A/N:This story is set in Harry's fifth year and begins at their first Potions lesson after the holidays. It will contain very absurd and unrealistic ideas plus heavy anachronism. If you think any of the things mentioned is spoiling the books for you, don't read it. You have been warned. ^.~ PLEASE review and tell me what you think about it.
Disclaimer: The Harry Potter verse belongs to JKR the Great One. Only minor characters are my own invention (some house-elves for example), as well as the Cambius Potion and the Ayrin. Inspiration for this story comes from: Michael Ende's Die Unendliche Geschichte; Cassandra Claire's Draco Sinister; Riley's Pawn to Queen; Firecross's An Exercise In Cruelty and Morrighan's The Long Road To Damascus.
Many thanks to my wonderful beta-readers Miranda Vine and Denise for removing all my mistakes!
Beyond the Shadow of the Night
"What did he say? Was it two spoons of cobra venom and seven spoons of Aconite essence, or two spoons of Aconite essence and seven spoons of cobra venom?" Harry asked Ron in a whisper while stirring his Cooling Potion and keeping an eye on Snape, who had turned his back on them and was helping Draco Malfoy. It was their first day at school after the holidays and, of course, Snape would never take any consideration for his students whose heads were nearly empty of anything Potions related after a two months long holiday. Harry was careful not to let Snape notice that he hadn't paid attention. If Snape found out, it would be a full ten points off Gryffindor -- if Snape was having a merciful day, that is. There was no limit to anything above that, and Harry didn't want to give Snape the satisfaction of having an excuse for taking points off Gryffindor.
Ron thought hard for a moment, his brow furrowed. "I think … he might have said two spoons of Aconite essence and seven spoons of cobra venom …" he finally said.
Harry shot him a doubtful look. "I really hope you're right. If we get that thing wrong …" He indicated the potion. "I really don't want to think about it. Shame Hermione's not here."
Hermione was in the hospital wing due to a nasty bout of flu and wouldn't come out before the end of the week. So they had to do without her, whether they wanted to or not. And they already missed her dearly since they didn't have anyone next to them who would help them with the complicated potion they were brewing for the lesson. The Cooling Potion was supposed to lower a too-high temperature a few degrees. And at the beginning of the lesson Snape had particularly emphasized that messing-up the potion could be highly dangerous, perhaps even causing an explosion. So Harry was a bit worried, especially because one usually couldn't count on Ron's attention in class, particularly not in Snape's. But he didn't want to attract Snape's attention by asking someone in the row in front of them, and asking Snape was definitely out of the question.
So Harry drew a deep breath and added two spoons of Aconite essence and finally seven spoons of cobra venom. That was a big mistake. Cobra venom was a highly potent substance and more than three times as much of it as was actually needed was definitely too much. The potion bubbled dangerously and Harry had only enough time to leap under his desk before it exploded. With a bang, the contents of his potion splashed in all directions. For a few minutes there was absolute chaos as everyone screamed. Harry opened his eyes under the table and saw huge puddles of his potion seeping across the floor, while dozens of feet ran in the direction of the washbasin, their owners apparently trying to get rid of the potion splashes. God, his potion must have drenched the whole class! That meant that everyone who had come into contact with it would suffer from an undercooling for the rest of the day.
Snape, in the meantime, was trying to restore calm. "SILENCE!" he shouted over the noise. "Sit down! All of you! Now!"
Harry dared to emerge from under his table, and looking around himself, his heart nearly stopped. The classroom was a mess. His potion seemed to have had a huge explosive force: it had torn his cauldron to a thousand pieces and spread its contents all over the classroom. The potion was even dripping from the ceiling. Nearly everyone, apart from himself, had been splashed by it and some had been hit by sharp pieces of metal from his cauldron. He buried his head in his hands. What punishment he would get for this he didn't yet want to consider.
"It won't be life-threatening if you have been splashed by the potion," Snape snarled, still occupied with silencing the screams of panic. Neville whimpered. He had been working right in front of Harry and had got a full load of Cooling Potion as it exploded. Now he was lying on the floor, shivering badly with cold.
"Someone take Longbottom to the hospital wing," Snape spat in Neville's direction.
"Sir! I'm bleeding, Sir!" Malfoy proclaimed loudly in a pained voice, indicating a hardly visible scratch upon his cheek.
"Malfoy, hospital wing too," Snape said idly.
Dean Thomas helped the shivering Neville to his feet and out of the door while Malfoy strutted past Harry, shooting him a gloating look.
Slowly, Snape turned around and approached Harry's desk. Harry noticed that Snape was bleeding too: a sharp piece of metal had cut him right across the face. The look he gave Harry made him wish he could crawl under the table again.
"So," Snape said in a dangerously soft voice, coming to a halt in front of the pitiful remains of what had once been Harry's cauldron. "That's it then. You've finally gone too far. It's not enough that you want to draw everyone's attention to yourself by breaking school rules as a habit and acting like a hero. No, now you even deliberately cause mayhem and hurt your fellow students, putting them in considerable danger just to satisfy this delusional desire of yours to always be the centre of attention. We shall see the headmaster about that." There was a mad glint in Snape's eyes that made Harry shudder.
"Class dismissed," he snapped at the rest of the students who were now all shivering due to the Cooling Potion. "And as I don't have any antidote to the Cooling Potion at hand, you will have to bear the effects of it for the rest of the day. They will gradually subside and should be gone by tomorrow. For the inconvenience you've got Potter to thank."
A general grumble and glares in Harry's direction followed that announcement. Slowly, the rest of the class shuffled out of the room, leaving a very nervous Harry alone with Snape.
"So, Potter, follow me," said Snape, and he looked almost triumphant. He led the way out the door and up the corridor, Harry trotting miserably in his wake. No doubt Snape would try to get him expelled again and Harry didn't see why Dumbledore would protect him. He had put his classmates into danger after all. Everyone apart from him was suffering from undercooling, and two students had even ended up in the hospital wing. Even though there hadn't been any need at all for Malfoy to go there, that didn't change the facts. And how many warnings had Harry already gotten from Dumbledore? How many times had Dumbledore already said that he would get expelled if he broke the rules one more time, and how he had only escaped expulsion before by lucky circumstances? Even Dumbledore's patience would wear out one day. It didn't matter if Harry had intended to cause mayhem (as Snape would say, of course) or not, he had still acted negligently. His stomach twisted at the thought of being sent back to the Dursleys, and he had hardly any hope left that he would escape that fate this time.
Severus was already exulting inwardly. This time he would get Potter! He could already see the headline in the Daily Prophet: "Famous Harry Potter Suffering Expulsion From Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft and Wizardry". He smirked. That would serve the arrogant snot right! That would pull him down from his high horse. Never mind if today's mayhem was intended or not, Potter had gotten away with far too much already. And this would finally be the chance to get rid of him, once and for all.
They arrived at the stone gargoyle that guarded the entrance to Dumbledore's office.
"Raspberry drops," Snape said idly. Nothing happened. He swore badly under his breath. Of course... Dumbledore would have changed the password for the new school term. Now the wretched guessing game about which sweet Dumbledore had used as a password this year would start again.
"Sherbet Lemon... Chocolate Frog... mustard tart..." Out of the corner of his eye, Snape saw Harry trying but failing to suppress a snicker. He felt incredibly foolish standing there in front of the headmaster's office, not having a clue about the password and trying the most ridiculous names without the slightest success. And all that in front of Potter, of all people.
Suddenly the door slid open, revealing Dumbledore himself. "Severus," he said in mild surprise, letting his eyes wander from Snape to Harry. "What has the young Potter done wrong now?" There was the slightest trace of amusement in his voice.
"Headmaster, I need to speak to you about a most severe matter," Severus replied.
"Shall we go into my office then?" suggested Dumbledore with a smile, and he gestured for them to follow him up the stairs. Severus shot Harry a nasty look and preceded him up the spiral staircase.
Once in his circular office, Dumbledore motioned for Harry and Severus to sit down in two comfortable looking chairs, while he himself perched on the armchair behind his desk.
"Hot chocolate anyone?" he asked, looking from Harry to Severus.
Harry shook his head mutely, and Severus answered rather stiffly: "No, thanks." He wanted to get the whole meeting over with as soon as possible.
"I hope you don't mind if I have some?" Dumbledore asked, smiling.
And with a swift movement of his wand, Dumbledore conjured up a steaming mug of hot chocolate onto his desk.
"Ahh..." he said after having taken a sip. "Nothing is better. You should really try that chocolate one day."
Severus mentally rolled his eyes. How could the man think about hot chocolate when there was a pressing matter to discuss? They weren't there for a hen party, after all. But such behaviour was typical of Dumbledore.
Severus cleared his throat. "If we could proceed to our issue now..."
"Certainly," said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling. "What is the problem?"
"Professor, in an act of pure insolence, quite violent in nature, this boy has put his classmates into considerable danger by blowing up his Cooling Potion. He deliberately caused mayhem in my class which has resulted in many of my students suffering severe undercooling for the whole of the day --- apart from himself, of course--- as well as several injuries due to sharp pieces of his blasted cauldron. As a fact, two students were hurt so badly that they had to be sent to the hospital wing. Not to mention the mess he created in my classroom---"
Harry couldn't take it anymore. Not only did Snape make him out to be some sort of criminal, he also twisted the facts as he liked. Back in class he had said that the undercooling wouldn't be harmful, and now it was suddenly 'severe'. And as for two students having been hurt badly, that was a downright lie. Admittedly, Neville might have been worse off than the others, but Malfoy had put on a damn show and Snape knew it.
"This is not true! I didn't do it on purp---" Harry blurted out, but Snape cut him off.
"Silence! It is not your turn to speak," Snape said angrily. He addressed the headmaster again.
"Surely acts of this nature require nothing short of expulsion from school. This boy seems mentally unstable to me and shouldn't have further contact with his fellow students --- for both their and his own protection..."
Harry gaped at him open-mouthed. This was unbelievable! If Snape went on like that, he would earn him a lifetime in St. Mungo's.
"Thank you for this accurate report and assessment, Severus," Dumbledore finally interrupted. "But I think you overrate the situation a bit. We should at least listen to what Harry has to say to this."
He turned to look at Harry, his face gentle and without a trace of anger or disappointment.
"Professor Dumbledore, th-this is not true!" Harry stuttered. " I didn't do it on purpose. I-I simply got the ingredients wrong I think. And then the potion exploded. I couldn't do anything about it. The potion had such force that it blasted my cauldron apart and splashed the whole class. But it was an accident! You must believe me..."
Harry held his breath. There was a tight knot of fear in his stomach. What would Dumbledore decide?
Dumbledore looked sternly at him with his blue gaze. "Undoubtedly you have acted negligently. And I advise you to pay more attention in your next class..."
Snape looked furious. "But headmaster---"
"No guilt can be proven, Severus." He eyed him sternly. Then he added to Harry: "You won't be expelled, of course. But I should think that a punishment is appropriate. You will clean up the mess you have created --- without magic."
A huge wave of relief swept over Harry. "Thanks, Professor Dumbledore."
Dumbledore's lips twitched into a smile. "Off you go. And I hope you won't blow up another potion in the near future."
Severus was seething with anger. Dumbledore had thwarted him again. He had the feeling that every time that little bastard Potter got away with a prank, his hate for him seemed to increase --- if that were possible. Potter was playing them all up and they didn't even seem to notice. How extraordinarily like his father he was! The resemblance was almost ridiculous! Not only physically, but in his whole manner --- all the arrogance and conceit of the young Potter were just an imitation of his father's. James, like his son, had thought he was above the rest of the world and that he could have anything. They both made a habit of breaking rules, and even getting rewards for it, leaving other people to pay instead. Well, he --- Severus--- had three full years left to get Potter Jr. thrown out of school yet. It was still early.
"Get a move on. I want my classroom clean before dinner," he snapped at Harry who was strolling in his wake. "And don't think I'll let you go before you have removed every last drop of your confounded potion! In!" he spat, flinging open the door to the Potions dungeon. "For every spot I still see when you've finished, it'll be ten points from Gryffindor. And I'm warning you --- if you so much as touch anything with magic, you will be very sorry indeed. I'll be watching you closely."
Harry stood helpless in the middle of the room, not knowing where to start. The dungeon looked like a battlefield. If he were to clean it without any magic, it would take ages. But he didn't dare try and cheat Snape -- he would find out anyway. With a sigh, Harry started clearing away the largest pieces of his destroyed cauldron. He'd need a new one, and during the next Hogsmeade visit he'd have to look for one. Nothing could dampen his joy about not being expelled, however. He was so relieved he couldn't help grinning broadly as he cleaned the floor.
Severus, in the meantime, had collected some exams from his office and had settled behind his desk to mark them, every now and then shooting a glance at Harry who was now sweeping the floor and wearing an insolent grin. New anger surged up inside him. Go on, Potter, laugh! He thought. One day I'll get you!
"Next time you won't get away this easily, I can promise you that," he said, eyes narrowed. "Dumbledore might still consider you the innocent child who is always the victim of inconvenient accidents, but you can't fool me. And one day even Albus Dumbledore will see through you."
Harry, it seemed, had chosen to ignore him.
"Well, it is not surprising that you turned out to be the way you are," Severus sneered. "Your father seems to have passed on his most outstanding qualities to you. He was not a jot better than you are. He had the same arrogant, conceited attitude that made him think he could take liberties and do anything. Like father, like son, Potter. This attitude of yours will get you into very deep trouble one day, mark my words."
"I am NOT arrogant and neither was my father," Harry replied defiantly, his face flushed. "It is just that he was successful and you weren't. You've been jealous of him ever since you knew him. You couldn't bear that someone outshone you that way when you were probably nothing but an average student. That's why you hate him, isn't it?"
Harry had hit a sore point. Severus's face had turned a nasty brick colour. What made him furious was not the accusation Harry had just made, but the fact that it was true. What first had been only jealousy and dislike because of James's successes had turned into pure hatred when James had paired off with Lily – Lily, who had been Severus's girlfriend in their school-time, and who had left him because of malicious intrigue. Sirius Black had tried --- and succeeded --- in luring her away from him. Severus had loved Lily more than anyone else in his life – he still did --- and he would never forgive Sirius or James for what they had done to him. Naturally, he hated Harry, who was a vivid reminder of his unpleasant past. Every time Severus had to bear the sight of him in Potions class -- a second version of the late Potter with Lily's eyes, which was a contradiction in itself -- it sometimes drove him near madness. Every look at him reminded Severus of what had happened between him and Lily, and especially between Lily and James -- and that was what he so desperately wanted to forget.
"Still thinking of your father as the hero, aren't you?" Severus said in almost a whisper. "I could tell you some unpleasant things about him."
"I don't believe you. Not one word of what you say is true!"
Snape scribbled a big zero upon the next exam without even looking at it. "To each his own. I suggest you leave now. I won't waste my time with you just because you are so slow," Severus spat.
Harry hurried out of the dungeon, glad that he had been let off so quickly, leaving a brooding Snape staring after him. One thing had been confirmed yet again: there had never been anything Severus had hated more than James and Harry Potter.