Nobody ever asked my birthday

Chapter 4

The Great Hall erupted in an uproar, the sounds of entirely too many voices trying to be heard. In such a milieu, the quiet people were more worth paying attention to - Moody, looking skeptical, as always... and Lupin, whose affable manner held a rarely seen shrewdness, as if he could take Severus Snape's measure merely by sight alone (or perhaps it was smell, the DADA professor was more than usually skilled in that department).

All this Harry envisioned, his mind sketching the room and its occupants based on Fred's words and also on what he didn't say. McGonagall was tutting, and Molly was shrieking at Severus, threatening him - of all things! Art was trying to hold his wife back, his voice washed out in all the turmoil. Flitwick was asking Severus what he was thinking, and Sprout was challenging Snape on why they should possibly let him have Harry Potter.

Gradually, the noise died, and Severus Snape let the words continue, not listening to a single word of any of it, really. It was all predictable, after all.

In a tone of quiet satisfaction (belied, no doubt, by the open mockery on Snape's mug), Severus said plainly (if a Slytherin could ever speak so), "He's ready to learn," lacing his fingers together, his hands in front of his chest.

Molly opened her mouth to say something, "Wh-"

Snape smoothly cut her off, "Naturally, I'd be willing to submit to daily checkins, to reassure you that there is neither a dead teacher nor a dead student."

Dumbledore gave a wry chuckle (was he the only one who appreciated Snape's humor?), and said, "Oh, that will hardly be necessary. Perhaps a weekly visit shall suffice."

"Visit?" Lupin asked, his mild tone concealing his sharp eyes.

"Each of you have your own means of training. I'll not constrain you to the space available within the Black residence." Snape said, "I intend to be here as little as possible, myself. It's stifling." Harry Potter knew what Snape meant - in a way, this place with all it's feelings and people was worse than his old cupboard.

To everyone's surprise (except Harry's), the extensible ear went silent. The Order had moved onto other business, and it was no longer appropriate to listen.

As the Weasleys found things to chatter about, they were all universally agreed that Potter had pulled the worst mentor of the lot. Thoughtfully, Harry Potter kept his silence, letting them think as they would. It was unexpected, surely, and Harry Potter found himself scouring his mind for interpretations, explanations. Was it simply to get him out of here, give the rest of them some time to sink into something other than The Hero Is Gone, The War is Ended? Did he want to bring Harry Potter back, not as a hero, but just an ordinary kid? Could anyone else see him like that? And Harry Potter did a doubletake. Snape had always treated him like a kid, like a child who was just that... he had never, ever given even a trace of the subservience that Lupin had granted him, the respect that McGonagall gave him, even the wary liking that Moody - who never liked a single soul - had given him. Odd that, Harry Potter thought, scrawling it in his messy handwriting inside his mind.

The next day dawned cruelly, the sun stabbing into Harry Potter's pillow at the grim Black residence. Harry Potter, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found. Snape had woken him with a hard shake, in the twilight that comes before even the false dawn. Harry had woken with a yawn, and Snape responded, as if to an unasked question, "This is worse for me than it is for you." Harry found the truth in the statement - Snape was a night owl in truth, and being up before 5am was indeed a cruelty. "Five minutes. Be dressed and packed." Snape left the room, and Harry Potter took a moment to contemplate, before shrugging and tossing in the bare essentials. Soap, toothbrush, three changes of clothes (enough to wash, should need arise).

Harry Potter emerged from his room, drawing on his remembered stealth at his uncle's, to send him down the stairs smoothly and without a creak. At the bottom, Snape was an angular sprawl in a sitting chair - the entire position indescribably awkward, probably to keep Snape awake. "Do you have your wand, Potter?"

"Yes, sir." Harry Potter responded, his head clearing from sleep into speech.

"You may put it back in your room if you like. The ministry tracks underage wands much more than they track underage wizards."

With a crisp nod, Harry Potter headed upstairs, dropping his wand in a special concealed place behind the bed. Old habits die hard, don't they? he thought in amusement.

"Reporting for duty, sir." Harry Potter said as he arrived in front of Snape's form. He found it some small comfort that Snape was tired as well.

"Your wand, Potter," Snape said smoothly, proffering the small stick of wood to Harry.

"Thank you sir." Harry Potter said, with a watchful eye.

"Best be going, before the rest wake. Questions waste time. Hold on tight." Snape said, as he suddenly straightened, standing, and wrapping Harry Potter inside his robes. Harry Potter blinked as his eyes felt the onrushing darkness - trying to get his sight back as best he was able. That lasted only a moment, before the apparition made thinking - or seeing - impossible. On the other side, Harry Potter found himself ... somehow still standing. He was looking at a bright wood, and they were standing in a field.

"How... sir?" Harry Potter asked, wondering if he really could trust Snape to understand him...

"It helps if you don't look." Snape responded, and Harry Potter nodded, thinking, "I suppose so..."

"Potter, what's the third arithmantic sum of sums?" Snape snapped.

"I don't know, sir." Harry Potter snapped crisply back, his shoulders thrown back in a more military posture.

"Give me ten laps round the wood. You'll think better when your heart's pumping." Snape snapped.

"Where are we?" Snape snapped, as Harry Potter came to a rather sweaty conclusion of the ten laps.

"England, I think, rural - probably wizarding. No cars, no roads." Harry Potter responded, gaspingly. It had been something to contemplate as he ran the wood, and he had come up with some observations.

"Pertinent. What are the eleven uses of dragon's blood?" Snape asked, his voice cracking like a flag on a windy day.

"Eleven uses for dragon's blood?" Harry Potter asked dumbly, and began to list what he had learned... the ten uses, that is.

"And the eleventh?" Snape asked.

"I don't know, sir."

"A hundred pushups, and then answer." Snape said, watching as Potter continued to sweat, his robes clinging to him.

"I still don't know, sir." Harry responded at last.

"Keeping a dragon alive." Snape said, his feet guiding him in a tight circle around Harry Potter, before he asked, "Why are you still wearing robes?"

Harry Potter flushed, and forced himself to answer honestly, "Habit. Sheer force of habit, and stupidity, sir."

Snape purred, "Very good. You had reason to suspect that this was a wizarding place, but not enough justification to leave your robes on. Furthermore, accomplishing the tasks before you will be significantly less difficult if you're wearing appropriate attire." Harry Potter began to pull off his robes, as Snape continued, "Have a care with the wand, you're not used to it, and it won't handle as well as the one you're used to. Create the attire you wish to use." Snape said, as he carefully observed his student.

[a/n: This was too much fun to write! Entirely too much fun.

Read and review, please! Do you want me to get to the actual plot, or continue on this front? Be a dear and let me know if you're getting bored.

Everyone else's training will be significantly more straightforward (except Hermione's, which will be more raw memorization, both muscular and mental).

Oh, Art is a quick nickname for Arthur. Simply because nobody uses it in the books doesn't mean that Harry's not capable of using it in his head.

Snape says with a sniff, "He's a naturally disrespectful child, wayward and willful."]