Nobody ever asked my birthday

Chapter 14

Harry wasn't about to just give this argument to Snape, no matter that he had something of a point with Hermione. The thing was, he trusted her to be more right than he was, to not be swayed by emotion... And yet, Snape was right - even Hermione Granger, smartest witch of the age, could be wrong. Letting her always be right was dangerous...

"I can't pay her price..." Harry said, shaking his head until his hair fell over his eyes, before brushing it back up.

"No, that's not the point. The point is to know someone else, truly." Snape said, his voice cold and contemplative, as if they were sitting in an igloo, rather than on a warm sunny day - and why wasn't Snape sweating? Even when he wasn't wearing robes, he always wore black.

"I... shouldn't let Hermione always get her way, should i? Even in the heat of battle, that sure certainty -"

"She won't like being your paladin, no. Particularly if her decisions turn out disasterously. Failing, in the heat of battle, would weaken her immensely." Snape said, the words offered in a slow purr.

Harry Potter found himself a little heartened at the thought of Snape agreeing with his analysis. When Snape had started down this line of reasoning, it had felt like poison - divisive and cruel and painful above all else. Looking again, it still felt skeptical - but the sharpness wasn't cruel, as a sword wasn't cruel - only its wielder. "And Ron?" Harry finally settled on asking, curious as to what Snape would say.

"Ron Weasley doesn't know his own price. Nor does he know what he would pay for it. This is in many ways more dangerous than Granger - with her, you'll know at a glance when you're in trouble - Gryffindors never hide their emotions when it counts." Snape paused with a sneer on his face, before continuing, "His price is fame - ambition worthy of a Slytherin. At least right now. If you held his sister hostage, it might change on a whim."

"He wouldn't betray me to be famous!" Harry Potter cried, his body tensing with a sudden need to be up and away - pounding out his frustration along with the worm of doubt that Snape's words had said.

"Not like Granger would, no. He'd reckon the cost, and the gain. Do you really think that if he was a Seeker you'd have easily made the team? Even though he knows how much you like it?" Snape tented his fingers in front of his face, a lone eyebrow raised as he looked off into the distance.

Potter shook his head in denial... and then thought some more, before looking down at his lap - a submissive move that Harry was unknowingly prone to. Probably from his Uncle's beatings. Looking up, dead on at Snape, he asked coldly, "Alright, what's your price?" His face and body were still, and yet not tense at all - this was Potter truly listening, curiosity overcoming everything else.

Snape's eyebrows rose slightly, as his eyes widened, and he gave a slight nod of acknowledgement, "Clever," he said shortly, and then sat there - Harry, as he watched closely, saw thousands of responses dancing through Snape's mind, sorted and discarded. Harry knew that a year ago, he'd have been convinced that meant Snape was lying to him, choosing exactly which words would work best.

Snape's black eyes met Harry's, as he said with a trace of a thinlipped smile, "My freedom." Leaning back, he stretched himself - lanky limbs tossed over his head, before bracing himself, leaving his eyes staring up through the light-spattered treetop overhead. "That's why the Dark Lord can never have a hold on me -despite this:" he rolled up his sleeve, displaying the dark mark. Harry's fingers reached out, all unknowing to touch it. "Better not to touch." Snape said, as he yanked his sleeve down. Snape continued with a smug surety, "He stands between me and everything I've ever wanted."

"What will you do with your freedom?" Potter asked, his voice full of a child's innocence at the myriad choices the adult world offered.

"To Hades if I know, I've been without it too long!" Snape roared, his anger turning into a baritone laugh that he used to wash the rage away.

When the laughter had stilled, and the birds and small creatures had at last begun to creep out of their hiding places, Snape - still looking upwards through the leaves - asked, "Potter, do you hate me?" And Harry Potter had to marvel at his Professor - not a drop of guilt, not a shred of expectation, not a hint of what he was feeling. It was as if he had asked whether Potter liked red tomatoes or green! Not even a classroom voice, just a simple question... As if he didn't care, at all, about the answer... How could Snape not care? Harry found himself asking... And then it clicked - this was the question of a man who had thought out all the responses, all the ramifications - who quite possibly had been wondering this question for years. And didn't want to impose that thinking on Potter's genuine response. It was all the odder for anyone to care about what Harry Potter thought - Harry was under no illusions that any of his Gryffindor friends could ask the question as Snape had - it would have been guilt, and an expected answer - and tears and wailing if he didn't give it. Even Albus Dumbledore couldn't have pulled off such neat unconcern. This summer, it had sometimes felt like talking with Snape was like balancing on the edge of a knife. Now, Potter thought, it felt like he was on the tip, blood running down the blade as he paused to think.

[a/n: sorry if that got a bit vivid at the end. At least one more chapter of philosophy coming up!

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