Severus's return was filled with chaos. Snape hated chaos. The substitute hired to cover his house the few days during which he was at Durmstrang was less than useless and now he was left to clean up the mess that resulted from the lack of adequate supervision. Needless to say, he was less than happy about it.
"Professor Snape, in the Slytherin common room-"
"Yes, Filch, I know," Snape said irritably, cutting him off. "On my way."
Severus stalked away wishing for a moment to sit down with a nice cup of tea. Or perhaps firewhiskey at this point. As it was, he hadn't even had a chance to stop by his office since his return. If he came to find it filled with dungbombs, the responsible party may no longer find Hogwarts a safe place to be.
Snape snapped the password to the Slytherin common room and entered briskly, cloak billowing behind him. He opened his mouth to ask what the issue was, then closed it with a snap. "Where is the furniture?"
Wide eyes stared back at him and no one moved to answer.
"Are you all deaf and dumb?" Severus demanded. "Answer me."
After another few seconds, one of the smaller boys raised a hand and pointed out the window. Severus's brow furrowed as he strode across the room to look out. He growled at the sight of the black couches, wooden tables and other various odds and ends sitting at every angle in the foot high snow. "Who is responsible for this?"
"The Gryffindors," came the immediate reply.
Snape's head snapped to the boy who had spoken and his eyes narrowed. It was Blaise Zabini, one of the few Slytherins whom Severus legitimately hated.
"Is that so?" he asked dryly. "And why would they do such a thing?"
This time, a seventh year spoke up, sounding bored. "Because they didn't feel like staying in their common room, I suppose."
Severus gave him a flat stare. This was infuriating. "And why not?" he asked in a voice heavy with impatience.
The boy simply shrugged. With a flip of his cloak, Severus turned on his heel, moving to the door as he spoke.
"You are all to stay here. All of you, prefects included, Mr. Hince," Severus said, specifically addressing the seventh year boy. He responded with a scowl. "I will get to the bottom of this and, I assure you, the perpetrators will be punished. Today was a poor choice on your account; another time, I might have been in better humor." Though it was doubtful. Severus turned at the door and said, "While the floor is conveniently clear, you might try a bit of cleaning."
He swept from the room with a soft curse. He walked down the hallway to the steps leading to the Gryffindor common room, each footfall an aggravation of his already heightened irritation; another step that he resented having to take. Decent behavior for two days was simply too much to ask, he supposed.
After one look at Snape's face, the Fat Lady let him in halfway through saying the password. Severus stepped inside and was immediately assaulted. Assaulted by puppies. Was this purgatory? They jumped on him, pawed on his robes, chewed his shoelaces. One managed to stand on the throng of others and latch onto Severus's arm, swinging itself up to lick his face.
Severus shook it off and growled dangerously. "What in Merlin's name is the meaning of this?"
He glared around at the Gryffindors, all holding puppies and trying not to laugh. Another puppy took to his robes and Snape shook it off. "Get. Off. Me."
He drew his wand and cast a repelling charm upon himself. Finally puppy-free, Severus could breathe.
"Well?" he snapped. "If someone doesn't tell me what is going on in the next thirty seconds, you will all have a week's detention." Snape glared around the room. "With me," he added.
That clarification was a definite incentive for someone to speak up. "It was the Slytherins, sir."
"The Slytherins?" Severus echoed in a tone of disbelief. "Do you mean to tell me that Slytherins flooded your common room with puppies?" The disgust was evident on his face. "And where on earth is your furniture?"
It took another few agonizing seconds for an answer. "They weren't always puppies."
Severus breathed out sharply. "I cannot stand this any longer. Where are your prefects?"No one answered.
Severus growled. "Fine. Where is Ms. Granger?" At least he could count on her to tell the truth.
"Studying in the dorm, sir," one of the girls spoke up. "The puppies were annoying her."
"She's not the only one," Snape muttered under his breath. "Fetch her."
At the word fetch, the puppies gathered together to form a wall of soft fur and flesh, all barking at Severus. Their tails wagged, hitting each other, even as drool dripped onto the floor. "Stop that incessant noise," Snape told them sternly. They, of course paid no heed. A snicker sounded and Snape snapped towards it in question.
The boy's eyes got wide and he stopped laughing. "We were playing with them. Taught them to fetch," he explained. "Sir," he added.
Severus scowled at him.
"You wanted to see me, sir?" Hermione called, raising her voice to be heard above the cacophony of animal noises. She seemed to be the only one not afraid of Snape.
"In the hall, might I suggest," Severus replied dryly.
She nodded, following him out. A few students had to rush forward and hold off the onslaught of puppies so that they didn't escape and flood the castle.
"Care to explain to me what is going on?" he asked brusquely. "I have not been able to get a straight answer out of anyone."
"I can see how that would be frustrating, sir," Hermione said sympathetically as Severus scrutinized her. "The Slytherins snuck into our common room late last night after everyone went to sleep and changed all our furniture into snakes-"
"Thank goodness," Severus breathed candidly.
"Puppies would have ruined Slytherin's reputation," he replied.
"Oh. Right. Well when we woke up and found them, the little kids freaked," she said then shrugged. "So the older kids thought to transfigure them into puppies because they couldn't figure out how to reverse the spell and get our furniture back. Puppies were better than snakes, they thought." Hermione paused. "Well, that was the idea anyway. The thing was, they didn't realize just how many snakes there were. After maybe a dozen were changed, they got tired and wanted to give up but the snakes started fighting the dogs. They couldn't do anything but change the rest."
Severus blinked. He rubbed his forehead with his hand. "Two days. I was gone two days. Does Professor McGonagall know about any of this?"
"She's been in her tower all day, ill. We think that was the Slytherins too."
"There's no way to prove that," Snape snapped, finally defending his house. In a calmer voice, he asked, "Can you explain how all of the Slytherin furniture ended up on the lawn?"Hermione frowned, then shifted uncomfortably. "The Gryffindors felt insulted," she said simply. "You don't insult a Gryffindor."
Severus drew in a deep breath. "Nor a Slytherin. In any case, I am angry with both houses. And where was Professor Black during all of this?"
"Um...er... he stooped by for a bit."
"He stopped by?" Snape repeated slowly.
"To see the puppies," she explained.
"I do not believe this," Severus muttered. He leaned against the stone railing to compose his thoughts. "How did the Gryffindors get the furniture out of the Slytherin common room with them in it?"
"They were, uh, indisposed," Hermione replied sheepishly, stifling a smile.
"How so?" Severus asked, dreading the answer.
"Er, we'll go with ill," Hermione replied.
"How did they get that way?"
"I'd rather not say, sir."
Snape growled. "Fine, then. Go on, I am finished with you. Thank you for giving me straight answers, Ms. Granger. For the most part, that is."
"You're welcome, sir," she replied, stepping over to the portrait hole and saying the password.
"Oh, and Ms. Granger?" Severus couldn't resist a Gryffindor insult. "Moving the Slytherin furniture outside hardly tops a large scale snake transfiguration. A first year can levitate."
Hermione smiled slyly. "They didn't just move them outside, sir. Have a nice evening," she said, disappearing into the common room and leaving Severus even more worried than he had been a moment ago.
Wishing that he had declined the position of Deputy Headmaster, Severus caught the portrait before it swung closed and followed her back inside the common room. A puppy came bounding towards him and Severus raised his wand at it. It slowed to a stop as if it knew what that meant.
"You are all to go reverse whatever it is that you did to the Slytherin furniture and return it to their common room. All of you. Now," Snape snapped. He spun, going for the hole, then turned back, adding, "And detention for all of Gryffindor and... fifty points deducted, I should think."
"But they started it!" a curly haired boy protested at the apparent injustice.
Severus challenged him with a look. He fell silent. Smugly, Snape went to deal with his own house.
An hour later, after forcing the Slytherins to reverse the transfiguration as well as taking fifty points from his own house, Severus was in a horrible mood. All he wanted was to return to his office or to his chambers, it didn't matter much which. At last, after filling Minerva in on the happenings of the day, he walked down the dungeon corridor in relief. He was almost there. Already thinking of where the firewhiskey was kept, Snape rounded the corner, stopping suddenly when he found a light spilling from beneath his office door. He cursed loudly, pulling his wand.
If the intruder was Rita Skeeter, he would curse her into oblivion. Flinging open the door, Severus stopped before firing one of the several vicious spells that sprung to his lips.
"Oh my! Scared me half to death, you did. Come on in, and lower that wand, won't you?" the woman relaxing in his chair said.
Severus blinked, slamming the door shut. "Did you just invite me into my own office?" he asked, shock mingling with anger.
"So you are Severus Snape then?" she asked. "Oh, sorry, Professor Severus Snape?"
"Right," she said, standing up and offering a hand which Snape didn't take. "I'm Moira Hollinshead."
"What are you doing in my office?" Severus demanded in reply.
Moira shrugged. "I just wanted to ask you a few questions about the Tournament."
"Another reporter, are you?" Severus asked, having to physically restrain himself from shooting a curse at the floor in his frustration. He had had quite enough of this for one day. Perhaps for a lifetime.
"Yes, for the Quibbler. I'm an journalist there now," she said proudly.
Severus gave her a dull stare. "Get out."
"Oh, don't be like that! Guys like you, they really want to talk, they just don't know it," she said coming around the desk to pat him on the arm.
Severus stood stock still. "Guys like me?" he echoed slowly as if the words were incomprehensible.
"You look all tough and dark, but you're real soft on the inside," Moira said easily. "After all, you adopted Harry Potter, didn't you?"
"But that was my first question!" she complained.
"Then you are not a very good journalist, are you?" he replied dryly.
"Come on, just one response?"
"Try this: Get out before I curse you."
"Jeez," she breathed with a frown. "Fine then," she said, heading for the door. Just as it looked like Severus would finally be left alone, she turned in a wide arc before reaching the door, coming back to stand in front of Severus. "Or we could talk about it over dinner sometime."
Severus blinked. "What?" he blurted.
"You know, dinner," Moira said with a shrug. "You do eat, right?"
"Yes," Severus replied, brows knitting together. He was way out of his comfort zone by this point. "How about you leave."
"I'll owl you," she said with a wink, sweeping out of the room. With a flick of his wand, Severus closed the door behind her.
Before he could have a complete breakdown, Severus pulled the dusty bottle of firewiskey off the shelf and poured himself a glass. He toasted the door and said dryly, "Here is to hoping you don't."
It had been a long day.
Harry sat in the common room, staring into the fire, bored to death.
"What'cha doing, Draco?" he asked, looking for maybe a little conversation.
"I can see that," Harry said, rolling his eyes.
Draco looked up from the thick book he was hunched over.
"What are you reading?"
Draco shrugged. "Something someone said the other day got me thinking," he replied, simultaneously managing to avoid answering the question and give absolutely no information. He did manage to pique Harry's curiosity, though.
"Got you thinking about what?"
"Nothing," Draco replied, going back to his book.
It was obvious that he didn't want to talk about it so Harry let it go. He returned to drumming his fingers on the armrest and staring into the flames. He was horribly bored.
"You know, I think I'm just going to go to bed," Harry said, standing. "See you later."
"Goodnight," Draco said automatically, not looking up.
Harry shrugged and went to his room. Surprisingly enough, he fell asleep quickly. The sleep was restless, however, and when Harry awoke, he was shivering. It seemed as if he had kicked the covers off while running from... he couldn't remember what. Pulling them back up to his chin, Harry rolled over. On his side, Harry looked at the bag at the edge of Draco's bed. The corner of the book he had been reading stuck out of the edge.
Harry itched to see what it was. After all, Draco was sound asleep. It would only take a little peek... No. Harry cut off that train of thought. He reminded himself that Draco was his friend and that if he chose to keep a secret from him, he should be entitled to do so. Harry rolled onto the other side and stared at the wall. The book still called to him.
Harry squeezed his eyes shut and willed himself to fall asleep. It was a small surprise that he dreamt of being lost in a library of books with no titles on their spines.