The moment Snape heard Harry's bedroom door shut he was on his feet. He knew his child well enough to know that Harry would be in bed as he had been told to do so. He had seen Harry's face when he had given him his punishment and although writing a seven foot essay was no easy task, Harry definitely had expected a much more physical punishment and was pleased that he hadn't received one. Despite the child's knack for finding himself in hot water, he wasn't imbecilic enough to disobey this evening.
Snape snapped his fingers causing a house elf named, Carric to appear at his feet.
"Master Snape," Carric bowed deeply ready to hear her orders.
"Please see to it that Mr. Potter has a suitable dinner delivered to his room. Chicken with a starch and two vegetables. No dessert. Be sure to inform him that he is expected to eat it all of it."
Carric nodded her understanding.
"Then please inform Mr. Malfoy that I would like to speak to him in my office and that he is to report there promptly."
"Yes Sir," Carric responded promptly.
"You are dismissed," Snape replied. He watched as Carric vanished into thin air before turning and taking a few steps towards the direction of the door. A moment later he turned on his heel and snapped his fingers once more causing Carric to reappear.
"My apologies for preventing you from completing your tasks."
"Of course Sir," Carric answered quickly. "No apologies needed at all Sir."
"Please see to it that Mr. Potter's dinner does not contain turnips as one of the vegetables," Snape instructed in a no-nonsense tone. "He does not care for them."
"Certainly Sir. Of course not," Carric nodded seriously.
"Carry on then," Snape replied before turning on his heel once more and heading out of the door of his quarters.
He strode down the long dimly lit hallway before turning and walking up a short flight of stairs.
Snape did not doubt that Harry had been truthful and the altercation had started with Draco. Snape had known the pompous child since he was born. Draco's bullying tendencies were not a secret.
Snape walked into his office and closed the door behind him. His eyes fell on the pile of work that he had planned to complete after dinner. Unfortunately his night had not worked out as he had planned.
He knew Draco well enough to know that the child would stall. Taking this information into account Snape sat down at his desk and picked up a paper off of the top of his pile and sat down behind his desk.
Professors often complained about mapping out lesson plans but Snape quite enjoyed the task. It was no secret that he would have much rather taught Defense Against the Dark Arts as opposed to Potions but regardless, he did not mind planning his classes. In his opinion doing so was one of the more enjoyable parts of his career.
He was nearly done planning out the second week of lessons for his first year students when a small knock pulled him from his thoughts.
Snape smirked. Having known Draco for as long as he had, he knew the games that the child played. He had been wondering if he was going to be met by an arrogant, self-assured young Malfoy or a timid, pitiful child. The knock confirmed that he would be seeing the latter.
"Enter," Snape spoke loudly.
The door opened and Draco slipped inside closing it quickly behind him before he turned to face the head of his House.
"You wanted to see me?" Draco asked in a confused tone.
Snape fixed the child with a stern look. "Do not for a moment act as if you are not aware of exactly why I summoned you here. Am I correct to assume that one of the older students in Slytherin House healed you?"
Draco nodded but did not answer verbally.
"Sit," Snape barked.
Draco quickly scurried the few feet to the chair in front of Snape's desk and sat down without a word of protest.
"It wasn't my fault," Draco practically whined the moment he made contact with the chair. "He attacked me!"
"You mean to tell me that Potter sought you out on the train?"
Draco nodded silently.
"I know the two of you very well," Snape replied sternly. "While he is not always innocent I have a hard time believing that your words are true. You are already receiving a punishment for your part in the fight perhaps you would like to rephrase your explanation before you also receive punishment for lying."
"Professor Snape when we are in this building regardless of whether we find ourselves amongst others or alone."
"He hit me first," Draco replied.
Snape took note that the tips of the boy's ears were a dark shade of red. Clearly being chastised over how he would address him had an affect on the child.
"Were you taunting him verbally?"
Draco remained silent neither affirming or denying the claim.
"Seven feet on the importance of behaving properly and the dangers of fighting will be on my desk by Friday and if you are found to have been fighting with Potter or anyone else again it will result in your being expelled from the Quidditch team."
Draco scowled openly at the man. "My father will not allow you to keep me from playing Quidditch."
"Your father has absolutely no control over how I choose to discipline my House. Furthermore if you dare to threaten me in such a manner again not only will your Quidditch days be over but your days at this school will as well."
The redness had now spread from Draco's ears onto his cheeks.
"Seven feet by Friday," Snape repeated in a harsh tone. "You are excused and I expect you to go directly to your dormitory and to bed. You will find a suitable dinner waiting for you there."
"It's only eight o'clock," Draco argued.
"I am well aware of the time," Snape thundered. "And I know that you are aware of the fact that as the head of your House I can rely on corporal punishment when all else fails." Snape watched as the blood drained from Draco's face. "If you do not wish to find yourself bent over my desk for a hefty dose of the paddle then I would suggest that you do as you have been told."
Draco was silent as he stood up and quickly left the room.
Snape took a deep breath after the boy left. He needed to relieve himself of the anger he was feeling towards Draco before he went anywhere near his son.
"You're still mad," Harry observed as Snape roughly pulled the quilt up around Harry's shoulders.
Harry was nearly certain that his assumption was right despite the fact that his guardian had made sure that he had had dinner. He couldn't even blame the man if he was. Harry had expected as much after all.
"I am not," Snape replied as he sat down on the edge of Harry's bed.
"You seem it," Harry mused softly.
"Regardless of how it seems I am not cross with you," Snape said hoping that his voice wasn't too stern.
"But you are making me go to bed at nine," Harry pointed out. "My friends won't be going to bed for at least another hour, probably two."
Snape huffed at these words. "If I ever hear of you up until eleven on a school night you will kiss your dormitory goodbye and reside down here until you are done at Hogwarts. Furthermore, you are going to bed early this evening because you are being punished."
Snape's words were met with silence as Harry rolled onto his side in an attempt to get comfortable.
"I want to know what exactly you and Mr. Malfoy were fighting about on the train,"
Harry knew the tone of Snape's voice. His words were not a request. Still, he knew that he couldn't explain it to his guardian. How could he when the whole thing had started over whether or not Snape would be mad at him over breaking rules?
"Do not mistake my words for a question," Snape said sternly. "I expect an answer young man."
"You," Harry answered honestly.
Snape was not surprised by the answer. Something had been telling him from the start that this was about him. "What about me might I ask?"
Harry shrugged causing his guardian to raise a stern eyebrow.
"Are you trying to annoy me this evening?"
"No Sir," Harry replied in an apologetic tone. He paused a moment gathering his thoughts before he continued. "He was just saying things about you - about us that I didn't like."
"About our relationship," Snape responded knowingly.
Harry nodded, "yeah."
"Did it ever occur to you that perhaps Mr. Malfoy is jealous?"
Harry mulled over Snape's words for a moment before answering the man. "I don't care. That doesn't make it okay."
"You are correct, it certainly does not however perhaps it could help put things into perspective for you."
Snape stood up and then reached out a gentle hand and brushed Harry's hair off of his forehead. "You need a haircut."
"I like my hair like it is."
"It's unruly," Snape commented as he waved a hand causing the light in Harry's room to dim a considerable amount.
"I like it," Harry repeated once more. "And no one makes you cut your hair if you don't want to."
"We will discuss it tomorrow," Snape decided. "It is time for you to go to bed. You have class tomorrow."
Harry ignored the urge to argue with the man and instead rolled over onto his stomach and forced himself to close his eyes.
"How much trouble are you in?" Ron asked as he helped himself to a large serving of bacon.
"I have to write an essay."
"That's all?" Hermione questioned. "For fighting Malfoy?"
"Seven feet," Harry clarified before taking a bite of his eggs.
"Seven feet!" Ron said in a fretful voice. "That's practically child abuse!"
Harry gave Ron a look as Hermione rolled her eyes.
"All things considered I think that Harry is quite lucky that his only punishment is to write an essay. He could have easily been suspended for what happened." She paused for a moment as she served herself a small helping of fruit. "Which is why I don't think we should go through with the plan to make the Polyjuice Potion."
"Hermione no," Harry quickly replied. He could feel Ron's eyes on him. "I don't want to be the reason that -"
"You aren't," she cut him off. "At least not the full reason. With this tournament about to start there will be even more students in the school as well as more teachers. I don't think it's smart to break any major rules."
Harry eyed his best friend. He couldn't help but feel as though her reasoning was a stretch at best. She was trying to protect him and he wasn't quite sure how he felt about it. They broke rules all the time and it hardly mattered how many people were in the castle.
"Did I tell you that Fred and George are coming up with an Aging Potion to try and enter the Tournament?" Ron asked completely changing the subject, much to Harry's surprise.
"It won't work," Hermione replied in a bored tone. "You really think that Dumbledore won't have thought of that?"
Ron shrugged in reply as he shoveled a spoonful of eggs into his mouth.
"I think they are barmy for even wanting to enter," Harry muttered.
The words were hardly out of his mouth when he felt a hand clamp down gently on his shoulder. He turned his head to the left to see Snape towering over him.
"Accompany me to the Headmaster's office please."
For a sinking moment Harry thought he was in trouble for something. He instantly worried that Malfoy had overheard more of their conversation on the train than he had thought and that Snape knew about the Polyjuice Potion. The moment he stood and his eyes met his guardian's though he knew that he wasn't in any trouble. Snape didn't look angry at all. If anything he looked worried.
Harry had to practically jog to keep up with Snape's large strides.
The moment they were out of the Great Hall Snape cleared his throat loudly but did not miss a step. "As I told you last night, the Ministry has sent someone new to observe today. I believe it goes without saying that I expect impeccable behavior from you today."
"Don't you expect that everyday?" Harry asked before he could stop himself as they climbed the stairs.
"Watch your cheek," Snape warned in a stern voice.
"Sorry," Harry quickly answered as the pair of them came to a halt at the entrance to Dumbledore's office.
Snape turned to face Harry. He reached out and gently straightened the boy's tie. He looked Harry up and down before giving a quick nod of approval. A second later he thought better of it and reached his right hand out and attempted to flatten down Harry's unruly hair.
"It's fine," Harry insisted in the most non-cheeky tone he could muster.
After a moment more of fussing Snape gave up.
"I am cutting your hair this evening."
"No," Harry replied. "I like it. Besides everyone is wearing it like this right now."
"Which is hardly a reason to keep it as it is. Following the masses like a trained troll is idiotic." Snape paused for a moment. "Gumdrops," he said in an un-amused tone.
The staircase appeared and Harry quickly followed his guardian up the stairs.
"Do not forget your manners," Snape reminded him. "Mind your cheek and do as I say."
"I know," Harry replied as Snape knocked on Dumbledore's office door.
A moment later the door opened on its own accord.
"Ah Harry," Dumbledore smiled brightly as Harry walked into the room.
"Sir," Harry smiled.
A short woman with soft brown hair and light blue eyes stood up and turned to face Harry and Snape.
"Harry I would like you to meet Ms. Armstead from the Ministry," Dumbledore stated. "She will be observing you today and then meeting with you later to talk."
"Hello," Harry said. "It's nice to meet you." He couldn't help but eye Snape nor could he help but feel a surge of happiness when he saw approval in the man's eyes.
"It's wonderful to meet you Harry," Ms. Armstead replied with a wide smile. "I look forward to getting to know you."
"Ms. Armstead?" Hermione questioned.
"Yeah," Harry nodded as the three of them walked towards the Potions classroom. "Why? Do you know anything about her?"
"No," Hermione replied honestly. "I've never heard of her. Though that doesn't mean anything, the Ministry employs so many people only a handful actually make the paper."
"Does she seem better than Fudge?" Ron asked.
"Anyone is better than Fudge," Harry responded as they walked into the Potions classroom.
Harry instantly noted that Snape was not in the room however, Ms. Armstead was in the back of the classroom.
"That's her," Harry said in a low voice.
He watched as Hermione practically broke her neck trying to get a good look at her.
Harry slid into his seat as he silently promised himself that no matter what happened in this class he would not lose his temper. He didn't forget how horrible he had felt after he acted out last year when Fudge had observed Snape's class and Harry was determined that he would not relive that feeling.
A moment later Snape entered the classroom causing silence to fall over the room. How intimidating Snape could be when he entered a room never ceased to amaze Harry.
"As you are all aware this is an exceedingly important year in your academic career," Snape said in a cold tone. "That being said, you can expect an exceptionally challenging year in this classroom ahead of you. I think it is appropriate to remind you that next June you will be sitting in the most important examination of your lives, during which time you will prove how much you have learned about the composition and use of magical potions." Snape paused for a long moment before his eyes settled on Harry. "Potter, can you tell me one of the many ingredients that would be considered poisonous?"
Harry breathed a soft sigh of relief. His mind traveled back to three weeks prior. He had been helping the man with a potion and while doing so Snape had listed a dozen poison ingredients. Harry was sure that Snape had called on him for two reasons. To see if he had been listening and remembered what Snape had taught him and to see if he could answer and behave properly in class.
"Flying seahorses," Harry replied confidently.
"Ms. Granger another?" Snape continued but not before giving Harry a small nod of approval.
"Can you tell me about your relationship with Professor Snape?" Ms. Armstead asked in a kind voice.
Harry's two front teeth bit down on his bottom lip as he tried to think of some way to explain his relationship with his guardian.
"Mr. Fudge seems to think that you fear Professor Snape. That you are too afraid to speak up about it."
"No," Harry quickly shook his head. "I don't fear him at all." He knew that his words were truthful. Even when Snape was at his absolute angriest Harry did not fear him. He hated disappointing him. He loathed facing him when he was upset. But he did not fear him.
"Then can you explain your relationship?" She asked once more.
"No," Harry answered honestly. "I wish I could. I really do. I don't know how to though. I don't know the right words." Harry paused for a long moment as he tried to think of a way to explain. He wanted to tell the lady to sod off with her request but he was sure that doing so wouldn't help. The Ministry could ruin everything. He was sure of it. He didn't want to give them a reason to do that. "He cares about me," Harry finally continued. "He takes care of me. I never had that before - not really anyway. My aunt and uncle never cared what happened to me. Snape does. A lot."
"And when he gets angry with you he disciplines you physically?"
Harry nodded despite the fact that he could feel his face nearly burning off of his skull. "Not when he gets angry," Harry tried to explain. "It isn't like that. He - he gives me consequences for things I do, good and bad I guess."
Harry could feel small beads of sweat forming in his palms. He hated this conversation. This lady may have been nicer than Fudge but she was still from the Ministry and Harry was over talking to anyone from the Ministry.
"The Ministry has your best interests in mind Harry," Ms. Armstead spoke in a kind voice. "We only want to be sure that you are well cared for and to understand the relationship that you have with your guardian."
"It is a good relationship," Harry replied. "I'm not afraid or anything like that. I care about him and he cares about me. The Ministry should know that I am fine - great even."
"I'm sure that given that you spent the night down here last night you are anxious to spend some time in your dormitory however, before you go I wanted to discuss today's events with you."
Harry looked up from his homework. He couldn't help but feel a bit nervous. He knew that Snape likely listened to the recording of his meeting with Ms. Armstead and although Harry knew that his behavior had been satisfactory he couldn't help but feel anxious that he had answered things incorrectly.
"You were quite extraordinary today," Snape mused softly.
"Thanks," Harry beamed as his eyes shifted back down to his work.
"Look at me please," Snape requested.
Harry's eyes slowly roamed back up to meet his guardian's.
"The way that you described our relationship," Snape said. "It is important for you to know that I feel very much the same way."