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Chapter Twenty-Two—Bad News

"There you are, Mr. Potter. You are to stay near your Housemates at all times until this crisis resolves. If you go outside the school, you must have at least two other Slytherins with you."

Harry turns to stare at Professor Snape. He's looming over Harry and scowling nearly as much as he did last year when Harry was first Sorted into Slytherin. Harry shakes his head. "What are you talking about, sir?"

For a second, Snape's face blanks. Then he says, "You have not yet seen a Daily Prophet this morning, then?"

"No, sir." Harry thinks about explaining how he left breakfast early so he could go look at the room the house-elves told Blaise about, and then he did some extra studying for Defense—the new Defense professor is kind, but demanding—and then he went to Charms and Transfiguration, and now he's on his way to lunch. But Snape doesn't need to hear all that.

"You are being hunted by a fugitive who broke out of Azkaban," Snape says, and his eyes are glittering. "By Sirius Black, the man who betrayed your parents and let the Dark Lord find them."

Harry feels as if someone has slammed him in the stomach. He doesn't lose his breath and he doesn't grab the wall, though, because it's not like someone actually did, and if he can keep from showing weakness in front of Dudley, he can bloody well not show it in front of Snape. "I—see. Thank you for telling me, sir."

"Did you acknowledge the warning I gave you about spending time with other Slytherins?"

"Well, what about Ron and Hermione, too? Sir," Harry adds as he sees Snape's eyes narrow. He can sort of understand why Snape doesn't want him going anywhere alone, but that doesn't mean he only has to have Blaise and Theo with him or something.

"They are Gryffindors. They will encourage you to risk your neck for revenge or something else similarly stupid. Slytherins, Harry." There's no one around, Harry knows, or Snape wouldn't have used his first name, but he still lowers his voice and leans close enough to loom over Harry. "Or do I have to restrict your movements by putting you in detention every evening?"

"No, sir," Harry says between his teeth. He can't believe how stupid Snape thinks he is. And how stupid Snape thinks Ron and Hermione are, really. He's not going to go seeking out Sirius Black! "You don't."

"Good," Snape says. "Then see that you stick to the terms of our bargain." And he sweeps away before Harry can point out that it was a demand, not a bargain, and a pretty bloody one-sided demand at that.

Harry scowls at the air where he was, and stomps down the stairs. Blaise chuckles as he comes out of an alcove and falls into step beside him. "What did Professor Snape do now? That's your scowl that says he's been bothering you."

"He said that Sirius Black broke out of Azkaban and I have to only stay with Slytherins. Not even Ron and Hermione."

Blaise comes to a stop for a second and sort of whistles. "He's afraid that they'll encourage you to take revenge?"

"For Merlin's sake, my friends are not idiots!"

"Well, he might be worried that you'll only need a little encouragement," Blaise says cautiously. "What with Black being your godfather and all."

Harry comes to a stop. He stares at Blaise. Blaise scuffs a foot on the floor and says, "Oh. You didn't know? Er." He looks around as if hoping that Professor Snape will appear from around the corner and rescue him.

"You're going to tell me what you know about this," Harry whispers. He wants to shout it, actually, but it's as though he can't get any breath into his throat.

Blaise sighs and tugs him over so that they're mostly behind a suit of armor and people walking down the corridor won't see them right away. "Listen. Sirius Black was your father's best friend. I think that's why your dad made him your godfather. Your parents were under the Fidelius Charm. It can only be broken if the person who's the Secret-Keeper betrays the secret willingly. Sirius Black turned out to be a Death Eater. He took the knowledge straight to—the Dark Lord. And when another of your father's friends, Peter Pettigrew, confronted him about it, Black laughed and killed Pettigrew and a dozen Muggles. Blew up the street right under them. You can see why people didn't talk to you about it?"

"No." The weight of the new knowledge is a small, heavy stone in Harry's stomach.

"Because it's a horrible story. Of course no one wanted to tell you." Blaise hesitates. "Or maybe they just thought that you already knew. Until this summer, I thought you lived with a wizarding family, maybe some of your father's relatives, and knew everything about your history."

"Right," Harry says, and begins stalking towards the Great Hall. Blaise trails him, watching him all the time. So do most of the students when they come into lunch and Harry heads straight for the Slytherin table.

Come to that, Harry saw more than one person watching him this morning and then darting their eyes quickly away again. But people do that all the time, and he just thought it was because some of them still aren't used to the idea of the perfect Gryffindor—the one they all thought he was—being in Slytherin.

Harry slams himself down at the table and grabs the first Daily Prophet he sees. It's sitting next to a fourth-year who looks at Harry and opens his mouth. Then he closes it again and carefully goes back to his sandwich.

Harry stares at the photograph on the front page with his eyes burning. Sirius Black looks crazed. Then again, Snape and Tarquinius both told him something about Azkaban this summer. If he wasn't mad when he went into it, then he will be now.

Harry skims the article, but it's just highlighting the points that Blaise already told him. It doesn't even mention anything about Black being Harry's godfather. Harry chokes roughly and flings the paper on the table.

"You really didn't know," Blaise says, and sinks into the seat next to him.

"No, I didn't," Harry says, and he looks at Blaise, because he's the one who's there, even though he's not really the proper target for Harry's wrath. "Look. If there's something else you think I should know, then realize I don't, bloody tell me. All right?"

"All right," Blaise mutters as he starts spooning some potatoes onto his plate. "But only because you need to know that sort of thing if you're going to be an effective leader in Slytherin, not because you're demanding it."

"I am not going to be a leader in Slytherin," Harry says, and takes his rage out on the pieces of his sandwich he's slapping together. It's less than satisfying, but at least now he has something to really be irritated at Blaise about. "You and Theo can take that nonsense about me being one and shove it up your arses."

Blaise doesn't say anything. It's a very careful silence, but it's still silence, and Harry eats his sandwich with large, deliberate, ill-mannered bites. He's sick of people keeping things from him and trying to turn him into someone they think they can control.

He really doesn't understand.

Blaise thought Harry did. Harry's made the offer to help him if he needs help. He's befriended Blaise and Theo and turned Draco down when he asked for something stupid. That pointed, at least to Blaise, towards the fact that Harry wants to upset the power structure in Slytherin.

And then he says things like—this.

Blaise eats casually as he watches Harry, who alternates between scowling at his plate and scowling at the newspaper. Of course Blaise would be upset if someone had kept information as important as this from him. But it only happened because everyone assumed Harry already knew. So why he is hanging onto that anger?

Oh. He's dealing with the same emotions that he would be as a child if he heard this for the first time then.

Blaise swallows thoughtfully. All right. Harry might claim he's in no danger of dashing off and trying to get revenge, but Blaise isn't sure of that. If he has a chance to confront Black, he might take it. And a Death Eater clever enough to fool his best friends could present that chance just to lure Harry out of the castle.

Well, Professor Snape's injunction about Harry going nowhere without other Slytherins is going to be obeyed. It's a shame that Harry might not be the one to obey it, but that's the way things are, sometimes.

Blaise has all his classes with Harry. He's part of his study group. And between him and Theo—and maybe Daphne, if they can recruit her—then Harry should be covered on his trips to the Great Hall and the common room and between classes. And certainly meals.

"What are you looking at?" Harry mutters sullenly.

"An upset person," Blaise says. "For understandable reasons."

Harry is already puffing his cheeks out like images Blaise has seen of wind gods, but he stops and relaxes when Blaise says that. "Oh. Right." He pauses and then reaches out and pats Blaise's shoulder. "Thanks."

"Welcome," Blaise says, and then eases to the side as he sees Weasley and Granger marching over to them from the direction of the Gryffindor table. He can still keep an eye on Harry while letting him have some personal time with his first friends.

Harry's ears are ringing with admonitions from Hermione, who seems to have the same concerns as Snape, and worry from Ron, who can't believe that Harry didn't know Sirius Black was his godfather, by the time the day is done. They kept after him in Potions, which Gryffindors and Slytherins have together, and as long as they could on the way to Herbology, which they don't. Harry sighs and pulls off his gloves as he steps out of the greenhouse.

I'm not going to run off and endanger myself. I did try, last year, to involve Lockhart. And McGonagall the year before that. Not my fault they didn't pay attention!

Theo is lingering outside, waiting for him. Harry covers a snort with one hand. Blaise and Theo think they're being subtle. But they're not. Well, Harry doesn't mind, as long as they don't try to convince him that some perfectly ordinary thing like going to the classroom Blaise found is dangerous.

"Hey, Potter."

Harry feels as though someone's just driven an iron post of tension through the top of his head. He turns around slowly. Marcus Flint is standing in front of him, his eyes squinting as though that's the only way he can direct this much hate at Harry.

"Yeah, Flint, what?" Harry keeps his voice as indifferent as he can.

"Heard about your godfather." Flint clears his throat with a cough that might conceal a laugh. No, does conceal a laugh. Harry's sure of that. "And how you never knew that he betrayed your parents. Pretty big thing to be ignorant about, isn't it?"

Harry can feel the few muscles in his body that weren't already tense clench up. Theo grabs his arm and murmurs urgently into his ear, "Come on, Harry, he's just acting like this because he lost once. He knows that he can win if he makes you snap again."

That's true. Harry relaxes his jaw as much as he can and turns away.

"You are a coward, Potter. Diffindo!"

Harry spins around and pushes Theo out of the way, to the ground. Because he's turning, the Cutting Curse doesn't hit him as badly as it could have, but it scores him across his arm. Probably because he broke Flint's arm, Harry acknowledges. He grabs for his own wand, but in the meantime, Professor Sprout has come out of the greenhouse.

"What is the meaning of this, Mr. Flint?" Flint is taller than Professor Sprout, but she still seems to loom over him as she reaches out and snatches his wand. "A seventh-year bullying a third-year! Well, I never! Thirty points from Slytherin!"

"He has his wand out, too!" Flint stabs his finger at Harry, who doesn't try to move as Professor Sprout turns around and looks at him.

"And he hasn't cast a spell, or you would be injured," Professor Sprout says, with such assurance that Harry can't help blinking. It's strange to think a professor has that much faith in him as a duelist. "Now, Mr. Flint. I saw well enough what happened through the wall. You are going to the hospital wing, Mr. Potter, and you are coming with me right now to see your Head of House, Mr. Flint!"

Harry opens his mouth to argue—he doesn't think Flint getting in trouble will stop him from going after Harry again—but Theo says, "Come on, Harry," and pulls him along. He does it by his unwounded arm, thankfully. Harry doesn't want the cut opening and bleeding more.

Theo glances at him when they're halfway to the hospital wing and says, "Why aren't you howling with pain?"

"It just doesn't hurt that much," Harry says. He doesn't like the way Theo's looking at him, so he steps closer to him and lowers his voice. "After the spells that your father used on me this summer—well, some of them? It really doesn't hurt."

"Okay," Theo says, in the most unconvinced voice ever, but he makes sure that Harry walks in front of him as they head to the hospital wing. Harry isn't sure whether he finds the implication that he's going to bolt or the implication that he might forget the way more insulting.

Severus spends a few minutes sitting behind his desk and looking steadily at Marcus Flint. The boy looks back sullenly. Severus shakes his head. He knew Flint failed to pass enough NEWTs to qualify for any job and that's why he's still here, but he didn't suspect the boy was also stupid enough about the way House dynamics worked to do this.

"Why did you curse Potter?" he finally asks.

"Because he insulted me!"

"That's not what Professor Sprout said," Severus murmurs, and leans forwards. "She said you grew frustrated when he wouldn't respond to your taunting and drew your wand on him. And now Mr. Potter will spend dinner in the hospital wing thanks to you."

"She's just a Hufflepuff, what does she know?"

Yes, definitely more stupid than expected. Severus looks calmly at him, waits for the moment when Flint realizes something is wrong, and then asks, "How is it going to look, that you cursed a student five years younger than yourself?"

"It doesn't matter! Potter thinks he can make a fool out of me at Quidditch, and he's a coward! He won't go search for his godfather, he won't stand up to people, he thinks he can just hiss and he's so much better than everyone—"

"The Boy-Who-Lived is in our house now, Mr. Flint. We already have a reputation as Death Eaters in the making. What does it say, that he's now been injured by someone much bigger and stronger than him?"

"He hurt me first!" Flint is still clinging to his irritation, but his eyes flicker a little.

"You already tried to get your revenge for that. And now this? You lost your control. Then you lied. You thought you could lie to me. Tell me, Mr. Flint, why I shouldn't have you dismissed from Slytherin for stupidity outright!"

Severus is lying when he implies that he can do that, of course. If he could, he would have had to kick out Crabbe and Goyle the minute they were Sorted into his House. But Flint is also stupid enough not to know or think of that, and now he's staring at Severus in practically a panic.

"Please, sir," he says finally. "I have to pass my NEWTS this time around. It's my last chance. What my father will say—"

"I suspect he would encourage you to concentrate on your studies, not bully the younger students." Severus stands. "You will serve detention with Mr. Filch for a week, Mr. Flint. I will take no more points since Professor Sprout has already taken care of that. Do try to keep up with what's happening around you now. Some sense of burgeoning political awareness would serve you well in the future."

Flint nods, looking glad to have escaped rather than knowing what those big words mean, and tears out of the office. Severus sits back and puts his hand to his forehead.

It always comes back to Harry. Black's breakout, the supposed success of their Quidditch team, Flint's instability, someone trying to wound Harry or give him potions…Severus sighs wearily. He supposes he cannot really punish Harry for Flint's actions when he did nothing that would cause that problem.

And he now appreciates the boy's declaration that trouble comes looking for him rather than he for it. According to Pomona, Harry was walking away from Flint when he cast the curse, and he actually pushed Theodore out of the way. Severus shakes his head.

A heroic, self-sacrificing Slytherin. What is the world coming to?

Standing again, Severus makes his way towards the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey will want to keep Harry in for observation, but simply based on Severus's observation of the boy's temperament, she may need some help with that.