An Unexpected Gift
by Bluebird88The Harry Potter universe belongs to J.K. Rowling. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: The first italicized paragraphs are quoted directly from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, pages 467-469, U.S. hardcover version. They are intended only to put my story into context before I veer away from Rowling's words.
This story was written in response to a challenge on the Potions and Snitches website.
The golden egg fell through the tapestry at the bottom of the staircase, burst open, and began wailing loudly in the corridor below…Pulling the cloak back over himself Harry straightened up, listening hard with his eyes screwed up with fear…and, almost immediately –
It was the unmistakable hunting cry of Filch the caretaker. Harry could hear his rapid, shuffling footsteps coming nearer and nearer, his wheezy voice raised in fury…Sick with apprehension, he watched Filch drawing nearer and nearer in his old flannel dressing gown – he tried desperately to pull his trapped leg free, but it merely sank a few more inches – any second now, Filch was going to walk right into him –
"Filch? What's going on?"
Filch stopped a few steps below Harry and turned. At the foot of the stairs stood the only person who could make Harry's situation worse: Snape. He was wearing a long gray nightshirt and he looked livid.
"It's Peeves, Professor. He's stolen an egg from a Hogwarts champion. He'll be thrown out of Hogwarts for this, and about time, I say!"
"Filch, listen to me. At the moment, Peeves does not concern me in the slightest. I've just come from my office. Someone has broken through the wards protecting it. Whoever it was can't have gone far. I want him caught, Filch. Immediately!"
"And the egg, Professor?" asked Filch, looking crestfallen at the thought of losing his chance to get rid of Peeves for good. "Shouldn't we keep it for evidence?"
"No," Snape bit out. "Leave it with me."
Slowly, Filch handed it over, his reluctance clear in his every movement. With a final wistful look, he swept up Mrs. Norris and hurried off in the opposite direction, muttering all the while.
Left alone with Snape, Harry silently willed the Potions master to leave. His leg was beginning to ache, and he wasn't sure how much longer he could last before giving himself away.
Snape ran a thin, bony hand over the egg, then spat a single word, the malice in his tone causing the hair on the back of Harry's neck to stand on end. "Potter!" He glanced up and down the corridor, his sharp eyes missing nothing, until, to Harry's horror, they came to rest on the staircase where he stood trapped. Moving to block the base of the stairs, Snape repeated, "Potter. Show yourself." Harry hesitated, wondering frantically if it was possible that Snape was bluffing. There was no proof, after all, that the egg belonged to Harry. Maybe if he just kept very still –
"Now!" Snape snarled this last directive in a voice so dangerous that Harry had already pulled the cloak halfway off before he'd fully registered the command. "Come out of there." Quickly, Harry obeyed. He dragged himself awkwardly out of the hole in the staircase and moved to stand in front of Snape, trying to put as much distance as possible between himself and his irate professor.
For a long time, Snape simply glared. When he finally spoke, it was to inquire with mock concern, "Tell me, Potter. Have you yet learned to tell time?"
Harry scowled, hating Snape's tone. "Yes!"
"Indeed. And how long have you been a student at this institution?"
"Four years, sir."
"Four years," Snape mused, the mocking gleam never leaving his eye. "And in those four years, how is it that even the most basic of school rules has not yet managed to penetrate that thick skull of yours?"
Harry didn't answer. It wasn't as though Snape actually wanted a reply. No, Harry knew his Potions professor would continue with his little speech until it pleased him to stop. Nothing Harry could say would make the slightest bit of difference.
"We have a curfew at this school, Potter," Snape continued, "and yet time and again I stumble upon you out of bounds after hours, in clear violation of it!" Snape's breath was coming in short gasps now, and Harry had to work hard to resist the urge to back slowly away. The Potions master appeared to deliberately calm himself. When he spoke again, it was in that soft tone that Harry recognized as his most dangerous. "You will explain to me what you thought you were doing in my office, and how you managed to disable my wards. If I think for even one instant that you are lying to me, you will be very sorry, indeed. Now. Explain yourself, Potter!"
Harry didn't quite know what to say to that. Snape thought he had been the one searching his office? What could he possibly say to convince him otherwise? "I wasn't in your office, sir, I swear! I was nowhere near there all night! I was just, erm, out for a walk. You know, to think about….things." He waved vaguely in the direction of the egg.
"You were thinking, Potter?" Snape drawled, curling a lip. "You're asking me to believe that our resident hero ever deigns to participate in an activity quite so mundane as actual human thought?"
"I'm not asking you to believe anything, sir," Harry returned furiously. "You asked for the truth and I've told it."
"Look at me in the eye when you speak to me, Potter!" Snape demanded. Without warning, he reached out and caught Harry's chin in his hand. Harry flinched, but Snape's touch was surprisingly….well, not gentle, exactly, but also not nearly as harsh as he would have expected. "I'm going to ask you once more, and believe me, I shall know if you lie. Did you circumvent my wards in order to enter my office this evening?"
"NO! Listen, I don't know who it was, Professor, but it wasn't me!"
Snape's gaze was so penetrating that Harry shivered involuntarily. He longed to look away, but instead stared defiantly back. Whatever the man was looking for, he seemed to have found it. After a long moment, he released his hold on Harry with a quiet, "Hmmm."
"Very well, Potter," Snape said finally, "If you were not searching my office, perhaps you'd care to explain just what you were doing out and about at this time of night." Harry started to speak, but the man cut him off. " No, you're not going to get by with some idiotic tale about needing a nighttime stroll to clear your poor, tormented head. If that were the case, you wouldn't need to be out quite so late, would you? The truth, now, Potter, or we go straight to the headmaster!"
Harry glared, but the thought of the look on Dumbledore's face if he found out about Harry's latest bout of rule-breaking had him admitting, "I am telling the truth about needing to think, sir. I went out late because I didn't know how long I'd be, and I didn't want anyone to interrupt me."
"And the reason you couldn't do all this in the quiet of your dormitory?"
Harry hesitated, wincing at how stupid he knew his answer would sound. "I, er, wanted to try opening the egg underwater, sir…to see if that made a difference."
An odd look crossed Snape's face. Harry could have sworn he looked almost…pleased. But surely he must be imagining things. Whatever it had been, the look vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared. Snape said only, "Underwater? Really, Potter, I know you consider yourself to be far superior to the rest of us mere mortals, but I hadn't thought even you could be so arrogant as to believe that you could breathe underwater. Unless you've an illicit supply of gillyweed I'm unaware of?"
"No, sir," Harry said quickly, trying to hide his growing disbelief. Had Snape really just said what he thought he'd said? Something called gillyweed could allow humans to breathe under water?
Snape huffed impatiently, having apparently grown tired of the conversation. "Fifty points from Gryffindor. And you will report to my office tomorrow at eight for detention. Now, you will go straight back to your dormitory, and stay there. I mean it. No more…wandering. And Potter?" Snape leaned closer, his dark eyes glinting dangerously." "If I ever catch you out of bed after curfew again, whoever it is that's entered your name in this blasted tournament won't have to worry about killing you. I shall do it myself. I trust I've made myself quite clear?"
"Yes, sir," Harry answered hurriedly, then left as quickly as he could, trying not to appear too rushed. For the life of him, he couldn't believe what Snape had just let slip. Biting back a grin, he imagined the look on the Potions master's face if he realized how much he'd unintentionally helped his least favorite student. As soon as he was sure he was out of sight, Harry broke into a run, anxious to get back to Gryffindor tower so he could find Hermione and ask her if she'd ever heard of something called gillyweed.
Several corridors away, Severus Snape's lip curled into something that, on any other man, might have been called a slight smile. He'd told the boy enough to keep him from drowning, at least. Whether Potter recognized the hint for what it was was hardly his problem. Really, though, he was getting awfully tired of saving the boy's life. "Do try not to get yourself killed, Potter," he murmured to himself. "I don't appreciate having my time wasted."
A/N: Any feedback is more than welcome!