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Chapter Forty-Three: The Seige of Hogwarts (Part Three)

Time seemed to slow on the spot, and Harry could almost imagine a countdown of steps floating before him, ticking down with every spot. The screams and cackles of the Death Eaters were just outside, and the roar of the Heliopaths, the shrieks of the vampires being tortured with blood, the constant crackle of flame. Harry tried to look, but Snape's hand quickly reached up and turned his face away. The Potions master was moving quickly but every step took just too long to fall, and Harry so desperately longed to break into a run, but every time he made a step to do that, Snape's grip would tighten and stop him.

They were now a quarter of the way across, and the doors were open. If somebody was going to catch them, it would be in the next few seconds. Harry closed his eyes and just kept walking. His legs felt like lead, and it was always just a few more steps until they were out of sight. Just a few more. Just a couple more. That's it, keep going. Just a little way now. Harry was feeling sick. He just knew that somebody was suddenly going to call out, and the Death Eaters would come swarming, and they'd be caught. He tensed again and went to run, but Snape growled, "No," and held him fast.

The crackling and roaring and screaming was growing louder, and Harry could see vague flickers of movement through Snape's fingers, amber tongues of fire licking the sky, people shouting and running, something rattling around in a cage. He wanted to run, so desperately. He felt like he was in the middle of a huge bloody battle, with explosions and fire all around, and here he was, just walking as shot after shot came nearer and nearer.

They passed out of sight of the doors, and Harry went to run again but Snape grasped him painfully tight and just kept walking. The rush of relief that Harry felt at being out of sight was so great it nearly made him laugh, and now the doors of the Great Hall were just ahead. Safety. Soon he'd be at The Burrow, and bringing the ministry, and everything would be okay.

But then, something that neither of them had expected happened.

The doors of the Great Hall creaked open, and a Death Eater came out, walking right in front of Snape and Harry. Harry tensed and felt horror rush through him, as Rookwood looked down at the two of them. "Ah," he said, an oddly flat tone to his voice. "Good. Outside with him, Snape, the Dark Lord will be here soon."

Harry had been waiting for this, and so had Snape. The Potions master's grip suddenly slackened, and with lightning fast reflexes, Harry tore away and pushed hard in Snape's side, then before anybody could blink, he turned and ran, ran like he'd never ever run before.

"STOP HIM!!" he heard Snape scream, but he was already running, darting up the marble staircase like a rabbit in front of a combine harvester, and sprinting along the first corridor he saw.

Door after door rushed past, but none of them were good enough. He needed a fireplace. Which rooms had fireplaces? He couldn't remember a thing, and he realised only a few seconds too late that he'd just passed a door which held a fireplace, but he couldn't turn back now, because there were footsteps behind him. He was being chased. He knew that if he was running this fast for so long, he would normally be tired and fall, but suddenly, when it was run or be caught, getting tired wasn't an option.

He practically flew down a staircase, and then scrabbled up another, realising he was heading towards the astronomy tower. Perhaps Professor Sinistra would be there, and she could held him. Surely she had a fireplace up there somewhere? He knew he'd have to risk it. Urging his legs onward, he kept running, darting down the right corridor, but then, so suddenly his heart seemed to explode inside him, he hit something.

His speed had become his own downfall. He hit the obstacle in his way hard, and tripped, stumbling and flying along the corridor, hitting a wall and then slumping down. He desperately tried to get up and keep running, but whoever he had hit grasped him hard by the back of the neck and yanked him up, flipping him over.

He stared back into the face of Rookwood, yet again, though how he'd managed to get here so fast was beyond Harry. Everything was. The only thing he could think was that he'd been caught. Rookwood held him fast, so fast he couldn't move, and then called, "We have an escapee here, it's the Potter boy."

And to Harry's eternal shock and alarm, another Rookwood came down the end of the corridor, panting, red in the face. "He attacked Snape in the entrance hall," the new Rookwood said, in that flat monotone.

"Hmm, well, we have him now," said the Rookwood with Harry. His voice wasn't flat, but that greasy snarl that he'd used earlier when talking to Snape. "Go back to your post. I shall take him to the Dark Lord this time." He drew his wand, muttered something, and ropes shot from the end, wrapping around Harry's arms and legs, binding him fast. Harry felt cold dread now washing through him, and he was too exhausted from sprinting to fight. Knowing it was all over, at long last, Harry just closed his eyes as Rookwood dragged him all the way back to the entrance hall.

They passed two more Rookwoods on the way, both of them stationed outside McGonagall's office. Harry registered from snatches of their conversation that Nearly Headless Nick was protecting a group of first years in there. He could hear the first years' sobs from inside, and closed his eyes, feeling sick.

As Rookwood hauled him down the marble staircase, there were harsh, maniacal cheers from the hall below. Rookwood smirked, and waved his hand to the awaiting Death Eaters, like a king greeting his subjects. "I have him," he announced. "What Snape couldn't do, I could... how predictable."

Harry didn't open his eyes. He didn't want to see a thing anymore. He felt himself being dragged roughly through a crowd full of people who were all laughing, some of them pushing him, pulling at his robes. He didn't look. Only when he recognised grass under his feet did he realise that Rookwood was dragging him outside into the grounds. He made the terrible mistake of opening his eyes.

It was like looking out into hell. The peaceful surroundings of Hogwarts had been transformed into a realm of fire, a blackened sky, smoke furling everywhere, the grass and trees all blackened and burnt. The Forbidden Forest was alight, washing everything in the sick amber glow of flames. There were Death Eaters standing in groups everywhere, some of them trying to break into the castle, some feeding the vampires, others were performing tricks with the gigantic Heliopaths that stood all around, tyrannosaurus rex skeletons ablaze. The Death Eaters were treating them like huge puppies. Harry felt a lurch in his stomach at just what being caught now meant for him.

The largest group of Death Eaters were huddled near the entrance to one of the courtyards, standing in a ring, apparently very interested in whatever they had in the middle. As Rookwood approached, they all turned to look, all cheering and clapping. Harry saw two Macnairs, multiple Bellatrix Lestranges, a few more Rookwoods. Harry realised now how Voldemort had amassed so many Death Eaters. Somehow, he'd copied the ones he had. But Harry couldn't think too much into this, because of what he saw in the middle of the circle.

Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna, Ginny and Draco were all tied up, back to back in a ring, all gagged and looking terrified. Ron had a sort of sick horror in his eyes, and Ginny was crying hard. The Death Eaters all moved back as Rookwood brought Harry forwards, and made a gap in the circle. Harry was forced to his knees between Ron and Neville, and more cords were being conjured around him, binding him even tighter in place, so that he could hardly breathe. Somebody forced a gag into his mouth, and somebody else took his school bag from him, another hand was checking him for any hidden wands. Then the Death Eaters moved back, all just laughing and cheering, in their flat, full voices. They must be copies, Harry thought, his mindís voice weary and quiet. The real ones have their proper voices.

If he was correct, it was the real Rookwood smirking down at him now, arms folded, admiring him like one would a trophy. "Oh, the master is going to be pleased," he said, softly, his eyes glittering. "The one person he wanted as a hostage, and we got him within the hour..."

"Mmm," said a cold drawl Harry recognised. "Finally, you manage to do something well, Rookwood... the Dark Lord will be surprised..." Snape stepped into the circle, now swathed in Death Eater's robes, smirking down at the hostages. "You are sure the bonds are on correctly?"

"Of course I am," Rookwood hissed at him. "I, unlike you, Snape, know how to keep captives held."

"Perhaps if your copy hadn't startled me," said Snape, lazily, as he circled around the children, inspecting them all, "I wouldn't have let the boy go. And we have him now, at least. Ah, marvellous... Granger and Weasley as well..."

Rookwood grinned maniacally. "Oh, we have a Weasley here? How perfect, we now have a ministry member's child as a hostage too."

"Two of them," said Snape, idly, indicating to Ron and Ginny. "Granger is a mudblood, so we now have something the muggle-loving campaigners will want... and Lovegood is the daughter of the editor of The Quibbler."

"Now here's a face I recognise," Rookwood breathed, as he stepped in front of Draco, his eyes sparkling. "The Malfoy boy. I killed his father, you know," he said, idly to Snape, small-talking. "It was all over the Prophet... they had to use veritaserum to have him tell the story. He lied at first. Said he was just playing with his wand and accidentally killed his own father... wanted to protect your father's honour, boy? Is that it?" Rookwood snickered. "My my, such a hateful look. What ever have I done to deserve that?"

"Except from the obvious?" said Snape, glancing at him with a raised eyebrow.

Rookwood laughed at that. "Ah, Snape... how I remember all your jokes like that from school... such a shame that a lowly female had to come between us. Such a great shame. What say we cast that aside, old friend? This is a time for celebration, after all, not for being divided."

Snape smirked. "Very well, Rookwood. For the Dark Lord's cause."

"Yes," said Rookwood, turning his eyes onto Harry. "For such a marvellous cause... and ah..." His eyes were now lingering on Neville. "This one," he said, calmly, "I remember that face... the Longbottoms' son... I'm sure of it. Bellatrix, dear? Where are you?"

"Here," said a female voice, as Bellatrix Lestrange stepped out of the ring, and came to join Snape, grinning wildly. "So this is him, is it? I didn't get a good look at him last year in the department of mysteries... I was too busy killing Black..."

Harry felt Neville tense as Bellatrix's cold, horrible eyes swept onto him, and her grin spread even further if possible. "Oh, he looks just like them... I want that one, Augustus. Give me the pleasure of the entire Longbottom family's blood on my hands."

"No, no," said Rookwood, quietly. "I have a far greater plan for these children. We have seven here... the Potter boy must live. Our master wishes to have Potter to himself... we shall keep three as a ransom to Dumbledore. And three we shall kill now."

Bellatrix drew her wand. "Please, Augustus, let me!" she cackled. "One must be Malfoy's son!"

Rookwood shook his head again, and pushed her wand away from the group. "Mmm, Bellatrix... Longbottom and Malfoy, I think for now... and Weasley's daughter. What's the name, Severus?"

"Ginny," said Snape, coolly, though Harry could see the flickers of worry in Snape's eyes.

"Yes, Ginny... those three." Rookwood swished his wand, and Harry felt the cords break for a moment. Neville, Draco and Ginny were thrown from the circle, but before Harry could move to escape, their bonds tightened again and held them fast.

Bellatrix cackled delightedly. "Longbottom, Augustus, it is my right to Longbottom!"

Rookwood, yet again, shook his head. "No Bella... you cannot have him... I believe it is time for our spies to make themselves known, and prove their loyalty at last to the Dark Lord." He glanced across at Severus. "You, Snape. And our other little informant within Hogwarts... where is Peelish?"

"Here," said a quiet, very frightened voice from the edge of the circle. Peter was shaking from head to foot, as he stepped forward, staring in abject horror at the three children on the ground.

"Peelish... you too." Rookwood smirked.

"H-how?" quivered Peter. "I can't perform magic..."

Rookwood's smirk grew, his eyes glittering almost maniacally. "Magic isn't the only way to kill somebody, Peelish... the muggles manage marvellously well without it. And so can you." Rookwood turned to one of the Death Eaters on the edge of the circle. "Bring it here. The one we found in the Defence Against The Dark Arts office."

There was some movement in the crowd, and then one of the Macnairs brought forward the very least thing Harry wanted to see. It was the Needle Bat. Peter nearly fainted when he saw it, and when the Death Eater thrust it into his hands, Peter dropped it, his fingers were shaking so badly. Rookwood stopped and handed it back to him. "Don't be such a woman," Rookwood snarled.

"Don't you think this is... ever so slightly... barbaric?" Peter squeaked, his breath coming in frightened pants.

Rookwood laughed, his face still contorted in a growl. "Quite on the contrary, I think it's hilarious. If you're so nervous, you go after Snape. Severus, show our little worm how things are done in the Death Eaters' ranks."

Everybody in the circle turned to look at Snape. Harry was so tense and scared he could hardly breathe. Snape wouldn't kill them, he just wouldn't. He wasn't like that. Yes, he was a Death Eater, but he wasn't a murderer. He couldn't be. And it was Ginny, Neville, and Draco. Draco was Snape's favourite student. Surely...

Snape swallowed after a moment or so, drawing his wand from up his sleeve. "Mmm," he said, simply. Harry started trying to speak, just making an odd muffled cry, thrashing about, desperately trying to stop Snape doing it, but Bellatrix Lestrange moved forward and grasped him roughly by the fringe, jerking his head back and holding him still.

Snape stepped forward, his wand still at his side, as he surveyed the three children. Ginny and Neville had their faces hidden, huddled together, and Harry could see the tears trickling down both their faces. Draco wasn't hiding at all. He sat cross-legged on the ground, just staring back at Snape, with a quiet, eternally wise look upon his face. He was going to look death in the face. Harry tried to struggle again, but Bellatrix held him fast.

"Something that hurts, please, Snape," said Rookwood, quietly, watching the three children with hunger in his eyes. "Especially for Malfoy... I saw that look on his father's face before he died. Wipe it off for me. Peelish, start practicing your swings."

Snape nodded silently. He was staring at Draco, apparently trapped by the blonde boy's defiant, proud gaze. Draco straightened up, holding his chin high. "Do it... you will have no satisfaction from my death though. None at all."

"Be quiet," said Rookwood, viciously. "Just shut up, boy."

"I lived like a Malfoy," Draco whispered. "And I'll die like a Malfoy."

Rookwood's eyes flashed onto Snape. "Hurry up, Snape. I'm sick of his heroic drivel... maybe he should have been with the other mudblood children in Gryffindor. Kill him."

Snape raised his wand. Harry screamed into his gag, thrashing and twisting. Bellatrix's grip tightened, so much it hurt a lot, and Harry felt the cords cutting into his arms. Snape twitched a little. He was completely silent, and nobody moved or spoke, except for Harry, still struggling fitfully.

And then, with a quiet sigh, Snape closed his eyes in sickened horror. Harry screamed, sure he was about to utter a curse and kill Draco, but Snape's wand hand dropped. He swallowed, and then said, in a loud, defiant voice, "No."

There was a scream of fury from all around, and Harry saw the Death Eaters swooping forward to grab Snape. The Potions master was completely hidden by all the black robes and screaming mass within moments, and Harry cried out, trying to get up and get free to help Snape. They would tear him to pieces for sure, and in there somewhere was a Needle Bat. Draco, Ginny and Neville were crawling free of the mass, all shaking and looking nauseous. Harry could do nothing but watch in horror as the Death Eaters broke into a brawl, all of them chanting, "TRAITOR! TRAITOR! TRAITOR!"

"Harry," said a soft voice in his ear. He looked up, and saw Alrister looking down at him, as the Pure Arts master leant over him and started cutting at his bonds. "Once you're free, run for the courtyard, just get into there. Andralyn has set up a shield, the Death Eaters won't be able to follow."

Alrister tore Harry's gag from his face, and Harry choked, "Snape! What about Snape?"

"Go!!" Alrister roared, grasping him by the shoulder and flinging him towards the courtyard. Harry stumbled, but managed to wheel around, wanting to run and help Snape, but Alrister grasped him around the waist and started hauling him physically away. Harry was yelling and clawing at the air, trying to get free. "HARRY! STOP IT!" Alrister bellowed, pulling him forcefully backwards, but at that moment, Alrister's attention was caught. Harry caught a fleeting glimpse of Draco rushing away across the hills, heading for the area near the gates, and Alrister roared, "DRACO!!"

The momentary lapse in Alrister's concentration was all Harry needed. He kicked free, and went running towards the mass of people. His anger would fuel the magic, and he raised his hands, about to unleash as much fire from his body as he possibly could. Somebody grabbed him just as he flung his arms down, and the smoke that gushed from his fingers masked the scene before him. He turned around, expecting to see Alrister again, but it was not Alrister. Another Death Eater had him by the throat, and was dragging him away from the chaos. Harry screamed and started to struggle, but it was no use.

He could see Hermione, Ron, Neville, Luna and Ginny all being restrained behind the shield surrounding the courtyard, and all of them were hammering their fists against it, screaming for him, sending scattered magical pulses across the dome Andralyn and Alrister had set up. There was more Death Eaters trying to get in, and having no luck, and the other Death Eaters were dragging something away. Harry realised with a sick surge that it was Snape, bound, gagged and blindfolded.

The Death Eater with Harry forced him to the ground, holding him very hard. The other Death Eaters then flung Snape to the ground, and he and Harry were forced back to back. Somebody grasped their elbows, forcing them together and tying them hard with cords, then there was another rope around their waists, and finally, one of the copied Bellatrixes held their heads together while the real one put a very tight, thin cord around their necks, tying them together. Harry choked for air, hardly able to breathe, and he heard Bellatrix's triumphant voice. "There... if one moves, the other is choked."

"Good work," said Rookwood's voice. "Set up a shield charm around them, and we can leave them here so that if Dumbledore is watching from his damn castle, he'll be able to see."

"I saw your cousin trying to get Potter into the courtyard," said Bellatrix. "Why?"

"They've got some barrier set up," Rookwood sighed. "Damn Romeo... he's trying to save the children. I knew he would."

"Why was Potter fighting him?" asked Bellatrix, with a snort of laughter.

Harry could hear Rookwood's smirk in his voice. "He wanted to save Snape. Touching really, isn't it? I think the little brat must be the first person in history who would actually risk their life to save somebody as meaningless as Snape. This is going to be a walk in the park, Bella, you mark my words... I don't think things could possibly go any better. We have Potter, already into the school... and what resistance have we had?"

"None," she cackled.

"I wouldn't be too sure of that," said Harry, in a strangled voice, trying to adjust his head to get a little more air without throttling Snape.

"Oh? You wouldn't, would you?" said Rookwood, scathingly. "Why do you say that?"

"Here come the cavalry," said Harry, glancing towards the gates.

The ministry of magic had arrived, at long last, and Harry could see wizards fighting their way through the masses of Death Eaters. Curses and spells were flying back and forth madly, but from what Harry could see, the Death Eaters were hitting each other more than the ministry members.

"Damn," Rookwood swore. He turned to the swarms of Death Eaters nearby, and roared, "Heliopaths, get the Heliopaths over there! Drive them out! Bella, with me!" He set off running towards the gates, and Bella followed him, after washing a shield charm over Harry and Snape. They both sprinted out of sight, as the Heliopath keepers started moving the great creatures forward, flames flickering out behind them like banners.

Harry closed his eyes, and swallowed with great difficulty. He didn't even know if Snape was okay - or still alive. And here he was stuck, until somebody managed to get in through the shield charm, and it would be a very long time before the ministry managed that. Harry felt one exhausted, angry tear coursing its way down his bruised face. Maybe he was going to die like this. When Voldemort appeared, he knew that his death would be highest priority over anything else.

He shifted ever so slightly, trying to get just that little bit more comfortable on the hard, cold muddy ground. To his relief, Snape moved too, adjusting his posture to accomodate Harry's shifting. He almost wished that Snape would speak... but his magical guardian was gagged. Probably to stop them plotting any escape. Harry had never felt so helpless in all his life.

"Potter," said a quiet, exhausted voice just behind his left ear. He instinctively looked around, Snape tensed up suddenly and choked. The voice hissed, "Don't!"

"P-Professor?" Harry coughed, quietly, realigning his head apologetically.

"Shhh," was the quiet reply, behind his ear. "Can you breathe?"

"Yeah," Harry croaked. He paused for a moment to gulp down some air, and then said, quietly, "How did you get the gag off?"

"I didn't," Snape's voice said.

Harry nearly spun his head around again to look, but realised just in time, and merely made an odd flicking motion. He then asked, "Then... how can you...?"

"If you haven't realised, we are bonded together, Potter."

"I know," said Harry. "That's why we can't move."

"Not that sort of bond," said Snape, wearily, though for once, he didn't sound scathing. Just very, very exhausted. "The other bond. Think now."

"Oh," said Harry. He paused, and then said, "But how does that...?" He frowned, wondering, but he didn't say anything, and just thought inside his head. "You can hear me, can't you?"

The voice behind his left ear said, in an almost proud tone, "Good boy... don't make any sign this is happening. I doubt the Death Eaters will realise what it is, but they'll be watching for any suspicious activity... and I suspect we will need each other to survive to see the sunrise."

"What is happening?" Harry thought, his eyes closing again.

"Telepathy," Snape's voice muttered in his ear. "A time of great danger for both people involved in the bond... clearly, it needs both of us to survive, and will do everything within its power to achieve that."

"So you can now read all my thoughts," Harry thought, heavily.

"No," Snape replied. "Just the ones you think of directly to me. Imagine standing in a room full of people, and everybody is talking, but you can only hear the voices spoken to you."

Harry nodded, ever-so-slightly. Really, he was too exhausted and scared to be shocked by any new revelations about anything, and so just sat quiet, accepting this new phenomenon and saving his questions until later. After a moment or so, Snape's voice murmured, "What can you see?"

"Um... the ministry are here," Harry replied, quietly. "They're fighting through the Heliopaths and the Death Eaters. Trying to get to the school."

"What about your friends?" said Snape.

Harry glanced over at the courtyard, and felt a sick wash, seeing a delirious Hermione being comforted by Alrister and Ron, as she still tried to claw her way through the barrier. "They're all okay... Alrister and Andralyn have them safe behind a shield charm in the courtyard."

"And the castle?"

"It's still standing," said Harry, eyeing the windows of the school. "I can't see any movement at all though... I think everybody will be hiding somewhere... the defences are up, but they've got tunnelling charms." He was quiet for a few minutes, and just let his thoughts fall silent, as he looked over the hill onto the war starting near the school gates. He could see curses and jinxes rocketing back and forth, the Death Eaters resorting to physical violence and being stunned instantly. One of the Heliopaths was just clawing at everything it could reach, making a horrible shrieking sound, and it was almost all Death Eaters that were being scooped up in its flaming claws. Harry closed his eyes again. "We're going to die, aren't we?"

Snape was silent at this for a few moments. Then he said, wisely, "Having known the Dark Lord and Death Eaters for so long, I should say that compared to some things we might face, death would be the favourable option."

Harry swallowed quietly, feeling hot tears of bottled fright and stale misery starting to prickle beneath his eyelids. "Professor?"

"Hmm?"

"I... it's... thankyou for trying, Sir." He swallowed again. "And I'm sorry I never listened."

"No, Potter... I think you did listen," said Snape, quietly, his voice heavy. "You listened far better than I ever thought you would, in a way I never thought you capable of at all." The older wizard was quiet for a moment more, and then he continued. "When the headmaster chose me to be your magical guardian, I have no trouble in telling you that I was greatly reluctant. You would be just like your father, I assured myself, and for my first five years of knowing you, indeed, you were. Ever since I first laid eyes on you on your first day, you were every inch the James Potter I remembered. No doubt you hear this all the time, but you do greatly resemble him, and you speak with the same assurity that he did.

"Even in class... though of course, I now know this is very different... I asked you those questions during your first Potions lesson, just to see whether you would answer with the same attitude that James Potter would have. And you did, in a way. I marked you as an arrogant copy of your father, and I would rather have had nothing to do with you at all... until I realised your life was in danger from Quirrell. I saved you, and then found out that Dumbledore had lied to you, and said I had done what I did as an act of selfishness, so I could go on hating your father's memory.

"You only changed the way I thought of you this year. When you found out about the bond, I quite expected you to loathe the sight of me even more. Indeed, attacking Mr Malfoy soon after and reconjuring some of my own... less-than-fond memories... but then you and Malfoy both made me see that you are not your father."

Harry was listening to all of this, very still, his eyes closed, wondering for a moment whether it was actually Snape he was speaking to, or one of the Death Eaters, playing mind tricks on him. Maybe his own brain, exhausted, unable to accept the world around, was making things up to soothe his fright... but Snape kept talking.

"And of course, your occlumency and legilimency lessons continued, as well as Potions, and this lead to me learning things about you. Dare I say, getting to know you? Something of the sort... but despite learning more about you, you still infuriated me. And I'm rather sure that you will continue to test my patience far, far into the future, but... before we crossed the entrance hall. I realised something about you, Potter, something I don't think you even know yourself."

"What?" thought Harry, quietly, listening hard. He knew that Snape would probably never swallow his pride in such a way again, and he wanted to take the opportunity to actually understand his magical guardian.

"All the times I've admonished you for not listening," Snape's voice said. "Everytime this year you have done something dangerous, I have seized the chance and hammered it into you yet again that you do not listen... and I've realised that you do, Potter. You do something that your father was never able to achieve, and even if you have his habits of not listening to direct advice and complaint, you hear not what is being spoken, but what is meant. You will continue to risk your neck all your life, and I know I must learn to live with that... and yet... you have followed every hidden piece of advice I have ever given you. When I tell you that you are just one boy, and that you will not be the one who brings the restoration of peace and harmony to this world, you do not listen and accept this. You listen and try to change this." Snape paused for a moment, and then he said, quietly, and seriously, "Perhaps, Potter, it is me who needs to listen for once, and not you."

Harry closed his eyes at this, and felt an odd feeling around his chin, as though something was lodged in his throat. He couldn't really think of what to say, except that he understood every word perfectly. Though there were no words in his mind to think of how to say this. For a moment, he was going to just sit in silence, and leave the discussion unfinished, before he realised how much pride and dignity it must have cost Snape to tell him all that. He swallowed, and then thought, even though it killed him to say it, "I understand... and I'm sorry... and thankyou." He had just one more thing to say, one thing he needed to ask, something he never thought he'd ever ask of somebody such as Snape. "Professor... why are you only like this with me?"

"Like what?" asked Snape's voice in his mind, quite curious.

"So... so..." Harry couldn't think of a single word to describe how Snape was. He could describe the Snape he saw in class - he was strict, harsh, sarcastic and cruel. He was cold, antisocial, nasty, disrespectful, he never considered that people might be people and not just students... Harry finally found a phrase that very almost nearly suited what he meant to say. "So respectful and considerate... treating me like a proper person, not just a student."

Snape paused for a moment, and then said, quietly, "I believe it's the same reason I didn't strangle you during the Malfoy fiasco... because you dared, Harry. Then, you dared to talk back to me and tell me I was wrong, and nobody had ever spoken to me in such a way before. And I see you as a person now... because you see me as the same."

Harry truly understood just how wise this statement was. He thought about Snape's life, the lonely teacher and Death Eater that everybody hated, and just how alone the man must be. From what Harry heard, Snape had no true friends at school, and then had gone straight into employment, teaching a subject that students hated. He'd been in a battling family as a child, and probably got shifted from parent to parent, unwanted. Not one person in the whole wide world had probably ever talked to him as though he was a human being. It was no surprise that Snape was so cold and bitter, when that was all the world ever showed him.

"And Harry?" said Snape's voice, bringing Harry gently out of his hidden thoughts.

"Yes?" said Harry. Even his mind's voice sounded a little strangled.

"You were a marvellous substitute for a nephew."

Harry closed his eyes, and the heat under his eyelids was unbearable. How long had he been subconsciously wanting Snape to say that? He swallowed, then said, "And you were a marvellous substitute for an uncle."

With that, both wizards agreed to end the conversation, and never speak of it again, even though as Harry sat still and looked around the war surrounding them, he couldn't help but feel a sense of hope... hope, that at least if he died, he wouldn't be alone.

And he knew, even though not another word was passed, that Severus Snape felt exactly the same.

 

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