The next few months went by in a blur, but they nonetheless had progress. Harry, determined to learn more about the Dark Arts and achieve that promise of greatness, buried himself in his studies. He met with Quirrell from time to time for extra lessons and practice, and always left them with a slight headache. Harry reasoned that it was because Quirrell was challenging him. It was a good thing, and Harry did enjoy the praise. He continued to get used to receiving it as well.
Sometimes, he missed meals, but that was normal to him. He couldn't even count how many times the Dursleys starved him, anyway, and so he was used to it. Some of his fellow Slytherin, however, did not see this as a beneficial thing at all.
"You missed dinner last night," Draco told him, putting his textbooks down next to his own in the library.
"I need to study. It's important," Harry replied.
"More important than your health?"
At that, Harry looked up from his readings. Like Quirrell, Draco seemed to genuinely care about him for one reason or another; not really out of anything in return. It had taken Harry many lessons of with Quirrell to understand this, too. "Save me a seat tonight?" Harry asked.
Draco nodded. Satisfied with the answer, he got up, picked up his books, and left. He gave a stiff nod to Pansy, Crabbe, and Goyle on his way out.
"I don't get why Draco of all people cares for mudblood Potter," Pansy whispered to Crabbe and Goyle.
Crabbe and Goyle looked confused. "We talked to him. Said he hated Potter?" Crabbe replied, although it sounded more like a question.
"Draco's a true Slytherin! A pure-blood!" Pansy hissed, her voice sounded to be considering something now. She then smiled. "Ah, So it must be part of a grand plan, then," she concluded. She then shot a glare at Harry and whispered loud enough so that Harry could hear her next words. "Draco's on our side, truly. Does Potter really think he'll save a seat for him? The humiliation will be great to watch."
Harry knew that Pansy was trying to get to him, but he nonetheless knitted his eyebrows together. What if Draco was really trying to make a fool of him, and therefore use him as a mere stepping stone to achieve something? Perhaps people were always out for themselves after all. Harry wondered if Draco will simply "forget" to save a seat for Harry just to pitifully humiliate him, as Pansy had put it. It would be of petty, of course, but it was still a possibility.
Yet if Draco was such a person only out for themselves, was Hermione and Ron as well? What about Dumbledore? Harry recalled Dumbledore's disappointed face when the Sorting Hat cried out "Slytherin!" instead of the predicted "Gryffindor". Then, Harry's thoughts went to Quirrell. Quirrell had said that he needed help with the wards to the Philosopher's Stone, and wanted to provide extra lessons to Harry out of his own time. However, Quirrell had made it clear that those extra lessons had both to do with retrieving the stone and with helping Harry achieve greatness and power himself. Things were no longer black and white, Harry realized, and things blurred depending on the circumstances. Harry knew that he had to tread carefully from now on.
"Thanks, Pansy," he said quietly, even though Pansy didn't hear him at all.
Dinner was especially good today. Or perhaps everything just tasted really good because he hadn't eaten in awhile.
The situation with Draco confused him. He didn't know where he stood with him, as when he arrived at the Slytherin table, Pansy was already sitting beside Draco, smiling triumphantly. Draco didn't save him a seat after all.
Tread carefully. Very carefully, Harry reminded himself as he searched for an empty seat, ignoring the snickering of a few Slytherins. Perhaps he was overwhelmed by the kindness before, as he had never experienced it in such genuine ways, however behind every act, there had to be a purpose. There just had to be one.
For the next few days, Harry attended his classes with an edge. He kept reminding himself that someone was always looking for something, and his fellow classmates and professors were not exceptions to such a rule, so he kept a close eye on them. His suspiciousness kept increasing. Snape, in particular, seemed acute to the change and distraction, asking him questions he in no way knew the answers to and giving Harry a few weeks detention before the winter holiday break.
The holidays. That also meant Christmas time. Harry was not looking forward to that at all, as it was really all about Dudley getting gifts and Harry getting nothing but a lump of coal or a box of dog biscuits - and that was if he was lucky. From the tele, he knew that holidays were supposed to be filled with joy and happy families and friends spending time with each other, however he never experienced that. No miracles. No angels. Nothing. Just something as blank as the cold, white snow gently falling outside the Dursley's living room windows.
Harry sighed as he closed yet another book. Slowly, methodically, he piled them in alphabetical order by author on the library table. It was a Friday, and it was also snowing outside. Many students were either outside the grounds playing in the snow or inside pestering house elves to make them warm beverages. The Third years, Harry recalled, were going to visit Hogsmeade soon, where a famed shop called Honeydukes was a frequent haunt. Harry wished time would go quickly, but he knew that he was making a fool of himself. Time was surely something that could not be controlled without dire consequences, and Time Turners, as Quirrell had told him once, were a rarity. Harry briefly wondered that if he could turn back time, or turn forwards time, then would he risk it?
His train of thought was interrupted when a couple of students burst through the library door, earning growls from a few books on his table.
"Harry!" greeted Ron and Hermione in unison.
Harry sensed that whatever Ron and Hermione wanted to talk with him about, it must be urgent. That was also something he learned from his many lessons with Quirrell. - Being able to detect moods and use it to one's advantage. If someone was feeling happy, then the possibility of completing a favour asked of them would increase. If someone needed something urgent to be done by him, then he should be careful, as the circumstance would most likely be hidden in the delivery speed. Harry took those lessons to heart. After all, it was a grand and generous opportunity, was it not? It was something that he cannot deny.
"What do you want me to do?" Harry asked.
"Harry," said Hermione, shaking her head. "Don't be like that. You don't have to do anything…"
Harry backed up a bit. Quirrell had always said that he was too blunt sometimes, which could either work to or for his advantage, depending on the person he's up against.
"I thought it was urgent," Harry tried again.
Ron and Hermione looked at each other, then at the books piled up on the table, and then at each other again before looking at Harry.
"Oh, come off it, Hermione," Ron said. "Dumbledore just wants to see Harry. Something about a present!" He then turned to Harry. "He wants to see you right away."
Harry nodded his head.
"And as friends, you should tell us what he gives you!" Ron continued excitedly, even as Hermione elbowed him.
"Would you like me to sign any books out for you?" Hermione asked.
"No, it's fine. I'll be back here after speaking with Dumbledore," Harry replied, already out the door.
"What's up with him? Colder than the weather," Ron observed.
Hermione stared at the books on the library table for a very long time.
Dumbledore's office was just as how he remembered it since his first day at Hogwarts. The photographs were playful with their comments, the contraptions continued to fascinate him, and seated at the desk was the headmaster himself.
Dumbledore had a wistful expression on him, eyes twinkling behind his gold-rimmed spectacles. However, Harry knew that behind those eyes hid someone intelligent and cautious. Harry wondered why Dumbledore wasn't sorted into either Ravenclaw or Slytherin.
"Ah, Harry, my boy," the wizard greeted as Harry took a seat. "How are you enjoying the snow outside? I assume you are having fun and causing mischief with your friends?"
Harry considered the question carefully before providing an answer. "I don't really like the cold," he said. It wasn't the truth, but it wasn't a lie, either. He didn't like the snow, for it reminded him of his all those years spent inside and stuck with the Dursley's.
"Well now, Harry. There's no need to be a stranger," Dumbledore replied. He gestured to the mug in front of him. "Take a sip. Hot chocolate ought to cheer the spirits up. And while you're at it - lemon drop?"
Harry took a sweet and put it in his robes. "Thank you," he replied. He then took the warm mug into his hands. He did not drink it.
"Snape tells me you're struggling in Potions class," Dumbledore tried again.
"And I am serving the punishment," Harry replied, without missing a beat. He did not want any more punishment for denial. Snape seemed to hate even the air that Harry breathed.
"Do you see it as punishment, Harry?"
There. That question again. The question that Snape had asked him for what seemed like thousands and thousands of times; enough times that it rivalled the amount of praise and encouragement Quirrell had given him.
Deep within, a brave part of Harry spoke out. "The professor asked me that, too," Harry said. "Why?" he demanded the last part.
"I sometimes wonder why you weren't sorted into Gryffindor," Dumbledore said, smiling again.
Harry was taken aback by both the parallel of Dumbledore's words to his thoughts, and the anger he felt of having to face such a question again and again. Why couldn't someone from Gryffindor be upfront about it? Why did Dumbledore speak in riddles? It was a manner very different from that of Quirrell, who was usually upfront about things.
Sensing the lack of response, Dumbledore continued. "Snape is doing his best to help you focus. Concentrate on nothing so you could protect yourself from everything."
Riddles again. Too many riddles. Harry was tired and annoyed by it all. He gritted his teeth before taking a sip of the hot chocolate, hoping to calm himself down.
"What I need to do is concentrate on my studies," Harry said, the words tumbling out of his mouth.
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "Lily has always done well in her classes," he recalled. "Which classes do you excel in, and what classes do you need help with?"
"I'm great in Defense Against the Dark Arts. And I'm fine with everything else except Potions. Snape hates me for some reason, so I don't trust him. He enjoys punishing me and making me clean his cauldrons," Harry couldn't help but spill out.
Dumbledore nodded, looking pensive and stroking his long, white beard. "I shall speak with Severus," he said. Then, he got up, walked across the room, and opened a drawer. He took out a box and handed it to Harry with care.
"A gift," Dumbledore told him. "An Invisibility Cloak, actually. It was used many a times by your father to cause mischief. He entrusted it to me, should he ever pass away."
Harry's breath hitched. "I… I've never received a real gift before," he admitted. "Do you -"
Before Harry could ask if he was expected to give anything back, Dumbledore waved a hand. "My only wish is for you to trust Severus just as much as James trusted me," Dumbledore replied.
Harry nodded, suddenly overwhelmed by emotions he cannot quite pinpoint.
"Thank you," Harry said after a long moment. "Thank you."
Author's Note: And that is the seventh chapter. Draco is an interesting character - I recently found out on Pottermore that his wand was of a unicorn hair core. I had always thought it would be dragon heartstring.
Have you taken the Pottermore Patronus quiz yet? What's your Patronus, house, and wand?