"Aloe*," said someone sounding a great deal like her friend Harry Potter.
The second voice though, she wasn't entirely sure she could place.
"Okay, fine. Atropine; are you happy now?"
"Belladonna," was the only response.
"Okay, okay. Fine. Calatropin!"
"Ooo, have you been practicing?"
"Maybe I should ask you the same thing," the mostly unknown voice replied.
Tired of guessing, Hermione decided to enter the train carriage and determine the speakers' identities for herself.
What met her eyes was a sight that she was not at all expecting to see.
"Foxglove," Blaise Zabini said with a smirk towards Harry.
"Wimp," Harry threw back, flipping him off as he spoke.
Zabini's presence was completely unexpected. The fact that they were conversing in a friendly banter towards one another was likewise mind blowing, but the true kick in the stomach was the sight of her best friend and how different he seemed after the summer following their 4th year.
"Harry?" She squeaked in surprise.
And therein was the next surprise; he barely spared her a glance before replying back to the Slytherin 5th year sitting across from him.
"Gelsemium sempervirens," he said with a cocky smile.
"A bit far reaching, don't you think?" Blaise asked with a scowl.
Harry just waved his hands at Blaise to get on with it.
"Hemlock," Blaise said with a sniff of distaste.
"Wrong category!" Harry said with a growl.
Harry looked quite frightful, actually. It was the growl that made her shiver and take a step back involuntarily.
"Just checking," Blaise said, laughing. "Jalap instead, okay?"
Harry's hair was long and unkempt, and there were dark circles under his eyes.
"Kava kava," was the only reply.
His nose was bent a bit oddly, leading her to wonder how many times it had been broken in the past three months.
"Must you always be so difficult?" Blaise asked with a scowl and a barely noticeable roll of his eyes.
And when Harry finally turned and acknowledged her presence, she nearly gasped aloud at the dark red, jagged edged scar running down the left side of his face.
"What happened to you Harry?" She exclaimed.
"Why are you still here?" He replied coldly.
"What are you talking about Harry?"
"Don't you have somewhere more important to be?"
"Like a prefect's meeting perhaps," Blaise offered coolly, looking at her with appraising eyes.
"I – I just wanted to let you know where I'd be," she stammered under the assault of both glaring sets of eyes.
"And abruptly you care," Harry said with a snort.
"Of course I care! Harry, what's wrong? You can tell me!"
"Dumb bint!" Blaise said, standing up with his wand pointed at her.
"Harry! Are you going to let him get away with this?" She exclaimed, looking past the wand in her face.
"Yes," he said, raising an eyebrow.
"Get out, or get hexed. Make your decision," the Slytherin glowered menacingly at her.
"I don't know what's wrong, but I have to go now." She said lamely, backing out of their space quickly.
As she made her way to her meeting, she thought through her actions for the past three months, trying to determine where she had gone wrong.
"Stupid bitch," Blaise muttered, after warding their door against other unwanted creatures.
"Gryffindors," Harry spat.
"You going to ask to get resorted?"
"Haven't decided; maybe, but probably not right now."
They both fell silent, thinking about the changes that had occurred for both of them over the past summer.
It had been in the second to last month of school before the summer break that they had begun a tentative—and extremely secret—friendship. Blaise had been walking back to his dorm after an exhaustive library study session when he had heard a sound coming from one of the unused classrooms there in the dungeons.
Naturally inquisitive, yet cautious like most Slytherins, he had decided to investigate only after putting a silencing spell on himself.
What he had found had been one very upset, distraught and overwhelmed Gryffindor by the name of Harry Potter. Blaise had found himself staring in surprise at the other boy for longer than he had intended, who was demolishing what was left of the furniture through sheer physical force.
Harry's hands were bleeding by the time Blaise had walked in, and they had later discovered that he had four broken bones as well.
"What do you want?" Harry had growled out at Blaise, kicking a half mangled chair at him as he spoke.
Blaise had been forced to jump out of the way, but he hadn't retaliated. Instead he had taken a much closer look at the fabled "Gryffindor Golden Boy." The other boy had been very pale and trembling, and there were tear tracks on his cheeks that he wasn't bothering to wipe away, even with knowing that Blaise was in the room.
"Geez, what happened to you Potter?"
"Everything," Harry had replied; throwing a half-hearted punch into the desk that was sitting between them.
"Want me to get someone?" He had whispered; his surprise slowly morphing into worry.
"There's no one to get," Harry had told him with a sharp-eyed look.
And so it had gone. In the end, Blaise had stayed up most of the night with the other boy; a time during which they had talked—just talked. A lot of surprising things had come out for both boys, and in the coming days, their relationship had become one of shared secret pain; the kind of pain that "normal" folks just didn't understand, because they simply lacked the contextual knowledge to understand.
Blaise had suggested going to his head of house for help, but as Harry had pointed out—with no little exaggeration—that Professor Snape would never listen to anything about Harry Potter until he could somehow change the relationship between them. Thus, Blaise had decided to teach Harry everything he knew about potions, in hopes that his new friend could find peace from the dark demons of his past and present that were threatening to do him in.
Blaise's own history was not a pleasant one either, but as much as Blaise despised the people who had hurt him so much, he only felt more so about the people that Harry had been forced to put up with all of his life.
"People think your life is so perfect," he had pointed out one day during the last weeks of school. It was a time in which most of the so-called "champions" were focused on the third task, but for one small Gryffindor boy, he knew that the third task was only a small raindrop in the storm that was about to fall once the school year ended.
"They don't look past their own noses," Harry had replied glumly, while staring silently at the old scars littering the expanse of his hands and arms. As he had explained to Blaise, most of them were defensive scars. "They don't bother to ask, to see what's really going on."
"They don't want to see," Blaise had offered.
"After all," Harry had continued in a much more snide tone, "fuckin' Dumbledore has taken care of everything; so the boy wonder couldn't possibly be safer." The other boy had made an angry face. "I've seen what the Dark Lord does to prisoners, thanks to these damned visions. If I were his prisoner, I would get better treatment than I do at my so-called fucking home," he had said, spitting out the word home with almost as much distaste as Professor Snape did when saying the word, "Potter."
Blaise focused his mind back on the present and looked at Harry thoughtfully. The other boy certainly did look worse for wear. He was glad that it had only been the Granger girl who had bothered them, and not that walking asshole Weasley boy. He might have been forced to actually commit some acts of violence before they had even gotten to Hogwarts.
He'd had to admit to himself that it wasn't an entirely unpleasant thought.
"You're grinning," Harry pointed out.
"Is that a bad thing?"
"Just a little frightening," Harry said with a shrug.
"Can you imagine what it would be like if Professor Snape smiled?"
"His face would probably break," Harry pointed out.
"It'd signify the apocalypse," Blaise said with a snort.
"As one, small children would cry all around the world," Harry said, his expression lightening up a bit at their ridiculous banter.
"That and the Hufflepuffs."
"Probably the Gryffindors would try and laugh, thinking he was agreeing with them," Harry said, smiling a bitter smile at the image.
"How's your article going?" Blaise asked suddenly in an effort to break up the other boy's train of thought.
"Hmm? Oh, it's all right, I suppose. Thanks for those journals you sent with Hedwig, by the way. They revealed some interesting . . . ideas," the smaller boy said with a distant look in his eyes.
Inwardly, Blaise smiled. Harry wasn't writing an article at all, but he was doing research—of a kind. They had decided through multiple correspondences that summer that since the chance at being spied on or overheard was so high, they needed to develop their own lexicon for discussing their more sensitive topics. Harry's "article" as Blaise had referred to it was actually a reference to Harry's study of their potions master, and what sorts of things it would take to fix the relationship between him and Harry.
The reasoning was fairly simply really. Professor Snape was the only one who had never fucked Harry over. He had not lied to him either. Certainly it was true that the man's bedside manner left something to be desired, but in the grand scheme of things, their professor's behavior was much preferable in comparison with say, Harry's uncle, or the latest trophy husband of his mother's.
It had all started with a stray thought about finding some kind of adult that they could both potentially trust with details about their respective home lives. Harry knew that Blaise had only mentioned his head of house because he personally trusted the man; not because he thought the man would actually do anything to help a Gryffindor, especially Harry, if it at all possible. However, the thought had caught root in the desperate soil of Harry's brain during the course of those past horrid months, before ultimately culminating in the beginnings of an actual plot to actually try and enlist the man's help.
Furthermore, the thought had evolved into a quasi-fantasy where he actually was able to live with the man instead of the Dursleys. The thought, while initially somewhat repugnant during the school year, had gain acceptability over the summer as Harry was—forcibly—reminded why he hated the Dursleys so very much.
And he did; he hated them so, so, very much.
Thus the ultimate question arose in his mind: What would his life be like if he lived with Professor Snape instead of his uncle?
Well, for starters, the professor would never starve him. He would never beat him into unconsciousness, or demand lewd acts of payment in return for the basic necessities of life—like the right to use the toilet. Unconsciously, Harry ran his fingers over the small scars that ran up and down his arms. One particular set was new as of the past summer, and the memories associated with them were almost enough to make his mind shut down in horror.
He wondered if it should bother him more that his mind was retreating from the present more and more, thanks to the recent events of his life. It sickened him to realize that those events, those actions, were nothing more than torture at the hands of his demented muggle relatives. He, a fifteen year old boy, had been tortured by his only living relatives.
And for what?
It was a hatred borne somewhat out of fear; the fear of the unknown, but mostly he was tortured because he was not like them, and because of his parents, he would never be like them.
Not that he wanted to be, anyways, he thought with no small amount of angry resentment.
"Revenge?" Blaise asked him, his voice cutting through his brooding far easier than should have been possible.
"Not before the main course," he answered mildly, playing along with the banter, if not really truly feeling it.
Blaise snorted his response at him, before asking him a question.
"What's first on the menu?"
"What about your friends?"
"They didn't care how I was this summer, even though I've repeatedly tried to emphasize how bad it gets for me. As far as I'm concerned, you are my only friend."
"You're braver than I," Blaise admitted quietly. "Must be that damned Gryffindor mentality coming through."
Harry felt a pained expression constrict his face at the other boy's words.
"I'm not any braver," he argued dully. "Just more desperate."
Harry climbed down from the train that evening with a glower to equal Professor Snape's. He wasn't going to pretend to like people anymore just to be nice. He wasn't going to play their bullshit games, and he certainly wasn't going to take any flak from anyone about anything that year; well, save for Professor Snape perhaps.
The massive group of people parted before him and as always, whispers followed him as he made his way to the carriages.
"Well well, if it isn't little Potty Potter," drawled a voice to his left. He had spotted Malfoy shortly after exiting and he already had his response ready for the dolt's insults.
"Draco!" He cried out, a large and unstable looking grin on his face.
The motion of bodies around him stopped in their tracks and quickly backed away from them both.
He walked forwards quickly and grabbed the blond haired boy in a near bone crunching hug, maneuvering his "gift" into the other boy's pocket with surprising ease.
"What the fuck!" Draco bit out before pushing him away forcefully.
"I missed you!" Harry said with that same idiotic and worrisome grin still plastered on his face.
"If you ever do that again Potter, I swear you'll be eating with your feet for the rest of your life!" The boy yelled at him, his normally pale cheeks turning pink as the surrounding crowd began giggling nervously.
"Don't tease me with the thought Draco!" Harry warned, before throwing up an invisible shield and walking hastily away. Surprisingly, or not considering his victim was a Slytherin, no attack came, but Harry knew better than to let his guard down.
After finally arriving at his table in the Great Hall, he sat down at the farthest end from his so-called friends, with his back to the wall. He eyed the other three tables in front of him thoughtfully, while keeping his peripheral vision tuned to the Gryffindor table itself.
The table filled in around him, although few seemed to be willing to actually sit next to him. He realized that Hermione must have said something to Ron, because the boy barely spared him a glance as he headed to sit down at the far end of the long oak table.
He found that he didn't really care all that much. The fewer interactions he had that year equaled less opportunity for being hurt. He looked thoughtfully at the still empty plates sitting around him. It seemed unlikely that he would be able to each much that first evening back—especially with so many people around him.
His interactions that summer had been limited to very few face to face meetings with actual flesh and blood people. If not for his correspondences with Blaise over the past few months, he likely would have gone mad. He wondered if he should bother telling the other boy what an impact his words had had on him over the last few months.
Knowing Blaise, it was likely that he already knew; Blaise was a Slytherin, and therefore picked up on the smaller details of life—unlike some, he thought with a growl. He knew that he wasn't just stereotyping him because of his house affiliation. Blaise really was aware of the world around him, unlike many of those in the other houses.
Then again, he thought with a small grimace, he's had to learn to keep his eyes and ears open lest unpleasantness occur in that so-called home of his.
Yes, he and Blaise were far more alike than anyone would have ever dared presume. Harry still found it difficult to understand how Blaise had come to trust Professor Snape so very implicitly, but had not yet found an opportunity to ask without coming across as unfeeling.
They both had little reason to trust the adult males that presided over their lives; for Harry, that trust had been forever shattered the summer before he had left for Hogwarts. His uncle had wanted to make an impression on him that he would never forget—and true to the bastard's intentions, he had not. To make matters worse, it had been a pattern of behavior that had only been reinforced every following summer after that.
But hands down, the worst so far was this past one, Harry thought, his stomach gurgling in a queasy manner. I should just get out of here.
And he would have too, if not for the "gift" that he had deposited in Malfoy's pocket, compliments of his increasingly advanced knowledge of potions and their ingredients following that intense summer long study session he had had via mail with Blaise.
It was a magical ingredient that reacted best to direct heat—like body heat for example. Harry knew that a little heat and a little moisture would go a long way towards the ultimate goal of reminding himself why he still lived. After all, if one couldn't laugh at the misfortunes of others—particularly those that one had had a direct hand in—then what was the point of anything at all, really?
Fucking Voldemort and Dumbledore can have their tea parties for all I give a shit, he thought, unaware that his face had turned particularly murderous in the past few moments. Luckily for him, few had noticed, given that the Sorting was still going on. In any case, it would not have mattered much to him either way whether or not he was frightening the other students.
If the question had been posed, he would have merely snorted and said that the other students deserved to be woken up from their happy and innocent moods. Why should they be happy when he could not be?
However, for all that he might grump or grouch about being happy, he really did long to know what it was like to comfortably be part of something without always being on the lookout for danger or pain. He wanted to know what it felt like to be able to trust in the motives of those sitting around him; as well as those who were supposed to be the guardians protecting him.
Unfortunately, he felt that his was a time long past such inane dreams. If he was to survive the next year, there could only be one person that he could ultimately trust beyond a wish or a hope. Hope was for the weak; determination was for the survivors.
And as he was wont towards thinking as of lately, all others could kiss his pale skinny little arse.
It happened just as the meal was ending and they were preparing to head to their dorms for the evening—an act that Harry was not looking forwards to.
He heard a sound from the Slytherin table, and then he saw a blond head jerk sideways as though trying to remove himself from an unpleasant situation. Dumbledore, in his infinite wisdom, did not say anything, but instead went ahead and dismissed the room to their beds for the evening. Harry got up slowly, not really watching, but just listening vaguely to the sounds emanating from the other side of the room.
He knew that the seed would have sprouted by now, turning Draco Malfoy's fine robes into its own breeding ground for the typically quick growing vines it sported. Malfoy had probably tried to stand up or move, only to discover that he was literally rooted to his spot on the wooden bench he had perched so elegantly on at the start of the Sorting.
Harry kept his face neutral as he left the Great Hall, but he did not fail to miss the outraged look on Malfoy's face—nor the slightly bemused look on Blaise's at watching his plight occur and erm, branch out, as it were.
The quiet and unvoiced amusement coming from his inner self would hopefully be enough to see him through the rest of that evening without killing anyone.
And then once he was past that point, he would set about making it to—and through—the next day.
"Hey Harry!" A voice called out to him as he made his way up the staircase leading towards the Gryffindor tower.
He turned slightly, his hand already on his wand, and found himself face to face with Ginny Weasley.
"What happened to your glasses?" She asked, throwing him off with her disregard for everything else that had changed for him over the summer.
"Ah, a friend helped me by brewing a Clarifying Sight potion for me over the summer."
"Wow, that's gotta be a great friend! Do I know them? Are they single?"
He blinked at the flurry of questions, and tried not to trip as they finally made their way off the stairs.
"He's in my year," he finally answered. "But I don't know if you know him or not, as he isn't in our House."
They walked a bit farther down the hall before Ginny said anything more to him. This time, as she spoke, Harry could sense a definite shift in directions from just the look on her face as she started into it.
"I want to apologize for my brother Harry," was the unexpected comment.
He raised an eyebrow at her invitation to say more.
"And for myself as well; he wouldn't let me write you this summer, even though I really was very worried about you."
Something wavered in Harry's clenched heart at her words.
"You were?" He heard himself say without any forethought about how pitiful he must have seemed.
"Well yeah; anyone with half a brain would be after hearing what those fuckers have been like to you in the past."
Suddenly Harry found that he had missed Ginny's honest bluntness almost as much as the girl herself. It had hurt him deeply when Ron and Hermione had rebuffed his attempts at maintaining contact that summer, but it had hurt almost as much to think that Ginny had agreed with them.
"Thanks," was his quiet reply.
When she looked at him oddly, he felt inclined to help her understand why exactly.
"For listening to me, among other things," he said by way of explanation.
"Well, you are very nearly a Weasley," she said, her face crumpling a bit as she thought about what she had said.
"Provided that you'd still want to be after the way we were these past few months."
"If the offer's still open, I'd like that very much," he said, feeling his throat constrict with his admission.
"You have to remember that Ron isn't the most important one in the family. He's not even the loudest," she said with a quiet giggle.
Harry smirked a bit at that.
"Mom and Dad have been worried too, but Dumbledore kept saying you were fine, you were fine, and not to interfere."
Dumbledore—that bastard, he thought with a wild roar in his head as he processed what she had said.
"Harry, you okay?"
"No," he whispered, his eyes distantly focused on a point just past her left shoulder. They had stopped in the hallway just a little ways from the Fat Lady's portrait.
"Can I do anything?"
He blinked and shook his head, trying to clear his mind from the terrible images that had begun rushing past his mind's eye ever since she had mentioned the name of their headmaster.
"I'm sorry then Harry," she said, misunderstanding his head shake to say that she couldn't help him.
Well she can't, so maybe her interpretation is okay.
"Thanks for asking though," he tried to smile at her, but he could tell from the continued look of worry in her expression that he must have done a piss poor job at it.
Little surprise there, he thought with an angry clench of his fists that were luckily hidden behind his back.
"Do you know the password?" He asked her then, breaking up their dour mood with something of a more immediate concern.
"Mystical Mushrooms," she said in response to him, but while looking at the Fat Lady in her portrait frame as well.
"Maybe Neville will be able to remember that one then," Harry said with an approving nod.
"That's why I suggested it," she said with an impish grin as they climbed in through the portrait opening.
"Smart girl," he muttered at her just under his breath as they stepped in a room already nearly full.
"I can understand why you might not want to hang around," she said to him as she left to go to her own dorm room.
He nodded to her as she passed and headed to his bed as well. Perhaps if he went to bed early that night, he might actually get some sleep before having to fight anyone.
He ignored the other fifth years that were all sitting around the fire next to the other upper levels of the Gryffindor House. He ignored their looks of disdain towards him and kept walking until he had reached his—their—room.
He sighed as he closed the door behind him and walked into the silence before him.
It was going to be a long night, but really, was that all that unusual?
"It isn't," he muttered despondently to himself as he went to go check his bed for curses.