Harry Potter prided himself on his intellect. His ability to remain unseen and unsuspected were also vital components, but mostly, it was the fact that he was, unlike most inhabitants of the wizarding world of any age, capable of rational thought.
That he should be sneaking through the corridors after dark, trying to avoid Peeves, Filch and Mrs Norris, would seem to make a mockery of this pride.
Harry Potter suspected his teacher of not being completely honest. Actually, he didn't suspect him of this, he knew it.
It probably violated a law of nature or at least Wizarding society, but he really did enjoy Snape's company. If he were more trusting and/or forgiving he might consider Snape a father figure. Fortunately, Snape took great care to never let him become truly comfortable in his presence, and had in fact been quite insistent that Harry never fall into the trap of putting emotions above sense. He liked Snape, but trust no one was Snape's motto and Harry reasoned that he was still alive and spying, that must mean Snape was doing something right. After all, if his parents had been home that Halloween night ten years ago, they'd be dead. Whereas Snape, the same age and in a situation of constant danger where the slightest mistake could kill him, would still be alive.
So he knew Snape was not being honest with him. He had it from the horse's mouth, as it were. Normally it wouldn't have bothered him in the slightest – he was a child, after all, and well used to adults trying to hide things from him for the greater good (his or theirs he had yet to discover) but Snape had been uncommonly straightforward with him and the sudden reversal upset Harry more than he liked to admit. And this – something – whatever it was, involved him. Or his brother. But definitely Voldemort.
You couldn't grow up in an irredeemably Gryffindor home without picking up a few unsavoury habits – namely, curiosity of the 'cat-killer' variety.
Harry took a deep breath, and stepped through the door to the third floor.
Snape was going to kill him.
Harry only hoped he got his brother first, so that at least he could go to his death happy.
Severus Snape had a bastard relationship twice-removed with heroism. That suited him just fine. Today was going to be one of those days he was closer to heroism than he liked.
Did he need backup? Did he need McGonagall? The answer to that question, he decided, depended not on the level of danger he was likely to face but more on whether or not she was still angry with him.
He had been pretty thoroughly tortured for his earlier mistake already, but Minerva McGonagall knew how to hold grudges. Honestly, you miss one Heads of House meeting and they hold it against you for the rest of your life…
But it was her students in serious danger. As ever. He, as a Slytherin, should not even be contemplating flying to the rescue for any but his own serpents, and even then he would have weighed up the advantages and disadvantages to a death on the school grounds first.
Unfortunately, one of his students was missing. He had no excuse. "Minerva," he fire-called, "please check your common room and dorms. We may have a problem."
"I cannot believe you dare to ask me anything," came the clearly irritated reply, but the fact that she then swept out of the room intent on doing justice to no-gooders out of bed relieved him somewhat. Differences had been put aside for the common goal of making sure there were no corpses to clean up in the morning.
"Blast them," she muttered furiously when she stormed back in. "I've just un-petrified Longbottom," she declared. "He claims Potter, Granger and Weasley tried to sneak out earlier and were forced to Petrify him to prevent him bringing the news to me."
"I don't suppose now would be a good time to say 'I told you so.'" Snape muttered.
"No," Minerva said coolly. "Particularly as you said you would deal with it."
"I was preoccupied with Peeves," Snape protested, "Who seemed to think the Bloody Baron had given him the right to visit chaos in every area of the school save the third floor. That, and…" he took a deep breath. He so did not want to admit one of his students was in the same predicament. "One of my own students… isalsomissing." He said in a rush.
"What was that?" McGonagall said, a disbelieving smile spreading across her face.
"I said, one of my own students is… likely… on the third floor as well." Oh, the shame. The debilitating horror of it.
"Tsk, tsk, Severus, how disappointing for you. Such recklessness."
"Shut up," Snape retorted, before he remembered that he was deathly afraid of this woman – with good reason – and apologised. There was only one thing to be done. "…please," he said. "Minerva, I need your assistance."
The smile on her face terrified him more than he cared to admit to. He'd seen Voldemort be less frightening. "Should we call in Dumbledore?" she asked distractedly after a moment's consideration, clearly already planning how she was going to use this request against him.
"He's probably already on his way back," Snape pointed out. "You know he planned this from the start."
"Yes, but clearly I need the reminder," she said tightly. "Right, put some healing potions in unbreakable vials, we're heading to the third floor."
"Minerva McGonagall I am deeply indebted to you for this," Snape said. He did not sound pleased at the prospect.
"Severus Snape, you do indeed owe me big time," McGonagall said with a cool smile that sent shivers down his spine. "And I will see to it that the debt is paid in full."
Harry woke, groaning pathetically and blinking at the terrible whiteness of the hospital wing.
"I'm not even going to ask what you were thinking, because, quite clearly, you weren't thinking."
He shifted his line of sight to the pillar of unrelenting blackness standing at his bedside, and wished briefly that he were still facing Voldemort.
"Would you like me to say 'I told you so'?" Snape demanded. "Merlin's beard, boy, what House do you belong to again?"
Harry mumbled. Snape's expression made it quite clear that the only reason Harry wasn't being shaken into answering was out of misplaced concern for his health and welfare. "Slytherin," Harry muttered hoarsely after a moment, eyes begging for mercy.
Snape had none. "I'm sorry," he said silkily, "I'm afraid I didn't quite catch that."
"Slytherin." Harry rasped. "Slytherin. Slytherin!"
"That's right." Snape said. "So. What. The. Hell. Do you call your actions of three days ago?"
"Three – days?"
"The most blatant and horrific example of Gryffindorish behaviour ever committed by a member of my House is what I call it. Would you care to disagree?" Snape sneered. "Please, disagree," he coaxed, a dangerous glint in his eye.
"No," Harry whimpered. He had the feeling that trying to appeal to Snape's sense of pity was futile and the only thing likely to soften Snape's current fury with him would be to respond levelly and with the dignity befitting a Slytherin, but couldn't quite muster the strength necessary to pull himself together and stop acting like a kicked puppy. Everything hurt. Next time, he was definitely leaving his brother to Voldemort's tender mercies. In fact, he didn't know why he hadn't just done that this time.
"What did you think you were doing? What- Why-?" He cut himself off and took a deep breath. "You are a Slytherin," he said fiercely. "I have had far more evidence in favour of this than I have to refute it, although right now I am seriously beginning to wonder. Slytherins, unlike Gryffindors, do not involve themselves with such foolish displays of recklessness. They know that teachers are here for a reason. They do not risk their lives for strangers with no hope of compensation. They do not risk their lives for anyone with no hope of reward or recognition. They do not get involved in situations where they might be killed before reaching puberty. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Harry said, and struggled to sit up. Equilibrium was needed. Recovery of poise was needed. Snape to stop being angry for him was most definitely needed.
"You should have come to me." Snape said coldly, with absolutely no outward indication of being aware of how ridiculous that declaration sounded.
"Yes sir," Harry said, mustering enough sense to sound contrite. The feeble attempt brought a quick grin of amusement to Snape's face.
"Your brother, in case you were wondering – which I sincerely doubt – left here yesterday. You have not only cost us points you've also lost your bet."
Harry considered just smothering himself with his pillow and getting it over with.
"According to Dumbledore, your brother bravely and selflessly—" Harry had no idea how Snape managed to make 'bravely' and 'selflessly' sound like crimes worthy of good old fashioned hanging, "—defended you and the Stone from Voldemort. The fact that it was in your pocket doesn't seem to make him doubt this version of events overmuch, nor does the fact that you are the one suffering magical exhaustion."
Harry made a disgusted noise.
"No, it's not fair." Snape agreed. "It never is. But at the very least we still have the Cup."
Harry swallowed hard on the feeling of unease. "Quirrel had Voldemort in the back of his head," he said instead.
Snape stared at him. His face twisted into an uncomfortable expression as he clearly struggled to imagine it, before he made a small noise of disgust and discarded the attempt. "I was aware of Voldemort's presence," he noted instead. "Your brother has already given his version of events. Did the Dark Lord know who you were?" he asked.
"He recognised my brother and me," Harry said after a moment.
"Now is not the time to be obtuse," Snape snapped, "Did he know you were the one who reduced him to such a state he had to possess Quirrel?"
Harry did what a Slytherin should never do in conversation. "Um." He said, and quickly realised his mistake, staring at the gathering thunder in Snape's expression. "I don't… think so?"
"You don't… 'think so?'" Snape repeated. "You don't think so? Merlin's Beard, Wand and Bloody Grey Cloak!"
"It was dark," Harry offered. "And I think he can only see in shades of red so maybe…" he trailed off.
"The Dark Lord," Snape said, with terrible calm, "is a master of Dark Arts, whatever his non-existent mental state might be. Are you trying to tell me he won't recognise a curse scar like yours? That he won't recognise his own magical signature on your forehead?"
"Well, you did say he was crazy," Harry pointed out.
Snape sighed heavily and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Let's do this another way," he managed after a moment's silence. "Who did he pay the most attention to? Which one of you did he focus his expositional dialogue on?"
"Me. But that might have been because I got there late…"
Harry took a deep breath and attempted to set things in a more logical and informative order. "Once I was there he did seem a little more focussed on me, but that might have been because he spotted the Slytherin badge. Said he couldn't talk to Gryffindors, they just didn't have the requisite brainpower or ability to concentrate."
"True," Snape murmured. "Too true. But did he say anything about his defeat? When he spoke about it, which one of you did he promise suffering to?"
"Both of us," Harry said.
"Oh for--" Snape swore. At length, with great fluency and style. "That's it." He said flatly. "I'm never letting you out of my sight again. Ever."
Snape glared back at him.
"May I suggest a compromise?" Harry said after a moment.
"Go ahead," Snape said. "It had better involve the solemn promise on your part to never, ever do such a stupid thing again."
"I'm perfectly willing to promise that. It was Gryffindor conditioning, that's all."
"That doesn't make me feel any better. Every summer my hard work is going to be undone."
"Then perhaps you should create some reason to remove me from such damaging surroundings." Harry pointed out innocently.
Snape stared. "You clever little bastard, you've just gone right back up in my esteem."
"I wasn't aware I was held in such high regard in the first place," Harry grinned. "If I'd known that I'd have done more damage in Charms."
Snape shook his head with something that was not quite admiration and not quite exasperation either. "Do try and argue your way past Madam Pomfrey in time for the End of Year Feast, I wouldn't want you to miss Slytherin's eighth year of winning the House Cup. McGonagall's expressions are to die for."
It was intolerable. Snape stared at Dumbledore, beaming ridiculously brightly after handing out points to all and sundry involved in the terrible Quirrel incident (all and sundry meaning only the Gryffindor students involved, naturally).
Fifty points to Granger for doing her best to keep her dunderheaded companions alive? That was to be expected! She'd taken on the role the moment she had the misfortune to befriend them!
And another fifty points to Weasley for a chess game? A chess game where his success was measured by the fact that the smart one didn't end up with her brains decorating the board?
And Dunce! Who should have died, who would have died if not for timely intervention on several parts. Sixty Morgana cursed points!
The only points he agreed with Dumbledore on were the ten to Longbottom for having the common sense to try and prevent students wandering off to kill themselves.
"You… absolute… bastard." Snape said. Actually, there were several versatile and increasingly imaginative descriptions of varying depravity between 'absolute' and 'bastard', but that was the general idea.
"Sorry, dear boy," Dumbledore said serenely, cupping his ear. "Going a trifle deaf in my left ear, you understand."
Snape took a deep breath and willed his sanity to cling on. "You…" he struggled and bit his lip more than three times before he could continue. "Was it absolutely necessary for you to complete humiliate us?" he said bitterly. "Was it impossible for you to give Potter and his cronies their gratuitous points before the feast?"
"Da-dee-dum-da…" Dumbledore hummed pleasantly. "Sorry, what was that?"
"No, you had to give them all their points at the feast so the entire school could witness your blatant favouritism and our utter humiliation," Snape snarled, hands so tightly clenched he found himself completely unsurprised by the tablecloth's sudden bloodstain.
"Poppy," Pomona said brightly, "The table's bleeding,"
"Doesn't all that red and gold brighten up the Hall splendidly?" Dumbledore said pleasantly.
Snape sat very still and planned murder.
On his left, McGonagall made a small noise uncommonly like a cat's yowl of aggravation. "It's no fun if it's just handed over," she said irritably. "Damn it, Albus! Keep pulling deus ex machina like this and I'll never get any work out of them!"
…crucifixion? Hanging by beard? Bludgeoning spell? Did he own a shotgun?
He looked over at his house table, filled with faces frozen in various states of fury, disbelief, horror, and resignation. Seven was a good number in the magical world. Powerful. But he'd much rather they'd had an eighth year. It was only deserved, it was only right.
Potter raised an eyebrow with a certain stare that promised to make the life of his brother as uncomfortable over the holidays as could be managed without risk of being cast out of the family home. Snape swung his gaze back over to the Gryffindor table, still celebrating Slytherin's humiliation and downfall. You'd think it was something personal.
It was a momentary setback, he assured himself. There was next year, as always. There was no need to feel like slaughtering the entire contingent of lion-badge wearing idiots, just because Dumbledore had pulled a stunt of great thoughtless cruelty. (Actually, was he so sure it was thoughtless cruelty? This was Dumbledore he was talking about.)
His students would know at least that the only reason such a travesty had occurred was by Dumbledore's whim. (And if Dumbledore did it just to make Dunce happy, Snape needed to have strong words with him regarding his oft-repeated statement 'it's the taking part that counts' and why he thought he was exempt.) They would be comforted by the notion that the Cup was rightfully theirs and had been stolen by crass and audacious means.
Oh, who was he trying to kid, if it weren't for the fact they were leaving the school in a few hours they'd already be hard at work making Gryffindor existence intolerable. Instead, they had all summer to come up with plans of horrific (and potentially criminal) scope.
He was not looking forward to next year. He never did (he was a teacher, it went against everything he stood and hoped for – namely, the utter destruction of the years between eleven and eighteen) but… he was going to have to work overtime to make sure there were no criminal charges brought against any of his students.
Next year was going to be awful. Snape contemplated talking it over with Pomona and arranging to spend it in a special plant induced haze. But no, he had to make Gryffindor sincerely regret their fraudulent acquisition of the House Cup, and he couldn't do that if he was convinced the walls were talking to him.
He had to plan. He had to acquire some dubious potions ingredients. … and he also had to make sure there were no Dark Lord Plot™ that could give Dumbledore reason to repeat this monstrous performance of discrimination.
Next year, Voldemort was going to be coming to him for tips.