Harry ate dinner with a vigor, having skipped lunch. He sat in an isolated corner of the dining hall with Draco, Aris and Riker who watched him eat with the slightest concern.
“Nervous, Harry?” Riker asked conversationally.
“Yeah,” Harry admitted. “But I think I’ll be fine.”
“All the other competitors are nervous too,” he said certainly. “Not that Bennet would ever show it.”
“Why not?” Harry returned.
Riker shrugged. “Mental discipline?”
“Hm,” Harry said.
“Who are you rooting for?” Draco asked Riker and Aris, as if assessing their loyalty to Harry.
“Harry, of course,” Riker said with a wink. “You’re the favorite.”
“Really?” Harry asked in surprise. Riker nodded.
“How ‘bout you?” Draco asked Aris.
“Bennet,” he replied with a glance at Harry to see if he was offended.
Harry shrugged. “Fine with me. I’d prefer no pressure anyway.”
“Why?” Draco demanded of Aris aggressively.
Aris tilted his head, maintaining his calm. “It is a long story that I would rather not go into.”
“I hope there is no problem here,” a familiar voice said from behind Harry. Harry had not noticed Snape come down from the Head table.
“Hey, Severus,” Harry said. “There’s no problem.” He turned to his friends. “This is Professor Snape,” he told them. “And this is Aris and Riker,” Harry introduced to Severus.
“Nice to meet you, Professor,” Riker said politely, face betraying a hint of confusion and even wariness.
“It is a pleasure,” Aris echoed in kind.
Snape inclined his head. “I must admit, I was curious to meet Harry’s friends. I shall leave you to your meal now. Mr. Malfoy, if you would stop by my guest quarters with Harry sometime tonight, I would appreciate it.”
Draco stiffened. “Yes, sir.”
Snape gave Harry a look and then left the table, returning to his seat. Harry bit his lip, fearing that he had gotten Draco in trouble. He had mentioned in passing that Draco seemed a little more standoffish after hanging out with his new Durmstrang friends but did not expect Severus to take it to heart.
“Well,” Riker breathed. “He’s your guardian?”
“Yes,” Harry said, a tad defensive. “Something wrong?”
“He’s just not what I expected for you, being so famous and all,” Riker admitted.
Harry gave a small smile. “Everyone expects me to have chosen the perfect, model family to get adopted into. I guess Professor Snape doesn’t exactly fit the bill, does he?”
“Not at all,” Aris agreed. Riker nodded.
“I’m happy though,” Harry said reassuringly.
“And that’s what matters,” Riker said earnestly. He glanced at the time. “I have to go,” he said. “Aris, are you coming?”
“Yes,” Aris replied. “Good luck tomorrow, if I do not see you beforehand.”
“Yeah, good luck, Harry,” Riker seconded.
“Thanks,” Harry responded. “I’ll need it.”
As they walked away, Harry turned to Draco. “Are you okay, Draco? You seem really quiet.”
Draco turned to him, something fierce in his eyes. “What did you tell him?” he demanded.
“What?” Harry asked caught off guard.
“Snape, what did you tell him?”
“Uh, just that you were acting a little off. I was worried,” Harry said honestly.
“You didn’t tell him about the bl-” Draco cut himself off, searching Harry’s eyes. “Oh, you don’t know.”
“Wait, what?” Harry asked, alarmed. He realized he had just been legilimized and threw up an occlumency block. Harry lowered his voice. “Draco, where did you learn that?”
“None of your business,” he said before turning away.
“What were you going to say? I didn’t tell him about what?” Harry interrogated.
“None of your business,” Draco growled again. He picked up his tray and stood. “I’ll meet you at seven at the dorm and we’ll go see Snape,” he said, obviously not relishing the idea.
“Alright,” Harry said, watching his friend move away with worry. Appetite gone, Harry twirled his fork in his potatoes, feeling no desire to eat. Following Draco’s lead, he left the hall as well, figuring that maybe a little time alone would do him good. Harry headed for the library.
“Back from comforting your beloved son?” Karkaroff said snidely, voice low.
“He does not need comforting,” Severus replied dryly.
“Does Harry Potter know you are a Death Eater?” Igor asked as if he had just caught Severus in a trap.
“He does,” Severus replied calmly. “Do your students know that you were one?”
Karkaroff’s lip drew up in a sneer rather than answer. “Were? I still bear the Dark Mark. What, has yours up and disappeared?”
“No,” Severus said smartly. “But I was unaware that they still considered traitors Death Eaters.”
“Ah, so you admit you are a traitor,” Igor said with satisfaction.
Severus looked at him. “Actually, I was speaking of you.”
“I am no traitor,” Igor growled. “You adopted the bloody Boy Who Lived!”
“I am not denying that I am a traitor,” Severus said flatly. “If that is the brand you would place on me, by all means, go ahead. It matters little to me. You, however, deserted even before I did.”
Karkaroff’s eyes flashed. “Potter will lose. The tournament- he will lose.”
“It is not his desire to win,” Severus stated. “Though I will not fool myself in believing that you are not helping your champion.”
“I’m not,” Karkaroff spat. “Dumbledore seems to have nothing else to do but to prevent me from doing so.”
Severus smirked. “Good,” he said. “As much fun as this has been, I do hope you will excuse me. Let’s do this again sometime,” he said sarcastically, rising.
“Of course,” Karkaroff agreed mockingly. Severus spared him a glare before leaving for his quarters.
“Harry, Mr. Malfoy, come in,” Severus said. They did so and Severus turned to Harry. “Harry, would you give us some privacy for a few minutes? You may wait in the back room if you wish.”
Harry nodded and with a mildly worried look at the two of them, left the room. Severus cast a silencing charm.
“Sit, Mr. Malfoy,” Severus said, gesturing to an armchair. Draco sat, gazing at him warily. Severus sat as well and leaned back to study the think blonde haired boy. He looked peeved as well as nervous. “Do you remember what I told you just before you left Hogwarts?”
“Yes,” Draco said testily.
Severus breathed in and considered him. “I feel that you might need a reminder. I told you to keep an eye on Harry. I told you to report to me if he seemed negatively influenced by the people here. To tell me if anything strange was happening, anything dark.” Severus leaned forward and Draco flinched. He continued in a deceptively quiet voice. “Imagine my surprise when it was not Harry that needed watching; it was you.”
Draco was silent.
“You swore, if I recall correctly,” Severus stated. “Tell me, how is it possible to assure me that Harry is not involved in Dark activities when you yourself are?”
“I don’t-” Draco started, wide eyed and defensive.
Severus held up a hand and he stopped. He lowered his voice so that it was deadly quiet. “Do not lie to me, Draco.” Draco quieted and seemed diminished. “You think that I cannot tell those who are tainted by the Dark Arts?”
In truth, Severus could not. Very few had that ability and it generally was not something that could be learned. However, when he had brought up the topic, something flickered across Draco’s eyes before being hidden with occlumency. Severus idly wondered where he had learned that.
“I didn’t have a choice,” Draco said quietly.
“You always have a choice, Mr. Malfoy,” Severus said, standing. “I will simply tell you this: it is a long road of redemption after practicing the Dark Arts. That is, if there is such a thing as redemption,” he added in a tone that was less than encouraging. “I invite you to consider that before doing anything rash.” He walked towards the door at the back of the room. “I will tell Harry we are finished. You may go now.”
Draco nodded, seeming eager to leave before Harry came out. When the door closed behind him, Severus turned and opened the one to his bedroom.
“Harry, you can come out now,” Severus said, poking his head into the room. Harry sat cross-legged on the bed, reading through a Potions magazine that had been laying on Severus’s nightstand.
He hopped up and walked into the other room behind Severus. “Where’s Draco?”
“He left,” Severus replied dryly.
“Oh,” Harry said, frowning. “Is everything alright?”
“It should be,” Severus said. “Come, have a seat.”
Harry sat on the couch and pulled his knees up to his chest. The nerves were again beginning to invade his stomach. He drummed his fingers on his knee lightly.
“Harry, are you doing okay?”
“Just nervous,” Harry said as Severus took a seat as well.
“Sirius sends his best intentions and I am sure all of your friends are rooting for you back at Hogwarts,” Severus said encouragingly.
Harry looked away, pained.
Severus tilted his head. “What is it?”
Harry sighed, not really wanting to admit that he hadn’t spoken to Ron since he left. Then he considered that he might not get another chance to talk to his guardian about it face-to-face. “Ron still isn’t talking to me.”
“Still?” Severus asked, brows lowering.
“Not since I left,” Harry admitted.
“How come you have not said anything?” Severus asked in concern.
Harry shrugged. “I guess I kept thinking he would come around.”
“May I ask why he is angry with you? Is it because of the tournament?”
Harry nodded. “He thinks I put my name in the drawing because I wanted more attention. I told him I didn’t but...”
“There was a time when I would have thought the same thing,” Severus admitted casually. “I will admit, I wondered why you requested your broom be given to Ms. Weasley rather than her brother.”
“He never replied to my offer,” Harry said sadly. “At least she’ll use it more being that she’s Seeker. Maybe they’ll beat Slytherin,” he said with a wan smile.
“Hm. Well perhaps he is not a true friend if this is how he treats you,” Severus suggested.
“No, he’s just being stubborn,” Harry said in Ron’s defense. “He’ll come around, I’m sure. He’s my best friend, I don’t want to lose him.”
“Let’s hope you do not.”
“Yeah,” Harry replied.
“Are you ready for tomorrow?” Severus asked. “You best get a good night’s sleep.”
“I’m not sure. I hope so,” Harry said uncertainly. “I can’t imagine sleeping right now though.”
“Trust me, you must sleep. You will need to keep your wits about you tomorrow,” Severus said. “I prepared for this. I will fetch the potion I brought for you.”
He stood and Harry watched him leave the room. Severus was definitely being nicer than usual. It was a little odd but not unwelcome. Perhaps that was his way of masking his nerves. Somehow, Harry suspected that he wasn’t masking his own nerves, but rather putting them aside to concentrate on Harry. He was extremely grateful.
“Here,” Severus said, handing him a small bottle. “Now go on and get some sleep.”
Harry smiled. “Thank you, Severus. I don’t think I could do this without you.”
“I am sure you could,” Severus said softly. “Though I wish you did not have to at all.”
“Me too,” Harry agreed. He turned to leave but hesitated. “Thank you... for everything.”
“It will all be okay, Harry. I promise,” Severus said, eyes revealing an earnestness that Harry was not ready for.
Harry wanted to ask him how he knew but he held back. “I believe you. Goodnight.”
With one last glance over his shoulder, Harry left, clutching the bottle tightly in his hand as if it were all that tied him to reality. He felt so undone and needed something to hold him together. Harry took a deep breath and assured himself that Severus always kept his promises.
Severus closed the door with a soft click behind Harry. He let out a deep breath and pressed his back to the door, sinking slowly to the hard floor. Severus sat in that manner for a long moment.
“I promise,” Severus repeated to himself. He thought of all the times he had uttered those words. He had promised to be nicer to Lupin. He had promised Sirius to attempt to shield Harry. He had promised Lily’s memory to keep Harry safe. Now, he had to make everything alright, somehow, for Harry. For some reason, this did not seem like an unreasonable task at the moment; Severus got the feeling that even without stating it, he would have tried to do so anyway.
Not one to break his promises, Severus hoped that he could follow through, not only for Harry’s sake, but also for his own.
AN: Now don't freak out! The next chapter will be the first task, I promise!