The Looks in Their Eyes
As Professor McGonagall handed him the list of books that Harry would require for his fifth year, she suggested a visit to Diagon Alley with Sirius and Remus, but he refused, instead opting for the closer and less busier Hogsmeade. He still wasn't ready to face anyone, to have to repeat the story once more after doing so for Scrimgeour, Remus and Hagrid, Sirius, then finally Professor McGonagall, who looked even angrier than when she was 'freed' from Riddle's terrible Imperius Curse.
She tried, like Remus and Sirius (through the mirror), to get Harry to open up about the experience, but Harry didn't want to. They already knew everything, through the horribly revealing article in the Prophet, so why did he have to bother going through it again?
Hogsmeade, while much smaller than Diagon Alley, had its share of shops catering to the needs of Hogwarts students. They had shops that stocked the text books for Harry's fifth year as well as shops supplying inks, quills and anything else that he would need. Professor McGonagall escorted him to the gates where he was met by Remus and Sirius. Remus was much like he'd been before leaving Hogwarts, but Sirius looked worse for wear. After McGonagall left, he finally opened his mouth and Harry thought he could detect a hint of alcohol, but unlike the times he'd been caring for Harry under the guise of Major Chilmead, he didn't think it was faked.
They walked to Hogsmeade in strained silence, their last conversation through the mirror hadn't ended well. In a drunken rant, Sirius had bellowed out a list of things he wished to do to the Dursleys, perhaps as a joke to make Harry feel better, but it had only made the teenager feel more guilty. He ended up shouting at Sirius, telling him to shut up before ending the conversation.
They were left alone by the village residents, which was unsurprising since Harry had begged his Transfiguration teacher to disguise him for the trip. Her lips had thinned and for a moment Harry had thought she was going to tell him to face the world, possibly mention that he was meant to be one of her Gryffindors, but in the end she relented to the small favour. They were, however, accosted by something unexpected.
About five minutes into the walk out of the school gates, owls descended upon him dropping letters and packages onto his head. Despite Remus' warnings to leave them alone, Harry picked up a letter and tore it open. He went pale as he read a letter from a witch praising his bravery for enduring the Dursleys (to whom she had sent several nasty Howlers) and offering to take him in to raise as her own child.
"They rest are most likely pretty similar." Sirius said as he read over Harry's shoulder. Remus banished the rest towards the castle. Apparently Harry had been receiving letters like these since the articles were published, but while he was staying in the hospital or at Hogwarts, there had been wards placed to redirect the mail away from him. The Hogwarts house elves had been busy during what was supposed to be their little reprieve during the summer, as they had been the ones to go through hundreds of these letters a week to see if there was anything worth reporting to the Headmistress. That had answered a question that he hadn't even considered until then, as to why the few letters he received came alongside his meals rather than be delivered by owls.
"Is there any way to get them to leave me the fu- I mean, leave me alone?" Harry spat out as what was possibly the twentieth owl swooped over his head.
Sirius snorted and set fire to a letter even before the owl had dropped it, causing the bird to hiss at the ex-Auror. "There is a spell you can use…, Remus can you do it?"
The werewolf shook his head. "I've seen you use the spell before, why can't you do it?"
Sirius looked embarrassed. "It needs a bit of complicated wandwork and it helps if you have a clear head. I… have a bit of a headache... Is there a pet shop near here?"
Even without that seemingly unrelated comment at the end, it was obvious to Harry that Sirius was not entirely sober, but he still attempted the spell. He made complex motions with his wand while muttering under his breath. He attempted the minute long incantation twice with no effect and on the third go finally shot out blue sparks towards Harry. An owl in the distance that Harry was following with his eyes came to a sudden stop and started flying around in circles. It hooted in distress while scanning it's surroundings and eventually turned and started flying in the direction it had come from.
Harry sighed in relief, but Remus looked a bit worried, "How long will the spell last?"
"About an hour, I reckon." Sirius said as he scanned the skies to make sure his spell had worked. "If someone is desperate enough to contact Harry, they'll undoubtedly try again."
"Why did you ask about the pet shop?" Harry asked curiously.
"Oh that? Some shops stock these objects that have the spell imbued on them." Sirius explained. "It's a needlessly complex spell that a lot of people have trouble with, but it's pretty useful if you don't want to be bothered for a while."
With the initial awkwardness being broken by the owls, Harry quietly asked for any news about Corinne, Hagrid or any other non-specific Professors that weren't currently at Hogwarts. They both chuckled lightly at that, but didn't have anything new to tell Harry.
It was one of his shortest trips to Hogsmeade. Harry wasn't in the mood to visit Zonko's, Honeydukes or anywhere else he would visit with his friends on their trips. In less than an hour Harry had bought everything he needed and was heading back towards the school gates.
"Hey, how about we have lunch here?" Sirius pointed at the Three Broomsticks. After seeing Harry look overhead worriedly, he added, "I'll cast the spell again in a bit. You don't have to worry about owls bothering us."
Harry nodded. It had been nice to get out of the castle for a bit, even more so that no one (or rather no portraits simulating life) was looking at him even without being covered head to toe in an invisibility cloak. Remus went ahead, speaking to Madam Rosemerta. She smiled at him and pointed them towards some stairs that Harry had never realised were there.
"Where are we going?" Harry asked as they climbed up.
"We got a room upstairs, thought you might prefer a little privacy." Sirius had a mischievous twinkle in his eye that Harry didn't like. The ground level had been pretty much empty. If they sat in the corner, it would have been unlikely that they would be bothered.
They stopped at a door and Sirius and Remus pushed ahead, almost scrambling to get in before Harry. Why were they being so weird? Unless… had they found Corinne? Or maybe Professor Riddle had managed to sneak back so he could give Harry explanations and reassurances. With a smile forming on his face, an expression he hadn't worn for a while now, he stepped through the door.
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" Remus and Sirius roared. There was muttered confusion, before other voices joined in half way through, making a cacophony of noise with the words almost unrecognisable. "Happy birthday Harry!"
Harry went extremely pale and took a step backwards. He must have looked like he was about to run since Sirius caught him by the arm and led him gently towards his friends. They were squinting at him uncertainly and Harry finally realised it was because of the spell Professor McGonagall had used on him.
The first thing he noticed was how much Ron had grown, he was now at least a head taller than Harry was. They hadn't seen each other for several months now and the change was startling, Harry would have almost believed it if someone had told him it wasn't actually Ron and that it was one of his many brothers. The redhead smiled hesitantly at first, but when Harry didn't immediately scowl or turn away, he took it as a sign of encouragement and his face brightened. Harry managed to return a tiny grin despite everything, he had missed his friend. He couldn't help but feel if Ron had been with them last year, he wouldn't be in the horrible mess he was in now.
Ernie Macmillan stood there, his back straight like always. When Harry had first met the boy at eleven, he had thought that the way he carried himself had made the Hufflepuff seem slightly pompous, but now the familiar sight was comforting. It also helped that he was more relaxed, more casual around his close friends, of which Harry Potter was near the top of the list. There was a sadness in his eyes as he watched Harry, but then he gave a single slow nod that told him that if he needed anything Ernie would have his back.
The Hufflepuff had a single finger entwined with that of his girlfriend, Sue Li. The Ravenclaw witch had cut her hair short some time during the summer, or perhaps even before that. She tried to smile brightly alongside everyone else in the room, but her eyes held a flash of anger. People sometimes had it in their heads that Ravenclaws were all even headed and logical and indeed she was. But she had a quick temper sometimes, like when someone questioned her ability to do something, or when her friends were in trouble. Harry made a mental note never to leave her alone with Sirius, for fear that they may plan something against the Dursleys.
Hermione looked close to tears. Even though it hadn't been that long since Harry had seen her, and even less time since their last correspondence through owl (and house elf) post, Harry felt just as strange seeing her as he did seeing the others. Harry knew she felt guilty about a lot of things that she had absolutely no reason to feel guilty about. Harry still remembered the worried look she had on her face when he turned back on their way to watch the third task.
She leapt forwards and wrapped him in a tight hug. "Oh, Harry! I always thought-! But never like th- And I can't believe that Pro-"
"Now, now." Remus said as he gently prised the girl away from Harry. "We're not here to remind Harry of all the terrible things that had happened, we're here to celebrate his birthday."
Hermione sniffed and nodded, allowing the others a chance to say hello as well. Sue hugged him tightly as well, while Ernie and Ron settled for an awkward half hug, half handshake, while trying to give him a reassuring smile. Harry tried to smile back and thank them. He had honestly forgotten it was his birthday, it had seemed even less of an issue now than when he was living with the Dursleys.
After Sirius removed the transfiguration spell and reinforced the one keeping the owls at bay, Harry sat down at the head of the table which was already laden with food. There were bright summery salads and a thick green soup for starters, and several roast chickens with mounds of potatoes with gravy for mains. On a separate table along the wall were two cakes both with the words 'Happy Birthday Harry!' written in icing.
"Hagrid sends his best wishes." Remus said pointing at one of the cakes.
"The other one's from mum..." Ron said after a pause. "If it tastes a bit salty, it's because she kept crying while she was icing the cake…"
He looked around with a slight grin and there were a few uncomfortable laughs at the joke. At least, Harry hoped it was a joke. Knowing Mrs. Weasley, he could easily imagine her doing just that.
They started eating quietly, with the conversation horrible awkward and stilted. It was as if they'd all agreed beforehand not to talk about anything that might upset Harry, which meant there wasn't all that much they could talk about while keeping him a part of their conversation. In the end, they ended up talking about the homework they were set during the summer. Even Ron, who never liked talking about school work in general, seemed to have a lot to say, anxious to keep the conversation away from more uncomfortable topics.
Hermione on the other hand, wasn't showing her usual enthusiasm. She startled when Harry asked her about a particular essay, "Oh. I didn't get around to doing that yet..."
Everyone froze and stared at her in disbelief. Ron hastily covered his mouth as a bit of food he was chewing almost fell out of his mouth. Sue bit her lips and finally managed to say ask they were all thinking, "You… haven't finished it all yet?"
"No. I haven't." Hermione snapped at her friend, then blushed guiltily. "We still have plenty of time."
"Is everything alright?" Ernie asked.
"Yes!" Hermione said with an annoyed shake of her head. "Just because I haven't finished everything yet, doesn't mean the end of the world!"
They looked at her, startled, and Remus even choked on the butterbeer he was drinking. Sirius looked bemused as he slapped his friend's back. Harry smoothed the grin forming on his face, for a moment it almost felt like things were back to normal, "Hermione, you're always going on about our homework even before the holidays start!
"Well I had other things on my mind!" Hermione sounded annoyed.
"Probably about little Vicky..." Ron muttered under his breath.
Hermione turned to him, her eyes flashing. "As a matter of fact I haven't heard from him in weeks! I had other things on my mind, like as to whether I'd even be allowed to return to Hogwarts this year!"
"W..what do you mean?" Sue asked, she looked just as shocked as the rest of them, meaning Hermione hadn't even confided in her.
Hermione cast a guilty look to Harry, then the two adults in the room. Then she shook her head. "It doesn't matter..."
"It's about me… isn't it?" Harry whispered as every bit of positive emotion he had gathered in this room vanished. "Because I… attacked… my relatives..."
"No! It has nothing to do with you. Really. It's..." she hesitated and sighed. "It's Pr- Riddle. I've been getting the Prophet over the summer and… I've been trying to keep them hidden, but my mum found one in my room. It was the one with the absolutely scathing article against Pr- Riddle. The one that said how he might sneak back into the school in the middle of the school year and murder us all out of spite..."
"He wouldn't do that!" Harry stood, knocking over his chair.
"Harry!" Remus shot him a warning look. "I think what Harry meant to say is that no one, especially Professor McGonagall would allow that to happen. I already know for a fact that the Ministry will be offering protection for the students when the term starts."
His friends stared at Harry while he picked up his chair and sat down with a scowl, but he didn't say anything. Hermione sighed, "Yes well, I've been telling them exactly that, but they keep saying I've wasted four years of my life attending a school run by a mad man."
"You should speak with Professor McGonagall." Remus advised. "She might be able to help you convince them."
Hermione nodded as she started nibbling her food. Harry's appetite had vanished, and he poked his food with a sullen expression for a while before pushing his plate away. Sirius and Remus worked together to clear the table before hovering the two cakes onto it. They worked in silence, only murmuring a quiet 'happy birthday' again as they placed two slices (one of each) of the cake in front of him. His friends echoed the words, but Harry only responded with a curt nod.
Soon afterwards they handed him his presents. A few books about Aurors and fighting the dark arts and lots of sweets. Ron had also brought quite a lot of things from his family, who wanted to be here but had stayed behind to give Harry a quiet birthday, Harry was thankful to Sirius for managing to convince them, especially Mrs. Weasley. There was the home-made fudge Mrs. Weasley normally gave him during Christmas and a screwdriver from Mr. Weasley, because he had heard it was something very useful. Other than the cards from each member of the red-headed family, saying that they considered Harry one of their own and would always be welcome, Ron also sneaked him a suspicious looking package that he told him not to open in front of Sirius and Remus, the twins had apparently made him something.
Ron's own present was a recording of the world cup finals that were held last year that he had managed to get his hands on. He handed it over to Harry alongside the Nimbus Two Thousand, another thing Harry hadn't really thought about all summer. "Thanks again for lending me the broom, Harry. And sorry I didn't write back all summer… I.. erm… it was..."
"I understand." he wasn't entirely sure if he did or he didn't. He couldn't really imagine his situation from his friend's perspective, but he wasn't going to have a falling out with Ron over that. He imagined he was going to need all the friends he could keep to survive his fifth year. Harry stared down at the goggles and frowned, "Aren't these really expensive? They were selling something similar during the broom race, they were like… forty Galleons or something..."
Ron's eyes bulged out, "Bloody hell! I hope you didn't buy that! You were getting ripped off mate. No, my dad knew someone who had a spare. I watched it a few times, I hope you don't mind..."
"Not at all." Harry smiled. His final present was from Sirius and Remus, which was a little disappointing, because it looked like a bag, a brown leather satchel pretty much identical to the one he'd been using to carry his school stuff around. He had been using the same one since he bought it on the trip to Diagon Alley with Hagrid before his first year, but it was still serviceable and he had never really considered getting a new one. "Er… thanks. It'll be useful."
Sirius caught his expression and smirked. "How about you hear us out before looking so disappointed?"
It turned out to be more than just a simple bag. It was something he could imagine someone paranoid, like Moody, would have used at school. There was a buckle on the strap that was a miniature Sneakoscope that vibrated against his shoulder instead of making any noise and on the inside of the bag was a Foe-Glass that he could glance at every time he opened it. It was also much more spacious than he realised, he could probably have carried most of his belongings (not that he really had that much) inside, without any trouble.
"One more thing..." Remus took it off Harry for a moment and threw it over to Sirius, who winced slightly. "Harry, don't give Sirius permission to open the bag."
"Er… what?" Harry asked bemusedly.
"Can I have a look inside?" Sirius asked, grinning now.
"Sur-" Harry caught Remus' look and shook his head. "Er… I mean. No."
"Ah, well. I'm having a look anyway..." the ex-Auror said and moved to open the bag. There was a shrill ringing in the air and a pulse of energy as Sirius Black was knocked away and crashed into the wall. He got back onto his feet, nursing a bruise forming on the back of his head. "Yeah, so it's pretty secure as well."
"Thanks!" Harry said, this time more genuinely, as he examined his present.
"I really should have got you something like this last year..." Sirius said solemnly. "That great big Sneakoscope was pretty useless, wasn't it?"
"It did work… It was just a bit too… sensitive." Harry said diplomatically. "And… I should have looked after it better..."
Remus sighed, "I'd hate to think you would be in any danger inside the castle, but you never know… Be on the lookout for any trouble, and always look after one another."
The teenagers all looked at each other and nodded with determination.
The Great Hall, the perpetually noisy Great Hall, fell into complete silence even without the Professor standing for everyone's attention. Harry looked straight ahead, without meeting anyone's eyes, and headed for the spot between Ron and Hermione, where they had left him a space. His face didn't betray any of the foul mouthed cursing that was roaring in his mind, telling them all to mind their own bloody business. They always stared at him, but it was worse this year. He once again directed his angry thoughts towards the Headmistress, who was currently giving him a small but encouraging nod, and instantly felt guilty a second later. She had insisted he attend the feast, threatening to kick him out of her house if he didn't. He thought it was an empty threat, he had never heard of anyone being kicked out of one of the houses, but he wasn't about to challenge her. She had been nothing but kind and accommodating towards him all summer.
He kept his head down, facing the empty plate, as the new term began. He barely heard the Sorting Hat's new song, the names of the first years, or the new announcement that Headmistress McGonagall made.
When the food appeared, people around him began to throw questions at him in raised voices that began to carry to each end of the Hall. He was grateful for Ron and Hermione, who were quietly and not-so-quietly telling everyone to shut up. He was ignoring everything and concentrating on eating, so it took a sharp nudge to his side to realise that Ron was asking him a question. "Sorry, what?"
"Snape." Ron whispered at him. "Where is he?"
Harry frowned and glanced at the staff table. He couldn't recall Professor McGonagall saying that Snape was going to be replaced. He would definitely have remembered it, he would have been conflicted whether to feel happy or further guilt at another casualty. "I'm not sure. I haven't seen him all summer, not even when the other professors started turning up. I just presumed he was avoiding me."
"Professor McGonagall didn't mentioned another Potions professor." Hermione added from Harry's other side. "Maybe he's just late?"
The hope that Snape wouldn't be teaching him potions any longer lasted throughout the night and up till the moment he was standing in front of the classroom for the first lesson of the term. He was the first to arrive in the dungeons, only a few minutes before the lesson was about to start, to find the door locked.
The rest of his class arrived soon after and they gathered at the locked door and they all stared at Harry with a complete spectrum of emotions. Justin stared at him with trepidation, possibly because he was Muggleborn and was worried that Harry might lash out at him. Pansy was glaring with open hostility and this he understood, after all he was involved in the events leading up to getting the most respected Slytherin Headmaster kicked out of Hogwarts and on the run from the authorities. The absolute worst stares came from the other girls, led by Lavender Brown, which was an expression reserved solely for puppies, some sort of three-legged, emaciated puppy that had just been diagnosed with a vile and incurable disease. Harry had purposefully avoided staying in the common room too long the night before, just to get away from these looks. Harry closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall.
Even after five minutes there seemed to be no signs of Snape showing up, and a few of his classmates were suggesting they go find the Headmistress. Harry slowly opened his eyes and everyone must have gotten bored of Harry not showing any response, since they were all talking amongst themselves not looking in his direction. No one other than Draco Malfoy. Harry stared back suspiciously, because the look was not one he had been expecting. He had expected the Slytherin boy to be leading the 'blame Potter for Riddle's absence' group alongside Pansy Parkinson, but he didn't look at all angry. If anything, he looked considering, calculating, a look that Harry didn't like.
Harry flushed angrily when he realised what Malfoy was thinking. He knew the rumours about the Malfoy family, dark wizards, pureblood supremacists with no love for Muggles. He probably thought Harry was like them, willing to use dark curses on Muggles to show who was on top.
Harry looked away just as he heard the swish of heavy robes. Snape appeared around the corner, looking as if he had just arrived at Hogwarts moments ago. He wore a grimy travelling cloak and was holding a large package by his side. He glared at the gathered students until they were silent, it didn't take more than a second. "Move aside."
They parted neatly into two, allowing the Potions professor to unlock the door with a tap of his wand. Everyone hesitated, but followed him inside when he said nothing else.
The room smelled musty, as if it hadn't been aired out for a while. Perhaps the man hadn't been avoiding Harry. He vaguely recalled Professor Riddle mentioning that he could help Harry with something, so maybe he was away preparing for that?
Harry remained leaning against the wall, waiting until everyone else shuffled inside. He didn't want to spend the whole lesson begin stared at like a mad criminal or the world's most wretched puppy, so he took a seat by the back on his own. Snape waved his wand at the blackboard, then he turned to them and barked, "This is a potion that often comes up during the O.W.L.s you will be taking this year. Ingredients are in the cupboard. You have an hour. Get on with it."
With that he turned and headed for a door behind his desk. Everyone stared. He seemed to be in a worse mood than usual, but he hadn't given them his usual talk of how he expected everyone to have forgotten what they've learnt the past year over the summer. Ron had also mentioned that the professors usually start their fifth year classes by droning on and on about the importance of their O.W.L.s.
When the door slammed shut behind the Potions Professor, everyone leapt up into action. Harry stayed seated, fiddling with his cauldron and flicking through his Potions textbook, even though he didn't think he needed to. He remembered doing this potion with Professor Riddle last year. It had been one of the more simpler ones and he had managed to brew it just as well as Hermione.
The seat next to his slid out and someone sat down. Harry let out an exasperated sigh but kept his eyes glued onto the book. He eventually had to get up to collect the ingredients and he did a double-take as he saw Malfoy sitting next to him. Harry gritted his teeth and went over to the store cupboard. When he returned he lighted a fire, began chopping the ingredients and, most importantly, completely ignored the boy sitting next to him.
It wasn't that difficult, since Malfoy seemed to be completely ignoring him as well and soon he managed to half-forget that there was anyone sitting besides him and concentrate on brewing the potion.
Snape returned just as Harry began adding the fairy wings to the simmering water. The Professor's dark eyes darted around the room looking for anyone making a fatal mistake, which was unlikely since most of them were still chopping and dicing, although Hannah Abbott nearly sliced her finger clean off when Snape entered by slamming the door open.
Harry remembered why he always hated Potions, as the Professor stalked between the tables with a perpetual scowl on his face. Even though he was sure he was doing everything correctly, Snape managed to make him feel as if he was about to cause an imminent explosion and take out half the classroom. Snape raised half an eyebrow as he saw who Harry was sitting next to, then he peered closely at the contents of his cauldron. His eyes narrowed and his lips twitched as if he was struggling to find an excuse to take points away from Gryffindor, but it seemed he couldn't think of anything and just walked away, snapping at Lavender instead.
Eventually Harry lost himself in the 'intricacies of potion making', as Snape would probably say, and briefly forgot all about his troubles. An hour later, Harry was sweating and the sleeves of his robes were splashed with the potion from when he had stirred it a little too enthusiastically, but he was pretty happy with the results. Snape started from the front of the classroom and looked into each of the cauldrons. He made helpful suggestions (harsh criticisms) on how they could have done better and finally he got to Harry. He first gave Malfoy a nod and a "Very good, Draco." before sneering at Harry's potion.
"Honestly Potter, I expected your usual abysmal self- no. In fact, I lowered my expectations considerably when I remembered your blissful absence from my classroom for a whole year. But this..." Harry stared at the potion that Snape was gesturing at dismissively, and frowned. He glanced over at Malfoy's potion which, to Harry's eye, looked pretty much identical to his own. "I'll see you here tonight, Potter. We'll have to arrange some sort of… remedial lessons for you to catch up on a year's worth of work."
Snape was sneering at him, but his eyes were an unflinching glare, as if daring Harry to contradict him. Harry saw Malfoy shuffle in his seat as he stared between his head of house and Harry's potion. He was frowning and opened his mouth, almost as if he was going to object, but he seemed to sense something in Snape's glare and clamped his mouth shut. Harry didn't say anything either.
"Professor Riddle-" Harry startled slightly at hearing the title, then he remembered all the spells that Snape had used just as Harry was entering the room. "-has told me that your memories have-"
"You've spoken to him?" Harry looked hopeful.
"No. Professor McGonagall has informed me." Snape looked at him as if he were an idiot. "Do not interrupt me again. As I was saying, he said your memories have been poisoned. Not removed, not modified, but poisoned. Something almost unheard of and something that has required much research on my part, throughout the summer, to find a way to cure. He has also asked that I teach you Occlumency."
"Occlumency?" Harry asked blankly.
Snape sneered at him, "Occlumency is the branch of magic that helps one defend the mind against external penetration. The Headmaster (Snape seemed intent on calling him that, despite his absence) seems to have concluded a mental attack was what has caused you to… attack your relatives and I agree that it is the most likely cause. You will return here every week at this time for these lessons and you will tell everyone you have remedial potions."
Harry scowled at Snape, who seemed to be enjoying the situation a little too much. Harry tried to keep his annoyance from showing on his face, "So, if I learn this… it will fix everything? Professor Riddle will be able to come back and-"
"Did you really think it was such a simple matter?" Snape stared at him disdainfully. "Did you think he sacrificed himself so lightly? That he sacrificed the decades of work he put into this school and the name of Slytherin thinking that this matter would be settled within a few weeks? I don't suppose anyone has bothered to tell you about the amount of hatred being levelled towards my house? About the talks of removing Slytherin from Hogwarts altogether? No Potter, it will not be fixed so easily, but it will be a start in getting some answers. Now, we have no more time to waste. Let us begin..."
With that Snape brought out the Pensieve Harry remembered from the Headmaster's office.
Harry left two hours later feeling completely drained. Occlumency, he thought bitterly, was not something he enjoyed learning any more than he did Potions. He wondered if it was because of the way Snape was teaching him, but if Professor Riddle expected him to learn, he couldn't really complain. It wasn't just the Occlumency, Snape dragged out Harry's memoires like Professor Riddle had done, but with none of the care and finesse. He also questioned Harry with more exhaustible thoroughness than everyone else in the past weeks combined, going back to his third year and his encounter with the enigmatic Gaunt in the Forbidden Forest.
"Omnia vincit amor." Harry muttered at the portrait.
"Yes dear, it really does." the Fat Lady looked at him sadly and took a very long time to open up. "I'm always here if you need someone to talk to. You know that, don't you?"
"Thanks..." Harry sighed quietly before stepping through. He had heard this quite a few times over the summer, but he wasn't about to go vent his feeling to a portrait.
A hush settled around the room as he entered the common room, but Harry ignored it and climbed the stairs to his room. It took less than a minute for Ron and Hermione to follow him inside. "We heard! Remedial Potions with Snape?"
Harry groaned, "Does everybody know?"
"Lavender Brown." is all Hermione said and Harry understood. "But I don't understand. You did really well last year with Pro- Riddle… And I heard the potion you did was one of the ones you brewed almost perfectly..."
"Snape's probably being a right Slytherin git." Ron said angrily. "You should talk to McGonagall, you know? He might be doing something on Riddle's orders. Riddle might even order him to finish you off or something."
Harry unconsciously let out a growl and glared at his friend. He quickly lowered his head until the fury had passed. When he looked up it seemed Ron hadn't noticed and had grabbed a chocolate frog to offer to Harry. But Hermione was staring at him inquisitively.
"Thanks Ron," Hermione murmured distractedly as he handed her a chocolate as well, but her eyes stayed on Harry. "Harry… is there something… you're not telling us? About… Professor Riddle?"
She didn't even bother to correct the slip of the title 'Professor' that she'd been having trouble letting go of all summer. Harry wanted to tell them, he had wanted to tell them from the start, that someone had lured him to Privet Drive, caused him to attack his aunt and uncle, and that the Headmaster was covering for him. They would understand, they would believe him, but then they would ask why. Why had Professor Riddle attacked, and almost killed, Kendra Dumbledore? He would then have to explain the prophecy and that was something he didn't expect them to understand.
Maybe he would have been able to tell them when he first found out, and they could have just laughed about the complete ridiculousness of it all. But now? After what he had done to his relatives, not just cursing them, but cursing them with something that was Unforgivable. He was grateful for it, but sometimes he didn't understand the blind faith that everyone who knew about the prophecy was showing him. And when there was a small part of Harry's mind that didn't trust himself, how could he expect his friends to trust him?
"No. Riddle… is evil..." Harry said, and hated himself for doing so. "He was always up to something… I don't know what… but he needs to be stopped."
If you're still reading my fic after all this time, you'll know that I update once a week and I'll be trying to keep to that schedule. I have a decent number of chapters written up, so I should hopefully be able to finish this year without incident.
Glad to see there were so many people who returned to my fic even after that long break! Thank you to everyone who left a review for the last chapter! =)
And also a customary thank you to my beta, Lord Shasta.