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Return To Prince Manor

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A/N: This is the long-awaited sequel to my novel Heir to Prince Manor! I hope it's worth the wait!

Please read or skim that first or else you will be totally lost, thanks!

Also includes an OC by Lady Julie Snape-Philip Anthony Snape, who will be an important supporting character in this story.

And now, welcome to the world of Prince Manor!

Return to Prince Manor

1

Dark Guardian

Hogwarts Express

Sept. 1st, 1994

"After the Malfoys were arrested for the first time, the Ministry sent Draco to an orphanage," Harry told a rapt Hermione and Ron, who wore expressions of shock and disbelief on their faces. He cast a quick glance at the top of Hedwig's cage, where Smidgen, a dreamweaver shimmerling, was curled up asleep. Only Harry could see through the glamour the fae winged cat had placed upon herself, for Harry was the Heir to Prince Manor and in him ran the blood of the fae.

He continued telling his best friends Draco's story over pumpkin juice, butterbeer, pumpkin pasties, and Cauldron Cakes.

"And then my dad made Draco his ward because he was his godfather and Draco needed a guardian so they wouldn't put him in foster care or whatever." Harry explained. He went on to detail how Draco and he had fought like cats and dogs in the beginning, despite Severus's warnings.

"Can't say I blame you one bit, mate," Ron sad sympathetically. "I mean, it's Malfoy."

"I would have agreed with you one hundred percent a few months ago, Ron. But that was before I started talking with Draco and stopped fighting with him. I know sometimes he can be a major pain in the arse, but he's not a Death Eater. His dad is, but he's not."

"We know that, Harry, said Hermione calmly, putting a hand on his arm. "We read the coverage of the trial and the way Malfoy . . .Draco . . .rejected his parents and their ways and chose to follow Professor Snape's example."

"Yeah, the twins were there and so was my dad. They told me all about it," Ron admitted. "It's just . . .it seems so weird, thinking of Malfoy as a good guy. I mean, he was such an arse to us in school, you know?"

"I know, Ron. But we all wear masks and sometimes you've got to look beyond them. I know you all thought my dad was a real nasty bugger, but over half of that was a mask to cover his actions as a spy. I learned that over the summer, like I told you. Draco was forced into acting like Lucius's version of a pureblood was supposed to act, but he doesn't really hate Muggleborns," Harry stressed, looking earnestly at Hermione. He hoped the girl was taking what he said to heart and also that his clumsy attempts at getting her to see a different side of Draco weren't going to screw things up even more.

"Are you sure about that, Harry?" Hermione asked, doubt creeping into her voice.

"Yes," Harry said firmly. "Now that he doesn't have to pretend anymore, you'll see a different side of Draco."

"Good. It's about time he started to grow up and quit acting like a bigot," said Hermione, then she turned to pet her new owl, Athena.

"Humph. I'll believe when I see it." Ron snorted.

"Fair enough. All I'm asking is that you give Draco the benefit of the doubt. And don't hold it against me if I happen to defend him once in awhile. After all, he ismy brother. I know he can be a pain-in-the-arse, but we saved each other's bums a few times over the summer, so cut us some slack. You don't have to be like best mates or anything, just don't badmouth him, all right? He'll be getting enough of that from members of his own House that think he's a traitor. Agreed?"

Ron nodded reluctantly. He couldn't help but marvel at the change Harry had gone through over the summer, not only physically, but emotionally as well. Harry seemed older, wiser, than a mere fourteen-year-old. But then again, what he had endured would have changed anyone, Ron mused. It would take some getting used to, he thought. As would Harry's new position as Snape's son and Draco's brother. He wasn't sure if he liked it, but he would try and tolerate Malfoy for Harry's sake.

Meanwhile, Hermione was trying to figure out who could have sent her the wonderful unexpected gift of her new owl, Athena. "Isn't she just lovely, Harry? I was so shocked when I saw her coming down with a letter for me, and then to read the letter she brought and found out she was meant for me. . .it was like getting an unlooked for birthday present," she said, smiling dreamily.

Harry chuckled. "Yeah, I know what you mean, Mione. I got Hedwig as a gift from Hagrid for my eleventh birthday and she was the best present I ever got." Until Severus took me away to live at Prince Manor. I wonder what you'd think if you knew who sent you Athena? Would you be shocked, horrified, or thinking maybe it was a huge mistake? Too bad I can't let you in on the secret, but I promised my brother. Still, he couldn't resist teasing the girl a bit. "Have you been seeing someone we don't know about over the summer, Hermione?"

"What? No, of course not! I live in a Muggle neighborhood, Harry. No one from school would ever want to visit me," she said wistfully. "That's why I was so surprised when I got Athena. I usually only get letters from Ron and you."

Harry felt a pang of sympathy for his Housemate, he hadn't realized Hermione was feeling lonely and a bit left out of things because of what she was. "Um . . .well, whoever sent you her must really like you then. After all, he went through the trouble of giving you a gift and finding out your address."

"That's true. I just wish he wasn't so . . .mysterious."

"Maybe he's shy," Harry suggested with a smirk. I'm so lucky Draco's not here right now to hear me say that! I would be hexed into bits and pieces.

But that answer seemed to please Hermione for some reason. Maybe it was easier for a girl to like a boy who was shy? She continued petting Athena and feeding her owl treats.

Ron was doing likewise with his new owl, Zephyr, who had been a belated birthday present from Harry. Harry dug some treats from his pocket and fed Hedwig and Frost, not wanting his two owls to feel left out. As he did so, he surreptitiously slipped a piece of maple sugar candy to Smidgen, who was curled atop Hedwig's cage.

The shimmerling took the treat delicately, purring. :Thank you, Harry. I think you have done well in settling your friends' minds about your foster brother.:

I hope so, Smidgen, he thought, knowing the shimmerling would hear his thoughts, since she was telepathic. I'd hate for them to be quarreling endlessly with Draco. Are you thirsty? Do you want to come and sit on my shoulder?

:No, I am fine where I am, Harry. But thank you for your consideration, young Snape. I am going to take another nap, for when we arrive at school, I want to be well rested so I can explore.:

Harry hid a grin behind his hand. The shimmerling's insatiable curiosity was a family joke among them. "Think I'll take a nap," he said aloud, then settled back on the cushion, pillowing his head on his folded robes and closed his eyes, one hand clutching the medallion hidden beneath his shirt. Though Prince Manor was far away, a single touch of the Medallion of Inheritance served to make him feel at home. Both the medallion and his spirit were attuned to Prince Manor, and he allowed the warm cozy pulse of the manor to surround him and together with the soothing motion of the train, rock him to sleep.

In another part of Britain, an old man died in agony from the venom of a giant cobra, who had been unleashed upon him for seeing that which no mortal ever should . . .the return of the necromancer known as Voldemort. The evil sorcerer was still weakened, still trapped in a feeble shell, a fraction of what he had once been when he was powerful, when the world had trembled at his footstep, and to speak his name was forbidden lest they summon him by chance.

Even so, his evil aura could be felt, it radiated outward from the crumbled Victorian house in a fetid miasma that permeated the very fabric of the astral plane. For those sensitive to such things, it was like a spreading stain of darkness, a midnight beacon in the waning daylight, and it made the tall watcher in the shadows shudder in disgust.

The watcher had long been a foe of the occupants of the Riddle House, unseen and unknown, but nevertheless a foe against the evil that threatened to rise again and spread misery and destruction throughout the land. His mouth tightened and he spat a curse as he felt the aura surrounding the house pulse with the satisfaction of a Muggle death.

One day, Riddle, you shall pay in blood for all the innocent lives you have taken. I would tear out your throat myself, did your wards not prevent me. The watcher thought angrily. Another time, Voldemort. You cannot hide forever.

Then the watcher gathered the shadows of his mastery about himself and appeared to vanish, leaving the occupants of Riddle House to their nefarious deeds. But not before speaking a soft Word and marking the door of the residence with a secret rune-one that would tell those who could read the nearly forgotten magic tongue that the ones inside had been marked for death by a Nightwalker.

He hoped that the ones inside the manor could read the Old Tongue and would know what the rune meant and be afraid, for he detested them and all they stood for.

Realm of Faerie

Queen Titania's throne room

A few hours previous:

Soothing music drifted from a golden lyre played by invisible fingers. The melody echoed through the high vaulted ceiling and drifted over the azure velvet drapes that swathed the crystal windows, preventing curious eyes from seeing within. Thousands of twinkling rainbowed fairy lights lit up the room, which was large enough to hold all the denizens of the Seelie Court should the queen, Titania, desire to summon all of her subjects at once. She never had, but the hall had been designed to accommodate all of her subjects if necessary, just in case her realm fell under assault from her Unseelie cousins and they needed to seek shelter in the palace.

The palace was formed of fae marble, spelled to withstand almost any natural disaster, and most magical ones as well, including dragon fire. It was iridescent, and glistened when the lights from overhead struck it. The floor was patterned in shades of teal, cream and soft lavender in feathery geometric patterns, broken only by a thick swath of royal purple carpet leading up to the dias where Titania's throne rested. The throne was carved of pure alabaster with a plump purple cushion, but it was currently unoccupied.

In one corner, a few of the high fae were dancing quietly, twirling in graceful patterns, the women wearing colorful silk skirts and gossamyr shawls that swirled and glittered in the court lights. Some wore jewels in their hair or on their person, others wore plain unadorned silk, but all were inhumanly lovely to behold. Some had large gossamer wings, others none. Their male partners were no less beautiful, wearing an array of styles of breeches and cloaks and tunics in jewel tones in silk or samite or crushed velvet. Earrings winked and flashed in pointed ears as they whirled and glided in a dance that was centuries old.

Pixies and shimmerlings flew through the air, laughing and teasing each other, while unseen servants brought trays of food and summerdew to those who requested it. Frolics and revels were common in Titania's court, for she was a benevolent and merry monarch, though not one who was given over entirely to pleasure. She was a shrewd and strong ruler, both magically and politically, having reigned for over nine hundred years.

Farther down the hall, in a secluded alcove set with spells so no prying eyes or ears could overhear them, sat a tall woman dressed in a deep blue tunic and breeches set with a few discreet twinkling sapphires, diamonds and opal about the collar and hem. Sleek white dragonscale boots hugged her thighs, and she wore a dagger strapped to her calf and another on her belt. Tucked on the opposite side was a scepter of ivory set with aquamarines and a large diamond, the symbol of the royal house of faerie. Titania's platinum hair spilled down her back in a frothing silver wave, the tresses decked with tiny glittering jewels and glowstones, her pointed ears tilted to catch any sign of her missing guest.

Next to her was a diminutive woman in mithril armor wearing gray leathers and a long sword. Across her back was slung a quiver and a longbow. Her dark curly hair was cut short and her green eyes were watchful, scanning the room for any threats to her monarch. On her gray swansdown-lined cloak was a brooch of silver-two crossed swords, designating Sarai Valinek as Captain of the Queen's Blades, her most trusted defender. Despite her size, there was no more skilled and deadly fighter in the Seelie Court than the half-fae warrior.

Titania drummed one elegant finger on the glass tabletop and glanced at her companion with an impatient air. "Does he not know it is very rude to keep royalty waiting?"

"Perhaps it has not yet become dark in the World Beyond, Your Grace," Sarai said quietly.

Titania huffed, arching one feathery eyebrow in disbelief. "The time of our meeting was set to coincide with the sunset in the mortal realm. Besides, he possesses a Sunstone, so that point is moot."

Sarai did not respond, knowing the queen was working herself into a royal snit because of her guest's tardiness and not wanting to feel the lash of her sovereign's tongue.

Suddenly there was a stirring in the air and then a tall man with midnight hair and violet eyes appeared further down the hall. He was handsome as well, though not like the inhuman perfection of the fae. He was slender and there was an air of danger in his eyes and about his muscled frame that gave one pause. He was dressed simply, in dark breeches and boots and a long flowing cream shirt, and a long black cloak lined with violet silk that matched his eyes. He wore both sword and dagger and his easy stride as he approached the secluded corner showed that he was well-versed in the dance of swords.

Titania looked up as the newcomer halted and bowed deeply to her, a frown stealing across her delicate features. Her aqua eyes flashed disapproval. "You are late, Nightwalker. I hope you have a pertinent excuse for keeping me waiting."

"Forgive me, Your Highness, my lateness is inexcusable." The vampire bowed again in apology. "But perhaps you may forgive me when you hear what I have discovered, Your Grace?"

Titania waved him to a seat. "Speak then, Philip Anthony Snape. If I find your tale interesting enough, I may grant you clemency, sir," the queen said, a faint teasing note in her voice. Like all fae women, Titania loved to flirt with handsome men, fae and non-fae as the whim took her.

"I pray so, Your Grace," Philip said, inclining his head to the fae lady and her Captain. Then he lowered his voice to the barest whisper and said, "We will not be overheard?"

"No. I have set the wards myself. You need not fear any eavesdropping," Titania reassured him. "What has transpired in the world since I sent you out a month ago, Philip?"

The vampire drew in a breath, an affectation he maintained while among mortals, though he did not need to breathe any longer. "When I accepted this assignment from you, my lady, I did so because I wished to observe my descendents more closely as well as keep an eye on those dark wizards who seek to overthrow the Balance in their favor. In exchange for a Sunstone I agreed to be your eyes and ears in the World Beyond. Much has happened since then, Your Grace, both good and bad." Philip cleared his throat and toyed idly with the Sunstone upon a chain about his neck. "You will know, of course, that young Harry Snape has been chosen the heir to Prince Manor."

Titania nodded. "Yes, Sarai's mortal lover, Severus, has informed us of that happy incident. Though I did not meet the boy personally, I trust the manor's Guardians, and if he is anything like his father, he shall do well in ruling the manor. What else?"

"There have been rumors that the Cup of Wonders has reappeared once more in the mortal realm, I felt its resonance as I passed by that wizard school in the north of Scotland called Hogwarts."

"At Hogwarts?" Sarai gasped. "Are you certain, Phil?"

The vampire nodded. "Yes, Captain. I was around when Merlin first borrowed the cup, and then returned it to the Cup Maidens after Arthur was healed."

"Who kept it safe until a thieving mortal named Galahad stole it, believing it to be the sacred cup of his religion. He in turn had it stolen from him by Nimue, Merlin's apprentice, who hid it away." Titania said tartly. "And since then it has been in the hands of mortals, who have no clue how to use it."

"True. But perhaps we may yet get it back." Philip demurred. "In any case, the cup was the least of my unexpected discoveries. While I was patrolling the area about the school, I chanced to feel a disturbance in the astral ether and I followed the dark taint to a dilapidated manor house on a deserted street in a small town called Little Hangleton. I remained hidden and observed that there was a dark aura coming from the house. I could smell blood and death, an old man had died recently, killed by dark sorcery. When I peered in a window I saw a child-like figure holding a wand that reeked of dark magic. He looked barely old enough to handle such power but I could sense that the soul inhabiting his body was far older . . .and steeped in darkness."

Titania gave a grimace of distaste. "That sounds like the old enemy of Severus's, does it not, Sarai?"

"It does indeed, Your Grace. Severus says once he was a member of Slytherin, a half-blood wizard, he calls himself Lord Voldemort, a dark necromancer of the worst order."

"But was not this Voldemort killed thirteen years ago?" the queen asked.

"Yes, by a failed spell, trying to kill Severus's son, Harry," Sarai explained. "But I suppose, using his dark arts, he has managed to avoid death and find a new host for his spirit."

"I would agree, Lady Valinek," Philip concurred. "And that is grave news indeed. He must be stopped. By any means necessary. Last time he tried to take over all of magical Britain and Europe as well. Had he succeeded, he would have thrown the world into darkness. It was by Merlin's own luck that he was stopped."

"Say rather by the power of the Mother's Guardianship spell," Sarai corrected. "It was that which saved Harry's life. But you are right, Phil. Voldemort must be stopped. I only wish that I might go and help guard Harry and fight beside Severus myself. But my oath . . ." she trailed off, her green eyes pensive.

Titania looked up at her Blade and said softly, "If it were possible, I would release you from my service, Sarai. But you know well that the Unseelie are stirring again, and I cannot spare you at this time. I am sorry, Captain."

"I understand, Your Grace. My duty to the throne comes before all else," the warrior said without rancor. But oh, how I wish that were not so! And that I could return to the mortal realm and stand beside my beloved and help him in his time of need. I fear he is going to need it.

"This Voldemort, is he a threat to the young heir?" Titania asked sharply.

"Oh yes, Your Grace." Philip nodded. "There is no one Voldemort wishes dead more than Harry Potter, who is now known as Harry Albus Snape."

Titania's eyes flashed. "Though it is not my policy to interfere in the affairs of mortals, this once I shall make an exception, since by his Prince blood, young Snape is one of the Seelie Court. And I shall not allow one of my kin to be hunted down like a stag to sate the bloodlust of a necromancer! You say this Voldemort has died once before? How is he then able to return from the Veil? Is he one of your kind, Nightwalker?"

"No. He's not a vampire," Phlip told her. "ThatI would know. I can always sense another of my kind. I don't know how he manages to return from the dead, but it is not because he is immortal or undead. I believe he can be killed somehow."

"Of course. Everything alive can die somehow," Titania said simply. She narrowed her almond-shaped eyes and said shortly, "Do you think there is a chance that Voldemort will try and ally himself with my sister Maeve of the Unseelie Court?"

"It's a possibility, Your Grace," Philip allowed. "If Voldemort does not approach her, she may send an emissary to him. She has always loved causing discord among mortals, as you well know. It is meat and drink to her."

Titania scowled. "That must not be allowed to occur. I have far too much trouble with her as it is without adding some mortal sorcerer to the mix. Philip, I would order you to guard young Snape, save that I think my order is unnecessary and you will do so whether I wish it or no."

"That is true. Harry is my descendant, as is his father Severus. I am bound by ties of blood to protect my kin," the vampire said. "It is to my sorrow that I did not know of the danger to him until it was too late all those years ago. That will not be the case this time. This time I shall be closer than his shadow, and Voldemort will find that I am not so easily defeated as a human wizard." Philip bared his fangs slightly, and the aura of danger increased about him.

"Good. Because they need all the help they can get," Sarai remarked. "From what Sev has told me, Harry and his brother Draco are magnets for trouble."

To her surprise, Philip chuckled. "As are most children. I should know, for I have twin boys, and though they are only four, they are already driving me crazy with their escapades."

The queen of faerie struggled to maintain her royal façade, but in the end had to allow herself a commiserating smile. "Aye, I know exactlyhow you feel, Philip. My own sons and my daughter were mischief incarnate and to this day Balin still tries my patience. But such are the joys of parenting."

"Which I am happy to not have discovered just yet," Sarai remarked wryly.

Titania slanted an amused glance at her bodyguard. "Ah, but if you intend to marry your Severus, Captain Valinek, you may experience those joys sooner than you think."

"Be that as it may, my liege, if we don't make an effort to protect his children, I may never get that chance," Sarai said.

"You are correct, little cousin. May I therefore suggest that you put all of your considerable power forth to protect your descendents, Philip? I shall not command it, since you are not technically one of my subjects."

"You would not need to, Your Majesty," Philip replied. There was a determined glint in his violet eyes. "I would do so anyway. Furthermore, I will be on the lookout for the Cup of Wonders and if an opportunity presents itself I shall attempt to reclaim it and return it to you, its rightful owners."

"Thank you, Philip. You are a good ally, for all that you are a Nightwalker." Titania acknowledged, pleased. "I suppose it is true what they say, there is good and bad in every kind of creature."

Both Philip and Sarai agreed with that statement.

"Your Grace, I should be departing soon. If I recall correctly, the term for young wizards begins September 1st and I would like to be at Hogwarts when young Harry and his brother get off the train and make sure they are unharmed. Voldemort has been known to place spies in the school." Philip rose to his feet.

"Go then, sir. And mind you guard well, Nightwalker. Prince Manor must not be left without its heir." Titania admonished, then waved Philip off.

The Nightwalker bowed and then swirling his cloak in a dramatic flair, vanished as quickly as he had come, using his vampiric powers.

The Hogwarts Express pulled into the station in front of the castle and the students disembarked, shouting, laughing, grumbling as was typical for children newly arrived at school for a new year.

Harry came off the train carrying Hedwig and Frost's cages and floating his trunk behind him, right after Ron and Hermione. Smidgen was perched upon his shoulder, hidden from all save Harry, Draco, and Severus. Harry squinted in the bright sunshine and then followed his friends, though not before catching the eye of his foster brother first and giving him a nod and a wink.

Draco pretended to scowl and sniff, but he gave Harry a swift half-smile before turning away to walk with his Slytherin buddies towards the horseless carriages that would bring the older students to school.

Neither boy noticed the dark watcher who was standing in the shadow of a large oak, observing their progress, his dark clothing blending perfectly with the tree, one hand cupping the Sunstone pendant. He watched as the two got into the carriages and then followed behind, unseen, as he had promised.

And so begins their next adventure!

Just a reminder, since this my AU universe expect plenty of twists, and the tournament will not be running to canon, there may be different tasks and surprises along the way.

For those of you unfamiliar with fae terms:

Seelie Court/fae: the Light members of the faerie realm, those who are pledged to bring no serious harm to humans or their world and who keep the Balance between Light and Dark. They include such members as high court fae, nymphs, dryads, sprites, shimmerlings, ect. Summer Queen Titania.

Unseelie Court/fae: The opposite Dark fae, those who delight in causing harm and mayhem to mortals and their world. They seek to break the Balance in their favor, by whatever means necessary. Members include dark fae, nighthags, trolls, banshees, harpies, lurks, darkhounds, ect. Winter Queen Maeve.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts staff room

An hour before the Hogwarts Express arrives:

"In addition to our new staff member, Alastor Moody, who has come out of retirement at my request to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, we will also be hosting the Triwizard Tournament, for the first time in over three hundred years. Representatives from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons will be arriving here in the beginning of November. In the meantime, students eligible for the tournament shall be permitted to put their names in the Goblet of Fire. I am sure whoever represents Hogwarts will do so to the best of his or her ability." Dumbledore said, his sapphire eyes twinkling.

All the staff members nodded. Then the old man stood and gestured to Severus, who had been waiting silently for the entire meeting, his hands fisted in his black robes to still a faint tremor of nervousness, though what in Merlin's name he had to be nervous about was incomprehensible. Everyone here already knew of his former undercover activities as a spy, that had gone public with the Malfoy trial. They also knew of his guardianship of Draco. The one thing they did not know and which he was about to reveal to them was the fact that Harry Potter was really his son, Harry Albus Snape.

Severus rose, clasped his hands before him, and said quietly, "You all know how I was once a spy for the Order of the Phoenix, and due to several circumstances, am now quit of that profession. I have assumed guardianship of both Draco Malfoy, who is my godson, and another young man whom you once knew as Harry Potter." Gasps followed that statement. Severus continued calmly. "What I did not know until this summer, when Harry's aunt, Petunia Dursley, revealed to me a secret she has kept for thirteen years, was that Harry was in truth my son and not James Potter's. I have since done a paternity test to confirm her revelation and it has come back positive."

MCGonagall's jaw hung open. "What are you saying, Severus? That Lily broke her marriage vows?"

"No. She was carrying Harry before she ever married James."

"Then why did she marry him and not you?" asked the Head of Gryffindor, confused.

"Do you remember the events of the spring and summer of 1980?" queried the Potions Master. "If not, let me refresh your memories. I was, at that time, just turned twenty, and recently begun my spying duties for the Order a year previously. I was engaged to marry Lily, but had not yet proposed formally. I did not know she was pregnant. Before we could go any further in our relationship Albus asked me to set a trap for some of the Dark Lord's most influential members, like Bellatrix Lestrange, Barty Crouch Jr., and others. We staged a battle between them and some Order members, and during that battle, Albus pretended to "kill" me. This was because we were very close to finding He-Who_Must-Not-Be-Named's secret base and Albus did not want me to be forced to fight against my real allies in that battle, so he had me fake my own death. I was forbidden to reveal the truth to anyone, especially Lily. I hid myself away in a safe place, and was supposed to return when Albus deemed it safe, and then he would clear me of whatever charges the Ministry accused me of. No one knew that Lily was carrying my child, or that she would take my death so hard that she decided to marry James in order to give her baby a father."

"She never told him, I take it?" McGonagall asked sharply.

"No. She never told the truth of Harry's parentage to anyone save Petunia. By the time I returned to the world, Harry was born and recognized as James Potter's son. I refused to let Lily know that I was alive once I discovered she had married James and a year after that she was dead by Voldemort's hand and Harry sent to live with her sister and her family. Petunia revealed the truth to me when I sought sanctuary in her home over the summer, she too had presumed me dead."

"Bet that was a shock, Snape," Moody said gruffly, sipping from his hip flask.

"In more ways than one. I took Harry with me when I left for my ancestral home for the rest of the summer and we have managed to get along quite tolerably. Draco joined us soon after and the two boys will be raised as brothers by me. My son will also be known now by his rightful name, Harry Albus Snape. He was wearing a glamour Lily placed upon him when he was born. I have since removed it, though my son put it back for the train ride and the feast. Once you have revealed his identity to Gryffindor, Minerva, he will remove it for good. You will then see that he resembles me a great deal." Severus said that last with a hint of pride.

"Congratulations, professor!" said Hagrid, smiling at the tall man. "You couldn't ask for a better son than Harry. And even Draco oughta shape up with you as his guardian now."

"Thank you, Hagrid," said Severus sincerely. "I wished to inform all of you first so that you may tell the members of your House during the beginning of term meeting. I think it best if you do so then, rather than making an announcement in the Great Hall. Like me, Harry prefers to be out of the limelight."

The other three Heads of House agreed, then it was time to go to the hall and wait for the students to arrive. All were quite surprised by their colleague's unexpected revelation, but their emotions were nothing to what the students' reactions would be.

All during the feast, Harry kept pausing in eating his supper and casting furtive glances over at the Slytherin table, where Draco was seated with Crabbe and Goyle, the staff table, where his father was sitting next to Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, and occasionally over his shoulder as well. He could not shake the odd feeling that he was being watched.

His uneasiness transmitted itself to the shimmerling hidden within the folds of his hood, and Smidgen hissed into his mind, :Is there something amiss, Harry? You're as jumpy as a darkhound with fleas.:

No. It's just . . .I feel like people are staring at me. Stupid, right? I haven't even removed the glamour yet. I guess Dad must have told McGonagall and the rest of them by now. Wonder how they took it? Guess I'll find out once we have the House meeting. Dad said McGonagall would tell everyone in Gryffindor then.

:Do not worry, Harry. Your lineage as a Prince is illustrious enough to satisfy even the most prejudiced pureblood of your race. And if not, then they are stupider than a pixie.: the shimmerling sniffed.

Harry grinned and took a bite of his fried chicken. It tasted wonderful, though his pumpkin juice was only adequate. He sighed, wishing he had merlinna juice instead. He had become quite addicted to the fae fruit while staying at Prince Manor for the summer, and the sweet-tart juice was like nectar of the gods. He wouldn't be able to have merlinnas until he returned to the manor, so he would have to learn to ignore the craving for the heart-shaped fruit.

Around him, his Housemates were discussing their new Defense teacher, and also the upcoming Triwizard Tournament. Dumbledore had not yet summoned the Goblet of Fire into the room, he had said he would do so after the feast, and Harry was eager to get a look at the magical object.

"Who do you think the cup will pick for the tournament?" asked Lavender Brown.

"We wish it were us," said Fred longingly. "It's dumb that you have to be of age-"

"-to compete," finished George, frowning. "Maybe we could manufacture an Aging potion? I mean, we're only shy of seventeen by a few months."

"The Goblet could only pick one of you," Hermione reminded them bossily. "And if you think you can hoodwink Dumbledore, think again. There's a reason why you have to be of age to compete in the tournament. People have died before."

"That's half the fun of it! The risk!" chorused the twins.

Hermione rolled her eyes in disgust, as did half the girls at the table. Boys! The more dangerous it was, the better they liked it. They were all idiots, without the sense God gave an insect.

"I'm sure your mother wouldn't agree," put in Katie Bell.

"Well, of course not. She's our mum!" Ron said. He exchanged glances with his brothers and half the boys at the table. Girls! Mention danger and they were all shivery and wimpy. They were so boring, always thinking about safety and dying. No fun whatsoever.

"Who's going to put their name in the Goblet from Gryffindor?" asked Dean.

Several seventh years and a few sixth years who had just turned seventeen raised their hands.

"Hope the Goblet picks one of us," said Angelina Johnson.

"You have as good a chance as any of the other candidates," said Hermione. "But Dumbledore said he wouldn't let the Goblet become active until after the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang arrived. He just wants us to get a look at it beforehand. I think the tournament sounds barbaric, but exciting."

"How can it be both?" asked Ron.

"Because it means we get to meet students from other schools and see what they know magically and if we know more than they do, and it's barbaric because the tournament is dangerous and very risky." Hermione explained.

"Girls!" muttered Ron in disgust. "There's no understanding them. Mention danger and fighting and it's like you insulted their mother."

Except Sarai, Harry thought wryly. She's not afraid of either of those things.

:There are not many women, fae or human, like Sarai Kinsalari Valinek,: Smidgen declared proudly, purring softly into Harry's ear.

That's for sure, Harry thought in admiration, recalling how the half-fae warrior had fought like a dervish to save him and Draco from the Unseelie fae in the Deepwood. He hoped that he would see more of Sarai when he returned to Prince Manor, he had really enjoyed sparring and talking with her, and he knew his dad missed her too, if for a different reason entirely.

Thinking of the manor made Harry place a hand upon his amulet, which he always wore beneath his shirt. Just clasping it made his ever-present longing for the cool lawns and melinna-filled orchard subside a bit. He could feel the pulse of the manor through the amulet, the magic that bound him to it was strong enough to transcend distance and time as well. He was one with the land and the land was one with him. If anything breached the wards about the manor, he would know. But of course that had never happened, the manor was too well hidden, both by the Evermist and other wards of protection.

All he had to do was get through the first term and then he could go home to the manor for break. He just hoped the term would go swiftly and be free of mishaps, though he knew that was wishful thinking. Mishaps seem to occur about him without him needing to do anything, and just because he was the heir to Prince Manor and Severus's son now didn't mean that would change.

I just hope whatever trouble finds me doesn't make Dad have a heart attack.

At last the feast ended, and Dumbledore raised his hands for silence. Everyone hushed and the old wizard made a beckoning motion with a hand and a plain wooden box appeared in the room with a sharp pop.

It floated over to the podium where the Headmaster was now standing and Dumbledore reverently removed the large golden cup inlaid with opals and sapphires from its box and held it up for everyone in the hall to see.

"This is what you will be placing your names into a few months from now," Dumbledore announced. "Is it not a splendid piece of craftsmanship?"

Gasps of awe and longing swept through the hall as the students gazed upon the priceless treasure.

Only two in the hall did not fall under the goblet's spell.

Phillip, who was standing beside a pillar, cloaked in a vampiric spell of non-detection, stared at the goblet in the old archmagus's hands in shock and anger. "That is not yours to use! It was stolen from the fae centuries ago!" he muttered, too low to be heard by human ears. "Your Goblet of Fire is the Cup of Wonders!"

Smidgen too was furious at seeing the stolen object displayed like a prize trophy at a fair, without regard for its sacred lineage. She hissed and lashed her tail, fluttering off Harry's shoulder and glaring at Dumbledore. Our sacred chalice, stolen from us by a thief of the Roundtable, who tricked his way through the Maidens of the Cup by charm and glamourie taught to him by his half-fae sire, Lancelot, will now be used as a mere vessel to choose champions for a tournament?

"Titania would be furious if she knew," Phil whispered to himself.

Smidgen's ears pricked. :What? Who said that?: She swiveled her ears about and flew towards the source of the voice. :Who knows of the fae queen, my mistress? Show yourself!:

Phillip stiffened upon hearing the voice in his head. Come closer, and I shall let down my veils a bit.

Smidgen did so, and when she was closer, sent , :I am about four pawlengths away from you.:

Phillip dropped his veils for a moment, and Smidgen wrinkled her nose at him. :Who are you? Do you work for the queen? You are no fae. You are a Nightwalker.:

Yes. Titania spoke of a danger to Harry Snape, the heir to Prince Manor. I am here to guard him from harm. He is my descendant. I am Phillip Anthony Snape. What are you called, shimmerling?

:My mother called me Smidgen, Phillip.: replied the shimmerling. She cast another glance at the chalice in Dumbledore's hands. :The nerve of these wizards, using the sacred Cup of Wonders thus! It makes my fur stand on end.:

Phil nodded. They don't know what they have. So few of them study the old legends of the fae anymore. Only the Prince line would understand the gravity of them using the Cup in such a fashion, as a mere vessel for a tournament. They do not know what the Cup is capable of doing.

:I should say not, else they would never treat it so cavalierly: sniffed Smidgen.

Together the two emissaries from the Seelie Court watched as Dumbledore displayed the goblet for a few more minutes then returned it to its box and sent it back to his office. "And now, I am pleased to announce the beginning of a new year and hope that you will all make it a memorable one. Remember, celebrate the differences as well as the similarities between yourselves and those of the other schools and even those in your own school. Diversity is the spice of life." He waved his hands at the students. "Go on then, I believe your Heads of House have a meeting for you to go to before you can relax for the rest of the day. But don't stay up too late, as classes begin tomorrow!"

At that, a collective groan went up from over four hundred throats, and everyone rose to their feet and filed out of the hall.

Smidgen flew after Harry, still steamed over the sudden appearance of the Cup of Wonders.

Noiselessly, the vampire lord followed a few feet behind.

Gryffindor common room:

" . . .and now, there is one more announcement I have to make," McGonagall said, and she motioned for Harry to come and stand beside her in front of the hearth. The rest of their House were gathered on the couches and tables or sprawled on the floor. "Most of you here know that Harry was made an orphan when You-Know-Who killed his parents. But recently, he has learned that was not so. He lost only his mother that night. His father is still alive and well."

"How?"

"Harry?" she gestured for him to proceed.

He swallowed hard and said, "Because, Neville, my father wasn't James Potter. My dad is Severus Snape."

And with that he released the glamour over himself and his features became those of his true self. His cheekbones narrowed, he became taller, his hair was sleek and dark, no longer a messy mop, and his hands lengthened. He still had green eyes and glasses, but now one could see that he was indeed Snape's biological son.

"This is my real appearance. The way I looked before was a glamour my mother put on me as a baby." Harry explained.

Gasps and exclamations erupted in the room.

"Merlin! He looks like Snape!"

"Poor thing!"

"Why? I think he looks sexy!" cooed a fifth year girl, eyeing Harry appreciatively.

Harry felt himself blush.

"Does Snape know?"

"Does that mean your mum cheated on your other dad?"

"No!" shouted Harry, anxious to nip that rumor in the bud. "My dad never even knew I was born. Mum didn't know she was pregnant till after she married James, she was engaged to my real dad and thought he'd died. Only it was a cover for his role as a spy."

"Sure, that's what they all say!" sneered a sixth-year boy.

"It's true!" Harry cried, incensed.

"Enough, Mr. Tibbs!" McGonagall ordered sharply. "What Mr. Snape says is correct, and you will accept that fact and keep your mouth shut. Slander about Professor Snape or Harry's conception will not be tolerated, am I understood? Anyone I find circulating lewd rumors will find themselves in detention with me for two weeks, writing apologies and essays until their hand is ready to fall off."

Tibbs blanched. "Yes, ma'am. Sorry, professor."

"Good. Now, I expect all of you to treat Harry as you did before, after all he is still a Gryffindor, even though his father is your potions professor and Head of Slytherin." McGonagall finished. "Good night. Get some sleep, you'll want to be rested and alert for your first day back."

She swept from the common room, retiring up the stairs to her quarters on the opposite end of the tower.

Harry glanced around, feeling like the main attraction at a freak show.

Neville was eying Harry warily, as if he expected Harry to suddenly start glaring and issuing detentions and taking points. It would have been amusing had it been anyone else, but instead Harry only found it disheartening.

Some of his Housemates were giving him looks of horror or sympathy, others were staring at him as if he was a stranger, and still others were glaring and looking as though they wished he would drop dead.

"How did the Hat ever put you in Gryffindor, Snape?" hissed a seventh-year after McGonagall was safely out of earshot.

"Yeah, why didn't it put you where you belonged . . .with the scummy snakes in the dungeons?" taunted another.

"Because he belonged here, Knowles!" snapped Hermione, coming to stand next to Harry, her small chin lifted defiantly. "The Hat doesn't always sort family members into the same House. Look at the Patil twins!"

"Hermione's right," Parvati spoke up. "I am a Gryffindor, but my identical twin is a Ravenclaw. There is no shame in this."

"No, because your sister's not a greasy git," shouted someone in the back of the room.

Harry felt his temper start to ignite. "My father is not a greasy git! Most of how he behaved towards all of us was an act, a cover for his activities as an agent. Over the summer, I learned who my dad really was, and it wasn't the professor you all know."

"Yeah, right! Snake lover! Maybe you ought to get Dumbledore to Re-Sort you!"

"Shut up, Stark!" ordered Ron angrily. "The Hat put him here and here is where Harry stays. I don't care what his last name is or who his dad is. He's still my best mate. Now put up or shut up!"

He too came to stand beside Harry and Hermione.

Harry lifted his head and said quietly, "I'm the same person I was before, I just know my real identity now and have a father instead of a grave to talk to. I'm descended from the Prince line through my grandmother and I'm proud of that and proud of my father. He risked his life so we could all be safe."

"But then he went and adopted Malfoy, ugh!" Dean groaned.

"That's right. Because Malfoy, like me, needed a father, and he's my dad's godson."

"Too bad."

"Yeah, who'd want to be related to Malfoy, the Death Eater spawn?"

"How you can stand being related to any Slytherin is beyond me, Potter."

"It's Snape now, Dougal," Harry reminded him sharply. "Not all Slytherins are dark, just like not all Gryffindors are brave. I've learned to live with Malfoy and anyhow, it's none of your business."

Abruptly, he was sick and tired of all the fuss and irritable and all he wanted was some peace and quiet. He turned to his friends and said softly, "I'm going to pretend to go to bed and use my cloak to slip out of the tower. Meet me near the humpbacked witch statue, I need to get out of here for a bit. Before I go postal and start hexing people."

Hermione looked like she wanted to protest, but then she just nodded and so did Ron.

Harry then announced he was going to bed and went upstairs.

He dug through his trunk till he found James's cloak and slipped it on. Then he drew the curtains round his bed and set a swift glamour on it of himself sleeping, just in case anyone checked.

After that he slipped out of the tower on silent feet, using his kin-sa-dor techniques to move like a ghost down the corridor.

Smidgen fluttered over to him and perched on his shoulder. :Ought you not to be in your common room, Harry? It's not quite safe for you to be wandering about at night.:

"I'll be fine, Smidgen. I just needed to get out of there for a few minutes. My friends will be along soon." Harry said aloud.

:You are troubled, young Snape. Did your meeting not go well?:

Harry exhaled sharply. Then he opened his mind and shared his thoughts with the dreamweaver, who purred soothingly at him. :I know it is difficult, Harry, to endure the taunts of those you thought were your friends, but the truth is always better than a lie, and if they cannot handle the truth of who you really are, then perhaps they were not your friends to begin with. I think you will find out soon who you can trust and who you can't. But don't lose heart, child. You will always have me and your family. We shall never abandon you and we love you always.:

The shimmerling's heartfelt sending touched him and he stroked the fae cat gently and whispered, "Thanks, Smidgen."

A real family and a home. He had at last what he had always wanted, he reminded himself, clutching the amulet beneath his shirt. And he wasn't going to give it up, not for anything. Smidgen was right, and he knew that his father would tell him the same thing if he were here. If a person couldn't accept you for who you were, then that person was not a real friend, just an acquaintance. He was grateful that Ron and Hermione were true friends, and the twins, and some of the others as well. And in the end it was better to have a few real friends than two dozen acquaintances, he decided, leaning back against the statue.

In a few minutes, Ron and Hermione could be heard coming down the corridor, Harry had to suppress a giggle at how loud they sounded. They need some lessons on the art of being a shadow. Too bad only those with fae blood can learn kin-sa-dor.

He tossed off the Invisibility Cloak when they came around the corner.

"Hey, Harry. Guess you just needed to get away, huh?" Hermione said sympathetically. "Just ignore those other dimwits. They haven't the brains God gave an amoeba."

Harry chuckled. "Got that right, 'Mione. I just needed some space, I was feeling smothered in there."

"I know what you mean." Ron said feelingly. "Good thing you left, I was tempted to punch some of them out after, but Hermione dragged me out the door."

"The last thing you need, Ron, is detention with McGonagall for causing a brawl," Hermione said disapprovingly. "Besides, hitting an idiot doesn't change their mind, it just knocks the rest of what brains he had out of his head." She scowled. "I never knew just how bigoted some people in Gryffindor were until tonight."

"Prejudice knows no boundaries," Harry quoted softly, though he couldn't for the life of him remember who had said that. He sighed softly. "But better I know who my real friends are now than get a nasty shock a month later when they turn on me."

"Right. Get all the arseholes out in the open," Ron agreed. "And whatever happens, mate, me and my brothers will stand by you."

"And me."

"Thanks." Harry said sincerely.

Feeling much better than he had previously, he remained talking with his two best friends for awhile longer, telling them more amusing stories about Prince Manor and describing Dragon's Wild, the wizard version of five card draw poker, and how Draco and he had once knocked Severus down while running a race to the kitchen.

Ron's eyes nearly bugged out. "No way! Was he like ready to tear you into pieces?"

"No, not really. He gave me a smack on the bum but it didn't really hurt. I think he was sort of relieved that we were finally getting along, so all we had to do was apologize and make him lunch."

Ron whistled. "I would have loved to see that. Snape on the floor and you two knocked on top of him!"

"Was he hurt?" Hermione wanted to know.

Harry shook his head, laughing. "No. Only his pride."

Then Ron started discussing the Quidditch World Cup and how he had gotten to see Viktor Krum play, who was the youngest and best professional Seeker ever, and how Ireland had beaten Bulgaria.

"But after that, the Death Eaters came," reminded Hermione. "And they started tormenting Muggles that were camping nearby. It was awful."

"I'll bet Lucius Malfoy was in that bunch," Ron said darkly.

"No doubt," Harry agreed.

"But he wasn't caught when they rounded up the others after the Dark mark was shot off into the sky," Ron finished. "My dad and some of the other Ministry officials never did find the wand that made the Mark appear. Maybe that was Lucius too."

"Well, I'm glad he's in Azkaban, and so is his wife!" Hermione declared hotly. "That's where all of them belong."

Harry checked his watch. "It's getting late and I'm going to bed. Coming?"

They followed him back to the common room.

As he was getting into bed, Harry wondered how Draco and Severus had fared with the Slytherins. If my own House was this bad, what must have theirs been like, who have Death Eater supporters? Oh, well, maybe I can find a way to ask him tomorrow. We have potions together.

He felt his eyes start to drift shut and he sank into sleep, while above him on the pillow, a black dreamweaver kept watch for a portion of the night, then slipped away to explore the castle, eager to discover what secrets it held beyond the Cup of Wonders.

How did you like the dynamics in this one?

Next: The Slytherin reaction to both Sev and Draco and first potions class.

Chapter Text

Draco cast Severus an uneasy glance as they walked together from the hall down to the dungeons to the Slytherin House common room. Despite his outwardly calm demeanor, the fourteen-year-old was feeling nauseous, like a legion of vipers had taken up residence inside his stomach, and he was profoundly grateful for the tall black-robed guardian striding along beside him. With Severus he was safe, and did not need to fear anything. Unless, of course, he had done something to make Snape angry.

The two made their way down the corridor to the portrait hole, with the large python curled about a staff, without saying anything. There was no need to speak, since both could tell that the other was not looking forward to this meeting, and wanted it over with quickly. Severus did pause and squeeze Draco's shoulder lightly in reassurance, sensing his foster son was making himself ill with nerves.

The boy relaxed a little after that and Severus spoke the password to the portrait, whose name was Raj, Prince of Pythons. "Veritas."

"Enter and welcome back, Profes-s-s-or," hissed Raj in greeting, and the door swung open.

"Ever vigilant, Raj," was all Severus said, and then he and Draco stepped inside.

Most of the House was already gathered in the common room, sitting on the comfy black leather couches or chairs and a few were leaning up against the study corrals nonchalantly, as if it were an everyday occurrence to find out that your Head of House was a spy and one of your members had totally rejected the dark path his parents had frogmarched him down since he was a baby.

Draco knew that he could trust only three members of his house to support him at the moment. Vincent Crabbe, Gregory Goyle, and Blaise Zabini. Crabbe and Goyle were his best mates, like Weasley and Granger were to his little brother Harry, they would stick by him through the second coming of Voldemort, if need be. They had no love of the dark path either, despite being forced to ape the Death Eater way by their parents also. And Blaise and his family had never been followers of Old Tom, they had always been enemies, though clever enough to hide under his nose. Blaise had the same attitude and could be trusted. He knew there were other members of Slytherin who were not Death Eater supporters, but he didn't know the older ones well enough to be sure who to trust, though maybe he'd find out after the meeting.

Severus went to stand in front of the fireplace, beneath the portrait of Salazar Slytherin with his arms folded and indicated Draco should take a seat next to his two friends. Draco obeyed, relieved not to have to stand up in front of the whole House and be stared at. But he lifted his head proudly, for he was not ashamed of being Severus's ward or of choosing the light over the dark and repudiating his parents. He had done what was right, not what was easy, and he did not regret it in the slightest. He would far rather be the son of a spy than the son of a Death Eater.

Severus waited until the last few stragglers had appeared, then cleared his throat and began speaking. "For those of you who are new to Slytherin House, welcome to the House of Serpents. I am Professor Severus Snape, Potions Master. I have called you all here not only for the annual beginning of the year House meeting, but to discuss some important personal events that have occurred over the summer. Normally, my private life would not be the topic of a House meeting, however, circumstances being what they are, I would like to inform you of two things. "

Several whispers were heard around the room until Snape glared at them and then they hushed and the room went still, anticipation prickling their skin.

"The first being that I have been a secret double agent working for the Order of the Phoenix since before many of you were born. If any of you followed the Malfoy trial, you know of my testimony during it and the fact that Draco is now my legal ward. You should also know that Draco is not nor has he ever been a supporter of the Death Eaters or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Now, while that revelation may be shocking and unpleasant for some of you to learn, I will tell you now that any attempt to steer Mr. Malfoy back onto "the right path" will result in my unmitigated wrath on your head. He is to be left strictly alone, unharassed, because from now on Slytherin House will no longer be synonymous with a House of Darkness. You-Know-Who might have been a Slytherin and he might have dragged our reputation down into the dirt with him when he fell into darkness, but Salazar Slytherin, Founder of Hogwarts and First Head of Slytherin was not and never became a dark wizard. He was a strict and honorable practitioner of true magic, a defender of pureblood rights, yes, but never of the dark path. Under him, Slytherin House was known for excellence in magic and the drive to be the best one could be. This is the reputation I wish to cultivate again, and starting this year, shall institute a new policy."

Several of the Slytherins looked surprised, and some were nodding their heads, and only a few, Theodore Nott, Pansy Parkinson, Walter Avery, looked outraged.

Severus continued without missing a beat. "All of you know that one of my rules for Slytherins is to present a united front in public and to try and remain respectful to professors and maintain a certain dignity of appearance and manner. I do not think I need to tell you that your academic standards should be among the highest in this school, as most of you are ambitious enough when it comes to that in any case. Any of you who play on the Quidditch team know that you must maintain standards of an Acceptable or better or else be put on probation and restricted from playing. In the past I allowed some of you to get away with unseemly behavior in my classroom, or appeared to, in public. That will no longer be the case. Most of how I behaved in public was to cover my role as a Death Eater, but now that ruse is no longer necessary, you will receive detentions and deductions of points from me the same as any other students."

Gasps followed this statement, and Draco found himself hard pressed not to grin. This is the real Severus Snape you're seeing, and now you'll see that he doesn't allow you to get away with anything, relation or no!

"But sir, you'd take points from your own House?" whined Pansy.

"If the student was deserving of it, yes," answered the professor. "While I never took points before in public, anyone who misbehaved in my class always received detention, and Slytherins were no exception, save that the rest of the school was unaware of it. Now, it will be public, so best you all behave." And he fixed them all with one of his trademark scowls usually reserved for impudent Gryffindors, making several firsties and more than a few older students tremble.

"You will discover that I am strict but fair, but earn detention with me and you will also find I can be most unpleasant, especially with members of my own House who continually disobey and flout school rules and my own rules, in or out of the classroom. My advice to you, first years especially, is not to do so. However, you may come to me if you're having difficulty with a subject and need help, or advice about a problem, are ill, or wish to discuss something unrelated to schoolwork and I will do my best to assist you. My office hours are posted on the board there," he pointed to a low chalkboard upon which was written in neat script Professor Snape's Office Hours 6-9 PM or by special appointment.

"After hours I am usually in my quarters, though I strongly suggest you not disturb me unless it is an emergency, such as you are dying of a disease, have been hexed into losing your arms or legs, or are suffering from severe depression, nightmares, or the school is on fire. Yes, Mr. Sullivan?"

A first year was raising his hand in the front row, looking slightly intimidated by his stern teacher. "Uh . . .sir . . .when you give us detention . . .what do you do? In Durmstrang detention usually meant a caning or reciting a hundred school rules or the ducking stool. Is it like that, sir?"

Severus shook his head. "Barbaric! No, Mr. Sullivan, this is Hogwarts and we do not use corporal punishment here on any student. I will never raise my hand to you. Detentions here are served doing disagreeable and nasty chores by hand or writing lines or essays or restriction to quarters, we do not believe in drowning, caning, or using magic as a form of correction."

Suliivan looked vastly relieved, until a second-year said slyly, "But the professor's detentions are no joke. If you're bad he'll make you scrub cauldrons till your fingers fall off, then he'll regenerate them."

Sullivan looked horrified, until his Head of House snapped, "Sullivan, he's putting you on. Atwater, you'll be serving a detention tonight, if you keep up your behavior!"

Atwater blanched and muttered a quick, "Sorry, Professor Snape."

"Now then. My last announcement concerns Harry Potter, specifically that he was never a Potter, but always a Snape. No I am not Confunded, Befuddled, insane, or drunk. The boy you once knew as Harry Potter is actually Harry Albus Snape, my son. "

There was dead silence in the room for about three minutes. Then Theodore Nott blurted, "Bloody hell, sir! Did the Potters like steal him away when he was born and make him think he was their son?"

Snape's eyebrow rose into his hair. Where did the child come up with these ideas? "No, Mr. Nott, nothing so dramatic. At the time, I was engaged to Lily Evans, but was forced to fake my own death as a ruse to fool the Dark Lord during the first war. Lily believed me dead, and married James Potter to give her baby a father."

"Wow, and guess she never told him, right, sir?" asked Millicent Bulstrode.

"No, but she did tell her sister, who then informed me over the summer, and I now have custody of my son. Who will now be known as Mr. Snape and whose appearance will have altered significantly, since I have banished the glamours over him and he has regained his true appearance."

"But he's a Gryffindor, sir!" Nott said.

"Yes, I am aware of that, Mr. Nott. What of it?"

"If he's your son, sir, why is he living with the enemy?"

Others began to murmur as well, angry and sneering, until Severus held up his hand. "Quiet! My son being a Gryffindor is not a problem for me, as his mother was of that house. Do not make it a problem, am I clear? Not every family member is Sorted into the same House. And further, Gryffindor is not the enemy. Rivals, yes, but enemy is reserved for the dark wizards, like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. They are your enemies, out to seduce you into following darkness and losing your mind to lies and shadows. Gryffindors may be idiotic and impulsive and inclined to play hero, but they are not your enemies."

"But you hate them!" argued an older sixth year. "You're always taking points and giving them detention."

"I do not hate them, that was an act for my role as a spy. They are my students like any other. And I give them detention because they so often deserve it." Severus countered. "As I will anyone who steps out of bounds with me. This is your first and last warning. Classes begin tomorrow at ten o'clock sharp, I would suggest you unpack and then get a good night's sleep. First years, you may owl your parents or guardian about your Sorting using a school owl if you have none, curfew for you is at ten-thirty sharp, everyone else, lights out at eleven. Anyone interested in submitting their name for the tournament, come and see me tomorrow afternoon at three o'clock. That will be all. Dismissed."

He turned to Draco and beckoned to him. "Draco, a word with you."

Once Draco had joined him in his quarters, Severus relaxed his reserved demeanor and said softly, "I know that you can take care of yourself, son, but I wished to let you know that I am always available should you ever need me for whatever reason. If you need help, come to me. And watch your back, I know that it might have seemed like most of them took your new position well, but you know how some of the Death Eater children are, Dragon."

"Yeah, I know, Dad. I'll be careful."

"Do you know how to cast wards of repulsion?"

"Uh, no. What are they?"

"Protective magic that you can cast about your bed or your trunk that will repel anyone who does not belong touching or hexing your things. It can also work on yourself, if necessary. Cast it before you sleep, it will last for two days."

"Okay. Uh, what happens if someone tries to break in?"

"The ward will physically repel them, either by force, like a powerful Stinging Hex or by knocking them down or mentally, by a strong suggestion."

"As in they'll run away screaming from the room?"

Severus's dark eyes glittered. "Yes, exactly like that."

"Wicked! Thanks, Dad! Show me how to cast it?"

"Of course, dragon. It's why I called you here, after all." He drew his wand. "Watch carefully, Draco."

Once he was sure his son had mastered the spell, he sent Draco back to his dorm. He prayed that those who were Voldemort supporters kept a low profile for now.

Upon entering his dorm room, Draco immediately was faced with an angry Nott and Avery, who glared at him as if he were scum. Draco glared right back, knowing to show fear when walking into a den of vipers was asking to get bitten. "Got a problem, Nott? Or are you just staring at me because you've forgotten your Remembrall again?"

"You're a traitor, Malfoy!" spat Nott. "You're a traitor and a coward, just like Snape! And one day you'll pay for it. The Dark Lord sees all!"

"Tell the Dark Lord to bite me," Draco spat. "I'm no traitor, Nott, and neither is my father! And if you want to see a coward, Nott, look in the mirror!"

Nott looked as if he were about to go for his wand, but Avery grabbed him and shook his head. "Nott, don't. You try and hex Malfoy and Snape will kick your arse for attacking a fellow House member and his son."

"Screw Snape! He's another one who's gonna get his some night!"

"Shut up, you dope! You couldn't take Snape in his sleep," scolded his friend. "Pick your battles, Nott, don't go off with your mouth running ahead of your brain."

"I meant what I said, Avery!"

"Yeah, okay, whatever, mate. C'mon, let's go to sleep." He dragged the still protesting Nott off to the other side of the room.

Draco sighed, then turned to Crabbe and Goyle. "Keep an eye on that idiot, okay?" When they had nodded, he turned and cast the wards of repulsion on his bed and his trunk. He had learned from being Severus's special apprentice that it was important to always be prepared for anything. Taking precautions had saved Severus's life as a spy and Draco was smart enough to follow his example.

"I'll be back. Gotta go clean my teeth," he told his friends.

"We'll make sure nobody messes with your stuff, Draco," said Goyle.

"Thanks, Greg." He walked out the door and down to the boys' bathroom.

On the way back to his room he banged into Pansy, who looked as if she had been lying in wait for him, her small eyes alight with a look that made Draco cringe and long to transfer to a school somewhere in Antarctica.

"Oh, Draco, I was hoping I'd see you!" she burbled, batting her eyelashes at him in what he supposed was meant to be a come-hither-look.

"You got something in your eye, Parkinson?"

"N-No." She looked a little upset. "I . . .I just wanted to tell you that even though Papa's refused to let me see you since he doesn't want me making a match with a pureblood traitor, I still want to be your girl. I . . .I'll defy anyone who tries to keep us apart, beloved!" she gushed.

Draco struggled to hide his horror. Merlin help me, but I think I'm going to be sick! Please, please, why did she have to be like this? Why couldn't she just hate me like all the other Death Eater kids? "Uh . . .Pansy? You know . . .you shouldn't defy your dad that way . . ."

"Why not? You did."

"I know, but that was . . .different." Draco said awkwardly.

"How? I mean, I'm defying Papa for love and you did it for principles. And even if I don't really agree with them . . .you're brave for sticking up for what you believe in. I like that in a man," she purred and made as if to run her hand down Draco's arm.

Draco jerked away. "Pansy, remember Slytherin House Rules? No making out on the premises!"

She pouted, and it made her face look even more unattractive, like a pug with a bad underbite. "Oh, who cares about old Snape and his boring old rules? He's never been in love, what does he know about it? Kiss me, Draco!"

"He knows plenty, he was in love with Harry's mum," Draco pointed out hastily, stepping away from the too-eager girl. "And I don't need him grounding my arse the first night back, so control yourself, girl!"

"Humph! You're no fun!" she sniffed. "Fine! I'll meet you tomorrow near the beech tree by the greenhouse after potions. We both have a free period then."

"How do you know that?"

"Snuck a peek in the Headmaster office before he gave the schedules to Snape. I memorized yours, darling."

Draco wanted to gag. Help! Get her away! Get her away! "You memorized my schedule?"

"Yes," she cooed. "Because I just had to know when we could see each other again."

"Pansy, I don't think that's—"

"Why not? You've known me for years and we're promised in all but name anyway."

"Your father doesn't want me marrying you . . ."

"Old killjoy! Who cares what he wants! I'm the one doing the marrying and I say I want you, Draco Malfoy!" she was practically drooling on him.

"I think you should listen to your father," he blurted, then said, "Look, I'm really tired and we can . . .discuss this tomorrow, okay?"

"Okay. And don't worry about my father. He'll come around," she said with the conviction of a child who has always gotten her own way. "Good night, love!" Then she kissed him and scurried away.

Draco waited until she was out of sight before scrubbing his lips with a handkerchief. Yuck! I've been kissed by a bulldog girl! Bloody hell, why does this crap always happen to me?

He hurried back to his room, where he thanked his friends for helping him and then undressed and crawled into bed, where he tossed and turned all night, for after lights out, Nott and some other Death Eater supporters tried to hex him while he was sleeping and the wards repulsed them. He could hear their cries of pain and surprise through the bedhangings and he silently thanked God for Severus Snape and his teachings, otherwise he would have probably started the term in the infirmary.

Outside the potions classroom, Draco waited, he had gotten there early, hoping Harry had gotten the letter he'd sent with Stormy this morning. The message had been short, asking Harry to meet him at the potions classroom fifteen minutes before class, he needed to talk to him.

Harry appeared a few moments later, Smidgen perched upon his shoulder, though she was only visible to those who inhabited Prince Manor and Phil. The fae cat was sitting upright, wings folded against her back, tail wrapped neatly about her feet, her violet eyes bright with curiosity. She had spent half the night exploring the castle, driving Peeves crazy with her blinking and teasing, for there is nothing so irritating as a shimmerling in a mischievous mood, and Peeves had nothing on some of the pixies and pookas Smidgen knew. She had also gotten to know the other ghosts and several secret passages and talked to many of the castle portraits, learning the history of the ancient structure through the conversations. She had been vastly amused to find that as a denizen of the Faerie Realm, she was regarded with respect and awe by many of the wizard portraits and some of the ghosts as well. It seemed that not all mortals had forgotten the might of the fae.

"What's up, Draco?" Harry asked as soon as he drew near his brother. "Your message was kind of . . .vague."

Draco coughed uncomfortably. "That's because I didn't want to risk anyone else accidentally reading it." He looked up and down the corridor, then turned and whispered, "Smidgen, can you keep watch for us? This is kind of a private conversation."

:It would be no trouble at all, Master Draco.: The fae cat answered, then she hovered lazily in the air, watching for any approaching students.

"All right, big brother, spill it. What's got your robes in a knot?"

"Remember when I told you that my father—Lucius—arranged a betrothal for me with Pansy? Well, her father called it off, like I figured, once I told Lucius off at the trial. Only Pansy still thinks we ought to be an item." Draco said, flushing. "She . . .uh . . .cornered me last night in the hallway . . .and she was . . .like panting and drooling all over me . . .Ugh!" He glared angrily at Harry, who was snickering. "It's not funny, damn it! She bloody kissed me! I need to know how to dump a girl in ten days or less, Harry, before I go mental."

Harry schooled his expression into something resembling sympathy, even though he found it hilariously funny that Draco, popular, pureblooded, suave Draco, was having trouble with a persistent girl. "Uh, okay. I'll try and help you out, although maybe you ought to ask somebody who has more experience? I mean, I've never even gone on one date with a girl, or really talked to one except Hermione, and she's my best friend and like my sister, so it doesn't count."

"No way. You're the only one I trust to be let in on this secret, little brother, because I couldn't even imagine telling Dad."

"Me either. All right . . .maybe you could try ignoring her? Like brushing her off?"

"Pansy's kind of hard to brush off. She's like a bulldog with a favorite bone," Draco grimaced.

"You could try being extra snotty to her. You can do that real well."

Draco socked him in the shoulder.

"Hey! What was that for? It's the truth. You've got that whole lord of the manor thing down cold."

Draco rolled his eyes. "That didn't hurt, you big baby. Too bad I'm not the heir to Prince Manor. Then I could make up an excuse that I can't marry beneath me or that I have to marry some fae princess or something."

"Well . . .how would she know if you were lying?" Harry pointed out slyly. "I mean nobody knows the truth except us, Dad, Smidgen, Sarai, and out best friends. You told Crabbe and Goyle about everything, right?"

"Yes. They were cool with it. How about Granger and Weasley?"

"They were kind of shocked, but they don't hate you or anything."

"Brilliant, because the last thing I need is more enemies. Got enough of them right in my own dorm."

"Like who?"

"Nott and Avery were the worst. But I know there are others, some of the older Slytherins who are dark supporters, they're just more subtle about it. They paid me a visit last night, but nothing they tried penetrated the repulsion wards Dad taught me how to cast."

"He taught you how to cast wards? When?"

"Last night after the meeting. Good thing too because like I said, some people aren't too happy I've repudiated Daddy Dearest."

"You mean they tried to hex you?" Harry gaped.

"No, they tried to give me sweets and a bunny plushie," said his brother sarcastically. "Of course they tried to hex me—they're Death eater wannabes!"

"Does Dad know?"

"No, and he isn't going to know," Draco said firmly.

"But Draco—"

"No! I can fight my own battles, Snape! I don't need Dad hovering over me like I was a little baby. He knows how some of the House feels and he warned me to watch my back, not that I wouldn't have any how." Draco told him. "So keep quiet and don't go telling him, okay? Or else I'll tickle torture you again."

"Okay! I'm not a blabbermouth, you know!"

"Sure you are. All little brothers are."

"Bite me, Draco!"

"Temper, baby brother," teased the Slytherin, laughing when Harry's face got red. He loved riling up his brother, it was too funny.

Harry glared at him for a moment, but then his temper died when he recalled what could have happened to Draco last night. "Listen, if you need me, call me and I'll come. You don't need to send a message if it's an emergency. Dad said that as the heir to the manor, I can sense everyone in my family who resides in it, if they've lived there for more than two weeks. And if I needed to, I could hear you when you call me. It's part of the magic of the manor. Blood calls to blood."

"Merlin! I never knew that before! So you can hear me if I call for you? No matter how far away?"

"That's what Dad says. So . . .if you need me, Draco . . .call me. And I'll help kick the arse of whoever's trying to hurt you. 'Cause nobody messes with my older brother."

"Tell that to Pansy," Draco groaned.

"Maybe you should introduce her to Ripper, my Aunt Marge's bulldog," suggested Harry, laughing. "No, that's cruel."

"To whom, Pansy or the dog?" Draco queried, chuckling. "Could be a match made in heaven."

"Ugh! You're warped, Malfoy!"

"Me? You brought it up. Seriously, though, what should I do? She wants me to meet her after class."

"Don't and say you forgot. I don't know."

"That'll only work so long."

"Wait. Maybe if you started showing interest in another girl . . .she might get upset and back off."

"Now that might work . . .except the girl I'm interested in would never give me the time of day." Draco sighed.

"Not necessarily. Try meeting her in the library and starting a conversation about books. 'Mione's book crazy, she'd talk to a dead person about them. And if Pansy sees that . . ."

"I . . .guess it can't hurt. Okay, I'll try it. What time does Grang—Hermione go to the library?"

Harry laughed. "You ought to ask when doesn't she go to the library? She practically sleeps there, some nights."

"So any night is good. Perfect." Draco grinned, then whacked Harry on the back. "Thanks, little brother."

"Don't mention it. Just remember, call if you need me."

"I will, don't freak out, Snape. I'm not a Gryffindor, I don't go in for martyrdom. I'm all for living to fight another day." Draco reassured him. He knew that he could count on Crabbe and Goyle to help him, but Harry was a stronger wizard than they were and he knew kin-sa-dor, which gave him an incredible advantage in a fight, magical or non-magical. It was good to have family you could count on.

Today's potions class they were learning about brewing antidotes. Snape had them pair up with partners from opposite Houses. Draco ended up with Hermione, to her surprise and his secret delight. Pansy looked as though she might cry, or hex Professor Snape. She ended up with poor Neville. Harry was partnered with Blaise and Ron with Crabbe, so it wasn't quite as bad as it could have been. At least neither of those Slytherins hated Harry for being Snape's son or Gryffindors in general.

Harry was working companionably with Zabini, carefully chopping up the lavender buds while Blaise ground up the bicorn horn to a fine powder.

"You're potion making's improved, Po-ah, I mean Snape," Blaise remarked. "It's kind of funny, calling you that. But you really do look like him."

"Well, he is my dad, Zabini," Harry said, a proud note creeping into his tone. He ran his hand through his fine ebony locks, tossing them out of his eyes, they had grown a bit long.

"And you're okay with that?" Blaise queried softly, setting down the pestle.

Harry nodded. "Yeah. Why? You got a problem with that?"

"No. Just wondering, I mean, you used to tick him off so much during class last year and now . . .you're his son and you seem like you're proud of it."

"I am proud of it," Harry stated, putting his buds into the slowly simmering cauldron and stirring it ten times clockwise and then one half turn counterclockwise. "Draco and the professor are my family now. And they're a better family than my aunt and uncle ever were."

Blaise nodded. "Good for you, Snape. You're not like most Gryffindors, all stuck up and thinking every Slytherin is a dark wizard waiting to hex them."

"That's 'cause I know better, Zabini. And the same goes for you."

Blaise shrugged. "My parents taught me that I shouldn't judge people till I had all the facts. So I don't. Here, these are ready to be added." He carefully tipped the ground bicorn into the cauldron.

A few cauldrons away, Draco was stirring while Hermione was grinding, doing his best to remain calm and collected even though his heart was racing. It was insane, but Draco had to admit that he liked the way Hermione's hair was so . . .wavy and untamed, like the elvensteed he had ridden in the Deepwood. He wondered idly what it would be like to touch that mass of golden brown hair and immediately turned back to his solution, it was now a pale green, as the manual said it should be.

"That looks good, Malfoy," Hermione remarked, peering over his shoulder at their cauldron.

"Umm . . .yes, it's the correct color and consistency," Draco said, trying not to blush as her breath tickled his cheek. Oh, Merlin, Hermione! Don't stand so close to me, please! He could smell the sweet minty scent of her breath and longed to turn around and say something witty and kind to her, but didn't have the guts. Coward! What kind of Malfoy is afraid to talk to a . . .Muggleborn? one part of his mind taunted. A good Malfoy, answered the other half of his mind. "Do you have the distilled water measured out yet?"

"Yes. We need two cups and then a quarter of a jigger of honey." Hermione turned back to their lab table to get the water, and Draco half-turned about and caught a glimpse of the girl's derriere and smiled to himself. Nice. Very nice. He nearly reached out and patted her on the bum before catching himself.

Hermione turned around abruptly, the beaker of distilled water in one hand, and nearly banged right into Draco. "Oh! Sorry!" Their noses were nearly touching and suddenly Hermione was blushing and so was Draco.

Draco opened his mouth to say something, but never got the chance to speak because suddenly there came a loud explosion from across the room and the air was filled with a choking, breath-stealing, poisonous green gas.

"Everyone, get out! Now! MOVE!" Severus bellowed, waving his wand to try and contain the dangerous gas that was seeping from two cauldrons on the right side of the room.

Students were panicked and coughing, their throats and noses on fire, as they scrambled for the door.

Draco grabbed up a large towel from his workstation and shoved it at Hermione. "Put this around your face, Hermione!" He tugged a fold of his robe around his own face and pulled Hermione towards the door of the classroom.

Most of the class was out in the corridor by now, milling about like confused sheep. Draco glanced around, saw Weasley coughing into his sleeve, eyes streaming.

"Ron, are you okay?" Hermione asked, going over to him.

"Yeah . . .think so," the other coughed. "Smoke got in my eyes."

"Where's Harry?"

Draco was wondering that himself, for there was no sign of his brother. He stuck his head back inside the room, which was almost half filled with smoke along the right side. His father was standing with his back to the door, chanting furiously, and yelling at Harry.

"Harry Albus Snape, get the bloody hell out of here!"

"No! I'm not leaving you!" Harry cried stubbornly. His eyes were streaming and he was coughing hard.

"Damn you, boy! Go!" Severus roared. "I need to concentrate!"

Oh, bollocks! Harry, you idiot! Draco thought and raced back into the room to grab his stubborn brother by the shoulder and drag him bodily from the lab. "Come on, you stupid arse! Get out so he can concentrate on fixing this bloody mess!"

"Let go of me, Draco!" screamed Harry, terrified that Severus was going to die. "Dad! Dad, come away, please! Dad!" he fought Draco, trying to get free of the other's grip.

"Damn it, Harry! Stop!" snarled his brother. But Harry was like a wild thing, and Draco did the only other thing he could think of. He drew back his fist and slugged his brother hard in the jaw.

Harry sagged into his arms then and Draco half-carried him out of the classroom. "Sorry, little brother," he muttered.

Harry groaned then whimpered, "Dad . . .got to save him . . .Draco, we can't leave him . . ."

"We have to," Draco panted, his eyes tearing. "He knows what he's doing . . ." At least Draco prayed that was so. Because if Severus died . . .he would never forgive himself.

Harry leaned woozily against Draco, his jaw throbbing. His brother had one damn good right hook, he thought grudgingly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something vaguely man-shaped run into the classroom. He blinked, wondering if he were seeing things. What was that? I saw something . . .Smidgen, where are you?

But the fae cat was not nearby and did not answer.

A few moments later, Professor Snape staggered out the door, and Harry could swear a tall man, a little taller than his father, was holding Severus upright. Severus was coughing violently, his hair plastered over one side of his face, his one visible eye tearing and burning.

"What . . .are you all doing standing about . . .like a bunch of . . .ninnies for? All of you . . .report to the infirmary . . ." he ordered inbetween spasms. He started to sag, and Draco thrust Harry at Ron.

"Here, hold him." Draco snapped, waiting till the startled red-head had grasped his friend before turning and giving Snape his shoulder to lean on. "Come on, Professor. You need to get to the infirmary too."

Snape's arm came about his shoulder and gripped hard, and slowly, the students and their injured professor made their way down to the Hospital Wing, shadowed by a certain violet-eyed vampire, who was unaware that one young wizard had seen him before he put up his veils again.

Yay, I've updated . . . Hope you enjoy this one!

Next: Poppy has an influx of patients and Harry tells Draco about the mysterious figure he saw in the doorway.

Chapter Text

By the time Severus, Harry, and Draco had made it to the infirmary, Poppy had already treated most of the students for minor smoke inhalation and sent them back to class, or dosed them with Calming Draughts and sent them back to their dorm for a lie down after informing their professor what had happened. This was not the first such crisis Poppy had ever had to deal with from an exploded potion, though such had not happened in Snape's class since his first year as a teacher. Severus was normally extremely careful and watchful, but even the best teachers could have an off day.

Draco was gasping a bit when they finally crossed the threshold of the Hospital Wing, but he was more concerned for his father, who seemed to be having difficulty breathing. Severus's face was pale and his breath rasped horribly in his throat. He must have inhaled some of those damn fumes, I'll bet, Draco thought, even as he yelled for the mediwitch. "Madam Pomfrey! We need you over here! Professor Snape's in a bad way."

Severus shot his blond-haired son an irritated look. "Must you announce . . .my condition . . .to the entire school . . .like a public crier, Draco?"

Draco flushed, but before he could respond, Poppy was there. She waved her wand over the professor, said briskly, "Well, Severus, you've almost suffocated yourself this time. It's bed and an atomizer of Lung Repair for you. Come along now." She pointed her wand and Snape was hovering in the air. "Let him go, Mr. Malfoy, and have a seat over there next to Mr. Snape and I'll get to you in a minute."

Draco obeyed, watching in amusement as Poppy scolded his father in a low voice for not leaving immediately when the cauldrons exploded. "Really, Severus, do you think you have an immunity to toxic substances? The children . . .oh, well . . .that's understandable . . .but you should have called for help . . ."

Severus replied, but Draco couldn't catch it, it was too low. He turned and seated himself next to his brother, who was still looking rather shell-shocked. "You all right, Harry? I didn't hit you that hard, did I?"

"No. But what about Dad? He . . .didn't look so good. Is he going to be okay?"

"Yeah, Madam Pomfrey's taking care of him, and if it were really bad, she'd send him to St. Mungos, so I guess he's going to be all right. She's fussing over him and giving him potions right now." Draco reassured his brother, who bore a terrible anxiety in his green eyes. "We can see him after she checks us out, I'd say."

"Good." Harry said, then he started to cough again, harsh wracking coughs that shook his slight frame.

"You're not too good yourself, kid," Draco observed, holding Harry's shoulder to keep him from toppling over.

"He must have gotten a noseful of whatever that stuff was," Ron said from Harry's other side. "It was good that you went back in and got him, Malfoy."

"What, you think I was just going to leave him there?" Draco snapped. "He's my brother, Weasley! He was worried about our father, that's why he wouldn't leave, the stubborn arse. He gets that way sometimes."

"You're telling me," Ron sighed. "That why you belted him one?"

"Had to, he was fighting me like crazy." Draco said, somewhat defensively.

"Maybe you knocked some sense into him," Ron remarked, and Harry shot him a dirty look. "My brothers would have done the same to me." He eyed Malfoy thoughtfully. "Guess you're all right . . .Draco."

Draco snorted. "Glad I meet with your approval, Weasley."

Harry was glad that the two weren't going off on each other and thought that at least the potions explosion had done one good thing—it had made Ron see Draco in a whole new light. He wiped his burning eyes on his sleeve, they felt gritty and hot.

Poppy reappeared, ran a diagnostic over them, pronounced Ron well and told him to return to class, he tried to protest, but she shooed him out of the infirmary anyhow. Draco she dosed with a light Decongestion Draft and said he too could go back to class.

"But, Madam Pomfrey, my father and brother—"

"Will be fine in a day or two, Mr. Malfoy. Your quick thinking probably saved their lives. Go on now, they'll be sleeping in a bit, you can come visit after classes."

"But—"

He was interrupted by a hoarse voice. "Draco, do what she says."

Draco huffed, then said reluctantly, "Yes, sir. But soon as I'm done with school I'll be back."

He departed the infirmary, leaving his brother to the tender mercies of Poppy Pomfrey. The mediwitch rolled up her sleeves, then led Harry over to a bed next to his father and handed him a set of hospital pajamas. Harry made a face, he hated spending time in the Hospital Wing, but he put on the nightwear without a fuss, observing slyly that Poppy had even managed to get his father out of his black robes for once. Wonder how she did that? Maybe she charmed them on him?

Severus was lying on the bed beside him, a mask over his face attached to a small clear tube with a vial on the end of it. The top of the vial had a pump with a green ball on the end of it, like a fancy perfume bottle, that the professor squeezed every so often. An orange potion was sprayed up the tube and into the mask for Severus to inhale.

"Do you see that atomizer your father is using, Mr. Snape?" asked Poppy briskly.

"Yes, ma'am."

"You'll be getting one too, it contains a Lung Repair potion you need to inhale, since whatever potion exploded created a toxic gas which damaged the inside of your throat and lungs, though you're not half as bad as your father." She set several vials down on the folding nightstand and said, "Are your eyes stinging and burning, Mr. Snape?"

"Yes."

"Figured as much. Lie down and remove your glasses. I need to put a potion in your eyes."

Harry obeyed, allowing Madam Pomfrey to place several drops of a soothing clear potion in his eyes which cleared them up and made them quit hurting. "Better now?" she inquired kindly. "You'll be getting another dose later on." She then made him drink a Pain Reliever, a Decongestion Draft, and then instructed him on how to use the atomizer with the Lung Repair potion. "You are to breathe in this potion every two breaths until it is empty. It will probably make you slightly sleepy."

"Madam Pomfrey, will my dad be all right?"

"Well, Harry, he was rather badly injured from the corrosive fumes, but with rest and potions he should be fine within three days. So don't fret, child." She patted his shoulder, gave him a drink of water, then helped him set up the atomizer.

The potion left a slightly odd taste in his mouth as he breathed it in, but it was not unpleasant. As he lay there, looking up at the ceiling, he recalled the strange figure he had seen standing behind his father in the doorway.

The man had been tall, dark, and quite handsome, and Harry recalled something else. . .the man's canines had been enlarged, like fangs, almost like a . . .vampire. Harry snorted at his own foolishness. A vampire at Hogwarts. Draco's tap on the jaw must have made him see things. Except . . .he was certain he had seen someone helping his father . . .but a vampire? Was there such a thing as a good vampire?

He concentrated on breathing in the potion, looking over at his father, who had finished his draft and was now sleeping. You're going to be okay, Dad. Thank God! How did that potion explode? Was it really an accident? Or was it deliberate? Gotta talk to Draco later.

He managed to finish the vial before drifting off to sleep. Madam Pomfrey came by and gently removed the atomizer and re-cast a diagnostic. Harry's lungs were nearly mended. She smiled and ruffled his hair before leaving him to sleep.

Harry woke to find Severus watching him, his dark eyes bright with concern. "Hey, Dad."

"How are you feeling, son?"

"Okay. How about you?"

"I have been better." Severus admitted. He sighed and said sternly, "Why did you not leave when I ordered you to, Harry? You wouldn't have been injured by the smoke or gas if you had done what I told you."

"I know, Dad, but . . .I didn't want to leave you alone," he admitted in a small voice. "I knew it was bad . . . that whatever had exploded was poisonous . . .but I just . . ." He turned his head away to hide the sudden tears.

"What? You just what?" his father asked in a somewhat gentler tone.

" . . .I was afraid you were going to die," Harry mumbled into his pillow, embarrassed that he was behaving like some crybaby now that everything was going to be all right.

"Excuse me? I couldn't understand what you said. Turn around and look at me."

"Never mind. It's stupid. I'm stupid. Just forget it."

"Harry, look at me." Severus ordered, exasperated. "You are not stupid."

Harry stubbornly kept his face turned away, half-buried in the pillow.

Half a minute later he felt a hand on his shoulder, tugging him firmly about until he was staring up at his father, who was sitting on the edge of his bed, wearing a set of plain white pajamas. "Harry, I would like you to talk to me. You could have died, young man, and I would hope you had a good reason for risking your life other than you were stupid."

Harry felt himself flush. "It doesn't matter. Am I in trouble?"

"No, but you will be if you don't explain yourself."

"You'll laugh at me. It was dumb, can't you just forget it?"

"Was it, perhaps, because you were trying to save me?"

"Yes . . .I told you it was stupid . . .you didn't need my help . . .I made things worse . . .I was afraid you were going to die . . .but you aren't now. . ."

"You were afraid I was going to die, so you stayed behind?"

Harry nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"Harry Albus Snape—" began Severus, half-angrily. Then he stopped, because scolding would not help and he really couldn't fault his son for wanting to save him. "Foolish boy, don't you know that I remained behind because of you? That I would never leave you in danger?"

"I'm sorry . . ."

"Don't apologize. You're a Gryffindor, phoenix, it's your nature to be a blasted hero. And it's mine to keep you safe at all costs. We're a pair of fools," the Potions Master said wryly. Then he pulled his astonished son into a hug. "I would do anything for my family. And so would you, I see. And Draco. Such is the legacy of Prince Manor." He held Harry for a long moment before drawing away and taking his son's chin in one hand. "However, I will ask you to remember that when I give you an order, it is for your own good, and you should not hesitate to obey it, Harry. I have handled many such potions accidents before and I knew what to do, but having you in the room made me hesitate and broke my concentration."

His son hung his head. "Sorry, sir. I was just afraid . . ."

"I know, but next time trust me. I have no desire to die a martyr, Harry. I wish to live a long life with my family—you, Draco, and Sarai."

"That's good to hear, Severus, but unless you get back in your bed, you might be in danger of expiring." Madam Pomfrey scolded.

Severus eyed her irritably. "How so, madam?"

"Because I might be tempted to kill you for acting like a stubborn dunderhead and not following my orders, Professor Snape. I specifically told you to stay in bed until I said you could get up, your lungs still aren't mended and you need to rest in order to repair them."

Severus's eyebrows climbed into his hair, and Harry clamped a hand over his mouth to keep from bursting out laughing. Listening to Madam Pomfrey scolding his father as if he were a first year was just too funny.

"I was speaking with my son, he was worried about my condition. I didn't realize I needed your permission to talk to my child," Severus began sarcastically.

"Never you mind, Severus," the matron scolded. "As long as you are under my care, you agree to follow my rules. Now get back to bed before you overexert yourself."

"How is sitting here overexerting myself?" grumbled the Potions Master, shooting her a baleful look before rising and moving back to his vacant bed.

"Lie down, Severus," Poppy ordered, and to Harry's amusement, his father actually obeyed the small mediwitch, though not without some muttered explicatives under his breath. Poppy ran her wand over him, declared that he was still congested and part of his lungs were still damaged and he needed more of the Lung Repair Elixir, a Pain Reliever, and another potion that would cleanse his bronchial passages.

In five minutes she had the professor outfitted with another atomizer and mask, and though he shot the mediwitch a death glare for fussing over him in front of his son, Severus did not fight her treatment. He had enough healing knowledge to know that Poppy's treatment was spot on, and what he would have prescribed himself. So he submitted to her ministrations, albeit with a few scowls that fooled neither the mediwitch nor his son.

But Harry wasn't smirking a moment later, when Poppy came to examine him and said he too need another dose of Lung Repair Elixir, another eyewash, and more bed rest as well. "But Madam Pomfrey . . .I feel fine!"

"You and your father are very much alike, Mr. Snape. Both of you don't know how to take proper care of yourself, you would push yourself till you drop dead and then wonder why." She summoned another atomizer and attached it to the vial of potion before handing the mask set-up to Harry to put on. Groaning, Harry took it and placed it over his face. Five seconds later, he was breathing in the potion.

"Twenty minutes, gentlemen, then I'll come back and you can have breakfast." Poppy declared, then she departed to eat her own morning meal, leaving the two alone in the infirmary.

Alone, except for the watchful vampire and the shimmerling who blinked into the room a moment later.

:Master Harry! Master Severus! Are you all right? How did this happen? Smidgen cried, her violet eyes whirling in distress.

Severus sent her his theory, that the explosions were not an accident, but a clear plan to sabotage him as a teacher and perhaps even kill him and his sons. The shimmerling hissed, all of her fur standing on end. :If ever I discover who did this to you, Wizard Severus, he shall know what it means to arouse the wrath of a fae creature!:

Unseen in the corner of the infirmary, Phil's eyes also blazed violet sparks, and his hands tightened into fists. And my wrath as well, cat-kin! No one, and I mean no one harms my family and gets off. If I ever discover who is behind this mishap, that one will beg for mercy before I am done, youngling or not. The Nightwalker's jaw was clenched hard, though his iron expression softened as he looked at both Snapes, older and younger, lying in the beds. They look so fragile, so . . .mortal. I have lived several centuries and seen many whom I cared for and called friend and relative die, but even so, there is a core of steel within them that others I have known lacked. Were I to be in a battle to the death, I would prefer them at my side than any other, even another vampire. They would be most formidable opponents.

Smidgen turned her head to stare at the spot where Phil was, veiled so strongly that only she could catch a glimpse of his shadow and nothing more, despite her dreamweaver's sight. :Indeed. Severus is a fine Defense Master and he knows the art of being a shadow as well. And he has begun to teach young Harry as well, and his son has proven to be an apt pupil. Both of his sons,: she amended, recalling Snape's blond fosterling.

Phil gave her a slight bow. But of course, little shimmerling. They are Snapes and Princes, and I would expect nothing less from them. Even so, they are not invulnerable, and I fear for their safety if the one who caused this is not found.

Smidgen did also, and asked whether Phil would help her search about the lab and maybe pick up some clues, or even a scent, though the trail was cold and most of the intruder's scent had probably been smothered by the smoke from the explosion.

It would be my honor, Lady Smidgen, Phil sent gallantly, with an old-fashioned courtesy that had died out in these modern times. But let us delay the search until the healer returns from her morning meal.

Smidgen agreed, then blinked away to procure her own food from the house elves, who were Low Court fae and eager to serve a high ranking messenger of the Seelie Court with whatever she might desire to eat.

Phil remained vigilant, as an ancient vampire he could go for days without hunting, and then he only hunted those who bore the taint of evil within them, the stench was easily percieved by his ultrasensitive nose, and he regarded it as doing the people and the world a favor by ridding them of dangerous parasite and predators.

Poppy returned, gave her patients breakfast, and then followed that up with a Sleeping Draught, much to Severus and Harry's disgust. But she was deaf to their protests and had them drink the draft to ensure that they got the rest they needed.

Shimmerling and vampire watched in amusement as the little mediwitch bossed the two more powerful wizards around, like a typical healer, and once their charges were asleep, decided to leave and explore the lab to see what clues might be found there.

Phil could move almost as fast as Smidgen could blink, and arrived at the lab moments after the dreamweaver, who was sneezing and wrinkling her nose in disgust at the acrid aroma.

"Careful," Phil warned. "Some of that toxic substance might still be lingering in the air. You should not breathe it in."

:I shall not. Even a green apprentice knows how to cast a Bubblehead charm: Smidgen mewed, and proceeded to do so, surrounding herself with an invisible coating of air.

Then she flew into the lab, her sharp eyes alert for anything that might tell them what had caused the explosion in the first place.

Phil bent over the cauldrons, examining them closely, muttering as he did so.

The shimmerling sniffed about, trying to discern the scent of those who had been nearest the cauldron before it exploded, but the awful odor of the gas masked any scent that might have once been there, as she had feared.

So she waited for Phil to conclude his findings, tail twitching impatiently.

After about twenty minutes, the vampire straightened. "This was no accident. I am no mean potions student myself, and I can tell that this substance was not created by misreading a potions text. I know the draft they were working on, I could hear them talking through the door, I have very keen hearing. There is no way on God's green earth that this could be the result of adding the wrong ingredient at the wrong moment. Because there is nothing in the antidote that is volatile enough to explode and produce chlorine gas."

:Aye, it was deliberate, I suspected as much. But how can we find out who it was? I could not place the scent of those who used this cauldron.:

"My nose is a bit sharper than yours, Smidgen. I can smell fear and a desire for revenge coming from this student—students, actually for there was more than one."

:Can you hunt him down?:

"Does a bear love honey?" laughed the vampire. "I will know the scent again when I smell it and then . . ." Phil bared his fangs, and suddenly he looked menacing and terrifying as only a vampire could.

Smidgen shivered and thanked the Goddess of the Wood for making her a shimmerling and therefore not on Phil's hit list. Whoever had harmed his family was going to pay.

Phil licked his lips, struggling to keep himself in check. Now was not the time to go off the deep end. He could go and find every one of those people like the one who hurt Harry and tear them apart. But he restrained himself. He locked away the whimpering and begging self and just walked away.

Meanwhile, Draco had come in to keep Harry company as well and it was then that Harry recalled the strange figure he had see in the doorway of the potions class, holding up his father. "Uh, Draco, what do you remember about the potions class?"

"Besides our dad nearly biting it and me holding you up so you didn't pass out? Not much. Why?"

"Because . . .you're going to think I'm crazy, but I'm not—Just for a moment, I thought I saw . . .someone behind Dad, dressed in a suit and tie. And he . . .had fangs, Draco."

"Fangs? Harry, I think you overdosed on the pain killer," laughed Draco. "How would a vampire get in the school?"

"I dunno . . .but I know he was a vampire. Draco, please, you've got to believe me."

But Draco just shook his head, he had enough of supernatural beings. Besides, everyone knew vampires couldn't get past the wards. "Go to sleep, little brother. Come morning, you'll be good as new."

"Draco . . ."

"Hush. Just get some rest. Things will be different in the morning."

"I know what I saw!" Harry argued. "It wasn't my imagination!"

"Little brother, I hit you pretty hard. Anybody would be seeing things after that." Draco pointed out. Harry scowled mulishly. "C'mon, Harry. Bloodsuckers can't get past the wards, unless they're invited or they're not radiating an evil aura, and whoever heard of a good vampire?"

"I'm telling you . . .he saved Dad's life!"

"And I'm telling you, keep your voice down, before you get Pomfrey the Dragon on your arse and wake up Dad." Draco argued. "Maybe you'd like to explain to him what you saw while your head was spinning, hmmm?"

"Ah, shut up, Draco!" Harry groaned, still tired and out-of-sorts. Could the other wizard be right and he had just imagined it? But it had seemed so real! Harry clasped the Medallion of Inheritance in his hand and felt the silver amulet send a comforting wave of warmth through him. He yawned and felt his eyes drift shut, even though he could have sworn he wasn't tired.

Draco smirked knowingly and muttered, "Fever dreams," before playfully cuffing the sleeping heir to Prince Manor and walking out of the infirmary and back to his afternoon classes. Vampires! His brother was so gullible sometimes!

So, how did you like this one?

Review and let me know!

Chapter Text

Madam Pomfrey proclaimed Harry well enough to go back to class the next morning, his lungs were clear and his eyes no longer stung or burned. Harry was so excited to be released he felt like doing a victory dance. But Severus was not so lucky. Him she wished to keep for the day for observation, making her colleague scowl and grumble like an annoyed dragon.

"I feel perfectly fine, Poppy."

"Never you mind, Severus Snape!" she scolded, waving a reproving finger at the Potions Master. "Feeling fine and being fine are two different things. And you were injured worse than your boy here, so you need more rest and an extra dose of Lung Repair. I won't have it said I sent a patient of mine back to work without being fully cured." Then she put the atomizer back on him, effectively silencing any more protests for the time being.

Severus shot her a death glare while her back was turned.

Harry chuckled, and his father glared at him too. "Tough luck, Dad. Well, guess I'd better get on to class. I'll bring you a chocolate frog, okay?"

Severus removed the mask and growled, "Get, you cheeky brat! And mind you collect all your missed assignments from every teacher, including my substitute."

"Yes, sir," Harry groaned, hoping that there wasn't too much homework to make up, since it was only the first week of class.

Then he slipped out of the infirmary at something more dignified than a run, but swifter than a walk, just in case Madam Pomfrey changed her mind and decided to keep him in there.

On the way to Gryffindor Tower to collect his bookbag he met Ron and Hermione, who were just coming down to go to breakfast in the hall.

"Harry, you're better!" Hermione exclaimed happily. "I'm so glad, we were worried that those fumes had damaged your lungs and you'd need surgery."

"No, I'm okay now. It was my dad who got the worst of it," Harry said, waving his wand to call his bookbag from his room.

"How is your dad, mate?" Ron asked quietly.

"Oh, he's almost better too, but Pomfrey wants to keep him for observation. As a precaution, she says." He caught his bag and slung it over his shoulder. "He was lucky . . .it could have been much worse, like Hermione says."

"Well . . .it's good that he's going to be all right. He might not be my favorite professor, mate, but nobody deserves something like that to happen." Ron said. "I wonder who it was that screwed up their potion this time?"

"It wasn't Neville," Hermione said. "He was next to us and I would have noticed. It came from the other side of the room. Thank goodness no one else was too badly hurt."

Harry nodded tightly. While he agreed with Hermione, he couldn't help thinking that the explosion had been aimed at his father, brother, and himself. But since he had no proof, he couldn't even mention that aloud. "Whoever it was better start praying that my dad never finds out, otherwise they'll be in detention till next year, probably."

"Ain' t that the truth," Ron chuckled. "And Merlin, am I glad this wasn't me." He slanted a glance at Hermione. "And I know it sure as blazes wasn't you or Draco, since you two are like the best potion makers in that class."

"Hey, I'm not so bad at potions either since Dad tutored me over the summer," Harry informed his friend. "I actually . . .kind of like brewing now."

Ron looked thunderstruck. "Aww . . .bloody hell! He's converted you!"

"Converted me? You act like I've joined a cult or something." Harry chuckled.

"You have, mate. The cult of Snape's Potions Prodigies," Ron groaned. "Now who do I have to complain to about how much I hate potions?"

"Talk to Neville." Harry suggested. Then his stomach growled rather loudly.

"Looks like someone's hungry," Hermione giggled.

"Yeah, I am, so let's go and eat." He turned away, and Smidgen blinked in and hovered over his shoulder for a moment before touching down lightly upon him.

:Hello, Harry! I am delighted to see you up and about this morning! How are you feeling?:

Okay, I guess. Dad's still in the Hospital Wing though, under observation for the rest of the day.

:Ah, well, he did absorb more of that foul smoke into his system than you did, so it stands to reason that he would take longer to recover. But he will recover, Harry.: Smidgen reassured him, purring softly into his mind.

I know. He promised me, Harry sent back and brought up a finger to gently stroke the shimmerling under the chin. Smidgen purred aloud then, and the sound sent a feeling of peace through him.

After breakfast, Harry went to all of his classes, and tried to concentrate on the material, luckily Hermione had gotten all his missed homework for him, and he planned on doing it back in the Hospital Wing to keep his father company. He asked Smidgen to relay a message to Draco and tell his foster brother to meet him in the Hospital Wing after supper so they could stay with their father until he was well.

:Draco says he shall meet you beside the knight statue in the Entrance Hall,: Smidgen informed him, having contacted the other youngster using her telepathic gift.

"Good. Now I just need to get my spare writing case and I'll be set," Harry said, returning to Gryffindor Tower.

Just before he reached the stairs leading up to the tower, Peeves appeared, and began to insult him loudly. "Poor little Snapey, nearly got blown away! Better be careful, baby Snape, you never know who might be watching and waiting for you!"

"Bugger off, Peeves!" Harry growled, in no mood for the poltergeist's banter.

Smidgen's fur stood on end. :Ghost, what mean you? Do you know who was behind the disaster in the classroom? If so, speak now!:

"Speak? Like a dog do you mean, catkin? I am no dog, to sit up and beg."

:I will make you beg, spirit!: Smidgen hissed angrily, her violet eyes glittering with suppressed temper, her small tail lashing wildly. :Tell me, if you know, Sir Taunts-A-Lot, or are you all hot air?:

"Me? Hot air? Ai, Lady Dreamweaver, you wound me! Your claws have drawn my heart's blood, and now I am fading . . .I'm fading . . .!" Peeves made as if to fade away and spun about, cackling.

:Oh no you don't, you wicked specter! Come back here, Annoying One!: the dreamweaver growled, and then she soared off of Harry's shoulder to chase the poltergeist down the corridor.

"Good luck, Smidgen," Harry said, thinking that if anyone could catch the slick poltergeist, it was Smidgen. He turned and went up the stairs and into the portrait hole.

The common room was full of students studying, Katie Bell looked up from her Herbology notes and smiled at him. "Hey, Harry. You look like you could wrestle a giant. Feeling better?"

"Yeah, I'm fine now." Harry reassured her. He smiled back at her, feeling himself blush a little. Katie was a year older than he was and she was one of the best Chasers ever to fly a broom. She was also, he noticed abruptly, quite pretty, with her warm chestnut brown hair and sparkling blue eyes, tall and fit. "I should be back to practice by Saturday."

"Good. I'm glad," she said simply, and he could see that she really meant it and was not just mouthing a platitude. "I'll see you Saturday then. Oh, and how's Professor Snape? Will he be back to teach tomorrow?"

She's got a nice smile, funny how I never noticed that before, with all the Quidditch I've played with her. But then again, I wasn't looking at her mouth, just the Snitch. He blushed and then said, "Yeah, he should be all right by tomorrow, Pomfrey's just being cautious. Why? Who's the substitute for potions?"

Katie made a face. "Some wizard who looks as old as Dumbledore, named Muggwort. He's like a hundred or something, going deaf, and he drones on and on about the properties of shrivelfigs and the benefits of drinking a juice pressed from them that relieves gas and constipation. I feel like I'm trapped in a room with my great-grandmother Emelia. We haven't brewed anything since Professor Snape got hurt, and I was really looking forward to this term, we were supposed to learn how to brew Strengthening Drafts."

"Yuck! Sounds like he ought to be retired," Harry sympathized. "Don't worry, my dad should be back by tomorrow. I didn't know you liked potions, Katie."

Katie nodded. "I do. I'm in his advanced class, you know."

"Yeah, she's the potions expert for her year," Lee Jordan remarked. "Bell the Brewer."

Katie rolled her eyes. "Jordan, you make me sound like I make beer or ale, for Merlin's sake." She tossed her hair out of her eyes with an irritated flick.

"Nothing wrong with that, girl," chimed in Fred from a table behind her. "I could use a cold one right about now, it's smoking in here."

"Me too," agreed George, mopping the sweat from his brow.

"Well, then you'll have to make your own, boys, I've a test to study for," Katie said, indicating her notes with one finger.

"Ah, you're no fun anymore, Bell," sulked Lee. "Ever since you decided you want to become a Potions Mistress, you've turned into Miss Ultra Serious and Boring."

"You want to become a Potions Mistress?" Harry repeated.

Katie nodded. "Yes. I asked Professor Snape and he agreed to let me start my internship early, if I can pass all my classes this term." Her eyes were shining.

"Now why would you want to spend all your time stuck in a dungeon stirring a cauldron with the Dungeon Bat?" mocked Cormac MacLaggen.

Harry's eyes flashed. "Watch how you talk about my father, MacLaggen!"

Cormac sneered at him. "Oooh, you gonna tattle on me . . .Snape?"

"Shut it, you bumblehead!" Katie snapped. "For your information, Cormac, I'm honored to study with our Potions Master—he's the best in his field in Britain or in Europe. And I'd rather put up with his sarcasm than with a senile old coot who can't tell a bezoar stone from a moonstone." She turned back to Harry. "Ignore him, Harry. He's nothing but a frustrated little toerag trying to pretend he's all grown up."

"Hey!" Cormac cried.

Harry grinned. "I'll tell him you were asking about him, Katie. Gotta run, I've got tons of homework." He started to go up to his dorm room.

"Yeah and if he doesn't get it done, dear old dad will ground his arse or turn him into a flobberworm," Cormac brayed.

Harry halted, his fists clenched. MacLaggen, you stupid bugger . . .!

But before he could go and confront the other boy, he heard Katie snap, "I wish he'd turn you into a jackass, MacLaggen, because you sure as hell act like one! Silencio!"

Harry smirked. Thanks, Katie. He went to fetch his writing case, happy that at least a few of his Housemates were willing to give his father the benefit of the doubt.

He stuffed his case into his bag and then walked back downstairs to the common room, where he saw Katie's head bent over her text, smirking slightly, and Cormac opening and shutting his mouth like a landed fish, unable to speak because of Katie's hex. She looked up as he went by and gave him a thumbs-up sign, which he returned before slipping out of the portrait hole.

Cute and smart, maybe I ought to get to know her better outside of Quidditch, Harry thought, and whistled happily as he made his way down the stairs. He was so absorbed in thinking about Katie and hoping that his father was recovering that he nearly banged into Percy, who was coming up the stairs. "Oh! Excuse me, Percy!"

"Snape. Just the person I was looking for," Percy drawled. He sounded arrogant and unfriendly.

"What's up?"

"I want to have a word with you, Snape." Percy began coldly.

Harry frowned. "Okay. I'm here. What's this all about?"

"It's about you corrupting my little brother with your snake sympathies," Percy said, his voice like ice. "I want you to stay away from him, Snape."

"What for? He's my friend!" Harry cried angrily.

"Weasleys aren't friends with Slytherins! Or members of their families."

"I'm not a Slytherin, Percy, I'm a Gryffindor," snapped Harry. "And even if I wasn't, who are you to say who Ron can be friends with? I'm still the same person I was when I started here, even if I do know the truth about my real dad and use my real name now. What are you saying, Weasley, I'm not good enough to associate with your family because I'm a Snape now?"

"Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying! My little brother shouldn't associate with kids of Death Eaters."

"My dad is not a Death Eater, you stupid arse!" Harry growled, stabbing his finger into Percy's chest. "He was never a Death Eater, he was a spy!"

"You can believe that if you want, Snape." Percy sneered. "But I know the truth! He would have been in Azkaban if not for Dumbledore vouching for him. Wonder what he promised the old coot? A Youth Potion? Maybe a Clarifying Draft? Or maybe he agreed to let the old boy cop a feel every once in awhile when he was hard up for some ass? Because we all know how our dear Headmaster fancies a tight—Oww!"

He never finished his sentence because Harry's fist slammed into his lip.

"Shut your filthy mouth, Weasley!" Harry spat, his green eyes burning with barely leashed fury. "Don't you ever speak such disgusting lies about my father again, you hear me? My dad is a good and honorable man and he would never lower himself to make a deal like that and neither would the Headmaster! He risked his life for people like you, Weasley, unappreciative, narrow-minded, stupid imbeciles who can't find their arses with both hands and a map! Because he knew you'd be easy prey for Voldemort and he was doing his job, protecting arseholes like you! Sometimes I wonder why he bothered!"

Percy was holding a handkerchief to his mouth, mumbling and whimpering about his tooth being broken.

"Quit whining, you big baby! I didn't hit you hard enough to break anything. But I will if you keep on talking trash about my dad. And if Ron wants to be my friend that's his choice, not yours, so just suck up and deal with it."

And with that, Harry spun on his heel and continued down the stairs to meet his brother by the knight statue.

He found Draco waiting, tapping his foot against the floor. "What took you so long?"

"Had a bit of a rodent problem to settle first," Harry said shortly, rubbing his hand surreptitiously.

Draco eyed him knowingly. "You're mad as blazes. What did you do, punch someone out?"

"How did you know that?"

"You're rubbing your right hand and you only do that if you've just clocked somebody in the jaw. I studied kin-sa-dor with you, remember? So, who did you hit?"

"An arsehole. Percy Weasley."

Draco sniggered. "He must have been crying 'cause you got blood on his robes, the big dandy. Why? What did he do?"

"Told me to stop seeing Ron because I was tainted by being a Snape and your brother. And then he accused Dad of being a Death Eater and a . . .boy toy selling himself to Dumbledore."

"He what?" Draco yelled. "Where is he, the bloody coward? I'm going to break his face!"

Harry grabbed his brother by the back of his robe before he could charge up the stairs. "Hey, Draco, calm down! I've taken care of it. If he steps out of line again, I'll let you take him down, but he's inside Gryffindor Tower now and you don't want to start something you can't finish, Dragon."

Draco halted and thought it over. "You're right, damn it all. But if he starts anything next time . . .his arse is mine, little brother." Then he quirked his mouth at Harry. "What's with calling me Dragon?"

"Dad does sometimes, so I just . . .figured you wouldn't mind."

"I don't, long as you don't call me that where anyone could hear." Draco said.

"I won't. And you can call me Phoenix if you want, like Dad does."

"Okay. C'mon, let's go and see Dad," Draco said and they walked together to the Hospital Wing.

Harry told Severus about Katie's well-wishes, and how she was eager to see him back where he belonged, in his classroom. Though Severus didn't come right out and say it, Harry and Draco could tell that he was pleased by Katie's words, and they spent a quiet evening together, the boys doing homework and then discussing kin-sa-dor with their father.

"I'll see about starting up your lessons again in a week or two, after I catch up on my classwork," Severus told them. "We can use the Room of Requirement to practice, it should serve as well as my practice salon at Prince Manor."

"Where's that?" asked Draco, his gray eyes puzzled.

"On the seventh floor. It will appear whenever a professor or student needs it," Severus explained. "You will see when it's time." He checked his watch. "It's nearly curfew, boys. Best get back to your dorms."

Both boys stood up and hugged him and told him good night.

"See you tomorrow in class, Dad," Harry called over his shoulder.

"I'll be there, Harry. Go on, get some sleep, son," Severus ordered, smiling. "You too, Dragon."

"Okay, Dad." Draco said, then followed his brother out of the room.

"Well, I'm ready to hit the hay," said Harry, yawning.

Draco threw him a puzzled look. "Hit the hay?"

"Muggle expression." Harry laughed. "It means I'm really tired and need to get to sleep."

"Muggles have strange expressions," his wizard-raised brother said.

"So do wizards," Harry told him.

They had nearly reached the stairs leading to the dungeons, and Draco was just about to bid goodnight to his brother when he felt a warning shudder of danger go up his spine. "Harry . . ." he hissed, drawing his wand.

An instant later, three wizards appeared out of the shadows, they had been lurking in the nearby small chamber where the first years waited to be Sorted. Harry drew his wand as well, for the three were no friends of his. They were Nott, Avery, and MacLaggen. The three spread out in a semi-circle, preventing the two brothers from moving either down to the Slytherin common room or up to Gryffindor Tower.

"What's this, lads? Out for a little late night stroll, are you?" drawled Nott, his dark eyes narrowed nastily, reminding Harry of a wild boar he'd seen in the Deepwood.

"What's it to you, Nott?" Draco asked, glaring at his Housemates. "Shove off and let us by."

"Oh ho, listen to the little cockatrice crow!" sniggered Avery. "You really think you're somebody, don't you, Malfoy? You think that because your daddy's locked up in Azkaban and you chose that traitor Snape over him, that you're cock of the walk now. Well, I've got news for you, pretty boy! You're nothing but a snitch and a ruddy coward, and we're here to show you what happens to backstabbers, Malfoy!"

All three had their wands pointed at Draco and Harry.

"Think so?" sneered Draco. "I don't." And with that he lunged at the other boy in a classic snap kick learned from Severus.

The kin-sa-dor move caught Avery totally by surprise, since most wizards fought with magic, not their fists and feet. But Draco was no ordinary wizard.

His foot slammed into Avery's wand hand, breaking his fingers and knocking his wand from his hand.

Avery howled, clutching his hand. "Bastard! You broke my fingers!"

Draco ignored him, spinning about to defend himself from MacLaggen's hex.

Only to find that his brother had already beat him to the punch, casting a swift Disarming charm. "Expelliarmus!"

MacLaggen was blown halfway across the corridor.

Then Harry chanted a quick Body Bind. "Petrificus Totalus!"

"Good one, Harry," Draco praised, then lifted his wand to duel Nott.

Only to find that Nott was hanging in midair, gasping and kicking, his hands going to his collar, trying to loosen the strangling cloth. He was making small mewling noises.

Draco and Harry just stared. What was happening?

An instant later they had their answer, as a tall dark-haired man with burning violet eyes appeared from behind Nott, one hand gripping the teen's robes effortlessly.

"Draco!" Harry gasped. "That's him! The one who saved Dad in the potions classroom! The . . .vampire!" he hissed.

Draco was about to cry that vampires would never be able to get into the castle, but the words died in his throat.

For the dark man had spun the gasping, bug-eyed Nott about and was holding him at arm's length, his lips drawn back to reveal sharp fangs, his eyes shifting eerily from brilliant violet to a bloody crimson. "You! You are one of those who tampered with your cauldron and caused it to explode, nearly killing Severus, Draco, and Harry!" spat the furious vampire.

Nott stuttered, trying desperately to get in enough air to speak. But Philip did not relinquish his hold. So Nott shook his head, whimpering unintelligibly.

"Don't bother to deny it, boy! I smelled your scent upon the cauldron, and I know that particular combination could not have been caused by any . . .accident. It was a deliberate tampering of ingredients designed to cause a harmful explosion. You meant to kill members of my family!" hissed Phil, shaking the petrified Nott like a hound would shake a rat. "And here I find you attempting to try again, you and your band of little reavers! How dare you?"

He relaxed his hold slightly, and Nott rasped, "Please, please . . .sir! Don't eat me! I'm sorry! I didn't know they were related to you . . .!" Huge beads of sweat were dripping down his face, mingling with the tears of terror trickling from his eyes.

Neither did I, Harry thought in amazement. Dad never said anything about a vampire ancestor before.

"And if you had? Would it have stopped you from acting as you did, stupid boy? Of course not!" Phil answered his own question. "You would have considered yourself justified in attacking the traitor and his family, including the bloodsucker! I heard every word you spoke to my . . .nephews," the vampire lord said. Technically, the boys were a bit more removed from him than nephews, but the relationship was too complex to get into with this piece of dung. "Every last insulting, bigoted, wicked word! You meant to teach them a lesson, for betraying your so-called Dark Lord, didn't you?" Nott remained mute.

Philip shook him. "Answer me!"

"Yes . . .yes . . .but they betrayed the Dark Lord . . .they deserve to be punished . . . Snape should die for what he's done!" wailed Nott, defiant despite the vampire at his throat.

"Why? Because he dares to stand up for the truth? Because he does not stoop to torturing innocents and murdering children in the name of some petty necromancer?" The red eyes practically burned a hole in Nott's forehead. "Listen to me, boy, and listen well. I will not tolerate any attacks upon any members of my family—now or ever! By anyone! Because you are a mere child, I shall not bite and mark you, the way I would an adult who committed such an offense, nor kill you either. However . . .you will not go unscathed . . .Look At Me," Philip ordered in a voice that was midnight sheathed in steel and fire.

Nott jerked like a puppet, helpless to do anything save obey the Command in the vampire's tone. "Yes, my lord."

"Better. You will promise to never harm Harry Snape, Draco Malfoy, or Severus Snape for the length of your schooldays. You will leave them alone and apologize formally to Severus in front of all of your Housemates as well as the Headmaster and submit to any further punishment they wish to bestow upon you, up to and including expulsion for attempted murder of a professor and students. You will also suffer a day and a night of the pain you made my descendants suffer when your explosion damaged their lungs. No spell or potion will relieve you of it until you have fulfilled the time limit. Do you understand?"

"Yes, my lord. But . . .I wasn't the only one." Nott whined.

"I know. I will settle with them in a minute." Phil spun about and his fiery gaze froze the other two boys on the spot. Such was the sheer power of an angry vampire lord. "None of those who attempt to harm my family shall go unpunished." He lowered the boy to the ground. "Go then, Theodore Nott, and make your repentance! And remember, I shall be watching!" he leaned down and his fangs grazed the boy's neck briefly. "Behave, or else!"

Then he released the boy and Nott fled, sobbing in terror, only to be brought up short and made to turn around and head back down to the Hospital Wing to admit his guilt to his Potions Master, as per the vampire lord's Command.

Philip then bent and Commanded the other two boys as he had Nott, after first terrifying the snot out of them, and once he was done with that duty, he straightened up and sketched a polite bow to the gaping Draco and Harry. "Greetings, young ones. Let me introduce myself. My name is Philip Anthony Snape, and I am a very distant ancestor of yours."

"And you're a vampire!" Draco blurted.

"Yes, I am. A vampire lord, to be exact." Philip said, then he smiled slightly, a much more friendly smile than he was wont to give. His eyes had changed back from crimson to their normal violet hue. "I was not planning on revealing myself to you so soon, but circumstances forced my hand."

"Uh . . .pardon my asking, sir, but . . .how did you get in here and why?" asked Harry.

"Since I am not evil, your wards permitted me to pass," Philip explained. "And as for why, I would think that would be obvious, little Snape. I am here to protect you. All of you."

Draco coughed suddenly. "Uh, can we go somewhere else to talk about this? It's freezing all of a sudden."

"Yes. Come, we shall go into this empty classroom," Philip said, indicating the unused classroom number eleven, which was across from the Great Hall. "We have much to talk about."

"You can say that again!" Draco muttered, following his vampire ancestor into the room and then shutting the door behind him.

So what did you think of Phil's punishment? And Harry's interest in Katie?

Review please!

Next: Phil reveals some family history to the boys, including the story of the Cup of Wonders and meets Severus.

Chapter Text

Philip settled down in the teacher's chair behind the desk in the unused classroom and looked expectedly at the two teenagers, waiting for the barrage of questions to start. To his surprise, both brothers looked at each other, and something unspoken passed between them. Then they turned and looked directly at him—most youngsters found it difficult to meet a vampire's eyes directly—and Draco said, "Uh . . .my lord—"

"Phillip. Or Phil, though only family members or close friends are ever allowed to address me like that. I was my lord Philip for too long back in the eleventh century to want to start that business all over again now." The vampire corrected softly.

"Right, Philip." Draco nodded. "Umm . . .Harry and I were wondering if it wouldn't be better if you continued this discussion when my dad was here too. That way you could meet the whole family. We could go down to the Hospital Wing and meet with him, if you'd like?"

Philip thought for a moment, recalling how he had rescued Severus from the toxic potions lab, and said, "Yes, I would like that. Your father seems like an interesting fellow and I would like to speak with him when he isn't half-dead from inhaling noxious substances." He rose to his feet. "Come along, boys and let's go and meet my potions prodigy descendent." He opened the door and then turned and hissed, "Since I don't wish to advertise my presence, I will veil myself and walk ahead of you by ten paces." He drew in a breath and raised the veils over himself yet again, then began walking.

"Phil, how do you know the way to the Hospital Wing?" Harry whispered, realizing that the vampire hadn't bothered to ask directions, and in castle the size of Hogwarts, newcomers always got lost.

"I have been exploring and following you about for a week, Harry," came Phil's voice, it was deep and musical. "Wherever you have been, so was I, most times."

"Oh." Harry said, thinking, Merlin, he must really be into this bodyguard thing. Hope he didn't follow me into the loo. He flushed, but then figured the vampire was too savvy to do anything so improper and embarrassing. Though with his supernatural speed he could have nipped inside and scoped things out before I even got there. That made more sense, plus it was something Harry could live with. Just allowing a stray thought to occur about the other scenario made his face heat.

The two boys maintained a safe distance behind the master vampire, who walked much slower than normal, if they had only known, and spoke very little to each other on their way to the Hospital Wing. Draco was still shocked about discovering that Harry had not been imagining things when he said he had seen a vampire, but he didn't like to admit he'd been wrong, so he kept silent.

But just then Harry turned to him, wearing a rather smug look, and said, "Still don't believe me, Dragon?"

Draco shrugged. "Well, I guess now I have to—" he began, then yelped when Harry smacked him across the back of the head hard. "Hey!"

"Maybe next time you'll believe me, huh?" Harry mock-scolded, waving a teasing finger in front of Draco's aristocratic nose.

Draco rubbed the back of his head and sulked petulantly until Harry laughed and said, "Oh, don't sulk, big brother. That's so four-year-old behavior. And aren't you fourteen?"

"What are you, my father?" groused his brother, then he shook his head and sighed. "Fine. You were right. There really is a vampire in the castle. Happy now?"

"Dancing a jig," Harry replied. "It's the miracle of the decade, Draco Malfoy admitting he was wrong to Harry Snape."

"Yeah, yeah," Draco waved a hand in dismissal. Then he changed the subject. "I wonder what Dad said when those three dumbasses confessed to him? I hope he called Dumbledore so the Headmaster could hear it all and then nailed their arses to a wall."

"Me too." Harry agreed, his eyes flashing. An accident was one thing, but a deliberate attempt at harming his father and brother and himself was quite another. "Too bad Dad forbade us to use kin-sa-dor to harm, otherwise I'd have happily kicked a hole through Nott and Cormac."

"Yes. I know what you mean."

They soon had an answer to Draco's question, for when they arrived at the Hospital Wing, they could hear angry voices, one belonged to Severus and the other . . .amazingly enough . . .belonged to the Headmaster. The two exchanged glances of astonishment and disbelief. Dumbledore . . .yelling? It was almost unheard of for the easygoing Headmaster to raise his voice . . .and at a student, no less.

Yet they could hear, quite clearly, Dumbledore berating the three miscreants through the oaken door of the Hospital Wing. " . . .am thoroughly ashamed of all of you. That you could think so little of your fellow students' lives, not to mention your professor, to attempt grievous harm upon them is utterly appalling and disgraceful. If this is an example of school solidarity, perhaps I ought to cancel the TriWizard Tournament and tell the Heads of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang to stay far from here, since I cannot trust my own students to behave with common decency and restraint." There was a pause, and then Dumbledore continued, quite irately, "Do you know that attempted murder carries penalties even for a minor? That Professor Snape could bring all of you up on charges if he wished, or Harry and Draco could? Yes, Mr. Nott, I am serious. You may not be incarcerated in Azkaban, but there is another prison for young wizard delinquents who think themselves beyond the law. It is known as the Oubliette, the Place of Forgetting, and those who go in there come out forever changed."

"That's a lie, sir!" MacLaggen challenged. "I never heard of any such place."

"And therefore that means it does not exist, Mr. MacLaggen?" interrupted a familiar soft voice laced with sarcasm. "Based upon that theory half the world must be gone, because what you don't know could fill a whole volume of encyclopedias!"

"I . . .I've heard of it," quivered Avery. "My grandpop used to threaten to send me there when I was bad. He . . .he said they put you down in a dark hole in the ground and left you there to rot. He said that was where all the wicked little children went. Please, Professor, don't send me there! I'm sorry, I really am!"

"But, sir, the . . .vampire already punished us!" wailed Nott.

"So you have said," replied the Headmaster. "But I am responsible for you while you are here and I cannot allow such behavior—deliberate malicious behavior—to go unpunished. I am sure Professor Snape will agree with me."

"I most certainly do," Severus replied, in a tone that was stiff with icy fury and disapproval. "You were warned at the beginning of the year what would happen if you disobeyed me and attacked a student. Now you shall reap the whirlwind."

The two Slytherins began to plead softly for clemency, but Severus remained inflexible. And this once, so did Dumbledore, even when Cormac joined in.

"As of tonight, you three are all on probation for behavioral problems. Which means you are but a breath away from expulsion. Step out of line just once, boys, and I shall begin proceedings to expel you from this school without delay. Said probation will include the cancellation of all Hogsmeade visits, restriction to your common rooms except for class and mealtimes, regular reports to your Head of House from all of your professors in regards to your behavior in their classroom, three nights a week of detention given by Professors Snape, McGonagall, and myself, you are forbidden to attend any matches or play upon your Quidditch teams, and last but not least, I shall be writing a letter to your parents informing them of your atrocious behavior as well as the behavioral probation. Oh, and your wands will be given to your Heads of House directly after class, since you cannot be trusted to use them appropriately. This is your first and last warning, gentlemen. So take heed, else an angry vampire will not be all you need to worry about!" thundered the Headmaster.

Draco and Harry flinched and thanked their lucky stars they were not the ones on the receiving end of that tongue-lashing.

"Am I understood?" Dumbledore added sternly.

Three voices all replied, "Yes, sir," nearly in unison.

"Sir?" Nott asked, somewhat timidly. "How long will we be on this . . .probation?"

"For the rest of this term, at least. If you show honest improvement, I shall reduce your sentence next term. Otherwise the probation stands for the entire year. Do not whine, Mr. MacLaggen! You are lucky we are lenient with you, otherwise you could be going to the Oubliette."

That shut even Cormac up, and Harry and Draco stepped off to the side as the Hospital Wing's door opened and three very chastened and hopefully repentant students filed out. All of them were shivering and pale and sweating, grimacing in pain as well, for Phil's curse had begun to affect them as well. They didn't even see their former victims, all were too anxious to get away from the Hospital Wing.

They heard Dumbledore telling Severus to get well and then the shush of flames as the Headmaster Flooed back to his office.

"Phil, the coast is clear," whispered Harry unnecessarily, forgetting that the vampire had far superior hearing and other heightened senses as well.

"I am aware of that, Harry," came Phil's voice from out of the air. It was soft and deep and reminded both boys not a little of their father's.

"Draco, how should we do this?" Harry looked at his brother. "Should we just go in and tell him what happened and then introduce Phil after or should we introduce him first?"

Draco looked thoughtful. "I think first would be best. After we let him see that we're all right. He's probably going spare right now, worrying."

"Okay. Sounds good," and with that, Harry pushed open the door to the Hospital Wing and entered, followed moments later by Draco and Philip.

"Harry! Draco!" the undisguised relief in their father's eyes and voice was palpable. "Are you two all right? Come here and let me see you."

Both boys obeyed, submitting themselves to Severus's thorough visual scrutiny and also a magical diagnostic the older man insisted upon performing, making his sons roll their eyes.

"Dad, we're fine!" Draco said. "Those three bumbleheads couldn't take us down if we were tied up and blindfolded."

"Hush, Dragon. I know you, you would tell me you're fine if you were bleeding internally and missing your arm."

"Sounds like someone else I know," muttered his Slytherin son cheekily.

Severus promptly swatted him one, making Draco jump and give his foster parent a sulky look.

Harry, wise enough to learn from his brother's example, said nothing and simple let Snape examine him.

Once Severus was satisfied the boys were whole and unharmed he hugged them and bade them take a seat next to his bed. "Now then, what is all this nonsense about a vampire attacking Nott and the others? Was this some kind of illusion one of you cast?"

"No, Dad. There really is a vampire here, but he's a good vampire, he saved you from the poison fumes when the cauldrons exploded that day. I saw him for a minute before he vanished," explained Harry.

Severus raised an eyebrow. "Are you certain? Because vampires can't pass the wards about Hogwarts unless invited or—"

"—or if their aura is pure and unstained with the blood of innocents," finished Phil, drawing off his veils and appearing to one side of the two boys next to Severus's bed. "Which I am, since I hunt only for food and take blood only from the evil doers—the murderers, rapists, child molesters, and Death Eaters, both wizard and Muggle alike."

Severus's jaw dropped as he stared at the tall dark-haired apparition, who bowed gracefully and smiled, showing only a hint of his fangs, but enough that Snape was convinced he was the real thing and not a figment of Harry's imagination.

"Great Merlin! Have you been here all along?"

"Yes. I can veil myself from the sight of any mortal or wizard and most fae should I so choose," Phil chuckled. "I am very pleased to meet you at last, Severus." He held out a hand. "My name is Philip Anthony Snape and I am a very distant ancestor of yours."

"Of mine? But how?" Severus had taken the vampire's hand and shaken it, but the sudden revelation left him feeling as if he had been slammed in the jaw with three Bludgers and taken a header off his broom. "My father Tobias was a Muggle, as unmagical as they come."

Phil laughed, his violet eyes twinkling. "True, but one does not have to have magic to be a vampire, though it does help." He turned and picked up a chair and brought it back over to the bed, moving so quickly it was as if he had conjured it. "Do you mind if I sit for a spell? My story is long and involved and will probably keep all of you up past your bedtime."

"A vampire bedtime story? Wicked!" Harry exclaimed, looking as eager as a kid at Christmas, which was rare because as a child living with the Dursleys he'd never had a real Christmas.

"Bloody awesome!" Draco cried.

"Draco, language!" reprimanded Severus automatically.

"Sorry, I forgot," Draco said quickly. "Don't wash my mouth out, please?"

Severus frowned sternly at his blond son before acceding. "I'll let it go, because you'v e been under a lot of pressure tonight, but only this once, mind! You're old enough to control your mouth, Draco Michael."

"Yes, sir." Draco heaved a huge sigh of relief. It would have been the ultimate in embarrassing if he had gotten his mouth washed out in front of Philip.

Phil smirked silently to himself, having caught every thought Draco had been thinking due to his vampiric mind powers. As an ancient vampire lord, Philip had learned to develop his mind to its fullest potential, making him a kind of telepath, but such a skill only came with great age. He cleared his throat and said, "Ahem! Shall I begin?"

"I'm a little old for bedtime stories," Severus began, feeling a little put out at being placed at the same level as his children by the ancient immortal.

"Not by my reckoning you're not," teased the vampire, his smirk an echo of Snape's own. "Thirty-four is practically a child to me, since I am around a thousand years old."

Severus flushed. "According to wizard reckoning, I'm an adult—"

The vampire laughed. "Ah, Severus! I was teasing. If it makes you feel better, your Headmaster would be barely a teenager by vampire reckoning."

The boys giggled at that comment and Severus looked mollified.

"If you like, think of it as a family history lesson," Phil said.

"Yeah, an ancient history lesson," Harry remarked.

"Indeed." Phil chuckled, then he began his tale. "As I have said, I was born a thousand years ago, somewhere around the year 995, that's an approximate date because back then we didn't really bother keeping track too much of calendar years, since most people couldn't read or write. Such was the province of the scholars and monks and royalty, most of the nobles couldn't do more than sign their names. I was born in the northern part of England, what today is Yorkshire but back then the place where I was raised was nearly all wilderness save for a few hardy fiefs. We lived on the outskirts of Yorkshire, up near the Scottish border, though further inland was a thriving cultural center and towns, including the great city of York, one of the greatest in British civilization.

"I was the second son, destined for a life as a knight, helping to protect my home and family. I had an older brother, Theodorus, and a little sister, Eleanor. Both of them were ordinary. I, however, was Born a vampire."

"Born a vampire?" Severus repeated. "But I thought vampires were turned, not born."

"Most are. A Born vampire is very rare, and occurs perhaps once or twice in a century. But we are stronger than our turned counterparts and are truly immortal, unlike our made brethren. We age infinitesimally, at least once our vampiric nature has emerged, which usually happens when we are in our teens, sixteen or seventeen or eighteen. Before that we grow much as anyone else and don't display any differences save perhaps for heightened senses and a quicker healing factor as children."

"Do you mean you can't be killed?" Draco asked.

"Now, I didn't say that. But we have very few weaknesses." Phil admitted softly. He waved a hand and a strange mist seemed to flow over them, making them shiver for an instant. "There. An Aural Masking veil, so nothing I am about to reveal can be overheard by prying wizards." The vampire looked rather pleased with himself. "To answer your question, Draco, a Born vampire cannot be slain by a stake through the heart, garlic, holy water, or fire. Stakes and fire can harm us, garlic and holy water have no effect on us whatsoever, nor does the Killing Curse. Our only true enemies are the sunlight, vampire hunters, or the occasional werewolf. Though some of us can walk about in the sun if protected by a Sunstone."

Phil withdrew his own sparkling jewel from beneath his shirt and showed his descendants the magical pendant.

"Then you don't need to sleep in a coffin with dirt from your homeland?" Harry asked, recalling Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Phil wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Certainly not! I could kill Stoker for spreading those stupid rumors about vampires. Much of what he wrote, Harry, was either made up or horribly inaccurate. I prefer to sleep in a comfortable bed, with the curtains drawn, next to my beloved wife."

"You're married?" Severus arched an eyebrow.

"Happily so, for many years, but we're jumping ahead of things." Phil said, resuming his story. "My family did not know I was a vampire, of course. Back then, I would have been hunted down and staked for being a devil worshipper. I did not know myself until the eve of my seventeenth birthday, when my blood hunger and wings emerged. And also my fangs."

He opened his mouth to display the extra long canines.

"Wings? You have wings? Where are they?" Draco craned his head to peer at the vampire's back, wondering if maybe he had gone blind to have missed them.

"They are retracted at the moment, but when I need them, I can call them forth. They are a great advantage in a fight. Mine are a pure ebony, like a rook's feathers."

"Did anyone in your family find out what you were?" asked Severus curiously.

Phil nodded. "Yes. My sister discovered it first, and she helped me hide my nature, giving me aging sheep and cattle to drink from, until I began to learn how to hunt on my own. The animal blood kept me alive, but I was forever hungry, yet I was terrified that if I bit a human, I would turn them into a monster like I was." The ancient vampire grimaced. "I was very much torn between two worlds then. Finally, the king called us to battle and I led the soldiers of my house to war against the French. It was then that I earned the reputation of Philip the Undying, for I took a spear through the chest and lived. I used my illusion powers to disguise the wound, so I didn't appear to heal too swiftly, and declared it a miraculous healing. Luckily, I was popular and well liked and my fellows believed me. It was then as well that I killed my first man and drank his blood. After that, I realized that my drinking blood was a must, and also that I did not make a vampire by doing so. I then made a conscious choice to only hunt those men who were evil and loathsome, never innocents. And I have kept that promise ever since."

"That is a very good thing," Severus remarked dryly.

"Yes. Well, eventually I had to pretend to die, since I wasn't getting any older. I left my family holdings and wandered everywhere, including the realm of the fae. I learned much from them about how to disguise myself and swordfighting and became an ally of the Seelie Court."

"Do you know Queen Titania then?" was Harry's next question.

"Yes, she and I are old friends. She is partially the reason why I am here, little Snape." Phil told him. "I could never stay very long in one place, because people might begin to notice how I never aged or spent much time abroad during the daylight. I also hated watching my mortal friends and family die, though that could not be avoided." Phil's violet eyes suddenly lost their sparkle and went dull and filled with an old pain. "My brother eventually died, though he left behind him three sons and a daughter, and my sister Nell married another lord and had several children as well before she died of the cursed black plague. So the Snape line continued, and I made it my business to check in on my descendants every so often, making sure they were safe and well.

"Once every generation or two, I chose a descendant to show myself to and to tell my story, so that I would not be forgotten. But they could never tell anyone else about me. I chose your father Tobias's brother, Andrew, to reveal myself to. But my secret died when he did, and your father never knew about me or magic or anything else to do with wizards."

"Until he met my mother," Severus said, a faint note of bitterness creeping into his voice.

"I am sorry, Severus." The master vampire said sincerely. "Sorry I wasn't there to help you like I helped your sons. But I was . . .occupied with protecting my own little family from vampire hunters, who had been set on me by your dark necromancer Voldemort." Philip's eyes grew hard as amethysts. "I eventually found a beautiful vampire who was willing to be my mate. Her name is Julie, and she is very special. She is my other half, my soulmate. She and her younger sister Alice also live with me and at the time I had to keep a low profile and protect them as well as myself. But had I known what your childhood was like . . .rest assured I would have made your bastard father suffer for his treatment of you."

"How do you know about that?" demanded Severus. "No one knows about that, except Lily, and my two sons."

Philip nearly blushed. "Forgive me, Sev. I . . .am an ancient vampire and as such can read minds when the person is in the same room as I am. I picked up some of your thoughts regarding your father before and others from your boys when you mentioned him. I did not mean to invade your privacy, Severus, only among family it is sometimes hard for me to block thoughts out, since we are bound by blood."

Severus frowned and raised his Occlumency shields to a level he had not employed since he had last faced Voldemort. "Is that better, Philip?"

Phil looked astonished. "Yes. Now I don't feel so . . .pressured. Thank you. And please, call me Phil. All of my family does." He smiled at Severus.

The Potions Master smiled back. "It would be my pleasure . . .Phil."

"Uh, Phil? How exactly are we related?"

"Draco, that question is difficult to answer, since you are many times removed from me. But suffice to say that you are sort of like my many times great nephews, all of you."

"Then, should we call you Uncle Phil?" Harry wanted to know.

"Uncle Phil?" Philip seemed vastly amused. "Well . . .why not? I can get used to that as quickly as I did my twin sons calling me Dad."

"You have children?" Severus stared at him. "But then . . .that means the myths of vampires being unable to procreate are false."

"Yes. A Born vampire may sire or carry a child with another vampire or occasionally a human, though that is very rare and dangerous for a human woman to carry a vampire's child to term. I would never risk my mortal wife's life if I had one. But Julie is a vampire and she could bear my children safely. I have twin boys, they are four years old, and mischief makers incarnate. They are named Siren and Setus, and they frequently drive me and Julie up a wall."

"Like these two," Severus waved a hand at his sons. "I know exactly what you mean, Phil."

"Hey! We're not all that bad, Dad!" Harry protested.

"Yeah, you still have your original hair color," Draco pointed out.

"No thanks to either of you," Severus shot back.

"Look on the bright side, Dad. We haven't given you a heart attack yet," remarked his son impudently.

"With the rate you're going, Harry Albus Snape, I foresee one occurring in the near future," said his father, deadpan.

"Gee thanks, Dad." Harry made a face at him. "Nice way to make me feel guilty."

"Well, son, if that's the only way to keep you out of trouble . . ." Severus cuffed him gently on the ear.

"I can think of a few other ways," Phil put in, laughing.

"Help, Draco. They're ganging up on me," Harry looked at his brother hopefully.

"What do you want me to do? I'm just as guilty as you are of doing stupid things and making Dad flip out. Face it, little brother, they've painted us into a corner and the best defense is . . .to just shut up and not say anything."

"Big help you are." Harry muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

Draco snorted. "So hex me. I'm all about self-preservation, I'm a Slytherin. I don't go in for all that charge of the Valkyries nonsense like you Gryffindors."

"It's not nonsense! I saved your arse with my so-called 'charge of the Valkyries' stunt back in the Deepwood!" Harry pointed out indignantly. "If not for me you would have been wearing a magical arm!"

"You're never going to let me forget that, are you?" Draco began hotly.

"Boys! Enough!" interjected Severus sharply. "Phil doesn't want to hear you quarreling like a pair of four-year-olds. I'm sure he gets enough of that at home."

Both of his sons immediately subsided, looking abashed.

"Unfortunately, yes," Phil shook his head ruefully.

"You see what you have to look forward to?" asked Severus with a wicked grin.

"DAD!" the two chorused.

"What?" the Potions Master asked innocently. Then he reached out and deliberately mussed his sons' hair, a gesture of affection that they permitted him only when they were in private.

Phil was laughing quietly, pleased at the way the three got along, it was refreshing to see how the little family had bonded, knowing that they had only just come to terms with their relationship that summer. When he had regained his composure, he looked at Severus and said, "I can only hope that by the time my sons are this age, I will be able to provide them with the affection and discipline you have and that they will turn out to be as fine as these two young men."

Both Draco and Harry straightened and shot their ancestor huge grins of triumph. "You are the best, Uncle Phil," said Draco.

"Awesome," Harry agreed.

"Thank you," Philip smiled.

"Dare I ask what I am?" muttered Severus a bit jealously, for his sons had never looked at him with that starstruck hero-worship in their eyes. Must be the vampire aura.

Harry turned to his father. "You're the greatest, Dad. Thought you knew that already."

"Yeah, Dad, you're brilliant," Draco chimed in. "Even if you do scold us into next week and ground our arses when we need it." He flashed his father his most winning smile.

"Enough flattery," Severus said gruffly, but he was pleased to discover that he was still loved by his boys, despite the fact that their newfound ancestor was a very charming, handsome, and ultra-cool vampire. "Save it for the next time you want to buy something at Hogsmeade." Then he smirked at them.

"Spoken like a true Snape," Philip laughed. "And all of you are the reason why I am here now. It is my sworn duty to protect you from harm, and I shall endeavor to do so to the best of my ability," he said gravely. "As you saw tonight, no one hurts my family and gets away with it."

"A fact that I am very grateful for," Severus told him. "If not for you, my sons might have been seriously injured. For that, I can never repay you."

"You would never need to. We're family. Family has no debts." Phil stated firmly.

Severus nodded. "Nevertheless, I can certainly use your help. As you can tell, these two are born trouble magnets."

"You shall have it, Sev." Phil promised. "And now, I think it is getting very late and you need your sleep. It's almost past your curfew."

Both boys groaned. "Merlin! Two of them!"

"Good night, boys," Severus said, pointing towards the door.

"Night, Dad," they replied, then gave him a quick hug before they slipped out the door.

Harry called over his shoulder, "By the way, Uncle Phil, you tell the best bedtime stories." Then he ducked out the door, laughing.

"Impudent rascal!" Philip snickered. Then he bid Severus goodnight and rose to shadow his two younger charges back to their dorms.

A/N: so what did you think of everything?

Next: Harry plays Quidditch and gets closer to Katie, while Draco meets Hermione in the library and makes Pansy jealous.

Chapter Text

"So, have you thought about who you're going to take to the Yule Ball?" Ron asked as Harry pulled on his Quidditch uniform.

"Uh . . .no, I'm still trying to decide," Harry hedged as he tugged his robes straight. Actually, he really wanted to ask Katie, but he was afraid one of the older students had already asked her and he wasn't sure how to go about it without looking like an utter idiot. "How about you?"

Ron shook his head. "It's really hard trying to get a girl by herself so you can talk to her, know what I mean?"

"Yeah, they kind of tend to travel in packs, or with at least one other friend, and they always seem like they're laughing at you."

"I know. Why do they giggle so much?"

"Got me. You're the one with the sister. Why don't you ask Ginny?"

"Tried to. She just looked at me like I was the biggest imbecile on the earth." Ron sighed. "Guess we're on our own with this one. Do you at least have some prospects?"

"Maybe," Harry hedged, not wanting to start any rumors or jinx himself.

Ron looked interested, like a ginger tom Arabella Figg had once had, perking up his ears when he heard the can opener. "Such as?"

Harry simply smiled slightly and didn't answer, dodging his too-curious friend by saying, "Gotta run, else I'll be late for practice. See you later, Ron!" He waved then dashed out the door, his Firebolt tucked under his arm.

He thought about jumping on his broom and flying it out the Owlery window to save time, but then he imagined what his father would have to say about that little reckless stunt . . .or do. Not to mention what Uncle Phil would say.

So Harry wisely reconsidered his initial impulse and continued on down the stairs and out of the castle the usual way. After all, Severus had just been released from the infirmary yesterday and Harry had no wish to put his father back in there any time soon. Nor to have an angry vampire scolding him. He had a feeling that would be as bad, if not worse, as Severus scolding him.

He had nearly reached the Quidditch pitch when he spotted Draco, lounging beside the huge bolder in the middle of the path, chatting with Smidgen. As he drew closer, he could just make out their conversation.

" . . .so do you think she'd like a poem, Smidgen? I've heard that some girls like that sort of thing, and she's . . .really into books. Only problem is . . .I don't know how to write that sort of thing. Where can I learn?"

:Ah, Draco, you have one of the foremost poets of the Seelie Court right here—me! I have studied all the famous poets—Shakespeare, Coleridge, Shelley—now there was a romantic—Byron—oh he was a wicked one, a little racy, but he knew how to court a woman!—and John Keats also, though he died too young, poor man. They served as inspirations for me. I think I can help you with your poem for a special young lady.: the shimmerling offered, purring ecstatically. She so loved a good romance, and young love was so sweet and unspoiled.

"Thanks, Smidgen!" Draco sighed in relief. "Uh . . .when can you help me write it? I . . .want to meet in the library tonight. Will it take long?"

:No, not unless you plan on writing a poetic novel like Wordsworth. A poem can be any length and does not necessarily have to rhyme. I shall assist you after Quidditch practice, all right?: Smidgen sent, then added, :Here comes your brother. Hello, Harry! Are you contemplating a date for the Yule Ball as well?:

"Hi, Smidgen!" Harry greeted the shimmerling, hiding his amusement at finding out Draco wanted to learn poetry so he could write to Hermione. "Yes, I'm thinking about it, why?"

:Just wondering, is all. Well, I shall be off, have fun playing Quidditch and catching that silly winged globe!: And with that Smidgen blinked away, leaving the two brothers alone.

"Silly winged globe!" cried Harry. "The Snitch isn't silly, it's wicked." He shook his head. "Ah, she doesn't understand. Can't expect a shimmerling to know about Quidditch." He eyed Draco knowingly. "Although looks like she knows plenty about sonnets and poetry."

To his delight, his brother blushed all the way to the roots of his hair. "You . . .you were eavesdropping, weren't you?"

"Uh . . .ahh . . ."

"You prat!" Draco snapped, and promptly slugged his younger brother in the shoulder. "How much did you hear?"

Harry scowled at him. "Oh, calm down, Romeo! It's not like I'm going to blab how you like her all over the school. All I heard was Smidgen offering you advice on how to write a . . .love poem!" In spite of himself, Harry grinned and snickered.

"Shut up! It's not funny! If I screw this up, she might never talk to me. I figured if I . . .handed her a poem after we met in the library it might . . .make her see me differently. Girls like that kind of mushy junk, right?"

"You're asking me? Smidgen probably knows more about what girls like than I do, big brother. I haven't even got a date for the Ball yet."

"Who do you have in mind? Ron's sister?"

Harry shook his head. "No. I like Ginny, but not that way. She's a friend, but I think it'd be too weird trying to have a date with my best friend's sister. It would make thing really uncomfortable between me and Ron if Ginny and I had a fight or he . . .Merlin forbid, caught us kissing . . .You know, big brothers aren't supposed to like their baby sister's boyfriends."

"How do you know that?"

"Hermione and Lavender were talking at lunch and Lavender said her older brother always had something to say about any boy she ever brought home, that none of them were any good for her, and if any of them ever laid a hand on her he'd hex them into the next century. Hermione said he sounded like a typical older brother, and I think she's right. Besides, I like someone else."

"Who?"

Harry shrugged, embarrassed. "Don't make fun of me, okay?"

"Harry, just tell me."

"I . . .like Katie. Katie Bell, she's Chaser for Gryffindor."

"Good one too. But isn't she a year older than us?"

"So? What's a year? Look at Dad and Sarai."

"Uh . . .you're right. Guess it doesn't really matter." Draco conceded. "So . . .you asked her yet?"

"No. But I just need some time."

"Don't take too long or somebody else might beat you to it," Draco warned. Then he asked anxiously, "You don't think anyone's asked Hermione yet, right?"

"Not that I know of. We only just learned about it yesterday, remember? And Hermione . . .she's always off studying and not too many kids want to go out with a know-it-all."

"I would. At least you can have a proper conversation with her and not have to deal with all that "Oohh, Draco!" And giggling over nothing and looking at you like you were a nice juicy peach she wanted to devour. I'd take Hermione over Pansy any day." Draco said fervently.

"Can't say I blame you. Pansy sounds like the ultimate twit."

"She's a bubblehead, all right." Draco sighed. "I just hope I can avoid her till the end of term."

Harry checked his watch and swore. "Ahh . . .bloody hell! I'm late for practice!" He hopped on his broom. "Angelina's gonna chew my arse out! She took over as Captain when Wood left and she's a real stickler for being on time for practice, like Dad. Good luck, Dragon!"

"You too, Phoenix!" Draco waved as his brother took off, then he headed back towards the school, hoping it wouldn't take him all day to come up with a suitable poem for Hermione. Of course, he would not sign his full name just yet, only his initials and see what she made of that.

As predicted, Angelina did chew out Harry for being late, standing in front of him with her hands on her hips and giving him a glare so scorching Harry wondered how it was he didn't burst into flames on the spot. "You know, Snape, just because you're a professor's son doesn't give you leave to traipse on over to practice whenever you feel like it!"

"I know, Angie. I'm sorry, I . . .just lost track of time."

"Don't let it happen again, Snape, or else Seeker or not, I'll make you run fifteen laps around this pitch and do fifty crunches just like Wood used to! And it's Captain Johnson! Got it?"

"Yes, Captain," Harry said, flushing. Great! Just what I always wanted, to have Katie see me getting my arse handed to me. He didn't dare look up to see if she was watching, and kept his eyes on the ground.

"Okay, now that we're all finally here," Angelina said shortly. "Let's practice." She knelt and released all the balls from the trunk. Then she blew a whistle and the Gryffindor Quidditch team soared up into the air.

Matt Armstead, another Gryffindor sixth year, was the new Keeper since Wood had left Hogwarts and he flew about in front of the rings while Katie, Angelina, and Alicia fought for the Quaffle. Fred and George kept a sharp eye out for the black Bludgers and Harry shot into the sky on his Firebolt, focusing on the whirring Snitch.

The glittering golden ball shot across the pitch, Harry in hot pursuit, but even though his Firebolt was wicked fast, it could not match the enchanted globe for sheer speed and he quickly lost it in the clouds. He swooped down through them, his eyes scanning the area rapidly.

As he did so, he saw Katie crouched over her broom, a Nimbus 2001, arms lifted to snatch the Quaffle out of the air when Matt threw it back in after Alicia had scored. Her robes seemed to cling to her for a moment, outlining her back and waist and Harry felt his mouth go dry. Wow! Not only does she have pretty hair and all, but she's sleek like an elvensteed and she has a great seat on a broom. I'd love to see her ride a horse. He gulped sharply as she twisted about, leaning over to snag the Quaffle from Angelina.

The maneuver was dangerous, but that was not what made Harry unable to take his eyes off her. Ah, sweet Merlin! She moves quick as shimmerling on her broom and how on earth did I miss the way her robes hug her waist and her bum . . .? She pulled up, the Quaffle tucked under her arm, laughing, and Harry found himself spellbound, unable to look away from her, her laughter and her smile had him mesmerized.

"Throw it in, Katie!" he found himself yelling as if he were a spectator, and it was only when George shouted at him to watch out that he came back to himself.

"Harry! Keep a lookout, mate!" George yelled, flying up and slamming the Bludger away from the distracted Seeker just in the nick of time. "Don't want to spend even more time in the Hospital Wing, now do ya?"

Harry blinked and looked up at George. "Huh? Oh. Thanks, George." He quickly pretended to be searching for the Snitch, hoping George hadn't caught where his eye had been glued to for the past seven minutes. Get your mind back in the game, Harry! You can gawk at Katie later! He scolded himself mentally, and took his broom about the pitch, struggling to keep his wayward thoughts on the Snitch and not the pretty witch holding the Quaffle.

C'mon, Snape, you're the Seeker, now quit mooning and start Seeking. Before Angelina conks you over the head with a bat and tosses you off the team! But even with his mental berating, Harry found it difficult to concentrate, since looking at Katie was much more interesting than finding the Snitch.

Until the Snitch was hovering right in front of his face and he couldn't ignore it.

Or Angelina's outraged, "Merlin's hairy arse, Snape! Are you going to catch it or sit there like a lump on a log?"

Face flaming, Harry dove after the golden ball, at last managing to catch it in a shocking power dive, pulling up six feet before the ground.

"Got it!" he yelled.

"Nice catch, Harry!" Katie grinned.

"About time, Snape!" his Captain muttered, none too pleased with her Seeker. She blew the whistle. "Let's have another match, and this time, Snape, try and keep your eye on the ball."

Harry muttered an affirmative, reddening, for he hadn't ever been the recipient of Angelina's sharp tongue before this. But he couldn't even resent her for picking on him, since he knew he deserved it.

He managed to keep his concentration for the rest of the practice and caught the Snitch five minutes into the second match, and got himself back into Angelina's good graces and also earned a grin from the object of his affection that made him feel as if he'd won a million Galleons.

All the way back to the locker room he kept trying to wipe a silly grin from his face and a part of his mind kept chanting, She likes you, she must, she smiled at you twice! Twice!

He recalled the way her hair had whipped about in the breeze as she flew and suddenly he was imagining running his hands through it and then holding her close and wondering what it would feel like to kiss her and suddenly he was grateful for the shower he was about to take, otherwise he would have been utterly embarrassed.

Afterwards, he saw Katie walking back up the path to the school, the bag with her Quidditch robes slung over her shoulder, and he hurried to catch up to her before he lost his nerve. For once, she was by herself, and not with Alicia, Angelina, or some other girl.

"Hey, Katie!"

Katie stopped and turned about. "Hi, Harry! What's up?"

"Uh . . .you played a really good game today," he managed to say without tripping over his own tongue.

She shrugged. "It was okay. I scored four goals out of twelve, not bad. Angie's a real tyrant when you break rules, huh?" she said sympathetically.

Harry blushed. "Sort of, but I did deserve it. And it's no worse than what my dad would've said to me if I'd been late for class. I'd have probably lost points or gotten detention from him."

"What kept you? Usually you're early for practice."

"Uh . . .I was talking with my brother," Harry hedged. "Uh . . err . . .are you hungry? D'you want to grab a bite to eat at the Three Broomsticks?"

Katie looked surprised. "You're . . .asking me to have lunch with you?"

"Yeah . . .I'll pay, my treat," he offered gallantly, hoping she would think the crimson tide in his cheeks was from the wind and a hot shower.

"Aww, you're really sweet, Harry. I'd love to, but . . ." her face fell, and she thought sadly, He's awful cute when he blushes and I really want to go, but I can't. I hope he doesn't hate me when I tell him no. "I can't. I have to go and brew a potion with Professor Snape. This is his free time, when he can help me with my internship . . .I'm really sorry."

"Hey, no problem. Your internship is more important." Harry said, struggling to keep the disappointment out of his face. "Maybe some other time?"

"We could have dinner later," she suggested. "I should be done with my potion in about two hours."

"Sure. What are you brewing?"

"Felix Felicis, you know, the Luck Potion? I'm really excited, it's a sixth year potion, but Professor Snape thinks I have the aptitude to brew it. It sounds like it's going to be fun."

"Want some help?" Harry offered.

"I don't know if your dad will let you help me. I'm supposed to brew the draft on my own."

"Oh, well, maybe there's something else he needs brewed," Harry said, knowing Severus usually had ten potions to brew on any given weekend.

"You could ask him and find out." Katie said, continuing her walk up to the castle. "I'm sure he could use the extra help. Although . . .since when did you get to be good at brewing? I mean . . ." she trailed off, going bright scarlet.

"Since I spent the summer with Dad," Harry laughed. "Before, I always goofed off and never really tried, but since Dad tutored me over the summer I actually like potions now. I'll probably never be a Potions Master, but I'm not a total dunderhead either."

"Good for you! So many people don't appreciate the subtle and exacting craft of potions," Katie began, then halted. "Oh my God! Did I just say that out loud? Merlin, now I'm starting to sound like him!"

"Only a lot nicer!" Harry quipped, and then he started to laugh.

He was joined a minute later by Katie.

When they at last regained control over themselves, they headed down to the dungeons together, exchanging amused glances as they did so.

As he walked next to the tall girl, Harry could not help smirking at the way fate had manipulated him. Only I could end up having a first date in the potions lab. Guess I really am my father's son.

Severus had been surprised to see both his internship student and his son entering his classroom that afternoon. But not so shocked that he didn't notice the way Harry's eyes lingered upon Katie every so often, or the way Katie peeked at Harry over her cauldron while she stirred. He had been a teacher too long not to know the signs of a budding attraction.

So that's the way the wind blows, is it? Well, he was bound to develop a crush or an infatuation sooner or later. I'm just happy it's with Miss Bell, she's sensible and looks like she fancies him too. I suppose I had better sit him down this evening after supper and have The Talk with him. Just in case. He shuffled through some tests on his desk and hoped it would not be too awkward. He was fairly certain Harry was not sexually active, that this was probably his first serious crush on a girl, and he trusted Harry to behave with decorum and restraint, but even so . . .better safe than sorry. He knew better than anyone what teenage hormones were like and how you could get carried away in the heat of the moment.

He rose to check upon their potions, Katie was brewing Felix Felicis and Harry was brewing a batch of Fever Reducer for the Hospital Wing, and while he was beside his son's cauldron, he leaned over and whispered in Harry's ear, "Meet me in my quarters after supper, please. I need to discuss something with you."

Harry looked up, worry filling his eyes. "Is something wrong, Dad? Am I in trouble?"

"No, not unless you've been misbehaving."

"No, sir."

"Good. Then you have nothing to worry about. Finish stirring that and then you can take a break for lunch."

Harry nodded, and continued stirring. "How did you know I was starving?"

Severus snorted. "Teenage boys are always starving. Plus, I can hear your stomach grumbling." He gave his son's shoulder a squeeze before moving on to monitor Katie's progress.

Harry bent over his cauldron, thinking ruefully, Merlin's bloody staff, but he notices EVERYTHING. It's like he can read minds sometimes.

A few minutes later, Severus cast a stasis spell over their cauldrons and declared it was time to break for lunch. He then summoned a house elf and soon they were all eating sandwiches and crisps at a small table next to Severus's desk and drinking pumpkin juice and iced tea.

Meanwhile, Draco struggled to write a poem that expressed his growing feelings for a certain studious Gryffindor, along with a few hints from Smidgen. He crumpled up sheet after sheet of parchment , because they were filled with crossouts and ink blots. "Smidgen, I think it's hopeless. I just don't have any gift for poetry."

:Nonsense, Draco! You were doing well. I think you have to relax and just stop trying so hard. Let the words just flow from you. Think about how Hermione makes you feel and then just . . .write it down.:

Draco groaned and put his head in his hands. "Okay. Let me just . . .start again."

He bent and dipped his quill in his inkwell, paused, and began to write. He just hoped that Hermione liked poetry and wouldn't laugh in his face once she figured out who had written it.

An hour later he carefully sprinkled the finished copy with pounce—which was sand that dried ink quickly—and waited five minutes before shaking it off and rolling it up and tying it with a crisp green ribbon.

Then he called Stormrider and had him deliver it, checking his watch. It was nearly time for dinner.

:Finished?: the shimmerling queried.

"Yes, and now I need to eat something. Thanks for all the help, Smidgen."

:You are most welcome, young one.:

"I wonder how she liked it?"

:Would you like me to find out?:

"Would you? That would be great. That way I'll know what to expect when I see her in the library later on."

:It would be my pleasure. I think she will suit you very well.: The ancient fae cat purred. She did so love matchmaking.

Then she blinked away, reappearing moments later in the Gryffindor common room, where Hermione was studying for Arithmancy.

She found the girl examining the scroll for any kind of return address before opening it. "That's odd. First my owl comes incognito and now this." Hermione muttered, peering at the scroll intently.

Smidgen hovered over the girl's shoulder, silently reading what Draco had written.

The goddess of wisdom has blessed you with insight,

And a brilliant inquisitive mind, so rare

To find a girl who values improving her inner self, as well as her outer one.

You may think your face is plain and ordinary, but

My eyes see beauty in the curve of your cheek and the curls in your hair

Your eyes remind me of smoky quartz, sparkling with hidden depths

I hope that someday they might sparkle for me,

For you are an irresistible combination.

Your Secret Admirer,

DMM

Hermione was smiling, mouthing the words of the poem to herself and sighing in delight.

"Oh, Merlin! This is like a dream, no one has ever written me poetry before. How sweet! I wonder who's initials are DMM? Let me see, who are all the boys in Gryffindor?" Hermione mused, and took up her quill and began to scribble on a spare piece of parchment. "I'll bet whoever sent me this is the same one who sent me my owl. There was that reference to Athena, after all. Now, let's see . . ."

Smidgen purred in satisfaction before blinking away to tell Draco the good news.

Later that evening

Hogwarts library:

Hermione looked up as a shadow fell over her as she was studying her Ancient Runes text, her eyes felt gritty and sore from staring at her books for so many hours. During her study breaks, of which there had been two, she had tried to decipher the author of the poem. So far, the initials didn't match up with anyone in her House, and so she had moved on to trying names of boys in Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. She doubted the boy had come from Slytherin, given that House's distaste and dislike of Gryffindors and Muggleborns. She had deduced that the boy in question must be someone who was observant and sensitive and not afraid of a girl with brains. But who that boy could be was a mystery.

To her shock, she saw Draco Malfoy standing in front of her. Unlike previous years, he was not sneering or making fun of her, instead he looked almost . . .nervous, though of course that was ridiculous, for what did the pureblood scion of an ancient wizarding family have to look nervous about? She knew, as everyone did, that Draco had publically rejected his dark inheritance and was now Snape's foster son and Harry's brother as well. She had seen for herself that Draco was not the same boy he had been last year when partnered with him for that potions lesson. Even so, it gave her a jolt to see him here in the library.

"Draco? What . . .are you doing here?" she sputtered.

"The same thing you are, Gra—Hermione," he corrected himself. If she could call him by his first name, then he could extend her the same courtesy. "Trying to study."

"What are you studying?" she inquired, not seeing any books in his hands.

You, he almost blurted, but caught himself just in time. He swallowed and tried to come up with a reasonable explanation. The little witch was looking up at him, a puzzled expression on her face. The soft light of the lamps along the wall behind her turned her ordinary brown hair into a bronze colored cascade of curls and brought a gentle golden glow to her pale cheeks. She was seated in a corner, next to an overflowing bookshelf, her books spread out on the study carousel in front of her. "I . . .have a test in Astronomy coming up and I was wondering . . .if you wouldn't mind helping me study for it?"

"You want my help?" she asked, astonished. "But what about your friends?"

"Crabbe and Goyle don't take Astronomy," Draco pointed out.

She frowned. "You must be desperate if you're asking for help from a Gryffindor Muggleborn. Once you wouldn't have given me the time of day."

To her eternal shock he actually looked away and his gray eyes were filled with shame. "That was then. I was . . .a spoiled little brat that needed his bum tanned," he admitted quietly. "I'm different now. Now that I don't have to pretend to be my father's shadow."

"Harry said you had changed, but I wasn't quite sure whether or not to believe it until that day in potions. You made sure I got out first before you and then . . .you went back and dragged Harry out of there too."

"That's right. See, I'm not all bad. I have my good points."

Slowly, she nodded. "I guess that spending the summer with Professor Snape was a good influence on you and Harry both."

"Yes. My godfather's always been a good influence on me. I respect him a great deal. More than I ever did my own father. I really don't have an excuse for my behavior before, except to say that I was trying to be what my father wanted, until I realized that what he was isn't something I should aspire to be. I don't want to be a murderer, or a Death Eater, and hurt and kill Muggleborns. I don't hate them."

She pursed her lips. "And yet . . .you called me a . . .Mudblood."

He flinched. "That was wrong. If Uncle Sev ever knew that . . .he'd have kicked my arse good. Look, Hermione. Let's forget what happened before, when I was an utter idiot, and start over. All right?"

She was silent for a long moment. He seemed sincere, and he certainly was not acting his usual snotty arrogant self. Could this be the real Draco Malfoy she was seeing? Suddenly she had a flash of insight. That morning back in August—the day of the Malfoy trial—the Prophet ran an article about it and I read it. It said that if the Malfoys were sent to Azkaban, their sole heir would be one Draco Michael Malfoy. And that means his initials are DMM.

She gaped at the blond-haired wizard. "You. It was you who sent me the owl over the summer. And the poem today. Your initials are DMM, aren't they?"

"Yes. Draco Michael Malfoy."

"Did you mean it then? What you wrote? Or is this some kind of prank?"

"If I didn't, I would have never spent an entire afternoon writing it," he replied truthfully, meeting her eyes squarely. "And I wouldn't be here either." He felt his palms start to sweat and he thought nervously, Now that she knows the truth, what's to prevent her from telling me to shove off? I treated her pretty badly the last three years. He waited for what seemed like an eternity for her to say something, anything.

At last she said, very quietly, "You're the first boy since I came here to ever look at me as more than just a walking encyclopedia. Even Ron and Harry didn't like me much at first. They changed their mind after the troll in the bathroom though, but . . ."

"That's because your brilliance is scary."

"It is?"

"Uh huh. It's scary to think how much smarter you are than the rest of us."

"Ron always makes fun of me for studying too much."

"But he comes to you when he needs help with his homework, doesn't he?" Draco asked knowingly.

"Well, yes. A lot of people in my House do. Actually, some of the first years in Hufflepuff and Slytherin have also asked me to help them a few times," she admitted.

"There, you see. Being smart is an asset, not something to be ashamed of."

"And are you afraid of me, Draco?"

"Terrified," he grinned down at her. "Terrified that you might actually make me work for my marks this term. I'm used to being the top of my class."

Why, he's cute when he smiles. Very cute. Tentatively, she smiled back. "Well, I guess you'd better start studying, Mr. Malfoy."

"Right." He snapped his fingers and his bookbag levitated over to him.

Her eyes widened. "You can do wandless magic?"

"Only a Summong charm. Dad—that's Professor Snape I'm talking about—taught me just before we came back to school."

"Would you . . .teach me?" she asked wistfully.

"I'm not sure I should. Then you'd probably beat me in that too."

"Afraid, Draco?" she challenged, her eyes sparkling.

"No. I need someone to challenge me. All right. I'll teach you wandless magic, Hermione. With your brains, you'll pick it up like that." He snapped his fingers.

She ran her hand through her hair and chuckled. "Better watch out then, Malfoy." Then she asked, "Do you really like my hair? I always thought it was a horrendous mess. I used to wish it were straight."

Draco mimed being horrified. "You didn't! I think your hair is great. It's unusual and different and I like how it curls about your shoulders. It reminds me of ivy."

She blushed. "You're sweet, Draco."

He laughed, low and husky. "Thanks . . .I think." He began to take out his quill and parchment and his notebook. His hand brushed against hers, and he clasped it gently in his own. "I like smart girls. They're so much more interesting than the bubbleheaded pretty ones."

"Then you don't think I'm pretty?"

"You're both." He flipped open his Astronomy book. "Did you like my poem then?"

"It was lovely. I never knew you were a poet."

"Neither did I. That's the first poem I ever wrote. And Athena was my owl's daughter and the first present I ever gave a girl."

"She's the most amazing owl! I just love her. She's very smart and she loves to sit on my shoulder and nibble my hair. Even Crookshanks gets along with her. Thank you so much, Draco."

"You're welcome. I figured she would suit you."

Hermione beamed, and the smile transformed her face. "You know, I like you much better this way."

"I like myself better this way. And just so you know, this isn't an act, this is the real me."

"Good." She allowed him to hold her hand for a moment more before gently drawing it away. "Okay, now what material are you being tested on in Astronomy? The conjuction of planets?"

They spent a pleasant hour and a half studying, quizzing each other on Astronomy and Ancient Runes until Draco said if he tried to stuff one more fact in his head, it was going to explode. "And you wouldn't want a brainless idiot for a boyfriend now would you?"

"Oh, I don't know about that." She teased, tossing her hair back. "Some girls say that the perfect man is a gingerbread man."

"Why?"

"Because he's cute and sweet and if he gives you any lip you can bite his head off."

Draco stared at her. "That's . . .that's just evil!"

She laughed. "Be grateful that I like you the way you are, Malfoy."

"I'm very grateful," he murmured, then he followed his instincts and cupped her face between his hands and kissed her, slowly, gently, and thoroughly.

Her lips were soft, sweet, and he thrilled to the touch of her mouth on his own.

Hermione gasped, for Draco had taken her by surprise, but she discovered that she did not mind him kissing her, not at all. He made her all tingly and shivery and she understood at last what the other girls in her dormitory meant when they said a kiss could make you quiver all the way down to your toes. She had never thought she would ever know that feeling, she who was the bookworm, the frizzy-haired Muggleborn whom no boy ever looked twice at unless he needed her help with homework.

Until now.

And it felt absolutely wonderful.

After a moment, Draco pulled away, keeping his hands upon her shoulders, and said huskily, "Now aren't you glad I'm not a gingerbread man?"

Hermione burst out laughing. "Very much so." She looked up at him and felt oddly as if she had stepped into the pages of a fairytale, where the handsome wizard prince chooses the most unlikely maiden of all to be his bride. I must be crazy. This is Draco, for heaven's sake! Draco Malfoy! The one they all call the Prince of Slytherin. And you're the Gryffindor Know-It-All. Her conscience rebuked. But he gave me my owl and wrote me a poem. And now he kissed me. Dare I trust him? Is he really serious, or is this just a game to him? There was only one way to find out. "Draco?"

"What?"

"I was wondering . . .do you have a date yet for the Yule Ball?"

"No."

"Then do you want to go with me?"

He stared into her chocolate brown eyes and saw the rampant uncertainty and fear she tried to hide. Abruptly, he made up his mind. He would banish that uncertainty forever. He cleared his throat.

She waited, her heart beating rapidly in her chest, for his polite rejection.

Instead he said yes.

"Really? You'll go with me?" she cried, unable to believe her ears.

"Yes."

"Even though I'm a Gryffindor and you're a Slytherin?"

"Yes. You know, that's not unheard of, for a Gryffindor to go out with a Slytherin. Look at Severus and Lily. They broke with convention. And so can we. If you want to."

"I do," she said, then she stood up on tiptoe and kissed him back. "See you tomorrow, Draco."

Her lips were like the merest brush of a butterfly's wing, but he savored that brief contact all the way back to his common room. She had promised to meet him in the library again tomorrow and after they would go to Madam Puddifoot's in Hogsmeade for lunch. And then . . .they would see what the school made of another pairing of opposite Houses.

He had almost reached Raj's portrait when he heard the distinct nasal tones of Pansy calling for him to wait up. Ah, hells! Why does she have to come along now and ruin my evening?

"Draco! Oh, there you are! Where were you?" Pansy cooed, rushing up to him and grabbing his arm.

He fought to keep from jerking away. He hated being touched suddenly, a legacy of Lucius's abuse. "Studying," he replied shortly, wishing he had just kept on going into the portrait hole.

"Oh, poor you! Spending your Saturday night studying instead of relaxing. Snape must be an awful strict guardian, making you do that."

"He wasn't making me do anything, Pansy. It was my choice. I do like getting good marks, you know."

"Yes, you're so smart, Drakee darling," Pansy crooned.

Draco nearly gagged. Merlin help me! Now she's giving me nicknames. Terrible ones too! "Uh, Pansy, don't call me that. My name is Draco."

"Whyever not?" she pouted. "Other girls give their boyfriends pet names."

Boyfriend? Whoa! I never agreed to that! He pulled his arm free of her, determined to nip her infatuation in the bud once and for all. "Look, Pansy. I know we used to be . . .matched to each other, but when my father got sent to Azkaban and I became Severus's ward, that ended."

"Not for me it hasn't," she declared breathlessly. "I told you, darling, I don't care what my father says, I am going to marry you or nobody else. We're perfect together."

Draco shook his head, horrified. "No! Listen to me for once. You don't even know the first thing about me."

"Of course I do! I've known you since we were kids!"

"No, you didn't. You knew the pureblood Malfoy heir that Lucius raised, but that was never me. I'm sorry, Pansy, but we're all wrong for each other. You fell in love with someone that doesn't exist." He felt bad about being so blunt, but nothing else seemed to be getting through to her.

She glared at him. "No! You do too love me! You said so . . .that day near the fishpond behind your house."

"Pansy, for the love of Merlin! I was six . . .and my father had just ordered me to go out there and be nice to you or else he'd whip my arse. So I did. I said what he wanted me to. I'm sorry if you thought I had feelings for you."

"You don't mean that. I know you love me!" she cried passionately, and then she threw her arms about him.

"Ugh! Pansy, get off!" he snapped. He managed to wrench himself out of her arms a moment later. "Quit making a spectacle, dammit! I'm not going to be what you want, because what you want is a perfect Death Eater wanna-be. And that isn't me, was never me. Our fathers arranged this . . .betrothal between us, but now that's done and we're free to find our own partners. So . . .why don't you take advantage of that, okay?"

She gasped, her eyes going wide in her pudgy face. "What are you saying? That you found someone else? Who is she? Where is she?"

"None of your business," Draco said sternly. "Good night, Pansy."

With that, he turned on his heel, spoke the password to the portrait hole, and slipped inside, leaving a stunned fuming Pansy staring after him.

"How dare he throw me over for some . . .some other tart! He belonged to me first! Just wait till I find out who she is, I'll make her rue the day she set eyes on him. Nobody takes what's mine. Nobody!" she vowed, then she sailed inside the portrait hole in high dudgeon, plotting revenge on whoever Draco had chosen in her stead.

On the other side of the castle, high above in Gryffindor Tower, Hermione brushed her hair and hummed to herself. Athena was perched upon her trunk, and every so often the girl would halt and stroke her owl, and whisper, "I think he really likes me, Athena! Just me, and not because I've memorized half the library either." She smiled happily to herself and wondered what tomorrow would bring. "I think . . .I hope . . .that my prince has finally found me," she confided to her owl and to the sleeping Crookshanks. Then she chuckled at her own whimsy and continued brushing her hair. Tomorrow would be a day to remember.

So how did you all like it?

Chapter Text

Two hours previous

The Three Broomsticks

Hogsmeade:

Harry managed to find a quiet table in the corner for them and was surprised when the server, a house elf, asked if they would like to see The Couples Menu. "Everything upon it is specially made for two people—it includes an appetizer, main dish, and dessert, specially priced."

"Can we look at that one then?" asked Harry.

"Of course, Master Snape," the house elf bowed to him and produced the menu with a snap of his fingers.

Harry stared at the diminutive little creature. "You know who I am?"

"Indeed. All of us in Hogsmeade know you, Master Harry Snape, who was once Harry Potter, before discovering your true heritage. I am Link, Master, and it is my pleasure to serve you this evening." Then he leaned in and whispered in Harry's ear, "The Queen sends her regards, my lord, and congratulations on becoming the new heir." Then he winked at Harry, straightened, and asked what they wished to drink.

Harry had a fizzy lemon tea and Katie ordered a peach flavored water, it had fresh peach juice in it and was very refreshing. "I'll have to try that some time," Harry said after she explained what it was.

"You'll love it. It tastes great," Katie said, then perused the list of appetizers. "This dip sounds delicious—hot cheddar cheese, bacon, and onion dip with toast points."

"It does sound really good. Uh . . .why don't you pick the menu, Katie? I'm not picky, I eat everything." Harry offered generously.

"Are you sure? You don't have a favorite dish?"

He shook his head. "No, not really. There are a few things that my dad makes that I really like, but I doubt if we'll see them on here so . . .go ahead, choose what seems good."

"The professor cooks?"

"Oh yeah, and he's a good one too. He taught Draco and me some really wicked recipes." Harry told her. "Draco didn't know how to cook at all until we taught him this summer. House elves at home, you know."

Katie nodded. "That's typical of most wealthy pureblood families. Not mine though. I'm a half-blood, my mother is a Muggle and my dad is a wizard. But the Bells don't go in much for domestic service." She perused the menu choices, then nodded after a few minutes. "How about the red wine braised beef for two with a side of mashed potatoes and carrots and green beans? And for dessert , the double banana split and you can choose two of the ice cream flavors?"

"Sounds heavenly. I love ice cream," Harry admitted.

When Link returned with their drinks, he gave the elf their order. He also wanted to ask about how Link was related to Queen Titania, but the server vanished with a pop before he could do so. Harry shrugged. Oh well. He's Low Court fae, and probably they've got some kind of fae grapevine going with the shimmerlings and my ascension to heir to Prince Manor would have been big news back in the Seelie Court, so I shouldn't be too surprised that Link knows about it. Maybe I'll ask Dad later on tonight.

Right now all he wanted to do was concentrate on Katie and having a nice dinner. He still couldn't believe he was actually sitting at a table with the attractive Chaser, making small talk with her. It was the stuff of dreams, not reality, yet reality it was. He sipped his fizzy tea and said, "So, what do you think about the Tournament? And the students coming from those other schools?"

"Durmstrang and Beauxbatons?" Katie clarified. "Well, the Tournament sounds very exciting, not to mention dangerous as all get out. Glad I'm not going to be in it. Once or twice participants have died, you know, trying to complete the tasks. I've heard there are three of them total, and each one is harder than the last. But the winner of the Tournament gets a whopping one thousand Galleons, plus the Triwizard Cup."

Harry whistled. "Wow! Still, if you're going to risk your life to compete, I guess they'd better pay well."

"I'd say so. And that's why you have to be seventeen to compete also." Katie paused and began to sip her water. "I've heard that some of the students from Durmstrang are tutored in the Dark Arts as well as Defense. Their Headmaster, Igor Karkaroff, was once a follower of You-Know-Who. And they're an all-boys school as well."

"Really? Sounds like we might want to watch our backs then. How about the other one?"

"Beauxbatons is in France, and I was almost going to go there, I got an invitation from there. But I really didn't want to live in a foreign country and my French is awful, plus they are almost exclusively female, and I would go crazy without guys to talk to. Sometimes I get along better with guys than girls." She chuckled nervously. "Does that sound weird? It's just . . .well, I was never into all of that girly girl kind of thing . . .you know hair potions and make-up. I liked flying and reading and studying potions or exploring in the woods. Mum used to call me a tomboy."

Harry smiled shyly. "I don't think it's weird. I . . .like all of those things too. Back home, at my dad's house, I used to go flying or walking in the woods on our property every morning. It was so peaceful." His eyes were far away and he unconsciously caressed the medallion under his shirt, recalling those lazy early morning walks around the manor, with the sun shining off the tops of the merlinna trees and sparkling off the water in the fishpond.

"Where do you live?"

"In Yorkshire, way up on the moor," Harry said, it was partially true, half the estate did reside there. "Dad inherited the estate from his grandfather Micah Prince, it's been in the Prince family for generations."

"Wow! Sounds like you're rich. And one day it'll be yours, right?"

"Yes, someday. I'm just lucky we own it outright that it's not entailed or anything. It's not huge, but it's . . .comfortable." Harry said, smiling.

"You really love it don't you?" she said shrewdly.

"How . . .how do you know that?"

"I can hear it in your voice and see it in your eyes when you talk about it," she answered simply.

"I do. It's my first real home. Before that I lived with my aunt and uncle in Surrey but that . . .was not all that great. I always felt like the unwanted relative. But not with my dad at Prince Manor. I belong there."

"I feel that way too about my home. I live in Devon, near the sea, and our house was once the home of a gang of smugglers way back when. It's old and creaky but it has character and dozens of secret passages. Me and my sisters used to love exploring it when we were little."

"How many sisters do you have?"

"Two, both older. Maxine is eldest, she works for a shipping company as a Sea Mage. Travels all over the place. My sister Amber is employed with the Ministry, works in the Weather Department."

They continued chatting all throughout the meal, which was excellent. Harry was amazed at how comfortable he felt with her, as if he had known her his whole life. He found himself telling her of all the trouble he and Draco had gotten into over the summer at the manor, and she had laughed goodnaturedly and shared some of her own mishaps and misdeeds with him in turn.

"Once me and Amber took the little fishing boat out early in the morning and we got stuck in a freak squall and nearly drowned . . .by the time we managed to get back we were soaked and scared to death . . .of our father finding out, that is."

"And did he?"

"Oh yes, couldn't fool Dad with anything. And he was so mad . . .The both of us ended up getting our rears tanned and were made to scrub the entire boat without magic and gut fish for a week," Katie admitted ruefully. "But we learned our lesson and never took the boat out without telling him or my mother. We were a bunch of hoydens, as my grandma Bell used to say. Sometimes . . .sometimes I miss the sea something awful. Have you ever sailed, Harry?"

"No. I've never even been to the ocean."

She gaped at him. "Not even on holiday?"

"No. My aunt and uncle used to go and take Dudley, but I wasn't allowed, they didn't feel it was necessary to take me, so they left me home."

"That's terrible!"

"Well, that's the Dursleys for you." Harry shrugged.

"You're well shut of them then," Katie declared, snorting. "Maybe you can come and visit over the summer with Professor Snape and Draco? My parents won't mind, they love it when I bring friends from school over. Angelina came over last year and stayed for a week."

"That's . . .uh real nice of you." Harry said, blushing. "I'll have to ask my dad though, make sure he doesn't have plans. Usually he prefers to stay home."

By then the dessert had arrived, and Harry and Katie took turns eating the enormous banana split with strawberry, chocolate and butter pecan ice cream loaded with hot fudge, whipped cream, cherries, and walnuts.

"Mmm . . .this is so good!" Katie sighed in delight as she ate a spoonful of chocolate ice cream.

Harry nodded, also enjoying the icy cold sweetness. He had missed eating ice cream over the summer, since Prince Manor was too far away for Severus to get ice cream all the time from Diagon Alley.

They continued sharing until Katie declared she couldn't eat anymore and gave the rest to Harry. "Here, Snape, finish it. If I eat one more bite, I won't be able to get into a dress for the Yule Ball, I'll be like a whale."

Harry paused with the ice cream halfway to his mouth. "You're not fat, Katie."

"Ha! I will be if I keep eating like this. It just goes straight to my hips, trust me. That's why I play Quidditch so much. Helps keep my weight down."

He swallowed the spoonful and wondered if he should bring up the Yule Ball and his lack of a date then. Was it too soon? Would she get offended? He gulped, feeling butterflies start up in his stomach. "Uh . . .Katie?"

"What's up? You look kind of . . .sick. Too much ice cream? I've got a Stomach Soother in my purse."

He blinked. "You carry potions around?"

"Yes, just in case. See, I really am a potions freak. Do you need it?"

"No, I'm fine. I was just . . .wondering if you . . ah . . .had a datefortheBall?" he muttered, feeling himself flush an embarrassing shade of rose.

"Huh? Could you say that again, Harry? And maybe take the spoon out of your mouth?"

"Oh. Right." He put the spoon down. Merlin, but I am such an idiot! Now she'll never go out with me. "I said . . .I was wondering if you had a date . . .for the Ball?"

"No. Why?" she asked, a bit breathlessly. "I was sort of thinking about asking Fred Weasley, but . . ."

"Oh . . .err . . .well . . .would you like to go . . with me?" Harry sputtered, wishing he could just curl up and hide under the table. Could he sound anymore pathetic? He waited for her to politely tell him no.

To his astonishment, she grinned like a kid in a sweet shop and said, "I was wondering when you were going to ask me that, Harry. I would love to go with you."

"Y-You would? Then you don't mind that I'm . . .younger than you?"

"Mind? Not at all. What's a year? It's just a number." She laughed, and tossed her hair back from her face. "Besides, you're one of the sweetest guys I've ever known as well as one of the cutest."

He nearly fell over in shock. She thinks I'm cute? "Really?"

"Oh yes. I love the way your hair is now, all sleek and dark, like a black seal's. Haven't you seen the way all the Gryffindor girls look at you now, Snape?"

"No. I thought they were staring at me because I was Snape's son or something."

Katie's peal of laughter echoed through the room, causing several other people to chuckle knowingly. "Oh, Harry! Yes, they were looking at you because of that, but not 'cause you looked funny. It's because you look damn hot, if you'll excuse me for saying so." She eyed him appreciatively. "You look the way Professor Snape must have when he was your age . . .except without the crooked nose. No wonder your mum fell in love with him." Then she blushed too. "Sorry . . .I think I'm getting too personal here."

"No . . .I don't mind. I just wasn't . . .I mean I never thought much about why people were looking at me before . . ." he babbled, and suddenly he felt the first stirrings of desire within him. Flushing, he glanced away, only to feel a gentle hand cup his chin and pull him back around to look directly into her cobalt blue eyes.

"Don't look away. Look right here," she said softly, shocking herself with how bold she was being.

Green eyes met blue and merged and suddenly she was leaning forward and kissing him.

Harry gasped, but did not draw away. Her kiss was all sweetness and light, gentle and fiery by turns. He drowned but he did not care in the slightest, for she was all he had ever wanted, though he had never known it until that moment.

And he saw in her eyes that she felt the same way.

He deepened the kiss, working on some untapped instinct, until they were both breathless.

When she drew away at last, she was smiling from ear to ear, a dazed astonishment upon her face. "Merlin, Snape! Where did you learn to kiss like that?"

"Was it terrible?"

"Terrible?" she exclaimed. "Come here, and let me show you just how terrible it was."

Once again their mouths met and the second time was even better than the first.

"Flaming hells, but you get any better and I just might need somebody to resuscitate me," Katie teased once she could talk again.

"It'd be my pleasure," Harry joked, laughing. "Be right back. I'm going to go pay for this."

But when he approached the proprietor, Madam Rosmerta refused to take his money. "This one's on the house, luv!" she waved away his Galleons and Sickles. "Your father did me a favor awhile back and this is my way of returning it. Put it away, Mr. Snape, and go take a walk with your gal in the moonlight."

"But . . .I . . ."

"Go on with ye, lad! You're only young once, best enjoy it while ye can! Now get!" And she closed his hand firmly over the coins, and turned him about and sent him on his way with a pat to his behind, cackling as he blushed. "Your gal's a lucky one, she is!"

Face flaming, Harry retreated back to the table, trying to ignore the soft snickers of the other patrons behind him.

"All set?" Katie asked, rising to her feet.

"Yeah. Come on, let's take a walk."

She tucked her hand in his arm and they walked out of The Three Broomsticks that way, Katie shooting warning glances at some of the bolder girls and women who were eyeing her escort.

They walked leisurely back up to the castle, enjoying the night and the cascade of stars spun out in the sky. When they reached the entrance to Gryffindor Tower, Katie turned and said, "Thank you for dinner, Harry. I had a wonderful time."

"So did I," he said huskily. "Uh . . .I have to go and see my father for a few minutes. He wanted to talk to me."

"Good night, Harry. See you tomorrow on the pitch. Don't be late!" she waved a mocking finger under his nose. Then she kissed the tip of it, her cobalt eyes sparkling playfully. "Sweet dreams, Snape."

"Same to you, Katie," he waved as she went through the portrait hole.

Merlin, what a night! It was brilliant! He thought elatedly. Wait'll I tell Draco. He'll probably fall over when I tell him I actually kissed her twice. Still smirking, Harry made his way down to the dungeons and to Snape's private quarters, wondering what was so important that his father couldn't wait till tomorrow to discuss it with him.

Back at the castle, Phil had observed something odd going on with Professor Moody, the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. The vampire had noted that on several occasions just after dinner, Moody hurried back to his classroom and went inside. He spent several minutes inside, rummaging in an old battered trunk with about fifteen locks. Afterwards he cast an Obscuring spell about the room, and Phil was not able to see what the professor did then.

It was odd behavior, to say the least, and Philip was suspicious. He had sat in on the first class Harry had with the Auror, hidden in the back of the room, and watched how Moody had spoken to them about the three Unforgivable Curses, giving them the history and theory behind them and promising them a demonstration in the future. He was not opposed to showing the students such magic, since the vampire was of the opinion that you needed to know your enemy in order to defeat him, which sometimes meant studying dark magic in order to learn how to counter and block it.

But there had been something about the professor that made his instincts go on red alert. Phil had been around for a thousand years and he knew a fellow predator when he smelled one. Moody reeked of danger, and made the vampire's hair stand on end and his fangs long to find their mark in his neck. He had never felt that way about any of the other staff members and was puzzled as to why this single wizard would make him feel such enmity.

But he had little time to dwell on Moody's behavior at the moment. His body was quivering, signaling that he needed to hunt, and feed well so that he would not need to hunt again for at least a month. As an ancient vampire lord, Phil only needed to hunt once or twice a month, instead of every three days or weekly like a younger vampire.

Since he refused to prey upon innocents or those without evil in their hearts, he had to venture abroad to find suitable prey. He used his vampiric speed to leave the castle and race through the highlands of Scotland to the teeming large city of Edinburgh. There, he reasoned, he would find the kind of people he sought—the dregs of society—murderers, rapists, child molesters.

By listening to their thoughts, he could pick out a target and then feed, quickly, noiselessly, and deeply. After, he would dispose of the body, making sure it was never found. He knew it was unlikely anyone would care about such people, but he had learned centuries ago to clean up after himself, for even today Vampire Hunters were on the lookout for his kind, and they did not differentiate between evil and good vampires-to them all vampires were bloodsucking monsters that needed to be exterminated.

Phil emerged upon a side street, perusing the people walking by casually. No one could see him, as his veils were up, and all he had to do was concentrate and he could listen in upon the thoughts of the passerby. After some ten to fifteen minutes he "heard" an acceptable candidate—a tall thin man who was planning to rob and murder a young wealthy couple walking along the boulevard further down.

The man had a sharp knife and a silenced handgun, neither of which would prove a handicap to Phil. Guns are so overrated, he thought scornfully, before moving in on his target.

One minute the man was cruising down the sidewalk and the next he was grabbed and smothered by a large hand over his mouth. He struggled but whatever held him had arms of steel. Then a voice hissed in his ear, "Say goodbye, Terrance, to this world and prepare to meet your Maker."

That was the last thing the thug ever heard, for in the split second following, Phil had sunk his fangs into the man's throat and began to feed.

In seven minutes the murderer was dead. The master vampire carefully licked the two puncture marks, for a vampire's saliva healed a vampire's bite and concealed a Nightwalker's victim. Young vampires often forgot to do this after feeding, however, which was why some of the prey could be identified. But Philip was too old and canny to make such a mistake. Phil took the body along with several stones and carried it to a loch and sunk it deep within the water, where it would decompose and feed whatever fish dwelled there.

Then he made his way back to Hogwarts, his thirst satisfied, to resume his guard duty.

At the entrance hall he met Smidgen, who seemed ridiculously giddy, until she informed him of his two young "nephews" activities that night. :It's so sweet, to see young love!: the dreamweaver purred, flying neat loops about the master vampire's head.

Phil chuckled, amused by the tiny feline's antics. "Really, catkin, you act as if this is the first time you've ever seen a boy attracted to a girl!"

:Do you know how rare true love is among the fae, Philip?: Smidgen meowed. :As rare as the first star of summer being seen by the unaided eye. I would assume the same is true among humans, for they seem to spend most of their lives searching for "the Right One" and few ever seem to find it. But what I sensed tonight . . .was truly magical. There was a connection between Draco and Hermione, despite their previous clashes, that I think will last if they nurture it carefully, like a seedling merlinna. And the same is true between Harry and young Katie. It's not something that I can explain adequately, you would have to feel it. Do you understand?:

"Yes, Smidgen. I too have been in love, and still am. Julie is more than just my partner, she is my soulmate, we are two halves of the same whole. The moment our eyes met, I knew. My heart rejoiced and it has never stopped. If that were not so, our children would have never been born, for only when a vampire loves with all of his or her being and is loved in return, will he be able to procreate."

:I never knew that. That is fascinating, Philip. Then your children truly are created in an act of love. How marvelous.:

"It is that, Smidgen. My boys are miracles and I thank my Maker daily for them." Philip said. Then he said, "But while I hope that my nephews find happiness, I am more concerned with their safety than with their love life at the moment. Have you noticed anything . . .odd about the new Defense professor?"

:Odd? In what way?:

Phil told her what he had observed and to his relief, the shimmerling did not dismiss his concerns as mere paranoia. She even agreed to follow the man about and see what she could learn of his background. :Harry told me once that the position of Defense professor was rumored to be cursed, that because Dumbledore denied Tom Riddle's request to teach it, that Voldemort then cursed the position, with the result that no professor since has held the position for more than a year and almost all have met with untimely deaths or other unfortunate accidents.:

Phil frowned. "A cursed post? It sounds ridiculous, but I have learned that among wizards, it is best to assume nothing and everything. Therefore, I shall remain vigilant."

:As will I.:

"Where is Harry?"

:With his father. I believe Severus called him down to his quarters to caution him about . . .moving too swiftly with his new girlfriend.:

"Oh, that discussion. Thank heaven my imps are too young for that sort of thing. I can put it off for another ten years at least." The master vampire chuckled wickedly. "Poor Severus! I don't envy him raising two healthy teenage boys right now."

:Perhaps you ought to listen at the keyhole, Master Dark? Maybe gain some pointers?: the shimmerling suggested insolently.

Philip gave her a mock-glare. "Ha, Mistress Saucebox! I don't need any help in that department, thank you very much!"

Then he turned and strode away down the corridor, and the shimmerling noted in amusement that the vampire was heading in the direction of the Potion Master's quarters.

Harry arrived at Severus's quarters at half-past nine, giving him an good hour and fifteen minutes before curfew. Severus was sitting upon his indigo sofa, drinking a cup of mulled cider and reading a book called Discussing Awkward Topics With Your Teenager, which he quickly stuffed under a copy of the Prophet when Harry knocked on the door. His door was warded against dark wizards and any who meant him or his family harm.

"Dad? It's me, Harry."

"Come in, son." Severus sat up and composed himself upon the sofa. He prayed he did not seem nervous, though in truth he was quite uncomfortable and wished to simply get this discussion over with as soon as possible. "How was your dinner with Miss Bell?"

Harry's eyes were glowing, with a light that Severus had seen in but one other pair of eyes—his mother's—when she had accepted his proposal that long ago night. Severus knew quite well what that particularly look meant, and suddenly he wished desperately for Lily to be there. Surely she would have handled this better than he could. Belt up, Severus, this is all part of being a parent, he reminded himself. Besides, you could hardly be any worse than Tobias. The Potions Master suppressed a shudder at that memory. Tobias had been half drunk at the time and had told his son that it would be a miracle if any girl would even look at him, much less sleep with him, but if he ever managed to get a girl knocked up, best he not come crying to Tobias.

"It was great, Dad," Harry said quietly. "We went to The Three Broomsticks and had the best dinner ever . . .except for yours I mean," he added, not wanting to hurt Severus's feelings.

"Good. And did Miss Bell enjoy her evening also?"

"Yeah, least I think she did. I . . .uh . . .asked her to go to the Ball with me and she said yes." The boy was so happy he was practically walking on air. "I couldn't believe it when she agreed."

"Why not? You are more than worthy to be her partner, Harry Albus Snape," Severus said. "Come, sit here and have some tea." He waited until his son had sat down and poured himself a cup of Earl Grey before clearing his throat. "I am pleased that you are getting along with Miss Bell, she is a confident and intelligent young woman, whom I am pleased to take on as an apprentice when she has finished school here, if she still desires to go for her Potions Mastery. I think you two . . .suit each other very well." He paused, trying to recall what the book had told him about introducing the touchy topic. Was he going too fast?

Harry felt himself blush and then he abruptly set down his tea and stared at his parent in dawning horror. "Dad? You didn't call me down here to . . .ah . . ." he trailed off, his tongue grown suddenly three sizes too large. "Because I already know all about . . .that . . ."

"Do you?" Severus leaned forward.

"Uh . . .yeah, I do . . .they taught us all about how babies are made back in the last year of primary school," Harry managed to say. "So, if that's all . . ." he made as if to get to his feet, only to be halted by Severus's hand on his arm.

"Hold it, son. I'm not finished."

"But Dad . . .!"

"Sit down," his father ordered firmly, and Harry obeyed reluctantly when Snape tugged his arm.

"Now then, I know this is. . .uncomfortable for you to talk about with me. Nevertheless, we need to discuss it, especially since it appears that you and Miss Bell are . . .shall we say . . .an item?"

Harry was now a bright pink and praying he could just pass out. "Dad, this is only the first date! It's not like I'm engaged, for Merlin's sake!"

"But you are obviously considering going out with her again, correct?" Harry nodded. "And you are obviously attracted to her, a blind man could tell that," Severus coughed, then plowed ahead gamely.

"I like her, sure. A lot."

"Good. And have you been . . .intimate with her?"

"I . . .I kissed her twice." His son admitted. "That's it. Dad, please. I'm not even close to . . .doing that."

"I would hope not, but nevertheless you need to know what to do in case you ever do decide to . . .make love with a girl. Now, I would hope you would exercise caution and wait until you are committed before . . .doing so, but should you ever decide otherwise. . .you need to know your options."

"Options? Good God, Dad! Like what?"

"Like making certain having sex is something you both agree on and knowing the consequences beforehand. It shouldn't be something you undertake lightly, son. It should be . . .meaningful. The way it was between your mother and I," Severus added, praying that was enough of a personal example to get his point across.

Harry squirmed as if his backside were being burnt by red-hot irons.

"And if you decide it is, then you need to be aware of how to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Your first and best option is abstinence. Barring that, there are several contraceptive magics you can employ. The first and most common is a potion called Contraceptix, it can be drunk up to an hour before intercourse with maximum effectiveness. It should be taken on an empty stomach if possible, as food might inhibit the swiftness of its absorption. Contraceptix is fairly easy and inexpensive to brew, and it does not inhibit your . . .err . . .enjoyment any."

Harry was astonished to see a slight blush creep up Severus's face as well.

"It is almost ninety-nine percent effective. However, to be safe, you might also consider using the potion along with a spell. The Impotence Charm creates a thin shield of air . . ." Severus continued, determined to do this properly. He explained what the charm did, it was similar to a Muggle condom, and then suggested herbal teas that a girl could take just before her cycle to inhibit ovulation and a similar potion geared for a woman's reproductive system as well.

Severus then produced two sheets of parchment, one contained the recipes for the potions and tea and the other the instructions for the charm. "Here. I would suggest you look these over, son, and look before you leap, so to speak. It's natural for you to want to have a . . .relationship with your girlfriend, it's nothing to be ashamed of, but for the love of Merlin, do use your head, Harry. Being a father is a huge responsibility and I hardly think you're ready for it when you are sixteen or seventeen. I was twenty when you were born, and I wasn't ready for it at all, even if I had known of your existence."

"Because you were a spy and there was a war going on?"

"No, though that would have complicated things a great deal. Harry, having a child changes everything. Because it means that your life is no longer about you or even you and your girlfriend. When a child comes into your life, your life becomes centered around your baby. And you live to protect and take care of that child until that child is grown. Or at least you do if you have any shred of decency and responsibility and love within you. That job is the most important one you will ever have, and so you had better be prepared to give it your best effort, son, because you don't get to start over or quit."

"I know, Dad. I'm not ready . . .to have a baby yet."

"Thank Merlin!" Severus heaved a sigh of relief. "Because I am definitely not ready to be a grandfather yet."

"Neither am I," his son teased.

"Impudent whelp!" Severus gently cuffed him on the back of the head. "One more thing, Harry. You also need to remember to respect your girlfriend. If she says no, you stop whatever you're doing. Don't assume that she doesn't mean it, or she's leading you on. When a girl says no—it's no. Got me?"

"Yes, sir. I would never . . .force a woman . . .Never!"

"I know, son, but I just wanted to remind you because sometimes a boy can get . . .urges and . . .you need to exercise control, because no son of mine will ever be the sort of man who abuses women, am I understood?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good, because if I ever found out that was the case, I would take you apart, Harry Albus Snape. Don't doubt it for an instant. I lived through the hell of one misogynist in my family, I'll be damned if I'll raise one." Severus said sternly.

"You aren't. I'm not like that, Dad. And neither is Draco."

"Thank God for that." he reached out and tousled his son's hair. "I'm probably jumping at shadows and I know you'll treat Miss Bell decently because that's the kind of person you are, but I just wanted to lay everything out on the table." He drew in a deep breath. "Now that's over with, would you care for some hot cocoa and biscuits? I know you like to eat sweets before bed and this once I'll indulge you, for being a good sport and allowing me to perform my . . .uh fatherly duty with a minimum of embarrassment."

Harry smiled up at him. "Thanks, Dad. You did good." He reassured his father, sensing somehow that Severus needed it. But I'm sure glad that's over! Then he added, "But you'd better give this talk to Draco too and not just me."

"Of course I will. That's only fair," Severus said. Then he waved his wand and a plate of double chocolate chips appeared on the coffee table.

"How did you know . . .?"

Severus rolled his eyes. "Harry, I wasn't born yesterday. You and Draco always forget to clean up the crumbs under your beds. And the dirty dishes." Then he picked up a biscuit and ate it, smirking like a mischievous imp. That went better than I expected. I just hope the same holds true for his brother.

The two ate and drank their bedtime snack companionably before Harry said good night to Severus and returned to Gryffindor Tower, where he dreamed of walking with Katie beside the Black Lake, beneath a canopy of stars.

So . . .how was that? Was it realistic enough?

Review and let me know how you felt please!

 

Chapter Text

Three days later:

Draco was supposed to meet her at the library, but he was late, and Hermione decided to go over to the Slytherin portrait hole and wait for him there. He had to return there eventually, and then she could catch him and speak with him about his tardiness. Tardiness, she thought, stifling a giggle. Merlin's pants, but I sound like some middle-aged Headmistress or professor or something. But I sure don't feel that way. For the first time ever, she felt like every other teenage girl smitten with a guy, all fluttery and eager and happy. She couldn't stop smiling, and for once she was grateful that her parents had insisted she get braces when she was six, because now she wasn't afraid to grin widely, since her teeth were perfectly straight. Her braces had come off last year and now she only wore a retainer.

She tapped a foot against the stone floor and wondered where on earth Draco could be. It was after dinner and he had promised to meet her again in the library, so they could study for Charms together and Defense, which had never been her strong suit. But she was an ace at Charms and he was the same with Defense, so they complimented each other. Then too, she really enjoyed spending time with him. To her surprise, he was not an arrogant snob, but witty and suave and he could poke fun at himself when he needed to. He was also very bright, with an intelligence that matched hers, and she was delighted to find a boy that wasn't intimidated by her brains. If anything, he was proud of her intelligence. "I've got the smartest witch in the school for my girlfriend and nobody else can even come close."

When she had told that to Ginny and Lavender, both girls had told her Draco was definitely a keeper. Any boy who valued a girl's mind over her body was first rate in their book, because that was a rare attitude among teenage boys. Most of them had eyes only for the girls with the biggest breasts or the prettiest face.

As she waited, she began to review her Charms notes in her head, and she had almost gotten to the end of the afternoon's lesson when Pansy Parkinson strode over to the portrait hole, looking as if she were about to have a hissy fit. She caught sight of Hermione and stopped dead.

"What are you doing here, Granger? Forget the way to your own common room?"

"Hardly, Parkinson. I'm waiting for Draco. Any idea where he is?"

Pansy's eyes narrowed and a spiteful look crept over her pug-like features. "Why do you want to know?"

"Because we . . .had a study date," Hermione told the other girl shyly.

Pansy threw back her head and laughed. "A study date, she says! Granger, you're so lame! Is that all you know how to do with a boy? Study? I'll bet you've never even kissed a guy."

Hermione's eyes flashed. "Then you'd be wrong," she shot back, and smiled sweetly at the other girl.

Pansy scowled. "Liar. The only guy who'd kiss you, Granger, would be a total nerd."

"Oh really? Then you think Draco's a nerd?"

Pansy's jaw dropped. "Draco? Draco Malfoy? You expect me to believe that he actually kissed you?"

Hermione just smiled.

Pansy turned an unattractive shade of pasty white and then red. "How much did you pay him? Five Galleons?"

"Shut your mouth, Parkinson! I'm not a . . .a slut!"

"If the shoe fits . . ." cackled Pansy nastily.

"Takes one to know one, huh?" Hermione managed to get out, longing to slam the smirking Pansy a good one. She kept her temper by the slimmest of margins.

Pansy doubled up her fist. "You calling me a whore?"

"No, you did that yourself," Hermione told her.

Pansy's wand was in her hand. "You're asking for an arse-kicking, Granger. Too bad I don't have time to give you one." Her stubby finger poked Hermione in the chest. "Listen, Granger, and listen good. Draco was mine before he was ever yours and he'll always be mine. Now go find one of your own kind to date, Gryffie bitch!"

Before Hermione could let her have it, she turned and stalked into the portrait hole.

"Draco is my kind , you ignorant, bubbleheaded, shallow, hag from hell!" she found herself shouting.

"Glad to hear it. Otherwise, I'd be worried," came a familiar voice from behind her.

She whirled about. "Draco! You're late."

"Sorry, Mione," he apologized. "I . . .uh got sidetracked playing some one-on-one Quidditch with Harry. Who were you shouting at?" he asked, standing about two feet from her, wearing his black robes and smiling that sweet smile she loved, his grey eyes dancing.

"Pansy. She came up and tried to start something with me. Did you used to . . ah date or something?"

Draco grimaced. "Or something. It wasn't something I chose, believe me. Our families had an . . .agreement, but once I turned my back on the way of the Death Eaters, her father broke it off. Only Pansy didn't agree with it."

"Oh. I guess that's why she thinks you belong to her then."

Draco rolled his eyes. "Unbearable twit! I belong to myself." He dusted off his robes.

"That's what I told her. Do you . . .do you still want to go and study?" she asked awkwardly, wishing she knew of something else to talk about. Maybe Pansy's right and I really am lame. I've been friends with two guys for years and I still don't know how to talk to one.

"Sure, Mione. Uh . . .you don't mind if I call you that, do you?"

"No. I . . .like it," she smiled brightly. "It's sweet."

He smiled back. "Sweet's okay. But I don't do cute."

"Don't you? Because I think you're very cute," she blurted before she could stop and think. Oh my goodness! Did I just say that out loud? Was that bad? What if he thinks I'm . . .a tramp?

"Now that I can do, Mione." He reached out and ran his fingers through her thick hair. "Have I told you how much I love your hair? It's thick and springy and perfect for me to play with."

She snickered. "I didn't know you had a hair fetish, Mr. Malfoy."

"Only for your hair," he replied huskily, then he tangled his hands in it and brought her mouth down on his. Then all he could think about was how much he adored the taste of strawberries on her tongue. Ahh, so sweet, Merlin! But I wish this never ended.

The two were so caught up in their own involvement that they failed to hear the sound of footfalls behind them.

Severus was heading into the common room to speak with his Slytherins about the upcoming Triwizard Tournament, reminding his House to behave with dignity and decorum to the students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, when he came upon a sight that stopped him dead in his tracks.

His son and . . .Hermione Granger were kissing in the hallway.

In a very public display of affection.

Now Severus knew quite well that Draco had started seeing Hermione, the boy had told him a few days ago, wanting to make certain his doing so caused no friction in his new family. Severus had reassured him that his choice was fine, but he hadn't thought it had gotten much beyond the hand-holding stage.

Apparently he had been wrong. Dead wrong.

Dear sweet Merlin! Are they going to come up for air any time soon? He wondered inanely, then he cleared his throat pointedly. "Mr. Malfoy. Miss Granger. This is not a subject you two should be studying."

The two sprang apart as if he had cast a Stinging Hex on them.

"P-Professor Snape!" cried Hermione, her face coloring a brilliant scarlet. "We . . .uh . . .were just . . ."

"Dad, it's not . . .err . . .what it looked like . . ." Draco fumbled for some excuse, but his mind was a blank.

"Oh?" One eyebrow rose sharply. "On the contrary, I think it was exactly what it looked like."

"No, you don't understand, sir, we were going to do homework," Hermione stammered.

"And what homework would that be? If I recall, Hogwarts curriculum doesn't have Learning to Breathe During Kissing 101, Miss Granger," said Severus dryly.

Draco went beet red. "Dad, please! We really were just gonna study. But then . . ."

Severus eyed his son sternly. "But then you got distracted by Miss Granger's pretty face, right?"

"Uh, yeah." Draco said, embarrassed and annoyed. "Kissing's not a crime, you know."

Severus frowned. "Don't get cheeky with me, mister." He folded his arms across his chest, playing the role of stern patriarch to the hilt. "I had intended to have this discussion with you tomorrow, but it would seem there's no time like the present."

"What discussion?"

"The one I had with your brother a few days ago," answered his father. "Miss Granger, if you will excuse us, I need to speak with my son privately."

"Yes, sir. He's not in trouble, is he, sir?" she cried, feeling incredibly guilty as well as horrendously embarrassed.

"Only if he fails to turn in his homework. I would suggest you return to your common room and begin yours, Miss Granger. This will not be a quick conversation."

"Understood, sir. Draco, I'll . . .see you in class," she said, then waved and fled back up the stairs.

"Bye, Hermione," Draco called, then he turned and glared at his father. "Hell, Dad, did you have to just totally embarrass me in front of my girlfriend?"

"Draco, we'll discuss this in my quarters. I won't have an argument here in the hallway for everyone to witness," Severus said abruptly, then he took his son by the arm and led him down past the portrait hole to his private rooms, his black cloaking billowing like a pair of ebony wings behind him.

"Why not?" Draco muttered sullenly. "You embarrassed me in public, turnabout's only fair."

"Draco!" Severus reprimanded, then unlocked his door with a flick of his wrist and dragged his offspring inside.

After locking the door and ensuring that the privacy wards were in place, Severus pointed to the sofa and indicated Draco should sit down. The blond teen threw himself upon the comfy hunter green sectional with a huff, his cheeks still tinged with red. "Why did you have to confront us like that?" he sulked. "Why couldn't you just play it cool and walk away, like other people's fathers?"

"None of this would be necessary, mister, if you limited your displays of affection somewhere that was not in the middle of the hallway where everyone can see them!" Severus shot back. "Do you think I enjoyed doing that to you, Draco? I assure you, the last thing I expected was to come upon you and Miss Granger kissing passionately in front of the Slytherin common room."

"It was just a kiss. What's the big deal? It's not like I was groping her or something. Lucius wouldn't have—"

"Wouldn't have said anything? Would have given you pointers?" Severus demanded sharply. "Might I remind you that you are my son now, and not his? And what he found acceptable behavior, I do not. I have different standards than he did—"

"I know. Impossible ones."

"Sulking is for five year olds, stop it immediately!" Severus told him, his hands on his hips. "I know Lucius was rather casual in regards to you having relationships in school with girls, like many purebloods, he saw nothing wrong with a mere "schoolboy romance". I, however, am a teacher here, and as such I have certain standards of discipline and decorum to maintain, Draco. And so do my sons."

"You said it was fine if Hermione and I went out."

"I have no objections to that, Draco, I told you already you may choose whomever you wish to date, so long as it does not interfere with your schoolwork and grades. But—"

"It wasn't!" Draco interrupted. "We were really going to study, but I just wanted to give her a kiss first. What's wrong with that?"

Severus sighed. Then he went to sit down next to his son, figuring he was being too intimidating and getting the teen's back up. "Nothing, if done in private, not in the middle of the corridor. Draco, think about how it looked. You don't want to ruin her reputation do you? Or your own?"

"I'll hex anyone who calls her names!"

"Draco, that's not the point. You need to learn a little self-control, son. Before you take it too far one day."

"Merlin, Dad! We have one kiss-and yeah it was incredible—but still! And you're already acting like we were caught naked in the broom closet. Give me a break, please! Hermione's not a slut, she'd never have pre-marital sex."

"I am delighted to hear that she has scruples, Draco. I would hope you believe the same. But I know all too well how teenagers can get carried away. That's why I brought you here, so we could discuss—"

"Dad, I don't need to hear this," Draco began, squirming. Bloody hell, no! Not this, please Lord! "I already know how to get a girl pregnant."

Wait, that so did NOT come out right, Draco thought frantically, but it was too late.

"An accomplishment to be proud of, no doubt," drawled Severus, his tone dripping with sarcasm. "However, you're going to sit here and listen to me tell you how not to make a girl pregnant, Mr. Malfoy."

"I know about protection, Dad. You think I'm stupid?" Draco snapped, his face now turning the color of the Gryffindor banner. He jumped to his feet.

"What you are is in danger of getting grounded, mister. Sit, now!"

"I don't believe this!" his son grumbled rebelliously. He threw himself back down on the couch.

"Mind the attitude," warned his father.

"I am!"

"And the tone. Unless you wish to miss the first Quidditch match of the year."

Draco blanched. "You wouldn't! I'm the best Seeker Slytherin has!"

"That may be, but Seekers can be replaced," Severus growled, leaning over and glaring into his stubborn offspring's eyes. "Keep up the disrespect and I will yank you off the team so fast your arse will still be attached to your broom. Clear?"

Draco gulped, for the look in Snape's eyes would have petrified a demon from hell in ten seconds. "Okay. Sorry, sir." Draco apologized. This sucks! First Lucius and now Severus, he groaned inwardly.

"Apology accepted, Dragon." Severus cleared his throat, gathering his thoughts. He had hoped that this time around "the talk" would be less awkward, but draco wasn't making things easy for him, the rebellious brat.

Draco rolled his eyes. "All right, let's hear your words of wisdom, father of mine," he prompted. "I need to study, remember?"

Severus gritted his teeth and controlled the urge to cuff the boy around the living room. "Draco Michael, you are getting on my last nerve. Now shut your mouth and listen!"

Recognizing that he was teetering on the brink of the abyss of Snape's temper, Draco wisely clamped his mouth shut and let Snape continue.

Severus gave Draco the same lecture he had Harry that other night, telling him about Contraceptix and the tea and charms you could cast and also gave Draco the same handouts he had Harry. Draco took them with a sigh, he had heard all of this before and didn't see why he had to endure the same embarrassing lecture all over again. But neither did he want to make Severus angry and risk getting grounded or banned from Qudditch. He knew better than to test Severus, for the man was famous for doing exactly what he promised—especially to members of his own House. Or his sons.

At last the whole parental advice and practice safe sex lecture was over with and Severus summoned Dobby to make them a tray of tea and cinnamon scones, which he knew Draco particularly enjoyed. "There, now that wasn't so bad, was it? You're still alive."

"Barely," Draco drawled insolently. "I nearly died of boredom."

"Boredom? Are you saying that I'm boring, you impudent scoundrel?" demanded Severus, pretending to be insulted.

"As Binns," Draco smirked.

"You dare . . .?" the Potions Master cried. "You need a good lesson in respect, boy!"

"Right," his son snickered. "That'll put me to sleep too."

An instant later he found himself hauled across Severus's lap, and he stiffened, sure that he had gone too far, but all Severus did was give him a few light taps on the bum and then tickle him unmercifully on the backs of his knees.

Draco was helplessly writhing and howling with laughter in two minutes. In the next minute he was begging for Snape to stop. "Dad—PLEASE! Stop! I'll . . .hahahaha . . .behave!" Draco wriggled, laughing so hard tears were streaming down his face.

"Will you? I think not." Severus said, smirking evilly. His fingers found the tender spot under his son's arm and began to tickle.

Draco screeched. "Ahhh! No . . .oh no . . .not there . . .Dad, please! I'll be good!" He dissolved into a fit of unrestrained giggles.

"Have I your word then?"

"Yes, sir. Promise!" he gasped, twitching.

"Very well. Lesson learned." And then Severus released him.

Draco scooted over to the far end of the couch, the occasional giggle still escaping him, and wiped his face with one of Severus's handkerchiefs. "You're really mean, Dad."

Severus shrugged. "Next time mind your manners, Draco Michael, and you won't be punished."

"That's not punishment—it's torture!"

"As it is torture for me to have a disrespectful child," returned Severus, chuckling. "Drink your tea, Dragon," he indicated the tray upon the table.

Draco began fixing himself a cup, then froze. "Bloody hell, Dad! Dobby came back when you were . . .doing that to me . . .?" Horror crept over his features.

"Yes. He found it quite amusing."

"Great! Now the whole school will know." Draco groaned, burying his face in his hands.

"Quit being so dramatic, Dragon. Dobby knows how to be discreet."

"Sure he does. Just wait. Tomorrow everyone will be talking about Tickle Me Draco."

"Stop. Dobby knows better than to speak of anything he hears or sees in my quarters. I have been a spy too long to ever ruin my cover by trusting a blabbing house elf. When Harry freed him and he came to work here, I requested that he not speak of anything he observed in my quarters if he happened to be here. He agreed. So there is no need for hysterics."

At that, Draco jerked his face from his hands and cried, "I am not hysterical. Merlin, Dad! You make me sound like a whimpering little girl. You were so concerned about reputation, remember?"

"That was different. Having a reputation for being fast and loose with women is not one I want associated with you, Draco. That's why I'm harping on you now, son. Because once given, a bad reputation is hard to overcome. Take it from one who knows."

Draco nodded, understanding perfectly where his dad was coming from. The reputation Severus had cultivated as a spy of the "Greasy Git" and the "Terror of the Dungeons" was legend, and it would take awhile before the students adjusted to mere Professor Snape, strict but fair Potions Master, who was the parent of two of their classmates, and actually washed his hair, for that had been part of his spy persona that he had abandoned upon returning from Prince Manor.

That had nearly caused a significant portion of the student body to go into cardiac arrest. Or faint dead away. And one or two of the faculty members too.

That had caused much amusement for the Snapes for weeks and even now it could still make them laugh, recalling the gap-jawed, slack-faced looks on the students' faces when Severus had walked into potions minus the oil in his locks. Harry swore you would have thought the class had been put under a Silencing Charm when they first caught sight of Severus with his gently waving shiny squeaky-clean hair flowing down his back.

That had been followed by gasps of shock from the female portion of the class, who now saw their professor for the sexy man he was when not in school, and caused the male portion to gape and wish their hair was so silky and ebony-colored, with blue-black highlights. And girls stared at them like they wanted to eat them with a spoon. But by far the funniest moment, according to his two sons, was when Severus had grown tired of all the whispers whenever his back was turned, and had spun about and marched up inbetween the cauldrons and yelled, "Go on! Get a good look! Had enough now? It's a bloody miracle, right? The Greasy Git is no more. Get used to it."

There had been dead silence for about twenty seconds, and many blushes and stammers.

Then Snape had turned and strode back to his desk, and first Harry and then Draco stood up and applauded him, followed by several Slytherins and Ron and Hermione.

Snape had whirled back around. "You have something to say?"

"Yes, sir," Harry spoke up, when it appeared his father's angry-Horntail act had frozen the others into silence. "We do. We all want to say thank you, Professor Snape."

"For what, Mr. Snape?"

"For saving our arses, all of us, even when we didn't deserve it." Harry had replied sincerely.

Severus blinked, and for once, had no snappy comeback. "Finish your assignments," he ordered gruffly, before turning about to hide his pleased smile.

Remembering that moment made Draco chuckle aloud now, and when Severus asked what was so funny, he tugged on his blond locks and answered, "Hair. You know."

And the next sound heard in Snape's quarters was two men laughing uproariously. Or it would have been if the wards had not been up.

"Uh . . .I really do have homework I should be doing," Draco said after he could talk once more.

"Yes, and I have an announcement to make to the House," Severus nodded. "Come, Dragon."

This time Draco followed without protest.

Meanwhile, Pansy stormed into her room, in a black mood, and promptly hexed the quivering Amando Gibbons, a firstie, into a polka-dot skinned mess. The younger girl fled wailing to Prefect Amber Sorensen, who removed the hex in a minute and told the girl to avoid Pansy like the plague, the temperamental bitch. She went and confronted the furious Pansy and informed her in no uncertain terms that her attitude wasn't going to be tolerated anymore. "Snape's new rules, Parkinson. Meaning you ain't allowed to use your temper as an excuse to hex firsties and you can't hide behind the fact that you're daddy's little girl either, 'cause who your dad is doesn't count for crap anymore. Do it again and I'll have you scrubbing all the toilets in the castle for weeks."

"Fine! Tell the brat I'm sorry!" Pansy had snapped. "Now get out!"

"Prefect Sorensen."

"What?"

"That's get out, Prefect Sorensen. Show me some respect, girl." Amber growled, as a seventh year she could beat Pansy in a duel without even blinking.

Pansy sullenly repeated what Amber had said and the prefect had left.

The furious girl thought about smashing all of her vials of perfume, cold cream, and Hair Elixir, because it was unbelievable that her Draco had dared to go out with that . . .that nerdy bitch from Muggleville, Granger! How dare he throw her over for that bushy-haired, whey-faced, walking encyclopedia. She probably needed a manual to show her how to kiss a guy correctly, Pansy thought spitefully. Drakie, how could you? How COULD you?

"Arghh!" she shrieked, and then broke two of her least favorite perfumes. "I hate you!"

She wasn't sure right then who she hated more—Draco for betraying her with the Gryffindor ho, or Hermione for stealing away what had always been hers. He was supposed to marry me, we were promised in everything but name, and I won't let her have him. No way in hell! If he doesn't want me, then he won't have anyone!

Filled with a poisonous jealousy mingled with a terrible need for vengeance, Pansy opened her trunk and rummaged through it. "Where is it?" she muttered. "I know it's here somewhere. Betsy gave it to me before she married Antoine." She threw several expensive pairs of shoes and boxes of jewelry and other items upon the floor before finding what she sought. "Ah ha! Here you are!"

She cradled a small black book to her chest, simpering. On the cover, in bold red script were the words How To Bind A Man To You in Ten Days or Less. Her elder sister Betsy had passed the book down to Pansy, saying it was something no girl who wanted to keep a man should be without. She had received it from her Aunt Mortentia when she was Pansy's age, and it had served her well. "Just don't ever show it to anyone, or get caught using it, little sister," Betsy had cautioned. "The old prudes at school think these spells are borderline dark magic. Ha! Not quite. But they'll solve your problem of getting a boyfriend now that Father's forbidden you to date that delicious Draco."

Pansy hummed happily to herself and cleaned up the articles on the floor with a wave of her wand. Then she curled up on her bed and began to read. She had almost gotten through the first chapter when she was summoned down to the House common room for Snape to discuss the Triwizard Tournament again with them.

She saw Draco standing by his adoptive father and sighed dreamily before recalling that he had done the ultimate sin and chosen a Gryffindor whore over herself and he needed to be punished for it.

I'll make you regret that, Draco dearest. Pansy thought grimly, licking her lips. But after, you'll be my sweetheart again, and then we'll be happy and I'll steal my trust fund from Daddy's vault and we can live off that in Paris.

Happily ensconced in her wicked fantasies, Pansy gave her Head of House half an ear, and as soon as Snape had wrapped up his talk, she returned to her room and spent the night learning the spells in the little black book by heart.

"Harry!" Draco called to his little brother as they exited the Quidditch pitch after a practice game two days later. "Got a question for you."

Harry turned and slowed, allowing his green-uniformed brother to catch up to him. "What is it, Draco?"

Draco lowered his voice then asked, "Did Dad give you the bloody talk too?"

Harry flushed and nodded. "Yeah. Guess he felt we needed it since we're uh, involved." He winced. "Was it bloody awful for you too?"

Draco shuddered. "It's on my top ten list of things to never put my kids through, assuming Hermione and I are still together after seventh year."

"Tell me about it. I wanted to die right there, but then I realized it wouldn't be fair to just keel over and leave Katie in the lurch." Harry sniggered.

"Same here. Only he caught Mione and I kissing."

"No way! What did you do? I would have Apparated myself into a wall."

"I wanted to, believe me," Draco admitted, relating the incident and blushing ferociously.

Harry started to laugh, but then stopped at Draco's hurt glare. "Sorry. But it's well . . . .kind of funny when you think about it."

"Maybe to you. But think how you would've felt if Dad had caught you and Katie snogging."

"Point taken."

Draco sneezed rapidly. "Damn this cold! If Dad sees he'll make me take a Decongestion Draft, and I bloody hate them."

Harry thought a moment. "I've got a Nasal Elixir in my trunk. It doesn't taste that bad, and it'll keep you from sneezing for about a day."

"Oh wonderful! Can you get it for me?"

Harry Summoned it wordlessly and handed it to his brother. "Take it just before you go to sleep. Next morning you'll be fine."

"Thanks, little brother," Draco said gratefully. He returned to his room just long enough to place the vial upon his nightstand and then it was time for dinner and he was starving.

Little did he know a pair of squinty eyes were watching him.

Pansy smirked selfishly, then spelled the lock open and went inside the fourth-year dormitory. It was time for some much-needed payback, for no one rejected Pansy Maleficence Parkinson and got away with it. Not even pureblood scions of the Malfoy bloodline.

She examined each of the beds in turn, finally recognizing which one was Draco's by the initials upon the trunk at the foot. She drew her wand and tapped it thoughtfully against the bedpost. Hmm . . .where shall I start?

Then her eye alighted upon the vial of potion of the nightstand. Ah. Now that will do nicely.

Draco returned from a most enjoyable dinner with Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Katie, whistling and trying to keep his sniffly nose to a minimum. It was then he recalled Harry's Nasal Elixir upon his nightstand and went to his room to drink it down.

The draft flowed down his throat smooth as silk, and Harry had been right, it tasted ten times better than the usual potions for colds that Snape brewed. He undressed and lay down, waiting for it to start working. He yawned, he was feeling sort of sleepy.

A second later he was freezing and then a sudden fever came over him, the wave of heat spread all through him, causing him to sweat. He was puzzled, because such drafts normally didn't react like that. Little did he know there had been an addition to that potion by a wicked jealous girl.

A few minutes later, Draco began to toss and turn, shivering violently, unquenchable desire sweeping through him, a raging inferno that could not be slaked. I need . . .oh dear Merlin . . .what the hell is wrong with me? Draco whimpered, for he was in agony, his groin aching and burning.

He stumbled to his feet, clenching his teeth, and made his way out of his room and out the portrait hole. Dad. Got to get my father.

He made it halfway down the corridor to Snape's rooms before collapsing.

Smidgen, who had been coming to check up on Draco before bed, as was her wont, felt his acute distress and blinked to his side. :Master Draco! What has happened? Are you ill?:

"Smidgen . . .get help . . .my father . . ."

:At once, Master Draco!: then the shimmerling blinked away to find Severus, leaving Draco weakly convulsing upon the floor, suffering the torment of the Unfaithful Lover.

So . . .was did you think?

Yes, the cliffy is terrible, but you ought to know by now to expect them in any of my stories . . .right?

Chapter Text

:Severus, come quickly!: Smidgen's mindcall was so sharp with fear and urgency that Severus nearly fell out of his bed. He opened his eyes to find the tiny shimmerling hovering a foot from his nose, her violet eyes whirling in extreme agitation.

"Smidgen, what's wrong?"

Before she could answer, he felt his medallion sear him with a warning jolt, which only occurred when one of his immediate family was hit by a powerful curse that was potentially life-threatening. He sat up immediately and threw on a robe and slippers. "Where are my sons?"

:Draco has been hit by some kind of curse I think. He is lying in the corridor and seems to be in terrible pain. He sent me to get you, Severus.:

"Find Harry and guard him," snapped Severus, then he was out the door.

Smidgen blinked away, but not before sending a message to Philip, who was inside the Gryffindor common room. He assured her that Harry was safe and sleeping soundly and then told her to watch the Gryffindor while he went to assist Severus.

:As you will, my lord Snape.: the shimmerling replied, then she flew into Harry's room, making sure he was still asleep.

Instead she found him wide awake, rubbing his medallion, which was glowing.

:Harry, you're awake?:

"Smidgen! There's something wrong. My amulet's gone nuts, it's glowing and stinging me and I feel really sick all of a sudden, but I don't know why. What happened?"

:You must share a link with your brother, because Draco has been hurt.:

"Hurt? How and when?" Harry threw on his Invisibility Cloak.

:Just now and I believe someone cast a curse on him.:

"Bloody hell!" Harry swore and for once did not earn a reprimand for using a swear word or two. "How is he?"

:In a great deal of pain last time I saw him: Smidgen admitted candidly.

"Aww hells!" Harry made as if to leave, but the shimmerling mewed softly, and he halted. "What?"

:I think it best if you wait a bit before going to check on your brother, Harry. Phil and your father are with him and they need space to work and they will feel better if they know you are safe here in the tower instead of roaming the halls at this hour.:

Harry rubbed his eyes. "What time is it?" He peered at his watch, with its glow-in-the-dark face, which had been a gift from Hermione. "Three AM! Merlin's socks!"

:Indeed. Now please do as I have suggested, Harry, and stay here until Severus calls you.:

"But Smidgen, I could help with Draco . . ."

:Not this time. Stay here, Harry.:

Harry reluctantly tossed his Invisibility Cloak upon the foot of his bed and settled down on it with a sigh of worried exasperation. "Okay. But please ask Dad to tell me the minute Draco's okay."

:I shall. Though I'd wager it will take some time to break the curse.:

Harry nodded, frightened for his brother, his amulet had never reacted that way before and he wondered if Draco might be . . .dying. Stop that, Harry! Draco's not dying, Dad will fix him just like he fixes all his students who get hurt in potions, he scolded himself. He caressed his amulet tentatively, and found the medallion was now cool to the touch. But what did that mean? That the danger was past or that Draco was beyond the amulet's powers of detection? He wished desperately to go and talk to Severus, but he knew Smidgen was right. Draco needed Severus more than he did and so he sat and waited, fighting the urge to bite his nails to shreds.

Smidgen perched upon his shoulder, purring into his ear, and the soft sound soothed him a little, stilling his need to pace about. He bowed his head and prayed his brother would be all right.

Draco had never felt such exquisite pain in his life. Not all of the canings he had received from Lucius could match this awful pain. He could not comprehend why he was feeling this way at first, especially since he had only drank a Nasal Elixir, but some part of his brain that was not screaming in agony was screaming that the potion had been tampered with and now he might be dying.

Merlin, make it stop! Please! He begged soundlessly, pain radiating outward from his groin on sharp pulsing waves accompanied by a throbbing desire that he had never felt for any girl other than Hermione, and even then it had been a gentle thing, not this awful obsessive need. He gritted his teeth and groaned.

"Draco? Son, what happened?"

Draco opened his eyes and hissed, "Dunno . . .hurts . . .Dad. Make it stop . . .!" To his utter horror he began to cry, tears splashing down his face.

"Easy, Dragon." Severus soothed, slipping his arms beneath his son's lean frame.

Draco yelled when Snape lifted him, he couldn't help it.

"Sorry. Can you tell me what happened, Draco? Was it a curse?"

Severus walked slowly and carefully back to his quarters, his boots tapping rapidly, fear making him feel queasy. First Harry nearly died and now Draco. The boy was pale, paler than a dead flobberworm, and obviously in agony. Just looking at him suffering made Severus's chest ache and tighten, he hated it when one of his children was hurt, it conjured in him an awful feeling of desperation and empathy and he would do whatever it took to make his son's pain cease.

"Drank a Nasal Elixir," Draco managed to get out inbetween clenched teeth.

"A Nasal Elixir shouldn't have done this," Severus murmured, entering his quarters and laying Draco on the couch. "Still, I'll need to examine the vial." He muttered a quick Summoning charm and opened the door.

Both the vial and Phil came into the room, one after the other.

"I'm here to help you break the curse on Draco," the vampire said swiftly.

"How did you know?"

"Smidgen told me. She's with Harry, making sure he stays in his room and doesn't do anything foolish. Apparently he felt something was wrong, said his amulet was acting strangely, glowing and burning."

"As was mine. That has to do with the connection to Prince Manor. Through the amulet we can sense how our relatives who had lived within its walls are, especially if hit with dark magic." Severus returned to Draco's side, and dosed him with a strong Pain Reliever.

Draco sighed in profound relief as the pain eased and then Severus mopped his brow with a cool cloth and asked, "Where does it hurt, Dragon?"

"I ache all over, feels like my blood is on fire, sort of, but mostly . . ." he gestured mutely to his groin.

Severus looked alarmed, then said, "All right, I'm going to banish your pajamas and underpants, I have to examine you and the clothing will interfere with my deep scans."

Draco blushed. "No . . .please, can't you just . . ."

"Son, you have nothing I haven't seen before. Close your eyes if you must, but don't argue." Severus said, gently but firmly. Then he banished the teen's clothing.

"Could be a conventional medical problem, like a bladder infection or kidney stones," Severus told Phil as he ran his wand over his son. "But I doubt it."

Within a minute he had the answer to his scans. "Negative. That's good and not good."

"You could have treated them, but this still leaves you groping in the dark for answers." Phil surmised.

"Now we analyze the potion bottle." Severus said. Draco moaned. "Phil, can you numb him a bit while I analyze?"

"Certainly." He moved over and sat down next to Draco, saying quietly in a tone that brooked no refusal, "Draco, open your eyes and look at me."

Draco did as he was told and soon found himself gazing into a pair of violet eyes. "Uncle Phil? Am . . .I . . .dying?"

"No. Now look deep into my eyes. That's good. Keep looking, keep focusing," Phil began to hum, bring the full force of his vampire ability to hypnotize to the fore. "Your pain is leaving . . .you feel nothing but a soothing warmth, you are beyond feeling pain, you are surrounded by a bubble of sleepiness. Close your eyes and let yourself drift . . ."

Draco fell instantly under the master vampire's seductive mental urging and allowed Phil to send him to sleep, sweet release from the awful throbbing pain.

Severus concentrated upon analyzing the dregs of the potion, and found that it had been tampered with using what could amount to a dark curse. But the curse itself eluded him. He cast several Revealing Charms, all came up with curse unknown results. He longed to tear his hair out in frustration.

"Anything?" Phil asked.

"No. The potion was definitely tampered with, but the curse isn't a standard one. Or at least not one a Revealing Charm can recognize. And his symptoms are not ones I recognize."

He began to tick them off on his fingers, until Phil said,"Stop! His groin is swollen and painful . . .why target that area? Unless this is not a curse meant to kill, but one to humiliate and hurt. Has he broken up with any girls lately, Severus?"

"Not that I know of. He was cradle betrothed to Pansy Parkinson, but her father called off the match when Draco renounced his Death Eater ties and became my ward. He has only recently been seeing Hermione Granger, and she would never cast something like this upon him."

"What about the other girl?"

"Parkinson? She's not bright enough to create a spell like this."

"What if it wasn't created, but learned?"

Severus's mouth thinned. "It's possible. God knows jealous adolescent girls have done similar things before this—it's why we don't teach spells of amour and love charms and so forth. Too much potential for abuse. I would hate to think a Slytherin would disregard my authority and actually hex my son after what was done to the others who tried it, but jealousy drives you to commit acts of betrayal."

Phil nodded darkly, one hand resting protectively upon Draco's blond head. "I would search the girl's room, but I need to stay near him in order to keep the veil of sleep flowing, since I didn't put him under a full Command. And you need to keep trying to identify the curse, so the only one who could search the girl's room with impunity is Smidgen."

"And if she finds something, then what? She cannot remove it and give it to us a proof."

"Right. She would need a pair of hands, invisible ones."

Severus frowned, getting immediately what Phil was hinting at. "I don't like involving Harry in this, but we need to see if Pansy is guilty. Can you call Smidgen with your vampire telepathy?"

"Yes," Phil answered, and did so.

Ten minutes later, Harry waited outside the Slytherin portrait hole, shrouded in his Invisibility Cloak. Smidgen was already inside and promised to call him if she found anything radiating dark magic. Until then he would have to wait, for Severus only allowed him to enter the girl's dormitory because it was extenuating circumstances.

"If Smidgen calls you, you are to go in, retrieve whatever it is, and leave. Don't dawdle or gape at anyone else or touch anything. I don't care what or who it is. Understood?"

"Yes, sir." Harry had promised, and now he waited.

Smidgen was flitting about inside the girls' dormitory, her cat's night vision allowing her to see in the dark, and actually it wasn't pitch black because someone had left a nightglobe on, just in case a trip to the lavatory was necessary. The shimmerling, normally sensitive to magical auras, quivered in suppressed rage as she flew into the dorm where the fourth year girls slept.

The stench of dark magic slammed into her as soon as she entered, making her hiss and gag. It was not as strong because it was no longer active, but Smidgen could feel it oozing over her like a greasy slimy film. She wrinkled her nose and sneezed twice. Faugh! The smell of dark magic makes me want to retch up a hairball . . .no several hairballs . . . She hissed and her mouth worked, as if trying to get a nasty taste from her mouth.

But while there had been a pitiable attempt to dispel the dark aura from the room, Smidgen was far more perceptive than your average wizard or feline, so she could follow the traces easily. Tail lashing and a low growl rumbling through her, Smidgen sought the source of the evil magic. It was familiar, somehow, this taint. I have smelled this before . . .back when I served exclusively in the palace, when Oberon was King and Titania merely his consort. The fae cat searched her memory, which was long but clear even after five centuries.

And while she did so she brushed up against a wooden trunk. There was where the taint originated, she could feel the wood and leather enclosing the darkness. Here! It is here, within this box and Moon and Stars! I remember now! Only one kind of spell carries this kind of sharp tang, like merlinnas gone sour. Spells of compulsion and desire, spells to harm and to bind, spells that were once commonplace in the Seelie court—for the vengeance of a lover scorned was no laughing matter among the fae, though love was something most never found. Ah yes, the bitterness of a jealous lover is not a scent I shall easily forget. And this spell—the spell of the Unfaithful One—was once a common tool of retribution, until Titania became queen and banished those who used such and forbade those magics to be used ever again.

The results of such spells were varied but all were painful and degrading and no child should have to suffer such a thing, the shimmerling thought furiously. No fae of good alliance would harm a human child—any child—in that manner. The very idea was abhorrent. There was little doubt in Smidgen's mind that Draco had become the victim of such a spell.

She knew that the grimoire was inside the trunk and since the lock was iron, she could not magic it away. So she called to Harry, who spoke the password to the portrait hole and slipped inside, following Smidgen's directions until he saw the shimmerling hovering over a trunk.

He approached soundlessly, blessing Severus for teaching him kin-sa-dor, because he could now move quietly when he needed to, and he soon made his way across the floor and next to the trunk at the foot of a bed. The curtains were drawn, so he could not see the person sleeping, but as he whispered a soft "Alohomora!" to unlock the trunk, he caught sight of the initials upon the brass plate facing him.

PMPPansy Parkinson, I'd wager my whole vault on it. He thought angrily, knowing full well how Pansy would resent Draco going out with Hermione, but even he hadn't thought the witch could be so vindictive. What a nasty bitch, hexing my brother that way! Smidgen had told him what Philip and Severus were trying to do and Harry had immediately volunteered to help.

He carefully pulled out what was in the trunk until he came to s small leatherbound book, like the kind you would keep a diary in. He picked it up and Smidgen hissed, :That's it! Put it inside your robes and let us bring it to Severus and Phil immediately.:

"Half a minute, I need to put all this stuff back. If she notices the book's missing, she could think she misplaced it or something, but not if I don't put everything back the way I found it." Harry told the fae cat. He carefully placed all the items back and shut the trunk and locked it.

Then he drew up the hood of his cloak and vanished from view.

He was out of the Slytherin portrait hole in a flash and heading towards the Snape rooms. I really hope this will help Draco, but Merlin, Dad and Uncle Phil are going to be frothing at the mouth like a seriously mad dragon!

That was the understatement of the year, Harry thought later. Phil's eyes glowed an eerie blood red and for a second Harry was sure the vampire was going to bust through the Slytherin portrait hole and savage Pansy, or at the least scare the crap out of her. Severus grew very still, his mouth a grim line, and only his dark eyes showed the depths of his anger, they blazed obsidian fire. Harry knew that if his father hadn't had such incredible discipline over his emotions, he might have stormed into the girls' dormitory and hexed Pansy then and there. Smidgen, surprisingly was the worst of the trio, the fae cat practically had steam coming out of her ears and her fur seemed shot through with small jets of lightning. It was also standing up in spikes along her back and head.

:Forbidden magic!Did she really think she could get away with such, and no one would know? She forgets, Draco is a son of Prince Manor, and we are pledged to protect him from all who would do him harm—all, even spoilt jealous little witches! She needs to be taught a good lesson about playing with dark magic!:

"You are right, Smidgen, but first I must see to my son," Severus reprimanded softly. "He is more important than punishing Pansy at the moment. At least I have the spellbook now and can use it to perform a countercharm and treat thesymptoms which may linger with potions." He flipped rapidly through the book until he came to the Unfaithful Lover hex and began to read it.

Harry studied his brother, who was still out from Phil's hypnotic charm. His face was still creased with lines of pain, but he remained sleeping, his blond hair tousled like a small boy's. He had a sheet draped discreetly over his lower half, though Harry could see a bare foot poking out from beneath it.

Philip was sitting next to his brother, perched casually on the arm of the sofa, one hand resting lightly on Draco's head. His fangs were showing and the sight of the enlarged canines made a shudder run through Harry, though he knew he had nothing to fear from the ancient vampire, the mere sight of those teeth was enough to give him the willies. "He'll be okay, won't he, Uncle Phil?"

The violet eyes met his and Philip nodded. "Your father is one of the best Potions Masters and medics I have ever seen, and that is saying something, when you consider how long I have walked the earth. I have faith that he will restore Draco to full health. Your brother is a fighter, like all of the Snapes."

"I know. But what she did to him . . ." Harry scowled. "Nasty evil pug-faced bitch! I'd love to give her a taste of her own medicine, but I just remembered that we have no proof the book belongs to her. Her name wasn't in it."

"You opened the book?" Phil snapped, alarmed.

"Just the cover, to see if her name was in it." Harry said defensively. "I didn't look at any of the spells. But how can we accuse her of hexing Draco without proof?"

The master vampire sighed. "You are correct, Harry. Without proof that she owned the book, we cannot do much. You certainly cannot admit that you sneaked into her room and found the book in her trunk and Smidgen cannot reveal herself either. But she shall not get away with this, little Snape. If we cannot accuse her openly, perhaps there may be a way to get her to admit her own guilt."

"How? With Veritaserum?"

"Veritaserum is illegal to gain confessions from underage wizards," Severus interjected. "Forget about her for the moment. I need you two to help me form a circle to break this curse. It requires the love of family and friends in order to shatter it."

"Friends?" Harry repeated. "Like a girlfriend? Maybe we ought to wake up Hermione then. She really likes Draco."

"Believe me, I know," his father remarked wryly. Then he thought about Harry's suggestion. "Yes. Her positive feelings will help to balance the negative influence."

"Okay. I'll send Frost to her with a note and tell her to make sure she wakes up and reads it." Harry said, scribbling rapidly on a spare piece of parchment. Then he whistled, and Frost woke up from her perch beside Phantom, the two preferred to roost in Sev's apartments instead of the Owlery.

The white owl blinked once, then held out her foot obediently for Harry to tie the message to. "Go to Hermione, Frosty. And make sure you wake her up to get this, all right?"

Frost bobbed her head in understanding, then Harry opened the door to Snape's quarters and she flew away. He knew she could get into the portrait hole, since all the owls were allowed in and out of the dorms.

Some ten minutes later there came a knock at the door, and Harry opened it to admit Hermione, who was dressed in a fluffy pink terry robe and slippers, her hair tousled, but she was wide awake despite the obscenely early hour. "Harry, what's happened to Draco? Is he okay? What did you mean, you needed me to help break a curse? Who cursed him?"

"Pansy Parkinson," Harry answered, shutting the door behind her. "Cast some kind of awful hex on him, something called the Curse of the Unfaithful Lover. It hurt him really bad, Hermione. That's why Uncle Phil . . ." Harry stumbled to a halt, only then realizing that Hermione didn't know about Philip.

"It's all right, Harry." Philip called from where he was sitting. "I would have introduced myself sooner or later, especially if Draco was serious about her."

Hermione looked up at the violet-eyed visitor and gasped. "Oh dear Merlin! Are you Professor Snape's brother?"

"No, I am his . . .uncle, shall we say, though in fact the relationship is a bit more complicated than that," Philip said, smiling. "My name is Philip Anthony Snape, and I am pleased to meet you."

Hermione came forward to shake his hand, thinking that he was one of the hottest men she had ever seen in her life, even better looking than Severus with his hair washed. "Likewise, sir. I'm Hermione Granger." Then she saw them and her jaw dropped. "Jumping Jinxes! You're a—a-vampire!"

"I am. A very old one," Philip said, his eyes twinkling. "I'm here to guard Harry and Draco and Severus from harm." He stroked Draco's hair. "Right now I'm keeping Draco asleep so he doesn't suffer any more pain from the curse."

"Which is why we called you here, Miss Granger," Severus said. "The curse cast upon my son is one that needs to be broken by a circle of wizards, ones who share ties of blood and friendship with the victim. Draw your wand and take up position by Draco's feet, you shall be the west quadrant, Philip the east. Harry, you stand behind the couch, you are north, and I shall be south and Invoker."

They assumed their positions, wands drawn, all save for Phil, and Severus said, "All of you focus your thoughts upon Draco, and send him peaceful and comforting wishes for his recovery. Focus on how important he is to you personally, and then repeat the following words after me." He chanted a string of words in Latin.

One by one, Hermione, Harry, and Philip repeated them, and then a bright violet light flared from Snape's ebony wand and then from each of the apprentice's wands and Philip's hands, connecting them together before coalescing into a shaft of brilliant violet light that washed over Draco's prone form, concealing it from view for a brief instant.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut, concentrating hard on sending his love to his brother, and he felt the magic conjured tug at him, filling him with a sense of peace and renewal, hope and healing.

Hermione kept her focus upon Draco even when she could no longer see him, she projected her concern and love and her fervent wish that he be cured fiercely, feeding the spell with the formidable power of her magic.

Severus too sent his love and wish that his child be well and the combined strengths of the three wizards plus the ancient vampire, gave the spell power enough to shatter the web of jealousy and hate that had formed the core of the hex Pansy had cast.

A minute or two later, the violet light vanished and Phil declared that Draco was no longer tainted with dark magic, the curse was broken. Severus closed the circle, and went back to preparing a special potion that would ease the stress the curse had placed upon Draco's body and break the fever he had developed.

Hermione went over to touch the sleeping Draco's face tenderly. "You're going to be all right now, Draco."

"Thank you for helping him, Miss Granger," Severus said sincerely.

"I was happy to help. But oh, how I'd like to hex that . . .that . . .bitch till she howls!" Hermione declared, her fists clenched and her eyes shining with the wrath of a lioness.

"So would we all," Harry said feelingly. "Dad, can we help you with the potion?"

"Yes. Come with me into the lab, I need a number two standard pewter cauldron and powdered calendula root, ground lavender buds . . ."

The two wizards followed the Potions Master into his private lab connected to his quarters by a secret revolving door in the wall, leaving Phil and Smidgen with the sleeping Draco.

:Now that the curse has been broken, Master Draco can rest easy. I am so happy he will recover.: Smidgen sent sincerely. Then her mind voice hardened. :But there is still the wicked witch to deal with. She must be taught never to harm a Snape again.:

Philip bared his fangs. "And so she will be. Hell hath no fury like a Snape roused to venegeance. How shall we make the girl regret her actions and admit her guilt, Smidgen?"

:That will be easy, for a dreamweaver has influence over the subconscious, and I am sure together we can influence her in dreams. Do you know how to project yourself into the Realm of Dreams, Nightwalker?:

"I do. When shall we begin?"

:What is it humans say? There is no time like the present.: the shimmerling sent, then she blinked away, and a moment later Philip rose and followed.

The First Dream:

"In the Realm of Dreams, a dreamweaver rules," Smidgen told Phil as he appeared beside her in the misty meadow of the dreamscape. She had grown from her usual three inch height to a larger panther-like cat with beautiful butterfly wings. "You wish to be involved in the dreams, yes?"

"Of course. I wish to mete out some justice to the conceited child."

"Good. We shall start then by sending her a dream centered around her childhood and Draco's. From what Draco told me, she was an unpleasant spoiled brat even then and got him beaten on a number of occasions when he refused to play with her."

The shimmerling walked towards the formless mist at the edge of the meadow. "Come, Phil."

The vampire followed, watching avidly as the shimmerling expertly wove the stuff of raw dreams into shape and then cast it towards the sleeping consciousness of Pansy, who lay sleeping without regrets. That was about to change.

"You have to do what I say, Draco!" five-year-old Pansy declared shrilly, stamping her foot upon the ground. She was wearing a frilly blue dress and a fluffy white cloak, she looked adorable, but the scowl on her round face was anything but attractive.

"But I don't want to play stupid tea party. I want to play Exploding Snap." Draco replied, he was the same age, dressed in blue trousers and a white collared shirt with a dragon logo on the pocket. He wore and equally stubborn expression.

"No! I'm the guest and you do what I say! Or else I'll tell your father!" Pansy yelled.

"You're nothing but a boring old girl and I'm never marrying you!"

"Yes you will! You have to!"

"Do not!"

"Do so! My daddy says so! You're gonna marry me and make me a princess. So there!" she threw him a look of triumph.

"No! I hate you!" Draco screamed. "I'd rather marry a toad."

Suddenly Pansy was clutching a wand and hissing, "If I can't have you, than no one shall! You belong to me, Draco Malfoy!"

In that instant, she was no longer a child, but a fourteen-year-old girl and her face became cruel and hard, filled with obsessive jealousy and hate. The curse flowed from her wand and struck Draco, making him fall to the ground.

Pansy laughed. "That'll teach you!" she sneered and went to flounce away, only to run right into a very angry Philip. "Eeek!" she yelped, and tried to run, but he caught her before she could flee and all at once she was a child again. "Lemme go!" she kicked Philip in the stomach. "You bloody vampire! Lemme go b'fore I tell my daddy and he sticks a stake through your heart." She struggled, kicking and squirming to no avail. "Where's my wand! I want my wand!"

"Little girls who misbehave don't get wands," Philip intoned sternly. "Witches who misuse their magic and cast dark curses get punished." His fangs showed stark white against his blood-red lips.

"He deserved it!" Pansy wailed. "He was mine first!"

"Draco belongs to himself and what you did is forbidden by every code of conduct in the wizarding world."

"So what? Nobody rejects me!" she spat. "Put me down! I mean it!"

"Do you not understand that what you did was wrong? That you could have seriously hurt Draco? Is that how you behave with someone you love, girl?" Phil snarled, shaking her.

"Who cares? He should be grateful I didn't kill him for scorning me!"

"You are a wicked child, spoiled and selfish, but perhaps you can still be taught the error of your ways." The violet eyes hardened. "Little children who play around with dark magic need to be taught a lesson."

"By you? Who do you think you are?"

"I am Draco's uncle and no one hurts my nephew and gets away with it." Phil declared, then he flipped the child over his knee, flicked up her skirt and began to spank her soundly.

By the time he had finished she was howling and squirming, having never been subjected to such chastisement before in her life. He set her on her feet and hissed, "Remember, that is what happens to wicked little girls who use dark magic for whatever reason."

Pansy burst into tears and screeched, "I HATE you! You can't prove it was me! You can't!"

Then she sprinted off through the garden of Malfoy Manor, holding her very sore bottom, bawling loudly.

Pansy jerked awake, it was just after five o'clock, she was all wrapped up in her coverlet. She groped for her wand and spoke a quick LumosWhat a strange dream I had. Crazy really. She rubbed her eyes. Usually she didn't recall her dreams, but this one she remembered in vivid detail, especially the angry vampire who had paddled her so soundly. She flinched and went to rub her bottom automaticallyand discovered to her horror that it was very sore, just like in her dream.

She kicked off her covers frantically and raced out of the room and into the bathroom to examine her backside. It was red and stinging . . .as if she had actually been spanked. Eyes wide, she whimpered and shook her head in denial. It was just a dream! How can a dream become real? She recalled the vampire scolding her, his deep voice sharp with anger and disapproval. "Remember, that is what happens to wicked little girls who use dark magic for whatever reason."

"Bloody stupid dream!" she spat, kicking the counter. "Bloody f-ing vampire!" She rubbed her bottom and then returned to her room, hoping to get a few more hours of sleep before classes, only to find that she was too afraid to close her eyes. No one knows what I did. No one. Except maybe that stupid dream vampire. Swallowing hard, she turned on her side, hoping that Draco was hurting as much as she was, if not more.

Surrounded by veils from mortal sight, Phil and Smidgen watched from a corner of the room. "She is still not regretting her actions. How was it that what I did in the Realm of Dreams affected her in the real world?"

:A dreamweaver may induce psychosomatic dreams if she so chooses,: Smidgen replied. :Meaning that sometimes what happens in dreams can be translated by the mind to reflect the body. The effects will fade in twenty-four hours, they are not permanent. But it is my hope that she will learn from it.:

"Hmm. You are dangerous, my Lady Catkin. I would not like having you for an enemy." Phil said, and bowed to her. "Turning dreams into reality . . ."

:That is not something I do lightly, but in this case . . .justice is served.: the shimmerling replied, flicking her wings. :You make a dangerous enemy too, Nightwalker. Perhaps another session tonight?:

"Yes. That spanking is something her father ought to have done long ago. But next time perhaps a different approach is needed." Phil declared grimly.

Smidgen hissed in agreement, then the two returned to Severus's rooms.

They found a shaky Draco sitting up drinking a vial of a purple potion slowly, while a smiling Harry and Hermione looked on and Severus ran a diagnostic on him. The blond Slytherin's eyes widened as Phil stepped into the room. He set down the half-finished vial and stared. "Uh . . .Uncle Phil . . .you're not wearing your veils . . ."

"Finish your potion, Draco." Severus ordered. "It's all right. Philip and . . .Hermione have met."

Draco whistled. "Huh. I missed a lot while I was out, I guess." His eyes slid to his girlfriend. "How did you know I was hurt, Mione?"

She shrugged. "Intuition." She lifted her hand and brushed a lock of his hair off his forehead. "Drink your potion, it'll make you feel better."

"You make me feel better," he murmured, one hand capturing hers.

She picked up the potion bottle. "Drink, silly dragon."

He drank and she held the vial to his lips, smiling and looking deep into his gray eyes. When he had finished, she set the vial down, and gently kissed him. It was brief kiss and yet it made him feel energized and better than he had since he had taken that cursed Nasal Elixir. She tasted of mint and sunlight and it was with reluctance that he drew away from her. "Maybe I should get myself hexed more often, if this is what I get from it."

"Draco!" she promptly swatted him on the head with a potions periodical. "Don't you ever scare me like that again, you hear?"

"Me either," Harry said, snickering.

"Or me," Severus added.

"I second that," Philip agreed.

:We are all glad you're on the mend, Draco.:

"Okay. Next time I'll try and watch my back, but I never thought I'd need to worry about stupid psycho ex-girlfriends." He made a face. "Actually, she was never my girlfriend, only an annoyance."

"I am so glad to hear that," Hermione said.

"How long do I have to stay in bed, Dad?"

"At least for two days, that curse took quite a toll on you and your magic, son." Severus said. "You need to rest and take more of my potions to replenish your magic."

Draco groaned. "Aww . . .Merlin! Can I have visitors? Because I'm going to go spare stuck in here with nothing to do but read potions journals, even though I like potions."

"Yes, Dragon, you may have your friends here to visit, after you take a long rest," said his father. "They can come by for lunch and after classes for awhile."

"All right! I can finally sleep during classes and not get in trouble." He grinned, then leaned back with his hands behind his head, the picture of a lazy relaxed teenager.

Harry exchanged glances with Hermione. "You do know his favorite pastime is sleeping, right?"

Hermione giggled. "Of course. It's every teenager's, except maybe mine."

"And mine."

"That's 'cause you two are abnormal," Draco drawled, yawning. "But don't worry, Mione. I still like you."

"So happy to hear that, Draco," laughed Hermione.

He grinned his sweet grin at her, the one that made her knees go weak.

"Okay, you two, enough with the eye thingy, you're making me sick," Harry said.

Draco rolled his eyes. "Whatever." He turned to look at Severus. "So how long will Parkinson get in detention? The rest of the term?"

"If we could prove she was the one who hexed you, at least that long," Severus said, his tone hard. "But first we need proof."

"But Harry found the book in her trunk! So why . . .oh."

"Exactly. We cannot reveal that Harry was snooping around in Slytherin territory, especially in the girls' dormitory. So we have to find another way to get Miss Parkinson to reveal herself."

"Leave that to me," Philip growled softly.

Draco cast one look at him and gulped audibly. "Merlin, but I am really glad it wasn't me who got him mad. Pansy better find a deep hole and bury herself."

"That won't stop me," was all the vampire said, licking his lips pointedly. "Don't look like that, Sev. I won't hurt her . . .much."

:And by the time we are done, she will confess her crime to you, Wizard Snape,: Smidgen put in.

Severus said nothing, for he too was still angry over what had happened to his son and he had no control over Philip or Smidgen in any case. Fae justice was often harsh, but the Seelie Court's version was mostly fair as well.

Over the next three days, Pansy went from a smug thing to a drawn out sleepless hag. This was mostly because of the nightly visitations by Smidgen and Philip, who haunted her dreams like the Christmas Spirits had Scrooge. The second dream arrived the night after Draco had been cursed, and before then she had been the victim of a Bad Odor hex that made her stink to high heaven like fresh manure, making everyone step back from her. By the time she had stopped reeking, it was lunch but no one wanted to sit next to her. Then she had tried to eat, and everything she reached for kept jumping away from her, the bowl jumped a foot across the table and the spoon slithered after it, even her plate kept sliding around, and whenever she tried to cancel the annoying spell, she found herself babbling nonsense words.

She ended up fleeing the hall in tears, still hungry and missing completely the high five Harry and Hermione gave each other.

"Score one for the Snapes," Harry chuckled. "That was brilliant, Hermione. Where'd you learn that spell?"

"Oh, you'd be amazed what you can learn when you read in the library," Hermione replied sweetly. "Never mess with a Snape, Harry. Or their girlfriend."

The Second Dream:

Pansy pointed her wand and altered the potion sitting on Draco's nightstand. "There! That'll teach you to choose a Mudblood over me!" she declared.

No sooner had she done that, then a dark figure loomed over her. "Still playing around with dark magic, I see."

Pansy screamed. "No! Oh no! Not YOU again! Go away!"

"And what will you do if I don't? Will you curse me like you did Draco?" Phil bared his fangs. "Oh yes, I know you cursed him. You cannot hide the truth from ME, child. I see it in your mind. You are as guilty as Morgan leFay when she seduced Arthur."

"Just get out, bloodsucker!" she pointed her wand at him, her hand trembling.

His eyes glowed blood-red. "You dare to curse me, little girl?" A second later he was lunging at her, fangs bared.

Pansy's shriek could have been heard across the Realms. She dropped her wand and fled, screaming bloody murder, down the hall, which suddenly morphed from stone walls to a living breathing tunnel of vines that wrapped about her, prickling her all over, and tiny mouths appeared with sharp teeth, hissing, "Guilty, you are guilty! Guilty! Guilty! And now you must pay, dark sorceress!"

Then the vines fastened upon her arms and began to feed . . .

She woke shrieking . . .and found that her arms were covered with round sucker-like bites. "Oh my God! Look at me!" she wailed. "I'm covered in these disgusting bites!"

"Ah, shut it, willya, Parkinson!" cried an irate Millicent Bulstrode. "I'm tryin' to sleep here."

"Sleep? How can you sleep when these things keep happening to me!" sobbed Pansy, wringing her hands. "My nightmares are coming alive."

"Good for you! Now go ask Snape for Dreamless Sleep and get over it!" Millicent snapped, then she turned over and buried her head in her pillow. "Merlin have mercy!"

Finding no sympathy from her Housemates, Pansy fled to the bathroom, where she tried unsuccessfully to remove the sucker welts with Magical Blemish Remover. Even more terrifying was the fact that the dreams were getting worse.

All that day, unexplained mishaps plagued her. Her homework vanished in Transfiguration, resulting in a detention with McGonagall. Her shoes became glued to the earth in Care of Magical Creatures and she fell flat on her face in front of the box of Electrifying Scorpions, startling them and causing one to zap her in the bum.

"Oww!" she yelped and the whole class burst out laughing.

But the worst was yet to come.

On her way to the girls' bathroom on the first floor, she passed Hermione and Harry, and couldn't resist sneering and asking, "Hey, Snape! How's your brother? I heard somebody hexed him good."

Harry's eyes narrowed. "What's it to you, Parkinson?"

"Oh, nothing." She said airily and walked away, her nose in the air.

She entered the bathroom, going to check her make-up in the mirror.

"AHH-HHH!"

She put her hands to her face in horror.

"Merlin help me! I've got SNAKES for hair! My HAIR!"

Her dark long hair was her one beauty and now it had been transformed into a mass of writhing hissing snakes. "I look like MEDUSA!"

Frantically, she turned and ran for the Hospital Wing, holding her bag over her head, but it did not cover her entire head, and as she raced past, people began to snigger and mock her.

"Nice do, Parkinson!"

"Is that some new Slytherin pride motif?"

"You trying out for Ugliest Girl in school?"

Several Gryffindor girls began hissing and wriggling their fingers at her and a group of Ravenclaws screamed and held up mirrors.

All in all, it had been a most awful humiliating day.

Exhausted, she threw herself down on her bed, Madam Pomfrey had managed to remove the hex on her hair, saying it had been a clever bit of an Illusion Charm, not a true Transfiguration. "But whoever hexed you dear, was first rate with illusion charms."

But once again, as soon as she closed her eyes, the vampire came for her, with his terrible red eyes and hateful smirk, chastising her for cursing Draco.

The Third Dream:

"Why can't you leave me ALONE?" she yelled, balling her fists and stamping her foot like a petulant child. This time they were in a kind of forest, where all the trees were twisted and grotesque. "What is it that you want from me?"

He folded his arms across his chest. "To admit that you were wrong."

"About what?" she pouted.

"About cursing Draco. You say you did it to keep him, but you never owned him."

"I did! He was promised to ME!"

"And now the contract was broken, but even if it were not, it was made without his consent. An unconsenting partner makes a betrothal contract null and void."

"No!"

"Yes. It has always been so, since the beginning. Love cannot live in the unwilling heart. And Draco's heart is not filled with love for you."

"Because SHE stole him from me!"

"Child, you cannot steal what has been freely given. He chose her, and using dark magic to possess him will not bring him back. To love is to set free. Accept it."

"No! He is mine!"

"He belongs to himself," Philip snapped. "And if you loved him, as you say, you would have never hurt him over your jealous pride."

"It was payback, bloodsucker!"

"And that is why you shall never have him. Was the book of dark spells yours?"

"What if it was?"

"Dark magic is forbidden. And wrong."

She shrugged insolently. "Why do you care?"

"You trod a dangerous path. The darkness will consume you in the end, foolish child. Unless you turn your back on it."

"Up yours, vampire!"

"You do not want me as your enemy."

"I'll see you dead, bloodsucker."

"You wish," he snarled, then he was on her, and this time she felt his teeth puncture her wrist.

She screamed.

"Quiet!" he ordered menacingly. She froze. "You ask why I am here. It is simple. I am here to get you to admit your guilt and I shall keep walking your dreams until you do so. Every night, you shall sleep and I will be there, every time you close your eyes, I shall be waiting."

"No. No, please."

"Do you wish to be free of me?"

"Yes!"

"Then you must face up to your actions and take the consequences. Until then the dreams will continue. Your choice."

That time when she woke there was blood on her wrist, but no puncture wounds.

All of Slytherin was talking about Draco and who might have cursed him, and there was a distinct current of disapproval running through the House, especially among the girls, who thought Draco was cute, that whoever had hexed him deserved to pay. They did not know the details, but they learned the curse might have killed him if Professor Snape hadn't removed it in time. Rumor had it he was still looking for the perpetrator.

"If anyone has any information regarding this matter, you are to come to me immediately."

She shivered recalling the iciness in his voice and the look in his eyes. If he ever knew it was me . . .I would be expelled.

The mysterious pranks also continued, and every day she was the target of laughter and the humiliation coupled with the lack of sleep was starting to get to her. She felt eyes on her all the time, asleep and awake, after a week she felt like a zombie and looked like one too.

But she finally snapped one afternoon, when she went to look in her trunk for a spare set of robes, hers had suddenly developed purple and pink polka dots, and found the black book missing. A panicked search turned up nothing and dread swept through her. She tore apart her possessions, but it was nowhere to be found. The professor knows. He must know . . .he knows everything . . .

She bolted out of her dorm and into the common room, only to run smack into her Head.

He raised an eyebrow. "Going somewhere, Parkinson?"

"No! I mean yes . . ."

"You look like you're up to no good."

He fixed her with a penetrating knowing gaze.

She crumbled then, for it was all too much. The dreams, the pranks, everything . . ."Don't send me to Azkaban, Professor! I don't wanna get my soul sucked out by a dementor," she wailed and then burst into noisy sobs.

"And why would you deserve to go to Azkaban? What have you done?"

"It was me, sir! I . . .I hexed Draco! Please don't send me there," she blubbered.

"You hexed my son?"

"Yes! The black book is mine." Snot dribbled down her face as she grabbed the front of his robes.

He jerked his robes free, a look of disgust and anger stealing over his face. "Come with me, Parkinson," he said in a clipped deadly tone, and he fastened a hand upon her shoulder and dragged her out of the common room.

Chapter Text

Pansy whimpered, a look of dread on her pug-like face, as Snape hauled her down the hallway and up the stairs to the upper levels of the castle. "Sir, please! Don't expel me, please! My parents would die of shame if that happened." She started to cry again.

"Quit with that sniveling! Crocodile tears won't work on me, Miss Parkinson!" The professor growled. "You should have thought about that before you resorted to dark spells and hexed my son because of your pitiful obsession. Now you will face the consequences of your actions. We are going to pay a visit to the Headmaster, Parkinson, for any student caught using dark magic knowingly must be reported to him."

"Is he gonna . . .expel me?" she whined, making Snape long to shake her till her head fell off.

"I have no idea, Parkinson. Though if it were me in his place, I would have your wand snapped and you sent out of the castle on a rail. Your playing about with dark spells might well have killed or permanently harmed Draco!" His hand closed even tighter about her wrist, and she yelped. He ignored her and half-dragged her to the gargoyle statue.

"Acid Pops," he muttered, then the gargoyle slid aside and the two stepped up onto the staircase. "You ought to count yourself lucky that Dumbledore is Headmaster, girl. Perhaps he will show you mercy. I, on the other hand, feel like showing you the back of my hand, you conniving little vixen!"

Pansy sniffled, terrified. She had never seen the Potions Master so furious before and all of his formidable temper was directed at her. "I . . .I didn't mean to hurt Draco, sir. I only wanted to . . .to teach him a lesson."

Snape whirled on her, looming like some gigantic raptor, his eyes blazing black fire. "Oh really?" he hissed, and the quiet tone was somehow a dozens times scarier than if he had screamed at her. "Lying does not become you, girl. Don't bother trying to convince me with your pitiful excuses, save that for the Headmaster. For I know the truth. You thought to play the wronged lover, seeking repayment for my son's refusal of your advances, and when ordinary means failed, you turned to dark enchantments to revenge yourself upon him. You did not care how you hurt him, so long as your pride was satisfied. And that is the truth, Parkinson, and both of us know it! Now you reap what you sow, and fake tears and platitudes will not save you."

They had reached Dumbledore's office and Severus rapped sharply upon the door, hoping that the old wizard had not left for a meeting with the Minister or Ludo Bagman or Bartemius Crouch, Senior.

"Come in," called Dumbledore.

Severus entered, hauling Pansy behind him like a sack of oats. "Good afternoon, Headmaster. I have a grave breach of school rules to report to you."

"Severus! My, but you look mad enough to spit fire like a Hungarian Horntail. What seems to be the problem?" the Headmaster asked, sensing immediately that Severus's temper had reached its boiling point and it would not do to act as if this were an ordinary visit.

"Here is the problem, Headmaster. Miss Parkinson has admitted to me this afternoon that she was behind the hexing of Draco, that she knowingly used a book of dark magic to cast a spell to cause grievous harm upon my son." He withdrew a slender black volume from the pocket of his robes. "Here is the tome of black witchery." He tossed it to the Headmaster, who caught it and opened it, examining it with a frown.

Pansy groaned when she saw the familiar volume, but stopped at a thunderous look from her Head of House.

Snape's hands gripped her shoulders firmly from behind, holding her fast like some vicious bird-of-prey, forcing her to stand before the Headmaster's desk, ignoring the comfortable horsehair stuffed chairs in the front of it.

Dumbledore was silent for several minutes as he perused the slender volume, his frown growing darker and darker as he did so. When he finally closed the book with a sharp snap and lifted his eyes to the irate Head of Slytherin and his misbehaving student, his formally twinkling eyes were dark with disapproval, disappointment, and anger. "Miss Parkinson, you have committed a very serious breach of school policy by having this book upon your person, and even worse, studying it and casting the spell within its pages. As a member of Slytherin House, I don't think I need to tell you how much your actions have hurt the integrity and honor of your House, which Professor Snape has been trying to improve this year. Your actions reflect poorly upon your Housemates, your Head of House, and especially yourself. Not to mention the school as a whole. Hogwarts was once home to a powerful dark wizard, unknowingly, but I swore afterwards that I would not allow dark magic to be practiced ever again within its walls." He half rose, his cerulean flashing chained lightning. "And yet I find you casting spells of darkest compulsion and agony upon a fellow student, your Housemate no less! What have you to say for yourself, young lady?"

Pansy began to blubber and weep, but Dumbledore remained firm, for once, not giving an inch, glowering down upon her like a stern inflexible judge of the Wizengamut.

"I'm am waiting for an explanation," the Headmaster said in a steely tone few had ever heard him use.

Severus gave her a slight shake. "Answer the Headmaster, Parkinson!"

"O-Okay!" She stuttered, then began offering up the same lame excuses she had given to Severus, her eyes wide in frightened desperation.

Dumbledore listened intently to her halting rendition of the night she had altered Draco's nighttime draft of Nasal Elixir. "I did it to get back at him for going out with a stupid Gryffie! How could he choose Granger over me, she's not even a pureblood or a Slytherin! He was promised to me since we were kids."

"A betrothal agreement?" queried the elder wizard. Pansy nodded.

"One that her father broke after it was revealed that Draco was no longer a supporter of the Dark Lord," Severus interjected. "He severed the agreement, young lady, releasing any claim you might have thought you had on him. But instead of leaving things alone, you refused to accept it, and pursued my son relentlessly, even when he had made it clear to you that he no longer welcomed your attentions."

"Because he was getting it on with that frizzy-haired bitch!" spat Pansy angrily.

"Parkinson!" Snape snarled. "You will restrain that foul mouth of yours immediately or I shall do it for you!"

"And is that reason enough for you to hurt Draco so badly, young lady?" Albus demanded and there was not a trace of pity in his face. He looked very much like a judge from medieval days, stern and inflexible. "You might have caused him irreparable damage had the curse not been removed when it was. He might have been unable to have children or something worse. You say you loved him? Then how could you bear to see him in so much pain, child?"

"He hurt me too!" Pansy sniffled.

"Two wrongs do not make a right, Miss Parkinson," Severus snapped. "Or were you absent when your teacher taught that in primary school? I think you do not realize just how much you harmed my son with your little bit of revenge. Perhaps you would sing a different tune were you to see just how that spell affected Draco."

"What do you mean?"

"Headmaster, may I borrow your Pensieve?"

"Of course, Severus." Dumbledore gestured and the stone bowl flew out of the cabinet behind his desk and landed in front of the pair with a thump.

Severus placed his wand to his temple and withdrew all his memories of watching his son writhing in agony under that curse and placed them inside the stone bowl. Then he lowered his wand and said coldly, "Part of your punishment, Parkinson, is to view these memories of Draco I have placed here. Then maybe you will not be so quick to use dark magic next time." He stabbed his wand down at the swirling surface of silvery liquid. "Look!"

Pansy shook her head. "No!"

Severus's hand tightened like a vise. "Either you look of your own free will, Parkinson, or I shall make you do so, and I don't particularly care if I drown you doing it."

"Severus!" Albus protested. "There is no need to scare the child to death."

"No? I shall not have another Bellatrix LeStrange in my House, Headmaster!"

"View the memories, child," Albus urged, a bit more gently than his Potions professor. "Sometimes the consequences of one's actions are not always apparent unless seen through another's eyes."

Gulping, Pansy lowered her head and stuck her face into the Pensieve.

Severus remained standing over her, the look on his face could have slain a demon, it was so lethal. "Albus, you had better do more than assign her detention with Filch for this, or I swear I shall resign. I will not tolerate attacks upon my children, for whatever reason. This is one place they should be safe, and yet I find they are in as much danger here as if they attended a Death Eater meeting." He scowled blackly. "Ask her where she got the book, for such a volume is often passed down from mother to daughter, especially in pureblood families. I want it destroyed and her parents informed of her actions, and none of your pussyfooting about either. I want you to tell them exactly what she did to Draco and tell them she is facing expulsion for using dark magic."

"Very well, Severus." Albus agreed without argument. "She will not be let off lightly, my friend. She shall be put on probation and face a board of inquiry and I shall take her wand away for the duration of the term. Do you wish to hold detention with her or shall I assign her to another professor?"

"Much as I detest her, I shall be happy to give her very pointed object lessons, though I also think she should serve some detentions with Professor Binns as well. You know he could drive a pixie insane with his droning and his detentions are always writing on some inanely uninteresting topic with no less than five feet of parchment. She should also be made to apologize to Draco."

"I agree. I hope viewing your memories helps her to see that she was wrong and such behavior is unacceptable." The Headmaster said gravely.

Before Severus could speak further, Pansy jerked up from the Pensieve. Her face was ghost white and she was crying yet again.

"Well? Do you understand better now what you have done with your meddling?" Albus demanded sternly.

Pansy nodded. "Yes, sir. I am sorry!"

"Too little, too late," Severus interjected.

"W-What will you do to me?"

"First I shall question you as to where you got this book, Miss Parkinson."

Pansy bit her lip and did not reply.

"Were you given it? From a family member perhaps?" Dumbledore pried.

Reluctantly, Pansy nodded.

"This is a book of mostly dark spells, child, and not ones you should ever be using. Such spells are anathema to any good wizard, and the use of even one means you shall face a board of inquiry for it. After which, the book shall be destroyed. You shall be on probation as well and your wand will be handed to me, since you have proven incapable of governing your actions wisely with it. I shall also be writing to your parents to inform them of what has occurred."

At that, Pansy practically threw herself at Dumbledore's feet. "No . . .no . . .don't tell them . . .please, sir! Father forbid me to see Draco and if he ever finds out I disobeyed him . . ." she trailed off into hysterical sobs.

Severus sneered and Albus remained coolly inflexible. "In such cases, your parent or guardian is always made aware of your actions. Always. There are no exceptions. In addition, you shall serve detention with Professor Snape and Professor Binns till the end of term and you are forbidden all trips to Hogsmeade and required to be in your dorm by eight o'clock every night, a Monitoring Charm shall be placed upon you to ensure you comply with these terms, Miss Parkinson."

"You can't do that! You're treating me like . . .like a criminal!" she wailed.

"Indeed. For that is what you are, young lady." The Headmaster said sternly.

"That's no fair! I said I was sorry!"

"But are you really?" Dumbledore snapped, out of patience with the whining. "I get the feeling that you are not truly remorseful, only sorry you were caught. If the board declares you guilty, you shall be expelled, as an example to any other witch who attempts to use such spells upon a former boyfriend. Until then, Miss Parkinson, you are under house arrest." He held out his hand. "Your wand."

She surrendered it, a gleam of hatred blooming in her squinty eyes. "I hate this school! I wish I had never come here!"

"We agree on something then," Snape remarked sourly. "You have detention with me every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday night, six o'clock sharp. On the weekends you shall serve detention with Professor Binns for half the day, the other half shall be spent scrubbing the Hospital Wing and the Slytherin common room from top to bottom." He pointed his wand at her and cast the Monitoring Charm.

A huge pocket watch with a large mouth appeared upon the front of her robes and it looked quite ugly and garish.

"Do not even try and remove that. It will remain until your hearing. If you are late, the charm will react most embarrassingly and loudly. And will continue to do so until you are where you are supposed to be."

"I feel like I'm in prison."

"Then you don't know what prison really feels like. Pray you never find out!" warned the Potions Master. "Remember, girl, you brought this upon yourself."

"Yes, sir."

"Oh and furthermore, you will also apologize to Draco," Severus told her, then added in an inspired stroke of genius, "In front of the entire Slytherin House."

"But . . .but . . .sir! Then everyone will know . . .!"

"Yes, Miss Parkinson. That is the idea." Severus said, a nasty sneer upon his face. Then he leaned down and hissed in her ear, "Nobody hurts my family and gets away with it! No one! Return to your dorm, I shall summon you when it is time for your detention, and you can apologize to my son the following morning, before we assemble in the hall for breakfast. Now get out of my sight."

Pansy fled, slamming the door behind her.

Severus turned to Dumbledore and said softly, "It is well that you abolished the use of a cane on students when you became Headmaster, Albus. Otherwise I would be hard pressed not to beat her senseless."

"As would I," replied the other wizard. Then he offered Severus a lemon drop.

"Do they contain a Calming Draught, Albus?" inquired the professor wearily.

Albus tapped one with his wand. "Now they do." He held it out to Severus, his face innocent as a newborn lamb's, but his eyes gleaming with mischief. "Indulge yourself, my boy."

"What the hell," muttered Snape, and accepted the Headmaster's offering.

And that caused all of the portraits in the office to gossip endlessly for a week, telling all the other portraits in the school, who then told everyone else, until Severus threatened to hex them all into silence when he returned to the office the following Friday.

Harry also happened to be present for Pansy's required apology, since he had gone down to his father's quarters to ask a question about a potions project due on Monday, he was working with Blaise, and Severus took him along to witness the girl's punishment. He suspected that Harry and Hermione and possibly Ron were involved in playing some pranks upon Pansy, but he did not inquire outright about it. Sometimes it was best to turn a blind eye, and so long as the pranks did not cross the line, he was willing to overlook them, considering the circumstances.

Harry was happy to witness the humbling of the Slytherin witch, and watched with a certain sense of satisfaction as Pansy admitted to Draco, who had just been released from bed rest, that she had cast the awful hex and then apologized to him for doing so.

Draco looked Pansy right in the eye, actually he had to look down on her since he topped her by a head, and after she had said her piece, he replied, "You're a wicked nasty thing and I thank God that contract was broken, otherwise I'd have been stuck with you for the rest of my life, which wouldn't have been too long given you're nothing but a black widow in human form. Come near me again and I'll hex you all the way across the ocean, Parkinson." He gave her a glare that would have done his foster father proud. Then he said coldly, "Apology accepted, now stay the hell away from me."

The rest of Slytherin House was gathered in the common room to hear it too, and they were not amused.

Especially the girls.

Draco was very popular with his House, even after he had repudiated his parents, even some of the Death Eater children respected him for such a bold move, and it had been quite a shock to discover he had been the victim of a curse of such malicious magnitude. Most of the Slytherin witches considered him quite a catch and were furious that he had been attacked by one of their own.

Unknown to their Head of House, they decided to enact their own form of reprisal upon their erring Housemate the following night, when the professor was absent from the dungeons attending a required staff meeting upstairs. Led by Millicent Bulstrode, they bound Pansy with strips of cloth and put a hood over her head, then frog-marched her into Moaning Myrtle's bathroom and proceeded to hold a "Casting Out" ceremony—a very ancient ritual that witches had practiced since before the time of Merlin, before Hogwarts had been founded. Every witch of a pureblood family knew of the ceremony, and it was only used when a dire crime had been committed.

Since Severus's speech at the beginning of the term, most of the witches had been making a concentrated effort to better themselves and redefine their reputation, and they were furious that all their efforts might have been destroyed due to one selfish spoiled girl. So they determined to add their own punishment to those their Head had already given.

Hermione had been returning from the library when the crowd of Slytherins, shepherding the bound Pansy went by, and Millicent turned and spotted her. "Hey, Granger! Come join us!"

"What? What are you doing?"

"Administering justice to the hag who hexed your boyfriend," she answered.

Curious, Hermione followed.

They dragged Pansy into the middle of a chalk drawn circle, she was whining and sobbing, until Millicent cuffed her round the head and told her to shut her trap. Then Millicent and four other girls called upon all five elements to bear witness against the delinquent witch, Pansy Parkinson.

"She has betrayed the oath of her House, to never do harm to one of its members," Millicent declared in ringing tones, after having first cast a Silencing Charm about the bathroom.

" She has betrayed the sisterhood, by using spells of compulsion to force a boy to her bidding!" cried another witch. "We need not such measures in order to get a man to see us."

"She has dishonored us by lying and ruining our new reputation as Salazar's daughters!" yelled Avery Blake.

"I declare her oathbreaker and see her not! She is outcast from our company! Traitor! Liar! Get thee hence, woman!" chanted the rest of the girls.

They ripped the hood from Pansy's face and spit at her feet, one by one, all of them reciting the same words over and over. "Outcast! Get thee hence, woman!"

More than a few of them also sent Stinging Hexes at her as well and when Hermione's turn came to confront her, she glared at the other girl and then slapped her across the face hard. "That's for Draco, you evil hag! Get thee hence, bitch!"

After each witch had declared Pansy outcast, Millicent closed the circle, then freed Pansy from the bindings and said coldly, "You are Slytherin now in name only."

They left Pansy alone in the haunted bathroom then, sobbing, only to have Moaning Myrtle make a toilet explode right in her face. Even the ghost girl had no sympathy for her.

Hermione ran into Draco, Harry, and Ron, returning from the kitchens, they had managed to persuade the house elves to give them a snack, for all of them found themselves starving at odd times now. They were shadowed by an unseen Smidgen, who had feasted upon honey and milk. "Hey. What are you doing out of the library at this time of night?" Draco greeted jokingly. "You're finished studying already?"

She smiled at him, where normally a comment like that from Ron or Harry would have made her bristle. "Mostly. I ran into some of your Slytherins on the way," she began, then beckoned them off into an alcove. She then told them what they had done to Pansy. "I suppose it was rather . . .mean of us, but . . .she really deserved it after that hex she cast on you, Draco."

Draco grimaced and Ron and Harry winced in sympathy. "Don't lose sleep over it, Mione. I'm not. Slytherins take care of their own. Always have."

"I still can't believe she did . . .that to you, Malfoy," Ron said, shivering. "That's just so . . .wrong."

"And evil," Harry added.

"I should have expected it," Draco sighed. "I mean, I've known her practically my whole life and she's always been a spoilt brat and jealous of anyone who has something she didn't. Plus, her parents are hard core supporters of You-Know-Who, so of course she would know some dark spells." He shuffled his feet uncomfortably. "We're taught them right along with proper etiquette."

"Then you know dark magic?" Ron asked before he could think better of it.

Harry elbowed him in the ribs.

"Yeah. But I promised myself and my dad I'd never use them. And I haven't. I only learned them 'cause Lucius made me. I'm no dark wizard."

"Nobody said you were, Draco," Hermione soothed, putting an arm about him and hugging him. "I'm so glad you're okay. I was really scared, you know?" Sudden tears sparkled upon her lashes as she gazed up at him.

Draco hugged her tight. "Shh. Don't cry, little bookworm. It takes more than a jealous bitch to keep me down."

Hermione smiled through her tears. "Sorry. I'm being ridiculous, aren't I?"

"A little."

"Don't ever scare me like that again, Draco Michael Malfoy!" she ordered, pretending to be angry with him.

"I won't," he whispered, and then he kissed her softly.

"Okay, I'm outta here," Ron said. "Watching people snoggong makes me want to puke. Especially when it's one of my best friends making out with my other best friend's brother."

"See you later," Harry said quickly, turning and walking back up to Gryffindor Tower with Ron, giving the couple some privacy.

"Hey, mate. Want to play some chess?"

Harry shook his head. "I need to find Katie. We need to go over some potions together."

"Oh, right. I've heard that one before." Ron rolled his eyes. "Harry, you need help. Mental help, I mean."

"Why?"

"Because you and Malfoy have girls on the brain, seriously!"

Harry grinned. "So? Maybe you should go out with someone, Ron. Then you wouldn't feel left out."

"No thanks. Girls are nothing but trouble," Ron said. "Chess is safer."

"Whatever, mate," Harry shrugged, then took the stairs two at a time.

He found Katie studying at a table near the fireplace, and she greeted him warmly and agreed to study potions with him in the library, and if they managed to steal a few kisses inbetween memorizing formulas, no one cared.

Pansy's parents were most displeased at their daughter's continued infatuation with the most unsuitable Draco Malfoy, ward of Severus Snape. They promptly sent their disobedient daughter a Howler to that effect, and threatened to disinherit her if she continued to show such unseemly interest in him. Not one word was spoken about the black book of spells, which Dumbledore had locked away in a cabinet, but Mr. Parkinson had spoken privately to the Headmaster and requested that the hearing be suspended, since it was only a first-time offense. Dumbledore refused, saying that such was Ministry policy and he could not circumvent that.

"You'd do it quick enough if Snape or one of your other lackeys asked it of you," Parkinson blustered. "It's partly his fault for not watching out for my girl. I'll bet that Malfoy boy led her down the garden path."

"Mr. Parkinson, I assure you, Draco did nothing of the sort. He was the injured party in this, not your daughter, might I remind you?" Dumbledore said sharply. "I am sorry, but I cannot bend the rules for anyone not on a matter of dark magic. Your daughter will have to go before a board of inquiry the same as any other practitioner of dark magic. And if she is found guilty, her wand will be snapped and she will be expelled."

"Just like that."

"Just like that." The Headmaster agreed.

"She told me she's practically under house arrest, between you confiscating her wand and Snape and that other bugger giving her detention every night," Parkinson spat. "Hypocrites, all of you! Snape was a Death Eater once upon a time and I don't see you takin' his wand away."

"Severus was never a Death Eater, sir. He was always my agent, working undercover," Dumbledore said, his eyes flashing dangerously. "He never hexed an innocent boy out of jealousy, using a spell that could have castrated him magically."

Parkinson went pale. "Merlin's bloody shorts! I . . .never knew that was what she used . . ."

"Now you do."

"I'm sure it was a mistake." Parkinson backtracked, but he sounded lame even to his own ears. That curse was one of the worst in a witch's arsenal, and every man feared it. "Look, I'll make a deal with you, Dumbledore. You call off the hearing and I'll take my kid outta here and enroll her in some other academy on the continent. Beauxbatons Academy in France, Madame Alexandria's School for Sorceresses in Moscow, just spare me the humiliation of having my name splashed all over the front page. My business will suffer if people think my daughter's a strega mala, know what I mean?"

Dumbledore's eyes narrowed. "I cannot suspend the hearing, it is out of my hands. But if you wish to withdraw your daughter from this institution, by all means go ahead. That is your prerogative, Mr. Parkinson. As is the penalty if you fail to show up for your appointed court date."

"Let the Aurors come for me," Parkinson sneered. "By the time they do, we'll be long gone. Tell Pansy to pack her bags, Dumbledore. You can take your fancy arse school and shove it, far as I'm concerned. Oh, and give a message to Snape while you're at it. Tell him the next time I see either of his sons or him, they'd better look out, because I'll have their balls for breakfast. Good day, Headmaster!"

And with that, Jarvis Parkinson took the Floo back to his estate in Somerset. Dumbledore summoned Pansy to his office soon after and informed her of her father's decision. She did not seem to care one way or the other, and so it was that the next day Pansy Parkinson departed Hogwarts forever.

Things grew rather quiet after that, and classes continued and so did Quidditch practice, where Harry finally got his head together and managed to stop looking at Katie and focus on the Snitch. Gryffindor played Hufflepuff for the first match of the season, and Harry and Katie both played brilliantly, and Gryffindor won. Harry and Katie and the rest of the team went out for butterbeers at Hogsmeade afterwards, visiting the Hogs Head. Some of the older players managed to get hold of a bottle of firewhiskey, and offered Harry some, but Harry refused, recalling that long ago night at Prince Manor when he had drank summerdew and gotten sick as a dog the morning after.

Plus, he knew that with his history, he shouldn't touch alcohol, and so he wisely declined. So did Katie, who said they didn't need alcohol to have a good time. They left when it appeared half the team was going to spend the night on the barroom floor, flying back to the castle leisurely.

They flew so closely that Harry reached out and grabbed Katie's hand.

"Hey! What are you doing?" she gasped, not expecting that.

"Holding your hand," he replied, grinning roguishly. "D'you mind?"

"If I did, you'd be off your broom, hotshot."

"Oh? Then you think you could take me down?"

"I don't think. I know." Her knee bumped his.

He eyed her askance. "You couldn't knock me off if I did this." Then he reached out and pulled her into his arms, so that she was straddling her broom and his at the same time, and then he kissed her.

It was a brief kiss, but no less passionate for all of that, and it left her momentarily breathless.

But only momentarily.

An instant later, she was half-glaring and laughing at him. "Hells bells, Snape! Are you crazy?" She gestured to the way they were sandwiched together. "You're lucky we didn't crash."

"We were far away from the castle," he said sheepishly. "Besides, I've always wondered how it felt to kiss a girl while flying."

"Idiot!" she scolded, giggling. She mock-cuffed him along the ear. "Help me back on my broom, won't you?"

"As my lady commands," he said gallantly, then did so. "By the way, it was wonderful."

She smiled. "I still think you're insane, Snape. But I like to live dangerously, so I guess I can put up with it."

They flew the rest of the way with their hands clasped, parting with a good night kiss in the common room.

Harry crept up the stairs and found Ron still awake, reading a Quidditch handbook.

"Have a good time, Harry?"

"Yeah. It was the best," his friend replied, and got undressed, still grinning like a fool.

On October 30th, the students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons arrived. Durmstrang arrived first, while Harry was in Herbology, gathering gillyweed for an assignment along the shore of the lake along with the rest of his class.

Suddenly, the lake began to froth and bubble like a cauldron about to explode. Girls screamed and boys backed away with wands drawn.

"What the hell's happening?"

"Are we under attack?"

"Why's the lake swirling like that?"

"Is it a sea monster?"

"Professor Sprout! The lake looks like it's about to explode!" cried Terry Boot.

The water spun faster and faster, like a giant whirlpool and then it erupted like a geyser, spraying all the students with water. More shrieks followed the impromptu ducking.

The prow of a huge black ship emerged from the depths, Harry gasped, rubbing his glasses upon his shirt tail and then jamming them back on his head. The ship was vast, built like a cross between a Viking warship and a pirate corsair, and it nearly filled the lake.

"Holy Merlin! Look at the size of it!"

"Where'd it come from?"

"Settle down now, children!" came Professor's Sprout's voice. "Don't panic, it's just the ship from Durmstrang. Igor Karkaroff always did like to make an entrance. Finish up your gathering, you'll be called to the Great Hall soon to meet our new guests."

Never had her students completed an assignment so quickly.

No sooner had they finished and dried themselves off with Drying Charms, then they heard a a loud neigh and Luna Lovegood pointed at the sky and yelled, "Look! It's Abraxans pulling a huge blue carriage. They're beautiful, aren't they?"

Everyone's eyes were drawn upwards, to an enormous carriage that looked as if it could hold ten Hagrids, pulled by giant palomino winged horses.

"Now that's what I call a horse!" exclaimed Seamus Finnegan. "I've never seen any horse so huge. Or so beautiful."

The Abraxans coats were the color of molten gold and their manes and tails a brilliant silvery white, as were their wings.

I have, Harry thought, watching the steeds circle for a landing near Hagrid's hut. The elvensteeds of the Seelie Court were just as magnificent. He recalled the gorgeous Moonheart, the sleek silvery white steed that he had ridden in the Deepwood, who had fought so gallantly to save him from the Unseelie that had ambushed them on their first ever hunt in the fae realm. These horses are beautiful, but I'd take Moonheart over them any day of the week. I doubt if they can match her for brains or for courage.

The carriage landed with a thump that caused Hagrid's chimney to shake, and a large woman dressed in fancy peacock blue robes stepped out of the carriage.

Ron's eyes went wide. "Blimey! She's near the size of Hagrid! That's one big woman!"

Hermione elbowed him in the ribs. "Hush, Ronald! She'll hear you."

"Oops!" Ron gulped and shut his mouth.

Hagrid was shaking the large woman's hand enthusiastically. "Welcome to Hogwarts, Madam Maxine. Name's Hagrid, I'm the gamekeeper."

" 'ello 'Agrid!" she boomed, kissing him on both cheeks. The big man blushed and the students tittered. "Pleeze take my 'orses and give them a good rubdown and some single malt whiskey. They only drink the finest."

"No problem, Madam! I'll see that they get the best care. Beautiful animals, Abraxans!"

Hagrid looked pleased as punch as he helped the tall witch unhitch the winged horses, whose names were Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d'Artagnan.

Glancing back at the ship bobbing gently upon the lake, Harry saw a long gangplank being extended down the side of the ship and onto the shore. A tall, bearded man wearing a large Russian style beaver hat and a black greatcoat with fur about the collar and carrying a long black walking stick came marching down the gangplank, followed by several tall young men and women swathed in long fur coats of marten, mink, and beaver.

Before Harry could finish looking, Professor Sprout was tugging on his sleeve and saying, "Time for you to go into the hall, Mr. Snape. The Headmaster wishes for the whole school to welcome our guests there and the Goblet of Fire will also be put on display too, for the Tournament is now officially begun with the arrival of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons!"

Harry allowed himself to be shepherded indoors, joining Katie, Ron, and Hermione at the Gryffindor table.

He caught Draco's eye across the hall, and his brother gave him a half-smile.

Sliding onto the bench next to Katie, Harry looked towards the staff table and saw Severus sitting in his usual spot, next to Moody and MCGonagall. Dumbledore was standing up on the podium, beaming like a jack-o-lantern. The hall was filled with twinkling lights and festive paper lanterns across the ceiling. The Goblet of Fire-or as the fae called it, the Cup of Wonders—was on a platform just to the side of the podium, glittering with otherworldly splendor.

The doors opened and Igor Karkaroff strode in, strutting like a bantam rooster.

Harry noted that his father frowned when he saw the other wizard and wondered why Severus would dislike someone he had never met. Little did he know that soon his father would have more than that to frown over. Much more.

Well, there you go, a nice long chapter for you! Did you like what Severus and Dumbledore decided?

Sorry there wasn't any Phil and Smidgen in this one-they'll be in the next one!

Review and let me know how you liked this one please!

Chapter Text

Harry craned his neck to see past Cormac McLaggen's head as the students from Durmstrang entered the hall behind their teacher. Most were muffled in heavy sealskin or mink robes that came down to their feet, making Harry think they must come from the Far North where it snowed year round. He wondered if being in a warm climate would be a shock to them. A tall boy with a shock of dark hair and a serious face who walked directly to the left of Karkaroff looked oddly familiar to Harry.

Suddenly, Ron elbowed him in the ribs. "Harry! Bloody hell, look—it's Krum!" He pointed to the boy marching right behind Karkaroff.

Now Harry took another look and this time he recognized the professional Seeker who played internationally on Bulgaria's Quidditch team. He had not known that Krum attended Durmstrang.

Next to him, Ron was practically asphyxiating with excitement. "Can you believe—it's like the most wicked thing ever—Krum here at Hogwarts! He's like the best Seeker ever, they say he makes loads of money on and off the pitch and now he's going to compete in the tournament. D'you think he'll give me his autograph, Harry? Do you?"

"I suppose." Harry said offhandedly, his attention was suddenly drawn to the Slytherin table, where Draco was glaring daggers at Krum. Huh? What's up with that? I would have thought Draco would be over the moon like Ron to see a famous Quidditch player here. But then he tracked where Krum was smiling and waving at and saw to his astonishment that the older boy was looking right at Hermione. Hermione, who knew nothing about Quidditch and had never cared to, gave him a friendly smile back, then turned to ask Lavender a question. Uh oh. Krum better watch it, because Draco won't tolerate a rival for Hermione's affections.

Karkaroff marched right up to the staff table and then turned and arrayed his students, there were twelve of them, on the lefthand side. He gave a cordial nod to Dumbledore and gave an unfriendly leer to Snape, who returned the favor in spades.

Harry's next glance took in Smidgen hovering up near the ceiling and Phil leaning against a window in the corner, looking impossibly relaxed, his arms crossed and one long booted leg crossed at the ankle. He winked at Harry before summoning his veils to cover him once more. Harry winked back and felt immediately more at ease knowing that all three of his guardians were in the hall.

Whispered exclamations flew about the room as more people noticed that Krum was standing there, but then Dumbledore cleared his throat and said, "Welcome, Headmaster Karkaroff and students of Durmstrang to Hogwarts!"

A round of applause followed and several die hard Quidditch fanatics began to pump their arms up and down and chant,"KRUM! KRUM!" until their prefects hushed them.

Then the doors opened once more to admit Madame Maxine and her girls from Beauxbatons. Whistles of appreciation from several boys and gasps followed their entrance. Everyone's eyes were glued to Madam Maxine, who towered over everyone in the hall save for Hagrid. She was regal and imposing, however, though Draco did hear one rude firstie remark, "Blimey, she's as big as Hagrid! Wonder if she's his sister or something?"

"Quiet, Simmons!" Draco hissed, glaring at the smaller boy, who gulped and hushed.

The girls from Baeuxbatons, especially one tall willowy specimen with long blond hair, were quite pretty, Draco thought. But still, none of them could hold a candle to his Hermione, who while she might not be Witch-O-Rama material, still made his blood sing. She had both brains and a refreshingly natural beauty that Draco appreciated immensely. And she was unfailingly kind and honest as well, qualities which he also liked. She'll defend me to the death and still be able to tell me when I'm being an insufferable ass. I need that in a girl. He glanced over at the Gryffindor Table and caught her eye and smiled. To his delight, she gave him a huge smile right back. He had gotten worried and jealous when Krum had started eyeing her, but apparently Hermione still preferred him, even if he wasn't some hotshot international Seeker.

When the ladies from Beauxbatons had arranged themselves upon the right hand side of Dumbledore's podium, Dumbledore welcomed them as well and then announced cheerily, "As you all know, Hogwarts is proud to host the Triwizard Tournament for the first time in a century. Would you all please welcome the judges and officials of this tournament, Mr. Ludo Bagman, Director of Magical Games and Sports," Here a large man stood up and everyone applauded politely, he was dressed in maroon and gold robes. "And Mr. Bartemius Crouch, Senior, Director of International Cooperation of Magical Affairs." Here a thin man with a severe looking face sporting a thin mustache stood up, he was wearing deep blue robes and a pinstriped suit stood up. The applause was more restrained this time, Snape eyed Crouch and smiled thinly, he was another old acquaintance.

Phil, observing everything unseen, kept an eye upon the staff table, he still had his suspiscions about Moody, and was quick to note that Moody looked at Crouch with an expression of utter hatred upon his face before glancing away. Odd. What history does an ex-Auror and a Ministry official share that causes such enmity? Phil wondered. This needed to be looked into. He would ask Severus what he knew later.

But his attention quickly snapped back to the center of the room as Dumbledore announced that with the arrival of the participating schools, the tournament would officially begin. He gestured and the Goblet of Fire suddenly flared up and blue flames slowly danced and revolved about inside it.

"All those who wish to participate in the tournament must be of legal age, seventeen, as of right now, and in good health and of sound mind. The Triwizard Tournament is not for the faint of heart, as its name suggests, three champions, one from each school will be chosen by the Goblet of Fire, and they shall compete by completing three tasks, each one more difficult than the last. The champions will be graded by a panel of judges, one of which shall be myself, the others being Mr. Crouch, Mr. Bagman, and Professors McGonagall and Snape. Failure to complete any task in the time named will result in disqualification. The winner of the tournament will be awarded 2000 Galleons and the Triwizard Cup."

Students began clapping and cheering at that announcement.

Dumbledore stepped down and drew an Age Line about the glittering Goblet. "Any student who wishes to participate, must simply write down their name and school on a piece of parchment and place it in the Goblet. You have a week to decide and no student not of age will be able to participate in the tournament, hence the Age Line I have drawn. Think carefully, for once you have placed your name in the Goblet, it cannot be withdrawn. Good luck to all of you! May Fortune favor you." He gestured and a large table popped up and he gestured for the newcomers to be seated at it. "Please welcome our guests and make their time here a pleasant one. They will be staying until the conclusion of the Tournament. And now, let us eat!"

At that, a scrumptious array of food appeared upon all the tables and everyone began eating.

Harry looked around the table and noticed that several seventh-years were debating whether or not to enter the tournament. He silently wished them luck, glad that he would not be the center of attention for risking his neck for once. He was also surprised that his father was going to be on the panel of judges, Severus hadn't mentioned that to him.

Ron nudged him. "You want to try and meet Krum after dinner, Harry?"

"Sure, Ron. And maybe some of the girls from Beauxbatons too."

Ron nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah, they've got some real lookers there. That tall blond and then I saw a really sweet girl with dark hair cut short, she smiled at me when she went past, I think. I wouldn't mind getting to know her better." He sighed dreamily. "Too bad Fred and George can't compete, but they won't be seventeen till April. And why didn't you tell me your dad was judging?"

"Because I had no idea. He never mentioned it to me. Maybe he forgot, what with all the trouble with Draco and Pansy going on."

"Could be, but I don't ever recall Snape—I mean Professor Snape—being absentminded," Ron said. He looked over at the Gryffindors seated down the table and said loudly, "So, which of you are going to compete?"

"I will!" Alicia Spinnet declared. "I just turned seventeen last week."

"Me too," said Nigel Weatherby.

Nearly all of the seventh-years and some sixth-years who had turned seventeen early were going to put their names in.

While they all discussed previous Triwizard Tournaments and who won them, Harry concentrated on eating, knowing that if Severus weren't watching him, then Smidgen or Phil was and all of them insisted he eat healthy.

He took some salad and bread and some chicken Francais and a helping of spetzel as well. Clearly the house elves wanted to introduce some new cuisine today in honor of their international guests. Across the table, Katie served herself some red cabbage and kielbasa and grinned at him over the bowl of mashed potatoes.

"You have lessons with my father again this afternoon, Katie?" Harry asked, saluting her playfully with his goblet of pumpkin juice.

"Yes. Why? Do you want to be my assistant again?"

Harry opened his mouth to reply, but Cormac butted in with a laugh and drawled, "I'll be your assistant, sweet thing. I know some really good potions, better even than Snape there."

Harry flushed red and understood perfectly Draco's death glare from moments before. He tossed the older boy a furious look, but Katie just looked Cormac up and down and said, "Sorry, Cormac, but the professor only lets dedicated students into his advanced tutorials and you only got an A on your OWLS, didn't you?"

Cormac blushed. "So what? Nothin' wrong with that. Bloody damn perfectionist, Snape is! Nobody can meet his standards."

"I have," Katie said simply. "And so has Harry." She turned back to Harry. "Two o'clock, okay?"

"Fine," Harry agreed and let the pangs of jealousy slip away. Clearly, Katie did not fancy Cormac, a fact for which he was very grateful. He did not think he would have been able to compete with the handsome older boy's charm and money and dazzling smile. Then he returned to eating, not wanting his lunch to get cold.

After class, Harry made his way down to the dungeons, whistling a tune he had heard upon the WWN called "She Borrowed My Broomstick" a whimsical lighthearted love song that reminded him of Katie and the night they had kissed while flying through the air. A few Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs coming out of potions gave him strange looks and some of them muttered that he must be turning into his father's clone, with the way he spent so many hours here now.

"Snape and Snape Junior," muttered Ravenclaw Will Merriweather derogatorily. "Might as well take off that Gryffindor patch and just wear black robes and a sneer, like his dear old dad."

At that, Harry stopped whistling and whirled about to give the other boy a glower. "What's that supposed to mean? If I happen to like potions more than I used to, what's it to you? And quit talking like that about my father, Merriweather."

"Or else what? You'll tell him to give me detention?" laughed the older boy. "Oh, Daddy, Merriweather was being mean to me, you need to give him detention . . .boo hoo!"

"Shut it, Merriweather! You're pathetic!" snapped Harry, feeling his temper start to simmer.

"Make me, why don't you—little Snape? Daddy's pet!"

Before Harry could say anything else, Cedric Diggory stepped between them. "All right, you two, that's enough. Everyone calm down. Merriweather, quit needling Snape. And Snape, ignore Merriweather, he's just upset because your dad failed him for today's lesson 'cause he was showing off instead of brewing."

"Mind your own business, Diggory!" snapped the Ravenclaw.

"Keeping the peace is a prefect's business, Merriweather," Cedric returned calmly, indicating his badge. "Go on now, Snape. You know your father hates to be kept waiting."

Harry continued on his way then, giving Cedric a smile and thanking him. He hadn't realized that being a professor's son would make some people jealous of him or prone to take out their anger on him for things his father had said or done to them.

Don't let idiots like that get to you, Harry. You're going to get to brew again with Katie and have a good time, like usual.

Trying to regain his former cheerfulness, he began to whistle again and then he reached the lab and opened it.

Katie was already there, setting up her apparatus. She had her dark hair pulled up in a neat bun at the back of her head, Harry noted that she usually wore her long hair that way when she was brewing or playing Quidditch. "Hi, Harry." She greeted, smiling at him.

Severus swept in from his office, a sheaf of papers in one hand. "You're late, Mr. Snape. Start brewing on cauldron four, I've set up your ingredients for you. Your instructions are on the board to the left of Miss Bell's. Make sure you read the right ones."

"Yes, sir," Harry said, an annoyed note creeping into his voice. "I can read, you know. I learned a long time ago."

Severus shot him a dark look. "None of your cheek, boy. Get started, I don't have an afternoon to waste dawdling." Then he went back into his office.

Harry glared after him. "What bug bit him?" he muttered. "I'm what, five minutes late, and he acts like I'm half-an-hour or something."

"Don't mind him, Harry. He had the class from hell this afternoon, I think. Seventh year NEWTS, but all they wanted to do was discuss the tournament and several of them nearly exploded their cauldrons and wasted expensive ingredients. And he gave one Ravenclaw a zero and another detention for totally ignoring him and discussing the tournament instead of their lab."

"How do you know all this, Katie?" Harry asked, for he knew Snape would never discuss such things with a student.

"Simple. I was waiting in his office for the class to get out and I could hear everything that went on," she replied, chopping up some roots expertly. "So he's kind of tetchy, cut him some slack. My dad's the same when something doesn't go right down at the harbor. He snaps and doesn't really mean it."

"Oh. Okay." When she put it that way, he no longer was angry at Severus's attitude. He moved over to his cauldron and read the ingredients on the board, noticing that Severus had written his larger and separated them with a wavy line between them and Katie's.

For fifteen minutes, he brewed in companionable silence, but when he got to the "steep for fifteen minute stage" he allowed himself to gaze longingly at her as she moved about her large cauldron, admiring the sway of her hips and the curve of her bottom and the graceful gesture of her hands as she added another ingredient to her cauldron and stirred.

Merlin, but she's so beautiful! More beautiful than even that French girl Fleur Delacour. I could stare at her all day . . .all day . . .and how I want to take all the pins or whatever out of her hair and watch it fall down past her . . .uh . . .hips and run my hands through it and hold her tight. She had the tip of her tongue between her lips and she turned to fetch a jar of beetle carapaces and their eyes met.

"See something you like?" she teased, her voice a throaty rasp that sent shivers down him.

"Yeah, I do," he said boldly.

She grinned and turned around to add the beetles and he watched, mesemerized, and wished he was kissing her right then. He recalled their first kiss and how good she had tasted, like mint and coffee. He was so enraptured by her that he forgot all about his solution until Snape loomed over him, looking most displeased.

"I don't hear any stirring, do you?" Severus reprimanded sharply.

"Huh? Hi, Dad."

"Don't you "hi, Dad" me, young man." Severus growled, pointing to Harry's cauldron. "You should be paying attention to your potion, not gazing over your cauldron making goo-goo eyes at your girlfriend, Mr. Snape. This is advanced potions lab, not daydream class! You can do that on your own time, not mine."

"I . . .I wasn't . . ." Harry blushed furiously. "I just . . .had something in my eye," he removed his glasses and rubbed convincingly.

An instant later, a hand was tilting his head back and examining his eye. A wet cloth was applied gently twice, wiping his eyes, then Severus released him and stepped away. "Finish your brewing, son. Ingredients cost money and my budget won't cover carelessness. Stir that ten times counterclockwise."

Harry did, wishing he could throw himself headfirst into the cauldron and be taken away somewhere, like on those old Calgon commercials he used to see on the telly late at night when he was at the Dursleys. Must his father always embarrass the hell out of him? He wondered resentfully. His ears still burning, he began to stir, slowly and evenly.

A moment later, Severus went to fetch something out of his office, and Harry turned to Katie and grumbled, "Damn perfectionist git!" he drew himself up to his full height, crossed his arms over his chest, and said in a perfect mocking imitation of his father, "I don't hear any stirring, do you?"

Katie couldn't help it. Harry's impersonation was perfect—Severus to the life, down to the scowl. She burst out laughing, after first removing her finished product from the fire.

So did Harry after a moment.

Until he looked up and saw his father standing in the doorway of his office. He had obviously seen the whole thing. Instantly his laughter died and he gulped sharply. Oh bloody hell, but I am so dead. He looks mad enough to hex me into pieces.

"If I were any other parent, what do you think would happen to you, Harry Albus Snape?" demanded his father frostily, his eyes snapping.

"Umm . . .I'd be getting my arse kicked halfway to China probably. Or six feet under," his son admitted sheepishly. "Sorry, Dad."

"Indeed. You would."

His son dropped his eyes, staring at the dungeon floor. "But . . .imitation's the sincerest form of flattery," he said quietly, hoping to get out of the grave he had dug for himself.

Snape frowned severely. "That was not flattery, that was mockery. I do know the difference. By all rights, I should be giving you detention for your smart mouth at the very least. Your lack of respect for me is appalling."

Now Harry felt completely remorseful and guilty. "I'm really sorry. I acted like a royal idiot. Feel free to kick my arse."

"I would, but I need you to be able to finish your potion," his father scowled, "But if I ever catch you making fun of me that way again, Mr. Snape, rest assured I will kick your backside all the way to Australia, am I clear?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Now finish. . .that . . .Clarifying . . .Draft." Snape ordered, punctuating his words with a few swats to the back of his son's head with a composition book he happened to have in his hand.

Harry winced and rubbed his head ruefully, but said nothing about the chastisement. Stupid! You really know how to get him steamed, don't you? Katie must think you're the biggest arse since time began.

He dared not look at his girl however, not while he'd just been figuratively reamed out by his father, who was still hovering over him like some black bird of prey. He turned back to his potion, finishing it quickly and competently, the way he should have done in the first place.

Severus watched impassively while Harry decanted and labeled and at last looked up from his task, remorse and regret still visible in the green eyes.

Snape met his son's eyes and thought, How could I ever have thought he was James's son, even with Glamours? Potter would have been amused at that little imitation, not remorseful that he had hurt my feelings. He would have still been laughing over it in his mind. But Harry wasn't. Severus could tell he was sorry and guilty without ever resorting to Legilimency. His son had all of his mother's empathy and his father's guilt complex, Severus thought wryly.

Then he turned about to inspect his other student's work, letting his son stew for a few minutes more, letting the lesson sink in. After declaring Katie's Venomous Spider Antidote a success, he returned to put his son out of his misery.

As Harry cleaned up his work station, Severus leaned over and whispered in his ear, "You're forgiven. Just don't do it again."

"I won't." Harry promised. "Thanks, Dad." He smiled tentatively up at the Potions Master, and was rewarded with his father's quiet half-smile and a hand ruffling his hair in return.

"Dismissed, you two. Go take a walk or however you teenagers spend time together these days. You're both too distracted by hormones to brew anything more today." He waved them out of the lab.

"See you Friday, professor. Thank you, sir!" Katie called, then dragged Harry out the door before he could say something else to anger Severus.

Harry waved before allowing his girlfriend to pull him down the hall. He walked in silence for a few minutes, trying unsuccessfully to conquer his shame and embarrassment. At last he halted and said in a soft voice, "I'll bet you think I'm the biggest git ever, making fun of my dad like that after what you told me about his day and all."

"A little. Though I did think it was funny at first. You've got him down to a T, you know." Katie admitted. "Until I saw him standing there, listening, and all of a sudden it wasn't funny anymore."

"I know. It was petty," Harry said, not looking at her. "I was mad 'cause he yelled at me in front of you and I wanted to get back at him, only . . .I'm no good at paybacks. I don't like hurting people like that. I know what it feels like . . .my cousin used to mock me something awful when I lived with my aunt and uncle, before I knew I was Severus's son. I'm such a jerk."

She put an arm around him and tilted his chin up so he was looking into her eyes. "Don't beat yourself up over it, Harry. It's done and over with and he's forgiven you." She waved a finger mock-scoldingly under his nose. "Just don't do it again."

"I won't. Promise." He laughed, then caught her hand.

"You know, Harry, he really loves you."

"How do you know that?"

"Because he could have kicked your arse or grounded you or whatever and he didn't." Katie said knowingly. "He's a good dad, you're lucky, Harry."

"I know that, believe me. I don't know why I acted like an idiot today."

She kissed him gently. "You're entitled to act like an idiot once in awhile, Mr. Snape. Like every other human being." The kiss deepened.

"Hey, little brother, get a room!" Draco called.

Harry pulled away, scowling at Draco. "What are you, the relationship police? Go and find Hermione and snog her, why don't you?"

"Good idea. I'll do that after I finish talking to Dad." Draco laughed. Then he added over his shoulder, "Got any Contraceptix, Harry?"

"Bite me, Draco," Harry yelled back, then turned to Katie and said, "C'mon, let's fly away from here, Katie-did. Too many damn people poking their noses in our business."

"Okay." She laughed and they raced up the hallway. "Katie-did?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Uh . . .yeah. I thought it was kind of . . .cute. Unless you think it's lame?"

She shook her head. "No, I like it. So long as you're the one using it. Do you give nicknames to all your girlfriends then, Harry?"

He shook his head. "No. You're the first. Guess I get that from my dad. He has nicknames for me and Draco."

"Really? Like what?"

"Promise you won't laugh? Or tell anyone?"

"I promise. Witch's honor." She said solemnly.

"All right. He calls Draco "Dragon" and me "Phoenix"."

"I can see why. Aww! That's so sweet."

"Just don't ever let Draco or Dad know I told you. They'd kill me."

"Can't have that, Harry." She grinned, then sprinted up the stairs and out of the castle.

Smirking, Harry chased after, ignoring Peeves singing off-key, "Oooh, Katie Bell's playing hard to get! Catch her little Snape! Snapey junior lo-o-ves sweet Bell! Bell's the belle of Snapey's eye! Bell and Snapey sitting in a tree—K-I-S-S-I-N-G!"

"Put a sock in it, Peeves!" Harry shouted, pushing the door to the castle open with a shoulder and following his beloved Chaser down to the lake.

All that next week, the school was filled with rumors about who was going to be the new Hogwarts champion. Daily, students from all the Houses who were seventeen placed their names in the Goblet, cheered on by friends and Housemates. Alicia Spinnet did so, as did Cedric Diggory, and Stan Seventrees, a Ravenclaw. Andrew Santos, a Slytherin, tossed his in after much ribbing from his friends.

Several students who were almost seventeen tried and failed to cross the Age Line Dumbledore had set up in various ways. One and all failed. One of the more spectacular failures was engineered by Fred and George Weasley. They brewed an Aging potion that would age them only a few months, and then they walked up to Age Line and stepped across . . .

They immediately were serenaded by cheering from the students watching, and were just about to put their names in the Goblet when they were thrown violently out of the circle and across the hall. When they picked themselves up, they discovered, much to their chagrin, that they were aged to almost a hundred, and had long beards and creaking arthritic joints like old men.

Their appearance elicited hysterical laughter from the students, especially Ron. Hermione just shook her head. "Boys! Did they really think they could get past a ward Dumbledore had set?"

"They had to try," Katie snickered. "They're boys. They only learn by experience."

"Tell me about it," the other girl snorted.

The laughter died when Snape appeared in the doorway and caught sight of the twins. He bit back a groan. "Why am I not surprised? Gentlemen, it appears you've been had by a master. Next time don't be so quick to try and circumvent the system, the rule exists to keep you safe. Come along, you two. It's the Hospital Wing for a few days at least. The rest of you, find something to do that's productive! Go!"

Limping and groaning, the twins followed him, muttering, "Merlin! Getting old sucks!"

The rest of the students split up after that, they were not foolish to disregard Snape's dictates, for though the Potions Master was a lot more relaxed than he used to be, he was still stern and snarky and wouldn't hesitate to give detention to anyone not obeying a direct order.

Ron chuckled and said, "Ah well, they gave it a good try though," before following Draco, Hermione, Harry, and Katie.

The only one watching who was not amused was Smidgen, who hissed, :Sacrilege! Using the Sacred Cup as a mere . . .what do humans call it . . .a lottery ball? Yes, that is it. Over a thousand years since the Cup was stolen from us and this is how you wizards treat it?:

Harry winced, for he had never heard the shimmerling sound so insulted and angry before. But she blinked away before he could question her, and Harry resolved to speak to her about it later on in the evening, when they were all gathered in Snape's quarters after dinner, as was their wont now. Severus even allowed Ron, Hermione and Katie to come there and study or read or play chess, reasoning that that way he could keep an eye on both his sons and make sure they weren't getting in trouble and were safe from those who had grudges against them.

Severus usually had a house elf serve them tea and cakes and retreated to his study while the teenagers gathered in the living area, giving them privacy without being too obvious about it. They were careful to not abuse the professor's hospitality, and always made sure everything was neat and clean before departing.

Later that night:

" . . .so I was going to ask her what was wrong, but she vanished before I could and I haven't seen her since," Harry told Draco, they were sitting on Snape's couch, munching on a bowl of snack mix. "Have you?"

Draco shook his head no. "Not a flicker. Don't worry. She's probably gone invisible or something and is watching the Cup from afar. What's the story behind the Cup anyway?"

"Darned if I know," Harry said. "I was hoping I could talk to Smidgen and find out more."

"Who else would know?" Draco mused. "Maybe Dad?"

"Yes?" asked Severus, coming into the den just at that moment.

His sons looked up at him. "Dad, do you know anything about the Cup of Wonders?"

"Very little, I'm afraid. It was an ancient sacred object of the Seelie Court centuries ago and it was lost to them by treachery . . .treachery by one of our own, I'm afraid. The fae tell that Merlin, our greatest wizard, was once a student of Titania, and received leave from her to borrow the Cup for a time to heal King Arthur from a poisoned arrow. That was how we wizards learned of the Cup and what it could do. Lancelot, who was raised among the fae, and was a half-blood much like Severus Prince, also knew of the Cup and he told the legend to his son, Galahad. Galahad believed the Cup was the Holy Grail and he did not think the fae had any right to it, so he convinced the Cup Maidens to give him the chalice using his special powers of persuasion, though otherwise he disdained his fae heritage. He stole it away and it has been lost to the fae ever since. And that is all I know."

"Dad, Phil and Smidgen say the Goblet of Fire is really the Cup of Wonders," Harry said.

"What?" exclaimed the Potions Master. "Are they certain?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah and who would know better than they would? I mean, it was theirs first."

"Right you are, Harry," came Phil's voice and then the vampire appeared out of the air.

Both boys jumped and even Severus was startled. "Must you do that?" the Potions Master frowned at the vampire.

Phil smirked, his violet eyes twinkling. "Yes. It's fun to watch you all jump like startled geese."

"Uncle Phil, can you tell us more about the Cup of Wonders?" asked Draco, flashing the master vampire his best pleading look.

"I can. I was wondering when you were going to ask me," Phil said, and perched upon the arm of the couch. "It's time you knew the truth—the truth that only the fae know."

Before he could speak again, there came a knock on the door of the suite.

"Harry? Draco? Are you in there?" called Hermione.

"Come in!" Draco called and the door opened.

In came not only Hermione, but Ron and Katie also.

All of the Snapes froze, for Ron and Katie had never met Philip before and there he was, sitting in plain view on the arm of the couch.

Oh, crap! Harry thought frantically, and then wondered why the vampire wasn't veiling himself from view. He looked back and forth from his friends, two of whom were eyeing Phili curiously, and the vampire, who turned abruptly to Severus and said, "Sev, I believe introductions are in order."

Severus recovered quickly. "As you wish. Come in, all of you, and shut the door." Once they had done so, Severus said, "Ron Weasley and Katie Bell, meet Philip Anthony Snape, my—"

"Brother, sir?" guessed Katie. "He looks like a younger version of you except for the . . ." she trailed off as she noticed that Phil smiling was revealing his fangs. "Oh sweet Merlin!"

"Vampire!" Ron cried, his face draining of color. "All the rumors are true!" He backpedaled and bashed his head into the door.

"Ron, it's okay," Harry said, rising. "Phil's not a bad vampire, don't go all spare."

"There's such a thing as a good one?" gasped Ron, his freckles standing out in sharp relief.

"Of course there is, just as Remus Lupin is a good werewolf," Hermione reminded him.

Severus moved then, grabbing Ron just before he fell to the floor. "Weasley, for Merlin's sake, now is not the time to pass out on my floor!" He picked up the Gryffindor and placed him on the couch between Draco and Harry. "Get hold of yourself, Ronald. You ought to know by now not to believe all those stupid rumors about me drinking students' blood."

"But . . .professor . . .he really does drink blood. Doesn't he?"

"I do, young wizard," Phil interjected smoothly. "But don't worry, I never hunt innocents or anyone with a conscience. Those I feed from are the dregs of society, the evil-doers, like your Death Eaters. People whom the world will not miss yet cannot always get rid of."

"Oh. Guess that's okay then," Ron said weakly. He accepted the cup Severus handed him. "What's this?"

"Tea laced with a Calming Draught. You seem like you need it."

Ron sipped the drink gratefully. "Is he really your brother, like Katie said?"

"The relationship is a bit more complicated than that, he is actually an ancestor of mine," Severus explained. "But my sons call him Uncle Phil and I have come to think of him as a sort of elder brother myself."

"Wow!" Katie said, eyeing the handsome vampire. "I wouldn't mind having an older brother that looked like him."

"Hey!" Harry pulled her down on his lap, pretending to be insulted. "How about me? I'm a Snape too and just as handsome."

"I know, but he's like a living breathing sculpture," breathed Katie, gazing at Philip dazedly.

"Got that right," Hermione agreed and Draco just groaned.

"Okay, enough with the "We Worship Uncle Phil" looks," Draco said, pulling Hermione down to sit beside him. Bloody vampire sex appeal aura! he thought irritably, followed by a wistful, Wish I had some of that, so I wouldn't need to worry about Krum trying to make a move on my girl. "You can do that later. He was just going to tell us about the Cup of Wonders, also known as the Goblet of Fire."

Phil cleared his throat. "I would hope that all of you are comfortable? Yes? Good. Harry, have you told Katie about your heritage and Prince Manor?"

"Yes. She knows all about the fae connection."

"Very well then. Simply put, your Goblet of Fire is in actuality a sacred fae object called the Cup of Wonders. The Cup, or so fae legend says, was a gift to the Seelie Court from their Goddess the Bright Lady, who is known by many names—Diana, Ceres, Nyx, Brigid—she is all aspects, Maiden, Mother, Crone. The Goddess also has a consort and lover, the Horned God, sometimes known as Cernunnos, Lord of the Forest and Wild Places. It is said that together those two gave birth to the fae and in celebration of that creation, made the Cup of Wonders.

"The Cup could do many things, hence its name. When filled with clear water, it became a vessel for healing. It could heal any poison known to man or fae, even ones that killed almost instantly, like basilisk venom. When poured upon a wound it would mend it, no matter how life threatening. Any potion put in it would have its efficacy increased to its maximum potency. It could also be used as a kind of seeing medium, and those with the Gift of Sight would always See true. It is said that the Cup could also be used as a truth teller, meaning that if a criminal drank from it, he would be forced to tell the truth, completely and honestly, no matter what. If you happened to drink from the Cup when you were weary, it would banish all of your tiredness away and make you feel energized. It could give warriors on the eve of battle courage and serenity to those who were troubled or sorrowing. And if you were hungry or thirsty, you had only to ask and the Cup could provide you with a feast of food and drink for a night. When commanded to, the Cup could also glow with blue fire to provide warmth and protection.

"But the Cup was not to be used lightly and it could never fall into evil hands. Most of those who were dark could not even touch the Cup, but a few could, those who were not irredeemably lost to darkness, and it was those whom the fae guarded the Cup against. For the Unseelie and their allies wanted the Cup for themselves, to keep and to eventually find a way to destroy it. So the Cup was guarded by a group of volunteers, the Cup Maidens, young fae women who wished to remain chaste and protect the Cup from those who sought to use it for their own ends. They were mages and warriors and priestesses of the Goddess, and for time out of mind they guarded the sacred chalice. The Cup was also used upon the coronation of a new Seelie King or Queen, and a law was passed that no fae could rule without the blessing of the Cup being bestowed on them. If the fae were the rightful ruler, the first sip of the Cup would make him or her one with the land, if not, then another must be found.

"The last ruler to have the Cup's blessing is Titania, and she has been queen for over a thousand mortal years. It was during her reign that the Cup was stolen by a young part-fae knight, the misguided son of Lancelot of the Lake, Galahad. There had always been stories of the Cup, and the priestesses of the Goddess sometimes used it in their rituals of worship, and so it became sacred and holy. Lancelot was half-fae, his mother had been a Seelie noblewoman who had come to the fire ceremony on Midsummer's Eve, and danced with King Ban of Benwick. He gave her a child and she told him that the boy would someday be a great knight and when he was old enough, she would send him for training. But until then, she raised him in the Realm of the Fae, and taught him all of her magic arts and customs. She would not tell her lover her true name, and so Ban called her the Lady of the Lake, for out of a lake she came to him, and that was how Lancelot came by that name.

"The Lady would have taught Lancelot the old ways and the old religion, and so he learned, as did any fae child, of the Cup of Wonders. When he was ten, she sent him as promised, to his father, though he could always return to her world when he needed. And Lancelot became a great knight, the best there ever was, and a great friend to Arthur and Merlin. Merlin too, had studied with the fae mages, and learned their arts, concealment and glamourie and healing most of all. He borrowed the Cup once to heal Arthur from an assassin's arrow and thus the legend of the Cup grew.

"A new faith was springing up in the world then, the faith of Christianity, and Lancelot married a woman who was of that religion, and it was she who taught his son that the Cup was actually the Holy Grail, and that it had been stolen by the heathen fairies. At this time, Camelot was falling apart, the land was at war, and Arthur was old and weary, trying to keep his kingdom together. He sought to keep his knights bound to one purpose and created the Grail Quest.

"Galahad took the quest to heart and along with his father, set out in search of it. Now Lancelot knew that Galahad believed the Grail was the Cup, even though he had tried to explain that the Cup had been around long before Christ. Galahad insisted the Cup was what they were seeking, and tricked Lancelot into opening a Gate into the Faerie Realm.

"Galahad slipped inside and shut the Gate, for he too bore some fae magic, though he rarely used it, unlike his sire, he regarded the fae blood as tainted. Then he managed to make his way to the Maidens Tower and by using yet another fae power, the Honey Tongue of Persuasion, managed to get the maidens to let him have the Cup.

"Galahad stole it and took it back into the world, claiming it was the Grail. And he had absolutely no idea of what magic it could perform beyond healing the sick and injured.

"But Merlin's young apprentice Nimue knew and she wanted it for herself. So she stole it in turn and hid it away, disguising it with glamours, and called it the Goblet of Fire. But she told no one of the true nature of the Cup, which is why I suppose only those wizards bound to the fae know the legend of the Cup, and that is how it has stayed hidden for so long.

"The fae have never given up searching, but no fae had ever come across it, until now. Smidgen says it's a sign that it is time for the Cup of Wonders to return to its true home and at the end of the tournament, she shall ask on behalf of her people that the Cup be returned to its rightful owners."

"The Minister won't like that," Hermione remarked.

"What if he refuses to give you the Cup?" asked Katie.

"We have ways of . . .shall we say . . .persuading him," Phil put in, grinning toothily.

Ron gulped and whispered, "Merlin, save me!"

Phil bit back a chuckle, then leaned over and looked Ron directly in the eyes, letting a trickle of his suggestive power flow through the boy. "You have nothing to fear from me, Ron. I will never bite you."

Ron nodded. "'Course not, sir. Professor Snape's never bitten me yet and I'm sure he's wanted to sometimes." He had a dreamy smile on his face.

That time Phil did laugh. "Severus isn't a vampire."

"He's not?"

"No. Don't believe everything you hear," Phil said. He straightened and looked at Severus, who rolled his eyes. "Your reputation precedes you, Sev."

"Wonderful," drawled the Potions Master sarcastically. He glanced at the clock upon the mantle. "Philip, I know this is early for you, but these children have curfew still and must get some sleep."

There were muttered groans from that, until Severus reminded them that tomorrow was the drawing of names from the Goblet. Then they quit protesting and went off to bed, bidding both adults good night before leaving.

The next morning, sleepy but eager students met in the Great Hall, having eaten breakfast already, and were now eager to see whom the magical Goblet picked to be the three champions. Dumbledore stood off to the side, dressed in his customary purple and silver stars robes, looking as eager as a child on his birthday. The Cup of Wonders was still lit with eldritch blue fire, and as Harry watched, he could swear he saw patterns in the air. Now that he knew the full history of the Cup, he understood better why Smidgen had been so insulted at the way the wizards were treating the sacred item. It would have been as if someone had stolen the Union flag and used it as a bath towel or worse, a handkerchief.

Severus and Minerva stood with the judges, off to the side, waiting to see what happened. When Harry had asked his father last night about his role as judge, Severus had said only, "The Headmaster needed a fourth judge and Moody refused, so I agreed. Someone has to make sure the students are safe and that they follow the rules."

"And who better than you, huh, Dad?"

Severus simply nodded. Then added slyly, "I just hope the champions are better at listening to me than my sons are."

"Hey! I always listen to you, Dad. I just don't always do what you say."

"Too true, scamp." The Potions Master snorted. "I'm hoping that the champions have grown out of that tendency."

Thinking about that conversation made Harry smile and resolve to try and do better and obey Severus more often, because he knew the man really loved him and just wanted to protect him.

Dumbledore was holding his hand over the Cup now and calling out, "The champion for Beauxbatons Academy of Magic is—"

There was a whoosh of blue flame and a piece of parchment was spat out.

Dumbledore unfolded it.

"Miss Fleur Delacour! Congratulations!"

The Beauxbatons delegation was cheering and hugging her and wishing her "Bonne chance!"

Harry clapped too and then his eyes spotted Smidgen perched upon the Slytherin banner and Phil watching from his corner.

Now the Headmaster was requesting the champion from Durmstrang.

Another piece of paper was spat out.

"Mr. Victor Krum! Congratulations!"

A deafening howl of "KRUM!" went round the hall and the students from Durmstrang slapped Krum on the shoulder.

When things quieted down, Dumbledore said, "Last but not least, I call upon the Hogwarts champion to be revealed."

Again a piece of parchment was spat out.

Everyone held their breath as Dumbledore read.

"Cedric Diggory! Congratulations, Cedric!"

The noise over at the Hufflepuff table was so loud Harry could barely hear himself think. But that was all right. He was glad Cedric was going to represent the school. He deserved to.

"And now that the three champions have been chosen, it's time to—"

"Wait, Albus!" called Crouch. "The Goblet is still lit. The flames haven't gone out."

"How strange." Albus faced the Goblet once more. "That has never happened before. Have you another message for me?"

The Cup spat out another parchment paper.

Puzzled, Dumbledore took it. "Another champion? But there can be only three." He unfolded the piece of paper and read aloud the name printed upon it.

"Harry Albus Snape."

No sooner had he spoken the Cup's magical flames died, locking in the enchantment and now four champions had been chosen to be in the tournament.

Harry was stunned. He kept thinking he had heard wrong. There must be a mistake. All around him, there was pandemonium.

"Another champion?"

"How did that happen?"

"He can't compete, he's not old enough!"

"He tricked the Goblet!"

Harry shook his head, dazed. This can't be happening. It just can't.

But it had and then Harry heard a familiar voice over the hubbub.

"Albus, you had better explain how the hell my son's name got in the Goblet, or else!" Severus snarled, he was livid. A vein pulsed in his temple and his eyes were deep pits of molten obsidian, and he glared at Dumbledore so fiercely Harry was surprised that the man was still breathing and not keeled over dead upon the floor.

Black robes billowing, Snape turned and gestured for Harry to come to him, and his gaze softened slightly when he met his son's stunned eyes.

Harry felt a wave of relief crash over him then and he slowly made his way to Severus's side, seeking shelter in his father's presence like a frightened child after a nightmare. Only thing was, this nightmare was real.

He had just reached Severus when he felt Smidgen alight on his shoulder and Phil step out of the shadows, still veiled, but his fangs were showing.

There, a nice long one for you! Thanks for all your reviews too! You rock! Enjoy!

Chapter Text

Draco was sure he had misheard the Headmaster when Dumbledore announced his brother's name as the final champion in the Triwizard Tournament. What? What did the house elves put in the pumpkin juice? Because for a minute I could swear the old coot said that Harry Snape was the fourth champion. And how the hell can that be when it's only supposed to have three champions, that's why it's called the Triwizard Tournament. But when he looked around he saw everyone else in the hall staring with open-mouthed, gaping expressions, like a legion of half-wits.

And all of the eyes were on Harry, who looked as if he had just been hit with a Confunded Jinx.

Dear sweet Merlin! But this can't be happening! Draco thought frantically. But it had.

The hall started to buzz like an angry hornet's nest, and then Draco saw his father stand up and beckon Harry to him, and give the Headmaster the mother of all glares. Then he said, in a tone that made Draco tremble even from six feet away, "Albus, you had better explain how the hell my son's name got in the Goblet, or else!"

Draco gulped hard and thanked the Fates, Merlin, God, the Mother Goddess, and whoever else was out there that he was not on the receiving end of Severus's temper. He would have rather faced Lucius and his cane, or a dementor.

"Cheating rotten Gryffindor!" snarled a Slytherin from down the end of the table. "Always have to be in the spotlight."

Draco spun on the other boy. "Shut your pie hole, Rabin! My brother didn't put his name in there, it was a set-up."

"How did it happen then, Draco?" asked Crabbe.

"If I knew that, I'd be a genius, Vince. I haven't got a clue. All I know is that my dad's ready to explode and somebody better fix this and fast."

Phil silently agreed with Draco's assessment, hovering just beyond the circle of judges and teachers and the three original champions, his fangs bared. There was no doubt in his mind that Harry had been the victim of a clever hoodwinking scheme. The only question was, who would have the nerve, not to mention the cruelty, to put a fourteen-year-old boy's name in the Cup? Had this been the Faerie Realm, Phil would have pegged an Unseelie spy from the get-go. But here at Hogwarts?

The violet eyes narrowed and he studied the reactions of the other adult wizards intently, trying to see if they seemed odd. He was already slightly suspicious of Professor Moody, but the Defense professor was not objecting as vociferously as Headmaster Karkaroff to the unexpected surprise addition.

"Ask the boy, Dumbledore, how he managed to hoodwink a powerful magical object? He probably was put up to this by his father, who was never one to inspire trust or awe in anyone and always longed for greatness."

"What are you implying, Karkaroff?" Snape spun on the other wizard, his eyes glittering like shards of onyx.

"Perhaps you decided to . . .what is the word . . .live through your son, yes? You always craved recognition, Snape, and maybe this is how you will get it."

"You are a fool, Igor. You always have been," Severus spat, vitriol dripping from his tongue. "As if I would risk my son for the sake of fifteen minutes of fame."

Karkaroff's eyes narrowed and he smirked slyly. "One never knows what you will do . . .traitor."

Before Snape could reply, Dumbledore stepped between them and said, "Gentlemen, if we could please take this discussion into a more private setting, come along, all of you and we shall go into the small classroom here," he led the way into the unused classroom off the Great Hall, and McGonagall, Crouch, Moody, Bagman, Madame Maxime and the four champions followed.

No sooner had they disappeared into the room, then Draco also made a hasty exit, using his kin-sa-dor techniques to slip away from the table and around the side where a second exit to the small classroom was located. He promptly put his ear to the door and muttered a Sharp Ears charm, so he could hear every word that was being said.

Inside the Hall, Smidgen blinked into the room and Phil slipped in as the rest were filing inside and observed from a corner. He would have liked to eavesdrop on Karkaroff's thoughts, but he knew if he let down his shields, he would be overwhelmed by everyone's thoughts at once. Reading the Headmaster of Durmstrang would have to wait. Besides, taking his cue from Severus, Karkaroff was not to be trusted. So far I have two suspects, Karkaroff and Moody. The vampire mused.

Madame Maxime was frowning at Harry and then she turned to Dumbledore and said, "Professor Dumbly-dorr, 'e is too young to compete in zee tournament. The boy does not know 'alf the spells the others do. 'ow can you even consider allowing him to compete?"

"This is highly irregular, Dumbledore," Bartemius grumbled, looking scandalized. "Nothing like this has ever happened before."

"I say, it is rather improbable. How could it have happened anyhow?" asked Ludo Bagman, scratching his head and looking rather like a puzzled terrier who has lost the rat he'd been trailing.

"That is what we are here to discover," Dumbledore said smoothly. He turned to Harry, who was standing near Severus with a dazed expression on his face. "Harry, did you put your name in the Goblet of Fire?"

"No, sir. I don't know how it happened." Harry answered honestly, meeting Dumbledore's eyes squarely.

"Did you ask an older student to submit your name?" prodded the Headmaster.

Severus was incensed and would have spoken up, but Minerva grabbed his arm and shook her head pointedly.

"No, sir." Harry replied, more emphatically this time. He could not understand why Dumbledore didn't believe him. "I was with my father and brother last night, in Dad's rooms. We were studying for class the next day, Defense and Charms . . ."

"A likely story," sneered Karkaroff. "The boy's lying, of course. This was all arranged by you, Dumbledore, so you could have more than one champion compete in the tournament. Admit it!"

Dumbledore remained composed, ignoring the accusing glance of the other Headmaster. "I shall admit to nothing, Igor, for I have nothing to admit."

"No? How about letting your professors and their offspring be favored above all others. I move that we re-do the drawing and let a second candidate be picked from both Durmstrang and Beauxbatons."

"'Tis only fair," Madame Maxime agreed.

"That is impossible," broke in Crouch. "Once the Goblet has chosen the champions, it is done, the fire goes out and will not be re-awakened until the next tournament. They will all have to compete, it's a magically binding contract."

"But . . .but . . ." the Beauxbatons Headmistress sputtered.

"No!" Severus cried. "Harry is not of age and I refuse permission for him to compete."

"Severus," Dumbledore began gently. "I'm sorry, but this is one time when your wishes as a parent must be set aside. He is bound to the tournament, like the other three."

"Dammit, Albus, then unbind him!"

"Yes, Dumbledore, for it is cheating to have two champions, and especially one releated to a judge." Moody spoke up then.

"I cannot do that," Dumbledore said regretfully.

"You mean, will not." Karkaroff growled.

"Now that is quite enough, Karkaroff!"Minerva snapped, locking eyes with the tall wizard. "Dumbledore would never cheat, nor encourage a student to do something so underhanded. If he says it cannot be done, than it cannot be done."

"Your faith in your Headmaster is touching, Minerva, but I say he deliberately blurred the Age Line so young Snape could slip past and put his name in the Goblet."

"What proof do you have, Igor?" Severus challenged. "Absolutely none."

"I have all the proof I need, Snape!" Karkaroff crowed. "Like father, like son. He probably learned to lie before he could walk, being the son of a spy. A lying slithering coward who abandoned the woman he loved to die alone—aghhkk!"

Karkaroff never finished his sentence, for the simple reason that he was now slammed up against the wall, and Snape's hand was about his throat, slowly throttling him. The other wizard struggled, his feet kicking spastically, but Snape was dangling him a good foot off the ground and the Potions Master was stronger, much stronger, than he looked.

"Do not ever speak . . .like that . . .about Lily!" Severus rasped, his eyes burning with a terrible fury and an even greater sorrow.

"Severus, let him go," Dumbledore ordered softly.

Karkaroff was slowly turning purple from lack of air.

"My son is not a liar. I was with him last night," Snape hissed. "If anyone is a liar here, it is you, Igor you pathetic coward! Faced with Azkaban, you sang like a canary and tried to save your own skin. You gutless cur, you know not the meaning of loyalty or honor."

"Severus!" Dumbledore called again, tugging on the Potion Master's sleeve. "You don't want to damage him permanently."

"Why not? He'll be no great loss," sneered the other, then with a flick of his wrist, released him. "You're not worth doing time for, weasel." Karkaroff collapsed upon the floor, gasping. Snape leaned down and snarled, "Keep your mouth off my son, Karkaroff. If you dare to slander him in even the slightest bit, I shall let slip several things about you that will haunt you till your dying day. Understood?"

The Durmstrang professor made a whimpering noise of assent. He slowly got to his feet, rubbing his throat.

"Severus, really!" Minerva reproved softly, but there was a glint of amusement in her eyes. "Must you terrify our guest that way?"

Severus snorted.

Phil wanted to cheer as he watched the wizard he had come to think of as his little brother take that sly skulking weasel down a peg. Karkaroff had no right making such accusations and had needed to be taught a sharp lesson. Good one, Sev! Now maybe he'll mind his manners. But if not . . .I can always pay him a little midnight visit and let my teeth talk to his throat.

"We still don't know how Harry's name got into the Goblet," Minerva mused. "The Age Line was not breached."

"It's simple, Minerva," Moody said. "Someone put the boy's name into the Goblet knowing he would have to compete if it was called. How very convenient, don't you think?"

"Too convenient," Madame Maxime said coldly.

"I shall be lodging complaints with the Ministry of Magic and the International Confederation of Wizards and perhaps even the Aurors for assault upon my person—" here Karkaroff paused to throw Snape a hateful glare.

"Will you now?" Severus said silkily. "And will you also tell the Aurors how you insulted me and provoked me?"

Karkaroff's hand went to his wand. "Anytime you wish to duel, Snape . . ."

"I don't duel cowards and children," the professor said disdainfully.

"How dare you!" spluttered the other wizard.

"Enough, gentlemen!" Dumbledore cried, coming between them. "Come to order and behave like adults or must I separate you like quarreling five-year-olds?"

Both wizards subsided.

"You were saying, Alastor?"

"If anyone should be complaining, it's young Snape, but I haven't heard him saying anything—" the old Auror began, only to be interrupted by Viktor Krum.

"Why should he complain? He gets to compete and win a two thousand Galleon prize."

"Yes, it is a prize most would die for!" cried Fleur.

"Perhaps, young lady, that is what someone meant . . .for Snape to die," Moody pointed out sternly.

Minerva looked sick and Bagman shook his head. "Oh, come now, Moody, old man, not another conspiracy theory . . ."

It does make sense, too much sense, Phil thought darkly. Even so . . .there is still something about the man that makes my skin crawl, and there have not been many people I have met that can make me uneasy, especially after a thousand years.

:Indeed. There is something . . .not right about both of them,: Smidgen warned.

Karkaroff had regained his voice by this time and was laughing hoarsely. "Ah, Moody wouldn't be Moody if he did not see conspiracies, plots, and assassinations around every corner. I hear that you even check your shadow for jinxes. I'm surprised that Dumbledore would consider hiring a paranoid past-his-prime wizard as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Then again, there were hardly many candidates lining up for the job."

Moody fixed Karkaroff with his magical eye. "If I were you, Karkaroff, I'd hold my tongue. You never know when someone might be tempted to hex it off." He turned back to Dumbledore and the others. "As I was saying, it took a powerful wizard to hoodwink a magical artifact like that. I have a theory that whoever put Snape's name in the Goblet probably used a different school name, thus guaranteeing that his name would be drawn, since his was the only name submitted by that school. Crafty and clever and definitely not someone who wishes the boy well."

Severus was nodding in agreement. "That sounds like a plausible theory."

But in order to do that, the wizard must be very powerful, to subvert the Cup of Wonders, Philip thought. Very powerful and very deluded. The obvious answer would be Voldemort, save that he is half-dead and too weak. So it must be one of his followers. I would guess Lucius Malfoy, except he is safely locked away. And the other one would not dare leave his master in such a state. So that leaves me with a mystery to solve. The violet-eyed vampire licked his lips. He always enjoyed a challenge.

"Pah! Moody is grasping at straws . . .either that or going senile," Karkaroff scoffed.

Moody's eye whirled. "I'm thinking maybe Snape had the right idea, and you need a muzzle, Igor. Or to be strangled again. I don't care which, so long as you quit flapping your jaw."

Karkaroff paled and stiffened. But he made no comment.

"Well, whether by accident or by design, regardless, Harry Snape is the fourth champion of this tournament." Barty Crouch said. "Now that has been established . . . ."

"Wait a minute!" Krum objected hotly. "This was never supposed to happen. He has no business being with us. He looks barely old enough to wipe his nose, much less cast spells."

Harry, who had remained quiet all this time, turned and shot the taller boy a glare worthy of his Name. "Who asked you, Krum? You think you're all that because you're some big-shot Seeker."

"At least I don't cheat to enter things."

"I never cheated—!" Harry began hotly.

"Master Karkaroff says you did," Krum said bluntly, leveling his wand at Harry.

Only to feel the tip of another wand poke him in the back. "Your Master Karkaroff doesn't know crap about a dungheap."Draco snarled, his gray eyes stormy. "Aim your wand at my brother again, Mr. Celebrity, and you'll be doing interviews from the Hospital Wing."

Krum twisted halfway around and cried, "You dare threaten me!"

Draco, who though not as tall as the other wizard, was fully as self-possessed, sneered, "It's not a threat, beaverhead, it's a promise. Hurt my brother and I will hex your arse right back to Durmstrang."

"Ha! I vould like to see you try!"

"Control your student, Igor," Severus ordered frostily. "Draco, Harry, put up your wands. Now."

Both of his sons obeyed, jumping at the sharp tone.

Draco tossed Severus a sulky look. "No fair, Dad. How come you get to beat up somebody and we don't?"

"Draco Michael, what are you doing here?" Severus demanded. "This is a private conversation." He narrowed his eyes. "You know how I feel about eavesdropping, young man."

"I just wanted to make sure Harry was okay," replied Draco defensively. "And he wasn't, because the Orc from the North was starting with him." He indicated Krum with a jerk of his head.

Krum still had his wand out, until Karkaroff said, "Viktor. Put it down. We don't wish to cause an incident."

"Like you haven't already?" Harry muttered, but subsided at Severus's warning glare.

Krum lowered his wand. "Next time, little boy, you won't have Daddy around to protect you."

Severus grabbed Harry before he could retaliate. But that left Draco free to slam Krum a good one in his over-large nose and mouth.

The next thing Krum knew, he was on the ground, bleeding, and Draco was standing over him, fists clenched. "Button it, orc. Or I'll make you wish you had."

Viktor stared in horrified fascination at his bloody hand. "Huh? I am . . .bleeding!" he cried and then there was a thud as he passed out cold.

"Some champion you got there, Karkaroff," Moody snorted. "Faints at the sight of blood."

Karkaroff shot the ex-Auror a nasty look before going to tend to his student.

Severus released Harry and collared Draco, saying swiftly, "Draco Michael Malfoy! Go to my quarters and wait for me. We are going to have a long discussion about minding your own business."

"Harry is my business, Dad. He's my brother."

"March, young man!" Severus ordered, out of patience, and he half-dragged Draco to the door and shoved him out, though not before giving him one well-placed swat on the seat.

"For Merlin's sake, Dad!" Draco cried, then he left, waiting until Snape had shut the door before rubbing his bottom. Sighing, he made his way down to the dungeons, wondering if his hasty actions had cost him the Quidditch game tomorrow.

Bloody hell! Now I'm in for it. But what was I supposed to do, let Orc-breath hex my brother?

Back inside the room, Krum had been patched up by his teacher and Dumbledore, and order had been restored once more. Among the wizards, that is. A certain vampire was longing to take a bite out of both Karkaroff and his student and Smidgen hissed indignantly to him, :I wonder how they would react if their furry cloaks came alive and attacked them, the great boobies?:

Philip did not answer, he was too busy trying to muffle his laughter in his sleeve. For several long moments he remained so, only his violet eyes betraying his mirth. Lady Catkin, you are too much!

:I do not like the tall wizard, he reeks of old blood and darkness. And his apprentice . . .is full of himself. Phfaugh!: Smidgen shook herself and sniffed disdainfully, as only a cat could. :Draco was right to give him a love tap.:

Phil nodded in agreement, the focused upon Snape, who was coming back into the room, his face set behind his professor's mask.

Philip? Can you hear me? Severus thought.

I can. What is wrong?

I sent Draco back to my quarters, could you or Smidgen follow as an escort? Just in case?

Yes. The ancient vampire turned to the fae cat. Would you mind, Smidgen?

:No. It would be best if I left, that way I'm not tempted to do something nasty.: Smidgen acquiesced and then she blinked away.

Harry and Cedric were standing across the room next to Professor McGonagall, who had her hand upon both of their shoulders, while Bartemius Crouch explained the rest of tournament rules and requirements.

"There are three tasks, as you know, but we shall not reveal them to you until the proper time. The first task shall take place on November 24th, and you may not have help from your teachers or parents of any kind to complete them. The champions will face the first challenge armed only with their wits and their wands. You will receive information about the second task when the first is completed. And due to the time constraints of the tournament, you are all excused from the end-of-the-year tests."

Cedric cheered and so did Harry, so far that was the only thing about this whole mess that Harry liked.

"And I believe that is all," Crouch said.

Cedric turned and looked curiously at Harry. "Well, looks like we'll be playing again with each other, huh? Quidditch and the tournament."

"Yes." Harry wished it were anyone but Cedric. He liked the fellow and hated to think of him as a rival.

"So . . .how did you do it?"

"I didn't."

Cedric gave him a skeptical glance. "Okay, whatever." He clearly thought Harry was lying.

"Unfortunately for you two, gentlemen," Dumbledore broke into their conversation. "You still have classes to attend. If there is any information about the tournament or additional things you need to know, we shall summon you from class. You are dismissed." He turned to Crouch. "Barty, won't you join me for a drink in my quarters?"

"I'm afraid not, Albus. I have to get back to the Ministry, important work to do, but I will return in a week. In the meantime, my assistant Percy . . .ah . . .Weatherby . . .Weaselby . . .I never can remember his name . . .will be handling things for me. He wishes to work for the Ministry and this is a kind of internship if you will . . ."

Oh great! Percy in charge again! He'll make my life hell, the prat! Harry groaned to himself. He was about to follow Cedric out the door, when his father beckoned to him. "Yes, Dad?"

Snape leaned in close to him and said softly, "Meet me in my quarters after class, Harry. We'll discuss this and what precautions you need to take then."

"All right. What about Draco? He was only defending me, are you going to—"

"I will discuss Draco's attitude with Draco, Harry, so do not concern yourself," Severus cut him off. "For now, go to class and concentrate on your studies. There will be time later to worry about the tournament."

"I didn't put my name in there, Dad."

"I know that, phoenix. Your honesty is beyond reproach. Now go, before you're late." He ruffled his son's hair, gave his shoulder a friendly pat, and then Harry turned and left.

At least Dad and Draco believe me, Harry thought in relief. I wonder if anyone else except Ron, Hermione, and Katie will?

Severus sighed as he watched his son depart, then he sent to Philip, Phil, please tell Smidgen to tell Draco he may go to class and we will discuss his behavior later?

I shall, Sev. Only don't be too hard on the boy. He was only doing what you would have. Or what I would have liked to, were I still fourteen.

I know, but nevertheless . . .I have to give him some consequences, the Potions Master sighed. Is there no way the Cup can be reversed to release my son?

Not that I know of. The Cup was used in lieu of a magical vow, so to speak, and any signature placed in it is binding. I am sorry, Severus. But we must play the hand the Fates have dealt. I will be behind him, protecting him as best I can, you know that.

But will it be enough?

By my life and my Name, Severus, it will have to be. Philip declared sharply. You may be forbidden to aid him in this tournament, but I am not. The tasks must be completed by him, but I am neither teacher nor wizard, and therefore not bound by the terms of the tournament. I will be able to offer advice and protect him from any bullies who seek to get rid of him.

Thank you, Philip. That . . .eases my mind considerably. Karkaroff is not to be trusted. I know him from way back, he is a former Death Eater, who sold out his fellows to the Aurors, he cut a deal with them as an informant as an alternative to Azkaban.

Ah. I had thought it might have been like that. He bears watching then. I shall see to it. Phil promised.

"Severus? Aren't you coming?" called Minerva, looking at him oddly. "Don't you have classes to teach?"

"Yes. I will be along," Severus replied, then he turned and followed his colleague out of the room, his heart heavy within him over this latest turn of events. Why was it that nothing was ever easy for him or his family?

Behind him, the master vampire shook his head sadly, then slipped away up the staircase to sit in on Harry and Draco's Defense class, for there was still something nagging him about Moody. He might have come to Harry's defense, but was that only to hide his own agenda?

 

A very warm thank you to all who are sticking with me on this one! Phil will be revealing himself to Dumbledore at a later date, concealed works best for now.

Chapter Text

Harry caught up with Draco in the corridor heading to Defense and Ron joined them a moment later. "Harry, how did you get your name in the Goblet?" was the first thing out of Ron's mouth.

Harry sighed exasperatedly, though he suspected he was going to be asked that question a lot so he had better get used to it. "I have no idea, Ron. I didn't ask anyone to put it in, or break Dumbledore's Age Line. I was with my dad and Draco and Uncle Phil last night."

"That's right," Draco agreed. "And we think whoever stuck Harry's name in there wanted him to compete so he'd get hurt badly . . ." Here the Slytherin's voice lowered so only Ron could hear him. " . . .maybe even killed."

"What? But that's . . .that's insane!" Ron sputtered. "Who would want to kill Harry?" he gasped. "He's a hero."

Draco shook his head in disgust at the other's obtuseness. "Think about it, Weasley. Think long and hard. Heroes die young and who's his greatest enemy?"

"You mean . . .oh." Ron went pale. "But what are you going to do about it? Can you just . . .quit?" He was looking at Harry strangely, as if he expected him to fall down dead any minute.

"No, I can't. Once the Goblet spit my name out, it bound me to the tournament like the rest of them. I couldn't quit now if I wanted to. I have to compete."

"Blimey! That's . . .that's . . .that really sucks."

"Tell me about it. I really hope Moody teaches us something useful in Defense. I think I'm going to need it."

"If not, then Dad will give you extra lessons," Draco reminded him.

"Your dad gives you extra lessons in Defense? Merlin! I wish mine did." Ron said enviously.

"Once you've been through a session with him, you wouldn't," Draco chuckled. "He's like an Auror sergeant, tough as nails. You ache when he's done with you, trust me. But it's worth it, because what he teaches stays with you."

Harry nodded in agreement. "That's for sure. And he teaches stuff that could save your life if you happen to go up against a dark wizard."

"Well, I just hope Moody doesn't give us too much homework this lesson." Ron said.

"Me too. Because I have a feeling I'm going to be writing a punishment essay from my father for punching out the Orc from the North," Draco said ruefully.

"The Orc from the North?" Ron looked puzzled.

"He means Krum," Harry clarified, grinning.

Ron nearly fainted. "Krum? You . . .you punched out Krum? The . . .the world's youngest international Seeker?"

"I did. And I'll do it again." Draco said.

"Why'd you do a thing like that, Malfoy?"

"Because he was being a git to Harry, that's why. Starting crap with him. Said he was too young to compete and a liar and that he needed to hide behind my dad's robes. So I belted him one and bloodied his nose."

"He really said that about you, Harry?" Ron repeated. When Harry nodded and scowled, Ron said angrily, "And here I thought he was cool and someone to admire . . .guess he's nothing but a conceited prat after all. I'm glad you hit him, Malfoy. I wish I'd of been there, I would have given him a black eye."

"And when he saw the blood coming out of his nose, Weasley . . .he fainted." Draco told him. "Just like a little baby. Passed out cold on the floor."

Ron smirked. "Pansy-arse. Fainting over blood. Was your dad like, spitting mad?"

"Kind of. But he really can't talk, since he strangled Karkaroff before I did anything to Krum," Draco said.

"He did? No way! What were you discussing in there?"

"How my name got in the Goblet," Harry answered. "But Karkaroff said some nasty things about me and Dad, but the final straw was when he said something about my mum. Then Dad let him have it."

"What'd he say?"

"Some trash about how my dad never really loved her and abandoned her first chance he got," Harry answered.

Ron whistled. "Karkaroff's lucky he's still breathing."

The professor's sons nodded. They had never seen their father lose control like that ever, and it had frightened them a bit.

"I would have loved to see that," Ron sighed. "Figures, I miss all the excitement around here. I hope this Defense lesson is good. Fred and George said it was awesome, but they could have been putting me on."

"Very true, Ron," Hermione said, she was waiting for them at the top of the staircase. "You never know with your brothers. I hope the class will be practical and informative, not like our other ones."

"You didn't seem to mind the one with Lockhart all that much, since you got to stare at his lovely face all afternoon," Ron reminded her.

Hermione blushed. "That was then. I was a silly girl with a crush."

Draco gaped at her. "You had a crush on Gilderoy Lockhart?"

"So? So did half the girls in the school," Hermione said irritably. "Now will you please stop reminding me of it?"

"I think she's still not over it," Harry teased, and Ron snickered.

"I am so!" Hermione protested. "I have someone who's ten times better, and not a conceited puffskein besides. Right, Draco?" Then she pulled Draco into an embrace and kissed him.

"I'd say so," Draco grinned, when he could talk again. He smiled tenderly at the witch. "Thanks, Mione. I needed that." Then he linked arms with her and they continued down the corridor to the classroom.

"Do I look that . . .ridiculous when I'm with Katie?" Harry asked Ron, sincerely hoping not.

"You look worse," his friend replied.

Harry promptly socked him in the shoulder.

"What? It's the truth. You get all moony-eyed and your face goes all dreamy and sort of stupid—oww!" Ron yelped and rubbed his other shoulder. "If you didn't want to hear the truth, Harry, why'd you ask me?"

But Harry was already walking into the Defense Against the Dark Arts and didn't bother to answer.

"Damn touchy Snapes," Ron muttered before following. He didn't hear the soft shush of displaced air as Phil glided in behind him, concealing a fanged grin at the adolescent drama.

Everyone had been seated for five minutes before Moody stumped into the classroom . . .thunk, drag . . .thunk, drag . . .as he limped heavily upon his wooden clawed foot, sometimes scraping it across the floor as he walked. It was rumored he had nearly gotten blown to bits in a duel with a Death Eater during the first war, which was why he had so many prosthetics. Whatever the reason, it leant an air of brooding menace to him that made even the most hyper prankster sit still and behave in his class.

No one moved when Moody came into the room and walked in front of the desk and looked upon them with his magical glass eye. "Put your books away, you won't need 'em. What I'm about to show you can't be found in a textbook."

Everyone shoved their Defense texts back in their bags happily. Practical lessons were the best.

Moody waved his wand nonchalantly at the classroom door and it shut itself. He then perused his class list, only glancing up when he called a name to put the face with the owner of it. Harry met his gaze steadily, despite the fact that the magical eye made his flesh crawl.

At last Moody set aside his register. "Now then. Up until recently, I have been reviewing the material Professor Lupin had given you before I decided to alter the curriculum a bit. You have a good grounding in recognizing Dark creatures, but you're way behind on curses and hexes. Way behind."

He turned and took out a jar of three spiders from a drawer in his desk and set it atop the table.

Ron trembled and shrank away, for he was terrified of spiders.

Harry laid a hand on his arm and whispered, "Relax, the spiders can't get out."

Ron gulped and kept his eyes fixed on the jar anyway.

"The Ministry only wants me to teach you countercurses and that's all, but that won't help you if you happen to encounter a dark wizard one night. You can't defend what you can't anticipate and you won't know what countercurse to perform unless you've seen the spell done. And no dark wizard is going to tell you what curse he's casting, therefore I am going to show you exactly what you'll need to recognize." He drew his wand.

In the corner of the room, Phil nodded in agreement with what the teacher was saying. Very true, Moody. You cannot teach a student how to fight unless he knows what he is fighting against. The Ministry are fools if they think a competent teacher can teach while being hampered by such restrictions.

Moody continued. "Can anyone here name some dark curses that have been used upon people in the past?"

Several hands shot up, among them Ron, Draco, Harry, and Hermione.

Moody's hand stabbed forward. "You. Malfoy. Name one."

"Incendio maximus."

"Yes, the fireball hex. A particularly nasty one. Your father Lucius was fond of that one, if I recall," Moody said darkly. "Burned down a lot of Muggle houses using that."

Draco went red and seemed to scrunch lower in his seat. "He's not my father anymore."

Moody's eye fixed on him. "What was that, boy?"

"He said that Lucius isn't his father anymore, sir," Hermione spoke up, angry that Moody had been so tactless.

"I'll thank you to let Malfoy reply, Miss Granger." Moody snapped. "Well?"

Draco straightened, his pride coming to the forefront. "I said Lucius isn't my father anymore, sir. Professor Snape is my guardian now."

Moody grunted. "So he is. Best you mind what you do around him then, for Snape has no love for the dark ways, in spite of his being immersed in them for years as an agent."

Draco's eyes flashed at the insinuation. "I'm not a dark wizard, professor! I never have been."

Moody chuckled grimly. "Good, glad to hear it. Stay that way. Because you'd not want Aurors hunting you down, now would you?"

"No, sir." Draco replied stiffly, outraged.

Phil frowned. He did not like how Moody had singled out Draco that way, picking on him from all the Slytherins he could have queried, there were several Death Eater children among them. Why choose Draco to target and not one of the others? And why bring up Snape's past that way?

"That's one curse. Who can name me another?" Moody went on, oblivious to the hostile stares Draco, Harry, and Hermione were now giving him.

Ron was waving his hand.

"All right. You." He pointed at Ron.

"My dad told me one. It's called the Imperius Curse . . .or something like that."

"Ah, yes. Arthur Weasley's son, right? Your father would know that one. Gave the Ministry no end of trouble last time. So many witches and wizards claimed to have acted under the Imperius Curse that it was hard to tell who was serious and who was lying." He eyed Draco meaningfully. Lucius was one of those who had claimed the Imperius Curse was put on him to make him Voldemort's follower. "Let me show you what it can do."

Moody opened the jar with the spiders and pulled one out, letting it run across his palm.

Ron shook, watching in fascinated horror as Moody pointed his wand and said, quietly, "Imperio!"

The spider immediately began to jump up and down and do flips. It cartwheeled across Moody's palm, then stopped and bowed.

Some of the girls were giggling and even some of the boys were choking back laughter.

"Total control and command over someone or something." Moody said sharply. "It's not funny. How would you like it if I did that to you? Wouldn't be half so funny then, would it?"

The laughter ceased.

"But the Imperious Curse can be fought, if you have a strong enough will and strength of character. Most people don't though. And the only way you can find out if you do is to have the curse cast upon you." The spider stopped bowing and assumed a lotus position. "Which one of you is brave enough to let me try?"

Immediately nearly all the hands in the room went down.

Moody place the spider back inside the jar and closed it before turning to look at them again. "That's all? Humph! It would seem courage is a trait sorely lacking in here. Very well, Mr. Snape, come up here if you would. You must be strong of will to survive the tournament."

Harry came, hoping that Moody was not going to make him tap dance across the room or something utterly humiliating like that. Remember, it can be fought, he reminded himself. He stood in front of Moody, who pointed his wand at him and said sharply, "Imperio!"

Harry felt as if someone was whispering something in his head. Jump onto the desk! Jump onto the desk! Do it now! Jump!

He felt a strange pressure in his head and an urging to do what Moody was telling him. But he tried to block it out, recalling Smidgen's advice in creating a shield against mental intrusions. No! I rule me, you don't.

Once again, the mental command came to jump onto a desk.

Harry gritted his teeth, resolved not to do it.

The class watched with bated breath.

Moody's continued to try and make Harry move, but Harry did not.

"Good. Mr. Snape here is fighting me off. Very impressive."

Moody said that calmly enough, but something hidden in his tone made Phil scrutinize him. Was that sarcasm and resentment in his tone? How had he missed that?

Moody took his wand off a minute later. "Well done, Mr. Snape. Ten points to Gryffindor. You may sit down."

Harry did so, getting the odd feeling that Moody was less than pleased with his performance and not understanding why that should be.

Draco gave him a thumbs up from across the room and mouthed, "Good one, Harry!" Show the old bastard what us Snapes can do!

"The Imperius Curse. Very dangerous and not to be taken lightly. Another one."

To Harry's shock, Neville raised his hand and was called.

"There's one called . . .the Cruciatus Curse, sir."

"Very good. Longbottom, aren't you? No wonder you would know that one." Moody took a spider out of the jar again. This time the spider tried to jump out of his hand, but he prevented it. "Hmm . . .needs to be bigger to show you what the curse does."

He tapped the arachnid. "Engorgio."

The spider grew to the size of a dinner plate and Moody set it upon his desk where it crouched in shock.

Ron nearly crawled under his desk. "Think I'm gonna be sick. Oh Merlin!" Only his eyes showed above the top of his desk.

"Take it easy, Ron. It's not moving." Harry hissed, praying Ron could hold it together. His friend was looking very green about the edges.

"Don't care. It's huge. Like those . . .other ones that wanted to eat us." Ron gulped hard.

"Just don't think about it."

"Weasley and Snape! Pay attention!" Moody barked.

"Sorry, sir." Harry apologized. "Ron's a little phobic about spiders."

"Huh. He'll have a lot more to fear than that when I'm done." The ex-Auror grunted. He pointed his wand at the spider. "Watch closely now. Crucio!"

Suddenly the spider curled up on itself and began to rock back and forth. Harry stiffened, recognizing those tremors for what they were, the signs of a creature in mortal agony. He knew that if they could have heard it, the spider would have been screaming in pain.

Sickened, he turned away. And met Neville's eyes, which were round with horror.

"The Torture Curse. Instant agonizing pain." Moody said. "Don't need knives or hot irons or thumbscrews if you know this spell. And you can target specific areas to cause maximum pain to a subject, like the groin or the head."

Moody kept the spell upon the spider for a minute or two longer.

Phil's eyes narrowed. Had he imagined it, or was there a note of satisfaction in the man's voice when he had explained that last curse? And was there a look of . . .pleasure in the one eye when Moody looked at the spider writhing in pain on his desk? He had known many such who reveled in the pain of others in the Unseelie Court and some among the vampires were that way too. The master vampire's mouth tightened. Somehow he did not think it good that Dumbledore had hired a sadist to teach Defense. If he were right . . .He watched closely as Moody took the spell off and reduced the spider down to size and tossed it casually in the jar, without respect for what he had made it endure. No regard for it's wellbeing at all. Granted, it's just a spider, but still . . .it deserves respect after putting it through such torment. There was something not right here.

"There is one more curse that you should be aware of. Can anyone tell me what it is?"

Hermione's hand shot up, but she looked sort of odd, as if she were feeling sick to her stomach.

Moody looked about, then said, "Right. Granger, tell me."

"Avada Kedavra. The . . .Killing Curse."

"Yes. The most dangerous curse in a wizard's arsenal. The one curse that there is no counter for." He pulled the last spider from the jar, set it on the desk and pointed his wand.

"Avada Kedavra!"

A green light shot out from his wand and struck the spider, who dropped dead instantly.

No sound came from the students, they were all frozen in their chairs.

Now Harry felt as if he were going to sick up, recalling how Lily and James had died to save him. Was that the last light their eyes had ever seen, the bright flash of green before it ended? He knew how they had died because of his nightmares over the summer, but even so, he was not prepared for how that curse worked.

"As I said, there is no way such a curse may be blocked or countered and the only peron ever to have survived it is in front of me." He pointed to Harry, who tried to make himself invisible behind his bookbag.

"All three of these curses are called The Unforgivable Curses and the use of any one of them will land you a life sentence in Azkaban, should you try one."

"How about the fireball hex?" asked Hermione.

"That one, while nasty, is not in the same class as the others." Moody said. "Because it can be countered with a water jinx."

"But if there's no counter to the Killing Curse, then why are you showing it to us?" asked Parvati.

"Because you've got to be prepared. You've got to appreciate what the worst is. Knowing that is half the battle. That's what you're up against. Now, Avada Kedavra takes a very powerful wizard to cast it, you could all get out your wands and try it and I wouldn't get so much as a cut finger. Because intent as well as power fuels that spell, as it does the other two. But that's not important. I'm not here to show you how to do it. I'm here to tell you the best way to defend against it. And that is with CONSTANT VIGILENCE!"

The class jumped and Ron fell out of his chair.

He picked himself up, blushing hotly, but no one even noticed. Except for Phil, who just shook his head.

"Take out your quills—write this down—" he ordered.

There was silence as the class wrote down everything Moody told them about dark curses. How to recognize them by wand movements and certain looks in the eye of the wizard or witch about to cast one.

He was very thorough, even Phil had to admit that, and what he told the students could someday save their life, but even so, there was something almost . . .eager in the old Auror's voice that Philip did not trust. When he spoke of taking down an enemy using a certain hex, a current of . . .enjoyment seemed to flow through his voice, and that was not consistent with the way most soldiers and warriors spoke of battles. The warriors Phil had known, and of which he was one, had never discussed past battles with such relish. For they knew the cost of killing and how it scarred one forever, even if the killing was to save one's life or another's.

The only time I ever heard pleasure in another's voice when they spoke of how many lives they had taken was in one of the Unseelie who lived for killing and loved to see blood spilled upon the ground. A twisted and sick creature, one who was without compassion, soulless. Is this one another such?

Phil considered lowering his shields and trying to read Moody's mind, but he knew the thoughts of the students would interfere and so he had to wait. Another time he would try and slip into the Defense teacher's head and see what he could find. Right now, he dared not leave Harry undefended and that meant keeping a sharp eye on him wherever he went.

Tonight, he would ask Severus if he might show Harry and Draco some fencing moves, for as Moody had said, it never hurt to be prepared.

Moody wound down, and after repeating his motto of "Constant Vigilence!", dismissed them and asked them to study a chapter on recognizing possible threatening situations in their textbook.

Harry was eager to get to the next class, he had Divination, because that last demonstration had roused memories best left undisturbed. He glanced about and saw most of his classmates discussing the curses, they had all thought the class was brilliant.

All except Neville, who was still sitting at his desk, apparently shaken by the performance of the Cruciatus Curse. "Neville?" Harry called softly.

"Longbottom, I think you'd best come with me," Moody said, and his tone was gentle. "Come, we need to have a talk and a cup of tea in my office."

"Oh, but sir . . .I'm fine." Neville protested weakly.

"Nonsense, boy! You're trembling, it's a bit of a shock isn't it? Come along now." Moody urged Neville to his feet and the boy reluctantly followed his teacher to the Defense office next door.

"What's up with Neville?" Ron wondered.

Harry knew, of course, what was the matter with his friend. Neville's parents had been tortured into insanity by Bellatrix LeStrange using the Cruciatus and though Neville was too young to remember it, still it was awful seeing it done and then imagining what it must have been like for your parents. Severus had told him about the Longbottoms when he spoke of some of the things he had seen as a spy, and Harry had also known about the Unforgivable Curses as well.

"Tell you later. Come on, let's hurry before we're late," he said and began to half-run towards Trelawney's Tower, anxious to get away from his classmates who were discussing the curses as if they were a new kind of horror show on the telly—scary but not enough to be considered reality.

"Who cares? She won't even notice," Ron called after him, then he too began to run.

Draco lingered long enough to tell Hermione he couldn't meet her after class in the library as usual because Professor Snape wanted to see him. "Probably to ream my arse out for beating on Krum," he sighed ruefully.

"You really shouldn't have done that, you know," Hermione said.

"Too late now for regrets. See you around," he said, then gave her a quick hug before departing.

Hermione hoped Professor Snape would go easy on him and then headed to Arithmancy.

Later, in the evening:

"Then would you permit me to teach the boys a few fencing moves as part of their training?" Phil asked Severus, seated in one of the professor's chairs in his office, while Severus marked that day's homework. "I know that you have been tutoring them in kin-sa-dor, but wasn't sure if you had begun sword forms with them."

"No, actually I hadn't. The sword is not a weapon I am very proficient in, I only know the basics. I can throw a knife, but it's not the same thing. I had thought perhaps Sarai might give them a few pointers once we returned to the manor for the summer, but if you feel they would benefit from fencing lessons with you, Phil, and are willing to take the time to teach them, feel free."

"I cannot make them into warriors in a month, or even three months, but every weekend we could practice and I can at least teach them the basics, so they will not be a danger to themselves if they do pick up a sword and how to hold off an opponent until someone older and stronger can get to them. Harry, especially, will benefit, since the tournament has been known to pit the contestants against various beasts and such."

"You're right. I would be honored if you would teach them a few moves, Phil." Severus said, marking an essay with a quick N/A for NOT ACCEPTABLE and then writing Next time read the assignment before putting quill to parchment and wasting both your own and my time. Re-do this and hand in a finished copy tomorrow and you won't get a zero. Third years! They tried to get away with everything, including making up answers to his homework essays. Did they think he didn't read them? Honestly, students these days!

There came a knock upon the door of the office and before Severus could tell whoever it was to wait, Phil spoke up. "It's Draco."

Severus slanted an eyebrow at the vampire, then called, "Come in, Draco."

Draco entered the office, looking both nervous and defiant, his typical expression when he was in trouble. Severus set down his quill and said, "Come with me to my quarters, son. This discussion is best done in private, without interruptions." He looked over at Phil. "Thank you for telling me your suspicions about Moody and good luck with keeping an eye on him."

"Come, Draco." Severus took Draco by the shoulder and gently herded him from the office.

"What suspicions about Moody?" Draco asked, hoping to stall for time.

"Do not concern yourself with that," Severus said firmly. "It's between Phil and the professor and not for prying eyes of young wizards."

"I'm fourteen, that's old enough to know what's going on," Draco argued.

"Currently there is nothing to tell," said his father simply, then he unlocked the door to his quarters and entered, Draco in tow.

"Sit," he pointed to the sofa, then waited while Draco sat down and he remained standing, towering down on the boy by virtue of his greater height. That tactic always worked in his favor.

"Now then, I assume you know why you're here, Mr. Malfoy?"

"Yes, sir. I'm here because I shouldn't have lost my temper and punched out Krum that way."

"Yes, and what else?"

"What else? Isn't that all?"

"No. What else did you do that was not civilized behavior?"

Draco thought hard, until finally it came to him. "Oh. You mean the eavesdropping."

"Precisely, Mr. Malfoy. Not only did you listen in on a private conversation, you also interfered in what went on inside the room. I taught you better than that when you were five, Dragon." Severus said, his voice filled with disappointment.

Draco immediately lost his defiant air and dropped his eyes to his sneakers. He hated it when Severus used that particular tone. Snape's anger he could handle, but it was the man's disappointment that cut him like a whip. He had been used to dealing with Lucius's rages growing up, and he had learned to never show fear and to take his punishments as quietly as possible, but inside he had still been defiant.

But Severus was different. Severus truly cared about him and Draco wanted to please him and when his father was disappointed it made him feel ashamed and unworthy and it hurt him worse than if Severus had given him a thrashing. There had been times, growing up, when Draco had done something very stupid, that he had wished Severus had thrashed him instead of giving him a scolding and grounding him, because at least a thrashing was over and done with in four minutes, while Snape's punishments lasted for days and forced him to really reflect upon his misbehavior and how guilty he felt.

"I know that, sir. I shouldn't have done it, but . . .I was curious."

"Humph! Curiosity killed the cat."

"Not this time," Draco defended. "I wanted to know if Harry was in trouble and then when that arse Karkaroff started in on you, it made me mad, so I stayed to see what you did to him . . .and damn, but you really kicked his arse, Dad!" Admiration was evident in his tone now.

"Draco, that is not the point—"

"It is so, Dad. Because aren't you always telling us we should follow your example?" Draco said, acting all innocent. Ha! Got you there, Dad! I'm such a good Slytherin.

Severus gritted his teeth. He knew his son had a valid point. "You know perfectly well how rare it is for me to indulge in a display of temper that way, Draco Michael. However, I would think that you are smart enough to choose the right example of my behavior to model yourself after, yes?"

"Uh . . .yes . . ." Draco admitted reluctantly. How did Severus always manage to outmaneuver him?

"Good. I was wrong in trying to throttle that pig Karkaroff, for I set you a bad example, but that still does not mean you shouldn't think before you act."

"I did think, Dad. I thought about what the big idiot said about you and Harry and then I decided to hit him. He asked for it. You know he did."

"Draco, what have I told you about using physical force against someone?"

Draco sighed. "That I should only use it when I had no other choice. But really, Dad, I couldn't hex him without getting in trouble either."

"You could have walked away."

"He was holding a wand on my little brother!"

"Which I would have confiscated before he could do anything. Your heart was in the right place, Dragon, but your methods leave something to be desired. I know that Krum, like most young celebrities, can be annoying to deal with, but I'm going to ask you to do a difficult but mature thing, and make an effort to tolerate him for the length of the tournament. Do you think you can do that, Dragon?"

Draco huffed. "It'll be hard, because I really don't like him. But I'll do my best."

"Good. However, there must still be consequences for your previous behavior," Severus cleared his throat. "And they are as follows, I want you to write me an essay detailing how else you might have handled Krum's remarks and why you should not defend your brother with your fists, but with words. I also want another essay about the wrongness of eavesdropping and no dessert tonight for you."

"Aww, Dad! No dessert? That's cruel."

"Sometimes, my son, one must be cruel to be kind," Severus returned. "Now, go fetch your brother. Your Uncle Phil has something he wishes to discuss with you."

"He does? Where is he? I thought he was keeping an eye on Moody."

"He will return shortly, after dinner, which I think you should have here with me. Go, get Harry."

"No need for that, Dad." Harry said from the doorway. "Remember you told me to meet you here after class?"

"Hmm . . .yes." Snape said, frowning at himself.

"You didn't forget . . .did you?" asked Harry slyly. "Because you know what that means, don't you, Draco?"

"What?"

"It means senility's setting in." Harry quipped.

"I'll give you senile, you impudent brat!" Severus mock-growled, reaching out and giving his son a playful cuff about the ears.

"Ow! Okay, it was just a joke!"

"A disrespectful one," Severus said. "Have a seat next to your brother. Phil ought to be along shortly."

"To talk to me about the tournament?" Harry guessed.

"That and to teach you an important skill," his father told him.

Harry shot Draco a questioning look.

Draco shrugged. "Don't look at me like that, Harry. I haven't the faintest idea what it is."

Harry went and sat down next to Draco, wondering what Phil could have to teach them. Perhaps it was some magic known only to vampires?

Fifteen minutes later he had his answer, after they had eaten supper, when the master vampire entered Severus's quarters and greeted them both jovially, giving each boy one of his rare smiles.

"Hello, boys. I trust all is well with you tonight? Draco, it looks like your father left you with a whole skin."

"Mostly," answered the blond teen, earning himself a glare from said father. "All right, he went kind of easy on me."

"Wise decision." Phil said, and nodded at Severus, who looked faintly mollified. "Harry, first I would like to tell you that though you must complete the tasks of the tournament on your own, I will be available to ask advice and support you while you go through the tasks. I cannot help you directly, but I will be there to protect you from outside forces who seek to harm you. Your father and I both believe that the one who put your name in the Cup is still out there, perhaps waiting for his chance to strike again."

"And you think maybe one of them might be Moody?" asked Draco.

Phil gave him a sharp look. "You are too quick by half, Draco. Yes, Moody is one of my suspects."

"But why? He stuck up for me." Harry protested. "I suspect Karkaroff over Moody."

"And so I do. But I must not discount anyone just yet. They play a dangerous game. But then, so do I. And I have more experience than they do," Philip said, and his fangs were bared.

Involuntarily, the boys and Severus felt a shiver race down their spines. The wrath of a master vampire was not something the wise man provoked.

"Where's Smidgen?" asked Harry, for the fae cat was nowhere to be seen.

"Scouting and keeping a cat's eye view on Karkaroff and the others," Phil replied. "Eventually we will discover who was behind this and then . . .then they shall rue the day they drew breath." Suddenly Phil's eyes glowed red with wrath and a terrible cold stillness came over his features and they were reminded that underneath his civilized and calm veneer lurked a hunter that was as deadly as any natural predator on the planet. And all of them were very glad that he was on their side.

"You think there's more than one person?" Severus asked quietly.

Phil nodded. "There usually is." Abruptly he blinked and his eyes returned to their normal violet hue. The air of menace vanished and he said, "I wish to help you two learn how to protect yourselves from those who might wish you harm, wizards as well as non-wizards. Though I am a decent bodyguard, it is never wise to rely solely upon a single person or persons to protect yourself. Therefore, I propose to teach you a bit of sword fighting."

"Sword fighting?" both boys exclaimed.

"Yes. I am quite a good fencer," Phil said modestly. "Having had a thousand years of practice, as it were. Come, let us go to a special room in the castle, one that your father has told me will supply all that we may need to begin your lessons."

"What room is that, Dad?" asked Harry.

"It is called the Room of Requirement," Severus answered. "Come, I will show you where it is."

The Room of Requirement was on the seventh floor and it could only be found by one who needed it. "Place your hand upon the door handle and think of what you want the room to become," Severus directed Phil. "And then it shall try to become what you need."

Phil placed his hand upon the door handle and concentrated. I need a place to teach my nephews some sword fighting skills. Similar to a salle in the Seelie Court. He hoped the room would understand.

A moment later he turned the door handle and opened the door.

The room was filled with a soft white light that streamed down from an unknown source in the ceiling. It was a huge circle, and half the walls were hung with floor length mirrors. That part of the floor was covered in wooden planks overlayed with cloth pallets. The other half of the floor was covered in a layer of sawdust, which would give one firm purchase on the stone floor as well as cushion you if you were knocked down. To the left of the door was a large rack upon which hung swords made of birch wood of all sizes and types. A low bench was situated on the right side and it contained some small hand towels and water bottles.

Phil entered first and said, "Perfect! Just what I would have found on the estate of any Seelie lord." He beckoned to Harry and Draco. "All right. The first thing I need you two to do is stretch like you do when you practice kin-sa-dor."

Both Harry and Draco obeyed, moving over to the cloth mats and beginning the elementary stretches to limber up their muscles that they had learned over the summer. When they had stretched and meditated for twenty minutes, Phil called them over to the rack of wooden swords.

"Now then, I am most comfortable with a long sword like this one," Phil showed them a wooden sword that was about three feet long. "However, training with a long sword is not something you can master in a week or a month or even a year. I think, for now, we shall start out with a lighter weapon, the rapier." He pointed to the rows of a long whippy sword. "Pick up those and test to see what one fits your grip best and your arm."

The boys did so, finding the swords very light and maneuverable.

Draco playfully poked Harry in the thigh when he was testing his blade and Harry glared and poked Draco back in the stomach.

"Stop!" Phil ordered sharply. "This is not a game, don't act like it is. Though those swords aren't the real thing, you are to treat them like they are and no fooling around. Understood?"

"Yes, Uncle Phil," came out of both subdued youngster's mouths.

"Good. Now come over here, near the mirrors. The mirrors are here so you can see yourself performing a move and correct yourself when necessary. We'll start with a simple parry. You learn to parry first and then strike because if you don't, your enemy will kill you before you can ever get a thrust in."

He demonstrated the way you had to place your feet, with the weight balanced and the left foot forward, the right back so you could step and pivot when needed. "Grip the sword lightly in your hand. Don't hold on as if your life depended on it. In a way it does and in a way it doesn't. Now, close your eyes. I want you to imagine the sword in your hand and feel it. Become one with the sword. Think of it not as a piece of wood, but as an extension of your arm and hand."

Phil's voice was low, melodic, almost hypnotic in its intensity.

Both Harry and Draco breathed in and out evenly, concentrating on doing what their teacher said.

After about five minutes, Phil called for them to open their eyes.

When Harry did so, the sword felt less awkward and more natural in his hand. The grip was of polished wood wrapped with a black cloth. He waited, sword held before him, for Phil to tell him what came next.

"Watch me." Phil instructed. "This is a right cross parry." He demonstrated, bringing the sword across his body and then out. "Your turn."

Harry attempted to copy the vampire's parry. It was harder than it looked.

Phil corrected his stance and said, "Do it over, Harry."

Then he moved on to Draco, and adjusted his grip slightly and said the same thing.

He had them practice parries in the mirrors and corrected them for about twenty minutes. Then he turned them about and attacked them, moving slow enough so they had time to counter his strike.

"Not bad. A little slow and awkward, but you both have a good feel for the blade and an instinctive grace that is probably inherited from your fae ancestors." Phil said in approval. "Continue until I tell you to stop."

He had them practice that maneuver for an hour, then called a rest and they went to sit down on the bench and drink the water and mop the sweat from their brows with the towels.

Harry sipped the cool water slowly, feeling tired and sore, but it was a good kind of tired and the soreness was no worse than he had felt after a session of kin-sa-dor with his father and Sarai.

After they had rested, Phil had them back upon the floor, this time practicing a block that was a vertical defense. He was a very thorough teacher, and not hesitant to snap at one of them when their attention wandered. But he also did not mind re-doing a move over so they could see how to do it right.

"Moody was right when he sad that half the battle is knowing your enemy. Know how he thinks, how he reacts, and you have the key to defeating him. Learn as much as you can about your enemy, whether it be human or a magical creature, before engaging it in combat. That way, you'll have a better than even chance of coming away from the encounter alive."

"But what if we can't do that, Uncle Phil?" Harry said, he was thinking about the mysterious first task and how he wouldn't know what it was until the day he had to face it.

"Then, Harry, you just have to hope for the best and study your enemy before you strike." Phil said. "Do three more repetitions and we'll call it a night. Don't want you too tired to stay awake in class."

"How did we do so far, Uncle Phil?" Draco asked.

"Not bad for your first time, Draco. We'll work on speed and accuracy later. I think we should meet every weekend at night and practice. Will that suit you?"

"Fine with me," Harry said, performing his parry again.

"Yes. I can't wait." Draco agreed, his gray eyes shining.

"Good. It's been a long time since I had such eager students." Phil said. "Oh, one other thing. Anything I teach you, you are never to use on anyone in jest. As with kin-sa-dor, fencing is to be used in defense of your life only. Severus told me what he did to you, Draco, when you used his teachings on Harry over the summer, and rest assured I will dole out the same punishment if I catch either of you fooling around with sticks or dueling each other with the practice swords without my express permission. Am I understood?"

"Yes, sir." Draco said, flushing a little in embarrassment.

"Yes, Uncle Phil."

"All right. Put the swords away and walk about for a few minutes, give yourself a chance to cool off. Then you can take a hot shower and go to bed."

"Uncle Phil, can we tell our friends about our practices?" asked Draco as he started to walk around the salle.

"Yes. But don't volunteer my services, please. I only teach family members at present."

Once the boys had finished cooling down, Phil led them from the Room of Requirement. Both boys were tired but happy and Harry thought he was so tired he could sleep without dreams tonight.

He took a nice leisurely shower though, knowing all too well how much his muscles needed the hot soaking after the exercise he had done. When he got back to the portrait hole the Fat Lady greeted him with a cackle. "Oh, look who it is! The new Gryffindor champion!"

Harry blushed. He really hated titles and yet somehow he always managed to get stuck with one or two of them. "Balderdash," he spoke the password and entered the Gryffindor common room.

Only to be bombarded by half his house. "Hey, Harry! How did you do it?" cried Fred.

"Yeah, mate, tell us what bit of wizardry you performed to hoodwink the old man," George cried.

The twins picked him up and spun him about, laughing, then set him down and draped a large red banner over him like a coronation cloak.

People were cheering and clapping him on the back and offering him butterbeers and candy, it seemed as though the entire House wanted to celebrate his becoming champion.

All of the noise and commotion made Harry's head ache and suddenly all he wanted was to run away and hide. He had never enjoyed being in the public eye, like his father he was a private person. He did not relish the attention he always seemed to receive and in fact wished that everyone would just leave him alone.

All he wanted was to go and sleep.

Suddenly, Ron, Hermione, and Katie appeared from out of the fray and formed a kind of cordon about him. "All right, people, that's enough!" Katie yelled. "Leave him alone, let him breathe!" She performed some kind of spell with her wand that created a small bubble about them that pushed away people and they managed to get to the stairs and walk up to Harry's dorm without more well wishers interfering with their progress.

As soon as they had reached Harry's room, Katie canceled the spell bubble and turned to her boyfriend and hugged him. "Are you okay? Those gits were like rats, all of them swarming all over you like a piece of ripe cheese."

Harry hugged her back, shrugging the Gryffindor banner to the floor. "Is that a subtle way of telling me that I smell?"

She buried her nose in his shoulder and giggled. "Yes. You smell great, like—"

"Soap?"

"I was going to say fresh clean linens, but soap works," Katie laughed. "I can't believe your name came out of the Goblet. How did it happen?"

Harry took her arm and led her over to his bed. He sat on it and pulled her down next to him. "It wasn't me, whatever anyone says or thinks. I would never willingly compete in this bloody tournament."

"I did think it seemed unlike you, but then . . .who put your name in?"

"I don't know. My dad thinks it has something to do with revenge maybe."

"Like a follower of You-Know-Who?" Katie hissed, her eyes wide.

"Yeah. I'm glad you believe me, Katie."

"Why wouldn't I believe you?" she asked, reaching up and pushing back a strand of hair. She gently traced his scar. "You're not the type to risk your neck for glory, Harry Snape. Anyone who knows you ought to know that. You look exhausted."

"I am, sort of. I had fencing practice with Uncle Phil."

"Fencing practice? Sounds cool," Katie said.

"I always wanted to fight with a sword," Ron said wistfully.

"Maybe over the summer, I can give you a few pointers," Harry offered.

"Harry, who wouldn't believe you didn't put your name in the Goblet of Fire?" Hermione asked.

"A lot of people. Half of Gryffindor thinks I've hoodwinked Dumbledore somehow and pulled off the best prank in history. Karkaroff and Krum think I cheated somehow and tricked the Goblet and I think Madame Maxime thinks so too," Harry said, somewhat bitterly. He told Hermione and Katie what had gone on in the unused classroom after the names had been drawn.

"Merlin have mercy!" Hermione exclaimed. "Draco's not in trouble with Professor Snape, is he?"

"Not really. Dad went easy on him this time. He only made him write two essays and skip dessert."

"Only? Only?" Ron repeated, his eyes bugging out. "That like really bites, Harry. And no dessert is like cruel and unusual punishment."

Harry laughed. "No it isn't. Cruel and unusual punishment is being grounded for the whole summer with no broom and being made to do laundry by hand. Compared to that, Draco's punishment is nothing."

"I dunno, mate. I think your dad's awful strict."

"Well, sometimes. But if he wasn't, the two of us might have killed each other by now. Accidentally, of course." Harry admitted. "He's only like that to save our hides and . . .this is going to sound totally barmy but . . .we love him for it. He wouldn't be the same if he didn't scold us every other day."

"You really have gone round the twist, Harry, if you like it when your dad yells at you."

"It's not that I like it, but it's . . .reassuring to know that he cares, even if he does tear strips off me when I need it. He wouldn't bother if he didn't love me." Then he blushed. "I can't believe I just said that."

Katie grinned and pulled his head around. "That's another thing I like about you, Harry. You're not afraid to show you care about your family. All of you seem really close, like me and my family. Someday you're going to have to come and meet them."

"I'd love to. After we finish school." Harry said. "Thanks for believing me."

"Of course we believe you, mate," Ron said, a touch indignantly. "You don't lie, well, least not to us. And you'd have to be crazy to put your name in that bloody cup and risk dying in the tournament."

"Ron's right. The TriWizard Tournament is very dangerous and you don't need the fame or the money, Harry, so why would you risk your life?" Hermione said loyally. "Don't listen to those dunderheads. They wouldn't know the difference between a real wolf and a werewolf."

Ron looked alarmed. "Uh, Harry? Do you remember what the difference is between a werewolf and a real wolf? Because I forgot."

Hermione hit herself in the forehead. "Merlin, Ron, but you really are hopeless!"

Katie and Harry took one look at the redhead and the very annoyed Hermione and started to laugh their heads off.

"You two quarrel just like an old married couple," Katie chuckled.

Ron and Hermione looked horrified.

"Katie, please!" Ron cried. "Hermione's like my sister."

"And he's like my brother. The one who got dropped on his head as a baby," Hermione smirked, looking remarkably like Draco.

"Thanks, Hermione." Ron stuck out his tongue at her.

"Must you be so childish?" Hermione rolled her eyes at him.

"Yup. I'm your brother, I'm supposed to be a pain in the arse. Says so in the Code of Brothers."

"What Code of Brothers? There's no such thing."

"Yes there is. Right, Harry?"

Harry nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"Right. I wasn't born yesterday, Ronald."

"I know. You were born on September 19, 1979. Fifteen years ago."

"Brilliant, Ronald. You can read a calendar."

Ron let out a whoop. "Ha! She finally admitted I'm brilliant."

"Merlin help us all!" Katie groaned. "I think someone spiked his pumpkin juice with Silly Solution."

"Nope," Harry shook his head. "He's like this all the time."

"And sometimes . . .he's worse," added Hermione. Then she smiled. "But we love you anyhow, Ronnikins."

"Ahhh! Do not call me that! Only my mum calls me that and I've finally got her to stop calling me that in front of my friends."

Harry looked at the girls and mouthed, "One . . .two . .. three . . ."

"Okay . . .Ronniekins!" they shouted.

Ron turned beet red. "Aww . . .shut up! Some friends you are!"

"We're the best," Harry said, laughing.

Ron promptly picked up a pillow and whacked Harry over the head with it.

Harry grabbed his pillow and smacked Ron across the face, and that was the beginning of a very satisfying pillow fight that even the girls joined in. By the time they were through, they were laughing, feathers were flying everywhere, and Harry felt better than he had since Dumbledore had announced his name out of the Goblet of Fire.

Hermione looked about in dismay. "Heavens, but we'd better clean this up. McGonagall will have our heads if she sees this."

"Yes, Mum," Ron mimicked, then began to help Hermione clean up with a Neaten Up charm.

Well, what did you think?

Chapter Text

Despite the positive note the night had ended on, the next morning proved very trying for the newest Hogwarts champion. Most of the Hufflepuffs were disgruntled and angry that Harry had somehow entered himself in the tournament, since they so rarely got recognized for anything. Having Cedric as the Hogwarts champion was a great coup for them and a feather in their cap . . .until he had to share the limelight with Harry Snape, who already got far too much press as it was. As a result, most of the Puffs were giving Harry the cold shoulder . . .more like an arctic shoulder, despite Harry's protests that he had nothing to do with entering himself in the tournament.

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.

"Gross!"

"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."

"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!"

Draco whistled.

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.

I originally planned to have Sev tutor them in Defense in this chapter, but I figured enough had happened here already and I would save it for the next one.

And you'll find out what Sev does to his Slytherins as well for detention.

Chapter Text

When they reached the Room of Requirement, they found Severus waiting for them. To his sons' relief, he did not look angry, and he quickly beckoned them inside before the door shut. "We have only an hour before you two need to get some rest so you're not dozing through your classes tomorrow morning," their father stated. "So, warm up with some basic stretches, and then I'll teach you a Rebounding Charm, which is designed to reflect a hex or curse cast at you back on your opponent. It will work on the Cruciatus Curse and most any other harmful magic save for Avada Kedavra."

"Neat! How come we were never taught that before in Defense, Dad?" asked Harry.

"'Cause half our Defense teachers sucked big time," Draco interjected.

"Lupin didn't," Harry objected. "And Moody's pretty cool."

"Humph!" Draco snorted. "Cool if your name's not Malfoy."

"What do you mean, son?"

"Nothing," Draco said swiftly, not wanting to seem like a whiny brat.

"Professor Moody was ragging on him in class, saying he knew dark curses and stuff since Lucius was a Death Eater."

Draco glowered at his brother. "Harry, bloody hell! Mind your own business."

"Boys, enough! Draco, I will speak to Professor Moody and explain your situation. He has no call to paint you with your father's brush. But he is old and set in his ways and too used to hunting down dark wizards, not teaching children. He thinks that children inherit their parents' traits. He forgets we're not dragons."

"Please, Dad. Don't talk to him. I'm fine." Draco protested.

"Draco, if a teacher is treating you unfairly—" Severus began.

"I can handle it, Dad. Don't listen to Harry."

Severus gave him a hard look. "Very well. I shall let it go . . .this time. But if it happens again, or he starts grading you unfairly, let me know and I shall confront him."

Draco nodded, his face flushing. Then he kicked off his shoes and began to do the elementary warm-up exercises Severus had taught them for kin-sa-dor, still seething at Harry. He knew his brother meant well, but there were certain things you just didn't tell your father.

Harry didn't say anything, but he was sorry he had embarrassed his brother. He hadn't meant to, but he felt Severus should know about Moody. For some reason, Moody made him a tad bit uneasy, despite the fact that much of his teaching made sense. He moved over opposite his brother and began stretching also.

"To answer your question, Harry, the reason why no Defense teacher has taught you that spell is because they wouldn't have known of it. It is a fae spell, taught to me by Sarai. It has saved my life many times in duels with Death Eaters." Severus told them.

He waved his wand and activated one of the practice dummies. It came forward, false wand in hand, ready to do battle.

"Watch closely now."

The dummy cast a Freezing Jinx at Snape.

Severus made a circular gesture with his wand and said, "Reflectiva Magicka!"

The hex flew towards the Potions Master, only to be deflected by a mirror bright shield that encased Severus like a globe. The spell bounced off and struck the dummy, who fell down, acknowledging a hit.

"Were you watching?" Severus demanded a second later. He was using his drill sergeant tone.

"Yes, sir!" chorused the two boys.

"Good. On your feet and let's see you cast it."

The dummy had gotten back to its feet also and waited until Severus sent it against the two boys.

Neither one managed the counter correctly the first time. As a reminder, the dummy shot Stinging Hexes at them and made them wince. But the second time they managed to cast it and deflect most of the Happy Feet Jinx the dummy cast at them back upon it.

"Better. Keep practicing," Severus urged.

After ten times he made them practice the spell against himself and then each other, until both boys were staggering and exhausted. Only then did he call a halt. "We'll practice more on Sunday. You both did well for beginners." He gave them each a brief hug and then said, "Good night. I will see you tomorrow."

"Night, Dad," Harry called as he started to leave, forgetting he was still in his socks.

"Harry, you're forgetting something," Severus reminded.

"Like what?"

"Look at your feet, duh!" Draco snickered.

Harry did, then he flushed. "Oh. Right. Shoes." He summoned them and put them on.

Then he continued on to Gryffindor Tower, Smidgen flying sentry over his shoulder.

Draco also bid Severus goodnight, but they walked back to the Slytherin portrait hole together.

The next morning, Harry received a copy of the Daily Prophet from Frost, as did Hermione from Athena and Ron from Zephyr. Hedwig's fledglings were doing very well with their post duties and both young wizards adored their owlets very much. Hermione had once told Harry and Ron that Athena was so smart she could probably teach her to speak someday.

Ron had started laughing and said, "Like witch, like owl, I guess."

Hermione couldn't dispute that, so she settled for sniffing loftily.

Harry stroked Frost, she was nearly Hedwig's double in looks and was very bright and had a sweet temperament besides. "Thank you, Frosty," he smiled at her and gave her some toast off of his plate.

Across the hall, he saw her brother, Phantom, bringing the paper and a package to Severus. Phantom had been a gift to the Potions Master from his sons, and was the silent flyer and the most graceful of the four owlets. He was a dark gray color with white markings resembling S's on his chest and wings.

Athena and Zephyr were both a mottled gray with white spots.

Looking up from Frost, who was nibbling at some bacon on his plate, Harry saw Stormrider land on Draco's shoulder, a copy of the Prophet in his beak. It looked like everyone wanted to read the morning issue and Harry knew why. Skeeter's interviews of the four champions were in this issue.

Harry unfolded his copy and began to read it. Sure enough, in the righthand corner of the first page was Rita's byline and the first article about Bulgarian Seeker Viktor Krum. A picture of Krum in his Quidditch uniform waved and grinned at Harry.

Harry made a face at the other, skimmed the interview, then flipped the page over to see what else Rita had said. What he read nearly caused him to fall out of his chair in shock.

"Bloody damn hell!" he swore.

Hermione flashed him a disapproving look. "Harry, really? Must you swear like Ronald now?"

"Take a look at page two and you'll see why I'm swearing," Harry said sharply.

Hermione did and gasped. "Oh, Harry! How could she write such lies?"

For there, splashed across the page in stark black and white print for the world to see was the headline Boy-Who-Lives Declared Surprise Champion! Potion Master's Son to Compete in Triwizard Tournament Against All Odds!

Harry Albus Snape, son of Potions Master Severus Snape, was declared a surprise entry by the Goblet of Fire. Rumors abound as to how the 14-year-old managed to hoodwink the Goblet into accepting him as a candidate, as he is not even of age to compete. It is rumored that he had the help of an older wizard. He has confided to me that he wishes to compete in order to impress his father with his bravery and intelligence and also to help out his father, who is in financially troubled straits since adopting Draco Malfoy and taking in Harry over the summer. The Snape family lives in a decrepit manor inherited from Professor Snape's maternal grandparents, and requires many Galleons to restore and run at optimum efficiency. Snape, never a wealthy man, is in sore need of that two thousand Galleon prize . . .

"That-that-lying, scummy, no good harpy!" Harry exploded. "I never told her that! Never! I said just the opposite!" He slammed his fist on the table. "My father's gonna kill me!"

Katie rose and came over to where Harry was sitting down the table and said gently, "Don't get yourself all worked up, Harry. Anyone who knows you knows you'd never put your name in there on purpose and they all know Professor Snape is hardly a charity case."

Harry bit his lip. "You and I know that, but half the school takes what's written here as truth. And now they'll all be talking about us. Damn Rita Skeeter! Where does she get off printing such trash?"

"She's a journalist. She prints what people want to hear, not the truth," Katie sighed, giving Harry's shoulder a comforting squeeze. "Just tell your dad the truth, he'll believe you."

"I hope so," Harry said glumly. "Else my arse is grass and my dad's the lawn mower." He glanced over at Draco and saw the Slytherin was glaring at the paper like he wished it would self-combust.

Ron winced. "Well, if I were you, Harry, I'd send a note or something over real quick. Because the professor looks ready to tear strips off somebody." He jerked his head up at the staff table.

Harry slid his gaze up and gulped.

Severus had a black scowl on his face and his eyes were blazing like two coals.

Definitely not a good sign.

Severus was furious. He had known that Skeeter was an unscrupulous columnist, only out for the story of the moment, and a sensationalist to boot, but even he never thought she would go this far. The whole article was nothing but fabrication with a few facts scattered here and there. And how dare she say he was financially troubled! He made better money now than when he had first started and since he was no longer spying, he was able to concentrate more upon brewing potions for specific wizards individually and charging top prices.

He eyed his colleagues furtively and prayed none of them were stupid enough to question him about the veracity of the article. He was in no mood to discuss his personal life.

He finished his tea, toast, and sausage and rose, ready to return to his lab to set up for the morning classes.

"Severus, a moment, if you please," Dumbledore called.

Severus gritted his teeth. "Yes, Headmaster?"

"Come with me, my boy." Dumbledore had that infernal twinkle in his eyes again, and that always meant trouble, or at the least a discussion Severus did not want to participate in.

"I need to prepare for my class," the Potions Master began.

"Yes, yes, this will only take a minute." Dumbledore said, and a reluctant Potions Master followed him to his office.

As soon as the door had shut behind him, Severus started to dissuade Albus about what he had read in the Prophet. "Albus, if this is about that scurrilous article—"

"Now, Severus, there is no need to be ashamed if you are having . . .ah . . .monetary problems. I shall gladly increase your salary."

"Headmaster, that is not necessary—"

"Severus, my boy, we have all been in those straits before, and you should not let pride get in the way of feeding your children," Albus began gently. "How much of a raise do you feel is necessary?"

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose and reminded himself not to snap at Albus, who was only misinformed. "Albus, please stop. I assure you, I have plenty of money in my vault, more than enough to support my family. She . . .that . . .sensationalist bitch—please excuse my language—wrote nothing but lies in that piece. I am not living in a ruin, or penniless, and my current salary is more than adequate for my needs. You paid me well for my duties for the Order and I am very thrifty. I know how to save my money."

"I know, my boy, but some extra never hurts," Albus said, gently laying a hand upon his shoulder.

Severus sighed. "You're still convinced I am destitute, are you, old fox?"

Dumbledore shook his head. "I believe you, Severus. No need to get all worked up and defensive. But I think you deserve a raise nevertheless. You have worked tirelessly for me and never once demanded an advance."

"Because I never needed one. I am perfectly content with what I make," Severus protested irritably. Damn that Skeeter woman! I wish I could Silence her and her quill, the miserable gossipy hag! Now look what she's started. I ought to write to the editor and demand she retract the article because it's slandering my Name.

Albus ignored his employee's angry sputtering and moved over to his desk and wrote something on a piece of parchment. "There! I have given you an extra fifty Galleons per week."

"Albus, for the love of Merlin!" Severus exploded.

"Hush, Severus. It's done. Now don't make a fuss, but consider it a belated birthday present—several years worth, if you must." The Headmaster was chuckling. "As well as a congratulations on your two fine sons. Better late than never, eh?"

"Albus, you are too much!"

"Indeed. Now, off you go, I do believe you said you needed to prepare for your class?"

Severus grumbled under his breath about murdering a certain reporter, then he left the office, having been outmaneuvered neatly to his chagrin by a meddling old coot.

Harry ran as quickly as he could down to the dungeons, hoping to catch Severus inbetween classes in a free moment, so he could explain to his father about the article.

Severus glanced up when Harry appeared in the doorway, bent over and panting. "Harry, what is it? Are you sick? Is Draco all right?"

"We're fine, Dad. It's just . . .the paper this morning . . ."

Severus frowned. "Yes, that wretched harpy's article. . ."

"Dad, I never said any of those things. I told her the exact opposite and she just ignored me and wrote what her dumb quill dictated."

"What do you mean?"

"She had a green quill that wrote things down while we talked . . .a Quick Quotes Quill, I think it was called."

"Ah. An enchanted quill for lazy writers," Snape sneered. "Figures. Don't worry too much, Harry. She's known for her blather. If people believed half of what she's written they'd be crazy."

"She wrote that Prince Manor is a tumbledown ruin in need of major repair!" Harry cried angrily, one hand clutching his Medallion of Inheritance. "How dare she talk like that about my home? It's beautiful, the best home anyone could ask for."

Severus chuckled at how defensive Harry was over his beloved manor. Then again, as the heir, he was tied to the land and would feel very strongly about anyone badmouthing it. He was angry as well, but more adept at hiding it. "That is very true, son. There is no place like our home. Skeeter wouldn't know the difference between truth and a lie if she were given Veritaserum."

"That's for sure! I'm sorry, Dad."

"You have no need to apologize, Harry. That Skeeter woman ought to be apologizing on her knees for writing such trash." Severus sighed and looked at the clock on the wall. "It's almost time for you to get to class, Harry. Off with you now."

Harry allowed himself to be shooed out the door and then he headed to Transfiguration, wishing McGonagall would teach him a spell to transfigure a person into an inanimate object, like a telephone. Now wouldn't that be irony?

Saturday, 6:30 AM:

The ten fourth-year Slytherins, including Draco, were yawning and rubbing their eyes when they filed into Snape's office that Saturday morning. All of them were sleepy and more than a few were irritable and apprehensive. They all knew their Head had a short fuse and had been plenty riled at them for starting a brawl in the corridor. Some of them also recalled how Pansy had been punished with detentions and also Nott and Avery. Those two were trembling in their trainers, for this was now the third time they had brought the wrath of their Potions Master down upon their own heads.

All of them stood in a row before Snape's desk, standing at attention, waiting for their teacher to come in.

Severus, who was in his lab adjacent to the office, and had a concealed window magicked to look like a wall, could see them all clearly. He made them stand and stew for several minutes, watching them shift from foot to foot and squirm guiltily. He knew that waiting scared the little brats senseless even worse than a lecture, because then they had time to think up possible punishments and worry over what would happen to them.

Finally he took pity upon them and entered the room from the connecting laboratory door, his black cloak billowing, his face set in rigid and stern disapproval. Several of the Slytherins blanched, but none of them moved. And all of them kept their eyes at half mast and a few were staring at the floor.

Snape paced to his desk and stood with his arms folded. He had learned over the years that such a posture served to intimidate and he used his height and reputation to his advantage. "So. It would seem all of you have forgotten Slytherin House Rule Number One, correct?"

A chorus of, "Yes, sir," echoed through the office.

"Would any of you like to tell me what the number one rule is?"

Unsurprisingly, Draco was the only one who volunteered. The others were either too sleepy or too frightened.

Stifling a yawn, his son replied, "The number one rule of Slytherin House is to present a united front, which means no quarreling with each other in public, sir."

"Correct, Malfoy. You should have all learned that rule at the end of your first year of Hogwarts. But it would seem you have forgotten it and need a reminder." He scowled ferociously at them and they all hung their heads. "I cannot tell you how disappointed and disgusted I am at your behavior. Whatever the provocation, you have no excuse for drawing wands and hexing one another. None! Your lack of self-discipline is appalling. I expected better of all of you. What do you have to say for yourselves?"

There was silence, then Draco said, "Sorry, sir."

The others followed suit.

"Good, you ought to be. Since it seems you enjoy fighting amongst yourselves like a bunch of hotheaded impulsive Gryffindors, your detention will reflect that."

Draco paled. There was something about the way Snape said that . . .Oh, crap. He's using his Sergeant Snape voice and that is really NOT good. That was the way Harry and he described Severus when he was going to give them a workout that would make them think they had joined the bloody army.

The others looked confused. "Sir?" quavered Millicent. "What are we going to be doing?"

Severus smirked evilly. "Miss Bulstrode, you are going to be dueling until you cannot stand up and your wands are falling out of your hands. Then we shall see if you think it an acceptable response to a classmate's taunts. Come with me."

He stood and swept towards the door.

They followed, still not understanding what he had planned for them. Except for Draco, who was cursing himself for an impulsive idiot the whole way out of the dungeon and out of the castle.

Snape halted just beyond the courtyard and waved his wand, Transfiguring his clothing into black exercise clothing. The Slytherins gaped at him in shock. He pointed his wand at each of them, and their uniforms became clothing suitable to work out in. "Now then. First you will all run ten laps about the castle perimeter. Run, not walk! Am I understood?"

"Yes, sir!" they responded.

"Is he serious?" whined Avery.

Severus marched up to him and got right in his face, snarling, "Avery, you doubt me? Start running, and now you get one lap extra for questioning me. Well? Why are you all standing about like imbeciles? Move!"

All of them jumped and Draco began to jog in a measured pace about the castle. He knew better than to start running full out, because then he would tire too quickly and end up throwing up. Blaise followed, as did Millicent, Crabbe, and Goyle.

Severus waited until the last of his Slytherins had begun to run before loping alongside the group, making sure everyone was trying his or her best and not loafing about. Ten laps was a decent exercise for them, a warm-up for him, who had been conditioned long ago while learning kin-sa-dor. He kept a sharp eye out for stragglers and bellowed at Nott and Avery for talking and not running.

"Do you want another lap, mister?"

Avery panted and groaned, "No, sir, professor!"

"Then quit flapping your jaw and move your arse! Now!"

Draco winced, for though Snape was not particularly loud, his tone snapped and crackled like a whip. He kept his head down and just concentrated on running. Around and around and around. His legs were aching and burning by the sixth lap and from the sounds behind him, his Housemates were starting to get winded and achy too.

"Ohh! My feet are killing me."

"How much longer do we have to run?"

"Can't breathe! My throat's closing up."

"Quit whining and just run." Snape growled, pacing them effortlessly.

Several of his students shot him glances of annoyance and amazement, for they did not know he could run so quickly and so long.

But his long legs ate up the distance and he was not even breathing hard. He counted off the laps as they were completed.

Draco hid a proud grin. He knew that Severus was in such good shape because of his kin-sa-dor training. He himself was starting to breathe hard, but not enough to complain about it. He had learned the hard way not to whine during Snape's training sessions.

By the time Severus called a halt, his Slytherins were staggering and bent over, groaning at how tired they were. He allowed them a five minute rest before growling, "Up, you lazy serpents! You're not done yet, not by a long shot. Let's go. Up to the seventh floor, jog it. Move!"

They did, whining under their breath.

"Damn drill sergeant!"

"This really sucks!"

Upon reaching the Room of Requirement, Severus opened the door and led them inside.

Draco recognized the set-up as the same one he and Harry had entered a few nights past. The room was bare except for ten practice dummies lined up against the wall.

"Now then, children. Here are your opponents. They are animated to respond as if they were wizards against any hex or curse you cast. They will attack and defend until you score an incapacitating hit upon them or you are defeated."

"They'll cast real spells at us?" asked Blaise.

"No, Mr. Zabini. They will be illusions, except for the minor hexes. The most they will do is cast a Stinging Hex upon you. But you will feel as if a hex or curse hit you."

He waved his wand at the dummies, activating them. "Begin!"

Snape stepped off to the side as the students began casting at their mock opponents.

They soon discovered that fighting the practice dummies was harder, much harder, than they anticipated. The dummies were trained to push their opponents, to make them feel like they'd been in a real duel, and they did this surprisingly well.

Out of all of them, only Draco and Goyle managed to defeat their dummy in about six minutes. The rest of them were scrambling for cover and yelping as the dummies cast various hexes upon them. When they faltered or miscast a jinx, the dummies cast Stinging Hexes upon them. And while the Stinging Hexes weren't truly harmful, they were unpleasant and made your skin throb afterwards.

Severus critiqued them as they fought, moving about and lecturing when necessary. His tongue was razor sharp and as he promised, he made his Slytherins fight until they were exhausted and their wands were practically falling out of their fingers.

At the end of two and a half hours they were ready to drop and at last Snape called a halt.

"I trust you have learned your lesson and will think before you pull a wand next time?" he inquired, his voice silky with sarcasm.

All of them nodded, too tired to see straight, panting and dripping with sweat.

He waved his wand and their exercise clothing was transfigured back into their robes and uniforms.

"Very well. You are dismissed."

They trooped out of the room, some limping from pulled muscles, others complaining of how tired they were or how much their head hurt. One thing they had all learned well and that was to never ever test Severus Snape in that fashion again.

The next morning, Draco was so sore he could hardly move, and he was glad this was Sunday and he could sleep in. Until he recalled he had Quidditch practice and he forced himself to crawl out of bed and into the shower. The rest of the boys were still asleep, except for Greg and Vince, who were Beaters and also had to get up.

"Merlin, but I think I'm going to need a cane," whimpered Vince, tottering to the bathroom. "I feel as stiff as my great-uncle Morris. And he's like a hundred! Ohh!"

"Take a long hot shower," Draco advised. "Meet you in the hall for breakfast."

At breakfast he saw Harry, sitting alone at the Gryffindor table, since he was the only one of his House awake this morning. Draco walked over and sat down next to him. "Hey, Harry."

"Hi. You look like hell, dragon," Harry muttered. "What did Dad do to you?"

"He made us all run ten laps around the castle and then he gave us one of his drill sergeant training sessions. I feel like a dragon stomped me into the ground and then some."

"Oh. Poor you."

"Tell me about it." Draco grimaced and picked up a cup of tea that had appeared in front of him. "I swear, Harry, don't ever get on his bad side like that." He put a hand to the small of his back, grimacing. "I'm lucky I can walk after yesterday morning. And I'm in pretty good condition and had some idea of what to expect. Just wait till you see the others. Especially Nott and Avery. Those boneheads kept whining and saying how unfair he was and he gave them extra laps and time with the dummies for being whiny brats. They're going to be so stiff it'll be a miracle if they can get out of bed."

"Ouch! I should feel sorry for them, but after what they've pulled . . .they sort of deserve it," Harry said, biting into his bacon and egg sandwich. He chewed thoughtfully for a moment, recalling the time Snape had dueled Lockhart and had blown the braggart away in seconds. It was then that Harry got a brilliant idea.

"Ummm . . .Draco?"

"What?" the other growled grumpily.

"I was thinking, you know how we're always complaining that sometimes Dad doesn't have time to teach us defense because of his classes? And Moody only teaches us theory and hardly ever lets us practice for real?"

Draco yawned and gulped more tea. "Yeah? So?"

"So . . .what if we revived the Dueling Club?"

Draco stared at him. "You mean that pathetic excuse for a club Lockhart made us join in second year?"

"Yes, but ours won't be pathetic. We could ask Dumbledore for permission and explain we want to have a new club to . . ." Harry chewed his lower lip. " . . .err, to foster interHouse relations or whatever. We could allow anyone who wanted to from all the Houses to join and teach them what we know about defense. What do you think?"

"I think you're . . .bloody brilliant!" Draco said. "Sometimes, little brother, you totally amaze me. But we have to have clear-cut rules and penalties if they break them. We'll draw up a contract and if someone breaks any of the major rules, out their arse goes."

They spent the rest of breakfast discussing what rules the club should have and when Draco rose to go and play Quidditch, Harry said he would make his way to Dumbledore's office and tell him about their idea.

Dumbledore was delighted at the two brothers' ingenuity and agreed wholeheartedly with the re-opening of the Dueling Club.

Harry recruited Hermione and Katie to make a flyer advertising the new club and they did a supurb job. Filch posted it in the Entrance Hall, where everyone could see it.

Attention Students of All Houses!

The Dueling Club Will Re-Open as

Of

Wednesday Night

All Students Welcome to Participate!

Time: 7 PM

Place: the Great Hall

Must be willing to abide by a contract and

Should inform House Head and Prefects

Learn Defense Like Never Before!

Hosted by Draco Malfoy and Harry Snape

They posted the flyer on Sunday night.

By Wednesday they had twenty-five students wanting to be members, including Neville, Ron, Hermione, Katie, and Ginny from Gryffindor, Luna, Cho Chang, Padma Patil, and Terry Boot from Ravenclaw, Justin, Hannah Abbott, Susan Bones, and Derek Maisley from Hufflepuff, and Crabbe, Goyle, Blaise, Millicent, Marcus Flint, and Shannon Gagnon from Slytherin.

Harry was amazed at the response his little idea had received, and was proud and happy that their Dueling Club was off to such a good start. Draco and he had already begun planning what spells they were going to teach and decided the best way to handle that many students was to pair them off in groups.

Both Phil and Severus were surprised at the two boys' dedication and had told them they would be available if they wished to ask them for advice on how to teach defensive spells beyond the usual Expelliarmus.

"Thanks, but I think we've got a handle on it so far," Harry said. "And it'll be good practice for me for the tournament. The first task is coming up."

"Yes. In two weeks," Severus agreed. "In the meantime, I think this would be a good opportunity for you two to brush up on your combat skills."

"I agree," Phil said, they were all inside Snape's office. "Practice makes perfect."

The two boys groaned at the old saying. But they were excited for their first session and hoped that all would go well.

"Dad, can we borrow some of your practice dummies from the Room of Requirement?" Harry asked.

"You may," Severus consented. "I will have to show you how to activate them and deactivate them, however."

He led his sons up to the seventh floor and into the secret room.

At seven o'clock sharp, Draco and Harry were in the Great Hall. They had moved all the tables and benches against the walls and had a large open area to work in. They were standing up on the dais where the staff table was. Next to them were five dummies and a large piece of parchment covered the table. Written on it were the words Members of the New and Improved Dueling Club and next to it was a quill and ink.

Posted upon a large free-standing chalkboard was a list of rules that all the members had to agree to before they would be allowed into the club. The number one rule was no using their lessons to hex or injure any students outside of the club. The number two rule was that everyone had to obey Harry and Draco just as they did any other teacher at school. Number three stated that all participants must get along with each other for the duration of the sessions, cooperation was a must. Four stated that no Unforgivables or truly dangerous hexes would be cast or taught here, this was strictly for self defense. Five was an agreement to stop immediately if their instructors thought they were injured too badly to continue or their magical reserves were weakening. The penalty for breaking any of those rules would be immediate dismissal from the club, no excuses.

"Once you sign your name to the scroll on the table, you'll be bound by the rules on the board, just as if you swore upon your Wizard's Honor," Harry said seriously. "So read them all over carefully and think about whether or not you can follow them before you put the quill to the parchment and write your name. And just so you know, these are the same rules my father makes Draco and I follow when he tutors us in Defense. We want this to be a fun learning experience for everyone, but also a safe one."

"That's fair," Katie said, and she scanned the rules, then signed her name to the scroll with a flourish.

"How do you know when our magical reserves are low?" asked Hannah.

"Professor Snape taught us a monitoring charm," Draco answered. "We'll cast it at the beginning of each session."

"Are you gonna make us run laps too?" groaned Millicent.

Draco chuckled. "Maybe. You know, running laps helps build up stamina, and that can really help during a duel."

All the Slytherins groaned and the Gryffindors looked smug. Word had gotten around the school about their detention with Snape.

"Just as long as you don't start barking orders at us like your drill sergeant father, Malfoy," warned Flint.

Draco's eyes narrowed. "Flint, if you sign this you agree to obey me and I'll order you about however I see fit. I'm your instructor, you don't dictate policy to me."

"Or me." Harry added.

The two brothers stood shoulder to shoulder, expressions of determination and sternness upon their faces, like commanders of an army.

After a moment, Flint nodded grudgingly and dropped his eyes.

One by one, the students came up and signed their names to the parchment.

"We'll meet here every week on Wednesdays, unless there's some reason why we can't," Harry continued. "If the times change or the days, we'll post a notice in the Entrance Hall."

"Now, we want you all to count off, starting with one," Draco said. "When you get to five, stop and start with one again. Remember your number, because that's how we're going to sort you."

Once everyone had been counted, Draco had everyone with the same number form a group. He made sure each group contained members of every House. Thus paired, they each received a practice dummy and dueled it one by one so Harry and Draco could see what spells each student knew.

But first, both brothers demonstrated their own knowledge of defensive magic by dueling two dummies at once, working as a team.

It was fun, and by the time they had defeated their opponents, the other students were eying them with newfound respect and admiration.

"Wow, you're good!" Ron said.

"How did you learn all those spells?" asked Ginny.

"Our father taught us," Harry answered.

"He worked our arses off," Draco added. "But it was worth it. As you'll see."

For this first session, they set the dummies on the beginner level, and watched each student carefully as they cast what defensive or offensive magic they knew. Each student had three tries to disarm or knock out the dummy before it retaliated.

The two Snapes moved around the room, offering tips and instructions on how to hold a wand, make a tighter gesture, and pronounce a spell clearly and precisely.

An hour later, everyone was panting and tired, but satisfied that they had made progress with their dueling and Harry and Draco looked at each other and grinned proudly, a heady sense of accomplishment sweeping through them.

"You did very well," Draco praised. "Next time we'll have a brief lesson on Disarming Charms and then teach you how to perform a layered Shield Charm."

"Thanks for coming. Good night." Harry added.

The rest of the students filed out, all save for Harry and Draco's best mates and Katie and Hermione.

"Harry, you were positively brilliant!" Katie said. "Even if you did let that walking ragbin knock me on my bum twice."

Harry chuckled. "Hey, that's how you learn." He examined her and asked, "You're not hurt, are you?"

She laughed. "Why? You gonna kiss it better?"

He blushed and muttered, "Maybe."

"Please, you two!" Ron pretended to gag. Then he turned and saw Draco embracing Hermione. "Ahh! Get a room!" He looked over at Crabbe and Goyle. "How can you stand it? They're like . . .glued together."

Crabbe snorted. "Jealous, Weasley?"

Ron gasped. "Err . . .no, of course not! Hermione's like my sister."

"You need to find a girl of your own," Goyle remarked. "Same as us."

Ron flushed. "How? Got any ideas?"

"Uh . . .not really, but maybe if we all put our heads together . . ." Crabbe suggested.

The three single males moved off to a corner of the room and left Draco and Hermione and Harry and Katie to their smooching. They were getting tired of feeling like spare wands and hoped between the three of them they could figure out how to get a date for the Yule Ball.

How did you like this one?

Next: The first task is revealed . . .and it's not what you think!

Chapter Text

Between his classes, homework, and trying to dodge Rita Skeeter, who was on an interview kick, Harry barely had time to eat or sleep, and felt as if he were in a perpetual state of exhaustion. A dozen times a day, Hermione and Ron asked if he were okay, until he snapped at them to leave him alone. So they did, but they then recruited Draco and Katie to keep an eye on him, reasoning that they would be ones that he could not refuse if they asked him what was wrong.

"There's nothing wrong with me, Draco." Harry replied irritably when his brother had asked him what was the matter after Charms one afternoon. "I'm just . . .a little tired."

But Draco, who had seen Harry at his worst, after the horrific nightmares back in Prince Manor, was not fooled. He had seen his brother play heroic Spartan imbecile before. "You're not sleeping right, are you?"

"I never said that," hissed his brother, brushing his silky black hair from his eyes. He was letting it grow longer, now that it was not so untamable, and the new style emphasized his resemblance to his father ever further.

"You didn't have to," Draco said smugly. "Why don't you go ask Dad for a Sleeping Draught?"

"I told you, I'm fine."

"Yeah, so fine you wake up tired and sleep through half your classes."

"I do not!"

"Do so."

"How would you know?"

"One, I saw you doing it in Charms with my own eyes. And two, Hermione told me."

Harry huffed and glanced away.

Draco crossed his arms over his chest, doing a good imitation of their father. "Little brother, are you going to be sensible and take a Sleeping Draught or am I going to have to inform the old man?"

"Dumbledore?" Harry asked insolently.

Draco slugged him playfully in the shoulder. "No, Dad, you half-wit."

Harry glared at him. "What happened to the pact you and I made?"

"What one was that?"

"The one where we agreed to not tell Dad anything about our personal lives unless it was a matter of life and death."

"Listen, Harry, I'm normally not a tell-tale, but if you don't get enough sleep and aren't well-rested for the tournament, it could kill you." Draco said seriously. "People have died before competing in this. And you'll need to be at your peak in order to survive. So, for the love of Merlin, take a Sleeping Draught. You can get one from Pomfrey."

"And then she'll ask Dad what's wrong and why I needed one and he'll flip."

"No, she won't. Patient confidentiality."

"I thought that only applied to Healers."

"Pomfrey is a Healer, dunderhead!"

"Oh." Now Harry felt stupid.

"Or, if you don't want to do that, you could always ask Uncle Phil to send you to sleep using his vampire gaze. He did that to me when Pansy cursed me."

Harry sighed. "Then I'd have to explain to him what's bothering me."

"Harry, mind if I ask you a question?"

"Go ahead."

"What is bothering you?"

Harry bit his lip. "All the publicity. I really hate it. Drives me nuts. I feel like I'm being watched all the time, and even when I don't say anything, Skeeter still finds things to write about me. Yesterday she interviewed one of the Creevy kids and he told her about Katie and me, and next thing I know I've got the front page again."

"I know, it's rough." Draco said sympathetically. "It was that way for me too after the trial. All these reporters wanting to know how I felt, what I thought, they tried everything they could think of to get me to talk to them, and when I refused, they just made up stuff. Skeeter tried to interview me the other day."

Harry eyed his brother warily. "What did you say?"

"That my dad always said not to talk to strangers," Draco grinned. "Then I walked off."

Harry burst out laughing. "That was brilliant!"

"That's me. Anything else?"

"Well, of course I'm nervous about the tournament. I keep imagining all sorts of nasty things about the first task and wonder if I'll be up to it."

"Hmm. I think you'll be able to complete whatever they throw at you, Harry. You're strong in magic and you know things no other student here does. Like kin-sa-dor. And swordplay. And we've been practicing Defense with the dueling club and dad almost every night this week. Don't sweat it, little brother. You'll be fine. You're a Snape, and you're the best wizard in the tournament."

Draco's words made him feel ten times better. "Thanks, Dragon."

"Anytime, Harry. Now come on, before we miss lunch."

Harry took Draco's advice and asked Madame Pomfrey for a Sleeping Draught. She gave it to him without asking any awkward questions, to his vast relief. But his good mood didn't last long. He started to look at the way the other champions were handling the pressure and felt he was sorely lacking in composure.

Fleur acted as if all this were beneath her, she was haughty and serene. Cedric took everything in stride, and never seemed to mind the crowds of people about him. And Krum lapped up the attention, posing for shots and agreeing to any and all interviews, he was used to such attention because he was a big Quidditch star.

Harry wondered if it was just not in his nature to enjoy being in the limelight. Like his father, there were things in his past that he did not want anyone to discover, and he liked his privacy. That Skeeter woman was like a leech, sucking him dry to the marrow, trying to delve into the darkest parts of his past.

Only the time spent with his family at night or Katie during the afternoon seemed to relieve the pressure upon him. With his family he could just be himself and it was the same with Katie. He loved being with the Gryffindor Chaser because she never asked him about the tournament, what he expected or if he were nervous. She was sensitive to his moods and when he was with her he could leave the world behind and just enjoy himself.

They could often be found playing about on their brooms on the Quidditch pitch, he playing her position of Chaser and she of Seeker for variety, laughing and joking. Harry soon learned not to underestimate her, for she had the Gryffindor daring in full measure, and could do maneuvers that made his hair stand on end.

"Come on, fly-boy, beat this!" was her battlecry, and Harry did his best to try.

It was fun competing with her for the fun of it, without worrying about scoring or the Quidditch Cup. He had never realized just how much fun it was to simply play for the love of the game until then.

And even better than that was taking her in his arms afterwards and kissing her breathless. She loved to play with his hair, running her fingers through the silky strands. "You're so sexy, Harry Snape," she would purr and he would laugh and kiss her pert nose.

Once he caught Krum staring at them after one such snogging session and it made him feel uncomfortable—defensive and prickly. "What are you looking at?"

Krum had shrugged and smiled insolently. "Vell, it seems you are hardly old enough to date, and yet you have a girl. I vas wondering how it vas possible."

Before Harry could reply, Katie did so. "It's possible because Harry's not a glory seeking prat like you, Krum." Then she took her boyfriend by the arm and strode off towards the castle.

Harry was grinning the whole way. "I can't believe you told him off that way!"

"Why? I call them like I see them, and he's so full of himself I'm surprised he doesn't blow up like a balloon and explode. Guess that's what happens when you let fame go to your head."

"Then it doesn't bother you that he's this big Quidditch star and you just insulted him to his face?"

"No. He might be good at flying, but his attitude stinks. I hope you kick his arse when the tournament starts, Harry. C'mon, fly boy, I have to study for my Advanced potions and I need someone to quiz me."

"At the back of the library?"

"Yes. That's the quietest spot."

After going back to their dorm to put away their brooms and get Katie's potions text, they headed off to the library.

Meanwhile, Ron, Crabbe, and Goyle were sitting in the shadow of Hagrid's hut, just beyond the gamekeeper's pumpkin patch, studying a book Ron had snitched from the twins titled A Guy's Guide to Gaining a Beautiful Girlfriend. It suggested several ways that an awkward or shy or totally clueless boy might be able to snag a pretty girl, or any girl that caught his fancy.

"All right. Now what does it say about talking to her?" Crabbe asked Ron, whose turn it was to read a chapter. "How can you quit not being able to speak when you see her? Or sound like a blithering idiot?"

"I dunno," Ron said.

"Read the book, Weasley, you dolt!" cried Goyle.

"Oh. Right." Ron blushed. "Uh . . .it says to think about what you want to say before you say it. That way you won't trip over your words. Don't stare at her for too long, and let her start talking about something first and then reply to it, that way you won't feel awkward since you have something to talk about. Tell her she's pretty or compliment her in some way, but don't make statements that are untrue. Girls hate liars."

"Okay . . .I think I can remember that," Goyle said, a bit uncertainly.

"Does it say anything about stuff girls like to get from you?" asked Crabbe.

"Uh . . let me see . . " Ron flipped the pages.

They discovered that most girls like simple and honest gifts, like flowers, or a poem, or some kind of cute stuffed animal, or maybe a dinner out in some restaurant. A book if she liked to read, some jewelry if she liked that. Try and find a gift that fit her interests.

"When introducing yourself to a girl for the first time . . .look her in the eye and speak naturally. Smile and tell her your name," Goyle read the next chapter.

"That doesn't sound too hard," Ron said, but he was immediately assailed with doubts. What if he went to introduce himself to the girl of his dreams and he ended up forgetting his name because he was so awed by her beauty. Had that ever happened before? He could see it happening to him.

"Okay. Now we just need to find some girls." Crabbe stated. "Where do we look?"

Ron and Goyle exchanged mutual glances of exasperation. "Well, Vince, since we're not in a monastery, I'd say there are plenty of girls right here." Goyle said.

"And don't forget, there are some new girls here from that fancy French school," Ron reminded them. "And you know what they say about French women. They're hot!"

"Aye, that Fleur is part veela." Crabbe said. "Sweet Merlin! But she would never look twice at a bloke like me."

The others agreed glumly that the same was true for them.

"But it can't hurt to look, now can it?" Ron said.

They stood up, brushing the grass and leaves off their robes and went to walk back towards the castle, where they found a bunch of Beauxbatons girls gathering at the lake.

Ron looked them over and saw a pretty blond-haired girl smiling and laughing with two other girls. He recognized her as Fleur and the other two were also quite attractive. One was a dark-haired girl with huge eyes the color of whiskey, fringed with long lashes, she was not willow-thin, but was well-rounded, as his mum liked to say. He felt his mouth go dry.

Wow! She's really sweet looking. I like . . .I really like.

He tried to remember what the book had said about introductions, but the advice muddled in his head, and he finally just decided to act casual and say hi.

So he stuck his hands in his robes, after first casting a Neaten-Up charm over himself, that way she wouldn't notice how sweaty they were, and headed over to the lake. He whistled casually, until she glanced up and looked at him and then he stopped abruptly, making a kind of "Eeep!" noise that he tried to turn into a cough, swallowed wrong, and then ended up coughing for real.

As he struggled for air, he felt a cool hand on his back and a soft voice muttered, "Easy there. Stop fighting and just . . .breathe."

Her voice, which was like rich velvety chocolate, brought him back and he calmed enough to take a decent breath.

"Are you all right?" she said, her voice had a very faint accent, just enough to sound slightly exotic.

"Err . . .yes . . .I just . . .swallowed too fast . . umm . ."

He looked up and right into the loveliest pair of whiskey-colored eyes.

"Wow!"

She looked puzzled. "What is it?"

"You . . .your eyes . . .err . . .I mean . . .they're really . . .uh . . .interesting." As soon as he said that, he wanted to kick himself. Hard. Idiot! You're supposed to introduce yourself before you give her a compliment.

"Oh. Yes, well, I get them from my grandfather. He was Rom."

"Rom? I thought you were French."

She giggled. "I am Breton, from Brittany, and also part Romany . . .Gypsy, you would say." She tossed her mane of nightdark curls and gave him a sweet smile.

She smiled at me! At me! He felt his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth. "Oh. That's nice."

"Thanks! And you are?"

"Umm. . . I'm a Gryffindor and . . .my name is . . ." To his horror, he found he could not remember who he was. Dear sweet Merlin! Maybe that choking fit caused brain damage! I've suffered memory loss! George always said I'd lose my mind someday. But she was looking at him, waiting for him to speak. " . . .George . . .I mean Ron . . .I'm Ron Weasley." He managed to take his hand out of his pocket, give her a smile that he was sure made him look like a sick pig, and said, "Pleased to meet you . . ."

"Zara." She replied, taking his hand. "Zara Racette. I am happy to make your acquaintance, Ron. Or is it George?"

"N-No. George is my brother. I just . . . was thinking about him before . . .I mean . . .just ignore me, I'm babbling."

"Not at all. I find you quite . . .how do you say it . . .ah . . .charming. Yes?"

He nearly swallowed his tongue. "You . . .do?"

"Oui. Very much so . . .and cute as well!"

"R-really? Well, I think you are too." He blushed. "Uh . . .what year are you?"

"How old am I?"

"Yes."

"I am fourteen."

"Me too!" He couldn't believe how lucky he was. He was actually talking to a girl and she was the same age and actually thought he was cute!

She looked over at Crabbe and Goyle, who were hovering like immense brids of prey further back. "Who are your friends?"

"Uh . . .they're Vince Crabbe and Greg Goyle. They're uh . . .sort of shy." He nearly hit himself in the forehead. Good going, Weasley! Now they're going to kill you!

But Zara laughed, not unkindly. "Oh? Then perhaps Gabrielle Marchant and Jeannette Arnaud could help them, oui?" Then she called over two more girls, a sweet-looking golden-haired one and an auburn-haired perky one and whispered to them. In two minutes flat, the girls had gone up to Crabbe and Goyle and introduced themselves.

Wow! It really worked! Ron beamed, feeling like he was floating on air. "Uh, Zara? Would you . . .would you like to go to Hogsmeade for a butterbeer?"

"Hogsmeade? You mean the village beyond the castle?"

"Yeah. There's a place called The Three Broomsticks there. They serve the best drinks there—hot and cold. And also have great fish and chips and sausage and onions. Would you . . .like to come?"

"Bien sur!" she exclaimed. "It will be . . .how you say . . .an adventoor, yes?"

"It sure will!" Ron said, and he gave her his most dazzling smile. A date! I finally have a date! That's so . . .incredible. Now I just have to make sure I have enough Sickles and Knuts to pay for everything. He dug into his pocket and to his relief found the ten Sickles he had won off of George betting him that Snape wouldn't take points from Gryffindor from the brawl after the fact. Hogsmeade, here I come! With the gorgeous Zara!

Slytherin dormitory

Two nights later:

" . . .start, cart, mart, part . . .Merlin! None of these are any good!" A frustrated Goyle threw his twentieth parchment ball across the room. "Draco, what rhymes with heart?"

Draco rolled over, picked up a shoe from beside his bed and lobbed it at his friend.

"OW!" Greg yelled. He rubbed the back of his head. "What the hell was that for?"

"Greg, just shelve the blasted poetry for now and go to sleep!" growled Draco. "Before I make you rhyme a word with "dead", because if you don't shut up, that's how you're going to feel in about two seconds."

"Okay, Draco. Sorry."

Draco shoved his head back under his pillow and yanked the bed hangings closed. Merlin, but I wish they never discovered those Beauxbatons girls! It's like living with two stupid horny dogs! He groaned and punched his pillow, trying in vain to fall asleep. All they do is talk about Jeannette and Gabrielle, and how they adore them. I hope I never acted that way when I first started going out with 'Mione. Otherwise I'd have hexed myself.

While Draco was cursing his roommate's preoccupation with girls, Phil was tracking Karkaroff and Madame Maxime. It was unusual to see those two together and Phil had immediately become suspicious. Something was up and he was determined to find out what was going on. He trailed the two with no more noise than the wind, veiled to the max, his fangs showing briefly over his bottom lip.

They crept cautiously from the castle, looking about furtively before leaving, and then they made their way down past Hagrid's hut to a large clearing a few feet into the Forbidden Forest. Madame Maxime was panting slightly by the time they arrived.

"What is so important, Igor, that you had to pull me away from my dessert?"

"This. Take a look," the tall wizard gestured grandly with his fur-collared robe to a series of cages set in a semi-circle. In front of them were several wizards wearing the leather garments of Animal Keepers with the insignia of a paw upon their uniforms. Their organization favored human treatment for many magical creatures, even the large predators.

As the large Headmistress of Beauxbatons leaned over to peer in the cages, Philip glided around the side and took a peek at what magical creatures were inside. His violet eyes widened in shock at what he saw.

In the first cage prowled a large manticore, its scorpion tail lashing restlessly against the bars, great lion paws flexing and clawing the bottom of the roomy cage. In the cage was a raw haunch of beef, but the manticore was not interested in eating right then. It had a curiously human-like face, but its lips wrinkled back to reveal rows of gleaming fangs the size of a lion's. Bat wings rustled angrily, clearly it did not want to be confined and it snarled low in its throat warningly.

Madame Maxime got a hairsbreadth too close and the manticore roared loudly and tried to savage her with a paw.

She drew back, clutching her wand. "Savage beast!"

"Indeed. But not the worst. Come, see the others." Karkaroff smiled slightly. "These are what our champions will face two days hence. They will draw replicas from a bag to see which creature they face. That was Dumbledore's idea. Fair play." The Durmstrang wizard sneered. "Stupid old fart! The tournament is not about fair, it's about winning!"

Maxime looked concerned. "Zurely you are not pro-posing that ze cheat?"

"Bah! It's not cheating to give our champions a little edge. I'm sure Dumbledore has already told his two." Karkaroff laughed bitterly. Then he led the large witch to the next enclosure.

This one appeared more like a forest verge and it had a large glowing net over it to prevent the chimera dozing upon the rock beneath the shade of a conjured elm from escaping. The goat and lion heads were snoring loudly and the snake tail was curled about the leonine body, resting.

"A chimera! They are tre terrible!"

"Yes, and it breathes fire too. A great test for a young wizard. Perhaps Potter or Diggory will draw this one."

In another cage was a huge black hound the size of a pony with glowing red eyes and jaws like a shark's. It was wearing a golden collar and it growled threateningly at the two wizards, lunging up against the bars, spittle dripping from its jaws.

"And this one?"

Phil stiffened. How did they come by a darkhound? They are native to the Faerie Realm. Has someone been dealing with the Unseelie? For only they keep darkhounds as pets and sell them to the highest bidder.

Darkhounds were very strong and could blend into their surroundings, but their most deadly ability was being able to teleport at will. They could only be constrained by a collar with a charm of binding or a certain kind of spell barrier. And they lived to shed blood and feast upon the remains of their victims.

Igor told her of the darkhounds with relish and had the satisfaction of seeing the big woman go pale and make a sign to avert evil.

"Come, now, Maxime! This is not even the worst of what is here. Close though."

The final enclosure was decked out like a pricy boudoir, with a large satiny cushion and curtains and a soft comforter. Coiled upon the pink cushion was a most bizarre beast. Its lower half was that of a giant snake, its upper half that of a voluptuous woman. She was humming and combing her hair out, her face relaxed as she ran the comb through. Every so often, a forked tongue slipped out between her teeth.

She looked up from her task, spied the other wizards and hissed, "Come to gawk, have you? Perhaps you should join me." She gave Igor a sultry smile, showing long fangs, though her teeth were otherwise much like his own. "Wouldn't you like that, little wizard?" she said, practically oozing charm.

Igor gulped and started to walk forward, plainly enchanted by the creature's voice. "Yes . . .yes . . " He drew nearer the cage.

Maxime grabbed him and shook him roughly, lifting him off his feet. "Snap out of it, you fool! She's bewitching you, dolt! Accursed lamia!" She shook her fist at the lamia and dragged Karkaroff away.

Phil, though he was not affected by the lamia's coercion spell, felt a shudder run through him. This was one of the deadliest creatures in both realms, a demon made flesh that lived to eat the flesh and souls of children.

:Are they mad?: Smidgen blinked into view and stared in horror at the lamia. :To summon such as that as a task? They rouse what is best left undisturbed in the lower pits of hell!:

Aye, dreamweaver. The lamia is a terrible opponent, even worse, in its way, as a dragon. For the lamia is immortal, and cannot be slain unless it is on its home plane. Phil hissed, the evil aura radiating from the monster making his skin crawl.

:But it can be banished.:

True. But only by a master sorcerer skilled in breaking Dark curses and the like. None of the children have that kind of experience or time to learn any. The best they can do is try and avoid her or hurt her so badly that she ceases to attack.

:Whose idea was it to entrap these creatures?:

I believe the wizard called Crouch agreed to it.

:He is a fool then! What shall we do about this, Phil? Harry must not be allowed to face these monsters without preparation. We must warn him, even if it's against the rules.:

It is not, since the other two plan on doing just that. But first we must tell Severus.

Smidgen blinked away back to the dungeons and after a moment, Phil tore off running, using his vampiric speed to get to the dungeons in under two minutes.

"Have they lost their bloody stinking MINDS!" Severus vented when the shimmerling and the vampire had told him what they had discovered. "A manticore, a chimera, a darkhound, and a lamia? Those would be dangerous tasks for an adult wizard, let alone mere children, of age or not!"

The Potions Master rose and paced his quarters, too agitated to sit still, his black robes rustling about his ankles.

"Does Albus know about this?" he paced about much like the manticore, and if he had a tail, Smidgen was sure he'd be lashing it furiously. "Of course he does," he answered his own question a moment later. "Nothing happens in the tournament without the old man's approval! Blast and damn!" he clutched the medallion under his shirt hard. The manticore, chimera, and darkhound were vicious nasty opponents and not to be taken lightly, but they could be killed. The lamia, however . . .there were few spells he knew that could thwart such a creature and of them, all of them were beyond his son's level of skill. "They are insane, expecting students to stand up to a lamia! The Devourer of All Children! What defense will they have against that?"

"Not a very good one," Phil replied grimly. "But Harry does have one advantage the others don't, Sev."

"What's that? His reckless courage?"

"No. His Amulet of Inheritance." Phil replied. "That amulet was forged in the Seelie Court, by magesmiths."

:Yes, you are right Tall, Dark, and Sexy! The amulet protects against dark auras and such, it will protect Harry against the lamia's coercion and her hypnotic gaze.: Smidgen agreed.

"And what about her lightning speed, she moves like a serpent, and can also spit venom like a cobra," Severus pointed out.

"Can you make a potion that will proof against snake venom?"

"Yes, against ordinary venom, but a lamia is ten times more potent," Severus fretted. "I can only try. If I succeed, I can give some to all the participants, that will at least save them from dying from poison."

"All of them?" Phil raised an eyebrow.

"Yes, they are children, and their lives are not pawns upon a chessboard." Severus snapped. "Bloody tournament!"

"Will you tell Harry, or shall I?" asked Phil.

Severus considered. "If I am to brew the anti-venom, I need all of my free time. Plus I am not sure I could maintain my composure. Would you mind?"

"Not at all," Phil reassured. "There may even be a few sword moves I can teach him before he faces the creatures on Tuesday."

"I would be eternally grateful, Philip."

"It is no trouble, Sev. We shall discuss it tomorrow."

:And I shall keep an eye on the others, especially Karkaroff.: Smidgen sent. :I don't trust that one as far as I can spit. There is something evil and dishonorable about him.:

"Thank you, Smidgen," Snape said sincerely. "And now, I must go and brew."

"Again! Thrust with your full weight behind the blade, Harry!" Philip reprimanded, his face stern and set. "Without that you won't be able to penetrate her hide if you have to. Do it over!"

Harry sighed, wiped the sweat off his brow, and repositioned himself in front of the practice dummies, which were shaped like the different mythological creatures he would face soon. He had known that Phil could be a tough taskmaster when it was warranted, but never had he worked Harry so hard. They had been three hours in the Room of Requirement after supper and Harry was feeling utterly exhausted. But Phil had not called a halt yet and he wasn't about to disgrace himself and ask to stop. He was the heir to Prince Manor and he needed to learn to fight in order to survive (and maybe win) the Triwizard Tournament.

Phil had told him of the creatures he might face and also about Severus brewing the anti-venom. The vampire had stressed the need for Harry to be physically at his peak, alert and ready for anything. His uncle had practiced kin-sa-dor maneuvers with him as well as the sword, telling him that the martial arts could be used against all the creatures if needed.

"I know they all expect you to use magic alone to defend yourself, but you have an advantage in knowing armed and unarmed combat, and you shouldn't waste it. These creatures won't hesitate to kill you, Harry, so you must play to your strengths and be ready for anything."

"Constant vigilance, like Moody says?"

"Yes. Or, as my old swordmaster used to say, watch your back, watch your sides, and for God's sake watch the damn person in front of you. Battle is a quarter skill, a quarter luck and half up to the grace of God. I have never forgotten that advice. It has saved me many times. Now I tell it to you. Learn what I teach and you will come out of there Tuesday alive and whole."

Harry took his uncle's words to heart and so did not whine when Phil ordered him to practice the thrust and parry again and again. He ached, he was tired, but that was to be expected. He knew he would feel a lot worse if a chimera breathed upon him, or a manticore stung him with its tail, or a darkhound bit him, or a lamia ripped him apart.

At last Phil called a halt, said that Harry had improved a little, and that he should go take a shower and sleep. They would have more sessions like this until Tuesday and Phil also told him about his amulet giving him protection against most dark creatures, especially demon-kind, like the lamia.

"However, that does not mean you should get cocky or overconfident, Mr. Snape. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," said Harry respectfully, then he went to put away his practice blade. "Thank you, Uncle Phil."

The vampire chuckled wickedly. "You're welcome, lad. Though I'd wager my best horse you won't be thanking me tomorrow morning. Good night, Harry."

"Night, Uncle Phil," Harry said, then he left for Gryffindor Tower.

Monday night Severus made Harry sleep in his quarters and take a Sleeping Draught before bed. He knew his son would remain awake the whole night else and that was not what he needed. Harry did not bothering protesting, when Severus got that particular look in his eye, he would not budge if the sky were falling down.

Tuesday morning dawned, and Harry drank the anti-venom Severus gave him, it tasted like cold tea and nothing more. He had gone and given Cedric his dose a few days ago and told him about the four mythological creatures they would face. Cedric had thanked him and Harry had shrugged and told him he owed him one for sticking up for him that day against the other students. Fair was fair and a Snape always paid his debts.

The first task was scheduled for the afternoon, and they made everyone go to class and lunch before going to gather upon the Quidditch pitch. Harry and the other three champions were let out of class early to pose for pictures and be interviewed again by Skeeter. Harry endured all of the publicity stoically, counting the minutes till he was to face the living myths.

Draco, Ron, Hermione, and Katie had all wished him good luck beforehand and so had his father. But his hands were now clammy and sweat trickled down his back. Sure wish I had one of Dad's Stomach Calming Elixirs right now. Good thing I hardly ate luch, otherwise I'd be leaving it all over the ground.

Finally, the interview session was over and the champions were led into a tent where Ludo Bagman awaited them. "Hullo, everyone! All set for the big match? Good!" He beamed congenially at all of them.

Fleur looked haughty, Krum had a scowl on his face, and Cedric smiled back at him politely. Harry tried, but feared he only looked like he had gas and not eager to face the task ahead.

Bagman cleared his throat. "Now then, the rules for this task are as follows. You must find a way to get past a certain creature and retrieve a small gilded scroll case where it is lying upon the ground. That scroll case contains a clue to the second task . . .if you survive the first one that is." Here he chuckled. "A little joke, sorry. You may use any means at your disposal to defeat the creature, but please refrain from killing it if you can. Some of these species are endangered and rare."

"What are they?" asked Fleur.

"You will find that out in good time. Points will be given for creativity and effectiveness of spellcasting and reaction time and how quickly you retrieve the scroll case. The judges will give you a score based upon those things and the one with the highest score will win this round. If you fail to retrieve the scroll case or are too badly injured, you will be disqualified. Are you all ready then?"

The four champions nodded.

"Good. Reach into this bag here and pull out what you find there," Ludo said, picking up a large scarlet silk sack. "Ladies first, Miss Delacour."

Fleur reached into the bag and pulled out a replica of a darkhound.

Cedric was next, and he drew the manticore.

Krum drew the chimera, which left Harry with the lamia.

His heart pounding, he cupped the small figurine of the lamia with its odd serpent body and reminded himself that this was what Phil had been training him for. He would succeed.

"Wait here until you hear your name called, then come out. I shall inform the others of your opponents."

All too soon they heard Dumbledore announce, "Will Viktor Krum step forward? You are to battle a chimera."

Scattered applause followed as Viktor stepped out of the tent. Harry wondered if he could be last again.

One by one the others were called and Harry could not tell how well they did, for the crowd screamed and applauded so loudly, they rivaled the snarls and growls of the beasts. From the sounds, he thought the others had managed to complete their tasks. Finally, Harry was the only one left in the tent, and it was then Phil appeared, holding a sheathed rapier.

"Harry, I don't have long, but I figured you could use this. Keep it in here since you are not supposed to carry weapons into the arena, but you may summon it to you later." He set the sword down. "Remember, strike with your full weight behind the blow, no hesitation. Or else she will have you. Use what you have learned and you will be fine. Remember, you are the heir to Prince Manor and the blood of kings runs in your veins." He gave the nervous wizard a hug, clapping him on the back. "Merlin go with you, nephew."

Harry straightened and gave Phil a brave smile. "Thank you, uncle. Tell Dad not to worry too much."

The vampire grinned. "I will."

Then he vanished just as Dumbledore called Harry's name. Harry squared his shoulders, centered himself, and walked out, the black cloak with the number four rustling about his ankles.

The roar of the crowd was deafening, and for an instant he could not hear himself breathe. But he focused upon the enclosure where the lamia was sitting, eyeing him with interest. She had a strange smile upon her face, one that gave Harry the chills. The lamia was oddly beautiful, her dark emerald hair shimmered in the sun and she was voluptuous, her top half covered by a diaphanous shirt, her lower half was a snake, with patterned green, black, and red scales.

Hundreds of faces peered down at him and he felt like a goldfish in a bowl, but then he focused upon his enemy and stepped through the gap, wand at the ready to summon the rapier.

But as his feet entered the enclosure, the lamia turned the full force of her gaze upon him and he slowed. Time seemed to stop and he was frozen, and suddenly the lamia vanished and he saw his mother, reaching out to him with both hands imploringly.

"Mum?" he murmured, trying to think past the fog in his head. Why was everything so misty, so confusing?

There was a burning sensation upon his chest. Sharp and annoying, he reached up to scratch it and his hand closed over the Amulet of Inheritance. Instantly Lily was gone and he could see the lamia, swaying back and forth in a hypnotic pattern, her top and bottom halves undulating in a mesmerizing dance.

A Glamour! But glamours don't work on the fae and I am of the Prince-Valinek line. The lamia was drawing closer now, in the space of a minute she had come the length of the thirty-foot enclosure, and her smile widened, revealing long fangs like that of a deadly viper.

"Come to me, little one," she sang, crooning an ancient lullaby. "Come and let me hold you."

Harry shuddered, her voice was like silk, and all at once he recalled Phil's instructions. Don't listen to her song, it can beguile, and once she has you in her arms, you will be hers for eternity in death. He quickly cast a Muffling charm and the seductive voice was blotted out.

He chanted a quick Shield Charm. "Protego!"

The lamia hissed, her face twisted into a hate-filled smirk, and spat out a long viscous green stream of venom.

It struck the shield Harry had erected and bounced off.

The crowd screamed and cheered. Then Harry was moving, circling to the right, as the lamia uncoiled and lunged at him, her hands growing three-inch claws that she wielded like scythes.

Once, twice, the charm repelled them, but Harry could feel it fading, the claws were magic, and each strike weakened the shield. On the fourth strike the shield collapsed, but Harry had known it would and sprang up, twisting his body in midair and kicking out with his left foot in the kin-sa-dor move known as the Gryphon's Strike.

His foot caught the lamia square in the jaw, rocking her back upon her tail, though she was not knocked out like a normal person would have been. Dazed, she shook her head, screeching.

"Holy Merlin!" exclaimed Bagman. "I've never seen anything like that! Where did he learn that maneuver?"

Harry ignored Bagman's voice, instead landing lightly upon his feet, and crying, "Accio rapier!"

Like an arrow from a bow, the rapier shot out of the tent and sailed into the boy's hand, Harry caught it instinctively, without even looking. He quickly yanked off the sheathe and faced the angry demon serpent again.

"Come on, snake-face! You want a piece of me?" The lamia snarled. "Come and get me!"

Harry set his feet firmly, just as Phil had taught him. Then he watched the lamia's eyes and chest, seeing the eyes glitter with fury and the chest tense just before she flung herself on top of him.

"I shall strip the bones from your flesh, foolish child, and feast upon them!"

Harry thrust upwards hard.

The rapier slid into the lamia's breast like a hot knife into butter.

The demon screamed, and Harry stepped back, yanking the blade out of her.

Black blood flowed from the lamia sluggishly, and she writhed, spitting venom and curses upon the young wizard.

Harry ran past her to the golden scrollcase which rested upon a pillow, but just as his fingertips touched the object, it vanished in a puff of smoke.

The crowd gasped. What was this?

Harry gaped, then whirled about at the lamia's mocking laugh. Harry, you idiot! Remember, she's a fae creature, master of illusion! It was a trick!

The lamia waved her tail mockingly, and Harry then saw the scroll case held tightly in her tail.

"Looking for this, little boy? Come and get it!"

The wound in her torso had almost closed, he saw in horror. Then she reared back and sent more streams of venom at him.

Now he blessed the hours he had spent with Phil and Severus, working on dodging missiles and footwork.

He skipped neatly away and around the venomous spittle, which left burning holes where it struck the earth.

Strategy, Harry. Use your head. He panted, trying to think of a way he could get the case without getting too near her. He did not know if he would get lucky enough to stab her a second time, now that she had been wounded she was wary.

The object is to get the scroll case. I need a diversion.

He lowered the rapier and began to wave his wand about, seeming as if he were casting some kind of spell. The lamia's eyes were now watching his wand hand.

Harry concentrated and non-verbally summoned the scroll case.

Distracted, the lamia did not feel the sharp invisible tug upon the case until it was already halfway out of her grip and by then it was too late.

The case hurtled through the air and Harry stuck his wand up his sleeve and caught it in midair just the way he did the Snitch.

The crowd went wild, screaming and cheering.

Harry smiled, for he had done it. He had completed the first task.

He backed slowly away from the lamia and towards the enclosure entrance, rapier held at the ready.

"A blight upon thee, little wizardling!" she hissed, and shot towards him.

Harry stepped back, sword held in a classic stance, and the lamia twisted hard to avoid the shining silver blade, anathema to her kind.

Harry lunged once more and felt the rapier's tip pierce the serpent part of the demon's body.

The lamia howled and shrank away, but her claw lashed out, catching Harry alongside the cheek.

It left a stinging scratch that made his face go numb, but he ignored it.

Harry released the rapier then, leaving it embedded in the lamia, and sprinted the last two feet to the entrance and through the gap.

"Now that's what I call a face-off!" Bagman cheered. "Who taught him how to fight that way?"

Harry paused outside the enclosure, one hand going to his throbbing cheek, which was now bleeding and burning fiercely. He still clutched the scroll case in his other hand. His breath was coming in panting gasps as the adrenaline rush drained out of him.

Back in the arena, the lamia had managed to pull out the rapier and snap it in two.

She seemed to grow to ten times its size, looming over the enclosure, mouth agape, venom flecking her fangs. "Filthy fae-child! How dare thee strike me?"

The furious demon uncoiled with the swiftness of its cobra brethren and made for the entrance.

Bagman shouted, "Hold! Get back!" He made a complicated pass with his wand, and a glowing barrier sprang up.

The lamia struck it, sparks flew all over, and then she began to come through, laughing in triumph.

Everyone gasped in horror.

Harry backed away, terror shooting through him. Why wasn't the lamia becoming subdued?

"Ludo, what are you doing?" shouted Crouch. "You told me you could control the thing!"

"I . . .I could. I don't know why it's not working!" Bagman shouted, panicked. He shouted the spell again, but it fizzled and died.

In another moment the lamia would be free, and once free, would be able to kill all in her path. "Venegeance is mine, wizards!"

She wriggled halfway through the entrance, Ludo's barrier crackling but not halting her. "So many children, so little time!"

McGonagall, standing next to Severus, pointed her wand and transfigured a small pebble into a massive rock face in front of the lamia.

But the lamia sneered and slithered quick as a thought up it.

"She's escaping!" screamed Rita Skeeter. "Do something—anything!"

There was pandemonium up in the stands, as students tried to leave and were nearly trampled.

Dumbledore quickly cast a Calming Charm over them, and cried, "Everyone, remain where you are, please! Do not panic!"

Back in front of the enclosure, Crouch was screaming at Bagman, "Banish her, you idiot! Quickly!"

"I-I'm trying!" sputtered Ludo, panicking.

"Allow me."

Snape shoved the stuttering incompetent idiot aside and faced the lamia, who had slithered right down the conjured rock face. His amulet burned and glowed as he faced the serpent demon.

The lamia checked sharply. "Accursed fae blooded sorcerer!" She shielded her eyes from the amulet's fierce glow. "Ahhh!"

Severus pointed his wand and cried sharply, "Get thee hence, demon! I, Severus Snape, banish thee back to the hell you were spawned from! Licentia, Diabola!"

A glowing silver streak exploded from the ebony wand, struck the lamia and illuminated the cringing half-serpent creature. She screamed, writhing, but to no avail. A glittering portal appeared above her and sucked her through, sealing itself shut an instant later.

Snape's face was the color of parchment, mute testimony to how much the spell had cost him to cast. He swayed upon his feet for an instant, exhaustion sweeping through him, but managed to remain upright. He could collapse later. There was a fool that needed the hide flayed off him first.

"Wow, Snape, that was simply amazing!" Bagman gushed. "How—"

"Shut up, you twit!" Severus whirled upon the other wizard, his eyes blazing. "What kind of idiot summons a lamia without knowing how to banish it? Around hundreds of children? Do you know what would have happened if she had gotten free completely? Do . . .you?"

He was practically spitting, and he confronted Bagman nearly nose to nose, and Bagman cringed and cowered away from the furious Potions Master like a misbehaving first-year. "I . . .I thought I had her under control, Snape! Really!"

"You thought? Next time, Bagman, leave the thinking to those who still have brains in their heads," sneered Severus. "You are lucky I know how to banish demons, or else there would have been deaths today in your precious tournament! Or don't you know that a lamia's main food source is children? Eaten alive, fool! What were you thinking, bringing one into this world to be faced by a child? We banished them for a reason!"

Ludo went green and gulped sharply. "But . . .but I thought that was just a legend . . .I didn't really believe . . ."

"Next time, do your research!" snarled Snape. "Incompetent bungler! Stick to playing Quidditch!"

He spun away from the other wizard so he would not be tempted to hex him into a puddle of pond slime.

Then his eyes fell upon his son, his hand pressed to his bloody cheek. "Harry! You're bleeding. Let me see."

He rushed over to his son.

"I'm fine, Dad, don't fuss—ow!" he yelped as Severus tilted his face up and probed the scratch.

"Your entire cheek is swollen and turning purple." Severus stated. "Come, let's get you to the hospital tent, Harry. Merlin only knows what kind of filth that creature had upon her claws." He took his son firmly by the shoulder and marched him towards the medical tent. "I'm proud of you, son."

Harry smiled through the pain. His father's words were the only reward he needed right then.

My lamia differs from the traditional one in that she can cast spells and spit venom, she is much more dangerous than the one in the Greek myths. If you would like to read about the mythical lamia go to Wikipedia.

Chapter Text

The hospital tent was quiet, and Harry and Severus were the only occupants so far besides Madam Pomfrey, though Severus was quite sure it would fill up as soon as the mess from the stands was cleared up. Even with Albus's Calming Charm, there were sure to be kids injured from panicking. But right then, Poppy was anxiously waiting on Harry. She came forward immediately when she saw them. "Where are you hurt, Mr. Snape?"

"Look at his face, Poppy. The lamia he fought scratched him," Severus replied before Harry could do so.

Poppy tisked and shook her head, muttering something derogatory about the tournament. "Come sit here, Harry." She led him to a camp chair and he sat down. Now that he was off his feet, he felt suddenly exhausted and wanted to do nothing more than sleep. But his face was still hurting and he wanted to know how the other champions had fared against their opponents, but before he could speak, Poppy pressed two fingers to his cheek.

"Ow!"

Severus put a hand on his shoulder comfortingly. "Be still, son."

Poppy waved her wand at him and frowned. "Well, there's some kind of magical infection going on in there, Severus. That's why his cheek is swollen and discolored."

"I figured as much. How will you treat it? A sponge soaked in murtlap and lymetia solution?"

"Precisely." The mediwitch said. "That should work better than a spell. But first, drink this Pain Reliever, Mr. Snape." She handed him a squat vial of potion and he made a face but managed to swallow it. Almost immediately, the throbbing dulled.

Poppy busied herself taking out several small sponges, that looked like ones girls used to remove make-up, and began to mix up murtlap and another kind of solution in a bowl. The liquid thickened slightly, turning a strange blue-green color, and Poppy muttered a Warming Charm on it to heat it a bit. Then she placed the sponges in the bowl and let them sit for a minute, letting them become saturated with the solution.

"Mr. Snape, you need to reach into the bowl, take out a sponge, and place it on your face over the scratch and hold it there for ten minutes. You'll feel a tingling warmth at first. As the infection gets drawn out by the solution, the sponge will change color and become black. I will watch and as soon as the sponge turns black tell you to remove it from your face and put another on and so forth, until all the infection has been drawn out and the swelling should be reduced then also."

Harry reached in the bowl and took out a sponge and pressed it to his cheek. He winced, for the stuff on the sponge stung and tingled but he kept it on there. In another minute, it had stopped tingling and made his face go numb.

Poppy treated various other scrapes and bruises he hadn't even realized he had picked up while he held the sponge to his face, healing them in a trice with spells. Harry looked up at his father, who had remained beside him the entire time. "Dad, shouldn't you be with the other judges? I mean, aren't the scores supposed to be given out?"

"As long as you are injured, I will remain with you. The scores cannot be given until all the champions are present," Severus explained. He gently pulled Harry's head back until it was lying against his chest.

"Is it working?"

"Yes," his father answered after peering at the sponge. "Keep it on there, Harry. You should start to feel a little better soon."

Harry sighed softly but obeyed. He almost fell asleep waiting for the sponge to turn black.

"All right, you can remove the sponge and take a fresh one. That one you can leave on for five minutes," Poppy instructed.

Harry removed the sponge and saw to his astonishment that the formerly white-yellow sponge was now black, as if it had been used to sop up ink. "All that . . .stuff was in me?"

"Yes. Filthy evil creatures, lamias," sniffed the mediwitch. She took the sponge and banished it.

"Dad, how did you know how to banish her?" his son asked.

Severus shrugged. "It's always a good thing to know how to banish demons, Harry. Although the Headmaster better have an explanation for this than usual. You could have been killed!"

"So could the other three, Dad. They had dangerous creatures to fight too."

"True, but they are of age and they chose to participate. You did not." He gently ran his fingers through his son's hair, relieved that Harry had survived the first task. He quietly thanked God and Merlin.

There came a sort of commotion at the tent entrance, and then Draco, Ron, Hermione, and Katie burst in.

"Harry, are you all right?" called Draco, his face creased with worry. "I saw that bloody demon scratch you."

"I'll live," he said. He smiled slightly as he felt a small feline body settle upon his lap and Smidgen's voice whisper in his mind, :Well done, Braveheart! You are a true heir to Prince Manor. For only one with Seelie blood could have withstood the lamia's enchantment. Hail, Prince Harry Snape-Valinek!:

Thanks, Smidgen. He felt a warm glow of pride suffuse him, for the shimmerling's regard meant a great deal to him.

"Oh, Harry! We were so worried about you!" Hermione cried, rushing over to hug him. She glanced up at Professor Snape, who stood behind his son and said in an awe-filled voice, "Professor, the way you banished that . . .lamia, I think it's called . . .was simply . . .amazing! It was like . . .like watching Moses part the Red Sea or . . .or Arthur pull the sword from the stone, sir!"

Astonished, Severus raised both eyebrows. "Miss Granger, surely it was not that miraculous."

"Oh, but it was, sir!" Hermione gushed. "Everyone was going mad up there, it was like pandemonium and people were sure we were going to die and then you came and . . ."

"Just kicked its scaly arse back to hell," Ron finished, also giving the Potions Master a worshipful look. "It was bloomin' awesome."

"Three cheers for Professor Snape and Harry," said Katie, she was bolder than Hermione even, for she hugged and kissed Harry and then dared to hug the professor as well.

And Severus did not say anything, much to the others' shock. At first he had felt as if he were an island in the midst of a very noisy sea of teenagers, but then he felt an unaccustomed feeling of . . .satisfaction start somewhere in the vicinity of his chest and spread outward. Rare it was for any save Slytherins to show this much appreciation for him and it felt good to be recognized for something other than the bat of the dungeons for once.

"Ahem, Miss Bell."

"Oops, sorry, sir!" Katie blushed and drew away, but Harry could tell she was not really sorry at all. She looked down at him. "Harry, your face looks awful. Does it hurt much?"

"Not so much now," he lied gallantly, for it still twinged sharply. "Were any of the others hurt?"

"Diggory got a cut arm from the manticore, didn't move quick enough," Draco reported. "Krum got singed from the chimera but he's all right. And Fleur came out of it with a torn robe." He eyed his brother. "Since you faced the toughest of the lot, looks like you had the worst injury."

"Big surprise there." Ron chuckled. "It wouldn't seem right if Harry didn't get injured at least once a year."

Severus scowled. "A record I am trying to break him of, Mr. Weasley. So please do not encourage him."

Ron flushed and muttered a "Yes, sir."

"I wonder if you'll get your name in the paper, Dad, for being a hero?" Draco asked. "I mean, to banish a lamia is pretty tricky. I don't think Lucius could have done it half as quick, or Dumbledore either."

Severus rolled his eyes. "Enough with the flattery, Draco. You're not getting your Christmas present early."

"Aww . . .Dad!" groaned Draco, playing along.

The others snickered and Draco pretended to glare at them.

Suddenly, a reporter with a camera bust into the tent and went to snap Severus's picture. "Professor Snape, a moment of your time, please. I'm Alan Morris from The Quibbler and I would love to hear your thoughts on your heroic deed today."

"I simply did what any wizard in their right mind with the magic to do so would have done," Snape coughed uncomfortably. "I averted a threat and protected those under my care."

The young reporter scribbled frantically. "That's great, sir. Where did you—?"

"Mr. Morris, now is not the time to do interviews. I am a judge on the panel and as such I have to report back there as soon as my son is healed. Maybe later we can arrange something?"

"Oh, yes. Definitely, sir. Right, later on. Um . . .what time, sir?"

"My office, after dinner." Severus said quickly.

Morris nodded, all starry-eyed, and left, nearly dropping his quill and notepad.

"Looks like you're a celebrity too now, Dad," Harry couldn't resist teasing the other man.

"Oh, joy."

"Time to change your sponge, Harry," Madam Pomfrey reminded him.

Harry repeated the process with the remaining sponges and solution, until his cheek was no longer purple and swollen and all the infection had been drawn out. During that time, Ron filled him in on how the others had battled their mythical monsters.

"You shoulda seen it, Harry. Cedric was the best after you. He conjured some kind of glowing rope and called up his broom and then he threw the loop around it's stinger and wrapped the other part about its front feet and yanked it down on the ground. But then he came close to tie it tighter or something and it slapped him with its paw, but other than that he was great. Got the scroll case in record time."

"Fleur too. She Stunned the darkhound and grabbed the case, but then the dog shook it off, don't ask me how, and grabbed hold of her robe and nearly bit her, but she managed to get away and left it with just a piece of her robe," Draco said.

"Krum wasn't half-bad either. He used some kind of spell that hit the chimera's lion head right in the eye and blinded it," Katie continued. "Then he froze the rear half with a Freezing Hex, but he forgot about the goat head being able to breathe fire and it caught him when he ran past it to grab the case."

"Serves him right, the overconfident booby," Hermione sniffed. "That'll count against him in the standings, right, Professor?"

Snape nodded briefly, examining Harry's cheek again. It was nearly back to normal. The entire procedure had taken fifteen minutes.

As soon as Poppy had pronounced him free to go, Mr. Crouch came by to see how he was getting on. "Everything all right in here, Mr. Snape?"

"Fine, sir," Harry said respectfully.

"We were just leaving," Severus said smoothly.

"Nothing too serious, was it?"

"No, sir, just a scratch," Harry said, it was the truth.

"Good! Good! We'll be moving on now." Crouch chivvied them through the tent and up to the dais where the other champions waited and Severus took a seat on the judges' panel.

"And now, it appears that our champions are safe and sound and have each passed the first task," Bagman announced, using a Sonorous Spell. "Let's see how the judges rated them. Fleur Delacour!"

The French girl waited nervously.

McGonagall shot an 8 into the air in a silvery loop. The Beauxbatons contingent cheered madly.

Next it was Crouch's turn. He gave her an 8 as well.

Then came Bagman. He gave her a 9.

Dumbledore gave her a 9.

Lastly, Snape drew his wand. A silvery 8 hung in the air.

Everyone was cheering and clapping madly.

"Well done, Miss Delacour!" Bagman clapped. "Next up, Mr. Diggory!"

Cedric received 9's from everyone except Bagman, who gave him a 10.

Then it was Krum's turn. He received 7's from McGonagall and Crouch, 8's from Dumbledore and Bagman, and Severus gave him a 5 for not remembering that a chimera's main weapon was fire.

There were hisses and boos from the Durmstrang contingent, and Karkaroff glared daggers at the Potions Master.

Finally it was Harry's turn and everyone waited, still and hushed for the judges' rating.

Dumbledore shot a 9 into the air.

Then McGonagall gave him a 9 as well.

Bagman swirled his wand and out popped a 10.

Ten? Harry frowned. "But . . .I wasn't perfect."

"You survived that she-devil, didn't you?" Cedric reminded him. "That's perfect in my book, Harry. I sure wouldn't have been able to do it."

"Nor I, mon ami," agreed Fleur.

Krum merely grunted and turned away, sulking.

Severus was next. He made one brief motion and a 10 came out of his wand also.

Harry was stunned. He knew, no one better, just how tough his father was on his own. Others might think he favored his son, but Harry knew better.

Cedric did too, for he was gaping like a landed trout.

Up in the stands, Ron, Hermione, Draco, and Katie were screaming, "Go, Harry, go!"

Crouch shot up his rating.

It was a 9.

Harry was now first in the standings.

The others congratulated him, though Krum did it sullenly, clearly he was not accustomed to losing gracefully.

A huge cheer erupted from the stands as they saw the two Hogwarts students were placed one and two.

But it was still anyone's game at this point.

Harry looked down at the scroll case in his hand and wondered what it contained.

He had his answer a few moments later when Mr. Crouch led them into a tent and told them quietly that, "Each case contains a scroll written in a different ancient language. Your task is to translate the scroll, figure out the riddle upon it, and then speak your answer to the creature who invented the Riddle Game during the ancient days. Does anyone know what creature I'm talking about?"

None of them answered for a moment. But Harry was thinking hard. Severus had made him study mythology over the summer and he recalled reading about a Greek myth involving Oedipus and . . ."The Sphinx!" he cried out. "The Sphinx is the creator of riddles."

"Very good, Mr. Snape! I see you've studied your Greek mythology." Crouch said approvingly. "You have until February 24th at half past nine to complete the riddle challenge and speak your answers to the Sphinx."

"Is it a real Spinx, sir?" asked Krum.

"Of course it's real, Mr. Krum!" Crouch said irritably. "We have imported her from Luxor in Egypt, courtesy of Charlie Weasley, who made friends with her there on a trip one year. She is the genuine article, doubt it not."

"What will happen eef we cannot answer ze riddle? Or answer incorrectly?" asked Fleur.

"Then you will be disqualified. Points will be given on how well you translate your scroll and how fast you answer the riddle correctly, or come close to the correct answer. Those who answer correctly will receive the Sphinx's prize of "that which you love best". Only the Sphinx knows the correct answers to the riddles, as it was she who made them up."

That which we love best? What could that be? A person or an object? Wondered Harry.

"If there are no further questions, you may go. Well done and good luck! I assume you will all be spending much time in the library." Crouch waved them off.

Harry left and joined his friends and they all started to walk back to the castle together. As they rounded a clump of trees along the path, a witch jumped out to confront Harry.

It was Rita Skeeter. "Harry, do you have time to give me a word or two? How did it make you feel, completing that task against one of the deadliest creatures alive, a myth made flesh? How do you feel about your scores? Do you feel satisfied? A word if you would?"

Harry drew up short. Then he said, in his most annoyed Snape-like tone, "A word, Ms. Skeeter? I'll give you two—no comment." Then he spun and walked off, flanked by Draco and Ron with Hermione and Katie trailing.

That's telling her, Harry! Katie thought and gave the reporter a glare.

The friends all decided to go out to Hogsmeade to celebrate Harry's success that evening. Their group would include the two brothers, Hermione and Katie, Ron and Zara and Crabbe and Goyle with Jeanette and Gabrielle. But first, they all wanted to get a gander at Harry's scroll.

Harry carefully undid the silver clasps upon it, which were in the shape of a Greek key pattern. He took out the scroll, unrolling it carefully.

Upon the scroll in deep carnelian ink were words that he could not read. "Uh . . .I don't have a clue what language this is in."

Hermione peered over his shoulder.

"Well, genius?" Harry asked after a moment.

"I . . .I think it's Greek. But I'm not one hundred percent sure, Harry."

Ron mimed a heart attack. "You mean there's something you don't know?"

Hermione glared at him. "Ronald, please! Harry, this looks like Greek to me. Only thing is, I can't read it. I never had time to learn Greek before coming to Hogwarts. I chose to learn Latin instead, since most spells are Latin based according to Hogwarts:A History."

"She chose to learn Latin instead," Ron repeated, shaking his head. "Bloody hell!"

Draco cuffed him lightly on the back of the head. "Watch it, Weasley. That's my girlfriend you're making fun of."

"Calm down, Draco. He doesn't mean anything by it," Hermione said. "Like you and Harry don't."

"Oh," Draco felt like an uptight arse now. He threw an apologetic look at Ron.

"So . . .who knows Greek that I can ask if this is the real thing?" Harry wondered.

"Dad might know, but he's a judge and can't help you," sighed his brother.

"What about Uncle Phil?" suggested Katie.

Harry beamed. "Brilliant! I should have thought of that. I mean he's a thousand years old, he must know every language there is."

They were lounging about in Harry's dorm room, having retreated there to get some peace and quiet.

"Not quite every language, Harry," came a dry amused voice and then Phil appeared in the room like a wraith, his violet eyes sparkling. "Though when I was a boy it was required for every wellborn son to learn his Sophocles and Caesar." He walked over and Harry handed him the scroll. "By the way, you fought like a Snape today, Harry. Good job! Looks like I didn't do so bad teaching you after all."

"No, sir. You were how I was able to survive," Harry admitted. "I owe you."

"Nonsense, boy! Family owes no debts," Phil said. Then he examined the scroll. "Hmmm . . .this is a very ancient form of Greek."

"Can you read it, Uncle Phil?" asked Draco.

"Yes, but it's not as easy to read as the Greek I learned. But then, such is the nature of a Riddle Challenge. I suggest you go to the library here and start by trying to find a primer on ancient Greek and go from there."

"But, can't you just . . ." Harry began.

"No. That would be cheating," the vampire said firmly. "Part of a Riddle Challenge is research, Harry."

Harry groaned.

"I can help, Harry," offered Hermione. "I can find the books for you."

"Okay." Harry said. "Listen, I'm kind of tired, so I think I'll take a nap before dinner." He tucked the scroll back in the case and put it in his trunk.

With that, everyone left, except Phil paused to offer some advice. "Harry, you're smart. You have the brains of both your mother and father. You will succeed. I have ever confidence in you."

Then he disappeared, leaving his nephew alone to sleep, knowing that Smidgen was perched upon the top of the bed hangings, weaving peace and pleasant dreams about the heir to Prince Manor.

Headmaster's office

An hour later:

"How is it that you permitted that idiot Bagman to use a lamia as one of the creatures the champions had to face, Albus?" demanded a very angry Severus. "You know what that creature is! How could you allow the demon that devours children here at the school!"

"Severus, please calm down. This tea service is very old, it belonged to my great-great grandmother," Albus began soothingly.

"Who is probably turning in her grave to see the risks you take with your students!" rebuked the furious professor. Oh, but he had had it with Dumbledore's cavalier attitude when it came to such things.

Albus had the grace to look ashamed. "No doubt. I fear I take after my father's side of the family. But I assure you, Severus, that I did take into account that the creatures were properly restrained. And the other creatures were difficult to face, but not impossible. And that is the nature of the tournament. To challenge the wizard both physically and mentally and magically. Ludo had the lamia under a binding while she was inside the enclosure and she did not escape, so it was properly done."

"Because it suited her to remain where she was. His binding was flawed, Albus. Otherwise she never would have been able to shatter it. And then he couldn't even banish her."

"It was an unfortunate oversight on my part, Severus," Albus admitted heavily. "Thank Merlin you were there and reacted as quickly as you did, otherwise the consequences might have been unthinkable."

"Indeed. People might have died. My son might have died."

"I am sorry, old friend. If there were a way I could release Harry from the tournament . . ." Dumbledore looked genuinely distressed, and Severus knew it was not an act. The old archmagus really cared for Harry.

"I know you can't. Any more than I can." Severus admitted bitterly. "I can only watch and pray he comes through this mostly intact. I know as well that Bagman and Crouch are running the damn tournament and you have very little say in what they do with the challenges. But that doesn't make it easier to accept the fact that my son might meet his death in this damn contest."

"I know, my boy. I . . .would be the same if it were my son. Parenthood is never easy, but in the end, it's worth it."

Severus nodded. "Yes. Though there are times I wish I could lock them up in a room somewhere until they're twenty and they've outgrown the need to make me insane."

"Every father's fondest wish," chuckled the Headmaster. "This next task is not physically dangerous. It is a challenge of the mind."

He quickly explained what the task was.

Severus wasn't really happy about it, but since it was too late to kidnap Harry and run away to Prince Manor, he had to accept it. "Make sure the Sphinx is kept under control, Albus. Or else I shall be tempted to Stun you and feed you to a manticore."

"Fear not, Severus. The Sphinx does not kill children, that is a myth. She simply lives to invent and challenge people with riddles. And I know Harry has inherited both yours and Lily's brains. I expect he will do well."

"Yes."

"Tea, Severus? Lemon drop?"

Severus declined the lemon drop but accepted the tea, he really needed something to calm his nerves. Though he refused to admit it or show it, he had been terrified when Harry had faced the lamia and it had broken loose. He still did not know how he remembered the words to that banishment spell. He had almost been too afraid to concentrate properly.

It's over, Snape. Just let it go, he told himself firmly. "What is the third task?" he couldn't resist asking. Curiosity, your name is Severus Snape.

"I do not know." Dumbledore said honestly. "Barty and Ludo prefer to keep me in the dark, I think perhaps they don't trust me."

Severus mumbled something that sounded like, "Imbeciles!" under his breath.

Then he picked up his tea and sipped it, wondering what his offspring were up to.

Severus's sons were currently engaged at a somewhat loud party in The Three Broomsticks. They toasted one another with their glasses and whatever else they happened to drink. They were having a good time, smiling and laughing and simply enjoying themselves, when a tall shadow loomed over them.

Everyone looked up to see Viktor Krum standing there, his hands in his pockets, a sneer upon his face.

Hermione was looking at him with an expression of horror on her face. "What do you want, Krum?"

"Vhat I've always vanted. Respect."

"Go somewhere else to find it," Draco barked sharply.

"Vatch your tone, little snake." He eyed Hermione. "My-nonny, doesn't it bother you that you are stuck vith a little boy instead of a man? Like his coward cheating father, who fixed ze results of the tournament."

"My father is no such thing!" Draco was on his feet, shouting.

"No? Prove it."

Harry rose too, his blood boiling. "Go back to the castle, Krum. Your fan club's waiting."

Viktor went beet red. Then he lunged at Draco and knocked Harry sprawling.

In over two seconds, there was a brawl going on, since it was full of customers who were inebriated and spoiling for some action.

I know . . I know . . .a cliffie, but hey at least it'll give you something to predict till I write the next one.

How did you like it?

And what do you think will happen now?

Chapter Text

Before he could say Quidditch, Harry found himself face down on the floor, and rolling, trying to avoid getting trampled by Krum as he slammed Draco against the wall. Bloody obnoxious git! Mop up the floor with him, Dragon! He felt a hand grip his shoulder and he half-spun, his fist cocked, but to his relief it was only Ron, offering him a hand up.

"Thanks, mate," Harry said, accepting the redhead's hand and climbing to his feet.

"No problem," Ron said, glaring angrily at Krum and then he looked up and gulped, for Krum's friends, big hulking beasts in fur robes, had come to join the party. "Uh, Harry . . .looks like we've got company."

Harry shook his head. Despite his dislike of fighting, he sensed that they were going to have to defend themselves, because the hulking cretins didn't look like they were in the mood to talk things over. "Ron, get my back," he ordered. "No wands, we'll get nailed if we use magic. Just use your fists."

"Right." Ron squared up, his hands snapping into fists. He shot a game smile at the girls, who were looking alarmed, at least the Beauxbatons ones were. Hermione looked as if she wanted to go a few rounds with Krum and so did Zara.

Harry looked about for Katie and then recalled she was in the loo, and so well out of this coming confrontation, thank Merlin. When he turned back around, he found a Durmstrang wizard snarling something right in his face. Harry didn't need a translator to tell that it was both insulting and a prelude to a fight.

The other student was older, bigger, and stronger than his Hogwarts counterpart, but Harry had fought Severus, who had all those advantages, and he was not taken aback. The bigger boy swung at him, Harry ducked, having seen it coming from a mile away, then he planted his shoulder in the other boy's midriff, grabbed the boy's arm and spun about in a half-circle, tossing the startled kid over his shoulder.

He flew through the air, arms windmilling, to land with a thud and crash on a table across the room. The table promptly collapsed, splintering in half, dumping the kid on the floor amid the broken pieces.

Oops! Looks like I threw him a bit too hard, Harry thought ruefully.

"Bloody hell, Harry!" Ron exclaimed. "How did you do that?"

"I learned it from my father," Harry answered, ducking another punch and returning one of his own.

Beside him, Ron landed a good one in a Durmstrang student's eye, making the blond boy howl.

Draco was systematically beating the spit out of Krum, who could not match the younger boy's speed or agility or his knowledge of hand to hand combat. The Slytherin was not using kin-sa-dor, mindful of what had happened last time he had done that to Harry, but he was using boxing techniques that hurt just as much.

He licked his lower lip, it was swelling from a lucky punch, but other than that, Krum had not been able to land one on him. Recalling all of his lessons from Severus, Draco danced around the older lad, lunging in and out like a ghost, hitting Krum hard in the ribs or eye and then darting away.

Krum kept circling and spinning, swinging wildly at Draco, not understanding how the Slytherin kept avoiding his fists. He was hurting badly, but he was too stupid to quit and kept shouting how he was going to stomp Draco into the dirt.

Crabbe and Goyle had also risen when the Durmstrang students showed up, and they too were happily whaling away at them.

Within minutes, the entire barroom had erupted into a brawl, as the other patrons got caught up in the fight.

Harry never knew who called the Aurors, he was too busy fighting to worry about the law, so furious he could hardly see straight. Until there came a loud whistle and a stern voice yelled, "All right, people! Break it up! You're under arrest for disturbing the peace!"

Several uniformed Aurors entered the pub, wands out, and shot several Stunning Hexes at the brawling mass of wizards.

Within five minutes, they had restored order to the pub, as patrons scattered and fled, or were collared by an Auror and put in cuffs or Stunned.

"Harry, the Aurors are here!" Ron called, panicked. "Stop and let's go! He's had enough. Come on, mate!"

But Harry did not hear him, his Snape temper was up, and all he saw was another opponent. Ron tugged on his sleeve hopelessly. Harry yanked a friend of Krum's around and was drawing his fist back to deliver a sharp lesson to the other's face when he found his arm caught in a firm grip.

"Now that's enough, laddie." A beefy Auror with a distinct Irish brogue said. "Ye're coming with me, to cool yer temper in jail for a wee bit."

"Huh?" Harry blinked. "W-what do you mean?"

"What I said, lad." He quickly cuffed the shocked Gryffindor before Harry knew what he was about. "Come along now, boy."

"But . . .but . . .sir . . .they started it, we were just defending ourselves!" Harry protested. "I'm a Hogwarts student, you can't do this!"

"Yeah, mate!" cried Ron, who was undergoing similar treatment from another Auror. "Don't you know who he is? You can't lock up Harry Snape!"

The Auror holding Harry did a doubletake. "So you're the one, eh? The fourth champion and all?"

"Yes, sir. Could you please let us go? My father—"

"—will not be any too pleased with you, boyo," laughed the Auror. "But it coulda been worse. You coulda been drunk as well."

Harry saw to his dismay that Draco had also been caught and restrained, as had Krum and several others from Durmstrang.

The girls were left alone, for it was clear they had not been involved in the fight.

In fact, the last thing Harry saw before he was Apparated away was Katie's face—pale and scared, watching as the Aurors hauled him away along with half the barroom patrons to the local jail.

The Auror in charge of Harry, whose name, he said, was Finn O'Connor, put the Hogwarts contingent into a large cell and the Durmstrang students in another cell next door, reasoning they wouldn't be tempted to start the brouhaha all over again if they were separated. Clearly there was dislike between the two schools, if the amount of blood and bruises were anything to go by.

Besides Harry, Draco, and Ron, there were a few seventh and sixth years also in the cell, they had been drinking in a corner when the bralw had begun and had immediately rushed to the aid of their fellow classmates. They were a bit drunk and seemed unconcerned about the whole business, treating it like a lark.

Harry looked around at the cold steel bars and the wooden chair in the corner and the steel bench bolted to the floor, which was the only furniture in the cell, and the adrenaline that had surged through him died and was replaced by a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. I can't believe this just happened. I mean, we were just minding our own business when Krum comes over and starts with Draco and next thing you know, I'm arrested and in jail. Merlin help us all, but we are so dead!

He made his way over to the bench and sat down, putting his head in his hands.

Draco dropped down to sit beside him, he had a hole in his robe and his face was bloody and bruised, but he was otherwise all right. "Merlin, Harry, we are so screwed!" He groaned. "Anybody got a shovel?"

"A shovel? What for?" laughed one of the older students. "Plan on trying to dig your way out, kid?"

"No," Draco replied, his eyes wide and scared. "I'm going to use it to dig my own grave and save my father the trouble. He's going to kill us, Harry."

"But Draco, we didn't start it! Krum did!"

"You think he's gonna care who started it?" Draco cried. "We're in jail, for Godsake! We've been arrested!"

"Hey, calm down, Malfoy," Ron said. "It's all a mix-up, they'll send someone to get us out soon. I hope."

"Easy for you to say, Weasley! You're not the one who's going to die later on tonight."

Ron paled. "Do you think they know already? Will they tell our parents?"

"Probably," Draco sighed. "Unless Dumbledore hushes it up. Not that it matters to us. We're dead meat however you look at it."

Harry groaned. "Draco, how mad do you think he'll be? Once we explain what happened . . ." But then he recalled how he had totally lost it, and allowed his temper to rule him and he wondered guiltily if he'd caused serious injury to anyone.

"Harry, we're not going to make it to seventeen, trust me." Draco predicted woefully. "I wish I'd just let Krum beat the snot out of me."

"No you don't. Because then you'd be a wuss," Ron pointed out.

"You're right." Draco conceded. "I'm not sorry I gave him a licking. Only sorry I ended up here. I wonder if they give a last meal to the condemned?"

Harry wondered how long it would take the news to reach the castle and once it did, how long it would be before Severus came to fetch them home. He had a sinking feeling he would wish it were later rather than sooner, despite the fact that he hated being confined. He had tried to maintain a positive front to keep Draco from falling apart, but inside he too was quivering, for the wrath of Severus Snape was not something a wise son provoked.

Headmaster's office,

Hogwarts School:

Severus set his third cup of tea down on the tray, ready to call it a night and go down to his quarters to read a bit before bedtime. He was feeling very weary and tired, banishing the lamia had taken more out of him than he would have wished. Listening to Dumbledore natter on about the tournament hopefully promoting better relationships between the three schools had almost caused him to fall asleep, and he had to fight to keep his eyes open.

Phil had gone to hunt tonight, and he thought Smidgen was keeping an eye on Moody and Karkaroff, trying to see if either one had any taint of a dark summoning on them. She had already tested both Crouch and Bagman, they were clean. Therefore they were not the ones who had summoned the lamia, and if he had to guess, he would bet Karkaroff to have done such before, given what he had been, or at least had the connections to pay another wizard to do it.

"Albus, it's nearly nine thirty, time for me to be going," he began, rising to his feet.

Just then there came a knock on the door. "Come in," Albus called, thinking it was Minerva or one of the other Heads.

The door swung open to reveal an Auror in official robes with a scroll in his hand, followed by a flustered Karkaroff. "Good evening, Headmaster Dumbledore, so sorry to disturb you, sir. I am Auror MacKenzie and I'm afraid there has been an incedent at Hogsmeade in the Three Broomsticks involving several of your students."

Severus could feel alarm bells pealing madly in his brain at that statement.

"An incident, you say?" Dumbledore was as calm as ever. He might have been discussing the weather. "Was anyone hurt?"

"Well, not severely, a few cuts and bruises and whatnot. The usual after a barroom brawl," reported the Auror. "We rounded them up and put them in the local holding pen, and here's the list of the students involved. Apparently one of them was your young champion, Harry Snape, and his brother too."

He handed Dumbledore the list of names.

Severus felt as if he had just been punched in the gut with a Bludger. "Excuse me, officer? Could you repeat your last statement? Because for a minute there I thought I heard you say that my two sons were involved in a barroom brawl."

"No, you heard right, Professor Snape," said the Auror, looking faintly guilty. "We're sorry to have caused you any inconvenience, sir, but they were in it up to their necks and well, champion or no, the law is the law, so you see . . ." He looked over at the tall Potions Master.

Snape was white, the only color in his face were two red spots high on his cheekbones. Auror MacKenzie flinched and took a step backwards upon seeing Snape's eyes. They were blazing so brightly the other wizard was surprised the carpet hadn't caught fire. He looked away, and felt a strong desire to run out of the room and keep running. His second thought was to thank Merlin and God that he wasn't Snape's son. Those poor boys! I think they ought to start making funeral preparations. If the professor's anything like my da, they'll be needin' one.

"No, Auror MacKenzie, I quite understand," Severus said in a deceptively soft tone. "No one, least of all my sons, are above the law."

"Ahem! Yes, well . . .we took statements, several of the Hogwarts students claimed a boy from Durmstrang, Viktor Krum, started the fight by hitting one of them, I think it was over a girl—"

"That is a lie!" Karkaroff cried. "My students would never behave so. I am sure, officer, that Viktor was provoked."

MacKenzie rolled his eyes. "Sure, that's what they all say. Listen, Mr. Karkaroff, I have seven witnesses who testified that your boy started the whole thing, including one pretty lass with brown hair who says she's the boy who was hit—Draco Malfoy—I think was his name—she says she was his girlfriend and your boy Krum has been pestering her something awful."

"I believe that would be Miss Granger," said Dumbledore. "Last I had heard, she was walking out with young Draco."

Severus raised an eyebrow. Trust the old coot to know who was dating whom. Dumbledore was an inveterate gossip.

"Then she is a lying hussy too!" Karkaroff accused.

Severus swung on the other man. "Igor, if I were you I would watch who you accuse of lying. Miss Granger is an upstanding student of impeccable character and if she chose, she could press charges on Krum for harassment. And you wouldn't want that, now would you?" The threat in his tone was unmistakable.

Karkaroff scowled and promptly shut up about Hermione.

"What must be done to release the students, MacKenzie?" asked Albus.

"Oh, there's a small matter of a fine—thirty Sickles per student—that you'll need to pay, Headmaster."

"Very well, I shall see to it," Albus agreed, moving over to his desk to sign the scroll releasing the Hogwarts students and to write out a bank draft from the school funds.

"A moment, Albus," Severu said suddenly. "Auror MacKenzie, this holding cell you have the students in—there are no dementors guarding it, are there?"

"No, Professor. We're not the sort to need those things about, we don't get the hard cases, just the idiots who get drunk and rough people up or have a bit of a duel once in awhile. My partner is down at the station with your boys."

"Good." Severus said silkily, an idea beginning to take shape in his head. "Then perhaps you would be willing to do me a favor? I will pay the fine for my two sons, but I want you to keep them there overnight."

"Overnight, Severus?" Albus repeated.

"Are you mad, Snape?" Karkaroff sneered. "Why would you wish them to remain in jail?"

"To teach them a lesson, aye?" MacKenzie answered, catching on.

"Precisely, officer. I wish to teach them that breaking the law has consequences, even for ones as young as they are. My sons have a tendency to break rules and perhaps this will impress upon them the folly of doing so. I shall pick them up first thing in the morning. Where are you located in Hogsmeade?"

"The end of the street, just in back of Zonkos," replied the Auror.

Dumbledore handed him the signed scroll and a bank draft. Severus immediately summoned his purse and paid Dumbledore, ignoring the old wizard's protests.

Karkaroff handed the Auror another bank draft, scowling and muttering something about highway robbery.

"All righty then, gents. I'll be off and send your kids back to you. And don't worry, Professor, we'll take good care of your two. Make sure they have a proper welcome and all." He winked at Severus before striding through the door and down the stairs.

Karkaroff soon followed and Albus gave Severus an apologetic glance and said, "I should be going with him, Severus. Are you sure you don't wish to change your mind? They are only boys . . ."

"Albus, I told you at the beginning of the year that if my sons got in trouble, I would punish them as I saw fit, and you were not to interfere. That still holds true, Headmaster. Perhaps next time they will learn to walk away before getting involved in a barroom brawl."

The Headmaster sighed. "You are strict, Severus. I do not know if I could be so . . ."

"Which is why I am in charge of their discipline and not you, Albus. My boys need a firm hand or else they will run wild."

Albus departed, sensing that nothing he said would change Snape's mind once it was made up.

Alone in the office, Severus swore several blistering oaths before sitting down and putting his head in his hands. Damn it to hell, why me? When will those two ever learn to behave?

Hogsmeade jail:

"All righty then, when I call your name, come to the front and step through the door," MacKenzie bawled, unlocking the cell to the Durmstrang contingent first. "No pushing, no shoving, and mind yer mouths, or else you'll go right back where you came from." He began to read off the list of names.

One by one, all the Durmstrang students were released. "You ought to thank your Headmaster, boys, for being so nice as to release all of you after how you behaved. Especially you, boyo." He gave Viktor Krum a sharp look.

"I have done nuffing," Krum protested.

MacKenzie snorted. "That's not what some people say, laddie. Go on then, get!"

The Durmstrang students walked away down the hall, where Karkaroff waited to pick them up and escort them back to their ship. Dumbledore had suggested, rather strongly, that his students be made to stay there until he was sure they knew how to behave themselves and not get into brawls in public with their host school. Igor was seething, but he dared not have it said that his students were rabble rousers, and so he agreed.

MacKenzie then turned to the group of Hogwarts students and told them the same thing. He began to read off the list of names.

Harry wasn't sure if he ought to be relieved or apprehensive. On the one hand, he really wanted to go home, but on the other hand he wasn't sure if going home was tantamount to suicide, given the mood his father was sure to be in.

Finally, all the Hogwarts students except Draco and Harry had been released. Dumbledore was waiting at the end of the corridor to escort them back to the castle.

Draco looked up at the tall ginger-haired Auror. "What about us?"

It was then Harry realized that their names hadn't been called. "Sir, didn't our father . . .didn't he pay for us to be released?"

MacKenzie sighed, he felt a bit sorry for the two boys, they reminded him a bit of himself and his brother at that age. "Well, boys, y'see . . ."

"He forgot, didn't he?" Draco interrupted. "Do you want us to owl him?" Much as he didn't want to, he knew it was better to just take his licks and get it over with.

"How could he forget, Draco?" Harry cried. "He remembers everything! Unless he's so mad that he'll never forgive us so he . . .left us here." He swallowed hard and looked down at the ground.

Mac took pity on them then. "Nah, lads, it's not like that. Your da still loves you, even if he does want to wallop you to kingdom come right about now. He knows you're here an' he's after teaching you a bit of lesson now. Y'see, you're going to be our guests, mine an' Finn's for the night."

"We're going to have to stay here overnight?" Harry cried. "But we didn't start anything! Krum attacked Draco first!"

"You can take that up with your da tomorrow morning, boyo. He'll be here to get you then." MacKenzie said, familiar with they way most wrongdoers protested their innocence upon learning they were going to prison. "For now, come with me. You'll be spending the night in a different cell."

"A different cell?" Draco repeated. "What's wrong with this one?"

"This is a temporary holding cell. Now come on. You're to have the complete treatment."

He led the boys from the cell and into another room, which was empty save for a small table. "Go over to the table and put your hands on it. I'm going to run my wand over you, make sure you have nothing hidden, like weapons on you." He had already taken their wands.

The two obeyed, while Mac walked around and ran his wand over them, chanting softly.

Harry wondered if this were a bad dream and he would wake up soon.

"Okay, you're clean. Turn around."

They faced the bluff Auror uncertainly. MacKenzie remained stiff and formal, despite wanting to reassure the two children. "Here's your new outfits."

A flick of his wand and their uniforms and robes were changed into a pair of linen black and white striped pajamas, complete with a number across their front. Harry's was 435 and Draco's 453. Even their trainers were changed into black slippers without hard soles.

Draco made a face. "This is what we're wearing?"

"Aye, and be glad of it. This is a prison, not a high-falutin' hotel, kid." Mac said gruffly. "Now then, march out that door there," he indicated a door at the far end of the room. "And turn right. Stop at the second cell."

The two boys followed his directions. "I can't believe he's doing this to us," Harry muttered angrily. "It's so unfair!"

"Hush!" Draco ordered. "Quit whining. You didn't think he was going to let us off with nothing, did you?"

"No, but . . .he could have given us a chance to explain instead of just leaving us here to rot."

"Think of it this way, Harry. If we're here, it gives him more time to cool down. So that we won't end up decorating the dungeon. So don't go hurrying us along to our own funeral, all right."

"You don't understand. I hate being locked up."

Draco squeezed his shoulder. "Me too, but it's just for the night. We'll get through it, little brother. It's tomorrow we'll need to worry about."

Mac came and unlocked the cell door with a wave of his wand and held open the door. "Home sweet home, boys. At least for tonight."

They went inside. The cell was smaller than their original one, it had two metal bunks fastened to the wall, each with a thin pillow and a gray blanket folded on it. There was a small porcelain sink and two cups. A toilet was in the corner, with a curtain off to the side of it.

"I'll take off the cuffs, seeing as you're not Death Eaters," Mac joked, and the cuffs unlocked and floated over to him. He shut the cell door with a sharp clang, locking it with a Locking Charm. "Good night, lads. Finn will be down the hall if you need anything, like a handkerchief."

Then the Auror turned to leave, dimming the lights as he did so.

Draco glanced about. They were the only occupants in this block, but they could hear mutterings from other prisoners nearby. He went to run the water and wash his face, it came out lukewarm, and he wished he had a mirror to see how he looked. But mirrors weren't something prisoners were allowed.

Harry went and sat down on the bunk, the cold dullness of the cell reminding him oddly of his cupboard. He sighed. The pajamas were thin, he shivered a bit. He would have taken Snape in a temper over this confinement. Yeah, right, a part of him thought mockingly. If he were here right now, you'd be looking for a hole to hide in. Despite the Auror's reassurance, he was still worried that his father wouldn't forgive him for this latest mess. It was one thing to get into a fight at school, but another thing to get arrested and thrown in jail for getting into a fight in public.

Imagining how disappointed and angry Severus was made his stomach hurt. He winced as it cramped and suddenly he needed to use the toilet. But there was no door and no privacy, he thought in horror. Just a flimsy curtain, one that didn't even close all the way.

Flushing hotly, he called over to Draco, who was holding a cloth to his eye, "Draco? Don't turn around. I'm using the loo."

"Oh. Okay." Draco answered back, and kept staring across the bars at the cell next door.

His ears burning, Harry tugged the curtain as far as it would go, and used the facilities. One thing he did know for sure, and that was he would never again get involved in a barroom brawl, no matter what. His stomach agreed with him fervently.

Afterwards, Harry lay on the top bunk, trying not to squirm at the scratchy blanket covering his bare feet. He had forgotten what it was like to have old ratty things to sleep with since moving to Prince Manor. The mattress was thin and lumpy, he tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable.

Below him, he heard Draco doing the same.

He wrapped his hand around his medallion, feeling it warm beneath his hand, and thought of how much he longed to be home at Prince Manor. He missed the manor and the orchard with a fierce longing that made him ache. "Draco? You awake?"

There came a rustle, then a quiet, "Yeah. What's the matter? Can't sleep either?"

"No. What do you think he'll do to us?"

Draco let his breath out in a sigh. "I've been trying not to think about that. Probably take a spoon to our backsides, if I had to guess. At least once. And then we're going to be grounded."

"Yeah, that's what I figured too." Harry steepled his fingers across his chest. "Think it'll matter if we tell him we didn't start it?"

"Maybe. Depends on how mad he is. You know how he hates it when we get into fights in public. Both of us know better. And he's going to nail my arse because he's already punished me for that twice before," Draco said gloomily. "You, he might go a bit easier on, since this is your first time getting in trouble at school for something like this."

"Stupid Krum! I sure wish it were him going to get walloped by Dad."

Draco chuckled. "I think I took care of that already, Phoenix."

"You sure about that?"

"Positive. I might look banged up, but you should see Krum. He looks like he's been through the First Wizard War." Draco said proudly.

:Indeed, young one. He looked pummeled and battered passing fair, as the Bard would say,: came a familiar voice in their heads.

An instant later, a tiny black purple-winged cat appeared in their cell with a soft pop! Her violet eyes, the mark of a dreamweaver, glowed with lambent light as she surveyed the two miscreants.

"Smidgen!" they cried.

:Ai, children, what HAVE you gotten yourselves into this time?:

"The usual mayhem," Harry quipped. Just seeing the little fae cat made him feel ten times better. "How did you find us? I thought you were keeping an eye on Igor the Sneaky."

:I was, but he wasn't doing much sneaking after the authorities told him about his students getting arrested. When I heard that, I wondered if you two were involved, and of course, you were.:

"Why is it that whenever there's trouble, everyone automatically assumes we're involved?" Draco groused.

The shimmerling gave a soft half-mew of amusement. :Because, little dragon, nine times out of ten, you ARE involved. Like tonight.:

Draco couldn't really deny the shimmerling's line of reasoning. "Okay, so we're trouble magnets. But still . . .we're not in trouble all the time, Smidgen."

"Only nine and three quarters of the time," Harry put in.

"Aw, stuff it, Harry. Who asked for your two Knuts?"

"Nobody. You get them free of charge," replied his brother. Smidgen fluttered over and landed next to him on the bed. "Does Dad know you're here?"

:No. I am not answerable to Severus for everything I do,: answered Smidgen, licking her paw. :I cannot interfere with his discipline of you, but I can watch over you at night, as I have promised. And though there is little here that can harm you, I think you will feel better with me guarding your dreams, yes?:

"Yeah. Thanks, Smidgen," Harry said gratefully. He reached out to stroke the tiny cat and she purred and rubbed her head against his hand.

Her purring filled his ears and he found himself drifting off to sleep while he listened to the soothing sound.

The shimmerling watched while her charge's eyes shut and he drifted off into dreamland. :Sleep well, little phoenix. You have naught to fear, not even your father. He is no longer as angry as you think, and he loves you very much, Harry-kit.:

Then she flew down to Draco's bunk and settled upon the Slytherin's chest. Draco looked at her and smiled. "I'm glad you're here, Smidgen. This way I can get a good night's sleep before I die tomorrow."

:Hsst, little dragon! You know perfectly well your father would never kill you. Give you a cuff or two perhaps, but such is a sire's prerogative. He will always forgive you, Draco. Not like Lucius. But I think you already know that, don't you?:

"Yeah, I guess so. Only . . .it helps to hear you say it. I really hate disappointing him like this. And lately, that's all I seem to be doing."

Smidgen began to purr. :Ah, Draco. You are young, and all younglings make mistakes. Your father knows this. It is part of growing up. Now sleep, hatchling, sleep. Tomorrow is not as bad as it seems.:

As with Harry, the shimmerling's purr soon sent Draco to sleep as well, and with the fae cat guarding their dreams, they slept till the dawn, only waking when Mac came and rattled the bars of the cell.

"Rise and shine, boyos! Your da himself is here to fetch you home."

The two boys rubbed their eyes and sat up, feeling at once relieved and apprehensive.

As soon as their feet touched the floor, MacKenzie changed their prison garb back into their school robes and uniforms. Then he unlocked the cell door and handed them back their wands. "Sorry you can't stay for breakfast, lads, but your da wants to get you home right quick. I think he's missed you."

"Missed beating the stuffing out of us, sure," Draco mumbled. "Uh . . .on second thought, can we stay an extra day?"

MacKenzie bit back a chuckle, the boy looked the way he imagined he had as a boy when faced with his father's wrath for a similar situation. "Now, lad, I can't keep you here once your fine's been paid, since you haven't committed a crime."

"What if we . . .stole your wand and locked you up?" Harry suggested. "Would that be enough to get arrested again?"

The Auror burst out laughing. "'Fraid not, boyo. You're just gonna have to go home and take your punishment like a man. I'm sure it ain't half as bad as you're thinking."

"Then you sure don't know our father," Harry said, grimacing.

Now Mac began to be alarmed. He knew it was normal for children to fret over being in trouble, but if they were truly frightened of their father . . . "Does he beat you then, child? Is that why you're afraid to go home?" he inquired softly.

Harry was horrified. "Beat us? No! Not like that . . .not ever . . .no! It's just . . .we hate it when he's disappointed in us. And this time we really let him down, so . . ."

"So we really don't want to be lectured and grounded till Christmas," Draco added.

"Then he doesn't knock you around?"

Draco looked him straight in the eye and said firmly, "No, sir. The most he's ever done is a few swats and it was deserved. Nothing like what you're thinking. It's like Harry said, sir. We respect him and we want him to be proud of us, and so . . .we feel guilty when we disappoint him this way."

MacKenzie nodded. "Ah. I understand. That was the way of it with me and my father too." He led them from the cell.

Severus was waiting at the end of the corridor for them, looking forbidding as death in his black robes.

But as soon as they saw him, the two boys found themselves running over to him, and the strict bat of the dungeons opened his arms and hugged them to him.

"I trust you have learned your lesson," he growled softly.

"Yes, Dad," they chorused, still hugging him.

"Good. You know you are in serious trouble, and we will have a very long talk about this once we are home."

"Yes, sir," Harry said automatically.

"Before or after you beat us senseless?" inquired Draco impudently.

"Depends on the mood I'm in," returned his father crisply. "Now let's go back to the castle, you've taken up too much of Auror MacKenzie's time already with your foolishness and I'm sure he can't wait to get rid of you."

"What? We were model prisoners, Dad!" Harry protested, then halted. Holy Merlin, I can't believe I just said that! "Err . . .uh . . ermm . . ."

"Wonderful," drawled Severus sarcastically. "It's every father's dream, to hear those words come out of his son's mouth."

Draco just rolled his eyes at his brother and mouthed, "Idiot!" before taking harry by the arm and dragging him out of the station.

Severus gave the Aurors a nod before gathering his cloak about his lean frame and striding after his two boys, his robes billowing majestically behind him.

"I pity the poor man," MacKenzie said to Finn after he had stopped laughing. "Those two could drive Merlin himself to drink, I'd wager!"

Fifteen minutes later, one penitent Snape and one equally penitent Malfoy made their way to the Great Hall for breakfast, their father's scolding still ringing in their ears. Both were extremely glad to have their punishment and lecture over and done with, though as predicted, Severus had torn strips out of them. Draco had gotten the worst of it, since this was the third time he had gotten in trouble for fighting, no matter who had started it.

"How many times must we go through this, Draco Michael Malfoy, before you get it through your thick head that your fists are not going to solve your problems for you?"

"But, Dad, Krum started it!" interrupted Harry, trying to take some of the heat off of his brother.

"Quiet, Harry! I'll deal with you later. This is between me and your brother," Severus had said curtly. "I cannot tell you how disappointed I am in your behavior, young man . . ."

Draco winced in remembrance of the stinging reprimand that had followed, which had hurt worse than the smack his father had given him afterwards. He would rather have taken a thrashing with Lucius's cane than had Severus lecture him, the man's disapproval hurt so much. More even than the fact that he was now grounded until Christmas break and forbidden to participate in any extra-curricular activities.

The two brothers slid into their usual spot at the very end of the Gryffindor table, ever since they had started dating they had taken to eating lunch together, along with their girlfriends and Ron. Ron looked up as they walked over and sat down and said cheerily, "Well, you're alive. I was waiting for the morning paper and was going to look in the obituary column for your names."

"Haha. You're so funny, Weasley," Draco said, scowling.

Ron cocked his head at the blond boy. "Aw, come on, Malfoy, lighten up! Least you're still breathing and can sit down. Thank God Dumbledore refused to release our names to the press. I mean, except yours and Krum's. He couldn't keep that a secret. Because if my mum had ever found out I was arrested and put in the clink . . . .I'd have been walloped six ways to Sunday."

"Ron, you're exaggerating," Hermione protested. "You're fifteen, that's too old to spank."

"Ha! Tell my mum that. She's old school, 'Mione. Meaning that till I'm of age, as long as I live under her roof, she can punish me how she sees fit, up to and including turning me over her knee," the red-head explained. "Just ask the twins or Ginny if you don't believe me."

Hermione sputtered. "I still can't believe . . .well, maybe I can . . .but just because your mother does that is no reason to assume Professor Snape would ever . . ." She halted and looked over at Draco. "Right, Draco?"

Draco lowered his gaze to his plate and did not answer.

She looked at Harry. "Harry, tell me he didn't . . ."

But Harry too would not look at her, and remained silent, the tips of his ears red.

Hermione put a hand to her mouth and Ron burst out laughing.

Katie gave them both a sympathetic look and Hermione glared angrily at Ron, who was laughing so hard he nearly choked.

"It's not funny, Ronald! You ought to know how embarrassing it is being treated like a . . .child at our age, honestly!"

Ron straightened, wiping tears from his eyes. "'Course I do. And that's why our parents do it, so we learn to quit acting like little kids and getting in trouble for everything. Makes us think twice about misbehaving again for a long while. Right, Harry?"

"Something like that," his friend answered. "And it's not like you're thinking either. He didn't spank us. He only gave us one good one  and it stung for about twenty seconds. Like Ron said, it's more embarrassing than anything. No big deal. Being grounded hurt worse than that. And I got off easier than Draco did, he only grounded me for two weeks, since we didn't start the fight, but we could have walked away instead of continuing it once the Aurors showed up, but I was so mad I just kept going. Last time I ever lose my head like that."

Draco nodded in agreement. "I'd have taken a walloping over the lecture he gave out. And not being able to play Quidditch."

"He banned you from Quidditch?" Katie gasped. "That really sucks."

"Tell me something I don't know, Bell," Draco sighed. "But that's what I get for getting in trouble three times for fighting. Three times the punishment."

"Merlin help you if there's a fourth time, Draco," Ron said.

"Please, Weasley. Even I'm not that dumb. I promised him I'd stay out of trouble for the rest of the year, as much as I could."

"Me too," Harry said. Then he added with a devilish smirk, "So if Krum starts anything with us, Ron, it's up to you to kick his arse."

Ron made a face at him. "Why me? So I can get my bum tanned next?"

"If Krum dares to start anything with you, Harry, I'll tan his bum all right." Katie stated. "Right, Hermione? Because nobody messes with our boyfriends."

"Right, Katie. Now he's someone who needs a good spanking," she agreed, then she put her arm about Draco and hugged him. "And I'd be happy to give him one."

"You can borrow Dad's wooden spoon," Draco said slyly.

At that, everyone cracked up, for the image that statement conjured was too funny for words.

Then Hermione asked, very softly, "But wasn't leaving you in jail the whole night punishment enough?"

Draco shrugged. "It sure wasn't any picnic, but like I said before, he wants to make sure we've learned our lesson this time. Me especially."

"And have you?"

"Merlin help us all, yes!" he answered and Harry echoed him.

"Hey, does that mean you can't run the Dueling Club?" Ron asked unhappily.

"Yeah, he said I can't for a week," Harry told him. "So maybe you and Mione could take over for a bit?"

Ron looked thunderstruck. "Me? Run a club?"

"Heavens, Weasley, it's one night, not the rest of your life," Draco remarked. "You'll manage."

"I don't know."

"Oh, Ron, it's easy." Hermione piped up. "You just stand there and agree with everything I say, all right?"

"Same as usual," Harry teased and Ron shot him a black look. "Only kidding. You'll do fine, Ron."

"If you say so." Ron still looked doubtful. "What will you be doing in the meantime, Harry?"

"Trying to brush up on ancient Greek and translate that scroll."

All four of them groaned in sympathy.

"Poor Harry!" said Katie. "Stuck in the library while the rest of us have fun."

Harry shrugged ruefully. "That's what I get for being a Hogwart's champion."

Hedwig dropped a Quibbler into his lap and he was pleased to see that his father had made the front page, with a very cool photo of Severus banishing the lamia and the caption—Heroism Runs in the Family—Professor Severus Snape Saves the Lives of Students at Triwizard Tournament! The article that followed was very well done, stating the facts simply and honestly without any dramatic falsehoods.

Dad ought to be happy with this piece. Harry carefully folded it to save for his scrapbook and then continued eating his toast with butter and jam. When he glanced up at the staff table a moment later, his eyes met those of his father, and Severus gave him a small smile. Harry smiled back, knowing that all was forgiven, though he would never forget the lesson he learned and neither would Draco.

Thanks everyone for reading, hope you enjoyed it!

Chapter Text

All that week, after class, Harry remained in the library, trying in vain to learn enough ancient Greek to translate the scroll he had won from the lamia. But the few primers about ancient Greek he found weren't enough to help him. It was like an exercise in frustration. He felt like banging his head into a wall. He shut his book with a snap finally and got up to walk around, fighting the urge to throw the book on the floor like a four-year-old in a tantrum. No one ever told me I was going to have to be a bloody linguist in order to participate in this tournament! This is worse than one of Dad's punishment essays.

He walked past a table where Cedric was seated, poring over his own scroll, surrounded by heaps of books. "Hey, Cedric. Any luck with yours?"

The Hufflepuff looked up and shook his head, smiling ruefully. "Not really. It's harder to translate hieroglyphics than you'd think. I didn't know there were variations and just when I think I've figured out a sentence, something doesn't make sense." He sighed. "Makes me wish I could go to Egypt and dig up a pharaoh or two."

"I know what you mean. I wish I could resurrect Homer or something." Harry said feelingly. "But there must be some way we could translate the scrolls without tearing our hair out. I just don't know what it is."

Cedric nodded. "Well, so far I've managed to translate two lines and it's still not making much sense. But at least I don't have to deal with cuneiform, like Fleur, or Aramaic, like Krum. That's what they were trying to translate last night while you were . . .err . . ."

"Locked up in jail?" Harry offered, giving Cedric an identical rueful grin. "It's okay, I'm sure everyone's been talking about it. In fact, I'm surprised it's not been in the paper yet."

Cedric started snickering. "You mean you don't know?"

"Know what?"

"That reporter for the Prophet, Rita Skeeter, she tried to get information from some of the students about what happened at Hogsmeade. I think Krum was all set to blame you for the whole ruckus, but just as she was about to use that quill of hers, Dumbledore comes along and tells her that any statements she wishes to have he will give her, and to not harass the students. And Skeeter turns white as a dead corpse and starts stammering that of course she'd love to interview the Headmaster. And then Dumbledore takes her away and whatever dirt she was planning to write about you, Harry, never showed up in the papers. I mean, people know about the brawl, and that you and Krum were involved, but not that you . . .uh were held overnight. I wonder if he hexed her quill."

"Or maybe her tongue," Harry laughed. He was very glad that this time the Headmaster had stepped in and stopped some of the incessant gossip that always seemed to hound him from dawn till dusk. And though he couldn't prevent the students from knowing what had gone on that night at Hogsmeade, at least the whole wizarding world didn't need to know that he had spent the night in jail as an object lesson. "She's such a little viper."

"Mm . . .More like a mosquito, to my way of thinking," Cedric said. "Sucks all the blood from you and then goes on to the next victim."

"Then you don't like her either?"

"Like her? Oh, Merlin, I think I'd like a case of dragon pox better! The way she twists up whatever you say . . .makes me glad I don't have too much in my past for her to . . .fabricate."

"Unlike me," sighed Harry.

"People will always talk," Cedric said. "But maybe you'll just have to give them something else to talk about."

"You're right," Harry grinned. "Well, guess I'll leave you to your translating and go and take a walk or something."

He was starting to get a headache and he needed some fresh air. Since he was forbidden to play Quidditch and he also assumed that ban extended to flying in general, as it had when he had gotten in trouble at Prince Manor, Harry decided to walk over to the seventh floor, where the Room of Requirement was, and the current session of the Dueling Club.

Harry summoned his Invisibility Cloak and put it on before entering the room, wishing to observe what was going on without anyone the wiser.

Ron and Hermione were standing at the front of the room, and the other members of the club were standing in rows, looking up at the two expectantly. Ron cleared his throat awkwardly and gave them a rather sickly smile. "Uh . . .all right . . .well, Hermione and I are . . .going to take over the club this week . . .because Professor Snape says Harry and Draco are grounded, but anyway . . .let's start with some of the usual exercises and then we'll teach you a new spell." He looked over at Hermione, who looked faintly nervous.

But then she smiled and said, "Yes, well, I think we could all learn a spell that proofs us against poison, especially a poisoned dagger or a knitting needle."

Ron and half of the class looked at her askance. "A knitting needle? Blimey, Hermione—"

"What? I read a mystery once where the suspect murdered a barrister with one, stabbed him right through the leg and acted like it was an accident and he fell down dead not twenty minutes later and no one knew because after all who would suspect an old lady with a knitting needle? So you see, Ron, it's—"

"Take a breath, Hermione," Ron ordered with a sigh. "I get it, you don't need to recite the book. Merlin!" Some of the other boys chuckled at his expression. "So, after we practice a bit of what we already know, to keep our hand in like, we'll be demonstrating the Poison Protection Charm. Quite useful, really. Right, Hermione?"

"Yes, Ronald," Hermione said primly.

Harry snickered as well, thinking that Hermione looked as indignant as Crookshanks when he missed catching a plump mouse.

But her ruffled feathers soon settled as they paired up the members and they began to practice.

Harry noted that Neville and Luna had really improved since the beginning of the club. They were less hesitant and more confident when they cast their spells and blocked those sent their way in return. He smiled wistfully at Katie, who was paired off with Blaise Zabini, and noted that Hannah and Goyle were also improved from the last class. He was curious about the new spell, it was one he had never heard of. Trust Hermione to come up with a spell that none of them knew but which could, as she had said, prove very useful.

"Nice one, Cho!" Hermione called, as the Ravenclaw deflected a Stinging hex shot from her partner Ginny's wand.

"Gotta aim a bit higher, Padma," Ron said as he watched one of the Patil twins duel Marcus Flint.

Harry had to admit that watching that pair was a bit like watching Beauty and the Beast, but it seemed that Padma could hold her own against the cagey Flint, who actually wasn't attempting to cheat or knock the wind out of her. In fact, he seemed to be behaving with considerable restraint and even helped her up off the floor when his Wind Gust spell knocked her down.

Well, I'll be. When Draco and I started this club, we did it as a way to practice spells that we should have been learning in class and also to promote unity between the Houses. But even I never thought it'd make some of us consider a different kind of unity. He eyed Padma and Marcus again, then shrugged and grinned. Whatever worked, and more power to her if she could tame the Slytherin Captain.

His gaze shifted to his own lady love, and saw that she was trouncing Zabini, who seemed overwhelmed by her sudden ferocity. That's my girl, Katie! Show him how well a lioness fights.

He continued watching for another twenty minutes, until Ron called a rest period and then had them work out against the magicked dummies. After fifteen minutes, it was time for Hermione's lesson.

She drew herself up tall and said firmly, "This charm was one that was used quite frequently back in the Middle Ages, when it was common for certain high-ranking wizards to fear assassination by rival families, especially in Florence and Padua. I found a reference for it one day in the library and I asked Professor Flitwick and Professor Snape to assist me in learning how to cast it." She took her wand and pointed it up and tilted towards her chest. "This spell requires a good deal of concentration, and you must speak the words clearly for them to have any effect. Watch closely now. Averto toxica!"

A large blue ribbon shot out from the wand and curled about her, spreading out to encase her in a glowing shield. It seemed to sink into her skin, leaving only a faint wisp of blu to linger on her skin. "It tingles a bit at first, but that's how you'll know you did it right, and it lasts for two or three hours before fading."

Ron drew his wand and said, "The spell I'm about to cast is called Viper's Venom, and it'll show you just how well the spell protects against poison. Serpente venoni!"

A thick green liquid shot out of his wand and hit Hermione in the chest.

Several of the girls gasped, but then they quieted when they saw that the venom pooled up and slid off of her as if she were water and it were oil.

"There! You see?" Hermione said, smiling. "Not so hard, is it? Now, let's try it, okay?"

All of them pointed their wands at themselves and started to cast the spell, with varying results. As Hermione had said, it required concentration to get the spell cast correctly. No one got it right the first time, though Ginny and Katie came close.

It took the remainder of the time allotted for the club for some of the members to cast the spell right. "You can practice more over the weekend," Hermione said to them. "You all did very well for your first time."

"Class dismissed!" Ron yelled.

As the students left, talking and joking among themselves, Ron turned to Hermione and said, "I always wanted to say that."

Hermione laughed. "Oh, Ron! It's too bad Harry and Draco couldn't have seen this. I wonder what they'd have thought. I don't think we did too badly."

Harry threw off his cloak. "No, you did really well, 'Mione."

Both of them jumped.

"Harry, how long have you been there?" Ron asked.

"What were you doing there, anyhow?" asked Hermione.

"Making sure you did things right," he teased.

"Good one, Professor Snape Junior," Ron shot back, giving his friend a smart cuff on the shoulder.

"Where's Draco? Is he hiding somewhere in here too?" Hermione asked, looking hopeful. "I've barely seen him at all this week, except in class."

"No, I'd guess he's doing some kind of detention with my father. Maybe you can talk to him tomorrow."

"You still under house arrest?" Ron asked sympathetically.

"Till the end of the week. Meantime though, I'm still trying to translate that bloody scroll." He looked up at Hermione hopefully. "Um . . .if you have time, 'Mione, I could really use your help. Trying to translate a language nobody speaks anymore is a real pain in the arse."

"Well, let me see what you've got so far," Hermione said, all business.

Hardly anything, Harry thought wryly. Then he led the way down the stairs to the library, where his books and papers were.

To his dismay, the avowed bookworm of Hogwarts couldn't make heads or tails of the books or the scroll. "I'm sorry, Harry. I wish I could help you, but I just . . .this is too complicated even for me to grasp." She yawned. "Forgive me, maybe I could try again tomorrow. If I had more time to study on it . . ."

She looked so downcast that Harry put his arm around her. "Don't worry, Hermione. It's really my riddle to solve, and I guess I'll just have to figure it out on my own."

Hermione cheered up a little. "Maybe your Uncle Phil could help?"

Harry shook his head. "I asked, but he said what I just told you."

"Oh. Well then. Guess I'd better be getting back upstairs. I have to finish some homework before I go to sleep."

"Good night, 'Mione."

"Good night, Harry. Sleep on it, maybe something will come to you in the morning," Hermione offered.

"I'll try." He turned to gather up his books and the scroll and they walked up to Gryffindor Tower together.

But Thursday and Friday brought no new ideas or inspirations to Harry, who went through his classes mechanically and picked at his dinner. Draco, who was also under sentence still, asked him if anything was wrong. "No. It's just the scroll."

"Still haven't figured it out yet?" Draco asked.

"No. I feel like I'm trying to read backwards with a blindfold on." He nibbled at his pork cutlet.

Draco looked at his nearly full plate and said, "Better eat, Harry. Dad's watching."

Harry cast a glance up towards the staff table, and saw a pair of familiar black eyes observing. He quickly picked up his fork and forced himself to eat a mouthful of potatoes. No sense in bringing his father down on him for skipping meals.

"How about asking Smidgen?" Draco whispered. "She's been around, she might know a bit about old dead languages. How are the others doing?"

Harry shrugged. "Cedric wasn't all that thrilled and Krum and Fleur were having trouble too. It's a real challenge."

"Well, that's why it's a task in the Triwizard Tournament. You still have over two months, you know. And the holidays are coming up."

"The Yule Ball too." Harry said. "I'm really looking forward to that. Except for the dancing. Even after McGonagall's dance lessons, I still feel like a clumsy idiot."

"You do? You're not as bad as Greg," Draco said. He had already learned how to dance, it was something all purebloods were taught as part of their early education. "You'll be fine."

"That makes me feel real good, Draco." Harry said, rolling his eyes.

"I'll give you some pointers, so you don't make a complete ass of yourself," said his brother loftily.

Harry glared at him and kicked him under the table.

Draco sniggered.

Hermione gave them both her best disapproving-Mum look, and sighed pointedly.

Draco contrived to look innocent and Harry looked guilty.

Ron tittered and said, "You do that really well, 'Mione. Reminds me of my mum. Guess I can tell who'll be laying down the law when you have kids."

Before either of the shocked teenagers could respond to that comment, a large gray owl flew drunkenly inbetween the salt cellar and the pepper mill. He was carrying a large red envelope in his beak.

Ron took one look at it and gulped. "Oh no . . .no . . .Errol, please . . .not another one . . ."

Harry and Draco both winced.

"I guess she found out, huh, Ron?" Hermione said sadly. "Oh dear."

Errol practically crash landed in Ron's plate, not that it mattered, because as soon as the owl had reached Ron, and released the envelope, the Howler unfolded and Mrs. Weasley's voice exploded through the hall like a banshee.

RONALD BILIUS WEASLEY!

WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, GOING TO HOGSMEADE AND GETTING INVOLVED IN A . . .A BARROOM BRAWL?! HONESTLY, CAN YOU NEVER STAY OUT OF TROUBLE? YOU WOULD THINK AT LEAST ONE OF MY CHILDREN WOULD DISPLAY SOME KIND OF SENSE AT LEAST! AND TO ADD INSULT TO INJURY—YOU GET ARRESTED! MY SON—ARRESTED! EVEN THE TWINS NEVER MANAGED THAT! YOUR FATHER IS SO ASHAMED, HE CAN HARDLY HOLD HIS HEAD UP AT WORK. I FOUND OUT WHEN MRS. MULLIN PASSED ME IN DIAGON ALLEY AND TOLD ME—IMAGINE MY SHOCK! I NEARLY PASSED OUT! HOW COULD YOU SHAME THE FAMILY LIKE THIS, RONALD? BE QUIET, ARTHUR, YOU'LL GET YOUR TURN LATER . . .NEVER BEEN SO EMBARRASSED IN MY LIFE! THIS WAS NOT HOW I RAISED YOU, YOUNG MAN, TO GET INTO FIGHTS—I DON'T CARE WHAT IT WAS FOR, BILL—AND GET CARTED OFF TO JAIL LIKE A—A HOOLIGAN! AND HARRY, I'M SURPRISED AT YOU TOO! I KNOW YOUR FATHER TAUGHT YOU BETTER. YOU OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED—AND YOUR FATHER A PROFESSOR TOO! RONALD, HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU—NEVER SOLVE A PROBLEM WITH YOUR FISTS? OR YOUR WAND? MUST I USE MY WOODEN SPOON BEFORE IT SINKS IN? YOU OUGHT TO THANK DUMBLEDORE FOR POSTING THE SICKLES FOR YOU TO GET OUT OF THERE, BECAUSE IF I HAD TO DO IT, YOU'D BE SORRIER THAN A CAT LEFT OUT IN THE RAIN! WE'RE GOING TO HAVE A LONG TALK WHEN YOU GET HOME . . .A VERY LONG TALK . . .

Here Molly's voice turned ominous and Ron turned fishbelly white. "Yes, Mum," he whispered. But the Howler was not quite through yet.

HERE'S YOUR FATHER.

-RON, I'M VERY DISAPPOINTED IN YOU AND I AGREE WITH YOUR MUM,began Mr. Weasley.

-BUT REALLY, DID YOU KNOCK DOWN ANYONE, AT LEAST? BECAUSE I—

-OH, GIVE ME THAT, ARTHUR!

-SO YOU'D BEST BEHAVE FROM NOW TILL HOLIDAY, RONALD, BECAUSE IF I HEAR ONE MORE THING ABOUT YOUR BEHAVIOR, I'M GOING TO COME DOWN THERE AND PULL YOU RIGHT OUT OF HOGWARTS AND ENROLL YOU IN A DISCPLINARY ACADEMY, AM I UNDERSTOOD? ONE MORE THING!

Finally it was over and while most of the students in the hall were laughing, others were giving Ron sympathetic looks.

Ron buried his face in his hands and groaned. "I am so dead when I get home. How did Mrs. Mullin find out? How?"

"Maybe that snitch Skeeter told her?" suggested Draco. "She'd follow you to your own execution to get a story."

"Could be," Hermione said.

"I guess it doesn't matter." He carefully used his wand to sweep away the red confetti that the Howler left behind and then returned to eating his dinner. His face was nearly as red as his hair.

His friends all remained staring down at their plates, but they didn't eat, and Harry even managed to evade Snape's eagle eyes and get away with eating a muffin and a tiny bit of meat rather than a whole dinner.

Harry counted himself lucky, then went off to find Smidgen, calling for her silently.

Smidgen perched upon Harry's shoulder, eyeing the scroll and then giving a soft mew of distress. :Ah Harry, I know many tongues, but a shimmerling has no need to read them, only speak them, and this is not one I know. But perhaps another of my kin may be able to help.:

"Who?"

Smidgen looked up at him, her violet eyes shimmering in amusement. :A certain seafaring horse of our acquaintance. One who used to live as a mortal once upon a time, and certainly would be familiar with mortal languages.:

Harry felt a grin cover his face. "You're right! Thanks, Smidgen! Maybe he could give me some pointers on where to start."

:I would think so.:

He checked his watch, and noted it was almost time for class. He waved a quick goodbye to Smidgen and then hurried off for the first class of the day, Transfiguration.

It was dusk by the time Harry had a moment free to go down to the lake. He almost smiled, for the darkening sky reminded him of the first time he had gone down to the lake, on Halloween night, only then he had been with Katie and had not known of the fae creature that lived sometimes in the lake. He hurried down the path to the lake, which was calm and peaceful looking beneath the purple twilight sky.

There was nothing on the surface of it to lead one to believe that what lay beneath was anything but peaceful. As Harry knew perfectly well, from his adventures with Severus down in the depths to rescue Katie from the attentions of a certain kelpie. A kelpie who was now his friend, oddly enough. *

Harry knelt down at the water's edge and put his hand into the swirling cool water. Anytime you have need of my services, simply put your hand or foot into the water and speak my name.

"Duncan!"

Then he withdrew his hand and sat down, anxiously awaiting a reply.

He did not have long to wait. The center of the lake began to froth and bubble and then it erupted in a spray of silvery water and from it emerged a glossy black horse, a magnificent stallion with shells and seaweed braided into his flowing mane and tail. The horse glided on the top of the water as if it were ice. His eyes, which were a deep icy blue, glittered with goodwill.

"Harry, my friend! Well met again." The kelpie greeted, dipping his head. His hooves made no sound upon the lakeshore.

He paused beside the boy, the water sheening his black hide, making it look like ebony satin.

"Hi."

"And how is the lovely Lady Katherine?" Duncan queried softly.

"She's good."

"And do you still love her then?"

Harry met the fae horse's eyes steadily. "I do."

The kelpie snorted. "Ah, well. I wish you joy, young wizard. May you know the love I did with my Albia. What did you wish to speak with me about?"

"Um . . .how many languages do you speak, Duncan? And can you read them too?"

The water horse whinnied. "Several, Harry. Why?"

"Because I . . .have a scroll I need to translate for the Triwizard Tournament." Harry coughed. "It's in ancient Greek and I've tried to translate it but . . .I'd appreciate it if you could give me some pointers. You don't have to translate the whole thing, but . . ."

"Show me this impossible scroll, Harry, and then we shall see," the kelpie ordered, and then he shimmered and transformed into a very handsome man, with the almond-shaped eyes and pointed ears of one of the fae lords. He had jet black hair that fell in a swath down his back, and he was dressed in a fine velvet tunic and breeches with shiny black boots. In his hair were small shell ornaments and a pearl rested in one ear.

Harry stared up at him, the scroll forgotten in his hand. "Merlin! But you're . . .a man!"

Duncan laughed. "Yes, for now. Just so did my Albia see me one summer's day. And everyday after that, once we had pledged our troth. Why so surprised? You know that I'm able to change shape."

"I know, but . . .never mind!" Harry laughed. "Here." He handed the kelpie the scroll.

Duncan handled it reverently. He muttered a small spell and the parchment was lit up, glowing softly so that he could read it. "This is quite old. Ancient Greek, I believe."

"Can you . . .read it?"

The kelpie was silent for a moment. His lips moved softly, almost inaudibly. Then he looked up, and in his eyes was a look of mischief. "Oh, yes. I spent much time off the coast of Greece, the waters of the Aegean are simply marvelous. It has been many centuries since I have read it though, so if you're expecting a swift translation, I'm afraid I must disappoint you."

"I . . .well, like I said . . .I don't need you to translate all of it, Duncan."

"And why not?"

"Well, I don't think you're . . .umm . . .allowed. The rules of the tournament," Harry began.

"Rules?" the kelpie sounded amused. "Were you told specifically that you had to translate the scroll? Or that you had to find a means to translate it?" He asked shrewdly.

Harry thought back to when Crouch had spoken to them of the second task. "Uh, he just said I had to translate the scroll and solve the riddle by February 24th. And that our parents or relatives or teachers couldn't help us with the tasks."

"How about friends?"

Harry considered. "They didn't say anything about friends."

"Then you wouldn't be breaking any rules if I helped you. Not that I care, since your rules have no bearing on me. But, if you like, I shall teach you the basics of ancient Greek while I am trying to translate this scroll."

"You will?"

"Aye, but only because I can tell you'd fret yourself to a shadow if I didn't," the kelpie smirked. "Is there a place we might go to besides the lakeshore? It's fine for me, but you mortals are fragile things, and I don't wish your father to skin me should you fall ill."

"You could come into the castle, I guess. The Room of Requirement should be okay for us to use," Harry said. "We could use my Invisibility Cloak."

Duncan snorted in amusement. "No need for that, Harry. I am fae, and when I don't wish a mortal to see me, they won't."

"Oh. That's right, the Glamour," Harry said. "I knew that."

Swirling his cloak about his tall frame, Duncan vanished from Harry's view.

Then the kelpie and the half-fae wizard returned to the castle, where Harry spent the rest of the night in the Room of Requirement, learning the Greek alphabet and elementary phrases while Duncan perused the scroll, writing down lines and then crossing them out.

Eventually, Harry felt his head begin to nod and then he began to drift.

When the kelpie looked up, he saw the boy's head lying upon the table, and Harry's eyes were closed in blissful slumber. A smile touched his lips, and the kelpie rose and lifted the boy in his arms. "I believe you need your rest, youngling. Time for you to be in bed." He whispered two soft words of magic, and then Harry vanished from his arms, to reappear safe and sound and none the wiser in his bed.

With that, Duncan turned back to the scroll. Unlike his mortal friend, his body did not require sleep for long periods of time and so he remained awake for the rest of the night, translating the scroll diligently, in keeping with a promise he had made that same Halloween night.

He paused once or twice, lost in memories of another time and place. Ah, Albia. Had the gods seen fit to bless us with a child, I would have wished him to be a son just like Harry Snape. Honorable and spirited and brave, a son to make a father proud. You are blessed, Severus Snape, blessed thrice by Fortune. Perhaps, one day, Fortune shall smile upon me.

Then he returned to his self-appointed task, and when the first rays of the sun touched the tops of the trees, the kelpie set down his quill, his task complete.

He carefully folded the original and the translated piece along with a short note into an envelope and sealed it, then he sent it to lie next to the still sleeping Harry. Cloaking himself in Glamour, Duncan hummed happily as he descended the stairs and returned to the lake to hunt up some lunch, translating always made him famished.

*For the full story of the kelpie and that Halloween night Harry refers to read Prince Manor: Bubble Bubble, if you haven't already. It's an important short fic to the series.

 I hope you liked this one! You'll see Duncan again in a future chapter!

Chapter Text

Harry woke the next day from a pleasant dream of himself and Katie walking along a seashore, listening to the waves crash against the shore, their feet cooled deliciously by the surf. He sat up, only then wondering how he had gotten back in his bed and also realizing he was still wearing his clothes. He rubbed his eyes and put his glasses back on. Duncan must have put him to bed, he reasoned, but had forgotten to change his clothes to pajamas, the way Severus usually did. Still, he was grateful to the kelpie for doing that at all and wasn't about to quibble over trivialities.

He looked down as something crackled beneath his hand and saw a letter addressed to him, written in an unfamiliar hand. He carefully opened it, and found the original scroll inside, plus another paper with Duncan's translation and a note. He read the note first.

Harry,

I have finished translating what the scroll said. It is a riddle, but not one I am familiar with, though given enough time I am sure I could figure it out. I am sorry I cannot stay longer, but the sea is calling me and I must swim. Good luck with the figuring and take care of Lady Katherine for me. If you have need of me again, you have but to call.

Best wishes and may the sea grant you peace and harmony.

Ever your friend,

Duncan

Harry smiled. The parchment even smelled a bit like the briny deep. He tucked it in his pocket, then unfolded the translation.

On it was the following riddle:

With no wings, I fly

With no eyes, I see

With no arms, I climb

More frightening than any beast,

Stronger than any foe,

I am cunning, ruthless

And tall

In the end, I rule all.

What am I?

Harry's brow wrinkled and he tried to puzzle what it could be, but he just wasn't up to handling hard riddles this early in the morning. He carefully put the translation into the scroll case, he would show it to Hermione later and see what she made of it. He swung his legs over the side of the bed but before he could stand up, a strange black owl flew in the window, carrying two letters addressed to Harry Snape, Hogwarts School.

The owl landed on his arm and held out the letters. Harry took them and called some owl treats from his trunk into his hand for the black avian. "Here you go. You did double duty today, you ought to go rest up in the Owlery." The owl took the treats daintily and flew away.

Ron stuck his head out from his bed and said sleepily, "Who's sending you mail this early in the morning, Harry?"

"Uh . . .I don't know. Guess I'll find out." He opened the first letter and smiled. "It's from Snuffles!" he told Ron softly.

Dear Harry,

Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner, but I was trying to contact Dumbledore and couldn't get a hold of him right away. I wanted to ask him how in bloody hell he could let you become involved in something as dangerous as the Triwizard Tournament. I'll bet Snape was ready to spit nails, like I was. Your aunt was horrified too, kept asking if there wasn't something I could do, like kidnap you, to prevent you from participating. I had to slip her a Calming Draught in her tea and explain to her about binding magical contracts before she quit breathing fire. She's some lady, your aunt.

I would have to agree with the old man and say that your name was placed in the goblet by someone who wishes you harm. So please be on your guard, Harry. Watch your back, okay. That first task was terribly dangerous, I'm glad you managed to overcome the lamia with a minimum of injury. Has your dad taught you a Conjunctivitis Charm yet? That will temporarily blind a foe if you cast it right. It was a favorite of us Aurors back when I was still on the force. If you don't know it, ask your dad to show you.

For once I'm glad that Snape's your dad, Harry, because he's one tough bugger and a good man to have in a fight, he knows how to kick your arse six ways to Sunday. I don't worry all that much if he's around, because he'll die to defend you, kid.

Sorry we can't come visit for Christmas, but it's too dangerous right now for me to venture out and Petunia and Dudley don't want to leave me alone on the holiday, so they're staying with me. We'll send you gifts, though. Hell, I think Tuney's even bought a gift for young Malfoy and old Pricklepuss there.

You might start to wonder just what is going on over here with your aunt and cousin. Truth is, I'm not quite sure, but I think I'm falling in love with her and even your cousin is growing on me. I know, I know, it's a shock right? Well, even us old dogs get lonely, kid, and Tuney is something else. She's brave and smart and while she may not be model gorgeous, she's pretty enough to make me look twice. What she endured at the hands of that beast is something no woman should, and that's not something I say lightly. She doesn't really talk about it, but I've held her after a nightmare plenty of times, and she's done the same for me.

And Dudley's changed too from when I last wrote. He's turned over a new leaf and finally decided to grow up. He's lost a lot of weight, don't think you'd recognize him if you saw him, and he's learned that there's more to life than eating and video games and getting your own way all the time. He's finally discovered himself, I guess you'd say.

Matter of fact, he wanted to write you too, and I told him I'd send along his letter with mine.

Tuney sends you her love.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Take care now, kid!

Love ya,

Snuffles

Harry knew his jaw was hanging open like a dimwit, but he couldn't help it. Sirius is in LOVE with my AUNT. With AUNT PETUNIA. Holy good God, I cannot believe this! When did it happen? How did it happen? Scratch that—I don't want to know. Do I? Who in the world would have thought? Wait till I tell Dad, and Draco, and should I tell Ron and Hermione?

"Harry? Is it bad news? You look like you got hit in the head with a brick." Ron said.

"No, it's just . . .surprising." Harry said. Then he picked up the other letter.

He recognized Dudley's square messy print immediately. He quickly tore open the letter.

Dear Harry,

Guess you're wondering why I'm writing this to you. I mean, we didn't really get on and last time you saw me I tried to knock your head off. Mum said I should tell you I'm sorry for doing that, and I am, just so you know. Since moving in here with Siri I've learned to see things different than I have before.

At home, Dad used to tell me that I should have anything I wanted because I was his son and you were just our freaky poor relative that would come to a bad end. Looking back on it, we treated you rotten, me and Dad 'specially. I never thought it was wrong till I came here and Siri sat me down and we talked about what happened and why it happened.

He was mad—mostly at my dad—for what he did to you and Mum. I . . .never knew he hit her. I . . .when I found out . . .I was just . . .it's not something you ever want to think on, that your dad hurt your mum. That's wrong, he was wrong, and I was wrong too, for following him like a robot. Sorry. That's not enough, but it's all I know how to say.

I probably ought to say sorry to your dad—Uncle Severus—too, for behaving like a royal brat when he was at our house last time. Yeah, you're probably falling over right now hearing me call your dad that and say I was wrong. Feels kind of weird—in a good way. Mum says Uncle Severus is a decent man, even if he did threaten to wallop me, and that he'll give you a good home and a family. I hear you've got a brother now. What's he like? Hope he's not a bugger like I was.

Funny, but when I first moved in here I was sure I'd hate it and hate Sirius too. I mean, this place was like a dump compared to our old house and Sirius was a wizard like you and Uncle Severus, and I didn't trust him. I was upset and mad at Mum, I kind of blamed her for Dad dying. I was a stupid brat and I acted worse, till Sirius gave me what-for. Mum too. Took me awhile to see that, I was used to Dad saying I was perfect and I didn't owe anybody anything.

But being with Siri and Mum, living sort of like regular people, with no TV and no game systems (and that REALLY sucked) made me think and look at stuff I never had before. I played with Snuffles, it's so cool that he can become a dog. Wish I could become an animal. I think I might like to become a horse. We went for walks and I started to lose some weight. Now I like running around outside and Siri taught me how to play catch and some wizard card games. And I could see now that he wasn't a freak, and magic is kind of cool.

Mum really likes him a lot, and I almost died when I figured THAT out, but now I'm okay with it. Siri's not like Dad, he doesn't expect her to wait on him and he asks her for advice and they talk. Siri's funny, he likes to joke around and make me and Mum laugh, he hardly ever gets mad. Not unless I take an attitude with my mum or him. Then he can get madder than blazes, sort of like Uncle Severus. But I'm not afraid of him, like I was with my dad. Siri wouldn't ever hurt me, and once he punishes me it's over, he doesn't bring it up again. So . . .if he ever does marry Mum, I won't mind too much.

I think I wrote a book here, and I've got chores to do, so I'll just say have a Merry Christmas and all that.

Dudley

Harry wondered if he were still dreaming, those two letters were making his mind reel. He was still in a sort of daze about Sirius' revelation that he loved Petunia and he assumed his aunt returned his godfather's affections. And then Dudley's confession or whatever you called it . . .his cousin really had changed if he could admit that he had been wrong for all those years and regretted what he had been and done. Harry wondered if Sirius had magicked him somehow, then he shook his head. It would take more than a Personality Altering Charm to change Dudley so much, such things had to come from within, and from an honest desire to want to change, as Harry had learned over the summer at the manor with Draco. All of us have changed as the result of one secret being revealed. Me, Dad, Draco, Aunt Petunia, Sirius, and even Dudley. Changed for the better. Now I have a family that actually wants me, I'm not the freaky outcast Potter any more.

And that felt better than drinking a Euphoria Draft.

Ron was watching his friend's expression change from shock to acceptance and then to a sort of goofy smile. "Harry? What's up with you? You look like you just won a thousand Galleons."

Harry looked up at his friend. "It's complicated, but . . .I just got a letter from my cousin Dudley too."

"The fat one that was always such a prat to you?"

"Yeah, but . . .he's not like that anymore. Living with Snuffles changed him, he's not the spoiled snot that used to pound on me according to Sirius and he even wrote a letter to me apologizing and stuff."

"Wow! Guess that's good though. You gonna see him over the holiday?"

"No. Can't. But we'll be going back home to the manor. I've missed being home."

"Me too. Except for the fact that my mum's probably going to smack me a couple of good ones when I get home."

"I'm sorry, Ron," Harry began.

Ron waved off his apology. "Hell, Harry, it was worth it to see Krum get what was coming to him. Never thought I'd say this, but Malfoy has a damn good right hook. Where'd he learn to fight like that? Your dad teach him?"

"Yeah and me too. But we're only allowed to use kin-sa-dor to defend ourselves in a real fight. Come on, let's get dressed and go eat, I have a few other things to tell you." Harry said. He put his letters in his trunk and locked it, then he got dressed quietly, his mind full of new and astonishing thoughts.

That afternoon, he met Katie down by the lake and they had a small picnic lunch, just the two of them. Since the incident on Halloween night, he found it much easier to talk with her and share things of a personal nature that he wouldn't have dreamed of doing before. He told her about Duncan helping him with the scroll and she had smiled and said, "So he kept his promise after all. Not that I doubted he would. He doesn't seem like the type to break his word and didn't you tell me once that the fae can't lie?"

"Yes, but they can tell half-truths, that's why you have to be careful when you deal with them. Especially if they're Dark Court. But Duncan isn't. He asked for you."

Katie chuckled. "What did he say?"

"He asked how you were and then he warned me that if I didn't take care of you, he'd be there to take my place."

"Poor Duncan! I feel bad for him, Harry. He's smitten with me because I look like his Albia, in a way. I wish we could help him find someone else, someone who needs him as much as he needs someone."

"Katie, he's a thousand year old kelpie! I'm sure he doesn't need two fourteen-year-old's playing matchmaker."

"I'm not playing matchmaker, Harry. Just trying to help, is all. And being a thousand years old or something doesn't mean you can't use a bit of help every now and then."

"What are you scheming, Miss Bell?"

"I'm not . . .scheming, just thinking about possibilities."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Must be the fact that the Yule Ball's getting closer. You want every eligible man paired up for the evening."

She giggled. "I do not! I just feel sorry that Duncan's so alone. Is he handsome in his human form?"

"Uh . . .I'm not into guys that way, but . . .yeah, I'd say so. He looks like a fae lord and they can make a girl stop dead in the middle of traffic."

"Good. That makes it easier. Now . . .what girls do we know that aren't currently involved with anyone, have a good head on their shoulders, and aren't afraid of trying something different, like maybe dating a water horse?"

Harry thought for a moment, then said softly, "What about Luna Lovegood? She's a Ravenclaw and she's a bit mystical. She's not dating anyone that I know of and she would probably be fascinated with Duncan if she met him. I mean, she talks to and pets thestrals."

"And sees wrackspurts and other things," Katie chuckled. "Only thing is, she's a blond."

"Well, maybe Duncan needs to broaden his horizons and go out with a blond this time," Harry said.

"Maybe. And if she let me do her hair and lend her some pretty clothes . . .I mean some of her clothes are really strange, but I guess that's to be expected, since she has no mum or sisters to help her, and her dad wouldn't know what fashion was if it hit him, like most men . . .she wouldn't look so awkward and odd and maybe he might be willing to talk to her. It can't hurt, right?"

"Right. I'll summon him again the night of the Yule Ball. And if he agrees to meet her, she can go to the ball with him." Harry smirked. "And oh . . .will they turn heads all right!"

Katie smiled. "I hope it works out." Then she kissed her boyfriend, whom she adored for his compassionate nature as much as she did for his unflinching courage.

They spent the rest of their lunch period nibbling on the food they had brought and kissing inbetween bites, managing to enjoy the afternoon even though it was a bit nippy and they had to cast Warmth Charms over their blanket and clothes. Harry told Katie about Sirius and Dudley's letters and she said it was good that all of his family was getting along and hopefully it would stay that way.

At dinner that night in Severus' quarters, it was Saturday and Harry normally ate at least one meal in private with Severus, Phil, and Draco, Harry broke the story of Sirius, Petunia, and Dudley. Draco, who knew of Dudley through Harry's stories of his cousin, murmured, "Well it's about time the big baby grew up!"

Severus looked partially amused and surprised and said calmly, "If anyone could make Sirius Black grow up and become a responsible adult, it's Petunia. She always was a bossy thing back when we were children, always had to have the last word, and I never understood why she married that waste of breath Dursley. Black can be an impulsive idiot at times, but at least he won't hurt her or her son. I've no doubt she'll have him jumping through hoops before long, he never could resist a woman."

Phil chuckled. "One of those, eh?" he gave Severus a knowing look.

"And then some," remarked the Potions Master dryly.

"I think Sirius will make her happy," Harry said.

"I sincerely hope so." His father said, helping himself to more salad. "How are you coming along with your translation of that scroll?"

"Good," Harry answered, looking down at his plate. It was not a lie, but Harry didn't want Severus to know that Duncan had helped him just yet. Though he had told Draco. He quickly changed the subject. "Are we going home to the manor for Christmas, Dad?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact, we are." He did not tell them that he had sent Dobby and a few other house elves from Hogwarts there to decorate the manor for Christmas, as he and his sons would have no time to do so before the term ended. "And your Uncle Phil has something he would like to tell you about the holiday as well."

The two boys looked at the vampire, who was lounging casually in his chair, his violet eyes twinkling. "I've invited all of you to come to my cottage for part of the holiday, to meet my family. I figured it's time Julie met you and my boys have been pestering me to bring you by ever since Halloween. Does that sound good to you?"

Both Harry and Draco nodded.

"Sounds great, Uncle Phil," Draco said.

"Good, then I shall issue you an invitation to come right after Christmas, that will give Julie time to prepare a nice welcome for you." Phil said, smiling.

Then Harry remembered something else he still had to do. "Dad, can we go to Gringotts tomorrow? I need to get some money from my vault to go Christmas shopping."

"That won't be necessary, Harry. I told you before, your account and Draco's are not to be touched except in dire emergencies. Any money you need for Christmas presents I will give you."

Draco gave his brother a smug look. "Told you so." He turned to their father. "How much were you going to give us?"

"How much do you need?"

Draco thought for a moment. "Sixty Galleons."

"Sixty Galleons?" Harry exclaimed.

Draco scowled. "What? You want to get nice gifts, not some cheap throwaway things, right?" He pulled his brother's head down and whispered something in his ear.

"Oh. Okay. Yeah, sixty Galleons sounds about right."

Severus nodded. "Very well. I shall make the withdrawal tomorrow. Now finish your supper."

Harry and Draco thanked him, then continued eating. It was going to be a fine Christmas.

"Oh and don't forget, Dad, we need dress robes too for the ball," Draco reminded.

"Indeed. We can purchase those as well tomorrow. I'll make an appointment with Madam Malkin."

"Dress robes? Is that like a tuxedo?" Harry asked.

Severus' mouth quirked. "A little bit. You will be wearing a suit and tie underneath them. You'll see when we go there."

"Are you going to get some too?"

"No, for I already have mine," Snape answered.

"Are they black?"

"As a matter of fact, they are green." Severus replied, smirking. "Now finish your carrots."

Harry groaned but did as he was told. He just hoped shopping for dress robes wouldn't be a horror show.

December 24th dawned bright and sunny, but the girls in Gryffindor Tower and elsewhere in the school were in a tizzy, trying to get ready for the ball that evening. They were airing out dresses and robes, sticking sequins and bows on shoes to make them fancy, and trying out new hairstyles and make-up.

Harry and Ron could hear the shrieks and moans right through the wall of their dorm room. "What's going on in there?"

"Don't ask, mate. You don't want to know, trust me." Ron advised, shuddering. "I can't believe my mum expects me to wear those awful things. They look like my great-aunt Tilly's dress robes from a century ago! Maybe this is her way of punishing me for getting arrested." He indicated the velvet robes with the lacy sleeves and trim.

"Relax, Ron. Draco taught me a spell that will help you," Harry said. He took out his wand and pointed it at the ugly robes. Then he spoke three words and the robes' lacey trim disappeared, to be replaced by smart discreet crimson stripes and the cut altered to resemble more modern day wear, and a matching crimson bowtie appeared as well. "There. How about that?"

"Brilliant, Harry! Now Zara won't run screaming from me. You saved my life!"

"It was nothing." Harry said, embarrassed. "You really ought to thank Draco. He knows a lot of spells to adjust clothes and things."

"Yeah, he's a real toff clotheshorse." Ron tittered.

"Ron, you'd better never tell him that to his face, or else you'll end up with a fat lip," Harry warned. Then he added mischievously, "Even if it is true."

"I'll just keep it to myself," Ron muttered.

Harry's dress robes hung neatly on a hook, they were a classic black with a wide gold trim on the sleeves and down the front, they had an embroidered lion roaring on the right side, and were tailored to fit him perfectly. So was the smart suit that hung next to it. Severus had spared no expense on his sons' clothing. Harry even had new shoes for the occasion.

It hadn't been all that bad getting his dress robes, Harry simply let Severus and Draco pick out the cut and style, since he had no idea what was good or not. Then all he had to endure was the fitting and that was done by magic.

"C'mon, Ron. Let's go flying or something." Harry suggested, picking up his broom. He was eager to fly since being grounded, and he also had something else to do at the lake before dark fell.

Half-an-hour before the ball was about to start, all of the couples were crowded into the Entrance Hall, talking and laughing, some were biting their lips uneasily. Hermione was next to Draco, looking fabulous in her beautiful rose pink gown, her hair was no longer frizzy, but sleek and put up on top of her head in a twist with several tendrils left free to hang alluringly down her neck. She even wore beautiful pearl and tourmaline earrings shaped like flowers, and on her feet were glittery pink pumps. A light touch of blush and eyeshadow and she glowed like a fresh spring morning.

Draco had taken one look at her and felt himself ache with desire. But he controlled himself admirably, and walked over and bowed politely, taking her hand and kissing it in the courtly fashion of purebloods. "Miss Granger, you are like a beautiful English rose come to life. Would you do me the honor of being my lady?"

Hermione's eyes glowed. "I would, my lord Malfoy," she said, then she laughed. "Draco, you look smashing."

He blushed lightly. "It's the dress robes." Like Harry, his dress robes had been tailored to fit him perfectly, emphasizing his height and trim waist and well-muscled body. He too was wearing basic black with silver and gold trim and a stylized snake upon his right breast. His tie was a simple satin green, but it offset perfectly his pearl gray shirt. His hair was brushed back in a fashionable wave and his gray eyes glowed with joy when he looked upon his Hermione, the bookworm who had suddenly become a beautiful butterfly.

He gently took her arm and led her towards the line of people. Heads turned and girls and boys gasped when they caught sight of Hermione, and Draco simply looked daggers at the few boys who dared to let their gazes linger upon her too long. "I love the dress," he whispered to her.

"Thanks. Katie and I went shopping together and she helped me with my hair."

"You look amazing," he said, and smiled at her.

Hermione felt rather dizzy and could hardly believe she was actually doing this, attending a formal ball with Draco on her arm. She felt almost like Cinderella, walking into the ball with a handsome prince. "Hi, Katie! You look incredible!" she called to her friend, who was making her way across the crowded Hall looking for Harry, who was just coming downstairs.

He stopped dead when he saw Katie. "Oh . . .Merlin! Katie you're . . .wow!"

"Hi, fly boy!" she grinned up at him. Her gown was a deep marine blue that came down almost to her feet, accented by lovely black pearls and turquoise pieces about the bodice and hem. The material the gown was formed of shimmered in the light and changed subtly from blue to a sea green and back again. Her dark hair was partially bound with two braids about her head and the rest left to drift down her back in a shining dark wave. Pearls and aquamarines were wound into her braids and she, like Hermione, wore just enough make-up to accent her brilliant eyes and high cheekbones. Her sandals were silver and deep blue and she wore aquamarine drops in her ears and a single large pearl about her neck.

"Well, what do you think?" she asked, twirling about.

"You look like a beautiful sea maiden," Harry said, finally regaining the power of speech. He held out his arm to her as he had seen Draco do. "Shall we?"

She took his arm and they walked past Draco and Hermione to the front of the line.

"Wait till you see what Mione and I did to Luna," Katie whispered, laughing softly. She gestured to the opposite staircase, where people were muttering and whispering in shock and envy at the vision in lavender silk coming down it.

Harry's eyes widened.

Luna was wearing a soft gown that flowed about her like gauzy wings, it was a beautiful lavender color that played up her blond hair and blue eyes to perfection. She also had a lovely silver scarf, since the dress was strapless, and wore silver heels to match. The front of the dress bore a silver pin with a rearing horse emblem and Luna's hair was twisted up in a tasteful knot and she wore a crown of lilacs on her head. And instead of radishes in her ears, she now wore silver horseshoes.

"I told her they were good luck," Katie whispered, smirking. "Doesn't she look brilliant?"

Harry nodded. "I almost didn't recognize her."

Ron whistled as he came up next to them. "Blimey, Harry! Did you see Luna? She looks like a totally different person. Really attractive." Then he turned to Zara and said apologetically, "Sorry, I mean she's not as attractive as you, Zara."

Zara laughed. "Don't worry, cherie, I am not the jealous type. Miss Lovegood is indeed tres belle." Zara herself was dressed in a beautiful traditional gypsy gown, with ten ruffles upon the skirt, in gold and crimson, and her blouse was low cut and an even deeper crimson. A long shawl decorated in brilliant jewel tone silks of all the colors of the rainbow hung across her shoulders and her wrists flashed with gold bracelets and silver bangles. She wore high heeled black shoes with golden lilies on the front and her hair was twined with small golden buttercups and left to swirl about her head in a magnificent swath of curls. About her neck was a crest of a leaping leopard, the symbol of her Burgundian house.

Ron kept looking at her as if he were afraid she might vanish before his eyes, and he kept smiling nervously, and tugging at his sleeves to cover his sweaty palms. He was afraid he looked rumpled in his fancy robes, but even he couldn't deny they were a damn sight better than the original ones. "You look like a million Galleons, Zara."

"Aww, you're sweet, Ron!" she beamed at him, then kissed him on the cheek.

He blushed as red as his hair, and tried to ignore the cries of "Kiss her back, Weasley, she's a babe!" and "Way to go, little brother!" from the twins.

"My brothers! They're so . . .just ignore them," he said, feeling himself blush even hotter.

"Why? Perhaps you should take zere advice, no?" she teased.

Ron gulped. "You mean . . .you want me to kiss you?"

"I would not ask you otherwise," she murmured, looking up at him from beneath her lashes.

Ron felt like he had just won the Triwizard Tournament. He put an arm about the lovely Beauxbatons witch and kissed her softly.

Fred and George cheered.

So did Draco, Hermione, Harry and Katie.

Luna skipped up to them, looking rather shy and uncertain in her new wardrobe. "Hello, Harry! You look very handsome."

"Thanks, Luna. You look really great too."

"Oh, well, Katie convinced me to come, even though I haven't got a date yet. She lent me the dress and fixed my hair, I think it looks pretty good."

"It does, and you never know just when someone unexpected will show up that needs a partner," Harry said, winking at Katie. He had told Duncan to come to the castle at seven o'clock, when all the couples would be going into the Great Hall.

"Really?" Luna looked around. "But I don't see anyone."

"Just be patient. I'm sure there's someone who'll be here," Harry reassured her. He checked his watch-6:55. "Five more minutes till the doors open."

In front of them were Fleur and Roger Davies, looking like a perfect society couple, handsome and haughty and charming. Fleur was wearing a sophisticated powder blue number that showed off her fabulous curves and long neck.

In front of her were Cho and Cedric, who also looked wonderful, Cedric in gold and black robes and Cho was wearing a Chinese silk dress with peonies and cranes upon it. She looked beautiful and serene, like a marble goddess.

First in line were Krum, who was wearing some kind of velvet red robe thickly trimmed with white mink fur, like a Russian czar and fur trimmed boots and a thick gold chain was about his neck. He had an arrogant smirk on his face and was escorting a pale and wispy girl wearing a frilly white dress that made her look like a cake topper. Katie said her name was Damascus Rosen, she was a fifth-year Ravenclaw, and very stuck-up. She was looking down her nose at Luna and then her eyes shot to Katie, who gave her a cool nod and turned away.

"Upstart mariner's daughter," Damascus sniffed.

Harry stiffened and would have replied to the sneering girl, but Katie shook her head.

"Keep it cool, Snape. She's been calling me that since we were both in short skirts. I take it as a compliment. Her father couldn't pass the test for a Sea Wizard and so he became a merchant. She's just jealous because my da's stronger magically than hers. And we won the last sailing competition at Devon too."

"I still don't like what she said," Harry said angrily. "Who does she think she is?"

"The belle of the ball."

"Humph! There's only one belle and I've got her right here," Harry declared, and hugged her close.

Katie grinned and kissed him, her cerulean eyes dancing. "Where's Duncan?"

Harry glanced upwards just as the clock struck seven and the double doors to the hall swung open. "I don't know. He said he would be here."

"Harry, what did you tell him?" Katie asked, frowning.

"Uh . . .that there was a big party going on and one of my friends needed an escort. Why?"

"Oh. I was afraid you said something else, like you just wanted to talk to him or something." She faced forward as the line began to move inside the hall.

Harry continued to look around for the kelpie until Katie tugged him into the hall, and they processed up the strip of red carpet to the dais where the teachers sat, along with Karkaroff, Madame Maxime, and Bagman. Harry stared in alarm as he didn't see Crouch there, only a smug Percy in his spot. Percy gave him a supercilious look and pointed them to a seat next to his own.

Harry reluctantly slid into it, he had managed to avoid the arrogant third eldest Weasley since that day on the stairs, when Percy had declared he wasn't fit company for his brother. "What are you doing here?" he snapped, not caring if he sounded rude. "Where's Mr. Crouch?"

"Mr. Crouch is . . .indisposed," Percy replied smoothly. "Had a nervous attack. Under a lot of pressure you know. I'm his assistant, you know, and he told me to take his place. He trusts me implicitly." The older wizard stated, as if he had just been named king of the British Isles.

"I'll bet." Harry said shortly. He looked down the table at his father, who was dressed impeccably in his forest green dress robes, his hair bound back by a satin ribbon, and gave Severus a smile.

Dark eyes met green and Severus gave him an approving nod and a smile in return. He was seated next to Dumbledore, at his right hand, and McGonagall was opposite him on the Headmaster's left. Dumbledore was at the head of the long table, beaming genially at everyone, dressed in sumptuous purple velvet trimmed with ermine and sparkles, and the beret he wore upon his white locks sported a single red phoenix feather.

Harry looked around, the hall was glittering with candles floating in the air, and festooned with pine boughs and holly and huge red velvet bows. The usual long tables had been done away with in favor of smaller round ones that sat four people and were draped with red tablecloths. There was a large space in the middle of the hall where the dancing was to be, and off to the right was a podium where the Weird Sisters were supposed to be playing. It was currently empty.

Harry frowned, for the students were being seated and still there was no sign of Duncan. He could not believe the kelpie was late. Poor Luna would have no one to escort her inside and would end up having to come in alone.

Just then there was a stirring at the opposite end of the hall, and all heads turned to see Luna standing at the entrance of the hall, her hand upon a devastatingly handsome young man. She was looking up at him and smiling, a heartbreaking sweet smile.

Duncan was looking down on her and saying something that made her laugh, then he gestured and they began to walk down the aisle. The kelpie had managed to make himself look around seventeen, but there was an ageless quality in his face and the way he held himself. His hair had been left long, it shone black as night and he was wearing a tunic and cloak of a shimmering white and deep blue that complimented Luna's gown perfectly. His breeches were skin-tight blue leather and looked as if they had scales sewn on to them. On anyone else, that sort of costume might have looked ridiculous, but not on the kelpie. On Duncan it was dazzling.

Every girl's eye in the room was drawn to the handsome stranger, and Duncan flashed one of his dazzling smiles before leading Luna to an empty table and holding out a chair for her.

Whispers and rumors exploded around them, but the two serenely ignored them, intent only upon each other.

"I say, who is that fellow?" Bagman asked, for fae Glamour affected even men. "He's criminally handsome."

"He is that, all right," murmured Professor Sinistra dreamily. "Who is he?"

They all looked at Dumbledore, who Harry had told of his little scheme. The old wizard smiled and said, "He's a distant cousin of one of the students, recently arrived from the Caribbean, I believe."

Everyone murmured astonishment at the unexpected guest save for one person.

Severus turned and shot Harry a sharp glance and his son knew that he was not fooled for a minute. He knew quite well who the visitor was, he knew Glamour when he saw it.

An instant later, Harry felt Smidgen settle upon his shoulder. :Master Harry, your father wishes to know how a kelpie came to be invited to the Yule Ball.:

Tell him I invited him to be Luna's escort. Actually, it was Katie's idea, we both thought it wasn't fair for him to be alone on Christmas, and we figured Luna would be a good partner for him. So we asked him, he agreed, and here he is.

:I see! Playing matchmaker, are you?: Smidgen seemed vastly amused and purred her approval into his head before blinking over to Snape and relating Harry's words to him.

Severus rolled his eyes heavenward at the shimmerling's message and thought, I should have known. Merlin save me from matchmaking teenagers. I shall have to find a moment later to speak to him, make sure he understands that Lovegood is not to be snatched away after the ball is over.

Harry relaxed when he saw that his father did not appear angry over his little scheme, and then stared down at his golden plate. Where was the food?

He got his answer a moment later when Dumbledore spoke his order into the air. "Pork chops and potatoes."

There was a flash and then perfectly done pork chops swimming in gravy and potatoes appeared on his plate, along with asparagus and a small buttered roll.

"Guess we get to choose the menu tonight," Katie said excitedly, then she asked for crab cakes in sweet red pepper sauce and rice pilaf.

Harry thought for a moment, then remembered he had always wanted to try broiled lobster tails and steak with a baked potato.

His dinner appeared upon his plate a few seconds later, and it smelled absolutely divine. He looked over to see what his father had ordered.

Severus was eating mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat, huge ones, with a side of risotto Milanese and green beans.

Harry hid a smile. I should have known. He made that once for dinner at the manor and said it was one of his favorites. I'll have to remember that for his birthday. He began eating his lobster, dipping the tender meat into the melted butter beside his plate. It was heavenly.

No wonder Dudley always ordered that when we went out to a restaurant. Mmm, it's so good! He ate another piece, savoring the rich taste.

On the floor, at their table, Draco and Hermione were sharing a plate of tender veal cutlets in a brown sauce with mashed potatoes and honey-glazed carrots. They fed each other bites and laughed when some sauce dripped on Draco's shirt. He promptly cleaned it off with a flick of his wand and resumed eating. Ron and Zara shared their table, though Ron was not bold enough to ask Zara to share a dinner with him. He contended himself with a tender Swiss steak and a baked potato loaded with cheese and bacon and Zara had chicken cordon bleu and peas with mushrooms and pasta with butter and garlic. For drinks there were fizzy apple cider and grape juice and the adults had some kind of rum punch.

At least some of the adults did. Severus did not touch the punch, instead sipping a lemon water.

Karkaroff looked at the other wizard and asked maliciously, "What's this, Snape? Not man enough to hold your liquor? Where I come from, this is mild as milk."

Severus gave Karkaroff a glance that should have killed him where he sat. "I prefer to not make a drunken ass out of myself, Igor, unlike some people I could name."

"Are you calling me a drunk, Snape?"

Severus sneered and turned back to his dinner.

Karkaroff muttered and glared, but no one else said anything and McGonagall shot him a look that should have roasted him.

At last the dinner was ended and the Weird Sisters appeared, ready to begin the opening number that all the champions would dance to. Harry glanced nervously at Katie, who patted his hand.

"Don't worry, Harry. You'll do fine. You didn't step on my feet once when we practiced with Draco and Hermione."

Harry swallowed, wishing this were over. He looked over at the Weird Sisters, who reminded him of specters from a newly dug grave with their torn robes and dyed hair that hung over their eyes. As he watched, he saw out of the corner of his eye, Duncan push back his chair and approach the platform where they were standing.

He spent a total of three minutes in conversation, and then the lead singer of the wizard band bowed and gestured for him to come up on the stage.

The kelpie bounded up easily, smiling.

"Oh Merlin, he's going to sing for us!" Katie said, and sighed in rapture. Duncan's voice sometimes still haunted her dreams, it was that spellbinding.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have here a guest singer tonight, who wishes to open for us," announced the lead of the Weird Sisters. "Please welcome Duncan Wavestrider."

Duncan bowed and such was the charm he exuded that everyone in the room cheered and clapped like crazy, even though they had never heard him sing a note.

Over the tumult, Karkaroff leaned in and taunted Severus yet again. "Such a shame that you have no lady willing to stand up with you, Snape. Or do you not dance as well as drink, you backward stiff?"

Severus flushed, ready to take the arrogant Headmaster of Durmstrang apart with his razor tongue.

But before he could get a word out, another replied to Igor's comment. "You're pretty bold, wizard, to say such things about a combat master. I don't see a woman next to you, Lord Lackwit."

Karkaroff nearly fell over backwards as a lady in a gorgeous royal purple gown appeared beside Severus.

Severus spun around, rising to his feet so quickly he nearly knocked over his chair. "Sarai! What in Merlin's name are you doing here?"

"Asking you to dance, Sev, among other things," she replied, gazing up at him lovingly. "I'd offer to teach that buffoon over there some manners too, but I know you could do that yourself. Surprised?"

"I . . .but what about your oath to Titania?"

"My gracious queen allowed me to take a small vacation, and so I'm here until the end of Twelfth Night." Sarai told him, her evergreen eyes shining. "I wanted to surprise you for Christmas, so I didn't send a messenger."

His hands closed over her shoulders, and he said tenderly, "You are the very best surprise I could have, Sarai a'mara." His eyes burned with a fierce wild passion and a tenderness few in this world had ever seen.

Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Ah, Severus, would you please introduce your lady to us?"

The Potions Master blinked, then reluctantly turned away from his half-fae beloved. "Forgive me, Albus. Allow me to introduce my betrothed, Lady Sarai Kinsalari Valinek, cousin to Queen Titania of the Seelie Court, and Captain of her personal guard."

"Charmed, my dear. You are the first representative of fae royalty we have had at the school since it was founded, I believe," Dumbledore said, standing and taking Sarai's hand and bowing over it. "Welcome, my lady, to Hogwarts. I am Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster."

Sarai gave him a pleasant smile. "Thank you, sir. The pleasure is mine. And I am hardly royalty, I am but a distant relation to Titania."

"Nevertheless, you are a relation," Dumbledore insisted. He eyed Severus shrewdly. "Where have you been keeping her, Severus?"

"Ask rather where her duty has been keeping her," Severus said, looking a bit embarrassed. "She serves Titania as her personal bodyguard and is often away in the Realm of Faerie, protecting her sovereign."

"This enchanting little lady is a warrior?" Flitwick remarked, looking at Sarai in astonishment.

Sarai chuckled. "Don't be fooled by my appearance, this dress is court apparel and were you to see me in my armor and uniform, you wouldn't think me a soft court flower."

She gestured at her dress, which was a lovely royal purple that fell almost to her feet, elegant and tasteful, with a close-fitting bodice with a neckline of moonstones and amethysts, tapering down to a flowing skirt inset with silk and chiffon. On her feet were dainty heels that gave her an extra two inches of height, so she came up to Severus's chin. Entwined in her hair, which had been tamed somewhat with several potions, were several glowing purple stones. "Titania's wardrobe mistress called this color and style Purple Passionflower or some such nonsense," she told Severus with a wry grin. "Do you like it?"

"I love it," he said, drawing her close. "You outshine the stars, beloved."

"Oh, please. Compared to my cousins I am but a candle flame."

"But your cousins are not here, are they? You are, and you are the most beautiful woman here tonight. Trust me on that." Severus said, lifting her hand and kissing it tenderly.

Katie nudged Harry. "Is that the professor's girlfriend?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, that's Sarai. She's something, isn't she?"

Katie nodded. "Yeah. I look like a house elf next to her."

"You do not," Harry argued. "She's half-fae, that's why she's so stunning. But I love you just the way you are, Lady Katherine."

"Really?"

"Really. In fact, this is the first time I've ever seen Sarai in a dress. Normally she wears a tunic and breeches and carries a sword." He had been speaking quietly, but he had forgotten how sharp a half-fae's hearing was.

"Too true, Harry, but I could hardly show up to a ball in my uniform, now could I?" Sarai asked, smiling down at him.

"Uh . . .no." Harry said, blushing. "Hi, Sarai. That's a . . .nice dress."

"Thank you, Harry. Well met, Heir Apparent," laughed the guard captain, giving him a short curtsey. "Where is your brother?"

"He's over there, with Hermione." Harry gestured to where Draco was sitting. "Sarai, meet Katie Bell, my girlfriend."

Sarai stepped away from Severus's embrace to shake Katie's hand. "Well met and a joyous Yuletide to you, Katie."

Katie blushed and managed a soft, "And you as well, lady."

Sarai gave her a smile, then greeted the others at the table before stepping back to Severus and taking his arm. "And now, I believe you were going to have a dance, were you not?" She looked up at the platform. "Cernunnos! How ever did you persuade one of my folk to sing for you?"

"Ask Harry," Severus told her, smiling. "He arranged it."

Before anyone could remark upon that, Duncan gave a nod to one of the Weird Sisters, who began to strum an invisible guitar, and as the first notes of the old ballad drifted across the hall, Duncan spoke.

"This first number is for the four champions and their partners, will they please come down on the floor to lead the first dance?"

The kelpie's voice was as rich and compelling as ever, and Harry found himself moving down the dais and onto the dance floor with Katie before he knew what he was about. He had no chance to feel awkward, however, because Duncan began to sing, an old love song of the Seelie Court, called "My Beloved's Eyes".

The tune was an easy one to dance to, and Harry found his feet moving without conscious effort, stepping and turning in a soft gliding motion. He held Katie close and gazed into her eyes, enraptured by her nearness and her eyes and the music that flowed from the kelpie's throat. For a single moment, nothing else existed except the two of them.

Duncan made a beckoning motion, and other couples stood and joined the four champions.

Draco twirled elegantly with Hermione, smiling down at her with such passion that it brought tears to her eyes.

Ginny danced and laughed with Neville, who managed to not step on her feet at all this time.

Dumbledore offered a hand to McGonagall, who took it, and the two stepped out to a graceful pavine.

Sarai turned to her betrothed. "Shall we dance, my Lord Severus?"

He took her arm and smiled challengingly. "Let us see if I can't make you dance your slippers through tonight, Lady Sarai."

Then he led her out on the floor, in a stately waltz that left others gaping.

Despite the difference in their height, the wizard and the half-fae warrior were perfectly matched. Sarai was grace incarnate, her feet hardly seemed to touch the floor. Severus led confidently, his innate grace and agility lending itself to the steps of the dance without much effort on his part. Though it had been over a year since he had danced this way with his lady, much less with an entire audience looking on, he found that he was not awkward in the least. He simply kept his eyes fixed upon his beloved and let the love he felt for her express itself in the music and the twirling motions of the waltz.

The students backed away, mouths agape, watching in awe as their professor and the strange yet beautiful woman he was partnering danced across the floor and back in perfect harmony. Draco and Hermione halted their own dance to watch and so did everyone else save Dumbledore and Madame Maxime.

Harry was grinning and holding Katie, swaying in time to the music, and he noted with some satisfaction that Krum was looking at Sarai and Severus with a sour expression upon his face and it was equally matched by Karkaroff, whose ill-considered comments now made him appear stupider than ever.

Duncan, recognizing two kindred spirits, continued to sing, finishing his first song and launching into another, this one a slightly faster reel.

Sarai and Severus moved over to where Harry, Draco, Hermione, and Katie were and Sarai held out her hand to Draco. "Come, little Dragon, dance with us. This one is meant to be danced in a circle, a roundel. Like this," she demonstrated, her feet flashing in and out.

"Sarai, you're in a dress!" Draco blurted, too shocked to say anything else.

The warrior laughed. "Indeed, and have a long look, child, for this may be the last time you see me in such garb for months. Now, will you dance, young one? "Tis remarkably like kin-sa-dor, this step."

Draco stared into her twinkling emerald eyes and laughed too. Then he took her hand and grabbed Hermione by the other, and she in turn grabbed Harry, who grabbed Katie, who reached out and snatched Ron's hand, and then Zara followed, clasping Luna's hand. Duncan came down from the musician's platform and took Luna's other hand, still singing lustily, and one by one the other students joined in until there was a huge spiral whirling and twirling all across the hall, bound together by a kelpie's song and the unity and fellowship of the season.

Eventually the great spiral dance broke up into smaller circles and one by one, partners took their turns in the center of each, dancing as they chose for a brief few minutes before backing out and giving the stage to another pair.

Duncan twirled a breathless Luna about, never missing a note, his dark cerulean eyes filled with laughter, his feet weaving a deft pattern. "What a revel, my lady! 'Tis most glorious, yes?" he sang.

"Oh, yes, but please slow down, I can't keep up," Luna panted, but she was grinning.

Obligingly, Duncan slowed his steps till she matched him, and thought how wonderful it was to dance and sing again, and how good it felt to see the light in the girl's eyes, as she smiled up at him, her eyes dreamy and filled with affection. Just so did I dance with my Albia, across the sand, to the invisible lyre and pipes I conjured with magic. Little Luna, yours is a wise soul, you see things beyond your ken, and yet you still have a refreshing innocence about you. May you keep that forever.

But at last his song came to an end, and everyone halted, panting and breathless, drunk on the sensations the kelpie had conjured with his splendid talent. Duncan bowed to the Weird Sisters, who were reluctant to try and follow such musical brilliance, and then he asked Luna if she was thirsty.

"Yes, I am. Dancing is fun, but it's also thirsty work," she admitted.

"Aye, little moon, it is." Duncan smirked, and led her over to the refreshment table, where bowls of non-alcoholic fruit punch sat chilling. He poured two glasses, handed one to the starry-eyed girl, and they toasted each other. "Here's to a Happy Yuletide, my lady, and may you have many more."

"You too, Duncan," she laughed and drank. She was dizzy, drunk upon joy such as she had never known, enchanted by the handsome young man who had appeared out of thin air to escort her to the ball. She knew almost next to nothing about him, but somehow that did not matter right then. There was something indefinable that drew her to him, and she could tell right away that whoever he was, he was not—at least completely—human. A fae lord, most likely, I think. Like all those stories Papa used to read to me. I could lose myself in his eyes forever, she thought and then proceeded to do so.

Harry and Katie were heading back to their seats to rest for a bit when they caught sight of the kelpie and Luna gazing at each other dreamily.

"Look, Harry! It worked! I think he likes her," Katie said.

Harry eyed the kelpie, noting that he was giving Luna a sweet smile, and nodded. "Sure does." He slapped his palm down on Katie's and laughed. "This was some Yule Ball, huh?"

"Yes. I'm having such a good time," she said, levitating two cups of punch over to them. She took one and Harry the other, and they sipped contentedly while watching the others on the floor.

Zara had traded partners and now she danced with Draco and Ron with Hermione, and the half-Rom proved she had inherited her ancestors' love of music and grace as she and the Slytherin danced a wild flamenco to the Weird Sisters' rock number.

Some of the Slytherins cheered and Blaise Zabini yelled, "Go it, Malfoy! Nobody dances like a Slytherin!"

There was an overwhelming yell from all the Slytherins present, as they saluted their Head of House, who was standing quietly with his arm about Sarai, and his foster son.

Laughing, Draco spun Zara around, then bowed and handed her off to Ron and claimed Hermione once more as the band shifted into a slow dance tune.

Harry would have asked Katie to dance again, but he felt a sudden urge to use the bathroom and regretfully hurried from the hall.

Upon returning, he caught sight of Moody and Karkaroff in a corner, and he slowed, wondering what those two were doing together, for normally Karkaroff avoided the former Auror. Harry crept forward on cat's feet, slipping behind one of the pillars. The music was soft enough for him to make out what the two were whispering.

"Look at this! It's returning!" Karkaroff sounded panicked, he had his sleeve rolled up and was pointing at something on his arm.

Harry couldn't make out what it was and thought maybe it was a mole or a tattoo.

"So? What do you expect me to do about it?"

"You can't ignore it! It means but one thing . . ."

"And if it does?" hissed Moody, his eye hard. "What do you plan to do, Igor? Stay and see it through, or run away and hide like the chicken-livered coward you are?"

Karkaroff was visibly distressed, his hands shaking as if with a palsy. "I don't know! I don't know!"

"Pull yourself together, you whining milksop!" snapped Moody, reaching out and shaking the other wizard. "People are starting to stare. Make up your mind, Igor. Quickly! Before it's too late and you end up like Rookwood and the others. Wouldn't want that, would you?"

Karkaroff shook his head. "No . . .but it is so difficult . . .will I be allowed back?"

"If you're loyal, then yes. Decide, damn you! Before he does it for you." With that, Moody turned and stomped away, leaving Karkaroff standing alone, wringing his hands.

Harry drew away and pretended to have just strolled through the doors and made his way back towards the high table where Katie sat. He didn't know what had just went on between the two elder wizards, but whatever it was, it couldn't be good.

I wish Uncle Phil were here, he could read their minds and tell what they're up to in a second, but he's at his home with his family tonight, getting prepared for the Christmas dinner and all for tomorrow. I wonder, do vampires bake gingerbread?

With that rather whimsical thought, he rejoined Katie and they returned to the dance floor for one last dance.

As he held her close, Harry recalled how nervous he had been just before the ball, and now he laughed inwardly and wondered why he had ever been afraid in the first place. There was magic in this night, in this ball, and he, Harry Albus Snape, was having the time of his life.

"I love you, Katie," he whispered.

"I love you too," she replied, her lips inches from his.

He dipped his head, unable to resist, and their mouths met in a searing kiss that sent lightning through them in bursts.

When they at last drew apart, they saw Severus and Sarai also indulging themselves, and Harry blushed and looked away. Sorry, Dad.

He turned around, and nearly bumped into Ron, who was carrying a plate of sweets back to Zara and Hermione. "Hey, Ron. What do you think so far?"

"I think this is the best party this school has ever seen. Whoever invited that kid to sing really found a gem. Merlin, but he ought to be on the WWN, he's incredible. When he sings, I feel like I could dance myself into the air, and I've got two left feet."

"I know. Duncan's got some voice." Harry said, sharing a secret smile with Katie. "He's one of a kind."

"And who's the babe your dad was dancing with?" Ron asked, giggling. "Merlin, but she's like on fire! I couldn't believe it when I saw the two of them together, I nearly tripped and fell on my bum. I never knew your dad could dance."

"Neither did I."Harry admitted. "But I should have, since he's known Sarai for so long and she seems to like to."

"Sarai? You mean the half-fae warrior that your dad's dating?" Ron coughed. "That Sarai?"

"Yeah, she's the one."

"What's she doing here?"

"She came to surprise Dad and to stay for the holiday with us."

Ron whistled. "Pretty neat, mate. Your dad sure looks happy."

"He is. He misses her a lot, and they hardly ever have time together unless it's the summer, so this is like the best present ever for him."

"When's the wedding then?"

"I don't know. She still has a contract with the Queen and until she's free she can't marry. But someday they'll tie the knot."

"You'll be lucky with her as a stepmother," Ron said dreamily. "Really lucky."

Harry socked him in the arm. "Ron! Get your mind out of the gutter."

"Why? I like it there."

"You're hopeless, you know that?" Harry shook his head. "Even if I liked Sarai that way . . .she'd never break her vows to Dad. They belong together. Two halves of the same whole. Like Katie and me."

Ron stared at him. "You're that serious?"

"Yeah . . .pretty much," his friend replied slowly.

Ron drew in a deep breath. "O-okay . . .so when's the wedding?"

Katie answered. "Soon as we finish school. My parents would never permit us to get married any sooner and neither would Professor Snape."

"Good. Then I've got time to save up for a new set of dress robes," Ron said drolly and they all burst out laughing.

A/N: In the original GOF the ball was held after Christmas, but I tweaked the timeline a bit and held the ball on Christmas Eve to give Sarai time to spend Christmas with the Snapes.

 

How did you all like the ball and who got paired with whom? Were you surprised by the guests? And with Sirius and Dudley's letters?

Wizard crackers and gingerbread to any who review this!

Chapter Text

Misty Moor, Yorkshire:

Draco and Sarai stood behind Severus and Harry as they waited for Severus to dismiss the Endless Mist so they could return to Prince Manor for the holiday break. This would be the first time in years that Severus had spent the holiday at his home rather than at the school, doing clandestine spying activities for the Order. He was happy to be spending the holiday this year with his sons and his beloved, the way most normal people, wizards or Muggles, did. He brought his arms up, holding them out shoulder width apart and over his head.

The mist curled about his feet like a puppy, and Severus brought his arms down and chanted in Latin, "Part for me."

The mist obeyed, flowing back in silvery ribbons and curling up to either side of the scrolled wrought iron gates. In the center of the gates was a round circular depression. Severus turned to Harry, the Heir Apparent, and said, "Someday I shall teach you how to part the Endless Mist, but now is not the time to practice. The winter favors the Unseelie Court and they are often abroad, searching for ways to enter our world through the mishaps of a neophyte gate caller. So, we'll wait till summer, when the Seelie are in ascendance. However, you can do the honors and open the gate." Severus gestured gracefully at the gates.

"Sure, but what do I have to do?" Harry asked.

"Use your medallion and fit it into the hole there. The gates will open for you."

Harry walked up and removed his medallion from under his shirt. He carefully pressed the silver amulet into the depression and the amulet glowed and the glow spread out all across the gates and then they swung open, welcoming the Heir Apparent and his family back home.

He felt a sharp quiver go through him as he took his first step upon the grounds. As soon as his foot touched the earth he felt a warmth flow into him—warmth and a feeling of utter peace, contentment, and welcome. The cozy feeling wrapped about him like a fleece blanket and he felt tears prickle his eyes. Home. I am home.

All throughout his days at school, there had been an undefinable longing within in him that had never quite gone away. Always in the back of his mind there was a feeling of loss, of wishing for that secret special place where he belonged, where the very land knew his footsteps and the wind called his name.

Now he was back—back at Prince Manor, and the magic of the land welcomed him home.

He shut his eyes and breathed in the cool crisp air, laden with the aroma of just-ripening merlinnas mingling with roses, a fragrance that was uniquely the manor's own. The wind teased and curled about him, tickling his ears and playfully tugging his hair. Welcome back, Heir Apparent. Welcome home.

"Harry, are you just going to stand there all day, or are you going to move so the rest of us can come in?" demanded Draco irritably.

Harry's eyes snapped open. "Huh?" Only then did he realize he was standing in the way and he walked forward, feeling the pulse of the land beneath his feet with every step he took. Dazzled by the potent aura of recognition, he paused halfway to the house.

Severus placed a hand lightly on his shoulder. "It takes us all this way when we first return after going away," he said knowingly. "The land is tied to you by blood and magic, Harry, and it misses you when you are absent."

Harry looked up at him, his emerald eyes glowing in rapture. "Dad, does . . .does the wind talk to you?"

Severus nodded. "It welcomes me home and asks me to stay. Has it spoke to you?"

"Yeah. And the land, when I walked onto the lawn it . . .hugged me . . .sort of."

"An apt way to describe it, son," Severus smiled. "That is how it should be, for a chosen Heir Apparent. And it will always be that way. Here you are safe, no harm shall ever come to you, and you will always belong. You and the land are one."

"I can smell the merlinnas, Dad." Harry said, elated.

"Yes, they are blooming again, despite the weather beyond the manor. You coming here has awakened them," Severus explained, walking towards the house with one arm about his son.

"Are you happy to be home again, Draco?" asked Sarai, not wanting the other boy to feel left out. As a half-fae, she too could feel the land's welcome of its Chosen Heirs, but she was unsure if Draco could, his fae blood being diluted by his mortal heritage of several centuries.

"Yeah, I am, Sarai." Draco said, looking over at the manor house. "I've missed this place. More than I ever did Malfoy Manor." As they drew closer, Draco noted there were wreaths of evergreen and holly upon the windows and two large ones on each door of the entrance. "Hey, someone decorated here while we were gone!" he exclaimed.

Sarai chuckled. "Yes, and I suspect that was your father's doing."

"You mean, he did this?" Astonishment colored the young Slytherin's tone.

"If not him, than he hired it done," said the warrior.

Draco cocked his head. "Hired . . ." then it dawned on him. "Merlin, but he paid house elves to do this!"

"Most likely. Why so surprised, little serpent?"

"B-because they're house elves and normally house elves don't . . .er . . .get paid for stuff like that," he stammered.

"Bound ones do not," Sarai reminded, her voice tinged with disapproval. "But no Prince will ever bind a house elf to do his bidding. They are Low Court Seelie and to bind one will break the Accords. Besides, they will work for the Heir willingly, as they would for any High Court fae who asks."

Draco flushed. "Sorry. I forgot. My family . . .the Malfoys, I mean, we had house elves . . .Lucius bound them or they were bound, I can never remember which."

"You are not responsible for the errors of your elders, Draco," Sarai said in a more kindly tone. "Learn from their mistakes, however, and do not repeat them."

"I will," he said, and flashed her a heartwarming smile.

She laughed and ruffled his hair. "Come, Dragon, let's race. Last one to the door has to make the other hot cocoa."

"You're on!" Draco cried, then he took off, running as quickly as he could.

Sarai allowed him a ten stride head start before she raced after him.

The two blew by Severus and Harry, who stared at them and continued walking leisurely up the path.

Draco ran as hard as he dared, but even at his fastest, despite his longer legs, Sarai caught him, and her hand slapped the green painted door first. "Good try, Dragon!" she praised, breathing a little bit harshly.

Draco gasped and then said, "Damn, but you're fast, Sarai."

"That comes from being a guard and from my fae heritage," Sarai explained, brushing her hair back from her head. "But you gave a good showing, young one."

They waited for Severus and Harry to catch up before going inside the manor.

No sooner had they all entered then three house elves appeared before them with sharp crackling pops and bowed low. "Welcome back, Master Severus, Master Harry, Master Draco, and Lady Sarai. How was your trip? What may we do for you?"

Harry looked at the three elves curiously. All had clothes, well made garments, soft tunics and trousers and boots in green and silver colors and green caps. There was one male and two females. To his shock, he recognized Dobby. "Dobby? Is that you?"

"It is, Master Harry," the elf said, grinning happily. "Dobby has volunteered to come and decorate Prince Manor for your family. These are my siblings, Danae and Damson, they are twins," he indicated the two female elves, who had long curling blond hair and bright blue eyes.

"'Tis an honor for us to serve the great Harry Snape and his family," said Danae, bowing again.

"Do you have any trunks you need unpacked? Or would you like some refreshments?" asked Damson. "There is a fire burning in the den and we have hot cocoa and cakes upon a tray."

"We're starving," Draco spoke up. "Uh . . .thanks," he said awkwardly, for this was the first time he had ever thanked any elf before.

"You are most welcome, Master Draco," Dobby said, and there was no anger or resentment in his voice.

Draco was surprised, for he hadn't treated Dobby very nicely as a child. He had ordered the elf about constantly and when he was in a mood he insulted him ferociously and sometimes lied to Lucius if he had misbehaved, allowing Dobby to be punished instead of him. He had endured many a scolding from Severus for treating the house elf unfairly, he recalled, ashamed. Now, however, he regretted being such a brat, and hoped Dobby could forgive him.

"Our trunks are in our rooms, I think," Severus said, having Flooed them through before they had left Hogwarts. "You may unpack them, if you like."

"It shall be done immediately, sir," said Damson, and she popped away.

"Dobby, when did you get your . . .er . . .clothes?" Harry asked.

"Your father was giving them, Master Harry." Dobby said.

"I refuse to have anyone in this house dressed like a ragamuffin, so I gave them all uniforms as part of their wages," Severus interjected.

"Master Severus is most generous," Danae bowed to him again. She gazed at him in hero worship.

Severus looked uncomfortable at such obvious adulation, and said gruffly, "It was only a simple uniform. We will be down in the den shortly, right now I think it's best if we go and get changed out of our school clothes."

"Of course, sir," Dobby said respectfully.

"Dad, are we still sharing a room?" asked Draco, only then recalling that before they had left for school, Harry was still rooming with him.

Severus considered. "Given your new maturity level, I suppose I can trust you two to behave yourselves. That being so, you may go back to having your own rooms. But—"here he leveled a stern finger at them. "—misbehave and you'll find yourselves sharing again."

"Understood, sir," Harry replied, then he headed down the hall to his room, the first room he had picked out upon coming to the manor last summer. As he walked down the hall, he could hear the sound of bells chiming and he looked about. "Where are those bells coming from?" he asked his brother.

Draco shrugged. "I don't know. Let's ask Dobby."

Dobby appeared beside him. "You has a question, sir?"

"Yes. How come we can hear bells ringing?"

"Oh, that's because Dobby’s sisters and Dobby have hung silver bells from all the trees in the orchard and the roof of the house. They make pretty music when the wind blows."

It was true. The silver bells did make a joyous sound in the air, and both boys smiled and continued on into their rooms. Silver bells at Prince Manor, it was a wonderful surprise.

"That's really neat, Dobby," Harry said, feeling more and more the joys of the season, which he had never really known with a family until this moment.

He entered his room, and found all of his things put away, except for the Christmas presents he had bought for Draco and Phil and his father. Hermione and Ron and Katie's he had already sent off before he left. Hedwig's perch was right near the partially open window, next to Frost's. Both owls were out flying, delivering his packages.

He began to pull off his school robes and dress in more comfortable clothing.

Draco pulled open his armoire, looking through his clothes for his favorite jumper and trousers. The jumper was an emerald green and the trousers were black. "Now, where are they?" he muttered, frowning.

"Does Master Draco need help?" asked Dobby.

Draco spun about. "Dobby! Merlin, but you startled me."

"Dobby is sorry," the elf apologized. "What can Dobby do for you, sir?"

"I'm looking for my favorite green jumper and black trousers," Draco said.

"Ah. Here they are," Dobby snapped his fingers and the clothing appeared in Draco's arms.

Draco turned away to put on the clothes, then he halted and said, "Thank you, Dobby. And . . .I'm sorry for treating you badly when I was at Malfoy Manor."

"You are most welcome, sir. And Dobby does not judge wizards. You followed as you had been taught."

"It was still wrong," Draco insisted. "I was a spoiled brat and I made your life hell. But now you're free and you can tell me to shove it if I start acting like a brat again."

"Dobby would never speak so to a wizard," the elf said.

"Why not? You can, you're not bound to hurt yourself any longer if you speak ill of me."

"Yes, but . . .your father has said Dobby can disobey if Dobby wishes, and if you or Master Harry gets . . .insolent Dobby may leave or report you to him. But of course, Dobby would never need to do so, right, Master Draco?"

Draco burst out laughing. "Dobby, you're a cunning little thing! That's one threat I'll remember. Because I don't want to be grounded over the holiday."

"No, indeed." Dobby said. "Master Draco should not feel bad for what is past."

"I was horrible to you."

"Master Lucius was worse," the elf said feelingly.

Draco winced. "I know. I apologize for him too. He got what he deserved and is where he belongs. Do you . . .forgive me then?"

Dobby looked puzzled. "Forgive? There is nothing to forgive, sir. You was a child, you behaved as your father taught you. Now things are different, and you are a Snape, not a Malfoy."

"Yeah, they are." Draco gave the elf a smile. "I know better now."

"You do," agreed Dobby. "And Dobby knows he has nothing more to fear."

And with that, the elf popped away, leaving Draco alone.

After feasting on hot cocoa and cakes, and admiring the huge tree, decorated with dozens of fairy lights and Prince heirloom ornaments, as well as the swags of greenery and cinnamon sticks hanging all over the doorways, and teasing each other about what they hoped to receive for Christmas, Severus suggested the boys go to bed.

The boys did not protest the order, for they were tired from all the excitement of the Yule Ball and wanted to be able to get up early to put their presents under the tree. Time ran slightly differently at the manor, and it was a few hours shy of midnight there, allowing Harry and Draco to get a decent night's sleep.

Once the boys were in bed, Sarai and Severus felt like indulging in a little Yule magic of their own. They walked out into the orchard and listened to the music of the silver bells while walking over to a large two-seater swing hanging in a venerable old oak at the very end of the orchard. The swing was not often used, except when Sarai came and visited her lover, but now the two wished to cuddle up on it and that was exactly what they did.

The warrior put her head on Severus's muscular shoulder, rare though it was for the feisty independent woman to lean on anyone. For Severus she made an exception, because she knew he would never take it as a sign of weakness. For him she could just be Sarai the woman, and not have to worry about keeping up her warrior image. For she knew he loved her—all of her—warrior, mage, and woman, without reservation.

"I missed you, Sev."

He shifted slightly, so she was resting more comfortably in his embrace, and smiled down at her. "I know. I missed you too. Especially at night."

"Oh?" she arched an eyebrow and grinned teasingly. "Only at night, my sorcerer?"

"And during the tournament, when that bloody fool Bagman released that lamia." Severus admitted.

"A lamia? But how did such a one cross the boundary?"

"I'm not altogether sure, but I think Bagman made a deal with an Unseelie mage, who summoned the lamia for him and then he permitted it to cross the boundary between the worlds, thinking he could control the she-beast." He explained what had gone on.

Sarai's face darkened wrathfully. "Again your Headmaster puts his students in danger. He and I shall have words over this, Severus."

"I have already spoken to him."

"That's all well and good, but I wish to talk with him as well."

"Fine, so long as you agree not to kill him."

"I would never slay an unarmed elderly man," Sarai protested. "You know that, Severus Snape!"

"Not even if you were furious because of what he had done to a family member?"

"Not even then. My sword only spills the blood of the evil-doer and the monster." Sarai said firmly. Then she snuggled closer to him. "Let us not speak of this tonight. 'Tis ruining the peace and quiet. Tonight, love, I wish to enjoy being with you, and celebrating the holiday in the old way."

"And what way is that, Sarai Kinsalari?"

"By holding each other, singing, and lastly making love to you."

"Here?"

"Wherever you wish. Your bed is big enough for several of us, but the grass is comfortable too," she laughed.

"For you, maybe." He groused. "Last time a rock poked me in the back."

"I shall make certain there are no rocks."

"So will I. My bed is free of them."

"So it is," she murmured, kissing his neck. "Sing to me, Sev. I have missed your beautiful voice these many months. I hear it only in my dreams and when I wake I remember you are far away and my heart cries out with loneliness."

"Your dreams and mine sound the same, beloved." He told her sincerely, his hands stroking her arm and then moving lower. "You know I think my voice is terrible."

"Yes, but trust me when I say it's not. I have heard many a bard sing at Titania's court and you could match them, Sev. Trust me." She gave him a wistful look and he gave in.

"Very well. What do you want to hear?"

"Surprise me."

He was silent for five minutes, trying to come up with a song that would tell her how he felt about her and also one that he could sing without making a fool out of himself. Finally he recalled an old ballad of the Seelie Court, a lovely piece that would not stretch his range too much. He cleared his throat and began to sing, while the silver bells above in the tree branches tinkled merrily.

"One day I fell in love

With an auburn-haired lass

I loved her long, I loved her deeply

'Till the day she was taken from me.

I mourned her long, I mourned her deeply

I swore that love would never claim me,

The way it did then. Once my heart had loved that way

But it never would again.

"For long years I traveled, my heart cold as stone

Love had abandoned me, I was alone.

Till one morning I spied a maid walking

She was dark and small, she looked nothing

Like my lady at all, and yet

She called to me.

She called to the heart

That had broken that day,

The heart that had shattered

And bid it to stay.

"Come away, beautiful stranger, come away

To the lands of the undying, your heart I shall mend

What loved once, can love once again.

Come away, come away, come away with me

Let my love set you free.

"But my heart was afraid and thus did I flee

The dark maid of the wood, who desired me.

"Come back, come back, for I love thee,

With all of my heart and all that I be.

"No, I cried, let me be!

My heart is long gone and naught left for thee.

She did not heed, she came for me

Over hill and over dale, for three days she pursued

Through sun, wind, and hail.

"Come away, beautiful stranger, come away

To the lands of the undying, your heart I shall mend.

What loved once, can love once again.

Come away, come away, my heart have you bound

In chains stronger than iron, my soulmate I've found.

She spoke a truth I could not deny, and thus did I go

Over sea and under stone, where the earth meets the sky.

On the shore of the undying land she did free me,

And at last my heart loved the way it had then,

Loved a maid bright and true

And, dearest love, that maid was you."

Sarai was swept away by the seductive power in his voice, that silky timber that made all of her bones turn to jelly, that caused her heart to race, there was nothing else like it, and her heart thrilled to it.

Severus ended the song with a kiss, as was traditional, and Sarai held him close, knowing full well he had chosen that particular song because it described them so well. Theirs was a love of second chances, an impossible love, but one that had stood the test of time and distance and still it burned with an enduring flame that refused to die.

"What the heart loved once, it can love once again," she whispered, threading her fingers through his hair.

"Yes. Dear God, yes!" was all he managed before she captured his mouth once more.

Tendrils of desire, so long suppressed, spiraled through him, till he burned with the heat and need, of a pleasure long denied out of duty that now could be satisfied. He spoke a word and they were transported to his bedroom, where the elves had thoughtfully turned down the sheets and scented them with attar of roses.

Sarai inhaled the fragrance of the perfume as Severus's hands skimmed her dress, unbuttoning it with swift fingers. "Mmm, smells like a rose garden."

"Yes. But you are the most beautiful flower in it," Severus said huskily, undoing the last button and letting the dress fall to the floor in a puddle of silk and satin.

Her hands quickly removed his robes, trousers, and shirt as well, and she admired every lean inch of him before dragging him over to the bed. And thus did Severus fulfill the last of her wishes, with ardent tender lovemaking until the dawn, when they fell asleep entwined together, dreaming of more than sugar plums.

Harry awoke to the smell of bacon frying and sniffed in delight, stretching leisurely, before climbing out of his warm bed and running next door to Draco's room to shake his sleep-loving brother awake.

"Hey, lazybones! Wake up!"

Draco groaned, opened an eye, and growled, "What for?"

"It's Christmas, Dragon, now get up!"

"M'tired."

"Oh, for the love of Merlin!" Harry sighed, then he waved his wand and levitated his brother out of his cozy nest and dropped him on the floor.

"Ow! Hey! What happened to my bed?" Draco yelped, rubbing his bottom, which had taken the brunt of the fall, Harry had made sure of that.

"Nothing. You're just not in it anymore," Harry stated, smirking.

Draco gave him a lethal glare. "Remind me again why I can't kill you."

"Because it's Christmas and Dad won't let you," Harry laughed. "C'mon, Dragon. You can't oversleep on Christmas."

Draco sighed and stood up. "You're lucky I like you, baby brother." He stalked out the door, all injured dignity, still rubbing his backside.

The aroma of breakfast soon drew the two teenagers into the kitchen, where they found Severus and Sarai sitting at the table enjoying a fine home-cooked breakfast, made by Damson and Danae, while Dobby served them juice and tea.

On the table was a bowl full of merlinnas and Harry gave a cry of delight and summoned one and bit into it. He sighed in bliss, juice dribbling down his chin. There was nothing like merlinnas and they only grew in fae soil.

"Harry, you have the manners of a pig," Draco remarked.

"So what?" his brother mumbled, taking another bite of the luscious fruit. Merlinnas were his passion and he had been craving them for months, enough so things like table manners were null and void.

"At least sit down and eat," Severus remonstrated.

Harry did. He finished the merlinna, ate another, and then ate the fluffy eggs, potatoes, bacon, and toast the elves had made.

Since it was Christmas, Severus did not make the boys clean up afterwards as he usually did, though he did warn them that after Christmas was over, the elves would go back to Hogwarts and their usual chores would resume.

"Tell me we don't have to do the laundry by hand again," Harry groaned.

"Only if you're in trouble, Phoenix," Severus said. "So behave and you won't need to worry about it."

"Okay, Dad," his son agreed, then they all retired to the den, where mounds of presents, or so it seemed to Harry, who had never celebrated a real family Christmas, awaited them.

"Sarai, would you do the honors?" Severus invited. "You two sit here, beside me, and Sarai will hand you a present. You each open one at a time, so you can see who gave it to you and what it is before getting another one."

"And so he can see what you received also," Sarai added impishly. She reached under the tree for a present wrapped in Snitches. "Harry, this is for you. From your Aunt Petunia and godfather, Sirius."

Harry carefully opened it. Inside a box was a personal practice Snitch and a warm gold and red cap and gloves, knitted by Petunia. The card inside read: Merry Christmas, Harry! I got you this practice Snitch to sharpen your skills as Seeker, but Petunia insisted she make you something practical, so here's a cap and gloves you can wear when you're flying in freezing cold weather.

Then it was Draco's turn. His first present was from Hermione, who had gotten him a Muggle book called 101 Things to Do Besides Sleep Away Your Holiday. Inside she had highlighted Call Your Girlfriend.

Harry chuckled. "Merlin, but she sure knows you really well."

"Ah, be quiet." Draco ordered playfully. "Guess I'll have to write her since I can't call her." Also included with the book were a few bars of Muggle chocolate, which Draco had developed a fondness for ever since he had gone trick-or-treating with Hermione on Halloween *.

Harry received a box of Zonkos joke products from Ron and Draco a fine leather messenger bag from Crabbe, with his initials monogrammed on it as well as the Slytherin crest. Dudley gave Harry a space pen, it could write on almost any surface, including glass and could also glow in the dark. I remember how you always wanted one of these and I wouldn't ever share mine with you. Hope you still like it! Merry Christmas, Dudley.

"Wow! This is great!"

"What is it?" Draco asked curiously.

"A space age pen. It writes on almost anything." He handed the pen to Draco.

"Hold it, young man!" Severus snapped. Draco had the pen poised to write upon the table. "That pen may be able to write on everything but you had better make damn sure the ink comes off everything, or else you'll be scrubbing it away and writing I will not draw on the furniture like a two-year-old a hundred times for me."

Draco halted and handed the pen back to Harry, who tucked it in his pocket. His next present was from Goyle, four box seats to the next Quidditch match.

Hermione's present to Harry was a book on solving riddles, no doubt aimed at his second task, and Katie had given him a lovely cloak of crimson lined with gold plus a box of chocolates from Honeydukes.

Then came the presents from their father.

For Harry, there was a small box embossed with a unicorn crest that he didn't recognize. He opened it and found a gold brooch inset with emeralds in the shape of a winged cat—a shimmerling. He gently picked it up and felt it warm to his touch. "Dad, is this magic?"

"Yes, it is. I had that made by a Seelie jewelcrafter, Harry. It has a spell on it that will allow you to call upon the Seelie Court for aid should you ever find yourself in dire peril. Touch the brooch and speak the phrase, "I, Harry Snape, call upon Titania's host for aid." They will answer it three times and then the brooch is spent. So use it wisely, son."

"Thanks, Dad!" Harry carefully pinned the brooch upon his cloak and then went to hug his father.

Draco opened the largest box yet and found that his father had recalled him mentioning wanting a new broom, since he had almost outgrown his Nimbus 2001. This broom was called a Serpentstrike 2002 and it was superfast and had snakes etched into the handle.

"I can't wait to try it out!" Draco cried, then he also rose and thanked Severus. "Just wait till you see what we got you." He looked at Harry. "Where is it?"

"In my room." Harry answered and summoned it. "Oh, and here's my present for you, Draco."

Draco took the present and unwrapped it. Inside was a handbook called Tips and Tricks of the Master Seekers: How to Get the Most Out of Your Broom. "Thank you, Harry. Here's yours."

It was a rather large box. Harry tore it open. Inside was a large bowl full of merlinnas and a folded note. For that craving of yours, hope this satisfies it-Dragon. He laughed and thanked his brother.

"Your turn, Dad," Harry said, handing Severus a package wrapped in green and red paper. "It's from me and Draco."

Severus opened it. Inside was a long black cloak with emerald green satin lining, and a replica of the Prince crest upon the closure. Along with the cloak was a note telling the owner of it that it was enchanted. Charms were woven into it –Warmth, Waterproofing, Fireproofing, and Comfort. He stared at the expensive garment and then at his sons in astonishment. "How on earth did you afford this?"

"We pooled our allowance you gave us at school and most of the money you gave us for Christmas presents," Draco answered. "Do you like it?"

"It's . . .a magnificent gift, boys. I will wear it everyday. Thank you," Severus was deeply touched at their thoughtfulness.

"Now it's my turn!" Sarai declared, her face lighting up like a mischievous child's. "First you, Sev." She pulled out a long package from the very back of the tree. "Joyous Yule to you, beloved."

Severus unwrapped the package and held up a black oak staff nearly as tall as he was. Upon the staff head was a carved falcon holding a sphere in its claws. All down the length of the staff were runes—runes of the Seelie Court. He stared at it then looked at Sarai. "How did you manage to purchase a Staff of the Magi? They cost thousands of Galleons."

"Yes, well, I did the carving myself and I had my Aunt Sharrilise, Titania's Court Enchantress, put the enchantments on the staff."

"What does it do?" asked Harry.

"It does many things, Harry. I don't have time to explain everything to you right now." He thanked Sarai and kissed her. "Joyous Yule to you, Sarai." He handed her a black velvet box.

"Is that what I think it is?" hissed Harry to Draco.

Draco elbowed him in the ribs. "Shut up! You'll ruin the moment."

Inside the box on a bed of green velvet, was a lovely marquee diamond, inset on either side with rainbow moonstones, those stones being highly prized by the Seelie.

"Oh!" Sarai gasped.

Severus took the ring and knelt before her, gently sliding it on her finger. "Sarai Kinsalari Valinek, I give you my heart along with this ring. Do you accept it?"

"Yes! A thousand times yes!" she cried. "I love you and only you and shall have no other, Severus Tobias Snape."

"Will you marry me?"

"Yes, as soon as I am free of my contract. Then nothing shall keep us apart." There were tears in her eyes as she leaned over and kissed Snape.

The boys clapped and hooted and even the house elves cheered.

"One last present, boys." Sarai announced, and she pulled a rather large crate draped with a red and white striped blanket inbetween the two. "This one is from me. Because every boy should have one."

Draco and Harry were mystified. What could it be? A sword? A suit of armor?

Draco carefully pulled off the blanket and Harry unlatched the crate. He peered inside, trying to see what was there.

Suddenly a long pink tongue swiped his whole face.

"Hey!"

It was quickly followed by an inquisitive black nose and the slender features of a misthound, renowned for their ability to never lose a scent and remain loyal to their master forever. The misthound puppy walked out of the crate, he was a light cream color with soft floppy ears and a brush tail, though the rest of him was shorthaired. His legs were long and slender, and he appeared to dance as he moved. "A puppy!" Harry cried, stroking the dog, whose tail began to wag. "He looks like a cross between a borzoi and a Great Dane."

"He's a misthound, Harry," Sarai said. "A fae breed. This one is from Prince Balin's own kennels, the son of one of his favorite hounds. He is four months old and fully housebroken, though he does like to chew shoes and such."

The puppy turned and raced over to Draco and jumped up and washed his face also. "Ugh! Dog germs!" he sputtered, then he laughed because the puppy looked insulted. He petted the misthound's ears, which were silky. "Misthounds are really smart. Aren't they?"

"Yes. You will find he learns quickly and he will be the most loyal friend you could ever have so long as you treat him well." Sarai beamed.

"Does he have a name?" Harry asked, as the dog bounded back over to him and jumped in his lap.

"No, that is something you two have to choose." Sarai said.

"And remember, this dog is your responsibility, am I clear?" Severus interjected. "That means you feed him, brush him, and walk him. And any trouble he gets into, you are also responsible for."

"We understand, Dad," Draco said, rolling his eyes. "What kind of food does he eat?"

"Right now, bread soaked in meat juice and ground beef," answered the half-fae warrior. "Later on he can eat any sort of meat or bread and even vegetables cut into pieces. Balin feeds his dogs a kind of stew. They thrive on it."

The puppy gave a soft yip, ran over to Sarai and jumped up and licked her under the chin, his tail wagging. She stroked his head. Then he jumped down and did the same thing to Severus.

"What's he doing that for?" asked Harry, sensing it was for a reason.

"He's establishing the hierarchy of his pack," Sarai explained. "He licks me and Sev this way because he knows we're alpha to him. And you and Draco are beta."

"He's a smart dog," Severus said, and gently tickled the puppy's ears.

Draco stood. "Let's take him outside, Harry. Misthounds like to run and he can't hurt anything out there."

"All right. And maybe we'll think of a good name for him too." Harry said, and he whistled softly. "Here, boy. Come!"

The puppy rose and ran over to them, wagging his tail and yipping.

"Inside the crate you'll find a lead and collar, dishes, a brush, and some toys and a blanket," said Sarai.

Harry looked and found a red ball, which he took with him.

The two boys and the misthound spent a half-an-hour playing outside, running and chasing the ball and having a glorious time. Finally the little puppy tired and lay down in front of their feet, panting and sleepy.

"He's an awesome dog!" said Harry, petting the silken ears.

"Yes. And a noble one." Draco said. "Got any ideas what we should name him?"

Harry thought and thought. Finally he said, "How about Cafall, you know, after the white hound of King Arthur? He was a noble and regal dog."

Draco considered. The misthound did have a regal look about him and Draco had always liked the legends of Arthur Pendragon. "Yes. I like that name. Cafall it is."

"This is the best Christmas ever," his brother said.

Draco nodded happily and continued stroking their new puppy. "And tomorrow we go and see Uncle Phil."

"I can't wait. Hope he likes dogs." Draco said. Then he summoned his new broom and went flying.

Sarai and Severus watched from the back entrance as Draco swooped and dived, sending Cafall into a frenzy of puppy barks and the dog tried several times to jump and catch the laughing Draco, till Harry whistled him down and started a game of fetch with him. The four-month-old puppy proved to be an expert at catch and retrieve, nearly always bringing the red ball back.

"I still can't believe you talked me into this," Severus said, sighing. "The last thing I need is to train a dog, Sarai."

"Oh, quit grumbling, Sev. The dog is a fae animal, and that means he has a brain and can use it, unlike your mortal animals. A misthound is not an ordinary pet, he will be a companion to the boys and love them and protect them. When he is older, maybe about a year or so, he will be able to mindspeak. I had one, her name was Whitethorn, until she died, and there was never a more steadfast companion than she was. When all the court mocked me for trying to become a Blade, Whitethorn remained my true friend, and trusted me to show them all what I was made of, and so I did. Your boys have been through a lot and the dog will let them play and be ordinary children for once, without the burdens placed upon them by circumstance and position. Look at them, beloved. Look at how they smile and laugh at the puppy, and think about how often you have seen them do so. Doesn't it make your heart lighter?"

"Yes. It does," Severus said slowly, watching as Harry raced after the misthound, who darted like a wraith in and out of the trees, then doubled back and ran inbetween the boy's feet, tripping him and making him fall. But no sooner had he landed on the ground, then Cafall was on top of him, and the two rolled and wrestled in the grass. Then Draco landed and offered the broom to Harry, who brushed himself off and mounted it, letting his brother romp with the puppy, who seemed to never grow tired.

"I never had a pet when I was young, perhaps this will be good for them." Severus mused, as the puppy and Draco played beneath the merlinnas. "Will you be joining us when we visit Philip and his family?"

"As long as he doesn't mind one more," Sarai answered. "We met before, at Titania's behest, and he seems like an honorable Nightwalker. A little hot-tempered, but then all you Snapes are that way."

"It's the family curse," the Potions Master said wryly. "And Philip has already assured me that you are welcome at his home." Then he continued watching his sons and their new puppy, his arm about his half-fae warrior.

Cottage-by-the-sea:

"They're here! They're here!" screamed two children's voices, and Setus and Siren jumped down from the bay window seat and scampered towards the door, each one grinning widely, so their tiny fangs showed. Both wanted to be first to open the door for their new relatives, and pushed each other as they stampeded down the hallway.

"It's my turn!"

"No, mine! You opened the door for Dad last time!"

"Boys, if you don't quit yelling and running about like maniacs, I'm opening the door," their mother called from the entrance to the kitchen. She had just finished basting the ham and despite the apron tied about her looked very regal in her gorgeous midnight-blue dress. Her light brown hair was piled artfully atop her head and her hazel eyes accented by a touch of cobalt eyeliner. She wore a simple sapphire pendant on a gold chain about her neck. She quickly banished the apron and smoothed out the dress, nibbling nervously on her lower lip. Phil, our guests are here, she mindcalled to her husband, who was reading a book in his chair before the fire.

The twins immediately slowed at that threat and managed to reach the door without further mishaps. Setus grasped the handle and pulled it just as Harry's hand lifted to knock on the door.

Paradoxically, as soon as the door swung open and Siren caught sight of Harry, he became shy and ran over to hide behind his mother, peering out from behind her skirts. Both twins were dressed in brand new jeans and polo shirts, Siren's was emerald green and Setus' ocean blue, with matching socks and black sneakers.

Setus, however, was grinning and talking a mile a minute. "Hi! Welcome to our sea cottage. Who're you? Are you my cousin? I'm Setus, and I'm four and a half. How old are you?"

Harry stared down at a miniature version of Phil, down to the dark hair and wide violet eyes. The kid was one of the most adorable Harry had ever seen, including the budding fangs. "Hello. I'm fourteen and my name's Harry."

"Setus, let them in the door before you attack them with questions," Julie said, coming up and drawing her overeager child back so that Harry, Severus, Sarai, and Draco, who was holding Cafall, could come in.

"Welcome to my home, I am Julie, do come in," the vampire invited, smiling carefully so as not to alarm her guests. "That's Setus, and this is his twin, Siren." She indicated the little boy still clinging to her dress, who looked up at her uncertainly. "He's a bit shy till he gets to know you. Siren, can you say hello to your cousins?"

"Hello," came a very faint whisper from behind a fold of Julie's gown.

Then Phil was there, greeting Severus and bowing over Sarai's hand in his courtly fashion, his violet eyes twinkling. He was wearing a very nice black suit and tie that complimented his handsome face perfectly. "I'm so glad you could make it and I can see you've all had a very Merry Christmas." His eyes caught sight of Sarai's ring and he grinned broadly. "Ah, so you finally proposed, did you, Sev? I was wondering how long it would take you after the hints I'd been dropping."

"I had been planning to anyway, Mr. Matchmaker," replied Severus smugly.

"Congratulations!" Julie said, and she bent to examine the ring. "Oh, it's gorgeous! The Snape men have good taste, my lady."

Sarai laughed. "They do indeed. Thank you. And please, call me Sarai. I am a lady only in my cousin's court."

Julie then showed her the ring Phil had given her, a beautiful carat diamond set in a platinum band with two other diamonds flanking it. "I got those added after the twins were born," she told Sarai. "Do come into the den. I have some appetizers for you and some sherbert punch that I think you'll like." She turned to go, Siren still clinging stubbornly to her.

Just then Cafall wriggled free of Draco's hold and trotted over to the boy, sniffing him and licking him. The puppy lowered his front end to the floor, his backside sticking up, and barked, tail wagging like a metronome.

"Cafall, come back here," Draco called softly. "You'll scare the kid."

But Siren slowly let go of Julie's dress and took a step towards the puppy. Cafall panted happily, his blue eyes glowing with trust. Play with me! Come and play!

Siren's eyes widened. "Mama, he wants me to play with him! He said so."

"Go ahead then, son," Phil encouraged. "He won't bite you."

Tentatively, the little vampire put out a hand and Cafall promptly swiped it with his tongue. "Ahh, that tickles!" giggled Siren. "Silly dog!"

Cafall jumped up and licked the boy all over. Play now? Play? Please?

Still giggiling, Siren pushed the puppy off him. "Okay. I'll play with you. On the beach. Okay, Mama?"

"Yes, so long as you don't go swimming in the ocean."

"Me too! I wanna play with him." Setus cried. "What's his name?"

"His name's Cafall, and we just got him for Christmas," Harry explained. "Down, boy!" he ordered when the puppy would have jumped up on Julie.

Cafall sat obediently.

"How come I didn't get a dog for Christmas?" Setus demanded.

"Because Father Christmas knows you're too young for a dog," Phil told him.

"Am not!" his son insisted stubbornly. "I'm four-and-a-half, Dad!"

"You need to be seven in order to take care of a dog, Setus Snape," said his father firmly. "Old enough to walk it and clean up after it and feed it."

"No fair! I want a dog for Christmas." Setus sulked.

"Someday you'll get one . . .if you behave." Phil said, a warning tone in his voice. "Now quit sulking and go play with your cousins and brother, or else you can spend ten minutes in your room. You know how I dislike that attitude, young man."

His son flashed him one more indignant look before running towards the back door of the cottage, yelling, "C'mon, slowpokes! Let's chase the gulls!"

Cafall, Siren, and Harry and Draco followed. There was a path from the cottage that led directly to the beach and soon all four children and the misthound were running down it.

"That boy!" Phil shook his head. "Sometimes I just want to shake him. He wants everything he sees lately and if he doesn't get his way, he sulks and whines. Drives me crazy."

"Draco was like that too," Severus recalled. "Lucius and Narcissa spoiled him. It took me a year to break him of crying and whining whenever he didn't get his own way."

"How did you do it?" Julie asked.

"Mostly I'd ignore him when he started acting up. Sometimes, if he was being particularly obnoxious, I'd give him a time out. Once though, he went on a rampage, threw himself on the floor, screeching, kicking, and when I went to put him in the corner, he bit me. That time I gave him a smack on the behind and an extra minute with his nose to a wall. He soon learned not to test me."

"Maybe I need to try that," mused the young vampire mother. Then they all went into the den, which was a cozy room with plump couches done in aquamarine and sand tones, and which had rag rugs on the slate floor in matching tones of peach, aqua, sand, and lavender. Upon the stone walls were seascape portraits and a whale leaping and several fish were mounted.

"The people we rented the cottage from must have been fishermen," Phil said, indicating the fish upon the wall. "First day we arrived, Setus tried to climb the wall and touch one, nearly knocked it down and broke his little neck. After that, I put a spell on the wall so he couldn't come near them."

"Your son sounds like a daredevil," Sarai laughed. "My cousin Gavin was like that. He used to dare us to climb the seven foot statue of a unicorn in the palace entryway and ride it, even though he knew the unicorn was the sacred symbol of his House and not to be disrespected."

"Setus has given me heart failure more than once," Julie admitted. "Thank goodness Siren is more sensible and quiet. Although he can get into mischief too. He set a bucket of small crabs loose in the kitchen last week and it took me forever to find them all."

"Crabs are better than army ants," Severus remarked. "The Marauders once brought an anthill inside the castle and broke it open in the Slytherin common room. We found ants everywhere for weeks, till Slughorn finally bought an ant eater to hunt the rest down. To this day I still cast anti-insect wards over my quarters."

Julie shuddered slightly. Then she said, "Here are some tea sandwiches and crab tarts, bourbon meatballs, spinach dip with vegetables, and chicken wings." There was a large tray upon the maple coffee table and off to the side upon a small sideboard was a silver punch bowl, ladel, and cups. "The punch is over there and we also have water and tea. Help yourselves, dinner won't be done till four."

"Did you make all of this yourself, Julie?" asked Sarai, biting into a crab tart. "These are divine."

"Most of it, but Phil did help. He fried the chicken."

"My specialty," the vampire smirked, handing one to his son.

The children returned from playing in about half-an-hour (four-and-a-half year olds become bored easily) and once they had eaten some of the appetizers and drank the punch, Setus began pestering Phil to let his cousins open their presents.

"Why don't we wait till after dinner, scamp?"

"But that's so long!" Setus protested. "Can't they just open them now?"

He shot his father his best pleading stare.

Phil looked over at Severus. "Well? What do you think?"

Severus looked at the small vampire. "I think you'll never get any peace till you let him watch us open something. And vice versa."

"Please, Daddy? Please?" Setus pleaded. "I won't ask for a dog for Christmas."

"Setus, you're a little conniver," Phil groaned. "You're lucky you're cute. All right, go and get their presents. To hell with tradition."

Setus whooped and raced over to the small fir tree, where some presents still remained, wrapped in gold, red, and green foil paper with pretty bows on them. "Siren, come and help!" he called to his twin. "I can't carry them all."

Siren went over to help, luckily none of the presents were too large for the children to carry. They came and set them before Phil, who read the tags and told his twins who should get what.

Once all the presents had been parceled out, Severus clapped his hands and more presents appeared in front of him. "Here are yours, scamps." He handed a box each to Siren and Setus and floated over two smaller envelopes to the adult vampires.

Then they waited until Phil said it was time to open them before tearing into the paper. Soon paper littered the floor and Cafall was pouncing and rolling in it, while the twins shouted for joy over the Transmogrifying Tops Severus, Harry, and Draco had given them.

The tops could change into four other toys, including a stuffed dragon, a light-up ball, a flying wizard, and a toy train. Each time you spun the top, it would change, and you could make the toy it became stay for two hours by telling it to halt. You could reverse the change by spinning the toy around on the floor.

"Where on earth did you find those?" Phil asked.

"Diagon Alley, in the toy store," Severus replied. "Apparently they're all the rage this year and I was hoping you hadn't bought them one."

"This is the first time I'm seeing one," Phil said. "Thank you for the gift certificate, I can always use more potion ingredients."

"And I can always use more books. Phil says I need to open a library," Julie smiled, holding her gift certificate to Flourish and Blotts close.

"Or buy the bookstore," her husband quipped.

"Mama loves to read. Like me," Siren put in, spinning his top and watching it change into a plush teddy bear. "Stay!" he called and the top remained a bear. "This is a very cool toy," he told the adults.

"And what do you say to your cousins?" Julie prompted.

"Thank you, Harry, Draco, Uncle Sev and Lady Sarai," the child recited, and then he gave a small hug to each of them, the bear gripped in one fist.

"Wow, Uncle Phil, these boots are wicked." Harry said, trying on a pair of soft suede black boots that came up to his calves and folded over. They were so comfortable, he never could remember a pair fitting him so well before.

"Yeah, I really like them," Draco agreed, trying his on.

Phil smirked. "Those boots are magically adjustable, and they're Boots of Stealth, meaning that with them on you can glide like a ghost over any surface, even a nightingale floor."

"What's a nightingale floor?" asked Harry.

"It's a floor created to trap thieves, it originated in Japan," Julie replied. "When you stepped wrong on it, a series of notes would play, like a nightingale singing, and awaken the household."

"Boots of Stealth?" Severus repeated in mock-horror. "What are you trying to do here, Philip, make my sons into amateur thieves. I already have a hard enough time keeping them in bed at night."

"Dad, please!" his two sons chorused indignantly.

Phil chuckled. "Oh, lighten up, Sev. That's part of being a teenager, sneaking out of the house without your father catching you."

"Humph! And how many times did you do it, I wonder?"

"Too many to remember," Phil snickered. "My poor father never had a chance, with me being a vampire. We belong to the night."

"Yeah! I love the dark! Grrr!" Setus cried, spinning around and then baring his small fangs at Cafall.

Cafall cocked his head, puzzled, then he puppy growled right back at the little vampire.

For about a minute the two stared each other down, then Cafall shook his head and jumped on the child, breaking the stalemate and making the adults chuckle.

"Maybe I ought to confiscate those boots," Severus threatened. "So you two won't be tempted into mischief back at school. Especially you, Mr. Snape."

"What? No fair!" Harry cried, tucking his feet under him so his father couldn't yank the boots off. "I haven't snuck out of my dorm room in at least . . .six months."

"We'll promise not to use them to sneak around unless it's an emergency," Draco bargained shrewdly. "Right, little brother?"

"Yeah, what he said."

"Very well. But the first time I catch either of you out of bed with those boots on, they're mine until you're of age. Clear?"

"Yes, sir," his sons agreed. "We promise."

Severus had received a whole case of rare potion ingredients and there was even a small bottle of perfume for Sarai, it smelled like strawberries and kiwi. Both of them thanked their vampire hosts for being so generous, and after they cleaned up the paper, it was time to go and eat dinner.

Besides the pineapple-honey glazed ham, there was roasted new potatoes, creamed spinach, fresh-baked rolls, almond rice, and carrots in brown sugar sauce. Everything was delicious, and they all stuffed themselves, except for Setus, who tried to feed his spinach and carrots to Cafall, and was scolded by Phil.

"Son, you need to eat your vegetables to stay healthy."

"Why? I'm a vampire and they're yucky."

"You know, you're lucky to have vegetables that taste good. When I was your age, all of our vegetables were stewed or boiled till they were mush and they tasted awful and I still had to eat them."

Setus scowled at his plate. "Cafall likes 'em better."

"Setus, eat your vegetables, or else no sweets," Julie interjected. "They won't kill you."

"They will too," the rebellious child muttered, but after a swift glare from his father, he reluctantly began to eat them.

After they had eaten the dessert, which was a chocolate layer cake that no one complained over, Setus and Siren took Harry and Draco outside to play hide-and-go-seek in the dark.

The two boys soon discovered that the little vampires were experts at that game, and invariably found them wherever they hid and yet they could hide so well neither of the wizards could find them unless they used magic, which was cheating.

They played until the two kids were exhausted and Julie called them inside for bed.

"Aww, Ma!" whined Setus. "I was just gonna show them how I can hang upside down like a bat."

"You can show them that some other time, young Snape."

Draco swung the boisterous Setus onto his shoulder. "C'mon, Setus. I'll read you a story if you go to bed like your mama says."

Setus agreed and Draco raced into the house with him.

Siren looked up at Harry, who knelt down and asked the quiet youngster, who reminded him of himself, "Would you like a ride too?"

"Yes, please."

Harry scooped him up on his shoulder. "There you go."

Siren smiled. "Setus thinks if he fusses, Mama will let him stay up, but I know she won't. That's for when we're bigger, like you."

"You're a smart one, kid," Harry chuckled. "But you know what? I'm ten years older than you and my dad still tells me when to go to bed."

"He does?"

"Yeah, only sometimes I can talk him out of it. Do you want me to read you a story too?"

"Yes. Do you know any good ones?"

"Um . . .I'm sure I can come up with a few," Harry said, then he carried the small vampire all the way into the cottage and down the hall to the room he shared with his brother.

Two stories later, all four boys were asleep, the twins in their little beds and Harry and Draco in the chairs beside them. Cafall had followed them inside and was snoozing on Harry's foot, his feet racing as he dreamed of chasing a huge hare.

Ten minutes later, Severus and Phil came to check on them, making sure the twins hadn't tied up Harry and Draco in the bedsheets, and found them all fast asleep.

The two fathers looked at each other in astonishment and then Phil said, "Don't bother to wake them, Sev. Just spend the night here."

"Phil, I couldn't . . ."

"You can and you will." The vampire lord interrupted. "We'll transfigure the chairs into beds and you and Sarai can have my room for the night."

"No, I won't kick you out of your bed!"

"Severus, we won't be using it, Julie and I need to hunt and tonight's the best time, with you here to watch the twins." Phil said. "Now quit arguing and just accept my invitation, you stubborn ass."

"If you're sure . . ."

"Positive. Merry Christmas, Sev."

Then Phil winked and vanished, leaving Severus no choice but to accept his hospitality. Severus swore, then went to tell Sarai that they would be staying over, and the warrior chuckled at his being outmaneuvered by a thousand-year-old vampire.

*see my Halloween story Trick or Treat Slytherin Style for Draco and Hermione's adventures, if you haven't read it already.

Thanks to everyone who has been patiently awaiting this update and I hope you all like it.

For all of you who were wondering where Smidgen is, she's at the fae court running a few errands for the queen, she'll be back next chapter.

Chapter Text

It was the first week back after the holiday break and Harry was still pondering the riddle he had been given. He was walking along the shore of the Black Lake, where the giant squid could often be seen on sunny days. But today was overcast and Decius was below, keeping warm in the mud or whatever squids did when the temperature dropped. Harry himself was wrapped from neck to feet in his Christmas cloak from Katie, a scarf, gloves, and a hat. He felt like a walking advertisement for Wizard Warm Wear, but Severus had insisted he bundle up, so he didn't risk getting bronchitis. From his days with the Dursleys, Harry had become susceptible to upper respiratory infections, and was usually prone to getting one every winter. But Severus was determined his son would not be following that pattern this year, and so he forced his son to dress warmly when he went walking and eat three meals a day and drink an Immunity Defense potion every other week.

Harry's response to that had been to tell Severus, "God, Dad, you fuss worse than Mrs. Weasley!"

Severus' response had been to give Harry a double dose of potion and order him to stay inside and help him mark papers. When his son protested, his father had said silkily, "Next time don't get cheeky, Mr. Snape. Or else next time I shall come up to your dorm and wrap a scarf about you and put a hat on you like you were six, and I won't care who sees me do it."

"You wouldn't!"

"Try me."

Their eyes met and Harry looked away first. He had been wrong. Severus would indeed do it, he knew all too well what a potent motivator embarrassment was, and when it came to his son's health he could be utterly ruthless.

So, anxious to avoid becoming a laughingstock, Harry had put on his winter wear. Ahead of him in the grass, Cafall frolicked, chasing whatever happened to cross his path. The misthound puppy was a natural hunter, having been bred to catch magical prey, and he loved nothing better than a good chase. Harry had charmed his collar though, so he couldn't run off the grounds and into the Forbidden Forest.

Over the rest of the break, Harry and Draco had taught the puppy several basic commands, and also to return to them when they whistled. Cafall was a fairly obedient dog and eager to please and he almost always returned to the whistle. The one exception had been when he had gotten stuck in a hollow log while chasing a rabbit at the manor and required help to get out.

Harry grinned as Cafall's furry tail disappeared in the long grass as he stalked something. He continued his walk about the lake, still musing on his riddle challenge, when he caught sight of a familiar pair lounging up against a tree.

Or at least Duncan was lounging, in his fae form he looked utterly gorgeous and equally unapproachable, due to the small blond witch sitting in his lap. The kelpie had been Luna's escort to the Yule Ball, and it seemed that Harry and Katie's attempt at matchmaking had borne fruit. The long-legged water horse was wearing his customary black velvet attire and Luna was dressed, for her, in a more conservative radish colored blouse and silvery gray skirt with her robes over it, since it was cold out.

Luna was laughing up at him, her blue eyes glowing with affection, and Duncan was giving her a smile that could put Eros, God of Love to shame. It was a sweet seductive smile, one that only a fae creature could pull off, and then the kelpie began to sing.

Harry stopped dead, all thoughts of riddles fled his mind after hearing the kelpie break into song.

Like many water fae, Duncan's voice was superb, in fact no mortal singer could match it, and he had had centuries to perfect it, learning nuances and shades of timbre and pitch so subtle and compelling that any who heard him fell instantly under his spell.

That day he was singing about a girl and a winter's night, when she went to meet her love to go sleighing down by the pond. It was a lovely piece, and Duncan was singing it with just the right amount of romantic nuance to make any girl's heart throb. Personally, Harry figured that Duncan could sing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," and people would flock to listen to it. If Duncan ever sang upon the WWN, he would be an instant smash hit.

When Duncan had finished, Luna clapped and hugged him. "Oh, that was just lovely! I swear, Duncan, your voice just transports me to another plane of existence."

The kelpie grinned and chuckled. Even his laugh sounded musical. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing, little moonbeam?"

"It's a very good thing," she assured him. Then she turned her head and saw Harry standing there. "Hi, Harry! What are you doing out here alone?"

"Hi, Luna! Hello, Duncan!" he approached them. "Came out here to clear my head and focus on solving this riddle. But I'm not here alone. Cafall came with me. He's off tracking something that way," he waved his hand in the general direction of the trees beyond the lakeshore.

"Aww! He's such a sweet puppy!" Luna gushed, she loved all sorts of animals, and the misthound was a lovable scamp. Unless he was caught chewing Severus' dragonhide boots, that is.

Duncan laughed. "All puppies are sweet. Until they grow up into dogs and then they're a nuisance." The water horse had never gotten used to the human and High Court fae need to have pets and thought it odd to keep an animal obedient to one's will.

"Someday I'd like a dog. Or maybe a kitten." Luna said dreamily.

"But until then, you have me to ride, sweet one." And with that, the kelpie shifted from his fae form into a glorious black stallion with seashells entwined in his mane and tail.

Harry watched as Luna mounted gracefully and Duncan raced all about the lakeshore, though he did not venture into the freezing water, since Luna would never be able to tolerate it. He smiled, happy to see two of his friends getting on so well. He had been skeptical at first, but now he saw that Luna really was a perfect match for the otherworldly kelpie. Luna had a look of utter adoration upon her face that made her glow as she rode. And Harry was almost certain that it came from loving the kelpie and not from being ensorcelled by Glamour.

Then he continued walking, his brow furrowed as he attempted to decipher the riddle. Normally he was good at such things, but this one . . .this one had him stumped. And it didn't help that he only had another month and a half to figure it out. The second task was scheduled to begin on February 24th at half past nine.

He came to a spot where a flat rock jutted up between two oak trees and sat down, sighing. He had known that the riddle wouldn't be easy, nothing in the tournament was, and especially not if a real Sphinx was involved. But he hadn't expected it to be this difficult either. He put his chin in his gloved hand and re-read the riddle again.

Still the answer eluded him.

Cafall frolicked back to him and lay down atop his feet, panting happily and gnawing a meaty bone Harry suspected he'd gotten from Hagrid. He tickled the puppy's silken ears and Cafall groaned in bliss, leaning into his hand.

"I sure wish I could figure this out, silly pup. I can almost . . .almost do it, but then . . ." He shook his head, stroking and rubbing the dog till he fell asleep. Then he straightened, scowling. "Blast and damn! Why is nothing ever easy for me?"

:What fun would that be, young Snape?: Smidgen thought into his head. The dreamweaver shimmerling popped into view, her iridescent black coat gleaming in the sunlight, which also made her wings, lavender and turquoise, sparkle as she hovered in front of him. :Well met, Harry! How was your vacation?:

"Smidgen! You're back!" Harry exclaimed, happy to see the shimmerling again. "My break was wonderful. And you? Were you glad to be back at the Queen's court?"

:I'm glad to hear that, Harry. You deserve to have a family who wants you.: Smidgen said tenderly. She landed on Harry's shoulder, her violet eyes gleaming with pure affection, and began to groom herself leisurely, purring. :As for me, the court was the same as always. Full of intrigue and scheming. Titania kept me busy relaying messages about her new fete to her nobles and favorites. She even invited the Winter Queen so she wouldn't feel left out and cause trouble.:

"You mean Maeve, the Queen of the Dark Sidhe?"

Smidgen nodded. :They may be enemies, but even enemies must be shown certain courtesies. Offending Maeve would have resulted in much unpleasantness and the Unseelie cause too much of that as it is. So . . .I delivered a message to her. I don't know if she will come, probably not, but nevertheless she was invited.:

"Seems like a lot of bother over someone you don't like."

:Ah, Harry. You have much to learn of the way of the court. There is an old mortal saying, copied from my people, that you might do well to remember. "Keep your friends close but your enemies closer." Meaning it's safer to know exactly where your enemy is in front of you rather than worry about her plotting behind your back.:

"I guess so." Harry shrugged. Right then he didn't want to dwell on court politics. "Smidgen, do you know of a way I could figure out an answer to this blasted riddle?" He showed her the parchment.

The shimmerling peered at it. :I believe I know the answer, but it would be bad form for me to tell you. You're smart, you can figure it out.:

"Well, you don't have to tell me exactly, but . . .could you give me a hint? Please?"

Smidgen considered. :Very well. I can sense you're frustrated because you can "almost remember" the answer, but it continues to escape you. You know, Harry, there are things your mind knows that it sometimes cannot relay to you while you are awake.:

"What do you mean?"

:I mean that you have the means to solve the riddle, but you must sleep on it. Sometimes your subconscious mind can solve things twice as fast as your conscious one. Do you remember how we walked through your dreams to free you of your nightmares? You might have tried something similar using mortal . . .psychology I believe it's called, but it would have taken months to achieve the results I did in a few days. The mind is a powerful thing, Harry, and in dreams you may discover things you never thought you knew.:

"So you're saying I ought to sleep on it and hope for the best?"

Smidgen nodded serenely. :Yes, youngling. That is exactly what I'm suggesting. May the Bright One favor your endeavor. Now, I think it's time for a nap. Might I suggest you take one also?:

"Now? It's the middle of the day!"

:So? That's often the best time.: Smidgen replied, then yawned and curled up in the hollow of Harry's shoulder, snoozing a moment later, her wings folded along her back.

Harry smiled down at the little black cat, then decided to follow her advice. Smidgen was over five centuries old and she knew the ways of the mind better than any human psychologist ever could. He pointed his wand at the rock he was sitting on and transfigured it into a comfy recliner, so he wouldn't disturb the winged cat or the puppy napping at his feet. Then he leaned back and closed his eyes. Between Smidgen purring and Cafall keeping his feet toasty, he soon fell asleep.

Smoke of a hazy lavender and gold surrounded him, and he walked forward until he came to the steps of an old Egyptian temple made of white marble and red brick, surrounded by sand dunes and date palms. He carefully climbed the steps, which were guarded by life-sized statues of lions, and entered the temple.

It was lit by dozens of flickering torches and the inlaid tiles of lapis lazuli echoed as he made his way across the antechamber. In the center of the next chamber was a large basalt statue of Thoth, the ibis-headed god was holding a stylus and wax tablet, the tools of his craft. Thoth was the Egyptian god of writing, secrets, magic, and knowledge.

Harry looked up at the statue, which was many times his height, and to his shock, the Thoth statue bent its head and peered at him.

"Greetings, young mage. I am Thoth, God of Knowledge and Magic and Writing. What knowledge do you seek?"

"I . . .um . . .seek an answer to a riddle." Harry stammered.

"Ah." Thoth seemed to smile kindly, if such could be said of a bird-headed god. "Write the riddle down upon a tablet and lay it upon my altar. Then make an offering to me. If you are sincere, I shall attempt to decipher your question."

"An offering? Like what?"

But the statue was silent and Harry continued on past it and into the main room of the temple.

Lamps glowed with oil and illuminated a stone altar upon which had been placed offerings of fruit, bread, ink, paper, styluses, and gold and silver jewelry, as well as clay faience beads and pottery jugs of honey and beer. A large golden platter was in the center of the altar, it was filled with pieces of papyrus, folded.

Harry looked about for a piece of papyrus, and one appeared in his hand. So did a quill. He quickly wrote down the riddle, by now he had memorized it. Then he laid it down in the platter.

Now for the offering. Harry examined the other offerings and thought rapidly. It seemed Thoth valued knowledge. He dug in his pocket and found a small scroll with some potions recipes Severus had given him. He reverently laid it on the altar. "Here. This was given to me by my father, a teacher of knowledge and magic, like you, Great Thoth. May it please you."

Then he stepped back.

Once again he was wreathed in lavender colored smoke that smelled of jasmine and honey.

When it cleared he was standing once more before Thoth's altar. It was empty of all save a plain wooden box bound with leather.

"Seek within."

The voice echoed in the chamber and Harry jumped.

But there was no one there.

Trembling a bit, he walked over to the altar and drew his wand, mindful of what his father and Phil had taught him about opening strange chests and trunks. He cast a few spells to detect dark curses and traps, like poison needles. The chest was clean.

Only then did he lower his wand and open the box.

A brilliant light shone from it and Harry squinted against the glare. Then he reached within and drew out a piece of paper.

He shut the box and read what was written upon the paper.

Then he let out a whoop of glee.

He had the answer to the riddle at last!

Suddenly, the foundations of the temple began to shake and he turned and fled, running down the steps and out into the desert. . .

Harry woke still smelling the incense of the temple in his nostrils and he immediately sat up. Cafall yipped as the eager student disturbed him. "Sorry boy, go back to sleep. Gotta Summon something." He drew his wand and chanted, "Accio Tournament Scroll!"

A few moments later the original scroll soared into his hand. He picked it up and the translated version and wrote the answer to the riddle on the bottom of the translated scroll. "Smidgen, I did it!"

The shimmerling yawned. :Congratulations! Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to rest.: She promptly closed her eyes and went back to sleep.

Harry waved his wand and reversed the transfiguration charm on the rock before walking softly back to the castle to find his father and tell him he had solved his riddle. The champions were scored on how quickly they accomplished both the translation and the riddle solving as well as the final task with the Sphinx. They had been instructed by Crouch to report immediately to any judge when they completed each stage of the task. Harry had already done so with the translation.

Harry soon reached Snape's quarters, he was discussing a potion with Phil, and unlocked the door with the password. "Hi, Dad. Hi, Uncle Phil. Guess what?"

The two Snape men looked up at him. "Hello, Harry. Make any headway with that riddle challenge yet?" asked the master vampire.

"Yes. I think I know the answer." Harry said excitedly. "I came here so you could see if I was right, Dad." Harry took the original scroll and whispered the answer to the riddle.

The parchment glowed a soft golden color for a brief moment.

Severus smiled proudly. "Well done, Harry. Let me take the scrolls now and write down the date and time in my judge's record." Severus summoned the small tablet that all the judges carried, it was inscribed on the front with a goblet in flames, made of midnight blue leather.

Phil clapped Harry on the shoulder and congratulated him as well, while Severus recorded the information in his log.

"Where's Sarai?"

"Sparring with your brother in that secret room of yours on the seventh floor," Phil answered.

"The Room of Requirement?"

"Yes, that's the one. He was restless and Sarai offered to teach him some new kin-sa-dor moves."

Sarai had managed to get an extension on her stay from Titania, so instead of leaving on Twelfth Night, she would leave soon after the second task.

"Oh. That's good. Maybe I'll go and join them," Harry said. He had missed sparring with the Queen's Blade, even though Sarai was a strict teacher.

"Yes, it will do you good to brush up on your technique," Severus agreed. "Before you get sloppy."

Harry nodded. "May I go then?"

"Yes. I'll inform Mr. Crouch of your success. I think you're the first champion to complete both parts of this task so quickly."

Harry grinned, then he gently set the sleeping Smidgen down atop the sofa and raced out the door. He couldn't wait to share the good news with Draco and Sarai.

February 24th, 1994:

The morning of the second task dawned crisp and fair, and Harry was awake at dawn, too nervous to sleep. He wondered what it would be like to face the Sphinx and hoped that she wouldn't be too intimidating. Phil had told him that sphinxes were generally peaceful creatures who enjoyed sunning themselves in oasises, and had a love for old books, scrolls, magical tomes, and puzzles of any kind. But they hated those who defiled books and used knowledge gained for harm or tried to destroy knowledge because they did not agree with it.

The Great Library of Alexandria in Egypt had been begun by a young Sphinx named Meron and it had been one of the great repositories of knowledge and magic for centuries. Some said that it still was, that Meron had used his own magic to take the Library out of time to preserve its works and that was why it had disappeared, leaving only rubble. Some also said that only those who loved knowledge for its own sake or had great need could discover the Key to the Library.

Sphinxes were very strong magically as well as physically and could, when angered, cast some very powerful spells as well as tear an enemy to shreds. The old legend of the Sphinx that guarded the path to Thebes who ate any who answered her riddle wrong was partially true. Those who answered wrong and who did not attempt to harm her she allowed to leave unharmed. But those who attacked her, she killed. The young Oedipus not only answered her riddle correctly, he also showed her respect, and so she allowed him to pass.

To this day, sphinxes were respected by most of the wizarding world, though the Ministry did not consider them an intelligent enough species to be granted a seat upon the Wizengamut, and they were classed as Magical Beings.

Harry dressed swiftly and hurried down to the hall for breakfast. He ate sparingly, his stomach was always touchy on the day of a major test and he didn't want to throw up. Phantom flew down and gave him a small package.

Opening it, Harry discovered a familiar fizzy pink potion and a note.

For your queasiness. You'll do fine.

Good luck.

Love, Dad

Harry rolled his eyes. Then he uncapped the vial and downed the Stomach Soother.

He made a mental note to thank his father after the task was done. Then the doors to the hall opened and the other students filed in.

All of the Gryffindors and some of the Slytherins wore Trust Snape badges and cheered when they saw Harry. The Hufflepuffs just ignored him and cheered Cedric when he walked through the doors. Krum sneered at Harry, surrounded by his Durmstrang crowd and Fleur gave him a polite smile, she liked him because he was quiet and unassuming, unlike the obnoxious Krum.

Then the staff filed in and when all were done with breakfast, Dumbledore led the way out to the Quidditch pitch, where a low stone wall had been erected across the pitch and filled with sand. Reclining gracefully upon the hot sand was a beautiful leonine sphinx.

Harry, who had seen them only in books, found that the reality of the great creature was far more impressive and overwhelming. She was nearly twenty-five feet long from head to tail, her leonine body rippled with muscle and was a tawny gold color. The tip of her tail was tufted and wrapped with a jeweled bracelet of pure gold with Thoth's symbol etched upon it. Her paws were the size of Harry's head, and stretched out before in the classic pose.

She turned her head and looked at the procession of champions, her eyes lighting with curiosity. She had the head of an attractive Egyptian woman, long dark hair spilled down her shoulders, she was crowned with a nemes headdress of striped blue and gold, and her eyes were outlined with kohl and crushed malachite, making them seem more luminous and larger. She had high cheekbones and a full mouth tinted ochre.

There was an aura of great age and majesty about her, the air fairly thrummed with magical energy.

Harry stopped dead upon meeting her eyes, which were a brilliant green color.

He only moved when Fleur nudged him in the back.

"She is very beautiful, no?" whispered the witch.

"Yeah. But it's not only that," Harry said. "She's so . . .awesome!" He couldn't find words to describe the magnificent creature.

Bagman was giving them back their scrolls and translations and telling them to step forward and stand before the sphinx, whose name was Nephthys.

"And mind you're polite and mind your manners, boys and girls, sphinxes are touchy about respect and you don't want to make her angry. Understand?"

All of them nodded, in awe of the legend lying just inside the wall.

They filed into the arena, first Cedric, then Harry, then Fleur and Krum was last, as they had been rated previously.

"Greetings, young wizards," said the sphinx in a musical soprano. Her voice was soft and low, and she had a faint accent, for English was not her first language. "I am Nephthys, and I have been asked to challenge you to a riddle contest. Your task for the Tournament was in two parts—to translate and solve the riddle I had given you and to answer a question or two from me. First, let us see how well you did on the first challenge. Cedric Diggory, step forward."

Cedric stepped forward, looking a bit nervous. His supporters chanted his name and waved Hufflepuff banners. He bowed before Nephthys. "Lady, here is the scroll I was asked to translate. It was in hieroglyphics."

"Ah. My native language," Nephthys purred. "Give me the scroll and read out your translation."

Cedric handed her the scroll, she took it delicately in her forepaw, which had flexible toes, almost like a human hand. Then he began to read the translation.

No legs have I to dance,
No lungs have I to breathe,
No life have I to live or die
And yet I do all three.
What am I?"

Nephthys gave a small smile of approval. "Good. That is essentially correct. What is the answer?"

Cedric moistened his lips, then said, "I think the answer is fire."

The sphinx inclined her head to him and said loudly, "That is correct. You may stand off to my right. Next I call upon Harry Snape, who is tied for first place with Cedric Diggory. Step forward, Mr. Snape."

Harry followed Cedric's example and bowed to the sphinx. "Lady Nephthys, here is my scroll. It was written in ancient Greek and the translation reads as follows."

He cleared his throat and read in a clear even tone.

"With no wings, I fly. With no eyes, I see. With no arms, I climb. More frightening than any beast, stronger than any foe. I am cunning, ruthless, and tall; in the end, I rule all. What am I?"

Nephthys gave a soft purr of approval. "Very good! And how do you answer this riddle?"

Harry gulped then took a deep breath. He was almost positive he had gotten the right answer. "The answer is imagination."

His supporters cheered and flashed their badges and waved banners wildly.

Nephthys roared her approval. "Correct, Harry Snape! You also are a fair riddle worker. Go stand next to Cedric Diggory if you would."

"Thank you, my lady." Harry said and bowed again before going to stand next to Cedric, who flashed him a relieved grin.

"Fleur Delacour, come forth." Nephthys called.

Fleur came forward and handed her a scroll. "I had to translate cuneiform, ze writing of ancient Babylon and Sumeria." She began to read her riddle aloud.

I never was, am always to be, no one ever saw me, nor ever will. And yet I am the confidence of all who live and breathe on this terrestrial ball. What am I?"

"Very good, Miss Delacour. And what is the answer?"

Fleur hesitated then said, very softly, "I think there is two answers, Lady. One is ze future, ze other is tomorrow."

Nephthys looked extremely pleased. "Excellent! You are correct. Once it's here it is no longer tomorrow but today. It's no longer the future but the present. Full marks!"

Then she called Krum, who bowed insolently to her. She glowered at him and he paled and gulped. "My translation vas in Aramaic. Here is vhat it said.

The person who makes it has no need for it. The person who purchases it does not use it. The person who does use it does not know he or she is. What is it?"

"Correct. Your answer, Mr. Krum?"

Krum coughed then looked the sphinx in the eye. "My answer is a coffin."

She nodded. "Also correct."

Krum smirked.

The scrolls vanished in a puff of smoke. Then she beckoned them forward. "Come closer, little champions. You have all passed the first of my little tests and shown me that you can use your heads and have the skills necessary to research a difficult subject and persevere in the face of a mental challenge, all important tasks for young wizards like yourselves. But now you must prove yourself able to think on your feet.

"I shall ask you all the same question. You will come up one by one and whisper the answer into my ear. There is only one correct answer, if you give a wrong answer you shall have fifteen minutes deducted from your next task, which will be to find that which you love best. Those who get it right shall have fifteen minutes added on to your original hour. You will note, each task I have given you is in two parts, that is deliberate as this is your second challenge. Are you prepared? Good."

Nephthys' green eyes gleamed. "What is a wizard's greatest power besides the magic that is your birthright?"

 

Anyway, in case you were wondering, I got all the riddles and their answers from a very helpful website. And the sphinx Nephthys-her name means "woman of the temple precincts" in ancient Egyptian.

Like this second task, it will be in two chapters, the finale of it is coming up next chapter.

Meantime, see if you can guess what a wizard's greatest power is besides magic.

Chapter Text

There was dead silence following that statement, as the four champions paused to consider the sphinx's question. Nephthys waited patiently, unruffled, as an immortal she had nothing but time, and time had ever been her friend. She allowed them ten minutes, however, knowing how impatient the mortal wizard judges were, then she called them up one by one in reverse order.

"Your second task is this, you must search for that which you love best after you attempt to answer my last question. You may use any magic at your disposal except the dark spells, and the one who returns the fastest with that which he loved best shall be awarded the greatest number of points. You have an hour and a half. Viktor Krum, what is your answer?"

Krum strolled up to the humanoid with a confident cocky walk, and Nephthys bent her head so he could whisper his answer into her ear. "A wizard's greatest power beside magic is being able to cause enemies to fear him."

Nephthys raised an eyebrow. "Is that your final answer, Mr. Krum?"

Krum nodded assured he was right.

But the sphinx shook her head. "Incorrect. You shall forfeit fifteen minutes of time to complete your task."

Krum gaped. "But . . .but that is the truth!"

"For you, perhaps. But it is not a universal truth, and not all wizards desire to dominate others." Before he could protest further, she blew upon him and he vanished into a brilliant cloud of purple smoke. "You have an hour and fifteen minutes. Find that which you love most, Viktor Krum, and bring you both safe back here."

Then she called Fleur up and the Beauxbatons witch whispered that the answer was "Love."

Nephthys frowned. "While love is indeed a powerful factor in a wizard's life, I am looking for something that does not involve such fleeting emotions. It was a good try though. However, you too must endure the penalty, Miss Delacour. You have an hour and fifteen minutes."

"I understand, my lady." She bowed to the sphinx.

"Good. When I breathe upon you, you shall find yourself elsewhere. Your task is to find that which you love best, it is hidden from you, seek it however you can, and return safe to here."

"Yes, lady," Fleur said determinedly, her wand gripped firmly in her hand.

She closed her eyes as the sweet breath of the sphinx surrounded her and obscured her from view.

Next came Cedric, respectful and eager. "Lady Nephthys, I think the answer is knowledge."

"Hmm . . .a very close guess but still not what I was looking for. I must deduct points, Mr. Diggory. But since it was very close, I shall only deduct ten minutes. You have a hour and twenty minutes. Good luck and return safe!"

All the Hogwart's bystanders screamed and waved banners, jumping up and down.

Then Cedric disappeared inside a green cloud of smoke.

At last it was Harry's turn. He stood on tiptoe and whispered, "I think a wizard's greatest power besides his magic is his imagination. Because that's what lets a wizard come up with new spells and potions and a person with imagination can sometimes defeat a powerful opponent by being more imaginative than he is."

Nephthys roared her approval of Harry's answer. "Well done, Mr. Snape! You are the only candidate to answer the riddle correctly. A wizard's greatest power is imagination. The ability to make possible what was impossible. And now you may use that power along with your magic in The Land of Impossibilities, which is where I shall send you now to find that which you love best. You have fifteen extra minutes."

She drew in a breath.

"Wait!" Harry called. "What do you mean, I'm supposed to look for that which I love best? Is that a person or an object?"

Nephthys smirked. "As to that, Mr. Snape, only you can answer it. Think about it. You have one hour and forty-five minutes. Use it well and return safe to here."

Then she breathed upon Harry and he felt his world spin upside down as he breathed in the brilliant golden mist.

When his stomach stopped tumbling over and over and he dared to open his eyes, he was somewhere else . . .

The Land of Impossibilities:

Harry opened his eyes and came face to face with . . .a dragon.

And not just any dragon, but an ill-tempered broody Hungarian Horntail, the most dangerous of all the dragon breeds.

The dragon roared at him and swung her huge head down, jaws agape.

Harry stumbled backwards and shouted out a Conjunctivitis Curse, the spell blasted away from his wand and struck the beast directly in the eye, making it screech in pain. As it shook its massive head, Harry moved away, thanking all those practice sessions he'd put in Defense with his father and Philip and also with his students in the Dueling Club. Now his reactions and accuracy had finally paid off.

But he discovered he was on bare rock, with nowhere to hide, the nearest cover was a forest some twenty feet away. Bloody hell, I wish I had my Invisibility Cloak!

No sooner had the thought entered his mind, he found the cloak about him. Huh? How did that happen? I can't do wandless charms yet. Not about to question his good fortune, he tugged the hood over his head and disappeared, running as quickly as he could over the flat rocky outcropping towards the cover of the forest.

Behind him, the aggravated dragon spread her wings and pursued.

Harry didn't know how she could still find him, invisible, then he recalled that dragons had a very keen sense of smell and hearing also, like most predators. Crap! I need to confuse her nose. But how?

He thought frantically, thrusting his left hand into his cloak pocket. He felt about inside and came up with a round black ball. "A dungbomb! I forgot I'd put one in there, just in case one of those idiots tried to ambush me again." He tossed it down and it blew up, covering him with a foul stench.

He nearly lost his breakfast right there.

Gagging and holding his nose shut, he forced himself to run through the fetid cloud. Damn, I should have thrown it a little further away from me. Merlin, but I feel like I'm gonna puke my guts all over.

His eyes streaming, he continued onwards, hearing the dragon shriek in disgust as the horrid stench blew right back at her.

Harry managed to gain the cover of the trees before he succumbed to the foul odor and vomited all over. Stupid! Stupid! he castigated himself mentally as he heaved. You forgot to allow for the radius of the effect. Dad would be ashamed of you.

At last he got himself under control, still angry at himself. It would do him no good to escape one adversary only to weaken himself with his own oversight.

He could hear the dragon bellowing and the whoosh of fire in the distance. He hoped she had gotten a good whiff of the dungbomb.

He glanced about. He was in a coniferous forest, but all was quiet, not even a bird chirped or a squirrel rustled in the undergrowth. It was eerily silent, and it made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. I don't like this. Not at all. When it goes still like this it means danger is nearby. I remember what it felt like in the Deepwood, before the Unseelie ambushed us. It felt this way, all tense and quiet, as if the forest was listening for the approach of something terrible.

He began to walk quickly through the trees, hoping that whatever it was wasn't attracted to the smell of vomit.

He pondered what the sphinx had meant about finding what he loved best. Somehow he didn't think it pertained to an object, for the simple reason that possessions, even the Invisibility Cloak, just didn't mean that much to him. They were things, but he did not value them above a person's life.

Who did he love best then?

The obvious answer was his family—Severus and Draco.

And yet that was wrong too. While his love for his family was strong, there was another whom he loved, loved with equal passion and in a way that transcended the bonds of family.

He loved Katie Bell.

Suddenly it hit him. She had not been there to wish him good luck the way she always had before, nor had he seen her with the other Gryffindors wearing the Support Snape badges. She had been missing and he had been too concerned over the task to notice! Some boyfriend you are, Harry Snape! Your girlfriend goes missing and you don't even notice! What have they done with her?

He was tempted to rush off through the trees like a hotheaded frantic teenager. That was how he would have behaved a year ago, or two years ago, before he had been taught to think and not just react. Before he had undergone multiple lessons on considering every possibility before acting upon his impulses. He forced himself to take several deep breaths and regulate his heartbeat the way Phil and Severus had taught him.

He now knew two important things. That he had to find Katie and that he had . . .he looked at his watch . . .an hour and thirty-five minutes to do it in.

He looked about him again, but all he could see were trees, endless trees in every direction. He swore angrily, thanking Merlin Severus was not nearby to hear him. How was he supposed to locate Katie when he didn't even know where he was or where he was to go?

Think, Snape! If you want to find someone, what do you do? You cast a Locator Charm, you dunderhead.

He quietly chanted a Four Points spell.

He held his palm flat and his wand spun about crazily upon it before settling and pointing north . . .but then it reversed and pointed south.

Harry frowned. What was happening? How could Katie be both north and south? Either the spell was confused or there were two Katies. Or he hadn't cast it right. But he was almost positive he had done so.

He recast the spell, with the same result.

"Bloody hell!" he exploded.

This truly was a Land of Impossibilities.

He rubbed his temples. There had to be something he was missing here. The sphinx's words came back to him. A wizard's greatest power besides magic is his imagination. . . .his imagination . . .imagination . . .

That must mean he had to use imagination to help him in his quest.

Another flash of memory assaulted him. The dream he had had of the temple, where he had solved the riddle, that had been using his imagination, or at least his subconscious mind, in a way he had never thought of before.

Sometimes the mind is more powerful than even you know.

Smidgen's words echoed down to him.

And the greatest tool of his mind was his imagination.

It all clicked then.

He was in the Land of Impossibilities, a land he was pretty sure existed only in the sphinx's mind, brought forth by her own magic to test him and the others.

And in order to win he had to pit his own mind against hers.

He recalled the riddle he had solved, that line that kept coming back to him about imagination ruling all.

In the impossible land, imagination is king.

As a child he had learned to use his imagination to its fullest when he was stuck for hours and days inside his cupboard. In his mind he had gone everywhere and done everything, he had been an astronaut, a deep sea diver, a pilot, a superhero. He had visited foreign lands and had given himself the illusion of a family who loved him to stave off the loneliness.

Back then his imagination had been his salvation, his escape, the thing that had kept him sane locked away in the dark and cold.

And it could be so again.

I understand now. He looked around again at the forest. Then he shut his eyes and imagined it had melted away, and he stood before Katie and was hugging her. She was in his arms, nestled close, and he could smell her perfume, feel her arms wrapped about him, her hair against his cheek . . .

He opened his eyes.

To his disappointment, he did not see her, but the forest had thinned, and ahead of him was a dark plain that smoked and burned. Beyond that was a huge walled tower. He could feel in his bones that she was there, within.

So he had to get across this lava field.

He coughed, for the fumes from it were worse than the dungbomb. But then he imagined a wind blowing the smell away.

A small fresh burst of air stirred the cracked land and blew the stench aside.

Harry chewed his lip. His imagination had managed that small task, but not the bigger one he had thought of before. Clearly he was not strong enough to just banish Nephthys' constructs. So be it. As Dad always says, take it one step at a time.

He checked his watch. He had an hour and ten minutes left. He needed to start coming up with solutions, quick.

What was the best way to cross a barren hot ground probably filled with traps and sinkholes or something? He pondered.

He snapped his fingers. Fly, of course.

He concentrated, and gasped as wings sprouted from his shoulders, but they grew large enough to enable him to fly like Hawkman in that comic that Dudley had always read about. He didn't want to risk summoning a broom, since he had seen his magic fail once before and the broom was enchanted similarly to the wand. He wondered then why his cloak had worked, then he shrugged. Perhaps the cloak had been a one time thing.

He spread his snowy wings and jumped into the air.

He nearly landed flat on his face.

Okay, Harry. Back up. You're doing something wrong. Maybe it's not enough to imagine yourself with wings. Maybe you need to imagine yourself flying too.

He shut his eyes and pictured himself flying through the air, as easily as any hawk or bird ever hatched. I can fly. I can fly.

He poured all of his will into the thought and then he jumped into the air.

Instantly his wings caught an updraft and he soared into the sky.

He opened his eyes and grinned.

I did it! Am I good, or what?

Suddenly he started to wobble alarmingly.

Ahh! No . . .no don't fall! Focus!

He quickly called back the image of himself soaring, then began to fly across the field.

He was immediately glad he did, for the black rock suddenly heaved and formed small volcanos that spat orange lava at him, which he barely dodged with a quick flick of his wings.

Ouch! Singed my wings, blast it! This is like being trapped in one of Dudley's video games. Gotta use my head.

Geysers of superheated steam exploded next, making him stall and almost tumble out of the sky.

Quickly he imagined a supercool shield of air in front of him to protect himself from the stifling heat.

As soon as he could breathe again he flew higher, above the geysers and volcanoes.

No sooner had he done that, however, than the sky became dark with storm clouds and lightning slammed down at him.

He screamed and rolled, avoiding the lightning by mere inches.

Bloody hell, but Nephthys wasn't pulling her punches here!

He gritted his teeth and continued to fly while rain pelted him. His wings soon became waterlogged.

He imagined the clouds breaking up and the sun coming out.

His wings dried.

Then the sphinx blasted him with a sandstorm out of nowhere.

Suddenly he was tumbling over and over like a dustmote, unable to see or navigate.

He nearly panicked.

But some instinct made him stop and think. He was being buffeted by tremendous winds, like he had read about in the Arabian Nights. This was Nephthys' territory, she was born of the desert. What could he come up with that could defeat a sandstorm?

A flying carpet? A magic lamp?

He bit his lip as the sand tore the feathers off his wings and sent him careening across the sky.

Think! Hurry! If you crash now you won't survive at this speed!

He closed his eyes.

An instant later he was floating serenely in the vortex of the sandstorm.

He had become a genie, who had mastery of all elements.

With a lazy flick of a finger, he banished the sandstorm.

Ha! Take that, my lady!

Harry-the-genie soared past the last of the black lava field and down towards the grey tower.

He landed upon the ground and felt a wrenching sense of disorientation.

He rubbed his eyes and found that he had become a teenage boy once more.

Shaking his head to clear it, he glanced again at his watch. He had less than an hour to get to Katie now. Forty minutes.

He examined the tower. There were no windows or doors, and he didn't think he wanted to waste time imagining any. Time was of the essence.

Wish I could walk through walls, like Nearly Headless Nick.

He laughed.

Okay, time to become a ghost.

He felt hot and cold and then he looked down at himself and saw he had become transparent. He gave a yip of delight and dove headfirst through the tower wall.

Only to emerge in yet another type of maze. He fought to keep from howling.

Keep it together, Snape. Don't go ballistic. That's what she wants. So there's a maze. You're a ghost, you can float through it.

But where was Katie? Logic told him she would be at the center of the maze, or even the end of it. But which way was he to go?

He closed his eyes and concentrated upon her.

Several minutes later he heard a gigantic ka-thump, ka-thump as of a heart beating.

That was her heart beating, he was positive. He just had to follow it.

He began to soar through the walls, following the echoing sound.

Of course, that was when Nephthys threw a screw into his careful plan.

A dreadful howling rose into the air and the tower shook.

Harry, even incorporeal, was flung violently through the air.

By the time he regained his equilibrium, hovering in the air, the huge crocodile-headed thing had appeared, snapping those huge jaws, an unholy light gleaming in its eyes. It was wearing a white linen sheath dress and a scarab collar and it had the body of an Egyptian woman, but the shoulders of a lioness and the lower half was a hippo's legs. It looked vaguely familiar to Harry, he recalled he had seen this image before, but at the moment it eluded him.

She spotted Harry almost immediately, and let out a cry of delight.

"Ahhh! An unprotected soul for me to devour!" she bellowed, her voice strangely hollow and filled with hunger and a need to destroy. "Come, little soul, give yourself to me. I hunger!"

She sprang at him and one of her hands, which bore claws and one of them caught him a glancing blow on the leg.

There was a searing pain and he cried out. That had hurt! But wasn't a ghost supposed to be immune to physical harm? He had expected her claw to go right through him.

She threw back her head and laughed mockingly. "Foolish one, I am the Devourer, and all souls that have wandered astray or have ventured into the Realm of the Dead without being prepared belong to me."

Harry turned and fled, trying to ignore the burning pain in his leg. He flew as quickly as he dared, still orienting on Katie's heart, and behind him the crocodile thing sprang after, screeching in fury.

He knew then that he had no choice but to keep one step ahead of it, for if it grasped him in its claws he had a feeling he would die . . .or whatever happened in this odd realm. He tried to imagine himself somewhere safe, but his concentration was shattered by the pain in his leg and the horrid thing's screaming.

He poured all of his concentration into staying ahead of the thing and plowed through the walls of the maze at some insane speed that he had never thought he could handle.

Even so, the crocodile thing was still on his arse. Harry didn't know how it could move so damn fast!

The heartbeat was growing louder and Harry threw himself a wall and came upon . . .a familiar temple. It was the temple of his dreams.

Behind him, the Devourer swiped at him, and he jerked away by a hairsbreadth, tumbling through the temple wall to land upon the floor with an undignified thump.

When he looked up he saw three figures dressed in the style of the pharaohs.

One was a jackal-headed being, he wore the traditional white robe and kilt, and carried a staff in his hand which he banged down upon the floor three times. "Who comes before me to be judged?" he asked, his voice thundering in the temple.

Harry stood up, shivering. There was a majesty and power in that tone that made him feel insignificant and small. He felt as if he should get down upon his knees before this radiant dark being. He stared into the dark god's eyes and suddenly he remembered what he had forgotten.

"Y-you're Anubis! Egyptian god of the Dead!"

"Not quite, little magus. I am the God of Embalming, who guards the portal to the Realm of the Afterlife. The Lord of the Dead is Osiris."

There came a loud shriek of fury and the sound of iron claws scrabbling at the entrance to the temple. "Give me it, brother! I am owed! Give me the soul!"

Anubis sighed. "And that ill-mannered annoyance outside that hungers for your essence is Ammit, the Devourer of Souls. She shall be allowed her due if your heart is not pure, young magus."

He pointed to a set of huge scales done in gold and jewels. Atop the scales was a gorgeous woman dressed in a feathered red robe and with a feathered headdress of many colors. She knelt there, serene and yet there was a hardness to her face that implied she was not the delicate thing she seemed. In her eyes was an ageless wisdom.

"Welcome, wandering one. I am Ma'at, the goddess of Truth and Justice. Have you come to weigh your heart against my feather?"

"I . . .I don't understand. I . . .I'm here to find my girlfriend, Katie. She's here somewhere. I can feel her heart."

"Indeed," said the third god, the ibis-headed Thoth, whom Harry had met before in his dream, holding his scroll and his pen. "But in order to find her you must prove yourself worthy, young magus."

"How? I fought my way past all of the things in this land, isn't that enough?" Harry asked, irritated.

Thoth looked amused. "That shows you have courage and perseverance and a good imagination. But if you are truly devoted to her who you love best, you shall endure one last test. Climb up on the scale and allow Ma'at to weigh your heart. If you are true and unselfish in your love, you shall rise above the feather. But if you are not, you shall sink to the ground and Ammit shall be allowed to devour you, for all unworthy souls belong to her. Will you submit to this last test?"

Harry looked at the scales. On one side was a gleaming feather that sparkled with all the colors of the rainbow. The feather of Ma'at.

He bit his lip. He sensed that this was the final test.

A tremendous blow hit the door of the temple and it began to buckle.

A clawed hand forced its way through.

Harry knew if Ammit came through the door he was finished.

"All right. I'll do it."

"Step upon the scale," Anubis instructed. He knelt and held the scales steady for Harry to step on it.

Harry found that even though he was a ghost, he could still feel the scale pan beneath his feet. He stood straight and tall, wondering how on earth they could measure the depth of the human heart for another.

He felt a tingle run through him.

Then slowly, he saw the feather start to rise.

A moment later it began to sink.

Very slowly, he found himself lifted higher than the feather, until he hovered two feet above the opposite end of the scale with the glittering feather.

Ma'at spoke. "You have been weighed and measured, young magus, and you are light-hearted with love for she who sleeps beyond. Yours is a true and lasting love, let all present hear my judgment and record it!"

There came a sound like a gong ringing throughout the temple.

At the same time, Ammit crashed through the wall and launched herself at Harry.

But she passed right through him and landed smack upon the floor.

"No-o-o!" she wailed, for she was unable to harm a pure soul that had been judged by Ma'at.

"Peace, she-beast," Anubis scolded. "This one is not for you." He pointed to a small alcove. "There is she whom you seek, Child of Destiny."

Harry looked where the god pointed and saw Katie lying upon a stone sarcophagus, fast asleep.

He sprang off the scales and raced over to her. "Katie!" he called, bending down and lifting her into his arms.

As soon as he had done so, time stopped and Nephtyhys' voice echoed in his ears.

"Well played, Harry Snape! You were a most worthy opponent! You completed my task with five minutes to spare!"

The temple and the Egyptian gods faded and Harry found himself back before the sphinx in the arena, the shouts of the students echoing in his ears.

Katie stirred in his arms and opened her eyes.

"Harry? Where . . .where am I?"

"Back where you belong. With me."

"I had the strangest dream . . ." she began.

He smiled down at her. "Was I in it?"

"Yes," she answered, then she threw her arms about him and kissed him, not caring that everyone in the school saw.

Harry couldn't have imagined a better moment.

Until he kissed her back.

Above in the stands, Draco and the supportive Slytherins were all hooting and hollering at the two kissing, as were the Gryffindors and some Ravenclaws as well. Smidgen was doing a victory flight about their heads and Cafall was barking and straining at the leash in Sarai's hand.

"Calm, you silly pup!" the warrior ordered, stroking the silky head. "You'll see your master soon enough. Sit!"

Cafall sat, tail wagging, his eyes fixed upon Harry.

In the judges' box, Severus released the breath he had been holding and caught the edge of the rail to steady himself. As far as he could tell, Harry seemed uninjured, and he was so relieved over that he didn't even mind his son's total lack of decorum and his very obvious Public Display of Affection. He did not know what had occurred inside that golden mist, but it appeared that Harry had passed the sphinx's test.

The other three suddenly appeared, one after the other, and all of them looked relived and were holding a person in their arms or next to them. Cedric had Cho Chang in his embrace, Fleur was hugging a little girl that looked like her, and Krum was cradling a trembling Damascus Rosen in his arms. He looked much the worse for wear, cut and bleeding about the face and shoulders, but he still wore his supercilious smile.

Severus and the other judges rose to their feet to applaud the champions' completion of the second task, and never had the Potions Master felt prouder of his and Lily's child than at that moment.

 

Thanks to all who gave me guesses for the riddle and congratulations to anyone who guessed imagination! For those of you who guessed love, you were close, but the sphinx is an intellectual sort and would favor the mind above the heart. Hence why imagination was the correct answer.

The scene between Harry and the Egyptian gods is taken from Egyptian mythology, the Egyptians believed a soul had to pass a test before being allowed into the Realm of the Dead, and one's heart was judged and weighed by Ma'at to see if it was good and light as a feather. If the heart was weighed down by evil deeds it was heavy hearted and given to Ammit the Destroyer to devour and the soul never made it to heaven, but was destroyed forever. You can learn more about Egyptian customs and gods by looking on Wikipedia.

Chapter Text

 

Harry felt the adulation of the crowd wash over him. It was a heady feeling and enabled him to stave off the weariness that suddenly swept over him. He blinked and turned to hug his beloved, only to find she had vanished from his arms. Glancing about frantically, he saw that the others too no longer had their people. Katie! Where are you? He opened his mouth to call for her and then he heard the soft tones of Nephthys in his mind.

Fear not, little fae champion. Your beloved is perfectly safe, with her friends, where she belongs. Look up, and you shall see.He could see Draco, Katie, and Hermione standing at the railing of their respective House seats cheering and clapping. For one moment he missed Ron in the crowd, but then caught sight of him as well, standing next to some witches from Beauxbatons, waving a scarf and cheering madly.

Oh. But how . . .?

In the Impossible Land, I rule. Your beloved was never truly there in body, anymore than you were. Only spirit. Once you completed your task, I sent you both back to here, where your bodies awaited you. She will remember little of it, as she was mostly asleep, unlike you, who walked a waking dream. The same is true of the others.

Harry exhaled, relieved.

His eyes swept over his fellow competitors, and focused on the judges on their podium and he saw Severus applauding and giving him a smile. He smiled back, feeling a surge of joy go through him, for he knew his father was proud of him. Sarai was standing near Severus as well and she too gave him a look of approval, and then he felt as if he were on top of the world, for the two adults he most admired and wished to please were proud of him.

Dumbledore too, gave him a look of approval and so did Bagman and he received a nod from Crouch and a restrained smile from Madame Maxime. Karkaroff gave him a sneer and a suspicious look. Hagrid was bellowing, "Hooray for Harry and Cedric!" and the sound of his hands clapping sounded like muted thunder.

The sphinx watched the four champions through patiently lidded eyes, until the adulation of the crowd died down. Then she turned to the judges and said, "I rank the challengers thus: fourth place is tied—Viktor Krum and Fleur Delacour, who both took twenty minutes to complete my mind challenge. Second place goes to Cedric Diggory who took fifteen minutes. First place goes to Harry Snape, who took ten minutes. All did well, and stand as examples to other wizards of how to use intelligence and wit to solve riddles and problems. I salute you, champions!" Then she roared, low and loud, and the air quivered with her primeval sound.

The judges turned to confer with one another, probably about combining the marks, and Harry turned to Cedric, trying to keep his mind off worrying about his marks, and said, "Hey, Diggory. Mind telling me who you had to rescue when you were in the Land of Impossibilities?"

Cedric shook his head. "I had to rescue Cho, my girlfriend."

"And I had to rescue Gabrielle, my leetle sister," Fleur replied.

"What about you, Krum?" asked Cedric.

"First you, Snape," Krum said coldly. "Who did you rescue? Your gay mate Weasley?"

"No. My girlfriend, Katie." Harry replied. "Where did you ever get the idea that Ron is gay?"

"Because he's always up your arse, that's why," Krum snorted and then brayed with laughter.

"Just ignore him." Cedric advised.

"I am," Harry said through gritted teeth, though he detested bigoted idiots like Krum. "Who did you have to rescue, Krum? Yourself?"

"Ha ha. Very funny. For your information, Snape, I had to save Damascus, the most beautiful and cultured girl in the world." Krum declared.

Harry nearly opened his mouth to say that he hadn't found Damascus very cultured at all, but he shut it when Cedric shook his head. Krum was trying to bait him again. He wrestled his temper into submission and focused back on the judges who were handing out marks.

He managed to come in first, ahead of Cedric by a mere five points. Krum was last behind Fleur by two points. He glared at the French girl, who sniffed and turned from him as if he radiated a bad odor.

Then the sphinx spoke, her voice a low rumble. "I thank you, wizards, for allowing me to participate in this challenge. May Isis watch over you. Farewell!" She sprang up into the air and vanished in a cloud of golden sparkles.

Crouch whirled upon Bagman angrily. "Ludo, I thought you said she was bound. I was hoping to get some of that Pharoah gold out of her they say sphinxes possess."

"I . . .I never said she was bound, just that we had an agreement . . .of sorts," stuttered Bagman, looking sheepish.

Sarai shook her head in disgust and whispered in Severus' ear, "Fools! Do they not know better than to try and bind a sphinx against her will? Why is it that mortals always seek to dominate and control other creatures? Why cannot they respect them and in turn receive respect?"

"What, the way you of the Folk do, lady?" Crouch demanded, for he was close enough to hear her impassioned last question. "You High Court fae have Low Court to serve you, or so I have heard."

Sarai turned to him. "That is true, but they are under a contract for a period of years, and while in service are also under the Queen's protection. Any who harm one of her servants will pay the ultimate penalty, and this includes members of her court and family. To serve Titania is considered an honor, and we make none slaves, as you do to your house elves."

Crouch flushed. "Our house elves serve us willingly."

"Do not lie to me, mortal," snapped the warrior. "I have seen with my own eyes how wizards come and steal away house elf clans from Faerie, paying much gold for them to the traders of the Unseelie Court. And once sold they become bound to a family for their lives and the lives of generations unborn, and you treat them cruelly. You strike no bargain, renew no contract. Where then is the honor in making another creature a slave?"

"They were born to serve," argued Crouch. "I freed mine and she was miserable."

"How did you free her, sir? Did you give her references and a new family to go to? Or did you just throw her into the street like a stray dog? There is a difference, wizard. To serve with dignity is one thing. But to serve out of fear is quite another. And in order to gain the former you must first respect those who serve you."

Crouch snorted. "May as well respect the dirt beneath my boots."

"Arrogance and pride shall be your downfall, wizard. Like so many before you."

Crouch drew himself up. "Are you threatening me, woman?"

Sarai smiled tightly. "I do not threaten, I promise. Keep that wand up your sleeve, wizard. Because if you draw it on me, you are asking to lose it . . .along with the hand that wields it. Fair warning, Mr. Crouch."

Her eyes were hard as emeralds and in them was a warning that Crouch would have been a fool to ignore.

He backed away from her. "I cannot believe you would wed such a termagant, Snape."

Severus eyed him coldly. "Meek women are not to my taste, Crouch. Be careful, Bartemius. Make an enemy of my fiancée and you make an enemy of me. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go and congratulate my son." He gave the other wizard a barely civil nod and then swept off the dais, his black cloak billowing, to tell Harry that he was proud of him.

Sarai followed, ignoring the thinly veiled sneer of contempt the other wizard threw at her. Crouch reminded her of a poorly trained terrier, one that yapped at people and nipped for no reason save bad temperament. She too congratulated her soon to be stepson, and received a hug in return.

"Sarai!" Harry exclaimed. "You're still here!"

"Yes, but not for much longer," she told him. "I leave tomorrow evening. But I am glad I was here to share in your achievement. You do the Prince-Valink line proud, youngling. It is rare for one as young as you to best a sphinx like Nephthys."

*I agree, Harry,* sent Smidgen, appearing in the air before him, her butterfly wings waving gently. *Sphinxes are the best riddlers in the Realms. And their minds are strong in magic.*

She perched upon his shoulder for a moment, but then flew off when the rest of his friends and his brother came over to congratulate him as well.

Of course, the Gryffindors used Harry's success to declare another party in the common room that evening. Harry was tired and would have preferred to spend the evening with Katie stargazing or sitting by the shore of the Black Lake talking, but his Housemates refused to let him slip away for another two hours. Unlike Hermione, who managed to escape to the library to do some studying for Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, and Astronomy all in one evening.

It was there that Draco found her, her head bent over her texts, scribbling away industriously in her notebook. He glided up behind her and put his hands over her eyes, whispering in her ear in a deeper voice than his normal one, "Guess who?"

She caught his wrists and said, "Hagrid, is that you?"

Draco choked. "Hagrid! Merlin's Eyes, girl, please tell me I haven't put on that much weight! I just might have to take an appetite suppressant."

Hermione giggled. "Only kidding, Dragon. What are you doing down here?"

"Looking for you." He removed his hands from her face and leaned over and kissed her cheek. Then he came around the chair and perched a hip on the corner of the table. "You work too hard, Mione. Always studying."

She arched an eyebrow at him. "If I don't study, I'll get behind in my classes, Draco. You know that."

He put a finger under her chin. "Then maybe you ought to not take so many at one time. There's no law that says you have to memorize every book in the library before you finish school."

"I thought you liked having a smart girlfriend, Malfoy."

He sighed. He knew she was irritated with him when she started calling him by his last name. "I love having a smart girlfriend. But . . .you need to take a break once in awhile, Hermione. You're pushing yourself harder than a seventh year NEWT student. How many classes do you have this year? Eight, nine, ten?"

"Seven core, plus three electives. It's not too much, Draco. I can handle it," she snapped, nettled.

"Hey. All I'm saying is that every so often you should let yourself relax. I hardly ever see you anymore this past month, except in class and at the Dueling Club. I miss you, bookworm."

She looked down guiltily at her ink-smudged fingers. "I know. But there's so much homework this year and all of my professors expect so much more from me, your father included. I don't want to slip up. I want to maintain my high marks. I'm sorry, Draco. I don't mean to . . .neglect you."

He brushed her hair back from her forehead. "I understand. Just be careful you don't overtax that genius head of yours, okay?" He kissed her again. "Take a night off. It won't kill you."

"Not tonight, Draco. I have a test in Astronomy and another in Arithmancy. Plus a three foot homework assignment in Ancient Runes."

He looked disappointed. "All right. Want me to help you study?"

"No," she said quickly, then regretted it when she saw the hurt look on his face. "I just . . .need some time by myself. And if you're here you'll just distract me."

"Fine then," he said abruptly, and stood up.

"Draco, wait!" she called after his retreating back. "I'll spend some time with you after class tomorrow, okay?"

"Fine," was all he said, his voice tight.

He strode from the library, his robes rustling, leaving Hermione alone as she had wished.

But now she felt guilty and found that she could barely concentrate on her work.

Meanwhile, in the Headmaster's office, Sarai and Severus were questioning Dumbledore as to why he had no idea what sort of challenges the two Ministry officials were going to pose to the champions. Sarai, in particular, was angry that Harry had had to face a lamia for his first task. "Lamias are demonkind, Headmaster! Among the most dangerous creatures in this realm or my own! How could you permit a mere apprentice to fight one?"

"Lady Sarai, I was not in charge of making the challenges. That task belonged to my Ministry colleagues, Mr. Bagman and Mr. Crouch. I had no say in how the challenges were presented."

"No say? You wield great influence with them, or so Severus tells me. Why when you saw what Harry would be facing, did you not demand another creature be presented? Surely you know what a lamia is capable of? They live to kill and eat children! A Seelie warrior would have been hard pressed to deal with such an opponent, let alone a child."

"But Harry did deal with it, lady." Dumbledore reminded her.

"It could have gone either way, from what Severus told me. You ought to have more care for your students, Headmaster. If my betrothed had not banished it, the lamia could have created a slaughterhouse in this school."

"I am well aware of that, my lady warrior," Dumbledore said soothingly.

"I would hope then, that it would not happen again. Putting children in danger for the sake of a contest is not something that my people would ever do."

"I had no choice. Once Harry's name was in the Goblet . . ."

"The Cup's magic binds, but there are ways around it. Ways that you wizards do not know because the object you call the Goblet of Fire is actually our sacred Cup of Wonders."

Dumbledore gaped at her. "What do you mean? The Goblet has always belonged to us."

"No. That is what you believe, but that belief is false. The Cup was stolen from us long ago by Galahad from the Cup Maidens. Galahad disdained his fae blood and believed we were a cursed people and so he justified his theft of our sacred object by claiming it was the Holy Grail. It vanished into the mortal realm and came eventually into the hands of you wizards, but it has never belonged to you. It has always been ours, fae magic that you cannot begin to comprehend. In the wrong hands it can do great harm. Or great good. It is much more than a mere goblet to be used in a contest, Albus Dumbledore." Sarai said, her voice ringing with the force of her conviction. "Queen Titania has sent me to tell you this—when you have played your game to the end, we wish you to return the Cup to us. As an act of good faith between our peoples, we ask this."

"The Cup is not mine to give."

"Tell your Minister then, or whoever is in charge, of what the Queen has said. For if you continue to withhold the Cup from us, there will be discord between your people and mine. And that is the last thing you need, a war with the fae when you have trouble enough with your own dark wizards."

"Is that a threat, Lady Valinek?"

"It is a warning, Headmaster, from the Queen of Faerie herself. I would suggest you not disregard it. Titania will not be so forgiving next time. If your Minister is wise, he will give us back the Cup and thus avoid bloodshed. My people take a dim view of thieves."

Dumbledore paled. The might of the Seelie Court was nothing to trifle with. "I shall tell him so, Lady Sarai."

"Good. Think about what your people will suffer, and choose wisely if he does not." She gazed right at him, her eyes old with centuries of knowledge.

Dumbledore nodded once. "I understand." Then he pushed the dish of lemon drops over to her. "Lemon drop?"

She slanted him a wry glance. "What's in them?"

His eyes widened. "Nothing! I assure you, they are not enchanted."

She took one, sniffed it, muttered something in the fae tongue, then satisfied, ate it. "Think on what I have said, Headmaster. Not just about the Cup, but about Harry as well. I look upon him as a son and if his life is put at risk again for your stupid contest . . .I shall be most displeased." She fingered her sword meaningfully.

"Lady Sarai, surely you would not threaten an elderly man . . ."

She laughed. "You may be elderly, Dumbledore, but you are not the mild-mannered grandfather you wish to be seen as. Do not attempt to fool me, I know a manipulator when I see one. I grew up among the masters of the art. But though we may be hard, we fae cherish our children. Something that many of you mortals do not. And this was not the first time Harry was put in danger. So have a care, old one. For if any harm comes to Harry, I shall take payment for it out of your hide."

"You'll have to stand in line," Severus interjected.

"Severus, please!" Dumbledore held up his hands. "I shall speak with Bartemius and Ludo and make sure this last task is not . . .outlandishly hard. I have no wish for Harry to get hurt."

"Good. Then we are agreed," Sarai said simply. "I shall take my leave of you now, if I may." She gave the Headmaster a brief bow, and then left the office.

Dumbledore looked at Severus. "You have quite a lady there, my boy. I would not like to cross her. She would make a dangerous opponent."

"She would indeed. But I would have her no other way. Good evening, Albus." Then he too left the Headmaster to ponder the warnings he had been given, returning to his quarters to have a light supper with his beloved and engage in other more private pursuits before she had to leave tomorrow evening.

Draco meandered along the shores of the lake, too angry and agitated to go back to the Slytherin common room and study or hang out with Crabbe and Goyle. There were times he really thought Hermione was obsessed with studying. She took more classes than any other witch her age, and probably more than any other witch in the school. While he admired her for her brains and dedication, he also feared that she would burn herself out from too much studying. He had meant to tell her that, only she had made him angry and he had forgotten it.

She was only fifteen , for Merlin's sake! Shouldn't she be enjoying her youth and not spending all of her free time poring over books and scrolls? I love her dearly, I really do, but sometimes she just . . .aggravates me to hell.

He continued walking, taking great gulps of the fresh air and admiring the moon as it rose full and round to light the night sky. He would have loved to be walking out here with his arm about Hermione, but instead he was alone and she was studying some dry chapter of Ancient Runes.

As he rounded the bend in the trail, he heard voices speaking softly, and slowed. But he could not help but see two figures in the moonlight, embracing. With a start he recognized Ravenclaw Luna Lovegood, mystical otherworldly Luna, who was forever being teased for seeing things that no one else could. She was being held by a tall black clad man with midnight hair festooned with shells and seaweed.

The kelpie, Duncan Wavestrider.

Who apparently did not think Luna was crazy, since he was kissing her ardently.

Draco turned away, blushing. He quickly hurried back up the path, red-faced. Yet a part of him whispered, Even Loony Lovegood's found someone now. One of the fae and yet . . .they're happy together. He wondered bitterly if this thing he felt for Hermione was going to last. Or had his mother been right when she told him that a match between a pureblood and anyone else was doomed to failure?

He shook his head. No, he couldn't trust Narcissa, she had always been prejudiced towards anyone not a pureblood. Hermione was just . . .an overachiever. Even more so than he was. It didn't mean that she was going to choose her studies over a relationship with him.

He slipped back into the castle and headed for the dungeons. A slight noise made him look up towards the top of the staircase where he saw his brother and Katie, also locking lips.

Bloody hell, what is with everyone tonight? Draco thought angrily. He spun around and took the stairs down to the dungeon two at a time, frustrated and upset. It looked like everyone but him was having a wonderful time tonight.

He entered the portrait hole and ignored his mates' attempts to interest him in cards or chess or a debate on what was the better Defense counter to the Cruciatus Curse. "I'm tired. Going to bed," he said shortly, then proceeded to do so.

But though he tried, he remained awake, thinking of a certain bushy-haired witch who lately seemed to prefer her studies to spending time with her Slytherin boyfriend. He groaned and turned on his stomach, burying his face in his pillow and doing meditation exercises until he fell asleep.

But even there his mind tormented him, as he dreamt of chasing Hermione down a corridor and just as he put out a hand to draw her close, a mountain of books fell upon him and buried him.

Hope you all enjoyed this one

Chapter Text

Hermione hurried through her usual breakfast of juice, toast, a poached egg, a banana, and two strips of bacon. She, unlike many of her classmates, tried to eat balanced meals when she could. But today she did not linger over her food, eating swiftly, for she wished to speak to Sarai about her house elf campaign before the warrior departed Hogwarts to return to her monarch. Hermione greatly admired the half-fae warrior for having the courage to stand up for her beliefs and to marry the man she loved despite the fact that they came from two different worlds. Much like she and Draco did. She sighed as she pushed back her chair, ignoring the questioning looks of her tablemates. She knew she had been neglecting Draco lately, but she hoped he could understand why. Her schoolwork had to come first. She had to make top grades in order to prove to her parents and her peers that she truly did belong at Hogwarts. She knew that many purebloods in all the Houses sneered at the Headmaster's policy of giving Muggleborns equal status, and because of that she knew she couldn't afford to be "mediocre". She had to outperform all of them to prove herself, and she also loved a challenge, and so many classes were not challenging enough for her.

But she pushed all of that to the back of her mind and hurried up to the staff table, waiting quietly until Professor Snape looked up from his morning coffee and said, "Miss Granger, is there a problem?"

"No, Professor Snape. I was just wondering if I could speak to Lady Sarai for a few minutes?"

He raised an eyebrow. "You hardly need to ask my permission. Be my guest."

Sarai set down her spoon, she was finished with her cinnamon porridge, and rose gracefully to her feet. Hermione had never seen the woman look anything less than graceful, and it made her feel awkward sometimes. "How may I help you, Hermione?"

"Uh, could we speak in private? Like over there near the fireplace?" she pointed to a spot next to the hearth behind the staff table.

"Certainly, child," Sarai agreed and followed the witch. She was dressed in her customary forest green tunic and leggings, her sword resting easily on her hip, for outside the Seelie Court, a warrior never went unarmed, though the sword was only her most visible weapon. She was also a spellcaster of no small talent as were all of Titania's private guard, and also a kin-sa-dor master as well. "Now, young one, what would you have of me?"

Hermione shifted slightly, a bit in awe of getting the warrior's attention, but now that she had it, she did not want to waste her chance. "Draco and Harry told me a little about the Seelie Court. They said that you don't make slaves of house elves."

"That is so. Low Court and High, we co-exist in peace, though one may serve the other." Sarai replied. "Those you term house elves, we call brownies, because they tend to prefer brown clothing and have shades of brown skin normally."

"They do? Dobby, a friend of mine, doesn't."

"Ask him what skin color he was born with," Sarai told her. "Most wizards who trade in house elves change the skin color of the elf to compliment themselves."

Hermione looked sickened. "But that's terrible!"

"Yes. As terrible as binding a fae creature to them for their lifespan and their childrens'." The Guard Captain said darkly.

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about, my lady. I want to know how to end it," Hermione began passionately, her brown eyes glowing. "I think it's dreadful and we ought to do away with it. Only when I've tried to bring up the subjects to other wizards and witches, even in Gryffindor, even with my friends, they all think I'm cracked. They tell me that the elves like serving wizards and are happy to be bound to a family or even here at the school. They say that even if they were given their freedom, they wouldn't know what to do with it."

Sarai frowned. "Such are the rational of those who have become accustomed to holding another in bondage. Such an attitude is nothing new, not when you mortals have enslaved your own kind for centuries and only recently have abolished that practice. That was where the Unseelie, my Dark cousins, learned the practice and they employ it to this day." The warrior's voice was harsh with disgust. "Among my people, slavery is seen as the ultimate degradation, a loss of freedom of both body and spirit that withers a person's self-esteem away. The Seelie Court practices not such things."

"Yet you have servants there, Draco said so."

"Yes, but they are bound to serve by their own will, spoken oaths of loyalty to Queen Titania, or are under contract for a period of years. Once their contract is up they are given the choice to continue serving the Queen and her court, or leave and continue their lives as they wish. A contract is binding only for an individual, never for an entire family, and while that one is under contract, one is also under the monarch's protection, and sacred. To harm a servant of Titania is tantamount to harming the Queen Herself, and the punishment is swift and harsh. If one gives one's life in her service, that one is counted a hero and their name is sung across the land, never to be forgotten. Even if one is a lowly sprite or butterfly fairy, we do them the honor, for so did they honor their vows. Some must rule and some must serve, but the choice to serve is offered freely."

"And you don't . . .abuse your servants?"

"No, child. We do not whip them or make sport of them like the Unseelie do. Even as children, we of noble birth are taught to respect our servants, and for many our tutors and nurses raise us because our parents must be elsewhere, and so we love them as we would our kin. I have often heard Prince Balin, Titania's youngest son, refer to his dryad nurse Acornia as Mother, for she raised him until he was five, and Titania was able to spend more time with him. He listens to her counsel even now that he is of age, and grown far beyond the nursery."

"I wish more wizards felt that way about their house elves." Hermione said with a sigh.

"It is an old crime, this slavery," sighed her elder. "But you must understand, child, that it did not occur overnight. It has been going on for centuries in one way and another. So you must not expect miracles to happen. Your wizard friends have grown up with the idea that it is right, even proper, to have house elf slaves. Though you and I know it is wrong, they accept it as a way of life. They were taught that their house elves enjoy serving them, and maybe some do, though I doubt that was always the case. After so many centuries, the house elves have become accustomed to their bondage, as they too have grown up with it, and they fear breaking the chains and living a life filled with possibilities. In short, they have lost some of their ability to think for themselves, having lived so long being ordered about."

"I know. Mr. Crouch freed his house elf, Winky, and she's miserable. She keeps begging him to take her back and he keeps refusing. She won't even talk about what happened to make him free her in the first place."

"Sometimes, when a magical bond is severed suddenly, it leaves a scar upon the elf's spirit. I think that is what this Winky is suffering from, that and fear of the unknown. She should accompany me back to my world, where she can be treated by our Healers and learn what it means to be a free brownie, as her people were meant to be."

"You would take her back with you? Oh, that would be wonderful!" Hermione cried, smiling. "But how can I get people to listen to me about abolishing the house elf slavery and just . . .taking them on as contracted servants? I thought about making badges, like this one," she showed Sarai her new S.P.E.W badge. "It stands for Society for Promotion of Elvish Welfare."

The warrior chuckled. "Hmm. You are most dedicated, but first you must have a plan to win over your stubborn fellow witches and wizards. And to do that you must start slowly. Find a few youngsters in your year or older who share the same views as you about the cruelty of house elves. I am sure there are more than you know."

"But they'd be mostly Muggleborns and half-bloods," Hermione said. "I need purebloods as well."

"Those might be harder to find, though I would say your Draco would be one, as would Harry."

"Harry's not a real pureblood. I guess he's more of a half-blood."

"Nevertheless, he is respected among you, so he would be a good one to include in your campaign. Second, you must not think of it as a frontal attack, Hermione. You ought to go about it quietly, for those purebloods who do happen to hold views as you do are not going to broadcast them willingly. They have learned to hide what they believe, probably for fear of parental disapproval or punishment. Suggest that they not need give up their house elf permanently, but simply release them from their original binding and draw up a contract for a specific number of years and make it mutually beneficial to both parties. That may draw more wizards to your cause. Third, you must also have a spokesperson among the elves to present these new ideas and to demonstrate how useful they could be. Perhaps you might consider recruiting that one elf you mentioned . . .Dobby?"

Hermione nodded. "Yes, Dobby would be a great help."

Sarai smiled. "I wish you luck in your campaign, Hermione. But remember, sometimes changes must come slowly if they are to last. I know it's hard not to become impatient, especially at your age, but better to have a few solid allies behind you, than a hundred wishy-washy ones who may abandon you when the going gets tough. And perhaps you may consider this for your new campaign—Wizards Against the Slavery of House-elves—WASH. Signifying also that you intend to wash the slate clean of past wrongs and begin anew. Your other one was a bit . . .disconcerting and might remind people of vomit."

Hermione thought for a moment. "Yes . . .you've got a point there. I like your slogan much better. Thank you, Sarai."

"You are most welcome, Hermione. I think you have a bright future ahead of you. Perhaps I may see you again next year."

"I'd like that a lot, my lady," Hermione said, grinning.

"And now, I must be going, I have several duties I must attend to back at home and should be leaving here soon. Farewell, young sorceress." Sarai gave her a semi-formal bow, such as an adult uses to a child upon leavetaking among the fae, and then went to follow Severus back to his quarters to gather her things and bid him and the rest of the family goodbye.

Later that evening:

Harry tossed a red ball for Cafall to chase across the grass, letting the misthound work off some of his boundless puppy energy. He looked at his brother, whom he had not talked to since Draco had congratulated him after completing the second task of the tournament. "Something's bothering you, I can tell. Want to talk about it? Or did you really come out here to play fetch with Cafall?"

Draco knelt and ruffled the puppy's ears when the misthound came up to him, wagging his plumed tail with the red ball in his mouth. "Good boy," he praised the puppy, and received a lick across the cheek. "Now, go and get it!" he ordered, standing and flinging the ball all the way across the lawn, augmenting his throw with magic so the ball flew several yards, almost down to the Quidditch pitch.

Cafall gave a happy bark and trotted off after it, unconcerned that it had seemingly vanished. Misthounds could track better than the best bloodhound, Cafall knew he would find the ball wherever it had gone.

Harry stared at his brother. "Why'd you use magic? You didn't have to."

"He needs practice tracking things with magic's scent on them," Draco answered, chewing his lower lip. He turned away, his hands stuck in the pockets of his Slytherin robes, paced about five paces, then returned. He was unsure if he wanted to discuss his foundering relationship with Hermione with anyone, but he was afraid if he didn't tell someone he risked losing the girl to her studies. And Harry was the best one—the only one—he trusted to talk about it.

Harry waited calmly, sensing Draco gathering his thoughts.

Draco abruptly broke the gathering silence. "Have you ever wanted to just . . . strangle Hermione?"

Harry coughed. That was not what he'd been expecting at all. "Not lately. Why?"

Draco ground his teeth. "Because she's become . . .obsessed with studying and it's really . . .getting on my nerves."

"Draco, she's always been that way. Don't tell me you just noticed?"

"You don't understand what I mean. Yes, I knew she was a bookworm and brilliant, that's no secret, the whole school knows that. But she was never . . .like this. She used to take a break once in awhile, go out for a walk with me, visit Hogsmeade, hell, even eat ice cream for an hour before going back to her Arithmancy." He shook his head, running his fingers through his blond hair.

"I have noticed she's been more . . .intent lately. We have finals in a few months. And you know Hermione, she has to start studying for them in advance of any normal student. And she's been working on her newest project, Abolish House-elf Slavery too."

"Tell me something I don't know, Harry," Draco snapped irritably. "What I want to know is how to get her nose out of her damn books and make her notice me again. I tried asking her to talk with me that night after your second task and she just . . . totally blew me off. Said she had to study and do homework and then got tetchy when I said she could afford a few hours off. I haven't really seen her in over a month, what with my schedule and hers, and all I wanted was a lousy hour or two and she ignores me!"

Harry gave his brother a sympathetic glance. "Hermione and her books are like me and Quidditch sometimes."

"Ha! I could never see you refuse Katie an evening out even if you had practice and a game the next day. You're not completely delusional."

"Not anymore. But there was a time when I used to brush off Ron when I had a big game."

"That's different. He's your friend . . .not your boyfriend." Draco argued. "Got any ideas about how I should handle her?"

"Well, you could disguise yourself as a rare volume of poetry," Harry suggested mischievously. "She'd put her hands all over you then."

"Prat!" Draco cuffed him across the back of the head.

"Okay, how about walking into the library and stripping off your clothes in front of her? That'd get her attention if anything would." His brother ducked Draco's second smack and danced away.

"Great idea there, little brother! It'd attract her attention and Madam Pince's like a shot. Then how would I explain to Dad the reason I was forever banned from the library and maybe facing expulsion?"

"You . . .uh . . .could say it was an experiment gone wrong?"

Draco rolled his eyes. "You're hopeless, Harry!"

"But at least you're smiling. A little."

"Because you're an utter idiot," his brother groused. "Maybe I could vanish all her books . . .no, then she'd have a breakdown . . .what else . . ."

"Give her a week, and then try talking to her again," Harry suggested seriously. "She'll have gotten most of her homework out of the way and some of her studying. She might even be lonely and want company."

Draco frowned down at his shoes. "All right. I'll try that. But this obsession with her studies is getting to be . . .unhealthy."

"I know. I've tried to tell her to slow down, but she won't listen to me either. Tells me it'd be better if I studied more."

Draco laughed. "You study more now than you ever did before with Dad on your arse."

"Yeah. Only she's too caught up in her own studies to notice." Harry pointed out.

Cafall barked loudly somewhere beyond the treeline.

"Sounds like he's cornered some kind of animal again," Draco said.

"Let's go see what it is." Harry said, walking forward. "I wish this year were over."

"When's the last task you have to complete?" Draco asked, accompanying him.

"Somewhere around the end of June, the 24th, I think." Harry replied. "Bagman was supposed to let us know more details a month or so before the actual test. I guess this one doesn't require us to solve riddles."

"You did brilliantly at that one. I doubt if I could have done as well."

Harry shrugged modestly. "I had help from a certain kelpie," he whispered. "I hope this last task isn't something that requires me to kill a creature or fight one of the other champions or something."

"You mean, like in a duel?"

Harry nodded.

"You shouldn't be afraid of dueling them, Harry. Out of all of them, you're better prepared. You've had Dad and Sarai drilling you in kin-sa-dor and Defense, plus working with the Dueling Club too. You could take all of them, no sweat."

"Probably."

"No probably, Phoenix. I've seen you fight. You almost match me."

"Almost? I kicked your arse last session with Dad."

"I was distracted," Draco argued.

"By Hermione? Right."

"It's the truth." Draco said, nettled. "You wouldn't know what it's like, since you and Katie are like the perfect couple."

Harry exploded into laughter. "Not hardly, Dragon. We've had our share of spats."

"When?"

"Last week. She fought with me because she read some stupid article in Witch Weekly that Skeeter woman printed about me being "hopelessly in love with Ginny Weasley." Utter rubbish!"

Draco gaped. "Holy Merlin! You and Weasley's sister? That's just . . .absurd!"

"I know."

"It was made up." Draco said instantly.

"That's what I told her, but she was still angry with me. Said rumors get started from a grain of truth so sometime I must have acted like I had feelings for Ginny."

"What? Bloody hell, she's your best mate's little sister! I'd cut Goyle's balls off if he ever considered going out with my little sister, if we had one."

"I know. Ron would have hexed me to the moon. Not that I ever thought of Ginny that way. She's always been like my sister. But she's also had a bit of a crush on me. And with the article . . .Katie just reacted the wrong way . . ."

"Don't know how I missed that. Must have been asleep."

"Or involved in your own romantic problems," Harry said.

"You back together again?"

"Yeah. Once she went away and thought about it, she realized it was all a pack of lies. Spent the next day apologizing to me and I forgave her and then we went to Madam Puddifoot's and talked . . ."

"That's all?"

"Yeah. Talk to her, Draco. Girls like it when you have discussions about stuff. Meaningful discussions, without snogging, I mean."

"I know what you mean." They had walked across the lawn, following the misthound's excited barking. "All right. I'll try it. What have I got to lose?"

They saw the misthound standing against a tree, baying at something blue and fluttering high up in the branches, and something else that sported a bushy tail.

Draco put a finger in his mouth and whistled, calling Cafall in from his squirrel or doxy hunt.

Seconds later, the puppy came panting in to lie at his feet. Draco knelt and snapped a leash on his collar. "Come on, puppy. Gotta get home so I can catch Hermione before she gets to the library."

Cafall whined and then darted back the way they came, making Draco and Harry run to keep up with his flying paws.

But Draco's plan to ambush Hermione in the library did not work, since that night, Severus called both his sons into the Room of Requirement to have extra dueling practice. Draco would have liked to refuse, but he knew Severus had very little time these days for sessions, and he didn't want his father to be angry with him for skipping practice over a bit of a lover's quarrel.

This session Severus taught them Impediment jinxes and Confunding Charms as well as a Reductor Curse. He also worked with Cafall, teaching him hand signals that Sarai had said the Houndmaster taught the Queen's misthounds. Mostly these were basic commands like "Stay", "Heel", "Down", and "Leave it", but eventually Severus would teach Cafall other commands like "Find It" and "Guard".

The puppy proved just as willing and eager to learn as his sons, which made him pleased.

Draco managed to keep his focus for the two hour session, but afterwards he was tired and wanted a hot shower and bed. Harry volunteered to go and find Hermione and tell her Draco had been wanting to talk to her, for which his brother was grateful.

But Harry found Hermione still studying, and though he delivered the message, he was unsure if she was truly paying attention, she was so immersed in Ancient Runes. He left her to her reading, too exhausted to repeat himself. Severus had worked them hard that night, but Harry did not regret it. Any magic he could learn to defend himself was a plus, since Moody was still teaching them standard countercurses which he had already mastered over the summer.

Over the next week and a half, the teachers began piling on the assignments and started giving surprise quizzes in Potions, Transfiguration, and Charms. All the students were studying hard, but none as hard as Hermione Granger, who had twice the workload as her fellow Gryffindors and she even beat out the studious Ravenclaws for most subjects taken by a fourth-year.

This did not go unnoticed by her Head of House, who suggested tactfully that Hermione might think carefully about taking less course electives next year and also suggested she spend less time studying and more time outdoors, since she was beginning to look peaked. But Hermione politely listened to McGonagall's suggestions and then returned to her books and parchments. She was irritated with her professor's suggestions that she take less courses and get some fresh air. Did none of them understand what a tight schedule she was on? She had almost no time for anything leisure, not if she were to finish the project her Arithmancy professor had assigned for the end of the year.

She wished she still had her Time Turner from last year, but Dumbledore had taken it back at the end of the year, saying that the Ministry would not authorize its use to a student more than once in a consecutive year.

So she began picking at her meals, hurrying through them as quickly as she could to return to her books. She didn't return to Gryffindor Tower until the very edge of curfew, and even then some of the girls whispered that she studied with a Lumos spell behind her bedhangings till all hours of the morning. She began to appear worn and drawn, with circles beneath her eyes, which she tried to hide with cosmetics, but Draco could tell her frantic pace was starting to tell on her.

He tried several times to get her to take a break, but she simply snapped at him to leave her be. "I know what I'm doing, damn it! Now just leave me alone, Malfoy!"

"Fine! You want to burn yourself out, go right ahead!" he snarled. "But don't expect me to hang around and watch." Then he departed, before he lost his temper and said even more angry words he regretted.

He stalked down to the dungeons, fists balled, anger and concern causing his stomach to ache fiercely. He spotted Severus coming out of his lab, obviously preparing to return to his apartments and sleep. "Draco? Is something wrong?"

"Dad, I need to talk to you," he began. "In private."

Snape led him to his apartment, wondering what had his son so flustered. He had just spoken with Philip, the vampire had departed to make sure Harry was safely in Gryffindor Tower before investigating the Durmstrang ship, for Karkaroff had been exhibiting increasingly edgy behavior of late, and Severus suspected him of contacting some of his old Death Eater pals. Phil had volunteered to stalk after the wizard and see what he was up to.

After locking the door and making sure all the wards were intact, Severus removed his teaching robes and boots and settled down on the couch. He looked at Draco, who remained standing for a bit before joining him.

"It's about Hermione, sir," he said formally. "I'm . . .worried about her. She studies way too much, it's an obsession, and I can't get her to listen to me. I'm worried she'll burn herself out, using her magic so much, or collapse from overwork. She hardly eats and she almost never sleeps now, she does nothing save go to class and study till all hours. It's scary, Dad. I've never seen anything like it. Even the Ravens aren't that bad, and they live and breathe books!"

"Have you tried talking to her Head of House?"

"Me? No, but Harry said McGonagall already had a talk with her about too much studying, and it didn't work, since she's still moldering in the library. Dad, I know it's not healthy, what she's doing."

"No, it isn't. I shall watch her myself during double potions tomorrow and if she looks like she's fatigued and exhausted, I shall speak to her about it." Severus said firmly.

"Maybe you ought to give her detention too. And then make her sleep during it."

Severus nodded. "That actually is not a bad idea." He considered that he might well have to resort to that if his lecture had no effect. Or speaking to Dumbledore about restricting her from her extra elective because she was putting herself under too much stress.

He reached out and clasped Draco's shoulder. "Dragon, don't worry. I know how to handle her, and I will if she appears to be falling apart as you describe. I've experienced this in the past with other students." And myself, he added silently.

"Thanks, Dad," Draco said gratefully. "Hey, what's up with Uncle Phil? I thought I saw him leaving, but he didn't stop and say hello."

"He's investigating some unsavory rumors for me," Severus said evasively. "I'm sure he'll come by later on when he's done and have a practice with you and Harry."

"Oh. But then who's guarding Harry?"

"Smidgen is, since I can escort you to and from the Slytherin common room myself."

"I don't think there are many people who'll mess with us now," Draco remarked. He and Harry had been gaining quite a reputation as duelists since the outset of the Dueling Club.

"Still, better to have someone at your back," Severus said wisely, and then he rose to escort his blond son back to the Snake's Den, as the Slytherins affectionately called their dorm.

The next day, Severus did indeed keep a sharp eye upon one Hermione Granger, noting that Draco was correct in his assessment of the girl's condition. She looked too pale and her skin was drawn too tightly over her cheekbones, her eyes were burned hole in her head and though she tried to look excited about the drafts he had assigned them, which were antidotes to various poisons, she lacked her old spark and vigor.

She was paired as usual with Draco, but Snape noted that his son was doing much of the prep work and letting her stir the cauldron. Usually they divided up the tasks and managed to complete their potion ahead of schedule working as a team. Hermione performed her parts correctly, but it was almost by rote.

She's running on pure adrenaline, the Potions Master thought. He knew that feeling all too well.

Yes, this definitely needed his attention, before something dire occurred.

He decided to speak with her in the library after dinner, he knew she would be there because Draco had said she now spent practically every moment she was not in class inside those walls. Severus could have forced her to come to his office and questioned her there, but he wished to see for himself just how far her obsession went. Was it as bad as his own had been?

His curiosity and concern would be satisfied soon, he thought, watching as the class made their way out the door. Right then he had tests to grade.

It was seven o'clock and Hermione already felt worn out and her eyes burned from staring too long at her list of equations and charts for her Arithmancy homework. Professor Vector wanted three feet of parchment on how certain numeric equations were based upon the sacred trinity and also the numbers of four and five, four being the number of cardinal directions and the four elements used traditionally in spells of white magic summoning and binding and five being the number of a pentacle, another traditional magical symbol, five being the sacred number to the Greek magicians, and used to bind dangerous dark creatures, such as imps and devils.

She had her theory all worked out, and just had to put it into coherent terms and yet she found her eyes were closing. She forced them open. She was tempted to drink a small vial of a Sleepless potion she had purchased last Hogsmeade weekend, its effects would last three hours and in that time she could do much studying. But right then, she could feel her eyelids growing heavy, and the potion was in her bag, and she couldn't summon the energy necessary to reach down and untie her satchel.

Have to concentrate . . .what was that sentence again? Oh yes, if the pentacle's sides are equal then the spell performed must match up with the equation for . . . her mind drew a blank. She fumbled for her text, only to find it pulled from her grasp and closed firmly.

She blinked and looked up into the dark eyes of her potions professor.

"Miss Granger, you have studied quite enough for one night. Several nights, in fact."

"Professor Snape? Why are you taking my books? I need them for class," she gasped as he picked up her bag and held it away from her beseeching hands.

"And they shall be returned to you . . .for class only," he said quietly, but there was steel in his voice.

"No!" she half-shouted, stumbling to her feet. "I need them! Give them back, sir!"

He held up a hand. "Calm down, Granger. And sit before you fall over. You needn't act as if I'm stealing away your firstborn. Sit down!" he ordered sharply.

Hermione obeyed, though she remained staring up at him defiantly, reminding him sharply of himself at that age. "I don't understand. You're a teacher, why would you keep my books from me?"

"Because I have noticed, as have your friends, that you have become . . .obsessed with studying, to the point of it being detrimental to your health and your magical wellbeing," Snape began.

"I'm not!" she flared. "Did Draco tell you that? Because it's not true. I can handle all my work, sir."

"Yes, Draco came to me, concerned that you have overworked yourself and will burn yourself out. It has happened before, Miss Granger. How many days do you think you can last without sleep? Or getting by on a bit of toast with jam and tea for breakfast and half a sandwich for lunch and two bites of dinner? A healthy body equals a healthy mind and you are sleep deprived and undernourished, young lady."

"How do you know that? I feel perfectly fine, sir."

Snape snorted. "So fine you are nodding off over your parchment. I know because I have eyes and can see that you display the classic symptoms of too much studying."

"Draco and Harry talk too much."

"Be glad that they do, or else you could have done yourself irreparable harm, Miss Granger," the Potions Master scolded. "Do you know what happens when you overspend your magical core? You throw yourself into the equivalent of a coma, as your magic attempts to replace its lost energy by drawing upon your body's reserves. And if you have no reserves to draw on, it shall take what it can and make you collapse, as it eats away at your organs. You will waste away and die, slowly, if the magical drain is not caught in time. Am I making myself clear, or do I need to fetch a diagram?"

"No, sir. But . . .I'm not practicing magic every night. I'm doing my homework and studying for tests. How is that wrong? That's what you're supposed to do at school!"

"Child, moderate your tone," he ordered brusquely. "There is no need to get snippy with me. I am telling you this for your own good. Why do you feel the need to study so hard? You retain information better than almost any student I currently teach."

"I know, but . . .it's not enough! Can't you understand? There is so much I need to learn, more than I thought possible, and I need to learn it now, that's why I have so many courses . . ."

"Miss Granger, while I commend your thirst for knowledge, you cannot possibly learn every subject at Hogwarts in the space of seven years. It is an impossible task, even for one such as you. Trying it will only result in your mental and physical collapse. And what a waste of a brilliant mind that would be."

"You're wrong, sir." Hermione argued, not even realizing that was what she was doing. "I can do this. I may only be a Muggleborn, but I can master my subjects. And I will!"

Severus glowered down at her. "You are too stubborn for your own good, Granger. Your marks are the top of your class and yet you still feel the need to prove yourself? To whom? Your peers? Your parents?"

"Everyone!"

"That is lunacy, girl! You are destroying yourself with your incessant studying and you are blind to it. Even you have limits. Were you my child, I would lock up every book you owned and forbid you to do anything save sleep and eat for the next fortnight."

"You wouldn't! You're a teacher!" she protested, scandalized.

"Yes, but a teacher who knows the difference between a dedicated student and one who is obsessed. And you, Miss Granger, are the latter." Severus said, one index finger pointing at her.

"No!"

"Yes, and do not shout at me. Denial changes nothing. I would have thought you smart enough to know that. When you start neglecting your health for your studies you are no longer merely a studious bookworm. You are an obsessed one. I know, for I too once walked the road you now travel. You cannot see the chasm looming before you because you are too close to the edge. But take one step further and you shall fall off the cliff."

She stared up at him, mouth agape. "But . . .I thought you would understand . . ." she sounded perilously close to tears.

"I do. You think because you are Muggleborn that you need to prove irrevocably that you are the equal, if not better, to many of those born in the wizarding world. You also have an innate drive to succeed, to learn, and knowledge is like a drug to you. You drink and are never satisfied. You end up craving more and more. Why the Hat ever put you in Gryffindor instead of Ravenclaw or Slytherin I'll never know. You have the ambition of a snake coupled with a desire to learn that surpasses even the House of Eagles. It is something to be proud of, but it can also be a double-edged sword."

He leaned upon the desk spread with parchments and said softly, "You are too young to waste your talent and your mind this way. You need to stop and think about what you are doing. There is more to the world than books, Miss Granger. I know that is a difficult concept to grasp, since you, like me, worship the written word. But stare too long into the sun and you shall go blind. Thus did my Defense teacher, Professor Cypher, say to me when I was your age, and obsessed with learning potions and anything else I could get my hands on. I wore myself to a sliver and nearly paid the price."

"But I need to study. Finals are coming . . ."

"Granger, finals are months away, in June. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is still March, is it not?"

"Yes."

"You hardly need to study so far in advance, you are not a dullard. You are, in fact, ahead of many of your classmates. Now, enough is enough. You will listen to me, or else I shall ban you from the library and inform the Headmaster of your obsession and he will most likely put you in the Hospital Wing in order to get you back up to full strength again. For weeks."

Hermione was stunned and horrified. "No, please Professor Snape. Don't do that! It would be so . . humiliating. And wouldn't it be against school policy?"

"No. It is a teacher's duty to see to the wellbeing of his students. Even if it means protecting them from their own folly. Are you willing to listen to the alternative? For if not, I am perfectly capable of tossing you over my shoulder and putting you to bed like a cranky toddler in my quarters. Just ask either of my sons."

Hermione paled, for she knew Snape was not kidding. "Okay, sir. What . . .do you suggest?" she was too tired to argue further, and even if she wasn't, he made too much sense for her to refute him logically. His veiled threats held concern behind them and she knew he spoke so because he cared what became of her. She also knew that he would not be driven away by her sharp tongue and would not be ignored either.

"I recommend that you drop the third elective you are taking this term. No, be silent and let me finish," he held up a hand. "You can pick it up next term or study it over the summer, but right now you have a large enough workload as it is. Furthermore, you need to think about what subject or subjects you are best at, and focus on them, rather than spreading yourself too thin trying to master everything. Had you all the time in the world, you couldn't do it. Your time would be better spent learning two branches of magic thoroughly. Study others that interest you during breaks, but keep it reasonable."

He pulled up a chair and sat down. He did not need to threaten, for he had her attention. "Remember, your mind also needs a healthy body in order to function. No sleep and no food make you into a zombie and will kill you quicker than any curse. So, here is what I propose. I shall make you up a schedule, where you shall attend class and have set periods of study time, and time for meals and exercise and sleep. It will be arranged so you will have time to do things other than read and keep you from obsessing over your grades. You will follow it diligently, and I will know if you do or not, and not because my sons will inform me."

"But professor, what can I do if you don't allow me to read?" she sniffled.

"Miss Granger, there are many things you can do besides read textbooks. I will allow you to read two or three novels or magazines a week for pleasure. But I will also encourage you to take walks about the grounds and enjoy nature and fresh air. You may also spar with Harry and Draco, or assist me in gathering potion ingredients. Perhaps you could help Hagrid with his injured animals or Professor Sprout with her plants. All these things are worthy causes and will not leave you idle and bored. Professor Cypher gave me much the same options."

"Did you take his offer?"

"I did, and it is why I am standing before you now and not a shell in St. Mungos. Trust me, Miss Granger. It is not the end of the world if you don't get a hundred percent in your Ancient Runes class. Life will go on. And so will you. I will inform Professor McGonagall of your new schedule, as she ought to know of it."

"She told me I should do what you said too."

"Oh? Apparently she was not persuasive enough," he snorted.

Hermione flushed. If McGonagall had threatened her as Snape had, she would have thought the witch was putting her on. Mostly. But not so this one. Not after what Harry had told her about his days at Prince Manor. He always does what he says, Hermione. He never threatens and doesn't follow through. Never.

"I'll . . .do what you say, sir," she agreed reluctantly. Then she looked up at him with woeful eyes, as if he had burned all of her books and locked her in a tower.

"Do not look at me that way, young lady. Someday you shall thank me for being such a bastard to you. Do you forget that Draco wishes to spend time with you and not your textbook? He has been waiting for you to put down your quill and you're lucky he hasn't grown disgusted and sought out someone else by now."

Hermione felt her heart grow cold. Had she really been that close to ruining their relationship? She knew she had shoved him away several times, but . . ."He must hate me then. For . . .for putting my studies before him."

"Hate you? No. He is annoyed with you and concerned. I would suggest you speak with him as soon as possible."

"I will, sir. And I'll agree to your terms. I didn't realize . . .I just wanted to . . ." she trailed off.

"I know. I shall keep your bag in my quarters and will send you your books as needed, as well as any parchment and ink you require. I will speak with your other teachers about assignments and so forth. I shall have the schedule to you by tomorrow evening. Keep to your end of the bargain, Miss Granger. Or you know what will happen."

"Yes, sir." She yawned, and stood up, only to find she was dizzy.

Severus caught her before she crumpled to the floor. "Merlin's bones, how long has it been since you've eaten properly?"

"Don't know. Ate some bread tonight," she mumbled, leaning against him.

Severus muttered something that sounded like "Fool girl, lunatics like you need to be taken over my knee, I swear!" before he swung her up into his arms and carried her to his quarters.

The corridors were quiet and once he reached his quarters, he ordered her a hot meal and after she had eaten gave her a Nutrient Draft and escorted her back to Gryffindor Tower, contacting Smidgen, and telling the fae cat to make sure Hermione went straight to bed.

The girl did, and Smidgen made sure she slept deeply without dreams.

Hermione slept most of the next day, as it was Saturday, and then she rose, showered and went down to eat lunch. She could feel eyes on her, and when she looked about, saw her potions professor watching her from the staff table.

"Hey, 'Mione." Draco greeted, leaning on the edge of the table and smiling cautiously. "How are you doing?"

"I'm okay," she said, wondering if he knew about Snape's little talk. "I'm just . . .hungry." As soon as she said that, she realized it was true. She was starving.

She carefully served herself some deviled eggs, fruit, and ham from the platters on the table.

"I can see that from how you're eating." He chuckled. "I'm glad you've got your appetite back."

She nodded.

He sat down beside her. "Would you like to go for a walk with me after you eat?"

"Yes. I would." She gave him a smile, and was relieved when he returned it without hesitation.

After she had eaten as much as she could, she allowed Draco to take her hand and together they walked down by the lake, where he paused and skipped stones into the water.

"You're good," she said shyly.

"I had a lot of practice over the summer. We have a pond at the manor," he said.

"Draco, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to . . .neglect you."

"Didn't you?" he frowned at her.

She flushed in shame. "Okay, maybe I did. But I . . .didn't really mean it. I just was . . .concerned over my studies."

"Obsessed, you mean."

She bit her lip. She really disliked that term, but couldn't deny it was true. "Yes."

"How come you're not all of a sudden?"

"Your dad talked to me. He . . .made me see that what I was doing was hurting me . . .and you. He told me I could have killed myself. Then he made me promise to follow a schedule he's going to make for me otherwise he'd ban me from the library and have Pomfrey put me in the hospital to get bed rest."

Draco snickered. "He really said that?"

"Yes. And he meant it too."

"I believe it."

"I didn't realize how selfish I was being until he told me," she admitted quietly. "I'm sorry for shutting you out, Draco. I treated you like . . .like a piece of furniture and I never meant to do that to you. Can you forgive me?"

"Of course, bookworm," he said, then he took her in his arms and kissed her.

She melted into his arms and wondered how she could have forgotten how good it felt to be held close, and kissed like she was a precious treasure, and how much she loved this pureblood scion, who had defied convention just for her. How could she ever have thought for an instant that musty books and parchment were worth losing him? I really was obsessed. But now I'm sane, for the first time in . . . months. And I intend to stay that way.

When at last they drew apart, Draco was grinning and then he said, "Want to go flying, 'Mione?"

"I'm . . .not very good on a broom."

"You can fly with me. I'll hold you and you'll never fall."

"Promise?" she had always been a little scared of riding a broomstick.

"Promise."

He summoned his broom with a casual wandless gesture.

"Someday you have to teach me how to do that."

"When you have more time to spare, I will. Right now, just come fly with me, Granger." Draco said, then he mounted his broom and she sat in front of him.

They flew gracefully about the pitch and Draco kept his arm about her the entire time. She leaned back against him and felt the beat of his heart against her back and smiled. She took great gulps of the fresh air and for the first time did not feel stuffy or hot.

Draco did not try any Quidditch moves while Hermione was with him, he simply flew calmly, and treasured the moment that she was with him.

After an hour they landed and walked slowly back to the castle, where they found Severus in the Entrance Hall, waiting for them. "Miss Granger, you look much better," he said. He handed her a piece of parchment. "Your new schedule, effective on Monday."

"Thank you, sir," she replied, glancing at the parchment briefly. Then she stuffed it in her robes. "Draco and I are going to play chess."

"Oh? What kind?"

"The Muggle way. Where you need to really think in order to outsmart your opponent and nothing gets smashed."

Severus nodded and turned away, adding over his shoulder, "Draco, be careful. Miss Granger makes a formidable opponent, I would say."

Hermione smirked. "What he said." Then she took Draco's arm and led him into the Great Hall, then used her wand and Summoned her chess set from her room. For the first time in over a month she felt alert and stress free and happy to spend time with her Slytherin boyfriend, who was lucky he had such a perceptive father.

Hope you all liked this one.

Just to clear up a misconception by a reviewer-I did not make up the creature called a "brownie", it has existed in English folklore for centuries. Here is the definition according to Wikipedia A brownie/brounie or urisk (Lowland Scots) or brùnaidhùruisg, or gruagach (Scottish Gaelic) is a legendary kind of creature popular in folklore around Scotland and England

Customarily brownies (a type of hob – see hobgoblin) are said to inhabit houses and aid in tasks around the house. However, they don't like to be seen and will only work at night, traditionally in exchange for small gifts or food. They take quite a delight in porridge and honey. They usually abandon the house if their gifts are called payments, or if the owners of the house misuse them. Brownies make their homes in an unused part of the house.

The House Elves featured in the Harry Potter series have characteristics of brownies.

Chapter Text

March 13, 1994:

"Cafall! Cafall!" Harry called, searching for his wayward misthound puppy. The young dog had taken off on him, hunting something. Harry whistled, but was afraid the dog wouldn't hear him if he was off across the grounds. He started to walk towards the Black Lake. Cafall often like to play there, and sometimes Duncan would surface and throw pieces of coral and driftwood picked up from the ocean for the dog to chase.

But as he neared the lake, he could see the shoreline was empty of any misthound or student. Clutching his robe tighter to him, he continued to search, heading up to Hagrid's hut, surmising that perhaps Cafall had gone to play with Fang. The boarhound enjoyed romping with the puppy.

He had reached the middle of the lawn when he heard something that sounded like a fight, specifically a sword fight. Puzzled, he looked about, but could see nothing that resembled knights in armor or fae warriors. Yet he heard the distinct clash of a sword upon flesh somewhere nearby.

He walked a few steps, listening, and then he looked down. On the ground a few steps from his feet was a small red-haired person dressed entirely in green, wielding a sword the size of a knitting needle. The green clad warrior was fending off a large rat the size of a small dog, stabbing at it repeatedly with the sword.

But the rat wasn't running. It bared its large yellow teeth and snarled, lunging at the tiny warrior, who was about three or four inches tall. The red-haired warrior was quick, but so was the rat.

From Harry's point of view, it looked like the small warrior was about to get his head bitten off. He drew his wand and chanted a sharp Stinging hex. The hex struck the rat upon its behind and it screeched and ran, upon seeing the giant hovering over it.

Harry knelt down in the grass, which he noticed was an unusually vibrant shade of green. "Hello. Are you all right? I thought for a minute you were a goner."

The green-clad warrior looked up at him and waved the needle sword at him warningly. "Many thanks, mortal. That big scurvy rat almost bit me ear off," a hand pushed back the small pointed green cap to reveal a large pointed ear.

Harry peered at the small creature, noting that he was dressed in a fitted green jacket with gold buttons and a darker set of trousers, with black boots and a small belt with a gold buckle upon it. Long hair of a bright golden-red color hung down past his waist. "You look like you were giving it a good fight though," he observed.

"Aye, well, I was tryin'. 'Twas a bloodthirsty beastie though. Might I be knowin' yer name, laddie?"

"Harry Snape."

"Ah. Yer the young wizard kin to the Queen o' the Faeries. Pleasure t' meet you, boyo!" He swept the hat from his head and bowed gracefully.

"Same here. Uh . . .pardon me for asking but . . .are you a leprechaun?"

"Aye, I am that. Brighid O'Meara's my name. But ye can just call me Bridie."

"Bridie?" Harry repeated. "But that's a-oh!" he caught himself just in time before he made a huge blunder. He had taken the leprechaun for a wee man, not a girl, because of her dress and because leprechauns were always men in the old tales. He flushed. "Well met, Lady O'Meara." He held out his hand, palm out.

Bridie stepped up on his palm and beamed at him. "Likewise, young lord. I have heard nothing but good of ye and yer kin. The Queen thinks highly o' ye."

"She does? But I've never met her before."

Bridie laughed. "An' what has that got t'do with anything? Her Majesty judges ye on yer deeds, not yer face." Her eyes were a deep emerald green, and they sparkled like polished gems. "In any case, laddie, I be owing ye a favor."

"A favor? No, really, I don't need anything . . ."

"This has nothing t'do with need, laddie, but 'tis a point of honor. Even we leprechauns know the meaning o' that."

Harry went silent. He knew, none better, that the fae folk were touchy about honor and debts. They did not like owing anyone anything, especially humans. They treated Harry and Severus with politeness and respect because they were related to Titania, but they still did not like being in debt. "All right."

"Since it's almost St. Paddy's Day, I shall give ye a special four-leaf clover." She snapped her fingers and a large emerald green clover that was almost her size appeared. The clover sparkled as if dusted with gold. "This is a good luck clover, meaning that it will grant ye good luck at yer request once per day for four days. Simply rub the clover inbetween yer fingers and say 'Reverse' in order t' change yer bad luck to good. But remember, it can only be used once a day. After that, I shall return to claim it, for its magic will be spent. Use it wisely, young one. A fair mornin' to ye, and may the luck o' the Little Folk be with ye! Farewell!"

With that, she disappeared in a golden shower, leaving an astonished Harry looking down at the shimmering four leaf clover in his hand.

He found Cafall on the far side of the lake, sniffing at a turtle crawling along the ground. He quickly snapped a leash on the puppy and hauled the reluctant canine back to the castle. He had placed the clover in his pocket for safekeeping, and could hardly wait to show it to his friends and Draco. He wasn't too sure about showing it to his father and uncle, he feared they might regard the clover as cheating, especially if he used it to help him with school assignments.

But he had earned it fair and square. Personally, he thought it was about time some good luck came his way.

He met Draco just as he was heading over to the hall for supper. Cafall leaped up on the Slytherin wizard and started washing his face, prompting giggles from some of the Slytherin girls and Draco grimacing and putting a knee in the dog's chest. "Down, Cafall! No jumping!"

The puppy whimpered, looking abashed. He knew he really wasn't supposed to jump up on people, but when he got too excited, he forgot his manners.

Draco caressed the hound's silky ears. "Silly mutt! Sit!"

Cafall sat, looking up at Draco with hopeful eyes. The other boy sighed and dug a dog treat from a pocket and fed it to the puppy.

"Draco, come over here for a minute," Harry tugged on the other's sleeve, drawing him away from the rest of the students, into the small antechamber next to the Great Hall.

"What is it, Harry? I'm hungry."

"Shhh. Take a look at this," Harry said and withdrew the four-leaf clover from his pocket.

Draco examined the emerald green plant and gasped. "Holy Merlin! That's a luck clover. They're really rare. Where did you find it?"

"I didn't find it. I was given it." Harry said, and told him about how he had saved the leprechaun. "She said it would grant me good luck once a day at my choosing. I'll have it till St. Patrick's Day."

"Wicked!" Draco said. "Wish I had something like that. I'm going to need all the luck I can get to ace my Arithmancy test."

"You don't need luck, dragon. Just ask your girlfriend. I'm sure 'Mione will be glad to help you."

"Oh. You're right. I'm such an idiot." Draco looked like he wanted to smack himself. "Okay. Guess I'll be spending tonight in the library. Come on, let's go and eat. I'm starving."

Harry followed him into the hall, his stomach was growling loudly. He wondered what was on the menu for tonight.

He slid into his seat next to Katie, hugging her. "Hey. How was your day?"

"It was great. Yours?"

"Good. I got to play an unexpected hero and rescue a leprechaun," Harry told her.

"Really? Did you rescue his pot of gold too?"

"Her pot of gold. No, she didn't have one. I was looking for my dog when I found her fighting off a nasty rat. I cast a Stinging Hex on it and it ran off. She—her name is Bridie O'Meara—said she owed me a debt and she gave me a lucky clover. See?"

He showed her the gold-dusted clover.

"Wow! It's really beautiful! Have you wished for any good luck yet?"

"No. I'm going to save it for when I really need it. I have it for four days."

Ron peered over his shoulder. "Blimey, Harry! Why don't you wish for a pot of gold?"

Harry chuckled. "Ron, don't you remember anything about leprechauns?"

"I remember they have tons of gold hidden away, mate. And they like to slide down rainbows and if you catch one, you can make them tell you where a pot of gold is."

"Ron, honestly!" Hermione sighed. "Leprechaun gold isn't real—it fades after twenty-four hours. It's only illusion. You ought to know that, you were at the Quidditch World Cup."

"Oh, right. But you could wish for real gold, Harry. Couldn't you?"

"I don't think it works that way, Ron," Harry said. He wasn't quite sure how he knew that, but he did.

"You could . . .uh . . .bet on the next World Wizard Chess competition. If you use the shamrock, you could make millions of Galleons!"

"Ron, is that all you think about—money?" Hermione asked, frowning.

"Hey, I know what it's like not to have any, so if there was a chance I could have a lot of Galleons, I'll take it." Ron said defensively.

"Mercenary."

"Crusader."

"Stop it!" Katie ordered. "It's Harry's clover, he can use it however he wants. Now stop quarreling like two crabs and eat. You're ruining my dinner."

Both Hermione and Ron looked abashed and apologized.

Draco came over just as the dessert was served and asked Hermione if she wanted to help him study for Arithmancy. She agreed and he looked happy, for lately she had been spending more time with her books than with him.

"Hey, Harry. Want to play chess after dinner?" Ron asked.

"Can't. I have a ton of homework to do," he said regretfully. "Maybe some other time."

Ron made a face. "Merlin, but you were loads more fun before you found out Snape was your father. You never did your homework until the morning of class."

"Things are different now," Harry said. "If I don't do my homework and get good grades, my dad will be on my arse like a giant and stomp me flat. And I've got enough to worry about with the bloody tournament. I don't need Dad reaming my arse out on top of it."

"I guess you've got a point," Ron sighed. Merlin knew he didn't envy Harry having the perfectionist professor for a father. "Have fun studying."

Harry shot him a dirty look, then went upstairs to fetch his bookbag. Unlike Hermione and Draco, he felt the library was too stuffy to study in and preferred his father's well lit comfortable quarters to do his essays, since the common room was too noisy in Gryffindor Tower.

March 14, 1994:

Harry woke up late the next morning and was half-awake as he stumbled through the corridors to goto Charms class. But he had managed to finish his homework at least, and Flitwick hardly ever took points if you were a little bit late to class, so he didn't want to use the shamrock unless he really needed it. He managed to squeak by into the classroom just as the bell rang and made it to his usual seat.

"Good morning, class! Today we will be practicing a little known charm that is designed to protect you from another wizard who wishes to harm you. It's called the Reflection Charm and I need you to pair up with another student and practice it until you create a strong enough mirror to reflect your partner's hex back at them. But be careful! There will be no using harmful hexes, like Burning Hexes or anything like them. Stinging or Tickling Hexes are allowed, however." Some of the Slytherins groaned. He clapped his hands. Watch closely now."

He demonstrated the charm and waited until most of the students had it down before splitting them up into pairs. Harry was partnered with Seamus Finnegan, and Ron with Dean Thomas. Hermione ended up with Neville.

Flitwick had instructed them to allow the partner casting the Reflection Charm to cast it first before the other cast a hex. Harry allowed Seamus to go first, and then he cast a Jelly-Legs Jinx at him.

Seamus' mirror deflected most of the jinx and he only got wobbly knees for a few minutes.

Then it was Harry's turn. He performed the charm and Seamus cast a Hiccup Jinx on him, which Harry easily deflected.

But he did it with such force that it not only ricocheted back at Seamus, who ducked, it struck Goyle, who was a few paces away, in the arm. Goyle toppled over and his partner, Theodore Nott, shouted, "Hey, Finnegan, what the bloody hell?" He whirled and fired off a Tarantagula Jinx.

Seamus threw himself flat to avoid it and Harry barely had time to look up before the spell came flying at him. He had no idea what it was and no desire to get hit by an unknown hex. His fingers closed over the lucky clover and before he realized it he had whispered, "Reverse!"

He felt the clover grow hot in his hand and then the spell was turned aside and hit the wall.

"Finite!" Flitwick called sternly, before things could get even more out of hand. "Gentlemen, this is not dueling class! Please control yourselves, or else you can serve detention with me this evening! That'll be 10 points from both Houses for creating a ruckus!"

The class hushed and stopped casting.

Seamus picked himself up off the floor and smiled sheepishly at Harry. "Sorry, Harry. But it was just reflex. You were lucky as anything that you didn't get hit with that jinx."

"Sure, Seamus." Harry said, then thought, Finnegan, you have no idea just how lucky I am. He patted his pocket and silently thanked Bridie for her timely gift. Otherwise he might have ended up in the Hospital Wing.

However, other members of his family were not so lucky. Draco forgot his Transfiguration homework and got points off for it plus a lecture and then he took his Arithmancy test and was so angry with McGonagall for taking fifteen points that he couldn't concentrate and was sure he failed the test, despite Hermione's tutoring.

Severus was teaching a bunch of clueless first years and got a pounding headache from their utter incompetence, managed to avert two blown up cauldrons, and ended up wanting to strangle all the brats for socializing about the tournament instead of paying attention to their brewing.

By the time his last class was over, he felt as though his head were going to explode. And he had developed a cough and was sneezing. He hurried back to his quarters to take a few potions, he was not going to get sick now. He had too much to do.

But he found that his bed looked too tempting to resist and so he ended up lying down for an hour. Only the hour turned into three hours and when he woke up he felt even worse, achy, feverish, and exhausted, as if he had no strength in his body. He took another potion and went back to sleep.

When Harry didn't see Severus in the hall for dinner that evening, he became concerned. He asked Draco if he had seen their father, but Draco just shook his head. The blond Slytherin really was depressed and feared Severus' wrath if he had failed that last test, so he was quite content to avoid the older wizard at this point.

Harry, sensing he would get no more from his brother, went down to his father's suite after dinner. Smidgen met him at the door of Snape's quarters. *Harry, I fear your father is very ill. He is running a high fever and seems to be delirious. And his magical reserves are very low.*

Harry pushed past the winged cat. He had never known his father to be sick. Severus had always seemed immune to disease, invincible to things mere mortals could catch. But if Smidgen were correct . . . "Dad? Dad, are you okay?"

The den was empty, so Harry headed over to the bedroom. The door was slightly ajar. He pushed it open and called softly, "Dad?"

There was a small light burning and he could see his father's tall figure in the bed, The sheets were wrapped about his lean frame and his hair was soaked with sweat. He was restless, tossing and turning and his face was flushed with an unhealthy reddish color.

Harry came and laid a hand upon his father's brow. It was very hot, as Smidgen had said. Suddenly, Severus began to shiver and cough. Harry stared down at his parent in shock. "You were right, Smidgen. He's really sick."

*You need to summon a Healer, Harry. I believe he has contracted wizard flu or pneumonia. It can be fatal if not treated immediately.*

"Stay with him. I'm going to get Madam Pomfrey," Harry said, then raced out to the den and tossed a handful of Floo Powder down into the flames.

Several hours later, Severus awoke to a cool cloth being run over his face. He groaned softly and opened his eyes to see Poppy standing beside his bed. "Who called you?" he rasped, after drinking a cup of water she gave him.

"Harry did. He found you and called me as soon as he could. Lie still, Severus. You've contracted a rather nasty bout of wizard flu and need to stay in bed for four days and rest."

"Rest? I have classes to teach, woman!"

"You can get a substitute, Severus. Calm down. If you don't rest you'll never get better."

"I feel a little better already," he argued, though in fact he didn't. He just didn't want to admit it.

"That's because of my potions. Severus, quit being so bloody stubborn! You're only human, not an immortal. If you don't rest you could damage your magical core."

He coughed, giving her a glare. He knew she was right, but he hated being so helpless. "Fine. What potions do I need?"

She told him. "You have most of them. All I need are Anti Inflammatory Elixirs and Magic Replenishers."

Severus coughed again. When the spasm eased, he said hoarsely, "Have Katie and Harry brew them in my personal lab, they're advanced enough to do so and I trust them not to blow up the place."

Poppy ran a diagnostic and gave him an Extra-Strength Fever Reducer, for his fever was still quite high. "Rest now, Severus. I'll be back later to check on you."

She turned and left the room, nearly running over Harry and Draco.

"How is he?" both boys asked almost in unison.

"I've seen worse. He is very ill, but he's also got a decent immune system. I think he'll make a full recovery. Draco, have you had wizard flu before?"

"Yeah. I had it when I was a baby."

"How about you, Harry?"

"No. I was never around any wizards when I was a kid."

"Hmm . . .then you could get it too. I would suggest you have as little contact with your father as possible, and wash your hands thoroughly with hot water and if you start feeling exhausted or weak come see me immediately. Wizard flu, some strains of it, is highly contagious."

"Yes, Madam Pomfrey," Harry said obediently, though he knew of one way to avoid getting the damned flu. He could use his clover and ask to be lucky enough to avoid the disease.

"Oh, and your father says that you and Miss Bell need to brew the following potions . . ." she told him crisply. "Mind you don't wreck his lab either. That would really kill him."

"I won't," Harry promised, wishing he could fix his father with his clover. But Smidgen had told him the clover only worked for him, not a family member. He felt awful that he couldn't use his lucky clover to cure his father.

"I can stay with him, Harry," Draco volunteered.

But the medi-witch quickly nixed that idea. "Mr. Malfoy, you need your sleep too. You have classes and so does Harry. I shall summon a house elf to watch your father. Now off to bed with you."

The boys departed and Poppy sighed and wondered how bad it was going to be. She had a feeling that there would be more cases of wizard flu in the morning, these things tended to spread like wildfire.

March 15, 1994:

The next morning there were several empty chairs at all the tables and everyone was whispering about an epidemic. Dumbledore made an announcement that anyone who felt ill should report to the infirmary immediately. There was an outbreak of wizard flu and several people, including Professor Snape, had already fallen ill.

"Oh my goodness!" Hermione exclaimed. "I hope he's going to be okay."

Harry hoped so too. He quietly gripped his clover in his fist and called upon it to grant him the luck to avoid getting sick, for he needed to be healthy in order to brew the potions. "Katie, I'm going to need your help after class today," he said.

"What's up, Harry? I'm real sorry about your dad. What can I do to help?"

"I need you to help me brew a couple of potions for my dad," Harry said.

Katie agreed immediately. "I can do that. I've brewed both of them before. Have you?"

"No, but I can learn," Harry said. For a moment he almost regretted using his day's luck to avert the flu. He could have used it instead on making him perfect in his brewing. He sighed inwardly. Now he understood what Bridie had meant when she had told him to use his luck wisely.

That afternoon, Harry was watching Katie brew the first draft of the Magic Replenisher, it was a complex potion with ten ingredients and exacting measurements and things had to be added at different times. But Katie managed to do all of it well and Harry was proud to have such a good potion maker for a girlfriend. "You're an ace, Katie. Not just beautiful, but brilliant."

She smiled at him. "You're sweet, Harry. This batch should be ready in two hours. Now let's start on the Anti-Inflammatory Elixir. That one's a bit harder, you have to add two ingredients at exactly the same time, which is tricky . . ."

Together, they managed to brew the next potion, and then Harry went to see Severus again.

The Potions Master was being watched over by a house elf, Cafall, Draco, and Philip. All of them were immune to the flu, and took turns sitting beside the stricken Potions Master, feeding him broth and tea and wiping down his face with cool cloths and giving him more potions.

Severus was awake when Harry entered, though he frowned when he caught sight of his son . "Harry, what are you doing here?"

"Hi, Dad. How are you feeling?"

"Just peachy. What do you think? Now get out. I don't want you coming down with this too."

"Dad, I won't."

"Get, dammit!" he pointed to the door, but then spoiled the gesture by coughing loudly. "Phil, get him out of here." Severus gasped when he could speak again.

"Dad, I can't get the flu. I've got a lucky clover."

"Lucky clover, my arse! Harry Albus Snape, leave!"

"Better do as he says, Harry." Phil said kindly.

"But Uncle Phil . . ."

I'll speak with you later, the vampire sent.

Harry went, silently fuming.

He returned to the lab and Katie looked up from chopping up more ingredients. One look at his face and she could tell he was very upset. "What happened, love?"

"Nothing. My dad told me to get lost. Well, not exactly, but he sent me away like I was a puppy he caught peeing on the rug."

"Oh, Harry. I'm sure he didn't mean it like that. He's probably afraid you might come down with this too."

"I won't. I'm lucky. I used the clover to keep me from getting the flu. Only he didn't believe me."

She came and put her arms about him and hugged him.

He rested his head on her shoulder and sighed. Somehow, hugging her made him feel much better. "Need some more help with that?' he asked, indicating her mortar and pestle and the herbs she was grinding.

"If you don't mind." She gave him a quick kiss on the mouth.

He ran his hand through her hair before turning back to the work station and picking up where she had left off.

Thanks to the skills he had learned over the summer from Severus at Prince Manor, he didn't really need luck to brew a good potion.

Phil found the two working side by side industriously some twenty minutes later. "Harry, come here, please."

Harry finished grinding up the echidna and then set down his pestle and walked over to where the vampire waited. Phil touched him lightly on the arm and said, in a tone only Harry could hear, "Harry, your dad didn't mean what he said. Not the way he said it. You need to understand, this flu is bad, and it can be fatal especially in wizards your age. He's seen kids like you die from it. That's why he was snapping at you. Not because he wants to be nasty, but because he's petrified you'll catch it."

"I know that, but Uncle Phil, listen. I'm not going to catch the flu because I used my lucky four-leaf clover to prevent it. Look." He showed the vampire the magical leaf.

Phil's violet eyes went wide. "Where did you get that?"

"From a leprechaun. I saved her life from a big rat." Harry said. "Then I used it to make myself immune to the wizard flu."

Phil shook his head. "Oh, Harry. Is that what you think?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Because, kid, leprechaun magic doesn't work that way. Sure, it'll grant you temporary immunity, but that'll wear off in twenty-four hours. Leprechaun magic can be potent, but it also has a short shelf life. And once you use your luck for a thing, you can't ask for a repeat."

"I can't? But . . .but that's not fair! I never knew that."

"You should have asked for specifics, boy. When you make a deal with the fae . . ."

"She should have told me!"

"It probably wasn't on purpose. Most fae assume that you know how their magic works."

"Then that means that I'll be at risk until he's better?"

"Yes, until you go to Madam Pomfrey and get a vaccination."

Harry winced. He hated needles. "When?"

"Now."

Harry grimaced. "Bloody hell!" he went and told Katie where he had to go and then he left, Phil trailing invisibly behind him.

He found half the infirmary filled with sick children in various stages of wizard flu, and half of it filled with other students waiting to be vaccinated.

Harry waited his turn, then went behind the white screened in area, where Madam Pomfrey waited with a single hypodermic filled with a greenish silver liquid. "Ah, Mr. Snape. Right on time. Drop your trousers and lean over my exam table."

Harry froze. "I . . .do you have to give it to me there?"

She nodded. "You're too thin, boy. It'll be easier on you if I give it to you there. Come on now, Harry. I haven't got all day."

Harry bit back a groan. Gritting his teeth, he unbuttoned his trousers. Some wizard's luck he had! He was going to give the conniving leprechaun a piece of his mind when he saw her again.

March 16 th , 1994:

By the third day, Severus began to rally a little, the potions his son and his apprentice had made were top notch and he had a strong constitution to boot. Even so, he was still confined to his bed and that made him surly and irritable. Poppy had left orders that he wasn't to be allowed to do anything more strenuous than read the newspaper or a novel, and that he should spend most of his time sleeping.

He would have disregarded her orders had he one, not felt like something a herd of unicorns had trampled, and two, if Phil had not been around to make sure he stayed in bed like he was supposed to. His vampire ancestor was not only immune to disease, but also Severus's finely honed deathly glares and threats to hex off portions of his anatomy.

"I'm a vampire, Sev, they'd only grow back. Besides, you'd make Julie angry. And she's worse than that snotrag Voldemort when she's angry, trust me." Phil told him. "Have some apple juice."

Severus scowled and promptly told him what he could do with his damn juice.

Phil rolled his eyes. "You're a Snape, all right. Hell on wheels to deal with when you're sick. Just like I used to be. Lie down before I tie you to the damn bed, Sev!"

Severus' return glower could have shattered concrete and steel in one glance. But he lay back down.

Phil sighed and thanked Merlin that he was a vampire.

The substitute they had for potions, a Mr. Tibbs, was so tediously boring that Harry nearly nodded off over his cauldron. He had a more monotone voice than Binns, and that was saying something. Harry felt as if someone had coated all his limbs with wet cement and dumped sand into his eyes. His bum was sore too from that bloody needle. He would have skipped class altogether, but he wasn't stupid. Or suicidal, more's the pity. Severus would have skinned and hung him out to dry if he had found out Harry had cut class. Especially potions.

Tibbs droned on about the various properties of asphodel and Harry contemplated his fingernails. Trust Dumbledore to hire some boring old pedant. Harry thought he might have learned more running the class himself.

He rubbed the clover between his fingers, but he did not make a wish. Maybe he would get lucky and Tibbs would put himself to sleep and then they would all leave. But the tall blond-haired teacher continued to lecture, ignoring the glazed looks on the face of his students.

Harry caught Draco's eyeroll and mimed throwing the teacher into his own cauldron. Anything to shut him up.

Draco grinned and made a gagging motion.

Harry nodded and gave him a thumbs up.

"I need a volunteer to fetch me the ingredients for a Euphoria Draft. Who would like to go? Ah, Mr. Snape, how nice of you to raise your hand."

Harry gasped. He hadn't raised his hand. Tibbs squinted and made a beckoning motion. "Sir?"

"Here's the list of ingredients you'll need. Fetch them for me if you would."

Harry looked down the list, they were mostly rare ingredients that Snape kept in his private storeroom. The one which only three or four people ever went into, and two of them were family members—Severus and Harry, the Headmaster, and Poppy. Severus had given Harry the password yesterday, when Harry had visited him after getting vaccinated.

"Yes, sir. Be right back." He rose and walked out of the classroom and into the private lab Severus had attached to his office. The storeroom was inside there.

He spoke the password and opened the door. Everything inside the storeroom was neat and labeled and alphabetized. The only bad thing was that the shelf he needed to get the most important ingredient for the potion was right above his head.

He carefully rolled the small ladder over and climbed it, then reached for the jar of august beetle carapaces. As he was stretching for the jar, which was all the way in the back, his sneaker slipped.

Frantic, he grabbed onto anything to keep from falling. The shelf shook and tottered and all the precious ingredients clanked and jostled each other and threatened to fall on the floor and shatter in a million pieces.

No, oh no! Not Dad's potions! He'll kill me for destroying them. Kill me! Please, Merlin help me. Don't let them fall.

He had a horrifying image in his head of the entire shelf falling and potions smashing upon the floor like ninepins. And then another of Severus standing over him, white with rage.

He had one hand in his pocket, rubbing the clover. "Reverse!"

He felt the now familiar brush of the clover's magic, running through him like liquid flame. Then it coated the shelf green and vanished. Harry breathed a sigh of relief and he could feel the luck snapping about him in a great bubble. At least he wasn't in danger of dying at Severus' hands now. His foot found purchase on the ladder and he stood.

He quickly finished getting the ingredients and bringing them back to the room.

Tibbs made some comment like, "Finally, Mr. Snape!" but Harry ignored it.

Finally the lesson was over and Harry had the satisfaction of hearing a Gryffindor say, "You know, never thought I'd say this, but I can't wait till Snape comes back."

"How gratifying to know that I am better than some terrible bore," said Severus when Harry told him about how dreadful Tibbs was and what the Gryffindor had said.

"See? I told you your students love you," Harry teased.

"Impudent brat!" his father mock-growled, but there was a smile playing about the stern features. "You've been stuck in the castle all day. Why don't you go outside and play Quidditch?"

"But what about you?"

"I can amuse myself with my books and anagrams and such. Go, before you start going stir crazy." Snape waved him away. He could tell his son was itching to go and do something that did not involve parchment and ink.

"All right. See you later."

He found Ron in the common room and asked if he and the twins and Katie wanted to play Quidditch. Then he asked Smidgen to invite Draco too and the six of them played a rousing game of Keep Away Quaffle.

But it was anyone's guess who won and he was still arguing about it a little with Draco when they headed down to the Snape apartments to have dinner with their father and uncle.

Severus invited Harry to play some chess, and to everyone's astonishment, Harry won. It was a rare thing for him to win against Severus, who was a master, and he was quite pleased with himself. "Guess my luck is still going strong."

"Either that or my brain is still muddled from being sick," Severus said.

Harry merely grinned and rubbed his hand over the clover.

That night before bed he pulled out the four-leaf clover and looked at it. It had lost much of it's luster, looking more and more ordinary, all except for one single lobe, which still sparkled gold with hidden luck. He had one more day and then his luck would be gone.

March 17, 1994:

The Great Hall was all decked out in green for the occasion, green painted the walls and the ceilings were filled with floating shamrocks and rainbow and fake pieces of fool's gold, which Ron tried to catch and stuff in his pocket until Hermione kicked him under the table and told him to quit making an ass out of himself, that the gold wasn't real.

"Oh. I knew that." He said defensively. "What, you think I'm stupid?"

Harry yawned, he was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. He noticed that all the plates had green stripes or shamrocks or tiny dancing leprechauns on them. Even the fire in the fireplace this morning was burning with an odd smoky odor.

"What's that smell?" asked Dean, wrinkling his nose.

Seamus took a whiff and sighed appreciatively. "Ahh! That's the smell of turf. A good peat fire, like my gran used to burn on Sunday."

"Ugh! Smells like burnt dirt. What's wrong with wood?" Clearly Dean did not appreciate the Irish touch.

"Barbarian," Seamus muttered.

Breakfast that morning was oatcakes and bacon, buttered potatoes, oatmeal, warm soda bread with raisins, and green milk poured from the pitchers.

"Look, Harry! The leprechauns were here," Hermione said happily.

Some of the girls laughed at her.

"Wonder what we'll have at the feast? Maybe this year Dumbledore will finally let us have green beer," said Seamus wistfully.

"Sure, Finnegan. That'll be the day." Ron snorted.

"I always wanted to taste green beer," said Neville.

Harry was kind of curious too, but then he recalled the last time he had experimented with an alcoholic beverage—the fae cordial summerdew—and decided he was better off not knowing.

He had not slept well last night and he dragged himself to class. He dozed in Charms, managed to keep awake in Transfiguration by poking himself with the pin he was supposed to change into a raven, and only remembered that he had an Herbology exam as he was setting foot in the greenhouse.

An exam he had not studied for.

Bloody damn hell! He struggled frantically to recall the material, but his mind was a blank. If he failed this exam, he would be grounded till Easter break, or maybe even over the break, depending on how mad Severus got. His fingers lingered upon the clover in his pocket.

Should he use this last bit of luck to help him pass the exam?

It did feel sort of like cheating and Severus would never have approved.

Harry closed his eyes, deliberating.

Professor Sprout had them do the practical part of the exam first. Harry at least remembered how to feed the Venemous Tantagula correctly. But when they went back to her classroom for the written portion of the exam, he stared at the sheet of parchment with the test questions and couldn't remember a single thing.

It was as if he'd been Obliviated.

He panicked utterly then.

His hand closed about the clover.

Give me luck.

He felt the last of the leprechaun's magic attach itself to him.

Then he picked up his quill and began to write, his mind suddenly sharp and clear.

Over lunch, which was potato leek soup and cabbage salad, plus brown bread with butter and large crispy fried sausage, Ron asked Harry if he'd used up all his luck yet. "Hope not, cause we play Hufflepuff today for the Shamrock Bowl."

Harry nearly choked upon his soup. "Oh, damn! I forgot!"

"You used it already?" Ron cried.

"I . . .I had to, Ron! Otherwise I'd have failed my Herbology exam."

"Harry!" Hermione cried, aghast. "You used magic to cheat on a test?"

"No! It wasn't like that. I just asked for a little bit of luck," Harry said defensively. "That's not cheating."

"Harry, it's wrong to use magic that way," she argued.

"Yeah and now you can't use it when you play today," Ron groused. "I was going to bet the twins my only Galleon that we'd win."

"We'll win anyhow, Ron. I don't need luck to play Quidditch." Harry said irritably. "I never did before and I don't now. Trust me."

"It would have been better if you had saved it," Ron mourned.

"Well, I didn't, so get over it!" Harry snapped. Had Ron forgotten that Quidditch wasn't about luck, but skill? Harry had practiced for hours and honed his natural talents in order to be as good as he was. Luck had nothing to do with it.

Or did it?

He pulled out the clover and saw that all the sparkle had vanished. No more leprechaun luck.

It doesn't matter. I can win the game without it.

After the traditional dinner of corned beef and cabbage, carrots and buttered potatoes that was always served on St. Patrick's Day, everyone headed out to the pitch for the game. In honor of the day, the two teams wore Irish colors, Hufflepuff was green and Gryffindor orange.

Harry waited until the Quaffle was launched before looking for the elusive Snitch.

And for the first time ever, he could not find it.

His eyes darted here and there and saw nothing except the rings and the sky.

He flew up, watching the Hufflepuff Seeker, Cedric Diggory.

Diggory seemed focused and went into a dive just before the Gryffindor goal post.

Harry followed, thinking that Diggory had spotted the Snitch, only to discover the maneuver had been a feint.

He pulled up just in time to avoid a Bludger.

Stupid, Harry! Stupid!

He whipped back around, ignoring the screams and jeers from the stands.

Where was the Snitch? It had to be here somewhere.

Minutes went by. George batted a Bludger away from him. Katie scored three goals. Gryffindor was ahead by five points.

His team was playing well but not as good as they might have been.

Harry was starting to sweat beneath his orange robes. Why couldn't he find the Snitch? Had Ron been right after all? Was it mostly luck and not skill?

Why did I ever use my luck on that stupid test? I might have passed.

But even as he thought it, he knew he wouldn't have. He was not like Hermione, he needed to study in order to retain information, he didn't have a sponge for a brain.

He flew higher, his eyes darting every which way.

Where was it?

There, was that a flash of gold?

His eyes narrowed. I make my own luck.

Then he saw the tiny winged globe come arrowing out of a cloud bank.

He dove for it, his arm outstretched.

Opposite him, Cedric saw it too and he dove also.

The crowd went wild, screaming, for it was anyone's guess which Seeker would grab the Snitch first.

Harry crouched low over his Firebolt, mentally urging every bit of speed out of it that he could.

Come on. Come on!

He saw Cedric's hand brush the globe.

The Snitch jerked and spun, and Harry's fingers snapped over it, caging it before it could escape.

"Harry Snape has caught the Snitch!" yelled Ernie MacMillian. "One hundred and fifty points! Gryffindor wins!"

Harry did a victory lap before settling back to the ground and handing the Snitch over to Madamn Hooch.

"Well done, Mr. Snape. Guess today you have the luck of the Irish," she said, stuffing the ball back in its case.

Harry smiled. "No, ma'am. Just plain old wizard's luck."

He arrived at his father's quarters breathless, having finally managed to get away from the Gryffindors, who were throwing another party in the common room to celebrate their victory. His Housemates seemed to use any excuse for a party, but Harry was tired and his head was throbbing. Plus he wanted to tell Severus about his victory.

But when he entered the suite, he found Phil on the couch. "Congratulations on your win," the vampire said. "That was some fancy bit of flying."

"Thanks. Is Dad awake?"

"Not yet. He's asleep."

"Oh. Guess I'll just wait here then till he wakes up." Harry said, sitting down on the couch.

"Did you use your clover during that game?"

"No. That time I made my own luck."

"Good for you! Sometimes that's the best kind of luck," Phil said, clapping him on the shoulder. "I need to go hunt, Harry. Would you mind staying here? I should be back in an hour or two."

"No. I wanted to tell Dad about the match."

Phil nodded, then he veiled himself and disappeared. Harry saw the door open and close and then he was alone in the suite except for Severus, who was sound asleep in the bedroom.

There came a sudden pop and a shower of golden sparkles. Harry blinked as a tiny green-clad lady appeared on the arm of the couch. "Hello, Bridie."

"We meet again, young Prince!" she said, smiling. "How has yer luck been running, lad?"

"Good." He reached into his pocket for the clover. "Guess you'll be wanting this back."

"Aye," she took the clover and blew upon it.

Gold dust settled over it once more and it glowed. "Once again, I thank ye for saving my life. But now all debts are paid. I hear ye won a great victory today."

"Yes. My House beat Hufflepuff in the Shamrock Bowl."

"Congratulations! 'Tis a grand thing. Would ye like to celebrate with some nuts and candy and green beer? 'Tis on the house." She winked at him.

Before he could say Quidditch, she had summoned up a large bowl of nuts and raisins with chocolate chips and two mugs of green beer. Large for a leprechaun, that is. The bowl of nuts and chocolate was the size of Harry's hand, and the beer mugs were the size of a large thimble.

Harry ate some nuts and looked at the beer dubiously. Did he dare to drink it?

"Why are ye hesitating, laddie?" asked Bridie. "'Tis my own family recipe in that pint. Now drink up."

"How strong is it?"

Bridie laughed. "'Tis a wee dram! Nothing to the likes o'you."

Harry sniffed it. It smelled faintly of peat and something else he couldn't name. He felt ridiculous fretting over a drink the size of a thimble. He clinked the mug with the leprechaun and drank the beer.

It tasted rather odd, but otherwise wasn't bad.

"See? Ye want some more? 'Twill take more than one drink to get the party started."

Harry allowed her to refill his glass and drank again. The beer tingled over his tongue. It was a great drink, he really enjoyed it. His head was buzzing and somehow he slid from the couch to the floor, gazing into the flickering flames and grinning to himself.

Bridie said something, he couldn't quite make it out, his head felt sort of fuzzy.

The leprechaun chuckled. "Humans! They never can stomach heather ale." Then she climbed on Harry's shoulder and yelled in his ear. "'Tis time for me to go, Harry. Fare thee well and if ye ever need assistance, or a good shoemaker, call me. Happy St. Patrick's Day to ye!"

With that, she was gone, leaving only a cloud of golden sparkles.

Harry sat on the floor, staring bemusedly into the fire. He was wearing a goofy smile on his face and singing softly the only Irish song he knew, about unicorns being left off the Ark. " . . . Green alligators and long-necked geese
Some humpty backed camels and some chimpanzees
Some cats and rats and elephants, but sure as you're born
Don't you forget My unicorns." 
he warbled, very off key, but he couldn't tell that because he was sloshed.

Severus was awakened by the most ungodly caterwauling, and he winced and covered his ears with the pillow. But when that failed to get him some peace and quiet, he threw off the blankets and stood up, determined to find whatever was making that awful sound and put it out of its misery.

Harry looked up as the door slammed and saw a tall figure in a deep green dressing gown step out of thin air. "Hi, Dad. Do you know where I can find some unicorns?"

Severus stared down at his son. "Harry Albus Snape, are you drunk?"

Uh oh. I think . . .I think I'm in trouble.

Harry gulped and looked up at his stormy-eyed father and felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Suddenly he didn't think it had been such a good idea to drink that green beer. He swallowed hard and even through the haze of alcohol knew one thing with utter certainty.

His luck had just run out.

 

The lyrics are from the "Unicorn Song" by Shel Silverstein

Chapter Text

Harry gulped and looked up at his stormy-eyed father and felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Suddenly he didn't think it had been such a good idea to drink that green beer. He swallowed hard and even through the haze of alcohol knew one thing with utter certainty.

His luck had just run out.

"I . . .umm . . .n-not really . . ." For some reason, he knew as soon as he spoke that it was the wrong thing to say.

"Excuse me?" the glower grew darker, there definitely were thunderheads in his father's eyes now. "Would you care to re-phrase that question, Mr. Snape?"

Harry swallowed again. Yes, that had definitely been the wrong thing to say. He knew because he never was addressed by his last name, or all of his names, for that matter, unless he was about to be decimated by his father. If only he could shake off the mist from his brain and figure out how he had gotten drunk off of such a small amount of green beer! "I . . .It was only a tiny bit of green beer, Dad. The leprechaun Bridie said it wouldn't do anything to me."

Severus had both hands on his hips now. "What are you talking about? Is this some kind of alcohol hazed hallucination? What leprechaun?"

"The one that gave me this." He groped in his pocket, only then recalling that Bridie had taken the clover back. "I had a lucky clover, Dad. She gave it to me for four days and she just took it back before you woke up."

 "Harry, lying to me will only get you in more trouble. I would think you would know that by now." The thunderheads were now shooting lightning.

"I'm not, sir! There really was a leprechaun, her name was Bridie and I saved her from a rat that was going to eat her . . ." he babbled out the whole story. " . . .and then she gave me some green beer to . . .to celebrate St. Patrick's Day."

Severus groaned. "That beer, it wouldn't happen to have been heather ale, would it?"

Harry tried to remember. He did think it might have been. Slowly, he nodded. "Yes, sir. I think she did say it was."

Severus' eyes pinned him. "Harry, how many times must we go through this? You got deathly ill last time drinking summerdew at Prince Manor. Remember? You ought to have learned by now that you should never ever accept a drink from any of the fae, no matter what they say about it! Most fae cordials do not react well with human physiology! You could have poisoned yourself, dammit!"

Harry hung his head. Yes, there was no doubt about it. He had been royally stupid. Again. "Sorry."

"Oh, you will be, believe me. I had thought after the first time, you would use your head, but no, you go and accept a drink from a leprechaun! I'm beginning to think that all your brains are in your backside and maybe I can wallop some sense into you!" Then he whirled about and stalked out of the room, going into his bedroom.

Harry gazed after him blearily. He knew why Severus had left. He had left to calm down before he punished his son. Harry wrapped his arms about himself and felt very sorry and ashamed of himself. His father was right. He really had known better. He wondered if Severus really would wallop him. Severus had only done that once before, when he had beaten up Draco just before school started. It had been more humiliating than painful. But he sure as hell didn't want it to happen again.

He put his head in his hands and groaned. His luck had gone from brilliant to terrible in the space of a few minutes.

Meanwhile, in his bedroom, Severus was pacing up and down, and eyeing the wooden spoon upon his dresser. He was very angry at what his son had done and seriously considering using it. Except . . .he had promised his son he would never spank him in anger or for anything besides beating the spit out of Draco. Severus rubbed his temples, he could feel a headache returning. He still was recovering from the wizard flu and Harry's terrible decision couldn't have come at a worse moment.

He had to admit, he had never felt so disappointed and irritated in his son until now. He had thought he could trust Harry to make good choices, to learn from previous mistakes, but now it appeared he was wrong. And that made him even more upset. He sat down upon his bed, his head in his hands, mirroring his son in the living room, had he only known.

What should he do now?

How should he deal with his son?

His eyes flickered to the spoon. He detested using it, and he didn't think it was sufficient to make his point. Oh sure, it would serve as a reminder for a few hours, and maybe his son would feel the sting of humiliation as well, but Severus doubted it would last beyond that. No, he needed to do something that would impress upon his wayward son the importance of thinking before he acted. And if he didn't do that, the consequences were going to be too terrible to contemplate.

A few smacks with a spoon wasn't going to do it. Besides, that was how Harry's fat lard of an uncle had disciplined his son, and Severus never wanted to emulate that disgusting creature. It was also clear that kind of punishment didn't curb the boy's impulsiveness any, since Harry still rushed into things. So then. He would be forced to get . . .creative.

First, he decided he would allow the boy to sober up naturally, no magic. That would hammer home the effects of overindulging.

Then he would put phase two into action.

Harry's head began to throb and his stomach to churn soon after Severus had departed. The Gryffindor tried to keep still and not think about how sick he was feeling, but it wasn't working. The next thing he knew, he was running towards the bathroom. He soon realized that throwing up violently was not worth drinking any kind of alcohol, fae or otherwise. Nor was the headache that continued slamming him behind the eyeballs.

After rinsing out his mouth, he took a long look at himself in the mirror. He looked like hell. His hair was a wreck, his eyes were bloodshot and he was pale as milk, with a touch of green. Shuddering at the memory of how the beer had tasted even more awful on the return trip, he walked back out into the den to face his father and whatever punishment he had earned.

Severus was standing next to the couch, still wearing his stormy face. Harry saw that he wasn't carrying a spoon. He wondered what it meant. Did his dad think he was too much of a wimp to take a spanking? Not that he wanted one, mind, but . . .

"Hangover?" his father asked icily.

"Uh huh," was about as articulate as he could manage at the moment.

Severus looked unsympathetic. "That's what you get when you put poisonous substances into your body. One would think you'd remember that. Perhaps the second time around will make an impression. I cannot tell you how disappointed I am in you, young man. I thought I could trust you, thought you had learned from the first time, but instead I find you happily swilling ale with a leprechaun. Was it worth it? Did the taste make you feel like you were in heaven?"

"I . . .I can't remember," Harry muttered, now feeling even worse.

"What was that?"

"I said, I can't remember."

"Do you know why you can't remember? Because alcohol kills brain cells, boy! And that's something not even magic can replace. Do you know who you remind me of, Harry Albus Snape? Your grandfather."

Harry shook his head. "No. I'm not like him!" His grandfather, Tobias Snape, had been a drunken bum.

"You're starting down the same path he walked." Severus declared.

"Dad, it was only two beers the size of a thimble!" Harry protested.

"Oh? Which are the equivalent of a six pack or more," Severus shot back. "That's how it starts. Two becomes three and three becomes four and before you know it, you're hooked."

"I'm not an alcoholic! I'm not!" Harry shouted, tears stinging his eyes. This was worse than any walloping. He had lost his father's trust.

"Not yet." Severus walked over and shook him. "And you will become one over my dead body. Listen up and listen well. An alcoholic is born, not made. The gene is inherited and it's in you. Therefore, you need to be careful, which you aren't."

"I was! I don't get drunk every night. This was the first time—"

"Second. And the last. Clearly, I can't trust you out of my sight. You need constant supervision."

"Huh? Constant supervision?" Harry repeated.

"Yes. Pay attention!" Severus ordered sharply. "Perhaps a week of my watching you like a hawk will finally impress upon you to think before you act and to think before you reach for a glass of beer, or wine, or anything alcoholic."

"I don't understand."

"You are going to stay within my sight at all times for a week. Where I go, you go. You will be closer than my shadow."

Harry stared at him, horrified. "But . . .but Dad! What about class? What about homework? Or sleep? What about my friends? Or . . .or using the toilet?"

"I will make arrangements with your professors. You can explain to your friends. You'll sleep here, on the settee in my room. I'll stand outside the door to the bathroom, and if you're not out in three minutes I'll come in to check on you like a three-year-old."

"No! You—you can't!"

"Can and will."

"But . . .it's not fair!"

"Neither is life. Get over it. If you don't like the consequences, then think before you act."

Harry couldn't believe this was happening. He had expected to get in trouble, but nothing like this! This was worse than the jail cell. He opened his mouth to blurt out something that he had heard Dudley say once to Petunia and Vernon when they refused to buy him a new TV on the spot—I hate you! But some small spark of self-preservation kicked in and he choked back the words. They would destroy further the fragile trust between himself and his father, and besides, they were untrue. He didn't hate his father, he was just angry at what his father was doing. Severus was being cruel and nasty.

"Yes, sir," he muttered with an insolent tone.

"Don't you take an attitude with me, young man!" Severus growled. "You have no one to blame for this but yourself."

"You don't have to punish me like this." Harry sulked.

"Yes, I do. I like it even less than you do, but this seems to be the only way to get through to you. Go and lie down on the couch. Move." He swatted his rebellious offspring on the seat to get him moving.

Harry went, muttering, "I'd never do this to my kid."

Severus snorted. "Well, when you're a father, maybe you can invent a worse punishment to prevent your son from making the same idiotic mistake over and over." He seated himself opposite the couch on the recliner.

Harry flung himself on the couch, facedown. He was, without a doubt, now the unluckiest kid at Hogwarts.

Once he had woken up, Severus allowed Harry a grace period of an hour and a half to explain to his friends and his girlfriend, as well as Draco, what had happened and what would be going on for the next week.

He found Ron in their dorm room, trying to catch a few winks before going down to supper. He woke up when Harry nudged his foot. "Ron! Get up! I have to tell you something. It's important."

Ron groaned. "Whaddaya want, Harry? Is it time for dinner yet?"

"Bloody hell, Ron! Stop thinking with your stomach. I'm like, under a sentence of death here!"

"Huh?" Ron sat up, now mostly awake. "What's up, mate?"

"My father's lost his mind, that's what. He's . . ." Harry told him what had happened and what Snape's punishment was.

Ron winced. "Man, that's harsh. I'd have rather gotten whacked with my mum's spoon than that. That's so not fair."

"Tell me about it. But that's my dad for you. He's like the king of insane punishments."

"When's it start?"

"Tomorrow, I think. This next week's really gonna suck. I mean, how can I talk to you if he's standing over me?"

"Yeah. Maybe we can use sign language?"

"Merlin, Ron! I'm just . . .screwed now."

"Yeah. Your luck's gone from great to awful." He patted him on the shoulder. "Tough break."

Harry finished gathering up his clothes and toiletries and stuffing them in, ironically, an overnight duffel. He had used it to pack all his clothes when Severus had spirited him away from the Dursleys. "Well, guess I'll go find Katie and Hermione and Draco and tell them the great news."

"They're in the library. Hermione's tutoring them in Arithmancy." Ron said helpfully. He felt sorry for his friend. But also grateful that Snape wasn't his father.

Harry made his way down to the library. There, in the far corner, were his girlfriend, Hermione, and his brother. All of them had their heads together and were deep in discussion. Harry headed over to their table, which had pieces of parchment with odd equations scribbled on them scattered all over the table.

"Hi, guys. Having fun?"

"Loads, can't you tell?" Draco answered sarcastically.

Hermione poked him. "You were the one who asked me to help you."

Draco sighed. "Never mind. Guess I'm just not in the mood to do any equations tonight."

"Hi, Harry!" Katie bounced up out of her chair and hugged him. "Where have you been? Visiting your dad? How's he doing? Is he getting better?"

"You could say that. He's in rare form," Harry said, his eyes flashing.

Draco cocked his head. "Okay, what happened? He find out about that clover of yours?"

Harry bit his lip. He hated admitting his shortcomings to his brother, because he still had a bit of rivalry going on with him. And besides, it made him look stupid and he didn't like feeling that way in front of the girls. "No. First he found me drunk on the living room floor."

Hermione gasped. "Harry! You didn't!"

"Why would you go and do such a thing?" Katie frowned. "I mean, you know how your dad is about drinking."

"Look, I made a mistake, okay? No need to keep rubbing my nose in it! Bad enough Dad's on the warpath and already skinned me." He told them about Severus becoming his shadow.

"Well, you can't say you didn't deserve it for being so irresponsible," Hermione scolded.

"Thanks ever so much, 'Mione." Harry griped. "I forgot, you're too perfect to ever do anything stupid."

"Hey, don't yell at her." Draco said, his eyes flashing. "If you want my opinion, brother, you got off easy."

"Easy! How can you—"

"How can I say that? Because if I had ever done what you had, Lucius would have killed me. Enough said. At least you can still walk and nothing's broken."

Harry looked at Katie. Surely she would feel sorry for him, especially because this would impact upon their social life. But his girlfriend was wearing a look of disapproval and exasperation on her face. "What?"

"You've really done it this time, Harry. I won't even ask what went through your mind, because I already know the answer."

"Wait a minute! That's not fair! I didn't know what heather ale would do to me."

"Then you shouldn't have drank it," Katie reminded him. "Not after what happened over the summer. But as my mum would say—you reap what you sow. Now you're just going to have to deal with it." She kissed him lightly on the mouth.

He kissed her back, but he was angry with her, and drew away afterwards, saying, "Well, if t