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AU. When Sirius and Remus go looking for Peter Pettigrew, they make a wrong turn and someone else finds him first. Eight years later, Sirius owns a book store and Remus manages it for him. When Harry stumbles into the store and they find out the truth, they decide it's time to be Stealing Harry. (SB/RL slash relationship in later chapters.)

Harry's first Quidditch practice came the Sunday after his first flying lesson, and was unsurprisingly public; Marcus Flint had cleared the Quidditch pitch, but all the other players were notified, and they had taken up positions in the stands. Harry knew why they were there: to laugh at him. He'd heard the talk in the common room -- indeed, they'd made no secret of their contempt for a first-year on their team -- and he didn't blame them for being skeptical. Still, Professor Snape had justified himself to Harry: he wouldn't endanger the team's standing unless Harry was worth his time, and whether or not Flint believed that, Harry did.

Flint explained the game to him as though Harry had never seen a Snitch before, and Harry waited patiently as the balls were unpacked from their trunk. When Flint set a Bludger at him and tossed him the short, round Beating bat, Harry backhanded the Bludger beautifully over the castle, and the talking and jeering and laughing from the Slytherins in the stands ended suddenly.

"Some of the village boys and I played cricket," Harry explained. Flint stared at him dumbly.


"It's a game with bats."

Flint was about to say something, when the Bludger came pelting back, and only Harry's quick point over his shoulder drew his attention to catching the rogue ball. He grunted as he leapt on top of it, wrestling it into the trunk. He strapped it back down, and gave Harry a more measured look than before.

"On your broomstick then," he ordered. Harry mounted up, and on Flint's command, showed them what he was capable of; a few jeers returned, and Harry resolved to find a book on stunt-flying in the library.

"Look out, doxie, I'm not going to let the Snitch out 'cause you'll lose it," Flint said, and Harry recognised a golf-ball batted his way with the discarded Beater's bat. He stretched out his palm and caught it easily, zinging it back at Flint. It nailed him in the chest, and the boy bared his teeth. The other Slytherins laughed, this time at their captain.

The next golf ball was wide, but Harry had a Nimbus, and he reached it easily before it hit the ground. The third came on the heels of the second and Harry had to dart up quickly, but it was becoming evident that he'd impressed Flint as much as he'd angered him, and his captain wasn't playing to an audience anymore; he was training a Seeker.

Two hours and innumerable golf-balls later -- or rather, the same twelve, fetched and accio'd repeatedly -- Flint called him down, and Harry descended slowly and reluctantly, reaching him about the same time the rest of the team did. He stood, holding his broomstick expectantly, while Flint closed the trunk and ordered the Beaters to carry it back.

"You'll do," he said, as they started back towards Hogwarts, smacking Harry in the back of the head. Harry took it in the spirit it was meant; he remembered the Slytherins roughousing with each other when he'd been a visitor to Hogwarts years before. "You're not trained, but you'll do. Another few lessons like that, and you can join regular team practice with the big boys."

"Hope you're going to work on his flying," Bole said, grunting under one end of the trunk, while Derrick hauled the other. "Kid's got a great stick between his legs and no idea how to use it."

The rest of them snickered at this, and it took Harry a minute to realise the joke.

"You'd know, Bole," Flint drawled, and Bole grunted again. This time Harry had no idea what they were talking about, but it didn't really matter. He was going to play Quidditch. He was going to get to do what they'd done today, on a regular basis, for Team and House Glory. If he practiced hard they could get all the way to the House Cup, and Sirius and Remus could come watch him play....

He was distracted from these thoughts by their arrival at the school, and the appearance seemingly from nowhere of Professor Snape.

"Flint," he said, by way of greeting. His eyes swept the rest of them, then settled on Harry. "Has your team passed judgement?"

"He's got potential," Flint replied. "He needs training. I'll want the pitch next Friday afternoon."

"If you have difficulty obtaining it, see me," Snape answered calmly.

"Yes, sir," Flint replied.

"Potter, I would like to see you in my office after your training session next Friday," Snape said. "Four-thirty should suffice."

"Yes, sir," Harry answered, hyper-aware of the rest of the team, now, and wondering what they thought of all this.

"Excellent," Snape said, standing aside. They trooped past him and into the entryway, Derrick and Bole breaking off to return the trunk to its storage room while the rest of them headed for the common room. Harry hung back, and once the others had descended the stairs to the dungeon, he turned and made for the Great Hall, regardless of his disheveled, sweaty state.

"Harry!" Padma shouted, waving at him as she arrived also. "I was hoping you'd come early to dinner. Draco and Neville are on their way. How was your practice?"

"Brilliant, once they realised I wasn't an idiot," Harry answered, as Neville and Draco appeared at the far end of the hall. "Are we early enough to eat together?"

"Looks that way!" Draco said, cheerfully. "How was it, Harry?"

"Are you really going to play?" Neville added, leading the way into the Great Hall. The food wasn't even out yet; a house-elf at the far end, who was polishing the high table, squeaked and vanished. The four of them sat at one end of the Gryffindor table, heads bent together so that their voices didn't echo so much in the high-ceilinged Hall.

"I think so. Flint says I have potential," Harry said. "And besides, Professor Snape fired someone from the team. It'd be awfully embarrassing if he backed me out now. Plus Sirius would strangle him. He's really just looking for an excuse."

"Why do you suppose they hate each other?" Neville asked.

"Professor Snape never told you anything?"


"Sirius doesn't talk about it either, and Remus says it's not his place, except to tell me that it's idiotic for two grown men to still be mad at each other over stupid things they did when they were too young to know any better." Harry looked dubious. "Sirius doesn't usually do stupid things. Well, not hurtful stupid things."

Draco opened his mouth to say something, then stared over Harry's shoulder. Harry turned to see one of the house-elves, laden with a tray of steaming plates.

"Merion is bringing dinner," she squeaked, setting the tray down in front of them. Four bowls of hot spaghetti and meatballs, with a plate of toasted garlic bread, greeted them. "Denbigh who is head of the kitchens is noticing that Master Draco and Harry Potter and Mister Neville Longbottom and Miss Padma Patil are eating early. Denbigh is sending Merion with food for Master Draco and Harry Potter and -- "

"Thank you, Merion," Draco said, gently cutting her off. She squealed and beamed at him. "That was very kind of you and Denbigh. May we have some cheese?"

Merion hopped excitedly. "Cheese!" she said, and disappeared, appearing hardly a second later with an enormous block of parmesan cheese and a grater.

Harry and Neville exchanged amused grins as Merion grated cheese onto their dishes for them, did a funny little bow, and vanished.

"A girl could get used to service like this," Padma said, breaking her garlic bread in half.

"They must have been watching us," Draco said.

"Oh yeah -- they all know about you, apparently," Harry agreed, around a mouthful of spaghetti. "I guess one of your elves told them to look after you."

Draco looked alarmed. "They did?"

"Yeah -- what's wrong?"

"Oh, if mum finds out she'll make them broil their feet or something," Draco said worriedly. "Merion!" he called, into the air. "Merion!"

She appeared with a pop, looking worried. "Is Master Draco's food cold?"

"Merion, have my house-elves been visiting you?"

She wrung her hands. "Yes?"

"You must tell Mendy and Dobby not to visit you. If my mum finds out it'll go very hard on them."

Merion looked relieved. "Oh, no, Master Draco! Mendy is being very careful. Oh yes. The mistress will not find out!"

Draco gave her a doubtful look. She smiled encouragingly.

"Master Draco is very good to worry about house-elves, but we is visiting each other all the time and not getting caught. Master Draco mustn't be concerned."

"All right then. See that you don't," Draco said. "Get caught, I mean. Thank you, Merion."

She bowed again and disappeared, and Draco bent to his food with a more hearty appetite.

"You've got two house-elves?" Padma asked, eyes wide.

"Nine actually," Draco replied. "It's silly really, half of them haven't even anything to do, but -- "

"Nine?" Neville demanded.

"Yeah...well, we had ten, but one of them got clothed for letting traveling salesmen into the house..." Draco made a face. "Shame really, the salesmen were fun to talk to."

"Anyway, Harry," Neville broke in, "we want to come watch your next practice, but Draco says he won't cos the Slytherins'll squash us."

Draco blushed.

"They probably would," Harry agreed. "You're the enemy now. I mean. You might tell the other captains what we're doing, and that's no good. I know you wouldn't, cos you're my mates..."

"You going to tell us what you did, then?" Neville asked. "Come on Harry. We won't tell."

Harry grinned and began telling them about the lesson, complete with visual aides in the form of stray meatballs reorganised into representing Quidditch balls and flown around with a hasty leviosa charm, while Harry played himself with a bit of garlic bread on a fork. By the time they were nearly done with their meal, the rest of the school was beginning to appear, and they dispersed to their separate tables to finish, carrying their plates with them.


Harry passed the week itching to be on a broomstick again, but he was mindful of last week's Potions lesson, and didn't dare venture out for another night flight. He did get a book from the library on tactical flying, and there was Thursday afternoon's lesson, of couse; he spent a good half the class with the book held open with one hand, trying to figure out the precise movement of hands and feet that would allow him to feint, dive, and corner with precision. He was going to impress Flint with his flying abilities or die trying.

It was the "die trying" bit that worried him. The phrase became decidedly literal when one was atop a stick fifty feet above the ground.

Friday came, however, no matter how much Harry worried privately, and while the others spread blankets on the lawn and had a picnic, Harry and Flint trooped down to the Pitch to practice. This time only Bole, who had been Seeker before, and Montague, one of the Chasers, showed up to watch, and their silent stares were nearly worse than the half-meant jeers of the last practice.

Harry hoped his improved flying would impress Flint, but his Captain didn't seem to be paying attention to that. Instead, he got Bole on a broomstick too, and set them Seeking against each other.

It would have been an interesting challenge, except that Bole inexplicably kept breaking the rules, and Flint kept ignoring his blatant defiance of them -- the fouling, the off-sides flying, the early-starts when Flint made them wait and take off at the same time. Harry was bewildered by this, until Flint began shouting at him to keep up or fail, and Harry realised they were trying to train him into cheating, too.

He scowled, and began marking where Flint hit the golf balls; Sirius had taught him that it wasn't cheating if you were using your brain when other people weren't, and Harry had discovered just how little some people used theirs. It didn't take him long to notice a pattern in Flint's hits, and soon he could predict where the next ball would go, and outrun Bole to it every time, given the predictable head start. After forty minutes of this, it all got rather tedious.

Bole seemed to think so too; he signaled to Flint to hold off, and both of them descended to the Pitch.

"It's like he knows where it's going to go," Bole complained. "Come off it, he's beating me every time and I'm using every dirty trick I know."

"You haven't cast an obfuscation charm, have you?" Flint demanded. "Spellwork during a match is grounds for forfeit."

"If he did, he was subtle about it at least," Bole said approvingly.

"I know the rules," Harry said staunchly. "Since you kept trying to make me break 'em."

"There's a lot of leeway on some of those," Flint replied sternly, "and Slytherins -- "

"Play to win, I know," Harry answered.

"How'd you do it then?" Bole was still clearly perplexed that a first-year had out-flown him, and a Muggle-raised first-year at that.

"Why should I tell you?" Harry asked, insulted.

"Now that's the Slytherin spirit," Flint said. "Fine, tighten up your cornering and you can practice with the team starting week after next. Go on then, we're done here."

Flint looked like he was simply tired of hitting golf balls, and Harry wondered how a dim and lazy Quidditch Captain had gotten the team to the victory they'd had last year -- Slytherin had won several years running, if he remembered right, and it was currently a mystery to Harry how they'd done it.

Still, the early finish gave him enough time to get back to the dormitories and have a shower -- he didn't have a space or a key to the Quidditch lockers yet -- before meeting with Professor Snape. It felt good to be clean, though his legs still ached and his neck was sore from scanning the field.

He emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of steam, and Snake lifted his small, angular head from the bedspread where he'd been napping. Harry hesitated only briefly before hanging Snake over his shoulders, pulling his collar up to hide the dull green body. He felt oddly safe with Snake wrapped around his neck, and he knew it was Snake's favourite place to be.

He tried to brush his defiant hair into some semblance of order, and then gave up and wandered out into the common room, through the portrait-door, and down the maze of hallways to Professor Snape's office, limping a little when the muscles in his left leg cramped.

He was a little early, but he knocked anyway, and pushed the door open when he was bid. He came forward onto the round, dark green carpet that covered the bare stone floor, and allowed himself to look around just a little. Of all the rooms at Hogwarts, this was the room he was the most familiar with; when he was young he'd often spent an afternoon distracting himself with a book while Professor Snape took care of unavoidable paperwork during weekend visits. He took in the walls lined with bookshelves, full of well-used volumes and the occasional odd knicknack -- skulls of various kinds, brass ornaments Harry didn't know the use of, jars containing strangely coloured liquids and powders. Dust danced in the late-afternoon sunbeams that streamed in from the narrow, high windows.

Professor Snape sat at the big, low-topped writing desk, which had seemed much larger when Harry was eight. There was a pile of rolled up parchment scrolls on his left, and a smaller pile of unrolled ones, held down by a green glass paperweight, on his right. He laid down his quill when he saw Harry, and capped the inkwell in which he kept his red marking ink.

"You wanted to see me, Professor Snape," Harry said politely, and only slightly anxiously. The older man pushed his marking to one side.

"You're early."

"Yes, sir. Captain Flint let me out from practice early," Harry answered.

"Oh?" An eyebrow arched a little. "Are you performing to his standard?"

"I think so, sir. He seemed to be bored with drilling me with golf balls," Harry said hesitantly.

"Good. Without a strong Seeker this year, Slytherin has very little chance of retaining the Quidditch Cup, and Bole would not have been adequate. Please be seated," Snape said, waving his hand at the chair on the other side of the desk, which slid a few inches. Harry sat, wary in case it decided to move again.

Snape steepled his fingers, and Harry wondered if he'd done something wrong.

"As loath as I am to admit it," the professor finally said, "Your guardians seem to have done a decent job of raising you with the proper intellectual quality suitable to a Hogwarts student. I had very grave doubts about a Muggle education, but I assume it has been supplemented by Black and Lupin."

"Supplemented, sir?" Harry asked, curiously.

"You've had some magical history?" Snape inquired. "Professor Flitwick informs me that your Charmswork is enhanced by a pre-existent basic knowledge of Latin, as well."

"Oh -- yes," Harry agreed. "Remus worked on Latin with me this summer, and Sirius had me on beginning Arithmancy last year."

"Indeed? And how do you enjoy it?"

"It's a lot harder than long-division," Harry admitted. "But it's loads more interesting."

Snape nodded, and there was the peculiar twitch of his lips again; Harry decided something had amused him, and the twitch was as close as he would ever get to laughter from the grave professor. "And your reading?"

"My reading, sir?" Harry asked. Snape nodded. "I a lot of it?" he ventured, unsure what Snape's question had meant.

"I believe I left some volumes with you, the last time we saw each other..." Snape said, and Harry realised that was what this conversation had been working around to.

"Yes, sir. The Mabinogion, sir, and a children's book," Harry answered. "I was very grateful to have them. Especially the Mabinogion. Seeing as we were in Wales and all."

Professor Snape gave him a rare, fleeting smile.

"And which story did you enjoy the most?"

Harry considered this. "The story of Peredur, I think."

"Peredur?" Snape looked actually surprised.

"Yeah -- well, I didn't really like Peredur. He was a bit of a wet blanket and all, but you can't really blame him, can you? I mean, his mum was nuts and she raised him in the middle of a forest, which can't be good for a person. And he did beat up a bunch of knights, even though he was kind of a dumb farmboy. But I liked Gwalchmai," Harry said. "He was clever and polite and never had to beat anyone up. that wrong? Not a good story to like? "

"No -- not wrong, precisely," Snape said thoughtfully. They sat in silence for a while, until Harry had gathered his courage and wits about him.

"May I ask a question, Professor?" he asked. Snape gestured for him to continue. "Today at practice...I don't mean to complain, but Bole cheated. And Captain Flint said I should cheat, too."

Snape leaned forward. "And you are reluctant to be dishonest, Harry?"

"No," Harry said, "but what's the point? I know Slytherins play to win," he said hurriedly, "And I'm sure it's a very nice cup, but where's the fun? Gryffindors don't cheat, do they?"

Snape sneered, slightly. "Certainly they do not."

"So where's the fun? Winning only lasts about two minutes. Playing lasts hours if you do it right."

"And you play for the game."

"Why else should I play?"

Snape leaned back, one hand touching his desk, one on the arm of his chair. He was silent, but Harry waited patiently; he remembered Snape's silences.

"In life, Harry, playing for the game may mean losing one's life," he said quietly. "As your father discovered, when he pushed too far too fast for the thrill of it."

Harry sucked in a breath, sharply.

"There are no rules to life," Snape continued. "There are no rules to war, if you want to survive it."

His right hand drifted across his ribcage, touching his left forearm.

"But Quidditch isn't war," Harry said. "It's just Quidditch. And it seems to me..." he hesitated, unsure how free he could be with the suddenly distant professor.


"It seems to me, Professor, that learning to use what I have against the other team, on even ground, is better than learning to get around the rules that don't exist, not really," Harry said. "I mean, you can't break the rules if there aren't any, and if there aren't any rules, all you've got is your wits. At least that's what I think," he finished, well aware that Marcus Flint, who was a fifth year, probably knew better than him.

Snape turned to regard him with sharp eyes, a look similar to that he'd had the first time Harry had spoken to a snake in front of him. He felt Snake's soothing weight, and met Snape's eyes squarely.

"If you wish to depend on wits instead of lawlessness, Harry, I will not stand in your way. Neither will I stand between you and your team-mates, however," Snape said. "Your guardians possessed very little respect for the rules of this school, but it is true that your father was a truly Gryffindor sportsman."

"You didn't like my dad much, did you?" Harry asked, daringly.

"I believe, Mr. Potter, that you have used up your quotient of impertinent questions for the week," Snape replied. "And mine have been answered satisfactorily. You may go."

"Thank you, sir," Harry said, properly chastised. He was at the door before Snape's voice stopped him.


"Yes, Professor Snape?" he asked, turning.

"It is a commendable thing, in one so young, to understand the difference between cheating and guile," Snape said. "We'll speak again soon."

"Yes sir," Harry replied, and let himself out into the cool, dim hallway.

I like him, Snake said, hooking himself over Harry's ear once they were on their way towards the stairs that led to the Great Hall. He tastes like snakes.

I like him too, Harry answered, grinning to himself.

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