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Tail Gnawing Serpent by MajinSakuko

Format: Novella
Chapters: 9
Word Count: 37,700
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Violence

Genres: Action, Angst, Drama
Characters: Draco, Harry, Dumbledore, Hermione, Remus Lupin, Ron, Snape, Voldemort, Luna
Pairings:

First Published: 02/24/2005
Last Chapter: 07/15/2005
Last Updated: 07/15/2005

Summary:
Harry's sixth year is coming up, Snape is forced to continue his Occlumency lessons and Voldemort finally has a plan.


Chapter 1: Tail Gnawing Serpent
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Title: Tail Gnawing Serpent - Good Girls

Chapter: 1. No Rest for the Weary

Author: MajinSakuko

E-Mail: MajinSakukoyahoo.de

Beta-Reader: Persephone Lupin – who doesn't even know she's incredible

Dedication: To everyone who reviewed 'Never Meant To' and 'Trick me Twice' and urged that I should write more about the background (no, sorry, this is not said background, but I used a theme from each story).

Disclaimer: I own nothing, JKR everything else

Fandom: Harry Potter

Pairing/Main-Chara: HP, SS, LV, GrW/HG

Rating: PG-13

Genre/s: Action/Adventure, Drama, Angst

Warning/s: OOC, C/Ds

A/Ns: Cho Chang Denial. Only at 18 is a wizard considered an adult

There are going to be a lot of quotes, credit where it is due

This story is based on an untitled drawing, showing Harry exactly the way I wanted to portray him.

Summary: Harry's sixth year is coming up, Snape is forced to continue his Occlumency lessons and Voldemort finally has a plan.

31st July 1996

Harry Potter was lying on his bed, still fully dressed from the day before, gazing up at the ceiling. Counting cracks in the walls where the wallpaper had peeled off or trying to come up with names for those patches of mould that resembled a face might not be the most captivating activity, but it was everything Harry could do at the moment. So far, Mike, Paul and Jesse had been great company. They didn't talk nearly as much as anyone else Harry knew – and when they did, they didn't lie.

The walls in his room were not fully dammed up; that was most likely the reason why it had only been Dudley's, Harry's fat and foul cousin's, second bedroom. Oh, how Dudley had wailed and cried, not wanting to give his room to Harry, insisting that he needed the space – which was probably true considering his pig-like girth , that Harry was small enough, anyway, to stay in the cupboard under the stairs for at least seven more years, for then he would have to leave the Dursleys for good, in any case. Now, though, Dudley didn't even want his broken toys in his former second bedroom. Harry wasn't sure whether that was due to the state of the room or to the mere fact that Harry had 'infected it with his freakish presence'.

Over the last five years, Harry had spent the winter seasons at Hogwarts, School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry hadn't been with the Dursleys, his only remaining living relatives, for more than two months at a time since he was eleven, for which the boy was grateful – most of the time. Harry hadn't been in Little Whinging, in what he bitterly had to call his room, to watch the wetness and the cold seep slowly into the walls, into his room. He had been at Hogwarts, where the wetness flowed down his face, where the cold seeped slowly through the walls of his body, into his heart.

He had tried, of course, to tidy the room up but he wasn't allowed to use his wand outside of school until he was of age, which meant he had to wait two more years. However, Harry didn't plan to be anywhere near Surrey in two years' time. Uncle Vernon was suspicious, obsessively so, of everything Harry did, or more often than not, of what he wanted to do. So even smuggling a simple bucket of water and some cleansing materials into his room was a difficult task because he would be suspected of trying to brew some 'freakish and most likely highly poisonous beverage' immediately. And because Uncle Vernon had begun again to punish Harry for everything the boy did wrong and everything the beefy man surmised Harry did not absolutely the way it was meant to be in his eyes, meaning not 'freakish', Harry concluded that it might be a better idea to just stay put and let the man he loathed to call Uncle have his will. He knew better, anyway. And in his eyes, that was everything that counted.

Knowledge was power, as it was, like Harry's wand. Without his wand, Harry would be just the boy he had always imagined himself to be: Ordinary, slightly less than average height, scrawny looking, nothing special. Well, he wanted to be special, but only to a couple of people. People who held him dearly and expected nothing more in return than Harry's friendship. And maybe one person who would hold him a tad more dearly, and maybe, just maybe, this person would want nothing in return but Harry's heart. (And not in the literal sense on a silver platter.)

Harry did have a wand, though, and with said wand came the responsibilities he could never push aside. He was going to be the saviour of the Wizarding World, even if it was the last thing he would do.

Sometimes, when it was dark and the rain pounded heavily against his window, Harry thought that it might very well be the last thing he would do.

His wand gave Harry Potter power, as did the knowledge of the things to come. He knew he had to become a murderer in order to bring Voldemort's reign of terror to an end. Voldemort, the one thing – because one couldn't call him a man with clear conscience – that had killed Harry's parents, thus landing the orphan in the Dursleys' house in the first place. Voldemort, the one who dared to judge and eliminate those he deemed beneath him. Voldemort, the one who was better known as You-Know-Who in the other world.

Harry had already drowned in his tears; they had washed away the last evidence of innocence from his eyes, from his heart. Now his heart was cold enough for him to believe he could kill Voldemort. In order to stay the Boy-Who-Lived, he would willingly become a murderer.

"Like Bellatrix Lestrange?" whispered Mike shrewdly.

Harry ignored the voice, ignored the throbbing in his temples. He was tired, he hadn't slept all night, waiting ...

'Seems as if Dumbledore has cut me off entirely this year,' he thought bitterly as he watched the mouldy patches swirl before his eyes. 'To keep me safe, I bet, or to keep Ron and Hermione and every other person safe who was foolish enough in the past to try and befriend me ...'

Harry was so tired, so very tired, yet he couldn't rest. Normally, he would never think such things. How could he be bitter because Dumbledore wanted to protect his friends? He wasn't that selfish.

Harry was angry, even if a potential onlooker might mistake his state for plain apathy. One thing with great repercussions had changed between the end of his fifth year and the beginning of his second to last summer holidays at his relatives' house. His pain had morphed into anger and this anger had found a target, one single target that deserved everything that would be coming to him: Voldemort, the Dark Lord, You-Know-Who, Tom Marvolo Riddle, Snake Charmer – or whatever he wished to be called currently.

Harry sighed as he heard the clock chime.

He wanted to be left alone. Just this once. Just this one single time.

"BOY!" an angry shout shattered the previously undisturbed silence. His wish wasn't granted. Not that Harry had gotten his hopes up. "Move your lazy hide down this instant and make breakfast!" Sounds of heavy footsteps stamping down the corridor and down the stairs could be heard, and for a moment, Harry thought he could feel the earth, or at least his bed, shaking. Then, there was more silence.

"Well," said Harry quietly to himself before he pushed himself upright. "Happy Birthday to me."

Breakfast was the usual affair of pressing oranges for fresh juice, while simultaneously keeping a watch on the toast lest it burned and preparing the scrambled eggs, crispy bacon and fruit salad for his cousin who still had to suffer through his diet.

Harry sighed, wiping the light sheen of sweat from his forehead. It was summer, after all, it was awfully hot and having to stand bent over the stove for an extended period of time was not helping any, either. Harry longed to gulp down a glass of the iced orange juice but he didn't want to press any more fruits that morning. So he would just content himself with water. And bread rolls, probably, if Dudley was again faster than him when it comes to Harry's own plate. Greedy pig.

"Boy!" Uncle Vernon snapped from his seat at the table where he was waiting rather impatiently for his breakfast. "Hurry up, there. I don't want to be late because of you. As you well know," he said importantly, clearly acting the big shot once again, "Mr. Mason will be visiting the company today."

Harry had heard nothing else the four weeks he had been at the Dursleys'. Secretly, he rolled his eyes since his back turned to the breakfast table.

"Yes, Uncle Vernon," he said calmly, hurrying to finish the cooking.

"Don't you dare get cheeky with me! It is entirely your fault that there even has to be a second meeting, boy! If it weren't for your ... for your ... freakish traits, everything would have run smoothly four years ago!"

"Certainly, it would have, Vernon," Aunt Petunia said with a sniff, giving a great impression of an uptight horse, before her voice morphed to sickly sweet. "Dudley dear had looked so absolutely charming and-"

"I am hungry," Dudley stated lowly with an edge to his voice.

"Oh, but of course, sweetums," Aunt Petunia cooed, causing Harry's hackles to rise and a shudder to travel down his spine. "Well?" she said crossly. "Isn't Dudley's fruit salad ready yet?"

"Yeah," muttered Harry absently, switching the stove off and pushing the bacon to the side. He picked up the bowel with pieces of strawberries, oranges, apples and pears and brought it to the table. He set it in front of Dudley with a clunk. 'He hasn't starved yet, has he?' he thought sarcastically, again wiping a few droplets of sweat from his forehead. 'Would be kind of tough, anyhow, with all the fat reserves he has to spare.'

"Mom," Dudley whined pathetically, his piggy eyes screwed shut and lost in a sea of flabby cheeks, "I want some bacon! And cheese! And toast! And sausages! And scrambled eggs!" He sounded like a three year old toddler screaming 'I want, I want, I want!' in a teary fit and he would look like one, as well, with all the baby fat, were he not so big that he surely would fall from his stool were he to move too much or too sudden.

"Oh, Duddykins," Aunt Petunia said uncertainly, exchanging quick glances with Uncle Vernon. It was obvious that she was not immune against Dudley's so-called 'charm'. For her, Dudley was indeed still a big baby that required to be pampered and spoiled rotten even more. As if that was possible. Her husband rescued her, though, from having to explain to her precious Duddykins why they had to starve him.

"No," Uncle Vernon said, his voice only slightly wavering as if he felt very wretched for being forced to put his only son through this horrendous diet. Never you mind that Uncle Vernon was at least thrice as big as Dudley and that he himself needed a diet at least as desperately as his son – if not even more so. "It is unhealthy-"

"Why?" shrieked Dudley. It was the second stage to his tantrums. When whining didn't help immediately, let's up it a bit. He pointed an accusing finger at Harry, letting it shake weakly for good measure. "Why can he," he spat as if 'he' was some kind of disgusting animal or slimy substance or, well, Harry, "eat bacon, then? Why can he eat toast and scrambled eggs and cheese and sausages?"

Harry didn't point out that most days he didn't get most of the things Dudley complained about.

Harry's cousin squinted his beady eyes at him. "And he looks just like a walking stick! Where does all the food go? I would at least put it to good use!"

Aunt Petunia burst into tears, unable to cope with the amount of pain and humiliation they put poor Dudley through.

"Now, Dudley," Uncle Vernon said, "that may all be true-"

"It is true!"

"-but you can't blame the boy-" The man cut himself off, forking his brows and trying to think very deeply. "Well, of course, you can blame the boy but it won't change anything. You will have to stick to the fruit salad." Dudley tried to complain some more but Uncle Vernon raised his voice to override him. "And that's my final word!"

Dudley's lower lip trembled dangerously, Uncle Vernon averted his gaze because it was as hard for him as for his son, and Aunt Petunia jumped from her seat to comfort her darling, bawling baby.

Harry sighed quietly. Well, that was something new. Not every sentence at the table had been to anger or humiliate him. He turned around and gathered the food for breakfast. He put the pans, bowls and glasses on the table before he set down at his usual seat (the one where the sun blinded him through the open window). Harry loaded his plate with some eggs and toast and was just about to start eating when-

"Yuck!" shrieked Dudley, spitting a halfway chewed piece of apple across the table where it landed with several plops in Harry's glass of water – must have fallen apart while it was airborne. "Dad! Harry put a hair in my salad! He put a hair in it!"

"You wanted to see me, Albus?" asked Severus Snape, Hogwarts' current Potions master, shutting the door to the headmaster's office firmly behind him. He made a beeline for the nearest armchair, quickly posing his next question in order to override Dumbledore's perpetual offer of sweets. "Will this be taking long?" He didn't need to add that he had an important potion to brew.

Dumbledore smiled kindly at the Professor he considered one of his dearest charges. He quickly assessed the other's appearance, taking in the paler than usual skin, the dull glint to his black eyes, the rigid stance with which he tried to hold himself strictly still in his seat. Dumbledore reined in a sad smile when seeing Snape try to appear as always. The stubborn boy - for in Dumbledore's wizened gaze he was only a boy - not wanting to let his weakness be seen. Snape let his hair fall partially in his face.

"Well," Dumbledore said lightly, taking his outstretched arm back after his scrutiny, which hadn't taken longer than a few seconds. With the ever-present twinkle in his light blue eyes, he raked his gaze unhurriedly over the bonbons in the small box, wriggling his fingers. It would not do to hurry such an important decision. The choosing of the perfect bonbon could change the coming events drastically. Dumbledore, in his everlasting wisdom, was sure of that. Finally, the headmaster took his pick, plopping the deliciously sweet and sour bonbon into his mouth, grinning cheekily. "The more's for me."

"You needn't have worried, Albus," Snape drawled, tilting his head downwards slightly, his dark gaze never leaving the headmaster's face.

"Ah, but Severus," said Dumbledore gently with an enigmatic smile. "Here you are wrong. I do need to worry. I always do." Before Snape could ask what the headmaster was referring to, Dumbledore went on with the issue of his call. "This matter is of great importance and indeed very serious," he said gravely, rolling the bonbon around his tongue.

"What do you want me to do for Potter?" asked Snape with a slight sneer. Really, whenever something was 'of great importance' and/or 'very serious' it had either to do with Voldemort, Potter or a perilous shortness of treacle tarts at dinner. As there hadn't been any recent attacks and no new information he had gained from Voldemort in the latest gatherings and he had been down in the kitchens himself to check if there were enough desserts for the residing sweet tooth – never again did he want to be unprepared for such an undignified interrogation , Snape surmised accurately that it had to be something with Potter. Taking a quick mental look at their statistics, it wasn't so hard to guess. Somehow, Snape ended up playing the unwilling nanny and additional tutor to the brat more often than he cared to count.

"Nothing I haven't asked you before, Severus," replied Dumbledore quietly. He waited a few moments to let his request sink in. He didn't want Snape to think that all he did was trying to torture him, for that was as far from the truth as it could get. Dumbledore loved Snape like the son he was never quite blessed enough to have. Therefore, he wanted the war to end as quickly as possible, to minimize the risk for his almost son. If Snape helped Harry to finally conquer the Dark Lord, then, hopefully, he could be free to do whatever he wanted. Dumbledore wouldn't put any obstacles in his way if Snape wanted to quit his job as Potions master at Hogwarts to start a new life. He would be sad to have to say goodbye but he would be glad on Snape's behalf.

"You want me to start Occlumency lessons again," stated Snape blankly. It wasn't a question, and he didn't wait for an answer. "I hope you realise that the boy is abysmal." Which was an outrageous understatement, to put it mildly.

"That he may well be," sighed Dumbledore, inwardly feeling compassionate for his charge. He didn't really want to put Snape through this again but he himself was still out of the question, because every time he was merely near Harry, he could feel the dark magic trying to force its way through the boy, trying to fiddle through his still too weak defences. Somehow, Voldemort only seemed able to use Harry as some kind of medium when he felt a powerful enough wizard in the boy's range. Fortunately, Voldemort couldn't gauge Harry's own power accurately. "And that is the reason I ask you to try and remedy it. After only a few short months worth of Occlumency training, Harry could not really have perfected his skills, could he? I made many mistakes," he sighed, the wrinkles in his face suddenly seeming much more prominent. "I should have told him everything from the start. Then, he wouldn't have been so suspicious when his defences became even weaker for a time. And everything else ... Well, we learn from our mistakes, don't we?"

"Probably," Snape conceded grudgingly; then, he sighed in defeat. "When do the lessons start again? I need to prepare for them accordingly." He didn't want a repeat of the fiasco of last year when the nosy Potter brat had sneaked a few glances into his Pensieve. Had Potter not been so arrogant – like his good-for-nothing father , had he only tried to apologize for his entirely inappropriate daring, then maybe Snape would have been inclined to let it slide.

Heck, whom was he kidding?

Dumbledore smiled brightly, causing Snape to squish the ridiculously warm feeling inside his chest that had just blossomed up. He knew he had said the right thing when he received this kind of thank-you from his mentor.

"The lessons should start as soon as possible," said Dumbledore happily, clapping his hands once. "As soon as Minerva has finished the timetables, I will let you and Harry choose which day would be the most convenient for both of you."

Snape inclined his head curtly. "Very well," he said, quickly rising to his feet. "If that was all I should like to return to my laboratories to finish with the Wolfsbane lest it simmers too long. Wouldn't want ..." he trailed off.

Dumbledore smiled once more. "Ah, yes! That reminds me: There's one favour I wanted to ask you ..."

Snape merely lifted an inquiring eyebrow.

The dreary room was dark and damp. Old, rotting straw covered the cool stone floor. The walls were built with large stones, almost giving the impression that you were in a dungeon and not a Muggle cellar. Shadows raced through the room, which was only minimally illuminated by a lone bulb hanging from the ceiling. Occasionally it would flicker, casting ominous figures on the walls.

The room reeked of decay. There were moulding bits and pieces of meat on the straw, even a few bones could be found.

The stench attracted those small creatures most housewives were afraid of. Dozens of small paws scuttled around on the floor, through the straw, over to the pieces of meat to try to claim the juiciest bits for themselves.

One particularly scruffy looking specimen hurried to the far side of the room. Every time its right front paw came in contact with the floor there was a small click as if something made of metal clashed with the stones. The rat scuttled on, not giving the deliciously looking meat even a passing glance.

The lone window in the cellar room let the moon rays pass. There was nothing to hinder them, as the broken pieces of glass lay scattered around in the corner where the rat was obviously headed. Just as the first rays of moonlight touched the rat's body, a loud popping sound could be heard.

Out of thin air, a large, inhumanly skeletal body had appeared. A dark, heavy cloak was wrapped firmly around its slim shoulders, falling in foreboding waves to the ground. The head was obscured from view by a hood that was pulled deeply into the person's face.

"Wormtail!" the figure snapped, somehow managing to let it sound like a hiss. "Show yourself!"

There was a second, albeit quieter, pop and suddenly the rat in the moonlight was gone and in its wake, there was a balding, cowering man. His clothes were dirty, ripped in places and bedecked with straw from his run through the room.

The man called Wormtail quickly fell to his knees, scurrying towards the other person. His violently shivering hands reached out to take the hem of the other's robe. Wormtail pressed the cloth to his mouth, careful to wet it neither with his saliva nor his nervous sweat. His right hand glistered silvery in the moonlight as he pulled it back to his side.

"Y-yes, Master?" he stuttered, still on his knees with his head bowed. He flinched when his master spoke.

The tall man pushed his hood back to reveal his head. His face was long and thin like the rest of his body. He didn't sport a nose, nor was there any hair covering his abnormally white skin that stretched tautly over his skull. A lipless mouth drew into a sneer as the man, who was none other than Lord Voldemort or You-Know-Who, looked down his imagined nose at the rat at his feet. He enjoyed being worshiped, even thrived on it, on being feared. It made him feel so alive, so powerful, and so different from what he had to feel all those long, cold years when he had been all but abandoned by his supposedly faithful followers. Now it was time to make himself feel even better.

"Where is she?" asked Voldemort in a voice both soft as silk and cold as ice, sending visible shivers down Wormtail's spine. "I hope you and your little friends haven't damaged her beyond reason. I would certainly hate to have to punish you over such a trivial matter."

"No, Master, never, Master," Wormtail hastened to reassure, watery blue eyes blinking up shortly at the towering figure of Voldemort. "I would never do anything that-"

"Crucio," said the Dark Lord almost lazily, pointing his wand at the scrawny figure of his servant who shrieked and writhed in pain. That felt better, yes. Voldemort lifted the curse after only a few moments, though for Wormtail it had felt like a lifetime. No matter how often he was subjected to the Pain Curse, it never ceased to be new and excruciating in a different way.

"I asked you a question. Do I have to repeat myself?" Voldemort asked in a deadly whisper, enjoying wreaking terror on the weak man's mind.

"No, I-"

"Crucio."

Wormtail shrieked again, his nerves on fire. A long row of front teeth, oddly resembling those of a rodent, bit harshly into his lower lip. He felt like his ears would be starting to bleed any second since the pressure in his body was so high. The pain lancing through his muscles spiked after some more agonising moments; then it stopped. His breath came between great gasps and coughs of blood. Before he risked angering his more than usually aggravated master any more, though, Wormtail gasped out, "She is in the corner. In front of you."

Voldemort smiled a highly unpleasant smile. "Well, you did manage. It took you three tries but ..." He inclined his head slightly, his insanely red gleaming eyes flashing dangerously. "Do try to work on your attitude, will you, Wormtail? You know there are dozens of willing, and certainly capable, Death Eaters dying to give their left hand to take over your place. They wouldn't even want a reward for their sacrifice," he hissed, flicking his tongue lightly to taste the fear radiating from his servant. "Now leave!"

Wormtail needn't be told twice. He quickly scrambled forwards to kiss Voldemort's robe once more, ignoring the pains in his joints and muscles moving caused him, and then he vanished with a soft pop, the faint tap-tap-tap-click heralding his leaving the room in his rat form.

Voldemort sneered once more, watching Wormtail scuttle to the wall and crawl through a hole and away from him. It amused him to no end to know that, whatever he did and chose to do in the future, Wormtail would always be far too afraid of him to ever pose a threat. Even his most loyal followers like the Lestranges and Macnair could not compete with Wormtail's loyalty; the three former named weren't devoted-to-death Gryffindors, after all. All that Wormtail needed was the feeling that he, Voldemort, was the most powerful creature on the planet. Seeing as how Harry Potter, the sorry excuse of a bane for his existence, was merely a boy, a nuisance to be rid of, that was not too difficult to master.

Well, now Voldemort was going to make sure, for all time, that he was the most powerful. The Muggle-loving fool Albus Dumbledore could not hold a candle to him. The old coot needed the boy the people dared to call their hero to finish him, the greatest wizard of all times, off. And Harry Potter himself? Well, soon, very soon, this problem was going to be solved, once and for all. He smirked deviously as his gleaming eyes raked over the pitch-black corner of the cellar, making out one prone figure.

Swishing his wand, Voldemort set fire to the straw. He drew a circle with his arm, so that the fire would form the same circle around the unmoving woman. Magically restricting the flames to the ring, the Dark Lord gazed appreciatively at his prized catch.

Normally brown hair suddenly appeared red, sporting wandering traces of yellow and orange as if the woman's head was on fire, too. Frizzy locks lay fanned out as if she was sleeping peacefully. Her pained expression and the light sheen of sweat that may well come from some nightmare, however, belied her superficial serenity. The woman was dressed in a long, flowing cloth, which partially sported little holes as if rodents had been gnawing at it. Around her ankles and wrists bruises were forming where the woman had been trying to free herself from her invisible shackles. One of her long emerald earrings had been ripped right through her lobe.

Voldemort felt the excitement course through his inhuman body, not because of the sight of the living flesh that just begged to be tortured, but because of the information this particular female would provide. With this information he would finally be able to turn the tables in his favour. Nobody would be able to stop him, then.

"Enervate!" said Voldemort sharply, his wand aiming at the woman's chest.

The magic flowed through his arm, focused in his wand and then surged forward, slamming abruptly into the woman. She gasped sharply, nearly choking, arching her back awkwardly because she was still bound to the floor.

Voldemort was looking forward to the moment the woman realised where she was and whom she was with. And he didn't have to wait for long.

The woman looked around herself frantically, and once her gaze fell upon the Dark Lord, her breath hitched and her eyes grew round in fear and disbelief. What was she doing here? How had she got here? Where the hell was 'here'? The fact that there was a fire burning merrily around her, didn't seem to matter much at the moment.

Voldemort sneered slowly, taking a deliberate step closer. He let some of his magic leave his body to let her choke on his suffocating power.

"What? What? Oh my God! What am I doing here? You are-" She couldn't bring herself to speak his name, not even 'You-Know-Who' would come over her trembling lips. Her nerves were fluttering as if any second now she would have either a nervous breakdown or a heart attack. She supposed both were equally likely. "Let me go!"

"I fear, I cannot let you go," Voldemort drawled. "You, my dear, are going to be very helpful to our cause."

If possible, the woman's eyes grew even larger at that. "What?" she croaked. How could she of all people be of any help for the Dark side? That was ludicrous, laughable, ridiculous! "I don't see how I can-"

"Quietus!" the Dark Lord said forcefully, throwing the spell at the bound woman. Usually, this spell would make one's voice normal again after one had performed the Sonorus Charm. When one had not, however, one's voice would quieten down to the point of being impossible to hear. "Now, that is better." Voldemort smirked cruelly at the frightened look on the woman's pale face as she tried to scream and yell but no sound came forth from her mouth. "You will only speak when I tell you to, understood?" The smirk died away instantly as the woman tried to fight against her bonds and to produce a sound more desperately. His non-existent brows narrowed as she kept on ignoring him in order to continue her outrageous attempts at escape. Pathetic wench. And he had actually surmised she knew with whom she was dealing here.

"Crucio," the Dark Lord said easily with a flick of his wand, once again pointing it at her chest. Breathing deeply through the two holes he had in the middle of his face instead of a nose, he savoured her inaudible screams and her hindered writhing. She bashed her head backwards unto the hard floor, the rotting layer of straw and her frizzy hair cushioning her skull only minimally as she continued to try to express her agony.

When Voldemort finally lifted the curse, the woman's vision swam in front of her now watery eyes more than before. Her entire body throbbed, even her hair roots hurt. This was the first time she had felt the Pain Curse, and she sincerely hoped it would be the last time, as well.

"When I ask someone a question," Voldemort said icily, forcing his way ruthlessly into the woman's hearing, "I expect to be answered. Understood?"

The woman nodded, albeit slowly, for her head felt like exploding any second if she did more than that. It seemed that now, after her initial panic attack, the reality of the situation finally sank in.

She was alone with the Dark Lord, who wanted to take over the world; and he needed her help for something. Well, she would be damned if she gave him what he wanted. She hadn't been sorted into Gryffindor for nothing all those years ago, after all.

The woman made to raise her eyes defiantly, fury plainly visible in her now narrowed eyes. As she met Voldemort's gaze, however, her heart was abruptly filled with ice, no matter how hot the fire was burning around her.

"Oh, my dear," he said softly, and the woman knew that, even if she could have said something, she wouldn't have been able to. "You don't need to be willing for me to extract the information that I need." Recognition flashed shortly in her eyes, and the Dark Lord chuckled; the sound echoing eerily from the stonewalls. "Yes, indeed." Another chuckle.

"Legilimens!" he shouted then, his wand trained on the woman's forehead.

The woman was left defenceless as memory after memory flittered through her mind. She vaguely felt the intruding presence of the Dark Lord but she couldn't do anything to force him away, to put a stop to his breaching. Voldemort's power cut through her mind like a hot knife slicing through butter; there was no resistance at all. In no time, it seemed, he had what he wanted from her. He closed his eyes in triumph, effortlessly tuning out the screams of outrage and pain he still heard echoing in his own head after severing the connection between the woman and himself. It was done.

"And now be a good girl," Voldemort said softly, pointing his wand at the woman's chest for the last time, "and die."



Chapter 2: Keep your Hair on
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2. Keep your Hair on

1st August 1996

Harry was ripped out of his slumber by his own muffled cry. He twisted around in bed, feeling the uncomfortable sensation of his sweat-drenched pillow clinging to the back of his neck. His breath was fast and shallow as if he had been running from Ripper, Aunt Marge's highly unpleasant dog that seemed set on taking a taste of his calve, again; only this time, the sanctuary of a tree had been miles away.

Harry had had a nightmare, which was still fresh in his mind, burning in the back of his lids. He had seen a familiar face, contorted as it screamed in terror and pain. There had been red hair, masses of frizzy red hair, a curious combination of Hermione Granger, his Muggle-born friend, and Ginny Weasley, who was from a pure-blooded wizard family. For a terrifying moment, Harry was afraid that he had seen one of his friends die – as if he hadn't done just that during the past years more than often enough already - but then he realised that the woman in his vision hadn't been anyone he knew; at least, not anyone he knew well. His nightmare was fresh but still very unclear, as if he was trying to look through a frosted glass window at the on-goings inside a house.

Harry thought he knew the woman but something was wrong about her. Well, it could be that he had never seen her contorted in agony before.

Then he remembered something peculiar. It had seemed as if her own tears had surrounded the woman. Diamond-like glistering objects, big as fingernails or even larger, lay scattered around her. Some were changing colours, yellow and orange and red, others just glittered brightly white.

Suddenly, bright green flashed in front of his eyes as Harry remembered Voldemort's high-pitched laughter, so much alike the sound he always heard whenever he met a Dementor and relived the death of his parents.

Harry's eyes squeezed shut tightly, his hands cramped convulsively around fistfuls of sheets as bolts of fire lanced through the famous scar on his forehead.

The boy didn't exactly know whether this was really a vision or just another figment of Voldemort's cruel mind. Or, if this was indeed a vision, why he had received it. Since last year, the Dark Lord knew that Harry and he shared some kind of connection, and he had already taken advantage of it. Why should Voldemort send his nemesis an accurate vision, then? And if this vision was real after all, what did Voldemort hope to gain from it? Harry didn't even recognize the woman Voldemort had killed with two acerbic words.

Harry had a feeling that both elated and numbed him: It would be soon, very soon. Voldemort already had another plan for his annual game of 'trying to get rid of yet another Potter'. Fortunately for Harry, he used to fail each and every year.

Hedwig, Harry's pet owl, hooted agitatedly at her master's pained writhing, spreading her wings in her cage.

"No need to worry, girl," Harry said hoarsely, throwing an arm over his eyes, the pain quickly fading away along with the remnants of his memories of the dream-vision. "It's all right, be quiet." It was in the wee hours of the morning. Harry didn't need his uncle coming barging into his room, demanding that he should shut up his owl or he would do it for him. Harry knew what his uncle meant with that statement. He didn't want to find out whether he would make it true.

Hedwig gave one last soft hoot before settling down again. She curled her talons tightly, flashing a stern glare that went unnoticed.

Harry sighed in relief at the newfound silence. "That's a good girl."

Harry quietly ate his breakfast consisting of two pancakes and a dollop of honey, squinting against the bright morning light. He tried to ignore Dudley's chortles of 'He looks so ridiculous!' and 'Dad? Can I take a picture? Can I? I'd like to pass it around at school!' He closed his eyes in embarrassment. After last morning's incident with the – non-existent – hair in Dudley's fruit salad, Uncle Vernon had forced Harry to wear a hairnet, generously provided by Aunt Petunia, when doing his cooking chores. The mortification was endless for a sixteen years old boy – worshipped hero or not.

"Petunia, dear?" Uncle Vernon said, smiling widely. "Don't forget to go shopping, will you? Choose the nicest dress! And don't let the prize deter you! We've got something to celebrate!"

"Oh, indeed," gushed Aunt Petunia, straightening her back in her seat. "I nearly forgot with all the commotion about," she shot a nasty glare in Harry's direction, "him. Where will we be dining, dear? Oh, and I will have to clean Dudley's finest suit." She smiled sweetly, Harry's teeth ached just looking at her.

"You do that, dear," chuckled Uncle Vernon good-naturedly, inhaling yet another chunk of sausage, "you do that."

Harry cleared his throat. "Uncle?" he asked uncertainly, unsure whether he should interfere with the family discussion.

"What?" the beefy man asked, before his smile from earlier turned nasty. "Oh, you are going to stay at home, boy. Last time, you ruined all my efforts! I'm not going to stand it another time, you hear me?"

"But-" tried Harry to intervene. It wasn't as if he wanted to join his relatives celebrating Uncle Vernon's business success. He had had enough of his uncle's bragging anyway. That, however, didn't mean that Harry wanted to be excluded entirely. They treated him like he had the plague sometimes.

"No buts!" growled Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia nodded empathically, and Dudley grinned spitefully. "I told Mr. Mason that you were still at school. So, he only invited the real family, consisting of myself, Petunia and Dudley, you hear?"

"There isn't a school that houses students over the summer holidays," said Harry with a frown. 'That's only wishful thinking on your part.'

"Oh, yes there is. And if you don't behave while we're not here, you're going to get enrolled first thing tomorrow morning."

"Yeah," chortled Dudley. "I thought dad already told you all about St. Brutus' Secure Centre for Incurable Criminal Boys. That's the ideal place for you, isn't it?" He managed to kick Harry under the table without his parents noticing. "They keep you all year if it's necessary."

Harry grit his teeth, willing his temper down. Every bit of aggression was immediately stored away for the confrontation with Voldemort. "I'm not an incurable criminal-"

"You're incurably back talking," interrupted Uncle Vernon, his patience wearing thin. "You will do as I say, boy, or I will not allow you back to your ... your freak school, got it?"

Harry swallowed the bitterness on his tongue quietly, not meeting anyone's gaze. "Yes, Uncle Vernon."

"Good. You will stay in your room and you will not touch anything that doesn't belong to you, understood?"

That narrowed things down quite a bit. At least he could catch up on some of his homework, then. "Yes, Uncle Vernon."

"And don't doubt that I won't know what you've been doing," drawled the big man unpleasantly, causing Harry to look up with a faint frown. "Ha! I don't have to be a freak to know what's going on behind my back!"

"Very true, Vernon," sniffed Aunt Petunia, while Dudley nodded vigorously.

"Wha-" Harry wanted to ask but he was interrupted again.

"Oh, I only installed a couple of closed-circuit TVs all over the house," said Uncle Vernon slowly, as if to give Harry's brain enough time to wrap itself around the new information. "So, when we're not at home, you can't do anything without us knowing. And if you decide to go against my orders, then I will have to renew the locks on your door." His face contorted into a superior smirk.

Harry didn't know what he should say. It wasn't as if he couldn't sabotage the devices with magic, though he didn't point it out. "Right, Uncle Vernon. I won't come out of my room and I won't touch anything."

"Good, good! Now, off you go. We've got a lot to do today." Harry knew the 'we' didn't include him.

"All right." Harry rose from his seat, leaving half of his breakfast on his plate. He wondered quietly whether he was allowed to come down to eat lunch or dinner at all as he made his way to his room. He opted to use the bathroom now as well in case he wouldn't be able to afterwards.

While he washed his hands a short while later, Harry was humming away to himself.

"I fell into a burning ring of fire ..."

------------------------
Severus Snape appeared with a loud crack in a side alley to Grimmauld Place, London. He was dressed in his usual set of black robes that concealed his body while his hair took care of his face.

The Potions master wasn't too fond of Grimmauld Place. Not because it was located in Muggle London, not even because the late Sirius Black, who had been the bane of his sorry existence ever since he knew him, had lived here – although that would be a very good reason, really. No, it was solely because of the down rotten place itself. The people, who just happened to be Muggles, were impossible, the streets were dirtied and reeked as if someone had been slaughtered and left to rot there and the houses were falling apart so slowly one could watch its progress.

It was nearly as thrilling as watching grass grow.

Snape turned his nose up as he watched a couple of rats scuttle over to a heap of malodorous rubbish. While his sensitive nose - quite a few of people rather called it a 'big conk' - was irreplaceable when it came to the finer parts of his potion making, there was also a downside, unfortunately. Ill reeking waste almost brought tears to his eyes. At these rare occasions, Snape nearly felt compassionate for Remus Lupin, who, due to the fact that he was a werewolf, had a quite sensitive nose as well.

This fact was also the reason why Snape found himself in this dirty side alley in the first place. He was on his way to deliver the Wolfsbane potion to Lupin, who was living at Black Manor. The Manor was at the same time the headquarter of the Order of the Phoenix, the secret organisation of those witches and wizards who were fighting against Voldemort and his dark followers.

Snape whipped out his wand and cast a quick concealment charm on himself, feeling a thick coat of slick magic cover his body. Then he swiftly made his way to the main place. He didn't want to stay even a second longer than absolutely necessary in this alley lest his clothes absorbed the horrible stench.

As if there weren't enough nasty rumours about his body odours going around at Hogwarts already.

Loud music blared out of one house with particularly thin walls. Snape shook his head and stopped. On his left side, there was number eleven, on his right he saw number thirteen. A second later, the two houses were pushed to the side as in between them, house number twelve appeared and grew.

Black Manor looked as shabby and old as ever, and Snape climbed up the stone steps towards the black painted door. With a tap of his wand to said door, it began to unfasten dozens of locks. The door creaked open and Snape crept in, closing it behind him with a soft click. Then he lifted the concealment charm, now that he was out of the Muggles' view.

The gas-lamps were flickering softly, spending scarce light as Snape made his way through the hallway to the library where he suspected Lupin to be. The werewolf's new duty was to look through every tome in the vast library full of dark books and scrolls. Dumbledore hoped there would be hints that could help them destroy the Dark Lord. So far, they hadn't had much luck.

The door to the library was ajar, and Snape slowed down as he neared it. Soft light shone unsteadily from the lit fireplace. Lupin was sitting at a large mahogany table, his greying hair reflecting the light from the hearth. In front of him lay dozens of heavy looking tomes and yellowish rolls of parchment. Snape's nose itched as he stepped through the doorway.

"Just put it on the desk," said Lupin without looking up from his reading. "Then you can go, Severus."

"I was not aware that you had the authority to order me around, Lupin," said Snape frostily, irked that the werewolf had known immediately that he was there. Blasted enhanced smelling abilities.

"Ah, I forgot. It's my hair isn't it?" drawled Lupin, finally lifting his gaze to glare at the intruder. "It's neither too long nor too non-existent, huh?"

"You have no idea what you are talking about," hissed Snape, his fingers twitching. "If you weren't drowning in your own wallowing, I would teach you how to see reason. But as it is, I do not want to waste my valuable time with you and your petty mourning."

Lupin growled low in his throat, his eyes flashing golden in the light of the fire.

Snape was not impressed.

"I only wanted to deliver the Wolfsbane," added Snape with a sneer. "It's not as if you would take it if I were not watching you do it, is it?"

"You know very well that I would never-"

Snape cut him off, "That you would never endanger anyone? Funny. I seem to remember quite a few times when you didn't take your potion. Were it not for me, who delivered it to you time and time again, you wouldn't have drunk it at all. Oh, and let's not forget-"

"Just give me the potion so I can read on in this highly captivating book," said Lupin bitterly with a hint of scorn. Either it was an innate but very deeply hidden gift or Snape was already rubbing off on him. "Please, spare me your sarcasm. It's far too early in the day to endure you." His earlier anger seemed to have gone up in smoke.

"I'm wounded," drawled Snape. "And you are wrong. It isn't too early, it is far too late already." Then he fished a large vial out of his inner robe. Crossing the room with a few quick strides, Snape put the vial down on the desk with a clunk. He crossed his arms and waited.

"You can go," said Lupin.

"I will stay," countered Snape.

"I'm very determined to be alone, so you can go."

"And I'm very determined to stay. At least, until I have seen with my own eyes that you took the potion. It is not as if I had all the ingredients to spare for the Wolfsbane. I want to make sure you don't pour it down the drain once I am gone."

Lupin tried to sneer but failed miserably. Not much practice, Snape supposed. "Fine," the werewolf muttered, reaching over for the vial. Before he touched it, though, Snape picked it up again and held it out of his reach.

"Severus," growled Lupin. "I'm not in the mood for your little power games either."

"You will drink the potion," said Snape unaffectedly, "and you will not try to heave to get rid of it again. Understood?"

"What do you think I am? Anorexic?" asked Lupin angrily. "I'm not going to throw up your precious potion, I promise!"

"And I should take your word for it?" Snape sneered. "I don't think so, Lupin."

"Oh, all right! Stay for all I care! I won't purposely throw up your potion but I can't promise I won't do it due to the revolting taste!" With that, Lupin held out his hand expectantly, his cheeks flushing.

Snape smirked and handed the vial over to the werewolf. "That's all I asked for. Pity that your rather mediocre mind can't work a tad faster, isn't it? We could have settled this many minutes earlier."

"Yeah, yeah," mumbled Lupin, unstoppering the vial quickly. He drowned the contents with a grimace, making gagging noises for good measure. "You worked on the recipe, didn't you? It's fouler than ever."

"You tasted the difference? Oh, be still my heart, you noticed. I did it just for you," said Snape sarcastically. The Potions master had indeed been working on the formula. Not to make it even fouler, though, but to make the transformation more bearable. Courtesy of Dumbledore.

"How flattering," retorted Lupin flatly.

He sat back down and bent over the large book he had been reading in. On his left side were a blank piece of parchment and a self-inking quill.

"What? No tea, no biscuits?" mocked Snape and took a seat to the right.

"If you're hungry, you'll have to go to the kitchen and look what's there," replied Lupin tersely. He turned a page, nearly ripping it out in the process.

"What are you reading there, anyway?" asked Snape with faked interest, craning his neck. "Lord of the Fleas- uh, I mean Flies?"

"Your perpetual gibes lost their originality years ago, Severus."

Snape ignored him – he only glared unabashedly in his direction - and claimed a large tome for himself. He opened it at the first chapter and started reading with an inaudible sigh. Merlin, at times he hated Dumbledore. Delivering the Wolfsbane potion across half of the country was degrading enough as it was but Snape also had to watch over the little werewolf. Dumbledore was very worried about Lupin after his best friend's death. Snape couldn't care less, in any case. Black was dead, so what? He didn't cry himself to sleep at the loss.

Especially after he had come to realise that victory dances – undignified as they may be – were far more satisfying in that compartment.

And Lupin was mourning all by himself. Snape knew, with the logical part of his brain, that the Order needed Lupin but, honestly, he didn't concern himself with the melancholic feelings of the walking rug. It was bad enough already that he was dreading the school start more than usually - newly picked up Occlumency lessons with Potter could do that to any sane person - but to be forced to watch over Lupin was more than Snape could handle. His only hope was that Lupin would recover quickly from whatever mental disease he was suffering from so he could be back to his beloved dungeons, brewing the day away.

A soft trilling noise ripped Snape out of his quiet musings. He looked around, searching for the origin. There was another trilling that sounded like it was coming from a large bird.

"Oh," said Lupin, pushing back his chair.

"What's that, Lupin?" asked Snape suspiciously. "You aren't morphing into a second Hagrid, are you? – Merlin alone knows, one is one too many already - Breeding illegal creatures in Black's old home?"

"Just be quiet, Severus," muttered the shorter man irritably. "I'm not breeding anything." He quickly made his way over to the far side of the library, fingering for something in his threadbare cardigan's pocket.

Snape followed him and arched his brow as he arrived at a small side desk that stood beneath a little window. The desk was covered with straw and wool and there was a red and orange bird hopping around on it awkwardly. The bird had a snake for a neck and a fishtail.

"A phoenix," Snape observed dryly.

"An old one at that," added Lupin and held his cupped hand under the bird's beak. It picked at the seed greedily. "He's over one-thousand-four-hundred-sixty years old."

"Indeed?" drawled Snape in disbelief. "Shouldn't the bird have burned twice already, then? Given the fact that they do so every five-hundred years, I mean?"

Lupin rolled his eyes mutely. "Benu's a very old phoenix. He lives after the old cycle. The Black's were having this phoenix since ever it seems."

"Benu?"

"'The Rising'." Lupin sighed, poured more seed into a small cup and put it back on the desk. He stroked the phoenix' head gently, before he turned around again. "I found him in the dungeons."

"My wonder and dark amusement know no bounds. Black kept his own pet in the dungeons?" asked Snape with a mixture of mock-awe and surprise.

"Sirius didn't know he had a phoenix," said Lupin stiffly, walking back over to the mahogany desk. "Mrs. Black didn't want him to know and she kept the bird hidden while she was alive. It's something like a family heirloom."

"Black has been living here alone for nearly a year and he didn't discover the bird?"

Lupin pulled the book nearer and bent over it. "He didn't venture down to the dungeons."

"I would have," Snape stated as if it was the most natural thing in the world to first explore the dungeons of one's home. Planning how to divide the space into torture area and cells took a lot of consideration, after all.

"I bet." Lupin sighed and ran a hand tiredly over his face. "Listen, you don't want to be here any more than I want you to. So, why don't you just leave already and I'll tell Albus that you stayed, all right?"

"Oh, you misunderstand my very selfish intentions," drawled Snape. Even if it was true that Dumbledore had persuaded him to stay with Lupin for a short while, he didn't have to admit it; not to Lupin, in any case. "I'm very interested in this phoenix; it has intrigued me. Do tell me: Why did you venture down to the dungeons?"

Lupin glared.

Snape glared back, not to be intimidated.

"That's none of your business," said Lupin curtly.

"Let me guess: The kitchen was empty and you wanted to see if the pantry was stocked?" mocked Snape with a sardonically raised brow. "Or you were searching for Kreacher because you forgot that the deceiving little house-elf isn't even here anymore?"

"I won't tell you, so you can stop asking," said Lupin quietly, not rising to the challenge. He averted his gaze again, simply dismissing Snape's presence, something that irked the Potions master to no end.

"Very well," said Snape curtly, sitting back down.

"And stop invading my mind, Severus," said Lupin, oddly strangled. "You have absolutely no right whatsoever to pry into my head without my permission." He read on, not looking up.

Snape shot him a quick glance, then gritted his teeth in anger. He cut the connection. "Happy?" he asked shortly.

Lupin didn't lift his head. "No," he said very softly.

------------------------
Two hours later, Snape left without a word. Lupin heaved a sigh of relief that he was finally alone again. He was even more tired than before, even though he hadn't actually read much. Most of his energy had been used to ward his mind against Snape's attempts at breaking through his defences.

Sometimes the man had definitely too many burglary tendencies to be healthy.

Lupin closed the tome without book marking it and pushed it away. Then he crossed his arms on the table and laid his head upon it. Closing his eyes, he tried to rest.

He must have napped a bit because the next thing he knew was that he was ripped out of his slumber by a sudden bang that sounded as if the door to the library had been thrown shut.

Lupin's head spun around, one hand massaging his aching neck. He only hoped Mrs. Black hadn't been woken by the crash. Snape must have left the door open when he went back to Hogwarts. Inconsiderate prat.

Lupin stopped short. Snape hadn't left yet. He was standing in front of him, holding a tray with a couple of sandwiches and two mugs of steaming tea. He headed over to the large table and set the tray down.

Lupin lifted his brows instead of a question. Had Snape just brought him something to eat? Was he looking that bad? Regina, it had only been a joke when he asked whether he looked like he was suffering from anorexia nervosa! Snape shouldn't have taken him seriously. However, just as Lupin rolled the thought around in his mind that Snape only acted on Dumbledore's orders, the screeching started.

"Filth! Scum! By-products of dirt and vileness!"

Lupin sighed and went around Snape to quieten Mrs. Black's painting. The old woman in the picture screamed for all she was worth, waking up the other paintings in the hallway. Moth eaten curtains blew around her frame as she screeched on about the infection the honourable House of Black was suffering from.

Lupin tugged on the curtains to cover the painting up again but they seemed to be stuck. Normally, Sirius would have helped him to hide his mother again.

"Begone from my house! Join the shame of my own flesh and blood, filthy creature! You have no right to contaminate my house and let it fester!" the old woman shrieked shrilly, drool dripping down her chin.

Lupin pressed his lips into a firm line, cursing Kreacher for letting Mrs. Black know that he had sent Sirius straight to his end.

"Back to the good old days! The Lord should have killed you, as well!"

Lupin gave a harsh yank and finally the curtains loosened, shielding the painting from view. Minutes later, she was back to sleep. The other paintings were easier to control and in no time, the hallway was silent once again.

On his way back to the library, Lupin wondered why Snape was still here. He knew Snape respected Dumbledore a great deal but why would he still stay when the headmaster couldn't even check whether or not Snape had really been with him the whole time? And hadn't Lupin himself told the Potions master that he would lie for him? He didn't need supervision. All he wanted was to be left in peace. He wasn't going to do anything rash, for Merlin's sake!

He might change his mind, though, if Snape stayed any longer.

"Had a lovely chat with the old hag, Lupin?" asked Snape with a smirk as the werewolf entered the library again. The dark-haired man was sitting at the desk, which was now cleaned from the books, slowly sipping at his tea. "I couldn't help overhearing, you see."

"Oh, I see, all right," said Lupin crossly as he sat down in his chair again. "You couldn't have closed the door a tad more quietly, could you? It's not as if I'm not hearing enough insults from her, you know? Do you always have to be such a bastard on purpose?"

"Have something to eat, Lupin," said Snape, calmly taking another sip.

"Oh, so you already brought your peace offerings with you?" asked Lupin sarcastically. "How considerate of you."

"Stop being such a child and at least try to act your age."

"I wouldn't have to act at all if I were left alone at the manor!"

"Is that your not so subtle idea of a hint, Lupin? If you really wanted me gone, all you would have to do is ask me nicely." Snape took another sip.

Lupin tried his best to rein in his surprise. "Well, if that's the case ... Please, Severus, would you just go and leave me alone for a while?"

Snape took another long sip. Then he sat down his cup. Then he reached for the pot and poured more tea into his cup. Then he answered, "No, I don't think so." Had it ever been so much fun winding up the werewolf? No, definitely not.

Lupin threw his hands into the air and groaned. "What have I done to deserve you?" he asked the ceiling, not expecting an answer.

"Dumbledore is worried about you."

Lupin sent the Potions master a glance out of the corner of his eye. "Did he say that? Is that the reason why he sent you?"

"I think so, yes," said Snape, sweetening his tea. "Now eat. Dumbledore will have my hide otherwise. And you're not worth a lecturing from the headmaster, Lupin."

"Oh, that's just rich!" snapped Lupin. "I'm not a child anymore! I don't need a babysitter!"

"I won't stand for that," drawled Snape. "Me a babysitter? I beg to reconsider your choice of terms."

"I won't do anything at all but kick you out," growled Lupin. "And now go. You know I've got quite a lot of patience but you're skating on thin ice currently."

"I won't go until you've eaten," said Snape calmly, making a mental note to read up on the metaphor of skating on thin ice. "And if you want to be difficult, I'll have no qualms force-feeding you. Dumbledore only told me to see to it that you ate." His sneer disappeared behind his cup of tea.

"What?" spluttered Lupin. "You can't just come here and threaten me to-"

"Watch me," smirked Snape. He drew his wand and pointed it at the werewolf faster than the other man could blink. "Locomotor Mortis!"

Lupin gasped as his legs were suddenly bound together and he found himself unable to move his lower body. "Severus! Remove that spell this instance!"

"I will remove it once you've eaten. And if I were you I would hurry a bit; the sandwiches are getting dry."

"I can't believe you," muttered Lupin. Just a few hours ago, life had been all right – well, as all right as it could be considering the circumstances. Now Lupin was left immobile with his least favourite ex-classmate who was threatening him should he not eat. He must have somehow missed the punch line of the joke that was his life.

"Better believe it, Lupin, you will not be released until you've finished. I'm not taking any chances with Dumbledore."

Lupin swept his gaze over to the calmly sipping Snape, his brown eyes narrowing. "You're afraid of him," he stated lowly. Diversion was a clever tactic, though Lupin didn't really think it would work with Snape.

"Don't be even more stupid than usually," chided the Potions master almost gently. "Now eat or I will help you. Believe me, you don't want that to happen," he added forcefully. God, how could one single person be so bloody difficult? Did it usually take half the day to get someone to eat a damn sandwich? That was absolutely ridiculous. Somehow the term 'babysitter' seemed to fit more and more.

Lupin muttered something unintelligible under his breath before he picked up one sandwich, sniffing it tentatively. It smelled good enough – though he supposed Snape would know ample taste and odourless poisons – and he took a small bite. To his surprise, it tasted not half as bad as Snape's potions would have led him to believe.

"That's not bad," mumbled Lupin around a mouthful of sandwich.

"I'm flattered and you're disgusting," sneered Snape, pushing the second cup of tea over to the werewolf. "Didn't you learn any manners at home? Or is 'don't eat entire animals at the table' already the absolute limit?" Inwardly, Snape was seething. Couldn't the bloody werewolf give a simple thank-you, if only for once? It wasn't as if Snape thrived on it, no, far from it. However, Snape didn't really have to actually cook, well prepare something to eat for Lupin. Was it too much to ask for a little bit of gratitude instead of the perpetual complaining about the taste, even if it was only indirectly this time?

Lupin closed his eyes and swallowed, putting the not even halfway finished sandwich back onto the plate. "It's unfeasible, isn't it? To have a normal conversation with you without your low remarks about my lycanthropy is not possible. But you know what? I'm tired and I don't want to think about it right now. See, I have eaten," he indicated the started sandwich. "Now take off the spell." He gave Snape a pointed look and crossed his arms over his chest.

Snape sneered and waved his wand quickly, muttering, "Finite Incantatem!"

"Thank you very much," said Lupin with a sarcastic touch to his hoarse voice, slightly squirming under the tingling sensation as the blood rushed back into his legs. "Now you are finally free to go." And not one second too late, it appeared.

Snape rose from his seat. "Until tomorrow, then," he said, giving a nod.

Lupin only groaned.

"I am looking forward to it, as well," sneered Snape, "but I am not expressing my excitement so openly."

"I would have been worried if you had," muttered Lupin, rubbing his suddenly throbbing temples. "Goodnight, Severus."

Snape pursed his lips tightly. Then he turned around and left without another word.

Chapter 3: It goes Hogwards
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3. It goes Hogwards

A/N: The chapter title is derived from a German poster title 'Es geht Hogwärts'

31st August 1996

The boy had to be around thirteen or fourteen years old. Pale and fragile-looking, small and fair-haired, curled around himself on a rug in front of a softly flickering fireplace. The pale flesh of his fingers contrasted starkly with the black silky tufts while the boy stroked the rug almost as if it were his pet. He appeared to be lost in thought, gazing unseeingly into the flames.

Why the boy would want to lie on the floor, however, was a puzzling thought since the room's expanses were enormous and there were countless better and more comfortable resting facilities for such a delicate child.

Vis-à-vis the hearth was a large four-poster, draped with heavy jade velvet hangings. Dozens of pillows in various hues of blue and green and different sizes lay in fashionable order on top of a richly embroidered comforter. To the left there were an elegant leather sofa, which looked like it hadn't been used very often, and several armchairs. On the right side, just next to the large windows that stretched to the ceiling, was a finely carved writing desk, impeccably tidy, with a high-backed desk chair.

The whole room, though obviously housing a child, didn't appear to belong to one. It rather seemed as if the boy was merely playing in his older brother's chamber.

The wall, which held the fireplace, was lined with huge shelves, providing space for hundreds of books, small figures of carved dragons and several magical items, outing the boy to be a wizard.

"Draco?" asked a cool feminine voice, startling the boy out of his quiet musings. "You have a guest who wishes to see you. I shall leave you two alone."

The pale boy named Draco quickly sat up from his reclined position, wincing ever so slightly at the abrupt movement, and cast a glance to his right, where the door was just swinging shut again. His breathing hitched before he willed himself to stay in control.

"Stay where you are," said a new, albeit just as cool as the first, voice. "Comfortable, isn't it?"

Draco swallowed and looked up at the figure of his visitor. Chills raced through his body as he took in the skeletal frame, the sallow skin and the skull-like head. He was forcibly reminded of a Dementor, though he knew that the Dark Lord had more life in him than those ungodly, soulless creatures.

"Yes, it most certainly is," the boy answered, threading his fingers through the thick rug. "Thank you."

1st September 1996

The train station at King's Cross, London, was full of busy and hectic people on this Sunday morning. Tourists, seniors and commuters alike scuttled around the station.

Harry Potter sighed while pushing his trolley in the direction of the divider between platform nine and ten. He didn't really look forward to the magical world this year. After the whole ordeal with Dolores Umbridge, their latest teacher for Defence Against the Dark Arts, and her campaign to let Harry look like a lying brat, when all he told was the truth about Voldemort's return, had left him thoroughly spent. At the end of his fifth year, though, everything had been cleared up and everyone knew now that he had been telling the truth.

Harry snorted. In the end, that didn't really matter. Now everyone would worship him even more and his fan club would acquire hundreds of new members. No, he didn't need that. He only wanted to discreetly make it through his sixth year.

Especially since he now knew what it meant to be a 'star' – unlike his experiences with being famous in the Wizarding World. What it meant to be a star. Or rather a criminal. His uncle had been recording every step Harry made in his house, like in some kind of twisted real life soap. The Harry Show.

'It sucks to be me,' he thought dully.

Pushing the trolley with his trunk and Hedwig's cage through the barrier leading to platform nine and three quarters, Harry tensed immediately, ducking his head out of sheer habit.

He had entered the magical world, where every child knew his name – not to forget his face. There were dozens of families, all dressed in different kinds of robes, seeing their children to the train, mothers crying, fathers being proud, girls clinging to their parents and boys looking excited. It was so clichéd. Harry shook his head and heaved his trunk and the cage from his trolley to board the bright red Hogwarts Express.

"Don't forget to owl every other week," Harry heard a clearly distressed mother sob. It had to be the first year for her child. "And don't get into trouble, you hear me, young lady?"

"No, mom," the girl said exasperatedly. "I'll be a good girl, I promise!"

Harry climbed onto the train, setting the trunk down every few steps. A few metres in front of him, he recognised Millicent Bulstrode, a Slytherin student in his year, as she transported her own heavy trunk with ease. She was built like a bull and she was strong as one, too.

Harry couldn't help wondering whether every student in Slytherin resembled some kind of animal. As far as he knew, they did. Millicent was a bull, Pansy Parkinson looked like a pug, Draco Malfoy, Harry's favourite enemy, was an annoying ferret, Marcus Flint couldn't be anything but a troll – animal, magical creature, there wasn't much difference , Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle were gorillas, Snape, the Head of Slytherin House , was a bat. And Tom Riddle was a snake. It was like in a zoo, Harry mused. He laughed quietly. The Dursleys would have ended in Slytherin, as well, then, had they been magical. Uncle Vernon as a walrus, Aunt Petunia as a horse, and Dudley as a pig.

Harry's arms started to ache, so he decided to go into the first empty compartment he'd find. After the third try, he was lucky – not entirely, but it was everything he was prepared to endure.

Luna Lovegood, a fifth year Ravenclaw, was scratching her chin with the tip of her wand as her other hand held the newest copy of the Quibbler for her to read – upside down, as was her habit. Her huge pale eyes didn't even seem to blink as Harry watched her with a faint frown.

"Hi, Luna," he greeted her. "Mind if I sit with you? Ron and Hermione aren't here yet so I thought-"

"I don't mind," the girl interrupted Harry with an exaggerated sigh. Her eyes focused a moment on his face, before she disappeared behind her magazine again.

Harry's frown intensified. "Thanks," he said quietly, hauling his trunk onto the luggage rack. He panted, wiping the sweat from his forehead. Then he put the cage beside the trunk, thinking that at least Hedwig wouldn't be forced to travel nearly ten hours in the train, and feeling a bit envious.

Harry Potter envied his own pet owl. He could just see the next headline.

Shrugging these thoughts off - Rita Skeeter, the journalist for the Daily Prophet, would hopefully not make any more problems - Harry plopped down into the seat next to the window, watching children and teenagers say goodbye to their family. They wouldn't see each other at least until Christmas, maybe even until the end of the school year.

Harry kept a lookout for his two best friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. After he'd received the Hogwarts owl with the results of his OWLs, he couldn't stop wondering how his friends had fared. Hermione, naturally, would have gotten an even better result. Harry wondered whether Ron was better than him or not ...

The watch told him it was already ten to eleven a.m., and the train departed at eleven o'clock sharp. The last two months he hadn't seen his friends at all, which was something new. Normally, he and Hermione would spend part of his holidays at Ron's home, the Burrow, or, like last year, they would stay at-

"Minister Fudge is going to be fired," Luna said suddenly, ripping Harry out of his thoughts. She seemed very surprised by her own exclamation, judging by the look in her eyes. She stuck the wand into her hair – Harry thought it would never stay there – and nodded her head.

"Really?" asked Harry, surprised. He couldn't say he was sorry to hear that. If it wasn't for Fudge, the world would have known ages earlier that the Second War had begun, and maybe Harry's godfather Sirius would be still alive. "How do you know?"

"My father told me."

Harry sobered instantly. "Ah," he said blankly. Luna's father, the editor of the Quibbler, wasn't exactly known for his reliability.

"He wrote a fantastic article – 'Truth be Told'. Do you want to read it?" Luna turned the magazine around and held out her hand. "Everything about Fudge's little misdeeds, You-Know-Who's sinister future plans and the dark centaury secrets of the new Divination teacher."

Harry was rescued as the compartment door suddenly slid open, and Hermione and Ron walked in, both of them carrying their pets. Crookshanks hissed and struggled in Hermione's arms, and Pigwidgeon hooted shrilly in his small cage.

"Hello, Harry," greeted Hermione softly, forcing a smile. "Luna."

Ron threw a dirty look at Hermione, then he grinned exaggeratedly at Harry. He plopped down next to him, slung his arm around his shoulder and said, "Hi, mate! How were your holidays? Better than mine, I hope!" He glared again at Hermione.

"Hi, Luna," he added quickly, remembering his manners.

Luna merely nodded at them, turned the magazine around again and went back to reading.

"Hi, guys," Harry said uncertainly, eyeing his two friends who were acting a bit odd. "Anything the matter?"

"No!" answered Hermione quickly.

"No," repeated Ron snidely, digging his fingers into Harry's shoulder, and making the smaller boy wince. "Everything's dandy."

Hermione sighed and put Crookshanks onto an empty seat opposite of Ron. She went out into the corridor and pulled in her trunk.

Ron looked pointedly out of the window.

Harry frowned at that. Usually, Ron would help their female friend carry the heavy trunk. He made a mental note to delve into that particular subject at a later time. As he made to stand to help Hermione, Ron gripped his shoulder tighter and pulled him back down.

"Oh, don't bother," he said in a tone of voice that made even Luna look over the edge of her magazine. "Hermione doesn't need any help, does she?" He scowled in her direction, not waiting for an answer. "She's old enough to carry her own trunk, isn't she? She's old enough to know when things are too heavy for her, isn't she?"

Hermione tried to keep her face blank, pressing her lips together, though it was clear to see for Harry that she was hurt because of Ron's words.

"I'll manage," she said and lifted the trunk half a metre. After a second she let it down again with a huff and pushed it to the side next to the door, so that it wouldn't disturb anyone. She cast a quick glance outside where Ron's trunk was still in the way but oddly enough, she didn't say anything.

"When is the prefect meeting starting?" asked Harry, trying to find a neutral topic for the time being. He didn't want to discuss anything in front of Luna. Something was clearly going on between his two best friends, and even if he didn't know yet, he wanted to find out what. He needed his friends in order to survive the school year and he didn't want it ruined because of their adolescent bickering. A thought flashed through Harry's mind, and he wondered whether the two of them had something going on over the holidays, or whether they were still together and had some kind of lover's spat. Harry only hoped it would be over quickly. Ron had had this crush on Hermione for the longest time, and shortly before the holidays, Harry had advised Ron to finally tell her when she was coming over to the Burrow to stay for a few weeks.

"In a few minutes, Harry," said Hermione, twisting her fingers uncertainly.

Ron said nothing, calming down his unruly minute owl, while he himself seemed oddly strained.

"Well," said Harry, trying to break the uneasy silence.

"Too two to," said Luna, holding the magazine in front of her eyes. She stretched her arms slowly, watching closely as the picture grew smaller and smaller. "Hmm. Definitely two."

Hermione cast a glance at the page. "It's a L, Luna. You've got the magazine the wrong way," she said absentmindedly.

Luna lowered the Quibbler and narrowed her pale brows at the other girl. "It's a two. I'm two. You two are two," she said, looking at Harry and Ron and then back at Hermione, "and you are, too. Definitely two."

Harry had never before witnessed how fast the colour could spread on Ron's face. In a matter of milliseconds, he glowed an unhealthy purple, clashing horribly with his red hair. Harry wanted to just let the strange comment slide but Ron had other plans. Obviously, whatever had been bubbling away in him the last minutes had just boiled over.

He jumped to his feet, clenching shaking fists at his side. "How could you!" he yelled at Hermione, who flinched harshly as her eyes grew wide. "You said you didn't! Oh, I'm going to KILL him! You hear me? I'm going to KILL HIM and I don't care that he's- That's just bloody IMPOSSIBLE!"

"Whoa, Ron!" cried Harry, gripping his friend's arm to cool him down. "You're not making sense, mate, come on-"

But Ron was having none of it. "I am not making sense?" he yelled. "I AM NOT MAKING SENSE! She- She is the one who doesn't make any sense anymore, dammit!"

"Ron, please," said Hermione urgently. "Please, don't make a scene! You know I didn't do-"

"Oh, but I do know!" screamed Ron, pointing at the blonde Ravenclaw. "Luna just said it! You're too, Hermione!"

Luna blinked in confusion.

"Do you even hear yourself talking? It's Luna! The same Luna who's hunting for Nessie over the holidays!" snapped Hermione.

Luna's confusion turned to indignation.

"Ron, calm down," Harry said again, hoping that they wouldn't draw attention. "It's no use to scream like that."

Something seemed to have broken through Ron's thick skull because he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. His hands clenched tighter, though. "How could you, Hermione?"

Harry looked from a distinctly angry Hermione over to a tightly controlled Ron. There was a betrayed look in his eyes that made Harry ask his next question without thinking, "What did she do?"

"She's pregnant!" spat Ron.

Harry stopped breathing. He vaguely registered that Luna's magazine dropped to the floor and that Hermione went awfully still. His mind needed a few moments to wrap itself around the words. Then he decided that he must have gotten something wrong.

Hermione was not pregnant. Hermione could not be pregnant because she was, well, she was Hermione. And things like that did not happen to girls like her.

"Ron, you idiot," whispered Hermione faintly, tears building in her eyes as she turned around and fled from the compartment.

Harry stared at the spot where Hermione had been standing only a second ago before he turned around to his other friend, confusion prominent on his mind.

"Don't!" said Ron hoarsely and held up his hand before Harry could say anything. "Just ... don't. I need to get to the meeting. See you later, then." He didn't meet Harry's eyes as he quickly put his trunk away and left the compartment.

The click when Ron slid the door shut echoed strangely loud in Harry's ears. He had wanted to spent some time with his friends after the horrible last year, after he had spent his entire holidays at the Dursleys, but what did he get? They had their own problems. He knew he shouldn't be surprised but it still left him hollow. Harry didn't need any more problems, he had enough on his mind as it was.

"Hmm," said Luna slowly, bending down to pick up her magazine. "Pregnant," she snorted. "How stupid."

"Don't talk that way about her," Harry snapped immediately. Even if he felt a bit put out at the moment, that didn't mean that he'd allow others to badmouth his friends.

Luna lifted her pale gaze to hold Harry's own. "Ron is stupid," she clarified, which didn't help Harry much but he couldn't deny the truth. Ron was stupid quite often. "I said 'two' not 'she is pregnant', didn't I?"

"He's got too much of a temper at times," said Harry wearily, leaning back into his seat. "He must have jumped to some sort of conclusions and your words just served as the trigger. At least, that's what I think." He just wished he knew why something so trivial caused such an eruption. Or why he could even think ...

Luna nodded in understanding.

Harry didn't really want to know what she thought. "What did you mean with 'two', anyway?"

Luna leafed through the magazine and showed Harry a colourful page. Lines grew and snaked like vines and created a beautiful image. It was like a picture riddle or just a picture one looked at to relax. Harry had to admit that it looked like a two.

"May I?" he asked, and at Luna's nod, he took the magazine and turned it around. Now it looked like an ornamental L. Harry read the words above the picture. "Divine your Destiny Day."

"It shows you which day is the most productive," Luna explained, gaze zooming out. "Before you arrived, the picture showed something else, though it flickered to two every few moments. Ravenclaws tend to be productive on every day of the week, you know? I do have an emphasis on two, though. Ron and Hermione, too. And you, Harry. Two is Tuesday of course because Sunday doesn't count as the first here, and Tuesday is the day for braveness, success, problems with violence, and competitors."

Harry was gob-smacked. Was this some kind of horoscope? And he had thought the Quibbler couldn't sink any lower. With this kind of crap, it was no wonder that Trelawney, the insect-eyed Divination teacher, was the laughing stock at Hogwarts.

And Tuesday was the day for braveness, success, problems with violence, and competitors? Was every day Tuesday, then? For Harry couldn't see a real difference to Mondays, Fridays or even Sundays there.

It was twenty minutes later that the compartment door slid open again. Ron and Hermione couldn't be back yet, and somehow Harry doubted that they would come back so soon anyway. Harry looked up from the book he'd been pretending to read and schooled his features into indifference. He didn't really know why he even bothered to pray that Draco Malfoy and his cronies Crabbe and Goyle would let him in peace.

"Look who we've got here," drawled Malfoy over his shoulder. "The Boy-Who-Lived-And-Lived-And-You-Get-The-Picture and his new girlfriend."

Harry merely got halfway through his obligatory "Shut up, Malfoy" before Luna let out a shriek of laughter, doubling over and holding her belly. Tears of mirth were running down her cheeks and she was howling as if she just heard the best joke of her life.

"Girlfriend," she gasped. "Girlfriend! That was funny!"

"Easy to entertain, is she?" Malfoy smirked, and Harry scowled in his direction. "What a perfect match." Crabbe and Goyle snickered as if on cue.

"What do you want, Malfoy?" growled Harry. "Don't you have to terrorize the first years?"

He fought not to blush because of the amorous innuendo. He didn't have a girlfriend, never had had one actually. The thought of him and a girlfriend was nothing he was used to, and the thought of him and Luna as a couple was more than a little dreadful. How could he, in times of war, spare a relationship even a passing thought? He needed all his energy to stay alive and stop the murderer who was out for his neck. After Voldemort's defeat he'd have plenty of time for love. But not now, not yet.

"Oh!" Malfoy blinked in mock-surprise. "You're no first year, then? Could have fooled me, dwarfy." Crabbe and Goyle snickered again.

Harry clenched his fists tightly, fighting hard not to jump to his feet and throttle the other boy. Only Draco Malfoy had this uncanny effect on him because normally Harry wasn't prone to violence. "Look who's talking, Mr.–I-can't-even-reach-my-highest-drawer-without-a-stepladder! I'm at least five centimetres bigger than you!" Which wasn't that much, but how could the pot dare to call the cauldron black?

"I'm impressed," said Malfoy in a bored tone. "That explains at last why you're walking so funny. And I was almost concerned you've got something with your back."

Harry frowned for a second before he flushed a bright purple to the roots of his hair. Luna pressed her hands to her mouth, stifling her shrieking laughter. She seemed to find the situation entirely too hilarious. Harry couldn't help but disagree.

"Size is not always an advantage, though." Malfoy's features morphed into a smug smirk, causing Harry to worry. The blond shook his head slowly, arms akimbo. "Air resistance is a peculiar thing, Potter. The smaller the body, the faster one is able to fly on a, say, broomstick," he drawled.

"That didn't help you in previous years, did it?" Harry couldn't help pointing out. Malfoy hadn't been able to win even once in all their flying matches, and Harry was proud of that. Quidditch, the most popular Wizarding sport, was also Harry's favourite, and he was very good at it.

"It will in the ones to come, though," said Malfoy, his pale eyes flashing an icy silver, "for you won't be an issue any more."

"What? What are you on about now, Malfoy?" Harry didn't like the haughty look one bit. The arrogant snob always behaved as if he knew something you didn't; and it was true most of the time. It was correct that Umbridge had cast a lifetime ban from Quidditch on him, but Harry was convinced that this problem would be solved soon enough. He had been convinced, at least.

"Ah, but I wouldn't want to spoil the suspense, now would I? No, I don't think so." Malfoy smirked, giving a mocking wave. "Well, see you around, Potter. Oh, and before I forget: After last year, I thought you had learned your lesson. If you lie at Hogwarts again, I'll be taking points – one for each centimetre. Lying," he snorted, "such a nasty habit." This time, only Crabbe and Goyle chortled.

Harry just glared at the blond, willing the colour out of his face. Why did it have to be him? Why did Malfoy have to be such a prat? Why couldn't the idiot just go up in smoke and leave him the hell alone? Those were all very justified questions; not easily answered but justified. Harry was abruptly ripped out of his thoughts when Luna spoke up, all dreamlike quality absent for once.

"You've got blood on your hands," she said, blinking her huge eyes at Malfoy. "Why would you have blood on your hands?"

Harry's eyes snapped to Malfoy's hands and indeed, there were half-dried traces of a crimson substance staining his fingers. Harry rose from his seat and took a step towards Malfoy, but Crabbe and Goyle immediately blocked his way, moving in front of the smaller boy.

Malfoy glanced at his hands, blanching considerably at the sight. He ripped out his wand and cast several Scourgify Charms on both his hands so quickly, Harry hadn't even time to form a thought, let alone a sentence.

"What have you done, Malfoy?" Harry asked then, repressing the unexplainable shiver that raced down his spine. It were two different things to believe that someone was evil and to have that someone clean blood from their hands before your very eyes. It made it all the more real, but somehow, no matter how much he hated Malfoy and wanted him gone, Harry didn't want it to be that real.

Malfoy's father was a Death Eater, yes. Harry got Malfoy's father into prison, yes. Malfoy had sworn revenge, yes.

It hadn't been real; it had only been words.

And words had long lost their ability to hurt him – when the letters didn't spell 'Crucio', that was.

Malfoy pushed his hands into his robes – Harry couldn't help thinking that he tried to hide their shaking – and scowled heavily. He seemed to need a few moments to collect himself but when he spoke again, his voice didn't lack the usual scorn. "Not that it's any of your business, my goodie boy, but I don't want to have it on my conscience that I prevented you from your direly needed beauty sleep. I didn't do anything illegal, I assure you." Malfoy turned around to leave.

Harry wasn't consoled so easily, though. "Are you mad, Malfoy!" snapped Harry, causing the blond to turn back around with a frown marring his pale brows. "You didn't do anything illegal? That's it? That was blood!"

"Never said it was," said Malfoy coldly.

"Why would you have reacted that way, then?"

"You cast the Scourgify with enough force to scald away the first couple of skin layers," said Luna. "That must hurt an awful lot, I'd imagine."

Harry couldn't help the tiny bit of concern popping out of nowhere. What had Malfoy done to want to erase the traces in such a rash manner?

"That's everything you do, Loony," snapped Malfoy. "Imagining things when there isn't anything to see!" He pulled out his hands from the robe and thrust them forwards. "There! Nothing red, no blisters! There isn't any blood, there wasn't any blood! And I didn't Scourgify anything!"

Harry frowned. The hands were pale and there seemed to be nothing wrong with them. Luna, though, said that they had to be red, and Luna, being a Ravenclaw, had to know what she said. She was, in her own way, nearly as intelligent as Hermione. "How-"

"I didn't do anything, Potter, better keep that in mind," snarled Malfoy icily. "And you, as well, Lovegood. I'd hate to give out more detentions than necessary because you can't keep your filthy mouths from lying." Crabbe and Goyle cracked their joints menacingly.

"Your threats don't work-" Harry started to say but he was cut off abruptly when Malfoy's wand dug into his throat. His eyes widened. When had Malfoy gotten so fast? He hadn't even seen him moving!

"Malfoy ..." he said warningly. "Don't do anything stupid."

Grey eyes clouded over in unreadable emotion, then Malfoy blinked and it was over again so quickly Harry was left wondering if he had only imagined it. "You're the one who should be concerned about stupidity, don't you think, Potter?" he hissed into the dark-haired boy's face. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw that Crabbe and Goyle shielded Luna. "If you don't learn – quickly – when it's time to speak up and when it's impudent to do so ... Well, then a little lie will be the least of your problems. Don't be arrogant but take this little advice from a - friend."

They arrived in Hogsmeade around ten o'clock in the evening. The train drove into the station and the students went to dismount. Hagrid, Harry's half-giant friend, was calling the first years over to the boats to cross the sea.

Harry pulled his robes tighter around himself and made his way over to the carriages that brought the older students to Hogwarts.

Hermione and Ron had stopped by in the compartment once, separately. It had been very tense, though Harry knew why they didn't try to discuss anything in front of Luna. He just wished Ron wouldn't have started anything at all.

Harry cast glances to his sides. Ron was walking on his right side and Hermione followed at a short distance on his left. He needed to get to the bottom of the problem, quickly. Somehow, after Malfoy's little warning, Harry felt that he would need his friends more than he had thought he would.

They got into a carriage, the atmosphere strained. Harry was just about to ask Hermione something as Neville Longbottom, another fellow Gryffindor, enquired timidly whether they had still room for him.

"Sure, Neville," said Harry, forcing a smile but feeling that it looked rather like a grimace. It wasn't meant to be. "How were your holidays?" he asked, not because he was eager to know, but because he felt he owed it to his friend not to let his anger and frustration out on him. Last year, Harry had let his irritation get the better of him in Dumbledore's office. He had screamed and ranted and blamed the headmaster and Snape for Sirius' death. It hadn't done him any good, though.

"Great, great," Neville said, rather nervously. "Um, me and my gran went to, um, Cornwall." He sat down, eyeing Ron and Hermione unsure. "What did you do?"

Ron didn't even bother to look up. Hermione mumbled something incomprehensible but shot Neville an apologetic smile.

"What about you, Harry?" asked Neville. It wasn't clear whether he asked because he truly wanted to know or because he thought it proper.

"Nothing exciting," Harry answered with a shrug. "For that I'm grateful."

Neville nodded and kept silent for the rest of the ride.

Harry exited the carriage after Neville as they arrived at Hogwarts. The castle was impressive as always with its dozens of turrets and huge windows. Neville glanced at the carriages to the right, and Harry followed his gaze. There were the Thestrals that had pulled the carriages. Only since last year had Harry been able to see them for they were only visible to those who had seen someone die.

Harry blocked those dark thoughts quickly. It was the start of his second to last school year, there would be a feast and he was hungry. Even if he didn't want to feel high-spirited, he did not want to be nothing but gloomy either.

Hermione was now ahead of them, hurrying into the castle, and Ron cursed under his breath. Harry was just about to ask whether the redhead wanted to tell him something as he caught sight of something peculiar.

Draco Malfoy made his way to the castle alone, which was odd in itself, but he kept his head down, as well. It looked almost as if he followed some path that was visible only to his eyes.

Harry frowned. The Slytherin was acting more than funny this year. At first he made fun of him, then he had blood on his hands but denied it vehemently, and then he threatened him and Luna to keep quiet about it. However, the funniest thing was that Malfoy's last remark could almost be considered a well-meant suggestion. Something was not right.

Suddenly Malfoy raised his head, although Harry thought it seemed rather reluctantly, as if the boy knew he shouldn't do this but his curiosity forced him nevertheless, and risked a quick glance to the right. In the direction of the carriages. Malfoy's head jerked back down again.

Harry's frown deepened. Something was definitely not right. And he had the uneasy feeling that he could tell what it was.



Chapter 4: Which Witch Is Dead?
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Beta-reader: Meghan

4. Which Witch is Dead?

:-:

1st September 1996

Despite the fact that Harry knew that the Second War had begun, he was unnerved to realise just how much had changed. The Welcoming Feast for the students was not as boisterous and lively as it had been in the five years Harry had been at the school. The professors, especially Dumbledore and Snape, and even most of the students were looking strained. Harry felt a bit deprived and bitter at that. He was going to have to kill Voldemort, after all. Didn't they all count on him? Now that they weren't convinced he was lying? Now that they didn't believe him to be Salazar Slytherin's heir? Now that he was ready to be their bloody hero?

Harry sighed moodily and vigorously attacked his dinner, showing no mercy for his mashed potatoes. Dumbledore's welcoming speech had been postponed until after the feast, and that concerned Harry. He didn't want to worry more than absolutely necessary, but he knew that whatever the Headmaster had to say had to be important. Harry just hoped that the information was indeed informative – not like the riddles he was used to hearing.

Over at the Slytherin table, Malfoy's cronies Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber were stuffing themselves with food faster than even Ron managed on his best days. The sight was somehow reassuring, as if everything was normal, which it wasn't. Only a quick glance at the Head table confirmed that the Headmaster wasn't his usual Tweedledumbledore self. Most disconcerting, that was, for even in the most serious of situations, Dumbledore had always managed to retain a small smile so far.

Now his lips were drawn into a tight frown.

Ron sat at Harry's left and Hermione at his right side. Both were more playing around with their food than actually eating – which was in Ron's case more than worrisome. They hadn't spoken a word, though it did not stand out drastically. Everyone was either quiet or talking in hushed voices. Even Seamus Finnigan, the over energetic Irish boy, was eating his dinner in silence for once.

After everyone had finished eating, the plates and goblets vanished and Dumbledore rose to his feet. Everyone's attention was on the Headmaster; the Hufflepuffs were worried, the Ravenclaws as well, the Gryffindors were tense and the Slytherins were either concealing their emotions very well or they just didn't care for what happened around them.

"May I have your attention now please?" asked Dumbledore, even though everybody was quiet and fixed on him already. "As you may have noticed, times are changing drastically – for the worse I'm afraid. Although it has been refused to be acknowledged time and time again by the Ministry, we are at war. Voldemort," he ignored the collective gasp and went on in a firm voice, "is back. It saddens me that Minister Fudge didn't deem it-"

"Fudge only did what had to be done!" cried a Slytherin student. "Everyone knows that Potter's a fruit cake!"

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled sadly as he glanced in Harry's general direction but didn't make eye contact. Harry was reminded of his last year, and was thankful for the headmaster's insight. He didn't want to feel Voldemort's anger surging through his body when he had enough of his own to keep him going.

"I will not take any points from Slytherin for that outburst, Mr. Pucey, for that is exactly what I'm trying to show you. Last year should have taught you all a lesson. In dark times we only have a chance when standing united. Minister Fudge, for his own very logical reasons, I'm sure, tried to split this school up. You all have your free minds and wills – this is no tyranny – but we have one common enemy. If we fall apart, Voldemort will win."

"You-Know-Who isn't even back!" yelled another Slytherin student. "Potter just wanted to be in the middle of attention again, I'm sure!" He threw a nasty glare in the direction of the Boy-Who-Lived and smirked.

"The Ministry confirmed You-Know-Who's return, though!" exclaimed a Ravenclaw girl loudly. "The Minister admitted he was wrong and-"

"Dumbledore blackmailed him!"

"That's nonsense! The Minster was wrong!"

"That's enough," interrupted the Headmaster firmly before the screaming match escalated. "Voldemort is indeed back and-"

"Prove it!"

Dumbledore's eyes took on a cold glint as he surveyed the whole hall, coming to a rest on the Slytherin table. He now very much looked like the only wizard Voldemort feared. Harry suppressed a shiver of dread.

"Voldemort is a murderer," were the Headmaster's only words.

Harry ignored the gasps and groans all around him as his mind zoomed in on the word 'murderer'. Did that mean what he feared it meant? Had he done it again? Had he killed someone? Like his parents? Like Cedric Diggory? Like-

Before Harry was able to finish his train of thought, red flashed before his eyes, and he closed his lids tightly. Pain hot like fire lanced through his head, and he suppressed a moan, digging his nails into his palms to distract himself. As Dumbledore spoke his next words, Harry was able to mouth it in synch.

"Professor Trelawney won't return to Hogwarts."

:-:

It was on his way to Gryffindor Tower, Ron and Hermione leading the first years, that Harry felt a hand on his shoulder, stopping him short in his tracks.

His mind had been raging, thoughts about Voldemort's newest victim and Ron and Hermione's quarrel twirling around in his mind and fighting for dominance – Trelawney won.

Harry had, mere instants before Dumbledore had said it aloud, remembered his vision. It had been the first of August when he had woken up, sweaty and panting, the pictures still fresh in his head, but now he had been able to discern the woman's identity. Had he seen it before the incident had happened, though, or had Harry merely watched some past action? Could he have prevented his teacher's death? Shouldn't he have written down his dream instantly? Shouldn't he have immediately written a report to Dumbledore even though the headmaster had forbidden him to send letters? Wasn't it his duty as the Golden Boy to rescue every soul?

A bitter feeling of something terribly akin to guilt blossomed in the pit of his stomach, spreading in every direction. Harry knew it was irrational but he couldn't do anything against it. It had been true, after all, Voldemort's vision. Maybe he could have saved Trelawney; he had had the information.

He had merely forgotten. How trivial.

"Harry?" penetrated Luna's airy voice his stupor and she pulled her hand back from his shoulder. "I've got something for you."

"Hmm?" he asked intelligently, turning around to face the younger girl.

She was digging in her pocket, then her pale eyes lit up as she pulled out a small test tube, filled with pieces of black fabric. Holding it out for Harry to take, Luna looked around to make sure no one saw them. Harry had lingered behind a bit, so they were alone.

"What's that?" asked Harry with a frown as he squinted at the tube, shaking it a bit and watching the fabric move. "Looks like part of a robe..."

"It is," Luna said in a hushed voice. "I got it when Crabbe and Goyle weren't looking." She sighed, shaking her head, which caused her butterbeer corks necklace to jangle. "Not very observant those two. Oh well, the better for me."

"Luna?" Harry gave her a pointed look. "Would you mind hurrying up a bit? I'm tired." He didn't really know what she was up to, and frankly, he wasn't sure he wanted to know why she was collecting cloth and then giving it to him.

"It's part of Malfoy's robe," Luna said in a conspiratorial whisper. "He had his hands on his hips before the blood appeared on his fingers."

Harry's eyes grew wide, then they snapped down to the tube in his hands. "I can see the blood," he said in a hushed tone, squinting his eyes.

"I used an Identifying Charm on it."

Harry's attention was back to Luna in a matter of milliseconds. Had she really been able to steal part of Malfoy's robe, with nobody noticing anything, cast a terribly advanced charm – even for Hermione's standards – and give it to Harry? She was a Ravenclaw and in the last year she had proved her bravery, but this was more than Harry would have thought she'd do on her own.

"What is it?" he asked quickly. "Was it an animal or anything? Or was it... human blood?" His voice sounded a bit hesitant at the end.

"Definitely human," said Luna. "And after I used a Personality Charm, I can even tell you whose."

"You're really giving Hermione a run for her money," said Harry with a shake of his head. He didn't want to know whose blood it was, not really, though he needed to know it anyway. Malfoy could have hurt – could have done something worse to – someone. "Whose blood is it, then?"

"Malfoy's own," was the surprising answer. Luna looked over her shoulder, then back at Harry. "I have to go now. I only wanted to tell you that whatever Malfoy's done, he didn't kill anyone. Good night. Good girls were required to be snuggled into bed and sound asleep at this time."

"Night," mumbled Harry, confused, watching with unseeing eyes as Luna turned around and vanished into the dark of the corridor.

What did that mean? Why had Malfoy his own blood on his robes? Why had he flipped out like that when they questioned him even though he hadn't done anything illegal – if that was true at all?

It was all very frustrating and overpowering for Harry. It was only his first day back at Hogwarts and yet he already had more riddles to solve than the whole of last year, at least it felt that way.

Harry shook his head and turned around, intent on finally heading to Gryffindor Tower to get a good night's rest. Tomorrow morning, before breakfast and Herbology – his first lesson according to his timetable - would be time enough to talk to Ron and Hermione. Harry just relaxed and rubbed his eyes, stuffing the test tube into his pocket when-

"Out after curfew the very first day, Potter?" asked a cold, familiar voice. "That will be five points from Gryffindor. The first day and already in the negative. Are you out for a new record?"

"Professor," said Harry, repressing a groan at the sight of his least favourite Potions master. He could have lived without seeing Snape any sooner than Tuesday, where he would have his first double Potions class. It was still a wonder to him how he'd managed to get into Snape's NEWTs class, which he needed to pass to become an Auror, but Harry didn't want to press his luck by asking stupid questions. "I was just on my way to the Tower."

Snape sneered down at him. "If you find yourself able to do so, please refrain from making detours in the future, Potter. It is dangerous enough as it is, or are you keen on ending like Trelawney?"

"I didn't mean to-" started Harry indignantly. It wasn't as if he was trying to get himself killed on purpose! Snape made it sound as if he was taking a walk and laughing at the teachers for worrying about him – even though one surely couldn't speak of 'worrying' in Snape's case.

"Of course not," drawled Snape, cutting the boy off mid-sentence. "Now come along, Potter. I don't have the whole night. And even if I had, I wouldn't waste my time with you." He grabbed Harry's shoulder in a firm grip and steered him around.

"But that's the wrong way to-"

"How observant of you, Potter," sneered Snape. "I'm not going to escort you to your dormitory to tuck you in! You're going to have a little chat with the Headmaster. And now hurry up, boy, you wasted enough time already because I had to search for you."

Harry was being more or less pushed to the Headmaster's office and his shoulder started to hurt from the bony fingers digging into him. "Would you please keep your hands off me, sir?" he asked forcefully.

Snape let go without another word.

:-:

A few minutes later, Harry was sitting in front of Dumbledore in his office. A soft fire flickered in the hearth, making the instruments clustered around the office gleam silver. Fawkes, the Headmaster's phoenix, sat perched on its roost, trilling softly. Goosebumps rose on Harry's neck as he felt how Snape came to stand behind him, bracing himself on the sides of his chair.

"How were your holidays, Harry?" asked Dumbledore with a gentle smile, fixing his gaze somewhere over the boy's shoulder so that Harry was led to believe that Dumbledore rather spoke with Snape.

"Fine," Harry said curtly, not out of disrespect but because he was anxious to get to the reason for his visit with the headmaster. "Why did you want to speak with me? Is it about Professor..." He stopped short, collecting his thoughts. For one reason or another, Harry was compelled to talk to the Headmaster about what he'd seen during the holidays. Whether because Dumbledore was the first person in over two months who wanted to talk to him or because he couldn't keep it to himself a moment longer, he wasn't sure. He didn't really know how to put it, but he had to tell Dumbledore about the vision he'd had.

"I saw it," he said softly, feeling Snape tense behind him.

"What did you see, Harry?"

"I-I had a vision, during the holidays..." Harry fiddled with his fingers in his lap. "After my birthday."

"What a nice present from the Dark Lord," Snape said sardonically.

"Severus, please," said Dumbledore. "Go on, Harry. What exactly did you see?"

"He was-"

"Who was?" snapped Snape. "You will have to clarify things a bit if you want us to actually follow your explanation."

"Voldemort," said Harry, revelling in the flinch he felt. Snape let go of the chair. "He was in some kind of cellar, I think, with straw..." Harry frowned as he tried to remember everything as clearly as possible. "There was fire, and I thought Professor Trelawney had red hair, but it was only a trick of the flames... There were pieces of glass around her... I thought they were tears but now I know that it was her necklaces... She couldn't move, on the floor, I couldn't see why, but I think Voldemort restrained her movement using magic... He used-" Harry's breath hitched as he realised the most important part. "Voldemort knows," he breathed. "He knows everything about the Prophecy. Oh no..."

"Don't worry, Harry, we gathered as much."

"Don't worry!" Harry cried. "Now Voldemort knows! That was our only advantage!"

"I like to think that we have a bit more up our sleeves," said Dumbledore. "And Voldemort was bound to find out about the Prophecy sooner or later, in any case."

"Tough for Trelawney, though, isn't it?" snapped Harry. He hadn't thought it would be so hard to control his anger when he had made his resolve to save it all for the final confrontation with Voldemort, but now he felt the heat boiling inside him at the Headmaster's words. 'Voldemort was bound to find out.' Bad luck for Trelawney that he hadn't already known, then. She could have lived.

"Potter!" snarled Snape. "Watch your mouth!"

Harry twisted around in his chair and glared up at the towering Potions master. "What? It's true! If Voldemort was 'bound to find out' we could have just told him, and save him the troubles of killing Trelawney!"

Snape bared his teeth and started to snarl his response when Dumbledore interrupted them. "I apologise for the bad choice of my words, Harry. I didn't mean it that way."

"Much good that it does her," muttered Harry, righting himself in his seat.

Dumbledore sighed tiredly, rubbing the bridge of his crooked nose behind his spectacles. "It was to be expected, Harry," he said as gently as he could. "The Second War is only about to start in earnest, and Professor Trelawney is most likely to be only the first casualty. Voldemort is now in the open, and he won't lurk around in the shadows anymore. He is feared, and he counts on that."

"Great," said Harry numbly because he didn't know what else he should say. He silently wondered how many 'casualties' there would be in the next weeks, months – until he was able to kill Voldemort and end his pitiful life for good.

"Harry? Why didn't you report your vision?"

"I..." The boy couldn't bring himself to say that he had forgotten about it. He could live without Snape's sarcastic remarks about his lack of memorising ability. "I wasn't sure whether it was a true vision and you told me not to send any messages."

"Potter remembering a rule?" snorted Snape from above him. "That would be a first. If you wouldn't always forget the rules when you're at school..."

"I can't do it right in your eyes, can I, Professor?" Harry growled and shot Snape a frowning glance. "Everything I do is wrong! I wonder what you would have said if I had sent a note with Hedwig."

"If you would have done your Occlumency exercises properly, you wouldn't have had a vision to worry about at all!" snarled Snape pointedly.

Ah, the point of the visit to Dumbledore's office. Occlumency, the ability to ward one's mind against breaching from outside, was another field of Snape's expertise. Another field Harry wasn't keen on learning from the greasy Potions master.

"Harry? I suppose you understand the reason why you are here?"

Harry nodded. "Are you going to teach me, Headmaster?" he asked desperately, even though he knew that the answer would be no. Dumbledore couldn't even look him in the eye, hence he couldn't teach him Occlumency.

"No," said Dumbledore, "but Professor Snape agreed to continue with your lessons. I am aware that not everything went well last year, but I appeal to your common sense to not hold onto old grudges." He pretended to not hear Harry's quiet snort. "Do you have your timetable?"

"You haven't already decided when I'm going to have the lessons?" asked Harry doubtfully. If the last years had shown him something, then that his opinion didn't matter and that the Headmaster – and everyone else for that matter – liked to make decisions that affected him without his knowledge, let alone his consent.

"No, nothing is decided yet. I wanted to let you have a say in it."

Harry squished the tiny flare of anger and felt another emotion awaken. What was it? A sense of importance? Feeling a bit better, he pulled out his timetable and surveyed it. "I don't know when we're having Quidditch practice yet," he murmured, trailing off uncertainly as he remembered Malfoy's words from the train.

Dumbledore avoided his gaze, and Harry couldn't help thinking that he wouldn't have looked into his eyes even if he could. "Harry-"

"No!" said Harry, loss and frustration fighting for dominance on his face. He didn't need the Headmaster to finish. It was clear in the sad lines around his mouth and the way the older man's shoulders sacked. "No, please, I need Quidditch! It's the only thing-"

"-you're halfway decent at," finished Snape for him. "What a shame. All the begging in the world won't help you, Potter. You have a lifetime ban from playing. Nothing will change that."

"Professor?" Harry kept his eyes trained on Dumbledore. "I thought after Umbridge left, after what she did... How can her punishment still be active?"

"Harry, you must understand," said Dumbledore with a sigh. "The Ministry just confirmed Voldemort's return. We cannot risk the fragile peace within our own community over such a, I'm sorry, trivial matter like a Quidditch ban."

"But that's not fair!" Harry cried, thumping his fists at his armrests. "I didn't do- Malfoy provoked- And Umbridge can't just-!"

"Your sorry excuses won't change anything, Potter," said Snape, and Harry could almost feel his gleeful smirk. Of course he would be happy that Harry was prohibited from playing. Now his Slytherins had the first real chance at winning the Cup since Harry entered Hogwarts. "Fudge won't help you."

"I'm sorry, Harry," said Dumbledore again. "I know it is petty but Minister Fudge is set on taking this small revenge."

"His ego is still sore," snorted Snape. "Couldn't handle the press. The Skeeter woman ripped him apart and he couldn't explain why he didn't confirm the Dark Lord's return months earlier after all evidences pointed in the right direction."

"Bloody hypocritical of her, isn't it?" growled Harry, for once not caring for his language, and nobody reprimanded him for it. His mind couldn't help pointing out that it was all so unfair, that he shouldn't be punished because he said the truth. And after Fudge had to set his wrongs right, Harry was punished again. "At first Skeeter's writing dozens of articles about the fragile state of my mind and then she's taking it out on Fudge."

"You have to see the positive side, Harry. At least the public is on our side now. They realised how they've been manipulated by Minister Fudge, who's bearing the brunt of the blame."

"Why is he still Minister, anyway? After all that's happened - why haven't they voted him out of his office?"

"It's not that easy, Harry. The Minister of Magic has to complete his term of office. It is highly doubtful that he will be re-elected, though, if that is any consolation."

Harry shrugged his shoulders. It didn't really matter to him anymore. He wouldn't play Quidditch this year, his only source of relaxation, his sole passion, and he didn't particularly care for the reasons.

'And no matter what it takes, Voldemort be damned, I'll make it to your next game,' Harry heard Sirius' voice echoing in his head. Clamping down on that path of thought, he re-read his timetable. "Monday, Wednesday, Thursday in the late afternoon, and every evening after dinner I'm free for Occlumency."

"Good," Dumbledore nodded. "Severus?"

"Monday, Thursday afternoon lessons, then," Snape said with a sense of finality that left Harry worried about what was yet to come. "And Friday and Saturday late evenings."

"Saturday?" exclaimed Harry. "Why on Saturday? And isn't four times Occlumency a bit... much?"

"With that attitude you're not going to accomplish anything, Potter!"

"Harry," said Dumbledore, drawing the boy's attention back to him, "I thought it would be a good idea to start with a bit of... additional tutoring in the evenings. Voldemort is getting more and more powerful, he is gathering followers. We don't know how much time we have on our hands before he is ready to strike."

Harry nodded automatically. He knew that already. Another fact that Harry had known but somehow became real all too sudden. 'Additional tutoring,' he thought detachedly. 'Killer and survival training, more like.'

"Professors Snape, McGonagall and Hagrid will be giving you extra training in the evenings."

"How many evenings will that be?"

"Monday to Saturday."

Harry swallowed. "Six days?" That was an awful lot. And he was a bit more disillusioned.

"We want you to be ready, Harry, as soon as possible." Dumbledore folded his hands on the table and leant forward. "I will try to help you as much as possible, but I believe you feel that the longer I am in your presence, the weaker your shield becomes. If you need anything, you can always come to me. I won't repeat my past mistakes, be assured. I have realised that, as much as it pains me, you are no longer a child. You are the key figure here and it won't do anyone any good if you are not able to trust me completely. You will no longer be kept in the dark about the on-goings of the Order."

"Good, Professor," said Harry. Relief surged through him at the declaration of the Headmaster. He couldn't quite believe it yet; no more secrets being kept from him, no more bending the truth. The fact that he was going to be the 'key figure' in this gigantic chess game cast a shadow over his mind, but Harry pushed those dark thoughts to the side.

"Just... uh," Harry said, unsure whether he should point out what he'd just thought about. He had a moment ago been granted access to new information concerning Voldemort and himself; he wasn't sure whether he was willing to risk anything but knew he had to. "Isn't it a bit dangerous? I mean, when I know about our plans, can't Voldemort find out? Through the link, I mean? He sends me visions, even fake ones, so who can tell how often he's been cruising through my memories?"

"You don't have to worry about that, Harry," said Dumbledore. "Your link with Voldemort is still one-sided. That means information may only flow from him to you. You are able to watch him – or rather through him - sometimes, even if you can't control it, and he is able to send you dreams. Voldemort cannot pry into your mind and steal something from you."

"Why can't he? That seems not right. He's powerful enough, isn't he?"

Dumbledore's eyes glittered and a grin appeared on his lips. "Voldemort is very powerful. However, you are not powerful enough."

"What's so funny about that?" Harry asked uneasily. "Shouldn't that be reason enough to worry? I mean, if I'm not powerful enough, how could I possibly win this war?"

"Use your brain for once before you ask stupid questions." Snape sounded almost weary but his tongue was sharp as ever.

"Harry, didn't you wonder why Voldemort only managed to possess you once? He only could do it in the Ministry of Magic..."

"As he wanted you to kill me," Harry said softly, remembering how the cold presence in his body had made him say things without being able to control it. It had left him so vulnerable, much more so than the Imperius Curse, which he could fight.

"Yes," said Dumbledore. "Voldemort is only able to sense anything from you when you're in my presence. Before you worry, it is not strong enough without eye contact. I did a bit of research over the holidays, Harry, and it seems that the link works only in the direction from 'weak' to 'strong'. That means that until you are stronger than him, Voldemort cannot breach your mind."

"Why do I have to learn Occlumency at all, then?"

"Because Voldemort can, and I believe he will, flood you with visions, true and fake ones," said Dumbledore, ignoring Snape's mumbling about 'stupid questions'. "You won't be able to differentiate between them, and I know you, Harry, your guilt about not being able to rescue whoever will going to appear in your dreams, will eat away at you. Voldemort will use this link to his full advantage. You will have to master Occlumency before you are strong enough."

"Will I be able to send Voldemort my own visions, then?"

"That, Harry, is not the purpose of your lessons," said Dumbledore. "First and foremost, we have to stop Voldemort's visions entering your mind."

"Can I ask you something else, Professor?" Harry asked.

"Go on."

"Does anyone else know about... the Prophecy?" Harry asked, uncertain how to formulate his thoughts. Snape's presence left him a bit weary, but Harry gathered, due to the fact that Dumbledore had wanted him there, that the Potions master didn't pose any threat to Harry's well-being – his sanity aside.

"Don't be so fidgety, Potter," sneered Snape. "I know everything that is to know about it. The Dark Lord couldn't keep his knowledge to himself for very long."

Dumbledore nodded gravely. "In the middle of August, Voldemort summoned a meeting. It was at that time that we learnt about Professor Trelawney's abduction and murder. There aren't many teachers staying over the summer holidays at Hogwarts. I fear I did not see the danger coming."

Harry jumped to his feet, pacing the floor in front of the fireplace. He couldn't help that there was something he was missing out.

"Sit down, Potter. You're wearing a hole in the rug."

"Apropos rug," said Dumbledore suddenly, while Harry didn't stop. "Did Voldemort need any more bottles of Tanning Potion?"

Harry couldn't help the snicker as he imagined Voldemort trying to get a tan. "Can't afford the sun?"

Narrowed dark eyes shot daggers in the boy's direction. "That answers my non-asked question whether you took a premature look into your sixth year Potions book," Snape grit out. "The Tanning Potion is to prepare hides – especially from werewolves - as the Dark Lord seems so fond of giving those rugs to his soon-to-be Death Eaters."

Harry paled. "Werewolf hides?"

Snape sneered.

"Do you think that he has his eye on new recruits, Severus?" asked Dumbledore quietly.

"I fear so."

There was an uncomfortable silence as Harry contemplated the meaning of Snape's words. New recruits for Voldemort... Soon there would be more deaths... Like Trelawney...

"Wait..." Harry frowned as he finally realised what was the gap in the logic of it all. He sat back down in the chair opposite of the headmaster. "How did Voldemort know it was Trelawney who made the prediction? He couldn't have known it was her, otherwise he would have tried to capture her fifteen years ago, wouldn't he?"

"Didn't even need as long as I thought it would," remarked Snape condescendingly. "Really, I'm impressed how quick your mind is able to work when you deem it worth to switch it on."

"You-why-"

"Ever the eloquent one, aren't you, Potter?"

"Severus," warned Dumbledore, and Snape fell silent, though Harry was sure he still sneered down at him. "You're right, Harry. Voldemort hadn't known earlier. His informant only heard part of the Prophecy but he couldn't tell whom I've been talking to. Beside my brother and the two of us, nobody knew that Trelawney made the prediction. In the Department of Mysteries, I didn't think anyone would pick up on it; I thought Voldemort would put all his resources to get the Prophecy... Lucius Malfoy seems to have gotten a closer look at the Orb than I would have liked."

"What did he see? There wasn't anything telling about the Prophecy on the Orb, was there?" Harry reflected on the night when he and the Defence Group they had founded in protest to Umbridge's teaching methods had tried to free Sirius from the Department of Mysteries. Every time his thoughts detoured to his godfather, he cut them off and concentrated on the silvery Orb he had found that had his and Voldemort's name on it. He couldn't remember anything of importance, though.

"S.P.T. to A.P.W.B.D. was written on the base, do you remember, Harry?" asked the Headmaster quietly. "Sybill P. Trelawney to Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore."

"I-I didn't even stop to think," mused Harry aloud, deliberately ignoring Snape's snort. "I didn't exactly have time to think about it because Malfoy was there the second I laid my hand on the Orb."

"Yes, I gathered as much," said Dumbledore. "Voldemort must have figured it out and waited for the right time to make his move."

"He didn't wait that long..." Harry said before he sighed. "Is there anything else?"

"Just one more point: We can't change the past, Harry, but please don't do anything so foolish again like at the end of last year. You are not alone in this war, it concerns all of us. Do not forget who you can turn to, even when I should not be present, do you understand?"

"Yes, sir," Harry said, vowing to himself to not get into troubles when only Snape was around to turn to for help. Despite the fact that he knew that the Potions master was part of the Order, spying 'under great personal risk' like so many liked to remind him, it was so easy to forget that he was supposed to be one of the good ones. His attitude didn't really help matters either.

Dumbledore sighed contentedly, fishing for his box of sweats. "So, now that that's settled. Care for a lemon drop, anyone?"

Snape merely grunted in exasperation and Harry replied, "No, thanks." He took his timetable back as something occurred to him. "Oh, I didn't even ask who's going to be our new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor. There will be someone new, won't there?"

"You will find out soon enough, Harry," said Dumbledore with twinkling eyes fixed somewhere to his left. "Now off to bed you go. Classes start tomorrow morning and you don't want to be late on your first day. Severus, if you please?"

"My pleasure, Headmaster."

When Harry made to leave the office he only had to wonder for a fleeting moment why Snape's voice sounded so sarcastic.

"Hurry up, Potter, I don't plan on spending half the night escorting you to your dorm."

:-:

Harry walked in silence, quickly, feeling the hot glare that made his neck prickle. Without this prickling he would have thought he was alone in the hallways, but as it was, Snape was accompanying him back to Gryffindor Tower, watching his every move with hawk eyes. Snape was moving so very silently, even when Harry strained his ears, he couldn't hear him at all. He supposed were he to abruptly turn around, he wouldn't even see him as the Potions master had the uncanny ability to blend in the shadows.

This ability was only rivalled by his dubious gift to land eleven-year-old children with heart attacks. And if looks could kill...

"What am I going to learn in these additional classes?" asked Harry as the silence grew unbearable. He didn't like the quiet, only in his room at the Dursleys was he able to stand it, but not at Hogwarts, the place where he should be happy.

"You're going to see soon enough, Potter," hissed Snape. "And now be quiet!"

"Yes, sir," Harry growled, crossing his arms. 'He doesn't need to treat me like a criminal only because I ask him a ruddy question!'

"Quietus!" hissed Snape, and a moment later, Harry stopped dead in his tracks.

"What?" he mouthed but no sound came forth. Harry scowled into the shadows to the side, refusing to go on. 'This can't be happening,' he thought furiously. 'Now I am going to be hexed by my own teachers! Who needs Voldemort if Order members are doing his job just as fine?'

"This is your first lesson in your additional class," said Snape lowly. "When I tell you to do something, you will comply. Immediately. Without complaint. Do you get that, Potter, or do you require further demonstration?"

Harry shook his head angrily, turned around, and stalked away.



Chapter 5: Mi Casa es tu Memoria
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5. Mi Casa es tu Memoria

A/Ns: I hope this teaches all of you a lesson. I can't write background stories on command or even on wishes from reviewers ;) I'll be speeding up the story from here on. Maybe it will be easier to read, then.

Harry's dream was supposed to be a separate fic called 'Doggy Style' but I couldn't find it in me to write something funny. The dark-haired girl and the boy are taken from Rumiko Takahashi's 'Inu Yasha'.

':-:'

2nd September 1996

Harry groaned, rolling out of bed. He hadn't slept very well that night. After everything he'd heard at the Headmaster's office the other day, the still mystery of Ron and Hermione's fight, and the fact that Snape had dared to put a Silencing Charm on him had occupied his dreams.

He had seen Sirius fall through the veil, but this time, there hadn't been Lupin there to hold Harry back. Harry had followed Sirius through the arch and found himself in a large meadow amidst a forest. The sun stood low on the horizon, causing the huge oak trees to cast long shadows. Harry stood in the middle and looked around himself. He could see a small girl with long black hair and a sailor outfit shouting at something that looked like a cross between a boy and a hag; the boy had white hair that neatly covered his bum and he wore something like a red dress robe.

A sound to the right made Harry whirl around and stop abruptly as he caught sight of the greasy Potions master, who'd just appeared out of thin air. He was sneering down on what Harry realised was Sirius' Animagus form, Snuffles.

"Now be a good doggy-doggy or there won't be any biscuits later on," sneered Snape, reaching down and grabbing a leash Harry hadn't seen earlier. "Get a move on, flea sack!" Snape snarled, dragging Sirius over to the dark-haired girl who was now waving cheerily at the Potions master.

"Ah, Professor, finally!" the girl exclaimed with a smile, beckoning Snape nearer. "And this is the problem, then?"

"That's one way of saying it," stated Snape dryly.

Sirius barked in protest.

The white-haired boy sat hunched over on a large rock, crossing his arms sullenly. "I don't know what I am supposed to do here. I've got better things to do than help you with your little projects!" That was the first time he could be heard talking, and Harry thought his voice resembled more of a growl than Lupin's one day before the full moon.

"He needs to learn some manners," Snape sneered, nodding at Sirius. "Though I haven't held my hopes very high."

"One can't teach an old dog new tricks," said the boy, jumping to his feet with a grace unequalled. "Now if you'll excuse me-" He couldn't finish his sentence, as the girl turned narrowed eyes at her companion.

"Sit!"

One second later, the boy was smashed face-down into the grass, landing with a muffled "Oof!"

"Wandless," said Snape, raising one eyebrow. "Impressive."

Harry shook himself out of his dream and back into the present. He sighed, raking a hand through the mess he called hair. Grabbing his dressing gown, he gave the stack of school books a passing glance. He had forgotten about them, even though Dumbledore already told him last year that he'd provide them. The thought of Dumbledore brought Harry's musings back to the previous evening and the things he'd heard. He was so immersed in his thoughts that he didn't even hear a throat clearing. Only as the person spoke up did Harry flinch.

"Morning." Hermione was standing near the door leading down to the common room, fiddling uncertainly with her fingers. She was alternately gazing at the floor and at Harry's left shoulder.

"Hi," said Harry, because he didn't know what else to say. He quickly surveyed the room, but realized with a bit of surprise that all beds were already empty. He hadn't even heard his dorm mates getting up, and Ron was usually as late as he was; and Harry was quite early on this Monday.

"Look," said Hermione, taking a big breath to prepare herself for a longer speech. "I don't know whether you and Ron talked and what he might have told you, and it's not my place to talk to you about Ron and his problems with me and... I just wanted to tell you that it has nothing to do with you and that I don't want to lose you as a friend just because Ron is acting the way he does. Not that I blame him – even though I don't understand him. I'm sorry, Harry, I was acting horribly yesterday and I didn't want to take it out on you."

Harry used her second intake of breath to his advantage and asked quickly, "Where's Ron?"

Hermione's gaze dropped again. "I don't know. I was waiting in the common room but he must have already left before I got up." She shrugged uncomfortably. "After what he said... on the train... I'm not sure why I thought..."

"I know how it is to be wrongly accused of something," Harry said carefully. "So I'm not going to ask whether it's true, okay?"

Hermione glanced up, smiling despite herself. "I don't know why he thinks... well, I can guess, but..." she trailed off and made an uncertain hand movement. "I don't even know why Ron's getting so worked up again. I mean, I could somehow understand why he was so angry about Krum but that's over... I've got a boyfriend. I thought Ron would be happy for me."

Harry cringed inwardly at Hermione's confused eyes. "Oh." Of course, Ron wouldn't be happy for Hermione and her new boyfriend. The girl might be a know-it-all when it came to school work, but in the romantic fields she could be as blind as the proverbial bat.

"Obviously, he isn't. I really shouldn't talk to you about this before I cleared it out with Ron."

"Yes," Harry found himself agreeing. He watched Hermione smile weakly and leave the boys' dorm.

':-:'

Ten minutes later in the shower, Harry blinked blurrily, wiping the water out of his eyes. Then he reached for his shampoo, squeezing a general amount into his hand. As he started lathering his hair, Harry thought he heard Snape's voice from his dream, "Wandless? Impressive." He shook his head – now he was hearing voices again – and rinsed his head. Then he made to grab the soap, but missed; it slipped out of his fingers. Harry bent down to pick it up again when there was a second voice, Voldemort's, "Spineless? Impressive."

Harry shot back up and whirled around. Through the fog in the bathroom, he couldn't see clearly. He reached for his glasses (Hermione had put a permanent anti-fogging charm on it last year) to improve his sight, but there was nothing. He was alone in the bath.

Harry exhaled shakily and started rubbing the soap over his skin. This wasn't a good sign, not at all. When he was this instable already, how would he behave in front of Voldemort when it was time to destroy him?

Harry held his left arm under the hot spray of water, clearing the foam away, and then he heard a third voice – one he had only heard once before. "Spotless? Impressive," said Mark.

Harry almost jumped out of his skin at that. Talking mould spots that followed him around? He had often listened to voices no one else was able to hear, but this was different. It wasn't coming from within the walls, and neither was a Dementor responsible. No, Mark – as well as Snape and Voldemort – seemed to come out of Harry himself.

The boy turned the water to cold, trying to get a clear head again. This had to be Voldemort's doing; he was trying to drive Harry insane by breaking through his mental defences. Harry decided to put as much work into his Occlumency lessons as possible.

':-:'

This late afternoon, before he could put his resolve into action, Harry barely had the time to close the door to Snape's office when he was already assaulted. Snape didn't even bother to count to three – or two and attack then – no, he obviously preferred the out of the blue version this year. Harry's mind was a tumult of confused thoughts, and he hadn't got the chance to clear them. It had been a busy day with Herbology, Care for Magical Creatures and Transfiguration, adding to the strained situation with Ron, so it came as no surprise when Snape managed to breach his mind so easily. Harry would have considered himself lucky, if he could have been sarcastic, that he could still brace himself against the door. Images were flashing before his mind's eyes, too fast to decipher. Was Snape searching for something particular or was he just trying to show that he had the control to overpower Harry?

"Not very impressive," Snape drawled, the words slowly seeping through Harry's haze of a mind.

Not very impressive... Impressive... A jolt of anger surged through Harry – how dare Snape use this word, unknowing or deliberate – and he forced the intruder back, focusing with all his might to throw Snape out of his head. Five seconds later found Harry breathing hard, hands on his knees, as he recovered from Snape's intrusion. He couldn't see the images the Potions master had looked through; only the accompanying emotions were still prominent. He felt sad and angry and depressed and violated – all at the same time.

When Harry looked up from his hunched-over position, he realised with a start that Snape looked as worse for wear as he felt from this encounter. The boy merely had the time to think that Snape must have seen some of his darker memories that had shaken his greasy core – and then they made eye contact and Harry found himself in a dark, unfamiliar cellar. The ceiling hung low and the dilapidated walls gleamed damply in the dim light. Harry looked around. Where was he? And where was Snape? As if on cue, Harry heard approaching footsteps coming down the stairs. He turned around, and in doing so, whirled up the heavy layer of dust covering the floor. Harry coughed, wiping his mouth in disgust. Then he grimaced and pulled a long, silvery hair from his tongue.

This wasn't dust, Harry decided, taking a closer look. The whole room was covered in fur and right in front of him there was a large claw. Harry had no time processing what he had seen, because just when memory Snape reached the floor, frowning and muttering, "Lupin," the real Snape pushed Harry out of his head and back against the door.

"What do you think you're doing?" the Potions master snarled, shoving Harry back. "Finding no time for practise, but then deciding to snoop around again?" He was furious, that was clear, but he wasn't beyond it - yet.

"When – where was that?" Harry asked quickly. "What happened to Remus?"

Snape merely sneered and let go of Harry's shoulder. He went back to his table and said, "Prepare yourself for the next round. You've got five seconds. One."

"You can't just-" Harry said. "Is he in danger?"

"The only danger Lupin is in is his own fault," Snape drawled, brandishing his wand. "Five. Legilimens!"

And Harry was, once again, pressed against the door. Images of blood and emotions of fear rushed through him. The small interlude in Snape's head had done nothing to ease his own thoughts, Harry concluded, trying to clear his head. Could have something happened to Remus and Snape was unwilling to tell Harry?

Obviously, the Occlumency session was no success.

':-:'

"Where're we going?" Harry asked rather unenthusiastically. Occlumency always left him drained and usually Harry would go to sleep afterwards. This year, though, his busy curriculum dictated otherwise. Hagrid was going to be one his 'special trainers', and the half-giant was currently leading him through the castle.

"Yeh'll see," Hagrid said gruffly. "Not supposed ter talk too much in the hallways, Dumbledore said. Could be more listening than just yeh and me."

Harry grunted noncommittally. He could wait – but only for so long. Hagrid was in the Order, after all, and he was Harry's friend. Surely that meant he'd tell him if anything happened to Lupin.

Harry didn't realise they were heading to the Room of Requirement until they were right in front of it. Then the small door grew, so Hagrid would fit through it. The room was a small chamber with nothing more than two chairs. It didn't look like the training room they had used for the DA last year, at all.

"So, Harry," Hagrid said, ushering the boy in and closing the door after himself. "First lesson's gonna be theory, alright..."

"Before we start, can I ask you a quick question?" Harry interrupted. "It's about Remus..."

Hagrid's expression became genuinely puzzled. "What about Remus?"

"Did anything happen to him? Did anyone attack him?"

"Why would you think such a thing?" Hagrid said. "Who told you Remus was attacked?"

"No one told me..." Harry said slowly, relieved. Hagrid's face didn't give away anything, convincing Harry that the half-giant was telling the truth. Hagrid couldn't lie if his life depended on it. But what had Harry seen in Snape's memory, then? Had Remus shaven his werewolf fur? Or was it natural for a werewolf to loose his fur after a transformation? Harry voiced that last question.

Hagrid looked blankly for two seconds. "Yeh didn't learn anything with Umbridge, did yeh?" he grumbled, shaking his hairy head. "'Course, werewolves get new fur every transformation. It'd be pretty uncomfortable if the hair had to re-grew under yeh skin, I say."

Harry nodded, frowning. This only answered part of his problem, but at least he now knew that Remus wasn't in danger. Why Remus had transformed in this strange cellar, and why Snape seemed so – almost concerned – was a whole new question, though. One Harry was determined to figure out.


Chapter 6: Green's no pretty colour
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Beta-reader: Vaughn

6. Green's No Pretty Colour

':-:'

3rd September 1996

It was the second day of school, and Harry had slept in once again. The last day had been more tiring than any first day of school he'd ever experienced, but he supposed that he would accumulate in time. At least, he hadn't forgotten to clear his mind before going to bed, so there hadn't been any nightmares for him.

Harry dressed quickly and ran down to get a small breakfast before his first class, which was, quite unfortunately in fact, Potions. He was just thinking that he'd need to send an owl to Remus and see how he's doing, when he entered the Great Hall and his train of thought trailed off. There was Ron, sitting on one end of the table and eating quite slowly.

Harry walked over and sat down next to the redhead, reaching for a slice of bread and some butter. "Morning," he said quietly.

"What did Hermione say to you?" Ron demanded immediately, without looking up. Even from his profile Harry could tell that Ron wasn't smiling.

"Eh, not much," Harry said, unsure why he always found himself in the position to solve some crisis or another, even if his own problems – which were popping out of nowhere and recreating like those bloody Duracell bunnies - were far more important than Ron and Hermione's petty ones.

Ron's eyes flashed as he turned around to face Harry. "But she said you should talk to me, didn't she? Sent you here that-"

"No!" Harry said emphatically. "She didn't do anything of that sort. She just said that she hadn't a clue why you were so mad at her and that she didn't want me to get in between..."

Ron's eyes narrowed at that. "But you are already in between, aren't you?" he said bitterly. "And of course she doesn't know why I'm mad at her..."

Harry's stomach twisted uncomfortably. He knew what Ron was trying to say. It hadn't been on purpose. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I really thought she felt the same way..."

"Yeah, I'm sorry, too," said Ron, moving to stand. "Well, at least now I'm sure what she's feeling, right?" He stood, staring off into space for a moment, before saying somewhat melancholically, "If only it hadn't been my own brother. She could have had anyone. Why did it have to be George?" He didn't wait for an answer, instead leaving for his first class.

Harry sat a moment longer, then headed down to the dungeons. It had to be tough for Ron, he thought, seeing Hermione happy and knowing that it wasn't him making her smile but his own brother. Maybe he should have said something earlier, maybe Hermione would have been more open to the idea, but Ron had waited too long.

"Nearly on time, Potter," Snape sneered the second Harry entered the dungeons classroom. "One point from Gryffindor. Sit down so I can finally start the lesson."

Harry tried hard not to growl. The only empty seat left was next to Pansy Parkinson, so Harry sat down next to her. Hermione shot him an apologetic look. Harry should have eaten more quickly. Parkinson made some snide remark that she'd rather work together with Neville Longbottom than the Boy-Who-Unfortunately-Lived-But-Wouldn't-Keep-On-Doing-So-Much-Longer, but Harry ignored her. He didn't want to lose any more points, and talking back was a dead sure way to not achieve that.

Harry sighed and started to gather and measure the needed ingredients as they appeared on the blackboard. The Exploding Fluid didn't seem to be too complicated, he thought, while pouring 200 ml Erumpent fluid into a beaker. Really, quite easy.

There was some snickering from behind, but Harry ignored it.

Then Harry poured the liquid Erumpent into the softly simmering Exploding Fluid, and the cauldron did just that: explode.

Harry didn't really have the time to get cover before the cauldron knocked into him, and he crashed down. The world was upside down, slowly swirling, and there was a headache building behind Harry's temples. The potion hadn't burned him, but the cauldron was getting quite heavy on his torso. Parkinson's face appeared above him, smirking gleefully, and then there was Snape, pointing his wand at Harry, cleaning the potion away and letting the cauldron float away.

"Another zero then, Potter," he said coolly, moving back to the front of the classroom. "And now get to your feet again. You're not injured."

Harry groaned, holding his probably bruised ribs, and sat up. Hermione looked as if she'd run over to help him any second, so Harry made an effort to smile that everything was all right. Only when Harry managed to get back to his seat, though, did Hermione's frown ease a bit and she went back to her own Exploding Fluid.

"Merlin, you're pathetic, Potter," Parkinson whispered. "Can't even measure twenty drops, can you?" She snickered and made a show of doing just that. When the last drop had fallen into the beaker, she poured the Erumpent fluid into her cauldron. "Now, that shouldn't have been so difficult."

Harry cleaned his workplace, frowning. Why only twenty drops? The blackboard clearly said 200 ml. As if to convince himself, Harry looked up, and yes, he was right. He blinked, his eyes hurting somewhat, and took his glasses off. When he squinted at the board for a second time, he could make out a slightly blurred 'twenty drops.' He blinked again, but the words didn't change anymore. Harry looked through his glasses and took them off again, seeing two different instructions. That was strange.

"Something wrong with your glasses?" Malfoy hissed from behind him, the smirk obvious in his voice. Harry tensed visibly. "Really, you should be more careful. Anyone could tamper with them if you're not watchful enough."

'Don't turn around,' Harry thought fiercely. 'Whatever you do, don't turn around...' He didn't want to give Malfoy the satisfaction of knowing that he'd gotten to him. The stupid little ferret was acting superior enough as it was. Harry thought back to the train ride last Sunday, when Malfoy had grabbed him. The Slytherin had managed to clean his hands without saying or even mouthing the spell. And now he all but confessed that he had hexed his glasses.

This was something else than 'simple' wandless magic, Harry mused. Malfoy had used his wand but not the accompanying incantations. Maybe this ability had something to do with the blood on his robes? Harry shook his head mentally. This wasn't that important, he decided, at least not as important as Lupin's safety, Harry's training and who was going to be their new DADA professor.

':-:'

"Thanks," Harry said as Hermione handed his now hex-free glasses back. He put them back unto his nose, and together they made their way to their next class, DADA. Wincing slightly, Harry pressed his hand against his side.

"Are you all right?" Hermione asked anxiously. "Professor Snape should have sent you to the Infirmary."

"No," Harry protested, waving her concern away. "It's nothing. Just a bruise, really. The cauldron was heavy." He laughed a bit to disperse Hermione's worries. It didn't work. "I'm all right, I promise."

Hermione nodded reluctantly. "All right. But if you have any more pain, I'm taking you to Pomfrey."

Harry grinned. "Okay," he said, feeling better that at least one of his friends still cared for him. "I saw Ron at breakfast," he said then.

Hermione stiffened slightly beside him. "You did?" she asked. "What – what did he say?"

"Not much," Harry said. "I think you should talk to him, clear it all out."

"I'm trying to. Ron's avoiding me, though."

"We have DADA together now. You could catch him after class," Harry suggested.

Hermione nodded. "You're right," she said, sighing. Then she shot her friend a look. "You weren't in the common room the last two evenings... Did anything – happen?"

"I'll tell you later," Harry said, reminded of Hagrid's warning about the walls having ears. A couple of minutes later, they arrived at the DADA classroom. They entered and sat together at the first table.

"Do you know who's going to be the new professor?" Hermione asked, putting her books on the desk. "There weren't any Defence classes so far, we're the first ones..."

"No," Harry said. "I don't know either. Dumbledore said it would be a surprise."

Hermione frowned, and Harry guessed correctly that she was wondering when he'd had the time to talk to the Headmaster. "Do you think it's Lupin or someone from – you know?" she whispered.

Harry thought it would be pretty convenient to have someone from the Order back teaching at Hogwarts. He didn't need a repeat from last year.

He didn't have the time to answer, though, as the door to the DADA office opened and the class quietened down. Harry's heart lifted as he saw the light brown hair, spotted with grey, but then the man turned around and Harry watched quietly as their new professor slowly descended the steps to the classroom. It wasn't Lupin, after all.

"Hello, class," the professor said, almost cheerily, as he sat down on his desk. "I'm Professor Phasky, and I'm going to be your Defence trainer for this year. We'll see whether I'm going to be able to break the curse by coming back next year."

Some students laughed quietly. Harry looked around himself. Ron, who sat on the other side of the room next to Parvati Patil, raised a brow. Malfoy, Parkinson and the other Slytherins looked disgusted. When Harry turned back to the teacher's desk, he caught sight of Phasky winking at him. He raised a brow, honestly confused.

"Oh," Hermione said suddenly. "Very clever."

Harry didn't need to ask what the girl meant. Phasky went around his desk, barely avoiding stumbling over an almost-non-existent bump on the ground. There was only one person who could be that clumsy. Harry smiled, pleased that they'd gotten their wish and someone more from the Order was working at Hogwarts.

':-:'

After his short detour to the Owlery to send Lupin a note, Harry sat alone at lunch. Hermione had managed to catch Ron, and now they were talking. Or maybe Hermione was lecturing Ron. Or maybe Ron was screaming at Hermione. Well, at least they were together now. The sooner they managed to sort their problems out, the better.

The air was still strained, which wasn't such a surprise, because of Trelawney's death. She didn't have too many fans amongst the students, but Parvati and Lavender were really shocked. Harry tried not to think about her too much, convincing himself that it was because of his Occlumency training.

Harry left the Great Hall early, everyone leaving him in peace because they thought he was having enough stress. He was torn apart. On the one hand he wanted that people realised that he needed someone to confide in, that he needed his friends now, but on the other hand he was thankful for the peace, which would morph into a full storm soon enough.

Harry didn't only leave the hall, but Hogwarts as well. He went down to the lake, deciding to enjoy the free period he had after lunch down here. He sat down amidst the meadow, as it was still warm enough to do so, and lay down. He was busy watching the clouds in the sky when he heard approaching footsteps in the grass.

"Hey," he said, surprised that Ron would come to him now.

"Hey," the redhead replied, plopping down next to him. Then there was silence as Ron just watched the water and the occasional swirl when the giant squid touched its tentacles to the surface.

"How did it go?" Harry asked at last.

"All right, I guess," Ron said, shrugging. "At least I didn't tell her how I – well. She doesn't know the real reason why I was mad at her."

Harry supposed that was the easiest way.

Abruptly, Ron turned around to Harry. "You weren't in the dorm yesterday," he said, trying to redirect the conversation from him to something more 'safe.' "Where were you? I – well, I covered for you in the morning as Seamus noticed it too."

"Oh, thanks," Harry said. "I was with Snape and then with Hagrid, actually. Additional classes. Dumbledore thinks I need more training, and more training I get." He shrugged. "I have a lot more lessons this year."

Ron nodded noncommittally. "Right," he said. Harry couldn't tell whether or not there was a jealous tone in his voice.

':-:'

Severus Snape left the Owlery after deactivating his little Monitoring Charm again that had told him that Harry Potter had, finally, sent the dumb werewolf a letter inquiring about his health. Snape hadn't thought that the brat would take quite as long to finally get overwhelmed with concern – or even only good old curiosity. It wasn't in Snape's nature to care, but pulling the threads in the background did fit his image well enough.

Homebrewed memories were something oh so convenient. Especially if Potter didn't realise that the thing he had seen couldn't possibly have been real.

':-:'

Harry stayed at the meadow, long after Ron had left for his Divination class, still gazing up at the clouds in the sky. He practised clearing his thoughts. After twenty minutes, he sat back up and stretched. He ran his hand through his hair to get the grass out. He twirled a few strands then, realising that he needed a cut.

Suddenly, Harry saw a small, silvery grey snake slithering in his direction. Harry had never seen such a snake before and, because he had plenty time left before he needed to get back in for his History of Magic lessons, he decided to chat a bit.

"Hi," he hissed. "How are you?" The snake bobbed its head in Harry's direction, but didn't reply.

"You don't have to be afraid," Harry said softly, extending his arm. "I'm not going to harm you..." The snake crept nearer, but still didn't talk.

"It's a nice day, isn't it?" Harry hissed, pulling some more grass from his hair. Then he frowned. "Why aren't you talking to me?"

"Maybe it's more intelligent than you're giving it credit for," a voice to his left suddenly said, giving Harry a start. He whirled around, eyes narrowing as they caught sight of Draco Malfoy sneering down at him. Then they widened as he realised that Malfoy had just answered to his question.

"Since when do you understand Parseltongue?" Harry asked incredulously.

Malfoy rolled his eyes and sighed in a long-suffering manner. "You, obviously, don't deserve the credit you get for your supposed intelligence. Or you might have realised that you weren't using Parseltongue, and maybe even that you weren't talking to a snake, at all."

"What?" Harry said. "Of course that's a snake, or are you blind?"

Malfoy's lips almost quirked. "You are the one with glasses, Potter. I would have thought you recognised a snake, with your experience, you blindworm." Harry sputtered angrily, but Malfoy didn't give him a chance to insult him back. "What are you doing here, anyway? Oh, I know. Camping again, are we? If I were you, I would stop twirling so much – at least your hair – lest your mop resembles Granger's frizzy mane. See you around, Potter." With that, Malfoy turned on his heel and walked back to the castle, leaving a growling Harry Potter behind.

The Gryffindor balled his fists, taking deep breaths to calm himself down again. Harry didn't ask himself why Malfoy did nothing but insult him, he didn't wonder why the other boy was outside of Hogwarts now, either. All he wanted to know was why Malfoy had put such emphasis on the words 'camping' and 'twirling.' As if they had another meaning altogether. Maybe the Slytherin lost it, Harry thought, pulling himself to his feet and walking back to the castle himself. Deciding that was it, he forgot about it.

':-:'

9th September 1996

One week into school saw Harry already accustomed to his new schedule, even if he could do with a bit less of Snape. The friendship between Harry, Ron and Hermione was almost completely restored, and now Harry was on his way to the tryouts for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Even though he wasn't still on the team – a fact that still irked him to no end – he had promised Ron, the new captain, to come to the first tryouts. Jack Sloper and Andrew Kirke were already up in the air, training with the Bludgers. Katie Bell, Ron and his sister Ginny were on the ground, a group of approximately eight students gathered around them.

"We'll be doing it like that," Ron started. "Sandra, Brian, Chris, Penny, Andrea, Leo and Ginny, you're going to form a team. Every ten minutes we're going to switch positions."

Ron didn't give the kind of pep talks that Oliver Wood used to, but it was clear that he was born to be captain. Five minutes before the lunch break was over, the tryouts were called to an end. Chris Perry, a small third year with clear eyes, was declared the new Seeker. Harry thought that he would give the Slytherins a run for their money, if he'd train enough. Ginny and Leo Geterson, a rather quiet fifth year, were the new Chasers.

It was on their way back across the lawn that Harry caught sight of another team making their way towards the Quidditch field, the Slytherins. Harry saw Malfoy, leading his team with his known superiority, now that he was their captain. When they drew closer, Harry recognised that the team didn't have the same brooms anymore like last year. Ron hissed something about slimy snakes, and the general air around the Gryffindors grew tense, but Harry didn't concentrate on that. He was far more interested in Draco Malfoy's broomstick.

The Slytherin was carrying the newest broom on the market, a Quicksliver 66, casually hung over his shoulder. The handle was shimmering a reflecting silver, the twigs were arranged to guarantee the least air resistance, and the broom itself was lighter than any other, granting the most efficient usability.

Just as Malfoy passed by Harry, he said loudly to one of his team mates, "And – mother – got me the new broom when I arrived home over the holidays. Imagine my surprise. Just because three Gryffindors, who shouldn't have been allowed to play, anyway, had been prohibited from ever playing again..."

"Why, you little-" Ron snarled, but Harry held his friend back.

"Don't," he said, including all the other Gryffindors. "He isn't worth it." For a second he held eye contact with Malfoy, daring him to say anything more, but the other boy merely smirked and bowed mockingly.

"Harry!" Ginny said. "Why don't you do anything against the slimy bastard? You can't just let him treat you that way!"

"You know what happened the last time I lost it around Malfoy, don't you?" Harry said with a sigh. "I don't want that to happen again, to either of you. We've got a decent team... The Slytherins won't know what hit them. We shouldn't risk anything now."

Harry frowned thoughtfully as he and Ron made their way to Transfigurations, thinking back to the encounter with the other Quidditch team. He remembered that back in their second year, Lucius Malfoy had bought the whole team Nimbus 2001's in order to get his son the positions as Seeker. The team's members had been constant until this year. And now the older members had already left Hogwarts, and taken their Nimbuses with them, as it appeared. The younger students, who were new on the team – the Slytherins had been the first for the tryouts – had their own broomsticks. Malfoy had his Quicksliver 66 and one bulky fourth year Harry didn't know the name of had a Nimbus 1500. There was another new member, though: a tall, brown-haired boy, who was carrying a Nimbus 2001. And Harry, who hadn't been Gryffindor's Seeker for nothing, could have sworn that this Nimbus had a small crack in the handle. A small crack Harry was only too familiar with.

But what the heck did this boy do with Draco Malfoy's old broom?

':-:'

10th September 1996

Harry had Potions first thing in the morning, so he was pretty pleased to receive owl post to distract him from the upcoming lesson. Then he recognised the owl Remus used, and Harry grew solemn again.

"Is that Remus'?" Hermione asked in a whisper, leaning closer.

"Yeah," Harry said, untying the letter and feeding the owl a piece of bacon from his plate. He read the letter, frowning.

"What does it say?" Hermione asked, itching to rip the letter out of Harry's hands. "Is he all right?"

Harry nodded, but the frown didn't come off. "I want to see him."

"You can't leave Hogwarts!" Hermione cried out, then lowered her voice again. "You know you aren't supposed to-"

"I know," Harry cut her off, a tick irked. "I thought more along the lines of – I don't know – spending Christmas there..."

'There' was Sirius' home, and Hermione wasn't sure that was the best for Harry. But she was concerned about Remus as well, so maybe it was the best for him.

':-:'

26th October 1996

So far, the second month of his second to last school year had been pretty odd, Harry Potter thought. At first, Neville Longbottom's memory seemed to be getting better, but that proved to be wrong soon afterwards as some third year Gryffindor found Neville in front of the Fat Lady, not remembering the password again. Then Harry caught Hermione Granger reading the Quibbler, but she denied it vehemently, and Harry never saw her with it again after that. And now Harry was sitting next to Hermione and Neville in the Gryffindor stands, waiting for the first game of the season, Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff, to begin. It wasn't the most thrilling combination – Hufflepuff did have a reputation, after all – but Ron and Harry were glad about it nonetheless, because it gave the team much needed practical workout.

Jordan Lee had left Hogwarts the year before, and now there was a new commentator, as well. Harry had thought it was going to be another Gryffindor, but he thought wrong.

As the game started, Hendrik Raterban kept the audience up to date what was happening on the field. Snape was standing beside him, always ready to scold the boy should he cross some line, but never quite doing so.

"And here we go!" Raterban screamed, very audibly, thanks to the Sonorus Charm. "This redhead has the Quaffle – really, girl, that doesn't suit you! Ever thought about dyeing? – moving quite quick, but then again, she's supposed to be a weasel, so-"

"Severus!" McGonagall snapped, eyes wide. "Don't you have to say something about that kind of behaviour?"

"Yes, of course," Snape said, throwing Raterban a frown. "Save your stylish suggestions until after the match."

McGonagall spluttered, but she didn't have a say in the commentary anymore, so she could do nothing but watch, grind her teeth and pray that the boy would get hoarse rather sooner than later.

"And goal!" Raterban cried. "That makes 10-0 for Gryffindor. Oh, I'm so impressed! The Gryffindors only needed seven minutes for their first goal against HUFFLEPUFF! Wait until the Slytherin match, Gryffs, and you will know how fast a match is won!"

Harry shook his head. It was a weird month, after all.

':-:'



Chapter 7: Snow is Falling
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Beta-reader: Vaughn

7. Snow Is Falling

A/N: This chapter is a tiny bit darker, but not that it would require an R-Rating.

':-:'

21st December 1996

This last Saturday in December was the first – and, most likely, the last – that Harry didn't have any additional DADA lessons. He, Ron and Hermione were outside of Hogwarts, waiting for Tonks to pick them up. They were travelling per Portkey to London, where they'd spend the weekend with Remus. Harry was going to return to Hogwarts afterwards – more additional DADA lessons to even out the ones he'd miss this day –, Ron and Hermione would spend the rest of the Christmas holidays at the Burrow, and Tonks would be staying at Black Manor to keep Remus company.

"I hope Remus is doing all right," Hermione said, pulling her scarf tighter around herself. It was getting pretty cold, gentle snowdrops falling down to earth and covering the ground in innocent whiteness. "He didn't say much in his last letter."

"He's doing a lot of research," Ron said, flicking her concern off.

"That doesn't mean he's fine, though," Hermione countered.

Harry wasn't really listening to them. He rather observed Malfoy and Parkinson leave Hogwarts and make their way over to a waiting carriage. Normally, the carriages only brought the students to Hogsmeade station on Friday, not on Saturday as well. They had probably made an exception for the two Slytherins. Hermione and Ron watched them, too, now.

"They always have their own laws," Ron said bitterly. Hermione burst out laughing at the reference, but the boys didn't get it.

"Draco and Parkinson," she giggled.

"Isn't 'Parkinson' a disease? Or Parkinsons?" Harry asked with a frown. "Makes your muscles shiver and such?" Hermione nodded.

"Then Malfoy must've caught it, right?" Ron said, barely concealing his smirk. "Twitchy little ferret that he is..." He laughed, and even Hermione cracked a small smile.

':-:'

Remus wasn't looking all that good, Harry decided, surreptitiously looking his almost-godfather up and down. He had lost some weight, there were heavy bags under his eyes, and the lines marring his face were more prominent than ever.

Harry didn't wait another second, and just hugged Remus. He didn't care how it looked to his friends, and he didn't even care if Remus didn't like it. Over the last months, all he did was learn, train and learn some more, getting prepared for the final battle with Voldemort. Somewhere along the way Harry had forgotten that there were other people, friends of his, with their own problems, as well.

"How are you?" Harry whispered, wanting to right some of his wrongs immediately.

Remus glanced over Harry's shoulder at Tonks, Ron and Hermione. "Let's get you settled in first, shall we?" He tried to gently pry Harry's hands off, but the boy wouldn't be moved.

Hermione, getting the hint, said, "Come on, Ron. I'm hungry. Let's look what we've got in the kitchen." She dragged the redhead with her, Tonks following.

"How are you?" Harry asked again once his friends were out of earshot. "Your letters were always quite formal and not saying anything."

Remus sighed. "You can be more persistent than Severus, you know?" he asked lightly, referring to the time when Snape had locked him in place in order to get him to eat something. All on Dumbledore's orders, of course. "I'm all right – okay, I'm better." He smiled slightly, wrapping his arm around Harry's shoulder. "Come, let's get something to eat."

"You could do with a bit more to eat," Harry said, feeling Remus stiffen beside him. "I'm concerned, that's all."

Remus sighed, relaxing again. "I appreciate that concern, really, but there's nothing to worry you about, Harry. I'm fine, or at least I'm going to be. It's just a stressful time now. Voldemort has been keeping a low profile after – well, Trelawney – I'm afraid he's planning something big."

Harry nodded. For once he knew exactly what Remus was talking about, because he was up-to-date to the on-goings in the Order.

They prepared some dinner together – Tonks managing to nearly cut her own finger off -, and Harry kept an eye on Remus so the werewolf had no other choice but eat everything on his plate like a good boy.

"Tonks, you should have someone have a look at that," Hermione said queasily, pointing to the bandaged finger, where blood started dripping down again. "I don't think merely 'wrapping it up' will do the trick."

Frowning, Tonks looked at her finger. Then she shrugged and said, "Okay."

Remus grimaced, beckoned Tonks to stand, and led her out of the kitchen. "Let's see what Benu can do for you..." he said quietly.

Ten minutes later, they were back and Tonks' finger was healed.

':-:'

22nd September 1996

The second and last day of their stay at Black Manor, Harry and the others exchanged their Christmas presents. There wasn't anything big, just small things. Hermione gave Remus a tiny Knarl ("Her name is Carroty – no, that's not a joke.") she had bought to keep him company, even after Tonks left. Buckbeak had been moved to Hungary after Sirius' death, and she thought it would be a good idea. Harry mostly received practical items. From Remus, though, he got something else.

"Here," Remus said, leading Harry into the library. The large mahogany desk was empty save one circular object made of stone. "I wasn't sure whether it's such a good idea, but I gathered – well, I'm not entirely sure you'll like it. I hope so."

"A Pensieve?" Harry asked, stepping closer to the table.

"No, a memory," Remus corrected softly.

Harry's eyes grew wide, glancing from the Pensieve to Remus and back again. He could see the silvery swirling on the surface now, announcing that a memory was trapped inside, beckoning Harry closer. "May I?" he asked very softly.

"Of course," Remus smiled. "It's your present. I hope you'll like it..."

Harry didn't wait for another second. He stepped forward, leant down, and pressed his face into the shiny surface of the Pensieve. One second he was surefooted in the middle of Sirius' old library, and the next Harry was falling head first into a whirlwind, transporting him back in time.

When Harry landed on his feet, he was in the middle of the Gryffindor common room. There were red and golden decorations, even more than usual, showing for all and sundry that it was Christmas time. The fire was crackling peacefully, throwing dancing shadows across the almost empty room. There were only a few students left, and on one couch, Harry recognised his parents, Sirius, Remus and Peter Pettigrew.

Harry swallowed, deciding to ignore the rat, and walked over to them. It was something entirely different, he thought, awed, looking at a magical picture and seeing them in a real life memory. His mother was beautiful, and for the first time Harry could say he really saw that he inherited his eyes from her. They were sparkling with laughter at something Harry's father had said. This had to be their seventh year, then.

Harry sat down in front of the couch, intent on absorbing every second of the memory, because he didn't exactly know how long it would take. He didn't really listen to what they were saying, only getting the general drift. He was lulled by the voice of his mother – this time not screaming at Voldemort -, so soft and gentle. His father put an arm around his future wife, and she leant into him, kissing his cheek. Sirius was rolling his eyes at Remus, who smiled indulgently.

Harry could honestly say that this was his best Christmas present ever. Even Hagrid's photo album hadn't given him as much pleasure as this memory. Just as he felt the memory coming to an end, though, Harry's scar started burning furiously. The pain spiked quickly, white flashing behind Harry's closed eyelids.

Then Harry was on his back, floating back out of the Pensieve, and at the same time he was still in the Gryffindor common room, although there was anther scene playing before his eyes. Remus was sitting alone at one of the desks, writing some kind of list.

Peter was leaning over, asking eagerly, "What are you doing?"

Remus looked at the other boy with a blank expression, holding the parchment so Peter couldn't see it. "Homework."

Peter frowned for a second, but then he shrugged and ran off to Sirius as the black-haired boy entered the room through the portrait.

Harry read the list Remus had composed since it was held in his direction. Monk. Virgin. Grindelwald.

When Harry landed on his feet in the library again, he had forgotten about the second memory.

':-:'

"Thank you," Harry said emphatically, embracing Remus almost violently. "That was my best present ever."

Remus laughed quietly. "You're welcome. I was not sure..."

"It's perfect." Harry closed his eyes, just enjoying the moment. He had never felt more connected, so near to his parents.

Ron and Hermione didn't disturb them, and Harry was thankful for that. He needed the comfort now, after months, after years of pent-up emotions. He cried silently, Remus holding him, not saying anything, because words weren't needed.

It was almost twenty minutes later when Harry left the library again. He didn't see the phoenix in the back, sleeping fitfully, and he didn't feel how his wand warmed in sympathy.

':-:'

25th December 1996

Severus Snape was not a man known to take pleasure in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas, nor was he likely to ever develop said feeling. This Christmas, though, was slightly different. He was hoping for a wonder.

Ever since the beginning of the holidays, he was more strained than ever, taking points en masse, giving out detentions like there was no tomorrow. And maybe there wasn't, Snape wasn't sure.

':-:'

Harry Potter was feeling far more festive. Added to his best present ever, it was Wednesday, which meant he wouldn't have to suffer Snape's surly presence. Snape was more uptight than Harry had ever seen him, lashing out at everything that moved, even if it turned out to be one of his Slytherins. Snape wasn't making a difference. Harry thought back, wondering whether Snape had ever acted that rash in previous Christmas holidays, but he came up blank. He couldn't remember.

Harry sat in the middle of Neville and Tonks, still in her Phasky-disguise. The House as well as the Head Table were not in the Great Hall, but melded together in the middle, where the staff and all students spending their holidays at Hogwarts sat together.

After the boisterous breakfast was finished, the owl post arrived. Harry received a short note from Remus, wishing him Merry Christmas once more. Harry smiled, deciding to write him back before he met with Hagrid for his training.

A large eagle owl sailed down then, catching everyone's attention. It flew directly towards Dumbledore, who held out one hand for the bird to land on. Harry thought he recognised the owl as the Malfoy's, but he wasn't entirely sure. Dumbledore frowned while he read the letter that had been attached to the owl's leg. Then he moved to stand, excused himself and left the Great Hall.

Just as Dumbledore had walked through the doors, another owl flew down towards the table. It looked nothing like the aristocratic eagle owl, though, but rather like a tattered rag. The owl landed next to Snape's goblet and the Potions master, though frowning, fed it a large peace of bacon from Dumbledore's abandoned plate. Then Snape untied the small piece of paper – Harry looked again, but yes, it was paper, not parchment – and read it quickly, before stuffing it into his robe pocket.

Harry didn't think that this would be so important. He didn't hear Snape's sigh of relief, and he didn't realise that the Potions master was now 'relaxed.'

As Harry made to stand, already formulating his reply to Remus in his mind, the last post arrived at the table. It was a brown barn owl, carrying a large, red envelope and depositing it directly in front of Cho Chang, the Ravenclaw's Seeker.

Chang frowned, obviously not sure why she would receive a Howler on Christmas morning. She was about to leave the hall to open the letter in peace.

Then it exploded into her face.

Literally.

Action followed immediately. Screaming students were leaping to their feet, teachers were trying to hold them back, and Pomfrey raced to the fallen girl's side. And all the time Harry was rooted to his place, gazing with a horrified fascination at the bloody mess that used to be such a pretty face.

':-:'

Harry sat with his head bowed in front of the Headmaster's desk. It was eerily quiet, and Harry forced himself not to fidget. He hadn't done anything to warrant nervousness, he knew, but the atmosphere was just unbearable.

Harry had seen death before, he wasn't new to it. But this had been different. Cedric had died by a spell, killing him on the spot. Sirius had gone through the veil. There hadn't been any blood, there hadn't been screams or tears. There had only been silence.

"Was it Voldemort?" Harry asked quietly, feeling Dumbledore's gaze burning on the top of his head. "Did he – kill her?"

"That's what we suppose," the Headmaster said, his chair creaking. "We can't be sure. Professor Snape will try to surreptitiously find out more, but it's unlikely that he will be able to gather any information..."

"Professor?" Harry said, formulating his next question. "How was it even possible that a bomb got through Hogwarts' wards? Aren't they supposed to keep Dark Magic and curses out? I don't understand how that owl could pass without causing any disruption."

Dumbledore sighed at that. "I'm looking into that matter, currently," he said. "We can't rule out any possibilities at the moment, but it seems unlikely that the letter managed to break the wards without – help."

Harry started at the implications. "Someone helped?" he asked, faces of potential undercover Death Eaters flashing through his mind. He didn't like that feeling. "But who?"

"As I said, we can't be sure as of now," Dumbledore said. "However, the possibility remains."

"Could it be the – well, the letter you got just before the Howler arrived," Harry said. "Could it be that this letter should distract you, sir?"

"No, Harry," Dumbledore said. "This letter had nothing to do with the attack. Although the author does have his connections with Voldemort, this letter was of personal nature, very personal indeed."

':-:'

11th February 1997

It was a cold night in London. Rain sizzled down, letting the roads glister. There were footsteps splattering water in various directions. Loud music blared out of one of the houses, but it was ignored for the time being.

A black clad figure headed to a house with the number eleven, but didn't approach the door. Suddenly, the house shrunk to the side, revealing another shabby house. The door handle was a twisted snake, and if you looked close enough, you could see that it was hissing dangerously.

And then Lord Voldemort made his way up the steps to number twelve, Grimmauld Place.

':-:'

A/Ns: Draco's law states when you're going to be executed. Parkinson's law is a term out of economy.

The idea for the memory-as-present has been borrowed from Lady Arrogance.

Chapter 8: You Can See Clearly Now (the rain isn't gone)
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Beta-reader: Vaughn

8. You Can See Clearly Now (the rain isn't gone)

':-:'

11th February 1997

Voldemort didn't even have to touch the door. One hissed word was enough and the handle answered, turning and granting the Dark Lord access to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. Bare walls and empty rooms greeted him.

Silently and confidently, he strode across the hallway, heading towards the one door which would lead him towards the cellar. Anticipations soared high in his blackened heart, but Voldemort bit back on his maniac cackling. He wasn't finished yet. The stairs down to the cellar were dark and damp, the Lumos only helping so much. When Voldemort arrived in the circular room, though, he conjured a magical fire, letting it float in midair. The grimace marring his snakelike face could almost be considered a pleased smile. But only for a few seconds.

Voldemort's features contorted into a furious snarl as he took in the whole room. It was covered in silvery werewolf hairs, large claws, dozens of rat skeletons – and a few bright feathers. There was no other sign of the phoenix. Rage was starting to come off Voldemort in heavy waves, but he didn't care. This wasn't supposed to happen! The wench had told him everything he needed to know about his final battle with the Potter boy, and the Black phoenix should have delivered him the means to end him once and for all. Where the hell was the blasted bird?

Just then a low noise could be heard, causing Voldemort to turn around to the stairs. Someone had dared to cross his plans, and this someone was going to pay.

"Carroty? Didn't I tell you not to venture down here..." Remus said, cursing the countless rats living down there, that were obviously so juicy, phoenixes and cats alike seemed unable to resist. His voice trailed off when he reached the last step, freezing in place and eyes growing wide.

"Why, hello..."

':-:'

Harry's lungs cramped, screaming for breath, as the boy fell to the floor in a heap. The connection between him and Snape cut off instantly, leaving him dizzy for only a second. Then he was back on his feet, rushing to the door in a mad dash.

"Potter!" Snape bellowed, panting himself from the exertion. This Occlumency session had been the most exhausting by far. Snape had been taken off-guard as Potter's scar had suddenly started burning, not letting the Potions master stop the Legilimency Spell. He had been forced to watch the same scene as the boy, unable to do anything than watch as Lupin walked down directly into Voldemort's arms.

"We've got to help him!" Potter cried, whirling around to face the Potions master, and Snape was dismayed to see that Potter's eyes had a wild look to them. "Voldemort's there! Remus will-" He choked.

"Think for one second, boy!" Snape snarled. "How should Voldemort have gotten into the Order's Headquarters? There's no way! This has to be a false vision!"

"No!" Potter said emphatically. "I hadn't had a false vision for months! This was real!"

Snape took a quick breath, thinking. It was possible. The Occlumency lesson could have weakened Potter's mind for a few minutes, enough time for Voldemort to break into his head again – unwittingly or not. That would be a big coincidence, though.

Potter dashed back to the door, saying, "I'm going to tell Dumbledore."

Snape, ever the quick thinker, spelled the door shut and sound-proof. "No," he said. "You're going to stay right here. I'm going to see what's going on in the Headquarters. Do you understand, Potter? You're not to leave this office until I am back."

"But why-?" Potter said. "I'm not-"

"Don't waste any more time," Snape snarled, moving to throw some special Floo powder into his fireplace. "If I'm not back within the hour, Floo to the Gryffindor common room. Don't talk to anyone, especially not Dumbledore."

And then the green flames consumed Snape, leaving behind a bewildered Potter. But Snape was on a mission to reassure that the Boy-Who-Lived would keep on doing so, that's why Snape didn't concern himself with the confusion of the boy. As the swirling of the flames came to a halt, Snape stumbled out of the hearth in number twelve, Grimmauld Place. His thoughts didn't follow their example, though. The Potions master hadn't wanted to voice them, he hadn't even wanted to just think them, but he couldn't help it.

If it was true – if this had really happened – then there was only one possible explanation: the Keeper must have spilled his Secret.

Clearing his mind, Snape rushed to the cellar he had only been to once. He took out his wand, casting a strong Disillusionment Charm on himself, making it appear as if he were nothing but thin air. When he reached the circular room in the lower house, though, there was nothing in it. No Lupin, no evidence of a fight, and certainly no Voldemort.

Snape scowled and went back up. Potter would see himself on the receiving end of some dozens detentions for that lie. No vision in months, oh yes, sure! And Snape had even bought it...

Just as the man's teeth threatened to crush themselves, Snape heard a pitiful meowing and screeching coming from the kitchen. Only seconds later, the painting of Mrs. Black was screaming herself.

"You disgusting animal!" she shrieked. "Now you got what you deserve! Die and join your foul friends!"

Snape's blood froze at that. He rushed to the kitchen, trying not to think about what he might find. When he entered the kitchen it was empty – no Voldemort – as the non-existent throbbing of his Dark Mark had already suggested. Then Snape saw some movement from the corner of his eye - something small and furry – Lupin's cat. Sitting and now once again mewling next to the body of her master.

Snape found himself hurrying to the prone man, hoping that he wasn't too late. Too many deaths were on his conscious already; he didn't need Potter blaming him for this one, too.

Lupin was awfully quiet - unlike his ginger cat and the painting - and motionless on the floor. Snape's finger were hesitant to test his pulse, but when he brushed them against Lupin's throat, he released his unconsciously held breath. There was a heartbeat, however weak at the moment.

"Be quiet!" Snape hissed at the cat, shoving it out of the way. Lupin felt cold, but there was no blood, no open wounds suggesting what had happened to him. Curses, hexes, internal injuries? Snape wasn't a medi-wizard; he had no idea how to help people. He needed Pomfrey. But as the Hogwarts' matron was no member of the Order, Snape would be forced to bring Lupin back to school. Snape conjured a stretcher, levitating the werewolf onto it and transporting him back into the drawing room. Then he thought of something.

Quickly Snape ran to the library and brought the aged phoenix to the drawing room, trying to bring it to spill a few tears. The bird didn't cooperate, though. After twenty seconds, the Potions master lost his nerves, drew his wand and cast a spell that that forced the phoenix to cry, as he was holding it over Lupin.

The clear drops hit Lupin's cheek, his forehead and his lips, but there was no reaction. Lupin stayed still. Snape left the phoenix on the floor then, cocooning the werewolf in a Protecting Spell, enabling him to travel with Floo securely.

':-:'

Harry was pacing the floor in front of the door when Snape finally returned to his office. Worry was etched deeply into the boy's face as he wrung his hands, unsure of what to do. He was not used to staying useless when he knew – or even suspected – that someone he cared for was injured. He was glad that Snape had wanted to use this additional DADA lesson for some Occlumency training time.

"What happened?" Harry asked immediately, rounding on the Potions master, even as the older man was brushing the soot from his robes. "Is Remus all right? Was it Voldemort? Did he really get into the house?"

"Lupin is safe for now," Snape said, scowling at the boy's fidgeting.

"Is he hurt?" Harry demanded, eyes growing wide at the telltale silence. "Where is he? I want to see him."

"You can't see him now," Snape said. "Lupin's in a secret room."

"A secret-" Harry repeated. "But why does he need a Secret Keeper? That's just-"

"That's not important at the moment," Snape interrupted firmly. "We've got a bigger problem at hand. Someone managed to get into the Headquarters – even I doubt that Lupin managed to do that to himself. Whether that someone was Voldemort or someone else is not important. Someone managed. But not alone. Secret places tend to be untraceable, as even you might know, Potter."

Tick. Tick. "My God," Harry whispered, the bomb dropping, and staggered back a few steps. He realised the implications of that statement, and it was like a blow to the stomach. "Dumbledore?" he breathed in shock. Then he shook his head. "Impossible."

"Nothing is sure," Snape said. "We have to be cautious, however. More so than ever."

':-:'

Harry was still repeating Snape's words in his head, hours later walking to the kitchen to get something to eat. Only half a year ago, Harry wouldn't have listened to Snape at all, and now he was forced to trust him even more than Dumbledore. It was very strange. But he could see the point. How could Voldemort – Harry was convinced it was Him, because of his vision - get past the Fidelius Charm? He had managed it once, after Peter Pettigrew had sold out Harry's parents. But this time? Dumbledore was the Secret Keeper of the Order's Headquarters. He couldn't have sold them out. That was ludicrous. Impossible. Maybe Voldemort managed to get the information somehow... Maybe someone had forgotten to burn the paper containing the information?

Harry didn't know. His head was spinning, worry about Remus on the forefront. Snape hadn't really managed to ease his mind, but Harry hadn't been expecting him to either. And now the boy was in front of the portrait, tickling the pear that would grant him access to the kitchen.

A few minutes later saw Harry seated at a small table, an array of delicious food in front of him and Dobby beside him. Harry's stomach growled – he hadn't eaten since breakfast – and the boy started with some roast beef sandwiches.

"Is Harry Potter, sir, wanting something else?" Dobby asked eagerly, fingers clasped together and rocking on his socked feet.

"No, thanks," Harry said, swallowing quickly and reaching for his pumpkin juice.

"Not even something sweet?" Dobby wheedled. "Dobby has been making apple cake!"

Mildly exasperated, Harry turned around to the house-elf. "It's all right, Dobby," he said, voice getting slower as he caught sight of something peculiar. There was something sticking inside of Dobby's 'hat', which was really just some oversized green-blue striped sock. "What's that?" he asked, pointing with his chicken leg towards the creature's head.

Dobby blanched, looking distinctly close to smashing his face into some solid object or another. "Nothing!" he said quickly. "Dobby needs to do the laundry now, sir, Mister Harry Potter, sir!"

Harry frowned. "You can't tell me?" he asked. "Okay, you don't have to," he said, even as he thought why Dobby would have reason not to tell him. What could be so important that the elf couldn't tell Harry Potter, whom he adored like no one else?

':-:'

When Harry reached Gryffindor Tower, it was quite late already. He hadn't encountered any patrolling teachers or Filch, so he was unprepared when he caught sight of a figure huddled together in a dark spot. It was Neville, and he was snoring softly.

Harry sighed. The portraits no longer opened up after curfew – just one of many security measures after the Howler incident over Christmas -, so Neville must have either stayed out for too long or, which was more likely, nobody had been down in the common room to hear his knocking as the boy once again forgot the password.

Shaking his head, Harry spelled the portrait open – he was the only student able to do so, seeing as his additional training sessions ended usually long after curfew -, cast a Sleeping Charm on Neville, and levitated him into the dorm. Once he was settled in his own bed, Harry let the weariness engulf him.

It wouldn't take very much longer, he knew. Everything was building up to a great crescent: Harry's training, Voldemort's scheming, and the people's anxiousness. Voldemort had been laying low for long enough. Harry was convinced that with Remus' assault, things would change quickly.

The boy sighed, turning on his side to be able to gaze out of the magical window. It was cold outside, and Harry snuggled deeper into his blankets. From his position, he could overlook the lawn in front of Hogwarts. On the other side of the castle, a huge cemetery was situated. 'Potter's Field,' it read in rusty letters, housing nameless bodies that couldn't be buried in Hogsmeade or anywhere else. Harry sometimes wondered whether the name would prove prophetic.

When Harry wasn't wondering about his own death, he thought about those of others. The only thing he liked about magical wars was that it wouldn't get bloody – hopefully. Not for the first – and, certainly, not for the last time – Harry asked himself which students would fight for the Dark side, because there would be peers he would be facing off against, he knew.

He Knew many things he had never wanted to know, nor wanted confirmed. Draco Malfoy – along with his girlfriend Pansy Parkinson – had not returned to Hogwarts after the Christmas holidays. Harry couldn't really say he was surprised. He wanted to, but some things were just destined to be, whereas others weren't.

':-:'

12th February 1997

Wednesdays were Harry's favourite days of the whole week – even better than Sundays, where he had time to study, because he didn't have to endure Snape. After Charms, Harry, Ron and Hermione had a free period of time they usually spend together in the library. This Wednesday was no different - almost.

"Remus was injured," Harry said without preamble when they'd claimed their usual spot in the back of the library. He hadn't had the time to tell them before, and he was feeling awful about the knowledge that he couldn't do anything but tell his friends about their ex-Professor's condition. And Harry didn't know much about that either.

"What?" Ron said, as Hermione looked up from the books she'd laid out on the table. "What happened?"

"Voldemort," Harry said, ignoring Ron's obligatory flinch at the name. "He broke into Grimmauld Place, went into the cellar and nearly killed Remus..." Harry hadn't realised the similarities before, but now that he told Ron and Hermione about yesterday, he couldn't help the feeling that the cellar Voldemort was in and the one he'd seen in Snape's memories were fairly familiar. He decided to leave this bit for later.

"How is he now?" Hermione asked, eyes glowing with concern.

"I don't even know. I was in the dungeons with Snape, training in Occlumency when a vision struck. Snape left to check up at Headquarters, then he came back and told me Remus is in a secret room to recover."

Ron and Hermione sat in shocked silence, trying to absorb everything. Finally, Hermione breathed, "That's impossible."

Harry grimly shook his head.

"What's impossible?" Ron asked, looking from Hermione to Harry and back.

"Voldemort couldn't have managed to break into Grimmauld Place," Hermione said. "It's under the Fidelius Charm. So, there's only one way he could have done it..." She left the sentence hanging in the air. It took a few seconds for Ron to catch on.

"Dumbledore?" he breathed. "But – that doesn't make any sense. That's just – illogical – wrong - impossible... Couldn't it be possible that You-Know-Who broke the Fidelius?"

Hermione frowned, looking over to Harry. "It happened yesterday, right?" At Harry's nod, she sighed. "Yesterday was February the 11th."

"Yes, and today is February the 12th. Other than it's two days before Valentine's Day, it doesn't say much," Ron said.

"The 11th of February is the second Tuesday in February, the second day in the second month," Hermione explained and sighed once more. She averted her gaze and leafed through her Arithmancy book. "You remember the train ride to Hogwarts, don't you?" she said. "Luna's words and – everything else." She reached the site she had searched for. Her eyes were grave as she fixed her gaze on Ron and then Harry. "The number two is an incredibly powerful number in Arithmancy, and Luna's words made me look some things up. There were some wrongs – my number's one and Ron is six, for instance -, Harry's number was indeed two, though. I calculated a few things through – the result is not something I would have guessed. You were born on the 31st of July in 1980, Harry. My calculations showed that two is not only your birthnumber, it's also the cross sum of both your birthday, as well as when I add your birthyear. That's pretty rare, Harry."

Harry sighed. "What's new?" he asked quietly. "What's that to do with anything?"

"It means that the biggest events in your life might – and I mean might because even Arithmancy is not exact in this category – happen on days were the number two is essential. You were born on a two-heavy date. Your – your parents were killed exactly two years after you were conceived. Those two dates' cross sum's difference is exactly two. It's everywhere, Harry. And yesterday was the second Tuesday of February. Voldemort broke into Grimmauld Place and Lupin was hurt. I wasn't sure whether this Arithmancy branch was reliable, but now... I think it might be possible."

"It sounds an awful lot like Divination," Ron said condescendingly. "Making calculations with dates and foreseeing the future or telling about past happenings..." he trailed off at Hermione's glare.

"It's nothing like Divination," she said emphatically. "It's all about Numerology. The same difference as in Astronomy and Astrology. Honestly, Ron..."

"It sounds like something – Trelawney – would have said, though," said Harry haltingly. The Trelawney-topic was still not something he liked to think – let alone talk – about.

"It's perfectly serious magic," Hermione said again. "It's just that the numbers don't always play such big parts in everyone's life – which makes Numerology quite unsure."

It was enough for Harry to think about. A wounded Remus, a potential leak in the Order, and now a calculation divining his life. Harry was not shocked, merely mildly surprised by these happenings. If his life so far had taught him anything at all, it was to expect the unexpected.

':-:'

13th February 1997

Harry was trying to have a peaceful breakfast whilst deciding on whether he should confront Snape before or after lunch, questioning Remus's whereabouts once again. This lethargy, slowly seeping into his bones, was making Harry crazy. Despite all the training, the usual classes, the stress, he couldn't help feeling useless. He needed to see Remus for himself. Snape's reassurances of "he's safe" didn't do much for the boy's mind. The safest place had been the Order's Headquarters, in Harry's opinion. You could see how far that got Remus.

Harry's quiet meal was abruptly disrupted by Hermione plopping down next to him. She looked out of breath, as if she had been running from the Tower all the way to the Great Hall. She didn't give Harry the time to greet her, let alone ask why she seemed in such a hurry.

"I made some more calculations," Hermione said, leaning closer to Harry and dropping her voice even lower, "and I know when Voldemort is going to strike."

':-:'

"My Lord," Snape said, dropping to his knees in order to kiss the hem of the Dark Lord's robes.

"Everything went smoothly, I assume?" Voldemort said softly, eyes burning down on the Potions master, who didn't dare meet his gaze.

"Yes, my Lord," Snape said. "Lupin is at Hogwarts, still in a magical coma. Madam Pomfrey is still not able to improve his condition." Which was a lie, but Voldemort didn't need to know that. It had taken a lot of Poppy's time, but she'd managed to determine the numerable curses that were placed on Lupin. He would be able to wake of his slumber in a few hours and be the same as before.

"Very well." Voldemort moved quietly across the room, reclaiming his stone throne. "You may rise, Severusss..." He fixed the dark-haired professor with a chilling gaze, quietly marvelling at the other's ability to obscure his thoughts so well. Not that it would help, naturally. "How wasss Dumbledore's reaction to all of thisss?"

"He was not pleased," Snape replied, allowing a small smirk to play at the corner of his thin mouth. "The next Order meetings will be held at Hogwarts."

"Excellent." Voldemort's bony fingers flexed against the stone armrests. "Excellent, indeed. The spy – sss – at Hogwarts." Voldemort smirked, and it was not pretty. "Dumbledore is such a fool, so predictable. Tell me, Severus: How does Dumbledore suppose I acquired access to Grimmauld Place? Does he suspect you, my little double spy?"

Snape swallowed dryly, not showing his unease at the address. He was used by now to Voldemort's little mind games to draw him out. Voldemort knew that Snape spied for both parties, he was just not aware where his alliances truly lay.

"Dumbledore says he suspects no one," Snape said with a sneer, as if the thought alone was laughable. "So, he suspects everyone."

Voldemort smiled, a terrible grimace when someone doesn't have lips, as if he hadn't expected otherwise. "Such a fool," he said softly, almost gently. "Cannot see what is right in front of his eyes..." He traced off, and Snape knew he was dismissed. He went to respectfully kiss the robes' hem once more, before Disapparating until further notice. Voldemort's words kept echoing in Snape's head. 'Cannot see what is right in front of his eyes...' Snape couldn't say he was seeing much more, to be frank. After the confirmation that Voldemort had indeed been at the Order's Headquarters, Snape had wreaked his brain for explanations. How could it be possible? How? Answers, one more outrageous than the next, kept popping up, and Snape was nowhere near the resolve to his problem. And now Voldemort's cryptic words. It didn't make sense.

'... right in front of his eyes...'

There was nothing in front of his eyes!

'... eyes...'

Snape stopped abruptly in the middle of the Forbidden Forest. His eyes were unseeing as he listened to the hissing of the wind.

'...eyesss...'

There was a sound to the left, maybe a snake, Snape wasn't paying attention.

'... spy – sss...'

Had he heard correctly? Had Voldemort said spies instead of spy? Snape had thought he was the only Death Eater at Hogwarts, but his Lord's words made him begin to doubt that. But who? And what was right in front of his eyes, Dumbledore's eyes? Who was at Hogwarts, who hadn't been there earlier? What was in front of his eyes?

Snape raised his head and gazed at the stars, searching for an answer. And She gave it to him, when he caught sight of the moon.

Chapter 9: Aedficium Erit In Orbe Ultima
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Beta-reader: Vaughn

9. Aedficium Erit In Orbe Ultima

':-:'

14th February 1997

The seconds rushed past as Severus Snape's mind worked to keep up with his brain. He was still gazing at the cool globe of the moon, ignoring his surroundings. He didn't need to worry as the inhabitants of the Forbidden Forest knew him well enough not to consider him a midnight snack.

It had been right in front of his eyes all the time. Snape had been too blind to register it, though, searching for the wrong answers. The question was not how Voldemort managed to break into Headquarters, but how he had managed to make them believe it. Voldemort couldn't have breached Headquarters; it was just impossible. Nobody from the Order could have slipped Voldemort Dumbledore's note of where Headquarters was located, as it was always immediately burned after reading by newly introduced members. No, Voldemort hadn't been there, he only made it look as though. Snape had been present, had even been in Potter's mind, as the boy had the vision of Lupin's attack. But it had not been real, it had been fake.

Voldemort knew of Snape teaching Potter Occlumency, thinking that his servant hindered the boy more than helping him. It must have indeed weakened Potter temporarily, and it was all that it took for Voldemort to carry out his plan. However, he didn't do it alone. Someone must have helped him. Someone who had been at Headquarters when it happened. Someone with extensive knowledge of the Dark Arts. Or how to defend themselves against it.

Snape breathed in the crisp night air, ignoring the chill that seeped under his skin. He had an epiphany, but not one he liked very much. He couldn't believe he hadn't thought of it before. It should have been quite obvious, really. The idea of Voldemort breaking thorough Headquarters' wards was horrendous, but then Snape even suspected Dumbledore. And it had been Lupin all along. Snape wanted to laugh out loud, if it weren't so serious. Calm, well-mannered, nice, comatose Lupin! How dare he? Snape had even started to not feel his presence as unbearable. Once, Snape had been an impeccable judge of character, but that time was long gone. Now he was left in the cold; laughable excuse for a spy. He didn't fool anyone – well, apart from Voldemort, of course. Even the late Mrs. Black had played him for a fool. Her words were still fresh in his head.

'Now you got what you deserve! Die and join your foul friends!'

Snape knew that Mrs. Black had not been an actual follower of Voldemort, but she had known him, back in the days when Regulus had still been alive.

Tricked by a screeching painting, a calm werewolf, and by his own instincts. Snape felt awfully tired all of a sudden, getting back on track to Hogwarts. He couldn't yet think of sleep, though. He needed to inform Dumbledore. They had to take care of Lupin. It was a good thing Voldemort thought he was still in coma. That way he wouldn't become suspicious when the werewolf didn't report anything.

':-:'

24th April 1997

Harry concentrated and chanted a hex. Once. Twice. The red light shot out of his wand, hitting the wall directly. Harry repeated the hex. Once. Twice. Then one hex rebounded, shot back and narrowly missed Harry's cheek. One. Two drops of blood trickled down.

It came all down to two. Harry hadn't even broken down once. Two curses, two plans, two years, two lives at stake – and only one to take.

After two hours of constant training (the number was really starting to irritate him), Harry needed a short break. He willed the Room of Requirement to transform back into a common room-like chamber. Even as he stretched out his hand, a glass filled with water appeared. He gulped it down quickly, choking and spluttering. Drying his chin, Harry plopped down into the nearest chair. One. Two breaths.

Harry was nervous, and it was easy to see for those who knew where to look. Sometimes, Harry's hand shivered so badly, he couldn't even hold his spoon at lunch. He'd taken on eating alone after a while. The pressure grew with each day, drawing nearer to the 24th of June 1997, which would mark exactly two years of Voldemort being alive again. On the 24th of June 1995, Voldemort had stolen Harry's blood to live again, and in two months, he would try to steal Harry's life. The 24th of June would go down in history; that was for sure. Either as the day the world ended (even if there weren't any people left to archive that information, then) or as the day Harry Potter defeated the Dark Lord for the second and final time by becoming a murderer.

Harry could honestly say that he wasn't looking forward to it.

':-:'

24th June 1997

It was dinner time at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans and maize. It smelled delicious, though the majority of the student body appeared subdued, as if they could feel that something was in the air.

And suddenly, something was indeed in the air: smoke in the form of the Dark Mark floated above the Great Hall, easily visible through the magical ceiling. There was screaming and a few Hufflepuffs fainted, as Dumbledore and the teachers (minus Snape, who hadn't been present to begin with) tried to calm the shocked students.

Harry, who had been a nervous wreck since he opened his eyes that morning (after only two hours of restless sleep), almost had a heart attack as a hand settled on his shoulder. Too bad his heart didn't stop beating; then, at least, it would have been over already. Two months of knowing when Voldemort would try to kill you, unable to do anything but train and hope that you got stronger than him had taken their toll on the boy. Harry hoped that he was stronger; otherwise he wouldn't live long enough to ever experience a heart attack, which was something Harry found himself looking forward to, all of a sudden.

"Harry, it's time," Tonks said in a low voice. The boy took a deep breath, exchanged one last glance with Ron and Hermione, and then went to follow the figure of Professor Phasky out of the Great Hall. As Harry exited the hall, he also let a part of his anxiety behind. It was as if now that the moment had finally arrived, the situation itself became less threatening. Harry didn't even try to analyse this paradox.

Harry had always thought Remus would mentor him in the last weeks before the great showdown, but alas the last remaining friend of Harry's parents was still in this strange magical coma. Harry tried not to think of it too much. After defeating Voldemort ("Positive thinking!" Hermione told him repeatedly.), he would find the cure for Remus.

Loud voices ('War noises,' Harry thought, despondedly.) could be heard from a hallway in front of them, and Tonks pulled Harry quickly to the side. She morphed back into her normal self, the need for cover no longer important. Harry kept quiet as a Disillusionment Charm was put over them both as a small group of Death Eaters made their way past them. Harry balled his fists, breathing harshly. It was the hand, though, gripping his shoulder that prevented him from doing anything stupid like getting into danger before Voldemort was out of the picture. Harry thought he caught a glimpse of white-blonde hair, but he wasn't sure.

"Let's go," Tonks said urgently, and Harry let himself be led, glad that he wouldn't need to face off against any former peers.

"You know what you have to do, right?" Tonks said, giving Harry an encouraging grin, as if they were talking about cooking and not killing another wizard. "Just stay focused. Remember the spells, hexes and curses we trained, and everything will go smoothly."

Harry sighed, knowing that another Expecto Patroni incident, like it had happened two years prior, was impossible. One brother was going to kill the other. It remained to be seen who was Abel and who would be Cain.

"Are you ready?" Tonks asked, standing just outside the Room of Requirement, where everything would end one way or another.

"No," Harry said softly.

Tonks looked at him sharply. "There's no time for doubts or-"

"I'm not ready to die," Harry finished, equally quiet, shooting his friend a glance.

Tonks stilled, thinking for a moment. "Then don't," she said simply.

':-:'

Snape cursed once more, as yet another syringe wasn't filled with the exact amount of tranquilliser he needed for Lupin. He felt his Mark burning on his forearm, beckoning him to join the war going on in this very castle. He needed to refresh Lupin's dose first, though, and as Lupin was moved to another Secret Room, only Dumbledore and Snape himself knowing the location, the Potions master was left with no choice but to do the work. The flaring pain in his arm that caused his unsteadiness was no help.

A low rustling sound behind him let Snape swirl around, fingers clamped around his wand and pointing more or less steadily at Lupin.

The werewolf didn't appear very coherent, judging by his expression of confusion and surprise at his surroundings.

"Vo-Voldemort," he croaked hoarsely.

"Your master," Snape sneered, "is not here." He watched in satisfaction as Lupin finally recognised him and the wand that pointing straight at his heart.

"Sev-" Lupin coughed, putting a hand on his chest. "Severus?"

"Don't overexert yourself," Snape said mockingly. "You will need all your energy for your trial. And now go back to sleep." He picked up the syringe – once again cursing the fact that werewolves couldn't be sedated by magic – and filled it; this time it went smoothly. Until Snape was in front of Lupin, who regarded him through dilated pupils. After-effects of the two months of forced coma, Snape knew.

"What?" the other man asked. "Why- Where is Voldemort? He was at Headquarters. He-"

"You talk too much, Lupin," Snape said, gesturing with his wand. "Now be quiet." As Snape made to insert the needle in Lupin's arm, Lupin struggled against the hold. "Hold still!" Snape snarled, injecting the needle with more force than necessary. Lupin cried out; a trickle of blood seeped out and trickled down.

"Sev-Severus," Lupin mumbled, voice getting lower with every second. His eyes grew heavy, as did his limbs, while the tranquilliser quickly took over. "Don't understand. Vold'mor' knew... knew Blacks... he knew where... before... before.."

Snape pulled the empty syringe out of Lupin's arm, scowling at the unconscious man in front of him.

'Before... before...' Before WHAT, god damn it! Snape was so sick of it: the insecurities, the lying, the spying. He was sick and he was tired of it.

"What do you want from me, Lupin?" Snape said, cleaning the blood from the used needle. "Couldn't you have stayed asleep one minute longer? I don't have time for doubts."

':-:'

As the great moment finally arrived, Harry could honestly say that he wasn't impressed by Voldemort's sheer magical presence, radiating off him in great waves.

"Harry Potter," Voldemort hissed, not seeming surprised at getting ripped out of his surroundings into the Room of Requirement, at all. "What a pleasure to see you – one final time."

"I'm sure," Harry snorted under his breath, brandishing his wand. He needed to stay calm, remember Tonks' words, then nothing could go wrong. "How about we get this over with without the usual hour-long speeches?"

Voldemort's eyes flashed in amusement. "Eager to meet your destiny, are we, Potter?" He tsked softly, but readied himself for the duel, nonetheless.

Harry didn't reply, instead opting to concentrate all of his energy on the hatred, passion and fear he had gathered over the last months of his life. He could do it, he would do it.

':-:'

In number twelve, Grimmauld Place, a door suddenly banged shut by an invisible gust of wind. A scrawny looking Phoenix screeched, but nobody heard. And as the bird burned to ashes, two wands followed its example.

':-:'

Harry Potter stared at his sooty hands in absolute shock. A moment ago, he'd held his wand, the first curse on the tip of his tongue, and now there was only ashes covering his fingers. His wand had suddenly glowed and then burst into dust, just like a vampire getting hit by sunlight.

'I'm dead,' was the first thought that shot through Harry's head. Right before Voldemort let out a mighty roar that could have deafened him.

His hand was also covered in soot.

':-:'

Severus Snape was hurrying down the hallways, dignity forgotten. The pull on his arm was getting weaker but the noises were getting louder, as he neared the Great Hall. As he rounded the last corner, Snape nearly collided with the chummy figure of Neville Longbottom.

"Pro-Professor Snape," the boy stammered. "I was looking for you. Professor Dumbledore said to bring you! You're needed!"

Snape nodded sharply and strived past Longbottom. Of course, Snape was needed in the hall. Dumbledore didn't need to send a search party – especially Longbottom.

"Stupefy!" Lupin's voice whispered from behind Snape, and a second later, a weight plopped to the stone ground. Snape whirled around, sneer firmly in place.

"Lupin!" he snarled. "Can't you hear or do you purposely ignore my orders by not staying underneath the blasted Invisibility Cloak?" He cast a glance at the prone boy – a Slytherin would have watched his back – before returning his glare to Lupin, whose head and right hand seemingly floated in midair.

"Next time, I'll remember," Lupin said calmly. "And if you wish to be stabbed in the back by another student, please let me know. I'm sure I can arrange something."

Snape exhaled harshly. "Hallucinations are a by-product of the tranquillisers."

"Severus?" Lupin said, indicating something on the ground. Snape barely reigned in the urge to roll his eyes, but followed the pointing finger. In Longbottom's hand was a knife.

Snape took one step back. What was the meaning of this?

"You should be more careful who you turn your back to," Lupin said quietly. "We are at war, after all. Neville could have..." He trailed off, staring at the prone boy in shocked surprise. There, right in front of their eyes, Neville's body thinned and lengthened, until he achieved the features of – Nymphadora Tonks.

':-:'

Harry Potter again stared at his hands in utter shock. There was not much soot left, and the bit still clinging to his skin was soaked red. He had no idea whose blood it was, maybe Voldemort's, maybe his own.

Harry didn't feel anything. No pain, no happiness, no remorse.

The ground shook when Harry looked the body, which was really rather a carcass, of the Dark Lord over.

There were rips in the robes, and a crack in the wall.

There was blood trickling down the lipless mouth, and a destroyed chandelier.

There were handprints around the pale neck, and another earth-quaking.

And there was nothing in the red eyes, wide open and staring unseeingly at the ceiling, and Hogwarts collapsed.

':-:'

Snape regarded the remains of Hogwarts Castle, once so proud and nothing more than a ruin. He breathed the foul air, saw the burning bodies, and wondered how he managed to stay alive.

He had often managed to do things against all odds, and now he had proven again that there was a reason why he was so important to – Dumbledore – against Voldemort. Not any longer, though.

Snape knew that sometimes it was not his skill but sheer dumb luck keeping him alive. Like this day. Rescued by Lupin, whom he had believed to be a spy against the Light. Doubts had saved him, in the end, and the knowledge would stay with him, even after the Dark Lord's evil manipulations were over.

Tonks would have killed him, after Snape himself gave his loyalties away. Lupin's condition was a trap, and Snape had traipsed right into it. Of course, Voldemort had known that Lupin would not stay in coma for very long, and after the werewolf had not been sighted for two months, he had known that Snape must have spilt his secret, and Dumbledore did everything to ensure the safety of the castle.

Snape couldn't have known that the vision he had seen in Potter's mind had been true after all. He hadn't known that Voldemort had been at Grimmauld Place before, before the Fidelius Charm had been placed upon it. He had known where to find it and he had seen everything that had been there already thirty years before.

Snape sighed and bent down to close Dumbledore's eyes. "Good night."

-End-

A/N: Everything that hasn't been solved (everything concerning Draco, mostly) will be in "Bad Boys", the Sequel.

Thanks for taking the time to read. Reviews are strongly discouraged (no typo) :)

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