Nobody ever asked my birthday

Chapter 17

"Neville Longbottom - there's a child whose price has already been paid, and in full. You've made him belong - with friendship and caring that few have shown to him. You needn't worry about him stabbing you in the back - if he does develop other ambitions, he'll be slow to turn from you."

Eyes wide, Harry Potter looked at Snape - it was one thing for Snape to talk... civilly, with Harry Potter, but to say such accurate things about Neville Longbottom!

With a soundless chuckle, Snape shook his head, "Gryffindors rarely even understand the principles of House Slytherin. The first one is to seek truth, be it acid or bitter. How does anyone expect to be able to lie, if they don't even understand the truth? Tell a lie that someone wants to believe, and they'll fill in the holes for you." Snape's bitter half-smile spoke multitudes - but Harry Potter knew he wasn't understanding a single word.

Snape eyes Harry speculatively, his black eyes glancing up and down. It's a strange look on Snape - one Harry Potter's never seen before. Snape's always seemed so certain, about everything. Ideas, goals, decisions - everything. What is he thinking about?

At last, Snape says with a quirked twist to his lips, "Idle hands are the devil's workshop - or so the old saying goes." With a sigh, he stretches - letting the moment itself stretch out - seemingly to infinity. "Merlin knows, you've managed to get up to enough trouble every single year..."

"You can blame Malfoy for my Second Year, you know, sir. It wasn't me that loosed a basilisk on hundreds of schoolchildren." Harry said with a bit of asperity.

Snape's bright glare froze Harry where he sat, "You didn't, not once, try to get help from anyone competent." Does he just mean himself in that category?

Harry Potter shook his head, staring away from Snape's glare, into the distance, "First year, sir, we tried to get McGonagall to help us. It might have worked, if we hadn't been so hell-bent on telling her you were after the Stone." Even this far away from everything, Harry kept the reference vague. No sense in making it easy for eavesdroppers, after all.

"You told her what?!" Snape laughed, a deep rumbling sound, "No wonder she sent you packing!"

Tense like a cat, Harry Potter looked at Severus Snape in something approaching wonder, "Sir...You're... you're not upset?"

"I should hope not! The day I can't even baffle eleven year old children is the day I take a vacation." Harry Potter blinked, and started to see a few threads weaving themselves together.

Sidelong, Snape eyed Harry Potter, almost seeming to watch the thoughts assemble themselves in the Gryffindor's mind. When they were nearing completion, Snape spoke, "Every year, the Sorting Hat says that Hogwarts needs to create unity between the houses. I'm not -" Snape breaks off, pauses a scant moment, and continues, "None of the teachers can fix the deliberate divisions that we've helped create." Again, that inscrutable, speculative look appeared on Snape's face, "If you want a task next year, think on that. You can even ask for advice, if you like."

"I'd almost have to. How in the world would I get the Slytherins to do anything? They seem terribly guarded..." Harry Potter said, his voice considering.

"The direct - the Gryffindorian approach would be to work with Draco Malfoy." Snape said with a hint of a sneer. "Put together a plan, and if you like, I'll help you vet it."

Harry Potter nodded absentmindedly, his brain already turning over ideas.

[a/n: Draco Malfoy wants to eat my story! Doncha hate it when the characters decide they have minds of their own?

Write me a review, lovelies! Up next, if you don't mind, a battle sequence - also in flashback, but they're using flashcubes, so it's all okay].