To Cast These Spells
by DragonLight


Harry lay on his bed, curled on his side as his stared at his drawn curtains.  He felt as if he hadn't moved in days, which was possible, if Ron was to be believed.  His stomach growled, but he ignored it, rolling over to his other side.

School ended tomorrow.  Everyone was going home.  Everyone but Hermione; she hadn't woken up yet.  Something about having too much magic drained from her.  How that happened he had no idea.  Her parents had been distraught when they were told their daughter was in a coma.  Not that Harry could blame them; he was upset too.  He hadn't wanted to see them when they visited.  It had been his fault; he had done it.  And no matter how much anyone told him otherwise he wouldn't believe them.

The curtains opened, and he sighed.  How many times did he have to tell people that he didn't want to talk to anyone?  He refused to turn over and see who it was.

"Get up, Potter."

Snape.

"Now.  And pack your things.  You have fifteen minutes."  

"Until what?"

"Until I personally drag you from this school.  You will be spending the summer holidays with Lupin.  I am to escort you there.  Now, move."

Harry listened to his quiet footsteps leave before rolling over.  He sat up and swung his legs over the bed.  He wasn't going back to the Dursleys this summer.  Small comfort.  He would have preferred to hear that Hermione was okay.  That she was awake and didn't blame him for almost killing her.  

~///~

"I fixed your room up a bit, Harry."  

Harry lifted the handle of his trunk and started to drag it up the stairs.  He only got a few feet before it was taken out of his hands by Snape.  Once in the room he dropped it at the foot of the bed, turned and left.

"That was nice."

"What did you say, Harry?"

Harry turned to Remus.  "Nothing.  Snape just left without saying anything."

Remus shrugged.  "That's Severus for you.  He's rather brusque at the best of times."  Remus spread his arms wide.  "So, what do you think?"

Harry turned away from the door and looked around.  The room looked nothing like it had the last two times he stayed here.  The beds had been placed against separate walls.  It didn't make the room look bigger, but it did make some room for a small table and two chairs.  A battered wizards' chess set was laid out, its pieces strangely still.  The canvas that sometimes contained Sirius' Great-grandfather, Phineas Nigellus, was still hanging over the fireplace.  The curtains and bed hangings looked new, and the walls had been freshly painted.  There was even a stand for his Firebolt.

"When did you find the time to do this?"

Remus shrugged.  "Dumbledore kept me away from missions for a while.  I needed to amuse myself somehow."  He pointed at the now-empty canvas.  "Hope you don't mind about him.  Said he wanted to stay in your room.  I was going to move him."

Harry shook his head.

"I was going to take out the other bed, so you could have the room to yourself, but then I thought you might want Ron to stay with you when he comes to visit."

"I can have company?"

Remus nodded.  "Of course.  But I'm afraid only Ron, at the moment.  When Hermione's better-"

Harry realized that he must have stopped smiling from the contrite look on Remus' face.

"When she's better, she can stay too.  I fixed up another guest room for her and Ginny.  Anyone else is out of the question.  Dumbledore forbade it."

Harry nodded.  "It makes sense.  I suppose the house is still hidden to the best of the Order's capabilities."

"Yes."  Remus paused in the doorway on his way out.  "Dumbledore told me to inform you that you will still be having lessons with Snape once a week.  During the holidays he can't afford to do more than that.  Supper will be ready in about fifteen minutes.  I know it's no End of Year Feast at Hogwarts, but I made your favorite in exchange."

Harry smiled.  "Thanks, Remus."

~///~

Harry sighed and flipped back to the page before; he stared reading the passage again, but it made no more sense then the first time.  He pulled the sheaf of parchment toward him and started flipping through his hand written notes.  Nothing.  Either this had made sense to Harry the first time he had read it or he had forgotten to ask Snape to explain it to him.  Probably the latter.

"You missed lunch.  That book must be interesting."

Harry looked up; Remus was carrying in a sandwich and goblet on a tray.  He set it down next to him.  "Not really.  It's pretty boring, but I have to reread it because there are some points that I need to ask Snape about when he comes tomorrow."  Harry took a bite of the sandwich before going through his notes again.  He could have sworn that he had gone over the whole book with Snape.  He sighed in frustration.

"Perhaps it's on this sheet?"  Remus bent over and picked up a piece of parchment off the floor and handed it to Harry.

"Thanks."  He looked it over quickly and found the definitions that he needed.  "It must have flown off the top of the pile."

"What is all this?"

"Notes.  Snape went over the concepts I didn't understand.  I took down the things that I would need to remember."  Harry took a sip of his pumpkin juice and watched as Remus leafed through the book on Legilimency that Snape had pushed into his hands on their way out of the castle.

"Why do you need to learn this, Harry?"

He shrugged.  "Dumbledore never told me, just said that Snape would be taking over my lessons since I had successfully passed the realm of 'pure Occlumency', as he called it."

Remus set the book down.  "Is this what Snape is going to be teaching you this summer?"

"I don't know.  Probably.  Though it's mostly practice now.  Maybe there is something else I need to learn."  Harry opened the book back to his place and started rereading the passage, glancing at his notes as he needed to.  He could feel Remus watching him, but after a minute ignored him.  He flipped through his handwritten pages again.  "Damnit!"

"What?"

"I lost a page. See."  He turned the parchment toward Remus.  The end of the page ended mid-sentence, the next page was a different topic altogether.

"Are you sure?"

"I numbered them, corresponding to the chapters of the book.  I did learn something from Her-Hermione."  Harry swallowed hard.

Remus didn't say anything about the break in his voice.  Harry was thankful for that much.  "Maybe I can help.  What do you need to know?"

"Just the meanings of some runes.  I had a list of all the pertinent ones to this field, but half of them are missing now."

Remus stood and went over to one of the bookshelves that lined the walls of the study.  While he was looking at the spines, Harry stuffed the rest of his lunch into his mouth.  He was finishing off his juice when Remus returned, a thin book clutched in his hand.

"Dictionary of Runes.  I'm surprised you don't have one."

"Never took Ancient Runes.  Snape handed me one of those when I first asked, but it didn't help much.  The definition and interpretation of each depends on the context."  Harry shrugged.  "It ended up easier for him just to go through them with me."

"All right then, get a sheet of parchment and we'll go through them.  I'm warning you, I wasn't the top of the class in Ancient Runes."

Harry grinned and pulled a blank piece of parchment and an inkwell and quill over.  He tried his best to ignore it when Remus placed his hand over his wrist for a minute; after all, it was nothing.

~///~

Harry was dozing when Snape stormed into the room.  He blinked the sleep out of his eyes and turned to stare at his professor.  "Is the meeting over already, Professor?"

Snape nodded.  "Curses, eta through kappa levels.  Recite."

Harry took a deep breath.  This hadn't been what he was expecting, but he could do it.  They had covered most of those during the last half of the school year.  He started slowly, but gained speed as he fell into a rhythm.

"You forgot three.  Again."

Harry sighed.  This time he went slower, pausing between each of the levels to make sure that he didn't miss any.  When he finished he looked at Snape.  He had moved to the corner of the room and had set up some sort of target.

"Acceptable.  Cast them."

"What?"

"Cast them.  Those words cannot possibly be above your comprehension level, Potter.  There is your target."  He sat down in a chair not far away.

"What does this have to do with Occlumency or Legilimency, Professor?"

"Nothing.  Now stop questioning me and cast."

Harry took a deep breath and stepped toward the dummy.  He started with the first he had named.  When there was no comment from Snape, he moved on to the next.  Every once in a while Snape would stop him to correct a mispronunciation or a wand motion, but other than that he was left to destroy the target with minimal interference.

Casting the last spell, he stepped away.

"Practice and learn the next two levels for next week."

It was then that it occurred to Harry that he had just spent the last three hours performing magic.  "Aren't I going to get expelled?"

Snape walked over and handed him a small piece of parchment, the size of a license.  He looked down at it, reading the words over and over again.

"It's a dispensation, Potter.  It cost the Headmaster quite a few favors to obtain that for you, so do not abuse it.  You are only to perform the spells that I set you to practice.  No cleaning spells, no Exploding Snap, nothing that involves casting any spell that is not approved by me.  Is that understood?"

Harry nodded.  "Professor?"

"What?"

"How is she?"

"Awake."

There had to be more than that.  Harry licked his lips nervously.  "Is she all right?"

"She has no memory of what happened."

That was good news, wasn't it?  If she didn't know that he almost killed her than she couldn't be mad at him.  But it also meant that she couldn't forgive him.  He swallowed hard and sat down on one of the chairs; he didn't know if his legs would support him.  

"Good night, Potter."

Harry could only nod in response.

On his way out the door, Snape's knuckles brushed the top of his arm, whether on purpose or not, Harry didn't know, but either way he found some comfort from the touch.

~///~

"There's an easier way to memorize that level."  Remus sat down in the chair across from him.  "I used to help Sirius when he was being tested at various points in his Auror training."

"Does it hurt to talk about him?"

"Sometimes.  I think it hurt more when he was sent to Azkaban -- then, it felt like he had died.  When he escaped, after, he had lost a large piece of who he had been.  It had been chipped away by the dementors.  He was very focused on you, Harry, more than anything.  Most of his memories that were still intact were of James and him, much younger."  Every word was said slowly, as if Remus was trying to convey something to him, but Harry had no idea what.  "There were times after Azkaban that he seemed different.  He wasn't the same, and because of that our relationship was different."

Harry looked away.  Remus looked so sad, so lost.  He didn't know what to do or say that could alleviate his pain.

"Sometimes I feel that my Sirius died 15 years ago instead of just one year ago."  Remus was looking at the corner of the book that Harry had set on the table, his arms were folded on his lap; neither said anything for a long while.

"Let me help you."  Remus moved his hand to point at the list.  "These are in order of strength; it's easier to look at them alphabetically, and then assign a number to them to tell you which are the strongest.  It's interesting that in this set, you can break them up into groups of five, still alphabetically.  Look, the strongest five all start with letters at the end of the alphabet.  It continues that way in clusters.  Just a little trivia for you."  Remus stood.  "I'll let you get back to work."

"Thanks, Remus."   He bent over his book and scribbled some notes down in a ledger, his finger tracing underneath the words in the book as he copied them down.  He didn't say anything when he felt Remus' fingers comb through his hair.

"Don't forget supper tonight, before your lessons with Severus.  And Ron is coming to visit tomorrow."

Harry nodded still intent on his work, but when the door shut behind Remus he stared at where he had been sitting for a long time before returning to what he had been doing.

~///~

"That's not fair.  You get to cast spells this summer."  Ron moved his knight, taking his queen.  Harry had realized some time ago that he never stood a chance at beating Ron at chess.  "I have to help mum with the house, without magic.  It's horrible."

"Well it's not like I can cast anything I want.  Only what Snape says I can."

"That's bad luck, that is.  I think I'd leave the country if Dumbledore made me take lessons with him."

Harry moved a pawn.  It was a bad move, and he was going to lose the piece, but he couldn't see a better one.  Better a pawn than his castle.  It didn't help when the piece refused to move the first time he ordered it there.  Bloody chess set.  "He's not that bad."

"You can't mean that, Harry.  It's Snape."

Harry shrugged and watched as Ron beat him in the next two moves.  He hadn't seen that coming.  "How long are you allowed to stay?"

"Just a couple of days.  I'm going to see Hermione after..."  Ron bit his lip.

"Tell her I said hello."

"Sure thing, mate.  Are you sure you don't want to ask Remus if you could come with me?  I mean, she's at St Mungo's in London, it's not that far from here."

Harry shook his head a little quicker than necessary.  He wasn't ready to see her; he still felt awful for what happened to her.  "Maybe I'll ask him to take me sometime next week."

Ron set the pieces back up on the board, pointedly not looking at him.  Harry had never asked if he blamed him for what had happened to Hermione, nor was he ever going to.  It didn't matter to him really.  It was enough that he blamed himself.

A knock sounded at the door and both Ron and Harry turned to look when Remus popped his head around the door.  "Supper's ready; it's in the kitchen on the table whenever you're ready.  Nothing much tonight, just sandwiches, as I have to go to an Order meeting.  Don't get into any trouble, and stay away from the parlor door.  Understand?"

They both nodded dutifully, and listened as Remus shut the door and went down the stairs.  "I borrowed one of Fred and George's Extendable Ears."

"Won't work, Remus casts an Imperturbable Charm on the door every time."

Ron sighed.  "Shall we go down and eat, then?"

Harry nodded and led the way down stairs.

When they entered the kitchen it already had an occupant.  Snape was sitting at the table with a cup of tea when they entered.  Ron stopped dead in his tracks, but Harry brushed past him and sat down at the table, leaning over to slide the plate of sandwiches toward him.

"Didn't anyone teach you proper manners, Potter?"

"My aunt, but I never took her lessons to heart."  Harry started to reach over for the pumpkin juice, but stopped.  "But I'll see what I can remember, if you want.  Please pass the pumpkin juice, sir."

Snape took one hand away from his cup and pushed the jug over.  "You know that Lupin keeps some butterbeer in the top cabinet on the left."  

Harry thought about going to get it, but thought better of it.  Remus brought out a couple bottles for supper every once in a while, but the pumpkin juice was fine for tonight.  

"Your friend seems to be stuck, Mr Potter.  Sooner or later someone will want to enter the kitchen."

Ron made a strange squeaking sound from where he was still standing.

"Sit, Ron.  I won't promise to save you any food if you don't."

Ron quickly moved to sit down next to Harry on the far side from Snape.  He grabbed half a sandwich and started devouring it.  "Do you think Remus would get mad if I nicked a butterbeer, Harry?  Mum never lets us have any at home."

"Go ahead."  But Ron didn't move; he was staring at Snape with wide eyes.  Harry stood and went over to the cabinet himself.  He sat the bottle next to Ron and went to dig through the drawers for a bottle opener.

"Oh for heaven's sake."  Snape pointed his wand at the bottle and muttered something.  Ron dived underneath the table.  "Stop that racket, Potter.  I came in here for some peace."  

Harry sat back down at his seat.  "Ron, is something wrong?"

Ron shook his head and sat back down, his eyes glued to the open bottle.  Hesitantly, he reached out for it to take a sip.  Harry rolled his eyes.  It wasn't like Snape had poisoned it or anything.

The door swung open and Bill walked in, smiling at Harry and Ron before turning to Snape.  "Professor, everyone's here.  The Headmaster told me to come and get you."

Snape nodded at him and stood.  "I would like to talk to you tonight, Potter.  After the meeting.  I will expect you in the study.  Don't bother bringing any books.  I won't waste too much of your time."  He glared at Ron on his way out.

"Dad and I will see you before we leave to say good-bye, Ron."  Bill grabbed the half of sandwich that was on Ron's plate before leaving the kitchen with it and his half-finished bottle of butterbeer.

"Unfair, that."

Harry laughed and passed Ron the jug of pumpkin juice and the plate of sandwiches.

~///~

"Lupin told me that you didn't want to see Ms Granger with Mr Weasley in two days."

Harry shook his head.  "I can't.  What if she remembers what I did?  What if she hates me?"

"I'm sure that neither will be the case, Potter."

Harry shrugged and brought his heels to rest on the edge of the chair so he could hug his legs.  Snape was wrong, wasn't he?  "What's going to happen when she does remember?  I know Hermione, and she'll find a way to find out what happened.  I'll lose one of my best friends, and it will be my fault."

"You seem to think very little of your friends."

"I don't!"

Snape arched an eyebrow.  "Are you sure of that?  You certainly aren't acting like someone who trusts that his friend will understand that he wasn't in control of his actions."

Harry bit his lip.  "I should have been.  It never should have happened."

"You will go to see Ms Granger."

Harry shook his head.  "No. No, I won't."

"It is your assignment for the week.  If you fail to do so, I will make sure that you will not pass your first Defense practical, Potter."

"That's not fair!"

"Life isn't fair.  I thought that was a lesson you had already learned."  Snape stood and stalked out of the room, leaving Harry alone.

~///~

"I'm glad you came, Harry.  Ron's seen me a couple of times; he told me that you're staying with Remus."  As usual, Hermione's eyes asked him too many questions to answer.

He sat down in the chair by her bed, and took her hand in his.  "Yeah.  I've been studying lots.  Can't get behind in any of my classes, you know.  Been working extra hard on Defense.  Even been practicing some advanced stuff."

She looked at him for a moment in silence. "That's good, Harry.  I hope that you're working hard.  You don't want to disappoint anyone."

He nodded.  She had never been slow on the uptake.  "How are you feeling?"

"Tired.  They won't tell me how I ended up like this, though."  Her voice was quiet and curious, and Harry looked down to where her fingers were threaded through his, not able to meet her eyes.  "I think it has something to do with you."  His head shot up, and when he saw the trusting look in her eyes it felt like he couldn't breathe.  What was he going to say to that?  What could he say?  "Tell me, Harry.  Whatever it is, it's eating you up inside.  I don't want to see you like this."

"I can't," he croaked.

"Yes, you can."

He shook his head, but even as he did he could feel the story pouring out of his mouth.  He watched her face the whole time.  Sometimes she would nod her head, and then her eyes would go round and horrified.  Her fingers tightened on his, and he wanted to pull his hand away; he didn't want to see the disgust he knew was going to cross her face at any minute.  By the end his voice was barely a whisper.  "I almost killed you."

"It'll take more than a nightmare to kill me, Harry.  You're stuck with me."  She bit her lip.  "But you've got to promise me something."

"Anything."

"That you'll do your meditations every night, and that you'll never forget to do them again.  I couldn't bear to watch you suffer more."

He nodded; there was nothing else to do.  His hand tightened on hers, and he leaned over to press a kiss to her forehead.  "Don't know what I'd do without you."

~///~

The damn dungeons always felt colder than they really were, and he was stuck down here for the next three days.  Alone.  Well, not quite, but it wasn't like Snape was any real sort of company.  He just kept glaring at him, and Harry couldn't get the thought that it had something to do with Remus out of his head.

They hadn't done anything.  Not really, at any rate.  Remus had just kissed him.  The press of Remus' lips against his had surprised Harry to no end, and at first he had just stood there not doing anything.  But then Remus had slid his arms around him and Harry felt safe.  No, safer than he had felt.  Maybe it was because Remus was older, or knew him better than most of the students his age.  For whatever reason, it had felt more right than anything he had shared with his peers, so he kissed back.

Snape had walked in to take Harry back to Hogwarts while he was still in Remus' arms.  He hadn't stopped scowling since, except for when he was growling at Harry to do something or other.  For the first time in almost a year, Harry hadn't been able to wheedle an answer out of the old bastard.  All he wanted to know was why he had to come back to Hogwarts early, why he wasn't allowed on the train with the other students.  Why he couldn't just be treated like a normal student for once.

Damn them all, and damn Snape once more for being a tight-lipped prick.

"Potter, stop sulking.  You have... company."  The last word contained more vitriol than he had heard Snape mutter at anyone.

Harry didn't say anything, just walked through the door to the small guestroom Dumbledore had requested that the castle open up to adjoin Snape's room.  That was another question he'd have for the Headmaster when he met with him tomorrow.  Why couldn't he have just stayed in the tower?

"Hello, Harry."  Remus looked at him from where he sat on the corner of the bed.  He looked as anxious as Harry, himself, was feeling.

"I didn't expect to see you again until the Christmas holidays."

"I just thought that I'd stop by to say hello.  I had to talk to the Headmaster about something."

Harry nodded and stepped closer.  What was he supposed to do in this situation?  It was awkward; he had been thinking of Remus as no more than a guardian for most of the summer, and then the kiss.  He swallowed and stopped a good five feet away.

"Harry, I think I should explain my actions from the other day."

"It really isn't necessary."

"Yes it is.  I was trusted as your guardian and I went beyond that.  I want you to understand why I did what I did."  Remus was staring down at his hands, his face averted, so that Harry couldn't make out the look on his face.  "Over the past year I learned a lot about you as a person, as someone who isn't just my friends' child.  You've matured in many ways, and yet in others you've retained your youth.  You are nothing like James," he paused, "or Sirius.  I'm thankful for that.  And I've realized that it's something I want.  That you're what I want.  I let what I see in you go to my head, misplacing your trust in me as a guardian.  I hope that you can forgive me."

It didn't really make sense, what Remus was telling him, but in its own way it was nice.  Harry didn't say anything; instead, he listened to the sound of their breathing in the small room and just looked at Remus.  He still wasn't looking at him.  "There's nothing to forgive.  It was... nice."

Remus finally looked at him, for just a moment, before standing and closing the distance between them.  He settled one hand on Harry's arm and his other on his cheek.  They were of a height and Harry found himself staring into his amber eyes, not overcome with any great emotion than a bit of nervousness knowing that he was about to be kissed again, but not knowing what to do.  He kept thinking that Snape was sitting right outside, and he probably knew what Remus was going to do, and that he would be getting even more grief for the rest of the time he was here before school started.  Then Remus rubbed his thumb over his bottom lip; it burned a little, and Harry didn't know if it was because he had been biting his lip too hard or if his lips were chapped.

He was the one that leaned forward first, the tension in the stance just too much.  His lips were soft, not at all those of a teenage boy.  He lifted his hands to grasp at Remus' arms; the muscles were tight underneath his fingers, and Harry realized that Remus was a man.  It was a fact that he had always known, but the differences between the boys his age and the man he was kissing became more apparent.  His muscles were developed, not in the stages of awkward growth that he, himself, was still in.  Remus tightened his grip, drawing Harry closer, and the feeling that Harry had been waiting for washed over him.  Security.  But it wasn't as strong as he had felt before.  It wasn't enough.

He pulled away.

Remus was staring at him, and Harry couldn't bring himself to look him in the eyes.  He felt that he had betrayed Remus somehow, that he should say something or do something.  But Remus stepped back slightly, putting just a bit of distance between them.  He felt his fingers run through his hair, making it even messier, but he didn't mind.  It was what Remus did.  His thumb traced his cheek lightly, but Harry still didn't look at him, couldn't.  Remus tilted his head up just a bit, and Harry closed his eyes.  He wasn't uncomfortable, just disappointed, but he couldn't figure out why.  Remus pressed his lips lightly to Harry's again, just for a second before stepping back, and dropping his hand.

"There's something missing."  It was a really stupid thing for him to say, but it was the truth.

Remus nodded.  "Not every kiss or action will hold everything that you want or desire. Even if it's with the one person that you love more than anything.  I wish that it was different, but it's not.  Still..."

Harry finished the thought.  "It was nice.  Better than the boys here."

Remus grinned.  "I have more practice."

On his way out the door Harry stopped him.  He pecked him on the cheek quickly.  "I'll write."

Remus nodded and walked out.  Harry heard him wish Snape a good day, in that cheery voice that Remus set aside just for him.  He almost laughed when he heard Snape grumble at him to get out.  That man was in a perpetually bad mood, and it got darker and worse everyday.  Unfortunately for him, he had to live with him for the time being.  He debated going out to get the book he had left sitting on the couch, but thought better of it.  From the sound of Snape's agitated footsteps he was in a worse mood than he had been in earlier.  He decided to just study another subject.  He picked up the Legilimency book and flipped to the chapter on side effects and mind control.  Maybe he could figure out what happened to Hermione.

~///~

"You weren't on the train."  Harry looked over his shoulder.  Ron had just walked up behind him.

"I was already here.  Have been for days."

"What for?"

Harry shrugged.  "I wish I knew.  I was supposed to meet Dumbledore a couple of days ago, he was going to tell me, but our meeting got cancelled."

Ron lowered his head until he could safely whisper in his ear.  "Dad had a meeting the day before yesterday."

If anyone had heard him they would just think that Ron had been talking about a department meeting or something since his dad worked at the Ministry, but Harry caught the double meaning.

"I figured.  Snape hadn't been around, but thanks for the confirmation."

"Don't tell me you've started watching him."

"What?"

"Watching him.  Keeping track of his activities."

Harry shook his head.  "I've lived down in his quarters for the last week.  Kind of hard to miss the fact that he wasn't there; no one was breathing down my neck."

Ron looked horrified.  No other way to describe it, and Harry supposed that it made sense.  Living with Snape was disconcerting.

"Was Hermione on the train?"

Ron nodded.  "She stopped to talk to some Ravenclaw that's in her Arithmancy class.  Wanted to know what they covered at the end of the year, and all.  Did you do the Transfiguration essay McGonagall assigned?  I did it yesterday after I finished packing.  Totally forgot about it the entire summer.  I only glanced through the book, so I want to see how much I got wrong."

"I'll show it to you when we go up to the tower.  Though you're supposed to be the better student, you're a prefect."

"Shut up, Harry."

~///~

Harry stared at his timetable.  Optimistically he had added in Quidditch practice, but with that and the DA meetings and lessons with Snape there were no open spaces at all.  He didn't know when he was supposed to do his schoolwork.  There just wasn't any time.  Something would have to give.

Tomorrow was his meeting with the Headmaster; he'd find out what was going on then.  He still didn't know if the ban had been lifted and if it hadn't, he'd drop Quidditch.  No reason to keep practicing.  He was more curious about his extra-curricular lessons with Snape.  He understood the need for the Occlumency, but everything after that was a mystery.  Were they preparing him to go after Voldemort?  He should have plenty of time.  They couldn't possibly expect a seventeen-year old to defeat the Dark Lord.

On second thought, they probably did.

Harry turned to look out the window.  What kind of life was he going to have after Voldemort?  If there was an "after".  There probably wouldn't be.  After all, how could he defeat a wizard as powerful as Dumbledore?  It was laughable, or at least it would be if it wasn't his life.

~///~

"The ban will be lifted at the end of this year, so you would be able to play for a club, if you so wish, after school."

He sighed; it wasn't what he was hoping for, but it was something, at least.  Maybe he'd go to some sporadic practices throughout the year as he had last year.  A nagging feeling that Dumbledore might not have tried as hard as he could have to get the ban lifted fluttered at the back of his mind.  "Professor?"

Dumbledore motioned for him to continue as he sipped his tea.

"Why am I learning the Dark Arts?"  There was no question that he was; the curses he had moved onto over the last few weeks were definitely classified as Dark.  He just hoped that he wouldn't be asked to cast the Unforgivables and the other curses that made up the omega level.

"You're a very smart young man, Harry."

Harry narrowed his eyes at the comment.  It was Dumbledore's usual non-answer, complete with placating sentiment.  He both hated the Headmaster and loved him for it at the same time.  The last thing that he wanted to know was that he was being trained to go up against Voldemort most likely single-handedly, but he wished that someone would just tell him what was expected of him in no uncertain terms.  This indecision was bothersome.  The only thing he was sure of was that if they did expect him to go up against Voldemort, then he wouldn't be able to do it.

They might as well sign his death certificate now, and wait to fill in the date.

"I know what you're thinking, Harry, and I suggest you stop right now."

Harry caught another sigh before it could escape.  At least when Snape went to read his mind he used Legilimency, so Harry could keep him out.  "That's what happens when you leave me in the company of a known pessimist," he muttered.  It wasn't that he minded Snape training him -- well, he did -- but he wondered why Dumbledore wouldn't.  If he was the only one that Voldemort feared shouldn't Harry be getting trained by him?

Dumbledore had the gall to chuckle at him.  "Now, Harry, Professor Snape may take a more... realistic - as he would call it - viewpoint of the world, but he is by no means a pessimist."

"Of course, sir.  I take it that my schedule for training with him shall remain the same?"

Dumbledore leaned forward slightly in his chair.  "There have been some changes, Harry.  I'd like you to go down to the dungeons at least once a week.  Professor Snape has made a few provisions so that you'll be able to practice higher level curses."

He swallowed.  The last thing he wanted was to spend more time studying deadly curses and hexes, but as usual in his life, he wasn't given a choice.  He nodded.  "I'll make the necessary arrangements, Headmaster.

~///~

"You will not be able to practice these spells until the next Hogsmeade weekend, Potter.  At that time, you will be taken to the Order headquarters where Lupin," Snape paused there, his gaze hardening further, "will oversee your practice."

That was something that Harry would have to think about, being around Remus without it being awkward.

"There are a few things that we need to discuss first."

Harry turned his attention to what Snape was saying, setting aside his problems with Remus for when he was alone.  "What is that, sir?"

"By allowing you to go to Grimmauld Place certain things are expected of you.  The foremost being that you behave in a suitable way.  The Headmaster has placed his trust in you."  Snape was turned away from him, talking toward the wall instead of his face.  "Such behavior as I have witnessed between yourself and Lupin is an example of inappropriate behavior."

He didn't want to talk to Snape about this.  "It's none of your business."

Snape turned to look at him.  "On the contrary, Mr Potter, it is very much so my business.  You have no right to endanger the lives of-"

"I endanger lives by just existing.  Or have you forgotten what I did to Hermione!"

"That is not what I'm talking about, Potter.  You had little control over that situation.  Ignoring what you're supposed to do because you choose to act on your unruly hormones is very much in your control."

"I haven't done anything with Remus."

Snape had on a mask of disbelief - one eyebrow was arched, and his lip slightly quirked up.  The picture was completed when Snape crossed his arms over his chest.  Harry had never wanted to hit him more.  "Perhaps I have started to see things then."

"Perhaps you have."  Snape's eyes narrowed dangerously.  "Sir," Harry spat.

Snape towered over him.  Harry thought he saw something, maybe anger, flash through his eyes.  "Do you really think so?"

Harry stood his ground.  "Yes, sir.  I know what I have and have not done."

The last thing he expected was for Snape to grab his arms and hold him there.  "Don't do something stupid.  Lupin was Black's lover."

"I am aware of that."  Even though fury was written in every line of Snape's face, Harry wasn't scared.  He didn't see any reason to be.  "He told me the summer after Sirius' death."

Snape narrowed his eyes, and he didn't release Harry's arms, instead he tightened his grip.  "You don't have time for such nonsense.  You have more important things to do than fool around with a werewolf."  Then he dropped his arms and turned his back to Harry, as quickly as he had bore down on him.  "Get out, Potter.  We will go over the spells tomorrow.  I have things to do."

Harry rubbed at his upper arm and left, not saying anything.  His reaction confused him.  He should have been angered, disturbed, scared.  Anything.  But he wasn't.  Snape didn't scare him at all, even when screaming or casting illegal curses at him.  Harry kept himself from thinking why.

~///~

"Why are you casting these spells when it's obvious that you hate it?"

Harry looked up from the torn remains of what used to be a portrait of Sirius' great aunt.  "I'm told to."  He waved his wand in a very familiar pattern.  "Reparo!" The picture put itself back together again, and the hag immediately started screeching.  It was worth casting this spell just so he wouldn't have to hear the noise.

"Do you do everything you're told?"

Harry looked at Remus.  "No, I don't.  But this, I have to do.  Just like I have to say 'Voldemort' and I had to learn Occlumency.  If I don't learn how to cast these spells then I can't keep Voldemort away.  And I know that next time it won't be just Hermione that suffers.  Next time it could be the entire Weasley family, you," Harry sighed, "so many other people."

"Snape?"

"What?"

"You're naming people you care about, Harry."

He shook his head.  "So where does Snape come in?  This has nothing to do with him.  He teaches me what I need to know and yells.  A lot."  He went to sit down, not quite feeling up to casting more spells at the moment.  "More so than before."

Remus walked over and rested his hands on his shoulders.  "Take a break.  I'll rub your shoulders for you, you're tense."

Harry shook his head.  "I can't.  I really need to get these down.  Snape will ask if I learned them."

"And I'll tell him you have."  Remus' breath was brushing his ear with every word, his hands rubbing his arms, before resting on his shoulders again.

Harry shrugged and Remus' hands fell away.  "I can't."  He stood and faced the portrait again, lifting his wand to cast the hex, but Remus stepped in front of him.  He lifted Harry's chin with two fingers, but before Remus' lips pressed against his own he turned his head so that Remus' lips landed on his cheek.  "I can't."  

~///~

Ever since the beginning of the year he kept one eye glued to Hermione.  At first it was little things; the feather she was trying to levitate would vibrate for a moment before lifting, the fire would sputter a bit before jumping to life.  Then it would take her a few times to cast a spell that she had done repeatedly; Alohomora would only work after being cast three times, or Serpensortia would only summon a garden snake instead of a python.  At times, she would cast and nothing would happen, no matter how hard she tried, or how many times she repeated the spell.

He remembered her tears after getting an 'A' in Transfiguration for the first time.  She hadn't been able to successfully change a mouse into a butterfly.  She spent all her time in the common room, revising and casting and trying to get her magic to work like it used to.  No one said anything.  They all knew that she'd snap at them.

Harry kept back, not wanting to get too close.  Afraid that she'd put things together.  That she'd figure out that it was his fault she was losing control of her magic.  Ron kept teasing him about always watching her, and he'd respond that if he didn't shut up he'd tell Lavender that he'd kissed him.  Ron sulked for a week.

He wasn't worried about Ron.  There was no reason to be; his life was going fairly well, being a prefect and Quidditch captain.  It seemed that what Ron saw in the Mirror of Erised all those years ago was almost true.

It was Hermione he was concerned about.  She was tearing herself up, and it was eating at him.

He'd return from having incantations drilled into his head by Snape at two, three o'clock in the morning, and Hermione would be sitting in her favorite chair by the fire, a book open in her lap, her wand clutched in her hand, and a pile of discarded parchment, covered in her theories about what was going on, by her feet.

But he never told her -- he couldn't.  Every time he tried, his heart would clench in his chest, and he'd just stare at her.  She'd hate him, really hate him.

He tried to tell himself that it was something else, something not related to Voldemort and Legilimency causing this lack of control, but he couldn't.  Because he knew that it was.  He couldn't stop thinking about it, especially when Hermione was sitting in Charms trying to cast a Healing Charm on a cat with a cut in its paw and she couldn't.  "Curatio Ictus!"  

Flitwick had floated over to her and set his hand down next to the cat.  "Perhaps you've got the wand motion wrong, Ms Granger."

She shook her head, and cast the spell again.  It backfired.  Flitwick's sleeve caught on fire and he lost concentration, losing control of his levitation spell and falling the three feet to the ground.

"Oh, my god!  Professor Flitwick!"  Hermione knocked over her chair in her haste to get to where Flitwick was sprawled on the floor.  

Harry couldn't move; it was as if his feet were glued to floor.  He couldn't even turn his head to see if anyone else was moving, though he had the feeling they, like him, were frozen in place.  

For the first time since he'd known her, Hermione had lost complete control of her magic.  It scared him.

She landed hard on her knees next to the Charms professor, looking him over to make sure he wasn't scorched.  Shaking, she sat on her heels, lifting her hands to cover her face.  "I'm so sorry.  I don't know what happened.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry."

Harry squeezed his eyes shut for a moment before moving.  He got to her side as quickly as possible, and pulled her up by her arm.  Her arms snaked around him and she buried her face in his chest, still chanting how sorry she was, over and over.  The only thing that he could think was that he didn't deserve for her to be so trusting of him.

He half-carried her out of the classroom, and into the hallway.  He'd let the other students deal with Flitwick; he looked all right, if a bit singed.  But where should he take Hermione?  Dumbledore would just insist that he bring her to the hospital wing, and smooth things over with the explanation that teenage wizards and witches lose control of their magic on occasion.  But that couldn't be right, it couldn't.  Hermione always had control of her magic.

He turned toward the dungeons.  Snape would help.  He hoped.

He paused right outside the door, his hand hovering over the handle.  He tried to remember if anyone had Defense Against the Dark Arts in this time slot, but couldn't.  The last thing that he wanted to do was interrupt one of Snape's classes because that would practically guarantee that he wouldn't help Hermione.  She was holding on to him as he tried the door, and it was making things difficult, but somehow he managed to get the door open and step inside.  Class was in session.  For a moment, he thought about the couch in Snape's office where he could have brought Hermione and just waited for Snape to return between classes, but he forced that thought out of his head.  He was here now and would deal with the situation; after all, wasn't that what he was always doing, dealing with impossible situations.  Swallowing hard, he caught Snape's gaze and held it, wishing that he could just explain what happened without words, but knowing he couldn't.  It all became too much for him -- Hermione's weight at his side, Snape's glare, the curious look of a dozen younger students, the thoughts circling in his head -- and he sagged against the doorframe.

"Be quiet!"  Snape slammed his fist down on the desk.  Harry flinched as the cold eyes narrowed dangerously as he glared.

Perhaps Snape had been a bad idea all together.

"Since our resident celebrity is demanding my attention, you are all dismissed.  Out!"

Harry moved Hermione so that she wouldn't be in the way of the students pouring out of the room.

"I suppose you have a reason for this unwelcome disturbance, Potter?"

Harry flinched, whether at the cold tone of Snape's voice or at Hermione's nails digging into his skin as she clutched at his robe, he didn't know.  He tried to pull her away but couldn't.

"She lost control of her magic."  He hoped that Snape would understand.  He had to.  This was Hermione.

"So bring her to the hospital wing."

Harry shook his head.  "What's if it's because of what happened last year?  What if it's something that I caused?"

"Bring her here."  Snape pulled out his wand as he stepped around from behind his desk.  Grabbing her arm, he pulled Hermione toward him before running his fingers over her face and hands.   When Snape's fingers passed over her cheek, Harry had to turn away at the sight of the dried tear tracks that he saw there.

Snape passed his wand over her, muttering something that Harry couldn't quite make out.  The fluctuating colors surrounding her made it painfully clear that he was measuring her magic levels.

"This can't be right."  Snape did whatever he had just done again.  "Her levels are extremely low.  I'm surprised she's been able to control it as long as she has.  What was she casting?"

Harry wished that Snape would stop talking about her as some experiment.  "A standard Healing Charm."

"And its effect?"

"She set Flitwick on fire."  He sank into the closest chair.  "Is she going to be all right?"

Snape didn't say anything, and that bothered Harry more than if he had just said no.   He vaguely heard a door bang open above them and footsteps on the stairs.  Class had ended.

"Go to your next lesson."

He hesitated, then moved to Hermione.  She must have passed out at some point during Snape's examination.  He combed his fingers through her hair before turning away.

Snape's hand settled on his shoulder.  "She'll be fine.  Do not let this incident influence your performance during classes, Potter.  You have to keep your head; you don't have a choice."

He nodded.  "I know.  Thank you."  Snape's hand fell away, and he walked out of the classroom.

~///~

"Are you going to tell me what happened?  You just grabbed Hermione and bolted."

Harry shook his head and continued to stare at the wall.  McGonagall had come to inform him that Hermione had been placed in the hospital wing and that his lessons with Snape had been cancelled until further notice.  She hadn't even given him a chance to ask anything, just turned and left.  That had been hours ago.

It seemed that they had all finally given up on him.  Who wouldn't?  After all, there was no doubt in his mind that what had happened to Hermione was entirely his fault, stemming from his lack of control last year.  He squeezed his eyes shut as tightly as he could until the inside of his eyelids burned red and bit his tongue until he imagined that he could taste blood.

"At least tell me where she is."

Would Ron ever shut up?  He couldn't deal with this, not now.  He stood, and the book on his lap skidded and spun, stopping a few feet away.  He stood there staring at it and its slowing revolutions, his thoughts whirling in his head.   He needed to get out.  He couldn't stay here.  Spinning around, he rushed toward the portrait hole.

"Damnit, Harry.  Tell me!"

"Hospital wing."

Once down the corridor he started running, his shoes slipping as he took a corner.  He didn't slow as he reached the stairs, and he stumbled down the last few that led to the dungeons.  The echoing of his feet on the stone floor pounded against his skull.

Or maybe that was the pounding of his heart.

He didn't bother knocking on the door to Snape's office, just opened it; tripping over his feet, he fell to his knees.

He heard the door slam shut behind him.

"A slightly melodramatic entrance in my opinion, Potter."  

Snape's cool voice washed over him, but he didn't stand, didn't say anything.  He focused all his energy on just dragging in breath after breath, his lungs burning with the effort.  

"Do stand up."

Harry forced himself to shake his head no.  He couldn't, he wouldn't, he didn't want to.  But then he was jerked up by his collar and shoved onto the couch.  The couch that Dumbledore insisted be placed in Snape's office to give Harry a more comfortable place to work, the couch that Snape had fought to keep out every step of the way.  A symbol of how much the Headmaster favored him.  Useless, pathetic Potter.

"Stop blaming yourself.  By doing so you're letting him win.  It was always the Dark Lord's plan to break you, Potter."

"He's doing a damn fine job of it!"  It was the first thing that came into his head, but the last that he wanted to say.  Each day that passed, he lost more control, until finally, now, he had no control over anything, not even what he said.  He clenched his fists into the upholstery of the couch.  "I can't do this anymore.  I can't.  I won't.  I..."

"You what?"

Harry pressed his lips together.  I want it to stop.

"By killing yourself?"

For the first time since he entered the room, he looked at Snape.  He wasn't where he had expected him to be -- near his desk, his arms crossed, his eyes glaring; instead, he was crouched down next to him, no sign of hatred on his face.  Neither was there shock.  Harry had expected something, anything.  That lack of response store at his chest like fingernails.  Not even his thoughts were his own.

Closing his eyes, he shook his head.  "If I do that, he wins.  Everything.  I want to, need to beat him, but I can't.  I don't know enough."  He rubbed at his forehead with his hand.  "I don't even know where to begin."

Snape settled a hand on his knee.  "I don't know what to tell you, Potter.  The Dark Lord will be expecting that you've been trained, but he's studied the spells longer, knows them better, and is utterly immersed in the Dark Arts.  That's not including the wall of Death Eaters he has surrounding him."

Snape stood then, pushing himself up using the hand on his knee as leverage.  The pressure was reassuring, and when he removed his hand from his knee Harry found it disconcerting.

"Why has my training stopped?"

Snape turned away.  "The Headmaster feels that it is futile for you to fight; that at the moment, it will lead to your death, and to the death of others.  He has decided to keep you safe instead."

"But I'm going insane," Harry burst out. "That's not keeping me safe."

Snape froze in his pacing.  "Don't be stupid, Potter."

He stood and walked two steps closer to Snape before stopping, his nails digging into the palms of his hands.  Taking a deep breath, he tried -- in vain -- to keep his voice steady, calm.  "What would you do?  I've been watching Hermione slowly lose what has always been hers -- her mastery of spell work, her magic.  I barely speak to Ron; he thinks that I've already gone barmy.  I spend all my time buried in archaic texts, trying to find answers, or learning spells that I can't even practice."

"It's your lot in life." Snape turned away, looking at the door that led to his private storeroom.

"I don't want this life!"

"That's really too bad, Potter."  His voice sounded distant and angry, and his fists were clenched at his sides.  "Get out."

"What?"

"GET OUT!"

~///~

He couldn't sleep with the conversation with Snape running through his head.  He tried not to think about it, focusing instead on his breathing.  In...  Out.  In...  Out.

The curtains parted, cooler air brushing against his exposed arm before a withered hand settled over it.  He rolled over to look into the desolate eyes of the Headmaster.

"Come with me, Harry."  The curtain fell closed as he pulled away.

He grabbed his robe, slipping it on before reaching over the side of the bed to pull his slippers out from under it.  The dormitory was strangely silent; not even the quiet, steady breathing of his sleeping dorm mates could be heard.

He padded out of the room and down the stairs.  Professor McGonagall was standing by the exit, wand raised.  With her other hand she motioned him to go past.  Behind him he heard her casting a spell under her breath, or rather lifting one.

The three headed toward Dumbledore's office.  Harry didn't dare say anything, it was too quiet, his voice would be too loud; the sound of his breathing already seemed deafening.  Remus was standing at the gargoyle and Harry realized that something had to be very wrong.  It couldn't be a good sign that Remus looked so worried.

When the Headmaster's door opened he heard Fawkes squawk and was overcome by the sickly sweet smell of burnt flesh and dried blood.  He jerked back, but McGonagall pushed him into the room, the door shutting a moment later, the sound strangely final to his ears.

His gaze traveled around the room, not really taking in anything until it landed on the high-back, plush chair in front of him.  He didn't want to walk around it; he didn't want to see the person sitting there.  Stories he heard as a child of people spontaneously combusting started circling through his head.  Is that what happened when someone lost control of their magic, when they lost their magic?  Was it Hermione, burnt and bleeding beyond recognition?

The harsh sting of bile grew in his throat, and he reflexively swallowed it down, his stomach churning even more.  The acrid stench was burning his eyes and he squeezed them shut.

"Harry?"  It was Remus calling him, his hand pressing into his shoulder.

"Is she...?  Is she going to be all right?"  He opened his eyes, blinking away the moisture that had gathered in them and looked at the Headmaster.

"She?"  He heard the breath catch in Dumbledore's throat as he realized whom he was talking about.  "Ms Granger is fine.  She's been transferred to St Mungo's where they can monitor her condition."

Harry released a sigh.  It wasn't Hermione.  It wasn't Hermione; it was someone else sitting near him.  Had he dreamed again?  Had he done something else?  He was breathing too fast, his lungs stinging as he took in and then expelled too much air; his head was spinning and any minute he knew he was going to pass out.

"Mr Potter."

Harry inhaled sharply.  He knew that voice; it sounded like sandpaper, but he knew it.  "Professor Snape?"

"Shush, Severus.  It won't do you any good to talk until Poppy comes back with some draughts; we don't want you to lose your voice."

"Then tell someone to calm the boy down, Headmaster."

Remus' hand settled on his shoulder again, but this time Harry struggled against it until he could move around the chair.

"Professor?"  Harry fell to his knees at the sight of him.  He was bleeding out of numerous cuts that lined his face and arms, the visible skin where his robes were burnt away was pink and raised, his eyes were closed and the bruise on his cheek stood out in sharp relief against his too pale skin.  With each breath that he took, Harry could now hear a soft bubbling sound and see a slight flinch of his facial muscles; at least one lung must have had some measure of blood in it.  "My god."

He turned his head to look up at Remus.  "Why... what happened?"

Remus looked away.

"They know."

Harry snapped his head around to look at Snape who had answered him.  "What do you... Why are you... Stop talking."  Harry's head swam with what Snape could have meant.  They know.  Know what?  Snape.  Hermione.  He brought Hermione to Snape during class.  Shite.  He destroyed what little cover Snape had as a spy.  He caused this to happen.  He-

Lifting his hand, he gingerly touched his cheek where someone, he wasn't sure who, had slapped him.

"Harry, Professor Snape will be healed.  We brought you here for a reason.  Hogwarts can no longer protect you."

Harry had already known that, had figured it out last year, but actually hearing it was like having the floor suddenly disappear from under him.  A heated hand fell on his shoulder, and Harry heard a sharp intake of breath.  Snape.

"Where am I supposed to go?"

"You're to go with Professor Snape.  He has a small residence in East Devon."  The fingers on his shoulder tightened, digging into his skin and causing him to flinch although he refused to move away.  "You will be portkeyed there tomorrow."

Remus moved away from the corner and Harry turned to look at him.  "I will be your Secret Keeper as well as taking over the Defense Against the Dark Arts position."

"But my N.E.W.T.s-"

"You will take them when it is safe.  Professor Snape will be training you in all of your subjects.  It's the best I can do, Harry.  For both of you."

~///~

The house faded from around Harry as the illusion took shape all around him.  A thrill of pride went through him as he looked at what he created.  A quiet cough broke his concentration and the illusion shattered into a shower of sparkles that floated down around his head.  Harry turned to look at Snape sitting in a padded armchair by the fire.  His gaze passed over the taut features and pale complexion.  Snape looked a little better than the day before.  Signs of the burnt flesh had disappeared last week, but Harry knew that the skin must still be tender; Snape kept wincing at small movements, or when he would brush up against something.  The cuts were finally closing, much to his relief, but Snape's voice was still rough and didn't seem to be getting much better.

"Did you hear me, Mr Potter?"

Of course, if he paid more attention Snape wouldn't have to repeat everything twice.

"Cast the Illusion Charm again.  It's weak because your wand motion is slightly off."

Harry nodded and turned away; he needed to concentrate if he wanted to get this down.  After Charms was Defense Against the Dark Arts and Harry he'd need all his attention for that.  The new spells he was learning in those lessons that in actuality were just an extension of the training he had been receiving.  Concentrating on what properties he wanted in his illusion, he cast the charm, "Illusio!"

The wall in front of him disappeared and was replaced with a view of the night sky, tiny pinpricks of light and small shooting stars.  Harry could get lost in it.

The door shutting after Snape shattered it once again.  Harry stuck his wand into his front pocket and exited the room, shivering as he stepped out into the hallway.  The walls were grey with age, the paint and wallpaper peeling.  The banister was cracked from lack of care, and Harry made sure not to rest his hand on it to avoid splinters.  He traveled down the stairs as quickly as he dared; the old lamps lining the stairwell didn't work and the shadows seemed to jump with every step.  When they had first got there, they had tried to fix them, but the wiring was old and faulty and there was no way for them to repair it.  He longed for the warm glow of the magical self-lighting lamps at the Weasleys and wished he dared to ask Snape why he didn't have such things at his house.

Harry stepped into one of the only two well-lit rooms.  Snape was sitting at the kitchen table, a chilled mug held in his hands.  Harry immediately went over to the old gas stove and stirred the stew he had started earlier.  "It's not quite done, Professor."

No answer.  Harry looked over his shoulder, Snape's eyes were closed and one hand had moved to rest over where the Dark Mark was on his left forearm.  Voldemort was trying to find him.

"Professor?"

Snape shook his head.

"I'll just go for a walk then, shall I?"  He couldn't stay in the room while this was happening.  He'd done it once during the first day, but hearing that once smooth baritone voice shriek when the pain overcame him was too much.  Harry could imagine his vocal cords ripping, shredding, stretching past their limits.  It was horrible, and there wasn't anything he could do to help, and even if there was Snape wouldn't have let him.

"Your cloak."

Harry nodded and left the kitchen.  In the small entrance hall he grabbed his Invisibility Cloak off of a hook.  As long as he didn't stray too far from the house he'd be fine; it was unlikely that he'd see anyone up on the cliffs.

The closer he got to edge, the more the wind whipped at his cloak, pulling at the over-large jumper he had on underneath it.  He was grateful for the cover of the hood, which kept his hair from being blown into his face.  If it was a little shorter he wouldn't have to worry about that, but his hair never did what he wanted it to.  Turning slightly, he looked back at the house; it had obviously never been nice.  The shingles were falling off, and even if the sun was at its zenith it would be dark and gloomy.  Now, at dusk, it was creepy, worse than the Shrieking Shack, and Harry didn't know how anyone could live there.

Not even Snape.

But they were there and they'd stay there until Dumbledore said it was safe for them to leave.

Harry spotted the rocky path that would take him down to a small outcropping of Beer Head and started down it.  Snape would most likely skin him and then quarter him for use in his potions if he knew Harry was going down the cliff.  But the view was spectacular.  Especially at high tide, when the small beach disappeared and the waves lapped at the cliffs.  He had never even realized that such places existed in England even though he had grown up in Surrey.  

But as much as he liked the cliffs and the view, he didn't want to stay.  He hated being alone in any room of the house other than the kitchen; it was the brightest of the rooms, and the walls didn't seem to drain the life out of it.  Like it did in the others.  A shiver went down his spine and he didn't know if it was the chill wind or his thoughts that had caused it.  

Harry sighed as he turned away from the edge.  He had to get back; he couldn't risk burning supper, because they didn't have enough supplies for mistakes and neither of them were allowed to go to the shops.

~///~

"Check the cupboard under the stair."

Harry looked up from the cabinet he was looking through.  Snape was putting some dry goods that Dumbledore had sent by portkey into the pantry.  He swallowed.  "Why would a roast platter be there?"

Snape shrugged, and Harry stared as the material of his clothing bunched and pulled across his shoulders.  "It was packed up along with other frivolous things after my mother died.  Where did your family store things?"

Harry didn't answer, instead turning the information Snape had given him over in his head.  It didn't quite make sense, but Snape rarely did.  Harry wanted to ask when his mother had died, but didn't dare.  Snape didn't yell anymore, but it didn't stop the man from being as daunting as he had ever been.  He stood and headed out of the kitchen.  

The small door of the cupboard was very similar to the one at the Dursleys' and Harry hesitated before opening it.  He closed his eyes and was overcome with a snippet of memory he had seen during Legilimency lessons with Snape; a small boy, no more than five, with lank black hair and a large nose, was being shoved into the door, a meaty fist slamming into it next to his face.  He snapped his eyes open and fumbled with the latch.

For a moment, he swore there was a boy sitting on a cot playing with an old toy horse that only had three legs.  Damn memories.  It wasn't even the Durleys' house and he was remembering his life in the cupboard.  He pushed the image aside and kneeled down pulling out a box labeled 'Kitchen'.  The roast platter was near the top, covered in dust.  With a good cleaning it would be serviceable.

Returning to the kitchen he went straight to the sink to wash it.  He didn't even realize he was shaking until Snape put a steadying hand on his arm.  "Is something the matter?"

He shook his head.  "I just don't like this house."

"Understandable."  It was said in the whisper that had replaced Snape's day-to-day voice, and Harry found himself wishing for the deep richness that it used to have.  "It has always been like this."

"Even when you were small?"

"Cleaner, and the paint wasn't peeling everywhere, but no nicer."  Snape unwrapped the small roast that had been sent with their supplies.  "I assume that you know how to cook this."

Harry nodded and took the package away from him.  "This place is so different from the Weasleys'."  Harry bit his lip; he was on dangerous ground with Snape.  His professor didn't particularly want to answer questions about the house or what it was like.  He knew he shouldn't be asking, that he should just be quiet and cook the roast, but his curiosity continually got the better of him.  "I just mean that there isn't very much that's magic here."  He glanced to the side and watched as Snape cut up some vegetables, the knife slicing through the carrots, cutting them into perfectly equal portions.

"My mother was a muggle."

He looked up from Snape's hands to his face; it was devoid of emotion, and Harry had no idea what he could be thinking.

"Then why would you side with Voldemort?"

Snape didn't say anything right away.  The roast was on and Harry was putting on the kettle when he heard Snape's voice.  "And why not?  He was a half-blood who had the attention of the most important pureblood wizarding families.  I couldn't even get the attention of the one wizard family member I had.  And when I did it wasn't necessarily the type of attention one would want."

"Was your father pureblood?"

"Of course, and, as far as I'm aware of, he hated my mother and I--"  It sounded like he was going to continue, but he didn't.

And Harry knew enough not to ask anymore questions.  Little by little he was coming to understand Snape, but as in everything, it was a trade off.  "They stored everything in the attic.  I took up all the available room in the cupboard under the stair," Harry whispered.

~///~

Harry sank down onto the floor.  He couldn't do it, he couldn't.  The whole situation was an exercise in futility anyway.  There was no feasible way for him to defeat Voldemort.  He wrapped his arms around his legs, a shiver slowly crawling its way up his spine.  That Thing couldn't be beaten, at least not by him and not at this point in time.  Maybe when he was Dumbledore's age.  That would be in another... what? 130 years or so.

He bit his lip.  At this rate, he was going to lose everyone that meant anything to him.

The room was silent except for the snuffling and scratching from the rat in its cage.  He was used to hearing the steady turning pages of Snape's book, or the quiet corrections, but Snape had left the room over an hour ago.  It seemed that Harry wasn't the only one frustrated by his lack of progress.  He sighed.  Learning the omega level spells had been brutal, but the Unforgivables left his whole body cold.  As if someone had turned off the heat, even when he'd been standing next to a fireplace.

It wasn't a total loss.  He had succeeded in casting the Imperius.  Making a rat somersault or a spider tap dance, he could care less about.  When he had been told to cast it on Snape, it was harder.  The key was desire.  He didn't want to force Snape to do anything against his will enough to make it work.  But Snape had made him cast it over and over again, until finally Harry wanted nothing more than for Snape to never ask him to cast it again.  At first, when Snape had told him he could stop, Harry thought it was just luck, but then Snape hadn't ordered him to cast it for over a week.  Finally, Harry took the spell off and had been back at where he started.  But he could do it, and sustain it.

The Crutiatus was another story.  He didn't want anyone to suffer that, even the goddamned rat that Snape had cast an illusion charm on to look like Wormtail.  He'd been through it, and it was awful.  It was only when Snape had cast a glamorie changing his face into that of Bellatrix Lestrange did Harry even succeed in causing a nosebleed.  He couldn't bring himself to cast the spell on Snape; he didn't want to and he wouldn't.  To prove it, he had locked himself in his room for two days refusing to come out no matter how much Snape berated him or ordered him to unlock it.  Snape had even tried to make Shepherd's Pie one night to coax him out, but had burnt it horribly; the smell wafted under his door, and Harry couldn't help laughing at the muttered curses.  His door would have remained closed indefinitely if he hadn't run out of candles which the bastard refused to give to him until he cast the Crutiatus on him.  He shuddered as he remembered the scream.  Snape hadn't made him cast it again after that one time.  

The clicking of the tarantula's pincers on the glass of the jar brought Harry's mind to his latest failure.  The Killing Curse.  Which he attempted, knowing that while it might not work on Voldemort it would work on his wall of Death Eaters.  But even after Snape had let the tarantula loose on his bed while he was sleeping he couldn't do it.  Harry had never been scared of spiders the way Ron had, but there was something about multiple, small hairy legs crawling over his arms and chest and face that set his body to shuddering.  For a moment, he'd thought he had succeeded as the spider rolled off the bed onto the floor, however, after a minute it had scurried under the bed and Harry had to spend the rest of the night coaxing it back into its jar; there was no way he could go back to sleep with a tarantula scurrying around his room.  This failure had made him realize something about casting this spell.  He didn't want it enough.  He didn't want to kill anyone or anything, even the damn spider.

Harry buried his face in his knees.

"Supper."

He turned to look at Snape standing in the doorway and wondered how long he had been there watching him.  Did he realize that this was slowly making him fall apart?  Perhaps he did, if the dour look on his face was anything to go by.  

"Don't tell me.  You attempted to make Shepherd's Pie again."

"Don't be daft."

"I'm never going to be able to cast it."  He turned his head to look at the spider in its jar.  "And I don't want to."

He both heard and felt Snape approach him, and when he looked up, Snape had his hands out in a silent offer.  He released the grip he had on his legs and allowed Snape to help him to his feet.  Once standing he realized he had absolutely no desire to step away.  The air seemed warmer, and he relaxed.

He breathed in deeply.  Snape kept him grounded and Harry acknowledged that he needed that feeling; that the world was not falling down around him, that he was not breaking open at the seams, that there was still a reason to fight.  Even if it was to save the arse of his temporary protector.

Because Harry would never call Snape his guardian.  He associated that title with a parental figure, and Snape wasn't a parental figure in any sense.

He was a sarcastic, demanding, sadistic prick.

That kept him safe.

Harry let his head fall forward to rest against Snape's shoulder.  He was doing that a lot lately, probably because he was failing a lot.

Not for any other reason.  Not because Snape was emotionally everything he needed.  Not because he was stable and Harry knew that he wouldn't disappear.  Not because he cared about what happened to him.  Not because they understood each other.  Not because the more time Harry spent with him the more he was drawn toward him; wanted to be with him.  Not for any of those reasons.

Snape tipped up his chin with one finger; it was a spot of fire on Harry's skin.  "If I had wanted Shepherd's Pie, Potter, I would have had you make it.  It's stew."

It was so far off from what he'd been thinking about that Harry smiled.

"Is something amusing, Mr Potter?  I believe that your exact words were that it was 'edible'."

He nodded.  He felt like a fool, smiling, but he couldn't stop it, and he couldn't come up with anything to say.  So he kissed him.

He was still shorter than Snape, so he had to lift himself on his toes a bit in order to press his lips against his cheek.  It was light and quick and he stepped back as soon as he could, but he did it.

Perhaps he should reconsider those other reasons.  "Thank you."  He only glanced at the shocked look on Snape's face a moment before darting out of the room and down the stairs to the kitchen.

On the table, two shallow bowls were already filled with the steaming stew; a jug of cider and a cut of bread were also laid out.  Harry only debated with himself for a minute before deciding to forgo waiting for Snape.

When he did enter the kitchen, he took his place across from Harry and ate in silence.  Harry glanced at him furtively before returning to his meal, but his expression gave nothing away.

Harry was almost done cleaning up after dinner when he felt Snape wrap his arms around him from behind.

"You really are a foolish boy, Potter, and I fear that your idiocy might be contagious."

The whispered words brushed his ear, sending a shiver down his spine.  He drew in a deep breath before leaning back into the unexpected embrace and taking in every sensation.  The clean smell of the plain lye soap that clung to them both, the coarse fibers of Snape's jumper scratching against his bare arm, the heat radiating off Snape enclosing him in a cushioning warmth, the feeling of security that wrapped its way around him like a blanket. This was what being in the arms of someone was supposed to feel like.

He threaded his fingers through Snape's, and they both just stood there.  Eventually the tenseness in Snape's arms subsided.  He didn't know how long they stayed that way, not moving, barely breathing.

Nor did he care.

~///~

Harry pressed himself into the corner.  He was sitting on his bed, rubbing his arms, listening as the rain pelted against the window, wishing that he could see out.  But it was a pitch black night.  So many nights here were this dark.  The candle by his bed flickered and he glared at it, demanding that it stay lit.  The last thing he wanted to do during this storm was to try and relight it with a spell.

He could never sleep in this house without one candle lit.  It didn't give much light during the night, but it helped.  It felt like he was in a haunted house, mostly.  Perhaps it was because of the number of negative memories he had of the house through Snape.  The first scene that he ever saw was Snape huddled in a corner as his parents screamed at each other.  There were many similar ones, and they kept him from wanting to be alone for a long period of time anywhere in this house.

At first, he had been surprised that Snape hadn't complained about the amount of candles that he went through.  Lumos took energy, and keeping that going all night would have drained him for practice during the day.  But perhaps he shouldn't be.  After all, Snape went through just as many candles as he did.

A rapping at the window made him snap his head up.  It was Just the shutter getting loose.   He took a deep breath.  Every night he was jumping at shadows, and tonight worse than the rest.   It was the first bad spring storm that they had had.  A strike of lighting illuminated the room and made even more shadows, each one more sinister.  Harry berated himself for acting like the bloody fool.  Nothing was going to happen.  It was just the house.  

It wasn't haunted, or creepy or anything.  Just falling apart.

He was seventeen and above such childish fears.

The candle went out.  

He grabbed his wand and tried to relight it, finally casting Lumos when nothing worked.  The wick had burnt down and Harry hadn't brought another candle with him.  He took a deep breath and unfolded himself from his position on the bed.  He contemplated trying to just go to sleep, but decided against it and headed down to the kitchen where the spare candles were kept along with most everything else.

Harry stopped in the door when he saw Snape rummaging through a drawer.  The same drawer the candles were in.  Perhaps his went out too.  Harry shifted, hoping to make just enough noise to alert the other man.  Snape stiffened momentarily and then straightened, a plain beeswax candle in one hand when he turned.

"I'm afraid that it's the last one, Potter.  The Headmaster should be sending more today."

Harry bit his lip and nodded.

"Come along."

Harry looked at him curiously, but followed him up the stairs nonetheless to the 'workroom'.  Snape set the candle down on a side table next to the couch motioning Harry to sit with one hand.  He left momentarily, and when he returned he had a throw in one hand, a book in the other.  He handed the former to Harry and sat down closest to the candle.  Harry drew his legs up under him and got comfortable on the small couch, pulling the small blanket over him.

Snape scanned down a page with his finger, tracing each line as he read; glancing up he watched as Snape mouthed the words slightly, and Harry tried to make them out, some seemed familiar, others didn't.  He shifted slightly closer without realizing it, trying to see if perhaps Snape was whispering the words.  Just something that would break the silence.  Snape closed the book and then reopened it, turned the first few pages, eventually smoothing one out.

"Proemio.  Umana cosa aver compassione degli afflitti: e come che a ciascuna persona stea bene, a coloro massimamente richiesto li quali gi hanno di conforto avuto mestiere e hannol trovato in alcuni..."  (1)

He couldn't tell what the language was.  But the sound of that voice steadily reading calmed his nerves.  He started to nod off, and vaguely felt Snape move closer, almost pressing against him, so he could rest his head on his shoulder before falling asleep.

~///~

Harry stared up at the ceiling.  If he strained his ears he could hear Snape and Remus arguing downstairs.  Not that he could make out what either of them was yelling, but he could hear the strain in Snape's voice and the pain in Remus'.

He'd have preferred to not hear either.  It would have meant that he had never received the news that Remus had brought.

Hermione was never going to wake up.

Her magic was not returning to a normal level.  And since wizards and witches were so tied to their magic, it would be impossible for her to live as a Squib.  The lack of magic was killing her.  He was killing her and he didn't even know how, or why.

He clasped his hand tight around the grip of his wand.  A spider was crawling up the wall in the corner, moving toward the window.  A picture flashed in his mind, Snape -- about the age he was now -- pointing a wand at a fly.  He lifted his own.

"Avada Kedavra!"

He flicked the dead spider off the duvet and ignored the sound of voices wafting up the stair.

~///~

He pulled the hood down a little lower over his head; glancing down at his feet, he checked that his trainers weren't visible.  He walked as quietly as possible on his toes, carefully avoiding every creaky board he knew in the house.  He was almost to the door when Snape's voice stopped him.

"Don't go."

He shook his head, forgetting that Snape couldn't see him.

"Did you hear me, Potter?  Don't do this.  It's a fool's errand."

He was shaking, he knew that, but he couldn't stop.  "I don't care."

"Why doesn't that surprise me?"

Harry turned around slowly.  Snape was leaning against the doorjamb, arms crossed over his chest.  "It shouldn't.  You've always said I was a dunderhead."

Snape didn't say anything to that as he straightened and walked toward him.  Harry stayed where he was.  He wasn't going to back away; Snape would know.  He didn't know how he knew that --  he just did.

Snape lifted one hand and pulled the hood of the cloak off.  "Take it off.  Now, Potter."

Harry did so, draping it over his arm.  "I'm still going to go."

Snape closed his eyes and nodded slightly.  "I know."

They stood watching each other for a minute before Snape reached out and closed his fingers around Harry's chin.  "There isn't any way to stop you, is there?"

Harry shook his head.  "He as good as killed her.  I love her."  Snape's grip tightened.  "As a friend.  And I lost her.  I did this.  And I have to fix it."  Harry licked his lips.  "Please.  Let me go.  I need to go."

Snape lowered his head and Harry didn't quite know what to expect.  Certainly not the kiss that he received.  Snape pressed his lips against his, hard, and Harry shut his eyes.  

It wasn't a gentle kiss at all.  He could feel the anger, the pain radiating off of Snape -- no, Severus.  If he was kissing this man he was going to call him Severus, if only in his head.  He tangled one hand in Severus' hair, pulling him a little closer.  Teeth nipped at his lower lip and he opened his mouth, allowing Severus' tongue to sweep in, running over his teeth and his tongue, and Harry tasted the tea that he must have been drinking.  He moaned, and Severus' arm tightened around him, pulling him against him, and Harry wished that he could just merge with him, disappear, but he couldn't.  

He pulled away, his face lowered; if he tried to look Snape in the eye, he'd never be able to leave.  Wrapping his cloak around him he vanished from view and exited the house.  He felt Snape watching him through the window, even though he was invisible, even though the man had no way of knowing which way he had gone or when he disappeared.

~///~

Harry stumbled out of the Knight Bus, only staying on his feet by pure luck.  He waved Stan off, saying once again that he was fine and that someone was meeting him.  Turning away, he looked at the run-down town.  The wooden sign swinging over the entrance to the pub was faded and he couldn't make out the name.  The road was cobblestone and pushed up into the worn soles of his trainers with every step he took.  Where in the hell was he?

He'd given Ernie directions for the Knight Bus based on a general sense from his scar..  He had known to get off at this point, and had told Stan as such.  They had looked at him oddly, but he waved off their questions and got out.

He lifted his hand up to his scar and focused.  If Voldemort could send him dreams, then he should be able to pinpoint that snake's location.  He had been putting everything he learned about Legilimency to the test trying to locate Voldemort, and for a moment Harry wondered if Dumbledore had lied about his disbelief in Divination.  If the old man had predicted something like this would happen, that Harry would go off to find him on his own.

He shook his head.  He didn't have time for this; he had to find where Voldemort was hiding and do something.  He'd figure out what exactly when he got there.  He hadn't bothered to work out any sort of overall plan while at the house, as he was too preoccupied with getting out past Snape -- Severus.

Severus.  He wouldn't think about him, shouldn't.  He was here to do the one thing that everyone thought he was born to do -- and die in the process.  Because there was no way that he'd get out of here alive.  He knew that.  There was barely a chance that he'd succeed.  Severus was right; this was a fool's errand, indeed.

This was the only time he'd ever been happy that his scar connected him to Voldemort, happy that there hadn't been a way to close it.  If he focused the spell right, then maybe he'd be able to pick out the knowledge around the memories, the feelings.  It was something that he had learned.  Everything was tied to emotions, every bit of information anyone ever came in contact with was tainted with memories and feelings.  Nothing was just waiting to be plucked out of someone's head like a page in a book.  Snape had been right; it wasn't mind reading at all.  It seemed like ages ago.

He breathed in deeply; there was no need to actually cast the spell when it was right there, laid open through his scar.  A tall muggle building, with many filthy windows covered in a layer of soot, rose up into the gray tinted sky.  A tiny boy, his hand held by a large woman in a simple gray wool dress was being dragged toward the door.

"You aren't to run away again, Tom."

It was the first time that Harry had ever heard something with a flash of memory.  He shook his head and the picture faded, replaced by another one.  Tom was older, perhaps twelve, and looked more like the Tom Riddle he had met from the diary.  He was standing next to a trunk in a rundown hallway, and Harry could feel the disgust, the hate he had for the place.

When he opened his eyes, cutting himself out of the memory, he found himself standing in front of that same building.  Its windows were mostly boarded up, and it was even filthier than before.  This was where he was hiding.  Voldemort was brilliant in his own way.  No one would ever expect to look for him in the closed, run-down orphanage that he had grown up in.  Harry stepped up to the door and turned the knob.  It opened awfully easily, maybe too easily.

A thick layer of dust covered everything, and not a single footstep disturbed it.  Harry made his way forward down the hall.  Phantoms of memories that weren't his own played like movies in front of his eyes.  Two boys pushing a smaller one's head through the rungs of the main staircase, a beefy man chasing them off and yelling at the little boy, Tom.  Harry felt him cringing even before he was yanked out and pushed up the stairs.  He shivered and avoided the staircase; it didn't look safe to climb anyway.

The dining hall was filled with long tables that reminded him of the Great Hall in Hogwarts, but the rest of the room dispelled that image.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw an older boy leaning over and stealing a roll as a -- Harry supposed it was a teacher -- stood by and did nothing.  He swallowed and backed out of the room, trying to keep himself from remembering anything else.  He had enough bad memories -- his own and Severus' -- he didn't need anymore.

He opened another door, a schoolroom.  The desks were lined up in rather crooked rows; some slates were scattered about on the desks, some with pieces of chalk by them, and a pile of books was sitting on the corner of the large desk in front.  He took in a deep breath and coughed as ages of dust filled his lungs.

"This was where they got their comeuppance.  The schoolmaster was the only one that paid me heed.  He didn't tolerate nonsense."

Harry whipped around.  The face was hidden by the hood of a black cloak, but Harry knew who it was.  Who else could it be but Voldemort?

"Reminds me of Severus, actually.  Smart, but fools, both of them."  Harry heard the sick smile in those words.  "He thought to protect me, but why would I need his protection?  I was a wizard, better than that foolish muggle.  He died with the rest of them."

Harry bit his lip, backing up until he felt the large desk at the front pressing into his back.  Now that he was here he didn't know what to do.

"My retribution was rather ingenious.  There is a potion that can be injected into the air vents.  It induces botulism type symptoms.  Everyone in the building died, and the orphanage was shut down."

Harry swallowed down the bile in his throat.  "Did it occur to you that those bullies you set out to punish were gone?"

Voldemort shrugged one shoulder.  "The masters were still here.  But what does it matter?  They were Muggles.  Useless, pathetic, disgusting Muggles."

How many times had Harry thought just that about the Dursleys?  He breathed in heavily through his teeth.  "Do you always solve your problems by killing people?"

"The only time it hasn't worked was with you."  Voldemort pulled out his wand, lazily pointing it at Harry.

He didn't move; to do so would show that he was scared.  Which he was.  He could feel his heart pounding against his chest, his hands shaking at his sides.  But he would not show that to Voldemort.  His fear would give that snake power.

"That's your own fault."

The hood fell back, his reptilian eyelids only partially closed, those red eyes glistening.  "Really, Potter.  Care to explain?"

"It's simple.  You completed the prophecy; you gave me the power to kill you.  You chose me to be your executioner."  Harry shoved his hand into his pocket, wrapping his fingers tightly around his wand.

"And how are you going to do that?  Cast the Killing Curse on me?  Do you really think that will work?"

Harry shook his head.  He didn't know what would work, and he hoped that something would come to him.  Voldemort's eyes flicked to the left, and Harry turned his head to look.  An arm closed around his throat and squeezed.

Voldemort walked up to him and trailed one slimy, thin, long finger down his cheek.  "You didn't really think I was unprotected, did you?  Not even you are that stupid."

Harry couldn't say anything; he drew in a shaky breath, barely getting any air into his lungs.  What little that did pass the constriction was his last as the arm tightened more.

"Poor little Harry."   The edges of his vision were going cloudy, fading in and out, but he recognized the voice.  Bellatrix Lestrange.  

"You keep losing people," she continued.  "There should be a warning sign on you.  First you caused Sirius to die, and then your little mudblood girlfriend.  Weasley, Snape and the werewolf will be next."

He struggled against her, and all it did was cause her grip around his neck to tighten.

"You can't get away, little one, I won't let you.  Soon you'll be going to join my dear, departed cousin."

Harry coughed, but it came out more like a wheeze.  Voldemort was still standing in front of him; he knew that much even though his sight faded to black for a minute.

"Did you ever learn the Crutiatus?  Did you ever become angry enough?"  

She let him go then, and he collapsed onto his hands and knees, breathing in the air, the dust, everything.  He coughed, his lungs not able to filter enough of the air.  Looking up he saw Bellatrix, a strange, mad half-smile on her face.  "Go to Hell."

"I've been there, baby Potter.  Perhaps I'll take you there sometime."  She pushed the toe of her boot into his side, knocking him over so that he collapsed onto the floor.

Voldemort laid a hand on her arm.  "That's enough, Bella"

She turned her head to look at Voldemort, and Harry pulled out his wand laying it along the side of his arm.  "Protego Tactus," he whispered.  Moving slightly, he managed to point his wand at Bellatrix.  "Imperius."

She blinked, and Harry hoped that it was a sign she was under his influence.  Just leave.  Leave.  Leave.  Leave.  She didn't move.  You bitch, just go, anywhere!

She turned back him; he was still sprawled on the floor, trying to look like he was still intent on breathing and nothing more.  "I don't trust him, My Lord.  Perhaps I should go and bring someone else to help while he's still incapacitated."

"No, Bella.  I think he's playing with you."  

Harry breathed in sharply and then promptly coughed to cover up his shock.  Voldemort hadn't figured out what he was doing.  He couldn't have.  If he had, there was no way he would even have a chance of succeeding.

"Potter might be more dangerous than he looks.  Since it became evident that Severus has deserted me in favor of Dumbledore, I've been thinking that perhaps he's been teaching Potter."  Voldemort leaned down and narrowed his eyes at him.  "Has he?  Of course if he has then it just means an even more painful death than I already had planned for him."

A fist clamped around his chest.  He wasn't going to lose anyone else, he wasn't; he came here to make sure of that.  He spit in Voldemort's face.

"YOU LITTLE BASTARD!  DON'T YOU DARE!"  Bellatrix stormed toward him, reaching for him, but the Protego he had cast kept anyone from actually touching him.  She wrenched her hand back, rubbing her wrist, snarling.

If she was angry enough, maybe he could get past her mental defenses.  What did he want?  What did he want?

"The Imperius?  Did you think it would work on my Bella, Potter?"  Voldemort reached out and ran his fingers just above him far enough away to keep the shield from hurting him.  "Did you think I couldn't tell?"  He lowered his voice to barely a whisper.  "She's mad.  All that time in Azkaban with the Dementors she focused on me, made herself believe I would rescue her, and I did.  She's mine.  There isn't enough free will in her for you to influence."

"Send her away."

"And why would I do that?"

Harry swallowed.  "Don't tell me that you can't kill a child all by yourself?  Or have you forgotten how?"

"Bella, go and guard the main door.  Stay there no matter what you hear."

"My Lord--"

"Go."

From Harry's position on the floor he could hear Bellatrix move across the floor, and through the door; the sound of it slamming the only sound in the room for minutes.

Harry closed his eyes and concentrated on clearing his mind.

When the Crutiatus hit him he curled into a fetal position and bit his lip.

But it was Voldemort who screamed.

The curse ended, and Harry relaxed the muscles in his body.  It had worked.

"What did you do?"

"It's not what I did, it's what you did."

"Crucio!"

The screams started again.

He knew what he had to do.  He had to save Severus, and Remus, and Ron and the rest of the Weasleys, and every other person.  And he was willing to die to do it.  Holding his wand against his chest, its tip pointing right below his chin, he cast the one spell that he'd never thought would work.  "Avada Kedavra!"

Pain shot through his body, centering on his scar and traveling in pinpricks down his spine.  His field of vision became smaller and smaller, and all Harry could think of was that he had always thought the Killing Curse would work much faster.  And then everything went black.

So this was what it was like to die.  

~///~

His head rolled back against something hard yet soft at the same time, something that scratched at his cheek and smelled like lye, something that was familiar but new.  His fingers clenched around worn material, and he opened his eyes.  It was dark and he couldn't see anything, but he could feel.

He was being carried somewhere.  Everything seemed so detached, so unreal.  Like he wasn't feeling anything, when he should be overcome with sensation.

His eyes closed and he heard a soft humming sound.  And then he succumbed again to unconsciousness.  

~Fin~

~///~

Notes:

(1) - From the Prologue of the Decameron by Boccaccio
Proemio.  Umana cosa aver compassione degli afflitti: e come che a ciascuna persona stea bene, a coloro massimamente richiesto li quali gi hanno di conforto avuto mestiere e hannol trovato in alcuni...

PROEM. 'Tis humane to have compassion on the afflicted; and as it shews well in all, so it is especially demanded of those who have had need of comfort and have found it in others: among whom, if any had ever need thereof or found it precious or delectable, I may be numbered...