"Ron, you´re not being helpful!" Harry shot his friend a glare, which would have made half of the first yeears faint and – had he seen it – made Dumbledore file Harry´s name as a substitute teacher for the case Snape ever went on sick leave. On Ron, whatsoever, it had no effect. The redhead continued babbling about yesterday´s Quidditch training.
Harry sighed and tried to concentrate on his task of writing his Charms homework, which needed to be finished in half an hour, with his right hand while shoveling breakfast into his mouth with his left. A part of his brain registered Hermione coming to his aid pointing out to Ron that Harry had been there and had seen all the spectacular moves he was describing in loving detail.
Harry continued writing feverishly, pausing not even when the post owls arrived. He didn´t expect mail. To his great surprise a letter was dropped into his lap. Harry looked up, but couldn´t tell with the crowd of fluttering birds, which of them had caried his letter. Having a letter delivered by an owl dropping it was uncommon. Attaching it to the bird´s leg was much safer and therefore prefered most of the time.
Turning his attention back to his homework, Harry gave the matter no more thought. He had no time to linger, not even to read the letter now. Absentmindedly he stuffed it into his pocket and continued his work on slow motion charms.
The ink on his essay had barely dried when professor Flitwick collected the parchment with a flick of his wand.
Now they had studied the theory of the matter, the professor announced, they were ready to practice slow motion charms. He released a swarm of fat flies and ordered the class to slow them down.
"Slow down, not freeze," the tiny wizard piped. "You will find that it is more difficult to take away only part of the momentum. You have an hour to practice."
Harry needed only two attempts to make the charm work perfectly. He smiled. Mastering a charm without much effort was a nice change. Spellcasting hadn´t always come to him easily, but his skills had improved considerably over the past year.
As he knew that Flitwick didn´t mind his older students doing some other work when they had finished the lesson´s assignment, Harry took his letter out of his pocket.
It was a piece of high quality parchment. Its bright white colour alone gave away its value. The letter was sealed with white wax, on the front Harry´s name was written in black ink. The handwriting was unknown to Harry, though the elegant loops indicated the writer was used to the quill.
Curious, Harry broke the seal and unfolded the parchment. His heart missed a beat when he read the first lines. He put the letter into his bag as if in a trance and reassumed practicing slow motion charms.
The lesson passed in annoying slowlyness. As did transfiguration and lunch. Devination, which was boring every time, crawled along in absurd tediousness. Professor Trelawney interspersed the lesson with predictions of Harry´s early death, uttering warnings every five minutes.
"Beware of an angelic face," she said in a hushed voice, glaring at Harry with large eyes.
Ron stiffled a fit of laughter and Harry feared the redhead was going to suffocate.
A little later, Harry was informed that "help waited in hidden corners" and, when he was finally on his way to the trapdoor, that "barking dogs won´t bite."
"What a lesson," sighed Ron. "She was even worse than usual."
Harry nodded absentmindedly.
"You don´t let her get to you, do you?" Ron asked, concerned.
"Who?" asked Hermione, who joined them at that very moment. "Trelawney again? I told you, you´d better choose Runes."
Ron snorted. "Runes? No, thank you. Not for me. Harry´s going to be killed by an angel!"
"Having fun, Granger?"
Draco smirked at them as they arrived in front of the potions class room.
"Enjoy yourself as long as you can. Soon enough the fun will end for all mudbloods and those who fraternize with them." He shot vicious glances at Hermione, Ron and Harry in turn.
"You evil, little . . ." Harry was in no mood to take Malfoy´s babbling. Without thinking he drew his wand.
"Now, now. No fighting in the corridors. Ten points from Gryffindor and you´ll stay behind after the lesson to arrange your detention, Potter."
This had been easier than anticipated.
Harry waited by Snape's desk as the class filed out of the dungeon.
The potions master spoke as soon as the door had closed on the last student.
"I have things of more importance to attend. You´ll help Mr. Filch clean . . ."
"With all due respect, Sir," Harry interrupted him. "I think you´d better take a look at this." He thrust his letter in Snape´s hand.
"What´s his supposed to be, Potter? I´ve no intention of reading your fan mail." Snape dropped the parchment without a second glance.
"Read it, imbecile." Harry had no time for this game.
Snape gasped for breath. "Two hundred . . ." he started to scream, but something in Harry´s face stopped him. He sat back down and reluctantly took the parchment.
Harry hadn´t thought it possible, but Snape paled after reading the first sentence. He turned the parchment as if looking for a signature.
"I have your cat." The teacher whispered, repeating the first sentence of the letter.
"I thought," said Harry, "you might recognize the handwriting."
"What?" Snape started.
"The handwriting," Harry repeated urgently. "You know all the students´ handwriting." He pointed at the stack of essays on Snape´s desk. "It has to be from a student. Whoever wrote this, they think that Mystery´s mine. They must have seen me take him to the Great Hall when you were . . . on business."
"It could be Malfoy´s," he said after a short contemplation.
"That fits," mused Harry. "Malfoy hates me and he got in trouble because of me and Mystery the other evening."
"The little . . ." Snape hissed and got up.
"Professor!" Harry cried, "read the rest!"
Snape did as he was told.
"What!" he was back up in an instant.
Harry sighed. "Give it here." He grabbed the letter from Snape and started to read it out.
"I have your cat If you want to see your little pet alive, you´ll follow my instructions to the letter. Meet me at six this evening by the beech tree down by the lake. Don´t bring your wand or friends."
He looked at his teacher, who burried his face in his hands.
"We have less than an hour to come up with something."
"What can we come up with? You can´t meet Malfoy – if it is him – wandless. It´s only a cat after all." The despair in the potions master´s voice belied his words.
"I can, if I have backup."
"You aren´t to bring your friends."
Harry blushed. "I wasn´t thinking of a friend exactly."
Snape blinked. "My presence will not liekely be appreciated either."
"He can´t see you."
"Can´t see me? Are you thinking of a disillusionment charm? I´m not good at those, sorry."
"Actually," Harry grinned, "I was thinking of lending you this."
He opened his bag.
Half an hour later Harry was walking down to the lake. He felt naked without his wand, but taking it with him was too risky, so he´d left it on Snape´s desk.
He watched out for Malfoy when he approached the beech tree. The dawning evening hid whoever waited for him there. Harry prepared to wait. As the evening was quite chilly, he hoped that Malfoy´d hurry to get over with the whole thing.
Draco Malfoy stood beside the tree, keeping it between himself and the castle to shield him form curious eyes.
A quickly mumured ´Lumos´ lit Malfoy´s wand. He stepped a bit nearer.
Harry´s heart dropped when he recognized Mystery´s limp form in Malfoy´s hand.
"I´ve come. Now give me my cat."
"I don´t think so," snarled the other boy. "I think I´ll keep it to remind me that it was I, who gave famous Harry Potter to the Dark Lord."
"What are you talking about?" Harry backed away a step.
"He is talking about," said Lucius Malfoy as he stepped into the small circle of light emanating from his son´s wand, "the little journey we´re about to make, Potter."
For a moment Harry thought he´d faint. This was no schoolboy prank. This was a deatheater attack. Slowly he managed to refocus on the two blonds in front of him.
"I´m not going anywhere."
"Oh, you are, Potter," Lucius laughed. "The Dark Lord will praise the name of Malfoy above any other. Funny, isn´t it, that The-Boy-Who-Lived, the wizarding world´s saviour, will trip over a kitten."
"You won´t be enough to force me to go anywhere. Now give me my cat!"
"Not enough?" It was Draco´s turn to laugh. "Why, father! You should have brought an army. After all, it´s Harry Potter, even if he´s wandless."
Lucius joined his son´s laughter until he bellowed: "Enough now! Come here, Potter!"
Harry leaped at Draco the same moment as Lucius Malfoy was hit by a stunner from behind Harry.
Draco lost his wand at the impact and the two boys went down in a ball of hitting fists and kicking feet. After a short while Harry saw the red light of another stunning spell and Draco went flabby. Strong hands helped him disentangle from the other boy and get up.
"Sorry," said Snape, "I didn´t get a clear shot for a while. Are you hurt?"
"Nothing severe," answered Harry, "some bruises."
"We´ll take care of those in my office. We need to be gone when they come around."
Harry nodded and was just about to start walking back to the castle, when Snape held him back.
"We must not be seen. Will we fit both under your cloak?"
"I guess so."
"You take Mystery," Snape ordered and slid the cloak over them.
"Potter!" Snape stopped after a couple of meters. "That´s the second time you stepped on my foot!"
"Be more careful, Potter!"
"I´ll try, Sir!"
"Ouch!" – They´d walked only some steps, when Snape stopped again.
"We need to advance more systematically. Put your arm around my waist."
Harry obliged hesitantly. He started when Snape put his arm around his shoulder.
"Left foot first, Mr. Potter."
They advanced slowly, but without further problems.
"Give him here," the potions master said urgently as soon as they had reached his office.
Harry handed the unconscious cat over to his teacher.
"What did he do to him?" Harry asked curiously. "Can´t you just enervate him?"
"No," murmured Snape and continued examining the cat. "If he´s been given a potion, he may need an antidote."
"But I used an ´enervate´ on him when you fed him sleeping draught."
"Sleeping draught is a rather harmless potion," explained Snape. He interrupted his investigations for a moment. "If Draco is a deatheater, he may have access to very dark material. He hates you, Potter. You´ll have to be very careful around him."
"Yes, Sir. But he can´t have planned this. He didn´t know beforehand that Mystery´d escape. You should think of something to keep him in your rooms, by the way."
Snape´s eyes narrowed for a moment, but then he relaxed. "You´re right." He picked the cat up and sniffed at its nose. "Sleeping draught," he confirmed and pointed his wand at the little beast.
Mystery stretched luxuriously and purred at the sight of his owner.
Snape observed his every movement,then started to scratch the cat´s ears. The kitten moved in on the touch and rubbed its head against the wizard´s hand.
"He´s unhurt," stated Snape with unhidden relief. "What about you?"
He reluctantly let go of the cat and set his gaze on Harry.
"Only some minor bruises," said the boy.
"You don´t expect me to buy this, do you? Not after we walked so closely under that cloak of yours. You were limping."
"He may have hit my ankle. It hurts a bit." Harry confessed.
"Let me see it." Snape´s voice made it clear he´d stand for no contradiction.
Harry sat on the edge of the desk and pulled up the leg of his jeans. He started at the sight of his swollen ankle even before he had removed his sock. It hadn´t hurt that badly to prepare him for the sight of his ankle being double its normal size.
Snape hadn´t expected the injury to be that bad either for he backed away before moving closer to help Harry remove his sock.
"That´s bad," he murmured. "Sit on the chair. I´ll get you a salve." He helped Harry to his chair and disappeared to his private lab from where he returned shortly later with a jar.
"In an hour you´ll be as good as new," he promised.
"We´d better inform the headmaster," said Harry.
They´d moved to the fireplace after Snape had applied the salve to Harry´s ankle, because the warmth would speed up the healing process.
The potions master stopped his teacup halfway up to his mouth. "And confess that we´ve been keeping secrets from him for months?"
"You´re right. We can´t." Harry wondered when exactly he and his most feared teacher had become a ´we´.
"You´ll have to warn Weasley. Draco will assume it was him under your cloak."
"Do you think that Draco´ll believe that Ron can knock out his father?"
"You´re right. Lucius is very powerful. Weasley may not be capable of stunning him. How good is he at stunning?"
"He´s not useless, but Hermione´s better."
"So Draco may assume it was her. Anyway, you´ll have to warn them both. Draco mustn´t learn who was actually there." Snape took a sip of his tea.
"We can´t blow your cover," Harry agreed. "Volde. . . You-Know-Who mustn´t learn you saved me from being turned over to him. Thank you, by the way."
They ate for a while in silence. Snape had had sandwiches delivered to his office as Harry´d miss supper in the Great Hall due to his ankle.
"I think it´s OK now," Harry broke the silence after a while.
Snape started and averted his eyes from the cat curled in his lap. "Try, whether you can put weight on it."
Harry got up and walked some steps.
"It doesn´t hurt."
"Perfect." Snape smiled. "You´d better go up to Gryffidnor tower then."
"Yes, Sir. Thank you." Harry walked to the door.
Snape took the cat in the craddle of his arm and followed Harry. "It is I who has to thank you. You seem to be Mystery´s guardian angel."
Harry didn´t know what to say and there was a short silence.
"Professor," he said just before opening the door, "for the records, what did you make me do today?"
Snape looked puzzled.
"Detention," Harry grinned.
"Yes, I see. Hmmmm. First I made you skin shrivelfigs, but you sneaked off to meet Malfoy. When I caught you on your way back I was furious and used you as a guinea pig for some of my concoctions. You were very scared and I enjoyed that fact very much."
Harry snickered. "Malfoy´ll like that. When he didn´t catch me, he at least caused me trouble with you."
Snape smirked. "I thought so."
"Well, thanks for making me sample your concoctions," Harry pointed at the teapot. "Keep an eye on your little fugitive."
Snape inclined his head just an inch.
Harry set out for Gryffindor tower, slowly first, but soon he was running. He needed to talk to Ron and Hermione.
END OF THE STORY.