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The end of term was fast approaching, and Harry was working hard on mastering his Occlumency lessons as well as keeping up with his studies as an Animagus and a potion maker. He was also reviewing his classwork for his OWLS with Severus at night, though the Potions Master said he was far enough along that they could skip a few nights and just brush up a week or two before the exams. Harry was happy to hear that, because all that studying was making him cross-eyed.

His Animagus lessons were progressing nicely, McGonagall was teaching him how to transform his normal eyes, with their awful vision, into his hawk's eyes for brief periods, though that almost always gave him a splitting headache afterwards. The first time he had done it, he had a lesson with Severus afterwards, and been scolded by his mentor for not taking a Headache Remedy immediately. Snape had made him lie down on his couch with a cold cloth over his eyes while the professor brewed an Extra Strength dose, the kind he used for those students and professors who developed migraine headaches.

Harry had never had a headache so bad before and was astonished at how much pain he was in and how it made him sick to his stomach. Severus had returned, tried to give his apprentice the potion, but Harry ended up vomiting, to his chagrin. Severus was undaunted, however, having nursed himself through a migraine a time or two. The Potions Master summoned a strong Stomach Soother and proceeded to alternate spoonfuls, first the Stomach Soother and once that had begun working, the Severe Headache Remedy after.

The horrid headache vanished in about ten minutes after that, and Harry fell asleep. When he woke up, Severus had told him bluntly, "Next time Minerva asks you to partially transform, make sure you have some of this on hand, and be sure to tell her a hawk's eyes don't belong in a boy's head."

"But Sev, it was so neat to be able to see like a hawk for a little while," Harry protested.

"And would you say that headache you got was also neat?"

"Uh, no, that really sucked."

"If I were you, I'd restrict that particular transformation unless absolutely necessary."

Harry made a face.

"Unless you like feeling your head getting pounded like an overripe melon."

"No," the apprentice muttered, shuddering. There were times he wished his mentor didn't make such perfect bloody sense.

When he told McGonagall about Severus's suggestion, she agreed with him, and said that such side effects were common and that was why Animagi usually transformed fully instead of partially.

Lately, Harry had been having strange dreams about a long corridor with dozens of doors and when he reached the end of it, there was a door that glowed and inside was a huge room of crystal balls and standing next to one was Voldemort, clutching a ball in his scaly hand and laughing in triumph. Harry had reported the new dream to Severus, who immediately stepped up his Occlumency lessons from one night to two nights and began giving him measured doses of Dreamless Sleep every other night and instructing him to Occlude his mind before he slept.

Recalling Voldemort's hand in the dream made Harry wonder if the evil wizard was also an Animagus-an unregistered one, no doubt.

But when he had asked Severus, the master spy said only, "I do not know. He does not reveal everything about himself, he is far too smart for that, though it could be a possibility. It would explain much, like why his eyes resemble a reptile's or a snake's and how he has suddenly begun to grow scales."

Privately, Harry found the idea of Voldemort as an Animagus utterly loathsome and if he could transform to a snake or a lizard, Harry was sure it would reflect his twisted soul, and felt bad for whatever creature it was.

He was still on the outs with Ron, and that was something that was really beginning to irk him. He had given his friend plenty of time to adjust to his new status as Snape's apprentice and to quit sulking because of Harry's supposed "betrayal" of Gryffindor sensibilities in daring to be friends with the Head of Slytherin House. But the stubborn Weasley refused to accept that Harry wasn't going to change his mind and go back to hating Snape the way he used to, or that Snape was more than what he seemed and had in fact helped Harry battle his inner demons. Ron still persisted in seeing Snape as "the Greasy Git Who Hates Gryffindors and Needs to Wash His Hair".

And if Ron's attitude were not enough, Hedwig was mad at him too for his behavior that night of his second Occlumency lesson, when he had transformed without permission and gone flying at night to escape Severus. He had gone to ask her to deliver a letter to Sirius a week later, and discovered that owls never forgot insults either.

She had ignored his entreaties to come to him, and when he had climbed up on the niched wall to coax her down off her perch, had whirled about and nipped him-hard-on the hand and the ear, hissing and screeching, her golden eyes whirling with anger.

He had yelped and covered his face instinctively, and then she had smacked him soundly with her wings, boxing his ears, so to speak.

"Hey! Oww! Hedwig, what's the matter with you? Why are you attacking me like this?" he had cried.

Then he had transformed into Freedom so he could speak to her, and the snowy had promptly pecked him again on the head and proceeded to berate him sternly. How quickly you forget, youngling, what you said to me that night! You were rude and nasty and I might be your familiar but that does not mean I shall be treated like a featherduster! I seek to keep you safe and that is how you act?

Sorry, Hedwig. I didn't mean to say that to you, I was angry at Severus for trying to make me tell him about my dreams, and I guess I just . . .overreacted. Freedom chirruped contritely.

Humph! You need to start listening to your elders and controlling that temper, before it gets you into trouble you can't get out of. Now change back, you know better than to shift without a teacher around!

He had done so, and asked humbly if she would carry the letter for him. She had agreed, though not before he had apologized yet again, fed her a shrew plus several of Hagrid's homemade jerky-honey treats, and promised he would never do anything like that again.

She had nipped him warningly before flying off to Grimmauld Place, and the other owls in the Owlery at the time had all cast disapproving looks at him and he had gone back downstairs feeling like a chastened toddler.

When she returned, she had not come to see him, and he assumed she was still angry with him for his smart mouth.

As yet, he had not heard back from Sirius, and hoped all was well with his godfather, though he winced imagining the other's reaction if he knew that Harry was now Snape's personal apprentice. It would most likely be worse than Ron's.

Harry hurried into the Great Hall for lunch, he had another potions lab with Snape after, and wanted to skip lunch and practice some of the Occlumency disciplines instead, but his mentor insisted he eat three square meals a day. Harry grimaced. Really, Severus fussed worse than his mother, or so he imagined. Sure he was small for his age, but he wasn't starving here at school, and one skipped meal wouldn't cause him to waste away.

But he knew better than to disobey Severus's dictates regarding his health. "Either you take care of yourself properly, Mr. Potter, or I shall do it for you, even if it means sitting you on my knee in the hall in front of the entire school and feeding you like a reluctant toddler. You are undernourished as a result of your treatment by those . . .reprobates you call relatives and therefore you need to eat three balanced meals a day and drink plenty of liquids and go to sleep at a decent hour."

"You sound like somebody's mother," Harry had groused.

"If your mother were alive, she would be lecturing you the same way. A healthy body equals a healthy mind. Now eat your breakfast and quit picking at it. Or do you need me to play flying train with your oatmeal?"

That dire threat had made Harry start eating double quick. Severus had a wry sense of humor and sometimes he couldn't tell if the man were kidding when he made those threats. Better to be safe than sorry though.

And, though he would never say so, he found Severus's concern over his wellbeing a welcome change from being ignored and overlooked like he had been at home. He supposed this was what it meant having a guardian of sorts and decided he preferred Snape's fussing to the Dursleys' coldness any day of the week.

At the Gryffindor table, Harry slid into his usual place, next to Hermione and across from Ron. Hermione was already there, looking over some Arithmancy notes and nibbling an apple. She was careful about what kinds of snacks she ate since she used to wear braces up until last year and didn't want to ruin her teeth by eating too much sugar.

"Hey, Hermione." He waved at her as he shoved his bag under the table. "Anything new going on with you?"

"Hi, Harry. No, I just wanted to get ahead in my reading for next class before I start studying for my OWLS. Have you been learning anything interesting with Professor Snape?"

"Lots," Harry answered, watching as lunch popped up on the table in front of them.

Today there was a choice between chicken pot pie, a roast beef and cheese sandwich, beer battered fish and chips, a garden salad, a crisp green bean with bacon salad and rice pudding.

Harry took some fish and chips and some green bean salad, plus his usual pumpkin juice. Hermione took a sandwich, and both kinds of salads.

"Where's Ron?" Harry asked, looking around for the redhead, who was usually never late for meals.

"Um . . .I think he had to speak with Professor McGonagall about something." answered Hermione, biting into her sandwich.

Harry began eating, telling Hermione about the Occlumency lessons Severus was teaching him, explaining that it was a difficult discipline to master, but he was beginning to get the hang of it, bit by bit.

"It's a very rare art, Harry. Only a handful of wizards have ever mastered it," said his friend. "But I'm sure you'll do well if you keep at it. I've read that it requires a good deal of patience and control over your emotions and mind. Is that true?"

"Yes. It's hard, sometimes, for me to control myself. You have to be calm when you Occlude, if you're not, it won't work. Professor Snape says eventually I'll be able to keep him out for some of the time, my goal right now is about twenty minutes."

"If you keep at it, you'll master it. After all, practice makes perfect." Hermione said, giving him a smile of encouragement. "Have you learned any interesting potions lately?"

"Well, we've been working mostly on medical ones-like the Non-Coughing Draught, and bruise-healing paste, and the other day I brewed a batch of burn salve. Good thing too, because I ended up having to test it after I burned my hand on the side of my cauldron."

"Oh, you poor thing? Did it work?"

"Yeah. See?" He showed her his left hand, which bore not even a red mark on it. "Professor Snape says that maybe next week, once I've brewed all the drafts in the first-year syllabus from memory, I can start teaching a class or two of firsties."

Hermione's eyes lit up. "Oh, that sounds wonderful! Isn't it exciting? I would love to teach a class. Will they call you Professor Potter, do you think? Are you allowed to take House points and give them?"

Harry nodded. "Yes, and detention too, if I have to. I'm a little nervous, but Snape says all I have to do is make a firm first impression and-"

"Is that what he calls it?" Ron snorted. "All he's ever cared about is taking points from Gryffindor and letting his House get away with everything." The redhead came forward and sat down opposite Hermione, his blue eyes flashing.

Harry looked up and said softly, but with a hint of anger, "How long have you been listening to our conversation, Ron?"

"Long enough to know you'd be stupid to follow anything that the Greasy Git tells you, Harry. You going to become mini Snape now, huh? Scare all the firsties to death, put grease in your hair and wear a black robe, huh?"

"Ron! How could you say that?" Hermione cried. "I think Harry would make a great teacher."

"You would! You and Ginny worship the ground he walks on!" Ron stated. "Mr. Perfectionist Potter teamed up with the Perfectionist Prat Professor Snape! How thick can you get?"

Harry shot to his feet, his eyes darkening to evergreen. "Just what the bloody hell is your problem, Ron? Whatever it is, just do us all a favor, Weasley and get over it!"

Ron glared right back at him, his face flushing an unattractive scarlet. "You're my problem, Potter! Ever since you became Snape's bloody familiar you act more like a Slytherin than a Gryffindor. You spend time with the snakes, you kiss the arse of their Head of House, you can even talk to snakes. You know what I think? I think the Hat made a mistake and you ought to have been Sorted into Slytherin."

Harry felt his temper start to boil over. "You know what I think, Weasley? That you ought to shut it before I do it for you! I don't know where you get off judging me about anything. I had an accident with my magic and would have died if it hadn't been for Snape. In case you've forgotten, I was knocked out and in shock, and couldn't even remember my own name, much less the fact I wasn't a hawk, and if he hadn't come along and rescued me, you'd have been paying your respects at my funeral three months ago!" He jerked his head towards the door, not wanting the whole school to overhear their conversation. "Come on, let's take this outside."

"No. Anything you have to say to me, you can say here," Ron said angrily.

Harry waved his wand, casting a Muffliato Charm, which was a spell Severus had invented and taught him just three days before. He was not going to endanger Severus because of a stupid quarrel.

"Fine! I told you before, Weasley, that you don't know half of what you think you know-about the professor, or me, or anything. All you see is what you want to see."

"Like hell! What's going on between the two of you, Potter? He cast a Befuddlement Charm on you? Are you lovers, does he touch you while you're brewing and- ?"

"Shut up! Just shut up!" Harry raged. "You're the one who's sick, thinking things like that about me! You used to be my friend, damn you! What the hell happened to you?"

"You became friends with a Slytherin prick, that's what! No true Gryffindor would do that."

"Oh, give me a break! All this Gryffindor hates Slytherin stuff is a crock, you know that? The Founders were never enemies, they were friends. They might have had different viewpoints but they were friends. Salazar Slytherin might have thought purebloods were the elite but Godric Gryffindor didn't go and chop off his head for it. Let me tell you something I learned while I was trapped in my hawk shape, Ron. I learned that not all Slytherins were wanna-be Death Eaters, or spoiled arrogant brats like Malfoy, or brainless ogres like Flint. When Malfoy shoved me off my perch and nearly killed me, not one of his House clapped him on the back and told him he did a good thing. They were ready to draw and quarter him, I was there, I saw it. Malfoy, Prince of Slytherin, and they had him scrubbing their House common room like a house elf! One thing I will say about them, Weasley, is that they take care of their own. Unlike some people in my House, who turn on me at the drop of a hat, call me crazy behind my back for saying Voldemort's returned and think I'm doing all this to get more fame and fortune. Such loyalty you lions show me, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside!" sneered Harry.

"What do you expect when you go and cozy up to snakes, traitor?"

"Call me that again, Weasley, and you'll be missing a few essential parts of your body," snarled Harry, his wand clutched in his hand. "Although maybe that'd be a blessing, before you bring any more kids into this world who are too stupid to know who your real friends are and backstab them for nothing. There's no law that says Gryffindors have to be enemies with Slytherins, in case you've forgotten, we're all supposed to get along."

"I'm not going to make all nice with Malfoy, I don't care what McGonagall says!" Ron spat. "His family are all Death Eaters."

"No one says you have to be friends with him, but he's not the only Slytherin. They're not all dark wizards, hell, I don't even think the majority are dark. And don't start with all that "our House has never been dark" crap either. Because Pettigrew came out of our House and so did Barty Crouch junior! Ah, didn't know that, did you? See, we all have a bit of darkness in us, Weasley, no House escaped it. We're no worse or better than anybody else."

"Shelve the lecture, professor. I don't need it."

"Oh, that's rich! You need it more than anybody I know, because you judge first and think about it afterwards. And one day you're going to regret it. Funny, last year you said I was an honorary Weasley, remember, and your family was my family. Well, if this is how you treat your brothers, Ronald, maybe I should find another family, because I got enough of that kind of thing from the Dursleys."

"Oh, and you'd rather become Snape's ward, huh?"

Harry clenched his fists. "Let me tell you something about Severus Snape, Ronald. He might be a sarcastic, short-tempered, pain in the arse, and he's not all touchy feely, but when I needed him, he was there for me! Not just as a hawk, but as a person too! He's been helping me with my nightmares and trying to keep You-Know-Who out of my head by teaching me advanced magic. Now tell me, how is that evil? Grow the hell up, Ron, and learn to look beyond the mask and more than two feet in front of your nose. You might actually learn something!"

He cancelled the Muffliato and stalked from the hall, so furious his magic unleashed a mini wind gust that rattled the banners in the ceiling and shook the window panes. He didn't bother looking over his shoulder, otherwise he would have seen Hermione light into Ron like a mother cat defending her only kitten and tear the stubborn git a new one.

Even Ginny got in on it, stating, "You just had to start up again, Ronald, didn't you? Why can't you ever learn to shut your big fat mouth?"

"Mind your own business, Ginny!"

"Stuff it, Ronald! Harry is my business and you've got no right treating him like dung. Mum would drop dead if she ever knew what you just said to him. You know we don't treat family that way."

Ron glared at her. "Button it, Ginevra. Before I do it for you." He waved his wand at her.

"Hex me and I'll tell Fred and George to make you their joke product tester this summer. After I've reversed your arse with your head, you boneheaded prat!"

"That's telling him, Ginny," spoke up a curly-haired girl on the other side of her.

Ron gaped. It was Lavender. "You too, Lav? What the bloody hell is going on here? Did Potter spike the pumpkin juice with Amortentia or something? Why are you all defending him?"

"Because he's right, Ron," Hermione said. "You need to lose the attitude and apologize."

"No. He's turned Slytherin and none of you girls see it."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Anybody got a skillet? Because my brother needs some sense bashed into his head."

"Ha! Look who's talking. Your head's so full of Harry-worship you can't even think of anything else."

"Oh, go soak your head, you dumbarse! Maybe the water will clear the stupidity from your brain." Ginny cried, her face flushing too. Sometimes her brother was such an idiot it seemed as though he'd been switched at birth, because Merlin knew there was no shortage of redheaded foster children in Britain, she thought disparagingly. I wish Mum were here. She'd straighten his arse out in two shakes of a dragon's tail.

Irritated by the angry looks he was receiving from his sister, girlfriend, and Hermione, Ron picked up his plate and moved to the end of the table nearest the wall, where no one was sitting.

* * * * * *

Harry could hardly ever remember being this angry before, except for perhaps the time he blew up Aunt Marge the summer before third year. Stupid bloody sodding git! He stomped down the stairs to the dungeons, feeling his magic prickle across his skin like static electricity gone wild. He struggled to bring it back under control, lately it had been flaring up when he became agitated. He leaned his head against the stone wall and took a deep cleansing breath and then another, until his heart wasn't going to burst through his chest any longer. But the anger coiled inside of him in a hard knot and he couldn't manage to rid himself of it.

How could Ron betray him like that? How could he just take four years-four-and-a-half if he was counting the beginning of this year-and throw them away because Harry had found a mentor in Severus? Granted, Snape had never been their favorite teacher, but Umbridge was worse and so was Crouch and Lockhart wasn't even deserving of the title.

He pulled this bullshit last year too, over the tournament, thinking I tricked the Goblet and put my own name in there because I wanted to get noticed. Ha! I'm noticed too damn much, why the hell would I ever want MORE publicity? Merlin's shorts, but I can barely sneeze or go to the loo without somebody telling the paper! I feel like one of those French kings back in the 1700's that had servants standing around watching the king do everything but die, and for all I know they probably watched that too. Bloody Ron! If I could carve my scar off my forehead and change my name, I'd do it. Fame is overrated, you'd know if you ever stopped envying me long enough to ask me about it.

He smacked the wall with his palm, hard enough to hurt. Then he shook his hand and cursed himself for an utter idiot. How are you going to make potions if you hurt your hand, Potter? he reprimanded himself. I thought after last year, he'd have learned not to jump to conclusions and to trust me. Guess I was wrong again.

He entered Severus's classroom still seething from Ron's unjust accusations and though he greeted Snape calmly enough, the anger within him began to ooze out of his pores and his skin tingled with suppressed magic.

Severus glanced up from his desk, where he was grading the latest batch of exams, and said calmly, "Good, you're early. If you wouldn't mind giving my cauldron ten stirs counterclockwise, while I finish up these exams . . .?"

"Sure." Harry moved over to where the cauldron was simmering, the potion inside it was a pretty sunny yellow color. "What are you brewing?"

"A Euphoria potion. So I can dose all my troublemaking first-years into a state of blissful obedience," Severus replied dryly, one side of his mouth quirking.

Familiar with Severus's wit by now, Harry chuckled. Then he bent over the cauldron and began to stir it ten stirs counterclockwise.

The cheery yellow color reminded Harry for some reason of the first train ride on the Hogwarts Express back when he was a first year, and Ron had met him for the first time. They had been sharing a compartment with Hermione, and Ron had tried to turn his pet rat yellow with a made up spell that had, of course, not worked.

That was back before you turned into a first class arsehole. Hermione was the only one who could work real magic then, even though she was a Muggleborn. She must have gotten her books as soon as she got her letter, unlike me, who almost didn't get one at all thanks to my brilliant troll-hearted relatives or yours, who couldn't afford squat.

He was almost done stirring, still reflecting angrily on Ron's hateful attitude, when the potion began to bubble violently, reacting to his magical aura, which was leaking out all over, unnoticed.

Though he was fifteen, Harry was also a powerful wizard, and sometimes he still had bouts of accidental magic, which was common in the strongly gifted, it took years to bring the magic to heel, hence the reason for Hogwarts' remote location.

Harry stared in alarm as the potion began to erupt over the sides of the cauldron, like lava flowing from an exploding volcano.

Oh shit! What the hell is happening? All I did was stir it. Why is it doing that? I think it's gonna blow.

He stepped away from the cauldron, which was shaking and called tentatively, "Uh, Severus? I have a little problem . . ."

"What?" Snape looked up from his paperwork. "How hard can it be to-bloody hell, Mr. Potter! Move! NOW!" he barked.

Harry did, almost tripping over his own feet. "I don't know what went wrong, sir! All I did was what you said."

Snape was on his feet, wand pointed at the wildly gyrating cauldron.

"Tempus Immobulus!"

The stasis spell settled over the cauldron and it froze, the potion within it ceasing to bubble.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief as Snape came around the desk. "I don't understand . . ."

"Are you all right? Did any of the potion get on you?" Severus asked, concerned.

"I'm fine." Harry examined himself quickly. He was not burned, thank Merlin.

Severus frowned. "What happened?"

"I don't know." Harry said, confused. "I was doing what you said, stirring it, and then it just started to blow up."

"How many times did you stir it?"

"Ten times, I think."

"You think? You're not supposed to guess, you should know."

"Okay, I was on my tenth stir when it started doing . . .that."

Severus inspected the cauldron and found nothing amiss with either the container or the heat source and the potion had been prepared correctly. He then walked over to his apprentice. Immediately, he felt the wisps of uncontrolled magic pouring off the boy and he snapped, "Mr. Potter, were you this upset when you were stirring the draught, or is this from nearly having the solution explode?"

"No . . .I mean, yeah I was kind of mad . . .okay I was really mad . . .Ron and I fought again and he really makes me steamed . . .I was thinking about him before . . .why?" His brow creased in puzzlement. "What's that got to do with anything, Sev?"

"Everything. Your anger triggered your magic, which in turn made the draft agitate too much and caused it to become volatile. Hence this," Severus gestured at the frozen cauldron with its leaping yellow bubbles.

"I did that? But I didn't mean to."

Severus shook his head. "How many times have I told you, if you are upset about something, don't brew, because you'll usually end up ruining your solution? That your concentration on the task at hand is vital?"

"A lot. I'm sorry. Is it . . .ruined?"

"No. Fortunately, I can calm it down." He waved his wand and muttered a spell Harry didn't know and the cauldron stilled, the potion settled, and then the master wizard floated a few beakers over and bottled the Euphoria Draught with a flick of his wand.

Then he turned to his apprentice, a look of disappointment on his face. "Why didn't you tell me you had quarreled with Weasley before?"

"I . . .didn't think it mattered. I didn't think my magic would react like that."

"Mr. Potter, your magic will always react to strong emotions, that's why we stress control over them. Which is clearly something you lack."

"I'm sorry."

"Yes, I know. Come back into my office. I think we need to give you some quiet time."

Harry flushed, wishing Snape didn't make it sound like he was a toddler needing a nap. He was fifteen for Merlin's sake! Don't argue, Harry, just do it. You're so lucky that didn't explode, he would have been furious.

He followed Snape back to the office and sat down in the chair like he usually did and tried to take several calming breaths, only to discover that the anger within him wouldn't go away. "I still don't get it, Severus. How come my being angry at Ron made my magic go nuts?"

"You performed accidental magic, Mr. Potter."

"Huh? But I'm fifteen and too old for that! It's supposed to stop once you're school age."

"Normally, yes. But the strongly gifted, like you, can have bouts of accidental magic until you're of age. As I ought to know. When I was seventeen, just before I joined the Dark Lord, I nearly blew the roof off Hagrid's cottage."

Harry whistled. "Truly?"

"Yes. I was very angry after I had heard some news and my magic reacted badly."

"What were you angry about? Your dad? At Sirius for the Shrieking Shack thing?" Harry guessed.

"No. I was angry at your mother."

"My mum? But why?"

Severus grimaced. "Because I had just found out that she had married your father."

"Oh. Yeah . . .I can see why you'd have, uh, lost it."

Learning that the woman you secretly loved had just up and tied the knot with your arch rival would be enough to make anyone go spare, Harry thought. It made what he and Ron had fought about seem kind of trivial.

Snape did not respond for a moment, he was recalling how he had held onto and nursed that bitter anger at Lily's betrayal, or at least in his wounded heart it was a betrayal, at choosing to marry James, letting it fester and poison him. The anger had made him easy prey for the Dark Lord, who loved bitter, angsty youths, because they were so easy to manipulate. And after learning that Jmaes had finally convinced Lily to marry him, Severus was one of the bitterest, hating himself, James, and Lily equally.

Even after he broke with the Death Eaters, he still harbored resentment and anger towards the Potters, though at the same time he longed for Lily to forgive him and to be able to make amends. For years he had nursed that resentment, refusing to have anything to do with the Potters, even though they were Order members and so was he. He had always been conveniently absent or late when they were at the meetings, so he didn't have to see his beautiful Lily hanging all over bloody James.

You could have had any woman you wanted, Potter, why the hell did you have to choose the one I loved too? He could recall himself thinking. It had been a bitter draft to stomach, that Potter had won Lily away from him, suave, arrogant Gryffindor. He had not seen or spoken with her until a few months before she went into hiding under the Fidelius Charm, and she forgave him for walking the dark road and he swore an oath to protect her son and finally told her how he felt about her all those years ago.

He blinked and came back to the present.

"Are you still angry with Weasley, Mr. Potter?"

Slowly, Harry nodded. "I know, it's stupid, but I still feel like punching him out. I need to do something. Like fly as Freedom."

"Remember what I said before about using your Animagus form as a crutch?" Severus lectured. "You should not use it as an escape every time you don't want to deal with problems or the reality of being a teenager, Harry."

Harry opened his mouth to speak but Snape held up a hand.

"Wait. I'm not done speaking. It would seem to me you need a few classes on how to manage that anger of yours, before you end up blowing up my classroom. And I think I know something that might help. It worked for me, then and now."

"What is it? A potion or a charm?"

"Neither. Come with me."

He led Harry up from the dungeons and to the seventh floor. There he paused and concentrated, requesting the Room of Requirement to open and be set up the way he liked it.

"But this is the seventh floor, where the Room of Requirement is," Harry said.

"Yes, I realize that."

"You know about the Room then? But I thought . . ."

"You thought the Room only appeared to students? No, Harry, the Room appears to anyone in the castle who needs it, including teachers." Severus turned the knob upon the door. "Come along then."

Harry stepped into a room that reminded him of a boxer's gymnasium. It was wood paneled, with a row of mirrors along one side, and a large stuffed heavy bag hanging from a silver hook suspended from the ceiling. In another corner was a smaller teardrop-shaped bag of red leather also suspended from a round wooden platform. Off to the side was a wooden bench with two sets of boxing gloves, one red and one green, a set of towels, goblets of water, a leather jump rope, two sets of black hand wraps, and a book called The Art of Boxing. Underneath the bench were two sets of black leather hightops.

"Whoa! I feel like I just stepped into a scene from Rocky," Harry exclaimed. "You know, that movie about the prize fighter from Philadelphia?"

"Yes, I am familiar with Muggle culture." Severus removed his robes and hung them on a hook beside the door. He ran his wand down himself and his work clothes were transfigured to what looked like a pair of casual sweats and a short-sleeved black shirt. Before Harry could get over the shock of seeing Snape in anything save wizarding attire, Severus intoned a Switching Spell, and the larger pair of hightops were transferred upon his feet, while his boots now rested beneath the bench. The Potions Master also produced a hair tie from somewhere and bound his hair back.

Harry fought to keep from gaping like a village idiot. "You look . . .different, Sev."

Severus rolled his eyes. "Take off your robes, Harry and hang them next to mine."

When Harry had done so, Severus transfigured his jeans and rugby shirt into an outfit similar to his own, but with a gold T-shirt.

Harry summoned the hightops to him and put them on, then looked expectantly at his teacher. "You know how to box?"

"Yes. Not professionally, of course, but I know the basics, enough to hold my own in a fist fight, if it ever came down to it, and enough to teach you the same thing."

"But . . .you're a wizard. Where did you learn?"

"A wizard who grew up Muggle, like you," Severus reminded. "My father did not permit me to speak or acknowledge my magic while I was growing up. He, like your uncle, wanted a "normal" child. So I was raised mostly the Muggle way, with only occasional secret lessons here and there from my mother. I had an Uncle Richard, my father's younger brother, who came to visit us for a week, he was the only member of my father's family I had ever met, my father was the black sheep, you see, and cut all ties to them when he married my mother. In any case, Richard came to see how we were getting on, I was nine that year and had arrived home from school sporting a black eye from some scrap."

"They picked on you too," Harry said knowingly. He could picture the sort of kid Severus had been-skinny, shy, too-smart-just the type to be a target for bullies. As he had been.

Severus nodded. "Well, Richard saw and asked what had happened. I didn't tell him at first, but he guessed what had gone on, and a few days later, he took me into the garage and taught me the rudiments of boxing. Boxing used to be considered a gentleman's sport once upon a time, and it still is in some circles. All that week he showed me how to defend myself, then he left and I never saw him again, but I remembered what he taught me."

"Did it help?"

"Very much. And not only with the neighborhood riffraff. I find that a brisk workout helps relieve stress and tension better than most magical remedies. Especially when I am fighting the urge to throttle someone." He walked over to the bench and began wrapping his hands with the protective tape. "A rather unorthodox method of anger management perhaps, but I find the results satisfying. And I think you will as well." He beckoned the boy over and began wrapping his hands with the protective tape as well, so he would not bruise or injure his knuckles or fingers.

He tossed the other pair of gloves at Harry, who stared at them dubiously before putting them on. "You want me to . . .fight you, sir?"

Severus shook his head, amused. "Not yet. I want you to fight the bag first. Watch me." He pulled on his own gloves. "First, you warm up your head, neck, shoulders." He showed Harry how to do several exercises to limber up.

He demonstrated how to stand, with the feet shoulder width apart and move, in soft sliding steps around the bag, with your hands up to protect your face and chest, elbows in, and chin down. "Keep most of your weight centered on the balls of your feet, not the heel, that gives you greater mobility and quickness. Boxing isn't just about brute strength, there is a science to it. It's also about agility and quickness. Keep your eyes focused upon your opponent and then, when he lowers his guard-strike, like so!"

Severus launched a quick head jab at the heavy bag, hitting it solidly, and the bag swayed with the force of his punch. He executed several more jabs and punches, high, low, and middle. "Since neither of us are built like Hagrid, my main focus will be on agility and quickness rather than brute strength."

He showed Harry a right cross, left hook, and an uppercut.

After Harry had done some warm up exercises, he allowed the boy to throw punches at the heavy bag, coaching him on the correct way to hit and move, dodge and weave.

Harry soon discovered he could hit harder and faster if he imagined the bag was Uncle Vernon, or Voldemort, or even Ron or Malfoy. And the harder he pounded the bag, the more the tension eased. He could feel his magic gradually pulling back and calming, and Severus did as well.

The older wizard allowed his ward to box the bag until his magic had settled and the anger he had been nursing died. Then he called a halt, and allowed Harry to cool down and drink some water.

"Well? Has your anger gone away yet?"

"Yeah. I'm better now." Harry said, mopping his face with a towel.

"Good. Then might I suggest you come here when you are frustrated and angry and work out instead of coming down to my lab?"

"Yes, sir. When do I get to box you?"

"Not for awhile, fledgling. First you learn to box your shadow, then you spar with me."

After he had cooled down somewhat, Severus had him skip rope, which Harry balked at until the other explained that such exercise helped with movement and agility and was also good for your heart.

"If you're ever in a situation where you need to defend yourself, good footwork is essential. As is keeping your head down and your hands up."

That was a phrase Harry would hear over and over as he worked with the Potions Master on the weekend, sparring with his shadow using the mirrors and the bag. The workout was necessary, for Ron was still behaving like a git and Harry had no patience for it anymore. The boxing lessons relieved much of the stress he had built up, enough so he was no longer in danger of blowing up any more cauldrons, or anything else for that matter.

The sessions also made Harry bold enough to ask Severus why he hadn't used the fighting techniques to defend himself against the Marauders.

"I did, on occasion. I broke your father's glasses and gave him a fat lip one time and knocked two of Black's teeth out. But most of our battles were fought with magic, and after they saw how I could use my hands to defend myself, they usually would cast a Body Bind on me to prevent me from hitting them. And technically, it wasn't considered sporting to combine magic with Muggle defense methods."

"Oh." Harry shrugged. Personally, he felt the more ways he knew how to defend himself, the better off he would be if he ever faced Voldemort again. Maybe he could pop the bastard one in the eye with a good right hook.

He concentrated on hitting the bag, letting the rhythmic smack of the punches against the leather drain away the tension he was feeling, until he was calm once more.

He halted at Severus's signal and came to sip some ice cold water and sit down upon the bench, unlacing his gloves and placing them next to him. "Severus? Have you taught other students how to box?"

"No. You are the first."

"I am? Why?"

"Because most Slytherins do not favor Muggle methods of stress relief, though I have taught one or two meditation. Also, no student I have ever had has been in need of such training, or had so much pressure placed upon them. They never needed this. You do."

"You're right. Thanks. It helps a lot. Now when Ron starts giving me lip, I just . . .walk away."

"Good. Sometimes learning how to walk away is harder than learning how to fight."

But Harry's continuing frustration with the Weasley boy was starting to annoy him. If it went on too much longer, interfering with his ward's peace of mind, he would speak to Minerva about it and suggest she take Weasley in hand and tell him to leave Harry alone.

But for now he would stay out of it, since he knew Harry would not welcome his interference and so far it had not escalated into violence. He would watch, however, doing for his charge what someone should have done for him long ago.

* * * * * *

All that week while Harry had been having lessons in anger management and Occlumency and potions, Ron had been going around sullen and glowering, in a blue funk. Ginny was still peeved at him, Hermione barely spoke to him, and Lavender had even urged him to make up with Harry when they had gone to Hogsmeade that weekend.

"Ron, he's your best friend. You shouldn't let that go. Really."

"He was my best friend. Now it looks like he's Snape's best friend." Ron grumbled.

"Oh, stop it! You're pouting like a three-year-old," scolded Lavender. "You know, a person can have more than one best friend, and not all of your friends have to like each other. I mean, I'm friends with Angie Johnson and she can't stand my other good friend, Luna Lovegood. Thinks she's mad as a hatter. But that doesn't mean I'll stop being friends with Luna 'cause Angie doesn't like her."

"That's different. Luna's not a git like Snape. And that's a girl thing."

Lavender giggled. "A girl thing, Ronnie? Sometimes you're so absurd it's funny. All I'm saying is you ought to stop fighting with Harry. It's not good for you, your humours are all out of balance."

"My what?"

"Humours. You know, the four temperaments that make up your personality? Right now, I'd say you're suffering from an excess of choleric and melancholic humours and not enough sanguine."

"I have no idea what you just said, Lav."

"Oh for the love of Merlin! Don't you ever pay attention when you're in Divination?"

"No, usually I doze off or draw in my notebook," Ron admitted shamelessly.

"You're hopeless, you know that? What I meant was that you're angry and depressed and you need to start becoming happy again. And it seems to me that the reason why you're like this has to do with you being on the outs with Harry. So, why don't you just agree to disagree and let it go? Then you can go back to being Harry's friend at school and don't worry about Snape mentoring Harry. I mean, a mentor's not really like a friend, Ron-he's more of a . . .guardian. So there's no reason why you can't just go back to being friends with Harry . . .after you've apologized that is."

Ron sulked. "Who says I need to apologize?"

"Me, your sister, Hermione, every other girl in Gryffindor practically."

"You're all bewitched."

"Says who? Ronnie, just swallow that dumb male pride and say two little words-I'm sorry. And then Harry will forgive you and you can stop going around with a puss on your face. I mean, it was cute at first, but now it's kind of . . .annoying."

Ron threw up his hands. "What is it with girls and their stupid apologies? Guys never apologize."

"And that's why so many guys end up alone, without friends or wives. Women know better." Lavender said smugly.

"Uh huh. Right."

"Ronnie, darling? Would you like to eat that ice cream or wear it?" asked Lavender sweetly.

Ron gulped. The look on his girlfriend's face reminded him of his mother when she was irritated with him. "Okay. I . . .didn't mean it."

She beamed at him. Then she kissed him. "See? That wasn't too hard. Now just say that to Harry and you can stop being such a bilious wretch."

Before he could object to her unflattering assessment, she kissed him again, and all thoughts of Harry were forgotten.

But even with Lavender's prompting, Ron couldn't bring himself to admit he had been wrong and apologize. A part of him still wanted Harry to come back to him and tell him that he was right and Snape really was a greasy dungeon bat and then things could go back to the way they were before Harry had become an Animagus.

So he maintained his distance and stubbornly ignored the other boy, until things came to a head the following weekend.

Ron had asked Harry if he was busy and what he was doing, and Harry had said he had to practice meditation, Snape was teaching him how to control his emotions, whereupon Ron had sniggered and said, "Oh, that's funny! Snape teaching you control over emotions. Like he'd know. He has the worst temper in the school. That's the cauldron calling the kettle black."

Harry had gritted his teeth and said, "You're one of the reasons I need to learn how to do that, Ron." Then he had gotten up from the common room table and walked out of the portrait hole.

Ginny gave him a disgusted look and stomped upstairs.

Ron chewed his lower lip and retreated to his room, flinging himself down on his bed and flipping through a Quidditch magazine , wishing he could take back the comments he had said that evening.

Five minutes later, he was awakened by Pigwidgeon hooting frantically, and holding an ominous red envelope in his talons.

What?? A Howler! Aww, bloody hell!

He took the red envelope gingerly and opened it, cringing.

A second later, Molly Weasley's irate tones filled the room and were audible even down in the common room. Ron winced, she'd set the spell for maximum volume.








Ron had been lying on his stomach, his mouth hanging open, face flaming, wishing he could hex Ginny into next week for telling on him. But then again, she had always done that when one of her brothers was fighting, he reflected glumly. No reason she should change now.

Finally the Howler drew to a close, and Ron breathed a sigh of relief, until there was a clap of displaced air and a wooden spoon appeared in the air, whacked him hard on the bum, and then vanished.

Ron yelped. "Oww! Bloody hell, Mum!" he reached back to rub his stinging behind and the Howler self-destructed, leaving red confetti all over his bed.

Chastened, Ron stood up, groaning. At first he was angry at his mother for poking her nose into his business, but then he began to think, and the more he mulled it over, the more he realized they were right-he had been treating Harry awfully and he had let his pride get in the way of his friendship again. Just like last time. Oh, Merlin! I really am a stupid arsehole. What was I thinking? Guess I wasn't. Lavender was right, I might not like Snape, but I do like Harry, and if I want to be friends with him I'd better just agree to disagree and shut my trap. Harry's my best mate and I don't want to lose him over this, even if I'll never understand how he can consider Snape a good friend.

Ron sighed. To each his own, I guess. And now, I'd better start thinking about an apology. Before Mum really does come down and wallop me. And I'm sticking all Ginny's shoes to the floor for being a damn tattletale and embarrassing me beyond belief, he thought.

* * * * * *

When Harry returned to Gryffindor Tower later on that day, he found Ron waiting in the common room, which was empty for once, since everyone else was outside, enjoying the fine afternoon. Harry checked and almost made a detour around the other boy, but Ron got up and said quickly, "Look, Harry, I know I've been a real git to you and all and I just want to say that I'm sorry and I was an arse and well, you know what I mean. Friends?"

Harry stared at him for a full minute. "You been practicing that all day?"

"Uh . . .yeah, guess you could say that. Will you forgive me then?"

Harry hesitated. "Do you really want to be my friend or are you doing this to save your arse?"

Ron blushed. "You know about that?"

"Yeah, Dennis told me about the Howler. Along with the rest of the school, probably. So, which is it? Either you're my friend or you aren't, no matter who else I choose to make a part of my life."

Ron swallowed. "I want to be your friend, Harry. I just don't know about Snape though."

"Snape is my business. You don't have to like it, but I do ask that you respect it. Can you do it? Or shall I just call it quits?"

"No! I . . .I can accept it. Forgive me?"

"Okay, Weasley. You're forgiven. Just don't ever do this again." Then he cuffed Ron across the back of the head.

"Hey! That hurt!"

"It was supposed to," Harry said. "Now that I've finally knocked some sense into you, how about a game of chess?"

Ron grinned. "Sure. I'll even let you win this time."

"You do, and I'll really kick your arse," Harry growled, and socked his friend in the shoulder.

Ron winced. "Merlin, Harry, where'd you learn to punch like that?"

"That wasn't a punch, it was a tap."

"Whatever." He summoned his chess set down from his room. "Am I gonna get an answer to my question?"

"Anger management class," Harry replied, then laughed at Ron's dumbstruck expression.

A/N: Well, what did you think of the anger management solution of Sev's? I have to thank my brother Vinnie for his advice on boxing, he used to be a Golden Glove in college, he trained in Easton PA.

For those of you who are wondering, yes, boxing really is a good stress reliever, according to my brother and several other people I have spoken to.

Next: Harry gets to teach a class of first years and oh what trouble they'll be!

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