A/N: I'm so sorry for the lateness in updating but RL has really freaked out on me! There are only a couple of chapters to go! I hope you all like this chapter and I hope it was worth the wait :-)
Chapter 20 - Revelations
Harry floated on a sea of contentment around the Castle for the rest of the weekend, he had so much joy inside him it was beginning to ooze from his pores. He spent much of Sunday playing gobstones and exploding snap outside in the glorious May sunshine with Teddy and Draco but couldn't bring himself to return to the common room with them to complete his History of Magic or Astronomy essays, it was too nice a day and Harry didn't want to be cooped up. He assured his friends that his essays were well in hand and bid them goodbye as they returned to the Castle, occasionally casting him wary glances over their shoulders. Harry shrugged them off and set off at a steady walk around the grounds breathing in the warm fresh air and enjoying the feel of the sun upon his face.
Harry's step faltered a little when he saw a small group of upper-year Ravenclaws walking towards him, suddenly feeling vulnerable being outside on his own so far from the Castle. He looked around quickly and to his great dismay realised there were no other Slytherins around. Harry took a deep breath and ploughed on, refusing to give in to fear and let the other students know how much they unsettled him. They were about ten feet away when they spoke and Harry stopped dead in his tracks, watching with horror as the four students spread out to block his path.
"Well, well, if it isn't little Prince Potter, out for a walk all on his lonesome." One boy sniggered maliciously.
Harry gulped past the lump that had formed in his throat and glanced around quickly in the hope that help would arrive but he couldn't see anyone he recognised nearby.
"There's no-one to protect you now Potter." Another boy jeered.
"What do you want?" Harry replied as forcefully as he could.
"Payback for all those detentions, Potter!"
The four boys moved towards him slowly, like hunters stalking their prey.
"Oi! Back off Davies!" A loud shout came from behind Harry and he whirled around to find the Weasley twins hurrying towards him with their wands drawn. He had never been so relieved to see Gryffindors in his life! Harry gave them a grateful smile and drew his own wand before turning to face the Ravenclaws with a red-head at either side of him.
"Sod off Weasleys, this has got nothing to do with you."
"And here we were, thinking Ravenclaws were actually smart!" One of the twins said to the other.
"You're right George, I guess the hat gets it wrong sometimes." Fred grinned.
"What the hell are two going on about?" One of the Ravenclaws asked irritably.
"All those detentions not enough for you to realise-"
"You can't touch him and get away with it-"
Fred and George had started finishing each other's sentences and it was quite amusing watching the Ravenclaws confused faces trying to keep up with the conversation.
"Besides, Harry here's-"
"A friend of ours."
Harry smiled despite himself, he had only spent a few hours with them at Christmas and said hello when they passed each other in the halls but even so, the twins considered him as a friend.
"Gryffindors don't make friends with Slytherins." Davies spat, but eyed the boys warily.
"That was then,"
"This is now."
The Ravenclaws looked at each other uneasily, clearly unsure as to how to proceed. It was Davies who eventually spoke for the group.
"Fine. We'll let you go this time Potter, but this isn't over."
Davies stomped away, closely followed by the rest of his gang and Harry breathed a deep sigh of relief.
"Thanks guys, you saved my life!" Harry said.
"No problem little snake." Fred replied, clapping Harry lightly on the back.
The twins insisted on accompanying Harry back up to the Castle, talking animatedly about pranks they had pulled and complimented Harry on his horns prank.
"So little snake, what other prank potions do you have?"
"Oh come on Harry, you can tell us-"
"We just helped you out-"
"And we can teach you-"
"Some cool spells too."
Harry hesitated for a moment, before coming to the conclusion that he really did owe them, and learning new spells could be cool too.
"Well, I've got a potion that makes you have a squeaky voice, and one that turns your skin purple!"
"Cool! Have you tried them on anyone yet?"
"No, not yet."
"We could prank the Ravenclaws-"
"Teach them a lesson-"
"For messing with you."
Harry was reluctant, he didn't want his Dad mad at him, but on the other hand, it would be good to get back at the Ravens.
"Maybe..." Harry shrugged.
"I have an idea!" one of the red-heads exclaimed, Harry thought it was George but he couldn't be sure.
"Listen, we sneak into the Ravens common room, put loads of glasses on a table and a sign saying 'good luck in your exams' and fill the glasses with the potion. They all go to bed at 11 so we can go then!"
"Nice one Fred!"
Harry had been wrong about which one was Fred and which was George, he mused to himself as he contemplated the outrageous idea Fred had come up with.
"We'd be out after curfew, and how do you get into their common room anyway? Don't you need a password like ours?" Harry asked, though he did like the sound of the prank.
"Nah, they're so arrogant about their supposed intelligence-"
"The portrait asks a question and-"
"You have to answer it to get in."
"They think nobody else has any-"
"Brains in this school."
"Oh." It was all Harry could think to say at that startling revelation.
"We'll get the glasses from the kitchens-"
"Harry supplies the potion-"
"We make the banner-"
"Then sneak in and-"
"Come with us to the kitchens Harry, a little lad like you needs to know how to get extra food when you need it-"
"Yeah, ready for your growth spurt-"
"And I bet Snape doesn't let you have many sweets either."
Harry balked at the accusation against his Dad and felt the overwhelming urge to set them straight.
"Actually, I do get sweets, he bought me chocolate frogs at Christmas, and he took me to the ice cream parlour in Diagon Alley."
"Wow, really? Well, anyway-"
"Still might be handy-"
"If you know where the kitchens are."
"So are you coming or not?"
Harry decided to go with them, there was no harm in knowing where the kitchens were after all. He was also rather excited about the prank they were going to pull, being out after curfew and sneaking around the Castle – like a covert ops team on a secret mission!
Harry walked along the corridor with the Weasley twins carrying a bundle of cakes given to him by the house-elves in the kitchens and realised that if he tried to eat any more he would be sick. He decided he would share them with his housemates later.
"So, what time do we meet up? And where?" Harry asked, still excited about their upcoming revenge prank on the Ravens.
"Erm, Harry... we've been thinking-"
"Maybe it would be better if you didn't come tonight-"
"Not because we don't want you there little snake-"
"It's just that we don't want you getting into trouble-"
"With Snape, and he always seems to know-"
"When one of his snakes are out after hours."
Harry looked stricken for a few moments before the reality of what he had been thinking of doing sank in and he realised the twins were right. Snape always found out and he dreaded to think what the man would do if – no when – he found out Harry had been out after curfew. Harry shuddered at the thought then turned back to the twins concerned expressions.
"Alright, but you have to tell me everything tomorrow, ok?"
"Sure thing Harry."
"No problem little snake."
Severus was not impressed. He had received Harry's report card in anticipation of the end of year exams and it seemed his son had been slacking off in certain subjects. He let out an irritated sigh and looked down at the card once again.
Charms – Exceeds Expectations
Transfiguration – Exceeds Expectations
Potions – Outstanding
Defence Against the Dark Arts – Exceeds Expectations
History of Magic – Poor
Herbology – Acceptable
Astronomy – Poor
It was too late to speak with him now and so he would retrieve the child in the morning before classes began, and demand an explanation. He would also speak to Sinistra to ascertain why she hadn't informed him of his son's failing grade sooner, and hoped he could get Harry caught up in time for his exams, now only three weeks away. He hadn't thought Harry would slack off from his schoolwork and so had not been keeping a close enough eye on his son's study habits – well that would change. He had told Harry at the start of the guardianship he expected him to try his best, and although he did not expect the boy to be a straight 'O' student he knew Harry was capable of at least an 'acceptable' in all subjects. The boy had also helped tend their garden in Spinners End well enough for Severus to believe that Harry was capable of an 'E' in Herbology too.
Severus watched the owl drop his note in front of Harry at breakfast the next morning and was gratified when the boy nodded at him once he had read it. His attention then turned to a small group of Ravenclaws entering the Great Hall looking furious and shooting murderous looks towards the Gryffindor table. Severus followed their glares and was not surprised to find the recipients to be the Weasley twins. The twins were in turn grinning widely and giving a thumbs up signal, so Severus then tracked his gaze across the room and found Harry returning the signal looking rather proud of himself. Some of the Ravenclaws had also noticed the exchange between the twins and his son and were now levelling their glares at Harry too. Harry then lowered his head and began eating in earnest. Severus had a sinking feeling in his stomach, knowing instantly that Harry had conspired with the Gryffindor twins to prank the Ravenclaw students. What had he told that blasted boy!
He watched Harry eat his breakfast quickly and rose to follow the boy from the Great Hall once he had finished. Severus waited until they were inside his office before speaking, he did not want anyone to overhear his conversation with his son.
"I received your report card for the year Harry." Severus said, handing over the proffered card to the child. He was gratified to see the boy's shoulders slump in understanding as to why he had been summoned.
"What did I tell you I expected from you when I first became your guardian?"
"That I should do my best Sir." Harry replied quietly, still staring down at his report card.
"And is this your best?"
"I didn't think so. I believe you owe me an explanation young man."
Harry looked up at him fearfully and took a long gulp, at which point Severus motioned for Harry to sit down as he took his own seat behind his desk. There were a few moments of tense silence before the boy finally spoke.
"It's just that, well... History's so boring and I don't see the point to it, I mean, why do I need to know about a Gargoyle strike or soap blizzard that happened hundreds of years ago? And, and I get outstandings for my Defence homework! And Herbology, well... I don't know, it seems a bit pointless too."
"Yeah Astronomy erm... well... I have some trouble with that." Harry admitted grudgingly.
"Explain." Severus intoned, not allowing the boy to get away with a half answer.
"Well, it's just that, I can't see any of the constellations. Draco and Teddy tried to point them out to me but there's just so many stars it seems like any of them could be part of the constellation we're trying to find. Then... I figured because I couldn't do the class work there wasn't really much point in trying so hard with the homework." Harry finished with a defeated shrug.
Severus let out a deep sigh as he watched Harry lower his head and twist his hands into his robes nervously.
"Harry, look at me son." Severus said softly, then waited until the child obeyed.
"First of all, history is important because if we do not learn about the mistakes made by our forefathers we are doomed to repeat them when a similar occasion arises. It also aids you in understanding the culture and customs of our world, explains why certain people in our society act a certain way, and why they believe what they do. If you don't understand why someone thinks a certain way you cannot hope to change their way of thinking, or reconcile with them. Do you understand?"
"I never thought about it like that. Sorry." Harry's voice was full of repentance and Severus could see that this revelation was completely new to him but did at least make sense.
"Now, secondly, you are a good potions student and you were eager to help me tend our garden over the holiday." Severus paused to let his words sink in before continuing, "with that in mind, can you not think of a reason as to why Herbology is important?"
He watched patiently as Harry chewed his lip for a few moments before understanding dawned on his face.
"Because you need to know how to grow and look after plants so they can be used in potions." Harry answered a little uncertainly.
"Correct, and it is also much cheaper to grow your own ingredients than to buy everything from the Apothecary."
Harry nodded in understanding, then met Severus' eyes and apologised once again. The chastened boy really did look very pitiful sitting in the large chair in front of his desk, but there were still a number of issues he needed to air and he did not see any advantage in postponing until a later time.
"If you were struggling so badly in Astronomy why didn't you come to me for help?"
"A shrug is not an acceptable answer Harry, you know better than that." Severus admonished.
"I don't know really, I guess I was a bit... well... embarrassed... when I couldn't do it and everyone else could and..." Harry trailed off.
"You need never be embarrassed or ashamed Harry. If you need help you come to me, no matter what it is, alright?"
"Yes Sir." Harry nodded as he replied.
"To that end, you are to come here as soon as your classes have finished for the day and we will spend an hour studying every day until you have caught up with your work. You are also going to bring me your current assignments for all classes for checking at least three days before they are due so that I may mark them and return for re-writing if necessary. And no pocket money for two weeks. Are we clear young man?"
"Yes Sir." Harry said dejectedly.
"Now, you said you received 'O's in your Defence homework yet your grade is an 'E'. Are you having trouble mastering the spells?"
"I guess, it's hard to concentrate in Defence class 'cos the garlic smell gives me a headache."
"You've been experiencing headaches all year and you never said anything?!" Severus barked incredulously. Why did the boy insist on keeping everything to himself?
"I'm sorry! I didn't think it was important, other people said they didn't like the smell either so I never thought much about it, I didn't... I'm sorry Dad."
Severus took a deep breath to calm himself, Harry was getting really upset now and looked like he was struggling not to cry.
"Is there anything else I should know Harry?" Severus asked softly, wanting the boy to calm down. He checked the time quickly and found lessons were to begin in just under fifteen minutes.
Harry shook his head but kept his face lowered at the same time and Severus sighed loudly.
"Right, you'd better get to class. I will see you this afternoon."
"Yes Sir." Harry mumbled, hopping off the chair and fleeing the office in a blur of black robes.
How could he mess up so badly? Damnit! Stupid Harry! So stupid! Harry wrapped his knuckles against the side of his head in frustration. Why hadn't he tried harder? He could have put more effort in, Professor Snape had done so much for him and all he had asked in return was to do his best with his schoolwork and he hadn't! Snape had even adopted him and become his Dad and now he was so disappointed... He would work extra hard from now on, improve his grades, not get into any trouble, and most of all, be a good son and make his Dad proud of him. No more pranking... oh! No! No, no, no, no, NO! The prank on the Ravenclaws! Snape would find out, how could he not! How could he be so stupid!
Harry entered the charms classroom with a deep sense of foreboding. Professor Flitwick was head of Ravenclaw House and no doubt knew his students had been pranked, the only question left was whether or not the tiny Professor knew that Harry was responsible. Professor Flitwick stood rigidly, his face unusually stern and Harry got a sinking feeling in his stomach. Once everyone was seated Flitwick began telling them about the 'Lumos' spell and demonstrated the wand movement needed. Although he seemed a little angry the man did not cast any glares or issue any scathing comments and so Harry visibly relaxed as the class progressed, it seemed that the tiny wizard was oblivious to Harry's involvement in the prank. Maybe, just maybe, I can get away with this.
He was quickly disabused of that notion however when he was accosted by Fred and George in the corridor as he was on his way to lunch. Assuring his friends that he would join them momentarily, he allowed the twins to manoeuvre him into an empty classroom and was about to ask them just what they thought they were doing, but the words died on his lips when he took in their grave expressions.
"He knows. Snape knows."
"We're really sorry Harry."
"He had us and Ravens for potions-"
"First thing this morning-"
"They were all squeeking-"
"It was hilarious to begin with-"
"But then the Ravens got angry when everyone-"
"Was laughing at them and a couple of hexes got thrown-"
"And that's when Snape really lost it."
All the colour drained from Harry's face as the realisation of the chaos he had brought to his Dad sunk in.
"Does... does he know?" Harry choked out.
"We've got a week of detention,"
"He said he wants to see you at the entrance to the Great Hall at lunch."
"Speaking of which-"
"We'd better go Harry-"
"Best not keep him waiting."
The twins gave him a sympathetic smile as Harry flexed his hands into a fist and took some deep breaths. Sensing his reluctance, the twins each put a comforting arm around his scrawny shoulders and gently pulled him back out into the corridor.
"Come on Harry, it won't be that bad."
Harry wasn't so sure, it wasn't that he feared the punishment so much, he just didn't think he could survive seeing the look of disappointment on his Dad's face. He was such a screw-up! He nudged the twins arms from around his shoulders and gave them a grateful smile before skulking off towards the Great Hall ahead of the red-heads, already feeling decidedly nauseas.
His Dad was there, just as they had said, and he was looking murderous. Students were entering the Great Hall giving the dour man as wide a berth as humanly possible. Harry's legs felt like jelly and it felt like a great big stone had settled itself in the pit of stomach. He took a few deep breaths before he stepped forward shakily into Snape's view. It was but a moment before the man spotted him and in a swirl of robes Snape had bounded across the short distance and grasped his shoulder forcefully before Harry had the chance to blink.
"Come with me." Snape growled, turning Harry and marching him over to a quiet corner in the entranceway. He cast a spell which Harry guessed would give them privacy then stared down at Harry with a fiery gaze.
"I'm sorry." Harry choked out, already feeling a stinging behind his eyes.
"Oh you will be Harry. Just what were you thinking?!" Snape bellowed, causing Harry to shrink back against the wall. Snape must have seen how scared he felt because he turned away for a moment and when he turned back to face him he looked a little calmer.
"Obviously I cannot trust you to spend your free time wisely, Harry. When you are not with me you are confined to the common room for the rest of the week, and when you report to my office this afternoon you will bring with you any prank potions you still have, along with the book and… your broom. No flying for two weeks."
Harry's heart sank, he had lost the man's trust, and his broom. Being confined to the common room was bad enough, and having to do all the extra work to make up for slacking off would be difficult, but no flying? His Dad must be really angry.
"Well?" Snape asked.
"Yes Sir, I understand." Harry replied in a small voice, hanging his head in shame.
"Right, go to lunch Harry."
Harry shuffled off into the Great Hall and took his seat next to Teddy.
"You ok mate?" Teddy asked as soon as he was seated.
Harry shook his head, not quite trusting his voice just now. Harry looked up just in time to see Snape stalking through the Hall up to the teachers table still looking incredibly furious. He darted a quick look around and noted that almost every student was watching the Potions Professor warily.
"What happened Harry?" Teddy asked in a concerned tone.
"I pranked the Ravenclaws with the Weasley twins." Harry admitted quietly.
"Merlin Harry! What were you thinking? You know the twins are always in trouble! Is that why Snape looks livid?"
Harry nodded as his cheeks coloured, "and some of my grades aren't very good."
"Shit Harry, what did he do?"
"I have to do loads of work with him to make up my grade before the end of term exams and I'm confined to the common room for a week… and I'm banned from flying for two weeks." Harry admitted.
"He grounded you? For two weeks? That's harsh."
"I let him down." Harry said, fighting back the fresh onslaught of tears that had been threatening to leak since the twins had informed him of his fate.
Teddy saw his distress and put a comforting arm around his shoulder and speaking quietly in his ear, "It'll be ok Harry, kids mess up. Once he calms down he'll be much better, he knows kids make mistakes Harry, he'll forgive you quickly, don't worry too much alright?"
Harry nodded and gave Teddy a weak smile. Merlin, he hoped Teddy was right. Right now he felt like scum. He had never had anyone care enough about him to be disappointed in him before, and right now he wasn't certain he preferred it. No, it was his own fault he felt like this, if he hadn't been so stupid…
"Err, Harry?" Teddy said, interrupting Harry's self-recriminations.
"Snape's staring at you." Teddy said sympathetically.
Harry looked up to the teachers table and squirmed a little under Snape's intense gaze.
"I think he wants you to eat Harry." Draco piped up from his seat across from them.
Harry looked down, only just realising that he had yet to put anything on his plate. A fresh bout of nausea hit him when he looked at the food on the platters in front of him.
"I don't want anything, I think I'm gonna be sick." Harry groaned.
"You need to eat something Harry." Teddy said.
Harry looked up to the staff table once more then quickly dropped his head when he saw Snape was still staring at him. He sighed resignedly and reached out for a ham sandwich which he then proceeded to nibble on slowly, lest his stomach reject it.
Had he been too harsh? Was confiscating his broom going a little too far? Well, it was too late now. At the time he had been livid, but seeing how upset the boy was - and fearful - Merlin that was the last thing he needed; for Harry to be afraid of him! The pitiful child's crestfallen face had almost broken his resolve - almost. For a second there all he had wanted to do was to pick the scrawny little thing up and hug him and tell him it was alright. But Harry had done wrong and he needed to be accountable, he needed consistent punishment lest he grow up to be an arrogant, law-breaking fool.
He had watched Harry reluctantly eat his lunch before he had scurried away leaving his friends to finish their meals. Harry was clearly very upset and had obviously taken everything he had said to heart. Severus gave up on his own lunch and headed back down to his dungeon classroom in preparation for his next class.
It was fifteen minutes after the last class of the day let out that Harry entered Severus' office carrying his broom in one hand and a quart bottle in the other. He approached the desk warily and deposited the broom and bottle in front of Severus, then reached into his book bag and brought out another bottle and the book, placing them both down carefully before turning his gaze to the floor.
"You had Defence as your last class today, did you not?" Severus asked.
"Yes Sir." Harry replied, not lifting his gaze.
"Do you have a headache?"
"It's ok Sir." The boy shrugged.
"Harry, look at me."
Slowly, the boy complied and Severus could see the deeply troubled look in Harry's eyes.
"Do you have a headache?"
"A bit Sir, but it's not bad." Severus noted how stiffly Harry was standing and that he had yet to speak more informally to him. The boy obviously needed a little reassurance before he gave himself a panic attack. He got up and went to his potions store cupboard, retrieved a headache reliever and gave it to Harry.
"Headache reliever, take it Harry." Severus said softly.
"Thanks." Harry replied with a slightly surprised expression.
"Harry, although I am disappointed with your recent behaviour, I am not angry at you. I understand that you are a child and you will make mistakes, it is my job to point out to you those mistakes and punish you so that you do not repeat them. Do you understand Harry?"
"You're not mad?" Harry asked hopefully.
"I'm not, do you understand why you are being punished?"
"Yessir. I was stupid and I could have hurt people with my prank, and I didn't try my best even though I promised you I would. I'm really sorry Dad, I'll do anything to make it up to you."
"I know you will Harry, I know you will." Severus gave the boy a small reassuring smile before seating himself once more behind his desk.
"Now, let's begin shall we? I believe you were given a grading of poor for your history essay on the Werewolf Code of Conduct. You can start with that. Have you brought your text?"
"I'll go get it." Harry said, slipping down from his chair.
"No matter, I have one here." Severus said, opening his drawer and retrieving the proffered text.
"If there's anything you don't understand, I want you to ask me alright?"
Once Harry had settled down to his studying Severus began to mark his 3rd year potions essays, relieved to see the child had visibly relaxed. After an hour Severus dismissed Harry for dinner and told him to come down to the classroom at 6pm. The Weasley twins were going to be busy scrubbing cauldrons for a good couple of hours this evening while Harry finished his Werewolf essay and got started on some Herbology work.
By Friday night, Harry had almost made up all his work in History of Magic and was well on the way to achieving an exceeds expectations in Herbology, but Astronomy was proving to be a much more difficult subject for the boy to master. Severus did not want to tutor the boy whilst in the company of other students, not only because they could be a distraction, but also because he did not want to cause the boy further embarrassment. For this reason, he sent the twins to serve their detention with Filch while Harry was instructed to report to his quarters after dinner.
Severus laid out an Apothecary catalogue, a book on brewing medicinal potions and some pieces of parchment on the kitchen table. No sooner had he done that than Harry came bursting through the door waving his own piece of parchment above his head.
"Dad! I got an exceeds expectations in my latest History essay! Look!" The boy said excitedly, thrusting the essay into his hands. Severus scanned it quickly and took note of the mark at the bottom before giving the boy the praise he craved. He allowed Harry to bask in his happiness for a minute or so before turning to the project Harry would be doing tonight.
"I thought we would do something a little different tonight Harry."
"Oh?" Harry said, sitting down at the table when Severus indicated to him. The boy quickly noticed the objects in front of him.
"You have in front of you a price catalogue for the Apothecary at Diagon Alley and a medicinal potions text. I want you to find what ingredients are needed to brew a standard pain reliever and a burn salve. I then want you to use the catalogue to calculate the cost of buying the ingredients for each potion and compare it with the retail price - those are found at the back of the catalogue. Understand?"
"Yes Dad." Harry replied, then got straight to work by opening the potions book to the contents and searching for the required potions. Severus noted with pleasure that Harry found his way around the catalogue quickly and with ease, it wasn't long before the boy put down his quill and looked up at Severus expectantly.
"I've finished Dad."
"Very good, now here," Severus placed another catalogue in front of Harry, "is a catalogue for buying plant seeds. I want you to find which ingredients can be grown and calculate the cost of brewing the same two potions if you were to grow the ingredients yourself. Obviously not all ingredients can be grown, so you will need to add on the cost of those ingredients which must be bought."
Harry obediently set to work while Severus finished marking the last of the 3rd year essays.
"I'm done Dad." Harry said after only twenty minutes.
"Oh, and what did you find?" Severus asked, setting down his quill.
"Well, if you grow your own stuff you can save like six galleons on the burn salve! And if you sell it, you make twelve galleons profit! On one cauldron's worth! You must be paid an awful lot to teach here if you'd rather this than just brew and sell potions!"
Severus gave out a small chuckle, glad that Harry had understood the reason for the assignment but also his rather frank assessment of Severus' vocation and current career.
"What? What's so funny?" Harry asked defensively.
"Nothing Harry, that's a very insightful conclusion to draw. I'm proud of you son. However, there is one more thing you need to take into consideration when growing your own ingredients. Can you guess what that is?"
Severus watched as the boy screwed his face up deeply in thought. He could not help the smile that adorned his face at seeing how proud Harry looked when he had given him that small amount of praise.
"Time?" Harry said uncertainly.
"Correct, well done Harry. I can see you have a good head for business young man." Severus ruffled Harry's hair playfully before directing the child into the living room for a relaxed evening with hot chocolate and light conversation. The boy had certainly taken his punishment seriously and had worked diligently throughout the week to show Severus just how much he wanted his trust and acceptance, and without a single complaint too. He sincerely hoped Harry would not forget this incident quickly, and held high hopes that his son would grow to be a well-rounded young man.
Harry spent most of his weekend in the Library ensuring his current assignments were completed to the best standard he was capable of. His endeavours had been aided by a very helpful if not slightly annoying Hermione Granger, who had given him some helpful tips on essay structure and 'skimming' texts for information. There had been a tense moment when Teddy and Draco had arrived to do some of their own studying but Hermione had quickly mumbled an excuse and left the three Slytherins to their work. Harry was tempted to give Draco a piece of his mind regarding his silly prejudice but decided against it, he really needed to study and arguing with Draco would no doubt make him too angry to concentrate. He was also reluctant to become at odds with his friend as he remembered all too well how it felt having no friends and so he had let the matter go and enjoyed the rest of his study time with his friends beside him in the comfort of the light and airy room.
The following week passed quickly for Harry, Snape had gotten him to memorize some constellations and draw them at different angles to help him recognise them no matter which angle they were presented at. He had also given him some tips about astronomy in general and they had worked on some exercises to help him focus on the brighter stars, making the dimmer ones to fade almost into non-existence – which had helped immensely with his practical work. By the end of the week Harry was exhausted from all the extra work he had done but at the same time felt very proud of his achievements. This was reinforced on the Friday evening when his Dad had given him his broom back and told him that he was proud of him, but also gave him a warning to make sure he didn't become 'complacent about his studies again'. Harry had promised he wouldn't and had agreed to continue bringing his completed essays for checking before he handed them in.
He had seen the twins briefly on a couple of occasions and Harry was relieved to find that they still greeted him warmly despite the punishment they had been given by his Dad, obviously they did not blame Harry for any of it. His Dad had warned him about the twins 'penchant for trouble' and that he had better not allow himself to become influenced by the 'foolish Gryffindor's'. Harry could see the man's point and although he did want to remain friends with the twins he thought it best to keep their associations to a minimum for the time being, lest he upset his Dad again.
A week later...
Everything was perfect for Harry; he was getting along well with his Father, his grades were much improved, he had great friends in Teddy and Draco and Marcus Flint had continued his 'big brother' friendliness with him. He had also loved being back on his broom – he had been out on the pitch almost every night for the past week practising with his team-mates ready for their upcoming Quidditch game against Hufflepuff. It was their last game of the season and a win would almost guarantee them the House Cup, and Harry was determined to make his House (and his Dad) proud.
The match took place on a warm sunny day with only a slight breeze in the air. The whole school was out watching and the noise level seemed louder than usual. Harry knew the Hufflepuff seeker would be a decent match for him and so he paid little attention to what was happening in the match and instead concentrated all his effort on finding the snitch. It was after a frustrating half hour that Harry finally spotted the tiny flash of gold across the horizon and followed it surreptitiously with his eyes, flying towards the snitch in a nonchalant way so as not to attract the attention of the other seeker.
As soon as he was within fifty feet Harry pointed his broom and set off at break-neck speed after the snitch, ghosting the path of the tiny golden orb. In less than a minute Harry had caught up to the snitch and grasped at it with his arm outstretched to the limit of his reach. Closing his gloved hand around the snitch Harry let out a triumphant 'whoop' of joy and pulled up, hovering in mid-air high above the stadium with the snitch held above his head. His team-mates were quick to circle around him yelling in triumph as the crowds erupted far below them. Harry basked in his glory for a few minutes with his team-mates before going down and dismounting on the pitch, closely followed by the other players from both teams. Spectators were hurriedly making their way down from the stands to join them on the pitch and Harry smiled proudly up at Marcus Flint, who playfully ruffled his hair before grabbing him and hoisting him up into the air with ease.
Seconds later, Harry was carefully deposited back on the ground as all the colour left the older boys face.
"What is it Marcus?" Harry asked, suddenly concerned at the look of horror now adorning the boy's features.
In lieu of a verbal reply Marcus pointed behind Harry, who turned and gasped at the sight before him. Harry absently noted that the noise level had dulled immensely as other students turned to see the chilling sight before them.
A large nest of snakes were at the far end of the pitch near the dark forest, slithering quickly towards the group of students. Harry stood stock still, pushing down the fear inside him. He could talk to snakes, he had done so at the zoo that time. He could do this, he would just ask them why they were here, what they wanted. If nothing else it would give everyone time to get off the pitch and to safety.
Harry stepped forward boldly as the snakes approached and spoke up loudly.
"Stop! Please don't come any closer!" Harry pleaded.
"You speak?" The lead snake asked wonderingly, obeying Harry.
"I do. Tell me, why are you here, on the pitch?"
"We have been instructed to kill the walker with the golden orb, for with it he will upset the balance of nature."
"The golden orb?"
"In your hand, walker." Harry looked down worriedly and found he was still holding the snitch. Anger began to rise from the pit of his stomach at the implication of someone telling snakes to kill him, knowing he would be the one to catch the snitch.
"Who told you this?"
"The walker with the purple cloth."
"How do we know it is not you who lies?" Harry considered the question, unsure of how to prove his innocence.
"I'll give you the orb if you like, it is of no importance to me. It does not belong to me, or to anyone. Have you never seen wizards play sports with these things before?"
"We have." The snake replied a little unsurely.
"So why would this one be any different?" The snake cocked its head to the side slightly as if in thought.
"I see your point young walker."
"I think you'd better go, people are getting a bit tetchy and I don't want anyone to get hurt."
"Very well, young walker. We will leave, with the orb. Better to be safe than sorry."
Harry nodded and knelt down, rolling the snitch along the grass towards the lead snake. The snake grasped it in his mouth and without further ado, slithered away back towards the forest, closely followed by the rest of the nest.
Harry watched until they were at a safe distance before turning round to face his team-mates, but his face fell when he saw that nearly half the school were now congregated on the pitch, all staring at him as if he'd grown an extra head.
"What?" Harry asked apprehensively, scanning the crowd for a friendly face. Everyone was gaping at him, a look of sheer horror on their faces. Harry took a nervous step backwards away from the crowd, confusion and fear coursed through him in equal measure and threatened to expel the meagre contents of his stomach.
"What's wrong? Marcus?" Harry asked timidly, turning to his prefect for help.
Marcus stood staring at him, his mouth opened and closed again silently and Harry began to panic. Just then a swirl of black robes came barrelling towards him, moving seamlessly through the crowd and Harry took a deep breath, hoping his Father would shed some light on the situation. A moment later Snape stood directly in front of Harry, blocking his view of the crowd. Snape had a stony expression but his hand came to rest gently on his shoulder in a reassuring gesture.
"Dad?" Harry asked fearfully.
"Come on Harry, let's go." Snape said quietly, gently manoeuvring him back towards the Castle.
"Don't just stand there gawping like goldfish! Move!" Snape bellowed menacingly to the crowd of students before him, keeping a hand on Harry's shoulder.
The students stepped aside carefully, clearing a path through the crowd. Harry fought against the stinging sensation behind his eyes that signalled the onslaught of tears as he walked quickly, resisting the urge to break into a run. He took deep breaths and focused his eyes on the ground immediately in front of him, he did not want to look at the horrified faces of his fellow students.
After what seemed like an age they had finally reached the dungeons and Snape led him into their quarters. Finally feeling a little less anxious now he was in the sanctuary of their rooms Harry cleared his throat and turned to face his Dad.
"What's wrong Dad? Why were they all acting like that?" Harry asked.
Snape indicated for Harry to take a seat, which Harry did so without hesitation and waited patiently whilst the dark man took his own seat and levelled Harry with a sombre expression.
"Are you aware you were talking to a snake Harry?"
"Yes of course! Why wouldn't I be aware? What's so wrong about it?" Harry asked defensively.
"Nothing's wrong Harry, it's just that it is a very rare gift. Very few wizards have that ability."
Snape cleared his throat uneasily before continuing, as if he wasn't sure he should say anymore.
"There is only one other wizard in living memory who possessed that particular gift..."
"Who?" Harry asked quizzically.
"The Dark Lord."
Harry felt his entire world turn upside down, every nerve ending screamed at him as darkness clouded his vision – then everything went black.
Next Chapter - Quirrell