"So Ron's talking to me again," Harry told Severus conversationally as they talked through the mirror. He couldn't fight back the smile that accompanied tis announcement even though he meant for it to come out casually.
Severus's lip twitched. "That is good indeed. You have forgiven him then?"
"Of course," Harry replied. "How could I not?"
Severus shook his head lightly. "Only you."
"What?" Harry demanded.
"Nothing," Severus replied. "Skeeter published her article today."
"Really?" Harry asked, voice laced with trepidation. "What'd it say?"
"I will send it off to you tomorrow," Severus replied. "You may read it yourself."
"That bad, huh?" Harry asked.
Severus tilted his head, "Not her worst, I daresay."
"That's something, at least," Harry breathed. He switched hands holding the mirror in favor of running one through his hair. He remembered Draco's comment about Snape seeming stretched thin and inquired, "How are you?"
Severus's dark eyebrows twitched lower. "Fine, why do you ask?"
Harry shrugged. "I guess you just seemed a little stressed when you were here a few days ago."
"Was it unwarranted?" Severus asked snidely.
Harry laughed. "No, I guess not." He studied his guardian through the mirror. "Are you really doing alright, though?""Quite," Severus replied firmly.
"That's good," Harry stated. "For a while there, I thought this was harder on you than it was on me."
"I would never go as far as that," Severus replied quietly. "You have definitely been dealt the worse hand."
"Thanks," Harry said sarcastically, rolling his eyes.
"Anytime," Severus shot back in a similar tone, looking a little fond. "I ought to go now. Please behave."
"It's not me you have to worry about," Harry complained. "Goodbye."
Severus's face melted into the silvery gleam of the mirror and he was gone. Harry sighed and set the mirror down, intent on finishing his homework by a reasonable hour. Perhaps he would get more done if he headed down to the library. With this in mind, Harry grabbed his pack and headed that way.
Severus swept into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, long robes billowing behind him. He stepped around the last row of desks and stood, arms crossed, against the back wall. Today, he was tasked with evaluating Black's teaching methods in the classroom, one of the final stages of his mentoring. Black had requested that he observe the fourth year Gryffindor and Slytherin class. He expected it was because Harry's friends, especially Hermione, would make him look good if asked to, or even of their own accord.
As the students filed in, a rather amusing sequence of expressions took over each one's face in almost the same order. Spying Snape standing there, their initial surprise soon turned to worry then to blank obedience. They stood straighter and found their seats without talking. If he were not trying to preserve his image, Severus would have smiled at the effect he had on them. It was glorious.
"Good afternoon, everyone," Black said, striding into the room from his adjoining office. He looked around. "If everyone would please welcome Professor Snape who will be observing today."
The few people who missed him on the way in turned in their seats and craned to find the Potions Master hidden in the shadows. Everyone else stared resolutely forward.
"If you will get out your essays on complementary hexes, I will come around and collect them..." Black said, starting at the front row of desks and moving through the rows sporadically picking up the rolls of parchment, some noticeably thicker than others. "Alright then, thank you. Now, for today's lesson-"
"Professor Black?" a thin girl said, raising her hand as she shouted across the room. "You forgot mine."
"Did I?" Black asked himself. "Hm," he said, moving to get it. "I apologize, Louisa."
He returned to the front of the room and set it on the teetering pile already on his desk.
"Right, so where was I? Oh, today's lesson. Today we are going to start on the class of hexes that includes the Feather Hex, Bedazzling Hex and the Horn Tongue Hex. Can anyone tell me what this class is called?"Predictably, Hermione Granger's hand shot into the air.
"Hermione?" Sirius said, calling on her.
"Superficial Second Class Hexes," she said, parroting some line in her book.
"Correct," Sirius said, glancing back at Severus briefly, proudly. "Has anyone had experience with any of these hexes?" he asked the class. "The full list is on page 231 of your books, open to it please."
There was a ruffling of papers and the slam of a few book covers as the students found the page for which they were searching.
"Anyone?" Sirius asked again.
A few hands went up, one of them Ron Weasley's.
"If you don't want to demonstrate, put your hands down," Sirius said and a few hands dropped.
"Okay, how about Ron and... Parvati," Black said, gesturing for them to come forward. "I know you can both do simple blocks," he said, probably for Severus's benefit, "so take turns spelling each other with the hexes you know."
Ron and Parvati stood awkwardly.
"Alright, Ron, how about you first," Sirius prompted.
They raised their wands and Ron said, "Tantailina!"
Parvati tried to block it but was a little too slow for the fast moving spell. Severus winced inwardly as it hit her and a tail grew quickly until it touched the floor.
"Too slow, Parvati," Sirius said, stating the obvious. With an abrupt movement, he cancelled the spell and the tail disappeared. "Ron, I hope you are faster."
"Hornificus!" she incanted with a certain venom.
Ron put up a shield that was ineffective against this spell. Severus supposed it was a variation not made to withstand hexes. Those sort were generally easier and it was conceivable that Ron had never mastered the harder, true shield. He had made sure that Harry had done so.
Ron yelped as he absorbed the bolt of light from Parvati's wand and immediately began growing long, curling horns. Parvati cancelled the spell quickly and they stopped growing but did not disappear. Sirius stepped forward and tried several counters, none of which worked.
"Uh, perhaps you ought to go to Madam Pomfrey," Sirius said, frowning.
"Right," Ron replied shakily. When he took a step forward, he almost toppled over due to the unexpected weight on his head making him top heavy. A few people snickered, presumably Slytherins.
Ron made his way towards the door beside which Severus was standing. He came walking up the aisle and his and Severus's eyes met. In a gesture of approval for his make up with Harry, he said quietly, but sternly, "Mr. Weasley."
Ron stopped just short of the door. "Yes, sir?" he asked, worried. Sirius had continued in his lecture.
"Melatinonus," Severus said, raising his wand to tap each of the horns. They shrunk down to stubs and disappeared.
Ron felt his forehead and, assured that they were gone, smiled. "Thank you, sir."
Severus nodded once and Ron returned to his seat. Sirius looked at him, then back at Severus and he also nodded. Feeling that his good deed for the year had been done, Severus leaned back against the wall and set to criticizing Sirius's teaching. It was quite fun.
Professor Thornberg paced the room at the end of Defense Against the Dark Arts on Friday. "As part of the Triwizard Tournament, the host school has always thrown a dance, the Yule ball," he said shortly, not one for many words. "This year is no exception," he stated to his class. "Therefore, it is encouraged that you find a partner, though you may go alone if you wish to be ridiculed," Thornberg said snidely.
Thornberg stalked over towards Harry's group of desks and stood in front of them, hands clasped behind his back. "Champions," he began with a certain amount of disdain, "are expected to have a date." One of his eyebrows lifted, reminding Harry distinctly of Snape. "Good luck."
When he walked away with a sharp, "Dismissed," Harry finally let out his breath. He shared a miserable look with Draco as they gathered their things. As Harry picked up his textbook, someone slammed into his shoulder.
"I suppose you expect the girls to just flock to your fame," a familiar dark voice said snidely.
Harry felt his blood pressure rise as he turned to face Gregor. "I'm sorry," he said with mock sincerity.
Harry shrugged. "It's a shame that in a whole school, not one girl will go with you."
Gregor's eyes narrowed. "I'll make a bet with you."
"Five galleons says I'll get a date before you."
Harry tilted his head. "I'll have to verify that you didn't threaten them into it."
Gregor scoffed. "Fine, like you can do that anyway. You take the bet, then?"
"It's a deal," Harry said. He was already formulating a plan. Legilimency would tell him whether or not Gregor's date agreed of their own free will and he was fairly certain that Rhea would agree to go with him. All he had to do was make it to the library when she was there, which would probably not be until later that evening. He was fairly certain that Gregor would not move faster than that.
As they left the classroom, Harry implemented his safety plan. "Draco, would you keep an eye on Gregor to make sure he doesn't threaten anyone?"
Draco had recently distanced himself ever so slightly from Gregor and his mates but he readily assented. "Sure, Harry."
"Great, thanks, I've got five galleons riding on this," Harry breathed, clapping him on the back.
Evening couldn't come fast enough.
Harry hurried to the library after dinner, hoping that Rhea would be there. As he rounded the bookshelf that divided her usual table from the rest of the library, he was glad to see her figure stooped over a thick book.
"Hi," Harry said, approaching.
Rhea glanced up. "Hi, Harry," she said, clearing a spot for him amongst her books.
Harry sat down and after a moment of gathering his courage, blurted, "You wanna go to the Yule Ball with me?"
Rhea's eyes snapped up. Without realizing he was using legilimency, Harry read a feeling of conflict beneath her gaze. "Um."
As a guy, Harry knew that for such a short word, that sound carried with it a crushing weight. "It's okay if you don't," he amended quickly.
"No," Rhea insisted, shaking her head. "It is not that, I swear. It's just... I really can't talk about it," she said with a frustrated frown. "Uh, I will let you know."
Harry slunk into his seat, embarrassed. "You can say 'no', really, I can take it."
She looked at him, clearly pained. "I really want to, I swear. But I do not know if I can."
"Alright." Maybe she had other plans that night or something, Harry hoped. "Just, uh, let me know then."
"I will," she promised.
Not wanting to stay with the current level of awkwardness surrounding them like an aura, Harry stood. "I guess I'll go now. Bye."
"Bye, Harry," she said, expression now bordering on sad.
Harry walked out of the room with a heavy feeling. Now what was he going to do?
A newspaper floated down to Harry a few days later when he took a solitary trip to the Owlery. He grabbed it and moved over to the window to read, as was his usual position. Harry unfurled the thin pages and glanced at the headlines. Toward the bottom of the page, an article read:
Triwizard Tournament: Task One
By Rita Skeeter
According to my very reliable sources within Hogwarts, the first Triwizard Task was a huge success. Facing a rare and menacing creature, all of the champions managed to complete their task and get past the horrifying animal. Though my source may be biased, he says that Harry Potter, youngest of the four, performed the best, far exceeding the other contestants despite his inexperience. Standing tall and proud, he attested that he was glad Harry entered for he is bound to win the competition. Despite Mr. Potter's tragic past, he seems to have overcome his hurdles in favor of becoming the hero that he is expected to be. This alone cannot guarantee his success, even if my source says otherwise. Thoughts anyone? Can the young, illustrious Harry Potter beat out those far more experienced than he simply out of pure talent? Drop us an owl and perhaps you will be featured in our new Rita Replies! section. Stay scandalous!
Scowling, Harry crumpled up the front page and tossed it out the window, not caring where it would land. He stuffed the rest of the paper into his bag to read later, hoping it wasn't full of more of that crap. Grinding his teeth, he cursed Skeeter inwardly for putting those words into Severus's mouth. Harry was more than certain he did not say any of those things. Why wasn't Severus more outraged? Regardless, Harry resolved to be angry enough for the both of them. He stomped down the stairs and hoped that, for their own sake, no one talked to him for the rest of the day.