Author's Notes: This story is rated PG I guess. No harm is meant, and J.K Rowling deserves much praise for what she has created; I only needed to borrow it for a moment. Many thanks to elynross for doing the beta for me.
Shadows by Candlelight
By Rachael Sabotini
The ceiling of the great hall showed a peaceful night sky, the stars fully visible even in the candlelight. Harry wanted to smile, but he felt...outside himself, like tonight was happening to someone else. Oh, it was still wonderful and magical, the essence of Hogwarts -- but he didn't feel any more settled now than when he'd left Privet Drive. The whole summer had been like that, time that he spent waiting -- waiting for something to happen. He'd thought things would be better once he got on the train, but Ron and Hermione had argued almost from the moment the train left the station; he was amazed that they all had made it to school in one piece.
Even sitting between them didn't help; they hadn't really talked to him -- or each other -- most of the night. He hoped that by the time the banquet was over, the two would have had a chance to cool off. He didn't like it when his friends fought.
As usual, though, the food had been incredible and plentiful, and the new students had been sorted, with Gryffindor getting the largest share. Harry looked over at the Slytherin table; they only had five new students this year, not even enough to field a proper Quidditch team. Malfoy might have called them the best of the lot, but to Harry, they all looked thick-witted and mean.
Right now, he wanted to head back to Gryffindor tower to relax; the room echoed as the students all talked to one another, and even the candlelight seemed too bright. Harry surreptitiously took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes, then put his glasses back on. Maybe by the time they got back to the tower, Ron and Hermione would be speaking to one another, and they could all have a game of exploding snap before bed. He desperately wanted to feel like he was home, wanted this sense of...emptiness to go away. He wanted whateveritwas to start.
"Welcome." Dumbledore stood to address the room, his half-moon glasses catching the candlelight. He moved more slowly than he had in years past, but tonight he seemed filled with all of the energy of a first-year student. "Welcome, one and all. Welcome to another year at Hogwarts." He cleared his throat. "I have made some changes to the faculty this year."
Smiling, Harry turned to look at Ron and Hermione, but neither of them was looking at him. His cheer fading, he turned back to the high table. Everyone knew they had a new Dark Arts teacher, a witch. Long, white-blonde hair, blue eyes, willowy hands: everyone had noticed her.
"First, we have added a new teacher to the staff. I would like to introduce to you your new Potions teacher, Professor Iris Gracen."
As she moved to stand next to Dumbledore, Harry sat up straight in his chair; about half the room did, too, whispering and muttering to each other while they politely applauded the new teacher. The Slytherins looked stunned. Potions teacher? What was going on? Harry darted a look at Snape, who seemed to be reveling in the confusion around him.
"And second," Dumbledore held up his hands, quieting the room, "Professor Snape will be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts this year, as I felt that it was high time to lean on his experience."
As a group, the Slytherins looked smug, and Snape archly inclined his head; any warm, comfortable feelings Harry might have had vanished. He felt a little queasy at Dumbledore's words, as if the food he'd just eaten had decided to fly around the Quidditch field first. Potions had been bad enough; what was Dark Arts going to be like with Snape teaching it?
Dumbledore took his chair, and Harry noticed that Professor Gracen was almost as tall as the Headmaster. "Welcome to Hogwarts," she began, her voice as silvered as the tips of her long hair. "First, I want to thank Headmaster Dumbledore for allowing me to say a few words..."
Harry sank back into his chair. He glanced over at Ron, wanting to ask about whether his dad knew anything about this new position for Snape, but Ron was looking at Professor Gracen with rapt attention, not noticing anything else in the room at all.
Harry looked around the tables and noticed just how many of the students shared Ron's enraptured look. Obviously, Potions was going to be a popular subject this year. He turned slightly to make a whispered comment to Hermione, only to pull up full stop at the look on her face. She sat in her chair, her arms folded across her chest so that only the tip of her Prefect badge showed, her bottom lip sticking out slightly; she was glowering at Ron.
Harry felt chilled. Oh, this was no good. No good at all. If the opening banquet was this bad, the whole year was destined to be a lot worse. He was no longer even trying to pay attention to what Professor Gracen was saying about her training and background; his mind was consumed with remembering how horrid Ron and Hermione had been to each other on the train. Ron hadn't been that mean to her since the time they'd accidentally locked her in with the troll.
And from what Harry could tell, it was all about how Hermione had gotten her hair cut. Harry sort of liked the short cut, liked the way the wild curls framed her face, but throughout the trip, Ron kept muttering about jinxing the person who'd took the sheep shearers to her.
It seemed Ron really liked long hair.
Professor Gracen's hair was quite long, and her definition of 'a few words' didn't appear to match Dumbledore's, but Ron didn't seem to mind. Harry shifted in his seat, not used to long speeches; usually, if Dumbledore spoke for any length, it was because he wanted to tell them something important, like that the third floor corridor could kill you.
He tried to listen to the new Potions teacher, but he found he could not focus; he just wanted the evening to end. His attention kept drifting, and he found himself watching Professor Snape. Snape seemed pleased with his replacement. In fact, he looked smug and well-pleased with himself, even dressing up for the occasion. He wore a black currant-colored shirt beneath his black robes, which left a thin band of deep purple encircling his neck; for some reason, the color took some of the yellow out of his skin, making him more pale than usual, rather than sallow. Even with his lank, greasy hair falling into his eyes, he looked deeply self-satisfied, like the cat that had eaten the cream.
Well, why wouldn't he, Harry thought bitterly. He'd finally gotten the Dark Arts job. He had everything he wanted.
In a way, Harry felt betrayed by Dumbledore for giving Snape the job, even though he knew it wasn't fair. Dumbledore wouldn't have chosen Snape if he didn't think Snape could do the job, though to Harry, it seemed like Dumbledore must be getting pretty desperate. After Quirrel, no Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher had lasted more than a year; was this Dumbledore's way of proving the position wasn't cursed?
If so, it was a rotten trade. Snape was bound to make Defense Against the Dark Arts torture for them all. While Lupin had been teaching it, it had been one of Harry's favorite classes. Now it would be--
Snape caught him staring, and their gazes locked; Harry swallowed reflexively, but refused to look away. He'd been through too much for Snape to intimidate him any more.
Something in Snape's gaze changed as they looked at each other, his expression taking on a lean and hungry look, a predator watching its prey. In it, Harry thought he could see his future, at least in regards to what Snape's class would be like for the next year, the pain and humiliation he would suffer, as would all of his friends. How Snape would relish torturing the famous Mister Potter, James Potter's son.
Snape was promising to make his life a hell. At least that was stable.
Harry looked away then, wondering at what he'd seen. Whatever Snape did, it couldn't be worse than anything Voldemort had thrown at him. And it couldn't be worse than living with the Dursley's, could it? They had never been fair. No one would die under Snape's tutelage, either; at Hogwarts, no one had the power to do anything like that, even though the Death Eaters had tried.
They had tried to sneak into Hogwarts last year, to make an example of some of the Mudbloods. Hermione had been in the center of that, and Harry was thankful that Dumbledore had managed to save her -- that all those taken had survived. But by the end of last term, with the death of Cornelius Fudge, the rumors had been flying. He knew that Snape had had a hand in both the set-up, as a Death Eater, and the rescue, as a teacher, but that's the only information he had. Dumbledore certainly never revealed anything about what Snape had done, and it would be a Triwizard challenge to get the information out of Snape himself. But if anyone suspected him--
Harry caught Cho looking at him from the Ravenclaw table; he nodded at her carefully. In turn, she nodded at Professor Gracen, who was still talking, and then rolled her eyes as if to say 'She certainly can go on.'
Harry grinned. At least there was one other person who wasn't affected by the new teacher. The uneasiness he'd felt as he locked glances with Snape faded, and he surprised himself by gasping, as if a tight band across his chest had just been released.
Cho smiled at him again and turned away, her 'Head Girl' badge catching the candlelight. Another change. He looked back at the podium himself; Professor Gracen's speech was done.
Dumbledore looked like he'd fallen asleep; it took a moment before he realized that everyone was looking at him expectantly. He clapped his hands politely. "Thank you, Iris, for that stirring speech." Then he turned to the crowd. "And with that, I think we are all ready to sing the Hogwarts school song..."
The Gryffindor common room was noisy and crowded as everyone had to say their hellos to everyone else all over again. It felt awkward without the Weasley twins; he'd grown used to the screams from their infamous practical jokes. And who would they get to act as beaters for the Quidditch team, anyway?
"Hermione!" Ron shouted over the din of the room, "When's our first Potions class?"
"And when's the first Defense against the Dark Arts?" Harry added in.
Hermione rolled her eyes and answered them both. "We have Double Potions with the Ravenclaws on Tuesday, and Defense against the Dark Arts starts Wednesday." She turned serious again, as she did whenever they talked about classes. "We're lucky that this year we don't have to share the Dark Arts class with anyone."
"Lucky. Right." Harry snorted.
"No, really, we are. At least this year we don't have to put up with Snape fawning over the Slytherins in class."
"Yeah, but that means we get all of Snape's loving attention to ourselves." Ron shivered and dropped his voice. "And I don't care what he's doing for Dumbledore, he's giving me the creeps."
"Ron!" Hermione said warningly. "Professor Snape is a teacher. I'm sure he'll be--" She winced a bit. "Well, not fair, exactly, but he knows the subject well. I'm sure he'll do a good job. Dumbledore seems to think so."
Ron stared at her like she'd lost her mind. "How can you say that. You know--"
"Hermione?" Neville interrupted them. He'd grown over the summer, like they all had, and he'd added some muscle, though his neck did look like it had gotten rather thick. Whereas Harry felt like he'd become a fairly short beanstalk, Neville looked solid, like a rock. Certainly Crabbe and Goyle would think for a few seconds before picking on him now.
If they thought, that is.
"Hi," Hermione said.
"I brought that book you wanted. My gran had a copy in her attic, so I asked her if I could borrow it." He blinked once. "You look different." He looked at her carefully, as if he was trying to figure something out, then smiled shyly. "Your hair looks nice."
Hermione's smile could have been used to light a fire. "Thanks." She darted a look at Ron, then stood, looping her arm though Neville's. "Why don't we take it to the library, where it's quieter?"
"I'll come with you." Ron said, standing; he was a lot taller than Hermione now. "I've always been interested in--" he squinted down at the book she was holding "--herbology."
Hermione laughed, and it was as if she and Ron had never fought. "All right," she said, handing him the book and linking her other arm through his. "We'll all go." She looked at Harry. "What about you?"
"No, thanks," Harry said, feeling a little awkward. "Some other time."
He watched them all leave through the doorway, and turned to look at the rest of the Gryffindors. He felt too hot, and the room seemed too crowded; maybe he should go someplace himself. There was still some time before curfew, enough to take a brief walk around the grounds, or maybe visit the Owlery and see if Hedwig was there. Here there was still too much light and noise; he wanted darkness and quiet.
The corridors were just as quiet and cool as he expected, a complete change from the noise and bustle of the common room.
"Your friends desert you so soon, Mister Potter?"
Snape's voice startled him. "Still lurking in shadows, Professor Snape?" Harry shot back, turning around to face him.
"I see that your return to Hogwarts has been less triumphant than usual." Snape's voice was rough and cutting, and for some reason it made Harry smile. "Why are you wandering the halls at night?"
Harry noticed that Snape seemed a lot smaller this year than he'd been in the past; he was still taller than Harry, but it couldn't be more than four or five inches; he was no longer the towering figure he'd been when Harry first saw him six years ago.
But he didn't need height to be imposing. The sound of his voice, the deep blackness of his eyes, as if his soul had been erased -- Harry shivered. "I needed to check on Hedwig, sir. She didn't seem to be feeling well on the trip."
"You're learning, Potter. Another year, and you might be able to lie convincingly to me." Snape sighed. "Pity the term doesn't officially start until midnight. I would enjoy taking the first five points from Gryffindor."
Cool as silk, his voice cut deep into Harry, leaving him feeling embarrassed and ham-handed, the way he always felt in Potions class. Even Snape's compliments--
Snape's compliments? Now, that was a change. But he had said Harry was learning, that his lies were getting better. Twisted as it was -- and everything about Snape was twisted -- he'd actually said something that could be construed as a kind word. If you just forced the perspective a bit.
And Snape wasn't taking points off. That was a minor miracle in itself.
"When have rules ever stopped you?" Harry asked.
"Come now, Potter. You've the rule breaker here. I merely -- bend them."
"For your own purposes, I suppose."
"Quite." Harry could have sworn he saw a flicker of a smile cross Snape's face. "So, if you are to see to your owl, you had best hurry. Another hour and those points will be mine."
"Yes, sir." Harry smiled, Snape's acerbic comments doing more to settle his mind than anything that had happened all day. For *Snape* to say something almost pleasant -- well, the term couldn't be that bad, could it? Whatever happened, he could meet the challenge; he would survive. He nodded at Snape in parting, then hurried toward the Owlery, the dark and cold and silence soothing his nerves. Tomorrow, classes would start, and they would be back to what passed for their normal routine. Snape would tear them to pieces, of course, but there was still a bit of time before the first Dark Arts class.So, Harry wondered as he headed off for the Owlery, who *would* be the new beaters on the Quidditch team?
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