Nobody ever asked my birthday

Chapter 40

The encounter on the train left both young men asking themselves "what the hell was that?" Harry was actually just as baffled by his own reactions as he was by Malfoy's. True, there hadn't really been a reason to get into a fight - but there hadn't not been a reason, either. No Snape looming over his shoulder. Malfoy, on the other hand, knew exactly why he was toeing the line. He was just confused as to why Potter was doing the same. Because, well, that had never been a problem before. Potter was always willing to start a fight (well, okay, occasionally that took a bit of nudging - but Potter and Hostility were a normal combination in Malfoy's World).

Nonetheless, the troubled teens returned to their respective compartments - Hermione still trying to learn to spell without her wand (Harry Potter was rapidly discovering the benefits to pretending to sleep, so that he didn't need to deal with his best friend's aggravation. Ron hadn't learned that trick yet, so was getting the blunt end of Hermione's frustration), and Pansy doing her level best to make an open-sided Draco Sandwich, with herself as the jam. Draco rather liked jam sandwiches, but preferred them to be fruity - Pansy was like rhubarb - bright and sour and green with envy. Over what? Draco couldn't be bothered with caring. Besides, Draco figured Pansy liked him better quiet. Nobody liked it when Draco decided to have opinions. They tended to be sharp, like shards of broken glass.

The Feast went as unremarkably as feasts generally do, the students gawking at the new ... Assistant Professor. Namely Tonks. Harry Potter could honestly say he hadn't been expecting that one (even while she was sitting there, as her face had been changed to look a little more dour than she normally did). Dumbledore, looking as affable as he always did, had announced that Tonks would be taking all of the first through fourth years, for both Defense and Potions. Dumbledore smiled at Seamus, who had dared to ask, "Well, then who's teaching us?" in his Irish brogue. "Why, Severus Snape, who I'm sure you all know well." Yeah, that's for sure, Harry thought with a crack. Hermione hissed at Harry, "Did you know about this?" to which Harry mutely shook his head. Clearing his head, he stood up, and sputtered incoherent protests (Ron nicely backing him up with an Oh god! and Ginny pitching in with a Not Him!) - to which Snape merely raised an eyebrow, and asked cattily, "Cat got your tongue?" Snape whirled on a Ravenclaw second year, who seemed like she was about to faint at his glare, and said crossly, "Edwina, the Headmaster's Decision shall stand. Is that understood?" Harry heard Snape's voice as firm, but not cutting, the way it often was with him. He does modulate it, Harry thought, slowly narrowing his eyes. "Potter, Sit down! And close that gaping maw you call an eating orifice." Harry would have called it no such thing, he thought with a snort, Harry's amusement showing in a frown. Of course, Harry thought as he looked across at the Slytherin table, Malfoy was smirking at him.

The sorting hat sang a song calling for unity, and Harry Potter thought to it, in a thought no louder than a whisper, I'm trying...

It was the usual crew of big-eyed Gryffindors, and shrinking Slytherins, hearty Hufflepuffs and note-taking Ravenclaws (one even went under the hat with a pad and a pen.) Harry found himself thinking, judging each of the children. Not just on where they were likely to go, now, but who they would be. Seven years was a long time to spend with friends, a time that these children would be shaped, formed into who they would be as they entered adult life. Harry's lip twitched into a near smirk, as he looked directly at Malfoy. There's one rotten egg that I'm glad I haven't spent more time with. Harry thought, amused. Can you imagine?

After the feast, Hermione Granger, of course, wanted to go see Professor Snape. Harry, of course, knew that that was a horrible idea. Snape probably had one last day free, to experiment or work on his class notes, or whatever. Harry hated to go back to school (when he wasn't trapped at the Dursley's the entire summer), and he figured Snape would be the same. Hermione, of course, was having none of it. Frantic like a buzzing bee, she went from one side of the common room to the other, well-rehearsed arguments unable to sway Harry's mind. Bet she just thinks I'm being stubborn. Hermione had such a profoundly great desire to know, and her impatience was killing, well, Ron really, as he had hoped to get her into a game of chess, or something like that... "Tomorrow, Hermione" Harry at last growled, and she sat down with a huff, finally conceding that none of her arguments were working. About fifteen pages into the book, Hermione looked Harry straight in the face, her mouth opening, as Harry cut her off, "No."

Classes were a whirlwind, as usual, and having Snape for Potions in the afternoon was half-blessing, and half curse. At least he wasn't boring, and everyone was wide awake by the time Snape strode through the doors, robes flapping as if they were trying desperately to keep up with Snape's long stride. Malfoy, for once, wasn't trying to win the Most Annoying Git award, and that was strange. Harry Potter put a mental note down to think about that a bit harder, as it was strange. He could, he supposed, ask Snape - but that was asking to get his head bit off, and he rather liked it where it was.

Harry Potter was up at Snape's desk a minute before the end of class to present his potion, then skulking as he usually did at the back of the room, waiting for Ron and Hermione. Not that Hermione was going to waste one last minute before asking Snape... The instant that everyone was out of the room except Ron, Harry and Hermione, Snape leveled a glare at Ron, and said, "Leave us, unless you have something you want to bother me with."

Mutely, Ron shook his head, his freckles redbrown on a suddenly pale face, almost ghostly. He left, closing the door behind him. Snape nodded slightly, satisfied at the Weasley's discretion.

"Well, as it is office hours, I suppose I can only ask you to be brief." Snape drawled. "Go on, ask what you must." Harry found himself going over what he wanted to ask Snape, even as Hermione started to talk.

"-how did you teach Harry so quickly?" Hermione said.

"Trade Secret." Snape replied, his thin lipped smirk saying that he wasn't going to tell her. "But, seeing as you wish to learn, I do have a solution tailored for you."

Hermione simply looked expectantly at him.

"Give me your wand. You can have it back at the end of the month, if you pick wandless magic up quickly, or at the end of the semester if you prove yourself a dullard." Snape ended the sentence with a sneer, and Harry reflected that it was the closest thing that Snape had ever come to complimenting Miss Granger.

"But... my classes! How am I supposed to - " Hermione babbled, looking more upset now at the thought of looking like an idiot, of possibly failing a test, or even an entire class.

"We're in the middle of a war, sweetheart." Snape drawled in a gravely voice (as if he had rocks in his mouth), "Do you want to win or not?"

Harry's eyes widened. Snape had her, he could see it in how Hermione's spine stiffened, as she slammed her wand down on his desk. Harry might not have noticed it so sharply, if Snape hadn't used the word sweetheart, which Harry could almost not believe he had used. Hell, it was hard to even imagine Snape understanding the concept (not that he was using it properly, if so.)

"Fine." she spat at him, her rage barely constrained as she whirled and stalked out of the room. The door slammed behind her, and Snape smirked, slowly applauding with cupped hands.

"Still here, are you?" Snape drawled at Harry, who realized that this was Snape's way of asking why. Almost gently, though no one would be stupid enough to describe the gaunt man as gentle - you'd surely make a Hufflepuff faint!

[a/n: Well, look who's back! Snape's (again) doing a plot here. Which means it's up to my lovely readers to try and think through the ramifications of Hermione leaving her wand on Snape's desk. Write me a review? I do write faster with reviews, you know.]