Nobody seemed to have anything for Harry to do after lunch, Snape had rushed off who knows where, after a brief meal, with instructions to Harry to stay out of trouble, so Harry did what he usually did on a Sunday just afternoon.
It might seem odd, but Harry was accustomed to having a detention every Sunday afternoon. Every week, Professor McGonagall caught him out of bounds at some point, and every week Harry found himself in her office, cleaning.
Really it was a bit of an excuse. Harry would make an effort to tidy the place up a little while McGonagall marked students' work. When they were both finished, they usually chatted a bit. Often about quiddich or what was going on in lessons. McGonagall occasionally told him stories about his parents or the Marauders or about any of the hundreds of students she had taught.
He was a bit apprehensive this time. He didn't know if she was going to be in her office, she could be somewhere else – she certainly had no reason to be expecting him. What if she had somebody else there for detention?
Harry stood staring at her office door for a long minute, trying to decide if he should knock or not.
The door opened and McGonagall peered out, jumping when she saw Harry standing right there.
"Potter, I had thought- Well, given everything-"
She sighed, collecting her thoughts and beginning again. "Would you like to come in? The kettle has just boiled."
Harry smiled and nodded, following her back into the office. She ushered him into a chair, sorting out a pot of tea as she went.
"Now, I know you've had the staff to talk to every day. But I want to know how you are really getting on."
About an hour later, Harry left McGonagall's office with a smile on his face and a biscuit in his pocket. He really did like McGonagall. She was loyal to a fault and could be fiercely protective too. He grinned when he remembered her reaction to him diving off into the great unknown yesterday. And he was touched by how concerned she was for him about what had happened this morning too. She had also promised to help look for Harry's attackers.
Harry shifted his bookbag on his shoulder, conscious of how heavy it was with all of the textbooks he had been lugging around with him. That reminded him of something else which was strange. It had been so uncharacteristically nice of Snape to bring the bag up to him in the hospital wing. Mind you, a lot of what Snape had done over the past few days was uncharacteristic.
He had been suspiciously nice to Harry, to the point that the boy suspected him of being under Polyjuice potion, he had actively sought out Harry's help on a project he had obviously been thinking about for a long time, and he hadn't blasted Harry into oblivion this morning when he had been disturbed before 5am.
All in all, Harry felt that he was lucky to have survived the past few days, let alone have Snape delivering his personal effects and investigating on his behalf.
Harry headed towards the library, hand ready on his wand in his pocket in case he came across any more problems. He hoped he could find some information on how to add sound to illusions, which would help him in his next teaching class, and anything which might be even remotely linked to his Herbology essay (It was due Monday morning and Harry had been stuck on it all weekend). Harry also slightly hoped that he might run into Hermione there. It would be good to see that she was okay after the chamber, he hadn't forgotten the shock she had gotten when her feet had become stuck to the floor of the Chamber of Secrets.
The library was fairly busy, as it usually was on a Sunday afternoon when every student realised they had wasted most of the weekend without doing any work. The half of the school which was more studious (or more stressed about exams) actually did something about this in the afternoon. Those who were more like Ron, reached peak stress at 8 o'clock and did their homework for the next day late into the night. Students were especially behind this week due to the unexpected volume of detentions everyone had had. McGonagall told Harry the staff had given the students leave from detentions at 4 o'clock today so that they could do something about this (McGonagall had passed the students she was responsible for onto Hagrid and Professor Vector).
Fortunately, it was far enough before the exams that the looming terror was instead only an occasional worry, and there was still a handful of good desks. Harry dumped his bag onto one of these and went off to gather all of the books that looked slightly promising, telling himself that he could take a break later by returning the ones he didn't need.
While making a pile of less and less likely Herbology books, Harry spotted Hermione watching him from an armchair where she was taking notes out of a huge, dusty book. He waved in what he thought was a friendly way, almost losing control of his book-stack as he did. He decided then that he probably had enough to be getting on with and took them back to his table, sitting down heavily. He was only starting to skim through the Herbology books, when the chair next to him was pulled out gently, and he was joined by Hermione.
Harry looked up, expecting her to speak, but she just gave him a small smile and started to sort out her things. He shrugged to himself and kept on at what he was doing.
Four books later, Harry let out a (quiet) triumphant shout. Hermione looked up at him and raised an eyebrow.
"Sorry," He grinned, "I just found the book that Professor Sprout must have been thinking of when she came up with the essay homework. I didn't think I'd be this lucky, I'll shut up now."
Hermione reached over and lifted the front cover carefully so that she could see the title of the book. She was careful to not lose the page – with magical books, you could never be absolutely certain that the information would still be there when you opened it back up again.
"Classification of Non-tradable Substances of the 18th Century?" Hermione looked totally baffled. "Why on earth did you pick this up?"
"Honestly, I picked up anything that I thought might help." Harry gestured at the enormous pile of books in front of him. "I saw the twins buy a load of Snargluff pods off Dung last year at headquarters, and they said something about it. I hit dead ends everywhere else. I think I must have fallen asleep for that part of the class."
Hermione looked equally impressed and exasperated. "Honestly, how can you possibly remember that, and not something from class last week?"
Harry grinned and shrugged, "I dunno, but it'd be good for an auror though, right?"
Hermione couldn't help but smile. "Could I borrow it when you're done, please? I finished the essay the other day, but it would be a good idea to mention something about the regulations as well. I'm sure if I write it out again, smaller, then I can keep it within the parchment limit."
"Course you can. It's full of references too, Sprout'll love it. Wonder why everyone's so obsessed with Snargaluff at the moment. What're you up to?" Harry craned his neck to look at the book. And was surprised when Hermione enacted the cardinal sin of closing the book totally. Hermione looked a little surprised at herself too.
She blushed a little, "Sorry, Harry. It's a book for that extra thing Professor Snape said I could do – about why dark spells are classed as that and how it all has to do with emotion. It's from the restricted section, and he would only sign the permission form if I promised that I wouldn't let you read it."
"Professor Snape said that?" Harry frowned.
"Yes. Well, you know what he can be like. He didn't say anything about me telling you about it though, Harry. If you wanted-"
Madame Pince shot them a look as she glided past, putting away books.
"Sorry, Hermione. But it's okay, really. If Professor Snape said that I shouldn't read about that stuff, then I think I should follow the spirit of the instructions, rather than the letter. He is actually trying to help."
Hermione nodded, "That's… very mature of you, Harry. I shouldn't have assumed you would- I mean usually-"
"It's fine, normally I probably would have been a bit mad about it. But the teachers have got their reasons for doing things, you know? I've been spending a lot of time around them." He frowned, "Apart from Dumbledore, I'm still trying to figure him out at the moment."
"Don't forget about us though," Hermione said, "I know everything is mad right now, but it's important that you spend some time with us where we can actually talk. But I know that you're busy."
"I didn't want to get in the way," Harry said, sheepishly. "I wasn't sure how everyone would react to everything and I didn't want to make everything more difficult for you or Ron."
She paused for a moment thinking, "It's been such a strange few days, and some people have been really cross about the whole thing. Half of Gryffindor still won't talk to me because I went to Professor McGonagall about the fight."
"I can guess," Harry said wryly. He explained quickly what had happened to him in the morning to Hermione's shock.
"Oh, but that's awful!" She exclaimed. "It's good that the professors are going to do something about it though."
Hermione was silent for a good minute for a minute, "I've got it – how we can spend more time together. Are you still going to take the potions NEWT? Even though you can't be in the class?"
"I was thinking about it." Harry said, cautiously.
"Well we have some free periods at the same time still, what about meeting to brew? You would have to do it anyway, Professor Slughorn says that I need practice actually making and adjusting potions, and students aren't allowed to brew by themselves anyway. And Ron could come if he wanted to- he's having a nap at the moment since we had to get up early for detentions."
"I suppose that would work." Harry said. "Would the staff be okay with it?"
"They've never said we couldn't." Hermione said, "You could check with Professor Snape, since you're getting on so well."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I can just see the look on his face- 'Potter if I had known that you wanted to suffocate yourself in Expanding Solution, I would have left you to it as a second year.'"
"It's worth a try though." Hermione said.
"Why are you asking me?" Snape said, baffled. He looked totally confused as to how he had managed to sit down for dinner between the two teenagers at the staff table. Especially at the weekend, when he did his absolute best to be as child-free as possible.
Harry could hear Professor Sprout chuckling from the chair at his other side. He blocked that out, deciding that he definitely should have waited to catch the man on his way to supervising the junior school preparation.
"Well, Sir, you were Potions Master here for over a decade. You did teach me for the last five years, and you are very… well versed in the rules of the school."
"And Professor Slughorn has a minor conniption every time Potter's name is mentioned." Malfoy added, not looking their way.
Harry blinked, surprised that he felt no anger towards the Slytherin. "That too. And the headmaster shows up whenever I get within ten yards of Professor Slughorn."
"And you are still avoiding him?" Snape said, trying to embarrass Harry into shutting up.
"Yeah, pretty much." Harry agreed.
"And doesn't Miss Granger know?"
"Nope, it was her idea to ask you actually. But at the time she was distracting me from asking about some book that you don't want me to read."
"Potter, I couldn't care less-"
"Don't worry, I didn't even ask her what the title was."
Snape sighed, looking gloomily at the chicken he had been trying to enjoy in peace. He was as surprised as Harry when Draco leaned forward.
"Potter, you are allowed to brew within an unused potions classroom, as long as a resident potions master is aware you are doing so at that time, and they are happy that you have satisfied all safety requirements and are capable enough to attempt the brews you are planning. And you have to purchase the ingredients yourself and arrange for their safe storage."
Harry stared at the blond boy. "Thanks, Malfoy."
"Don't mention it." He muttered, turning back to his plate. Harry caught a glimpse of a web of pale lines running across the skin of the boy's neck, down towards his collarbone.
"Jesus- is that-"
Malfoy looked up and saw where Harry was looking, he flinched, then grimaced. "Ah- definitely don't mention that." He said quickly. He pulled the collar of his robes up to cover more of his neck.
"Sorry," Harry said, horrified and guilty.
Snape growled, pushing back his chair and standing up. "If you two imbeciles are not going to stop talking, then I am going to get some actual work done."
Malfoy glanced up in slight panic, but saw Harry rolling his eyes and calmed a little. Snape nodded to them both and left them to their food.
Harry thought about starting a conversation with Malfoy, but decided that it was Malfoy's right to not have to talk to him if he didn't want to. So he focussed on eating his way through the pile of sweet waffles that he had mistaken for potato ones.
"Merlin, if you don't want to eat them, Potter, you don't have to. You look like someone is forcing them down your throat."
Harry stopped his process of washing the waffles systematically with large mouthfuls of pumpkin juice.
"Sorry," he said, "Force of habit. I put it on my plate, so…"
"Muggles have weird customs." Draco sniffed.
Harry looked at him, incredulous, "I think it's more of a not wasting food thing, than a muggle thing, to be honest."
Malfoy thought about that for a second, before glancing down at the emptying house tables, where you could see Justin Finch-Fletchley's plate was piled with half finished food, and Ginny Weasley, taking half a slice of bread so that she could finish the food on her plate.
Malfoy lost his look of arrogance for a second, turning thoughtful, and Harry was vividly reminded of Narcissa Malfoy, and felt a twinge in his insides.
"Your muggles are poor?" Draco asked sharply.
Harry raised an eyebrow at him. "Did I say that?" he asked. He glanced at his watch, having noticed that the tables were much emptier of younger students than he had expected.
"I have to go. I'm watching some of the little kids for prep time while Professor Snape is in charge of it. Good luck with teaching tomorrow- you have your first class, don't you?"
Malfoy nodded, suspiciously. "Yes, I am teaching the third year classes."
"Have fun with it then- it's pretty cool trying new stuff out. It really confuses the professors too. Imagine Professor McGonagall's face if you played a game with them." Harry jumped out of his seat and started out towards the library again.
"So that's why he does it." Professor Sprout muttered to her mashed potato. "It's to drive Severus mad."
Malfoy managed to not look at her like she was totally crazy and he counted that as a success.
He heard a familiar hoot, and looked up in time to see his eagle owl emerge through one of the high windows of the Great Hall. He swallowed nervously. It had been about a week since he had last sent a letter to his mother. After the fight, Dumbledore had told him not to. It seemed she had taken matters into her own hands. His owl dropped the letter and perched on the table expectantly. Draco reached out to flip the letter over, to see his name on the front, and was prevented by jumping when there was a flash of light and a piece of parchment appeared in in front of him.
Mr Malfoy, I would like to see you at your convenience in my office. Please bring any mail you may receive with you, I advise you see me prior to opening any correspondence.
Draco frowned at the note, sweeping it to the side to reach his letter. Dumbledore had said that there might be trouble, but that there would be a few days at least before Draco had to decide anything. Draco wished he could find Snape instead. He picked up the envelope and glanced at his name on the front, prepared to tear it open and to hell with Dumbledore, when his hands thought faster than his brain and dropped it.
Just his name, simple and elegant and neatly written. But so wrong. He knew his mother's handwriting so well, she had sent him a letter every day in his first year. This wasn't it. This handwriting he had only seen over the course of the last winter, as his aunt had dutifully tried to tutor him in spells he might need to complete his task.
Suddenly, having someone nearby when he opened the letter seemed like a much more appealing prospect.
Harry had detoured past his bedroom and dropped off all of the books he didn't need imminently. The snake guardian had fallen asleep already by the time he left, with fifteen minutes to spare before he needed to be at the library. Somewhat anxiously, he walked out past the Defence classroom, wondering if Snape had made any progress in finding whoever had attacked Harry.
The stairs were busy now, all of the remaining students heading up from dinner to either detention or the library for the older students, or the little kids to preparation, to do their homework for that week's classes.
There were streams of students shuffling past each other in all directions. Apart from on one of the landings, just a little way down from the one Harry was watching from. It was strange enough for Harry to go take a closer look, and as he got closer to the small group of students, he realised why.
It was odd for different year groups to mingle in Hogwarts, especially when those students were from different houses. On this landing, there was two Ravenclaw seventh year students; a boy and a girl, and two Slytherin boys, Harry recognised them as two of his second years, Etienne Zabini and Barnabas Granville. They seemed to be having an argument, and the Slytherins drew their wands suddenly, not having seen Harry coming towards them behind the Ravenclaws. Before Harry could say anything to any of them, the Ravenclaw boy laughed and leaned over to simply snatch the wand out of one of their hands, he pointed this at the other Slytherin.
"Go on then, try your best. I bet I can do better with this than you can with yours." He challenged.
"Luckily, neither of you needs to try." Harry said firmly, pushing past the Ravenclaws to stand between them. He stared at the 7th years, who eyed him coolly, but didn't move. Harry left his wand firmly in his pocket and thought furiously about what to do if one of the students did something stupid.
"Potter, you got out of the Hospital wing fast." He heard from behind him.
"I'm resilient, Etienne." He said dryly, not turning around. He mostly trusted the boy to not curse him or the Ravenclaw, and he couldn't say that for the older boy. Between the heads of the two Ravenclaw students, he saw Dennis Creevey running down the stairs, "Dennis!"
The Gryffindor's head spun as he looked around for the source of his name, he spotted the five of them easily enough and hurried over. "Harry?"
"Dennis, run over to the library and fetch Professor Snape. If he isn't there, go to charms for Flitwick."
Dennis nodded, eyes wide and set off at a run.
The Ravenclaw boy sneered at Harry. "Always send little kids off to do the work for you, Potter?"
The girl beside him laughed mockingly, "And if they don't do what you want, then you just run for Snape these days, isn't that right?"
Harry raised an eyebrow at the pair of them, "At least I don't go around picking fights with little kids."
"They drew their wands first, Potter. That's a challenge in duelling terms."
"Not at school, it isn't." Harry said firmly.
The boy snorted, "Hypocrite."
"We wouldn't have got our wands out if they hadn't stopped us first." Granville said from behind him. Harry thought he was being rather stupid for someone without a wand. "They were threatening us, said that if we said anything to Snape then we'd have to watch ourselves on the staircase too."
The Ravenclaw's eyes hardened and Harry felt a knot in his stomach. It looked like these four students knew quite a lot about Harry's accident this morning. He fought to not look nervous and wished for the first time that he had his wand in his hand instead of going for the peaceful option. Or that he had a trick up his sleeve. He hoped they wouldn't consider using the confundus charm on him and the second years, but with the resolve he could see in their eyes, he suspected they might even attempt Obliviate.
Second years were idiots, he thought.
"Second years are idiots," The girl said. "Or maybe that's just everyone who spends time with your pet Death Eater Snape?"
"Don't you say anything about him!" Zabini spat. Harry threw out his arm behind himself to stop the boy from raising his wand. "He's better than your head of house- Flitwick can't even tell when his students are out trying to murder someone. And he had to be woken up from his afternoon nap when you idiots started a riot in his corridor."
"That will do, Mr Zabini," A familiar voice startled them all. "You are being a little harsh. After all, Professor Flitwick was technically at choir rehearsal."
They all spun to see Professor Snape standing on the staircase just above them, Dennis Creevey standing wide-eyed and breathless behind him.
"Wands down," He barked, "Roth, return Granville's wand before you drop it. Zabini, put yours away before I confiscate it, and Potter-"
Snape stared at Harry for a second, as the boy waited for the inevitable insult. Snape looked slightly surprised though, presumably because Harry's wand hadn't left its pocket.
"Potter, would you escort my students upstairs? It seems I will need you to take all of the first and second years. You can manage that? It is a Sunday, so they may leave when they show you their completed work."
Harry blinked back at him for a moment, surprised that that was it.
"Yes sir." He nodded. He finally looked at Granville and Zabini and beckoned to them to follow him. Zabini hesitated.
"Professor, did you hear that they-"
"Yes, I will deal with it."
Zabini nodded, a little less tense now.
Turning a corner, Harry was happy to get away from the confrontation on the landing.
"So how did you know it was them this morning?" Harry asked them, curious. "You weren't there were you?"
He didn't think they could have been – he would have hoped that they could have found a Professor sooner than he had.
"No, we left dinner early." Granville hesitated. "We were playing hide and seek to be honest. Grand staircase rules. I was behind the wall, it's got spyholes there. Etti snuck up behind me, and I might've shouted, and they caught us back where the passage meets the staircase."
"We would have been fine if you hadn't shouted," Etienne said, a little sulkily.
"Don't worry about it guys, Snape'll sort it out." Harry said, hoping to avoid an argument. He tried to think of something more light-hearted to talk about.
"I heard you caught the snitch yesterday." He said to Granville, who looked pretty upset. "Madame Hooch told me- she sounded pretty impressed."
Zabini nodded, still solemn. "Yeah, Barny's wicked fast at catching."
"I'd make a terrible chaser though," Granville said, miserably. "I can't even hold onto my own wand."
"That's not a problem." Harry said, reassuringly, to two scornful looks. "I'm serious, you need a loose grip for most spells, if you get too worried about losing it, then you really won't be any use."
"I'm even more useless without my wand." The boy pointed out.
"So practice a shield charm." Harry said, "Everyone should be able to cast one fast enough to deflect an Expelliarmus, it's one of the slowest spells out there."
"That's still not going to help if they just pull it out of my hand."
"Ah. Well - you want to know exactly what to do if that happens again?" Harry asked.
Granville looked confused, and Zabini shrugged at him, clueless.
"Just punch them in the nose," Harry laughed. The boys stared at him for a second and then laughed too. "I'm serious. Wizards never expect it. They'll do what that Ravenclaw hippo did and stand there with it, jeering at you. Punch them in the nose and they'll probably drop it."
Granville chuckled. "It's a shame though- I probably can't reach his nose."
Harry nodded, seriously. "That is a problem. I suppose you'll just have to knee him real hard, then punch him in the nose when he keels over."
"Best defence advice ever." Zabini said, looking decidedly happier.
They reached the study room, from which they could hear a quiet chatter. The noise died down instantly as Harry opened the door. It took the wide-eyed students a moment to realise that it was Harry there, and it not Snape returning. A few of them sighed with relief.
Zabini and Granville were still half-chuckling as they came in and made their ways to their seats, and this seemed to make the other students relax too, going back to their conversations. Harry let this continue while he made his way to the dais and set up his things at the table, but there was no sign of the conversations subsiding, even as he sat looking out at them.
Harry thought that he had been lucky in his experiences so far, none of his classes had rioted, nobody had been blown up, or turned into something unpleasant in a complicated transfiguration incident. But he had yet to deal with the crazed masses of the entire assembled first and second years.
After a moment of internal panic about how to get their attention, Harry stood up again and walked slowly to stand in front of his desk. Luckily Granville and Zabini noticed him getting up, and they shushed the Slytherins they were sitting with. The Ravenclaws, not to be outdone, fell silent quickly, and Harry saw one of them snatch a book off Emily Jacks, and hide it under one of their own textbooks. The Gryffindor and Hufflepuff first years seemed to be having a spitball battle with some straws Harry suspected had been bought from the Weasley twins, but eventually they noticed that the even their housemates were silent, and they lowered their weapons to look at Harry too.
Harry cleared his throat and folded his arms – feeling awkward with all the attention, but feeling determined to not show it.
"Professor Snape is a bit caught up at the moment, so he can't be here. But unfortunately, you still have to get your homework done." Harry smiled down at them, feeling a bit like Professor Lupin "You can talk between yourselves, but you have to finish your work. When you are done, come and show me, and you have the rest of your evening free. I'd suggest you get everything done quickly. And I'm warning you, I will keep you here until curfew if you don't get done."
They stared up at him, expressions ranging from grouchy to carefree.
"And you can ask for advice, of course." He finished somewhat lamely. There was a knock at the door as he finished and Harry jumped down from the dais to answer it, instead of walking the long way around to the stairs. He waved at the students as he walked past- to usher them towards their books and was relieved to see that they started.
Opening the door to the corridor, Harry was surprised to see Draco Malfoy standing there, looking anxious.
"Can I…help?" Harry asked.
Malfoy folded his arms, and then unfolded them again very quickly. Slouching a little, with one hand elegantly in his pocket. He reminded Harry a little of Sirius, a kind of practiced dishevelment.
"Need any help, Potter?"
Harry felt his eyebrows shoot up, and brought them under control.
"If you like." He nodded, surprised by the offer. He wondered if Malfoy had been told anything about Harry's dream the night before.
Harry grabbed a chair from one of the student tables and sat next to Malfoy at the top table, both working on essays. It seemed Harry had barely started writing about illusions (he had decided to kill two birds with one stone by writing about his own research for classes, to fit Flitwick's essay prompt), when a queue had formed of questions.
Three students waited, two second years- a Hufflepuff Harry did not know the name of, and the clumsy Gryffindor Goodwin, and a first year.
"What subject?" Harry asked, thinking it would be better to screen them first.
Harry glanced at Malfoy, who sighed deeply.
"I will take the History, you take Herbology, and first finished takes Charms?" Malfoy offered.
"Deal!" Harry's OWL result for History of Magic had been Dreadful, which he felt gave him no right to help anyone with History, even if he had passed out and given up halfway through the exam.
Harry turned to Goodwin, with her Herbology question. As luck would have it, it was about Mandrakes, a lesson that Harry had actually paid attention to, and which had come up again last year, and in potions.
Harry suspected that the students ended up taking slightly longer than they would have done if Snape had been taking preparation, but they all seemed to get enough finished fast enough to leave before curfew. The final student was Emily Jacks, who had been having an argument with Malfoy for about twenty minutes about apparition and red shoes, and flying monkeys. But eventually even she was dragged away by a bored housemate.
Malfoy pinched the bridge of his nose in a move which was very reminiscent of Snape. Harry chuckled.
"It's not just me that thinks she's absolutely mad then?" Harry said.
Malfoy looked up quickly, seeming to just notice that him and Harry were alone.
"Erm, no. She is insane." Malfoy flinched at the word, and there was an uncomfortable silence. Harry used it to pack his things away.
Harry was just fastening his bag when Malfoy made a strangled noise. Harry looked up at the other boy, who had made no move to pack up, and was fidgeting with a quill.
"Potter," He hesitated, scratching at the desk, "I wanted to ask – my mother…" Malfoy trailed off.
"I know" Harry said sympathetically. Instead of the reaction Harry had been expecting, Malfoy's eyes met his, wide with panic.
"Wait – you know what? I don't know anything!"