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Chapter Twenty-Five: Brawling With Blaise

December the 27th was a Sunday, and normally on a Sunday, Harry would spend the day doing homework. Because of the festivities of Christmas, he didn't feel like bullying his brain into doing work, and so he decided to leave it. Besides, everybody was returning to Hogwarts today. The train was expected at ten o' clock, so Harry woke up late, had a lesiurely breakfast and a game of chess with Hermione that he won rather spectacularly, and then together, they went out to wait on the front steps for the returning students.

Hermione, hardly surprisingly, had her nose in a book. Harry was studying too, for some spells to teach in the next DA Club. He had his wand out, his book of curses from Lupin open on his lap, and he was jinxing a series of little snowmen he'd built. Hermione watched over the top of her brook.

"Caladium! Oh, come on, caladium!" Harry shouted, waving his wand vaguely. "CAL-A-DI-UM!"

Hermione tutted. "You'll never do any damage like that."

"You do it then," he snapped.

She drew her wand casually from her sleeve, gave it a little flick and said, "Caladium", in a rather absent-minded way. The snowman melted instantly with a splatting noise, little more than a puddle on the ground. Harry frowned. He turned the page in his book, and muttered, "Well, it's a stupid spell anyway, I'll teach something else."

She smiled sweetly, and then glanced up at the gates. "Hey, they're here! Ron's there!" She jumped up, cramming her book into her bag, and then running across the grounds towards the advancing crowd of students. Harry hurried after her, grinning, but he stopped as he realised just what Ron had done to his hair.


Ron beamed. "D'you like it?"

Hermione eyed the white streak he had dyed right through the middle of his hair in a chunky stripe. "It's... certainly interesting."

"Fred and George did it for me," said Ron, grinning. "It glows in the dark, wait until you see it! So, what have you been up to? Has anything interesting happened?"

Harry shook his head. "No, not much. Somebody sent me a dog toy for Christmas."

Ron stared at him. "Seriously?"

"Seriously," he said, grinning at the look on Ron's face. "It's just like a squeaky rubber ball with a clown's face on it, I reckon that - "

"Harry?" He looked up as Cho came over, her hair up in two pretty bunches tied with silky blue ribbons. She looked rather nervous. "Can I talk to you for a second?" She glanced around all his friends gathering. "Somewhere private?" she added.

"Yeah," said Harry, wondering what was wrong with her. "I'll catch up with all of you, okay?"

Ron cast a jealous look at Cho, but nodded anyway. He glanced around at the rest of their friends, and the whole group headed away up to the steps of the castle as Cho took Harry by the hand and lead him away, out of sight behind a patch of trees.

"What's wrong?" he said, worriedly.

Cho looked very upset about something. She bit her lip, taking a few deep breaths, and then said in a rush, "Ithinkweshouldseeotherpeople."

"Sorry?" said Harry, frowning.

"It's... I don't think we should be together anymore, Harry..." She turned her eyes onto him, and he saw they were full of tears. "I think we should see other people. It's not you, it's me."

Harry looked back into those eyes, feeling something hot and heavy start to thrash around inside his stomach. "You... you're breaking up with me...?"

"I'm sorry, Harry," she said, tears trickling down her face. "There's somebody else... and... I can't play Quidditch for you anymore."

Harry's face fell. "But we've got a match coming up! You're our best chaser!"

She only cried harder at this. "I knew you'd say that! It's always about Quidditch, or your friends, or something else! You don't care about me, only how well I can catch!"

"I do care about you," he said, desperately. "Please don't cry... it's... why? Why do we have to split up?"

"Mark Erith," she whispered.

Harry felt the heat in his stomach starting to well up behind his eyes. He looked into her face, the tears running down her cheeks, and his voice seemed to choke up. He was too angry and too hurt to speak. All the time he'd wasted on her...

"Fine," he said. "Just fine. I don't need you."

He turned to go, and she grabbed him by the arm. "Harry, I'm sorry..."

"No." He shook his head, pulling his arm free, and storming away towards the castle. When he had the courage and the strength to do so, he turned, and called, "No, you're not," back down at her. Then he turned, and pretty much ran the rest of the way towards the castle.

Draco was languishing on the steps, arms folded over his chest. His pale eyes followed Harry as he ran towards the doors, then he spoke, calmly. "Granger told me to come and wait for you."

"Yeah, well, I don't want you to wait for me," he said, vaguely, moving to push past Draco.

Draco held out a hand, caught him by the shoulder and looked him in the eye. "Let's walk, Potter."

Deep down, Harry didn't want to talk to Draco about Cho. He didn't want to talk to anybody about Cho, except maybe Hermione, but he agreed, reluctantly. Draco made him wait outside the Slytherin common room for a few minutes while he fetched his cloak, and then they both left the castle, heading out into the now deserted snowy grounds. Their shoes crunched on the powdery crystals underfoot, though for a few minutes, that was all that was heard while they walked.

Draco spoke first, which was a relief to Harry. "So. Tell me what happened."

Vaguely, Harry recognised the sound of his own voice going over what Cho said to him. He couldn't really think properly. The shock of everything had sunk in now, and it was not a nice feeling. Most of him was confused, and he regretted not asking questions, not digging his heels in, demanding to know more. Now that he thought back, there were so many things he could have said to sound better. Now he just felt... wretched, in a word.

He told all of this to Draco, and when he was done, Draco merely nodded for a moment, staying quiet. "You might not believe it, Potter, but I understand."

Harry shook his head. "No, you don't... you don't understand a word..."

"Think about it... don't I?" Draco raised one slim eyebrow, quite a sad, hollow expression on his face. "Don't you see her everyday, walking around on his arm?"

Harry looked up, and said, "Oh... Pansy... but... that was Pansy, she's not Cho. Pansy's horrible."

Draco smiled ever so slightly, even though Harry could see he didn't feel quite so happy about that situation. "Love is blind, Potter... I think she's beautiful, and I can't see how any man can say she isn't. Then again, I'd rather gouge out my own liver than look twice at Cho Chang."

Harry frowned. "Don't talk about her like that."

Draco chuckled. "Oh, so you can call the love I lost horrible, and yet I'm not allowed an opinion on the girl who just left you for another boy?"

Harry fell silent, remembering something from a while ago, in Snape's house. He could hear Snape's voice in his head - "Oh, I see. Nobody can mention Perfect Potter's hurtful experiences at all, God Forbid anybody should upset poor, traumatised little Potter, but it's perfectly alright for him to attack others in an attempt to get some attention. Well, that seems perfectly reasonable."

He sighed, looking down at his feet. "Sorry..."

"Potter, you've said a great deal nastier things to me. I'm hardly offended." Draco looked up at something suddenly near the castle steps. "Ah, here comes the cavalry." Ron, Hermione, Neville, Ginny, Luna, Kainda, and Ernie and all his friends were coming down the steps in a big group. Draco sighed. "Well, Potter, you're hardly going to want relationship counselling with all your friends around. I'll just tell you that I understand and that I can be talked to, should you need it."

Harry nodded. "Thanks, Draco."

Draco smiled ever so slightly. "My pleasure, Harry."

"You called me Harry," he said, feeling a grin curl his features. Having somebody to talk to seemed to be numbing the pain of Cho. "You've never called me Harry before."

"Not many people have ever called me Draco," said the Slytherin, smirking. "And unless I'm very much mistaken, that point is about to be proved."

"Malfoy!" Ron bellowed. "What are you two doing out here?"

Draco smirked. Harry chuckled, and turned to his cousin, hurrying down the sloping snow towards him. "Just talking."

"What did Cho want?"

"She dumped me," said Harry, simply. He didn't feel like going into the matter much.

Ron, however, did. "Whoa, why?" he said, with wide eyes. "That's gonna be really bad for the Quidditch, Harry... you're staying friends, right?" But seeing the look on Harry's face, his jaw fell. "She quit the team, didn't she? Oh hell. And we've got a match against The Pride of Ravenclaw soon! Damn, what are we going to do? Have you got another Chaser? We are so screwed."

Draco rubbed his forehead. "You just find it impossible to ask one question and then wait for an answer, don't you, Weasley?"

Ron glared at him. "I wasn't talking to you," he sneered.

Draco rolled his eyes and look away. Ron opened his mouth to snap at him, but Hermione cut in angrily. "Ron! Stop it, just leave him alone, and Draco, you stop patronising Ron." She turned to Harry, with a kinder expression on her face. "What happened with Cho?"

"There's somebody else," he muttered, vaguely. "Mark, she said."

"She had another guy?" said Ron, his eyes widening. "Whoa, Harry... I'm sorry, I guess..."

Harry shook his head. "Don't worry about it... and no, we don't have another Chaser."

"Don't we have any reserves?" said Ernie, looking around at everybody nervously.

"No," said Harry. "We'll have to find somebody quickly, or just play with me and Ginny as Chasers... but I don't think I'm good enough. Ginny needs a really really good Chaser as her partner so that she can play well. But who could we ask?"

"Um..." said a small voice, from the edge of the group. Everybody turned around to look at the speaker. Neville gazed nervously at every face turned his way. "I-I'll do it... I mean... if nobody better turns up..."

"But - " said Draco.

"Sure!" said Harry.

Draco bit his tongue, clearly deciding it was a better idea to save it for an "I told you so" later.

"Can you fly?" Ernie asked Neville, eagerly.

Neville nodded. "My auntie was teaching me how all summer... I'm a lot better than I was. I'd play for you... I'm just not very good..."

"Neville, you'll do," said Harry. "You, me and Ginny get on okay, right? We can work something out."

"We'll be rooting for you," said Justin Finch-Fletchley. "Bright Sparks are easily the most popular team, you'll certainly have a lot of fans if you do well, Neville."

Neville blushed, and was stammering his thanks, as Harry noticed Draco take a subtle but quick sidestep behind him. He frowned, turning around to Draco. "What's - "

Draco nodded up at the steps. Blaise Zabini and his twenty-four-hour parade came swanning out down the steps. Harry could see Pansy latched onto Blaise's arm as always. He nodded understandingly, and said to everybody, "Come on, let's go to our courtyard or somewhere else. Zabini's looking for trouble."

Kainda turned around and saw her little brother. She rolled her eyes. "Eugh, stupid little brat. We can stay here, Harry, he can't do anything with me around. You know at home, he won't sleep with the light of? He's terrified of monsters under the bed."

Everybody laughed loudly. Harry saw Blaise turn to glare at the group, muttering something to his gang, and then Pansy's shrill, fake laugh was heard ringing out across the grounds, but they didn't come over.


Harry and his friends all howled with laughter as Blaise flushed an angry shade of red, flicking Pansy off his arm and beckoning his gang to follow him. Kainda watched with a smug smirk as they approached, with Blaise in the lead, looking even shorter than normal while surrounded by his huge friends.

"The company you keep, Sister," he said, coldly, glaring around at them all. "I didn't think that even you were capable of it."

"At least I don't crick my neck everytime I look them in the eye," she said, grinning, which was greeted by more shouts of laughter.

Blaise blushed angrily again. "Look at you. Surrounded by this rabble of filth." His dark eyes washed over them all. "Potter and Malfoy, the fabulous fatherless freaks... then there's Weasleys. Surely, when the parents had their first child, didn't they realise that they'd made a mistake? Look at that hair, it's vile. Dye only costs a few Knuts, and if I had hair like that, I'd be happy to pay it. Of course, they probably don't have the money... then there's Longbottom. Another fatherless one, of course, he's alive though, isn't he? His mind's just a little... absent without leave." Blaise smirked, and the knot of Slytherins behind him all laughed angrily.

Neville blanched, shrinking away behind Hermione.

Blaise stepped forward, his arms crossed, looking them all up and down as though they were the last slaves in the marketplace. "And see, he hides behind a girl... pathetic... at least hide behind a member of the better sex, Longbottom..."

"How chilidish," Hermione said, waspishly. "Having to resort to being sexist."

Blaise smirked, eyeing her up and down, his gaze lingering a little too long on Hermione's chest for Harry's liking. "Shame you've got a mouth," he drawled. "It spoils the illusion."

Ron stepped from the group, in front of Hermione, and he was scarlet in the face from anger. "Leave her alone," he snarled.

Blaise just smiled at him, smiling and smiling, in a way that reminded Harry of the clown's sinister grin. "How cute."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Ron growled. His fists were clenching and unclenching with every one of his furious breaths.

"Ron, don't..." Hermione whispered, moving forward and gripping his arm. "Don't, he's not worth it..."

"Listen to her, Weasley," said Blaise, his eyes flaring. "Don't mess with the boys until you can handle the girls."

It happened in a whirl of fists. There was a cry from Zabini and a yell of anger from Ron, and next second, Blaise was down on the ground in the mud and Ron had him by the throat. Hermione screamed, "RON!" and ran forward to pull him off, but Blaise's friends were already there, grabbing at Ron. Harry and Draco leapt forward, trying to stop them killing Ron, Blaise was yelling, Pansy and Hermione started screaming at each other, Ron was shouting at Harry and Draco to get off him and soon everybody was fighting. Even Neville and Luna were in the fray, trying to stop Ginny killing one of the Slytherins who had Ron by the head. Kainda struggled through to Harry and Draco, who were taking care of Zabini and said, "NO! DON'T!"

Harry stared at her, and yelled, "Why?"

She grabbed her brother of him and hit him hard around the face. "You're too weak, you're not hitting him hard enough! Let me do it!" There was another smack as she gave him a back-handed slap with her hard leather Quidditch gloves. Ron yelped as one of the Slytherins dragged him backwards and set about him. Harry took a flying leap, latching himself around the Slytherin's back and thrashing around, yelling, "GET OFF HIM! GET OFF HIM!"

Hermione and Pansy were still screaming blow for blow, and then it turned nasty, as Pansy scratched Hermione around the face. Ginny broke free of Luna and Neville, leapt at Pansy and slapped her back. Quite a catfight was starting, while all the boys were still brawling, yelling and beating anything they could reach. Ron gave Malfoy a dead leg before he realised that Malfoy was supposed to be on their side, hurrying away to help Harry take on one of the larger Slytherins before Draco could realise who it was that had belted him in the ankle and run off. Zabini grabbed Harry by the throat and he choked, thrashing around. Kainda came running and grabbed her little brother around the waist, dragging him off and carrying him away as he screamed, "NO, GET OFF ME, PUT ME DOWN!"

There was a collosal splash as she flung him into the icy waters of the lake. He shrieked, flailing madly, and then he plunged down into the waters, showering everybody with the filth-ridden water. Next into the lake was Ron as two Slytherins hauled him in, but Ernie did a marvellous flying leap and elbowed both of them in as well, and soon, the fight was both in the water and on land as people were thrown in, climbed out and tried to drag somebody else in. Harry sacrificed his dryness to stop Zabini drowning Draco by holding his head under the water, and both of them plunged into the lake. He surfaced with a gulp, and then Zabini was onto him, grasping him by the hair and trying to force him under.

Harry kicked and thrashed, digging his knee into Zabini's stomach. With a groan, Zabini let go, giving Harry time to splash to the bank and rush to help Neville, who was being attacked by no less than three Slytherins. He was so absorbed in trying to choke one of the bruisers with his own scarf that at first he didn't notice there were five figures rushing down the lawns towards the brawl, but he certainly did notice when a cold hand grasped him roughly by the back of the neck.

He yelped, turning around, fully intending to beat the living daylights out of whoever it was, expecting to get thrown in the lake again, but when he saw who it was, his blood seemed to freeze in his veins. Snape glared at him and then hissed, "Potter, what are you doing?"

Harry looked down at the scarf he had wrapped around the neck of one of Blaise's boys to throttle him, trying to ignore the blood streaming down his face from his nosebleed. "Um... I am strangling - what's your name, please?"

"Mark," grunted the boy.

Harry's eyes narrowed. "Mark what? And what house are you in?"

"Mark Erith," he panted. "I'm a Ravenclaw."

Harry hesitated for a moment, then wriggled free of Snape and leapt on Mark again, landing another few good punches and yells of, "I'LL TEACH YOU TO STEAL MY GIRLFRIEND!", before Snape grabbed him and hauled him back again, pinning him firmly in place.

Professor McGonagall was hauling Hermione out of the lake. Professor Lupin and Professor Sprout were restraining Ron, who was still trying to get at Zabini, despite his black eyes and a sprained ankle. Professor Flitwick was trying to resuscitate Neville. Everybody looked incredibly beaten and battered. Apparently, somebody had thought of using a wand, because Justin Finch-Fletchley was covered in bright blue spots and was warbling merrily to himself, oblivious of the teachers. Draco and Blaise were the worst of, even though Harry knew he must look nearly as bad as them. Draco was covered in bruises, lying flat on the ground trying to regain his breath, his face blood and tear stained, clutching his leg. Zabini was shivering with the cold of being dunked in the lake so many times.

"Well?" said Professor McGonagall, glaring around at them all. Her nostrils had gone white, which looked very odd indeed compared to the bright red of her angry face. "Who started it?"

"Weathley," Blaise said, quickly, sounding very bunged up. He touched his nose tentatively. "Um... Profethor Thnabe? I dink my dose is browken."

"It was not me!" Ron said, furiously. "You came over here, leering at Hermione's chest and insulting us all! YOU started it Zabini!"

Lupin tightened his hold on Ron, muttering his ear, trying to calm him down. Ron's fingers were curled, as though in claws, and he was breathing so angrily that his chest heaved in and out with every breath. He turned to Professor McGonagall, swallowing, and then saying, "He's just a sexist, rascist... you didn't see how he was looking at her."

"It's dot my fowlt you're brodecdive of your cow of a dirlthriend," Blaise snarled.

"You see!" Ron howled, jabbing a finger at Zabini. "He's just an EVIl piece of - "

"Weasley!" snapped McGonagall. "Control yourself! I do not need to tell you all how DISGUSTED I am at such a display! Never in all my times at Hogwarts have I heard of such blatant disregard for rules or other's safety! Two hundred points from every house present, no matter how many members of it are here, and the headmaster will be saying something about this at dinner tonight. I am disgusted. Absolutely disgusted. Everybody who can walk get back up to school and report to the hospital wing, anybody who needs help stay here. NOW!"

Harry went to pull free of Snape, but he snarled, "Oh no, Potter, you're staying right here."

"I can walk," said Harry, trying to wriggle free.

"I'm aware of that," was the cold reply. "I think we need a little talk in my office. The headmaster might not be able to get through to you the severity of your actions, but believe you me, I can."

Hermione and Ron were dithering, watching Harry, wondering what was going wrong. He shook his head at them, looking away, still caught in Snape's tight grip. They headed away up the steps, both supporting Ginny, who was limping slightly as she walked. Luna breezed after them, apparently oblivious to the fact that there was blood and dirt all over the front of her robes. Neville and Draco laid on the ground still. Neville's arm was twisted at a very painful looking angle, and Draco's leg was most definitely broken, from what Harry could hear of the conversation between Lupin and Sprout.

Professor Lupin conjured stretchers, and walked with both boys up to the castle, followed by Professors Sprout and Flitwick. McGonagall turned to Snape and Harry. "Severus, Mr Potter will need medical attention that - "

"I can perform myself," Snape said, curtly.

McGonagall nodded, and turned, walking away after Lupin and Sprout. When she was out of earshot, Snape said, simply, "Explain yourself, Potter."

"They... they were hurting Ron," said Harry, looking down at his feet. "I tried to stop them, and it all - "

"Got out of hand," Snape finished, frowning. "Perhaps you should learn to control your temper, Potter. And perhaps it will have to be me who teaches you that lesson."

With that, he grasped Harry by the shoulder and swept back up the sweeping lawns to the castle with him, in through the main doors, across the entrace hall and down the familar corridor to the dungeons. It was dark and cold as always. Harry found himself limping on every other step as he walked, the pain in his nose and around his eyes starting to slowly increase as they walked. Snape seemed perfectly calm now. Perhaps, Harry thought, he's given up on trying to shout at me to make my learn. Maybe I've pushed him further than that.

But Snape didn't seem that angry at all. He opened the door to his office, lead Harry inside, instructed him (or rather, ordered him) to sit down in one of the armchairs, then performed a quick drying charm to remove most of the damp from Harry's robes. Harry sat, silently, trying to hold his robes out so as not to get blood all over the place as Snape removed his cloak, leaving him in a simple black shirt and trousers, heading through to his private rooms. When he came out, he had a medical kit with him, a few potions and -

A dog collar.

Harry stared at the collar worriedly, but Snape didn't act as though it was out of the ordinary at all. He crouched down in front of Harry, opening up the medical kit calmly and taking Harry's wrist, holding his arm out, working his robes up past his elbows. "Any injuries anywhere else, Potter?" he said.

"I... don't know... my face hurts. This arm. My right leg. I'm cold. I think there's a bruise on my back."

"Mmm," Snape droned, vaguely, taking his wand and performing a few precise cleaning charms to get all the dried-on dirt off Harry's skin. He then started on Harry's wounds in silence. There was a cut on his inner elbow, his right leg was quite badly bruised, though his face, neck and shoulders were the worst, according to the expression on Snape's face.

"You've got some bad injures, Potter."

Harry nodded vaguely. "Yeah, I know."

His magical guardian sighed heavily, conjuring a bowl of warm water and a cloth. He dipped the cloth in the bowl, and then dabbed it carefully at Harry's jaw. Harry glanced down and saw blood coming off on the material in streams.

"Sorry," he mumbled.

Snape shook his head with a quiet frown on his face. "Potter, I can't say I'm angry. There is no real reason for me to be angry any longer. I've tried losing my cool with you, on countless occasions, and it hasn't made the slightest bit of difference to your attitude."

Harry glanced up, surprised. Snape looked back into his eyes, reading his thoughts, and Harry found himself too tired and too weak to really care. He didn't even put up any sort of resistance, just let Snape get on with it.

Snape wrung out the cloth absent-mindedly while still watching Harry. Harry looked back into those black eyes, too exhausted for speech, wanting to explain himself somehow and to tell Snape he didn't mean to get into trouble so much. He desperately wanted to think of some words to describe how he just wanted to protect Ron. He remembered with a dull flush of fear how the Slytherins had all jumped forward and grabbed his cousin, going to beat him up, and how he'd experienced that momentary rush of indecision. How he knew it was the wrong thing to do but how scared he was.

And then he let his thoughts flitter off into a new path, quite by themselves, not even bothered that Snape could tell what he was thinking. He wondered why Snape wasn't angry, he wondered why Snape had brought him back to his chambers to heal him personally. He looked into those black eyes and found himself thinking that he was sorry, that he didn't mean to be so rebellious. Snape looked back, and after a few moments, he said, quietly, "I understand..."

Harry looked away, feeling heat in his eyes at his emotional and physical exhaustion. He felt so battered and weak. The first day of the year came to him in a flash, seeing Malfoy stroking the thestral, and the tired, hollow look in his eyes. He could identify with that now.

"And I brought you back here for several reasons," said Snape, quietly, lifting the cloth again and tracing it gently over a long cut on Harry's cheek. "For one, the hospital wing will be full... Madam Pomfrey will be too busy to administer to every single need of her patients. Your injuries are fairly serious, and as much as I don't doubt the matron is a skilled witch, sometimes her stress levels become a little too high for her to deal with. Secondly, once I'm done, we are going to talk and I need your full attention. I won't get that if Weasley is flitting about behind me asking if you're okay. Thirdly, I need to fit this on you," he said, gesturing vaguely to the collar. He wrung out the cloth again, murmured a charm to clean the water, and started to dab away the blood weeping from Harry's wounds once more. "Fourthly..." He fell quiet, shaking his head.

Harrry glanced at him. "What?"

Snape looked back. It was the first time Harry had ever seen concern in Snape's eyes. He was surprised for a moment at the expression on his magical guardian's face. He suddenly looked about ten years younger, all the lines ironed out in his pale skin, no hint of a sneer or a frown creasing his expression. Harry saw a flicker of something in his eyes that made him wonder, just for a moment as a passing thought, whether Snape was starting to care about him.

Snape paused for a moment, then gave a simple, single nod, breaking the eye contact and starting to tend to Harry's wounds again. Harry watched him as he wiped away the blood and dried-on mud from a slash on his neck, then crouch down to wring out his cloth again. He looked down at Snape, and just to entertain himself, he imagined that he wasn't looking down at the Potions master who had tormented him for six years, but an uncle, perhaps. Maybe even a father.

Snape looked up, glancing across Harry's face. "That's the best anybody could do. The black eyes are going to stay, I'm afraid."

Harry nodded numbly, breaking the eye contact subtly. "I guess I'm in detention now."

Snape raised an eyebrow. "If you are to have a detention, I'm sure that Professor McGonagall shall arrange that, Potter, it is none of my business what rebels from other houses do if it isn't in my classes." He cleaned his hands absent-mindedly, dried them on a towel he'd conjured, and then picked up the collar. "However, there are some things I have to take care of."

Harry stared at him in amazement, wondering what on earth Snape was going to do with a dog collar. "You're going to put me on a leash? Isn't that just a little bit against my human rights?"

"This isn't an ordinary collar. I've been working on it for some time." He put one hand on Harry's forehead to keep him still, and fitted the collar around his neck with the other. "If the buckle is done, it's invisible and shouldn't give you any discomfort you can't cope with. It's a fairly simple idea, really. I've charmed this mirror to show what the jewel on the front of the band can see. If I get cold flushes again, I simply find the mirror, check whether you really are in danger, and if you're not then I can... tell you to stop whatever it is you may be doing."

Harry glanced up at him at that, feeling very annoyed at being fitted with a collar, and no matter how comfortable Snape thought it was, it was not fun to wear. "How are you going to get that message to me? What if I'm outside getting strangled again?"

Snape smiled lazily. "Jacardia."

Harry jumped a foot in the air as the collar buzzed against his neck, making his skin crawl uncomfortably. A shiver shot down his spine, making him curl backwards. "Ahhh!"

"So simple, yet so effective," said Snape.

"I'm sure this is illegal," said Harry, shuddering again as an after shock hit him.

"You show me the law, Potter, you show me the law." Snape made him lean forward, checking the buckles on the back of the collar with his long fingers. "This is just a precaution, Potter. And surely you'd prefer a gentle warning from me than another two hundred points from Gryffindor when you're caught brawling by Professor McGonagall?"

"A gentle warning?" said Harry, amazed. "You call that gentle? I call this child abuse. I could run to Dumbledore right now and have you sent to Azkaban."

Snape crouched down in front of Harry, looking rather paternally into his face. "I think we both know there's no chance of that happening, Harry. I daresay Mr Weasley will be killing himself with worry about you now, perhaps you should go and check on him."

Harry nodded. "Okay... thanks, Professor." He stood up, scratching at his neck, wishing the collar didn't feel so visible, and he left the room.

He was halfway to the hospital wing, still tugging at his neck, when he realised something that in normal circumstances he would have noticed straight away. He stopped, staring straight forwards, and even though there was nobody around to hear it, he whispered, "He called me Harry."


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