It took them longer than they anticipated to get back to the castle, because walking under the cloak was harder now that they were bigger. They had to cling pretty close to each other and try and match their steps. By the time they had slipped inside the castle, it was nearly one thirty in the morning, according to the clock in the Entrance Hall.
Then Harry remembered the Maurader's Map and hissed, "Hermione, where's the map? Take it out and let's use it. We can avoid Snape and Filch that way."
Hermione fumbled in her pocket, at last retrieving the parchment. She handed it to Harry, who spoke the phrase, "I solemnly swear I'm up to no good."
The map came alive, revealing the inner rooms of the castle and the grounds. Harry squinted, looking for the dot that represented Severus Snape. It was hard to see under the cloak and Hermione's wand provided barely enough light to read. Snape, where are you? To his horror, he saw the dot labeled Severus Snape was not in the dungeons like it was supposed to be, but heading right towards them. Damn, we've got to get out of here! Harry thought, panicked. "Mischief managed!" he whispered and the map went blank. "'Mione, let's move, Snape's coming!"
"Where? I don't see—"
"Come on!" he dragged her forward, towards the set of stairs.
Harry jumped backwards as Mrs. Norris, Filch's mangy cat, raced right in front of them, hissing and growling angrily. An Invisibility Cloak was no barrier to a cat's keen senses, and she knew they were there.
His foot got tangled with Hermione's and they tripped and fell backwards onto the floor.
They landed in a tangled heap, and the hood of the cloak fell off, revealing them.
Mrs. Norris glared at them balefully, tail lashing.
Frantic, the two struggled to their feet, but it was too late.
Drawn by Mrs. Norris's yowl, Snape had hotfooted it into the Entrance Hall and caught the two wayward Gryffindors just as they were getting to their feet. "Potter! Granger! Taking a midnight stroll through the garden, were we?"
Hermione blushed and didn't answer, quite aware of what it looked like, and ashamed she had been caught breaking rules. Harry looked up at the professor and put on his most insolent expression, because it was what Snape expected, and he was already in trouble. "We were just—"
"Don't bother lying, Potter. Once again you are where you shouldn't be, breaking rules meant for your safety. Just like your father." Severus sneered. His blood boiled when he saw the look on the boy's face, that rebellious impudence that was an echo of James Potter, with not even a hint of remorse or repentance about him. Well, he'd regret his actions soon enough.
"My father never—" Harry began, but halted when Hermione stepped on his foot warningly.
Snape loomed over him, pale and dark, anger radiating from him. "Your father, Potter, broke rules left and right whenever he chose to, with no regard for consequences. He too was fond of roaming the school after midnight, causing all manner of mischief." The professor's eyes narrowed. "What is that in your hand, Potter?" His finger pointed to the Marauder's map.
"Just a spare bit of parchment," Harry said offhandedly.
"Give it here," Severus ordered, holding out his hand.
"What for? Why do you need a piece of paper?"
"That is none of your concern. Hand it over."
Reluctantly, Harry did so, cursing himself for not giving the map to Hermione.
Severus pocketed it and then looked Harry up and down, careful to keep his most disapproving expression in place. He reached out and tugged at Harry's cloak, examining it closely.
"Hey! What are you doing?"
"Where did you get this cloak, Potter?" Snape demanded, his eyes hard.
"It was a Christmas gift," Harry said defensively, trying to pull away, but Snape's eyes and hand held him fast. Not my cloak! Does he know what it is? Blast and damn it, how did this happen? Greasy git, why does he always have to be around to catch me doing something I shouldn't?
"A Christmas gift? From your dear old dad, perhaps?" Severus sneered. "Given to you by his old friend Lupin?"
Harry didn't answer. He was still trying to determine if Snape knew what the cloak was and didn't want to confirm the other's suspicions.
"Professor, we're really sorry—" Hermione spoke up then, trying to distract the teacher from his scrutiny.
"And you shall be sorrier still, Miss Granger, when you serve detention with me tomorrow night," Snape replied smoothly. "Seven o'clock in my office and fifty points from Gryffindor." But he never looked away from Harry. "Answer my question, Potter. Who gave you the cloak?"
"Why do you care . . .sir?" Harry said, suddenly tired of playing games. "What's it to you?"
Hermione was horrified. Harry, watch your tone! What are you doing? Do you want to get in more trouble?
Snape's eyes flashed. "Mind that tone, Potter! I do not tolerate insolence! That cloak is a valuable magical object, I recognize it from your father's schooldays."
"No! You're wrong!"
"I don't think so. It's an Invisibility Cloak, isn't it?"
Harry yanked the cloak away and said nothing.
Hermione wanted to shake him for being such a stubborn idiot. Defying Snape would only result in more punishment and irritate the volatile man even further. She couldn't understand how Harry kept making the same foolish mistakes concerning Snape and his temper year after year. One would think he'd have learned how to handle the professor by now. She bit back a groan and nudged him hard, but Harry wasn't paying attention to her subtle cues.
"I'll take that too, Potter," Snape said silkily. Inwardly, he seethed at whoever was foolish enough to give the reckless boy such an item, one that would only fuel his desire to get into trouble. Giving Potter an Invisibility Cloak was like handing a toddler a sharp knife. Sooner or later he was bound to cut himself and with such an item at his disposal, Potter would be ten times harder for Snape to keep track of and thus to keep safe.
Harry wrapped the cloak tighter about himself. "No, you can't! It's private property!"
"That's as may be, but you were using it to break rules and now it becomes mine until the end of term. Now give it here, Potter!" Severus' voice became sharp, inflexible.
Harry shook his head, marveling at his own daring. He knew Hermione was rolling her eyes next to him. But he wasn't about to give up the cloak without a fight. Especially not to Snape.
"Now . . .or else you shall be in detention with me for the rest of the term as well and lose another fifty points for your defiance. I give you fair warning, Potter. Don't test me. Give me the cloak."
"It's not fair!" he muttered rebelliously.
Hermione hit herself in the forehead.
Snape leaned down and hissed, "What's not fair is you standing here arguing with me, you stubborn little—" He broke off abruptly. "The cloak. Now, Potter."
Harry slowly unfastened the cloak, angry and ashamed. "Take it then!" He practically shoved the cloak in Snape's face.
The professor caught the cloak easily and tucked it under his arm. "That'll be ten more points for your cheek, Potter and you can serve another night of detention with me as well. Now get upstairs to your common room and get in bed. Or do you need a cup of warm milk and a bedtime story?"
Flushing, Harry gathered the shreds of his dignity around him and walked past the Potions Master and up the stairs, Hermione following.
Severus watched until they had turned the corner to the Gryffindor portrait hole before gliding away, the cloak and map now safely in his possession. Perhaps without them, Potter would think twice about wandering about after midnight and stay safe inside where he belonged. Then too, he might also gain some more insight into the boy's reluctance to return home. There was something not right there, something that made the hairs on the back of his neck prickle in warning, but he needed to be certain before he jumped to conclusions. As a spy he had learned to be certain of facts before reporting information. If Potter were being abused, he needed proof before taking his suspicions to the Headmaster. Albus would never believe it otherwise, he had missed completely Severus' own signs when he was at school that all was not what it should be at home.
"That's useless! He only hears and sees what he wants to hear, like all the adults. He wants to believe my life's a bed of roses, just like Snape wants to believe I'm a spoiled rich brat, like my father was. The truth doesn't matter."
Potter's words earlier replayed themselves in his head as he walked back to his rooms, and he pondered just what truth the boy was talking about. If it was as he suspected . . .then he had indeed been blind, and he cursed himself for a fool.
"Harry, why must you always bait him like that?" Hermione whispered upon reaching the portrait hole. "If you had just done what he wanted the first time, then you wouldn't have gotten another detention and lost more points."
"He wanted my cloak, what was I supposed to do, just hand it over?"
"Yes!" Hermione said exasperatedly. "He won't keep it, you know. You'll get it back in a week."
"How did he know what it was, anyhow?" Harry grumbled, knowing she was right but not wanting to admit it.
"Because he saw it on your father," Hermione said. "He said so himself."
"Greasy damn bastard! He lives to make my life miserable."
"Harry . . .some of that's your own fault. You did provoke him."
"So what? How come you're not mad over him giving you detention, huh?"
"Because it was my own fault. I disobeyed and now I'll pay the consequences." She said simply. "That's all there is to it. He's doing his job, Harry."
Harry glared at her angrily. "You always defend him."
"We did break the rules, Harry. You're supposed to get in trouble when you break rules."
"He didn't have to take the cloak."
"I would have been surprised if he didn't, knowing what it was and what you did with it. Come on, let's go to bed."
"Yeah, got to be nice and rested for Snape's bloody detention tomorrow night," Harry grumbled. "Wonder what he'll make us do?"
"I have no idea," she sighed, then she spoke the password and the portrait hole swung open.
The two Gryffindors arrived promptly for their detention in Snape's office. He was grading end of term exams and gritting his teeth over several students who had obviously not bothered to study at all and just made up utter nonsense to the questions. His red quill was kept busy and that always irritated him. He exhaled sharply upon seeing Harry and Hermione, then set aside his tests and rose to his feet.
"The task I have for you is twofold. First, Miss Granger, I need you to go and harvest some starblaze flowers from Professor Sprout's greenhouse. You will find them on the night side of the greenhouse. Bring me a double handful and mind you be careful, the starblaze is delicate and one slip of your knife will make the plant useless for this potion. I shall also need milkweed and valerian."
"Yes, sir. What potion are you making, sir?"
"A draft to clear the mind and spirit," he answered shortly. "You will find a gathering basket, an athame, and a cloth to cover the starblaze inside the lab. Do not dawdle, I wish this potion brewed tonight."
Hermione nodded respectfully.
Then he looked at Harry, who seemed more repentant this evening than last night, though he saw circles under the boy's eyes from lack of sleep. "Potter, did you sleep at all last night?" he asked abruptly.
Harry's eyes shot open. "I'm fine, sir." He said respectfully. "What would you like me to do, Professor?"
Pleased at the boy's attitude, Snape said more softly, "You will begin preparing the other ingredients necessary for this potion. Come with me. Miss Granger, do you need a list or can you remember without prompting?"
"I'll remember, sir," Hermione said confidently.
She went into the lab and found the gathering basket and the other items set out on a table, took them and left.
"Over there is the cauldron you'll be using," Snape instructed, indicating a cauldron set over a simmering flame. "The instructions are on the board. Do all up to number 7. That should keep you busy till Granger returns with the other botanicals."
Relieved that he wasn't going to be scrubbing cauldrons or the dungeon floor, Harry moved to read the directions on the board.
By the time he got to step three—Add powdered mint and extract of lavender to the cauldron he could feel his eyelids begin to droop in spite of himself. He had lied when he had told Snape he had slept all right. The truth was he had tossed and turned all night and been unable to sleep a wink. All around him, his roommates snored and he remained awake, thinking of his stupidity in baiting Snape, the loss of his cloak, and oddly enough, the beautiful black stallion. He had wished he could find the black horse again, perhaps bring along some sugar or an apple and coax the wild horse to eat from his hand.
Don't be ridiculous! He scolded himself, stirring the cauldron. Even if you did make friends with that horse, what would you do when you left? Can't take a horse on the train to Surrey. Besides, you can't even ride him. He's wild and he belongs here, running free. Wish I did. He sighed. He wasn't thinking straight, hadn't been since Cedric had died. Still, it was a wonderful daydream.
He stirred carefully, concentrating on the potion as he never did in class, he discovered he didn't want to mess this up, didn't want to give Snape any excuse to sharpen his tongue on him. But he was so tired . . .weary to his bones . . .tired and sick with grief and dread, because in five days time he would return to the Dursleys and the hell they had made for him.
Severus had been watching the boy closely inbetween grading, making sure he was following directions, but he had begun marking a test and when he glanced over at the child again, he saw Harry nodding over his cauldron, his head drooping and his hand . . .his hand was dangerously close to the iron lip of the cauldron, which was superhot from the flames.
"Potter! Selene's Grace, wake up!"
Severus rose, moving swiftly towards the boy.
"Huh? What?" Harry opened his eyes, staring about him wildly, his brain still back within the realm of sleep, and for an instant he thought he was back at Privet Drive and it was time to get up and cook breakfast. His hand jerked forward and touched the edge of the cauldron for a brief moment.
For one instant, there was no pain.
Then pain flared red hot through his hand and he gasped and cried out.
Suddenly, a dark figure loomed over him, and he cringed instinctively. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to burn it, Uncle. I'm sorry!"
His whole hand was throbbing now and he bit his lip hard to keep from whimpering.
"Potter, let me see."
"I'm okay . . .I'm okay . . ." he babbled, pain and his exhausted state nearly making him incoherent.
"You most certainly are not okay, now let me see how bad you've hurt yourself," Severus said, keeping his voice soft, for he had not missed the instinctive flinch and fear that now shone in the emerald eyes. "Come on, Potter, that hand has to be hurting like blazes. I know what it feels like."
Harry winced, then he shook his head. "Be all right, I can take care of myself."
The Potions Master sighed exasperatedly. "Now is not the time for you to play hero, Potter. Bright Lady save me, why must you be so stubborn? Let . . .me . . .see!" he said through gritted teeth. "Please!"
"I don't want to be any trouble . . ."
"I assure you, it is no trouble to let me tend to your hand. Or do you enjoy feeling like your hand is going to burst into flames?" Snape held out his hand.
Slowly, Harry placed his burnt palm in it.
Severus took one look at the raw flesh, which was starting to blister, and swore under his breath. "All right, Potter, come with me." He snapped his fingers and a bowl of ice water popped up on his desk. "Put your hand in there and just let it soak. I'll be right back with some Burn Paste."
Harry hissed when his burned hand came into contact with the ice water and a few tears squeezed past his eyes in spite of himself. Snape was right, he was hurting like blazes, and he was also horrified that he had spoken about his uncle to the other man. It must be the sleep deprivation. Or the shock. Or something. He prayed Snape hadn't noticed what he'd said.
He felt a gentle touch on his shoulder. Even so, he started like a scared rabbit. Some of the water sloshed over the basin to land on the floor. "I'm sorry," he said automatically.
"Relax and quit apologizing," his teacher ordered gruffly. In his hand was a squat container and a soft cloth. "Take your hand from the water and sit down." He indicated an unused desk and chair.
Harry obeyed, his hand was hurting viciously now.
He waited for Snape to make some kind of cutting remark about clumsy students but his professor simply took his hand and rested it atop the desk. "Hold still. This will hurt, it can't be helped, but once the salve is on, it will feel better." He shook his head when he looked at Harry's blistered hand. "Second degree burns, by Selene's Eye." He carefully unscrewed the cap and dipped the cloth into the Burn Paste. It was thick and green.
He gently began to apply the paste.
Harry winced and tried to pull away.
Severus grabbed his wrist firmly. "Stay still, Potter. I'll be done in a minute or two."
"Hurts," Harry whimpered.
"I know. Take a breath and count to ten."
Harry obeyed, anything to take his mind off the awful pain. "One . . .two . . .three . . .ahh! . . .four . . .five . . .ow!"
"Easy. Almost done." Severus said soothingly, continuing to apply the salve. "Count, Potter."
Harry resumed his counting, tears standing in his eyes.
Severus was thorough, applying the paste thickly until the entire burn was covered. Then he wrapped a loose dressing over it and stuck the ends together with a Sticking Charm. "How do you feel now, Mr. Potter?"
"Better, sir." Harry reached up to dash away tears from his eyes. His hand now felt blessedly numb.
He found a handkerchief in front of his nose. "Use this. Do you need a Pain Reliever? Be honest, no lies."
Harry took the handkerchief, blushing. Then he said, "I . . .maybe I do. Yes, I think so."
Severus turned to a cabinet in back of his desk and retrieved a vial of his pain relieving potion.
Harry gratefully took it and drank, grimacing. "I'm sorry I ruined your potion."
"You haven't. Now then, Potter. I have a few questions to ask you," Snape began. "You will answer them truthfully, am I clear?"
"Sir?" Harry said uncertainly, hoping Severus was not going to ask him about his uncle.
"Why did you lie to me about getting enough sleep?"
Harry sighed. "I thought I could . . .I didn't realize I was so tired."
"Next time don't attempt to play the martyr, Potter. Look at what it got you." Severus gestured pointedly at his hand. Then he said, "Are you looking forward to the end of the term, Potter?"
Harry turned away, his heart cold and still within him. He wouldn't answer that. He couldn't.
Severus waited and waited.
Harry looked down at his hands and refused to answer. Which was an answer in itself.
"You flinched from me when I touched you."
"You startled me, sir."
Snape nodded. And Voldemort plays with bunny plushies. You're not fooling me, Potter. For I have been where you are now. I know the first rule—never ever tell what goes on at home. To anyone, but especially someone in authority. "Put your head down on the desk and take a nap, Potter."
"You heard me. You're of no use like this, now sleep."
Maybe I knocked myself out when I burned my hand? Because that's the only reason why he's suddenly being so . . .concerned over me, Harry thought blearily. Merlin, but I'm tired. I can't remember when I last slept decently. Maybe a few days before the tournament. He could feel himself start to drift. "M'not tired . . ." he protested.
Harry's eyes closed and he was asleep an instant later. He never woke when Severus draped a blanket over him. "So you don't catch a chill and die on me," he muttered. I was a fool. I allowed myself to be blinded by jealousy and anger. The boy was right, all of us saw what we wished to see and missed the truth. I failed him badly. Selene and Lily forgive me for being a blind stubborn jackass, and allowing my temper to rule me. It will not happen again. No child should ever suffer what I did, and it would seem that he has. Regret and remorse stabbed him then and he winced at the sudden sting. Lily would chop him up and boil him in his own cauldron if she knew how he had treated her son. Somehow he needed to make amends, beginning with getting the boy away from his abusive relatives.
He turned away to tend to the potion, thinking on a way to get Potter to speak about his home life before he left for the summer. It would be the hardest assignment he had ever had, harder even than gathering information from the Death Eaters, for Potter did not trust him. And there was no way he could make the boy trust him in a week, not after what he had been and done. Or was there?
Hermione returned some five minutes later, all the ingredients he had asked for placed neatly in the basket, harvested correctly. "Here you go, sir." She handed him the basket for him to see.
He peered inside, checking the contents. "Acceptable, Miss Granger. Now, if you will continue to brew from step 7 . . ." he indicated the board.
"Yes, sir. Where's Harry?"
Severus pointed to a blanket shrouded mound.
"What happened to him?" Hermione cried, alarmed.
Severus put out a hand to stop her from running over to him. "Don't wake him, Miss Granger. He is sleeping, he had an accident and burned his hand—"
"Oh my goodness! Is he all right? Does he need to go to a burn center or whatever you wizards have here?" Hermione cried. "Do you need to—"
"Miss Granger!" Severus snapped, effectively silencing her. "Do allow me a word in edgewise! Mr. Potter has been tended by me, his hand is not serious enough to require a trip to St. Mungos. I myself have been burned as badly and I survived to brew again," he said dryly. "I gave him a pain relieving potion spiked with a small amount of a Sleeping Draught."
Hermione's eyes went wide. "You mean you . . .slipped him a Mickey Finn, sir?"
"I did indeed. You may see for yourself, he is merely asleep. I try not to make a habit of poisoning my students."
"Good for you, sir," she remarked, hiding a smile. Few people would suspect their stern Potions Master to have a sense of humor, albeit a wickedly sharp dry one. She made her way over to Harry, peering at him anxiously. He seemed so peaceful, sleeping there. "How long will he be out, sir? And what about his detention?"
"He will sleep for another hour or so. As for detention, that is between me and Potter. Now that you are satisfied he is still among the living, finish this draft. And mind you add the starflower in three separate stages . . .gradually. I trust it's not beyond your abilities?"
"No, sir." Hermione read the directions and began brewing where Harry had left off. She knew her professor would have never allowed her to brew something this complicated if he did not trust her to brew it correctly. He hated incompetence and wasting precious potions ingredients.
Severus returned to his grading, eyeing the girl every so often just to make sure she was brewing correctly.
At last Hermione straightened and said, "Almost done, sir. It just needs to steep for an hour."
He came over to inspect the cauldron and nodded. "At least you have not wasted my time in class, Miss Granger."
Knowing that was as good as a "well done" from another teacher, Hermione allowed herself a small smile. It was rare that one got a compliment from Snape. "What would you like me to do next, sir?"
Severus eyed her shrewdly. "I need you to answer a question. What do you know about Potter's relatives? Have you ever met them?"
Hermione shook her head. "Never, sir. I've never seen them at all. Harry doesn't talk about them much, but I don't think they get on at all. He did say that his cousin eats like a whale and is nearly the size of one and that his aunt and uncle would prefer it if he stayed here at school."
"I see. Then you have never visited him over break?"
She shook her head. "No, sir. I don't think they want Harry to . . .to have friends from school over. One time Ron went there with his brothers and they . . .well they sort of . . .rescued him."
"Yes, sir. He'd been locked in his room and was starving, I think. That's all I know, sir," she added hastily, fearing she had said too much. Harry would be furious, but she couldn't help herself. This was the first time any teacher had ever asked her about Harry's life outside of Hogwarts and it was something she felt an adult . . .even if he were the strictest teacher in the school . . .should be aware of. She had kept her silence because Harry was so reluctant to speak about it, but now she could no longer do so. Harry's mental state was precarious and she feared for him when he went back to Privet Drive. She looked at her professor and saw that his eyes were blazing and for one moment she backed away, suddenly terrified.
Until she realized his anger was not directed at her.
An instant later the anger was gone, hidden behind the mask of the snarky professor, but Hermione knew what she had seen. Snape did care for Harry. Or at least he was beginning to. She wondered what he would do now. But she sensed that Snape would not tell her.
"You may leave, Miss Granger. Your detention is served and over." He turned back to his papers, waving her away.
"Sir . . .what about Harry?"
"When he wakes, I shall send him up to Gryffindor Tower." Then he scowled at her. "Well? Are you just going to stand there, or must I give you formal leave to depart, my lady?" he bowed mockingly to her.
"Good night, sir," she said, ignoring the sarcastic wit. Then she scurried from the room, leaving Harry still snoozing and Severus trying to finish his exams, some of which were so tedious he nearly fell asleep correcting them.
Hope you liked what went on here.
Gradually, Severus is starting to see Harry in a different light. What do you think he will do to make Harry trust him?
Next: Severus takes a new tack with Harry and some absent enemies return to try and harm the Boy-Who-Lived. Will they succeed? Or will they fail? Find out next chapter!