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Hagrid had just finished making a pot of tea, he had figured he could use one after hearing what had been going on up at the castle that afternoon. He had gone to bring Filch the weekly bag of dried jerky treats for the Owlery, he made them specially from strips of deer and rabbit and game birds he hunted in the forest. The raptors loved them and it made Hagrid happy to feed them things they enjoyed. A well-fed owl was a happy owl and a happy owl delivered the mail promptly. So it was in the best interest of everyone if the owls were content.

He had told that much to Crabbe, Goyle, and Malfoy when they had served detentions with him, though he wasn't sure if Malfoy or Goyle had absorbed the lesson. Crabbe had, he saw the comprehension in the boy's eyes. He made a note to tell Severus that at least one of his Slytherins was learning his lesson. Perhaps it might do the boy good to continue lessons with him, he could use a helper, there were always many animals he needed to treat than he could keep up with.

But he was expecting Snape to show up any time now, given the rumors he had caught about losing his familiar, since said familiar turned out to be Harry Potter in Animagus form. Hagrid knew that would have been a great blow to Severus, who had bonded quite closely with the hawk. Aye, he'll be here sooner or later. But Hagrid could not help feeling a great relief that Harry was safe and not injured and back where he belonged. He expected Harry to show up soon also, he knew the boy loved his tea and scones, which the elves had baked for him just this afternoon.

But apparently, according to Hermione, Harry was busy studying, which Hagrid was happy to see, since for awhile there Harry had begun to take his father's cavalier attitude towards schoolwork, and Hagrid usually saw him out on the pitch more than in the castle. Perhaps Harry was beginning to develop new study habits, like his mother. Lily had always believed that work came before play, as had Severus, though she had been one of the few to convince Severus that it was all right to enjoy himself, that it didn't have to be all work. She was also one of the few people that could make Severus smile and laugh, Hagrid thought wistfully. He wondered if her son had inherited that talent as well?

Freedom had certainly made Severus smile on more than one occasion. Now though, he hoped that was still the case. Harry had a lot of love in him, and he just needed someone willing to show that love to. And Severus needed someone to show him that he was worthy of being loved, since he had developed a self-confidence problem due to his father's harsh and critical treatment. And that was something only Hagrid had ever realized, he'd learned that the week he had nursed Snape back to health when he was sixteen. Snape hid his vulnerability well though, with his sharp tongue and temper and the mask of the unfeeling Slytherin, but if you managed to look beyond it (not an easy thing), you would see once again the awkward sixteen-year-old, wanting friendship, yet not knowing how to ask for it or how to mend it when it went wrong.

The knock on the door came, and Hagrid rose to answer it. "Hullo, Severus. Care for some tea?"

Snape looked drawn, but he nodded and came into the other wizard's cottage. "I came to bring these back to you," he said, holding out the falconry equipment. "I assume you have heard that my . . .familiar is no longer with me?"

Hagrid fixed him with a rather sad look, taking the bag and setting it down in the corner near the hearth. "Yeah. I heard that Freedom was really Harry. That he's an Animagus."

Snape nodded, teeth clenched. "That's right. An unregistered Animagus, just like his bloody father!"

Hagrid coughed. "Well, not exactly. James was a stag."

Severus scowled. "You know what I mean. He deceived me."

"I know it's hard, Sev, losin' something y'care about. But mebbe all ain't lost, lad."

"What do you mean, Hagrid?" Snape asked sharply, accepting the cup of tea the man handed him and stirring in milk and two sugar lumps. "Freedom is gone, he'll never be back. In fact, he never existed in the first place. There was only Potter, James's son, in hawk shape."

"Severus, listen to what you're saying. Harry's Lily's son too, remember?"

"How could I forget? He has her eyes."

"He's got more'n that, to my way o' thinking. He's quiet and he looks after those that need looking after."

"Ah, yes, Saint Potter!" sneered the Potions Master. "Hallowed by thy name. He betrayed and deceived me and you give him every excuse in the book."

"Severus Snape!" Hagrid said sternly. "Will you listen to yourself? You sound like one o'your students, not a grown professor! Now hush that tongue of yours, lad, an' listen to me for once." He fastened a look of extreme disapproval upon the other man.

Severus winced. He had not heard that tone from Hagrid in over fifteen years, and it still had the power to make him feel ashamed like a first year. "I . . .am sorry, Hagrid. It's not you I'm angry at." His apology was awkward, for he was not accustomed to apologizing much. In fact, there had only been three people he had ever apologized to in his life-his mother, Lily, and Hagrid. For they were the only ones that he truly respected.

"Aye, I know. Yer angry at yourself, for lettin' somebody get too close again. An' you're angry at Harry, for not bein' what you thought him. Righ'?"

"Yes. Freedom was . . .he was a good companion. I never expected . . .when he transformed in front of me and the bitch in the office . . .I could not comprehend it, not at first . . .and then to find out that brat had been tricking us all along . . ." Severus trembled. "How would you expect me to feel, Hagrid? He played me for a fool!"

"I know that's how you saw it at first, Severus. An' that might o' been right, if it had been James 'stead o'Harry. But you're forgetting, Sev, that Harry's not his dad."

"Of course I'm not!"

"Y'are, lad, b'cause you keep thinkin' Harry behaves like he does b'cause he's James's son. Only he never knew his father, so how he behaves isn't like James, it's for his own reasons. D'you see what I'm saying?"

Severus was quiet for a moment, thinking over what Hagrid had said.

His mentor was clever, he knew the best way for Severus to acknowledge the truth was to present it calmly and let him draw his own conclusions. Severus did not like to be forced into opinions and he only became more stubborn if you tried to force your views down his throat. That was how Dumbledore handled Severus in the past, and it was why Severus was reluctant to trust the man and always viewed his dictates with suspicion.

"You're saying I'm projecting James's motives and attitude onto his son."

Hagrid nodded. "Yup. Exactly. Lemme ask you something. When you were in that office an' Umbridge was gonna have the Aurors arrest ya, what did Freedom do?"

Severus thought. "He . . .he flew at them. He defended me. He even . . .threatened Umbridge." He could still hear the hawk's angry screech in his head. Nobody hurts my wizard! And he could not say that Potter had not known what he was about, because even when he became a boy again, he had still defied the evil witch.

"Aye. Now that's something Harry would do. He'd always protect a friend. Like his mum."

"Until she decided the friend was no longer worthy of protection," Severus said darkly.

The big man sighed. "Ah, Severus. Lily was in a temper when she said those things to you. I doubt she meant half of 'em. Jus' like you didn't mean t' call her that filthy name. The both of you were hotheaded young fools back then, lettin' yer pride an' tempers talk for you."

"Yes." Severus admitted quietly. And I fear I have repeated the same mistake again. Once more, my temper has ruled me. Am I doomed forever to repeat the mistakes of the past?

"Why did Harry change back?"

"Why? Because . . .it would have meant expulsion."

"But that's not the only reason, is it? What did he say when he changed?" Hagrid prodded. Come on, Severus, quit being so bloody stubborn, b'fore I cuff you upside the head.

Severus thought back to that night. When Freedom had transformed, he had pointed his wand at Umbridge and said, "Don't touch him, toad bitch! You want to know where Harry Potter is? Well, here I am, and if you want to hurt Severus, you'll have to go through me." "He . . .did it for me. Umbridge tried to arrest me on trumped up charges and Freedom . . .came back for me."

"Now, does that sound like a person who doesn't care for you? Who wants to make a fool of you?"

"No . . .but . . .he knows everything, Hagrid. About my past . . .the Dark Lord . . . Lily . . .one word and he could destroy all I have worked for . . ."

"So do I, Severus. And why aren't you afraid of me?" Hagrid inquired gently.

Severus stared at him. "You saved my life. Twice. If not for you, I'd be dead at sixteen."

"An' you saved him too. Twice. An' he saved you. The bond was formed then, Severus. I think you ought to give it a chance." He laid a hand atop the long-fingered one. "Not all of us leave, y'know."

Severus said nothing, but his eyes bored into the other man's, wary and fearful and hurting, like the sixteen-year-old he had once been. Dare I trust? Is he right? Is Potter . . .Harry more than his father . . .?

"I don't know. I think . . .it may be too late. We quarreled . . .I said things I shoudn't have . . ."

Hagrid raised his eyebrow. "Well, lad, then you know what you can do t'unsay them. Four words will fix it."

But Snape was shaking his head. "Not this."

"That's what y'said when you told me about the fight you had with Lily. And when y'came back from the Death Eaters. You said you were beyond forgiveness, remember. But you were wrong. There ain't nothin' so bad that can't be forgiven, as long as you're willing to ask for forgiveness and accept it. I know Harry, Severus. He needs you as much as you need him. And if you talk with him, like you're doin' with me, he'll be quite willing to forgive you. He's not like Sirius or James, he doesn't hold grudges."

"He told everyone that he was my familiar." Severus argued, still fearful. "Now everyone knows, dammit."

"So? Is that so bad, Severus? That the students know you can help a wounded hawk back to health?"

"It's bad for my cover. If His Darkness ever learned my familiar was Harry Potter . . ."

Hagrid shivered. "Could you not tell him you didn't know? That you transformed him back on a suspicion? I mean, nobody knows why he transformed except you and Harry and Umbridge."

"Yes, I suppose so. He might believe that . . .and at least Potter has been found. But it would have been better if the boy had kept his mouth shut about it . . ." grumbled the Potions Master.

He reached for a scone and his arm hit the pitcher of milk, knocking it over.

Milk splashed across the table.

"Damn!" Severus swore, and reached into his pocket for a handkerchief. "I can't believe I was that clumsy . . ."

"Sev, accidents happen," Hagrid soothed, rising to get a cloth.

Severus's hand encountered the letter he had tucked in his pocket instead of the handkerchief he had been expecting. Huh? What's this? He drew it out. There was no return address, simply his name. He muttered a few charms to detect unsavory curses and such and found the envelope was clean.

Hagrid mopped up the spilled milk while Severus opened the envelope.

Inside was a single sheet of parchment.

Severus unfolded it and read the following:

Dear Professor Snape,

I'm writing this to explain something and ask that you read this through first before throwing it into the fireplace. I know you think I'll tell everyone your secrets, but I swear to you upon my wizard's oath and my mother's grave I will NEVER betray you. I can keep a secret, I've been keeping them my whole life. The first one was to never let anyone know I'm a magical freak . . .but anyway, I'm writing this to tell you that it wasn't me who told everyone that I got hurt and was your familiar.

I was in Defense and Umbridge decided to use me as an object lesson on how not to use magic. SHE told the class how I became an illegal Animagus and injured myself and how you found me and took care of me and made me your familiar. I never would have told them-NEVER! Ron and Hermione never knew until that afternoon.

I wanted to hex her so bad, Professor, for taking something private and just blabbing it all over the school like that. I think she did it on purpose. It makes me want to tell everyone how she's deathly afraid of birds. But I won't sink to her level.

Please, sir, you must believe me. I know I said some things last time that were out of line and I apologize. I just want you to know the truth, is all.


Harry Potter

Severus read it through twice, scrutinizing it for anything that sounded off or untrue. He found nothing. The letter's simple style and language were that of a fifteen-year-old boy. A fifteen-year-old boy with nothing to hide, who was obviously frightened he would not be believed, and who, for some unknown reason, seemed to seek out the Potion Master's approval. Who had also been the victim of a nasty vicious witch.

He set the letter down and muttered several swear words.

Hagrid looked at him quizzically.

"It's from Potter," Severus told him shortly. "He says he never told anyone about him being my familiar. It was Umbridge." The black eyes burned with an almost volcanic intensity.

"Ah. As I thought. Y'see it's her you have to watch out for. You and Harry both. I don't trust her as far as I can hex her, an' I'm not allowed to use my wand anymore."

"I trust her even less than that, old friend."

"Then you'll be willing to give Harry a second chance then?" he prodded.

Severus was quiet for several long minutes. Then he said, "I will think about it. I . . .may have misjudged him."

Hagrid recognized what a great concession it was to the proud man to admit that, and did not push for more. He had gained a small victory today. It was enough for now. "You do that, Severus. Watch the boy an' maybe you'll see something you've missed before."

"I will try." He took a scone from the plate and ate it.

Hagrid poured them a second cup of tea and told Snape about the rest of his day, tending the animals and how he thought Crabbe would make a good assistant.

That raised Snape's eyebrows. He had never thought it would be Crabbe who would absorb the most out of Hagrid's teachings. "If you think he would benefit from extra lessons, Hagrid, by all means you may have him. By learning what you do, he may learn as well to turn away from darkness."

Hagrid beamed. "Good. Another scone, Professor?"

Snape waved away the offer. "No. If I eat too many, I won't be able to maintain my image. No one will be frightened if I waddle about the dungeons." He smirked. "And now, I really must get back to my tests." He rose to his feet, pocketing the letter. "Thank you. You are wise, Hagrid, wiser than even Albus."

The half-giant blushed. "Ah, Severus. All o' my wisdom comes from learning from my mistakes. Don' be afraid to admit when you're wrong. Even if it's only to yourself and one other person. If you live as long as I have, you can be wise too."

The Potions Master gave his mentor a crooked half-smile. "I doubt that. My temper will be my bane till I die, I fear."

"But at least you know how to wrestle it, Severus." Hagrid remarked sagely. "Y' might want to give Harry some pointers."

The Potions Master snorted. As if he would take pointers from me. But perhaps you are right. After all, who better to give lessons on control then one who has battled the demon nearly every day of his life? "I shall see you soon, Hagrid."

Then he turned and headed back towards the castle, his long strides covering the ground. He had much to think about.

* * * * * *

Tuesday, day 6:

Harry awoke that morning feeling drained and exhausted. He knew part of it had to do with the fact that he wasn't sleeping enough at night. He was down in the common room studying his arse off. Ron had suggested a game of wizard chess again, but Harry had refused, making the redhead glower and snarl, "Merlin, Harry, but you're turning into Hermione's male clone. Next thing you know, you're going to start getting to class early."

Harry set down his quill then and gave the other a level stare, one reminiscent of their potions professor, had he but known. "Ron, will you please shut up? Do you think I want to be studying like this? It's not exactly how I want to spend my free time or my holiday, but what other choice do I have? If I don't complete everything, Umbridge won't hesitate to snap my wand. So . . .that means I work my arse off. Got me? Now, why don't you go and play chess with the twins. I need to finish this blasted potions essay."

He returned to writing down the differences between starmist pods and fae beans, it wasn't that the essay was difficult, but Snape wanted two feet of parchment on it and that meant he had to search for more differences than he recalled from class. He rubbed his eyes, and drank the glass of pumpkin juice near his elbow. He hadn't gone to sleep until somewhere around two in the morning, and then had dreamed again of Cedric dying.

He rubbed his wrist where the cuff was, it was tender and a bit swollen, he didn't know what to do about it, and continued putting small amounts of murtlap on it when he could. But the rash always came back and each time it did, it was worse. He detested the cuff, but so far Umbridge had not mentioned removing it.

He rubbed his eyes and forced himself out of bed, he was muzzy and bleary and wanted to just sleep for a year. He glanced over at his satchel and scowled bleakly. He had been working nonstop on it for nearly a week and it looked as if he hadn't made a dent it. It wasn't fair! Hermione had been right, it was going to be almost impossible to get everything done, there weren't enough hours in a day indeed. Maybe if he just quit sleeping? He knew there was a potion to make you stay awake all night-a Stimulant Draft. Perhaps Hermione could brew it with him? Or for him?

He rubbed his eyes again. When he opened them, a strange owl was perched upon his bed, a small envelope clutched in his beak.

Harry took it. "Thanks!" he summoned a treat and fed the owl, who nuzzled him and then flew off.

Harry eagerly opened the letter, knowing immediately who it was from.



I'm so very glad that you are all right. I can't tell you how much. When I heard you were missing, I nearly went crazy, especially since that old coot Dumbledore refused to let me search any longer for you after the first few days. Honestly, he expected me to just sit here and do nothing! I damn near went spare, I'll tell you. I hate being cooped up. Reminds me of Azkaban.

So, you're an Animagus, are you, kid? That's great! Congratulations! You're a chip off the old block, just like James. You've got his talent for Transfiguration all right! Not to mention his talent on a broom and his good looks too. Lucky you! He'd have been proud of you, Harry.

I must say I was surprised that Snape actually took care of you while you were in hawk form. Somehow Snivellus doesn't strike me as the type to care for animals. More likely to use them for potions ingredients. But I'm glad he finally did something good, for once.

About that incident back in fifth year with Snape and your dad and I . . .well, we were fifteen and stupid. What else can I say? Snivellus was always starting with us, the greasy slimeball. And your dad was showing off for Lily, I think. Besides, it wasn't like we hurt the little creep. And believe me, we wanted to after what he called your mum.

James did manage to deflate his head a bit by seventh year, that was mostly due to your mum. She gave him an ultimatum-no more hexing and pranking or else she'd walk away and leave him flat. She was a dragon, your mum. We all knew better than to get on her bad side. She was quick to cast a spell and quick to shred you with her tongue. Never could figure what she saw in Snape, though. Ah, well. We all make mistakes.

Be careful, Harry. That new Headmistress sounds like a real wicked piece of work. I wish I could talk to you face to face. Any chance of getting to a fireplace and Flooing me? If you can, do it. But if not, don't worry. Just owl me. I'm here anytime you need to talk, okay?

Keep cool and don't sweat your OWLS.



Sirius's letter cheered him somewhat. But what he had said regarding Snape didn't sit well with him at all. What kind of reason was we were fifteen and stupid? Harry scowled. I'm fifteen and I'd never do that to anyone-not even Malfoy, the snot. But then, that's cause I've been on the receiving end of bullying from Dudley, Piers, and their lot. It's a bit different when you've been beaten up every day.

He chewed his lower lip. From what Remus and Sirius had told him, they had spent half their free time pranking people and hexing Severus for fun. And some of their pranks had not been very funny, unlike Fred and George, who made it a point to target everyone with their silly jokes, and their effects never lasted more than an hour or two. There was a difference between harmless magical jokes and those the Marauders had used on Severus. A big difference and it disturbed Harry that Sirius did not acknowledge that what he had done was wrong.

Maybe he hadn't known better as a kid, but he was an adult now, and surely he must know the difference? It was strange, but Harry had not had any kind of decent role model growing up, all he'd had was Dudley, and an empathy for others, and yet he had never wanted to become like his cousin, or Vernon, at all. Instead, he had become just the opposite.

Harry wondered what Dudley would have been like if he had been picked on the way Harry was? Would it have changed him for the better? And how about James and Sirius? If they had known a fraction of what they had put Snape through, would Sirius be so quick to laugh off that incident during fifth year? Or the Shrieking Shack? Somehow Harry doubted it.

He felt a sudden flash of resentment towards his cousin and his father and godfather. They had had privileged childhoods, for the most part. They had never known what it was to go cold and hungry and do chores endlessly and never have anyone hug you or say they were proud of you. They had never worn hand-me-downs and been labeled a freak. They had normal childhoods, and yet they had wasted them by being bullies.

I was never really a kid. Never allowed to be one. Sev and I, we have that in common too. How he must have resented my dad and Sirius for that. I can understand, because sometimes I really hated Dudley for getting everything for nothing and I never got anything, no matter how much I tried to do what Aunt and Uncle wanted. It really sucked.

The fifteen-year-old shook his head, there was little profit in remembering those days. He quickly fed the letter to the flames in the common room fireplace, no way would he repeat Hermione's mistake. She had confessed to him last night that she had dropped the letter from Sirius which had started Umbridge's rampage against Snape and led to Harry revealing himself. She had been quite remorseful and cried that she hadn't meant for Professor Snape to be accused by the hag or get arrested and never meant for Harry to get hurt either, even though he hadn't been, really. Harry had hugged her and said he forgave her, that it had just been a stupid mistake, and God knew he'd made plenty of his own.

He brushed off his hands and then made his way out of the common room and down to the hall for breakfast. For once, he was up first out of his Housemates. Today he had double Charms, Care of Magical Creatures, and double Transfiguration. He just hoped he could last the whole day without snoozing, though neither of those classes was boring in the slightest.

But he was so tired. He felt as if he had not slept in months, and lately when he had tried to summon his magic to cast spells it had felt . . .sluggish and slow to respond. He looked at the cuff on his wrist and wondered if perhaps that was why. Umbridge had assured him it only bound his ability to shift, but what if she were wrong? What if the cuff affected his magic in other ways?

He yawned, and wished the students were allowed a good steaming cup of coffee. That would wake him up, all right.

I hope Severus read my letter. Otherwise it'll be hell having potions on Thursday. If I manage to make it through today and tomorrow without passing out.

The rest of his House soon arrived at breakfast, and though Harry had been hungry at first, one bite of his pancake and he was suddenly revolted. He pushed his plate away after only a few bites. Nothing tasted good any more. Everything either tasted bland or like sawdust. Was it like that for all Animagi? He'd never seen McGonagall lose her appetite. Maybe it was just him.

Up at the staff table, Severus was watching Potter without really seeming to, and what he noticed disturbed him profoundly. The boy looked like he was on his last nerve, wan and drawn and he was barely eating anything. Doubtless the pressure was getting to him. He shot a look at Minerva. Could she not suggest that Potter be allowed half periods for awhile, until he finished his make-up work?

If Potter were in Slytherin, Severus would have been dosing him with a Nutrient Potion and a Stress Reliever, among other things. He would mention that to her and hopefully she would insist Potter take them. And get a decent amount of sleep.

I need to speak with the boy as well, but my schedule is booked the next two days. Thursday evening I'm free and so is Potter. I shall endeavor to find him and talk then. I just hope Hagrid is right and it won't make things worse.

He then turned to Minerva and said, in an undertone, "Minerva, have you noticed that Potter is looking a bit peaked? Listless, tired? Perhaps you need to give him a dose or two of a Nutrient Potion and a Stress Reliever?"

Minerva looked startled, for rarely did Snape suggest remedies for students outside of his own House. "Yes, I think that would be a good idea. Thank you, Severus. Mr. Potter has been burning the candle at both ends, I'd say."

"No doubt. I will send them to you with Twixie."

* * * * * *

That evening, McGonagall called Harry to her office and gave him the two potions, asking him if he felt all right.

"I'm fine, Professor," Harry lied glibly. Well, it was not quite a lie, he did feel better after he'd taken the potions. "Just a bit stressed, but I'm managing."

She eyed him thoughtfully. "Are you sure, Potter?"

"Yes, ma'am." He thanked Merlin Snape were not questioning him, the man would have seen through his flimsy façade in an instant. But McGonagall was no Snape and she trusted Harry to tell her when something was wrong, like most teenagers would have. She didn't realize that Harry was not most teenagers and had been trained to suppress any feelings of pain or illness as a small child, so he wouldn't be a burden upon the adults.

"Very well, but mind you eat a good breakfast and dinner tomorrow, am I clear? You need food in order to have energy to cast spells. And mind you go to bed at a decent hour, young man. No later than eleven."

"Yes, professor." He would go to bed at eleven, but wake up an hour later and study, he decided.

"Good night then."

"Good night," he waved at her before going out the door.

* * * * * * *

"B-but Harry, taking a Stimulating Draft is dangerous," Hermione argued when he cornered her after she had completed her homework in the common room. "It can be addicting, and even I've never taken one."

"I know, but I really need this. I have to get most of this make up work done. Can you make it, Hermione?"

"Yes, of course, but Harry . . .I really don't think it's a good idea. Maybe I could lend you my notes?"

Harry shook his head. "No, I don't want to copy off of you. How long will it take to make the draft?"

"A few hours. I could do it tomorrow, dungeon number three probably won't have anyone in it, and Professor Snape doesn't have class till the afternoon."

"Right. Will you brew it for me then?"

Reluctantly, the brown-haired witch agreed. "But I'm only making you one vial, Harry, and you have to promise me, to follow the dosage carefully."

"I promise." He gave her a sweet smile. "Thanks, Hermione. You've just saved my life."

She sighed. "Somehow I doubt that. Let me go and look up the formula."

Ron looked up from his homework as the little witch got up and left the room. "Where's she going? To get another book out of the library?"

"No. To do some research," Harry answered. "Want to quiz me on Divination, Ron?"

"Sure. You know Divination's gotten a whole lot easier to uh, comprehend since Firenze started teaching," Ron remarked, taking the sample quiz from his friend.

"Tell me about it. And have you noticed, Umbridge doesn't do those annoying surprise inspections any more?"

"Yeah, and I know why. Because she's afraid of centaurs. They're half-human and she's messed up in the head over them." Ron lowered his voice even further. "The twins said they're planning something big to drive her insane, maybe for good. It has something to do with a portable swamp. And lots of Zonkos fireworks."

Harry grinned. "Sounds cool. Maybe they could add in stuff with wings, because Umbridge's other weakness is . . .birds. She can't stand 'em."

Ron's nose twitched. "I'll tell my brothers. Thanks for the tip." Then he turned back to the paper in his hand. "All right, what are three heavenly signs that portend great change or upheaval?"

"Uh . . .a comet seen in the night sky, a red sky at night, and . . .err . . ."

* * * * * *

Wednesday, day 7:

Harry was returning from Herbology when he glanced up from tying his trainer to find himself surrounded by three angry-looking Slytherins. His hand slipped uneasily to the pocket of his robes, where he had his wand, but he didn't draw it yet.

"Potter, what's the big idea, tricking our Head by being his familiar like that?" demanded a tall girl angrily. "Did you think it was funny?"

Harry shook his head. "No, it wasn't intentional. I lost my memory while I was a hawk-"

"A likely story," snorted another, this one topped Harry by a foot, though he thought the boy was a year younger than he was. "Seems more like typical Gryffindor mischief to me. And we don't like it when you screw with our Head of House, Potter."

"It's bad form," added the third one, another boy, slightly smaller than the first. He had his wand out. "Maybe we ought to teach you what happens when somebody messes with our professor like that."

"Look, I don't want to fight," Harry began, knowing that if Umbridge ever found out he'd been involved in a duel or anything resembling one, she would expel him. "What happened wasn't a prank, just bad luck."

"Oh? Now you think it's bad luck to get rescued by Professor Snape?" demanded the girl hotly. "Seems like he fixed you up pretty well by my lights."

"No, that's not what I meant. I'm grateful to him for saving me-"

Just then he heard a familiar voice say, "Hey, Cummings. What are you up to?"

It was Vincent Crabbe.

The larger boy turned around. "Teaching Potter here a lesson, Vince. Why? You wanna help?"

Harry's heart sank. If Crabbe joined them he was finished. If only he could become Freedom.

"No. Let him go. You heard the professor last night." Crabbe ordered. "Potter wasn't to be touched."

Harry almost fell over. Snape had issued orders to his House to leave him alone?

Cummings squirmed. "I know, Vince, but . . ."

Crabbe glowered at the other boy. "Nathan, you know the rules. If Snape says leave him be, you'd better do it. Unless you want him on your arse, mate?"

"No. Merlin save me." He turned back to Harry. "Fine. You walk for now, Potter. Snape's orders."

They stepped back and allowed Harry to continue walking up the path, stunned by that piece of information. Guess he must have read the letter or something. A faint smile tugged on his lips. If Snape was willing to protect him from Slytherins than perhaps he was starting to believe that Harry was telling the truth, and he would never betray him.

* * * * * *

When he got back to Gryffindor Tower, he found a small vial of an electric blue potion upon his pillow, with a written list of instructions. He stuck the vial and the note in his trunk, he would take the first dose after dinner, and hopefully it would give him some energy.

Hell, I've got detention with Mrs. Toad Face this evening. Brilliant!

He joined his friends in the hall and forced himself to eat dinner, though he still barely had an appetite. He could feel eyes on him from the staff table and assumed McGonagall was watching to make sure he ate like she had told him to. Had he turned around, however, he would have seen that the eyes watching belonged to Severus.

* * * * * *

He had decided to forgo using the Stimulant Draft until after his detention, fearful that Umbridge might notice, and it was a good thing too, since tonight's detention was writing lines. She handed him a sheet upon which the following sentence was written: An Animagus has the soul of a beast, I must learn to control it, lest I become one.

"Two hundred and fifty times, Mr. Potter." Umbridge declared sweetly. "You may begin."

He picked up his quill, scowled down at the parchment, and began to write. It was a bunch of bull, that sentence, yet he knew that was what Umbridge believed, and in her tiny little mind, she was trying to re-educate him into believing what she did. Not that it would work. He knew who and what he was, and he was no beast.

An hour-and-a-half later he was finished. He turned in his paper to her and then left. He practically ran up to Gryffindor Tower on winged feet. Then he went directly to his room and removed the vial of potion. He read the instructions, no more than two swallows in a twenty-four hour period.

He carefully unstoppered the vial and took one swallow.

The potion went down his throat like a rush of spring air.

The minute it hit his stomach he felt a sudden jolt as if all his muscles and tendons had become supercharged. All the queer tiredness and exhaustion vanished, he felt alert and ready for anything. Energy coursed through him, he felt as if he could run a hundred miles without stopping, he practically vibrated in place.

Merlin, but this feels incredible! I can do all my homework and not even get tired, I think. What a wonderful potion! Why didn't I think of this sooner?

He ran and got his satchel and took out his books, only to discover that his newfound rush of energy would not let him sit still for long. So he read while walking about his room until the urge to dart off into the night had passed. Then he settled on his bed and began completing the day's assignments. He always did those first before tackling the make up work.

Before he knew it, three hours had passed, Seamus and Dean and Neville were coming upstairs to get into pajamas and go to bed.

"Studying hard, Harry?" asked Neville.

"He's becoming Hermione's double," teased Seamus.

Harry just nodded, he was not tired at all with the elixir coursing through his veins.

He took his books and parchment and retreated to the common room to finish his work.

Hermione was there and she darted him a concerned glance. "Harry, did you do what I said when you took the potion?"

"Yes, and it worked great. I feel incredible."

"Oh. That's good, I guess. Just don't overdo it, okay?"

He nodded absently, then sat down and began writing frantically, his hands moving rapidly across the parchment.

* * * * * *

Thursday, day 8:

He was still writing and reading when the others had gone to sleep. He remained awake all night and when dawn broke, still felt refreshed and energized. He decided to put away his books, he had made a sizable dent in the make up work this time, and go for a walk. He was twitchy, he needed to move about.

He dressed in a new uniform and raced outside. He spent an hour before breakfast walking and ridding himself of some of the excess energy, and even then he was not tired. Colors seemed brighter, images sharper, even the air he breathed was purer. He almost felt the way he did as a hawk.

At breakfast, which he practically inhaled, Hermione kept stealing worried glances at him. "Harry, are you feeling all right?"

"Never better. Why?"

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Quit worrying."

They had double potions that day, and Harry didn't even care if Snape ignored him again. He was filled with a glorious rushing energy and he practically skipped about his cauldron. Ron just stared at him. "Harry, are you okay?"

"Fine. I feel great. Why?"

"Because you seem so . . .I dunno . . .happy and jumpy . . .and it's potions, mate."

"I know. I feel great." He took his small knife and dragged Ron's pile of acacia roots over. "Let me chop these for you. I need to do something."

The roots were chopped speedily and then they had to wait for the solution to steep. That was hard, since Harry could feel the energy coiled restlessly in him and he couldn't stand still, he wanted to move. His hand tapped out an uneven rhythm on his thigh and his toe tapped against the floor, but it was partially hidden by his cauldron.

Snape swept about the room, examining each pair's cauldron. When he got to Ron and Harry's cauldron, he glanced once at the solution, muttered, "Adequate for once," then he stared at Harry. "Potter, is there a reason you cannot stand still for a minute but have to gyrate?"

"Hmm? What, sir?" Harry responded. "Oh no, sir. I'm just a little twitchy today."

Severus frowned sharply. "Well, control yourself."

"Yes, sir."

Severus billowed away, thinking hard. What is wrong with the boy? He's twitching like he's been drinking a Stimulant Elixir. He knew the signs since he had occasionally taken one himself in the course of his spying duties, when he needed to be alert for a whole night and still teach the next day. If that foolish child has taken one of them, I shall shake him to pieces. Does he not know the dangers of that potion? It makes you feel wonderful for a good twenty-four hours, but after that it wears off and you crash hard. That was one reason he never introduced that potion until sixth year or even seventh, though the draft was not that difficult to make. It was too seductive to use, and the withdrawal from it made one depressed and melancholy for a day, and also lethargic.

The Potions Master kept an eagle eye upon Potter the whole lesson, noting more telltale signs. The boy kept shuffling his feet unconsciously and his left hand twitched every so often. His eyes were also unnaturally bright and his breath rapid.

Severus's mouth tightened. He was on the beginnings of coming off the energized trip the potion gave you. He'll need a counteractive if I'm to have any kind of meaningful discussion with him. I'll prepare one just before I have him come to my office.

Severus checked everyone's potion one last time before telling the class they had less than ten minutes to finish up and bottle their solutions.

Harry was almost sorry to do so, but he carefully poured the potion into the vial and Ron labeled it. Before Ron could bring it up to Snape's desk, Harry grabbed it. "I'll do that. I don't mind."

"Whatever," Ron said, still giving him a weird look. Then he beat a hasty retreat, Snape's class was not one he wanted to linger in.

When Harry dropped off his solution, Severus leaned over and said softly, "Mr. Potter, we need to discuss something. Be in my office after lunch, two o'clock sharp."

Harry blinked. "You mean you want to talk to me?"

"Did I not just say so?"

"Uh . . .yeah, you did. Two o'clock. I'll be there, sir. Bye!" he practically sprinted out the door.

Snape rolled his eyes. Potter, after our discussion, I am confiscating that bloody potion. It affects you worse than it does me. Damn Minerva for not going over the dangers of using that particular draft! Potter probably used it to help him study and do homework.

That was what most students used it for . . .in the beginning. Before they began using it for everything and became addicted to it.

* * * * * *

Harry nibbled at his sandwich at lunch, his appetite was starting to wane again, but he didn't care. He needed to take another walk, he was still antsy. He invited Hermione and Ron along, but Hermione had Arithmancy reading and Ron said he was going to take a nap.

Harry just shrugged and raced out of the hall and through the double doors. He took off at a dead sprint and soon reached the edge of the grounds behind Hagrid's hut. Taking a careful glance around, he vanished into the trees, heading towards the secret glade that he used to frequent as a hawk with Severus, and once or twice before then too.

By the time he reached it, most of the potion had worn off and he was no longer filled with boundless energy. He felt pleasantly tired.

He slipped into the pretty glade and sat down upon the grass. He looked at his watch. Good, he had at least an hour before his appointment with Snape. Wonder what he wants? Did he read the letter and want to talk about it now? Or am I failing potions or something?

Suddenly, he felt extremely tired and his fear of failing potions intensified. If he didn't get at least an A in class he wouldn't be elegible for Auror training. Of course, that was assuming the Aurors would take him. He had heard they were very selective and only the most dedicated ever got to become one.

He put his head on his knees and fell asleep. But his dreams quickly morphed into nightmares. Once again he saw Cedric fall, heard Voldemort laugh, then the Dark Lord transformed into Umbridge, who dug into the back of his hand with a blood quill. Crimson drops spattered the ground . . .and he howled, but there was no one to hear, no one to care, they were all gone, dead or lost, he was alone . . .abandoned . . .

He woke with sweat streaming down his forehead. He glanced up and saw to his alarm that the sun was almost down. He glanced at his watch and saw it was after two. Oh damn! I've missed my appointment with Snape.

He thought about getting to his feet, but for some reason that was too much effort. He was too tired. All he wanted to do was sit here. Who cared if he missed Snape's little chat? Nothing really mattered anymore.

A wave of crushing despair and loneliness swamped him. He buried his face in his hands, tempted to weep, but that was a coward's way out. He was no coward, was he? He shook his head. Maybe he was, and that was why he was alone.

His sleeve had slid up and he looked at the silver manacle about his wrist, the mark of his shame, the mark of the beast-souled, and felt even more bitter and angry. He had allowed her to bind him like a beast. What then did that make him but a coward? A useless, good-for-nothing freak, as Uncle Vernon would say.

He shut his eyes, but there was no escape. The taunts echoed in his head. He was so damned tired! He didn't care about anything anymore. He had lost everything-his Animagus shape, his friendship with Severus, his parents . . .what was the point of going on? He would never finish his damn assignments and the toad bitch would snap his wand and he would be tossed from the school and that would be it. Then the Dark Lord would find him and kill him to fulfill a prophecy of lies.

He would die as he had lived . . .unloved.

The darkness and cold overwhelmed him then and he drowned in their depths.

* * * * * *

Severus glanced at the clock again and ground his back teeth together. Where was he? It was now ten minutes past two and Potter still had not shown up. Did he think he could waltz over any time he pleased? He had specifically told the boy to be on time. And he was late.

I shall give him five more minutes, then I will go and look for him. I will not tolerate him ignoring me, or disregarding my authority.

Severus turned back to marking essays. Five minutes went by. Still no Potter.

Snape shoved back his chair with a sharp scrape and stood. Just wait till he found the boy. He would make sure Potter knew what it meant to be on time. He stalked from his office and headed up to Gryffindor Tower.

He spoke the password, "Bright heart" and entered the portrait hole, scaring to death some first years who were playing Exploding Snape.

"Professor Snape!" they squeaked.

"Do any of you know where Harry Potter is? Or his friends, Weasley or Granger?"

It was a moment before one answered. "Weasley's sleeping, sir. And Hermione's in the library, studying. She lives there. But I don't know where Harry is."

"He never came back here after lunch?"

"No, sir. Not that I know of."

Severus breathed out of his nose sharply. Then he turned and stalked back out of the portrait hole.

"Uh oh. Harry's gonna get detention for sure," muttered a first-year behind him. "He looked mad enough to breathe fire."

"He always looks like that."

"No, this was worse."

The portrait hole shut and Snape lost whatever comments they might have made. But they were right. Severus was angry enough to give Potter detention now. Where had that blasted child run off to? He headed out of the castle, reasoning Harry might have gone down to Hagrid's and lost track of time.

But Potter was not at Hagrid's either.

"He's gone missing again?" Hagrid asked, alarmed.

"Yes. I asked him to meet me for that talk you suggested we have and he skived out of it!" Severus growled. "Of all the cheek!"

"Surely y'don't think he transformed again?"

"I would hope not. Umbridge has forbidden it and if she ever caught him . . ."

"Have you tried your glade, Severus?"

"No. But maybe I should. Thank you, Hagrid."

"Good luck then, Sev. And if you do find him, remember . . .don't let your temper talk for you."

"I shall." Severus answered, then he slipped from the cottage and into the Forbidden Forest.

Severus walked swiftly but silently through the forest, his boots making no sound over the trail. He had better be there, or else I'm going to throttle him. After what happened last time, he ought to bloody well know better than to wander off like this! Especially if he really is under the influence of a Stimulant Draft. When you come off of it, you're a bloody mess, and you need someone to talk you through it.

His person of choice had always been his mentor, whom he trusted implicitly. Or a counteragent to prevent you from going mad with despair.

He carefully parted the screen of foliage and peered over it. He drew in a sharp breath of relief. There was Potter, sitting there, looking like the world had ended.

Snape brushed aside the foliage and entered the glen. "I had thought I might find you here," was all he said, keeping his tone perfectly neutral.

Harry jerked about so fast he nearly fell over. "How did you find me?"

"Simple deduction. You were not in Gryffindor Tower or at Hagrid's. Therefore, you might be here." He walked forward a pace, doing his best to squash his temper down. The boy looked like hell, his eyes were burned holes in his head, pools of despair and hurt. Severus was unsure how much of that was the potion and how much Potter's actual mental state. It was probably a combination of both. "You missed your appointment with me."

The boy shrugged, apathetic. "So? What does it matter? Give me detention why don't you?"

"Is that why you think I am here?" Severus asked softly. He walked forward another pace, withdrawing the counteragent from his robes.

Harry glanced away and muttered to the ground, "Don't know and don't give a damn either. Leave me alone!"

"Leave you alone to do what? Drown yourself in guilt and self-recriminations?"

"Whatever. I felt fine before you told me to see you . . .sir. You ruin everything."

"You were not fine before, Potter." Severus interjected sternly. "You were under the influence of a Stimulant Draft, weren't you?"

Harry nodded.

"Now it has begun to wear off and this is the result. You feel depressed, exhausted, and hopeless. One of the nastier side effects of that potion. Here. I have brought you a counteragent. Drink it, it will help a little."

He held the vial out to the teen.

Harry ignored it, instead coming to his feet, and glaring angrily at his teacher. "What the hell game are you playing at, Snape? You don't give a damn about me. I'm just your student. Why should you care about me?"

Their eyes locked, and suddenly the tension in the glade intensified, as the angry young wizard faced his former rescuer, and his magic stirred in response to Snape's presence.


Chapter End Notes:

How did you like this chapter? The letters? Hagrid? Snape's reaction?

I know, you're all screaming about me ending it there, but I felt the big discussion deserved its own chapter.

So be kind and review this one and I might just be able to get the next one up by this evening, if you want.

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