Luna handed the book to Draco, who began banging his head on the table the moment he read the title.

Chapter 7: Mudbloods and Murmurs

"Stupid, stupid, stupid…" he said, with each smack of his head.

Luna looked exasperated. A pillow appeared on the table in front of her, making her murmur, "Thank you." She then shoved the pillow between Draco's head and the table.

After a moment, Draco continued to read.

Harry spent a lot of time over the next few days dodging out of sight whenever he saw Gilderoy Lockhart coming down a corridor. Harder to avoid was Colin Creevey, who seemed to have memorized Harry's schedule.

"Did he have a crush on you or something?" Sirius asked.

"Merlin, I hope not," Harry said, a slightly panicked look in his eyes.

Nothing seemed to give Colin a bigger thrill than to say, "All right, Harry?" six or seven times a day and hear, "Hello, Colin," back, however exasperated Harry sounded when he said it.

"At least you're polite," Lily said, smiling at Harry.

"You definitely got that from your mother," James said. "I would have told him to get lost."

Harry turned pink. "Sometimes, I wish I had. He's a nice guy, but really annoying," he said

Hedwig was still angry with Harry about the disastrous car journey and Ron's wand was still malfunctioning, surpassing itself on Friday morning by shooting out of Ron's hand in Charms and hitting tiny old Professor Flitwick squarely between the eyes, creating a large, throbbing green boil where it had struck.

"Eww," Remus said, then added, "Poor Professor Flitwick."

So with one thing and another, Harry was quite glad to reach the weekend. He, Ron, and Hermione were planning to visit Hagrid on Saturday morning. Harry, however, was shaken awake several hours earlier than he would have liked by Oliver Wood, Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team.

"Woohoo!" Sirius cheered. "QUIDDITCH!"

Petunia started violently at the yell, then opened her mouth to say something, but settled for glaring at Sirius.

"Whassamatter?" said Harry groggily.

"Quidditch practice!" said Wood. "Come on!"

Harry squinted at the window. There was a thin mist hanging across the pink-and-gold sky. Now that he was awake, he couldn't understand how he could have slept through the racket the birds were making.

"Oliver," Harry croaked. "It's the crack of dawn."

"The earlier you get there, the more time there is for practice," James said solemnly.

"Exactly," said Wood. He was a tall and burly sixth year and, at the moment, his eyes were gleaming with a crazed enthusiasm. "It's part of our new training program. Come on, grab your broom, and let's go," said Wood heartily. "None of the other teams have started training yet; we're going to be first off the mark this year —"

"He was a great captain, but was a tad obsessed," Harry commented, the twins nodding in agreement.

Percy muttered, "At least you didn't have to room with him. He's my best friend, but 'obsessed' doesn't begin to cover it. Until he started dating Katie, I thought he'd be single forever, because honestly, no woman wants to be second to a sport."

"Katie's is almost obsessed with Quidditch as he is," said George, who had once dated her.

Yawning and shivering slightly, Harry climbed out of bed and tried to find his Quidditch robes.

"Good man," said Wood. "Meet you on the field in fifteen minutes."

When he'd found his scarlet team robes and pulled on his cloak for warmth, Harry scribbled a note to Ron explaining where he'd gone and went down the spiral staircase to the common room, his Nimbus Two Thousand on his shoulder. He had just reached the portrait hole when there was a clatter behind him and Colin Creevey came dashing down the spiral staircase, his camera swinging madly around his neck and something clutched in his hand.

"I heard someone saying your name on the stairs, Harry! Look what I've got here! I've had it developed, I wanted to show you —"

Harry looked bemusedly at the photograph Colin was brandishing under his nose.

A moving, black-and-white Lockhart was tugging hard on an arm Harry recognized as his own. He was pleased to see that his photographic self was putting up a good fight and refusing to be dragged into view. As Harry watched, Lockhart gave up and slumped, panting, against the white edge of the picture.

Harry snickered at this. "It's the only photo of Lockhart that I kept. It still makes me smile," he said.

"You and me both," Ron said, grinning.

"Will you sign it?" said Colin eagerly.

"No," said Harry flatly, glancing around to check that the room was really deserted. "Sorry, Colin, I'm in a hurry — Quidditch practice —"

He climbed through the portrait hole.

"Oh, wow! Wait for me! I've never watched a Quidditch game before!"

"OH THE HORROR!" Sirius screamed.

"He's a Muggleborn," Harry said, rolling his eyes.

"So," Sirius said.

"Nevermind," Harry said, not wanting to explain something that Sirius had, only a few hours before, understood.

Colin scrambled through the hole after him.

"It'll be really boring," Harry said quickly, but Colin ignored him, his face shining with excitement.

Sirius screamed like a girl, causing Minerva to silence him.

"You were the youngest House player in a hundred years, weren't you, Harry? Weren't you?" said Colin, trotting alongside him. "You must be brilliant. I've never flown. Is it easy? Is that your own broom? Is that the best one there is?"

Harry didn't know how to get rid of him. It was like having an extremely talkative shadow.

"Shadows don't talk," Dudley said stupidly, making mother look embarrassed.

"I don't really understand Quidditch," said Colin breathlessly. "Is it true there are four balls? And two of them fly around trying to knock people off their brooms?"

"Yes," said Harry heavily, resigned to explaining the complicated rules of Quidditch. "They're called Bludgers. There are two Beaters on each team who carry clubs to beat the Bludgers away from their side. Fred and George Weasley are the Gryffindor Beaters."

The twins cheered loudly, Fred nearly knocking Hermione off of his lap in the process.

"And what are the other balls for?" Colin asked, tripping down a couple of steps because he was gazing open-mouthed at Harry.

"Well, the Quaffle — that's the biggish red one — is the one that scores goals. Three Chasers on each team throw the Quaffle to each other and try and get it through the goal posts at the end of the pitch — they're three long poles with hoops on the end."

"And the fourth ball —"

"— is the Golden Snitch," said Harry, "and it's very small, very fast, and difficult to catch. But that's what the Seeker's got to do, because a game of Quidditch doesn't end until the Snitch has been caught. And whichever team's Seeker gets the Snitch earns his team an extra hundred and fifty points."

"And you're the Gryffindor Seeker, aren't you?" said Colin in awe.

"Yes," said Harry as they left the castle and started across the dew-drenched grass. "And there's the Keeper, too. He guards the goal posts. That's it, really."

But Colin didn't stop questioning Harry all the way down the sloping lawns to the Quidditch field, and Harry only shook him off when he reached the changing rooms; Colin called after him in a piping voice, "I'll go and get a good seat, Harry!" and hurried off to the stands.

"You're too kind," Remus said.

Minerva beamed. "You are a prefect, are you not, Harry?"

"Er, no," Harry said. He glanced apologetically at Ron before saying, "Dumbledore wouldn't allow it because he thought I had enough stress as it was, though really, being a prefect would have made my life easier."

"And then I wouldn't have to go on rounds," Ron said, glowing. "You take the badge next year, Harry. That way you can have all the responsibility and I can have the free time."

McGonagall's eye twitched.

The rest of the Gryffindor team were already in the changing room. Wood was the only person who looked truly awake. Fred and George Weasley were sitting, puffy-eyed and tousle haired, next to fourth year Alicia Spinnet, who seemed to be nodding off against the wall behind her. Her fellow Chasers, Katie Bell and Angelina Johnson, were yawning side by side opposite them.

"There you are, Harry, what kept you?" said Wood briskly. "Now, I wanted a quick talk with you all before we actually get onto the field, because I spent the summer devising a whole new training program, which I really think will make all the difference…"

"He certainly is… dedicated, isn't he," Minerva muttered.

"You have no idea," the twins, Harry and Percy said together. Charlie nodded in agreement.

"None of the rest of us ever stood a chance when against the so-called 'Dream Team'," Cedric said. "Can't tell you the number of time Cho came crying to me because no scouts would ever pick her to play professionally after seeing Harry. No offense to Cho, but she never stood a chance in the first place. She's too inconsistent."

"I think she's quite consistent, just not on the Quidditch pitch," Luna said, looking somewhat sad.

Harry looked as though he'd had a light-bulb moment. "She's one of the ones who steals your thing, isn't she Luna," he said.

Luna nodded somewhat sadly.

"Why didn't you ever tell me?" Harry asked. "I would've made her stop. The only reason I didn't do anything before was because you never gave me any names."

"I didn't want you to get in trouble," she replied.

"I wouldn't have gotten in trouble. I would've worked something out with Professor Flitwick. He'd definitely help me," Harry said.

Wood was holding up a large diagram of a Quidditch field, on which were drawn many lines, arrows, and crosses in different colored inks. He took out his wand, tapped the board, and the arrows began to wiggle over the diagram like caterpillars.

"That's an impressive enchantment," Dumbledore muttered.

As Wood launched into a speech about his new tactics, Fred Weasley's head drooped right onto Alicia Spinnet's shoulder and he began to snore.

The first board took nearly twenty minutes to explain, but there was another board under that, and a third under that one. Harry sank into a stupor as Wood droned on and on.

"So," said Wood, at long last, jerking Harry from a wistful fantasy about what he could be eating for breakfast at this very moment up at the castle. "Is that clear? Any questions?"

"I've got a question, Oliver," said George, who had woken with a start. "Why couldn't you have told us all this yesterday when we were awake?"

"Here, here," George said.

Wood wasn't pleased.

"He was embarrassed," Fred commented.

"Now, listen here, you lot," he said, glowering at them all. "We should have won the Quidditch cup last year. We're easily the best team. But unfortunately — owing to circumstances beyond our control —"

Harry shifted guiltily in his seat. He had been unconscious in the hospital wing for the final match of the previous year, meaning that Gryffindor had been a player short and had suffered their worst defeat in three hundred years.

"McLaggen played Seeker," Percy said, "that's the real reason we lost."

Wood took a moment to regain control of himself. Their last defeat was clearly still torturing him.

"So this year, we train harder than ever before… Okay, let's go and put our new theories into practice!" Wood shouted, seizing his broomstick and leading the way out of the locker rooms. Stiff-legged and still yawning, his team followed.

They had been in the locker room so long that the sun was up completely now, although remnants of mist hung over the grass in the stadium. As Harry walked onto the field, he saw Ron and Hermione sitting in the stands.

"Aren't you finished yet?" called Ron incredulously.

"Haven't even started," said Harry, looking jealously at the toast and marmalade Ron and Hermione had brought out of the Great Hall. "Wood's been teaching us new moves."

Molly Weasley spluttered. "Harry needed his food! I can't believe… making him skip a meal… I ought to… Oh! Fiddlesticks! It's too late now, but mark my words, if I'd known what that boy was up too… He wouldn't have been able to block a Quaffle for months, he'd be so sore from de-gnoming gardens."

"Now, dear," Arthur said, "he isn't even one of ours, so you couldn't punish him."

"But I could tell Severus to give him detention," she said.

"He'll be sick of slugs by the time he graduates, I can assure you," Snape said with a sneer.

He mounted his broomstick and kicked at the ground, soaring up into the air. The cool morning air whipped his face, waking him far more effectively than Wood's long talk. It felt wonderful to be back on the Quidditch field. He soared right around the stadium at full speed, racing Fred and George.

"What's that funny clicking noise?" called Fred as they hurtled around the corner.

Harry looked into the stands. Colin was sitting in one of the highest seats, his camera raised, taking picture after picture, the sound strangely magnified in the deserted stadium.

"It helped, though, during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. You try tricking a Hungarian Horntail with flashes from cameras going off every few seconds," Harry said.

Cedric grimaced at the memory of his own dragon.

Lily looked ashen.

"Look this way, Harry! This way!" he cried shrilly.

"Who's that?" said Fred.

"No idea," Harry lied, putting on a spurt of speed that took him as far away as possible from Colin.

"What's going on?" said Wood, frowning, as he skimmed through the air toward them. "Why's that first year taking pictures? I don't like it. He could be a Slytherin spy, trying to find out about our new training program."

"He's in Gryffindor," said Harry quickly.

"And the Slytherins don't need a spy, Oliver," said George.

"Cue ominous music," Hermione muttered, before panicking and pinching Fred's lips together to prevent what was coming.

To everyone's surprise, Neville was the one who created the 'ominous music'.

"What makes you say that?" said Wood testily.

"Because they're here in person," said George, pointing.

Several people in green robes were walking onto the field, broomsticks in their hands.

"I don't believe it!" Wood hissed in outrage. "I booked the field for today! We'll see about this!"

Wood shot toward the ground, landing rather harder than he meant to in his anger, staggering slightly as he dismounted. Harry, Fred, and George followed.

"Flint!" Wood bellowed at the Slytherin Captain. "This is our practice time! We got up specially! You can clear off now!"

Marcus Flint was even larger than Wood. He had a look of trollish cunning

"That had to be a typo," Charles said.

"What are you talking about?" Vernon asked, moustache twitching.

"Trolls are not cunning. In fact, the very opposite is true. Trolls as stupid as they are smelly, that is to say, very," Ree explained.

on his face as he replied, "Plenty of room for all of us, Wood."

Angelina, Alicia, and Katie had come over, too. There were no girls on the Slytherin team, who stood shoulder to shoulder, facing the Gryffindors, leering to a man.

"Leering, like 'wow those girls are hot', or leering like 'I kill you with my eyes'?" asked Bill.

"Mostly the second one, though I'm pretty sure I caught Flint eyeing Wood's arse a few times," Percy said.

"But I booked the field!" said Wood, positively spitting with rage. "I booked it!"

"Ah," said Flint. "But I've got a specially signed note here from Professor Snape.

Severus received some nasty glares from the Gryffindors in the room.

Until…

"Oh, please," Hermione snapped. "If any of you had bothered to ask, Professor McGonagall did the same for Wood to train Harry the year before."

"Oops," Harry said sheepishly. "Sorry Professor Snape."

"You are forgiven," he responded.

'I, Professor S. Snape, give the Slytherin team permission to practice today on the Quidditch field owing to the need to train their new Seeker'. "

"You've got a new Seeker?" said Wood, distracted. "Where?"

And from behind the six large figures before them came a seventh, smaller boy, smirking all over his pale, pointed face. It was Draco Malfoy.

No one knew whether they should groan, or be pleased at this announcement. Draco was growing on people like mold on old bread.

"Aren't you Lucius Malfoy's son?" said Fred, looking at Malfoy with dislike.

"Funny you should mention Draco's father," said Flint as the whole Slytherin team smiled still more broadly. "Let me show you the generous gift he's made to the Slytherin team."

All seven of them held out their broomsticks. Seven highly polished, brand-new handles and seven sets of fine gold lettering spelling the words Nimbus Two Thousand and One gleamed under the Gryffindors' noses in the early morning sun.

James whimpered.

"Very latest model. Only came out last month," said Flint carelessly, flicking a speck of dust from the end of his own. "I believe it outstrips the old Two Thousand series by a considerable amount. As for the old Cleansweeps" — he smiled nastily at Fred and George, who were both clutching Cleansweep Fives —" sweeps the board with them."

None of the Gryffindor team could think of anything to say for a moment. Malfoy was smirking so broadly his cold eyes were reduced to slits.

"I was not!" Draco snapped. "Honestly, when I smirk, I do it with class!"

"Oh, look," said Flint. "A field invasion."

Ron and Hermione were crossing the grass to see what was going on.

"What's happening?" Ron asked Harry. "Why aren't you playing? And what's he doing here?"

"You were just jealous that you weren't on the team," George said.

"That, and I was an ass to him all the year before," Draco said.

He was looking at Malfoy, taking in his Slytherin Quidditch robes.

"I'm the new Slytherin Seeker, Weasley," said Malfoy, smugly. "Everyone's just been admiring the brooms my father's bought our team."

Ron gaped, open-mouthed, at the seven superb broomsticks in front of him.

"Good, aren't they?" said Malfoy smoothly. "But perhaps the Gryffindor team will be able to raise some gold and get new brooms, too. You could raffle off those Cleansweep Fives; I expect a museum would bid for them."

The Slytherin team howled with laughter.

"At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in," said Hermione sharply. "They got in on pure talent."

Even Severus looked impressed at that comeback.

The smug look on Malfoy's face flickered.

"No one asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood," he spat.

Tonks' face turned red, her hair following not long after that. "You DON'T ever use that word!" she hissed.

"And you now know why I'm embarrassed by this chapter. I was an ass," Draco said, yet again.

"Yes, you were," Lily said, and that was that.

"Just so you know, I am disappointed, Draco. I am extremely disappointed with you." Severus hissed.

"You are the last person I would ever want to disappoint," Draco said, "but everything I everything I did, was for love."

"Yeah, whatever," Severus said then hissed skeptically, "Is this true,"

"No, but it sure sounded good didn't it," Draco said.

Severus merely groaned in response.

Harry knew at once that Malfoy had said something really bad because there was an instant uproar at his words. Flint had to dive in front of Malfoy to stop Fred and George jumping on him, Alicia shrieked, "How dare you!" and Ron plunged his hand into his robes, pulled out his wand, yelling, "You'll pay for that one, Malfoy!" and pointed it furiously under Flint's arm at Malfoys face.

"This won't go well," Remus said.

A loud bang echoed around the stadium and a jet of green light shot out of the wrong end of Ron's wand, hitting him in the stomach and sending him reeling backward onto the grass.

"Uh-oh," Ginny said.

"Ron! Ron! Are you all right?" squealed Hermione.

Ron opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Instead he gave an almighty belch and several slugs dribbled out of his mouth onto his lap.

"Eugh," several people said. Petunia looked quite green.

The Slytherin team were paralyzed with laughter. Flint was doubled up, hanging onto his new broomstick for support. Malfoy was on all fours, banging the ground with his fist. The Gryffindors were gathered around Ron, who kept belching large, glistening slugs. Nobody seemed to want to touch him.

"We'd better get him to Hagrid's, it's nearest," said Harry to Hermione, who nodded bravely, and the pair of them pulled Ron up by the arms.

"Those are true friends," Charlie said. "I probably wouldn't have done it. I'd have been laughing right along with the Slytherins.

Ron glared at his brother.

"Come on, Ron," Bill cajoled. "You have to admit that it was pretty funny."

"You didn't have to taste slugs, or feel them in your throat and stomach, wriggling."

Luna even looked ill at that description.

"What happened, Harry? What happened? Is he ill? But you can cure him, can't you?" Colin had run down from his seat and was now dancing alongside them as they left the field. Ron gave a huge heave and more slugs dribbled down his front.

"Oooh," said Colin, fascinated and raising his camera. "Can you hold him still, Harry?"

"NO!" Remus said.

"Get out of the way, Colin!" said Harry angrily. He and Hermione supported Ron out of the stadium and across the grounds toward the edge of the forest.

"Nearly there, Ron," said Hermione as the gamekeeper's cabin came into view. "You'll be all right in a minute — almost there —"

They were within twenty feet of Hagrid's house when the front door opened, but it wasn't Hagrid who emerged. Gilderoy Lockhart, wearing robes of palest mauve today, came striding out.

"Quick, behind here," Harry hissed, dragging Ron behind a nearby bush. Hermione followed, somewhat reluctantly.

"Wise decision," Severus said.

"It's a simple matter if you know what you're doing!" Lockhart was saying loudly to Hagrid. "If you need help, you know where I am! I'll let you have a copy of my book. I'm surprised you haven't already got one — I'll sign one tonight and send it over. Well, good-bye!" And he strode away toward the castle.

"Good riddance to bad rubbish," Minerva said.

"I must admit," Dumbledore said, "that he is getting on my last nerve, and I haven't even hired him yet."

"I hope you don't hire him at all," Ree said. "I want my grandson to have a quality education, and if you don't get your act together, I'll make arrangements to send him to Beauxbatons."

"Oy, Harry, French girls, Veela," Ron said, waggling his brows.

"Oy, Ron, Ginny," Harry replied.

Ginny eyed Harry then said, "I trust Harry. If Fleur didn't manage to ensnare him during the tournament, then I have nothing to worry about."

Harry waited until Lockhart was out of sight, then pulled Ron out of the bush and up to Hagrid's front door. They knocked urgently.

Hagrid appeared at once, looking very grumpy, but his expression brightened when he saw who it was.

"Bin wonderin' when you'd come ter see me — come in, come in — thought you mighta bin Professor Lockhart back again —"

Harry and Hermione supported Ron over the threshold into the one-roomed cabin, which had an enormous bed in one corner, a fire crackling merrily in the other. Hagrid didn't seem perturbed by Ron's slug problem, which Harry hastily explained as he lowered Ron into a chair.

"Better out than in," he said cheerfully, plunking a large copper basin in front of him. "Get 'em all up, Ron."

"I don't think there's anything to do except wait for it to stop," said Hermione anxiously, watching Ron bend over the basin. "That's a difficult curse to work at the best of times, but with a broken wand —"

"It was a recipe for disaster," Minerva said.

Hagrid was bustling around making them tea. His boarhound, Fang, was slobbering over Harry.

"What did Lockhart want with you, Hagrid?" Harry asked, scratching Fang's ears.

"Givin' me advice on gettin' kelpies out of a well," growled Hagrid, moving a half-plucked rooster off his scrubbed table and setting down the teapot. "Like I don' know. An' bangin' on about some banshee he banished. If one word of it was true, I'll eat my kettle."

Severus beamed. "If Hagrid can see through that fraud, then anyone can," he announced.

It was most unlike Hagrid to criticize a Hogwarts' teacher, and Harry looked at him in surprise. Hermione, however, said in a voice somewhat higher than usual, "I think you're being a bit unfair. Professor Dumbledore obviously thought he was the best man for the job —"

Several people snorted at this.

"He was the on'y man for the job," said Hagrid, offering them a plate of treacle fudge, while Ron coughed squelchily into his basin. "An' I mean the on'y one. Gettin' very difficult ter find anyone fer the Dark Arts job. People aren't too keen ter take it on, see. They're startin' ter think it's jinxed. No one's lasted long fer a while now. So tell me," said Hagrid, jerking his head at Ron. "Who was he tryin' ter curse?"

"Malfoy called Hermione something — it must've been really bad, because everyone went wild."

"It was bad," said Ron hoarsely, emerging over the tabletop looking pale and sweaty. "Malfoy called her 'Mudblood,' Hagrid —"

Ron dived out of sight again as a fresh wave of slugs made their appearance. Hagrid looked outraged.

"He didn'!" he growled at Hermione.

"He did," she said. "But I don't know what it means. I could tell it was really rude, of course —"

"Wassit mean?" Dudley asked.

"Dirty blood," Lily explained. "Some people who are prejudiced against magicals born to non-magical parents call us that. It's rather like calling a black person the 'n' word or calling a woman the 'c' word. It just isn't done in polite company."

"So that's bad, then?" Dudley asked.

"Very," Lily said.

"But Dad's used the 'n' word before. Does that mean he isn't polite?" Dudley asked.

Vernon looked embarrassed and attempted to shrink in his seat. He was unsuccessful.

"Yes, Duddy-dear," Petunia said, "that means that Daddy isn't polite. Daddy is grounded for that." Her eyes were narrowed.

"Yes, Petunia, dear," Vernon said meekly.

"It's about the most insulting thing he could think of," gasped Ron, coming back up. "Mudblood's a really foul name for someone who is Muggle-born — you know, non-magic parents. There are some wizards — like Malfoy's family — who think they're better than everyone else because they're what people call pure-blood."

"Like my mum," Sirius said, solemnly. He looked haunted.

He gave a small burp, and a single slug fell into his outstretched hand. He threw it into the basin and continued, "I mean, the rest of us know it doesn't make any difference at all. Look at Neville Longbottom — he's pure-blood and he can hardly stand a cauldron the right way up."

"That's because I'm scared of Professor Snape," Neville said. "Or rather, I used to be scared of him, though after this I'll have a hard time keeping a straight face thinking of his Patronus. A walrus," he muttered the last, snickering under his breath, then said, "Admittedly, I'm usually the last in the class to catch on to new spells."

"An' they haven't invented a spell our Hermione can' do," said Hagrid proudly, making Hermione go a brilliant shade of magenta.

"It's a disgusting thing to call someone," said Ron, wiping his sweaty brow with a shaking hand. "Dirty blood, see. Common blood. It's ridiculous. Most wizards these days are half-blood anyway. If we hadn't married Muggles we'd've died out."

"Inbreeding," Ree sniffed. "At least the Muggles learned from this. They even made laws to prevent it. If you ask me, the Wizengamot members should all take a Muggle Biology course. Maybe then they'd do something to fix this mess."

He retched and ducked out of sight again.

"Well, I don' blame yeh fer tryin' ter curse him, Ron," said Hagrid loudly over the thuds of more slugs hitting the basin. "Bu' maybe it was a good thing yer wand backfired. 'Spect Lucius Malfoy would've come marchin' up ter school if yeh'd cursed his son. Least yer not in trouble."

Draco nodded at that and said, "Father would have had you expelled. He very nearly had Moody brought up on charges for the ferret incident."

"The what incident?" Charles asked.

"I don't want to talk about it," Draco said, then continued reading.

Harry would have pointed out that trouble didn't come much worse than having slugs pouring out of your mouth, but he couldn't; Hagrid's treacle fudge had cemented his jaws together.

"I should have warmed it up a little, then that wouldn't have happened," Harry said.

"Harry," said Hagrid abruptly as though struck by a sudden thought. "Gotta bone ter pick with yeh. I've heard you've bin givin' out signed photos. How come I haven't got one?"

James choked on air.

Furious, Harry wrenched his teeth apart.

"I have not been giving out signed photos," he said hotly. "If Lockhart's still spreading that around —"

But then he saw that Hagrid was laughing.

"Oh," James said in relief, "that explains it."

"I'm on'y jokin'," he said, patting Harry genially on the back and sending him face first into the table. "I knew yeh hadn't really. I told Lockhart yeh didn' need teh. Yer more famous than him without tryin'."

Severus laughed loudly at that, picturing Lockhart's face.

"Bet he didn't like that," said Harry, sitting up and rubbing his chin.

"Don' think he did," said Hagrid, his eyes twinkling. "An' then I told him I'd never read one o' his books an' he decided ter go. Treacle fudge, Ron?" he added as Ron reappeared.

"No thanks," said Ron weakly. "Better not risk it."

"A wise decision," Ree said. "Light meals for the rest of the day, would be just the thing."

"Er, Grandmum," Harry said, "Light for Ron is six chicken legs, two heaping mounds of potatoes, a scoop of shepherd's pie, one mint humbug, a scoop of chips, and a large slice of pie ala mode."

"And a ham sandwich 'in case he gets peckish later on'," Hermione added. Harry nodded in agreement.

"I'm not that bad, am I?" Ron asked.

"Yes, you are," the three oldest Weasley boys said, with the twins nodding in agreement.

"I'm afraid that they are correct, Ron," Arthur said.

"I think you're being too hard on him," Molly said, frowning.

Arthur shook his head. "He's worse than Sirius ever was, Mollywobbles," he said. "Honestly, I don't know how our son stays so skinny, he eats so much."

The room stayed silent for a minute while Molly and Ron thought about what was said, then Draco, who was beginning to feel uncomfortable, began to read again.

"Come an' see what I've bin growin'," said Hagrid as Harry and Hermione finished the last of their tea.

In the small vegetable patch behind Hagrid's house were a dozen of the largest pumpkins Harry had ever seen. Each was the size of a large boulder.

"Gettin' on well, aren't they?" said Hagrid happily. "Fer the Halloween feast… should be big enough by then."

"What've you been feeding them?" said Harry.

Hagrid looked over his shoulder to check that they were alone.

"Well, I've bin givin' them — you know — a bit o' help —"

Harry noticed Hagrid's flowery pink umbrella leaning against the back wall of the cabin. Harry had had reason to believe before now that this umbrella was not all it looked; in fact, he had the strong impression that Hagrid's old school wand was concealed inside it. Hagrid wasn't supposed to use magic. He had been expelled from Hogwarts in his third year, but Harry had never found out why — any mention of the matter and Hagrid would clear his throat loudly and become mysteriously deaf until the subject was changed.

"I can understand why," Luna said. "He must have been terribly embarrassed."

"An Engorgement Charm, I suppose?" said Hermione, halfway between disapproval and amusement. "Well, you've done a good job on them."

"That's what yer little sister said," said Hagrid, nodding at Ron. "Met her jus' yesterday." Hagrid looked sideways at Harry, his beard twitching. "Said she was jus' lookin' round the grounds, but I reckon she was hopin' she might run inter someone else at my house." He winked at Harry. "If yeh ask me, she wouldn' say no ter a signed —"

Ginny moaned loudly, and Harry hugged her tighter. "Just think," he whispered to her, "No one will ever own a 'Harry Potter autograph', but you will always have me." She smiled up at him at that.

"Oh, shut up," said Harry. Ron snorted with laughter and the ground was sprayed with slugs.

"Watch it!" Hagrid roared, pulling Ron away from his precious pumpkins.

It was nearly lunchtime and as Harry had only had one bit of treacle fudge since dawn, he was keen to go back to school to eat.

"And no wonder," Lily said. "After spending a summer half-starved."

They said good-bye to Hagrid and walked back up to the castle, Ron hiccoughing occasionally, but only bringing up two very small slugs.

They had barely set foot in the cool entrance hall when a voice rang out, "There you are, Potter — Weasley." Professor McGonagall was walking toward them, looking stern. "You will both do your detentions this evening."

"What're we doing, Professor?" said Ron, nervously suppressing a burp.

"You will be polishing the silver in the trophy room with Mr. Filch," said Professor McGonagall. "And no magic, Weasley — elbow grease."

The Marauders moaned at this, all having experienced that very detention at some point during their school careers.

Ron gulped. Argus Filch, the caretaker, was loathed by every student in the school.

"And he loathes us back," Fred said.

"Especially after those boils you gave him last term," Hermione said.

"And you, Potter, will be helping Professor Lockhart answer his fan mail," said Professor McGonagall.

"Oh n — Professor, can't I go and do the trophy room, too?" said Harry desperately.

"Certainly not," said Professor McGonagall, raising her eyebrows. "Professor Lockhart requested you particularly. Eight o'clock sharp, both of you."

"I think she did that on purpose," Harry said, "knowing how much it would torture me. She didn't want us to ever consider flying a car to Hogwarts again."

Minerva smiled smugly.

Harry and Ron slouched into the Great Hall in states of deepest gloom, Hermione behind them, wearing a well-you-did-break-school-rules sort of expression. Harry didn't enjoy his shepherd's pie as much as he'd thought. Both he and Ron felt they'd got the worse deal.

They both nodded and glared at each other.

"Filch'll have me there all night," said Ron heavily. "No magic! There must be about a hundred cups in that room. I'm no good at Muggle cleaning."

"I'd swap anytime," said Harry hollowly. "I've had loads of practice with the Dursleys. Answering Lockhart's fan mail… he'll be a nightmare…"

Petunia had the grace to look slightly ashamed, but she also looked a little proud. Whether it was the fact that Harry was so good at cleaning or something else entirely, no one would ever know.

Saturday afternoon seemed to melt away, and in what seemed like no time, it was five minutes to eight, and Harry was dragging his feet along the second-floor corridor to Lockhart's office. He gritted his teeth and knocked.

The door flew open at once. Lockhart beamed down at him.

"Ah, here's the scalawag!" he said.

Harry shuddered. "I swear, Lockhart took lessons from Professor Dumbledore. Scalawag… dear boy… are you noticing a trend with Professors using terms that are usually associated with little old ladies who own a lot of cats… well, with the exception of Mrs. Figg, that is. She always called me poppet." He shuddered again.

"Come in, Harry, come in —"

Shining brightly on the walls by the light of many candles were countless framed photographs of Lockhart. He had even signed a few of them. Another large pile lay on his desk.

Tonks looked disgusted. "With an ego that size, it's a miracle he can walk straight.

"You can address the envelopes!" Lockhart told Harry, as though this was a huge treat.

"That's supposed to be a detention?" Percy said. "I can't believe Professor McGonagall just let him do that."

"This first one's to Gladys Gudgeon, bless her — huge fan of mine —"

The minutes snailed by. Harry let Lockhart's voice wash over him, occasionally saying, "Mmm" and "Right" and "Yeah." Now and then he caught a phrase like, "Fame's a fickle friend, Harry," or "Celebrity is as celebrity does, remember that."

Dudley's eyes began to glaze over.

The candles burned lower and lower, making the light dance over the many moving faces of Lockhart watching him. Harry moved his aching hand over what felt like the thousandth envelope, writing out Veronica Smethley's address. It must be nearly time to leave, Harry thought miserably, please let it be nearly time

And then he heard something — something quite apart from the spitting of the dying candles and Lockhart's prattle about his fans.

It was a voice, a voice to chill the bone marrow, a voice of breathtaking, ice-cold venom.

Dudley whimpered, now alert.

"Come… come to me… Let me rip you... Let me tear you... Let me kill you…"

Lily's eyes went wide as Dudley let out a loud sob.

Harry gave a huge jump and a large lilac blot appeared on Veronica Smethley's street.

"What?" he said loudly.

"I know!" said Lockhart. "Six solid months at the top of the best-seller list! Broke all records!"

"What an arrogant idiot," Sirius said, showing his rarely used intelligence.

"No," said Harry frantically. "That voice!"

"Sorry?" said Lockhart, looking puzzled. "What voice?"

"That — that voice that said — didn't you hear it?"

Ree looked at Harry in concern.

"He really did hear something," Hermione said. "He's not mental… well not that kind of mental anyway."

Lockhart was looking at Harry in high astonishment.

"What are you talking about, Harry? Perhaps you're getting a little drowsy? Great Scott — look at the time! We've been here nearly four hours! I'd never have believed it — the time's flown, hasn't it?"

Harry didn't answer. He was straining his ears to hear the voice again, but there was no sound now except for Lockhart telling him he mustn't expect a treat like this every time he got detention. Feeling dazed, Harry left.

"So, to get out of detention," Sirius said, "all I have to do is pretend to hear a voice that doesn't exist?"

James smacked him on the back of the head.

It was so late that the Gryffindor common room was almost empty. Harry went straight up to the dormitory. Ron wasn't back yet. Harry pulled on his pajamas, got into bed, and waited. Half an hour later, Ron arrived, nursing his right arm and bringing a strong smell of polish into the darkened room.

"My muscles have all seized up," he groaned, sinking on his bed. "Fourteen times he made me buff up that Quidditch cup before he was satisfied. And then I had another slug attack all over a Special Award for Services to the School. Took ages to get the slime off… How was it with Lockhart?"

"How do you think?" Harry asked rhetorically.

Keeping his voice low so as not to wake Neville, Dean, and Seamus, Harry told Ron exactly what he had heard.

"And Lockhart said he couldn't hear it?" said Ron. Harry could see him frowning in the moonlight. "D'you think he was lying? But I don't get it — even someone invisible would've had to open the door."

"I know," said Harry, lying back in his four-poster and staring at the canopy above him. "I don't get it either."

"Is someone going to get killed?" Sirius asked.

"No, Sirius," Harry said. "No one will get killed."

"Oh," Sirius said, "Not even Snape?"

"No not even Snape," Harry said in a monotone.

"What if he was doing the killing?" Sirius asked.

"While he is capable of killing someone, he did not kill anyone in Hogwarts," Harry said dully.

The room was silent for a moment while Percy accepted the book from Draco, and poured himself a cup of tea.

"So… Snape," James said, breaking the silence. "How many people have you killed?"

"It's not important how many people I've killed. What's important is how I get along with the people who are still alive," Severus replied.

"That's deep," Sirius said. "Oh. Dear. Merlin. I just admired something that Snape said.


50 points: There are two hidden movie quotes in this chapter. They are from the same movie. What movie is it? I'll give you a hint... Think Bruce Willis.