Disclaimer: Always treat Harry Potter as if he is owned by JK Rowling. Never point Harry Potter at anything you are not willing to Expelliarmus. Keep your fingers off Harry Potter until you have written the disclaimer.

Chapter 35

The spring term at was about as normal as things ever were at Hogwarts. There were occasional hexes flying between the Gryffindors and Slytherins—Neville got nailed by a nasty Leg-Locker Curse from Malfoy. Homework was as tough as ever, and the heavy December snow had been replaced by an endless, driving January rain, which was a little odd because January was supposed to be the biggest month for snow. Hermione speculated that there might be some kind of weather modification magic around the castle, since even the Highlands weren't supposed to get as much snow in December as they'd got last month. That, or maybe they were just having an odd year.

It was about a month before the next Quidditch match against Hufflepuff that Oliver Wood dropped the bombshell that Professor Snape would be refereeing the match instead of Madam Hooch. Harry and the rest of the team were understandably dismayed, but Hermione was very nervous.

"Oh, Harry, what are you going to do?" she said, hugging him tight.

"I have to play, Mione," he told her. "There's no reserve Seeker, and if I back out, the Slytherins will just think I'm afraid of Snape."

"Well, maybe you should be. After what happened at the first match—"

"We still don't have any evidence it was Snape who did that," Harry insisted. "And the teachers checked my broom and couldn't find anything wrong with it."

"That's because he had to keep casting the curse to make it stick."

"But what else am I supposed to do? I can't let the team down just because Snape's refereeing."

Hermione sighed. Was there any way to get through to her brother? Wait, maybe there was. She knew at least one person who shared her suspicions about Snape. "We could ask Sirius about it," she suggested. "He's our godfather. He should be able to give us some decent advice."

"He doesn't like Snape either," Harry observed.

Hermione stared him down—no easy task given his feline tendencies, but years of practice had honed her skills.

"I guess we can try," he admitted. "I'll go get the mirror." A few minutes later, Harry brought down his two-way mirror, and the two siblings edged to an isolated spot at the side of the Common Room. "Sirius Black," he said.

A minute later their godfather's grinning face appeared in the mirror, saying, "Hey there, cubs, what's up?"

"Well," Harry started, glancing at Hermione. "We think Professor Snape might be up to something."

Sirius got a suspicious look on his face. "Why? What's he doing?"

"He's refereeing our next Quidditch match."

"What!" The response came in stereo as Remus's face popped into view. Harry turned the mirror sideways so they could see them both better.

"Isn't that a conflict of interest?" Remus said.

"It should be," Hermione groused. "He'll probably just pass it off that Slytherin's not playing. But more importantly, what about the fact that I'm pretty sure he was jinxing Harry's broom in the first match?"

"She's pretty sure," Harry emphasised.

"I don't know, there, Cub," Sirius replied darkly. "I don't like the sound of it. Having him up in the air with you would be a perfect opportunity for him to try something."

"But why? He's never given me that much trouble."

"Do you remember when I told you how much he hated your father?"

"Yeah, but he ought to know that I'm not my father. And even if Snape does hate me that much, they say he barely got out of Azkaban after the war. I don't think he'd risk everything by trying to kill me."

"I wouldn't be so sure," said Sirius. "After that little incident in our sixth year…"

"What incident?"

"Sirius pulled an especially mean and dangerous trick that nearly got Snape killed, except James had the sense to stop him." Remus said.

"He was asking for it! Snooping around, trying to follow us and get you in trouble, Moony."

"And he never would have found out anything if you hadn't tipped him off."

"What happened?" said Hermione.

"Alright, alright," Sirius said. "The thing is, Snape was always trying to follow us when we snuck off at the full moon. He thought he could get us all expelled if he caught us, and I wasn't about to have that, so one month, I…well, I kind of tried to feed him to Moony."

"What!" Harry and Hermione gasped.

"Yeah, I was young and angry, and it was mean and stupid, and I probably would've gone to Azkaban legitimately if it had worked," Sirius admitted. "Luckily, James found out and had the sense to stop him. But Snape hated all of us even more after that, including James. I don't know if he thought James was in on it and got cold feet, or he just couldn't stand being indebted to someone he hated so much. Probably both. Anyway, that's why I said I wouldn't be surprised if Snape held a grudge against you, Harry. And between the two Quidditch matches, it's starting to look pretty suspicious."

"Well it doesn't matter, does it? There's no reserve Seeker. I still have to play," Harry replied.

Sirius hemmed and hawed, but reluctantly nodded. "No use getting between a Potter and Quidditch. Just be careful out there."

"Don't worry, I will, Padfoot."

"I still don't like this, Harry," Hermione jumped in. "I think you should talk to Professor Dumbledore. If Snape's out on the pitch, there's no telling what he could do."

"That's a good idea," Remus agreed. "I don't know why or how Snape managed to get to referee, but if you ask Dumbledore, you can probably at least get an explanation."

"Fine, I'll do that," Harry agreed. "We'll see you later."

"Love you, cubs," Sirius said.

"Love you, too," Harry replied. "Mirror off."

Harry eventually did go to Dumbledore, in response to his sister's continued nagging. However the only answer he got was, "I trust Professor Snape, Harry, and you should as well."

The weather slowly improved. It was still dreadfully cloudy, but the ground finally dried out for the first time all year. Then one day, while most of the older students were obsessing about the upcoming Valentine's Day Hogsmeade weekend, Professor Quirrell strode into their double Defence period, his turban bobbing, to give what would soon prove to be a very different kind of lesson.

"This year," he began, "as you should all know by now, we have been concerned mainly with self-defence in the muggle world. A competent student should, at the end of their first year, be able to defend themselves for long enough to escape from a muggle attacking with fists, knives, blunt objects, an attack dog, and so forth.

"However, these are not the only weapons muggles use. Who can tell me what other weapons muggle are known for…? Yes, Mr. Smith?"

"I believe they're called 'firelegs', Professor," Zacharias Smith answered.

All the muggle-raised students giggled.

"It would seem we have some disagreement in the class," Quirrell said. He zeroed in on Dean Thomas, who grew nervous under his gaze. "Do you have something to say, Mr. Thomas?"

"Th-they're called fire-arms, Professor," he said. "But we usually just say guns."

"Yes, guns," Quirrell intoned deeply. "Muggles have quite the fondness for guns. Mind you, when it comes to weapons of war, this only scratches the surface. Over the past century, muggles have become very, very adept at killing each other…" And here, Quirrell went into what could only be described as an anti-muggle fits. These had been growing more common and more obvious as the months passed. They came on suddenly and passed just as quickly, and they seemed to grow more unsettling each time. His face contorted with anger as he listed off the muggle weapons of war: "There are things called 'cannons', which are guns so large that they can blast through buildings, 'machine guns', which can mow down an entire line of enemies in seconds, poison gas, which condemns the victim to a painful death as it eats away their lungs, 'tanks'—rolling instruments of death with armour tougher than dragon hide that crush everything in their path, 'blockbuster bombs' dropped from aeroplanes, powerful enough to destroy an entire street full of buildings, 'missiles'—like fireworks, but with huge bombs attached to them, and of course, the 'atomic bombs', which are so powerful that they can destroy an entire city in one blast! Yes, muggles are so fond of killing each other that they invent new and better ways of doing it every year, and it is too often we who get caught in the crossfire!"

Suddenly, Quirrell staggered and clutched at his chest a little. His health seemed to have taken a turn for the worse, too, in the spring term. But he kept his feet, and his face softened. "In any case, muggle civilians do not use these weapons. They use ordinary guns—weapons so old fashioned that they're hardly even used in war anymore, but still very deadly…

"But perhaps some of you don't believe me?" he said, a little mockingly, looking from one pureblood face to the next. "After all, how could muggles possess that kind of power…? Show of hands: how many of you have ever seen a muggle firearm?"

About half the class had their hands raised, including all of the muggle-raised students.

"Very good. Now, how many of you have ever fired a muggle firearm?"

Only Harry, Hermione, and Justin Finch-Fletchley raised their hands.

"Three of you. Not too bad. It just so happens that I have a firearm here."

The class leaned forward with interest. Quirrell reached under his desk and pulled out what any firearm aficionado could instantly recognise as a double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun. "This—" He held the gun high. "—is called a 'shotgun'. It is one of the most common firearms that British muggles will use." He came back around the desk, casually swinging the barrels back and forth across the classroom. At that, all of the muggle-raised student flinched. Hermione and Justin both yelped out loud, but Harry had the strongest reaction. Quick as a wink, he pushed his chair back hard and ducked under his desk whilst hissing loudly. After all, Quirrell's finger was on the trigger.

The magical-raised children in the classroom watch this with wide eyes. What was so terrifying that it could frighten the Boy-Who-Lived?

"Trouble, Mr. P-Potter?" Quirrell said in an overly-friendly tone, still stuttering on his name. Harry was starting to wonder if he did that on purpose. He swept the barrels across the room again.

Hermione yelped a second time and pushed back to duck herself. "Professor!" she cried. Wasn't Quirrell supposed to have been the Muggle Studies teacher? Shouldn't he know about this?

"Do you have a problem, Miss Granger?" the professor said serenely.

Hermione peaked over her desk to respond, but as Quirrell swept the barrels across the room a third time, it was Justin who yelled out, "Take your finger outside the trigger guard, man!"

Quirrell made a very false-looking expression of surprise. "Oh, you mean like this?" he said innocently, and he did remove his finger from the trigger guard.

"Thank you," Justin said. "Now, will you kindly point that thing something that's not at us?"

Half the class thought Justin was about to get in trouble for that kind of backtalk, but Quirrell swung the shotgun off to the side without a word and then turned to Harry. "Mr. P-Potter, would you perhaps like to explain to your classmates what I was doing wrong?"

"Doing wrong?" Harry yelled. "Hello, you were ignoring all three basic rules of gun safety: treat every gun as if it's loaded, don't point it at anything you don't want to die, and for God's sake, keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to fire!"

All eyes were now on Harry Potter. Most of the class had never seen him this agitated before. They'd seen him fly like a maniac on a broom. They'd heard about him wheedling points out of Snape. They'd heard about him catching a Death Eater all but single-handed. About half of them had heard him speak You-Know-Who's name without flinching. And now he was completely freaking out over what? A muggle weapon?

But Quirrell softly laid the gun down on his desk and proceeded to remind the class of what he had said on the first day: "Notice how strongly all of your muggle-raised classmates reacted. No one dives for cover like that when someone waves a wand around. Just what is so frightening about this shotgun…Miss Granger?"

Hermione paled even more than she had already. This was the first time she had to really question Professor Quirrell's methods. "It's a deadly weapon, sir," she said softly. "I mean, it's specifically designed to kill people and animals."

"True enough," Quirrell replied casually, leaning against his desk. He took out his wand and started waving it around. "But is not a wand also a deadly weapon? After all, many more wizards have been killed with wands than with guns."

"Yes, but…" She actually hadn't really thought about that before. "But it's a lot easier to kill someone by accident with a gun. You have to cast a spell to kill with a wand, and you can see the spell coming, too. With a gun, a slip of a finger can kill faster than anyone can react."

The purebloods in the class stared at that. Killing too fast to react? Zacharias Smith scoffed at the very idea.

"It's true," Hermione said to the sounds of disbelief.

"Indeed," Quirrell added. "Don't believe it, Mr. Smith? Perhaps a demonstration is in order." The class tensed up. "As it happens…" He picked up the shotgun again and broke open the breech. "…this gun is not loaded. "But I happen to have a couple of shells, here." He removed them from his pocket and grinned a bit evilly at Harry. "Mr. P-Potter, perhaps I set up a target, and you could demonstrate how this weapon works?"

"Not indoors, Professor," Harry said, only partially keeping the strain out of his voice.

"Prudent as ever, Mr. P-Potter. Very well, everyone follow me, please." With that, Quirrell moved to the door and led the class outside to the Training Grounds. Set up near the castle walls was a new piece of equipment that the shooters in the class recognised as a skeet thrower.

"Here we are, Mr. P-Potter," Quirrell said in a condescending tone, as if he didn't care for Harry's silly little safety rules. "A nice, wide, open space with nothing and no one beyond it for a good long way. I've even provided ear protection." He held up a pair of fuzzy pink earmuffs. "Can you shoot skeet, Mr. P-Potter?"

"Yes, sir." In fact, the Grangers had only been shooting a few times, just so they knew their way around a gun. But Harry, with his cat-like reflexes, had a natural talent for it.

"Excellent." He faced the class and said, "You can think of a shotgun as being a little like a wand—except that this wand only fires Reductor Curses, and it fires them very, very fast. There are other types of guns called 'pistols' and 'rifles', which are like wands that only fire Piercing Hexes, again, very, very fast. Mr. P-Potter will now demonstrate the power and speed of this weapon on these clay targets." He held up two bright orange clay pigeons and loaded them into the thrower.

Harry resignedly donned the fuzzy earmuffs, which turned out to cancel all noise, and Quirrell handed him the shotgun and two shells, which he loaded, and he stepped into position. Hermione and Justin each took a few steps back and motioned for the rest of the class to do the same.

When he was sure everyone was in a safe position, Harry readied the gun on his shoulder and yelled, "Pull!" Two orange disks flew out across the Training Grounds and then…

There were two deafening booms that made the purebloods jump and scream. Both of the clay pigeons vanished into clouds of orange dust—a fairly lucky pair of shots, even for him.

Harry turned around and saw the purebloods staring in horror at how fast the shotgun had obliterated the targets. He groaned inwardly. Somehow, some way, this was probably going to wind up being added to the Harry Potter legend.

Quirrell waved at him to take off the earmuffs, then said, "I think that proves the point nicely. Muggle firearms are not to be trifled with. Their power should be respected, even by wizards…On the other hand, a competent wizard should not fear them blindly. After all, there are a number of spells that can be used to neutralise the threat. For example…" He drew his wand. "Conprimo Armum."

There was a strange clicking sound, and Harry looked down and tried to work the gun again. "It's jammed," he said.

"Correct. It will not fire again without working at it for a minute, which would give an enemy time to retaliate or escape. And if you should encounter a firearm, and you are not able to cast such a specialised spell, there is always…Expelliarmus."

The gun flew out of Harry's hands and landed in Quirrell's. Harry's wand also flew out of its holster, but it caught on the wrist strap. No one seemed to notice this.

"Of course, given the speed advantage of the shotgun, it would be to your great advantage to learn to cast that spell silently," Quirrell instructed the class sternly. "Pay attention to your surroundings, be aware what your opponent is capable of, and know how to counter it. And now, Miss Granger and Mr. Finch-Fletchley, how would you rate your own shooting skills?" He flashed what Harry was sure was an angry look at him before unjamming the gun and moving on.

Hermione politely declined, but Justin proved to be as adept with gunfire as with regular fire and also managed to obliterate two clay pigeons, to the awe of the Hufflepuffs.

But at the moment he did, just as the gun boomed across the grounds, a sharp pain pierced Harry's scar, making him stagger as he clapped his hand to his forehead.

"Harry!" Hermione whispered, rushing to support him.

But the spasm had already passed. "I'm fine," he said.

"Was that your—"

"Later," he hissed.

"I'll hold you to that," Hermione muttered.

"Okay, that's it," Harry said when they got lunch. "I'm filing a complaint against Quirrell. He'll be out at the end of the term anyway if the curse is true, but still, you can't just go waving a shotgun at the class, right, Mione?"

"I know, Harry," his sister conceded. "He had a good point, but yeah, that was a stupid way to do it, even by wizard standards. I'm surprised a former Muggle Studies professor would do that."

"Maybe it's because he's out to get me," Harry replied, absently rubbing his forehead again.

"I don't know about that. I still don't think he's that bad a professor. Maybe it is the curse. Maybe it's messing with his head—And you are going to see Madam Pomfrey about your scar."

"Yeah, fine, after classes are over," he said irritably.

"Is it true, Potter?" The Gryffindors whirled around to see Draco Malfoy leading a group of five Slytherins up to the Gryffindor table. "Were you actually hiding under your desk from Quirrell?" The other Slytherins sniggered. Whispers sure did travel fast at Hogwarts.

"What if I was, Malfoy," Harry grumbled. "You would have too if you knew half as much about guns as I do."

"I think I would be a little more collected around a simple muggle weapon," Malfoy replied.

Harry stood up and tried to take a formal pose. It wasn't easy. "You know, you should really reserve your judgement until after you see the lesson for yourself, Mr. Malfoy," he said. "Don't worry; I'm sure Quirrell will give you the same one this afternoon."

"And I'll be sure to stay calm when someone's waving some muggle wand around, Potter."

"Carelessly waving a gun around is a lot more dangerous than waving a wand around, Malfoy," Harry snapped. "I'd put it just a little below Voldemort himself waving his wand at me."

The Slytherins all gasped, and Malfoy turned pale. "You dare to speak that name, Potter?" he said.

"Yes, I dare. The only people who ought to fear saying his name are the ones he has power over, and the last I checked, I beat Voldemort."

"Harry—" Hermione admonished while even the Gryffindors gasped. Malfoy couldn't even seem to think of a threatening comeback.

"Oh, come on, do you really have to keep doing that whenever I say 'Voldemort'?"

"Harry, will you stop that?" Ron whimpered.

"It's just a name, Ron. It's not like he's going to appear if you say his name three times…" He got a curious look on his face. "Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldemort!" He looked around. "Nope, nothing."

Well, it wasn't quite nothing. Neville nearly fainted at that display, Ron whimpered loudly, Lavender and Parvati actually jumped up and ran away, and the Slytherins all started backing off as if Harry were some kind of dangerous lunatic.

"Harry, I think that's enough," Hermione said.

"Potter!" Professor Snape approached the table. "Ten points from Gryffindor for disrupting lunch. Now sit down." Harry grumbled and sat. "I think that will be all, Mr. Malfoy," Snape added smoothly. "Mr. Potter is clearly…disturbed at the moment."

Malfoy probably would have laughed at that as he walked away, except that, Harry noted with some pride, he still seemed rather disturbed himself.

"Well, Mr. Potter," said Madam Pomfrey once Hermione managed to drag him to the Hospital Wing, "I've heard some interesting things about your exploits today."

"Yeah, I hid under a desk from Quirrell," Harry grumbled. "He was acting like a nutter with a gun. Plenty of muggles would have reacted the same."

"Yes, I do know a little about guns. But I was actually referring to your terrifying half the school at lunch. Are you feeling quite alright?"

"Oh…that. Yeah, sorry, I guess Quirrell's lesson really shook me up," Harry said lamely.

"Oh," Pomfrey replied. "So is that not why you're here?"

"No, ma'am…" Hermione said. "Harry, tell her."

Harry sighed. "Madam Pomfrey, during the Defence lesson today, I got this weird pain in my scar."

Pomfrey stopped short. "Your scar?" she asked nervously.

"Yeah, right here." He traced the jagged line with his finger.

"Hmm…" the nurse took out her wand and started muttering incantations. "What sort of pain."

"Just a short, sharp pain. It only lasted a few seconds. I only came here because it's kind of strange—I mean, old scars aren't supposed to hurt—well, non-magical ones, anyway."

"And has your scar ever hurt before?"

"Just once that I can remember. The same thing happened back at the Welcome Feast, but never before that."

"Hmm…very strange. Well, Mr. Potter, I don't see anything wrong with you. You're in quite good shape for your age. I suspect it was just a random pain, but do come back if it becomes a regular occurrence."

"Yes, ma'am."

People stared at Harry more for a few days after that incident. A few of the more sensitive students started avoiding him in the corridors, in case he did something as mad as shouting Voldemort's name again. But the stares and whispers soon subsided as Valentine's Day approached.

Valentine's Day at Hogwarts was marked by third years and up fawning all over each other, pining over unrequited affections, and frantically planning Hogsmeade dates for the next day. What was not expected (at least by the unfortunate recipient) was that half a dozen or so owls would make their way to the Gryffindor table and drop letters on Harry Potter's plate, most of them in red or pink envelopes.

"What's all this?" he demanded in surprise.

All the girls around him started giggling uncontrollably, including Hermione, and the boys sniggered at Harry's expense.

"Well, Harry," Hermione said between giggles, "it looks like you've got some admirers."

"What! I'm only eleven, though!"

"Like that's gonna stop 'em," Ron said. "Every girl's gonna want the Boy-Who-Lived to be their valentine."

Harry groaned. "But why would they be coming here? All my mail gets forwarded."

"Internal messages don't," Neville explained. "These'll just be the ones sent from inside Hogwarts. The thing is, no one ever bothers to send letters inside Hogwarts except for valentines and Fred and George's jokes."

"So how many will I have from outside Hogwarts?" Harry wondered. "Don't answer that. Well, might as well take a look." He picked up the first letter.

"Oh, you should be careful opening those, Harry," Neville warned. "If any of them smell funny, put 'em down. They're probably fine, but I wouldn't put it past some of the older girls to douse them with love potions."

"What!" Harry and Hermione both demanded, and Hermione added, "Is that even legal?"

"It is except for the really strong ones. And anyway, you can't get much just from a letter, but better safe than sorry."

Harry sighed heavily and carefully went to the letters, but on the third one, he did a double take: "Hang on, this one's not internal. It has a return address. It's from…Ginny Weasley?"

"Oh, no," Ron groaned, turning as red as the envelope his sister had sent and burying his face in his hands. Of course, mail from his family wouldn't be forwarded.

Upon seeing Ron's reaction, Harry bravely said, "Well it can't be that bad," and read the note aloud, on the grounds that it would be more embarrassing to his friend than to himself: "'Dear Harry—'"

"Stop! Stop!" Ron whined.

"'Thank you again for saving us all from that Rat. You're my hero. I hope we can be friends next year. Happy Valentine's Day, Ginevra Molly Weasley…' Signed in very flowery script."

"Oh, well, I guess it's not too bad," Ron admitted. "At least she didn't try to write a poem."

"I think it's very sweet," Hermione cooed, to more giggles from the other girls.

"Yeah, sweet—I got a valentine from a girl who got most of what she knows about me from those Harry Potter Adventure books."

"Well, you are Harry Potter. You've got to learn to deal with it," Hermione said, giggling again.

But her giggles were cut short, and she turned bright magenta when an owl dropped a valentine on her own plate.

"Well, well, well," Harry grinned. "It looks like 'Harry Potter's sister' has some currency, too."

Hermione shot him a dirty look and opened the envelope. Then she sighed with relief. "Oh, it's just a family courtesy note from Sullivan Fawley. Darn, I should have got him one." She waved to her cousin from across the hall and made a mental note to send him a reply the next day.