A Shocking Discovery
Severus Snape's unrelenting black robes billowed around his tall, slender form as he swept out of the Slytherin common room. He had decided earlier, against his better judgment, to have a word with Draco Malfoy before the boy departed for home on the Hogwarts Express. Severus had felt the step necessary because it appeared to him that the young Slytherin was on the cusp of taking the step for which he had been moulded for the whole of his young life, and which, Snape knew, was likely to be the boy's downfall.
Severus had known Draco's father since the beginning of his own school days, when Lucius had been a very impressive seventh year as well as Head Boy; the first Slytherin to be afforded that honour since long before Lucius had even been born. Severus had been putty in the hands of the charismatic older boy. The smooth patter Lucius had spouted, the propaganda he had filled Severus' head with had seemed so romantic to the eleven year old, Half Blood boy whose life until Hogwarts had been one of abuse and deprivation. Lucius' ancient pure bloodedness and old family wealth had added to the fairytale allure, especially as he had been generous with his time as well as his money; he had, from the beginning, plied the impoverished first year with gifts bought from Hogsmeade and from home after the Christmas and Easter breaks. Lucius and several other older Slytherins showed Severus that the kind of life he had led before entering Hogwarts need not be the yardstick that his future life had to be measured by.
Severus' Muggle father had made his magical mother's life a living hell. Tobias Snape—after getting over the shock of discovering that there was such a thing as magic—had thought that by marrying a witch, she would be able to give him the life of idle luxury he believed he was entitled to. Unfortunately, all his mother had ever been able to give her husband was a son. But when it became obvious the boy was possessed of the same un-naturalness as his magical wife, Tobias Snape never made any effort to hide his disappointment in, and disdain for, his son.
But despite his bullying drunkard of a father, Severus' childhood had not been all bad; his mother, Eileen had loved and cared for him. She had made it her life's mission to protect her child from his violent, narrow-minded father. She had largely succeeded in this mission but more often than not, her own suffering at the hands of her husband was compounded. She had also fought tooth and nail to send Severus to Hogwarts and though she had won that battle, her own life had taken a steep downhill turn once Severus was no longer at home full-time. The young wizard had usually arrived home for the holidays to find his mother sporting numerous injuries that she went to extremes to hide from her son. Severus's hatred for his father grew yearly and it translated to a hatred for Muggles in general, especially as he saw similar patterns of behaviour in his father's friends.
When Severus was in his final term at Hogwarts, Lucius had stepped up Snape's indoctrination into the Dark Lord's service, writing to him frequently and meeting him in Hogsmeade for those final free weekends. So—as was inevitable considering Lucius' campaign and Severus' deprived background held in marked contrast to the allure of power and wealth—at the age of eighteen, Severus Snape had proudly received his Dark Mark. The first task The Dark Lord had charged him with—and which Snape had accepted with determined ease—was to kill his Muggle father.
Severus wrenched his thoughts away from his own unhappy childhood and adolescence, and with his face set in its usual lines of discontent, he put his hand flat against a robust wooden door.
This door was situated deep within the ancient bluestone dungeons and was the entrance to Snape's private quarters. The door swung open silently on well oiled iron hinges, but the quiet was immediately nullified by a loud bang as Severus slammed the door viciously behind him. Unfortunately, the cause of his ire—Draco Malfoy—was not close enough to hear. He was afraid that his talk had had little effect on the sixteen year old.
Little caring that it was only nine forty-five in the morning; the Potions Master poured himself a hefty slug of fine, single malt Scotch whisky: Muggle-made, and in his opinion, far superior to anything alcoholic that wizards had ever come up with. Snape smirked. The Dark Lord would not be happy to know Snape embraced anything Muggle-made, though Severus knew for a fact that the creature had a stash of excellent cognac hidden away. Still, if it became common knowledge that Severus embraced anything so blatantly Muggle, he would be dealt with severely. 'Do what I say, not what I do' was very much the doctrine that the Dark Lord lived by. And, He Who Must Not Be Named was not a forgiving man.
Glass in hand Severus took a hefty swallow of his drink, then leaning an elbow on the mantelpiece and staring into the empty grate, his less than stellar thoughts continued.
Draco Malfoy was more than two years younger than Severus had been when the Dark Lord had inducted him into the ranks of his Death Eaters. Eighteen years ago, he had been angry and vengeful. And today, Draco was in the same frame of mind. The boy was determined to right a wrong and he thought that being branded and becoming a servant of the most evil dark wizard of all time was the way to exact his revenge and help to make their world a place with fewer idiotic Gryffindors with their acceptance of Muggles, Muggle-borns and Muggle influence.
Snape had had to step very carefully when speaking to Draco. Draco, along with those other Slytherins whose parents belonged to the Dark Lord, thought that Severus Snape, the Head of Slytherin House was a faithful servant, devoted to Lord Voldemort's cause. They all thought that their Head of House was stringing Professor Dumbledore along and that his loyalties belonged unquestionably to the Dark Lord. This mindset was very much to Severus' advantage.
Severus did however, take his Head of House duties seriously and his end of term routine usually included a meeting with his departing Slytherins. And as he was an old family friend of the Malfoys—or at least he pretended to be—and had known Draco since the day he was born, it was not unusual for him to signal Draco out for special attention. Severus did not dislike Draco Malfoy, but nor did he hold him in the high regard that Draco, Lucius and Narcissa thought he did. Draco was too much the spoilt heir to the throne... nasty and vindictive, often cruel just so he could watch and revel in his target's suffering. The boy had no idea that to be a true Slytherin, it was the sensible thing to hide one's true proclivities under the proverbial bushel... Draco flaunted his hatred and disparagement of all but those who believed in the Dark Lord's doctrine; even his other professors were not spared his outright impudence and scorn.
The fact that Draco and several other Slytherins, were at this time, blindingly angry about recent events, had given Severus the means of making his pre-holidays' chat specific to any plans these angry young men may have regarding retribution. Crabbe and Goyle's plans did not extend past cornering Harry Potter on the train and pounding him to a bloody pulp. As muscle-bound and dim-witted as they were, Severus had not expected anything different. Sophisticated they were not. His admonitions to use a little finesse, he knew, had fallen on deaf ears, possibly because neither of the pair knew what 'finesse' meant. But as neither of them was magically proficient, nor bright enough to interest the Dark Lord overly much, Purebloods though they were, Severus had wasted little time on them. The Dark Lord may perhaps take them on for their brawn alone, much as he had done with their fathers. Potter was quick enough and smart enough to deal with the pair without resorting to fisticuffs... just as well as he would be pulp if they ever got hold of him and he didn't have his wand—or any of his little army—to hand.
Theodore Nott, another furious member of this seething enclave and son of another Death Eater, was however—and much to Severus' annoyance—an unknown quantity. This boy did not wear his heart on his sleeve like Malfoy did and he kept himself very much to himself. Snape was aware that the boy was an island unto himself, a loner who did not seem to need the friendship of his fellow students nor the council of his Head of House. This son of a Death Eater was a true Slytherin.
Neither anger nor reasoned argument elicited much in the way of emotion from the surly teen. He was brighter even than Malfoy; perhaps had as much brain power as the truly formidable Muggleborn, Hermione Granger. However, Nott did not exert himself in any way to excel, he did not try because he had nothing to prove; he did not need to be the top of his year to prove he was Death Eater material. Nott had always frustrated the hell out of Severus because he refused to become part of the Slytherin brotherhood. Snape could not remember ever seeing him socializing with any of his house mates.
Severus wondered how much of the boy's attitude was due to his background. He came from as old a lineage of Pureblood Wizards as the Malfoys but without the accompanying wealth; a similar background in fact to the equally old and equally poor Pureblood family, the Weasleys. The Weasleys however embraced the light with the same fervour as the Notts had always embraced Pureblood mania.
Severus had always wondered how much Theodore's poverty rankled when his rich classmate, Malfoy never missed an opportunity to flaunt his family's wealth and prestige. The boy had never kowtowed to Malfoy as most of the other Slytherins—even the older ones—did. But he had to be bitter. After all, his own father was as dedicated a Death Eater as Lucius Malfoy. And unlike Draco, Theodore Nott had shown no outward emotion over the fact that his father was now an inmate of Azkaban along with Lucius Malfoy and the senior Crabbe.
Draco, on the other hand was an open book. He wanted revenge for his father's incarceration. He was loudly and frequently vocal about his desire to kill Harry Potter. He knew the Dark Lord wanted Potter dead. Draco thought their common goal would more likely come to fruition if he took over where his father had left off. And by taking such a drastic step he might even achieve the so-far unattainable goal of making his impossible-to-please father, proud of him.
Draco had never had a choice, he had been born to serve the Dark Lord. It had been inculcated into him along with his mother's milk, as was the undisputed belief of the Malfoy superiority within Wizarding Britain. Both his parents came from Pureblood, wealthy families of ancient lineage, and given that history, Severus could not think of any boy whose head would not be full of the perception of his own superiority.
Well, perhaps he could think of one boy.
Severus, who, after his initial generous mouthful of whisky, had been sipping his drink, grimaced as his thoughts turned to another young wizard. The thought did not engender pleasure and with narrowed eyes he threw the remainder of the drink down his throat in one swallow where it seared a fiery path to his stomach. Reaching for the bottle, he poured another slug before throwing himself into a chair and setting his mind along another pathway he would much rather not travel.
Harry Potter. Draco's nemesis and his antithesis in every way imaginable, except for the fact of them both having Pureblood fathers from ancient, wealthy families. Malfoy had fair hair, Potter was very dark. Malfoy was always well groomed, fastidious and very, very vain; Potter, though clean, often looked as if he had been pulled through a hedge backwards and had not a care about how others perceived his looks; the complete opposite of his father at the same age.
Draco strove for excellence; Potter bumbled through his lessons but ultimately ended up with good grades; he had a sharp intelligence that for some reason best known to himself, he kept well hidden. Snape knew how smart Potter was, even though he had spent every minute he had been in the boy's company over the last five years denigrating him, hating him, trying to make him look small and stupid, particularly in front of his Slytherins.
Snape knew his behaviour was reprehensible but he found it almost impossible to ignore the boy, because every time he looked at him, he saw James Potter, mocking him, laughing at him. He found it impossible to differentiate between the boy and his toe-rag father. The senior Potter had been Snape's nemesis at school where they had both been in the same year. In fact he and James were less than three months apart in age; Severus being the older. They had become enemies within ten minutes of their first meeting aboard the train on their way to their first year at Hogwarts.
Though he and James had grown up knowing of the existence of the other, they had never met before the trip that was the beginning of their magical education; an unusual circumstance indeed as they were first cousins: Severus' mother Eileen was James' father's, twin sister.
Severus shut his eyes and sighed deeply, taking another liberal swig of his drink. This knowledge was something Severus did not like to dwell upon and it was imperative for his own continued good health that he keep even such a distant relationship to Harry Potter, a secret. This knowledge though, had a nasty habit of worming its persistent way to the forefront of his mind at the most inconvenient times—often when he looked at his first cousin once removed: James' clone. It had been happening with more and more frequency since the fiasco that had been his attempt to teach the boy the subtle art of Occlumency. Or more specifically, since the nosey, impulsive little shit had trespassed into one of his most private and degrading memories, a memory that featured dear James and his even more hateful sidekick, Sirius Black. Thankfully though, the memory concerning their relationship, which had also been in the pensieve at that time, had not been breached.
Severus had not been gentle upon discovering the boy snooping into his Pensieved memories. Potter was one of the smaller boys in his year; unlike his father and unlike Severus, the boy seemed to have missed out on the Potter gene that gifted most of the family with tall, lithe physiques. Severus shut his eyes as he remembered just how easily he had thrown Harry Potter across his office. He could remember how his hand had tightened around the thin arm with brutal strength, knowing that his strong fingers would have left nasty bruises. He heard again the sound of the boy's body crashing heavily enough with the thick, wooden shelves that one of them had broken.
Potter had been terrified. And with good reason. Snape's anger had been totally out of control and the fact that the recipient of his anger had not ended up in the hospital wing was more good luck than good management, especially as Severus had added insult to injury after the boy had hit the selves, by throwing a jar of cockroaches at him. If that heavy jar had hit the boy in the head, Severus knew he could have killed or seriously maimed him.
Never, in all his years of teaching and with much evidence to the contrary, had Severus physically abused a student. The fact that he had finally succumbed to temptation—and he had been tempted many times over the years—by abusing his only living relation caused him more guilt than he would have thought he could ever dredge up in regards to Harry Potter.
Severus sighed deeply and massaged his temples with cool fingertips. He was not happy that his thoughts seemed to centre more and more often on a boy that he wanted to abhor. But as Harry Potter's short life became more and more deathly complicated by the year, the Potions Master found his thoughts centring more and more often on Lily: Harry's mother and James' wife. And the only woman that Severus had ever loved.
Of course, the reason that he told himself he hated the boy so very much was more complicated than the fact that James lived again in his son; it was also the fact that Lily Evans had chosen James over Severus, bore him a son and then given up her precious life to protect that son.
Severus tipped the remaining liquid in his glass down his throat, then with a final, powerful mental thrust, he buried all the unpalatable thoughts pertaining to James and Harry Potter in the furthermost regions of his brain and slammed the obfuscating shield into place. He shoved himself out of the chair and stalked around his small living room, spearing a long-fingered, artistically slim hand through his greasy hair and grimacing. His wand hand itched to cast a charm to clean his hair there and then but one of his students may well want him for something in the next hour or so before the train departed. It was unlikely, but just in case, he needed to stay in character.
He would be so glad to be able to wash his hair and keep it clean for the weeks the students were away from the school. He hated the greasy, lank locks; he felt as unclean as he knew he looked but he also knew that it added to the image of the nasty, sneering, hated Hogwarts' professor, the purported Death Eater; the one all the students wanted to think was evil; the one they all called, 'Greasy Git.' He looked like a servant of the Dark Lord and this suited his purposes well. It was not essential that he enjoy his 'Greasy Git' persona.
Severus had inherited his father's oily skin and hair. Even as a young child, his hair had needed washing daily. Once he had reached adolescence, he would have had to wash his hair every three to four hours, an impossible situation and one that had led to most of his fellows at school denigrating his appearance at every turn. Severus' natural brilliance at potions had enabled him in his sixth year to come up with a formula that had kept his hair and skin oil free for twenty-four hours and Severus had been able to feel as clean as the other students. But by then of course, most people still saw him as the 'Slimy Slytherin, Severus Snape,' or, as Potter and Sirius Black had called him, 'Snivellus."
Feeling restless and unsettled, Severus Fire-called the kitchen and had them send him up a flask of strong coffee. A slight headache was blooming behind his left eye. Severus knew it was as much to do with his unhappy thoughts as the whisky. And as much as he wanted to consign all thoughts of Draco to the same place he had Potter, he could not. The whisky had done nothing to alleviate his worries regarding Draco. Of course, during their earlier meeting he had not been able to come right out and say that he hoped the young Slytherin was not considering doing anything as foolish as beginning an apprenticeship under the tutelage of the Dark Lord just yet. He had to use all his Slytherin cunning to intimate to the boy that he would be better able to cope with the rigours of being a Death Eater if he waited until he finished school.
Severus did not want to see sixteen year old Draco be branded. Draco was not Lucius. There was a softness in the boy that was totally absent in the father and Severus knew that Draco did not have the faintest concept of the reality that was a gathering of angry, vengeful, bigoted men who answered to a crazed xenophobe who had decided it was his mission in life to rid the Wizarding World of all but those he considered worthy; on the whole, Purebloods. He was one of the few exceptions admitted to the hallowed ranks; he was highly regarded for his skills and the Dark Lord coveted the best of the best.
Severus gazed into the black depths of his coffee cup, his fathomless eyes troubled. Somehow he did not think that Draco would be able to do anything to make the Dark Lord happy and he was positive that the sixteen year old child would be unable to withstand the excruciating rigours of the torture curse as well as a certain fourteen year old Gryffindor had done when he had suffered the Dark Lord's wrath a year previously. And Severus just knew that if the Dark Lord were to recruit the teenage Malfoy, it would be purely to degrade and demean the Malfoy name; to punish the father's failings by making sure that the son would never succeed at any task he was set.
Severus took a sip of his coffee, burning his mouth when the Floo suddenly flared to life and shocked him into taking a larger mouthful of the boiling liquid than he had intended. Cursing, he spun around to see Albus Dumbledore staring at him from within the emerald flames. Severus banished the cup and its contents wordlessly and strode to the fireplace.
"Severus, could you Floo to my office immediately. I need you to undertake a task for me."
Harry Potter descended the stone staircase connecting the boys' dormitories and the Common Room in Gryffindor tower. Several exuberant first and second years already filled with the spirit of the summer holidays clattered past him, knocking him against the wall so that the large cage he was carrying clanged against it and caused his snowy owl, Hedwig to screech indignantly.
"Watch it," Harry yelled after them, annoyed.
A non-contrite, "Sorry, Harry," drifted back up the stairs.
In the Common Room, Harry put Hedwig on a table before flopping bonelessly into one of the worn, squashy armchairs, putting his head back and closing his eyes. He was so tired. He doubted he had slept more than a couple of hours a night since...since; hell, he couldn't even say it in his own mind.
"Get a grip, Potter," he admonished himself out loud.
"Harry?" Harry's eyes snapped open. Ginny Weasley was standing next to Hedwig's cage, one slim finger extended through the bars so that she could stroke the soft, snowy feathers on her breast.
Harry hadn't heard her approach. He studied Ron's little sister through tired, dark-ringed eyes. She was dressed in Muggle clothes; jeans and a well-washed white t-shirt with multi-coloured, though faded, heart shaped sequins sewn around the V neck. The soft faded fabric of the t-shirt fit like a glove. Harry found it impossible to stop his eyes focusing on the delicious little mounds Ginny's breasts made where the soft, white fabric hugged them intimately. Streaks of red appeared on his cheeks when he realised where he was looking.
Ginny Weasley was dainty and petite and those tiny breasts were as perfect as the rest of her. Harry found it impossible to stop his eyes dropping to take in the glimpse of white skin and the neat little belly button that flashed into sight above the top of her jeans when she moved. When she moved to sit on the arm of his chair, Harry snapped out of his contemplation of her delectable female shape, his brow creasing as he focused his eyes on the much safer sight of the empty grate in the huge fireplace. God, what was the matter with him? He'd never before looked at Ginny Weasley like a horny teenage boy looks at a pretty girl. As she was Ron's little sister, Harry had always kind of looked on her in the same light. So why, as a big brother was he now taking note of silky smooth skin and burgeoning breasts. It was even more unexpected because nothing at all, not even pretty girls had interested him in the last week.
Most of the time; most especially when he was asleep, his thoughts were back in the 'Veil Room' in the Department of Mysteries, reliving the scene that he knew would haunt him for the rest of his life: Sirius duelling with Bellatrix Lestrange. Sirius, his face alight, laughing and taunting her. Then the look of shock when he had been hit by the curse that had sent him falling backwards through the veil. These dreams always ended with Harry yelling out loud during the short hours when he actually managed to fall asleep. After the first time, when he had woken his friends with his anguished cries, he had taken to casting a Silencing charm on himself before shutting his eyes, just in case he managed to actually fall asleep.
"You look really tired, Harry." Ginny was studying him with concerned eyes. "You're not sleeping, are you?"
Harry quirked his lips into an approximation of a smile whilst keeping his eyes resolutely on the empty grate. "I'm fine."
Ginny rolled her eyes. "'I'm fine," she mocked. "Harry Potter's stock standard answer even when it is patently obvious that he is not fine."
Harry looked up at her, his expression a little disgruntled. Ginny looked right back, totally unabashed. The pair of them were oblivious to the stream of people who were traversing the common room, leaving for the last time this term. Ginny didn't even hear two of the girls from her year calling out to her.
"Since when are you such an expert on me?" Harry asked tightly. He was very aware of Ginny's denim clad leg touching his own because of her position on the chair arm. He twisted slightly to the side, putting a bit of space between their lower limbs.
"Oh, you'd be surprised," Ginny returned quietly.
Seconds later, however, her leg touching his seemed fairly innocuous when Ginny stood in front of him and leaned forward. His eyes snapped to her face when she put her hands on his shoulders and looked into his wide green eyes. "Don't lock yourself away Harry. As one of the people who loves you, I am going to do everything I can to stop that from happening."
The next second, her lips were touching his cheek. Harry sat frozen with shock. But not so frozen that his mind did not register an objection when the contact ended.
The skin her lips had touched felt branded but that was nothing to how his lips felt seconds later when Ginny shifted her focus to them with a butterfly light kiss. Something inside Harry's chest broke free of the restraints he had erected to protect his shattered emotions. He had even gone a long way towards locking Ron and Hermione out and they were the two most important people in his life.
Just as Harry strained towards Ginny's lips... lips that were wonderfully warm and firm beneath his own. He vaguely registered someone wolf whistle as they rushed past and someone else crow, "Way to go, Potter! You lucky dog." Neither of these people distracted Harry nor Ginny; they were now totally absorbed in each other.
Harry put tentative hands on Ginny's hips and gently pulled her down onto his lap, all the time keeping contact with those sweet lips. Neither had any desire to end the moment, in fact Harry wished it could go on forever. This kiss was what it was supposed to be like between a boy and a girl; totally focused on each other; with no ghosts coming between them.
No, a ghost was not the problem this time.
"Oi! What the hell..." Harry reluctantly pulled back from Ginny and opened his eyes. His startling green ones gazed into Ginny's warm brown ones. As Ron stomped over and planted himself in front of them, Ginny framed Harry's face with her small hands, totally ignoring her irate brother.
"That's the first step in my crusade to make you start living again Harry," she said quietly, her breath huffing, feather light on his slightly parted lips. Still ignoring Ron, she pushed herself to her feet, and then to both boys' surprise, instead of walking away, she bent and planted another smacking kiss on his lips. Then she straightened and rounded on her brother. Ron had enough inbuilt self-preservation to take a couple of rapid steps backwards when he saw the look on the smallest Weasley's face. Those small hands that had so tenderly cradled Harry's face moments before were now planted on her slender hips. Despite his natural reticence, Ron was not totally cowed and his ears were beginning to glow as he looked from Ginny to Harry. Hermione, who had entered the CommonRoom with Ron and who had also seen the kiss, placed a placating hand on Ron's forearm.
"What was that?" Ron demanded of his sister, moving his pointed index finger backwards and forwards like a demented metronome between her and Harry.
"That Ronald," hissed a fuming Ginny, "was a kiss! Perhaps if you practised the art a little yourself instead of acting the part of a voyeur, you wouldn't have to ask the obvious."
The colour suffusing Ron's ears now extended across his cheekbones and when Ginny would have stalked off, he grabbed her arm and pulled her around to face him. Harry was on his feet in an instant, stepping between the two siblings.
"Let her go, Ron."
Ginny wrenched her arm out of her brother's grip then pushing Harry aside, she stood on tip toe to yell into Ron's face. "Yes, Ronald. You are not my keeper, nor have you any right to dictate my actions. If I want to kiss Harry, I will." She poked a furious finger into his shoulder and Ron sucked in a breath and rubbed the spot. "And for your future reference, I plan on kissing Harry a whole lot more in future so if you don't want to see, then look the other way." Finishing this little tirade, she then rounded on Hermione, who also took a rapid step backwards in deference to the small virago now confronting her.
"For Merlin's sake Hermione, please start the ball rolling so he'll get off my back. Because I swear, if you're waiting for him to hit on you, you'll be old and grey before he so much as holds your hand. My dear older brother…well, this older brother; has never been particularly quick on the uptake."
Then, just to show Ron who was really the boss, Ginny stood on tip toe and planted another kiss on Harry's surprised but grateful lips before turning on her heel and stalking across to the portrait hole and climbing through. Three Gryffindors—one bemused; one livid and one embarrassed—watched the angry little red head all the way through the portrait hole. Then Ron rounded on Harry.
"Well!" he demanded.
Harry sighed, his tiredness rushing back with a vengeance as his bemusement wore off with Ginny's departure. Picking up Hedwig's cage, he said, "Ron, you're my best mate, but I'm with Ginny on this one. It really is none of your business."
When he turned towards the portrait hole he half expected Ron to grab him and continue with the interrogation or else punch his lights out but the only noise that accompanied his retreat was a slight scuffling and a noise that sounded like 'mmfph'. Looking back, Harry was not totally surprised—but very grateful—to see Hermione taking Ginny's advice. He grinned as he watched Hermione snog Ron. And Ron, after several seconds of shocked indecision finally wrapped his long arms around the girl who had been one of his best friends for the last five years and pulled her to him, deepening the kiss that was most definitely long overdue.
"It's about bloody time," Harry called back to them. "But your actual timing leaves a lot to be desired. We need to get going or the carriages will leave without us. I don't fancy running all the way to Hogsmeade station."
Ron and Hermione broke apart reluctantly. Hermione took the lanky redhead's hand and pulled him towards the portrait hole, scooping up the carrier in which her disgruntled cat Crookshanks was confined whilst Ron grabbed his owl's cage. When they drew level with Harry, Ron tried to give him a ferocious look but it didn't come off when he couldn't quite eradicate the soppy grin from his face.
However, he did manage to say, "We've still got to sort out the fact that you were snogging my sister, Potter."
Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He turned away and led the way through the portrait hole. He could hear Hermione admonishing Ron; saying that it was really none of his business if Ginny and Harry wanted to snog each other and anyway shouldn't he be happy that it was Harry that Ginny was interested in now and not some other boy that Ron didn't even like... like Michael Corner.
"But that's part of the problem," Harry heard Ron whisper." "Harry's my best mate and if he and Ginny are now an item, I'll see them at it. All the time. Because we hang around together. Besides, she's going through boys like they're disposable, don't you think?"
"Oh rubbish," denied Hermione hotly. "She and Michael Corner were together most of the year. Anyway…" she lowered her voice even further so that Harry had to strain even harder to hear. "I happen to know that Ginny has always liked Harry—more than liked—but typical male, he was oblivious so I told her to forget about him and get on with her life. She's obviously never really given up on him. And just for the record Ron, I think it's great. Ginny will be good for Harry after everything he's been through."
"Yeah... well, that's part of the problem," said Ron in an undertone. "He's not exactly the safest bloke to be around, is he?"
Hermione stopped and glared at Ron. "Does that mean you're going to desert him?" she asked furiously.
"Of course not," yelped Ron. "He's my best mate. My place is beside him. But Ginny—"
"Ginny has a mind of her own, Ron, and she's not going to back away from Harry either, just because his future is likely to be far from peaceful. She's waited a while to make a move on Harry, because he's a bit like you... a bit slow on the uptake." With that, she strode ahead of Ron, her back rigid with temper. Ron watched her for a few seconds then hurried to catch up.
A/N: In this story, Severus Snape is not the Half Blood Prince. Eileen Snape's maiden name was Eileen Potter. She was James' aunt, though Eileen was estranged from her family. She and her twin brother, Adam, were very close until Tobias Snape came on the scene.