As Harry drew near, Snape murmured, "Lumos." His lit wand cast areas of stark brightness and darkness on his pale face. His expression was anything but avuncular.
Harry came to attention a respectful few feet back. "Sir?"
Abruptly, Snape extended his wand, blinding Harry's eyes and obscuring his own. "Just one point I need clarified, Potter. How was it that when Avery kidnapped Professor Daine, you were close enough to be kidnapped as well?"
I was within eavesdropping distance. Immediately Harry countered that thought with the resolve to keep his face nonchalant. "To be honest, it all happened so fast. I was feinting around the pine trees, practicing my Wudang Shen, when I saw Professor Daine up ahead, struggling with something invisible. Before I could get to her, that invisible something struck me and—"
Snape's sharp intake of breath stopped Harry mid-sentence. "You're lying." The professor lowered his wand, and Harry rubbed his eyes. In a moment, he could make out Snape's face—his eyes half-closed in thought, his mouth twisted into a bitter smile.
"Why do you think I'm lying?"
Snape snorted softly. "Beyond the four physical signs of nervousness you displayed out of the recognized twelve that denote dissembling?"
Harry frowned. If Snape judged truthfulness on whether or not he made somebody nervous, he must not trust anything anybody ever told him.
"Beyond those signs is the fact that I found your wand atop Professor Daine's. Clearly, you were extremely close when you were taken. That you wanted to disguise the fact indicates—" Snape grimaced, as if unwilling to face the fact himself "—indicates you overheard a certain private conversation."
Harry shifted his weight. How could he get this uncomfortable tête-à-tête over with as quickly as possible? "All right. I confess. I was up in the conifer. I didn't notice you and Professor Daine until you were under me. I didn't want detention for straying into the Forbidden Forest, so I kept quiet. By the time I realized I couldn't possibly avoid hearing you, speaking up would have been embarrassing. I was wrong. I'm sorry."
"Sorry!" Snape released a harsh laugh. "Because of one snooping schoolboy, my twenty-year reputation at Hogwarts as an authority to fear and respect will disintegrate. Instead I'll be mocked as . . . pathetic."
Harry gritted his teeth against the familiar onslaught of conflicting emotions Snape forever incited in him. The professor saying he was snooping was unfair. It's not as though he'd planned to listen. And all of Harry's friends and acquaintances already mocked Snape, so what else was new? But pathetic? He risked a quick study of the narrow austere face. Never pathetic.
"I can't even resort to memory rearrangement. The fabulous Harry Potter is impervious to that." Resentment lined Snape's forehead. "Circumstances force you to lie and paint me as a hero, but you'll get your own back, won't you? 'Do you want to know the real reason the professor likes making potions? Do you want to know what he really thinks they're good for?'"
Harry clenched his hands at his sides. The one truly impervious mind he'd ever encountered was Snape's. Unable to contain himself, he blurted out, "Fine. I spied on your conversation. The only thing pathetic about it was your refusal to hear a single word Professor Daine said."
Snape's jaw stiffened. "That's enough. I won't discuss what doesn't concern you."
Harry now understood the exasperation that had made Professor Daine kick the snow. "She likes you. Didn't you hear her say that? Nobody could be more astounded than I am, but the fact is, Professor Daine likes you."
Snape blinked several times, then looked aside. "She was . . . influenced. Don't talk about what you don't understand."
"No, no. Before that. She liked you before that. How could you not know? Do you remember when you talked to her class about memory potions? The minute she noticed you, she did this—" He demonstrated the way Professor Daine had smoothed down her robes. "And that morning you caught me on the statue, her face brightened the moment she saw you. Why do you think she chose you to be her square dancing partner? When she arranged the seating at the Yule ball, why do you think your place was at her side?"
Harry hadn't admitted to himself what those signs had meant, so hard had it been to imagine the pleasant Ariel Daine attracted to the unpleasant Severus Snape. Now he saw the weight of evidence for what it was. How could the Potions master remain so blind?
"Didn't the fact that Professor Daine trusted you despite all evidence to the contrary mean anything to you? Instead, you chose to think your Death Eater act wasn't credible! Well, let me tell you, it was. I wanted to believe you were loyal. Dumbledore, Hagrid, Flitwick, McGonagall, Remus—they'd all done a pretty good job persuading me you were. And you're my uncle. I wanted that to count for something. But your charade utterly convinced me you'd become a dirty, rotten, lying, murdering traitor. If Professor Daine hadn't made you confess, I would have given Rita Skeeter the scoop of her life."
Snape's mouth moved but no words came. Harry couldn't tell if the professor was on the verge of believing him or punishing him.
He folded his arms. "Dock points from Gryffindor for my cheek. Go ahead! But I've got to say this: You're hopeless."
From across the entrance hall, a gentle, lilting voice called out, "Harry! Severus!"
Snape didn't move. Instead he set his lips together in a grim line.
Harry took a step backward. The brooding look on the professor's face showed that this was one confrontation he wouldn't twist into an excuse for punishment. I should be cheering. Instead, he'd never felt so dissatisfied. A dilemma loomed before him—as critical in its own way as the transfigured dragon, the affronted griffin, the demon laurel, the crazed caretaker, or the Dark Lord himself. And it was up to him to figure out what to do about it.
"Come along, now," Ariel Daine called out to them. "Dobby and Winky have prepared us a feast."
Turning, Harry saw her poised in the doorway, her golden hair burnished into a halo by the candles dancing in the air behind her.
Feast. One last argument sprang to Harry's mind. Again he confronted Professor Snape, though this time in an urgent whisper. "No matter what sort of love tonic you sprinkled on her strawberry tart at the Yule Ball, didn't Ariel Daine prove today beyond all shadow of a doubt that no potion is powerful enough to make her not know her own mind?"
Snape's black eyes rose to Harry's. Before his uncle could object again, Harry swung around and hurried across the entryway to the kitchen. As he neared her, Ariel's cloud-colored eyes lingered on a point just past his shoulder. Then she sighed, smiled and welcomed him in.
Feast was an understatement. Instead of serving them leftovers from the wake, their elf friends had created another banquet: curried chicken, saffron rice, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, mushroom soup, carrots with fennel, honey glazed parsnips, flaky rolls, poached pears, raspberry trifle, and raisin-studded pudding. One pewter pitcher held steaming mulled apple cider and another iced pumpkin juice. After a day of Voldemort's scraps and nothing but tea treats since, Harry's first substantial meal back at Hogwarts looked grand enough to be a second Christmas. He grabbed a plate and bowls and made his way along the bounty. He was just considering where he should sit when a low voice spoke up behind him.
Harry saw sunlight spread across Professor Daine's face. "Come in, Severus. We have everything we need."
"Everything I've been needing for a very long time."
Harry rolled his eyes. Good thing he hadn't settled down at the table. Being the third wheel at wherever their conversation went next would have been distinctly uncomfortable.
Turning toward the two professors, Harry brought a casual smile to his face. "Well, I'm knackered. If it's not rude, I'd rather take this upstairs and eat it in bed."
A smile hovered on Ariel Daine's lips. "If you prefer."
His uncle's expression remained cool, yet Harry could sense impatience simmering just below the surface. An absurd feeling of accomplishment stirred inside him. Snape and Daine were together again. For the first time in ages, Harry Potter had saved the day. Balancing a laden plate, a crock of soup, a bowl of pudding, a glass of apple cider, a mug of pumpkin juice and the utensils needed to eat it all, he sauntered toward the door.
As he neared Snape, the dark eyes flickered over to him. "Potter." The professor reached into his black robes and pulled out Harry's old friend—his eleven-inch, holly-wood, phoenix-powered wand.
Burdened with crockery, Harry worked two fingers loose so Snape could place his wand between them.
"Try Equilibrius," the professor murmured.
Harry frowned at his armful. Awkwardly, he wiggled his wand. At the word "Equilibrius" his entire meal rose from his arms to balance in the air above him. He glanced from his food to the professor.
"Say de in front of the spell when you want to bring everything down to eat."
"Thank you, sir." Harry adjusted his glasses firmly on his nose. "And thanks for retrieving my wand."
Snape shrugged. "I've been carrying it since coming across it in the snow. If things had not gone as planned, that wand would have been our best defense . . . ."
As the professor's words trailed off, indignation flashed inside Harry. "My wand? You know my wand matches Voldemort's. You know it's held its own against his in a wizard duel. You were planning to use it to—"
"Your wand?" Snape's scornful laugh cut him off. "You think I would have used that? I much prefer my own ebony wand. None of that ridiculous swish, swish, swish of holly."
For an instant the scoffing voice provoked a tightening in Harry's stomach, a stiffening across his shoulders, and a clenching of his teeth. Then the import of Snape's words, contrary to his contemptuous manner, flashed into Harry's mind. The professor had been bringing the wand to him. Snape had judged him the wizard who could provide the best defense in a duel against Voldemort. Severus is nothing if not logical, Dumbledore had said.
As his uncle the Potions master trained his fathomless black eyes on him, Harry saw something more—acceptance, a touch of respect, even some grudging appreciation. Harry started to smile. Then the lids lowered slightly and Harry caught the threat of more petty detentions than he'd ever dreamed existed if he dared acknowledge any of it.
He glanced upward. His plate, bowls, silverware, glass and mug still floated above him. Looking back over his shoulder, he smiled at Professor Daine. "See you tomorrow." She nodded vaguely, her warm hazel eyes fixed on Professor Snape.
Without another word, Harry led his dishes out the kitchen door.
Ten minutes later Harry was sitting cross-legged under Hagrid's monstrous red-and-yellow afghan, his feast spread before him. Behind him, Bête Noire had laid claim to his pillow, crouching there to purr and gnaw on the chicken bone that had been the last item stored in the Lockit Pocket. A note from Remus left on Boxing Day—saying he was popping down to London to see his flat mate—had told Harry he had the room to himself. With no worries about the late hour, he'd set up the Weasleys' gift of a CD player on the foot of his bed. Right now his headphones were blaring into his ears a pulsating, guitar-and-drum anthem.
Muggles can make magic, too, he thought and wolfed down another forkful of gravy-smothered roast beef.
As described in Voldemort's memory rearrangement, Harry had found his Djinn ball on his bed—as if he'd never had it with him. He wondered whether Uncle Snape had inserted that detail just so he could return it. Being crumpled in the Potions master's robes had evidently loosened up his straight-laced tutor. As the classic rock song faded to a close, Harry caught the instruction sheet murmuring, "Groovy!"
Harry grinned. Then, in the momentary silence, he heard fluttering. Hedwig? In a moment, the owl poked her beak between the velvet folds of his bed curtains and strutted toward him, a tube of red leather strapped to her right leg. Ignoring the softly chirring black cat, the bird extended Cho's reply. When Harry unstrapped the carrying case and shook out the blue parchment scrolled inside, he saw a diamond of yellow wax imprinted with three of the Mandarin characters he'd learned reading Seven Tablets in a Cloudy Satchel.
"Harmony, Joy and Promise," he said aloud.
A synthesizer fanfare exploded in his headphones. Letting it soar through him, Harry cracked the wax seal and opened Cho's letter.
Weyrleader69! Thanks so much for your review! They've been making my day.
Thanks for reading this fan fiction. And special kittens, chocolate covered cherries, and hugs to readers who commented, followed, favorited and/or added this story to a community. Evidence that someone is reading is very much enjoyed and appreciated.
And for those of you who read 60 chapters with no hint you were there, it's not too late to do the right thing. Seriously, even one word would be nice.
I wrote The Potions Master - Redux with thoughts of writing the second half of this alternate fifth year. If you would consider giving it a try, please leave an indication (a fave, follow, or comment). I'd like to know if there's interest. I'd begin a sequel by adding an epilogue to Part 1 pointing to Part 2 (don't know the title yet). If you "follow," you would receive one "alert" e-mail.
Since I'm in the middle of three other stories, a sequel wouldn't start posting until late August or September. If there are any loose ends you think should be explored, please mention them in a comment.
My current obsession is the wizard Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle) on Once Upon a Time (ABC TV show). Click on my profile for links to these works-in-progress:
Trick of Hearts - Romantic suspense set in fairy tale land from the point-of-view of Rumplestiltskin (spinner of gold, maker of deals, the Dark One) as he takes on the miller's daughter as his new apprentice. Is it ever wise to teach a disciple every bit of magic one knows? This fanfic is intended to require no knowledge of OUaT (except the understanding that Rumplestiltskin, for all his bizarre behavior, is not the hobgoblin of the Brothers Grimm story but is, instead, this rather sexy fellow: replace "DOT" with punctuation in tinyurlDOTcom/a9qxtvz). Expect ogres.
The Road Forgotten - Romantic angst in present-day Storybrooke, Maine (populated by refugees from fairy tale land) from the point-of-view of an amnesic Belle (of Beauty and the Beast) and Mr. Gold (Storybrooke identity of Rumplestiltskin who, in fairy tale land, was Belle's Beast). Just as Belle begins to fall in love with Mr. Gold all over again, the Evil Queen implants a less wholesome personality that even true love's kiss may not be able to handle. (To see a brilliant 2 minute 40 second music video of the lead-in to this story, see youtubeDOTcom/watch?v=TK7fO8j1Z30.)
Waylaid - Adventure/romance/angst from multiple points-of-view in Storybrooke and fairy tale land (Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin, Belle, Mr. Smee, grownup Pinocchio, human Jiminy Cricket, grownup Little Red Riding Hood, Prince Charming, Snow White, grownup Peter Pan). Expect Lost Boys. (To see another great music video, 3 minutes 13 seconds, of what makes Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold so fascinating, see youtubeDOTcom/watch?v=QAAn4uERXhA.)