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Chapter Forty-Seven: Muddled

Harry and Ron dressed hurriedly in jeans and t-shirts, then followed McGonagall out of Gryffindor tower, and along the corridors to Dumbledore's office. Harry couldn't help but feel slightly worried, despite McGonagall telling him he would be pleased by what the headmaster was going to tell them. Ron looked just as curious as he did as to what was going on, and why Ron's parents had turned up to hear as well.

McGonagall gave the password to the stone gargoyle outside Dumbledore's office, "Minty baubles", and then let Harry and Ron inside. She was smiling. Harry had absolutely no idea what was going on, and just stepped onto the staircase, hoping it was something good. He and Ron paused in front of the wooden door, and then it swung open before them, inviting them in.

Mr and Mrs Weasley sat in front of Dumbledore's desk, talking to the headmaster, and Fred and George were there too. Harry noticed that Mrs Weasley was dabbing her eyes with a tissue, and he felt a little flush of worry in case something truly bad had happened. Then he remembered - the Weasleys had lost a child, Percy. Mrs Weasley looked around, and she smiled happily, standing up and bringing him into a fond hug. When Ron walked in and gave a yell of surprise at seeing his two brothers, they grinned and tousled his hair happily.

"Hello Harry, dear... how are you?" Mrs Weasley said, kindly.

He smiled and hugged her back. "I'm fine, thanks." Mr Weasley had come over and was hugging him too, ruffling his hair a little.

Ron was now being hugged by his mother, trying to stop her kissing him in front of Dumbledore and Harry. His ears had gone red. "Mum..."

She kissed him anyway, with a fond, watery smile. "I'm just glad you're safe, dear... oh, Ron... ever since I got the news that they'd started attacking, I prayed you'd all be alright... is Ginny alright?"

"She's fine," said Ron, wiping her kiss mark off his face.

Mr Weasley then went over to hug Ron, ask him how he was. Harry found himself almost wanting to ask how things were about Percy, even though it would be horrible to mention that. Fred and George had sidled over to him, seeing the look on his face and interpreting it perfectly. George took his right shoulder, Fred took his left, and they both bent down to mutter in his ears.

"Not sunk in yet," said George.

"Don't mention it," said his twin, nodding.

Harry nodded silently and looked between them both, then asked, "Um... are you both...?"

"We're... still smiling," said Fred. "Dumbledore's speech has numbed it all a bit."

"He went the way he would have wanted to," said George. "Standing up for his loyalties."

"They're talking about having his portrait painted and framed in the ministry," said Fred, raising his eyebrows.

"He'd have wanted that," said Harry, quietly, nodding.

"More chairs, I think," said Dumbledore, bringing an end to the murmured conversation. He waved his wand, and instantly, several squashy little pouffes appeared before his desk. Harry, Ron, Fred and George sat down on them while Dumbledore handed out mints. Harry declined politely. Dumbledore put the dish down on the edge of his desk, and then said, smiling around at them all, "Well... good news, I certainly think. Not only have Fred and George been found fit and well, but something else I'm sure you're all very happy about has come up too."

"Yeah, fit and well, after they cleaned off all the manure that stupid farmer threw at us," George muttered. "It's going to cost a fortune to have the fun house cleaned."

Dumbledore cleared his throat. "I'm sure we can discuss manure later, Mr Weasley, for now, I have something very important to tell you all." He smiled around at them all. "I am very happy to announce that at last, the Weasley protection has been proved. Harry is just as safe in the company of the Weasleys as he is with the Dursleys. This means - "

Harry was staring wide-eyed at Dumbledore, hardly daring to believe what he thought it meant. "I... I can... I can leave...?"

Dumbledore smiled. "Yes, Harry. You need never return to Privet Drive ever again."

Harry felt as small explosion of joy and relief go off inside of him. He could finally leave the Dursleys, after wanting to for so long. Mrs Weasley hugged him joyfully. He was grinning as Dumbledore went on.

"This means that Harry will, of course, have to spend the summer around the Weasley family so he can benefit from their protection. Though I'm sure that's not going to be a problem." He smiled at Harry, his eyes twinkling, and Harry grinned back as all the Weasleys jumped up to start hugging him.

Mrs Weasley didn't seem to want to let him go. She kissed him on the cheek and kept talking about getting an extra room built onto the side of the house for Harry to have as his own, and Fred and George were offering SuperSplatterDecorator2003's to help with the painting. Ron wanted Harry's room next to his own, or possibly to just have one big room for them to share. There were several minutes of happy, eager chatter as everybody made plans for Harry's arrival, and then Dumbledore said, over the noise, "If I may speak?"

They all quietened, and sat down on their pouffes again, even though Mrs Weasley still had Harry in a tight, motherly hug.

"I would rather that Harry stay at Grimmauld Place over the summer," he said, seriously. "The Order of the Phoenix still uses the house as a headquarters, and I would much rather that Harry stayed close to the Order, in case a time of need arises." A hint of a tiny smile curled his lips. "Also, there is another person I wish to stay with Harry over the summer, just as a precaution."

"Who?" said Harry, glancing up at Dumbledore.

Dumbledore smiled at him. "Somebody who looks after you at Hogwarts too, Harry, I believe would - "

"Peter?" Harry interrupted, brightly. "Is Peter coming to stay with us? But... he can't leave Hogwarts, can he?"

"Indeed he can't," said Dumbledore. "Though this will not matter, Harry. It is not Peter I wish to keep a close eye on you over the summer. It is Professor Snape I believe will be most useful."

"Snape," groaned Ron, Fred and George in unison, all looking absolutely horror-struck.

Dumbledore tittered. "Now, now, I'm sure Professor Snape's presence won't be that much of a downcast..."

The three Weasleys brothers swapped looks that said all too clearly that they couldn't think of anything worse than spending their summer holidays with Snape. After a moment, Ron said, in a pleading voice, "But... we have a holiday to get AWAY from Snape."

"Why do you think we were so eager to leave school?" said Fred.

"And now he's going to live with us!" said George. "Wait, there aren't any spare bedrooms at Grimmauld Place..."

Ron, Fred and George all looked at each other, then said, as one, "He's not sleeping with me."

Dumbledore chuckled again. "I'm sure you can all sort out sleeping arrangements happily when the school year ends. Until then, I would suggest that you don't worry too much about the matter."

"But... he's still in the forest," said Harry. "We don't even know if he's still alive."

"He is still alive, Harry," said Dumbledore. "I went into the forest myself this morning, and came across some of the centaurs. I asked them if they had seen Professor Snape, and they told me he was searching the forest about half a mile in. They had asked him what he was doing, and his reply was that he did not intend to leave until he was sure Isabis was no longer in the grounds. He shall return when he is certain."

"But that could take months," said Harry, with wide eyes.

"Maybe years," said Ron, trying not to sound too hopeful.

"I doubt it," said Dumbledore. "Professor Snape looked very hungry, angry and tired when the centaurs found him. Professor Snape may be stubborn and assured in his ideas at times, but he is not foolish enough to starve himself for just a chance. He shall be back in school within a week I expect."

"So Snape is running around the Forbidden Forest playing Old Man Of The Woods as we speak," said Ron, incredulously.

Dumbledore nodded pleasantly. "Indeed he is, Mr Weasley."

"We have got to put that as a logo on a t-shirt," Fred muttered eagerly.

"We could have a whole series," agreed George.

"Old Man Of The Woods Snape," said Fred, raising his eyebrows.

"Raging Alcoholic Snape," said George, starting to smile.

"Getting In Touch With His Feminine Side Snape," said Fred, grinning. "Comes with a bottle of perfume and exfoliating body scrub."

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" said George.

Fred grinned, and together, they both said, "Action figures."

Dumbledore chuckled. "I'm sure that Professor Snape will be delighted by such a kind gesture. Now, I believe it is close to breakfast time, and I must admit I'm rather peckish. Arthur, Molly, Fred, George, will you be staying to eat with us?"

"No, no..." said Mrs Weasley, with a polite, rather small smile. "We have to get back to the Burrow... things to arrange for Percy's funeral." Her hand trembled a little as she straightened out her skirt and stood up. "Perhaps another time."

"Yes, perhaps," said Dumbledore, understandingly. They all stood up. Dumbledore gave Mr and Mrs Weasley a very solemn, sympathetic look. "And please remember what I said to you earlier... if you ever require anything, please do not hesitate to contact me. The Weasley family always have and always will be a friend of Hogwarts."

Mr Weasley nodded, with a polite smile, though the expression wasn't echoed in his eyes. Mrs Weasley took out her tissue to dab at her eyes again.

They were all about to leave, when the door opened and Lupin came in. He looked a little out of breath, as though he'd hurried here.

"Albus," he said, easing a stitch in his side. "We've just got a message from Tonks. She's outside St Mungo's waiting to start her duty, and Mundungus Fletcher hasn't turned up."

"Oh?" said Dumbledore, raising his eyebrows. "Do we have any idea where he is?"

Lupin shook his head, and said, lightly, "He was last seen a few days ago at Grimmauld Place. Nobody's quite sure where he is."

"How odd," said Dumbledore. "I expect he will appear some time today, with some new stolen cauldrons in tow... if I am correct, Alastor is not busy today. Kindly get in touch with him and tell him to help Tonks with her guard duty, if you would, Remus."

Lupin nodded, and held open the door for them all to go past. Harry followed Ron out of the room, heading down the corridors towards the Great Hall and breakfast. As they passed the huge doors leading out into the grounds, Harry couldn't help but glance out and wonder where Snape was now, and when he'd be back.

The answer to that came two days later.

It was the first day of lessons again, a Friday, which was certainly a good day to have their lessons restart on. Dumbledore had insisted that things get back to normal as soon as possible, despite the building damage, and several classroom changes. The tower that Hermione had Runes in had been completely obliterated, and so that class ended up in the Great Hall, while a whole row of Transfiguration classrooms were too badly burnt to be restored by just the teachers. The ministry weren't expected in to fix the damage for a few weeks.

Similarly, the corridor that connected two towers had crumbled in, and a floating platform had been charmed to drift between the two towers and ferry students back and forth. The night before, Harry and his friends had gone to the Astronomy Tower to see Hagrid, Norbert, Sly and the baby dragon - named Kibbles II, in honour of its fallen godfather. Neville had nearly fallen off the floating platform on the way there and plummeted to an early death on the spires below, and he was only saved by a quick rope charm by Draco.

Friday morning was due to begin with three hours of Defence Against The Dark Arts, and that was always a reason to put a smile on Harry's face. As he sat down at the Gryffindor table that morning, it was the best mood he'd been in all week.

"Morning," said Hermione, looking up from her Runes study guide.

"Morning," he replied. He sat down, reached out and took a few pieces of toast from one of the stacks in the middle of the table. As he did, Ron came up and sat beside Hermione, handing her another thick book with a smile.

"I had to get Ginny to go into your room to find it," he said, and apparently, he hadn't even noticed Harry yet.

"Thankyou," she said, with another cute smile. Harry was quite surprised. He'd only ever seen Hermione smile like that once, to Viktor Krum at the Yule Ball two years ago. He watched in further surprise as Hermione picked up a plate of toast and handed it to Ron. And she blushed.

"Have you put some of that funny potion on your hair again today?" he asked her, taking a slice of toast, picking up his knife, and starting to accidentally butter the table cloth.

She smiled shyly and nodded. Harry couldn't help but remember a Hermione who would have said, "Oh, Ron, it's not some 'funny potion'. Honestly."

Hermione then realised Ron was spreading jam over the table cloth, and she smiled, reaching out and taking his hand. "Ron..."

He looked down and grinned. "Oh."

Harry remembered a Ron who would have scoffed, told her the house elves would clean it up, and then there would be a fight about SPEW. And they wouldn't talk to each other all through Dark Arts, Hermione would go off to Pure Arts in a bad mood, they'd snap at each other in the common room that night... but none of that happened. Hermione just grinned, took out her wand and fixed it up with a quick charm. She pushed the plate of toast closer to him. "Butter and jam goes on toast, remember?" she said, smiling.

Harry was about to ask what on earth was wrong with them both, maybe they'd been hit by mild cheering charms, but a noise behind him caught his attention. There were two loud bangs and groans from the hinges of the main doors, as somebody came in, a very angry somebody, breathing heavily through clenched teeth. Harry subconsciously knew who it was, and his suspicions were confirmed as Snape blew furiously past the doors into the Great Hall, heading for the dungeons. A few people expressed murmurs of curiosity at this.

Harry, on the other hand, wanted to know what had happened in the forest. He turned to Ron and Hermione, about to tell them to wait up for him and save his toast. He realised they were still cooing over each other and couldn't hear a word of what anybody said, so he left it, picking up his bag and jogging from the hall.

He turned right as he left the doors, and hurried down the dungeon corridor. He could see Snape's figure up ahead as he swept down the corridor in a foul mood. Harry ran after him, and called, "Professor, wait!!"

Snape wheeled around on the spot to face Harry, and he was momentarily stunned. There was a huge cut down the side of Snape's face, and his robes were covered in dried-on-mud. In the middle of his chest was a huge muddy hoof-print. Seeing Harry, Snape rolled his eyes, and turned away, carrying on. "Go away, Potter!"

"Wait, I want to talk to you!" Harry called, chasing him down the corridor, feeling the oddest urge to help and talk. It was almost like seeing a parent upset.

"I know I'm a fool Potter," Snape snarled. The Potions master turned to the door of his office, growled a spell to open it, and it burst open in a rush of bright sparks. "I don't need you to confirm it," Snape spat, and he swept through, slamming the door.

Harry slowed down to a stunned walk, then a drift, until finally he stopped on the spot, watching Snape's office door. He wondered what on earth had happened in the forest. Judging by the hoof print, he'd had a run-in with centaurs, and that wound had looked very, very nasty.

He walked hesitantly to Snape's door and dithered before it, trying to decide whether he would push his luck or not. Snape needed medical attention. And somebody to talk to. Harry felt a sort of guilt, that Snape had helped him in past times of trouble, and it was right of him to repay his debts. On the other hand, Harry thought, there was a ninety-nine percent chance that Snape wanted nothing to do with anybody at the moment. Snape's troubles weren't Harry's business either.

Deciding he would just try, just once, Harry called, tentatively through the door, "Professor...?"

There was a loud shattering noise against the wood, as something heavy and expensive was flung at the door. Harry took this as a bad sign. Realising there was little to no chance of talking to Snape, he turned away, and went back up the corridor. Ron was at the mouth of the dungeon stairs, waiting for him with a curious frown on his face. "What was all that about? Running after Snape?"

"Uh... no reason," said Harry, vaguely. "Hey, where's Hermione, I thought - "

Ron groaned. "What are you hiding from me now?"

"Nothing!" said Harry, almost angrily. "Honestly, Ron, I just - "

"Oh... I see what this is about," said Ron. Harry did not like his tone one bit. Ron turned around, and said over his shoulder, "Maybe it's time for me to be happy, you know. Maybe just once." He added, vaguely, "We'll be late for Dark Arts. Come on."

"What do you mean, it's time for you to be happy?" Harry growled.

Ron didn't answer. He just set off across the entrance hall, heading for the staircase. Harry followed him, still asking what he meant, and after a few moments, Ron said, vaguely, "You know what it is, Harry. And I'm sorry for you and all that but I don't deserve to be snapped at... I know that you're a bit jealous, but - "

"Jealous?!" Harry squawked, so loudly that several people turned around to stare. "Jealous? What the hell are you talking about?!"

"Look, we'll talk about it later," said Ron vaguely. He looked up ahead, and spotting people up the corridor, he shouted, "Hermione, wait!!" He rushed off, with a glance at Harry and a quick, "Come on, we'll be late," and then he was gone.

Harry was very still, just stood in the corridor as the sea of people washed past him, as though he was a seashell on the shore, staring after Ron in total and utter amazement. Jealous? Him? He didn't know how Ron could ever suggest such a thing, when all through the first half of fourth year, Ron had been bitterly jealous of Harry being Triwizard Champion. Harry watched his best friend catching up with Hermione and leaning forward to talk to her, and a horrible thought entered his head.

Maybe Ron thought he was jealous that Ron and Hermione were together.

Harry found himself even more shocked by this thought. It was so stupid. He didn't like Hermione in that way, and he was happy for Ron. Yet the more that he thought about it... Ron had never really had a girlfriend before now. He'd never really had anything of his own at all. All his clothes and school equipment were hand-me-downs, and Harry had always had the limelight in their friendship. And now that Ron had Hermione, he was determined to stop anybody else stealing her. Harry didn't quite know what he felt about this. Angry that Ron could see him as a rival. Annoyed that Ron couldn't even trust him.

Before he could sink any further into his thoughts, somebody appeared in front of Harry. He looked up and saw Draco watching him with a raised eyebrow. "What's up with you?"

"Nothing," came out of his mouth automatically.

"You do know we're missing Dark Arts, don't you?" said Draco, still watching him almost suspiciously.

"Oh, yeah," said Harry, vaguely, as he nodded a little. "Come on, we'd better hurry up..." He set off down the corridor, with Draco following after him, and a few moments later, they slid into the Defence Against The Dark Arts classroom.

Ron and Hermione were sitting on the front row, with two seats saved next to them for Harry and Draco. Hermione turned around and beckoned them over. Harry made his way over, and went to sit next to Hermione, but then with an angry flush and a meaningful look at Ron, he moved to the other seat, and let Draco sit between them. Draco was frowning at him. "What is up with you today?" he hissed.

"Nothing," said Harry, vaguely.

"I do hope we're doing hexes," said Draco, in an idle tone, as he sat back in his chair and got out his wand. "Then I can curse you until you tell me what it is."

"Over my dead body," said Harry.

"If I must."

"Not funny, Malfoy."

"Not a joke, Potter."

Professor Lupin came into the room at that moment, holding a thick book under his arm, and there was no more time to talk. Lupin was teaching them the last part about dangerous magical objects today, but Harry couldn't even concentrate. He felt guilty whenever Hermione talked to him, and he thought he saw Ron frown slightly whenever they did speak. Ron hardly said a word to him. Draco and Hermione both tried to weedle out of them what was wrong, but both said nothing. After two hours, Harry felt grumpy and tired. He left the Dark Arts classroom in a bad mood, hands in his pockets, not really wanting to talk to anybody at all. Hermione went after him to try and talk to him, and so did Ron, but he managed to lose them in the crowds, heading up to the owlery, wanting to clear his head.

It was dark up there as always. A thousand pairs of glittering black eyes gazed down at him as he entered, and that familiar warmth and heat seemed to soothe him. He toyed with the idea of just staying up here for hours. Here, in the quiet, with just the rustle of owl wings around him. Finding the only clean spot of floor, he slid down onto it, sitting on the floor and putting his head in his hands. He didn't want to leave now.

He just sat for several long minutes in silence, trying to come to terms with everything happening in his life at the moment. Part of him longed for somebody to talk to, and another part just wanted to be alone. It would be nice to perhaps have a complete stranger just walk into the owlery, somebody he'd never met before, and he could just talk and get an unbiased answer from them. Maybe he was over-reacting... or maybe Ron was over-reacting. Ron had never had reason to be jealous of Harry and Hermione before. Ron was just being possessive. But Harry didn't want Hermione to pull them apart... blood was thicker than water, wasn't it?

The door opened, and Harry looked up, wondering who it was. Nobody came in. The wind must have just blown it open, he reasoned. He didn't bother moving to shut it. Though next second, it shut on his own, and there were footsteps across the room to him. He clenched up, terrified that it was a Death Eater in an invisibility cloak, but next second, a face had materialised before him, wearing a worried expression. "Harry?"

Harry rested his head in his hands again. "Hi, Peter..."

"What's wrong?" asked Peter, concerned. "You were upset all through Dark Arts too... is it Snape? Are you worried?"

Harry nodded a little. He really was, even if it was just slight worry. He brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes. "Didn't you hear what Ron said to me earlier? Don't you know everything that goes on in this castle?"

"I do, but I can't concentrate on everything at once... why, what happened? Have you had a fight?" Peter shuffled forwards through the dropping-strewn floor, sitting cross-legged in front of him, and Harry noticed that he was hovering a few inches off the ground.

He nodded numbly. "He thinks I'm jealous of him and Hermione..." Harry closed his eyes. "He said just because I was jealous, it didn't give me the right to take my frustrations out on him, and that I should be happy. But I am. I'm really pleased for them. The only reason he's getting to me is that he doesn't trust me."

"Girls," said Peter, sagely, with a smile. "I remember it all well... well... not really. They all said I was too spotty and too immature. They didn't know a good thing when they saw it, I say. But you want some advice, huh?"

Harry nodded sadly.

Peter sighed, and said, with a very wise expression, "Give it a few days. When Ron accepts that Hermione's not going to go gambolling off with somebody else, he'll be more likely to settle down. You know what? You could talk to Hermione. Get her to be really affectionate around Ron and give him more attention than you. At least for a little while."

Harry smiled weakly, and nodded. "Thanks, Peter... I'll try that... if it doesn't work, can I talk to you about it?"

"Hardly likely to say no, am I?" said Peter, raising one eyebrow. He smiled and patted Harry's shoulder. "It's rubbish being teen, I know. Just hold your head up high, keep battling on, and - "

The door opened. Harry looked up, as he felt a slight breeze and Peter vanished from sight. Ron stood in the doorway, one hand on the handle. "What are you doing on the floor?" he asked, looking surprised.

Harry thought about this for a moment, and then said, with a superior expression, "I have a perfect right to sit on the floor and not give you every little detail of why and how."

Ron sighed quietly. "Look, Harry, I'm sorry that things turned out the way they did, but you - "

"No, Ron, you look," said Harry, feeling his anger starting to rise. "I'm - not - jealous - of - you - and - Hermione. I don't FEEL ANYTHING for Hermione! Is it really that hard for you trust me? We're supposed to be best friends and you can't even trust me to be friends with somebody else!"

He was fully prepared to keep yelling at Ron, but his cousin was wearing such a blank, amazed look, that he fell quiet and wondered why Ron hadn't responded to this. After a moment, Ron said, in a startled voice, "You think I think you're jealous?"

"You said it this morning," said Harry, blankly.

"Not about HERMIONE," said Ron, still staring at him as though he was mad. "Harry, you prat, I meant Kainda!"

Harry just stared even more at this. Not only was it the last answer he'd expected, but Ron was the first person to actually say the name Kainda aloud in front of him in months. "W-what about her?"

Ron was slowly turning purple, in that wonderful colour swap that he'd perfected so well, as though dye was being poured through a little hole in the top of his head. "I thought you were angry because... me and Hermione have, you know, got together and... well... Kainda's sort of... not here..."

"You mean she's dead," said Harry, bluntly. He had thought that talking to Ron would make him feel better, not worse. Suddenly he almost wished that Ron would announce it was a joke about Kainda and that he actually did think Harry was jealous.

"She's not dead though," said Ron. "St Mungo's says she's only - "

"Nearly dead," said Harry.


"So you thought I was jealous that you're not alone and I am," said Harry, simply, cutting Ron off in his explanation.

"But you're not alone," said Ron. "Honestly, Harry... I guess I underestimated you... sorry, mate, but you haven't said a word about Kainda for ages and I just thought..."

"You thought wrong," said Harry, coldly. He just looked down into the straw spread across the floor. He sighed. "I don't want to talk about it."

Ron was quiet for a moment, then asked, timidly, "Have you heard anything from St Mungo's yet?"

Harry closed his eyes, and shook his head. "No... let's just drop it, Ron..." He stood up, brushing the straw from his robes. "Sorry I jumped to conclusions."

"Sorry I did too," said Ron. He held open the door for Harry, and the two of them stepped through, descending the winding staircase in near silence. Harry felt oddly quiet for some reason, almost guilty. He hadn't thought of Kainda much since the siege. Once upon a time, she'd been one of the most important things in his world, and now, he hardly ever thought of her. She could have died by now for all he knew. And he hadn't even given a thought to her...

Ron's voice brought him out of his thoughts as they stepped off the staircase. "You really miss her, don't you?"

Harry was silent for a moment, and then he nodded, just once. He missed her more than he'd missed anything in his whole life. But nothing he could say would make it okay. And so he said nothing, just walking alongside Ron, his eyes turned to the floor, though as they passed through the entrance hall, Harry couldn't help but imagine the last time he ever saw her, and the day she told him she loved him. Life wasn't fair really, he thought, watching Hermione hurrying from across the room, tucking herself under Ron's arm and asking where he'd been.

The rest of the day passed miserably slowly. He cheered up a little during charms, but apart from that, his day was decidedly gloomy. He couldn't stop thinking about Kainda, and what would have happened if she'd never had the Ocean's Venom. She would be leaving Hogwarts this year. All the other seventh years were happily discussing what they were going to do once they left, what jobs they were going for, if they were going to get flats together in London. Kainda had wanted to be a Beater for a Quidditch team. The first female Beater in the Quidditch league. She could have done it... easily. Of course, there was also the matter of the Staff vs. Students Quidditch game at the end of term. They couldn't play now. They were short of a Beater, and no matter who they signed up, it just wouldn't be the same. Kainda had deserved her chance to play, and to see somebody just stroll in and take her place wasn't fair.

Thoughts like these carried Harry all through the day, even after lessons finished and when they went back to the common room to do homework. Draco was still allowed in and to sleep there. He was waiting when they all got back, curled up in an armchair in front of the fire like a persian cat. Around his neck was the Honorary Gryffindor scarf Hermione had made for him. He always wore it when in the common room, so nobody could accost him for being in the wrong house.

He looked up as Harry, Ron and Hermione trailed into the room. One slim blonde eyebrow rose up when he saw Harry's face. "Merlin, has somebody died?" he drawled.

Harry twitched. He said nothing, but just fell into an armchair, getting out his homework and starting it without a word. Ron didn't say anything either. He just took the chair next to Harry in silence. Hermione and Draco swapped those exasperated looks they often did when Ron and Harry were being secretive, but thankfully, neither of them asked, so Harry and Ron didn't have to answer.

After a few hours of homework, it was time for dinner. The four of them went down to the Great Hall, and Harry thought that perhaps food would cheer him up a little. He was planning to send a letter to St Mungo's that evening, asking how Kainda was, and he knew that at least with an answer he would know what had happened to her.

All four of them sat down at the Gryffindor table and started pouring out their pumpkin juice and getting bread. Harry was about to ask Hermione to pass him the butter, when she said, looking up at the staff table, "Hey, Snape's back!"

Harry glanced up quickly. Snape was sitting at the very end of the table, and Harry recognised that expression very well. It was the look of somebody who would rather be dead than where they were now. He sat hunched over the table, his shoulders up, face hidden under his dark veils of greasy black hair, only showing his eyes. He was giving his goblet a look of pure, undiluted and unbridled hatred. Andralyn and Isabis were nowhere to be seen.

"If I were that goblet I'd be running for cover now," said Ron, wisely, buttering himself a bread roll.

"I wonder what happened to him in the forest," said Hermione. "Look... he's a got a scar down his face. Where did he get that? Do you think the centaurs...?"

"Probably," said Draco. He nibbled another lump off his bread roll. "Father always said they were savage creatures."

"They're not savage," said Hermione, hotly. "They're just protective of their territory, and they've got good reason to hate humans. In 1845, the commitee for - "

Draco rubbed his temples wearily, and after a few moments of blather, he said, "Please, Granger, if I wanted to learn History of Magic, I would have carried it on."

"I'd actually like to hear this," said Ron, glaring at Draco. "Some of us are trying to listen if you don't mind."

Harry, Draco, and even Hermione stared at him in amazement. After a moment, Harry said, worriedly, "You actually WANT to listen to Hermione's stories?"

"Um... yes."

There was another pause. "Why?" said Draco, alarmed.

"Because it's interesting," said Ron, giving him a look as though he was thick.

Draco blinked. "You've been drinking strange potions again, haven't you?"

Ron sniffed, with a very superior look on his face, as to everybody's surprise, he reached into his bag and took out a copy of Hogwarts: A History, propping it open against his pumpkin juice jug and started to read. "I'm sorry if you uneducated people do not support my new hobby. Of course, some minds just aren't tailored to suit education."

"Hmm," said Draco, frowning at him. Harry could see the warning look appearing in Draco's eyes.

"Someday you might realise the value of learning," said Ron, still in that slightly snotty voice. "Until then, I'm afraid you shall just have to accept that I want to learn."

"Ron," said Hermione, seriously. "You're scaring us."

Draco gave a tragic sigh, as though he'd really rather not do this, but it was with Ron's best intentions at heart. "I'm so sorry, Weasley, but this is for your own good." He drew out his wand, and gave it a casual flick. The letters on the front of Ron's book started to rearrange themselves, until with a 'ping', the title now read, "Snogwarts: A Kiss Story".

Ron's ears started to go purple. He took a deep breath, then picked up the book, and raised it over his head. "Well I'm sorry, Malfoy, but this is for YOUR own good too."

Hermione snatched it off him before he could beat Draco to death with it. Harry chuckled and started to butter himself another bread roll, while absent-mindedly watching the staff table. Snape was still in a foul mood. Harry watched him glowering around the hall for a few minutes, then reaching for a bread roll, something for him to do.

But just as his hand came into contact with the plate, there was a bang that made the whole hall jump and the entire plate of bread rolls burst into flames. Several people screamed and Snape withdrew his hand quickly, stuffing his fingers in his mouth, clearly burnt. McGonagall drew her wand and hurried over, casting a dousing charm over the plate, and the fire was out, leaving a smouldering mess of burnt bread and crumbs. All of the teachers were staring at Snape. Alrister was not. He was still drinking from his goblet and looking as though he hadn't even noticed, though a few seconds later, Harry distinctly heard the Pure Arts master murmur, "I warned you."

Snape looked as though he would strangle Alrister. The rest of the hall was turning back to their food now, as McGonagall took the burnt plate away into the entrance hall. Harry's friends started a conversation about the holidays, but Harry was too busy watching Snape sideways, trying to pick out what he and Alrister were hissing at each other.

"You knew the consequences," Alrister said, calmly. Snape muttered something at him that Harry didn't hear, but Alrister's response was, "You accuse my cousin, Snape, you accuse me."

Snape boiled with anger, but snarled, "Pass me the pumpkin juice, and keep your interests out of things that are my business."

Alrister had a very placid look on his face as he picked up the pumpkin juice jug, and handed it to Snape, with a wry, "Don't drown yourself in it or anything silly, will you..."

"One more word, Alrister, just one more word," Snape growled, as he took the jug. He hadn't even got it tilted to his cup before there was a quiet, angry hiss and he dropped it onto the table quickly, staring at it in alarm.

Alrister raised his eyebrows. "Oh, imagine that... it's boiling. What a coincidence."

Snape snarled, angrily, "Just be quiet. Damn you, don't say a word, nobody will have to notice. I know you're one for the theatrics but just be quiet for once."

Alrister chuckled, leant sideways, and murmured something to Professor McGonagall, who had just sat down. She looked serious, and then nodded with a frown. Standing up, she strode over to Snape and picked up the pumpkin juice quickly, giving him a swift glare, as she took it away. Snape just looked at Alrister, with narrowed eyes, shaking his head.

Things did not go well during the rest of dinner for Snape. He kept it all quiet, and only somebody who was watching would have noticed all the odd things happening to him. All the other teachers had hot food as usual, whilst today, he had soup, probably cold. Even then, when he put his spoon near it, the spoon simply shrivelled right up as though it had wilted. Then a dish of pasta came, and the fork slid from his hand, jabbing him hard in the hand, making four puncture marks. He cursed quietly and just tightened his fist to stop the bleeding. Harry almost felt sorry for him. None of the other teachers seemed to care. They just tutted, as though he was causing a nuisance, and that was if they noticed at all.

The final straw came when everybody else was just tucking into pudding, steaming hot chocolate sponge and custard. Apart from a few envious looks at Alrister, who was making quite a show of eating his dessert, Snape did nothing to show he'd noticed it at all. He just sat back in his chair, with an impatient sigh, glaring at the ceiling.

Harry had only just turned to start on his pudding when he heard the crunch.

It was like sticks of wood being crunched in half, and everybody whipped around to see what had caused the noise, just in time to see Snape topple backwards off his chair as both the back legs gave way. He disappeared under the table to a chorus of laughter. A few people started to applaud. Even some of the teachers smirked into their desserts, and nobody made any attempt to help Snape up.

He didn't need or want help though. Harry saw him stand up simply, silently, and just leave the hall without a word, not even blushing. The laughter gradually died out. Harry found that he no longer really wanted his pudding, as delicious as it was. What Snape had said out on the battlefield to him was starting to make more and more sense. How nobody saw Snape as a person, and so he didn't see them in return. He also understood why Snape had gone into the forest after Isabis. What else did he have in life? No friends, no family, his colleagues disliked him, the students all hated him... Harry didn't blame him for going after the one thing in life that he had at all. And it looked as though he'd lost that as well.

Harry sighed. Life wasn't fair really, he thought, watching Hermione feed Ron a spoonful of chocolate pudding, then giggle and wipe off a bit that had missed his mouth.


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