Harry found himself brooding. Why was Snape being so mean? Was it just his contrary nature? Had it all been a plot? This rejection hurt worse than if they had continued as they were before the truce. The professor said some truly awful things at times, but Harry had borne it because Snape hated him and always had hated him and always would hate him. Except now that wasn’t true anymore.
Harry had begun to look up to Snape. If felt like he was losing Sirius all over again. True, Snape wasn’t dead, but that made the whole thing worse in its own way. Sirius couldn’t help leaving, but Snape had chosen not to stay. Harry found that he was furious with his professor. He didn’t think he’d been this angry since the time he’d blown up his Aunt Marge. The ministry might not be able to detect his use of magic here, but Harry didn’t want to take any chances. He also didn’t want to give Snape the opportunity to finally expel him.
Harry suddenly jumped off the bed and looked around his room. He felt like doing something, anything. His eye fell on the potions text sitting on his desk. He had left it out instead of packing it back in his trunk so that he could go over a few of the last things the class had covered at the end of the previous term and also so he could study the few potions they hadn’t got to.
Quickly he grabbed the book and the box of assorted basic potions ingredients he kept and headed for his laboratory. He’d never gotten around to telling Snape about it and he hadn’t been caught in it; it was the perfect place to get away. Harry stayed up late studying that night and spent the next day studying potions and occlumency and avoiding his housemate whenever possible. The one time they shared a meal it was filled with prickly silence.
Severus found himself feeling miserable though he didn’t want to admit it. It had been much easier to hate the Potter brat before he knew Harry. He had half a mind to give up on the whole plot and try to explain it to Harry, but he repeated endlessly that really he was doing this for Harry; the child would be safer this way. Besides, no sane person in the wizarding world would want Harry Potter to be attached to a Death Eater, spy or not.
His determination was aided by Harry’s new behavior toward him. The boy who had smiled at him was replaced by a sour-faced youth who sneered and glared when he deigned to look at him at all. Apparently, Severus thought bitterly, our truce meant less to Potter than I thought. Aside from the first few attempts, Harry didn’t seem to be protesting his course of action at all; in fact, Harry seemed to be shoving him away. It hurt more than he would have imagined.
Monday morning dawned despite the fervent hopes of the two wizard inhabitants of Snape Manor that it would not. Harry had been practicing his occlumency very hard. He figured he had to assume that anything Snape saw would be fair game for torment, so he didn’t want to give the man any opportunities to learn anything he didn’t already know.
Severus had no plans to look for anything in particular Monday morning. He was not, however, looking forward to spending two hours in the same room with Harry.
They walked into the usual room at the same time and settled into their usual positions without a word. When he was comfortable, Harry looked up to meet his professor’s eyes. Severus noted that he had dark circles under his eyes again; usually a sign that Harry’s sleep was once again being disturbed by nightmares and it sent a spasm of guilt through him before he could stop it.
“Legilimens,” he said in a cold voice. He found himself in the fog and was thrown out a few seconds later. Severus blinked, took a breath, and repeated the incantation. Once again he was hurled out within moments.
They continued in this pattern for much of their allotted time but toward the end of the session Harry began tiring. It took him longer and longer to hurl Snape out until the last fifteen minutes when he found he could not force Snape out at all.
For a moment Harry nearly panicked but then he got an idea. He forced himself to calm down and pictured Snape’s form in approximately the place where the man was probing. Next he imagined himself dressed in white a little way behind Snape. He snuck as close as he dared and snapped his fingers. When Severus whirled around Harry took a step backward and snapped again. Snape moved toward the sound cautiously.
Harry kept snapping, leading him in circles. He was scrabbling to find a better plan to confuse his professor as fast as he could. Suddenly, he recalled the image of Snape in a dress. Picturing the figure very clearly, he multiplied it and had the figures ring his professor and move toward him.
Severus, who had been following the noises warily, froze when he heard multiple simultaneous footsteps. He held very still as a group of tall, green-clad figures with vaguely bird-like heads appeared out of the mists. He let them get a bit closer before recognizing them. Then he popped out of his mind and back into his own.
“Very funny, Potter,” he growled.
“Yeah, I thought it was,” Harry replied defiantly.
“You are dismissed,” Severus snarled.
“Thanks awfully,” Harry sneered as he rose and left the room.
Harry was making his way back to his room when he realized he had a terrible headache. “Figures,” he muttered as he stretched out on his bed. In a few moments he was asleep.
He was still sleeping an hour later when Snape snapped his fingers to call Cinder.
“Yes, Master Snape, sir?”
“Is Potter in the dining room?”
“No sir, Harry Potter is asleep, sir.”
“Thank you, Cinder.” Cinder nodded before snapping her fingers and disappearing. Severus stood and stretched. He decided he was hungry and walked toward the dining room. He had just arrived when he heard a tapping like fingernails on glass. The owl with the evil eye was back.
Severus opened the window and the owl dropped its letter in his outstretched hand before flying off. The instant he drew himself back in and closed the window Harry screamed. Severus clutched the letter convulsively and ran to Harry’s room.
Harry had been sleeping peacefully when Voldemort appeared before his eyes. Instead of sneering at Harry, as he might have done, the serpentine figure smiled, sending shivers down Harry’s spine. The Dark Lord reached a hand out toward Harry as if to welcome him. When Harry didn’t take it the red eyes glinted oddly though the smile never faltered. Voldemort dropped his hand and stepped to the side slightly, gesturing that Harry should look past him.
When Harry did the first thing he saw was Draco Malfoy crumpled on the ground, twitching as curses hit him until at last a bright green light kissed his brow and he was still. Next he saw Snape bound and obviously being tortured. Then Sirius came.
He spoke the only words Harry heard in the dream. “Harry, I miss you. Come with me, Harry.”
Harry extended one hand a few inches from his body. “Sirius,” he mouthed. Voldemort grabbed at his hand and the touch shook Harry awake with a scream.
He flung himself upward, gasping noisily. A few heartbeats later Snape threw open the bedroom door, causing Harry to jump again as his breath caught in his throat.
“Potter?” Snape questioned tersely.
Harry shook his head. “I didn’t occlude, I had a bad dream.”
Snape’s face darkened considerably. “You’re lucky the Dark Lord didn’t decide to visit while you were being careless. Foolish boy, do you want to get us both killed?” he hissed furiously.
“No,” Harry said with a half-twisted eyebrow.
“Don’t forget again!” Snape ordered. Harry simply nodded his acquiescence. As Snape stormed off he went back to trying to breathe evenly and struggling not to remember how cold the bony hand that had grasped his was.
Severus stalked away from Harry’s bedroom mentally railing at the boy. That would be just perfect, for the brat to be careless and give away his position as spy. That would just make his life so much better. Severus rolled his eyes.
He walked back to the dining room and filled a plate with food then strode to his study. He set the plate down on the desk and fished the letter out of the pocket he had shoved it into just moments ago. He forced his hands not to tremble as he slit the envelope and extracted the paper inside.
Severus, the note began, and he absently noted that the Dark Lord did not write with the same hissing sibilance he affected when speaking.
I have received your report with some disappointment. It seems you have taken a wrong turn in you efforts, my Severus. It is not necessary that the boy-who-lived like young Malfoy or even me. He need only trust you enough to receive your instruction. As the Darkness within him is fostered I shall make my own overtures. Do not fail me in this. We shall speak again soon.
At the bottom of the page there was a request that Severus prepare several potions to bring to the next meeting. They were primarily strength and nourishment potions though there were others with more sinister functions. Severus stared off into space for a moment considering. Then he shook himself out of his reverie and retrieved the hidden mirror to contact Albus.
Harry meanwhile, had long since calmed down and was considering what to do. Snape’s words stung, especially since Harry thought it was rather a lucky thing he had forgotten to occlude his mind; it meant Voldemort didn’t know yet that he could. Harry decided to write a letter to Remus to ask how they would be able to hide his new abilities when Voldemort realized that Harry wasn’t going to join him. As he approached the end of the letter Harry paused. After a little thought he mentioned that the truce had apparently been dissolved. Then he closed and blew on the ink to dry it before folding and sealing the letter and sending it off with Hedwig.
After he watched his owl fly away Harry turned back to his room and looked around. That headache was still lingering a bit so Harry decided to play a few games of solitaire. That wasn’t particularly mentally strenuous and it would kill the time until dinner.
Harry was beginning to think time at the Snape House had slowed down just to spite him when he finally looked at the clock and saw that it indicated dinnertime. Impatiently he raced down the stairs and into the dining room where mouth-watering aromas indicated that Cinder had once again out-done herself.
Snape, who swept in a few moments later, said, “Professor Dumbledore will be by to speak to you tomorrow,” in a very neutral voice. Harry nodded curiously as he began serving himself. Snape followed suit and the meal proceeded silently.
In a darkened room a skeletally thin man sat before a fire with an enormous snake curled at his feet. The man’s elbows were propped on the arms of the chair and his fingers were steepled contemplatively in front of him.
He had left Severus Snape and Harry Potter alone for some time. He had hoped that time would allow Harry to become enamored of the Dark Arts, but his contact with the brat indicated that, so far at least, that was not the case. It was most disappointing but perhaps only to be expected.
Severus had never liked the boy or treated him well. Abrupt changes in this behavior would arouse suspicion. He had thought Severus was capable of subtlety, but Severus was not a man who understood emotions well enough to play them appropriately. Perhaps it was no great surprise that his potions master had shown such little progress. It might even be that something within the whelp prevented too much Darkness.
Not that any of that would excuse Severus from punishment, of course. No, he would wait to see how Severus would report at the next meeting, and then he could decide on an appropriate course of action. Severus’s potioning skills were indispensable, but perhaps his time as a free agent was limited.
Harry woke on Tuesday with a sense of anticipation. He wasn’t sure when Dumbledore was coming that day, but he hoped it was soon. With Snape being as mean as ever Harry had no one to talk to and felt more isolated than ever.
Harry ate hurriedly at breakfast but found himself lingering at the table. He got up and walked up and down the halls for a while, then found his way back to the dining room for lunch. After lunch he went back up to his room. Obviously the professor wasn’t coming until later, so in the meantime he might as well do something useful. Harry picked up his potions text and forced himself to read through the last three chapters. He didn’t absorb much but it got him to dinnertime. Maybe he’d pick it up subconsciously somehow.
Harry was pushing the food around on his plate and ignoring the glares Snape was shooting at him when Albus Dumbledore once again startled them by walking into the room unannounced. “Good evening,” the white haired wizard said as he pulled out a chair.
“I’ll be in my study if you need me, headmaster,” Severus said abruptly as he stood.
“I’ll come with you,” said Remus as he arrived in the doorway. “I wanted to talk to you anyway.” Snape scowled and pushed past him. “Harry,” Lupin nodded before turning to follow the dark wizard.
“I see things aren’t going as smoothly as they once were,” Dumbledore noted as he peered at Harry over his glasses.
“No,” Harry said with a scowl, “he got a letter from Voldemort one night and he hasn’t been the same since.”
“Oh?” the old wizard asked, tilting his head a little.
“He’s been mean again, acting like he hates me. I liked it better the other way. I wish,” Harry stopped and shook his head.
“What do you wish?”
“I don’t know,” Harry sighed. “I guess I just wish I were like everyone else.”
“Everyone wishes they were like everyone else but no one ever is.”
“That’s not very encouraging, Professor.”
“Remus is having a word with Severus, but I feel this is a good sign.”
“How can this be good?” Harry exclaimed. Dumbledore just twinkled at him. Harry sighed explosively and threw himself back in his chair. “Professor,” Harry began after a moment.
“If I only spent one night with my aunt and uncle, do I still have the protection from my mother’s blood?”
The twinkle in the blue eyes faded a little and Dumbledore said, “No, I’m afraid not.”
“But I need that protection, right? What am I going to do?”
“Your relatives got home today. I’m afraid that to renew the magic you’ll have to go back and stay with them for a while.”
“When do I have to go?”
“The last week before school starts should be sufficient.”
“Right,” Harry said forlornly. “Well, it is only a week, I guess.”
“This isn’t the way anyone wanted it to be, Harry, least of all me. I had hoped you could be happy with your aunt. I will speak with her before you go back.”
“I only wish I could do more, my boy. In the meantime, I have these letters, which I believe are from your friends.”
“Really?” Harry asked, perking up.
“Yes. I believe they mention your plans for Diagon Alley, though I could be mistaken.”
“Certainly, Harry,” Dumbledore smiled at the boy who was already flipping through the envelopes he’d been handed. There was one from Hermione, one from Ginny, one from Ron, and one from Mrs. Weasley.
“What’s this?” Harry asked, holding up the last letter.
“Molly had a few things she wanted to say to you before you went back, and she wasn’t certain there would be time at Diagon Alley.”
“Ah,” Harry said, turning back to examining the envelopes.
As Harry and Albus were sitting in the dining room Severus and Remus were closeted in the study. “I know you are trying to protect him, Severus,” Remus said without preamble, “but that is one very hurt young man you’ve got sitting at your dining room table.”
“What?” Snape started inelegantly.
“Harry,” the werewolf replied sharply. “You’ve hurt him, Severus.”
“No I haven’t,” Snape protested, “I’ve saved him.”
Remus sighed and sank down into a chair. Although he was the one sitting behind the desk, and across from one of his classmates, Severus felt like a child about to be disciplined.
“Let me see if I can tell you what happened, shall I, Severus? You were getting along with Harry. You liked it and it frightened you. The first night you got that letter from Voldemort you saw your chance to destroy the thing that scared you. Turn Harry against you and you could crawl back into your shell and say that you had good reason; wasn’t it Harry’s fault he let you go?
“At the same time, you could say you did it for him. You told yourself that when you received the letter you realized what you were and that Harry shouldn’t be anywhere near you.”
“And is that not so?” Snape interrupted angrily. “Why should the hope of the light reside with one blighted by darkness?”
“The healthy have no need of the mediwizard, Severus, that is the province of the ill.”
“And so? What would you know about it?”
Remus laughed grimly before replying. “Really, Severus, I should have thought that would be the one thing you would never forget. Even the kindliest werewolf is counted a Dark creature.”
“Even if what you say is true, what’s done is done, there is no undoing it.”
“That, Severus,” Remus said as he smiled for the first time since entering the room, “is where you are wrong.”
“Harry would never forgive this,” Snape said flatly.
“I think he would,” Lupin contradicted. “But, Severus,” he continued firmly, “you will have to explain yourself. And you will need to apologize.”
“I will need to give this some thought,” Snape said reluctantly.
“Of course think about it, but you will need to do something before Harry leaves. Otherwise he might well not forgive you. And his hurt may well turn to hate in time.” Severus nodded to show that he had heard. “Right. I’m going to go and say goodbye to Harry.” Severus simply nodded again as Remus left and a few seconds later stood up to follow him.
The werewolf walked purposefully to the dining room. As he entered he heard Harry ask the same question that had been in his letter. “How will we keep Voldemort from knowing that I’m becoming an Occlumens? He can’t find out now or he’ll know Snape taught me that instead of the Dark Arts he was supposed to.”
“Remus, I believe you mentioned some ideas on that,” Dumbledore said, startling Harry, who sat with his back to the door.
“I do, Headmaster. I think we should tell him.”
“What?” Harry squawked. “Remus, have you lost your mind?”
“I don’t think so,” Lupin replied cheerfully, with amusement dancing in his eyes.
“Why would we tell Voldemort something we want kept secret?” Harry questioned, shock and confusion evident in his manner.
“We’re not sending him an owl announcing it, Harry. We’re going to have Severus leak the information.”
“Why?” Harry obviously still didn’t understand.
“If we have Severus include it in a report then He doesn’t know we know he knows. And we control what he knows about it.”
Understanding was beginning to dawn on Harry’s face. “So if we say someone else taught me Voldemort’ll think that Snape is just spying on us like he’s supposed to.”
“Exactly,” Remus beamed at him.
“So who do we say told me? I haven’t spent much time with anyone but Professor Snape.”
“I could say Lupin gave you the book while he was staying here.” Severus suggested from the doorway. “I would have had to leave you alone with him most of the time to avoid arousing suspicion.”
“That makes sense,” Harry nodded pensively after he had recovered.
“Then we are agreed?” Dumbledore asked. When the other three affirmed that he gave his own nod. “Severus, the next time you are called on to report you will reveal this shocking discovery. Say perhaps that Harry isn’t very good yet but is improving. I’ll leave the details to you; you’ll know what you need to say.” Snape nodded soberly.
“Excellent,” Dumbledore clapped his hands together. “On that note I think we’d better be going, Remus. We don’t want to overstay our welcome.” The old mage was twinkling full force.
“Yes, Headmaster. Harry,” he turned to the youth and smiled fondly, “I’ll see you soon. Severus,” Lupin followed the Headmaster out of the dining room and both left the same way they had come.
After they left Snape regarded Harry with slightly narrowed eyes then turned and walked away without a word. “Goodnight to you, too,” Harry grumbled as he gathered his letters, which he had yet to open, and headed for his bedroom.
The next morning Harry performed flawlessly throughout his occlumency practice. It exhausted the boy-wizard, but not once was his teacher able to gain any reliable impression of his thoughts or emotions. Harry left the tutoring session hoping for a nap before lunch. Severus left filled with a pride in his student that he dared not show even the slightest hint of. Contact with his own mentor, he determined, was in order.
Later that afternoon, after several exercises intended to calm himself so that he would betray no emotion, Severus used the mirror to call on Albus. “Severus, what a delightful surprise,” Albus exclaimed when he saw him. “How are you?”
“Well, Headmaster, but I have news.”
“Yes, what is it? Though I had hoped you just wanted to talk to me,” Albus teased gently.
“I thought you would want to know, Potter just completed his first perfect occlumency session.”
Dumbledore’s face lit up. “Yes, that is good news. Thank you, Severus.”
“Certainly. Albus,” he paused. “Lupin said, last night,” he stumbled.
“Severus, whatever Remus said last night, I’m almost certain was true and justified. I talked to him quite a lot yesterday before I let him at you.”
Snape compressed his lips, “I see.”
With a small sigh Dumbledore asked, “What is it, Severus?”
“It would seem that I have made a mistake,” he answered slowly. “I’m not sure how to rectify that.”
“Explain it,” Albus said gently, “apologize for it. He doesn’t understand, and he very much wants to.”
“Think about it,” the old mage advised before he disappeared. Severus stared broodingly at the mirror.
Severus spent the rest of the afternoon holed up in his study contemplating the situation he had created. To a certain extent, he decided, Lupin had been right. It had frightened him, the way he and Harry had been getting on. He hadn’t allowed anyone to get that close to him, or to mean that much to him, since long before he had become a spy.
On the other hand, he found himself missing Harry. They were still in the same house, but it seemed that they were worlds apart. A tiny part of him worried that, without the tutoring in potions, Harry wouldn’t be ready for the advanced class in the fall.
That surprised him, not only had he still been subconsciously planning to give Harry the spot, he genuinely wanted him to do well in the class. Then again, he thought, attempting to justify those feelings, who would make a better auror than Harry Potter. The attempt failed and he knew it, thought he chose not to examine it too closely.
Snape’s thoughts continued in this track for some time. Eventually he concluded that he missed the relationship he had shared with Harry, he missed having someone look up to him and liking him for who he was, and he should try to get it back. The only thing left to do was try and work out how he was going to get through apologizing to a boy less than half his age.
Harry, after a nap and lunch, found himself in his room looking about for something to do. Four envelopes on the dresser caught his eye, and he suddenly remembered that he had not yet read the letters that the headmaster had brought him the evening before.
The first three were from his friends and assured him that they would meet him at Diagon Alley. The final letter was from Mrs. Weasley and began by wishing him a pleasant summer and expressing several motherly sentiments. Toward the end she told him that a few days after he left she had gone back to Privet Drive and surreptitiously cast a few charms that would take care of the general lawn keeping. She also mentioned that Professor Dumbledore had written to his aunt and expected to call on her very soon.
Harry put the letter down with a sense of relief and the vague hope that perhaps the Dursleys might get a little of what was coming to them. He wondered what his Aunt Petunia had said when she came home to an empty house and a well-kept garden. He wondered if she would realize it was magic, and, if so, what she would do about it.
Harry pensively gathered his potioning kit and books and crept down to his lab. It wouldn’t do at all for Snape to catch him, especially now that he had fallen from grace.
Friday morning’s Occlumency lesson went as well as Wednesday’s had, and Harry wasn’t anywhere near as tired afterward as he had been. He was beginning to feel that, with practice, he could become rather good at this particular magic. Severus said as little as possible and went back to ignoring Harry immediately following the practice.
It was after they had both retired for the evening that the burning came. The Dark Lord was calling again, and Severus duly made his way to the apparation point and went to his master’s side. When Severus arrived at the meeting place he knelt to Voldemort and took his place in the circle. The others’ reports were heard and punishment or, more rarely, praise, was meted out according to the Dark Lord’s whim. Severus was called upon last.
“Sseverusss, what newsss have you for me?”
It was, Snape reflected, one of the most dangerous questions he had ever heard, and it did not become easier to answer with repetition. “I have just discovered, my lord, that the werewolf, Lupin, gave Potter a book on Occlumency. The boy seems to have some natural talent for it.”
What seemed to be a very long time later, Voldemort lifted the curse and said, “What other newsss have you?”
“Potter will be returning to his relatives in a few days.”
“I ssee,” Voldemort hissed softly. “I don’t ssuppossse you know where hisss relativesss are?”
“I have not yet discovered that secret, my lord.”
At last Riddle ended the curse and said, “Do you have anything to redeem yoursself, Sseverusss?”
“Apparently Potter is very restricted at his Aunt’s home. He will not respond favorably to that, I think. Especially if he thinks he would be indulged elsewhere.”
“Ssuch asss with you, perhapsss?” Voldemort inquired with a smirk. “Excellent. Ssee that he leavesss you on good termsss, my Sseverusss,” he instructed in a voice filled with casual menace.
“Yes, my lord,” Snape replied with a bow.
“And Sseverusss, ssee that you don’t alienate him when you return to sschool, but don’t give yoursself away, either. It will be good to have him trusst you; it may provide usss with certain opportunitiesss we might otherwisse not have.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Yes, my lord?”
“I’m watching you.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Voldemort issued a few other instructions and shortly after the meeting broke up.
Severus noticed, while walking down the hall to his rooms, that there was no light under Harry’s door. Cautiously he pushed open the door and peered inside. He had intended only to ensure that Harry was sleeping soundly, but his plans were changed when Harry sat up and said, “Professor?”
“Is anything wrong?” Harry whispered.
“Nothing new,” Snape remarked dryly. “Go to sleep.”
Harry nodded absently, lay back down, and was asleep in moments. Severus watched a little longer before continuing on to his own room and slipping into bed.
Severus woke up on Saturday and thought back to the meeting of the night before. He needed to report to the Headmaster. He rolled over and sat up, or rather, he tried to. He had completely forgotten to take any pain reducing potions the night before and the two cruciatus curses from the meeting had caught up with him. Severus was by no means an old man, but even he had trouble recovering from that particular spell. Snape mumbled a curse as he collapsed back against his pillows. Severus attempted another stretch and sighed when he had to stop in mid-motion.
Reluctantly he resettled himself and stared up at the ceiling. Well, as long as I’m temporarily incapacitated, he decided, I may as well figure out what I’m going to do about Harry Potter.
He had been ordered to make nice with him by the Dark Lord, who, thankfully, did not know there had been a falling out. Dumbledore felt he should apologize. And, he realized, he agreed. Somehow he had become fond of Harry, which had probably been the Headmaster’s plan all along. Surprisingly, that didn’t rankle as much as it should have.
Severus was very hungry, and lying about in his clothes wasn’t at all comfortable. He gave another sigh that turned into a half-strangled yelp when he heard a knock at the door.
Harry had awakened after his usual Saturday morning lie-in and gone to breakfast. He hadn’t been at all expecting to see Snape, but he thought it rather odd not to have heard from him at all. He hadn’t even heard any footsteps, for Merlin’s sake! Though it wasn’t so much the actual footfalls one heard with Snape, it was more the creak of floorboards and occasional murmurs from portraits. It made Harry very curious, but, mindful of Snape’s injunction against sticking his nose where it wasn’t wanted, he went about his own pursuits.
By lunchtime, Harry began rethinking that course of action. It had been rather curious when Snape had checked in on him the night before. And his scar had burned before Snape appeared, which led him to the conclusion that there had been a meeting the night before and he hadn’t seen it.
Harry allowed himself to bask in the novelty of that thought for a minute before he realized that it meant he didn’t know if Snape had been crucio’d or not. At any rate, Harry decided at length, it wouldn’t hurt to walk past Snape’s room, just to see if he was there, though why he cared, he had no idea.
The door to Snape’s chambers was, as expected, closed. For a moment Harry considered opening the door but concluded that knocking would be more prudent. There was a small noise behind the door. After a slight pause, Harry knocked again and this time heard, “Enter!”
A moment of surprise later, Harry turned the doorknob and went in. “Professor?” he asked. “Are you all right?”
“Bloody marvelous,” Severus replied a trifle sourly. “Make yourself useful, Potter, and hand me that vial on the shelf.”
“This turquoise one?” Harry asked, picking up the vial in question and holding it out.
“Yes, hand it here,” Snape said impatiently.
Harry extended his arm then stopped, a thoughtful gleam in his eye. “Are you in a lot of pain?” he inquired.
“No, I’m having loads of fun,” Severus said sarcastically.
“Oh good,” Harry cut in before he could continue, “then you won’t mind answering a question I have.”
“Potter,” he growled.
“Why did you suddenly decide I wasn’t worth you time again? Did I do something? Or was it that letter from Voldemort?”
Severus closed his eyes and ground his teeth. The boy would choose the most inopportune moment to let his Slytherin side show. On the other hand, it did provide an interesting opportunity. He tilted his head to look at Harry and said, “Give me the potion, and I’ll tell you.”
Harry frowned. There was no way Snape was going to tell him after he’d gotten the potion he wanted. Then again, the man was also perfectly capable of holding out on him, even without the potion. Finally, Harry handed over the bottle with a scowl. “Why prolong the inevitable?” he asked bitterly and turned away.
Snape’s voice stopped him before he actually managed to get out the door. “If you think I’m going to shout through the house to satisfy your curiosity, you’re more of a dunderhead than I thought.”
Harry turned back to see his professor grimacing at the taste of the potion. “You don’t even make you own potions taste good?” Harry asked with a sneer.
“Efficacy, not taste, is the important factor in potions brewing. Unfortunately, no one else seems to be capable of grasping that concept.” With a stretch and a sigh of relief, Severus sat up. He looked at Harry for a moment then said, “You might as well sit down, I suppose. This is likely to take a while.” Harry wordlessly acquiesced, perching at the foot of the bed with his back resting against the foot board. “It wasn’t anything in particular that you did, and I didn’t exactly write you off.”
“Could have fooled me,” Harry remarked to the ceiling.
“If you interrupt, this is going to take forever, and I suspect you may wish to eat again at some point.”
“And you don’t?” Harry asked impishly.
Severus glared at him a moment before continuing. “The letter I received, which, incidentally, was from the Dark Lord, served to remind me that I am hardly the sort of person that you should befriend. Certainly anyone with any ounce of sanity would disapprove.”
“Note that I said an ounce of sanity.”
“Er, right, that does let him out, doesn’t it?” Harry said with a fond smile. “So what changed your mind?”
“Who says I’ve changed my mind?” Snape asked sharply.
“You’re talking to me, aren’t you?”
“Humph. Well, it was pointed out to me that it wouldn’t hurt and might actually be beneficial to continue our relationship.” Was that pain he saw in the boy’s face?
“Oh, I see,” Harry exclaimed, “You’ve been ordered to make up with me. Which was it, Dumbledore or Voldemort? Or was it both?” Harry laughed bitterly and continued, “Well, you needn’t do anything that’s too distasteful to you, Professor!” He stood up.
“Will you sit down and shut up?” Snape exclaimed in irritation. “I have no intention of doing anything ‘too distasteful.’ The fact that I have strict instructions not to alienate you has never stopped me before. I wouldn’t be doing this at all if I didn’t...regret the way I behaved.”
Harry sat back down as though his legs could no longer support him. “You needn’t look so surprised, I am not entirely heartless,” Severus scowled at him.
“No, it’s not—I mean—I just,” Harry stammered before gaping at him again.
“You just what?”
“I just wasn’t expecting this, I guess,” Harry replied slowly. “Not many people like me for just me, especially when they hated my father first.”
“Please, everyone loves you and you know it,” Snape rolled his eyes.
“I have my doubts,” Harry countered, “but now that we’re speaking again I don’t really feel like arguing about it.” Severus raised his eyebrow but did not reply. “Are you feeling better now?”
“Good. It’s only a few hours until dinner,” Harry stood. “I’ll meet you in the dining room,” he said before exiting.
It was a bit longer to dinner than Harry realized, and Severus had plenty of time to get cleaned up and report to Dumbledore before he had to make his way to the dining room. He didn’t mention the fact that he and Harry had talked, but the Headmaster seemed to know anyway.
Harry was feeling very bewildered. He found himself sitting on his bed staring out the window. He had been furious with Snape, but he was slowly beginning to realize that he wasn’t as much anymore. He was a little hurt, but Snape’s explanation went a long way to soothing that pain. Harry slowly realized that over the last few weeks he had come to respect and look up to his snarky, cranky professor.
In a way he supposed it was odd that he was so willing to accept care from a man who had made his life miserable for so long, but he found he didn’t mind so much, and, he reasoned, it wasn’t horribly different from discovering that the man you thought had betrayed your parents was your godfather.
When dinnertime came, Harry was feeling better, but he was still a little off balance. At dinner, the conversation was stilted, despite the best efforts of both Harry and Severus. When Snape asked what he’d been doing for the last few days, Harry heard himself answering “nothing much,” in a bland tone. Somehow he could not bring himself to tell Snape that he had been practicing potions. Severus knew by Harry’s tone that there was something the boy wasn’t telling him, and it hurt. He told himself that he was lucky the youth was talking to him at all and that he should be grateful, but it didn’t ameliorate the pain.
When Severus and Harry ran into each other again at lunch the next day there was awkward silence. Finally, however, Harry broke the ice by saying, “So, when Voldemort said you should be nice to me and all,” he paused and saw that Snape was regarding him intently, “did he say anything about when we go back to Hogwarts?” It had occurred to him during the tossing and turning of the night before that all of this might be an act and that the return to school might herald a return to the chilly and ridiculing behavior of before.
Severus, despite Harry’s best efforts at indifference, saw that this worried Harry and that the basis of all future interactions between them would be laid by his response. “I am not supposed to raise suspicion too much. I think I can afford to be less scathing than usual, and of course I will make arrangements to talk to you, should you so desire,” he responded carefully. Severus was relieved to see that Harry looked reassured by this. Now that he had secured his second chance, he was determined not to bungle it, particularly since he was even less used to having people like him than Harry.
“Is there anything in particular that you would like to do today?” Severus asked a few minutes later.
“Not really. What do you normally do?”
“Double check the labeling on the potions I brewed for Poppy Pomfrey.”
“You could do that, if you want. Do you want any help?”
“I suppose I could use a little.”
Harry and Severus worked all the rest of that day sorting, labeling, and boxing all the vials Severus had filled with brightly colored potions for the hospital wing. Whenever there was an opening, Severus told Harry how each potion should be stored, whether in light or darkness and at what temperature, and how long it would last before losing potency. Harry tried to absorb as much as possible, but it was difficult to keep the temperature ranges and shelve lives straight when there were so many different potions. He finally resigned himself to remembering what he could and hoping to learn the rest later.
On Monday morning Harry went to his last Occlumency session of the summer. He performed even better than he had before, and Severus smiled a little at him when the clock signaled the end of the lesson. “You’ve made a great deal of progress. I have never had a student who learned this so quickly.” More than anything, Severus wanted to say that he was proud of Harry, but he wasn’t sure how that would be received.
Harry had seen something very like the smile Snape was giving him once on Uncle Vernon’s face when he heard that Dudley had won a boxing championship. Harry examined the expression more closely and decided that, despite the fact that there was only a slight twist of the lips, it was pride shining out of Snape’s eyes. Harry grinned back at him, basking in the feeling that he had done something right enough to get his dour professor’s approval.
“Since I had your help yesterday, I finished much sooner than usual. If you like, you could go flying this afternoon.”
“I’d like that,” Harry said. “You don’t have a quaffle or anything, do you?” he continued impulsively.
“Yes,” Severus said slowly, “Why? You don’t think I am going to let the Gryffindor seeker practice with my snitch do you?”
“No, and I may not even be the seeker...” Harry trailed off before shaking his head. “I thought we could play catch or something. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to,” he finished when he saw disbelief appear on Snape’s face.
Here it was, handed to him on a golden platter, the chance to show Harry how he felt, how proud of him he was and how happy that he had gotten a chance to try again. “Get your broom,” Severus said with the beginning of a wicked grin, “and prepare to have your tail kicked.” Harry smiled big enough to split his face before he tore out of the basement and up to his room.
They stayed out until they were both late for dinner and came in arguing fiercely but good naturedly about who had gotten the most catches and drops. The discussion ended with dinner and the consensus that it had been a tie, even though truthfully Harry had won. Just before he left the dining room Severus reminded him not to stay up too late; they were going to Diagon Alley and “I don’t want to have to go hunting through all the grates because you can’t keep your eyes open long enough to get out at the right one.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Harry said cheekily before returning to his room. He placed his broom on his trunk and lay down on his bed intending to think, but he was asleep in moments.
Harry woke up the next morning with the dim impression that he had been trying to do something and been unable to. When he couldn’t remember what it was he had been trying to do, he decided he must have been dreaming and climbed out of bed to set about getting ready to leave for Diagon Alley. He was early to breakfast and looked up from his toast and eggs when Snape walked in.
“Anxious to leave?” the tall wizard asked.
Harry shook his head, “Just to see my friends.”
“How long will take you to pack up?”
“Not long, I really don’t have that much out,” Harry replied frowning slightly. They lapsed into silence while finishing breakfast. When they finished Harry stood and politely said, “Excuse me,” before running up the stairs at Snape’s nod.
Harry pulled on his cloak and shoved his booklist and wand into his pockets. Severus was waiting for him in the hall outside the library. “Come along,” he said as he led Harry into the room and handed him a canister of ash-like powder. “I presume you have flooed before?” Snape said with a quirk of the lip and eyebrow.
“Yes,” Harry said with a faint smile. He stepped into the fireplace and said very clearly, “Diagon Alley,” before throwing the powder downward. In a whoosh of green flame he was gone. Severus took a deep breath before following him.
Harry stumbled out of the fireplace at the Leaky Cauldron and began trying to knock the soot off his clothing. Snape stepped gracefully out behind him without a speck of dirt on his robes and Harry sighed with envy. At least he hadn’t fallen or broken his glasses this time.
“Where are your friends?” Snape asked softly.
“I’m not sure, maybe at Florean Fortescue’s, or, or somewhere,” he had been going to say ‘at Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes,’ but he wasn’t sure if the professor knew about it or not, and if he didn’t Harry wasn’t sure he wanted to be the one to tell him. “I need to go to Gringott’s,” Harry mentioned, “so we could look for them after.” Snape nodded and the unlikely pair strode into the goblin-run bank. Forty-five minutes and a wild cart-ride later they walked out and down the alley toward Fortescue’s ice cream parlor.
They hadn’t gone very far before they met the Weasley party and Harry disappeared into a flurry of greetings and hugs from Hermione, Ginny, and Mrs. Weasley.
“You lot run along now and we’ll meet you at Florean Fortescue’s in an hour,” Mrs. Weasley said. “Okay,”s and “Yes, mum,”s were heard as the group of teens moved off.
“Harry’s looking much better now,” Molly commented to Severus as they watched the students walk away.
“Yes,” Severus paused for a long time before saying, “Why didn’t you say anything earlier?”
“I told you as much as I thought you’d listen to,” the red-head responded.
“Molly Weasley, how practically Slytherin, they may kick you out of Gryffindor for that.”
“Severus,” Molly exclaimed, “who told you I was in Gryffindor?” Severus just stared at her. Molly smiled at him as she said, “I need to pick up a few things while I’m here; shall I meet you with the children?” Severus nodded and swept off.
Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were wandering down the street arguing about where to go first. Ron was set on going to visit the twins before buying their school things so that they didn’t have to carry their books around with them. Hermione was equally insistent that they go to the bookstore and apothecary first to get them out of the way. Harry and Ginny shared an amused look as the two continued to bicker.
As they were passing Ollivander’s wand shop they met Neville. “Hello,” he greeted them brightly.
“Hello, Neville, what are you up to?” Harry asked.
“Just buying a new wand for school. I think this year will be a bit better, now I’ve got my own wand, and now that I don’t need to take potions anymore.”
“I know, isn’t it terrific?” Ron said, “No more Snape.”
Neville nodded enthusiastically before Hermione asked, “Was your grandmother very upset about you other wand?”
“She was at first,” Neville replied, “but after I told her the whole story she didn’t mind as much. I think she might even be a little proud of me.”
“That’s great,” Harry said, smiling at the other boy.
“Luna Lovegood is here, too, have you seen her yet?” Neville asked.
“No, not yet,” Ginny replied.
“I think she was headed to Flourish and Blott’s, but I’m not quite sure.”
“We were just going to run into the apothecary before we went to the bookshop, but maybe we’ll meet her,” Hermione said.
At this moment Neville’s grandmother walked out of Ollivander’s shop. The vulture on top of her hat looked even more moth-eaten than the last time Harry had seen it. “Neville,” she called, looking about for him.
“Got to run, see you all on the train. Coming, Gran!” he hurried off through the crowd.
“Just going to the apothecary!” Ron huffed, “We were just going to see the twins!”
“Don’t be silly, Ron, the apothecary will take two seconds. If you don’t want to go, just go into Flourish and Blott’s and we’ll meet you there.” Ron rolled his eyes and mumbled under his breath, but went into the apothecary all the same, for which Harry was grateful because he needed to refill his potions stores and didn’t fancy trying to come up with a good reason to do that when he hadn’t gotten the right potions OWL.
Harry tried to wander away from the group to buy what he needed, but once in the shop Ron seemed not to want to leave his side. Finally Harry just went ahead and made his purchase in front of Ron.
“What are you doing? You don’t have potions, do you?” Ron exclaimed.
“No, but you never know when it’ll come in handy, right, and Hermione will have a fit if we’re always using her kit.”
“That’s true enough,” Ron said thoughtfully, “maybe I’ll buy a bit myself. ‘Sides, if you want to be an auror you should know that stuff, right?”
After Ginny and Hermione had finished the quartet made their way across the alley to the bookstore. There they split up with the agreement to meet just outside when they were finished.
Harry had gotten the rest of his books when he headed over to the potions section. He was relieved to see that Hermione was the only one in the aisle he wanted. “Hello, Harry,” she greeted him. “Did you get advanced potions too?”
“Er, no,” Harry admitted. “But I was wondering, do I have to take the class to sit the test?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Hermione answered in some confusion. “Why do you ask?”
“Well,” Harry took a deep breath, “I really want to become an auror, and I need potions for that. So, I was wondering,” he paused, “I was wondering if you could help me do an independent study. I’ll get the book and do all the work,” he assured her, seeing that she looked skeptical, “I just wanted to borrow your notes occasionally, and I thought,” he trailed off.
“I’m not sure I’m really the person you should ask, Harry. What about Professor Snape, have you talked to him about it?”
Harry shook his head, “You know he wouldn’t let me in his class, ‘Mione, I didn’t get a good enough OWL, and he can’t set up a special class just for me, right?” He could see she was beginning to be convinced despite her better judgment. “Besides, they say the best way to learn anything is to teach it,” he added.
“Thanks, Hermione! You’re the best!” Harry exclaimed jubilantly. She gave him a half-smile as they turned back to the stacks in front of them.
After visiting the apothecary on Diagon Alley and another, less savory, one on Knockturn Alley, Severus stepped into the bookstore. He wandered about for a bit before making his way to the potions section. He was quietly browsing when he heard voices.
The Granger-girl and Harry were talking in the next aisle. He listened carefully. So, Harry wanted to keep studying potions, eh? Well, if he was prepared to do it on his own then he definitely needed to offer the boy a spot in his class. Advanced potions were often difficult and it was downright dangerous to attempt some of them without proper supervision. Fleetingly, as the conversation ended, Severus wondered if this was what Harry hadn’t told him, but he quickly pushed the thought aside with contemplations of how he could get Harry into his class without raising suspicions.
While Severus was plotting the others were paying for their books at the counter. When they were all checked out, the four students made their way to Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes. The store was a bit smaller than its immediate neighbors, but every possible inch of space was used to display the things Fred and George had invented. Harry spotted trick wands, fireworks, skiving snack boxes, and disappearing hats among the myriad other items. Judging by the fair crowd in the store the twins were doing a brisk business. Harry was unsurprised to see Lee Jordan in the store as well.
The moment Lee caught sight of them he shouted to the twins. “Hallo!” called one of the red-headed look-alikes.
“Never thought to see you in here, Hermione!” the other said cheekily.
“Ron wanted to come in,” she said with a shrug.
“And you didn’t, I’m hurt!”
“I guess business really is going well then,” Harry commented to George.
“Absolutely!” George told him.
“We’re very disappointed that you never sent for anything, Harry,” Fred told him with mock severity.
“Yes, well, I did think about asking for a portable swamp to set off in the dining room, but as I actually had to eat there too,” he trailed off with a shrug.
“Next time then, I suppose.”
“Speaking of the bat, what’s his house like?” Ron asked curiously. “Was there Dark Arts stuff everywhere?”
“Not in the places I was allowed,” Harry said. “The whole place felt a bit like Grimmauld Place, really. Sort of abandoned and empty.”
“Was Snape awful?” Ginny asked.
“No worse than usual,” Harry replied. He thought about adding that he was a good deal better some of the time, but didn’t on the grounds that they would never believe him.
“Tough luck, mate,” Ron attempted to console him before Hermione said, “As long as we are here we might as well look around before we’ve got to leave.”
“Yes,” the twins snapped into action, “You’ve got to see this new thing we’ve just finished,” and with that they led Harry and the others on a very thorough tour of the premises with lots of demonstrations. Harry was very impressed and said so. The twins replied that they couldn’t have done it without him. At this point Hermione mentioned that they had to be going if they were going to make it to Fortescue’s in time. A few moments and discounted purchases later, the group was on its way to the ice cream parlor.
They saw Mrs. Weasley waiting for them just outside, though there was no sign of Professor Snape. Mrs. Weasley had just finished making sure that they had got everything on their lists and was about to lead them in when a tall, blonde witch glided up with her son in tow. “Molly,” the witch said, “a word, please.”
“Yes, of course, Narcissa,” Mrs. Weasley said, looking more than a little surprised. “Why don’t you go inside?” she said, turning back to the parcel-laden students.
“Yes, you go, too, Draco. And do try not to get hexed this time,” Mrs. Malfoy said in a cool but slightly exasperated voice.
The five of them hurried inside with many backward glances and glares between Malfoy and the others. They took a table as close to the two older witches as they could, though it was still to far away to hear anything. All they could tell was that Mrs. Malfoy was slightly more animated than usual and whatever she was saying was agitating Mrs. Weasley. “Anybody got any extendables?” Ginny asked.
“No,” Ron said, I was going to buy some more but I forgot.”
“Extendable whats?” Draco asked, his ears perking up.
“Right, like we’re going to tell you anything,” Harry said.
“I know more than you think I do, Scarhead. Had a nice summer?” he sneered.
Harry wisely said nothing as he remembered his promise to Snape, but Hermione said, “Are you sure you want to pick a fight, Malfoy? Your mother did just say you should try not to get hexed again, didn’t she?”
“Yeah, I reckon she’s getting tired of undoing them all,” Ron cackle. Malfoy snarled but was silent. He looked as though he were trying to appear indifferent and above their pettiness, but he was failing abominably.
A few minutes later Molly and Narcissa walked over to the table. “Come, Draco,” his mother said, and the pair swept off imperiously. The Weasley matriarch took the chair Malfoy had just vacated and Florean himself walked up to take their orders.
When he had gone Ron asked, “What did she want, Mum?” Mrs. Weasley just shook her head and steadfastly resisted all their attempts to interrogate her. Eventually she turned red and snapped, “Just eat your ice cream!”
They had finished and paid before Severus reappeared. “All finished shopping?” he asked Harry coldly. Harry nodded. “Come along then. I’ve got to deliver you to your relatives.” Harry turned and said goodbye to his friends and was hugged by Mrs. Weasley. At last, however, he was ready to go and he and Snape returned to the Leaky Cauldron where they flooed back to the Manor.
When they arrived in the library Harry pulled his packages out of the fireplace and brushed himself off. He was just picking up all his packages when Severus stepped out and Harry hurried up to his room without a word. Severus frowned and followed him, albeit more slowly.
When he got to Harry’s room he found that the boy had washed up but changed into noticeably more ragged clothes than he had been wearing. Severus’s frown deepened as he watched the youth darting about the room. At last he offered, “I did not intend to hurt you; I merely wished to avoid a scene with your friends.”
Harry stopped and blinked at him. “It wasn’t that,” he said with a shake of his head. “I knew that was coming. I was just thinking, mostly.”
“Thinking about what?”
“Wondering what Narcissa Malfoy said to Mrs. Weasley, wondering what Aunt Petunia is going to say when I go back, and if they’re very angry with me, or just a little,” he paused before he admitted, “I don’t want to go back.”
“I know that,” Severus leaned against the doorframe. “I happen to know for a fact that Professor Dumbledore met with your aunt and had a long talk with her. If she is so foolish as to be angry with you for anything that happened this summer, I doubt anything will come of it. It is only a week,” he continued, “Where is your Gryffindor courage?”
“I think my sense of self-preservation has beaten it into submission,” Harry said straight-faced.
“That would be a first,” Snape commented with what might have been a smile. “A week isn’t that long. You may, if you like, owl me at any time.”
He said this with a sense of hesitance that revealed more than he would have liked, but Harry smiled at him. “I might take you up on that. This is your last chance to retract the offer.” Snape scowled at him, which made Harry laugh a little. “Right,” Harry said, turning back to his trunk. I think that’s everything.”
“You are dressed appropriately?”
“You haven’t left anything in the dining room or elsewhere?”
“I’ll just let Hedwig go and then I’ll be ready.”
“I will take your trunk downstairs.”
“Thanks,” Harry said. “I’ll be down in just a minute.” Snape nodded as he levitated the trunk and left the room as Harry opened the window. “See you in Surrey, Hedwig,” he murmured as he carried the snowy owl to the window. He stood for a moment, watching her fly away, and then he picked up her cage, took one last look around the room, and walked down the stairs to meet his professor by the front door.
They walked silently to the wards at the edge of the property and Severus put his hand on Harry’s shoulder before apparating them into an alley near Privet Drive. Wordlessly Harry picked up one of the handles of his trunk and, after the swift application of a notice-me-not charm, they walked to number four.
When they found the house, which Severus sneered at, Snape knocked on the door and it was opened by Vernon Dursley. “Boy, you’re back,” he said nastily.
“Hello, Uncle Vernon,” Harry replied as neutrally as possible as he moved into the house. “Put your trunk in the cupboard, then go to your room,” Vernon said, eyeing Severus warily.
Harry did as he was told but walked up the stairs as slowly as possible. Aunt Petunia stood in the kitchen doorway glaring at him, so he hurried his pace a little. Harry reached the top of the stairs before anyone spoke, so he stepped into his room and looked around. It had always been disappointing since he had come back from Hogwarts the first time, but just now the let-down was worse than ever.
“Are you the one?” Aunt Petunia inquired archly.
“Which one?” Snape asked her with his own raised brow.
“The one who magicked my flowers!” she scowled at him.
“No, that was not I. I will point out, however, that Harry turns seventeen soon, and when he does he is no longer forbidden to do magic at home.” Vernon started swelling and had just opened his mouth when Snape continued, “Until then, he has several people looking out for him. You may have met the others,” he looked at them questioningly. Aunt Petunia nodded silently. “Then you know they are all formidable. I feel obligated to tell you, however, that while they are all nice people, I am not. You may ask your nephew if you don’t believe me.” He glared at them for a moment longer then walked up the stairs.
He knew the instant he saw the doors which room was Harry’s, and it drew a snarl from him, but he walked into the room as calmly as he could. “I am leaving now.”
“Did they say anything?” Harry asked, trying not to sound as anxious as he felt.
“Not really,” he smirked, “Especially when I pointed out that you come of age soon.”
“You didn’t,” Harry said pleadingly.
“I did. Owl if there are problems.”
“Now they’re likely to kick me out the moment I turn seventeen.”
“You will not be left with nowhere to go. The Weasleys will take you in, if nothing else. And you are welcome with me, though it is rather a last resort.”
“Thank you,” Harry said and Severus nodded and turned to leave.
A moment before he stepped out the door he turned back, “Did you remember to pick up a journal in Diagon Alley?” Harry flushed slightly and shook his head sheepishly. Severus withdrew a small, blue, cloth-bound book from his pocket. “Here.”
“I’ll see you in a week,” Harry said.
“A week,” Severus agreed.
With that the tall wizard left and Harry was left alone. Curiously, he did not feel as alone as he had at the beginning of the summer. Harry sat down on his bed clutching his new journal and Hedwig soared into the room and over to him. “Well, girl,” he whispered, “this is certainly going to be an interesting year.”