Ron rushed into the common room, face flushed with excitement.
"You should've come with me!" he told Harry, foolish smile on his face. Harry lay sideways across an armchair, legs dangling off of one side.
"Ron, I wasn't going to go with you just to mail a letter when there's a Potions essay due tomorrow," Harry said without looking up at him.
Hermione shot him an approving glance. "You're finally making sense."
Ron waved dismissively. "Anyway, on the way back, I ran into Fred and George who said they were going to put their names in the bowl. So naturally, I followed them and when they did, it worked! Can you believe it?"
Hermione looked surprised. "Really? And I had told them it wouldn't." She sounded disappointed.
"So they're in the drawing then?" Draco asked, looked to be thinking of trying the same in order to go to Durmstrang.
Ron shrugged. "We'll find out tonight, I guess." He sat down on the couch. "Actually, it's almost dinner time now. You ready to go down?"
"Not 'til I finish this," Harry muttered, quill scratching on the parchment.
Ron groaned. "You've been working on that for hours. It's Snape, he's not going to fail you."
Harry gave him a look. "He may not fail me but he definitely grades me harder than everyone else."
"You learn more that way," Hermione commented.
Harry shrugged, knowing she was right. "You could work on your essay now, you know," Harry pointed out. The same one was due for all of them tomorrow.
"I'll do it after dinner."
"Isn't that when you said you'd do your Astronomy star map?" Draco asked innocently.
"So?" Ron snapped. Draco shrugged and went back to what he was doing.
A half an hour later, Harry finally rolled up his parchment, satisfied with his work. Seeing this, Draco shoved a few papers inside his Transfiguration book and Hermione closed the novel she was reading. Harry realized they were all waiting for him and he felt a little bad.
"Let's go," Harry said, leading the way out of the common room.
They walked together down the moving staircases and to the Great Hall where many had already gathered for dinner. Assuming his customary seat at the Gryffindor table, Ron immediately reached for the serving spoon in a large bowl of rice.
Harry looked over at the bowl that held the slips of paper upon which people's names were written.
"How do they stop people from taking other people's names out?" Harry asked conversationally.
"McGonagall said it was charmed so that you can't remove the entries," Draco said.
"And if Dumbledore charmed it, it's sure to work," Hermione noted. Harry nodded, for that made sense.
In only minutes, a silence descended upon the hall as Dumbledore stepped up to the podium beside which the bowl sat. Within it, Harry could see the edges of many folded papers.
"Just in time," Ron commented excitedly.
Dumbledore raised a hand to silence the few who were still talking. "Well, I hope you all are adjusting well to your classes," Dumbledore said by way of greeting. He looked around. "I could go on with other sentiments but I am guessing you are all excited to see who will be representing Hogwarts at Durmstrang." Cheers accompanied this assumption. "Well then, shall we begin?"Much to the shock of the students, Dumbledore aimed his wand at the bowl and everything within caught fire.
"AH!" The twins shouted together. Their flaming red hair had burst into real flames at the same time the bowl had. They patted it frantically, assuring the others that it was not real fire. Harry laughed along with most of the table. He supposed that was the punishment for illegally entering their names.
When the fire had extinguished itself, from both the bowl and the twin's hair, Dumbledore stepped over to the bowl. One by one, he pulled out the slips and read the names inscribed upon them.
"Angelina Johnson," he said, then drew another. "Cedric Diggory. Sandra Beckridge. Roger Lutrell. Jeremiah Jenkins. Clara Higgs."
"Did you notice that's a boy and girl from each house?" Hermione whispered. "The next will probably be a Slytherin girl and Gryffindor boy."
"How do you know who they all are?" Harry asked. Some he had never heard of.
Hermione shrugged. "I glanced over the student records First year."
"Lane Ramilla," Dumbledore continued.
"Slytherin," Hermione commented.
Harry waited in anticipation to see who which Gryffindor boy would get to go. Dumbledore unfolded the last piece of paper and paused. At first, Harry thought he was building suspense until he realized that there was a disconcerting furrow to his brow.
"Harry Potter," Dumbledore said. Murmurs spread through the hall. Harry thought his heart may have stopped. He was, in no way, expecting this, nor did he particularly want it. "Harry Potter, please go to my office immediately. For everyone else chosen, we leave at 4:30 tomorrow afternoon."
Harry gulped and glanced up at Snape at the Head table. His expression was one that left Harry feeling even worse than he had been before. He looked angry at first, but Harry saw fear, concern and outrage in his features. Perhaps what was worst of all was the fact that he looked so undone; his emotions were clear for everyone to see.
Harry stood abruptly, vaguely aware that his friends were saying something to him.
"I have to go," he announced and hurried to the door, ignoring the myriad of stares that tried to penetrate his back. One of them was Snape's.
Harry stood outside the door to Dumbledore's office and took a deep steadying breath. In fact, he took several. As he was doing so, he heard footsteps behind him. Harry jumped as a hand touched his shoulder. He turned his head and found that it was Severus. His breathing evened out.
Severus did not say anything but stared at Harry for a minute before saying the password for the gargoyles to allow them to pass. Neither broke the silence as the stairs spiraled upwards towards Dumbledore's office. Harry snuck several worried glances at Severus but by this point he had completely re-masked his emotions.
They stepped through the wide doors and found Dumbledore already there.
"He is not going," Severus said immediately and in a tone that left no room for compromise.
"I am sorry, Severus, but we have no choice," Dumbledore said. Snape's face hardened and his eyes narrowed. He looked about to say something when Dumbledore cut him off. "Did you put your name in the bowl, Harry?"
"No, Professor," Harry said, honestly, pleadingly. "My hair didn't catch on fire either."
Dumbledore nodded. "I see that."
"He is NOT going," Severus repeated, seething.
Dumbledore sighed, suddenly seeming old and weary. "Severus, the minute that bowl was activated, the tournament essentially began. I have already Flooed Barty Crouch and he insists that the magical contract is binding. Just because he has been chosen to go to Durmstrang does not mean he will participate in the tournament."
"This is a whole year, Albus!" Severus snapped. "Who knows what could happen there! This is obviously a plot to draw Harry away from the protection of the school and you would allow it to work!""I will be accompanying him," Dumbledore stated.
"Then allow me to as well," Severus shot back.
Professor Dumbledore shook his head. "I cannot. A replacement cannot be found that quickly and you are to be Deputy Headmaster."
Harry inclined his head at that news but stayed silent. He would rather be forgotten at the moment.
Severus waved a hand dismissively. "Someone else can do that."
"I don't trust anyone else to lead and protect the school while I am away," Dumbledore insisted.
"Flattery will get you nowhere," Severus stated flatly. "If I recall correctly, I still have one favor to redeem."
Dumbledore shook his head. "Not now. Not on this."
"Albus," Severus said quietly. For anyone who knew Snape, the quieter his voice got, the more dangerous it became.
"Severus, no. I will not compromise on this. Hogwarts cannot do without you right now and therefore, you will stay," Dumbledore said firmly. For such an old man, he could be very intimidating.
"Hogwarts needs me more than my son does?" Severus demanded.
"Yes!" Dumbledore replied, losing his calm for a moment.
Severus straightened. As if just remembering Harry was there, he said, "Harry, leave us, please."
"Harry," Severus warned.
Harry left with a backwards glance. When the heavy doors closed behind him, the sound within the room was shut out. He assumed they were using a silencing charm for good measure. Harry sunk to the floor; the stone seeping a chill through his robes. Harry hugged his knees to his chest and stared at the wall for a few minutes, trying to pin down his whirling emotions. When the staircase next to him moved with a vague scraping sound, Harry looked up to see who it would deliver.
"Harry?" Sirius asked, looking at Harry with concern.
"What are you doing sitting out here?" Sirius inquired, stepping off of the stairs.
Harry shrugged. "They kicked me out. Professor Dumbledore and Severus are having a fight."
"About you going to Durmstrang?" Sirius asked, sitting down next to Harry. He nodded. Sirius gave a jerk of the head. "I don't see what the problem is. I mean, sure, you're too young but it sounds like a really cool opportunity."
Harry just looked at him.
"After all, you probably won't get chosen to actually compete, you'll just be along for the ride," Sirius continued.
Harry blinked at him. "Voldemort's on his way back and you think it would be 'cool' for me to leave Hogwarts for a year?" he asked incredulously.
"Well, yeah, I mean-," Sirius cut himself off. "Wait, Voldemort's on his way back? Since when?"
"Severus didn't tell you?" Harry asked, brow furrowed. "I had a dream."
"Oh," Sirius said. He looked like he wanted to say more when the door opened to reveal a seething Severus.
Harry scrambled to his feet and Sirius followed more leisurely. Snape strode right to the staircase, Harry trotting behind him."Well? What'd you decide?" Harry asked.
As the stairs twisted down, Severus looked down at Harry. "How much time do you have tonight?"
Harry shrugged. "I finished your Potions essay so I think I'm good."
"Come with me to my office then."
"Can I come too?" Sirius asked sincerely.
"No," Severus replied brusquely.
Severus stepped off the stairs and spun on Sirius. "Do not try me now, Black."
Sirius quieted. "Right, well, uh, keep me informed."
Severus nodded once and then continued on his way. Harry followed behind him, heart pounding and feeling nervous for no apparent reason. Silence reigned until they stepped into Severus's office and he closed the door with the flick of his wand and a loud bang. Harry flinched unintentionally.
Harry almost expected Severus to yell at him, though he knew he was not deserving of it. Harry was not sure that he had ever seen Snape this angry. Without thinking, he slumped in his chair, instincts flickering back to the days of the Dursleys. Be quiet and blend into the background as much as you can. Severus paced the room several times before stopping abruptly behind his desk. He looked at Harry who was slumped in his chair and looking apprehensive.
Severus blinked as if coming out of a trance and collapsed into his chair. He put his head in his hands. Harry straightened. When, after a minute, Severus did not move, Harry leaned forward and touched his forearm gently. Severus's head jerked up and Harry let go.
"Is everything okay?" Harry asked worriedly.
"No," Severus stated. He did not seem eager to elaborate.
Harry licked his lips unconsciously. "Why?"
Snape sighed. "Dumbledore is leaving me no alternative. He is insisting, demanding, that you go to Durmstrang and I stay back. It does not sit well with me at all."
"I don't like the thought of it either," Harry said with a frown.
"Whoever put your name in that bowl..." Severus shook his head in exasperation. "This is what they want. We are facilitating their plan, whatever it is. We are sending you into danger. It should be the other way around."
Harry agreed but did not say so. It wouldn't help anything. "I'll be careful, I'll be on my guard."
Severus looked pained. "That might not be good enough."
"Well, what else is there to do?" Harry asked in frustration.
Severus shook his head. He seemed at a loss. For a long moment, no one spoke.
"You will have to write, every day if you must," Severus said. "Anything suspicious."
"And you'll have to write just to talk," Harry said, for he knew that without prompting, Severus might only correspond for serious matters. He got the feeling that during what was sure to be a long year, he would need more than that.
Severus nodded. "One spot of consolation is that I have convinced Dumbledore to allow you to bring a companion. They have no set number of people allowed to go."
"Really?" Harry asked, brightening slightly. "Will they have to enter for the competition?"
"No," Severus said. "And neither shall you."
"Of course not, that would be mental," Harry breathed. "That's good that I can bring someone though; I don't really know anyone else who is going."
Severus nodded. "That is what I thought."
"Thanks," Harry said.
Another minute of silence passed.
"I don't really want to go," Harry admitted. Severus looked like Harry had just added to his pain. Harry wished he hadn't said that.
"Dumbledore is allowing me to come at each of the tasks to 'watch'," Severus added helpfully.
"That's good," Harry said earnestly. "And I'll be back for Christmas, right?"
"Good," Harry breathed.
The conversation lapsed for a third time.
"I should probably go, uh, pack, I guess," Harry muttered, rising to leave. He walked to the door where Snape's voice made him turn.
"Harry," Severus said. Harry looked at him expectantly. He seemed to be struggling for words. Finally, he settled on, "Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Severus," Harry replied quietly.