School Days - Part I
Chapter 20 - EM-E - School Days - Part I
Severus lingered in the corridor after Lucius had bid him goodnight, struggling to regain control of himself. When he reentered his quarters as quietly as he could, he was not expecting to find Albus sitting beside a rumple-haired Harry, engaged in a very frank conversation with his ward.
"Honestly, Professor," Harry was saying in a voice that had regained some of its confidence. "I already know that you didn't intend for me to suffer as I did. But I do recall over the years that you've told me that my experiences with the Dursleys had made me understand what matters in life, …and that I don't take much for granted."
"That is true, Harry," Albus said. Neither one of them had noticed, or at least not yet acknowledged Severus' presence.
"If I ask you something outright, will you please be completely honest with me?" Harry asked.
"I will, Harry. Ask away."
"What was your long-term plan for eliminating Voldemort?" Harry asked baldly.
Albus kept his eyes on Harry as he replied, but Severus now knew that his aging mentor was well aware that another set of ears was hearing his response. "I made some very calculated, and now I can see in hindsight, very arrogant assumptions, about who could be positioned and utilized to make a contribution to his demise," Albus said. "I counted on Severus for much of my information, and I'd had my own experience with young Tom Riddle while he attended Hogwarts. I knew how powerful Riddle had become, and I considered myself the only wizard alive who could possibly match his magical power. But I was not at all confident that I could best him without first dismantling his carefully planned and placed safeguards. I knew this would take time, and I knew that you would have to play a role."
"You knew about the horcruxes," Harry supplied. "And that my scar was one?"
"I feared that he'd made them Harry, because if he had, then the logical explanation behind the connection between the two of you would be that your scar contains a part of his soul. By the time he was resurrected last summer, my worst fears were ultimately confirmed," Albus admitted.
"But why did you make me learn Occlumency? It was worthless against him," Harry said.
Severus didn't hear any bitterness in Harry's tone, which was a testimony to how maturely the boy was embracing the reality of their current circumstances. He moved over to stand before the fireplace, arms folded, his features schooled to be impassive to hide his continuing turmoil. Harry's eyes darted up to meet his briefly, but the boy was far too intent on getting answers to allow himself to be distracted for long.
"That was a surprise to me, Harry," Albus said. "I dearly wanted you to be able to shut him out, so that I could resume a closer interaction with you. Do you understand this? I didn't want to reveal my worst fears to you when you could have possibly revealed them to Voldemort. His ignorance of our knowledge was key."
Harry blinked a few times while he processed this. "Yeah," he said quietly. "I completely get that. It's just been a nasty situation all around, hasn't it?"
"It has indeed, my boy," Albus said, and his voice finally revealed his anguish. "I would have sheltered you from so much if I'd believed that I could safely do so."
Harry was hearing his former Headmaster reveal to him that he'd had to make a horrible decision to prioritize his plan over all of the dangers posed to Harry, and Severus, and all of the other players. "And now? It's different, right? We'll all do what we can to finish him, and with your power and knowledge, we can really do it."
"We very much need your power, Harry. You still have a very large role to play," Albus said. He looked up to see that Severus was ready to interject an angry retort and held up a finger, his mouth quirking at the corners in pleasure at the way the older of his two favorite boys was now so very protective of the younger. "Harry's role is a part of a combination of talents and powers that all need to come into play to see this end, Severus. I think we all know for certain that this will be a group effort. And the bottom line in all of it is your safety, Harry."
Harry and Severus left their quarters early with Hedwig, as promised. She flew ahead through the corridors, but would circle back to ultimately keep pace with them, as if she was fully aware of Harry's anxiety over her. At one point she came to land on Severus' shoulder and rode with him for the last stretch, until they emerged through the school's front entrance and a short way down onto the grounds.
"Yeah, don't worry about me, Hedwig," Harry said to his familiar in mock exasperation. "I'm not jealous that you've taken to Severus, or anything." Hedwig HOOTed comically and took off to fly gracefully, over their heads, blatantly steering clear of the skies over the Forbidden Forest. Harry smiled gratefully when Severus cast a warming charm on his school robes, before casting one on his own - a set of chocolate brown ones that were open to reveal his standard white shirt and black trousers. When Severus' arm circled around Harry's shoulders, he leaned into the squeeze he received. "I'm a lot better today, Severus, so don't worry about me, alright? I've done this once already, and I remember what worked last time to discourage people from trying to dig into my business."
"I can see that you feel better," Severus agreed. He released Harry and took a couple of steps ahead so that he could turn to face his ward. "You had told Miss Lovegood that you'd want to call a DA meeting soon. Will that still be your intention?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "And if the day goes decently, I'll probably want to stay in the dorms tonight so that Ron, Hermione and I can plan the lesson."
Severus nodded, masking his reluctance to accept the changes in their daily routines. He was already used to sharing his quarters with Harry. It would feel empty without him. But he also knew he would have far less spare time to spend there himself. He would rather Harry be in the company of his friends, in his dorm, than brooding alone in their quarters while Severus tended to his school-based responsibilities. He covered his discomfort by looking up to see that the snowy white owl was heading towards the owlery. "Are you more at ease about your familiar at this point?" he asked.
Harry was looking up too. "Yeah. It helps that she's got such a strong intuition about me."
"Hi, Harry," Neville called from behind Harry, and when he realized he should address Professor Snape as well, added awkwardly, "Good morning, Professor."
"Mr. Longbottom," Severus acknowledged in what for the hesitant teen probably seemed a congenial tone.
"Hi, Neville," Harry said, turning to face his friend.
"I didn't mean to interrupt," Neville said, flashing a look at Snape and openly surprised to not be catching anything that constituted surly annoyance from his professor, "but I remembered you saying you'd bring Hedwig down here this morning, and thought you might like a bit of company when you head in for breakfast."
"Oh, thanks for that." Harry turned to look up at Severus briefly to see his reaction to this but Severus wasn't giving anything away. To Neville, he asked. "What was it like in our House last night?"
Neville shuffled his feet, his trademark nervousness getting the better of him again. "Well, it was a bit chaotic, actually." He looked up to meet Harry's eyes, deliberately avoiding his professor's. "Lots of comments about your new circumstances. Not all of it positive."
Harry smirked, "Yeah, I'd been anticipating that, and could care less. What else?"
"Ron and Hermione, and well, a bunch of us, made it clear that the subject was off limits," Neville admitted with a small smile, but then bit his lip. "I guess you know Professor Lupin is acting as our Head of House for now?" he asked, and at Harry's nod, added, "He told us you'd killed You-Know-Who again, and that he's back to that state he was in before the Tournament. Lupin says there's still a lot of danger." He stopped and gulped, waiting for Snape to say something debilitating to his self-esteem, but it didn't come. Harry nodded his agreement, so Neville went on, "He said the danger was more from those who were angry that he's gone again, than from-" he didn't really know how to formulate the reference to Voldemort without saying the name that he'd been so conditioned to fear. But Harry was grinning at him.
"Say it," Harry coaxed.
"And the sky indeed remains above our heads," Severus drawled, taking this as his opportunity to head inside. He squeezed Harry's shoulder. "I will see you when I see you, Mr. Potter. Mr. Longbottom."
"'Bye, sir," Harry said with a small laugh, watching Severus for a moment, wondering what was going through Neville's thoughts as his friend stared slack-jawed after their retreating potions professor. "How are you, Neville?" he asked, realizing he'd never had a chance for a private follow-up conversation with Neville after the Ministry debacle.
"I'm doing pretty well, actually," Neville said. They began to walk back towards the entrance.
"So, did you get in trouble for going to the Ministry with me?" Harry asked quietly.
Neville smiled to himself as he watched the ground while he walked. "I was afraid I would, but Gran was completely impressed that I'd done it." He looked over at Harry. "I finally realize what it must have been like for her, all of these years, you know? She lost her son and daughter-in-law and had to raise me while they've lived like vegetables at St. Mungo's. And here I was, not showing any promise of growing up to have the same courage my parents did. I was always so afraid."
"I'm nearly always afraid," Harry told him frankly. "Dumbledore told me once that being afraid isn't what makes someone a coward, it's letting the fear stop you from acting."
"Yeah," Neville said. He flashed a grin at Harry. "I get that now."
Harry was acutely aware of a very complex tension in the Great Hall when he and Neville entered. It was still early, and only about half of the students were there as of yet, so Harry couldn't help but feel a bit unsettled. He cast a look around and found Draco watching him warily. The blond Slytherin looked like he was on guard. Harry nodded to him, and noted that he was surrounded by the other Slytherin fifth years that had proven to be reliable on the last timeline. But Goyle, Crabbe, and Parkinson were sitting with sixth and seventh years, and those that were looking his way were studying Harry with narrowed eyes. The others were directing their attention to the staff table, where Severus was returning their assessing looks with a level stare of his own.
"I see what you mean about the mood," Harry said under his breath to Neville. They made their way to the Gryffindor table and sat near Dean, Ginny, and Seamus. He made sure to leave room for Ron and Hermione, who were heading in just then.
"Hi Harry," Hermione said as she plopped down beside him. She quickly looped her arm through his and gave it a squeeze. "Feeling better?"
"Yeah, thanks," Harry said. He flashed a grin at Ron, who had been waiting for a sign of what Harry's mood was before proceeding.
"I'm starving!" Ron said, loading his plate while Harry and Neville snickered and Hermione rolled her eyes.
"So, McGonagall has already told the fifth year Prefects that we are to focus our patrol on monitoring the younger years, and watching out that they don't get picked on by the sixth and seventh years," Hermione told Harry in a low voice.
Clearly, the dream team had told the Headmistress all that Harry had relayed about the volatile students. And clearly there had been a consensus to announce that Voldemort had been taken down again. He realized McGonagall would have had to have sanctioned this. I guess she know's about my time traveling too. "That sounds like a good plan," he replied to Hermione. He looked around at his friends. "I think we'd better all keep our eyes open for that sort of thing and watch out for the younger kids." He received concerned nods from them, but heard a couple of snide snickers from several feet down the table.
Cormack McClaggen and a sixth year witch named Paloma Tso were leaning forward and sneering tauntingly at Harry. "Oh yes, Harry, you make your plans to keep us all safe," Paloma goaded.
Cormack laughed. "If you're so good at keeping people safe, why didn't you take care of yourself, rather than let your muggle relatives treat you like shite all this time?"
Harry clenched his jaw, remembering the near-death experience 'ol Cormack suffered in the last timeline.
Ron was on his feet, glaring lethal rage at the pompous older Gryffindor. "You heard what Lupin said last night, McClaggen, and if you had an ounce of honor in that thick head of yours, you'd realize you owe Harry a life debt for what he's already done to keep all of us safe. So shut your fat mouth." McClaggen and Tso laughed as if Ron had just said something incredibly hilarious, but the young ginger wizard stood his ground and kept his glare fixed on them until they grew uncomfortable and left the table. Ron waited until he was certain they were truly leaving the room before he sat back down. "Imagine what it would be like if we didn't have to deal with tosspots like those two," he groused. He stabbed angrily at one of the now cold bangers on his plate, finally looking back up to meet Harry's impressed and grateful grin. And then, of course, he turned beet red.
"Well done, Ron," Hermione said with a warm smile. She turned to Harry. "Have you had a chance to do your assignments, Harry?"
"All done," Harry replied after chewing his first bite of breakfast, then added with a smirk, "and reviewed, and picked over, and revised until perfected. I have a guardian who believes in high achievement." Ron gave Harry a very sympathetic look while Hermione's smile grew broader. Harry ducked his head as he added, for their ears only, "And I'm going to get top marks on all of it. It's going to feel great."
They all tucked in to their meal for the next several minutes. Harry watched the room fill with the later arrivers for breakfast, and cast his eyes around to assess the energy they were bringing with them. He didn't remember it being so tense on this first day back, last time around… Oh yeah, I had breakfast with Severus that day, and he wasn't my guardian yet… Oh yeah, he hugged me in front of a ton of people last night. Harry smiled to himself at that. There was going to be hell to pay… well, knowing Severus, he'd already nipped that in the bud with his House. Harry would have to do his own version of this, no doubt. Yep, he thought as he met the eyes of Zacharias Smith and read a very smug expression that could only reflect a load of obnoxious commentary for Harry in the next DA meeting. Harry narrowed his eyes at the Hufflepuff fifth year, before diverting his attention elsewhere and finding Corey Mullen and Maxwell Stoner openly glaring at him. Hmmmm. Fortunately, he'd asked Dumbledore to help him get a fund set up for the Ministry employees who were out of work after the break-in, something he'd wanted to do, but hadn't managed last time around. So that would be handled soon, hopefully. But in the meantime, there was a lot of disdain in the expressions of the two Ravenclaw seventh years as they continued to glower at him. He sighed. A lot of things had improved for him, but as far as his peers were concerned, there was still a lot of this sort of mess to deal with. They don't know how lucky they are to only have their snarky prejudices to think about.
Right about then he took a look at the professors and caught Remus watching him, also with narrowed eyes, but that made him grin. Remus nodded minutely and smiled mildly before returning his attention to his food. Harry looked over at Severus and received a raised eyebrow in response that made him chuckle. He had back-up now. Things really are very different. As if to further confirm this point, Harry's coin warmed and vibrated. He pulled it out of his shirt pocket and held it below the table to read while the others continued with their meal. It was from Lucius.
May I see you after breakfast, Harry?… please bring Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley…. to the back of the Great Hall… away from prying eyes
Curious, Harry darted a glance around the room for the older blond wizard, but could not see him. He met Draco's eyes again, and could tell that Draco knew what this would be about. He pictured the words of his response and they appeared on the coin via his wild magic.
Yes, sir. See you soon….
"McGonagall explained last night why Malfoy Sr. is here, right?" Harry asked quietly as they made their way through the rapidly emptying hall towards the back area behind the staff table, where he could see Lucius waiting with Draco.
"Yes," Hermione said. She had the shrill quality to her voice that surfaced when she was agitated as they approached Lucius.
He's yet to earn their regard, Harry reminded himself. Ron was just plain stoic, coming to a stop beside Harry and waiting to see what would follow.
"Good morning," Lucius greeted the three of them with a shallow bow.
"Good morning," Harry said with a crooked smile while his two best friends muttered awkward greetings.
"I won't keep you," Lucius told them all, but ended up fixing his eyes on Harry because none of the other teens would look at him. Even Draco was staring at Harry, as if waiting for a ball to drop. Lucius reached into his pocket and removed 3 galleons. "We've borrowed your brilliant idea for a communication device, Miss Granger," Lucius said, tilting his head and showing his regard when Hermione's eyes jumped up to meet his. "Harry suggested we utilize them to message each other these past two weeks, and they've likely saved each of our lives on multiple occasions." He bowed again toward Hermione, and then pressed his wand for a long moment to each of the galleons. "We've decided that as Harry's closest friends, the two of you should each have a means to contact the rest of our team, along with Draco. This way, if there is danger to any degree, you can access help immediately. I hope you are in agreement?"
"Of course," Hermione said, still shrill and shaky. She'd watched Lucius apply his charms to the coin and had a look on her face that Harry knew meant she wished she'd thought to add the vibration to her original design for the DA.
Ron was pressing his lips together, but he nodded and accepted the coin after Lucius explained how to use them.
"You can send private messages to a single person, or multiples, but just remember that if you don't specify your intended recipient, we will all receive the message." Lucius concluded by summarizing the list of coin holders which now included Headmistress McGonagall. He checked his watch. "Oh, and Harry, I had a brief discussion with Albus this morning. You once again bring me to shame for not having thought to make the same efforts. I will arrange for that fund today." Harry's eyebrows shot up in surprise at that. Lucius smiled at him. "And you'd all better head off for your first classes."
"See you in Defense," Harry said to Draco after the four teens had walked awkwardly as a group back towards the front of the Great Hall. He frowned when his blond peer nodded tersely and headed off to his Transfiguration class period with Hufflepuff. "He's in bad shape," he said to Ron and Hermione when Draco was out of earshot.
"Pansy Parkinson's already called him out for helping you yesterday," Hermione said. "Come on, we'll be late."
The first half of day one of the new term played out fairly similarly to the previous one. Herbology went well, History of Magic was incredibly boring, Lucius passed them in the hallway and smirked as Harry's jaw popped from a huge yawn while he exited that class. Ron however, did not gripe about how friendly Harry now was with the senior Malfoy. Instead he commented on the fact that most fifth years seemed to be in good shape after the article, as in, no one had made snarky comments or asked inappropriately personal questions about Harry's private business.
"We haven't had class with the Slytherins, though," Ron acknowledged as they headed to lunch before their afternoon session of Defense Against the Dark Arts. "That could be a game changer."
This time in DADA, Professor Lupin announced at the beginning of class that they would engage in mostly practical lessons in the coming weeks, and that theory would be studied as homework for now. For the class as a whole, this was a complete pendulum swing from Umbridge's restrictive lessons during their first term. There was an excited rumble of approval to this plan as their professor held his hands up for silence. "As Professor Snape undoubtedly informed the Slytherins, and I have informed Gryffindor, there is still a danger of fallout from the unrest that Voldemort's demise will have created, both here at Hogwarts, and out in our society. Tempers will be short, irrational acts might be engaged, and anyone of you could get caught in an unintended crossfire. It is vital that you have a strong ability to protect yourself. And there are very simple means to do so. We will begin today with a protective shield charm called contego."
Harry was glad that Remus was teaching this one today. This would help with the plans he had for the DA. Ever since Tonks had taught him that shield on the last timeline, Harry had found it the most practical of all of the spells he knew. It was a simple enough charm to cast, and the majority of the class mastered it quickly. He grinned at Neville, who had the spell down on the first try. Neville had a small smile on his face, but to Harry, he'd seemed to have already moved past that state of shock at his own abilities which had come to the surface when he'd finally mastered expelliarmus.
Remus set them up with a sequence of assessments on their skill level, specifically focusing on accuracy, rapid response, and strength behind their shields. Overall, he could see that aside from Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Neville and Blaise Zabini, who had each demonstrated strong capability, the rest of the class was demonstrating the acceptable level of achieved skill to move on to the next step.
"One of the aspects of mastering your abilities to shield yourselves under duress," Remus explained as they moved into the second half of the lesson, "is having acute understanding of how the magic is actually working." He called Harry, Draco and Hermione up to the front of the room and asked the three teens to stand side-by-side, arm's distance apart and facing the rest of the class. "I'd like each of you to shield yourself from my hexes," he told the three. "The rest of you are to take note of what you can see happening to my spells when they shield. Also watch for the shape and breadth of their shields in relation to their movements of their wands. This will help us understand what is required to scale the shield as needed. Harry, I'll start with you. I'm going to cast three spells in ten second intervals, and each will require a progressively stronger shield, alright?"
Harry had a feeling Remus had deliberately set him up to demonstrate his skill for the group, as if to let them all know that Harry Potter knew what he was doing. Remus cast the three hexes, each a variation of a stinging spell, and Harry cast his three contegos in successive response. The class told Remus they could see the edges of Harry's shield on the first and second castings, but not on the third. That was because he'd cast that last one to protect his entire body. Next was Hermione. Her shield was strong, too, but the edges stayed visible even on the third and largest one. Draco's were the same.
"Who can tell me why this might matter in a duel?" Remus asked the class when Zabini had described the difference between Harry's last shield and those of Draco and Hermione. Neville raised his hand. "Neville?"
"I'm guessing it could leave you vulnerable to another spell sneaking around those edges." Neville answered with confidence.
"Exactly," Remus said. "Well done, Neville, five points to Gryffindor." He turned back to face the three volunteers before continuing, "Alright, now let's watch what happens to the magic when I send harsher spells their way. You three, be on your guard. I'll be sending them randomly to each of you."
Remus began to fire off a spell he'd invented long ago and called thunderclap, which had a dramatic magical zip when it sped through the air. The spell made a visible and LOUD explosion when it hit their shields, which of course induced a strong amount of OHs and AHHs from the rest of the class, as Harry, Hermione and Draco each responded with precision with their shield charms. Remus called over his shoulder for comments on what the class could see.
"The magic smacks into the shield and breaks up, right there!" Seamus called.
"It's a better choice than protego, because protego would deflect the magic elsewhere and someone on the side might get hit!" Daphne Greengrass added.
"Excellent!" Remus called, awarding more points to both houses. "Well done, you three. Come back to join us. Neville, Blaise, Ron, go take their places." He repeated the exercise so that the other three teens could have the opportunity to practice what the first three had done.
Harry looked around the room with a small smile. The entire class was completely engaged and enthusiastic about the lesson, and somehow many of the Slytherins and Gryffindors had intermingled in the crowd. The only ones to stand aside were Crabbe and Parkinson at this point. Goyle was completely caught up in the excitement, reaching out to pound Knott's shoulder with enthusiasm. He looked back to the front as Neville cast this third shield to fully cover himself as Harry had done. "Let's have Neville help with our planning for tomorrow's DA," he said under his breath to Hermione.
"Good idea," she whispered back with a shared admiration for this obvious and newly blossoming ability in their mutual friend. She shot a glance at Draco, who had visibly relaxed since this morning. "At what point should we invite him in?"
Harry grinned at her, and she smiled back at him, knowing she'd set something in motion that he badly wanted to happen. "Let's wait until after the first meeting," he said, sobering a bit. "We still have to see who's still with us."