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Harry Potter and the Time of Second Chances by Neville James
Chapter 10 : Determination
Rating: 12+Chapter Reviews: 12

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A/N Thanks to everyone who has stuck with me through the incredibly long wait. i appreciate all of my readers and hope you'll all enjoy the new edits and the eventual ending to this story. As always, your reviews are appreciated :) Kyle

Chapter 10: Determination

‘Are you insane?’ Harry said to her, disbelief written all over his face. ‘I couldn’t possibly be.’

‘Why not?’ she asked him simply.

‘Stranger things have happened to you, Harry,’ Neville added, having heard what the group was discussing.

‘I would bet all of my galleons that you are the heir,’ Ron agreed for once with Hermione. ‘The school year just wouldn’t be as exciting if you weren’t.’

‘Could we please just drop it!’ Harry said loudly, and everyone immediately changed subjects and started other conversations with anyone but him.

Harry looked up the center aisle toward the staff table and saw that Professor Black was now chatting idly with Snape. The pair seemed to be old friends, a prospect that did not look good for the Gryffindors.

‘Know her, do you?’ Neville asked him.

‘No. She just looks familiar to me,’ he lied, not wanting to explain that he had seen her once before in his nightmares and risk sounding crazy.

‘Well, she looks a little too friendly with Snape for my liking,’ Neville said, turning back toward Lavender Brown and striking up a conversation.

Harry was surprised. It was not that big of a deal, but Neville had changed over the holidays, not only in his appearance but his manner as well. Last year, there was no way he would have started a conversation with even Hermione, let alone the prettiest girl in their year. Harry wondered briefly what could have happened this summer to build his confidence.

The Great Hall started to empty as everyone crowded out the large doors and headed toward their common rooms to settle in for a good night’s sleep. Harry trudged out behind Hermione and Ron, who were having a discussion about what their new timetables would most likely be like, and Ron seemed surprised that she had taken as many extra courses as she had.

‘Hi, Harry,’ a girly voice sounded from behind him as he started his way up the first floor staircase. He found Cho Chang waving at him as she continued to walk with her friends toward their dormitory. He waved back half-heartedly and watched as she turned her attention back to her friends and continued on her way. What was that all about, he wondered.

Shaking his head again, he climbed the stairs more quickly and caught up with his friends. Katie Bell was at the head of all the Gryffindors speaking loudly to the four first years and giving them useful hints they might use to get to class on time. Harry was glad that she had become Head Girl, but truthfully, he had thought that it might be Cho.

It appeared that the Gryffindors were doing quite well in recent years for turning out either a Head Boy or Girl, with Katie this year, Alicia last year, and Percy the year before that. There was no doubt who would be Head Girl his seventh year, as it was quite plain to everyone that the most brilliant witch in their year should get it. Hermione argued this with him and Ron of course, but they remained convinced.

Walking down the long wide corridor, Harry smiled and waved at many of the familiar portraits hanging on the wall, and watched as the heads of all the suits of armor turned to watch the students’ progression toward the portrait of the fat lady.

Harry heard the fat lady congratulate Katie on becoming Head Girl and then the two new Gryffindor prefects. Colin Creevey had pinned his prefect’s badge on upside down, winning him several smirks from the first year girls until Ginny, his counterpart, helped him to right it. Then the first years all received a shock and gasped in unison as Nearly Headless Nick came wafting through the fat lady and hovered above them.

‘Hello Nick,’ Neville said loudly. ‘How are you?’

‘Very well Neville, thank you,’ the ghost smiled broadly. ‘Despite being rejected once more by the headless hunt,’ he mumbled in a more unfriendly tone. He then lowered his head toward the group and whispered to them all, ‘The new password is Murtlap Sap.’

One by one the Gryffindors filed in through the porthole into the warm and ever welcoming common room. The fire crackled in the large golden grate, lighting up the features of the golden Gryffin adorning the mantle above it, and causing the gold and crimson banners overhead to shimmer when they caught the light. The first years walked around the circular room trying to take in every detail, and touching just about everything they could reach. Marcus Evans, Harry noticed, did not look even half as pleased to be standing in the same room. He had quietly slumped over to the desk at the window and was leaning on the sill, staring out at the inky night sky.

Harry walked over to him quietly and decided that it might be best that he introduce himself to the boy. Ginny, catching on, followed him over to the window.

‘Hiya,’ Harry said, watching as Marcus turned to face him, a somber expression still in his eyes. ‘I just wanted introduce myself. I’m-’

‘-Harry Potter,’ Marcus finished for him, holding out his hand and shaking Harry’s.

‘Yes, well I guess everyone knows then,’ Harry said and smiled at the dark haired boy. ‘I didn’t realize that people outside of Britain knew who I was.’

‘All of Durmstrang know because of the Tri-Wizard tournament,’ Marcus said casually.

‘Oh,’ Harry said dumbly, embarrassed that he had assumed his fame had travelled world wide.

‘I’m Ginny Weasley,’ she held out a hand. ‘I’m in your year so we’ll have lessons together. You’ll meet Colin who’s in our year as well soon enough. He’s just showing the first years around.’

‘Nice to meet you,’ he smiled. ‘Call me Marc.’

‘You don’t really seem to want to be here,’ Harry said quietly to the curly haired boy, hoping that he wasn’t being too forward.

‘I don’t. I had to leave my school and friends behind, and now I’ll be sleeping in a room with six strangers. How would you feel?’

Harry didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t thought of that, but decided that he would be absolutely miserable if it was the situation was reversed and he had transferred to Durmstrang.

‘Excuse me, Marc,’ Ron’s voice cut in as he walked toward the three of them, having heard most of their conversation. ‘ I’ve just received a note from Professor McGonagall, our Head of House. She said that since you were a very late admission, the fifth year boys’ dormitory hasn’t yet been enlarged and had the new bunk added in. Since the sixth years only have five you’ll be bunking with us just for tonight, if that’s alright.’

‘Sounds great,’ Marc answered him, trying to smile convincingly.

‘C’mon then, I’ll show you up to our dormitory,’ Harry said, leading the way to the right hand staircase. ‘Oh, and don’t bother trying to go up those ones,’ he pointed in the direction of the girl’s stairs, ‘Just trust me on that.’ Nodding his understanding, Marc followed him up the stairs and decided not to ask how he knew this.

The sixth year boy’s dormitory was identical to the way it always had been with the exception of a sixth four-poster stationed between Harry’s and Dean’s with a shiny black trunk bearing Marc’s name at the foot of it. Once the boys were changed and ready to turn in for the night, the four others walked in, along with Colin Creevey, and did what they could to make their new houseguest feel welcomed.

The boys stayed up and talked for another good hour, mostly about Marc’s old school, and about funny things that had happened at Hogwarts in the past. Marc was warned about the Slytherins, and seemed not to mind that they would most likely taunt him every day like the rest of them. He was also warned about Snape, and agreed with the rest of the boys that Potions was indeed his least favorite lesson. It appeared that Marc was fitting in perfectly and that many of his doubts about the move were fading away as the night carried on.

Eventually, Colin said goodnight and headed down to his dorm and the lights were turned off. Harry pulled the hangings around his bed closed for the night and tried to clear his mind, but found it impossible. He had only been back at Hogwarts for less than four hours and already he was thought to be the heir of Gryffindor, had a new Durmstrang student sleeping in the bed next to him, and found out that his new Defence professor was a woman from one of his nightmares.

Perhaps none of it mattered; he couldn’t possibly be the heir as there were literally hundreds of other students that the Sorting Hat could have meant. He turned his thoughts to the icy blue spheres that were professor Black’s eyes. How could he possibly have dreamed of a person that he had never before met? And how could she be a Black? Was he lied to about Sirius being the last of them? Thoughts raced through his mind as he finally drifted off.

Harry found himself in the outdoors, a short distance from a small slanted building that he recognised as the Burrow. He stepped through the narrow doorframe, but as Harry looked around him, he found that he was not in the kindly self-cleaning kitchen of Mrs. Weasley, but rather standing in the mouth of a particularly cold, dark cave.

He took a deep breath to calm himself and gagged at the sour smell hanging in the air. He turned around, deciding that not being in a dark, ominous cave would be the best way to avoid danger. The opening through which he came was now gone and a solid stone wall was in its place. Having little choice, Harry stepped forward, wand at the ready, so that he could escape at the first opportunity that presented itself.

The walls were cold and wet to the touch as he stuck to the cave’s side, ensuring he wouldn’t get lost. The constant drip of water hit the cave floor as he made his way deeper into, or possibly out of, the stone prison. There was no way to tell. Finally seeing signs of light ahead, Harry began to hurry and only slowed when he saw that the narrow passage opened into a large central cave. He crept quietly toward the edge of the large hollow and saw that the cave roof extended approximately fifty feet above his head. There were also a dozen other passageways similar to his running out of the cave in all directions. He was never going to get out of this stone maze.

‘Is she in place, Wormtail?’ a chilling voice cut through the damp air, making every muscle in Harry’s body tense. A tall, cloaked figure walked into the center of the room, his robes billowing behind him in an unfelt wind.

Harry watched as a filthy, little man scurried forward, trembling under his master’s stare. ‘Y-yes m-master. She’ll be there for as l-long as it t-takes m-master,’ Wormtail’s cowering figure answered the cowled voice above him.

‘Good. I am pleased. Things are finally working in our advantage. It seems that the boy will stand little chance of getting in the way this time. I can sense his worthless mudblood of a mother’s love dying, and soon the protection will vanish altogether.’

Harry leaned against the icy, wet wall, shaking with rage.

‘And soon with that idiot Fudge out of the way, not even that old fool Dumbledore can intervene. I look forward to extinguishing that particular “light.’’

Bubbling over in the most intense anger he’d felt in ages, Harry stepped out of the shadows and thrust his wand toward Voldemort’s figure, channeling all of his rage into his curse and wanting nothing more than to cause this monster pain. ‘CRUCIO!’

He watched in satisfaction as his curse struck the dark wizard but then let his mouth drop open when he only cringed slightly before raising his hand in Harry’s direction and shouted ‘NO!’

Harry watched in silent horror as the bright red curse turned direction and flew back toward him. It struck him in the chest and as before, he felt that burning feeling, like every muscle in his body had been set aflame. He fell to the floor screaming and writhing in pain.

Voldemort laughed from the center of the cave. ‘Nice try Potter, but it’ll take more than the dream of a little boy to stop me!’

Harry opened his eyes with a shuddering gasp and looked up into the light blue and worried eyes of his newest dorm mate.

‘Harry! Are you alright?’ Marc asked frantically from the edge of Harry’s bed.

Harry lay shaking in his bed, still feeling the after effects of the Cruciatus curse, searing every inch of his body. Nothing like that had ever happened before, but now it was clear that the nightmares were back.

‘I’m fine Marc, forget it,’ Harry said in a muffled voice, running a hand across his forehead and pulling it away quickly when he felt the heat emanating from his scar. ‘Go back to bed.’

‘But you were flailing about and shouting! It’s a wonder only I woke up.’

‘I said forget it!’ Harry snapped, swinging his legs out of bed and pulling himself up on one of the posts. ‘It was just a nightmare, alright. Now go to bed, I’ll see you in the morning.’

Harry turned his back on Marc and padded across the dormitory, checking to make sure he had not woken the others before slipping into the toilet and closing the door behind him. Candles high above him flickered on as soon as he entered the room, and cast a warm yellow glow on his surroundings. He took a few calming breaths and splashed several handfuls of cold water onto his face then checked his reflection in the mirror.

He saw the bright red lightning bolt scar on his forehead stare back at him, but something else caught his attention. Tiny flecks of dark green were disappearing into the emerald that usually stood in its place, as though being sucked back. Why had his eyes been dark green? He hadn’t willed the change. Harry decided that this was actually the least of his problems at the moment and that it could be sorted out later.

Voldemort had someone after him as usual, but now he was after Cornelius Fudge and Dumbledore, the one person he had once feared. Harry had to tell the headmaster about the dream as soon as possible, but how could he explain without letting on that he hadn’t been practicing Occlumency. Then there was the tiny detail that he, Harry Potter, had cast the Cruciatus curse, one of the Unforgivables. He couldn’t tell that to the headmaster. No.

Harry took another deep breath and decided to wait a little longer and practice clearing his mind harder before going to Dumbledore. If he had another dream like it, then he would speak to the head of the Order, but not until then.

* * *

The next morning Harry awoke to a silent dormitory.

He pulled the hangings around his bed open and found that they had all just left, each of their beds still unmade. Harry looked at his bedside bureau and saw that it was already half past eight, leaving him only half an hour to eat breakfast and get to his first class. He jumped out of bed and threw on his robes as quickly as he could before running toward the door and down to the common room. It was empty. Everyone had left him behind. Why hadn’t Ron woken him and waited?

He hurried out onto the third floor landing, waving good-morning to the fat lady as he rushed down toward the second floor. ‘Hurry or you’ll be late,’ she warned him.

He ran down the corridors not taking notice of anything around him and almost ran right through the fat friar at the top of the entrance hall staircase. He tried to catch his breath as he strolled through the huge doors into the silent Great Hall and watched as all of the students heads turned to stare at him.

‘Nice of you to join us, Potter,’ Professor McGonagall called from where she was standing at her place at the staff table. ‘Now, as I was saying, you will all be handed your new timetable by the prefects in your house. Be sure not to be late for your first lessons, as the challenge for the House Cup has begun.’

She sat back down and began a conversation with Professor Black, who today Harry saw, wore very expensive looking robes in peacock blue, reminding him very much of Gilderoy Lockhart.

Harry rushed over to the Gryffindor table and plopped down next to Ron, trying his best not to notice the strange looks he was still getting from the other house tables.

‘Why didn’t you wake me?’ he said angrily to Ron, who was busy stuffing a forkful of sausages into his mouth.

‘I didn’t think you’d want me to, mate. I had to get up at a quarter past six to be on time for the prefects’ meeting,’ he told him, glaring pointedly at Hermione who sat across from the boys scanning a sheet of parchment that Harry assumed was her timetable. ‘Besides, I told Dean and Seamus to make enough noise when they left to wake you.’

‘Real thoughtful Ron, thanks,’ Harry said rolling his eyes as Ron continued to stuff his mouth full of whatever he could reach in front of him. ‘Anything good this year, Hermione?’ he asked, and helped himself to a bowl of oatmeal.

‘Well, it’s alright. I mean, it will be difficult, but I have several more courses than you.’

Of course she did. A hand then reached next to Harry’s face and deposited a roll of parchment onto his lap. ‘There you go, Harry,’ Ginny smiled at him then moved on to give Ron his before continuing down the table.

Unrolling the new schedule, Harry sighed at seeing his new course load. Hermione wasn’t kidding; it was going to be a difficult term. This morning he had Charms, followed by double Transfiguration. After lunch he would suffer Potions with Snape and then on to Care of Magical Creatures and Defence Against the Dark Arts. This would be his schedule every Monday and Wednesday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he would start his morning with Herbology and double Potions, once again with the Slytherins he figured, and then lunch. He would continue on with Defence and finally, what was this, Muggle Studies?

‘Since when do I take Muggle Studies?’ Harry said aloud. ‘I was one until I was eleven. I think I’ve perfected it.’

‘I’ve got it too, mate,’ Ron said pointing to his timetable.

‘We’ve all got it,’ Hermione said coolly. ‘It’s a new sixth year requirement. Dumbledore wants everyone to know a little bit about the Muggle world before we leave school.’

‘At least it’ll be an easy Outstanding,’ Ron said. ‘What with everything my dad’s showed me.’ Harry and Hermione exchanged furtive looks and tried their best to not say anything.

‘Fridays look good for you, Harry,’ she said, picking up his schedule and looking it over next to her own, ‘Double Transfiguration, double Defence and Charms. You’re good at all of those.’

‘Yeah. We’ll see,’ Harry said.

‘I’ve got all the same classes as you Harry,’ Hermione added, ‘plus Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, History of Magic, and Astronomy.’

‘What do you need all of that for?’ Ron asked, snatching her schedule out of her hand. ‘Triple Potions, are you insane? What do you need three times the Snape for?’

‘You never know,’ Hermione said casually, ‘I haven’t decided what I want to do yet.’

‘Well, either way, I don’t have to see Snape anymore. I have all of my other lessons with you though Harry, except for double Care of Magical Creatures.’

‘Sounds like we’ll be busy though,’ Harry sighed and finished the last spoonful of oatmeal in his bowl in time to catch the loud screeching from the ceiling.

Post owls came swooping in through an open window at the top of the Great Hall and started to drop parcels and letters onto the laps of the students to whom they were sent. Hermione caught her copy of the Daily Prophet and placed a sickle in the leather pouch bound to the post owl’s leg before unrolling it and starting to read. She laid the paper down quickly for everyone to read an article on the second page titled Break-in at the Ministry.

This morning when the security guards entered the fourth station office in the records department, they were baffled to find that the door had been opened and the files room in disarray. While it has been ascertained that only one file was missing, this reporter was not able to determine which one. It appears that the intruder knew exactly what it was that they wanted but were unable to locate it, tearing apart the entire filing system in their mission to find it. No one was injured during the incident and the department of magical information sharing promises to keep us updated.
- Newly returned reporter for the Daily Prophet, Rita Skeeter.

‘What are you going to do Hermione?’ Ron asked at spotting the author of the article.

‘About what?’ she asked simply.

‘About Skeeter? She’s not supposed to be writing, she promised! Are you going to tell the Ministry that she’s an illegal animagus?’

‘I’m afraid I can’t Ron. Our deal was up in June. She promised not to write for one year and she stuck to it. I’ll have to do the same. For now,’ she added with a hint of a smirk. She flipped through the other pages of the Prophet quickly and huffed loudly when she reached the back.

‘What’s the problem?’ Harry asked, fully aware that she would continue to huff loudly until someone did.

‘The problem is that it has been two months since Fudge saw Voldemort-’ several students around her cringed when they heard her, ‘-at the Ministry of Magic, and still there has been no announcement or public warning to the magical world since the initial announcement. Granted it was a severe warning, there has been no news since then. How can they protect themselves if they don’t know what’s out there? It’s as though Fudge hopes they’ll all forget what they told them two months ago.’

Harry sighed. He had managed for two months not to speak of Voldemort to anyone, but Hermione was right. Ignoring this problem would not solve it. ‘What are we supposed to do about it?’ he asked. ‘The Order are trying their best to find out what he’s planning but he seems to have dropped off the maps again, no movement at all.’

‘That could mean he’s planning something big Harry, and everyone will be defenseless because they don’t know,’ she said angrily, throwing the paper down and stalking up to the staff table.

They watched as she walked up to Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore and spoke to them quietly. Seconds later McGonagall stood up, thin-lipped and white-faced, and pulled her into the antechamber behind the staff table.

‘That would be Hermione,’ Harry said across Neville, where Marc was sitting, staring after her like she had two heads.

‘She does this sort of thing all the time,’ Ron added, not taking his eyes off of his food.

‘Yeah, she introduced herself to me this morning when we first walked in. Seems like an interesting girl.’

The first warning bell rang and a loud buzz and clatter rose as the students gathered their things for the first lesson of the day and the Great Hall started to clear out. Harry and Ron started to make their way out of the hall, assuming that Hermione would meet them there when she was done attacking Professor McGonagall. They had reached the second floor landing before Neville strolled up beside them and jokingly thanked them for waiting.

‘Sorry Nev, I didn’t realize you were taking Advanced Charms,’ Ron said to him, trying his best not to imply that he couldn’t.

‘I only scored an Acceptable on my O.W.L. but Professor Flitwick said that if I made an effort to do better, he would be more than happy to allow me into his class. I’ll have to do some study hall sessions as well.’

‘That’s great,’ Harry said to him and they snuck in behind the giant mirror on the second floor to cut off about five minutes.

Upon entering the Charms classroom, Harry was surprised to see Parvati Patil and her twin sister Padma sitting next to one another in front of Ernie MacMillan. Looking to the back he understood why there was a Gryffindor sitting next to a Ravenclaw in front of Hufflepuff, when he noticed Malfoy sitting next to Pansy Parkinson. All four houses were present.

Harry took a seat next to Ron and Neville, and Hermione came rushing into the room to sit in front of him as the second bell rang, signalling the start of lesson.

‘As you will have noticed,’ Professor Flitwick’s high voice squeaked from his place atop a pile of textbooks next his desk, ‘we have all four houses together for this lesson. As it is your sixth year and there are fewer of you moving forward in Charms, it only seemed appropriate. Now today we will be reviewing our O.W.L. charms briefly before going over our first term schedule.’

Harry partnered with Hermione, and Ron with Neville, while they practiced their old summoning and banishing charms. Halfway through the lesson a large pillow whipped across the room and smacked Neville square in the face so hard that he was knocked backward onto the floor. Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson were laughing hysterically from their spot at the back of the room, having obviously sent the projectile.

‘Maybe next time you won’t forget to look at what you’re doing, imbecile!’ Malfoy called at him. Professor Flitwick had not noticed the disturbance, as he was busy helping Ernie pick up a pile of books that Hannah Abbot had just knocked to the floor by reducing their shelves to matchsticks.

Ron and Harry both pointed their wands at Malfoy but before they could hex him, Neville was back on his feet with two small pillows in his hands. He quickly banished them toward the Slytherins and cried ‘Engorgio’ so that the pillows grew to ten times their regular size as they sailed across the room, knocking both Malfoy and Pansy off their feet. The whole classroom roared with laughter as they pointed at the pair struggling to get up from underneath the enormous pillows.

‘How foolish,’ Neville said quietly before turning back to a shocked Ron and resuming his practice.

By the end of the lesson, Harry felt as though he had wasted the last hour on things that he could do perfectly. The bell sounded and the four Gryffindor friends walked down the third floor corridor, passing the humpbacked witch and laughing about what had happened in their first Charms lesson.

‘That was amazing Charms work, Neville,’ Hermione told him, beaming at the usually fumbling boy who could no sooner fly to the moon than cast a double charm.

‘It was nothing,’ Neville said blushing and shrugging his shoulders. ‘Besides, I’ve been dying to do that for ages.’

The four of them walked into the transfiguration classroom on the second floor and saw that once again they would be sharing their lesson with the other three houses. It seemed that of the four houses, only Gryffindor would be having every one of it’s sixth years in Advanced Transfiguration, something that definitely did not go unnoticed by their Head of House.

Like professor Flitwick, McGonagall spent the first half of the double period going over the previous year’s techniques and then lecturing the group on the importance of their upcoming N.E.W.T’s. Ron groaned, mumbling that they weren’t for nearly two years and that only Hermione really cared.

‘That will be five points from Gryffindor, Mr. Weasley, and I suggest that you sit up straight and pay attention as we will be practicing these spells in a moment.’ Ron’s ears turned pink as McGonagall continued and the rest of the sixth years turned their heads to either stare or smirk at him.

The practice turned out to be a very good idea, as when it came to turning their goblets into animals, only three students other than Hermione managed to perfect it and raise their hands upon successful completion.

‘Very good Ms. Granger,’ she said over her spectacles at the furry white rabbit scurrying across the desk top. ‘Five points to Gryffindor. You too, Potter. Do catch that turtle before it falls off the desk. Ah very nice, Mr. McMillan, five points to Hufflepuff. Now before you leave I will ask you to read pages- what is it, Longbottom?’

Neville still had his hand stretched into the air, ‘Professor, you haven’t checked mine.’

‘I told the class only the completed ones should raise their hands to-’ she stopped speaking upon seeing the little lion cub sitting to Neville’s right, purring loudly as he stroked it’s head.

For a moment she said nothing and just stared at the feline in wonder. ‘Exceptional, Mr. Longbottom,’ she said recovering, and returning to her normal tone. ‘Ten points to Gryffindor.’

Harry had never seen Neville look more proud or embarrassed since he met him. She gave them all a ten inch essay to be written on the importance of Transfiguration in the present climate to be handed in the following Monday, and then the end of lesson bell rang and Harry heard the scrapes of chairs above them as all the other classrooms were let out for lunch as well.

Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville all walked down to lunch, and the boys discussed what new things they would be learning in that class. Harry noticed Hermione watching Neville strangely, as though she wanted to ask him something, but kept quiet. Ron was going on about metamorphmagi when they ran into Ginny and Marc, who were just coming in the doors from their first Care of Magical Creatures lesson.

‘I really like Professor Weasley,’ Marc started. ‘He knows so much about magical creatures! He told us that he works with dragons in Romania, is that true?’ he asked, looking at Ron.

‘Yeah, for years now. Absolutely loves it! I can’t wait for his class later, it should be great!’ he said, reaching across the table for some scalloped potatoes and a heap of macaroni.

‘How are you liking Hogwarts lessons, Marc?’ Hermione asked and smiled encouragingly.

‘They’re alright so far. I’ve only had Care of Magical Creatures and History of Magic, and I can tell you which I prefer.’

Harry and Ron rolled their eyes and grumbled loudly at the thought of Professor Binns’ droning about any and every boring fact in magical history.

‘Well, have fun with Snape you two,’ Ron said as they were finishing up their lunch and starting to collect their bags once more. ‘ I’m off to double lessons with Charlie. See you there in an hour.’

Hermione led the way toward the dungeon stairway. The temperature dropped instantly and drastically as the pair walked down the cold stone steps and into the torch-lit corridor beneath the entrance hall. The hangings and portraits adorning the walls were all somber and depressing as they passed them, until of course they reached one that simply did not fit in.

‘Hold it, scallywags! You will not intrude on my corridor!’ The loud noise of clanking metal and clicking hooves approached as the image of Sir Cadogan galloped from frame to frame to keep up with Harry and Hermione, brandishing a sword all the while. The inhabitants of all the other portraits either scowled and made rude gestures at him, or continued to sleep on peacefully as the over-zealous knight rampaged through the dark hall.

‘Give it a rest,’ Hermione called to him as they continued to their Potions classroom, his loud mumblings growing fainter as they walked on.

Upon entering the classroom, Harry was surprised to find that although all four houses were once again together, there were only thirteen students, including he and Hermione. They took a seat near Parvati, Lavender and Dean, waving over at Ernie and Hannah, who unfortunately got stuck with the seats in front of Malfoy and Pansy, luckily the only two Slytherins. Four Ravenclaw girls sat behind Dean and Lavender, leaving Parvati without a partner.

Harry, realizing that Snape would most certainly do everything in his power to punish him and ensure that he received zero marks for the day, instructed Hermione to partner up with her for her own good. She argued but finally conceded and sat down next to a very grateful Parvati just as the office door at the front of the room burst open and Snape came whipping out, his black robes whirling around him with the usual start of term fanfare. His eyes scanned the room quickly and Harry noticed a registered look of surprise for a moment before they turned back to their regular dark glare and fell upon him.

‘As I told you all last year, I only accept the few students that receive Outstandings on their O.W.L.’s resulting in a much more refined and efficient class. The few of you that managed to get here on merit,’ he glared pointedly in Harry’s direction before continuing, ‘will have a very difficult first term and even harder second term. Those of us who are here for other reasons will find that even one assignment below the grade of Exceeds Expectations will have you out of this classroom forever.’

He glanced toward Harry once more.

‘Now, unlike some of your other lessons, we do not have the time to waste on reviewing last year’s curriculum. If you are not able to keep up with what you have already learned, I do not see how you will be able to function in this class.’

The Ravenclaw girls at the back of the room looked extremely downhearted as they listened to Snape’s opening speech and one of them looked ready to walk out.

‘Today we will be brewing a strengthening potion. It was commonly used hundreds of years ago by wizards before going into battle against trolls and other such creatures. Today it is bottled and used widely for growth effects in plants and animals, as well as in healing. It is an extremely complicated procedure that requires impeccable timing. It is made easier by brewing with a partner and ensuring that one can be stirring while the other prepares and adds the correct ingredients.’

He smirked at Harry, who of course did not have a partner. ‘For anyone without a partner, I suggest you work quickly.’

Malfoy and Pansy snickered loudly at the back of the room, and Hermione gave Harry a sympathetic look. A knock at the door had the entire room turn their heads to see who would be interrupting one of Snape’s lessons.

‘Come in,’ Snape snapped from his place in front of the blackboard, narrowing his eyes at the doorway. The door creaked open and Neville walked in with his schoolbag over one shoulder and a cauldron in his arms.

‘Sorry to interrupt, Professor,’ he started nervously, ‘but-’

‘Who have you come to collect, Longbottom?’ Snape cut him off coldly, speeding up the interruption in his routine.

‘Actually, sir, I’ve come to join the class.’

‘Surely not, Longbottom,’ Snape said laughing openly at the suggestion. ‘Your O.W.L. disqualifies you.’

‘Yes, sir, but I have a note from the Headmaster,’ Neville said quietly, avoiding eye-contact while handing forward a neatly folded piece of parchment.

The snide look on Snape’s face vanished as he stormed toward Neville and ripped the note from his hand. The entire class watched as line by line, Snape’s face hardened and his eyes grew darker, until finally he set the note down on his desk and looked at the blackboard.

‘The instructions are on the board, you have one hour.’

Neville walked to the front of the room and took the empty seat next to Harry, who just shook his head in wonder. He hadn’t quite figured this new Neville out yet. He was still quiet, polite and even a touch nervous, but there was something new, different, that he couldn’t put his finger on.

‘Why do you want this class, Neville? I thought you were thrilled to be rid of Snape. Besides, anything less than Exceeds Expectations and we’re both out.’

‘Don’t worry, we’ll manage. And I need this course to become an Auror.’ Harry’s eyes widened as he stared at the boy next to him, starting to count out frog’s eyes and Screwt ears for chopping. He had never thought that Neville would want to be an Auror. In fact, he’d be the last person he would choose to hunt dark wizards. But there was his answer; this change in his friend was a quiet determination that hadn’t been there before. He wondered what had prompted it.

Harry turned his attention to the blackboard and started to read the instructions to the very complicated brew. Halfway down he noticed something that made him smile. The unthinkable had happened; Snape had made a mistake. He flipped through his textbook to make certain before raising his hand and waiting to be called on.

‘What is it Potter? Manage to destroy your potion already? That will be an instant zero for the day-’

He took a deep breath and hoped he didn’t get a month’s detention for this. ‘Actually sir, I just wanted to point out an error in the instructions.’

The whole class stopped what they were doing to stare at Harry, who had just told professor Snape that he had made an error. Snape stared at him blandly for a moment before standing and walking over to his and Neville’s station.

‘You think you can find an error in my brew when you’ve proven that you can barely cut ingredients properly?’ he spat scathingly.

‘I just thought that the beetle wings might not have the desired effect. I remembered the ingredient index in our text stating specifically that scarab wings are required for strength potions. I could be wrong though ...’ he trailed off.

Snape’s eyes widened momentarily then narrowed again. He flicked his wand to erect the mistake on the board and turned on Harry once more.

‘That will be five points from Gryffindor for the interruption and five more for your arrogance.’ Snape was aware of all the students’ gazes on him, and appeared to Harry to be just barely containing his rage. ‘You will all write a three foot essay on the brewing and effects of the strengthening potion to be handed in on Wednesday. You can all thank Potter for cutting class short today. Class is dismissed, but Potter, stay where you are.’

The class gathered their things quickly and left the room faster than Harry had ever seen. Hermione looked back over her shoulder and mouthed ‘We’ll wait outside’ before disappearing through the doorway behind Neville.

Harry and Snape sat in silence for the next few moments before Harry decided to speak.

‘Will I be serving detention with you or Filch, then?’

‘You will not be serving detention, but I will be watching you,’ he ground out. ‘I am not sure how you what you did, but I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. And remember, Potter, one grade below my standards and you’re gone. Now get out of my sight.’

Snape turned around and walked back to his office, slamming the door behind him as he went and not bothering to see Harry out. Harry grinned to himself as he left the classroom.

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