Child of Innocence

Chapter 24

Chapter 24

Harry bit his lip as he sat in Severus's chambers very early Monday morning.

"I'm afraid of what will be inside," Harry said worriedly.

"Open it and find out," Severus urged.

With a shrug, Harry grasped the golden egg in his hands and twisted the odd latch at the top. With a shriek, it opened, revealing a shimmering, swirling mass of silvery substance inside. Pushing through the pain in his ears, Harry pushed the sides together and turned the latch. Thankfully, the noise stopped.

"Well," Severus said simply.

"What was that?" Harry asked, brow furrowing.

"Hopefully, it does not mean you are to face a banshee," Severus said dryly. Smoothing down his robes, Snape stood. "On that enlightening note, I must go now."

"Goodbye," he said, standing to see Severus off. He was packed and ready to go meet Dumbledore and Floo back to Hogwarts.

Severus tilted his head. "Goodbye, Harry." He stared at him for a moment. "Christmas will come fast."

"I can come back to Hogwarts for Christmas, right?" Harry asked hopefully, feeling that if Severus said no, he would be looking forward to a bleak holiday.

"Most assuredly," Severus replied.

Unable to resist, Harry stepped forward and hugged his guardian. To his mild surprise, Severus set down his bag and hugged him back. Harry pulled away reluctantly, feeling a painful tingle in his chest.

"Harry," Severus said softly. "Please be careful."

Harry gave a small smile. "Of course."

Severus squeezed his shoulder before picking up his bag once more. "Perhaps you could escort me to the dining hall to meet Professor Dumbledore?"

"Sure," Harry readily agreed. "I should be headed to breakfast soon anyway."

Together, they left the chambers and headed through the winding corridors. Though Harry knew he wouldn't be seeing Severus for a while, he found nothing to say. They walked into the dining hall and located Dumbledore almost immediately. Harry slipped into a form of blind panic at seeing his guardian go once more but he forced it down.

"Harry, Severus, good morning," Dumbledore greeted. "That was a most impressive performance yesterday, Harry."

"Thank you, Professor," Harry said, still working hard at keeping his emotions in check. The strain must have come through in his voice for Severus's dark eyes came down to scrutinize him.

"Of course, my boy," Professor Dumbledore replied, not seeing anything amiss. "Severus, shall we?"

"Yes," Severus said stiffly, not taking his searching eyes off Harry. Harry didn't meet his gaze. Severus touched his arm gently. "Goodbye, Harry. I shall talk to you soon and I will see you at Christmas."

Harry swallowed hard. "Bye, Severus," Harry said, forcing his voice to remain steady.

With one last long look, the two walked away, leaving Harry to look after them and resist the urge to call them back. Standing at the edge of the hall, Harry closed his eyes for a long moment, not wanting to watch them leave. He drew in several deep breaths.

"Are you okay?" a voice beside him asked.

Harry's eyes snapped open and he found Rhea standing closer than he expected. "Oh, uh, yeah."

"You do not sound okay," she said with a frown.

"I just had to say goodbye to... someone important to me," Harry explained. "I'm really alright."

"Hm." Rhea glanced around. Only a few people littered the tables; it was too early for the majority of the students to arrive. Dumbledore and Severus were gone. "Your friends are not here," she observed.

"No, they're not," Harry agreed, noticing for the first time exactly how close she was standing. Her hair smelled of jasmine, Harry noted before telling himself to snap out of it.

"Would you care to join me for breakfast, in that case?" Rhea asked.

For a second, Harry thought she knew legilimency, for that was exactly what he was thinking.

"Sure," he agreed, figuring that it would take his mind off of Severus's deprture.

Rhea flashed him a smile and moved off, her steps lithe and smooth. Harry followed her slightly shorter figure to the empty buffet line where they filled up some plates and then headed for a nearby table.

Rhea peeled an orange and said conversationally, "You did well yesterday."

"Thanks," Harry replied, taking a sip of juice.

"Though you perhaps did not have the best strategy," she said candidly.

"Really. Who did then, in your opinion?" Harry asked carefully.

"Bennet," she replied. "It was safest for all those involved."

Harry considered this for a moment. "Unless, of course, it snapped out of its calm when approached the nest, freaked out, smashed all the eggs and killed Bennet."

Rhea's brow lifted. "Well, except in that case, then," she said with a light laugh.

Harry grinned. "He did place first though. I was docked points for getting injured."

"Are you alright?" she inquired, a hint of concern mixed into her accent.

Harry shrugged, noting that the gesture sent a stab of pain through his healing back. "Almost."

"That is good," she said, pushing her hair behind her ear and starting on her breakfast.

"Yeah," Harry agreed to fill the silence. He took a bite of bread then cleared his throat. "So, um, you're a fourth year, right?"

"I am," she said.

"Do you play Quidditch?" he ventured.

She smiled faintly. "You British wizards do not know about Durmstrang," she stated. "Girls do not play Quidditch here."

"Why not?" Harry asked with a frown. "Some of our best players are girls."

"It is not the way of things," Rhea replied. She tilted her head at him, causing her long dark hair to fall across her shoulder. "What is it like at Hogwarts?"

"In general?" Harry asked for clarification.

"As compared to here. What is it like?"

"Well..." Harry had to think for a moment, surprised that he could not immediately summon up a list of differences. "The food, for example. Ours appears lining the tables at meal times, like it did here for the Opening Feast."

"At every meal?" Rhea asked, brows furrowing.

Harry nodded, lip pulling into a small smile at her surprise. "You don't have to wait in line."

"I suppose not," she said, frowning slightly. "Go on."

"Well, we have houses, there are four of them-"

"All of you fit into four houses?" Rhea asked in surprise. "How large are they?"

Harry chuckled. "No- well, yes. Um, they're not houses as in the physical buildings, they're more like families. But you do stay in dorms according to your house." She looked mystified, so Harry went on. "When you first come to Hogwarts, you're sorted into one of the four houses. There's Ravenclaw for the smart people, Hufflepuff for the loyal, Slytherin is cunning and Gryffindor is bravery."

"And which are you?" she asked, dark eyes gleaming with interest.

"Gryffindor," Harry said with a grin.

Rhea laughed lightly. "Of course."

"Cedric is a Hufflepuff," Harry volunteered.

Rhea shook her head lightly. "That is a very odd way of doing things."

Harry shrugged. "Not for us. It goes all the way back to Hogwarts's founders."

"It is interesting. What else?"

Harry pursed his lips in thought. "Um. Well, we have the Grand Staircase which leads to every floor, at some point or another."

She jerked her head. "What does that mean?"

Harry smiled wryly. "It moves."

"The stairs?"

Harry nodded. "For instance, one might lead from the first floor to the fifth, then it shifts and leads the fourth."

"Is there a pattern?" Rhea asked, seeming confused.

"Uh, I've never noticed one."

"That must be most inconvenient," she commented.

Harry laughed. "I think it's fun." He glanced around and noticed Draco, Gregor and Dian enter together at the far side of the hall. They were deep in conversation. "I wonder what Draco is doing talking to them," he muttered to himself.

Rhea looked up sharply, expression turning blank. "I must go."

Harry turned back to her. "Why?"She shook her head. "I simply must."

"Well, this was nice, we should do it again sometime," Harry said honestly.

Rhea glanced nervously at the boys heading for the buffet line. They had not yet looked up. Harry did not need legilimency to tell that she was agitated by their presence.

"I am in the library most of the time," she said casually, leaving Harry confused as to whether or not it was an invitation. "Goodbye."

Rhea flitted away before Harry could say anything more. He frowned, hoping it wasn't Draco who frightened her. Girls mystified him sometimes, or perhaps all of the time. Having already eaten, Harry was forced into an awkward situation as Draco steered his way will a full plate.

"Hey, Harry," Draco said, sitting down next to him. "Have you already eaten?"

"Yes, but that's okay," Harry said smoothly. He noted Gregor's and Dian's dark and annoyed looks at being brought to sit with Harry. Reluctantly, they sat down across from Harry and Draco.

"Has Severus left?" Draco asked.

Harry nodded. As the others ate, he took a sip of juice to pass the time. When he set down his cup, Harry noticed Gregor eying him intently. Harry's eyes narrowed in what may have been perceived as a challenge.

"You think you're all tough, don't you?" Gregor demanded. "Just because you cheated your way into a competition and came out whole," he said with a derision that Harry had only heard Snape match. Or perhaps Professor Thornberg a time or two.

"No, I don't," Harry replied, forcing himself to stay calm and not rise to the bait. "And I never cheat."

Gregor snorted. "Of course not. The Boy Who Lived is above that, eh?"

Harry gave a deliberately casual shrug.

"Gregor," Draco warned, or perhaps pleaded, quietly.

Neither Harry nor Gregor paid him any heed. Harry turned to Draco. "If you'll excuse me, I told Sirius Black I'd give him a call."

Harry was banking on the fact that news didn't reach many up here but that they had been informed of the mass manhunt for deranged murderer Sirius Black. He was hoping, however, that they didn't know of his subsequent exoneration. Luckily, he was correct.

"You lie," Gregor accused. "You have no contact with a fugitive."

Harry grinned slyly. "No contact? Does that mean that someone else is posing as my godfather?"

Gregor's eyes flickered uncertainly to Draco who gave a slight nod. "Your godfather is a mass murderer?"Where Harry normally would have defended Sirius's reputation fiercely, he suspected that Sirius wouldn't mind if he let it slide in order to make a pleasant impact. He smiled in a cocky manner. "What of it? If that bothers you, you should meet my guardian."

Harry straightened and hefted his pack as Gregor's eyes narrowed, assessing Hsrry differently now. "See you later, Draco," Harry said.

With a superior smile on his face, Harry walked proudly from the dining hall.

Harry had not been making up excuses; he really did need to talk to Sirius. Unfortunately, he did not get a chance until he reached the free period that had replaced Dark Arts. When at last he made it back to the dorms, Harry immediately pulled out his mirror.

"Sirius," he said.

Sirius's face materialized, a welcome sight. Harry didn't talk to him as often as he did Severus because this was Sirius's only planning period and he had complained numerous times about the huge amount of work that he had to do, being new at this.

"Harry!" Sirius said happily, setting aside whatever he was working on. "It's so good to see you!"

"You too, Sirius," Harry said with a smile.

"Well? Tell me all about the task," Sirius commanded him eagerly.

Harry cocked his head. "Didn't Severus say anything?"

Sirius waved a hand dismissively. "He just said that you were alright and had gotten second place. Then he proclaimed he had work to do and stalked away," Sirius said with a shake of the head. "But that's okay, I wanted to hear it from you anyway."

"Well, alright," Harry gave in. By the time he had reached the end of his recollection, Sirius was shaking his head again with a wry grin. "What?" Harry demanded.

Sirius grinned wider. "Dungbombs. Genius. I'm so proud of you!"

"Thanks," Harry replied, wondering if he was proud of Harry's use of the dungbombs or of his performance in general.

"I bet that was exciting to watch," he mused, eyes distant.

Harry's brow furrowed. "Severus found it terrifying."

"Really?" Sirius asked with interest. "Huh."

"Yeah," Harry confirmed. "So what's up over at Hogwarts?"Sirius gave an exaggerated groan. "As soon as I make a lesson plan, I teach the lesson and have to make another!"

Harry laughed. "Guess you don't have any time to check homework then, maybe you should let everyone off for the year."

"Nice try," Sirius said, giving him an insincere dark look. "If I don't give homework, how will I weed out the slackers?"

"Good point," Harry conceded. "Oh, did Gryffindor win their match this weekend? I haven't gotten my mail yet."Rather than answer, Sirius smiled at him.

"Is that a yes?" Harry asked tentatively.

"Of course!" Sirius exclaimed. "You think that Gryffindor could possibly lose against Ravenclaw with Ginny on the broom that I personally picked out and the twins as captains?"

Harry chuckled, "I guess not. What was I thinking?"

Sirius laughed with him. "I have no idea."

The laughter dying suddenly, Harry felt a feeling of melancholy settle upon his soul. "I guess I should let you go now."

"I guess," Sirius said, reluctance obvious. "Goodbye, Harry."

"I miss you, Sirius," Harry admitted.

"Miss you too, kiddo."

"Don't call me that," Harry complained without much real feeling. He quieted. "Goodbye."

With a nod, Sirius's face disappeared. Harry set the mirror down with a heavy heart. Though only a little over a month, Christmas seemed like an eternity away.

After dinner that evening, Severus stepped into his office only to find it occupied.

"How did you get in here?" Snape demanded in a low and menacing voice.

Rita Skeeter's smile flickered for an instant. "Minerva told me I could wait here. I've only just arrived," she said sweetly, as if that made everything okay. She stood in front of the guest chair, hands behind her resting on its back.

Severus didn't move other than to close the door. "What do you want?" he asked in a less than welcoming voice.

"Just to talk," she said casually, as if that were an everyday occurrence for Snape. It wasn't.

"Be frank, Ms. Skeeter, or I shall ask you to leave," Severus replied sharply. In truth, he might anyway.

"Alright," she said, clasping her hands in front of her. Severus noted an ostentatiously colored quill and notepad floating off to her left. "How was the tournament?"

"It went precisely as planned," Severus replied, circling around his desk in order to give himself the position of higher authority.

"The details, Mr. Snape! Can I call you Severus?"

"NO," he growled in his best do-you-want-me-to-curse-you tone.

Skeeter licked her lips. "Alright then. Anyway, about those details."

"You shall get none of them from me," Severus said firmly. "Perhaps you simply should have been there."

She frowned, looking pouty. "They're so secretive, they wouldn't even tell me where Durmstrang was," she complained. Skeeter looked up sharply. "You don't know, do you?"

"No," Severus snapped. "If you are finished..." he trailed off suggestively.

"I'm not," Skeeter replied, disturbingly unfazed by hid glares. "How do you feel about Harry's performance?"

"He performed remarkably, as did everyone else," Snape said dryly. "Finished yet?"

"One more," she said, thinking it over for a minute. "What do you think about Harry's involvement in the tournament?"

"I swear that if I ever find out who put his name in that Goblet, I will curse them until they can no longer think straight," he replied in a voice that implied he was dead serious. "Now leave, if you will."

"Alright, alright," Skeeter said, quill and pad trailing behind her as she headed for the door. "Is Harry dating anyone?" she asked, glancing back.

"OUT," Severus snapped. With a huff she exited. Severus flicked his wand and the door slammed shut behind her. Snape sat and rubbed his temples. He would have to have a talk with Minerva about who she let into his office.

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