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7PM, that same night:

Harry headed down to Umbridge's office for his detention, his trainers scuffing the floor. He was looking forward to this with about as much enthusiasm as he would have getting a root canal, but he did not slow. He had learned, while Snape's familiar, slowly mending from his broken wings, to endure setbacks and cultivate patience. Umbridge and her detentions were setbacks to be endured. He could not even guess at what the witch had planned for him, except that it wouldn't be a blood quill, like the first time he had detention with her. Since that citation, she had ceased using them. But he was sure she'd found other methods to make students wish they had died.

After his disastrous confrontation with Snape, Harry had fled to the haven of Gryffindor Tower, sick and aching, to find it deserted, as everyone else was in class. He was grateful for that small bit of mercy, because then he wouldn't have to deal with endless questions and explanations when he was all cut to pieces inside. He had gone to his bed, which had been neatly made in his absence, and curled up among the pillows and comforter, his knees drawn up to his chest, and put his head on them.

There was a terrible hollow feeling in his chest, and his head hurt, and he felt tears prickle his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. What good would it do to cry over this now? He had known Snape would be angry, had known the man would not take being lied to well, but still . . .it hurt when Severus had looked him in the eye and told him that only his friends were allowed to call him Sev, and Harry was not his friend. I was once. I was your best friend, Severus Snape! And . . .you were mine.

It was strange, how he had bonded with the older man, becoming at once a protective familiar and a cheeky younger brother . . .or dare he even think it . . .a foster son. At one time he had felt all of those things about the professor, before he learned he was really Harry Potter. And even after he had regained his memories, he still had felt that way. He knew Severus, the way he thought and felt, his past, like no one else.

But Severus had not known him. And perhaps that was why he felt betrayed. For though Freedom had returned his affection while a hawk, it was not the same as a person, and Harry had not been given the chance to share things with Severus. If Snape had been receptive to Harry's apology and willing to forgive a little, Harry would have shared his reason for keeping his presence a secret. But Snape had not, and now Harry was afraid to say anything about his past, or the nightmares, because Severus would not care any longer and he did not want to be sneered at.

I thought you cared, Sev! I really did. But no, all you see is my damn father! I'm me, for Merlin's sake, not him. I just wish you could see that . . .I just wish I could go back to the way it was before . . .when you talked with me and liked me. It was brilliant, being able to talk to someone who actually understood what it was like to be scared and lonely. My friends never really understood what it was like, living with the Dursleys, or how it felt to see a friend die, they didn't know the way it tears you apart inside. But you did and even though you didn't know details, I knew you understood how it was. And that meant . . .everything.

A lone tear escaped and made its way down his face.

He sniffed and then just lay on his bed, lost and confused and wishing desperately for something he was sure he would never have again. If only Severus could forgive him. But Harry wasn't sure if that would ever happen. For he had done the unforgivable, he had gotten inside the carefully constructed walls of Snape's heart and mind, he had made the man care again, and then he had betrayed him by keeping his identity a secret. I should have told him right away. But I didn't want to hurt him, and instead I ended up hurting us both. I'm such a screw-up!

He buried his face in his pillow and then fell asleep, only waking when his dorm mates returned from class.

He heard Ron, Neville, and Dean bustling about in the room, opening their trunks, putting books on their desks, and muttering about how much homework they had to do for Transfiguration and History of Magic.

Ha, not as much as I have to do! Harry thought ruefully. He considered just staying behind the bedhangings, but then figured he'd have to face his Housemates sometime and better now than later. He just wished he didn't feel so raw and . . .vulnerable. Severus's temper had really shredded his self-confidence. You've had worse. Much worse. So just shut up and deal with it, he told himself firmly. He was tempted to jump out of the bedhangings and yell "Boo!" in a terrible imitation of Peeves, but decided it wouldn't do to scare his Housemates to death, so all he did was stick his head out and say, "Hi."

All three boys gasped and backed away, staring at him with their jaws hanging.

Harry slid all the way out from the bedhangings and stood there.

Finally Ron found his voice. "H-Harry? Is that really you?"

"Yeah, it's me. Hey, Ron."

"But how did you get here?" Neville asked, his eyes round like a pop-eyed fish.

"The usual way. I walked," Harry replied.

"Where were you all this time?" Dean wanted to know. "Did you like . . .get captured by the Death Eaters?"

Harry shook his head. "No."

"Was Umbridge holding you prisoner in her armoire or something, mate?" Ron asked, raising an eyebrow. "Because I wouldn't put it past her."

The others shuddered and made disgusted faces.

"Merlin, no!" Harry grimaced and shuddered too. "That'd be a fate worse than death." He sighed softly. "It's a long story. Let's just say, for now, that I was missing because of . . .a magical accident."

"A magical accident?" squeaked Neville. "Did you . . .uh . . .blow up a potion or something?"

"No, not like that." Harry said, reluctant suddenly to admit his foolish impulse. He wasn't sure he wanted his Housemates to know about how he became an Animagus. "It's complicated."

"Well, it's great to have you back, mate." Ron said, giving him a friendly slap on the back.

"But, Merlin, are you ever gonna have a lot of homework!" Dean remarked.

"Believe me, Dean, I know." Harry sighed gustily. "Homework and detention with the wicked witch."

The others snickered at the nickname and shot him sympathetic looks. "Sucks to be you," Ron groaned. "Maybe you might want to ask Hermione to help you with schedules or whatever. She's good at that."

"Yes, that's a good idea," agreed the dark-haired boy. Then he beckoned to Ron and said softly, "Tell you more later."

"Right." Ron looked at the hourglass on the table. "Gotta run, Harry, else I'll be late for class. Does McGonagall know you're back?"

"Yes, and she said she'll get the work I missed from the other teachers."

"Ouch!" Neville winced. "You'll probably get ten feet of parchment from Snape alone."

Of that, Harry hadn't the slightest doubt. Angry as he was, the Potions Master would probably give him extra homework. He just hoped Hermione could show him some way to prioritize his time so he wasn't dropping dead of overwork. He wished she still had the time turner from their third year, that would have helped him no end.

The other boys grabbed their books for their next class, it was potions, and shoved them into their bags and left.

Harry sat down on his bed and stared at the wall, where Ron had hung posters and banners of the Chudley Cannons and Dean had a poster of his favorite soccer team. He knew he should probably start looking over his books and try and get a head start, but he frankly didn't care about school much, he was still reeling from Severus's rejection. He stared moodily at the wall, wondering what Hermione would say and how his detention with the toad would go tonight. He summoned Quidditch Through the Ages from his shelf and paged through it, wondering what would happen now. Everything was different and he wasn't sure how to adjust to it. One thing he did know, was that he would remain true to his promise and not speak of what he had learned about Severus to anyone. He knew the other wizard was terrified he would reveal all of his past to everyone, and that terror had led to his explosive accusations that Harry had betrayed him. But Harry refused to make that a reality. Anything Severus had told him would stay with him.

Right then all he wanted to do was sleep. Sleep and dream of a time when he was happy, when he had wings and was the familiar of a wizard that had cared for him.

* * * * * *

Hermione simultaneously hugged him and questioned him at the same time when he awoke just before dinner. "But where were you? Were you here all the time? How did you live? What kind of accident was it?"

"Hermione, Merlin's ghost, let him speak!" ordered Ron exasperatedly.

"Oh, sorry." They were in the common room, in a table in the corner, trying to have a semi-private conversation. "But I'm just dying to know details, Harry! I mean, you can't expect to disappear for a month and a half and not tell me anything!"

Harry was quiet, then decided it was safe to tell her a few things. "Okay. I'll put you out of your misery. I was trapped in another form and lost my memory. That's how come I was missing."

Hermione's eyes went wide. "In another form? You mean . . .you're an Animagus?"

"Yes. I did it by accident. Then I got hurt and developed amnesia. I just got my memory back and managed to change back to my real form today. I've talked to McGonagall, she says she'll tutor me in how to become a registered Animagus. But I could really use your help, Hermione, with schoolwork. I've got a month and a half of make up work plus regular classes and Umbridge says if I don't finish it all by the end of the term, she'll expel me."

"Oh, Harry! She couldn't do that, could she? I mean, it wasn't your fault you got trapped in your Animagus form."

"I know. But she's Umbridge and she thinks she's the Queen of Hogwarts and we're her damn subjects. So . . .I have to finish whatever the professors give me and serve detention with her every other night. Can you help me? You're the best at organizing things and prioritizing time that I know of."

Hermione blushed with pleasure. "Thanks, Harry. Of course I'll help you. I'll make up a schedule and everything. You'll get through this, you'll see."

He could see the wheels in her brain start to turn, trying to come up with a solution already. "Thanks, Hermione."

Then she asked the question he'd been dreading. "Harry, what's your Animagus form?"

"Uh . . .it's a bird," he replied vaguely. Then he stood up, trying to evade any more questions. "Come on, I'm starving. Let's go eat."

He evaded the rest of Hermione's questions during dinner by being busy eating. He shot a glance at the staff table and saw that Snape was there, though he didn't notice Harry looking at him, all his attention was on Minerva, who was discussing something with him. Harry wondered if it had anything to do with him, for Snape was frowning. He felt a bitter ache in his chest, and suddenly wished he could transform and perch upon the professor's shoulder. He missed the easy camaraderie they had shared. Damn it all, Sev! I don't want to be your enemy!

He forced himself to look away and continue eating.

That evening, McGonagall called him to her office and said that she had managed to get hold of all Harry's missed work and also spoken to Umbridge, who had agreed to give Harry only two days of detention each week, starting tonight. "Do not antagonize her, Mr. Potter. As I'm sure you know, she'll be looking for an excuse to find fault with you. Do not give her one, am I understood?"

"Yes, ma'am," Harry said respectfully. He eyed the satchel she handed him, crammed full of notes and books and groaned. "All of that?"

"Yes, and mind you complete it neatly. Work will keep you out of trouble, Mr. Potter. Also, you may meet with me on Sunday mornings and I shall tutor you in your Animagus form. A proper teacher is essential."

"Yes, Professor."

"Go back to your common room, and remember, you have detention with Professor Umbridge at 7, according to the detention logs." Minerva reminded him.

Harry nodded, the turned and left his Head's office. The satchel on his shoulder felt as if it weighed a hundred pounds.

Once he arrived back at Gryffindor Tower, he gave Hermione the satchel, and she started organizing and examining all of the work his teachers had assigned and trying to make a timetable for him to complete it. He left her to it, hurrying back down the stairs for his detention with Umbridge.

He found the toad in the Defense office for once, sitting primly at her desk in a shocking pink dress that made Harry's eyes hurt just looking at it. So he glanced to the side, that way he wouldn't be struck blind. She looked up at him, a phony smile plastered over her broad face.

"Mr. Potter. How prompt you are. It's too bad you aren't that way for most of your other classes. Sit down." She indicated a chair and a desk in front of her.

Harry sat, and then he waited.

Umbridge leaned forward over her desk and said, "Your little experiment with Animagus forms does not excuse you from punishment. In the old days, if a student was caught experimenting with forbidden magic, he was punished . . .most severely." Her smile widened and Harry felt a shudder crawl up his spine. "However, such things are . . .not done today, and so I shall have to impress upon you the consequences of your misdeeds another way."

She opened a small black box and removed from it a thick silver cuff. "Come here, Mr. Potter."

"Professor?" Harry stood up, eyeing the cuff uneasily.

"Do as I say!"

He obeyed.

"This is a Cuff of Binding. It will serve to bind your ability to shift forms. You shall wear it until I think you have learned your lesson. I will not have an unregistered Animagus running loose in my school. Hold out your hand."

Harry balked. He did not know if he could bear not being able to fly. "No. I'll give you my word, I won't shift without permission, ma'am. Just don't . . .make me wear that."

"Hold out your hand, Mr. Potter!"

"But . . ."

"Now! Or else your disobedience will have serious consequences!"

Do not provoke her, McGonagall's words echoed in his head. Harry bit his lip. Then he very reluctantly held out his hand.

Umbridge grasped it and slid the cuff upon it.

It shrank to fit and Harry felt a sharp jolt run through him. He gasped, then rubbed his wrist where the cuff was. It stung like he had stuck his wrist in a patch of nettles.

"Ma'am, it stings."

"Oh? I was told it would be a bit . . .uncomfortable at first. You'll get used to it." She said indifferently.

Harry fought to keep from scratching his wrist. "But Professor Umbridge, I have Animagus lessons with Professor McGonagall Sunday morning."

"What? I did not authorize any lessons," Umbridge growled. "You need nothing except theory at this stage, I will not have you transform again until you have learned the proper respect for me, am I understood?"

Harry dropped his eyes to his shoes and muttered, "Yes, Professor." Hell, I wish I could hex you into a million little pieces.

"Good. Now, for your detention, I want you to go and scrub all the toilets on this floor. No magic, only a brush and some strong lye soap." She waved her wand at the ground and a bucket filled with an acrid smelling solution and a small scrub brush appeared. "You may begin, Mr. Potter. You have three hours." Then she held out her hand for his wand.

He surrendered it, gritting his teeth. Then he took the bucket and the brush and headed over to the first bathroom on the floor.

By the time three hours had passed, Harry had cleaned a total of twenty toilets. His arms and back ached from bending over and scrubbing for hours, and the skin on his hands and arms were red and sore from the strong lye soap, Umbridge had not given him gloves. But at least he was done.

He reported back to her, finding her with her feet up on a puffy rosebud stool, reading a novel called Flight of the Pureblood's Daughter and Her Muggle Lover-clearly a trashy romance if he ever saw one-and this was the first time he had seen a wizarding version, though Petunia had been fond of reading them while Vernon was away. Figures. That's probably the only time she can get a man.

"Professor Umbridge? I'm finished."

She quickly shoved the novel under a stack of reports. "Fine. Let me inspect your work, Mr. Potter."

She strode over to the first bathroom.

By the time she reached the third, her face was pinched and irritable, as if she'd swallowed a lemon. Harry was sure she was going to find fault with his work, but instead she sniffed. "Adequate. Barely. You may go, Mr. Potter. Your next detention is on Friday, same time."

He nodded and left, wincing at the blisters that had formed upon his hands.

He wished he had some of Severus's murtlap salve right now.

When he returned to the common room, he found Hermione still at the table, surrounded by crumpled pieces of parchment. Ron was dozing on the couch.

"Oh, Harry! I'm so glad you're here." Hermione said when he entered. "I'm sorry it's taking me so long but . . .it's nearly impossible for me to prioritize things when you have so many classes and make-up work. There just aren't enough hours in a day . . ." she trailed off when she caught sight of his reddened hands. "Merlin's hat! What happened to your hands, Harry?"

"Nothing. Just detention."

Ron awoke then at the alarm in Hermione's tone. "Huh? Oh, it's you, mate. How did detention with the creepy crawling toad go? Bloody hell! What'd she do, stick your hands in boiling water?"

"No. She just made me scrub toilets with lye soap without magic," Harry explained. He tugged the sleeve of his robe down to hide the cuff.

"Without gloves?" Hermione cried in dismay. "The cruel hag!" She stood up. "Here. I'll get some murtlap salve." She summoned it with a wave of her wand, plus a bowl and a soft cloth. She carefully mixed the murtlap with water and then told him to soak his poor hands.

"Thanks." Harry put his hands in the bowl and sighed in relief. The murtlap started soothing him immediately.

Ron was muttering several uncomplimentary things about Umbridge and her relationship with a horned toad. It made Harry smile, despite how Hermione's previous words had dismayed him.

"So, does this mean I'm royally screwed? That there's no way I can catch up?"

The girl looked very upset. "Well . . .I can still keep trying. But it's going to be tough for you to study for OWLS, make up the classwork, detention, and regular class. You'll probably hardly have a free minute to eat, or sleep, or take a shower." She shook her head. "That woman needs to be kicked hard. Does she want you to fail?"

"Probably." Harry said.

"Evil bitch!" Hermione spat, and both boys stared at her.

"Hermione! You actually called a professor a swear word!" Ron cried.

"Wow, Ron! For your information, I do know them, I just don't use them much. But she . . .she deserves it."

"No argument there," said Harry feelingly. He removed his hands from the murtlap. "Look, Hermione. Just do your best. I'll muddle through somehow."

"Okay, Harry. Here's the first part." She handed him a small grid. "You might want to start on some of this tonight."

Harry took the schedule and thanked Hermione again, then he headed upstairs. He would read his Charms text tonight before bed. He was determined not to let Umbridge win. If she thought she could break him, she was mistaken.

Thursday, day 1:

Despite a good six hours of sleep the night before, Harry still felt tired after rising. He looked at the silver cuff around his wrist in distaste, wishing he knew how to magic it off. But he didn't, and he didn't want his friends to see it and ask any more awkward questions. Perhaps Umbridge would remove it if he behaved himself. He rubbed the skin under the cuff, it itched and ached something fierce. He had saved the rag he'd used last night when he soaked his hands in the murtlap solution and he carefully dabbed at the raw skin with the murtlap soaked cloth. Some of the redness and itching eased.

Then he pulled on his clothes, making sure the cuff was covered by the sleeve of his robe, and headed down to breakfast.

He didn't have class until midmorning, and then it was potions with the Slytherins, never his favorite class, but he was sure it was going to be a horror, given the way things were between him and Severus. He was prepared for the Potions Master to tear strips off of him with his razor tongue, he just prayed he'd be able to take it without snapping back at him or worse, showing the man how much his words hurt him.

He picked at his breakfast, for some reason nothing tasted right ever since he had transformed back. He decided to spend the rest of his free period before potions studying some of the classwork he'd missed, at least he wouldn't feel like a fish out of water when he went to class this afternoon.

Ron's jaw dropped when he heard what Harry was going to be doing. "Hey, mate, you sure you're not still knocked for a loop? Because I've never heard you volunteer to do homework or study before."

"I don't have a choice," Harry said quietly. "Umbridge says if I don't complete all my make-up work before the end of term, she'll snap my wand, remember?"

Ron flushed. "Oh, right. I really wish we could get rid of her."

Harry nodded. "She's tough to banish though. Kind of like a cockroach."

Both of his friends giggled at that assessment and Hermione offered to help him learn some of his potions homework quickly using charts and neumonics. Harry agreed, and they headed off to the library. Ron followed, saying he'd check out a Quidditich book and read it while the two brains studied.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Really, Ron, it won't kill you to study also. You might actually learn something."

"No thanks. I like just scraping by. It's more fun that way."

"You're impossible, Ron!" Hermione scolded. "It'll be a miracle if you pass your OWLS."

"Uh huh. That's what I'm counting on," Ron replied, smirking. He loved to rile up Hermione. He put his hands together in a prayerful motion. "Merlin, send me a miracle!"

Hermione snorted. "You don't need a miracle, you lazy idiot, you need a good kick in the pants."

Ron goggled. "What's gotten into you, Hermione? Get an E on an exam?"

"Your attitude is what's gotten into me, Weasley," the girl huffed, but before she could say anything else, Harry interrupted.

"Uh, Hermione? This isn't helping me study."

"Oh. Right. Okay, let's see what Professor Snape assigned you." She took his potions folder out of his backpack and began looking through it.

"You mean, you haven't memorized the homework yet?" teased Ron. "You're slipping, Granger."

"Stuff it, Ron!" Hermione muttered, then started taking the notes out of the folder. "It's a good thing Professor Snape is so organized. It makes it so much easier to figure out everything."

Harry supposed so, and tried to concentrate on learning the material instead of worrying about class.

* * * * * *

Snape swept into the classroom at precisely one o'clock, leveling them all with a stern scowl. Next to his workstation, Neville was already quivering slightly. Harry expected Severus's stare to gut and fillet him, but instead Snape shot him a cursory glower and moved on. Well, that was unexpected. Wonder what it means?

Severus circled the classroom, making sure the students had their materials and were not doodling in their notebooks or gossiping with charmed notepaper. Finding nothing amiss, he strode back to the head of the class and announced they would be brewing a Friendship Draft.

Harry waited in dread for some kind of pointed comment, but none came. Snape looked directly at him and then glanced away without saying a word.

Harry was confused. Normally Snape never missed the opportunity to taunt him in class.

Severus pressed his lips together to keep from ordering Potter out of his classroom. He turned away to get a tissue and pinched the bridge of his nose. Just seeing Potter in his classroom made him both irritable and comfortable. Get hold of yourself, Snape! Just teach and forget about Potter for now. Ignore him. He had never tried that before, but perhaps he should have. His heart just wasn't in his usual sarcasm today. He felt rather the same way he had after Lily had refused to hear his apology outside of Gryffindor Tower that night, hurt and betrayed.

Not to mention, he was nearly bored out of his skin teaching according to Umbridge's policy. The potions were so elementary he could have taught them blindfolded in his sleep, but he was determined to keep Umbridge off his back at any cost now. He eyed Potter and wondered idly how the first detention with the cruel woman had gone. Potter did not seem injured, which was a good thing.

Harry concentrated on his potion, which was quite easy, and tried to figure out when Snape would start commenting about him again. But oddly enough, the professor ignored him, instead going to correct some other pairs and did not so much as glance at Harry.

In a way, that relieved the boy, but in another it made him upset, for ignoring him had been a favorite tactic of his aunt and uncle. "Pretend you don't exist, Potter!" was a favorite saying of Vernon's especially when they were expecting guests.

It hurt that Snape was pretending he didn't exist, as if what they had shared while he was Severus's familiar counted for nothing. But he kept his head down and managed to complete his potion before the end of the period. He bottled his solution, labeled it, and placed it upon Snape's desk. He darted a look at the older wizard, but Severus didn't even sneer at him. Instead he looked right through him.

Harry flinched, then slung his bag over his shoulder and took off. Once he would have celebrated the fact that Snape wasn't on his arse in class, but now he almost longed for the familiar old Snape. At least he knew where he stood with that one.

Severus stared after him unobtrusively, pretending to read a potion vial while actually using it to look after Potter. The way the boy had looked at him . . .as if he had smacked him or something . . .it was both unnerving and puzzling and it made him feel guilty at the same time. He continued examining the potions, thinking that he needn't hurry and return to his quarters now, since they were empty of all save himself again. Just the way he liked it, a small voice hissed. Except . . .that was no longer true. Now he kept recalling the way a certain red-tail used to sit upon the back of his couch, or his shoulder, or even on his stomach. Angrily, he pushed the memories away. It was over. His temper had seen to that, just like it had another afternoon, long and long ago.

Biting back a sigh, he continued examining and marking the potions, recalling with a sharp pang of regret the way Freedom used to fly through the sky and stoop after the lure on warm sunny days like this one.

* * * * * *

Friday, day 2:

That morning, McGonagall called him into her office to speak with him about the Animagus lessons. "I'm sorry, Mr. Potter, but we will not be having lessons the way I originally planned. The High Inquisitor has said I may only teach you theory for the time being, you are forbidden to transform." The Transfiguration Mistress frowned, she clearly did not like that ultimatum. "That is not the way I would normally tutor a fledgling Animagus, however, Professor Umbridge is in charge. So, we shall be studying this text for an hour, Potter." She handed him a rather worn copy of a book called A Beginner's Guide to Becoming One With Your Animal Soul.

"Thank you," Harry said quietly, not bothering to inform her that he already had read most of this book, it was the one he had borrowed from the library. Though he was annoyed at Umbridge, he assumed McGonagall knew about the restriction she had placed upon him, and so did not bring up the fact that he was bound with a Binding Cuff. And at least he didn't have to read another new book, he could skim through this one.

"Read through chapter one and we'll discuss it Sunday." McGonagall said quietly. She could have assigned him more chapters, but she knew he already had a colossal workload.

Harry took the book and shoved it in his bag. Then he went to the library to try and do some Herbology. For once he was grateful to Hermione for her neatness and study habits, because now that knowledge proved invaluable, as he had to cram a month and a half's worth of knowledge into a month as well as complete the assigned current classwork.

Well, at least the holidays are coming up and I can get a great deal done then, he thought. Of course, he still had detention with Umbridge tonight.

He quickly bent over his parchment and began to sketch a picture of a Venomous Tantagula.

Detention with the High Inquisitor that night consisted of polishing several cases worth of tarnished silverware with some kind of polish that stung his eyes and nose terribly. He tried to keep from coughing and tearing up, but it was impossible.

"What is the meaning of this, Potter?" snapped Umbridge, glaring at him over her evening snack of tea and pink iced tarts.

Harry coughed uncontrollably, at last managing to say, "Sorry . . .professor . . .this stuff . . .burns my nose and eyes . . ." He blotted his eyes with his sleeve, they smarted as if he'd gotten dust in them.

Umbridge gave him a nasty look. "Oh for Merlin's sake, Potter! Stop trying to get out of work. I will not tolerate you shirking. Now get back to work and quit coughing like a hyena, it is most annoying! Or else I shall take points and you will receive another detention."

Harry just nodded, afraid to open his mouth. His throat ached and throbbed and he wondered if whatever he was using was toxic.

He managed to muffle his coughs in his sleeve and finish the polishing of the silverware just before the end of the hour. Umbridge looked less than pleased, but all she said was, "Get out of my sight, Potter."

Harry did, wishing he could change into a hawk and scare the snot out of her again.

Once beyond the door, he doubled over, coughing horrendously.

It was several minutes before he could get his breath back and when he straightened, he met a familiar pair of obsidian eyes. "P-professor Snape?"

The Potions Master scowled down at him. "Why are you hacking up a lung, Potter? If you're that ill you ought to be in the infirmary, not lurking in the corridor."

Harry shook his head, his eyes still streaming. "N-not sick . . .from the polish . . ."

"What polish?"

"Silver polish, sir . . .makes me cough and my eyes burn . . ."

In spite of himself, Snape found himself reaching out a hand to feel the boy's forehead.

Harry jerked away.

"Be still, Potter! I'm trying to determine if you have a fever."

"I don't . . .sir! Told you . . .I'm not sick!"

Snape ignored him, setting his hand briefly on Harry's forehead. It was cool. "Humph! Go and see Madam Pomfrey, boy, she'll give you a wash for your eyes and something to quiet that cough."

Then, before Harry could say anything, Snape stalked past him, his black robes billowing.

Harry gazed after him, looking thoughtful. Maybe Snape was not as indifferent as he seemed.

He decided to follow Snape's advice and headed to the infirmary.

But the potion Pomfrey dispensed for his cough was one that made him sleepy, and he fell asleep over his Transfiguration and missed out on several hours of study time, putting him even further behind.

* * * * * *

Saturday, day 3:

Harry spent all morning in the common room, trying to focus on History of Magic and Divination. Luckily Divination was a joke, especially when Trelawney was teaching it and Harry could get by with fudging answers and assignments.

Ron tried to get his friend to take a break and quit studying, but Harry refused. He could not afford to waste this precious time, though he took a look outside at the brilliant blue sky and felt a terrible pang of loss shoot through him. On a day like this, he would have been soaring above the clouds upon a thermal as Freedom.

He missed being able to fly with an almost physical ache. Almost as much as he missed a certain silky voice and a hand stroking him.

He pushed those memories aside. They had no place here and now. He bent over his books, scribbling frantically.

* * * * * *

Severus was supposed to spend that Saturday brewing extra batches of potions for the Hospital Wing. But after three hours of brewing, the Potions Master found that he couldn't stand looking at four gray stone walls, and headed outside for a walk about the grounds.

He walked for several minutes, and could not help but jerk his gaze skyward, searching for a familiar shape, though he knew rationally he would never see Freedom flying again.

He walked even more swiftly, as if trying to outrun his memories.

* * * * * *

Sunday, day 4:

After his lesson with McGonagall, Harry considered writing a letter to his godfather. He knew Sirius was worried about him, even though he was the one who had caused Snape to nearly get arrested by Umbridge, Harry felt that he deserved to know that he was back. He quickly composed a letter and summoned Hedwig to deliver it, it was addressed to Snuffles.

The snowy came immediately, nuzzling him and nipping him gently in reproof when he forgot to feed her a treat. It was then that Harry really missed being a hawk, for then he could speak and understand his familiar. Wonder if there's a potion that would let me talk to owls like there was for Snape to talk to hawks?

After telling Sirius he was fine, he also asked the man about the time he and James had hung Snape up in the air, wanting to know why he had done it and saying that it had been a rather cruel joke to play. He signed it Your godson.

Afterwards, he went back to his studies, doing Astronomy charts until his eyes crossed and he fell asleep amid his parchment, forgetting once more to eat lunch and breakfast as well.

Hermione woke him a few hours later for dinner. "Harry, you can't keep on skipping meals like this. It's not good for you."

"Okay. I'll eat dinner. It's just . . .there's not enough time for me to do everything I need to."

"I know, but you don't want to become sick, now do you?"

He shook his head, only then realizing he was starving.

* * * * * *

That same afternoon, Severus was relaxing in his quarters, but for some reason his mind was not focusing on his potions journal, it kept wanting to glance over at the empty perch and bag of falconry equipment. I don't know why I haven't returned those items to Hagrid by now. I have no use for them any more.

And yet, he found he could not bear to let them go. He knew several students in his House were worried something had happened to his hawk, and he had not been able to admit the truth, so he just kept silent. He did not want any gossip about Potter being his familiar, let them think the hawk was sick again, or had flown away.

Immediately, thoughts of Freedom conjured thoughts of a skinny messy haired teen, and he resolutely smothered them. Potter was no longer his responsibility. He was Minerva's. And yet, the green eyes haunted him, emerald pools of despair and longing.

It's done, Snape. Your friendship with the brat is over, not that you ever really had one with him, just the hawk you thought was your familiar.

But he admitted that he missed the sassy bird's comments and company. Missed them like one would a missing tooth.

Silently, he cursed Umbridge to the depths of hell and opened his journal again, re-reading the same page for the fourth time, trying to ignore the little voice that whispered perhaps it wasn't too late to form a bond with the boy. Ha! He will not forgive you for what you said in a temper. There is too much of his father and not enough of his mother in him.

Still, a very small corner of his heart hoped that were not the case . . .

* * * * * *

Monday, day 5:

By Monday, Harry nursed a raging headache, dozed through History of Magic first period, and managed to finish a Charms essay during his break. Then came potions, a double period, where Snape ignored him once more and Malfoy attempted to sabotage his work, only to discover that Harry had protected his workstation with a simple Repel Objects Charm, which was something he had learned from Severus in hawk shape.

Snape took points from Gryffindor anyhow, because Neville almost exploded another cauldron, and Harry found himself wishing the Potions Master would start sneering at him again, instead of looking around him like he wasn't in the room. Why do you care so much? demanded a part of his mind. You have Ron and Hermione as friends, who needs Snape?

That was true, on one level, but on another, he knew he could have used the professor's advice and help with his homework and that dry wit was refreshing and somehow he felt less alone when Severus was near, which was ridiculous considering the man hadn't said two words to him since Friday. I'm losing it, I really am. All this studying is turning my brain to mush, as Ron would say.

He was one of the first to leave once they were dismissed, and he walked away without looking up, massaging his temples with one hand. See, I don't need you, he thought defiantly. I don't need anyone. I'm doing fine on my own.

He was so focused on getting out of the dungeon and to his Defense class that he failed to note the pair of eyes that followed him, nor the slight spark of concern in their ebony depths.

Harry was not looking forward to class with the toad bitch, as he had taken to calling Umbridge in his mind. He just knew she would have something either boring or unpleasant up her sleeve, probably both. Nevertheless, he was determined to get through it and then have dinner and try and finish his Transfiguration essay.

"Get ready to go to sleep, mate," Ron nudged him and winked.

Harry managed a small smile back and nodded. He really could use the sleep, lately his rest had been disturbed by nightmares and so he began snatching brief naps here and there inbetween classes and study breaks. Perhaps that was why he felt so run down and depressed. He wished he dared fall asleep in the hag's class. But he knew better, that's what she would be waiting for, and then she would give him more detentions.

Some ten minutes later, he wished he had fallen asleep. Because Umbridge decided to take this class period to give a lecture on using forbidden magic. Harry listened, shell-shocked, as she proceeded to use him as an example, saying in a sickly saccharine tone, "Do not try and emulate Mr. Potter here, who as an Animagus, broke several rules and also injured himself badly when he attempted fly. As a hawk, Potter broke both his wings in his fall . . ." she tisked at him.

Harry wanted to die right there. He could see Malfoy exchanging glances with Goyle and Crabbe, it wouldn't be long before they put two and two together, and if they could do it, so could Hermione, unless she had already. Now everyone would know his secret and be talking about it, he thought, furious. How dare you? How dare you tell everyone? That was private, between Snape, McGonagall, and me!

He got a sick feeling in his stomach as Umbridge continued. "Luckily for Mr. Potter, he managed to get himself rescued . . ." she paused and licked her lips.

Harry shut his eyes. No, no. Don't say it. Please.

"By Professor Snape, who nursed him back to health, thinking he was just an animal."

There were gasps then and several of the Slytherins began to mutter, "His familiar . . .the hawk . . .it was him . . .all this time . . .it was Potter!"

Harry risked a look at Ron who was sitting there gaping, shock and horror and sympathy plain upon his face. Oh, snap out of it, Ron! Bloody damn hell! He's gonna kill me. He'll never trust me again. He glared hotly at Umbridge. Miserable hag, why did you have to tell everyone? Why? Now I'm so dead. I hate you. I really really HATE you.

"So, as you can see, using magic on the sly can be costly, so do not do so. Now, turn to chapter ten in your books and read it."

Harry was numb. He opened his book and stared at it. Behind him, his classmates continued to whisper. He wanted to find a hole and crawl into it. Severus was going to be furious, and rightly so. He pulled out a piece of parchment and uncapped his ink well. Perhaps he could write to Severus, explaining what had really happened, and hope the other would understand.

Dear Professor Snape,

I'm writing this to explain something and ask that you read this through first before throwing it into the fireplace. . . .

That was as far as he got before Umbridge ordered him to quit writing and read the assigned chapter.

He bit his lip until it bled in order to keep the nasty comments behind his teeth, shoved the incomplete letter back in his bag and zoned out over the chapter. It wasn't as if the book contained anything useful about Defense, it was all theory, and so dry it was a miracle it hadn't crumbled to dust by now.

At last Defense was over though, and he managed to get as far Gryffindor Tower before Hermione and Ron pounced on him.

"Harry, why didn't you tell us you were Professor Snape's familiar?" asked Hermione, her eyes alight with a million questions.

Harry did not answer, just kept walking. He was trying to compose the rest of the letter in his head, trying to explain logically what had happened so Severus wouldn't dismiss it out of hand. Harry knew he would assume that he had broken his trust yet again and gone blabbing to his friends, and he wanted Snape to know that Umbridge was responsible for letting the kneazle out of the bag.

"Yeah, mate, you could have told us how rotten it was getting stuck with Snape for a month and a half." Ron said. "Can't imagine what that was like . . .living with him, I mean. Did he keep you locked up all day?"

Harry spun on him, his eyes flashing. "Ron, just shut it. He saved my life, all right? Twice. And he treated me decently, he didn't hurt me or abuse me, if that's what you're going off about. Once my wings were healed, I could go where I wanted, or didn't you remember me flying all over?"

"Well, yeah, I think I do, only I wasn't paying attention all that much, 'cause I had class and stuff."

"Then you ought to know I wasn't kept locked up all day."

"Why didn't you change back?"

"One, I didn't remember I could transform back and two, I didn't know how to, and three, I liked being a hawk."

Hermione looked at him thoughtfully. "Why did you finally change back, Harry?"

"Because of Umbridge. She threatened to expel me," he answered, it was half-true.

"Bet that must have shocked Old Toady and the Greasy Git," laughed Ron.

Harry wanted to sock him one. "Lay off of Snape, Ron. It wasn't funny."

The redhead gave him an odd look. "How so? He must have looked like somebody hit him in the head with a Bludger-"

"I don't want to talk about it, okay?" Harry shouted. "You've lost a familiar, dammit, so you ought to know how it feels. Just leave me alone. I have tons of work to do."

He shoved past them, leaving Ron looking like a pop-eyed fish.

"Harry, aren't you going to eat dinner, at least?" called Hermione. "It's not good to skip meals."

"I'm not hungry," he answered, walking back towards the library. "I'll get something later from Dobby." He knew the little house elf would be happy to provide him with a snack anytime, no questions asked.

Right then he needed to be alone, to have time to write that letter and send it off with Hedwig before all hell broke loose. If Snape learned of the rumors before he read the letter . . .any chance of him ever convincing the stubborn professor that he valued his friendship would be destroyed. And he did value it, he realized suddenly. More than he ever thought possible.

I know him better than anyone. He needs me, and nobody ever has needed me before . . .not just me, that way. They all needed the Boy Who Lived or whatever. But Severus . . .all he wants is a friend. And I can do that, I want to do that. Bloody Umbridge! I wish she'd up and croak one night.

He made his way to the library, the halls were empty of students, they were all in the hall, eating dinner. He settled down and began to write at an empty table in the back. Ten minutes later, he was finished, and re-read it over for any spelling and punctuation mistakes. Finding it satisfactory, he addressed the envelope to Professor S. Snape and whistled for Hedwig.

"Give this to Severus, please," he told the snowy owl earnestly. "I know he's eating dinner, but he needs to have this."

Hedwig chuffed and nibbled his hair, then she took the letter in her beak and flew off with it.

Harry heaved a sigh of relief then turned to completing his current Transfiguration essay.

* * * * * *

Severus looked up from his plate of roast chicken and mashed potatoes to find a snowy owl hovering over his shoulder with a letter in her beak. "For me? Thank you." He fed her a bit of chicken as a reward, then took the letter and tucked it into a pocket of his robes. He would read it later.

He resumed eating, remembering the way a red-tailed hawk used to perch upon the back of his chair and eat tidbits from his hand. Only that had not been a true hawk, but a disobedient student in Animagus form, he thought bitterly. His familiar, like so much else in his life, had been a lie.

Almost unconsciously, he darted a look at the Gryffindor table, which was clearly visible from where he sat. He saw Weasley, Granger, Longbottom, and the rest, but no Potter. Where was the boy? Sleeping? Studying? Why was he not with his friends? After a month and a half, he should have been stuck to them like a Sticking Charm. But he wasn't.

A flicker of anxiety shot through him. He recalled Hagrid remarking upon Potter's strange behavior just before he had gone missing, how he had started spending large amounts of time alone and avoiding his friends. Could the pattern be repeating itself?

Even if it is, he's not your responsibility, Severus. Minerva's his Head, she ought to be watching him. He's not your familiar any more, remember? Snape ate another bite of chicken. But you are pledged to protect him. Deceitful brat though he is, you are bound to make sure he survives till adulthood.

He would inform Minerva of his . . .concerns, and let her deal with it. He finished dinner and then he had essays and homework to grade. He quite forgot about the unopened letter in his pocket until he reached his quarters and by then the rumors were all over the school and he could not help but overhear them.

By the time he had entered his private suite he was sizzling mad and ready to hex that . . .that bloody brat's tongue to the roof of his mouth. What was it about the boy that he had to brag to all and sundry about everything that happened to him? Why couldn't he just shut his mouth for once? Did he really crave fame that much, or recognition?

He strode over to his desk and pulled out the current day's homework and settled down to mark it with a vengeance.

Never trust a Potter. You know better. I wonder how long it will be before he speaks to a reporter from the Prophet and there's an article about his time with Professor Snape and an exclusive on the true story of the dungeon bat as well?

He pointed his wand at the perch and it splintered in two.

An instant later, he mended it with a flick of his wand.

The perch was Hagrid's he had no right to destroy another's property.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, he rose and went to a small cabinet in the corner of the lounge and knelt and dug out a very tiny bottle of Ogden's Firewhiskey. He poured it into a glass and studied it for a moment. Did he really want to go that route?

A second later, he flicked his wrist and downed the shot. He rarely-almost never-drank, but he had seen his father do shots thousands of times and he just copied from memory.

The whiskey burned a path down to his stomach, warming him, though his heart remained frozen.

He slammed the glass down and swore. Bloody damn, Potter! Now you've driven me to drink.

He walked back over to the desk and looked down at the essays he had left. They disgusted him. He disgusted himself, moping like a damn teenager over a lost friendship. It wasn't like this was the first time he had ever lost a friend.

You're a fool, Sev. You know better than to let anyone get close to you. It's better when you don't care about anyone. Then you won't get hurt this way when they leave. And they always do. Always.

He picked up the bag of falconry equipment, and decided now was as a good a time as any to return it to Hagrid. Who was the only friend to ever remain loyal to him, he sighed.

He shrunk the perch and stuffed it into the satchel then strode out the door and down the secret way.

A cup of tea and a scone would settle his nerves, and doubtless Hagrid had already heard the rumors, and would be waiting for Severus to speak with him.






 







Chapter End Notes:






Next: Can Hagrid convince our stubborn Potions Master to see Harry in a different light? Will Severus read the letter? And will Harry collpase from overwork? Find out next chapter!

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