Chapter 15 : A Troublesome Afternoon
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They had Herbology with the Gryffindors, and snickered behind their hands all through the period, despite Ron and Hermione's glares. Several Hufflepuffs even dared to comment loudly when Harry was leaving that "Snape's a suck up. He's Dumbledore's pet and his dad's too, that's why he gets to be in the tournament."
Harry's ears turned red at the insinuation, but he forced himself to walk away. There was no sense in starting a quarrel that wouldn't change anything.
"Just ignore them, Harry," Hermione said comfortingly. "Remember, sticks and stones may break my bones-"
"-but names will never hurt me." He finished the old Muggle saying and left the greenhouse with his head high.
"They're just dumb gits," Ron added. "Who cares what they say?"
But Smidgen, whose turn it was to be on "Harry watch", did not think the Hufflepuffs had a right to slander her charge that way, and caused several Sticky Ivy plants to coil around those who had taunted Harry, making them get a terrible itchy rash with huge pustules everywhere the creeper had touched-faces, bottoms, thighs, even their heads-and clothes were no defense, since the ivy was magical and its sap soaked through cloth in about a minute.
Soon all the defamers of Harry were wailing and covered with the awful rash, and Pomona had to send all six of them to the Hospital Wing for a prolonged stay and coax the ivy back into its bed along the wall.
That'll teach you insolent younglings! Smidgen sniffed then purred a thank you to the ivy, which curled its leaves at her in respect.
Then she flew after her charge, who had care of Magical Creatures with Hagrid and the Ravenclaws next.
That class proved a little better, as the Ravenclaws declared themselves neutral, basing their attitude on the fact that no reliable conclusion could be drawn either for Harry or against him in regards to his name ending up in the goblet. Hagrid, however, congratulated Harry upon his ascension to school champion, much to Harry's dismay.
"Hagrid, I don't want to be a champion," Harry told him with a sigh.
"Yeah, well, sometimes we all gotta do things we don't want, eh?" Hagrid said. "How d'you reckon yer name got in there?"
"I don't know. All I do know is it wasn't me."
"I believe ya, Harry. An' so does Dumbledore an' yer dad. That's enough fer me," the gamekeeper declared, then he asked Harry to pry off the lid of the large wooden crate in front of him.
The crate was labeled Dangerous! Do Not Open!
"Uh, Hagrid . . .if what's in here is dangerous, why are we opening it?" Harry asked uneasily.
"Don' worry about that, Harry. Had to put that there, jus' in case some kid took it into their head to take a peek. Go on, take the top off."
Harry did, and saw the oddest creatures inside. They were almost like crustaceans, looking like a bizarre cross between a scorpion and a worm. "What is that?"
Hagrid beckoned for the rest of the class to gather around. "Take a good look, ‘cause this's what yeh'll be studying fer the next few weeks. They're called blast-ended skrewts, a hybrid cross between a fire crab and a sand worm."
"Eeww!" shrieked several girls. "They're nasty looking!"
"Some of them have stingers," observed Luna dreamily.
"Aye, those are the females," said Hagrid. Then he muttered, "Least I think so."
"And some of them spit fire out of their arse," shouted Dean Thomas. "Wicked!"
"Those're probably males."
"Hagrid, where did they come from?" asked Hermione.
"Ah . . .around. I kinda . . .bred them," he admitted.
"Ugh! You mean you . . .watched them mate?" Ron wrinkled his nose.
"That's disgusting! Can you imagine . . .?" cried a Ravenclaw boy.
"Eeeewww!" shrieked the rest of the girls, plainly grossed out by the image that thought conjured in their brains.
"Ah . . .I thought they'd be kinda neat as pets," Hagrid said sheepishly.
"Pets? Who'd want something that dangerous as a pet?" asked Neville. "Not me! I'd rather have a fish."
Most of the other students nodded agreement.
"Well, yeh're all to observe them and help feed them for the next few weeks," Hagrid said sternly. "Sp, pair up and pick one. Yeh can put a dab o' paint on it or yer initials or whatever . . .that way yeh can tell which one's yours."
He indicated several buckets of paint standing off to the side of various colors.
Unenthusiastically, the students went and chose a paint color. Harry and Ron chose a bright lime green color and one of the smaller males. But when Harry went to dab the paint on, the skrewt blasted off and Harry ended up with a singed robe and a burnt hand. All in all, it was turning out to be a terrible morning.
* * * * * *
The afternoon was even more troublesome. Harry could understand the attitudes of most of the Hufflepuffs and even the Ravenclaws wish to remain neutral, but it was the Slytherins who surprised him the most. Most of them walked softly around Harry these days, especially after the punishment handed down to Nott and Avery by both Dumbledore and their Head of House. Plus, Draco was one of them, and he encouraged those he was friends with to respect his little brother, even if he was a lion.
That day he had Double Potions, which he used to hate, but since the summer and Snape's tutelage, he now looked forward to that class, especially because he would be together with Draco. Draco also looked forward to it, because then he could partner Hermione. But that afternoon, Harry found himself in a face-off between half of Slytherin, who supported Nott and Avery's views about him, and Draco and his friends.
In spite of Snape's punishment, Nott was still defiant and nursing a hatred of Harry and Draco and took any opportunity to make things difficult for them. He was wearing a glowing yellow badge upon his robe that read-Cedric Diggory, the REAL champion. "See this, Snape? Looks good, doesn't it? And that's not all it does. Watch!" He tapped the badge and it changed into a putrescent yellow color and flashed the words Lil' Snape Sucks!
All the Slytherins on that side of the corridor brayed hysterically and flashed their badges too.
"Ha ha! Very funny," Harry sneered, looking remarkably like Severus.
Hermione glared daggers at them. "Do you have any idea how much trouble you'll be in if Professor Snape ever saw those badges?"
Nott snorted. "What, you gonna run and squeal on us, lil' Snape? Boo-hoo! Daddy, they're being mean to me!"
Harry's fists clenched and so did Draco's.
"Shut it, Nott!" Draco ordered, his eyes the color of steel. "Copycat." He pointed to a large square badge pinned to his own robes. It was silver with emerald green lettering and it read Snapes Rule! Support Harry for Champion! And when he tapped his it showed a glittering cup spouting magical green fire and the words Trust Snape!
Harry's eyes widened. "Where did you get that, Draco?"
His brother smirked. "I was up all night making them, along with Crabbe and Goyle." He indicated his two best friends, who were also wearing Harry supporter badges, along with Millicent Bulstrode and Blaise Zabini and several others. He dug a few more out of his pocket. "Here. Wear them."
Harry caught them and handed them out to Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Dean.
Nott narrowed his eyes at the Gryffindors. "You know what this means, don't you, baby Snape?"
Harry arched an eyebrow. "What, Nott? That you finally learned how to spell? Write a coherent sentence?"
Nott ground his teeth together. "It means war, dunghead!" Then he spun on Draco. "You're slime, traitor!" He fired off a hex at the blond Slytherin.
But Draco blocked it.
"Eat this, dung bag!" howled Ron, and threw an Ants In Your Pants jinx at Nott.
Nott yelped and began dancing about and scratching his bum, yelling, "Ahhh! They're all over me! Get ‘em off! Get ‘em off!"
The Gryffindors started howling with laughter at the sight.
"Ron! What did you cast at him?" Hermione cried.
"Oh, a spell Fred and George made up and cast on Percy once," Ron said loftily. "It makes your bum itch and burn like it's on fire, like these insects called fire ants."
Nott was now running in circles, frantically scratching his bottom, robes flapping up and half of his trousers falling down. "Oww! Oww!"
"Nasty things that live in America, when they bite you it really hurts, Fred and George ordered some by mistake from a Muggle catalog Dad brought home," Ron explained. "They both gotten bitten before they managed to get the nasty buggers into a jar and study them. Then they made that spell. Duck!" he yelped, as a yellow light shot towards them.
He threw himself flat on the ground, and so did Harry, whose reflexes were honed by kin-sa-dor to a split second reaction time.
Hermione was not so lucky. Hexes were flying fast and furious, as Draco and his friends defended themselves from their Housemates, and Avery's Squirrel Teeth hex rebounded off of Crabbe and struck Hermione full in the face.
She gasped and then her front teeth, of which she had been so proud of now they were straight, began to elongate and grow. She screamed in pain, for the teeth ripped through her gums and lower lip. Sobbing, she covered her mouth with her hands in a desperate attempt to hide the ugly incisors.
"Hermione!" Draco cried upon seeing his girlfriend. Then he whirled upon Nott and his gang. "All right, which one of you bloody buggers hexed my girlfriend?" The glare he pinned them with would have been worthy of ten Snapes.
The other Slytherins suddenly shrank back away from him.
Huh. I didn't know I was that scary, Draco thought in satisfaction, until he heard a familiar voice snarl from behind him.
"What in Merlin's name is going on here?"
Oh, shit. We're all screwed, Draco quickly lowered his wand and gulped as a very angry Potions Master strode inbetween his warring Slytherins.
Severus didn't know when he had ever been so angry or ashamed at his Slytherins lack of decorum and discipline. It was positively disgraceful to see his snakes brawling in the corridor like rowdy Gryffindors or rabid Muggle fans at a rugby match. He had never been so disgusted. I cannot believe this! Dueling in the corridor outside my lab, where hundreds of volatile substances could explode if a hex were to strike the wall where they were stored. The bloody little wretches! They ought to know better by now. Oh, if they were younger and I were allowed, I would take them over my knee for a good walloping!
He fastened all of his snakes, including his son, with a glare that could have turned them all to stone.
As it is, I'm going to have to do something I detest normally, but today I am furious to not regret it in the slightest.
"Do my eyes deceive me?" he purred in his silkiest, most deadly tone, one that every single Slytherin knew meant their doom. "Can it be that my snakes are fighting amongst themselves?"
The Slytherins cringed and looked at the floor, all save for Nott, who was still doing a frantic dance and whining, "Ooh! It stings! I'm on fire!"
Severus spun on him. "Mr. Nott, what the devil is the matter with you?"
"I dunno, sir! Oww! Somebody jinxed me! And now my bum is . . .on fire! Ooh! Help! Help!" He cried pitifully, his trousers hanging half mast, revealing his boxers.
Severus rolled his eyes. "Bloody imbecile!" he growled. "Hospital Wing, Nott!"
Nott continued to scratch and yelp.
"Are you deaf? Or are all your brains located in your posterior?" Severus snapped, out of patience.
"N-no, sir. B-but I can't stop scratching . . ."
"You and you!" Snape pointed to two of Nott's crowd. "Escort him to the Hospital Wing, pick him up and drag him there if you have to." He turned back to examine the rest of the students, catching sight of Hermione. "I assume you were a victim of this brawl as well, Miss Granger?" At Hermione's miserable nod, he looked over at Ron. "Mr. Weasley-"
"I'll bring her to the Hospital Wing, sir," Draco volunteered swiftly. "Please?" he added upon seeing his father's thunderous scowl.
"Very well, Draco, but this does not excuse you from punishment." Severus said shortly. "Go." He waved them off.
Draco put an arm about Hermione and whispered comfortingly to her as he led her away.
"As for the rest of you . . .you all have earned a detention with me on Saturday, 6:30 AM sharp, and all of you will get 10 points each deducted for your abominable behavior!"
Some of the Slytherins looked as though they were about to pass out.
"Ten points each?"
"That's fifty points!"
"No it's not! It's one hundred!"
"Detention at six-thirty in the morning?"
"Professor, they started it!" wailed Avery, pointing at Draco's bunch of friends and the Gryffindors.
"That does not matter, Avery. I'm finishing it." Snape declared frostily. He unlocked the door to the potions lab with a snap of his fingers. "You all ought to be ashamed of yourselves. My Slytherins do not brawl in corridors like fanatics at a Muggle rugby match! And I don't care who threw the first hex or who said what-quit whining and accept your punishment like wizards, not sniveling five-year-olds. Get inside and take your assigned seats. Move!"
Everyone scrambled for the door, anxious to avoid further angering the volatile professor.
Severus had his arms crossed, trying to avoid the temptation to smack a few heads and bottoms as they went past. This was going to set his House back majorly in regards to the House Cup. Not to mention how poorly it reflected upon him as their Head of House. He stalked in after the last Gryffindor had scurried in and shut the door.
Behind him, Smidgen gave a soft amused mew and said to Phil, who had witnessed the whole thing, :Sunlight and Shadow, but these younglings are an impertinent if amusing bunch! Worse than a pack of Cornish pixies! Tee hee! But oh, the look on Sev's face!:
Phil's eyes twinkled. He looked very like my old swordmaster did just before he was about to lay into one of us for acting up in class when I was a boy. Old Master Thorston could put the fear of God into just about anyone.
:Even you, Philip?:
Back then, yes. Now . . .well, he might still be able to, were he alive, the master vampire admitted with a rueful chuckle. And now, I must away, Lady Catkin, to see what Master Karkaroff is up to. I have a sneaking suspicion he is up to no good.
:Of that, I have not the slightest doubt. Good hunting, my lord!: Smidgen purred, then she blinked inside Snape's classroom.
Phil blurred and raced out of the dungeons and up the stairs to the wing where Karkaroff and his students were housed.
* * * * * *
The students were subdued as they took their seats in potions, Harry was paired with Blaise again and Ron with Neville, Harry prayed there would be no exploded cauldrons this period, for he feared his father's temper would snap if one more untoward thing happened.
"Today we are brewing a fire crab antidote," Snape instructed. "The directions are on the board. You have two hours to complete it. Incompletes will result in a zero. Begin."
The students began gathering ingredients from the cabinets at the back of the room. Blaise volunteered to get theirs, and Harry began to set up the apparatus they would need. He had just started laying out the knives and mortar and pestles they would need when a knock came at the classroom door.
Colin Creevy entered, and approached Professor Snape's desk timidly. "Sir, uh I've come to take Harry to be interviewed by some reporter named Rita Skeeter."
Severus scowled. "My son is currently doing a lab and he is not available."
Colin gulped, then went on gamely, "Yes, sir. But all the champions have to get interviewed. It's Dumbledore's orders."
Severus muttered some uncomplimentary things about Dumbledore under his breath, then called, "Harry, come here."
Harry groaned and came over to the desk. "Yes, sir?"
"Mr. Creevy has told me that you are due for an interview with a reporter from The Daily Prophet. Apparently, it is required of all the champions of the tournament."
"Do I have to, Dad? I really hate interviews." Harry's expression matched that of his father's.
"The Headmaster's orders, son. Go, get it over with."
"What about my potion?"
"You may make it up later, while my Slytherins are serving detention."
"C'mon, Harry!" Colin shrilled, sounding like an overeager puppy. "I think they're gonna take pictures and everything."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Oh, joy."
"Off with you now, Mr. Snape. Don't dawdle," his father urged and Harry reluctantly obeyed, following Colin out the door.
At that same moment, Draco returned from escorting Hermione to the Hospital Wing. "Where's Harry going, Professor?" he asked.
"For an interview. Get started on your assignment, Draco. You may have ten extra minutes, as you were delayed. And for that brawl earlier, you have lost ten points and will serve detention with me at 6:30AM on Saturday along with the rest of your yearmates in Slytherin," Snape informed him crisply.
"Y-you gave us all detention, sir?" Draco repeated.
"I did. We will discuss this more at tonight's House meeting. You may work with Mr. Zabini." He waved Draco off, and his foster son began to gather his ingredients.
Draco's cauldron was next to Ron's and Neville's, so he could keep an eye on the two for once. Twice he stopped them from adding the wrong ingredient at the wrong time, and reminded them to stir counterclockwise first.
Ron sighed gustily. "Merlin, but I wish I had an interview to go to. It'd be loads better than staying here trying to make this damn antidote. I just know I'm gonna muck it up. Harry has all the luck."
"Luck? Weasley, getting interviewed is one of the most boring and irritating things," Draco snorted. "Watch your fire, it's too high."
"How would you know?"
"Because the paper interviewed me after my parents' trial."
"But, wasn't it good that you got to tell your side of things? Like Harry will?"
"You really are naïve, aren't you?" Draco said. "Don't you know that the paper almost never prints the truth about things? They print what they think readers want to hear. In my interview, they made it sound like I deliberately ran away to Professor Snape, that I'd been planning my "escape" from Malfoy Manor and my father's tyranny for weeks. Truth was, I wasn't planning a thing and only contacted him after the Aurors came and hauled Lucius and Narcissa off in chains. And I wrote to the professor from an orphanage, not from my room in Malfoy Manor. But it sounds better the other way, so that's what they printed. That's why you can't believe everything you read in the paper, and it's why Harry thinks interviews suck."
"Mr. Malfoy, would you like an additional assignment for socializing in my class instead of working?" Severus demanded, coming up behind his talkative son.
"No, sir. I'm sorry, it won't happen again."
"See that it doesn't. You are on thin ice as it is with me, young man." Severus warned.
Draco hung his head. Then he began grinding his lavender with a vengeance.
Snape peered over at Ron and Neville's cauldron. "Passable. It's a miracle." Then he moved on to Millicent and Aurora Teagarden's cauldron, black robes billowing.
Ron mouthed a "Sorry, mate," to Draco.
Draco nodded, still smarting under the reprimand. He hated being scolded in public.
"How's Hermione?" Ron hissed while stirring his potion.
"Madame Pomfrey says she ought to be okay by tonight. The hex isn't all that difficult to reverse, but it'll take time for her teeth to shrink and her lip to be healed." Draco replied out of the corner of his mouth. Then he concentrated on his potion, determined to brew it correctly and so soften some of his father's ire.
Meanwhile, Harry was enduring an interview with Rita Skeeter, a pretty blond wearing a bottle green suit, inside the empty classroom near the Great Hall. Harry was seated on a small rickety wooden chair and Rita upon a larger cushioned one that she had dragged out from a corner of the room. Harry prayed the chair would last through the interview, it creaked and groaned alarmingly when he shifted his weight. Hope this thing doesn't break while I'm sitting on it. I don't fancy getting splinters removed from my arse. Whoever invented interviews was a bloody sadist, he thought grumpily.
"Hello, Harry! Pleasure to meet you!" Rita pumped his hand up and down, smiling. "Let's get started, shall we? You are just as famous, if not more so, than the other champion, Viktor Krum, and people want to know all about you." She pulled out an acid green quill and a long sheet of parchment from her leather carryall. "You don't mind if I use a Quick Quotes Quill do you? It makes it easier for me to talk to you."
"No. I guess not."
He watched as Rita tested the quill by telling her name, and the quill began scribbling rapidly. Rita Skeeter, attractive blond anchorwoman, begins to tell the story of the famous Harry Albus Snape, Boy-Who-Lived . . .
"I thought the quill was supposed to only write what you spoke."
Rita shrugged. "It can embellish a bit, direct quotes are so boring. Readers want action and drama. Pay no mind to the quill, Harry. Just answer my questions as truthfully as you can. How did you feel when your name came out of the Goblet? Happy? Shocked? Proud? Afraid?"
"Mostly shocked. I never expected it to pick me."
"Are you saying you didn't attempt to trick the goblet into accepting you?"
"No. I never wanted to enter the tournament."
"Oh, come now, Harry. You never had the slightest wish to become the next Triwizard Champion? Maybe make your professor father a rich man with that 2000 Galleon prize. You and I know his salary isn't all that much." Rita said conspiratorially. "You can admit it."
"Admit what? I told you the truth. I didn't plan on entering the tournament." His eyes were drawn back to the quill.
It was now writing-Harry Snape admits to wishing to enter the Triwizard Tournament to win the prize money to assist his financially troubled father, Potions Master Severus Snape . . .
"That's not true!" Harry cried angrily. "My dad isn't financially troubled, he makes a decent living, good enough to support me and Draco, we live on a nice-sized estate inherited from his grandparents."
The Quick Quotes quill wrote hastily, to make payments on their estate, which is decrepit and in need of repairs.
"That's a lie! Prince Manor isn't a ruin! It's beautiful!" Harry shouted, incensed. He reached over to grab the quill, but Rita put out a hand and stopped him.
"Now, now, Mr. Snape. Mustn't interfere with a good story. How do you think your mother, Lily, would react if she were alive? Do you think she would be proud of you? Or worried? Or perhaps a mixture of both?"
Harry clamped his mouth shut. He wasn't going to discuss Lily with this lying phony or her quill. Besides, how was he supposed to know how she would have reacted, when he had never known her?
Rita eyed him knowingly. "Sorry, did I hit a nerve? I know some of these questions may be a but personal, but enquiring minds want to know."
Tears of regret fill his startling emerald eyes, eyes which mirror those of his late mother, Lily Evans Snape, who died before Harry could get the chance to know her, foully murdered by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
Harry rocked back on his heels. "I do not have tears in my eyes! Why can't you just write the truth instead of all these ridiculous embellishments?"
Rita tisked. "Temper, Harry. You must understand, child, people want dirt, not facts. They can't handle the truth." She reached out and patted him on the knee as if he were a mere child. "Trust me, dear boy, I will make you a legend in your own time. Every household in Britain will be anxiously following your epic journey in the tournament and I shall be the fortunate savvy reporter who chronicles your rise to the top. Oh, we shall go places, you and I . . ."
"The only place I want to go is back to class," Harry said stiffly. "I don't want to be a legend or anything else. I just want to be like everyone else."
"Stuff and nonsense!" Rita laughed. "Everyone wants to be famous, to get recognition. Don't be shy, you can admit it. You love when people scream your name and stare at you in the street."
"What? I hate it! It makes me feel like a freak." Harry objected. "Fame is overrated." He turned and glared at the quill. "Write that down!"
The quill ignored him, spinning out a fantasy story that was as unlike Harry's real life as any fairy tale.
"Okay, moving on. What do you think the first task will be like? How do you think your chances are against the other three champions?"
"I don't have any idea. And I don't know. I guess all right." Harry crossed his arms over his chest and sulked. Interviews are nothing but a waste of time. I'd rather be brewing antidotes.
Despite the three year age difference, young Snape is confident he will come out ahead and win the Triwizard Cup. He displays an astonishing level of self-confidence for his years, due in part to the support of his family and friends. He believes the first task might not be as difficult as the ones to come.
By then, Harry was praying the chair would break, anything to get him away from Skeeter. Before he could say anything further, Dumbledore had opened the door. Harry had never been so glad to see the old wizard in his life.
"Harry, my boy! Are you done? Mr. Bagman wishes us to get on with the weighing of the wands and so forth."
"Dumbledore! We were at a crucial point in the interview," Rita began.
"Yes, I'm sure you were. However, it's time for the weighing of the wands and some photographs. Come along, Harry, and let us join the others."
Harry sprang to his feet and rushed over to the Headmaster. "Okay, sir. I'm ready."
Rita tucked her quill and parchment away, looking disgruntled. Then she followed them out the door.
* * * * * *
Harry went to dinner after all the photographs were taken and Ollivander had examined and weighed everyone's wand for the tournament. He sat with Ron and Draco, Hermione was still in the Hospital Wing, and picked at his food. He had lost his appetite after the interview and the photographs.
"So, how'd it go?" Ron inquired, curious to test Draco's theory.
Harry made a face. "Don't ask."
"Dad says he wants us to meet him for some Defense lessons tonight," his brother informed him. "After we finish our homework."
"Good. I've missed our lessons," Harry brightened at that, and managed to finish his pumpkin juice. Then he whistled for Frost.
The young snowy owl glided smoothly onto his shoulder. "I'm going to write to Sirius, let him know what's going on," he told them in a whisper. "Accio writing materials."
Quill, ink, and parchment landed upon the table with a thump and Harry started writing. He was also anxious to find out how his aunt and cousin were faring, since they were still living hidden away with Sirius, at the wizard's request. He hoped Sirius would respond promptly.
Once he had sealed the envelope, he handed it to Frost and said, "Take it away, bright one."
Frost gave a short hoot and spread her wings and glided from the room.
"Are you sure that was a smart thing to do, Harry?" Draco asked.
"Why wouldn't it be? Sirius has a right to know what's going on."
"Yes, but now he'll worry and work himself up and maybe do something stupid, like try and come here."
Harry bit his lip. Maybe Draco was right. Sirius was impulsive. "I'll write and tell him not to worry when he answers back. It's too late now. C'mon, let's go to the library and finish our homework."
* * * * * *
Meanwhile, Phil was slipping through shadows and into the quarters of Igor Karkaroff once again. His earlier investigation had turned up nothing incriminating, but Phil didn't trust Karkaroff anymore than he did Moody and he wanted to watch the other man in his private quarters and see what he did.
Karkaroff at first behaved no different than any other professor upon returning to his quarters. He took off his heavy formal robes and shirt and put on a much cooler short sleeved black shirt and removed his boots. Then he summoned a house elf and had a bottle of firewhisley brought as well as a shot glass.
Karkaroff settled before his fire, poured the tumbler three-fifths full and tossed it back. Then he set the tumbler down, looked around carefully, and laid his left forearm across his knee. There, midway between his wrist and elbow, was a dark brand.
Phil's eyes narrowed. He knew that symbol.
The skull with the snake coming out of its jaw. The Dark Mark.
He was not surprised that Karkaroff still had the Mark, he was a former Death Eater and the brand would only fade with the Dark Lord's final destruction.
Igor was rubbing his arm as if it pained him. "It's getting darker. Much darker. Will he summon me? Can the rumors be true? Could he really have survived? And if he did . . .what does that mean for me?"
He spoke the words aloud to the room, trembling.
It means you will die, you gutless worm, Phil thought.
Karkaroff was sweating and he poured himself more firewhiskey and drank it down. What to do? What to do? I must try and redeem myself for him . . .maybe then . . .he will not kill me. The other shivered, and conjured a robe and wrapped it about himself. Then he tossed back another shot and then another. But no! If I do anything incriminating, I break my parole and then it's back to Azkaban for me. That bastard Moody is always watching and so is Snape. Oh how I wish I could make them have an . . .accident. But they guard themselves too well. I am trapped. Trapped like a rat in barrel of water.
Hands shaking, Karkaroff drank down the rest of the bottle, then lit the fire with a slurred word and slumped in his chair, dead drunk to the world.
Pathetic coward! The vampire sneered, curling his lip in disgust. But even a cowardly dog will bite if cornered. I shall keep watch and the first move you make towards Severus or the boys shall be your last. You have more to fear than your dark master, fool. Much more.
Phil slipped from the room, he would learn nothing more from the drunken wizard this night, and he went down to Severus's quarters to tell him what he had learned.
* * * * * *
Draco was walking a little ahead of Harry and Ron as they made their way over to the library. He wanted to get his homework over and done with so he could visit Hermione before going over to Severus's quarters for his lesson. Madam Pomfrey had assured him she would be back to normal by nightfall. He slipped into the library and began to make his way back to a table in the far corner, behind some stacks of books on charms, it was one of Hermione's favorite places to study.
It was then he heard the voices.
"Surely you cannot mean vhat you said. Vhy vould you vant that puny Malfoy? He is not a real man. He is a boy. You deserve a real man, Her-my-ninny."
"Viktor, would you mind not standing so close to me? I cannot breathe with you looming that way!" snapped an irate Hermione. "I'm sorry if you dislike Draco, but he is my boyfriend and I don't need another one."
"You could do so much better," Krum said, breathing heavily.
Draco crept over to see what was going on.
Krum had Hermione pinned up against a bookshelf, his big hands resting on either side of her, looking as though he were about to steal a kiss. Or worse.
Draco saw red. Before he could think better of it, he had lunged at Krum, his foot sweeping across the back of the other's ankles.
Krum toppled with a cry, as Draco yanked his collar hard, causing him to fall backwards.
He landed upon the floor with a thud. "Oof! Vhat on earth?"
"Keep your hands off my girlfriend, Krum!" snarled Draco, eyes glittering. "She's off limits to you and anyone else."
Krum struggled to his feet, wand in hand. "Says who?"
"Me," Draco said, confronting the taller wizard eye to eye fearlessly. "Go find someone else." He knew better than to draw his wand. Drawing a wand was tantamount to casting a hex to truly harm and Draco wasn't Severus's student for nothing. He did not want to end up in the Oubliette. So he kept his hand away from his sleeve and settled for glaring icily at Krum. "Mione, you all right?"
"Fine. The big baboon didn't hurt me," she said, and Draco was relieved to hear her old spirit back in her voice.
"Baboon? Vhat is this you call me?"
"A baboon is a big ugly monkey with a red arse," Draco supplied. "And I'll make you look just like one unless you stay away from Hermione."
"I am more fit to be vith her than you, leetle boy!"
Draco sneered. "You're not fit to partner a dung beetle, Krum. All you have is your big shot reputation as a Quidditch star and a vault full of Galleons. Big freakin' deal! Hermione could give two hoots about that. She doesn't even like Quidditch!"
"You are just jealous. Vhat have you got that I haven't? Nothing!" Krum leveled his wand at Draco's head. "You haf two seconds to step aside, or else I shall hex you good."
"Leave him be, Krum!" Hermione shouted.
"Stay out of this, girl!" Krum ordered arrogantly.
Something in Hermione snapped then. "You know what? I am sick and tired of all of you arrogant boys telling what I can and can't do. You seem to forget that I have a brain and I can use it. Now . . .leave . . .Draco . . .alone!"
And with that she marched around Draco, wand leveled, and spoke a spell that knocked Krum down and froze him. Then she put her hands on her hips and glared down at the tall Quidditch Seeker with a look that would have done a Snape proud. "Maybe that will get your attention, you arrogant, conceited, oversexed booby!"
Hermione whirled on him, wand still raised. "What are you looking at?"
"One hell of a witch," Draco replied, then he pulled her in to his arms and kissed her quite thoroughly. "I missed you, little bookworm."
"I missed you too, dragon mine," she murmured against his mouth.
"What spell did you cast on him?"
"A Body Bind coupled with a Sleep Charm," she replied. "He'll be out for hours."
"Serves him right. Remind me never to mess with you when you're mad."
Hermione smiled. Then she gathered up her bag and said, "How did you know I was here?"
"I didn't. I was coming here with Harry and Ron to do homework," Draco answered, walking back through the stacks.
As if summoned, Harry and Ron appeared in the doorway of the library. They rushed over to greet Hermione as soon as they spotted her.
"Hermione! You look great! Well, better than you did last time," Ron said.
"How did you get Pomfrey the dragon to release you?" Harry asked.
Hermione shrugged mysteriously. "I have my ways."
"That's for sure." Draco put his arm about her. "She just kicked Krum's arse."
Ron's mouth fell open.
"What? How?" asked Harry.
Draco told them.
To Hermione's relief, he didn't seem to mind that she had defended him for once. The other two clapped her on the back and declared that she was first rate for taking on the Orc from the North, as Draco had called him. They quickly filled her in on what had gone on while she was in the Hospital Wing.
Afterwards, she steered Draco over to an empty table and shoved him in a chair. "Homework, Malfoy. You don't want your dad to get even more riled at you than he already is, do you?"
"No, Mum," Draco quipped.
Hermione smacked him on the back of the head lightly. "Get to work, mister."
"Be my study partner," Draco said, and pulled her onto his lap.
"Doesn't look like you'll get much studying done that way," Harry observed.
"Be quiet and read your potions book," Draco ordered, gazing into Hermione's eyes. "I'm doing an advanced thesis on human relationships."
"Good one, Draco!" Ron hooted. "I've got to remember that!"
But they hushed soon enough when they heard the tapping of Madam Pince's heels coming towards them.
Hermione slid off Draco's lap and opened her Astronomy book just as the librarian appeared inbetween two bookshelves.
"Please keep your voice down, this is a library, not a common room!" she said crossly.
They all murmured apologies and began to do their homework, finishing what they had been given some two hours later.
Then Draco and Harry said good night to Hermione and Ron, telling them they would see them later and walked together to Severus's quarters, where their father awaited them. Both of them hoped he was in a better mood than he had been that afternoon and wouldn't work them into the ground.
And you'll find out what Sev does to his Slytherins as well for detention.
How did you like what happened in here? Did you think Rita was well done?
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