Nobody ever asked my birthday

Tenterhooks

Harry's mind was awhirl with possibilities. Pansy was scared that he'd up and married her, right there in the Potions classroom? Pansy didn't want to encourage her parents to make that decision.

Draco didn't think it likely, but they were her parents, not his.

Ordinarily, Harry would have simply said, "I really need to think before I act." However, that wouldn't have helped here. He didn't know! It wasn't simply him being emotional - he'd had no reason to think this plan would backfire this badly.

The girls were being... girly again. Which is to say, Hogwarts gossip had it that Pansy and Potter were fated together, and that was why he'd kissed her, without so much as a by your leave, or even being aware of what he'd done.

At least they weren't hounding him right now, although the girls displayed a striking ability to look wistfully at him and sigh.

Heading up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower, Harry thought, Ah, here's another now.

It took him a moment before his mind realized that was Luna Lovegood sighing. Luna, who despite her belief in so many mythical creatures, wasn't the type to be mean or malicious. Or believe things that weren't true.

"Luna!" Harry said, grinning. "Would you like to take an evening stroll with me?"

Luna peered down at him from up-a-landing. "Why, I do believe I would." Her wispy smile broadened, "And you can scare off some of the gossips while we discuss crumple-horned snoracks."

Harry wrinkled his brow, trying to remember which creature that was. "Um, what is that creature again?"

Luna smiled brightly (she never minded people forgetting), and started to prattle on.

All through the walk, Harry fought the urge to look up at Hogwarts, to see which gossip was outlined in which window. It wouldn't do much good anyway, would it?

The next morning, Harry was up bright and early, running his laps around Hogwarts. Today, he was working on his footwork - and a good thing too, as there turned out to be a handful of traps on Harry's usual route. They had been inexpertly concealed, which Harry took to mean Snape wanted me to find them. The traps themselves were brutal, if unlikely to be truly lethal. Lightning here, water there - even an earthen trap that would send him into a pit. Harry didn't take the lesson, though, as avoid the traps. That would be a ridiculous lesson, right outside Hogwarts. No, the lesson was "disarm the traps." It was actually engaging and interesting.

Breakfast was good, and filling. As usual, Harry had come with an appetite. Not as large as Ron's (Lavender was feeding him, which was ... bewildering. A bit vexing, a bit gross, and a bit 'why can't I have a girlfriend'? All at once, and nevermind he knew the answer to the last one.) Harry's mind, though, was less on Ron and Lavender (helped, no doubt, by them being at the other end of the Table of Gryffindor), and more on Defense Class.

Harry didn't know much, but he knew that it wouldn't be the same as it was last week. Last week had been Snape vegetating and cogitating. Whether or not he'd come up with anything entertaining, it was going to be different. Harry wondered, for one brief second, if Snape's attitude towards him would change; then, he deliberately blanked it from his mind.

It didn't matter.

What mattered was what was coming. The great gaping unknown - which, as Harry glanced up towards the high table - reminded him strangely of Snape's darkly luminous eyes.*

Minerva knew something was up from the moment she entered the Great Hall. She was too polite to ask (or, more correctly, grill Severus until he yielded up at least something.) Still, she was cat-curious, and knew if she'd been in her feline form, her tail would be twitching, and she'd be hunkering down, plotting how to spring. She was just glad that Snape didn't know much of cat curiosity, or he'd dangle things in front of her just for the fun of it.

[a/n: Another chapter today, I think. Please review, it really does help me focus.]

*Dumbledore's eyes sparkle. Snape's glint.