Only AFC makes it possible. Thanks again guys.
Chapter Three - Sleep for Fun and Prophet
"Potter!" yelled the caretaker, grabbing Harry's shoulder roughly.
Harry suddenly stopped scrubbing and sat up, blinking his eyes, as if he was coming out of a daze.
"Sorry, Gig-, er, sir," he said, nearly slipping up and calling the man his pet name of 'Giggles'. "I didn't notice you there."
"I've been calling you for two minutes already," snarled the perpetually annoyed man. "You should have gone back to your dorm twenty minutes ago. What do you think you are doing?"
"Sorry, sir," said Harry again. "I guess I just got caught up in it."
"You got caught up? Scrubbing floors?" asked Filch. "Is there something wrong with you, boy?"
"Yes, sir. I mean, no, sir. Nothing wrong, I just got caught up," said Harry, stumbling over himself trying to answer. "It's kind of hypnotic, if you know what I mean."
Filch squinted and glared at Harry, possibly trying to see if he was making fun or not.
"Er, can I go then, sir?" asked Harry, tightly clutching the worn old brush he had been using to his chest.
Filch glared some more, then cast a glance over the area where Harry had been working. It was spotless.
"Yeah," he said, sounding annoyed and looking at Harry suspiciously. "Get back to your dorm."
Harry wasted no time in walking away, not even pausing as he called a hurried "Thank you, sir" over his shoulder.
Filch watched the boy run away, and then looked at the floor again.
"Filthy urchin," he grumbled out loud. "Must be up to something."
Luckily, he didn't notice Harry had taken the brush with him.
It would not do to lose the specially enchanted thing to the unappreciative, grumpy bugger, not after it had cost Harry some favours and a few coins to get a couple of talented sixth years to design and make it.
They were having a bit of trouble working out why the gloves Harry originally commissioned for a similar purpose had dissolved after one cauldron-scrubbing detention. The flesh coloured gloves had a lot of charms on them, mainly to hide them from Snape, but nothing should have made them fall apart like they did after a single use.
Their best guess was some sort of penetrating acid or poison in the cauldrons, but not even Harry believed Greasy hated him enough to try and kill him, well not yet anyway - or at least not during a detention the slimy git personally supervised - so it had to be something else. Charming the brush was an alternative that seemed to be working out well enough though.
They still hadn't completely mastered the sleep-walking curse yet either, at least not to the point where they could add a timed alarm and a proximity sensor. That and the need to cast it every time were the current major drawbacks of his plan.
Harry was hoping they would be able to implant the curse into something like a necklace, meaning it would not have to be cast each time, but would just need to be put on and activated somehow for a set period.
Once they had, the brush and the curse together would be perfect for many of the boring cleaning chores Giggles and Greasy loved to heap on the first years, and him especially.
There was something inherently satisfying thinking about being able to get a few hours extra sleep while Greasy thought he was been punished – almost as satisfying as watching the git's blood pressure slowly rise whenever he tried to get a rise out of Harry using lame insults, but only gave Harry more opportunities to demonstrate his apathy to the twit's antagonism. Harry's record for inspiring a time-wasting rant from the nut case was currently fifteen minutes, but he was certain he was on track to get that up to at least thirty without lifting a finger – literally.
It was after another such sleepy, floor scrubbing detention that Harry suddenly found himself standing in a dimly lit, unused classroom. In front of him stood a large mirror set inside an elaborate, ornate frame, silently standing as if waiting for somebody to use it. Strange, foreign looking words were carved along the top edge – which Harry didn't bother to try to read or decipher.
Unsure of exactly how he got there, but figuring he must have nodded off on his way back to the dorms and was still being affected by the sleep-walking curse, Harry shrugged and was about to leave when he noticed something wrong about his reflection.
It didn't show him standing in a classroom clutching a worn old brush to his chest; it showed him comfortably stretched out, with his hands behind his head, in an enormous, soft looking hammock that was gently swinging from side to side by itself.
An exotic looking drink of some description sat in a huge glass on a side table, with a straw stretching at least a metre to his mouth. As he rocked, the straw magically stretched and shrank, staying in place in his drink with no effort on his part.
As he watched, his mirror-self lazily reached out to take a handful of food, possibly crisps, from a bowl hovering magically nearby.
In front of his hammock, a huge screen floated. It was at least two metres wide and almost as tall, and was playing a movie that Harry couldn't really make out.
The hammock looked like it was positioned on the veranda of a wooden bungalow. A sandy, warm looking beach stretched out around it, running down to the crystal blue waters of a tropical looking ocean that lapped gently on the shore. Palms and other exotic trees and plants swayed gently in a slight breeze, giving the same impression of relaxed luxury Harry always felt when enviously looking at the Dursley's junk mail advertising holidays in a warmer climate – a climate that was always pleasant enough to have lovely looking girls frolicking about in skimpy bikinis.
Behind him, inside his simple looking bungalow, a crowd of smiling House-elves scampered about, apparently taking care of his every need even before he knew he wanted it.
"Hmm, now that's definitely something to aim towards," he said to himself, surprisingly finding the vision inspiring.
Then he nodded and left the room heading for his bed, determined to add conjuring a hammock to his ever-growing list of spells he needed to learn, but not motivated enough to take careful note of the location of the classroom and its magical mirror.
After all, once he had seen perfection, why would he need to return?
Reading was never really Harry's 'thing'.
If Petunia ever caught sight of him doing something as 'non-productive' as reading, she quickly found more chores for him.
Harry learned very early on that finishing tasks too quickly only led to more work and not to time off to pursue his own activities, like reading. He figured out dozens of ways to make his never-ending list of chores easier, but still managed to drag out even the simplest job for extraordinary lengths of time, often without appearing to slack off at all.
Besides, reading was actually quite a lot of work. Thousands of words wasted describing things that simply did not matter to the story, or volumes filled with meaningless day to day routines of the characters, really did nothing to ease the chore of making an understanding of it all.
Comic books were much, much better.
With only a few words and several panels of often elaborate illustrations, whole chapters of book meaning and plot could be covered. It really was a pity Harry's access to them was limited due to Dudley's obsessive need to deprive his cousin of anything remotely enjoyable, despite the fact there was still too much reading involved for the fat boy's brain to handle.
Learning that the staff and students at Hogwarts appeared to think reading was indeed productive changed Harry's attitude a great deal.
Hours could be wasted away, mostly asleep, just so long as he kept a book open in front of him, and remembered to cast a little used, simple spell to turn a page every now and then.
Nobody would bother him, trying to get him into some sort of extra-credit work, like volunteering to work an extra hour a week in the greenhouses or something, while he was apparently immersed in a book. These do-gooders would see him apparently concentrating on reading, and leave him alone, like he was some sort of testy Ravenclaw or something.
Not much in those pages sunk in, but he spent so much time 'fake-reading', that even that little bit of accidental learning started to accumulated.
Once Harry realised he was learning and slacking off at the same time, he started to take his selection of time-wasting volumes a bit more seriously. Gone were the meaningless histories that were not part of the curriculum. Out the door went the ridiculously obscure Magical Theory works he had no chance of understanding, although they had worked very well at reducing the number of people wanting to discuss what he was reading.
In came simpler books carefully selected to ensure anything he inadvertently did pick up would directly help in reducing his study workload.
Books filled with note-taking tips, essay writing examples, memory training tricks, study guides, old exams papers, even several works on improving penmanship and a really strange volume on self hypnosis all became his faithful extra-work-avoiding tools.
He sometimes also used a charm that could quietly read the text out to him without anybody else hearing, so that he didn't actually have to read the words, but it was an effort to cast.
Still, as more of it sunk in, Harry's apparent dedication somehow gained him a reputation as a person working hard to overcome his neglected Muggle upbringing, which was only a slight distortion of the truth really.
All he cared about was stopping people from bugging him, and in that he was mostly successful.
"Harry," whispered the red-head, Sue or Susan or something. "Do you have any more of those quills? I broke mine, again."
"Sorry," said Harry, looking up from his book. "I don't make them anymore, but if you go see that Ravenclaw prefect guy, the one with the crooked nose-"
"Err, yeah, could be. Anyway, he is making them now."
Sue smiled brightly.
"Thanks, Harry. You're a life saver."
Harry grinned, nodded, and went back to his book. Offloading the production of his 'Assignment Quills' was a good idea, especially since the older boy managed to come up with a better way of combining the three quills that made them more durable and longer lasting. More importantly, it took the burden of manufacturing his increasingly popular invention away from him.
No need to mention that Harry still got a cut of the sale price, and most of the credit. He was building up quite a nice little profit with this and other time saving things he thought up, and that meant more resources to spend on avoiding work.
Yep, anything worth doing well was worth getting somebody more talented to do it for you.
"Harry, are you going to visit Hagrid? Can I come with you?"
Harry sighed and put down his book. Fuzzy the Gryff spent even more time in the library than he did, so it was natural they had gotten to know each other better, especially after the Troll thing. The fact she appeared to have no other friends also made Harry feel for her, since he knew exactly how lonely that could be. It didn't take a lot of effort to be kind.
Actually, it took a lot more effort to be nasty, which is why Harry didn't understand the lengths some people went to just to be mean, or why so many people thought of him as 'a nice guy' when all he was being was easy-going.
"Who? Oh, you mean Tiny? Yeah, I'm going to have tea with him," said Harry.
"How is calling him Tiny any easier than calling him Hagrid?" asked Hermione. "No, never mind answering that, I can see it now. Anyway, can I come with you?"
"Only if you promise not to go over this week's Herbology assignment requirements by more than about a fifth of the asking length," he said.
Her extensive knowledge, especially when it came to knowing which books held the relevant information he needed for his assignments, meant she often saved him a lot of time and energy, but her tendency to go well beyond what was requested by the professors was a habit that just had to be broken, for her own good as well as his. Proof reading a Hermione-written assignment, so that she would read his in turn, was proving to be less than an even trade.
Hermione bit her lip, obviously torn by conflicting desires.
"But I've already completed it," she said, a sly look appearing on her face. "That's means I'd have to rewrite it, and you know you are always telling me I do that too often."
"Very good," he said. "I guess that means you'll just have to promise to keep the next one down to the actual requirements instead. Deal?"
"Deal," she said, smiling happily at his praise. "Although I think it's a bit unfair of you to keep blackmailing me into not doing my very best."
"Oh, but I am not trying to make you do less than your very best," he said absently, packing up his books. "I'm just trying to convince you to do less, full stop. It should still be your very best, just nothing else."
He didn't notice the thoughtful look that appeared on Hermione's face at his words, but over the next few weeks, the professors definitely noticed their effect, and were mostly very grateful for it.
"How can you not be curious about what it was that Hagrid took from the vault?" Hermione asked. "It has to be very important for somebody to break in and try to steal it."
Harry shrugged and continued walking back towards the castle, their latest visit to Hagrid having gone well, despite the inedible rock cakes. Harry had a few in his pocket that he intended on using at breakfast the next time he sat with Slick.
"Hasn't got anything to do with me," he said.
Hermione was flabbergasted.
"But, don't you want to know?"
"Sure," he said, with a shrug, "just not badly enough to bother going to any effort to find out."
"Hiya, Harry," said Ron. "Got any new tips to pass on? I feel like I am busting a gut trying to keep up with all this bleeding work, even with your great quill thing."
"Nothing new, mate," said Harry, opening his eyes to see Ron and Nev standing over him.
Good places to catch a nap undisturbed were becoming harder to find. Unused classrooms were not particularly comfortable, since his transfiguration skills were not up to making anything even approaching a soft surface.
The astronomy tower was also out of bounds now, not because he had been caught, since that was not really that much of a deterrent, but because he was having a wonderful dream about flying off it and woke up to find himself climbing onto the parapet. It was lucky he was quite used to breaking himself out of trances and dreams and into instant alertness, or things could have gotten nasty.
Still, it shook him up and made him choose not to return to his favourite spot, at least not until he could be sure nothing like that was going to happen again.
So far he had resisted the temptation to live under his invisibility cloak, reasoning the more he used it the more likely its successful use would be compromised. He kept it only for those sacred times it was perfect for – morning sleep-ins.
"I've gotten the spells for making my bed down pat, but I doubt you need that, especially since you get House-elves to do yours, you lucky bugger."
Ron scrunched his nose up in mock disgust.
"Pity," the red-head said. "You've really saved me and the other guys a heap of work this year, you know?"
"Never really thought about it, but you're welcome," answered Harry.
He had in fact thought about it, long and hard. It was a novel experience to have people grateful to him, and he discovered that he rather enjoyed it. The fact he was just showing them what came naturally to him was a bonus.
"Oh, I have almost finished figuring out what's needed to build a life-like manikin to take my place in History of magic," he said, remembering another of his 'side projects'. "I can show you how to do that if you like, although I still can't actually cast the spells myself."
"Nah, we can sleep through History," said Ron, "unlike you."
Harry gave an involuntary shudder, still annoyed he had been unable to overcome his inability to catch some zs while there was a ghost in the room with him.
"So what's new, Nev?" he asked to change the topic. "You still thinking about joining the Griff's quid-thingy team? I was telling Eddy he might have to look out for you."
All three laughed at the idea of Neville playing Quidditch. His disastrous first flying lesson was infamous throughout the school, and was a sore point for the shy boy until Harry pointed how it got him out of having to join the team and the ridiculous amount of practice they put in.
"Why do you call Cedric Eddy, Harry?" asked Neville.
"I dunno," said Harry shrugging. "Ever since B1 and B2 doused him with that load of white fairy dust that made him sparkle when he went outside, I can't help but think of him as Eddy. It's really weird actually."
"Well you are pretty weird to begin with, mate," said Ron.
"True," conceded Harry. "Still, I just can't figure why all the girls like him so much. Its unnatural I tell you."
"Anyway," said Ron. "Neville's still having big problems in potions. Since I hear you cop it from Snape too, I thought you might have a suggestion or two for him."
"Professor Snape hates me almost as much as he hates you," said the shy boy.
"I doubt that," laughed Harry.
"Yeah, Nev," said Ron. "He hasn't taken points from you for breathing yet, has he?"
"No, but he did yell at me for turning the page of my book too loudly."
"Chin up, Nev," said Harry. "It's not that bad. Greasy's a bit of a toothless tiger really. He can't fail you out, you know? You just have to pass the owl Exam – nothing else matters."
Finding out exactly what the minimum requirements for obtaining a passing grade in all of his subjects was amongst one of the first things Harry did, since it meant he knew what to concentrate on and what he could really slack off on.
"But how am I going to pass when I've never made a potion right?" asked Neville. "I know I can do it, but I get so nervous with Professor Snape around that I just mess it all up."
"Neville, I'm sorry to say it, but with the rate you blow up potions, I think you need to be more worried about surviving long enough to even sit your exams!" laughed Ron.
"All right, all right. No need to depress him even more, Ron," said Harry, although he was smiling too. "Anyway, I got an idea. Prepare a whole stack of ingredients before hand and keep them in stay-fresh spelled bottles. Cut everything up wrongly in class and let him scream at you about it, but then swap them over for the good stuff when you can. That way you know the ingredients are good and it's one less thing to worry about when making the potion, and it'll drive Greasy nuts the first few times because he won't be able to figure out how you did it."
"That's a good idea," said Ron, once again impressed by Harry's ingenuity. "Do you do that?"
"Not anymore," said Harry sadly. "Greasy caught me after he said the first person to make a Pepper up potion correctly could leave early and I finished in three minutes."
"He tricked you," said Neville, outraged. "He'd never let somebody out early, not even a Slytherin."
"Probably, but it's okay because I got him back," said Harry, amused at Neville's indignation.
"I licensed the design of my self-stirrers to one of the fourth years' dads. He runs an Apothecary and is selling them hand over fist apparently."
"How's that getting him back?" asked Ron. "I mean I know it means you are making a galleon out of something the git made you stop using, but it's not really getting him back, is it?"
"We agreed to call them 'Snape-stirrers'" said Harry, grinning, "and we added a warning against people with greasy hair using them."
"Mister Potter," called Professor Sprout over the edge of the balcony.
"Yes, Professor?" asked Harry, floating back up to where she was standing.
"Are you aware there are rules against flying in the corridors?"
"Yes, Professor, one of the prefects explained that to me, but technically I am not flying in the corridors," Harry answered. "I am flying the void of the stairwells,"
The normally easy-going Head of House gave Harry a very stern, no-nonsense look. Harry had the decency to look a bit ashamed.
"Detention?" he asked.
"Oh yes," she replied.
Harry sighed and flew over the balustrade to land next to the professor.
"Care to explain?" she asked, watching him expertly dismount.
"Something went wrong with my shoelace tying Rune and my laces tied together while I was at the top of the stairs," said Harry. "I would have fallen down if it wasn't for the fact my bag was charmed to be light enough to float and it took my weight."
"So you decided not to walk down the stairs anymore, and to fly down on a personal broom instead?"
Harry shuffled his feet, for the first time feeling a bit embarrassed at one of his weak excuses.
"Well, yeah, although truthfully I am more interested in the going up bit. Going down is pretty easy, and I borrowed that broom from a fifth year, so please don't confiscate it."
Professor Sprout's expression softened.
"I see. Well, nevertheless, you broke an important school rule. See me after your last class today."
"I was being careful," protested Harry.
"Yes, and don't think I didn't notice how well you were flying, especially when that book fell out of your bag and you caught it, that's why your detention tonight will not be anything you are used to."
She stopped for a moment, as if trying to decide how to explain further.
"Tell me Harry," she continued after a moment. "How much do you know about Quidditch?"
Cedric was ready to pull his hair out.
On one hand, Potter was a natural in the air. His skill on a rickety old school broom was incredible. He managed to catch every ball Cedric threw, somehow moving into exactly the right spot to easily snatch them out of the air with the minimum of effort.
On the other hand, he was being as thick as a Troll's club – possibly on purpose.
"No, no, no," said Cedric. "The Beaters hit the Bludgers with their bats."
"But I don't want anybody hitting me!" protested Harry.
"Not that kind of bludger. This," Cedric said, holding up one of the balls for Harry to see, "is a Bludger."
"I still don't see what that has to do with me, if I am meant to be training to be a seeker like you."
Cedric rubbed his forehead and suddenly understood why it had been left up to him to explain the game to Harry, rather than one of the older teammates, or the captain – nobody else wanted the job and he was currently the 'low man' on the team.
"You need to know the rules," he said.
"Why? The way I see it, all I need to do is catch the little golden thingy and then it's game over, right?"
"Yes, but – you know what? Bugger it. You're right. Just catch the little golden thingy, and make sure not to get in anybody's way or get knocked off your broom, okay?"
"Fine," said Harry. "Can I go in yet?"
Harry just didn't understand why some people insisted on making things a lot more complicated than they needed to be, but at least now he had a half decent reason to buy his own broom, even if he couldn't use it inside.
"Just give me a hand to put the equipment back in the shed," said Cedric.
"All right," said Harry. "Just don't bite me," he added without thinking.
"Okay - no wait, what?"
"It's the Philosopher's Stone," said Hermione taking a seat next to Harry.
By now Harry pretty much knew everybody's name, but preferred to stick with his easier to remember nicknames. He did stop calling Hermione 'Fuzzy' as soon as she asked him not to do it anymore; something nobody else had thought of doing when he used his nicknames for them.
"No, it's a pair of glasses I picked up from my local second hand shop ages ago to keep as spares," said Harry, not looking up from his work.
"Not that, the thing that Dumbledore is hiding in the school. It's the fabled Philosopher's Stone, created by Nicholas Flamel, who, incidentally, once worked with Dumbledore."
Harry carefully put down the spare pair of glasses.
"I'm sure you are speaking English, but for life of me, I just can't understand what you are saying. Is it some sort of spell, or have I gone mad? Or have you gone mad? That's it isn't it? You've finally cracked. I told you the self-inflicted pressure was going to get you now you've lost your mind and will end up sitting in a corner for the rest of your life drooling on yourself and getting spoon fed. Actually, that doesn't sound that bad-"
"Honestly, Harry," huffed Hermione, again choosing to ignore his good natured mocking. "Remember, the dog that nearly ate us when we got lost? You know, the one with three heads?"
"Fluffy? And for the record I wasn't lost, I was just exploring alternative routes. You were lost."
"Whatever. I still say you were just as lost as us but won't admit it because that would mean you haven't figured the moving stairs out yet. Anyway, do you recall Fluffy was standing on a trap door?"
"If I said 'yes, of course', would you believe me?"
"And have you forgotten all about the Gringotts break-in and the thing Hagrid removed from that particular vault just that morning."
"No, but I've tried pretty hard to," answered Harry.
"Well I figured it all out," said Hermione, looking very smug. "Dumbledore knows somebody is after the Philosopher's Stone, so he took it from Gringotts and hid it under that trapdoor. Several of the teachers have put protections in place to stop it being stolen, the first being Fluffy."
"Excellent," he said. "I guess I'll have to start calling you Watson now."
"As in 'Elementary my dear Watson', right?" she asked. "No thank you."
"You are just too clever sometimes, you know that?" said Harry smiling and picking up his glasses to begin working on them again.
"Harry!" said Hermione.
"What? You figured it out, great, I'm really impressed, honestly, but what has it got to do with us?"
Hermione sighed again, knowing Harry was probably just as interested, but was never going to show it, since it might mean having to do something.
"What are you doing with those glasses?" she asked, deciding to let the matter drop for the moment. "They look identical to the ones you are wearing."
"Pretty good, eh? I asked a sixth year to make them like that for me, and I am going to enchant them."
"What are you going to do? Make them so you can have them work like binoculars? Or let you see in the dark? Or maybe let you see magic! Oh, let me look please? Hang on. Harry, this is a book about the spells needed to make portraits move. It's quite advanced magic."
"Yep," he said. "I can't cast any of these spells, but I'll just find the ones I need, and then I'll get somebody else to do it for me."
"Do what, exactly?" she asked.
Harry held up the glasses again, and Hermione could just make out the carefully drawn outlines of a pair of eyes sketched on the lenses.
"Nobody is ever going to catch me sleeping because they can see my eyes are closed," he said proudly.
Hermione groaned and shook her head sadly.
"If only you used your powers for good," she lamented mournfully.
One day on his way to Transfiguration, via a 'shortcut' of course, Harry was brought to a halt by a quiet voice calling him, despite the fact the corridor appeared to be very empty.
"Psssst. Mr Harry Potter sir!"
Harry stumbled to a stop, entirely uncertain why a suit of armour was apparently whispering to him. For a moment he considered ignoring it, like he did so many other things that would probably turn out to be inconvenient, but the chances were the voice would follow him around and drive him nuts, if he wasn't already.
"Hello?" he said to the armour, unsure of the proper way to go about addressing a weapon of war. "Can I help you?"
Since it had a ruddy great sword, he figured it was better to be safe and try for politeness. Knights wore armour, and they were meant to be chivalrous and stuff, so hopefully it wouldn't try to hack his head off for not bowing or something.
"Down here," said the voice. "Behinds the steel mans."
Harry cautiously leaned to the side to get a good look at who, or what, was calling him from the shadow of the suit. He kept a firm grip on his book bag, in case whatever it was needed a good whacking.
It was a House-elf.
"Pickles?" asked Harry.
"Me's not Pickles, sir. Me is Friese," said the elf, who he could now see was a lot younger than the first elf he had talked into doing his laundry and several other menial tasks.
"Sorry, Friese, I'm not much good with names, but what can I do for you?"
"The elveses in the kitchen been saying you is the wizard to go to when we is wanting work."
"Friese is needing extra work. Friese is a good elf, but there is never enough work to go around, and Friese is not wanting to leave Hoggywarts."
The elf paused for a moment, looking around fearfully as if to check that nobody could overhear them, and then continued in a hoarse whisper.
"Other elveses whisper to Friese and tellses him Harry Potter is a good wizard who can get what Friese's be needing, even though Harry Potter sir is not Friese's owner. They says Harry Potter sir pretends to be a very lazy wizard but appreciates elves cleaning up for him and is always busy doing something."
Harry automatically made to protest but hesitated, unsure what it was he was going to protest against. Friese went on in an almost pleading tone filled with hope.
"Please be helping Friese. Harry Potter sir is always coming up with new things for Pickles to be doing. Friese was hoping Harry Potter sir could do the same for him."
The elf looked very eager and excited.
"Ah, excuse me for a moment," said Harry taking a step back.
He looked up and down the corridor, checking to make sure somebody wasn't playing a joke, then pinched himself, really hard.
Nope, that hurt, which meant he wasn't asleep somewhere dreaming that dream again, and he really did have another elf begging him for work.
"This is just too good to be true," he mumbled to himself, a smile beaming from his face.
Hagrid's invite to 'witness something you'll not likely see again' had Harry a bit worried.
Hermione mentioned, several dozen times in fact, how she noticed the Keeper of the Keys acting strangely, well, stranger than normal. Skulking around the library was not the sort of activity Harry had come to expect from the outdoorsman.
So it was with a bit of trepidation that he ventured down to the hut at the edge of the forest and knocked, flying down under his cloak to make sure nobody spotted him going outside so close to curfew. His housemates would notice he was missing, but their sense of loyalty would stop anybody from ratting him out until much later.
Having people willing to cover for him was an unexpected surprise for Harry, especially since he hadn't really done that much to help them. All he did was show a few of them some shortcuts and time saving things he picked up, and he only really did that because he couldn't stand to see them working so much harder than they needed to, and now they were willing to help him out in the most unexpected ways.
Whatever the reason, it was nice to have a few people covering his back, and they saved him a lot of effort at times. Having a broom also saved him a lot of work, especially with long treks like this one.
"Who's there?" boomed Hagrid's voice from behind the closed door when Harry knocked.
"Keep it down, Hagrid," said Harry, lifting the cloak up so he could be seen.
Hagrid opened the door pulled Harry inside the swelteringly hot cottage.
"What is that?" asked Harry, peering into the large pot Hagrid had suspended over the roaring fire.
"That there is what I've got you down 'ere to see," said Hagrid, swinging the pot out and then removing a large egg-shaped thing. His hands were wearing the most enormous pair of mittens Harry had ever seen.
Moving quickly, as the heat was obviously penetrating his gloves, Hagrid put the thing onto the table, and Harry realised it wasn't just egg-shaped, it was an actual egg.
A very large, red-hot egg, and it was moving of its own accord, like something inside was struggling to get out.
Before he had a chance to say anything, a loud cracking noise came out of the egg and a series of fine breaks suddenly appeared all over it.
With another loud crack, a piece of the shell popped off, fell onto the table, and promptly burst into flame. Hagrid absently patted it out while watching the egg excitedly, not noticing his gloves catching fire and needing to also be put out.
From the new hole in the egg, there came a wet, wretched sound, worse than any fur ball hacking coughing of Mrs. Figg's oldest cat, Mr Tibbles, who was known to cause other cats to flee in terror and disgust during some of his more memorable choking sessions.
A sharply taloned claw rose from the hole and gripped the edge, and then a head straight out of a nightmare slowly emerged and emitted a barking cough, punctuated by sprays of yellow goo flying every which way.
Leathery and scaly, the head seemed to be all fangs, except for two beady, yellow eyes, which latched onto the sight of Harry and started menacingly tracking him the way a cobra might watch a mouse.
"Isn't he beautiful?" cried Hagrid in an emotion filled voice, actual tears rolling down his face as the lizardy-thing fought its way out of the quickly disintegrating egg. "Norwegian Ridgeback I reckon. I'm going to call him Norbert."
"Ridgeback? Isn't that some sort of dragon?" said Harry, unable to tear his eyes away from the tiny, savage looking monstrosity trying to stand up for the first time. "Where did you manage to get a hold of a dragon's egg?"
"I won him in a card game," said Hagrid, as the beast latched onto one of his mitten covered fingers and tried its best to tear the digit off, probably to eat it. "Oh look, he knows who his mummy is."
For a moment Harry was tempted to ask what Hagrid had put up for his stake to match a dragon egg, but then he figured knowing was probably too much trouble, in the long run.
"Hagrid, do you have any idea just how much work owning a pet like that is going to be? This isn't like the other animals you take care of, this is a dragon – a beast that is probably going to grow very large very quickly, and will likely need a whole lot more attention than a dog," he said, nodding over to where Fang was sensibly hiding under its blankets. "Just feeding it until it can hunt for itself is going to be a full time job, and then you are going to have to make sure it doesn't hunt people!"
Despite his recent experience with Hedwig, and what he had picked up about how easy Ron's rat was to look after, Harry still had some pretty definite ideas about the amount of work involved when it came to responsibility for others under your care. Ms Figg's cats were easy going, but still needed inordinate amounts of grooming and attention from the batty old girl, and that was when things were running smoothly!
Hagrid looked a bit worried for a moment, but shrugged it off.
"Nah, it'll be 'right," said the Groundskeeper dismissively.
Taking off his gloves, he picked up a large piece of raw meat and used it to entice the baby dragon away from the mutilated remains of the finger it was mauling. With a little mewling roar, and to Hagrid's delight, the dragon sent a burst of flame at the meat and then leapt onto it with gusto, sinking its sharply toothed maw deep into the slightly scorched flesh while its claws grabbed the rest in a death grip.
"Well I just hope Flo is stocked up on bandages and burn cream for you," said Harry, "and that you've had Beardy put some damn good fire protection spells on everything around here."
"Flo? Who's that?" asked Hagrid, still cooing over the savage butchering of the meat by his new pet.
"Flo, short for Florence Nightingale, you know, the Nurse," explained Harry still unable to look away from the fascinating sight of the dragon tearing into the lump of bloody flesh that was several times bigger than itself. "I'm surprised you didn't have Beardy or Kettle down here to watch too. I thought they'd have loved this."
Watching Norbert decimate the bleeding flesh in a frenzy of violence, Harry didn't notice Hagrid's uncomfortable silence at his comments.