Rating: Um. PG-13? RSIP for Rather Silly In Places?

Pairing: Harry/Snape (Harry/Weasley Twins implied?)

Thanks again to Tinderblast, beta reader and First Mate on the Good- Ship Harry/Snape. May she see fit to post her story soon, hint hint.

Notes: Yes, this fic is short. It's a "filler fic" - something I felt needed to be done but couldn't be comfortably fit into the next large piece (I have no idea when THAT will be written, so don't even start). Having said that, I hope you enjoy it anyway. Let me know what you think.

"Sex is many things to us. It can be a way to show our love for someone, a way to release tension, or even just a way to have a hell of a lot of fun."

Harry sighed heavily, and closed the cover of A Wizard's Manual of Same-Sex Sex. He'd already wasted away most of the morning reading it, but it was so damned addictive. And informative - well, when it wasn't getting into a load of philosophical rubbish about What Sex Means. Ever since returning to Privet Drive in June, he felt like he'd lived inside its covers.

Damn Fred and George anyway. And bless them too. Harry swallowed hard as he opened the book again to the well-thumbed chapter on Oral Sex And How To Do It Just Exactly Right. When he'd arrived home that day he'd barely spared a glance at his sullen aunt and cousin, instead dragging his stuff up the stairs, stowing away a few things, and finally giving up and diving into the book right away, eyes running over the Table of Contents with a voracity for knowledge he'd never shown in school, or for anything except maybe Quidditch.

He'd turned to the most exciting-looking chapters first, of course. And turned about sixteen different shades of red before realizing that not only did a lot of this stuff sound ... well, gross, but he also had no idea what was really going on. So he'd sighed heavily and begun at the beginning: Chapter One: Basic Biology.

Foreskins. Testicles. Nipples. A plethora of naughty bits with detailed descriptions of each, not to mention all the other kinds of supposedly erogenous zones he'd never even thought about before. (Armpits? What was so sexy about an armpit?) And as for, um, prostates, he simply couldn't imagine anything hidden up ... there that could be so damned exciting. But once he'd done a little further study he discovered that apparently a lot of people liked ... um, it, and maybe someday it wouldn't be too bad to try it. Someday. Way off in the future.

Today was the last day of July, his birthday, and every day since his arrival from school he'd looked at the book, usually well into the night. So he was pretty sure he had it well memorised by now. Some of the ideas inside had instantly appealed to him. Other ideas he'd warmed up to after reading about them a few times and realising that yes, actually, though sixty-nining sounded a bit strange the thought was giving him an erection that needed urgent attention. But some stuff he couldn't imagine ever trying, ever, ever. For example, no way was he ever going to lick anybody's ... well.

Maybe all of this would be easier to absorb if he weren't thinking of an actual specific person every time he read about a new sex act. Maybe it would even be easier if that specific person were anybody but Snape. He just couldn't picture Snape doing some of these ... things. Or doing them to Snape, for that matter. Snape just wore that frozen reserve of his like an extra shirt, and while sex might be many things, Harry was pretty sure by now that dignified wasn't one of them.

Of course, Snape hadn't been all that reserved, and certainly not frozen, the last time they'd met.

Damn. Harry's head fell forward onto the book with a low moan, feeling himself harden again inside his pants. He didn't know what had got into him this summer, but his right hand was getting a better workout than at any other time in his life. This book, combined with the memory of Snape's kisses and Harry's own rather fevered imagination, seemed to have driven him into a state of near-constant arousal. Some days he felt like the erection just never went away. Thank God he wasn't at Hogwarts; the Dursleys might hate him, but at least they let him alone, and for the first time Harry was profoundly grateful for the solitude. He could indulge himself as often as he liked. And did.

And some of the things he read about he could imagine Snape doing very, very clearly indeed.

At the thought of Snape his eye darted again automatically to the window to see if it was getting any darker yet. He sighed. The sun was slowly but surely going to the horizon, true, but it would be several hours before full nightfall when any owls might arrive. Ron's, Hermione's and Hagrid's had arrived right on schedule at midnight, the very first minute of his birthday, but nothing had come from Snape. Harry felt a little guilty for being so disappointed; after all, his friends had sent him lovely presents as always, and the food that Hermione and Mrs. Weasley had both packed was delicious. But ... still, he'd rather hoped ... and Snape had written to him before, after all.

He'd more or less ordered Snape to write to him over the summer, but he'd still been astounded to wake up one night in June to see a large brown owl tapping insistently at his window and bearing one small scroll of parchment from the Potions Master. As messages went, it had been fairly terse: Hogwarts was peaceful without all the bothersome students around, Snape was finally getting some valuable research done, and speaking of which, he certainly hoped Harry was actually cracking a book this summer instead of lazing around and letting all that valuable instruction go to waste. And by the way, if Harry felt like writing back, he'd have to do it right away and send it back with the same owl, because it would look very odd for Harry Potter's owl to start delivering regular messages to the Potions teacher at Hogwarts.

Harry had let the owl in, where it had glided silently to perch on the dresser and glare disdainfully at Hedwig in her cage, while he sat down and tried to think of something halfway eloquent to say in reply. Finally he'd given up and just scribbled down something rather banal about how his summer was going well, what was Snape researching, he hoped it all went all right, and what Potions text would they be using next term? After a moment's hesitation he'd also written a simple "Miss you," hoping Snape wouldn't think it was sappy but suspecting the loneliness that must have driven the campus-bound Potions Master to write to him in the first place.

The owl had returned a week later, bearing a heavy-looking textbook with another short letter tucked inside. Harry had taken the hint, and had resolved to study the book diligently. He'd stuck to his resolution, reading the (horrid, arid, boring) text with as much concentration as, if much less enthusiasm than, the sex manual.

He was going to do really well in Potions this year, not just scrape by. He wasn't going to give Snape any excuses. He was going to know this stuff cold, as cold as Hermione, if not colder, on the very first day of class. He was going to be ready. Even if the stuff was as dry as thousand-year-old bones.

From then on, he'd gotten a letter once a week.

With a heavy sigh, Harry closed the sex book again. He hadn't looked at Potions today, and though it was tempting to skive off on his birthday, studying would help him to keep his mind off the non-existent owl from Snape. So he pulled out a scroll of parchment and began carefully taking notes on Chapter 12, Section Three, "Fyrmean Leaf: Toxic Yet Useful." Ugh.

He passed an hour or two like that until Aunt Petunia's waspish voice floated up the stairs, calling him irritably to dinner.

He rose from the bed, carefully blowing the ink on his notes dry, and, rolling up the scrolls, cast one last wistful glance at the window before going downstairs.

About half an hour later he came back up from dinner - which, as always, had been a silent, sullen meal. Just this summer and next, he told himself. And this one's over halfway through already. This and the next. Then you never, ever have to see them again.

Of course, dinner at the Dursleys' had one benefit which he'd never realised before: Aunt Petunia was very fond of bananas. She insisted Dudley never got enough potassium - which he probably didn't, actually, considering the vast amounts of starch and fat he consumed in lieu of actual nutrients. The bananas weren't meant for Harry, of course, but since she bought them in great bunches she never noticed when one went missing every so often.

Harry blushed, pulling the banana out from under the oversized hand- me-down shirt where he'd stuffed it. He wasn't just interested in these things for the taste. During his, ah, studies of Fred and George's book, he'd begun to chafe at the realisation that while theory was all well and good he'd had no practise with any actual ... body parts. And damned if he wanted to fumble around like a stupid kid during his first time! He wanted to be good at it for Sna...for his lover, wanted desperately to please.

Then one day he'd wandered into the kitchen and ... inspiration struck. As it had a way of doing. After all, they were perfect. Pretty much the right shape and you could easily dispose of the evidence when you were done, as opposed to a real live, er, toy, which would have to be hidden under mattresses and floorboards and other inconvenient places. And much tastier.

Harry spared another second to give deep and heartfelt thanks that he was utterly alone in this room except for Hedwig and that nobody, but nobody would ever know that he spent his evenings reading sex books and touching and licking a peeled banana, glancing every now and then at the moving illustrations to make sure he was doing it right. Usually the men in the pictures gave him a hearty "thumbs-up," which was reassuring; after all this time, he felt like he'd got to know them personally.

He glanced irritably again at the darkening sky. Snape's owl posts never came at the same time; sometimes the letters would arrive on the heels of dusk, sometimes Harry would find himself stumbling towards the window at three-thirty in the morning. He wasn't sure if it was because the owl took occasional detours or because Snape just assumed Harry would be awake whenever he himself was. But it was damned annoying.

He glanced again at the Potions text on the bed, mentally turned up his nose at it, and - determinedly quelling his blush - focused on seeing how far down he could swallow the banana without his jaw locking up.

As he made ready for bed that night, Harry told himself sternly that he wasn't disappointed. At all. Snape wasn't the sentimental type, was he? And to be fair, Harry hadn't told him when exactly his birthday was, just that it was in July. Then again, this was the last day in July, so if Snape was going to do anything, by now he surely ought to have -

Don't be silly, Potter, he growled to himself in a voice that sounded rather like Snape's own. You get a letter once a week; he might just be waiting for Wednesday, like always, or he might have forgotten entirely ... That didn't seem unlikely, Harry reflected unhappily as he pushed and mashed his pillow around under his head, trying to settle down to sleep. He'd be a lot better off just accepting the truth that -

Whatever thought he'd been about to think disappeared in a trice at the sudden, sharp tapping sound that came at his window. Harry flew out of bed, almost tripping over himself trying to get out of the sheets and hoping that the noise hadn't been caused by some random object hitting the glass. But no, there was Snape's big brown owl, flapping around outside with a scroll clutched in his talons. Was it Harry's imagination or did the scroll look thicker than usual? Embarrassed at how his hands shook with excitement, he yanked the window open with unnecessary force, allowing the owl to fly in. The big bird perched on Harry's bedpost this time, after dropping the roll on his desk.

Harry beamed at the owl. "Hullo, Acheron," he said, aware of the very silly smile spreading itself across his face, and petted the magnificent head affectionately. He and Acheron had gotten to know each other rather well over the past several weeks, and the brown owl seemed to like Harry. "I'm glad to see you tonight!"

Acheron made a soft, impatient hoot that caused Harry to wince and hope fervently the Dursleys wouldn't hear. "I know, I know, I'm going to look at it right now," he said soothingly. Then he grinned and turned to Hedwig's cage, opening it up. She made a happy sort of owl-y noise and the two birds flapped up to perch together on the top of the dresser, bending fluffy heads together and making soft whickering noises. Harry couldn't control his snickers as he sat down at the desk; Acheron and Hedwig hadn't been great friends initially but certainly seemed to be warming up to each other. He told himself he really should mention it in a letter to Snape sometime, but the irony was so thick he was sure he wouldn't be believed.

And at any rate, he had what he'd been waiting for: a letter on his birthday. But he paused before reading it, partly wanting to prolong the anticipation and partly wondering what kind of birthday letter somebody like Snape would write. Would it be like ... or no, maybe more like ...

Harry rolled his eyes at himself and opened the parchment.

Then he blinked. The reason that the roll had looked thicker than usual was that something had been tucked in the middle of it; specifically, some kind of object carefully wrapped in soft green cloth. Unwrapping the cloth revealed a tiny glass bottle containing a small amount of rose-coloured fluid. Harry blinked, then realised it made perfect sense. Snape had sent him a potion for his birthday - of course. He might even have brewed it himself. But what kind of potion? Harry picked up the bottle and stared at the liquid through the light of his desklamp for a minute, watching to see if it changed colour or texture, wanting to find out if he could guess for himself what it was before he read the letter. But it didn't look familiar at all.

Well, then, best to find out. Still smiling foolishly, Harry carefully set the phial aside and began to read. The letter began typically, with no pause for unnecessarily sentimental salutations such as "Dear Harry" or even "Oi, Potter." Always got right to the point, did Snape.

I am given to understand that today is your birthday; well, Happy Birthday, I suppose.

Harry rolled his eyes again, but grinned.

I hope you've had an enjoyable day of it, or at least heard from your friends. I'm sure you got all kinds of useless presents that will drive your studies entirely from your head - the headmaster would certainly approve. I believe I heard Hagrid mentioning that he was planning to send you a photo album of "interesting creatures."

Smiling, Harry looked at the photo album which lay on his bedside table and featured page upon page of photographs of some of the most horrid-looking monsters in the world. Sometimes Hagrid himself was standing next to the beasts, mugging and waving. Harry was at a loss as to who could have agreed to take those particular pictures.

Enclosed you will find a phial (assuming Acheron doesn't drop it) of Somniesperus. It is a sleeping draught, but of an unusual kind: if you take it half an hour before bedtime it will work on your nerves and comb through your unconscious mind. You will then dream of things long forgotten that you wish to remember, or perhaps of something you hope greatly to attain. It is not a potion for the faint of heart, for it teaches us truths about ourselves that sometimes we are not ready to face - but perhaps you will not understand what I mean just yet. And I know you are not faint of heart; quite the contrary, much to my occasional disquiet.

Harry blinked, and read that last sentence again. Was it his imagination, or had Snape just admitted he worried about him sometimes?

It was probably really ridiculous to be feeling a warm glow right about now.

Having said that, take the potion at your own discretion. I wish to stress that it will seek out only pleasant dreams and memories for you, so have no fear of nightmares, but sometimes we can be shocked upon learning what we truly find pleasant. Whatever you dream, I hope it is enjoyable for you.

Frowning, Harry skimmed that whole paragraph again. "Things forgotten that you wish to remember" ... exactly how far back in his memories could this potion work? Could he dream about his parents, maybe, before Voldemort came? Would a baby's memories even register? He swallowed hard at the thought that Snape might be giving him the chance to recover a part of his life he'd always thought lost to him.

But if it was as innocent as all that, why the warnings? He frowned again. "Sometimes we can be shocked upon learning what we truly find pleasant" - well, he could certainly relate to that. He'd thought he was going to die of humiliation when he'd realised his attraction to the Potions Master. Harry idly wondered if Snape had felt the same way.

Maybe he wouldn't take it tonight. He was as curious as all hell, but since it came in such a small amount, and he'd never even heard of it before, Harry had the slightly-awed feeling that this was a very rare and difficult concoction indeed. He would save it for a night when he was really prepared to appreciate it, he decided, a night when he was in need of sweet dreams. In the meantime, it really was a thoughtful gift. He read on.

Life here continues apace. The headmaster has ordered some new books which I have found to be instrumental in my researches, though any day I expect an order telling me to release them from my study to the library at large. Which is quite absurd, considering that I am certain no one but myself will take an interest in them.

Harry smiled a rather mischievous smile, imagining Snape losing points for Slytherin for sneaking books outside the library, much as he'd dinged Harry for doing his first year at Hogwarts.

Having said that, I find the days are rather slow, especially with the restrictions that have been placed on my coming and going. I really cannot say more in this letter, but there have been no signs of any Activity recently and I am certain that one afternoon trip to Diagon Alley to replenish my stores would pose no significant danger to my person. But the headmaster is a persistent man.

Harry sighed and shook his head, knowing that Snape was being sulky and also knowing that he, Harry, would certainly be no better. Too bad Snape didn't have his own version of the Marauders' Map; at least he could sneak into Hogsmeade for a butterbeer. But no matter the new direction their relationship had taken, Harry wasn't about to share that particular precious object with the Potions Master. Some trusts you just didn't break, and he was pretty sure that Fred and George (not to mention the original Marauders) would put Snape pretty far down on the list of People To Show The Map To, maybe somewhere right before "persons with names ending in '-oldemort.'"

But Harry tried not to think too much about Voldemort these days.

There were nicer things to dwell on.

His eyes began to itch, reminding him of the lateness of the hour; he blinked a few times and read the final paragraph.

I hope you are making good use of the Potions text I sent you. (Harry sighed. Snape always said that.) Not everyone is a superstar like Miss Granger, but I believe you have it within you not to be too horrendously incompetent in my class if you would only exert the effort.

Harry's lips thinned into a not-entirely-pleasant smile. Oh yes, he did. And he'd prove it. Just you wait, Snape. Just you wait.

There remains only a month before you return to school; the headmaster has mentioned that you will be spending some of that time at the Weasleys'. I suppose any request that you be cautious is utterly fruitless when you're hanging about with that crowd. But do remember that just because we see no Activity, that doesn't mean it does not exist.

Harry snorted. Honestly, did Snape think he was a fool? Of course there was "Activity" somewhere. But it wasn't like he and Ron were going to go looking for it over the summer hols. Unless, of course, it was really obvious, or right under their noses, or something so dangerous it required immediate investigation -

Harry blinked, then sighed, admitting very grudgingly that maybe, just maybe Snape had a point. And ... it was kind of nice for the Potions Master to be worried about him like that.

"Let the ordinary people worry about his safety!"

Harry blinked again as Snape's strident voice suddenly resounded in his memory, echoing a rather unpleasant recollection of his third year, after Snape had caught him sneaking into Hogsmeade without permission. He'd said ... that. But somehow, surrounded as it had been by that hateful phrase "famous Harry Potter," Harry had missed it. Had Snape really been worried about him, even back then ... ?

He shook his head decisively. Probably not. That was too much to expect.

The letter was coming to a close.

I will write to you again next week, if time permits. (The letters always said that too, and always came every week.)

Severus Snape

Harry frowned at the paper. Snape usually didn't spell out his whole name, preferring to end a letter with an abrupt "S.S." instead. At first, Harry had been at something of a loss, signing his own letters "H.P." and feeling a little silly, but uncomfortable signing them "Harry" if Snape wasn't going to do the same thing. But now, suddenly, there was it was: "Severus," staring up at him from the page, even if it was safely accompanied by a surname.

Harry had never called Snape by his first name, not even in his own thoughts. He supposed that meant something.

But he was too tired to think about it right now, and instead pulled out a roll of parchment, composing a polite and rather short thank-you note, consciously refraining from any snippy comments about how hard he was studying. He wanted it to be a surprise if he did well in class, and if he didn't ... well, he'd just as soon Snape not know of his failed efforts. He ended the letter a bit more personally, saying he was looking forward to coming back to school and seeing everybody again, and how he actually missed his classes sometimes, hoping Snape would pick up on the subtext that he still felt too shy to write: It's you I want to see again, I miss you.

He signed the letter "Harry Potter." There. Not giving an inch. Take that, 'Severus Snape.'

Acheron looked a little miffed at having his tête-à-tête with Hedwig disturbed, but he gracefully took the roll of parchment, nipping affectionately at Harry's knuckle before flying off into the night. Harry turned around and grinned goofily at the letter still lying on his desk, next to the small phial. He carefully rolled the parchment and placed it into his desk drawer alongside Snape's other letters, pausing to wonder yet again what he'd do with the letters when he left. He couldn't take them to Hogwarts, there was too great a chance they'd be discovered by his friends and leave him with a lot of uncomfortable questions to answer, but he couldn't leave them here either. Mrs. Dursley probably went over the room with a fine-toothed comb the instant he left. And the idea of destroying them didn't appeal at all.

He sighed heavily as he carefully wrapped the phial back up in the soft green cloth, placed it in his nightstand drawer, and crawled into bed. Tomorrow. He'd think about it again tomorrow; for now, he just wanted to get some sleep and remember a very pleasant birthday.

Next Wednesday came and went. No letter. On Thursday night Harry glared at the waning moon outside his window; maybe Snape really didn't have time to write right now. Well, he supposed preparations for school were underway again; it was early August, and they only had a month before Hogwarts had to be shipshape.

Speaking of being shipshape, he'd fallen a chapter or so behind in his Potions studies. It was so easy to let himself get distracted with his new presents, with that sex manual so nearby, even - he flushed a little - with Snape's old letters. Well, after all, if he had to destroy them he didn't want to forget them, so it was a good idea to re-read them once in a while. Per day.

He frowned, looking up from his Potions note-taking. The Marauders Map had popped into his head again without warning, bringing with it an intriguing idea. Was it possible he could spell the letters so they'd look just like blank parchment, or class notes, or something else innocuous? Something so that only he would know what they really were? Then he could bring them to Hogwarts and hide them in plain sight! He liked the idea. Tomorrow he'd put aside Potions in favor of Charms and see what he could come up with. Bending with a new will to study, he'd just got to a rather arid part of the text dealing with the many dangers associated with advanced usage of Mandrake root, when he heard a familiar tapping outside the window.

Grinning, Harry looked up, not caring that his letter came a day late, but happy that it had come at all. His grin faltered a bit when he saw the smallish gray owl fluttering outside the glass pane; that wasn't Acheron. He thought he rather recognized it as one of the school owls from the Owlery.

Well, maybe Acheron was sick or something. "Sorry, Hedwig," he muttered, opening the window. The owl flew in and deposited on Harry's desk, not a letter - but a copy of the Daily Prophet.

Harry frowned in bewilderment, picking up the small scroll that lay neatly tucked inside. Was there some article Snape wanted him to read? But the handwriting on the scroll wasn't the Potion Master's - it was Dumbledore's. Harry's eyes widened in alarm as he read the message.

Dear Harry,

I hope you are well and enjoying your summer holidays; I believe your visit to the Weasleys is just around the corner? I am sure you will be glad to see your friends again.

Alas, as much as I would like to pretend that this is purely a social letter, I cannot, and it would be better if I simply got to the point. Please refer to the short article on page ten in the lower left-hand corner. You will see which one I mean.

I would like to stress that Professor Snape is still safely at Hogwarts, as per my instructions, and is completely unharmed. But I thought you should know about this.

Albus Dumbledore

That last paragraph nearly scared Harry out of his wits, and with cold fingers he fumbled the paper open, almost tearing it in his haste to get to page ten. His eyes scanned the page until they hit upon a smallish headline under "Ministry Beat":


Harry blinked, and read it again to make sure he'd got it right.


He stared at that last word.


Then he sat down hard in his chair, got past the headline and read the whole thing.

Snape Manor, one of the oldest wizarding houses in England and home to one of the oldest wizarding families, suffered major damage Tuesday night due to what appears to have been a freak fire. While the estate is not in ruins, damages to the building itself are estimated to be very high.

Mr. Severus Snape, the only surviving member of the family and currently Potions Master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was not at the manor at the time of the blaze; his permanent residence is at the school. He was unavailable for comment. The origins of the fire remain a mystery.

Harry sat back in his chair, staring blankly at the wall. They'd done it. The bastards. It was the Death Eaters, he was sure. They'd found out Snape was alive after all, and had burned his house down in revenge.

He hadn't even known Snape had a house apart from his rooms in Hogwarts. He hadn't known Snape was from one of the "oldest wizarding families in England." He didn't, Harry realised, know anything about Snape at all.

Except for - "the only surviving member of the family" ...

He swallowed hard and looked down at the article again. A photo was provided of Snape Manor in its former glory; stately trees waved in an invisible photographic breeze. The house itself was huge, almost the size of a castle. Not only were the Snapes an old family, they appeared to be filthy rich as well.

Below that photo was a picture of the current wreckage. Harry couldn't look at it for long; it made him feel sick. Did Snape usually go home for the summer, to that magnificent house? If Dumbledore hadn't made him stay at Hogwarts this summer ... if the Death Eaters had surprised him there ... he shuddered hard, then got to wondering a few things.

Why did Snape work at Hogwarts, anyway? He obviously didn't have to for the money, unless the estate had fallen on hard times - Harry supposed that wasn't impossible. He'd heard of it happening to Muggle nobility. But the photo of the house when it was undamaged was recent, and showed the place to be in good condition, at least topside. So why Hogwarts? For protection? Because there were times when Snape didn't seem to enjoy teaching at all. But ... but he hadn't even needed protection until this year, had he?

Harry's head was spinning. Then the gray owl made a husky, inquisitive noise and he stirred from his stupor, writing mechanically on a piece of parchment - hmm, he was running low, he'd written more letters this summer than ever before - to thank Dumbledore for sending him the article, and to tell him he was very glad Professor Snape was safe. More than that, he couldn't think to say, except for all his questions, which he was sure were rather impertinent and probably well left out of it.

He sent the owl on its way and did not sleep that night.

Two more days passed, crawling like caterpillars, and still no word from Snape. Even a letter from Fred and George in the meantime couldn't lift his spirits - in fact, it only made him more confused and upset, filled as it was with sly innuendos about his upcoming visit and "what we'll do when we get our hands on you again." He hadn't realised, that time in the lavatory, that he'd created a monster. All summer he'd been plagued with letters that he was quite sure Ron (and Mrs. Weasley) knew nothing about, letters asking him about how his summer reading was coming, and wasn't chapter five his favorite (chapter five was "Threesomes and Other Oddities"). By the time Harry got this latest letter he was feeling so high-strung he almost wrote them a very stinging note in return telling them not to bother him anymore, he knew what he wanted, thank you very much, and it didn't involve threesomes or redheads or freckles, though tall dark men might figure prominently. Fortunately his common sense caught up with him and he sent nothing of the kind, instead writing his usual neutral no-comment, things-are-fine-here letter, then sitting down to write a falsely cheerful letter to Ron as well.

By the end of the second day after he'd received the Daily Prophet from Dumbledore, Harry was about ready to tear his own hair out, and was so skittish and irritable around the house that Uncle Vernon, roaring, had banished him to his room entirely. Harry wasn't really all that sorry about it. Here he could wear holes in the floorboards in peace. What he really wanted was a good broom flight to clear his head and shake off some energy, but there was no chance of that, of course. All plans for putting charms on past letters had gone entirely out of his head in awaiting the next letter - and he was starting to wonder if it would ever come.

Thoughts of bananas didn't even occur to him in those days, although Aunt Petunia had brought home another three bunches.

So at almost two in the morning, technically the third day after Dumbledore's letter, when he awoke to find Acheron tapping impatiently at the glass, Harry didn't mind the hour at all. He sprung out of bed, much as he had on his birthday, and let the owl in, barely remembering release Hedwig from her cage, and then forgot about the two birds as he sat down at his desk with the letter.

Ten minutes later he set it down with a hiss of utter frustration: it was filled with all the usual things, and nothing else. Snape hadn't even mentioned what had happened to his house! Typical! He knew Harry couldn't get the Daily Prophet and thought he could keep the news a secret. Too bad he hadn't counted on Albus Dumbledore. But why wouldn't Snape want Harry to know what had happened? It wasn't like Harry was going to hop on his broom, fly to the estate and investigate the matter himself - he couldn't even leave Privet Drive!

Bloody stupid frustrating man.

Well, he wasn't going to get away with it. Sighing, and rubbing his eyes a little blearily, Harry set himself to another sheet of parchment, noting with dismay that he only had five left. Following Snape's pattern of leaving off the salutation entirely, he wrote:

I was really relieved to get your letter. Someone (perhaps it was better not to name Dumbledore outright) sent me a copy of Wednesday's Daily Prophet and I read about what happened to your house. I'm really, really sorry.

He paused there. What did you say to somebody when something like this happened? Accusations of why-didn't-you-tell-me seemed a bit inappropriate.

I'm glad you weren't hurt. In the fire, anyway - I guess this might have hurt you in other ways, I don't know. But I'm sorry. I wish there was something I could do to help. Let me know if there is.

He took a deep breath and signed it.


And sent Acheron back out into the night.

He didn't have long to wait this time. Acheron came back the very next night, looking a little tired. Probably wasn't used to this rate of communication, though he settled down next to Hedwig on the dresser as readily as always. Well, he was kind of a fat owl anyway, Harry thought distractedly as he hastily unrolled the scroll. He could use the extra exercise.

The first words alone were enough to make his eyes go wide.

Dear Harry,

Would wonders never cease?

I am sorry that you were so distressed by the news you read. I'm sure that I know exactly who is responsible for sending it to you, and rest assured that Headmaster Dumbledore and I will be having a discussion; there were reasons I did not want to trouble you with the unfortunate events of recent days.

Having said that, I do thank you for your concern. But there is certainly nothing you can do, and I shall be most annoyed if I find out you have been trying to do anything. I am certain you know the source of this attack as well as I do; therefore, you can surely reach the conclusion that you must not become involved in this matter at all. Indeed, They may be trying to provoke just such a reaction from you, for all we know. So, if you will pardon my rather vulgar turn of phrase, stay the blazes out of this mess and keep studying.

If it makes you feel better, I rarely spent time at my family's home and had no special attachment to it.

Severus Snape

Harry gaped at the letter for a long moment, before clenching his jaw in anger. Right, this was getting really absurd. Snape must think he had tripe for brains. Of course he knew who was responsible, and of course he couldn't do anything about it right now. And after he'd been so bloody worried, this was the thanks he got?

His rational self told him that Snape couldn't know how worried he'd been. But Harry ignored it and reached for parchment, ready to write a satisfyingly huffy response.

Only it didn't want to come out that way, and he stared at his first few sentences in disgust.

I wasn't planning to go charging in to investigate things. Give me a little more credit than that. I just wanted to let you know I'm glad you're all right. I was really worried when I got the article.

He scowled down at the parchment, but it was no use - this was his last sheet. No starting over now. And really, his common sense spoke up again, the man's just lost his house, maybe now isn't the time to get snippy, hm? His common sense, oddly enough, sounded remarkably like the Sorting Hat this time. He sighed heavily and jotted down the rest of his letter.

I go to the Weasleys' house on Tuesday morning. So I probably won't hear from you again before then. I'll be glad to see them, but I'll miss your letters.

This was getting awful.

It was good to hear from you this summer. And I'm still sorry about what happened to your house. I'm sorry about all the awful things that have happened, and I can't stop being sorry. But it'll be nice to see you when I come back. I miss you.


He took a deep breath. It would have to do. Hopeless, really.

So off the final letter went. He watched Acheron go with a distinctly gloomy feeling, aware that he wouldn't see the big brown owl again for a while. Hedwig made a mournful, clacking noise as he put her back in her cage.

Four weeks until Hogwarts.

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