Authors Note: Guess who's back! Sorry for the delay folks but here is the new chapter up and ready to go! Thank you oh so much to all of the lovely people who reviewed. We got 17 on the last chapter. Maybe we could get 17 again? That would be cool.

I know I said we were getting into the nice juicy angsty stuff this chapter, but everyone wanted a piece of the spotlight this time and it got to be waaaaaaay too long so I had to find a place to cut it. On the bright side though, if angst is your thing, that is the entirety of the next chapter, so there is that to look forward to. As always, let me know what you think! I love hearing from you guys.

Also, I've gotten a few reviews over the last few chapters informing me that Harry is "permanently unavailable". Should I know what this means? I really am confused on this matter.


As requested, since I have taken a little while to update this, a quick recap from the previous chapter:

Chapter 22: A bunch of students go flying since it's actually nice out. Dementors are attracted to all of the happy emotions and Harry falls. Remus wards off the dementors with as patronus and Harry comes out of it alright, but his broom was destroyed. Severus get's all sweetly protective and calls Harry 'my boy.' Ron trys to be supportive of Harry and has Harry teach him his meditation skills. Blaise is back being an adorable prat and disturbing Harry in the library and is upset because how can they possibly be friends if Harry doesn't even have a quidditch team he supports?


"GET THAT CAT!"

"DON'T TOUCH HIM!"

"HERMIONE!"

"I MEAN IT RON. GET AWAY FROM HIM!"

"SCABBERS!"

"CROOKSHANKS!"

Harry watched in bemused silence as his two friends chased their pets around the common room. After their last row about it, Harry had decided to stay out of it. They could work out this issue on their own. Finally Hermione lunged and caught the cat, allowing Ron to scoop up his poor rat from behind the bookshelf.

"Can we get on to breakfast now please?"

Harry's question seemed to go unheard as the other two continued to glare at each other.

"Keep that beast away from my poor Scabbers."

"He's not a beast! He's a cat Ron, what do you expect? They chase rats. Keep your rat away from Crooks."

"I'm serious! I'm starving over here."

"Scabbers has been around for a lot longer than that thing. And he's old! He deserves a quiet, restful life."

"Then keep him in a quiet, restful cage! I'm not locking up Crooks just for being a cat!"

"That's it!" Harry huffed.

He hopped down from his perch on the arm of the sofa, grabbing Ron's arm and roughly pulling him towards the portrait hole. He would have grabbed Hermione as well, but he knew that she would hex his hand off if he tried. An angry Hermione was best left to herself.

Harry led a still grumbling Ron out of the portrait hole and Hermione followed after them, placing a kiss on her cat's nose before setting him on the ground and shutting the portrait before he could follow them out. Harry was grateful that both Hermione and Ron seemed to have dropped their argument for now. He hated getting between the two but they had been arguing more and more recently about their stupid pets. He was happy that Hedwig didn't cause any trouble.

"Have you looked at that broom catalogue yet Harry?"

"Not yet Ron. I just broke my broom, just give me some time."

"Your first game is in less than a week Harry, you don't have much time."

"I get it mate, really I do, but I have to agree with Hermione here. You need to order a new broom soon if you want it to get here in time for your game. No one is going to be happy if we get walloped because you are on a school broom."

Harry waved them off as they entered the great hall. The truth was that he had looked through the catalogue and had narrowed it down to the new Firebolt or a Nimbus 2002, he just didn't want to talk about it. He would choose tonight and ask Severus how to withdraw enough money from his account to pay for it. The coins that his guardian had let him take from his vault at the beginning of the year wouldn't cover it.

The trio sat down at their usual spots at the Gryffindor table and the boys immediately tucked in. Hermione withdrew a textbook and propped it up in front of her before filling her own plate. Near the end of the breakfast hour conversations were interrupted by the rustling of hundreds of owls flooding into the Great Hall to deliver mail. Harry didn't even bother to glance up. He rarely got mail and when he did, it was from Hermione's mum but he had just sent a letter last night so he wasn't expecting a response yet.

"Uhh Harry, I thought you said you hadn't looked at a new broom yet?"

"I haven't" Harry waved Ron off dismissively, engrossed in the Daily Prophet he had snagged from Hermione.

"Then are you sure you didn't order one in your sleep?"

"What are you talking-"

Harry cut himself off as he finally looked up and saw what Ron was on about. Two large owls were carrying a distinctly broom-shaped package through the window and were headed straight towards the Gryffindor table. Maybe someone else had ordered a broom? That was ridiculous though. Why would anyone not on the team need to order a new broom once the school year had already started.

His musing was cut off when the birds swooped down, releasing the parcel a few feet above the table, Ron and Harry both scrambling to catch it before it landed in the food. They scanned the parcel for a note or a card attached to it, but the only thing on it was 'Harry Potter' scrawled on the brown wrapping.

Harry glanced up towards the head table, looking for the amused smirk Severus wore when he gave Harry a gift that he obviously liked. His guardian wasn't there though. Many of the rest of the staff were talking amongst themselves and glancing towards Harry curiously.

"Well, are you going to open it or what?"

"Oi Harry! Is that your new broom? Which one did you get?"

The twins were approaching from further along the table and Harry could see Wood get up to join them. He quickly turned to rip off the paper and had to stifle his awe at the gleaming handle of the Firebolt. He figured even if it was from Severus he should pretend he bought it himself to avoid suspicion. He didn't have to say much though because the boys started instantly fawning over the new broom.

"Are you going to take it out for a ride?"

"Yeah, you have to Harry!"

"Blimey, a Firebolt!"

"Come on, you still have a bit before classes start!"

Harry quickly agreed and the boys hollered and made a dash out of the hall, eager to see the new broom in action. Harry got up to follow but was stopped by a hand on his arm.

"Harry wait! You don't know who gave that to you. You can't seriously be going out to ride it."

"It's probably from Severus, Hermione. Who else would get me a broom?"

"Seriously Harry? A mad man broke out of prison specifically to kill you. Maybe he sent it to you and it's cursed or something."

"Don't be stupid," Ron scoffed. "Come on Harry, the boys are waiting."

Apparently their spat from earlier wasn't as forgotten as Harry had thought. He gave a shrug to an affronted looking Hermione before being dragged out of the Hall. They went out to the sloping front lawns where the rest of the boys were waiting anxiously. Nobody else was out this early in the morning so Harry didn't bother going all the way to the quidditch pitch. He hesitated only a moment before climbing onto the broom. Surely Hermione was off her rocker. What mass murderer would send him a broom as a scheme to kill him? How would he even buy one? It's not like he could just walk into the shop and buy it.

Giving himself a mental shake, Harry cleared his head and pushed off from the ground. The broom hummed under his hands and he could feel his grin widen as he flew some cautious circles over the lawn. The broom seemed to know exactly what he wanted it to do and responded to the slightest touch. When he was sure he had gotten the hang of how to control it, he leaned forward and sped off across the grounds. The speed was amazing, much faster than his old broom. He climbed higher before diving down fast, corkscrewing the entire way down. He pulled a few more stunts before catching sight of Professor McGonagall standing on the front steps. He slowed down and flew lazily towards her, hovering so they were eye level with each other. His head of house shook her head before giving him a small smile.

"It looks like defending our title won't be hard with a broom like that Mr. Potter. You picked a good broom."

"Oh I didn't get this one myself."

"Oh? Who is it from?"

"Severus I think. Who else would it be?"

"Why wouldn't Severus give it to you directly?" she asked with a frown.

"I don't know. I figured it was to be less suspicious where I got it from?"

"Hmm I see. Well perhaps you should be sure before you fly it again, yes? You do have a dangerous man looking for you Harry."

"Yes ma'am." Harry said, trying not to roll his eyes. Girls worried too much, he decided.

"Very well then." She turned to address the rest of the boys approaching from the front lawn. "You lot better get inside and get ready for class before you are late. I won't have my Gryffindor's losing house points because they are tardy."

There was a chime of 'yes ma'am's from the group and they all filed inside. Harry and Ron rushed up to Gryffindor Tower to drop off the new broom and gather their books for class before meeting Hermione in Charms. She gave them a scathing look before turning back to her own textbooks, which the boys dutifully ignored. She would get over it eventually.

Classes that day passed by fairly quickly, Hermione studiously ignoring them the whole time. They didn't have potions on Wednesdays so he didn't get a chance to see Severus but he planned on visiting after dinner anyways. The last class of the day was Defense Against the Dark Arts and Harry waved his friends along when they stopped to wait for him to pack up.

"Is there something I can do for you Harry?"

Harry glanced around to make sure no one else was still in the room and huffed a big breath.

"Yeah, actually. There was something I've been meaning to talk to you about."

"Ask away my boy."

"Well, it's just… you made the dementors go away, right? That's what Hermione said. You made the one on the train go away and I saw something silver when I was falling. That was the same thing Hermione saw wasn't it?"

"Yes, I suppose it was," Professor Lupin hesitated. "But Harry, I already told you, it's a very difficult spell."

"I know that, and I know that there is a chance that I won't be able to do it ever, but could you at least try to teach me? I could just practice and practice and maybe one day I could do it! I need something, Professor, please."

Harry tried to put on his best puppy-dog eyes for the defense professor, the one that made even Severus soften up sometimes.

"Alright then. But it will take a lot of work. Don't be disappointed if you don't get it right off the start."

"Yes sir,"

"Do you have a minute now? We can go over the basics if you would like."

Harry excitedly agreed and Professor Lupin walked him through the wand motion and incantation which Harry practiced a few times until Lupin was satisfied he had the right form.

"Very good Harry. Now, the tricky part of this spell is the mental side of it. While casting you have to think of your happiest memory. The stronger the memory, the stronger the spell. It's not enough to just think of it though. You have to feel it, to really bask in the feeling. It's that positive energy that's at the core of this spell."

Harry nodded and closed his eyes, racking his brain for a happy memory that might work. Perhaps flying? That always made him happy. He tried to imagine the feeling of flying, the feel of the wood under his hands, the wind through his hair, the warmth of the sun on his face. He tried to picture flying above the quidditch pitch.

"Good, now hold onto that feeling and try the spell."

Harry did as he was told and tried not to feel disappointed when nothing happened. Not even the dimmest spark to show for his efforts. He tried again and again over the next two hours, trying a variety of different memories to no avail. Professor Lupin eventually called him off of it.

"That's okay Harry. We will keep practicing. You might not be able to do it for a few years yet. Just keep practicing, alright?"

"Yes, sir." Harry panted out. "Thank you for teaching me."

"Don't even mention my boy. Oh Merlin, would you look at that! We've completely missed dinner. I'll call us up some food."

"That's alright Professor. Ron and Hermione are going to be wondering where I am. I was supposed to be working on transfiguration with them."

Harry quickly waved off Lupin's concerns and slipped from the room, making his way down to the dungeons. Dinner was going to end in a few minutes and now was the best time to go to their quarters without anyone noticing.

He arrived to find the quarters empty. Severus was probably still at dinner but Harry was sure he would be there soon. Grabbing one of his Auror Andrews books from the bookshelf he made himself comfortable on the couch, but barely got through a chapter before Severus arrived. His guardian didn't even say anything when he walked in through the front door, but instead went straight through to his office, coming back a few minutes later with a vial that Harry suspected held a nutrition potion.

"I would think you would have a very good reason for missing dinner?"

"I would think you would have a very good reason for missing breakfast?" Harry quipped back.

"Mr. Potter."

"Sorry, sir. I didn't mean for that to come out so rude. I honestly just lost track of time. I was practicing some spell work and got caught up in it. Do I really have to take the potion Severus? If you call up some food for me, I'll eat it!"

Severus scrutinized him for a few moments before finally nodding and Harry smiled. He knew his guardian was just worried about him, but he was really doing better than when he first appeared at Snape Manor. He had grown a few inches and was no longer shorter than Hermione, and he had gained enough weight that his ribs didn't stick out so sharply against his chest. Severus called on a house elf and within a few minutes, a large helping of shepherd's pie with a side of roasted vegetables was sitting in front of Harry.

"Really Severus? There's vegetables in the pie!"

"You haven't been eating enough vegetables, just eat it."

Harry made a show of wrinkling his nose but tucked in anyways. Severus merely rolled his eyes and waved his wand to get a pot of tea boiling.

"I wanted to thank you for the broom Severus! It flies great!"

"Excuse me? Were you snooping in my room Mr. Potter?"

Severus leveled Harry with a cool look and Harry's fork froze halfway to his mouth, a confused frown on his face.

"No?"

"Then how do you know about the broom?"

"Uhhh, you sent it to me during morning post?"

Severus rose to his feet and stalked quickly to his room, emerging with a brand new Nimbus 2002, a large green bow attached to the handle

"Wow," Harry murmured in awe. He rose from his seat and approached Severus, who was smiling softly at Harry. "This is a wicked broom"

Severus held it out and Harry snatched it from his hands. He held it out and dropped it, watching as the auto hover kicked in immediately. The handle was a glossy smooth rose wood with Nimbus 2002 embossed in black near the front. The twigs were hand chosen and perfectly uniform, not a single one out of place. Finally pulling himself away from the broom, Harry grinned widely up at his guardian and quickly hugged him around the middle.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Severus barely had time to react before Harry pulled back again and turned to the broom, placing it carefully in the corner where it wouldn't get knocked around.

"You're welcome child. When Slytherin beats you, I want it to be because we are better than you Gryffindors, not because you are on a shoddy school broom."

"In your dreams. Gryffindor is going to kick butt again this year like usual."

Severus rolled his eyes once more and ruffled Harry's already messy hair before turning serious once more.

"Now what about this other broom? Where did it come from?"

"I don't know. I thought you sent it to be honest. It came with the morning post."

"There wasn't a note or anything with it?"

"No, just my name on the wrapping."

"Wait. You said it flies great? You rode it without knowing who it's from?"

"Yes?" Harry replied meekly.

Severus growled and leveled Harry with a disbelieving look.

"Where is it?"

"In my dorm on my bed."

"Quinly! Quickly, go fetch the broom from Harry's bed. Be careful of any curses that might be on it."

"It's fine Severus! I already rode it."

"Yes and even I didn't think you were such a dunderhead. What part of dangerous felon after you don't you understand? One man already tried harming you by cursing your broom, I wouldn't put it past another."

Quinly popped back in the room, broom in hand. Severus thanked the elf, immediately focusing on the broom. He muttered under his breath and waved his wand in intricate patterns. What he was looking for, Harry wasn't sure but Severus' frown only grew as he worked. Harry threw his guardian a glare while he wasn't looking and slumped back down in his chair, returning to his dinner. Severus was being ridiculous! It was a broom for Merlin's sake. There were much more straightforward ways of killing him, he was sure.

After a few minutes of muttering spells, Severus huffed and stalked to the fireplace, tossing in a pinch of floo powder and sticking his head in. He emerged a few minutes later, and Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick followed a few moments later.

"What did you get up to now Mr. Potter?" his head of house asked with a suspicious look at the boy.

"Oi! I'm not always in trouble!" Harry complained.

Severus ruffled his hair and placed a cup of tea down beside his dinner plate. Harry felt a small smile tug at his lips at the gesture and his irritation simmered down.

"No, we might want to mark this down in history, the day Harry Potter didn't stir up any trouble." Severus teased. "But in all seriousness, I need your assistance. Harry received this broom from an unknown person. I'm worried it's part of a ploy to hurt Harry. I ran some basic tests but they didn't turn up anything. Anything more intensive will require to strip down the charms but I figured that would be a job best left to you Filius."

"What! You can't do that! It's a Firebolt!"

"Quiet Harry." Severus shushed.

"I think that's wise Severus." Flitwick agreed. "There's no telling these days. It will take some time though, if you want the broom to be rideable afterwards."

"Yes we do!"

"Yes, so we can return it afterwards." Severus agreed.

"What? No! Why can't I keep it?"

Harry hopped up from his seat indignantly and pushed into the circle of adults who were inspecting the broom.

"Don't be greedy child. Why do you need two top of the line brooms?"

The small part of Harry's mind that still held onto all of his survival instincts from living with the Dursley's, the same part that still expected everything to revert to how they used to be, immediately jumped into action. His cheeks colored in shame and his shoulders hunched forward. He was greedy. A greedy little freak. HIs uncle's words rattled around inside his head. How dare he ask for more when he was given so much already? He had clothes, food, and a place to sleep. He didn't contribute anything. He was useless. He was a freak. He was-

A hand on his shoulder made Harry jump and brought him back to the moment. He glanced up and relaxed slightly when Severus gave a small smile. He worked on controlling his breathing, allowing Severus to pull him to his side, hand still resting comfortably on his shoulder.

"Did you say two brooms Severus?" Professor McGonagall asked suddenly, obviously trying to bring attention away from Harry for which he was grateful for.

"You don't think I would allow any ward of mine to fly around on a shoddy school broom, do you?"

Severus gestured to where the new broom sat in the corner and both of the other professors murmured their appreciation for it.

"You spoil the boy Severus," McGonagall laughed. Severus merely scoffed.

"Me? Spoil a child? I don't know what you are talking about. Harry gets bread and water and that's it, right child?"

"Was the practice snitch the bread or the water, sir?" Harry laughed, his earlier anxiety forgotten.

"Cheeky brat" Severus hid his grin and reached out to ruffle Harry's already messy hair.

Harry dodged and slipped out from against Severus' side, returning with a huff to his seat and his cup of tea.

"Well, thank you for looking into this matter Filius, Minerva."

"Don't think anything of it Severus. We will let you know what we find as soon as we can." Professor Flitwick replied.

The short professor took the Firebolt with him as he left through the fireplace. Professor McGonagall said her goodbyes and left as well. It was quiet for a few moments, the only sound was the fire crackling in the hearth.

"I doubt we can return the Firebolt after it's been stripped down and the charms reapplied. We can discuss later you keeping it." Severus said softly.

"I'm sorry sir. I don't mean to be greedy."

"I did not mean the comment harshly child. Any other child would want to keep both brooms as well. It's natural for people to want more than what they have."

"But I-"

"No buts. The fact that you even asked shows how far you have come. I don't think you would have asked your relatives for something so unnecessary."

"I learned not to ask for anything sir."

"I want you to ask for anything you want Harry. You may not always get it, but you won't be in trouble for asking. I am also very proud of you for working yourself back down from your panic attack. That was very well done."

"Thank you Severus," Harry smiled.

"Now finish your vegetables and perhaps I can be convinced to call up for a biscuit or two."

oOoOOoOo

The morning of the October Hogsmeade visit saw Ron waking Harry bright and early. Harry grumbled but rolled out of bed anyways. He did tell Ron to wake him so he could eat breakfast with his friends before they took off for the day. They met up with Hermione in the common room and the trio made their way down to the Great Hall. Ron and Hermione's spat from earlier in the week seemed to be completely forgotten, which Harry was grateful for. It was always hard to navigate between the two of them when they both expected Harry to be on their side.

They ate quickly and got in line for Filch to check their names off. Harry said goodbye to them begrudgingly and turned to go back up to Gryffindor tower. He was still bitter at Severus for denying him the opportunity to go with his friends. It's not like anything bad would happen. He would be surrounded by hundreds of other students and all of the professors who went either to supervise or to visit the shops themselves.

So caught up in his internal grumbling, Harry didn't notice someone hissing his name, or the arm that darted out from an empty classroom and pulled him in.

"Hey! What do you think you are doing?"

"Calm down mate,"

"It's just us,"

"We can't stay for long,"

"We have to go. Lots of shops to visit,"

"And students to prank,"

"Away from the supervision of teachers of course."

"Of course. But we have something we want to give to you"

"We debated whether to give it to you or not,"

"But we decided you seemed like the trustworthy sort,"

"And it is time to pass it on to the next generation of trouble maker."

"Oi!" Harry complained, his head going back and forth like watching a tennis match as he listened to the twins talk. "Can you get on with it?"

"Gred, it seems ickle little Harrikins doesn't want to be the heir to our pranking legacy."

"Well Forge, I guess we can keep it for ourselves."

"Knock it off. What is it?" Harry groused.

The twins looked at each other and grinned, clearly enjoying Harry's annoyance. With a flourish, George reached into his robes and produced an old looking piece of parchment. They looked at Harry expectantly and Harry tried to hide his frown.

"Uhh yeah, that's a great piece of parchment."

"A piece of parchment?"

"How you wound us Harry! Watch this!"

The pair laid out the parchment on a nearby desk and ushered Harry closer. Fred placed the tip of his wand on the center.

"I solemnly swear that I'm up to no good."

Suddenly, black lines started spilling out from the point that the wand was touching and snaked across the page. It took a minute for Harry to realize that it was creating a map. Not just any map either, but a map of Hogwarts! When the lines settled, hundreds of small black dots faded up from the page, each with their own little label.

"Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs are proud to present the Marauder's Map." Harry read, mesmerized. "What is this? Where did you get it? Are those dots actually people?"

"We nicked it from Filch's office in our first year. It took us a while to figure out how to use it, but we eventually got it. This beauty's taught us more in our years here than any of the professors combined."

"So it shows the entire castle?"

"And everyone in it,"

"Where they are,"

"What they are doing,"

"Of every minute,"

"Of every day,"

"That's bloody brilliant!"

"We know. What is most important to show you now though, is it also shows secret passageways."

"In and out of Hogwarts."

"I suppose you want to go to Hogsmeade, yeah?"

"Yes!" Harry immediately agreed, ignoring the feeling of guilt in his stomach. He wouldn't have to sneak out if Severus would just be more reasonable about the whole thing.

"There are seven passages, but you'll want to avoid these three because Filch knows about them."

"This one here leads to just outside of Hogsmeade apparently, but the entrance is under the Whomping Willow, so that one is out"

"This one here leads directly into Hogsmeade but it's caved in."

"So that leaves this one. You'll come up in the cellar of Honeydukes."

"Now go forth and cause mischief young Harrikins!"

"Do us proud!"

"And most importantly, don't get caught!"

"To make the map disappear, simply place your wand back on it and say 'Mischief Managed". Simple as that."

The twins gave him a grin before turning and darting back out of the classroom, probably to catch a carriage to Hogsmeade themselves. Harry grinned and poured over the map. He watched the line of dots move forward slowly in the Entrance Hall, Filch at the head. He found the dots labeled Ron and Hermione approaching the gates and disappear off the map. Finally he located the entrance to the passageway the twins had recommended and smiled when he realized it wasn't that far from the classroom he was in. Before he went though, Harry decided he probably should grab his invisibility cloak. He couldn't exactly walk around in the open when all of the teachers knew he wasn't allowed to be there. He quickly retrieved it and made his way back third floor to consult with the map. There were no teachers nearby, and only a few students a hallway over. The coast was clear.

He dashed to the entrance, a statue of a humpbacked witch and hesitated. There was no obvious entrance. He glanced at the map, hoping he was perhaps not in the right place. A small figure had appeared where he stood, wand out, and tapping the statue. A speech bubble appeared over his head. Harry scrambled to pull out his wand and tapped the statue, saying the password. He briefly felt ridiculous but that went away when the humpback lifted up to reveal a stone slide descending into darkness. Harry scrambled up and lowered himself into the tunnel, shutting the entrance behind him.

It took close to an hour, by Harry's estimate, to reach the end of the tunnel. At one point he wondered if this was some sort of prank the twins pulled and he was just going in circles, or it was a dead end, or perhaps some sort of creature was waiting at the end. He shook his head to rid himself of those thoughts. The Weasley twins wouldn't do something like that. What kind of cruel prank would it be to send someone down a dark tunnel that ended in something dangerous? Fred and George could be berks sometimes but their pranks were harmless and amusing, not cruel.

Finally the tunnel sloped back upwards and ended with the faint outline of a trapdoor above his head. Listening carefully to make sure there was no one on the other side, Harry slid the cover off and climbed out. He was indeed in a cellar, and if the labels on the crates were any indication it was the cellar of Honeydukes, just as the twins had said. There was a set of stairs in the corner of the room and Harry carefully crept up them. He emerged in a very busy shop, packed to the brim with Hogwarts students. Trying to navigate as carefully as he could, Harry made his way to the door. Only a few students seemed to notice that whoever brushed by them wasn't actually there. Harry was tempted to nick a sweet or two on his way out, but he remembered all too clearly the last time he had attempted to steal something. If he got caught this time, he would be in double trouble anyways. It was best to fly under the radar.

Exiting the store, Harry finally paused and tried to come up with a plan. He hadn't thought further ahead than getting to Hogsmeade and now that he was here he realized that he didn't have a clue where to go. Navigating the town and remembering where to come back to when it was time to go would be difficult added on to the fact that he didn't know how to find Ron or Hermione. Luck seemed to be on his side though as he saw the distinct red hair of his friend leaving a shop down the street. Harry rushed to catch up.

"Oi, Ron!"

Harry had to stifle a chuckle as run jumped at the noise and looked around wildly.

"Calm down mate. I'm right here."

"Harry? How did you get here?"

"Magic, Ron. Where's Hermione?"

"She went to Scrivenshafts. She wanted a new quill or something. She's been saving her pocket money. Bloody stupid thing to waste pocket money on if you ask me. I was just on my way to meet her. For some reason she didn't want to come to Zonko's with me. We were going to the Three Broomsticks for a butterbeer next!"

"Sounds good to me."

The pair moved down the street, waiting for Hermione outside of the quill shop. Harry took the opportunity to startle her as well, which earned him a smack on the arm. Hermione immediately began fretting about how Harry got there and if it was safe. Harry and Ron managed to convince her to drop the issue. After all, he was already there, why not enjoy himself before heading back. She wasn't happy but she didn't press the matter either. She was silent the entire walk to the Three Broomsticks but eventually warmed back up as they sat sipping their mugs of butterbeer.

It was approaching the lunch hour when they finally left the shop. They decided to make a trip to the Shrieking Shack before getting a late lunch, when hopefully the shops were less busy. As they were exiting, Harry froze as he caught a piece of a conversation among the noise. He thought he heard something about Sirius Black.

"Go on ahead, I'll be right there." Harry whispered, moving towards a group of teachers at a table in the corner.

Hagrid was at a table with Professor McGonagall and Professor Vector.

"Well is it true Profess'r?"

"I hope not Hagrid, but Albus said a report came in."

"Should we be getting the students back to the castle? Merlin, Sirius Black seen nearby." Professor Vector asked.

"Albus said not to. There are aurors in plain robes patrolling the perimeter just to be safe but they don't seem to think it was actually him. The students are perfectly safe. Besides, Harry's at the castle, so there shouldn't be a risk of him coming into the village."

Harry carefully backed away from the table and made his way towards the door. Hermione and Ron were waiting across the street and began walking towards the Shrieking Shack once Harry nudged them to let them know he was there.

"What was that about?"

"Nothing"

"Harry…"

"Nothing Hermione, really. I just thought I heard something but it was nothing. Now what's the big deal about this old house?"

That distracted Hermione sufficiently and she immediately launched into a lecture on the stories that surrounded the history of the old house that sat alone in the field. The trio hung around the house for a while, debating whether or not the house was really haunted. The conversation that Harry had overheard was forgotten, as was the uneasiness he had felt about the whole matter. Their laughter was interrupted when Draco, leading a group of Slytherins, came up the path leading to the shack.

"Well isn't it the weasel and the mudblood. Where's Potter?"

Ron turned an angry red at the insult directed at Hermione and moved to draw his wand, but Hermione held him back.

"Leave it Ron. He's not worth it."

"Does a girl always have to fight your battles for you weasel?"

Harry drew his wand under his cloak but paused before he started firing off hexes, as was his first instinct. Instead he used a hover charm to kick up the dry leaves and swirl them around the group.

"What in the bloody hell?" Draco sputtered, swatting the leaves from around his head.

"It's the ghosts from the Shrieking Shack!" Crabbe yelled, backing away down the path.

Harry had to keep himself from laughing and giving away his position as he sent some more leaves into the whirlwind. A bunch of the girls screeched and took off running down the path, many of the boys following. Harry couldn't keep his laugh in then and Draco whirled towards the noise. Harry backed away but he wasn't watching where he was going and tripped over a tree root behind him. As he flailed to keep his balance, he dropped the whole lot of leaves on Draco's head and the cloak slipped off of Harry's head. Draco's eyes widened and he pointed at Harry.

"Potter!" he finally spluttered out. "You aren't supposed to be here! Wait until the teachers hear about this!"

Before Harry could even say anything, Draco had turned to run towards the village again. Blaise brushed some leaves off of his jumper and shook his head at Harry.

"Well that was dumb of you. He's probably on his way to tell Professor Snape. It was nice knowing you."

With that, Blaise also turned to follow his house mates.

"You're dead meat mate."

"Serves you right for sneaking out here."

"Shove off Hermione. C'mon Harry, we've got to get you back to the castle. Carriages would be the quickest but you can't pass by the dementors. Where'd you say you came out of? Honeydukes?"

"Yeah, but there's no way I'll get back before Draco."

"Not standing around here you won't!" Hermione finally snapped. "Now go! Run the whole way if you have to. Ron and I will take a carriage back and see if we can back you up. We can say that Draco was making it all up, that is was only the two of us here."

Harry didn't even wait for Ron to respond, but took off anyways. Ron wasn't going to refuse to help anyways, and the two of them would work out a plan on the way back. He quickly found his way back to Honeydukes and slipped down to the cellar. He had to wait a few painful minutes for the old shopkeeper to finish digging around in the boxes so he could open the trapdoor unnoticed. Finally the old man found what he was looking for and ambled back upstairs. Harry pulled the door open and jumped down onto the hard dirt floor. He took off at a run and made it about halfway before he had to slow down due to a stitch in his side as the ground started sloping upwards. Eventually he made it to the end of the tunnel and just the stone slide to climb up.

Lighting his wand, Harry looked at his map and located Draco and Severus in Severus' office. The tunnel he took was much more direct than the road back. Even taking the carriage back, Draco couldn't have gotten there more than a few minutes ago. There was still a chance he could pull this off. It looked like lunch was still being served in the Great Hall. If he could get there, maybe he could say he was there the whole time. Ginny might vouch for him, although he couldn't imagine the timid girl standing up to Severus. He would figure it out when he got there he decided. After a moment's hesitation, Harry wiped the map blank and folded it and his cloak carefully in the corner. If he was caught he had no doubt that Severus would confiscate both from him.

With that done, Harry scampered up the stone slide and pushed at the entrance of the tunnel, jumping out on the other side. He rushed downstairs. If he could make it unnoticed into the Great Hall he was sure he could get off scot-free. He was at the bottom of the stairs leading to the entrance hall and had turned towards the Great Hall when he froze.

"Mr. Potter." Severus' voice boomed across the mostly empty entrance hall.

Harry froze and turned around slowly. Severus was approaching from the entrance to the dungeons and Draco was leaning against the wall, smirking. Harry observed his livid guardian and his brain seemed to be moving in both slow motion and hyper drive, scrambling to come up with the appropriate response. As he stood there, he had a flashback to one of his first weeks with Severus and he had had a nightmare in which Severus had looked as angry as he possibly could be.

Well, I was wrong. Harry thought slowly as Severus stalked across the hall. He definitely could have been angrier.