9

Unexpected Discovery

"Say what?" Ron exclaimed loudly, nearly choking upon the treacle fudge he was eating. "There was a break-in at Gringotts?" His eyes were practically falling from his head as he spoke those words.

"How terrible!" Hermione cried. "Was anyone hurt?"

"Yeah, the robbers," Harry told her.

"Did they get arrested?" the girl asked. "Did you get to see the police—I think they're called Aurors, right?—in action?"

"Umm . . .no." Harry began.

"Hermione, if there's a breach of security at Gringotts, the goblins handle it," Ron interrupted. "And I've heard they take no prisoners." He made a slashing motion across his throat.

Hermione looked alarmed. But then she regained her composure. "Ron, come on. You're just putting me on. Surely they wouldn't just . . . kill a thief. Without a trial?"

"You don't know the goblins, girl. Bloodthirsty and hard as iron and they hate anyone who steals their gold . . . or anyone else's." Ron stated. "Right, Harry?"

Hermione turned to look at her other friend. To her shock, Harry nodded.

"Yes, that's true. Professor Snape even said so. And after it was over, and Magnus came back, he told me that the thieves were gone from this earth and you know what that means."

"Yup. Ears and finger stew for dinner at his house tonight." Ron remarked, with a wicked smirk.

"Ron, that's sick!"

"But probably true," the other shrugged. "Goblins believe that eating the flesh of their enemies gives them power over them. At least that's what my brother Bill told me, and he should know, he works with them. He's a Cursebreaker."

"That sounds like a cool job," Harry said, still trying to figure what the mysterious package was that Snape had retrieved for Dumbledore. What could the Headmaster have put in the bank vault if noy money?

"I wonder what the thieves were after? Harry, do you know?" asked Hermione.

"Money? Jewels?" he said. "They were snitching things from people in the lobby."

But Hermione frowned. "They could've done that outside the bank. Pickpockets work best in crowds. Why risk getting caught inside the bank? They must have been after something else."

Ron gave her an astonished glance. "When did you get to be an expert on criminals, Hermione? Is there something you're not telling us?"

The girl rolled her eyes. "Actually, Ron, there is. I'm really the daughter of an underworld crime boss and my daddy wants me to learn magic so I can help him in his illegal activities."

"Merlin, Hermione! You aren't going to?"

Harry burst out laughing. "Ron, you idiot! You really believed that?"

Ron went red as he suddenly realized how foolish he had been. "Well . . . you never know, Harry. She's smart enough to be a criminal mastermind."

Hermione didn't know whether to be pleased or insulted by that statement. She continued the original thread of her discussion. "There must have been something in Gringotts that they wanted badly. Enough to risk death for it."

"Yes, I think so too," Harry added. Did he dare to reveal Snape's mission to his friends? "Maybe it's some kind of magical artifact or something? Something very powerful or expensive?"

"That makes sense," Hermione agreed. "Did they try to break into a vault?"

"I think so. There was more than one of them. We saw two pinching stuff off people in the lobby, but I think there were more trying to steal from a vault too."

By then several other students had overheard their conversation and word quickly spread about the break-in. Most students were rather shocked that anyone could be stupid enough to try and rob Gringotts.

"It's like, nearly impossible to rob the bank. Goblin security is the best ever," Percy boasted.

"I'll bet the stupid saps learned the error of their ways soon enough," said Angelina Johnson. "Goblins show no mercy to those who break their laws."

There were murmurs of agreement from almost every witch and wizard present in the common room.

While the others were busy discussing the robbery. Harry dragged his friends into a semi-private alcove and whispered, "There's something I haven't told you yet. But before I do, I need you to swear you'll never tell about this, not for love or money."

"What is it? You can trust us, mate."

"Promise first." Harry insisted.

Both of them did.

"Good. Listen." He told about Snape retrieving a mysterious package for the Headmaster and sending it away with Skull before the robbery escalated. "It has to be something really important, other wise he wouldn't risk Skull like that."

"What could it be? A book?" Hermione wondered.

"Books belong in a library, Hermione." Ron said dismissively.

"What if they're too powerful to just stick in a library?" Harry argued. "What if they've got knowledge that could mean life or death for some people?"

"Like what?"

"I don't know, Ron. Honestly, do you think I know everything?' she said, exasperated.

"No, but you sure do act like it sometimes."

Hermione glared at him. "What else did you want to tell us, Harry?"

Harry hesitated, then took a deep breath. "Errr . . .Professor Snape's my guardian now."

Ron gasped and started coughing so badly that Hermione pounded him on the back. "Are you bleeding cracked?"

"How did it happen?" Hermione wanted to know.

Harry told them. "Soon everybody will know, but right now I want to keep it a secret."

"Yeah, I don't blame you. Better watch out, mate. You might end up as potion ingredients if you make Snape mad."

Hermione shot the redhead a look of irritation. "Well, if Harry's happy about it, then so am I." She said quietly. "I wonder what sort of magical object was removed from there? How big was the package, Harry?"

"Uh, only about this big," he held out his hands to show a smallish package.

Hermione nibbled the end of her quill thoughtfully. Harry could practically see the wheels turning in her head.

They went down to supper in the hall, where Harry ate quickly, he was still trying to guess what was in the package. Afterwards, they returned to the tower, where people were still talking about the Gringotts attempted break-in. Harry began to play a game of Wizard Chess with Ron, but kept getting distracted by his friend asking questions.

Ron was still going on about Snape. "Mate, are you sure you trust the greasy cauldron stirrer?"

"Yes, Ron. He saved my life twice and he gave me his word that nothing would ever hurt me ever again. My relatives, they don't care at all about me. They'll be happy I'm not going to be living with them any more." Then he recalled the other thing he had gone to Gringotts for. "Oh, I almost forgot! Here, Hermione. Here's my contribution to the library fund." He pulled out a large sack of Galleons and Sickles and handed it to the witch.

Hermione's eyes went wide. "Oh, Harry! This is . . . it's very generous of you. Are you sure you can afford it?"

"Yes. My parents left me enough money to live on," Harry answered, knowing he was now well off. "The library needs to be restored, and if gold is what it takes, then you've got it."

"Madam Pince is going to be overjoyed." Hermione said excitedly, tucking the bag into her satchel. "I'm going to bring it to her straight away and then I have to do some homework."

"Right. What time is it?" asked Harry, glancing down at his pocket, where the watch used to be.

"Nearly eight, why?" asked Ron. "It's too early to go to sleep. How about we finish the game?"

But Harry shook his head. "Can't. Maybe later though. I've got to get to the dungeons."

"Why? Snape leave you some cauldrons to scrub as a welcome home present?" Ron asked sarcastically.

"No, but he wants to show me something. A surprise."

"Like what? A shrunken kobold head? Last year's dead bat?"

"Knock it off!" Harry snapped. "He's been good to me, Ron. So stop being an ass, okay?"

Ron looked at his friend incredulously. "You really mean that, don't you?"

"Yes. Now keep your mouth off him." Harry rose to his feet and slung his bag over his shoulder. "See you later."

Ron just nodded dumbly. Things had certainly changed from the beginning of term. His mind still reeling from the fact that Snape was Harry's guardian, Ron pulled out a Quidditch magazine and began to read.

Hermione and Harry left the common room together, but soon parted ways, Harry to go down to the dungeons, and Hermione to deliver Harry's donation to Madam Pince.

Hermione practically skipped up the corridor. She could picture the library, restored to it's former glory, with shiny new wood paneling and brand new shelves and lights and all the books neatly labeled and categorized and comfortable chairs and study carrels.

While Hermione had visions of a book lover's paradise dancing in her head, Harry made his way to Snape's quarters, one hand stuck in the pocket of his robe, where his watch used to rest. He often played with it, rolling it back and forth between his fingers, and he hadn't realized how much it had become a habit until it was no longer there.

Harry bit his lip unhappily. He prayed Snape wouldn't bring up the watch any time soon. Harry didn't want to have to admit he had been so careless with the precious heirloom, and wished he knew where to begin looking for it. Then he recalled Skullduggery's penchant for shiny objects, and wondered if the raven might know where it was . . . or perhaps had picked it up if it had fallen out of his pocket? But Harry was certain he had put it in his locker the day of the Quidditch match. Still, it couldn't hurt to ask the sharp-eyed bird about it. In private.

Thankfully, the trip down to the dungeons was uneventful, and he paused beside Snape's door and knocked softly. "Professor, it's me, Harry."

"Enter, Mr. Potter," came the silky voice.

The door swung open and Harry stepped inside. The door swung to, but managed to catch a fold of Harry's school robe. Harry was jerked to a stop and turned to look at what had dragged him backwards. "Oh. Caught my robe," he muttered, opening the door and pulling the fabric inside. He started to shut the door, only to catch a glimpse of Malfoy and his friends standing a few feet away.

Malfoy's eyes widened, then he smirked. "In trouble again, Potty? Better watch it, get too many detentions and the professor will use the paddle to hammer some discipline into your sorry arse."

"Bite me, Malfoy," Harry growled, then shut the door in the other boy's face. Malfoy must really think I'm stupid, to fall for that. Paddle, right! This isn't reform school. He turned about to see Severus sitting calmly on a silvery-gray plush sofa, sipping a cup of tea.

The Potions Master was not wearing his usual severe black attire, but was instead in a pair of comfortable black trousers and a green sleeved shirt which was open at the collar. The stone floor was covered in a thick rug with geometrical patterns woven into it in various colors. A fire crackled cheerily upon the hearth and upon the mantle, a mahogany clock with brass hands struck the hour. The fireplace was flanked by huge bookshelves with glass doors, crammed full of volumes on the right hand side and the other had many vials of potions, as well a statue of a midnight stallion with a crescent moon on his brow rearing. The statue looked extremely lifelike, and Harry gazed at it, half expecting it to burst from the cabinet , pawing and snorting into reality.

Harry's gaze fell next upon the low table in front of the couch, which was carved of fine cherrywood, it resembled a Chinese tea table, and had a tea set resting upon it, a fine silver service, with a serpent-handled tea pot and a sugar bowl and creamer with a fancy crest upon it of a coiled snake with a crown upon it. The cups matched, and so did the spoons. Steam rose from the teapot and coiled in the air.

Curious, Harry approached and picked up a spoon before he could think better of it, examining the crest.

"Another family heirloom," Severus informed his ward. "My mother was a Prince, of a very old family, descended from House Ambrosius, which was Merlin's family, and the House of Pendragon. The crest represents the wise serpent, the keeper of secrets and magic. The crown represents royalty, since the founding mother of the Prince line was Guinevere's and Arthur's daughter, Gwyneth Pendragon."

Harry sat down at Snape's invitation next to him, still holding the spoon. "So you're like royalty?"

"Once, but no more. The Prince line has deteriorated since those days, but long ago we were considered the blue bloods of the wizarding world. " Severus said dryly.

"But wasn't Arthur King of Britain? I thought he didn't have any kids."

"He was, and he didn't have a legitimate male heir, only a daughter, who abdicated her right to rule when she married the son of Merlin, a young man named Mathonwy, or Math for short. It was a match that was not planned by either of their parents, but once the two bound themselves together, it was impossible to break."

"Math? Like Math in the Welsh legends, the great wizard?" Harry clarified.

"The same. Much of Muggle legend and myths has its basis in fact in our world." Severus clarified. He pointed to the inscription beneath the crest upon the teapot. "Tendo quod disco. To strive and to learn. Thus runs the motto of my House. To my ancestors, nothing was so important as knowledge—of magic, of human nature, they were scholars and rulers, and once revered as masters of truth and wisdom. It is a motto I try and live up to. Tea?"

"What kind is it?"

"Oolong," answered Snape, pouring some in a cup for his ward.

Harry took it and stirred in some sugar. He took a sip and found it very tasty. "It's good."

"I have always enjoyed it." His professor said. He reached for a long green leather bound album lying on his opposite side. "You mentioned once before that you wished you had more pictures of your mother. I recently recalled having this, tucked away in a box in a trunk." He handed it to Harry.

Harry opened it, and saw that it was full of pictures of Lily. Lily as a child, swinging through the air, her face shining with laughter. Lily with her arm about a skinny dark-haired waif that Harry recognized as Severus. Another of Lily sitting among a field of flowers, the tip of her finger glowing with ambient magical energy.

Some were of Lily in her school uniform, grinning into the camera. There were several of Lily and Severus together, studying, brewing potions. Some of the pictures moved, and waved, others were ordinary photos.

Harry stared at them hungrily, trying desperately to assimilate the mother he barely recalled into his memories. His finger traced her profile, observing how her hair wasn't really a bright red, but a deep fire-touched auburn, like the last glowing embers of a banked fire. And her eyes—they were so alive, so full of joy, so brilliantly green—they made him smile and at the same time brought a sheen of tears to his eyes. He blinked them away and said reverently, "Thank you, Uncle Severus. It's . . .I can't even begin to tell you how much I . . . just to see her like this . . ."

"I am glad you like it. There are many memories here for me, and often looking at these pictures has reminded me of a time when I was young and happy. Most of my good memories, both at school and at home, come from your mother. Lily was very . . . special to me," Severus said quietly. She had been the love of his life, but he knew he couldn't tell her son that. Not yet. He was too young to understand the depth of Severus' feelings for Lily, and how it had shaped the Potions Master.

"Was this . . . my surprise?"

"Part of it." Severus answered. "The other . . . as your new guardian, it is my duty to provide you with a decent home, a place that you can feel safe and secure. So I have decided to craft a room for you. You may assist me by picking out furniture and fabrics and that sort of thing. You could sleep here on the holidays and some weekends if you chose, as I often stay at school over break to brew for the next term." And also because he disliked spending the entire holiday alone, though he would have rather been drawn and quartered than admit that to anyone. "Would that be acceptable to you, Harry?"

"My own room?" Harry repeated, somewhat dazedly. "I . . . never had a room of my own. Dudley had two rooms, but I only had the cupboard."

Severus' mouth tightened. "Your relatives were imbeciles, please do not class me with them. Everyone deserves a room of one's own. I value my privacy highly, as I'm sure you do yours. If you would like, we can shop for some things next weekend, I should be free then."

"That would be great. Thanks, Uncle Severus." Harry gave him a smile that lit up his whole face, and reminded Snape more than a little of Lily.

"Good." The Potions Master tapped his chin thoughtfully. "There was something else I wished to tell you . . . ah, yes. Madam Pomfrey wishes you to come to the Hospital Wing tomorrow morning so she can give you a few vaccinations. It seems you have missed getting inoculated against some wizarding illnesses, such as dragon pox. So be at the infirmary at eight o'clock tomorrow morning."

Harry made a face. "I hate shots. Do I really need them?"

Severus eyed his charge sternly. "Do I really need to answer that question?"

"No. But . . ."

"If you behave, I'll give you a lolly after," teased Snape.

Harry flushed. Now Snape thought he was a big baby, whining over a few shots. "Fine, sir. I'll be there."

Severus frowned. "Is there a reason you dislike vaccinations so much?"

"No doctor I ever had could give them without hurting me a lot." Harry admitted. "And I always seemed to get sick or develop some kind of rash whenever I got one."

"Hmm. It could be that your magic reacted badly to Muggle vaccines. Sometimes a child can be overly sensitive to certain things. But these are magical vaccines, Harry, and Madam Pomfrey knows how to administer them with a minimum of pain. However, if it would make you feel better, I can accompany you."

"You think I'm a wimp, don't you?" Harry accused suddenly.

"Fears ought to be faced," Severus answered.

"I'll be fine," Harry said, declining the offer.

Snape nodded, but secretly decided he would be in the infirmary anyway, just in case.

"Where's Skull?" Harry changed the subject, only then realizing the raven was not around.

"He is off flying about somewhere. He does not usually remain in my quarters all evening, and is free to come and go as he chooses." Severus told him.

"Oh. Will he be back soon?"

"I am not sure. Why?"

"No reason. I just like talking to him, that's all." Harry hedged.

The clock chimed nine o'clock.

"It's getting late and I assume you have homework to do?" Severus arched an eyebrow at Harry.

"Yes, I have some Charms homework to finish. And some History of Magic."

"Why don't you get started on them?"

So Harry pulled out his books from his bag and started, though he really wanted to go and search for Skullduggery. By the time he was done, he was yawning and sleepy, and ready for bed.

"Go to bed, Harry," Severus said, shaking him awake, he had dozed off over his quill.

Harry blinked and quickly put away his quill and notebooks. Then he walked towards the door, pausing before he left. "Uncle Severus, are you going to tell people that you're my guardian?"

To his surprise, Severus nodded. "Yes. We have no reason to hide it."

"All right," Harry mumbled, rubbing his eyes.

"Take the album, Harry. It's a poor substitute for her, but it's the best I can do," Severus told him, handing Harry the precious object.

Harry cradled it close and thanked Snape again. He bid goodnight to Severus, then walked out the door.

He was just in time to see Malfoy ducking around the corner. Harry froze, wondering if the Slytherin was planning an ambush. Spying little ferret! But he made himself walk down the corridor as if nothing were the matter. After all, Malfoy was forbidden to hex him.

Draco watched Harry leave, his fists clenched. Unknown to either Harry or Severus, Draco had overheard the last part of their conversation, since Harry had the door partially opened as he had been speaking. Malfoy had been lurking in the corridor, unable to resist taunting Potter about his detention. What he had heard almost caused him to have a coronary. Snape was Potter's guardian! The Head of Slytherin was a Gryffindor's guardian! The idea was so ludicrous that if he hadn't heard it with his own ears, Malfoy would never have believed it.

Jealousy and anger surged up within the blond wizard. Bloody Potter now had the whole staff favoring him! Draco had counted upon Snape not doing so, having been told by his father than Snape had hated Harry's father when they were in school, and would be sure not to give James Potter's son any breaks. That had been true in the beginning, but ever since Halloween something had changed between his Head of House and the Boy Who Lived. Draco hadn't known what to think of Snape's change of heart . . . until now. Now it all made perfect sense.

Suddenly Draco hated Harry more than ever. It wasn't enough that he was famous, that he was Dumbledore's Golden Boy, a Glorious Gryffindor, no, now he had to subvert the Head of Slytherin as well! Snape was Malfoy's Head of House, his concern ought to be with his snakes, not bloody Potter! He had no right to care about Potter. Potter was the enemy. Potter deserved to be humiliated.

Malfoy's hand closed about the pocket watch he had stolen from Harry's locker the day of the Quidditch match. He popped open the catch and glared at the smiling fiery-haired woman within. It must be Potter's mother. He remembered Lucius mentioning that she had red hair and green eyes. Eyes like her son's. Draco spat on the picture. Filthy Mudblood!

Then he threw the watch to the ground and stepped on it.

Stamp! Stamp! Stamp!

Until the face was cracked and the picture scuffed, the watch case bent and broken.

It gave him great satisfaction to destroy something that Potter valued so highly.

Draco kicked the broken watch with his foot, sending it skittering across the corridor. It bounced against the wall and then slid several feet down the hall, propelled by the force of Malfoy's jealous rage.

Two things occurred then.

Skullduggery appeared overhead, flying in from the library with a message for Severus from Madam Pince, the letter attached by a special scroll case to his leg. The noise and motion of the watch scraping across the floor drew his eye and the raven, ever curious and unable to resist shiny objects, plummeted down and snatched the watch up in his talons.

"A shiny thing!" Skullduggery crowed in delight.

Harry was almost to the dungeon stairs when he caught sight of the raven, and had turned about to call to the black bird when he heard an odd sound and then saw Skull diving and picking up something that twinkled and glistened in the light of the magical lamps. "Skull! Hey! What did you find?"

The raven circled, letting out a squawk of surprise. "Good evening, bran-boy!" he called. His beady eyes alight with delight at his new acquisition, and unable to resist showing off, the raven flew in front of Harry, the watch dangling from his feet. "See? Spied a shiny thing upon the floor. Mine now! Pretty!"

Harry gasped. Skullduggery had found his watch! "Hey, that's my watch!" he exclaimed, reaching for it. "Where did you find it?" He cupped the watch in his hand.

Skull landed upon Harry's arm. "Yours?"

"Yes. I lost it and have been looking all over for it." Harry told the raven. "Thank you for finding it . . ." He trailed off as he examined the watch.

To his horror, he saw it was ruined, broken and smashed, its face marred by a great crack and Lily's picture was torn and wrinkled. It was battered and bent and no longer appeared to be running.

"No! No!" Harry moaned, feeling as if someone had reached into his chest and torn out his heart. His watch . . . Severus' gift to him . . . the first gift he had ever received with his mother's picture in it . . . was destroyed. He clutched the broken watch to his chest, unable to comprehend how it had occurred, or even why it had occurred. Surely the watch itself was valuable, why would the thief destroy it? This was even worse than the watch being stolen. Then at least he had hope of recovering it. Now, looking up the wreckage of silver and crystal, he felt a deep sense of loss. It was almost, though not quite, like losing his mother all over again.

Unbidden, tears rose to his eyes and splattered down upon the shell of the timepiece.

Skullduggery made a soft sound in his throat. "Harry? Don't cry."

"I'm not," Harry said softly, trying to deny the tears that kept falling.

Further down the corridor, Malfoy watched in satisfaction. Good! He had made Potter so upset that he was crying. Like a blubbering baby! This was better than delivering the watch to Potter anonymously by owl post. The damned raven had actually done him a favor. Flush with his victory, Draco sauntered over to his rival, unable to resist commenting upon the other's loss of composure.

"Something wrong, Potter?"

Harry jerked up swiftly, and made as if to wipe his face. The watch clattered to the ground. "Mind your own business, Malfoy." He bent to retrieve the broken watch.

But Malfoy's hand closed over it first. "Lose something, Potter?" He lifted the watch from the floor. "What a piece of rubbish!"

"Give me that!" Harry shouted, yanking the watch out of Malfoy's grasp.

Their eyes met.

Harry gazed into Draco's gray eyes, eyes that were glittering with triumph and a sort of savage satisfaction. Malfoy's eyes were full of jealousy . . .jealousy and a cold calculation, almost as if Malfoy had planned this . . .Harry's intuition woke then, and all of sudden all the pieces of the puzzle came together.

"You!" He howled. "You did this! You stole my watch and smashed it, you bloody smug bastard!"

He saw the truth in Draco's smug gaze, in the curl of the sneer upon the aristocratic lips, and knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Slytherin was responsible for the theft and the destruction of the heirloom.

Skullduggery hissed in anger and soared off of Harry's wrist just as the furious Gryffindor drew it back, fist clenched, intending to pound Malfoy's face into the floor just the way Draco had the pocket watch.

A/N: So sorry for keeping all of my loyal readers waiting so long, but I had thought to finish Season of Warmth sooner, as well as my gift for a friend, a new HP fic called Harry Potter and the Unspeakable. That and various illnesses and extra long days at work have kept me from updating this. Feel free to read and review them if you'd like. But now with prior commitments out of the way, I can return to this universe.

I know, another evil cliffy! But I'm not going to apologize, since this story just seems to lend itself to them!

Who will win, Draco or Harry? Or will someone else come along and break them up?