Hoping For a Better Future: BOOK ONE

One day after the end of Harry's third year, he wanders the castle when suddenly a whole package of books falls on his head. Read my version of Reading the Harry Potter Books! =D

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13. VIII - The Potions Master

VIII - The Potions Master

"Why does he have to get his own chapter?" Sirius whined. Snape didn't say anything, but the smirk on his face was worth a thousand words anyway.

"I'm sure you'll get one in the third book," Harry teased. Remus was pleased to see that Harry was still comfortable around his godfather – he had been expecting that it would take a while for him to get relaxed around Sirius again, but the boy kept surprising him.

McGonagall cleared her throat and said, "Now, if I could begin to read?"

Everyone went quiet. Sirius even mimed zipping his lips.

"There, look."

"Where?"

"Next to the tall kid with the red hair."

"Wearing the glasses?"

"Did you see his face?"

"Did you see his scar?"

"That was really annoying, by the way," Harry felt the need to inform the others.

"We know," Ron and Hermione said in unison, Neville just a second behind them. All four of the teenagers looked at each other and burst out laughing. Most of the adults on the other hand, felt the need to roll their eyes.

Whispers followed Harry from the moment he left his dormitory next day. People queuing outside classrooms stood on tiptoe to get a look at him, or doubled back to pass him in the corridors again, staring. Harry wished they wouldn't, because he was trying to concentrate on finding his way to classes.

There were a hundred and forty-two staircases at Hogwarts: wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday; some with a vanishing step halfway up that you had to remember to jump.

Neville winced at the mention of the vanishing steps. He lost count of how many times he's forgotten about them and got caught in one of them.

Then there were doors that wouldn't open unless you asked politely, or tickled them in exactly the right place, and doors that weren't really doors at all, but solid walls just pretending. It was also very hard to remember where anything was, because it all seemed to move around a lot. The people in the portraits kept going to visit each other and Harry was sure the coats of armour could walk.

"They can," Sirius teased. Harry did the only thing that he could think of – he ignored his godfather.

The ghosts didn't help, either. It was always a nasty shock when one of them glided suddenly through a door you were trying to open. Nearly Headless Nick was always happy to point new Gryffindors in the right direction, but Peeves the poltergeist was worth two locked doors and a trick staircase if you met him when you were late for class. He would drop waste-paper baskets on your head, pull rugs from under your feet, pelt you with bits of chalk or sneak up behind you, invisible, grab your nose and screech, "GOT YOUR CONK!"

"He still does that?" asked a surprised Sirius. Harry had a bad feeling about this comment.

"Of course he does, you taught it to him," Remus said exasperatedly. Harry now knew why he had a bad feeling. He hoped that Sirius hadn't taught anything else to the crazy poltergeist. Or anyone else still in the castle, at that.

Even worse than Peeves, if that was possible, was the caretaker, Argus Filch. Harry and Ron managed to get on the wrong side of him on their very first morning.

"Wow, not even James and I managed to do that," said Sirius proudly.

"And we're thankful for that," McGonagall said, slightly irritated at all the interruptions.

Filch found them trying to force their way through a door which unluckily turned out to be the entrance to the out-of-bounds corridor on the third floor.

"You have the worst luck, Harry," Tonks said, shaking her head.

"That's Harry for you," Ron quickly said, ignoring the elbow in his ribs – courtesy of Harry.

He wouldn't believe they were lost, was sure they were trying to break into it on purpose and was threatening to lock them in the dungeons when they were rescued by Professor Quirrell, who was passing.

Harry, Ron and Hermione looked at each other. They all knew that professor Quirrell wasn't just passing by now.

Filch owned a cat called Mrs Norris, a scrawny, dust-coloured creature with bulging, lamp-like eyes just like Filch's. She patrolled the corridors alone. Break a rule in front of her, put just one toe out of line,

"That sounds like something my mum would say," Ron grumbled disgustedly to the amusement of everyone who knew Molly Weasley.

"I think it's something she actually said," Harry said, grinning. It took Ron a few seconds to remember his mum's Howler from last year and he immediately went as red as his hair. Hermione giggled as she remembered the incident as well.

and she'd whisk off for Filch, who'd appear, wheezing, two seconds later. Filch knew the secret passageways of the school better than anyone (except perhaps the Weasley twins) and could pop up as suddenly as any of the ghosts. The students all hated him and it was the dearest ambition of many to give Mrs Norris a good kick.

"I kicked her once," said Sirius proudly.

"I kind of figured that out by myself, thanks," Harry said.

And then, once you had managed to find them, there were the lessons themselves. There was a lot more to magic, as Harry quickly found out, than waving your wand and saying a few funny words.

Harry was reminded of his first Potions lesson. It seemed Hermione also remembered it and with a look at each other, they quoted their professor in unison,

"As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic."

Harry could see Dumbledore's beard and professor Snape's eyelid twitch, and decided to have a little fun.

"I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses … I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death – if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach," he continued to quote his Potions professor.

"That was quite the speech professor Snape," Tonks said, after she finished giggling. "You should have stopped at stoppering death though."

Snape glared at everyone, but somehow couldn't make himself glare at Harry – he was impressed that the boy remembered his speech from all those years ago.

They had to study the night skies through their telescopes every Wednesday at midnight and learn the names of different stars and the movements of the planets. Three times a week they went out to the greenhouses behind the castle to study Herbology with a dumpy little witch called Professor Sprout, where they learnt how to take care of all the strange plants and fungi and found out what they were used for.

"I love Herbology," Neville said with a smile.

Easily the most boring lesson was History of Magic, which was the only class taught by a ghost. Professor Binns had been very old indeed when he had fallen asleep in front of the staff-room fire and got up next morning to teach, leaving his body behind him. Binns droned on and on while they scribbled down names and dates and got Emeric the Evil and Uric the Oddball mixed up.

Professor Flitwick, the Charms teacher, was a tiny little wizard who had to stand on a pile of books to see over his desk. At the start of their first lesson he took the register, and when he reached Harry's name he gave an excited squeak and toppled out of sight.

McGonagall shook her head at her colleague's antics, and continued reading.

Professor McGonagall was again different. Harry had been quite right to think she wasn't a teacher to cross. Strict and clever, she gave them a talking-to the moment they had sat down in her first class.

"Transfiguration is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts," she said. "Anyone messing around in my class will leave and not come back. You have been warned."

"You warned us too, but you never threw us out," Sirius said smugly.

"That's not something you should be proud of, Mr Black," McGonagall said in her strictest voice.

Then she changed her desk into a pig and back again. They were all very impressed and couldn't wait to get started, but soon realised they weren't going to be changing the furniture into animals for a long time. After making a lot of complicated notes, they were each given a match and started trying to turn it into a needle. By the end of the lesson, only Hermione Granger had made any difference to her match; Professor McGonagall showed the class how it had gone all silver and pointy and gave Hermione a rare smile.

"You didn't inherit your father's talent in Transfiguration then," Sirius commented. Harry frowned at that. While he loved being compared to his father most of the time, he didn't like it when Sirius did it for some reason. It made him feel as if Sirius was trying to replace him (Harry) with James.

"I am not my father," he said quietly and seriously. Ever since he heard the story about how Sirius had almost set Remus on Snape and how his dad came to save Snape, he had thought about his father a lot. He tried to pretend that his father came to save Snape because he was a good guy, but he had this nagging thought that it was only because of Sirius' stupidity and not because Snape was in danger.

"I know you're not," said Sirius calmly. Somehow, he could sense what went on in Harry's head just then.

Snape couldn't help but silently agree. From what he observed of the boy in classes, out of them and especially in this room, he seemed to be more like Lily. Of course that made him snarl quietly to himself. As more and more of Lily emerged from the boy, the less he could hate him.

The class everyone had really been looking forward to was Defence Against the Dark Arts, but Quirrell's lessons turned out to be a bit of a joke. His classroom smelled strongly of garlic, which everyone said was to ward off a vampire he'd met in Romania and was afraid would be coming back to get him one of these days. His turban, he told them, had been given to him by an African prince as a thank-you for getting rid of a troublesome zombie, but they weren't sure they believed this story. For one thing, when Seamus Finnigan asked eagerly to hear how Quirrell had fought off the zombie, Quirrell went pink and started talking about the weather; for another, they had noticed that a funny smell hung around the turban, and the Weasley twins insisted that it was stuffed full of garlic as well, so that Quirrell was protected wherever he went.

Harry was very relieved to find out that he wasn't miles behind everyone else. Lots of people had come from Muggle families and, like him, hadn't had any idea that they were witches and wizards. There was so much to learn that even people like Ron didn't have much of a head start.

"Thank you so much for your vote of confidence," Ron sulked.

"Any time," Harry smirked.

Friday was an important day for Harry and Ron. They finally managed to find their way down to the Great Hall for breakfast without getting lost once.

"Congratulations! I'm so proud of you," Sirius mocked. Remus shook his head and decided to deflate his friend's ego a little bit.

"Really, Sirius. You shouldn't talk – it took you two weeks to find it."

"Shut up, Remus," Sirius murmured amidst the teenagers' giggling.

"What have we got today?" Harry asked Ron as he poured sugar on his porridge.

"Double Potions with the Slytherins," said Ron. "Snape's Head of Slytherin house. They say he always favours them – we'll be able to see if it's true."

"Wish McGonagall favoured us," said Harry. Professor McGonagall was head of Gryffindor house, but it hadn't stopped her giving them a huge pile of homework the day before.

Just then, the post arrived. Harry had got used to this by now, but it had given him a bit of a shock on the first morning, when about a hundred owls had suddenly streamed into the Great Hall during breakfast, circling the tables until they saw their owners and dropping letters and packages on to their laps.

"I remember, you jumped and spilled your cornflakes all over yourself," Ron tried to get back at his mate for his earlier comment. Harry pinked a bit, but didn't reply.

Hedwig hadn't brought Harry anything so far. She sometimes flew in to nibble his ear and have a bit of toast before going off to sleep in the owlery with the other school owls. This morning, however, she fluttered down between the marmalade and the sugar bowl and dropped a note on to Harry's plate. Harry tore it open at once.

Dear Harry, (it said, in a very untidy scrawl)

I know you get Friday afternoons off, so would you like to come and have a cup of tea with me around three? I want to hear all about your first week. Send us an answer back with Hedwig.

  Hagrid

"I'm still shocked you can read his handwriting..." Sirius said, shaking his head as if in disbelief.

"Well, after trying to imitate Dudley's chicken scratch, Hagrid's writing is really easy to decipher," Harry tried to defend himself. This made everyone's mood plummet.

Harry borrowed Ron's quill, scribbled "Yes, please, see you later" on the back of the note and sent Hedwig off again.

It was lucky that Harry had tea with Hagrid to look forward to, because the Potions lesson turned out to be the worst thing that had happened to him so far.

Both Harry and Snape grimaced at that.

At the start-of-term banquet, Harry had got the idea that Professor Snape disliked him. By the end of the first Potions lesson, he knew he'd been wrong.

Snape's eyebrow rose and fell again with the next sentence.

Snape didn't dislike Harry – he hated him.

Potions lessons took place down in one of the dungeons. It was colder here than up in the main castle and would have been quite creepy enough without the pickled animals floating in glass jars all around the walls.

Snape, like Flitwick, started the class by taking the register, and like Flitwick, he paused at Harry's name.

"Ah, yes," he said softly, "Harry Potter. Our new – celebrity."

Sirius was man enough to only roll his eyes at that.

Draco Malfoy and his friends Crabbe and Goyle sniggered behind their hands. Snape finished calling the names and looked up at the class. His eyes were black like Hagrid's, but they had none of Hagrid's warmth. They were cold and empty and made you think of dark tunnels.

"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making," he began. He spoke in barely more than a whisper, but they caught every word – like Professor McGonagall, Snape had the gift of keeping a class silent without effort.

"Here it comes," said Harry cheekily, trying to dissolve the tension in the room. Hermione socked him in the arm, but started giggling again anyway.

"As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses … I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death – if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach."

"As I said before, you really should've stopped with stoppering death," Tonks reiterated. Snape only huffed in annoyance.

More silence followed this little speech. Harry and Ron exchanged looks with raised eyebrows. Hermione Granger was on the edge of her seat and looked desperate to start proving that she wasn't a dunderhead.

"You saw that," murmured Hermione, embarrassed.

"Of course I did," smirked Harry, earning himself another elbow in the ribs, this time from Hermione.

"Stop maiming me, woman!" he grinned.

"Then stop embarrassing me all the time!" Hermione huffed back.

"I can't help what's written in the book about what I noticed!" Harry argued back.

"You can stop commenting on it, though," Hermione retorted with her arms crossed.

"I'll try, but I can't make any promises," Harry tried to compromise.

"I guess that's the best I'll get out of you," Hermione finally calmed down.

"Besides, you were the one to comment about it just now," Harry got the last word in, making Hermione speechless as she realized that it was, indeed, the truth.

The adults merely observed the two bickering teenagers with amusement. You could see Dumbledore's beard twitching again, and McGonagall's lips were also less thinner as if she was holding back a smile. Remus, Tonks and Sirius on the other hand were all grinning broadly at the display of affection. Ron and Neville could be seen rolling their eyes at the pair and Moody was just staring at the book.

"Potter!" said Snape suddenly. "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"

"Severus," McGonagall suddenly said. "That's sixth year material! You can't expect a first year to know that."

Ron, Harry and Neville smirked a bit at the admonishment Snape received and at the fact that indeed, a first years knew that.

Powdered root of what to an infusion of what? Harry glanced at Ron, who looked as stumped as he was; Hermione's hand had shot into the air.

"Unless it's Miss Granger, of course," McGonagall corrected herself swiftly, making Snape smirk in amusement.

"Really, Minerva," he said silkily. "You really should have expected that one."

Everyone laughed at the glare McGonagall sent at the Potions Master.

"I don't know, sir," said Harry.

Snape's lips curled into a sneer.

"Tut, tut – fame clearly isn't everything."

He ignored Hermione's hand.

"Let's try again. Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?"

"That's material learned at the end of first year, Severus. Were you going easy on the boy, perchance?" Albus teased, knowing that Severus could ask a harder question than this one.

Snape glared at the Headmaster, making Harry realize that it was a silent agreement since he did not deny it loudly.

Hermione stretched her hand as high into the air as it would go without her leaving her seat, but Harry didn't have the faintest idea what a bezoar was. He tried not to look at Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle, who were shaking with laughter.

"I don't know, sir."

"Thought you wouldn't open a book before coming, eh, Potter?"

Harry forced himself to keep looking straight into those cold eyes. He had looked through his books at the Dursleys', but did Snape expect him to remember everything in One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi?

"Silly boy," Snape murmured. "That's the Herbology textbook. No wonder you didn't know the answers, if you were reading the wrong book."

Harry pinked. How was he supposed to know about that before coming to Hogwarts.

"I know that now," he grumbled at the professor, who gave him a smirk. Nasty bastard.

Snape was still ignoring Hermione's quivering hand.

"What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfs-bane?"

"Oooh, a trick question," Tonks piped up, grinning at the absurdness of the Potions lesson. She knew that they should feel a bit indignant for Harry's sake, but seeing as Harry himself didn't mind it, so did no one else.

At this, Hermione stood up, her hand stretching towards the dungeon ceiling.

"I don't know," said Harry quietly. "I think Hermione does, though, why don't you try her?"

"Lily's cheek, right there," Sirius smiled.

A few people laughed; Harry caught Seamus's eye and Seamus winked. Snape, however, was not pleased.

"Sit down," he snapped at Hermione. "For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite. Well? Why aren't you all copying that down?"

"Because you didn't tell us to?" Harry dared to say, earning himself another glare from Snape.

There was a sudden rummaging for quills and parchment. Over the noise, Snape said, "And a point will be taken from Gryffindor house for your cheek, Potter."

"You really were going easy on him," McGonagall commented. Snape stayed quiet – he didn't want to admit that he was taken off guard with the boy's reply – it reminded him of Lily as well – and he couldn't quite bring himself to take more points from the boy. Of course, he corrected the mistake in later classes.

Things didn't improve for the Gryffindors as the Potions lesson continued. Snape put them all into pairs and set them to mixing up a simple potion to cure boils. He swept around in his long black cloak, watching them weigh dried nettles and crush snake fangs, criticising almost everyone except Malfoy whom he seemed to like. He was just telling everyone to look at the perfect way Malfoy had stewed his horned slugs when clouds of acid green smoke and a loud hissing filled the dungeon. Neville had somehow managed to melt Seamus's cauldron into a twisted blob and their potion was seeping across the stone floor, burning holes in people's shoes. Within seconds, the whole class were standing on their stools while Neville, who had been drenched in the potion when the cauldron collapsed, moaned in pain as angry red boils sprang up all over his arms and legs.

"Idiot boy!" snarled Snape, clearing the spilled potion away with one wave of his wand.

"See, no foolish wand-waving in his classroom," Harry said before anyone else could comment on how Neville was treated. He and Neville had talked about it a few months ago when Ron and Hermione were arguing and they came up with the idea that if Snape wasn't so strict with them, a lot more accidents would happen. Potions were a dangerous subject if treated incorrectly after all.

"And no one got hurt too badly, luckily," Neville added, after catching Harry's eyes and remembering their talk as well.

Sirius, who had just opened his mouth to yell at Snape, fell silent at that.

"I suppose you added the porcupine quills before taking the cauldron off the fire?"

Neville whimpered as boils started to pop up all over his nose.

"Take him up to the hospital wing," Snape spat at Seamus. Then he rounded on Harry and Ron, who had been working next to Neville.

"You – Potter – why didn't you tell him not to add the quills? Thought he'd make you look good if he got it wrong, did you? That's another point you've lost for Gryffindor."

"Still going easy on him, I see," McGonagall said. She wanted to scold him, of course, but from what Harry and Neville said, she supposed it would be a moot point. They were determined to defend Snape's actions.

This was so unfair that Harry opened his mouth to argue, but Ron kicked him behind their cauldron.

"Don't push it," he muttered. "I've heard Snape can turn very nasty."

"Yes, he can," Harry mumbled as he remembered all of his encounters with Snape.

As they climbed the steps out of the dungeon an hour later, Harry's mind was racing and his spirits were low. He'd lost two points for Gryffindor in his very first week – why did Snape hate him so much?

"Cheer up," said Ron. "Snape's always taking points off Fred and George. Can I come and meet Hagrid with you?"

"Didn't really help," Harry felt the need to inform his best friend.

At five to three they left the castle and made their way across the grounds. Hagrid lived in a small wooden house on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. A crossbow and a pair of galoshes were outside the front door.

When Harry knocked they heard a frantic scrabbling from inside and several booming barks. Then Hagrid's voice rang out, saying, "Back, Fang – back."

Hagrid's big hairy face appeared in the crack as he pulled the door open.

"Hang on," he said. "Back, Fang."

He let them in, struggling to keep a hold on the collar of an enormous black boarhound.

There was only one room inside. Hams and pheasants were hanging from the ceiling, a copper kettle was boiling on the open fire and in a corner stood a massive bed with a patchwork quilt over it.

"Make yerselves at home," said Hagrid, letting go of Fang, who bounded straight at Ron and started licking his ears.

"He always pounds on me," Ron complained.

"He likes you the best, after all," Harry laughed.

Like Hagrid, Fang was clearly not as fierce as he looked.

"This is Ron," Harry told Hagrid, who was pouring boiling water into a large teapot and putting rock cakes on to a plate.

"Another Weasley eh?" said Hagrid, glancing at Ron's freckles. "I spent half me life chasin' yer twin brothers away from the Forest."

"That didn't make me feel any better either," Ron said.

The rock cakes almost broke their teeth,

"From then on, we never ate them again," Harry said.

but Harry and Ron pretended to be enjoying them as they told Hagrid all about their first lessons. Fang rested his head on Harry's knee and drooled all over his robes.

"Nice," Sirius laughed.

Harry and Ron were delighted to hear Hagrid call Filch "that old git".

"An' as fer that cat, Mrs Norris, I'd like ter introduce her to Fang some time. D'yeh know, every time I go up ter the school, she follows me everywhere? Can't get rid of her – Filch puts her up to it."

Almost everyone laughed at Hagrid's comment on Mrs Norris.

Harry told Hagrid about Snape's lesson. Hagrid, like Ron, told Harry not to worry about it, that Snape liked hardly any of the students.

"But he seemed to really hate me."

"Rubbish!" said Hagrid. "Why should he?"

Yet Harry couldn't help thinking that Hagrid didn't quite meet his eyes when he said that.

"Hagrid is a lousy liar, after all," Harry said with a grin.

"How's yer brother Charlie?" Hagrid asked Ron. "I liked him a lot – great with animals."

"And he's also lousy with changing the subject," Ron said, grinning as well.

Harry wondered if Hagrid had changed the subject on purpose. While Ron told Hagrid all about Charlie's work with dragons, Harry picked up a piece of paper that was lying on the table under the tea cosy. It was a cutting from the Daily Prophet:

GRINGOTTS BREAK-IN LATEST

Investigations continue into the break-in at Gringotts on 31 July, widely believed to be the work of dark wizards or witches unknown.

Gringotts' goblins today insisted that nothing had been taken. The vault that was searched had in fact been emptied the same day.

"But we're not telling you what was in there, so keep your noses out if you know what's good for you," said a Gringotts spokesgoblin this afternoon.

Harry remembered Ron telling him on the train that someone had tried to rob Gringotts, but Ron hadn't mentioned the date.

"Hagrid!" said Harry. "That Gringotts break-in happened on my birthday! It might've been happening while we were there!"

There was no doubt about it, Hagrid definitely didn't meet Harry's eyes this time. He grunted and offered him another rock cake.

"Well, that's Hagrid for you," Hermione added her two knuts into the discussion.

Harry read the story again. The vault that was searched had in fact been emptied earlier that same day. Hagrid had emptied vault seven hundred and thirteen, if you could call it emptying, taking out that grubby little package. Had that been what the thieves were looking for?

"Good instincts," Moody suddenly said, startling almost everyone. They had forgotten that he was in the room as well. No wonder, he almost never commented on anything, just listened.

As Harry and Ron walked back to the castle for dinner, their pockets weighed down with rock cakes they'd been too polite to refuse, Harry thought that none of the lessons he'd had so far had given him as much to think about as tea with Hagrid. Had Hagrid collected that package just in time? Where was it now? And did Hagrid know something about Snape that he didn't want to tell Harry?

"That's the end of the chapter," said McGonagall and without a word pushed the book into Dumbledore's hands.

 

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