Summary: Harry, once again, forgets to look before he leaps. Written for the Potions and Snitches 2009 Prompt Fest.
Prompts: 'He crawled through the long, tall grass on his hands and knees' and 'Hang on tight, and don't let go'.
He crawled through the long, tall grass on his hands and knees, while simultaneously trying his best not to breathe loudly. It was harder than he thought. Maybe if he was very quiet – and very lucky – Snape wouldn't catch him.
This rather unpleasant diversion had been going on for three hours now – ever since Snape had caught him in his dungeon office, going through his desk.
Looking back on it, Harry could admit to himself it really hadn't been the best of ideas. He'd only been hoping to find out something about the Order which might help explain the weird dreams he'd been having.
It was only a matter of principle that he'd chosen Snape's desk – Dumbledore's was too well protected for the Headmaster to believe Harry had stumbled on it by accident, and McGonagall had had enough of him loitering in the corridor outside her office. So that left Snape.
It was nothing to do with the fact that he'd love to have something on the bastard. Nooo, that wasn't it at all.
Though who knew the man liked to doodle kittens on spare pieces of parchment?
The fizz and hiss of a spell hitting too close to his hiding place for comfort sent Harry diving to lie flat on his stomach. Whew, that was close. If it was Snape's plan to drive him out into the open, it was succeeding – he was swiftly running out of grass to hide behind.
Of course, it was typically his luck to have been caught by Snape just as he was giggling over the aforementioned drawings. The look on the man's face had been terrifying, and Harry was absolutely certain the only way that Dumbledore could get him to attend his Occlumency lesson the following night was to drag him down to the dungeons himself.
Another spell hit the ground a little further away and Harry almost gasped in relief. Hopefully now Snape would think he had shuffled around to the left rather than the right and thus give him an opportunity to make a run for the forest.
Unfortunately, there was no guarantee that Snape wouldn't simply follow him in. The man seemed like he would be right at home with all the other dark and gloomy things in there.
Harry scowled as he listened to the man storming about and shouting some more. You would think someone would have come and called him off by now! This section of the grounds was in full view of the castle, after all.
A sudden, unpleasant suspicion came to mind and he forced himself to suppress the idea of the Headmaster, the staff, and the rest of the student population sitting at the castle's lakeside windows, having afternoon tea and taking bets on who would win this game of cat and mouse. Normally Harry would have discounted the idea as ridiculous, but then again, this was Hogwarts.
Deciding to make a break for it, Harry started to belly-crawl towards the forest. He wouldn't really be too surprised if the inhabitants of Hogwarts was doing as he feared – enough people had certainly seen him racing through the corridors, being chased by a furious Snape, just a couple of hours earlier.
Harry still wasn't quite sure how he'd managed to duck past the man and out of the office without being caught. That part of his mad dash was still a bit of a blur, along with the bit where he'd accidently pushed Umbridge down a flight of stairs in his haste to get away.
Accidently... On purpose.
He bit down on a snicker as he remembered the toad's arms wheeling madly as she tried to regain her balance. That'd teach her to have him carve words into his hand. But, then again, what would she do to him once this whole, mad business was over?
Yeah, right. As if he could ever return to Hogwarts while Snape was still there! The man would roast him alive when he caught him! Err, if.
Unfortunately, his unguarded snort gave him away, and he looked up just in time to see Snape charging towards his hiding place, ebony wand at the ready. Even though all the man was probably going to do was to cast a binding charm on him, Harry wasn't about stick around to find out. Shooting out of the grass like a hare chased by a fox, he sprinted towards the forest, blessing Dudley for the umpteenth time that day for teaching him how to dodge.
A spell streaked past him and splashed against a tree, wrapping up in ropes so tightly that it looked like someone had tried to mummify it. Which would have been a pretty funny sight, actually, if Harry had had the breath to laugh.
And then he ran out of things to laugh at. Why? Because he was in the Forbidden Forest, alone. And it was a whole lot darker in there than it should be at this time of day.
Harry slowed his sprint to a stop several hundred metres in and glanced around himself warily, almost ready to turn around and give himself up to Snape.
"Potter! Come back here at once, you dratted boy."
Or not. So much for that plan.
Harry took off again at top speed, darkened trees flashing by as he ran. If Snape was angry enough to chase him into the forest, there was no telling what he would do when he got his hands on Harry.
Brambles snagged and clawed at his clothes, roots tried to trip him and branches smacked him in the face, but he still kept going. He even started to wish for his Firebolt. If only he had had the sense to dash up to his dormitory, grab his broom and make a swift exit out of the window... But then Harry remembered that his broom was currently residing in the toad's office under lock and key.
Still, he stood a fair chance of out-flying Snape even on a school broom, so that was an opportunity annoyingly wasted. Hearing something crashing through the bushes behind him, Harry redoubled his speed. If only he could get enough distance between himself and Snape, then he might be able to hide somewhere. Then head back to Hogwarts. And then get hold of a broom.
And possibly his few, earthly belongings.
Harry was suddenly jolted out of his thoughts as he realised the crashing behind him was accompanied by an almost animal panting. Snape didn't pant like that. His brain kicked into gear; Forbidden Forest, no Snape, man eating monsters.
He couldn't even risk a glance back, as it would probably end with him introducing his face to a tree.
Seized with a sudden idea, Harry snatched his wand and yelled out the spell he'd heard Snape cast earlier, flinging it over his shoulder.
There was a yelp, and then a crash. Harry skidded to a halt, looking back the way he had come and panting hard. There was a huge bundle of ropes about fifty yards away from him, squirming madly. He blew out a breath and muttered, "Thanks, Snape." He may not be able to stand the man, but he certainly inspired some of Harry's more creative ideas.
The snarling bundle and the utter silence aside from the angry creature suddenly brought home the fact that Harry was completely alone in a dangerous forest, and even if Snape chose to lambast Harry alive with his razor-sharp tongue, that was better than being, well, dead.
A twig snapped from behind Harry – from deeper in the forest. He gulped. Of course, it was just like him to not think of the fact that the creature he had brought down probably hunted in a pack.
Not pausing to check behind him, he started to run back towards the castle; leaping over the squirming bundle he had captured, tripping and stumbling through the undergrowth – maintaining enough presence of mind to keep firing spells over his shoulder in the hopes it would discourage the creatures chasing him.
Then, all of a sudden, a Bad Thing happened.
The ground disappeared.
Harry yelled in shock as he suddenly found himself flying into empty air, tumbling for what seemed like an eternity before landing with a loud splash! in something freezing cold.
Coughing and gasping, Harry broke the surface and gulped in several deep breaths. Only then did he look around, hurriedly treading water to the best of his ability.
He was at the bottom of what appeared to be a large sinkhole filled with rainwater. The sides were vertical – slippery and very smooth – and he had no way of knowing how deep the water was beneath him. The opening above his head was a good twenty feet away and several nasty looking creatures were peering over the edge at him.
Harry gulped as he looked into their nightmarish, yellow eyes and thought about how much he'd rather be back in the long grass, being hunted by just Snape.
Forcing himself to look away, Harry kicked out clumsily for one of the walls, hoping to grab onto it – he was already starting to wear himself out from trying to stay afloat.
Harry's hands fumbled for purchase as soon as he felt solid rock under his fingers, but to no avail. The walls were as slippery and smooth as they looked. He couldn't get a grip on anything no matter how much his hands and feet scrabbled against it, and he was beginning to panic.
"Help!" he yelled at the top of his lungs, and quickly discovered that combining shouting with swimming was a bad idea as his head briefly slipped beneath the surface. Choking, he bobbed up again and looked around frantically.
Nothing. All the walls were the same, smooth rock and Harry gasped in panic as this confirmed once and for all that he was trapped. The sudden, dizzying claustrophobia made him feel like he was suffocating.
"Help! Somebody, please!"
This time Harry was ready for the sinking that accompanied his words, but struggling to stay above the surface drained him. There was nowhere for him to stop, nowhere for him to rest, and the freezing cold of the water was slowly squeezing the air out of him.
What was it that the teachers in primary school had always said about surface area if you were drowning? Oh, yes – the more of it, the better. Somehow he would have to find a way to spread himself out over the surface as much as possible.
Steeling himself, Harry relaxed and allowed himself to float.
At first he was absolutely certain he was about to go under, but then he slowly worked out how to lie on his back and keep his head above water at the same time. Once there, he shivered and tried to catch his breath, his trembling sending ripples skimming over the still-choppy water.
Right. Now, there must be something he could do. He was a wizard after all and he did have his wand... But what? He didn't know how to freeze the water, or how to transfigure it into something solid – at least not without becoming trapped in it. And he knew there was no way you could levitate yourself. But what did that leave?
"Help!" he called, his voice cracking slightly.
Eerie, yellow eyes blinked back at him. What would happen if one of them jumped in...?
Harry gingerly reached over and clasped his wand, strangely reminded of the last time he had been forced into cold water against his will... Aha! The idea went off in his head like a light bulb.
"Relashio!" Bright red sparks flew up high into the air, marking the place where he'd fallen – hopefully – for all to see. The creatures above hissed and growled but otherwise did nothing.
Harry relaxed back and closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to see theirs. It was so cold down here. The kind of cold that seeped right down to his bones, but at the same time, making it weirdly easy to fall asleep... to drift into the abyss...
The startled howls of the creatures jolted Harry into opening his eyes in time to see them dart away. Unfortunately, it also caused him to lose his equilibrium, and he spent the next few moments thrashing in the hopes that he wouldn't sink. After this, it was likely he would never want to go swimming ever again.
Harry gasped and looked up; the once hated voice now sounded like music to his ears.
"Snape! Help!" he whispered – in deference to his weakened ability to stay afloat.
The pale face above him disappeared and Harry resisted the urge to cry out. What if Snape left him there? Then all of a sudden the man was back and dragging something with him.
Without so much as a warning, Snape tossed a branch down into the sink hole, causing Harry to yell and splutter as the consequent splash sent waves over the top of his head.
Regaining the surface for what felt like the millionth time that day, Harry glared up at his 'rescuer'. "Was that really necessary?"
"Considering the events which occurred earlier in my office?" Snape raised an eyebrow and tapped a finger mockingly against his mouth. "I would say most certainly."
"All right," Harry murmured tiredly. "All right. What do you want me to do?"
Snape gestured at the former projectile that was now bobbing calmly above the surface of the water. "Get ahold of the branch."
It took longer to swim over than Harry would have thought, but he made it, managing to grab weakly onto the thing before looking back up. Was that actually a worried frown on Snape's face? Surely not – it must be the dim light.
"More firmly than that, Potter. I'm about to levitate it, and it would be a pointless endeavour indeed if you were too much of a weakling to hang on."
"I'm not a weakling!" Harry snarled, even as he adjusted his grip until his fingers hurt.
Snape sneered. "Good. Hang on tight, and don't let go."
Yeah, right – as if Harry was stupid enough to let go when the branch looked like it was going to be his ticket out of here.
The branch rose steadily, and Harry with it, though it was incredibly hard to hang on with numb fingers as the water sucked at him, trying to pull his body back down again. It took an age, but Snape finally managed to bring him over the edge of the sinkhole and lower him onto the ground. At which point, Harry's knees promptly gave out.
He sat, panting and shivering, thinking that he had never been so glad to be on solid ground in his life.
He almost jumped out of his skin when he felt something warm and heavy fold around him, but it was only Snape draping his cloak over him. Which, now that Harry thought of it, was strange in itself. In fact, if he were completely honest, it almost seemed as if Snape was fussing over him. Why else would the man be tugging the fabric around him just so, or examining his hands and face?
Swallowing his pride, he glanced up at his teacher. "Th-thanks."
Snape's only reply was to cast a warming charm, swiftly followed by a drying spell. Which was even stranger, especially seeing as the man had been baying for his blood only a short while ago.
"Sir?" he tried again. "I'm sorry about breaking into your office and, uh, going through your desk." Well, he wasn't – he wouldn't give up the knowledge of the kitten doodles for the world – but there was no harm in pretending to be sincere... unless Snape decided to use Legilimency.
Snape levelled a truly evil glare at him. "How is it that you always manage to get yourself into these situations? And why in Merlin's name did you even think running into the forest would be a good idea, you foolish, foolish child?"
"Uh," Harry shifted uncomfortably, "I was scared?"
This was another untruth – kind of – but it seemed to make Snape happy; an unusual and scary sight as the man's face seemed torn between a sneer and a smirk.
Snape rocked back on his heels, looking very stern, but at the same time, more than a little smug. "What am I going to do with you, Potter?"
Harry shrugged. "Not drown me?"
Snape glared. "Don't tempt me." There was a pause in which a loud, angry howl sounded somewhere in the distance, causing the man to sigh. "Come along, Potter. It is required that we return to the castle. Besides" – the scowl which had been flirting with the edges of Snape's mouth intensified – "you are going to go straight to the Hospital Wing once we arrive there. No arguments."
Harry shivered. The warming charm had helped, but it certainly hadn't chased away all of the cold. "Yes, sir." In fact, he had great difficulty standing up on his shaky legs until Snape grabbed his arm and hauled him to his feet.
Surprisingly, he didn't let go once Harry was upright – a fact that he came to appreciate as they made their way back. His previous adrenaline high was beginning to take its toll. Half-muzzily, he noticed he'd run further than he had thought – something he was regretting now more than ever.
It was a while before Snape said anything more, and even then, it was to say something Harry had been expecting ever since the Professor's face had come into sight over the side of the sinkhole.
"Mr Potter," the man purred and Harry tried to press down hysterical giggles. That tone of voice was nowhere near as intimidating as it would have been if Snape hadn't been practically carrying him over the forest floor. Luckily, the Professor didn't seem to notice, and continued, practically spitting out his next words, "Your actions today have been despicable and ill-considered. I think you should consider yourself extremely lucky if you get out of detention by the time your grandchildren are grown!"
Snape gave a nasty smile, which – although it would have normally irked Harry no end – was completely belied by the fact that the man's arm tightened around him while helping him navigate around a fallen branch.
In fact, Harry found himself able to reply, "Yes, sir," in a completely normal tone of voice, which made Snape twitch with annoyance. Oh, this could be fun!
Then again, Harry grimaced as the trembling in his limbs increased a little, maybe not.
Snape stopped abruptly and looked down at him. "Potter, don't even try to attempt to get out of this simply by feigning you are more injured than you actually are."
Harry's temper finally flared and he wrenched himself away from the man. "Wouldn't dream of it, sir," he snapped and took two steps before promptly collapsing in a heap on the forest floor. He turned and glared up at the man whose lips were twitching suspiciously.
"It appears I was hasty in my judgement," Snape drawled lazily. Reaching down, he hooked his arms under Harry's and hauled him to his feet.
"Oi!" Harry yelled, still angry. "Don't touch me! Let go!"
Snape was visibly enjoying himself by this point. "Seeing as you are unable to support yourself alone, I must evidently intervene." The man's wand was out before Harry could stop him.
"Oi! No!" Harry repeated futilely, thrashing against the unexpected Mobilicorpus spell – ironically – like a fish out of water. "Stop it! Let me down!" No way was he going to let his friends see him being floated back to school by Snape of all people!
After a further moment, Snape reluctantly let him back down. "Eloquent as ever. This is on one condition, Potter; you try to see past your arrogance to the help which is available."
Harry ground his teeth hard. "Yes. Sir." What else could he do? Once again, he owed the greasy git his life, and Snape could just as easily throw him back into that hole if Harry annoyed him enough.
It seemed to take forever to get back – with Snape snarking all the way – but eventually the trees thinned and Harry looked upon Hogwarts with great relief.
"You can let go of me now," he hissed under his breath, tugging against the hand which held his arm in a steel grip.
Snape's eyebrows rose even as his lip curled – something, which Harry had learnt from experience, was a bad expression. "Very well," the man whispered, dropping Harry's arm like a dead rat. "Far be it from me to attempt to inure some sense into that thick skull of yours."
Harry huffed quietly and tried to hide the fact he was swaying on the spot before carefully walking after the black robes which had already swirled off ahead of him.
And then, just when Harry thought his day couldn't get any worse, trouble met them at the front doors. Trouble with a capital 'T'.
Otherwise known as Dolores Jane Umbridge.
Harry made a face at her disgusting simpering and – though he would never admit it – hid as best he could behind Snape. If he was forced into picking the lesser of the two evils, he would pick the one who hadn't scored words on the back of his hand, thank you very much.
"Well, well, now, Mr Potter," the sickly sweetness was tangible, "it seems that you've decided to join us again. Just in time too."
Harry stuck his head out from behind Snape, about to ask an indignant question when the man beat him to it.
"And what special occasion is it that Potter must be present at, Madam Umbridge?"
Was it just Harry or did Snape sound suddenly defensive?
Umbridge smiled – again – causing Harry to shudder – again – and simply pulled out a roll of parchment, unfurling it as she went. Harry gulped, unsure why he was experiencing a sudden sense of foreboding. After all, why would a piece of paper be scary?
Then he found out.
"Hem hem. By order of the High Inquisitor..." Umbridge peeped out from behind the parchment. "That's me. The fifth year student otherwise known as Harry James Potter is hereby expelled from Hogwarts due to unprecedented, wilful violence executed against said Inquisitor. You will be obliged to turn over your wand immediately and return to your – former – accommodations to pack any personal belongings you wish to keep." Umbridge folded up the parchment once more, her toad-like eyes glimmering with delight. "Well, hand over your wand, Potter. Seeing as you are dangerous enough to actually attack a member of staff – namely myself – it is obvious you cannot be trusted with one a second longer than necessary!"
Harry only started to feel something apart from numbness when his legs almost gave way. And then, so quickly Harry barely saw him move, Snape had spun around and caught his arm.
"But I only pushed you down the stairs..." Harry muttered, half to himself. "And it's not even as if it was a very big staircase..."
Snape gave him a rough shake. "Shut up, Potter," the man hissed under his breath. And then, in a much more unctuous tone, he continued, "I completely agree with you, Madam. In fact, I took the liberty of procuring Potter's wand in the forest." He then produced a wand Harry was certain he'd never seen in his life before and handed it over.
Umbridge smirked at Harry and proceeded to break the wand in two with a dry snap.
Harry winced. It might not have been his wand, but it was still a despicable act.
"You have half an hour, Potter. If you are not out of my school by then, I am calling the Aurors." With a brisk turn and a waddle, that Harry was certain was unintentional, Umbridge strutted off back inside the school. Harry stared after her, unable to move.
Snape went to tug his arm away, but Harry couldn't seem to let go. He turned to Snape and blinked at him.
"I've been expelled."
"Yes, Potter, you have finally grasped the concept of stating the obvious. Well done."
The sarcasm didn't even make an impression in the fog swirling through Harry's mind. "I've been expelled. And that wasn't my wand she snapped. She wanted to snap my wand. She could have snapped my wand, Snape."
Snape spared him a glance. "Potter, are you being deliberately... Potter! You are not allowed to go into shock! Pull yourself together."
Blinking seemed to be the only thing that was working for Harry at the moment so he did it again. "'M not in shock."
"Yes, of course. I can clearly see that from the fact you have gone completely white and your eyes have glazed over! Come along!"
Snape tugged him... somewhere. Harry didn't really notice anything until something burning was forced down his throat.
Coughing and sputtering, he gasped for air and shoved Snape away from him. "What the hell was that?!"
Snape straightened, looking insufferably smug. "Firewhiskey. In some ways, it is more effective than Pepper Up."
"Yes, I can feel that," Harry croaked hoarsely before pulling himself together. "So... what now? Where am I supposed to go?"
Snape looked at him askance. "You are not going anywhere. You just cost me my spare wand. And besides, you have an education to complete. I am going to find a way to get rid of that puffed up, pompous toad once and for all!"
Harry gaped up at the Professor. "I... I think you just made me like you, sir."
Snape's face transformed in horror. "...Potter, you had better still be in shock!"
Harry grinned. "Just kidding."
Snape sent him a forbidding glare. "I should hope so. I am only saving your worthless hide because it might be of some use to us all in the future. Do not become accustomed to it!"
"So what do I do now, then?" Harry brought his hands up in a shrug. "Hide out in your office until Umbridge discovers I haven't left and calls the Aurors?"
Snape made a face and grudgingly – very grudgingly – uttered, "I suppose you would somehow find a way to cause even more trouble if left to your own devices... Oh, come along then! But if you get in the way, you'll wish you'd never been born, boy!"
Harry decided that it was better not to comment, and instead hurried out of the office close on Snape's heels. The irony that their positions had been reversed from just a few hours earlier did not escape him.
Shockingly, he found he did not have to wait – or even pry – before Snape began to explain the situation to him. Truly this was becoming a rare day.
"What Madam Umbridge" – he sneered the title – "has failed to inform you is a student cannot be rightfully evicted from Hogwarts until the Board of Governors has passed judgement on whether or not they agree with the opinion. Our first port of call will be to discover whether or not Umbridge has sent a copy of her request to them yet."
"And how do we do that?" Harry panted as he jogged to keep up with Snape, who had just strode out of the front doors of the castle.
Snape shot him a derisive look, even as he pulled out his wand and flicked it at the heavens with a sharp, "Accio Hermes!"
A large barn owl tumbled out of the sky with a shriek into Snape's grasp. The piece of parchment attached to its leg was perfunctorily examined and sent up in flames, and the owl was once again released before it had even recovered enough to think of protesting.
"Whoa." Harry stared at Snape. "Can you teach me how to do that?"
Harry's face fell. "Not even..."
"No is no, Potter. How many times do I have to repeat it before you understand?"
Harry changed tactics. He'd noticed before it was a rather useful way of keeping Snape off balance... Not that it regularly worked, but it was still worth a try. "How'd you know the right owl to Summon? Why only the one? Why didn't Umbridge use more than one?"
"Potter." Even to Harry's ears, the man's voice sounded stressed. "Shut. Up."
Hermione worried her lower lip between her teeth as she looked down at the two figures standing by the castle doors. "Ron, are you sure we shouldn't..."
Ron grabbed himself another handful of popcorn and munched happily. "Relax, Hermione. Harry's fine."
Hermione narrowed her eyes and glanced over to where Ron was sprawled on the other side of the window ledge. "Yes, he looks all right now, but we're his friends! And you know how much you and he hate Snape. Shouldn't we go and rescue him?"
Ron shot her an incredulous look. "Have you been paying attention the last few hours? This is the most fun everyone's had in weeks!" He gestured to Dean, Seamus and Neville who had their faces pressed up against the various other windows in the Gryffindor boys' dormitory. "I'm not going to miss the fun for the world! Trust me, Harry'll be fine!"
Hermione sighed and propped her chin on her hand as she absentmindedly helped herself to some more popcorn. "It isn't very fair to him, though. If he knew we were watching, but not helping, he wouldn't speak to us for weeks. And besides, you saw Umbridge talk to them a while ago – what if it was something really important and he actually does need our help?"
Ron wrinkled his nose as he watched the Snape-sized figure gesticulating wildly. "Harry seems to be holding his own. Tell you what, give us another half hour of watching what's going on, and then we can go down and find him. Agreed?"
Hermione sighed unhappily and nodded, but even she had to silently admit that seeing Harry hide from Umbridge behind Snape had been pretty funny... Maybe even now those two were working through their differences and coming to an arrangement other than mutual hatred. She half-heartedly watched as the Snape-shaped figure visibly poked the Harry-shaped figure firmly in the chest. Maybe.
Harry sat on the chair next to Snape's and tried not to think of how he would have reacted had someone told him the day before was what he would be doing now.
He was currently sitting behind the teacher's desk in an abandoned classroom – with a very grumpy Hermes seated on his lap – bent over a piece of parchment with Snape, and currently trying to work out how to forge a letter. And neither of them were arguing! Only... mildly disagreeing.
"'I wish to join you because we believe what you are doing is the best way forward'?"
Snape sneered. "Don't be ridiculous, Potter. It needs to sound somewhat sophisticated."
Harry gave him a look. "Really? Are we thinking about the same person?"
"Oh, very well," Snape grumbled and scratched out the previous sentence he had jotted down. "I concede your idea does have some merit, but it needs to be more self-righteous."
Harry bit his lip and looked down at the parchment. So far the only thing they had agreed on was the salutation. "How about starting off with something like, 'I believe that progress for progress's sake should be discouraged... err... and only you seem willing to support the ancient and noble tradition of pureblood supremacy. Because of this, I believe that joining you in your distinguished cause will be most...' err..."
"'Efficacious to us both'," Snape supplied, jotting down Harry's words with some minor changes. "My, my, Potter. You do have a brain. I wonder what happens to it in Potions class. Where did you get the idea for this?"
Harry shrugged, half-wishing that Snape hadn't taken his cloak back as he was feeling a little shivery. "She said something like it in her 'welcome' speech. I thought it would be good to keep her... in character."
"Indeed." Snape scribbled something else down and sat back in satisfaction. "'To the Dark Lord from a humble admirer: I am a firm believer of thinking that progress for progress's sake should be discouraged and only you seem willing to save the ancient and noble tradition of pureblood supremacy from today's stagnating society. Because of this, I believe that joining you in your distinguished cause will be most efficacious to us both. In proof of my goodwill to you and your cause, I swear to give you the key to Hogwarts' wards at a time and place of your choosing. Eagerly awaiting your reply, Professor Dolores Jane Umbridge, High Inquisitor of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic.' I do believe that sounds both pompous and slightly lacking in higher brain functions."
Harry's lips twitched. "I did like how you had her contradict herself in the same sentence. But... isn't it a bit too transparent? Surely not even Voldemort will fall for this?"
Snape half-winced and sighed wearily. "You seem to have forgotten that I am forced to interact with Him on a regular basis. Moreover, in the times you have come face to face with Him, surely you must have noticed that He is an ego-centric, mass-murdering megalomaniac with an obsession for large snakes?"
Harry gave up fighting back a smile. "Yeah, it was kinda hard to miss. He probably won't even think about taking it with a dose of salt."
Now Snape's lips were twitching. "For someone who is supposedly very bright, he does appear to be a bit on the dim side."
Harry and Snape smirked at each other for a moment before realising what they were doing and hurriedly pasting on scowls.
"Well, none of this speculation is relevant anyway," Snape muttered gruffly. "The Dark Lord will not get to see this letter directly, so any further thought on the matter is pointless."
"Really?" Harry frowned at him. "What were you planning to do with it, then?"
For some reason Snape did not seem to want to look at him. "I will find a reporter who is willing to publish this... and unwilling to say who supplied it to them." The man busied himself by tidying up the parchment and changing the writing to Umbridge's with a flick of his wand.
Harry had to fight back the urge to say something inflammatory. After all, there was no way it would help him in this situation. Unfortunately, he couldn't seem to help himself. "And you plan to do this in the ten minutes left to me before Umbridge calls the Aurors? Are you crazy? And how the hell would someone publish something that fast?!"
Snape glared, then sneered, "You would be astounded at the speed gossip can travel around the Wizarding world. I can tell you that from personal experience. And you may not remember, but I have contacted the Order for their assistance as well!"
"All right, then." Harry decided to cave a little, since Snape was actually trying to stop him from being expelled. "Can't Professor Dumbledore or McGonagall help in the mean time?"
"The Headmaster is currently out of the country. Or did you think his absence from the Great Hall at breakfast and dinner was simply because he wanted to catch up on sleep?"
"You forgot to mention lunch."
"Shut. Up. Potter. Professor McGonagall is currently monitoring all outgoing post and Floo calls. She may be able to block them. She may not. But she will have sufficient time to warn us and give us time to escape."
Harry wasn't quite sure what to do with the warmth he felt when Snape used the word 'us' so he ignored it. "Um, OK. Since the Order hasn't got back to us yet, I do actually know a reporter who..."
The door to the classroom banged open to reveal Ron and Hermione, their wands at the ready and the Marauders Map held between them. They both took a huge step forward and froze, evidently bewildered by the fact that Harry and Snape appeared to be sitting calmly at the same table. Harry grinned at their dumbfounded expressions.
"Hi, guys! Just in time! Hermione, is there any way of getting hold of Rita Skeeter within the next five minutes? We have something I'm just she'd love to see..."
Barely ten minutes later Harry, Hermione and Snape sat in an extremely excited Rita Skeeter's living room. Ron had gone back to the dormitory, amid much grumbling, in an attempt to guard Harry's belongings from the pink toad. It was only after many promises from Harry and Hermione they would tell him exactly what happened that he agreed.
Skeeter was clutching the letter tight in her hands, seeming barely able to prevent herself from bouncing up and down with delight. "You found this on her desk? You're sure? This will absolutely make me leading journalist for the Prophet once again! Scandal, Intrigue and Discovery! And all at Hogwarts! My readers will lap it up!"
Snape gave Skeeter a very hard look, making her cringe a little, and twirled his wand menacingly. "One word, one hint, that either myself, Potter or Miss Granger were involved in this little... revelation... and I will introduce to the most untraceable, painful poison at my disposal. Do not test me, Miss Skeeter, for you will surely lose."
Skeeter blanched and looked down at the slightly crumpled parchment the letter had become. "W-whatever you say, Professor Snape." The reporter cast a slightly nervous glance at Hermione as well. Harry found it rather amusing that his friend's poker face was as good, if not better, than Snape's. One thing for sure, he certainly never wanted to be on Hermione's bad side – brilliant but scary indeed!
"Well." Skeeter seemed willing to smooth over the situation as quickly as possible – though her attempt was belied by the slight tremor in her voice – "How about 'Essential Information From Anonymous Source'? Or 'Daring Reporter Uncovers Dastardly Deed'!" Her previous enthusiasm seemed to pick up with each new word and her right hand slowly inched towards the suspiciously green quill on the side table.
Snape shot her an incredulous look. "Are you trying to say that you, without any special training or inside help, managed to breach Hogwarts' considerable wards single-handedly?"
Skeeter deflated, as anyone would do after a thorough Snape smack-down. "I suppose that second isn't quite as believable... Shame about the alliteration, though. The public does love alliteration!" She subsided and leant back in her chair, staring off into space and probably already drafting the first few paragraphs of something blatantly filled with purple prose.
Harry glared at her, remembering all too vividly how her articles always seemed to degrade someone. "And if you say a word about Dumbledore being incompetent, you'll have me and Hermione to answer to!"
Surprisingly – and gratifyingly – Skeeter threw him an alarmed look and hurriedly nodded. Evidently he'd been right about Hermione being a force to be reckoned with. Of course, it might also have something to do with the fact she'd just muttered 'Jam Jars' under her breath.
Snape rolled his eyes and used the opportunity to push Harry and Hermione back through the Floo to his office.
"I knew that hoping a trip would conclude itself without any of your amateur dramatics was unrealistic of me," Snape sneered half-heartedly.
Harry felt daring enough to give the man a cheeky grin.
"Watch it, Potter; I still have the ability and inclination to cast Mobilicorpus on you in front of your friends!"
Harry gulped and simultaneously tried to swallow back the scratchy cough that had been pestering him for the past hour they had been at the reporter's house. Judging from the sudden narrowing of eyes he got from both Snape and Hermione, he wasn't overly successful. This wasn't fair! They weren't supposed to be tag-teaming him!
"Potter, it constantly amazes me that you managed to survive to adulthood. If you were suffering adverse effects from your little adventure down the sinkhole, you should have told me!"
Hermione gaped at him. "You fell down a sinkhole? Harry, you of all people should know how dangerous the Forbidden Forest is! You should never have gone in there at all, no matter what the provocation was! Oh, I knew Ron and I should have come down to find you earlier!" she exclaimed, almost immediately after Snape had finished, her face darkening in a most disconcerting way.
"Miss Granger, be quiet!" Snape snapped, causing her to flinch. "I am the one berating him for his stupidity." He paused and his lips once again twitched suspiciously. "However, you have my full permission to do so later at your earliest convenience."
Harry looked from one to the other, feeling utterly indignant. They were tag-teaming him! And that was the last thing the universe needed – to feel the combined forces of Snape and Granger.
Snape pinched the bridge of his nose and seemed to rein in his temper. "Sit!" he barked, pointing at the chair Harry had occupied earlier. "This time you are getting Pepper-Up, and as soon as this mess is over, you will go to see Madam Pomfrey straight away!"
Harry's face crumpled into a scowl. "Do I have to?"
Snape handed him the Pepper-Up and said silkily, "Any more whining and I shall make sure that the good Matron knows to keep you in for at least a week. Now drink your potion."
Harry gulped it down and glowered at Hermione, who was snickering behind her hand and looking infuriatingly smug.
Snape gave her an appraising look. "Miss Granger, if you continue to behave as you have been doing most recently, I may even begin to find you mildly tolerable..."
Everything after that went surprisingly smoothly.
By breakfast the next day, everyone knew that Umbridge had been arrested by the Aurors and taken away. They also 'knew' that somehow Harry Potter was responsible, despite the fact that Rita Skeeter's article 'Exposure of Intrigue at Hogwarts' mentioned neither hide nor hair of him.
Once again, he was the hero and he had no idea whether he should be grateful for it or not.
Luckily, news of Harry's 'expulsion' had been successfully contained by the Order, and anything that Umbridge said was now considered the ravings of a 'madwoman' and a 'traitor'. This Harry did consider extremely gratifying.
Snape had of course tutted and grumbled about Harry being everyone's 'golden boy' once again, but Harry found he didn't mind as much as he once would have. Co-operation in war did do strange things to people after all...
Harry and Hermione ended up filling Ron in on everything during a lull in History of Magic (Professor Binns had fallen asleep, which Harry hadn't thought possible before that day), leaving the redhead simultaneously shocked, impressed and disbelieving of the events relayed to him, and making Harry almost wish for a Pensieve of his own so that he could see Ron do his 'flabbergasted fish' impression at Snape 'getting along' with Hermione.
Hermione was still far too smug for her own good about that.
As for Harry himself, after a grudging trip to the infirmary, he was pronounced fit and healthy by Madam Pomfrey once she had cured his slight respiratory infection. This was a profound relief, especially seeing as Harry had been certain that Snape would carry through on his threat and force him to stay in the Hospital Wing for a ridiculous length of time as punishment for dragging him through the Forbidden Forest.
Needless to say, he wouldn't be going near any more sinkholes anytime soon.
All in all, Harry was feeling pretty good in general about his part in the Umbridge situation.
But there was one more thing which was making him almost giddy with joy, and it had nothing at all to do with Umbridge.
At the end of the year, he, Ron and Hermione would be spending the entire summer with Sirius at Grimmauld Place.
Harry still wasn't quite sure how it had happened.
A few days after Umbridge's 'expulsion', he had grudgingly gone to see Snape and asked for private summer lessons. For a start, the Occlumency he was now practicing was finally starting to take effect and his strange dreams were going away.
And besides, that rope-spell had been incredibly useful.
Snape had in turn – grudgingly – agreed... and had gone straight to the Headmaster to bully him into agreeing as well! Harry would never have to see the interior of Number Four, Privet Drive ever again. And if the idea of a less antagonistic relationship with Snape just added to his happiness, well, you'd probably never get him to admit it out loud.
One thing was for sure, Harry thought to himself as he lazily relaxed on his bed, watching Hedwig roosting on the windowsill, no matter how you looked at it – or how much Snape grumbled – Harry had gained a useful ally.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed... Hope you review! Any comments about what you think might improve this fic would be vastly appreciated. Thanks for reading ;)