Harry was startled out of deep sleep by a banging on the door of his dormitory.
'What's the matter?' he asked sleepily as he sat up and blinked against the sudden light.
'Everybody get up immediately!' That was Snape's voice. Bewildered, Harry grabbed his glasses from the night table. Indeed there was Snape, standing in the door frame under the clock that showed that it was a quarter past two in the morning. Snape was clad in his usual robes and Harry briefly wondered if the man ever slept.
'Are you all deaf?' Snape barked. 'Up, everyone, right now. Put on a warm sweater over your pyjamas and put on your slippers, then go and wait for me in the common room.'
With that, he left the confused boys on their own. Nobody said anything, they just exchanged worried glances and then quickly complied.
The common room filled quickly. Chesterton, the prefect, was busy ordering the pupils to stand together in groups per dormitory room and ticking names off lists.
'Everybody's here, sir', he said nervously to Snape. 'May I ask what...' He broke off when Snape curtly shook his head, frowning disapprovingly at Chesterton and glanced over to the first years who were huddled together, looking around with wide fearful eyes.
'The reason for this interruption of your night will be explained later', Snape said, loudly enough for everyone to hear. 'For now, we will all move together in an orderly fashion and proceed to the Great Hall, seventh years, you go first, sixth years, you go last. You all stay together. Potter, you go with me.'
Harry blushed, as he felt the eyes of everyone suddenly upon him. 'Why?' he burst out indignantly. Did he always have to be singled out?
'Because I want to keep my eye on you and make sure you don't wander off', Snape snapped. 'And stop arguing. Seventh years, go!'
With these words he motioned for Harry to come to him. Harry glared mutinously, but he didn't dare disobey. With his drawn wand in his right hand and his left hand on Harry's shoulder, Snape went to the exit. Before opening the door, he stopped, let go of Harry's shoulder and his dark eyes bore into Harry's.
'You will stay right behind me, Mr Potter, is that clear?'
Harry nodded hastily, feeling relieved. He had feared that Snape would steer him along like that all the way to the Great Hall! As Snape made his way to the Great Hall he followed mutely, all too aware of the excited whispers behind him, wishing he could walk with the other third years.
The Great Hall was packed, every single student of the school seemed to be there.
'The teachers and I need to conduct a thorough search of the castle', Professor Dumbledore announced as all doors to the hall were closed by the teachers. 'So, for your own safety, you'll need to spend the night in here. I'm leaving the Head Boy and Girl in charge. The Prefects are to stand guard at the doors.'
He waved his wand and the long tables moved to the wall, leaving the centre of the hall free where a huge number of sleeping bags in all colours appeared. 'I'd like to ask the older students to help the younger ones with cushioning charms on the floor,' he said.
With that he left the hall, the other teachers following.
'Sir', a seventh year boy addressed Snape, 'what the headmaster just said didn't explain anything. Please, what's happened?'
Snape hesitated and looked around. So did Harry. Every Slytherin's eyes were fixed on their Head of House. 'It appears', Snape said slowly, 'that Sirius Black has been sighted within the castle by a student. However nobody has been hurt. Now, although I can imagine that this', he pointed to the colourful sleeping backs and frowned, 'sleeping arrangement might be interesting for some of you, I am warning you not to cause too much mayhem. Troublemakers wil be reported to me.' With that, he followed his colleagues out of the Great Hall.
As soon as the techers had left, excited chatter broke out. The name Sirius Black could be heard everywhere. Harry felt a lump in his throat. Was this why Snape had singled him out and made sure he was next to him in the corridors? He shrugged off the thought. It didn't help to dwell on that, but it would be stupid to miss the opportunity to enjoy the night in the Great Hall! A wide grin spread over Harry's face when he became aware that finally he would be able to sleep next to his friends again, even if it was only for one night. He quickly grabbed a sleeping bag at random and hurried over to the corner where the Gryffindors were installing themselves.
He was slightly disappointed when Ron didn't greet him with an enthusiastic exclamation about how cool it was that Harry could be with them for the night but just asked nervously, 'Have you heard about... Black?'
'Yeah', Harry shrugged, 'Snape told us he was seen in the castle.'
'In the castle!' Ron scoffed. 'Yeah, right! He was in our dormitory, next to me with a knife in his hand!'
Harry dropped his sleeping bag in shock. 'In our dormitory?' he asked incredulously.
Ron nodded grimly. 'I was asleep, but I woke up because my blanket was lifted. When I opened my eyes, some of the lights in the room were on and there was this fierce-looking man leaning over me! I wanted to scream, but he covered my mouth with his hand, and that'swhen I noticed he had a knife in his other hand! Merlin, I really thought I was done for!' He paused dramatically.
'And then?' Harry asked impatiently.
'He stared at me with blood-shot eyes' Ron said, 'And then he said in a raspy voice, "Where is he?"'
Ron suddenly turned pink and bit his lower lip. His voice was apologetic as he said, 'I guess I must have glanced over to your bed, Harry. I didn't want to, it just happened!' He nervously looked at his friend and when Harry didn't say anything he continued, ' So he jumped over to your bed and ripped open the curtains. And I yelled, because now I could, and he ran out of the dormitory.'
Harry didn't know what to say, but he was pretty sure that he couldn't have uttered a single word anyway, as a huge lump had formed in his throat.
Ron swallowed nervously, 'You know, it's just that when he asked about you I naturally thought of you and my eyes automatically went over to your bed. But believe me Harry, he could have threatened to kill me, I would never have said anything that would help him find you! You know that, mate, don't you?'
'Yeah, I know, don't fret' Harry muttered and meant it. After all, he knew how hard it could be to control where one was looking, and considering the way Ron had abruptly been woken up he could hardly blame him . The obvious relief in Ron's eyes embarrassed him so he hastened to change the subject.
'So, what happened then?' he asked.
'Well naturally the others woke, too, even in the other dorms. Then Percy came, being a prat as usual, all self-important and - well, you know him. He kept going on about me just having had a nightmare. Then McGonagall came in and I told her I had seen Sirius Black, and Percy interrupted me and said I probably had had a nighmare, but McGonagall believed me straight away.'
'She did?' Harry asked, impressed.
'Yeah, and you know why? Because she had come in through the common room and the portrait of the Fat Lady had been destroyed! Black blasted a hole through it!'
'So the Fat Lady is dead?' Harry asked, feeling stupid the moment the words had left his lips. 'I mean – destroyed?' He had been immensely displeased with the Fat Lady mere hours ago, but the thought that she had been just blasted away while she was trying to guard the Gryffindor Common room still made him sad.
'They don't know yet,' Hermione said and Harry thought how remarkable it was that she hadn't interrupted Ron a single time while he told Harry his story. 'Filch is checking all the portraits in the castle; she might have fled and and hidden somewhere. The people in the portraits have also been asked to help.' She looked at Harry uncertainly and lowered her voice. 'You know, I've been thinking, Dumbledore's decision to put you in Slytherin probably saved your life tonight.' Her voice quivered slightly.
'I guess so,' Harry said. 'And good thing, too, that he didn't harm Ron, I mean we all know wht he is capable of...'
'Yeah...' Ron muttered, but then his face lit up. 'Anyway, Harry, can you spend the night next to us? This is just so cool!'
'Yep, isn't it,' said Harry and a grin spread over his face, then he quickly rolled out his sleeping bag. And his grin was genuine, because although he knew he should be worried about a murderer being after him, the enthusiasm with which he was greeted by all of his Gryffindor friends filled him with joy. Whatever the teachers might think, his friends still considered him a true Gryffindor. The only one who frowned at him was, not unexpectedly, Percy, who said he wasn't sure whether he should allow Harry to spend the night with his old roommates.
'Dumbledore didn't say where we had to sleep', Harry argued vehemently. 'And since he didn't, you can't force me to sleep with them!' He motioned with his head over to the Slytherins. His determination obviously impressed his classmates, because they all glared at Percy. The latter wasn't stupid enough to insist.
'All right, as long as you've informed your prefect about it,' he conceded.
'Er...' Harry looked a bit uncomfortable.
Percy looked at him disapprovingly. 'I'll tell him, I have to speak with the other prefects anyway', he said importantly and left.
'Good old perfect Percy', said George and shook his head. 'Just imagine Fred, if we had got his genes, there would be two of him!'
Others laughed, but Harry didn't listen. Instead his gaze followed Percy as he walked over to the Slytherin corner of the hall. He saw him talk with Chesterton, who looked over to Harry. Harry shrugged and made a gesture to his friends. The prefect didn't look pleased, but he gave a curt nod.
It was good to spend the night again with his friends, although it was a pity that as usual Percy took his duties very seriously and didn't approve of their whispering and chattering. After he threatened to move Harry back over to the Slytherins, where he probably should have been in the first place, the friends finally stopped talking and fell asleep.
At around three in the morning Harry woke up when Percy who contantly kept prowling between the sleeping bags greeted Professor Dumbledore. Harry quickly nudged Ron and Hermione though when Dumbledore came closer, they pretended to be asleep.
'Have you found him, Professor?' Percy whispered.
'No, but I didn't expect him to linger. Any problems here?'
'No, sir, everything is under control.'
Other footsteps approached, but Harry didn't dare open his eyes to see who it was. He found out the moment the person spoke, though.
'Mr Weasley,' came Snape's cool voice. 'Now that we have finished our search you should take a sleeping bag for yourself and find a spot to sleep.' The tone of voice was calm but dismissive.
'Yes, sir,' said Percy, sounding slightly reluctant.
'You did a good job, Percy', said Dumbledore. Thank you for your help.'
'I'm glad to be of help, sir', said Percy, his sense of importance restored, and he marched off with a rather smug smile.
'So what is it you wanted to say to me, Severus, that you were in such a rush to send away young Mr Weasley?' asked Dumbledore.
Snape sniffed, but his fatigue showed as it came out as more of a sigh. 'What does this mean for Potter?' he asked. 'Do you think it likely that Black will look for him in the dungeons next?'
'I don't know, Severus. It might be wise to take extra precautions though, wouldn't you agree?'
'I'll transfer the portraits in the domitory aisles to the respective doors. We have seen that portraits are not the safest protection there is, but Desmond the Devious is not easily intimidated.'
Dumbledore chuckeled. 'No, I suppose not. What about the Fat Lady, did you hear if Mr Filch found her?'
'Yes, he did, but the woman's still hysterical and refused to say anything helpful. Have you any theory as to how Black got in?' Snape asked bluntly.
'I have various ideas, each one as unlikely as the other.'
'It is ludicrous to imagine that Black could have entered without inside help . I'd ask you to reconsider my concerns about the appointment of ...'
'I do not believe a single person in this castle would have helped Black to enter it', and there was finality in Dumbledore's voice. The headmaster left quietly and Harry heard an angry snort from Snape, before the man left, too.
Harry glanced sideways at Ron and Hermione. Their faces expressed the same perplexity that he felt.
'What was that last bit about?' Ron mouthed, but the other two could only shrug helplessly.
Breakfast the next morning was a noisy affair, as most of the students were still excited about their unexpected camp out in the Great Hall. Harry, who had reluctantly rejoined his Slytherin classmates, ate with great appetite, so it took a while for him to notice the funny looks the others sent his way.
'What's up?', he asked Theodore Nott, who was sitting next to him. Theodore looked at him briefly, then just shrugged and grabbed more toast.
'What, Potter, feeling left out?' sneered Malfoy. 'I wouldn't have thought you cared, judging by the speed with which you dashed off to your Gryffindor mates last night.'
'Ah, so you're all sad and upset because I left you last night?' asked Harry sarcastically. 'Strange, that. Up to now I haven't exactly got the impression that you appreciate my presence here. You know what? I'll finish my breakfast at the Gryffindor table. I want to see some friendly faces, and I don't care if I get in trouble for it.'
With that, he stood up and made his way to the Gryfindor table. Getting there, however, he noticed immediately that something was very wrong. Ron and Hermione were sitting far away from each other, sending glares at each other.
'What's the matter?', asked Harry, puzzled, as he sat next to Ron.
'Crookshanks is what's the matter!' Ron snarled. 'That beast ate Scabbers! I always told Hermione to lock her monster in, but last night, when we all had to leave the dorms, they must have let the door open! All I know is that when I got back into the dorm, Scabbers was gone and I found ginger cat hairs on my bed!'
Ron's voice shook slightly and Harry didn't know what to say. Wordlessly he filled up Ron's pumpkin juice.
'Come on, Ron, he was wasting away anyway,' Fred said. 'At least like that he snuffed it quickly, probably didn't feel a thing!'
Ron didn't seem to appreciate the attempt at cheering him up because all he did was glare at his brother. Then he emptied his glass of pumpkin juice. 'Thanks', he muttered, 'and thanks for coming to see me right away. You're a real friend.'
Harry decided not to point out that he hadn't come over because he had noticed that Ron was in distress. 'That's alright, mate,' he muttered. Both of them continued their breakfast in silence.
'Snape's glaring at you, Harry', George remarked, and when Harry just shrugged, he clapped him on the back and said, 'That's the spirit, man! I was starting to get worried about you!'
Arithmancy lessons were held in a sober looking classroom on the first floor. When Harry entered, Hermione was already there, sitting on her own, being the only Gryffindor who took the class. Millicent was also sitting on her own, at the desk right behind Hermione. Without further ado, Harry settled next to Hermione, nodding briefly at Millicent who raised her eyebrows as greeting.
'Sorry you and Ron are fighting', Harry said.
'I'm not fighting with Ron! He's fighting with me! He lost his rat and now he says it's Crookshanks's fault! All he has found is a bit of ginger hair! And he's acting as if it's all my fault!'
'Well, he says you must have forgotten to lock your dormitory door,' Harry said tentatively.
'Oh, I knew you would side with Ron!' Hermione hissed angrily. 'What?' she snapped, turning around to Millicent who had let out a snort.
'Well, Weasley's a bit daft, ain't he? Keeps going on about you not locking your door, but obviously he hadn't locked his, either, huh?'
Hermione stared at Millicent as if she'd never seen her before. 'You're right, I can't believe I hadn't realized that myself!' she said.
'Well, since you're normally not that stupid, my only explanation would be that like Weasley you were in shock about his tragic loss,' Millicent said sarcastically, and added bitingly, 'Pathetic, making such a fuss about a stupid rat!'
Hermione's mouth dropped open and she looked at Millicent incredulously.
Professor Vector's entrance caused an abrubt end to their conversation. She was an elderly witch whose grey robes matched exactly her grey hair and the grey rims of her glasses.
'Good morning, class,' she said pleasantly and looked around.
'Ah yes, Mr Potter,' she said. 'Your head of house has already informed me that you found divination not to be your field. A wise decision I would say, but being an Arithmancy teacher I might be called biased, of course. Professor Snape has assured me that you are willing to do the extra work that will be necessary to catch up to your peers, and I see you have chosen the perfect seatmate for this. From what I could see in the previous lessons she has understood the lessons up to now perfectly.'
Hermione blushed at the praise, while Harry sat there, bewildered. Professor Vector had made it sound as if Snape had really pleaded his case. Why would he do such a thing? And what about Hermione? How was it possible that she had attended the previous lessons, when she had been sitting in Divination with him?'
So when Professor Vector turned around and magically stuck charts full of numbers at the wall, he whispered to Hermione, 'How come you've been here before? Have you been at two lessons at once, or what?'
Hermione hesitated, and then whispered, 'Not now, Harry!'
'Mr Potter, I would advise you to pay attention.' Professor Vector's voice was not unfriendly, but it was clear to Harry at once that this was, unlike Divination, not a subject where the students could exchange chitchat.
'Sorry, Professor', he muttered and and concentrated on the number charts. When Professsor Vector started her lecture, he tried hard to follow, but, having missed the basics, was soon lost. A sidewarts glance at Hermione showed him that she was fascinated; her mouth was slightly open as she hung on the teacher's words. He risked a glance over to the Slytherins. Malfoy was frowning slightly, an intense look of focus on his face. Crabbe and Goyle, on the other hand, had obviously given up and were, like Harry, looking around aimlessly. When Crabbe met Harry's eye, he winked, pointed with his head to Professor Vector, rolled his eyes and shrugged. Harry gave a nod back and realized that this was the first civil contact he ever had with the boy. How embarrassing that this has happened due to me being just as clueless as that twit! he thought and redoubled his efforts to concentrate and follow at least a bit of the lecture.
'That was hard', Harry said despondently to Hermione, when they were packing their things.
'You'll be all right. You can borrow my notes and I can explain some of it to you. Oh, but not before tomorrow, because tonight I have to study for the next history test. What about you, do you have a test as well?'
'Yeah', Harry said.
'Ron is hopeless as usual. He suddenly remembered yesterday that he would need my notes to prepare, said he couldn't revise without my help. Well, if he continues to treat me like he has been , he can see how he copes on his own,' Hermione said snippily. 'Anyway, Harry, how are you doing?'
'Fine', said Harry, 'I'll be alright, I guess.'
He could see Theodore Nott, who had packed his bag and had paused on his way to the door. To Harry it was clear that the Slytherin had heard Hermione's last words. Harry suddenly felt conflicted. If Ron and Hermione didn't end their quarrel soon, and from what he had seen it didn't look like they would, Ron would probably fail the test the next day. Unless Harry told him what he had heard from Theodore... But could he do it? The archive was obviously created by Slytherins for Slytherins, so reveal the existence of the archive to Gryffindors would certainly be seen as a betrayal. But what's wrong with me? How can I even think of putting Slytherin loyalty above my loyalty to my best mate? It's not like I'm even a real Slytherin! Harry thought. Maybe if he told only Ron and asked him to keep it to himself... But then, if Ron sawSeamus or Neville struggle, he would feel the same conflict that Harry did, and in no time the whole of Gryffindor would have the archive! He sighed.
'Don't worry', Hermione said, misinterpreting his sigh. 'It's not as bad as you think. You'll see how simple it can be, once I've had time to explain it to you.'
Harry nodded absently, belatedly understanding that Hermione was talking about Arithmancy again. He was still thinking about his moral dilemma.
The thought didn't leave him for the rest of the day. Maybe he should start an archive like that in Gryffindor when he got back there, but knowing Ron he was sure that his friend wouldn't forgive him easily once he found out that Harry had had the information all along. Maybe he should find Ron in the evening, and he could share the answers under the guise of revising together .
His plan didn't work out as he had intended. He managed to persuade Ron to meet in the library for revision and tried his best to address the questions that seemed most likely to come up in the test. Unfortunately Ron was unwilling to do much studying. He was still too full of grief and fury due to the loss of Scabbers and after a while Harry gave up and reluctantly told himself that he had done what he could.
'You know, mate,' Ron said, 'this year sucks. First we get separated with you stuck in the snake pit, then a madman walks into our dorm, and now Scabbers. And this stupid History sucks, too,' he exclaimed and pushed his book away. 'I'm not even looking forward to the Quidditch match on Saturday. Gryffindor against Slytherin...Without you as seeker it won't be the same...'
He suddenly looked at Harry warily.'You do support Gryffindor, don't you?'
' 'Course I do!' Harry said indignantly. 'What do you think, that I'd be cheering against my own team? You just wait until I'm up in the stands with you!'
Saturday came quickly and at breakfast Malfoy was even harder to bear than usual. He told everybody who would listen about his choice of breakfast and kept going on about an article he had read in a Quiddich magazine about the food an athlete should eat and complained that Hogwarts didn't offer the right variety for his needs. Harry, who had always been more than satisfied with the food at Hogwarts soon couldn't stand it any longer
'What are you doing, Malfoy, preparing everybody so that when you don't catch the snitch you can just say it was the house elves' fault?'
Malfoy shot him a dirty look. 'You're just jealous, Potter, aren't you, that I can play and you can't...'
Angrily Harry left the table. He hurried up to his dorm and searched his trunk. There it was, his Gryffindor scarf. It would be good to wear it again, Harry thought when he put it into a pocket of his robe and headed towards the Quidditch pitch.
Harry stopped in his track and suppressed a sigh. Being stopped by Snape never meant anything good.
'You are heading to the Quidditch pitch, I see. I'd like to ask you, which team you are going to support.'
'Gryffindor, of course', Harry said. He pulled out his red and golden scarf and wrapped it around his neck a tad defiantly. When he saw Snape frown, he said defensively, 'What do you think, that I'd turn against my own team? You can order me to do a lot of things, especially now that you are my head of house, but you can't order me to support the Slytherin team !'
Snape's answer came quietly, but his eyes betrayed his anger. 'No Mr Potter, I cannot order that. But I can warn you. With the way you behave, it is your own fault if you are unable to settle into Slytherin, Leaving the Slytherin table during breakfast and sitting down with the Gryffindors is only one example. If you don't wish for Slytherin to win, fine. But the least you can do is join your Slytherin housemates and not rush off to Gryffindor at the first opportunity as you usually do. I don't care what colour your scarf is, but I don't want to see you in the Gryffindor stands.'
Snape didn't wait for Harry to answer but walked off, with Harry staring angrily after him. His enthusiasm for watching the match hadn't been too great to start with. Just watching when he knew that normally he would have been playing was bad enough. And now he was being lectured about where to sit? No, Harry decided, openly defying Snape was never a good idea, but he would not spend the match in the Slytherin stands. Better not to watch at all. Bitterly he went back into his dormitory and threw himself on his bed. How was he supposed to spend the time? After looking at the fish for a while, Harry decided he would try to do some reading. Potions needed some work, Brackley had given him homework after all, but Harry was so angry with Snape that preparing for his subject was out of the question. So instead he immersed himself in Arithmancy.
A short while later the door to the dorm was ripped open.
'Oh, there you are Potter.'
Zabini was standing in the doorframe, behind him Nott was paler than usual, Harry found him even slightly green.
'Yes, here I am', said Harry sarcastically. 'Why? Have you been missing me?'
'Not exactly, no,' said Zabini. 'We were just wondering where you were, when we couldn't find you, either with us or your Gryffindor mates the moment the match was interrupted and cancelled.'
Harry stared at him. 'Interrupted? Cancelled?' he echoed. 'But why?'
Theodore Nott finally entered the room. He swallowed hard. 'Dementors', he said quietly. 'A whole lot of them. Right at the Quidditch pitch. Good thing you weren't there.'