Harry was released from the Hospital Wing bright and early the next morning, as soon as Poppy had pronounced him in perfect health again. He was able to go to the hall and eat breakfast with his Housemates, all of whom welcomed him back with grins and several of the girls said how glad they were he hadn't been hurt worse.
"You've got to watch the stairs, Harry," said Percy pompously. "They move all the time and you're lucky you didn't get worse than a couple of bruises and a busted ankle."
For that was the story Harry had asked Ron and Hermione to spread about, that his fall had come from one of the staircases moving while he was on it and he had tripped and fallen off it. While it was a bit embarrassing and Harry knew he'd endure his share of taunts from the Slytherins especially, it was better than the truth. If the person who had pushed him thought he was unaware of what had happened, he could grow careless and then perhaps Snape could catch him before he hurt Harry again. Harry had great faith in his guardian angel, and he knew Severus would be watching over him like a hawk, making sure nothing else happened to him.
Harry sat down at the table, ignoring some of the snickers of his Housemates as they re-told the story of how he had fallen. He began to eat his breakfast, a piece of toast, some ham, and the chive spiced eggs he'd grown so fond of here.
"You okay, Harry?" Ron asked, peering at his friend.
"Fine. I'm just hungry." Harry replied. He wondered if Severus would send for him tonight, so he could try out his new broom.
"It's Halloween tonight," Hermione announced. "I've read about the Halloween feasts in Hogwarts: A History. They're supposed to be wonderful, with every kind of food and sweets and the Great Hall is magicked to look like different themes. I can't wait to see what the Headmaster comes up with this year."
Ron shook his head. "Lord, Hermione, is there anything you haven't read? Like the rest of the books in Flourish and Blotts, maybe?"
"I like reading," Hermione said, with a touch of annoyance. "Is there something wrong with that, Ronald?"
"Yeah, as a matter of fact there is. It's not normal to be so book crazy. You use your brain for too much information. Don't you ever get sick and tired of learning? Why don't you take a break and learn to have fun, like a normal kid?"
Hermione glared at him, angry tears standing in her eyes. "I am too normal, Ronald Weasley! Just because I'm smart doesn't mean I don't know how to have fun. I like to do crosswords and . . .and watch the Discovery Channel and play Scrabble, so there!"
Ron looked utterly confused. "Huh? What's Scabbers? That's the name of my rat."
"Not Scabbers, Ron. Scrabble," Harry corrected. "It's a board game Muggles play where you have to make words out of seven letters that you pick out of a bag. You get points for the longest words and stuff."
Ron snorted. "Figures. A word game. Like that's real fun. Why don't you play a real game, like Wizard Chess?"
"Because Wizard Chess is barbaric!" Hermione snapped, wiping her eyes angrily. She hated the way her eyes teared when she got mad, it made her seem like a weepy six-year-old. "The pieces kill each other, it's disgusting!"
"It's disgusting," Ron mimicked. "Typical girl. Can't stand the sight of blood, I'll bet."
"Well, at least I know how to spell something besides my name."
"You know too much, that's your problem."
Hermione stood up and grabbed her bookbag. "Fine! Next time you need help with your homework, Weasley, don't come running to me." Then she stalked off.
"Oh, great. Nice going, Weasley," groaned Dean Thomas. "Now what are we gonna do when we don't know the answers to an assignment?"
"Read the book," Harry muttered, then quickly shut up at Ron's incredulous glare.
"What's gotten into you, mate? You're not defending that annoying know-it-all, are you?"
"No," Harry said quickly, for he didn't want to be labeled an outcast the way he had been in primary school thanks to Dudley telling everyone his cousin was a criminal and a liar. He turned back to his breakfast, though a part of him did feel a little sorry for the little witch, who wasn't smart enough to realize that her answering all the questions in class made her unpopular, since it looked like she was showing off.
The day only got worse from there on. Hermione refused to speak to Ron at the beginning of Charms, even though she was his partner. They were studying the Levitation Charm again, and Professor Flitwick had given everyone feathers to try to levitate. No one was having much success, Neville made his blow up, and Seamus Finnegan set his on fire. Harry couldn't get his to move at all, he began to think his feather was jinxed.
Over at the next desk, Ron was waving his arms wildly and yelling "WIN-gardium LEV-i-o-sa!" and jabbing his wand at the feather as if he were going to spear it.
The feather remained inert upon the desk and he huffed in frustration.
"You're saying it wrong," Hermione gritted out, unable to keep silent any longer. "It's not WIN-gardium LEV-i-o-sa, it's win-GAR-dium Lev-i-OH-sa. You have to say the words properly or else the incantation will fail."
"Let's see you do it then, know-it-all," Ron snapped, irritated that Hermione was lecturing him as if she were a bloody professor, for Merlin's sake.
"Very well," she rolled up her sleeves, tapped the feather with her wand and intoned, "Wingardium Leviosa!"
The feather drifted free of the wood and soared gracefully into the air.
Everyone stared and Hermione was grinning as she watched her feather flying.
"Congratulations!" cheered Flitwick. "See here everyone, Miss Granger's done it! Well done! Ten points to Gryffindor."
Several of the Gryffindors cheered and the Slytherins groaned.
Ron looked like he wanted to blow up Hermione and her feather. "Bloody show-off!" he growled.
"Now, remember, everyone, swish and flick!" chanted Flitwick, stressing the proper wand movements, which were also essential for casting a spell correctly.
Harry concentrated hard, swishing and flicking his wand, and then saying, "Wingardium Leviosa!" the way Hermione had.
He was rewarded with his feather also lifting off the desktop and floating through the air. "Congratulations, Mr. Potter. Five more points to Gryffindor."
By the time class had ended, most of the students had managed to get their feather into the air for short periods.
But Ron was still steamed at being shown up by Hermione yet again, this happened on an almost daily basis, and he followed Harry out of the classroom and started heading towards the stairs. "Merlin! It's not Win-gar-dium Leviosa, it's Win-GAR-dium Levi-OH-sa. She's a nightmare, honestly. No wonder she has no friends."
"Hush!" Harry hissed. "She'll hear you."
Just then, Hermione pushed past them, running quickly down the stairs and down the righthand side of the first floor, her eyes blurring with tears. She had thought the two boys were her friends, the first real ones she had ever had, but no, they were just like everyone else, jealous because she was smart and not afraid to show it. Hurt by Ron's thoughtless comments, she ran into the girl's bathroom, locked herself in a stall and proceeded to cry her eyes out. Why couldn't she ever seem to fit in?
* * * * * *
Evening came, and Harry headed back to his common room to drop off his books before the feast. He found Hedwig with a note for him, and he read quickly as he changed his clothes, they'd gotten all sweaty practicing maneuvers with Wood, though he didn't use the Nimbus that practice, for he wanted it to be a surprise and decided to save it for those times he flew with Snape and for the upcoming match.
"Hey, girl," he murmured, stroking her feathers lightly. "What do you have for me?"
Hedwig allowed him to take the note from her, rubbing her head against him fondly.
Harry quickly scanned the contents.
No lesson tonight. Celebrate Halloween with your friends. You'll be fine tomorrow. Watch your flying, boy. I'll see you at the feast. Behave with decorum, if you know how. You ought to know what to do with the note by now.
Harry sighed, he'd rather been hoping Snape wouldn't cancel the lesson. But then he supposed it would look odd if the Potions Master and himself went missing at the feast, and resigned himself to another night without flying. He destroyed the note, then hurried downstairs to go to the feast. He would have to find a way to thank Severus for the Nimbus tomorrow, before he played.
He found that Ron and the rest of Gryffindor House were already there, under the crimson and gold lion banner, enjoying the heaps of food upon the table. The ceiling of the hall had been charmed to look as if thousands of jack-o-lanterns were floating in the sky, along with bats flying around and a few glowing skulls as well.
"Ooo! Spooky!" Ron sniggered, pretending to shrink away as a skull floated nearby.
"Look! It's Snape's grandfather!" joked Seamus, pointing to a large bat hovering, then he quickly glanced around to see if the Potions Master was anywhere in the vicinity. But Snape was up at the staff table, with all the other teachers.
Harry picked up a chicken leg to hide his reaction Seamus's little remark, he scowled down at his plate. I'd rather be related to a bat than you, you stupid git! Lately, he found himself biting his tongue until it bled around his Housemates, especially when they started in on Severus. He knew they were biased against the professor because he was Head of Slytherin and too strict, but did they have to insult the man all the time?
He tore off a piece of chicken and chewed savagely.
"Better watch out, Seamus!" laughed George. "If Snape hears you, he'll come and drink your blood, just like a vampire."
"Ugh! Gross!" squealed a girl.
"Bet Halloween's Snape's favorite holiday," said another girl. "He fits right in with all the other monsters, the greasy git."
Harry continued eating the chicken, even though the food no longer tasted good. Shows how much YOU know, you stupid ass. That "monster" saved my life two days ago. Again. If he had something in his mouth, he wouldn't be tempted to hex the girl who had just spoken.
"Where's Hermione?" asked Lavender Brown.
"Parvati says she's been in the girl's room all day, cryin'" answered Neville, looking sorry for the girl.
"She missed class?" repeated another in awe.
Neville just nodded and Harry shot a look at Ron, who looked slightly red-faced and guilty. Ron's words must have hurt her pretty badly for Hermione to miss class. Now Harry felt bad for not sticking up for her, though he agreed with Ron that she was a know-it-all, he also didn't like feeling like a bully and making her cry.
"Ron, maybe we ought to . . .you know . . .say we're sorry?" Harry whispered.
Ron looked a bit startled. "She was showing off, Harry, same as always. I get so sick of her always being right, always being the teacher's pet. Hell, even Snape isn't that nasty to her, he actually gave her five points for knowing what the hell love-lies-bleeding was. It's like being friends with a walking textbook."
"I don't think she knows how annoying she is, Ron. Maybe we should give her another chance," Harry suggested.
Ron considered, but before he could say yes or no, the doors to the Great Hall burst open and a disheveled Quirrell rushed in, his turban askew and panting, his face pale as a ghost's and shaking like a willow in a windstorm. His nervous tic was more pronounced than ever, making the side of his face jerk up and down eerily. "T-T-T-Troll!" he sputtered loudly. "Troll in the d-d-dungeons!" He raced up the aisle, utter terror written all over him. "Thought you should know!"
The next instant he collapsed in a dead faint, right in Professor's Sprout's dish of rice pudding.
The Herbology Professor jumped and cried, "Oh dear, I think it was too much for him. He's got such a nervous disorder."
"Nervous disorder my arse!" muttered Snape, glaring viciously at the Defense teacher. "He's a damn coward, and all of us know it. Some Defense professor he is!"
He gestured swiftly and Quirrell was levitated out of Pomona's pudding and dumped unceremoniously onto the floor.
Pandemonium broke out as several students attempted to flee the hall at the same time and got jammed up in the aisle, screaming and pushing. "Get out! It'll kill us all!"
"Silence!" roared Dumbledore, standing up and shooting several loud firecrackers with purple streamers from his wand.
The shock stilled the panicky students, enough so he could instruct the older prefects to gather the students and bring them back to their dormitories. "Students, follow your prefects, there is nothing to fear. Professors, to the dungeons, we shall deal with the troll."
He waited until the prefects began to make some headway gathering their scared brethren before rising and beckoning his staff to the fireplace, where they began to Floo to the dungeons.
Only the Potions Master hesitated. His instincts were tingling like mad, and he did not trust Quirrell after what Harry had told him about his scar. It would be most unlikely a troll had managed to wander down to the dungeons, they didn't do well with stairs, they were too clumsy, though beastly strong. No, there was something off here.
Severus quickly made a decision to check up on the object hidden on the third floor. He could always rejoin the others later, it was hardly necessary for the entire staff to go and attack a single mountain troll. He glanced quickly across the hall, and saw Harry following his classmates back to Gryffindor Tower as ordered. Good. At least the boy wasn't a risk taker like his father. He had inherited Lily's common sense at least.
The spy departed through a secret passage, so no one would see where he was heading.
* * * * * *
"Ron, how could a troll get in?" Harry cried, shouting loudly to be heard over the mad crush of people, some of whom were still screaming.
Ron shrugged. "I dunno. They're really dumb, maybe Peeves let it in. Don't worry mate, the professors will kill it and that's the end of it."
They began to file out of the hall. Some of the first year girls were crying and looked very scared. Percy was striding ahead, acting like he was a general on parade, with his chest puffed out. "Come along, people! Don't dawdle, keep formation now. Gryffindor Tower just ahead."
Ron rolled his eyes. "Obnoxious arrogant twit! I can't believe he's my brother. I think he was switched at birth."
Suddenly Harry recalled there was one member of their House who didn't know about the troll. "Ron!" He reached out and grabbed the other by the back of his robes.
"Yikes!" yelped the red-head. "Harry, what the blazes? You almost choked me to death."
"Sorry. But we need to go tell Hermione to go up to the tower." Harry reminded. "She doesn't know about the troll."
"I'll bet she does. She knows everything."
"Ron! I'm serious. We have to go tell her. It's your fault she's in there, you know."
"Me?" Ron tried to look innocent, but Harry wasn't fooled.
"Yeah, you, you big idiot. Now come on, before Percy notices we're missing." Harry urged, then hauled Ron away down the corridor to the girl's bathroom, which was where he had last seen Hermione headed that morning. In the crush of people, Percy never noticed his little brother or Harry was missing until he got all the way inside the common room and started to take roll.
The two boys had almost reached the girl's bathroom when they heard footsteps behind them. Ron and Harry exchanged glances of utter horror. "Run! Quick, it's my brother," Ron moaned and they ducked into a supply closet, peering out between the mops and broom handles.
But it was not Percy they saw coming along the corridor, but the black robed figure of Professor Snape.
"Why's he here and not down in his dungeons with the rest of the teachers?" Ron wondered.
Harry shrugged. "I don't know." For a wild instant, Harry feared Snape had read his mind and was searching for him, the man's face was dark with anger and grim purpose. It was just the sort of look that would terrify a misbehaving child into obedience, and Harry prayed hard that the professor was not searching for his wayward student. Please, please, don't let him find me here. He'll have a bleeding fit. He scrunched down among the mops and buckets, figuring if he made himself small, Severus would never know he was there. Funny, he was more afraid of Snape's anger than he was of the troll. Then again, he knew what Snape was like in a temper, and somehow he couldn't picture a troll as being that terrifying.
The professor paused beside the supply closet and Harry held his breath and crossed his fingers. Please God . . .
Ron was looking at him with an odd expression, half puzzlement and half fear. He was frozen as the shadow of Snape passed over them.
Then he was gone, moving off towards the stairs, and the two boys could breathe again.
"Phew! That was a close one, mate!" Ron said, wiping the sweat from his forehead. "If Snape had caught us . . ."
Harry nodded, he didn't even want to think of what the Potions Master would have done if he had found Harry wandering the hallway and not up in Gryffindor Tower. "C'mon, we've got to warn Hermione."
But just as they stepped into the hallway again, they felt the floor vibrate with the weight of several hundred pounds of stinking gray mountain troll. THUD! THUD!
Petrified, the two raced into the girl's bathroom in an attempt to hide from the monster.
"Hermione!" yelled Harry. "We've got to get out of here! There's a troll coming."
There came a muffled hiccup and a sniffle from the third stall from the end. "That's not funny, Harry. Just go away! I'm not speaking to you!"
"It's not a joke, I swear!" Harry cried. "There really is a troll, can't you hear it?"
"And smell it?" Ron cried, wrinkling his nose.
The troll's stench reminded Harry of the sewers, rotting vegetation and manure and dead things all rolled into one. The miasma rolled over him and he began to gag, his nose was very sensitive, it compensated for his poor vision.
"Ugh!" came Hermione's voice from inside the stall. "What's that awful smell? Has Moaning Myrtle clogged a toilet again?"
"It's the troll!" Ron yelled, and all of a sudden the door splintered into pieces as the troll smashed it in with its huge studded club.
Harry and Ron ducked the flying shards and ran to hide inside one of the stalls, but the troll was upon them before they took three steps.
Hermione peered out of the stall and screamed in horror.
The troll was hideous. It was over twelve feet with gray skin that resembled rock but had pustules all over it, as if it were diseased. It had tufts of black hair upon its head, pointed ears, and a maw full of snaggly teeth, some of which had shreds of flesh clinging to them. Its beady yellow eyes lit upon the three children and it bellowed in delight.
At least that's what Harry thought it said, its jaw was so misshapen it was difficult to understand it. But he had no trouble interpreting the hungry gleam in the yellow eyes.
Bloody hell! We're the main course on the menu, unless we think fast!
The troll shambled forward, club raised to crush Hermione, who was crouched upon the floor a few feet away, wandless, since her wand was in her bookbag, which was two feet away.
"Do something!" she shrieked.
Harry sprang forward, yelling, "Leave her alone, you great brute!"
The troll paused, glanced down, and Harry jumped up and stabbed it in the eye with his wand.
The troll screamed in agony and staggered backwards.
"Blimey, Harry! You poked its eye out, I think!" Ron cried.
But that was not enough, for the troll was bellowing and smashing everything in sight, its club bashing apart the stalls and knocking the sinks off the walls. Debris flew everywhere and Harry just managed to duck a piece of marble as it flew through the air.
"Stun it or something!" Hermione yelled, still crouched on the floor.
Ron fumbled for his wand. "Uh, Wingardium Leviosa!" he shouted, and the club was levitated out of the troll's grasp for a second.
Then it crashed back down on the ground, crushing the troll's hairy foot. It screamed.
Then it tried to grab Ron and tear him apart.
Harry thought fast. They needed to knock it out, but he knew no offensive magic yet. Then he thought of something else. "Accio Snape's extra large cauldron."
An instant later, drawn to him by the utmost need, Snape's huge cauldron flew into the bathroom.
And impacted right into the troll, knocking it out. It fell to the floor with another earthshaking THUD!
"Wow! Death by cauldron!" Ron whooped.
"It's not dead," Harry murmured, lowering the cauldron to the ground. "Just knocked out."
"Good thing for us," Hermione cried, getting to her feet and retrieving her bookbag from the stall. "That was a very clever move, Harry."
Harry allowed himself a smile, though it had been a near thing, his wild gambit had paid off. He bent and retrieved his wand from the troll's eye. "Yuck! Eyeball grease!" he quickly wiped it off on the troll's loincloth.
"What the blazes is going on in here?" demanded a familiar silky voice, sharp with fury.
All three children froze in dread.
Severus stepped into the bathroom, his ebony eyes narrowed, quickly taking in the troll on the floor, the three children, and his heaviest and best black cauldron. His brows drew down in a fierce scowl and Harry cringed and quickly dropped his gaze to the floor.
"Why aren't you in your dormitory, Potter? Weasley? Miss Granger? Do you not understand when the Headmaster gives an order it is meant to be obeyed?" He stalked over to the troll, nudged it with his boot and seemed satisfied that it was indeed out of commission. Then he gave the children his most disapproving Snape glare. "Potter, do you think you're above the rules?"
"No, sir," Harry managed. Oh, but I'm so dead. He waited for Snape to take him by the shoulders and shake him until his teeth rattled or box his ears or something.
"I think you do, since you are here rather than in your dormitory where you belong. What gives you the right to disobey a direct order, Potter? Do you think the rules exist for everyone but you? Just like your father did. He never obeyed the rules either." Severus lectured, keeping his temper by the slimmest of margins. Oh, but he longed to take his disobedient child by the ear and give him a good smack for behaving so stupidly. Had they been alone, he would have done just that. "What were you thinking? You could have died, all of you!"
"But we didn't, sir!" cried Ron defiantly. "I dropped the club on its foot and Harry knocked it out with the bloody cauldron!"
"Sheer dumb luck, Mr. Weasley," Snape said through gritted teeth. Good God, three of them! Why me? "Who do you think you are? Merlin himself? Such arrogance is to be expected in Potter, given his background," here he sneered the word, his eyes snapping with barely restrained fury. "But I would have thought you knew better, Weasley, considering your elder brother is a Magical Creatures expert. But it would seem Percy got most of the brains in your family-"
"Sir, please!" Hermione interrupted, her voice gone abruptly high and squeaky because she was so nervous. "It wasn't Ron and Harry's fault. It-it was mine, sir." She hung her head. "They came after me. I went looking for the troll, you see."
"Oh?" Severus looked unconvinced. "For what reason, Miss Granger? To ask it to tea?"
"N-no, sir. I thought I could . . .handle it, because I read all about them."
Ron nearly fell over. His wand clattered to the floor and he knelt to pick it up, blushing fiercely. It was unbelievable. Hermione Granger, telling a lie to Snape, of all people?
Severus peered at her sharply. "You thought you could handle it, did you? A mere first year, with barely two months of schooling, and you thought you could handle a fully grown mountain troll? That's possibly the most courageous thing I have ever seen," began the Potions Master, and Hermione looked pleased. Until Snape leaned forward and snarled, "And also the stupidest, foolish girl! No wonder you're in Gryffindor, they're known for rushing in where angels fear to tread, all courage and no bloody sense!"
Hermione shrank away, for the look Snape was giving her was reminiscent of an angry panther.
"You could have died tonight, young lady, all because you thought you could handle a troll by yourself. Merlin save me from reckless children and courageous idiots. It is not your place to go hunting trolls, that's what the teachers are here for, to protect you, Miss Granger. I'm taking ten points for your sheer stupidity and five more for Weasley's mouth, and ten for Potter's cheek as well. And all three of you will serve detention with me tomorrow morning, for thinking you are above school rules."
Before he could go on, McGonagall showed up, followed by Quirrell, who peeked at the troll lying on the floor and nearly fainted dead away again.
"Severus, have you seen . . .? Oh, there you are! Where have you three been? Percy nearly had heart failure when he found you were missing, Mr. Weasley." McGonagall scolded sternly.
"They were playing at being Achilles and his Myrmidons, Minerva," Severus put in, still shaking with rage mixed with fear. "They went looking for the troll because Miss Granger thought she could handle it."
Minerva whirled on Hermione. "Miss Granger? You were the cause of this?"
"I cannot believe . . .I am very disappointed in you, young lady. That'll be five points from Gryffindor for your foolishness. Are you hurt?"
"Professor, you can't take points from your own House!" Ron wailed.
Minerva glared at him. "I most certainly can, for you risked your lives for nothing more than pride. All of you."
"But Professor Snape already gave us detention and took points," protested Harry softly.
Minerva raised an eyebrow. "You gave them detention, Severus?"
"I did. Such blatant disregard of school rules deserves some kind of punishment. If they were in Slytherin . . ." Severus trailed off meaningfully and Harry shuddered at the look of disapproval and anger his secret guardian sent him.
"But they are not," Minerva cut in smoothly. "It is not many first years who can defeat a full-grown mountain troll and live to tell of it." There was a note of pride in her voice now.
"It was sheer dumb luck," Snape said sourly, sneering.
"Indeed. Miss Granger, you may return to your dormitory, the feast is being continued there. That goes for you two as well, Mr. Potter and Weasley. Five points to you both for managing to rid us of a menace by sheer dumb luck."
Severus bit his lip hard. Minerva had nearly negated all the points he'd taken away earlier. Damn it woman, why do you seek to undermine my authority like that? "They're still serving detention with me tomorrow morning at eight o'clock." He put in, for he'd be damned if they wouldn't get any kind of punishment. Minerva was too easy on them by half.
"Yes, that is fair. You may go," she ordered, and the three students filed out of the bathroom.
As Harry went past, still hanging his head, he caught a glimpse of Snape's left ankle. It was all bitten and bleeding. What happened to you, Severus? You look like something took a good bite out of you. He almost stopped and asked the man if he needed help, recalling just in time that Snape was the "enemy" and he left without saying anything.
He paused about halfway down the hall though to retie his trainer and so caught the rest of the conversation between Snape and McGonagall.
"Very nice, Minerva! I punish them and you come along and pat them on the head for challenging the damn thing," Severus was growling. "Quirrell, make yourself useful, man, and bind up this damn troll, won't you? It's out cold and hardly likely to do you any damage now." The sarcasm in the professor's tone was so thick you could have cut it with a knife.
Quirrell stuttered a reply, then Harry heard Minerva say crisply, "I felt some kind of reward was necessary after you chewed them up and spit them out, Severus."
"Reward?! Damn it, Minerva, they nearly got themselves killed, and you want to reward them? For what? What are you playing at here, the understanding mother figure who hugs them after the strict father punishes them? Why is it that I'm always the nasty one?"
"Well, Severus, you play the strict father so well, it would be a shame to blow your cover now, wouldn't it?" Minerva teased.
Snape snorted, then Harry heard them come out of the bathroom and quickly ducked back into the supply closet. He heard Snape's footsteps outside the door, faltering slightly as the man limped along.
"I'd make a terrible father, Minerva. I'm too much of a perfectionist bastard, I would drive any child crazy within a year. And I'm more inclined to yell than hug and I have trouble apologizing . . .Maybe it's a good thing I never married and had children."
Was it his imagination, or did Severus actually sound wistful there at the end?
Apparently, McGonagall caught it too, for she said quietly, "Actually, your description sounds a lot like my father, Severus. He too was a strict perfectionist bastard. He set certain rules when my brothers and I were growing up, and heaven help you if you didn't live up to them. But he was always fair, though I didn't see that until I was older. As a child I thought I could never please the old battleaxe, though I never quit trying. When I got my Transfiguration Mastery at twenty-five, I was sure he'd find something to criticize about that too, since I hadn't gotten the highest score on the test that I could have, and he'd wanted me to marry and not go into teaching. I was waiting for him to make some kind of comment when he came up to me after the ceremony, for Ian McGonagall never missed an opportunity to tell you what he thought."
"And did he?"
"He did, but not the way I was expecting. He looked me up and down and then he smiled and said, ‘Ye've done me proud, Minnie, my lass.' That was all, but God, it meant more to me than all the hugs and congratulations and all from everyone else there. I still remember it to this day. And that was over forty-something years ago. I loved him very much, the damn stubborn old man," she admitted with affection coloring her tone. "So, you see, perhaps you wouldn't be such an awful parent, now would you, Severus Snape?"
"Maybe. But what child would ever trust me enough to allow me to try?"
I would, sir, Harry thought, peeking out at the two, who had paused just before the closet door.
Severus was favoring his bitten leg and grimacing.
McGonagall was eying him in concern. "Best you let me tend to that leg, Severus. Dog bites can fester unless tended and that overgrown mutt has a filthy mouth."
"I'm fine. I'll see to it when I get back to my office," he brushed off her concern. "I've had worse."
"Ah, now dinna play Spartan with me, Severus Snape!" she scolded then, her Scottish brogue growing more pronounced, as it did when she felt strongly about something. "I've patched ye up more than once before this, an' well ye know it!" She knelt and tore off a strip of her robe and began to wind it about Snape's leg.
"Have done, Minerva! I'm not thirteen any more, for Godsake!"
"Thirteen's what you're acting like, mister," she snorted, standing up and shaking a finger at him reprovingly. "Now come along wi' me, and let me tend you properly, Severus Tobias Snape, or do I have t'drag you to my office by your ear, lad?"
Severus gaped at her. "You wouldn't dare!" he sputtered. "I'm a professor now, not your student, Min, and I don't need you fussing like a mother hen . . .Ow!" he yelped as the Transfiguration teacher reached up and expertly grabbed his ear. "Minerva, for the love of God, let me go."
"Are ye gonna behave and come wi' me then, laddie?" she demanded sternly.
Severus flushed and snapped, "Yes, ma'am. Now if you don't mind . . ."
She released his ear and patted him gently on the cheek. "See, I knew you'd come round to my way eventually. . . Quit looking at me like that, Snape, even you need a helping hand every once in awhile, your mother died too soon . . ."
"Yes, and I don't need another one, thank you very much." He started limping down the corridor.
"Don't you? Severus, everyone needs someone, lad . . ." She followed him down the corridor.
Harry waited until the sound of their footsteps had died away then he slipped out of the supply closet and dashed back to Gryffindor Tower. He just caught up to Ron and Hermione at the portrait hole.
"Hey, mate, where were you?" asked Ron. "Get lost or something?"
"No, had to tie my shoe. Last thing I need is to fall again."
"Right." Hermione said, and gave them a tentative smile. "Thank you for saving me from the troll."
"You're welcome," Harry said. Then he nudged Ron.
"Oh, uh, yeah, it was no big deal. And . . .um . . .I'm sorry I called you a know-it-all and was rude to you. My mum would've skinned me if she knew the way I talked to you." Ron admitted, blushing almost as red as his hair. "If you hadn't, uh, corrected me in Charms, I would have never been able to cast that spell right and the troll would have killed you."
Hermione blushed too. "Oh, uh, well, I'm glad I helped you then." Her face fell. "But now we're in so much trouble. I've never had detention before. Is it terrible?" She looked up at Harry, her lower lip trembling.
"Well . . .it depends on how mad Snape is. If he's real mad, he could make you chop up disgusting potion ingredients, or write lines or something. It's not fun, but then detention's not supposed to be. And it'll only last three hours at the most and then it's over with. Don't worry so much, Hermione. Snape won't bite your head off too much, since you're not always in trouble, like I am." Harry sighed gloomily. Unlike his friends, he knew Severus was furious with him, and would probably have additional punishments lined up and an additional lecture as well.
"C'mon, Hermione, let's go inside and eat some pumpkin pasties and stuff," said Ron. "You act like this is the first time you've ever gotten in trouble at school."
"It is!" Hermione wailed.
Ron just looked at her and shook his head. Then he said, "Welcome to the real world, Granger." He turned back to the portrait hole. "Shining star."
They all scrambled inside. No sooner had Ron crossed the threshold than he was met by a very angry Percy, who proceeded to grab his younger brother by his collar and shake him soundly.
"You bleeding little idiot! What do you mean, going off like that? If anything happened to you, Mum would have my arse! Stupid little twit!" He cuffed Ron alongside the head. Then he said, "You okay, Ron?"
"Yeah. I'm fine, let me go, Percy."
"Good. But you ever scare me like that again and I'll wallop the living daylights out of you, got me?" Percy growled, then he hugged his brother hard.
A moment later he released him and said gruffly, "Now go and eat, it's Halloween, after all."
Ron rolled his eyes and muttered, "You're not the boss of me," and then went over to the table to start eating the remainder of the feast, along with Harry and Hermione.
Soon, other members of their House crowded around, wanting to know what had happened. Harry let Ron and Hermione fill them in, he wasn't feeling much like talking right then. His mind was still going over the conversation he'd overheard and trying to figure out why Severus had gotten bitten by the dog and if he might look upon Harry as something more than a student, maybe even a foster son. Did he dare even hope that was possible?
He bit into a piece of pumpkin pastie, savoring the sweet filling. He had too much to think about to start going off on tangents. There was the first Quidditch match of the season tomorrow afternoon, and Harry was eager to try out the Nimbus. Always assuming he survived Snape's wrath, that is.
But he would worry about that tomorrow. For now, he just wanted to enjoy the rest of his Halloween.