Nobody ever asked my birthday

Nothing changes

New Year, breaking cold and clear in the sky, the bright sun beckoning cruelly in the below zero weather outside. The sky beautifully actinic blue around it. Harry takes his time stretching, trying to understand...

He hadn't told Ron and Hermione about what had happened in the Headmaster's office. Wasn't sure he really wanted to, truth be told.

First, Ron wouldn't be interested, except to have something to rib Malfoy about. "Bet Snape's butt is bony... but you'd know, wouldn't you Malfoy?"*

Second, Hermione would throw an enormous strop, and probably find some way to demand her way into an apprenticeship. Probably with Flitwick, the brilliant duelist - and then she'd know yet more spells, and things. Hermione wouldn't take into account that Malfoy and Potter had been assigned an apprenticeship as a punishment... No, she'd want one too, if only to show she could.

Worst of all, it might turn out like third year, with her working herself to the bone, and still not being able to cope. She didn't have Trelawney as a teacher this year - and the fireworks that would erupt if one of Snape's comments cut too close to the bone... Harry did NOT want to contemplate what that would be like.

He ran, trying to insist he wasn't running away from his problems. About two thirds of the way through, Snape joined him - which was about the least comforting thing that could have happened, really. At least it made the rest of the run lively. Snape had him jumping over flaming brands, and escaping pits (Harry wished he'd been better about following precisely where Snape ran... He'd plummeted, and only a near-unconscious Feather Fall had saved him from hideous wounds** that he'd never tell Pomphrey about). And then there were the snakes. Oh, they did like talking, sure... but better when they were twisting around Harry, trying to smother life's breath out of him. He'd needed help out of that one, for sure. Snape hadn't blinked at the parseltongue - although, Harry thought, I suppose he's used to it. Then there were the trickier puzzles - ground that was just a little wetter, forming something that Harry had to fight to not slide on. It was good exercise, but he'd managed to soak his robes in mud more than once.

Morning breakfast had Harry listening to Hermione drilling herself on Charms. He was quiet (as was usual); trying to conceal news wasn't normally his style, so he'd decided to play it cool. Nothing seemed to have changed. Nothing ever changed. That is the way someone might see it, but Harry knew better. Malfoy had even brought a foolscap of Potions notations to breakfast. That was usually only Hermione's play (the Ravenclaws would harass each other into not 'maiming' the books).

Harry'd been half expecting some sort of public announcement - maybe Dumbledore planned on just informally telling concerned parents that the two Troublemakers were taken care of? It didn't seem like his style, really.

Harry was missing something, and he hated missing something.

He was surprised that neither McGonagall nor Snape had sent him an owl. It would figure if Snape thought he could be counted on to show up to serve detentions without being told (It would also figure that Snape would punish him for any laziness, including a few brief moments spent relaxing with friends.)

Classes were... well, he'd never really enjoyed Herbology - even his reason for taking it, becoming an Auror, now didn't seem as worthwhile as dropping the class. In Charms class, they were preparing color changing spells. Sometime over the past day, Hermione had undoubtedly gotten back her wand - the difference was astouding.

And by astounding, Harry amended, that meant reducing Malfoy to looking like a gaping fish. Flitwick looked like he'd sprout feathers and fly, he was so overjoyed.

"You'll need this," Hermione had said to Malfoy, returning that mirror that he'd given her back in second year. Which she'd kept, because 'you never throw away something useful.' Malfoy had had to check his hair frequently, and once she'd managed to turn his irises emerald green.

"Hey!" Malfoy had yelped.

Hermione had responded with a shark-like grin, "Better change 'em back before your hair goes black."

Harry'd continued, tauntingly, "Once you go black, you don't come back."

Zambini had puffed himself up at that phrase, and said, "I like the sound of that."

Malfoy had glared at his fellow Slytherin, hissing out, "Traitor."

It had almost been enough to take Harry's mind off Hermione's impending implosion of studious bossiness.

*Considering ... Snape's attempt at 'flirtation'... this would not go over well. At All. And for once Ron would put his foot in his mouth without meaning to.

**Yeah, Snape's not playing around. Classic biological warfare - need I say more?

[a/n: Harry's actually underestimating Hermione. You have been warned. Leave a review?]