For once, on the way back to the castle, Harry wasn't around the Gryffindors. Ron, for a wonder, had been part of the first wave to find Snape, and had been busy with the second part of the task, which was defending Snape as if he was a Chess-King.
Harry couldn't bring it upon himself to be annoyed at having been one of the slow ones, for once. He knew he was good at defense, and, knowing that, didn't have to care about his grade as much.
It helped that everyone knew Snape favored his Slytherins. Harry didn't worry quite so much, when the grade was gonna be skewed no matter what he did.
The Slytherins had turned to go back to the Castle first, so Harry trailed after them. Still, it was surprising - felt like an actual, unlooked-for, gift, when they started to complain.
Oddly enough, it was Pansy, not Draco, who fumed, "I can't believe he wasn't in the castle! We split up and searched everywhere."
Draco had his hands in his pockets, with that ineffable casual confidence that Harry always envied. "We did our best, Pans."
Goyle asked, "But how did Potter know?" in that dully plodding voice he generally used. It was remarkably effective, if you wanted people to think you were just a dumb brute. This time, Harry saw through it - saw the slight manipulation, the drawing of the conversation away from frustration and towards a solution.
"New perspectives bring new insights," Harry said, doing his best impression of a fortune cookie.
Draco glanced at him sidelong, before hissing, "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Standing atop the Astronomy tower, I saw Hagrid's hut. It was quiet." Harry said.
Goyle nodded slowly, "It's never quiet. Someone's always doing something down there."
Malfoy smirked, but didn't say anything derogatory. I wonder how it felt for Greg, when he's worked with Hagrid, to hear Draco badmouthing the big man?
"Oi!" Ron weasley called, as he hurried up to Harry, "Did you even make it to class today?"
Harry looked back with a smirk, "Isn't that supposed to be Hermione's question?" Ron and Harry shared a belly laugh, but Harry was certain the Slytherins were just as amused, they were just being quieter about it. Which, in a way, was the polite thing to do. One wasn't supposed to eavesdrop, after all.
[a/n: Harry doesn't always get to see everything that Snape's doing. Having the Slytherins still talking, despite Harry being around, is a hard to quantify sign of progress.
Reviews, as always, welcomed.]