Chapter 2: Said and Unsaid
Harry also missed Ron, Hermione and Ginny fiercely and it didn't help that they were obviously having a wonderful time with Charlie, no matter how much they tried to disguise this fact in their frequent letters. It might not have been so bad if Harry had had anyone else for company, but the Order of the Phoenix were feverishly busy, so no one had much free time. Even Remus had little time to spare. There was, however, one person who seemed to have unlimited time to oversee his every move.
"Potter, do you plan to brew that potion today or do you intend to spend all of your time daydreaming?"
Snape's stern admonishment interrupted Harry's reverie. He glanced irritably at the man who was hovering over a workbench several paces away, then sighed and turned back to his own workbench which was covered with a staggering array of potions ingredients that did nothing to improve his mood.
Harry considered that he might not feel quite so confined if he didn't have to spend the majority of his days here in Snape's makeshift Potions lab. The intimidating syllabus of homework Snape had given him was proving to be every bit as onerous as Harry had feared. Snape seemed to have decided to cram the entire seventh year Potions curriculum into the two month summer holidays, so even if he had been allowed to leave the house, Harry decided that he likely wouldn't have the time. He'd been working on this particular potion, the Parchment Restoration Solution, for most of the morning and hadn't even finished preparing the ingredients yet. He scowled at the instructions in his book and reached for the next ingredient, newt tails, without enthusiasm.
"Potter, I trust you've read that lesson," Snape said in a tone that clearly indicated he held out very little hope that this was actually the case.
Harry looked up at the man once more. "Of course I have," he insisted indignantly, though in truth, 'skimmed' was probably a better word for it. He wasn't going to admit that to Snape, however.
"Then explain to me why you are attempting to use dried newt tails in a potion that clearly calls for pickled ones."
Harry looked down at the instructions once more. "It doesn't say pickled or dried either way."
Snape came over to Harry's workbench and flipped back a dozen pages in Harry's text to the middle of the lengthy essay on the potion's history, properties and uses. He pointed to a paragraph in the middle of the page. "Read it. Aloud."
"'The use of pickled newt tails is crucial since dried ones will have a desiccating effect, causing the parchment to which the potion is applied to crumble instead of being restored to suppleness'…" Harry trailed off, glaring at the page as though it had intentionally tricked him. "Why did they bury something that important in the middle of the bloody essay?"
"Because you're expected to read the bloody essay, Potter, or do you suppose it's simply there to take up space? Potion brewing is a precise art. You cannot merely muddle your way through on guesswork. The details, tedious as you may find them, are in fact crucial and cannot be ignored simply because you don't wish to be bothered."
Harry sighed. "I'm sorry, sir," he said, not sounding the least bit sorry and not caring that he didn't.
Snape stabbed a finger at the book once more. "Read this, all of it, carefully. Then get the correct ingredients and brew the potion properly." With a final disgusted shake of his head Snape stalked back to his own cauldron.
Harry grudgingly flipped to the beginning of the lesson, then looked resentfully over at Snape who was immersed in his own work once more. Snape was brewing not one, but two potions. The first, which was bubbling away in a corner, was the Wolfsbane Potion, Harry knew, but he had no idea what the second potion was. None of your business, Potter had been Snape's curt response when he had asked. However, Harry surmised that it was an experiment of some sort since Snape was constantly taking copious notes on it. This was the third batch of the stuff Snape had produced. But even with all the notes, Harry wasn't sure how Snape kept the ingredients of the different batches straight, because for all of his insistence on the precision of potion-making, Snape couldn't have been more imprecise himself.
After two weeks of watching the man work Harry had come to realize that there was a vast difference between the way Snape taught his students to brew potions and the way he actually brewed them himself. He never seemed to measure anything and only rarely consulted any sort of instructions. Still, Snape had managed to produce a prodigious array of potions - mostly medicinal, such as Pepperup Potion - in his short time at Grimmauld Place. At first Harry assumed that Snape had brewed these common potions so often that he simply had them memorized and that they didn't require perfect preparation.
This changed on the morning Harry arrived in the lab to find Snape setting out the ingredients for the Wolfsbane Potion, the preparation of which Harry knew to be extremely complicated. Only a handful of wizards possessed the skill to brew it. Consequently, Harry had watched in growing alarm as Snape threw the ingredients together in his accustomed off-hand manner. Harry had become so concerned by the man's seeming lack of care that he'd actually asked Snape if he was sure he'd got it right. That had earned him a memorable glare and a scathing reply. I am being forced to live in the same house as a werewolf, Potter. Do you honestly think I would be as careless of my own life as to make a mistake?
Harry had kept quiet after that though he continued to watch Snape as the man sprinkled a pinch of this and a drizzle of that into the cauldron, sniffing the aroma and watching the simmering contents with a practiced eye. Snape seemed to rely on an instinctive feel for the way the potion should be brewed and suddenly Harry remembered his teacher's words from his very first Potions lesson at Hogwarts. Snape had called potion-making a "subtle science and exact art" and for the first time Harry thought he understood what his teacher had meant. In the hands of a master, potion-making really was as much art as science.
Harry, however, was not a master and had no aspiration to ever become one. He certainly had no instinctive feel for potion-making. In fact, if there was one thing Harry had learnt beyond doubt so far this summer it was that he despised Potions. He had always hated Potions class at school of course, but that had been because of Snape. Now however, he had come to loathe the subject on its own merits. He had tried at first; he really had. The first few days he applied himself diligently to his homework, reasoning that he had nothing better to do anyway. But these were advanced potions requiring meticulous attention to detail and Snape was right: he just didn't have the patience for it.
Harry looked resignedly down at his textbook. The Parchment Restoration Solution was a particularly irritating concoction. It was an absurdly complex and arcane brew that served no other purpose than to restore ancient, brittle parchment to a condition where it wouldn't fall apart at the slightest touch. A laudable enough goal, but did it really require 37 ingredients? Harry turned the page in his textbook having barely glanced at it.
How could he be expected to fiddle about with something so unimportant when Voldemort was gaining more power every day and it was his job to stop the dark wizard? That was what he needed to be focusing on, not newt tails. Harry knew that a large part of the restlessness he was feeling at being cooped up at Grimmauld Place was due to Voldemort. Learning of the prophecy had placed a tremendous burden on his shoulders and he'd spent much of the last year despairing of ever being able to succeed in defeating the evil wizard.
Ironically, it had been the horrific visions he was having and the subsequent resumption of his Occlumency and Legilimency lessons with Snape that had shown him the means to vanquish his nemesis. Harry knew that he would never beat Voldemort in a physical duel, but there was a good chance that he could use the unique mental link they shared to attack Voldemort's mind. That was Harry's rather vague plan, anyway. It had seemed a brilliant insight a few weeks ago, but now Harry had to admit that the idea had one obvious failing – he had no real idea of how to wage a mental war. He'd infiltrated Voldemort's mind in the past to gain information, but that was very different from an actual fight.
Harry fidgeted in his seat and turned another page having absorbed nothing of what was written on it, then looked back at Snape. The stab of resentment he felt this time had nothing to do with potion-brewing. Snape understood what he was facing better than anyone else, yet since arriving at Grimmauld Place he had steadfastly avoided all discussion of Voldemort, Occlumency and Legilimency, or practically any other topic besides Potions.
Harry knew why, of course. It had been a little over a month since the Victory at Hogsmeade, which was what the Daily Prophet had dubbed the Saturday when Voldemort and most of his Death Eaters had attacked the village. No one had been seriously hurt since Voldemort's only goal had been to kill Harry, and the Ministry, desperate for some good news, had seized the opportunity to rally public morale. The Victory at Hogsmeade was held up as a tribute to the Aurors' skills and determination in fighting off the Death Eaters and as a beacon of hope in the war.
But that day held very different memories for Harry and Snape, for that was the day Harry had learnt that Snape had been largely responsible for his parents' deaths. That horrible revelation by Bellatrix Lestrange, followed by Snape's anguished confession, had been one of the most painful experiences Harry had ever endured. But Harry had come to realize that it had been even worse for Snape: the man's remorse had been genuine and profound. But although Harry had forgiven him for his unintentional betrayal, Snape didn't seem able to forgive himself and Harry knew that his own constant presence only exacerbated Snape's sense of guilt. Sometimes the tension between them was almost palpable, though more often it lurked beneath the surface and was in any case something they never spoke of.
The situation was maddening. Instead of working together to devise a strategy to defeat Voldemort, they sat here day after day in silence, all because Snape couldn't move beyond a mistake he'd made nearly sixteen years in the past.
Harry flipped two more pages, giving up even the pretense of reading, but at that moment his glum reverie was interrupted by a soft rap at the door and Dobby poked his head in. "Professor Snape, you are needed downstairs, sir. Professor Dumbledore is here."
Snape glanced around. "Tell him I'll be right down."
Dobby vanished as Snape turned down the fire under his cauldron and began replacing the lids on various jars of ingredients he'd been using. Harry looked on, feeling a fresh pang of frustration. Dumbledore was another one who didn't seem to consider his situation a priority. This was the fourth time in two weeks that Hogwarts headmaster had come to Grimmauld Place, yet he hadn't managed to spare even five minutes to talk to Harry.
"Potter, I want to see some progress on that potion when I return," Snape said, sparing Harry the briefest glance as he turned to leave. He didn't wait for Harry's acknowledgement, which was just as well since Harry didn't bother to give one but merely glared after Snape's retreating form. He looked down at the unread essay and hated potion ingredients and felt his frustration turn to anger. Slamming his book shut, Harry jumped off his stool and hurried after Snape.
"Professor!" Harry called as he ran down the stairs.
Snape paused on the first floor landing and turned to scowl at Harry. "Potter, what is it?"
"I need to see Dumbledore," Harry said, stopping in front of his teacher.
"Dumbledore is a very busy man, Potter and it isn't your place to demand his attention."
"You told me he might have some ideas as to how I can defeat Vol – him."
"Dumbledore will discuss that with you in his own time. When he wishes to see you, he'll send for you."
"He hasn't sent for me yet."
"Then I would assume that he doesn't wish to see you. I seriously doubt that he's forgotten you're here."
"But I need to talk to him," Harry insisted. "I haven't seen him since –"
Harry broke off, but not soon enough. The last time Harry had spoken to Dumbledore had been on that horrible afternoon after the Victory at Hogsmeade. Snape knew it too and as they stared at one another now, Harry could sense the man stiffen at the reminder.
Luckily, the strained silence was broken by the sound of a door opening followed by voices coming from the ground floor. Reflexively, Harry looked over the banister to the entrance hall.
"Moody, you're paranoid!" Remus declared as he came out of the library on the ground floor.
"Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean I'm wrong," Moody growled, following Remus across the entrance hall towards the dining room.
His curiosity piqued, Harry leaned forward to catch more of this exchange and felt Snape's shoulder brush his as the man did so as well.
"Last night makes three deaths," Moody continued, but Remus didn't seem impressed by this. When he spoke his exasperated tone made it clear that this was not the first time he and Moody had had this conversation.
"The Ministry's position –"
"Hang the Ministry's position!" Moody took two quick strides to block Remus. His gnarled features twisted in anger as he glared into the younger man's passive face. "Lupin, I warned you –"
"I'm not going to spy on him." Remus's voice was as angry and hard as Moody's.
"So you don't care if he's –"
Moody stopped abruptly and his head snapped up. His roving magical eye seemed to have spotted Harry and Snape and his expression darkened considerably as he gazed up at the two figures peering down at him. Harry felt chagrinned at having been caught eavesdropping. He looked sideways at Snape and was surprised to see that the man's expression was almost as dark as Moody's. On the other hand, Remus, who had spotted them as well, looked nearly as embarrassed as Harry felt.
Snape was the first to move; he swept past Harry and down the stairs. Harry followed close behind.
"I was told that Dumbledore wanted to see me," Snape said.
"He wants to see the three of us," Moody corrected. "Potter, I don't recall you being invited."
Harry flushed slightly at Moody's blunt observation. "I was just –"
"We were discussing his lesson," Snape cut in smoothly. "Surely one doesn't need an invitation to walk through the house?"
"Severus is tutoring Harry in Potions," Remus explained to Moody.
"Is that a fact?" Moody's appraising gaze fell on Harry, then he looked back at Snape. "I'm surprised you have the time to set Potter homework, as busy as you are."
Snape's mouth turned down in the slightest frown, but otherwise his face remained impassive. "I'm never too busy to keep Potter on his toes."
As Snape finished speaking the dining room door opened and Dumbledore emerged. "Ah, Severus, there you are. Remus, Alastor, do come in. There are several matters we need to discuss and I have another meeting I fear I am already late for."
Dumbledore disappeared back into the dining room and Snape followed him. Moody was close on Snape's heels and Remus hesitated only long enough to give Harry an encouraging smile before following the others and closing the door.
Harry was left standing alone in the entrance hall. Dumbledore hadn't even looked at him, but Harry didn't care. His thoughts were occupied by the conversation he'd just overheard between Moody and Remus. It echoed the one he'd heard between them the day he arrived at Grimmauld Place. He was fairly certain that previous conversation had been about him and he reasoned that this one had been as well. The look on Moody's face when he'd spotted Harry eavesdropping seemed to confirm this suspicion. Still, Harry had no idea why Moody might want Remus to keep an eye on him, let alone what the deaths Moody mentioned could have to do with it.
Harry chewed his lower lip in thought then an idea occurred to him. Moody had mentioned a death last night. Surely it would have been reported in the Daily Prophet. Maybe that would give him a clue as to what was going on.
Glad to have something to focus on besides the potion waiting for him up in the lab, Harry went down to the kitchen where a copy of the day's paper was laying on the table. He'd glanced at the headlines during breakfast, but now sat down and began scanning through the pages more thoroughly.
There was plenty of news about the war. An international conference was being held in Brussels to promote solidarity between the European wizarding communities in the face of Voldemort's resurgence.
The Office of Misinformation was working overtime to keep the war from coming to the attention of the Muggle population – no mean feat given that Voldemort's allies were becoming more and more brazen in targeting Muggles of late. They were still trying to manage the disaster in Devon where a pack of werewolves had gone on a rampage in a small village at the last full moon.
The situation was bad. It had been centuries since werewolves had dared to attack Muggles and the Ministry had been caught off-guard. It had been easy enough for the Obliviators to modify the memories of the witnesses, but the two Muggles who had been bitten were another matter. They were in St. Mungo's with no possibility of returning to their homes and families and no one was quite sure what was to be done with them. Harry shook his head sadly and flipped through a few more pages of the paper.
The economy was suffering from Voldemort's reappearance. Profits at restaurants and entertainment venues were down again from the previous quarter and a full twenty percent from the same time the previous year.
A Death Eater had been apprehended in a raid in Cornwall after the Aurors had received an anonymous tip about a meeting there.
But there was nothing about any recent deaths. Harry read through the entire paper front to back, but as far as the Prophet was concerned there had been only two fatalities worth noting the day before. Both came under the heading of Transportation Accidents. Mildred Bernard, 87, had apparently fallen asleep on her broom and crashed into a tree, and Vincent Howard, 32, had accidentally Apparated onto the M25 in London.
Harry winced at the latter. He had begun learning to Apparate. Since arriving at Grimmauld Place, Remus had taken it upon himself to teach Harry and they managed to carve out a little time most days to practice. Harry looked forward to the lessons as a break from the tedium of brewing potions, not to mention an opportunity to vent his frustrations to a sympathetic ear, but all things considered he much preferred flying.
Apparating was neither easy nor particularly pleasant. In fact it was even less pleasant than traveling by Floo. It was rather like being squeezed through a thick rubber tube and Harry was still having trouble arriving at his intended destination with any kind of accuracy. He could easily imagine making the same mistake as Vincent Howard.
Harry laid the paper aside, feeling disappointed. He had been certain that the Daily Prophet would shed some light on Moody's comment. If old Mildred Bernard could make the paper, why hadn't this death that Moody considered so important? Harry's heart leaped as a new thought occurred to him. What if this mysterious death had intentionally been kept out of the paper? What if it was so important that the Ministry didn't want anyone to know about it? Harry shook his head, disgusted with himself. He was starting to sound as paranoid as Moody.
Harry looked up at the unexpected greeting and smiled. "Hi Tonks. What's up?"
"The usual, trying to track down Death Eaters," Tonks answered while rummaging in the refrigerator. She pulled out a plate of sausages left over from breakfast and a jug of pumpkin juice and sat down.
"Any luck?" Harry was always interested in hearing about the Auror's work. "Were you one of the ones who caught that Death Eater last night?"
Tonks took a bite of cold sausage, followed by a swig of pumpkin juice and smiled tiredly. "Yeah, me and three others. I wish we could have got more than one of them, but they're extra cautious these days."
"Oh, just one thing and another."
Tonks shrugged and took another gulp of pumpkin juice and Harry didn't need Legilimency to know that she was hiding something from him. He'd seen the same guarded look often enough in the last two weeks, and Tonks wasn't the only one whose eyes regularly didn't quite meet his. Most of the Order – even Remus – were given to this. Moody was the only one who always looked him straight in the eye; unfortunately, Harry only found that unnerving. Harry glanced down at the open paper before him and decided to try another subject.
"Moody mentioned that there have been several deaths lately."
Tonks choked on her pumpkin juice. "What?"
Harry stared at her, taken aback by her reaction. "I just heard him mention it in passing," he said quickly. The last thing he wanted was for Tonks to tell Moody that he'd been asking about the conversation he'd overheard. "I haven't seen anything in the Daily Prophet about new Death Eater attacks, so I was just curious."
Tonks relaxed and gave him a relieved smile. "People die for all sorts of reasons, Harry. Don't worry about it."
Harry was still trying to fathom that peculiar statement when Tonks smile broadened into a delighted grin as Remus entered the kitchen. "Hey there."
"Hello yourself," Remus said, his eyes twinkling in return.
Harry had only seen Tonks and Remus together a few times since coming to Grimmauld Place, but there seemed to be a rapport between them that hadn't existed the last time he'd stayed here. According to some of the other Order members, Tonks had taken Sirius's death quite hard and she and Remus had spent much of the previous year helping one another come to terms with their shared grief. Harry couldn't help wondering though if there might be something more between the two than simple camaraderie or even friendship. They were looking at each other now in a way that made Harry miss Ginny terribly and he decided it might be best if he left them alone.
"Well, I'd better get back to my potion or Snape's going to kill me," Harry said, standing up. "See you later."
Harry raced upstairs to the Potions lab where Snape was already at his workbench.
"Good of you to show up, Potter," Snape sneered.
"I'm sorry sir, I –"
"You aren't the least bit sorry, so spare me the trite apologies," Snape snapped. "They're insulting and I have no patience for them. You're lazy and irresponsible. Now sit down and do what you're supposed to for once without me having to baby-sit you."
Harry stared at Snape in surprise. He had expected his teacher to be displeased with him, but despite his comment to Tonks and Remus, he hadn't anticipated anything like this level of anger.
"I said, sit down, Potter!"
Wordlessly, Harry sat down at his workbench and busied himself with his potion. He couldn't help casting furtive looks at Snape, who was scowling at his own potion and scribbling in his notebook with far more force than necessary. Harry wondered if something had happened in the meeting with Dumbledore to put Snape in such a foul mood, but he knew better than to ask. Instead, he ducked his head and concentrated on finishing his potion as quickly as possible without incurring any further wrath from Snape.
An hour and a half later Harry decided that rushing through the potion probably hadn't been the wisest thing to do. Even his untrained eye couldn't mistake the color of the concoction bubbling in his cauldron for orange; it was most definitely a deep red. Worse, Harry had no idea why. He looked down at the essay in his textbook which he'd been perusing for the last twenty minutes, searching for any detail he might have missed that would explain where he'd gone wrong.
"Potter, you've read that three times. I doubt a fourth is going to improve your understanding."
Harry grimaced and looked over at Snape. Unlike Harry, hovering over his potion for the last hour and a half seemed to have restored Snape's humor. Not that it was ever very good, but at least the man was only scowling now instead of snarling as he spoke.
"What is the problem?" Snape asked.
"If I knew, I'd fix it," Harry said sullenly.
Snape came over and peered into Harry's cauldron. "You didn't knead your fly larvae enough."
Harry gritted his teeth to avoid pointing out that running his fingers through a bowl full of what were essentially tiny, wriggling worms wasn't something he wanted to spend much time doing. Instead he said, "The instructions said two to four minutes and I kneaded them for two minutes and fifteen seconds."
Snape raised a skeptical eyebrow at Harry. "Let me see your hand."
Harry held out his right hand, wondering how Snape hoped it might incriminate him. Snape grasped it and examined it much as Trelawney might in her Palmistry lessons. He ran his thumb across Harry's palm then let go.
"You'll have to use the full four minutes next time."
Harry's heart sank. "You don't mean I have to redo the whole potion?"
Snape smirked at his obvious distress.
"I followed the directions exactly!" Harry protested. "It's not my fault that it didn't work."
Snape pursed his lips and considered Harry a moment, then seemed to come to a decision.
"Put your hand in the potion," Snape said.
"Put your hand in the potion, Potter. It won't hurt you."
Harry looked down at the simmering brew dubiously, but did as Snape instructed. The potion was hot, but not unbearably so and almost at once something extraordinary happened. The potion began to change color. It shifted from its deep bluish red to a light, orange red and finally to bright orange.
"That's enough," Snape said, but Harry was staring transfixed by the change and barely heard him. It wasn't until Snape grasped his wrist and pulled his hand from the cauldron that Harry looked up.
"How did that happen?" he asked in wonder.
"The Parchment Restoration Solution is meant to restore suppleness. To that end it uses numerous lubricants, one of which is the natural oil found in human skin. Your skin is fairly dry so your minimal – and, dare I guess, unenthusiastic – kneading of your fly larvae didn't transfer a sufficient amount of oil from your hands to the larvae and hence the potion. Placing your hand in the potion itself remedied the problem."
"There's nothing in the book about that," Harry said.
"No, there's not. It's a trick I discovered when I was in school."
"How?" Harry was genuinely curious. With nearly forty ingredients in the potion he couldn't imagine how anyone – even Snape – could have worked that out. Snape, however, wasn't at all forthcoming.
"I discovered it by accident."
"You accidentally stuck your hand in your potion?" Harry asked, determined to pry a more useful answer out of his teacher.
Snape glared at him. "If you must know, your father tossed a firework into my cauldron and I reached in to pull it out. I wasn't about to fail my NEWT on account of him. Afterwards I realized that my potion had turned a brighter shade of orange and I worked out what had happened. It was the only time one of your father's pranks actually did me some good. Any other questions?"
Harry shook his head wordlessly.
"Then that will be all for today, Potter. You may clean up and go."
Snape turned back to his workbench and Harry looked at the perfect potion simmering in his cauldron, feeling miserable. How could his dad have stooped as low as to try to ruin Snape's NEWT? Harry Vanished his potion and cleared his workbench with a quiet "Evanesco" then picked up his textbook and left.
Harry was lying on his bed staring at the ceiling when Remus knocked and stuck his head in the room.
"Ready to have another go at Apparating?" he asked cheerfully.
"Sure, I suppose," Harry said, sitting up and trying to muster some enthusiasm.
Remus frowned and came into the room. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Harry said, but Remus clearly wasn't fooled. He sat down on the empty bed across from Harry with a knowing look.
"Is Severus getting to you again?"
Harry shook his head. "No, it's not his fault."
Remus leaned forward to look closely at Harry. "What is it then?"
Harry shrugged and looked at the floor.
"Harry, I'm not just here to teach you to Apparate or even to listen to you complain about your Potions lessons. If something's bothering you, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me help."
Harry continued to stare at the floor. "It's my dad. I'm just having trouble imagining how the man who fought Voldemort and died trying to protect my mum and me could have managed to be such a complete git at school."
"Harry, James wasn't –"
"Yes he was!" Harry glared indignantly at Remus. "Did you know that he tried to make Snape fail his Potions NEWT?"
Remus's brow furrowed slightly. "Oh, I'd forgotten about that."
"I reckon there are a lot of things you've forgotten about."
"Harry, please, you have to understand. With James and Severus it was never-ending, but James never did anything like that to anyone else. Yes, he hexed other students in the halls when we were younger, but that stopped by the time we were sixteen and it was never malicious."
"So you're saying it was only Snape whom he really bullied."
"Just because it was only one person doesn't make it all right."
"I'm not saying it does, but you have to keep things in perspective. They hated each other."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I've heard. That doesn't excuse the way he acted."
Remus sighed. "No, it doesn't. But I would hope you realize that those actions didn't define his whole character. James may have treated Severus horribly, but he could be every bit as kind and generous and there was nothing he wouldn't do for a friend. He was far more than just a bully."
"I know that. It's just…" Harry looked away again and bit his lip. "I just don't know that I would have liked him very much."
"You might not have. Harry, don't look so horrified. That's not a crime. Is that what's troubling you?"
Harry nodded miserably and Remus laid a hand on his knee. "Harry, listen to me. Do you think that you're the first son to be disappointed in his father or to disapprove of some of the things he did? James was a loyal friend, a loving husband and father, and one of the best and bravest men I ever knew. But he wasn't perfect. No one is. We all have our faults and being able to accept our parents' faults is part of growing up.
"I know it's harder for you because you never knew James," Remus said gently. "But it's all right to be angry with him. There's no disloyalty in that. Believe me, there were plenty of times when I wanted to hex him myself."
"Maybe you should have."
"Maybe," Remus agreed, smiling wryly. "But I'm not perfect, either."
Harry couldn't help returning Remus's smile. Remus patted him on the knee and stood up.
"Come on. Let's see if you can Apparate across the living room without Splinching yourself."
With his guilt assuaged, the rest of the afternoon and evening passed pleasantly for Harry. His Apparating lesson went well. His accuracy was improving and he almost believed it when Remus said that he'd be ready to take the exam for his Apparation license by his birthday.
Then during dinner Tonks gave him a detailed account of how she and the other Aurors had captured the Death Eater the night before. At Harry's urging she went on to describe other harrowing fights she'd participated in. By the time she had finished it was very late and Harry was more certain than ever that he wanted to become an Auror. He drifted to sleep and dreamt of fighting alongside the other Aurors, defeating Dark wizards in fierce battles.
Harry had just single-handedly captured Bellatrix Lestrange and Lucius Malfoy in his dreams when he suddenly awoke. The room was dark; the only light was the glow of the nearly full moon seeping in around the edges of his curtains. For a moment Harry wondered what had awakened him but then he heard a muffled voice muttering to itself. He couldn't make out what was being said and at first had no idea where it was coming from. After a few moments' concentration, however, he realized that the voice was coming from the top of the bureau where Phineas's portrait still lay face down.
Harry squinted at the clock and groaned. "Phineas, it's one o'clock in the morning. Shut it, will you?"
The voice immediately fell silent and Harry was almost asleep again when a new sound pulled him back to wakefulness. It was the soft padding of footsteps coming from the room directly above his. This sparked Harry's curiosity far more than Phineas's whispers because the room above his was Snape's office which he kept locked at all times and never allowed anyone to enter. Harry had often wondered what Snape kept under such tight security and the fact that the man was apparently pacing around the room in the dead of night only fueled his imagination.
The footsteps ceased and Harry strained to hear any hint of movement but the next sound he heard didn't come from overhead. This time is was the familiar creak of the staircase that caught his attention. Someone was coming downstairs.
Harry got up, crossed the room as quietly as he could and eased his door open a crack. He could make out very little in the darkness, but he could distinctly hear the swish of heavy robes and the faint tread on the stairs. Then a figure, darker than the darkness, passed across the landing and continued downstairs. Harry slipped out of his room and tiptoed to the banister.
The hall below was enveloped in blackness, but as Harry squinted down, the front door opened and the light from the street poured in. For a moment Snape was clearly visible as he slipped out of the door and shut it silently behind him, then the hall was plunged into darkness once more.
Harry stood gripping the banister, an unpleasant hollow pit having opened in his stomach. It was troubling enough that Snape was obviously sneaking out of the house, but he'd also been wearing his Death Eater robes and Harry knew that could only mean that he was going to spy on Voldemort's followers.
Dumbledore had told Harry months ago that Snape was doing something to continue gathering information on Voldemort's organization despite Snape's treachery having been discovered in the spring. But Harry had imagined this to be along the lines of analyzing intelligence gathered by others. It was suicidal for Snape to be spying on the Death Eaters himself.
Harry bit his lip, wondering if he should go wake Remus, but he immediately discarded that notion. Either the members of the Order of the Phoenix already knew what Snape was doing or it was a secret for a reason.
Reluctantly, Harry went back to bed but sleep was out of the question. He lay staring up into the darkness, wide awake, trying to imagine where Snape might be and trying not to wonder if he'd ever see his teacher alive again. He let down all of the mental barriers he habitually used to block his mind from Voldemort's and was relieved to feel no pain in his scar. Voldemort wasn't emotionally agitated so Snape probably wasn't walking into a trap. It also meant there was nothing left to do but wait.
It was nearly three hours later when Harry at last heard the front door open and close once more and relief flooded through him. He jumped out of bed and hurried out into the hall. The moon had shifted and moonlight now shone brightly through the transom window above the landing, illuminating the stairs and the figure coming up them.
Snape froze for an instant as he spotted Harry, then he drew his traveling cloak close around him and continued up the stairs to where Harry stood.
"Potter, what are you doing up at this hour?"
"I – I had a nightmare and couldn't get back to sleep," Harry lied, hoping that Snape couldn't see his face well enough in the near-darkness to catch him out. "I heard a noise and was curious what it was."
"It's nothing that concerns you. Go back to bed."
Harry didn't move. The implicit question of where Snape had been hung in the air and Harry wasn't ready to abandon it. "What are you doing up?"
"I told you it's nothing that concerns you," Snape said coldly. "But if you require a dose of Dreamless Sleep Potion to prevent your curiosity from keeping you up, I'll be happy to provide it." There was an unmistakable hint of a threat in Snape's quiet, silken drawl, but after hours of worrying and waiting, Harry was in no mood for his teacher's intimidation.
"That won't be necessary, Professor," Harry said with a disingenuous smile. "I'm sure Remus can answer my questions in the morning."
Snape's eyes narrowed to glittering slits in the darkness, then he seized Harry's arm painfully and propelled the young man back into his room. Snape snapped his fingers and the lamp next to Harry's bed flared to life as he pushed the door shut and shoved Harry up against it.
"Never threaten me, Potter," Snape hissed furiously. "I promise you will not come out the better for it."
"Then don't threaten me," Harry spat back.
"Stay out of my affairs and I won't have to. I am not accountable to you and I do not need the interference of an ignorant teenager."
"Well, I don't need to lie awake half the night wondering if you've gone to get yourself killed," Harry retorted.
Snape frowned. "How long have you been awake?" he demanded, exasperation overtaking his anger.
"How long have you been gone?"
Snape shook his head in disgust and let go of Harry. "Well, I dare say you'll be even less attentive than usual in your lesson tomorrow."
"Never mind my lesson," Harry said, rubbing his arm where Snape's fingers had dug into it. "I'm not as ignorant as you think and I'm not stupid either. I recognize those robes you're wearing and I have a pretty good idea of where you've been."
"That's none of your business, Potter. It is not your place to question my actions or to discuss them with anyone else. I want your word that you will not do so, not now nor at any time in the future."
Harry felt an unpleasant prickling on the back of his neck as a dark suspicion rose in his mind. "How often are you spying on them?"
"That's none –"
"– of my business. I know. Do you realize that you're completely barking mad?"
Snape stared at Harry for a moment and then amazingly, disconcertingly, he laughed – a low, derisive chuckle which Harry didn't find at all reassuring.
"No doubt there are many who would agree with you. Nevertheless, I do what is necessary. Now give me your word that you won't discuss this with anyone."
Harry wasn't inclined to make such a promise, but Snape pressed him.
"If you sincerely value my life over indulging your own curiosity then give me your word."
Put that way, Harry couldn't refuse but he wasn't going to give in entirely either. "Promise me that you aren't taking any stupid risks."
"No avoidable ones."
Harry rolled his eyes, but knew he wouldn't be able to get a better answer out of Snape. "All right. I promise I won't tell anyone what you're doing."
Snape nodded once, apparently satisfied. "Go back to bed." He opened the door, but paused and fixed Harry with a shrewd look.
"Potter, understand something. The risks I take are no greater than those taken by anyone else. That's something you might keep in mind the next time Nymphadora spends half the night filling your head with a romanticized view of war."
A moment later Snape was gone and Harry, exhausted and pensive, crawled back into bed. Sleep came easily, but Harry had no more exultant dreams of vanquishing Death Eaters. Instead he dreamt of his comrades falling in battle as he watched helplessly and a cruel, high-pitched laugh mocked him.