Draco tries to regain some status; Snape tells his version of history.
Oddly enough, the so-called Houses of ambition and action both tended to be the latest risers on weekends when their House teams were not involved in Quidditch. As Harry and Hermione were just ending their meeting with Dumbledore, most of the Gryffindors were just showering and getting ready for lunch, all a bit wary of the upsets of the evening before.
Meanwhile, a sub-group of the children of Death Eaters was just starting a meeting of their own. This time, they were all Slytherins, fourth year and higher, and a few 'interested parties' from the Slytherin sixth and seventh years -- the ones who seemed most interested in joining once they left school.
"Snape wasn't clear enough last night?" Nott asked once their meeting room was secured. His prefect was starting to give him a little spine in dealing with Malfoy.
"I don't think he was speaking for the Dark Lord," Malfoy retorted.
"Do you claim you are?" Montague demanded in turn.
"Of course," Malfoy said arrogantly.
"Directly on His orders?" Montague pressed.
"No," Malfoy was smart enough to admit that much for his own sake, although it was clear he was tempted to claim otherwise. "I have communicated with my father, and he should be able to clear this up. Until then, I think we should continue trying to recruit and set in motion the plans we were going to go forward with before last night." Draco knew his standing had taken a hard hit the night before, and it had taken Pansy and his two henchmen a bit of effort to get everyone together. Draco had to take a stand if he was going to reclaim any authority over the group.
"Which were what?" Nott asked.
"The Dark Lord wants to finish Potter off," Malfoy replied. "That doesn't mean we shouldn't hurt him badly along the way."
"How?" Montague demanded. "It's not like we can legally duel the twerp. And even if the Ministry is trying to discredit him, if the Boy-Who-Lived was attacked, or even suffered some 'accident', the aurors would come in and probably do a real investigation, maybe even using truth potions and testing wands."
"Potter, probably," Pansy agreed. "The Weasel and the Weaselette, or the Mudblood, probably not."
"Maybe," Montague mused. Whoever pulled anything off, if they were authorized by the Dark Lord, would get the credit, not Draco, although Draco did not realize that.
"We shouldn't actually do anything until one of us gets an assured go-ahead," Nott insisted, "but I agree with the idea we should have something planned if we get that order." There were murmurings which could be taken for agreement.
"Pansy, everyone knows you hate the Mudblood," Nott went on, "so you shouldn't have anything to do with taking her down. You and Malfoy would be the top suspects, along with Millie. Maybe you should be thinking about the Weaselette."
"Agreed," Pansy said. "Millie and I will handle the little blood traitor."
"We'll handle the Weasel," Morrison, one of the sixth years, said. They had all been tricked by the twins too often and this might be their chance at revenge against the family.
"Then I'll see if I can take out the Mudblood," Montague said. "If,” he stressed, “we're ordered to take action."
Malfoy smiled smugly, and went off to write a letter to his father. He should have known that his would not be the only letter sent out from the groups that had met that morning and the evening before, but he still thought of himself as the Prince of Slytherin and the Dark Lord’s only conduit.
Much to Harry’s surprise, most of September was a very pleasant month, perhaps the best he had spent at Hogwarts to date. True, the rest of the Quidditch players had been unhappy with his decision to quit the team, but he had promised to be the reserve seeker if called upon, and he occasionally flew with them in practices. Ginny and Ron had made the team as seeker and keeper respectively, although it had been a near thing in Ron’s case.
Oddly, of the Quidditch players and those students most interested in following the team, Ginny seemed the most upset with Harry. She made a point of calling attention to the fact that she was ignoring Harry at all times, other than those few times when he flew against her. This did not matter much to Harry, who put it down mostly to the fact that he had so-far beaten her to the snitch seven out of eight times. Hermione and the Gryffindor chasers merely smiled and rolled their eyes at Harry’s interpretation.
Ron and the twins had tried to put pressure on Harry that first Saturday evening when he had announced his intentions. He had the three of them get up at 5:30 the next morning and made them go through his workout with him. Ron had given up in less than twenty-five minutes, Fred followed a few moments after that. George had lasted nearly forty-five minutes, but had then thrown up. None were then willing to practice dueling with Harry.
They had not bothered Harry much after that.
Hermione, and to Harry’s surprise Luna, joined him nearly every afternoon to practice meditation and then Occlumency exercises. The pair also learned some basic Tai Chi from Harry as well. Ron was becoming wrapped up Quidditch practices and in recruiting students as test subjects for his brothers – in part because he was paid three Knuts per volunteer per test and in part because he was afraid if he didn’t find volunteer test subjects, he might be ‘volunteered’, so Luna fit into his partially missing slot.
Hermione didn’t seem to mind, in part because although she and Luna argued at least as much as she and Ron had, they were debating ideas and knowledge and Hermione found she was learning even when she disagreed with everything Luna was saying. Harry didn’t mind, in part because he was still somewhat close to Ron in class and on the playing field when he did join in the practices.
The other thing that bothered Harry and Hermione (Harry for the first time, Hermione just to an increased degree) was that Ron’s greater physical exertions, coupled with the fact that left to himself he would have sometime remembered to shower on Saturdays when reminded daily, was making him even more aromatic than he had been in the past. By the first Wednesday of class, Fred and George were often tasked with reminding Ron of his personal hygiene (usually by throwing him physically into a shower after practices when he showed no sign of going on his own). Ron’s greater activity also did nothing to improve his eating habits, as he was even more hungry than he had been in the past. Harry solved that (although it did nothing for anyone else) by always sitting to Ron’s left, rather than across (in the line of sight) or to Ron’s right, where there was too much elbow action. Harry did worry that this inattention to the left would cause some problems to Ron as keeper, but so far it hadn’t carried over to the practice field.
Hermione made certain to sit at Harry’s left, and one scowl from Harry always caused a shift for Hermione to fit in.
The parts that surprised Harry were that he was really enjoying classes and that he wasn't being bothered by the Slytherins. All of ‘the usual suspects’ were laying low and most were being surprisingly reasonable to the point that a number of Gryffindors had discussed the situations several times. Harry and several others were admittedly confused. Hermione and a few others were confident, or at least hopeful, that the Slytherins were coming around to a reasonable outlook. Ron and most of the rest were convinced it was all a trick.
It was nice having a defense teacher who was not only competent but inspiring. John Wilkes was taciturn, even laconic; a middle-aged hard-faced man who brooked no nonsense. On the other hand, he was a good teacher who did not spook the more timid but who also challenged the most advanced.
Snape was also acting differently. Compared to any other teacher Harry had ever had, Snape was rude, nasty, and both very unhelpful and uninspiring. Compared to the Snape of Harry’s first four years, Snape was almost unrecognizable, at least to Harry, although Neville suffered as severe a tongue-lashing as he ever had when he had melted a cauldron in their second week.
Harry was therefore surprised to have Snape yell at him with all his old fervor during the third week of class for having a ‘totally unacceptable’ potion – especially as Snape made certain Harry saw that his actual grade was been an E. Harry caught on when he was assigned a detention rather than losing any points. Turning around and seeing Malfoy’s smirk made Harry even more convinced that Snape wanted to talk with him privately and without arousing suspicions.
Harry made his way into the dungeons late that afternoon, just in case this was a better-baited trap than the Slytherins usually came up with. Snape, he knew, sometimes had a level of sense not common in the wizarding world. Snape motioned Harry into his inner laboratory, an area Harry knew about but had never ventured into before, with a jerk of his head.
Snape put up a number of wards and motioned for Harry to sit on a stool, and then Snape did the same. After a moment of silence, Snape stated, “The Headmaster has informed me of several changed circumstances. Therefore, I thought it finally possible for us to have a talk which I once thought we might have had in your first year.”
Harry merely responded with a puzzled, “Yes, sir?”
Snape fidgeted for a moment and then blurted out, “How much did your aunt tell you about me?”
Harry blinked, as he never would have guessed that comment was coming. “Professor?” he asked puzzled, “how would Aunt Petunia have known you?”
Now it was Snape’s turn to be puzzled. “Hadn’t she told you the details about growing up with your mother?”
Harry’s face hardened, and he thought hard and fast. Seeing this, Snape held back for a moment. Then Harry looked Snape in the eye and said, “Cast it.”
“Cast. . . ?”
“Legilimency,” Harry stated.
Snape hesitated, but looked Harry in the eyes. He was instantly assaulted by image after image, memory after memory, of abuse and ridicule. After fifteen minutes, Harry relented and asked, “Is that enough, or would you like to see more?”
“No,” Snape whispered, holding on to the lab table that separated him from Lily’s child. “No more.” He closed his eyes and tried to process through at least some of what he had seen and felt.
After nearly five minutes, Snape sat up straight and said, “I knew your mother and her sister before we came to Hogwarts. Your aunt . . . well, as despicable as I thought her then, I did not imagine she would turn out any where as near as vile as she apparently did.”
Snape halted for a moment as considered some more. “What I am about to tell you goes no further.”
“Yes, sir,” Harry said simply.
“I am a half-blood, like yourself. As such, I was not welcomed with open arms in Slytherin. At the same time, your father and his cronies enjoyed tormenting me in much the same ways as it seems your cousin and his gang tormented you. I did not take that lying down, although I was usually outnumbered. After some months, a few of the other Slytherins decided that I had earned their help – I would only later learn that they were using that help to recruit me into the Dark Lord’s service. I would say your father’s gang and I fought to more or less a draw until the end of our fifth year. Your mother was really the only person who was kind to me, largely because of our prior acquaintance.”
Harry merely nodded.
“By the end of my fifth year, most of my protectors had left the year before and the few others were heavily involved in their N.E.W.T.s. Your father used the chance to publically humiliate me. In my embarrassment, I foolishly lashed out at your mother, who was a witness. That broke our friendship, especially when she started seeing your father the next year. Although we continued as potion partners and even worked well together in class, I could not repair the damage.”
“I see,” was all Harry said.
“After we left Hogwarts, I even more foolishly fell further under the Dark Lord’s spell until I had taken his Mark.” Snape smiled grimly. “I understand you met a version of Tom Riddle.”
“I did,” Harry agreed.
“Perhaps he was not so under the circumstances, but I am told he was particularly charming as a young man.”
Harry snorted humorlessly. “Well, Ginny thought so as a first year.”
“Well, he was and still can be,” Snape told Harry. “As long as he wants something from you that he knows he cannot force from you, that is. After he has what he wants, he must be one of the cruelest beings in creation. In any event, as you know, I became a spy for the Headmaster.”
Snape looked Harry in the eye again. “When I thought about you coming here, I was torn. A small part of me resented your being Potter’s son. Most of me resented the idea that I would have to treat you badly, as you were Lily’s son.”
“Even if I had been Sorted into Slytherin?” Harry asked.
Snape snorted, “Not likely.”
“Actually,” Harry said with a small smile, “if I had not met Malfoy already, I would have been. That was the Hat’s suggestion, and I begged it, ‘anywhere but Slytherin’.”
“That would have complicated matters,” Snape mused. “In any case, the Headmaster was torn. . . .”
“Between using me as a tool, really creating me as a tool, as I might have to die for Voldemort to die, and hoping it wasn’t going to work out that way,” Harry stated.
“Exactly. He was clear before you arrived that I could not favor you in any way, and I knew that treating you well could . . . complicate my dealings with my former comrades. I was prepared for a high level of playacting.”
“Until you decided I looked almost exactly like my father.”
“Precisely,” Snape admitted. “That made it too easy for me, and I admit, I over-did my part. If you had at least worn a different style of glasses . . . without them, it is easier to see the subtle differences.”
Harry merely nodded. He did wonder how much of this was true, how much was Snape exaggerating or leaving out, and how much it was Snape lying to himself.
Snape looked at Harry. “Some of my Snakes would love to challenge you, but won’t dare without a direct order from the Dark Lord, although Draco is likely enough to lose his temper and try something on the spur of the moment. Granger and the two youngest Weasleys are the most likely targets – if Parkinson or Bulstrode have their way, it will be Granger. Draco would be happy with any attacks on Granger or your sidekick. The others are more likely to target either Weasley – they’ve all suffered pranks at the hands of the twins.” He handed Harry a sheet of Muggle notebook paper. “Memorize the names. Those with the x next to their names should be considered the most dangerous. That will turn to ash in fifteen minutes.”
“I understand, sir,” Harry said quietly. He looked at Snape. “Are there any fifth year Slytherins I could trust?”
“Zabini, Davis, and Greengrass should not attack unless they are forced to do so, which is why they are not on the list.. Do not discount the possibility that they can be blackmailed or otherwise coerced into doing so.”
“One more thing,” Snape said. He held out a potions book, which Harry took. “I do not know where your mother’s copy is. Perhaps it’s in the Potter vault, or it may have been destroyed . . . that night. She and I worked out many improvements, and included the best as annotation in our copies. That one has had all of our annotations added, although it is of course in my handwriting. Still, most of it was as much her work as it was mine. You do not have her flair and instinct for potions, but they should at least improve your brewing. I would ask you not use it in class, but if you study it, you will learn a great deal.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Harry managed to say, surprised.
“There are also . . . spells, mostly hexes, which are my own discoveries or even creations. Some are borderline Dark, and a few are over that line. I ask you not to teach them to anyone while I live without my prior permission. If you are unsure of what any do, ask before you try them.”
Harry agreed, and there was a moment of silence before Snape asked, “I suppose there is nothing you are willing to tell me about your summer?”
Harry smiled grimly. “I take it a meddling old codger asked you to probe?”
“He did,” Snape agreed, “as did someone much more dangerous.”
“Ah. . . .” Harry thought a moment and then made a decision. “You’ve no doubt heard the expression, ‘there is no good or evil, only power and those willing to use it’, or words to that effect?”
“A favorite saying of Slytherin, as well as the Dark Lord,” Snape agreed.
“To me, that just seems like an excuse for the powerful to do as they like, and an excuse to themselves as they go Dark.”
Snape nodded his understanding.
“Dumbledore has a failing common among those who want to think themselves Light . . . that every problem can be solved by goodness and understanding. Hermione’s the same way about elves and such.”
“True,” Snape agreed. “I sometimes wonder what Albus would do if the Dark Lord arrived and claimed he wanted to confess his sins and seek a lighter path.”
“I shudder to think of it,” Harry agreed. He then looked Snape in the eyes, and Snape felt Harry’s power growing on him “I spent the summer with people who think both approaches are wrong in many ways. The wizarding world is not the entire magical world. Still, in the wizarding world, power is still the final measure – there is no true rule of law, there are few communities of faith, certainly none are left in Europe. The Ministries are all corrupt to different degrees, and serve power, not their citizens. Even the best-run Ministry makes the average authoritarian Muggle dictatorship look pleasant.”
“Agreed, although I am surprised to hear you say it,” Snape interjected, somewhat impressed.
“Unfortunately, as I said, what matters is power – magical, financial, political, and personal. I have some financial resources, and I will have more when I turn seventeen.”
“The Potters were a moderately wealthy family, but that is all concentrated in you now,” Snape agreed. “And as the official Head of your House, you have some political rights most of us do not.”
“True. I don’t have many personal connections, and the Ministry has been smearing my name since late June, but I would think ‘the Boy-Who-Lived’ would carry a little weight among the sheep.”
“I can’t answer for the rest of the wizarding world, but yes, wizarding Britain reminds me more than a bit like sheep. Tell me, what should happen if six Death Eaters attacked the average wizarding house, one with the usual available wards activated and where say three adults were prepared to fight it out?”
“The Death Eaters would fail,” Snape agreed. “Even in 1981, most wizards did not have their wards fully engaged because it was ‘inconvenient’, and when attacked, when they could not apparate or easily floo away, they almost always panicked. We always attacked with at least three times the number of total wizards we thought would be present just in case they did fight back.”
“I had power equal to Voldemort’s when I disembodied him,” Harry stated, and Snape, who had been sensing a build-up of Harry’s power, believed him. “Do you know what I think? By accident or by design, Dumbledore trapped me with people who forced me to underachieve, who punished me every time I equaled or surpassed their idiot of a son. I followed the same path in nearly every subject here – well, I matched myself to Ron in most classes. He’s not an idiot by any means, but he’s also not a dedicated student. I had such a knack in Defense that I passed Hermione by, never mind Ron, but neither seemed bothered by it so I really didn’t stop myself there.”
Harry smiled coldly, and Snape felt more than a bit nervous. “This summer, I learned how to really use my power.” Snape shivered. “You don’t have worry, and neither does the Headmaster. I will not become the next Dark Lord after I ‘vanquish’ Voldemort.”
“‘Vanquish’,” Snape asked.
“According to the Prophecy the Headmaster heard about me, that’s what I am called upon to try and do. I always wanted to just be normal, just Harry. Well, I can’t. I wouldn’t like to be like any of the Dark Lords I’ve ever read about – and yes, I read about them this past summer; I certainly did not learn about them from Binns – and I also wouldn’t like to try and become a puppet master like Dumbledore. I have the wealth to disappear after Voldemort is gone, and I intend to do so. You can tell your Light puppet master all of that. As for your Dark puppet master, you can tell him if he doesn’t want to be ‘vanquished’, he can give up trying to conquer the world and concentrate on being immortal.”
“I’ll tell them, but I doubt either will accept it,” Snape answered.
“I would be shocked if they did,” Harry admitted.
There was another moment of silence, than, “Potter. . . .”
“Your friend Granger’s shields are almost strong enough. When I determine they are, I will let you know, and then you may tell her what you will, so long as she agrees it goes no further.”
“Thank you,” Harry replied, even more surprised than he had been a moment before.
“Did you complete your potions homework for next week?”
“Then sit down, do it carefully for once, and then you may go.”
“Thank you, sir,” Harry answered, knowing this would prevent his being seen leaving the area too early, “for everything.”
Harry warned his friends to be careful anytime they were alone or when there were any of the students he named, although he did not say why he suspected some of them. He could tell Hermione, at least, had some ideas on the matter. Hermione, Neville, Luna, and Ginny all agreed to be more careful. Ron pointed out that he had never trusted anyone not in Gryffindor to begin with, and so would be able to continue to take care of himself.
Harry hoped his friend’s prejudices would keep him safe.