Disclaimer: I still do not own Harry Potter.

Author's Note: Hello everyone, I hope you're all doing okay. I know it's been ages since I've updated, and I'm really sorry about all of that. To be honest, I have been feeling very stressed about things lately and haven't felt the inspiration to write much. I feel like the pandemic has been dragging on for so long now, and it's really starting to get to me. It is only now that my muse is beginning to come back, and I'm really sorry for taking so long. I hope this chapter is worth the wait.

Thank you all so much for the reviews; I really appreciate your comments. You're right, Snape definitely went about that whole thing with Harry the wrong way. His motive is Harry's safety, but he can't help but revert to insulting and degrading him, and yes, Harry is keeping that hurt inside. I've always found Harry and Snape's dynamic explosive in canon; it's always jumped off the page at me, but I also feel that there's so much that can be done with it that wasn't explored. Well, that's what fanfic is for, right? I hope you end up liking what I do with them. And no, it's definitely not going to be all fluffy bunnies and snuggles once they actually start to develop a real relationship. Snape is very prickly, and Harry's had a very hard childhood and has been placed in life-threatening situations year after year at Hogwarts because Dumbledore won't stop testing his so-called experiments.

Anyway, onto the chapter. I hope you enjoy it.

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Harry slowly walked back to the common room, his mind trying to grapple with everything that had happened during his detention. His emotions were somewhere between fear, horror, and anger - he honestly didn't know how he was walking these hallways, maintaining a calm facade.

Everything Snape had said echoed in his mind, and the loss of the Marauder's Map stung. It felt far worse than the year before, when Professor Lupin had taken it away from him. Back then, he hadn't known that one of the map's creators was his own father. He hadn't discovered any of what had happened when his parents attended Hogwarts; he had only found out a lot of that information at the end of the year during the confrontation in the Shrieking Shack. He knew he was being extremely selfish, but he couldn't help but feel betrayed that he had only found anything out because of the reappearance of Sirius. Professor Lupin had been so tight-lipped about it all, and Harry surmised that recollecting the past was undoubtedly painful for him. But there was a part of Harry, a part of him he knew was being insensitive towards Lupin's needs, that felt cheated. If he'd known how close the man had been to his parents, there was so much Harry could have asked, could have discovered. Lupin had gotten to know them, gotten to love them, and Harry had had fifteen months with them that he couldn't even remember. The only memories he possessed were those the Dementors had dredged up - the desperate words of his father, the anguished screams of his mother, the begging, the flash of green light ... the pure, utter loss.

Every time Harry's thoughts wandered down this path, he had to put a stop to them. The pain Professor Lupin still felt over their deaths was apparent, and Harry had to learn to come to grips with the fact that it wasn't all about him. Surely knowing them, loving them, meant that losing them was harder for Professor Lupin than for Harry? If Harry had no good memories of them, what was there to mourn in the first place?

These thoughts were rising up inside Harry like a breaking wave, and he knew very well why. One of the only things he had to remember them by was now gone, and no matter the reason for its being taken, it still hurt. And Snape ... did he really have to keep insulting him? Couldn't he just tell him it was a security risk and be done with it? Did he really have to bring up that day when Harry had acted like a complete idiot and gone into Hogsmeade, not caring that he was putting himself and the people who were supposed to be watching out for his safety in danger?

Snape. The man was an enigma, and Harry was so confused that he felt like his brain was actually aching. While he'd been cleaning cauldrons today, the dour man hadn't said a single word. There were no snide barbs about how slow he was being, nor were there any insults about how he'd never done any work in his life and that he expected others to do everything for him, that his relatives spoiled, coddled, and pampered him. No, there had been none of that tonight.

But what had happened was almost worse, Harry realized as he reached the seventh floor. Snape had been as nasty as hell about it, but he'd laid bare something Harry hadn't even considered. If he'd given the Marauder's Map to, say, Professor McGonagall or Dumbledore, Crouch could have been discovered much sooner. If Neville hadn't told him he was going to the DADA office for tea ... Harry shuddered. The whole year would have been even more of a nightmare than it already was. He had no doubt that if he'd become Triwizard Champion, he'd have been persona non grata to most of Hogwarts. Crouch hadn't elaborated on the specifics of the plot - would he have been the only champion, or would he have been chosen along with somebody else, making it so that both Beauxbatons and Durmstrang would have thought him even more of a cheater by there being two Hogwarts champions?

Never mind that, Harry thought as Gryffindor Tower came into sight. You'd have had your own personal date with Voldemort at the end of it all. And he knew that if that had happened, it would be a miracle if he'd made it out alive. He'd been lucky in both first and second year - how much longer could his luck possibly have held? The prospect of that was terrifying to Harry, that his own inaction in not letting go of some sentimental possession might have resulted in the rebirth of Voldemot, his own death, plus the deaths of every single person Voldemort would murder in cold blood after his return.

"Flibbertyjibbet," said Harry in a monotone as he reached the Fat Lady. She smiled at him and opened, allowing Harry to enter the Gryffindor common room. He felt his heart fill with gratitude as he saw that Ron, Hermione, and Neville were still sitting on one of the large couches, waiting for his return. When he had run back here to retrieve the map for Snape, he had quickly told them what was going on, causing Ron to look furious, Hermione to look pensive, and Neville to go pale. He noticed they all looked worried now as he walked glumly to the couch and sat beside Ron.

"Harry, are you okay?" Hermione asked instantly. "What happened?"

"Snape has the map now," said Harry, still talking in the same flat monotone.

"Are you insane, mate?" Ron burst out, and it looked like he'd been wanting to say this for ages. "You just gave it to him, just like that? Harry, Snape doesn't care about your safety. He just wants to take anything you have of your dad's away from you, because he hated him. And he hates you!"

"Ron, you're not helping!" Hermione hissed at the redhead. "Can't you see Harry's upset enough already?"

"Guys, let him explain," Neville interjected, and Harry couldn't be more grateful to his new friend. "Your bickering doesn't do him any good."

Harry gave Neville a small smile. "Thanks, Nev," he said quietly. Turning to Ron, he said, "Do you think I wanted to give him the map? It's one of the only things I have that my dad was a part of."

"Then why did you?" Ron asked. "You should have said no."

"What, and land myself in detention for the rest of the year?" Harry demanded, some of the emotion he was feeling making itself known in his voice now. "And he told me that if I'd handed over the map earlier, Crouch could have been discovered sooner." The guilt he felt surfaced, and his voice grew softer as he admitted, "He was right about that. And he said that if the map fell into the wrong hands ..." Feeling sick, he stopped speaking - he couldn't finish that sentence.

"But that's ridiculous," Ron said at once. "That map has a password to open and close it. Who the bloody hell knows the password, other than us?"

It was Hermione who answered, her face going white. "Peter Pettigrew," she whispered.

"What? Pettigrew's dead," said Neville, completely caught off guard. "What do you mean?"

"I'm sorry, Neville," said Harry, realizing that as much as he wanted to keep it to himself, Neville needed to know about what had happened in the Shrieking Shack at the end of the previous year. Harry recalled his thoughts this morning of not wanting to talk about it, but it was very unfair to keep Neville out of the loop.

So, between himself, Ron, and Hermione, they informed Neville of everything that had occurred. As the story was told, the boy looked more and more astounded and amazed. By the end, his mouth was literally hanging open.

"Neville, it's really important that you keep this secret," Hermione said earnestly. "The rest of the wizarding world still thinks Sirius is guilty."

Neville looked at the group, his expression just as earnest. "I promise I won't tell a soul," he said quietly.

"I trust you, Neville," Harry reassured him. "I know you won't tell anyone."

Several seconds of silence passed, and then Harry said, "Anyway, Pettigrew knows the password to the Marauder's Map, since he was one of the creators."

Ron snorted. "But he's on the run, isn't he? And how could he even get a hold of it? It's not like Harry's going to suddenly misplace it, is he? He's not stupid."

Harry felt a bitter smile twist his face. "Apparently, Snape thinks I am," he said quietly. "He won't stop calling me stupid. But I couldn't not give him the map. He was right about this whole thing."

"Harry, don't you dare blame yourself for any of this," Hermione said, adopting that stern tone she always used with him and Ron when she thought they were being unreasonable. She got up from her spot on the couch, and walked over to the other side to sit herself next to Harry. She placed a hand on his shoulder, looking him in the eye. "Snape had some good points, yes," she said softly. "But I can only imagine the way he spoke to you."

"What's up with Snape anyway?" Neville sounded truly baffled, exactly the way Harry felt. "He took you to his quarters to spend the night, and he treated you really weirdly. Now he's back to insulting you at every turn."

"Kind of, but not exactly," said Harry, and he launched into a detailed account of the night's events. "He wouldn't stop staring at me while I was cleaning cauldrons," he told his friends. "But he didn't insult me once the entire time. It was only when he asked me about the map that he started in on me again."

"Harry, can't you see what he's doing?" asked Ron, sounding frustrated. "He's only trying to confuse you. Don't fall for it, mate. We've always known he's an evil git."

For once, Hermione didn't say anything to reprimand Ron. All her attention was on Harry, and her voice was full of compassion as she spoke. "I know it hurts, Harry," she whispered. "To not have the map anymore. I understand the reasons, and I know you do, too. But there isn't anything wrong with letting yourself feel hurt."

At these words, Harry couldn't help but feel the pain overwhelm him again. "Will he want my cloak next?" was his quiet response. "And my photo album?" Instantly, he chastized himself - he must sound like a spoiled, bratty child at the moment. But a bigger part of him couldn't bring itself to care.

On Harry's other side, Ron patted his back in a show of support. Neville was looking at him sympathetically, too, and at that moment, Harry felt another emotion come over him - pure and utter gratitude that his friends did not think he was whining, that they were standing by him and offering him support.

All four remained silent after that, the only noise being the crackling fire in the common room. Harry realized that it was only the four of them who were up now; it was very late, and everyone else had turned in for the night. But none of them mentioned doing the same, and Harry was once again amazed at the lengths his friends were willing to go to for him. Hermione and Neville both looked exhausted, but they were willing to stay up with Harry, to let him be vulnerable and to be there for him.

Finally, Neville asked timidly, "Did Snape tell you if he wants to see you again?"

"Yeah," Harry said bleakly. "Tomorrow night at the same time."

"Geez, how many detentions is he going to give you?" asked Ron indignantly. "Yeah, you yelled at him in front of the class, but he deserved it. How long can he punish you for it?"

"Who knows?" said Harry, not liking the conclusions he was drawing. "As long as he wants, I guess. There'll probably be a lot more cauldron cleaning in my future."

"Well, we're here for you, Harry," Hermione reiterated, her brown eyes earnest as she looked at him. "Don't ever forget that."

"I won't," Harry assured them, and he knew it was true. He certainly wasn't going to forget that. He may be struggling right now, but he knew his life wasn't all bad no matter how low he had sunk lately. He remembered Hermione's words from the end of first year, about how friendship was one of the most important things in the world. And Harry believed this wholeheartedly.

After several more minutes, it was Harry who finally said the words. "I think we'd better turn in," he said quietly. "It's late, and I'm tired."

"Yeah, and we can sleep in tomorrow. It'll be Sunday after all," said Ron, who looked relieved at the prospect of this.

"True," Neville said, yawning widely. "But are you sure, Harry? Are you going to be able to sleep?"

To be honest, Harry really wasn't sure. But he knew he was going to try - he had to be prepared for whatever might transpire tomorrow. "I'll be fine," he said. "Thanks, guys." He got up off the couch, and the others followed his lead.

"Good night, then," said Hermione, who gave Harry a quick hug before starting up the girls' staircase. "See you in the morning."

"See you," said Harry, and he, Ron, and Neville traversed the boys' staircase. Once in the dormitory, they remained silent as they got into their pajamas, hearing the snores of Dean and Seamus.

As Harry drew the curtains around his bed and got in, he sighed quietly. His mind was still full of the thoughts and emotions of the day - never had he felt so mixed up, angry, sad, miserable, devastated, confused, grateful ... just plain overwhelmed. He closed his eyes, trying to slow down his brain so he could get a decent sleep.

But despite his best efforts, it was hours before he finally felt sleep begin to wash over him. His last coherent thought was that while tomorrow might be a new day, he couldn't even imagine what would happen. And the one thing he had learned was that no matter what did, he would have to deal with it. Life was unpredictable, after all, and especially so for him.

But he also knew that he would have his friends beside him, and as he finally escaped into the land of dreams, he knew that no matter what happened, he was never going to take them for granted. They meant everything to him - he did not have much adult support in his life, but he had them.

And he would never lose sight of that.