“So the old codger’s broken into my house, scared me awake at five-thirty in the morning on the day of a full moon and demanded- Stop laughing, Sirius, it’s not funny! - breakfast!” Padfoot wasn’t the only one laughing at poor Moony; Harry was doubled over his plate in stitches, his glasses perilously close to slipping off and landing in his mashed potato.
“It is funny,” Padfoot said, wiping tears of mirth out of his eyes. Harry thought it was nice to see him laughing again; he’d been oddly subdued lately and while Moony assured Harry it was just the Dementor’s Draught, Harry wasn’t convinced it was only that; Padfoot had looked thoughtful, not depressed, and had taken to sitting in the study on the ground floor, staring out the window.
“Shut up and drink your hot chocolate,” Moony shot back. They both glowered at each other and then Padfoot’s mouth twitched.
“All right,” he said. “It’s not funny at all.” Harry snorted quietly; he thought it was one of the funniest things he’d ever heard. “What happened next?”
“Mad-Eye questioned me on every development in Malfoy’s search for you two,” Moony sighed, pushing his peas around his plate. “You remember Andy’s daughter Nymphadora?”
“Of course,” Padfoot said, rolling his eyes. “Andy is my cousin, you know-”
“She’s an Auror trainee-”
“What?!” Padfoot yelped. His fork dropped onto the table with a clatter. “But she’s only ten-” He stopped talking and started counting fingers. “Oh, Merlin.”
“She finished school in June,” Moony said quietly. “Please drink your hot chocolate.”
Padfoot shivered and drank; they’d discovered that the physically debilitating aspect of the Dementor’s Draught wore off after a week and a bit with the right care - gallons of hot chocolate and lots of rest - but that the effects lingered, emphasising feelings like guilt, misery and nostalgia and hindered happy feelings. Even that, though, was only based on observation; Padfoot didn’t talk about it.
“It’s weird how time passes when you’re in Azkaban,” Padfoot said. He set his cup down and managed a weak smile.
“Yes,” Moony agreed dryly, after a strained pause. “I imagine it came as a shock for you to get out and discover time hadn’t stopped.” Both Moony and Harry waited to see how Padfoot would respond to that. A shadow came over his face and he was quiet for a few moments before he forced a laugh.
“So,” he said, with what Harry thought was a very fake smile, “what was Dora doing at your house?”
“She’s joining Malfoy’s search,” Moony said.
“Mad-Eye’s letting his trainee rub shoulders with Malfoy?” Padfoot asked, dropping his fork again. Moony smiled faintly.
“Neither of them said as much so this is pure speculation but I’d say Mad-Eye doesn’t like that there’s no Auror influence in the search.” He paused to dunk a strip of beef into his gravy while Padfoot nodded thoughtfully. “They wanted me to put in a good word - say she’s my nephew or something - but Malfoy’s rather unhappy with me after everything I said at St Mungo’s and my endorsement’s probably reason enough for him to reject her... She’s approaching him on her own tomorrow morning.”
“Bet Mad-Eye was annoyed.”
“Serves him right for breaking in,” Moony said, stabbing a piece of beef with his fork. Harry and Padfoot looked at each other and then hastily back at their plates.
They finished dinner in relative silence - Moony’s expression grew more and more pained and it was easy for Harry to remember that he would become a wolf in a few short hours – and Padfoot’s grew uncannily serious, as if he was thinking about something of great importance. Harry poked at his potato.
“Is he all right?” Harry asked Padfoot as Moony vanished into the fireplace after dinner.
“He’s always a bit off the day before,” Padfoot assured him. “Another hot chocolate, thank you, Kreacher,” he added. A steaming cup floated over almost instantly.
“Are you sure you should go?” Harry asked.
“Hmm?” Padfoot said, somewhat distantly.
“I asked if you’re all right to go,” Harry sighed.
“Oh,” Padfoot said, coming back to the present. “Yeah, I’ll be fine, kiddo.” He grinned as if to prove his point.
“And I can’t come?” Harry wheedled.
“No,” Padfoot said in a no-nonsense tone. “Tonight’s going to be tricky enough without a human there.”
“So next time?”
“Nice try, kiddo,” Padfoot said, ruffling his hair.
“Worth a try,” Harry said, shrugging.
Padfoot shook his head, smiling. “Are you going to be all right? I haven’t really left you alone before-”
“You left me alone after the cave,” Harry said.
Padfoot made a face and gestured for Harry to follow him upstairs. “Yes, and you ended up in St Mungo’s for a week.”
“There aren’t any Inferi around,” Harry said as they started up the main staircase. “Those elf heads that used to hang here were scary enough but I never saw them attack anyone.”
Padfoot laughed. “My Uncle Alphard said Kreacher’s mother was a piece of work.”
“Which one was she?” Harry asked as they passed the library.
“The one with the lopsided ears.”
Harry laughed. “No, really.”
“I am serious,” Padfoot said laughing. “In every way.”
Harry grimaced. “None of the elf heads had lopsided ears.”
“Did so,” Padfoot said, pushing the door to his bedroom open.
“Did not.” Harry followed him in and flopped down on the end of his bed. Padfoot dug a rucksack out from under his desk and crossed to the dresser.
A change of clothes were carefully folded and arranged to Padfoot’s liking and then he retrieved a spare pillow and a blanket from the cupboard in the corner - they’d had to find a different place to store their spare bedding after Kreacher moved into the linen cupboard on the landing. Padfoot folded the blanket as well as he could, shrank the pillow and then left the room to fetch his toothbrush.
Harry took Padfoot’s mirror off of the bedside table and murmured, “James Potter.” James’ smiling face appeared. “Hi,” Harry said. James waved at him and said something to someone Harry couldn’t see. “Hi, Mum,” he added, because though he’d never seen her, he was almost positive she was with James. James beamed.
“Padfoot told me the story about the Acromantula on the full moon, Dad,” he said, a little shyly. “I thought it was really funny but Moony said you were furious when you found out, Mum.” James laughed and said something over his shoulder. “It’s a full moon tonight.”
“You’re missing out, Prongs,” Padfoot called, returning with his toothbrush, toothpaste and food he’d obviously raided from the kitchen. All were deposited into his now rather full rucksack.
“Bye,” Harry whispered, passing the mirror to his godfather. James waved again.
“I’ve got to go, Prongs, no time to chat unfortunately but I know you’re watching us from wherever you are so keep an eye on your kid-” Padfoot grinned at Harry. “-tonight. Keep him in line and all that. I’ll say hi to Moony for you, shall I?” Padfoot’s voice wavered ever so slightly and he muttered a goodbye before tucking his mirror into his pocket. “Shut up,” he muttered.
“What?” Harry said.
“Nothing, nothing... Now,” Padfoot said, shouldering his rucksack, “please behave tonight. No brewing if you don’t mind. You can practice your spells if you’d like but only in the training room and nothing flammable or explosive, got it?”
Harry rolled his eyes - the Dursleys had also been under the impression that Harry couldn’t be left alone without destroying something - but nodded. It seemed fair, especially since Harry was still prone to lighting things on fire while he slept; Padfoot had put a Fire-Freezing Charm on his bedroom.
“Keep your wand on you at all times, don’t answer the door - Moony’s the only one who rings the doorbell anyway and he’ll be indisposed tonight - don’t leave the house, and if anything goes wrong, send a message with Hedwig - she’ll be able to cover the distance in about an hour.”
“Okay,” Harry said, shrugging.
“Good,” Padfoot said. “There’s food if you’re hungry, books if you’re bored or you could talk Kreacher into playing Exploding Snap or Snitch-and-Seeker-” That was what wizards called Hide-and-Seek, Harry had learned. “-or get him to tell you a story or-”
“Padfoot,” Harry said laughing, “it’s fine.”
“Oh, and make sure you’re in bed at a reasonable hour. Kreacher can make you breakfast if you’re up early but I should be home by about seven anyway-”
“Padfoot,” Harry said.
“I know I’ve forgotten something,” Padfoot muttered, crossing to the door.
“Forgotten something?” Harry asked, trailing after him. “I think you’ve just recited an entire parenting textbook!”
Padfoot ignored that and then said, “Aha! Don’t go near the Floo or that bloody locket.”
“I won’t,” Harry assured him. “Say hi to Moony for me.”
“I will,” Padfoot said. And then, almost as if he was speaking to himself, said, “There. How’s that for responsible guardianship?”
“Surprisingly good,” Harry offered.
“I’ll see you in the morning,” Padfoot said with a smug smile.
* * *
Padfoot pushed the back gate open and walked slowly along the stone path that led to the forest. A slight breeze ruffled his fur and the grass under his paws felt better than he could have imagined after so long inside. He’d missed the simplicity of the world when he was like this, too; he’d had a lot on his mind lately but none of that seemed to matter to him at the moment. It was particularly nice not to feel the effects of the Dementor’s Draught, which chattered away at him constantly.
He let out a happy, doggy sigh and trotted forward. He was a few yards into the trees when a large, sandy mass emerged and growled quietly. Padfoot barked a greeting, refusing to let Moony’s lingering pain ruin his brilliant mood, and the wolf’s ears twitched.
He loped over and jammed his cold nose into Padfoot’s shoulder. Padfoot’s tongue lolled out and he nudged the wolf’s neck and gave his ear a nip. Moony snorted. Padfoot backed off a little; Moony was taller than he had been all those years ago and probably not used to company anymore.
Moony came over to sniff him again and then his ears perked up and his tail began to wag slowly; he had recognised Padfoot and was happy to see him. Padfoot could smell it. Moony bounced closer and gave Padfoot an excited bump and nipped his ear the way Padfoot had done before. Padfoot barked and Moony barked back.
Moony remained excited - he chased Padfoot and Padfoot chased him for a good few minutes - until he stopped suddenly. Padfoot ran into his side but he didn’t even notice. Moony turned his large head to look at Padfoot. Brown eyes - which looked remarkably human - met grey ones and Moony made a soft woofing sound and flattened his ears against his skull.
Padfoot backed away, recognising the potential danger sign both instinctually and from the memories of full moons long ago. Moony didn’t attack though. He made the noise again and then whined and looked around, his tail drooping. Only after Moony had taken several more looks around did Padfoot understand.
He was looking for Prongs.
That ruined Padfoot’s good mood pretty quickly, although he wasn’t in a bad mood, just a sad one. Padfoot barked once, quietly, and sat down, resting his head on his paws. Moony whimpered again. Padfoot let out a sighing noise and then whined once. Moony’s tail was well and truly between his legs now and his entire body seemed to slump.
He came over and nudged Padfoot’s side with his nose and then he tilted his head back and howled a loud, mournful note to the moon and to the stars because the stag wasn’t there, because the stag never would be again.
There was no anger this time, as there had been other times when one of them couldn’t make it. The wolf knew this was different. Padfoot could smell it, the grief, and the longing and the pain. Moony howled again and Padfoot stood, padded over to the wolf’s side and joined his lament.
Quite a while later, when the howling had stopped, the wolf began to glance around again, this time looking near their paws instead of head-level. He was looking for Wormtail.
Padfoot bared his teeth and let out a long snarling sound. Moony watched curiously but after a moment, he seemed to understand. He bared his own teeth - significantly longer and pointier than Padfoot’s - and growled once before he turned and walked into the underbrush, his nose to the ground.
He was looking for Wormtail, for the traitor. For the one who’d destroyed their pack. Padfoot followed eagerly, excited at the prospect of a hunt, though the human in him knew the traitor wasn’t anywhere near here. His teeth stayed bared, ready to tear the rat - or any other rat they came across - to shreds.
* * *
“Has there been news, Albus?” Minerva whispered.
Dumbledore shook his head and Fawkes let out a mournful cry. Severus managed not to roll his eyes, but only just; it had been a week since the boy vanished from his St Mungo’s room. Severus had thought Lupin was a prime candidate for that but he’d been home when Dumbledore went to visit less than five minutes later and supposedly cleaning up the remains of a late dinner which indicated he’d been there for quite some time, instead of at the hospital, stealing James Potter’s son.
It irked a bit. Severus would have liked someone to blame for Dumbledore’s incessant worrying. The magical residue analysis had been useless; the wards at St Mungo’s destroyed magical residue because it could affect patients with magical ailments. As such, there was no way of knowing when or how Potter had escaped, or who had been there to help him.
Severus had given up trying to understand how it had happened, and decided Black had managed something supposedly impossible - like his escape from Azkaban - yet again. That someone as mediocre as Black could accomplish something as... not mediocre... bothered Severus more than he cared to admit.
“I’m sure the boy is fine,” Severus said impatiently. “He was alive as of a week ago, which indicates Black may not be as determined to kill him as we originally thought.”
Minerva gave him a look that suggested he was being deliberately obtuse. “You’ve never had one positive thing to say about Sirius Black in all the time I’ve known you, Severus,” she said a little thickly, “and you choose now of all times to begin?”
“It was hardly a positive thing,” Severus said stiffly. “I’m merely thoroughly tired of hearing old news spoken about as if it’s new.”
Minerva bristled. “There is a child missing, Severus. Surely even you-”
“Minerva,” Dumbledore said quietly, though he looked troubled.
Severus’ lip curled. Missing children were not a matter to be taken lightly, even if this child in particular seemed to make a habit of conveniently vanishing from where he was supposed to be. A troublemaker like his wretched father, Severus thought scathingly.
He had, of course, considered a visit to Grimmauld Place. It would be the responsible thing to do, given the circumstances, but three things had stopped him. Firstly, Black and Potter - both of whom ranked in the top ten of Severus’ most loathed list (Pettigrew, Potter, Black, the Dark Lord, Lupin, Tobias Snape, the Longbottom boy, Bellatrix, Potter’s spawn and Petunia Evans) - resided there.
Secondly, it wasn’t his business whether the Potter boy was safe - dubious though safety was with Black as a guardian. He had no valid reason to drop by other than to ease his own infuriating conscience, which kept reminding him that he had promised Dumbledore - and later Lily Evans’ grave - that he would protect the boy.
Thirdly, if something was amiss and the Potter boy wasn’t there, or he was injured, he would become Severus’ problem, at least for the immediate future. That too was unacceptable. He can rot, Severus thought irritably as both Dumbledore and Minerva talked in quiet, anxious voices. They both can.
* * *
Harry was just taking his glasses off for bed when the doorbell clanged through the house. Mrs Black’s portrait started to complain from the linen cupboard on the landing but it seemed she’d mellowed since being moved there - Kreacher was the only one she ever had any contact with and apparently that suited her - because Harry hadn’t heard her shriek since arriving back from St Mungo’s.
He jammed his glasses back on, snatched up his wand and hissed, “Kreacher!” Kreacher materialised a moment later, in the middle of Harry’s dark bedroom. “Don’t answer the door,” Harry told him.
“Master Sirius gave Kreacher his orders,” Kreacher said. “Master was specific as always.” His voice dropped and he muttered - half to himself, half to Harry - in somewhat grudging, somewhat admiring tones. “So specific, in fact, that Kreacher cannot even go on the ground floor tonight, though Kreacher is sure Master has his reasons.”
“Yeah, he does,” Harry assured the elf.
The doorbell rang again and Mrs Black called for Kreacher to answer it. Kreacher twitched, as if he was about to do as he was told but then visibly restrained himself; he was only allowed to follow the portrait’s orders if he asked Padfoot for permission first. The doorbell rang a third time. Kreacher left to calm his poor Mistress and Harry crossed to the window to try to see who it was.
He squinted, trying to make out the figure in the dim glow of the street light. He couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman, how old they were, or how tall. He couldn’t even tell what they were wearing; they just looked like a shadow. Probably just a muggle salesman, he thought, trying to calm himself down.
Odd hours to come at, but that’s fine. The figure moved as Harry watched and then extended an arm. Harry assumed it was to tug on the string that rang the doorbell. They’ll go away when no one answers.
The sound of the front door opening, and the sound of someone stepping onto the squeaky floorboard just inside the door, drifted up the stairs. Harry thought he might be sick. Gripping his wand so tightly his knuckles were white, he ran out onto the landing and peered over the banister where he could see the end of the ground floor hallway illuminated by the lamps that came on whenever someone entered the house.
A dark figure walked into view, peering down the stairs at the dark kitchen and then began to tilt their head up. Harry threw himself down onto the floor. His existence should be concealed by the Fidelius Charm but he wasn’t taking any chances. He counted to five and then crawled forward, looking between the rails instead of over them this time, but the intruder was gone.
The lamp light from downstairs guttered out and plunged the house into darkness again. There was a low curse from the stairwell and then a faint white light lit up on the second floor.
Harry opened Kreacher’s cupboard door, grabbed the elf with no more explanation than, “Shh!” and dragged him into his room. He closed the door as much as he could without it actually clicking shut in the hopes it would muffle any noise - thought Ostendere me omnia - and then span on the spot.
They landed in the dark, but it was warm and the quiet gurgle of water told Harry he’d brought them to the right place. Kreacher snapped his fingers and a little candle sitting atop the boiler flared into life.
“There’s someone in the house,” Harry breathed.
“An intruder in the House of Black!” Kreacher croaked, looking stricken. He snapped his fingers again and a heavy, copper saucepan appeared in his hand. Harry stared at him. “Master Harry will stay here and safe,” he croaked.
“Where are you going?” Harry whispered. The menacing look in Kreacher’s eyes was enough of an answer as he flicked a hand at the door and it popped open. “You can’t go alone!” Harry said, scrambling out of the den after him. Kreacher, unlike Harry, wasn’t protected by the Fidelius Charm.
“Kreacher is capable of protecting his home and his Master,” Kreacher said, hefting the pan. He took a step toward the kitchen stairs and let out a quiet shriek. Harry jumped and knocked one of the chairs over.
“What happened?” Harry asked.
“Magic,” Kreacher croaked. “Sent to find us.”
“They know we’re here?” Harry asked, alarmed. “But the Fidel-” Kreacher’s bony fingers wrapped around Harry’s forearm and then they were in Harry’s bedroom again. The lamps on the walls were blazing merrily. Harry shivered; the intruder must have left them on. “Kreacher, what-?” he whispered.
“Quietly, Master Harry,” Kreacher said edging toward the door. Harry tip-toed after him and peered out onto the landing. It was clear, and the pair crept out to the top of the stairs. A dark shape moved on the third floor, headed down. Kreacher lifted his pan determinedly and moved silently onto the stairs. Harry followed, wand aloft.
They were moving faster than the intruder, who seemed to be checking each room on the way down. Kreacher stopped suddenly midway down the stairs - Harry walked into the back of him with a quiet, “Oof! Sorry!” - and glanced around the next bend in the stairs.
The intruder, a tall shadow, was on the first floor landing, looking into the drawing room. Without hesitation, Kreacher snapped his fingers and the intruder fell to the floor with a thump. Their wandlight went out, plunging the landing back into darkness.
“You didn’t kill them, did you?” Harry whispered.
Kreacher made a strange noise that could have been a laugh - though Harry wasn’t sure that house elves could laugh - and prowled forward to nudge the prone form onto its back with his foot, seeming satisfied. Suddenly, the pan dropped. It landed disturbingly close to the intruder’s head and rang dully when it hit the carpet.
Kreacher keeled over with a high-pitched moan, clutching his head. Harry took a step forward, not entirely sure what was happening, at least until the intruder’s rigid body relaxed and they sat up and lifted their wand.
“Digitum Moverum!” Harry yelled and the intruder’s fingers twitched uncontrollably. The wand dropped silently to the carpet and Harry dove for it, only to be shoved - quite hard, out of the way. He couldn’t see the intruder - his back was to them - but he knew one spell that might be effective. “Lumos Maxima!” he shouted.
His wand lit up brilliantly, blinding Harry but also the intruder; there was a curse and the sound of movement behind him. He spun, ready to use another spell and then his stomach lurched and he found himself staring at the carpet. Kreacher was still keening on the ground.
“Did no one ever inform you it was rude to attack house guests?” a snide voice asked. The lamps on the walls sputtered into life and Harry found himself looking into the eyes of a flushed, rather disgruntled Snape.
Harry wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or terrified. “We... er... don’t get many visitors. Sir,” he added hastily.
“After such a warm welcome, one can only imagine why,” Snape said in a voice laced with sarcasm. Harry pushed his glasses up - gravity was trying its best to pull them off his face - and tried to look as unruffled as he could given that he was dangling six feet in the air by his ankle; his sock was just brushing the ceiling.
It’s not exactly polite to wander into someone else’s house unannounced, he thought, but didn’t dare voice it.
“I suppose your troglodytic godfather is waiting to ambush me on the next level?” Snape continued, sounding bored.
“Er... No,” Harry promised, though he had no idea what ‘troglodytic’ meant. “Your spell would have picked that up, wouldn’t it?” Snape looked surprised and then inclined his head. “Could you maybe let me down, please? Sir.” Snape stooped to examine the copper pan Kreacher had armed himself with and then straightened to meet Harry’s eyes.
“Can you and your elf be trusted not to assault me?” Harry glanced at Kreacher, who was curled up and obviously in pain, but quiet.
“Yes.” Snape flicked his wand and Harry dropped to the ground, not gently, but not as hard as he should have. He immediately scrambled over to Kreacher’s side. “What did you do to him?” he demanded.
“Nothing,” Snape said, his expression unreadable.
“It’s not nothing!” Harry said, watching Kreacher’s eyes flicker beneath his eyelids, like he was experiencing a particularly bad nightmare. The elf whimpered. “You’ve hurt him!” Snape’s eyes widened just enough for Harry to notice but he regained control quickly.
“I did nothing of the kind.”
Liar, Harry thought, glaring at him. He gave Kreacher’s arm a squeeze and the elf’s eyes snapped open. They landed on Harry and then fluttered shut again, but it was peaceful this time. Harry took a moment to make sure he was breathing and then relaxed. He shot another glare at Snape, whose face was blank.
“I require a word with Black.”
“He’s not here,” Harry said. “Sir.”
“And where might he be?” Snape’s eyes, cold and dark bored into Harry’s.
“Out,” Harry said, meeting his gaze squarely.
“I see,” Snape said, his expression turning from mildly irritated to almost furious. “And when will he next grace you with his presence?”
“Morning,” Harry said.
Snape’s lip curled. “He left you alone, overnight?”
“I have Kreacher,” Harry said defensively. Snape’s eyes flicked to Kreacher’s limp form and he didn’t need to say anything for Harry to know what he was thinking.
Several expressions flitted over his pallid face and then he said, “Pack a bag.”
“What?” Harry asked.
“You will return to Hogwarts with me,” Snape said. “I will bring you back in the morning when I come to speak with Black.”
“I can’t go to Hogwarts!” Harry said. “I’m not old enough, and people would recognise me! And what if Padfoot came back and I wasn’t here?! I-”
“I will not let you stay here alone,” Snape said in a tone that brooked no argument.
Harry argued anyway.
“Let me?” he asked, his eyes narrowing. Snape actually flinched. Harry wondered why but didn’t ask. “With all due respect, sir, I really don’t think that’s up to you.” His voice was the perfect mix between Padfoot’s sarcasm and Moony’s polite disbelief. Harry was quite proud of himself. “I was told not to leave the house-”
“You are nine years old. You are not old enough to spend the night alone.”
“I had Kreacher,” Harry snapped.
And whose fault is that? Harry thought scathingly.
“Pack a bag,” Snape repeated.
“You’ll... Do you promise to bring me back in the morning?” Harry asked tentatively.
“It seems Black’s stupidity is contagious,” Snape remarked and then said more loudly, “I have already made that clear, Potter.”
“What about Kreacher?” Harry asked stubbornly.
Snape glanced at the sleeping house elf. “He’ll have a headache when he wakes.”
“But he’ll be okay?” Harry pressed.
Snape gave him a look that had Harry scurrying upstairs to pack his rucksack.
* * *
“I thought most children slept at night,” Snape remarked from his corner.
Harry looked up tiredly. They’d Flooed directly to Snape’s quarters in the dungeons of Hogwarts - at first Harry thought Snape was going to lock him up until morning - some six hours ago. Harry had, despite his guilt for going against one of the few rules Padfoot had set, made it through without getting lost or hurt.
Snape’s quarters were dark and simple; green carpet (which Harry had got ash on) covered the floor and the walls were dull grey stone, though one was decorated with a Slytherin banner and the other was comprised solely of a bookshelf.
There was a black leather couch next to that, a lumpy bed in one corner, a door opposite which led to a small bathroom, and a desk and cabinet in another corner. There were another two doors - one alongside the cabinet and desk, and one embedded in the bookshelf wall (the shelf arched around it) - that Snape had not told Harry about and he had known better than to ask.
Snape had conjured a camp bed right beside the bathroom door and directed Harry there immediately before settling onto his couch. He obviously had no intention of sleeping while Harry was in the room and Harry was much the same.
He could imagine nothing worse than having a nightmare and having to explain why he’d set Snape on fire, or accidentally telling Snape about the Horcruxes (whatever they were) or having to be woken by Snape at six-thirty to go home.
Harry fiddled with the pieces of Regulus’ snake puzzle, pleased he’d had the foresight to bring it and said, “I’m not tired.” That lie may have fooled Snape - though Harry somehow doubted it - but the yawn that followed well and truly gave him away.
He stuffed the puzzle back into his rucksack and pulled out the book he’d brought so that he had something to hide behind. Snape sneered and looked back to the papers he was marking with an irritated expression.
“Tell me, Potter-” he said suddenly. Harry started - Snape had hardly spoken to him all night - and glanced up. “-how long a Polyjuice Potion should take to brew.” Harry blinked. He’d never heard of a Poly-whatever-it-was Potion before.
“I don’t know, sir,” he said, peeking over the top of his book.
“If I were to tell you it was an extremely complex and delicate potion...” Snape prompted.
“A long time then, I suppose,” Harry said tentatively. Snape smiled viciously and scribbled a large ‘T’ on the parchment he was holding.
“You are nine years old, correct?”
“Yes, sir,” Harry said nervously. Snape added a comment beneath that and picked up another piece of parchment. His dark eyes flicked back and forward for a few moments and then he etched another ‘T’ onto that parchment with a flourish. “What do those letters mean?” Harry blurted. “I’ve never seen them used as a grade-”
“Wizards have a different grading system than muggles,” Snape said.
“Oh.” That made sense. “What do they stand for?”
“Outstanding, Exceeds Expectations, Acceptable, Poor, Dreadful and Troll.”
“Troll?” Harry asked.
“It is synonymous with Gryffindor,” Snape remarked, scribbling something down on the parchment he was holding.
Harry’s eyes narrowed. “Are you saying Gryffindors are trolls?” he asked carefully. Snape marked something with an ‘A’ and glanced up.
“Not at all,” he said slowly, and fixed Harry with a look that Harry couldn’t read but felt mocked by nonetheless. “I’m merely saying their ability in my subject could be rivalled by a creature with a brain no larger than your fist.”
Harry made a fist and stared at it for a few seconds before saying, “They can’t be that bad.”
Snape’s lip curled. “Talented Potions students are few and far between and the only one I’ve known who came from Gryffindor finished school before you were born.”
“If you think students are stupid, why do you teach?” Snape scratched another mark - and ‘E’ this time - onto an essay. Harry waited.
“If you’re expecting me to justify my choices to you, Potter, then you’re as delusional as your father and godfather.” Harry frowned and glanced back at his book; it was about Dementors, something Harry had taken to reading about to try to find a solution other than chocolate that would fully heal Padfoot.
Snape gave him a superior look and grabbed another roll of parchment. After a moment, Harry glanced up again and fixed Snape with a speculative look.
“Yes, Potter?” Snape asked, sounding resigned. Harry flushed and looked down.
“How extraordinarily like your father you are, Potter. It would seem the penchant to waste my time is genetic.” Harry swallowed a rude comment.
“Sorry,” he muttered instead. His eyes flicked up to Snape again.
“What?” Snape asked, sounding irritated.
“Could- could I ask you something?”
“Just like your father, indeed,” Snape sneered. “Always assuming I have nothing better to do than entertain your every whim-” Harry bit down on his tongue to stop himself from telling Snape to shut up about his father.
“Could you tell me about Dementors?” Harry asked. Snape’s face drained of colour.
“I beg your pardon?” he asked, sounding stunned.
“Well, I’m reading about them, but I thought maybe if you explained it I might be able to understand better-” He always learnt faster when he had a chance to practice – if it was a spell or potion – or when Padfoot talked him through it. He envied Padfoot a bit, for being able to read something and so it. “-and I can’t ask Padf- Sirius-” He could not, of course, mention Moony. “-so I thought that maybe you-?”
“There is nothing I can tell you that you will not find in your book,” Snape said stiffly. “And as for asking Black, I see no reason why you should not. He is surely an expert by now.” Harry frowned. “Although, if I remember correctly, Black’s retention skills have always been somewhat... lacking.” That was one comment too many.
“Why are you so horrible to them?” Harry asked. He didn’t recall grabbing it, but his wand was in his hand, spitting sparks. “I know you didn’t get along with Dad and Padfoot in school, but-”
“How touching,” Snape said softly. “James Potter’s son has taken his father’s place as Black’s number one defender.” Harry glowered at him. Snape met his eyes, rolled up the parchment he was reading and set his quill down. He got to his feet and swept over to Harry’s camp bed and bent so that he and Harry were the same height. “Allow me to shatter any delusions you have, Potter; Black is a monster. He was capable of murder at the age of sixteen and your precious father was no better.”
“Padfoot wouldn’t-” Harry protested.
“Wouldn’t he?” Snape sneered, showing his yellow teeth. “Black, Potter and Lupin - who the Headmaster tells me you became fond of during your time in St Mungo’s - plotted to kill me in our fifth year. They should have been expelled. Your guardian may have been wrongfully imprisoned over the whole Secret Keeper fiasco, but let there be no doubt he belonged there.”
“You’re wrong,” Harry said, furiously. He pushed it down with an effort. Not long now - I can go home in ten minutes. I just have to stay-
“I assure you I’m not.” Snape smiled nastily. “The truth hurts, doesn’t it, Potter.” Snape straightened and turned back toward the couch.
“I think you’re jealous,” Harry said, glaring at him.
Snape’s sneer faltered just enough for Harry to know he’d hit a nerve but then he said, “Obviously. However did you guess I’ve always aspired to be an obnoxious toerag?”
“Padfoot’s not an obnoxious toerag!” Harry snapped.
“I wasn’t talking about your godfather,” Snape said with another nasty smile.
“My dad wasn’t either!”
“As far as I know, Potter, you’ve never really met the man. Surely you can’t think you know better than those of us who have had the... pleasure...” Snape’s lip curled, “of doing so.”
But-but Dad was good. Dad was an Order member. “Padfoot said-”
“Your godfather worshipped the ground your saintly father walked on,” Snape continued mercilessly. “He wouldn’t be able to see a fault in James Potter if it were a bludger that flew into the side of his overly large head.”
“SHUT UP!” Harry shouted. Several heavy books exploded off of the bookshelf and the Slytherin banner swayed in a non-existent wind. The papers Snape was marking flew out of their neat pile and scattered.
“I say-” a portrait of a sallow faced woman on Snape’s desk exclaimed. Harry stuffed his book back into his rucksack and stood.
“Potter, what-” Harry ignored him, stalked toward the fireplace, grabbed a handful of Floo Powder, and vanished.