TWELVE

The trip up to the castle entrance was much like Harry remembered it from the last third-year. Cold, wet and miserable, topped off with a greeting from Peeves. The journey up hadn't been particularly pleasant either. Due to the torrential rain coming down in icy sheets the stagecoaches seemed even stuffier than usual and Harry (and probably a few others) felt as if he were recovering from a bad bout of flu. At least this time he didn't have to battle with a growing feeling of shame as well. He knew why the dementors affected him like they did. The Slytherins hadn't said much on the journey up, but as they passed the two dementor guards at the gates their glances at him lost a little more of their subtlety. Obviously he had freaked them out on the train, but there was no use crying over spilt milk now.

Harry did note that Pansy, Millie, Tracey and Lillian hadn't looked at all shocked to hear he could speak Parseltongue. Daphne must have said something to them the year before as, as far as he knew, that wasn't common knowledge yet.

'The firsties are really getting an agreeable start to their year.' Harry commented as the group paused out of Peeves' reach to dry off.

'They looked terrified.' Pansy sounded more amused than sympathetic.

'Who wouldn't be?' Millie shuddered, though Harry couldn't gage her sincerity. 'They didn't even know they had to cross the lake yet!'

'Having that oaf Hagrid to guide them can't help eith- Ooh look!' Draco cut off mid-insult and stepped away from the group with glee.

'You fainted, Weasley? Is Longbottom telling the truth? You actually fainted.' Draco drawled getting the crowd's attention immediately.

Harry groaned.

'Malfoy!' he hissed. But Draco ignored him, elbowing Seamus out of the way to block Ron's path. Harry had to admit, Ron didn't look good. Neville was in the background cringing as well, Harry couldn't imagine he'd told Draco on purpose.

'Shove off, you ponce' Seamus grit out.

'Did you faint as well Finnigan?' Draco only seemed to be getting louder. 'Did the scary old Dementor frighten you too, Finnigan?'

Harry longed to step forward and interfere, but part of playing the political game was following the rules, and Slytherin's number one rule was house unity. Defending Ron's honor wasn't worth it right now. Besides, Harry hadn't entirely forgiven Ron's claim of slaying the Basilisk. That, and he knew Remus would be coming in soon.

'Is there a problem?' the mild voice was almost summoned by Harry's thoughts. Harry cringed again at Draco's insolent once-over of Remus' robes.

'Oh, no - er - Professor.'

Draco turned to give the Slytherin's a smirk, but Harry returned it with a blatantly unimpressed look.

Before Harry could say anything however he caught sight of McGonagall pulling Hermione and Ron aside. Harry glanced slyly at the Slytherin's and found that at least Malfoy was providing the perfect distraction. Harry slipped into the crowd and made his way towards the stairs to the dungeons.

Snape's office was quite close to the potions lab, half way between it and the entrance to the Slytherin dorms (though Harry suspected there was a teacher's passage there that was shorter). Unlike many of the teacher's offices, Snape had a portrait guarding his. Harry was always reminded of a cross between the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw common room, as the portrait was of a grumpy old man who liked to question you thoroughly on why you thought your query worth Snape's time. It had annoyed Harry to no ends in his Gryffindor days, as he had only visited by appointment (read: detention) anyway, and had usually ended up late because of it, earning an unfair deduction of points.

These days he just focused his magic to his hand when he knocked, overriding the runes in the painting. It was a technique that far surpassed his supposed age's skill level and he liked to hope it caused Snape a great deal of confusion every time he pulled it off. Payback (fair or not) was sweet.

'Tardiness is not an attribute I tolerate.'

Despite the bite, Snape's tone was awkward as usual. Seems he still hadn't gotten over Harry kissing him.

'Sorry Sir.' Harry tried very hard not to let even a hint of his amusement show.

'I'm sure you are.' Snape drawled with some sarcasm.

He gestured for Harry to follow him, shutting the door behind them then retrieving a small, black box from a locked draw in his desk. He started to hand it over, but seemed to hesitate half way.

Harry raised his eyebrows.

'Is there a problem?'

Snape's face gave away nothing, as usual, but he seemed to be trying to read something in Harry's carefully blank mask, but didn't resort to Legilimency. Eventually he scowled and sat down behind his desk, conjuring a chair for Harry as he did. Harry sat.

'It is rather suspicious, Black escaping now.'

Harry could honestly say he hadn't been expecting this topic in the least. In fact, if he'd had to guess, he would have thought Snape would avoid it at all costs.

'Perhaps.' Harry answered, cautious of what to expect.

If anything, Harry's answer seemed to make Snape even more wary. Harry couldn't for the life of him figure out why.

'The ministry will have us all for fools.' Snape was looking at the little black box again.

Harry couldn't help it, he laughed. 'I'll try not to create too many paradoxes, Sir.'

'Heaven forbid.' Snape was almost laughing, but then he cringed. 'I am frankly more apprehensive over the reliability of prison wards when facing temporal shifts.'

Harry gaped.

'Sir, Sirius broke out over a month ago!'

'Sirius is it?'

Harry ignored the taunt. 'My time-turner only goes back six hours.'

'Six hours. Of course. My brain still hasn't reconciled willingly giving a Potter a time turner. The world will no doubt be over before I finish tea.'

Harry's lip twitched, 'By that logic it already is.'

Before Snape could reply there was a sharp knock on the door.

'Enter.'

Harry had to school his features to stop himself from cringing. A non-descript wizard in neutral grey robes entered with an even step.

Knowing it would get on his nerves, Harry ignored the Unspeakable, keeping his attention entirely on Snape. For all their runes work (and having stolen a robe to study, Harry could assure you that there was a lot that went into making it unmemorable), the Unspeakables actually liked to gain attention. They just liked to frustrate people with their anonymity more.

'You have explained the laws governing time-travel to Mr. Potter, and provided the appropriate guide?'

Snape opened his mouth, but something in his usually perfect mask gave away his discomfort to Harry.

'Yes. He's just finished up.' Harry interrupted.

The Unspeakable turned to face Harry. His eyes immediately flew to Harry's scar, and it became increasingly hard not to sneer at the man.

After the war Harry had had the pleasure of coming under the microscope of Unspeakable care for almost five months. It was not even the tiniest bit pleasant, and yet another mark against Andromeda Tonks' name for sending him there. Harry let his concentration drift to about a foot to the left of the man's face, then enabled his (albeit limited) magical sight. From the corner of his eye he just managed to make out the runes of the man's ward-code before he was distracted by the Unspeakable drawing his wand.

Harry mentally cringed, but having declared Snape to have informed him of the procedure, he could hardly back up now and ask questions. At least he knew it was either Bode or Dickens, depending on the cycle of the moon, which he could cross-check later.

Harry became increasingly alarmed as it became apparent what the Unspeakable was testing for, though to his credit, Harry was sure his mask hadn't given an inch.

Harry tried not to panic as Dickens (He was sure Bode's wand had been Birch) made an interested noise, then re-cast the spell. It was definitely a derivative of the spell used to monitor under-age magic. And Harry had a pretty good guess about what it was being used for.

'This isn't right.' The Unspeakable didn't sound at all put out by magic not doing what he expected (their one redeeming quality as far as Harry was concerned), and cast the spell again. It was giving pretty much the same results, though Harry couldn't see them properly.

'What seems to be the issue?'

'As you are aware, the use of a time-turner is restricted. You are given one full hour for every hour of extra class, as well as three hours per week, per subject for study allowance.'

'Yes.' Harry hadn't been aware of the specifics, but he knew it was monitored as Hermione had once mentioned the only reason no one questioned them going back to save Sirius was because she overslept and missed classes that one time, and had a few hours to spare. 'And…' Harry prompted when the Unspeakable (was it Daphne's partner that had had the Birch wand?) didn't elaborate.

'What? Oh. The Department' (Harry mentally rolled his eyes at the self-imposed capital) 'monitors this by measuring the exact age when handing the time-device over, then again when returning it. It is usually a straight-forward process as nearly all students only last a semester or two and are the sort of student who is quite capable of maintaining the correct equilibrium.'

'Get to your point Bode.' Snape snapped out. Harry admitted to himself he was a little annoyed at having his mental guessing game snatched away from him, but pushed past it.

'According to my charm, you are thirty years, thirty-four days, sixteen hours, fifty-two minutes and eleven point nine-three-oh-one seconds old.'

Both Harry and Snape twitched in unison. 'Exactly?' Snape drawled.

Harry felt the corner of his lip twist into a smile.

'Well you get the gist. I have tried several times and I get the same results… give or take a minute.'

'Hopefully not take.' Harry couldn't help himself.

Snape grimaced. 'Enough, Potter. Bode, if there doesn't appear to be a logical reason, one might suggest that in Potter's circumstance the most practical train of thought would be that the killing curse defies all logic, much like an annoying student of mine who insists on spreading his inconsistency across multiple time periods.'

Harry let his cringe show this time, as Bode perked up at the mention of the AK. Harry hurriedly spoke up before Bode could get any nasty ideas.

'Perhaps, as long as the tests did produce a difference of the right amount of all give and no take, we could just write it off as an obscurity to be dealt with at another time and you could just measure the actual time-turner, that way me and the Professor could try and make at least end of the welcoming feast?' Harry suggested letting a bit of optimism leak into his voice.

'I suppose that is acceptable. I'll let you get to it then.'

Harry barely had time to be surprised at his escape before Bode had cast a quick spell at the time-turner which made it glow purple for a moment, nodded cordially at Snape then left the room.

'Broderick Bode is a very odd Unspeakable.' Harry couldn't help but say. He had just up and left with no argument about not being able to study something. It was very suspicious. Harry turned back to face Snape finding him staring at Harry in the same way Harry had Bode. Snape didn't comment, obviously deciding to just ignore Harry's slightly too knowing statement.

'We are, in fact, already missing the feast. Minerva insisted on Granger being dealt with first however. As usual Gryffindor's whims were put before Slytherin needs.'

'Hmm…' Harry glanced at Snape wondering if it were worth sharing the failings of the system. In the end, he appreciated Snape helping push his inconsistencies under the rug, so he decided to speak. 'Of course the Unspeakables obviously aren't Slytherins.'

'Obviously?' Snape said dubiously. To be fair, in general around thirty percent of the Unspeakables were in fact Slytherins; A considerable number given the sixty percent that were Ravenclaws.

'Did you know the standard time-turner can travel up to seven people at a time?'

Snape's face was priceless. It soon slipped into a heavy scowl however.

'This is exactly the reason that I believe student's should not be allowed to dabble in temporal shifting. I have a mind to take that back off you immediately.'

'Despite the loopholes, I have not the slightest intention of using the time-turner outside of its academic use unless I find myself in a dire situation.' Saving Godfathers from dementors, for example Harry added mentally, 'However it crosses my mind that you haven't, in fact, explained the rules and regulations to me, nor provided me with a manual, and our presence is probably already causing added interest in the Great Hall. It is an academic purpose.'

It was obviously taking great will-power to stop Snape from throwing his arms up in frustration, however Harry could see that he had obviously reluctantly agreed with Harry's point.

'Fine. But if I find even a hint of you taking your friends on leisure trips-'

'I shall no doubt expect to be eviscerated immediately. Where is the manual, by the way?'

'No doubt some impertinent brat jumped back in time and stole it from where I left it on my desk just under an hour ago.' Snape scowled.

Harry only poorly concealed his grin as he pulled out the time-turner and looped it around their necks and sent them spinning an hour back in time with one twirl.

Snape wasn't at all interested in staying around to find out exactly what his past self would do to an unexpected copy, a sentiment that Harry strongly agreed upon considering the current Snape was angry enough. Two of them would be horrid. As such they collected the manual off Snape's desk, then quickly made their way to a different floor.

Harry was then instructed to spend the following hour revising the manual until he had it memorized, and under no circumstances to be seen by anybody, before Snape stalked off.

Despite Snape's obviously foul mood Harry couldn't help but be amused. He had managed to come out of the whole experience without even a mention of detention, and Snape seemed much more open around Harry than he had the year before. He was still obviously uncomfortable in the same space alone with Harry, but something else had shifted and Harry suspected he had some how miraculously managed to become a soft-spot for Snape.

He wouldn't hold his breath on it lasting, however it was amusing for now.

Harry didn't really intend to stay out of trouble for the hour, but he was going to take the instruction to not be seen very seriously. He pulled his invisibility cloak out from his bag and pulled it on before setting out, not towards the library, but towards the Gryffindor common room. He had a rat to fake and an Unforgivable to cast.

To be fair, Harry thought thirty-seven minutes later, it wasn't actually considered Unforgivable when cast on something other than a human. It was one of the reason's Barty Crouch had gotten away with casting the curse during Harry's fourth year. What's more, the Hogwarts wards had a huge, and frankly stupid, hole in their defence mechanisms due to that clause. It was one of the things Harry had been helping Bill to plug-up when he helped out with the wards.

You only had to intend to aim the curse at something you didn't consider human, and the ward set up for monitoring dark spell use wouldn't go off. It was ridiculous, as in order to successfully cast an unforgivable it was almost given that you didn't consider whomever you were cursing worthy of being human. Barty had just had to think of them as annoying brats instead of students and the whole thing slipped under the system.

And that wasn't even getting Harry started on using something non-human to cause harm through mind control: Quirrell's mountain troll anyone?!

In this case, however, Harry found it very useful. The poor rat Harry had purchased had been through the works. The first thing Harry had done was cast a numbing charm followed by a permanent transfiguration (having never tried it on himself, he wasn't sure if it would hurt and didn't condone unnecessary cruelty - he felt bad enough as it was). It was above mastery level, and Harry had to admit that it probably wasn't technically permanent, but it would last at least a few years, which would more than cover Harry's needs. So for all intents and purposes, it was permanent. Harry then cast a series of tracking and monitoring spells, and bemoaned the fact that he didn't have a solid surface to carve for a good listening rune. Lastly Harry cast the imperio getting that weird funny feeling of almost being in two places at once. Or in two minds at once, he supposed. It made Harry's skin crawl a little, but after the initial instructions the feeling would fade unless Harry called on it. For the moment all that the rat had to do was to be a rat with a lazy attitude, and an attachment to Ron. Harry had outlined some key events, but for the most part that was it.

Testing the limits, Harry had the now Scabbers-look-alike do a cartwheel on it's way up to the third-year boys dorm. It did so without the slightest hesitation and Harry felt satisfied. As an afterthought Harry added in a healthy dose of natural fear for Crookshanks, before he exited the Gryffindor common room and made his way slowly towards the Great Hall. He returned to the entrance hall just in time to see himself enter with the Slytherins.

That was still really weird, and he didn't expect it to get better any time soon.

While Draco was busy starting up an argument with Ron, Harry slipped into an alcove and took off his cloak, then followed a group of second years into the Hall. He sneered a little behind his mask as he noticed Dumbledore loitering near the entrance offering Neville and Dean lemon drops and conversation as they waited for Hermione.

Harry's mind was quickly distracted from scheming Headmasters as he approached the Slytherin table. Politics.

He paused just inside the doors of the Great Hall to observe the house of snakes.

So far, politically speaking, Harry had gotten away with a lot more than even your average first or second year. Much like the other houses and staff, the Slytherins persisted in seeing him as Gryffindor. He was just acting rash and without prior thought. He was just putting his neck on the line because he didn't understand the subtleties and nuances of political thinking.

It would be their ultimate downfall.

Almost everything Harry did these days was pre-thought out. Hell, he had plans that stretched almost a decade into the future. It actually made him a little of sad for losing the part of himself that would rush in wand blazing living only in that moment, even as the new, far more logical part of him praised the planning. This year he was only going to up his game too. He didn't expect the Gryffindor illusion to last long however, this year was too important to hold back. Harry would be taking every advantage he could get.

The few Slytherins who were already there had already started the scramble, and Harry could already see the power plays at stake. He let his eyes flick to where Grace had sat at the end of the table. No doubt that spot would be well fought over tonight. Already there were several upper-years vying for spots closer to the end. Whatever conversation was going on over there would be sharp and nasty.

The tiniest of smirks twitched at the end of his mouth and he strode forward without a hitch in his step. For once he didn't try to hide the absolute satisfaction from showing on his face. He could see some of the current seventh years tense as he approached the table. He didn't pause even for a second. The moment he passed them Harry could feel their bewilderment as if it were coming out in waves. He strode straight past the end of the table without so much as a glance and sat down exactly half way along instead. There was no one to contest his placement and the seats surrounding him were all empty. Harry let his smirk grow. Obviously Slytherin house had forgotten a thing or two.

The middle of the table had a rather odd history, as in Slytherin house most students were either squabbling over the top of the social structure, or hanging their heads in shame because they had a failed sabotage attempt that had landed them at the bottom. It was even safer for those content to ride along in life to stay at either end, it didn't matter too much which side. Very few met in the middle. This had always been reflected in the great hall, and in actuality, the Slytherin hierarchy was there and obvious for anyone watching to observe, if they bothered to try. The closer you were to the front of the hall, the lower your ranking in-house.

Excepting, of course, a few years in the forties.

In the very corner of his eye, Harry saw Dumbledore enter the Hall. For just the tiniest of seconds, their eyes met and Harry caught the slight hesitation that put Dumbledore just a bit out of rhythm in his step.

The Slytherins may have forgotten the importance of the seat Harry was in, but Dumbledore hadn't.

A moment later Harry's group of Slytherins entered the hall. Draco abandoned Vince and Greg almost instantly, heading straight for the head of the table. He would drag them up later. Harry watched his progress across the hall with some amusement. Harry hadn't realised yet, but several of the upper years were noticing the way he watched Draco, and the apparent contempt he had for his path. The bickering slowed slightly, leaving Draco open for an easier path to the end.

Draco didn't go straight in, there were still quite a lot of older years that would need to be dealt with after all. Some of Grace's old crew had taken up a large portion of the table, as well as the older Quidditch team, and quite a few extra-hopefuls orbiting as well. Draco slotted in between Marcus Flint and a girl who had mimicked Grace in everything she did.

From the center of the table on the other hand, Harry had the perfect view of the whole house. He ignored the front of the room for now, while students from the other houses were curiously gazing at Remus, and focused on memorizing exactly who had bid for a spot. Most people Harry dismissed straight away, starting with Lucille, the pretty blonde girl next to Draco. There were a few surprises that caught Harry off guard, and one or two that he might even have difficulty dislodging.

During his observation Harry completely missed Blaise, Theo and Daphne giving him stunned looks of disbelief. Fortunately, as he reveled in breaking their masks, they were still supporting the looks when they obediently slid in to spots around him.

'What on earth are you doing?' Blaise hissed the second he sat down.

Harry dragged his eyes away from the rather amusing battle between a pair of sixth-year twins and an upstart second year.

'Waiting for the feast to start. Why?' Harry was purposely obtuse. He was rewarded by Blaise opening and shutting his mouth like a goldfish as he tried and failed to come up with a suitable response.

Daphne however wouldn't be put off. 'Potter, I was under the impression that you had some idea of how to handle the house.'

'Oh I know exactly how to handle the house.' Harry said, a little bit of a hard edge in his voice.

'You seem to have missed the seating memo.' Theo added cheerfully.

Harry flicked his eyes along the empty benches either side of them, then back to his friends. Only Tracey seemed to be really thinking on it. She was looking carefully along either side, noting the perfect view, and the distance that you might have to cover to reach any given conversation. Harry felt a small smile inch past his mask. Looks like Tracey might be more on top of things than her quiet demeanor suggested.

'What do you think Trace?' Harry ignored the other three. They all turned to Tracey as one.

Her eyes flicked once more along the view, then gave Harry a very calculating once-over.

'What are you going to do if someone wants this spot tomorrow?' She asked instead of answering. Harry's small smile grew in to a big smirk.

'Obliterate them.'