Harry had no more visitors that night and was released early morning with a warning to take it easy. His ribs felt significantly better but his emotions were churning. Rather than go up to the common room, Harry headed down to the potions master's office. He tried the doorknob and it was unlocked. He headed in.
"Have you never learned to knock?" Severus snapped from across the room.
Harry was rather surprised. He had thought, or perhaps hoped, that Severus would have been worried about him. Apparently not.
"Sorry," Harry said simply and without sincerity. "Where were you last night?" he asked, not distinguishing between visiting him in the hospital wing and being at the scene of the attack.
Severus hesitated with narrowed eyes. "I was otherwise detained. I trust other people helped you?"
"Yes," Harry said. "It was just that they said that they had been told to fetch you. I expected you to come."
"I apologize," Severus said, looking pained. "Is there anything else you need?"
"No," Harry said, puzzled. "I'll just go now, I guess."
Severus nodded and sat down at his desk. Harry gave him a long look then departed. He considered various explanations for his behavior before deciding that something very disturbing must have happened the night before. He hoped that he would be back to normal soon.
Harry slowly walked up to the common room with many things weighing on his mind. He arrived and was welcomed by his friends and the Quidditch team. He suffered through the greetings and well-wishes but really just wanted to be alone. He had almost and hour until his first class and was planning on spending it in the dorm. As he turned to ascend the stairs, Hermione caught his arm.
"Here, Harry, this came for you," she said, pressing in his hand a small package.
"Thanks," he said before turning away and seeking the solitude of his own company. He could feel her gaze on his back until he followed the curving steps out of view.
When at last he was alone, Harry rook a look at the brown parcel. There was a cream colored note attached to the bottom.
I am very regretful that I did not remember your birthday, and that I will freely admit. Do accept this gift, however late, and my apologies.
Harry gave a faint smile and considered that this gesture made up for his strange behavior earlier that day. He opened the accompanying box and withdrew another note and a silver bracelet in the shape of a coiled snake.
When given the command of "hold" in parseltongue, the snake will become animate and wrap around the wrist of the person you attach it to serving the dual purpose of inhibiting his magic and binding him. I have instilled it with a disillusionment charm that can be activated so that you are not the subject of additional suspicion.
Harry smiled and slipped it on his wrist. It coiled tighter to fit his skinny arm. Harry gazed into its emerald eyes and thought about how Severus's gifts were always useful. He was sure this would come in handy, much like the warning disc he was given the year before. Harry left the bracelet visible as he laid back onto the bed to think.
McGonagall knocked on Severus's office door and heard a gruff "Enter". She did so and stood in front of the desk rather than sit. Severus was rooting through a cabinet pressed against the left wall.
"Severus?" McGonagall asked. "What are you looking for?"
"It is none of your concern," he snapped, straightening.
"Okay," Minerva agreed. "Are you alright? You never came last night."
"I was otherwise detained," he said testily. "Why does everybody keep asking me that?"
"Because we are worried," Minerva said. "You're showing too much emotion," she joked. "It's making people nervous."
Severus scowled at her. "Why are you here?"
"To check on you," she replied.
"I do not need checking on," Severus said.
"Obviously," Minerva said with a huff. "Forgive me for trying to be nice to the aloof and independent Severus Snape."
Severus sat. "Are you finished?"
"I suppose," she shrugged. Still reluctant to go, she asked. "How is Harry doing?"
"He seems okay," he replied. "I am not worried."
"You aren't worried that someone cursed the Beater's bats to kill Harry?" She asked with mild disbelief.
"I am sure the boy who foiled the Dark Lord can handle a few errant bats," he said dryly. "Now if you will excuse me, I have a class to teach and I seem to have misplaced my notes."
"They aren't where you always keep them?" she asked.
Severus looked up. "Apparently not."
"Okay," she said. "Good luck."
Minerva left and closed the door behind her, leaving a small crack. She tapped her heels on the floor a few times to give the illusion of disappearing footsteps then peered through the crack. Severus was pulling drawers open left and right, looking frantically for something. He disappeared through the back door and into his workshop. Minerva left.
That evening, Harry ventured back down to Snape's office to thank him for the gift that he had received that morning. He found him in the workshop area in the back of his office with a bubbling cauldron beside him. Severus himself was looking into a stone basin swirling with a wispy opalescent substance. He seemed quite involved in whatever it was he was doing.
Harry knocked on the doorframe and Severus looked up.
"Harry," Severus said with a nod."I just wanted to thank you for your gift. I'm sure it will come in handy," Harry said.
Severus inclined his head with one eyebrow raised. "Of course."
If it had been anyone else, Harry might have attempted Legilimency, but he knew that it was hopeless with Severus. Therefore, he resorted to a more direct approach.
"Severus, what's wrong? Did something happen last night?" Harry asked.
Severus looked tired. "Yes, but nothing that concerns you. In a few days, everything will return to normal." Severus glanced at the stone basin, then caught himself and returned his gaze to Harry. "Come, let us talk in my chambers."
Severus gestured for Harry to lead the way and he did so. He muttered the password and found Snape staring intently at him. His brow furrowed and they stepped into the adjoining room. Harry sat on the couch.
"How are you faring?" Severus asked.
"Pretty good," Harry answered honestly. "The Quidditch accident actually made people stop suspecting me. I guess they figured I wouldn't stoop to self-inflicted harm."
Severus nodded. "I suppose they have heard about the attack? Does anyone know who is responsible?"
Harry considered briefly the rumors he heard. "The Slytherins suspect me and the Gryffindors suspect Nott. I was hoping you would know."
Severus shook his head.
"Oh," Harry said as an uncomfortable silence fell. "Um, I better go, essay to write and all."
Severus nodded and Harry exited, unsure of what to do now.
"It was odd, that's all," Harry told Hermione in reference to his and Severus's conversation earlier. "Something happened but he won't tell me what."
Hermione frowned, "I don't mean to downplay this, Harry, but I think we should focus on the larger problem here. Maybe they're both connected and if we can figure out one, we can figure out the other."
Harry shrugged. "Maybe. What do you have in mind?"
She leaned forward and lowered her voice. "We all think it is Nott right? Walking around like he owns the place and making comments about mudbloods?"
"Yeah," Harry agreed, scowling.
"Well we can't say anything unless we prove it," she said with heavy implications.
"Um, yeah?" Harry was lost. "How are we going to do that?"
She pulled over a book with a complex diagram and a potion recipe. "If two of you boys were to become Crabbe and Goyle, do you think you could get him to admit to it or at least give you his suspicions?"
Clarity dawned on Harry. "Of course. Draco is a Slytherin, that'll be perfect. Cunning and all," he explained. "Ron and I can flip a sickle."
She nodded. "Alright. Here's the catch: it will take a month."
"Hermione! A month?" Harry exclaimed. "You know how many people can be attacked by then?"
"Do you think I don't know, Harry?" she snapped. "I'm the mudblood."
Harry hung his head. "Sorry," he huffed.
"It's okay," she said a tad stiffly. "You're in for the plan though? Do you realize how many school rules this will break?"
"How many?" Harry asked.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "More than I care to count."
Harry grinned. "Im in."
"Great," she said. "I'll talk to Draco when he comes to work on his Charms paper."
Harry nodded, then hesitated. "Hang on, wasn't he supposed to do that a few days ago? He told me he was going to meet you on the day the Quidditch team was posted."
Her brow furrowed. "He was supposed to, but he never showed up."
Harry shrugged, but she seemed determined to find out why. "Ask him," Harry advised. "I have to go, see you."
"Bye Harry," she said. "Oh, wait, one more thing. Can you get these ingredients from Snape?"She handed Harry a list. "Sure."
"Um, they may or may not be restricted," she hedged.
Harry gave her a look. "Thanks," he said sarcastically.
"No problem!" She shot him a grin.
"Absolutely," Draco agreed immediately after Hermione told him of their plan.
"Good," she said. "We may need your Slytherin expertise."
Draco nodded, "Where will we brew it?"
Hermione answered, "I was thinking the girl's bathroom on the first floor. It's haunted so no one goes in there."
"I know," Draco said without thinking.
Hermione's eyebrows shot up teasingly. As a distraction, Draco slid over his essay. "Will you proofread this?"
"Sure," she agreed. "Why didn't you come on Saturday like you were supposed to?"
Draco's expression became guarded. "I don't know."
"You don't know?" Hermione asked, confused.
"That was a while ago, I forget," he said.
In truth, his first answer was more honest.
The next day, Harry worked up the nerve to attempt to steal from his guardian, if it came to that. He found him in his office, as usual. Harry originally hoped that Severus would see the logic behind this plan and would simply let him have the ingredients. If this failed and he was forced to steal, there would be no doubt as to who was responsible. Harry would have to approach this cautiously.
"Hey Severus?" Harry asked.
"You really must learn to knock," he admonished. "What do you need?"
"Just a few potions ingredients," Harry answered vaguely.
Severus nodded. "You may get them from the classroom. I trust you can unlock the cabinet?"
"Yes," Harry responded, surprised at the lack of questions.
Severus nodded. Harry took this as a dismissal and left. The cupboard in the classroom unlocked with an easy Alohomora and Harry got what he needed. He debated about stopping back in to say goodbye to Severus but decided against pushing his luck. He knew that if he saw the ingredients, Severus would know exactly what they were up to. Perhaps with the way things were, that would not be a good thing.