AN: Many thanks to Dr Stranger, a wonderful and patient Beta. Thanks to those who follow and favorite this story, and especially my reviewers. You have given me so very much to think on and consider. As such, I'll be rewriting the first five or so chapters when I get the chance. There're things that need to be better. I lose many readers in those chapters. Anyways, thank you for everything.
The rest of the week was fairly uneventful for the increasingly nervous Harry. With the prospect of his entire life being ruled by this one hearing it seemed that his mind had frozen up. He went through the motions of everyday life like talking with his fellow first years and taking notes in class. He remained this way through the week until Friday morning, when the Potion's Master forced Harry to the present.
"So the famous Potter has come to Hogwarts," Professor Snape said with a slightly twisted smile. Malfoy and a few other Slytherins sniggered, but Snape quieted them with a glance. His silent look carried more meaning than a reprimand, This is my class and you will respect me! "I have heard many things about you Potter, but allow me to make thing very clear to you: you may be famous beyond this classroom but in here you are just a student. If you want my respect then prove you deserve it."
His dark eyes never left Harry's. They were a pair of black holes that looked endlessly deep, and Harry realized that if he wanted to stay on Snape's good side he'd have to prove to Snape he was worth teaching. Something felt strange when he looked in Snape's eyes, there was something beneath the cold veneer. Harry blinked, and Snape looked over the rest of the class, "The same goes for all of you. In my class you will earn your grade by proving to me you can handle the work and aren't the usual bunch of blundering buffoons I usually have to teach."
His soft, silky voice was tinged with a bit of disbelief. As if he doubted they could rise to his expectations. Harry found himself wanting to rise to his challenge. He felt fully engaged for the first time in days, and he found himself hanging on to Snape's words about potions. "Many of you will believe potion making is hardly magic. The subtle skill of finding the right ingredients and exact science of brewing them to bring out their magical potential is not for everyone, but those who have the right disposition and mind will find they will learn that potion making is very much an artform among magic users. It requires no brandishing of a wand or foolish incantations. It is in the dancing flame and simmering cauldron that magic happens."
Harry was partnered to Neville for the class assignment of creating a boil curing solution. Snape had left the directions on the blackboard, and though Harry could recall them perfectly it seemed something about Snape made Neville nervous. Harry found out quickly that the more nervous Neville got, the more accident prone he became. Whenever Snape passed by in his billowing black robes, usually with a disparaging remark or a snide comment to whomever was around and not in his house, Neville would get more intimidated. Since Snape seemed to find something wrong with the pair of them he hovered in their area, but said nothing. This meant Harry was able to stop any disasters, but there were a few near misses.
"Whoa Neville!" Harry grabbed a red-faced Neville's wrist. "We add those after we take it off the flame. See that line in the instructions there?" He smiled at Neville's horrified expression. "Don't blame you for missing it, lots of steam in here." Harry let Neville go and extinguished the flames under the cauldron (they were using Neville's today) while Neville made sure he had the right amount of porcupine quills.
Snape seemed to have missed this little scene while he expounded on Malfoy's stewing of horned slugs. With Harry double checking their work and calming Neville with a quiet encouragement whenever Snape drew near; the pair progressed through the fairly simple potion with no mishaps.
Toward the end of the lesson Snape called to the class, "I am going to be coming around to inspect your work. You will wait quietly while I judge whether or not your concoctions are close enough to the actual potion to be recognizable. Let's start with Finnegan and Thomas."
Snape strode purposefully towards Seamus and Dean's cauldron the row behind Harry and Neville. "What is this supposed to be be?" He asked them in a cold voice.
Dean answered hesitantly, "It's the boil curing potion, sir." Snape standing over them had apparently made them both rather nervous.
Snape's dark eyes seemed sparkled maliciously. "You two made a couple of mistakes with this... mess. The flames were far too high and your slugs have been boiled rather than stewed, and you added the quills too late after removing it from the fire. This would likely be a more useful for causing boils and pustules." Both boys fidgeted, and he gave them a disapproving frown, "You both will write a foot long essay explaining what went wrong and how to properly prepare your ingredients. To be handed in next lesson."
If anyone in the class had expected to be spared, they were mistaken. It seemed many Gryiffindirs were given extra homework versus the Slytherins. However even they suffered: Crabbe and Goyle had managed to get essays as well. Malfoy was hailed with having the proper aptitude for going far in the subject. It was then Ron and Hermione's turn.
When Snape peered into their cauldron he seemed to consider it closely. He ladeled up a bit and let it drip back into the rest, testing its consistency. He glanced at the pair, one rather grumpy looking red-head and an anxious burnette who was eagerly awaiting his verdict. Snape seemed to be measuring them up. "Weasley, what is the key ingredient in this potion?"
Ron looked apprehensive, made more pronounced with Hermione's hand in the air beside him and the sniggers coming from Draco Malfoy. "I-I'm not sure sir."
Snape seemed to have been expecting that and rounded on Hermione. "Granger, if I wish for you to answer a question then I will ask you. If I do not direct a question to you then refrain from attempting to answer it." Ron looked less apprehensive when he tried not to look like Snape had said something he agreed with. Harry on the other hand looked slightly upset with Snape's attitude. He watched quietly as Snape continued. "Whatever your personal shortcomings may be this potion has been brewed perfectly. Done precisely as the board stated. I may not appreciate your attitudes but I acknowledge good work. Weasely, I want a summary on the uses of porcupine quills in potions. Granger, heed my words about proper behavior in my class."
So he's a hard-line like McGonnagal and even stricter on behavior, at least for Gryffindors. Harry thought, slightly bitter by the blatant favoritism towards his own students. He watched Snape swish around to Neville's cauldron. As with Ron and Hermione, Snape gave their potion a thorough investigation. Poor Neville looked faint and was breathing very quickly. Harry wished he could help his friend, but before he could act Snape straightened.
He gave Neville a slightly disdainful look before addressing Harry, "Potter, when you stopped Longbottom from adding the quills early you prevented his cauldron from becoming a piece of scrap and the pair of you ending up in the Hospital Wing." His voice was silky, but there was no warmth in it. "Therefore you will not have an extra essay." He turned his coal black eyes on the hyperventilating Gryffindor next to Harry. "You Longbottom will give me an account of how many mistakes you tried to make and what the proper methods for brewing this potion are. Next time you may not have Potter as a partner to prevent you from doing harm to yourself or others." His cold voice was soft as Neville audibly gulped.
The bell rang before Snape could further terrify the frightened Neville. Snape glowered and gave them all homework as they packed up. There were mutinous grumbles as the Gryffindors trooped out of the dungeon classroom. Harry wasn't sure if he liked Professor Snape, but at least he didn't seem to dislike Harry either.
When they and the Slytherins had left Snape closed the door with a snap, then turned to his desk. He hadn't sat all lesson, though he had wanted to. The reason why he had endured half an hour of walking around the classroom suddenly materialized on his chair.
"Well Severus," Albus Dumbledore said with a pleasant tone, "I see that last years complaints of favoritism are being handled. You are doing remarkably well considering how you usually treat Minerva's students."
Snape gave Dumbledore a twisted smile, "I have recently channeled my energies into a new hobby."
Dumbledore gave Snape a searching look. "What is this new past time of yours Severus? Collecting Chocolate Frog cards? Perhaps you have taken up ballroom dancing?" The twinkle in his blue eyes didn't seem quite as friendly as usual.
Snape continued giving his slightly wicked smile. "No, I am afraid I don't eat as many sweets as you headmaster, and I am already capable of waltzing. My hobby is a bit more work than that."
Dumbledore seemed to enjoy the guessing game if you looked on the surface, but his eyes were somehow slightly more focused than one would believe necessary for a simple game. "Gardening then? Pomona would be delighted to give you advice I'm certain."
Snape seemed to consider him. He knew exactly how far he could push Dumbledore. They were meeting in his classroom because there were no portraits or lessons for the rest of the day. Dumbledore wanted to speak of sensitive information, and would not tolerate this much longer. He waved his wand in the direction of the door, casting both an Imperturbable Charm and his own Muffliato spell. He hadn't finishing turning back to face Dumbledore when the older man started speaking.
"One of my hobbies is checking into unusual muggle deaths." Snape froze mid-turn. "I find sometimes that explanations of magical sources can sometimes be found to these sad events." When Snape forced himself to face Dumbledore he saw that there were no traces of good humor now. Dumbledore was not smiling. His eyes were hard, and though he spoke calmly Snape believed Dumbledore knew somehow what he'd done.
He dropped his smile so quickly that it might've never been there. He replied in a voice far less silky than usual, "I see. Then let us be frank Dumbledore." The older man straightened, fixing his intense gaze upon Snape. "I modified the boy's relatives' dispositions. The mother, while bitter and spiteful, was remorseful. As for the child, he was mostly influenced by his father. They will move elsewhere and start over."
"Why did you kill Vernon Dursley?" Dumbledore was looking far from the kindly Headmaster or the stoic Supreme Mugwump or the venerable Chief Warlock. He appeared to be reaching the end of his patience judging from the thinly veiled anger in his voice and the coldness in his expression. Snape merely looked back into the face of the most dangerous wizard alive, but chose his words carefully.
"You are the one who gives second chances." Snape was talking very quietly now, "I have tried to be a better person ever since, since she died," Snape swallowed the lump of pain that arose whenever he spoke of Lily Evans, "but this was a direct insult to her and her legacy." Snape added with a bit more emotion, "As well as every wizard and witch who was saved by the fall of the Dark Lord!" He paused to calm himself before continuing, "He led the family in cruelty and neglect. Starving a helpless child? Beating him? For what Dumbledore? Because the boy couldn't control his magic? Because he had magic at all?" He gave Dumbledore a very hard look, much like he had received earlier, "This is why I put the command that if he could not accept his nephew's magic he would drive off a bridge."
Dumbledore contemplated him as the Supreme Mugwump might a prisoner pleading parole. Snape's arguments had found purchase, and he knew it. It was why he had used the modification potions and compulsion charms on the great oaf in the first place. He knew the only way to justify the death of Vernon Dursley to Albus Dumbledore was to play by a variant of Dumbledore's rules. By giving Vernon Dursley the ability to change before the command to either accept his nephew or kill himself he had thought he would be largely blameless in Dumbledore's eyes. A risky gamble with a dangerous gambling partner.
Dumbledore gave Snape a pointed look, still undecided. Snape dared say no more. Finally, Dumbledore spoke, "If I were to use the same procedure on you with Sirius Black or Remus Lupin right after the incident that almost killed you, would you be alive now?"
Snape didn't answer. Grudges ran deep in him. He gave Dumbledore no outward sign of reply. He could've been made of stone he had gone so still. Dumbledore let the silence stretch again, but as he received no response the older wizard continued, "If I had given you the option to live if you saved James Potter's life when Voldemort came for him and his family to destroy their child, knowing you'd rather cause the death of the man rather than prevent it, would you be alive or in a grave by James and Lily?" Snape flinched, a spasm of pain twisting his features at the mention of his one love's fate. Dumbledore paid no heed to his grief, pressing him, "Do you believe yourself a god, Severus Snape? Able to decide which qualities are worthy of death? These are the actions of a Death Eater; the embodiment of everything Lily despised."
Snape swore as he reached for his wand. "How dare you!" He snarled viciously as he pointed his wand at Dumbledore. His eyes were popping, veins pulsing visibly in his neck as he faced down the older wizard. Dumbledore had his own wand in hand, but Snape ignored this and tried to curse Dumbledore, only to find himself disarmed and immobile. He stood, trapped in place by the Freezing Charm. His black eyes burned into Dumbledore, who calmly caught the flying wand as it neared him, then holding it as a fencer would his dagger.
"You have always had a nasty temper Severus," he chided. Snape continued to glare as Dumbledore surveyed him. "I will release you, but you will explain yourself."
Instantly Snape felt the spell lift, but he didn't move. When he responded his answer filled with bitter savageness, "You ask if I believe myself God, yet I would ask you the same thing. You, who hide behind your duties until your pieces are in line to swoop in, the glorified savior?" Dumbledore looked as though Snape had slapped him. Snape built momentum off the stunned look on Dumbledore's face, "I may be a man who makes hard choices, Albus, but at least I make them when I must! I came to you in my darkest hour of need, when I had nowhere to turn. I chose to betray my friends, my master, my beliefs! And what price did I pay for your help, headmaster? I gave up my freedom!" Snape was working up to a rage, his pent up emotions finally breaking loose after over a decade of repression. "You had me turn on those whom I had once trusted, who trusted me. I gave you information on the Dark Lord and how did you repay me? By breaking your word to me! By allowing her to die!"
Dumbledore looked ready to object at this claim, but Snape was too far gone in his emotions to pause long enough to let him. "After that, I was ready to die, to join her in death. You insisted I could help her still by living. That I could do what she died attempting. You told me we were going to honor her last wish by protecting her son. Her last legacy. I agreed. I spent ten years doing all I could to overcome my hatred of the boy's father. Challenged my every belief. Worked to become more like you. I stopped working Dark Magic. I stopped allowing people to suffer needlessly if it was within my power to do so. And what is the first thing I discover about the boy we both agreed to help and protect Dumbledore?"
Dumbledore didn't answer. "That he spent the same decade in suffering! He spent that time being abused physically as well as emotionally stunted and neglected! Had I been a man of lesser intuition I'd go so far as to say you were trying to keep him down to control him with your kindness when he arrived! That you used those relatives to keep him downtrodden and compliant so you could be the awe inspiring hero he always dreamed of. No doubt you'd have moulded him into a tool to defeat the Dark Lord should he reawaken to his full strength. You probably even had his death planned out to the epic final confrontation!"
Snape threw back his head in mirthless laughter. The laughter died when he saw the stiffness in Dumbledore's posture. His eyes widened in shock. "It's true!? You planned to use the boy, manipulate him with your promises of kindness and talk of compassion while leading him to his death? Never explaining, never training him, just letting him go off his own bravery and cunning? You planned to do enough to bend him to your way of thinking and nothing more, other than a standard education?"
He regarded Dumbledore with disgust and disdain. "I do regret a life lost, but I have never let a man die that I couldn't save with every skill I possess! Can you say the same?" He snarled at Dumbledore with his lip curling. "I grow tired of your double standards. It is time I do things as I believe I must. I won't be your opposite, treating the boy horribly so you can expound on the importance of forgiveness. I won't be your scapegoat to teach him to hate the Dark Arts. I will act in what I think is in the boy's best interests from now on."
Dumbledore stood and faced Snape, who did not flinch now. He had known that his gamble had a price if he lost, but Dumbledore gambling the last thing in this world he couldn't replace would be nigh unforgivable. Dumbledore's expression was unreadable. "I see what you have done Severus." There was a note of understanding in his voice that momentarily surprised Snape. "I see it clearer than you might at this time. You spared their lives, only if they could do what they had chosen not to. I see the repercussions to both yourself and the wider world." He sighed heavily, "I will not say Vernon Dursley is a great loss. I believe the world a better place without his irrational hatred." Dumbledore started to pace behind the desk, breaking eye contact. He seemed to have made up his mind about whatever he had been thinking of, and now seemed to be thinking of the best way to continue. "I know what you have gone through, are going through, because I have gone through it myself."
Snape looked absolutely stunned. Before he could recover Dumbledore stopped pacing and continued in a very quiet voice, "When I was seventeen and fresh out of Hogwarts I received a letter that changed my life. It was a notification of my mother's death. I rushed back to my family home. I decided to take up the mantle of head of house. Before long, though, I began to feel shackled to my responsibilities. I yearned for a freedom from my worries and burden. I researched everything concerning death and resurrection I could before I hit a wall. This left me two options. The first, and most sensible, consisted of shouldering my duty and accepting my mother's fate. The second was to look into the Dark Arts for a way to restore my family so I could be the bright star I had been at Hogwarts once more. Can you guess which I chose?"
Snape didn't answer. "I delved deeply into Necromancy, searched through ancient tomes and volumes that I ordered anonymously. I spent a lot of time, effort, and gold in the pursuit. Soon though, I became distracted. There were rituals in one book, Dark Rites that could increase the invoker's strength, reflexes, life span, mental acuity, even one's magical power."
The black eyes staring at Dumbledore widened in recognition. Dumbledore nodded darkly, "I see you understand the implication. I needed two things in these rituals I could not get easily. Human blood and organs. I didn't kill anyone," Dumbledore clarified with a measure of defensiveness. "My wade through the Dark Arts did not snuff out my conscience completely. I resorted to stealing from the nearby Muggle hospital. They keep blood and organs so that Muggle doctors can replace failing organs and lost blood. After gaining the benefits of these rituals I found myself craving more. My mind was sharper, in greater focus than ever before. My body flowed with magic that felt greater than I had ever dreamed. My agility and fortitude were such I felt I could duel every Auror in the Ministry with no break between. And I wanted more."
Dumbledore was speaking so softly now that Snape was straining to hear this confession from a man believed to be pure as the fresh fallen snow. "I sank deeper, fell faster into the darkness. Then, a something happened. Something that made the me believe I was following the right path. It is not widely known that Gellert Grindelwald is related to Bathilda Bagshot, a neighbor of my deceased mother. He was the same age as I, so when dear old Bathilda introduced us I had no idea who he was or what he was capable of doing. His ideas entranced me. A world where we wizards would rule over the inferior Muggles and bring them to heel. Our power was to be the right by which we ruled."
Dumbledore gave a deep sigh, suddenly appearing as old as he truly was. Snape could feel the sorrow and remorse in the old man before him. He dare not speak, not do more than breathe as he heard Dumbledore's sordid affairs finally given light. "We spent an entire summer scheming evil plots and dreaming of domination and supremacy. I never told Grindelwald of my rituals. They were mine and only mine to keep. I was able to give him ideas, indeed his banner 'For The Greater Good' was my first contribution. I suggested that if he were to explain that Wizarding Rule wasn't about our exploiting our power, but rather our promoting the greater good of all then many who might oppose us might instead flock to our cause. We decided to rule the Muggles for their own good."
Dumbledore's smile now was rueful. He seemed so uncharacteristically human to Snape at that moment. "We hit the proverbial wall when my younger brother confronted us. He was shouting about how we couldn't go galavanting off on a crusade against Muggles with our younger sister in the state she was in. I scoffed but before I could explain Grindelwald had hit him with the Torture Curse."
He paused at Snaped muted gasp, looking at his face gravely. "Yes, my dear friend used the Cruciatus Curse on my own brother. Something in me snapped back into place. I drew my wand, forcing Grindelwald to relinquish his curse and face me. We dueled, back and forth we went with bangs and flashes and shouts filling my home. They alerted my sister, who came running in to the room. She tried to help my brother, but somehow a stray curse hit my sister. Grindelwald fled when I turned to help my fallen family. The damage had been done though, my brother lay twitching upon the floor. My sister - my poor, sweet, innocent sister - had died."
Tears ran down the lined face and into the long white beard now. "It was my fault Severus, all my fault. I was supposed to be the keeper of her and my brother. She was in poor health most of her short life, and in my obsession with power I had neglected to care for her properly. She lost her tentative grip when the spell struck her. I was devastated, as was my relationship with Aberforth. We had no contact while I arranged her funeral. Her death was attributed to her poor health. People were sympathetic, feeling I had tried to take on too much. I knew the truth, and so did my brother. Aberforth - in the greatest throes of grief - struck me at the funeral."
Dumbledore slumped slightly and continued,"After, when everyone had left, we had a real fight for the first and last time. He yelled things as we rowed, horrible truths I had been ignoring in my bid for greater power. His simple views were stronger in their purity than any one of my half-hearted reasonings. He screamed at me about how disgusted our parents would be with me. I heard his arguments, his words tearing at me like wounding blows. When he left me there in our empty house, that home I had shattered, I stared at my reflection. I saw the brightness in my eyes, the slightly paler skin I had gotten from doing so much studying during the days as well as an effect of those rituals I had foolishly performed. I saw a man who could rule the world and make it in his own image. A man who had broken laws, stolen from fellow human beings and used it to strengthen himself. A man who was about to become the next Dark Lord." Dumbledore paused, but his voice grew in volume and strength, "I shattered the mirror with my fist. I broke that image, and decided to use my stolen gifts for bettering the world. I took my brother's words, so profoundly unapologetic, and made them my new creed. I wanted to be a part of this world; a world I would not rule, but would live in while working towards true peace without ever trying to take a position of power. I returned to Hogwarts. First to study as a scholar, then to teach. I figured that sharing my knowledge and insight would help repair my damaged soul. I never made a bid for power, even after I bested Grindelwald and most of Britain as well as Western Europe clamored for me to take the top job. I knew that I had found my place in the quiet educating of the next generation."
Dumbledore's deep voice was at its normal volume now, his eyes burning with a bright inner fire, "My weakness Severus, is power. The pursuit of it, the possession of it, and the wielding of it made me crave more. My desire to be the greatest, cleverest, and most powerful wizard is my worst aspect. It is also what allows me to make the statement: I understand your situation. I know what you are feeling, what you're going through. I know because I have gone through the same thing. However, you are not as cowardly as I was." He added to the flabbergasted Potions Master, who blinked slowly once. He gathered his wits quickly.
"Why have you told me this Albus? Why now?" Snape's slightly widened eyes were still full of shock, but also measures of curiosity and a touch of disbelief. Dumbledore smiled at him.
"To show you Severus that I am at heart a man who has made mistakes. A man who has confronted his own weaknesses. A man humbled enough now to admit those mistakes. Do you know why I never sacked you after Voldemort (Snape let out a faint hiss, but didn't interrupt) fell?"
Snape stared at Dumbledore evenly and with no trace of guilt, "Because as your pet Death Eater I still was of value to you."
Dumbledore shook his head slowly. "I kept you because I felt a kinship with you. We both suffered losses early in life, we both saw the error too late, and we both turned from the darker path. I wanted to help you save yourself. I wanted to help redeem you. In doing so, maybe helping redeem myself as well."
"Know this though Severus," Dumbledore warned the man across from him. Snape looked as though he had recovered a bit from Dumbledore's proclamations, but his countenance changed to a look of apprehension. The air grew thick in the dungeon classroom, and a small bead of perspiration ran down Snape's face, "I will not tolerate any more death. If you will do things your way so be it, but this year I will be making changes." The pressure lifted quite suddenly, and Snape took an involuntary deep breath.
Dumbledore strode towards the door, pausing when he was beside Snape to say, "No more favoritism or cruelty. I will be watching you Severus, lest we both need to make more hard choices."
Saturday morning Harry woke early. He lay in his warm, comfortable four poster bed for a moment as he thought of the repercussions of what was to come. Harry knew that whatever happened at the Ministry in a few hours would decide how his whole future played out. It was starting to bother him. He lay there, wondering why they had to make a spectacle of him. His frustrations mounted higher like the sun rising outside the dormitory window. By six o'clock he couldn't handle the pit of twisted anxiety and irritation that only deepened even as he went about his morning routine.
Fifteen minutes later he was crossing the common room in his school robes and a pair of shoes he'd magically restored with a charm. They were still worn, but were very clean and the nicest he had. He really should pick up muggle clothes, he knew he looked pretty ragged in Dudley's cast offs. Feeling self-conscious on top of his other worries only made him more ready for this whole thing to be over with. By half past he was nervously munching some toast. He had barely been sitting for five minutes at the Gryffindor table when a soft whoosh and a light pressure on his shoulder heralded the arrival of Hedwig.
"Hullo girl," he murmured to her, reaching up to stroke her feathers. She nipped his finger affectionately before giving him an inquisitive stare with her amber eyes. "I'm just feeling a little pressure about this hearing. There's so much that I have no say in. It reminds of the Dursley's. I lived with them before we met, Hedwig," He told her in reply. Her eyes seemed to soften and she gave a quiet hoot in response. "Yeah, the ones who were treating me like a piece of garbage. I hope that whatever happens I end up somewhere better than that." Hedwig gave him a reproachful look and spread her wings wide in a gesture that plainly said, What about me? "Thanks Hedwig, I'm glad you're here for me." He smiled at the owl, who blinked benignly back As she folded her wings in again.
"Blimey Harry, I've never seen an owl do that. She must be incredibly smart." Harry and Hedwig turned their heads in unison to see Neville on the opposite side of the table. He looked drowsy and awed at the same time. Harry thought the combination made the round faced boy look slightly like he had been struck on the head and was marveling at the color of the sky or something.
Hedwig preened herself, apparently basking in Neville's praise. Harry asked the first thing on his mind as Neville sat down, still eyeing Hedwig with interest. "What are you doing up so early?"
Neville yawned wide before answering, "Gran wanted to take me somewhere this morning. Wouldn't tell me where though." Harry looked slightly confused at this pronouncement. Madame Longbottom was going to be petitioning at his hearing, so why would...
And it came to him: Neville was her ward. She was bringing him along to the hearing this morning. He looked over at the Hufflepuff table. Sure enough, he saw the long red hair of Susan Bones braided down her back. He shufted his eyes to the Slytherin table. There was the pale, pointed face and white blonde hair of Draco Malfoy. Harry could've kicked himself for not expecting this. Of course the children of the prospective guardians would be present!
Something of his emotions must've shown on his face, because he heard Neville's concerned voice ask tentatively, "Harry are you feeling all right? You look a bit off."
Harry returned his attention to Neville. Neville, who may be something of a brother in a couple hours time. He asked him slowly, trying not to let his frustrations get the better of him, "How much did you hear when I was talking to Hedwig?"
Taken by surprise, Neville answered slightly nervously, "Only that you were glad she was there for you. Why? Is something wrong? Can I help you Harry?"
Harry saw that even though Neville looked and sounded as though he were incredibly anxious that he honestly didn't hear and really did want to help. Some of the anger dimmed by the gratitude he felt rush through him at Neville's offer, Harry decided to tell his friend. He explained about the hearing and his feelings of frustration with his lack of involvement in the whole affair.
"The worst bit though," Harry said, winding down, "is that I don't know any of these people but they think they know me because of something that happened when I was a baby! I mean come on, we both know that I grew up with Muggles for the last ten years. How could they expect to know anything about me?"
Neville sat silent for a moment. His friendly round face was sympathetic. "Harry, I know it's not fair, and that would make me pretty mad too."
Talking about it had made Harry feel a bit better. Hedwig was still on his shoulder, and gave it a reassuring squeeze before heading off to the Owlery for a spot of rest now he had someone to talk to. The two Gryffindors watched her until she vanished. Neville then said something that Harry hadn't expected, "I am guessing Gran and I are going to your hearing, right Harry?"
Harry nodded, wondering where Neville was headed with this. "I want you to know Harry that whatever happens I'm glad you're my friend. If Gran ends up looking after both of us, well, I'd be happy to have you in my family." He was quite pink and stammered a bit, but Harry felt touched nonetheless.
"Thanks Neville," he said quietly, "and no matter I'll still be your friend. This won't change that."