|The Definition of Family
Author: oliver.snape PM
Sequel to the Definition of Home. Now back at Hogwarts, Harry balances school and his home life as he prepares to face Voldemort and learns to trust Snape's guidance. Along the way they both learn that family also means support.Rated: Fiction M - English - Family - Severus S. & Harry P. - Chapters: 14 - Words: 88,805 - Reviews: 487 - Favs: 769 - Follows: 244 - Updated: 08-03-10 - Published: 06-06-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6030400
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN: Higher rating cause I'll end up swearing at one point in this. Little Harry/Elliot will be back in later chapters, and there will be no CP at all. I'm stealing a few bits from canon, but will be veering mostly off course from now on. :) Thanks for all the awesome reviews, you all continue to make my day everytime I login here!
Ch 1 - Welcome Back to Hogwarts
A bright blob of orange plastic danced above the crowd of hungry and excited students, who chattered loudly and laughed as they greeted each other after a long summer. Harry, Ron, and Hermione slowly trudged with the Gryffindors to spots near the front of the Gryffindor table, waving at members of the DA in other houses as they went to sit down. Harry gleefully scanned the staff table, satisfied when he saw no garishly outfitted pink professor there. He smiled a little as he spotted Snape, looking annoyed already to be facing the students again. The crowd hushed as a sudden and very strange sound echoed through the hall.
Harry spun his head so fast that he heard his neck crick, and not a second later burst out laughing as he saw the headmaster make his way to the head table, bright orange crown atop his head and the plastic cow flicking it's tail in time with the wind mills. Ron joined into the laughter as it spread throughout the hall, much to the amusement of Dumbledore and most of the other teachers. Snape was the only one who didn't look impressed, and Harry knew it was not because he hated Dumbledore's quirkiness, but because he'd just lost three galleons on their bet.
When Snape was announced as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, Harry had managed to look properly disturbed. It wasn't at the actual announcement, unlike most of his classmates, but instead at the look of pure smugness that Draco Malfoy was sporting. Harry doubted that Malfoy was truly happy for Snape, he was far too Slytherin for that and Harry remembered from the summer visit that Malfoy thought Snape was inferior to his family. No, the look Malfoy had on his face was a calculated glee, as if he were trying to figure out how to best take advantage of Snape's new position.
"This is stupid." Harry muttered, knowing full well that Snape could out-Slytherin Malfoy even when he was feeling under the weather.
"Yes it is." Hermione answered in a slightly scolding tone, misunderstanding him. "Professor Snape is part of the Order, I'm sure Professor Dumbledore promoted him for a good reason."
"Sure he did." Ron laughed, swiping an extra scoop of mashed potatoes from a bowl near him. "The position's cursed, remember Hermione?"
"Ron, it's not cursed. That's just a school rumour." Hermione shook her head, reaching for more pumpkin juice.
"As long as it works." Ron muttered, before following Harry's line of sight towards Malfoy. "You can't hex him by just glaring, Harry. I've already tried."
Harry glanced back up at the staff table, where Dumbledore was feeding the cow on his hat little pieces of grass from the table decoration.
"I've got something to tell you guys. Tonight." He finally said, giving them a rather uneasy look.
Later that evening, when the first and second years had gone off to bed, Harry sat on the common room couch with his feet propped up on the table. He was idly scratching the side of his head with his wand, a habit he'd picked up over the summer while he was reading or thinking. Hermione was tracking his hand's every movement, with a rather alarmed look on her face.
"Remember the lessons I mentioned, the ones that Professor Dumbledore's going to give me?" Harry interrupted, still rubbing his head with the wand.
Hermione's hands were twitching in her lap as she answered yes and Ron nodded.
"Well, they're the reason I couldn't come to Grimmauld Place this summer. I had to help someone else from the Order with a task, and it was related to these lessons."
Ron, who looked blessedly confused, leaned forward to speak lower. It was completely unnecessary due to the lack of people around them and the loud radio at their table, but it made the conversation seem that much more serious.
"And while I was on the mission," Harry lied, figuring the slight misalignment of the smaller details wouldn't harm the big picture, "I found out that Malfoy is now a death eater."
Hermione sucked in her breath and clutched on to her notebook a little harder. Around them, late night stragglers scurried to finish their last bits of summer homework before term officially started the next day. They paid no mind to Harry, Hermione and Ron, apparently accustomed to the threesome and their little conversation huddles.
"Harry, are you sure? He's only sixteen…" Hermione trailed off, reminding them all that they were very much still children playing an adult's game.
"I'm sure, Hermione. And he's been ordered to get close to Dumbledore." Harry stated, trying to lower his voice and sound ominous. He had held back on the true assignment to Malfoy for a few reasons, the most annoying being that Snape was right and if Hermione knew Draco was to kill the headmaster, she'd march right up to Dumbledore's office and demand something official be done. Frustrating as it was to keep quiet, Harry figured that Draco would actually be less of a danger to the other students if he thought no one knew of his plans.
"That's not good, mate. Especially since we saw in Diagon Alley that he's demanded some stuff from that scraggly, evil looking bloke." Ron stated, sitting back again.
"That was Fenrir Greyback, the werewolf that attacked Remus." Harry said distractedly, tapping his wand against his temple. He was startled when Hermione reached across Ron and snatched it.
"Do you want to end up in the infirmary tonight?" Hermione asked, rather exasperated.
"Maybe not tonight." Harry grinned. "But anyway, we need to keep a close eye on Malfoy. He's going to be up to something nasty this year, and it's an order straight from Voldemort."
Ron cupped his chin and scratched at the stubble that was growing there. He looked like he was pondering a particularly tricky chess match.
"You know what it is, don't you Harry?" Hermione asked, sounding rather resigned.
"Ron, what happens if you break an unbreakable vow?" Harry asked, his gaze hard and focused as he avoided answering Hermione's question.
"You can't. If you do, you die." Ron snorted, but it was a sound devoid of humour.
"Draco Malfoy made an unbreakable vow?" Hermione hissed rapidly, her eyes widened at the thought. "With Voldemort?"
"No." Harry held out his hand over the table and lowered it a little, to halt Hermione's questions. "His mother tried to make one with Snape, to protect Malfoy while he did Voldemort's task."
Silence dropped between them and Harry wondered if they'd ask where he'd gotten the information. Instead, Hermione placed her hands over Harry's wand and rolled it back towards him.
Ron looked up, his blue eyes bright under the messy red fringe of his hair. "This is huge. Like, prison huge."
"Welcome back to Hogwarts." Harry said, grimly.
Hermione only sat with them for a few minutes after breakfast before rushing off to her approved sixth year arithmancy course. Harry waited while McGonagall perused his O.W.L. results and course preference sheet. He glanced down to his left arm as she read, making sure his tattoo was still covered by the glamour.
"Do you still wish to be an auror, Mr. Potter?" McGonagall asked, pulling an empty timetable from her folder.
Harry hesitated for a second before answering. He didn't, but suddenly he didn't want people to know that either. For some reason he didn't mind letting them believe the boy saviour would become the Ministry's happy little auror, and keeping his real plans to himself. Well, once he figured out what those plans were, anyway.
"I'd like to be prepared for it, ma'am." Harry answered choosing his words carefully.
"Good to hear, Mr. Potter." She smiled warmly at him and handed him a filled timetable. "Do take Mr. Weasley with you, he looks far too content with his free time."
Ron, who had been laughing at Seamus' singing of 'If I only had a brain,' spun around with a wild look.
"Off you go then." McGonagall tutted, handing Ron his own timetable. They stood and headed towards the doors, bags slouched on their shoulders.
"Er, what class did I get signed up for?" Ron asked.
"Potions, Ron. Our favourite." Harry said with a small laugh as he checked their schedules.
"Bugger." Ron grumbled, a little louder than he'd meant to.
"Weasley!" McGonagall admonished, as they hurried out of sight.
It was a third year Ravenclaw who found him at the end of the day and passed along the message, catching Harry just as he was wandering back up to Gryffindor tower. Ron and Hermione waved goodbye as Harry headed towards the headmaster's office, pausing for a few seconds to smile at the gargoyle and give the password.
"Clotted cream fudge."
Harry traced his fingers along the wall as the spiral staircase propelled him up. He was very glad to be back at Hogwarts, as he usually was each September, but this year his mood seemed to be even better than it was in previous years.
Harry entered the office, his eyes widening a little as he took in the attendants. Snape was there, as was Professor McGonagall and Madame Pomfrey. Harry, who over the summer had learned that it was best to keep his mouth shut and pretend he wasn't completely surprised, gave a cheerful hello and took a seat in the empty chair between Snape and Pomfrey.
"Good afternoon, Harry. Care for some tea?" Dumbledore was looking particularly cheerful, using his good hand to drop an obscene amount of sugar in a chipped #1 Teacher mug.
"I'm fine, thanks." Harry returned politely. He sat back in the chair and waited, knowing that sooner or later he'd find out the reason they'd all been summoned.
"This will be a short little meeting, I think." Dumbledore started, handing out tea to the two women sitting to the right of Harry. "Important news, though it will stay between the five of us." His tone was friendly, but it was meant to be obeyed and the level of power Albus Dumbledore commanded was evident in his voice.
"We are all Order members here, Albus, with the exception of Mr. Potter. I think you can trust our discretion." McGonagall looked close to rolling her eyes, and Harry fought back a grin.
"Precisely." Dumbledore smiled, conjuring up a tray of tea biscuits that he placed in front of Harry. "And Harry is the son of an Order member, so by rights he can be trusted."
"Yes…" McGonagall commented, looking slightly uncomfortable.
Harry was busy checking out the office, rather amused at how quickly Dumbledore had managed to acquire more knickknacks, trinkets, and gadgets after Harry had destroyed the office at the end of June. Silence fell over the room, as if Dumbledore had no intention of actually delivering whatever message he intended to share.
"It must be a Thursday." Snape muttered beside him, making Harry bite his lip to stop from smiling.
"It's a Tuesday, Severus. Did you not get the new planning calendar I left in your office? I thought it a rather appropriate welcome back gift." Dumbledore smiled blandly, obviously in no rush to push the conversation.
"Headmaster, if it is indeed only Tuesday," and Snape shook his head slightly at this, as if he couldn't believe the week was just starting, "then we all have tasks to attend to rather shortly. If you don't mind?"
"Of course not, Severus. Minerva, Poppy, have you noticed any changes regarding Harry's school files?" Dumbledore asked, sipping his tea.
"Good lord." Snape grumbled under his breath, ignoring the little snort Harry let escape.
"I have, actually. Mr. Potter, would you care to tell me why your first and last name now flickers on your medical chart?" Madame Pomfrey nodded to a rather thick folder on the headmaster's desk, and looked at him with a mock stern look. "I go through the files every summer to ensure I have up to date records, and yours started that a few days ago."
Harry's first instinct was to stutter that he didn't know that would happen, but Snape had told him before that no one was to know of the adoption, so he decided silence was best.
"Funny you should mention that, Madame Pomfrey. I received a new permission slip for Hogsmeade outings for Mr. Potter here." McGonagall's gaze wavered between both Snape and Harry, the latter whom finally realised that McGonagall must have seen who had signed the form.
"You signed my form for me?" Harry asked, turning to Snape.
"As your godfather expired earlier this summer…" Snape countered with a small wave of his hand, sounding very nonplussed about the whole thing.
"Severus, expired is perhaps not the nicest terminology." The headmaster sounded amused though, and Harry was pleased to realise that he didn't have the huge ache in his chest any more from mentions of Sirius.
"Does this mean you have some sort of guardianship over Harry?" McGonagall asked, looking both happy and worried. She didn't sound terribly surprised, however, and Harry figured that as an Order member she must have known Harry had spent the summer with Snape.
"I'm afraid it's worse than that." Snape drawled, looking pained. "I've taken a leave of my senses and adopted him."
"Have you always been this funny?" Harry asked, sitting back in his chair and crossing his arms.
"Don't pout." Snape tapped his knees, glaring at him to sit up. "Sarcasm is not becoming on you."
"It's a family trait, isn't it? I'll get better at it." Harry rolled his eyes. The headmaster winked at him from across the desk.
"I'm sure you will, if you spend enough time around Severus." Dumbledore looked mischievous.
"Thank you, Headmaster." Snape interrupted, as he turned to face McGonagall and Pomfrey. "The purpose of the meeting was to inform you both about the adoption, for any medical issues that may arise or otherwise." Snape left the otherwise undefined, but it was like talking about the proverbial pink hippogriff in the corner of the room.
"Of course, Severus. I maintain the utmost confidentiality in the infirmary, and should Mr. Potter find himself there, I shall notify you discreetly." Pomfrey assured, giving Harry a rare smile.
"Thank you, Madame Pomfrey. Perhaps on the weekend you can arrange for a wizard allergy test, as over the summer we have discovered that Potter has a rather severe muggle allergy." Snape asked, sounding as if he had a list of things to do regarding Harry.
"Easily arranged." Pomfrey agreed, conjuring a note out of nowhere and sticking it to the top of Harry's file.
"Does the Ministry know?" McGonagall asked, clearly remembering the interference Umbridge had run on the school.
"About my allergy?" Harry asked, a bit confused. Snape rolled his eyes.
"In theory, yes." Snape then smirked, looking like a cat who'd caught his prey. "The adoption was processed both by Muggle authorities and the Ministry. But as it was done by a former Slytherin…"
Harry watched as his head of house chuckled and actually winked at Snape.
"Very good, Severus. I would not expect otherwise."
After agreeing to let Harry use her office to floo down to Snape's private Hogwarts flat on Friday, McGonagall stood up and patted Harry's arm.
"Congratulations, Mr. Potter." She nodded towards Snape and spoke in a lower voice. "Do make him proud, I know you can."
Harry felt his cheeks glow red with a blush, and he mumbled his thanks. That was exactly what he planned on doing.
Wednesday morning was their first defence class of the year, and they divided the class by Gryffindor and Slytherin in seating arrangements as usual. The room, which had the year before been disgustingly clean and sterile under the use of Umbridge, was now dark and filled with various strange and creepy artefacts. The portraits on the walls were filled with haunted faces and twisted bodies, and in the back corner of the class was a suspiciously empty and rusted cage. The blinds were mostly drawn, and Snape was nowhere in sight.
Harry sat with Ron, Hermione, and Seamus as they waited for Snape to appear, chatting rather quietly to themselves. No point in getting in trouble the first class, Harry figured, sneaking a glance across the aisle to where Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson were sitting. Though it was rather warm in the room, certainly warmer than usual for Scotland in September, Malfoy was fully dressed in uniform and had his robes fully drawn. Harry wondered if any of the other Slytherins knew he'd taken the mark.
"Harry!" Seamus whispered rather loudly from the desk behind him. "Heard it was you who got Dumbledore the Dutch hat."
Harry grinned and gave a slight nod. "Maybe."
Seamus broke into a wide smile, his face defining mischief.
"Know any dirty words in Dutch?"
Harry glanced around, but everyone else seemed to be interested in their own conversations. Though he'd only spent a few days with Jeroen and Emma, he'd learned a few interesting phrases from them.
"Jij bent een…"
"Finish that sentence and you'll be scrubbing cauldrons all evening." Snape barked, sweeping into the room and banging the classroom door shut. A silence fell over the class, but Harry could hear Malfoy snickering. Damn Snape and his impeccable timing.
"Yes, sir." Harry replied dryly, turning around and facing the front. Snape had warned Harry during their last breakfast at Spinner's End that once they had gone back to school and were in public, that Snape would go back to his role of hating Harry. Harry was up to the challenge of acting his part, and kept his expression surly.
Snape flicked his wand and the words Sixth Year Defence Against the Dark Arts appeared on the chalkboard.
"I can only imagine how little you all have managed to learn in this class, with the parade of revoltingly inadequate past professors." Snape sneered, crossing his arms as he faced the class with his lanky black hair covering part of his black glare. "As such, I now have the unpleasant task of determining which of the likely startling few of you will be able to successfully defend yourselves against a sixth year hex, and which," here Snape fixed his gaze on the Gryffindor side of the room, "will fail miserably."
He started to walk down towards the back of the classroom, tapping his wand on his forearm, seemingly talking to himself but capturing the attention of the whole class.
"Which of you skitter away from a mere pixie, which of you dare face a werewolf." Snape glared in Draco's direction, and kept walking. His voice was low and dangerous sounding.
"Which of you can stare down a grindylow, who knows how to disperse of a redcap, and who didn't back down against an unforgivable." Snape stopped a few steps from Harry, staring down at him with a piercing look. He moved his hand, raising his wand, and Harry immediately reacted.
"Protego!" Harry claimed, scrambling to his feet and erecting a shield over himself and Hermione. The force of the shield made Snape's hair twitch.
"A little paranoid, are we?" Snape gave a nasty little smile. Harry blushed, but kept his stance and his shield. Behind Snape Harry could hear Malfoy and the other Slytherins snickering.
"There's a boggart in the back book cupboard, Potter. Rid the classroom of it." Snape ordered, before turning and walking back up to the front of the class.
Harry stared at Snape's retreating back as he thought of his dementor boggart. He hoped like hell that Snape knew what Harry's boggart was, and that he would step in if something went wrong. Walking towards the back cupboard, which rattled ominously now as it realised someone was approaching, Harry began to use the daydreaming occlumency method that Snape had reinforced over the summer. Malfoy's sneering voice cut across the room in a not so subtle undertone, and Harry turned to see that Snape had gone into his office to get something.
"Better put out some pillows, since Princess Potty passes out from the big scary dementors." Malfoy sneered, elbowing his two friends.
"Shut up, Malfoy." Ron growled, his face turning slightly red with his annoyance.
"And the Weasel coming to the rescue of his fair maiden, how sweet." Malfoy taunted back, causing Goyle and Crabbe to grunt in laughter along with him.
There was a slamming sound as Snape banged what sounded like a stack of books together and the door to his office creaked fully open again. Harry, not wanting to get yelled at, focused on the cupboard and managed to shut Draco out as he remembered the relaxed movie conversation Seamus had started the night before in the dorm. Harry's lips turned into a sneaky grin and he pointed his wand at the book cupboard, flicking it open. There were a few gasps in the room as the air chilled and a dementor glided out of the cupboard, but it only lasted for a few seconds before Harry stared at it with determined concentration and flicked his wand.
There was a resounding crack, and a delayed roar of laughter came from his classmates. There, by the cupboard and looking very confused, stood a boggart version of Draco Malfoy dressed like the Wicked Witch of the West. From the waist up, at least. The stereotypical black witch's hat was perched on the boggart's white blond hair, the face was painted an obscene green colour and the nose had a few warts on it. The dress was black and tatty, torn at a few places and ending at the knees where it looked to have been ripped off instead of hemmed. For the lower half of the outfit Harry had gone for the Wicked Witch of the East, giving the Draco boggart black and white striped stockings with red ruby slippers.
Quite satisfied with his results, Harry turned to glance at the class. Malfoy looked absolutely horrified, and was too shocked to say anything. The Gryffindors were not even bothering to hide their laughter, and Harry was pleased to see that a few Slytherins found the image rather amusing as well. Snape, who had returned to the front of the class, looked impassive as ever, but there was a small twitch to his lips as he tried not to show any signs of a smile. Snape had just brandished his wand to cast away the boggart when Malfoy found his voice and started cursing.
"You, you pervert! This is defamation! I'll get you for this, Potter!" Uneven red splotches marred Draco's pale face as he sputtered, seeming to forget that Snape was in the room. Back by Harry's desk, Seamus crowed rather loudly in a bad imitation of the Wicked Witch's voice.
"I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!"
The laughter erupted again, before Snape's lazy call for attention brought silence over the students. Incomprehensible muttering could be heard from Draco, but the rest of the class knew well enough to not say a word.
"Congratulations, Potter. Your first detention of the year. See me after class." Snape said with heavy sarcasm, before turning and putting the lesson points up on the chalkboard.
Harry tried to school his look of amusement into one of guilt and embarrassment. Hermione was the only other one to notice that Snape had not taken points for the incident, nor berated Harry for it.
Goyle, who'd never been particularly bright, didn't seem to be very quiet, either. His low voice carried through the dungeons much better than Malfoy's higher pitched and frantic whispers, reaching Harry and Ron's ears as they snuck their way back from the kitchens just before curfew.
"I told you," Malfoy hissed, pulling Goyle into an alcove near them, "once your father and my contact deliver what I need the plan will go off without a hitch."
Harry and Ron froze, pockets bulging with suddenly forgotten treacle tart and pumpkin muffins as they strained to listen. Harry figured Malfoy's secret contact was Greyback, but Malfoy didn't confirm the name. They edged closer to the corner of the stone wall, peeking around from the shadows.
"Why d'ya need me to get that potion?" Goyle grumbled, his annoyed look not much different to the stunned expression he usually wore.
"Because one of us has to distract Slughorn. You couldn't carry on a two minute conversation with him."
Goyle didn't seem insulted by his however, he merely grunted his agreement and asked how to break into the storage cupboard.
"Just use your thick head." Malfoy snapped. "And remember, it's mercury. It'll be labelled with the symbol for the planet or by the letters Hg."
Ron gave Harry a look, the same determined look he had on his face when they were ready to leave for the Ministry battle last summer. Harry gave a nod, and they silently backed away to head for the potions storage cupboard, as fast as they could possibly go.
Harry was used to noises. He was used to chaos, and his luck seemed to perform wonderfully in the best of chaotic times. However, the lower dungeons of Hogwarts at quarter past ten on a Wednesday night could hardly be considered chaotic. Up until ten seconds earlier, they could not be properly classified as noisy, either.
It had only taken a sneeze, one sneeze and one mishandled jar, for a noise to explode in the hallway in a way that Harry had only heard once before, at muggle primary school. The custodian had dropped a long, white fluorescent light tube in the hallway, and the BOOM that had echoed down the halls had sounded like a nuclear bomb going off, ringing through the cinderblock walls and making Harry scramble under a desk like he'd been taught in the silly air raid drills. This time around, after nearly jumping clear through his skin and feeling the burn of the watch Snape had ensured he wore, Harry only had one thought on his mind.
Run, and get the hell out of Snape's domain as fast as they possibly could. Harry was certain he'd have apparated out of there if the wards had let him, notwithstanding his lack of knowledge on apparition. He had the presence of mind to vanish the broken vial before taking off before either Snape or Slughorn could descend on the room. Their footsteps made harsh slapping noises as he and Ron tore out of the dungeons, taking the stairs two at a time and slipping behind a tapestry near the Great Hall to catch their breath and avoid being seen.
"If I didn't know any better," Ron huffed, "I'd say Snape set us up with that label. Caution, mildly unstable. Just a little!"
Harry brought the marauder's map out of his pocket and watched Snape circle around the potions storeroom they'd just been in, with Slughorn slowly making his way over. Goyle seemed to be stuck in the corridor with the potions classrooms. Harry's cheeks were slightly red and he felt wide-awake, as he thought back to the morning he'd woken up with a hangover and how pleasant Snape had been then.
"Believe it. He would."
"At least we stopped Malfoy from getting that. Could you imagine what he'd have done?"
"That's what I don't want to picture." Harry said, wiping dust off his pyjama pants. They'd only spotted the one jar of mercury in the storage cabinet, and Harry hoped that there weren't any others in the secondary cupboard Snape sometimes used to store ingredients in. He'd had a hard enough time disabling the wards on the first one, as proud as he'd felt to hear Ron be jealous of his skills, to want to worry about another cupboard.
Harry grinned as he checked that his lock picking kit was still tucked securely into his pocket. Ron would never believe where he'd gotten it, and Harry had gladly been vague about who exactly had given it to him as a birthday present.
After a few more minutes of calming down, Harry and Ron snuck their way through the hallways and towards the Gryffindor common room, barely managing to avoid being seen by Snape himself as the man moved on the stairs below them. Hermione was waiting in the empty common room when they entered, arms crossed and a slightly exasperated look on her face.
"You were supposed to just go for snacks. Why are you covered in dust? And why do you smell like gunpowder?"
"Did you know mercury is explosive?" Ron asked, picking a shard of glass out of his jumper. He didn't notice Hermione biting her lip to avoid smiling at them.
"Mercury fulminate?" She spelled a freshening charm over them and waited while Harry wiped his glasses clean. "They used to use it as a trigger for old guns."
"Well, that figures." Ron answered, plopping down onto the couch. The common room was empty and the fire was dwindling.
"And why would you need mercury fulminate, Ronald?"
"We don't, really." Harry shrugged. "But we overheard Malfoy ordering Goyle to get it, and from what he was saying it was something he needed for his death eater task."
"Sounded dangerous." Ron added helpfully, as he pulled their prize desserts out of his pockets.
"Obviously." Hermione answered, having a hard time not laughing. "So instead of telling Professor Slughorn that someone would try to steal from him, you decided to steal it yourselves? And blew it up instead?"
Harry shook his head as Ron shrugged.
"Not exactly. I sneezed from the dust in the room and dropped it. The explosion was an added bonus, really." Ron yawned, feeling sleepy now that they'd reached the safety of the dorms.
"What were we supposed to say, anyway? Professor Slughorn, we think someone is going to steal something from your storage cupboard tonight, and no, we can't tell you why. The man seems daft, but I don't think he'd fall for that."
Harry sat on the coffee table, the knit jumper soft against his back where his t-shirt had ridden up. It was one of Snape's old black ones from the wardrobe in his room at Spinner's End, and it made him feel a bit guilty. Maybe they should have told Snape, as it was Snape's wards still on the ingredients cupboard. Snape the professor probably wouldn't have listened to such a stupid and vague Gryffindor warning before, but Elliot's dad would.
"What if Malfoy was setting you up? You say it exploded as soon as it hit the ground?" Hermione was putting away her study notes, having already jumped ahead in their textbooks for most of her classes.
Ron looked down at the burn marks on his sneakers, and Harry followed his gaze. He was glad that he'd worn one of his old pairs, instead of the newer ones that Snape had bought him.
"It's over now, Hermione. And from the way that thing went off, let's just be glad Malfoy didn't get it." Ron answered, unwrapping a slice of treacle tart from a serviette and cramming it in his mouth.
Harry went to bed that night feeling uneasy, tossing and turning for a while as he tried to daydream of Christmas in Amsterdam. The low ball of guilt in the pit of his stomach wouldn't abate, however, and at half twelve he gave up, swinging his legs over his bed and grabbing the invisibility cloak.
Harry put on his sneakers and grabbed the jumper from the end of his bed, sneaking down to the common room before checking out his map once more. A few of the ghosts were drifting about the Great Hall and Professor Dumbledore seemed to be wandering in the hallway near the library, but Harry couldn't see Snape anywhere. A difficulty, as he had no idea yet where Snape lived while at the castle. He sat dejectedly on the leather couch by the cold fireplace before a thought came to him.
"Dobby!" Harry whispered, hoping that the little demented elf could keep quiet for once.
"Harry Potter sir!" A small crack sounded and Dobby appeared, wearing the official Hogwarts uniform, a polka dot tie and a striped tie, three of Hermione's knitted hats, and a tie-die tea cosy to top it off. He gave Harry a wide smile and nodded approvingly to the mismatched socks that extended out from Harry's slippers.
"Hi Dobby." Harry grinned back, wondering how many strange looks he'd get if he decided to randomly dress like Dobby one day. Snape would probably have him committed.
"You is staying up late, Harry Potter Sir. What can Dobby do to help?" Dobby wagged a finger at him, but the bright eyes betrayed any admonishment.
"I need you to take me to Professor Snape's…er…his flat. Where he lives at the castle." Harry stood up and wrapped the cloak around his shoulders, hoping Dobby wouldn't object too much.
"Dobby can do that, yes sir Harry Potter." Dobby gave him another grin and almost bounced out of the room, nearly knocking off the precious balance of tea cosy and knitted hats on his head. As they passed through the Gryffindor portrait hole, Dobby admonished Harry.
"Yous been having your clothes washed by another house elf." Dobby said, shaking his finger.
"Err..yeah. Some weird nutter named Twinky was washing them. Snape uses his company." Harry had no idea why he was blushing, as technically Dobby wasn't his house elf.
"Dobby has heard of Twinky, Harry Potter sir." Dobby nodded, leading Harry down a cobwebbed corridor.
By the time they'd arrived at the small wooden door in a tiny hallway of the dungeons, Harry felt like the gnawing force in his stomach had grown to the size of a kneazle. It was past midnight, freezing cold, dark, he had a cheerfully deranged house elf guiding him, and he'd ended up at a plain and imposing door that had a tiny snake carved into the metal hinge on the side. Harry would have completely missed the snake, had it not been hissing at him.
Your da's not very pleased with you. The snake hissed in a singsong voice, much like an older sibling would when they knew they weren't the one in trouble. Harry didn't bother to ask how the snake knew who he was, deciding to just dismiss Dobby and knock before he lost his nerve.
The snake taunted him for the longest minute of his life before the door cracked open and Snape appeared, looking disgruntled but not all together surprised.
"You are unharmed." Snape stated it without question and it caught Harry off guard, as he'd not been expecting those words to be Snape's first. Then he remembered the watch, and how it had flashed red with danger when the bottle had blown up. Wonderful.
Not for much longer. If snakes could laugh, Harry was quite certain this one was nearly in tears.
"Shut up." Harry hissed back with his eyes down cast as he walked through the doorway, completely missing Snape's raised eyebrow at the parseltongue, and wondering why Snape's house servants all seemed to be nasty and vindictive.
The hallway walls were the same brownish cream colour as at Spinner's End, but the coat rack to his left was an evil edition. Harry eyed it warily, its wrought iron elaborate arms flexing menacingly at Harry.
Snape ushered him to the end of the hall, where he opened another plain black wooden door. Harry stepped inside and made a beeline for the inviting charcoal grey couch that was sitting across from the fireplace. The walls were painted a very light turquoise blue – not a colour Harry expected from Snape at all but it mixed very well with the stone floor and the teak wood furniture. As dark as Snape's desk was in his office, it seemed that in his own private flat, he had gone for a bit lighter tone.
"So the dead things in jars look is just to maintain an image?" Harry asked lightly, sitting back against the cushions on the couch and inspecting the rest of the room. The fireplace was large enough for a person to floo through, but not overly ornate, and the bookshelves here were tidy, ordered, and mostly of an academic nature.
Snape gave him a glare as he sat down in his own chair, passing Harry a mug of tea.
"Much like your idiotic performance this evening, keeping up the hero image."
"I'm sorry." Harry winced, the tea far too hot still for his tongue. "I would have told you, but there was no time."
"I am very curious as to why you felt the need to break into my storeroom to smash a jar of mercury." Snape countered, tapping the side of his chair with his hand. His expression was rather blank, though he was allowing Harry the chance to explain himself.
"Ron and I overheard Malfoy ordering Goyle to get the mercury. He didn't say what it was for, but he mentioned waiting for a delivery and that he needed the mercury in time for it."
Snape looked thoughtful as he drank more of his tea. Harry relaxed himself a bit more on the couch, thinking that perhaps he might not be in actual trouble.
"You happened to just overhear this outside of the Gryffindor common room." Snape finally said.
"No, it was by the kit-" Harry furrowed his brow. "Don't do that."
"Mmh. Now I see the whole picture. You and the insatiable Weasley wandered to the kitchen for a midnight snack, and you overhear Mr. Malfoy speaking about a highly combustible ingredient. Instead of coming to tell me about this, you decide to go with Weasley after curfew and steal the mercury. Do I have that right?" The eyes were narrowed at him, and Harry stared down at his lap.
"To be fair, we didn't know it was that combustible until it, well, exploded."
Snape clunked his tea mug on the side table in irritation, letting Harry know that that was the wrong thing to say.
"I'm sorry, Dad. It all happened fast and I didn't know where you were. I didn't want to bother you, either."
"Elliot." Snape's tone made Harry look back up, a little blush on his face. "This is not a game. Whatever you overhear regarding Draco Malfoy and any of his foolish plans, I need to know about. And you will not rush in and try to save the day like a typical idiotic Gryffindor."
Harry frowned as he was admonished, feeling that stupid ball of shame in the pit of his stomach again.
"I just thought…" Harry started, before Snape banished the tea mug in Harry's hands.
"No, you didn't think." Snape interrupted, leaning forward. "Once again, you are the child here. It is not your job to always be the hero. And just because you've come to confess doesn't mean you'll get out of punishment, either."
"No, I didn't mean…I'm not trying to get out of trouble. I'm still getting used to this." Harry stuttered, folding his fingers together in his lap.
"Getting used to what?" Snape asked, barely managing not to scoff. "You've been in trouble more times than I care to count."
"That's what I mean. I've never felt guilty about it before."
Snape said nothing for a moment as he watched Harry, whose eyes were still downcast as he sat slumped in the chair. Harry then heard sharp footsteps as Snape approached him, and he was suddenly yanked up to his feet by a strong grip on his arms. Harry took a deep breath, knowing that he was in trouble, but also comforted by the fact that unlike his Uncle Vernon, Snape wouldn't strike out at him or shove him into a closet.
Instead of being punished though, Harry felt himself being roughly drawn against Snape, a strong and muscular arm across his shoulder blades.. Harry closed his eyes as his cheek brushed against the scratchy wool of Snape's overcoat, breathing in the scent of smoke, the cauldron cleaning solution they used in class, and the slightly damp smell of peat. Snape must have been out in the Forbidden Forest earlier, looking for ingredients.
Harry felt hot breath on the top of his hair as Snape spoke in a low voice just above his head, giving him one small squeeze, and vanishing the guilt that had settled into his stomach.
"I never pictured you as a hugger." Harry mumbled against Snape, sniffing quietly.
"Indeed not." Snape sounded affronted. "This is merely a subtle attempt at strangling you."
Harry laughed and drew back, feeling better. Snape kept a strong grip on Harry's shoulder as he steered him out of the room. They walked past the kitchen and down a small hallway, where Snape lead Harry to a small three-piece bathroom. There was a pile of fresh towels on the sink and a brand new toothbrush, along with Harry's bathrobe from Spinner's End.
"You're staying here tonight, and taking a shower. The gunpowder in your hair is giving me a headache."
Harry padded out of the washroom fifteen minutes later, feeling relaxed and sleepy. He'd had time to think in the shower though, and had a few questions for Snape.
"Did you know it was me? I mean, the watch flashed, but I could have fallen down the stairs or something."
Snape didn't even look up from his magazine. "Yes, it warned me you were exposed to noxious fumes."
"Huh. What kind of spells are on this watch?" Harry asked, stalling his bedtime and checking out the slightly scratched watch face.
"I will ensure to inform you when you have children. Go to bed." Snape answered and pointed to the hall.
"How do you usually manage to catch students out? Do you have a tracking spell or something?" Harry stood by the doorframe, watching Snape add the magazine to the neat stack by his chair.
"I should ask the same of you, as it seems you are inexplicably skilled at avoiding my detection whilst out wandering." Snape sounded relaxed, but Harry wasn't fooled. He knew it was a false sort of relaxation, aimed to put down Harry's guard.
"On second thought, sir, it wouldn't be fair if I knew your methods and no other student did." Harry pointed out. Snape smiled as he looked at Harry, and Harry immediately felt suspicious.
"Ah, my fair little Gryffindor. Do keep in mind that while professors are not allowed to drug students with veritaserum, there is no such restriction for parents." Snape stood and walked to the fireplace, extinguishing the fire and darkening the living room.
Harry's eyes widened and he made a mental note to check the laws on veritaserum in the morning.
"Takes a month to brew thought, right? Harry asked quickly, "and Umbridge used your last bottle?"
"If you'd like to believe so." Snape answered calmly, retreating down the hall to his bedroom door. "Wake up call is at seven, do sleep well."
Harry stared at the bedroom door as it closed, wondering which personality of Snape's unbalanced Harry more. The angry and yelling version where Harry knew exactly what was going on, or this calm and collected version that had Harry very suspicious of what was coming.