Nobody ever asked my birthday

Chapter 49

Harry Potter left breakfast with his stomach in a ball of nerves. He was anxious, part in a good way, part in a really bad way. The first class of the day was Defense against the Dark Arts. With Professor Snape, of course. That, in of itself, was enough to give anyone a case of the nerves. It wasn't just what he was going to be teaching - no one who knew the man for more than a few minutes would doubt his skill in Darkness (and particularly not Harry, who had been caught often enough by the man, as he walked the dark halls of Hogwarts Castle). Fewer understood that whatever skill Severus Snape had at fighting the Dark Arts was a hard earned skill, most likely gained far later than his ability with The Dark Arts.

In some ways, it was exciting, just to have a competent teacher again. Umbridge had been worse than useless, actively impeding children from learning. Whatever Snape had planned, it wouldn't be designed to hobble his students.

Harry Potter arrived early, at the designated classroom, only to find a message on the door, which informed him that all students were requested in the large lecture hall on the third floor. Harry checked the door itself, out of sheer curiosity, and wasn't at all surprised to find it locked. He hurried quickly towards the stairs, hearing Ron and Hermione bickering behind him (obviously they hadn't seen the note yet, or they'd be running to catch up with him).

Harry entered the large lecture hall, which he quickly discovered was a misnomer. It was more like a school gymnasium, complete with an ... awards stand? He shook his head, thinking that it was ridiculous to think that Snape would be giving anyone awards. At any rate, there was a podium and it was on a small dais.

As more people (including Ron and Hermione) filtered in, Harry Potter noticed something - there were Ravenclaws here, early as it was. And a few Hufflepuffs. As the first of the Slytherins sashayed into the room*, Harry realized that Snape had combined the classes, which would give him more time for instruction. Well, if a war didn't break out - accidental or on purpose. Harry was familiar with exactly how hard it was to control this many students. A sepia-stained picture of Snape loomed in his mind, and Harry somehow thought that Snape wouldn't have much trouble.

Unlike in Potions, Snape did not slam the doors. Instead, he slid through them, directly after the last Slytherin (Goyle from the size of him) entered. Softly, like a cat, Snape made his way to the front of the room, parting people with subtle nudges and even more subtle looming. Surprisingly, it was all quiet - even Neville didn't blink, simply got out of Snape's way. An air of anticipation had crept over everyone, as silence had stolen even their breaths.

Snape lept to the platform, landing silently. "There appears to have been a misprint on your schedules this year. Allow me to make a slight change. This is not Defense against the Dark Arts. That is no longer a class that is appropriate for the situation we find ourselves in." Snape looked down his long nose at some of the kids - his bright black eyes picking out anxious students. "This class is A Prelude to War. If you wish to cower, and read out of books for the rest of your life, I suggest you leave. You will find that the Slytherins have a copy of the exam, and you can study from that. Prices may vary, depending on stature and likeability." Harry caught the questioning, nearly betrayed look of Theo Nott, who obviously hadn't been expecting this to come up. "Most of you will be capable of studying for a test, once given the questions." Snape gave a thready sigh, saying, "If you have decided to attend this class in error, you may leave now. I strongly advise you to do so."

Several Ravenclaws rose awkwardly, and started to make their way to the doorway. A few more Hufflepuffs looked like they wanted to join them, but they held fast. The Slytherins, especially, looked awkward - perhaps embarrassed that they weren't trying a more cunning approach.

Snape spun, apparating to just outside the door before any of them could take a step outside. "Where are you going?" He asked in a voice cold as stone.

"To the common room." One said, and another said, "I wanted a bite to eat before my next class."

"It would appear that you have mistaken me." Snape said, knitting his fingers together. "When I suggested you leave, I didn't mean this classroom. I meant Britain. By all means, take your families as well, if you can persuade them to go." Snape looked at all the students, meeting each one's gaze briefly. "Lying to yourself will not save you. War is coming. Leave now while you still can." Harry heard the ring of truth in Snape's words, and his genuine desire for them to go. Harry shook himself, telling himself that he'd think about whether he wanted to, whether he ought to go, when it wasn't classtime. Snape wanted people to consider his words, and that meant giving them time enough to back out.

Snape strode through the Ravenclaws, who were standing awkwardly near the door, unsure whether they wanted to leave. Unsure about a lot of things, really. Snape paid them no heed.

"What is the purpose of war?" Snape asked the class, in that purring tone that sounded like a cat given human voice.

[a/n: Snape does like setting rhetorical traps, doesn't he? Leave a review!]

*Daphne.