The last day of term had arrived and with it the last two classes before the winter holidays. Harry was looking forward to the break.
It felt like a lot had happened since the beginning of the school year. He had discovered that Professor Snape, of all people, was actually his father. They seemed to have reached a truce, of sorts, and the man had found out about the Dursleys, though, Harry wasn't entirely certain how much he knew. The professor had promised that he wouldn't have to go back there, but Harry knew that just because a person said something now didn't mean they'd follow through later.
Even words had an expiry date.
"Last class of the term!" Ron declared happily as they made their way between classes. "Can't wait for the break. Though, I'd watch out if I were you, Harry," he added in an ominous tone. "After all, Professor Trelawney has Seen the Grim in your future."
Harry laughed, but Hermione rolled her eyes. "I can't believe the two of you are still wasting your time with that fraud."
"Aw, c'mon, 'Mione, it's one of the easiest classes we have," said the redhead. "Right, Harry?"
"Right," Harry agreed. "I mean, we can sleep through most of it, and when we do have to work, the more violence and death we 'predict', the better our grade. Hey, Ron, remember that assignment where we -"
"Ah!" Hermione interjected, raising a hand. "I don't want to hear it." The boys grinned at each other and the girl shook her head at them. Harry was looking over his shoulder during this exchange when he ran into someone else who was equally inattentive.
"Sor-" Harry began until he saw who it was.
"Watch where you're going, Potter!" Malfoy snarled from his customary place between and slightly in front of Crabbe and Goyle. He turned to continue on his way before halting again to face his rival, a calculating gleam entering his eyes. "Or maybe," he drawled, "I should say -"
Quite abruptly, Crabbe stumbled into him. "Sorry!" the shorter boy murmured.
"'Sorry'?" the blond exclaimed. "What in Merlin's name were you doing?"
Crabbe flushed. "I tripped."
"You tripped? You were standing still, how did you... Never mind. I forgot who I was talking to." Malfoy continued up the hallway. "Later, Potter," he spat over his shoulder. The two other boys hesitated a moment before heading after him.
"That was a bit odd," Hermione frowned.
"No kidding," muttered Harry with a frown of his own. "Let's get to class before we're late." The other two murmured in agreement and they hurried on their way.
"Crap!" Hermione clapped a hand over her mouth. The word had escaped before she even so much as thought about it. Perhaps she spent a little too much time with Harry and Ron. The girl quickly ducked back into an empty classroom as the very boys whose influence on her vocabulary was in question approached... with herself. Needless to say, her timing with the time-turner had been a bit off.
"...the better our grade," Harry was saying, unaware of Malfoy and company moving up the hall in the opposite direction. "Hey, Ron, remember that assignment where we -"
"Ah!" Had she really held her hand up like that? "I don't want to hear it." Hermione got a second dose of those grins her friends always wore when they'd been heckling her before Harry collided with Draco. The three Slytherins had their backs to her.
"Watch where you're going, Potter," the blond snarled. He turned, then paused, speaking again. "Or maybe I should say -"
But it wasn't the boy's words that caught her attention. No. It was the fact that at that moment, Goyle reached over and gave Crabbe a push, knocking him into Malfoy and cutting off whatever their leader had been about to say. Hermione blinked in surprise as Crabbe endured Malfoy's admonishment. She adjusted her position to watch as the three Slytherins disappeared around a corner.
"That was a bit odd," she heard herself say.
"No," she amended quietly, brown eyes narrowing, "that was very odd."
The last time Harry had been in Snape's office, he had thought he'd imagined it. This time, however, he was sure of it: the ruddy thing was watching him!
The Potions Master's office was a cramped affair (which may have accounted for why he often chose to do his grading in his classroom, instead). The furniture was fashioned from a dark – almost black – wood, the upholstery on the chairs a rich, emerald green. Two enormous bookcases claimed the wall behind the desk, filled entirely with books.
The room might have seemed like any other office, were it not that the other walls were dominated by wire racks holding innumerable jars full of potions ingredients. Most of them, Snape had told him, were used in the NEWT level Potions classes and included everything from bits of plants and non-living matter to more ghastly items, such as various animal parts. Including the jar of eyeballs Harry was currently staring at.
"Harry, what are you doing?" Severus demanded. The boy had been in his office for several minutes and still hadn't sat down, yet.
"It's looking at me," said Harry.
The man followed the boy's bemused gaze, his lips twitching in mild amusement. "Ah, yes," he said, "a receptive mierdim eye. It seems rather taken by you." And indeed, the eyeball in question appeared quite attentive to the teen, its lens pressed against the glass of the jar.
"Why is it the only one staring at me?" Harry wanted to know, slowly moving back and forth, the eyeball swiveling to track his movement.
"Likely because it is the only one which still has active image reception," the Potions Master explained. "Naturally, nerves usually die with the animal, itself, but occasionally with the mierdim, the sensory receptors in the eye remain active, continuing to receive imagery even though it has nowhere to send it. It's quite fascinating, really."
"No kidding," breathed Harry, finding the whole thing quite fascinating, indeed. "Can it still be used in potions? Or would the fact that it's still... active throw 'em off?"
Severus felt a swell of pride at this. His son wasn't as terrible at Potions as he'd always assumed, after all. "There are a handful of brews that specifically call for active mierdim eyes. Many, it doesn't matter one way or another. Still, others would, in fact, be ruined entirely, so it's always best to be certain before adding it to one's cauldron."
"Wicked," the boy murmured quietly, though, Snape rather suspected it was less in response to what he'd said than in enthrallment at the fact that a disembodied body part was behaving in a near-sentient manner. Harry finally pulled himself away from the jar of mierdim eyes and sat in one of the empty chairs. The eyeball jostled its way through its fellows to peer out the side of the jar closest to Harry, thin cord of nerves and muscle trailing behind it like a tail.
"What are your plans for the break?" Severus asked conversationally. "Will your friends be staying, also?"
Harry stared in surprise. It was probably rather rude of him, actually, particularly since he seemed to be doing it a lot, lately. "Ron and Hermione were going to," he answered after a moment, "but Hermione's got family or something visiting and Mrs. Weasley wanted Ron to come home this year. She invited me to come, too, but I... I didn't want to intrude." The teen mumbled the last part, and though Severus probably heard it, anyway, he did not comment on it.
"I see." The man gazed intently at the boy, then hesitantly said, "You could... stay with me over the break. In my quarters. If you'd like."
"With you, sir?"
"Well, you'd have to wait until Monday after everyone else has left, of course," Snape continued. "I have some things that I must do this weekend. Naturally, I will probably spend a majority of the time preparing for next term and replenishing the Potions stores, but... You'd be welcome." The professor's tone remained casual, which is probably why it sounded so awkward.
"But..." Harry began, trailing off as he tried to decide how he should phrase his question.
"You'd probably prefer to stay in your dormitory, of course. No doubt, some of your other housemates will be staying, as well."
"No! I mean, a few of them are," the teen said quickly, "but no one that I know very well. It's just... will there be room?" He remembered being in Snape's quarters and was fairly confident that 'spare room' hadn't been one of the labels used for any of the doors. Furthermore, he couldn't imagine Snape having him sleep on his sofa for two weeks.
The professor met his gaze. "There will be room," he answered simply.
"Oh," said Harry. "A-alright, then. Thank you, sir, I think I'd like that."
"Good," Severus replied. He picked up a quill, ostensibly to mark the paper that was sitting on the desk in front of him. "I shall make sure it is arranged with the headmaster, then. It's getting late. You'd best return to your common room."
"Yes, sir. Good night." Harry rose from his seat and made his way to the door, pausing to note the mierdim eye moved around its jar to continue watching him.
"Good night, Harry. Have a good weekend."
The boy's lips curved into a small smile. "You, too, sir."
The last Hogsmeade visit of the term had arrived. Harry stabbed at his eggs. All around him, everyone was going on about getting Christmas gifts and seeing all the shops decorated for the holidays. Harry decided he hated Hogsmeade weekends.
"Harry, do you need anything?" Hermione asked. How very kind of her to remind him that he wasn't allowed to go like everyone else in their year.
"No," Harry murmured glumly. He'd already ordered his gifts by owl-order, anyway, and wasn't in need of anything else. Why had he forgotten to ask Snape about signing his permission slip again? Though, the man seemed to have a rather good memory, so maybe he hadn't been willing to sign it, after all.
"You sure you don't want us to stay with you?" Ron wanted to know. "I mean, we won't see each other for a couple of weeks. I could always get my mum to take me shopping when I'm at home."
"Yeah, Harry," Hermione chimed in. "We could go visit Hagrid or-"
Harry shook his head. "No. You two go," he insisted. "I've got other stuff to do, anyway." They all knew that was a lie, but no one said anything. Ron and Hermione knew that Harry wouldn't want them to stay behind for his sake, and Harry knew for a fact that Hermione, at least, had been looking forward to seeing the Yule decorations.
"Alright, we'll try to get back early, then," Hermione said and Ron nodded in agreement. "Are you sure you don't want us to stay?"
"Yes. Go," Harry told them. Finally, the other two obeyed and Harry went back to poking at his breakfast, feeling a bit sorry for himself. Stupid Uncle Vernon. The man probably-
"Still here, Potter?" a voice interrupted his thoughts. "I would have thought you'd be spending the day with your friends."
Harry looked up to see Professor Snape standing behind him. "They went to Hogsmeade, sir," the boy told him.
"I hadn't thought otherwise," said the professor.
"Then, why..." Harry began, then broke off, eyes widening slightly. Was it possible..?
Snape smirked at him. "You may find that the headmaster has received a note from a parent or guardian giving you permission to join your classmates in Hogsmeade."
"I am quite certain of it."
Harry dropped his fork immediately and jumped to his feet. Flashing the professor a grateful grin, he hurried from the Great Hall, breaking into a run the moment he cleared the doors. "Ron! Hermione!" his shout echoed back into the large chamber.
Severus shook his head. He'd have to chastise the boy for running in the castle later.