Chapter 3: The Sniffer Charm
"You definitely have the hang of that now," Remus commented, coming down the stairs. "But if you're going to Apparate down to breakfast, why not go straight to the kitchen?"
Harry grimaced. "I did that yesterday and I startled Dobby so badly that he dropped a bowl of strawberries he was levitating to the table."
Remus shrugged as they continued down to breakfast together. "That's hardly tragic."
"It wouldn't have been if it hadn't landed on Snape. He said if I ever did it again, he'd turn me into a newt and stuff me in a jar in his potions cupboard."
Remus chuckled. "Well, if you ever go missing, I'll know where to look. In any case, you obviously won't have any trouble passing your exam."
"Have you talked to Dumbledore, then?" Harry asked excitedly, entering the kitchen and taking his usual seat at the table for breakfast.
"Yes, I spoke with him last night and he agrees that you deserve a break. As long as we arrange adequate escorts, he's given permission for you, Ron, Hermione and Ginny to spend the day in London when you go for your Apparition license."
Harry let out a shout of victory and sheer joy, but was interrupted almost immediately by Snape who was seated at the far end of the kitchen table and looked up from the Daily Prophet with a scowl.
"Do you really think that wise, Lupin?" Snape's tone plainly said that he didn't think it wise at all.
"He needs his license to Apparate, Severus," Remus said. "Since we're going to be out anyway, there's no harm in making a day of it."
"Whether or not he needs his license is debatable, but he certainly doesn't need to spend the whole day gallivanting around London."
"I can't imagine Harry has anything more pressing to do on his birthday."
"I dare say those assigned to follow him around do."
"I've been cooped up in this stupid house all summer," Harry said indignantly. "I think I've earned one day out."
"I agree," Remus said. "And, more importantly, so does Dumbledore. I presume you're not going to gainsay him, Severus." Remus raised an eyebrow.
Snape snorted in disgust and went back to reading the paper.
Remus winked at Harry and Harry smiled in return, but he was still irritated with Snape. Not that the man's attitude was a surprise: Snape had no friends and spent all of his time working, so naturally he'd begrudge anyone else a chance to get away and have some fun. Still, Harry thought it particularly churlish of the man to try to deny him his single day of freedom and he wished that just once this summer Snape would pass up an opportunity to try to make his life miserable.
Ever since coming to Grimmauld Place Snape had been in a particularly truculent mood. Harry had long since given up trying to engage Snape in conversation during their lessons and had become inured to the subtle tension between them as well as to being routinely ignored. But Snape's sullenness was beginning to wear on Harry's nerves. He'd never known the man to be so relentlessly dour and he had enough reasons of his own to feel dispirited without Snape's depressing company making him feel even worse.
Harry bit into his toast and glanced down the table at his teacher. Perhaps Snape's malaise was due to lack of sleep. Over the last two weeks Harry had come to realize that hardly a night went by that Snape didn't slip out of the house on one of his mysterious midnight ventures. Harry had kept his word and refrained from mentioning these sorties to anyone, but they still concerned him.
Harry frowned and pushed that train of thought away. Snape had made it clear that he didn't appreciate Harry prying into his affairs and Harry certainly had more important things to do than worry about a man who wanted nothing to do with him. He turned back to Remus.
"Have you any idea what time Ron, Hermione and Ginny will be arriving? Ginny said they were coming by Portkey today, but she didn't say when."
"Arthur said the Portkey was scheduled to arrive around one o'clock, I believe. They're taking a public one from Romania to Diagon Alley," Remus explained. "Private ones aren't allowed to terminate there anymore because it's become too congested. It got to a point where people were landing on top of each other so the Office of Magical Transport had to institute a ban about ten years ago."
"Why can't they just take a private one straight here?"
"The public one attracts less attention."
"Potter, if you plan to see your friends today, then I suggest that you get started on your potion," Snape said. "Even if you apply yourself more assiduously than usual I seriously doubt you'll be done by one o'clock." Snape fixed Harry with his most imperious glare. "And if you think you're going to dash off with it half finished, think again."
Harry gritted his teeth and glared back at Snape, but he knew that arguing with his teacher wouldn't help. Instead he stood up, threw down his napkin and, with as cheeky a "Yes, sir" as he thought he could get away with, he went upstairs to brew the day's potion determined to finish it before one o'clock if for no other reason than to prove Snape wrong.
Harry had never been better prepared for a Potions lesson in his life. Not wanting to waste a moment more in Snape's lab than necessary since his friends were coming, Harry had stayed up late the night before reading every word of the essay describing the Clarifying Solution and memorizing the ingredients along with half of the instructions.
In the lab, Harry set off at once, working surely and efficiently. Yet, by noon it was apparent that Snape had been right. Harry skipped lunch, but one o'clock came and went and he was still nowhere near completing his potion. It was well past two when Harry, glancing at the clock, realized that his friends were very late. He paused, frowning, but he couldn't spare the time to worry. They were probably just taking some time in Diagon Alley to shop and would be along soon. That was just as well. Another half hour and Harry reckoned he'd be finished. A soft knock at the door drew Harry's attention.
Remus looked in and smiled. "I thought you'd want to know. Arthur just flooed to say that there's been a bit of a delay. Ron, Ginny and Hermione won't be here until three."
Harry smiled, feeling relieved. That would be just about perfect. "Thanks, Remus. I'm sure I'll be finished by then."
Remus smiled sympathetically and closed the door as Harry turned back to his cauldron.
"Is that all you care about – being finished?"
Harry started and looked up. It was so rare for Snape to speak to him during these lessons that for a moment he could only gape at the man in surprise.
"Have you no appreciation for the wonder of what is before you or for the art of creation? Do you even know what it is that you're brewing?"
"Of course I do," Harry said, thoroughly taken aback by the passion in Snape's words. "The Clarifying Solution is brewed specific to an individual by adding several drops of blood to the base solution. When the person the solution was brewed for drinks it, they receive a momentary flash of insight; an instant of clarity when the answer to their greatest need is revealed."
"Word for word out of the text, Potter – you'd do Miss Granger proud," Snape sneered. "But do you know what it means?"
"I – yes. I suppose." Truthfully, Harry hadn't given it much thought in his effort to master the practical aspects of brewing the potion.
Snape came to survey the contents of Harry's simmering cauldron and his eyes glittered strangely as if with desire or disgust, though Harry couldn't tell which.
"Continue," Snape said, not taking his eyes off the potion.
Harry took a deep breath, but he wasn't going to let Snape rattle him, not when he was this close to finishing. He added the last few ingredients to the cauldron, stirring carefully and checking the instructions to be sure he'd made no mistakes.
Snape stood perfectly still, looking on in silence. It wasn't until the base solution was complete that he looked up to meet Harry's eyes and his voice was low and hypnotic.
"This potion, when properly prepared, will plumb the depths of your soul, the nuances of your heart, the recesses of your mind that even you cannot reach. And it will give you insight into that which you most desperately need to understand."
Snape pulled a leather sheath from his pocket and drew from it a gleaming silver dagger. "Three drops from the left ring finger and three from the right," he said, proffering the dagger to Harry.
Harry took the knife, feeling his heartbeat quicken in excitement. He cut each of the fingers Snape had indicated in turn and squeezed precisely three drops of blood into the cauldron from each. The potion turned blood red then began to boil and hiss. It roiled so violently that it splashed up against the rim of the cauldron and a great cloud of steam billowed from it. Harry stepped back in alarm, but Snape stood unperturbed, watching. At last the potion settled down once more and Harry crept close to peer into the cauldron. Only a few ounces of the potion remained, most having boiled away. What was left lay perfectly calm and it was arresting. It looked like liquid diamond. Light sparkled on the surface which was as smooth as glass. Most astonishing of all, the potion seemed to have a magnifying effect. Harry could see every detail on the bottom of his cauldron with remarkable clarity.
Snape placed one end of a long silver tube into the cauldron and the other end into a crystal vial. "Siphon," he said.
At once the potion began to flow from the cauldron up through the tube and into the vial. When the last drop had been transferred, Snape stoppered the bottle and held it out to Harry who looked at Snape in surprise.
"Take it. It's yours. You're the only one who can use it."
Harry took the vial almost reverently. He had never seen anything quite so lovely. Perhaps it was only Snape's words firing his imagination, but the potion seemed to call to something deep inside him.
"Be aware, Potter that when you use this potion you choose neither the question to be answered nor the nature of the insight to be revealed. The potion responds to that need which is buried deepest within you. As such the results can be… unexpected."
Harry looked at Snape, who was staring at the vial, his eyes still haunted by that odd combination of longing and revulsion.
"You've used this." Harry said, certain that it was true.
"Once," Snape whispered. He looked up and Harry realized that the emotional barrier that had existed between them for weeks was gone and for a moment the familiar rapport they'd shared during Harry's Occlumency and Legilimency lessons returned.
There were suddenly all sorts of questions Harry wanted to ask, but before he could voice even one of them, a familiar shriek broke the silence in the house.
"FILTHY BLOOD TRAITORS! SWINE! HOW DARE YOU DEFILE MY HOUSE! THE RUIN OF OUR WORLD IS UPON YOUR HEADS!"
Harry glanced irritably at the door, but Snape spoke calmly. "I would hazard to guess that the Weasleys and Miss Granger are here."
Of course Snape was right, but Harry was torn between excitement at the prospect of seeing his friends and frustration at the timing which couldn't have been worse. He looked back at Snape, but the man seemed to have discerned his thoughts and had already pulled away emotionally. When he spoke, it was in his usual, coolly detached manner. The passion was gone.
"Go, Potter. I'm sure your friends are as anxious to see you as you are to see them."
Harry felt a bitter twinge of disappointment, but he nodded and turned to go.
Harry stopped and turned back. A glimmer of Snape's former passion glinted in his eyes as he nodded at the vial Harry still clutched in his hand.
"Take care to use that wisely."
Harry smiled; the first genuine smile he'd offered his teacher in a month. "I will, sir." He shoved the vial deep into his pocket then hurried from the lab, his spirits restored.
"VERMIN!" Mrs. Black shouted as Harry ran down the stairs to the first floor landing and skidded to a halt to look over the banister to the entrance hall below.
"Well, at least they're dead vermin," George yelled pleasantly, holding up a brace of ferrets.
"And given the sort of trophies you used to keep on your walls, I don't see why you're complaining," Fred added.
Mrs. Black launched into an apoplectic and quite colorful stream of invective, but Harry hardly paid attention. Standing behind the twins and regarding them as though they were even madder than previously suspected, were Ron, Hermione and Ginny.
Grinning, Harry raced downstairs. Ginny spotted him first and gave a shriek that was even louder than Mrs. Black's.
"Harry!" She threw her arms around him, hugging him so tightly he could hardly breathe. Then Hermione was hugging him too and Ron was pounding him on the back.
They were all laughing and talking at once and Mrs. Black, who had been thoroughly upstaged, seemed to lose interest in screaming at them. Fred and George took the opportunity to pull the curtains over her portrait just as Remus joined them and another round of welcomes ensued. Hermione was in the middle of explaining that they'd been delayed by a Portkey mix-up that had landed them in Lisbon instead of London, when she was interrupted by Snape who had appeared on the first floor landing.
"Touching as this reunion is, could you possibly conduct it in one of the other 20 rooms in this house so that those of us trying to work needn't endure it?"
"Sorry about that, Severus," Remus replied amiably. Snape shook his head and disappeared back upstairs while Remus turned back to Harry and his friends. "You all should get settled in, anyway. Fred, George, why don't I take those ferrets up to Buckbeak while you and Harry help take the trunks upstairs?" Remus suggested, relieving George of the hippogriff's treat.
As Remus headed upstairs, Fred turned to Hermione and reached for her trunk. "Here, I'll take yours."
"No, that's all right. I've got it." Hermione pulled her wand out of her pocket. With a swish and flick her trunk rose into the air and floated sedately ahead of her as she started up the stairs.
"Show off," Fred called after her.
George nudged his brother. "Bet we're faster, though."
Grinning, they seized Ginny's trunk and dashed after Hermione. "Watch out, coming through!"
Hermione gave a small shriek and broke into a run, her trunk bumping against the wall as the twins chased her up the stairs.
Ginny laughed. "It's good to be back." Then she hurried after her brothers.
"Come on then," Harry said, taking hold of one end of Ron's trunk. Ron took the other and they marched upstairs to Harry's room and deposited the trunk at the foot of the spare bed. Ron slouched onto his bed and Harry sat down cross-legged on his own.
"So, how was it?" Harry asked.
Ron shrugged. "It was all right."
"No, come on, really?"
Ron's face broke into a grin. "It was absolutely bloody brilliant! Harry, you should have been there. There's this huge canyon in the mountains and the dragons nest up and down the sheer rock walls. Hundreds of them; every kind you can imagine. There're spells to keep them from getting out, of course, and more to keep the Muggles away. Down in the canyon are the training pens, plus a big pasture which they keep stocked with sheep and the dragons just swoop down and snatch one up whenever they're hungry. Have to be sure to stay clear of it during feeding time, though. I found that out the hard way."
Ron barely paused for breath as he rattled off all of the wonders of the dragon preserve. His excitement was infectious and Harry found himself grinning as broadly as his friend.
"They've got a research institute and breeding programs. Hagrid would love it."
"We'll have to take him with us next time, then," Harry said.
Ron's smile faded. "I wish you could have seen it. I'm never going to forgive Dumbledore for not letting you come."
"Don't say that!" Hermione admonished Ron as she came into the room along with the rest of the Weasleys. "Dumbledore did what he thought was best for Harry."
"We haven't been to see dragons," Fred said, pulling out the desk chair and straddling it. "But you're not put out on our account."
George hopped up on the desk. "At least Harry nearly got eaten by one during the Tri-Wizard Tournament."
"You could go any time if you weren't too busy with your shop," Ron said.
"Some of us have to work for a living, you know," Fred replied.
"You call what you do 'work'?" Ginny asked, curling up on the bed next to Harry.
George did his best to look affronted. "It's not all fun and games."
Hermione sat down next to Ron and gave the twins a skeptical look. "Actually, in your case, I think it is."
Fred wagged a finger at her. "I'll have you know that most of our time recently has been spent on the serious side of our business."
"You mean the things you're making for the Order?" Harry asked with interest. He knew that the twins had been supplying the Order with some of their more useful inventions, but he'd never had the chance to talk to them about it. "What have you been working on?"
"A few things," George said. "The one that we think has the most potential though is the Sniffer Charm."
"The what?" Ginny asked
"The Sniffer Charm; we call it that 'cause it works sort of like a blood hound," Fred explained.
George continued. "A big part of what the Order's been up to is trying to track the movements of You-Know-Who's allies to figure out what they might be planning next."
"But a Death Eater isn't going to let anyone track him down," Fred said, seamlessly picking up the narrative. "I mean you couldn't send an owl to Lucius Malfoy and then hop on your broom and follow it. There are Confundus spells that prevent that sort of thing."
George grinned mischievously. "So we thought, instead of tracking the wizard or witch, why not track something on their person? The idea is that you use your wand to 'sniff' some substance. The Sniffer spell basically records the makeup of whatever substance you choose so that it can be tracked later using a variation on a simple tracer spell."
"What sort of substance?" Harry asked.
Fred shrugged. "Anything, really, as long as it's unique."
"Obviously you couldn't Sniff something like pumpkin juice," George said. "That'd be useless. You'd Splinch yourself into a thousand pieces if you tried to Apparate based on that."
"Blood or a strand of hair is ideal since that's unique to every person," Fred said. "But if you can't manage that, you can also create something – a solution of some sort – and sprinkle a bit of it on whoever you want to track when they're not looking."
"On a Death Eater?" Ginny asked incredulously.
"Well, it could be a bit tricky," George admitted. "But it's not impossible and once you've tagged your target, they'll never know they're being tracked."
It was exactly the sort of wild yet simple idea that had made Weasleys's Wizard Wheezes a resounding success in the last year. Who but Fred and George could come up with the idea of walking up to a Death Eater and sprinkling a few drops of some concoction on their shoulder when they weren't looking?
"Anyway," Fred said. "Dumbledore thinks it has promise. We demonstrated it to the Order a couple of days ago and most of them seemed to think it might be useful. Even Snape looked interested."
"Well, that's high praise," Ron snorted.
"Actually, I think it's a really clever idea," Hermione said. "And it's simple, which means that any competent wizard could learn it very quickly. I'm sure the Aurors would find a way to use it."
"That's what we're hoping," George said. "At the moment, though, it's still secret."
"Top secret," Fred emphasized. "Dumbledore wants to be very careful who we tell."
"So don't breathe a word to anyone that we told you lot," George finished with a grin.
"And here I was going to write to the Malfoys," Ron said.
"Git," Fred said good-naturedly as he stood up. "Come on George, we'd better get back to the shop."
George heaved a dramatic sigh. "Ah, the burden of success; never a moment's rest." Then he grinned and winked at them. "See you later."
Once Fred and George were gone, Harry turned to the others. "So, want to see the 'Gryffindor Common Room'?"
The old drawing room earned its nickname that afternoon. Harry, Ron, Ginny and Hermione spent the rest of the day playing rounds of Exploding Snap and chess while snacking on biscuits and pumpkin juice that Dobby brought up. Remus and Tonks even stopped in for a while before heading out to dinner in London, the mention of which caused Hermione and Ginny to exchange knowing smiles.
Dobby appeared and offered to bring their dinner up to them, since apart from Snape they were the only ones in the house. Harry and his friends readily agreed and soon a table laden with more food than they could possibly eat materialized. After they had eaten their fill Hermione asked Ron to help her organize her school notes. Ron seemed momentarily torn between wanting to accompany Hermione to her room and not wanting to leave Harry and Ginny alone, but his indecisiveness was short lived.
As soon as he and Hermione were gone, Ginny threw her arms around Harry and kissed him. He pulled her close, drinking in her scent. He'd almost forgotten what it was like to hold her this way and they spent the rest of the evening making up for their month apart.
Harry was in high spirits the next morning when he went down to breakfast with his friends. Snape was already in his customary place: reading the paper and steadfastly ignoring the other members of the household. Remus and Tonks were at the table as well. Hermione and Ginny exchange a meaningful glance at the sight of the two sitting together, then looked at Harry. Unfortunately, Harry had no idea how to respond. The language of smiles and raised eyebrows the girls used was entirely beyond him. Luckily, Ron came to his rescue.
"Blimey, Harry, have you been eating like this all summer?" Ron asked, staring at the bowls and platters on the table in awe.
Ron had obviously missed the exchange between the girls and Harry gratefully turned his attention to the food before them, too. Like the previous evening, Dobby had outdone himself with this meal. The long table was full of every sort of food and the house-elf was humming as he sent glasses of fresh pumpkin juice floating over to each of them. In fact, Dobby seemed nearly as happy as Harry to have Ron, Hermione and Ginny staying at the house and beamed at Ron's compliment.
"Dobby is pleased to serve Harry Potter's friends. If there is anything else you would like, don't hesitate to ask Dobby, sir."
Hermione frowned slightly at this, but Ginny smiled and Ron looked positively delighted. Clearly the food hadn't been the highlight of the trip to Romania.
Harry was about to tuck into his breakfast when Kingsley Shacklebolt appeared. Aside from Tonks, the Order members not living at the house rarely came to breakfast and even Snape looked up in surprise at the Auror's arrival.
Shacklebolt looked tired and grim. He didn't take a seat, but addressed them all from the doorway. "Bellatrix Lestrange escaped from Azkaban last night."
There was a moment's shocked silence, then Tonks spoke.
"That's not possible. The new security is supposed to be foolproof."
"I set up the security so you don't need to tell me that," Shacklebolt retorted.
"What happened?" Remus asked.
The Auror shook his head. "That's just it. No one knows. She was asleep in her cell as usual and an hour later she was gone. She simply vanished."
Everyone exchanged concerned glances at this news, but Harry had more reason than most to feel angry. Of all of Voldemort's Death Eaters, Bellatrix Lestrange was the last one he wanted running free. He had a personal grudge against the woman and the thought of her having escaped Azkaban a second time rankled.
"Dumbledore will be in touch later this morning," Shacklebolt continued. "I'm heading back out to the prison now to help with the investigation. Tonks, we're going to need you."
Tonks was already on her feet. She gave Remus's hand a brief squeeze and then the two Aurors were gone. Surprisingly, it was Snape who broke the silence.
"Lupin, under the circumstances, I would suggest postponing Potter's plans for this week."
"What?" Harry exclaimed before Remus could respond.
Snape ignored Harry and continued to address Remus. "Until we know how and why Bellatrix escaped, Potter should remain safely at headquarters. Taking him for his exam now would be ill-advised and the risk is both unnecessary and unacceptable."
"Will you stop talking about me as if I weren't here?" Harry snapped at Snape. "I'm going to be of age in a few days and as an adult, I think I can decide for myself what risks are acceptable."
Snape scowled impatiently at Harry. "There is a difference between being of age and being an adult."
Harry's jaw clenched and his voice rose in anger. "So you don't think I've been through enough in my life to have earned the right to be considered an adult?"
Remus held up a hand. "Harry, please –"
"You certainly aren't behaving like one now."
Harry slammed his hand on the table. "If you think you can keep me here against my will, you're wrong. I promise you that."
"Stop it, both of you!" Remus's shout finally drew Snape and Harry's attention as he glared sternly from one to the other. He tossed down his napkin and stood up. "Severus, if you want to discuss this then come upstairs. Harry, wait here!"
Harry, who had stood up as well, glowered defiantly, but Remus didn't give him the chance to protest. "I need to talk to Severus alone."
Remus left the kitchen and with a final dark look at Harry, Snape followed him.
Harry stood with his hands balled into fists, furious that the two men were going off to decide his fate without even including him in the conversation.
"Harry, don't worry," Ginny said. "You've been looking forward to getting out all summer. Remus won't disappoint you. I'm sure he can handle Snape."
"Snape's only concerned, Harry," Hermione said. "It is rather ominous that Bellatrix Lestrange would escape from Azkaban just now."
Harry rounded on Hermione. "You're taking Snape's side?"
"No! I'm just saying I understand –"
"Well, good for you, but you haven't been trapped in this house for the last month. I don't care if Snape's concerned or just trying to make my life miserable on principle. I'm not giving up going into London."
Harry shoved his chair back and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" Ron asked. "Remus said to wait here."
"I'm not really inclined to listen to Remus just now."
"You're not going up there?" Hermione sounded scandalized.
"Yeah, I am. I'm tired of everyone else running my life. I want to make my own decisions for a change. I'm not going to let them decide this for me."
Harry strode out of the kitchen before his friends could protest further. In the entrance hall he could hear the sound of a heated argument being carried on in hushed voices coming from the library. He approached quietly until he could hear what was being said.
"Severus, he's a teenager."
"Thank you, Lupin, for that staggeringly obvious observation," Snape's voice sneered. "It doesn't change the fact that you are allowing the boy's whims to take precedence over his safety."
"This is important to him. Can't you understand that? And it isn't as though he'll be alone. Tonks, Moody and I will be with him."
"Two Aurors and a werewolf, however well intentioned, cannot guarantee his safety from Death Eaters."
"Severus, you're beginning to sound as paranoid as Moody. Death Eaters are not going to track us down in the middle of London!"
"Would you care to bet his life on that? It was that same arrogant overconfidence in his father and godfather that has left him alone in the world."
"That's not fair!"
"Isn't it? It hasn't even been two months since the last time he nearly got himself killed – I've lost track of how many times he's nearly managed it in total. How many more opportunities do you suppose it will take before he finally succeeds?"
"We're only talking about a few hours."
"That's all it takes! Really Lupin, do you pay no attention to my reports? The Dark Lord's numbers grow daily. He has impressive resources to bring to bear in service of his desires and he desires Potter above all else."
"So what do you propose? That we keep Harry locked up here all summer, a virtual prisoner?"
"You make it sound like a life sentence. We're talking about two months."
"And we're talking about Harry. When has he ever been content to stay put and do as he was told?"
"It's high time he learnt. You don't give in to a child simply because he throws a tantrum."
"Harry isn't a child anymore. He's practically seventeen and he deserves to have a say in his own life."
"We were seventeen once, too and I have no particular faith in the decision-making ability of anyone that age."
Remus sighed wearily. "Well, I can't say I disagree with you there. But you can't simply dictate to him, Severus. Has it occurred to you that if you showed him a little respect and explained your reasoning, he might actually listen?"
"I am not in the habit of explaining myself to my students."
"Harry isn't just a student. Not to me and certainly not to you."
"I have no idea what you mean."
"Don't you? I know perfectly well that you aren't here because of a sudden, desperate concern for Harry's Potions marks and there are certainly other places where you could have spent the summer."
"You're right," Snape conceded smoothly. "I'm here to keep Potter out of trouble – something you obviously aren't committed to doing."
"Then maybe you ought to consider talking to him once in a while. I know that I am far from the mentor that Harry deserves, but at least I try. Do you even notice the way he looks at you: the disappointment and frustration that flash across his face every time you dismiss him out of hand?"
"I don't care what Potter thinks of me," Snape replied, spitting the words vehemently. "I'm here to see to his welfare and if he hates me for that, so be it. Unlike you, I care more about keeping him alive than being liked."
There was a long silence, but at last Remus spoke, his voice barely above a whisper. "I'm frightened for him too, Severus."
Snape made no answer to this, but Remus continued. "I look at Harry and I wonder if he'll even live as long as his parents did."
"Then why do you insist on indulging him?" The frustration in Snape's voice was unmistakable.
"Because your way doesn't work," Remus said, matching the other man's frustration. "I'm not a fool, Severus, much as you might like to believe otherwise. I know the risks, but I've buried enough friends who were supposedly beyond danger to know that hiding isn't the answer. It won't work. You heard him. Deny him this and all you'll accomplish is to make him so angry and desperate that he'll do something rash. At least this way we have some control."
Snape sighed. "You're determined in this foolhardy course of action?"
"Then I'm coming with you."
"I rather thought you might." Remus's voice held an unmistakable trace of amusement. Snape only snorted in return, then Harry heard footsteps heading towards him and he Disapparated.
Harry appeared in his room and sat down on his bed. His anger was gone and he had to admit that Hermione had been right. Snape was worried about him, far more so than Harry would have guessed. Worse, Remus was worried about him, too. Given the level of security he'd been under since arriving at Grimmauld Place, Harry supposed that he shouldn't have been surprised, but it was still disconcerting to hear the frustration and even fear in Snape and Remus's voices.
A knock at the door pulled Harry away from his thoughts. "There you are," Remus said, poking his head in the room. "You'll be happy to know that I've managed to mollify Severus. He's going to come along to chaperone on Thursday but I'm sure Tonks and I can keep him from getting in your way."
Remus smiled easily showing none of the concern he'd voiced to Snape only a few minutes earlier, then he frowned slightly. "Are you all right, Harry?"
"I'm fine. That's great news," Harry said, trying to muster some of the emotion he'd felt in the kitchen. Going for his Apparation license seemed far less important now than it had at breakfast.
Harry said nothing to his friends about the conversation he'd overheard and the next few days were wonderful. Even Snape was more pleasant than usual, or maybe it only seemed that way because Harry found it hard to be irritated with the man when he knew how genuinely concerned about his welfare Snape was, even if he never managed to show it. Harry couldn't broach the subject with him, of course, and resignedly added it to the list of things he couldn't discuss with his teacher.
The night before his birthday, Harry went to bed feeling happier than he could remember having ever felt on this day. His friends were with him and they were going to have a brilliant day in London. It was going to be his best birthday ever.
Harry went to sleep, but he didn't dream of fighting Death Eaters as he typically did. Instead he dreamt of Hogwarts and the good times he'd had there: of Quidditch, sunny afternoons down by the lake and nights by the fire in the common room. All of his friends were there in his dream and Dobby even appeared to say how grateful he was to be free, then laughed a very high-pitched laugh.
Harry came groggily awake in the darkness, the house-elf's laughter still ringing in his ears, half-expecting to see Dobby standing next to him. But Ron's soft snores reminded him that he had only been dreaming. Harry sighed contentedly, then rolled over and was soon fast asleep once more.