Hiding in Plain Sight
by Bil!

Summary: AU. CoS. So you're telling me that in a school full of nosey kids, not to mention the famous Dumbledore, no one notices that Hagrid's hiding an acromantula? How's that work?

Disclaimer: JKR's characters and world, my messed up brain.

A/N: Set at the end of CoS. I don't pretend this has any bearing on canon, it was just a silly idea that came to me.

Apparently the novelty of having Hermione back wore off very quickly. Harry was too glad to have her back and alive to think about arguing with her, but it was less than a week since she'd been unpetrified and Ron was already starting to pick fights again. Petrification hadn't dulled Hermione's wit and Ron generally got the worst of the encounters, but he kept coming back for more. It wasn't fun to listen to, though, so Harry slipped out of the commonroom and left them to it, wandering out of the castle and out onto the grounds. A couple of Hufflepuffs called hello as he passed and Harry forced himself to smile and wave back, but couldn't help remembering how people like that had shunned him earlier in the year. He would forgive – or at least pretend to forgive – but he couldn't forget.

He strolled around the Quidditch pitch before heading to the lake where he spent quarter of an hour throwing a stick for the Giant Squid to fetch. When a group of Ravenclaws headed his way, looking as if they were going to try talk to him, he hastily headed in the opposite direction, pretending he hadn't seen them. It wasn't his fault if they felt guilty and he was sick of people trying to pretend they'd never doubted him. Seeing Hagrid's hut in the distance, smoke rising out of the chimney, he hesitated, then changed direction. There was a question he'd never intended to ask, but since he was here without his friends maybe now would be a good time to ask it after all.

"Harry! C'mon in, make yehself at home!" Hagrid and Fang welcomed him into the hut with equal enthusiasm. "How're you doin'?" Hagrid asked, bustling about the room. "Doin' okay?"

"I'm all right," Harry said, pushing Fang down as best he could and using his sleeve to wipe dog drool off his face. "Are you okay?"

"Fine, fine. Don' you worry about me, Harry." Harry didn't believe him, but Hagrid looked so upset at even this oblique mention of Azkaban that he didn't press him. "Where're Ron an' Hermione, then? Not often I see yeh without 'em."

Harry shrugged, looking around the hut. "Arguing again."

"Ah." Hagrid nodded. "Hard ter listen to, eh?"

"Just a bit."

When Harry was installed in an oversized chair, his feet dangling in the air and a cup of tea at his elbow, he looked at Hagrid thoughtfully. Hagrid shifted uncomfortably under his stare. "Drink yer tea, Harry. I told you, I'm fine."

"That's not it." Harry paused, then decided he might as well give it a shot. "Hagrid, you were in Slytherin, weren't you?"

Hagrid's beard twitched and he knocked over his cup with a nervous hand. "Now, what would yeh say a thing like that for, Harry?" he asked hastily, mopping up the mess with his sleeve.

Harry just nodded, not fooled. "Which makes me wonder why you were so insistent I shouldn't go there. 'There's not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn't in Slytherin'," he quoted with good-natured mocking. "I mean, really, Hagrid, you did lay it on a bit thick. And I know you have to know about people like Barty Crouch Junior, Gryffindor to the bone, and Morgan Bones, nothing but Ravenclaw."

"How d'yeh know about them?" Hagrid asked, startled.

"I can read, you know. The Dursleys were legally obliged to send me to school. Luckily, since if they'd had things their way they wouldn't ever have let me out of the house. So don't try to tell me that wasn't just a line you were feeding me, 'cause it's pretty obvious it was." He cocked an eyebrow at Hagrid to see if there were any comments so far. Hagrid just watched him uneasily. "Now, I can come up with two reasons why you would try to steer me away from Slytherin. Firstly, to keep me out of Snape's hair; I think he would have killed me within a couple of months if we'd had to spend any more time in each other's company – and don't give me that innocent Snape-is-a-professor look, we both know he has issues. I have no idea if they're justified or not, I just know that I shouldn't be the one he takes them out on."

Hagrid hummed and hawwed, but couldn't deny this.

"And the second reason," Harry continued, "is because if I'd been in Slytherin people would have immediately started looking at me suspiciously. The wizarding world has way too much prejudice and me there would have just gone horrible. Look at what happened when they thought I was the Heir. Crazy." He shrugged. "Not that I had any of this figured out at the time or anything. I didn't have a clue why you were so insistent I shouldn't go into Slytherin but I figured you didn't seem like a bad person and it didn't really matter to me what house I went into, so I went with it."

Hagrid had nothing to say, just watching Harry with an unsettled look. Harry waited to see if anything was forthcoming, then nodded.

"None of that on its own would mean you were in Slytherin, of course. But then there was last year when you were 'accidentally' letting things slip all the time, like about Flamel – you were guiding me, weren't you? It was all a little too pat and convenient that you were right there with all the information to hand out to us. Especially the Gringotts thing. Honestly, taking me to pick up the stone and then also having the paper conveniently lying around where I could read it? You weren't exactly subtle, were you?"

Hagrid sighed. "How did yeh figure it out?"

He smiled. "The whole Slytherin-is-evil thing was a blatant attempt at manipulation that stood out a mile off. The clumsy oaf thing is pretty much my own cover, so I was in a good place to recognise it. But really it was because you managed to hide an acromantula in a school full of nosey kids and Tom Riddle was the only one who figured it out. The Hagrid the world knows couldn't have done that."

He looked sheepish, which was an interesting effect with the beard. "I always knew yeh were a smart one, Harry," he said with reluctant admiration.

"Really? You didn't get that from my teachers, then." He smiled. "I'm just an average student, a perfectly normal boy with above average luck. It's better that way."

"So what're yeh gonna do now?" There was almost-concealed fear in Hagrid's eyes.

Harry shook his head. "Nothing," he said immediately. "I don't want all your secrets or anything. I was just curious and since I had you alone I figured why not? I won't tell anyone. And if I ever do, well, you can tell everyone that the 'average' Boy Who Lived is a little more intelligent than the people around him give him credit for." He smiled at Hagrid. "Blackmail material, see? I don't blame you for hiding. If they think you're stupid, if they're laughing at you – then they don't attack you. They don't care what your bloodlines are or how famous you are or anything because you're not a threat."

Hagrid shook his head. "I don' know what to say. I never—Yer won't tell?"

"Nope. I promise. So, maybe we should start again." Jumping down onto the floor, Harry held out his hand. "Hi, I'm Harry Potter. Pleased to meet you."

His hand was engulfed in Hagrid's. "Rubeus Hagrid. Likewise."

"Harry! Where have you been?"

Harry turned to see Hermione trotting after him down the corridor. "Talking to Hagrid."

She gave him a swift, assessing glance, and he wondered suddenly just how many people at Hogwarts were hiding behind masks of one kind or another. "Did he have anything interesting to say?"

He smiled. "You could say that." He might even tell her about it one day.