Nobody ever asked my birthday

Closer to the Fire

Some things happen that you get used to, without even knowing it.

It was a perplexing thought, and Harry didn't like perplexing thoughts (Maybe Luna did).

He'd come down to breakfast, after a morning run, and it seemed like everyone Gryffindor wanted to talk with him. With some chagrin, Harry thought, "that's what I get for giving them a puzzle."

That wasn't what he was used to, no. Those little tugs on his attention were like tapping a top, standing upright. It would fall to the ground, except that everyone kept pushing it.

Snape was missing from the High Table.

Again.

Harry's half-gotten used to those glares, in the past - half week, was it?

Snape's absence left him wary, concerned. Troubled. In a way that he couldn't, didn't communicate with everyone else.

Every so often, his eyes would flick up there. Still not there.

Nearly at the end of breakfast, Harry's eyes lightly alit on Draco Malfoy - who was talking with his friends, and avoiding the flirting of Pansy Parkinson (Harry deemed said flirting not serious, but he couldn't tell even himself why).

Through the morning, Harry tried to keep his mind off Snape's absence. It wasn't impossible he'd just slept in. It wasn't impossible the Dark Lord hadn't called him. Many things weren't impossible, but they were all far less plausible than Snape simply Dropping off the Board.

Harry'd buried his face in potions books (Snape's assignments were always twice as long as everyone else's, so Harry could be assured of enough work to keep himself busy). It wasn't working well - something like a creeping feeling, which - rather than being watched, was actually the absence of being watched. Which just made it creepier.

Hermione was delighted to help him, when she tumbled into the library. Which was good, not because Harry was having trouble with the assignment, but because he was having trouble with his concentration.

Talking helped. Somewhat.

The vague sense that something was wrong, however, just seemed to twist tighter in his guts.

Lunchtime.

Snape wasn't at the High Table.

That meant something was ... off.

Probably gone wrong.

Harry's nerves were tight as a violin string, and felt like they'd break at any minute. It was lucky he'd already scared off the Hufflepuff girls, because he really didn't want anyone in tears in the Great Hall.

What. Was. Going. On?

Harry clenched his jaw so hard that his sinuses started hurting. Calm. Steady.

Don't look at the lily.

Harry looked - it was striped, goldenrod and crimson. Whatever that meant.

A voice - not his own, sounded inside his head, Leave what you can't fix behind. Focus on your objectives. It sounded like a peculiar mix of Moody, Dumbledore and Snape - Dumbledore's kindness, and Moody's practicality, along with Snape's illtempered curtness.

It was good advice, even if his own brain was starting to develop split personalities.

The humor helped, rippling the emotions into a steadier, calmer state.

Harry thought. Snape isn't here. What do I know? He looked carefully around the Great Hall. Malfoy sat there, in the midst of his followers at the Slytherin Table. He looked utterly unconcerned. Does he know what's going on? I hate to ask, but... Harry continued to stare, and eventually Malfoy caught his gaze, raising a superior eyebrow questioningly. Nope. He knows nothing. May not have even noticed that Snape's just... gone. Oddly enough, it was a creepy, dreadful thought for Snape to be gone. At least with Sirius, it had been a battle. He'd been there, seen it. Had a chance to fix it.

Harry shook his head, Snape's been gone before. He's moved back onto the board. No reason to think he's smiling.* Carefully, Harry looked up at Albus, busy chatting with Flitwick as McGonagall shot them a vaguely disapproving glance. It's harder to tell with Albus, Harry thought carefully, But with him, I might actually get answers if I asked.

Harry collected himself, tried to tamp down the desperate yearning for an Explanation! Do I dare? Harry, eventually, shook his head. He doubted Dumbledore knew about half of the games Snape was currently playing (Oh, sure, Harry thought, suppressing the wild urge to grin, Dumbledore knows about his Death Eater games).

Harry concentrated on his breathing, turning his breath in and out into a form of meditation. Assume the positive. Harry harshly told himself, trying for an icy voice. He managed about a Lupin, which was mildly hilarious.

Harry remembered the last time Snape came back, skeletal thin - and more alarming than that, too tired to teach. He hadn't recovered from that, even mostly, for a week. With a bite of trifle on his fork, he closed his eyes, remembering back... Over the summer, Snape had left - every week. He'd come back gaunter, but Harry hadn't dug into it. Prying's still a ridonkulous idea. Harry thought back further, realizing that even at the start of the summer, when they'd all been in Grimmauld Place, Snape had come and gone... and there had been times when he'd seemed stricken, almost. As if by some sort of wasting disease.

Patterns meant problems.

Opening his eyes and eating the bite of trifle, Harry decided to put off talking to Hermione for another day. In the meantime, he had research to do.

*Referencing a Chelsea Grin. Because Harry's sense of humor is morbid, obviously. As he notes, the humor helps.

[a/n: Once Harry tries to put the pieces together, he's actually a decent detective. This has been hinted and shaded about since the very start. As to what Snape's doing? Harry doesn't know, so RAFO. Or guess in a review! Comments and criticism get you more story.]