Harry stared uncomprehending at the paper tacked up on the bulletin board. Draco stood beside him, giving him a sympathetic look. The prefects had just received their latest missives from Umbridge. For Harry, the news wasn't good.
EDUCATIONAL DECREE #16
No student may be alone with a teacher outside of class.
Harry's heart dropped. "This means I can't go talk to Severus."
"I know," Draco said sympathetically. "She was probably worried about what you were saying."
"Yeah," Harry muttered. He knew she had gotten the idea after walking in on them brewing that potion a few days ago. "This is horrible."
"But can she stop you since Snape's your legal guardian?" Draco asked.
"Yes," Harry replied immediately. "She can do anything. It's her school now and Dumbledore won't do a blasted thing." He looked at Draco with a renewed fire in his eyes. "Are you guys ready for that meeting?"
"Yes," he replied. "We've begun to spread the word among people we trust. We're meeting at the Hog's Head this saturday, ten o'clock."
"Good," Harry said stiffly. If he had any qualms before about leading this rebellion group, they were gone now. She couldn't keep him away from Severus. She couldn't. The only problem was that he needed to talk to Severus more now than ever to discuss both this new decree and the meeting this weekend. Not to mention to see how he was doing after his "illness" a few days ago.
And now he wasn't allowed. That didn't sit well with Harry. He grabbed his invisibility cloak and took off.
There was a knock at Severus's door as he sat and fumed after speaking with Umbridge. He half hoped it was some Gryffindor upon which he could take out his anger, though with the most recent decree, it was highly unlikely to be. He guessed that it was probably Minerva or Filius come to tell him about some new duty that he had to perform to appease their dear High Inquisitor.
Annoyed at his own thoughts, Severus stood and ripped the door open. "Can I hel-"
There was no one there. Severus's blood boiled. Of all times for pranks, this was certainly not the best. He growled and went to slam the door when something held it back.
"It's me, Severus!" a familiar voice hissed.
"Harry?" Severus asked in surprise.
Severus stepped aside and let Harry's invisible form inside. He then shut the door so that Harry could take off the cloak. Severus turned to Harry.
"I wasn't expecting you," he said.
"Have you seen the new decree?" Harry asked, getting straight to the point.
"Yes," Severus said. "It is completely ridiculous."
"And it's obviously directed at us," Harry said, sitting down.
Severus moved to his seat as well. "It is. And everyone is aware of that."
"Since you're my guardian, is she allowed to do that?" Harry asked with what seemed like a touch of hope that he would say she wasn't.
"Unfortunately," Severus said darkly. "I have just returned from a meeting with Professor Dumbledore and Umbridge."
"What, not Professor Umbridge anymore?" Harry asked, rising a brow.
"She has lost my respect, if she ever had it," Severus replied coldly.
"So what'd they say?" Harry asked.
"Umbridge primarily asserted her power over the Headmaster's objections, as usual. And then the subject was brought up of detentions," Severus said. "It was decided that they would be an exception. Umbridge wanted all assigned detentions to take place with her, but naturally, I refused."
"And you won?" Harry asked with a note of surprise.
"Yes, actually," Severus said smugly. "The other teachers like her no more than we do. They were quick to take my side."
"Good," Harry said. "I'd hate to see what her detentions are like, even now."
"Agreed. Do you not see what this means?"
"What?" Harry asked.
Severus leaned forward. "I can simply assign you detentions to take place down here. She cannot say anything."
Harry's face slowly split into a grin. "That's brilliant! But surely she'll realize...?"Severus gave a half shrug. "She cannot take detentions, her only legal form of punishment, away. I don't see how she could stop us without making a rule specifically aimed at the pair of us."
"Perfect," Harry said. "I'll do something next time in Potions and you can give me detention."
"Should be fun," Severus said, leaning back again. "It's been a while."
Harry grinned. After a beat, he said, "You're looking better."
"Yes. I am feeling much better as well," he said. "The cream is most helpful."
"This time when you run low, we'll have to brew some in advance," Harry said.
Harry paused. "We're going to have a meeting in Hogsmeade this weekend for that Defense club," he informed Severus.
"And have you chosen a location where you cannot be overheard?" Severus asked.
"The Hog's Head," Harry replied. "I think the reasoning was that it was far enough off the beaten path that no one from Hogwarts will be there."
Severus looked skeptical. He brushed the dark hair out of his eyes and then clasped his hands on the desk. "Listen, Harry, you must be extraordinarily careful. Umbridge is the sort to have informants everywhere. And they might not look as you expect them to."
Harry frowned. "Should we not meet there, then?"
Severus thought for a moment. "Meet there. Word has already been spread, correct?"
"I thought as much. Before you say anything sensitive, however, there is a spell you should cast."
"Can't I just use a silencing charm?" Harry asked.
Severus shook his head. "I do not know how large your group will be, but chances are that it will be spread too thin. I don't believe you are practiced enough at it to cast a wide, strong one."
"So what spell then?" Harry asked.
"Muffliato," Severus said.
Harry frowned again. "I haven't heard of that one."
"That is because I invented it," Severus said proudly. He watched as Harry's eyes widened.
"You invented it? I didn't even know you could do that," Harry admitted.
Severus gave a half smile at how impressed Harry was. It was a good feeling. "You can. Maybe I will teach you someday. For now, the incantation is simply 'muffliato'. If you cast it around your group, it will fill the ears of those trying to listen in with an unidentifiable buzzing. The harder they try, the louder it gets."
"Wicked," Harry said with a grin. "Thanks, Severus. Did you invent any other cool spells?"
Severus gave him a look. "None that I wish to share with you at the moment."
"Right," Harry said sheepishly.
In a slight pause, Severus sensed that Harry was holding something back. It wasn't the first time he had gotten a similar feeling that night.
"Was there something else about which you needed to speak with me?" Severus prompted.
Harry hesitated. "I promised Sirius I'd tell you, but I really don't want you to worry..."
"About what?" Severus asked with dread.
Harry looked down. "Er, I've been getting really angry. Like, not normal angry, but just random, unjustified, very intense anger. I can't control it."
"When do you get this way?" Severus's brows knitted.
Harry shrugged. "Sometimes at Umbridge. Skeeter. George once. My friends. People who don't deserve it, basically."
Severus nodded calmly. "Have you been practicing your occlumency?"
Harry looked up. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"Nothing," Severus lied. "Just a question."
"You're not being very helpful," Harry accused.
In reality, Severus didn't want to tell Harry of Dumbledore's suspicions that Voldemort was tainting his mind. He knew that Harry would become paranoid and freaked out and he didn't want that by any means. It was enough that Harry knew of the possible link between himself and the Dark Lord, and of the possibility that Voldemort could take things from his mind; he didn't need to know that he could also put things in.
"Harry, there is nothing wrong with you," Severus assured him.
"But this ange-"
Severus cut him off with a hand. "Don't let it define you."
Harry sighed as Severus scrutinized him. "It's just that I can speak parseltongue. Voldemort may or may not be able to see into my mind. I'm so angry all the time that I could snap at any second." He paused and looked up at Severus, a world of emotion in his eyes. "Severus, am I becoming Dark?"
Looking at Harry's face while he said this was gut wrenching. He patted Harry's arm from across the desk. "Harry. Listen to me. You are not going Dark and, believe me, I know the signs. Your abilities are out of your control. They are not really what matters. It's what you choose to do with those abilities that matters."
Harry didn't look convinced. He stayed silent.
"Harry. If I had been half as good as you are when I was your age, I might not have made the horrible choices that I did. I know how it is to go Dark, to dabble in the Dark Arts. And I do not believe you fit the image."
Harry's expression didn't change.
"After all you have been through, it's a wonder that you don't hate all of humanity with a burning passion. You are an incredibly good person for your experiences. I truly do not believe you could go bad. If you haven't already, you never will. Please believe me," Severus finished.
There was a long silence. "I believe you," Harry said at last. He looked at Severus, still with pain in his eyes. "I should go."
"Don't forget your cloak," Severus said simply. He wasn't going to argue; Harry needed some time alone.
Harry nodded and picked it up. "Why can't I just come down here in this instead of you giving me detentions?"
"You could. I, for one, would like Umbridge to know that she is not stopping us." Severus added, "It is, however, up to you."
Slowly, Harry smiled. "Let's stick it to Umbridge."
Severus gave a bit of a smile as well. "Deal. Remember what I said, Harry. Goodnight."
"Goodnight," Harry replied.
After Harry had gone, Severus sat for a while, staring out the window and thinking. Sometimes, Severus hated that Harry trusted him so much. That would only make it hurt all the more when he eventually found out about the prophecy.
And, more specifically, Severus's role in it.
Late that night, Harry woke, drenched in a cold sweat and tangled in sheets. He gasped, trying to catch his breath. Someone moved in the next bed over.
"You okay, H'rry?" Draco asked blearily.
"Fine, thanks," he replied.
In another minute, Draco was asleep again.
Harry took a deep breath. He remembered the same door that he had seen before in his dreams and, again, he couldn't open it. He really, really needed to, for some reason. His scar hurt and Harry felt miserable. He closed his eyes and remembered what Severus had said about Occulmency.
Occlumency. Harry tried it. He tried to raise the wall that he had neglected for so long, but he couldn't seem to clear his mind enough. He couldn't find the wall that he he used to know so well.
And then Harry started to panic. What if he couldn't block Voldemort out? What if he was in his mind right then? Then, he realized that the blind panic was a block of its own since he was entirely focused upon that one emotion. He started to relax, knowing that he could still occlude his mind, in a way.
Harry carefully kept up his guard until he fell back asleep, unknowingly letting it drop.