Author's note: Yes, I missed my promised schedule. I'm sorry! Real life has a way of rearing its ugly head. And this chapter kind of surprised me, in that the more I wrote the more important it became and the longer it grew.
An extra word of warning—if there's anyone out there who hasn't read HBP, or hasn't at least been spoiled about the identity of the Half-Blood Prince, there are spoilers here!
Now, onto the actual story…
Chapter 2: Nerves
In Harry's dream, Padfoot was back. He wrapped his arm around the dog's middle as if he were merely a big teddy bear and pressed his face against the black fur. Then he just drifted, barely asleep but not yet aware.
When he fully woke a while later, it was to confusion. He was clutching something black, his nose buried against it, but it wasn't furry, and it didn't smell like a dog.
He raised his head slightly, trying to gain his bearings through fuzzy eyesight in the fairly dark room.
Then he froze.
Apparently he had underestimated Snape's exhaustion. That, or it had just taken him far too long to drift off to sleep in the wee hours of the morning. Whatever the reason, Snape had apparently been asleep before he'd had a chance to move.
He was sitting in the same position he had been a few hours back, leaning against the headboard. His chin had fallen to his chest, deep, slow breaths making his head rise and fall slightly. His left hand, which had been grounding Harry, now rested on the pillow near his head.
But Harry had, at some point, rolled onto his side and closer to his Professor's warmth. He'd been pressed against his thigh, one hand latched around the man's knee.
Severus Snape, the human teddy bear. Harry couldn't help but grin. No one would ever believe this.
The grin dimmed slightly as he held himself motionless. He really couldn't imagine any scenario where this wouldn't be awkward and embarrassing for both of them. That was assuming that Snape was in a better mood than when he'd returned, and wasn't just standoffish and angry. And judging by the uncomfortable-looking position of his back and neck, Harry wouldn't count on a terribly pleasant awakening.
He was trying to figure out how to extricate himself when Snape suddenly stirred slightly.
Harry's heartbeat quickened, and in that instant he decided to take the easy way out. He eased his head back down, shut his eyes, and didn't move.
Snape stirred lightly a few more times before coming fully awake. Harry could tell, because the man abruptly gave a surprised start and his body tensed. At the movement Harry's fingers tightened of their own accord, tightening his hold. He dared not loosen it, fearing it would be obvious that he was awake.
Snape froze for a moment, and Harry had to remind himself to breathe properly. He rather expected Snape to shake him awake or unceremoniously dump him further onto the bed.
Instead, cool fingers touched his and, with a gentleness most people would doubt Severus Snape possessed, disentangled his grip and moved his hand to rest on the sheet.
Despite the great temptation, he kept his eyes closed. It took considerable effort to force his body to stay limp as Snape gently shifted his weight and rearranged him against the pillows.
He felt the mattress shift and slowly begin to reclaim its shape as the additional weight lifted. Then there was a seemingly endless moment of dead silence before the soft footsteps traveled away from him. The door moaned slightly as it was shut, and when it finally clicked Harry's eyes popped open.
He lay there in the dark, staring up at the ceiling, pondering this new turn of events. The grin crept back. Unconsciously, he shifted slightly onto the warm spot left behind.
He laid there for a while. Finally, he decided that dwelling on things wasn't doing him any good, and he wasn't likely to go back to sleep anytime soon.
He got up and wandered into the main room, wondering what he was going to say to Snape. But as it turned out, that wasn't a problem. He frowned as he looked from the living area, to the kitchen, to the empty bathroom and Snape's bedroom.
There was a clang and what might have been a muffled curse from behind him, sending his attention spinning to the closed door between his room and the bathroom.
When he'd first arrived, Snape had told him that he was welcome to the guest room, the main room and dining area, and the bathroom. While there had been no express forbidding, it was pretty clear that he wasn't supposed to be wandering into Snape's room, or into the little room behind this door.
He moved closer, until he could hear more sounds from within. He soon identified a knife clicking against a cutting board, and the bubbling of hot liquid. He stood, listening for a bit, until his curiosity got the better of him. "Professor?" he finally called, tentatively.
For a second, all noise from within the room ceased. Then it started again; quick scraping, a couple of thuds and clanks, and what sounded like twisting lids on jars. Harry leaned closer, placing a hand on the door for balance.
And so, when the door abruptly opened, he stumbled forward. He got a brief glimpse of the small room, filled as it was with a lab table and cabinets and a cauldron. Then all he saw was black, as Snape caught him and he found himself enveloped in dark robes.
Harry angled his head up and made an attempt at an innocent smile.
Snape did not return it. Instead he heaved a long-suffering sigh and grasped Harry by the arms, propelling him back out of the room. Once Harry was standing on his own, he turned back to close the door and mutter a soft spell. Harry, meanwhile, was craning his neck for one more glimpse of what he was now certain was a little potions lab.
He wasn't really surprised; he'd suspected that was what lurked behind this door. It was just like Snape to live so close to his classroom and still have a private lab in his quarters. Of course, it was also like him to have potions and ingredients he didn't want his students anywhere near.
Snape turned back to him, seeming angry. Harry almost took a step back. But instead of a rant about off-limits rooms or falling asleep on the couch, all he got was a cold and stiff, "You are up early."
"I guess. I slept really well, though," Harry added honestly, still going for innocence.
Snape's eyebrows lifted ever-so-slightly, but he didn't comment.
From somewhere Harry summoned the courage to ask, "Are you all right?"
"Fine." Snape was looking at him through narrowed eyes. Abruptly he added, "I believe it is time to ease this dependence that seems to be forming."
Harry digested the words, and read between the lines. "You want me to get out?" he interpreted slowly, unable to keep the trace of panic out of his words.
"Do not put words in my mouth, Potter. That is not what I said. The purpose of having you here is to teach you to protect yourself. It is time you try occluding your mind on your own at night."
"After which they'll be no reason for me to stay here," Harry supplied.
Snape squinted at him as if he couldn't quite figure him out. "We are not at that point yet. Even if you were perfectly self-sufficient, I'm not certain you could be trusted to do it on your own. Your sense of self-preservation is somewhat lacking."
Harry needed another moment to think about that. "You think…what!"
But Snape had apparently said all he was going to say. "You should get up to breakfast, Mr. Potter."
What? One instance of upsetting the man and he'd given up the right to be called by his first name again? Harry's own temper flared—at the whole tenor of this conversation. Yeah, he suspected Snape was in pain. But it wasn't as if that pain was his fault.
Except…okay, yeah, maybe part of it was. And if one considered that the cursing that had gone on last night had probably been rooted in a lack of information about Harry, maybe all of it was.
"I'm sorry," he blurted.
Snape froze and turned towards him, looking confused and unsettled. Harry thought he was going to reply, but then he just shook his head in frustration and turned, heading out of the quarters.
Harry stared as he billowed out in a flurry of black robes, the door slamming shut behind him. He blinked at the door. It would seem that Snape was even more flustered by this than he was. He just showed it with anger.
And what had he expected? Snape wasn't exactly the cuddly type. It wasn't as if he'd chosen to stay with Harry all night.
He continued to stare at the closed door for a long moment. Then his attention wandered to another closed door.
Obviously, Snape had been cooking up something; something he didn't want to wait and brew in his classroom. What did one hurry to make the morning after an encounter with Voldemort?
He stood, and wandered a few steps closer to the door. He hadn't been invited in, and this wasn't really his home. Still, wasn't he entitled to know what he was sleeping next door to? If something dangerous or explosive was in there, wasn't that his business?
He was just trying to justify his impending actions, of course. It wasn't as if this was Hagrid's hut, where something was likely to jump out and greet him with a bite. But he had just woken up practically cuddling with the man, and he really felt that that gave him the right to know his quarters a bit better.
The door was locked, of course, and spelled. Harry took out his wand, and a few short minutes later he had it open. It had been a hastily placed spell, on a rickety old lock. Rationalizing, he thought that if Snape had really wanted to keep him out, he'd have tried harder. This was practically an invitation.
He'd clearly been in the middle of something, and Harry had interrupted before he finished. There were traces of ingredients left on the table, jars pushed hurriedly onto the nearest shelf. The cauldron still sat to the left. With no heat source the bubbling had ceased, and the brownish mixture simply sat, smelling a bit foul. Perhaps Snape was planning to come back and complete it later?
But the real question was; what was it?
A book had been hastily shoved on a shelf below the table. It lay open, a corner hanging slightly off. Harry looked closer. It was a copy of their textbook, Advanced Potion-Making. A very old and clearly used copy. On the open page he could see that someone had written all over the margins.
He reached for it tentatively, half-expecting some magical alarm to go off. When nothing drastic happened, he pulled it off of the shelf and squinted more closely at the writing. The open page contained directions for a calming draught, bringing a raised eyebrow from Harry. But as he looked closer, he saw that ingredients for a different potion were written in the margin.
There were several underlined words, so it took him a moment to identify the potion's title. Tucked into the very corner of the page, the script read, 'Nerve-soothing (Cruciatus relief).'
Harry stared at it. He looked over the ingredients list, then glanced up. Sure enough, those were the jars sitting haphazardly on the shelf. The substance in the cauldron did not match the finished coloring or thickness, confirming that it was unfinished.
He had known, of course. But somehow, seeing it in black and white and smelling the pungent beginnings of the potion made it all the more real for him.
His brow furrowed as he sat the book down on the table top and reached for a jar. He didn't see why Snape had felt the need to come in here and lock the door to brew it. Though, as he thought about it, he supposed that in Snape's mind this might look like a show of weakness. For Harry, it was another reminder that Snape was much more human than he'd ever given him credit for.
He turned the jar of herbs in his hand and was struck with an idea. Snape had been giving up a lot—not to mention what he was risking—to help Harry. Maybe this was something Harry could give back.
If he worked quickly, he should have time to stop by Snape's classroom before a quick breakfast.
Decision made, slight grin on his lips, Harry reached for the clean cauldron stored beneath the table.
Whatever Snape might think of his skills in class, he wasn't completely inept. He could follow instructions, especially when no one was breathing down his neck, antagonizing and waiting for him to make any little mistake.
Still, he wasn't an expert. And he really didn't want to screw this up. So "quickly" wasn't really an appropriate adverb here.
The ingredients were easy enough to prepare. It was the mixing instructions that required time and close attention. He began using a spare slice of herb to mark his place in the notes, as he often had to look away to watch the second hand on his watch or use both hands to stir in a thickening ingredient.
But by the time he had reached the end of the steps, he had a nice, thin, gold-colored mixture. It still smelled rather unpleasant, but Harry suspected it was supposed to.
Very pleased with his results, he closed the book and moved to replace it on the lower shelf. As he did so, he caught sight of something on the back cover. Along the bottom, in the same tiny script, it read "Property of the Half-Blood Prince."
Harry had to spend a moment puzzling over that. He'd been assuming this was Snape's old textbook. What did that mean?
He had trouble imagining Snape with a nickname—well, one that was nice and not cooked up by the Marauders, anyway. Of course, 'half-blood' could be an insult, but then why would he write it on his book?
And…was he a half-blood? Harry had no idea.
Or, perhaps it wasn't Snape's book at all. It did look very old; perhaps it had just passed into his hands in this condition.
His imagination was running away with him, as it tended to do lately. He shook his head and placed the book back on the shelf before glancing at his watch. He did a double-take as he realized how late it was getting.
He didn't have time for breakfast; he was going to be late for his own classes if he didn't hurry. He really didn't want to give Snape yet another reason to yell at him.
With quick yet careful movements, he bottled a bit of the potion and tucked the vial into his pocket.
They got out of Charms a bit early—early enough that Harry decided he had time for a detour down to the dungeon before Defense class. He would be cutting it close, but he figured the less time he had to stick around and face Snape's possible wrath, the better this encounter would go.
He informed his friends truthfully that he needed to see Snape. Hermione raised an eyebrow; Ron's good mood came down a few notches and he surveyed Harry suspiciously. Harry just smiled at both reactions, said he'd see them in Defense, and hurried off.
He paused just outside the Potions classroom. Snape certainly hadn't let his class go early. Harry peered in through the crack in the door, soon identifying it as Second year potions, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. He watched curiously. While he knew the man was dreaded school-wide (with the obvious exception of Slytherin), he'd never actually seen Snape with a class other than his own. He wondered if it was just as bad for the other students, or if he and his friends had always been extra special.
He soon learned that while his own previous treatment still stood out, he wasn't as special as he might have thought.
Snape was stalking about as was his way, stopping at each table to criticize. Much of it was harsh.
He spent a particularly long time at one table in the far corner, just out of Harry's line of vision. Still, he could hear the condescending voice just fine. "Did you listen to my instructions at all? Does hot pink in any way resemble the green you should have been striving for? I realize colors are not in the curriculum this year, but I had hoped those sorted into Ravenclaw might possess knowledge past that of a four-year-old."
And despite that it wasn't directed at him or anyone he knew, Harry still winced sympathetically and felt a familiar surge of anger.
It calmed much more quickly than he was used to, however. He suspected at least some of this was because the man was still in pain, and was taking it out on everyone around him.
Still, Snape knew perfectly well how intimidating he was. Harry still wasn't sure just how much of that was part of the act and how much was just Snape's personality. Either way, it was very difficult for the more sensitive students. He knew from personal observation that the more Snape laid into Neville, the more the boy bungled his potion.
There was an abrupt crash from the room, again just out of Harry's sight. It was quickly followed by a loud and disgusted, "Honestly Ms. Holt, must you be so inept?"
There was no verbal response, but Harry could imagine the girl's reaction. He'd certainly been there often enough.
Snape heaved a disgusted sigh, took ten points from Ravenclaw, and went storming back to the front. There he waved a hand and dismissed them all as if they were gnats in his face.
Harry stepped to the side and waited as they cleaned up and began hurrying from the room as fast as they could go.
It was easy to identify the student who'd just been the object of Snape's wrath. She seemed a bit dazed as she walked from the room, studying the floor.
She was a small girl, one Harry would have doubted old enough to attend Hogwarts had he not seen her in a second year class. She was mousy, with long, scraggly brown hair and huge, watery eyes that Harry caught a glimpse of before she turned them downwards again. Her book was clutched to her chest as if she were afraid someone was going to take it from her.
Another girl, this one slightly taller with auburn, braided pigtails, grabbed her elbow and pulled her away from the classroom. "It's just Snape, Kendall. He's just like that, you know. Ignore him."
She looked up then, and spotted Harry. Her eyes lit up. "You're Harry Potter!"
Harry just stood there. After all this time, he still didn't quite know how to respond when people did that. At least she hadn't squealed, as the newest Gryffindor girls were apt to do.
"I'm right, aren't I? About Snape?"
"Er…well…" He finally settled for tilting his head in an affirmative sort of way.
She didn't seem to require his verbal input. "But of course you'd think so…you especially. I've heard Snape's absolutely horrible to Harry, always has been," she confided to Kendall. "He treats him like he's incompetent—and you know Harry's a great wizard. That's just how Snape is," she reiterated. "It doesn't mean anything."
Kendall didn't react, and her friend looked to Harry as if it were somehow his job to fix this.
Again, he had nothing to say. He could protest the 'great wizard' comment, but he expected he wouldn't get far. And aside from that, the girl did have a point. Awkwardly he offered, "Yeah…you really shouldn't worry about all of that." Kendall looked up at him with doubtful eyes, forcing him to add even more awkwardly, "Er…I'm sure you're a great witch."
The redhead beamed at him. "See Kendall? There's no higher praise than that. Harry Potter!"
Now decidedly uncomfortable, Harry managed a slight grin and a polite, "Excuse me, please," and maneuvered past them into the still-emptying classroom.
Snape was behind his table at the front of the room. Harry glanced about, noting the two Ravenclaw boys who were lingering as they had an animated conversation over what appeared to be graded homework. They kept casting less-than-respectful glares Snape's way.
Snape glanced up as he neared, expression shifting almost imperceptibly as he saw who the footsteps belonged to. "Potter. To what do I owe this unexpected surprise?" he asked, an appropriate amount of disdain injected into the question.
"I just needed to talk to you about something, Professor."
Snape looked beyond him, and Harry turned as well. "Was there something more," he called out to the two boys, "or were you simply hoping for detentions?"
They grumbled inaudibly, but one called out, "No sir," before tugging the other towards the door.
Snape waited until they were out of sight before turning his attention back to Harry. "You cannot just pop up in my classroom whenever you feel like it. Would you ever have done that under normal circumstances?"
Of course not, but then, Harry's 'normal' was changing. He couldn't quite help glaring at Snape as he fished the vial from his pocket and held it out without preamble. "Here. I thought you might miss it."
Snape stared for a moment, then raised his sharp gaze to Harry's face. "Funny," he said darkly, tone in complete opposition to the word, "I don't recall inviting you into my private lab."
"I wasn't really forbidden, either," he said brashly, before he could think better of it.
Snape scowled in response. "Fine lines, Mr. Potter."
Harry backtracked, wishing he hadn't been so impetuous. He tried to explain, "I thought I might have interrupted something important this morning. And when I saw what it was…I thought you might need it."
Snape seemed at least a tad mollified by the effort, though he was still scowling. "It was incomplete," he stated, even as he eyed the vial curiously.
Harry shrugged a bit stiffly. "This batch isn't."
"You started over; brewed the whole thing?"
Biting his lip, Harry nodded.
He watched, trying to pretend he wasn't anxious, as Snape continued his careful scrutiny. He watched as the vial was uncorked and sniffed a few times. He watched as Snape dipped a finger into it and tasted a miniscule amount. Finally, the Potions Master looked back up at Harry. "You seem to have done it correctly," he admitted, squinting suspiciously as if Harry was perhaps Draco in disguise.
Harry resisted the urge to say something snide. "I followed the instructions carefully."
Snape lifted it towards his lips, casting one last measuring glance at Harry. "If this sends me into shock or some sort of seizure, do be so kind as to get Pomfrey."
"I'll think about it," Harry returned the sarcasm.
Snape took a cautious sip, then another. Harry wrinkled his nose, guessing that the stuff tasted about as good as it smelled. Snape seemed to agree, for he soon upended the vial and finished it off in a gulp.
"Still breathing?" Harry asked after an anticlimactic moment, sounding appropriately snarky and not at all as if he'd seriously wondered how the potion would work.
"I do still seem to be among the living," Snape returned in kind.
But Harry, who was learning to watch Snape's nuances very closely, noted that he had relaxed ever-so-slightly, the tension in his face easing just a bit. Feeling emboldened, Harry said, "I'm sorry if I invaded your privacy. I just…wanted to help."
"That is my role in this relationship, Mr. Potter." Snape had a curious look as he studied Harry. There was a long pause before he added, "Nevertheless, I am…appreciative."
The word seemed rather painful for him. Figuring that was as close to a thank you as one was likely to get from Severus Snape, Harry allowed a small smile to touch his lips as he nodded.
Behind Harry the door opened, the next Potions class beginning to arrive. Snape cleared his throat then, and tucked the empty vial into his own pocket. "Now, go. You'll be late for Defense."
"I doubt he'd notice," Harry commented blandly. When Snape just gave him a raised eyebrow and a piercing look he retracted, "Sorry. I'm going."
"Do not think we are done discussing locked doors and respect for privacy," Snape spoke to his back, voice low enough to be kept between the two of them, but loud enough for Harry to hear.
Harry grinned to himself, and just kept walking.
He was late for Defense. Hermione gave him a chastising glare, but no one else seemed to notice. This included Ron, who was already snoring lightly and didn't even stir when Harry eased down beside him.
This year, Defense class had become nap time for many of the upper level students. The things they were learning were at least a year under their level. Harry and the rest of the DA had already mastered most of the textbook.
Even when Umbridge was forcing them to just read from the book, Harry had been teaching himself. One thing he'd never been in Defense class before was bored.
He did feel rather sorry for the Professor. He didn't seem to realize that facing the chalkboard throughout his lecture made it near impossible to read the copious notes, or hear anything besides the steady drone of his voice. And really, it wasn't the poor man's fault that he had the unfortunate name of Boreland.
He was thin and short, shorter than Harry, and extremely near-sighted. Most of the students speculated that even with the heavily thick glasses he could hardly see clearly to the middle of the classroom.
Harry was not one to mock the spectacles, being as he needed his own to see for any distance. Still, he admitted to himself that Boreland's made him look like a giant grasshopper.
Harry squinted at the small writing on the board, giving at least a small effort to discover what the lecture was about. When he couldn't decipher it, he gave up rather easily. Then he pillowed his head on his arm, stared at a spot on the front wall, and practiced clearing his mind.
They were about halfway through the eternal class period when the sound of the opening door roused several of the students. Ron jumped, and Harry cast him an amused glance as they both looked back.
Then Harry's amusement vanished. As Dumbledore stepped inside and cleared his throat to get Boreland's attention, Harry hurriedly turned back to the front.
Ron looked to him questioningly, but Harry was suddenly busy trying to pretend he was very interested in the lecture.
Dumbledore cleared his throat a bit more loudly, finally garnering attention. "So sorry to interrupt, Professor," he said genially.
Boreland squinted in the general direction of the doorway. "Professor Dumbledore?"
"Yes, good morning! Might I borrow Mr. Potter for a moment?"
Harry refused to look back, eyes locked on Boreland, half-hoping the man would protest.
Surprisingly, he did. "Well, Headmaster…we are at a rather crucial point in the curriculum…I would hate for him to miss something important…"
Harry began nodding vigorously. Never mind that he didn't even know what they were discussing. He did know that he didn't want to go have a private chat with Dumbledore in the hallway.
He froze mid-nod when he noticed that Ron was looking at him as if he'd grown another head.
"Of course, of course," Dumbledore was saying. "You're right of course, Professor. However this will only take a moment, and I shall return him as quickly as possible. I am certain one of his classmates can provide him with any critical notes."
"All right," Boreland finally sighed. "Mr. Potter," he said, looking in one direction and waving a hand in dismissal in another, neither of which was in Harry's vicinity. "Go on."
Harry heaved a soft sigh, then summoned his strength and stood, moving to follow Dumbledore out into the hall.
Dumbledore waited until the door shut behind them, then said cordially, pleasantly, "Harry."
"Professor," he intoned in return, respectfully, but very coolly.
He understood what Dumbledore had done. On some level, he even appreciated it. But that didn't mean he condoned the methods—or forgave them just yet.
"You seem to be doing well."
Harry stared at him, surprised he would even try for pleasantries. He gave a slight nod before saying bluntly, "I really need to get back in there. Knowing that spell might save my life some day."
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but did you not use that very spell rather efficiently last year in the Department of Mysteries?"
"I don't remember," Harry hedged. It was truthful, however, since he didn't really know what spell they were talking about.
Dumbledore was unreadable. "Hmm. Well, best get you back in there, then. I merely wanted to inform you that I will be lifting your practice ban. You may resume your participation with Gryffindor's Quidditch team when you wish."
Harry nodded slightly at the pleasant surprise. "Thank you," he managed.
Perhaps he should have made a run for it then. But he wasn't sure if the conversation was over, and something in him still felt that Dumbledore deserved some respect. So he stood there awkwardly until the Headmaster spoke again. "Severus assures me that you are doing well in Occlumency."
Harry's eyebrows shot up despite himself. "Er, yes…well…" he stuttered, surprised yet again.
Dumbledore hesitated a moment, then abruptly took a deeper topic. "I was surprised that you didn't tell him."
Harry took a few seconds to adjust, then stated honestly, "I didn't think that would help anything, sir."
"Perhaps it is best. But you need not feel that you must keep it a secret."
Harry had done quite a lot of thinking about this. He wasn't entirely certain of what Snape's reaction might be, but he didn't think it would be good. In fact, he knew that it was best if no one else knew. Dumbledore was the figurehead for the fight against Voldemort. Though this didn't directly affect that, it was something that Harry saw as a personal betrayal, and he knew the people who cared for him would not take it well. And he suspected that very few would agree with Dumbledore's motivations.
It meant something, for Dumbledore to be willing to risk that. It threw Harry a bit.
"I shall check in with you again soon, Harry. I do hope you continue to adjust well."
Harry had to stand and stare after him for a moment before he gathered himself enough to turn and reenter the classroom.
Ron looked at him questioningly as he retook his seat. "He said I could practice again," Harry answered, trying for a smile and at least a hint of excitement.
Whatever he'd lacked in that department, Ron made up for in spades. His eyes lit up as he exclaimed, "That's terrific, mate!" and slapped him on the shoulder.
His volume drew several looks, but, surprisingly, no admonishment from Boreland or Hermione.
The Professor didn't seem to have noticed. He just went right on lecturing the chalkboard. Hermione, however, was studying Harry with scrutiny that assured they would talk later.
He had to admit, it did feel good to be on his broom again.
He didn't wait for the others to show up before he took off. He enjoyed the rush of being high above the stands, watching the tiny forms appear one by one for practice far below. He came back down when they mounted, ready to get started. However, they didn't get far before they were interrupted by a couple of new arrivals on the field, one very familiar to Harry.
Exchanging a glance with Ron, Harry flew down to greet them. He landed a bit harder than he'd meant to, stumbling before he regained his balance and approached them with as much dignity as he could muster.
He smiled a bit nervously at Cho. Despite everything that had happened last year, she could still make his heart stumble and that odd feeling come into the pit of his stomach.
The guy at her side was slightly familiar, though he couldn't remember a name. He felt his eyes narrowing at the tall brunette as Cho said, "Oh…Harry, you know Jeffrey Holt, don't you?"
And yes, now that she'd identified him, he remembered. Jeffrey was in his year, sorted into Ravenclaw. He took the offered hand, and tried to return the smile that followed the exuberant, "Good to see you, mate!"
"He's our new keeper," Cho added with a smile of her own.
Ron appeared at Harry's side, glancing briefly at Cho before blatantly sizing Jeffrey up. "We've reserved the field," the redhead announced shortly, apparently not liking what he saw. Harry might have noted his friend's rudeness, if he weren't so preoccupied with rude thoughts of his own.
"Oh, we know. We're just going to sit over there, out of your way," Cho said sweetly.
"Yeah. I've seen school matches before, obviously, but I've never really studied the plays or players. Honestly, I'm really new to all of this," Jeffrey confided.
Ron was clearly not buying it. If Harry were being honest, he would have to admit that Jeffrey seemed genuine. However, he was not inclined toward honesty at the moment.
If Oliver were here, he would probably have chased them off the field. Ron might have been thinking of just that, but he couldn't really justify closing the field without restricting everyone who wasn't a Gryffindor player. Harry watched him glance into the stands, where Hermione was reading and ignoring the proceedings entirely.
"Fine," he finally grumbled. "Let's get going," he said to Harry, turning and kicking off, clearly expecting to be followed.
Jeffrey turned to go find a seat in the stands. Harry started to go, but Cho stepped forward and grabbed his hand before he could. He turned back in surprise, glancing at their joined hands. She blushed and let go awkwardly. "Sorry. I'm…sorry."
"It's okay," Harry almost tripped over himself to say. And suddenly he felt like he was back in 4th year, trying to get up the nerve to ask her to the ball. "Um…did you want to talk about something?"
She opened her mouth, then shut it again, looking uncertain.
"Harry!" Ron called from above them. "What are you doing? Let's play!"
Harry clenched his jaw and blinked a few times, reminding himself that going off on his best friend would not make the greatest impression. He ignored the call and gave her what he hoped was an encouraging, closed-lip smile.
But she seemed to have moved on from whatever she was going to say. She glanced skywards and then confided, "You know, I was a little surprised you didn't get Captain."
He shrugged. "I'm okay with it." And he had been, until this very moment.
"You should go. I'll…see you around, I guess." She offered him a shy smile before she turned and followed Jeffrey's path into the stands.
Harry stood, looking after her, until there was a very close swoosh and Ron was suddenly in front of him, hovering. "Harry? Quidditch?" He looked less annoyed now, and a bit amused.
Harry snapped back to the present. "Quidditch. Right."
Ron was shaking his head as he pulled away. Harry mounted his broom, and followed.
They started playing, Harry circling above the others. He glanced down to the stands, easily locating Hermione, Jeffrey and Cho seated a few rows in front of her.
He could study the other boy a bit more freely now. He was really not all that unlike Cho's last love interest before Harry. In fact, Harry couldn't quite help wondering why she'd bothered with him. It was pretty obvious what she liked…
He slammed a mental door on those thoughts as the bitterness crept in. He hated having negative thoughts about Cedric. He even hated remembering all the ones he'd had when the other boy was alive.
He was probably jumping to conclusions, anyway. Jeffrey was on her team, after all. That was tantamount to assuming Harry was in love with Katie just because he spent time practicing with her.
However, as he cast another look at the stands, he had to admit that he'd never sat quite that close to Katie.
It wasn't as if he and Cho had broken up, really. In fact, he wasn't sure they'd ever really been together.
So why couldn't he get rid of this feeling in his stomach?