A/N: Thanks to Sovran, Not a Cat and Sherry for their help in bringing this chapter to the page. Writing is very difficult for me these days and their patience has been a real godsend.
Thanks too to the members over at Metafic for their additional comments.
As was her wont, Tonks arrived promptly at nine o'clock whilst Harry was barking some last-minute instructions at Kreacher.
“And make sure that my trunk doesn’t end up in Timbuktu like last time, you half-wit!”
“Kreacher will ensure that no other house-elf can get their worthless hands on Master Harry’s trunk. Master Harry can be sure that his trunk will be by his bed as Master Harry requires.”
“Just do it, Kreacher, and stop prattling on.”
“Of course, Master Harry. Kreacher is glad that Master Harry is finally going to meet Kreacher’s mistress.”
“And why is that?”
“Because then Kreacher knows that Master Harry will take his frustration out on her and not on poor, pitiful Kreacher.”
Harry aimed a swift kick at the house-elf, but Kreacher disappeared before the foot got anywhere near him.
“More like, ‘We hope that Master Harry’s lady will be skilled enough in the bedroom to ensure that he isn’t frustrated any more’.”
Harry turned around to see a smiling Tonks leaning against the doorframe, blowing a large pink bubble.
Now that his master was safely occupied, Kreacher returned and awaited further instructions.
“Oh, it’s you.”
“Yes, it’s me. And when you’ve finished abusing that wretch, we need to get going.”
“All is ready, Master Harry.”
Harry watched as the house-elf Apparated to Hogwarts with his belongings, wondering why he continued to abuse Kreacher when the elf was unfailing in the performance of his duties.
"Why does that damn elf scowl and mutter at everyone else but you?” Tonks asked. “You don’t treat him at all well and yet he can’t wait to do your bidding.”
"Must be my natural charm and good looks."
"So, Harry Potter has a gay house-elf to add to his list of admirers?"
"What’s one more?"
"You have more than one gay house-elf on your list?"
"It wouldn't make much difference if I did. They're all as mad as each other: men, women, house-elves, hoops and horses..."
"It can't be as bad as all that, Harry. Surely there is at least one witch or wizard out there for you.”
"But there is," replied Harry. "That's part of the problem."
She stared at him for a few moments, and he could see from the changing expression on her face that she was uncertain as to how to respond to this revelation. Taking the safe course of action, she ignored it and carried on as if nothing had happened.
"I see that you're going for the poster-boy image, then," she said, nodding at his clothes. “Bit of a cliché, isn't it, all that black?"
Harry smiled despite his bad mood. He was grateful that Tonks knew him well enough to manage his moods in their conversations. He had struggled last night when deciding what to wear the first part of the journey today. In the end he had settled on making himself as obvious, and therefore as invisible, as possible by going for everyone's idea of the classic, virile young Auror. His cloak, shirt, trousers and dragonhide boots were all black as befitted a cliché. He had not shaved for the previous two days, and the dark stubble on his chin added a few more years his face. He kept his unruly dark hair, but he had used a simple glamour charm to change his eye colour from their telltale green to a more anonymous blue.
"I decided that hiding in plain sight was the best thing,” he said. “Everyone is going to be looking for Harry Potter, so I thought I'd give them something else to look at. I can cope with the attention as long as I know it's not actually me they're looking at."
"Makes sense. And I suppose having such a glamorous young witch as myself by your side will also help in the misdirection." Tonks laughed as she spoke and punched him playfully on the arm.
"No doubt it will," he replied with a grin, “but the difference between you and me is that you like the attention, whereas I could happily disappear to a remote island and never see anyone from this sycophantic society ever again."
The two of them strode unhindered through the crowds of Muggles towards Platform 9¾. Even Tonks’ favourite bubble pink hair and short, ripped denim skirt attracted no more attention than a few admiring glances from some of the teenage travellers.
“Told you I should have worn some fishnets,” Tonks pouted as another young male failed to have his head turned by the large expanse of flesh on display. She turned to Harry. "You think a bit more cleavage would do the trick?"
“I thought we were supposed to keep a low profile when it came to the Muggles.”
“Oh yeah, sure, Mister “Mean, Moody and Magnificent.” You’re shaggable enough without the dragonhide clobber.”
“Shaggable? Are you trying to tell me something, Nympha—”
“Complete that word, Harry James, and you’ll be on the wrong end of my wand.”
“And here’s me thinking you want to be on the right end of mine,” he laughed.
For a moment, their eyes met and the laughter died, leaving an uncomfortable silence despite the bustle of travellers all round them.
Eventually Harry spoke. "Suppose we’d better get on."
Harry watched as his partner's hair cycled through its full range of colours. “Yeah," she replied quietly. “I wouldn't want to keep the future Mrs Potter from meeting her betrothed, now would I?"
There was a hint of bitterness in her tone of voice, and Harry found himself asking that question which had plagued him with increasing frequency over the last few months: What was Tonks to him?
His contemplations were interrupted by a small Muggle child, who bumped into him before speeding off, her apologetic parents in pursuit.
The spell broken, Tonks patted him playfully on the bum before dragging him towards the barrier that separated the Muggle and magical sections of King’s Cross.
It was not yet half past nine when they walked onto the platform to begin their sweep of the both the platform and the train itself. As expected, they found nothing more than sweet wrappers and discarded Chocolate Frog cards on the train. After casting the usual security monitoring charms, they returned to the platform to wait for the students to arrive.
As the crowd grew, the two of them surveyed the new additions with suspicion. They cast more specific monitoring charms in the direction of those adults and students whose allegiance had been under question during the war.
The number of Death Eaters who had been at Voldemort’s beck and call was, to Harry's dismay, at least double the number that had been accounted for. As far as he was concerned, there were too many killers still on the loose, but the old ways of compromise and, dare he say it, “fudge”, had remained despite a change in the regime. More than once he had considered turning vigilante to put matters right, but cooler heads had prevented him from doing so.
Perhaps after I’ve secured my betrothed’s affections I could join the Aurors full time and see if I can’t take a few more of the buggers off the street and put them behind bars where they belong.
As he contemplated such a move, a pleasurable thought crept into his mind.
Perhaps if I'm lucky, a few of them might put up a bit too much resistance and end up Portkeyed back to their relatives in a pine overcoat.
The idea of such an unmitigated response to the problem filled Harry with pleasure, and his snort of laughter momentarily startled a nearby witch.
As the clock ticked round to ten to, the Weasley family had not yet arrived. This was not unexpected as discreet enquiries made by Harry that morning led him to believe that they would arrive at the last minute and more than likely arguing amongst themselves. Soon all that was left on the platform were parents and siblings who were not going to Hogwarts that year.
Harry watched as Tonks sauntered down the platform towards him. To the casual observer, she paid as much attention to her surroundings as she did to polishing her scuffed boots, but Harry was in no doubt that if asked she would be able to describe everything and everyone that she had walked past. "Time for one of us to join the brats, I think.”
Harry glanced at the station clock, which was showing less than five minutes until the train was due to depart.
"And I suppose, as you are waiting for your lovely lady, you’ll be staying here?"
He was beginning to find Tonks' constant teasing a bit wearing, and so he replied without emotion instead of joining in the banter. "Makes sense, I suppose."
Despite his curt reply, she took his response in her stride. “Don’t leave it too late,” she said with a wink. “We don’t need any of your Apparition tricks today.”
Despite his worsening mood, he still found himself grinning at her as the memories of his last attempt came to the fore. “Moving trains are my speciality, especially ones charmed to prevent it.”
“You’re one to talk.”
And as if to illustrate his point, the previously threatened fishnets appeared and the hem of her skirt rose several more inches to reveal her stocking tops. The heels she wore also extended by a few inches and she sauntered away, her hips moving extravagantly.
With Tonks gone, he stood around waiting for the Weasley family to arrive. He found himself returning to the question of his relation to the Auror.
For many years she had been his elder sister and only friend in a world of adults. But as first she and then he had matured, their playfulness had begun to teeter on the edge of something more.
Get your head out of your arse, Potter, he chided himself. Whatever she is, or was or…it’s history now. Like it or lump it, the girl for you has red hair and no money. And, by the looks of it, no watch.
Finally, with less than two minutes to go, the Weasleys burst through the barrier and onto the platform. Harry’s eyes quickly found his intended.
Bella’s description of comely doesn’t do her justice, he thought as the family tried to organise themselves. She was small in stature, but the way she carried herself told him that she was capable of rising above her family’s humble circumstances. Yes, she was physically attractive, but to him it was important that she be more than a pretty face. The woman he was to marry had to be strong enough magically and mentally to ensure that he didn’t end up despising her.
“Ron, will you get a move on?” yelled a plump, redheaded woman, interrupting his thoughts.
Obviously Mrs Weasley, he thought with a smile. So is this what my betrothed will become in later years?
The yelling continued. “It’s because of you that we’re late in the first place.”
The boy — Harry couldn’t call him a man because his posture and demeanour he had all the hallmarks of a petulant youth — turned and glared at his mother as he struggled with his overloaded trolley. “Keep your hair on, Mum. We’ve made it, all right? So leave off, won’t you?”
His cheek was cut short by his father’s intervention. “I’d ask you to keep a civil tongue in your head when speaking to your mother, Ron.”
So this is Arthur Weasley, thought Harry, tuning out the rest of the exchange and studying the balding, bespectacled man. Doesn’t look hen-pecked, so I wonder why he’s kept his wife in the dark?
The train’s whistle blew loudly, warning the stragglers that its departure was imminent.
“Hurry, you two,” screeched Mrs Weasley as the two children dragged their belongings towards the train.
The Weasley boy reached the first door before his sister and, pulling his wand out, opened it and began to levitate his belongings inside. The task finished, he abandoned the now empty trolley and jumped onboard.
“See ya, Mum, Dad,” he yelled, and then disappeared from sight.
No sooner had he said his goodbyes than the train lurched forward, sending the three remaining Weasleys into a panic. Harry watched, half amused and half dismayed at the family's antics, wondering whether he should intervene before things got too out of hand.
Ginevra, spurred on by the movement of the train, rushed forward towards the still-open door. Her eyes were fixed on her destination and not on any potential pitfalls, however, and Harry watched as she collided with her brother’s abandoned trolley. Her trunk and the rest of her belongings went flying as she fell onto the platform in an untidy heap.
Harry decided that it was time to act and take a closer look at his intended. “Allow me, Miss,” he said, extending his hand towards her.
She looked first at him and then at his hand before accepting his assistance. He pulled her close to him, and with no more than a wave of his hand he Apparated them onto the now-moving train. As soon as he felt her gain her footing he turned his attention to her luggage. Wandlessly summoning it from the platform, he stacked it in a neat pile next to her.
“Are you all right, Miss?” he asked the startled witch.
For a few moments she just stared at him, her mouth gaping, her eyes wild with surprise. Eventually she managed to stutter a few words of thanks.
“I-I think so. Thank you for helping me.”
It was the same every year, thought Ginny. Ron never packs the night before no matter how much we nag him. And now I’m late, as usual. Not a good start for the Head Girl.
Ginny watched impatiently as her father cast a notice-me-not charm on their car before she and her brother grabbed a trolley each and began to load their belongings on in their own inimitable style. Ron’s was a precarious tower that looked like it would need more magic to hold it on the trolley than was possible for one wizard to cast on his own. Hers, on the other hand, was neatly stacked and required no more than the mundane powers of gravity and careful driving to ensure that it reached its destination intact.
However, knowing that a leisurely stroll through the Muggles was out of the question, she cast a simple fixing charm on the luggage before setting off across the concourse towards platforms nine and ten.
Thankfully, her journey was uneventful apart from a few angry shouts from disgruntled travellers along the way, and she followed her brother through the barrier between the two worlds with her parents trailing in the distance.
They burst through the barrier to discover the platform full of parents waving to their children, who were leaning out of the train windows, increasing her sense of panic that this year, her most important year, they were finally going to miss the train.
She tuned out the argument between the other members of her family. Ron knew that their father was all mouth and no trousers, and so any number of rebukes were useless. Instead, the male Auror observing their arrival grabbed her attention. His face was stern but not unkind, his trademark black dragonhide apparel reassuring rather than threatening. She stared, all thoughts of rushing to get on the train fading as she allowed herself to be drawn towards the comfort his presence offered her.
The spell was broken by a blast on the train’s whistle warning her that its departure was imminent. Equally jarring was her mother screeching at her like a fishwife, and she began to push her trolley towards the train just to get away from the noise. Ron reached the train door first, opened it quickly, and levitated his belongings inside. And that was where her adventure began.
No sooner had he bellowed his goodbyes and disappeared into the train than the carriage lurched forward. In a panic she rushed towards the train and collided with her brother’s abandoned trolley, sending her belongings and herself crashing to the platform.
Oh, brilliant. Thanks a bundle, Ron.
Before anything less charitable could find its way into her mind, let alone onto her lips, a shadow crossed her face and caused her to look up. There, smiling and offering his hand towards her, was the Auror she had spotted a few moments earlier.
Poor fool, she thought, he has as much chance of taking hold of my hand as I do of catching the train.
But something in the way he had drawn her to him earlier made her extend her hand up towards him. It was a decision that would change her life.
No sooner had he pulled her to her feet than they were standing inside the train, her luggage neatly stacked beside her. But that was as nothing compared to the feelings that his touch had awakened in her.
As he had pulled her close to him to get her onto the train, she had suddenly been exposed to the world that had been hidden from her for as long as she could remember. Here she was in the arms of a man who was not a relative, enjoying the strength of his hold, awash in the maleness of his scent and the feelings it elicited in her.
“Are you all right, Miss?” he asked her.
The effect on her was so overwhelming that she found herself unable to reply. And part of her did not wish to reply, for the longer she refrained from answering him, the longer she would remain in his arms.
Eventually she managed to stutter a few words of thanks.
“I-I think so. Thank you for helping me.”
“Did you see her?” Tonks asked as Harry flopped down onto the bench seat next to her.
“Yes, her family arrived just in the nick of time, but she needed help getting on board.”
“I suppose she was the one you helped and her brother was left behind?”
“No, he made sure he got on first, leaving his trolley in the way and leaving his sister to crash into it.”
He was silent, reviewing the earlier events in his mind, remembering how she felt in his arms and the look she had given him once she had recovered from her initial shock.
“So Harry Potter steps in and saves the day?” asked Tonks, interrupting his thoughts.
“For that young lady, yes,” he replied, reluctant to be drawn from his contemplations.
“And for everyone else?”
He finally tore himself away from his reflections to focus on his partner.
“I’ve done my bit, Tonks,” he said, more sharply than he had intended. He was angry at her intrusion and it reflected in his tone. “I’ve spent my childhood being trained to kill the most powerful wizard the world has seen, and now I find that my adult life has been mapped out as well. Excuse me if I don’t feel particularly disposed to live up to my public image. .”
Before he could settle back and lose himself again, she continued. “And what about me, Harry? Would you step in and save the day for me?”
He took a few moments to consider his response. Asked less than ten minutes ago, his answer would have been an unequivocal ‘yes.’ But now he hesitated as he weighed the years he had shared with the woman in front of him against the few minutes he had spent with Ginevra Weasley.
Finally he answered. “You know I would.”
The delay and his somewhat perfunctory tone said more than the words used.
“But I’m not your betrothed,” she challenged, as if picking up his reticence. “There are some who say that I shouldn’t be allowed near you.”
“You’re family,” he answered, starting to grow uncomfortable as to where this was leading.
“Distant cousins, hardly brother and sister. Legally I could marry you, so why am I allowed to touch you?”
He shrugged, trying not to think too much about what he could and could not do with Tonks.
“Could it be that Sirius has lied to me again and I can do whatever I want? That it’s only my bride-to-be who is prevented from any form of physical contact with anyone?”
“Do you want to kiss me and see if that’s true?” she laughed, and shuffled a bit closer to him, placing her hand on his thigh.
“Do you want me to?” he replied, suddenly very nervous.
She did not reply, but instead he felt her gaze as she tried to judge the effect of her actions. Harry knew that if this had happened yesterday he would have been leaning in to kiss her. And that was what part of him wanted to do. Badly. But before he could give in to that desire, the nervous smile he had received from Ginevra upon her rescue stalled him, and the moment passed.
Tonks removed her hand and gave him a less than playful shove. He looked up and saw that the smile she was giving him betrayed her mixed emotions
“You’ve got your bride-to-be on the train and you want to start coming on to me?” She gave him another shove, and this time her smile was genuine. “Shame on you, Harry Potter.”
He returned her smile, though he was not sure if it was from relief or pleasure. “Can’t blame me. After all, you did say that I was shaggable.”
“Yeah,” she teased, “but that doesn’t mean I want to actually do the dirty deed with you.”
She paused and then continued, her voice suddenly serious. “Save yourself, Harry. If the poor girl has had to wait until now even to be kissed, then the least you can do is make sure that your first time is with her.” She paused again and then, with all trace of humour gone from her voice, she said, “It would be your first time, wouldn’t it?”
“Yeah, it would be. Mind you, it wasn’t for lack of trying on behalf of your female colleagues.”
“What do you mean?” She sat up quickly, very interested in what he had to say.
“Well, more than one suggested that she was the one to ‘add to my education’. You’d be surprised how many suggested that I didn’t want to go to my grave still a virgin. I wouldn’t have minded, but I was only fourteen when the first one tried to seduce me.”
At first she starred at him in horror, and then she burst out laughing. “Bugger me, Harry, isn’t that every schoolboy’s fantasy? An older woman taking you to her bed?”
“It might be someone’s, but not mine.”
She laughed. “Poor Harry. More women than you can shake a stick at and you’re still not happy.”
He ignored her teasing and continued. “I’ve had enough of being used. It might be fun at the time, but with that kind of stuff I’m a bit old fashioned; I’m more interested in a relationship. I’m sure sex is great, but one night stands are not my idea of fun.”
“Damn,” she replied, “and here was me thinking that we could be friends with benefits.”
He shook his head and rolled his eyes at her. “What is it with you Aurors? Is it something they put in your tea?”
Their conversation continued in a lighter vein before they lapsed into silence, each alone with their thoughts. As Harry sat and observed Tonks, he once again found himself wondering what the young Auror was to him, and those thoughts stayed with him as he allowed himself to drift of into a pleasant doze.
When he awoke he found Tonks staring at him from across the compartment and ready to continue the conversation that they had been having.
"She's beautiful, isn't she?" Tonks asked before Harry could speak.
“What?” It was the only coherent thought he could come up with in response to her ambush.
“She is, isn’t she?”
He could hear the jealousy in her voice. Oh bugger, he thought, that’s all I need.
He was not quite sure what to say. She was right, Ginevra was beautiful, and it would have been the easiest thing in the world for him to agree with her. But he did not want to hurt her feelings, and so he merely shrugged his shoulders and muttered, "I suppose so, if you like that sort of thing."
"Harry," she said, “if you think that I’m that easily fooled, you are more stupid than I thought. Even if she wasn't bound to marry you, I think that Padfoot would have found what he needed to keep you at Hogwarts."
"I don't know what you're talking about," he replied angrily, embarrassed by her observation.
"Don't be silly, Harry! It's obvious what you think of her. You may be a very powerful wizard, but you've never been very good at hiding feelings. Anyway, don't be embarrassed by it. If she is your intended, isn't it a good thing that you fancy her?"
There was a challenge in her voice, one which he did not want to take on unless he had to.
"I suppose so," he murmured in reply, wishing that he was still asleep. The conversation had suddenly become very confusing. On the one hand, Tonks was being less than subtle about her feelings towards him, whilst at the same time pushing him towards his intended. Or was she trying to get him to choose her over Ginevra? However glad he was that the war was over, life was a lot simpler when it was kill or be killed. For a start, there were no women to deal with, at least only those who wanted him dead and didn’t want him to understand the unfathomable depths of the female mind.
"There’s no ‘suppose’ about it, you idiot," she said. “I’m not sure what pureblood claptrap you've picked up from that cousin of mine, but even an arranged marriage needs some spark of attraction to make it work. Even if it's only the desire to make sure the both of you don't spend the rest of your lives in misery. The Weasleys are a good family, and everything I've heard about Ginny is positive. You've seen for yourself that she is pretty, and I'm sure once you get to know her, even you won't mess it up."
Although Harry felt very uncomfortable in admitting his true feelings, he could not deny that his bride-to-be was indeed a very beautiful young woman. Her mane of red hair was her most striking feature, but he also found himself drawn to the chocolate brown eyes that had looked upon him with such thanks. And then there was how good she had felt when she was in his arms, so much so that when he finally released her, he felt that a part of him had been taken away.
He had intended to introduce himself fairly early on during their journey to Hogwarts, but now he found himself revising his plans. Previously, it had not really mattered to him whether he made a good impression or not. This was something that he had been forced into and was typical of the way his life had been run by others through the years. He knew that he could not get out of it and he knew that he had to make the best of it that he could, but that did not mean that he liked it.
But now he was nervous. Now he felt he had something to lose. If she rejected him, which was possible given the fact that she had no idea that she was, in fact, betrothed to him, he was not sure that he could deal with such a thing. And the fact that he had to introduce himself and make his intentions clear in front of the other students only made him feel worse.
He was not concerned about her brother's reaction. From what Harry had seen he was a fairly typical, self-centred teenage boy who thought with his stomach more than his brain. And, however much he hated it, Harry had always lived his life under public scrutiny.
No, it was the fact that for the first time in his life, Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, could fail at something in public. The world saw him as invincible. How could they not? He had killed the most dangerous Dark Lord of all time, and the public were fed a never-ending diet of stories about him wherein simple tasks were transformed into marvellous escapades.
For the first time in his life he was genuinely scared of failing.
“Have you seen him yet?”
Ginny ignored her brother and busied herself putting her trunk on the rack over the seats. Harry Potter was the last thing on her mind right now as all her thoughts were still centred on the young Auror who had swooped down and saved her from the mess of Ron’s creation.
“Don’t be silly, Ron,” said Hermione. “He won’t be on the train, that would cause too much disruption. No, I expect he’s already there, deep in conversation with the Headmaster about his coming year. I wonder if he’ll be taking his NEWTs with rest of us?”
“Come off it, Hermione. Why would Harry Potter need to take NEWTs?”
“Future employers will—”
“I don’t think anyone is going to be bothered whether he’s got any NEWTs or not. He’s Harry Potter, isn’t he? All he has to do is stick that on the application and he’s quids in.”
Ginny tuned out the conversation, preferring instead to settle by the window where she hoped she would be able to avoid being drawn into the argument. She stared out at the graffiti-covered walls that lined the track as they flashed by, trying to lose herself in a daydream about her rescuer. But, to her annoyance, she struggled to remember any details about him. If she had not known better, she would have said she had been the victim of a mild Confundus charm. Reluctantly, she turned from the window and observed her brother.
Since the Prophet had announced to the wizarding world that its saviour would be attending Hogwarts that autumn, she had heard about nothing else from her brother. It was only to be expected, she supposed; Ron had been taken with the story of the Boy-Who-Lived ever since he was a toddler. His favourite games had all centred on Harry Potter, and he was never happier than when he had a stick in his hand and a painted-on scar on his forehead.
Her other brothers had been almost as ecstatic as Ron upon hearing the news, her parents less so. Although they had not come out and said anything, she noticed them exchanging a few worried glances whenever the topic was raised.
As the morning wore on, Neville Longbottom and Lavender Brown joined the other Gryffindors in the compartment, and they were as enthusiastic as Ron.
“I think it’s going to be great,” agreed Neville. “Do you think he plays Quidditch?”
“Do you think he plays Quidditch?” bellowed Ron incredulously. “He’s the bloody Boy-Who-Lived! He could catch the Snitch with his eyes closed and one hand tied behind his back. No offence, Ginny.”
“None taken, Ron.”
Ginny had been the House team’s Seeker for the last two years. It was not her best position, she knew, but there was no one better in Gryffindor, so she was lumbered with it.
“If Harry plays, you can go back to Chaser, Ginny.”
Hermione shook her head. “You don’t know that he’s even going to be in Gryffindor, Ron.”
“Oh, come off it, Hermione. He’s bound to be. His parents were, his godfather was, he killed You-Know-Who… you don’t get much braver or more courageous than that.”
And so the conversation continued. Everyone except for Ginny appeared to have an insatiable appetite when it came to all things Harry Potter.
“Aren’t you the least bit excited?” Hermione asked her eventually.
“Oh, you must be,” agreed Lavender before Ginny could reply. “He is very good looking.”
And he was. She had seen his picture — it was hard to avoid it these days — although he always looked as though the photographer was lucky not to be hexed to kingdom come.
When that fact failed to tempt her, Lavender went for the kill. “He could be the one that finally gets to ask you out.”
The compartment went silent for a moment as everyone waited for Ginny to rebuke Lavender for bringing up such a painful fact. But she merely shrugged, and as everyone else resumed their conversations, she returned to the task of recalling the events on the platform. Eventually she gave up: she could remember nothing except for the excitement she had felt as he held her. Despite this, she was determined to track him down, even if it took all year.
Her love life at Hogwarts had been non-existent. Everyone told her she was very good looking, and a particularly foolish boy had once shouted in the corridor that she was ‘highly shaggable.’ Nevertheless, no one had ever asked her out during the six years she had been at school. It was true that she was popular amongst the boys, but Ginny always spent the now-regular Yule Ball either in the common room alone or with strictly platonic friends.
The lack of a boyfriend led to some unwarranted and unwelcome speculation as to her preferences, but those girls who knew about such things advised that that was not the reason.
She had grown accustomed to her singleness, using the time it gave her to ensure that her OWL results were as impressive as Hermione’s. In addition, she had helped to run the school’s duelling club and had maintained a degree of physical fitness that was unusual in the wizarding word. Based on Witch Weekly’s frequent How to Catch the Wizard of Your Dreams articles she was doing everything right, and the lack of action on that front added to her frustration.
Perhaps this year would be different, she thought. She certainly hoped so. How galling would it be to have begun the term with such an encounter only to have to put up with the same discomfiture for the rest of the year?
She became aware of someone standing in front of her and she looked up to see Dean Thomas. A warm, West Indian smile flashed across his face, and she found herself smiling at him. As boys went, Dean was better than most, good looking and appealingly modest.
“Hi, Ginny. Glad to be back?”
“Yes, thank you, Dean. And you?”
He was nervous, she could tell, and that meant that he was probably going to try to ask her out. She supposed that going out with Dean would be good fun. His previous girlfriends all spoke well of him, and she had no reason to believe that she would not find him equally charming. But she knew that his effort was doomed to failure.
“So, Ginny, I-I mean, er, I wondered if you… thought it was going to rain today?”
The look of horror that came over his face when the sentence finally emerged almost made her burst out laughing. She stopped herself because she did not want to hurt his feelings. She decided to put him out of his misery. “So, Dean, did you have a good summer? I expect that you spent a lot of time with Julie, your girlfriend.”
“We broke up, actually. When she found out that I was a wizard she was a bit freaked out by it all and she was finished with me.”
“That’s a shame, Dean; she sounded like a nice girl. Still, it’s going to leave you free to catch up on your school work, isn’t it?”
“Actually, I did think that… you and… I… might… sit at the Gryffindor table sometime.”
Once it had become clear that boys became tongue-tied around her, she had tried asking them herself, particularly when Michael Corner had tried to make his intentions clear. The results had been equally frustrating, and so she had given up.
She had spent many hours attempting to understand what was happening to her. An extensive search of the Hogwarts library over a number of years had yielded no plausible explanation. Finally, she overcame her embarrassment and broached the subject with her mother who had been equally unhelpful, but nonetheless happy with the situation.
“You’re far too young to get mixed up in that sort of thing, my girl,” her mother had explained. “And besides,” she added, “there’s a war on,” as if that explained everything.
“Mum! I’m fifteen! It isn’t right that I’ve never been kissed.”
“I think it’s perfectly proper that you have declined to offer your favours to any spotty youth who can charm his way into your affections.”
“No buts, Ginny, you’re too young and a girl of your blood should be saving herself so that she doesn’t dishonour her family on her wedding night.”
“Mum, I —”
“That’s the end of it. We’ll talk no more about it.”
And that was the last time they did. No amount of cajoling, wheedling, threats or tantrums had resulted in her discovering the truth. In the end, she gave up. This was partly because of the bad feeling her efforts caused, and partly because of the increasing number of tearful friends she ended up comforting because of what some boy had, or hadn’t, done to them.
Still, she reasoned at the time, she would be of age soon and when she reached seventeen she would find out the truth. Any aged-related curse or impediment would fall away by then, And, if her supposition was correct and her parents had applied a chastity charm to her, her reaching adulthood would free her from its affects.
But to her disappointment, her birthday had come and gone with no evident changes.
That thought and a shuffle of feet in front of her brought her back to the present.
Dean looked crestfallen. She found herself wishing that there had been an easier way of putting him off, but she was rather bored of all the hassle, especially as he probably would not be the last boy to try to ask her out on the train.
Ron, however, looked elated. “Don’t worry, Ginny. He’s an okay bloke, but I’m sure you can do better.”
She knew she could do better. Her morning had proved that, but the Auror’s face remained as elusive as ever.
Lunch came and went without interruption, and the compartment settled down into a post-pumpkin pasty ennui as the earlier excitement dissipated. There were no more visitors to their compartment for the next few hours, but Ginny knew it would not last. She was almost relieved when the door opened and Draco Malfoy stepped into the compartment.
“Hello, Ginevra.” His greeting was warm, although they never exchanged more than a few words each year.
“Hello, Draco,” she replied, knowing what was, or rather what was not, about to happen.
He just stood there gazing at her, his mouth opening and closing, unable to form any words. In the background she could hear her brother sniggering.
The Malfoy family were not the threat that they had been prior to the first fall of Voldemort. Fatally wounded in his capture following the events of that fateful All Hallows Eve, Lucius Malfoy had died shortly after sentencing. His wife had then withdrawn from public life, and when her son had appeared at Hogwarts, he had displayed none of the arrogance that had once typified the name Malfoy. Even so, his sorting into Ravenclaw had come as a surprise.
Next to visit Ginny was Colin Creevey. Before he could open his mouth, she said, "No, Colin, you cannot take a picture of me." The boy deflated as quickly as if she had a pin stuck in him, and he closed the door slowly behind him as he left.
Well, perhaps I'll get some peace and quiet now, she thought to herself, but then the door opened again. Without looking up she shouted, “Merlin, is every bloody wizard on the train going to come and pay me a visit?”
“I’m sorry, Ginevra,” said a voice which was both familiar and strange to her. “I did not mean to disturb you, but I thought that, in view of certain facts, it would be sensible to pay my respects to you.”
She remained seated, trying but failing to remember where she had heard that voice before. In the end she gave up and turned to greet the visitor with her frustration building. At first all that she could see were his robe-clad legs, but as her eyes travelled up his torso she found herself staring into the brilliant green eyes of Harry Potter. She was not sure what pulled her to her feet, but she felt as if someone or something had grabbed hold of her and lifted her entire body.
She wanted to touch him, but he took the initiative and reached down to hold her left hand in his. Raising it up, he bent forward whilst still maintaining eye contact with her. He then slowly spread the fingers apart and licked gently on the web between her middle and ring fingers with the tip of his tongue. She was the only one who could see that he had done more than kiss her hand. For a moment he held her hand in his and then, releasing it, he turned to leave.
“Bloody hell, mate,” bellowed her brother, “where do you get off kissing my sister’s hand?”
Ginny watched, transfixed, as Harry turned slowly to face Ron.
“I mean…” Ron spluttered, not so bold with Harry’s green eyes boring into him. “I suppose I can forgive you this once, being as you offed the Dark Lord and all,” he continued, now desperately trying to make a joke of it.
“I do not need your forgiveness, Weasley, as no impropriety has occurred. I am merely claiming that which is mine.”
Ginny realised that Harry’s response should have elicited some response from her, but such a declaration did not appear out of the ordinary to her.
“Steady on, mate,” countered Ron, his brotherly indignation overcoming his sense of self-preservation. “You can’t go barging into people’s carriages and claiming any witch that takes your fancy, Harry Potter or…”
His voice trailed off as he found himself on the business end of Harry Potter’s wand, which was emitting purple sparks.
Ginny supposed that she should be concerned for her brother’s safety, but the events around her paled into insignificance in light of the momentous event taking place within her. No sooner had he touched her than she had felt the same thrill that had coursed through her as when she had been helped onto the train earlier. But it had not stopped there. No, she had felt like a flower opening up to the rising sun as his gaze had lingered on her. Even when he had let go of her to face Ron, things had not ended. A crescendo of pleasure surged through her, causing her knees to buckle. She grabbed hold of the windowsill as Harry rebuked her brother.
“As I told you, Mister Weasley, I neither require nor desire your forgiveness. You are meddling in things that are not your business, and unless you want to know what it feels like to have your limbs Disapparate whilst the rest of you remains here, I’d shut up.”
Obviously believing that the message had finally sunk in, he turned back to Ginny and bowed. She struggled to regain her composure, but the dam had been breached. Six pent up years of frustration flowed over into her body, and it was all she could do to stand upright as he bade her farewell.
“My sincerest apologies, Ginevra. You may hold my promise as a true statement of my intent. Until the ceremony, then.”
He turned once more and this time headed out the door without further incident. As soon as the door closed behind him, pandemonium broke out. Ron began shouting at the top of his voice despite Hermione’s best efforts to calm him down. Neville took it upon himself to try to placate Ginny, but she was having none of it. She knew that she needed to find some privacy before she embarrassed herself in front of everyone.
Lavender had gone into overdrive, squealing gleefully and trying to hug her, but Ginny shoved her aside also as she made her way for the door. Minutes later and in a magically sealed and silenced toilet, Ginny Weasley gave into that which had been denied her. Her only regret was that the instigator of this new world of pleasure was not there to share it with her.
Harry strode down the train corridor, filled with the desire to put as much distance between himself and the Gryffindor carriage as possible. Why, he did not know: despite the way he had dominated the proceedings, he still felt uneasy about the whole affair. Perhaps it was the fact that he had made such a blatant declaration of his intent rather than keeping his emotions and feelings hidden from the world round him as he normally did. Or maybe it was the blatant lie he had told to Ginevra’s brother about Apparating his limbs to different destinations.
Both of these explanations were possibly true, but if they were, then they were not the whole truth. If he allowed himself to speculate — and having learned the hard way that action and not speculation produced better results, it was not something he was about to start doing, but if he were — then he might reluctantly conclude that the action of kissing his intended’s hand had changed something in him. And if it had, and at this stage he was not prepared to concede that it had, then that worried him.
Change, he had long been taught, was not to be feared but to be understood and embraced. And that was a dictum he was prepared to follow as long as he was the one responsible for the change. Where he became uneasy, and therefore angry, was where change was either instigated by others, or worse still, controlled by others. Just who was controlling this change, if he did indeed concede that something had changed, he did not know. But whoever it was, he knew that it was not him.
And that worried him a great deal.
As if catching his uncertainty, Tonks did not utter a word when he re-entered their compartment. Instead she watched silently as he gathered up his belongings and strode out into the corridor and then out onto the rapidly filling platform. He fought the unwelcome feelings of guilt that rose up when he realised that her eyes had been red-rimmed and that her normally vibrantly coloured hair had faded to a dull mousey-brown.
As he made his way to the end of the platform he caught sight of Hagrid trying to round up the first-years in his own inimitable fashion. Quite how Muggle-borns responded to the half-giant he could only speculate, but to him Hagrid was a welcome sight. Although he had a very simplistic approach to life and an unshakeable belief in the infallibility of the Headmaster, Hagrid had the distinction of being one of the few members of The Order who could be trusted to be straight with Harry. That was probably because he could not lie to save his life — or to keep a secret — but as Hagrid greeted him, Harry felt that he was back on familiar territory and he could focus on the Sorting ahead.
As the boats made their way across the lake, Harry ignored the incredulous stares of the younger students and returned to the question of which house he would prefer to be in. He knew that Gryffindor was almost certainly the right house for him, but his experiences with former Gryffindors, such as his godfather, Remus Lupin and the Headmaster himself, made him reluctant to join the house. He knew that if he was in Gryffindor it could make it easier to play court to Ginevra but also that he would have to put up with the unwelcome attentions of her brother and — if his enquiries had been correct — the intrusive questions from Hermione Granger at the same time.
After disembarking from the boats, Hagrid led them to the steps of Hogwarts, where they were met by Professor McGonagall.
“Thank you, Hagrid, for once again delivering your charges safely.” She nodded to him, and after a mumbled, “you’re welcome”, he disappeared through the great oak doors, leaving the first-years to the tender mercies of the Deputy Head.
“Welcome to Hogwarts,” she said without emotion. “Before you enter the Great Hall to be Sorted, it is important that you understand the significance of your house. It will be your home at Hogwarts for the next seven years. Your triumphs will earn you house-points; your disasters will lose them.
“There are four houses at Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. Each house is led by a Housemaster or -mistress. I am the current head of Gryffindor, the head of Ravenclaw is Professor Flitwick, the head of Hufflepuff is Professor Sprout, and the head of Slytherin is Professor Snape.”
She waited for a moment for the information to sink in before continuing.
"Now please form an orderly line and follow me into the hall.”
She turned to Harry as the younger students shuffled themselves noisily into a line.
“Mr Potter, it would be sensible if you waited until the end to be Sorted.”
Once Harry nodded his agreement, she turned to the first-years who were still milling around, more interested in chatting than following the instructions they had been given.
“Now, no more talking, please." And with that she opened the door to the Great Hall and led the first-year students in.
As the Sorting Hat distributed the other students into the four houses, Harry was still undecided as to his choice of house. He was, rather self importantly, assuming that he would be allowed some say in the matter, and if he was not, well, he would sit there stubbornly until he got his way. His initial thoughts were that he could just tell the Hat that he did not want to be in Gryffindor, but he realised that that could lead to him being in either Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw, and that would not cause anything like the upset that he had decided should be the most important outcome of the whole event. If he understood Dumbledore at all, then the old man probably viewed Harry’s Sorting as an effective coronation of the Returning Hero and the assumption of his Gryffindor throne. But Harry planned to stay no longer at the school than was necessary and therefore, in his eyes, the Sorting was no more than a tool to be used to thwart his tormentor.
As he waited, he scanned the top table for familiar faces. Hagrid smiled at him as his gaze fell upon the Groundskeeper, but the other members of staff pointedly ignored him. At the far end of the table Harry’s eyes fell upon the Potions Master, Severus Snape.
Black had taken great pleasure in educating Harry as to the misery that he, Lupin and Harry’s father had heaped upon Snape when they were at school. All of which was justified by the fact that the man had been in Slytherin and had attempted — unsuccessfully — to enter the inner circle of Voldemort’s Death Eaters.
Lupin had informed him that when Snape had arrived at school he had been friendly with Harry’s mother, Lily. He had, in fact, been the only other magical person she had known prior to Hogwarts. This friendship had faded rather rapidly as she quickly established friendships in her own house. Although initially disappointed by the change, Snape had soon turned his attentions to the then Narcissa Black. It was an infatuation doomed to failure, given their difference in status and ages, but that did not stop him following her around during her sixth year, to her considerable annoyance.
In truth, Harry thought Snape a rather pathetic specimen, especially as his infatuation for Narcissa appeared to be unabated and also appeared to have extended to her sister, Bellatrix.
Harry’s name was called, rousing him from his thoughts, and the Hall went silent as he walked up to the stool and placed the battered old Hat on his head.
"Good evening, Mr Potter. I had begun to wonder whether I would see you at Hogwarts when you didn't turn up for your first year. Now, which house to place you in? Son of two fine Gryffindors, godson of another, that would be the obvious choice, wouldn't it? Gryffindor? But I get the feeling that you want to shun the obvious. I get the impression, Mr Potter, that you have realised that the Sorting procedure focuses only on the primary trait within the student and that Gryffindors are as capable of succumbing to evil as Slytherins are.
"You have the brains for Ravenclaw, and despite your experiences, you are loyal to your friends and would do well in Hufflepuff. But I sense at this point in your life that there is only one house suitable for you…
For a moment Harry was stunned. Had it really been as easy as that to get his own way? He took off the Hat and grinned as he handed it back to an equally stunned-looking Minerva McGonagall. He looked up towards the staff table, taking in the shocked looks from Professors Dumbledore and Remus Lupin. The expression on Severus Snape's face was, unexpectedly, one of pleasant surprise. Harry had thought that the head of Slytherin house would be far from pleased that the son of James Potter would be in his house. But the reverse appeared to be true. This unexpected turn of events added to the growing feeling that, far from controlling the situation, his return to Hogwarts was taking on a life of its own.
Harry cast a contemptuous glance at the Gryffindor table before walking over to the Slytherin table to muted applause. Enjoying the shocked faces around him, he sat next to a bewildered looking first-year who was perched on the very end bench.
"Well, well, well," said Professor Dumbledore as he stood, beaming at the assembled staff and students. To anyone else it would appear that the Headmaster was taking the unexpected turn of events in his stride, but Harry knew otherwise.
Good! thought Harry, at least Dumbledore has been wrong-footed by my Sorting. But his unease that he was not as in control of matters as he would like to be continued to nag at him.
The Headmaster’s smile faltered briefly as his eyes came to rest on Harry, but the mask of geniality was back in place as he continued to survey the room.
"Now that the Sorting is out of the way, we can all tuck into the wonderful food that the house-elves have prepared for us.”
“Welcome, one and all, to a new year at Hogwarts. I trust that you all had an enjoyable summer, made even more so by the defeat of Lord Voldemort by Harry Potter, who, I’m pleased to say, will be joining us for this year. Although it will be hard to do so, I would request that you do not pester Mr Potter for details of his victory or treat him as anything other than a normal seventh-year. As he has yet to be Sorted, he will be joining with the first years in that ceremony shortly.”
At that point the doors to the Great Hall opened and Professor McGonagall entered leading a long line of nervous looking first-years.
The first student sat down and had the Sorting Hat placed on her head. As “Adams, Charlotte” was sorted into Ravenclaw, Ginny, along with the rest of the school, craned her neck to see where Harry Potter was. He stood at the back of the hall, arms folded and looking for all the world like he did not want to be there. Ginny felt a wave of sympathy for him: it could not be easy to be him…
Once it became clear that Harry Potter was going to be the last person to be Sorted, the room settled down to something like its normal self. The students clapped and cheered as people were sorted into their houses.
Finally it was Harry Potter’s turn and Ron made space next to him, ready to greet his new housemate. Ginny looked up and down her table and saw that Ron wasn’t the only one getting to ready to welcome Harry. All the Gryffindors had big grins and were patting each other on the back. The students from Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff looked on enviously whilst Pansy Parkinson led the Slytherin sneers.
The Boy-Who-Lived stepped forward and once seated the Deputy Head placed the Sorting Hat on his head. To Ginny, it appeared that no sooner had it touched him than it shouted: “Slytherin!”
The hall went silent and as Ginny looked around. She wondered who was more stunned, the Gryffindors or the Slytherins.
There was a pause before Harry Potter stood up.
Perhaps the decision has shocked even him, she thought.
Whatever was going through his head, Potter turned to the Gryffindor table and gave them a contemptuous smile. Then he marched over to the Slytherin table and joined his bemused housemates.
As she watched him walk towards the Slytherin table, she felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. Everything she had allowed herself to hope for following their encounter on the train came crashing down. His declaration of love and the coded, but audacious, promise that he would bed her, melted away like so much leprechaun gold.
The hope that she’d had began to turn to anger a feeling multiplied by Dumbledore’s reaction to events. Smiling benevolently as if nothing untoward had happened, the Headmaster stood and gave his customary pre-feast welcome.
“Now that the Sorting is out of the way, we can all tuck into the wonderful food that the house-elves have prepared for us.”
The conversation around her was dominated by the Sorting Hat’s decision to place Harry Potter into Slytherin. For her brother, it crystallised everything.
“See,” he declared to everyone around him, “I was right to get upset. Bloody slimy snake slithers in and starts to manhandle my sister. I’ll show him.”
“Snakes aren’t slimy,” Hermione pointed out. “And kissing her hand isn’t exactly manhandling her. I thought it was a rather gallant thing to do.”
Ginny was torn between wanting to curse Harry and defend him.
At least, she thought, as her brother sprayed food around with the vehemence of his arguments, my anger is justified. I’m the one who’s been led up the garden path in all this.
But Ron was not to be convinced and — egged on by Seamus, Dean and the Creevey brothers — began to hatch ever more expansive plans to show the Boy-Who-Lived what happened when he messed with anyone’s baby sister.
She turned away from the discussion before she pulled out her wand and started hexing people. However angry she was, Harry Potter was not worth losing her status as Head Girl. She glanced over at the Slytherin table, where Potter had been rounded upon by Millicent Bulstrode. Bulstrode was busy jabbing her finger into his chest as she made some point. The girl’s size and demeanour frightened the life out of Ginny, but Potter looked bored rather than intimidated. As Ginny made to turn her attention back to her brother, Potter suddenly looked up and stared at her. His gaze was intense, and as she made eye contact with him her anger began to dissipate and the emotions she had felt in the train returned.
Turning away before she became unable to control herself, she focussed on the more mundane task of finishing off her food. She hoped that something as prosaic as Lancashire Hotpot would be a good antidote to the warmth spreading through her body.
"It is customary," began Severus Snape, "for the Head of each House to begin the year with a series of warnings and admonitions as to the importance of house loyalty and to warn you as to your conduct during the term ahead of us.
"It is not my habit to indulge the theatrical, and therefore there will be no verbosity from me. For those of you who truly belong in this house, you will need no explanation as to what is required of you. For those who have stumbled upon us, I suggest that you learn very quickly. Slytherin is the house that does not indulge those who do not give of the very best.
"And to those of you whose membership of this august body is," he paused momentarily and turned to stare at Harry, "unexpected,” he continued as his gaze left Harry and turned back to the other new students, “I trust that you are wise enough to understand how to walk the path ahead of you.
"There will be those amongst the continuing students, and possibly even amongst those gathered here, who will feel that certain members of this house should be required to pay for sleights and injuries, real or imagined, perpetrated upon their friends or family. To those…persons…I would say the following: Slytherin house is about succeeding, it is not about revenge. It is not about killing, despite the mantras and dogmas of those who have gone before you."
He paused to survey the eager faces in front of him. His expression turned from impassive to dismissive as he judged those in front of him to be incapable of understanding the meaning he was trying to convey.
"As I appear to have been blessed with those whose families have pursued the purity at the expense of a viable gene pool, I will spell things out for you.
"Many of you may feel that it is your responsibility to take revenge on Mr Potter for what he has done. Let me warn you that Mr Potter will not hesitate in casting whatever spells he feels are appropriate to protect his person. It will not matter to him that you are not one of the Dark Lord’s inner circle but instead some misguided eleven-year-old child. In short: if you end up requiring treatment in the infirmary — or worse — it will be your own fault and do not expect me to come to your aid.
"I'm sure that Mr Potter is capable of understanding that there is an acceptable level of force to be used in these situations. And now, I suggest you retire for the evening, as it is clear that what little grey matter is to be found inside your tiny craniums requires as much rest as possible to survive your time at Hogwarts.
"Mr Potter, if I may have a word before you retire?"
Based on his albeit limited previous interactions with the Potions Master, Harry would have expected him to turn on his heels and disappear into his own quarters, leaving Harry to follow in his wake. Instead, and to his surprise, Snape waited for Harry's response in a manner befitting of an inferior rather than superior.
"Of course," Harry replied, inclining his head towards the man in a gentle nod of agreement.
Snape returned the gesture before indicating the door to his left.
"If you would care to follow me, Mister Potter..."
Snape walked slowly to the door, pausing occasionally to check that Harry was indeed following him. Harry was tempted to refuse. Once again he had the feeling that something was going on over which he had no control, and he was reluctant to go along with whatever game Snape was playing. But he decided that now was neither the time nor the place to pursue this and he would have to trust his instincts as matters unfolded.
Snape led Harry into his study, which formed part of the House Master’s private rooms. The professor’s reputation suggested that such a room would be carefully ordered with a place for everything and everything in its place. However, in what was now becoming a pattern, things were not what Harry expected.
Rather than the neat, fastidious room he had imagined, the overwhelming impression was of neglect. Scrolls were scattered over all the available surfaces including the floor, which, together with a thick layer of dust that coated the various piles, added to the impression that this was at least one room in the castle into which the house-elves never ventured. In front of the scroll-strewn desk were two similarly inundated red leather armchairs which had clearly seen better days.
For a few moments he stood there whilst the professor busied himself trying to clear sufficient area for the both of them to sit down. Finally, enough of the scrolls had been moved so that the two battered leather armchairs were available to sit on.
"Take a seat, Harry," said Snape, his hand indicating the least dilapidated of the two chairs and nodding his head in encouragement.
When Harry did not move, Snape offered him an awkward smile and reiterated his previous request.
"Please, Harry, do be seated. We have much to discuss, do we not?"
Harry remained standing; the only sign of his rising anger was the narrowing of his eyes.
"Ah!" exclaimed Snape, "I see the problem." And with a flick of his wand he removed the remaining dust from the chair.
When Harry still remained standing, Snape became flustered and stepped forward to dust the chair with the sleeve of his robe.
"There is nothing wrong with the chair, Professor."
Snape stood and eyed Harry with a puzzled gaze. Before he could respond Harry continued.
“But there is everything wrong with your étiquette, or rather the lack of."
"I understand the need for formality when we are in the public domain, Harry, but here in my quarters we may address one another as equals, may we not?"
"No, we may not."
"Last time we spoke..."
The words trailed off under Harry's unforgiving glare.
"The last time we spoke, Professor Snape, was on the eve of my fifteenth birthday. Since that day our relative positions have changed dramatically, have they not? You, on the one hand, are still a lowly teacher despised even by those you are supposed to lead. I, on the other hand, am not only the one who destroyed the self-styled Lord Voldemort, but I am also the heir presumptive to the most noble and ancient house of Black and heir secundus to the Malfoy family titles.
"Thus your presuming familiarity is an insult of the highest order and one that I shall struggle to forget. This dishonour can be forgiven if you are prepared to offer me satisfaction."
Snape said nothing. His already pale face took on an almost translucent appearance as he contemplated his fate at the wrong end of Harry Potter’s wand. Over the next few minutes Harry watched as he struggled to find the words to articulate a response. Harry could see that despite the professor's obsequious nature, he was at heart a very proud and very stubborn man.
Eventually Snape stood upright and, looking Harry straight in the eye, spoke.
“I unreservedly withdraw both my remarks and my presumption. I acknowledge that we are not of equal status and that I was in error to presume your friendship. If I may be so bold, I would ask that when we are in public you afford me the respect that is due my position as a professor in this educational establishment. I do not presume status based on my own situation in life, but claim it for the title of Professor."
When he had finished speaking, Snape withdrew his wand from inside his robe and handed it handle first to Harry. Despite his growing dislike for the man, Harry could not deny that the apology had been properly phrased, and he was obliged to accept it. He also knew that decorum required him to afford Snape the respect his title of Professor gave him. He took the wand and, after a few flicks of the wrist which caused it to issue a stream of purple sparks, he returned it to its owner.
"I accept your apology with the sincerity in which it was offered and return your wand to you. You have my word that all our dealings in public will be conducted as befits the relationship of a student and a professor."
And with that Harry turned on his heels and left a humbled Snape to contemplate what had just occurred.