me he’s not like the nutter we had in second year.”

Flitwick snorted. “No, no, not at all. He is quite the genius with testing the boundaries of what magic can do. I’m fairly sure they’re not related. Or if they are, Gideon inherited all the brains of the family.”

Harry grinned. “Brilliant. Between learning spellcraft from Professor Snape and this, I’ll be all set for my Charms NEWT before the Easter hols.”

Flitwick chuckled. “Perhaps! You’ll certainly have quite the head-start. Now it’s your turn, Severus.”

Severus took a blue-wrapped bundle from Flitwick and opened it to reveal… the exact same book as Harry.

“I might have just borrowed his copy, you know,” Severus said with a snort.

Flitwick blushed and rubbed his neck. “Well, I didn’t realise you were quite so close, or I might have gotten you the next instalment instead.”

Severus shook his head. “Not a problem, Filius. This way I needn’t risk being caught with Harry’s books in my quarters.”

“True.”

“I will go next,” said McGonagall with a smile. “Ladies… second, you know.”

Flitwick blushed and gave her a bow. “Do forgive me, Minerva, dear.”

“Not at all, not at all. I simply wanted to get the jump on Albus.”

Dumbledore laughed and popped a lemon drop, beaming as the professors finished exchanging gifts with their hosts.

Harry received a fur-lined hat and gloves from McGonagall—red tartan, of course—and a small foe glass from Dumbledore. McGonagall gave Severus a bottle of Scottish whisky and the same hat and gloves she had given Harry, only in black. The old man gave Severus a set of crystal phials and a silk vest in robin’s egg blue. Severus had immediately scowled at the garment and shoved it under the box of phials. Harry doubted it would ever see the light of day.

Once Severus had finished with Dumbledore’s gifts, McGonagall gave him a curious look. “But what did you get for Severus, Harry?”

Heat suffused his face. “I… I’d rather wait to give it, if you don’t mind. I… it’s only I’m not sure how h-he’ll react and, I… well, I’d just rather not have an audience if it flops.”

Severus laid his hand on Harry’s shoulder, his touch light but soothing. He said nothing, but his thoughts made his wishes clear enough. [I hope he trusts me soon.]

Harry winced. “S-sir, I… well, I-I can give it to you now if you’d rather?”

Severus shook his head. “I find I would prefer to exchange yours in private as well.”

Harry gave him a relieved smile. “Oh. Then let’s just give out the professors’ gifts.”

“Yes.” Severus Summoned a black package from under the tree, wrapped in a black bow, and levitated it to Dumbledore with a smirk. “I thought you would appreciate the colours.”

Harry smothered a snicker in his hand, earning Severus’ half-smile.

Dumbledore gave the paper a put-upon sigh. “Such dreary colours for Christmas paper! Wherever did you even find it? Well, no matter. If it makes Harry laugh again, I suppose I don’t mind being the butt of the joke!” He removed the paper to reveal a magazine. “Fashion for Older British Gents. Really, Severus? Is my wardrobe that reprehensible to you?”

Harry burst into laughter, earning several soft looks from his professors.

Severus gave Harry another half-smile and raised an eyebrow at the headmaster. “You are wearing every colour of the rainbow at once—so, yes. It is. But the true gift is underneath.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “Ah, I thought it was a bit heavy for a simple magazine.”

He placed the fashion magazine under his black paper. No doubt it would find its way into the bin with the wrappings and Severus’ vest. A smile set his twinkle blazing as he removed a thick book from the gift box next.

“Oh, Chess Strategies Through the Ages. Now this could be helpful once we resume our weekly games.”

Harry gave them a wry look. “You know, I actually have no idea who would win a chess match between the two of you.”

“Severus would,” said Flitwick and Dumbledore at once.

Severus smirked. “Put that book to use and you might stand a chance, old man.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “Yes, yes. We’ll see.”

The rest of the morning passed in a similar fashion, the professors making jokes with each other and Harry watching in amusement, enjoying the rare opportunity to see them as humans and friends rather than his teachers. Before they left, Harry felt closer to all of them, and honoured to have had the privilege of seeing them let their hair down, so to speak.

He let them out of the Chamber a bit before lunch so they could eat in the Great Hall with the other students. When he returned, Severus had brought a large silver and red box from under the tree.

He stood beside it, his face pink, and gave Harry a hesitant smile. “I assume this green and silver gift under the tree is for me?”

Harry’s face warmed. “Y-yeah. It’s not… anything grand, but I hope you like it.” He dug the box out from under the tree and presented it to his friend. “Here you are. Happy Christmas.”

Severus gave Harry his half-smile and opened the paper. A long, hooded cloak with silver fastenings flowed into his hands, covered in one side with black velvet and the other with fur of the same colour. Well, it was simulated fur, but the shopkeeper had assured Harry it was of the highest quality and would hold up under any conditions. For Severus’ sake, Harry hoped the man had been telling the truth. Dumbledore had said it was good quality too, but Harry didn’t trust him much either.

Severus’ eyes widened and his breath hitched. “Harry… oh, this is lovely.”

Heat flushed Harry’s cheeks. “I-I’m glad you like it. Um, it’s charmed, sir. It, ah… it has a standard warming charm on the inside, of course, but it’s also waterproof and it repels poisons and absorbs most curses. It can’t stop Unforgiveables, but if you wear that to the next Death Eater meeting and Riddle uses the Cruciatus on you, it should help reduce the pain a lot. And it won’t be obvious either.”

Severus’ eyes took on a bright sheen and he clutched the cloak close to his chest. “Harry, Merlin. I… no one has ever….” He couldn’t finish, but Harry felt his immense gratitude and overpowering wonder. [No one has ever given me such a personal gift, something I needed, or to keep me safe in times of trouble. Gods.]

Harry made a note to buy Severus a pendant for when he couldn’t wear his cloak and give it to him for his birthday along with the null-magic crystals he had ordered. He had run across a reference to them in one of Severus’ books—they were expensive, but also might mean the difference between life and death for a spy trying to dismantle wards without leaving a trace.

Harry hesitantly laid a hand on Severus’ wrist. “I would miss you if something happened to you, sir.”

Severus closed his eyes, and a shaking hand enclosed Harry’s. “Thank you,” he said, his voice rough.

Harry squeezed Severus’ hand and rubbed his knuckles, watching him slowly calm. After a moment, Severus pulled back, discreetly wiping his eyes, and motioned to the red box.

“Go on then.”

Harry grinned and tore off the paper like a little boy, thrilled with the success of his gift. Inside, he found a squat, black leather briefcase with a flip top and a set of fine robes. They were white with lime green trim and the symbol of a healer on the front lapel. Two more of the same rested underneath, both sets folded neatly.

Oh gods. Severus had bought his apprentice robes. Harry had thought it strange when Poppy had assured him not to worry about them earlier in the hols. She must have known Severus had this planned all along. Merlin.

“Oh, sir. These are brilliant!” And judging by the size, they would fit him perfectly.

“Try them on,” said Severus with a soft smile, the first true one Harry had ever seen.

Harry grinned and dashed into the loo. He snuck a peek in the mirror before running back out and beamed at the sight of himself, proud to know he was an official apprentice. Hermione would do her nut when she saw his new robes, and serve her right for being such a cow! He sniffled, still hurt over her behaviour, but shook off his sudden grief with a grin. Severus had bought these for him, the first real outfits he had ever owned other than his school robes.

“Fits a treat,” Harry said as he emerged.

Severus came to him, briefcase in hand, and straightened Harry’s robes, checking seams and making sure they fit properly. “Ah, they do look well on you. I had worried about the colour, but it suits you.”

Harry gave him a brilliant smile. “Oh wow. Thank you, sir. Really!”

Severus’ cheeks reddened. “Well, go on and open your other gift.”

“It’s not the case?”

“In part. Open it.”

Harry nodded and obeyed. The case came open with a single click, and his breath stilled as he realised it was so much more than a simple briefcase. Now he knew what Severus had spent all day and night brewing for the past two weeks. Harry had thought he was stocking the Infirmary. Instead, it appeared he had been stocking a medical kit for Harry. The case held numerous compartments and each one was full to the brim of potions phials and jars of salves.

“This is your apprentice’s kit,” Severus said, his cheeks flushed and his voice low. “I have made all the standard healing potions as well as a few of my customised treatments—Poppy can teach you how to use those. They are organised in order of frequency of use—the most likely treatments are found in the front, and the rarer remedies in the back. As well, I have placed your tools here, where they are within easy reach in case of an emergency.”

Harry opened the compartment Severus indicated and swallowed a wave of tears. The small pocket worked like a wizarding tent—it was much larger on the inside—and Severus had stocked it to overflowing. Rolls of bandages, balls of gauze, sterling scissors and knives, and every other tool Harry could conceive of sat nestled in the compartment, all clearly labelled.

‘Gods. This must have cost a fortune.’

“S-sir… this is so much.”

Severus brushed Harry’s fringe back from his face and shook his head. “It is not. I have been so cruel for so long. It is a small payment towards that debt, and something I hope will be of use in giving you confidence and purpose once more. I never wish to see you as miserable as you were prior to moving here.”

Overcome, Harry threw his arms around Severus and hugged him before he thought.

With a sharp gasp, Severus pushed him back. “Please… no, don’t.”

Harry winced and staggered away. “S-sir, oh gods. I’m so sorry. I lost my head a bit. A-are you okay?”

Severus wrapped shaking arms around his middle. “F-forgive me. I cannot.”

“Ssh. It’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have….” Harry sank onto the sofa and dropped his head into his hands. “I’m sorry.”

Severus stood still and silent for a long moment, trying to calm himself. His fragmented emotions and deep shame filtered to Harry through his Empathy, and Harry felt like a cad. Gods. Was he acting like Ginny, continually screwing up and pressing Severus for more than he wanted to give? Had he assaulted the man? Shite, he hoped not.

“S-sir, please, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was just… so overwhelmed. So happy. And I wanted to show you I was grateful. I didn’t mean to terrify you.”

Severus sighed and sat beside Harry. “I need warning before you do that, and I may not be able to accept it either way, but I do… you are….” He slowly wrapped his arms around the young man and pulled him close, the words he couldn’t say continuing in Harry’s mind. [You are important to me. Please don’t be angry or ashamed.]

Harry sighed and laid his head on Severus’ shoulder. “C-can I hug you back, sir?”

Severus froze. “I… i-if you must.”

“No.” Harry shook his head. “It’s only okay if you want a hug too.” He sniffled and buried his face in the man’s robe. “But I don’t understand, sir. Why is it that you can hug me and touch my hair, but I can’t touch anything but your wrist and your shoulder like this without terrifying you? It… it’s okay if that’s what you need, but I don’t understand why.”

Severus shuddered. “I… I cannot speak of it, Harry. But….” He looked at his friend and sighed. “Perhaps you have a point. I do need to overcome my phobias.” He took a deep breath and fought to control a wave of nervousness so powerful, it set Harry’s heart racing too. “I… w-will you help me, Harry?” [I don’t think I can overcome them without you.]

Harry sat back and wiped his eyes. “Of course, if you want me to, but how?”

“I think, at first, simply respecting my wishes and not pushing me too far, but allowing me to… embrace you and such on occasion will help. Perhaps later, we will work on helping me accept touch from you—small things, then more as those become less frightening. Do you think you are able to bear it?”

Harry gave him a soft smile. “Sir, yeah. Yeah, I’d like that. For now, will it help you if I ask before I touch you?”

“That would help quite a bit. It gives me the option to refuse if I am not comfortable, and restores my loss of control.”

“Then we’ll try it.” Harry gave him a bright, tear-edged smile. “And that you trust me enough to let me help you is the best gift I got all day.”

Severus returned his confession with a small, shy smile and laid his hand over Harry’s. “Thank you.”

“Anytime, sir. Really.”

 

5 January, 1998

The other students had returned from the hols, and Harry had never been gladder to have an excuse not to return to the dorms. The term exam reports, much as it had amused Harry to see Hermione’s name second on the list this time, had been driving him mad since she had returned on Saturday. Dear Merlin, all of the Gryffindors were ready to push her down the Astronomy Tower stairs if she didn’t give it a rest soon, even Ron.

Harry had never been so glad to be gay either. Else, it might have been him in Ron’s shoes, being nagged to revise until two in the morning. It was almost enough to make Harry pity the prat in spite of his behaviour.

Almost.

As it was, he simply avoided them both as much as possible and stayed near Neville and Dean when he couldn’t avoid Gryffindor altogether. Gryffindor avoided him for the most part, too. After his explosion before the hols, even Ginny seemed keen to stay out of his way. Only the Creeveys didn’t seem to mind greeting Harry with a smile every day. Of course, the latest article in the Prophet decrying him as an unstable madman with a murderous streak might have had something to do with that.

Honestly, if it didn’t hurt so much to be regarded as a dangerous lunatic by nine tenths of the school, he might have thanked the Skeeter bint for getting Ginny off his back. She really had been driving him mad.

Now Ron and Hermione’s bickering had taken over in that capacity, but at least he wasn’t alone. All of Gryffindor had given them a wide berth since their return, Harry most of all. He had far more important things to focus on, such as Severus’ return to teaching.

Harry had warned all his professors ahead of time—at least the ones he could trust not to blab—that he would be staying with Severus the first day back and watching over him in secret. McGonagall had forwarded the message on to the rest of his professors with an excuse about experimental dream treatment, and they had all given Harry his lessons for the day ahead of time. He’d finished them before Saturday. Now, he had only to sit in on Severus’ classes and make sure no one hurt his friend.

Harry snuck into Severus’ classroom before the lesson, hidden under his cloak and the Prince’s invisibility spell, Obscurus. He murmured to the man, “I’m here, sir.”

Severus greeted him with a barely perceptible nod and indicated a safe corner to sit. After a brief clasp of Harry’s hand, Severus warded Harry in with mild distraction wards—other than Harry and Severus, anyone who came too close would stop and go back to their work.

“This is the most dangerous class I have,” Severus whispered once he had finished with the wards. “Seventh year Ravenclaws and Slytherins. Almost all of the junior Death Eaters will be present this morning.”

Harry set his shoulders in grim determination. “Then I suppose I’d best be ready for trouble. You’ve your pendant on?” He had given it to Severus early in preparation for the students’ return and planned to give him the anti-magic crystals on his birthday instead.

“Yes. I should be safe, but I am glad for your assistance.”

Harry smiled, though Severus couldn’t see it. “You’re welcome. Go to your desk though, just in case they’re watching us.”

“They cannot see through the door, but perhaps you have a point.” Severus rubbed Harry’s shoulder and returned to his desk.

Many of the students glared at Severus as they came in. Harry noted each one with an invisible glare of his own. Severus had them brewing Euphoria Elixir as a precaution against poisoning, but Harry wouldn’t rest until the class had gone and everyone was out.

A good thing too. Near the end of the class, one of the Slytherins—Malcolm Avery—got a shifty look in his eyes that Harry didn’t like. As Severus passed, Avery attempted to throw his boiling-hot, unfinished potion in Severus’ face. Unfortunately for him, Severus’ pendant and Harry’s lightning-quick shield tossed it onto the prat’s chest instead.

Severus scowled and doused the murderous git with a blast of icy water. “Off to the Infirmary with you, Avery,” he snapped, then lowered his voice to a dark, lethal tone, “and if I ever catch you attempting to injure me again, you had best hope it works the first time. Get out of my sight.” Mentally, he added, [And a hundred points from Slytherin!] Harry wondered if it would take since Severus hadn’t said it out loud. He would have to check the hourglasses later.

Avery hobbled away, whimpering and shielding his chest. Severus sent the other students a dark glare, intimidating them into behaving. It did the trick. No one else dared lift their head for the remainder of the period.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief once the students had gone and rushed to Severus. “Are you hurt? Did any of that potion hit you?”

Severus shook his head. “Thanks to your gift and shields, I am well.”

“Good!” Harry sighed. “But I thought Riddle would stop hurting you.”

“Oh, I highly doubt that foolish attack was on anyone’s orders, let alone the Dark Lord’s. It was too obvious, too ill-conceived to be anything besides an attempt to use my downfall for personal gain. Avery must have heard of the Dark Lord’s failed attempts on my life and believed he could gain status among the Death Eaters by killing me, but he greatly underestimated my skill and level of protection.”

Something dark and painful flashed across Severus’ features, and his emotions turned bitter with pain and shame. [Wouldn’t be the first time, after all.]

“Sir? Are you okay?”

Severus nodded, though the bitter feeling hadn’t subsided.

“May I take your hand? You look… scared.” Upset was closer to it, but Harry didn’t think it would go over well if he pinpointed Severus’ emotions too closely at the moment.

Severus sighed and took Harry’s hand on his own, though he had to search for it a bit. Harry squelched a surge of disappointment. Severus simply couldn’t bear to be touched yet, but it was still early in his recovery. At least, Harry hoped he was recovering. Most days, it seemed as though they hadn’t progressed at all, but then, perhaps simply being Harry’s friend was a big step for Severus.

Merlin, Harry hoped he wasn’t mangling everything.

“Sir, I’m going to sit down before your next cla—”

A sharp pecking at the door sent Harry flying into his corner, wand at the ready. Without a word, Severus opened the door and ducked as a black great horned owl swooped in. The hair on Harry’s neck lifted at the sight of it. Merlin help them, for being an innocent bird, it had an aura of dark magic so thick, he could have cut it with a spoon.

Severus set heavy wards and scanned the bird for curses immediately. Harry didn’t dare move or speak lest the bird report his presence to its owner—it could only be a Death Eater’s owl with an aura that dark.

Severus finished his scans and levitated a letter away from the bird’s claws, taking great care not to touch it. As soon as it had delivered its burden, the bird flew out the open door and Severus spelled it shut.

“It is safe to speak now,” he muttered.

Harry ran to stand by his friend. “Whose owl?”

“The Dark Lord’s.”

“Merlin! What does he want?”

“We shall find out.” Severus spelled the letter open and read it carefully. “It appears he wishes to congratulate me on maintaining my position at Hogwarts and is offering me a new place in the Inner Circle, of higher rank than before.”

Harry sighed, relieved and disappointed at once. The idea of losing Severus terrified him. Not to mention, the letter mightn’t be truthful.

“Sir? I… c-could we stay in the Chamber just a few more days? Just to make sure it’s not a trick? And tell me when you report to him the first time, so I can try to help you if he is lying?”

“Ah… a wise suggestion. Very well.”

Harry gave him a sad smile. “A-and will you… I mean, if it all goes well and you do get to go back into your quarters soon, w-will you still let me visit?”

Fear flickered across Severus’ features. “I… you will have to be careful, Harry.”

“I know. I would never endanger your life. I’ll come when no one is around and under the cloak.”

Severus sighed. “If you promise me you will take great caution and only come late in the day when your peers are busy revising and out of my corner of the dungeons, then yes, you may visit.” His cheeks turned faintly pink. “I have become accustomed to your company as well. And I would like to continue working on spells with you.”

Harry beamed, though Severus couldn’t see it. “That sounds good to me, sir!”

Severus gave him a faint, barely-there smile—but a smile nonetheless. “I am glad to hear it.”

Harry’s heart soared.

Chapter Text

PART II

 


 

 

Chapter 24

Return to Mainstream

20 January

The night of Severus’ birthday, he had been accepted back into the Inner Circle with no trouble. Harry hadn’t wanted to leave the Chamber, but with Severus’ safety no longer a concern—at least, not an immediate one—he had no more excuse to stay. They had given it two more days, just to be sure, but when nothing happened, Harry had moved into the dorms again the following weekend.

And gods, it was just as miserable as he had imagined. Besides the fact that his house still avoided him like the plague for the most part, he still had to deal with his former ‘friends’ and the fact that they seemed to have decided that Harry had forgiven them whether he agreed or not.

Hermione had become utterly obsessed with her studies, not that it surprised him. When she wasn’t bickering with Ron or reading some obscure tome, she had taken to nagging Harry about his marks and revision again, always acting as if he couldn’t possibly hope to keep up without her help and seething in jealousy and suspicion when he did.

He ignored her as best as he could. Even so, he had almost decided to resort to silencing spells with her as well when he managed to shock her into submission. For a while at least.

 

Between Hermione’s obsessive revision, her extracurricular classes, and her distraction over Ron, she either hadn’t been in the dorm at the times Harry left for his apprenticeship or hadn’t noticed. But when Professor Vector caught the wizarding flu and had to cancel her classes for the week—including Hermione’s Wednesday afternoon extracurricular session—she returned to the common room much earlier than usual. At the same time, Harry exited the dorm in his apprentice robes, Isuri tucked around his neck and his medical kit in hand.

The look of utter shock on her face as Harry walked past and made for the portrait hole would remain in his memory forever. Perhaps he should pensieve it for Severus later.

“Harry?”

He shot her a glare, but in the interest of a possible route to peace and quiet, stopped and turned, arms crossed over his chest. “What?”

“W-why are you in apprentice robes?”

He snorted. “I should think that’s obvious.”

“B-but… how? Who? I didn’t think—wait, is it your guest? Did he offer you this out of pity?”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “That’s utterly pathetic, Hermione. Your jealousy is appalling.”

Her face turned a blotchy red and her fists clenched at her sides. “Well, I never!”

“You should then. And as for my apprenticeship, not that it’s any of your business, it just so happens that Madam Pomfrey heard about how I saved my guest’s life from a rare, fatal curse and decided to test my skill. As I’m a particularly powerful natural healer with a high raw magic reserve, she asked me to be her apprentice. I’ve been working under her since before Christmas. You’ve just been too self-absorbed to notice. Now, if you please, move your giant ego out of the way before I’m late.”

Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but Harry shoved past her and ignored her tirade. Jealous bint. She would get her own soon. Her harpy-like shouting, inability to cope with second place, and anal-retentive personality would drive everyone who cared away soon enough. She had certainly driven away Harry.

 

He would have liked to say his life calmed down after putting her in his place, but Hermione wasn’t the only one driving him mad. Ron babbled on to Harry as if nothing had happened between them, despite the fact that Harry never spoke back. At least until Isuri got bored with Harry’s growing irritation and poked her head out of her cloaking spells. Then Ron gibbered in terror and ran from the room.

It was one way to get some peace and quiet.

Seamus, of course, hated Isuri on sight and claimed Harry planned to kill them all in their sleep. He wouldn’t listen to Harry’s claims that her venom couldn’t kill them, insisting that her presence indicated Harry was turning into a snake.

 

Isuri hissed, ~Why does he think you are turning into a snake, Master? You are human.~

Harry glared at Seamus and hissed back, ~He means a member of the snake house at my… learning place. Severus is the master of the snake house here. He thinks I am becoming like them. Like Severus and his… charges.~

~Oh. Then he is right.~

Harry snorted in spite of himself, then laughed at the sight of Seamus hightailing it out of the dorms. ~I think he forgot I speak the snake language.~

~I think he is a stupid human.~

~Smart snake.~

 

Gods, he missed the quiet, the peace of spending his nights in the Chamber with Severus. And not just for the company. His Imperius dreams had stopped while he slept in the Chamber, but here, they had started again full force. He had taken to warding his bed each night with a spell he’d seen in Severus’ books. It kept him safe, at least, if it did frighten Neville. His friend didn’t like not being able to get to him when his visions hit, but Harry couldn’t risk revealing the truth of his dreams, not even to his friends.

One word to the wrong person, and he was done for.

Still, life had improved from the misery of last term at least. The dreams had made him tired again, but grief didn’t cripple him any longer, and Severus’ alterations to Dreamless Sleep had taken away his other nightmares, including his dreams of the younger version of his friend, thank Merlin. Harry had been terrified the man would see a glimpse of them in his mind, but so far, Harry had managed to keep them hidden. It would be easier now that they were memories and not an active problem.

Overall, Harry was doing much better. Building a peaceful relationship with Severus had healed many of Harry’s wounds, and with most of his bad dreams under control, at least he got some sleep. Only his distance from his so-called friends still hurt, but as the days went by without a break in Ron and Hermione’s arguments, Harry soon begun to see it as a blessing. Gods, did they never tire of bickering? Merlin, what he wouldn’t give to be able to escape to the quiet and safety of Severus’ company.

Harry was halfway through his latest charms essay—and helping Neville and Dean with theirs—when a strident voice interrupted his explanation of blood-bound barriers.

“Harry,” Hermione called, “you’ve obviously learned the importance of revising. Tell this blockhead here we can’t afford to slack off!”

Well, apparently she’d gotten over her snit concerning Harry’s apprenticeship. He found himself missing her silent ire and dark glares.

“Oi!” Ron gave Harry an annoyed look. “Mate, why’d you have to get studious now? She won’t lay off!”

Harry stood and gathered his books. “I think that’s enough for now, Neville, Dean. We’ll finish the last part somewhere quieter.”

Dean nodded. “I’m beat anyway. I’ll go take a kip. Thanks, Harry.”

Hermione huffed. “Harry, aren’t you going to—?”

Harry cut across her. “See you later, Dean.”

Dean waved and went upstairs.

Harry gave his other friend an apologetic smile. “Sorry about the noise, Neville. I can try to explain it again later, if you want.”

Hermione shrieked, “Noise?”

Neville stood and packed his books too. “Sure, Harry. We’ve been at it for a while anyway. I could use a breather.”

“Let’s go then.”

“Oi,” Ron called. “We’re talking to you!”

Harry whirled and shot them both dark glares. “And have you somehow forgotten over the past few weeks that I am not talking to either of you? Go find someone else to mediate for you. I’m not interested.”

Hermione gave him a pitying look that lit his irritation ablaze. “Oh, Harry. You’re not still angry, are you? It’s not healthy to hold a grudge so long.”

Harry sent them his best imitation of Severus’ coldest sneer and turned back to Neville, leading the way through the portrait hole. “Now she’s concerned for my health? Honestly. It’s like they’ve forgotten the past six months!”

Neville snorted. “Want to go work on Herbology instead? I’ve had a sneak look at next week’s plants from Professor Sprout. We’re doing Littlebee flowers.”

Harry frowned. “Are those like Luna’s Ticklebees?”

“Not at all. They’re called that because they buzz like bees and the flowers make honey instead of nectar. They’re edible too, and Professor Sprout won’t mind if we taste a few in the name of experimentation.”

“Ooh! Free snacks? I’m in.”

Neville laughed, but beneath the sound, both boys heard the portrait door click behind them. Of course the prats wouldn’t give up so easily. Harry sighed in irritation, but Neville simply gave Harry a dark smirk worthy of Severus’ most mischievous moods and kept walking as if he hadn’t noticed their tagalongs.

“Sorry about the disaster back there, Harry,” Neville said, tilting his head towards the door. “That lot will never learn, I’m afraid.”

Harry caught on quickly. “Hmm. You might be right. Still, if they’re going to treat me like rubbish, they ought not to expect me to jump between their battles any longer.”

A squeak behind them warned Harry that Hermione was right on their heels. A glance over his shoulder revealed a frowning Ron right by her side.

“Harry, you can’t just… abandon us,” Ron said. “I mean, we’ve been friends for how long?”

Harry fixed him with a cold glare. Beside him, Neville had done the same.

“I can’t abandon you, hmm? Funny, isn’t that exactly what you did to me when you turned your back on me when I was suffering just to snog Hermione at all hours of the day? And when I didn’t want to play quidditch and you called me a traitor to my house and turned everyone against me? And when you accused me of murdering Professor Snape?”

Ron choked. “Um, well, I—”

“And what about Hermione, hmm? Didn’t she abandon me when she decided that her boyfriend and revision was more important than my health and happiness? Or when she declared I wasn’t intelligent enough to beat her marks on my own?” Harry glared at the girl. “How’s that theory holding up for you now that I’m not staying with my guest and I’m still beating you in Charms, Theory, and Potions, huh?”

She squeaked and lowered her head. “H-Harry, that’s not fair.”

“Oh, yes it is! That’s exactly how you’ve been treating me—I reckon a little of your own medicine is overdue.” He scowled and hitched his books higher against his chest. “Besides, have the both of you somehow forgotten your refusal to stand by me when the entire house allied against me—twice?” He scoffed. “Oh yes, you two have been great friends! I reckon not even a Death Eater could do a better job of hurting and humiliating me at every bloody turn!”

Ron blushed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Harry, Merlin. I’m sorry, okay?”

“No. It’s not okay. I could forgive your jealousy, or getting too caught up in romance, or maybe even your idiocy over the quidditch team—well, eventually—but this time you’ve gone too far.” He turned back to Neville and called over his shoulder. “The next time either of you follow us, I start throwing hexes.”

“Harry!” Hermione’s scolding tone set Harry’s ire raging. “That’s against the rules. You’ll lose us even more poi—”

He whirled, magic flashing on his skin. “Read my lips, Hermione: I don’t—fucking—care! Points are bollocks as far as I’m concerned. We’re in the middle of a bloody war, and I’m just a tad more concerned with the bodies piling up every night than whether Ravenclaw or Gryffindor wins the house cup or if I get all O’s on my NEWTs—or whether you do for that matter. Get it through your godsdamned head already that there are more important things than rules and grades. And until you do, don’t expect me to listen to your bloody nagging!”

Ron cried, “Oi! You leave of—”

“Shut up, Ron! You don’t get to tell me not to shout at her when you’ve been doing it all damn month. Just leave me alone!”

Severus materialised from around the corner and fixed Harry with a sharp glare. Behind his eyes, he projected the thought, [Forgive me,] and relieved Harry’s sudden fear.

“Detention, Potter, seven o’clock in my office, and ten points from Gryffindor for foul language.”

Harry ducked his head in the deferent, defeated manner he had been using all term. It would be too suspicious to change it now. “Yes, sir.”

“Hmm.” Severus turned, a dark glare on his face. “Oh, and Weasley? Fifty points from Gryffindor for inventing the maddest, most ill-conceived rumour to have ever circulated Hogwarts’ halls. Killed me indeed.”

“Oi! I didn’t inv—”

Hermione smacked her hand over Ron’s mouth. “Don’t make it worse,” she hissed.

Severus loomed, a smirk spreading over his features. “Ah, Miss Granger. I confess I am surprised to find you without your nose buried in the nearest textbook. Perhaps the fact that Miss Greengrass outscored you this term doesn’t rankle quite as much as I had assumed?”

Harry almost chuckled at the look of pride in Severus’ eyes. He did care about his snakes, whatever other flaws he might possess.

Hermione turned pink and vanished back into the portrait hole, Ron clambering after her.

Severus turned on his heel and disappeared around the corner, but Harry wasn’t surprised to feel him walking at his side shortly after, invisible and silent.

The man bent down to Harry’s ear and whispered, “Are you well?”

Harry gave him a barely perceptible nod and squeezed the hand that had settled on his own.

“We will speak later.” Severus rubbed Harry’s hand once and slipped away.

 


 

“Sir,” Harry asked when Severus’ office door had shut firmly behind him, “are you really angry with me?”

Severus shook his head. “I could not feasibly let you get away with cursing in front of an instructor, not publicly at least, but I do understand your frustration. Though I probably should, I have no intention of making you serve a true detention tonight.”

Harry let slip a sigh and settled in front of Severus’ desk. “I was afraid.”

“I tried to reassure you.”

“I know. I just couldn’t help worrying. It’s the first time I’ve had a detention with you since….”

Severus grimaced. “Since I have ceased to be an abusive monster, I hope.”

Harry wished he could reach the man like this, wished Severus wasn’t afraid of his touch. “Oh. You’re not. You’ve been really good to me since the headmaster intervened.” He gave Severus a wan smile. “And I haven’t thought you were a monster in a long time.”

“The pensieve.”

Harry went rigid, fear crashing through his veins. “I… w-what about it?”

“That is when your perceptions of me underwent a forcible change, is it not?”

Harry swallowed though his throat was dry and dropped his gaze. If Severus realised it had haunted him to the level it did, their nascent friendship might break to pieces. And Harry already knew he needed Severus’ friendship, his regard and trust, more than anything. Why it was so important eluded him, it simply mattered that it was.

Severus stood and motioned to a door in the back of his office, one Harry hadn’t noticed before. “Come.”

Harry stuffed his hands in his pockets to keep them from shaking and followed Severus to the door, head down, gaze on the floor.

Gentle fingertips settled on the top of Harry’s head and traced down his scalp, sorting his bird’s nest hair through long fingers.

“Peace, Harry. You are safe here.”

A shaky sigh escaped Harry and he turned his head into Severus’ arm. “I… I’m afraid to talk about it.”

“I know. Come.”

Severus motioned to the door, and Harry followed him into what could only be the man’s private quarters. Severus had good taste, at least to Harry. He hadn’t seen many homes beyond the Burrow and the Dursleys’, but he liked the clean lines and simple colours of Severus’ rooms. He thanked Merlin for the lack of floral patterns, doilies, and posturing for the neighbours and went to investigate the mantel. Besides a serviceable tin for floo powder, Severus had two photos displayed—an animated Polaroid of himself and Harry’s mum as children, and a larger photo of a blue-eyed, dark-haired woman Harry had never seen.

“My mother,” Severus said from behind him.

Harry jumped. “Oh.” Nerves crept up his belly. What was he supposed to say in this situation? He had no idea what was polite. “She looks diff—um… are you clo—Merlin.” Maybe it was best to leave that subject alone and let Severus talk about her as he wanted to.

Severus gave a wry snort. “Do not trouble yourself so. No, I do not favour Mother much, to my cost. She was, perhaps, not a great beauty, but I would have much preferred to inherit her looks than my father’s.” He said the last word with such loathing, Harry knew instantly to never bring up the man’s father if he could at all avoid the subject. “And she is long since dead, so no, we are not close.”

Something dark and painful flashed across his face. Harry laid his hand over Severus’, not touching, but offering comfort. This time, Severus shook his head and drew away.

“I cannot. Forgive me.”

Harry forced back a wave of disappointment. It wasn’t Severus’ fault. Harry shouldn’t keep pressuring him.

But when Severus’ eyes filled with that cold, bitter grief, Harry wanted to comfort him, and his words so often fell short. On top of a sense of rejection he couldn’t quite quell, he felt so helpless when Severus pushed him away.

“I’m sorry.” He tried to smile, but Severus wasn’t fooled.

The pain in his dark eyes sharpened. “Harry….”

“It’s okay. It’s my fault. I keep trying to—but you don’t like it, and….” He sighed and turned away. “Never mind it. What am I doing for detention?”

Severus ran a gentle hand through Harry’s hair. “Speaking with me, if you choose. Else, you may work on your revision here.”

Harry frowned. “Sir, what if someone comes? Shouldn’t we stay in the office?”

Severus smirked. “Did you imagine I left the door unwarded? Anyone who comes other than the headmaster, your true friends, or Poppy—excepting only emergencies—will remember an urgent errand they have ‘forgotten’ to do and find they cannot leave it for another moment.”

Harry smiled wanly. “You’re brilliant, sir.”

A faint pink colour filled Severus’ cheeks. He watched Harry for a long moment, dark eyes searching. Harry didn’t know what he wanted, but tried to show him nothing but the sincere desire of his heart to befriend the man.

Severus sighed and looked away. “You… truly mean that, don’t you?”

Harry frowned up at the man. “Of course I do. I mean, even people who don’t like you think you’re intelligent. Even Ron won’t deny your skills.” He lowered his gaze and took a shaky breath. “But I do like you, sir. So yes, I mean it.”

Severus froze, eyes widened slightly, lips parted. “I… how?” Pain again flashed in his eyes. “How can you… like me, when I have been so—”

“I forgave you months ago, sir. It’s okay. It’s over now.”

Severus sank into the armchair by the fire, wonder and disbelief warring for control of his expression. Harry sighed and turned back to the photos, watching as his mum made faces at the young Severus, trying to make him smile. Occasionally, ten-year-old Severus’ grim façade broke and a silent, smothered laugh escaped him. Harry could tell it was a favourite game, one they both enjoyed despite the young Severus’ scowl.

Harry watched the photo-boy snicker behind his hands and sighed softly. What would it take to make the adult Severus happy again? Could Harry make him grin if he tried? He tried to imagine the expression, but failed. Severus just wasn’t inclined to such open joy.

Still, maybe one day, Harry would learn what the man looked like when he was truly happy. Merlin, he hoped so.

“Severus,” the potions master said into the silence.

“What?” Harry turned to face him, confused.

“Call me Severus when we are alone.”

Harry’s heart thumped and warmth flooded his chest. “R-really? You… you’re sure?”

Severus gave him a hesitant nod. “You have earned the right.”

Harry beamed. “Brilliant.”

A ghost of a smile played at Severus’ lips, a shadow of the grin his photo wore when Lily made him laugh, but even a hint gave Harry hope he might one day be happy again.

“What did you want to talk about, si-Severus?”

“Tell me what happened with your friends.”

Harry grimaced and settled onto the sofa near his friend. “They’re bickering more. A lot more. And they wanted to put me in the middle like they used to….”

The words flowed so easily with Severus now. He was a good listener and offered Harry comfort when he needed it. And Harry felt so safe when Severus held him or petted his hair.

If only Severus would allow Harry to hug him too, or even just to touch his hand, things might have been perfect. Still, Harry understood Severus didn’t mean it as a slight. Some dark mystery in his past had hurt the man to the point of developing phobias. Harry didn’t ask. Maybe someday, Severus would trust him enough to tell him his secrets.

Maybe someday, Harry would trust Severus enough to tell him his own.

For now, being his friend and knowing Severus trusted Harry to help with his fears was enough.

“I feel guilty, Severus,” Harry said with a sigh. “Do you think I’m being too harsh by not accepting them back?”

Severus gave a wry snort. “Are you honestly asking me if you are being too cruel to your friends?”

Harry laughed softly. “Well, you’re kind to me now. I reckon you’re good to those you trust, so you might know better than I do.”

Severus gave him a sad nod. “Trust is hard won for me.” He folded his hands upon his desk and shook his head. “I have no doubt Albus would tell you to welcome them with open arms, but I think you have revealed the reason you cannot do so yourself: they have broken your trust. Until they earn it back, I think you are wise to be cautious.”

He sighed and dropped his head into his hand. “But I am not sure I am a good person to ask. I have been too cautious.”

He took Harry’s hand and held it to his heart, just briefly. It was enough to wash away the pain of his earlier rejection.

“Harry, I do think you are wise to keep your distance—at least until they earn your trust again—but do not shut those who do care out. Longbottom, Lovegood, and Thomas all care genuinely about you. Even Daphne, Millicent, and Blaise seem to like you quite well these days. Don’t turn them away.” His thoughts echoed in Harry’s mind after his words stopped. [Don’t become like me.]

Harry gave Severus a hesitant smile. “So I can keep visiting you, then?”

Severus’ cheeks turned pink. “So long as you are careful, I do not mind.”

Warmth and hope flooded Harry’s chest. “Yes, sir.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 25

Altered Relationships

27 January

Professor Origa, while quite a knowledgeable woman, was a bit of a procrastinator, and as such, hadn’t finished grading the classes’ elf magic essays for Ancient Magic until almost a month into the spring term. Harry had been waiting on tenterhooks to see how his additions held up, and the professor’s announcement had caught the interest of more than one student. Beside Harry, Blaise looked just as excited.

Just before the hols, Harry had helped Blaise, Millicent, and Daphne add to their essays too, sharing some of his discussions with Dobby and Winky to supplement their knowledge. The two bookish Slytherins—Daphne and Blaise—had eaten it up, and Millicent, while considerably less studious than the others, had provided valuable insight by sharing her experiences with a house elf nanny. Apparently Timma had been more of a mother to Millie than her own parents and, as a result, Millie had seen her do many interesting feats of magic. Some of her stories had surprised even Harry. No doubt they would shock Professor Origa. Harry looked forward to seeing if their extra work paid off.

He guessed that Hermione might have thought to ask the house elves too, but he honestly doubted she could have focused on what they wanted to say long enough to learn about them, given her no-holds-barred crusade to free them all—whether they wanted it or not. The only elf who might have dared talk to her was Dobby, and he had a… unique perspective on life. Winky’s input had been much more representative of the race as a whole, though Harry had worked his friend’s unusual way of thinking into his essay as well.

Professor Origa entered the classroom and greeted them all with her usual wave. “Good morning, class. I think many of you have heard I have finished with your essays, yes? Five of them were very, very surprising to this old witch. I have not considered the ways house elves are part of the elf magic spectrum, but you have opened my eyes these past few weeks! That is the reason your essays took so long to grade. With so many writing of house elves and no references that I could find, I have had little choice but to find the house elves and speak to them myself before I could grade these few.”

Hermione pouted, no doubt upset that four others had thought of the same tactics she had. Harry gave his study mates a wry grin.

“Four of you,” Origa continued, “have impressed me with your extra work. One, I am afraid, appears to have written of dreams more than facts.”

Hermione shot Harry a triumphant glare, but somehow, Harry doubted hers would be the winning essay. He ignored her. She would have plenty of crow to eat soon enough.

“Overall, everyone did very well this time! Excellent work.” Origa levitated their essays back. Harry read his “Outstanding” grade and grinned. Blaise nudged him, showing him his own O rated essay, and gave Harry a nod of thanks.

“Well done,” Harry whispered. “Did you talk to your own house elves?”

Blaise chuckled softly. “But of course.” He frowned. “And I will be treating them better from now on. I never realised they were sentient, you know? I mean—it sounds awful. It is awful. I should have done. But we were all taught our whole lives that they were… less than. Subhuman, without minds or wills of their own.” He shook his head sadly. “Well, I know better now.”

“That means more than your grade, I think.”

“So do—”

 Hermione’s indignant squeak interrupted Blaise. “P-Professor Origa, I think there must have been some mistake.”

Origa narrowed her eyes. “It is a rule here in England to raise your hand in class when you must speak, yes?”

Hermione’s cheeks flushed bright red. “Y-yes, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am.” She raised her hand, and Origa called on her with a sigh.

“What is the problem, Miss Granger?”

“W-well, this is graded as an P. I… that can’t be right.”

“You think there is some problem with my markings? You received a Poor because that is what you earned.”

“But, Professor! I even included information on house elves and their magic and—”

Origa’s gaze sharpened. “No, Miss Granger. You included very little true information on house elves and spent most of your essay speaking of your beliefs that all house elves are oppressed beings who should be set free for their good. You did not speak on the other elf races beyond a paragraph or two, and so you have failed this assignment.”

“B-but the house elves said—”

Miss Granger, I doubt the house elves said much to you. From what they have told me, few of them will even speak to you for fear you will try to force clothing on them despite their refusal. They do not wish to be free, Miss Granger, therefore, your essay is more dream than fact.”

Tears formed on Hermione’s lashes. “But I… I just don’t understand! Professor, s-surely you agree that they shouldn’t be enslaved and—”

Origa heaved a huge sigh. “Miss Granger. First of all, you should remember this is a class on Ancient Magic, not house elf rights. But of course I agree they should not be oppressed.”

Hermione puffed up, vindicated.

“However, what you are doing is wrong.”

The air rushed out of Hermione like a popped balloon. “I… I don’t understand. How is it wrong to wish them to be happy?”

“You are not wishing for their happiness, you are wishing for your own.” Origa flipped her braids out of her face and rubbed her brow. “The elves are the victims, Miss Granger. By forcing to take freedom when they are afraid and do not want it, you make the victims bear the burden of change, not the abusers. It is not house elves you should be working to alter, but the wizards who hurt them.”

Hermione sniffled. “But that’s why I’m trying to free them, to get them away from their abusers.”

“They do not see it that way. They see your forced freedom as a threat.”

“But that’s why they need to be educated and—”

“Miss Granger, my suggestion to you is instead of wasting time knitting hats the elves do not want, to put all that energy into creating stronger laws—or even any laws—condemning house elf abuse. Once their lives have improved and they are able to see beyond their chains, perhaps some might be more willing to take your hats, but either way, to force them into freedom when they do not want it is just as cruel as forcing them to obey your will with no concern for their own.”

“B-but… how is it cruel?”

Origa fixed her with a sharp look. “Besides the fact that they are more fearful of you than their masters? You are not taking their wishes into account and ignoring their refusal of consent. Is that not considered assault in this country when it is done to another human?”

Hermione lowered her head and her hand, face red and tears in her eyes. “Y-yes, ma’am. I… I’ll consider that.”

“Good. Then this lesson is a success before I have even taught.”

Hermione winced and shrank into her seat.

“I reckon that will shut her up about spew for a week or so,” Blaise muttered.

Harry stifled a sad, bitter laugh in his hand.

 


 

Harry returned to the common room later to find Hermione and Ron in the midst of another row—not that it surprised him. This time, however, he heard his own name in the mix and decided he didn’t want to know. He would have cast Severus’ invisibility spell if Colin hadn’t already seen him. Instead, he returned Colin’s wave and made his way to where Neville sat by the fire, scowling at the arguing couple.

Harry whispered, “Um, do you want to get out of here? I reckon we could find something to revise. Or we could just hang out.” [Anywhere but here,] he added mentally.

Neville snorted bitterly. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

“Sure, but where’s Dean? Do you think he’d want to come?”

“He might, but I wouldn’t risk asking him at the moment. He took Ginny out to the pitch. I think he’s trying to keep her away from you as much as possible, if you get my drift.”

Harry grimaced. “Remind me to buy him a giant box of Honeyduke’s next Hogsmeade weekend. Come on. Let’s go before—”

“Oi! Harry! What do you think you’re on about?”

Harry groaned at the sound of Ron’s shout. “—Before that happens.”

Neville gave him a commiserating look and rubbed Harry’s shoulder. “Sorry, mate.”

Ron came storming over, his face a picture of rage. “What is with you, Harry? You made sure Hermione was humiliated in class, you’re revising even more than she is these days, you won’t talk to us but you’re fine with fraternizing with the enemy, and you have a bloody snake now? Are you trying to help Slytherin win the cup or something?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “I thought I’d already made it blatantly obvious I don’t care about who wins the cup, so I’m certainly not helping Slytherin for that purpose. It just so happens the snakes are treating me better than the lions these days.” He smiled at Neville. “Well, most of the lions.”

“Don’t worry about me, mate,” said Neville with a shrug. “I know who you mean.”

Ron scoffed. “That’s just not on! You know we—”

“That aside,” said Harry without acknowledging Ron’s continued ranting, “Hermione embarrassed herself quite well on her own without any help from me. She ignored the house elves and, instead of writing factual information, choked her essay with that spew rubbish. You know, the rights organisation you complained about more than anyone? Well, Professor Origa didn’t buy into it either. Hermione’s grades are her own fault, and if she’s sending you to fight her battles because she can’t own up to her failures, then I think anyone can take a wild guess why she barely passed in the first place.”

“Oi! You don’t—”

And, as I’m still not speaking to either of you, take your bloody problems elsewhere!”

Ron scowled. “I… I don’t believe you. You really are turning Slytherin. First your snake, then you dump Ginny for no good reason, then teaming up with Zabini over Hermione—”

“Ginny was harassing me,” Harry snapped, “and I chose my study partner well as Blaise and I scored Outstandings on the essay Hermione failed!”

“Bollocks! You know she deserved better! And it doesn’t even matter. You shouldn’t be talking with Death Eaters! First Zabini and then… well, you know. And now you’re choosing them over us! It’s not natural!”

“No, Ron,” Harry snarled. “What’s not natural is carrying stupid prejudices against all the people of a certain house because they don’t think like you. What’s unnatural is abandoning and turning on your supposed best friends and then blaming your flaws on them! What’s unnatural is being afraid of everyone who’s not like you! And for the umpteenth time, Blaise isn’t a Death Eater! You’re going to get him killed with that shite!”

Harry shoved past Ron and made his way to the door, but Seamus blocked him.

“Ron’s right, you know,” Seamus said, his voice rife with disgust. “You’re more snake than lion, and that monster around your neck proves it.”

“Yeah,” Ron agreed, joining Seamus and scowling, though his voice broke. “I reckon, maybe he’s r-right. M-maybe you don’t belong here anymore.”

Tears blurred Harry’s vision, but he blinked them down viciously. “Well, good! I don’t want to be here with you pricks anyway!”

Gods, what a bastard. He was done with Ron from now on. Let him fume and shout. The minute he started on Harry from here on out, he would just silence the git and move on with his day.

Ron snarled, “Oi!”

Silencio!”

Seamus and Ron grabbed their throats and glared.

“Let’s see you two idiots break that nonverbally!” With a sniffle, Harry shoved them out of the way and stalked from the common room.

Neville sighed and followed Harry out of the portrait hole. “Come on, Harry. Let’s get you to your friend. You need him after that, huh?”

Harry sniffled and wiped his eyes. “W-why does it still hurt, Nev? I just want to be done with Ron for good, and yet everything just… it hurts.”

“I know. He’s being an absolute prick, and I hope it comes back to bite him. For now though, you need help.”

“Y-yeah. I guess you’re right.”

“Come on. Your other friend will be able to help you more than I can.”

Harry sniffled and leaned on Neville’s shoulder, grateful for his friend’s comfort and understanding. “Nev… really, thank you for standing by me.”

“That’s what friends are supposed to do,” Neville muttered with a huff.

Harry sniffled and blinked back another rush of tears. “Y-yeah.”

 


 

“…And then, Ron teamed up with Seamus and said I didn’t belong in Gryffindor any longer!” Harry leaned into Severus’ shoulder, trying to stave off his tears. “Gods, I feel like such a fool for believing in him for so long, when he could turn around and do this to me. He was supposed to be my friend!”

Isuri slithered up Harry’s arm and licked his face. ~I am your friend, Master. I will help you.~

Harry petted the snake’s back and wiped his eyes. ~Yes. You have been a good friend to me.~

Severus trailed his fingertip down Isuri’s head. “Thank you, Isuri, for watching over him when I cannot.”

~You are welcome, Master’s favourite friend.~

“She said you’re welcome.” Harry curled into Severus’ shoulder, sniffling in spite of himself. “Severus, am I… am I stupid for still loving him in spite of everything? I should hate him for this, but I can’t. I can’t forget he was my brother for so long, and… and it really hurts.”

Severus wrapped his arms around Harry and held him tight. “Ssh. You care about him because you are kinder than he is and more familiar with loss. Ronald Weasley, for all he is poor, has never lacked for anything. His parents, perhaps, cannot afford the best of everything, but he has never gone hungry. He has never had to sit in the dark while others experience the love he should know. He has never been hit or abused or lost someone he loves. His life has been a sheltered one, and his immature attitudes are a result of that.”

Harry had the sense Severus was comparing Ron’s life to his own, not Harry’s, but it hit so close to home that Harry could not help but shudder and clutch at Severus’ chest.

“P-please,” Harry whimpered, “please don’t.”

“Harry?”

“So scared.”

Severus slipped his hand into Harry’s curls and murmured against his temple. “Ssh. I am here, little one. You are not alone. I will protect you.”

Harry desperately needed an anchor against the dark memories of his past. “Severus, please, please let me hold you too. I need… I’m so damn terrified.”

Severus shuddered. “H-Harry, I… that is… terrifying for me.”

Harry whimpered and buried his face in his hands. “Gods. I just—all I want is just to hold onto you until I can breathe again. I-I don’t want to hurt you, Severus. I care for you more than anyone in the whole world.”

Severus’ breath hitched. “H-Harry? You… is that true?”

Harry gave a soft, sad laugh. “To be honest, I don’t know where it came from myself. I mean, we’ve only been friends two months. But, yeah. It’s true. Not even Neville can pull me together like you can, and he’s my best friend. The only one who’s been loyal this whole time, too. Well, Luna always seems to know exactly what to say. But she has ‘help’ and… I don’t know. I feel safest here with you, Sev.”

Severus froze. “Oh. Oh, Harry. Please….”

Harry looked up, confused and hurt. “Severus? I’m not touching you, am I? What’s the matter?”

Severus closed his eyes and lowered his head. “No one has called me S-Sev in nineteen years.”

“Nineteen?” Harry glanced to Severus’ mantel. The only two people besides Harry who had ever cared about him were their mothers: Harry’s and Severus’. And nineteen years was after Lily’s friendship with Severus had ended. Harry winced. “Your mum?”

Severus nodded. “Three days before her death, she… she sent me a message through a mirror begging me to come home, calling me Sev as she had often done when I was a child.” He covered his eyes with a trembling hand. “It was the last time I saw her alive.”

Harry swallowed tears of sympathy—and Severus’ dark, soul-deep pain—and offered his hands. “Severus, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I’m not going to take your hands, but mine are here for you if you want them.”

Severus took in a shaky breath and slipped his hands into Harry’s. “I have regretted my decision to remain… where I was at the time ever since. I would have liked to… to tell her I… but I did not, and now there are so many things I will never have the chance to say.”

Harry rubbed Severus’ knuckles and tentatively brought the man’s hands to his heart. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up such painful memories, Severus. But, you know, you can say those things. I believe she’ll hear you. She just can’t talk back any longer.”

“How could you possibly know that? She is dead, Harry.”

Harry gave him a sad smile. “Mum knew what I had said to her when my wand called her in the graveyard. She knew what I had done, what I was doing then. I suppose it’s possible that it might have been some kind of projection of my will—maybe she only knew because I wanted her to know—but….” He held Severus’ hands tighter and traced his thumbs over his friend’s fingers. “But I believe she was real, even if she could only stay for a moment.”

Severus gave him a stricken, heartsick look. “Lils—the image in the graveyard—she knew?”

“Yeah. And, you know, it would be pretty hard for Luna to be a spiritual medium if spirits don’t exist beyond the grave.”

“That is a fair point.” Severus closed his eyes and held on to Harry’s hands like a lifeline. “Then I suppose I have much to discuss with Lily, and with my own mother.”

Harry gave him a sad smile. “I’ll stay with you, if you want.”

“I think I should do it alone. I cannot bear to….” [I don’t want you to see me break.]

“Okay, Severus. Whatever you need.”

Severus opened his eyes and two hot tears tracked down his face. Harry’s heart cracked. Gods, he’d never seen Severus cry. With everything in him, he wanted so much to reach up and brush his tears away. It hurt, a physical ache deep in his soul. Unable to bear it, Harry lifted a hand towards Severus’ cheek, but at Severus’ fearful look, stopped short and dropped his hand.

“M’sorry. I just wanted to… your tears hurt. I want to make you happy.”

Severus sighed and tucked Harry into his arms. “Gods, Harry. No one has ever cared for me like you do.” He held the boy tight and buried his face in Harry’s hair. “I think you may call me Sev if you wish to. I would not allow anyone else, but you… you are….” [Special. So important to me.]

Warmth and hope flooded Harry’s chest. “S-Severus, you’re sure?”

“Yes.” [You are the only one I truly trust.] “Call me Sev, if you wish. I think you will take the sting from the name.”

Harry sighed into his neck. “O-okay, Sev.” Severus shivered, and Harry ached to be closer. “Gods, I wish you could let me hold you. It’s okay—you don’t have to. I won’t pressure you. I just really want to hug you right now, that’s all.”

Severus let slip a shaky sigh. “I… forgive me, Harry. It is still frightening to me. But I am trying. And perhaps I am making progress, even if it does not seem like it. Being able to hold you is more than I have done in over sixteen years.”

Harry nodded against Severus’ shoulder. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry.”

“It is quite all right.” Severus shifted so Harry was leaning against his side with the older man’s arm wrapped around Harry’s shoulders. “There is something I am curious about, however. How is it that you wish so strongly for my touch but you are so repulsed against Miss Weasley?”

“Well, if Ginny had taken no for an answer, the occasional hug or something probably wouldn’t have bothered me. A big part of it is her pushiness and the fact that she’s all but forcing herself onto me.”

“Oh, I am sure that is the case now, but I meant prior to the start of her harassment. Why did you refuse her at the first? I would have thought she would be a good match for you—at least before she began assaulting and harassing you at all hours of the day. Obviously, I was incorrect, but I am curious as to why you thought so in the beginning.”

Harry coughed and a fierce blush burned his face. “Um, well, it’s not just Ginny. I couldn’t like her even if she wasn’t a creepy, stubborn bint. I… it’s all women, Sev. I’m gay.”

Severus’ breath hitched, and Harry prayed he hadn’t just repulsed the man. Gods, if Severus turned on him simply because he preferred men—after everything Harry had lost, he mightn’t be able to endure it.

“Oh,” Severus breathed. “Oh, I suppose that would complicate matters.”

Harry flinched. “You… you don’t hate me, do you?”

Severus gave a dark laugh. “I would be quite the hypocrite if so.”

Harry ran those words over in his head, trying to make sense of them, and gasped as their meaning cleared. “Merlin! You’re gay too?”

Severus smiled wryly, his cheeks going soft pink. “I am indeed. We are quite the pair, hmm?”

Harry chuckled and nuzzled his face into Severus’ shoulder. “Yeah.”

For some reason unknown to him, the knowledge of Severus’ sexuality had eased some deep worry Harry hadn’t acknowledged until now. He hadn’t the slightest idea why it should matter what gender his professor preferred, but knowing Severus liked men made Harry feel better. Maybe it was simply relief to have found someone similar he could trust.

“Severus, would you be too embarrassed if I talked to you about… well, what we go through as gay blokes? I don’t know of any others.”

Severus shook his head. “I do not mind so long as we maintain certain boundaries of propriety. I am still your professor… at least in spirit.”

Harry nodded. “I think I can manage that. It’s not like I have time to date anyway.”

Severus snorted. “No, indeed. And on that note, if you are feeling better, it is time to begin your martial arts lesson.”

Harry stood with a grin. “Now that I’m always ready for! Just try to leave me in one piece this time? And we should probably work on the light tracing spell afterwards if you have time tonight. For all we know, Slytherin might have developed an antivenin for his familiar himself and it’s there, just waiting for us to find.”

“Indeed.” Severus stood and motioned to the back of his quarters, to his second bedroom that he had converted into a training area. “After you then.”

Harry beamed and ran to the training room.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26

Working Together

10 February

Harry dodged a singing cupid and made his way towards the Gryffindor table for lunch. As soon as he walked near Ginny, who was sitting beside Dean, the girl gave Dean a besotted smile and laid their joined hands on the table. Dean smiled back and shyly rubbed her fingers.

Harry wasn’t fooled. To anyone passing, they looked like a loving couple—and Dean’s attraction was genuine, now that Ginny had abandoned her relentless pursuit of his friend—but Harry sensed an ulterior motive behind Ginny’s desires and little of true affection. He couldn’t tell what she wanted exactly, but given their past, he had a fair idea.

Harry looked away lest she get the idea her ploy had worked, ducking again, this time to avoid a cloud of irritating pink hearts. Gods, he hated Valentine’s Day, though he was obviously in the minority. At least fifteen people had already asked Harry to the Cupid’s Ball that morning, much to Harry’s disgust. He guessed Ginny’s sudden desire to date Dean had more to do with wanting a date herself than actual affection—and much more to do with making Harry jealous, not that she could.

Should he warn Dean? The boy had been loyal to him and Harry didn’t want to see him hurt, but if he told Dean that Ginny wasn’t genuine, he didn’t know how Dean would take it. It might backfire on all of them.

Harry sighed and vowed to ask Luna and Severus about it later. Those two always knew what to do. On second thought, he decided to bypass the Gryffindor table altogether and sit with Luna instead. Neville followed and set up beside the dreamy girl, dodging a cloud of singing bumblebees with pink, heart-shaped wings and grating voices.

“Hi, Lu,” Harry said with a nod. “How are you today?”

“Just fine! And better, now that I have good friends to talk to.” She gave the bumblebees a wry look. “Those Ticklebees are not done well. The bodies should be pink too.”

Harry watched the bees buzz a monotone version of “I Put a Spell on You” over Ginny and Dean. He looked as thrilled as Harry felt.

Harry piled his plate with roasted chicken, cheese, and veg. “Those are Ticklebees?”

“Well, not quite. But I think they’re supposed to be.”

Harry shook his head wryly. “I hadn’t imagined anyone else could see your spirits, Lu. I guess someone must.”

Luna chuckled. “Someone who needs new glasses. Or who, perhaps, is colour blind.”

Harry snorted into a bite of mashed potato, sending it flying down his shirt. “Lu!”

She laughed and used Tergeo on his messy robes. “There you are.”

“Thanks. Um, Luna… I wanted to ask you. Do you think—”

She shook her head. “No. I’m afraid the Feathersprites are telling me to warn you against interfering. Sadly, he already knows, deep down, but he’s convinced himself it’s genuine. He doesn’t want to believe you right now, and it will only hurt him worse in the end if you try to step in.”

Harry sighed and sipped his juice. “I was afraid of that. How did it even happen?”

Luna grimaced. “Well, he has been her sympathetic ear quite a lot. I’m afraid she may have taken advantage of that fact.”

“Damn. What should I do, then?”

“Simply be his friend and be there for him when you can be. Besides, we might be wrong about her motives.”

Harry snorted, this time without making a mess of himself. “Somehow, I doubt it.”

Neville gave them bemused looks. “Mind explaining to the class?”

“Later,” said Harry with a shake of his head. “If I tell you here, the rumour mill will have it around the school by dinnertime.”

“Sooner,” said Luna, with a slight nod in the direction of Lisa Turpin, who was sitting nearby and watching avidly, a pink heart stuck to the side of her cheek.

“Right,” said Neville with a scowl. “We’ll just keep all private things to ourselves then. I’ve got something important to ask you anyway.” He gave Harry a bright smile. “Mate, where did you get your apprentice robes? Sprout’s asked me to apprentice her, and I’ll need to buy some. I like the cut of yours.”

Harry glanced to Turpin and shook his head slightly. “I’ll get back to you on that. They were a Christmas gift, but Merlin, mate! Congratulations!”

Neville beamed. “Thanks! I’m really excited. Gran’s glowing, said I’ve finally hit my stride.” He shook his head. “I think it was there all along, just in a different way from Dad.”

Pain filled his eyes, and Harry’s heart ached for his friend. Gods, it was a cruel twist of fate that had taken Neville’s parents from him so young.

Harry frowned to himself, thinking over their situation. Could he and Severus come up with a cure for Neville’s parents? Hmm. Not yet, most likely. Harry hadn’t the capability or medical knowledge to create such a complex treatment, but maybe someday—it was something to strive for at least. In the meantime, he would just be there for Neville.

“Yeah,” said Harry with a gentle smile. “You’re your own person.” His expression darkened. “I’m certainly nothing like my old man.”

“Not in the least,” said Luna with a nod. She leaned in to whisper, “And he’s glad of that. He says you’re the better man and he is proud of you, even if you are friends with… oh! James Potter! Shame on you. I’m not repeating that.”

Harry smiled through a screen of tears; by now, he had come to accept her random bursts of knowledge from beyond the veil. “Luna, thank you. I think I really needed to hear that.”

“Yes, I know.”

He burst into laughter.

 


 

A week later, the light tracing spell was finally finished. Harry led Severus down to the Chamber that weekend and set it loose along with Isuri, watching as both light and snake followed the pipelines all through the Chamber walls. Merlin, he hadn’t imagined them to be so complex. It would take longer to explore this place than he had thought.

~Master,~ came Isuri’s breathy voice, sounding urgent, ~I think I have found something dangerous. There is a nest of snake skins and a dead bird.~

Harry followed his familiar’s voice and the light tracer around the edge of Slytherin’s statue and into a compartment behind the ear. “Oh! There is something back here. Lumos!”

His wandlight revealed his snake, poised to strike at a pile of basilisk skins, and a dead rooster, blood still wet under its bitten corpse.

Severus clambered in behind Harry, though it was a tight squeeze for the larger man, and shuddered at the sight. “Merlin. I think we have found its nest.”

~Yes,~ said Isuri. ~Master, the bird looks new. Is the snake still alive somehow? Did it have a mate?~

Harry offered his arm to his frightened familiar. ~It is safe, Isuri. The snake is dead and cut up in Severus’ crystal tubes, and the rooster looks new because there is magic on this place that keeps things fresh. He has been dead a long time.~

Isuri shivered and crawled up Harry’s arm. ~I do not think I like this magic.~

~No, it is disturbing for me as well.~

“Harry,” said Severus, wand out, “stand back. I need to Vanish this.”

Harry stepped away with his familiar and watched as Severus carefully vanished the rooster and the blood around it with his specialised spell. Pity they couldn’t just vanish the venom from a human like that.

Harry froze, the hairs on his arms lifting. “Oh!” Excitement shooting a thrill through his veins, he babbled, “Sev! I might know—do you think it’s possible to alter that Vanishing spell to make our basilisk vaccine work?”

Severus frowned. “How?”

“Well….” Harry rubbed his chin, thinking hard. “The purpose of the vaccine is to stop the venom from killing the patient, right?”

“Yes…?”

“What if we’re going about it the wrong way? You’ve been trying to neutralise the venom, but honestly, Sev, that stuff is so powerful I doubt there’s anything in the world besides tears fresh from a phoenix that could. I mean, that’s why we thought of doing a vaccine in the first place—there’s just no time to administer antivenin before it kills you. As we can’t shove Fawkes into a potion and other neutralisation agents aren’t working, we need to try something else.” Harry’s eyes gleamed with excitement. “And if we could make the vaccine simply Vanish the venom on contact with the body, then a neutralising agent wouldn’t be necessary!”

Severus gasped. “Oh dear Merlin. Harry, I think—oh, it just might work! We would need to alter the spell matrix to exclude the body’s natural organs and processes and key it to the structure of the venom, but once we are past those hurdles—I can see no reason why it would fail.” He gave Harry a brighter smile than the young man had seen anywhere but the photo on his mantel and swept Harry into a hug. “You are a genius, my friend. Your innovative mind will save many lives—I am sure of it.”

Harry flushed from head to toe, heart racing and heat thrumming in his veins. “O-oh. You really think so, Severus?”

“I do.” Severus released Harry and moved back. “Come. Let us retire to my quarters and begin work.”

“All right.” Harry hissed to his familiar to come, but Isuri hesitated, nosing along the base of the wall in a dark corner.

~Master, I think there is something else here. I smell a strange scent, like your friend’s old leaf-towers.~

Books. Isuri was smelling books. Oh Merlin!

~Isuri, do you mean Severus’ leaf-towers? As old as his, or older?~

Isuri bobbed her head. ~These leaf-towers smell older. Like snake-magic too.~

Harry sucked in a sharp breath. “Slytherin’s study. It has to be.”

Severus frowned. “What?”

“Isuri smells books back here. Old books that smell like… snake magic. Parseltongue, I gather. What else could it be?”

Severus peered at the wall. “Interesting.” He jerked his gaze away and turned back towards the main Chamber. “We will explore it another day, Harry. For now, we must ready the vaccine. I fear he intends to begin poisoning students over the Easter hols, when there is less interference and Fawkes is due to burn. You are most likely his first target.”

Harry frowned at the wall, torn, but at Severus’ call, he turned and joined his friend. “All right, Sev. Let’s get to work.”

 

28 March

Severus had found a true colleague in Harry. He had never expected to meet his spellcrafting equal in a student, but the boy’s out-of-the-box thinking meshed well with Severus’ calculating intelligence, and together, they made great headway in Severus’ research. After several weeks, they had created what Severus hoped was a working anti-basilisk vaccine. It was more spell than potion, to be honest, but if it worked, they might save everyone’s lives.

Harry led Severus to the Room of Requirement, Severus under his spells and Harry under his cloak.

Outside the door, Harry whispered, “Wait, just in case someone else is inside.”

Severus squeezed his shoulder in understanding and stood by. Harry paced before the wall and breathed a sigh when a door appeared. Severus watched in fascination. So this was the famous Room of Requirement. Harry was even more resourceful than Severus had imagined to have discovered it.

Harry murmured, “The coast is clear,” and Severus slipped into the Room behind him.

“Sweet mother of Merlin!”

Severus found himself standing in a state-of-the-art medical lab, complete with several manikins of different configurations lying on slabs. Each one had been connected to a vitals monitor that tracked everything from brain waves to magic levels and displayed them on a massive magical screen next to the ‘patient.’ Severus swallowed hard at the sight of one with the appearance of a toddler. A breathing toddler.

“They… they are not real, are they?”

Harry shook his head. “Just manikins. The Room is really good at simulating life, but it can’t actually create it. I practised healing the night Riddle tried to kill you on a manikin with your features.” He shook his head. “If I’d known you were afraid of touch, I’d have done things differently, though.”

Severus froze. “What… is that supposed to mean?”

Harry shot him a glare. “Merlin, Severus! Do you really think I’d abuse you after what I saw in the pensieve? Gods. All I did was touch your face and try to find forgiveness.”

Severus winced. Fuck. That had been ill-done of him. He should have known better.

“Harry, I am sorry. I do trust you. Your wording simply startled me.”

Harry sighed and rubbed his face. “You don’t trust me. Not really. But maybe we’ll get there one day.” His shoulders slumped, he made his way to the first ‘patient,’ a nondescript boy of about Hogwarts age. “This should probably be our first test. He’s the most representative of our target recipients.”

Severus took Harry’s hand and turned the boy to face him. “At the moment, I am more concerned with you. Will you forgive me? I… I still have nightmares of my past, Harry. So many nights. And they do not only feature your family’s abuse.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “Sev, are you saying you’ve been hurt like that more than once?”

Severus closed his eyes and nodded. He couldn’t go into details, but Harry did have a point. He did need to trust the boy.

“Oh dear gods.” Harry’s head came to rest on Severus’ chest. “Sev… Jesus, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“T-that is why I am telling you now. I do trust you.”

Harry brought Severus’ hand to his chest and sighed. “Yeah. Yeah, I see that. I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

Severus ran his free hand through Harry’s hair, a touch that had become habit whenever they had a disagreement or they simply needed comfort. “Yes. Are you angry?”

“No. I wasn’t angry before, only disappointed. I really don’t want to hurt you, Sev.”

“I know.” Severus smoothed Harry’s ruffled curls—well, as much as they could be—and took position beside the Hogwarts age manikin. “We should begin testing. I think it would be best to wait thirty minutes after administering the vaccine before we introduce the venom. It will, I believe, grow in potency over time, but we do not know how much we have.”

“Right. Then we’ll start with this one and make our way around the room. And there’s a bookshelf there with medical references we could study while we wait. If you’ll just set a timer over each manikin as we go?”

“Of course.”

Harry spelled the potion into the unconscious manikin’s stomach with quite as much finesse as Poppy.

“Merlin, you truly are skilled in the medical field, Harry.”

Harry blushed and turned his face away. “Oh, that’s just a little feeding spell. It’s nothing impressive like you do every day, Sev.”

Severus set a timer over the boy manikin for thirty minutes. “I beg to differ. It is quite impressive for a sixth year to handle such a finicky spell with such skill. Well done.”

Harry blushed and moved on to the next manikin, an aging woman that put Severus in mind of Minerva. “W-well, I guess that’s why Poppy wanted me as her apprentice.”

“Indeed.” Severus set a timer over the woman too. “How is your apprenticeship going, Harry?”

“Well, I think. She seems happy with my progress.” He frowned as he moved on to an elderly manikin with a Dumbledorian beard. “The only problem is she wants to talk to me about what had me so depressed last term, but I can’t really—I mean, I’d be breaking your confidence if I talked about it. It’s worrying her, but I don’t know what I can do.”

Severus set a timer over the old man. “The pensieve incident, you mean. Does it truly still trouble you?”

Harry shuddered before a teenage girl manikin. “Much more than it should, I think.”

Severus held Harry’s shoulder. “Speak to her about it then. She is already aware of the events of that afternoon. And if it is causing you such distress, then I would prefer you seek treatment rather than….”

‘Than let it bleed as I have done for so long.’

Harry gave him a searching look. “You’re sure?”

“Yes. I would prefer you to recover. Speak to her of me if you wish. I trust you.”

Harry smiled warmly, eyes glimmering. “T-thanks, Sev. I’ll try.”

“Mm. Go ahead and dose this one before we fall behind.”

“Right.”

 


 

Sometime later, Harry and Severus had run several tests with the vaccine, tweaking errors they had missed in the creation phase. One rendition had also Vanished the subject’s spleen. Another had left their nerve endings a mess, causing terrible pain that no potion could combat. Another version successfully Vanished the venom, but failed their consumption tests—everything the patient ate or drank afterwards also Vanished. But Severus felt confident they had worked out all the kinks with this version.

He held a heavy-duty syringe full of venom over the open mouth of a new Hogwarts age manikin. “Ready?”

Harry took a deep breath and tensed in anticipation, eyes glued to the vitals monitor. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Hold your breath.”

Harry obeyed, and Severus dribbled the venom into the manikin’s mouth. The second the viscous green liquid came in contact with the manikin’s tongue, dark purple light surrounded the boy and disappeared without a trace. So far, so good.

Severus replaced the phial and looked to his companion. “Harry?”

“Vitals are holding. There was a bit of a jump in heartrate when the vaccine went off, but that’s to be expected. It was probably just simulated shock. Give it a minute and we’ll see if anything changes.”

Severus waited, watching the manikin for any sign of deteriorating health.

“His vitals are still solid,” said Harry with a grin. “I think… well, let me just run a full diagnostic here and start the food simulation. Statum Corporis Revelaro!” Every statistic they could have asked for appeared on a long parchment in front of Harry. While the Room simulated feeding the patient various foods, drinks, and potions, Severus took one end of the parchment and Harry the other, and they checked everything twice until they met in the middle.

Harry looked up and checked the consumption test results, a grin spreading across his face. “Sev, I think… it works!”

Severus looked to the manikin’s vitals, still holding steady. “So it appears. Let us try the next subject.”

“Yes!” Harry raced to an elderly female manikin and bounced in anticipation.

“Hold your breath, remember?”

Harry obeyed, though it looked to be a challenge, and Severus administered the venom. Like before, the manikin showed no signs of deterioration, not even a burn on her tongue where the venom had landed, and the consumption tests came back clear.

“Oh, Sev! I think we’ve done it!”

Severus smiled. “Let us not count our gold before the nifflers move in. We still have an entire room full of subjects to test, and we have not yet tested the vaccine on patients with chronic conditions.”

“Well, let’s get busy then.”

By midnight, they had tested the vaccine on every variation of human they could think of and even tried it on a house elf manikin. It hadn’t worked on the elf, not on such a vastly different being, but they had already begun tweaking the formula to make sure the elf population was as protected as the humans.

“I think this is as safe and effective as we can make it without true human trials,” Severus said with a tired smile.

“Yes, tomorrow, we’re the manikins.”

Severus chuckled and ruffled Harry’s hair. “Go to sleep. You’re done in.”

“Why don’t we just kip here? We can make the Room into a flat for the night.”

“If we did not run the risk of having your friends run in on us—”

Harry beamed. “We don’t. Everyone but us is warded out, except for Neville, Dean, and Luna.”

Severus gave him a searching look. “Umbridge found this place last year.”

“Yeah, when we had liabilities. Edgecombe led her to it. With just you and I included, and those we can trust with our lives, there’s no one to break the wards.”

Severus hesitated, but relented after a moment. “Oh, very well. But I am sleeping in my own room this time, understood?”

Harry grinned. “Sure, as long as you tell me a bedtime story.”

Severus had the Room conjure a pillow and tossed it at Harry’s head.

 

12 April

By Easter dinner, everyone in attendance over the hols had received the basilisk vaccine under the guise of inoculation against a particularly virulent strain of Dragon Pox. Not even the Death Eater students had skipped out. Harry had thought it a good blind himself—no one wanted to endure the nightmare that was Dragon Pox, especially not a potent strain, and the memory of Poppy’s brush with the disease was still fresh in everyone’s minds.

Like at Christmas, the students and professors shared a table for Easter dinner, each with a cream and caramel filled chocolate ‘egg’ beside their plates. Harry filled up on savoury foods first and saved his egg for last. Most of the others had done the same.

“Bottoms up, Harry,” said Dumbledore with a wink, and lifted his egg.

Harry wanted to roll his eyes, but with the other students watching, decided it was best to simply oblige the batty old man. With a shrug, he bit into his egg at the same time Dumbledore sampled his, but the sweet taste he had expected never materialised. Instead, a curious sensation spread through his tongue and throat, cold and tingling, and left him dry. It was as if all his saliva had vanished at once.

Then, he saw the purple light around his face and the old man’s, and grim understanding settled over him like the chill of a Dementor.

“Oh my,” said Dumbledore with a frown. “It appears we shall have to forego our usual Easter treat this year. It seems someone has taken the liberty of poisoning our eggs.”

Jenna Timberly, a third year Hufflepuff, squeaked and pushed her egg away. “What do you mean, poisoned? How do you know?”

“Well,” said Dumbledore with a sigh, “that light indicates a powerful poison has just been Vanished from the bloodstream. Let me just run a quick diagnostic—”

I’ll do that, if you don’t mind,” said Severus with a grimace. “Many poisons—well, they do not react well with certain spells, Headmaster.”

Dumbledore waved him on.

Severus performed the spell and revealed what they already knew. “Ah. Merlin, basilisk venom. Dear gods.” He Vanished everyone’s eggs and sat down, white-faced and visibly shaken. It wasn’t an act, either. Severus was terrified.

[If it hadn’t worked—oh gods. I would have lost them both.]

Harry didn’t dare make eye-contact with a table full of unknowns, but vowed to spend plenty of time with Severus later, when it was safe.

“Basilisk venom!” Poppy stood and gave a weak cry. “Sweet Circe! To the Infirmary this instant, the both of you. Did anyone else touch their egg or see purple light?”

Everyone shook their heads. Harry noted one Slytherin scowling—Malcolm Avery—and guessed he was the one to have dosed their eggs. As Harry left for the Infirmary, he noticed the seventh year slipping away with a dark-aligned Ravenclaw and winced. It seemed he would not have long to heal Severus’ fears after all.

 


 

Severus followed Poppy to the Infirmary. After all, it made sense that a potions master would want to be on call in such an event in case antivenin was needed. He caught the two Death Eater students slipping away and shuddered in anticipation of the pain he would feel that evening. No doubt the Dark Lord would be furious that his plan had failed.

It had failed, hadn’t it? Harry and Albus would be all right, wouldn’t they?

Sick with fear, Severus followed as close to his friend as he dared and watched Harry and Albus for any sign of trouble.

Poppy led them to the closed wing of the Infirmary, ostensibly to prevent Harry and Albus from poisoning anyone else. In truth, it was so Severus could show his fear without being labelled a traitor to the dark. As soon as the doors closed behind them and Albus had warded the area, Harry dashed to Severus’ side and held out his hands, stopping short of touching the man.

“I’m okay, Sev. It’s all right. We’re going to be fine.”

Severus let slip a shaky gasp and caught Harry into his arms. “Don’t ever terrify me like that again. I cannot lose you.” He struggled to control his emotions and looked up. “E-either of you.”

“Oh, Sev!” Gentle hands rubbed his arms. “Ssh. It’s okay. We’re safe. The vaccine just left me feeling a bit dry but everything else is okay. I’m not in pain at all. Headmaster?”

“I feel much the same,” Albus said with a nod. “I could do with some water, but I believe in all other ways, I am fit as a fiddle. However, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to check, if only to ease Severus’ mind. Poppy, if you would be so kind…?”

“O-of course.” Poppy shook herself as if coming out of a daze and waved her wand over Harry. “Statum Corporis Revelaro!”

Harry let slip a squeak. “Poppy! The n-normal diagnostic would have done well enough.”

“Not with an otherwise untested vaccine and lethal venom, young man. This time, I need to see everything in your body to make sure you’ll heal properly.”

She affixed her spectacles to her nose and read the parchment forming in front of her, her lips pursing further and further with each line. Harry winced and shrunk in on himself, trembling in Severus’ arms.

Dear gods. What was the boy so afraid of?

Poppy rounded on Albus, to Severus’ shock. “Albus Dumbledore! You have much to answer for!” Her outraged cry reverberated off the wards Albus had placed and rang in Severus’ ears.

Harry whimpered and ducked his head. “Poppy, please. Please don’t.”

She sighed and Banished her list. “From here on out, you will be receiving treatment for the injuries and conditions I found on that parchment, do you understand, Harry?”

“Y-yes, ma’am.”

Severus froze, eyes wide, heart thundering. “Poppy?”

She shook her head. “I can’t reveal anything further without his permission. Rest assured the venom did not harm him, and I will heal the rest.”

Severus swallowed hard. “Harry, are you well?”

Harry ducked his head and trembled. “I… I wasn’t. For a long time. But I’m okay now.”

Severus tucked his friend into his arms and held him tight. “Yes, you are. I will make sure of it.”

Across the room, Poppy had performed the same scan on a downcast Albus and was forcing potions down his throat with unusual ferocity, muttering under her breath. By the set of her lips and her steel-hard eyes, Severus gathered it was a diatribe rather than healing chants. Merlin. What had Albus done to make her so angry, and why was Harry so terrified?

What on earth had Poppy seen on that list?

Severus ran his hands up and down Harry’s back. “Harry, you do know you are free to speak with me about anything you wish, don’t you?”

Harry nodded and buried his face in Severus’ shoulder. “S-sorry. So sorry.”

Severus petted Harry’s curls and held him tight. “Ssh. You have nothing that requires an apology. You are safe here, little one. I have you.”

Slowly, Harry’s trembling eased.

“Harry,” Poppy said, her voice gentle, “I will reveal nothing on that list without your explicit permission. It’s quite all right, child. We will heal your wounds. I do want you to talk to me about what I found, however. Please. I promise you will not meet with judgment here.”

“I c-can’t,” Harry breathed. “I just… can’t.”

Poppy gave him a sad smile. “I do understand.” She looked to Severus and shook her head. “The two of you are more alike than you think. Well, never mind it. Harry, are you able to take some potions now?”

“D-do I need them?”

“Some, but for the most part, they’re simply a precaution.”

“Okay. Will you explain what you’re using them for later, please?”

“Of course.”

Severus helped Poppy guide Harry to a bed and sat by his side as Poppy administered his potions. Severus usually balked at letting Harry hold his hand, but when Harry reached out this time, Severus let the boy’s hand close on his own. He didn’t know what had happened to Harry in his past, but something on that sheet had terrified the boy out of his wits. Coming so close after nearly being poisoned, Severus couldn’t deny him the small comfort of holding his hand.

And Severus didn’t want to let him go either.

Merlin, was it typical to feel so strongly about a friend? He had thought his entire world would fall apart the moment the light appeared around Harry’s face and he understood what had just happened. Was that a normal reaction?

Gods, Severus didn’t know. How many friends had he known? And of those, he had lost them all. Perhaps such attachment was normal, given the circumstances.

Either way, Severus couldn’t bear to leave Harry’s side, even for a moment.

Poppy took one more diagnostic of Harry and nodded. “Well, this is improved. And I see no sign of damage on either of you. However, I feel you should remain overnight, just to make sure nothing goes awry.”

Harry shook his head. “I’m not staying if he’s called. And we’ll both need to make an appearance so the Death Eaters know we’re not dead.” He gave Albus a sharp look. “And after this, Avery needs to be expelled and tried as a criminal. He’s tried to kill three of us in as many months.”

Albus winced. “But he is so young….”

“How old was Riddle when he first murdered someone?”

Albus grimaced. “According to my research, fifteen.”

“There you are then. Avery is a dangerous, amoral monster out for nothing but his own gain. Do the right thing for once, headmaster, before someone else dies for your blind spots.”

Albus lowered his head. “I suppose… you make a good point. I will contact Kingsley as soon as Poppy releases us.”

“About time you learned from your mista—agh!” Harry clapped a hand over his head and cried out.

“Harry!” Heart racing in his throat, Severus grabbed Harry’s hands and called desperately to his friend. “Harry, what is it? Are you hurt? What is wrong?”

Harry didn’t answer, and Poppy started a diagnostic spell.

“A vision,” Albus said and moved to Harry’s side. “I believe he is—”

Harry’s eyes flashed red and a rough voice hissed through his mouth, “Alive? How is that possible? There is no antidote! Crucio!” Harry shrieked and thrashed with the pain of the curse.

“Harry!” Severus caught the boy up and held him tight, praying it mitigated the pain.

Harry screamed, “Crucio!” Another round left tears trailing the boy’s face. Severus tried to hold him still through it and fought tears of his own.

“Albus, make this stop!”

Albus gave him a sorrowful look. “I cannot. I have no more control over Harry’s visions than over fate herself. Less, to be sure.”

“But—”

Harry’s rough voice cried, “Crucio!”

“Not again!” Severus blinked tears down and held the boy’s frame as tight as he could. Anything to keep him safe. “Hold on, Harry. Hold on.”

At the end of the third round, Harry croaked, “You have disappointed me for the last time, Malcolm! Avada Kedavra!” The boy bowed up, cried out, and sank onto the bed, pale, drenched in cold sweat, and unconscious. Gods help him.

Severus held Harry close, terrified the warm breath brushing his cheek would stop any moment. “Harry, oh gods.”

Poppy said in a small voice, “I-is it over?”

“I believe so,” said a grim Albus. “Merlin, the poor boy.”

With a deep breath to calm himself, Severus sat up and ran his hand through Harry’s damp curls. “It appears it will not be necessary to expel Avery after all, Albus,” he said, his voice rougher than he would have liked.

Albus lowered his head, grief and guilt heavy in his eyes. “So I see.”

 


 

Just before ten that evening, Severus raced back to his quarters with an invisible Harry in tow, trembling from head-to-toe. Gods. He should have expected the summons, but seeing his dearest friends poisoned had terrified him out of his wits, and then knowing Avery had been killed right before Harry’s eyes—that Harry had lived his torture and death—Severus hadn’t been able to think much beyond the loss of one of his own students and Harry’s pain.

Harry waited in the living room, pacing and biting his nails, fear apparent in his every feature and stuttered breath. Severus had no time to reassure him, though he hated to leave him in such fear. He raced to his bedroom and changed into his accursed Death Eater robes and dug his mask out from its place in his top drawer.

As soon as Severus emerged from the bedroom, Harry ran to him but stopped before he touched, hands out and asking for an embrace without taking it. Merlin, this boy did so much to make him happy and safe.

Harry whispered, “Will you hug me, Sev? Please? I want to hold you too, but I won’t. I don’t want you going into this even more afraid than you already are.”

Severus held Harry tight and buried his face in the boy’s sweet-smelling curls. “I cannot stay.”

“I know. It’s okay. I just want to make you feel better, if I can.”

“H-hold me then, Harry,” Severus’ voice came out small and afraid. “I think… I need your strength.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes. Hold me too.”

Harry sighed into Severus’ shoulder and wrapped him up tight, sliding one hand into the man’s hair and the other around his waist.

Gods.

Warmth and light flooded Severus’ entire body, driving darkness and fear away, and he melted in Harry’s arms. Why should Harry’s embrace should feel safe when no one else’s had ever done? Then again, perhaps even Severus’ phobias didn’t compare to the terror of facing a furious dark lord. He shuddered and buried his face into Harry’s hair, breathing him in and taking comfort from his presence.

“Sev, I’m here,” Harry murmured. “I’ll make sure you’re okay.”

“I am so afraid.”

“I know. I can feel you trembling. I’ve got you, Severus. I’ll protect you as best as I’m able.” Harry nuzzled Severus’ shoulder. “Merlin, I’m so proud of you.”

Severus’ heart pattered and his stomach jolted. “P-proud? Look at me, Harry! How can you feel any sort of pride in me? I am a Death Eater, for Merlin’s sake.”

“No. You’re a spy, Sev. And you’re so bloody brave.” Harry hugged Severus tighter and stepped back, hands on the older man’s shoulders. “I am proud of you.” He straightened Severus’ robes and smoothed his hair. “And I’ll be waiting when you get back. You have your pendant and your cloak?”

Severus nodded. “Though I doubt even their combined power will prevent my death if he decides to use the Avada.”

“I hope so, Sev. I can’t lose you.”

Severus traced a gentle hand down Harry’s cheek, wishing to return the soft affection Harry had given him. “I feel the same, but I must go now, Harry. I am already running late.”

Harry closed his eyes and bit his lip. “I-I know. Please, please come back.”

“I shall do my best.”

Severus moved towards the door, but Harry stopped him just as he laid his hand on the knob.

“Wait!”

The boy pulled a square of silvery fabric from his pocket and unfolded it, revealing the infamous Potter cloak of invisibility. “Take this. Keep it. I want you to have it from now on.”

Severus gasped as Harry slipped the fabric over his shoulders and tied the fastenings. “H-Harry! This is… I cannot—it is too much!”

“Severus, you’re the most important person in my life. If you die, that cloak will mean nothing to me. Keep it. Use it to keep yourself safe.” Harry held his hands over Severus’ face but did not touch. “And come back to me.”

Severus laid his face in Harry’s palms and closed his eyes, shaking all over, heart thundering with fear and deep affection for this gentle, brave young man.

“I will do my best.” He straightened and gathered his wits about him, pulling his shields as tight as they would go. Merlin help him if Voldemort saw this in his mind. “I must go now, Harry. Be safe until I return.”

“I-I will, Sev.” Harry waved, tears coursing down his face. It broke Severus’ heart to turn away and close the door behind him, but he had no choice. The Dark Lord would kill him if he left it much later.

‘Merlin preserve me, for his sake if not my own.’ With that, he pulled the hood of Harry’s cloak over his head and dashed for the gates.

 


 

Harry sat on a conjured sofa outside the gates, comfortable enough between the velveteen winter cloak Severus had bought for him in January, Luna’s hot-air charm, and the hat and gloves McGonagall had given him. The fluffy patchwork quilt Luna had given him for Christmas went a long way towards keeping his legs warm too, and the body heat of his friends—Neville pressed in on one side, Luna on his other, and Dean on the other side of Neville—kept the bitter chill of a Scottish winter away.

Luna’s Tempus spell chimed midnight, thankfully under a strong silencing charm, and Harry jumped.

“Oh gods. Where is he? Is he okay, Luna? Are your Clarents talking?”

Luna held Harry’s hand. “Beyond that he is alive, I cannot tell you much, Harry. Your mother is telling me to remind you that Severus has faced worse situations before and come out in one piece.”

Harry snarled, “My mother left him to some of those situations without caring how badly he was banged up, so forgive me if that’s not particularly comforting.” He winced and wrapped his arms around his chest. “I’m sorry, Lu. I’m not mad at you. I’m just so damn scared.”

“It’s quite all right, Harry,” Luna said with a sad smile. “I know you didn’t intend that diatribe for me.”

“No. I’m still angry at her.”

Neville rubbed Harry’s back. “Can you tell us about it, mate?”

“Never without Sev’s permission. He’d never forgive me. But suffice it to say they—meaning my family and Remus—earned worse punishment than they got.”

Dean blinked. “Really, mate? I always heard they were good people.”

“To me, maybe. To Severus, they were complete arseholes.”

Luna rubbed her ears and gave Harry a wry look. “I don’t think your godfather liked that remark, Harry.”

“Yeah? Well, he was the worst of the lot, so he can stuff it for all I care.”

And yet, his loss still hurt. Harry began to wonder if he would ever sort out his mixed feelings for Sirius. Well, he had grown accustomed to Luna’s strange ability to communicate with the dead, so perhaps he might, one day.

Luna grimaced and rubbed her ears harder. “Sometimes being a spiritual medium is quite unpleasant.”

“Is he still boxing your ears?” Harry snorted. “Well, let’s see if this doesn’t sort him. Sirius, how about you put me in Severus’ position. That’s right, imagine me in the place of the greasy git and tell me if your excuses still hold water. Because I was in his position this summer, I felt everything he did—at least, what I saw of it—and what you did to him, all of you, was horrific! You should be ash—”

A crack of apparition had Harry on his feet like a shot. Severus groaned and slumped over, though all Harry could see was the hole in the snow where his body had fallen.

“Sev,” he breathed. “Oh gods.”

Harry raced to him and pulled the cloak off his shoulders, revealing a black eye, a cut across Severus’ lip, and several whip lashes across his chest, but the man’s injuries weren’t life-threatening this time.

“Thank Merlin.” Harry heaved Severus onto the sofa and fed him a healing potion. “I’m here, Severus. So are Neville, Dean, and Luna. We’ll get you home safely. And I’ll take care of you tonight, okay?”

“Ughn.” Severus groaned and laid his head on Harry’s shoulder. “Hurts.”

Harry petted Severus’ hair, hoping it comforted rather than alarmed him, and murmured healing chants under his breath until Severus could stand.

“That’s all I dare do in this weather, Sev. How did you end up so hurt anyway? I thought those charms would block it.”

Severus gave a wry snort. “They did. When the Dark Lord’s curses failed to work, he had the entire Inner Circle cast against me at once. He was shocked that I only came out of a group Flagellae curse with a handful of lash marks.”

“Dear gods,” Harry breathed. “That might have cut you to ribbons.”

Severus nodded grimly. “It may have been his intent. However, seeing how well-guarded I am worked in our favour this time. I have ousted Malfoy from his former position.”

Harry snickered softly. “Bet he’s thrilled.”

Severus’ eyes flooded with pain. “Not quite.”

Harry sighed and held his arm out by Severus’ side. “I’m going to brace you up, Sev. Can you hold on to my shoulders?”

Severus obeyed, and after some struggle, Harry managed to heave him to his feet.

“There you are. Now, just lean on me, and we’ll get you home.”

Dean moved to Severus’ other side and offered an arm. “Sir, I’ll help too, if you want.”

But Severus shook his head hard and shied away, leaning against Harry. Dean’s hurt look twisted Harry’s heart. He rubbed Severus’ back in hopes it would soothe him.

“Sev, can I explain?”

Severus nodded and leaned on Harry. “O-on the way.”

Harry squeezed his waist gently and guided him up the path. “Dean, I’m sorry. I should have warned you first. Severus has a severe phobia of touch. He can’t bear for anyone he doesn’t have a close bond with to even touch his hand. To brace him up like this, to let me support him when he’s vulnerable—it takes a lot of trust.”

Severus’ thoughts rang in Harry’s ears. [You are the only one I trust to touch my hands.]

Harry couldn’t help catching his breath. He hoped Severus assumed it was from hauling him around.

“Oh.” Dean moved away a pace and held his wand steady at Severus’ side. “Then I’ll just stand by ready to catch him with magic in case anything happens, okay?”

“Acceptable,” Severus choked out. [Merlin, forgive me. I do not mean to hurt them.]

“It’s all right, Sev,” Harry said, breathless. “He knows it’s nothing personal.”

Severus nodded and said nothing, his eyes on the ground and his focus on his steps.

Partway to the castle, Harry breathed, “Severus, how bad is our situation?”

“Not as bad as we feared,” Severus panted. “I managed to convince him you foresaw his plans in a vision. And he believes Albus created the vaccine. I claimed you gave the basilisk from the Chamber to Albus years ago and he has been studying it ever since.”

Harry scowled. “What reason was there to torture you then?”

Severus gave a bitter laugh. “Anger management.”

“Bloody bastard,” Neville muttered, then blushed. “Oh, um, s-sorry, sir.”

Severus snorted. “Do not trouble yourself, Longbottom. Perhaps we shall never see eye-to-eye over a cauldron, but in this, we are in complete agreement.”

Dean snorted. “Understatement.”

Harry held Severus tighter, frowning at the trembling wracking his slim frame. “Come on, Severus. Let’s get you home.”

“But my report—”

“You can give it just as well from the comfort of your own sofa. The headmaster can come to you for once.”

Severus sighed and laid his head on Harry’s shoulder, too weak to argue. “As you wish.”

 


 

Harry slumped against Severus’ sofa, exhausted from his long vigil and healing the man. Thank Merlin it was the hols. He’d never make it through class like this.

Severus sent the old man a Patronus, and a moment later, the headmaster stepped through the floo, giving them a curious look.

“Why did you decide to meet here, Severus?”

“He didn’t,” Harry said with a scowl. “I did. I would think you would want him to be home where he can heal after such a terrible ordeal rather than making him climb several flights of stairs twice while he’s injured—twice!”

Dumbledore coughed and rubbed his beard. “Ah, an oversight I shall not allow again.”

“You shouldn’t have done in the first place, but fair enough.”

Severus motioned to the armchair beside the sofa. “Sit, Albus. I am too tired to argue at the moment.”

Harry winced. “Sorry, Sev. I was just trying to help.”

“It is no trouble, Harry. I value your protection.”

Harry smiled and laid a hand over Severus’ wrist. He would have liked to hold the man’s hand, but this was enough for now. Severus was hurt and exhausted, and he had already made great strides earlier in the evening. Harry still felt the warmth of his body in his arms, the patter of his heartbeat against his shoulder, the feel of his trim waist cradled against his own.

Merlin, should the memory of it have made Harry blush? He shook off his thoughts and focused on the matter at hand.

Severus had just finished bringing Dumbledore up to date on what he had told Harry thus far and was discussing Voldemort’s likely plans.

“I am honestly not sure what he will do from here, Albus,” Severus said with a huff. “His attempts to drive Harry mad with his visions have failed as Harry is able to block most of them now. His poisoning attempts did not work. He is still attacking Muggles, but the aurors are onto him and tracking his signature every night, which has greatly curtailed his ability to pillage and destroy. I imagine he will do something major soon, but what… I am at a loss.”

“Well, I have a theory,” Harry said, rubbing his chin. “It might be… well, I’m not as good at strategy as Sev. But I do know how that bastard thinks—unfortunately—and this is what I would do in his shoes and thinking like the monster he is. He wants to get to Hogwarts. He wants the school and he wants me, but he’s afraid of the headmaster. So he’ll try to draw you away first, Headmaster, but we’ll be wise to that plan. And that means he’ll have no choice but to stop going after us directly. We’re too well-protected and too prepared for his games.”

Severus’ eyes narrowed, his intense focus and thought obvious on his face. “Directly?”

“Knew you’d catch that. Yes, he’ll have to stop attacking directly, but that doesn’t rule out the Slytherin route.”

“And you know what that is?”

Harry grimaced. “Well, maybe. I’m no Slytherin, but thinking about it from a tactical standpoint and in consideration of his goals and personality, I think his next move is to attack the Ministry. This time, with intent to take it over. If he can place himself or one of his agents in charge, he can force the headmaster out of the school. And with how corrupt and scattered the Ministry is at the moment, he’ll probably succeed too, in both cases.”

“Dear gods,” Severus breathed. “Merlin preserve us from that fate.”

Dumbledore shuddered. “Indeed. Severus, do you believe Harry’s theory is sound?”

“Would that I could say otherwise, but given what Harry has just pointed out, I think it is precisely what he will do.”

Dumbledore stood. “Then we must take measures to prevent such a disastrous occurrence immediately. I will advise Kingsley and Scrimgeour of the threat and offer the Order’s services to protect them. Kingsley will then mobilise his trustworthy aurors and oust those who are not, I hope, so we shall at least be prepared for an attack.”

Harry nodded. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and King will kill the bastard for us.”

Dumbledore cringed and returned to his seat. “Yes, well, about that. Harry, I think it is past time I revealed the truth of Voldemort’s resurrection to you.”

Fury bubbled in Harry’s gut, white-hot and stifling. “More secrets, sir?” Both older men winced at his tone.

Dumbledore rubbed his brow. “Forgive me, Harry. It is only that you were so young, and the magic is so dark, but, nevertheless, it cannot be put off any longer. Indeed, tonight has proven to me the folly of attributing too much innocence to students in my charge. Much as I would like you to remain pure children as long as possible, this is war, and I cannot afford to forget it again.”

“About damn time, old man,” Severus snapped.

“Yes,” Harry agreed. “Well, what have you been hiding from us this time?”

Dumbledore folded his hands in his lap and cleared his throat. “Well, I first suspected Tom had delved into soul magic when he did not perish entirely the night he murdered your parents, Harry, but I received confirmation of that in your second year, when you brought me the journal from the Chamber of Secrets….”

 


 

Harry trembled against Severus’ side, reeling with horror. Horcruxes. Dear mother of gods, Voldemort had split his soul into an unknown number of pieces and stored them in Merlin knew what to keep himself alive permanently. And as Dumbledore did not know how many he had created or what any of them were besides the journal and Nagini—Isuri hadn’t much liked that revelation, to be sure—they had no other option but to find a spell powerful enough to kill him in spite of the horcruxes.

Worse, Dumbledore had insisted that only Harry had the power to do it, but had no idea how. Dear Merlin, Harry was a seventeen year old student! What was he supposed to do against a seventy year old dark lord? An immortal dark lord at that!

But Harry couldn’t ignore the Prophecy. “The one with the power to destroy the dark lord approaches… power he knows not….” What did it mean? What did Harry have that set him apart from everyone else?

Aside from his mother’s blood protection, he could think of nothing beyond his ability to speak to snakes. And that meant his answers lay in only one possible place: Slytherin’s secret study. Slytherin’s journals might have even given his heir the spells needed to mutilate his soul in the first place. And if the books held the answer to making horcruxes, then they might also hold the secret to destroying them, regardless of their proximity.

Even if they didn’t, Harry might find some inspiration there, or at least a hint.

With a sigh, he settled onto his bed, transfigured from Severus’ sofa, and crossed his arms over his waist. Severus sat beside him, stark terror written all over his face.

Severus’ voice trembled. “This war will never end, will it?”

Harry held his hand out for Severus to take. A warm palm slid against his.

“There has to be a way, Severus. I’m almost positive we’ll find the answer in Slytherin’s study.”

“A-and if we don’t?”

Harry gave him a grim look. “Then we’ll bloody well make one. We made an impossible antivenin, didn’t we? Maybe we can make an impossible horcrux breaking spell too.”

Some of the terror left Severus’ eyes. “That is true.”

“Yeah.” Harry rubbed Severus’ knuckles. “Don’t give up, Sev. Remember the prophecy said I had the power to defeat him, so it’s out there, somewhere. Or maybe in here.” He pointed to his chest. “We just have to find it.”

Severus sighed and squeezed Harry’s hand. “Yes. Yes, you are right.” He stared at their joined hands for a long moment. “Harry, I… if you do not mind, may I stay in the living room with you tonight? I need you to ground me in the midst of such horrors.”

Harry gave him a soft smile. “Of course it’s all right. To be honest, I miss our nights in the Chamber, you know? It was so peaceful there once we had the basilisk out, and I didn’t have to deal with flaky housemates. I’d feel safer if I could watch over your healing anyway.”

Severus nodded and tugged Harry’s hand into his lap. “I am glad you are with me.”

“So am I, Sev.” Harry rested his head against Severus’ shoulder and sighed, relieved that he didn’t have to face such a daunting task alone. “So am I.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 27

A Chink in their Armour

21 April

Hermione and Ron came back from the hols arguing more than ever. It seemed Hermione had given up on getting Ron to take his studies seriously, but she couldn’t stop nagging him about his failings either. To Harry, it sounded as if she felt abandoned. And as Ron had taken to leaving the common room every night, not returning until just before curfew—or sometimes well after it—he couldn’t blame her.

Then again, Harry couldn’t blame Ron for seeking an escape from her constant nagging either. Harry couldn’t get out of the tower fast enough himself as of late. He would have avoided it altogether and just used Severus’ quarters to study, but he feared drawing too much attention. For the sake of his friend’s life, he had to at least make a few appearances in the tower now and again. Even if Gryffindor wasn’t a comfortable place for him any longer, whether his former friends were present or not.

Seamus had talked to the Prophet earlier in the hols, making Harry out to be a dark lord in training. “Always hanging with the Slytherins, he is, and they’re all dark as night. And that snake of his—he’s always talking to it. Hissing. You know who else likes to hiss? Dark lords.”

Harry had tossed the paper in the bin like the rubbish it was, but the allegations had still hurt. Gods, he didn’t need those kinds of charges levied against him, particularly when he was in the middle of planning a war against said dark lord. At least the Ministry had let up on him now they had concerns of their own to deal with. Otherwise he might have already been taken in on suspicion of being the next Voldemort simply because he was friends with a few light-sided Slytherins and had a snake familiar.

Ridiculous.

Harry sighed and took his usual seat beside Blaise for Ancient Magic. Worrying about the things he couldn’t change would only drive him mad in the end. It was best to focus on his studies, training, and the search for a Horcrux-banishing spell. In the end, Seamus’ misguided opinions meant nothing compared to that problem.

Merlin help him, he had no idea how to win this war.

Blaise nudged Harry’s shoulder. “Harry? Are you all right?”

Harry shook himself and gave the boy a wan smile. “Just worried about everything.”

“Yes, I would say so.”

Ahead of him, Hermione came into the classroom with Padma, chatting in a dull voice. “I was sure it would at least come in second, but no. I didn’t even place.”

Padma nodded. “Yes, well, the student-level competitions are more about making perfect potions. The Gilbroy-Newman competition wants more than that. They want to see innovation, changes to a formula that make it more accessible, more effective, that sort of thing. The potion they did choose—Balthazar’s Brew—people have been trying to tame it since Biblical times. And Mistress Hilta somehow turned it into a usable treatment for the Babel Curse—a treatment that other potions masters can recreate without too much difficulty. That curse has never been curable, so I think they made the right choice in recognising her efforts. A lot of people will have a real hope of a better life now thanks to her work.”

Hermione slumped. “I-I know. I just… well, I suppose I thought making a famously-difficult medicine would earn me some sort of recognition in the field, but I didn’t even make the top fifty.”

“Well, that doesn’t do anything to make the formula more accessible for other brewers or to help others; it just shows that you can make a difficult potion. It’s a decent achievement, but not enough to win the contest. Not that contest anyway.”

With a sigh, Hermione nodded and set her books on her usual table. “So it seems.”

“Buck up,” Padma said with a smile. “You did well. They did at least accept your entry. If it hadn’t been made well, they’d have just shipped it back and said ‘no thanks.’ So that’s something, isn’t it?”

Hermione gave her a wan smile. “Yes, I suppose it is. Thanks, Padma.”

“Anytime.” Padma moved to sit beside her sister and opened her books.

“Well, that’s not really a surprise,” Blaise whispered to Harry. “Granger is intelligent, but far too rigid. And arrogant.”

Harry gave a sad smile. “Sounds like she’s been knocked down a peg or twelve. Maybe it will give her a bit of humility.”

“I certainly hope so. She’s been an absolute horror to deal with all year.” Blaise leaned back with a frown, keeping his voice quiet, if no longer in a whisper. “Speaking of horrors, Harry, I’ve heard some strange rumours about Easter dinner this year. Are they true?”

Harry gave him a measured look. “That would depend on what you heard.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Hermione’s head had turned towards them.

“The rumours say you were poisoned,” said Blaise. “Along with the headmaster.”

“True.”

Hermione flinched.

“And,” said Blaise, eyes narrowed, “by basilisk venom.”

“Also true.”

Hermione stiffened and gasped.

“And you didn’t die. Or even flinch!”

Harry gave a wry laugh. “Well, I’m pretty sure I flinched, but I’m obviously not dead, and the last time I checked, the headmaster hasn’t gone on either.”

Blaise chuckled. “Well, clearly so. But the truly fantastic rumour is that not only were all the students inoculated against basilisk venom prior to the attack—”

“They were, and you have