Disclaimer: Harry Potter & Co. are the property of JK Rowling Filthy Rich Enterprises.

Author's Note: I am very bad. I have abandoned my last story due to irreconcilable plot issues. However, I have learned a valuable lesson (as I have with every piece I have attempted), and so have developed a detailed predetermined plot for this particular masterpiece. So, please forgive me for leaving my old story and beginning a new one. Enjoy.

Warnings: various forms of abuse; slash; outlandish storyline (bear with me).

TITLE: A NEW DAY, A NEW LIFE

Ch.1: You Set 'Em Up, I Knock 'Em Down

"I still wish Remus had taught me to apparate," Ron grumbled for about the millionth time as the he, Hermione, and Harry stood up. Hermione ignored the redhead while Harry had to bite back a sigh if frustration – both of them were sick of hearing it. Given the everyday peril to Harry's life, it made every sense in the world that he had received some extra training during his two week stay at Grimmauld Place at the end of the summer.

McGonagall approached the trio as they made to leave the Great Hall. Dinner was pretty much over, and there were only a dozen or so students and professors still enjoying the cuisine and conversation. It was only the first day of classes and the fact that there was still much catching up to do was the only reason dinner had lasted as long as it had.

"Mr. Potter."

The trio turned, Harry impassive, and the other two with looks of nervous expectation. Unsolicited contact with teachers, however common since taking up residency in the august company of the Boy-Who-Lived, was rarely a result of some positive turn in events.

"Yes, ma'am," Harry asked blankly. Merlin, please don't let this be about Sirius. The last thing he needed was someone else wanting to offer an ear to unload on.

McGonagall spared two polite glances for the other Gryffindors before focusing on Harry Potter. "Mr. Potter, the Headmaster would like to speak with you regarding a matter of some urgency."

Harry's brow frowned, but it was more of a reflexive move than one truly inspired by any true confusion. Expect the unexpected, that was his motto. "Right now?"

"Yes. I will accompany you." The aged matriarch nodded briskly to Hermione and Ron, then promptly turned to leave.

Without a glance at his friends, Harry followed. "Later guys."

During the march to Dumbledore's office, McGonagall engaged in a prolonged and ill-fated attempt to ask Harry about his summer, his OWLS, and his future aspirations to be an Auror. Of course, she already knew all about these topics, but what she couldn't have been aware of was the current manifestation of Harry's evolving demeanor, which had her questions running off him like water off a duck's back.

The previous five years had shown that naivety, friendliness, impulsiveness, and anger were not enough to successfully navigate an increasingly hostile magical environment. As summer of profound and determined reflection had led his to the conclusion that, if he intended to survive (which he did, if only to enact revenge upon Voldemort's pulverized carcass), he would have to have all his wits about him. And if that meant embracing his more Slytherin qualities, then so be it.

It was surprisingly easy – though, in retrospect, it was pretty obvious that his decade with the Dursleys had allowed him to masterfully hone these qualities. And though he had once hoped to leave them behind, returning to them was as easy as returning to a second skin. Except that it wasn't a second skin, it was his second self, a self that he had abandoned on some metaphorical shelf only to be retrieved when his more expressive, more active, and his downright preferable self could no longer hack it in the world of the cutthroat and psychotic.

"Reeses Peanut Butter Puffs."

The gargoyle moved aside to reveal a spiraling staircase.

"Here is where I leave you, Mr. Potter." McGonagall seemed a little displeased with the poor quality of her social interaction with Harry, but the latter couldn't have cared less and immediately headed up the stairs with a simple, "Thank you, Professor."

The Headmaster's door swung open before he even had a chance to knock, and Harry had to repress a genuine urge to groan when he saw just who was in the office with Dumbledore – none other than the perpetually greaseball himself, Snape, apparently pacing the length of the eastern wall.

"Harry! Do come in and sit down," Dumbledore exclaimed companionably and Harry had to further repress an urge to throttle the infuriating old man. By staying calm, Harry was going to make sure HE was the one in control of what was surely to be a doomed interaction.

Snape stopped his pacing to give Harry his best death-glare as Harry came forward and took a seat. "Headmaster, Professor. To what do I owe this pleasure?"

"Don't be smart, Potter," Snape snapped. "You know exactly what this is about."

Harry turned to look calculatingly at the slimy potions master and cocked an eyebrow. "Really. Care to enlighten me?"

Snape looked like he was going to explode, his pallid skin actually purpling and every muscle trembling with tension, but Dumbledore defused the situation before it escalated with a simple, "Please, Severus, let me deal with this."

Harry smirked inwardly as he turned his attention back to the Headmaster.

"Harry, a lemon drop?"

Okay, so now I'm back to wanting to slap this ancient asshole. Just don't let it show. "No, thank you."

"Very well. As I can tell that you are anxious to know why you have been called to my office, let me get straight to the point. Professor Snape suspects that you have found a way to break into one of his potion cabinets to steal a particularly rare and expensive substance. What do you have to say to these allegations?"

Harry couldn't help it, his mouth fell open just a little bit, and his eyes narrowed a little as he glanced over at the Greasy Git. What in Merlin's name was he up to now? Fuck, it was going to be hard to keep his anger in check. "Yes, I have something to say! This is ridiculous. I've only been at Hogwarts for one day, and I've only been in that room once – DURING POTIONS! Ron and Hermione can vouch for where I've been for the last twenty-four hours, I was with them almost the entire time. I didn't go anywhere near the dungeons."

Snape appeared to be scrutinizing him, and Harry felt distinctly uncomfortable under his glower. "Weasley and Granger are not acceptable alibis, Potter. While in all the school only you would have the audacity to do something like this, only Ms. Granger has the skill to complete any potion involving Ent Tree blood."

"Not acceptable alibis! Well, Seamus, Dean, Neville, and Ginny were with me at various of the time too. Or is all of Gryffindor in on this conspiracy?" Agh, sarcasm ran amok! Goddamn it, Harry, keep your fucking yap shut!

Dumbledore once again saved the day from Snape's imminent violent implosion. "I believe you, Harry. There was just some concern that you might try to use the ingredient to bring back Sirius Black, but I know you wouldn't do something as drastic as that."

Harry's jead snapped up to glare at the Headmaster. What did he mean by that? He was about to ask, but Snape spoke first. "Headmaster! Letting Potter off the hook so easily is foolhardy and irresponsible! He is just going to go make the potion anyway!"

Bloodly Hell, whatever potion this is must be quite dangerous to make Snape fly into a rage three times in as many minutes. However, luckily for Harry, Dumbledore also appeared to be losing his patience. His voice was unruffled, and his expression soothing, but irritation was still apparent. "Severus, calm yourself. You have no evidence, and Harry is not in the habit of lying, so maybe you should set your phenomenal mental faculties on finding the real culprit instead of wasting time trying to incriminate him."

Snape looked for a moment that he would challenge Dumbledore's decision, but in the end he just settled for gritting his teeth and storming out of the office with a surprisingly successful slam of the heavy, hardwood door. Harry turned back to look at the Headmaster – he was pinching the bridge of his nose, eyes closed, and signs of stress were apparent on his brow and around his mouth. Harry almost felt sorry for the old man who bore the weight of the world even more so than he did. . . almost. The old man was also a manipulative, condescending asshole.

Harry stood and Dumbledore readjusted his glasses to take it the growing boy before him. "Is that all, sir?"

"Yes, Harry, I'm sorry about this. We'll have to talk later about starting up your Occlumency again."

No fucking way. "Yes, sir. Goodnight."

And with those words, Harry headed out, pausing only momentarily to give Fawkes a quick pat on the head.

Back in the common room Harry plopped down with a sigh on the couch between Hermione (who was, get this, reading) and Ron (who was playing wizard's chess with a pensive Ginny). Various other Gryffindors were milling about, talking and laughing and playing games; a few were getting an early start on homework Ron spared Harry a glance and a 'Hi' before returning his attention to the game.

Without looking up from her book, Hermione asked, "What did the Headmaster want?"

Harry did a double take when he eyeballed the title of the book she was reading, 'Masochism and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Psychoanalysis of the typical House Elves'. "Uh… somebody knicked an ingredient out of a potion's cupboard and Snape tried to pin it on yours truly, but it obviously wasn't me and Dumbledore knew it. But Snape through a right fit about the whole thing."

Ron scowled without even looking up. "That smarmy ass," he muttered.

Hermione's eyes were still rooted to the page held in front of her. "What ingredient," she asked disinterestedly.

Harry took an irritable moment to remember. "Entry blood, or some such hogwash that no one with a life worth living has ever heard of."

Finally, Hermione lowered her book, both eyebrows raised high on her forehead "Entry blood? . . . Do you mean Ent Tree's blood? As in the blood of a kind of tree called an Ent?"

Hermoine's expression worried Harry, something bad was coming, he could just tell. Even Ron could tell from the tone of her voice, as he turned to look at the resident brainiac. Of course, it was inevitable that the shit storm would start as soon as he was back at Hogwarts. He actually caught himself wishing he was back at the Dursleys'.

"Um, I guess," Harry conceded warily. Okay, lay it on us, what is this year's ridiculously dangerous and ill-fated challenge?

Hermione closed her book – not a good sign – and leaned closer to her best friends; Ginny and Ron responded by leaning closer too.

"Guys. . . There is only one genre of potion that require Ent's blood, and that kind of potion is highly illegal. I'm shocked that even Snape would have such a substance." Hermione looked meaningfully at the three boys, and Harry tried to rack his brain for some memory of something called an Ent, but all that came was a vague Lord of the Rings reference.

Ron quickly got impatient. "Well?"

A brief expression of annoyance flashed across Hermione's face at their ignorance. Being the only brain in a room full of ignoramuses was almost as bad as being the old sober person in a room full of drunks. "Time altering potions, Ronald. Geez, what would you guys do without me, live in the Dark Ages?"

Ron had some not-so-witty comeback, but Harry was too busy thinking. Who would want to alter time? And there was something else about the whole situation that was nagging at the back of his mind…

"Wait, wait, Hermione, listen," Harry interrupted their bickering. "Snape said something about me being the only one with the audacity to use the potion, but that you were the only one with the ability to make it."

Hermione caught on immediately. "Of course, all time altering potions are notoriously hard to brew. Which begs the question, who else at Hogwarts would be able to concoct such a potion?"

The trio, plus the littlest Weasley, thought about that question for a moment. Finally, Ginny ventured a guess, "Well, aren't those two Ravenclaws at the top of the seventh year class?"

Ron grimaced. "Yeah, I remember, they were rewarded a whole bunch of house points for participating in some interschool potions competition last year."

Hermione looked astonished. "Wow. I didn't think you were even aware of that competition last year."

Ron rolled his eyes and said, sounding a little offended, "Oh, come on, I'm not completely unaware of the world around me."

Harry interrupted them before their bickering could escalate, "I bet Mme Pomfrey could whip up a wicked potion if necessary."

The other three looked at him, a little flabbergasted that he would even suggest the kindly mediwitch. Okay, so maybe he was taking this whole 'trust no one' thing a little too seriously. Finally Ginny managed to say, "Well, if we're going to suspect teachers, we might as well add the new DADA professor."

Harry was all too aware of the position's close association with ambiguous and untrustworthy characters. This year, however, after a long recovery from his earlier ordeal at Hogwarts, the real Mad-Eye Moody was returning to try his hand at the position a second time. Harry was pretty certain that Moody was as likely to be innocent as any of the other professors, but prudence still dictated that he deserved close observance. Then again, no one who had had to live though Quirrell, Lockhart, Lupin, Crouch, and Umbridge would ever be able to look on the DADA position with anything but the up most suspicion. There had even been some talk – amongst the Gryffindors too! – that Snape would be a preferable alternative to whatever other random psycho could be found to fill the job. At least Snape hadn't actively tried to harm any students, which is more than could be said for the line of DADA professors. Even Remus had almost killed them.

"Okay," Harry conceded. "Moody is a definite possibility, simply by virtue of his position. I'm a little skeptical of the two Ravenclaws, but it's still feasible, especially if Voldemort targeted someone they knew." The summer had been littered with gruesome and apparently random Death Eater attacks. "Is there anyone else we can think of?"

There was a pregnant pause, before Hermione hesitantly voiced another possibility. "Uh, well, there is someone in our year that, uh, bettrdenmehatpotions."

Harry and Ginny looked at her owlishly, and Ron just blinked. "What," he asked blankly.

Now Hermione looked downright embarrassed, and she cleared her throat nervously. "There is someone in our year that's better than me at potions, definitely better than the two Ravenclaws," she annunciated quietly but clearly. "And who would have an obvious motive."

"Who," Ron asked dumbly.

Just then, the answer clicked for Harry and he suddenly had a very good idea who had stolen Snape's Ent Tree blood. "Of course," he hissed, eyes narrowing as he filled with rage. "Malfoy. That redundant egotistical monstrosity is going to try to prevent daddy Death Eater dearest from being incarcerated in Azkaban!"

Ron and the two girls looked at Harry in surprise. He frowned at their reactions. "What?"

Hermione was a little miffed. "I guess years of sparring with Malfoy has done more for your oratory skills than being friends with me."

Ron and Ginny cracked grins, while Harry just rolled his eyes before launching back into the subject at hand. "It's the ferret, I know it is. We must go tell Dumbledore!"

"Wait a second," Hermione interrupted, suddenly serious. "It hardly takes an Einstein to know which students are capable of using Ent Tree blood to make a time altering potion. I'll bet Dumbledore already knows. Maybe there's no evidence on Malfoy either."

"What's an Einstein," Ron asked.

Harry ignored Ron and forced himself to breathe and remain calm, which wasn't too hard despite the intense desire to maim and murder that always came over him when he found his life being interfered with by Hogwart's worst excuse for a human being. Argh! He should've known something was up with Malfoy after he failed to show for his annual Hogwarts Express harassment.

Okay, so Dumbledore couldn't move against Malfoy because of a lack of evidence, but that didn't mean that some sort of non-official investigation couldn't take place. . . in fact, Harry wouldn't put it below Dumbledore to have set up the whole meeting with Snape just to get him on the right track.

"I just had a thought, mates. You should've been at the meeting with Snape and Dumbledore, it was the most contrived thing ever. Dumbledore would never have let Snape's paranoid delusions get so out of hand unless he had some purpose to."

Harry paused just long enough to take a breath, but it was plenty long enough for Hermione to pick up where he left off. "He set us up," she said excitedly. "He wants us to go after Malfoy!"

Harry nodded in agreement, while Ron looked amazed by their impressive display of deductive reasoning. Ginny, on the other hand, was noticeably displeased with their hypothesis. "I don't know. Are you sure you aren't just reading what you want into this?"

Hermione considered her objection, not entirely sure that they hadn't jumped to conclusions, but Ron and Harry just looked at her like she was an alien – which she sort of was; she was certainly the alien in their little group of three.

Ginny frowned and huffed in frustration. "Fine, get in trouble if you want. It's late and I'm going to bed. . . And Ron, mum's going to skin you alive if you land yourself St. Mungo's again." And with that, she stood and hurried up the stairs towards the girls' dormitory. The trio exchanged a communicative look before Harry jumped to his feet.

"Come on, lets go look at the map."

Ron and Hermione joined him in running up the stairs. It was only 9:40 and the dorm room was empty except for Neville, who was digging through his trunk for something (Trevor?). He looked up briefly to say 'Hi' before returning to his desperate rummaging.

Harry retrieved the Marauders Map from his own trunk before joining Ron and Hermione on his bed and closing the curtains.

"Lumos." Hermione's wand began emitting a comforting light as Harry eagerly unrolled the parchment.

"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

The three leaned together to watch the map come to life before their eyes. There were around two hundred and fifty students and teachers in Hogwarts, so it took some time eyeballing each label, but D. Malfoy was eventually located – and not in the Slytherin dorms either. He appeared to be in a room in the abandoned section of the dungeons, and Harry had a sickening feeling that they may already be to late.

And if there was one thing Harry was good at, it was acting with a sense of urgency.

"FUCK!"

Harry was on his feet and out the door before Ron or Hermione even had the time to react. By the time they were running down the stairs after them, he had already dashed out of the common room, leaving a wake of alarmed and wide-eyed Gryffindors.

But, damn, that boy could run. Down multiple staircases and though several hallways, Hermione fell hopelessly behind; then, after a rather clumsy and painful stumble down half a flight of stairs, so did Ron. When a sweaty and crazed-looking Boy-Who-Lived threw open the door to the dungeon room, his friends were at least a full thirty seconds behind him. But Harry was hardly thinking them.

Before him stood Draco Malfoy, about a half meter away from a bubbling cauldron. In one hand he held a vial and in his other hand his wand, and his mouth was open as if caught right in the middle of an incantation. The Slytherin's blue eyes went wide in shock and fear, then suddenly the wand was being pointed at Harry.

His own wand lay abandoned in the Gryffindor tower, but Harry's mind didn't even consider this fact while reacting. He wasn't actually thinking, he was action incarnate, he had no choice, his body had a will of its own: two lightening-fast steps and then with an incoherent howl he had launched himself at the pale boy.

Malfoy buckled under Harry's weight and he stumbled and fell backwards. The back of his skull violently struck wrought iron and he lost consciousness before the dark boiling liquid came flooding out of its upturned cauldron. Harry, however, had plenty of time to cry out in agony before his vision blurred. . . and then there was nothing.

END OF CHAPTER

Please Review. The next chappy will be up in a few days, maybe earlier if I am pleased with your offerings.