Cho Chang/Harry Potter Hermione Granger/Viktor Krum Original Female Witch/Ron Weasley
Harry Potter
Action Suspense
The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire
Published: 02/06/2003
Updated: 02/18/2003
Words: 264,404
Chapters: 34
Hits: 87,813

Harry Potter and the Flying Squad

Horst Pollmann

Story Summary:
Fifth year in Hogwarts. Even before terms start, Harry is involved in the defence against an evil attack from the Dark Forces, something which ``later will be called 'The Hogwarts Express Accident' ...``In Hogwarts, many things are different - most of all, the joining of all four``Quidditch teams in the 'Flying Squad', for patrol and exploration services.``For Harry, this looks like a path toward Cho Chang, except that - well, ``maybe this should really be left to the story itself ...``At any rate, expect Giants, Goblins, and house-elves to play their roles in ``this fic - as well as some new characters.

Chapter 06 - The Spy

Chapter Summary:
First days in this new term. O.W.L.s play a role, a larger one for Hermione and a smaller one for Harry and Ron. Then a new topic is raised - Giants. And Snape talks with Harry, definitely a four-eyes talk ...
Author's Note:
If this fic is truly English, then it's thanks to the efforts of two people:

06 - The Spy

The new school year claimed its tribute immediately after breakfast next morning. Harry had trouble getting accustomed. He knew why, but this knowledge didn't help the least bit.

For weeks, he had worked single-mindedly toward one goal. The only important part of each day had taken place here at Hogwarts, yes, but it had been just the location. The same corridors he'd walked earlier, permanently aware that a Boggart-made Dementor could attack him any time, were now flooded with daylight and students hurrying, chatting, laughing.

Harry felt hollow, unable to concentrate on the issues at hand.

Breakfast didn't help either. When he came down to his seat, shouts and hoorays along the Gryffindor table greeted him. He refused to entertain the audience with details of the previous day, which was the signal for Fred and George to take over this role happily.

Unfortunately, their report lacked details of the background. So it was impossible to avoid some questions.

"Harry, is it true that Lupin had a real Dementor?"

Harry nodded, chewing.

"How did he catch it?"

Harry shook his head. "Dunno, he didn't tell me."

The other students were excited, as eager to listen to somebody's speculations as to his short answers.

"Harry, is it true that Malfoy tried the Killing Curse on you?"

Harry grimaced. "Yes, but he never finished it."

A short silence, then the next question. "What dog was that?"

He grinned. "Ask Hagrid."

Good advice, really, with Hagrid out of reach. So the guesswork about the dog ran to extremes, though nothing came close to the truth.

When asked, Ron and Hermione pointed out that they'd seen the dog first on the platform at King's Cross.

After a while, the discussion concentrated on the question of how life would be at Hogwarts, with Giants and dragons close by.

Harry would have liked to speak with Damon Harker, to congratulate him on his selection, and also with Rupert Tyrrell. He still felt some responsibility for them - if only to smooth the transit into a normal day at Hogwarts. He suspected they had the same trouble adjusting.

He would have been ready to accept the awestruck glances from their comrades, but a major barrier blocked his way: they sat at the Ravenclaw table, although not anywhere close to Cho and Almyra.

Quite cautiosly, he had watched the two girls endure a similar storm of questions. As far as he'd been able to follow, their answers had been as dismissive as his own. It gave him much comfort.

* * *

Their first class was with Professor McGonagall. But rather than practising Transfiguration, they discussed the topic of O.W.L.s.

As Harry learned, the students would have time until the end of January before they had to sign up for the selected numbers and topics of their O.W.L.s. With special permission, the signups could be altered or added to until the end of February. This rule was a formality; nobody knew a case in which the permission had been denied.

The minimum were two O.W.L.s. There was no upper limit. Every student had the right to sign up for a topic outside the scope of Hogwarts' education program.

Hearing that, Harry thought immediately of his Patronus spell, but then realized that it would of course be counted as Defence against the Dark Arts.

The exams would take place at the end of the term, about the same time as, in other years, the normal exams. A student could cancel an exam until four weeks in advance, at the cost of an entry on his certificate which was reputed worse than a failed O.W.L. Inofficially, such entries were called O.W.P., which stood for Obviously Wet Pants.

An O.W.L. exam was harder than a normal one. The questions would only deal with the selected topic but wouldn't stop just because a detail hadn't been mentioned in class. In other words, the students were forced to take initiative. The library would become more important than the dinner table.

After class, Ron said to Hermione, "I take it you know already which O.W.L.s to choose."

It was a weak attempt to pay her back for yesterday's remark, and it failed entirely.

"The faculties, yes," came the prompt reply, "but some topics are still open."

Harry asked her, "How many?"

"Seven," was the flat answer.

"Yuck," gasped Ron.

So Hermione was determined to match the school record of seven O.W.L.s completed successfully.

Once a student had signed for eight, aiming higher than he could master. He had been lucky. Around April, realizing he would never be able to do it, he had begged for mercy. As a penalty, his charge had been reduced not to six, as he had wanted, but to five. That was still a good result but nothing spectacular.

Harry felt sure about two O.W.L.s, the bare minimum. One would be about flying broomsticks, with Quidditch involved while not the main topic. The other would be about Dementors and the Patronus spell.

He'd been playing with the idea of also signing up for the topic Transportation in general, although that might be risky, what with his little experience in travelling by Floo powder. But then, he felt like an expert customer of the Knight Bus.

"I think I'll do four," said Ron, "but don't ask me which." Hearing Hermione's answer had sobered him up thoroughly. "The only one I know for sure is Quidditch."

Harry nodded. Although Ron never had been a member of a team, there was little doubt that his friend could beat him in Quidditch history, theory, and tactics any time. He, Harry, was just a Seeker.

* * *

The three friends walked to the Entrance Hall. Next on their schedule was Care of Magical Creatures, and they had been told to meet Professor Grubbly-Plank there. It would be a triple class, something unprecedented.

They were discussing the triple, especially since it was scheduled for Gryffindors alone.

"Maybe we're going on an excursion into the Forbidden Forest," mused Ron, "although that witch didn't strike me as the adventurous type."

"Never," replied Hermione. "Remember what Dumbledore said about outside activities? I could imagine something that would be held inside and might need a triple just for starters."

She paused, waiting to be prompted.

Harry did her the favour. "And what would that be?"

"A laboratory, to work with viruses and bacteria ... I mean, after all, there should be quite some magical mono-cellulars."

Ron laughed, giving Hermione the thumbs for a good joke. The little row of the day before was obviously forgiven.

Harry smiled, too, yet carefully so. This might be just the joke you would expect from the daughter of two dentists, sure, but - what if it was true?

He didn't believe they were going on an excursion into the Forbidden Forest, not now while the guarding dragons hadn't arrived yet, and probably even less likely with them around. But then, he had no idea what was awaiting them in the next two and a half hours.

They reached the hall, where Professor Grubbly-Plank was already waiting for them. Fortunately, they weren't the last to arrive: after some more minutes, Neville Longbottom came hurrying into view, panting heavily.

With no remarks, their teacher walked to a staircase near the one that led to Dumbledore's office.

They followed, looking expectant. This was unknown territory for all of them.

Three staircases higher, Grubbly-Plank opened a door and waved them in.

At first, the room looked like a small theatre. On one side there was a stage, with some devices Harry couldn't identify. They didn't look like headlights, nor like cameras either.

Moreover, something was wrong with the seats.

They were arranged in descending rows like in an amphitheatre, but they didn't group around the stage. Instead, they formed a full circle, focusing on a small platform down in the middle. A huge sphere sat there on a socket, its diameter certainly six feet. The surface shimmered light grey, giving the impression of transparency without showing more than the reflection of the lights at the ceiling.

"Oh no," groaned Ron, "crystal-gazing for magical beasts." He turned to Harry. "Big ones, I guess. Maybe it's about dragons."

Harry said nothing, staring around.

Hermione simply turned to the teacher and asked, "Professor, what's this?"

"A spector," came the answer, "and the most advanced model. It cost us a fortune."

With astonishment, the students saw a wolfish grin on her face.

"That's our newest acquisition. Dumbledore took the opportunity and plundered the Ministry budget while nobody was watching ... Arrange yourself around the sphere."

Hearing her mention the Headmaster so casually was like seeing the Fat Lady coming down the stairs.

They stepped down the aisles and grouped themselves around the sphere.

The seats were very comfortable, each of them with a desk and a small drawer. A smell of new furniture hung in the air, reminding Harry of his day in the moving business.

He examined the sphere carefully. Close up, it looked exactly as it had from above.

Before he could guess more, the light grey changed. The sphere went dark, then lighted up. A scene appeared, looking strangely familiar, like déjà-vu.

A figure moved on the scene ... Grubbly-Plank! And the place where she stood was the stage.

Harry wheeled around. Yes, he could see her standing above. He turned back to the sphere, hearing sounds of surprise around him.

"Okay, all of you," said the figure in a mocking tone, "stop playing fishmouth and listen to me. That's one function of the spector, it's just the most efficient method of talking to an audience in a circle. It prevents you from turning your little necks back and forth."

Surely enough, the immediate effect was quite the opposite. Everybody had to turn around and to compare the scene upstairs with the picture in the sphere.

The figure of Grubbly-Plank, about a foot high, made a 360-degree turn before it continued speaking.

"All of you can see me, and I can see all of you. Miss Brown, please close your mouth - thank you. The main purpose of the spector is to present scenes. Like pictures, only in three dimensions and with sound ... To ease your mind, Mr Weasley, the scenes are recorded events from the past. The sphere doesn't show the future."

Grubbly-Plank's voice became serious. "One of the reasons why Professor Dumbledore had the spector installed is that we'll have to do indoor classes more than we would like. But it comes in handy, as our first topic this year will be something that's not exactly within the scope of Care of Magical Creatures. Actually, it's not even a regular part of the Hogwarts schedule, but recent events have made it compulsory to squeeze the topic in. The choice was between Professor Binns - I mean History, and myself. I voted for it, and my ghostly colleague had no objections. I hope you don't, either."

The circle of students agreed, some of them grimacing at the thought of Professor Binns' extremely boring style.

To Ron, Harry whispered, "I wonder if Binns would appear in the sphere."

"He would, Mr Potter." Grubbly-Plank's lips twisted. "Later we'll check the equipment up here - you see, my view and sound of the audience is as clear as yours of the speaker."

She turned a bit. Now the figure appeared to Harry in half-profile.

"The spector can scale the scenes quite nicely. This is important because our topic is big in more than one sense. Now, who'll guess first?"

Of course, Hermione was quickest. "Giants," she said breathlessly.

"Very good, Miss Granger," replied the figure, "but then, you might have had an advantage ... Anyway, five points for Gryffindor."

Hermione flushed.

"Before we address the history of Giants and their difficult relationships with the wizarding world, let me show you a little bit about their everyday life."

The sphere darkened.

After a moment, it lit up again, showing from above a very small town, located on a plain in a forest. The invisible camera zoomed in, showing details of cottages along dirty streets. A door opened, and a figure walked around the cottage to some stables.

Everything looked like an ordinary rural scene - until they saw some animals. Those were cows, no question about that, but they looked like toys beneath the figure.

The teacher's voice came through the sphere.

"Giants grow up to heights of about twenty feet. However, their height varies more than among humans. That is, of course in real feet but also in percent. The maximum height difference among humans is about twenty-five percent, while one Giant can grow twice as high as another one."

"Why's that?" asked someone.

"Probably from mating with humans," was the dry answer. "You know two half-giants, Hagrid's one of them: as big as he appears to us, you'd never confuse him with the smallest pure Giant."

The scene in the sphere disappeared and was replaced by a slowly turning earth globe. Giant-figure symbols marked areas around the world, obviously to indicate the locations where Giant tribes could be found. After a full turn, the globe flattened and morphed into a relief-map of Great Britain, showing the same symbols at a smaller scale.

Harry checked to find a mark that would locate Hogwarts, but found none.

"Giants live around the world, in the same regions as the human race. That was certainly one reason for the troubled relations between us and them."

Grubbly-Plank continued to explain how the history between Giants and wizards was full of mistrust, disputes, fights, followed by negotiations and contracts that were quickly broken. She pointed out that most violations of the settled agreements had been committed by humans, not by Giants.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the wizarding world had come to the conclusion that Giants could not be trusted at all, that they were inferior, and that they should be kept isolated.

"Are they inferior?" It was Neville Longbottom who asked.

"I may be able to give you an answer if you tell me what's inferior."

The figure of Grubbly-Plank reappeared in the sphere. "They have no magical power, or extremely little, however enough to tend their environments surprisingly well. What they plant or raise grows too rich to be explained simply by fertile grounds. But Giants are highly resistant to magical power - that's another reason why the wizarding world mistrusts them. Basically, any spell works against Giants as it would against Muggles or wizards, but a single wizard just isn't enough. For example, to stun a Giant, you'd need at least three wizards, maybe four."

Murmuring ran through the circle.

"The appearance of their towns and cottages might indicate a primitive lifestyle - but be warned. For example, Giants have a very complex language, so much so that very few wizards were able to master it ... Actually, Professor Dumbledore is one of them."

The students nodded; they wouldn't have expected less from their Headmaster.

"On the other side," said the teacher's figure, "there was never a Giant met or captured who wasn't fluent in our own language."

"What about weapons?" asked Harry, remembering the scene on the railroad track.

"I've been told you could answer that question as well as I could, Mr Potter," said the figure. "They use long pieces of wood, called quarterstaffs. Again, it sounds very primitive, but watch out. I'll show you two scenes. The first is the recording of a Giant's tournament. Tournaments play the same role in their world as Quidditch in ours."

The sphere turned dark and back to light.

Plain ground came up, a grass field surrounded by trees. Many spectators were watching the scene in the middle where two warriors stood motionless, each of them holding a quarterstaff. They bowed, brought the pieces of wood into guarding position, and started to move.

It was like a dance, much more graceful than what Harry had seen the day before. One of them made an exit, the other stepped back, only to attack the next moment against his opponent, who parried in retreat. The quarterstaffs had a sharp, thin end and a thick one that was used like a club. Both ends were equally dangereous, reminding Harry of the Hungarian Horntail, which also could strike from both ends.

The dance of the two figures continued for two minutes, then both attacked at the same time.

They clashed; the quarterstaffs whirled through the air. One figure, hit by the clubby end, stumbled and fell to the ground. The other one stopped, then retreated, waiting.

After a few seconds, the figure on the ground came halfway up, obviously having trouble. It was helped by the other. Both took their quarterstaffs and, side by side, bowed to the audience.

As silent as the presentation was, Harry's mind added the roaring applause while watching the waving and stomping in the circle.

Grubbly-Plank's figure appeared again in the sphere, wiping out the view of the Giant tournament.

"A quarterstaff duel is over when one fighter is knocked down, as you could see, or when first blood is drawn. The worst that could happen to a fighter is winning by injuring his opponent seriously, or even fatally. He would never again be invited to a tournament ... Consider that while thinking about inferiority."

Her figure faded again, replaced by a scene of a similar plain between trees, this time populated by a small group of Giants and another group of humans - wizards, as indicated by the wands in their hands.

"What you'll see now isn't a real fight," said the teacher's disembodied voice. "It's a play with volunteers. Watch."

Harry counted six Giants and six wizards. At an inaudible signal, both groups started to fight.

The wizards raised their wands, which emitted sparks and spurts of red and blue. The Giants ducked, darted, and sprinted toward their opponents. As much as the wizards had coordinated themselves to target their spells on the same Giants, it was no help.

Two Giants froze and fell, but within seconds the others had reached the group of wizards. A few quick blows with the Quarterstaffs, and the fight was over.

The scene held long enough to show the first wizard get up again, then it faded.

"Imagine how yesterday's battle would have turned out without our own Giants," said the reappearing figure, "and imagine how a combination of Giants and wizards could be in combat ... All right, let's have a ten minutes break, then we'll continue."

The room lights came back up.

Harry looked up as if waking from a trance. The faces of Ron and Hermione showed similar emotions.

"Wow," said Ron, "that's quite a lot. I wouldn't have expected that from her." His head nodded upward to their teacher.

"Well," answered Hermione, "she looked quite competent last time. Anyway, I don't think Hagrid could do it as well. So it fits nicely that he's so busy with the real Giants."

"Maybe not from his point of view," Harry was thinking loudly.

"What do you mean?"

Ron looked blank, Hermione hadn't understood either.

"Remember what Dumbledore said? In a few days, a bunch of dragons will be here. You know what that means? Hagrid will have a hard time not weaseling around them all day long."

Ron laughed. "You might be right. But who knows, his new friends might offer some other attractions."

"Whatever that means," giggled Hermione, "it certainly doesn't include some nice young Giant ladies. And besides ..." Her voice trailed off, but they had caught the message.

"Poor Hagrid," grinned Ron, "now that Beauxbatons is so close. Torn between three places."

Soon enough, the break was over. Grubbly-Plank invited them to the stage and explained the devices.

For each column of seats, there was something equivalent to the sphere, only flat. The displays were grouped along the wall, which ran in a half-circle around the stage. It allowed the speaker to communicate with the audience.

Then the students were ordered back to their seats.

"Now I want one of you to come up here and summarize what we've learned today, while the others watch through the sphere," said the teacher, and added, "me included."

Hermione's hand shot upward but, miraculously, came in only second.

"Mr Longbottom, please come up."

Sounds of surprise rose in the circle, silenced by the sight of Neville and Professor Grubbly-Plank on the stage.

The witch gave Neville some explanation, then walked down to a place at the sphere.

Neville began slowly, and had to clear his throat several times, but then presented a five minute summary of their lesson.

When finished, he sat back down, blushing deeply as the Gryffindors banged on their tables in applause.

"Excellent, Mr Longbottom. That was almost as if somebody has found his passion, what d'you think? Five points for Gryffindor."

Another round of banging. Neville did obviously better at a fair distance from everybody, like on a stage.

"This spector," said Grubbly-Plank, "has still another feature. Now's the time to use it. A spector can take memory images from the speaker and project them, but only as far as they're described also with words. Simply speaking, it means that the spector translates a told story to a spector movie."

The students gawked.

"Yesterday saw Giants in real combat. I'd like one of you to report what you saw - with us others watching the pictures along with the words." She added, "You've seen something I never had the chance to see. What about you, Mr Potter?"

Harry shrank back. "No, no ... I didn't see much - I mean, my concentration was on the Dementors. Hermione has seen more of them."

Hermione shot him a glance, then turned to the witch. "Is this a mind-reader?"

"No, not at all - there's no need to worry about that. What it does is to illustrate what the speaker is talking about. Unless you speak it out aloud, a picture or a thought won't appear. Ready to give it a try?"

Ready was definitely the wrong term, but nobody was going to challenge Hermione unrewarded. Slowly, she stood up and walked to the stage.

"I'll start at when we left the train. Before that, I didn't see much."

Fascinated, Harry watched the scene from Hermione's perspective, seeing himself how his stooped body moved through the grass.

Suddenly, he realized that Grubbly-Plank had been right about the mechanism - Hermione had skipped Malfoy's attack.

The group of fighting Giants appeared in full size, with Hermione's words underlining the horrible pictures. Then the wizards appeared in the scene, the other Giants escaped, and the scene faded.

"Miss Granger, I thank you very much. I owe you one personally for this report, but aside from that, ten points for Gryffindor."

Hermione came down, still with a strange look on her face.

They received their homework for the next class, then triple Care of Magical Creatures was over.

Harry felt agitated, even welcoming the homework they'd been given. He had the distinct feeling that he'd found his third O.W.L. - Giants. It would leave Care of Magical Creatures free for another one.

* * *

Coming into the Great Hall for lunch, Harry saw Damon Harker already sitting at the Ravenclaw table, while the older students were still missing. He took the opportunity to deliver what he felt necessary as the last bit of his responsibility.

"Hey, Damon - congratulations. So you're Ravenclaw."

"Oohh - Harry." Damon beamed, turning to his classmates. "That's Harry Potter."

The others watched, staring.

"How's Hogwarts? New wonders every minute, I guess?" His own words sounded ridiculously patronizing in Harry's ears, but none of the boys seemed to bother.

"Yes, really. Imagine what we had this morning ..."

Harry listened to Damon's chatter, remembering his own first day in Hogwarts. Looking up, he saw older students approach the table.

"Sorry, Damon - time for my own lunch ... See you around." He waved, leaving an excited group of first-years behind.

Before he could round the corner toward the Gryffindor table, a hand touched his arm.

"Oh 'arry!"

He turned.

"I've 'eard it all. I'm so proud of you!"

Fleur Delacour stood in front of him. She gripped his shoulders and kissed him on both cheeks. "And those I was asked to give you from Gabrielle." Two more kisses. Fleur's face was flushed with joy.

He felt dizzy - the remnants of her Veela nature were overwhelming in her excitement. His cheeks started to burn and he felt like turning purple, with many students watching the scene.

"Hi, Fleur. I ... I'm glad you're here."

With a shaky voice, he managed some more pleasantries before he could move on. Not daring to look around, he found his place.

Ron was full of admiration, while Hermione's lips were tighter than usual.

"Gee, Harry," said Ron, "why didn't you tell Fleur you weren't alone? I'd've appreciated the same welcome for sure."

"Maybe so," hissed Hermione, "but please leave me out of any group greetings."

"Yeah, certainly," replied Ron. "We'll save that part until a certain Quidditch player's around, er, what's his name - "

"Shut up!" Hermione's voice was more pleading than furious.

The exchange had given Harry time to recover. He started to load his plate, suddenly ravenous.

They talked about the morning, about the spector, about the Giants. Harry told them of his plan to do an O.W.L. on that topic.

Hermione's fork dropped to the table. "Really? Oh, Harry, that's super. I had the same idea. Let's do it together!"

"Is that allowed? Sounds to me like copying."

"No, it's not - it has to be signed officially, and the examination will be even more thorough. But it's still less work than for someone alone."

Harry couldn't remember these details being in McGonagall's explanations, still had no doubt that Hermione's description was completely accurate.

"Erm - is there still room for one more?"

They turned to Ron.

"I had the same idea."

"Brilliant," said Harry.

Hermione added, "It'll be like the Flamel research - remember?"

Harry had a warm feeling in his stomach, from the food as much as from the prospect of working together with his friends. The rest of lunch was filled with suggestions of what each of them would do and how they would build up the most profound study of Giants.

* * *

History was next after lunch. Harry fell asleep quickly, to be awakened by a push in the ribs from Hermione.

"Harry, this involves Giants."

He steadied himself, listening sleepily to Professor Binns' droning. It was unbelievable how bloodlessly the story was told, in contrast to what they'd heard this morning. When he recognized how much the same attributes applied to the teacher, Harry just managed to suppress a fit of laughter. It helped him to stay awake.

Potions was the last class before supper, Gryffindors and Slytherins together.

The two groups met in an atmosphere which was awkward at first. They all remembered Dumbledore's words, except nobody knew how to do the first step.

Then a Slytherin came over and said, "Hello, Harry, I wanted to tell you ... er, we're awfully glad you weren't hurt."

Harry said, "Thank you ... you know what? Me too."

Laughter and giggles; the ice was broken. Groups started to talk, interrupted by an entering Snape.

"Good afternoon. Everybody's socializing? How good of you."

The Gryffindors froze in mid-sentence, while the Slytherins just laughed, "Hi, Professor, you look better every day."

It was true, Snape had recovered almost completely. Harry had been wondering why it took so long, with a Madame Pomfrey around who once had cured himself from missing arm bones in just one day. But then, he didn't know exactly what had happened to Snape, or how dark spells could damage the health of a body.

Harry watched Snape, who hadn't smiled on the greetings of his students but seemed pleased nonetheless.

"This year's program," announced Snape, "deals with hallucinogenic potions in the widest sense. Their range spans from a simple pain killer, to psychedelic drugs, to potions controlled by law like Veritaserum. We will - "

A Slytherin girl's hand was up.


"Professor, what's psycho ... er, what was the term?"

"Psychedelic. It's a Muggle term." Snape looked at Hermione. "Miss Granger, I hope you can answer the question?"

Hermione stared, then collected herself. "Er - yes ... Psychedelic is a shortening and contracting of the two words psychic and delight. It means exactly what these words express: planting feelings of delight in a mind by chemicals, whether swallowed, smoked, or injected."

"Perfect. You didn't disappoint me, except now I'm forced to give five points to Gryffindor."

Now Hermione was gaping, although in good company with many other Gryffindors.

Again, the Slytherins laughed, making the thumbs-up sign.

Snape continued, not showing any emotion.

"As I was going to say, we'll start with a mixture that takes the fright from somebody's mind, blocks panic, and reactivates intellectual capabilities in dangerous situations. It's by far not the simplest one, and you have to be aware of the risk. While it doesn't hurt you physiologically and isn't addictive either, you must keep in mind that fright is a survival technique of the human body, so the potion can only be recommended in desperate situations. Once we're ready, I'll ask for a volunteer who doesn't show the strongest nerves naturally. Mr Longbottom, I would consider you the best candidate to prove the effect. As the potion will not be finished today, you'll have time to decide whether you'd find it suitable to volunteer."

Neville had twisted automatically at the mentioning of his name. When Snape finished, he still sat there, waiting for the menacing side remark. It didn't come.

Instead, Snape went to the blackboard and started to write.

The recipe for the fright-killer was indeed very complex. They had to scribble a lot, and Snape invested much time in describing how the various ingredients worked together.

Normally, such a lesson would have been boring and stressful, but today Harry couldn't stop wondering. This was a different Snape. Still no joyful person, he was no doubt friendlier than ever before.

Every now and then, another remark gave testimony to an extremely dry humour, most often targeting the traditional competition between Slytherins and Gryffindors. Always close to sarcasm, his comments lacked the burning acid that had been so characteristic of him.

And he didn't favour the Slytherins, or if so, he did it openly, with remarks like, "Please, Mr Hewlett, make sure this point goes to Slytherin."

When the class was over, Harry put away his parchments and started to move.

"Mr Potter!"

He looked up.

Snape was looking in his face, expressionless. "Could I have a word with you? In my office, please."

"Yes, Professor Snape."

Harry didn't know what to expect. He hadn't talked with Snape since the meeting in Dumbledore's office. He waited till the other students had left, then followed Snape.

In Snape's office, he sat down at a table, opposite the teacher.

"Mr Potter, I have to explain a few things. I invited you alone while knowing - and expecting - that you'll discuss our conversation with your friends, in particular with Miss Granger. That's fine with me."

Harry listened, having trouble not staring open-mouthed. He nodded.

"As you know, I was a member of the Death Eaters. That was true until Jame - until your parents were killed. It's no secret that your father and myself were - well, enemies. But his killing didn't satisfy me - quite the opposite. What it did instead was break my conviction, as well as any spell Voldemort had over me."

Harry swallowed.

Snape spoke in a flat, monotonous voice. "Your survival - I mean, Voldemort's defeat - deprived me of any chance to prove my change of mind. Lots of wizards were running around, claiming their innocence and how Voldemort had misled them with tricks and spells ... I saw only one solution. I went to Dumbledore, explained my situation, and offered to be interrogated under Veritaserum, plus any other method he might come up with."

"Did he ..." Harry couldn't complete the question.

"Yes, indeed. He stripped me naked, so to speak. In that process, I learned a lot about my own motivations. I don't want to go into much detail, but at the end, Dumbledore knew that I was serious, and I knew that I had to do some sacrifice ... It was Dumbledore who showed me the way."

Harry knew what Snape would say next.

"I started to work as an undercover agent, reporting only to Dumbledore. For that purpose, I had to be my old self, hateful, prejudiced, Muggles-hating, and so on ... It worked well. There were all those students who talked with their parents about my behaviour in Hogwarts, with Malfoy and his two dumb-asses leading the crowd. I was trusted by the other Death-Eathers, and I gathered information ... That went on until I heard about the attack plan. I was lucky, since my not following Voldemort's summons at the evening of his reappearance had already marked an end. Anyway, it blew my cover. To get some important details about the attack, I had to do a last job in my role as Death Eater. As you have seen that evening, my luck had almost run out. But I'm alive."

Harry had guessed most of this unraveling since the evening in Dumbledore's office, when he had learned that it was Snape who had found out the plan.

Snape's next words came unexpected.

"In the course of my undercover career, I had to hate you, Harry Potter, I had to despise mudblood, and I had to place every insult I could find. For that, I apologize deeply. Toward you and - at a better opportunity - toward Miss Granger. I hope you can accept it."

"No. Yes." Harry was choking. "I mean yes, I accept it, but no, there's no need. Not any longer, not since ..." He managed to look Snape in the eyes. "And you saved my life."

"Well - Miss Granger was even more successful on that evening, if you remember correctly. It was risky for me, but I had no choice. So I was more than happy when she knocked me down, by accidentally knocking down the true culprit as well."

"Why did you ..." Again, Harry didn't finish the question, but Snape had understood.

"What I wish most intensely is to destroy Voldemort forever. I don't see a way yet, all I know is that you, Mr Potter, have a major role in it. That forced me to take that risk then, and it may force me to take another risk in the future."

Seeing Harry's look, Snape explained, "Don't get me wrong, Mr Potter, we won't be friends anytime soon, but you'll have my support when it's needed."

Harry still didn't know what to say.

Snape added, "About yesterday ... you also have my respect."

"I don't think it was as dangerous as your own task," answered Harry. "I wasn't even hurt."

Snape shrugged.

His next words released the tension. "Mr Potter, I think we really shouldn't exchange compliments. Nobody would believe us."

Harry giggled, almost missing how Snape's lips twisted. It gave him the courage to ask the question that lasted in his mind. "Professor Snape, what about Sirius Black and Mr Lupin?"

"Well." Snape paused. "You are entitled to an answer, except I don't want to give it."

He paused again.

"Let me tell you so much - we won't be friends anytime soon either, but Sirius and I have managed to cooperate, doing better every day."

"And Mr Lupin?" insisted Harry.

Snape grimaced. "I was brewing his potion, I'm still doing it, and I never intended to poison him - remember, Mr Potter?"

After a second, he continued, "Our controversies date back a long time. In addition, it's certainly no secret that I always wanted the position of the Defence against the Dark Arts teacher. Unfortunately, that werewolf is as good as I am, maybe even better, unless" - this time almost a grin - "it's full moon. But what's worse, I'm by far the best potions wizard - short of Professor Dumbledore."

Snape rose, making it clear that the conversation was over.

Harry stood up and walked to the door.

"Mr Potter?"

He turned.

"You know, I still have some trouble from no longer being a spy, just a teacher. So I wouldn't mind if Mr Weasley and Miss Granger are the only ones with whom you discuss our conversation."

"Yes, Professor Snape. I had the same thought."

Harry left.

For a moment, he had wanted to add, 'Besides, nobody else would believe me,' but he still felt unsure about how Snape would respond to his own medicine.

He had no reason to spoil it. No longer.