Harry trotted down the stairs to the door that led outside, scarf flying, hoping that he wouldn't be late for Care of Magical Creatures.
"Oh, sorry!" he said as he barely stopped himself from running into someone.
"It's quite alright, Harry," the person said, turning around. It was Professor Lupin. "Where are you off to in such a hurry?"
"Care of Magical Creatures, I've got to go, I'll be late!" Harry said, walking backwards towards the door. He ran into someone else behind him.
"Sorry!" he said, turning around to find Severus.
"You are a mess," Severus said factually.
"I overslept, got to go!"
"Harry, relax," Lupin said, "I'm Hagrid's substitute."
"You're what?" Harry said distractedly, still edging towards the door. Then the statement registered and he stopped. "Oh, so you won't mark me late?"
"My policy is that if you are later than the teacher, you get marked late. Care to walk down with me? I, as well am running late," Lupin said. "I had to decipher Hagrid's teaching notes."
"Easy lesson?" Severus asked snidely. "Perhaps you should stick with what you know," he suggested. "Wolves, for example."
Harry shot him a dark and disapproving look. Lupin simply pursed his lips and walked out the door with Harry not far behind. Harry shoved his hands in his pockets to help them fight the biting cold and trotted to catch up with his Professor. It seemed like a disturbingly long walk in this weather to the greenhouse where class was being held for the winter.
"Professor?" Harry asked. "Where's Hagrid?"
"He was summoned to court," Lupin said in a tired but sympathetic voice.
"Court?" Harry asked in alarm. "For what?"
"For being irresponsible in letting Blaise Zabini get injured," he replied. "It is a bogus charge and hopefully will go nowhere. However, Hagrid's job is at stake."
"I wonder why he didn't say anything..." Harry muttered. Feeling his jaw beginning to numb from the cold, Harry didn't say anything for a long while. When they were almost to the greenhouse, a thought sprung into his mind. He had meant to ask Lupin earlier but they were seldom alone and Harry wanted to wait for the right moment to ask.
"Sir, since both you and Sirius Black were friends with my father, you knew him, didn't you?" Harry asked tentatively.
Lupin's face hardened. "I did."
"Wha-" Harry began.
"I will not talk about this with you," he said rather harshly. Harry stopped. Softening his voice, Lupin added, "I'm sorry, Harry. It would be too much like talking to James about his friend's betrayal."
"I'm not my father," Harry muttered.
"I know that," Lupin said as they stepped up to the greenhouse door.
Harry frowned. "Do you? A lot of teachers around here tend to forget it," Harry said quietly. He slipped inside and took a seat with his friends, leaving Lupin unsettled at the door.
"Am I just imagining it or are those two not talking?" Harry whispered to Draco on the way back up to the school.
"No, they're mad at each other. Well, Ron's mad and Hermione is just defensive," he clarified. "Scabbers disappeared and Ron found blood on his sheets. He thinks Crookshanks got him."
Harry made a face. "I'm afraid to think of where he might turn up."
Draco nodded. "I doubt he'll be alive. Naturally, Hermione doesn't think Crookshanks did it."
"Cats eat rats," Harry said simply. "He probably did."
"So you're on Ron's side?" Draco asked.
"I didn't say that," Harry said. "Can't I be neutral?"
"That's what I tried," Draco admitted. "Though all I got was 'Draco, tell Ron that every cat doesn't chase every rat. Crookshanks was trained' and 'Draco, tell Hermione that there was orange fur on my sheets and Crookshanks had it out for Scabbers since the beginning'," he complained.
Harry laughed, garnering looks from the two who walked ahead. The were well spaced out and Harry and Draco hung back to talk. Harry could see the scowl marring Ron's visage and the haughty, innocent look on Hermione's. He shook his head at his friends' foolishness. It was only a rat. Then again, if someone had hurt his owl, Harry would be horrified. Right now, however, Ron didn't even have proof that it was Crookshanks. He could have picked up the hairs himself.
It was a mildly uncomfortable walk to the castle both because of the cold and the chilly silence emanating from Ron and Hermione. Harry sighed, realizing that this awkwardness could potentially go on for days judging by the stubbornness of both of his friends. He was going to have to wait it out with Draco, it seemed.
Blaise sat in the courtroom next to his step-father.
"Don't say anything without asking me first," he whispered. Blaise nodded. He had tried to get him to push for the execution of the animal itself but Adelaide had found out that it had already been released into the forest. She had told him to go ahead and look for it if he wanted to. The sad part was that she was being serious. As if Blaise Zabini would ever go wandering about the Forbidden Forest in search of an ugly vicious thing.
"Shall we begin?" Dumbledore asked from the center of a relatively small group of Wizengamot representatives. "I, Albus Dumbledore, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot call this session to order."
A thin boy with red hair sat in the corner, writing furiously on a notepad.
"This court has been called to address the question of the competency of one Professor Rubeus Hagrid, Care of Magical Creatures at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Is that correct?"
Blaise's step-father nodded. "It is, sir."
Blaise noticed Hagrid's large form fidgeting as he sat in a chair on the opposite side of the round room.
"Go on, Mr. Zabini," Dumbledore said. "What is it you say that makes Professor Hagrid incompetent?"
"He allowed my son's fingers to be bitten off by a Clabbert," Mr. Zabini said.
"It wa' only tha ends of his fing'rs!" Hagrid protested. "Mad'm Pomfrey fixed 'im right up!"
Dumbledore raised a hand. "Quiet for a moment, Professor Hagrid. Continue, Mr. Zabini."
"A real teacher would have known to take necessary precautions and not let the students near something as vicious as a Clabbert," he continued.
"Is that all?" Dumbledore asked patiently.
Mr. Zabini hesitated, "Yes, I suppose it is."
"Professor Hagrid, would you care to add anything?" Dumbledore asked, turning towards the witness section.
"Yea, I would," Hagrid said, standing. As he did so, he knocked over the chair and rushed to fix it. He clumsily righted it and smoothed down the horrible polkadot tie that clashed violently with the hairy suit that he had chosen as his best attire. It made Blaise want to throw up. "I warned Mr. Z'bini not to put his fing'rs in the cage. Their teeth are sharp ya see. But instead of lettin' the bird go when the Clabbert got hold o' it, he held on. The li'l thing got angry and jum'ed up an' swallowed the whole bird and kept goin' with the tips of his fing'rs. I warned him."
Dumbledore looked like he was considering what he had said. "Mr. Blaise Zabini, did Professor Hagrid warn you?"
"No," Blaise said after a very slight hesitation during which he looked to his step father for approval. He continued after he was given leave by a slight nod of the older man's head. "He said I just had to drop the bird inside."
"Did you just drop the bird inside?" Dumbledore asked.
"Then how did the Clabbert have time to snap at your fingers if you simply let go? Are you sure you didn't hold on?" he asked.
Blaise paused. "That thing was horribly frightening!" he said defensively. "I didn't let go right away because I was afraid feeding it would make it more violent."
"That's absurd!" Hagrid said. "They're nice li'l things fer the most part."
"They're terrifying!" Blaise shot back.
"Silence!" Dumbledore interrupted. "We have heard both sides of the story. Hagrid claims that he warned Mr. Zabini, in which case, he is not incompetent but rather, looks out for his students' safety. Mr. Zabini claims that he received no such warning but admits to holding onto the bird longer than he was instructed to. Shall we vote?"
A few of the elder members nodded their heads, looking as if they just wanted this to be over with.
"All those in favor of dismissing Professor Rubeus Hagrid from his teaching post due to incompetency?" Dumbledore asked. Some hands went up. Dumbledore scanned the room, gaze pausing on each as if he were mentally adding them to the tally.
"All those in favor of clearing Professor Hagrid of all charges?" Another round of hands went up, including Dumbledore's. Dumbledore counted these then turned to the assembled.
"Professor Rubeus Hagrid, you are hereby cleared of all charges. You may return to Hogwarts and your teaching duties. I apologize for the inconvenience," Dumbledore said with a twinkle in his eye.
"Thank you, sir,' Hagrid said roughly, eyes moist.
Blaise's face reddened. He couldn't do anything right. It had been he who messed this up and now that stupid oaf was allowed to keep his job. Nothing was going his way. After the court was dismissed, Blaise stormed from the room, slamming the door behind him. Was he a Slytherin or not? He would get revenge and at this point, he didn't care who he took his anger out on. Whether Hagrid, Potter, or one of his stupid friends, each would be as good as the next. Someone would pay for his frustration, he swore it.
Meanwhile, Harry was due for a visit to Severus's chambers. It was evening and Harry came bearing a small package. He entered the office and uttered the password for the inner door. He stepped into the dimly lit room, brightening it with a spell out of habit after the week he had spent in the dark chambers. Once school had resumed, he did not see his guardian quite so often as he had over the holidays, but today he had come to seek him out. Today was special.
"Severus?" Harry called. Severus stepped out from the kitchen into the sitting room.
"This is unexpected," Severus said a look of mild surprise on his face. "But not necessarily unwelcome. Do sit, I will bring in a pot of tea."
Harry did so and in a few minutes, he was holding a steaming cup of earl grey on delicate china.
"So what brings you down to the dungeons this evening?" Severus asked, pouring himself a cup.
Harry grinned and held out the package. "It's January ninth," Harry said. Severus looked at him blankly. "Your birthday," Harry clarified with amusement.
"Ah," Severus said. "To be honest, I had forgotten," he said, accepting the package. "How did you know? I do not recall telling you."
"I looked it up in the record books," Harry said. "I figured that since you knew when mine was, I ought to know yours."
"I generally do not celebrate my birthday," Severus said, as if this were a new concept to him. "It is simply the mark of one more year passing me by."
"You can't think of it that way," Harry said. "It could be the mark of another year beginning."
"You are far too optimistic. At one point, I would have marked it as another year survived," Severus said darkly.
"Cheer up, Severus!" Harry commanded. "It's your birthday. Open your present and be happy like everyone else." His stern tone contrasted sharply with the words that were coming out of his mouth. This irony caused Severus to crack a very small smile.
He began to pull off the paper, then paused. "This is not something else from Gladrags, is it?" he asked warily.
Harry raised a brow. "Why? Don't you like the cloak?"
"No, no," Severus said hurriedly.
Harry laughed. "I mail ordered it, for real this time. The stamp is on the paper. It's not from Gladrags."
Relief apparent, Severus continued. When the paper fell away, he pulled out a very nicely bound dark green leather notebook. The pages were edged with silver rather than the more common gold. Slytherin colors.
"This is beautiful. Thank you, Harry, though I maintain that you did not have to get me anything," Severus said.
"I know I didn't have to, but I wanted to," Harry said. "Happy birthday, Severus."
Severus smiled a rare smile. "Thank you, Harry. I suppose it is happy indeed."
"That's better than any gift I could've given," Harry said.
Sitting next to him on the couch, Severus put his arm around Harry. "You did give it to me."
Harry hugged his guardian, eyes a little moist. "Then happy birthday."