*cringes* I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry! I really have meant to update, but I just haven't had the time - or inspiration - to do so! Thanks mostly to BabyShiro for reminding me of the angry mob that would be waiting outside my house if I didn't update soon. ^_^() As usual, the disclaimers apply. I might occasionally use direct quotes from the book, but this is only because JK said it better than I could re-phrase it. She has my deep respect (until the fifth book, but that's another story... was anyone else highly dissatisfied with it?), and I mean no harm by using her wonderful ideas! And now, on with the chapter... finally...

The excited chatter of students discussing their new classes greeted Harry as he stepped into the Great Hall. The conversations nearest him paused at the sight of the Boy-Who-Switched-To-Slytherin, but immediately resumed, too pressing to stay quiet for long.

Throwing a glance toward the Gryffindor table as he went, Harry quickly crossed the Hall to his seat with the other Slytherins. Blaise and Draco had yet to arrive, so he set his bag on the bench next to him and began to eat, sitting a little ways down from Vincent and Gregory. The two infamous bodyguards to Draco seemed to back off when Harry was around. Draco had suggested that they weren't used to Harry yet, but Harry thought that the two were a bit tired of following Draco around everywhere, even if he was their friend. Harry had just begun his second helpings of stew when Draco slid into place at his left, and Blaise to Draco's left. The two were still discussing Arithmancy.

"...can't see the point of class, yet, but my father assured me that it would be useful," the blonde was commenting.

"Yes, I can see how it would be, I think. Professor Vector's a bit dull, though, don't you think?" Blaise asked. Draco shrugged carelessly and ladled himself a bowl of stew.

Harry reached for the carrots. "Interesting class, then?" he said, glancing at the other two.

Blaise nodded and continued eating, but Draco raised an eyebrow. "Not particularly. How was your Divination lesson? I hear Trelawney's a bit batty."

Harry nodded. "You could say that. I'm the only one in the class, so-"

Draco interrupted, surprised. "The only one?" He frowned. "That doesn't make sense." He stabbed a carrot with his fork.

"She seems to think that other Slytherins' parents are afraid that she'll discover some dark family secret or another if their student attends her class." Harry's face darkened. "She told me that it wasn't a problem for me because I'm not a 'true' Slytherin," here Draco's eyes narrowed, "and because I haven't got any parents," Harry finished quietly.

Draco had stopped eating. "That was a cruel thing for her to say, Harry," he said darkly.

Harry smiled humorlessly. "You used to be quite fond of saying it, as I remember."

Draco's eyes locked with Harry's. "I know. I knew it would hurt you, and I wanted to hurt you then. But it is completely inappropriate for a teacher to make such a comment or to want to hurt a student in such a way." He laced his fingers together and rested his chin on them, now looking at nothing, but thinking. "Harry, have you ever spoken with her before? Has she any reason to dislike you?"

Harry shrugged. "Not that I know of." He picked up his spoon again and brought a bit of stew to his lips. "But I have a reason to dislike her, now, don't I?" He raised his eyebrows.

Draco smirked slightly and nodded. "Give her hell, Harry."

After lunch, Harry, Draco, Blaise, Vincent, and Gregory joined the rest of the Slytherins in heading to their next class, Care of Magical Creatures. The grass was damp from the previous day's rain, and the sky was a pale, cloudless gray behind the silhouette of Hogwarts castle. As they crossed the lawn to Hagrid's small cabin, Harry heard voices behind him and turned. He felt his heart sink. He hadn't remembered that they would be having these lessons with the Gryffindors. He noted with some surprise that Ron and Hermione were walking on opposite sides of the group, obviously upset with each other about something.

He shrugged mentally and turned back to Draco, who was laughing about something with Gregory and Vincent. He caught Draco's eye and tilted his head questioningly.

Draco smirked. "Wouldn't it be something if the great oaf's creatures ate Mrs. Norris?"

Harry frowned slightly at Draco's calling Hagrid a 'great oaf,' but he had to laugh. "Yes, it would. I'd like to see Filch try to hang Hagrid by his wrists, though!"

Draco caught the reference to the caretaker's threats in their first year and laughed.

As they approached the hut, Harry could see that Hagrid and Fang were waiting impatiently by the door.

"C'mon, now, get a move on!" he called. "Got a real treat for yeh today! Great lesson comin' up! Everyone here?" The Gryffindors had caught up to them by this time and were standing a little to one side. "Right, follow me!"

For a moment it seemed to Harry that Hagrid would lead them into the trees. He felt a wave of dread wash over him; he had no fond memories of the Forbidden Forest. Hagrid skirted the edge of it, however, and they followed him for about five minutes until they reached a paddock of sorts. Harry frowned. It was empty.

"Everyone gather 'round the fence here," Hagrid motioned. "That's it - make sure yeh can see - now, firs' thing, yeh'll want ter do is open yer books - "

"How?" Harry turned; it was Draco, whose voice had turned cold.

"Eh?" Hagrid glanced at the pale boy in surprise.

"How do we open our books?" Draco repeated, pulling his copy of The Monster Book of Monsters out of his bag. It was bound with a length of rope. Harry flushed and took his out as well, which he had belted shut at the beginning of the summer. He glanced around; others, too, had found ways to keep their books from biting them.

"Hasn' - hasn' anyone bin able ter open their books?" asked Hagrid, disappointed. "Yeh've got ter stroke 'em," he explained, seeming baffled that this hadn't occurred to any of them. "Look - " He took Hermione's copy from her and tore off the Spellotape around the cover. The book snapped at Hagrid, but he ran one finger down its spine and the book shivered, then fell open in his hand. He handed it back to Hermione

Harry bit back a snide remark, not wanting to hurt Hagrid's feelings, but Draco had no such qualms.

"Oh, how silly we've all been!" Draco exclaimed sarcastically. 'We should have stroked them! Why didn't we guess?"

Harry bit back a laugh and elbowed Draco, who quieted down disgustedly. In truth, Harry agreed with him, but he could see that Hagrid's confidence was waning.

"I - I thought they were funny," the giant man glanced uncertainly at Hermione.

"Draco," Harry said quietly, "I've always wondered. What do you have against Hagrid?"

Draco looked at Harry in amazement. "You don't know?"

Harry shook his head. "No. He's been nice to me ever since he rescued me from the Dursleys, and he was the first friend I had in the wizarding world. He's a bit odd, but perfectly friendly. But you didn't like him, even when you saw him outside Madam Malkin's that first day."

Hagrid was talking to the rest of the class, a bit downcast, but determined to have a good first lesson. "Righ' then," he continued, a bit less enthusiastically. "Yeh know how ter use yer books... Yeh need the Magical Creatures. I'll get 'em, so wait here fer a minute." He jogged into the forest and out of sight.

Draco was silent for a moment more. "I haven't got anything against the oaf himself. He's a fine fellow, I suppose, if a bit odd, as you say. But he's got to be related to the giants, Harry! Do you know anything about them? Binns mentioned the Giant Wars, but I don't suppose you heard about them growing up, of course." He frowned. "They killed so many of our people, Malfoys included. We were fighting against them, too," he added proudly. "And then, look at him! He's a groundskeeper at Hogwarts only because Dumbledore has a too big a heart. He should be in Azkaban, by all rights. Got into a bit of trouble in his third year, I heard, although my father wouldn't tell me exactly what about. He's been trouble, Harry. My father thinks he's a beast, like the dragons and such that he takes care of. He's never been as kind to me because he doesn't like my father." Harry decided not to point out that he didn't particularly like Lucius Malfoy, either. Draco didn't sound entirely convinced that Hagrid was so horrid as all that, but Harry couldn't exactly force his views on Draco. He just hoped that the two could learn to be civil to one another.

At that moment, a squeal came from someone in the Gryffindor group; he thought it was Lavender Brown, who was pointing into the woods. Harry leaned to see around Gregory and was met with a bizarre sight.

Hagrid was following into the paddock a dozen of the oddest creatures Harry had ever seen. They had the bodies, hind legs, and tails of horses, but the front legs, wings, and heads of what seemed to be giant eagles, with cruel, steel-colored beaks and large, brilliantly orange eyes. The talons on their front legs were half a foot long and deadly looking. Each of the beasts had a thick leather collar around its neck, which was attached to a long chain, and the ends of all of these were held in the vast hands of Hagrid, who was beaming.

"Gee up, there!" he hollered, shaking the chains. The beasts drew near to the fence where the students were. Everyone drew back slightly. Harry glanced at Draco, not entirely sure that he could come up with an argument defending Hagrid's taste in pets just then.

"Hippogriffs!" Hagrid grinned down at them, waving. "Beau'iful, aren' they?"

Harry, now slightly over the shock of the half horse, half bird creatures, grudgingly admitted that Hagrid was right. The hippogriffs' feathers gleamed and blended smoothly with the horse hair. Their colors were deep and true, ranging from grays to roans to blacks, each beautiful in its own way. He thought the talons were rather less than beautiful, however, and kept his distance from the fence warily.

"So," Hagrid rubbed his hands together, his eyes shining, "if yeh wan' ter come a bit nearer -"

Harry glanced around. The Slytherins weren't budging. Reluctantly, he took a few steps forward, not wanting to disappoint Hagrid too badly. He saw Ron and Hermione do the same, still not speaking to each other.

"Now, firs' thing yeh gotta know abou' hippogriffs is, they're proud," he cautioned them. "Easily offended, hippogriffs are. Don't never insult one, 'cause it might be the last thing yeh do."

Harry felt Draco's eyes on his back, knowing that the other was dubious about his trust in Hagrid.

"Yeh always wait fer the hippogriff ter make the firs' move," Hagrid was saying. "It's polite, see? Yeh walk toward him, and yeh bow, an' yeh wait. If he bows back, yeh're allowed ter touch him. If he doesn' bow, then get away from him sharpish, 'cause those talons hurt." He paused. "Right - who wants ter go first?"

Harry felt most of the group back away behind him. He stood where he was, feeling rather alone. He had admitted that the things were pretty, but he didn't feel very good about approaching one. Restless, the hippogriffs pulled at their tethers and beat their wings. He bit his lip.

"Ho one?" Hagrid asked, pleading.

"I'll do it," said Harry quietly.

He heard Draco's hiss behind him. "Harry, are you crazy?"

He honestly couldn't answer that question, but he turned around and shrugged at Draco. "Do you want to do it?"

"No...!" Draco recoiled.

Harry climbed over the paddock fence, staying near to Hagrid.

"Good man, Harry!" Hagrid beamed, enormously pleased. "Right then - let's see how yeh get on with Buckbeak." He untied one of the chains and pulled the gray hippogriff away from the others, slipping off its collar.

The rest of the class held its breath. Harry knew that Draco was cursing his stupidity silently by the way his arms were crossed over his chest and his eyebrows knit together ever so slightly. He grinned.

"Easy, now, Harry," Hagrid bent down to talk to Harry quietly. "Yeh've got eye contact, now try not ter blink... Hippogriffs don' trust yeh if yeh blink too much."

Harry's eyes began to water, but he didn't blink. He clenched his fists and stared steadily at Buckbeak, who regarded him sideways from one fierce orange eye.

"Tha's it," Hagrid encouraged him. "That's it, Harry... now, bow..."

Harry tried not to grimace. Exposing the back of his neck to the creature in front of him was about the last thing he wanted to do, but he did as he was told. He looked back up. The hippogriff hadn't moved.

"Ah... Right - back away, now, Harry, easy does it -" Hagrid sounded a bit worried.

At that moment, however, Buckbeak, bent down and sank into an unmistakable bow.

"Well done, Harry!" Hagrid cheered, delighted. "Right - yeh can touch him! Pat his beak, go on!"

Harry refused to let the Slytherins think he was a coward, even though none of them had stepped forward. Bravely, he walked toward Buckbeak and stroked the creature's beak several times. Buckbeak closed his eyes, and Harry was sure that, had it been a cat, it would have purred.

Behind him, the class broke into applause. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see that Draco was grudgingly clapping, trying not to smile or reveal that he had been concerned. Harry grinned back, letting his relief at not being eaten show plainly on his face. Draco chuckled.

"Righ' then, Harry," Hagrid's voice drew Harry's attention away from the blonde. "I reckon he might let yeh ride him!"

Harry's hand stopped in mid stroke. Ride it? He wasn't sure he liked the idea of that. Hagrid, however, did not seem to notice his discomfort.

"Yeh climb up there, jus' behind the wing joint," he instructed, "an' mind yeh don' pull any of his feathers out, he won' like that."

He hesitated. A broomstick was one thing, but a hippogriff? Well, he'd trusted Hagrid this far. He put his foot on the top of Buckbeak's wing and pulled himself up onto his back. The hippogriff stood up. Harry looked uncertainly to Draco, who looked uncertain whether to be amused or concerned.

"Go on, then!" roared Hagrid, slapping Buckbeaks' hindquarters.

Without warning, twelve-foot wings flapped open on either side of Harry; he just had time to seize the hippogriff around the neck before he was soaring upward. It was nothing like a broomstick, and Harry knew which one he preferred; the hippogriff's wings beat uncomfortably on either side of him, catching him under his legs and making him feel he was about to be thrown off; the glossy feathers slipped under his fingers and he didn't dare get a stronger grip; instead of the smooth action of his Nimbus Two Thousand, he now felt himself rocking backward and forward as the hindquarters of the hippogriff rose and fell with its wings.

Now Harry's only fear was how to get back down. Luckily, Buckbeak seemed content to head back to the ground after one lap around the paddock. Harry leaned back as the smooth neck lowered, feeling he was going to slip off over the beak, then felt a heavy thud as the four ill-assorted feet hit the ground. He just managed to hold on and push himself straight again.

"Good work, Harry!" Hagrid congratulated him over the cheering from the rest of the students. Well, almost all. He noticed with a pang that Ron seemed determined not to clap, and Hermione was torn between them. She smiled at Harry and gave him a thumbs-up, but did not say anything. Draco was shaking his head incredulously, smirking.

Harry slid off Buckbeak's back and gave the hippogriff a pat on its beak for carrying him safely back to earth. He walked unsteadily to the paddock fence. Around him, the rest of the class, a bit reassured by Harry's success, was climbing into the paddock. Draco, Vincent, and Gregory strolled toward him. Rather, Draco strolled and Vincent and Gregory trudged. Harry hid a smile. Even if they weren't terrible fellows, they could still never measure up to Draco's natural grace and elegance.

"Think you're so great, Potter? Just because you can ride a hippogriff?" Draco's mouth was twisted into the familiar sneer, but his eyes held laughter.

Harry smirked back, playing along. "Yeah, Malfoy? You think you could do it?" he challenged.

Draco scoffed, "It's nothing. Let me through."

Harry motioned to the others. Vincent and Gregory grinned and laced their hands together, providing a step for Draco. As he stepped into it, they lifted it abruptly, tossing him over the fence. Luckily for him, he landed on his feet, but he turned sharply and scowled. Harry smirked.

"Alright, there, Malfoy? Maybe you shouldn't try Buckbeak after all."

Draco sniffed and turned. "Come, Vincent, Gregory. Let us show Mr. Potter what we are capable of."

Harry laughed and moved aside so that the two boys could clamber over the fence. He saw Neville on the other side of the paddock repeatedly run back from his hippogriff. He stifled a laugh. Poor Neville. He glanced at Hermione, who was petting the chestnut hippogriff rather hesitantly. Ron seemed reluctant to go near the creature. Perhaps he was still worried about the death prediction, Harry remembered suddenly. He was doubtful that anything Trelawney predicted would come true, but he knew from Ron's tone of voice earlier that he was really scared. He frowned. Perhaps he should talk to Hermione about that later.

Shaking his head, Harry turned back to his fellow Slytherins and watched as the three carefully approached Buckbeak. Draco, determined not to be outdone, was first. He made eye contact with the hippogriff and bowed perfectly, the result of a lifetime of being part of a prominent, wealthy wizarding family. Buckbeak seemed rather more impressed with this than Harry's short nod, and immediately sank to his knees. Draco smirked and stepped forward to pat the hippogriff's beak. Draco turned back to Harry and put on his best look of disdain.

"This is easy," he drawled. "I knew it must have been, if you could do it, Potter." Harry rolled his eyes. "I bet you're not dangerous at all, are you?" Draco continued to the hippogriff, scratching it behind its ears. "Are you, you great ugly brute?"

Harry's laugh was cut short as Draco screamed. It had happened in a second. With a flash of deadly talons, Buckbeat slashed Draco's arm. Harry was horrified; he had forgotten Hagrid's warning about insulting the creatures. He rushed forward, dragging Draco away from Buckbeak while Hagrid tried to wrestle said hippogriff back into his collar before it could inflict further damage.

Harry's robes were turning red from the blood streaming from the blonde's wound. Draco clutched at the front of Harry's shirt in pain.

"I'm dying!" he moaned. "It's killed -"

"Oh, hush, Draco," Harry broke in. "Hold your hand over the cut or you will bleed to death!" He was quite white; Draco looked like he was in real pain.

"Yer not dying!" agreed Hagrid. He, too, had paled considerably. "Someone help me - I gotta get him outta here - "

Hermione ran to hold the gate open as Hagrid picked Draco up easily and ran with him toward the castle. Blood splattered the grass as they went.

Harry felt sick as he walked slowly up the slope. He knew that Draco would be okay. He felt momentarily sorry for Hagrid; it was a bloody awful thing to have happen on his first lesson. His shoulders sagged a bit. Vincent and Gregory walked behind him, subdued, and the rest of the Gryffindors and Slytherins followed. Pansy was crying.

"They should fire him straight away!" she cried, distressed.

"It was Malfoy's fault!" snapped Dean Thomas angrily. There was a buzz of agreement from the Gryffindors.

Vincent and Gregory glared and stepped toward him threateningly, but Harry held out an arm to stop them. "No, it wasn't, Dean," he said quietly. "If it was anyone's fault, it was mine. I forgot about Hagrid's warning. Draco did, too. We were just fooling around; he didn't want to get hurt." Dean glared at him, but did not reply.

No one said anything until they had reached the deserted entrance hall. "I'm going to see if he's okay!" said Pansy, and everyone watched her run up the marble staircase. Harry couldn't help but grin. He knew that Draco would be okay; Madam Pomfrey could mend anything in a second. He just wasn't sure how Draco would react to his first visitor being Pansy. He chuckled and followed the rest of the Slytherins back to their dungeon.

"Don't worry," he said to Gregory and Vincent, who glanced up. "He'll be fine. Madam Pomfrey's taking care of him."

Vincent nodded, but Gregory muttered, "She can't mend his pride."

Harry nodded. This was very true. He hoped Draco would be back soon.

By that evening, however, Draco had not returned. He didn't show up for dinner, either, and Harry wasn't sure whether to be worried or annoyed. He knew that the cut, while painful, hadn't been that serious. He knew Madam Pomfrey's skills, and couldn't see why Draco wasn't back yet. He rolled his eyes in sudden understanding. Of course. Draco would be faking it. What better way to get out of classes for a while? Harry shook his head, amused, as he re-entered the Slytherin common room after finishing his meal. Some things would never change.