Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.

Sorry for such a long wait when I said I would try and get a few chapters done and I've only just completed one. Saying that, I hope you like it and please review. I've actually had this chapter done for some time but things in reality have prevented me from posting it till now.

I'm not too happy with my skill with dialogue in this chapter so it might feel a bit stilted. As always many thanks to my beta and the effort she has put into this story as well.

Enjoy.

Chapter 16

Sitting in his whimsical office, high above the hussle and bustle of the students and the castle below, Albus Dumbledore contemplated on one small boy. His hands were steepled in front of his face, elbows resting on his desk and normal twinkling baby blue eyes darkened in deep thought. Beside him, Fawkes patiently preened himself and let out a few encouraging chirps every now and then when his human companion seemed particularly troubled. The only other sound in the office was the slow hiss and whizzing of the many curious magical devices the headmaster had collected over the long years of his life.

It wasn't like the headmaster thought that being sorted into Slytherin automatically made Harry a dark wizard and maybe Severus was right to be enraged at him for planning to pay Molly Weasly and her offspring to befriend Harry but he had only meant it to be as an encouragement to get to know the boy and for compensation for when he was sure the family would take it upon themselves to invite Harry into their home at some point during the holidays to look after him.

Looking back on it now, Albus felt ashamed of himself for almost effectively selling the boy off but that was not his biggest concern. He had been so sure that young Harry would follow in his esteemed parents footsteps and be sorted into the lions house. There he could make friends with many light families and muggleborns. It would also be easy for the headmaster to keep an eye on his progress in the magical world and guide him towards his prophesized destiny. Now, he could only watch from a distance and hope.

"I truly did not mean to be so cruelly negligent," he deplored to the empty office. Beside him, Fawkes stopped his preening and looked up, tilting his head to the side in question. "I just failed to consider all the ramifications. I did not believe the public would be so overwhelmingly hateful." Silence, the headmaster held his breath, perhaps waiting for someone to reassure him that he was forgiven. No one did.

"Maybe, this time my own prejudice did blind me as Severus believes." It hurt him to admit that, even to himself. For so many years, he had preached about open mindedness and house unity, taken proud in being above the petty house prejudice of so many of his magical peers and now it seemed that he too had fallen so low as to allow them to cloud his judgment.

No matter how many times he reassured himself though, he couldn't bring himself to be comfortable with young Harry's situation. The parallels between the saviour and the late Tom Riddle aka. Lord Voldemort was disconcerting. Both had been orphaned at a young age, both had been forced to grow up within the muggle world ignorant of their magical heritage and both he feared had grown up in less than caring environments.

He was not sure of the fine details of Harry's home environment with the Dursleys of course but there had been some worrying reports from the squib he had placed there to keep an eye on the young boy. Ms. Figg reported old hand-me-down clothes and an apparent onslaught of chores as well as some bullying from his cousin. Nothing serious, Dumbledore was sure but enough for a boy to feel slightly outcast just as young Tom did so many years ago.

Then the boy had gone and been sorted into Slytherin instead of Gryffindor and almost seemed to clinch the deal of the boy becoming the next dark lord, following in his predecessor's blood filled footsteps.

His only reassurance was Severus continued defence of the boy. It was only after his potions master gave him his latest dressing down that he realised maybe he had made a mistake in judging the boy too quickly and this revelation brought about the revelation that there was now nothing he could do to help keep the boy on the path of the light.

His carless dismissal of his responsibility in stopping the hate mail of the wizarding public being sent to young Harry had killed any chance of him building a relationship with the boy and having any chance of having a say over Severus in the running of the boy's life.

Dumbledore realised he would have to content himself with trusting his friend and most loyal spy for the light side in keeping the boy free from the dark influence that lurked throughout the wizarding world and hope the boy would be ready when his time came. If there was one thing he could be sure of, it was that Severus would not allow anything less.

XXX

Elsewhere in the castle, others were having a less quiet evening. It had been a normal day for the three friends so far. They had met up in the library as normal, done all their homework and reading, helped explain things one of them hadn't understood and quietly without Ms. Prince noticing, practised their spell work for class and moved ahead in their charms and transfiguration books some more before playing some games of exploding snap, a silencing charm firmly in place.

It was only long after dinner when they had final decided to return to their dorm rooms and go their separate ways that the routine was broken by the arrival of Ron Weasley, Seamus Finnegan and Dean Tomas blocking their way down the corridor outside the library. The only reason the three boys had even caught up to the trio was because both Harry and Neville were waiting outside the girls toilets for Hermione to finish. Both with the same embarrassed awkwardness that any waiting person processes when standing outside a toilet doing nothing and feeling incredibly like a twit. The boys had been exchanging sheepish smiles when the others arrived. Now they were outnumbered but unwilling to walk away and leave Hermione to emerge and encounter the three idiots all by herself.

This was all the time Ron needed to start his self righteous tirade.

"Hey Neville, what did we tell you about hanging out with the dirty Slytherins? Don't you know all those slimy snakes are dark? You'll turn out just like them if you don't stop hanging out with the filth." Ron made extra sure to glare threateningly at Harry, who hunched up and tried to sink further into the shadows against the wall. The boys behind Ron didn't say anything but they nodded along in agreement, glaring and sneering at Harry just as much.

Neither boy replies to Ron's jabs which seemed to anger the boy further, thinking he was being ignored by the two losers in front of him.

"Listen, we know you've been helping the slimy snake with his Herbology homework or there's no way he would be getting better marks than us," said Ron, referring to his own less than stellar grades, even for a first year, "We'll forgive you for being brain washed by the Slytherin and let you hang out with us if you help us with our homework, yeah. That way, you won't be so much of a loser and will be like a proper Gryffindor."

Apparently deciding that there was no way someone like Neville could even think of refusing his offer of friendship, Ron made sure to shove Harry harshly so he banged against the rough stone wall before grabbing the brown haired boy's upper arm harshly and yanking him away from the green eyed boy.

Seamus and Dean moved forward to get between the two boys but were stopped by Neville putting up an unexpected struggle and managing to yank his arm free.

"Would you all bugger off!" shouted Neville, anger and frustration overwhelming his natural shyness for a moment. Seeing everyone looking at him in surprise and realising what he had just said, the brown haired boy started to shrink in on himself again but quickly grabbed hold of the anger still raging through him. He was a Gryffindor, no matter what Ron said and he wouldn't back down even if the thought of the soaping his gran would give his mouth if she found out the kind of language he just used did make him cringe.

Surprise stopped Ron and his friends from immediately making a grab at the boy again but slowly the fact that shy little Neville had just refused him, Ron Weasley, for some snivelling little Slytherin made its way slowly through the red head's brain. As it did, his face heated up until it was the same shade as his hair masking his freckles as anger twisted his features.

"WHAT THE HELL! How dare you tell me to bugger of, you loser! You were begging for a chance to hang out with us at the beginning of the year."

"Y-yeah, well now I realise t-that your just a bully and I would much rather h-hang out with Harry than you a-any day!"

"What are you talking about you arse? He's a bloody Slytherin and you're a Gryffindor, you traitor!"

"S-so?" Neville could feel his confidence draining away from his as his stutter returned. What the hell was taking Hermione so long and why Ron wouldn't just leave him alone? "You only w-want to hang out with me so I c-can do your homework and to hurt H-Harry."

Ron sneered and would have made another grab for Neville if it wasn't for Hermione emerging from the bathroom at that moment. He wasn't scared of her, he reassured himself. He just didn't want her to shout at him about the rules. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Ron was continually paired with her in Charms and knew that she could do every spell the first time.

"Come on guys, let's go. I don't want to hang out with a loser squib anyway and everyone knows real Gryffindor doesn't hang out with a Slytherin. He was probably meant to be a puffin."

The boys laughed at the week insults and skulked away. The trio knew impeccably that Ron would still continue to try and cause trouble for them. Considering they were some of the top in the class and spent all their time in the library, it would be hard for the red head to do anything though.

Turning to the two boys after the other Gryffindors had left, Hermione placed her hands on her hips. "What was that all about?" the tone of voice demanded an answer.

"N-nothing, j-just Ron being a g-git like usual." replied Neville. He couldn't believe he had just told the bigger boy to bugger off and got away with it. Beside him, Hermione frowned deeply.

"If he's bothering you Neville, you should tell Professor McGonagall. It is the head of house's responsibility to make sure there is no interhouse bullying. I read so in Hogwarts, A History."

"No-no, that's ok Hermione. I would prefer it if he c-couldn't call m-me a c-cry baby t-too."

Hermione continued to frown but her hands dropped from her hips in grudging consent for his wishes.

A hesitant tap to his shoulder caused Neville to jump and spin round to face Harry. The black haired boy had been silent the entire time. He did not care what Ron or the others thought of him and did not have the confidence to stand up for himself. He knew himself to be a freak that no one should want to hang out with.

Still...all the evidence so far since entering Hogwarts and meeting Hermione and Neville was proving that not to be the case. The world wasn't just tilting for Harry now, at this point it was almost upside down.

"D-do you really p-prefer to h-hang out with me?" he barely dared to ask the question and tensed immediately afterwards in dread of the answer. He need not have feared.

"Of course!" Hermione replied at once, affronted he should even think otherwise.

"Y-yeah, sure Harry. R-Ron's and i-idiot and you're our f-friend!"

Harry smiled, he could barely believe it. Both of them thought it was better to hang out with him than with the more popular Gryffindor boy. Hogwarts was nothing like Surrey.

Happiness coursing through him, Harry couldn't stop smiling even through the panic of realising that they would never get back to their dorm room before curfew caused the trio to split quickly and begin sprinting through the castle.

XXX

The three friends were right to think that that confrontation wasn't the last of it. If anything, that was just the beginning. For the next week, Neville was continually hounded by Ron and the other first year Gryffindors. It started with the boys just harassing Neville anytime they caught him in the common room. This only led to the three friends spending even more time in the library but at the end of every day, the closing of the library forced both Neville and Hermione back to the tower. It was the same spiel every time and every time, it got a little more hateful. Harry was a Slytherin so he was dark; Neville was wrong for hanging out with him and was a traitor to Gryffindor for doing so. When that didn't work, they moved on to insulting Neville himself for his intelligence and incompetence as a wizard while in the same breath trying to convince him that he really did want to do their homework for them.

As Neville continued to ignore the boys and defend Harry and harassing turned physical. Neville's clothes and possessions would be flung about the dormitory when he arrived. Sometimes, they would be damaged. They would shove and trip him in the corridor, causing him to drop and break his things while laughing at his 'clumsiness'. Ron even got his older twin brothers to show him some hexes that he and the others managed to actually use correctly in a magical miracle.

It wasn't long till Neville and Harry couldn't walk down a corridor in the castle without either having their legs tied together by invisible ropes or their appearance changed. Once, even Hermione had got hit by a stray spell despite the boys normally leaving her alone because she was a girl and her front teeth grew to ridiculous portions almost reaching her waist. It was externally painful for the frizzy haired Gryffindor and the boys both skipped classes to get her straight to Poppy despite their trepidation. Luckily, Hermione's teeth were fixed with barely any effort but since then, the trio had added beginner shielding spells to the number of things they were looking at in the library right at the top of the list. Though considering spells of this sort weren't really taught till third year, they were having a little trouble understanding the theory as written in the books and kept having to back track. Only Harry so far hadn't managed to produce anything like the intended spell and only for a measly two seconds. They persisted though.

The teeth incident, as it was known to the three, alerted someone else to what was going on. It just so happened that the one lesson the trio skipped while helping Hermione was Potions. Severus didn't take kindly to people skipping his lessons and he made sure the consequences of doing so were well known. It was only the fact that it was Granger, the know it all that was obsessed with her academic standing, Neville and Harry, both of who were much to shy and submissive as to do anything as rebellious such as missing lessons for no reason that stayed his temper. The fact that Harry would be literally petrified of any punishment, he thought it would just make the situation even worse.

These reasons led to Snape having yet another chat with his prefects and, after some asking around by them, finding out that all three were in the hospital wing and why. Asking Harry about the incident at that week's meeting, Snape just about managed to drag out the name of the culprit, though it was as frustrating and painful as pulling teeth before the green eyed boy clamed up for the evening and refused to say another word beyond 'yes sir' or 'no sir.'

Anger burned his throat and sat heavy in his stomach as he stormed up the stairs to Gryffindor tower later the following evening. His rage stemmed not only for the harm of one of his Slytherins but that all progress made in getting said Slytherin to trust him had been washed down the drain by one stupid Gryffindor brat making it so Snape had to ask questions to personal too quickly.

The surprise on Minerva face as he flung open her office door was quickly replaced by a deep frown of concern at the clipped tones of command. Effectively taking the wind out of the Potions master's sails, he obeyed without thought and suddenly found himself in a lumpy maroon arm chair with a cup of sweetened tea in his lap. Seven years of having McGonagall as a teacher previously in his life left him with the reflexive urge to obey her like he a nervous first year. Minerva hid a quick, entirely inappropriate smile behind her teacup as a look of murderous indignation overcame Severus' normally stoic features as he realised this.

The aged witch knew this was not the time thought to tease her younger contemporary and her frown was back in place as she set down to business.

"What is the problem now Severus?" The frown deepened, "It's not poor little Harry again, is it?"

Snape scowled and purposely set his tea upon the desk top, determined as always not to touch the terrible sweetened brew.

"In a way. It is to do with the deplorable and dangerous actions of one of your own house and the harm he has not only caused Harry but also another two of your own house."

"Pardon!?"

"Ron Weasley, woman! Are you blind now?! He and his band of merry men have been harassing Potter, Granger and specifically Longbottom for the last week or so and you have not noticed. What do you plan to do about the boy!?"

Her own anger building at the picture being painted in front of her, Minerva purposefully set her half drunken cup besides Snape and set her hands in her lap. Perfectly positioned, so Snape could not see her knuckles turn white as she clenched her hands.

"What exactly have they been doing Severus?"

"Weasley, Finnigan and Thomas have been physically attacking and even worse hexing Harry and Longbottom repeatedly at every opportunity for the last week. They have damaged the boy's possessions and incidentally caused Miss Granger harm with an enlarging hex aimed at one of the boys. The girl was in pain for fifteen minutes before they staggered into the infirmary. I expected Poppy would have floo called you about it."

For a brief moment, the head of Gryffindor looked embarrassed. "I do appear to have a few missed floo calls from her, unfortunately was too busy until now to call her back and missed taking meals in the hall today as you well know."

Snape nodded, remembering the headmistress's absence as she monitored the schools mail as the headmaster was attending the routine meeting of the school governors that happened every year. The fools were only complaining about inconsequential things while trying to curry favour with Dumbledore for their or their progenies profit. The headmaster never listened but was still forced to attend for proprieties sake.

"Well, Minerva what are you planning to do with your run away students? I will warn you now that if I see them commit one more offence against Potter, I will not be lenient."

"I will deal with it Severus," she stated with finality. Despite the note of steel in the older women's voice, Severus still dared to challenge it.

"And how, pray, do you plan to do that? The boy is a menace and has been allowed to harass one of his own housemates without you even noticing." Snape shut his mouth with a click when Minerva pursed her lips and glared at him, grey eyes as warm and yielding as cold iron.

"Considering you are only just bringing this to my attention now Severus, I hardly think I can be the only one guilty of blindness in this matter. You yourself didn't realise this was occurring till recently and according to your own words, it has been going on for weeks."

Snape grudgingly lowered his eyes; he could not refute her accusations and knew them to be true. Face down the dark lord he could do but facing down Minerva McGonagall was another matter entirely.

"Also seeing as the guilty party of students are in my own house as well as two of their victims, I think I have priority in punishing them. Be sure Severus, that the boys will be shown the error of their ways and if they have been harassing their housemates as well as poor Harry, they will be punished. However, I will decide the punishment I see fit. This is a Gryffindor matter Severus and you shall not interfere."

Despite knowing it to be futile, Snape still tried to stare down his old professor but was forced one again to lower his head and grumble to himself in defeat. Minerva allowed herself a weary smile at the younger man, always so sour and prickly, even when he was trying to help three troubled children. He hid a good heart under all that gruff sharp sarcasm and dour exterior. If only she could get him to see that.

"Very well Minerva, I shall leave this to you." He sent her a meaningful look as he stood to leave.

Minerva inclined her head to the silent demand, "Of course, I shall inform you of their punishments after I have issued them."

That lifted Snape's spirits a bit and he left her office with the fires of anger no longer burning his throat and a reminder of why he still respected his old professor and had thought twice before crossing her in his school days.

Now, all he needed to do was continue on his plan to get Harry to trust him. If only he could figure out how that elusive goal could be accomplished, he might be able to sleep slightly easier at night.

XXX

For the next two days, Minerva made a point of observing Neville and Hermione when they were in the dorm and just before leaving and entering her classroom. To her dismay, she was almost immediately witness to the kind of harassment Severus had told her about. Not that she expected the big bat to lie about it to her but he was such a mother hen sometimes, especially since he was trying to make up for his mistakes in the beginning with poor Harry that he tended to have a habit of exaggerating. This wasn't one of those cases but the head of Gryffindor had been holding onto the hope that it was all the same.

The boys seemed to leave Granger alone more or less apart from severe verbal insults to her looks, personality, magical ability and parentage. Both Harry and Neville were not so lucky. As well as the verbal assaults, the boys were more than willing to physically assault the boys, pushing, tripping and shaking them about when they felt like it. The flinging about of school and library books was common though luckily none of the boys took it into their heads to wet or burn the books causing irreparable damage. The only saving grace for the boys was than at no time did they try to throw a punch at the younger boys.

Only on the second day of observation, did Minerva see the use of magic enter the bullying. Mostly, they were cosmetic charms that the boys easily countered but there was also liberal use of the jelly legs jinx and the cofoundment charm, causing the boys further physical damage. Both managed to counter the jinxes but only after painful meeting with the walls. It wasn't only when one of the boys hit Neville with the confoudment charm while he was nearing the stairs, did Minerva realise how dangerous this was getting. Even Trelawney, in all her incompetence could have predicted the outcome. Minerva was enraged.

Which was why that Sunday, all three boys were stumbling into her office, still white faced in terror from seeing her expression earlier. She looked at them all sharply, staring just long enough to make them uncomfortable and have them drop their gaze in guilt before pursing her lips severely.

"Sit." They did so, not daring to disobey. Three chairs had been laid out ready for them by the house elves and according to Minerva's instructions, the most uncomfortable and stiff backed ones she had. She didn't want the boys to get the mistaken impression that she was merely annoyed or that they would be getting off easily. Maybe a bit of Severus was rubbing off on her.

"Do you all know why you are here?" The three boys glanced at each other. Finnigan and Thomas glancing to Weasley, the unofficial leader of the band of petty bullies. There were some grumbled sulky shaking of heads. McGonagall placed her hands flat on her desk in front of her and leaned forward, disapproving angry frown etched upon her face.

"You're all here because for the last week or so you have been verbally, physically and magically harassing some of you fellow year mates, two of which are within your own house! I am very disappointed in you! You have turned into petty bullies, as bad as any Slytherin," she added, just see the flinch on the Weasley's face. The other two boys seemed to be feeling some guilt, though whether that was because they felt bad about their action or about being caught by her, she couldn't tell. The Weasley however was going increasingly red. She knew the currently youngest enrolled redhead of the clan had a short temper, the grey eyed women was just waiting for it to snap.

"Your actions have shamed the name of Gryffindor and you shall be punished for them. Well, do you have anything to say for yourself?"

As expected, Weasley chose this moment to explode. Standing up suddenly and sending his chair toppling backwards onto the floor. Face red and hands clenched at his sides, Ron gave his opinion on the matter.

"IT'S ALL THAT SLIMY SLYTHERIN'S FAULT! He tricked everyone into thinking he was going to be in Gryffindor and then was put in Slytherin and now he's trying to turn Neville dark! We were just trying to help him."

Minerva sat back, now calm and in control of her emotions as she watched the boy dig his own grave. Beside him, his cohorts were staring in horror. Minerva got the feeling that after this meeting was over Ronald Weasley wouldn't be quite so popular.

"You call almost causing Mr Longbottom to fall five floors off the stairs to his death helping him? What about your abuse of Mr Potter? Were you trying to help him also in some obscene fashion?"

"Neville wasn't doing as we told him. Besides, he's such a bumbling fool it's obvious he's not a real Gryffindor or he would be hanging out with us and would have agreed to help us with our homework likes he's supposed to. And who cares about Potter? He's a Slytherin. That means he's a dark lord. He's just been tricking us all these years into thinking he was a hero. Who cares what happens to him! If you were a real Gryffindor, you would know he deserves everything he gets and would be trying to stop him too!"

By this point, Ron had his finger pointed directly at her chest. His face almost magenta while beside him, the two other boys appeared to be drained of all colour, almost gray in terror. For a moment, Minerva didn't say anything. Just stared at the boy's finger pointedly till he got uncomfortable and lowered it. It appeared to be dawning on the boy exactly what he had just said and who too but he showed no signs of guilt or a need to apologise.

Minerva almost had to admire stupidity like that. Stupidity like that could cause a nation to topple or cause a man to do great things without realising. Only almost though, as in the end it was still absolute stupidity. She just wished that more of her students had the sense to distinguish it from the bravery they all thought it was. Common sense seemed to be a dying trade in her house and the rest of the wizarding world.

"If you are done making an arse of yourself Mr. Weasley and personally insulting me, kindly shut up! I have heard all I need to hear from you. You are a disgrace to Gryffindor, attacking not only your own housemates but a boy who has caused you no harm and will not fight back."

"Bu..."

"Not another word! I've heard all I want to hear of your opinions to last me a life time Ronald Weasley. One more incident to bullying either Neville Longbottom, Hermione Granger or Harry Potter, no matter the circumstance and I will be informing you mother! All your mothers!" she added, seeing the other two trying to hide behind their hot headed companion. Maybe they had more sense than the boy but that did mean she was going to overlook them.

"As it is, you shall all be serving detention with me for two weeks. Then Professor Snape for another two weeks every evening. I am also assigning you an essay on bullying and why it is appealing to partake in such behaviour and great wizards from Slytherin house that have benefited the wzarding world. Maybe that will help you to let go of some of your ridiculous prejudices, hum." Minerva lifted an eyebrow when she saw the boy open his mouth again to argue but she really had heard all she wanted to from him and with steel in her eyes and obedience ringing in her voice decided enough was enough.

"You are all dismissed! Return to your dormitory. Your detention starts tomorrow at seven; I expect the essays to be on my desk in two weeks time. If it is not up to standard, I will make you do it again. Now get out of my office."

Finnigan and Thomas wasted no time fleeing her presence but Weasley remained for a moment. Face red and defiance and hatred shining in his eyes as he glared at her. Minerva raised another eyebrow just to annoy him, her own irritation rising.

"Dismissed Mr. Weasley!" There was no arguing with her voice and the red haired boy too turned to go, slamming the door behind him.

Sitting back in her chair for a moment to calm down, after all she wasn't as young as she used to be, Minerva reviewed all that had happened in this meeting. She knew Severus would have been hoping for a harsher punishment but there was really nothing else she could do. Taking away house points would not only make the boys unpopular but poor Neville too for apparently squealing to her.

Even as she sat there though, she knew Ron would continue to be trouble. The others may or may not follow his lead and they would certainly not chance it so soon after receiving their just punishment but hatred and prejudice as she had seen in the boy's eyes does not fade quickly and it will not allow him to remain silent.

She just hoped it didn't lead to him doing something drastic. Anything more than had already been done and she would have to inform Albus. Continuation of the abuse and her duty as a teacher would mean she could do nothing but push for suspension at best and expulsion at worst. She did so hate to see the current generation of students tainted by the hatred born of the prejudice of their parents.