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Harry hurried down to Severus's private lab, figuring he would find his mentor brewing at this time, as was his wont. Since this was the second to last week of classes before term ended, the halls were all but deserted, as mostly everyone was outside. Harry was glad, since he was still a bit steamed from his conversation with the Headmaster and didn't want to run into anyone, like Malfoy, who might push him over the edge. All he wanted right then was to go and hibernate in the potions lab, crazy as that seemed. But the lab was almost as much a haven for him now as the secret glade in the forest.

He felt comfortable there now and he knew that Snape wouldn't ask any awkward questions or force him to talk about what had gone on in the Headmaster's office unless Harry wished to. That was one of the good things about his guardian, Severus knew not to query about private matters, and let Harry reveal things at his own pace. It was very comforting. He was grateful as well that Snape hadn't once mentioned how Harry had cried all over him again, he was sure this time he would be getting lectured about acting like a whiny girl, and treating Severus like a walking handkerchief besides, but his mentor never said anything about it after it was over. Harry had felt like dying of embarrassment at first, but Snape's matter-of-fact acceptance had gone a long way into easing the sting of humiliation and showing Harry that the man could be trusted.

No one else had ever been allowed to see Harry so distraught, nor would Harry ever have felt secure enough in revealing that much of his emotions. Only Severus had that honor, such as it was.

Recalling that episode made the boy wonder if he really had heard Dumbledore weeping, if it were so, Harry felt a bit guilty, though not so much that he would take back what he had said. Harsh as it had been, it was nothing but the truth, and as Harry knew well, sometimes the truth hurt like blazes.

He reached Snape's lab, spoke the password and went in, expecting to see the professor brewing. But the lab was empty. Harry glanced around, noting some ingredients were diced up on a work station next to a cauldron partially filled with water. That's odd. He never leaves a potion halfway. Maybe he stepped out to use the loo?

But on closer inspection, he found a parchment resting on the workstation in Snape's neat and tidy script.

Harry,

I have gone to do research on that curse plaguing your godfather, and hopefully will be back soon, if all goes as I planned. Please finish up the Memory Restorative I have started, if you don't mind. It will be needed later to complete the cure.

The formula and instructions are below. Afterwards you are free to do as you will for the rest of the afternoon.

Professor S. Snape

PS-Don't forget to grind the mallow root finely in the mortar and make a paste BEFORE adding it to the cauldron!!

Harry just rolled his eyes at that last admonition. Some things never changed. You still think I've a mind like a sieve, don't you, Sev? Well, I might not be a genius with a ruddy photographic memory and all, but I'm not a complete idiot either. I can remember when I put my mind to it and we've brewed this one before, three weeks ago when you gave your last vial to St Mungos for a little girl who Obliviated herself by accident using her mum's wand. I even remember you saying that she'll wish she could Obliviate the spanking she's probably going to get once she's back to normal for playing about with wands, the silly child.

Still, Harry made a mental note about the mallow root and began reading the instructions while he took up where Snape had left off. He was anxious for Severus to return and tell him if he had found a way to break the curse on Sirius, but he managed to set those feelings aside while he made the Memory Restorative.

He reveled in the quiet and the solitude, for once, and thanks to Snape's rigorous tutoring sessions and Harry's new attitude towards potions, managed to brew a perfect draft.

He carefully decanted, labeled, and sealed it, then cleaned up his workstation with a wave of his wand, leaving everything shipshape just like Severus insisted. He placed the draft upon the Potion Master's desk, then locked up and decided to enjoy what was left of the fine afternoon.

* * * * * *

Harry walked towards Hagrid's hut, it was a beautiful day, not too hot or too breezy. A glance at the lake showed several girls and boys dipping their feet in the shallows and tossing soda crackers to the giant squid. More were flying over the Quidditich pitch and some were sprawled on blankets, eating or reading, chatting or napping. For most of the fifth, sixth, and seventh years, exams were over and they had nothing else to occupy them save class till term ended. The younger years still had exams to look forward to, but they also were enjoying the sunny afternoon.

He was about halfway to Hagrid's, at the point where three large boulders stood, when he heard an odd sniffling sound. He cocked his head, trying to discover what the noise was. It almost sounded like . . .someone crying. Crying and trying not to let anyone know. Harry felt his warning radar go on alert.

Again there came a muffled sniffling, followed by a sharp catch of breath.

Alarmed, Harry crept around the smallest boulder on the side of the beaten path and discovered a firstie sitting in the lee of the stone, curled into a ball of misery, shoulders shaking with silent sobs. Harry came forward and said, quietly, "Hey. What's the matter?"

The student lifted his head, dashing a hand across his eyes as he did so. "Hey, Professor. I . . .I mean, Harry."

"Jace? What the blazes happened to you?" exclaimed Harry, for the younger wizard's face and the palms of his hands were covered in nasty boils. "Somebody hexed you, didn't they?" he continued before Jace could answer, his eyes narrowing.

Jace nodded miserably, his eyes were almost swollen shut. "Prefect M-Malfoy caught me leaving the common room earlier and he was in a bad mood 'cause his dad was injured in some kind of brawl. Lost his eye, I think. So he saw me and . . .well, he just started in on me, saying how I was a disgrace and lazy and when was I going to grow a spine. I . . .I tried to keep quiet, but then he called me a coward and I yelled at him that he was worse, because only a coward beat up somebody who was smaller than they were and I said he was a lousy prefect too. So he hexed me." He whimpered. "I started itching and burning and then these awful . . .boils popped up all over me. All over and I . . .don't know how to get rid of them!" He started to sniffle again. "Now everyone will laugh at me, Malfoy will make sure of that."

Harry noticed then that Witherspoon was hunched over on his knees, not actually sitting on the ground, and he winced in sympathy. Ah, poor kid! Damn Malfoy for a bloody prat! Just 'cause he's in a mood doesn't mean he ought to take it out on Jace. "Come with me, Witherspoon. I can get rid of them. All you need to do is drink a Boil Cure potion." He gently assisted the young Slytherin to his feet.

Jace bit his lip and looked back at the castle. "Do we have to go back to the castle? B'cause . . .it hurts to walk . . ." The boy hung his head, flushing a dusky scarlet, which did nothing to improve his appearance.

"Mmm . . .yeah, I'll bet it does," Harry said compassionately. "All right, stay here, I'll summon the potion. Accio Boil Cure Potion!"

In about two minutes, the potion soared through the air into Harry's outstretched palm. "Here you go, Jace. Drink that and you'll feel better in a few minutes." He handed Jace the orange colored potion.

Jace drank it down gratefully. Immediately, the boils on his face began to shrink and clear up. The boy sighed in relief as the potion began to work on other affected areas as well. "Thanks so much, Harry." His large hazel eyes gazed up at the older boy with something akin to awe.

"No problem, Jace. Come on, I was just going to see Hagrid. He'll have tea and scones for us this time of day."

Jace smiled shyly and followed Harry down the path. Now that he was accompanied by the older boy, the first-year didn't act quite so shy, he walked quickly but stood a bit taller than normal, confident that Malfoy wouldn't dare hex him when he was with Harry, who could take points and give out detention still as an adjunct potions professor.

They found Hagrid having tea with Crabbe and shockingly enough, Ravenclaw Marietta Edgecomb. Marietta had since had the curse Hermione placed upon her removed, though she started like a hare when Harry walked through the door.

"Oh! I . . .I think I'd better get going!" she cried, and reached over to grab her bookbag. She was in such a hurry that she mistakenly grabbed the wrong end and everything spilled out onto the floor. "Oh, hells! I'm such a klutz. Sorry, I'll be gone in a minute, Potter," she said, waving her wand at the spilled books and parchment.

"No need to rush off on my account, Edgecomb," Harry said. "I don't bite."

"No, but I know you probably hate me for . . .for getting your friends in trouble. Everyone else does. Not even Cho talks to me now, and we used to be best friends!" Marietta looked as though she were about to cry.

"I don't hate you, Marietta," Harry hastened to say. "I know you didn't mean to tell Malfoy. He led you on."

"You don't?" she stared up at him, astonished. "H-how do you know that?"

"Because I was there. In my hawk form, and I saw the whole thing. Malfoy used you, he's a smarmy git."

Marietta nodded. "Tell me about it. After what happened, I . . .went to Hogsmeade with him, and he was just awful. He made fun of me, called me Marietta the Mouth, and laughed at my forehead and so . . .I broke up with him, the sod!" She sniffed. "I don't know what I ever saw in him."

"You saw a pretty face with deep pockets," piped up Jace unexpectedly.

They all stared at him.

Marietta's jaw dropped. "How did you know that? That's how I thought of him. You're a Slytherin, did he tell you?"

"Not me. He'd never, he thinks I'm his personal toerag," Jace snorted.

"Then how?" Marietta eyed him like she would a puzzle she wanted to figure out.

"I . . .I'm . . .a . . ." Jace hesitated, looking down at the ground.

"You're a what?"

"A reader," he admitted.

"Like a mind reader?" Harry asked, his eyebrows going up.

"No . . .not exactly. It's more like I can hear other people's thoughts and feel what they're feeling too, sometimes. My dad can do it too. That's how he invented the Amulets of Communication. By using his talent to . . .uh . . .bind the enchantment into the stones." Jace explained.

"I've never heard of that object," admitted Harry.

Marietta gasped. "You mean . . .you're related to that Witherspoon! Oh Merlin!"

"Yeah. That's why I . . .don't really talk too much. Because it's hard, trying to talk and block out other people's thoughts at the same time. Sometimes I just need to concentrate on keeping my shields up. If I don't . . .I'll hear everybody close to me and that would drive me crazy."

"Have you always been able to do it?" Marietta asked, curious.

"Since I was little. Dad had to teach me to shield real early, 'cause I would listen to anyone's thoughts I could and just . . .say stuff about whatever I heard. It was kind of . . .embarrassing. Once, when I was out walking with my mum, we passed a witch and I just looked at her and said, "Hey Mum, she just had a fight with her boyfriend 'cause he didn't think her underpants were pretty!" My mum just about died right there!"

Harry and Vince burst out laughing and so did Hagrid and Marietta after a moment or two.

"Heavens, Witherspoon, you'd make it impossible for anyone to keep a secret around you!" the Ravenclaw gasped.

Jace blushed. "Not anymore. I know not to eavesdrop on other people's thoughts. It's rude and impolite and I'm sorry I heard yours, it was just so loud and it slipped in."

"It's okay. As long as you don't go blabbing about anything to do with my underpants, Witherspoon," Marietta growled and waved her wand at him.

"N-no, of course not!" he blushed even redder. "I was four when I said that."

"Is that how come you're usually by yourself?" Crabbe asked. "And does Snape know about what you can do?"

"Yes. Sometimes it's hard when there's a lot of people around, for me to keep my shields tight. All the thoughts flying around . . .they push at me. Professor Snape knows, I told him right off, and he didn't think I was . . .freaky like some wizards do. He's been teaching me how to make tighter and stronger mindshields, so I can go around a lot of people and not feel all nervous and afraid I might overhear something I shouldn't."

Harry nodded, that didn't surprise him one bit. Severus knew the value of keeping one's mind closed. "How come you didn't use your, uh, talent to read Malfoy before he, uh, hexed you?"

Jace shrugged. "Dunno. Well, okay . . .it's because I don't like doing that without permission and also I don't like hearing Malfoy's thoughts, they're annoying and wicked, most times."

"No surprise there," Crabbe said.

Jace eyed him warily. "You used to be his friend, but now you're not."

"That's right. I got sick and tired of him bossing me around and treating me like a brute with a wand, there to do his dirty work and take the punishment when we got caught doing dumb things. So I said goodbye and I'm glad."

"Good for you, Vince!" Hagrid said approvingly. "Malfoy's going from bad to worse these days. Somebody oughta take him in hand b'fore he goes the way of his father, all right."

All of the younger wizards nodded in agreement.

"He thinks a girl ought to thank Merlin if he looks at her," Marietta said angrily.

"He's an awful prefect, he uses his position to lord it over the rest of us, specially firsties like me, instead of helping us fit in." Jace added.

"He's always been an arrogant little bugger," Harry remarked. "From the first time we met, I could tell that."

"He needs his arse tanned good and proper," Crabbe declared.

Jace looked at Harry and back at Crabbe and then grinned a devilish grin. "What do you say we give him a good licking? Remember how you said we ought to play a prank on him, Harry? It's after OWLS now, so we can get him good."

"Really?" Marietta perked up. "I . . .wouldn't mind being in on it. If . . .you don't that is? He owes me for being such a jerk!"

"Well, four heads are better than three," Crabbe smirked.

"I'm gonna go out and feed the thestrals," Hagrid said abruptly. "And I'll pretend I never heard anything you were planning."

He got up and left through the back door, followed by Fang.

The four looked at each other. "All right," Harry said. "Vince, you've known Malfoy the longest. Is there anything you know of that really gets him peeved?"

Crabbe thought hard. "Hmm . . .well, he's awful fussy about his looks. Spends a lot of time getting his robes to lie flat and all and he's touchy about his appearance."

"Humph! The big dandy!" Marietta rolled her eyes.

"What else?" Harry mused. "Well, he hates to be laughed at. I remember during fourth year, when the fake Moody transfigured him into a ferret for trying to hex me from behind and bounced him all over the courtyard. People laughed at him for weeks after and he was so mad."

"So we've got to make it public," Jace said, and his eyes twinkled. "I, uh, do know one little secret about him . . .found out when he woke me up one morning and I was too tired to shield right."

"Well, what is it?" Crabbe asked when Jace hesitated.

"Malfoy doesn't like snakes. Make that . . .is petrified of them." Jace whispered.

"No way! He's a Slytherin!" Marietta gaped.

Crabbe sighed. "Really, girl. Just because he's a Slytherin doesn't mean he worships serpents. But that would explain why he never really got near the snakes when we used to visit the zoo when we were younger. And why he doesn't have any snake monogrammed stuff in his room at the manor except his school things. I'll bet Lucius doesn't know about that. He'd be freaking if he knew his precious heir was ophidiophobic. That's when you're afraid of snakes, in case you've never heard of it before," he explained at Harry's puzzled look. "Good work, Witherspoon. I think I know just the thing to take the so-called Prince of Slytherin down a peg."

He turned around and made a soft hissing noise between his teeth.

Suddenly, a bright green snake about four feet long came out from beneath Hagrid's stove and slithered up Crabbe's leg and coiled about his arm. "Hey, my little beauty," crooned the wizard, looking at the snake with love. He glanced at the other three and said, "Meet Vera, she's a viridian rain forest boa, that's a magical serpent who can move like lightning, stick to almost anything, and speak mind-to-mind with her chosen wizard. In this case, that's me. She's my new familiar." Crabbe beamed proudly.

"Awesome!" Jace said. Then he looked over at Vera. "Hello, Vera."

The snake inclined her head to him.

"She's lovely. Her scales are such a beautiful vibrant green," praised Marietta.

Vera made a soft purring noise.

"She says thanks and you're very kind," Crabbe translated.

Hello, Vera. I'm Harry, pleased to meet you. Harry said in Parseltongue.

Vera hissed in delight. A fellow Speaker! Ssss . . .how marvelous-s-s-! I am pleased to speak with you as well, brother-in-scales. My full name is Veraldesssheen-sla-Mori-which translates to-

Sparkly green treasure hidden in the treetop, Harry replied. And my full name is Harry James Potter.

Indeed. Well met, brother. I think we shall get along s-s-splendidly. Vera slipped from Vince's arm and slithered over to touch her tongue to the palm of Harry's hand, getting his scent. Then she returned to her wizard and curled up around his neck.

Crabbe beamed. "Isn't she just the most awesome familiar? Hagrid gave her to me this morning, as a kind of present for doing so well in my apprenticeship. You're the first people to see her."

They all agreed that Vera was a wonderful gift to receive and that Vince had worked hard to earn Hagrid's regard that way.

"Do you think she'd be willing to help us with the prank, Vince?" asked Marietta diffidently. "Because I sort of have an idea that might work too . . ."

"Me too," said Harry and then they put their heads together and plotted away.

* * * * * * *

By the time the four had emerged from Hagrid's cottage, a light misty rain had begun to fall, making the ground somewhat slippery and causing those who had been playing Quidditch to decide to call it quits. This was perfect, for Malfoy had been one of them, and had landed a few feet away from the four, who were hidden behind the same boulder as Jace had been earlier.

"Ready, Witherspoon?" asked Crabbe, giving the young Slytherin a light clout on the shoulder. "Knock him dead, kid! Well, not dead, but on his arse."

"Got it!" Jace said, looking a little nervous. "I sure hope he doesn't hex me again."

"If he does, don't worry, we'll fix you." Harry reassured him. "Unless you want me to do this part?"

Jace shook his head. "No. I'm no coward."

Then he sprinted out from behind the boulder and ran down the path.

Malfoy was coming up, holding his broom under his arm, muttering about the stupid rain and looking slightly off to the left, since Goyle was a few feet behind him, and he always enjoyed having an audience to complain to. So it was that he didn't notice Jace running at him until it was too late.

Jace pretended to slip, which wasn't hard to do since the ground was wet, and slid right into Draco, nailing him in the knees and knocking the Slytherin backwards . . .into a rather large rut in the path, filled with mud and water.

"Witherspoon, you stupid imbecile!" Malfoy shrieked, covered in muddy water. "Why don't you watch where you're going, you clumsy dunghead? Look at me!"

Jace scrambled backwards and got to his feet quickly. He was a bit splattered too, but unlike Malfoy, he didn't care. "Oops! Sorry, Malfoy. I . . .I didn't see you there." He ducked his head and backed away.

"Maybe you'd see better if you got glasses, spit for brains!" Malfoy snarled, climbing to his feet. "Guess what you're going to be doing tonight, Wimpy? Cleaning my boots and my robes. By hand."

"B-but Draco, it was an accident!" Jace wailed, trying to act as if that were an awful punishment. "I didn't mean to knock you down."

"Why don't you cry about it, Whiny Witherspoon?" sneered the prefect. "Maybe this will teach you to watch out next time. Now move! My hair's a mess and I need a bath, thanks to you, dumbass!" he shoved Jace hard, nearly causing the other to fall.

Jace cringed away, and then Goyle came and shoved him too, braying with laughter.

But Crabbe promptly hexed his former friend with a Stinging Hex, making Goyle yelp and clutch his backside.

"Ow! Something bit me!" the large boy cried and ran hastily up the trail, one hand rubbing his rump.

The three hiding behind the rock snickered and waited until Jace joined them.

"You did great, kid!" Vince clapped Jace on the back. "Now for phase two. My turn."

He removed a rather large gaily wrapped silver and green box from under his cloak, on it was a card that read:

To Draco,

I really miss you and want to see you again.

XOXOXO,

Marietta

The box was scented with some kind of flowery sandalwood perfume that Marietta said was her favorite and Draco should recognize as she had been wearing it on the date to Hogsmeade. She had also provided the box and the note, though it had nearly made her gag writing it.

Vince took the box and raced up to the castle using the secret entrance that Harry, with a little misgivings, had shown him, and then swore him to secrecy on his Wizard's Oath.

That way, Vince was able to get ahead of Malfoy as he headed to the prefect's bathroom.

When Malfoy arrived there, disheveled and dirty, scowling like a troll with boils on his arse, Crabbe was ready and waiting.

"Hey, Draco. What happedn to you? Fall off your broom?"

"I slipped on the landing," the other answered shortly. "What's it to you?"

Crabbe shrugged. "Nothin'. Just wondering, is all, why you look like a mucky Monday wash. Anyhow, I got a gift for you."

"A gift? From who?"

"That girl you used to go out with. Edgewater . . .Edgecombe . . .yeah, that was it. Told me to give you this and that she was sorry she broke it off and would you please forgive her and all that girl nonsense. Here. I think it's some kind of bath salts or hair potions or whatever." He handed Draco the box.

Draco held the box at arm's length and waved his wand over it, checking for any jinxes, then he read the card attached. "Well, well. Guess she finally realized how good she had it with me, huh?"

"Guess so," Crabbe said. Yeah, right, you prat!

"Tell her I'll think about it, if you happen to see her before I get done here." Malfoy ordered. Then he took the box and vanished into the bathroom.

Crabbe listened intently and heard the water start to run and smirked evilly. Hope Harry's concealment charm doesn't wear off too quickly. I want him to get wet before he notices what else is inside the box besides the soap Marietta put in there.

He looked up to see Jace and Marietta coming down the corridor, and they were looking at him questioningly.

"Did it work?"

"Yeah, like a charm. Where's Harry?"

"Getting a few friends," answered Jace.

"Any minute now." Crabbe said, feeling butterflies stir in his stomach.

The water shut off and they heard the sounds of splashing and scrubbing and . . .ugh . . .Malfoy singing!

"Merlin have mercy!" Jace cried. "He's worse than a kneazle in labor!"

"Just wait," Crabbe sniggered.

Three minutes later they heard the most bloodcurdling scream from the bathroom.

"AAHHHH! HELP! IT'S AFTER ME! AAAHHHH!"

The door to the prefect's bathroom was yanked open so hard that it nearly fell off its hinges.

Draco Malfoy stood in the doorway, dripping soap, screaming at the top of his lungs . . .stark naked . . .while behind him slithered a very innocent looking Vera.

"Get it AWAY! Get it AWAY!" howled Malfoy, and then he bolted down the corridor, too panicked to recall he was still bare-arse naked.

Vera followed, close enough to make Malfoy think she was pursuing him.

Malfoy ran right into Harry plus a rather large group of Gryffindors and Ravenclaws, Slytherins, and others he had gathered from the Great Hall. Harry had a camera and snapped a picture, laughing hysterically.

"Malfoy, put some clothes on!" jeered a Gryffindor girl.

"Yeah, what do you think this is-A Naked Wizard Exhibition?" cackled a Ravenclaw witch.

"Help! It's gonne EAT me!" bawled the prefect, slipping on the slick stone floor.

S-s-silly wizard! I do not wish to eat you, only hug you a little, the viridian boa hissed, though since she was not projecting, only Harry understood her.

Now everyone was laughing and jeering at the sight of the prefect in the altogether, freaking out over a green snake, no less.

"Why, Draco dearest, whatever is the matter?" Marietta cooed, coming up to him. "Didn't you like my gift? You aren't afraid of a little old snake, now are you? Your House symbol is a snake!"

"Oy, Malfoy!" called Ron. "You might want to . . .uh . . .cover up, there are young girls here who could be scarred for life by seeing you hanging out there!"

"Nah. I don't see what all the fuss is about." A Gryffindor girl sniggered. "There's not much there!"

"Hey, Malfoy! Nice arse! Just kidding!"

"How come a big bad Slytherin is afraid of snakes? Aww, why don't you go and run home to your daddy?" Fred and George yodeled.

By now Draco was scarlet and struggling to maintain what little dignity he could, covering himself with his hands, since he had left his wand in the bathroom.

But that proved impossible as he tried to run away from Vera, who was still gliding along behind him nonchalantly, and ended up running smack into McGonagall, who had been coming to investigate the screams she had heard.

For one moment, the stern witch and the naked prefect just gaped at one another.

Then McGonagall found her voice. "Mr. MALFOY! What is the MEANING of this-this unseemly indecent display! Great Merlin! I've NEVER-put some clothing on this instant, young man, we are not a nudist colony here!"

By now everyone who had witnessed Malfoy's mad dash were clutching their sides and practically rolling on the floor in helpless mirth.

McGonagall was not amused. She quickly transfigured a pair of robes for Malfoy and demanded to know what he thought he was doing exposing himself that way.

Malfoy sputtered and tried to explain that a snake had been inside the prefect's bathroom in a box of soap and startled him. "I . . .just wanted to get away, so I, uh, ran out the door."

"Oh indeed?" McGonagall looked about for the snake, but Vera had slithered out of sight under Crabbe's robes. "I see no snake, Mr. Malfoy. Is this some kind of joke?"

"No! No, I swear a snake was there!" Draco babbled.

McGonagall frowned. "It would seem you're having me on, young man. I think a detention is in order for your . . .unseemly behavior. Come with me, Mr. Malfoy."

"What? But Professor . . .I'm not lying . . .really . . .It's not fair . . .My father . . .!"

"Oh indeed? I am sure your father will have much to say, Mr. Malfoy, concerning this latest . . .exhibiiton . . .Disgraceful!"

Behind him, the other students were laughing fit to die. Even Peeves and the Bloody Baron, who had chanced to float by and caught sight of Draco ramming McGonagall starkers, were laughing.

McGonagall marched the still protesting Draco away, and Crabbe turned to Harry and said softly, "Did you get the picture?"

"Yes. I'll pin it up in the Entrance Hall, it's classic!"

"Nice one, Potter." Marietta chuckled, wiping her eyes. "But how did you get McGonagall here too?"

"I didn't. She came on her own. It was a . . .fortunate coincidence." Harry admitted, then they all gave each other a high five. "Malfoy will never live this one down. It'll go down in Hogwarts history . . .like the Amazing Bouncing Ferret!"

"Serves him right! Did you see his face when he crashed into McGonagall?" Jace said, then he fell back against the wall, howling with mirth.

That was fun! We must do it again s-s-some time! came a quiet hiss, as Vera peeked her head out from Vince's robes, where she was curled about his waist.

This caused Harry to double over in gales of laughter, and it was a while before he managed to get control over himself. Only then did he think that it was too bad Snape had missed this, he would have had plenty to say about Draco's impropriety. I wonder what he's doing right now? Hopefully buying ingredients for a counterdraft or something.

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, Warrior was flying over Wiltshire, where Malfoy Manor was located. He suspected that if Bellatrix were holed up anywhere, it would be at Lucius's home. Voldemort's lieutenant had often provided a safe haven for wanted Death Eaters before, and Warrior saw no reason that the elder Malfoy would change that pattern now, especially since Voldemort was dead. Of course, there had been an investigation of his home by the Ministry, for the Order members had reported him at the Department of Mysteries, but with his usual aplomb, Lucius had managed to deflect their suspicions, enough so he wasn't arrested. Warrior wondered how Lucius had explained away his missing eye.

I suppose I shall find out soon enough, the goshawk thought, then swooped down to land neatly in a laurel tree at the verge of the property.

He blurred into his human form and continued walking up to the manor, which was a large Victorian style gray stone affair, imposing, elegant, and menacing all at once. Snape knew Lucius had wards and other assorted nasty surprises for those who dared come onto the grounds uninvited, but he had been keyed to them, and thus was allowed to pass unmolested.

He approached the large double doors and knocked twice with the serpent head knocker.

The doors swung open to admit a house elf. "Good afternoon, Master Snape. How may Snippy assist you?"

"I have come to visit your master, Snippy. And to ask if any of Lucius's associates are here as well." Severus said, stepping inside the large foyer with its mosaic tiles in the pattern of a snake curled in a basket. A large potted fern stood in a ceramic vase in the corner.

"Oh, Master will be glad to see you, professor sir. He has been very grouchy of late, his missing eye pains him, you know. Did Master Snape bring a potion to help?"

"Perhaps. Are there any other guests in the manor?"

"Just one, sir. M'Lady Bellatrix LeStrange. She came with master when he returned to the manor so terribly injured. Mistress Narcissa was very upset and m'lady has been taking care of her as well."

Severus raised an eyebrow at that piece of news. Though Bella and Cissy were sisters, Bellatrix had never struck him as a particularly family orientated person. Still, perhaps Bella was practicing the old adage of "beggars can't be choosers" and making sure she was welcome in her sister's home for however long she needed to stay.

"How charitable of her," Severus sneered, his lip curling. But at least his hunch had been right. Now he did not need to hunt the elusive witch all over Britain, so that was something.

"I shall tell Master Lucius that you have arrived, professor sir!" Snippy bowed and vanished.

Snape gritted his teeth. The last thing he wanted to do was to pay an obligatory call on Lucius bloody Malfoy, although he knew he needed to keep up appearances as an agent. Still, it was ironic in the extreme, that he who was responsible for Lucius's lost eye was now going to offer him condolences on its loss. He rolled his eyes. The things he endured for the sake of his cover were myriad and unspeakable.

Snippy popped back into view and beckoned Snape to follow. "Master Lucius will see you now, sir."

Severus followed the elf down a long hallway with many portraits of previous Malfoy ancestors and into a large cream and brown papered room with a thick beige carpet. Lucius was sitting propped up in a huge mahogany sleigh bed with a thick forest green and gold comforter and lots of plump griffindown pillows. A tray rested across his knees with the remains of an afternoon tea upon it and a copy of the paper as well. Lucius's platinum hair was drawn back and a black eyepatch was bound over his missing eye.

The other looked positively relieved when he saw Severus enter the room. "Severus, you're looking well. Better than I am, I must say." He waved a hand at his face. "Healer Markham says that once the socket heals enough, I can be fitted for a magical eye and dispense with this patch."

"Hello, Lucius. The patch makes you look rather . . .dashing. Like a pirate." A fitting image for a rogue such as yourself, the Potions Master thought scathingly.

"A what?"

"It's a Muggle term for a person who went about on ships ransacking and robbing other ships and looting and pillaging towns and such. A marauder of the seas," clarified Severus. "They often lost eyes as a result and wore patch such as that one."

"Ah. I see. I suppose there are worse things to be compared to. Come, sit," he indicated a chair next to his bed and Severus sat down. "Tell me what has been going on at the school since our aborted attack and our master's unfortunate . . .demise."

Severus did so, also remarking on what a shame it was for Lucius to have suffered such a grievous wound.

"Yes, and if I ever find out who the bloody bastard was who did this to me, they will wish to have died along with my master, that much I shall promise you!"

"Understandable," Severus said, without blinking an eye. Little do you know the bloody bastard is right here beside you and dearly wishes he could have finished the job. Someday, old friend, there will be a reckoning between us. But not just yet. I have another duty to perform first . . .then I shall settle with you. He shifted in his chair and asked, "Are you in much pain? Shall I fetch you a potion from my private stock?" he had often dosed the other man with strong pain relievers after a meeting with the Dark One, if Lucius happened to be subjected to a Cruciatus.

Lucius considered. "Perhaps. Yes, please do. My head feels like a dragon has inserted a talon and is ripping out my brain."

Severus nodded and summoned a Class Five Pain Reliever that also had a Sleeping Draught mixed in, unknown to Lucius. That would keep the other wizard knocked out for at least several hours, giving Severus plenty of time to find and question Bellatrix. "Here. But don't drink it right off, it'll make you dizzy and muddled for a bit. Your elf tells me that Bellatrix is staying here?"

Lucius grimaced. "Yes. She was the one who Apparated me back here after the battle and stayed to help Cissy, who was distraught over my condition. I do not particularly care for her, but she is my sister-in-law and I can hardly throw her out after she has nominally saved my life. So . . .I have offered her sanctuary."

"Have the Aurors come looking for her?"

"Yes. I hid her in my secret room and they went away , after questioning me about my missing eye."

"What did you tell them?"

"The truth. I said I lost the eye in a duel, defending myself. I was the victim of an attempted assault and robbery in Diagon Alley, where I was shopping for Draco's birthday present. I had several shopkeepers swear they saw me there and the nameless ruffians who attacked me. When they insisted that they saw me at the Ministry, I told them one of the ruffians escaped with some of my hair and Polyjuiced himself into me, I have many enemies, after all. They didn't like it, but they had to accept it since there was no other proof that I wasn't where I said I was. I even offered to drink Veritaserum."

"Clever, Lucius."

"I thought so myself," declared the lord of Malfoy Manor. Then he uncorked the vial of Pain Reliever and swallowed it down.

"How long before this takes effect?"

"Two minutes," Severus said blandly. "Where is Bellatrix now?"

"Probably in the dining room, having tea, I'd imagine. Avoid her, Severus. She's worse than usual now that her beloved Voldy is dead." Before Lucius could say any more, he fell fast asleep, leaving Severus free to stalk Bellatrix.

He whispered the incantation to a Creep Charm, which would allow him to move silently and swiftly through the manor, since it had mostly hardwood floors and tile and tended to echo every footstep. He moved out of the bedroom and headed down to dining room, he was familiar with the manor's layout having been a guest there more than once himself.

To his vast relief, he found Bellatrix having tea by her lonesome, and not with her younger sister, as he had feared. He did not want to linger here at the manor, he had too much work to do back at school and if this were not so important, he would not have come at all. But he loathed Bellatrix and was looking forward to giving the evil witch a taste of her own medicine.

He slipped into the room, and watched the dark-haired witch for a moment as she idly sipped her tea. She seemed oddly subdued and at the same time filled with rage, he could feel her aura fluctuating wildly. No doubt she was mourning the loss of her beloved Dark Lord. And was probably the only woman on the planet to do so.

She ought to have married him. It would have been a match made in hell. They could have spent time in bed dreaming up new ways to torture people, Severus thought coldly.

He waited until she had set down her teacup before coming to stand before her, appearing almost out of thin air rather like a wraith.

Bellatrix started violently, knocking over the cup and saucer. "Bloody hell, Snape!" she hissed! "Must you always prowl like a blasted ghost?"

"You're in a fine mood, Bella," he drawled, his wand slipping into his hand from inside his sleeve.

"Shut your gob, Snape! Our master is dead and all of you should be down on your knees praying to the Black God to restore him! Instead you all just . . .worry about your own bleeding skins, like my miserable brother-in-law here! He shoved me into his damn secret room and locked me in! I wanted to blast those pompous Ministry idiots, but no, I had to keep a low profile! Arse-licking miserable piece of shit!" She threw the teacup against the wall.

It shattered and Severus snorted.

"Temper, temper. I don't think Narcissa would be pleased if you destroyed her things."

Bellatrix spat. "That for Cissy and her wishes. I do as I please, I'm her elder, and the more loyal and faithful Death Eater. My lord knew that. He rewarded me for it!" Her eyes were glazed with a fierce obsessive love and a tinge of madness.

Severus felt a shiver race down his backbone. Bellatrix always made his skin crawl, even more than Voldemort. She was too unpredictable. And that made her very dangerous.

"In what way, Bella?"

"In ways that you can only imagine," she purred, running one long fingernail down her cheekbone. "Why are you here, Snape? Lucius call you to moan over his lost looks, like the whimpering tosser he is?"

"That was part of my reason for visiting," Snape allowed. "The other reason was because I wished to speak with you."

"What about?"

"I heard that you have been experimenting with . . .shall we say . . .new spells that affect the mind. That is a particular area of interest of mine. I am curious . . .what have you discovered? There are rumors that you supposedly hexed the mutt Black with a curse of madness."

Bellatrix threw back her head and laughed. "Ha! I should have known! You always come poking your crooked nose around when something new comes up. Can't bear to have someon else steal your brilliance, eh, Snape?" She clucked her tongue at him. "Well, it so happens that rumors are correct. I did hex my no-good cousin with something I invented-the Curse of the Maenads. You do know what that refers to, don't you, Snape?"

"The maenads were female followers of the Greek god Dionysus, known for their religious frenzy and insanity, they were best known for their uncontrolled emotional outbusts which led to drunkenness, ripping apart animals and people to shreds, and insatiable sexual urges." Severus recited.

Bellatrix gave him a disgusted look. "Humph! You sound like a bloody walking encyclopedia, Snape. Yes, that's why I called my little spell after them." She sighed dreamily. "I used to wish I could be one of them when I was a girl. Mother was always so prim and proper and so bloody boring." She waved a hand in dismissal. "Anyhow, I've been experimenting for awhile now with spells of that nature, mostly on animals . . .to see how far I could hurt them before the pain became too much and they snapped. . .It was so . . .invigorating . . ." She licked her lips.

Severus felt his gorge rise. You sick bitch! I almost hope you refuse to tell me what I wish to know.

"Then I had a glorious idea, a curse to destroy an Animagus without killing him, a slow death. I hate Animagi . . .they are lower than Mudbloods, tainted by the beast within. Thus, my spell." She grinned like a little girl who had just learned how to wave a wand and cast Lumos. "My sweet lord was very pleased with me, he said I was a brilliant inventor."

"How thrilling. I'm sure that memory warms you when you think of him." Severus said, sounding bored, but inside he was seething. The "beast" within him was screeching for him to transform and kill the heinous witch, but he controlled the impulse. "Is there a chance that Black could come out of the curse? Can it be dispelled?"

"No. Not unless you know the countercharm," Bella chuckled, her eyes glowing wickedly. "And any attempts to dispel the curse results in an increased level of madness over time. Isn't it perfectly . . .delicious? You know, I have heard rumors that Harry Potter is an Animagus. Is that true?"

"Yes."

"Mmm. . . what would it be like if I cast that on the Potter brat?" she mused. "How would it feel to see itty-bitty Potter, the little bastard who killed my Sweet Tom, writhing in agony, frothing at the mouth, trapped in his own mind, a prisoner of his own nightmares? Would that not be something to see, Snape? Can you imagine?"

And suddenly Severus could not stomach her any longer. For years on end before Voldemort's first death he had been forced to endure the witch's sadistic bent and stand by and watch her torture women, children, and men to death. He had celebrated when she was put away in Azkaban. When she was released, he felt as if a Fury had been set free to wreak havoc, and now, listening to her speaking about torturing his ward, knowing full well what that curse was capable of, he had enough.

"No. Because I, unlike you, am not a sick perverted bitch!" he spat, and then he gestured and froze her where she sat. She stared up at him, mute, and he growled, "I am tired of enduring your wicked rants and your sadistic musings, Bella. You think Animagi are beasts? You are the beast, one that should have put down years ago, for in your madness you slaughter and destroy without remorse." He loomed over her, pinning her with his frigid furious stare. "You will not harm Potter, not while I still breathe. And I will have the countercurse for your little spell. Now." He placed the tip of his wand against her head and hissed, "Legilimens!"

Her eyes went wide in revulsion and terror, but he slipped into her mind effortlessly.

It was like walking through contaminated water, thick with a layer of scum, Bella's thoughts were haphazard and slippery with an insane urge to cause pain and death. He gritted his teeth and focused on the reason he had come, ignoring the hideous images of the dark-haired witch and Voldemort together, she had been his willing pet and slave to his unnatural lust.

He focused on the image of Bella hexing Sirius, and then he followed the image back to the day she had created the spell itself and the subsequent counter, should anyone ever learn of it and try to use it on herself or Voldemort.

She fought him then, trying to throw him out of her mind, but she was nowhere near as skilled as he was at repelling an unwanted mental invasion, her madness gave her strength, but it was unfocused, wild, and he sidestepped it with the ease of a master and snatched the memory and tugged hard.

She attacked again, sending shadowy clawed demons to trap him, but he flung a mental bolt at them that dissipated them back to mist and slipped from her mind like a phantom through a wall.

He removed his wand from her temple, ignoring the way her eyes spat midnight fire at him.

"I have what I came for, LeStrange. I could kill you now, and would, save for one thing. I need my power to destroy your precious Dark Lord, and don't care to taint myself by using an Unforgivable on you-you're not worth it. But there are other ways to bring justice down upon your head." He twirled his wand and then stabbed it between her eyes. "You who toy with madness and revel in the pain of others, feel now the burden of guilt of those lives you have taken, those innocents you have destroyed. May it reflect upon you a thousandfold! Eterna culpa millennia!"

A white light shot out of his wand and enveloped Bellatrix's head.

As soon as it vanished she screamed as the Guilt Spell took hold, and the weight of all those she had tortured and murdered backlashed upon her. "There is my justice. But when we next meet, Bella, I will not be so merciful."

Then Severus Obliviated all memory of his visit and what he had done from her mind. He did not want to reveal his true nature just yet, for finding the Horcruxes would be hard enough without being hunted from the start. Oh, eventually he knew his dual role would be discovered, but for now he needed time, time for Harry to finish out the year, time to restore Black to himself so Harry could leave without regrets to search out the Horcruxes, time to prepare and research possible Horcruxes and their whereabouts.

He left Bellatrix screaming and howling like a mad hyena, still bound to her chair, and just before he left, he cast a Silencing Charm over the room, so Lucius would not hear her, though in his drugged state, Severus doubted he would wake for anything short of a bomb being set off.

That done, Severus Apparated back to the gates of Hogwarts, to gather up the Memory Restorative and his ward and go to St. Mungos.

* * * * * * *

He found Harry back in his quarters, looking as though he were about to start climbing the walls, or flying headlong into them. "Did you find out anything?" were the first words out of his mouth when Snape entered. He practically leaped off of the couch.

Severus nodded. "Yes. I need the Memory Restorative, I hope it's completed."

"Yes, I finished it. It's on your desk in the lab. I'll get it." Harry practically ran through the door in his haste, returning with the draft a few moments later.

Severus placed a hand on his ward's shoulder. "Settle down, Mr. Potter."

"What for? I'm so glad you found the counter, Sev. Now we can go and cure Sirius, right?"

"Hopefully, yes. But you needn't behave like a hyperactive toddler," the Potions Master scolded mildly.

"I'm not!" Harry scowled. Severus looked at him askance, as the boy shifted from foot to foot. "Okay, maybe I am . . . a little. But can you blame me?"

"I suppose not. Let us go and speak with Albus first, he needs to be made aware of my discovery, and then we shall Floo to St. Mungos."

"Uh, Sev . . .the Headmaster and I . . . well we kind of . . .argued when I spoke with him today . . ."

"Argued?"

"Yeah. I . . .told him off for getting my parents killed and for leaving me with the Dursleys and all . . ." Harry dug the tip of his trainer into the carpet. "And I don't think he'll want to see me anytime soon."

"I see. Well, though I do not think Albus is one to hold grudges, especially when he was at fault, you may stay here and I shall talk to him."

"Sev, how did you find the countercurse?"

"I asked the author of the spell."

"You . . .found Bellatrix and asked her?"

"Yes. After a bit of persuading, she told me it." Severus said shortly. "I will give you details later, for now let us not dawdle, every minute we waste gabbing is another minute closer to irreversible madness for your godfather."

"Oh. Right. Go ahead then." Harry said, feeling like an idiot.

Severus tossed down a handful of Floo powder and called out, "Headmaster's office!" before stepping into the fireplace.

Harry waited, fighting the urge to run screaming down the hallway, "He found a counter and now we can finally fix Sirius!"

Five minutes later, Snape returned. "Come, Harry. The Headmaster has assured me that he does not blame you for being angry with him and has also said that Black's Healer, Sandrilas, knows who he really is. Sandrilas discovered the glamour a day ago and contacted Albus, who then swore him to secrecy and explained that Black was innocent of the crime he was put away for fourteen years ago."

"So the Healer won't tell anyone that his patient is Sirius?"

"No. Besides his wizard's oath, he also has to maintain patient confidentiality. He will not give Black up to the Ministry or the press." He beckoned Harry over to the fireplace and tossed down a handful of Floo powder, this time saying clearly, "St. Mungos Hospital for Magical Maladies."

The Floo spit them out in the Visitor Center, and from there they were able to take the stairs to the Spell Damage Ward on the fourth floor. Dumbledore had told Snape that Sirius was in Room 414, and Harry practically dragged Severus down the hallway.

That is, until Snape halted and yanked his overeager ward back to him. "Potter, stop racing about like a lunatic! This is a hospital, not Hogwarts! If you cannot behave like a normal person, and walk down the corridor in a mature fashion, I will hold your hand like a five-year-old!"

"What? Severus, I just want to-"

"No excuses! Now behave! Clear?"

"Crystal," Harry snapped, irritated that Severus was scolding him like a little kid and in public, no less. Surely he could understand how excited Harry was? Honestly, why were adults-some adults-so stuck on proper behavior? "Pain-in-the-arse perfectionist!" he growled under his breath.

"Excuse me?" Severus asked in a soft dangerous tone. "Did I just hear you volunteer for a detention at midnight with soap and a toothbrush, mister?"

"No, but-"

"Mr. Potter, mind that tone. Or else."

Harry clamped his lips shut. No sense in letting his mouth run away with him. He didn't want to ruin the day by getting Severus angry, even if he did think the man was being a git with his insistence on proper behavior.

Severus kept a hand on his arm and together they walked down the corridor to Room 414.

They found Sirius in a kind of stasis sleep, as Healer Sandrilas had said, but in order for the countercurse to be applied, the stasis spell had to be cancelled. Severus ordered Harry to stand back while he removed the spell.

"Just in case. Black isn't in his right mind and he may try and attack you before he knows what he's about. So stay clear until I'm finished."

This time Harry did not argue. In this, he would bow to Snape's greater experience. He walked over to stand near a chair a few feet away from the bed.

Severus cancelled the stasis spell. "Finite Incantatem!"

No sooner had he done that, then Sirius opened his eyes. He looked at Snape without recognizing him, but then his eyes grew hard as flint and he snarled wordlessly and lunged at the other wizard. In midleap he transformed into his dog form and tried to rip out Severus's throat.

"Sirius, no!" Harry cried, then cried, "Protego!"

The blue shield snapped around the Potions Master and padfoot smashed against it, growling and barking furiously, flecks of spittle flying everywhere.

"Damn it, Black!" Severus swore. "Animagus revelario!"

Suddenly Sirius was back to his natural form, and he was still frothing and flinging himself at the shield. Severus stepped back, pointed his wand and intoned the countercurse. "Reversaria dementia Maenada!" Simultaneously he gestured with his free hand in a counterclockwise twirling motion, then performed a complex swish and snapping movement.

A strange red glow fell over Sirius, who immediately sank to the ground, ceasing all attempts to try and get through the Shield Charm and frothing and growling. The red light seemed to penetrate every fiber of the Animagus, and then vanish.

"Is it done?" whispered Harry.

"Not quite. He still needs the Memory Restorative." Severus said, and then he levitated Sirius back onto the bed.

Severus removed the vial of potion from a pocket, firmly yet gently tipped Sirius's head back, pried open his mouth, and administered the potion gradually. He made sure the Animagus swallowed by stroking his throat, until the vial was empty.

Then Snape stepped away.

"Did it work?"

"I don't know. We'll have to wait and see. He should be waking up soon."

Ten minutes passed and Harry was frightened that they had failed. Sirius appeared to be sleeping, but was his mind intact?

"Sev, do you think . . .?"

"Hush. He's waking."

Harry froze, his eyes darting to the bed. Please, oh, please . . .

Sirius's eyelids fluttered and then opened slowly. He blinked, turning his head and then his eyes lit on Harry.

"Sirius? Do you remember me?"

"Of course I do, Harry." The other's voice was hoarse but understandable. "Where am I? Why is Snape here?"

"You're in St. Mungos," Harry told him, grinning broadly. "You were hit with a curse of madness by Bellatrix and we brought you here, but we couldn't break the curse over you until today. Severus discovered the countercurse and I helped make the potion to bring back your memory."

Sirius reached out a hand to clasp Harry's and then he drew the boy into a hug. "Thank you, Harry. You saved my life."

"No. That was Severus," Harry corrected softly, once he had drawn away, blinking back tears of joy. "He's the one you owe your life to. He went and found Bellatrix and made her tell him what she cast and how to remove it."

Sirius said nothing, simply looked at the tall man in black, who had once been his rival, the greasy-haired boy he had once tormented, mocked, and humiliated.

Severus looked back at him, a slight sneer on his face. "No need to thank me, Black," he said sharply, and turned about abruptly. Ungrateful, arrogant, pigheaded bastard.

"Wait."

Severus halted, turned about slowly. One eyebrow arched up questioningly.

Sirius swallowed sharply, then held out a hand, saying slowly and distinctly, "I'm sorry. Thank you . . .Severus."

Their eyes locked, and for one moment Snape remained frozen, just staring at the other Animagus and his outstretched hand.

Then he moved, and his hand clasped the other's for a brief moment. As he did so, Severus saw something he never thought he would see ever in the eyes of a Marauder.

Respect.

An instant later the two were eyeing each other warily, like two dogs who were uncertain how to proceed with one another.

"I have a question for you, Sn-Severus. Why did you save me?"

"Because Harry wished me to," answered the Potions Master honestly. "And because no one-not even you, Black-deserves to suffer that way."

"Makes sense, I guess." Sirius acknowledged, then added mischievously, "For a minute there I was afraid you'd gone all soft and mushy like a Hufflepuff and saved me out of the goodness of your heart."

Severus snorted. "Keep dreaming, Black."

"No thanks. I've dreamed enough lately. It's time for me to stop dreaming and start seeing things for what they are."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"It means that Harry was right and I was wrong. You're more than what you seem, Snape. And Harry is lucky to have you as his guardian."

"Humph! Took you long enough," was all Severus replied, but there was a note of satisfaction in his voice. "But then, what could one expect from a dunderhead Gryffindor?"

"About as much as one could from a snarky Slytherin," returned Sirius. "Truce, Snape?"

Severus hesitated, unsure if he could trust the other. Then at last he nodded. "Truce . . .Sirius."

Harry wanted to cheer, for at long last the bitter rivalry had ended.

Until Severus said, "Just don't expect me to be your best friend, mutt."

Sirius snorted. "Like I ever would. My name's not Lily Evans."

"Good thing, because you would make a hideous-looking woman, Black." Severus drawled. He turned to Harry. "I shall leave you two alone to get reacquainted. When you tire of his company, come and find me and we shall return to Hogwarts."

"I will. Thanks, Sev," Harry said sincerely.

"Humph! Thanks are not needed, fledgling." Snape coughed uncomfortably. "As Muggles say, every dog must have his day."

The Potions Master departed in a swish of black robes, leaving Harry alone with his godfather.

Sirius propped himself up on an elbow. "So, Harry, tell me what went on while I was . . .uh . . .sleeping . . .besides Snape growing a heart that is . . ."

"Sirius!"

"Sorry, couldn't resist. Well?"

Harry told him, all except for the prophecy, since Severus had stressed that be kept secret from everyone except Albus. The fewer people who knew a secret, the less chance there was of it leaking out. He did, however share with Sirius the prank he and the others had just pulled on Malfoy, and his godfather laughed as hard as Harry had.

"Another Marauder in the making, eh, kid?" Sirius reached out and ruffled his hair.

"Merlin forbid!" came Severus's silky voice from the doorway. "Do not give him any encouragement, Black. He gets in enough trouble as it is."

"Aw, come on, Snape. What's a few pranks?"

Severus's mouth tightened grimly. "A few pranks will lead to something worse, you're a prime example of that." He eyed Harry sternly. "Do not test me on this, Harry James Potter."

And Harry, knowing where Snape was coming from, did not push the issue, and said only, "All right, Severus." Then he narrowed his eyes at his guardian and said suspiciously, "Were you, uh, listening at the door?"

Snape looked faintly guilty. "Old habits die hard."

"Malfoy deserved it," Harry said defensively.

"I never said he didn't. Just don't make a habit of it."

"Understood, sir."

"Strict-arsed bastard," muttered Sirius.

"Quite," was all Snape replied, and he sounded very satisfied.

Sirius rolled his eyes. "Some things never change." But he did not encourage his godson to rebel against his guardian, for even an old dog can learn new tricks if given the proper motivation.

 



Chapter End Notes:


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