A/N: Hey everyone! Thank you so much for being patient with me. I know these updates have been few and far between as of late. As I'm sure you guessed, I've been super busy. But since last we met, I am happy to announce that I have finally graduated law school. Hooray!
Of course, now I have to spend my summer studying for the bar exam, but at least now I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel..
But enough about me. On with the story! Enjoy!
"Are you planning on actually eating any breakfast, or just pushing it around on your plate?"
Harry looked up at the question, to see Hermione's concerned face gazing back at him.
"Don't even bother finishing that sentence," the girl interrupted. "You must be hungry. You barely eat anything anymore."
"Lay off, Hermione," Ron finally spoke up, having just swallowed an enormous mouthful of eggs. "I saw him take a bite of toast earlier."
"A bird couldn't survive on such pitiful portions," Hermione snapped back.
Harry sighed as he picked up a small piece of bacon, and took a bite. He really didn't want to eat. His stomach was in too many knots, and he was finding it difficult to swallow. But at this point, he just wanted to get Hermione to stop staring at him like that.
"Happy?" he asked, placing the rest of the bacon back on his plate.
"Not really," Hermione answered, turning back to the textbook she had propped open against the jug of pumpkin juice.
Harry let out a small huff of annoyance as he pushed his breakfast plate away, his eyes cautiously wandering over to the head table as he did so. Thankfully, Snape wasn't in the Great Hall for breakfast that morning, but it would be just like the man to swoop in at the absolute last moment to revoke Harry's quidditch privileges for not finishing his strip of bacon.
"What are you doing?" Ron suddenly asked from the other side of the table, peering over Hermione's shoulder at the book she was reading. "It is way too early in the morning to be doing potions homework, Hermione."
The girl rolled her eyes and sighed. "For your information, Ronald, this is not potions homework. Though if it were—"
"What is it then?" the redhead interrupted.
Hermione sighed again. "I'm trying to find a solution to our little problem," she emphasized quietly.
"You mean the polyj-" Ron started to say.
"Shh!" Hermione hissed, quickly looking around to make sure no one had overheard. Then, when she was sure nobody was listening in, she continued. "If we don't find a way to preserve it, the whole thing will be useless by the time we're ready to complete it."
Just then, the conversation was interrupted by a flurry of feathers and wings as a large group of owls flew into the hall, the morning mail clutched securely in beaks or tied to talons.
A large envelope was soon dropped in front of Hermione, and the school owl who had made the delivery quickly scooped up Harry's abandoned strip of bacon in its beak before taking to the air once more.
"Who's it from?" Ron asked curiously, as Hermione opened the letter and began reading.
"Mum and Dad," Hermione answered. "They received the notice about the school closing for Christmas. They're looking forward to me coming home. It sounds like we're going to be going on a trip-"
Harry abruptly stood up, then, suddenly feeling the need to get some fresh air.
"I just remembered I have some homework I need to finish up for Herbology. I'll see you both later, alright?"
Hermione frowned. "Harry-"
"Later," Harry reiterated, quickly turning on his heel and walking away before the girl had the chance to ask any of her usual questions.
Harry made his way to the deserted Entrance Hall, feeling the eyes of his friends on the back of his head the entire way. But any hopes he had had of slipping through the front doors of the castle unseen were quickly dashed by that familiar silky voice.
"What are you doing, Mr. Potter?"
Harry whirled around to see the potions master ascending the last few steps up from the dungeons at the other end of the hall.
"Nothing, sir," Harry quickly answered.
"I don't believe that for a second," Snape responded, moving closer to the young Gryffindor. "Why are you not eating breakfast?"
"I've finished, sir."
"Is that so?" the man asked in disbelief.
Harry nodded hastily. "Yes, sir. The bacon's gone and everything."
Snape raised his eyebrows at the odd answer, but before he even had the chance to respond, another voice joined the conversation.
"Ah, good morning, Mr. Potter. Severus."
"Minerva," Snape intoned, turning to his colleague, who was just exiting the Great Hall. "Doing well this morning, I trust?"
"Yes, Severus. Thank you. I was hoping to have a quick word with Mr. Potter. That is, if the two of you weren't already conducting any business of your own."
"No. I was merely checking on Mr. Potter to ensure that he was not engaging in any of his usual rule-breaking schemes."
Harry glared up at the man, offended. But the potions master merely smirked at him in return.
"Perfect," McGonagall responded. "We'll just go to my office, Harry. This won't take but a moment or two."
"Yes, ma'am," Harry answered, relieved for the chance to escape the scrutinizing gaze of the potions professor.
Even if he knew the escape was only temporary.
"Feel free to sit down for a moment, Harry," McGonagall stated, motioning to one of the chairs in front of her desk.
Harry moved forward, eyes widening at the large piles of parchment in front of the professor. And right in the center of it all was a small owl, apparently waiting patiently for McGonagall's arrival.
"Ah, another one. Must have just arrived," McGonagall stated, reaching forward to untie the message from the creature's outstretched foot.
The woman opened the letter and scanned its contents, nodding at what she saw there.
"Letters have been pouring in since late last evening," McGonagall explained, noticing the curiosity in Harry's eyes. "We've asked for all of our students' families to confirm that they are aware of the school's closing for Christmas."
"Oh," Harry said, his heart suddenly beating faster in his chest. He hadn't really thought about the professors notifying families about the school closure. He nearly shivered at the thought of how upset his aunt and uncle must have been when one of the school owls showed up on Privet Drive. He just hoped that the poor bird had made it out of there alright.
Was that what McGonagall wanted to talk to him about then? The fact that the Dursleys had yet to respond? Because there was no way the Dursleys were going to answer that letter. They had already cut him out of their lives for good, after all.
"Um, professor? I don't know if my relatives are going to answer any letters from Hogwarts."
Professor McGonagall frowned as she peered over her glasses at her young student. "And why is that, Mr. Potter?"
"Well, they're kind of afraid of owls." Harry quickly invented. It wasn't entirely untrue anyway. Though it would probably be more accurate to say that they hated owls, rather than were merely terrified of them. "I don't know if they would let one in the hou-"
McGonagall was suddenly holding out a piece of paper to Harry, effectively silencing his explanation. "I think they were able to overcome their fears, Mr. Potter. This arrived right before breakfast."
Hardly able to believe his ears, Harry grabbed the paper and read the short message scribbled there in his Aunt Petunia's handwriting:
We will retrieve Harry from the train station at the end of term.
It had to be a joke, Harry immediately thought. Some sort of twisted, cruel joke. Why would his aunt and uncle suddenly be so willing to let him come home?
And then the realization hit him. They weren't going to let him come home. They had only sent the letter to keep the school from becoming suspicious. The reality was that he was going to show up at King's Cross to find that he was completely alone. No one would really come for him.
"Sorry," Harry said automatically, tearing his eyes away from the letter and shaking himself from his thoughts. "Did you say something, professor?"
"I asked you how you were doing, Harry," the transfiguration professor answered.
"Oh. Alright, I suppose."
"Are you sure? What with all the wild rumors spreading throughout the school lately, I just wanted to make sure you weren't taking any of it to heart."
Oh. So she was talking about the Heir of Slytherin stuff.
"No, ma'am. I try to just ignore all the rumors. Professor Snape says I shouldn't give a second thought to such asinine comments."
"Oh, he does, does he?" McGonagall replied, and Harry thought that she might just be trying to contain herself from laughing.
Harry smiled. "Yes. It sounded like good advice."
"Indeed it is, Mr. Potter," his professor agreed. "Well, then. It would appear that there is no need for me to impart any further words of wisdom upon you, seeing as Severus has already beaten me to it."
"Was that all you wanted to discuss, professor?" Harry asked, handing back his Aunt Petunia's letter.
Professor McGonagall nodded. "Yes. Just know that my door is always open to you, Harry. For anything."
"Yes, ma'am," Harry answered, as he finally stood up to leave.
Harry's thoughts were in turmoil as he wandered down the empty Hogwarts corridors after his meeting with Professor McGonagall. What did all of this mean? Was it maybe just possible that the Dursleys would take him in for the Christmas holiday? It had been a few months since he'd seen them after all. Maybe they had cooled down since then. Maybe they didn't think much about the incident with the Masons or with Dudley anymore. Or how he had dared to talk back to his aunt on more than one occasion last summer. Maybe, after all this time, they really did have a change of heart.
Harry shook his head and nearly laughed at how ridiculous that sounded, even just in his head. These were the Dursleys he was thinking about here. They had always hated him, and they always would. And that was all there was to it. Did he really think that they were going to let him back into their home for the holidays? Because that was just ridiculous. It was absolutely—
Harry's thoughts were suddenly interrupted as he stumbled over something in the middle of the corridor, and in the next moment, he found himself sprawled out on the floor, having tripped over something large and unmoving.
Lifting himself up to his hands and knees, Harry looked back to see what had been blocking his path.
And he immediately felt sick.
"Justin?" he called out, quickly scrambling over to the Hufflepuff boy, whose unseeing eyes were wide open in shock. "No, no, no. Justin!"
Harry's breathing suddenly became more shallow as the realization hit him that Justin Finch-Fletchley had been petrified. And then something else caught his attention out of the corner of his eye, and Harry turned to see the very bizarre sight of a second figure floating in midair.
Nearly-Headless Nick. Only it had taken a moment to identify him due to the fact that the usually transparent ghost was now a dark, black color.
"It can hurt ghosts," Harry whispered to himself, realizing now that he was very close to panicking.
Without a second thought, then, he reached into his pocket. His hand brushed briefly against his mother's photograph before finding the strange old coin that the potions professor had given him.
"I need help," he stated clearly, withdrawing the coin from his pocket and clutching it tightly in his fist. "I need help. Please."
The coin seemed to emit a sort of warmth into Harry's palm at his words, and he hoped that that meant help was on the way.
The seconds ticked by, and Harry was at a loss for what to do. Justin felt so cold, and Harry wondered if maybe he ought to try to warm the boy up.
"You'll be okay," Harry said into the silence. "You'll be-"
"Move aside, Mr. Potter."
Harry looked up to see Snape hurrying down the corridor, robes billowing out behind him, and the boy quickly scrambled backwards out of the way until his back was resting against the rough stone wall of the corridor.
Snape gave but a short, cursory glance towards Nick, before crouching down to examine Justin more closely. He placed two fingers on the boy's neck and waited for one long, silent moment.
"Is he-?" Harry began.
"He's alive," Snape answered, turning to look at Harry. "What happened?"
"I was just walking down the corridor, and I tripped over something, and it was Justin-"
"Did anything lead you to this corridor?" Snape demanded. "Did you hear a voice?"
"No," Harry shook his head. "I came across him by accident."
Snape reached into his pocket then, and pulled out a familiar bottle.
"I don't need a calming draught," Harry protested. "We need to help Justin."
"There is nothing more that can be done for him at the moment," Snape responded, holding out the small potion bottle. "Drink."
"But I don't-"
"I don't care if you need it or not, Mr. Potter. As soon as I ensure Mr. Finch-Fletchley is delivered safely to the hospital wing, we are going to see the headmaster, and I will not risk you becoming hysterical."
"But why are we going to the headmaster?" Harry asked, suddenly feeling nervous. "You don't think I had anything to do with this, do you?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Potter. Now drink the potion before I start taking house points," Snape growled.
Harry sighed, but reluctantly obeyed.
A/N: I know it's not terribly long. But I figured two and a half months was long enough to go without another update, so I figured I would just go ahead and post what I have. Hopefully, there will be more for you all soon :)
May 19, 2018