Harry didn't have much contact with Severus during the week after the Hogsmeade trip. It seemed that Umbridge was hanging around him even more now, waiting to catch him violating some rule or another. Harry was tempted to ask one of his friends to go down to Severus's office with him so that Umbridge couldn't cite them as being alone, but he refrained. It wouldn't be fair to anyone involved, and though Harry was pretty certain that someone would come with him, it would be putting them in a very awkward situation.
Therefore, on the last day of the school week, Harry decided to put their plan in action. He was out for a detention.
Severus started the Potions class with his customary, "Instructions are on the board. Go."
After gathering his ingredients, Harry returned to his seat and began intentionally messing up his potion. As the noxious fumes began to take on shifting psychedelic colors in the air, Snape strode over.
"Mr. Potter, what in Merlin's name have you done to your potion?" he asked with mock snideness.
"Dunno, sir," Harry replied, stifling a smile.
"Have you intentionally sabotaged it just to sit this class out?"
"I believe that warrants a detention," Severus continued, his face blank. "Tomorrow evening, my office."
Harry nodded seriously. "Yes, I do think I deserve it."
Harry's friends grinned into their cauldrons and a few of his classmates glanced over curiously.
"But I cannot have you not learn anything for the rest of class," Severus said. "If you manage to correct your potion, I shall give ten points to Gryffindor. After all, I would expect such from an O.W.L. level student." He said that in such a way that Harry heard the real meaning behind his words. I'd expect as much from you.
Harry looked at his gelatinous green sludge mixture with a frown. He wished he hadn't been quite so liberal with the Halfdion extract. How was he going to fix that? "Yes, sir."
Looking smug, Snape glided away. Harry dipped his head and let out a smile.
"What was that about?" Ron demanded in a low hiss.
Harry gave a half shrug. "We're just circumventing Umbridge's new rule. We're not allowed to be alone except in detention. So detention it is."
Draco grinned. Hermione shook her head as if in disapproval, but Harry didn't think it was genuine.
"Umbridge is gonna be so angry when she finds out," Ron commented.
"She'll just make up some other rule to prevent it," Harry said, resigned.
"What'll you do then?" Hemione asked.
Harry grinned. "Break out the invisibility cloak."
She gave him a look. "Harry, be careful. You don't want that confiscated."
"Yeah, I know," he replied. "As for more immediate concerns..." He nodded to his potion. "How am I going to fix this?"
Draco smirked. "You're the Potions Prodigy. Let's see you figure it out."
Harry groaned, looking to Hermione for help. She grinned and dramatically pressed her lips tightly closed. Harry rolled his eyes. "Ron?"
Ron's eyes widened. "Don't look at me. I've been following the instructions and I think I still messed it up."
Harry sighed and flipped through his book. He had a difficult remainder of the class ahead of him.
On the designated night, Harry sat in Severus's office, bouncing his leg with nervous energy.
"Do you mind stopping that?" Severus asked without looking up from the papers he was grading.
Harry paused in the writing of his Potions essay, unrelated to the "detention". "Huh? Oh, sorry."
He continued writing for a few minutes in silence before he absentmindedly began drumming his fingers on the table. With a light sigh, Severus set down his quill.
"Harry, is something wrong?"
"No," Harry replied immediately.
Severus arched an eyebrow challengingly.
Harry sighed. "Alright, maybe."
"You are not certain?"
Harry shook his head. "Just... a feeling, I guess. More than that, probably." He paused. "How... How much contact does Dumbledore have with Durmstrang?"
Severus's brow furrowed. "Durmstrang? Not much. Karkaroff distrusts Dumbledore and tries to keep communications to a minimum. I believe last year might have been a record. Why do you ask?"
"I talked to Rhea yesterday," Harry said, "through the mirror, you know. And, well, things don't sound too great over there. She said they've increased Dark Arts classes and shortened the things they deemed unnecessary. And she also said that she was called into a private meeting with Karkaroff, Aris and Riker."
"Your two other friends?"
"Did she say what he asked?" Severus inquired, leaning forward almost unconsciously.
Harry nodded again and frowned. "She said he wanted to know if I'd ever mentioned a prophecy."
Something flickered across Severus's face at the mention of a prophecy. Quickly, it was masked, buried deep, leaving Harry to wonder if it had ever been there in the first place. Severus leaned back with a forced casualness. He pressed his fingertips together and asked, "A prophecy?"
"Yes," Harry said. He scrutinized his guardian. "Do you know anything about it?"
Severus kept his face blank. "Do you trust me, Harry?"
Harry was growing a bit concerned. "Yes...?"
"Then do not ask."
Severus raised a hand. "Harry, remember what I said about the Dark Lord's connection with your mind?"
Harry nodded numbly.
"He wants this information and he wants it desperately. I cannot risk telling you anything I know, do you understand?" Severus asked with a note of urgency.
Harry wanted to protest that he was always kept out of the loop and was sick and tired of it, but he held off. Severus was right. He didn't want to risk everything to satisfy a bit of his curiosity. Unless it helped him in some way.
"I understand. But is there anything to do with it that will help me defeat him?" Harry asked. "Anything that I should know?"
Severus hesitated for the briefest of moments. "No. None of it will help you."
Harry trusted him. "Okay."
Severus looked the slightest bit surprised that he was letting it go this easily. "And you will not do anything rash or foolish because of this?"
Harry shook his head. "I won't," he promised. Harry knew better than to fight with Severus, better than to argue. If he did that, the insidious anger would win. And something told Harry that he must stifle that anger at all costs.
"I am proud of you, Harry. Very proud," he said. "For everything. Even fixing that potion the other day."
Harry gave a half smile. "I'm still surprised that worked and didn't blow up in my face." In order to get his potion back on course, Harry had taken a very risky chance in adding a largely volatile substance to the mixture. Luckily, it was the right move. Nothing exploded.
Severus smiled lightly as well. "A risk well taken." He fell silent for a moment. "Not to dwell on this, but, as a matter of interest, have the dreams continued?"
Harry shifted. "Yes. But less. I've been using Occlumency before bed."
Severus nodded. "Continue doing so. I cannot stress that enough. Have they changed?"
"No," Harry replied. "Just the door at the end of the corridor."
"And it has not opened? You have gone no farther?"
Harry shook his head.
"That is good, at least," Snape replied, though he seemed a bit disturbed. "You shoul-"
Without warning, the door flew open and a triumphant Umbridge strode in. "I knew it! You have violated Educational Decree number..." she glanced at her clipboard, "sixteen!"
Severus looked back at her calmly. "No, we haven't."
Umbridge's eyes narrowed. "It states: No student may be alone with a teacher outside of class. Is this class? No."
"It is detention," Severus said. "Did you not agree that an exception would be made for detentions?" His voice, while starkly polite, was dripping with satisfaction.
Umbridge fumed. Harry considered that if this were a muggle comic, she would probably be drawn with smoke puffing from her ears and nostrils. He almost laughed. "Yes, but not you and not with him!"
Severus cocked his head. "Well, Dolores, it seems that you have no other option than to issue a rule explicitly aimed at the two of us. That would certainly ruin your attempts to appear unbiased."
Her face hardened. "Oh, there is always something I can do. You should not have chosen me as your enemy, Severus. You would have been better served with me as a friend."
"I am quite happy with my assortment of friends and enemies, thank you very much," Severus said dryly. "Now I would thank you to excuse us while Mr. Potter completes his essay."
Umbridge looked between them and huffed before storming out, slamming the door smartly. The silence in her wake was oddly quiet, even for silence. After her footsteps had disappeared down the hallway, Harry began to pack up his things.
"It's late, I should go," he said. "I think next time, I'll just use the cloak to slip down here. No sense in pushing her even more."
Severus nodded, looking thoughtful. "Do not forget your occlumency. Also, keep me informed as to the Durmstrang issue, if you would."
Harry slung his pack over his shoulder and headed for the door. "Of course. Goodnight."
Not long after Harry left, Severus found his thoughts wandering as he attempted to read another horrendous Potions essay. At last, he gave up and pushed it aside. There was only one thing rattling around in Severus's mind at the moment.
Harry knew. Yet that was not the part that worried Severus. It was more the amount that Harry didn't know. He didn't know what the prophecy actually said, and he didn't know who it was who had alerted the Dark Lord to the very fact it existed.
He didn't know what it meant for him.
Severus could have told him. He could have told Harry that he had no choice but to accept the horrible burden that had been unwillingly bestowed upon him. In fact, Severus had discussed telling Harry at length with Albus. And yet, he couldn't bring himself to do it. He felt too protective of Harry, too fond.
After Lily, Severus had promised himself that he would never again get attached to something so easily lost. Something like a life. The very existence of any given person was so fragile... It was like sealing one's heart inside a thin glass bottle. The bottle breaks, the heart crashes to the floor. Bottles are notoriously easy to break. That was what had happened after Lily. Severus's heart sat, still beating, but cold and hard on the floor for many years. That was, until Harry came. It was now in a fresh bottle, just as fragile and this time balanced on a precarious edge of a shelf from the moment it came into existence. Severus longed to push it back, to protect it with everything he had, but there was little he could do.
Despite the hardships the boy had overcome, the horrors he had conquered, Severus couldn't help but think that Harry's childhood was still ongoing. Nearing its end, certainly, but not there yet. The moment that prophecy touched his ears, Harry's life would change.
Severus didn't think it would change for the better.
AN: I apologize for interrupting with an author's note, but this is mildly important. I am taking part in a writing competition on another site in which I'm to write another Harry Potter fanfiction and post so many chapters a week. In addition, I am also working hard on an original story of my own, which I don't plan to abandon for the duration of this competition. Therefore, updates on this story will slow down for a while. They won't stop entirely, but they won't be as frequent as they have been recently. If you want, I'll post the competition fanfiction here, too, and update that as I go along. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but thank you for being understanding!