** Dimension Wander **
"Harry Potter, falling asleep in class, now are we?" Snape shook his head. "Staying up too late, planning more ways for you and your friends to get in trouble?"
Harry stared straight ahead, eyes not even seeing the class. Snape's pestering had long since ceased to be a problem for him, especially when it was compared to all the other problems in his life. Like lack of sleep, for one. The pale skin of his face was marred by dark shadows under his eyes, hanging around like half moons. Everyone else in the class ignored the small scene, having grown immune to Snape's comments as well. Not because they, like Harry, thought that Snape was just trying to provoke him. It was because they happened to agree with the Potions Master.
It had been over two months since the Triwizard Tournament, since Cedric died, and since Voldemort had returned. In that time, there had been absolutely no sign of the Dark Lord's return.
Staying at the Dursley's all summer had been oppressing. Staying at Hogwarts in the last three weeks of the school term had been all but abusive. If it wasn't the Hufflepuffs, mourning Cedric's death and casting all the blame on Harry, it was the Ravenclaws, throwing curses and hexes at Harry even though all it really took to break him was one look into Cho's heartbroken eyes. Eyes that gave him nightmare, that asked him why he killed her boyfriend and future.
And of course, the Slytherins had declared the year to be the official "Harry-hunt," working behind the other houses to organize and supervise planed harassment periods when Harry's last few friends weren't around. Those times had stopped now, not because of the months of detention being assigned but because it wasn't any fun when Harry didn't fight back.
"Ten points from Gryffindor," Snape announced, drawing an angry hiss from the Gryffindors. Oh yes, mustn't forget his own house, the house that turned on him as violently as it did back with the Chamber of Secrets episodes. Harry almost feared to sleep at night, scared of what to find happened to him in the morning. Almost, because before that very real emotion of fear showed itself, Harry's conscious reminded him that not only did he deserved it, he also didn't care.
Snape looked mildly disappointed when Harry didn't react, a flicker of concern on his face, but that didn't stop him from turning his billowing robes and striding back to his table.
Hermione, sitting in the back of the room with Ron, tried to catch his attention. Ron looked like he was ready to throttle the greasy-haired creep but stayed sitting stiffly in his seat. The two, still loyal to Harry, had been forced to sit in the back not only because Snape ordered them to ("*sneer* Well, Miss Granger, since you seem to know so much about potions, why don't you sit in the back and give others a chance to learn instead of helping your friends cheat? And since you, Mister Weasley, seem to be in such a foul mood, why don't you join her?") but also because Harry forced them to. It was bad enough, he thought, that anyone unfortunate enough to be sitting next to him got hit by the random curses sent his way. It would be indefinitely worse when the houses turned and started targeting the last friends he had.
"Longbottom, I hope you've followed directions for once." Harry looked over to see Snape looming over Neville, the boy looking like a deer caught in bright headlights. "Because today's potions will be tested with each student." Neville went even paler. "A simple practice for the O.W.L.s at the end of this year," Snape's mouth turned into a twisted sneer. "In fact, I think I'll test your potion first."
Harry shook his head tiredly. Snape could always find someone to bully with Neville. Already, the class was filling with the discreet snickers of Slytherins, Malfoy smirking in cruel delight at Neville's discomfort.
Snape looked up to the students. "Any volunteers to test Mister Longbottom's potion?" he called out, sneer widening as the class went deadly quiet. His black eyes skimmed the students' heads before settling quiet unnaturally on Harry's. "Mister Potter."
Nasty bugger, the lively part of Harry's brain sniped. He only picked me because I was the only one brave enough to stare him down. Dutifully, Harry pushed back his chair and went to stand next to Neville, who was shaking with fear. "It's only a Dissolving Cream," Harry murmured quietly to Neville. "There's nothing you can really mess up on." He knew he sounded more pessimistic than optimistic, but Neville stopped shaking all the same.
Absently, while Harry waited for Snape to find an Anti-Dissolvable cup for Harry to drink from, he thought of the people who still dared call him friend. Hermione and Ron, of course. Fred and George, most definitely. And, like in his second year, the Gryffindor Quidditch team barely tolerated him but that was better than half the school. Neville acted like he wanted to be friends but was too scared to actually go against the main student body, but Harry didn't blame him; it was Neville's nature.
Ginny was a most unexpected friend, and a very loyal one at that. Briefly, Harry thought that Ginny was more of a Hufflepuff in nature than a Gryffindor, because while she was very quiet, she worked hard and was extremely loyal.
Seamus and Dean sometimes tottered, being friends and enemies in the same hour. Even twins' friend, Lee Jordan, acted like he couldn't decided what side Harry was on. The teachers (excluding Snape) were being very sympathetic to Harry so far in the year. Dumbledore made him promise to come to his office whenever something—anything—was wrong.
And of course, there was always Sirius. Mentally, the name brought a sunny smile to Harry's face. Sirius, who was more than likely feeling guilty because he hadn't been there for Harry, had donned his Animagus form to visit Harry very frequently. It didn't make sense, Harry often argued, that Sirius felt guilty for things he had no control over. When Sirius tried to turn this logic back on him, Harry deftly switched the subject. Harry had a suspicion that Dumbledore was worried about him and because of that worry, had allowed Sirius to come back from wherever he was hiding to stay with Harry.
Lupin kept in touch, frequently showing up on unexpected visits and sending all kinds of things from his own hiding place. And Hagrid was also sending presents from wherever the headmaster had sent him. Nobody was really letting Harry know details of the was against Voldemort.
"You've followed all instructions asked again.
Neville swallowed and nodded dumbly. Harry wondered what in the world was so important that Snape was acting this agitated. Over any other students, Harry would've understood the concern. But he was Harry Potter and Neville was…Neville. Two of the students Snape hated most, especially since Neville was almost guaranteed to mess up.
The potion itself was really simple, almost foolproof. It had been the only thing the class worked on for the past few days, the day before being especially bring since the potion needed to simmer for twenty-four hours before completion. Just add the regular odd potion ingredients, stir, and leave to boil. Then add a bit more and presto: instant Dissolving Cream, used by wizards and witches worldwide to painlessly dissolve any alien infections inside the body. It looked absolutely nasty, but then again, so did Snape. Why they called the drink a cream was beyond Harry.
"Here," and Snape thrust the bowl in Harry's startled arms. He had been wandering again.
A bit anxious, Harry stared at the steaming cup a second before catching Neville's eye—and Hermione's, Ron's, and Malfoy's at the same time—and throwing back his head, gulping the liquid down in a single gulp.
He knew, from the moment the potion touched his lips, that it wasn't right. Something about the way the smoke lingered, twisting and turning into shadowy figures without name or definition. But he had no idea just how bad things would get…