NAVIGATE

Main
Fiction
 -Fanart
Star Trek
Recs
LJ
Links (coming soon)
Etc. (coming soon)
CONTACT

Email
Yahoo
CREDITS

Art and layout by saridout

All other image and content © Deirdre Riordan 2004. All rights reserved.

Striking Thirteen
Long merely spoken of as 'the mystery story,' I've finally got round to posting this. Updates will henceforth be posted once a week. Most of the time, anway. Honestly, this whole thing is in a constant state of editing. Don't be surprised if you re-read and find I've changed something. But it won't be major.

Summary: Friday the 13th has some...interesting effects on magic. Harry deals with the consequences. Eventual HP/SS. Currently rated PG-13, if that, for a little bit of language. And no, there's no relation to 1984 beyond the origin of the title.

Theory that first appears in Chapter 5 is from here, but I've poked it a bit to suit my purposes.

Special thanks to the lovely _ataraxis_for beta-reading!

Table of Contents:
Prologue
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10: in progress

Striking Thirteen

Prologue

Due to the strange way that spells were wont to act on Friday the 13th, Severus Snape ought to have cancelled the Duelling Club meeting that evening. He had determined, however (with no small quantity of characteristic sadism), that it would be a good learning experience for the students to experience it first-hand.

After sending students to the Hospital Wing for four consecutive weeks, Neville Longbottom ought to have had the sense to quit the Duelling Club, for the safety of his fellow students if nothing else. Harry Potter ought to have had the wherewithal to stay in bed, or at least to have gone back to bed after falling off his broom twice in Quidditch practise that morning. Both being Gryffindors, however, neither of these boys had much sense at all, especially when it came to backing down in the face of adversity. The phrase "back down" wasn't even in Harry's vocabulary, except when preceded by "won't" or "never" or "Voldemort will," and Neville's Gran had long ago instilled in him that no one likes a quitter. And Neville wanted people to like him.

And Snape, being a Slytherin, or perhaps just being Snape, neglected to inform the Club members of which spells they absolutely must not cast that day because of the way the date would affect them. He decided to operate on the (patently incorrect) assumption that the students should already have learnt them.

At the Duelling Club meeting, Harry's luck continued to go downhill. The little magical wheel that spun to determine the partnerships for the evening paired him with none other than Neville.

"Tonight's exercise," Snape began, "will be disabling your opponent with defensive spells only. You cannot curse your opponent directly; only reflect, bounce, or shield against his or her spells. You will each take a turn, assuming both of you survive the first round. You may begin."

Harry smiled. This was going to be obscenely easy--he felt confident that he could block anything Neville could throw, and he knew Neville's defensive spells weren't what they ought to be. Neville, on the other hand, looked mortified.

If Harry had had a bit more sense, he would have started the match himself. But he deferred to Neville to take the offensive first. He opened with a couple of wobbly hexes that Harry dodged easily. The third curse he threw, though, refused to be dodged. Harry tried, but it bounced off someone else's shield and hit him head-on. Just before everything went black, he heard Snape bellow, "Idiot boy! Do you know what you've just done?"



One

Harry awoke in the Hospital Wing, feeling as though his head had just been chewed on by a Manticore. He remembered now. He had been helping Severus test an experimental Celerity potion engineered from Vampire DNA. Clearly, it hadn't worked. Where was Severus, anyway? It wasn't like him not to be there when Harry was in hospital, particularly when Severus himself had helped put him there.

Harry raised his hand to massage his aching temples and instantly recoiled as though he'd been burned. The scar. The scar was there. It was back. What was it doing there? What had happened? "SEVERUS!" he yelled. Oh, dear sweet Merlin on rollerskates, his voice didn't sound right either. He struggled to get out of bed, but his legs wouldn't cooperate. "SEVERUS!" he shouted again.

The door opened. It was not Severus standing over him now, but…a ghost? The ten-years-dead figure of Albus Dumbledore stood over him, looking every bit as alive as he had the moment before he'd raised his wand to cast the final spell on Voldemort.

"Albus," Harry whispered, his eyes filling with tears. "What… how? I mean, you're…" And then it hit him. Somehow the potion had malfunctioned and sent him back in time. Which meant that somewhere in the future, the Harry of this time was stuck in his body. Oh, bugger. "Albus, you have to help me," he began, scarcely stopping to breathe. "There was a potions accident, I'm not who I look like I am. I mean, I'm me, but I'm in the wrong time and--"

Albus held up a hand, commanding him to stop. "Harry, I'm pleased to see you're awake, my dear boy. But there are a few details you do not know. You are exactly who you look like you are; however, you are not who you think you are. Tell me, Harry, what date is it?"

"Well, when the cauldron exploded, it was October thirteenth, but I'm not sure how long I've been out for."

"And the year?"

"2008." Clearly, Harry reasoned, Albus would have asked no such questions if he had thought Harry's answers would be correct.



Two

Harry awoke in the Hospital Wing, his head feeling as though it had been chewed on by a Manticore. Snape and a very contrite Neville were standing over him.

 "What happened?" Harry groaned, clutching his aching head.

 "Would you like to field that one, Mr. Longbottom?" Snape asked pointedly.

 Neville took a deep breath. "I tried to hit you with a Reductor curse, but because I'm an idiot Gryffindor, I failed to bother learning that on Friday the Thirteenth, some spells do not act properly, and it tried to turn into a Reve de Vie curse, which is what hit you."

 "And Mr. Potter is currently awake because?" Snape prodded.

Neville sighed. "Because I'm a mediocre wizard and the curse was too weak."

 "And?" Snape had clearly lectured him at great length while Harry had been unconscious.

 "And if the curse had worked, there would have been no counter-curse for twenty-four hours, during which time you would have spent lucidly dreaming one possibility of your future based on your desires, and you'd probably have gone mad."

 "And?"

 "And I'm going straight to the Ministry and have my wand snapped because I'm a danger to myself and the wizarding world." Neville seemed to have finished his instructed speech and began to stutter and blubber. "I'm-- I'm so s-sorry, Harry. I could have ruined your life when all you've ever tried to do is help me and--"

 "Neville, Neville, stop it. Just stop it." Harry sat up in bed, though his entire body ached. "Don't be ridiculous. There's no reason you ought to have your wand snapped. Everyone makes mistakes, Neville. I've made mistakes that have killed people, and I'm still here."

 "But you've got to stay, you've got to kill You-Know-Who--"

 "Voldemort," Harry corrected automatically, at the same moment that Snape said "The Dark Lord." They glared at each other.

 "I'm just nobody," Neville continued, tears still streaming down his round cheeks. "I'm no good to anyone," he said, his voice rising, "and I might just as well go and die!"

 "Neville!" Harry shouted. "That's enough! I don't know what Professor Snape has been telling you, but unless there's some law on the books that requires you to have your wand snapped, there's no bloody reason to do it!" He turned an icy glare on Snape. "Tell me, Professor, is there any such law?"

 "There is no such law, Mr. Potter, but there is a statute that enables the administrator of a school to have a student removed from wizarding society if he is a danger to others, which Mr. Longbottom plainly is."

 "The administrator! That's Dumbledore, Snape, not you, no matter what delusions of grandeur you may have!"

 "Fifty points from Gryffindor for your insubordination, Mr. Potter," Snape said as though he were remarking on the weather. "As you know, Professor Dumbledore is currently away, and as Deputy Headmaster--" Harry remembered with a pang McGonagall's death that summer-- "the decision-- the irrevocable decision--is mine."

Harry sneered at his Potions professor. "Two thousand points from Slytherin for being a heartless bastard." He waited for more points to be deducted now, but the words did not come.

 "Never presume to know my heart, Potter," Snape said in a low, flat tone, not breaking the stare.

They sat silently with their eyes locked for a long moment, each daring the other to move or breathe. Neither did until the all-but-forgotten Neville sneezed.

Snape whipped his head around. "Longbottom, go and say your goodbyes. Groundskeeper Filch will escort you to the Ministry in thirty minutes."

Neville turned and ran from the room with a sob. Harry opened fire. "How dare you, Snape, how bloody dare you? Neville's trying, he's really trying, and he's gotten better, even you must see that! He only made one stupid mistake, and nobody's hurt, so what fucking right have you to have him expelled and incapacitated after you've let Malfoy off with detention for ten times worse?"

Snape leaned down, pinning Harry back against the pillows, his face so close that Harry could smell the cinnamon on his breath and the sandalwood on his skin. "Because, Potter, Longbottom's no use to anyone--"

"Neither is Malfoy!"

"--And Longbottom's father is not out for my blood. And everyone's top priority is to eliminate any threat to you, which, in this case, even includes Longbottom. So if you want to lay blame, you may sleep soundly in the assurance that it rests entirely on your shoulders, my golden and shining saviour."

Snape had billowed out of the room before Harry had the chance to know what hit him. Weak, he slumped back into the pillows, and with utter horror brought his hand to the painful hardness between his legs.


Three

Albus explained everything and left Harry reeling. The last ten years of his life had been a dream. A total and utter lie. Nothing had happened. The curse that Neville had hit him with all those yesterdays ago actually had worked. Albus wasn't dead. Neville wasn't dead--or perhaps he was; Albus hadn't actually said. Voldemort was still there, undefeated and looming. And Severus... Severus was no longer Severus, but a dark and distant figure known as Professor Snape. He was seventeen, not twenty-seven. Hogsmeade had never been burnt to the ground. All this knowledge, his experience, all he had learned and said and done, it was all an infinite falsehood that unraveled before his stinging eyes. Nothing. He had nothing.

He turned over and buried his face in the pillows, hoping somehow he could block out the truth. "So nothing was real," he whispered when Albus was done.

Albus sat down on the bed and put a comforting hand on Harry's shoulder. "Not events. Wizards' dreams are unique, though, Harry. I'm sure you know that, given your connection with Voldemort. Tell me, did you acquire any new skills in your dream?"

Harry turned back to face Albus and nodded blankly, not sure where this was going.

"Everything in your dream, any book, any new spell, was something you had access to here. If you went to the library in your dream and looked at a book, you read something that was really there. It's a phenomenon known as latent acquired content."

Harry blinked. "So what you're saying is that everything I learned was real, just not anything I did."

"Essentially."

"So I've completed school. Why don't we just put everyone to sleep for a couple of days and have them do all their schooling there?"

"Think about that, Harry. Think about what you dreamed. Think about what would happen if everyone dreamed their own separate timelines."

"Everyone would go mad."

"It's very likely. Not many wizards have the power to survive such a thing. You do. I do. Perhaps most of the professors at this school do. But your average student wouldn't. And there's something to be said for tradition as well. Part of our job here is to mould you students into functional members of wizarding society. And we unfortunately cannot control dreams, so even if replacing schooling with lucid dreaming were a practical idea, there's no telling what would happen. Perhaps the possible timeline of a student's dream would include dropping out of school and spending the rest of his days reading Muggle comics. I, for one, once had a particularly pleasant dream in which I read the entire works of Charles Dickens. While enjoyable, it afforded me nothing in the way of practical knowledge."

Harry smiled slightly in spite of himself, but his mirth faded quickly. "What's going to be done about my schooling, then? I've finished it, but I couldn't exactly bring my N.E.W.T. results back with me," Harry said bitterly and with no small amount of sarcasm, thinking of a few other things he couldn't bring back either.

"That's quite simple. When you're strong enough, a special examiner from the Ministry will administer your N.E.W.T.s. Assuming you pass enough of them, you'll be free to do as you please. Tell me, did you complete a secondary course of study?"

"An apprenticeship."

"With?"

Harry sighed. Dumbledore was certainly going to know the story now. "Professor Snape," he mumbled.

Dumbledore smiled benignly, but Harry could practically see the wheels turning in the old man's head. "Well, there's no substitution for an apprenticeship, I'm afraid, but you may, of course, also sit the Potions Master certification test. You've a unique opportunity here, Harry. You've seen the life that resulted from one course of action. You now have the choice to repeat that course and live that life again, though it may not be exactly the same. Or you may choose another, if another would have been more satisfying. Tell me, Harry, were you happy?"


Four

Neville never made it to the Ministry. The house-elves found his lifeless body hanging from a rafter in the Great Hall. Though Harry was still weak, Madam Pomfrey was unable to stop him when he bounded out of bed in a blind rage and stormed into Snape's office.

"I hope you're happy," Harry hissed across the desk at his teacher.

Snape gave him a tired look. "No one could have known the boy would be so stupid. He could have led quite a comfortable life as the squib he was to become."

"You heard him threaten to kill himself!"

Snape sighed. "As a teacher of adolescents, you must realise that I have been hearing such threats at least twice a day for the past seventeen years. There has yet to be one that was serious, and I thought no differently in Mr. Longbottom's case."

"You'd bloody well take points from him posthumously if you could," Harry spat.

Snape leaned serenely back in his chair. "I did try," he said, "but there seems to be some spell in place preventing it."

"You complete bastard," Harry said, leaning as far into Snape's personal space as the desk would allow. "You made his life a living hell for six years, and were well started on a seventh. How can you presume to be so cavalier about a death you clearly helped cause?"

"I've killed more people by more direct means, as have you."

"I've never committed murder."

"If Bellatrix Lestrange's death wasn't a murder, then I'm Helga Hufflepuff."

"It was self-defence! I was cleared of all charges!"

"As was I, numerous times."

"Dumbledore didn't have to pull any strings for me."

Snape put a hand on his chest and gave him a push. "Sit down, Potter."

Surprised by the touch, Harry obeyed.

"Potter, I'm not going to stand for your Gryffindor Golden Boy insubordination any longer. You've defied me since the day you got here, hated me since you first laid eyes on me. You've no right to judge me on any basis. You are valuable to the Order's cause--nay, essential--which is why you were not expelled long ago. Despite your hero complex and your inflated ego, you've shown promise the past two years. You've mastered Occlumency and the Animagus transformation. And you've surpassed most of the students in my class."

Harry thought his eyes were going to bug out of his head. However backhanded it may have been, Snape had just paid him a compliment.

"Despite the fact that I can barely stand you, it would be criminal not to at least offer you the opportunity to develop your talents. Albus Dumbledore is mortal, Potter. I'm arguably even more so. If I even live to take his place at the head of this school, I will not be able to continue teaching Potions. As such--Potter, close your mouth, you look like a great bloody trout--as such, I must make provisions for my own successor. You, sadly enough, are the most promising candidate."

"Why me?"

"Potter, you idiot, I've just told you. Don't make me say it again; it was painful enough the first time."

"But why not hire someone who's already qualified?"

"I see Miss Granger must have failed to transmit the entire contents of Hogwarts: A History to you. Since the time of Salazar Slytherin himself, there has not been a master of these dungeons without Slytherin blood. Some intangible and unbreakable ward set by Slytherin refuses to allow them to be mastered by someone who is not one of his own."

"I don't have Slytherin blood."

"Even if you didn't, the Dark Lord's transference would have done well enough."

"Even if I didn't?"

"I'm pleased to see you can hear after all. Yes, Potter, you may take that to mean that you do, in fact, have Slytherin blood. Very little, but enough."

"How?"

"Your mother's paternal grandparents were wizards. Her father was a squib who married a Muggle. Her sister, we ultimately discovered, had an entirely different father, a Muggle, and so was born a Muggle herself."

"Why didn't anyone tell me?"

Snape shrugged as though Harry had just asked him why the sky was blue. "You had no need to know. I highly doubt anyone but your grandmother knew Petunia Evans' parentage, and no one but your grandfather knew that his parents were wizards. We--the Order, that is--only found out by chance when we performed the initial tests to assure that your mother and your aunt were blood-related. We found that they were, but only on one parents' side, so we researched it further."

"I don't suppose it's that important after all," Harry said, long resigned at this point to finding out new and interesting facts about himself every day.

"As to your taking over my position when the time comes, it will require an intensive apprenticeship to begin immediately."

Once Harry and Snape had agreed on a time for their first meeting, Harry left the dungeons. It was only when he reached the end of the corridor that he realised it had never occurred to him to refuse, stunned as he had been by the offer. He also seemed to have entirely lost the thread of his anger over Neville's death, which had, as he now remembered, been his reason for being in the Dungeons in the first place. Damn Snape had distracted him. And he absolutely refused to think about exactly why.

Chapter Five

Yes, he'd been happy, generally speaking. He'd been sad, frightened, or angry more times than he cared to count, but for the most part, he'd been happy. The evening experiments with Severus had given way to long, late-night chats, which had in turn given way to long, slow kisses. All of the events in his life for ten years had their ups and downs. The teaching and the potions and the holidays. His friends' weddings, the births of their children. Sunsets. Quidditch. So yes, he'd been happy. But it had all come to an end too soon, he'd woken up too soon. And now he had to find some way to remake it all.

At least he knew the most important step, other than winning Severus' heart all over again. Or for real this time, rather. "Voldemort."

"Voldemort?" asked Dumbledore with a raised eyebrow.

"I know how we defeated Voldemort."

Dumbledore regarded him steadily, no twinkle in sight. "I'm listening."

"Well, sir, the thing is, we got rid of him, but you… you died." Harry spoke this last barely above a whisper.

"We all must, Harry. And I've long known that that's the way I would go. You're not the only one with a prophecy."

"What was yours?"

Dumbledore spoke softly. "The knight will return as the king, and together with the marked one they will vanquish their most wayward son, but only the knight will survive, to return as the king evermore."

Harry furrowed his brow. "Me being the marked one and the wayward son being Voldemort, I suppose, but what's all this knight and king business?"

"It's not essential that you know at this point, Harry. But I promise I'll tell you when the time comes."

"You didn't in the dream. You didn't even tell me about the prophecy."

"I don't suppose there was time."

No, there hadn't been. But how did Dumbledore know that? It was speculation, perhaps. Harry fixed the old man with a squint.

"How did we kill him, precisely?" Dumbledore asked, changing the subject.

"Bit by bit, with a potion that latched onto his essence and bonded to it. I took the life from his body with a simple poison extraction charm. The essence, though, had to have somewhere to go. You…you volunteered to take it into yourself and be killed."

"A formidable plan. Is the potion already in existence?"

'No, Sev-- Professor Snape and I spent months developing it. If I could have access to our notes from the dream somehow, I'm sure we could duplicate it."

"I'll make arrangements for an empty pensieve to be sent here this afternoon," Dumbledore said without hesitation.

"Will that work?"

"The reason the Rêve de Vie charm--or curse, perhaps--often causes madness is that when it is lifted, the dreamer remembers his dream not as a dream, but as real memories."

Were his memories real, or weren't they? He wondered if he might be susceptible to this madness after all. "So I'd be able to get at them like any other memory?"

Dumbledore nodded. "Once the memories have been extracted, you can return to them and examine your notes. It will likely be a taxing process, both physically and mentally."

"I have to do it, though. I can't know about that potion and not at least try to make it."

"I feel confident you will succeed, my boy."

He knew he could succeed in making the potion, but there was also the matter of Severus, in which he was much less certain of his chances of success. It was fortunate that the potion had to be a two-person job, since there would be no apprenticeship this time around. Perhaps proximity would work in his favour again this time. He hoped it would. He didn't think that a life without Severus was one he much wanted to live.


Chapter Six

There was a memorial service for Neville the next day. Dumbledore made an emergency return from his mystery location, looking none too pleased with the state of affairs. The service was short. No one had overmuch to say about Neville. He had never done anything too remarkable, not in their eyes, for what could be remarkable about unflagging loyalty and tolerance? They could say nothing of his Gryffindor bravery, because suicide was cowardly. The comments were kept to things like "good student" and "loss to the school," even though Harry could tell that not everyone even believed those statements. Neville's gran was the only one who gave him more than the most perfunctory of remembrances, and her voice trembled so much that hardly anyone could understand her. Harry felt worse for her than he did for Neville. She'd lost all her family now. He knew how she must feel-- but really, no, he didn't. He'd never known his parents. They only existed as ideas to him. Neville's gran had lost real people whom she'd known and loved and devoted her life to, which had to be worse than not having had them there in the first place.

After the speeches, there was a feast in remembrance, but the atmosphere was subdued, and a funerary pall hung over the richly laden tables. Talking was done in hushed tones, and was all speculation about why he'd done it. Even the Slytherins had the good grace not to cast aspersions on the late Gryffindor, at least for the duration of the meal. Harry had a feeling that would change once they were safe within the confines of their common room. He could almost hear them now. A nutter just like his parents. Harry knew Slytherin derision well. It was predictable, which was the only reason it didn't hurt him anymore. Surprised he even managed to kill himself without blowing something up. Whatever they'd be saying, it was nothing they hadn't said before. It was what the Gryffindors might have to say once the shock had worn off that worried him. He knew how cruel his housemates could be. And he knew he'd feel the need to defend Neville to them. But he had no idea of how he'd do it, because if he was honest with himself about it, Neville's actions had been indefensibly idiotic.

Harry shut himself behind his bed curtains before anyone could ask him any more questions. He'd been one of the last to see Neville alive, and everyone wanted to know what he'd said and done. Harry wanted to keep that locked away as his own secret, as Neville's secret, because he felt Neville would have wanted it that way. Neville wouldn't have wanted everyone to know that Snape had finally broken him. Harry's anger at the Potions Master was returning full-force now, but he bit it back. It wouldn't do any good. It would only give Snape unnecessary leverage, which was something he had in abundance already. Harry knew that the only way to deal with Snape was to respond to his cold ruthlessness with an even colder attitude. He'd have to cultivate one damned quickly if he wanted to survive his apprenticeship.

The next morning brought his appointed meeting with Snape. He wondered what to wear-- robes, or his ordinary weekend Muggle attire? Snape had not said one way or the other. Harry finally decided that it meant it didn't matter what he wore and settled on jeans and a jumper-- not one of Mrs. Weasley's, though, as he wished to avoid snarky commentary in any way possible. A lost cause, he was certain, but he wanted to make the effort.

He was one of only four people in the Great Hall when he choked down some toast and tea. He realised blandly that it was a Hogsmeade weekend, but found he didn't care that he was missing the outing. He rather doubted at first that too many people would be going, but then wondered if it might come as a welcome distraction for many of the students. He was feeling rather suffocated himself under the grim aura hanging over the castle. Snape certainly wouldn't be wallowing, though, and Harry found that a strangely comforting thought. No matter what happened, Snape was a constant. And Harry could not but take comfort in the few constants he had left.

He was already weary of thought when he knocked at Snape's office door. "Enter," came Snape's voice from within.

Harry walked through the door and was shocked to the gills to see Snape in a white oxford shirt with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows and a pair of black trousers. His hair was pulled back and he was inspecting the contents of a cauldron. Damn, who knew he had an arse under that bat outfit? Did I just think that? No, of course I didn't.

"Potter, close your mouth and come over here, we've precious little time," Snape said, not sparing him a glance.

Harry clapped his mouth shut and came to stand next to Snape, still having to exert a great deal of effort not to stare. Really, the amount of buttons the man had undone on his shirt was almost indecent.

"Potter, tell me what this is."

Harry snapped out of his thoughts, and peered into the cauldron, sniffing it. "It smells like a garden-variety healing potion, but it's the wrong colour," he said after a moment.

"And what colour should it be?"

"Well, I suppose it's the right shade of green, but it ought to have… I don't know, more of a shimmer to it."

"Which means?" Snape turned his gaze away from the cauldron and looked up, directly into Harry's eyes.

Harry didn't blink as he responded, "Which means the Unicorn horn was left out." But his heartbeat quickened a few paces.

"You might have said so in the first place." Snape sneered at him.

Harry blushed slightly and inwardly cursed himself for it. Of course, merely arriving at the right answer wouldn't be enough, would it? If he hadn't understood before that Snape would demand perfection, he certainly couldn't doubt it now. It worried him. He'd improved vastly in Potions over the past two years, but perfection wasn't something he'd even dared to aspire to. He'd have to now, clearly, if he wanted to avoid Snape's trademark glare-- any more than was necessary, at any rate, as avoiding The Glare altogether was impossible. Snape wanted him better-than-perfect, and Harry knew it.

Snape dissipated the cauldron's contents with a flick of his wrist. "We're going to brew Lupin's Wolfsbane potion today, Potter. Rather, you're going to." Snape pushed a piece of parchment toward him. "Here are the ingredients and the proportions. You're to combine them properly to produce the desired effect based on your inferred knowledge of each ingredient."

Harry tried not to gape. This potion had taken Snape ages to develop, he knew. And here he had to essentially create it from little more than a laundry list of ingredients and numbers. But he knew better than to try to argue. He set to work, knowing that Snape would brook no objection. He only hoped the castle would survive his efforts.

Several hours and countless explosions later, Harry at last came up with something that he thought might not kill Remus. It looked and smelled like the stuff he'd seen Remus drink, and it didn't appear to be about to explode, for which he congratulated himself heartily.

"Professor," he called wearily to Snape, who had been alternately marking papers and reading the entire time, "I think I've got it."

"I rather doubt that, Potter," Snape said, coming over to inspect the potion.

But Harry had, more or less, succeeded. It was harsher than what Snape ordinarily brewed, but the Potions Master allowed that it was usable. "Congratulations, Potter, on a decent job," Snape said, but his tone lacked his usual venom. Harry knew that he must take this as a glowing accolade.

"Thank you, sir," Harry said, trying not to beam idiotically at his professor.

Snape gave a derisive little snort. "Now, Potter, if you will please dispense with the unholy mess you've made in my laboratory."

No, it would have been too easy, too un-Snape-ish, to have just left it at the compliment. Harry sighed and set to work cleaning the remnants of the explosions off the floors and walls. It was an unholy mess, he had to allow. And Snape hadn't taken any points from him, which was a vast improvement over what happened every time Harry made a mistake in his Potions class. He could live with this. And he was most certainly not thinking about Snape's collarbone.


Chapter Seven

Harry panicked for a moment, just as Dumbledore was turning to leave. "Professor," he said desperately as the old man was stepping away, "is Neville all right? I mean, in my dream, he…" Surely Neville hadn't really died, had he? Harry feared that somehow, dreaming it might have made it so. Or that, perhaps, the dream had begun after Neville's death. He thought he knew when the dream had started. It had started after Neville's curse had hit him, hadn't it?

Dumbledore stepped back toward him and gave him an understanding look. "Neville is much as he ever was."

"Professor Snape didn't… say anything to him, then?"

"No, Harry. Professor Snape was far too concerned with your well-being to do anything but take a hundred points from Mr. Longbottom and leave me to deal with him."

Concerned with his well-being. This thought comforted Harry immensely-- it was a start, at least. But then something else struck him. Dumbledore was at Hogwarts. In the dream, he'd been gone. Did that mean he'd wanted Dumbledore to be gone? "And something else, sir-- it may sound like a strange question, but... have you been here all this time?"

"Here?"

"At Hogwarts. In my dream, you were off doing something for the Order, and only came back when..."

Dumbledore regarded him strangely. "I was, in fact, gone. I was in Egypt. I returned by emergency portkey when I was informed of what had happened to you."

"How could I have known that?" Harry said, more to himself than to Dumbledore.

The old wizard shook his head. "The mind works in mysterious ways, Harry. It is often better not to give its workings too much thought."

He only nodded his thanks to Dumbledore, who left him lost in thought. He wanted to sleep, but he was somewhat afraid to. Afraid that he might dream yet another world, only to wake and find that it, too, had been a fallacy. Perhaps, though, he'd dream a better world, and never have to wake up. He tried to shake such ideas from his mind. Yes, he could see why Rêve de Vie drove people mad.

He was saved from his thoughts by Ron and Hermione clattering into the room. He smiled wistfully at their barrage of questions, wondering if in this life they would become the happily married couple with the beautiful children he'd known in his dream.

"Yes, I'm fine," he said when they paused, teetering on a precipice for answers. "And no, I'm not going to tell you what I dreamed about."

"Is it true, though?" Hermione asked, eyes wide. "Is it true that you can actually learn, and retain real knowledge?"

Harry nodded. "Yes. I'll likely not be attending classes anymore. Dumbledore's going to arrange for me to take the N.E.W.T.s."

"You're leaving us, mate?" Ron asked with a pained look.

"I don't know. I learned some important information in my dream that'll help us get rid of Voldemort, so I might stay and work on that, at least for a while."

Ron let out a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness. We couldn't win the Quidditch cup without you."

"You'll have to," Harry said.

"What do you mean? Hermione, what does he mean?"

Hermione gave him an exasperated look. "He means that since he won't technically be a student anymore, he won't be eligible to play on the House team."

Ron let out a great noise that could only be described as a whine.

"Why can't Ginny do it?" Harry asked.

Ron turned as red as his hair and spluttered for a moment.

Hermione sighed. "Her… chest gets in the way."

"HERMIONE!" Ron exclaimed.

"Well, it's true."

Harry laughed. It felt good. "That explains why she refused to play with us this summer."

Ron nodded, still blushing. "Can we change the subject, please? I really don't want to think about my sister's... anatomy."

Harry snickered. "I'm sure there are plenty of people to do that job for you."

Ron made a disgusted noise.

"You really won't tell us anything that happened?" Hermione asked, finally taking pity on the flustered redhead.

Harry shook his head. "Not yet."

"But you will tell us," Ron said, obviously relieved at the subject change.

Harry nodded. "I haven't quite got it all sorted yet, so I wouldn't even know where to begin." And I'm certainly not telling you everything. "Dumbledore's going to bring me a Pensieve, so that should help."

"We can just have a look in there then, right?" said Ron excitedly.

Harry almost laughed, but it wasn't funny. "No, Ron. There are some things you probably don't want to know about. And the way the spell works, the dream was more or less a possible future. I don't think I should risk anyone seeing it."

***

Harry was released from the infirmary later that day, with instructions to go directly to the Headmaster's office. When he arrived, Dumbledore was sitting serenely behind his desk with a Pensieve in front of him.

"Ah, hello, Harry," he said. " You're looking much recovered. Come, sit. Tea, perhaps?" The mere suggestion caused a teapot to float over and pour itself into two cups. Harry had the vague feeling that he'd learned at some point how such things were done, but he couldn't place it.

Harry picked up the cup nearest him and took a sip, but the hot liquid did nothing to quell the nervous dryness in his mouth. The full import of the situation was beginning to sink in-- he'd have to sit back and remember everything.

"I've requisitioned this Pensieve from the Ministry. It is yours to keep, of course, but it will need to remain in this office, for obvious reasons."

Harry nodded. It would be disastrous if a Death Eater were to get his hands on the memories of what he and Severus had done to defeat Voldemort. "I'm not quite sure how to go about this."

"It will require a great deal of concentration, of course, and may prove a bit draining. You should not try to capture everything at once. Start with the first thing you remember. It's far easier to do in a linear manner. The memories will order themselves and thread together on their own. The spell is Captus," Dumbledore said, touching his wand to his forehead. Harry watched as a thin silvery strand appeared at the end of the wand. Dumbledore dangled it over the iridescent liquid in the Pensieve, but did not touch the surface. "Simple as that," he said, drawing the wand back to his head. The strand vanished.

"If I muck it up, will I forget everything?" Harry almost wondered if that might be a good thing.

"As long as whatever you draw out makes it into the Pensieve, no. Just make certain that the tip of your wand touches the surface." Dumbledore stood up. "I'll leave you to it, my boy. I'll be back in an hour or two to assure you remember to rest."

Right. Harry stared at his reflection in the dark, shimmering surface of the Pensieve. It was still so strange to see himself this young again. He'd forgotten how unkempt he'd looked as a teenager. Did look. Was looking. He had to keep himself in this reality. Still, though, it was his world to change now. Perhaps making a bit more effort with his appearance might help him win Severus over sooner. Sooner than what, though? He remembered everything, yes, but he couldn't put his finger on the exact day he'd known that Severus was his forever. It had been so slow, so gradual, so utterly uncertain at first. Harry had realised his own feelings rather quickly, but it had been an agonisingly long time before he'd known how Severus felt about him. Never presume to know my heart, Potter, Severus had once said to him. And Harry never had. Even once Severus had told him he loved him, he'd never presumed. One just couldn't presume things with him. Harry was struck by a terrible fear that he was presuming now-- what if a repeat performance of their relationship turned out to be impossible? But that was something to think about later.

Sighing, Harry cleared his mind and focused on the day he'd "woken up" in his dream. Oh, yes, he'd nearly forgotten that the first thing he'd seen had been Severus's face. Not that it had been a pleasing sight at the time. "Captus," he whispered, and watched with satisfaction as the silvery thread of memory shivered on the Pensieve's surface and vanished into the depths.


Chapter Eight

Harry had yet to tell his friends about Snape taking him on as an apprentice to be his eventual successor as Potions Master. In point of fact, he'd been more or less avoiding them since Neville's death. He'd been avoiding everyone, really. He knew by the looks on Ron and Hermione's faces that morning when he went down to breakfast that they were not going to tolerate him stuffing a piece of toast in his mouth and running off. Perhaps if he just acted as though everything were normal….

"Hello, you two," Harry said as he sat down, his voice full of false good humour.

"Hey, Harry," Ron said through a mouthful of food.

Perhaps Ron could be fooled, but Hermione snapped her book shut and fixed him with a glare that would have made Snape proud. She didn't even wait for Harry to start filling his plate with food before she started in on her questioning. "Harry, what's going on? We've barely seen you at all since you got out of hospital, and every time we do, you're rushing off somewhere. Is everything all right?"

Should he tell them? Snape hadn't told him to keep it a secret, after all. Then, eyeing Malfoy across the room, it occurred to him what Voldemort might think if he found out. It would make his life easier to tell them, but.... "Not here," he said.

By tacit agreement, the three of them got up and made their way to the deserted boys' dormitory. "All right," Hermione said, once the door was shut safely behind them. "Now what's going on?"

"Snape's taken me on as his apprentice," Harry said without preamble, as casually as he could muster under the circumstances.

"Harry, that's wonderful!" Hermione exclaimed, beaming proudly.

Ron, on the other hand, seemed to be choking on whatever he'd brought with him from the breakfast table. "Are you mad?" he finally spluttered.

"Ron, of course he's not!" Hermione said before Harry could even get a word out.

"No, I quite possibly am," Harry said. "Snape's certainly not making it fun."

Ron snorted, presumably at the mention of "Snape" and "fun" in the same sentence. "I thought you wanted to be an Auror, not a greasy git."

"Ron!" Hermione said. "Is it what you want to do, Harry?"

Harry sighed. "I don't know. I just sort of agreed to it without thinking."

Ron goggled at Harry dumbfoundedly for a moment, his mouth agape, before he said, "Wait… you mean he offered?"

Harry nodded. "Just because I'm doing it doesn't mean I have to become a Potions Master. He'll probably get sick of me in a few weeks anyway and tell me to bugger off."

"I still think you're mad," Ron muttered. "Voluntary Snape time. Urgh."

"He's not so bad." Harry spoke softly. Ron gave him a disbelieving look. "Right. Well, I've told you what's going on, because you asked, and if you want to think I'm mad for it, then go right ahead," he said, more snappishly than he meant to. "I'll see you later." He left the dormitory, wondering if he'd have been better off just making something up.


Harry returned to the dungeons after lessons and Quidditch were through for the day. Today, Harry was a little dismayed-- and more than a little surprised by his disappointment-- to find Snape still in the work robes he wore while teaching.

Snape did not greet him. "Tonight we're going to be replenishing some of the potions for the infirmary. There's been a bit of a run on Pepper-up and antidepressant potions since the…unfortunate events of a few days ago."

Harry could not contain a snort, but bit back the snide remark that was on the tip of his tongue.

Snape glared at him. "I'll stand for none of your witticisms, Potter," he chided evenly.

Harry set to work on the potions without a word. Somewhere between crushing the Billywig stings and macerating the fire ants, he looked up to find Snape staring at him. Not watching or observing, but staring. His heart skipped a beat.

"Is there a problem, Potter?" Snape said, his gaze unflinching.

Harry shook his head, as though the action would shake out his thoughts. He turned his attention back to his work, trying to ignore the… problem he seemed to be developing. It had nothing to do with Snape, he told himself. Merely the biology of being stared at, that was all. Right, he thought. Why was it that he couldn't even lie to himself convincingly?

He did not let himself look up again until half an hour later, when out of the corner of his eye, he saw Snape bolt up out of his chair, clutching his arm.

"He's calling you, isn't he?"

"Finish your work and clean up, then go directly back to your dormitory," Snape ground out, grimacing. "I expect to find this place in one piece when I get back."

Harry did as he was told, though somewhat distractedly. Just as he was putting away the last cauldron, he was gripped by the blinding pain of Cruciatus. He collapsed. The cauldron slipped from his hands and clattered to the floor.

He heard Voldemort's sibilant, acid voice. "You've failed me, Severus," the Dark Lord was saying. "We needed the Longbottom boy, you knew that. Why did you not stop him?"

"I'm sorry, Master," Snape said through clenched teeth. "Please do not blame me for the boy's stupidity."

"Give me one good reason," Voldemort said, his red eyes flashing with malice.

Harry could almost hear Snape struggling to think. "The… ah!... the Potter boy, Master. I've… offered to take him on as my apprentice, and he's accepted."

The pain stopped as soon as it had come on. "Oh? To what purpose, Severus?"

Snape regained his normal composure. "I thought, perhaps, my Lord," he said smoothly, "that if we cannot yet kill him, we might in the meantime use him."

Voldemort nodded his grotesque mockery of a head approvingly. "We could," he said. "Yes, we could indeed. An excellent idea, and tonight you'll live. But your ingenuity notwithstanding, you did not inform me of this beforehand. Therefore… Crucio!" The pain came back, worse this time, and Snape trembled silently under the curse, waiting it out.

Harry finally succeeded in pushing the vision from his mind and sat up, shaking. Why had Voldemort needed Neville? Harry couldn't begin to imagine it. Harry knew he should go back to Gryffindor, but he stayed to wait for Snape. He couldn't help it. The idea of Snape having to recover from his meeting alone hurt. The Potions Master staggered in after a few minutes, clearly too drained to question what Harry was still doing there or to scold him for it. Snape barely took any notice of him and passed through a door to the side of the ingredient cabinet. From the retching sounds he heard from within, Harry assumed that the door led to the toilet. After what seemed a safe amount of time, Harry cautiously stuck his head through the doorway.

Snape was kneeling over the toilet, wiping his face on his sleeve.

"Professor? Can I get you anything?"

"Go back to your dormitory, Potter," Snape said, his voice lacking its usual command.

Harry wet a cloth in the sink and passed it to Snape, who took it without protest. "Is there a potion you need?"

Snape smirked, apparently having somewhat recovered. "You tell me, Potter."

Harry bit back a grin. "Well, an anti-nausea and a pain potion would clearly be in order, but I'm willing to bet you've got something else brewed up specifically for times like this." All he got in response was an expectant look. "Right, I'll go see if I can find it."

Harry rifled through Snape's personal cupboard, and finally found a brownish something labelled only "S.S." That had to be it. He took the bottle in to Snape, who drank the entire contents of the vial in one go, not flinching despite the fact that the mere stench of the stuff overpowered the smell of blood and vomit that already permeated the room.

"You'd make a formidable house-elf, Potter," was all Snape said by way of thanks. He stood up, faltering slightly. Harry caught his arm to steady him. Their eyes locked for a split second before Snape wrenched his arm out of Harry's grasp. "Potter, why are you still here?"

"When… when Voldemort cursed you, I dropped what I was holding. I'd just finished cleaning it up when you came in." Harry knew the whole truth probably wouldn't go over very well. Snape was begrudging enough of his care already, and probably wouldn't take kindly to the fact that Harry had been worried about him.

"Well, if you've finished invading my privacy, I'd suggest you go back to Gryffindor before I regain my faculties and start taking points."

"Right," he said, tight-lipped and a little angry. "Goodnight, Professor. I hope you feel better." He stormed out of the lab. He knew Snape wasn't the most emotionally expressive of people, but he'd hoped to see perhaps just a shred more humanity from the man. Not gratitude, even. Harry didn't dare hope for that much. He'd have been satisfied with the slightest hint of acknowledgement on Snape's part that yes, he had been in pain. But… well, Snape hadn't taken any points from him, which could quite very well be that shred of humanity. But damn it, it wasn't enough. Right. Who cares about the greasy old git anyway?

His annoyance faded the further he got from the Dungeons, and his mind turned again to what Voldemort had said. We needed the Longbottom boy. Needed him how, exactly? Needed him to turn him to the dark side and help kill Harry? Or needed him alive because of the prophecy? But no, that didn't make any sense, did it? The prophecy wasn't about Neville-- that had been made clear long before either Voldemort or Harry had known the thing in its entirety. Yes, Voldemort must have thought that Neville would be an easy target for recruitment. That had to be it. But the nauseous apprehension Harry felt growing in the pit of his stomach kept him from being entirely convinced. Harry ultimately thought it best to answer himself.


Chapter Nine


"Is that all I am to you? Just someone to fuck because you can't find anything better?"

"You know that isn't true." Severus's tone was not plaintive, merely matter-of-fact, but the set of his jaw told Harry that he had struck a nerve.

"Do I? How would I know that, Severus? You've never told me any such thing."

"Potter. Don't be an idiot."

"I'm not being an idiot."

"You are. A thing doesn't fail to exist merely because it's never put into words."

"And it doesn't lose value just because it is put into words," Harry countered.

"I refuse to shower you with empty words for the sole purpose of saying them."

"Oh, they'd be empty words, then, would they?"

Severus closed his eyes for a moment and sighed, then opened them again. "Harry," he said, the annoyance in his features softening into the countenance Harry only saw when they were alone. He extended an arm. "Come here."

Harry took his hand and allowed himself to be pulled into Severus's arms, which enveloped him protectively. "I'm sorry," he muttered into the shoulder of Snape's cloak. "I just..."

"Shhh." Severus ran his fingers gently through Harry's hair, brushing them over the nape of his neck. "Things unsaid are only unsaid, not unfelt," he whispered.


"Captus," Harry said, lips just barely moving to form the word. He watched as the silver thread of that memory joined the others in the Pensieve. He stared down into the dark pool, eyes stinging with tears. With every memory he touched, it seemed, he lost Severus all over again. He knew these weren't the memories from his dream life he was supposed to be recording. He knew he should be concentrating on the memories of making the potion that had brought down Voldemort all those yesterdays ago. But every time he tried to catch onto one of those memories, his mind stuck on something else, some touch or some whisper.

The door clicked open slowly, and Harry blinked tearily up at Dumbledore.

"Progress?" asked the Headmaster.

Harry shook his head. "I… I keep thinking of other things. Every time I get to the right memory, something or other in it takes me into another one."

Dumbledore nodded sagely. "Let it happen. What surfaces first is what your mind is trying to tell you is most important."

Well, that was an understatement. And Harry couldn't help feeling like a selfish prat for not seeing the potion as the most important task at hand. He wanted to, but Severus seemed more important to him than the fate of the world.

"Enough for now, though," said Dumbledore. "We can't have you putting yourself back in hospital, after all."

Harry nodded. "Sir…" It was still so strange not to call him Albus, even though Harry was sure he would have understood. "I know the Pensieve has to stay in here, and I know you'll need to see into it later, but--"

Dumbledore held up his hand. "I shall not look until I have your permission."

Harry thanked him, but couldn't help but think Hell might have just frozen over. Though Dumbledore had certainly broken that sort of promise before. Harry could only hope he wouldn't look, because he really didn't want to have to explain himself. Not only about Severus. There were other things, things he didn't even want to think about right now. Or ever again.

Harry was exhausted, but he couldn't bring himself to go back to the Gryffindor Common Room just yet. The very idea seemed too strange for words. His first thought was that he was a grown man, and had no business rooming with teenagers. His second thought was 'Potter, you idiot.' He could feel twenty-seven all he wanted, but at the end of the day, reality had to be acknowledged.

Instead of stopping at the Fat Lady's portrait, he kept going up, to the Astronomy Tower. It wasn't quite dark yet, so he thought it unlikely that he'd be disturbed. He slumped against the wall, resting his chin on the cold stone of a parapet, and gazed out over the grounds. He could see Hagrid out in his pumpkin patch, and a group of students racing toward the Quidditch pitch with their brooms, shouting and laughing. It seemed so long ago that he'd been a part of the world he was now looking down on. But it had only been two days. To them, anyway. Harry felt that an eternity had passed, and it had. But it hadn't merely passed-- it had been lost.

A troubling thought wormed its way to the surface of his thoughts, breaking through his wistfulness. One possibility of your future based on your desires. Desires. So did that mean that he'd wanted Neville dead? He didn't question the later events of his dream, as he assumed they were consequences of the things that had gone before them. And the first event, the one that all the rest hinged on, was the one that led up to Neville's suicide. It didn't make any sense. He'd been crushed when he'd found out what Neville had done. He hadn't wanted him dead then, and he certainly didn't want him dead now. What would he even gain if Neville died? Harry was at an utter loss to think of anything.

Perhaps it was because Neville had been the last person he'd seen before the dream started, before he embarked on his new life. Old life. False life, he reminded himself. But yes, that had to be it. There was no reason to want Neville dead. Unless he'd somehow known that Voldemort needed him. But that didn't make any sense either. Fear gripped him. Did Voldemort need Neville in this life too? Fuck. There was only one way he knew to find that out, and it meant talking to Severus. Which wasn't something he was ready for. Not until he'd come up with a proper plan to win his affections. And hell, what if winning his affections wasn't even possible? He knew Severus-- or perhaps he didn't, really. But he didn't think Severus would take kindly to being a prize to be won. It isn't like that. It wasn't about winning him. It was about… well, it was about needing him. More than needing him. The mental struggle was making him feel sick and dizzy, and looking down on the grounds wasn't helping. The floor didn't seem so steady anymore.

Harry sighed heavily, head and heart and gut aching, and stumbled away from the parapet. He left the tower and started down the stairs, hanging onto the banister with a white-knuckled grip. He was cold, so cold, and too hot at the same time. Breathing was too much work, and his legs didn't seem to want to cooperate with him. He stared straight ahead, trying to keep his eyes on a nice level patch of wall rather than on the incline below him. The world seemed to swing back and forth with every step he took. And then it turned upside down when he saw who was coming up the stairs toward him. Severus.

He could do this. He could look normal, act normal, walk past Severus and ignore him. But his steps grew slower and more difficult, and he could hear the blood pounding in his ears, and every inch closer he got to Severus, the more he felt that the world was going to end right here on this staircase. And the castle agreed with him, it seemed. Just as Severus crossed from the landing onto the same staircase as Harry, the stairs shifted, swinging them out into the middle of the stairwell, and the flight above it did the same, effectively trapping them, and knocking Harry's already shaky equilibrium so hard that all he could do was sit down, struggling to breathe. "Fuck," he muttered under his breath.

"Language, Potter," Severus said, glowering down at him.

Harry looked up at him slowly, trying not to move his head too quickly, and trying even harder not to wince at Severus's You-Impertinent-Brat tone. "Sorry," he managed to mumble.

If Severus noticed Harry's current state of pain and nausea, it didn't show on his face. "Where should you be, Potter?"

A lot closer to you. "Nowhere, really," he said miserably, barely above a whisper. He remembered what it was like not to have this man's respect, certainly, but it had been an eternity since it had actually been a reality. No, it was never a reality. It was a dream. A dream. A lie.

"Potter, are you ill?" he said. There was no change in his tone, no show of concern on his face, no matter how much Harry wanted there to be.

Harry shook his head. "Just need…" A stiff drink. You. My life back. "…to lie down."

"That much is apparent," Severus muttered, then sighed. "I shall escort you to the hospital wing once the staircases decide to make such a thing possible," he said, looking rather put-upon.

"NO!" Harry exclaimed, the sound of his voice echoing loudly in his head and stabbing through his eye sockets.

Severus sneered at him. "Watch your tone, Potter."

"I just hate it there," Harry said. "I'm not ill, I just feel like shit."

The sneer softened into a smirk. "Astonishing, Potter. Anyone would think you enjoyed the attention."

"Just… don't," Harry said, no longer caring that he wasn't speaking to the same man he'd known two days ago. Because he was. This was the same Severus. It had to be. It had to be possible to build in life what they'd had in the dream.

"You're treading on dangerous ground, Mr. Potter."

The stairs shifted back before Harry could formulate his reply, and his stomach lurched at the sudden movement. He groaned and covered his eyes with his hands.

"You're quite clearly unwell," Severus said tiredly.

Harry nodded, blinking back the tears that seemed to becoming a permanent fixture in his eyes. "I probably am," he said hoarsely, daring at last to meet Severus's eyes. "But I don't think there's anything Pop-- Madam Pomfrey can do."

Severus sighed, and his lips tightened into a thin line. Then he turned and started back down the stairs. "Follow me, Potter," he said, waving his hand behind him, as though it were that easy.

Harry managed to stand up, but his legs gave in to the vertigo and turned to mush, refusing to do anything more than tremble, no matter how much weight he put on the banister. Severus must have heard him stumble and turned back, because there were suddenly strong arms around him, and his whole world became that scent of rosemary and dragonhide and burnt sugar that he'd come to know so well. He tried to say something, anything, but it came out as a whimper, so he closed his eyes and gave up.


~~to be continued~~

©2004 Deirdre Riordan. Email comments to deirdre.riordan @ gmail.com (remove spaces)

If you'd like to leave feedback for this story on my lj, you can do it here. Yes, I know I haven't updated in a month and a half, but shit happens. I'm still working on this, I promise. Chapter 10 is half-written, and I've even enlisted a second beta. I will tentatively promise it by the end of February, but hopefully sooner.



...back to fiction...