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Chapter Fifteen: Guardian Angels

Dumbledore conjured a chair with a few flicks of his wands and a pleasant smile. He sat down on it, pouring the cocoa into three mugs, calmly, with a smile on his face. "There, that's better."

He was the only one who looked even remotely happy. Snape still stood up, his arms crossed, glaring at a point in the distance as though he no longer wanted to be in the room. Harry felt the same. He was looking hurriedly from Snape to Dumbledore, pleading with somebody to elaborate.

The headmaster passed him a cup of hot chocolate with a custard cream and a smile. "I was just observing your occlumency lesson in my office, and my, things do get a little tense between the two of you at times, don't they?" He chuckled pleasantly.

Harry's wide-eyed, please-tell-me-what's-going-on-stare was almost the complete opposite to Snape's dark glare at a mysterious spot on the horizon. After a moment of silence, Harry said, "What did you mean, explain something to me?"

Dumbledore handed Snape cocoa and a biscuit, which the Potions master held as though they'd both explode if he looked grateful. "I'm afraid I've been keeping yet another secret from you, Harry... yet this one I thought I would never need to reveal to you. Hopefully, knowing will make no change to your life, and after all, it is hardly a bad thing."

Snape snorted softly. "That's a matter of opinion."

Dumbledore chuckled. "Now, now, Severus. Do sit down, I hate being so much smaller than everybody."

Snape sunk wearily into the chair behind his desk. "You did this on purpose, didn't you? Requesting that I teach the little brat legilimency. You knew he'd provoke me."

"What's going on?" said Harry, his eyes as wide as they would possibly go. "Tell me, please!"

"Well, Severus," said Dumbledore, smiling merrily. "Tell him."

Snape scoffed quietly. "Why should I have to tell the insufferable little - "

"SOMEBODY tell me!" Harry half-shouted, grasping the arms of the chair. "What is it? Is it about me?"

"Yes, Harry, it is," said Dumbledore. He nibbled delicately along the edge of his custard cream, thought for a moment and then said, "Well. I shall tell you the bulk of it, though I'm sure Professor Snape will be delighted to chip in with some more information where needed."

Harry heard Snape mutter something under his breath, but Dumbledore spoke a little louder, perhaps to cover Snape's words.

"You know that after the fall of Lord Voldemort sixteen years ago, I set about organising things that would protect you, because of the prophecy. Eventually, either you or Lord Voldemort will be killed by the other, and of course, I knew that if he returned, I would need you well protected. Unaware of the Weasley family tie, I sent you to your mother's sister, Petunia Dursley, for the blood protection. Whenever they were away, you were left with Arabella Figg, who was unknown to you at the time as a witch - a squib, but a witch all the same. If concern arose when you were in her care, she would be able to contact me quickly."

He took a sip from his cocoa, thought for a moment and then continued.

"And of course, there was Mundungus Fletcher and his fellows watching out for you. This protection worked very well for eleven years, even if your cousin was rather cruel to you at times. And then you came to Hogwarts... did you not wonder what protection I had for you here?"

"I... I thought it was just too magical here for Voldemort to get at me," said Harry.

Dumbledore chuckled. "Admittedly, the castle does have its own methods for keeping you safe, which as you know, have been stepped up this year because of the intense threat from Lord Voldemort. However, I digress... when you came to Hogwarts, I knew that you would need other methods of protection, not just the naturally safety of the castle walls. At first, I considered just having members of staff to look out for you, but having known your father, I had the feeling I would need a more reliable form of protection than just that."

Harry watched him, spellbound, not even noticing the exasperated look on Snape's face.

"I thought long and hard," said Dumbledore. "And at first, Harry, I did think I would have to resort to having somebody chase you around twenty-four hours a day. I even pondered having an animagus wizard, in an animal form, follow you about the castle as your pet. Though that wouldn't be enough. And so I came up with a much better form of protection for you."

"What?" Harry asked in a whisper.

"At the time, our Potions mistress had just left the school to search a more rewarding career," said Dumbledore.

Snape cut in with a cold, "I know how she felt."

Dumbledore continued as though he hadn't heard Snape. "And who should turn up at my door but one of my past students, Severus Snape. Fresh from ministry training to be a professor, with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, a lot of power as a wizard."

"You do know I'm sitting right here, Albus?" Snape drawled.

"I do, Severus," said Dumbledore. He handed Snape another biscuit and went on. "And an idea came to me, of how I could certify your protection and make Professor Snape feel that little bit more special. Of course, having the poor man chase you constantly around school making sure you were okay was a foolish, impractical plan. Professor Snape would not want to follow you around, and I have the feeling you would not want to be followed, so instead, I used a piece of very old and ancient magic to ensure your safety."

"What did you do?" said Harry, with wide eyes, feeling his fingers seize up around the chair arm.

"I made Professor Snape your magical guardian," said Dumbledore, pleasantly.

Harry stared at him. "My what?"

"I believe you are aware of the muggle concept of guardian angels?" said Dumbledore, surveying Harry over the rim of his cup.

Harry nodded numbly.

Dumbledore took a sip of his hot chocolate and then said, "The idea comes from the ancient wizarding practice of making magical guardians." He dunked a custard cream in his mug, licked the melting cream off and continued. "When a child is under two years old, the guardian bond can be made with up to four other people. For your particular bond, I chose two people who I trust greatly - one of them is Professor Snape. And the other I am afraid I cannot tell you. Someday, the time may come for their identity to be revealed, but until then, you do not need to give too much thought to the issue."

"So... what does the guardian bond do?" said Harry, now staring at Snape, who was looking back at him with those tired black eyes.

"Various things," the Potions master said, tracing his fingers idly around a patch of dust on his desk. "The most obvious is that I cannot physically harm you, no matter how hard I try. Secondly... well... haven't you ever wondered why I always know when you're up to something suspicious or in trouble, Potter?"

Harry nodded slowly. Now he thought about it, Snape always did know when he was up to something. He appeared as if by magic at the most inconvenient times. He remembered a night in his fourth year, when he was sneaking back from the prefect's bathroom, and Snape had just appeared for no reason. And...

"You can see through my invisibility cloak," said Harry, looking up with wide eyes. "Can't you?"

"No," Snape admitted. "I can do a lot of things, but not see through that cloak. It belonged to your father, and since I fortunately had no bond with him, it keeps itself invisible to me. But don't start planning any more little night-time outings, Potter, I know when you're there. I might not be able to see you but I know."

Harry just couldn't believe this. No way was he guarded by Snape.

"But... you hate me."

"True," said Snape.

"Being a guardian to you doesn't mean that Professor Snape has to like you, or even tolerate you," Dumbledore explained. "However, he cannot attack you or hurt you, and nor can he ever go against his guardian bond, for example, turning you over to Lord Voldemort or leaving the school."

"Why? What would happen?"

"No guardian who has abandoned or neglected their charge has ever lived to tell the tale," said Dumbledore.

Harry's eyes widened and he looked at Snape. "So that's why you can't leave your job. And that's why you had to save me at that Quidditch match in my first year when Quirrel was trying to kill me."

Snape nodded silently. Dumbledore smiled. "There are a few other things that the guardian bond has created, of course," he said, pleasantly, as though discussing the weather. "Legilimency and occlumency are slightly different. You have a bond with Lord Voldemort, Harry, which allows him to perform legilimency on your mind without having eye contact or even uttering the enchantment. Professor Snape has a similiar power, except that he only needs to see your eyes to be able to enter your mind. This is one of the reasons I selected him to teach you occlumency, despite him also being skilled in the subject."

Harry looked down at his hands. However good Dumbledore seemed to think this news was, Harry didn't think he liked being bonded with Snape. "But... I know now, and I know to be careful, so... we can turn it off, right?"

Dumbledore smiled. "Ancient magic cannot just be turned on and off like a light, Harry. That bond is here to stay."

Harry looked up at Snape. Snape looked back at him. Harry wondered what he was thinking, and as though to prove the whole thing wasn't a fake, Snape said, "Whether you've figured out the rest of the evidence for all this."

Harry shook his head. "I don't believe you."

Dumbledore smiled. "This isn't something to feel sad about, Harry, surely you don't hate Professor Snape that much."

"But - " Harry was dying to say yes. He didn't want to be bonded with Snape. He didn't want Snape to be chasing him around constantly - but had he been? For six years, Snape had been cropping up at the most inopportune moments to stop him doing anything dangerous. And all along, Harry had just thought he was a spoilsport and strict. But it was for his, Harry's, own good. He suddenly felt rather guilty.

Dumbledore smiled as he poured out three new cups of hot chocolate carefully. "Harry... you told me once that the sorting hat considered you as a suitable candidate for Slytherin house?"

Harry's eyes widened and he gave Dumbledore a horrified look, with a significant glance at Snape, though the Potions master just smirked. "I've known for six years, Potter, I assure you the humour has worn off by now." He took the cup that Dumbledore handed him. "The sorting hat could sense my presence as a guardian, and obviously, the closer the guarded is to their protector, the better, so it naturally wanted to select you for my own house."

Harry wasn't sure whether this comforted him or not. "So... so what now?"

"Nothing," said Dumbledore, pleasantly. "Things carry on as normal. There's no reason for you to act differently towards Professor Snape at all."

Harry couldn't help but think that he now had a million reasons to act differently towards Snape. He suddenly felt as though he didn't have any privacy at all. He couldn't do anything dangerous now, because he knew that Snape would come running. What would be fun anymore? It was like having a really boring and strict older sibling following you around everywhere you went.

"Could I perhaps talk to Potter alone, Headmaster?" Snape said, silkily.

Harry looked up at Dumbledore, wanting him to stay, though Dumbledore nodded. "Of course, Severus. I shall leave you to continue your occlumency class in peace. Goodnight."

Snape nodded curtly. Harry half-squeaked, "Night, Professor", as Dumbledore left and the door shut. For a moment, Harry could hear nothing but the gentle tick of the clock on the wall and the crackle of flames in the grate. Snape was standing by the desk, doing something with the tea tray, and then to Harry's great surprise, the Potions master knelt down before him and pressed a cup into his hands.

It wasn't warm anymore, but slightly chilled, and swirling around in the mug was a gentle, milky pink liquid. He looked up at Snape, surprised.

Snape smiled. Actually smiled. It wasn't quite a proper smile just yet, but Harry was sure that behind those dark eyes, Snape was actually trying to be nice. Harry scanned his face, worriedly, as though looking for any hint of a trick. Snape's smile widened. "Is it so hard to trust, Potter?"

"With you, it is," Harry said, though it was in a calm, honest voice. "It's... well..."

Snape nodded. "You're concerned that I'm going to stop you having fun and risking your neck in more of your outlandish schemes with Weasley and Granger."

Harry blinked. "Not my words, but yeah."

Snape smirked. "Potter, I've put up with it for six years. I'm rather used to getting a sick feeling of fright at completely random times, as you're sneaking into the Forbidden Forest after dark or waking up from various nightmares. And yes, I do know about them," he said, interpreting the shocked look on Harry's face perfectly. "Not only is your mind as easily read as the average beetle's, but you're an atrocious liar."

Harry smiled lopsidedly, glancing down into his cup of whatever, slightly embarrassed at how dangerously civil this conversation was becoming.

"In your first year, I'll admit it. I was bothered, and I did get up out of my office everytime I had the feeling you were up to something. But then I just stop caring Potter." Snape shrugged in quite an unbothered way. "90% of the time you're doing something dangerous. And if you think I'm concerned enough to jump up and run screaming to Gryffindor Tower to find you everytime you do something dangerous, you are wildly mistaken."

"I still think it's weird," said Harry.

Snape considered him for a moment. "Imagine that in four years, you go for a job that, if truth be told, you'd rather not have. But you need it for the gold. And then imagine that your new employer, who happens to be somebody who knows you very well, up and announces that for the rest of your life you're going to be getting cold flushes everytime Draco Malfoy's son does something worrying." He nodded at the horrified look on Harry's face. "Mmm, precisely how I feel." He pushed the mug in Harry's hands. "Drink it."

"What is it?" Harry asked, suspiciously.

Snape smiled slightly. "Strawberry milkshake."

Harry stared. "How did you know I like - "

Snape smirked. "Honestly, Potter. We've just sat here and been through how I can read your thoughts, and you then ask how I know you like strawberry milkshake."

Harry took it, feeling rather stupid, lifting it to his lips and taking a tentative sip. Snape watched him with that lazy smirk still in place.

"It's not poisoned."

Harry grinned into the cup, drinking it gratefully. It tasted slightly more sweet than the usual type. When he was done, he licked the last few drops off his lips. "Sugary."

"No," said Snape, mildly. "It had an extra something in it."

Harry's eyes widened. "You poisoned me!"

"Potter, don't be so stupid. If I'd poisoned you I'd be lying on my back twitching right now as the bond tried to kill me. I added a draft against food poisoning."

Harry stared at him, his hands still clasped around the cup. "Why?"

"Gryffindor Risotta," said Snape, frowning slightly.

"What about it?" asked Harry. "It's not contagious. Madam Pomfrey says - "

"I know," said Snape, still frowning in that worried way. "But not once in sixteen years have I ever seen the house elves make a mistake in their cooking or hygiene. House elves are ridiculously loyal and hard-working - Hufflepuffs with pointy ears. They aren't sloppy cooks."

"So... maybe it was just some bad food," said Harry.

Snape shook his head. "All food brought into Hogwarts is fresh, not conjured - it ruins the flavours, and also can be dangerous if it's not done properly. I have a suspicious feeling that Gryffindor Risotta is not going to be a one-type epidemic."

Harry's eyes widened, opening his mouth to ask another question, but Snape just shook his head.

"A suspicious feeling is all it is, Potter," he said, simply. "There's no need to spread around the school that Professor Snape thinks you're all going to be poisoned by house elves. It's just a... personal precaution to give you that. Which reminds me... tell nobody about the guardian bond. I don't want there to be cause for alarm - and Weasley probably wouldn't look at you the same ever again either."

Harry couldn't help but feel odd at this. He'd always thought that if something dangerous was going on in the school, and Snape only gave antidote to one student, it would be Malfoy. Or he'd just let them all die. And yet Snape was going out of his way to keep Harry safe.

"Thanks," he said, lost in thought.

Snape stood up, taking the cup from him and replacing it on the tea tray. "Legilimency. Up, Potter, we'll see if we can get some progress out of you tonight."

And without another word on the subject, they started to practice once more. Harry didn't even remember about poking into Snape's mind and finding more out about the mysterious woman in black until it was approaching midnight, and Snape said the lesson was over. Harry picked up his bag, heading for the door, then pausing for one moment and asking, "Professor?"

"Yes, Potter?"

"All those... accidents you've been having."

Snape's face darkened, and he opened his mouth, but Harry cut across him.

"I'm not going to meddle," he said. "Just... is it something to do with the guardian bond?"

Snape just looked back at Harry, considering him, and then after a moment, he said, "It isn't anything to do with you, Potter," in a calm tone.

Harry nodded, and then backed out of the room carefully, shutting the door behind him. For some reason, he no longer wanted to poke about in that business. It wasn't anything to do with him, as Snape had said, and it sounded as though the Potions master could sort it out by himself. When Hermione asked him what he had found out, he said nothing, and made no plans to try again at the next legilimency class. Hermione, to his relief, didn't pester him either.

The next two weeks passed remarkably fast to Harry, without giving him much to worry about at all. Lessons and homework continued as normal, and once Harry had settled back into his routine, his marks started to pick up nicely again. He found himself doing particularly well in Pure Arts and Defence Against The Dark Arts, probably because of how much he started to enjoy the lessons. Alrister always had some surprise in storm for them every lesson, whether it was the work they were doing or showing them some highly impressive bit of raw magic. He amazed them all on the Monday afternoon by freezing a large moth, then dethawing it, changing it green and making it glow-in-the-dark. Professor Lupin's classes were always fascinating. After deflecting curses, they did counter-curses and how to reverse hexes, and in DA club, Kibbles the dragon continued to fascinate everybody. The little dragon seemed to have built up a fascination in Hagrid, and when they let him out of his tank on a dog lead to go for a walk, he would only ever let Hagrid fix the leash on. It wasn't unusual to now see Hagrid on a Friday afternoon strolling across the grounds with Fang trotting at one heel, and Kibbles at the other.

Even better, after two weeks, Ron and the rest of the Gryffindors were proclaimed cured, and allowed back to class. Ron was delighted when he heard that he'd missed the Pure Arts exam and two pieces of Transfiguration homework, though not so pleased when Professor McGonagall gave him extra work to catch up during their next lesson. He even seemed to get his appetite back, though smelt everything carefully before eating it - with good reason.

There was no more cause for alarm about the dreaded Gryffindor Risotta, and it seemed that Snape was wrong about the house elves after all. Dumbledore even read out a heartfelt letter of apologise from the little elven cooks one dinner time, which was written in a handwriting that suggested a four-year-old with no hand-eye co-ordination at all, but it was the thought that counted really. The food was of an even better standard than usual, and nobody ever went hungry, as though the house elves were trying to make up for the food poisoning bug.

Occlumency lessons continued, and to his great surprise, he found that his results were picking up. When he had nothing to do, he just sat and practiced emptying his head of emotion, and for the hour or so leading up to his class, he always did his best not to get emotional at anything. Ron thought that Harry was just annoyed about his remedial Potions, so nobody asked any weird questions at Harry sitting cross-legged in an armchair with a very blank look on his face. He was putting quite some effort, and it wasn't long before he could get a well-aimed curse at Snape and stop him getting into his mind too far. Harry spent half of his lesson on the Thursday night apologising over and over for the freezing charm that managed to turn Snape's hair into huge black icicles. Apart from that, his occlumency was going well, and reluctantly, Snape let him use the legilimens spell on him directly after several days of progress. Harry saw a black-haired teenager, throwing things in the air on his bed in the Slytherin dormitories, trying to catch them and failing no matter how hard he tried, a young boy, not even ten yet, crying into somebody's shoulder as people were shouting around him, and then another scene filled his head, of a teenager sitting at a cafe with a young girl with feathery black hair, spilling a cup of coffee on his lap from his nerves. Though Harry didn't pry into that one. He seemed to have gained a little respect for Snape since the revelations about his magical guardian. It seemed to Harry that Snape had sacrificed a lot of opportunites for his sake, and the least he could do was be polite to the Potions master.

Strangely, his Potions marks began to pick up as well. He no longer missed steps in recipes, or forgot ingredients, and he couldn't help but feel proud of his pickling solution when he put it in a jar on Snape's desk at the end of class. Snape glanced up, shifted the jar to one side and said, "A little too watery, Potter, but a decent effort aside from that." To somebody like Hermione, this would have been a grave criticism, but it was the most impressed thing Snape had ever said to Harry, and he couldn't help but feel even more proud after that.

His Pure Arts marks were getting good as well. Professor Alrister was particularly pleased with the Gryffindors work, remarking that, "Ah, the bravery could bring some strong memories... and Gryffindor was a powerful wizard himself, very powerful." Surprisingly, even Neville was getting some of the best marks he'd ever had apart from in herbology. Alrister spent a lot of time around their table, to Hermione's joy, checking their work and offering advice, encouraging them to "push just that little bit more, Mr Longbottom."

Meanwhile, Blaise Zabini had become the new spearhead of Slytherin bullying. If anybody had thought that without Malfoy and his two cronies things would calm down, they were wildly mistaken. The thing with Blaise was that he was actually worse. He didn't just hate muggleborns and Gryffindors as Malfoy had done, but he hated absolutely everybody, even some other members of Slytherin that were seemingly outcast along with Malfoy. The house was practically split into pieces, like tribal warfare in the same country. The largest, and most powerful group was Blaise Zabini, his friends and admirers, which included the main Slytherin Quidditch team, with Zabini as captain. The first years all stuck together, and Zabini had his fun picking on them, but his favourite target was Malfoy. Draco had no friends whatsoever. The Slytherins were hit hard by the loss of their brooms and Zabini's reign, so nobody wanted to or dared talk to him. He spent most of his time out by the lake despite the freezing temperatures and he hardly ever went to the Slytherin common room at all. He was withdrawn in class, except one day when he'd been late, and Lupin had sat him next to Harry in the only available space. Malfoy worked through their given task for the day quite comfortably, and when Harry had made a mistake on one of the questions, Malfoy didn't slur at it, just pointed Harry in the right direction. He was almost civil.

War and its consequences seemed to have brought out people's true characters, Harry found himself thinking one day. The loss of Malfoy's father had hit him hard, stripped him bare and shown everybody the true extent of his vindictiveness. Without his friends and his family legacy, Malfoy was just another person. He had no power, no right to be malicious, there was no more arrogance to the way he walked or spoke. Then there was Blaise Zabini. Always the quiet Slytherin, the one in the background, the chaser that everybody forgot. The short, dark-haired one that nobody remember being sorted. Suddenly, with Malfoy out of the way, he'd surged ahead and started taking control of Slytherin house all by himself. There was something about him that was just wrong. Everybody else preferred to not talk about Malfoy or anything to do with Malfoy, some forgave him, some still hated him but didn't dare be horrible. But Blaise was perfectly happy to talk in a loud voice about it all, even asking Malfoy straight-out in Pure Arts one day what it was like to be given veritaserum. And then, there was the other once-evil in his life, Professor Snape. The professor still greatly disliked Harry, there was no doubt about that, but the Potions master was making an effort not to show just how much. They managed an occlumency lesson one night with hardly any harsh tones at all. And deep down, even though Harry wouldn't admit it, he was starting to almost tolerate Snape, and he had the feeling that his magical guardian was secretly thinking the same things...

All until one day by the lake, a Thursday evening, when Harry nearly blew the lot.


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