Umbridge recovered first, her small eyes hardening as she gazed at her missing student. "Well, well, Mr. Potter. An unregistered Animagus. And also a student who has missed class for over a month and a half. Have you any idea of the trouble you have caused? I ought to have you expelled for your pathetic behavior, young man!"
Harry gulped sharply, wondering if she was going to snap his wand right there. But then the sickening feeling vanished and he lifted his head and looked the other witch right in the eye. As a hawk, he wouldn't have let the toad bitch cow him. And he was still Freedom, even if he was now a boy. Before he could say anything, however, Snape did.
"Dolores, might I remind you that Potter should not be held responsible for absences as a result of a magical accident?"
Umbridge glared at the tall professor. "How so?"
"It is in the Guidelines of Hogwarts Bylaws," Severus interjected smoothly. "Chapter 12, section 10: "If a student has missed class due to an unforeseen accident of a magical nature, up to and including random shapeshifting, no House points may be taken or expulsion considered, since said student was not able to control his or her magical outburst."
Umbridge looked as if she wished she could turn Snape into a puddle of sludge. She summoned a thick leatherbound book with a wave of her wand from the bookshelf and snapped, "Cross reference-chapter 12, section 10." The book opened and magically turned to the page she had requested.
She bent and read, her face flushing. "Very well. I may not expel you, Mr. Potter, but I can and will give you detention for the rest of this term. And you will need to make up all the work you missed as well as take your OWLS."
Harry gaped at her. "But Professor, how can I do that and keep up with my classes at the same time?"
Umbridge smiled coldly. "That, Mr. Potter, is your problem. Next time, do not experiment with magic you have no business learning. You are to report to me here at 7PM this evening for your detention. I trust you will be prompt?"
Inwardly he shuddered, for though she might not be able to use a blood quill on him any longer, he had no doubt she would come up with something else that was quite as horrid. As it was, it was going to be hell trying to catch up with all of his classes, he had no idea how he was going to manage that without cracking under the pressure. How am I going to explain everything to Ron and Hermione? And how am I going to explain it to Severus? He darted a quick glance at the potions teacher out of the corner of his eye, and saw that Snape was pale and expressionless, all of his emotions locked away.
In one way, that made Harry relieved, but in another, it made him fearful, for he knew that Snape was just waiting to get him alone, and then he'd probably hand Harry his head on a platter. He was not fooled for an instant about Snape's mask of indifference.
Umbridge rose, came around the desk, and caught Harry's chin in her hand. The boy stiffened and Snape made a motion to halt her, then arrested it when Umbridge spoke. "I want you to understand something, Mr. Potter. When Dumbledore was head of this institution, you were allowed to run wild. But he is no longer in charge, I am, and you will abide by my rules, or else suffer the consequences. Break one more rule and I shall not hesitate to snap your wand, boy!"
Harry jerked his chin from her grasp, wincing as her nails scored his cheek. "Understood, Professor. May I go now?"
"Yes. Go. Oh, and one more thing, Mr. Potter. Failure to finish your work in a timely manner is considered rule-breaking. Dismissed."
Harry opened his mouth to protest, for that was so unfair it was ridiculous, but then he shut it at Snape's ferocious glance.
"Mr. Potter, after you have seen your Head of House and informed her of your return, I will see you in my office." Severus said, his voice devoid of any emotion.
For some reason that scared Harry worse than if the man had shouted at him. Just how angry was Snape to exert that kind of control over his emotions?
"Yes, sir," Harry said as respectfully as he could muster. He's not going to forgive me. He hates me now for what I did. Merlin, Severus, I'm sorry! I should have told you sooner. But somehow, I just couldn't. He cast his former wizard master a guilty regretful look before hurrying out of the office.
Severus scowled and rubbed his temples, he was starting to develop a blinding headache. "If there are no further accusations you wish to make, madam, I have potions to brew."
Umbridge gave him a sickly syrupy smile. "Of course, Severus. I shall see you at dinner."
Snape swept out of the office his hand clenched upon his wand. That morning had been one of the worst of his life, and he was still trying to process the fact that his familiar, the hawk he had come to love and had told his innermost secrets to was actually none other than bloody Harry Potter.
He strode down the steps to the dungeons and barricaded himself in his lab, figuring he had about an hour or so before Potter came knocking on his office door. An hour to try and combat the awful feelings of betrayal and anger that were surging up within him.
He had trusted his familiar the way he had no other soul, not Hagrid, not even Lily had ever known what he had spoken of to Freedom. And while Potter had claimed he had amnesia, Severus had to wonder just how much Potter remembered from his time as a hawk. From what he knew of Animagi, they retained their mind in their other shape and anything they did in their second form was remembered when they changed back. If that held true for Potter . . .he knew everything.
Severus longed to put his fist through the wall.
This was worse than the time James and Sirius had hung him upside down in front of everyone down at the lake, worse than the Dark Lord probing his mind with his clumsy Legilimancy, because he had always been able to Occlude his mind and the Dark Lord had never known anything but what Snape wished him to.
He felt as if Potter had gotten hold of his private Pensieve and rummaged through it. Only he had told Potter, disguised as an innocent hawk, all of those private memories himself! I trusted him and he betrayed me! What a fool I was! All along, a part of me suspected . . .and I should have known! How else would it be possible for a fifteen-year-old to remain hidden so long without help? An Animagus, just like his bloody father!
He felt like throwing his carefully labeled potion vials against the wall, but he was too old to indulge in that kind of juvenile behavior. Breaking things wouldn't change the fact that Potter now knew his carefully guarded secrets. He thought of all the nights, and days as well, when he had talked to his hawk, stroking and healing the bird, and how good it had felt to have another to talk to that would listen and not judge him, who would be loyal and never betray him. His teeth clenched. Now that was destroyed, for how could Potter not judge him for speaking so about his parents? He had even admitted that he loved Lily to her son!
Severus groaned and buried his face in his hands. It was the ultimate humiliation.
He began to chop up acacia roots with a vengeance, the steady repetitive motion helping him concentrate on something other than the Potter brat and how he had lied to him and was probably laughing up his sleeve at what a psychological wreck his potions professor was. Two broken things have found each other. His hands stilled as he recalled that long ago night after he had returned from the Dark Lord's meeting. Little did he know he had spoken those words to the son of his worst rival.
But then he also recalled what the hawk-Potter-had told him. You're not alone. I care for you.
Perhaps the hawk had cared, but how much was the hawk and how much was the Boy Who Lived? When had Potter's memories returned? And why in bloody hell had he not transformed back when they did return, instead of playing about in hawk form? Had he done it as a lark, the way James would have done? Had it amused him, playing Snape and all the rest of them for fools?
He could just see it-Potter bragging to his friends how he had made an utter fool of the master spy himself, smirking like the Cheshire cat. Wait, no that was James who had always smirked whenever he'd pulled a prank on someone-usually Severus. He had never really seen Potter smirk that way, had he? Come to think on it, he had never really seen Potter smile that much. Not even when he'd beaten Slytherin at Quidditch. Potter was . . .serious, mostly. Unless he was being cheeky.
Severus resolved he would have the answers to those questions before Potter left his office. At least he would have that much. Although, he had to admit, Potter had done a brave and unexpected thing defending him from Umbridge that way. But that did not take away the sharp sting of betrayal.
* * * * * *
Harry barely heard McGonagall's lecture on the dangers of unsupervised Animagus transformations. He knew he ought to pay attention to his Head of House, she was the most experienced Transfiguration teacher on the staff, and she deserved his respect, but his stomach was threatening to rebel, he was so worried over how Snape was going to react when he finally got Harry alone. Something in his bones told him it was not going to be good. But then, had he ever really expected it to be? He had, in essence, deceived the man for two weeks after regaining his memories, had listened to private conversations, and he knew Snape's views on privacy, especially when it came to his own life. Snape was like a clam, shut up tight and needing a crowbar to pry him open.
"Mr. Potter! Have you been listening to a word I've said?" demanded McGonagall.
Harry jumped. "What? Oh . . .yes . . .I have . . .umm . . ." Then he blushed crimson. "No . . .not really. I'm sorry . . .what did you just say?"
McGonagall sighed, clearly the boy's mind was about a thousand miles away. "I said, Mr. Potter, that you should not change forms until you have been properly registered by me with the Ministry and I have seen for myself that you can transform back and forth without a problem. For now, consider yourself on probation as far as shifting goes. I will want to see you for extra tutoring after class during your free period."
Harry groaned. "All right, Professor, but I don't know when I'm going to have time to do everything, with all the make up work and Umbridge's detentions . . ." He trailed off, realizing he was whining, he hadn't meant to say that out loud!
But instead of scolding him, the Transfiguration professor shot him a concerned look. "Umbridge has assigned you detention? For how long?"
"Till the end of the term."
McGonagall's eyes grew flinty. "That is absolutely . . .I shall speak with her . . .you cannot possibly perform well in class if you have detention for that long and she ought to realize that your missing so much school was unintentional and discipline you accordingly . . ."
Harry just nodded, though he didn't think it would do much good. Umbridge was not the sort to take criticism from anyone and she ran the school with an iron fist.
"Thank you, Professor."
"Go on, Harry. Go back to your dorm, I'm sure your friends will be glad to see you back where you belong. As am I. You were very lucky, you know. Very lucky. Not everyone can maintain their sense of self after being gravely injured in Animagus form. You seem to have an instinctive knack for it, much like myself. Or your father." She smiled at him. "Well then, off with you!"
Harry went, though he did not tell her he was going down to Snape's office. It was strange to have to walk on the ground, his feet felt uncoordinated and awkward, after so many weeks of flying everywhere. He had never realized just how quickly a pair of wings enabled one to get to a destination until now. But maybe he shouldn't be in such a hurry to get to his own execution, figuratively speaking.
Then he stiffened his shoulders and thought that at least once he had confronted Snape, it would be over. He felt bad though, costing the wizard his familiar, and more, his friend. But perhaps . . .perhaps he might convince Snape that he still wanted to be his friend? He snorted. Right. And Umbridge would have an epiphany and become a fuzzy pink bunny. Snape would never want to be a friend to a student, much less the son of his hated rival.
He had now reached the office. Slowly, he put a hand on the door. Then he took a deep breath and turned the knob. He halted. Perhaps he had better knock first. That was good manners and Snape liked that. He knocked firmly on the door.
For a long moment, there was no sound and Harry wondered if Snape was even inside.
Then came a familiar silky command, "Enter."
Harry opened the door and went in.
The office was the same as always, Snape's desk crammed with neat stacks of parchment, quills, and potion vials. Behind it was a shelf with various things in jars, pickled eyes and other strange but valuable ingredients. Snape was seated behind his desk, looking as forbidding as ever. Harry felt any hope he had of reconciliation shrivel and die.
Severus shut the door with a wave of his wand and then cast a Muffliato Charm silently. He had no wish for anyone to hear what he was about to say.
Harry came to stand before the desk, his hands in his pockets. He looked at Snape with troubled emerald eyes and waited for the man to speak.
Snape said nothing for a long time, though Harry could see a cauldron of emotions brewing in the dark eyes. His fingers tightened upon his viridian green quill and Harry sensed he was struggling to control his temper . . .or his magic, for it too was surging about the room, he could feel it prickle across his skin.
At last Severus spoke. "So. The hawk I saved and made my familiar was you all along, Mr. Potter."
Harry nodded. "Yes, sir. But I really didn't remember who I was. I hit my head. Twice. Once when I fell from the sky and again when Malfoy knocked me off the perch in your lab. I'm not lying, honest."
"About that, no. But tell me, Potter, what about after that? What about after weeks of healing and . . .learning all of my secrets? For I know that your memory did not spontaneously return just this morning. My familiar was behaving oddly two weeks before that, and I could not figure out why the sudden change until now. Your memories returned then, did they not?"
"Yes, but I didn't want to . . .I wasn't ready to change back . . ." Harry began.
"Why not? Because you wanted to find out some more of the greasy git's secrets? Oh, don't look so shocked, Potter, I've heard what you all call me behind my back," Severus declared sharply, a bitter smile twisting his face. "Did it amuse you then, listening to me speak to Hagrid of my childhood with your mother, of my schooldays with your bullying father? Did you laugh when I spoke of what he and his friend Black did to me that day by the lake?"
"No! I didn't think it was funny at all. Sev, please listen to me-"
"Don't ever call me that name!" Severus snarled, his eyes burning like a volcano about to erupt. The quill in his hand broke with a sharp snap. "You have no right! Only my best friend ever called me by that name and you . . . are . . .not . . .my . . . friend! You deceived me!"
Harry paled, but he stood his ground. Angry as Snape was, he didn't think the man would hex him. He had too much control to harm a student. But Snape's words cut him sharply, lashing his fragile self-esteem like a whip. "I was once. I was your familiar."
"My familiar." Severus repeated, and beneath the anger was a sharp hard note of bitter despair. "Yes, my familiar, whom I trusted, and look how that has turned out. My familiar, who turns out to be a lying Animagus! Why did you continue the charade, Potter? Did you enjoy tricking me and the others? Every morning I searched for you, wasting my time and my magic looking for a wretched boy who was hiding upon my shoulder all this time!"
"Look, sir, I'm sorry I lied to you, I should have changed back before but I . . ." And suddenly his throat closed up and he couldn't speak, couldn't bear to tell Severus the real reason, and be rejected for it. "It wasn't a trick . . .I needed time . . ."
"You needed time? Time for what? To eavesdrop some more? Tell me, Potter, what will you do with the information you've learned about me? Tell your little friends?" Snape sneered the words. "Post it about the school perhaps? Run an article in the paper? Snape Reveals All To Unknown Student Disguised As Familiar! Rita Skeeter would have a bloody field day with that one! And to think, I trusted you! That for once in my life I had found something worthwhile, that could not be taken away. I thought, more fool I, that you would never betray me."
"I wouldn't!" Harry cried, anguished. His hands clenched into fists. "You don't understand-"
Snape leaned over the desk, breathing hard. "Do not shout at me, Mr. Potter. You forget, I am your professor, not your wizard any longer. This is exactly the kind of stunt your father would have pulled, had he been able. What an opportunity, to learn all of Snape's dirty little secrets. It would have given him no end of amusement."
"I'm not my father! When will you see that? When will anyone see it?" Harry yelled. "Just because I look like him doesn't mean I think like him or act like him!"
"No? Could have fooled me. You still haven't answered my question. Why did you remain in your Animagus form after your memory returned if not to spy upon me or to cause mischief? So you could cut school? For that too is like your father, who attended class whenever he felt like it. It must run in your blood, this tendency to break rules. And to make a laughingstock of me in front of everyone." Severus slammed his hand down on the desk. "Poor Snape, he thought he had found the perfect companion, only to find out it was a sham!" The professor's voice was sharp with sarcasm and hurt, it hit the boy like a slap.
"I . . .I didn't do it to humiliate you, Severus. And if you think I did . . .then you really don't know me at all!" the frustrated teen cried. "I'm sorry, okay? Sorry I hurt myself and you ended up caring for me, sorry I betrayed you . . ." Everything was going wrong, Severus wasn't listening to him, and he couldn't stand the way the man was shredding him with his eyes and his tongue. "I never should have come back! I should have stayed a bloody hawk!" Sudden tears welled in his eyes and he blinked them back hard.
He could feel himself start to splinter, feel something hot and heavy rise in his chest. He could not bear for Snape to see him cry. So he went on the defensive. "Fine, professor! You're right, it was all a big joke, I did it for revenge, is that what you want to hear? Good! Now you can go back to Goddamn hating me like you've always wanted."
"Potter, I never hated you-"
"Could have fooled me," the boy cried, throwing his own words back at him. Then he whirled and ran from the office, ignoring Snape's shout to come back. Let the professor hex him. Or give him detention. What did it matter? It was finished. The friendship he had cherished was over. He had broken it all to pieces and it would never be mended.
Back in the office Snape sank back into his chair, weary and hurting, regret mingling with bitter despair. He'd had something rare and precious with his familiar, but now it was gone. His greatest bane, his dreadful temper, had once more shattered everything. And now he was alone again, the solitary bat of the dungeons, haunted by a pair of green eyes, the way he had been long ago.
He brought up a hand to rub his eyes, they burned with a strange throbbing ache. The ache of tears, suppressed and unshed, for what had been and would never be again.
He cursed softly, then his hand reached out and grabbed a jar of dead cockroaches off the shelf behind him and hurled it against the door.
It smashed into a million little pieces.
Snape's lip curled. How symbolic, he thought mockingly, and stared bleakly at the shards upon the floor, which had fallen in the shape of a pair of wings.
Chapter End Notes:
Next: Harry serves detention with Umbridge and both he and Severus are in turmoil over their lost friendship. Will they ever be able to mend it?
Next: Harry serves detention with Umbridge and both he and Severus are in turmoil over their lost friendship. Will they ever be able to mend it?
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