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A/N: I had posted this last night, but due to the upgrade or whatever this chapter plus  3 other chapter in my Never Again story were deleted, along with everyone's reviews for them and for Where Shadows Go!! I am very upset about this, since I wasn't aware of anything like that going on, I was in the middle of replying to reviews when the page froze and then reported an error and when I was finally able to log back in, 13 reviews and three chapters were gone! So if you want, please go back and leave a review again, I'm really sorry!

After a long time, Harry stopped crying and it was only then, when his nose was stuffed and his eyes puffy from crying so hard, that he realized he had just spent the last fifteen minutes bawling like a three-year-old on his Potions Master. A crimson tide washed up the back of his neck and he wished he could conjure a hole and fall into it. Oh my God, I just cried all over Severus Snape. Just like a . . . whiny brat. Why is it that I always manage to do things that embarrass the hell out of myself without half trying? I can't believe I did that. I never cry. Never! Not since I was five or six. I learned a long time ago that tears didn't help. So why in Merlin's name did I just end up doing that on Snape?

He drew away from the older man, not looking him in the eye, instead he looked at the bloody manacle on his wrist. He waited for Snape to sneer at him, to make some comment about Harry getting his robes all covered in snot and tears or how boys weren't supposed to cry all over their teachers like little girls. He darted a glance at the older wizard out of the corner of his eye, for surely Snape must be as uncomfortable with that open display of emotion as Harry was.

To his utter shock, Severus was not regarding him with disgust or disdain. Instead the Potions Master was reaching into his pocket.

A moment later he handed Harry a handkerchief with a green snake embroidered in the right hand corner.

Harry took it and mopped his face and wiped his nose. Damn it, my nose is running like a bloody toddler's. He sniffled, trying to muffle it in the cloth.

"Blow your nose," was all Severus said, and there was not a bit of mockery in his tone.

Flushing, Harry obeyed. Can I die now? Please? He darted another glance at his professor.

Snape arched an eyebrow quizzically. "Why do you keep looking at me like that? Do you think I will melt because you happened to get my robes wet? Salt isn't the best thing for cloth, but I learned how to cast a cleaning charm a long time ago."

"No . . .it's just . . .I haven't . . .I don't normally . . .do that."

"I figured as much. You were taught, like I was, to keep the hurt inside of you, to hide what you felt. I would wager you got punished for crying as a small child, yes?"

Harry nodded.

"My father used to whack me a good one every time I so much as sniffled," Severus said quietly. He normally never discussed his childhood in detail, but this once he broke his silence, since he sensed it would help Harry open up about his own trauma. "I learned very quickly to never cry around him and eventually to almost never cry at all."

"Me too. Do you ever?"

"Once in a blue moon."

"Like . . .when my mother died?" Harry guessed.

"Yes." The professor rose to his feet, brushing the grass stains off of his robes with a few brisk passes of his wand. Another pass and the shoulder of his robes were dry as well. Then he coughed and said awkwardly, "There is nothing for you to be embarrassed about, Potter. You are not the first student to give my robes a salt water bath." Though you are the first student I have ever held that way.

"I'm . . .not?"

"No. I have been Slytherin Head of House for sixteen years and in that time I have had one or two homesick first years in my House cry in front of me or the occasional mark-obsessed girl as well."

Harry gaped. "You mean . . .a girl cried over getting bad marks to you?"

"Astoria Mullin, Merlin help me. Came to me begging me to speak to Professor Burbage , she couldn't get anything less than an E on her Muggle Studies or else she would self-combust right there. Such dramatics! But she had good reason for them, as I discovered when I questioned her more closely. If she did not maintain acceptable marks, her father cursed her."

"That's horrible! Was he a dark wizard? What did you do then?"

"No, he was not a Death Eater, but he was a cruel man, and as dark as they come in that way. I took steps to inform Wizarding Minor Services, as was proper for a teacher who has a documented case of abuse towards a minor by a parent or guardian and they got her removed from her home."

"You can do that?"

"Of course. It is my duty to do so. I can try and do the same for you as well, Harry, although it might take a bit of string-pulling, since your relatives are Muggles. I shall speak further with the Headmaster when he returns. Are you agreeable to that, Harry?"

Harry nodded. "Hell, yeah. I mean . . .yes, sir."

Severus frowned. "I do not understand why you were allowed to go back to that environment year after year. Did you ever mention to an adult what your relatives were like?"

"Once I . . .hinted to Dumbledore that I didn't want to go home at the end of the year, that I'd rather stay here, but he said I had to, so I did. I didn't really go into detail, Sev," he added, seeing the professor's face turn stormy. "I just said I had lots of chores and I couldn't get enough rest there or something."

"And Albus did not question you further? Did not ask you anything more?"

"No. So I stopped talking about it." Harry admitted softly.

"Blind old coot! What game was he playing? Had you spoken so to me, or Professor McGonagall, or to any other teacher, we would have investigated the situation. And then moved the sun and moon to get you away from there."

"Truly? I told my primary school teacher once. She called my aunt and uncle and talked to them, and they told her I was a chronic liar, always making up tales. She believed them and I got locked in the cupboard for three days without food."

"That would not happen here. There would have been an investigation from Wizarding Minor. I know you are not accustomed to relying on adults for help, much like myself, but you need to start trusting us, Harry. You are important to us . . .to me. I know that I have not been fair to you and that others on the staff may have seemed . . .indifferent to your situation, but had we known the truth . . .Things will change now, Harry. From now on, if you have a problem, serious or otherwise, consider coming to Minerva or to me to resolve it if you cannot do so by yourself. You need not bear everything in silence."

Harry hunched his shoulders at the scolding tone a little. "You do."

Severus sighed. "Not always. And even so, you should not emulate me in this, Harry. I am what I am through circumstance and necessity-a spy has to be self-reliant. But that does not mean I do not need someone to talk to every once in awhile. As Hagrid is so fond of saying-a problem shared is soon no problem at all. Think about that, won't you?"

"Okay." He shifted from foot to foot restlessly. "Severus? Do you really mean to confront the toad tonight? Shouldn't you wait a little bit?"

"For what purpose? The longer you wear that abomination upon you, Harry, the worse off you will be."

"I know, but . . .she's dangerous. She almost had you sacked once. What if she tries again? I don't want you to lose your job over me."

Now the Potions Master did scowl at him. "Harry, this is more important than a mere teaching post. She is using dark magic upon students, and that is a criminal offense. She deserves to be locked away at the very least, and the only reason Aurors haven't dragged her away by now is because she has friends in high places." A sneer contorted Snape's features for a brief instant. "Using a blood quill upon students would have gotten anyone else a swift trial, but because Fudge vouched for her, all she got was a citation and a warning fine. But this . . .this I will not permit to be shoved by the wayside. This is the second time she has committed the same crime-using an object of dark magic to compel the obedience of a child."

"I'm not saying she doesn't deserve to be chucked where the sun doesn't shine, Severus, but . . ."

The Potions Master placed a lean hand upon the slender shoulder. "Do not worry about me, fledgling. I have handled worse than her and lived to tell of it. Much worse. She may be a petty, bureaucratic, power-mad bitch from hell, but the day I cannot deal with the likes of her is the day I surrender my wand and go for a stay in St. Mungos." There was a fierce light in his eyes and it made Harry shiver.

"What will you do to her? Hex her?"

"Only if threatened. I have much worse planned." He smirked diabolically. "She thinks she is clever, sheltering beneath Fudge's robes. But even Fudge must follow Ministry law. And she has broken it twice. Once might be overlooked, but twice . . ."

"You're going to report her then?"

"Yes. The Board of Governors is already watching her and they will be less than pleased to find out she is back to her old tricks. I plan to document your case very carefully, Harry, including witnesses, and perhaps even threaten to run a piece in the paper . . .but only as a last resort. The real strength of my case will be the laws I use to support my claim. And I know them very well, better than she does."

"How did you learn them?"

"I studied Magical Law after I gained my Mastery, so I could make sure no other wizard could steal potions I had invented. I know contract law extremely well and also those laws pertaining to the abuse of dark magic. She will have nowhere to hide, for I have irrefutable proof of her misconduct." Severus jerked his head at Harry's wrist.

Harry permitted himself a small evil grin. This was going to be interesting. Very interesting.

"Kick her arse for me, Severus. Hard."

"I intend to, Harry. Come along now. The sooner I write up a report and take pictures the sooner I can give her the boot."

Harry followed eagerly. "Uh, Sev? You said something about witnesses. Like who?"

"Minerva. She will be livid when you show her the cuff, both as your Head of House and as an Animagus. She will support me until death after that." In fact, I may well have to put her in a Body Bind to keep her from killing the toad bitch, Severus thought in satisfaction. Dolores the Dictator, your time is nearly ended, and soon Hogwarts shall be free of your shadow for good and all. Because no one hurts my familiar! Or my friend either!

Harry smiled. Now Umbridge would learn the truth all students knew-screwing with Snape was like baiting a Hungarian Horntail-either way you ended up dead.

* * * * * *

They went first to Snape's quarters, where Severus took a camera and snapped several pictures of the manacle itself, Harry wearing it, and then he removed several official looking documents from his desk drawer and sat down. He handed Harry a parchment with the words Deposition of the Victim in Latin. "Take that and go sit on the couch." He flicked his wand and the table enlarged so Harry could sit and write comfortably. "I need you to write down everything you recall about that night's detention. Try and remember exactly what she said to you before and after she placed the cuff upon you, Harry. This is key testimony, so be as accurate as possible."

"I will," Harry said, then he sat down and began to write as well. He might not have as good a memory as Hermione did, but the hag's detention was embedded in his brain and he could no more forget the moment she placed that manacle upon him than he could forget he was a wizard.

By the time he was done recording the entire incident, as well as the way the cuff affected him physically, mentally, and magically, he felt drained and tired and was smothering a yawn.

Snape looked up from finishing filling out the necessary form for Abuse of Dark Magic by a School Administrator and saw the teenager's eyelids begin to droop. "Why don't you have a bit of a lie-down, Harry? I still have some paperwork to do before we visit Professor McGonagall. You need the sleep. Have you finished your deposition?"

"Right here, p'rfessor," Harry mumbled, gesturing to the parchment, he was exhausted and halfway into the realm of sleep.

Severus summoned it over and placed it with the form he had just completed. Then he rose and tucked a familiar green afghan about the now snoozing fifth year, arranging the boy on the couch with a pillow so he did not get a stiff neck sleeping in a contorted position.

He remained gazing down upon the boy for a moment. Ah, child. You were the second greatest mistake of my life, but I shall try and make amends as best I can, starting now.

Snape returned to his desk, he still had more documents to fill out, plus an article to submit to the Prophet if it became necessary to go public, though he refused to release the name of the student Umbridge had tortured with the Cuff of Binding. The last thing Potter needed was more press-good, bad, or otherwise. He pulled out a large tome titled Magical Law and the Ministry and copied out the strictures regarding the use of dark magic against a minor and summoned another book that described exactly what a Cuff of Binding did and how it had been made to restrain Animagi criminals in the past, until the Ministry ruled it dark magic and destroyed the cuffs-all but one, apparently.

He wondered how Toady had gotten her hands upon it, then supposed he could always ask her that when he confronted her. He had to admit, he was very much looking forward to giving the hag her justly deserved and long overdue arse kicking.

* * * * * *

Severus allowed Harry to sleep for a good hour-and-a-half before he woke him and the Potions Master contacted McGonagall through the Floo Network. "I have an urgent matter to discuss with you, Minerva," Severus began without preamble. "It concerns one of your Gryffindors."

Minerva looked up from the yearly proficiency reports she was writing-as Deputy it was her job to evaluate the staff on a yearly basis, to see who might be eligible for promotions and so forth. The reports were based upon content knowledge and following school policy, she had just finished writing one for Firenze, giving him an Exceeds Expectations mark, for the centaur had done an admirable job picking up in the middle of the term that way.

"What now, Severus?" she sighed irritably, her eyes hurt and she removed her reading spectacles and rubbed them. "How many points did you take and how much detention did you give him or her?"

"Nothing. This is not a matter for detention. It concerns a certain High Inquisitor and Mr. Potter. May we come through?"

"Yes, by all means."

Severus and Harry stepped into the Gryffindor matriarch's office, Harry coughing slightly, he had never really mastered the art of Flooing gracefully. Soot always managed to go up his nose or all over his clothes.

He looked up to see his Head regarding him with a touch of disapproval and he wondered why, until she said, "Please, Potter, tell me you did not prank her or something. I detest the woman, but I must make an attempt to get along with her as best I can since she is my superior, and short of an untimely accident, cannot get rid of her." The witch wrinkled her nose.

"Actually, Minerva, there may yet be a way to rid ourselves of the plague harridan," Severus interjected. "Permanently."

"How? You know I don't approve of poison."

"How about a long term stay in Azkaban for using dark magic upon a minor again?"

"What do you mean, Severus? Surely she would not dare . . .not after her citation . . .?"

"Surely she would, Minerva. Mr. Potter, show her."

Severus made a beckoning motion and Harry walked over to stand next to McGonagall, his sleeve rolled up to reveal the silver cuff and the bandage beneath it.

McGnagall stiffened when she saw it, and her eyes grew flinty. "Great Merlin! But they were all destroyed! Where did she get it? And how dare . . .how dare she place a Cuff of Binding upon a new Animagus?" She bore a look of utter revulsion upon her face, and was flushed crimson in anger.

Harry had never seen her look so out of sorts.

"It is . . .unforgivable! To bind a fledgling Animagus like that, and moreover one who is not even of age! Mr. Potter, why did you not come and show me immediately? How long has this . . .thing been on you?"

"Eight days, I think."

"Eight days! Then it must have affected your magic and . . .why is your wrist bandaged?"

"The cuff . . .it burnt me and made me get a rash with blisters. But Professor Snape healed me. I'm sorry I didn't come to you before, but I thought . . .she had the authority to do this, I didn't know it was a dark thing, Professor, or that it was forbidden."

"No, of course you didn't. I never got around to discussing that with you, and the Cuffs of Binding were supposed to all have been destroyed during the last century or so, when the Ministry ruled them possessed of a dark taint and unsuitable for use." The Transfiguration professor's mouth set in a grim line. "But I suppose Her Majesty the Great and Powerful Umbridge believes that she knows best how to handle such objects and can ignore all the rules as she chooses."

"Not anymore," Severus stated coldly. "I have all the necessary documentation here, Minerva, to submit to the Board of Governors and the Ministry Office for Abuse of Known Dark Objects. All I need is for you to state, here and here-" he indicated two separate sheets with a space for a witness to sign and write a statement. "-that you have seen with your own eyes the dark object binding a minor, and will testify in front of the Wizengamot this is so."

Minerva snatched a quill from her desk and began to write rapidly. "There! Is there anything else you would like, Severus? Do you want me to hold her while you hex her back to hell where she came from?"

"Regrettably, no. If I am to commit murder, I would like it to be a clear cut case of self defense. But I do need you to wait outside the door and Stun her if she attempts to Obliviate me. I shall confront her tonight, after I send the documents off to the Ministry and the Board. I have made a copy for her and another for me. I will try and get her to remove the cuff before I present her with the document. Or after it, but either way it will be removed." Snape stated darkly. Even if I have to use Legilimancy to rip the command word from her mind. That was not something he wished to do, for it reminded him far too much of the Dark Lord, but if the hag refused to cooperate . . .

"Ah, well, my offer still stands." She looked over at Harry, who was looking at her askance. "Don't worry, Mr. Potter. We shall have the awful thing gone by tonight or I will know the reason why."

Harry nodded, then cocked his head in a movement reminiscent of the hawk he had once been, and blurted, "Sir, if you won't let Professor McGonagall help kick the bitch's arse, then at least let me. I owe her for this."

"Language, young man!" both teachers barked automatically.

Harry blushed to the tips of his ears and mumbled an apology.

Severus rounded on him. "You are to stay out of this, Potter, am I clear? Your offer is noted, but I can handle her best without you getting involved. Less chance of being distracted if she tries to hex me."

"I know, sir, but . . ."

"No exceptions, Potter. I want your word-you will not interfere."

Harry's jaw clenched. For a moment he was angry at Snape. The man was going all overprotective now and he wasn't a child, for Merlin's sake! But then he realized that Snape had issued the order because he was concerned about Harry's safety, something no adult had ever really cared about, and it made him happy.

"I promise. Wizard's honor, sir."

Snape relaxed a fraction. "Good. Minerva, I shall meet you here after dinner, as will Mr. Potter. Umbridge usually retires to her quarters then, right? I want to Floo inside and be waiting. Surprise is essential."

Minerva gave him a fierce grin. "Of course. Let the games begin."

* * * * * *

Since there was still a few hours left until dinner, Harry decided to grab his satchel of make up work and let Snape look it over. He made his way back to Gryffindor Tower and found most of his Housemates absent, walking about the grounds and enjoying the unusually sunny day. All except Ron and Lavender, who were snogging on the couch when Harry came through the portrait hole.

The two flushed guiltily and drew apart, then Lavender muttered something about fixing her hair, and hurried up to the girls' dorm to get a brush, leaving Ron and Harry alone.

"Oh, it's you, Harry. Thought for a second it was McGonagall," Ron said, heaving a sigh of relief. "Where have you been? Studying in the library?"

"No. I was . . .uh getting career advice," Harry lied glibly. On how to bring an insane witch up on charges. "Now I need to get some of my make up work done. Professor Snape said he would help me."

Ron's jaw dropped. "Huh? Since when . . .since when d'you ask Snape for help?"

Harry pretended not to hear and summoned his satchel with a brief swish of his wand. He really didn't want to quarrel with Ron, so all he said was, "He said he could show me how to prioritize my time better and study quicker."

Ron coughed and sputtered.

Harry turned and walked out of the portrait hole.

Ron followed. "And you believed him? You really think the greasy bat of the dungeons is going to help you? Did he hex you or something?"

Harry halted and spun around. "No, Ron, he didn't. I asked him, as a matter of fact."

"Are you feeling okay, Harry? Because you must be out of your mind to trust Snape to help you."

"Why?" Harry asked softly, his jaw clenched. He really didn't want to deal with Ron's stubbornness right then. "He's a teacher, it's his job to help me."

"Like he's ever given a damn about that. He hates Gryffindors and you."

"No, he doesn't. He saved my life as a hawk. Twice."

"Only 'cause he didn't know who you were. He'd have left you to die else."

"No. You're wrong. There are things you don't know, Ron. He's not the enemy. Umbridge is."

"Right. The two of them are probably in league with each other."

"In league with each other?!" Harry shouted, furious. "You bloody git, he's fighting against her! He hates her as much as we do! He was the one who got her to stop using the blood quill, he reported it to the Board of Governors. If he was in league with her, like you think, why the hell would she have him arrested for kidnapping me? Huh? How does that make sense? She had the Aurors allset to take him off to Azkaban, I know, I was there!"

Ron shrugged. "Maybe it was a set up. You know Slytherins are sly and cunning, and he's the worst of the lot."

"Don't be a blockhead, Ron! It was not a set-up. Umbridge wanted to get rid of him, just like she wanted to get rid of Trelawney and anyone else who didn't meet her so-called standards. Look what she did to Dumbledore, for Godsake! Kicked him out of his own bloody castle! Snape refused to let her intimidate him though, so she decided to sack him."

"Maybe we'd have been better off. I mean, Firenze is a much better teacher than old bonkers Trelawney."

Harry clenched his fist. "I never thought I'd say this, but you are acting like a bloody git, Weasley! Saying it's okay for the toad to just go around sacking people just 'cause she feels like it."

"Since when did you become Snape's defender, Harry? You turn Slytherin when he made you his familiar, huh? Want to go live in the dungeons and become a snake now? Gryffindor's not good enough for you anymore?"

"What are you talking about? I never said that. You're jumping to conclusions. Just because I'm friends with Snape doesn't mean I want to become a Slytherin. You can be friends with someone in a different House," Harry argued.

"Sure you can, if you want to be a traitor," sneered Ron, his eyes suddenly hard.

"I'm no traitor, Weasley!"

"You are if you call that greasy git a friend! Whoever heard of a student being friends with a professor anyhow? They're too old and they don't get anything and all they live for is to give detention and homework."

"You're wrong. Professor Snape is a very good friend. Not just because he saved my life, but because he understands things nobody else will. He's not the greasy git you call him, Weasley! You don't know the half of what he's done for everyone here, and I can't tell you either, but if you ever knew you'd be kicking yourself now for ever saying he was associated with The Toad Queen!"

"No, I wouldn't. Because he's a Slytherin and they're all dark in that House."

"That's just stupid prejudice talking!" Harry yelled. "Not all Slytherins are bad, just like not all Gryffindors are heroic."

"Traitor!" Ron spat.

"You know who you remind me of right now, Ron? Malfoy, who thinks your family is pitiful because you're poor and will never amount to anything. He judged the book by its cover and you're doing the same thing with Severus."

Ron looked like he was about to explode. "Severus? You're on a first name basis now? How cozy! How dare you compare me to that . . .that arrogant prat, Potter? You take that back now, or I swear, I'll hex you!" The other had his hand on his wand and was glaring at Harry fit to kill.

Harry glared right back, but he did not draw his wand. "What I said was the truth. Sorry if you don't like it. Put your damn wand down, I'm not going to fight you. I've got enough enemies on my case without adding you to the list."

"Are you afraid to fight me then? Afraid I'll kick your Slytherin-loving arse?"

"No. I'm afraid I'll hurt you, arsehole! Take a walk, why don't you?" Harry growled. "Better yet, I will. So I won't be tempted to bash your face into the wall." He turned away from the irate redhead and began walking down the corridor.

"Keep walking, Potter! Walk right back to your scummy Slyth friends!" Ron shouted after him.

Harry flinched at the venom in the other's tone, and hoped Ron would get over his jealousy or whatever, because until then he couldn't stand to be near the other boy. He hurried down the stairs and across the entrance hall to the dungeons, upset about Ron's refusal to see anything but his own narrow viewpoint. Just like Sirius, Harry thought angrily. I don't have time for this crap right now. I need to study and get the rest of this done.

He arrived at Severus's apartments slightly out of breath and still annoyed at Ron. He forced himself to take a deep breath and then another one, until he was calm. Then and only then did he enter Snape's quarters, speaking the password as he did so.

Severus glanced up when Harry entered, noting immediately the angry look in the boy's eyes and the tension in his shoulders. "Something the matter, Harry?"

"No. Not really, I'm dealing with it." He floated the satchel over to Severus and took a seat upon the couch while Snape examined the books and assignments.

Severus raised an eyebrow, sensing something was bothering the younger wizard, but willing to allow Harry some space to resolve his own problems, he suspected some of his Housemates had been at him, for the boy was bristling with indignation like a hedgehog. Well, quarrels between adolescents, even in the same House, were nothing new and he would not interfere unless it came to wands or blows. That was part of growing up and he was a teacher not a nursemaid.

Although, if Harry had been devastated by said quarrel, he would have insisted the boy tell him what was wrong, because then it would be detrimental to Harry's health. But that wasn't the case here. Harry was more annoyed than upset, and just as clearly did not want to go into detail. So Snape let him be and concentrated on helping him with his backlog of assignments.

An hour later, Severus had organized the assignments into piles-Very Important, Important, and Barely Necessary for Graduation. In the Very Important pile were Transfiguration, Potions, Charms, and Defense Against the Dark Arts. In the Important pile were Herbology, Astronomy, and Care of Magical Creatures. Barely Necessary contained History of Magic and Divination.

"Harry, come here." Severus called. The boy rose and came over to Snape's desk. "Look, I have organized your classes according to importance, meaning those you ought to be most concerned with studying for in order to pass your OWLS and get into NEWT courses next year. Have you discussed with Minerva a suggested career path yet?"

"Uh . . .sort of. She asked what I thought I'd like to be and I told her I wanted to be an Auror."

Severus sighed. "While that is . . .not an entirely surprising revelation, might I ask why you chose that particular path?"

"Umm . . .I don't know . . .it seems like a . . .neat occupation and . . .my dad was one . . .so . . ." he trailed off awkwardly, for the truth was he hadn't given the matter all that much thought, since he was still two years away from finishing school and he had to do something once he was done.

"Most boys your age find the position of an Auror exciting and glamorous. But it is not. It is dangerous work, and there is no glory in it or adventure. I have known several Aurors and all of them work insane hours and come home exhausted, injured, and very few of them have families. I think you ought to think carefully if that is what you wish to do, Harry."

"Oh. I didn't know . . .it was really like that. I just thought . . .all you had to do was catch dark wizards."

"That is what most wizards your age think." Severus said. "Might I suggest another career? From what I have observed, you seem to have patience and a fairly even disposition, if a little impulsive, determination, and a willingness to cooperate with others. You also have a flair for Defense. Have you ever considered teaching Defense, Harry? I think you would make a decent professor and that is less dangerous but just as rewarding as being an Auror. Granted, the pay is not as good, but the only danger you will face on a daily basis is hormonally insane teenagers who make you want to throttle them, instead of homicidal maniacs. Not much of a difference, I know, but I think you would do well to think on it."

Harry considered. He had never thought about it like that before. What Snape said was true, he did like Defense, he considered it one of his best subjects and he hadn't minded showing others in his House how to cast certain spells and had always been dissatisfied with all of his Defense instructors save Lupin, though the false Moody had been pretty good as far as learning Unforgivables. Me . . .a professor? I think . . .that's a possibility. "Do you really think I'd make a good teacher?"

"Yes. Probably a better one than I am. I have very little patience for those who are not quick to grasp concepts and make foolish blunders over and over. That is why I am considering taking on an apprentice, so that he or she may teach the first, second, and third years and leave me with the older and more serious students , who actually want to learn about potions."

"Then you don't like teaching?"

"On the contrary, I like teaching those who show interest and aptitude and do not waste my time fooling around or displaying no aptitude or inclination to learn. Potions is my passion, and it is demanding and subtle and precise, and there are some who can grasp it, and some who excel at it, and others who are hopeless, such as Longbottom, and should never be allowed near a cauldron. I know many of you consider my methods harsh, and that is so, but it is because I am trying to weed out those who do not belong. I have argued repeatedly with the Headmaster that potions should be mandatory only through third year, and after that those who have no interest or cannot brew to save their lives should not take it, for the drafts and elixirs increase in complexity and they will never be able to handle them and are a danger to those around them and a headache for me, who needs to be continually on top of them. I love my subject and hate to see it butchered by incompetent, careless, and indifferent students. It drives me crazy." The professor shook his head ruefully. "I am a perfectionist, a temperamental perfectionist, I always have been and always shall be. Some would say then I should not teach, and perhaps they're right. But I say I should teach those who truly wish to learn and then I will be content and not so sharp-tongued."

"That might work," Harry allowed. "So, do I do all the homework in the Very Important pile first?"

"Yes. Finish that, and then move onto the next one, but remember, outline your essays before you do them, so you can focus on the main points, and also scan the chapters for the most important parts first, that way you will get the main parts of the reading. As for the last pile, copy the pertinent parts of the chapter and take notes, but don't worry too much about them, you won't need those subjects to become a professor, or an Auror if you so choose."

He then handed Harry all the piles of homework, each one wrapped with a ribbon to keep them together. "The more organized you are, the easier it is to study. Although, she has given you a most Herculean task, which was probably what she intended all along."

"She'd like to snap my wand, that's for sure. Thank you, sir."

"You are welcome." The professor glanced at the clock upon the mantle. "It's almost time for dinner. Afterwards, meet me here and we shall go to McGonagall's office and then we shall beard the toad in her lair."

"Right. I'll see you later," then Harry left, heading back up to his room to drop off his books and then go to dinner with Hermione. Ron didn't not speak at all to Harry over dinner, and Harry gave him the silent treatment as well.

Hermione looked from one to the other and groaned. "Don't tell me. The two of you had a fight or something."

Ron snorted and muttered something that sounded like, "Brilliant deduction, Hermione. Whatever gave you that idea?"

She glared at him. "I'm not going to answer that, since the answer is obvious." She turned back to eating her shepherd's pie. Boys! Sometimes she just wanted to smack them upside the head until they saw sense.

Harry ate as much as he could, which was barely anything, then he rushed off to get to Severus's quarters.

* * * * * *

Dolores Umbridge had just poured herself a cup of jasmine tea in her brand new pink kitten mug and was just sitting down with some iced cakes and her latest wizarding romance novel The Headmaster's Half-Blood Mistress Goes Wild, when her fire flared green and Professor Snape and her least favorite student, Harry Potter, stepped out of the fireplace.

She quickly hid the novel under a stack of reports and cleared her throat. "Ahem! Ahem! What brings you here, Professor Snape? And Mr. Potter? I must say, your manners leave something to be desired. Normally one use the door and asks permission before one enters a room." She gave each of them a frosty glower.

Severus looked down his nose at her coolly. Harry felt his heartbeat increase as Snape's magic surged through the room in a torrent of barely restrained fury. He wondered how it was that Umbridge did not feel it.

At last the Potions Master spoke. "Normally, Dolores, you would be right. However, I only extend common courtesy to those I feel are deserving of it."

She sniffed, incensed. "And you do not think I am deserving of it?"

"No, for you have done the unforgivable, you hellspawn demon's daughter, and used dark magic to bind a minor's powers." His hand reached back and fastened upon Harry's wrist, and he pulled the boy forward.

"I? I use dark magic? You lie, Severus Snape!"

"Really? Then what do you call this?" Severus pushed up Harry's sleeve to reveal the Cuff of Binding.

Umbridge lost her smug air and turned a pasty white. It was not pretty. "How . . . how did that get there?" she asked weakly.

"You know how it got there," Harry snapped. "You put it on me during my first detention, so I couldn't transform."

"You are an unregistered Animagus," Umbridge declared. "It is my duty to restrain you!"

"Restrain him?" Severus cut in, his black eyes smoldering. "Like you would a criminal, madam? For that was what those cuffs were used for, a century ago. But Mr. Potter is no criminal-he is a student and a fledgling Animagus and the use of that abominable item is strictly forbidden!"

"I am a Minstry official, Professor Snape, and such an item may be used by me at my discretion." Umbridge blustered.

Severus's eyes narrowed. "Where is that written, woman? I know Ministry law, and it does not make allowances for banned items of dark magic. This is one of them and do not even try and pretend you did not know it. It not only prevents an Animagus from shifting, it also weakens his magic and will eventually drain him dry. And yet you thought it was right to use such filth upon a child! You are despicable, Umbridge!"

"How dare you address me in this manner, Snape? I shall have you brought up on charges of slander and dismiss you from this school."

Severus sneered. "By all means, Umbridge, put me on trial. And when I am before the Wizengamot, I shall reveal how you have willfully tortured and harmed several students in this school during your so-called detentions with blood quills and rulers and now a Cuff of Binding. Would they be willing to overlook that? I think not, you sadistic harpy!"

"You cannot prove any of it, Snape! It's your word against mine and you are a former Death Eater while I am high in the Minister's favor and his Under Secretary. Accuse me and I shall see you put away for good!" her little eyes were glowing with triumph.

Harry longed to hex her smug lips off, but he remained silent beside the Potions Master. He had given his oath and besides, Severus was doing a fine job on his own of cutting the hag down to pixie size.

"I would never accuse without proof, and this is more proof than I need." He indicated Harry's wrist. "I want this abomination off his wrist tonight, Umbridge! Or else I shall reveal all of your wonderful administrative policies to the public and see what the parents of these children think of them. I doubt they will agree with your disciplinary record, Umbridge! And lest you think you can circumvent me, I have already filed a preliminary accusation with the Board of Governors and another with the Ministry Department for the Misuse of Dark Objects."

He snapped his fingers and a document appeared in his hand. He leaned over the desk and thrust it in her face, his dark eyes glittering. "This document was witnessed by Minerva McGonagall, and she has also seen the cuff which you have bound Mr. Potter with. As we speak, Ministry officials are perusing my letter and the accompanying photos. Shall we wait and see what their response is, or will you do the sensible thing and remove the cuff?"

Umbridge was chalk white now, but her eyes were spitting sparks. "You think you can come in here and threaten me, Severus Snape? All I need to do is say you Imperio-ed McGonagall and Obliviate Mr. Potter here and say you bore false witness against me and the charges will be dropped. You see, professor, my power is absolute here." She gave him a poisoned honey smile.

"No power is absolute, hag. Especially not yours." Severus bared his teeth in a feral smile, like a wolf going for the throat of an intruder. "If you attempt one word of an Obliviate spell or anything like it, the artcicle I have written documenting your reign of terror here goes public, to both the Prophet, the Quibbler, and any other newspaper in Britain. You will not survive the backlash, and your chance at a sterling political career will be destroyed. Still want to play Exploding Snap, Dolores?"

Umbridge shook with fury. "You cannot do this to me! I am High Inquisitor! My word is law! He is a filthy Animagus-a beast soul trapped in a human body." She indicated Harry with a long pointed fingernail. "He must be controlled, else he shall run mad one night and slay us all."

"You are delusional, woman. An Animagus is not a beast trapped in a human body, but a human who can assume animal form for a time, and he keeps his own mind throughout it. Your sick need to dominate children has led you to this pass, Umbridge. Now, for the last bloody time, remove the cuff . . .or else you shall see what a former Death Eater is capable of!"

Snape did not draw his wand. He did not need to. He simply pointed a finger and allowed his magical aura to surge forward, letting the pink-garbed witch feel his enmity and the arcane power that accompanied it. Never had he seemed more deadly, like a viper poised to strike. Or a hawk about to stoop down upon a tasty morsel of rabbit.

Umbridge went backwards, stumbling over her brocade chair. "You would not dare!" She drew her wand.

Snape twitched a finger lazily.

Umbridge's wand was blown out of her hand.

Wow! I didn't know you could do a wandless Expelliarmus! Harry thought in awe.

Snape towered over the witch, all terrible blackness and size, like an avenging specter. "I am a former Death Eater, bitch," he declared in icy tones. "I dare anything. You have ten seconds before I cast the Curse of a Thousand Wings upon you, Umbridge."

"What is that?" She attempted to move about the desk to retrieve her wand.

Severus blocked her.

Snape smiled wolfishly. "It is a curse where a thousand winged creatures descend upon the target of the caster's choice . . .and tear her to shreds." Umbridge's eyes were wide in horror. "Shall we see how fast you can run, High Inquisitor? Or will you remove the cuff?"

"I shall see you in Azkaban yet, Snape!"

"One . . ."

Umbridge remained defiant, but her hand trembled.

"Two . . ."

Severus was giving her a glower reminiscent of an angry manticore.

"Three . . ."

He waved his hand dramatically, and there came a rustle of displaced air and the soft sound of wings beating. "Make up your mind, Dolores. Four . . ."

The whirring of wings grew louder.

Umbridge swayed, trembling. "No . . .don't . . .Severus please . . ."

"Five . . ."

"No . . .I cannot stand them . . .horrid flying things . . ."

"Six . . ." Snape counted implacably.

Dolores scrambled for her wand.

"Seven . . ."

She tripped over her chair and landed at Snape's feet, sprawled on her knees.

"All right! I'll do it! Just stop counting, damn you!"

"Eight . . ."

"Stop! Stop! I promise I'll do it!"

"Nine . . .Swear it, toad bitch, upon your magic and your witch's honor, such as it is."

"I swear! Upon my magic and my witch's honor!" Umbridge sobbed as the shadowy wings became audible and several shadowy winged shapes began to appear in the air inside the office.

"Free Potter from the manacle."

Umbridge pointed her wand and spoke a word and the cuff expanded and Harry shook his wrist hard and the cuff fell off onto the floor. It rolled to a halt beside Snape's boot, and he quickly scooped it up. "I'll have that. Evidence for the suit I am bringing against you, Dolores Jane Umbridge for willfully using dark magic upon children placed under your care, specifically one Harry James Potter."

"WHAT!" Umbridge screeched. "But . . .I removed the cuff, Snape."

"Yes, but I never said I wouldn't prosecute you for deliberately endangering a minor, now did I? By now the necessary paperwork is on its way to the proper authorities and you should receive a visit from Aurors Tonks and Moody any day now."

Too late did Umbridge see how she had been manipulated to revealing her true colors to this man and Harry, who could stand as a witness to everything. "Bastard! You shall rue the day, Severus Snape!" She leveled her wand at him. "Cru-"

She never finished her spell.

"Langlock!" Snape snarled and Umbridge's tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth. "Minerva, come in here, please."

The door to the office opened and a livid Minerva strode. "I heard everything, you awful evil creature! You deserve to go to hell and sit in the lap of the devil himself!" She pointed her wand at Umbridge. "Incarcerous!"

Strong ropes emerged from her wand and wrapped about the toad, imprisoning her fast.

"Harry dear, please go to the fireplace and Floo the Auror Department. I believe Moody and Tonks are still on duty."

Harry was never so happy to obey a command in his entire life. They had subdued the wicked witch and he was free of that awful cuff at last.

He tossed a pinch of Floo powder down and the flames turned green. "Auror Department, Ministry of Magic," he said, then he stuck his head through.

"Hello. I'm looking for Auror Moody or Tonks, both if they're available. My name's Harry . . .Potter."

The three Aurors on duty stared at him for a second. Then they gasped and fell all over themselves to be the one who assisted the Boy Who Lived.

Harry nearly grinned. It was amazing how people responded to the wizarding world's youngest hero.

Soon Alastor Moody was limping towards him, his magical eye whirling. "Lad, what seems to be the problem? You in trouble of some sort?"

"No, sir, but we have a bit of an emergency at school. We caught a dark witch."

Moody seemed pleased. "Stand aside, lad. I'm coming through."

A second later, Moody stepped through and eyed Umbridge knowingly. "Ah, I thought there was sommat wicked about you ever since you joined the cabinet and I see I was proven right. What have ye to say for yourself?"

He waved his wand and said, "Finite!"

The Langlock spell, which was one of Snape's own invention, was removed. Umbridge drew in a deep breath. "Just this, Moody! If I am to go to the dementors, one of you shall go with me!" Then she threw back her head and let loose with a magically amplified banshee screech.

Everyone covered their eyes and ears and gasped. Umbridge managed to cancel spell binding her and shot to her feet. She turned to run out of the office, only to discover that someone had put a fetid green lake in the hallway, like a swamp.

"Arghh! What the bloody hell is going on here?"

She quickly splashed through the muck and made for the front entrance.

She had just managed to wrench the door open before bolting outside.

"Halt!" bellowed Moody. "Stop in the name of the law. You are resisting arrest!"

Umbridge fled across the lawn.

Severus, Minerva and Harry followed.

While it felt good that damnable cuff was no longer on him, Harry thought it would feel even better if he had a hand in Umbridge's punishment. In a roundabout way. He shifted into his hawk shape then he flew by the Olwery and screeched-Wake up everyone! The nest robber, the chick hurter, she flees my brethren. Shall we teach her a lesson?

Cries came from every owl in the Olwery. Let us give the wicked bitch what-for!

Then all the owls took wing at once and flew out the casement and after the pink lacey witch, who took one look behind her and practically fell apart. "AHHH! They're after me! Snape, you promised! Not that! AHHHH!"

She tried to run faster, but nothing moves quite as quick as hunting owl, unless it is a peregrine falcon.

They emerged from the school to see Umbridge staggering across the lawn, pursued by dozens upon dozens of outraged owls. The owls flew down and pecked and showered her with droppings and clawed her until her fine pink robes were in tatters and she was scratched and bleeding.

"Call them off! Call them off!"

Minerva looked at Snape. "I regret to say, Severus, that I don't know how."

"Nor do I." Snape remarked smoothly. "Unfortunately for her." He turned to Moody. "Do you, Alastor?"

"Nope. Pity. I always said you oughta be kind to animals."

The owls chased the witch to the edge of the Forbidden Forest, screeching and hooting.

The resulting noise awoke one of the more volatile denizens of the forest, one who bore no love whatsoever for humans, and in fact loved to feast upon them on occasion.

The owls scattered as a huge shape the size of a bus emerged from the forest, flying high above the trees.

The crimson sunset reflected off the iron feathers and the bronze claws of one of the last Stymphalian Birds in existence, as the predator woke from its sleep and immediately looked for prey to sate its ravenous appetite.

Freedom hovered, shivering, as the massive shadow stretched across the sky.

Umbridge looked up, her mouth opened in a scream of utter terror.

The Stymphalian Bird gave a loud harsh cry upon seeing the tasty pink morsel and then it closed its iron pinions and dove.

Umbridge fired off a spell, but it bounced off the bird's iron feathers, since they were naturally resistant to magic.

The bronze talons embedded themselves in the witch's heart and then the Stymphalian Bird lifted the dead High Inquisitor and flew back to its cold lair to feast.

The three wizards and the red-tailed hawk watched in shocked silence, then Moody cleared his throat. "Too bad. Now I have to fill out a blasted report that suspect was killed resisting arrest. I really hate paperwork."

Severus held out his wrist and whistled. "Freedom!"

The red-tail stooped and landed upon Snape's arm in a thunder of wings. Then he walked up and sat upon the Potions Master's shoulder. See, I told you no one messes with my wizard.

Moody peered at Freedom. "So this is the boy's Animagus form? It suits him." He gave the hawk a nod. "Well, I have forms to fill out and a death certificate to file. Good evening, Minerva, Severus, and . . .what are you called as a hawk, Potter?"

"Freedom," Severus answered.

"A good name. Well, I'll leave you to it, though I daresay you'll have the Minister up here in a day or so, questioning ye. But at least you're free of that one's shadow. Till the next Order meeting," Moody said, then he bowed and stumped off towards the gates of the school, where he could Apparate once he was outside them.

Severus turned to Freedom then and said severely, "Freedom, change back. Now."

Freedom obeyed, becoming Harry once more. He flashed Severus a half-guilty, half-sheepish look. "I didn't really break my promise, Severus."

"You came damn close. What do you call that harebrained stunt, mister?"

"Getting even," answered the boy cheekily.

Severus rolled his eyes. "You'll be the death of me yet, you incorrigible fledgling. I ought to take fifty points and keep you scrubbing cauldrons for the rest of the term."

"Yes, sir."

"Oh, I can think of a better punishment than that, Severus," said Minerva. She had a mischievous gleam in her eye. "Make Mr. Potter your unofficial apprentice potion maker, until the year ends. He could use the practice and you could use some help."

Both men gaped at her.

"Minerva, I . . ." began the Potions Master.

"No need to thank me. I think this is both what you need."

"But . . .professor . . ." cried Harry.

"My decision stands, Mr. Potter, as both your Head of House and Deputy Headmistress. You are now Professor Snape's apprentice. We can make it official after you pass your OWLS."

"If I can," Harry muttered.

"Oh, you will." Severus said sternly. "I'll make sure of that."

Harry groaned, though secretly he was pleased. As Snape's apprentice he would have an excuse to spend more time with his professor, and perhaps Snape would manage to help him banish his nightmares as well as improve his brewing.

Suddenly he grinned, and then he blurred into Freedom, and flew delighted spirals about the two professors, shrilling a victory cry.

I'm free at last and the wicked witch is dead! Kreee-aar!


 



Chapter End Notes:


Did I not promise you THAT B  would get hers??

Thanks to all my wonderful reviewers, you rock!

Next: Severus attempts to mentor Harry, teaching him potions and Occlumency in an attempt to alleviate nightmares and visions of a certain Dark Lord.

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