Chapter IV - Bubhall
The war between the Order of the Phoenix and the followers of the Dark Lord proceeded, but Harry watched it from afar. Hogwarts, which in his first four years there had proved itself a place full of surprises and secrets to be shared with his friends, had already utterly lost its enchantment the year before; now it felt like nothing but an overwhelming, lonely routine. Ron and Hermione, as Prefects, were always busy. And Harry was unable to open his mind to them, tell them about his worries. He had had to tell them that he spent Wednesday nights working with Snape in a secret project for the Order, since they obviously hadn't bought the "remedial potions" excuse. However, as Dumbledore had sworn him to secrecy, he didn't get to disclose anything else.
Maybe it was the lack of something to do, or maybe some stubbornly lasting memories of the Green Lady night, but the fact was that Snape wouldn't leave his thoughts. He was a puzzle Harry couldn't decipher.
One time, during a late afternoon, Harry located on the Marauder's Map the tiny dot named Severus Snape in one of the dungeons that usually wasn't employed for classes. Close to it there was another dot with the inscription, "Blaise Zabini". The two dots kept a certain distance from each other, while moving constantly. It was a rather strange choreography. What could they be doing? Suddenly, the Blaise Zabini dot was thrown against a wall! Soon afterwards the Severus Snape dot moved closer to it, then stepped away once more.
Since that day Harry began to watch Snape through the map during his free time. And he found out that not only Blaise Zabini but also three more Slytherins - a fourth-year named Basedow Wolke, a seventh-year girl called Karen Khan and, goddamn it, Draco Malfoy! - took turns facing Snape in that room. It looked like... a Slytherin private duelling club.
As he saw Snape duelling with Draco Malfoy, intense rage assailed him. Snape refused to teach Harry Defence Against the Dark Arts, but offered private lessons to Draco Malfoy? Harry put on the Invisibility Cloak and marched to the dungeons. He walked past the Potions classroom and Snape's office, moving to the abandoned room where the duels took place. The door was closed; Harry grasped the doorknob and opened it slightly.
The two duellists had their focus on the combat, so Harry managed to enter and close the door without being noticed. He sat on the floor, in a corner near the door, and watched. Snape yelled instructions to Draco the whole time, and the latter paid attention to everything the teacher said. Whenever he hit Draco more violently, the teacher made a point of checking if the student was all right. Draco wouldn't recoil. Harry had never expected to see such a dedicated Draco.
With his eyes locked in the duel, Harry didn't notice the vapourous figure sneaking upon him. "Ah-hah! How dare you invade the realms of the King of Slytherin, impertinent Gryffindor? Surrender or I will disembowel you and pulverise your bones!"
The Bloody Baron! For a moment, Harry was frozen. Draco and Snape turned to where the Baron was looking at, in other words, in *his* direction! So Harry leaped to his feet, firmly holding the cloak. He opened the door and ran out through the dungeons corridors, trying to keep the cloak in place. The Baron, always faster, kept trying to stand in his way, forcing Harry to walk through him, which caused a very unpleasant, distracting chill through his spine.
A shout was heard in the hallway, "Petrificus Totalus!"
Harry raised his head, propped up on his elbows and looked around, disconcerted. He was on a sofa in front of a fireplace in... Snape's office! At a glance, out of the corner of his eye, Harry spotted Ceci staring at him with concern. Snape came closer and halted a few inches away, looming over Harry. "So, what was the greatest rule-breaker in the entire wizarding world, the illustrious Harry Potter, up to this time? Spying on me?"
Harry lowered his head and remained quiet. After all, it was indeed a good question, and he didn't know how to answer it without getting himself into yet more trouble.
"Lost your tongue, Mr Potter?"
"Er... I... don't know, sir."
"You don't know! Perhaps some spirit possessed you, put your cloak on and brought you down to the dungeons?"
"So? What is your explanation? Out with it, I've been patient enough."
The proximity to the older wizard's body disturbed him. Formerly, Snape had inspired in him nothing but fear and revulsion. Now his emotions were much more complex. There was also shame, pain, humiliation and... He couldn't name that feeling. Desire? Attraction?
"I've been waiting, Mr Potter, and for quite a while, for you to explain to me why you dared invade the privacy of my House."
"Why are you teaching duelling to Draco Malfoy, Blaise Zabini and the other Slytherins... 'clandestinely'?"
"'Clandestinely'!" Snape snorted. "I have no interest in revealing anything regarding the way I direct my House. And I won't tolerate your coming to spy on us! I will report your behaviour to the Headmaster."
"Why do you tutor the Slytherins and tell me Dumbledore forbids you to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts?"
"I have already told you, this is my business. If you have any questions about this matter, take them to the Headmaster."
A long silence followed this statement. Harry stood up and walked to Ceci's enclosure. He stretched his arm to her, and she coiled around it.
"Mr Potter, has nobody taught you that turning your back on a teacher is rather disrespectful?"
Harry left Ceci in the enclosure and went slowly to the fireplace. On the mantel he found a strange object, apparently a horn, twisted like a snail. Somewhat distracted, he took the horn-snail in his hands. As he did so, he felt an odd vibration. He brought the mysterious object to his ear and heard a mighty clangour. It was like the echo of sea waves. He returned the horn to the mantel and turned back to the teacher. "Everybody seems to know my role in this war. While the so-called 'Golden Boy' is as lost as a fish in the Sahara, trying to figure out what he's supposed to do."
"I'm surprised at this statement, Mr Potter, since you evidently take pride in playing the role of troublemaker," Snape snapped.
For the first time Snape was right to say so, Harry thought. The problem was that not even he knew what he was looking for. That was precisely the problem: he didn't know what he wanted from Snape. However, a deep anger - against everything, everybody, and maybe above all against himself - came over him. He needed to do something drastic, or else that anger would swallow him whole.
"That's right. This whole time you've been telling me that and it wasn't true. I could tell you, in all honesty, that it was trouble that would find me. But now I've had enough of being the... the prey. I've had enough, you get it? I hate you, and I hate Dumbledore too," Harry yelled, and ran away, banging the office door.
After a moment of hesitation, Snape decided it was best to go after Harry. In the state he was, the Gryffindor would probably get himself into trouble. He ran up the stairs and got to the Great Hall in time to see him dashing out of the castle. This was ridiculous, chasing a student like that, but what else could he do? He could summon his broom, but in the Forbidden Forest - for all indications were that the brat was heading there - one could only fly over the treetops, making it hard to locate him.
Harry ran past Hagrid's hut and into the Forbidden Forest. He was fast, but Snape didn't let him out of sight. However, the wood was gradually becoming denser. He had to leap over logs, twist his body and lower his head to avoid the branches, be careful not to get his robe entangled in that mess. It was such irresponsibility, the brat would pay for it. What if the Dark Lord or a Death Eater spotted him? Outside Hogwarts, Harry was unprotected.
Dusk approached. Snape was already tired of dodging branches and vines when, coming to a glade, he found Harry standing still, gazing at the skyline. To the west, near the setting sun, an unicorn calmly sauntered.
Snape moved closer to Harry, who, without even turning, told him, "So beautiful, isn't it? You know, in fourth year we studied unicorns with Professor Grubbly-Plank and then with Hagrid, but I was so worried about Hagrid and that damn Triwizard Tournament, I didn't even pay attention to the unicorns. Now, I was running like an idiot and I saw the unicorn, and it was as if a surge of energy, a force more powerful than me, had made me halt and see how crazy I was..."
"They are said to be a good augury," Snape noted with a very uncharacteristic gleam in his eyes as he turned from the beautiful animal to Harry. "If you want, I can teach you an ancient spell in Gaelic... You aren't exactly a virgin damsel, but... I think he will go to you."
Harry's eyes widened. "Really? Why don't you say the spell yourself?"
Snape stretched his arm, pulling the sleeve to show the Dark Mark. "With this, he will never come near me."
Harry gazed at him with sadness, perhaps compassion. Snape moved forward and began dictating the words, which Harry would then repeat.
As soon as Harry uttered the last word, the unicorn turned to them and came in their direction. Snape stepped back a little, his eyes locked in the animal's fluttering mane. The unicorn approached Harry until it was at arm's length. Then, as if controlled by invisible strings, it knelt before him.
Smiling to Snape, Harry mounted the unicorn. The latter stood up and started trotting. Clueless about how to ride the animal, Harry simply led it take him wherever it wanted. The unicorn rounded the entire glade, and returned to their starting point. Snape awaited them there, watching them with awe. It was an impressive sight: the young wizard, radiating magic, and the white unicorn, symbol of purity and white magic. How was it possible to emanate so much power? What a strange combination, power and fragility at the same time...
When Harry and the unicorn miraculously came near him, Severus Snape thought it could only be a dream. Harry made a gesture to dismount. Snape stretched his arms to him. The young wizard's slender body willingly fell in the arms of the older one. Their bodies brushed before Harry's feet touched the ground and, as if moved by sheer magic, their lips met. On that moment, the magic radiating from the two wizards merged for a brief instant, creating multicoloured lights and reflections. The stars of Ursa Major, the septuor, shone intensely in the sky around them, and ethereal music permeated the air. All sensations seemed to be blending, leaving them dizzy, intoxicated. The moment was infinite but, paradoxically, it couldn't last long, or else they couldn't resist the strength of that magic. They separated because, if they had stayed like that one second longer, they would have never been able to return to earth, to the real world.
Harry breathed deeply and shook his head, his eyes glazed. "What... what was that?"
Still breathless, astonished, Snape didn't answer.
"This wasn't just a kiss, was it?" Harry insisted.
"No, it wasn't."
A long silence.
"Let's get back to the castle. This place isn't safe," the teacher stated imperatively.
"You really won't explain to me what's just happened, will you?"
"No, Potter. And more: you'd better forget this so we can go back to treating each other the way we always have."
"I see. I'm the idiot boy, insolent brat, foolish Gryffindor. And you're the greasy old git, sadistic teacher, loathsome Slytherin."
"To hell with you! You can't deny what's just happened! It was as if the stars had come down to earth and our bodies had been turned into pure light and music."
"And what are we to do about it? You are sixteen. I am old enough to be your father. You are my student. You are Gryffindor, I am Slytherin. I have this lovely Mark in my arm that puts me under the control of possibly the most powerful and certainly the most malignant wizard on earth, whose obsession is to destroy you."
"It doesn't matter if I'm only sixteen. I'll never forget what happened today. It's something infinitely larger than these ridiculous differences of age and Houses. As for Voldemort, the prophecy says I'll have to face him anyway."
Severus Snape, you are being an idiot, Snape mused. The boy is too young, he will never understand. The way things are now, he will never leave you alone. There isn't any other way.
"You are too young and believe in all those Gryffindorishly romantic ideals. Courage and ideals are important, but they're not everything." Black eyes met green ones, piercing them. "Obliviate."