"Minerva, Headmaster, would you mind if I kept Harry with me this evening?" Severus said in a near growl. "I'd like to clarify a few things with him." Harry flinched internally and tried carefully to keep the scowl off his face as they agreed.
The moment the door closed once they'd arrived at their apartments, Harry found himself engulfed in a near bone-crushing hug.
"Merlin's beard, Harry," Severus whispered brokenly before holding Harry out at arms' length. "How I am not as white haired as Albus is beyond me..."
As his father began lecturing him very seriously yet again about just exactly why there were safeguards in place for the students, Harry listened with no complaint this time. No matter how angry Severus seemed (and no doubt was), the trembling he'd felt in his father's embrace and heard in his voice when they'd first come in told Harry loud and clear how worried his father was for him. and seeing his father that rattled scared Harry more than he'd like to admit.
In the end, after swearing again that he'd obey all the safety precautions, Harry'd asked to be allowed to stay the night. He told Severus that he just didn't want to be bombarded with questions the moment he arrived back in his dorm - which was true enough - but it wasn't the only reason he wanted to stay with his Dad, though he didn't want to think too much about that.
He'd overreacted a bit - he knew it. But seeing that girl petrified - a girl who was a close friend of Harry's - a girl Harry spent a great deal of time with... Well, it had hit Severus far too close to home for comfort.
Oh, he was deeply concerned for the safety of all the children in the school of course, but, and he didn't care what anyone thought about it damn it, he cared more about the safety of one child in particular.
If it was a Basilisk, that girl could just as easily have been killed - and if Harry, as was so often the case, had been with her... he shuddered, pulling his robes tighter around himself at the thought.
Knowing he wouldn't sleep that night, Severus didn't even bother getting into bed and instead found himself haunting Harry's doorway, watching him sleep in the moonlight and wondering for the millionth time if he really was up to the challenge of raising the precocious boy.
"So, you got to see her?" Ron asked testily when he arrived for breakfast the next morning.
"Only long enough for the Headmaster, Professor McGonogall and my Dad to accuse me of somehow knowing what she was doing roaming the halls alone," Harry replied, equally gruff.
"So, what?" Ron went on. "You just spend the night gawping at her laying there all petrified?"
"No," Harry replied, levelling a glare on Ron and the other students who'd been listening in. "After everyone yelled at me for not telling them that I knew she was still trying to catch what had petrified Hannah and them, Dad drug me off to lecture me some more. After that, I just went to bed instead of coming down to the dorm for another round of the third degree. Alright?" he snapped, scooping a laddleful of oatmeal into his bowl with rather more force than was strictly necessary.
"Harry..." Ron sighed after a moment. "'M sorry, mate... I know you didn't... I'm just being a prat this morning..."
"I hope you're not waiting for me to argue with you about that," Harry replied, though there was no malice in his voice.
Ignoring him, Ron merely stared morosely at his own congealing oatmeal. "It's just... Hermione..."
"Yeah." Harry frowned, his oatmeal settling uncomfortably heavy in his stomach. "But she'll be better - once the Mandrakes are mature Dad'll make the potions and they'll all be fine - and Hermione'll be complaining about the classes she missed."
"Hey, Harry?" Seamus asked. "Why do they have to wait for these Mandrakes to mature? Can't they just order in some that are already ready? I mean, there's got to be more than one source of them..."
But Harry was already shaking his head. "For some things - some potions, it doesn't matter, but for what's wrong with them, the potion they need, the Mandrakes have to be grown specifically and fed a certain mixture that contains something from the affected person in the last week before they're harvested. The potion only works if they've been fed specifically for the specific person beforehand. Neville can probably explain the feeding the Mandrakes part of it better - I only know it has to be done for them to work in the potions later.
Neville, who was seated across the table from Harry, blushed scarlet at the comment and started a serious examination of the bottom of his breakfast bowl when all eyes were suddenly on him. He was saved further nervousness at being the centre of attention though when Dumbledore rose to address the school.
"Your attention please, boys and girls," he called, his firm voice quickly drawing everyone's attention. "As you, no doubt, have already heard, another student was attacked here in the school yesterday. Fortunately," he added louder to quell the nervous whispering, "she will recover and for now is resting comfortably."
Dumbledore looked very seriously across the sea of students. "However, until whomever is responsible for these attacks is caught and stopped, further precautions must be enacted for your own safety."
Harry groaned along with everyone else at the Headmaster's growing list of restrictions and precautions. Along with all the precautions the headmaster had already enacted all extracurricular activities would cease; all students would be required to spend their evening free-time in their common rooms; teachers would be patrolling the halls day and night; a teacher would sit with students in their common room each evening until lights out... and the list went on. None of the students were happy about the situation, and many of the teachers looked no more happy themselves.
The only thought that did make Harry smile was when Ron leaned in to point out that Lockheart look especially put-out by all the precautions the Headmaster was enacting. "All that extra work," Harry suggested quietly so he didn't get into trouble. "He won't have time to curl his hair."
Having the only straight face in the group didn't fool his Dad nor the Headmaster for a second though when Ron choked loudly on his juice at what Harry'd said.
"Subtle guys," Harry whispered sulkily once the Headmaster returned to his speech and his Dad stopped glaring. "Thanks for that."
Harry knew of the dangers - now certain that he was right and that it was indeed a Basilisk responsible and that Hermione had figured it out as well. What he didn't know, was who was responsible, as Dumbledore had said, for the attacks. Basilisks didn't just roam free across the countryside, accidentally ending up in the school. They were rare, and in fact none had ever deliberately interacted with people except when controlled by a parselmouth.
As far as he knew, Harry was the only parselmouth in the school though, so who was setting the Basilisk loose? Who was controlling it? Anyone but another parselmouth would simply have been killed by the creature.
"Ginny!" Harry was so focussed on his thoughts as they all lined up to be walked to their first class that he almost walked right into her. "Are you alright?" he asked, concerned to see her face bright red with smoke billowing out of her ears. He frowned though when she merely gave him a panicked look before running to join her class line.
"Just ignore her," Ron said from behind him. "She's just mad because Percy made her swallow some pepperup potion - he said she looked like she was coming down with something."
As they made their way down to the dungeons for the Griffindor/Slytherin potions class, Harry was only half listening to Ron's indignant complaints that they were being forced to still go to thier regular lessons when he heard Draco Malfoy speaking loudly behind him.
"Of course, as head of the School Governors, Father is going to have Dumbledore discharged for the mess he's made of things. Perhaps then we can finally have a proper sort of wizard in charge around here..."
"And what's that mean eh, Draco?" Harry demanded, stopping in the hall to face him. "I suppose you and your father prefer the sorts of wizards who run about in masks!"
Draco's pale face flushed instantly red in anger. "How dare you!" he yelled, lunging at Harry.
Blood pounding in his ears, Harry ignored Ron's shout as well as the screams of several nearby girls as he grappled with the Slytherin boy. Later, he would be glad to have been so angry that he didn't even think to resort to magic to fight Draco - knowing the punishement would have been much worse, but at the moment all he knew was rage and swings and punches.
Until, that is, a large hand clamped down on each of their shoulders, pulling them apart and to their feet.
"What is the meaning of this?!" Severus demanded angrily, glaring at each of them in turn.
"He...!" both boys began, pointing accusingly at the other.
"Enough!" He pulled them apart again, giving each boy a shake when they strugged to reach each other. "Not another word from either of you."
Then, shifting his grip to their collars he pulled them along with him to the front of the group and resumed the class's trek to the dungeon.
Arriving in the potions room, Severus ordered Harry and Draco to sit at two separate desks he transfigured at the front of the room and wait silently while he gave the rest of the class their instruction on the day's potion.
"First," he snarled, leaning in close to the two desks when he turned back to them finally. "Twenty points from Gryffindor," he said with furious look at Harry before turning to Draco and wiping the smirk off of his face by adding, "and twenty points from Slytherin."
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see Draco's pale face growing red at that statement as Severus leaned even further forward, one hand resting on each of their desks.
"Second, as we are not assigning detentions at the moment due to the safety restrictions, you will both instead complete to my satisfaction an essay, the thesis of which I will assign at the end of this class." Harry held in a groan at this, he'd had essays assigned by his Dad before that were to be completed to his Satisfaction - which he knew meant perfect after many drafts and rewrites.
"Third, you will not be attempting the same potions as the rest of the class today. Harry, you will have ready for me by the end of this class a perfect mindfulness draught. Mr. Malfoy, a mild warm hands elixer." At this Harry and Draco both opened their mouths in protest - both potions were deceptively difficult to get correct. The slightest mistake in Harry's potion could make the drinker forget his own name for a few hours or more, while the slightest mistake in Draco's could lead to either frost or flames instead of the slight warming sensation that was called for. Both protests were cut off though before they could be voiced.
"And fourth," Severus growled, leaning closer to Harry. "You will be staying after this class to explain to me the reason for your your flagrant disregard for the rules of this school, the behaviour I expect from you and common sense in general." Turning then to Draco, he leaned in just as close and growled just as menacingly, "and you, Mr. Malfoy, will wait for me in the Slytherin common room this evening after dinner for the same discussion."
Glaring at both again for good measure, Severus finally stood straight. "Now, I suggest you get started on those potions. You'll be testing them yourselves once they're finished." They each shot a threatening look at the other before jumping to obey, rushing to the various stores cupboards they knew they needed for the supplies to make their assigned potions.