To Dream These Dreams
by DragonLight


Harry folded his arms around his upraised knees and stared at the wall.  He was sitting on his bed at the Dursleys’, as he had done since he returned home two weeks ago.  Sure, he would move occasionally, but he always returned to his seat on the bed to stare at the yellowing, empty wall, wishing that his head was just as empty.  

This summer hadn’t seemed so bad at the train station.  It had actually seemed that Lupin, and Moody, and Tonks wanted to know how he was.  At least that’s how he had taken it at the time.  He had thought that’s why they insisted he drop them a note everyday of the summer.  He had been wrong.

Harry reached out toward his desk without looking.  His hand made a grabbing motion, but closed on nothing.  He turned his head and spied the sneak-o-scope on the floor not too far away from his bed.  He contemplated moving so he could get it, but it was too much trouble.  The thing was already broken beyond repair.  Ron would be furious when he found out that Harry had taken his anger out on a gift he had bought for him.  

Well, what was one more angry person?  Harry picked up a scrap of parchment in his hand and glanced at it.  He couldn’t read it, he had torn it up after reading it through the first time, but he still remembered what it said.

We didn’t get your missive yesterday.  The Order doesn’t have someone to go check on you right now.  Please send note. – Lupin

Not even an “Are you ok, Harry?  The Muggles haven’t been awful to you, have they?”

It had only been one stupid day.  Harry hadn’t felt like writing yesterday.  And he hadn’t felt like writing today.  If the Order was worried about him, they could bloody well send someone to check on him because he doubted that he would feel like writing tomorrow either.

But the next day Harry did write.  His note was short, but it said that everything was fine, that he had just been upset about ‘certain things’, and not to bother sending anyone; after all, he knew how busy they all were.

He didn’t want to see anyone.  He just wanted to be left alone.  What was so wrong with being alone?  It wasn’t like he had anyone close to him anymore.   Sirius was dead.

The sneak-o-scope crashed against the wall for what must have been the hundredth time.

“BOY!  You better not be destroying that room!”

Harry heard the heavy footfalls of his uncle booming as he climbed the stairs.  He just lay back on his bed and stared at the ceiling.  3… 2… 1…

His bedroom door crashed open, hiding the smashed sneak-o-scope and the mark it had left on the wall.

“What do you think you are doing up here?”  His uncle’s voice came out in an angry hiss.

“Studying.”

“I don’t see any books.  And you aren’t allowed to do that … stuff with that… stick…”

Harry just shrugged.  He didn’t care anymore.

Vernon narrowed his eyes and glared at Harry for a moment before slamming the door shut again.  He wouldn’t lock it; that would have been something unsavory that Harry could report to those people that had been at the train station.  And his uncle certainly didn’t want that.  

But Harry did.

He didn’t know why, but the thought of those Muggles getting their just desserts for the last 14 or so years appealed to him.  But would the Order do anything?  Probably not.  Especially since his aunt and uncle would just say that he had been recalcitrant since he’d returned.  And that was true.  Not that the Dursleys’ stopped him from being so.  They just left him alone his room, and rarely said anything when they heard something crash against the wall.

His mood wasn't that much different four days later.  Staring around his room, he took in the books that were scattered across the room, after he had tossed them there in order to see what page they landed on, the parchment that was poking out from his desk drawer.  He strained his eyes to see if he could find the cap to his ink bottle that had fallen the day before but he had felt like looking for.  Instead he had traced the letters on the back of his hand; "I must not tell lies" was standing out in bright blue ink.

He laid back and put his hands behind his head, breathing in heavily.  A fly zoomed near the ceiling and the image of a teenaged Snape casting the killing curse while lying in bed filled his head.  Picturing his uncle's head on the tiny buzzing body, he clenched his fist and lifted his hand, copying the movement even though he didn't have his wand.  What was Snape thinking about when he hit those flies?  His father, godfather?  He rolled over, facing the wall, trying to cast the image and thoughts of Snape out of his mind, but failed; his thoughts lingered, though, switching between the awkward teenager and the domineering man.

A knock sounded on his door, snapping his attention away from the fly and everything it had called to mind.  He turned his head to look at the door, but said nothing.  His aunt, the only one who ever knocked, would come in on her own if he didn’t answer.  The knock repeated, but Harry still didn’t say anything; it would take too much energy.  Energy that he could spend being angry.  At what, he didn’t know.

The doorknob turned, and a streak of light entered his room along with the quiet voice of Remus Lupin.

“Harry?  Are you in there?”

He shifted so his back was toward the wall.  Remus came further into the room and closed the door behind him.  

Lumos.  You know, Harry, it isn’t good to be sitting in the dark.  Your family says that’s all you’ve been doing.”

“As if they care.”  He swung his legs off the bed so that he was sitting, facing Remus.

Remus wisely didn’t respond to that.  “You haven’t written in three days, Harry.  We’re worried about you.  I got in touch with Ron and Hermione.  They say you haven’t written them at all this summer.”

“It’s not like they’ve written to me, either.”

“Well, they have been busy-“

“So have I!”

Remus looked around the room.  “So I see.  May I sit?”

Harry shrugged a shoulder.

Remus pulled out his desk chair, carefully avoiding placing a leg on any of the books strewn over the floor.  “Hmm, what have you been doing?”

“Studying.”

“Funny, it looks like you’ve been brooding to me.”

“So what.”

“Harry, we cannot dwell on what we can’t have.  I know that you’re hurting.  You miss him.  I miss him, too.”

“Not like I do!”

Remus nodded.  “You’re right.  Not as you do.  You miss him like a big brother, or maybe a father.  I miss him as a… that’s not important.”

Harry noticed Remus swallow hard.  “As a what?”

“Harry…”

“Don’t 'Harry' me!  He was your friend.  Maybe your best friend, but still, that's not like he was --”

"My lover?"  The words were whispered, Remus' head turned away, but Harry heard them clearly.

What?”

“You heard me.”

“You and Sirius were…”  Harry couldn’t finish.  His shoulders sagged and he stared at one of the books scattered across the floor.  How could he be angry at someone who was hurting as much as he was?

“Lovers?  Gay?  What?”

“Both, I guess.”

Remus nodded.  “We would have told you eventually.  It was just that-“

“You didn’t know how I would react.”  

“Exactly.”  Remus took a deep breath.  “I know it must be frustrating here.  Not being able to grieve.  Having to hide what you are.”

“Don’t you want to know how I would have reacted?”

“It’s not important, Harry.  What is important is that-“

“I wouldn’t have minded.  I think it’s good that neither of you were alone in that way.  I think it’s good that Sirius had someone to love him.”

Remus didn’t say anything, just looked at Harry.

“It must be really hard for you.  And I thought I missed him.”  Harry sat up on the bed.

“You’re taking this very calmly.”

“No reason not to.  It doesn’t really bother me.  Personally, I can understand why you wouldn’t like girls.”

Remus’ eyebrows looked like they were going to disappear into his hairline.

Harry felt the need to talk about what happened with Cho last year.  He was about to mention how handsome he thought Sirius had been in Snape’s pensive, but thought better of it.  Those were thoughts that Harry didn’t quite feel comfortable dealing with.

Remus and Harry talked late into the night, and eventually Harry started to feel a little better about everything.  They stuck to talking about Sirius and school, mostly.  

And so started their tradition.  Harry would write for the three days after Remus left and then wouldn’t for the next three.  Remus would come on the sixth day and they would talk.  It made them both feel better; Harry was finally able to look at his school books without throwing them across the room.

When his O.W.L. scores came, he was ecstatic to see that he had gotten an ‘O’ in Defense Against the Dark Arts and amazingly in Charms.  And somehow he had managed to get an ‘E’ in Transfiguration.  He had done similarly in Potions, and that had brought him down.  After all, he knew that Snape wouldn’t let anyone into his N.E.W.T. class unless they had an ‘O’ on their Potions O.W.L..  Remus had told him there were plenty of other things that he could do and he shouldn’t worry about his scores.  They were very good.  And maybe he should consider something else besides becoming an Auror.

But then everything turned upside down.  Harry had planned it so that the three days would end on his birthday.  But Remus didn’t show up that night, and as Harry looked out at the night sky he realized why.  It was the full moon.  He wondered who, if anybody was going to come and check on him.  Maybe it would be Tonks.  That wouldn’t be too bad.  She was always good for a laugh.

“Potter.”

Harry turned quickly from the window at the sound of Snape’s voice.  He was standing in the doorway, his aunt Petunia a little behind him, glaring.

“Professor.  What are you doing here, sir?”

“In your need for attention, you seem to have forgotten to write the missive that allows the Order to make sure that you are indeed safe.  Much to my displeasure.  Don’t think that your little games with Lupin haven’t been noticed.  Dumbledore seems to want to amuse you, for some reason, and allows that worthless wolf to come and keep you company once a week.  However, I will not.  Now that I see you alive, I can return to headquarters and assure Dumbledore that you are indeed fine.  Goodnight.”

“Wait.”

Snape lifted one eyebrow.

“Don’t go.  Stay, for a minute.”  At Snape’s glare Harry hastily added on “please, sir.”

“And why would I want to do that?”

“I wanted to talk to you.”  And at that moment Harry knew it was true.  The things he had seen in his professor’s mind as well as in the pensive had bothered him and made him curious about him.  And about his father.  Many of Remus’ stories about when they were younger had been about pranks they had played on Snape.  Whenever Harry asked what Snape had done to them, the look was one of confusion, as if Remus didn’t understand the question.  And Harry, not wanting to destroy the somewhat livelier atmosphere, hadn’t the heart to question him further.

“How awful for you, Potter.  Prepare yourself for disappointment, then.  I have no intention of talking to you.”  Snape started to turn around but stopped at Harry’s quiet words.

“All right, then.  Goodbye, sir.”

“No fit of temper that you haven’t gotten your way?”

“No reason, sir.  I expect that you wouldn’t want to talk to me, especially after the way that Sirius and the rest of the Marauders treated you.  You must be glad that he’s dead.”

“That mutt deser-“

“No, my father.”

Snape turned and glared at Harry’s simpering aunt before slamming the door shut.  In two quick strides he was standing over Harry, looking down at him with the utmost contempt.  “Your father-“

“My father was a conceited prick, as far as I’ve heard.”  At Snape’s startled look Harry continued.  “But he was still my father, and I’ll kindly ask for you not to insult him since he cannot defend himself or his actions.  Sir.”

“You’ll kindly ask?”

“I’m not my father, no matter how mu…” Harry took a deep breath, “much Sirius wanted me to be.”

Snape just glared at him.

“I know you hated them, and if I was in your place, I’d hate them too, but they’re dead.  Don’t you get that?  They’re DEAD.”

“As touching as your sorrow is, Potter, I do not-“

“You don’t want to hear about it.  I know.”  Harry turned his back to his teacher.  He didn’t know what had possessed him to ask that he stay, to talk to him.  Curiosity about his father, maybe.  A hope that Snape would tell him that his family, his real family, hadn’t been as horrid as the pensive and Remus had made them out to be.  “Just go.”

“As you wish.”  Snape mock bowed in his direction and turned on his heel.  The door slammed behind him as he left.

Three days later, Harry still hadn’t written to the Order.  He had received some birthday greetings from his friends – Ron’s had been late – but they had seemed half-hearted at best.  Even Hagrid’s hadn’t been filled with the usual cheery greetings and odd present.  The odd present had been there, a genuine piece of a Chimera egg, but the cheery birthday greetings had been noticeably less cheery.

His door swung open at six in the evening as it usually did, but for the first time since Remus had started visiting, Harry didn’t want to talk to him.  The sight of him would not cheer him up.  The visit from Snape was still running through his head, and it was bothering him more than he thought it should.

“Potter.”

That voice.  He had hoped that he wouldn’t have to hear that voice until he returned to Hogwarts.  “Where’s Remus?  Sir.”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but he had some work that he had to do for the Order.”

“If it’s not my business then why tell me?  Sir.”

“He requested that I inform you of his reasons for not being able to come and talk to you tonight.”

“Why you?”

“Aren’t you just full of annoying questions?  Because the Headmaster requested it.”

“Did he also request that you be nice?”

Cold silence was his response.  He finally turned to look at the professor.  He was dressed in muggle clothes, his hair pulled back from his face although it obviously hadn’t been washed.  His arms were crossed over his chest, and his eyes narrowed with an angry glint.

“Why send anyone to check on me at all, sir?  The wards on this house should keep me safe.  Dumbledore said they were tied to my aunt.”

Snape’s glare had gone even colder.  “Headmaster Dumbledore, boy.  He deserves your respect.  Some members of the Order seem to think that you are worth their concern.”

“But I’m not worth yours?”

“Quite right.”

Harry felt his chest clench tight at the casual admission.  He shouldn’t care that Snape could care less about him, he had expected as much, after all.  “I see.”

“I don’t think you do, but then again I think you see little at all.  You understand nothing-“

“Stop!  I hear about my insufficiencies all the time.  I don’t want to hear it anymore.”

“-nothing about the world around you-“

“Stop it!”

“-though your understanding of some things far surpasses your age level.  Not that I should expect a sixteen year old to understand things he has never seen or heard of before.”  Snape leveled a rather blank stare at him.  “Do not interrupt me again, Potter.”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

Snape glared at the small desk chair before pulling it out and moving it to the other side of the room.  He sat down stiffly, his arms still crossed over his chest, and one ankle resting on the opposing knee.

“Why are you still here?”

“The Headmaster seemed to think a little visit would do us both a world of good.”

“His words?”

“Indubitably.  However, he also thinks that furthering your lessons in Occlumency would help also.”

Harry’s head snapped up.

“And it pained me to tell him that I would not, under any circumstances, continue those lessons.”

Harry returned his gaze to the floor.  Now that he no longer had the Occlumency lessons with Snape he understood how important they were.  If he had taken his lessons seriously the first time around, Voldemort would never have been able to dupe him into leaving school grounds and going to the Department of Mysteries.  Sirius would still—

Thoughts like those helped no one.

He looked up at Snape.  “I understand, sir.”  After taking a deep breath he continued, “I wanted to apologize for my behavior.  I was out of line.  I had no right-“

“Damn straight you had no right!”

Harry focused on the older man’s face; it was more devoid of color than usual and there was an angry glint in Snape’s eyes.  He swallowed, and then bit his lip, staring intently at his hands, trying not to look at him.

“I don’t suppose you have learned your lesson about prying into other’s affairs.”

Harry didn’t want to tell Snape that it hadn’t been the first time that he had nosed around in someone’s pensive.  He thought it best to stay silent.

“I didn’t think so.”  Snape brushed a piece of lint off his trousers.  “As for your Occlumency lessons, the headmaster will see to them when you begin your classes at the start of term.”

“I understand, sir.”

“Good.  If that is all, I believe-“

“What did you ever do to my father and his friends?  Why did they hate you?”  Harry had lifted his knees up on the edge of the bed and rested his chin on top of one.  This was the only person who could answer the question that had been nagging at him since he had seen Snape’s memory in the pensive.

Snape breathed in heavily, before narrowing his eyes and looking at Harry in an appraising manner.  “I existed.”

“There must have been more to it than that.”

“Well there wasn’t.  Not that it’s any of your concern, Potter.”

Harry’s lips tightened and he glared.  “He was my father.  I think that it is my concern.  Don’t I deserve to know what type of person my father was?”

“Listen to those who liked him, Potter.  You won’t like what I have to say about him.”  Snape turned and started out the door.  

Right before it slammed shut behind him, Harry murmured, “But I’m afraid that your opinion of him might be the one that’s right.”  And right before the door shut he thought he saw Snape pause for a moment and glance over his shoulder toward his room.

It had probably been a figment of his imagination.

~///~

… records indicate that you have expressed an interest in becoming an Auror.  Suggested N.E.W.T. level courses are:  Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Potions, and Transfiguration.  These are, of course, the bare minimum.  You are eligible to take the following N.E.W.T. level courses:  Charms, Care of Magical Creatures, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Herbology, Potions, and Transfiguration.  Please indicate which classes you would like to take this coming term.  We expect your return owl no later than…

Harry blinked a few times before looking at the list of classes again.  It hadn’t been his imagination; he had been accepted into N.E.W.T. level Potions.  Snape had let him in without an Outstanding on his Potions O.W.L.

His exaltation only lasted a few moments, however.  It occurred to him that this had most likely been Dumbledore’s doing.  Trying to make up for last year, or some such nonsense.  He could even hear the Headmaster’s voice.

“Come now, Severus.  The poor boy will, in all probability, die while attempting to defeat Voldemort.  If he wants to become an Auror, we should support him as much as we can.”

Harry crushed the letter in his fist and clenched his teeth.  He hated it.  Absolutely hated it.  The stupid prophecy.  Dumbledore.  Snape.

Stupid, scornful Snape.  Snivellus.  No.  Harry would not call him that, even in his head.  It wouldn’t be right.  He wasn’t James, he wasn’t his father.  He hated what the Marauders were.  They were bullies and he had had enough of those growing up.  He was better than that.

Harry sighed and lay back on his bed.  He wouldn’t deal with those thoughts now.  Right now he had to decide which classes he was going to take next term.   He fell asleep staring up at the ceiling.

~///~

Harry stared at the front of the classroom; it wasn’t as bright as he was used to.  For some odd reason the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom had been moved to a little-used corridor off of the first floor near the entrance to the dungeons.  This couldn’t forebode well for the new Defense Professor.  

Harry kept telling himself that no one could be as bad as Umbridge.  Not even Snape, no matter what Ron said.  He glanced over at Hermione.  She smiled hesitantly at him before looking around the classroom again.  Well, it was a very small class, no more than 10 students.

“Where’s Ron?”

“He’s not taking it.”

Hermione’s forehead creased.  “Why not?”

“Said that he didn’t make it in.”

“I thought he said he got an ‘E’ on his O.W.L.”

“He did.”

“Oh.”

The door in the back of the room slammed open, and Snape made his way to the front of the room.  Harry felt his heart drop down into his stomach.  “You are all here because you have somehow managed to pass your O.W.L. with an Outstanding.  How some of you,” Harry felt Snape’s gaze land on him, “managed to accomplish such a feat is beyond my understanding.”  Snape looked around the room.  “I think that it would be best if we went over what is expected from you for this class.

“Mondays will be dedicated to theory, Wednesdays to learning the practical applications, and Fridays will be to testing you on both theory and application.  Also on Wednesdays you will be expected to turn in a four to five foot essay on the theory we cover on Monday.  This paper should be more in-depth than what is covered in class; therefore, if you do not know how to get to the library as of yet, I suggest that you ask Miss Granger for directions after class.”

Harry glanced at Hermione, who was cherry red, before turning to face the front of the room again.

“This class is for advanced students and I will not tolerate any slacking off.  Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Professor.”

“Monday theory lessons will follow this model:  the history of what we’re studying, the explanation behind the defensive tactic, usually a spell, and then why this works.  In order to understand the subject material you are expected to have the pertinent chapters of your book read before class.

“The last thing that you should be aware of is that during theory lessons there will be no wands out.  Put them away.”

The whole class hesitated before complying.

Harry finished scribbling down everything that Snape had said.  There was no telling what would happen in this class.  Defense might be his best subject, but with Snape as a teacher Harry hoped that he wouldn’t fail.

~///~

After Defense Against the Dark Arts, Harry and Hermione sat down on either side of Ron at lunch.   He glanced at them before looking back at his plate.  “So, how was class?”

Hermione looked away, and Harry found himself wishing that she’d answer.  It was always much easier to deal with Ron being mad at anyone other than him.  He couldn’t very well tell Ron that he had found the lesson fascinating, learning the theory and history behind the Patronus Charm.

“Snape’s the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.”  It was still the truth, and something that Ron wouldn’t mind hearing.

As evidenced by the grin that covered his face a second later.  “Don’t feel nearly as bad about not getting in.  Being an Auror isn’t worth putting up with Snape.”

Midway through lunch Ron was tugging on his sleeve to get his attention.  “Do you think there’s a chance that we can pick up with the DA again this year?  I talked to Dean, and he wanted to keep up with Defense and all, even though he didn’t get into the N.E.W.T. level class either.  Just in case You-Know-Who… well you know.”

Ron had been whispering, but Harry felt himself being stared at by every member of the DA that was in Gryffindor.  “I’ll try.”  He leaned closer to Ron so that no one could hear his next words.  “I won’t know if I’ll have time until after I talk about my Occlumency lessons with Dumbledore.”

“Got it.  So what did Snape do to torture you today?”

“Patronus.  And we have a five foot essay due on Wednesday.”  Hermione buried her nose back into her Charms book after answering.

Ron elbowed Harry in the side.  “Bet he told you how you had it wrong all the time, huh?”

“Something like that.”  Hermione gave him a look, and Harry averted his gaze.  Snape hadn’t really done anything.  Other than ignore him for the whole period.  Why shouldn’t he just let Ron think that the class was unbearable?

~///~

“I’m glad that you could join me for tea this evening, Harry.”  Dumbledore waved him to the seat in front of his desk.  “There are quite a few matters I think that we need to discuss.”

Harry nodded and accepted the teacup and saucer that was hovering in front of him.  “My Occlumency lessons, Headmaster?”

“Among other things.”  Dumbledore took a bite out of his biscuit.  “Now, I understand that Mr Weasley was curious about some extra tutoring in Defense.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I trust that you’ll be a good friend, Harry, and help in whatever way you can.”

“Yes, sir.”  Well, that answered his questions about the DA.  He would have to find time to fit that in.

“One more thing before we discuss your private tuition, Harry.”

Harry tilted his head to the side.  “What’s that, sir?”

“I’m afraid that I have not been able to get the ban prohibiting you from playing Quidditch lifted.  I’m sorry, Harry.”

He swallowed.  “Can I keep my Firebolt, at least?”

“Of course, of course.  Now I will be trying to get it lifted so that you’ll be able to play next year.  And since I doubt that you want to get out of practice you can always ask the new Gryffindor captain if he’ll let you practice with the team.  The only thing you can’t do is play in the official games.”

Harry nodded.  “And who’s the new captain, sir?”

“Why, Mr Weasley.”

He was happy for Ron, he was.  It had to be something else that was making him feel like he had just been punched in the stomach.  Something else entirely.

“As for your Occlumency lessons.  I’m afraid that I can only teach you so much, Harry.”

This was it.  Dumbledore was going to tell him how Snape had to teach him, but refused, so they were just going to let Voldemort kill him little by little, and get everybody else killed in the process because he was an idiot who couldn’t keep his nose out of other people’s business.

“I’ll teach you everything I can, Harry.  But there will come a point when I won’t be able to teach you what you need to know.  Professor Snape has agreed to take over at that time.”

Harry blinked.  He couldn’t have heard right.  “And when will that be, sir?”

Dumbledore sighed.  “I can’t tell you that, Harry, because I don’t know myself.  It all depends on you.”

“Sir?”

“On how hard you apply yourself.  Now.   I expect you to try your hardest.  Professor Snape and I are teaching you this to protect yourself from Voldemort.”

Harry nodded; he had brought up another good point.  “Professor?”

Dumbledore gestured, giving him permission to continue.

“Should I not call Voldemort by his name?  Professor Snape said that you were powerful enough to say his name, but that… I don’t know, I don’t think he ever told me why, just that normal wizards shouldn’t.”

“Professor Snape has many demons, Harry.  You can choose either to say it or not to while in his presence.  But you must understand this, Harry.”  Dumbledore looked him hard in the eye.  “You are strong in your own right, and it is in your future to face him.  If you fear him, then you will not be able to face him and defeat him.”

Harry heard the unspoken words.  And you will die. He swallowed hard and took a deep breath.  He had a lot to think about.

~///~

“Potter, stay after.”

Harry stopped packing his bag and looked up.  Professor Snape was no longer looking at him; he was writing something down in a ledger on his desk.  He couldn’t remember doing anything that could deserve detention, but then again this was Professor Snape, the most unjust teacher in the school, especially to him.  Harry stopped that train of thought.  It wasn’t true.  He was just getting back at his father.  Stupid pranks, stupid mean idiots.

When the room finally cleared, Harry approached the desk.

“I expected better from you, Potter.”

Harry had to bite back the words, “who doesn’t.”  That would only get him detention with Filch scrubbing out bedpans without magic or cleaning some other filthy corner of the castle.

“As much as I dislike Lupin, for obvious reasons, I do trust his opinion on Defense spell casting.  I know, as does everyone else who knows you, that you are capable of casting a fully corporeal Patronus on demand.  What happened today, Potter?”

Harry bit his lip.  It had been harder to cast the charm with Snape there than it had been in the past, but he knew that wasn’t what the professor was talking about.  He had had a much harder time finding a good happy thought.

“I cast it more than all the others.”

Snape looked at him, his face devoid of all emotion.  “But the others have not been performing the spell since they were thirteen.”

“Well then, perhaps I’m just not happy enough.”  That’s it, the stupidest thing he had ever said.  He could see Snape filling out the detention form now.

“Sit down, Mr Potter.”

He sat.

“Tell me, do you know why most grown wizards have trouble casting the Partonus Charm?”

Harry shook his head.  Remus had told him that, but the reason hadn’t been in any of his research and he had never bothered asking why.

“It’s relatively simple.  Adults make connections between memories and things that children don’t.”

Harry nodded his understanding.

“Now tell me, what have you used to focus on in the past?”

He shrugged.  “Flying for the first time, sir.”

“Does that still work?”

Harry thought about it for a minute before he answered.  “No, sir.”

“Any reason in particular why not?”

He was silent, not knowing quite what to say.

“Look at me, boy!”  Harry’s head shot up, and he found himself staring into Snape’s black eyes.  “Why?”

He said the first thing that came into his head.  “Because I can’t play Quidditch anymore.”

Snape nodded and leaned back into his chair.  “Precisely.  That memory is tainted by something negative.  Again, Mr Potter.”

There was no need to ask what he meant by that.  “The time Hagrid told me I was a wizard and was going away to school.”

Snape said nothing; it was obvious that he was waiting for the rest.

“Finding out I was a wizard was good, at first.  I realized that I wasn’t just a freak and that the things that were happening to me happened for a reason.  But then I got saddled with the Boy-Who-Lived nonsense.  Everyone is always looking for the worst things.  I hate it.”

Harry didn’t look at him, but he could feel Snape staring at him, analyzing what he had just said.  “Acceptable.”

“And what does this mean, sir?”

“It means that you’ll need to find an unadulterated happy memory before your practical on Friday, Potter.”

Harry sighed and stood up to leave.  Halfway to the door he stopped.  “Professor?”

“What is it, Potter?”

“I talked with Professor Dumbledore the other night.  He said that I could choose whether or not I want to say Voldemort’s name in your presence.”  He saw Snape stiffen.  “He also said that if I fear his name, I fear him, and that I won’t be able to defeat him.”  He saw the same connection he had made the night before in Snape’s eyes.  “So I hope you don’t mind if I call him Voldemort, sir.  I don’t want to fear him.”

And he thought that Snape just might have heard his unspoken words.  I don’t want to die.

~///~

“Look, Harry, I found your dad’s name.”

Harry put down the book he was looking through for his next Defense essay.  Getting up, he walked over to Ron, looking at the parchment he was reading over his shoulder.  “What is it?”

“’Most Charismatic:  James Potter.’  It’s an old copy of some unofficial school paper.  Pretty cool, huh?”

Harry looked at the grinning face of his father from the front page.  For some reason it reminded him of the scene in Snape’s Pensieve, the friendly smile morphing into the malicious grin that he had when tormenting Snape.  It was almost like Dudley’s, right before he would slam his fist into Harry’s stomach.  Harry turned away, sickened.

“What’s wrong, mate?”

Harry rubbed at his forehead.  “Nothing.  Just a little tired, I guess.”

“But it’s your dad’s picture!”

“Sirius showed me the original.”  He was shocked at how easily the lie slipped off his tongue.

“Didn’t know.  Hey, look at this.  ‘Snape voted most vile, disgusting miscreant third year running.’  The Marauders must have done this.  It’s all about how greasy that bastard is and how he always attacks people without provocation with the Dark Arts spells he’s learned.  Sounds just like him, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, Ron.  Just like him.”  Harry picked up the book he had been reading.  “I’m feeling worse.  I think that I’m just going to go and rest.”

“All right, mate.  I’m just going to stay here and keep reading this.”  Ron glanced at him on his way out.  “If you see Hermione, you are not – under any circumstances – to tell her I’m in the library.”

“Okay.”  When Harry last looked at Ron before leaving the library he was silently chuckling to himself.  Probably over that article about Snape.


~///~

Halfway to Gryffindor Tower he changed his mind and turned toward the dungeons and Snape’s office.  

“What do you want, Potter?”

Harry stepped into the room, trying not to flinch at as the memories from the last time he had been in this office flooded his mind.  He purposely kept his eyes from straying to the place where Snape had pulled the jar of roaches from.  He stopped in front of the desk and looked at his professor, and Harry got the impression that Snape would have preferred to ignore him; he had yet to look up and was apparently concentration rather hard on the essay in front of him.

“Why did you put up with it?”

Snape slammed down his quill.  “What are you babbling about now?”

“My father, the Marauders.  Why did you let them treat you like that?”

“This is not something that I want to talk about, Potter.  Leave.”

“I need to know.”

“You need no such thing.”

“Please!”

They stared at each other for a minute, neither moving, trying to determine when the other would give.  Snape closed his eyes and sighed.  “I didn’t *let* them do anything.”

“But you knew curses and—“

“Don’t believe everything you hear.  Your godfather had quite the imagination.”

“What do you mean?”

"I didn't come to school knowing every Dark Arts curse there was.  I doubt I knew any, and if I did... it's not important."

"So they made up a reason?"

"They didn't need to."  Snape waved his hand in a vague gesture.  “You’ve seen the type.  People who find the one person that they don’t think will fight back.”

“The one person that they can get away with hurting.”

Snape stared.  It was quiet and then, “If that is all, Potter.  This little trip down memory lane isn’t at all pleasant, as I’m sure you can imagine.”

Harry nodded.  He didn’t know what to say, but couldn’t just walk out of the office without saying anything.  “Thank you, Professor.”  The last thing he expected was an answer.

“Thank the Headmaster.  It’s only at his insistence that I answer your questions.”

Harry rushed out of the room, his footfalls echoing off the stone walls all the way into the upper portions of the castle.

~///~

Harry was in the Pensieve again.  He couldn't remember how he had got in there.  He hadn't had any meetings with Snape, and he hadn't seen it at his last session with Dumbledore.  Somehow he had fallen in and was looking at his father and Snape outside after their O.W.L.s.

His father had his wand raised and was pointing it at Snape, who wasn't looking at him, just making his way across the grounds toward the castle.  And then there was the moment of realization when Snape looked up and saw James Potter pointing a wand at him.

Harry blinked, and when he opened his eyes he was no longer standing off to the side, as a silent observer.  He was in Snape's place, his father pointing a wand at him.  But it changed, and he watched as James Potter slowly transformed into his cousin Dudley, his wand getting longer and thicker until it turned into his Smelting Stick.  But it didn't stay a 'Smelting stick' for long.  Within moments it had changed back into a wand, and one look into Dudley's face told Harry that he knew how to use it.

"Stupid, Potter.  Do you think that if we had these freak powers we'd let you alone?  You've always been a pathetic weakling,"

Harry started backing away, but it was no use.  "Expelliarmus!" Harry flew up in the air for a brief moment before crashing down to the ground.  He could already feel the bruises forming.

From his place on the ground, Harry watched as Sirius walked toward him and Dudley.  He was sure that he would help him.  There was no doubt that Sirius would, until he changed into Piers.  Using his arms and legs in mimicry of a spider he scrambled backwards.  He had only managed to get a few feet away before Sirius -- no Piers -- hit him with the Impediment Jinx.

Then the pounding in his ears began, but it wasn't pounding at all.  It was laughter.  All around him faces were pressing, in laughing.  Harry squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the sound, focusing on getting out of the hex and not on his taunting classmates.

He knew the moment that his arms could move again, and grabbed for his wand.  It wasn't where it usually was and Harry struggled trying to find it, then finally he pulled it out and aimed at his cousin, one of the curses he had learned on his tongue.  Not quick enough.  Dudley -- no, his father -- no, it was Dudley, with darker hair, cast a spell flipping him upside down.  The robes fell around his face, blocking his vision, but he could feel the overly large clothes bunching up.

"Harry Potter doesn't even have clothes that fit!"  

"His muggle cousin can kick his arse."

"This pathetic excuse for a wizard is supposed to save us?"  

Each statement was greeted with a burst of laughter from the crowd he knew was gathered around him.

"So, who wants to see Potter's pants?  They don't fit right, either."  And Harry couldn't tell if it was Dudley's or his father's voice that he heard...

~///~

Harry woke up.  He was lying perfectly still in his bed at Hogwarts, he was not outside, and Dudley didn't have a wand.  He swiped at his upper lip with his tongue, licking at the cool sweat gathered there.  Turning on his side, he drew his legs up against his chest, wrapping his arms around them, and concentrated on his breathing.

It was a long while before he was able to fall back asleep.

~///~

Christmas holidays found Harry at 12 Grimmauld Place, helping Remus to finish the cleaning and the few renovations Dumbledore had asked for since Sirius had left the old house to the Order.  The first thing they did was coat the portrait of Sirius' mother with a paint removing potion.  

"Never did like that woman."

Harry hid a chuckle.  Remus looked much too pleased staring at the blank canvas.

"And I think that will do it for the night.  Don't forget the Weasleys will be stopping by tomorrow to help with the upstairs."

Harry nodded and started to his room.  The light-hearted mood of the evening disappeared the closer he got to it.  As much as his dreams of the cemetery and Voldemort frightened him, these new dreams of Snape's Pensieve disturbed him.

He knew this wasn't Voldemort's doing; it was some twisted portion of his own brain that was creating these scenes.  Everyone he knew had a place.  At times Ron would take Pettigrew's place, staring at his tormenters in awe.  And then Hermione would be in Remus' place, not doing anything to stop them, her nose stuck in a book.

And Harry knew that neither of those things would happen.  Hermione and Ron were his friends; he knew they would always stand by him.  At least he thought so.  It was just a dream, and he would keep telling himself that.

But no matter how many times he told himself, it never stopped him waking up and shaking with the sound of laughter reverberating around his head.

~///~

"Remus, what was school like, for you and..."

"And the rest of the Marauders?"

Harry nodded.

Remus smiled slightly before putting his book down and turning to Harry.  "Well, we used to play pranks on the students and teachers.  They were harmless, really.  And James and Sirius used to have to fight off the girls, which always annoyed your father no end.  He used to do things to get your mother's attention and she would just scoff at him."  He laughed quietly.  "Your father and Sirius were best friends, Harry.  They did so much together.  I remember once they even started a school paper before bringing Peter and me in on it.  And they wouldn't have, if they hadn't needed help."

Harry stared at the wall.  Remus made it sound so normal.  Like they never did anything wrong.  "It's surprising with all that stuff that they found the time to make poor Snivellus' life hell isn't it?  That's what's they called Snape, wasn't it?"

Remus stopped and looked at him, really looked at him.  "Harry, you aren't still on about that Pensieve incident, are you?  We told you that we were just kids."

"That's not an excuse."  Harry swallowed.  "Do you realize that that's what Dudley used to do to me?  He used to chase me around the school yard, and no one would help because they didn't want to get Dudley mad at them.  He was the popular one, you realize.  Mostly because people were scared of him.  It got to the point that I would just stop running, because if I ran and he caught me, he'd punch me all the harder."

Remus looked as if he was going to go straight to the Dursleys and do something rash, but that wasn't what Harry wanted.  "The only thing that keeps him away from me now is that fact that I have a wand.  There are times that I really want to use it on him too."

"Harry, why didn't you tell me this?  I could have done something."

"It doesn't matter.  They've mostly let me alone since I started Hogwarts.  Afraid my freak nature might rub off on them or something.  But that's not the point."  Harry paused to take a breath.  "You see, the way I see things is that Snape learned to curse first, just so the damn Marauders wouldn't torture him.  There's an old Muggle saying.  'What goes around, comes around.'  What sucks is that I got what was coming to my father."  Harry stood.  "'Night, Remus."

~///~

Harry stared at his porridge the next morning, his eyes wide and bloodshot.  Sleep hadn't come to him; instead the conversation with Remus had played through his head until he passed out from sheer exhaustion.

"Harry?"  Remus stepped through the kitchen door, but didn't come close to the table.

"I'm sorry about last night, Remus.  I didn't mean to get upset at you, it's just that-"

But Remus cut him off.  "That you aren't your father.  I know.  Harry, I always told Sirius that he shouldn't mix you up with him, but it seems that I've been doing the same thing.  I just never realized how different from him you really are."  

Harry let his head slip down to rest on his outstretched arm.  "I'm not James Potter.  I don't think I'm anything like him, and I don't want to be."  He sighed.  "And the more I think about it, the more it seems that if I'm like anyone, I'm like Snape."

"Don't say that."

"Why, because you don't like him?  He hated Sirius, he hated my father.  He's never once denied those two facts.  He doesn't particularly like you, either.  And I can understand that.  Who wouldn't hate the people that make living hard?  I hate Dudley, and he knows it, and I would gladly curse him stupid if it wouldn't get me expelled.  But I won't because Hogwarts is all I have.  Not that it's always a better place.  When people found out I was a Parselmouth the first thing they assumed was that I was Heir to Slytherin.  When my name came out of the Goblet the first thing anyone thought was that I was an attention seeker and I had to be chosen.  I hated it, I really did.  But I would rather put up with that than having no magic while living with my relatives."

Remus sat down near him, but didn't say anything.

"So many people think they are better than other people, so they set out to prove it, any way they can.  Sirius thought he was better than the rest of his family, so he went and found the first person around his age that came from a similar family that he could beat up and picked on him to prove he was better.  And then that person had to deal with being humiliated in front of most of his school just because of some berk.  I'd go and join the first group of people who didn't treat me like shite too.  In fact, I did.  I chose the Wizarding world."

Remus' hand stroked up and down his back.  "I know it's hard, Harry."

"It's not.  I should have expected to find out that the people I look up to were idiots."

"Why is that?"

"Because Snape's the only person that has never lied to me.  I should have believed him when he said that my father strutted, and when he said everything else, because it was all true."  Harry pushed his bowl away with his other hand.  "I don't think I'm very hungry."

"No, I wouldn't imagine so."

~///~

"I'm telling you, the man's a poof!"  Harry froze at Ron's words.  It had taken him all over Christmas holidays and quite a few conversations with Remus to come to terms with the fact that he liked men as well as women.

"Ron!"

Ron sat down on the couch next to Hermione.  "Well, it's true."

"Who are you talking about?"

"Snape, of course."

Harry released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

"And how would you know that?"

Ron turned slightly so he could look at Hermione.  "Over the holidays, I spent some time with the twins, and they had this muggle contraption that played mideos."

"Videos."  Harry corrected him.

"Isn't that what I said?"  Harry shook his head, and Ron shrugged.  "Well, anyway, these mideos had a gay man as one of the characters and he kept sweeping his arms and hands about when he'd talk, just like Snape."

Harry bit his tongue and decided against telling Ron that he was emphasizing his points with sharp movements of his hands.

"There just aren't words for you."  Hermione was staring at Ron.

"What did I say?"

Harry sighed and closed the book he had resting on his lap.  "Why does it matter, because you can't prove anything with that nonsense you just spouted, if Snape is gay or not?"

"Because that means he likes men."

Hermione threw her hands up in exasperation.  "So what?  Some of my muggle friends came out to me this past summer.  It's just a preference, Ron."

"And you still talk to them?"

"Of course she still talks to them.  Why wouldn't she?"

Ron blinked in confusion a couple of times.  "It's wrong."

Harry swallowed, this wasn't a good sign.  "Is this a wizarding thing that I'm unaware of?"

"No, Ron's just being a prat."

"You don't know anyone who's gay, do you, Harry?"

"Actually, I do."  

Hermione came over to sit on the arm of his chair.  "Who?"

"I won't say."

"Why not?"

"Because Ron knows them."

Hermione nodded in understanding before pushing a strand of hair out of Harry's face and behind his ear.

"Would you stop that?!"

Hermione looked over at Ron.  "Why are you jealous?"

"No.  You're my best friends, and I don't want to see that.  Besides, Harry needs to tell me why he won't tell me."

Harry leaned away from Hermione.  "What would you do if you knew?"

"I don't know."

"That's why.  If I told you and you changed the way you behaved around them, I'd have to hit you."

Ron threw his hands up.  "Fine.  Why don't the two of you tell me what I've got wrong?"

Harry groaned.  "This is going to take all night."

"But we should amuse him, don't you think?  How often does Ron tell us to give him a detailed list of all the things he got wrong?"

"Can't argue with that."

Ron looked positively indignant.

~///~

Harry had just gotten started reading again when Hermione accosted him.  "So who is it?"

"Between you and Ron, I'm never going to be allowed to finish this, am I?"

"I've never seen you take reading so seriously before, Harry.  What is that anyway?"

"A book on the theory behind Occlumency; Dumbledore wanted me to read it.  It's helped a lot."

"Well, it's good that you're taking your lessons seriously this year.  Do you think I can take a look at it when you're done?"

"If Dumbledore says you can."  Harry went back to reading.

"You know, Ron's gone down to the kitchen to get a snack.  You can tell me."

"Don't you have homework to do?"

"No."  Hermione settled on his armrest again.  "I finished it all last night, as you know.  You and Ron teased me for an hour."

"Have it your way."  Harry brought one hand to the side of Hermione's face so he could pull her ear down near his mouth.  "Remus."

She turned her face to look at him.  There was barely an inch between them, and Harry swallowed.  "And Sirius?"

He inclined his head just a bit.

"You?"  Hermione bit her lip.  It had always been one of her more endearing qualities.

"Not totally."

"Well, that's good."  She closed the distance between them and pressed her lips against his.

~///~

It was exceedingly hard to avoid someone who was in all his classes but one.  Harry was only able to avoid Hermione until their next Defense Against the Dark Arts class.

"Harry, I'm sorry."

He just shook his head.  "You just caught me off guard, that's all."  It hadn't been a chore to kiss Hermione; it had been much nicer than kissing Cho.  It had just been hard for him to realize that his best friend was very much a girl.

Before Hermione could say anything else, the door banged open, and Snape made his way to the front of the class, a slight awkwardness to his gait as if his muscles were too stiff.  "There has been a slight change in our schedule for today.  Today will be the practical lesson on the Litumarus Shield.  We will cover the theory on Wednesday."  He slammed the books he was carrying down onto his desk, making a good portion of the class jump.  "Get to work!"

Malfoy raised his hand.  "Sir, you didn't tell us the incantation or wand motion."

"It was in your reading."  Snape sank down into his chair.  "Potter!"

Harry turned to face the desk.  It was then that he noticed the deep shadows under his eyes, and the strain at the corners of his mouth.  "Yes, sir?"

"I believe that you've cast this shield charm multiple times.  Make sure no one blunders too badly."

His eyes widened, it was a minute before he could stammer out his response.  "Yes, Professor Snape."

Five minutes before the end of class, Snape went around the room handing out small slips of paper.  Harry didn't open his immediately, knowing it was probably their grade for the day and that Snape had most likely found his performance lacking because he didn't cast the charm more than five times.  Not that it had been his fault.  After Malfoy had almost taken out one whole wall of the classroom with a mispronunciation, Harry had made sure to check on everyone like he did during the DA meetings.  Snape's eyes had been closed most of the lesson, and hadn't seen him.  Hermione nudged him in the side to get him to open it.  

Grade: O
-Stay after class.

On her way out the door, Hermione stopped by where he was sitting at his desk.  "I'll wait for you outside."  Harry nodded distractedly and waited for the class to clear before he approached Snape.

"Professor Snape?"

"The Headmaster wishes that I test your progress in Occlumency.  You are to report to my office at 8 pm tonight.  If there are any questions as to your whereabouts you are to tell the interested parties that you are helping me in lieu of a detention with Filch.  Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir."

"You can go now, Potter."

"Are you all right, sir?"

"That is none of your bloody business.  Out."

Harry turned and left, pausing outside of the door only long enough to grab Hermione's books from her before heading off in the direction of the Charms corridor.

"Harry?"

He shook his head.  "I'll tell you later, Hermione.  We're going to be late for Charms."

~///~

It was one thing to stand outside the Headmaster's office waiting for an Occlumency lesson.  Dumbledore was always patient with Harry when he failed to throw off the spell, always went over what Harry needed to know in order to do what was expected of him.  And if he didn't always succeed, that was all right, because there was always the next time.

Snape was a whole other story.  His lessons with Snape had always been harder, partially because he was a more demanding taskmaster.  He expected Harry to handle the things thrown at him, and if it happened to be something that most qualified wizards never managed, that was just too bad.  He never paused to explain things, and he demanded that everything be perfect the first time.

Harry sighed before knocking on the office door.  This was going to be awful, he just knew it.  And Dumbledore would see that he was really horrid at this and that they should just give up trying to protect him.

He couldn't start that again.  He didn't need another lecture on his defeatist attitude from the Headmaster.  The first three had been quite enough.

"Enter."

Harry opened the door and stepped through.  The room was still dim - as it had always been - the walls were still lined with the disgusting jars full of floating, dead animals, and Snape was standing off in the dimmest corner looking at him through shadowed eyes.

"Sit.  We will begin once the Headmaster arrives."

Harry looked between the seat in front of Snape's desk and the chair leaning against the wall off to the side.  He chose the latter.  It wasn't a detention, and he didn't want to feel like it was one.

Snape didn't say anything about his choice.  "Did you finish the book the Headmaster assigned you?"

"Yes, sir."  Harry fell easily into the role of forced civility from the previous year.  It helped that he didn't mindlessly hate Snape either.

"And have you been clearing your mind every night before sleep?  I know how dreadful you were with following those orders last year, Potter.  Don't think that I won't know if you lie."

"I haven't been doing them as often as I should, Professor."

"How many times a week?"

"Well, I start to taper off mid week.  Friday through Tuesday I always remember, but on Wednesday and Thursday nights I forget at times."

"It is not something you can forget.  If the Dark Lord wanted to he could get inside your head.  And don't think for one moment that because he hasn't recently he isn't planning on it."

"Yes, sir."

Snape's office door opened, and the Headmaster came through.  "Are you ready, my boys?"

Harry took a deep breath and nodded.  He didn’t think that the Headmaster would accept a negative response.

"I don't suppose that you'd listen to me if I said 'no', would you?"  Harry snapped his head around at Snape's answer to the question.  It was the last thing that he expected.

"Now, Severus-"

"Yes, Headmaster.  I'm ready."

"Very good.  Begin."

Harry went to stand across from Snape after Dumbledore had gone to sit at Snape's desk.  He tried to prepare himself for the attack that he knew was coming, but when it did, he was nowhere near ready enough.

"Legilimens!"

Harry saw the grounds, the tree, and his father standing there pointing a wand at him.  It switched to the cemetery and he saw Cedric staring at him with wide empty eyes.  He squeezed his eyes shut, but it didn't get rid of the picture.  Pettigrew was coming at him with a knife.  He concentrated on the first spell that came to him and willed Snape out of his mind.

New memories flooded into his head.  Snape's father hitting him across the face and he crashed into the wall.  Snape suspended upside down while all the students laughed and James Potter cast a vanishing spell on his pants.  A shadow crossing a pale arm as a wand lowered and touched its tip to the skin.

Harry felt as if he was being jerked back by the collar of his shirt before his own memories filled his head, once again.  Dudley was on top of him, slamming his fists into his stomach.  His aunt chasing him, a frying pan raised in one hand after he had broken a window.  Snape, his face contorted with rage, as he threw a jar of dead roaches at him.  He willed these thoughts to stop going through his head.  He felt his mouth move, chanting a spell, but he couldn't recall what it was.

A young girl lying in a puddle of blood, a house burning, a wolf coming at him.

And then everything went black.

When Harry opened his eyes, he found himself on his knees, breathing in the cold dungeon air in large gulps.  Looking across from him, he saw Snape crouched on the floor, his hands covering his face.

"Congratulations, Harry.  You've successfully cast the Legilimens spell for the first time."  Dumbledore was sitting at the desk, his hands folded primly on top of it.

For some reason, Harry didn't think it was something to be immensely proud of.

"Again."

~///~

Harry collapsed into the overstuffed chair by the fire in the Gryffindor common room; leaning his head back, he closed his eyes.  They felt dry and they burned, but he couldn't keep them open any longer.

"Are you all right?"

Harry opened one eye.  Hermione was standing in front of him clutching something in her hands.  "Depends on what you have."

She held out a chocolate frog.  "I swiped it from Ron's stash."

He took it out of her hands, setting the card to one side; he bit off the head.  "We really are a bad influence on you."

She smiled and sat down on the corner of his chair.  Harry scooted over to make more room for her.  "I finished the reading for tomorrow's Transfiguration lecture.  Want a summary?"

Harry closed his eyes.  "That would be great."

Hermione leaned back so her head was resting on his shoulder, and he tried not to squirm.  And as she talked he tried to pay attention, but the picture of Snape on the floor of his office, his face buried in his hands, wouldn't go away.

~///~

Nothing this book said made any sense.  It might as well be in another language.  He hadn't had this much trouble with the Occlumency book, so why should the companion piece on Legilimency be so difficult?  Maybe, he decided after a moment's thought, because this delved into Arithmancy and the probability of how often the human mind could be interpreted properly by a Legilimens.  

It still sounded like mind reading to him.

"Professor?"

"What is it, Potter?"

"I realize the reason for Occlumency, but why does the Headmaster want you to teach me Legilimency?"

"Do not question the Headmaster, Potter.  It is a fruitless endeavor."

Well that made more sense than the book did.  "But why you, sir?"

"As good a Legilimens as I am, the Headmaster is better.  Tell me, did you once see into the Headmaster's memories when you were learning Occlumency from him?"

"No, sir."

"That is why."

Harry went back to the book, but looked up again when he recalled the exact reason he had stopped reading in the first place.  "Professor?"

"What now?"

"What is Dra-"  Harry sighed in frustration before trying again.  "Draededus'--"

"Dradelaeus' Supposition of the Four Principles?"

"Yeah, that."

"Do you take Arithmancy, Potter?"

"No, sir.  I completely wasted my time up in the North Tower with an old bat."  Harry bit his tongue until it hurt.  He didn't just say that, he didn't.

"Ah yes, Trelawney and her so-called Inner Eye."  For once Snape's derision hadn't been aimed at him.  "It's one of the necessary concepts if someone is going into certain fields.  I found it helpful in many cases when working with Potions."  Snape motioned him over.  "I will explain it to you, Potter."

Harry went through his bag and collected a quill and parchment - it wouldn't do to forget what Snape told him - before picking up the book and heading over to sit at Snape's desk.

An hour later found him going back through the sections that he hadn't understood.  They were making more sense after they had been explained to him.

"Potter."  Harry looked up, but Snape wasn't looking at him.  "Your... girlfriend," Harry shivered at the contempt in his voice, "has come to fetch you."  He turned to look at Hermione who was standing in the doorway.

To her credit, she didn't flinch when Snape glared at her.  "It's time for supper, Harry.  You stayed down here longer than usual."

Harry nodded and started shoving his stuff back into his bag.

"Leave the book, Potter."  Snape leaned in, his voice a harsh whisper.  "We don't need careless students wondering what our boy wonder is doing studying Legilimency."

"Yes, Professor.  Will we be seeing you at supper?"

"Out, Potter."

"Yes, sir."

On their way up to the Great Hall, Hermione grabbed Harry's hand.  "Honestly, Harry, I don't know why you bother being nice to him.  Ron's right, he's a git."

Harry just shrugged.  He doubted that she'd understand.

~///~

"You're dating Hermione, right?"

Harry opened his eyes at the rush of light.  He had had his curtains closed for a reason.  So much for getting to sleep at the same time as the rest of his roommates, his mind clearing meditations took at least an hour.

"Shut off the light, Ron!"

More than an hour today if Ron had woken up people when he turned on the lights.  A minute later the lights were out again and Ron was sitting on the edge of his bed, obviously still expecting an answer.

"Didn't we go over this already?"

"Just checking that things didn't change overnight again."  Harry heard the reprimand in Ron's voice.  

"No, Ron, nothing's changed."

"Good."  Ron lowered his voice.  "Then will you kiss me?"

Harry shot into a sitting position.  "What?!  I don't think I heard you right, Ron."

"I doubt that Hermione would mind.  She understands the gay thing."

"You do realize that you aren't making any sense."

Ron dragged his feet up onto the bed and closed the curtains.  "I've been thinking over the last couple of weeks since we had that talk.  Maybe I just don't get why two blokes would want to kiss each other.  So I figured I'd ask another straight guy to kiss me.  And since you're dating Hermione I figure I wouldn't have to worry about you thinking that I'm bent."  Ron paused to take a deep breath.  "So would you?"

Harry sighed and drew his knees up.  He'd do it now.  And if he was lucky Ron wouldn't go nutters.  "I'm not straight."

Ron drew his eyebrows together.  "But you're dating Hermione."

"Yeah.  I'm bisexual, Ron.  Hermione is a very attractive girl.  She's got curves in all the right places and her-"

Ron held up a hand stopping him.  "I don't want to know about Hermione's 'curves'."  Ron dropped his hand.  "So you like blokes too?"

Harry nodded.

"All right.  Kiss me."

"For the love of-" Harry stopped and looked at Ron.  He looked serious.  "Will it get you out of my bed?"

Ron looked like he was about to tell a joke, but thought better of it.  He just nodded.

"Fine."  Harry leaned forward, pressing his hands down into the duvet.  So, here he was, kissing a guy for the first time -- and it was his best friend.  Who he didn't like, like that.  His life was never normal.  He pressed his lips against Ron's, only for a moment before pulling away.

Ron just sat there.  And all Harry could think about was that his best friend was going to bolt.

"That was..."

"What?"

"Normal."  Ron seemed surprised.  "You just don't have tits.  And you have a little stubble."

"We told you it was nothing strange."

"So can I tell Hermione I kissed her boyfriend?"

"Get out of my bed, Ron."

~///~

Harry looked up from the list of questions their professor suggested they go over.  "List the twenty main potions that asphodel is an ingredient in."  He pushed his eggs around his plate as he waited for Neville to answer.  He was never hungry this early in the morning.

After a minute, Neville started to rattle off each potion, pausing periodically to think.  Harry was trying to pay attention, but got distracted when Hermione slid her arm around him.  There was something about being sixteen with hormones going crazy that made Potions a lot less attention-grabbing.

"I talked to Ron, and he told me a rather interesting tidbit."  Her chin was resting on his shoulder and her chest was pressed up against his back.

"Are you mad?"  She didn't seem it, but he could never tell.  Girls were strange like that.

"No.  The prat finally admitted he was wrong."

Harry nodded.  He rested one hand on top of Hermione's and returned to listening to Neville.

"You forgot a potion, Longbottom."

Harry could see Neville's Adam's apple bob.  "The Travarictim potion?"

"Correct.  Ms Granger, do undrape yourself from Mr Potter.  That position cannot be conducive to eating."

Hermione's arms slid off of him.  "Yes, Professor."

He could feel Snape's eyes on his back for a minute before the sound of shoes moving toward the head table signaled his leaving.  Another reason that he never
ate too early in the morning.  If he hadn't promised Neville that he would help him then he wouldn't have had to deal with the git.

"Morning."

Harry slid closer to Hermione to make room for Ron.

Ron piled some kippers on his plate.  "Talked to Charlie last night."

Harry looked at him.  "When?"

"After the... you know.  Firecalled him.  He's always been tolerant of the alternative.  Told him about you and about how I finally got what he had been saying for the last few years; that there isn't anything wrong with it and so on.  Said he was glad that I didn't turn out to be a prig like Percy."  He studiously cut up the food on his plate before reaching for the pumpkin juice.  "Is there any tea?"

Harry slid the pot over to him.

"Told me to tell you that if you ever needed to talk to someone that he'd listen.  He understands.  He's the only one who can."

Harry nodded.  "Thanks."

Ron looked up at him.  "Don't tell mum though.  She doesn't know.  I just found out, last night.  Said he was glad he felt like he could finally confide in a member of the family."

"I won't.  Not my place to tell her."  Harry stood up.  "I'm going to head to the library, look over this Potions work.  Neville, do you want to join me?"

Neville nodded and grabbed his bag.  Ron grabbed onto Harry's sleeve, stopping him.  "Go ahead, Neville, I'll be right there.  What is it, Ron?"

"You woke up screaming last night, mate.  No one wanted to say anything."

Harry had nothing to say to that.

"Is it... You-Know-Who?"

Harry shook his head.  "No.  Just a bad dream."

"Involving your dad?"

Harry narrowed his eyes.  "How did you-"

"You were screaming at him not to do something."

Harry repositioned his bag on his shoulder.  "Sorry for waking you."  He turned, but Ron stopped him again.

"It was the third time this week, Harry.  Are you sure you're all right?"

"I'm fine."  He headed for the door.

~///~

"Just one dose."

"No, Potter."

"Why not?"

"Does the word narcotic have any meaning to you?"

Harry ran his fingers through his hair, setting it into further disarray; he sank into the closest chair.  He knew it had been a mistake to ask Snape after class.  He should have waited until their next Legilimency lesson.  "I would just like to sleep without dreaming."

Snape sat up straight in his chair and glared.  That had not been the right thing to say.  "What dreams?"

"They aren't from Voldemort."

Snape stiffened.  "Tell me what they are about, then."

"I told you they aren't from him.  Why do I have to tell you?"

"Because I am responsible for your safety, Potter.  Because you may not think that these dreams are anything, but they could be."

Harry rubbed at his scar.  "You've seen them.  At least glimpses of them."

"I've seen a lot of things in your head.  What are they about?"

"I can't explain them, it's complicated."

Snape stood.  "Tonight, Potter.  Nine p.m. in my office.  If I find your explanation satisfactory then I will give you a small vial of Dreamless sleep."

Harry nodded before getting up and heading toward the door.  Snape's voice stopped him.  "Your pass, Potter."

~///~

"Eat something."  Hermione pushed a plate laden with food at him.

He pushed it away.  "Not hungry."

"Try to eat anyway."  The plate slid back in front of him.

"Lay off, Hermione!"

She just stared at him.  Not now.  He didn't want to deal with this now.  "Fine.  Fine.  I'll just leave you be then."  She turned her back to him.

"Hermione?"

No answer.  That wasn't a good sign.  "I'm sorry, Hermione.  I didn't mean to snap at you.  It's just that-"

"You haven't been sleeping."  She didn't turn around to face him.  "Ron told me."  She turned her head slightly and he saw her glaring at him.

Harry bit his lip.  "Would you believe that I didn't want to worry you?"

She turned to face him, and Harry wished that she hadn't.  Her eyes were flashing in anger, and her hands were fisted at her sides.  "We've been friends for over five years, Harry James Potter.  I want you to worry me!"  She stood and left the table.

Ron slid over to take her place.  "That, right there, is the problem with girls.  They don't make any bloody sense."

Harry looked at him.  "I suppose that explains the turnover rate for your relationships."

"Oh yes, how could I have forgotten, you and Hermione had a long lasting love affair that appears to have ended within a month."

"Shut up."

"Will do, mate.  Will do."

~///~

"They're just normal dreams.  No long hallways where the door at the end doesn't open.  No being stuck in a possessed and deranged snake's mind.  Just a common, normal everyday dream, that's slightly disturbing, but not dangerous.  You know the type, you're looking at one thing and then suddenly it changes into something else."  Harry turned his head away.  "Or someone else," he muttered under his breath.

"There's more.  You would have told me this much earlier."

Snape wasn't looking at him.  That in and of itself was odd; Snape always watched him while he was in his office.  Like he didn't trust him not to touch or break something.  "Nothing more that should concern you, Professor."  Harry wandered around the office; he couldn't sit still.  He just wanted Snape to give him that potion so he could leave.  He reached out to pick up a box sitting on the table.

"Don't even think about it, Potter."  Harry turned.  Snape was looking at him, a strange expression on his face.  So much for not being watched.

"Will you give me the potion now?"

"I believe that our agreement was the potion for a satisfactory explanation.  What you've told me is far from acceptable."

"Damnit, Professor!"

He didn't flinch or twitch or even move.  Just stood there with an unreadable, blank expression.  "Do you think that such infantile behavior will get you what you want, Potter?  Think again."

Harry clenched his fists.  He didn't say anything; there was nothing to say.  He knew it had been futile to try to get the potion from Snape without telling him about his dreams.  And he wouldn't tell him about them.  He refused.  But he couldn't continue to wake up his roommates either.  "Since you won't give me the potion, will you teach me a localized silencing spell, something that will keep sound from escaping a certain area?"

Snape looked at him curiously for a moment before his standard sneer fell into place.  "Don't want them to know when you have dreams of your girlfriend?"

"That's not it!"

"Then what is?"

They stared at each other.  Neither blinking nor moving.  It always seemed to come down to this, as if they were caught in an interminable battle of wills.  A battle that Harry knew he was going to lose.  "I don't want them to know what my father did to you.  Because that's what I dream about, it's what I've dreamt about for most of the year."  The words just started tumbling out.  "And I could handle it when I would just wake up, when the dreams changed and I was only faced with my cousin.  But now, now I have to stand in your place, and be a victim to my father's idea of a prank, and it's everyone that I know surrounding me and laughing at me.  And it's everything that I always hated, but I can handle it because it's just a dream."  Harry leaned against the wall, his chest heaving as he dragged in lungful after lungful of air.

"Protecting your father's pristine image, Potter?"  To Harry's ears, the comeback was half-hearted at best.

"Not bloody likely.  He has enough people doing that.  People that knew him better than me."

"Then what?  Don't tell me that you pity me."

"I don't.  If anything, I understand you.  And I had hoped that you would help me.  The last thing I want is for people to start asking me questions about my dreams.  And Ron is, and soon it will be the rest of the boys in the dorm.  I have enough problems to deal with without their stupid questions."  Harry paused.  "Sir."  There really was no point.   He turned to leave.

"Potter."

"Yes, sir?"

"The charm you're looking for isn't that difficult.  It will only take a few minutes to explain it to you."  Harry turned.   "Whether or not you are actually capable of casting it is still in doubt, however."

~///~

"That's a bad habit, Harry.  I wish you'd stop."

Harry looked up from where he was tracing the scar on the back of his hand.  He was becoming rather proficient at it; his left hand was becoming steadier with his quill each time that he did it.  "I take it that you're talking to me again?"

Hermione sat down across from him and nodded.  "I decided that I missed my friend too much."

Harry set down his quill.  "So did I.  In fact, I think that I've been missing my friend for over a month."

"Then it's settled.  Friends it is.  And as your friend I think you need to get that ink off of your hand."  She tossed a handkerchief from her pocket.

~///~

"Another headache, Harry?"

Harry shook his head.  He pulled the pumpkin juice towards him.  "Just some weird dreams, that's all."

"About your father again?"

He wished.  His dreams starring the scene between his father and Snape had finally started to diminish.  At least he knew what to expect with those.  Now his dreams had taken on a more erotic tone.  Last night hadn't been the first time Harry had woken up in the middle of the night with sticky pajamas.  It wouldn't be so bad if he knew what he wanted.  One night it would be a female, all soft curves and skin that gave into his touch.  The next would be sinewy muscle and a flat chest.  A larger body wrapped around his.  He liked this one better; it made him feel safer.  

An odd thought.  He had never really felt safe with a person.  He felt protected at Hogwarts in general, but associating safety with a person wasn't something that he was used to.

Now if he could only find the person that fit with his dream image.  Most of the boys his age weren't tall enough, except for Ron, and he knew Ron wasn't it.

Harry yawned.  Maybe he should ask for the Dreamless Sleep Potion from Snape.  He doubted that the man wanted him to fall asleep during his Legilimency lessons.

Another odd thing.  It hadn't taken him nearly as long to become proficient at casting the Legilimency spell as it had for him to learn to defend against it.  Dumbledore still insisted that he go to lessons with Snape, though, he said that that they would help him.  Not that he spent much time casting the actual spell; most of the time he would sit and do homework.  It was Snape's job to catch him unawares, make sure that he could protect his mind from invasion when he wasn't expecting it.  The only fun he had during these lessons was looking for the opportune moment to cast the spell back.  It wasn't the flashes of Snape's memories he enjoyed, but the challenge of beating him at his own game.

"Harry?"

He'd think about it later.  And he'd add 'get a decent night's sleep' to his list of things to do.  "No, Ron.  Not about my father."

~///~

"I do hope that you meditated before passing out on my couch, Potter."

Harry stretched before sitting up and opening his eyes.  "No.  I was waiting for you to get here.  I didn't get much sleep last night, so I thought I would just rest my eyes while I waited.  I must have dozed off."

"Not sleeping?  That's right.  I believe McGonagall was wondering where her boy wonder had disappeared to last night."

"Stop calling me that!"

"Legilimens!"

It was second nature to block these attacks.  He had gotten used to the feel of Snape in his head, so used to it he could classify his mood by the way he flipped through his memories.  It usually felt like fingers flipping through a page of a book, which to Harry seemed highly appropriate.  He forced Snape out without a spell or incantation, just his will.  He was becoming better.

"That wasn't a girl."

Snape's wand was still pointed at him, and Harry slid to the other side of the couch.  "What?"

"Your memory."

Harry closed his eyes and tried to recall what snippet of memory had gotten through.  He must have seen when he kissed that fifth year Hufflepuff.  It could have been worse.  He could have seen the time with Ron.

"Is there a reason it should have been?"

Snape sat at his desk.  "Experimenting, Potter?"

"No.  I leave that to the confused straight boys that ask me really stupid things.  I know what I'm getting myself into."  Payback.  "Legilimens!"

A much younger Lucius Malfoy yelling, a young man dressed in muggle clothing leaning forward as if for a kiss--  The image jerked away.

Snape was glaring at him, without even looking at him, Harry knew that much.  The silence pressed in on him and he knew that he had to say something, anything to get those eyes off of him.

"There are never any girls."  Maybe that hadn't been the brightest thing he ever said.

"What?"

"Weren't you ever with a girl?  I know this spell draws out negative memories, but doesn't everyone have a bungled first kiss that they'd rather not remember.  That last was a kiss; at least, it was going to be."  Harry paused, pieces started to fall into place.  "Are you...?"

"I don't see how that is any of your business."  Snape opened a drawer of his desk and pulled out a stack of parchment.  

This was too good of an opportunity to pass up.  Here was someone that he could ask, that he didn't have to write letters to and wait for a response.  That he trusted not to tell anyone, not just because Snape was a trustworthy person -- Harry still had his doubts about that -- but because he wouldn't have any desire to tell anyone.  What Harry did was generally beneath the man's notice, unless of course it had to do with getting in trouble.  Though he had been quite nasty to Hermione during their ill-begotten relationship.  Coincidence.

"Was it hard for you to accept?"

Snape didn't look up from where he was scratching comments down with his quill.  "We are not going to talk about this, Potter."

Fine.  He would talk and Snape could grade.  "I still feel uncomfortable sometimes, looking at someone who's been a friend - or an enemy - and suddenly finding them attractive.  I talked to Remus about it, he says it’s normal, but I don't know."

"Do be quiet, Potter.  Do your schoolwork.  I assume that you brought it with you."

Harry sighed and hoisted the bag up next to him and pulled out his potions book, idly flipping through the pages.  "Was it weird the first time you thought about a bloke that way, Professor?  The first time I realized what I was thinking I had to leave the room."

"I thought I made it clear that we aren't talking about this.  I am not your counselor or a friendly ear.  I teach you at the Headmaster's order.  Now shut your mouth."

Harry looked down at his book.  "Sorry.  I just wanted to know.  There aren't that many people around that share my preference that I can talk to."

"Write Lupin."

"I have, but it takes forever to get a reply, and by then I've either muddled through and bollixed it up, or just plain made a disaster.  I guess I'm just trying to say that it's awkward."

Snape put down his quill and finally looked at him.  "And this isn't."

Harry shook his head.  "This is different.  I've been in your head, Professor.  So in a way I guess that I'm a lot closer to you than to Remus."  Snape raised his eyebrow, and Harry continued.  "I understand you better.  I did even before we started the Legilimency lessons."

Snape's face returned to his normal impassive stare.  "I don't want your understanding or pity," he spat.

"Good, because I'm not offering it.  And I don't pity you, but the fact that I understand you is there.  I didn't set out to, I just do."  He paused.  "I'll give you a choice.  We can talk about our preference in the same sex or we can discuss just why I understand you."

"Schoolwork."

"Not an option, Professor."

"You will do what I tell you, Potter, or else."

Why wouldn't anyone talk to him?  They set him these tasks, things he had to learn, and he did.  He worked on it whether or not he wanted to, and he learned to like a Professor that he absolutely detested.  Three days a week he came down to these dungeons and did homework and had his mind assaulted without complaint.  He was coming to terms with the fact that he had an insane megalomaniac wanting him dead, and that he would eventually have to face him because he - a sixteen year old boy - was the only one who could.  All he wanted was to talk to someone who he knew could relate to him, on some marginal level.  "Or else what, Professor?  You'll deduct House points?  You'll have me serve detention with Filch?  It's worth it."  And to Harry it was.

"And if Gryffindor doesn't win the House Cup?"

"It's just a stupid trophy.  It won't be the end of the world."

Snape stood and moved around his desk, closing some of the distance between them.  He leaned against the front of it and folded his arms across his chest.  Harry braced himself for the set-down he knew was coming.

"Your cousin, has he always been such an unpleasant spawn?"

Harry's jaw dropped, and he stared at Snape curiously.  It took him a moment to finally process and answer the question that Snape had set him.  "I tend to think so, though my aunt thinks that her little 'Duddikins' is absolutely perfect.  She knows nothing about his new hobby of beating up the younger kids in the neighborhood.  As for 'Harry hunting', he can't play that since we don't go to the same school.  Not that he would try it now, anyways."

"'Harry hunting'?"

"He and his friends used to chase me around the school, if they caught me they'd show how hard they could hit with their fists."

Snape didn't say anything to that.  "And the dogs?  Did he sic those on you when you'd get away?"

Ripper.  He had lots of bad memories of that canine.  "No, that's my aunt's dog; she thought that Ripper needed some exercise and sent him to chase me.  She used to laugh when I'd have to scramble up the trees to get away."

"And that scar?  How did you get it?"

He couldn't be talking about the one on his forehead.  Everyone knew about that, especially Snape.  He looked at him curiously.

"On your hand."

Maybe Hermione was right and he shouldn't trace it.  He doubted that Snape would notice if it hadn't been brought into relief by the green ink he had used today.  "I must not tell lies.  Umbridge made me write that during detention.  She said that I never went to the graveyard and that I made it all up."  Harry looked down at the ground.  "That Cedric's death was just an accident."

"That does not explain how it ended up on the back of your hand."

Harry thought that school work would have been a much better thing to do.  Too late now.  "The quill she gave me, when I wrote with it, it cut the words into the back of my hand and used my blood for ink.  I had to write it everyday for a week during the first week of classes."

Snape was staring at him; his lips were slack, and Harry had the distinct impression that if Snape had less control of his emotions his mouth would be slightly parted.  "And you trace the scar.  Why?"

"To remind me that there will always be people who don't believe me, who think that I'm crazy, that Lord Voldemort isn't back.  That those people are wrong, and yet can have much more power than me.  To remind me that I'm just a kid."  Harry turned to his book.  "I think that you were right, Professor.  Schoolwork is much better than this conversation."  He bent his head and looked studiously at the passage he was supposed to read.

Harry could swear that he felt the brush of air as a hand was brought close to his shoulder, as if it was going to rest there, or give it a slight squeeze.  When he looked up a minute later, Snape wasn't anywhere near him; he was sitting at his desk writing comments with his quill again.

~///~

This dream was new.  He was sitting in the Common Room talking to Hermione, but it didn't feel like the common room, it felt like a memory of the common room.  He grabbed her hand and pulled her up out of her seat, telling her he had to show her something.

They were walking down the corridors, toward Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.  Was he brewing more Polyjuice Potion?  He couldn't remember, and Hermione kept asking where they were going, and why Ron wasn't with them, and why was he being so quiet.  Harry tried to answer her, he did, but his mouth was not cooperating.  Instead of answering the questions, he responded that they were almost there.

And then he was opening the Chamber of Secrets, the sibilant sounds slipped off his tongue, causing a shiver to run trough his body.  He had a desire to push Hermione away, to tell her to run, but his body wasn't doing what he wanted it to.  He held Hermione around the waist and jumped into the pipe.  She buried her face in his chest as they skidded down, and Harry thought he should try to comfort her but didn't.

They made it to where all the rocks had fallen blocking their path.  For a moment he didn't understand where all of the boulders had come from, but then the memory clicked into place and he started casting Levitating Charms to get them out of the way, goading Hermione into helping him.  There was no sense of time for how long it took them to clear a small path, but they made it through and walked into the chamber.

Everything was hazy to Harry, the green light still permeated the area, but the edges of his vision were fuzzy, and the large snake-wrapped pillars faded out.  He kept a tight grip on Hermione's arm as they approached the statue of Slytherin.  Hermione tried to jerk loose, but Harry would tighten his grip even though he was trying to loosen it.  He couldn't understand why his body wasn't listening to him.

And then Harry heard Hermione's voice ringing through his head, demanding that he let her go, that he stop, because he was hurting and scaring her.

But he would never hurt Hermione.  He wouldn't.  And then he realized what was happening.  Voldemort had him, was making him do this.  He tried to concentrate, tried to force Voldemort out of his head, like he had done during lessons so many times.  He squeezed his eyes shut, knowing that it wouldn't do any good, but maybe if he couldn’t see what was going on then he had a chance.

Everything went black.

~///~

He groaned and rolled over.  Someone was lying next to him.  He had never gone to bed with anyone before, and the feel of that body was strange, not right.  Too cold.  Everything was cold, and damp.  He opened his eyes, staring up, he couldn't even see the ceiling, but he recognized where he was.  The Chamber of Secrets.  

His dream.

He shook his head.  No.  It was a dream, he hadn't brought Hermione down here last night; he couldn't have.  But he turned, and when he saw Hermione lying next to him, her face pale, a bruise around her neck he knew that it hadn't just been a dream.

He reached out and touched her arm, it was too cold, and he jerked his hand away.  "Come on, Hermione.  Wake up!  You've got to."  His vision was blurring and he could feel the tears stinging his eyes.  He blinked them away.  He wouldn't cry there was no reason to.  Hermione was fine.  She had to be.   "WAKE UP!"  He grabbed her by the shoulder and hauled her up into a sitting position, but her head lolled back.

Harry breathed heavily for a moment before pulling her into his arms, he felt the tears slide down his cheek, but he ignored them and the strands of Hermione's hair that were sticking to his cheek.  He rocked her back and forth, hoping that he was wrong.  Praying that he hadn't killed her.  He wouldn't be able to live with himself if he had killed her.  He couldn't.

And then there was a hand resting on his shoulder.

"Mr Potter?"

He squeezed his eyes shut.  Blocking out the sound.  Someone was trying to pull Hermione away from him, he tightened his grip.

"Mr Potter, let go!  We need to get the girl to the hospital wing."

McGonagall, it was McGonagall.  Harry's grip loosened and he felt two slightly wrinkled hands prying his loose.  He looked up into the concerned eyes of the Transfiguration professor for only a moment before looking away, drawing his legs up to fill the place where Hermione had been.

And then he was alone, because he knew that McGonagall had left with Hermione; that she couldn't bear to look at him.  He had almost killed his best friend, he was-

"POTTER!"

A hand was still clasping his shoulder.  He shivered, his whole body convulsing before he was pulled into a tight embrace, two strong arms wrapping around him from behind.

"Stop this nonsense immediately.  I will not deal with your histrionics."

He dragged in a deep breath, letting go of his legs, and settling his hands on top of the arms wrapped around him.  No one had ever held him that tightly, that securely.  And he knew only one person that could possibly understand him enough to do so.  Well, two.  One he had just sent to the hospital wing.  Another shiver passed through his body and the arms tightened.  He took a deep breath before pushing his way out of the embrace and turned to face Snape.

Because Snape was the only one it could be.

The arms that had been around him fell away, and Harry still on his knees looked at the face of his Defense professor.  He couldn't say anything, couldn't think of anything to say.  Snape draped a robe around his shoulders and tugged him to his feet.  With a slight push he started Harry moving toward the exit of the chamber.

~///~

A warm cup of tea was pressed into his hands.

"She'll wake up eventually."

Harry held the cup, letting its heat warm him up.  "I could have killed her."

"But you didn't.  You were able to grasp control at the end."

Harry looked away, he could have done better.  It hadn't been enough.  He lifted the cup, the sloshing of the liquid onto his hand betraying how deeply he was affected.

"You did well.  I'm proud of you."

He couldn't have heard that right.  Snape would never say something like that.  He didn't deserve it.  "How can you be?  I failed.  I failed in what you've been teaching me."

"If you had failed then you wouldn't have gotten out of that dream, you wouldn't have forced the Dark Lord out of your mind.  And Ms Granger would be dead."

"But all that training.  I should have done more."  He set the cup down and buried his head in his hands.  He was not crying.  He wasn't.

Then those arms from earlier were wrapped around him again, giving him a strength he didn't feel, a comfort he didn't think he deserved.  "Hush.  You did all you could, to the best of your abilities.  You are a strong wizard, Harry Potter.  You'd do well to remember that."

He nodded and buried his head in Snape's chest.  Not even Hogwarts was safe anymore.  No where was safe, and it felt as if he was falling and there was no place for him to land.  And then he felt Snape's lips press a kiss onto the top of his head, and he realized that here he was safe.  Within these arms he was protected.

~Fin