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Chapter Fourteen: The Woman in the Photo Frame





"Cheater!" Harry glared over the top of his cards. "You didn't even let me see that card before you put it down!"

Ron grinned. "Losers weepers. Take the cards."

Harry reluctantly picked up the pile of cards on Ron's bed, sorting through them. Ron was a great friend but he was a terrible cheater at snap.

"You start," he said.

Ron snorted. "You've got the most cards, you start."

"Only because you cheated."

Harry sighed and put down a card. Ron added another, and the game of snap continued for quite some time before Ron cheated again, and Harry threw a grape at him. The cousins both laughed and play-fought for a while before Madam Pomfrey came over to admonish them, and tell Harry he had to leave, as it was nearly nine o' clock and Ron needed rest.

"See you tomorrow then," said Ron.

"Yeah, see you," said Harry, waving as he left. It was Saturday, and Harry had spent most of the day with Ron and Hermione. She'd left at eight o' clock to do her prefect rounds, which seemed such a short time ago. Of course, Harry had been clinging to the minutes zipping past though. He now had his first detention of sixth year, with none other than Snape. Detention was never fun, and it was even worse with Snape in the colder months. September at Hogwarts wasn't as cold as December or January, but a few hours down in the dungeons was enough to have anybody shivering.

He crossed the entrance hall, feeling glum, and he just turned down the passage that lead to the dungeons when he spotted somebody coming towards him. At first, he thought that it was Snape, perhaps coming to see where he was. But it wasn't.

It was the woman he'd seen just after arriving at Hogwarts. She was someway up the corridor, so he had a good chance to look at her properly, and yet again, he felt as though he'd seen her somewhere outside of Hogwarts. She was quite tall, which was only emphasized by her head-to-toe black clothing, and the long velvet cloak dragging along the corridor behind her. Harry had a brief idea of a dark angel. Indeed, she was pretty, but in an unconventional way. Gothic beautiful. Her hair was raven black, and lightly feathered and tousled around her pale face, and she walked in a way that made it sway gently as she moved. Harry realised he was staring and looked away quickly, as she passed him and continued into the entrance hall. He glanced over his shoulder, studying her. Where had he seen her before? She certainly didn't have the sort of face you could mistake for another person. So who was she?

He was still thinking as he knocked on the door of the Potions classroom. Snape's voice drawled, "Enter", from inside, and he stepped in.

To his great surprise, Snape was at the front of the room, and he looked... well. Happy. Happier than normal anyway. There was a smug sort of smirk on his face as he tidied a half-empty red wine bottle and two glasses into an old cupboard.

"Don't stand dawdling in the door all day, Potter, come in." Snape shut the cupboard, dragged an old chair back against the wall and took his cloak from a hook, pulling it back on.

Harry crept forward. He'd never seen Snape not angry or irate or looking as though he was going to kill something, but now he almost seemed civil.

The Potions master took a large stack of papers from the side and dumped them down on his desk. "Exams, Potter. Hufflepuff exams. I have little patience with them any day, and after adding up all the marks, you're going to see why. Sit down and start. You aren't leaving until you're finished, so you'd better get a move on."

Harry sat down behind Snape's desk, taking the pen that the professor handed him, gazing worriedly at the huge stack of papers.

"I have to sort out some things in my office and so I won't be around to supervise you. Then again, this task isn't overly complex. Even you can't screw it up." He turned and stalked away into his office, but he was still smirking in that smug way. Harry almost expected him to start humming.

He took the top paper from the pile, and was about to start adding up the green numbers dotted around the page when something caught his eye on Snape's desk and he paused.

It was a photo frame, silver and encrusted with the odd shower of tiny emeralds, and even though the frame itself was maginificently crafted, Harry was more interested in the photo. A pair of soft, smoky silver eyes gazed out at him, as though directly at him and nobody else, set into a pale face with tousled black hair. It that the woman, and all of a sudden, Harry remembered where he last saw her - Snape's house, as a photograph on the wall, directly underneath the one of the professor's father. Though this photo wasn't moving, taken with an ordinary black-and-white muggle camera, though the stillness seemed to enhance the effect even more. She was... well, beautiful. Harry could well imagine a teenage Snape going weak at the knees at the sight of her.

He then noticed that there was something written across the bottom, in black ink that glimmered with sparkles of silver. He leant closer to read it - Dear Severus, xxx.

Snape had a girlfriend?

"Still working, Potter?"

Harry jumped as Snape suddenly blew into the room again. "Yeah, fine," he said, turning quickly back to the paper. "Five, eight, nine, thirteen..."

"Never learnt to count in your head?" Snape drawled, smirking.

Harry frowned. "I don't want to lose count."

"Then concentrate," said Snape. He strolled over before Harry to glance down, tutting at the fact he was only on the second side of the first paper. "Lost your sense of discipline over the summer? Ah, but you didn't have one before. How careless of me."

Harry didn't say anything, not willing to rise to Snape's bait. He put the total of the paper in a large circle at the bottom and started on the next without a word.

Snape turned to go, but paused, reaching out and taking the photo frame with him as an afterthought. Harry acted as though he'd never seen it, but inwardly, he couldn't help but laugh. Snape had a girlfriend. How positively cute. Serious, cold, uptight Snape had a girlfriend he kept sneaking into the castle. The Potions master suddenly didn't seem quite so scary after all, especially when Harry thought of Cho, and imagined Snape going all wobbly when faced with -


Harry jumped so much a large blot of green ink appeared on the page before him. One of the huge glass jars used for storing potions in had practically thrown itself at Snape as he passed into the office, shattering barely inches behind him on the floor. Harry put a hand to his chest, trying to calm his racing pulse. Snape didn't look too surprised. He just bent down, scooped up the remains and dropped them into a bin, calm as anything.

He glanced up and saw Harry clutching his heart, and Snape's eyes narrowed. "Don't look so surprised, Potter. You're only fooling yourself."

"What?" said Harry, confused.

Snape shook his head. "My experience with you is that you neither understand or know anything that you need to, and yet have a head full of the most inconvenient facts. I'm fully aware you know about my... condition at the moment. There's no need to convince yourself that you don't."

"Why?" said Harry. "What is your condition?"

Snape snorted and stood up, stalking through to the office, muttering about terrible actors and stupidity of sixteen-year-old boys. Harry raised his eyebrows and turned back to his papers, wondering again. Ever since being back at school, Snape hadn't seemed to attract that many accidents. He even demonstrated a heating charm during Wednesday's lesson with no problems at all, but seeing the jar leap at the professor had brought Harry's suspicions back in full throttle.

When Snape came back into the room, Harry noticed him shoot a quick glance at the overhead shelves, and the relieved look on his face when nothing flew at him.

Harry kept his head down for the rest of the detention, marking as silently as he could, and by the time he finished, he knew it must be passed midnight. Snape dismissed him, saying something about learning the lesson of respect, though Harry hardly heard him, he was so tired. His hand was aching from writing for so long and he could hardly see as he staggered up the corridor. His hearing was perfectly fine though, and as he started the long drag up to Gryffindor Tower, he distinctly heard Snape shut the door on his fingers and the accompanying curses he spat.

"Harry... Harry..."


"Where are you? What's that noise?"

"I'm here and I was tying my shoelace."

Hermione, as a prefect, was allowed out at night, and the only reason she had to give was that she was a prefect and on her rounds to make sure everything was in order. Harry, however, was not, and so he was hiding under his father's old invisibility cloak nearby.

After his detention with Snape and finding out about Snape's girlfriend, he'd of course told Ron and Hermione. Ron thought it was hilarious and begged Harry to steal the photo so he could have a look, but Hermione wasn't so sure. She found the idea of Snape having a girlfriend rather out of character for him, rather understandably, and so Harry had convinced her to come and have a look for herself on the next Saturday.

"She might not even come you know, Harry," Hermione muttered out of the corner of her mouth.

"She will," Harry said. "I bet you. What time is it?"

"It's nearly nine o' clock," said Hermione. She sighed, leaning against one of the pillars and brushing her hair out of her eyes. "It's getting really dark, Harry."

"I know," he said. "Just get comfy and she'll come, I promise you. And if she doesn't, I'll never ask to copy your Transfiguration notes again."

"Shhh!" she said, suddenly, glancing up towards the main doors as they opened, but it wasn't the woman in the photo frame. Professor Alrister came in, looking immaculately rugged as always, in a black velvet tunic and thick red hawking gloves. Cupid was settled on his wrist, eating what looked like a mouse, with a bell tied gently around his neck that jingled with every tug of his neat little beak.

"Good evening Miss Granger," he said, smiling as he spotted her.

"G-good evening, Professor Alrister," she stammered back. Harry grinned and nudged her in the arm. She swatted at him as though there was a fly there.

"Now, what would you be doing out this late?" he asked. Cupid made a soft 'fwee' to accompany his master.

"Just d-doing my prefect rounds," she said. "You know... t-to check if anybody is out of bed when they shouldn't be."

He smiled again. It was becoming a very rare occurance to see Professor Alrister not smiling, actually. Harry and Ron had considered jabbing him hard with something sharp, just to see if he smiled, told them to keep up the good work and recommended they give him a good poke in the eye for extra credit.

"Good girl," he said. "By the way, I'm pleased with your progress so far this year, very pleased. You're turning out to be a very good student."

Hermione blushed right to her fingertips, and Harry hardly understood a word of what she gabbled. "Oh! Th-thankyou, I just... t-try really hard, I guess..."

"Yes, effort's what I reward most in my classes," he said. "And you certainly give a lot of it. From what I've heard, you're a highly capable student in all your work. After all, taking nine NEWT classes is no small feat."

She grinned, still red in the face. "My parents say I try too much..."

He chuckled. "If trying too much has got you where it has, you're doing just fine to me." Cupid let out another soft 'fwee', shifting around on Alrister's arm so the bell around his neck jingled merrily. Harry had to admit, the professor and his hawk suited each other very well. He was starting to quite like Cupid, and he visited him most days, slipping him owl treats when Hedwig wasn't looking.

The hawk was now looking directly at Harry, trilling its beak expectantly. Harry severely hoped the little bird wouldn't perch on his arm and baffle Alrister at to why his hawk was sitting on thin air, but thankfully, there was a distraction at that very moment as the doors opened again.

It was her this time. Harry nudged Hermione, and she looked up, midway between another garbled stream of thanks to the professor. Alrister looked around too to see what she was looking at, and to Harry's great surprise, he rolled his eyes at the sight of the woman in the doorway.

"One moment," he said to Hermione, apologetically, as he turned and strolled towards the woman. Harry hurried after him, hoping to hear anything said. The look on Alrister's face suggested he knew her, and their relationship wasn't good. "I wondered when I'd be seeing you here."

"Leave me alone," she hissed. She had a deep, husky sort of voice, like the French actresses in old muggle movies. "This has nothing to do with you."

"I think it does," said Alrister. "You shouldn't be here."

She glared up at him with her spiteful silver eyes. "I'll be wherever I want. My business is my business, and don't you dare try to change my mind Alrister."

He scoffed, in quite a haughty way. "I don't think anybody can do that. You should just know a few things. By coming here, you're just making things worse for Severus. And it is getting worse. More and more everyday. Secondly, it's only so long before you're found out, and Merlin help you then."

"What do you suggest I do? Go home like a good little girl and run around after your cousin as though I'm a bloody terrier?"

"I said nothing of the sort," said Alrister, coolly. "I'm suggesting that you don't come here, if you know what's good for you, and for Severus. The aurors are working on hunting down 'Gustus, and it won't be many months now before your little predicament is sorted out anyway, and you can wait that long."

"No, I can't," she said coldly. "You haven't got a chance of understanding. You just go blow things up and cry, and leave me to my own business." She pushed roughly past him and hurried in the direction of the dungeon corridor, her cloak blowing behind her in the breeze created.

Alrister glared after her for a moment, total and utter dislike over his handsome face, before he sighed, shook his head and wiped the expression of loathing away. He turned back to Hermione. "I must apologise for that, Miss Granger..."

"It's okay, Professor," she said. "I didn't hear anything anyway."

He smiled again, but it was a hollow, rather weak smile. "Well, I should be getting back to the owlery now. Cupid has to have his rest, after all... goodnight."

"Night, Professor," she said, as he walked away up the marble staircase, the silver buckles on his boots clinking gently with every step. When the sound of his footfalls was gone, Harry pulled the cloak just off his face to give her a worried look.

"Did you hear?"

"Yeah," she said, quietly. "I did. What do you think - "

But a door then burst open at the end of the corridor, and angry voices were heard, coming this way. Harry pulled the cloak on properly again, just in time to catch a little of what was being said.

"Severus, don't! It doesn't matter!"

"It does," Snape's voice snarled. "Alrister has no right to - "

"Please, don't, please just don't!"

Snape blew into the entrance hall, looking absolutely livid, and his visitor was hurrying after him, pleading with him to calm down.

"There's no point, Severus, just leave him to it!" she said, desperately. "It doesn't matter...!"

Harry shrunk quickly out of the way as Snape stormed past, though Hermione was completely visible. Snape rounded on her. "Which way did Alrister go?"

Hermione pointed out towards the grounds. "That way," she squeaked.

"Severus, don't!!"

"What on earth is going out here?" came an angry hiss from the doors of the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey glared out at them all. "Will you please be quiet? There are ill people in here!"

"I'm afraid I'll have to agree with Poppy," came a voice from the top of the stairs. Albus Dumbledore stood before them all in a purple nightcap, a mug of cocoa in his hand. Alrister stood behind him, arms crossed, looking like a bodyguard.

Snape's eyes narrowed as he glared up at Alrister. "I didn't realise you were so young at heart, Alrister. Shouldn't you have grown out of running squealing to the headmaster when you were even more childish than you are now?"

"He did not run squealing to me, Severus," said Dumbledore, calmly. "I was already awake and out of my office when he passed. He merely expressed his concerns."

"Funny," said Snape, in an icy voice Harry had never heard him use with the headmaster before. "I call it squealing."

"Now now, Severus. There is no need for unfriendliness. I'd like to see you in my office, if I may... Poppy, I do hope we haven't awoken any of the ill students. Miss Galvez, I would like you to leave, please, though I shall contact you tomorrow. Alrister, please escort the students back to their common room."

"What do you mean, students?" said Snape, sharply.

"Did I say students? I do apologise. Student. Miss Granger, back to Gryffindor Tower please. Come along, Severus."

Snape hesitated for a moment, almost like a naughty child wanting to be disobedient, but he then nodded and followed Dumbledore. His visitor swept one last look around at them all and then left, sweeping away down the steps like a ghost, into the night. Professor Alrister waited at the top of the marble staircase for Hermione, and then the two of them went away down the corridor. Harry followed them, being careful to stay quiet.

"Professor Alrister?" said Hermione, nervously.

"Yes, Miss Granger?"

"Would it... would it be terribly impolite of me to ask what just happened?"

Alrister sighed slightly. "I'm afraid I don't think I'm allowed to tell you, Miss Granger. That's between the headmaster, Professor Snape and the most dangerous woman I know."

"W-why is she dangerous?" Hermione asked.

Alrister looked very serious for once, the most serious Harry had ever seen him. "She's married, Miss Granger. Come along now, we need to get you to bed. You need your rest." He smiled slightly. "Now, don't tell anybody else, but I'm doing tests in Pure Arts next week. Though I daresay they won't be a problem to you."

She smiled shyly. "Thankyou, Professor."

They continued the rest of the way in silence, and when they reached the portrait hole, Alrister gave a corteous bow to Hermione and then made his way back down the corridor, heading for his office. The moment he was out of hearing distance, Hermione said, "Harry?"

"Yeah, I'm here... open the portrait hole so we can talk."

The Fat Lady smiled pleasantly down at Hermione. "Password?"

"Candlelight," she said. The Fat Lady smiled gratiously and swung forward to admit them into the common room.

It was deserted, pretty much as normal. Most of the house was in the Hospital Wing with Gryffindor Risotta, and the ones that were left were all probably in bed. Harry found himself glad of the silence for once, as it gave him and Hermione chance to talk.

"I'm even more confused now," she said, turning and falling into an armchair by the fire.

"Me too," Harry admitted. "How does Alrister know that woman?"

"I don't know," she said, biting her lip. "But she's married... that's not right of Snape at all... it sounds as though Alrister knows her husband. The aurors are hunting somebody down... and Alrister knows about Snape's bad luck thing. Maybe it's connected?"

"I think it is," said Harry. "Though I wish it wasn't. It just makes things even more confusing." He sat in an armchair, thinking hard. "Maybe... maybe Snape's getting into some dark magic that's connected with Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Something to help him. And so Dumbledore obviously wants him to stop, because the dark magic is giving Snape bad luck. Maybe that woman isn't his girlfriend, maybe she's a Death Eater that's helping Snape do whatever black magic it is he's doing. Alrister knows because... um... he knows her husband. And maybe that other person they mentioned... maybe he's another Death Eater that's helping Snape, but the aurors are tracking him down. Dumbledore doesn't approve of what Severus is doing, and he's warning him against it..."

"It's certainly possible," said Hermione, raising her eyebrows. "Though anything could be going on, Harry, anything at all." She rubbed her brow, frustratedly. "I don't know Harry... this is confusing even me. If only we could see what Snape's thinking, then maybe we'd have some answers." She glanced up at him, seeing the dawning expression on his face and frowning. "What?"

"Nothing," he said. He yawned. "Gee, it's late. I'm going to get to bed. We'll talk more in the morning and go and tell Ron what we've found out. Night." He hurried away up the stairs, quick as he could, before she could pierce him any more with her suspicious glare.

As he shut the door, he couldn't help but grin. It was so obvious. He COULD see what Snape was thinking. Occlumency. Snape had been too busy to start any proper lessons with him yet, and they had scheduled for Monday, after school. Harry had never really bothered with Occlumency before, but now he had a lure. If he could master it, he could get into Snape's thoughts and find out what was going on.

Marvelling at the fact that he suddenly wanted to spend time being taught by Snape, he got changed, got into bed and was asleep in hardly any time, his dreams involving unscrewing the top of the Potions master's head like a bottle and poking around inside, but by the time he woke up, he couldn't remember just what he found in there.

Surprisingly, when Harry stepped into the gloom of the Potions master's office the next Monday, Snape wasn't in the sort of mood Harry had expected him to be in. The events of the Saturday night were apparently out of his mind - that, or he was keeping his thoughts about it all private. Harry had to admit, he was very good at it. He'd even been civil to Alrister at the breakfast table, asking him to pass the milk with only the merest trace of sarcasm as he added, 'please'. Though the fact that Snape wasn't going to show anybody what he was thinking made it even more of a challenge to Harry to find out.

Snape sat behind his desk, swirling the tip of his wand lazily around the pensieve, occasionally adding a thought or two. "Sit down, Potter, get your wand out."

Harry sunk into the chair opposite Snape's desk, drawing his wand from up his sleeve, glancing nervously around the room. The dead things hanging in their pickled slime all around the walls were all rather un-nerving. An upside-down toad appeared to be staring right at him. He looked away, glancing at the pensieve instead and catching a momentary vision of Snape, looking himself up and down in a mirror, dressed in the long black robes of a Death Eater before it faded away.

Snape spoke, and when he did, it was in a very reluctant and weary tone. "The headmaster wants a slight change in your teaching, Potter."

Harry glanced at him, prompting him for a little more information. Snape surveyed him over the pensieve for a moment, his dark eyes looking into him rather than at him.

"He wants you taught both occlumency and legilimency," Snape sighed, absent-mindedly removing another thought into the bowl. "Of course, I'd much rather teach you nothing, but the headmaster has spoken. His reasons are that several other professors, who in my opinion should be hammered into a barrel and rolled into the lake, have mentioned you have a strong mind and that legilimency will better your skills at occlumency."

"But... so I'll have to... to read your mind...?" said Harry, trying not to sound too hopeful.

"Yes," Snape sighed. "Hence why I've been trying my best to extract every single detail of anything that happened to me below the age of twenty, or anything even mildly interesting after that."

"Why?" said Harry.

Snape's eyes flashed as they looked up at him. "You presumed I'd let you swan pleasantly around in my thoughts and spread them around your nasty little ring of friends?" he scoffed.

Harry frowned. "I'm not like that."

"I certainly hope so," Snape sneered. "For your sake. There are... possibly some memories in my head you will not want to see, and nor will I want you to, for that matter. I should tell you now that I have no obligation to explain anything or give more detail."

Harry nodded, deciding he'd just have to really poke and prod to get Snape's mind to explain itself.

"There are two ways to perform legilimency..." Snape said, wearily, as though he was being controlled by a particularly bad puppeteer who should have given up the career years ago. "Obviously, the spell 'legilimens', as I have used on you for the past year or so. It's the most effective method, and if your victim has no knowledge of occlumency, countless memories can be extracted at your leisure. The longest time for having somebody under a legilimens spell is three days, if my memory is correct... then again, considering that most of it is swilling around this bowl, I'll have to check on that later."

"What's the other way to do it?"

"Performing a shield charm against legilimency coming in reflects it back onto the attacker." Snape suddenly thought of something, and removed it quickly to the pensieve. "As you found out last year."

Harry's curiosity was getting the better of him, watching Snape unload his mind into the pensieve, and so he said, "Can I ask a question?"

"Depending on the question, you may be able to."

"You know the pensieve..."

"That was a statement, Potter."

"No, no, I'm getting there. You know the pensieve. Well, what if you accidentally put the knowledge of how to get stuff back out in there? You'd never get your thoughts back, would you?"

"Don't sound so hopeful, Potter, and obviously, you have no regard for how the pensieve works. It holds memories, not knowledge."

"Can't they be the same?" asked Harry. "I mean... you have memories of what your name is, but technically, it's knowledge, isn't it?"

"Potter, do you remember somebody sitting you down as a child and telling you what your name is?"

"Uh... no."

"No what?"

"No Sir."

"And if, for instance, I took the memory of your last birthday out of your head, you would still know you are sixteen with the mental age of six, would you not?"

Harry frowned and Snape smirked at the annoyed expression on his face.

"You're so easy to irritate Potter... even more so than Alrister..."

"Alrister manages to annoy you though," said Harry, quietly.

Snape's smirk faded. "What?"

"I said," Harry said, clearly, "Alrister manages to annoy you though."

Snape scoffed. "Alrister's brain is ludicrously vacant, he couldn't string an insult together if it killed him."

Harry desperately, desperately wanted to announce he had been there and he'd seen Snape get so angry just because of what Alrister said to his girlfriend. He wanted to jump onto the desk and triumphantly use legilimens on Snape, read his mind and then run from the room and bellow everything about his mind to the entire school. Snape saw the urge to curse flickering in Harry's eyes, and his smirk curled back onto his face.

"If you're planning to attack somebody, Potter, never do it with a skilled legilimens in front of you." He stood up. "I'm going to test your occlumency first of all, and if you have practised enough, you should be able to perform a shield charm and reflect it back. Understand?"

Harry nodded, getting up and hurrying over to the middle of the room, trying to wash as much emotion from himself as possible. Though it was incredibly hard to quell the excitement rising inside him. If he managed to flick it back onto Snape, he could find out everything.

"Prepare yourself now," said Snape. "Don't let me in. Ready? Legilimens!"

He was six, sitting in his cupboard and crying because of a scratch down his arm nobody cared about... then he was eleven, looking up at the gigantic form of Hagrid in the hut on the rocks... then he was thirteen, watching Lupin transform from man into beast... and then it was just a few weeks ago, he was looking down the line of thestral-drawn carriages, watching Malfoy stroke the horse's neck with that haunted look in his eyes... but he could see Snape standing before him in the office, just a hazy outline through the memories flashing before his eyes, and he could hear himself shouting... grasping his wand...


There was rush, and he felt his mind being submerged in something else as memories that weren't his own flashed past... Lucius Malfoy, throwing things in the air for Snape to catch... then walking down Diagon Alley, and turning a corner, and seeing a girl sitting at a cafe with long, beautiful black hair and soft silver eyes... show me that one, show me that one, Harry thought, but he felt something push him hard in the chest and he fell backwards against the floor with a thud.

Snape was panting, grasping the edge of his desk. He looked even paler than normal. "Damn it, Potter," he snarled.

"Yeah, it's not fun having somebody rooting around in your head, is it?"

"I didn't mean just that," Snape snapped. "Don't be so completely oblivious, Potter. How do you know her?"

"Know who?" said Harry.

"The girl at the cafe," said Snape, impatiently, looking up from under his curtains of greasy black hair.

"She was in a photo on your wall," Harry replied, coolly. He wasn't lying, and Snape knew it, even though Harry could tell the Potions master was suspicious. "And one on your desk," he elaborated.

Snape sneered, reached out and snapped something down onto the wood. Harry glanced at it, realising it was the photo frame, but before he could move, Snape swept forward, his hands on the arms of Harry's chair. Harry froze, unable to look away from that furious dark gaze, realising far too late about the eye-contact legilimency. He shrunk back into the chair as Snape's face contorted into a snarl.

"You - "

"Don't kill me!" Harry squeaked.

Snape seemed absolutely past words to describe his fury. Harry could tell that the Potions master was just dying to grasp him with both hands and throttle the living daylights from him until he was cold and limp in the chair and could hound his life no more. Harry wilted away, trying to melt through the back of the chair.

The professor closed his eyes, taking a few very angry breaths to steady himself, then his black eyes opened again and he said, "Now listen to me, Potter." His voice was so dangerous and serious that Harry found himself scared. "Every single year I have had to endure you in my life has been a living hell. You pry, and sneak, and poke around in business that has nothing to do with you to the point where not only are you annoying, but you are endangering your own life, the lives of others and the state of safety on this entire planet. In your first year, your meddling nearly bought Lord Voldemort immortality and unlimited gold for the rest of eternity. In your second year, you managed to nearly kill yourself, two of the Weasleys, Lockhart, and countless others. In your third year, you endangered my life, you endangered your life, Granger's life, Weasley's life, Black's life, Lupin's life, Pettigrew's life. And then in fourth year, you just had to poke and pry about to find out that I am a Death Eater, therefore nearly having me slaughtered by Voldemort and therefore cutting off our only reliable source of information.

"In your fifth year - on second thoughts, do not even get me STARTED on your fifth year. You wasted so much time having me teach you occlumency, only to not practice and pay the price. Your meddling alerted Umbridge, and by giving her fake veritaserum, I came this close Potter, THIS close - " He squeezed his fingers together, holding them barely an inch from Harry's nose " - to losing my job and my entire career, not even to mention putting me under review from the ministry. I could have gone to Azkaban, Potter. But Dumbledore still made me check on you, made me keep teaching you, and I'm not going to hold back my words. I loathe you Potter. The very mention of your name makes my skin crawl. If it was up to me, I would pack up my bags right at this very moment and leave this castle forever, and just let you wallow in your own little problems. You have no idea how much I long to do that."

"Then do it," said Harry, feeling anger rise. "What's making you stay? Professor Lupin's happy to watch out for me, Professor Alrister, McGonagall, Flitwick. And, if I hadn't meddled as you put it, then we'd all be dead by now! Especially you!"

Snape's eyes were so full of hatred it was untrue. "I don't see why I should even bother explaining to you. There is no reason for me to do so. You don't listen, you don't understand, you don't even try to let anybody change your stubborn little mind."

"Why don't you just try me?" Harry sneered. "Just give me the benefit of the doubt."

Snape opened his mouth to snarl something, but there was a noise from the fireplace behind them. Dumbledore stepped out, dusting off his robes, chuckling. "Dear me, your fireplace could do with a good cleaning, Severus... good evening, Harry."

"Evening," said Harry, uncomfortably aware that Snape still had a fistful of his robes gathered under his chin. Snape didn't seem to care.

"Severus, I believe there's something we need to explain to Harry, don't you?" said Dumbledore, pleasantly.

"What?" said Harry, his eyes widening. "What is it?"

Snape let him go roughly, ignoring him. "I don't think - "

"Oh, I think," said Dumbledore, smiling. "Sit down, Severus... cocoa and biscuits, I think." He waved his hands, and a silver tray loaded with cups and a steaming jug of cocoa appeared. "It could be a late night, and we all want to stay awake."

"I don't."

"Yes, you do, Severus. There's no need to be unpleasant. Have some cocoa." Dumbledore turned his twinkling gaze onto Harry. "There's something we need to tell you, Harry... something fairly important. Get comfortable. This could take some time."


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