"Hi, Severus," Harry said, coming into the potions classroom on the Tuesday which they had designated to brew more potion.
"Harry," Severus greeted with a nod. A tad darkly, he asked, "Have you seen this?" He pushed over a copy of the Daily Prophet.
Harry gulped and pulled it closer.
Dark Wizard Behind Harry Potter's Strange Behavior?
By Rita Skeeter
As any faithful reader of The Daily Prophet will know, Harry Potter, the once illustrious Boy Who Lived, has damaged his reputation with falsehoods, erratic behavior and an ever growing unstable personality. But it seems, dear readers, that this reporter may have gotten to the heart of the change from the innocent hero to the young man primed to explode at any minute.
At the recent press conference to introduce Professor Dolores Umbridge as Hogwarts' High Inquisitor, Mr. Potter arrived, making several caustic and inflammatory remarks at the urging of his guardian, Professor Severus Snape. This verbal attack was unprovoked and, probably would not have occured had Professor Snape not arrived. Rumor has it that Snape has dabbled in the Dark Arts, perhaps even to the level of the Death Eaters. Should a man with such a past and such dangerous knowledge really be the one guiding the Boy Who Lived at the verge of You-Know-Who's return, as Mr. Potter claims? We would like to hear your thoughts.
Next to the article was a moving photograph of Severus placing his hand on Harry's shoulder and bending down to whisper in his ear. Harry crumpled the paper in anger and threw it down.
"But you weren't urging me, you were telling me to stop!" Harry said in a voice rich with injustice.
"You think I do not know that?" Severus said sharply. He sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Normally, I would not care what they write about me, but with this article out there, Professor Umbridge would have no difficulty at all removing you from my custody."
Harry's blood ran cold. "She wouldn't... She wouldn't actually do that, would she?"
Severus looked at Harry with dark eyes. "She is not a woman to cross, Harry. I believe you have found that out by this point."
"But I'll tell them that I don't want to go!" Harry insisted. "She can't do that! Not if I want to stay with you!" His voice took on a wild sort of pleading. He wouldn't be able to bear going back to the Dursley's; not after knowing what it was like to have a real family who loved him. A family whom he loved back.
Severus stared down at the crumpled ball of paper. "Do you recall what I told you years ago before the interview with the adoption officials?"
Harry shook his head.
"If they had caught you lying, they would have suspected me of manipulating you. There is nothing to bar that suspicion now. And, being that I am a suspected Dark Wizard, I would certainly have the skills to do so," Severus said dryly. "And with that, everything we have could be undone."
"No," Harry breathed. "But Dumbledore-"
"Dumbledore merely leads the Wizengamot. If the majority sways away from us, there will be nothing that he can do. I do believe he will do what he can, but it may not be enough," Severus said in a sort of resigned way.
"This is all speculation, Harry," Severus said comfortingly. "If we are careful, it will not come to that."
Harry nodded numbly.
"We ought to start the potion. Here, gather these ingredients."
Harry did so in a half daze. As he was preparing them for the potion, he asked, "Has Umbridge observed your class yet? She did Professor McGonagall's the other day."
"No, I believe she is coming later this week. Actually, it is scheduled for your class," Snape informed him. "How did Professor McGonagall stand under scrutiny?"
Harry shrugged. "She tried to be polite at first, but then Umbridge started to get on her nerves. After that, she got a bit short with her. McGonagall ended it by bringing up the Blood Quill, or alluding to it. Did you tell her?"
"I thought it best that the Heads of House be informed of what may or may not be being used on their students," Severus replied.
Harry nodded, a bit embarrassed.
"In any case, that seems to be what generally happens when people interact with Umbridge," Severus stated. "They begin with forced politeness that degrades with each word that comes out of her mouth."
Harry looked at him in appreciation. "That was nicely put."
"Thank you. Add the chopped lizard tongue, if you will."
Harry dropped them into the base potion that Severus had previously prepared. A thought rose to the surface of his mind and Harry debated on whether or not to bring it up. He knew how Severus would respond. After pushing it away and allowing it to resurface several times, Harry gave up the fight.
"I had a dream the other night," he blurted.
Severus looked up and raised a brow. "What about?"
"I'm not sure exactly," Harry admitted. "There was a corridor and a door. For some reason, it was really important that I get through the door, and I don't' know why, but I couldn't."
Something flickered in Severus's eyes as Harry said this. Recognition, perhaps, or worry. "That is something at least. Harry, you must practice occlumency before you sleep. I cannot stress how important that is."
"So you think it was Voldemort's mind in mine again?" Harry asked.
"I am almost certain," Severus said, seeming troubled. "If you ever make it through the door, let me know immediately."
Harry frowned. "Why? What will that mean?"
"Nothing good," Severus muttered.
Harry looked down and let the silence speak for itself. They continued to work in this way for a little while, talking only when something needed to be said. Soon enough, the potion was at the stage which required it to simmer for two weeks. Levitating it into Severus's back room, Harry followed Severus back to the office.
"I should go. I have an essay to finish tonight," Harry said with a sigh. "If I don't catch Hermione before she goes to bed, she won't proofread it for me."
"May I ask how your friends are doing?" Severus asked. "I trust they are not overly concerned about the Dark Lord's return?"
"Not as much as I am, I don't think," Harry replied. "Oddly enough, everyone seems more concerned about Umbridge's horrible teaching methods. They're worried that if Voldemort does return they won't be prepared. That's what I'm worried about too," Harry admitted.
"I am certain you are not the only ones. At least you have had the benefit of my instruction more so than the others."
Harry nodded. "I hope that 'opportunity' you talked about earlier will come around soon. We have to do something."
Severus nodded. "I agree. Goodnight."
"Goodnight," Harry said. "Oh, and Severus? I'm really sorry about that article. It was my fault. If I hadn't-"
Severus waved him off. "It is more a flaw in my history than one in your actions. Do not give it any more thought."
Harry nodded. "See you tomorrow, then."
"Harry, we've been doing some thinking..." Hermione began the next evening as she, Harry, Draco and Ron sat around the fire in the common room.
Harry waited for her to continue. "Well, that's not unusual. Was there more to that statement?"
"Yes, actually," Hermione replied. "You know as well as we do that we're not learning anything in Defense Against the Dark Arts."
Harry nodded. "We've been over this. What are you getting at?"
"We decided that it's time to do something about it," Draco stepped in. "We want to learn something real. How to defend ourselves."
"We thought maybe you could get Snape to teach us," Hermione said finally.
Harry's brows shot up. "Really? Even after that article?"
"Especially after that article," Draco said. "Those of us who believe Voldemort is back also don't believe that Snape's turning you dark. All we know is that you know how to defend yourself and a lot of that Snape taught you."
It all sounded very logical when he put it that way. Still, Harry wasn't sure. He turned to Ron. "You'd take defense lessons from Snape?"
Ron gave a half shrug. "If it was either that or be fried by You-Know-Who, then yeah."
"Snape's been trying for the Defense Against the Dark Arts position for years. He has to know what he's doing," Hermione said.
Harry nodded. "There's no doubt about that," he said. "It's just... the details I guess. Where would we do this without Umbridge noticing? I guess it wouldn't be too hard to find a place for the five of us to practice..."
Hermione shared a glance with Draco. "Uh, we weren't necessarily thinking of limiting it to the four of us," she hedged. "We thought we could let anyone who wants to learn join."
Harry scowled. "What, like a club? Who, other than the four of us, would actually consent to be taught by someone they think is a Dark Wizard?"
"Fred, George, Ginny," Ron listed.
"Neville," Hermione added.
"Neville?" Harry asked. "He hates Snape."
Hermione nodded. "He overheard us talking in the library. He said that he'd be able to get over his and Snape's differences. He seems really intent on learning to fight."
Harry frowned. "I... Even if I asked and even if he was willing, I don't think Severus can help us," Harry said quietly.
"Why not?" Ron asked. "Isn't that part of his job being in the Order?
"It's not that," Harry insisted. He sighed. "You remember what I said about Umbridge threatening to undo the adoption? Well with this latest article, we think that she could get the Wizengamot to agree easily. If Snape does anything she doesn't like..." he trailed off with a shrug. "I'd bet anything that she wouldn't like him teaching defense."
They were quiet for a moment.
"I'm sorry, I just don't want to risk that," Harry added.
Hermione responded quickly, "Of course, Harry. We wouldn't want you to either."
Harry fiddled with the tassels on one of the red and gold throw pillows.
"So, now what?" Ron asked a bit glumly.
For a few minutes, there was no sound save the crackle of the fire. Then Draco spoke up.
"Now we go for the next best thing," he said.
"What's that?" Harry asked.
"Well, if we can't get the teacher, we might as well get the student. You could teach us everything Snape taught you, Harry. Everything you've learned from facing Voldemort so many times," Draco replied with an eager gleam in his eye.
Hermione nodded along with him. "That's a brilliant idea."
"Yeah, loads better than Snape," Ron added.
"That is, if you're up for it," Draco said.
Harry bit his lip. "You really think that I would be any better than Snape? Everyone thinks I'm deranged or something."
"It won't hurt to give it a shot," Hermione said comfortingly. "I'm sure there are people who don't think that, like everyone we mentioned earlier. Will you at least give it a shot?" she asked.
Harry considered for a moment himself being a teacher. The thought was mildly absurd, but he did agree that he wanted his friends to know how to fight. If there was a war coming, he wanted them to survive. "I'll do it."
His friends smiled at him.
"Great," Hermione said. "I'll get it organized and let you know, alright?"
"Sure," Harry said. Truly, though, he wished that it didn't have to come to this.
AN: Sorry, guys, but I'll be going without internet for the next week or so, so don't expect an update until after the 14th!