I had a lot to pack into this one, so its split into three parts, so I could do it justice. I worked really hard on this, its taken the better part of several months of picking away at it. There were like a million tiny pieces that had to be put together and interwoven, it was nuts. And making Snape human to Harry without un-snape-ing him… thats hard work right there folks. Hope you like it. if your not happy with it, sod off :)

0o0o0o0o0o

Severus looked up from his marking and frowned when the wards alerted him that it was Potter knocking on his door. He sighed, at least the boy had excellent timing. He'd almost finished his marking. They did need to talk, this saved Severus from having to hunt the kid down or summon him. And maybe being here on his own terms would help the boy be a bit less anxious for Hekate's sake.

"Enter," Severus called, flicking his wand at the door. It swung open. No-one was there, but the wards across the doorway alerted him to someone crossing the threshold.

Good, he thought, the boy had heeded his warning.

He flicked his wand at the door again, shutting it.

"I'll be with you in just a moment, Mr Potter," Severus said calmly, indicating the chair opposite his desk, "have a seat, we have much to discuss."

Potter slowly pulled off his cloak, tucking it away in his pocket. The boy looked pale and clammy, Severus thought as he turned back to quickly finish marking his last essay.

Harry sat, and after a moment, Professor Snape put his quill down and looked up.

"We have several things to discuss, but before we get to any of that, William assures me that your Occlumency is progressing well. Is that correct?" He asked.

"Yes, sir," Harry said wearily, strengthening his shields in paranoia.

He really didn't want Professor Snape in his head, even if that was what he had come for.

Professor Snape allowed the slip and just said, "there are a few other things we need to discuss. Many of which require Occlumency first, for numerous reasons that we cannot discuss until your shields are satisfactory."

As Severus spoke, he gently extended his mind to passively test the boy's outer shields. He could feel a thick defensive outer fog, then only harmless school-related thoughts milling around Potter's outer mind. Nothing important and none of the anxiety Severus knew the boy was feeling. Interesting. So the boy had some skill. Good. Did he have shields around his inner mind too? And were they better than just fog?

But before he could press, the boy sensed him and shoved. Hard. Sending Severus tumbling out of the boy's outer mind with far more force than he'd expected.

Harry glared harshly at Professor Snape, looking both terrified and furiously pissed off. Then he blanched looking horrified at his own audacity as if he expected to be yelled at for having emotions. Severus almost laughed.

Instead he allowed himself to show the boy a small weakness and rubbed his throbbing temples. He did not, however, let himself show his surprise.

He was surprised that he been sensed at all. Especially when using such a delicate scan like that, and to be properly ejected... Passive scans often went unnoticed, Severus was both careful and very good at what he did.

But that was a good sign. It suggested some practice and skill. Potter was able to tell he was there and was prepared for this unexpected check; as well as hide things from his outer mind. That all meant he was occluding, at least to an extent, all the time now. Or often. Severus was impressed.

But there had been something odd about the boy's mind; something not quite right... He'd need to have a closer look to make sure the boy was well. If the boy had been magicked who knew what else had been done to him, Severus thought worriedly.

To Harry's surprise, his Professor didn't yell, just said, "very good. There is too much at stake as I am sure you know," as if that was a perfectly good explanation.

Harry looked at him hard for a long moment. Was the Professor referring to Lily or the war, or Dumbledore, or all of the above? Harry didn't think it prudent to ask.

"That was without eye contact," Harry said wide-eyed.

"Yes," Professor Snape said, "not everyone can do it. Only those naturally adpt at the art can learn to do it that way. It is a difficult skill to master, and it is even harder when aiming for more than just a passive outer scan. Proper Legilimency, without eye contact, is extremely difficult and magically draining, but not impossible."

"We can discuss it more later, but first is there anything you would like to own up to?" Professor Snape asked, turning a piercing look onto Harry.

Wait, what? Harry thought, caught off guard by the sudden topic change.

"Erm, no... I don't think so..." Harry said hesitantly, "about what, sir?"

Professor Snape narrowed his eyes, "I know about the potions and the ingredients you've been stealing from me."

"Well, that makes one of us..." Harry said before his brain could catch up.

Hells teeth, Harry thought, suddenly working it out, he's blaming me for Crouch. Fuck.

Snape glared at him, "someone has broken into my store cupboard. Again."

"I haven't been stealing anything from you!" Harry hurried to say.

"Don't lie to me," Snape hissed, his fathomless black eyes boring into Harry's with a harshness that had not been there for a while. "I'm warning you if I catch you breaking into my office one more time-

"I'm not," Harry said, "really! I haven't stolen from you."

"Boomslang skin. Nutrient Potions. Dittany. All come from my private stores, and I know who stole them."

"It wasn't me! My potions come from my healer, Riptooth, or I brew them myself. I told you this. The boomslang wasn't me, what do I need boomslang skin for?" Harry said not willing to mention that had been Hermione back in second year and not sure how to explain about Crouch without explaining about the map.

Snape's eyes narrowed. He plunged a hand into the inside of his black robes. For one wild moment, Harry thought Snape was about to hit him or curse him. He ducked.

This seemed to stop Snape.

Who took a breath, and said in a careful even voice, "I'm not going to hit you. I am angry, but I will never hit you."

Harry saw that Snape had drawn out a small crystal bottle of a completely clear potion. Harry stared at it.

"Do you know what this is?" Snape asked.

Harry frowned at it and shook his head.

"Veritaserum is a Truth Potion so powerful that three drops would have you spilling your innermost secrets," said Snape quietly, and Harry froze, his heart in his throat.

"Now, I would like to give you the opportunity, to tell the truth about your nighttime trips to my office."

Harry could hardly breathe; he was so terrified all of a sudden. He poured strength into his occlumency shields, reinforcing them, but it didn't seem to help him choke back his terror. Snape was going to poison him.

He shuddered at the thought of what might come spilling out of his mouth if Snape did... quite apart from landing a whole lot of people in trouble - Hermione from Second year with the original boomslang skin. How would he explain knowing it was Crouch, about the map, about all the other secrets he had that he had to keep, so he and his friends could stay safe. He didn't want Snape knowing that he had a way out of the castle, that he was connected to her, that he had elves, or that he was in contact with Sirius or the Horcruxes or that he was one, or that...

The list went on and on, and he could hardly breathe. His vision was going spotty, and he wavered in his chair.

Snape swore, "breathe you stupid child. Breathe. I'm not going to poison you! I just want you to tell me the truth. Breathe!"

Harry did.

"And another," Snape ordered.

And Harry did.

"Again."

Harry did, letting Snape talk him down from his panic attack.

"Veritaserum is highly regulated by the ministry, I'm not going to use it on an underage student!"

"Then why'd you threaten me with it?" Harry asked hoarsely, "and 'm not lying."

"I didn't threaten you! I let your assumptions do all the work for me. That is all that is ever needed," he said, putting the bottle back in his pocket. "Besides do you really think I just keep that stuff lying around? It needs to be specially brewed, it has a short shelf life and is not to be wasted on students. That was moon water. It just looks like Veritaserum. It's a trick that works well on some of my older snakes that think they can get away with lying to me."

"Oh," Harry said hollowly.

"Now why don't we try again. I know about the nutrient potions and the dittany at the start of the term. You should have just asked me, I would have given them to you if you needed them. You should not be self-medicating. It is dangerous."

Several other things suddenly clicked into place, and Harry groaned. So that's were Dobby and Winky got all the dittany and nutrient potions, from Snape.

"A house-elf was medicating me," He said bluntly, "I didn't know they were taken from you. I'm sorry, sir."

Professor Snape froze, it must be bad for a house-elf to prescribe them; to sense the need. Just how bad were things for this boy?

"That would explain so much," Professor Snape said pinching his nose, "normally elves request things for their masters. At least crouches old elf asks me directly for things her new master needs. She insists on scrubbing cauldrons in exchange. Tell your elf to just ask me next time. I won't say no if a student needed it."

Somehow it didn't surprise Harry that when Dobby went to get them, he forgot to ask. Harry made a mental note that he really needed to thank Winky.

"My healer is now supplying my potions, Riptooth. And I brewed my own Dittany over break, I don't need any more. I'm sorry, I didn't know they were getting them from you. I can work off what they took!"

"No."

Professor said firmly broking no argument.

"But-" Harry protested.

"No." The Professor repeated simply, "you are a child. As I have told the elf, a child's guardian is responsible for caring for them and providing medication they need. Hogwarts fills that role while students are in our care. I will make them for you."

"But-"

"No buts. Let it go child," he said gently, "you need the potions. I am a potion master and your teacher. I will take care of it.

"You just threatened me, and now you want me to take potions from you?" Harry said.

Snape snorted, "I didn't threaten you. I made several leading statements, and you assumed. I have not, and will not poison my students, or force potions upon them without permission. The tactic of leading to assumptions just works well on students who lie." He said pointedly.

"That's actually pretty clever," Harry said reluctantly ignoring the admittedly not so unfounded dig, "you won't really dose me with veritaserum?"

"No, I won't. And yes, it is. I am a clever man. Medi-wizardrey was one of the things I studied along with my potion mastery. If there is anything your goblin healer cannot provide, or you cannot get to them, come to me if you insist on avoiding the hospital wing."

Harry made a non-committal noise but nodded.

Severus was pretty sure the boy was just placating him, but at least he knew the offer was there.

"Now, the boomslang skin?" Snape asked.

"Not me," Harry said, not sure what to tell the man that wouldn't somehow result in getting yelled at.

Snape narrowed his eyes and looked at Harry for a long moment.

"I may have been hasty in my most recent accusation," he started to Harry's great surprise. "But I do know you were involved in the theft of it in Second Year; no matter what you claim. I am very good at spotting lies. So how about you at least own up to the most recent one or at least tell me what you actually know about it.

Harry sighed, "I really have nothing to do with it."

"I was warned last time someone broke in, by a house-elf. The same elf that stole the nutrient potions for you. Why don't you tell me everything you know, and I'll ignore the fact you, Granger and Weasley stole ingredients in Second Year to brew Polyjuice Potion."

Harry blinked at him, winced, then froze as a thought occurred to him. Polyjuice Potion. Boomslang skin.

No one had seen Mr Crouch. Harry realised. He wasn't sick, he was using Polyjuice Potion to pretend to be someone else! But who? And what did Moody have to do with it? They seemed to be in on it together, they were in Moody's office often enough so what were they up to...

"Potter," Snape snapped.

Harry flinched, startled, and got the impression Snape had been trying to get his attention for a while.

"Sorry," he said hunching in on himself.

"Talk to me."

"You won't believe me, you'll just yell." He said quietly, "you lot never believe me."

"Well, if you don't talk to me I'll make wrong assumptions, and keep thinking you're a thief and yell anyway. So you may as well just tell me," the man said.

Harry just looked at him, then said, "that logic is sound but not at all convincing."

"I may yell, but I will never hurt you. I know something is going on. I know you know something about it. I want to know what you know. Half the messes you have ended up in so far is because you did not ask for help when you needed it! Tell me."

Harry all but glared at him.

"I can't help you if you don't talk to me."

Harry stared at him. Fuck, he didn't know what to do. Adults never listened before, least of all teachers. But Bill trusted Snape. His mum had trusted Snape. Snape swore to protect him. He wanted Snape to be the Sev his mum had been best friends with. The Sev who cared. He wanted to think that Snape was a good person like Bill did. But that wasn't meshing well with the Snape he'd met in the first three years of school.

But Snape had been decent lately. And Snape had said he'd been potioned. Maybe there was still some of his mum's Sev left.

"And if I can't tell you how I know something?" Harry hedged, testing the man and hoping like hell it wouldn't blow up in his face.

Snape sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose, and closed his eyes for a long moment, "something is better than nothing."

"What else was missing?" Harry asked urgently instead, "it wasn't just boomslang was it."

He went on, not waiting for an answer. "It was bicorn horn and lacewing flys, maybe leeches too. I bet other Polyjuice ingredients were also stolen, but some are available in the student store cupboard so you may not know. How often do you do stock take...?" Harry trailed off, feeling sick.

"Polyjuice is not the only potion with Boomslang or bicorn in it... but continue," Snape ordered watching Harry intently.

"They're making poly juice. And it's not me. I have no need for Polyjuice really. Please, you have to believe me. It's not me; it's-" Harry clamped his mouth shut, chewing on his bottom lip.

"Tell me."

"Bartimeus Crouch. He was breaking in. I didn't see him doing it, but I know it was him. I sent Dobby to warn you so you'd catch him and not blame me."

Snape looked thunderous for a moment and stalked away across the room. His magic flared chaotically for a moment before it was gone, leaving Harry reeling.

"How do you know this?" Snape asked, but it was more of an order.

"Um, I just do?" Harry tried not daring to say anything about the map, reinforcing his occlumency shields.

Snape narrowed his eyes, and Harry offered a half truth.

"Winky works here, she used to be his elf, and is hedgy about some things relating to him. It made sense."

Snape narrowed his eyes.

"Hogwarts tells me things sometimes." He added, trying to avoid the map and still tell the truth.

"Hogwarts tells you things?" Snape asked.

"Yes, sir. " Harry said nodding, "she keeps an eye out for me, so people can't sneak up on me. She tells me when people are around."

All true, though she couldn't speak directly, she could give him enough of a nudge to know to check the map, which was now technically connected to Hogwarts. So none of that was a lie.

Snape was quiet for a very long moment. "Of course she is sentient. That makes so much more sense now. No wonder no-one can catch you in the corridors," he said sounding mildly dumbfounded, "okay go on."

"Wait, what?" Harry said gobsmacked.

"I believe you. Continue," Snape said as if to say, well get on with it then!

"You do?" He said incredulously.

"Yes," Professor Snape said, almost rolling his eyes, "I can always tell when you lie. You're not telling me the whole truth but what you are telling is the truth. I believe you. Half this trouble is from miscommunication and not listening to you. Never let it be said that I do not learn from my mistakes."

Harry gapped, astonished. And how the hell did the man know he was lying. He was occluding, he was keeping a straight face. How did the man know?

Snape still passing around the room looking deep in thought, said absently, "your occluding but your outer mind stills shifts when you lie. Even without legilimency, I can sense it. It's the gaps between built shields and natural ones. You'll get better at it with time. There are few proficient enough to notice, so don't worry."

Harry wasn't sure whether to take his word for it or not.

"So you think Barty Crouch is breaking into my office to make Polyjuice potion," Snape said coming to a stop at the edge of his desk, and leaning one hip against it.

"I know Barty Crouch was in your store cupboard last time," Harry said quietly, "I think he's making Polyjuice."

Snape swore quietly, and started pacing again, then pulled out his wand, conjured a Patronus that flashed off through the wall before Harry could even get a good look at what it was.

"Crouch is in Moody's office a lot too. With Moody," Harry added, "He also wants me to win, Moody and Bagman. They offer to help me cheat. I tell them no... but it's weird."

"I see," Snape said slowly, and Harry could almost see the mans' mind racing, "I will deal with it," he said again surprising Harry, who blinked at him owlishly.

"In the meantime, stay away from them." He continued, "Crouch and moody, don't be alone with either of them, I have no idea what they're up to, or what Crouch wants with Polyjuce or who he is masquerading as, if that is what he's making. Or if he's making it for Moody, who knows that auror is half-mad. Stay away from them, and be cautious."

Harry nodded, something easing in him that his Professor, for the moment, seemed to be on his side.

"Good, we will deal with it. Do not go looking for trouble," Snape said fixing Harry with a firm glare.

"I don't!" Harry protested.

Snape's glare turned into a glower, and Harry had to stop himself from shrinking back.

"You seem to have gained a brain in that skull of yours. Your marks have improved, you seem to have started to use the head on you neck instead of wasting it like your dunderheaded peers. But that does not give you the excuse to be arrogant enough to consider rules to be beneath you. They are there for your protection and well being!"

Harry bristled, but Professor Snape went on before he could say anything.

"Your previous Head of House would never acknowledge this issue, and your current one is too nice," the man went on levelling Harry with a piercing look. "Several times, you could have died if help had not come, and you would not have been in that position if you had gone to the teachers.

You need to learn to ask for help you little dunderhead! You act as if you think you alone can handle things better than the responsible adults who are supposed to be dealing with them. You are still far too arrogant and foolhardy in your thick-skulled pattern of running headlong into danger! It will get you killed, and your friends."

"I tried to get them to stay behind! I wanted them safe, but they didn't listen, sir! I couldn't make them." Harry said.

"But it was okay to risk your own?" Professor Snape snarled, and Harry flinched but frowned, not understanding what Snape was mad about this time.

In fact, he still didn't understand why Snape cared about keeping him alive at all. What use did Snape have for Harry? It never seemed to matter before... None of this 'let's care about Harry' thing that people suddenly seemed intent on made any sense at all.

"Well, yes...," he said, not quite sure why Professor Snape was asking, or what he wanted to hear. It was normally easier to work out what adults wanted him to tell them.

"And is that your opinion, your despicable guardians or the opinion the magics compelled on you?" Professor Snape asked in a cold, dangerous voice, that hid a pained undercurrent in this magic.

Harry gave him a surprised look and shrugged.

"No-one else was going to deal with it." Harry said eventually, "why not me? Better me than them. They have people that will care. It matters if they are hurt." He cut himself off. He hadn't meant to say that. You weren't meant to say those things around normal people, even if they were true, it made them uncomfortable.

"I know better than to ask for help that won't be given, I've tried that. I learnt long before school even started not to bother. But Hermione insisted, so I tried. Maybe it was different here. It wasn't.

Professor McGonagall never listens, and Dumbledore turns me away continually! I've even gotten down on my knees and begged! What's the point?! No one does anything, and no-one gives a damn."

Snape's magic was flaring a little, agitated, more present than it normally was, but Harry ignored it. He was too frustrated to care. He was so sick of people accusing him of not being good enough, he'd done his best.

"I didn't see what other choices I had!" He went on, "I should have told someone about the troll, a prefect or something, but we thought the troll was in the dungeon. I was scared to bother the prefect, I didn't think they'd listen to me. I was a nobody First Year. And there weren't any teachers around.

And if we had been later, she would have been pulverised. And with the dragon, we didn't want Hagrid arrested! Who could we tell? So we wrote to Charlie, he's an adult, almost. He knows dragons. He helped us. I did tell McGonagall about the stone, she didn't believe me and Dumbledore wasn't there." Harry said still in that cold, quiet detached tone.

"Then you should have come to me!"

"Why would I? We thought it was you! I tried telling about someone about the stone, people dismissed me! We already knew a staff member was after it, even if we suspected the wrong one. And Hagrid had told someone how to get it. He knew we were worried but was sure it was safe. But it wasn't! I didn't want HIM coming back, I'd met him once in the forest already, it was horrible!" Harry couldn't hold back a shudder at the memory.

"And we didn't think anyone else was going to stop it. Dumbledore was gone, McGonagall didn't listen. What other choice did we have?"

Maybe it was the sleep Harry had not been getting since returning to school, but he was being uncharacteristically open with Snape. It was... disturbing.

The conversation was not just alarming Harry. Everything the boy was saying, and not saying, was steadily bothering Severus more and more.

Just what had this child been put through! And who had he been living with? He knew. Dumbledore knew. Dumbledore and Minerva knew and had turned this child away and left him to rot. He had not missed the child's mention of begging. He had not known things had been that abominably awful.

Goddess bellow forgive him for being so blind and stupid!

Instead of waiting for Snape to say anything, Harry rushed on.

"Then in second year, I should have asked for help with the platform. I did say we should wait for Mr and Mrs Weasley to come, but Ron kept nagging, and he was going to go on his own, and if I didn't go with him, he might not like me anymore. He and Hermione were my only friends. I'd just spent nearly all summer locked up on my own, being told I was less than dirt. I couldn't risk upsetting him and spending all year like that too.

Hermione said not to tell anyone about the basilisk voice in the walls! She said people would think I was nuts and they were spreading lies about me enough!

We went to ask Hagrid because at least he hears us out and sort of tells us whats going on. But he was arrested and sent us into the forest to see Aragog. But when we worked it out, we told Lockheart. You know the defence teacher!"

Professor Snape glared but held his tongue curious to see where this was going.

"McGonagall doesn't listen. Hagrid and Dumbledore were gone. You hated us. What else should we have done? Lockheart should have been helpful, but when he wasn't, we made him. I thought that was an improvement on the year before, to be honest." Harry added as an afterthought. And Severus, as appalled as he was, had to silently concede the boy had a point about that last bit.

But the boy was still talking as if a dam had broken now that someone was finally listening, "but he turned out to be an incompetent dunderhead and tried to obliviate us. By then, it was too late.

And there was no time to go for help when Sirius grabbed Ron in third year. What was I meant to do? Ron was being dragged off by a big dog into a tree! At that point, it was just a dog! I thought we could manage a dog between the three of us!

I didn't mean to knock you out in the Shack, but you wouldn't listen! I was scared you'd kill him. He was my only chance! Something wasn't right, and no-one was telling me anything, and he was innocent! He's a fucking asshole, but I didn't know that then, and he's horrible, but he didn't do the crime he was locked up for. At that point, he was all I had left; my only chance to get away for good! I couldn't let you feed him to the dementors..." Harry trailed off, his throat thick, the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Snape ground his teeth, trying to get his magic back under control. "I have been trying, as best I could under the circumstances, to keep your sorry hide alive since the beginning Potter!" He spat out, making Harry flinched violently, both at the name and the tone.

Severus clenched his jaw, took a breath and counted to ten; in goblin. Then he took another deep breath and did it again. He needed to make the boy understand that he was angry but not at him any more. No, Severus was angry now at the situation. He needed to get the child to understand, not scare him.

"I was not aware of all of that, I understand now. But I still need you to come to me and ask for help. Don't go off alone half-cocked because no one else will listen. I will. I am on your side child," he said his voice deliberately gentle in a way he hadn't been since Lily.

Harry stared. Snape had always called him Potter or boy before. This was different. Harry had mentioned before, not liking the name. Harry had thought he'd been ignored, but now Snape was actually listening.

"Next time there is trouble, put your cloak on as you did today, and come and tell me. Strait away. Or at the very least, Filius! Or Pomona. I cannot help if I do not know, and I want to help you! We want to help you."

"I do not care how incompetent your Head of House was, or the Headmaster is" He went on, "I do not care if Hagrid is your stand in Head of House. I do not care how negligent your guardians may be.

I am not a pleasant man, nor a kind one, but I will always try my best to listen now that I am able. If you ask for help I will give it to you as best I am able or find you someone who can. You just need to ask," Snape pressed his tone oddly earnest.

Harry thought he could feel a hint of urgent desperation in the chaotic swirl of the man's usually so restrained magic.

"Next time there is a troll, or a philosophers stone, or voices in the walls, or strange dogs or orders to go talk to Acromantula in the forest, or teachers acting oddly, come to me. Do you understand?" Severus pressed firmly.

It was obviously an order, not a request but Harry just stared at him with Lily's eyes, filled with such uncertainty, and apprehension. As if Snape had asked him for the world, not merely to let Snape do his job. But maybe for the boy, asking for help and confiding in an adult (especially one that had treated him so badly before)... maybe that was asking for the world.

The boy looked so young then, even with his old world-weary eyes.

"At the very least, use a Patronus to send a message for help to one of us. I know you know how to cast one. It is not much more difficult to get one to carry a message."

"They can send messages?" Harry asked eagerly.

"Indeed, cast your Patronus and then instruct it with whom the message is for and what the message is. You do not even need to say it aloud, just think at it."

Harry frowned. A Patronus message was do-able and would come in handy for getting help if he needed it. But could Harry really afford to give the man another chance? When he'd been bitten and burnt so many times before, and not just by him. Why should he ask for help when it would be shoved in his face.

Harry steeled himself, torn between leaving (screw the consequences) and actually considering it. He was actually incredibly torn, and his own magic was flexing now, leaking out of him in his turmoil. He wanted to be able to rely and lean on adults, who knew what they were doing and could help him. Because he sure as hell didn't know what he was doing.

But his instinct to not trust warred with his longing to have someone he could trust. The longing to have family, Sev had been his mothers family, and he wanted that. The sincerity he could sense from the man only fed that desire. That and with knowing that his mother trusted this man, Bill trusted this man, and Harry trusted Bill.

And then there was the subtle implication, both in Professor Snape's words and in their recent interactions that implied that magic had been involved with Snape too. The man sounded so earnest, and there was a slightly desperate undercurrent to the man's magic now, a hurt, and Harry couldn't say anything but a defeated, "yes sir." Even if he was terrified of being burned again.

He was so tired of standing alone. He felt young and stupid and scared. Professor Snape never believed him before. But he'd listened about the polyjuice. Bill said Professor Snape wanted to help, but he really wasn't so sure he could take the risk, even if he had just agreed.

"Good," Professor Snape said sounding pleased, as if Harry had taken a weight off his chest, "now there is something I owe you, but first I need to do a more in-depth test of your shields." Severus went on.

Harry felt all the colour drain from his face and mentally channelled more effort into his shields, withdrawing further into his inner mind.

"I am only going to test your shields to see how far you've come. I will not be trying to break into your mind." Professor said.

Harry blinked, looking at the man wearily, searching out for a lie a threat. He couldn't sense much from the man at the moment, so he asked, "but you don't want to break into my head? You're not going to try and read my mind?"

Snape sneered, "only Muggles talk of 'mind reading.' The mind is not a book, to be opened at will and examined at leisure. Thoughts are not etched on the inside of skulls, to be perused by any invader. The mind is a complex and many-layered thing. I want to test your shields to measure their extent and their weaknesses. I am not interested in your innermost thoughts."

Harry looked at him for a long moment, peering sharply at Snape looking not at him but his magic, feeling it out with his own. Words lied, and people could make their faces lie too if they were good enough (and Harry was sure Snape was) but magic and emotions? Those didn't lie. They could be suppressed, but they didn't lie.

Harry felt for Snape's emotions, testing the man. He normally sensed emotions rather easily, but Snape was so reserved it was hard to sense any emotions at all from the man except the general sense if mild irritation that seemed to be the man's norm.

Reaching out with his own magic Harry could feel that the man was irritated, highly irritated, and worried, very worried. About Harry! As well as a whole host of unpleasant things. But there didn't seem to be anything malicious about it. And under all of that, Harry could feel the man's magic. It was bright, and all sharp corners and harsh edges. It was restrained bites and held back snarls.

Then suddenly it all changed, being withdrawn and shut down, and Harry couldn't feel anything at all. It was as if the magic and emotions had never existed.

The sudden change was startling, leaving Harry feeling a little off-kilter. He reached out unthinkingly, trying to sense it, had it gone completely? He reached out again, with his own magic, the way he did to Hogwarts. No, it was still present and bright, simmering just below the survive of his skin.

He caught the briefest impression of surprise and mild irritation. Then the magic was shifting, almost as if gently pushing him away. It was entirely unlike interacting with Hogwart's magic or with the centaur's.

How odd, he thought, reaching out with his own magic again, poking at it in curious surprise. Normally when he extended his senses, it didn't react like this... He touched it again, to see if he'd get the same reaction, forgetting for a moment...

Suddenly the magic was shoving against his own, harshly pushing him away. The force of it sent Harry toppling off his chair. His head throbbed from the force of the unexpected mental blow, so much so that his eyes welled.

What the fuck was that? Harry thought groggily, What just happened? Shit, ow.

"Potter!" Professor Snape hissed.

Shameless cliff hanger, sorry-not-sorry!