“Horcruxes,” Hermione repeated, her eyes wild. Harry looked around at the empty Quidditch pitch and nodded. They were sitting on the grass, Ron’s head resting on Hermione’s lap as he stared at Harry in confusion. The weather was still nice, and the stadium looked even larger when it wasn't being used.
“He split his soul into seven pieces,” Harry explained. “They could be anything. Dumbledore’s been searching for clues but I don’t think he’s found much. I’m not supposed to be telling you any of this.”
“And you're going to help him? Find them?”
“And destroy them. Yes. He trusts me.” He wasn’t as sure about it as he pretended to be. But he needed to believe it.
“If you are to fight him, I’m coming with you,” Ron said. The snitch he'd been toying with slipped from his fingers and flew right above his head; he quickly caught it again.
“We’re both coming with you,” Hermione said. “I’m not even going to argue about that.”
Harry snorted. There was really no point in arguing. He never succeeded at keeping them out of his problems. “I know.”
Being with his friends was refreshing. They never thought of him as weird or an outsider. Spending so much of his time with Snape had made him accustomed to reading between the lines. It was nice to just hear what the people in his life were thinking about and not having to guess all the time. Only now he understood how much he loved them.
“Dad might retire,” Ron said abruptly. “The Ministry's corrupted, he says. There are whispers going around, targeting, you know, blood traitors. Thickness has spies all over the place. It's not safe anymore."
“The Ministry is definitely corrupted. It’s one of the few things Luna was completely right about.” Hermione made a pause. "They want to eliminate us. And Hogwarts is a good place to start from because here they can find all the school records of the - muggleborns. It’s the easiest way to find them. Us. And our families.”
“I wouldn't worry about Hogwarts as much as about the Muggle cities. Imagine if the Death Eaters attacked in London. The secrecy could break.”
It was the first time in his life that Harry felt anxious about the Dursleys' safety. Now that the house in Surrey wasn’t protected anymore anyone could attack his uncle and aunt. He had to do something. Warn them.
“Or they could Obliviate everyone. So they’d forget they saw them,” said Ron.
Hermione snorted. “Obliviate? They wouldn’t need to. If they attack London, I don’t think there would be any survivors left to tell the story.”
“Malfoy’s one of them,” said Harry. “Don’t ask, I just know it,” he added.
Hermione furrowed her brows; she didn’t believe him. “You know it because of information or because of accusation?”
“I know it. Many Slytherins are.” Probably even some students of other houses too. He didn’t want to think of a Gryffindor being a Death Eater, but then he was reminded of Pettigrew.
“I’m not surprised, with Snape above their heads all the time. He’s brainwashing them. I bet he gets inside their minds, having them worship You-Know-Who.” The snitch escaped Ron’s fingers again and Hermione caught it with an admittedly quick move.
“If Professor Dumbledore trusts him, I trust him,” she said. “Besides, he’s the best Defence teacher we’ve ever had.”
“How can you say that?” Ron exhaled. “Since he got the position he became a complete psychopath, ‘Mione! Qualification exams in the first day of the year and not even following the book! Who cares about the history of Unforgivables? That’s supposed to be in History class, not in Defence!”
“He wants us to learn, Ron.”
“Oh, come on. Tell me a single student who didn’t fail at that damned test. A single one.”
Hermione grinned apologetically, although her shoulders remained proudly squared. “I passed it. It was common knowledge. I can’t understand how so many students failed.”
“You don’t count as a normal student, Hermione. You’ve read every book in the world.”
Hermione sighed in an “I-wish-I-had” sort of way. “Harry passed it too,” she said. As much as Harry tried to pretend he didn’t notice her burning glare, he failed. He looked up from his lap to meet her questioning look.
“What?” he said. “It was common knowledge.”
Hermione narrowed her eyes and for the first time in ages, Harry blushed.
“Those of you who have read the syllabus may already know that your participation will be graded in company with your overall performance. N.E.W.T.s are closer than you think and you are expected to work hard.”
“If that’s what he has to say in September just imagine him in a few months,” Ron muttered. Harry snorted.
“The level of your engagement in class is essential; if you fail to turn in your scrolls in time, then you’d better take a look at Filch on your way out. The only future awaiting you is probably his.”
“Racist bastard. He speaks of squibs like –”
“Mister Weasley. Care to honour the rest of us with whichever undoubtedly wise brainstorm you were sharing with Mister Potter?” Ron didn’t speak. Harry looked up at Snape who wasn’t looking at him. “No? Very well. That will be ten points from Gryffindor.”
Ron grunted as Snape turned around to walk to his desk. “Take out your wands and stand up.”
Harry tried to remind himself just how happy he was before he found out that Snape was a human being with feelings, fears, and weak spots. And failed miserably at the reminder of Sirius’ death and Remus’ sacking and Voldemort’s return. He wondered if Snape ever regretted switching sides. Probably.
“Completely wrong, is this how you’ve been holding your wand all your life?”
Hermione looked at her hand confused. “This is how I was taught to hold it, sir.”
“And you call yourself a witch? This is the poorest performance I’ve ever seen.”
Harry loved Hermione too much to chuckle. He wanted to tell her that he didn’t mean it. That he didn’t know any other way of teaching but scolding and insulting. That he wasn’t really like that. Looking at Snape now, it occurred to him that Snape was exactly like that. There was no reason to prettify him or his intentions. This was him. This was how he treated people. In rare cases, when relaxed, when alone, when quiet, he behaved only slightly better than this and only for a bit. It used to be enough.
Harry wasn’t sure if it was anymore.
Looking up at him, Harry was unable to see a professor anymore. The authority had been erased long ago. The title had become meaningless. He’d never know this man. But in his own way, he already knew him. And maybe this was the itchy part. Snape never wanted people to understand him. It was part of his job. His real job.
When the class ended, Harry couldn’t recall having learnt anything. He could honestly admit to himself that he hadn’t paid attention at all. Not that it mattered. Most likely he was going to fail the class anyway. It was meant for the students to fail it. He’d laugh, were he alone. Or he’d have a breakdown. It was funny how everybody kept thinking Harry was going to have a breakdown and how this never happened. He'd ended up thinking of himself as weak just because everybody else did. Right now, he didn’t think he was weak. Those who couldn’t see it weren’t looking hard enough.
Harry put his wand down and shoved his book back in his bag. His classmates leaving, Harry murmured to Ron some excuse of catching up latter, and stayed. He had almost given up hope that Snape was going to even acknowledge his existence when Snape talked. “You will be sitting alone from now on. I do not permit chattering in my class and you distract the other students on purpose. Five points from Gryffindor for allowing Mister Weasley to babble at you throughout my lesson.”
“What the hell?”
“What is that supposed to mean? I didn’t distract anyone. How it that my fault now?”
“I’m not discussing it with you, Mister Potter. I’m informing you of my decisions. The class is dismissed, you may go.”
“Just shut up,” Harry muttered as he got up to close his backpack.
“I beg your pardon?”
Harry sighed. The I’m tired of your shit was dangerously close to the tip of his tongue. “You’re being ridiculous.” He kept his grin back at how this was Snape’s line and how Harry had managed to use it and be right about it. “What am I supposed to do now? Call you professor and apologise?” Despite his anger, he felt a faint smile forming on his face. He restrained it.
“The majority of what you are supposed to do is rubbish, Mister Potter. Get out.”
“I told Dumbledore I don’t want our private lessons to continue anymore. He agreed.” There was a pause at that; it broke something harsh between them and left him completely exposed all over again. Harry almost regretted saying it. He didn’t want to inform Snape like this. If at all. He’d hear it from Dumbledore anyway.
Snape collected his own things and pushed them at the far end of a drawer. He cleaned the board and it occurred to Harry that Snape was waiting for the next class to come. “Get out.”
Harry swung his backpack up onto his shoulder and nodded his head in a “see-you-soon” motion he barely believed himself. “Take care.”