"Have you spoken with your friends?" Severus asked during the course of their conversation a few days later.
"Yeah," Harry said. "Well, most of them anyway," he added shiftily, for he had not heard from Ron. "They all seemed worried but happy that I did alright. I had to copy the story down onto a few different sheets of parchment," Harry complained. "It would've been faster to go look up a copying spell and that's saying a lot." Without Rhea's help, no trip to the library took less than an hour.
"Hm," Snape replied. "And Mr. Weasley?" he asked, venturing into waters which Harry had been steering clear of.
"Nothing," Harry admitted. "So, uh, anything new?"
"Ms. Skeeter came to visit the other day."
"Really?" Harry asked with interest. "What'd she want?"
"To get information about the tournament," Snape said. He smiled slightly, wryly. "She couldn't find it to attend."
Harry chuckled. "Nice. Has she printed what you told her yet? That is... did you tell her anything?"
"Nothing of interest or importance," Severus stated. "I will send you a copy when she does."
"Thanks," Harry said. "Oh, I should go, I told Draco I'd meet him soon. Bye."
"Goodbye," Severus said easily.
Severus set the mirror down and leaned back, considering. He graded a few papers before returning to brooding. By this time, it was getting late and yet he could not put aside his thoughts in order to do the work that was piled up on his desk. Ron Weasley was not being fair to Harry. If he were a Slytherin, he would have had a stern talking to quite a while ago. Perhaps it was time to encroach upon Black's territory.
Severus strode from the room with purpose, maneuvering easily to the Gryffindor common room. Armed with the password, Snape strode right in, much to the dismay of the Gryffindors within.
He looked around the room with a critical eye as all conversation stopped. By simply standing there, Snape could tell that some students' palms were beginning to sweat.
"Mr. Weasley," he announced as his intention.
"Which one?" a tentative voice spoke up.
Severus turned his head and identified the source as one of the twins who were attempting to slink into the background. "Ronald," he replied to their joint relief.
"Hang on," one of them said with an odd relish. "We'll get him for you."
Severus nodded sharply as they disappeared up the stairs to the boys dormitory. A feminine voice spoke up from a table to Snape's right.
"Sir?" Hermione asked. "Can I ask what this is about?"
Severus turned his gaze upon her. From what Harry had said, she was working on changing Ron's mind, or at least had been.
"He and I are overdue for a chat," he said with a mild dose of sarcasm.
As Ron entered the common room, pushed by the twins, several students shot him sympathetic looks. Paler than normal, Ron stepped forward.
"Come with me, Mr. Weasley," Severus said, turning and striding smoothly from the room. In the intense quiet, he could hear the hesitation before Ron's swishing robes told him that the boy was following. Snape led the way to his office, neither speaking during the journey. Once inside, Severus broke the silence. "Sit."
Ron sat. Severus also took a seat in his own chair and looked at the red headed boy, face impassive.
"Do you know why you are here?" Snape asked.
"No, sir?" Ron replied uncertainly, voice wavering.
Weak, Severus thought critically. "It was my understanding that you were Harry's friend."
"I am sir!" Ron replied immediately, then faltered, looking unsure.
Severus leaned back. "Then explain to me why he has not gotten a scrap of mail from you since he left Hogwarts."
Ron was silent.
Severus leaned forward once more. "Do you think this is easy on him? Going away to an unfamiliar place where someone, Merlin knows who, is most likely trying to kill him and now he is forced to do it without the support of his best friend?"
"I'm his best friend?" Ron asked mildly surprised. "Not Draco?"
Severus raised a brow. "You certainly were. Now however, you do not deserve to be."
Ron looked down.
"How could you think that he wanted this?" Snape asked quietly.
"I don't, not really," Ron said, equally as quiet.
"Then why did you not accept his apology?" Severus demanded, trying to figure out the motives of the boy sitting in front of him. He resisted legilimency, if only for a while.
Ron bit his lip. "By that time, I thought... I thought it was too late. It would make me look weak."
"You are weak then! You are a Gryffindor," Severus growled. "I assure you, Harry will not care one whit when or how you accept his apology, only that you do. He misses you and he would never consider you weak," Severus said in a harsh voice that contrasted with his words.
Severus let out a breath, forcing himself to calm. In a carefully controlled voice, he said, "I suggest you write to him immediately. Assuming you do not want him to know that we have spoken, I shall not mention it. The choice is yours. You are dismissed."
Ron nodded, looking ashamed, and hurried from the room. Severus required several deep breaths before he was able to start correcting tests with a vigor.
Harry sat cross-legged in the corner of the Defense room, watching his classmates get beaten repeatedly by Aris and Riker.
"Nice one, Riker!" Harry called, grinning, as Roger stood back up, rubbing his elbow resentfully.
Lane eyed him in the corner disgustedly. "How long are you out for anyways?"
"Er, three more days," Harry replied hesitantly.
A wicked gleam in her eye, Lane grinned. "Good."
Harry gulped and shut his mouth.
"Yeah, Harry, we need to get you back working," Riker said, wiping sweat from his brow. "Back on that agility training. Then maybe you could've avoided that dragon tail."
"Fat chance," Harry scoffed. "I'm awful at agility."
"You won't be by the time we're done with you," he said with a grin.
Harry gulped once more. "Right," he muttered.
Looking around, Harry saw Sandra fall, feet swept out from under her by Aris. He turned smoothly to battle Draco as the drill progressed and Cedric stepped over to help her up.
"Thanks," Sandra said, blushing fiercely.
"No problem," Cedric replied, smiling in a charming way. After she regained her balance, they stood talking for a few minutes more.
"Hey, lovebirds, break it up," Riker commanded. "Cedric, how bout we do another sparring session."
Cedric shrugged and stepped forward looking a little reluctant. As Harry watched the two fight, his thoughts wandered to other things. It occured to him that he had not talked to Lupin since his birthday party in the summer. With nothing better to do, Harry pulled out a quill and parchment to pen a long letter to him, describing Durmstrang, the tournament and his run in with the chimera.
When he finished, Defense was almost over. He folded the letter up and slipped it into his pack. The others were doing stretches to wrap up the day. After a few moments, Riker dismissed them and Harry wandered over to his friends.
"Well, I wouldn't say no to some dinner right now," Riker commented.
"I'll second that," Draco commented.
"Let's go then," Harry said, leading the way from the room. "You really think you can make me learn agility?" he asked Aris as they walked.
"By the end of the year, certainly."
"It'll take that long, huh?" Harry asked with a frown.
"I taught Riker in as long and he was worse at it than you," Aris commented, smiling softly.
Harry laughed. "Alright the-" Harry stopped as he rounded a corner and found himself face to face with Professor Durus. Caught off guard, Harry stepped back a half step. "Hello, Professor."
Durus tilted his head. "Good afternoon," he said to everyone. Then, he turned his gaze on Harry. "I realized I never properly commended you for your performance," Professor Durus said.
"Thanks but I've gotten enough from everyone else," Harry said in a long suffering voice.
"Don't get cocky," Durus warned sharply.
Wondering at his apparent sudden change in mood, Harry replied, "I won't, sir." If nothing else, Severus would make sure of that.
Durus nodded at him and stepped away, continuing on down the corridor. Harry let out a breath.
"Was it me, or did he seem mad?"
Riker shrugged. "Not sure. Let's go eat."
"One track mind," Harry muttered. Like Ron, he thought before distracting himself quickly with something else. Ironically, that "something else" happened to be food.
"Oh great, it's shepherd's pie today," Riker said, rubbing his hands together with relish. Draco laughed and everyone loaded their plates.
They took a seat at a nearby table and finished quickly. Little conversation won out over the deliciousness of the food. When at last Harry set down his fork, he was almost uncomfortably full.
"I think I'll take a walk to the Owlery," Harry announced. "Anyone want to come?"
"Sure," Draco replied immediately. He had made more of an effort to be around Harry during the past few days and Harry was glad.
"I think I'll pass," Riker said. Aris nodded his agreement with Riker.
"Alright, see you tomorrow then," Harry said easily.
Harry and Draco headed up the winding stairs to the Owlery which stood atop the castle.
"So are you coming back to Hogwarts for Christmas?" Harry asked Draco as they climbed.
"Yeah. Actually my mom wants me home," Draco said with a mild grimace.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked, teasing lightly. "Don't want to go?"
"No, it's just... You know how mothers are. They can be a little overbearing sometimes," Draco said casually.
Harry looked away quickly. "Fathers too," Harry said to cover his awkward lapse.
Draco looked at him, alarmed. "Oh, Harry I didn't mean-"
Harry waved him off. "It's fine, don't worry about it."
"So, uh, you're going back to Hogwarts too, right?" Draco asked to fill the sudden silence.
Harry laughed. "Of course. I'd stay there too, if I could." Where Harry expected Draco to agree with this statement, he did not immediately second it. Actually, he did not at all.
"I bet Snape will be glad to have you back somewhere safe. He seemed stretched pretty thin," Draco commented instead.
"Yeah," Harry agreed. "It'll be better for everyone when this year is over," he said as they stepped into the Owlery. "Carmax!" he called.
His familiar owl swooped down to meet them. "Hey there," Harry said as he caught the owl on his arm and proceeded to tie the letter to Lupin to his foot.
"Take that to Lupin, okay?" Harry told his owl, sending him off gently.
As soon as the owl took off with an affectionate peck, a letter glided down to meet Harry. He snatched it out of the air and examined the unmarked envelope.
"Who's it from?" Draco asked, leafing through his small pile of letters.
"I don't know," Harry replied. He moved out of the doorway to stand by the window and read the letter in the waning light. Still not comfortable with the short days up here, Harry was thankful that the bright snow's reflection was enough for him to make out the letters. There were no torches in the Owlery for fear it would catch the mail on fire. Harry unfolded his letter.
I'm really sorry. And I accept your apology even though I don't deserve it. I really hope you will still be friends with me but I understand if you never talk to me again. Congratulations on the first task of the tournament, I heard you were great against the chimera. So please write me back and please forgive me.
PS. I told pig to wait for a letter, if you're reading this, that means he made it okay which is actually surprising.
Your (hopeful) friend,
Harry stared at the letter for a minute more before turning his gaze out the tall window. The snowy mountains painted the picture of indifference and where Harry had once found solace in the abstract, he didn't know how he felt now. Harry glanced down at the letter again. He could hear Hermione's urging echo through Ron's clumsy writing but that was okay. He wondered what had caused the sudden change of heart because he was sure that Hermione had been trying to persuade him to write all year.
In the end, it didn't matter what had caused it; Harry was simply happy to have his friend back. He dug out a quill and parchment as Draco came wandering over.
Harry held out the letter. "It's from Ron."
"Really?" he asked in surprise. Draco scanned the letter quickly before breaking into a grin. "I knew he'd come around...eventually."
"Yeah," Harry agreed, smiling also as he wrote back a reply. In it, he accepted Ron's apology and expressed his excitement that they were okay again. He asked a few overly-polite questions before deciding that it was a start and they would be back to normal in no time. Harry rolled it up and scanned the ceiling for Pigwidgeon. The tiny furry bullet bouncing around shot towards him as he held out the letter.
"Hey, Pig," Harry said fondly, feeding it an owl treat that he had forgotten to give to Carmax from his pocket. The tiny owl would need all the help it could get for the journey anyway. "For Ron, okay?"
The bird fidgeted on his shoulder and the fact that it shot off, directly out the window, made Harry think, or hope, that it understood. He chuckled lightly.
"Come on," Harry said, smiling softly. "I have to go call Severus."
As they exited the Owlery, things seemed a little brighter than before.