Author's Notes: This story is rated PG I guess. No harm is meant, and J.K Rowling deserves much praise for what she has created; I only needed to borrow it for a moment. Many thanks to elynross for doing the beta for me.

Standing Circle

By Rachael Sabotini


Wednesday. First week of classes.

First Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson.

First class of the year with Snape.

Standing in the corridor, Harry fussed with his robe as he waited for the door to open. He hadn't slept well last night, he'd been so nervous about this class. Finally, sometime after dawn, he'd dressed and gone out to the Quidditch field, trying to work off some of the energy.

He hadn't seen Snape since the night of the banquet, but he was under no illusions that Snape would have any kind words for him today. Harry had been thinking about this class ever since that night; he'd been so distracted yesterday he hadn't been able to properly appreciate Professor Gracen's Potions lecture.

Instead of staring fixedly at their part-Veela instructor, Harry had kept noticing little differences between her methods and Snape's. Little things, all of them, like the fact that the Potions dungeon was better lit than before. Her manner with the students was much more charming, and she didn't seem the type to play favorites.

She had easily and thoroughly explained the finer details of chopping lizard tails and why they had to be exactly the same length. So thoroughly that Harry had been a bit bored, as he had at the opening banquet. Before that class, if someone had asked him if he'd miss anything about not having Snape teach Potions, he would have laughed. Snape hated him, and he hated Snape, and there was nothing more than that.

Still, Harry had never been bored in Potions before. Terrified out of his wits, perhaps, but never bored.

His stomach growled. He'd gotten so involved with Quidditch and not thinking about Snape he'd forgotten to go in for breakfast.

"Harry," Hermione yelled. He looked up as she ran down the corridor, Ron loping along beside her. She slowed down as she got close to Harry outside the classroom. "I brought something for you." She twisted her book bag around and hauled a slightly squashed packet out of it as they stopped. "It's a--" She glanced down at it and shrugged. "It was a pastry."

Whatever it had looked like before, it was now only slightly thicker than the brown waxed paper it was wrapped in. Harry unwrapped most of it, displaying a sugar-frosted crust with a brownish, jam-like filling oozing out. Some of the paper was embedded in the crust, and Harry diligently set to work to pull all the tiny bits off the roll before taking a bite. "Thanks," he said, flicking some of the paper scraps onto the floor. Filch wasn't anywhere around.

"You missed breakfast." Ron said on the other side of him. "I told her you'd been down on the Quidditch field."

"Honestly, to lose track of time like that!"

"That's what being Quidditch captain is all about, isn't it, Harry?"

Harry nodded and bit into the roll. Sweet and sticky, and full of cinnamon; he hadn't realized he was so hungry. He thanked Hermione with a slight smile, grateful they had managed to get to class a little early for once. Snape hadn't opened the classroom doors yet.

"Same places?" Ron asked Hermione, who nodded reluctantly.

Hermione loved to sit in the front of the room so she could pay close attention to the lectures. But last year, Snape had given Neville an assigned seat -- right in the front of the class. "You will sit in this chair in every class I teach until I am convinced that you have learned something, Longbottom, even if that takes until eternity's end."

As sitting up front would have then meant being Neville's permanent partner, Hermione had agreed to sit in the back with Harry and Ron. They had cast sympathetic looks at Neville as he struggled with his potion making, but none of them were willing to risk Snape's wrath to help.

Oddly enough, Neville's potions had gotten better; they no longer blew up so often.

The door opened just as Harry finished the last of his squashed cinnamon roll. He quickly stuffed the wrapper into his book bag and followed Hermione and Ron into the classroom.

The three of them piled their stuff onto desks far at the back of the room; they were the choicest seats as far as the Gryffindors were concerned, under the theory that the farther back you sat, the less likely Snape was to call on you.

"Not today, Potter."

Harry swallowed hard. It wasn't good to have attracted Snape's attention. "Sir?" he said, looking up.

Snape was scowling at him from the front of the class, his arms crossed in front of his chest, his voluminous black robes spilling around him. "You will be taking Longbottom's place." He nodded at Neville. "Go sit in the back."

Immediately, Neville pushed all of his books back into his bag, and ran for the back of the class, looking like a prisoner who had finally been freed.

"You will be sitting in the place of honor, Potter. Where I can keep an eye on you." Even Snape's eyes sneered on the last word as he pointed to an empty first row desk. "A new class, a new order. I want to make sure you are paying attention."

Harry piled his books back into his 'so new it was stiff' book bag, and slowly made his way to his appointed seat.

"Front row, center seat, Potter. Someplace where Weasley and Granger can't help." He shot a glare at the back row. "Not that Weasley is of much help, anyway."

Over his shoulder, Harry risked looking at Ron, who had gone pale under his freckles. Hermione didn't look much better. Her eyes seemed to say 'my friend has just been summoned before the firing squad.'

Harry felt like it, too. Stiffly, he slid into his assigned seat, and turned his attention to Snape.

His black eyes glittered with fiendish delight. "Very good, Potter. You will have some extra responsibilities this year. I've asked Dumbledore to make you my assistant."

Normally, in any other class, this news would have sent the rest of the students into a mad, chattering rage. In Snape's class, everyone grew even quieter, until a preternatural stillness seemed to envelop even the thought of sound.

Harry swallowed and nodded. He was doomed.

"You are here to learn the science of Dark Arts and the price it exacts," Snape began, and Harry flashed on the first Potions lesson he'd had. Snape's voice was a near-whisper now, as it had been then, and the entire class was enthralled. "Your books will be of little use, as this is a matter of strength of will and force of mind, learning to bend the universe to what you desire."

He looked at Harry as he said that, and Harry found himself shrinking back a bit. He was too close here; he couldn't escape Snape's presence. Snape was no beauty, no Human-Veela hybrid capable of drawing attention through looks alone, but there was a power in him, a capacity for domination that shone through him as he talked. Harry found himself spellbound, each twist and turn of Snape's body dragging Harry's gaze along with it. A part of him observed himself sitting, hanging on Snape's movement and words with disgust; he reminded himself of Ron watching Professor Gracen yesterday.

But he couldn't look away.

"You will learn how to stop someone from shaping your will with their want. You will learn that even small words, properly said, have the power to corrupt." Harry had known Snape was a Potions Master, but he'd never really thought about what that meant. Now he was showing why he was a Master of the Dark Arts as well. Harry felt chills running through him as Snape spoke, the air around him thrumming with the sense of rich, intense power. "This course will be a practicum. You will be working with your wands and your voices, and learning to do without both. There will be times when you will have to defend yourself with nothing more than your wits, however inadequate those are. I don't expect you to come through a single day of this class without at least a bump or a bruise; if you do, then you aren't doing your work, and you will fail." His eyes flashed, and Hermione gasped.

She wasn't the only one.

"If you pay attention, you will succeed, though you will still pay a price. The slow ones will hobble out every day of class, and will fall the first time they are pressed. I will teach you curses and counter-curses, how to stand with your hand to a flame and ignore the pain, to sense if the blood on the floor was left by fair means or foul. By the time you leave, you will be part-auror -- if you are to survive."

Harry saw Snape's wand leave his sleeve and reacted instantly.

"Garrio!" Snape said as Harry dove under his desk, and the babbling curse hit the back of Harry's chair, just to the left of where Harry's head had been. The wood steamed for a moment, then the blackened circle started to fade. The desks were infused with magical counter-measures in case a student's spell went awry.

"Constant vigilance," Snape said, his blank tone echoing the words of the fake Moody from two years ago. He put his wand away as the energy in the room roiled with a mixture of fear and horror. "Not the best solution, Potter, but adequate." Snape smiled grimly as Harry crawled back into his chair. "You will need to rely on something other than your Quidditch reflexes next time."

Harry was shaking, his heart pounding as Snape turned to face the rest of the class. "Break up into teams of two. Weasley, you and Granger will stay together. I want to see each of you," he said significantly to Hermione, "do your best work. Friendship should not prevent you from doing what needs to be done."

Harry's heart sank as he watched Hermione and Ron square off against each other. Ron wouldn't have a chance.

"We will start with the babbling curse," Snape said, pulling out his wand again. "Potter, you will assist me."

Harry swallowed and stood. This was even worse than he'd thought.


"It's okay, Ron, really," Hermione chattered loudly at the back of the class as the rest of the students cleared out around her. "I see why he would want to have a practicum on this; it's not as if we have a chance of learning any defensive spells any other way. And pairing us up, well, there aren't any other houses in with our class. Actually, I took a look at the full schedule, and he only has single house classes this year. I wonder why that is? What do you think?"

"It will wear off in an hour." Ron replied, looking at Neville. He had managed to hit Hermione once at the end of class, but he'd never mastered the counter-curse. Fortunately, Ron wasn't powerful enough to produce a permanent spell.

To Harry, an hour seemed a very long time. She'd managed to hit Ron several times, but he'd received the counter-curse and wasn't in bad shape. Ron was still holding his arm awkwardly, having tried to dodge one of the curses and hit his desk instead.

"Your fan club awaits you, I see." Snape glided up to Harry and nodded to where Ron, Hermione, and Neville had gathered at the back.

Harry shook his head, looking at the others. "They're my friends, not my fan club," he said softly.

Snape looked both skeptical and aloof. "Are you sure about that?"

Harry flushed; Ron was watching him, and Harry tilted his head and lifted his eyebrows, motioning at Ron to leave.

Ron mouthed 'lunch' at Harry, then wrapped his arm around Hermione and escorted her out of the classroom, Neville a shadow behind her.

There was a tangled silence as they left; Harry and Snape regarded one another. Harry felt dizzy, and his chest felt like a giant had grabbed onto his lungs and squeezed. He felt like he couldn't breath, yet he had to say something. He had to know why Snape had done that.

"You wish to complain about what I did today?" Snape said, as if he had read Harry's mind. "You plan to inform Dumbledore about it, and want me to know the depth of your wrath? I attacked you in class without warning, and now you want revenge."

"No, I don't," Harry said. "You weren't trying to hit me. You meant for that spell to hit near me. And you did it because you wanted to frighten me and the rest of the class."

"I intended to hit you." Snape's lips pursed into a small moue. "You ducked."

"No, you didn't." Harry insisted, pointing at the chair. He felt a cold desperation running through him, wanting to know if Snape had deliberately intended to hurt him or not. "I've had curses flung at me before, and I've been attacked without warning. I know when someone is aiming at me. Even if I hadn't moved, your curse wouldn't have hit me." Harry took a deep breath. He'd been thinking of this off and on through out class, and he didn't have any answers. "Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why attack me? Why tell everyone I'm your assistant? Why put me on the spot and make me sit in front of the class?"

"Because--" Snape swallowed, his eyes blazing, and something seemed to snap within him; Harry found himself trembling in response, their faces inches apart. "Because you are the only one of them who can do it."

Harry took a step back, needing some space between them, surprised that Snape would ever say something like that.

"You are the student with the most experience with the Dark Arts, Potter. Who else should I get to assist me? Granger? She's too rule-bound and would spend her time worrying about hurting a teacher. Weasley? He reacts before he thinks, or he takes too much time thinking about his answers. He'd never be able to muster a defense. So who among the Gryffindors does that leave? Patil? Finnigan? Or Longbottom, perhaps?"

The force of his words hung in the air. "Sir, I--" Harry said, starting to feel a bit panicked. No, of course none of the others had as much experience as he did with countering the Dark Arts. He'd been school champion when he was fourteen, he'd done the Patronus Charm at thirteen. He'd just never thought--

"If I were teaching the course with the Slytherins, I would pick one of them, one whose schoolmates and siblings picked on him, one who knew how to defend himself." Snape stepped closer to Harry again, and Harry could feel the heat coming off him. Harry found himself staring up into Snape's eyes, the deep pools of blackness seducing him as Snape spoke. "You have done spells and fought duels with Wizards of exceptional skill. You have set yourself against Voldemort on three different occasions, and each time, you came off the better. You have power and strength unmatched by any of the other students in the class. If I paired you with one of them, you would not be challenged. You would learn to be weak."

Harry couldn't tear his gaze away. "And I will not have that." Snape's voice dropped to a forceful whisper, and Harry clenched his hands at his side, his palms sweating. "You will be my assistant. You will come to class prepared for anything that might happen." Snape's face was mere inches from Harry's; his gaze flickered down Harry's face and back to capture his eyes. "You will remain paired with me."

Knowing his eyes were probably the size of dinner plates, Harry nodded. He felt numb, helpless. Trapped. "Yes, sir." he said quietly, his tongue thick and his mouth dry. He had to get out of here. Snape was looking at him like he planned to devour Harry using only his eyes.

Harry lifted his chin, staring intently into Snape's eyes. An immense heat pulsed through him, the energy urging him to step closer to Snape, even as he wanted desperately to run away. He stepped forward, his lips slightly parted, wanting to say something, yet unable to form the words.

Moving changed everything. Snape shook and looked hurriedly away; Harry grabbed his bag and fled the room.

He ran through the courtyard and down the first set of stairs, his heart pounding. He forced himself to slow down and breathe deeply; he wasn't sure what had scared him so much. He ached as if the dementors themselves had been after him; he could still feel his muscles trembling. Snape was like a serpent when he spoke, ensnaring everyone around him. Harry hadn't even been able to think, let alone say anything in return.

But out here in the sunshine, away from the intimate darkness of the dungeon, his ability for rational thought returned. He blinked as he thought about everything Snape had said; there were no partial compliments there, no backhanded words of praise.

Snape chose him because he was best for the job. There was a horror in that thought that seemed incomprehensible, yet at the same time, Harry felt just a little...flattered. Even though Snape hated him, he believed in Harry's skill enough to choose him for the job.

But Harry wasn't sure he wanted it. He didn't want to be the focus of Snape's attention every class day; he didn't want to have to pay such strict attention. He didn't want everyone in the room looking at him anytime something happened. He didn't want to have to do this. He didn't want to be with Snape.

But like everything else in his life, he had no choice in it. Snape was right. He was the most experienced Gryffindor right now. Maybe by the end of the term, someone else would be able to take his place. Someone else could have the job.

That thought cheered him immensely. He was sure that Snape would be happy to get rid of him when a suitable substitute was found. Snape probably didn't want to work with Harry any more than Harry wanted to work with him.

He blinked and looked around him; he was close to the main dining hall. He'd go in and talk to Ron and Hermione, and have lunch just like normal, even though his stomach felt like he'd just swallowed some bubotubor pus. As Hermione had said earlier, he had to eat, even if he didn't feel like it.

He'd known at the banquet that this year would be bad, but -- Snape's assistant in Dark Arts. There couldn't be anything worse than that.

So why was he looking forward to the next lesson so much?

He set those troubling thoughts aside and walked toward the dining hall, determination in every step. He would prove to Snape that he could handle it. Even if Snape hated him, he would do everything he could to show he deserved Snape's respect.

Snape's respect. Harry smiled.

And wouldn't that be worth it?

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