(A/N: Minor gross-out warning for end of chapter.)
Chapter 14: In Good Time
Harry sat still and tried not to swallow nervously.
This is bad.
Professor McGonagall had collected Harry, Draco, Hermione, and Neville from the Gryffindor common room and led them to her office without saying anything except "Come with me". Now she was standing over them, arms folded, face set in lines of extreme displeasure.
"Ten," she said. "Ten of your schoolmates in the hospital wing. And all of them – the ones who are awake – say the same thing. They were attacked, without provocation, by four Gryffindor first years."
"Without–" Draco's head snapped up. "That's not true! They started it!"
"How so, Mr. Black?"
"They were..." Draco looked down the line at Neville.
"They cursed me, Professor," said Neville in a small voice. "And stole my wand. Everyone else was just trying to help me. It's my fault."
"No, it's not," said Draco quickly. "I was just trying to help Neville, and I lost my temper with the Slytherins. It's my fault."
"Does anyone else want to take the blame?" asked Professor McGonagall tartly. Harry and Hermione shook their heads dumbly. "So. You cursed ten Slytherins to make up for one curse placed on Mr. Longbottom. Does that not seem a bit… overenthusiastic?"
Harry wasn't sure how to answer this, but it seemed to be a rhetorical question anyway, as Professor McGonagall reached behind her, picked up a piece of parchment, and continued. "Mr. Nott has a concussion. Mr. Crabbe has severe boils on several parts of his body. All of Mr. Dursley's joints reversed, down to his knuckles. Miss Bulstrode's hair entirely out of control, threatening even her ability to breathe. Miss Greengrass – Madam Pomfrey is not even sure what happened to her. One of her legs seems to have turned green and flexible."
Harry frowned. Nott he had taken care of himself, he'd seen Draco hex Crabbe, Hermione had accounted for Dursley and Millicent Bulstrode...
"Luckily, all the changes have been reversible. But I have never, in all my years, been more ashamed of students of my own House. Detentions for each of you, and forty points will be taken from Gryffindor."
"Professor – forty?" burst out Hermione.
"Yes, Miss Granger-Lupin. Forty. Each."
Harry's heart sank to his feet. One hundred sixty points...
"Professor, that's not fair," blurted Draco. "You can't take points off for Neville. He can't have done anything. He didn't have his wand."
Neville nodded. "Draco took it away from Goyle," he said. "I didn't get it back until we were in the common room."
Professor McGonagall looked hard at the four of them for a moment. "Very well. Fifty points from Gryffindor for the three of you, then. The detentions stand as before, and I will be writing to your families. Now back to your common room, all of you."
"I'm sorry," said Draco as soon as they were out of Professor McGonagall's office.
Draco looked at Harry as if he were crazy. "For starting this – for getting us in trouble – for losing Gryffindor one hundred fifty points?"
"It's not all your fault, Draco," said Hermione unhappily. "We could have done something different."
"We could have just covered you until you had a chance to get away," said Harry. "We didn't have to come in fighting." Maybe I didn't start this, but I made it a lot worse by casting first and thinking afterwards...
"I shouldn't ever have been down there," said Neville miserably. "But I thought I'd forgotten my Potions book, and I was going back to look for it..."
"Neville, no matter what you told Professor McGonagall, this isn't your fault," said Hermione.
"Nor is it yours!" Neville shouted, making the cubs jump. "You were just trying to help me! You shouldn't get in trouble for trying to help people!" He suddenly realized he was yelling and seemed to collapse, shrinking into himself. "I'm sorry," he said in a very small voice.
Harry shook his head. "Don't be. You're right." He kicked the stone wall, accomplishing nothing except to hurt his foot. "It's not fair." He knew he sounded like a whiny little kid, and he didn't care. He'd done something stupid again, and not even two months after he'd promised himself he wouldn't.
"Easter holidays start next week," said Hermione, in the tone of someone trying to save an unsalvageable situation. "We'll be home for a while. Maybe people'll forget about it before we get back."
Draco stared at her. "Forget? Forget about one hundred fifty house points? They might as well forget what House they're even in, Neenie! This is huge! Our names are mud!"
Hermione's lips went back, and she made a sound so like an angry cat that Harry half-looked around for Mrs. Norris. "Say that again."
Draco took a quick step away from her. "I'm not fighting you, Hermione."
"No, you're not, I'm fighting you! This is all your fault!" Hermione swung a furious slap in the direction of Draco's face.
Draco ducked, and Harry caught Hermione's hand as it traveled around. "Stop it," he snapped at her. "This is all of our faults, and fighting won't help anything. It might even get us in more trouble, and we don't need that."
"I don't care! Let me go, let me go, let me go right now!" Hermione writhed in his grip, trying to break free. Harry hung on to her, then suddenly had an idea.
Being careful to take her weight on himself first, he kicked her legs out from under her, then lowered her to the floor. Quickly, before she could get up again, he jumped around to her front side and sat down on her legs, pinioning her hands with his own and catching her eyes. "Stop it," he said as sternly as he could, holding eye contact with her. "Stop it now."
She hissed again and tried to scratch him. He tightened his grip around her wrists and showed her his teeth, even going so far as to growl slightly at her. "Enough," he said, and after a few more seconds, she dropped her eyes to the floor, and the tension bled out of her body.
"'m sorry," she mumbled. Harry got off her legs and sat beside her, and Draco sat down on her other side. They'd have to move in a moment, they were blocking the hallway, Harry knew, but just right now, Hermione needed comfort, and this was the best way to give it to her.
"Everyone's going to hate us, aren't they?" she asked miserably.
"Probably," said Draco fatalistically.
Harry glared at Draco. "You're not helping," he said.
"You want me to lie?"
Harry sighed. "No. You're right."
Neville had been watching all of this intently from near the end of the hall, looking rather puzzled but intensely interested. Now he looked away, down one of the other halls that connected with this one, and suddenly waved frantically.
"What–" Draco began, but didn't get any farther, as Ron burst into view beside Neville.
"Where have you been? There's something wrong with the house point counters, we're down a hundred and fifty, and have you heard, somebody put all the first year Slytherins in the hospital wing!"
"There's nothing wrong with the house point counters," said Hermione unhappily. "We just lost fifty points each for Gryffindor."
"You did? How?"
"By cursing all the first year Slytherins into the hospital wing," said Harry.
Ron opened his mouth, then closed it again, thinking. "Good trade-off," he said finally.
Hermione burst into near-hysterical laughter.
The boys all stared at her. "What's so funny?" asked Draco.
"Not everyone hates us," she managed to say, pointing at Ron, before laughter claimed her voice again.
Over the next few days, though, it was clear that Ron was in a very small minority. Just about everyone else was extremely annoyed with the stupid first years who had destroyed Gryffindor's chances of winning the House cup and breaking Slytherin's winning streak. Even the Hufflepuffs and the Ravenclaws were angry, and didn't bother to hide it. It was like the beginning of the year all over again, with people pointing and whispering at Harry and Draco, except that now they weren't bothering to whisper.
"Should have been kicked out."
"Should have had their wands snapped."
The Slytherins were strutting around the school as if they owned the place. Theodore Nott and some of the others, once they had gotten out of the hospital wing, were minor celebrities, and gloried in it. And Snape...
Harry wished fervently that they had managed to get themselves into trouble on any day other than a Thursday. In Potions the next day, Snape was in the closest thing to a good mood that Harry had ever seen him in, and that was never good news for Gryffindors. Not only was the potion for the day fiendishly difficult, he assigned working partners – across the Houses.
By the end of the class, no one had successfully completed their work. Three cauldrons had exploded, including, unsurprisingly, Neville's, and even Hermione's usually flawless results had been replaced with a sticky, bad-smelling mess. She was almost in tears.
"No points for today's work," said Snape silkily. "To make up your grade, you will all write an essay, detailing what went wrong with your potion and how to prevent it from occurring again. Two and a half feet, due after the holidays. Dismissed."
"But I don't know what went wrong!" Hermione protested as they climbed the stairs. "I did everything right, I know I did..."
"Except that Millicent Bulstrode added a handful of acorn caps when you had your back turned," said Ron grimly.
Hermione's eyes widened. "She... she sabotaged me!"
"Nott did it to you," said Draco to Harry. "I spotted him stirring yours the wrong way around."
Harry growled deep in his throat. "And since the Slytherins did it, they know what went wrong with the potions, and we don't. So they can do the essay, and we can't."
Hermione's eyes lit up. "Maybe we can. If we all get together and try to remember what we saw them doing..."
"It's worth a try," said Draco. "Hoy, Dean, wait up!"
With what everyone had noticed the Slytherins doing during class, and the better Potions students checking their notes for what might have caused the different failures, the Gryffindor first years were eventually able to figure out more or less what had gone wrong, or rather been made to go wrong, with all their potions.
"This doesn't make up for yesterday," warned Seamus Finnegan. "We're still mad. But..."
"Maybe not quite as mad," Dean Thomas finished for him, accepting a scroll from Hermione that detailed what Dursley had done to his potion that had caused it to turn so runny it leaked out through the bottom of the solid cauldron.
The cubs' eyes met briefly. For right now, they knew, not quite as mad would have to be enough.
"How do you think it happened?" asked Ron after dinner. "Did Snape tell them to do it?"
"No." Neville, back from the hospital wing with his fingers regrown, sounded unusually certain. "It was Nott's idea. I heard Dursley and Goyle laughing about it while they were getting treated. He came up with it yesterday after he got healed up, and all he had to do was ask Snape if he would please let all the Slytherins work with a Gryffindor partner today." He made a face. "To 'help improve inter-House relations'."
Ron scowled. "Makes me want to go find a Slytherin and punch his face in."
Draco snickered. "It worked, then."
"You don't want to punch two Slytherins."
Ron threw his quill at Draco.
The five got a compartment to themselves on the train ride home on Sunday. It wasn't hard, as no one wanted to sit with them. "At least we get a vacation from this," said Draco.
"What do you think the Pack's going to say?" asked Hermione worriedly.
"I don't care. Whatever they say, they only ever say it once. Then it's over. Besides, Padfoot and Moony don't have any room to talk. Not with some of the stuff they did when they were at school."
"I don't think they ever put ten people in the hospital wing at once, though," said Harry absently, most of his attention on his game of chess with Ron. "Knight to B-7."
"Botheration," complained the black knight, moving as he'd been commanded. "I was just getting comfortable."
"You're not supposed to get comfortable," said Ron, tapping one of his own pieces to wake it up. "My knight to B-7."
Harry groaned as his knight was toppled from his horse. "How'd I miss that?"
"Same way you always do – I made you look somewhere else." Ron did a little victory dance in his seat.
"That's just disturbing," said Hermione, shaking her head.
"You don't like it, you don't have to watch it," said Ron in time with his dance.
About ten moves later, Harry surrendered, and Draco took his place behind the chessboard. Hermione and Neville dealt him into their game of Wizarding Go Fish. The cards all wiggled around when one was told to "go fish", so that getting hold of one, and keeping hold of one's hand, was much more difficult than in the Muggle version. The real challenge of the game was not in making matches, but in keeping the cards from getting away or showing themselves to one's opponents.
It was getting close to dinnertime when the train pulled into King's Cross. Ron and Draco packed away the chessmen as Neville helped Hermione chase down the last of the Go Fish cards. Harry lifted Hedwig down from the luggage rack, reached into the cage to stroke her head feathers, then tapped the green wrapping on one of the bars of her cage. "Wake up," he said.
Siss lifted her head and uncoiled her length from the bar, curling up in Harry's hand. "We have arrived? I am glad."
"You want to get back to the Den?" Harry handed Hermione Hedwig's cage.
"I care little where we go, so long as you are content. For two days, you have scented of unease. I hope you will be better here in your own nest."
"I hope so too."
Siss slithered up his arm to her usual place. "It is still the trouble with the marks of status, then?"
"Yeah. That's probably going to take a while to go away."
"Probably. Many are unhappy when they lose status. For myself, I was never one to covet it. I know my own worth, and so do my nest-mates. The opinions of others matter not."
Harry sighed. "I wish I felt that way."
"Are not your feelings your own, eggling? Can you not control them?"
"Of course I can..." Harry stopped, struck. "I guess not. Not if it bothers me what other people think. Right?"
Siss' tone took on the indulgent feel that equated to a chuckle. "My eggling begins to acquire wisdom."
Harry had a strong feeling she was teasing him, but let it go. "So how do I stop caring so much what everyone else thinks?"
Siss flicked her tongue in and out several times, something she did when she was thinking hard. "It is not an easy thing to explain. Perhaps later, when I have had some time to think it over..."
Harry jumped slightly and turned. He, Ron, and Siss were alone in the compartment.
"What's Parseltongue for 'you look like a nutter talking to your shoulder'?" asked Ron, grinning.
Harry grinned back, lifted one side of his trunk, and voiced a sibilant sentence. "That's 'you look winter-sick talking to your own tail'," he explained as the boys hauled their trunks off the train. "Since snakes don't have shoulders."
They joined the line waiting to go through the barrier. "Are you ever going to tell anyone else about... you know." Ron pointed to the shoulder where Siss lay coiled, hidden under Harry's shirt and jacket. "Talking to her and her friends."
Harry shrugged. "Maybe sometime. Lots of people think it's Dark, though, so probably not unless I really need to."
They passed the barrier and looked around. "There they are," said Ron, pointing out a concentration of redheads.
"There's your family," said Harry. "Where's mine?"
"Aren't they there?" Ron squinted at the crowd surrounding his mother and brothers. "Huh. Where would they be?"
"Harry!" shouted a girl's voice from a bit farther to the boys' left. Craning his neck, he finally spotted Meghan waving to him from Padfoot's shoulders, with the rest of the Pack nearby, greeting Draco and Hermione.
"See you," said Ron.
"See you." Harry turned his trolley to the direction of the Pack and had to stop suddenly as Theodore Nott appeared seemingly out of nowhere in front of him. "Sorry," he said.
Nott smiled nastily. "Yes, you are. Thanks, Potter. It was worth a trip to the hospital wing to put Gryffindor in last place. Any time you want to do it again, just let me know."
Harry's hands tightened on the bar of the trolley. He wanted to get a hold of Nott, to really teach him a lesson, since the first one obviously hadn't worked...
"Whatever you are thinking of doing, do not," came a sharp hiss in his ear.
"I'll do that," he answered as politely as he could manage. "Excuse me." He pushed his trolley past Nott and over to the Pack. "Thanks, Siss," he said very quietly.
"I would do as much for anyone, and more for you, my eggling."
There was no time for more conversation, as Meghan literally descended upon him from Padfoot's shoulders.
"Why aren't you over with the Weasleys?" he asked Danger, the first Pack-parent to greet him.
"Molly's been a bit edgy around Remus ever since the... revelation. We think it'll pass, but for right now there's no reason to force the issue. How are you?"
Harry looked at the floor. "You know what happened on Thursday?"
Danger tapped his chin, bringing his eyes back to hers. "I know Professor McGonagall's version. I'll be interested in hearing what you three have to say."
Harry nodded, knowing from experience that the Pack would be fair in their decision about punishment.
Possibly more than fair. It was some pretty impressive magic, after all.
Meghan came bouncing back from saying her hellos to Neville, who was now leaving with his grandmother, and jumped on Draco from behind, making him yelp loud enough to silence a section of the station. "I love you," she said sweetly in his ear.
"That's nice," gasped Draco, hand on his chest. "Try loving me some way that won't give me a heart attack."
"Let's go home," said Padfoot. "You four can mess around all you want once we're there."
They left King's Cross and hailed taxis to take them to a street corner near the Leaky Cauldron, from where they Flooed to the Den.
Harry fell out of the fire on top of his trunk, grateful it hadn't been the other way around, and moved quickly out of Hermione's way.
It was nice to be back.
As Harry had expected, the Pack-parents were not hard on them once they had heard all the circumstances surrounding the hexing of the Slytherins. In fact, Padfoot pulled Harry aside and congratulated him on some excellent curses, and Harry noticed smiles on Draco's and Hermione's faces later that made him wonder if Padfoot hadn't done the same for them.
"In this case, I think the natural consequences are enough punishment," said Letha over dinner. "Losing one hundred fifty points. That has to hurt. I don't think even you four ever pulled that off."
"No, I think our biggest haul ever was eighty," said Padfoot. "For the 'drunk dog' thing."
"No, you three got docked thirty apiece once," said Moony. "For something I was smart enough to have nothing to do with."
"And what might this be?" asked Letha with a great deal of interest.
"You mean you don't remember the Great Hogwarts Noodle Incident?"
Letha's eyebrows rose. "The Noodle Incident – that was you?"
Padfoot was sliding down in his chair as if wishing someone would Vanish him.
"Do enlighten those of us who weren't there," urged Danger, smiling wickedly.
"Yeah, please?" echoed the cubs.
Moony laced his fingers together. "Well, it all started with a comic book, an action figure, and a stuffed tiger..."
The Easter holidays weren't nearly as much fun as the Christmas ones, for several reasons. There were no presents and no party to look forward to, for one thing. For another, the teachers had piled on homework – Snape's essay was one of the least of their worries. This wouldn't have bothered Harry and Draco nearly so much if Hermione hadn't been so crazy about it. She kept nagging them about what they'd finished, quizzing them at odd hours of the day, and started drawing up study schedules, color-coded by subject.
"You haven't left any time for meals," said Harry in bewilderment, studying one of the schedules.
"I can study while I eat," said Hermione. "But I'll leave mealtimes free on yours."
"Why are you making one for me?"
"Because you need to study too. Or do you not want to get into second year?"
"Of course I want to get into second year, but why do we need to start studying now? We've got all of term to do it in, that's ten weeks."
"Ten weeks isn't very long, really, if you think about it. And you and Draco and Ron don't have as good of memories as I do, so you'll need to study really even more than I do, and you have Quidditch practice, so that makes it even harder…"
Harry slipped out of the room as Hermione continued.
Another annoyance of the holiday had to do with Ron. He wasn't coming over nearly as often as he usually did, and one morning, frustrated with a knotty question and wanting someone to commiserate with more than he wanted an actual answer, Harry scribbled a note and sent it off with Hedwig.
Are you ill or mad at us or something?
The answer came five minutes later.
No. Can you meet me at the orchard in ten minutes?
Harry slammed his Transfiguration book shut and ran to find his shoes.
"Here he comes," Hermione called from her perch. She started climbing down, so as to be on the ground when Ron arrived.
Harry and Draco shook his hand gladly. "We've been missing you," said Harry. "Something wrong?"
Ron looked unhappy. "It's Mum," he said, gingerly returning Hermione's hug. "She's gone over kind of funny since Mr. Lupin told her… you know. She keeps making these weird excuses why I shouldn't go to your place or have you over to ours."
The cubs nodded. "Moony says it's happened before," said Hermione. "Other times he's told people… what he is. A lot of people are scared of werewolves, even when it's not full moon out."
"It doesn't make any sense, though!" Ron burst out. "What's going to happen to me from being around you? It's not like any of you are werewolves – like Harry said, I'd know, I spend every bloody full moon night with you down in the Den! And he told Dad he wasn't dangerous even at full moons – do you do the den thing at home too?"
Three nods answered him.
"Does – is he there? Do you see him when he's…"
"Transformed?" finished Draco. "Always. Danger talks for him, or we link up and talk that way."
"It's just like having Padfoot around," said Harry. "He's a dog Animagus, you remember from Christmas – even when he's in dog form, he's still Padfoot. Moony transformed is still Moony, just in wolf shape."
"That's what I thought." Ron nodded, slightly flushed but looking satisfied. "That's what I thought. So the werewolf tamer thing you talked about in Defense is real, Harry?"
Harry flushed himself. "Yeah. Danger is one. But don't tell anyone – please. I was stupid to bring it up."
"Danger and Moony want to keep it quiet," said Draco. "Not just so no one knows about him, but so she doesn't have to get tested or answer questions or anything – but I think Aunt Andy, remember her from the party, Healer Tonks? I think she's done some stuff with them. Tests and things. But not officially, just as kind of a friendly thing."
"Where'd you hear that?" asked Hermione.
"Pearl told me."
"She'd know. She's the one still living at home."
"She's been writing to Neville pretty regularly, hasn't she?" asked Ron. "About once a week. And he's writing back this term. How much younger is she again?"
"Three years," said Hermione. "She'll be a first year when we're fourth years."
Ron pulled his hood up as the wind blew through the orchard, shaking accumulated rainwater down from the trees onto everyone's heads. "Long time for her to wait."
"She'll live," said Draco. "So is your mum not letting you out of the house, or is she just making you do chores before you can come over, or what?"
"She keeps saying I have to study," said Ron in deep disgust. "And when I tell her I study better with you lot around, she says I have to learn to do it on my own. Why? It's not like we're going to get split up or anything – we'll be in all the same classes at least one more year, then we pick some new ones for third year, and then we have all the same ones until after O.W.L.s in fifth year…"
A discussion of what new classes they were likely to take in third year ensued, and none of them noticed the time passing until –
"Ginny, you scared me!" said Hermione, running to embrace the younger girl. "How are you?"
"Fine, thanks. Ron, Mum says come home right now." Ginny glanced at the cubs. "And I wouldn't tell her who you were with if I were you."
"She's not still on about that, is she?"
Ginny nodded grimly.
Ron groaned. "Merlin's beard, why can't she just get over it already? I'd better go."
"We'll see you back at school if not before," said Harry, shaking Ron's hand again.
"Have a good rest of the holiday," said Hermione. "I'll send you over the study schedule I made up for you by owl."
"Don't open it," Draco advised Ron in a whisper.
"I heard that," snapped Hermione. "Open it if you know what's good for you, Ron Weasley." She stormed away, leaving the boys and Ginny looking after her a bit bemusedly.
"See you," said Harry again before he and Draco followed Hermione.
"See you," Ron called after them.
The holidays eventually ended in the usual flurry of trunk-repacking and looking for lost items all over the house, and the cubs were on board the Hogwarts Express almost before they knew what was happening.
Ron joined them just before the train left. "Left my trunk in with the twins and their lot," he explained. "Have to be careful opening it, they'll probably have put something in."
"What do they think about Moony?" asked Hermione curiously. "Or don't they know?"
"The whole family knows now, Dad told them while they were home, and swore them all to secrecy. Percy was all shocked and did the 'but he seems so nice' bit, like Mr. Lupin was a murderer or something."
"No, that was Padfoot," said Harry, making everyone laugh.
"I think the twins think it's cool," continued Ron. "They didn't look scared, at any rate, and that's an improvement over Mum. Dad said he thinks she'll get over it eventually, 'in her own good time' was how he put it."
"When did he say that?" asked Draco.
"When I asked him if I could go over to your house. And he said, more or less, no, not until Mum gets over her little fit." Ron made a face. "I hope she gets over it before the summer."
"Me too," said Harry ardently. "Especially with Padfoot dropping hints about taking all of us to a professional Quidditch match."
Ron's face lit up. "D'you think he could get us tickets to see the Cannons?"
"I don't think there's any trouble getting tickets to see the Cannons," said Draco. "It's usually more a question of, are you going to have to pay for them, or are they giving them away?"
The term was officially begun, thought Hermione, pulling out a book – the boys were having a fight over Quidditch.
All we need now is to have Snape take a few points from Gryffindor and have them ask to copy my homework.
Snape did indeed take points from Gryffindor, in every Potions lesson – but he took them one or two at a time, always with some comment like, "Since your House doesn't have many points left to lose, Miss Granger-Lupin," or "I make it a point not to aid those in quest of losing the most points for their House personally, Black". Harry thought he'd rather Snape take more points and skip the comments – which, he was sure, Snape knew, and was therefore acting accordingly.
One odd thing did occur in the first few days of term. Dudley Dursley came up to Harry after dinner on Tuesday. "I want to talk to you, Potter."
"Not here. Somewhere alone."
A Slytherin wants to be alone with me? "All right. Let's find a classroom." Follow me, he signaled Draco and Hermione. Hide. Listen.
Dursley led the way to an empty room on the ground floor and went in first. Harry followed him and pulled the door almost shut, so that his siblings could hear. "What's on your mind?"
"I know who you are," said Dursley, staring at him almost challengingly.
"I know we're cousins."
Harry started laughing. He couldn't help it. It was so far from what he'd been expecting.
"Yeah?" he said when he'd finally got his breath back. "So we're cousins. So what?"
"Yeah, I knew. My mum and your mum were sisters. Except mine was a witch and yours is a Muggle. Right?"
Dursley nodded warily. "How'd you know that?" he asked.
"My guardians told me. I used to live with your family when I was really little. Until they took me away."
"They stole you," said Dursley – was it angrily? It sounded like he was mad. "We're your family. They shouldn't have done that."
Harry stared at him in his turn. "Your parents didn't want me. My guardians did. Why should they have left me with somebody who didn't want me?"
"How do you know they didn't want you?"
"If somebody sticks a baby in a bloody cupboard and ignores him when he cries," Harry snapped, his patience gone, "that's a pretty damn good sign they don't want him!"
"My parents never did that!"
"Well, then either my guardians or your parents are liars, and I have a hunch I know which ones it is!" Harry spun around, slammed the door open, and ran out of the classroom and out of the castle, not knowing what he was running to, or from, only knowing that he had to run…
He came to a halt and looked up – and up, and up. "Hello, Hagrid," he said.
Hagrid's face, what Harry could see of it behind his beard, held an expression of concern. "Somethin' wrong?"
"No, I'm fine. Why?"
"Well, yeh came boltin' out here pretty fast, and there's people followin' yeh…" Hagrid waved back towards the castle. Harry turned to look. Draco and Hermione were jogging across the lawn, Hermione pressing one hand to her side.
"Are you all right?" Draco called to him.
"Fine," Harry called back, crossing his fingers behind his back.
"I saw that," said Hagrid sternly. "Tell the truth, now. What's wrong?"
"Nothing, really, Hagrid. I'm fine."
Hagrid shrugged. "Well, if yeh ever need ter talk, my door's always open fer yeh. I was just about ter make tea, as a matter of fact, if anyone'd be interested…" He raised his voice enough on the last part to carry to Draco and Hermione, who were almost to them by now.
"Tea sounds nice," said Hermione once she had her breath back.
"Weren't you supposed to be studying Charms tonight?" asked Draco slyly.
"I'll make up for it tomorrow," said Hermione loftily, following Hagrid inside his house.
It was probably a remnant of the Pack's days in hiding, Harry thought, that he felt comfortable and at home in Hagrid's hut, since it had always been one of their other dens. The rock cakes were as shapeless and tasteless as ever, and Fang was as willing to soak all their robes with slobber. By the time they said goodnight to Hagrid and headed back to the castle, Harry felt much better.
So Dursley's my cousin. Lucius Malfoy is Draco's father, and that doesn't matter to the Pack. Neither does this. It's just part of life. After all, what's he going to do? Try and blackmail me? I don't care who knows he's my cousin.
So there's nothing he can do to hurt me.
Nothing at all.
The cubs took to having tea with Hagrid every week. It was something to look forward to, as most of the school was still very irritated with them. Hermione had even stopped raising her hand in class, and as Draco said, "that would normally take a miracle."
What with studying on top of homework and Quidditch practice (Wood had angrily refused Harry's offer to resign from the team over his blunder, but the rest of the team wasn't speaking to him), Harry was busier than ever, and it amazed him how fast the time went. Before he knew it, there were only two weeks left until exams, and he realized how little of what he needed to know he actually knew. Hermione's study schedules suddenly became extremely precious to him, and he spent every extra minute in the library.
On Thursday of that week, the first year Defense Against the Dark Arts class, Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs, arrived in their classroom to find Professor Quirrell there instead of Professor Lockhart. "I'll be t-t-teaching you t-today," he said, nervously pulling out the roll sheet. "P-Professor L-Lockhart is ill."
Harry left the classroom talking excitedly with the rest of the class, their grudge against him momentarily forgotten in the exhilaration of the first good Defense lesson they'd had at Hogwarts, so it wasn't too surprising that he got halfway back to Gryffindor Tower before realizing that he'd left Year with the Yeti in the Defense classroom. He made plans to meet the rest of the Pack in the library and doubled back.
As he got closer to the Defense classroom, Harry heard a voice.
"M-me? Again? S-so soon?"
It was Quirrell, and he sounded terrified of whoever he was talking with – Harry couldn't hear the other voice.
"P-please, no… not th-that…"
Harry strained his ears, but still could not hear the reply.
"Yes," said Quirrell finally, his voice quivering horribly. "Yes, yes, all right…"
Harry nipped around a corner just in time as Quirrell came through the door, almost running, his face as pale as it had been that night in the hospital wing. Harry waited for him to get out of sight, then peered into the classroom. It was empty, but there were other doors, one to the Defense teacher's office and quarters – momentarily he wondered who used those, Quirrell or Lockhart – and one leading to another hallway. And the one leading to the hallway was ajar. Harry would have bet his broomstick that someone had just nipped out that door – and he had a cold feeling in his gut that told him who that someone might be.
His book was lying under his chair. He picked it up and beat a hasty retreat. He had a lot to talk to the rest of the Pack about…
"'Me, again, so soon,'" Hermione repeated. "What do you think Snape would want Quirrell to do?"
"I don't know," said Harry. "That's why I'm asking you."
"'Again,'" said Draco musingly. "What have they ever done together that they'd do 'again'?"
"Don't know." Suddenly Harry remembered his thought of the moment in the classroom. "Who uses the Defense teacher's quarters, do you know? Is it Quirrell or Lockhart?"
"Not sure," said Ron. "I've never seen either of them going in anywhere else…"
"They both use them," said Neville. "I heard Professor Lockhart say he agreed to move in with Professor Quirrell to save space."
"Save space?" Ron looked astonished. "This is a castle! There's loads of space!"
Harry gulped. A rather disgusting thought had just come to him. "Maybe there's another reason," he said.
"Another reason? What…" Ron caught sight of the look on Harry's face. "Oh."
"And that might be what Snape – if it was Snape – was talking about," said Draco speculatively. "Maybe that's what they've 'done' together…"
Madam Pince chased them all out of the library for making too much noise – the groans, false retching, and other sounds of incipient nausea were not only far too loud but highly inappropriate, she informed them sternly, and they were to do that sort of thing in a bathroom. She couldn't understand why this made the five students turn even greener.
"I did not need that image in my head, thank you very much, Draco Regulus Black," said Hermione, looking utterly revolted, as they walked back to Gryffindor Tower. "That's just sick."
For once, no one disagreed with one of Hermione's pronouncements.
(A/N: So, are we having fun yet?
Check bio page some time tomorrow for review responses! They will be there, I promise, it just updates slowly! Random review topic for today… basements.
Note to Crydwyn: A few chapters ago, you sent me a link for a sketch. Unfortunately, this site doesn't allow links to be posted in reviews. If you want to send it again, my e-mail is whydoyou21 (at) yahoo (dot) com. I'd love to see it.)