Spring was here at last but it did little to improve Harry’s mood, and not just because it was a very gray, drizzly sort of spring.
Harry had taken to spending most of his time out of his common room: in the library, at Hagrid’s, or just wandering the school. Sometimes he wore the cloak, sometimes he just roamed. He always had it with him, though, both in case he ever got caught out after hours and because he didn’t want to be separated from it again.
His dad, at least, couldn’t ever let him down.
Harry morbidly supposed that that was one good thing about being dead: you stayed cool and awesome forever, and nothing could ever change that. You couldn’t hurt your friends or betray people who’d trusted you if you were dead.
That thought didn’t do anything to cheer him up, either.
Harry knew he was being grumpy and moody but he didn’t care. The only people he was spending time with these days were Hagrid, who was too stubbornly cheerful himself (and too busy with his duties, which he let Harry help with sometimes) to let Harry get away with moping, and Hermione, who was terse and cross herself because she was so focused on their upcoming exams.
Harry didn’t see why she was stressed about it. As far as he could tell, she knew everything already, so what was she worrying about?
But worry she did, and seemed to be spending every spare moment in the library, which was where Harry kept running into her. With their exams slowly drawing nearer the place was growing a little more crowded than usual as the other students slowly joined the few regulars, like Hermione and all those Ravenclaws, to get in some early studying of their own.
Usually whenever Harry turned up, most of the tables were already occupied, but Hermione almost always sat alone and never minded if he joined her. She didn’t seem to have any friends, just like Harry.
Well, that wasn’t strictly true: Harry had friends. They were always pestering him, too obtuse to get the hint that he wanted to be left alone and no, he wasn’t interested in playing gobstones, or exploding snap, or chess, or sneaking stink beetles into Gryffindors’ school bags when they weren’t looking, or trying to trick a professor into writing them a note so they could go fool around on the school brooms, or any of the hundred other activities that Draco, Crabbe, Goyle, and sometimes even Nott came up with to while away their few hours between assignments, or slack off with when they didn't feel like doing their work.
Not that Harry had much option there, he found, at least on the days when he hung out with Hermione in the library. His study habits and homework practices horrified her, and she had quickly drawn up a schedule for him so that he could keep everything organized and get it all done on time. Harry had just as promptly lost it in the cavernous depths of his school bag, the bottom of which was already a shifting mess of broken quills, crumpled papers, bits of dried ink, and mysterious detritus that had once been plants or potion ingredients. Nothing ever emerged intact from that pit, and Harry figured Hermione's schedule didn't stand a chance.
She still made him do his homework far earlier than he thought was necessary, though. But her nagging beat being alone, most days.
It wasn’t as nice as spending time with Hagrid, but Hagrid, too, was preoccupied these days. There was something wrong, although he wouldn’t tell Harry what; just made lots of vague, grumbled comments and shot the Forbidden Forest dark glances from time to time. Harry asked him, once, if it was something to do with Fluffy and the You-Know-What, but even the mysterious package from Vault 713 couldn’t hold Harry’s interest these days and when Hagrid wouldn’t answer, Harry didn’t bother to press further.
Very few students went home for the two-week break between terms this time, although they all still had to sign up on the list, just like at Christmas. Harry thought it would have made more sense to make a list for the students who weren’t staying at Hogwarts. The only Slytherin students in his year who went home were Blaise Zabini and Daphne Greengrass.
Harry was quite pleased to see Blaise go.
At first he was confused by the crowded castle, but then he figured out that if everyone else had as much homework as he did, they’d be lucky to even have time outside of the library, and it was no wonder they weren’t leaving school. The teachers, it seemed, thought along the same lines as Hermione, and the rest of the students didn’t have any choice but to follow her lead in seeking out the brimming bookshelves, not if they wanted to pass.
Harry wouldn’t have minded if a few less of them had been concerned for their academics. The library wasn’t much of a refuge if it was crowded with all the people he was avoiding.
“Ew,” a shrill voice suddenly interrupted Harry’s valiant attempt to memorize the twelve uses of dragon blood. “We can’t sit back here, look who it is!”
Harry looked up to see Pansy Parkinson pointing at him—no, past him, at Hermione Granger. Hermione stiffened but didn’t look up at the cluster of first year Slytherin girls sneering at her over Pansy’s shoulder. “Ick, Potter,” Pansy continued, “what are you doing there?” Harry shrugged. “I am sure,” Pansy said in an exaggeratedly scandalized tone, “that someone else would be glad to budge up and share their table with you, to save you having to sit with—with that.”
Hermione made a noise like an angry tea kettle but still didn’t look up from her book. She had, however, stopped turning the pages.
“I’m fine here, thanks,” Harry said.
Pansy smirked. “Aw, has Potter got a girlfriend?” she giggled, and her friends giggled with her. “Potter, that’s so tragic! You’re a Slytherin, you know,” she chided him cheerfully, “you have standards to maintain. The reputation of our house—”
Everyone turned around to look at Draco Malfoy, who had just come around the corner of the shelves. He was glaring at Pansy, whose jaw dropped in hurt surprise. Crabbe and Goyle, as usual, shuffled along behind Draco. They looked, for once, no more confused than anyone else.
“But—but, Draco, she’s a Mu—”
“Annoying, insufferable know-it-all,” Draco interrupted, sneering, “so I’d wager that Harry’s got nothing to worry about on his exams. But from what Professor Snape has said, you could do with some more effort in Potions, at least, so why don’t you go look into that?”
Everybody stared at Draco. He crossed his arms coolly and stared right back at the flustered girl in front of him. Tracey Davis snickered and Pansy turned around to shoot her a look of stark betrayal. “Sorry,” Tracey muttered, sounding gleeful.
Pansy pouted affrontedly and flounced off, the other girls trailing her. Draco’s gaze flickered sideways to Harry and Hermione, then he quickly left as well. Crabbe and Goyle, of course, followed him. Harry pointedly turned around and did not watch them go. The last person he wanted helping him out right now was Draco Malfoy.
“Hmph,” was all Hermione said, and she shoved her nose back even more deeply into her book.
It wasn’t until quite a few minutes later that it occurred to Harry that if Draco hadn’t interrupted Pansy, she probably would have called Hermione a Mudblood, right in front of everybody. He wondered, fleetingly, if Draco had stopped her on purpose.
Not that annoying, insufferable know-it-all was a nice thing to call someone, but it certainly beat Mudblood.
Harry shifted uncomfortably and tried to focus on the blood uses he was supposed to be learning, but soon gave it up as a bad job. “See you later,” he muttered to Hermione, who just grunted in response, buried deep in her book. Harry shoved his things in his bag and slipped quietly out of the library. He was halfway back to his common room when he stopped at the sound of a familiar voice. It was Pansy again, and she was right around the corner. Harry really didn’t want to deal with any more teasing right now, and looked around for an escape route.
Then another voice joined the first, cutting Pansy’s words off, and Harry froze. It was Draco.
“Because it’s disgusting, that’s why,” he said. “Pairing Potter with her, what’s wrong with you? The very idea is repulsive.”
“Then he shouldn’t be hanging out with her, I guess,” Pansy snapped back.
“Don’t see why it’s any business of yours who he hangs out with,” Draco replied sharply.
“Well, I don’t see why it’s any business of yours what I say to him, then.”
“Because he’s my friend, that’s why, and I won’t have you saying things about him and some filthy Mudblood.”
Harry stomped off in disgust. Maybe Hagrid needed help de-sliming some slugs or something. Better that than stay here and listen to this.
Harry decided to skip the library the next day. It wasn’t because he was afraid of Pansy, or what she’d say, or because he cared that Hermione was a Mudblood. It was just that this was the first really fine day they’d had in months. The sky was a clear, forget-me-not blue, and there was a feeling in the air of summer coming. He couldn’t possibly spend it inside, cooped up in the library, staring at books.
Harry sauntered down to Hagrid’s, enjoying the break from all the drizzle. Slytherin would be playing their final match against Hufflepuff in a few weeks, and Harry hoped that the weather would hold out until then. It was, he figured, just about a perfect day for flying.
For a moment he thought about heading back up to the castle and finding Draco. With weather like this, the other boy would probably be trying to find a way to get some illicit flying in, and if any first year could wheedle his way onto a broom unsupervised, Harry knew it would be Draco Malfoy. He probably wouldn’t even have to try very hard, even: just ask Snape—although Snape had been in a really bad mood lately, one foul enough that he’d even snapped at Draco last class for not paying attention, although of course he hadn’t taken any points for it. And he would probably still give him permission to open the broomshed, and the weather was excellent…
But, Harry reminded himself firmly, he didn’t want to see Draco right now, and he certainly didn’t want to go flying with him. Draco, Harry repeated silently, was not his friend. He didn’t want anything to do with him.
Harry stomped determinedly down to Hagrid’s, refusing to glance over his shoulder at the castle, just in case there were any students out on brooms—and just in case any of them happened to be very pale and blond. Harry didn’t want to know. It was easier to be resolute when you didn’t know for sure what you were missing.
He knocked on the door to Hagrid’s hut, but there was no answer, not even from Fang. “Hello?” Harry shouted, but still nothing. He walked around, frowning at the tightly shuttered windows and smoking chimney. It must be absolutely sweltering inside. Harry couldn’t understand it. Was Hagrid sick?
He peered into the garden, but aside from vegetables the only occupants were Fang, sprawled miserably in the middle of Hagrid’s tomatoes, and a handful of bored-looking chickens. Harry spent a few minutes scratching Fang’s belly and got an enthusiastic bath in return, but the boardhound couldn’t tell him where his master was any more than the chickens could.
Harry walked back to the front of the hut and tried the door again.
“Hey, Hagrid! It’s me, Harry! Are you there?” Harry waited, but there was still no response. He kicked a rock and watched it rattle off into the pumpkin patch.
Where was Hagrid? Surely he wouldn’t be out doing anything on the grounds, not without Fang, and certainly not with his chimney smoking like that. The fire must be positively roaring, quite unseasonably. Harry scratched at the nearest window but it was latched tight and he only succeeded in giving himself a splinter.
Sucking at the sliver of wood in his finger, Harry scowled at the silent hut. What on earth was Hagrid doing?
After a few long, unproductive minutes, Harry gave up. He kicked another rock, grumpily, and stomped back to the castle. He saw a few brooms flash by overhead but resisted the urge to look up. Someone was flying, but Harry didn’t want to know who.
He kicked stones the whole way up the lawn, practicing football skills that, thanks to Dudley’s gang, he rarely got the chance to do much of anything with in gym class. Not that football compared to Quidditch in any way, of course…
Harry couldn’t help it, he sneaked a glance at the flying students, but they were just a few dark blurs against the sky. He wondered if one of the teams was out practicing, and what it would be like to be on it. Harry grinned, imagining himself swooping towards a goal hoop, diving after the snitch, dodging Bludgers…
“Hey! Watch it!” Harry jerked out of his reverie just in time to stop himself from kicking what turned out to be not a rock at all, but a fat, warty toad.
“Sorry!” he said quickly, pulling his foot back. Plump hands darted in and snatched the toad out of harm’s way and Harry looked up to see who he had nearly run into.
The round, scowling face of Neville Longbottom looked back at him.
“Sorry,” Harry said again. “Didn’t see him there.”
“Y-yeah, I’ll bet,” Longbottom muttered, hunching in protectively around his toad. He looked around, as if expecting an ambush.
“I didn’t,” Harry said, frowning. “I don’t just go around kicking people’s toads.”
“Right,” snorted Longbottom. He looked nervous.
“I don’t!” Harry protested.
“Well, I guess you don’t have to. You have those two around to do that stuff for you, don’t you?” Longbottom backed away from Harry slowly. Harry followed, frowning harder.
“What, you mean Crabbe and Goyle?” he asked. “Why would I have them do anything?”
“Y-you hang out with Draco Malfoy,” Longbottom said, as if that explained everything.
“So?” said Harry, not wanting to admit to the fact that his friends were all liars and nobody really liked him at all.
“Listen, what does it matter who I hang out with, or don’t?” Harry demanded.
“You’ll...you’ll make fun of me, or, or do something f-funny,” Longbottom said fearfully. “That’s what, um, what they always do and, and you’re their friend, so...” His eyes were darting around the courtyard so quickly now that Harry was getting dizzy just watching him.
“I will not,” Harry snapped, losing patience with the stuttering Gryffindor. “And I’m not so sure I want to be Draco’s friend, anyway.”
Longbottom just stared at him darkly, like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop and kick him in his pasty, round face.
Harry sighed and looked down at his toes. “I don’t think he really likes me all that much,” Harry admitted, “and I don’t think I really like him, either.”
“Oh,” said Longbottom.
“He’s a—a bully and a liar and I don’t miss him at all,” Harry said heatedly.
“Oh,” Longbottom said again, in a small voice, “right.”
Harry didn’t know why he was even talking to the hopeless Gryffindor boy, let alone confessing things like that to him. He just felt, for some reason, that Neville Longbottom was someone with whom he had a lot in common. Maybe it was just that he had been feeling so miserable lately, and Longbottom was always so pathetic. They were probably two of a kind.
“Well…I thought you were friends,” Longbottom muttered defensively.
“So did I,” said Harry sourly. He plopped down on the low stone wall around the courtyard and kicked at it idly with his heels.
After a few moments Longbottom edged over and joined him, sitting well down the wall from Harry, as if afraid that he might attack. His hands were still wrapped tightly around his toad, who had stopped kicking and seemed to have resigned himself stoically to captivity in the chubby boy’s hands.
“So, um…H-hermione says you’re all right, anyway,” Longbottom offered. Harry shrugged. “I dunno,” he said.
“Sh-she’s pretty nice,” Longbottom continued, valiantly trying to make conversation. “She helps me out sometimes in class.”
“Yeah, well, you need it, don’t you?” Harry replied before he could stop himself. Longbottom winced, and so did he. “Sorry,” Harry said.
“Th-that’s all right,” said Longbottom miserably, “it’s true.”
Harry shrugged. “Well...I bet you need less help than Goyle does,” he said by means of a peace offering.
Longbottom’s grin was watery, but it was still a smile.
“And Hermione’s helped me some, too,” Harry continued, “with studying, and stuff.”
Longbottom nodded. “Yeah,” he said, “I’ve seen you with her sometimes in the library.”
Harry nodded. “Why didn’t you ever join us?” he asked.
Longbottom shifted uncomfortably on the stone wall. “Well…” he hesitated. “I mean, I didn’t want to annoy you…”
“You should definitely come along next time,” Harry said. “At the least it would give Hermione someone else’s study habits to get aggravated with.”
They both grinned at that.
“Yeah,” said Longbottom, “she can be a bit…”
“Yeah,” agreed Harry.
“But,” Longbottom continued, “she means well, really. And my Gran always says that’s the most important thing.” He didn't look convinced.
“I’ll bet she does,” Harry said, imagining how often Neville Longbottom’s grandmother probably had to repeat to herself things like, the boy means well… Harry chuckled.
“Um…this is Trevor,” Longbottom said, holding out his toad for inspection. Harry nodded at the amphibian politely. It croaked. “Do you…do you have any pets?” Longbottom asked.
Harry nodded. “An owl,” he said. “Her name’s Hedwig, she’s brilliant.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Longbottom. “She’s white, isn’t she? I’ve seen her at mail call. She looks pretty.” He looked down mournfully at Trevor. “Probably real useful, too, having an owl…”
Harry shrugged. “I dunno, nothing wrong with a toad,” he lied, secretly thinking that Hedwig was the coolest animal in the world, and he’d rather have her than a hundred toads. “I mean, it's not like I ever get mail…”
“Oh.” Longbottom’s face went pink. “Right,” he said quickly. “I…forgot.”
After a long, awkward silence, Harry asked, “so, um, your gran writes you all the time, right?”
Longbottom nodded. “I forget things a lot,” he confessed quietly, which was no secret to anyone at Hogwarts.
“Bet she’s got an owl of her own, huh? Or two or three?” Harry grinned. “Your parents should open an owlery, all the mail she sends…”
“Oh, I—I live with my gran, actually,” said Longbottom. His voice had gone quite high-pitched and stuffy. “My, my parents aren’t…”
“Sorry,” said Harry quickly. “Really sorry. I didn't know.”
“S’okay,” muttered Longbottom.
The uncomfortable silence stretched out, broken only by Trevor’s low croaking. Harry avoided looking at Longbottom by staring around at everything else instead. Suddenly he realized that “everything else” included a familiar, exceptionally tall figure hurrying away from the castle towards the gamekeeper’s hut. Harry jumped to his feet.
“Uh, listen,” he said, “I need to, um—”
“No problem,” said Longbottom. “I’ll—I’ll stop bothering you, now.” He climbed off the wall quickly, Trevor grumbling in protest at the jostling.
“No,” said Harry, “it’s fine, I just have to—look, why don’t we hang out later?” he offered.
“Really?” gaped Longbottom.
“Sure,” Harry shrugged. “We can meet back here after lunch or something.”
Longbottom might be the most pathetic person in their year but, Harry figured, he clearly wasn’t much better off himself, and he could use a friend, even a fumbling, stuttering one like Neville. And the Gryffindor boy didn’t seem like he'd be all that bad, once you got to know him.
“Okay,” said Longbottom. “That, um, that sounds cool…”
“Brilliant,” said Harry. “I’ll catch you later, then.”
Longbottom said something in farewell but Harry was no longer listening. He was already pelting down the lawn towards Hagrid’s. Harry was dying to ask him what was going on, where he’d been, and what he was doing smuggling what looked an awful lot like one of Madame Pince’s precious library books out of the castle like some kind of contraband.
When he got there, however, there was no more answer than before. Harry banged on the door and shouted until at last he heard a muffled, “All righ’, all righ’…” from within. Fang whined from the back garden, apparently still banished from the hut even though Hagrid had returned.
Hagrid cracked the door open and peered down at Harry through a sliver barely wide enough to expose half of his heavily bearded face. “Oh, Harry. Didn’ expect yeh.” Hagrid glanced furtively over his shoulder then back at Harry and attempted a casual smile. “How are yeh, then?” he asked.
Harry’s face felt hot, like the air inside the hut was a lot warmer than outside. “What’ve you got in there?” he asked.
“Nothin’!” said Hagrid quickly.
Harry stood on his toes and stretched back and forth but couldn’t see anything past Hagrid’s bulk. “Liar,” said Harry, grinning. “C’mon, what is it?”
“I told yeh, it’s nothin’!” Hagrid snapped. His face had gone red.
Harry frowned. “It’s not another three-headed dog, is it?” he asked, leery.
“Course it ain’t,” said Hagrid. “Already got one o’ them. I mean, it’s nothin’!” he amended hastily. “Bit busy, Harry, can’t chat just now, sorry,” he said, and shut the door.
Harry gaped at the solid wood in front of his face. He scowled and knocked until the windows rattled, but Hagrid did not return. Fang barked petulantly, but he was no help either.
Harry was in a very bad mood as he walked back up to the castle. He was glad he didn’t run into Longbottom and his toad again; right now, he might have been tempted to give Trevor a good kick after all.
Instead he ran into something much worse: Weasleys.
Harry was halfway across the courtyard before he realized that anyone was paying any attention to him.
Harry jerked out of his grumpy reverie at the sound of his name being shouted. He saw two tall, red-headed, identical figures stalking towards him angrily. Harry took a step backwards before he could stop himself. What did they want?
“We want a word with you,” one of the twins said. It wasn’t a request, but a threat.
“Wh-what for?” Harry asked.
A crowd began to gather as people in the courtyard realized that something out of the ordinary was going on. Out of the corner of his eye Harry saw Theodore Nott poking out like a pale weed between two Ravenclaws. Like the rest of the onlookers, his sharp eyes were darting back and forth between Harry and the Weasleys.
“You think we wouldn’t find out?” the other twin demanded.
“Find out what?”
“Don’t play dumb,” said the first Weasley. He crossed his arms.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Harry was starting to feel frantic. The twin Gryffindors looked like they were in the mood for a fight, and Harry was under no delusions about his ability to take on both older, taller boys by himself. He looked around for help and saw only Theodore, who grimaced, looked around himself and, seeing no one else they knew in green, slunk away.
So much for house loyalty, Harry thought glumly. “I really don’t,” he told the Weasleys, a bit desperately.
“You’ve been having a go at our mother,” said one twin.
“Don’t deny it,” snapped the other, as Harry’s mouth fell open to do just that.
“But I haven’t!” he protested, bewildered.
“Liar,” sneered a Weasley.
Harry shook his head, utterly perplexed until he noticed a horribly smirking Blaise Zabini leaning against the far column with his arms crossed, watching the show. He caught Harry’s eye and nodded smugly. Harry’s heart dropped into his stomach like a cold lump of realization and he knew that he wasn’t going to talk his way out of this.
“I—I’m really not,” Harry stammered. “I don’t even know your mother—”
“Don’t you talk about her,” one twin interrupted.
“You think we’d let you get away with that?” the other scowled. “We don’t care if you are the Great Harry Potter—”
“Nobody says those kinds of things about our mum—”
“Especially no Slytherin.”
They nodded in fierce unison.
Harry swallowed hard.
“Do something!” somebody hissed.
Harry risked a glance sideways and saw that the growing crowd now included Hermione Granger, who was tugging at the arm of the youngest Weasley: Ron. “They’re your brothers, you have to stop them!” she demanded.
“Are you mental?” Ron whispered back, gaping at her.
Hermione stomped her foot, frowned, and chewed on her lip. Harry knew that she was no fan of broken rules, and was probably personally affronted that any Gryffindor would dare pick a fight somewhere that a teacher might see.
“You’re all going to get in awful trouble,” she told the twins, and Harry as well, as if the fight had been his idea. “You’d just better stop it!” she ordered.
“Sod off, why don’t you?” one of the twins suggested amiably.
“Ooh!” Hermione gasped in frustration and spun around on her heel, shoving her way through the crowd.
Her housemates were glad enough to let her go; anyone who would stick up for a Slytherin—even if only to keep order—wasn’t going to win herself any points with the rest of them.
The twins had paused to watch and now looked at their brother inquiringly. Ron took one look at Harry and threw his hands up, backing away. The twins nodded approvingly and turned back, advancing on Harry once again.
“No—really,” he pleaded, “I haven’t said anything, honest.”
“What do you say, George, do you believe him?” one Weasley asked the other.
“I find myself inclined to doubt his word, actually, Fred,” he replied.
“I think a particular little Slytherin may need to be taught a lesson, George,” the first surmised.
“You know Fred, I think you might be right,” said the other.
Harry stumbled backwards. “No, listen—”
“What’s going on here?”
Everyone turned to look at the source of the new voice: It was Draco Malfoy, just come around the corner with Crabbe and Goyle. He scanned the courtyard and its burgeoning confrontation, and strode over imperiously to stand beside Harry. Crabbe and Goyle, as usual, trailed right behind.
All three of them crossed their arms and glared at the Weasleys, Crabbe and Goyle flanking Draco—and, by extension, Harry—like great, hulking bodyguards. They were both shorter than the third year twins, but definitely broader. Everyone paused to assess the new dynamics.
If it came to a fight, Harry figured, the Slytherins and Gryffindors would probably be pretty closely matched—unless the older Weasleys turned to magic, at which point Crabbe and Goyle would be useless as anything other than cover to hide behind. Not that Harry knew any good curses or jinxes himself, mind, but he kept his hand near his wand anyway.
His palms were sweaty and he hoped that, if he did have to go for his wand, he wouldn’t embarrass himself by dropping it. He would have felt better about his backup if he’d been confident that he’d be able to count on them should things go badly, but Harry knew that Draco was just following his father’s instructions to make it look good, and he didn’t think that would extend to actually risking a fight with the Gryffindor twins.
They seemed unsure of what to do now that they were confronted by all four Slytherins, rather than Harry alone. They exchanged a glance that Harry couldn’t decipher. One of them nodded, and then the other, and they started forward again.
“What’s wrong,” Draco sneered, “were you trying to beg for pocket money, and Potter’s refusing to help you out? You should have sent your little brother, he’s even more pathetic than you two are, Potter might have taken pity.”
Everyone gasped and a few people giggled. Ron yelled, “Oi!” and his brothers’ jaws dropped in unison. “You little slug,” one of them spat, his hands curling into fists.
Crabbe cracked his knuckles and Goyle crossed his arms. The twins stopped, sizing up the two bulky Slytherins and their scrawnier companions. Draco offered his most infuriatingly smug smirk. Harry had to bite the inside of his cheek to stop his own smile. He was pretty sure that he was about to get pounded, but he could hardly help but grin at how easily Draco was riling the two older boys.
Harry quickly reminded himself that he didn’t like Draco, but that didn’t make it any less entertaining.
“Cowardly little worm,” the second twin muttered, his freckled face screwed up in angry disgust. “You’re real brave hiding behind your friends now, aren’t you?” Harry wasn’t sure if they were talking to Draco, or to him. He shrugged anyway.
“Oh right,” Draco drawled, “because it takes real guts, that true Gryffindor courage, to pick on a lone first year when you come in a matched set. You know, I hope you were cheaper that way, at least, for your parents’ sake.” He smirked.
“You’d know all about picking on people when they’re outnumbered, wouldn’t you, Malfoy?” someone shouted from the crowd. It was Finnegan, or maybe Thomas; Harry couldn’t remember which was which, but the other one was standing at his friend’s side, nodding agreement, so it didn’t really matter.
Draco spun around to face the new participant, scowling. “You shut your fat, Mudblood mouth, Thomas,” he snapped. Several people gasped and someone muttered, “bad form!”
“What d’you say, George, shall we shut the little git’s mouth for him instead?” one of the Weasley twins suggested darkly.
“I’d say he needs rather to have it washed out,” the other demurred, and reached for his wand with a malicious grin. “Scourg—”
“Oh, my, what’s all this, what’s all this?”
Everyone jumped at the high-pitched voice. The twins spun around, the one with his wand out hastily stuffing it back inside his robe.
Coming down the yard towards them was the diminutive Professor Flitwick, with Hermione Granger scowling at his heels. The Gryffindors and Slytherins all shuffled uncomfortably, doing their best to look innocent and nonchalant in a way that radiated guilt. The gathered crowd held its collective breath.
“Afternoon, Professor Flitwick,” one of the twins said breezily.
“Mr. Weasley, we haven’t been getting into trouble again, have we?” Flitwick squeaked mournfully.
“Who, us? Of course not, professor!” the other replied for them both. He grinned at the Slytherins in a very unsociable manner. “We’re just having ourselves a friendly chat here. With our friends.” His smile seemed to show every single one of his teeth.
“Right,” said Draco, making very little effort to pass his sneer off as a more pleasant expression, “that’s exactly what’s going on, professor. Nothing for you to concern yourself over, whatever Granger there’s told you.”
Flitwick frowned, looking between the two groups of students as if debating which set would be more likely to crack. Hermione mirrored him, scowling darkly. “Very well, very well,” the Charms professor relented tiredly, “I suggest you all go back inside now, boys. Lunch has started, and you wouldn’t want to miss that…”
The crowd gradually scattered. The Weasleys slouched away, looking every bit as sulky and disappointed as Crabbe and Goyle. None of them could do anything more than toss dirty looks at one another, however, since Professor Flitwick—with Hermione still at his side, looking cross and superior—watched them all the whole way back into the castle.
Harry stiffly thanked his three comrades for their help.
Goyle smiled. “Sure thing,” he said brightly, rubbing his disappointingly unbruised knuckles.
Crabbe seemed a bit more resentful of having had to come to Harry’s rescue, but shrugged and said only that any opportunity to pound Gryffindors was a good one. Goyle nodded enthusiastically and looked around to see if, having been denied the Weasleys, he could spot any substitute targets nearby.
Draco just grinned smugly and assured Harry that he had nothing to worry about so long as he was around. “Nobody will dare give you any trouble,” he proclaimed haughtily, “I’ll see to that.”
Harry thought about pointing out that it had probably been the presence of Crabbe and Goyle, rather than Draco, that had given the Gryffindors pause, but as it was Draco who directed Crabbe and Goyle, Harry supposed he had a point anyway.
“Come on,” Crabbe interrupted, “what about lunch?”
Draco nodded and they all set off for the Great Hall, Harry unable to come up with a good excuse to extricate himself from their company. He thought about saying that he wasn’t hungry, but his stomach picked just then to pipe up and give him away. He resigned himself to sitting through lunch with his erstwhile friends. It would have been rude to ditch them after they’d just stuck up for him to the Gryffindors like that, even though Harry knew they’d only done it on Lucius Malfoy’s say-so.
That didn’t stop Draco from regaling everyone nearby with the story. Harry was forced to nod along, making a lot of noncommittal “ums” and “ahhs,” as the tale of his confrontation with the Weasley twins grew by leaps and bounds with every word Draco spun. His embellishments soon had everyone hanging on his words. Incredulous exclamations and spurts of uproarious laughter burst from their little section of the Slytherin table. Each chuckle and chortle garnered darker and darker looks from the Gryffindors and Harry was glad that they were on the far side of the room.
After lunch, he still couldn’t get away; Draco, apparently disgruntled by how Harry had been avoiding him of late, had taken the opportunity to latch, limpet-like, on to his side, and he wasn’t about to be pushed aside by any of Harry’s weak excuses.
Harry thought that, the day being so nice, Draco would want to spend it outside, so he claimed to be knackered from the almost-fight, and decided to head back to their common room. Unfortunately Draco elected to come along, and having already stated his plans, Harry had no choice now but to follow through on them despite the others tagging along.
They walked through the secret door in the dungeons and right into Blaise Zabini’s wrath.
“What was that all about?” the tall, dark-skinned boy snapped, before Harry had even crossed the threshold. An irate Blaise didn’t exude much of the casual elegance he usually boasted.
Draco stared back mildly. “What do you mean?” he asked.
Blaise’s dark eyes snapped as angrily as Snape’s ever had. “You know very well!” he retorted. “What were you thinking, getting involved in that—that fracas?”
“Shut-up, Gregory, I’m not talking to you,” Blaise interrupted. “I’m talking to Draco. Well? Taking on the Weasleys like that—you could have gotten hurt or, worse, gotten in trouble, maybe even lost us points! You know how close we are to winning the Cup this year?”
Draco shrugged. “If it had come to a fight,” he pointedly out calmly, “Harry would have been in it anyway, so if we were going to lose points, it would have happened the same, with or without my help.”
“And, uh, Professor Flitwick didn’t—”
Blaise ignored Harry, snarling, “that’s not the point, that’s only Potter after all.” Draco stiffened. “I beg your pardon?” he said harshly.
Harry felt his face going red and wished that everyone would look at something else, but it seemed like half the house was assembled in their common room right now, and all of them were staring at him.
“That’s only Potter,” Blaise repeated venomously. “He’s just some filthy half-blood, it’s not like he’s a proper Slytherin—”
Draco interrupted heatedly, “he was sorted here the same as—”
“He’s the one that destroyed You-Know—”
“Oh please, you don’t care about politics any more than—”
“Everyone knows you’re only hanging around him to look good, cozying up to the Boy Who Lived like a sycophantic—”
“Shut-up,” Draco snarled. Surprisingly, Blaise did so, even taking a step backwards. He scowled at the shorter, paler boy, his face flushing, but Draco wasn’t done: “Just because you can’t manage to make proper friends is no reason to take it out those of us who can,” he told the other boy snidely.
“Potter hardly counts as a proper friend,” Blaise retorted scornfully, “don’t be mental. He doesn’t even hang around the rest of us anymore, he’s too busy with that swottish Mudblo—”
“I’d rather have Harry for a friend than you, Blaise,” Draco snapped back.
Everyone started, shocked by the words, not least of all Draco himself. Harry turned to stare, his mouth hanging open in the same dumbfounded expression that Crabbe was wearing. Pansy actually yelped before turning to her gang of girls, all of whom clustered together and started whispering furiously, while shooting scandalized glances over at the boys. Blaise just stared, sputtering like an angry teakettle.
Draco tilted his chain and glared defiantly at all of them. “It’s too stuffy in here,” he announced loftily, “I’m going back outside.” He turned to look at Harry and Harry could see uncertainty behind his bravado.
“Yeah,” said Harry, “good idea.” He moved to join the other at the hidden door. He saw something that might have been a relieved grin flicker across Draco’s face.
Draco paused and looked coldly at Crabbe and Goyle. “Well,” he demanded, “are you coming?”
The two thick boys exchanged a glance, then hurried immediately to Malfoy’s side, dogging his imperious exit from the common room. Harry glanced over his shoulder on the way out. Blaise Zabini was staring after them all with murder in his dark eyes. Harry grimaced and hurried out the door.
He trotted along next to Draco, his mind still reeling at the realization that Draco must be his friend after all.
Draco was walking very quickly and he had gone pale, save for two red spots on his cheeks; he was either angry or frightened, Harry couldn’t tell. He wondered if Draco knew.
Harry, however, was elated. He was beaming as he walked—no, practically bounced—at his friend’s side. Harry could hardly believe it. Not only did Draco Malfoy—arguably the coolest boy in their year—really want to be Harry’s friend, but he would rather hang out with him than with Blaise Zabini!
Harry couldn’t stop grinning.
He didn’t notice Neville Longbottom at all. The Gryffindor boy was loitering awkwardly near the courtyard wall and he started forward eagerly when he spotted Harry come out the castle door. He stumbled back, though, when he saw who Harry was with, and his face fell.
Neville watched in silence, hurt and confusion stark and painful on his round face, as Harry walked past him with the Slytherins. Harry didn’t so much as glance over once.
He had already forgotten all about Neville Longbottom.
Last Edit: Mar 31, 2012 12:48:25 GMT -8 by Tathrin
The next two months passed in a happy blur for Harry. It was wonderful having friends again. Even Blaise's pointed sulking couldn’t put a damper on Harry’s spirits. He was with Draco—and, more often than not, Crabbe and Goyle as well—nearly every minute. He barely noticed April come and go.
As it got warmer and pleasanter out, they started spending more and more time outside, sometimes going so far as to lug their schoolwork out with them to the lawns just for the pleasure of enjoying the great weather, even if they had to do homework at the same time. Harry hardly visited the library anymore, and he hadn’t spoken to Hagrid in weeks.
It was with some shock that, one warm Friday afternoon, Harry saw several people he didn’t recognize walking down to Hagrid’s hut. Harry was lounging under a tree next to the lake, ostensibly studying his Transfiguration homework but, really, just basking in the sunshine. Goyle was throwing stones in the lake, trying to annoy the Giant Squid; Crabbe had told him he was an idiot and was now staying well back from the water. Draco was alternating between shouting encouraging comments to Goyle and loudly agreeing with Crabbe about the odds of Goyle becoming fish food sometime in the next few minutes.
Harry sat up and shaded his eyes to watch what was going on down at Hagrid’s. He wondered if it had something to do with what Fluffy was guarding and realized suddenly that it had been months since he’d thought about the mysterious package from Vault 713. Even Draco had given up at last on the door in the third floor corridor and the mystery of whatever lay beneath that trapdoor.
Harry wondered if Snape and Quirrell had, as well. Given the fact that Quirrell had been getting noticeably paler and twitchier, and Snape had been getting more and more short-tempered and nasty, Harry had the feeling that they were still searching for a way to steal it.
But neither one of them was bothering Hagrid. Harry wondered who all those people were. From the way some of them were dressed, they looked important. With a start, he realized that one of them was Dumbledore. He stood up to see better.
They seemed to be having some sort of discussion, most of it focused on Hagrid, who had come outside and was now standing in front of his door like he’d planted himself in the trenches for battle. Things looked like they were getting heated until Dumbledore stepped forward and put a hand on Hagrid’s arm. The large gamekeeper deflated and trudged into his hut, followed by roughly half of the visitors, including Dumbledore.
One of them, a pudgy man in a cape and bowler hat, darted back out again a moment later and, while Harry was too far away to see his expression, he seemed frightened. Harry grinned, wondering what sort of creature Hagrid had inside his hut. It wasn’t a three-headed dog, Hagrid had said, but Harry figured that whatever it was, it would hardly be normal.
He wished that he’d taken the time to pester Hagrid more. He wanted to know what it was that had everyone so upset. Maybe another guard animal, like Fluffy? Although Harry couldn’t imagine what anyone could need another beast like that for—unless it was Gringotts? No, Harry thought, if those people were from Gringotts, surely there’d be some goblins with them…
Harry kept watching and, eventually, Hagrid came back outside. Dumbledore came with him, but most of the other people stayed. Two of them—the pudgy, frightened man, and someone tall in a black cape—walked off in the other direction, away from Hogwarts, but Dumbledore and Hagrid started back towards the castle. Dumbledore had his hand on the much larger man’s back and seemed to be comforting Hagrid, whose head was bowed. Harry watched them pass, debating whether or not to run over and find out what was going on, but the idea of interrupting Dumbledore was too intimidating.
Harry settled back down under the tree and closed his eyes, enjoying the sunshine. He opened them at the sound of a loud splash and a startled yelp.
Harry grinned. It seemed that the Giant Squid had finally noticed Goyle.
That week-end when Harry announced that he was going down to Hagrid’s, Draco actually offered to come along. Harry didn’t think that Draco’s presence would help him coax an explanation out of Hagrid, but he couldn’t think of a way to refuse that wouldn’t be rude and anyway, he’d been hoping to show Draco how brilliant Hagrid was all year. Maybe this would be his chance.
Crabbe and Goyle were told not to come; they obeyed readily, perfectly content to stick with their attempts at crafting a Chocolate Frog Death Match rather than march all the way down to the gamekeeper’s hut. No one else in the common room seemed to think their efforts were likely to come to much of anything, but that hadn’t stopped several people from gathering around to watch the endeavor.
Harry was surprised that Draco wasn't staying to officiate, and said as much. Draco shrugged, saying that it was much nicer outside, and chocolate frogs were boring, anyway.
It was actually gray and misty outside—not miserable, but hardly sunny—but Harry refrained from pointing that out. It was true that chocolate frogs hardly ever managed more than one jump. Draco was probably just bored with their friends' rather feeble attempt at inventing a new game.
Harry led the way to Hagrid’s, chattering about slugs and pumpkins and Fang; Draco looked less sure of his decision to accompany Harry when he mentioned the large and very slobbery boarhound, but he didn’t turn back.
“Hey, Hagrid!” Harry called, knocking on the door. “You around?”
There was no answer and Harry frowned. He was getting tired of seeing this door closed all the time. “Hagrid! Hello?” he shouted, louder.
Draco, looking bored already, wandered off to examine Hagrid’s garden with a less-than-impressed smirk.
“I’m going to check inside,” Harry announced, walking around the hut and looking for an unshuttered window.
Contrary to the last time he had been down here, they all were; not just the shutters but the curtains were pulled back. Harry stood on his toes and peered in the nearest one, squinting to make out the darker interior.
He grinned when he spotted Hagrid, then frowned. The large man was sitting slumped across the table, a huge, upturned mug next to him. The rest of the table was cluttered with a basket of fruit, the copper kettle, a carving knife, a bit of official-looking parchment that Harry couldn’t make out the writing on, and several bottles. From the way his beard fluttered, Hagrid seemed to be snoring.
Fang was sprawled across his master’s heavy boots, likewise snoring and snuffling. His tail was bandaged but he looked perfectly content now, drooling all over Hagrid’s huge feet. He kicked a little in his sleep but aside from that, neither figure moved. Harry stepped back from the window, chewing on his lip. He glanced sideways but Draco had turned to watch a cluster of birds that had broken out, suddenly, of the Forbidden Forest, and he didn’t seem to have seen anything of Hagrid or Fang.
Harry decided that this probably wasn’t the best time to introduce Draco to either of them, and called loudly to his friend, “I don’t think he’s here right now.” He searched his pockets and came up with a scrap of parchment. “I’m going to leave him a note,” he announced. Draco shrugged disinterestedly.
Harry plucked a piece of charred wood from the firepit in Hagrid’s back garden and managed to use it to write what he hoped would be a legible message. He tucked the parchment into the crack at the bottom of Hagrid’s door and stood back, brushing charcoal dust off his hands.
“Okay,” he said, “all done.”
“Great,” said Draco. “Come on, let’s see if those two idiots have managed to squash all their frogs yet.”
“Okay,” Harry said, and followed Draco back up to the castle. He glanced back once over his shoulder, but there was still no movement from Hagrid’s hut. Harry frowned.
The next morning Hedwig brought him an answering note at breakfast, but it was terse and unsatisfactory:
Sorry I missed you. Must have been out doing something. Got lots of things that need tending to, you know. Funny stuff in the forest, too. And Dumbledore relies on me. Great man, Dumbledore, I owe him a lot especially now. Really owe him.
You have to be careful, Harry, because sometimes even when you really, really want something, you know you shouldn’t have it, and you can make trouble for people you shouldn’t ever trouble. Just be careful, Harry, always.
And sorry, but I can’t tell you what all those people were doing here. Dumbledore reckons it’s best if I don’t say anything, since a lot of people were upset with me, and I would be in an awful lot of trouble if Dumbledore hadn’t stepped in, and I wouldn’t want anyone to think I hadn’t learned my lesson. Dumbledore’s a great man, Harry, you make sure you always do what he tells you to.
Come see me again soon, Hagrid
Harry scowled and crumpled the parchment in his hand. That wasn’t an answer at all!
He saw Draco looking at him curiously, but the others didn’t seem to have noticed that he’d even gotten mail. Everyone else was too excited about the imminent Quidditch match. It was Slytherin’s final match of the year, and they were anticipating a victory over Hufflepuff. That would set them up nicely for their seventh straight Cup, so long as Ravenclaw managed to beat Gryffindor on the sixth of June.
Harry stuffed the annoying bit of parchment into his pocket and shook his head at his friend. Draco shrugged and turned back to his animated debate with Daphne Greengrass. She was insisting furiously that there was no way the Slytherin Seeker ought to play, since she had overheard from several older girls that some sort of school fortuneteller had predicted a gruesome demise for Higgs before the end of the match, should he dare set foot on the pitch.
Draco thought this was barking, and he lost no time in saying so.
Harry drummed his fingers on the table, glaring pointlessly at his eggs and sausages, and decided that if Hagrid didn’t want to tell him what was going on, then he, Harry, didn’t care.
“Yeah, but Seekers always have to run risks,” he said loudly, jumping into the argument.
“There’s risks and then there’s foretold,” Daphne said haughtily. “Big difference.”
“Or fore-bribed,” Draco scoffed, unimpressed. “Who’s to say the Hufflepuffs didn’t pay the old bat to make that prediction to try and fluster Higgs and keep him from playing?”
“Hufflepuffs?” Daphne asked scornfully.
Harry had to admit that that seemed no more likely than the prediction itself.
Draco shrugged. “Or the Gryffindors,” he amended. “They’d love to see anyone beat us, now that they’ve lost their chance to do so.”
Everyone sniggered at that, remembering the way all the Gryffindors had moped around the castle for weeks after Slytherin had defeated them in the opening match of the year. Any time a Gryffindor player came within earshot, the Slytherins would make loud bets about whether the team captain, Oliver Wood, was going to end his misery by pitching himself off the Astronomy Tower or throw himself to the giant squid instead.
Harry thought that was pretty mean, but couldn’t deny how thrilled he was that Slytherin was now so close to taking the Quidditch Cup for another year. He focused on that instead of on unsatisfactory explanations, and allowed his friends to distract him from the puzzle of Hagrid’s mysterious visitors.
Later that night, when Slytherin was boisterously celebrating their victory over Hufflepuff, Harry thought that he couldn’t remember ever being happier. He had friends again, his house was almost a shoe-in to win the Cup, and he didn’t care at all what Hagrid was up to down in his stupid old hut. Besides, somehow Crabbe had ended up with a bottle of something that the older students had been passing around, and now he was belting out a horribly off-key rendition of a song about goblins that Harry had never heard before, but that everyone else seemed to recognize despite its lyrical butchering.
Harry sniggered, along with everyone else. He felt pleasantly warm and fizzy all over, tired but too excited to go to sleep.
Even Blaise Zabini was smiling again, although not at Harry.
Everything was brilliant.
Harry had just settled down into a limp pile of general good will in a chair in front of the fire when the door suddenly ground open. It hadn’t slammed, of course—it wasn’t so much a door as it was an opening in the stone wall that only formed when one said the proper password, much like the entrance to Diagon Alley—but the sudden appearance of the towering, black-clad figure in the gap somehow made it seem like a door had slammed, somewhere.
Their jocularity abruptly faltered.
Harry swallowed hard and struggled to sit up in his high-backed chair.
Several people anxiously shushed less observant friends. Draco poked Crabbe hard in the side and the burly boy shut up with a strangled hiccough. The last sound Harry heard before a ringing silence filled their dungeon room was a shrill, out-of-place peal of laughter. By then everyone else was staring at the intruder:
Professor Severus Snape, Potions Master and Head of Slytherin House.
Snape’s cold black eyes glittered as he scanned the common room. Even the Quidditch team—heroes of the hour—fidgeted under his scrutiny.
Harry tried to disappear into his chair.
“Well, well,” Snape said quietly. “What a celebration.”
Marcus Flint, the Slytherin team captain, struggled through the crowd. “I can explain, sir,” he panted, stumbling to a halt in front of the ominous professor. Flint looked flush-cheeked and bleary-eyed and Harry would have bet all the galleons in his pocket that whatever it was that had inspired Crabbe to start singing, Flint had drunk his fair share of as well.
“Not necessary,” Snape cut him off. His raised eyebrow was a threat. “Just see to it that it comes to an end,” he ordered. “Now.”
“Yes, sir,” Flint said quickly, nodding hard, then wincing at the motion.
Snape pursed his lips. “Very good,” he said. He turned to leave, paused, and added grudgingly, “and well done today.” He nodded curtly at his students, then swept from the room.
Harry wasn’t the only one to breathe a sigh of relief when the stone wall became solid again. He bolted straight for his dormitory, just in case Snape came back.
Despite their high spirits, none of the rest of the Slytherins were eager to disobey Snape, either, and the common room emptied quickly.
It might have just been the stress of exams, but Harry’s Christmas nightmares were back. This time they were accompanied by dull, searing pains along his scar. His friends were full of useful and not-so-useful advice, from Theodore’s suggestion of a mandrake tincture to Goyle’s seemingly well-intentioned offer to kick him in the shins every time his scar hurt, to distract him.
Crabbe told him to go see Madame Pomfrey, but Harry didn’t want to look like a sissy, and stubbornly insisted that he didn’t need to go to hospital, it wasn’t that bad. Crabbe told him to stop whining, then, but Draco told him to shut-up and Crabbe stomped off to sulk for awhile. He bullied a scrawny third year boy into trading him something cool for his beat-up gobstones set, and rejoined the others much more cheerfully, full of breezy apologies at Malfoy’s prompting.
Draco’s suggestion that Harry talk to Snape about his scar was even less welcome than Goyle’s suggestion of shin-kicking. Snape might well be Draco’s favorite professor, and Draco was certainly his favorite student, but Harry was pretty sure that the Potions Master absolutely loathed him, and he wasn’t about to go beg help from him, even if he was their head of house. Snape wasn’t so much the tender, ministering type, anyway.
Theodore pointed out that it probably made more sense to see Quirrell, since Harry’s scar was from a curse, and Quirrell was the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, which meant that it fell under his purview even more than it did Madame Pomfrey’s.
Harry liked the sound of that, particularly as it meant he didn’t have to talk to Snape, so he trudged upstairs to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Harry hadn’t been alone in there since his almost mortally ill-fated detention, but of course it wasn’t like Quirrell had tried to kill him. And even if he would prefer someone braver than Quirrell at his side if he ever had to face a troll again, Harry figured that the professor would at least be as well-versed in curse marks and scars as Nott had suggested.
Harry knocked on the door. “Excuse me? Professor Quirrell? Are you in there, sir?” Harry chewed his lip, fighting second thoughts. “It’s Harry Potter,” he added, “I was hoping you could help me with something, if you’re not busy…”
The door swung open. Quirrell looked paler and thinner than he had yesterday. Harry frowned. “Are you okay, sir?” he asked.
Quirrell was twitching, but that wasn’t unusual. “Oh, yes, P-p-p-potter, p-p-perfectly f-fine, p-p-p-p-perfectly,” Quirrell stammered. He licked his lips and stared at Harry with oddly bright eyes.
Harry shifted uncomfortably. “I can come back later,” he offered.
“Nonsense!” Quirrell yelped. “C-c-c-come right in, Mister P-p-p-potter!”
Harry dodged around the tremulous professor, who shut the door quickly as if he was afraid of what might be lurking in the hallways. Quirrell led the way to the front of the room and motioned shakily for Harry to sit down.
Quirrell perched on the edge of his cluttered desk and looked down at Harry.
“What can I d-d-d-do for y-y-you, P-p-p-p…Potter?”
Harry picked at a scratch in his desk. “Well,” he said, “I’ve been having…funny dreams, and my scar…” Harry pushed his fringe back so that Quirrell could see the jagged lightning bolt that was the only reminder Harry had of the night he’d lost his parents. “My scar keeps hurting,” he said.
Quirrell twitched, his eyes flickering strangely. “Your scar?” he breathed, apparently too enraptured to stutter. His gaze was fixed on Harry’s forehead intensely enough to make Harry shift in his seat.
“Uh, yeah,” he said. “And I thought, well, since it was from a curse, maybe you would know—”
The door slammed open and both Harry and Quirrell jumped.
Harry spun around in his seat and gaped at the tall, furious figure of Professor Snape, framed in the doorway like a livid shadow. Snape glanced briefly at Harry, then focused on Quirrell, who had gone quite still.
“S-s-severus,” he stammered.
Snape’s lip curled in a sneer. “Quirinus,” he replied coldly.
“C-can I h-help you w-w-with anything, S-s-severus?”
“It seems your memory is slipping,” Snape said. He glided closer, his black robes dragging softly on the flagged stone floor. His eyes glittered and Harry fought an inexplicable urge to look down at his shoes. He swallowed hard when Snape stopped right next to his desk. “I thought I had made the matter of Mister Potter perfectly clear.”
“Y-yes, Severus, o-of course,” Quirrell began.
“You haven’t forgotten what we discussed, then?” Snape asked mildly.
“N-no, n-not at—at all,” Quirrell gasped, shrinking back against his desk.
Harry weighed the odds of slipping out of the room unnoticed.
“Good,” said Snape, speaking through barred teeth.
“Potter!” Snape barked, and Harry jumped.
“Y-yes, professor?” he yelped, stuttering just like Quirrell.
“I believe you have one last exam to study for, do you not?” Snape asked.
“Uh, yes, sir,” said Harry.
“Then I suggest you see to that.”
Harry gulped. “Um, but I was—”
“Yes?” Snape hissed.
“Uh,” said Harry, “nothing.” He scrambled to his feet. “Um, excuse me, professor,” he said to Quirrell. “Sir,” he nodded quickly at Snape and bolted for the door. A glance over his shoulder showed Quirrell watching him closely until the black cloud of Snape’s robes moved between them.
Harry ran for it.
When he got back to the common room, he just said that Quirrell hadn’t had time to see him. His friends were all busy studying for their History of Magic exam tomorrow, so no one asked him further questions, although Draco did suggest that Harry see Madame Pomfrey for a note excusing him from the exam, on the basis of scar-pains and lack of sleep.
Harry didn't see what good that would do; he’d still have to take the exam eventually, and the longer he waited, the more he was sure he would forget.
When he said as much Draco just shrugged and said, “suit yourself,” before dropping back into his textbook.
Even Crabbe and Goyle had their notes open, although Goyle’s eyes had glazed over and he was just staring stupidly into space, while Crabbe had absently chewed his quill to pieces and was now spitting out bits of feather.
Harry rubbed his scar and tried to concentrate.
The exam, when it finally came, seemed to last far longer than the single hour allotted. When the ghost of Professor Binns told them to put down their quills and roll up their parchment, Harry couldn’t help cheering with the rest.
They had a whole week, now, a whole wonderful week of absolutely nothing at all until their exam results came out. Nerves fluttered in Harry’s stomach but he pushed them aside; this was no time to worry about how he’d done on his tests.
The first years joined the crowds flocking out onto the sunny grounds. Harry could hear Hermione behind him pestering Weasley about the test questions, but the last thing Harry wanted to do right now was think about anything else relating to History of Magic, so he put on a bit of speed to catch up with Draco instead of turning around to talk to the Gryffindor girl.
Three other Gryffindors were tickling the tentacles of the giant squid, who seemed to like them a lot more than it had Goyle. Harry and the Slytherins cut a wide berth around the two red-headed boys and their dark-skinned friend; those were the Weasley twins, and Harry had been successfully dodging them for months. The last thing he wanted to do was pop up into their line of vision now that the distraction of exams had just ended, especially with his scar twinging.
“Would you stop that?” Draco snapped.
Harry dropped his hand from his forehead. “Sorry,” he said.
“If it still hurts, go see Quirrell again. Or better yet, tell Snape.”
Harry shook his head. “It’s fine,” he said. “Besides, they’re probably busy grading right now, I don’t want to bother them.”
“Then for Merlin’s sake go see Madame Pomfrey and have her give you something,” Draco said tetchily. “You’re making me twitchy.”
“Sorry,” Harry said again. He laid back on the grass and watched the clouds move over head. He was careful to keep his hands at his sides. Harry watched an owl flutter towards the school across the bright blue sky, a note clamped in its mouth. Hagrid was the only one who ever sent him letters.
He hadn’t spoken to the tall gamekeeper since his unsatisfactory letter last month. Harry wondered how Hagrid was doing and felt a pang of guilt for not asking sooner.
He had just about made up his mind to go and visit him when Goyle dug a deck of cards out of his school bag and challenged them all to Exploding Snap.
Plenty of time to go see Hagrid next week, Harry reassured himself. Without exams or classes to get in the way, he’d have all the time in the world.
“Okay,” Harry said, “deal them out, then.”
It was after midnight when Harry suddenly woke, screaming.
Harry blinked then squinted against the light. What light?
His room was well beneath the castle, and the lights that hung there were soft and vaguely greenish, so what was in his eyes? It seemed like sunlight.
Grimacing, Harry cracked his eyes open and saw that it was sunlight after all: the pale, watery kind that one finds when one wakes up far too early in the morning.
Harry groaned and rolled over and only then realized that he was not in his own bed.
He looked around, bewildered, at what had to be the hospital wing. How had he gotten here, and why? Harry frowned and tried to remember, but came up with nothing but a big, black blur. He sat up and winced. His head was throbbing! His scar prickled, too, but not as badly as it had been.
Harry scrubbed his eyes, still blinking at the unusual sunlight. He saw the pale lump of Draco Malfoy curled up asleep in a chair next to the bed. “Morning,” said Harry.
Draco woke with a start, scrambling out of his chair. “Morning,” he gasped. He looked shaky and disheveled.
“What happened?” Harry asked.
“Dunno,” muttered Draco. “You just woke up screaming, and then you passed out.”
“I did what?” Harry said.
Harry frowned. “Weird,” he said. “How long was I asleep?”
“All yesterday,” Draco told him. “There was some kind of fight, too.”
“What? With who?”
“Dunno,” Draco said again. “Rumor says it was teachers.” He kept shifting back and forth, refusing to meet Harry’s eyes.
“Really?” Harry gasped. “Was it—was it Snape or Quirrell? Were they after the, the thing?”
Draco shrugged. “Nobody’s saying,” he replied. “But something happened.”
“Wow,” said Harry.
“I wasn’t worried about you,” Draco added, “by the way. It’s just, Crabbe and Goyle are really boring. So I’m glad you’re better.” Then he turned and fled.
Harry was only left gaping for a moment before another visitor came in: It was Dumbledore himself, looking solemn but alert despite the early hour.
“Feeling better, Harry?” he asked.
Harry nodded. “Yes sir, thanks,” he said. “Please, what happened?”
Dumbledore didn’t answer, but settled himself comfortably in the chair that Draco had so quickly vacated. He smiled, more to himself than to Harry, and picked up a licorice wand from the table next to Harry’s bed. There were a few other mounds of candy on it, and a card covered in what looked like Hermione’s small, neat handwriting. Dumbledore toyed with the wand a moment and then looked at Harry, his blue eyes sparkling.
“Misters Crabbe and Goyle, seemingly distrustful of the sort of nutrition that one might encounter in hospital, wanted to make certain that you would be properly fed and sugared,” he explained, offering the licorice to Harry.
Harry took the candy politely but didn’t start eating. He was too curious to be hungry. “That was nice,” he said, trying not to show that he was itching with impatience.
“They seemed quite concerned for you,” Dumbledore said, “although not, I must hasten to add, so distressed that they neglected to carefully make certain that everything was suitable for your eventual consumption.”
Harry couldn’t help but grin. “Right,” he said. He spotted several empty wrappers in the small rubbish bin tucked under the table. One would never be poisoned by contaminated sweets with Crabbe and Goyle around.
“As far as Mister Malfoy goes, if he seemed unusually grumpy,” Dumbledore continued, “then it was probably my fault. I interfered, you see, with his plan to sneak in and visit you with the aide of a certain garment.” Dumbledore’s eyes positively danced over the gold rims of his half-moon spectacles.
Harry grinned, then asked worriedly, “did anyone—”
“It was I who caught Mister Malfoy,” Dumbledore interrupted, “and allowed him in anyway. I did take the liberty of confiscating that rather magnificent cloak, but only to return it safely to your trunk, where it will be awaiting your recovery.”
“Brilliant,” said Harry, relaxing. “Thanks, sir.”
“You are quite welcome, Harry,” said Dumbledore.
“Um, sir?” asked Harry.
“Can I, um…can I ask what happened?”
“Certainly,” replied Dumbledore. The merriness faded from his eyes and he gazed at Harry solemnly. “It was Professor Quirrell, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “He tried to take the Stone.”
“The—the what, sir?”
“Ah,” said Dumbledore. Harry got the feeling that for some reason, the headmaster was disappointed with him. But Dumbledore just pulled his glasses off and began polishing them with the hem of his sleeve as he calmly explained:
“You recall, I am sure, that the third floor corridor was off-limits to students this year?”
“Yes sir,” said Harry. He hesitated, then decided to trust Dumbledore; he hadn’t yelled at him about the Mirror, after all. “It’s because whatever Hagrid took out of Vault 713—that day when he took me to Diagon Alley?—that’s where it was hidden, right?”
“Yes, Harry,” said Dumbledore. “That is precisely what was hidden there.”
“What was it?” Harry asked eagerly.
“Something very dangerous, that might well have enabled Lord Voldemort to return to power, if he had been able to get his hands on it.”
Harry’s jaw dropped open.
“Fortunately,” Dumbledore continued, “both he and Quirrell found themselves unable to bypass all of the myriad levels of spells and protections that had been put in place to prevent such a theft.”
“Like Fluffy,” Harry muttered, without thinking. He clapped a hand over his mouth, horrified. He hadn’t meant to get Hagrid into any trouble!
But Dumbledore was still smiling. “Indeed,” he said. “Your friend Hagrid was gracious enough to provide his large friend, Fluffy, to assist myself and the teachers with our protective measures.”
“But Quirrell figured out how to get past him?” Harry asked.
Dumbledore nodded. His face had gone very grave and suddenly tired. “I’m afraid so,” he said slowly, “and quite nearly got Hagrid into a lot of trouble in the process.”
“What did he do?” Harry asked.
But this time Dumbledore shook his head firmly. “That is a matter that I will not discuss without Hagrid’s permission,” the headmaster said. “He is quite embarrassed about the whole affair, and I will not breech his confidence by repeating the story.”
“That’s fair,” said Harry, disappointed. “So, Quirrell got past Fluffy?” he prompted.
“Professor Quirrell was able to breach all the layers of enchantments, actually, save for the very last one,” Dumbledore obligingly continued. “That one was my own devising, and if I may boast a bit, one of my more brilliant ideas, which between you and me, is saying something.” Dumbledore was smiling again. “Although I am afraid that that clever mirror you were so captivated by has been broken.”
“What?” cried Harry. “The Mirror of Erised?”
“Yes,” Dumbledore nodded, “that was where I had hidden the object of Voldemort’s desire, and in his frustrated attempts to remove it from the mirror, he eventually shattered the whole thing.”
“Oh,” said Harry. Cold disappointment curled in his gut. He hadn’t gone looking for the mirror again, but he hadn’t been entirely able to forget it, either. He had always hoped that he might see it again someday; it, and his parents within it.
“Fortunately, before either Quirrell or his master could devise some way of besting the enchantment anyway—”
“You mean—you mean Volde—sorry, You-Know-Who—he was in the castle?” Harry interrupted, wide-eyed.
“Call him Voldemort, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”
“Yes, sir. But he was—”
“In the castle, yes.” Dumbledore sighed. “I am afraid that Voldemort was here all year, in a manner of speaking.”
“It seems that Professor Quirrell had encountered Lord Voldemort at some point during his travels, and become loyal to him, even to the extent of allowing what was left of Voldemort to share his body and lifeforce.”
“Ew,” said Harry.
Dumbledore chuckled. “Quite,” he said.
“So he was, what…part of Quirrell?”
“Exactly,” said Dumbledore.
“Ew,” Harry repeated, louder. He ate some licorice wand after all, to chase away the sour taste that revelation had left in his mouth.
“So what happened to them?” Harry asked. “To Quirrell, and You-Know—sorry—Voldemort?”
“As I was saying, they were interrupted while attempting to disenchant the mirror. Professor Snape had been keeping an eye on Quirrell for me all year—I may not have realized how, shall we say, closely he was serving Voldemort,” Dumbledore’s smirk was wry, “but I was at least clever enough to notice his newly sinister motives, and take a few precautions.” His smile faded. “If I had known that Voldemort himself was with Quirrell, of course, I would have taken more, but as it was…” Dumbledore shrugged. “Well, Professor Snape managed to prevent Quirrell from causing too much harm during the year—”
“The troll!” Harry suddenly exclaimed. “And the music box! Did he—?”
Dumbledore nodded. “It would seem so,” he said.
Harry’s mind whirled. “So, Snape stopped him?”
“Professor Snape, Harry, and yes. He confronted Quirrell—”
“And they fought?”
“If you keep interrupting me, Harry, I will never get the story told,” Dumbledore said gently, “and I do have a great many other things to do today.”
Dumbledore smiled. “Well,” he said, “they did indeed fight. Professors McGonagall and Flitwick noticed the commotion and joined in on the duel as well. Quirrell, even with the assistance of his master, was quite unable to overcome the three of them. Even with my absence—”
“Absence?” exclaimed Harry. “Where were you—sorry,” he stopped himself quickly.
The corner of Dumbledore’s mouth twitched slightly, but he pretended that he hadn’t heard Harry’s interjection. “Even with my absence,” Dumbledore continued, “I do believe that the both of them might well have been apprehended, were it not for a rather unfortunate stroke of luck.”
Harry sat up higher in the bed. He bit his lip to keep from speaking.
“One of Professor Snape’s spells backfired, I’m afraid,” Dumbledore explained, “and what ought to have incapacitated Professor Quirrell instead caused Voldemort himself to quite nearly manifest. A dreadful surprise to all those present, you can imagine. I do believe that it was the shock of that manifestation that so affected you, Harry.”
“Why?” Harry asked.
“Very powerful curses—such as those which Voldemort uses to kill—can leave lingering effects,” he said, his eyes traveling the length of Harry’s scar. “Haven’t you found?”
Harry absently rubbed his scar, thinking of the way it had been burning these last few weeks. He nodded.
“Fortunately,” Dumbledore added, “it is not only Dark Magic which can have a lasting impact.”
“What do you mean?” Harry asked.
Dumbledore smiled. “You’ll find out for yourself, someday,” he said, “I have no doubt.”
Harry frowned. “Okay,” he grumbled. He knew it would be no good to argue. “But what happened to Quirrell?” he asked, “and Voldemort?”
“When I returned to Hogwarts,” Dumbledore told him, “Voldemort knew that he was lost, and he fled, abandoning Quirrell, who did not survive his master’s departure. Their forms and life-forces were too entwined by this point.”
“So he just—left Quirrell to die?”
“Loyalty,” Dumbledore said solemnly, “to Voldemort, while something that he demands from his followers, is not a trait that he himself has ever shown any evidence of.”
Harry frowned. “So, wait—he got away?” he asked.
“In a manner of speaking,” said Dumbledore, “yes. Not being truly alive, he cannot be killed. However, while his return to power may have been only delayed, if he is delayed again, and again, then he may never achieve his resurrection at all.”
“But how was he going to?” Harry asked. “How could whatever it was—a stone of some sort?—how could that help him come back? What was it?”
Dumbledore smiled kindly. “I’m afraid that that is a matter between myself and a very old friend,” he said gently. His warm tones sounded to Harry almost sad, as if he had just been let down by something. The twinkling blue eyes that peered down at Harry over the headmaster’s half-moon glasses seemed to be trying to tell him something. “Would you like a chocolate frog?” Dumbledore asked mildly. “I find their good-natured exertions always cheer me up when I’m feeling a bit low.”
Harry thanked Dumbledore politely and pulled open the wrapper. The frog gave a feeble little croak and hopped down out of Harry’s hands. He caught it quickly before it could get chocolate smears on the bed sheets and bring the wrath of Madame Pomfrey down upon them all. The wizard card that came tucked in with the frog fluttered out. Harry looked down and saw Dumbledore’s kind, wise old face staring up at him.
“Look professor, it’s you!” he exclaimed.
But when he looked up, grinning, Dumbledore was gone. Harry looked back down at the picture on the card but it, too, was empty and he was once more alone.
Madame Pomfrey made Harry stay for several more hours, despite his vehement and pleading protestations. She was worried that he might have a relapse. Nothing Harry said—including an admittedly garbled recounting of Professor Dumbledore’s explanation of curses—could dissuade the hospital matron from her decision.
He was at least allowed visitors, although Draco did not return—which meant that neither Crabbe nor Goyle showed up, either. Hermione stopped in although once Harry explained about his scar and Voldemort, she scolded him for not speaking to someone about it sooner.
"I tried to!" Harry exclaimed, "but Snape interrupted -- and good thing, because Quirrell had Voldemort hiding inside him, remember?"
Hermione got rather grumpy at that and began to lecture him, so Harry pretended he was tired and she went away again. He almost immediately regretted it, because even a stuffy lecture from Hermione Granger was preferable to idling around all alone in the hospital wing -- mostly.
But then things got better, because Hagrid came in, and Hagrid felt so badly about Harry being in hospital that he finally told him everything he’d been keeping secret:
The animal had been a dragon, and it had been Quirrell (and Voldemort) who had given him the egg, in the process learning how to get past Fluffy—Hagrid felt so guilty over that that he actually cried a little, which made Harry more uncomfortable than his scar had—and since it was illegal to own dragons, the Ministry had come calling when someone (probably Quirrell) had leaked word of its presence, and Dumbledore had only barely been able to smooth things over.
Hagrid had been forced to give the dragon up, however, which he was still terribly sad about.
He had named it Norbert.
And he said that, to apologize to Harry for keeping secrets, he was putting together a present for him. It was a secret, too, but in this case, a good one, Hagrid promised.
“Brilliant, Hagrid,” Harry said, “thanks. You don’t have to do that, though--”
“No,” Hagrid said, shaking his head so hard that Harry was afraid he was going to hurt himself. “I owe yeh, and yer outta have somethin’ like this anyway.”
“Something like what?” Harry asked, but Hagrid refused to say.
Harry finally got out of the hospital just in time to run to the Great Hall and swallow some food before the final Quidditch match of the year got started.
“I’m here!” he gasped, sliding onto the bench next to Draco.
“About time,” Draco complained.
“Talk to Pomfrey,” Harry grumbled. “She barely let me out as is.”
Then Harry didn’t say anything else because he was busy eating as fast as he could.
“So did the old coot tell you what really happened?” Draco asked. “Snape won’t say anything.”
Harry frowned at Dumbledore being called an “old coot,” but nodded.
“Great,” Draco said, “you can tell us all the details -- after the match. We haven’t got time now.”
Harry nodded, trying to indicate without pausing to speak that he knew how late they were running. Even Crabbe and Goyle, for once, looked eager to get up from the table, although that hadn’t stopped them from continuing to nibble while they waited for Harry.
Draco drummed on the table impatiently. “Hurry up!” he said. “We’re not going to be able to get good seats.”
“Mmumph,” Harry replied, his mouth full.
Draco turned to the tall boy sitting next to him. “Crabbe,” he ordered, “go ahead down and save us spots. Right up front!”
“Right.” Crabbe nodded and raced off, as eager to get to the pitch as the rest of them. Goyle stood up. “Where are you going?” Draco snapped, and he sat back down again.
“Finished!” Harry gasped, bolting half a glass of pumpkin juice. He scrambled off the bench, Draco just a beat behind. Goyle jumped back to his feet and they all ran out of the castle.
“Thanks -- for waiting,” Harry gasped. “And thanks -- for the -- candy,” he added to Goyle.
Goyle grunted back and then they were shoving their way through the crowds, trying to find Crabbe. Having Goyle with them certainly made that part easier. Even fifth year students got out of his way. Harry was glad that Draco had stopped him from running off with Crabbe. He and Draco would have never been able to fight their way through this crowd alone.
Nearly the entire castle was already in the stands, and the rest of them seemed to be quickly coming to join in. This was the last Quidditch match of the year, and everything depended on it. If Ravenclaw won, Slytherin would take the cup. But if Gryffindor won, it would come down to a matter of points. They would have to beat Ravenclaw by an immense score to overtake Slytherin’s lead, but stranger things had happened in Quidditch.
Harry crossed his fingers and crowded against the rail. “Come on,” he muttered, squinting at the tiny figures on their brooms, “come on…”
“AND THEY’RE OFF!”
Harry still felt like cheering two days later when the whole school assembled in the Great Hall for the end-of-year feast. It was decked out in the Slytherin colors of green and silver to celebrate their winning the house cup for the eighth year in a row. A huge banner showing the Slytherin serpent covered the wall behind the High Table.
Harry smiled widely at everyone, even the Weasley twins, who scowled back. The Gryffindors had won their match, but were still stewing in bitter defeat, because Slytherin had taken the cup anyway.
Up at the High Table with the other teachers, Snape for once actually seemed pleased. He was smirking in a very satisfied way, despite the fact that he still had several half-healed slashes down the side of his face and he was, once again, limping. McGonagall and Flitwick likewise showed signs of their recent duel with Quirrell-and-Voldemort, although their spirits were much lower than Snape’s, especially McGonagall’s.
Harry gave his head of house a cheery wave and Snape’s smile abruptly vanished. He looked at Harry as coolly as if he had never seen him before; as if he hadn’t saved his life once if not twice this past year. Harry faltered. He had expected the Potions Master’s animosity to fade now that he was no longer spending every spare moment skulking about, spying on Quirrell, but Snape didn’t seem to have changed a bit. He pointedly turned away from Harry.
Oh well, Harry thought, and poured himself some pumpkin juice.
He looked up as a buzz ran through the crowd: Dumbledore had arrived. The babble died away.
“Another year gone!” Dumbledore said cheerfully. “And I must trouble you with an old man’s wheezing waffle before we sink our teeth into our delicious feast. What a year it has been! Hopefully your heads are all a little fuller than they were…you have the whole summer to get them nice and empty before next year starts…
“Now, as I understand it, the house cup here needs awarding, and the points stand thus: In fourth place, Hufflepuff, with three hundred and twenty-nine; in third, Ravenclaw has three hundred and eighty-seven; Gryffindor with four hundred and twelve; and Slytherin, at four hundred and ninety-one, takes the cup.”
A storm of cheering and stamping broke out from Harry’s housemates. He actually stood up to clap, then was lifted off his feet when Goyle hugged him. Draco banged his goblet on the table and even Theodore applauded wildly.
“Yes, yes, well done, Slytherin,” Dumbledore said, “and congratulations to everyone on an impressive showing. However, if you will permit me, I feel the need to take a moment to make you all aware of something even more impressive:
Dumbledore seemed to be looking right at Harry as he spoke. “You have all worked together marvelously within your own houses to achieve your justly outstanding scores this year,” he said, “but even more remarkable is what one can accomplish when one reaches beyond the narrow borders of house-unity to encompass the entire school -- or even beyond that, to the rest of this world.
“No doubt all of you have heard the several and varied rumors that have been making the rounds of the school these past few days,” Dumbledore continued with a bright twinkle in his eyes and a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. “Rather than deny you all the joys of ferreting out the truth -- and the far more amusing falsehoods -- by boring you with the lengthy details, I will say merely that we owe a great debt of gratitude to several of our teachers today, all of whom put aside any thoughts of house pride or division to work together in a very dangerous, very important situation.”
Harry wasn’t the only one whose eye wandered between Snape, McGonagall, and Flitwick.
“I feel confident in saying,” the headmaster went on quietly, “that if they had not risen so impressively to the trial, we would all of us be in a very different world right now; a world that I, for one, have no desire to discover. So!” Dumbledore stood up, and after some shuffling, the students stood with him. “Let us all raise a glass and have a cheer for Professors McGonagall, Snape, and Flitwick!
The cheering echoed off the high ceiling. Dumbledore clapped harder than anyone, staring fondly at his staff. Flitwick beamed and ducked beneath the table to wipe tears from his eyes. McGongall blushed all the way to her hairline and drank a lot of water very fast. Professor Sprout threw her arms around the tall, stern witch in a hug that caught McGonagall completely off guard. Sprout had to pound her several times on the back before she stopped choking. Snape’s lips twitched, once, in something that was nearly a smile, before he resumed his customary expression of cool disdain.
It was a long time before the cheering faded and they got around to eating any of the delicious feast.
Harry was on his way back to the common room and feeling very pleasantly tired and overstuffed when something very large and hairy blocked his path.
“Hi Hagrid!” Harry said, beaming up at the tall gamekeeper.
“Got yeh yer present,” Hagrid said, his cheeks red and his voice slurred. He fished inside the pockets of his great coat and came out with a handsome, leather-covered book, and two slumbering dormice. He tucked the dormice back into his pockets and handed the book to Harry.
He opened it curiously. It was full of wizarding photographs. Smiling and waving at him from every page were his mother and father.
“This…this is better than the mirror,” he stammered, not caring that the words wouldn’t make sense to anyone but he and Dumbledore.
“Sent owls off ter all yer parents’ old school friends, askin’ fer photos…knew yeh didn’ have any…d’yeh like it?”
Harry couldn’t speak, but Hagrid understood.
Harry had almost forgotten that the exam results were still to come, but come they did. To his great surprise, not only did he pass with good marks, but Crabbe and Goyle both scraped by as well. Draco had scored the best out of all the Slytherins, beating a very grumpy Theodore Nott by only two points, but it was of course Hermione Granger who had the best grades of all the first years, which made all the Slytherins very cross.
Draco smirked and said it was a shame that Longbottom hadn’t been thrown out over his potions scores, which made Harry feel vaguely guilty, although he couldn’t remember why.
And suddenly, their wardrobes were empty, their trunks were packed, Crabbe’s gobstones were scrounged up from under the furnishings; notes were handed out to all students, warning them not to use magic over the holidays; Hagrid was there to take them down to the fleet of boats that sailed across the lake; they were boarding the Hogwarts Express; talking and laughing as the countryside became greener and tidier; eating Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans as they sped past Muggle towns; pulling off their wizard robes and putting on jackets and coats; pulling into platform nine and three-quarters at King’s Cross Station.
It took quite a while for them to get off the platform. A wizened old guard was up by the ticket barrier, letting them go through the gates in twos and threes so they didn’t attract attention by all bursting out of a solid wall at once and alarming the Muggles.
“I wouldn’t mind giving them a fright,” Crabbe muttered, and they all laughed.
People jostled them as they moved forward toward the gateway back to the Muggle world. Crabbe and Goyle jostled back, and their quartet was soon treated more politely. Harry and Draco pushed through the gateway together, Crabbe and Goyle coming close on their heels.
“Draco!” Narcissa Malfoy descended on her son, catching his face with both her hands and planting several kisses on the top of his head. Draco rolled his eyes at Harry, who stifled a laugh into his sleeve.
Then he thought of the Dursleys, and of the mirror, and how it really wouldn’t be so bad to be embarrassed by your mother like that, even in front of everyone. Harry patted his trunk, thinking of the photo album inside, and smiled sort of wistfully.
Then Lucius Malfoy was shaking his hand, and Harry stammered as he tried to remember his manners, and wished that Draco’s father didn’t have quite so firm a grip.
“You’ll have to come and stay sometime this summer, Potter,” Draco declared haughtily. Harry almost managed not to notice the slight emphasis he placed on the surname, and the way he looked around to see who was listening. His parents’ eyes glittered.
“Brilliant,” said Harry, “I’ll need something to look forward to.”
“Right,” Draco said, wrinkling his nose, “the Muggles.”
“Ready, are you?”
It was Uncle Vernon, still purple-faced, still mustached, still looking furious at the nerve of Harry, carrying an owl in a cage in a station full of ordinary people. Behind him stood Aunt Petunia and Dudley, looking terrified at the very sight of Harry.
As one, the Malfoys stepped back, identical looks of sudden disgust on their pale faces. Mr. Malfoy sniffed disdainfully and tucked his hands in his sleeves, as if clasping a hidden wand. Mrs. Malfoy shuddered delicately and averted her eyes. Draco stared at Dudley like he’d never seen anything like him before, which was of course ridiculous, because he was really only a few inches wider than Goyle. But Goyle, of course, was a wizard, and Dudley was…well, Dudley.
“Potter’s Muggles, no doubt,” Mr. Malfoy murmured quietly. His lip curled in a sneer.
Draco’s mother put a hand to her chest as though she might be ill. Harry had never seen a look of such intense distaste as the one currently twisting Narcissa Malfoy’s pretty features. Her other hand clutched Draco’s shoulder protectively, perhaps to keep the Muggles from running off with him, or perhaps to prevent some sort of contamination should Draco be tempted to get too close. Harry saw, out of the corner of his eye, that Aunt Petunia was doing the same with Dudley.
Harry coughed into his sleeve instead of laughing.
Uncle Vernon carefully didn’t look at anyone, not even Harry. He kept his eyes fixed on a point just above Harry’s head. “Hurry up, boy,” he said, “we haven’t got all day.” He walked away.
Draco shook his head, wide-eyed. “You going to be all right with those…Muggles?” he asked dubiously.
“Oh, I’m sure I will,” said Harry, surprising everyone with the grin that was spreading over his face. “They don’t know we’re not allowed to use magic at home.”
Understanding dawned on Draco, and then on his parents; they shared a thin, pale smirk.
Harry mirrored the expression. “I’m going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer…”
Draco Malfoy’s sharp laughter followed him all the way to the parking lot.
----------------------------------------- And that's the end! At least of the first re-imagined, greenified book. Please do let me know what you thought!