"Ow," Harry said, rubbing his arm after being hit by a stinging hex.
"I apologize," Aris responded.
"No, no. That's what I wanted you to do. It's helping me learn, I hope," Harry replied. "I learned a lot in these last few weeks. Thanks."
"I hope you are prepared," Aris replied. "The task is in just a few days, correct?"
"Yeah," Harry replied, running a hand through his hair. Despite the looming task, Harry was eager for time to pass. Since families were invited to observe the third task, Severus had gotten leave to come an extra day early and Harry was very grateful. He should be arriving the next day if all went well. "Let's try that block again. I can't seem to get it fine tuned enough to block concentrated curses."
"Are you sure you will need to? I thought it was simply a maze."
"That would be too easy," Harry replied. "There's got to be some kind of twist inside."
"But who will be cursing you?"Harry shrugged. "Hopefully no one." Harry raised his wand. "Shoot that one at me again."
Aris did so and it caught Harry again, but not quite as strongly.
With a light bounce in his step, Harry headed for Dumbledore's quarters to meet Snape when he arrived. Harry was a little early but he was too excited to actually see his guardian to have the patience to wait in the common room. When Sirius had returned from his illness, he had tried to make another mirror but all Harry received was a frame with shattered glass within. They hadn't thought to charm it to be unbreakable and there wasn't time to make another. Therefore, Harry and Severus were reduced to simple letters.
The loss of his mirror had weighed on Harry more than he cared to admit. But that didn't matter now, for Severus would be coming in person and this time when he left, Harry would be going with him. The thought made Harry smile.
Harry arrived at Dumbledore's quarters and knocked on the door. There wasn't a reply. Harry tried the knob and it was open. He hesitated for a moment before going in but he assumed that Dumbledore wouldn't mind. After all, he was probably in there, he just hadn't heard the knock.
"Hello?" Harry called as he stepped inside. No one replied.
Dumbledore knew that Harry was coming to meet Severus, so that was probably why the door was left open, Harry assumed. He was intended to come in and wait. Harry sat down on the couch and tapped his fingers on his knee. After a few minutes, he glanced around, growing bored. From the corner of his eye, Harry saw a blue light coming from a crack in the closet door.
"Professor Dumbledore?" Harry asked in concern. Was something wrong?
Feeling the need to investigate, Harry moved to the closet door, pushing it open farther. "Pro-"
Harry cut himself off, realizing that the closet was empty save for a large stone basin filled with a swirling silvery blue substance. He ran his hand lightly over the stone runes at the edge, wondering what they could mean. Leaning forward, Harry stared into the mesmerizing swirling liquid.
And fell forward into a memory.
"Snape! Severus Snape!" a half crazed man in an iron cage screamed. "He's one of the Dark Lord's favorites!"
"Snape is not-" Dumbledore began before being cut off. It was rare for someone to interrupt Dumbledore, Harry thought. Then again, he seemed a little younger than the weathered professor that Harry knew.
"Yes, yes, we have cleared his name already," Barty Crouch said irritably. "Give us someone new or back to Azkaban with you."
The man, panted, black eyes darting around the room. Harry's eyes darted around as well, trying to figure out what was happening. They were in a similar room to the one that Sirius's trial was held in and Harry thought he even recognized a few people. This must be a trial, Harry thought. But one in the past, for everyone seemed younger.
"Now, Karkaroff!" Crouch snapped, obviously the authority figure in the room.
Harry jerked towards the prisoner, looking at him now in a different light. His hair was so wild, his face so emaciated, his teeth so horrid that Harry hadn't recognized him. Looking now, however, it was clear that this was the Durmstrang Headmaster.
"Barty Crouch!" he shouted, as if a last ditch effort.
"That is absu-"
"Junior!" the man finished with a wild gleam in his eye that showed he knew he had struck gold.
"What?" Barty Crouch Sr. said, face going pale.
"He- he and the Lestranges- the ones who tortured the Longbottoms!" Karkaroff shouted, driving home his point.
The horrified Barty Crouch Sr. opened his mouth to say something when suddenly Harry's vision went white. He tumbled to the floor, gasping and clutching his scar which seared like a branding iron. He gave a short cry and was suddenly back in the room he had seen in his dream at the beginning of the year. The man whose voice Harry simply could not place was kneeling in front of a high backed chair.
"Out with it."The man bent his head, gaze on the floor, shadows obscuring his face. "He is dead, sir. Our informant has told me so. He was forced to kill him to prevent him from speaking to Dumbledore."
"You let him get away?" the person in the chair rasped in a dry voice, rich with anger.
"I'm sorry, My Lord. I tried-"
The man let out a scream and fell, writhing, to the floor, face turned towards the fire. Harry clutched his scar, wishing that the man would turn the other way so Harry could see his face and get something out of this pain. All he could see was a shock of blonde hair.
"But your plan, sir," the man said, struggling up. "It is almost complete. It hasn't been ruined."
"Yesss, that is the only thing keeping you alive. I need you, as much as it kills me to admit it," the person hissed. "Now go. Another mistake and I will kill you."
"Yes, My Lord. I won't mess up again."
"I should hope not."
Harry felt someone shaking his shoulder. He pried his eyes open and removed his hand from where it was pressed against his scar. "Wha-"
"Harry, are you alright?" Severus asked, deeply concerned face peering down at him.
"I- I think so."
"I found you here, collapsed and clutching your scar. What happened?" Severus asked, helping Harry into a sitting position.
Harry glanced over at the Pensieve. "What is that?"
"Harry, that does not answer-"
"But it has something to do with it. What is that?"
Severus's brow furrowed. "It's called a Pensieve. It is used to store memories so that the owner can come back and view them later. What does that have to do with anything?"
"I was sitting here, waiting for you. I didn't know where Dumbledore was and I saw this blue light. I thought maybe something had happened, and I opened the closet. I looked into that bowl and fell into a scene, a court trial or something. Of Karkaroff."
Severus looked at him. "Describe it."
Harry did so quickly, not mentioning that Snape was one of the accused. "And then, right in the middle of it, my scar started burning and I got another vision like my dream."
"What was said?"
"Whoever was in the chair- I couldn't see- was torturing the same man, the one whose voice I can't place. He said something about letting someone escape and how someone else had to kill him before Dumbledore could get there," Harry said, rambling. He didn't even know if he was making sense.
Severus stood then helped Harry up. "Come. I will get you some salve and then we can go find Dumbledore."
Severus turned but Harry grabbed his arm, forcing him to stop. He turned to Harry in question.
"There was more. They said the plan was almost ready."
"What plan?" Severus asked in alarm.
Harry shrugged. "I don't know. What do you think they meant?"
"I fear we will find out."
After informing Dumbledore, Harry and Severus went back to Severus's quarters for a chat. Dumbledore hadn't shown his concern but Harry knew that, just as Snape did, he took it seriously.
"This is just what I need right now," Harry complained sarcastically, leaning his head back.
Severus frowned. "Have you been practicing Occlumency?"
"What, you mean now?"
"All the time."
"No," Harry replied. "Only when I need it. It takes too much concentration."
"It could help with the visions though," Severus replied.
"No, I don't think it would," Harry replied firmly.
"In this, I suppose you know better than I. I was not inside your head, thankfully," he said, sipping a cup of tea. "On another note, have you figured out who took you mirror?"
Harry shook his head. "I really hope it wasn't Draco. I don't want to believe he would do that. I can't think of a reason why he would."
"To hurt you, to hopefully remove your support for the third task," Severus replied factually.
"But why would he want me to lose?"
"Why would he want to perform a Dark Magic spell in the forest? Merlin knows."
Severus leaned forward. "I am not saying he did it," he said comfortingly. "I am merely considering the possibilities. Have you used legilimency?"
Harry shook his head. "I haven't done that in forever. I'm not sure I even remember how. If I did, though, I wouldn't have used it. It's not fair."
Harry scowled at him. "It's not."
"It is useful. And if it can prevent further difficulties, it is worth it," Severus replied dryly.
"So it's one of those 'ends justify the means' things?" Harry asked, rolling his eyes.
"Precisely. I suppose it is a Slytherin ideal," Severus said condescendingly.
"Right," Harry replied. "Just like virtue must be a Gryffindor thing."
"So be it."
"So what have I missed in the past month or so? Your letters didn't say much," Harry pointed out.
"I could ask you the same," Severus replied. "Hm. Slytherin won the Quidditch Cup and are aiming for the House Cup as well."
"Congratulations," Harry replied begrudgingly.
"Thank you," Severus said with an air of smugness. "Beyond that... Business is more or less as usual."
"I didn't hear much from Sirius, how is he doing?"
"Quite well, really. After he caught on to the whole teaching thing, he has had some fun with it."
"Fun?" Harry asked skeptically.
"Live demonstrations, dueling for bonus points... all sorts of ridiculous teaching methods, many of which I do not approve," Snape replied.
"Naturally," Harry shot back. "I can't believe I missed having him as a teacher," he said glumly.
"Would you have traded your experiences here for it?"
Harry thought for a moment. He thought of Rhea,, Aris, Riker, Defense class, even Dark Arts. "No. I don't think I would have."
"It is as I thought," Severus replied. "Though if there was a choice, I would have made you stay back."
"And I wouldn't have argued," Harry admitted.
"Yes, well, that is not how it turned out."
"No, it's not," Harry agreed. He paused for a beat before asking, "Do you think he is coming back?"
There was a tangible weight in the room as Severus replied, "I believe it is inevitable. The last I was here, Karkaroff pointed something out that I cannot deny."
"The Dark Mark is growing darker."
Harry didn't reply. He had nothing to say.
There was a brief moment before Severus spoke again. "Are you prepared for the task?"
Harry shrugged. "Maybe. I'm still not really sure what's going to be in the maze."
"Have you been practicing offensive and defensive spells?" Severus asked. "Best be prepared for any circumstance."
"Yeah, Aris is my drill partner. I've gotten a bunch hexes and stuff down. A few of the blocking spells I'm having difficulty with."
"Would you like to do a few drills?" Severus asked. "I am sure I could help you with your blocks."
Harry's face spread into a slow grin. "Yeah, I'd like that."
"Help me move these tables out of the way," Severus said, standing.
Harry stood too, still smiling. "It's really good to see you. Honestly."
Severus's face softened. "It is good to see you too, Harry. Come, let's make sure I get to see you again after the task.
"Yeah, that'd be pretty great," Harry said lightly.
In two days, on June twentieth, the Third and final task would begin. And Harry would be ready.