52

In the Lion's Den

After the boys had finished their late supper, Severus told them to go up to Gryffindor Tower. "The house elves will need about an hour or so to ready a room for you, Dante, so you may get acquainted with the Gryffindors during that time. I assume you are going to spend the night in the Tower, Harry?" He eyed his son questioningly.

Harry nodded. "Yes. I'll alternate weeks like I did last term, Dad. Hey, Prissy!" he called softly.

His house elf appeared with a soft pop! "What does Master Harry wish of Prissy?"

"Uh, I just wanted to know if you would bring my trunk up to Gryffindor Tower, please," he requested.

Prissy smiled. "Master Harry's trunk and bag are already there, sir. Do you wish Prissy to do anything more, sir?"

Harry shook his head. "No, thanks Prissy."

Prissy bowed. "If Master Harry Potter-Snape needs anything else, just call." Then she vanished with another pop.

Ron blinked. "That's right, I forgot you ended up with McKinnon's house elf, mate."

"She chose me, Ron." Harry reminded him. Then he recalled that he wanted to ask about the strange elf he had met in Diagon Alley. Shrugging, he supposed it could wait. "Let's go up to the Tower. Everyone's probably wondering where we are."

"Percy probably wants to kill me," Ron sighed. "And the twins probably want to know how much trouble I'm in. And I want to find out where Ginny was Sorted."

"Then best you quit jabbering and go upstairs," Severus ordered.

"Good night, Dad," Harry said, then turned and gave the Potions Master a brief hug.

"Good night, Professor," Ron waved.

"Be seein' ya, Severus," Dante called, following the other two out of the office and up the stairs.

As they walked, Harry and Ron told Dante about the moving staircases and showed him the Great Hall, where they ate meals and had the Sorting Ceremony and was where they gathered for important announcements. They showed Dante the Entrance Hall, where the House hourglasses were kept and explained what they were there for.

Dante paused to examine the large granite and cherry wood plaque upon the wall. "For All Those Who Have Given the Ultimate Sacrifice—We Honor You," the boy read aloud.

"That plaque was made by Headmaster Dumbledore and Dad," Harry explained to his cousin. "To honor everyone that died during the First Wizarding War fighting against Voldemort."

Dante nodded solemnly. "I know about that. I studied that with my tutors on the ranch." He pointed to the first two names upon the plaque. "Those are your real folks, right?"

"Yes." Harry said quickly. He told Dante how the plaque had come to be there, after Severus had saved Harry's life on Halloween from a rampaging troll.

Dante listened keenly as Harry described Severus' battle with the troll as they made their way up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower. "I'm sorry you lost your parents, Harry, but at least you have a decent parent with Severus."

"I know. He was my mum's best friend when they were in school," Harry told him. Then he showed Dante the pocket watch Severus had given him with Lily's picture.

"She was hot, your mum," the older boy chuckled.

Harry blushed. "Yeah, I guess so." Then he looked at his cousin. "Do you have any pictures of your mum?"

"Yeah a few. But she died when I was really little so I don't remember her," Dante answered. "Sometime I'll show them to you."

The three paused before the portrait of the Fat Lady.

"Hello, ducks!" she greeted Harry and Ron. "Who's your new friend?"

"This is my cousin, Dante Prince," Harry explained to the portrait. "He's allowed to visit here by order of Professor Snape."

"Pleased to meet you, dearie," the Fat Lady smiled. "What House are you?"

"None," answered Dante. "I'm from America and I haven't been Sorted yet. I'm just learning about the different Houses."

"I see. Well, welcome to Gryffindor Tower. Enjoy your time in the lion's den, dearie!" the portrait said. "What's the password?"

"Steadfast," replied Ron, having gotten the password from McGonagall when she had come down to Snape's office to greet her wayward lions and meet Dante.

The portrait hole swung open and allowed them entry into the common room.

The redhead entered first, followed by Harry and Dante.

He was immediately greeted by his brothers, all of whom began to hug and scold him simultaneously. Well, Percy scolded, the twins joked about Ron being famous now that he committed grand larceny and was in the paper.

"Honestly, Ron, can't you go a day without getting in trouble?" Percy said exasperatedly.

Ron scowled. "Shut it, Perce! It wasn't all my fault! Just ask Harry and Dante."

Fred grinned. "That's right. They were—"

"—accomplices," George laughed, slapping Dante on the back.

"Actually, taking the car was my idea," Dante admitted.

"Genius!" the twins chorused.

"George!" said a new voice. It was Ginny, frowning at her brothers and their friends. "Dad's in trouble at work because of their silly stunt."

"We're sorry about that, Ginny," Harry sighed. "We weren't trying to show off, just get away from the press. My dad's making us all write apology letters to your parents tomorrow. Oh and congratulations on being Sorted into Gryffindor."

"Thanks, Harry," Ginny smiled.

"That all old Snape is making you do?" asked Fred.

Harry shook his head. "Nope. Not by a long shot. We've got detention with him too and he's banned me from Quidditch for two weeks—"

"Seriously?" Oliver came over to them. "Aww, bloody hell, Potter! Uh, I mean Snape. You just had to go and get him snarked off at you, didn't you?"

"Hey, it wasn't all Harry's fault," Dante objected. "You wanna blame somebody, blame the vampire press that was stalking him."

Oliver turned. "Who are you?"

"Name's Dante Prince. I'm Harry and Professor Snape's cousin from New York." Dante answered. He held out a hand for Oliver to shake.

"Oliver Wood. I'm the Quidditch Captain of Gryffindor House team. Are you transferring here?"

Dante nodded. "Yeah. Severus is my guardian now since my dad passed the Veil."

The older boy examined the younger wizard. "What House are you in?"

"None at the moment," Dante replied, then explained why.

"That ought to be an easy choice," interrupted Craven, a skinny blonde boy in his fourth year with a ferret-like face. "Gryffindor is the best House. Or didn't your cousin Snapey-baby tell you that?"

"Who asked you?" Dante queried, something about this kid raised his hackles.

"I'm Stephen Craven," the other replied haughtily. "Of course, if you're a traitor like Snapey there, you can go live in the dungeons with the rest of the slimy snakes."

Dante's eyes narrowed. "My cousin Severus is Slytherin."

Craven rolled his eyes. "No, really? Can't believe the greasy git adopted you too. What's he running—Snape's Home For Reject Orphans?" He brayed loudly at his own wit.

"Shut up, Craven!" Harry growled. "My dad's not a git! And I'm an honorary Slytherin too, you prejudiced idiot!"

"Better watch it, Snapey-baby! Get into trouble again and your dear old dad will use you for potion ingredients!" Craven sneered.

"No, you watch it, you berk!" Ron snapped, clenching a fist.

"Ooh now I'm really scared!" mocked the older boy.

"What you are is ten kinds of a jackass," Dante declared coldly, his temper flaring.

"Go slither back down to the dungeons, little serpent!" Craven spat. "I can tell already you don't belong here."

"Craven, quit being a prat!" ordered Angelina. "Ignore him. He's full of piss and wind."

Several of her Housemates clapped at that statement.

Craven glared at her. "Nobody asked you, Johnson!" he turned and stabbed a finger in Harry's face. "I finally figured it out."

"Figured what out?" Harry scowled. "How to mind your own business?"

"No, why old Snape adopted you." Craven snickered. "I heard a rumor that your mum and the dungeon bat were friends once upon a time."

"So what?" Harry demanded, stiffening.

"So . . . maybe one night your mum got drunk and took the git to bed and she had you nine months later!" Craven hooted. "Would explain a lot about why the bat suddenly cares about a Gryffindor!"

"You're disgusting, Craven!" Ginny snapped.

Harry's eyes narrowed to slits. "Take that back, you damn creep!" Suddenly his wand was in his hand, despite the small voice in his head that was warning him not to let Craven bait him into a fight, that Severus would decimate him if he got into another duel, no matter the provocation.

Dante laid a hand on his shoulder. "Easy. Let me handle this." Then he gestured and Craven was suddenly hanging in midair by the back of his robes on an invisible hook.

"Hey!" the other boy squealed, struggling. "Lemme go!"

Dante stepped close to Craven, his hazel eyes glittering with fury, one hand clenched. "You wanna repeat that, gutter rat?"

Craven went pale and tried to pull free, but the spell wasn't one he knew the counter to, and his wand had fallen out of his pocket when Dante had hung him up in the air. "Ackgghh! Let me down!"

"Listen, dung for brains!" Dante spat, his temper rivaling Severus' in that moment. "I ever hear you speak that way about my cousin Severus or Lily again, you're going to be lucky you have a tongue left to talk with! Capice?"

The curtains rustled in the wake of his magic as if in a windstorm.

Craven's eyes were bugging out of his head. "Don't hurt me!" he whined.

Dante crossed his arms over his chest, unconsciously mimicking Snape. "Now apologize to Harry for your nasty mouth."

"Go bugger yourself, Yank!" Craven spat.

"Do it!" Dante ordered. He made a swirling motion and the other boy began to revolve about like a top.

"Okay! Okay!" Craven wailed. "Stop! I'm gonna puke!"

Dante snapped his fingers and the boy quit revolving. "Go on."

Sniveling, Craven did.

Dante gestured and the other boy was set down.

Craven shivered, then snarled, "Just you wait, Prince! I'm going to tell Dumbledore you used dark magic on me! Then we'll see how long you stay in this school!"

Dante rolled his eyes. "Merlin, you really are brainless! That spell's not dark magic, it's a charm to hang up laundry! But go ahead, go run and tattle on me, Crybaby Craven!"

Several other of his Housemates, including the twins, Ron, Angelina, Ginny, and Oliver burst out laughing. Even Percy was smiling.

"Good one, Dante!" Harry grinned.

Craven turned the color of the Gryffindor banner, snatched up his wand, and fled up the stairs to his dorm room.

"That was brilliant!" Hermione cried, gazing at the older boy with awe. "Where did you learn how to do wandless magic?"

"That's what we do over in the States," Dante told her.

"This is Hermione Granger, one of my best mates," Harry introduced the witch to his cousin.

"Dante Prince," the dark-haired boy replied, shaking her hand. "Pleased to meet you."

"Same here. Can you use a wand too?" the girl wanted to know.

"Yeah, but I'm better with these," he wriggled his hand for emphasis. "Severus said he'll teach me how to channel my magic with a wand better."

"Professor Snape is brilliant too. Strict as poker, but a genius," Hermione said.

Dante saw other students nodding. "Yeah, figured that already." He glanced around the common room. "What do you do for fun around here?"

"You play Quidditch, Prince?" asked Oliver.

"No. But I like to watch matches," Dante replied. "But I'll play Exploding Snap. Or Gobstones."

"Then let's play some cards," Katie Bell said, smiling at Dante. "Don't judge us all by that prat Craven. He's the kind that gives all us Lions a bad name."

"Agreed!" George said. "He needs to be pranked good, eh, twin?"

"Right on!" Fred smirked.

They conjured a deck of cards and began to set up the table to play.

Neville nudged Harry and whispered, "I can't believe you flew a car to school! Was—was your dad really mad?"

"Uh . . . you could say that," Harry winced. Then he added, "But he didn't kill me, so it's all good, Nev. And once I serve my punishment, it's done and he forgives me so . . ."

"Like with the Pendragon, huh?" Neville recalled. Harry nodded. "I never want the professor angry like that at me again." He trembled briefly.

"Believe me, I didn't want this to happen either," his friend replied ruefully. "But it did and all I can do is learn from it."

"Harry, you in?" George called.

"Yeah, be there in two," he answered. He darted upstairs to cast Repelling Charms upon his trunk and his bed, remembering what had occurred last year, when some unknown member of Gryffindor had trashed his trunk and his bed because they objected to Snape being his guardian. Harry believed then, and now, that Craven had been behind that attack and he was taking no chances, especially after what had just occurred.

Once he had made sure his belongings were safe, he went back downstairs and rejoined his Housemates and Dante to play a rousing game of Exploding Snap. Harry was glad to see that Dante was no longer the sullen brooding teen he had been at Ravenhold, it seemed that the flying car incident and getting in trouble with Snape had melted that icy reserve and Harry now saw a different side of his cousin.

The American wizard was still quiet, but he wasn't antisocial, and had a quick wit that made the other teens smirk and chuckle. He was also an ace at cards, and was soon beating everyone at the table.

"Who taught you to play like this, Prince?" asked Percy, dismayed to find that the younger wizard was better at a game he usually won.

"Cain, one of my father's bodyguards," replied Dante, matching two sets of cards in rapid succession. "There wasn't much to do when my dad was working in his office, so Cain used to play cards with me."

Harry wondered idly if Dante knew how to play five card stud. He made a mental note to ask his cousin tomorrow, because he would have liked to play poker again, and he knew he could trust Dante not to inadvertently blurt out his secret to the Potions Master. He sensed the elder apprentice knew how to keep secrets. I wonder if Draco would like to learn? Something tells me he would be good at poker. And he knows when to keep his mouth shut.

"Your dad had bodyguards?" asked Colin Creevy, a first year. "What did he do?"

"He owned Prince Enterprises, a company that developed magical weapons, among other things," Dante answered. Weapons that he also sold on the Night Market, most likely. The Night Market was what the illegal sale of magical artifacts and items was called, and Dante was positive that Sulla had connections with that shadowy underground. His father had possessed no scruples when it came to making money or increasing his power.

"You rich then, Prince?" Oliver asked.

Dante shrugged. "When I come of age, probably. But till then Severus has control of my vault." He gestured with his wand, and two cards floated up. "I think my dad inherited an estate over here, but I'd need to ask Severus to be sure."

"The Princes are a pureblood family, one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, so that is probably true," remarked Percy.

"It is," Harry spoke up then, recalling a discussion he had with his father before Dante had come to live with them. "The Princes are a direct descendant of Merlin from his son Math and Arthur Pendragon's daughter Gwyneth."

Seamus whistled. "Blimey! I never knew that! That's like royalty, sort of."

"I guess." Dante coughed, slightly uncomfortable. In America, less importance was put on blood status than in Britain and Europe. Though he knew his mother's kin had been a distinguished family also, witches since the founding of Massachusetts Bay colony. But despite his pureblood Name and fortune, Dante felt more of a kinship with his half-blood cousins than he had any of his father's more prestigious acquaintances. Or at least he was beginning to. But what will Severus say if he knew you were in contact with dark warlocks? His conscience whispered in warning. You'd be lucky if he didn't kick you right out the door on your ass. Dante shoved the nagging voice away. I never asked to get involved! A part of him protested. It was because of Dad that they came after me . . . damn the old bastard and his underhanded deals! The young wizard silently cursed his amoral father to perdition. Everyone knew that if you made a deal with the devil it would eventually return to bite you in the ass.

Biting his lip, Dante returned to concentrating on the card game. He wouldn't think about that tonight.

The cards exploded with a sharp snap and just as Harry was about to draw another, Professor McGonagall entered the room. "Wrap it up, children. It's nearly lights out." The elderly witch ordered.

There were good natured groans from the card players, but no one really protested.

Minerva raised an eyebrow when she caught sight of Dante. Severus had informed her and the other Heads of his agreement with his cousin, so she was not surprised to see Prince heir in the common room. "I hope my lions have made you welcome, Mr. Prince."

Dante turned to look at her. "Yes, Professor." All except that ass, Craven, he added silently, but he wasn't about to mention that little dispute, he was no snitch, and beside he had handled it just fine.

"Good. You may continue to socialize with my House for the rest of this week, as per your agreement, Mr. Prince." Minerva told him. "After class, that is."

"Yes, ma'am," Dante nodded. He knew that Severus would have a schedule for him tomorrow.

"Professor McGonagall," Ron spoke up from his seat on a couch. "Is there any way you can fix my wand?" He withdrew the pieces of his wand from the pocket of his robes.

Minerva sighed. "There's not much we can do, Weasley. Until you get a new one, you can use a practice wand from the school stores. It won't work as well for you but it will be adequate for you to attend classes and do homework until you get a new one."

"Yes, Professor." Ron sighed.

"Come see me tomorrow before breakfast and I shall fetch you one from the school stores," Minerva instructed.

While that discussion was going on, the other Gryffindors were cleaning up the common room and the card game.

Harry was about to ask McGonagall permission to escort Dante back down to Snape's quarters, when Prissy appeared in the room. "Master Harry Potter Snape, Prissy is here to escort Master Dante Prince to Professor Master Snape's quarters, sir."

"Oh. Thanks, Prissy," Harry smiled at the little elf. "I was just going to do that, but never mind now."

Dante stood up. "Guess I'll see you at breakfast then, Harry. Good night, guys." He nodded at the other teenagers.

Then he followed Prissy out the portrait hole.

Dante found Severus awake and reading a potions journal when he entered the professor's suite. "Hi, Severus," he greeted the master wizard.

"Did you have a good time with the Gryffindors?" queried the professor, setting his magazine down.

"Uh huh. We played Exploding Snap," Dante yawned. He glanced about the suite. "Not bad."

"Glad you approve," his cousin said dryly. "Your room is next to Harry's." He indicated a door to the left of his son's room. "If you would like a different color scheme, let me know and I shall tell the house elves to fix it. Right now, though, I suggest you go to bed. I'll wake you up before seven, so you'll have time to get ready before breakfast at eight in the hall. I assume you'll be eating with Harry and the Gryffindors?"

"Yeah, that's what Professor McGonagall suggested," Dante told him.

"Very well. Afterwards, you will meet me back in my office along with Harry and Ronald to begin your essays and letters to the Weasleys. Once you've completed that, I will give you a schedule of classes for the week. It will be abbreviated, because I need to test you and see how you compare with a third-year student as far as academics go."

"Okay," Dante agreed. "Uh, when are we supposed to clean the train?"

"After my last class I have a free period before supper. You can serve your detention then," Severus told him. "Remember, you are also on restriction for two weeks, so no flying or attending any clubs after class, only supervised study sessions here."

Dante heaved a sigh. "I remember, Sergeant Snape," he gave his cousin a mock salute.

Severus snorted. "If you don't like it, then don't get in trouble, mister."

"I hear and obey, sir!" the boy replied, smirking.

"That'll be enough of your cheek, boy!" Severus warned. "Bed, Dante."

"I'm going, I'm going. Don't have a kneazle, okay?"

"One more remark and you can scrub my dungeon floor, you mouthy brat!"

Dante ducked into his room, shutting the door behind him.

Severus huffed. Two of them, Merlin give me patience! I'm going to need a case of Calming Draughts before term ends with the way those mouthy brats behave! He heaved a sigh before putting his magazine down and going into his own bedroom. He could almost hear Skull replying in his head, But you love the mouthy pain-in-the-asses, Sev! The Potions Master rolled his eyes at his own foolishness, but a part of him knew that was nothing but the truth.

Dante found that his room had been done in muted taupe and green shades, with a charmed view of the Black Lake so he could see the weather outside. The room was not as large as the one he had in New York but it was cozy and comfortable. He found that Prissy had unpacked his clothes and placed them in the armoire and dresser. He quickly pulled on pajamas, then called good night to Snape before he fell on his bed. He was asleep in moments.

Gryffindor Tower:

Harry had just finished getting ready for bed and was about to shut the window for the night when Draco's eagle-owl Stryker flew in through the window with a letter for one Harry Potter Snape. Harry thanked Stryker and fed him a treat then waited until the owl had departed before shutting the window and retreating to his bed to read his mail.

"Who's that from, Harry?" asked Neville.

"Draco. I wrote and asked him a question over break and I guess he's finally found time to answer me," Harry replied.

In the next beds, Ron, Seamus, and Dean were all dreaming and snoring.

"I hope it's good news then," Neville said. "Night, Harry."

Harry bid his friend good night, then Noxed the lamps and settle down with his wand lit up to read his letter behind his bed hangings.

Harry,

Hope all is going well with you, Skull, and Professor Snape over the summer. I've only visited his house Ravenhold once or twice. And both times I've enjoyed it, even if it is in the middle of a Muggle neighborhood. But that shouldn't bother you too much, given you grew up Muggle right?

About your question of your cousin's ancestry . . . I looked up the Prince line in my family book of heraldry and lineage. I found out that the Princes are one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, which I'm sure you already know. The Prince sigil is a silver dragon holding a crown upon a green background. Their motto is "The last defense against the dark is magic's truth." But here's what you might not know.

Sulla Prince, as a young man, was involved in a few disputes with people, and nearly killed a wizard in a duel, resulting in his father banishing him from his estate for a time. It was later speculated that Sulla had ties to several shady characters in Knockturn Alley. He was known as young man with a vicious temper and a love for the Dark Arts, one reason why he left Britain for America. It was also rumored that he had friends in low places and was once a member of a group of aspiring dark wizards known as the Cabal of Night. Most of the Cabal later joined the ranks of You-Know-Who and became Death Eaters.

In America he was known as a cutthroat businessman and having the backing of several prominent old blood families, rose to a position of power. Apparently, nobody crossed Sulla Prince more than once.

With that in mind, it's no wonder your cousin doesn't want to discuss his past.

I asked my father about the Princes, and he told me that Sulla Prince had died a month ago. Some heart ailment.

Hope this helps.

Your friend,

Draco

Harry smiled, glad that his friend worked quickly to gather information. What he had read didn't surprise him. From what Dante didn't say, Harry realized that there was no love lost between his cousin and his late father. It made him feel sympathetic towards the other boy, for Harry had not forgotten what it was like to be despised and hated by ones who were supposed to care for and love you.

Then he tucked the letter beneath his pillow and fell asleep.

*~*~Page Break~*~*

The next morning, Professor Snape woke Dante and bid him wash and dress in something suitable for Hogwarts. "You might not yet wear the robes and uniform nevertheless I expect you to dress in an appropriate manner, not like some ruffian, Dante."

The teen rolled his eyes. "Okay, okay. Believe it or not, I do know what good clothes are."

Severus frowned a bit at the slightly insolent tone but refrained from commenting. He did not want to get in an argument at six-thirty in the morning. "Then why in Merlin's name do you insist on dressing like a ragamuffin?"

The lanky boy shrugged. "It's how the members of my gang dressed," he joked. At Snape's shocked glare, he smirked. "Kidding. My father would have stripped the hide off me if I'd joined one. And I didn't want to die before I was seventeen, so I followed his rules when he was around. But when he was away . . . I dressed in jeans and rock concert shirts. Would have made him have a flaming fit."

"I see," Severus said neutrally. Given what he knew of the boy's father, it wasn't too surprising the boy rebelled against Sulla's harsh teachings in the only manner he could. "Nevertheless, you have no need to wear such clothing here . . . at least during school hours. It would reflect poorly upon me if you dressed in such a fashion, make people think I was neglecting you. On the weekends you may dress as you wish."

"Okay, I can live with that, Severus," Dante agreed. He knew how to compromise and was relieved that his cousin did also, unlike his late father.

Ten minutes later, he followed Snape to the Great Hall, where he met Harry, Ron, Neville, and the rest of the Gryffindors. Dante slid into the seat beside Harry. "Hey, cuz. Do all of you have to sit together like you were part of some elite club or something? Or can you mingle with kids from other Houses?"

Harry's brow wrinkled. "Uh . . . usually people tend to sit with their Housemates, but there's no rule that says you have to. Let me introduce you to a few of my Slytherin friends."

He rose and beckoned Dante to follow him over to the Slytherin table to introduce him to Draco, Blaise, Tarrant, and Flint. As well as Millie Bulstrode and Daphne Greengrass.

Dante discovered the Slytherins were an okay lot, and they all seemed to respect him because he was related to their Head, and no one said anything derogatory about Harry either.

Draco was especially curious about Dante's ability to do wandless magic. "That's pretty advanced here. Usually only sixth and seventh years and the professors can manage it. How'd you learn it, Dante?"

"It's what we're taught in the States," Dante replied. "Like you're taught to use a wand."

"Is it difficult?" Daphne wanted to know, her emerald eyes bright with curiosity.

"Not really. You just need to know how to focus your mind and your magic differently," Dante answered.

"Would you be willing to teach us?" Draco wanted to know.

"When I have time, I guess I could. But right now Severus has me on restriction and doing detention for the whole flying car situation." Dante sighed.

The Slytherins all shot him commiserating glances.

"Wouldn't want to be in your shoes right now, Prince," Flint remarked. "Professor's detentions suck, but it's deserved."

Other Slytherins nodded. "Yeah, he might be a strict old python, but he always does what he promises, no surprises."

"That's true," Harry agreed. "If you misbehave he'll nail your bum to the wall, but he'll also protect you from anyone who tries to hurt you, even another adult." He recalled how Severus had defended him to Professor Sinistra after the Pendragon debacle when he had gone to help repair the Astronomy Tower that Isolde the dragon had destroyed.

Dante raised an eyebrow at that, for in his experience, adults always believed other adults over a child, but he knew Harry and the other snakes weren't lying. He filed that information away to peruse later, then turned to Harry. "Where's breakfast?"

"Come and sit down," Harry said, choosing a spot halfway between the Serpent and Lion tables. They were soon joined by Ron, Hermione, Neville, Draco, Daphne, and Blaise. There was the usual flurry as the owls brought the post to their respective wizards and witches, and then breakfast popped up on the tables.

Today, Harry was pleased to note, was omelet day, and omelets with cheese and ham, or bacon and spinach were served, along with crispy potatoes, broiled tomatoes, assorted muffins, and oatmeal with brown sugar. He took a ham and cheese omelet, some potatoes and tomatoes, knowing that if he didn't eat a well-balanced meal, his father would make him drink Nutrient Supplements again, as he had last year.

Up at the staff table, Severus observed his son and his ward while he drank his coffee and ate his eggs, bacon, and toast. He greeted his colleagues, including the two librarians, Irma and Lena, and explained about Dante, his new ward.

"I should like to meet him," Lena said. "He sounds like a bright boy, Severus."

"He is, with a talent for trouble. Much like my Harry," the Potions Master sighed.

"Then it is well he has you for a guardian, Severus," chuckled Pomona.

"Why do you say that, Pomona?" queried Lockhart. "It seems to me that Professor Snape is rather . . . cold and unbending, with no sense of humor. Like a prison warden."

Severus flashed the other wizard a death glare. "What are you implying, Lockhart?" he growled dangerously.

"Nothing, old boy!" laughed the other, smiling disingenuously. "But maybe you ought to be a little less . . .gloomy. Let your hair down once in awhile, and wear something besides black, old boy. You know, I know a good tailor—he's outfitted me for all my book signings . . ."

Severus gritted his teeth. "Your point?" He longed to take the dandy out back and teach him what it meant to duel a real opponent, but refrained from doing so. It would hardly be sporting, to thrash this big idiot so thoroughly, no matter how satisfying it would feel, he thought, silently eating his breakfast. He hardly needed advice from the bragging fraud about parenting, since the closest Lockhart ever came to interacting with a child was snapping a photo with them.

Lena rolled her eyes as Lockhart continued to expound upon his exploits in a bombastic manner. "I, for one, agree with Pomona. I think you've done a fine job with Harry, Severus. You've given him equal parts of loving discipline and affection, which is what a good parent is supposed to do."

"I quite agree," Minerva chimed in, startling Severus.

"You're stricter than I am, Severus, but Harry is happy with you, and that's all that matters," Flitwick smiled at the Potions Master.

"And you will do a good job with young Dante too," Dumbledore smiled. "You have a knack for dealing with troubled children, my boy."

Severus inclined his head modestly. The praise of his colleagues both embarrassed and pleased him, for at times he wasn't sure he was doing an adequate job, given the amount of trouble his son got into. But he couldn't deny that Harry usually learned from his mistakes and despite his penchant for mischief, Severus loved the boy and he knew Harry loved him like the father he had never known. He hoped that Dante would also regard him fondly once he settled in. It was at times like these he missed his familiar, for Skull's uncanny perception would have reassured him and his impudent tongue would have skewered Lockhart right where it hurt—in the peacock's pretentious inflated self-image.

Right now said Defense "expert" was droning on and on to his seatmate, Madam Hooch, about his experiences with vampires, making Rolanda yawn behind her napkin. Severus hid a smirk and continued eating, knowing afterwards he would need to supervise his reckless boys in their punishment essays and apology letters before going to beard the reporters in their lair.

~*~*~Page Break~*~*~

Harry shook out his hand before picking up his quill again to resume writing his essay. Since practicing with Severus over the summer writing with a quill had become easier and his handwriting neater. Though it still was not as elegant as his professor father's. But Severus had said it was an improvement over the perpetually messy scrawl Harry used to turn in for assignments, and the boy considered that high praise. He glanced furtively at Ron and Dante, discovering that Ron seemed to be nearly done and Dante had similar neat script as Snape, which Harry envied a bit. But that makes sense, if Dante grew up using quills.

Harry read over what he had written, making sure it was grammatically correct and he had not made any glaring spelling mistakes, two things which Snape was death on in homework or tests.

"Ten more minutes, gentlemen," Snape called from where he was seated at his desk, writing a list of ingredients he needed for his potions stores.

Harry returned to his essay, thinking that the apology letter had been easier to write than this, even though he was familiar with Ministry Law. He wondered how Dante was doing, as he was probably the least familiar with that subject.

But at last he was done with the task and they handed their papers into the professor.

"Dismissed. Go to class, Mr. Snape and Mr. Weasley. Prince, stay for a moment, I need to give you a schedule."

He handed Dante a schedule of the current third year courses, including Care of Magical Creatures and Astronomy. "I have tried to pair you with my third year Slytherins in some courses and the third year Gryffindors in others since you appear to get on well with them from what I saw this morning. But since you don't have Herbology till the middle of the morning, I can give you a test to see how well you can cast a few charms."

"Okay, sir," Dante agreed, taking out his wand.

Severus led him through standard first and second year charms, and was pleased to note the boy could cast them easily. Then Snape had him cast a few third-year charms, those were a bit more difficult for the boy since he could focus better without a wand.

"I can cast better without a wand. Flipendo!" Dante huffed. He demonstrated with a Knockback Jinx on the practice dummy, sending it flying into the classroom wall. "See?"

"Yes. However, I want you to focus on channeling your power with your wand, Mr. Prince. Close your eyes."

The boy looked puzzled, but obeyed.

Severus walked him through the beginning stages of meditation, showing him how to focus and channel his magic through the wand. "Once you do it properly, you will find your spells are stronger."

This time the boy was able to use his wand and when he recast the spell it was even more powerful. A pleased light gleamed in his hazel eyes. "I did it!"

"Well done," Severus praised. "Continue to practice as I showed you and you will feel comfortable using a wand as you do wandless magic."

"Okay." Dante agreed.

"You seem somewhat advanced compared to the average Hogwarts student," Snape observed. "Yet you can use the practice, so you should attend Professor Flitwick's classes."

He found Dante was well taught at Transfiguration too, but especially so in Defense. "Your father, for all his flaws, taught you how to duel correctly."

Dante lowered his wand and muttered, "You learned pretty quickly when he hexed you for getting a spell wrong."

Severus' mouth tightened. "That is a rather outdated method of instruction, Mr. Prince. It is not mine."

"I can tell," the boy shivered for a second, then hid it, so fast that Severus would have never noticed if not for his sharply honed abilities as a spy.

"Your current Defense professor will most likely prove to be useless in that area. Lockhart is more suited to writing fiction about his exploits than actually teaching practical spells," Severus warned. "That being so, I may speak with the Headmaster about reinstating the Dueling Club so you may actually learn something this year."

"Would you teach it, sir?" Dante asked.

"Possibly. If the Headmaster agrees." Severus allowed.

"That would be cool," his cousin smirked.

"I shall test you on a few other courses tomorrow," the professor said. "Here is a copy as well of Hogwarts Rules and Regulations. I suggest you read it over and learn it, so you know what is appropriate behavior for a student." Snape handed Dante a pamphlet, which he gave to all his first-year Slytherins. "For now, follow this map and go to Professor Sprout's greenhouse on the lower east side of the castle. And don't forget, you have detention tonight with me here after supper."

"Like you'd let me," Dante snorted.

"Be on time, Mr. Prince. Or else you'll make it up," Snape warned.

"Yes, sergeant!" the boy replied flippantly, taking the map.

"Get, you impudent brat!" Severus ordered. "Before I make you scrub some cauldrons."

He set a hand on the boy's shoulder to gently move him along, and felt Dante stiffen. Knowing the reaction was instinctive, Severus gave him a light pat and the boy scampered off, leaving the professor scowling and wishing he could curse Sulla Prince to perdition repeatedly.

His temper simmering, Snape decided that now was as good a time as any to pay a visit to the editor of The Prophet and used the Floo in his office to do so.

Daily Prophet headquarters:

The soft scratch of quills on parchment and the smell of ink permeated the air as Snape appeared in the doorway of the newspaper. Inside various journalists were writing copy at their desks or dictating it with Quick Quotes and Self-Writing Quills. There was also the soft hum and click of the presses in the background. Snape spotted several of the reporters who had stalked Harry in the room, he had been provided a detailed description by Dante, who had an excellent recall for faces, similar to Severus' own. That was a Prince trait, and it was both blessing and curse, as Snape knew quite well from his spying days.

Anger riding his features, the Potions Master entered the room, looking for the office of the editor, Barnabas Cuff. He located a large door with a fancy nameplate on it that read Editor-In-Chief and made his way towards it, making several reporters pause to stare at him.

"What's Professor Snape doing here?" wondered a copy writer.

"Thought he avoided newshounds like the plague?" remarked.

"He looks like he swallowed something nasty."

"He always looks like that, Smith," laughed another.

"Yeah, Old Grim and Gloomy hasn't cracked a smile since he was born probably," sneered another.

The professor ignored their inane comments and continued on to the editor's office.

Rita Skeeter looked up from her copy, her nose twitching. She sensed a story in the offing. She rose and walked quickly into the small hallway that led to the restrooms, then blurred into her Animagus form.

Snape knocked upon the door, and waited for Barnabas to admit him.

"Come in, it's open," the editor called.

A small beetle flew in right behind the tail of Snape's billowing black cloak.

Barnabas looked up as Snape entered. He was a slender wizard in his early forties, with his blond hair thrust carelessly under a battered red cap, a legacy left from his days as a newsie. He wore a white collared shirt with a red tie patterned with ibises, the sleeves rolled up to reveal tanned forearms. Sharp blue eyes met obsidian ones. "Professor," the editor said cordially. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Hardly pleasure, Barnabas," Snape replied coldly. "I'm here to question the veracity of an article recently printed in the evening edition of the paper yesterday."

"Oh? Which one?" drawled Cuff.

"This one," Severus placed a copy of the paper down in front of the editor and pointed at the article about the Muggles seeing the flying car. "This states that the car was taken by my son and his friends as an act of adolescent rebellion or a prank. It was neither. It was taken in order to escape several overzealous reporters who were trying to get my son Harry to give them exclusive interviews, despite his dislike of doing so, and his need to board the Hogwarts Express."

"How do you know that, Snape?" Cuff snorted. "Is that what your boy told you? Come on, professor, you know kids. They'll lie like rugs to get out of trouble."

Severus' eyes narrowed. "My son knows better to lie to me. Even to get out of a punishment. And so do his best friend and his cousin. All of the boys corroborated Harry's story."

"What of it?" laughed Barnabas. "They all made it up."

"No, Cuff, they did not," Severus declared icily. "I know when I'm being told lies, and none of them were doing so. I want a retraction printed acknowledging the improper behavior of your reporters and an apology for harassing a young boy. There was no need to do so."

Barnabas rolled his eyes. "Really? I hardly call it harassment, Snape, when a reporter attempts to interview a potential subject for a story. It's what a good journalist does."

Severus ground his back teeth together, fighting to keep his temper and not hex the editor. "A good journalist asks first, he doesn't stalk a boy waiting for the train and make him so desperate to escape that he impulsively takes an enchanted car to get away from the press, risking his life in the process!"

The editor coughed. "Are you sure you aren't exaggerating, professor? Clearly, you need to spend more time disciplining your brat than trying to blame my reporters." Then he gulped sharply, for the glare Snape was giving him should have set him on fire.

"Mister Cuff," hissed the Potions Master. "Anyone who knows me knows that I have no problem disciplining children. If you doubt me, you may interview all four hundred plus of my students. But my disciplinary policy is not the issue here—the behavior of your reporters is! Which is something I can vouch for myself, as I was there at Flourish and Blotts when that idiot Lockhart was doing his book signing and saw how the press kept after my son to give them statements and photos even after he had made it clear he had no desire to do so. I had to threaten them to get them to leave him alone, so don't try and sugar coat what happened at King's Cross, Cuff!"

The beetle on the wall quivered at the Potions Master's ire, her wings twitching.

"Now see here, Snape—" began Barnabas.

"No, you see here!" snarled the professor. "I want a retraction printed immediately stating that your people were to blame for causing that incident and an apology issued to my son, his friend, and his cousin for harassment or else I will be contacting my barrister and bringing a suit against all of you for reckless endangerment of children and harassment of minors! And that will be after I've turned the majority into flobberworms to reflect their mental capacity! At least then they may become useful as potion ingredients. Am I clear, Mister?" That last was snarled venomously right into the other's face, and Cuff shrank back in his chair so fast he nearly went through the window.

"N-Now there's no need to be hasty—" the editor cringed, wondering if he should have made arrangements for his funeral, for Snape looked like he was about to breathe fire like a rampaging Pendragon.

Severus said nothing further, simply allowed his expression to speak for itself.

Cuff quickly got the message. "Let me see who wrote the copy for that headline," he stammered, and began to flip quickly through the proofs on his desk.

Unseen, the beetle scuttled into a corner to hide, thanking Merlin that she had not been one of the reporters assigned to cover that particular area yesterday.

Severus waited, patient as the Angel of Death, until Cuff had located the names of the four journalists.

Barnabas then summoned his aide and bid her to call Kritchner, Scandal, Murk, and Tyge into the office.

The four slouched into the office, looking like lazy dogs woken from a long nap. Snape recognized all of them from their days as his students—and had to admit that five years hadn't changed them for the better. Two Gryffindors, a Hufflepuff, and a Ravenclaw, Severus recalled with a sneer. And all of them conniving little brats who tried repeatedly to skive off my potions class and invented every excuse in the book to not finish assignments. Kritchner's grandmother died twice in two terms, by Merlin's ghost!

"Ya wanted to see us, boss?" drawled Murk.

"Got another assignment for us?" asked Kritchner.

Their jaws dropped when they heard what Cuff wanted.

"This some kinda joke?" muttered Tyge, scratching his head.

"Do I look like I'm joking?" Severus growled, fixing the sleazy-looking reporter with one of his famous glares.

It worked just as well now as it had ever did when Tyge was his student. "Ulp! No sir, Professor Snape!" the reporter went fishbelly white and whimpered.

"No fair, boss!" whined Kritchner. "We wrote what we saw!"

Snape loomed over him suddenly, all blackness and menace, like the harbinger of doom. "Spare me your pitiful excuses, Kritchner! We both knew you tailor events to suit yourself. Don't think I've forgotten how your relatives had a tendency to die twice of two different diseases leaving you prostrate with grief!" His sarcasm was so sharp it could have drawn blood.

Kritcher tried to stare him down, failing miserably. "I-I can't believe you remember that, you greasy dungeon bat!"

"I remember everything troublemakers like you did in my class, Kritchner!" Snape snarled. "You all were a lazy shiftless lot even then, and you haven't changed that I can see. Still trying to play the pity card to get out of work, aren't you? And still terrorizing younger children also."

"Kritchner, just shut your trap and do what I told you!" ordered Cuff. "Or else you can be writing the weather with Mavis Contrella!"

At that, the reporter shut up, grumbling under his breath.

"I trust this will satisfy you, Professor Snape?" Barnabas queried.

"I shall let you know when the new edition of the paper comes out," Severus replied. "I believe our business is concluded." Then he swept out of the office, but not before flicking his wand at the quills the reporters were holding.

Hogwarts School:

The owls flew down with the evening edition of The Daily Prophet, dropping a copy of the paper to almost all the teachers at the staff table and many of the students as well.

Harry took his copy from Hedwig and fed her some roast beef from his plate as a reward before unrolling the paper and reading the front page. His eyes widened as he scanned the first article. "Holy Merlin! Ron, take a look at this!" He shoved the paper at his friend.

Ron peered at it and his eyes went wide. "Cripes, Harry! Looks like Snape really did go and kick their arse good!"

The article read: Boy Who Lived Harrassed By Reporters, Resulting in Near Fatal Flight!

The article went on to detail how four reporters had harassed Harry, Ron, and Dante at King's Cross. It also apologized for doing so and stated that the four were now on probation for "conduct unbecoming professional journalists."

Harry exchanged grins with Ron and Dante, then turned to look up at the staff table.

He caught Professor Snape's gaze in his own emerald one, and his father gave him a wink and smirk in response to Harry's raised eyebrow. Thanks, Dad!

Then Harry turned back to his friends and cousin, just in time to hear Neville say, "Guess it's true what they say, nobody messes with a Snape."

"Not unless you want to be made into potion ingredients," laughed Draco. "That's a truth all of us snakes know."

"You can say that again!" Harry chuckled, then went back to eating his roast beef, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and bread with butter.

Little did the children know that Snape had done more than just wrangle a retraction from the paparazzi.

A few days later, when Kritchner was writing copy on a new story, he found that no matter how hard he tried to skew the facts to make it look good, his quill refused to write anything but the unvarnished truth—and if that were not bad enough, it wrote the truth about other articles he had written also—but the first he knew of it was when Barnabas summoned him into his office. Kritchner, like Murk, Scandal, and Tyge, often just allowed his Self-Writing Quill write his copy and didn't even bother to proof it.

The editor slammed a hand down on his desk when he saw Kritchner enter. "Care to explain this, Kritchner?" He gestured angrily to the copy he'd been proofing a moment ago.

"What is it, boss? I just wrote that," the reporter told him.

"What is this—a tell all expose?" Cuff snarled.

"Huh? Boss, I don't understand. I just wrote about Fudge's benefit."

"Read it, idiot!" Cuff snarled and pushed the copy over the desk at him.

Puzzled, Kritchner picked it up and his mouth fell open.

For in addition to facts about the benefit the Minister had thrown, the article was interspersed with pithy but true comments about all the important people at the banquet—secrets that the great and powerful purebloods and their families did not wish known—and the ways in which Kritchner had blackmailed them to learn the skeletons in their closet.

"Boss—I—I—don't know how—" stammered Kritchner, his eyes about to fall out of his head.

"You don't? You just admitted to me you wrote this!" thundered Cuff.

"I did . . . but . . . not like that!" whined the reporter, suddenly seeing his job going up in smoke.

"Do you have any idea how much trouble this would have cost me if I printed this?" Cuff snarled. "Imbecile!" Then he bellowed, "Emily, send in Tyge, Scandal, and Murk!"

Once the rest of the quartet was in the office, Barnabas proceeded to rake them over the coals also, for much the same reason he had Kritchner.

"What the bloody hell is wrong with you? You all have uncontrollable foot-in-mouth disease?" the editor cried scathingly. "Or did you drink Veritaserum by mistake?"

He gestured to the other reporters articles, all of which contained the straight unvarnished truth about events and subjects, as well the unscrupulous methods they had used to gain said secrets. "You're damn lucky I read this before sending it to print—or else this paper would be finished!" Barnabas stood up, his eyes shooting lightning. "Snape was right about you four dumbasses! A flobberworm had more brains than you bunch of dimwits! Unbelievable!"

"Boss, it wasn't us!" whined Murk.

"Yeah, it was Snape, the greasy bastard!" howled Kritchner.

"Please, Kritchner, spare me your excuses!" Cuff growled. "You admitted you wrote it and now you want to blame Snape? What do I look like—a fool?"

"Sir, we were had!" stammered Tyge.

"Is that or is it not your handwriting?" Cuff demanded, showing the reporter his article.

"Yeah, but—"

"—then you have nothing to say!" thundered the editor. "The proof is right here in black and white. What game were you playing here? You trying to sabotage my paper?"

"No!"

"I didn't write that!"

"Boss, it was the dungeon bat!"

"The parchment's bewitched!" cried Scandal.

"Really?" Cuff drew his wand and tapped the articles. "Bewitched, my arse! They're clean of any jinxes! And you gormless wonders are out of a job!"

"What?" screeched Kritchner.

"Let me put it a way you can understand—" Cuff leaned over his desk and spat, "You're fired!"

The four slunk out of the office like whipped curs, muttering among themselves about how unfair Cuff was and how it wasn't their fault, but none of them could figure out how Snape had hexed them when they hadn't seen him cast anything while he was in the editor's office.

"Always knew the dungeon bat was a dark wizard!" muttered Kritchner balefully.

"Has to be, Ernie," growled Murk.

"No, I know how he done it!" whimpered Tyge.

"How, Parker?"

"Snape reads minds! Everyone knows that!" cried Tyge.

"You think?" muttered Scandal.

"Bloody snoop!" Kritchner scowled.

They were in such a rush to leave that Tyge dropped his quill on the ground on the way out the door.

A curious Rita Skeeter picked it up and examined it. She recalled Snape flicking his wand that day and suspected he had cast something upon the four stooges. She whispered a prior incantation charm upon the quill. Rita snorted with laughter. "Those jackasses! Damn clever, Snape!"

For the spell revealed the quill bore traces of an unknown truth charm.

"The truth will out," Rita murmured. "Poor fools! Never mess with Snape—or you'll regret it forever!"

A/N: Thank you all for reading and reviewing!

Next: The boys serve their detention with Snape scrubbing the Hogwarts Express, and Harry hears something odd.