Chapter Six: Gringotts Gold
Everyone who was staying for something to eat gradually made their way through into the dining room, as Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna, Ginny and Draco all helped Mrs Weasley conjure some basic food ingredients, and start cooking. They then learnt several valuable lessons: Neville and hot pans do not mix, dicing vegetables is harder than it looks, and that Draco just couldn't cook and was going to have to survive on takeaways for the whole of his adult life. Hermione had to run to rescue several times and show Draco the correct way to conjure sauce from a wand, rather than have it splattering absolutely everywhere.
After half an hour of controlled mayhem, they finished meals for everybody, and carried the hot plates carefully through to the dining room. Everybody was sitting around the dining table, talking enthusiastically, except Snape, who was lurking around at the opposite end of the table to Alrister, shooting him some very dark looks every now and then. Harry handed him a plate of chicken and pasta with sauce. "Are you alright, Professor?"
"Perfectly fine," said Snape, darkly, still glaring at Alrister and not even looking at what he was eating.
"Harry!" Alrister called, merrily, waving Harry over. "How are you?"
"Fine, thanks," said Harry. He smiled, and as he crossed the room to give Alrister a plate of chicken and pasta, he distinctly heard Snape's snort of contempt. He pretended to have not noticed, and handed Alrister his plate with a smile. "Yourself?"
"I'm not so bad," said Alrister. He hadn't changed at all since Harry last saw him. Still tall, muscled, and dressed in very pirate-inspired clothes, Alrister was one of Harry's favourite teachers. His hair wasn't back in its usual ponytail for once, but long and loose around his shoulders, and when he swept it back to eat, Harry caught a flash of a gold hoop in the top of his ear. "Good holiday?" the teacher asked.
Harry sat down next to him. "Yeah, pretty good so far. Boring though."
"How's the homework treating you?" asked Alrister.
"Pretty good. I've been practicing everyday." He grinned, and at Alrister's prompting expression, Harry stretched out his arms, concentrating on the day when he'd found out Kainda was going to live. Alrister watched intently, and for a moment, Harry was terrified nothing would happen, until he felt himself start to float upwards, just a few inches at first.
Alrister grinned, and clapped. "Very good, very good Harry."
"Thanks," Harry beamed, as he sunk slowly back down onto his chair. "I can do fire as well, but Mrs Weasley says no explosions at the dinner table."
"Understandable," said Alrister, nodding wisely. "I'd ask how your love life was going, but I think the entire wizarding world already knows, hmm?"
Harry grinned sheepishly. "You read the Prophet..."
"They really are quite obsessed with you, aren't they?" he said, sympathetically.
"Just a bit," said Harry, with a small smile, taking a sip of pumpkin juice from his goblet.
"Don't worry about it, Harry," said Alrister. "It'll all die down pretty soon, you mark my words. If I remember rightly, Dumbledore has some precautions set up in case the reporters try following you to Hogwarts. Kainda's coming back for another shot at seventh year, isn't she?"
Harry nodded, unable to stop himself smiling again. "To redo her NEWTs."
"Excellent," said Alrister. "Always a good student, Kainda. Very hard working. Always ready and willing to demonstrate in front of the class - it should be interesting how she does in her NEWT exam of Pure Arts. We'll be preparing for them all year, so you'll all have some good practice..."
"All year?" said Harry, with wide eyes. "What have we got to do?"
Alrister smiled, tapping his nose. "That would be telling now, wouldn't it?"
Harry laughed softly, and took another sip of pumpkin juice to quench his thirst. After a moment, he asked, "Have you joined the Order?"
"I have," Alrister sighed. He looked rather worried at this. "I think that the time has come to take some kind of action... it looks as though there are only three ways to deal with Voldemort. Fight, join or die. I'd rather avoid the last two if I can. So fight is my only option."
"When did you join the Order?" asked Harry, interestedly.
"Just at the end of last year," Alrister replied. "Dumbledore came to see me, we had a chat... and here we are. This is your house, isn't it?"
Harry nodded. "I inherited it from Sirius. It's sort of becoming a hotel though, anybody can stay here really. Draco and the Weasleys are here, Professor Snape, Professor Lupin, Tonks... where do you spend the holidays?"
"Rookwood Castle," said Alrister. "The place is pretty much empty apart from me and my birds. And not that sort of bird, before you say anything."
Harry laughed. He'd subconsciously missed Alrister's sense of humour. He was a very care-free, cool sort of teacher, with quite a disregard for rules or ministry guidelines, and his natural good looks were quite a favourite feature of the girls. Hermione had always been quite taken with Alrister, though to Harry's surprise, she hadn't even said hello to him. She was far too interested in listening to Ron chatter eagerly about their visit to the muggle shopping centre. Harry couldn't help but smile at this.
He looked around the rest of the table, as he refilled his goblet with pumpkin juice and took a sip. Mr Weasley and his ministry friends were debating whether muggles were more advanced than wizards, Tonks and Lupin were talking to the rest of the Hogwarts students about NEWT tests, Mrs Weasley was badgering Bill about wearing his dragon-hide boots indoors, and Snape was eating his meal in silence, as though there was nobody else in the room. He then glanced over at the blonde woman he had noticed earlier, and saw that she was smiling at him.
Alrister, noticing this, said through a mouthful of chicken, "Oh, Harry... this is Professor Pebblebank, she'll be teaching you Misc Magic this year."
Harry smiled, and offered his hand. "Nice to meet you."
"Likewise," she said, shaking hands with him and grinning. She had a pointed sort of face, and her blonde hair was cropped very short, so she looked remarkably like a pixie in a muggle child's book. Her eyes were a bright shade of baby blue, exactly the same as her robes, and she was looking at Harry with a great deal of interest, as though he was somebody she hadn't seen in a long time. "I remember those eyes," she said, fondly, glancing at Lupin.
Lupin smiled, turning around to join in the conversation. "Yes, everybody does... he's James with his mother's eyes."
"You knew my mum?" said Harry, looking at Professor Pebblebank in surprise.
She nodded, grinning at him reminiscently. "We were at school together, best mates. You've got her smile as well..."
"Has he?" said Lupin, mildly. "I always thought he looked like James when he laughed."
Harry beamed. Lupin and Professor Pebblebank both grinned. "Yeah," she said. "That's Lily."
Harry was intrigued. He'd only ever met his father's friends before, and it had never really occurred to him that Lily's friends were probably still alive. He knew very little about his mother. Everyone always told him how he had her eyes, and he knew that his mother was his link to both the Dursleys and the Weasleys, but that was about it. He dimly remembered something Snape said once, about him having his mother's fiery temperament and his father's despicable stubbornness, but Snape had despised both of Harry's parents.
"Are you teaching Misc Magic, Professor?" asked Hermione from across the table, leaning forward to look very interestedly at Pebblebank.
The professor nodded, helping herself to more pumpkin juice. "Yeah, I am. You're a seventh year, are you?" At Hermione's nod, Pebblebank grinned. "I'm going to be doing different styles of magic with seventh years... we're going over some Chinese Dragon Magic, the magic of prehistoric wizards, Indian Magic, loads of different things."
"Will we be doing a NEWT exam on it?" asked Ron, quickly.
"No," said Pebblebank. "You'll get your NEWT level from all your grades averaged through the year. You've probably got enough exams to be going on with already, huh?"
"Far too many," said Ron, stoutly, reaching for the pumpkin juice again.
"No, Ron," said Mrs Weasley. "You've had enough already. In fact, I think you should all be getting to bed... Hermione, Luna and Neville are all staying the night, but I don't want you up talking to all hours. We're decorating again tomorrow."
All the teenagers at the table got up, and with a called goodnight to the adults, they made their way up the stairs to bed.
Yet again, Harry found himself sitting back in an armchair in Snape's office, pinned in place by cold hands, his head resting on a pillow. The fingertips of his left hand were drifting around a bowl of water, and above his head in the darkness, he could see a serenity candle blazing, its bronze smoke creeping lazily through the shadows. Snape's face appeared above him next moment, and as always, the Potions master asked, quietly, "Are you relaxed?"
He nodded vaguely. One cold hand curled around his jaw, tilting his face up, then he and Snape were eye to eye, emerald on onyx. Gradually, Snape's gaze started to go deeper, past his eyes, past his body, past his soul, right into his mind. That dark and soothing something was into his thoughts, rifling through them and examining each one at its leisure, though Harry wasn't complaining. It was better than the imperius curse to be like this. It was the feeling of not only being problem-free, but that any problems he would ever have could be singled out, and somebody else would deal with them, deal with his very emotions. His fingers were still drifting around in the bowl of water, as heat started to weep from them, boiling it. Harry could feel the little plumes of steam dancing from the surface, and he was vaguely aware of Snape's eyes still piercing into him, before -
There was suddenly a bang so loud that Harry nearly jumped out of his skin. He was pitched out of nightmare into consciousness, as he bolted awake with a yelp. Ron stood with the door in his hand from where he had slammed it open. "Oh," he said. "Sorry, I thought you were awake."
Harry gasped, covered his face and laid back down in bed, trying to stop his heart pounding in his chest. "It's okay," he said, croakily, after a moment or so. "I was dreaming, that's all..."
"Oh? What about?" asked Ron, sitting down on the end of his bed.
"I wish I knew," said Harry quietly. He rubbed his eyes. Yet again, he had that odd, empty feeling, as though he'd just forgotten something very important. He could only remember fleeting snatches of his dreams. Something about Snape? And water, there was definitely water in there somewhere. He sighed. There was no point racking his brain for something that he had no hope of remembering. "Where's everybody else?" he asked, sleepily.
"Downstairs," Ron shrugged. "Getting their breakfast." He handed Harry a brown envelope, and said, "From school, list of new books and stuff. Just arrived. We're going to Diagon Alley once everybody's up and dressed, so you can get everything then."
Harry yawned slightly, as he tore open the envelope and read through the letter. Ron leant over his shoulder, comparing lists, and reading aloud.
"A Thorough Guide To The Black Arts... yep, I've got that... The Standard Book Of Spells, Grade 7... yep, got it. Oh, new transfiguration book there. Eurgh... Binns wants us to get a new textbook. I bet you there isn't a single picture in it. Hey... you've got one I haven't." He pointed to the last item on Harry's list, frowning. "Cold-Blood : A Study Of Magical Murder, by Verin Maleficia."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "What've I got that for?"
"Search me," said Ron, shrugging. "But it's added on in a different handwriting, look. The rest of it's done in a dictating quill."
"It looks like it's Lupin's handwriting," said Harry, with a little frown. "But you're doing Dark Arts too. How come I have to get another book?"
"Probably because it's you, isn't it?" said Ron. "Doing DA and all that. They reckon you've got more chance, so they'll give you more help. I bet you Hermione has to get it too."
Harry shrugged vaguely. "Maybe," he said. He suddenly noticed that Ron had a book in his hand along with his own book list. "Hey, what's that?"
"Oh, Hagrid and Charlie sent it from Hogwarts," Ron explained, falling back onto his bed and showing Harry the book. It was a muggle child's pop-up book, with a large picture of an apple on the front.
"What on earth have they sent you that for?" asked Harry, bewildered.
Ron shook out a letter from inside the book, and read. "Dear Harry and Ron. How are you both? Me and Charlie are both having a great time sorting things out here. We've got a job for you to do with Sneezy, seeing as you took him home for the holidays. We were feeding the opsittops the other day, when we realised they've started talking. Just a few little things like 'food' and 'out' and 'no'. We's started trying to teach them a bit more and I've put in a muggle alphabet book so you can have a go with Sneezy. The rest of them are having trouble with giraffe, they keep calling it a jerruf. Have fun, from Hagrid and Charlie." Ron gave Harry a weak smile. "We have to teach him to talk."
"We might as well have a go," said Harry. "We could try teaching him now. Go fetch him, and we'll see what we can do."
If Harry had thought their task would be easy, he was wildly mistaken. Sneezy got thoroughly over-excited even at A for acorn, and seemed to develop a block against the T in cat ("Kak! Kak"). Turning the page, a large picture of a bulldog jumped out, and it took at least ten minutes to retrieve a panic-stricken Sneezy from under Draco's bed. Then there was F for fwog, I for ice cweam, and U for umbwella. Sneezy couldn't quite comprehend that N for nut and A for acorn were different things, and when Harry tried to explain it properly, Sneezy told him no, that he was bad, and so was the nut. Sneezy also firmly decided that H was not for hedgehog, but was in fact for ejog, G was for jerruf, J was for jewwy rather than jelly, and violins were also bad, then when they finally reached Z for zebra, Sneezy had another panic attack and they had to lure him out with raisins.
After that, they put the book away, and once Harry was dressed the three of them headed down to the kitchen for some breakfast. To Harry's horror, Sneezy took one look at Snape and called him a "bad yak", but Snape didn't notice, and Sneezy was fed biscuit crumbs in exchange for silence.
"Morning!" said Hermione, pleasantly. "Did you sleep well?"
"Perfectly," Harry lied. He sat down at the table, and hastily pushed another crumb into Sneezy's mouth to hush him up. Sneezy, halfway through a word, was caught unaware and choked on the crumb, falling over and promptly sneezing loudly.
"Why does he keep sneezing?" asked Neville, leaning forward to peer closely at Sneezy.
"He's just an attention seeker," said Ron, vaguely. "Or he learnt it from something in the Forbidden Forest. That's the only place in the world they're found."
"Then why don't the others sneeze?" said Hermione. She held her hand flat, and Sneezy scampered over, sitting on her palm proudly and letting her pet his acorn-hat. "Maybe he's got an allergy to something... pollen, maybe. He might just have hayfever."
"Hefeefer," said Sneezy, happily, munching on another piece of biscuit handed to him by Ron. "Mmmm, bickchit."
"Biscuit," Ron corrected him.
"No!" Sneezy squeaked. "Bickchit."
Draco sat forward, and said, slowly, "Biss."
"Biss," Sneezy repeated.
Draco put a hand over his eyes, and left Sneezy to it, as the opsittop giggled. Hermione grinned and started to pet him again. Sneezy started purring, the perfect mimick of a cat.
"Are you guys coming to Diagon Alley with us today?" Harry asked Hermione, Luna and Neville.
"Yep," said Neville. He handed Sneezy a few more crumbs ("Ooooh, bickchit!") and then held out his school books list. "I spoke to Gran through floo powder this morning, and she said it's fine."
"I'm sure that Daddy won't mind," said Luna, dreamily, staring at Harry with those un-nervingly wide eyes. "He is very busy at the moment, and he says that now I'm of age, I can do as I please. At least I can now defend myself against any dangers in the world."
Hermione was holding a glass of water to Sneezy's lips, and the little opsittop was gurgling happily into the water as he drank. "I sent an owl to Mum and Dad, they say it's perfectly okay. I could do with getting my new books, I'd really like to see what sort of things we'll be doing this year."
"A bit eager, aren't you?" said Draco, raising an eyebrow.
"Oh, but seventh year's supposed to be the best," said Hermione. "And the most important, of course. Though we do some really interesting things in seventh year, all the things we're not legally allowed to do before now. It's our last year as well. No more chance to learn after this. I'm planning to really knuckle down and work as hard as I can."
"Even more than you already do? Impossible," said Draco.
"Thankyou for the compliment," she said, with a sweet smile.
As Harry stepped out from the back yard of the Leaky Cauldron, through the magical stone archway, he could firmly say that he had severely missed being in Diagon Alley. He didn't know whether he was just extra happy to be outside, or if it was something else, he was just in an exceptionally good mood as the whole party stepped into the wizarding street.
"Are we all here?" said Mr Weasley, looking around at them all. They beamed up at him. "Good good. Don't want to lose anybody in the crowds. My, it's busy today. Molly? Do you think we should split up?"
"I think so," said Mrs Weasley. She turned around to peer at everyone. "Children, can I trust you to be alright on your own? I want you to stay together though, no running off or getting split up. Are we clear?"
"Wait," said Lupin, holding up a hand. "Gringotts won't let them in on their own without an adult. We should at least visit the bank as a whole group, then split up."
Mrs Weasley nodded. "Right you are, Remus... come along then, stick together!"
She lead the way down the winding cobbled street, heading towards a white building just visible in the distance. Harry was looking around eagerly at all the shops as they passed, desperate to go and explore. Every single glass window seemed to be beckoning to him to come closer and step inside. There were shops selling plants, shops selling potion ingredients, the book shop, Ollivander's Wand Shop, chocolate shops, robes shops, jewellery shops... Harry always wished he had twenty eyes when walking down Diagon Alley. Far too soon in Harry's opinion, he found himself walking into Gringotts Wizarding Bank. It was absolutely packed full of wizards standing around and talking to goblins, some of them looking quite frantic, and the goblins were doing their best to keep the wizards and witches calm.
"Because of the return of You-Know-Who," Mr Weasley explained, quietly. "Everybody is panicking that Diagon Alley will be attacked next, so they want to withdraw all their money."
"Do you think that we should...?" Hermione began.
Mr Weasley shook his head. "No, no. Gringotts is perfectly safe. There's no reason to panic and take everything out until we get word that You-Know-Who really is planning to take Gringotts."
They all headed up to the only available goblin. He was sitting and scribbling furiously in a book the size of a paving slab, and when they approached him, he made no sign he had noticed them at all until Mr Weasley loudly cleared his throat and said, "Excuse me?"
The goblin looked up, and said in a voice that was polite but nonetheless irritated, "May I help you, sir?"
"We wish to go down to our vaults," said Mr Weasley. "Could we possibly be shown down...?"
The goblin shook his head. "We are too busy at the moment. Though we will let adults take the carts down to their own vaults, as long as we are confident that they will not attempt anything... ah... dangerous." He gestured to a loop of metal track against the far wall. The tracks lead away through a pair of double doors, and Harry knew that behind them were the underground caverns and ravines leading to the vaults.
Mr Weasley thanked the goblin, and hurried everyone over towards the carts. He and Ginny got into the first, then Mrs Weasley went with Ron and Hermione, Bill was paired with Luna, Draco reluctantly got into a cart with Tonks, and then Lupin went away with Neville. As Harry had predicted, he was paired with Snape. They stepped carefully into the cart, and Snape slammed the door after them. Harry made sure he was sitting comfortably, and gripping the edges of the cart, before the doors into the underground depths of bank opened, and the cart rolled slowly forwards into the dark.
It was icily cold, and the clank of the cart wheels on the metal track seemed to echo endlessly into the blackness. Harry felt the cold winds whipping at his face and neck as the cart starting to build speed, his hair getting blown all over the place, and then there was a lurching sensation in his stomach as the car plunged down a dip and went rattling up another steep hill. Harry glanced over his shoulder - he remembered Hagrid in the Gringotts carts, and how he hated them, but Snape clearly wasn't the nauseous type. He looked utterly calm, almost bored, as though he was far too superior to let a little thing such as a high-speed journey through underground ravines bother him. Snape raised an eyebrow quizzically at Harry's stare, and Harry called over the clatter of the wheels, "Don't you get motion sick?"
"No," said Snape, idly, as the cart plunged down yet another steep slope. "And now is not a good time to announce that you do, Potter."
"I don't," Harry called back. "It's sort of fun, really."
The cart suddenly swung to one side and hurtled around a sharp bend. Harry lurched to the right, eating his words as the car wobbled dangerously, but Snape shot out a hand and grabbed him by the collar. With surprising strength, he hauled Harry back onto his seat. "Careful," he said, half-heartedly. "It's not far to the bottom, but you'll be landing on hard stone, and I have no desire to peel you off it."
"How do you know that it's not far down?" asked Harry.
The corners of Snape's mouth twitched ever so slightly. "Why, I thought that was obvious... I've been down there."
"Why did - " Harry began.
"Forgotten already, Potter?" said Snape, his black eyes fixed on Harry, amused tones clear in his cold voice.
Harry thought for a moment, and then he remembered, last Christmas, when Snape's idea of a present had been a bag full of dangerous magical objects. "Oh yeah... when you stole the doubling coin from Gringotts."
"Stole is not quite the word I would use," said Snape, lazily. "I prefer to think of it as relieving Gringotts of an item they didn't not use or need."
"I call it stealing," said Harry. He glanced upwards, idly watching the jagged ceiling whipping past over head. Any drops of water that fell didn't come anywhere near Harry and Snape, as the train was moving too fast, and they all just spattered uselessly about five metres back. "So how did you do it?"
"With ease," was the cool reply.
"But how? Gringotts is the safest place in the world, for anything you want to keep safe, except Hogwarts." Harry remembered Hagrid telling him these very words seven years before. "It's never been successfully robbed, even by Voldemort."
"Any puzzle can be solved with time, perseverance and natural skill," said Snape. He sat back in his seat, still wearing a very bored expression. "I simply exited the cart, navigated the tunnel system, found the vault where the doubling coin was hidden, and located it from the pile of the decoys."
Harry gave Snape a very blank expression. "Never one for detail, are you"?
"What details is there to give?"
"Well... how did you get out of the car?"
"But... why didn't you die?"
"I timed my landing so that I avoided the worst of the rock faces."
"But how? It's completely dark, how could you see? And the train's just moving too fast, you'd be crushed into the rocks, instantly."
Snape smirked, smugly. "That, Potter, is where the natural skill comes into the equation. No more questions now. When the day that you're robbing Gringotts comes, I shall teach you more then. Until the day, just trust the fact it is not something I did on the spur of the moment."
Harry was desperate to ask more, but knew it wasn't wise to keep pressing Snape for answers. Though he had one question that he dearly wanted to know. "Um... Professor?"
"Is it true that there are dragons guarding the high security vaults?"
Snape nodded grimly. "I still have a great deal of the burns."
A minute or so later, the cart lurched to a halt in front of Harry's vault, bringing Harry out of his thoughts about how Snape could possibly do what even Voldemort could not. Snape opened the door of the car, and they both clambered out, as Harry fumbled in his pocket for his key. He found it, and carefully pushed it into the lock, as Snape watched. Harry almost wished he would look away. He hated anybody seeing the full extent of the Potter inheritance, most of all people he felt close to. He didn't know whether Snape was well-off or not, though it didn't make him feel any better either way.
He opened up his vault, and quickly scooped an armful of galleons into a leather bag, trying to block Snape's view. Though to Harry's horror, his magical guardian spoke, quietly. "Now, that explains a lot..."
Harry flushed red, but held onto his dignity, and said, in as cold a voice he could muster, "What does it explain, precisely?"
"What your father did with the money," said Snape, lazily. "I must admit, I expected he had blown the lot in one go, the night after he got it..."
"Then you thought wrongly," said Harry. He was quiet for a few moments, as he removed a ruby from the leather bag and flicked it back into his vault. Then, desperately curious, he turned to Snape with a raised eyebrow. "What do you mean, what he did with the money? You know how he got it?"
"I certainly do," said Snape, frowning.
"Care to share?" asked Harry. He closed the door of his vault, tucking the leather pouch into his back pack, and looking up at Snape in almost an accusing way.
Snape's lips curled into a smug smirk, the sort of smile that made Harry want to just give him a quick shove and send him hurtling down into the dark caverns below. "You mean you don't know, Potter?"
"What was it?" said Harry, coldly. "A reward for saving your life?"
Snape's eyes flashed. Harry couldn't help but feel a flush of triumph. His father was always a sore spot for Snape. "No," the professor replied, in an icy hiss. "The contrary."
"Killing you?" said Harry, before he realised how stupid he sounded.
Snape rolled his eyes. "Rather active for a dead person, aren't I?"
"Alright, alright, point taken... please, tell me how my dad got the money." He gave Snape a pleading look. "Do you want me to lick your shoes or something?"
"No," said Snape. "These shoes are expensive." He sighed, opened up the carriage door, and stepped inside. Harry sat back down in his seat and gave Snape a prompting look. Snape frowned. "What?"
"Tell me!" Harry implored, desperately. "What do you think I'll do, laugh?"
"Yes," was the rather short answer. Snape raised an eyebrow. "Though I suppose you'll pester me until I tell you?"
"Correct," said Harry.
Snape sighed. "Very well... though I will tell you what I want to, and nothing else. Are we agreed?"
"But you won't lie," said Harry.
"Not intentionally." Snape sat back in the cart, studying a potions stain on his palm and picking at it vaguely with his thumb nail. "In simple terms, your father was the auror solely responsible for the capture of fifteen or so Death Eaters. Myself included."
Harry stared at Snape, open-mouthed. "When?"
Snape glanced up at him with narrowed eyes. "Shortly after the world was blighted by you."
"How did he do it?" asked Harry. "What happened?"
"Being the nosy prat that he was, he happened to stumble across the information of where our next target would be," said Snape, coolly. "We made the mistake of arriving at different times, and so he picked us off one by one." As though to preserve his dignity just a little bit, he added, coldly, "I was only captured by means of my own terrible luck. It was of no skill of your father's."
"Yeah," said Harry, vaguely, "So he got all the money from that?"
Snape nodded. "The ministry rewarded him greatly for his "troubles". My fellows were interrogated, though remained loyal to the Dark Lord, and were incarcerated in Azkaban. I had been planning to leave the Dark Lord's forces no matter what happened, and therefore I decided to benefit the ministry's cause. While we're on the subject, Potter, it was I who alerted Dumbledore that the Dark Lord was planning to attack your family home."
"It was you?" said Harry, in amazement. The bucks and jolts of the cart weren't even affecting him even more, or at least, not registering in his brain. "You tried to save us? But... when exactly was the guardian bond put on?"
"The very night after your parents were killed," Snape replied.
"So... the bond wasn't in place when you tipped Dumbledore off," said Harry, looking up at Snape in surprise.
Snape's eyebrow rose just a fraction, and he nodded. "Before you ask, I did it through loyalty to Dumbledore. Your father died hating me, and I daresay I will meet my own end with no remorse in my heart over him."
Harry shook his head at Snape numbly, wondering exactly what other things Snape knew that he was yet to learn. "You're never going to stop surprising me, are you?"
Snape smirked ever so slightly. "Horrifying people is one of the very few pleasures in my otherwise meaningless existance. Trust me, Potter - you'll be learning for a while yet."
Harry spent an enjoyable day at Diagon Alley with all his friends, browsing through the various shops on display. They bought all their supplies for school, and still had time to spare, so Harry bought ice creams for everyone and they sat in the sun outside the ice cream parlour, chatting. Hermione, as usual, was pondering the year ahead.
"I can't wait to see what Misc Magic will be like," she said, enthusiastically, munching at the wafer from her ice cream.
"It should be interesting," Draco mused. He trailed a dribble of ice cream with his tongue, stopping it from escaping. "Chinese Dragon Magic is fascinating... Father taught me some. It's very flashy. Medieval sorcerors used to use it in the courts of kings and so forth, it's easy to pick up as well. Even you might be able to do it, Longbottom."
Neville flushed a little, though he didn't wilt away as usual. His resistance to Draco was slowly building up, and even though it was a gradual process, he could now ignore most of the Slytherin's scatty comments. "It must be a pre-school level," he said, his voice only shaking a little. "If you like it, Malfoy."
Everybody snorted into their ice creams. Draco just glared at Neville, sitting back and glowering at him as he turned his attention back to his ice cream.
"I do hope," said Luna, dreamily, "that Professor Lupin is to continue teaching Defence Against The Dark Arts... he seems to be a very thorough teacher..." She looked thoughtful for a moment, then turned her eerie eyes onto Harry, and said, tonelessly, "Kainda likes Professor Lupin."
"Oh?" he said, wondering why she thought this was a big thing. Then again, Luna thought that rain was a big thing, or if Harry was wearing new socks, or Ron had a hair out of place.
"Yes," she half-whispered.
"Everybody likes Professor Lupin," said Ron, shrugging, licking at his cherry and banana sundae.
"Kainda likes him more," said Luna, still staring at Harry.
Draco put his hand over his eyes for a moment, and murmured something about crazy people. Draco always had and probably always would find Luna the oddest person in the world.
Luna tilted her head a little, gazing at Harry with those unblinking eyes. "Kainda likes Professor Lupin."
"We heard you the first time," Draco muttered.
"Shhh," Luna hushed him. "Your voice scares them away..."
"Scares what away?" said Draco, staring at her in disbelief. Luna did not answer.
After their ice creams, they hurried back to the front of Gringotts, in time to meet Mr and Mrs Weasley, Snape, Lupin, Tonks and Bill. All of them were carrying bags, and by the smell of Snape, his were full of dragon liver. He squelched when he walked. Harry didn't want to ask.
They made their way back home, walking in a large group down the streets and forcing the muggles to walk around them, grumbling and muttering about large families. All of them were now hungry, and sat around the table eagerly, as Mrs Weasley set about making their evening meal. Harry offered to take Ron and Draco's books upstairs to the bedroom, and his arms nearly popped out of their sockets as he dragged the bulging bags up the stairs. He dropped them on the appropriate beds, and fell back onto his own, with a sigh. He was just getting ready to roll back onto his feet and head down to dinner when he realised something.
There was somebody standing behind him. Guessing it was Ron or Draco, he turned over, and opened his mouth to say hi. The figure shot forward instantly and grabbed Harry, clamping what was unmistakably a paw over Harry's mouth to shut him up. Harry stared up into a face, that face, and suddenly, it wasn't a dream any more.
"Evening," that mouth full of crocodile teeth whispered.
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