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Chapter 8:
Defessus Vita

"I am weary of it all, where is the sense in all this pain and joy?"
--Goethe "Wanderer's Song at Night"

Harry closed the curtains around his bed and pulled out his mirror. He'd been talking to Sirius every few days since the twins had told him about it. OWLs were fast approaching. He'd shared what Snape had given him with his friends, and he desperately needed to talk to his godfather. "Sirius Black," he said.

"Hey, Harry," Sirius's face appeared in the mirror.

Harry frowned as he noticed how tired Sirius looked. "Are you all right?" he asked. "You look ruddy awful."

Sirius smiled. "I'm fine," he said. "I've just been working hard on a surprise for when you come home for the summer."

Harry thought his heart would burst with the joy of it. "You mean I get to stay with you?" he asked, grinning.

"Of course!" Sirius said. "We'll get you an official guardian, so that the Ministry keeps their nose out of it, but you can come and live with me."

"I miss you," Harry said suddenly. "Nothing is normal here anymore. I mean, Snape has been being civil and even helping me."

Sirius looked thoughtful for a few minutes before he replied. "Severus and I don't get on, and we probably never will," he said finally. "But he's on our side, Harry, and deep down, I think he's a decent person."

"But I really can come and live with you?" Harry asked timidly. It was too hard for him to believe that he wouldn't have to return to Privet Drive; he just couldn't really see it happening.

"Yes," was Sirius's unequivocal answer. "If I hadn't stupidly run off after Wormtail, you would've grown up with me. When I think of what Lily's rotten sister and her family did to you--"

"Don't, Sirius," Harry said earnestly. "I need you with me, not back in Azkaban for torturing Muggles."

"They'd deserve it," Sirius muttered. "But I won't." He favored Harry with a wolfish grin. "I made Tonks and Shacklebolt promise that they'd get them thrown into Azkaban."

Harry shivered. "OWLs are next week," he said, changing the subject.

"Have you studied?" Sirius asked.

Harry nodded. "Yeah. Professor Snape even gave me some extra stuff to look at." He frowned. "I don't know why he did that, either. I think it's because he's mad at Umbridge so he decided to help me to get back at her."

Sirius gave him a half-smile. "How very Slytherin," he commented. "He and your mother were good friends when we were in school," he said conversationally.

"They were?" Harry asked, shocked.

Sirius nodded. "It was one of the reasons why James hated him so much; your father had a crush on your mother for years before she noticed him."

Harry turned the new information over in his mind a few times before asking another question. "Sirius? What was Mum like? Nobody ever tells me anything about her other than she was pretty, smart, and good at charms."

Sirius looked surprised. "I guess everyone thinks that since Petunia raised you, she must have told you about Lily."

Harry shook his head. "I don't think you want to know what Aunt Petunia told me about my parents," he murmured. "It wasn't anything good."

Anger flitted across his godfather's face. Visibly calming himself, he started to talk. "Harry, your mother was the most beautiful person I've ever known, inside and out." He grinned suddenly. "I think at least half the boys in our year had a crush on her."

"What was she like? What was her favorite color? Did she really want me or was Aunt Petunia telling the truth?" Rapid fire questions streamed out of Harry's mouth.

Sirius laughed. "Slow down, Harry. Breathe a bit." He settled back in his chair. "Well, first of all, she hated bullies. I think that's why it took her so long to notice James--he had to grow up a bit first. She'd stand up for any student, regardless of House, who was being picked on."

Harry frowned. "You mean that Dad was a bully?" he asked.

Sirius spoke slowly, as if he were trying to choose his words carefully. "We did some rotten things when we were your age, Harry. We were idiots, and we learnt better. It's a big part of why Professor Snape and I still don't get on and why he's held a grudge against you."

"And because I look like Dad," Harry said.

Sirius nodded. "To be helping you as much as he has, I'm betting that he's finally figured out what Remus and I saw a while ago; you resemble James more than you do Lily, but you're her son, personality-wise."

Tears prickled Harry's eyes. "Thank you," he murmured. "I never got to ask about her before; the Dursleys punished me for asking questions."

"Never be afraid to ask questions, Harry," Sirius said quietly. "And to answer some of your questions, you were not only very much wanted, but planned. Your parents were so happy when Lily found out that they were having you."

He simply nodded. They talked for a while longer, but were interrupted by a jaw-cracking yawn from Harry. “"o to bed, Harry," Sirius ordered. "I love you."

Harry had to bite back tears at that statement; he couldn't remember anyone ever having said that before. "Night, Sirius," he murmured. "Out." The mirror turned off, and he tucked it into its hiding spot before climbing under the bedclothes.

He'd known that his Mum died for him, but to know that she'd wanted him from the beginning was something new. Briefly, he wished he could at least remember his parents, but knew that it was just wishful thinking. Sighing softly, he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, a barely remembered tune running through his head.

Harry hurriedly got dressed, grabbed the Marauder's Map, and threw his invisibility cloak over his head. OWLs were to begin, and he was to see Professor Snape to have his shields reinforced before breakfast that day. Quickly and quietly, he hurried out of Gryffindor Tower and down to the dungeons.

Upon arriving, Harry checked the map before he removed his cloak, knocked softly on the door to Snape's office, and jumped back when it opened abruptly.

"In," Snape ordered.

Quickly, Harry complied. It wouldn't have done to get caught by one of the Slytherins.

Snape shut the door behind him, then locked and warded it. "Do you trust me, Mister Potter?" he asked abruptly.

Harry considered the question for half a moment. "No," he said honestly.

Snape gave him a look as if he were examining a mismade potion for what had went wrong, then nodded sharply. "I see," he said. "In order for this to work, you must trust me, Potter."

Harry began to study the floor. Could he? After all, the man knew a good number of his secrets. But trust, as a general rule, came hard for him, and Snape was an adult. That fact alone made him wary to even try. In his experience, adults weren't generally trustworthy, especially Snape.

Snape had spent the better part of five years making sure he knew that pond scum was higher on the evolutionary ladder than he was. Snape had spent months rummaging through his head and had squealed about his home life. But, on the other hand, that very act had fulfilled one of Harry's deepest desires, and he'd also given Harry what he craved the most--information.

Finally Harry nodded slowly. "I can try," he said.

Snape gestured towards a high-backed chair. "I have agreed to do this, even though it will be quite draining for me." He gave Harry a stern look. "It would not do to learn rely on this, Mister Potter; even the Headmaster could only boost Occlumency shields for a short period of time."

"Yes, sir," Harry murmured. He didn't quite know why Snape was helping him; there were few certainties in his world at the moment. Aside from the 'Voldemort wants me dead' one, there was 'Professor Severus Snape hates my guts' truth. But it seemed as if the rug had been yanked out from under him in regards to the latter. If Snape really hated him, why was he helping? Confused, he looked at his professor. "What must I do?" he asked.

Snape circled him twice before replying. "First, you must drop your shields," he ordered.

"But, sir!" Harry protested. He'd barely learned how to keep them almost constantly up as it was!

"Normally," Snape's soft voice began, "I would tell you to never drop your shields for anyone, but this is a special case."

Harry crossed his arms over his chest and glared at his professor. "How do you I know that you're not going to do something to me when I let my guard down?" he demanded.

Snape smirked. "You don't," he said. He stopped in front of Harry, grasped his chin, and made him look up. "I know trust comes hard, Mister Potter, but unless you want the Dark Lord in your head during OWLs, you will have to trust me."

Harry jerked back and looked down quickly. He had felt the greasy git's brush against his mind, and he didn't like it. It was Professor Snape's fault that his secrets had gotten out, after all. But what choice did he have? Snape's words were blackmail, to be sure, but he couldn't afford to have Tom in his head during OWLs. Finally, he nodded his consent and slowly let his shields down.

"Close your eyes," Snape ordered quietly. "I shall have to create a temporary bond between our minds for this to work."

Harry nodded and obeyed. He almost flinched when he felt the gentle, deft touch brush against his mind.

"Hold out a mental hand, Potter," Snape said.

Hesitantly, Harry complied. He wasn't sure exactly what Snape was doing, and he sure as hell didn't trust the man. He felt the professor link firmly to his outstretched 'hand' and was almost shocked by the feeling of pure power that radiated through the link.

"I taught you to see your own mind," Snape said silkily. "Watch what I do. While trapping an invader is a good strategy, it is often better to misdirect them and allow them to think that they are getting somewhere." As he spoke, the man built layer upon layer of shields around Harry's mind. Catching on to the technique, Harry started helping, building his own shields behind the ones that Snape constructed.

After building innumerable shields, Snape finally released him and slid out of his mind. "The link will allow me to maintain the shields I just built," he lectured. "Now, behind all the rest, I need you to erect your strongest Occlumency shield and keep it up. The barriers should be able to keep the Dark Lord out of your thoughts."

Quickly, Harry put up his shields and anchored them to the rest. "Why are you helping me, Professor?" he asked. Snape glared at him for a moment, then scowled. "The headmaster thinks that you deserve an even chance with the rest of the students--and I find that I quite agree."

Harry studied the stone floor. "Oh," he said quietly.

Snape glanced at the clock on the wall. "Breakfast should be served soon," he said. "But before you leave, I want your word that you will forget the rubbish that those Muggles instilled in you about your marks and do your absolute best."

Harry looked up in surprise. His professor's voice was demanding, and brooked no argument. The unspoken message was clear; he was to do his best, or else. Frankly, he didn't want to find out what the consequences would be for disobeying the unspoken order. "Yes, sir," he said. "I promise."

Snape gave him a sharp nod. "Go," he ordered.

Harry pulled his cloak out, threw it over his head, and left the classroom. Every private lesson he had with the man only served to confuse him further. Professor Snape hated him, he had no illusions about that. But recently, it seemed as if the man was hell bent on protecting him.

In his world, things like that didn't happen. In his world, adults didn't help, and never believed anything he said. Part of him wanted to be angry, but he couldn't afford to get on Professor Snape's bad side--if he did, his line to any and all information about Voldemort and the outside world might just disappear.

Harry pulled off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. He'd made it through OWLs that week without much incident, and he was tired. He'd spent most of his time between exams frantically revising, hoping to remind himself of everything he'd learned in the past five years. He would not, could not, fail any of his exams. He simply didn't want to deal with a Professor Snape convinced that he'd fallen back on his old standby--to be average and unnoticeable.

Harry grimaced as he slid his glasses back on and headed down the hallway. He had another Occlumency lesson later that night, and Professor Snape had to take down the temporary barriers that he'd erected on Harry's mind. He'd been going to see the man every morning to have the barriers strengthened, and he'd be glad when he didn't have to do it anymore. Out of everyone's sight, he allowed his shoulders to slump a little and studied the floor in front of him as he walked.

His head snapped up and he frowned as he heard shrill screaming coming from the direction of the first floor. Harry sped up, heading towards the sound with his hand on his wand. His expression darkened as the cause of the noise came into sight: Draco, Pansy, Crabbe, and Goyle were tormenting four first years. Goyle and Crabbe had levitated two of them, hanging the children upside down and were banging them together, as if they were beater bats, while Pansy and Draco were firing pain curses at the other two.

Harry's eyes narrowed as he recognized the curses; he'd done some research the previous year, and the pain curses they were using were one step below Cruciatus. Part of him wanted to charge in, but he was alone. He frowned. He couldn't get Crabbe and Goyle; they might drop the children. But he if he got Pansy and Draco, he could probably make the other two put the kids down.

Quickly, he aimed his wand at Draco. "Stupefy," he whispered. Draco dropped like a rock. He pointed his wand at Pansy and did it again before stepping out of the shadows. "Put them down," he ordered.

"Don't have to," Goyle said.

"We're not done playing," Crabbe chimed in.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the two first years that were on the ground escape. "Now," he hissed with his wand trained on them.

Crabbe grinned at Goyle, and they both released the spell, sending the first years plummeting to the ground. When they hit the stone floor, both of them started to cry. The kids picked themselves up and ran before their tormentors turned around.

Harry glared at his classmates. "You know," he said conversationally. "I really hate bullies. And I don't think that Professor Snape likes them much, either."

Crabbe and Goyle shook their heads frantically. It was obvious that the last thing they wanted to do was to see their Head of House.

"Mr. Potter," Umbridge's hateful voice interrupted him. "Detention for assaulting students in the corridor!"

Harry turned around. "But Professor," he protested. "They were picking on first years!"

"My office, eight o'clock," she snapped.

Harry's shoulders slumped. "I have remedial potions lessons then, Professor," he said. He'd long since learned that it did very little good to protest; it only earned him more detentions.

"Fine then," Umbridge glared at him. "Directly after dinner."

Harry leveled his best death glare at her before he left. Great, just great. He'd be spending the hours before his thrice-weekly torture session with Snape carving words into his hand.