Harry lay still for several minutes after first waking, just staring at the uneven stone ceiling and letting the memories of the previous night come back to him. Now that he was a night removed from those events, he found they had lost most of the negative feelings he had experienced while caught up in the moment.

He snorted with laughter, remembering Malfoy's crazed rushing around.

It had been a while since anything had seemed really funny to him, and his laugh was rusty in his throat.

He picked up his wand - he had left it on the bedside table - and waved it in the air above his face. "Lumos!"

It lit brightly.

His laughter turned giddy.

He was still chuckling when he finally felt like rolling out of bed, checked his wristwatch for the time and found he had nearly two hours before breakfast, and started toward the bathroom.

His reflection showed a normal person, for once, rather than a disheveled scarecrow who looked like he hadn't slept or washed his hair in days. His eyes were clear and there were no dark circles under them, and his mouth was curved into a small smile he wasn't having to force onto his face.

He reached his arms over his head, and then out to his sides, feeling the muscles in his shoulders and back stretch accommodatingly, with no aches or bone-deep tiredness.

He felt good.

Even with all his problems and all the things still left unfixed and unsolved, he felt like he was ready to face whatever was coming.

His magic was back. Just thinking about it made him feel slightly light-headed with happiness.

He grinned at his reflection - Hadrian had small, very white, very straight teeth, which Harry assumed had been magically fixed - and said, "I'm stupidly cheery this morning."

The cheer had worn off a bit by the time he was done showering and left the bathroom to get dressed. He had started to think about Lupin, and he couldn't very well stay in a perfectly good mood after that.

He stopped short when he reached the dresser.

Of course. Snape had said he had left Harry's gifts in his room. He had forgotten, after the night he had with Malfoy. There they were, piled on the dresser in a very precise way. A stack of wrapping paper, smoothed flat and devoid of wrinkles. A small box filled with discarded ribbons and bows. A stack of cards and notes. A large box with a smaller one on top of it, covered with a shiny green cloth.

He wasn't surprised in the least that Snape had unwrapped his gifts. He wasn't upset about it, having expected it. He even appreciated, just a little, the fact that Snape hadn't wrapped them up again after checking the contents. It was more honest to leave them this way, than to pretend it hadn't been done.

He got dressed. He thought the old Harry wouldn't have; wouldn't have been able to think of anything but grabbing the boxes and the notes and devouring them like they were food and he was starving.

He moved everything carefully over to his bed, so that he could sit rather than stand.

Then he sat, just staring, battling with the small part of him that was reluctant to see what was in the boxes. He didn't think that feeling ought to be there. Why couldn't something as simple as receiving gifts on his birthday be... well, simple?

But it wasn't simple. He remembered Lupin telling him his friends didn't have anything to give him, after the way most of them had arrived at Hogwarts; even Ron and Ginny and the rest of the Weasleys must have only packed essentials when they left the Burrow. It was selfish to expect gifts at all, under these circumstances. He should have written and told them not to send him anything other than kind wishes. That would have been the right thing to do, and he should have thought of it.

Then there was the gift Lupin had promised him, after Snape had warned him not to expect anything. Harry recalled his exact words, grimacing as they echoed in his mind in a friendly, comforting tone Lupin hadn't used in what felt like a very, very long time: 'He certainly couldn't have meant you would go completely without gifts this year - you're getting one from me, in any event.'

Harry stared at the box.

He reached for the cards and notes, instead.

There was one from Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, and he smiled as Mrs. Weasley's fussing came through perfectly even in written form. Another, from Bill and Charlie, telling him to keep his chin up, learn everything he could, and stay alert. He supposed they couldn't have written anything truly personal, given that they didn't know him that well, and he appreciated that they had sent the card at all.

There was one more; a tall, narrow one made of paper that had the feel and fuzzy look of velvet, and was green with silver script spelling out 'Happy Birthday'.


Don't trust anyone.
Father had nearly
the whole Ministry
of Magic in his

Happy Birthday.


There followed a long list of names, some underlined, some with a question mark in front of them, some with notations like, 'Imperiused' and 'sons, too'.

Harry put the card down, swallowing. He supposed Malfoy - assuming the list was actually accurate... and Harry couldn't convince himself that it might not be, with 'J. Williamson' one of the first names listed - might have meant for Harry to pass it on to the Order. Either that, or he meant for Harry to go after these people, and get himself killed.

Harry shook his head and set the card aside. It just showed how messed up in the head he was, that he found it easy to believe Malfoy was trying to help him, and easy to dismiss the possibility that he wasn't. Just weeks earlier, really, he would have have no trouble believing Malfoy would send him such a list in the hopes of leading Harry into a trap.

He wondered why Malfoy hadn't given the names to Snape. Snape was in the Order, and Malfoy knew that now. For that matter, Malfoy could have given it to Lupin or McGonagall, or even one of the Weasleys, but Harry understood why he wouldn't have done that, at least. But why not Snape?

An explanation came floating up to the front of his mind. He always found it a bit strange when that happened; an answer coming suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, without him having expended much effort thinking the problem through. It didn't feel entirely natural. It felt like it was coming from outside of him, and now that he knew about the horcrux he didn't trust anything about himself that he couldn't fully understand. Every thought, emotion, and dream that didn't clearly come from his own mind was suspect.

Malfoy, it was possible, had sent Harry the list because he wanted to make sure Harry got it. Harry personally, not just the people watching over him. Maybe he didn't trust Snape to pass it on, or thought if he gave it to anyone else they might choose to keep it from Harry for some reason.

Harry snorted with exasperation. It was bad, all right, when even Malfoy knew that nobody ever told Harry anything.

Well, he was going to do the responsible thing, with this. He was going to give the list to Snape. Or to Lupin, assuming Lupin ever spoke to him again.

There were two letters, both of them unfolded and lying on top of their envelopes. The first was from Hermione, and it had to be the longest letter Harry had ever received in his life... and many of Hermione's summer-time letters had been quite long.

Dear Harry,

Happy Birthday, Harry! I am so sorry you
couldn't visit, but we all hope you are
staying safe, wherever you are.
we saw each other last, you mentioned
being confused and having a lot on your
mind. We didn't have time then, and I didn't
want to embarrass you in front of Draco and
Neville... I know how you boys are! but I
have not forgotten.

Harry paused and frowned. He could not recall any such conversation taking place the last time he had visited with his friends as himself, nor the time before that.

He re-read from the top, this time with an eye for hidden clues to Hermione's agenda, and then read onward.

After my release from Ministry custody, I,
too, felt lost and confused, with too many
thoughts to fit in my head. Sometimes,
especially at night, I felt I might be going
mad, with no one to confide in (I did not
want to burden Neville, who had suffered
no less than I had). I remembered my
mother's advice and started a diary. I know
a diary

The word 'diary' looked slightly odd, and when he brought it closer to his face and squinted, he realized the ink was a shade off, a very dark blue instead of the black she had used for the rest of the letter.

may not appeal to a boy, but I thought I
would pass the idea on and perhaps you
will try it.

So was the word 'boy' written in blue ink.

I recognize that such an object poses a
security risk. I have charmed the diary to
hold your secrets well. It will appear blank
to anyone who is not related to you by
blood, and will show incomprehensible
riddles and nonsensical rhymes if breached
by someone who does not. I hope that
these measures are deemed enough.

Hermione had used blue ink for 'charmed', 'secrets', and 'riddles', and by this time Harry was starting to feel a bit peeved. Did his friend think he was a drooling moron? Did she think it was necessary to bludgeon him over the head repeatedly if there was to be any chance of him catching on?

Harry, I know you hate being told to ask
for help, but if you are still suffering
nightmares, please tell someone. My heart
breaks when I imagine you waking night
after night, screaming yourself hoarse. Ron
told me about some of your nightmares and
frankly they sound petrifying. No one should
have to suffer that way, and if it were one
of your friends, you would want them to
seek help.

She had underlined 'petrifying', and Harry shook his head in disbelief that the letter had made it past Snape.

If I am being too forward, I'm sorry, but I
hope our friendship can survive me speaking
my mind. I would not say any of this if I
were not your friend, and desperate to help
you in any way I can.

Love, your friend,


P.S.: I haven't been able to discover why
Dumbledore might have left that book to me.
Are you absolutely sure he wanted me to have it?
The library only has one other book with any
mention at all of Beedle the Bard or the Tales
specifically. I have already read it and there
is nothing that stands out as important. I
am sending you the book, nonetheless, and
I will keep searching.

Harry put the letter down and looked doubtfully at the two boxes that presumably contained the actual gifts. There was simply no way Snape had allowed Hermione to slip a charmed book into Harry's gift. Not the day after Harry had pulled the same trick. Not with such an ill-disguised message in her letter. Not if the book was what he thought it might be.

He swallowed his curiosity and picked up Ginny's letter, which was much shorter, and written in blinding pink ink with purple hearts, swirls, and squiggles all over the margins. It wasn't very easy on the eyes.

Dearest Harry,

Happy Birthday!

I wish you were here with us now. I've been sick with worry, especially
since your last letter was so abrupt. We all are worried and concerned.
You said you can write, but you rarely do, and we have no way of
knowing if you are well. If you can, at all, please write to us more often.
I have nothing to send you that is of any value, but I will share my
stationery with you in the hope that you will use it.

We love you, Harry. Please don't forget that we are here for you, even
if we are apart most of the time.



Upon closer inspection, there was one word that had suffered special embellishment. The word 'write' had a tiny heart where the dot on top of the 'i' should have been, and the heart was the only thing on the entire page that was neither pink nor purple. It was dark blue.

Harry set the letter on top of Hermione's. There was a definite theme to his friends' gifts, and he reached for Neville's note with suspicion.

Neville had written only a short birthday greeting, with no mention of a gift and no apparent hidden messages. The only odd thing about it was the fact that Neville had used an array of colors, and something had jostled his hand when he he was using the dark blue ink, leaving splatters on the bottom of the parchment.

Harry rolled his eyes.

Yes, his friends thought his intelligence was on par with a bag of rocks. Nice to know, after five years of friendship.

Worse yet, he felt cheated. These letters were nothing like what his friends would have written normally. They had clearly been written with an entirely different audience in mind, and may as well have been essays his friends had written for a class. He would have much preferred they had done nothing but sign one single card between them, because at least that would have been sincere.

He knew he was being petty - their birthday wishes had to sincere, anyway - but he couldn't help it. All that wasted parchment and ink, and for what? They had clearly known the letters would be read before Harry got them; did they really think they were being so clever that whomever read them would notice nothing?

There were no further cards or letters, but there were a number of tags that must have been pulled off the packages they had been attached to, along with the gift wrap. He saw one that read: 'To Harry, From G&F' and another that read: 'To Harry, From Professor R.J. Lupin', which made his heart speed up.

Unable to wait another moment, he opened the smaller of the two boxes and reached eagerly inside. He took out a blank book with a nondescript brown leather cover.

His heart sank, even though he had been prepared for it.

Stuck to the book was a note from Snape.

I'm afraid I had to remove the charms Ms. Granger
applied to this book. Were I her Charms instructor
and this an assignment, she would have received
a D for this lackluster effort.

S. Snape

Harry sighed as he quickly flipped through the book, just in case Snape had missed something. There was nothing. He set it aside, as well as a thick little tome entitled Tales of a Tale-Teller that had been directly underneath it in the box. He didn't have time to look at it now, and, anyway, if Hermione hadn't found it useful, he didn't see any reason it needed his immediate attention. He trusted her to be thorough in her research, after all.

A packet containing a number of floral-scented, pink-colored stationery was next. He wondered if it would be terribly rude not to use it for at least one letter. Maybe he would have to write one to just Ginny. He couldn't imagine writing 'Dear Ron,' on one of the frumpy sheets. Besides, he knew Ginny had only sent it to direct his attention even more to the message hidden in Hermione's letter.

Neville's gift was an ugly blue peacock quill that reminded Harry of one of Lockhart's, but which on further inspection was just a goose feather with a color changing charm applied. There were also six tiny bottles of ink, similar to the ones Lupin had given to Harry to write his invitations. One of the inks was dark blue, and the brighter blue that should have been part of the set was missing, suggesting the dark blue was either charmed or had a mixture of two or more colors. Snape was right; this wasn't a very good effort. Everything from the secret message to the bottle of ink simply stuck out like a sore thumb.

Maybe if they hadn't thought him so thick - !

Harry forced himself to focus on the next gift. It was one of Snape's dungeon maps, like the one Snape had already given him, but a crude sketch of the rest of the castle had been added to the sides and back. It did not show moving dots for people, but rather listed the occupants of a room. Harry was quickly able to locate himself, listed as Hadrian Snape, as well as Severus Snape in one of the classrooms, Remus Lupin in Snape's quarters (Harry assumed that meant they had made up, and wasn't entirely sure how he felt about it), and Draco Malfoy -

Not in the Slytherin common room. He was, instead, back in the classroom where he was doing his illicit brewing.

Harry told himself he did not care, and turned the map over to see who else he could spot.

None of the Weasleys were listed. He assumed the Room of Requirement didn't show up on this map any more than it did on the Marauder's Map. Neville, however, was on the staircase between the second and third floors. Harry wondered why he had been allowed out so early, and alone.

He folded the map carefully. It was not the Marauder's Map by any stretch, but it would be extraordinary useful nonetheless. His spirits lifted at the thought of not getting lost, not running into Ron and the twins when he rounded the corner, and not being surprised by Fudge and his Aurors.

There was a Remembrall, wrapped in a red and gold cloth, and he guessed it was from Mrs. Weasley, who had sent Neville one.

Fred and George had sent a tin labeled 'Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder', which Harry set aside without opening. If Snape had passed it along, he supposed it couldn't be anything really bad, but years of friendship with the twins had taught him to be cautious of anything they offered him.

Ron had sent a brochure and a thin book. There was a note attached to this, also, but in Ron's handwriting.


Happy birthday, mate! We're being taught to Apparate and I
thought you should get the same chance. Once we start
learning I'll pass along any useful tips. You can read this
until then - Mum and Dad are making us memorize it.


The brochure and book did indeed describe the process of Apparition, and Harry wondered if that meant they were all having lessons that year. You had to be of age to get your license, but... well, being able to Apparate would be dead useful in an emergency, and it would hardly matter that you did it illegally if you did it to save your life. It was nice of Ron to think of Harry, if Ron thought Harry might not have access to the same information. That was the sort of thing Harry usually expected from Hermione, but Hermione was a bit off her game, it seemed.

The last object in the box was a heavy album. It, too, had a note stuck to it. This one read:

You may keep this in the open without fear of
anyone seeing what they should not.

S. Snape

Harry opened it, not sure what to expect.

The pages were filled with unfamiliar photographs, a mixture of Muggle and magic ones, showing people he didn't recognize and places he had never been. It was only when he had come to the fourth page that he recognized the elderly couple who had been Hadrian's grandparents, the house in which Hadrian had lived, and Beatrice Carmichael, Hadrian's mother.

Harry frowned as he came to the last page, confused. Why had Snape not given this to Hadrian - that is, why had he given it to Harry, rather than let Harry open it at Hadrian's tea later that afternoon?

He shut the album.

There was a note stuck to the back cover. Harry could have sworn it had not been there before.

Say your name.

Harry scratched his nose. "Er... Harry Potter."

He opened the album again.

His breath caught.

The album's front cover opened to reveal the cover of another, and it was his album; his, with photographs of his parents and his friends and Sirius. He hadn't expected to see it again so soon. He had been hoping he might be allowed to look at it once in a while, but he hadn't yet worked up the courage to ask Lupin...

Harry hugged it to his chest, and only let it go when the school clock began to chime.

Secure in the knowledge that he wasn't going to get lost coming up out of the dungeons, Harry quickly opened the bigger box.

There was a small trunk, made of wood so dark it was nearly black, with ornate letters burned into the lid, spelling out Hadrian Snape. It was too large for a bedside table and would look silly, like someone had shrunk it, on the floor, but would be just right on the dresser. There was an ornate lock in the shape of a snake.

Predictably, there was a note.

This trunk will open at your touch, but to view its
entire contents you will need to speak directly to the
snake, as I believe you should still be able to do.
If you are unable to open it, bring it to me and we
will think of another way to secure it.

S. Snape

Harry felt a sudden urge to shove the trunk off his bed - to get it as far away from him as he could.

The clock chimed again and Harry felt as though he had been released from a Petrificus Totalus. He sprung off the bed and was out of his room so fast that he had to go back because he had left behind both the map and his boots.

His heart pounded all the way to the stairwell to the ground floor, and it wasn't from how fast he was walking, though his near-jog left him a bit breathless.

He had been planning to see if he could open the Chamber of Secrets. He needed to know if he could still speak Parseltongue. He had thought maybe that would help convince Snape and Lupin to take the threat of Voldemort seriously. If he could still do it, surely that meant he still had Voldemort inside his head. That was the only reasonable explanation, given that it was Dumbledore who had worked out why Harry had that particular skill.

But Snape... Snape knew, or suspected, or...

Harry honestly didn't know what it meant, that Snape thought Harry might still have the ability to use Voldemort's special talent.

He just couldn't think of one single way it could mean anything good.

Maybe it was a test.

The thought brought Harry to an abrupt stop, just short of the stairs.

Maybe Snape wanted to find out if Harry was still a horcrux, because Harry himself had given Snape reason to doubt that Dumbledore had taken care of everything.

All Harry had to do was bring the trunk back to Snape, still locked, and claim he couldn't get it open. If he didn't open it, Snape would have no proof that Harry could have opened it if he had wanted to. There was probably some sort of trap inside, and once Harry opened it there would be no way to hide the fact that he had. That was just the sort of thing Snape would do.

Of course, this would still leave Harry himself in the dark about whether or not he was still a Parselmouth, but what did that matter? That would leave him exactly where he was now; he would just carry on with his plan to open the Chamber of Secrets.

But maybe...

Maybe Snape needed to know.

Snape was the one tasked with carrying on Dumbledore's work. Snape was the one who knew the most about finding and destroying the horcruxes. If there were more - besides Harry, that is - then it was Snape who was in the best position to go looking for them. Harry couldn't very well do it himself. What was he supposed to do, really, gather a group of untrained, unprepared children and lead them on a search for dangerous dark artifacts that could be hidden anywhere in all of Europe for all he knew, and all while both the Ministry and Voldemort's followers hunted them down?

Harry hardly recognized the horrible laugh that escaped his throat.

No, he wasn't going to do that to his friends again. He would go alone, if he went at all.

And maybe he would tell Snape.

It wasn't like the outcome would be much different. If it was Harry up against Voldemort and the Ministry, he might as well die by Snape's hand and make it easy on all of them.

"Why are you standing in the middle of the corridor?"

Harry waited, unable to move, while Malfoy walked up behind him.

"Are you all right?"

Harry tried to breathe in, but his breath caught in his throat.

"Hadrian?" Malfoy's frowning face appeared in front of Harry. "Are you all right? Do you want me to get Professor Snape?"

It was funny, really, how there was always a way for things to get worse. Harry had been thinking, not too long ago, that having nearly all of the adults at Hogwarts witness his panic attack was as bad as things could get. He hadn't counted on having one in front of Malfoy. Maybe it had been too horrible to think of, at the time.

Through the dull roar that filled his head, Harry managed to nod.

Malfoy turned and ran deeper into the dungeons.

Harry managed to take several steps sideways without having his knees buckle, as he was sure they would, and leaned against the cold, clammy stone wall. It felt rough under his cheek, which seemed to be burning like it was on fire. He shut his eyes and tried to do what he had been told, dragging air slowly into his lungs, focusing on nothing but breathing in and out.

He heard Malfoy's returning footsteps, as well as Snape's distinct ones. A hand touched down on his shoulder.

"Hadrian? Drink this."

The smooth rim of a potion vial was pushed between his lips, and he drank it without further prompting.

He wasn't convinced the floaty, disassociated feeling was much better than the crushing, encroaching darkness, but at least it was easier to breathe.

"Thank you, Draco. You should continue to breakfast. I may be a bit late."

"Yes, Professor."

Malfoy's footsteps died in the distance before Harry even realized he was being led by the arm.

Snape deposited him in a chair. Harry looked slowly around, his mind sluggishly taking in the fact that he was back in Snape's quarters, back on Snape's lumpy couch, and that Snape was sitting in the chair that Lupin had dragged over to the couch the previous evening.

"Just rest for a moment," Snape said, not taking his eyes off Harry. He was frowning, and his lit wand was in his hands. This time, for some reason, the light did not hurt. "Do you know what brought this on?"

Harry hadn't meant to say anything. It was the potion talking, he was sure, because he hadn't come anywhere close to making up his mind to tell Snape any of what he had been thinking.

"I'm a horcrux... you know I am... Voldemort isn't... the prophecy..."

Snape made an irritable noise and snuffed his wandlight. He put his wand away and fixed Harry with a displeased glare. "This again."

Harry trailed off, sucking in air in gulps in spite of the calming draught.

Nothing he said ever made any difference.

Snape was silent for a long time. Harry didn't realize until his head suddenly cleared that Snape had been waiting for the potion to wear off.

"Look, Potter," Snape said, his eyes boring into Harry's. "You are not a horcrux. The Dark Lord is dead. There is nothing more for you to do. Nothing to do but keep your head down and wait for the world to right itself."

Harry looked away. He knew his expression was probably close to a scowl, but he didn't care.

"I suppose you tried to open the trunk," Snape went on, ignoring his silence. "Your ability to speak to snakes is indeed a remnant of the horcrux, but it is not proof it is still there. All magic has the ability to affect our own, which is why exposure to the Dark Arts is considered risky. Your magical core had some fourteen years to absorb the residual magic that was thrust into your scar along with the piece of the Dark Lord's soul. The two things have little to do with each other. A soul cannot be absorbed into another soul, and thus it could be expelled from you and leave no trace of itself. Magic, however, attracts and is attracted to other magic. After so many years in close proximity, there would be little or no distinction between your own magic and the magic that intruded into your body the night the Dark Lord attempted to murder you. Do you understand?"

Harry hunched his shoulders in a sort of shrug.

"I see that you don't," Snape continued harshly. "I will not spend precious hours of my time looking for proof good enough for you. Knowing you, nothing will be good enough, so I may as well save myself the trouble. Speak to Lupin if you want to know what he has learned in his research, or speak with Dumbledore's portrait."

He knew he would never do that. He shook his head.

"You are the most aggravating -" Snape cut himself off with another irritable huff, and waved his hand dismissively. "If you're feeling well enough, let's make an appearance at the breakfast table. You have missed too many meals and it's drawing unwanted attention."

Harry stood up, swaying on his feet until Snape caught him under the arm to steady him.

"Thanks," Harry mumbled, not looking at him.

Snape simply refused to understand, just like always. Harry was on his own. Just like he had been alone in his first year at Hogwarts, with the Philosopher's Stone and Quirrell, and his second year with the Chamber of Secrets, and his third year in the Shrieking Shack and then after Wormtail's escape, and his fourth year with the Goblet of Fire and then after Voldemort's return, and in his fifth year -

Harry forcibly stopped those careening thoughts before either Dumbledore's death or Sirius' fall through the Veil in the Department of Mysteries could fully materialize in front of his eyes.

Adults never listened, that was all. They never believed him, and they never did anything to help. Not until it was too late.

"Is there anything else, before we go?"

Harry shook his head, not meeting Snape's eyes. He could feel Snape studying him closely, and didn't want to take the chance that Snape would use Legilimency on him. Snape seemed to feel free to use it any time he pleased, lately.

Snape chose not to say anything more, and Harry followed him up to the Great Hall in silence.

They joined the others at the breakfast table, and Harry kept his eyes averted. He didn't want to know if Malfoy had told everyone how he had found Harry - or Hadrian, anyway - hyperventilating at the bottom of the dungeon stairwell. He didn't want to see whatever looks were being directed his way.

Someone patted his arm. Harry glanced quickly to the side, just with his eyes, and saw that it was Malfoy who was sitting next to him. He had to force himself to be still and not shudder or pull away.

Clearly, after Harry had come to Malfoy's rescue the previous night, Malfoy thought they were on their way to being best friends.

He shoveled some food into his mouth without caring what it was or what it tasted like.

The morning that had started out so strangely well was now back to being the same sort of morning he was used to, and the same could be said about Harry's mood.

"Another letter from your father, Draco?" McGonagall said, causing Malfoy to finally withdraw the hand that had been pawing Harry's arm. "Did you not reply to his last?"

"I did, ma'am." Malfoy's voice had an odd, forced calmness to it. "He may not have liked my answer."

"Would you, Bill?"

Harry couldn't help seeing an envelope passed under his nose, and then a spell glowed briefly.

"It's clean," Bill said.

Parchment rustled to Harry's left, and he knew Malfoy was opening the envelope. If he had wanted to, Harry could have sneaked a look at the letter.

"It's just more of the same," Malfoy said quietly, a few minutes later. "He wants to see me."

"We can arrange a meeting here," McGonagall suggested. "You do not have to meet with him alone."

"I'll think about it, Professor," Malfoy said, folding the letter carefully and putting it back into the envelope, and the envelope into his pocket. Harry, because he was sitting so close to Malfoy, couldn't help seeing him ball it up in his fist as soon as it was below the table's edge, his knuckles turning stark white. "I appreciate your concern."

Somehow, Harry was not convinced Malfoy was actually returning his father's letters.

He knew just enough about Lucius Malfoy to know that the man wouldn't leave it at that. One day soon, he would come marching into the school and demand to see his son, whether his son wanted to see him or not.

In a way, Harry couldn't blame him. That was what parents did, wasn't it? Even he, having grown up with no parents of his own, knew that much. No parent would stand for having his child kept from him, especially if letters were going unanswered.

Sirius wouldn't have stood for it, Harry was sure.

He suddenly longed to be back in his room, curled up on his bed - no matter what Snape had said about wallowing in bed in the daytime - with his photo album open to the pages where he had put the photographs Lupin had given him; the ones from Christmas, that showed Sirius as Harry wanted to remember him.

"Draco, Hadrian and I will wait for you if you want to write a reply. You may join us when ready," Snape said, as if Harry's thoughts had been spoken aloud and he wanted to put an end to them. "We can do without you entirely, in fact, if you require more time."

Malfoy shook his head. "It can wait, sir. I need to think about what to tell him, anyway. I would rather join you now."

"Very well," Snape said. "The two of you may go ahead and set up the classroom. I will join you in a short time."

Harry watched Snape leave the table, and Mrs. Weasley follow him. It was only then that Harry noticed Luna's absence.

"Come on," Malfoy said, tugging on Harry's sleeve.

Everyone else was still seated at the table when they left the Great Hall, but Malfoy didn't speak again until they had descended into the dungeons.

"I didn't tell anyone what happened."

Harry looked at him, not understanding what he meant. "What?"

"I mean, I just said your father needed to speak to you and the two of you would be late."

"Oh," Harry said. "Thanks..."

"It isn't anyone's business, anyway," Malfoy went on. "Hermione hates it when anyone claims she's being hysterical, like she doesn't have the right to be. The only ones who don't understand are the Weasleys, because they've been sitting on their arses while everyone else -"

"I'm sure that's not true," Harry said quickly, not in the mood to hear anyone else he cared about insulted by Malfoy. "Dad told me they had to go into hiding rather quickly, or else the Ministry would've come after their youngest children for being friends with Harry Potter."

Malfoy made a face. "Maybe, but that isn't the same as if it actually happened. They're not even trying to understand what it was like. Anyway, it isn't just the two youngest that needed to be kept from the Ministry. It's the whole family. The whole lot of them practically adopted Potter from the moment they saw him, if you'll believe that. Latched onto him like leeches, really."

Harry made a noncommittal noise, but inside he was absolutely fuming.

"Ginny Weasley is the only one with any redeeming qualities, but I think she's only making an effort because she's so close to Hermione and doesn't want to wreck their friendship."

Harry nodded, while trying desperately to think of a way to change the subject.

Fortunately, Malfoy had led them to the classroom, and changed the subject himself.

"I'm going to get the potions we bottled last night. I made a few more this morning, too. Just simple ones, but every little bit helps, right? You can start setting up."

Harry welcomed the silence of the empty classroom. He started setting out the cauldrons the way they had been the day before. He didn't know which potions Snape would be brewing, so he couldn't get the appropriate ingredients, but there were already some ingredients laid out on the small table in the corner.

It looked like Snape was going to be giving the Skele-Gro another try.

He got started chopping roots.

Malfoy came back a few minutes later, a large tray floating behind him and another in his hands. He placed both on Snape's desk, where Snape couldn't fail to see them, and stood back a bit, admiring his handiwork. It seemed to Harry he had absolutely no fear that Snape would be upset Malfoy had gone behind his back.

"I looked in Professor Snape's notebook this morning and at the start of the year the infirmary needs one hundred each of the more common salves, balms, and potions, fifty each of the less common ones, and a dozen each of the uncommon ones. Fortunately, you can get that many doses of most common medicinal potions from a single cauldron, if you know what you're doing. I should think we must be getting close to having the infirmary stocked, and then Professor Snape can -"

But Harry did not get to hear what Snape would be doing, because Malfoy shut up abruptly as Snape himself walked into the room.

Snape's eyes swept over the room, starting with the neat rows of cauldrons and then the table where Harry was working, and finally the desk and Malfoy standing near it.

"What's this?"

Malfoy visibly swallowed. "I made some wound-cleaning solution, Deflating Draught, boil cure, wit-sharpening potion, bruise-healing paste, and cough potion."

"I see," Snape said. His expression remained impassive and he paused for an uncomfortably long time. "Well, catalog everything and enter it into the record log - it should be on my desk." He turned and went into one of the storage cupboards, adding, "We will be making Calming Draught and Blood-Replenishing Potion this morning."

Malfoy gave Harry a slightly wide-eyed look before shrugging and reaching for a thin leather-bound book and a quill, and sitting down in Snape's chair.

Harry went back to chopping.

It figured Malfoy wouldn't get into trouble, no matter what he did, while for the exact same act Harry would have been treated as if he had conspired to poison the pumpkin juice or lead Dementors into the Hufflepuff dorms.

It was just as well the ungrateful prat hadn't bothered to give Harry any credit for helping.