"And might I add," Albus Dumbledore concluded his after-dinner announcements, "That any student who wishes to remain at Hogwarts during Christmas holidays should sign the list posted in the Receiving Hall, or inform your Head of House! Now, off to bed!"

It wasn't going to be a good Christmas; Malcolm knew it. He'd heard his parents talking, late at night, all during the previous summer when they thought he'd been asleep. While he didn't really understand it all, the boy knew who "The Dark Lord" was. After all, it was popping up in the news, and the other kids at school talked. That was part of the reason why he'd decided to stay at Hogwarts for the holidays.

Pushing back his plate of nearly untouched food, the twelve-year-old Second Year picked up his napkin from his lap, brushed a crumb from the green and silver crest of his robe, and got up to leave the Great Hall. He wished he hadn't eaten that bit of beef, as British beef didn't sit well with him. He thought the turnips might have been a bit underdone, as well, as he noticed the spot on his necktie.

With a sigh, he realized that he didn't care anymore. The previous year, when he'd been so very excited to be coming to Hogwarts, all he'd been able to think about was the Sorting. He was sure he was going to be in Slytherin House, since he was a Pureblood Wizard. And indeed, the old Hat had happily placed him there, assuring him that that was exactly where he belonged. He wiped at his tie again. Back then, he'd been so proud of the emerald and silver insignia.

But now the tie was just something that tended to choke him. And the Slytherin crest on all of his robes and cloaks? They were badges, but hardly badges of honor, as he'd once thought of them.

Now they were like shining beacons that made non-Slytherin students shy away from him, or made teachers forget to award him points for correct answers or good deeds. Therefore, Malcolm Baddock never spoke up in class anymore. He just took notes, stopped putting any effort into his work, and settled for the "A's" for "Acceptable or Average" that had replaced his First Year's string of "O's" for "outstanding".

No one seemed to care that his grades had fallen; not his parents, not the Staff, not his Prefects - not even his own Head of House.

He was watching his shoes as he shuffled out of the Hall. The scuffed and dull black leather was speckled with dirt, and they were getting too small. Last year, they'd been shiny and new, and a size too large so that he'd had to stuff tissue paper in the toes to keep them from rubbing his heels. He thought he might ask a Prefect to Charm them up a bit. Maybe. Later. He thought.

Some other students were talking about the many Christmas trees, twelve of them, he thought. Malcolm hadn't counted. In fact, the boy couldn't have told you the decoration theme of a single one of them. He hadn't really looked at them, on what would be his first Christmas away from home.

Someone at the front of the queue stopped. Malcolm bumped into her backside.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" The boy offered, his face flaming pink.

"How dare you?" A girl with a Ravenclaw crest on her robe gasped, spinning around with her hand going for her pocket.

"Filthy little snake! Did he curse you?" One of her friends demanded, pulling her own wand.

"I said I was sorry," Malcolm mumbled, showing them his empty hands that held no wand. He then turned and headed back towards the front of the Hall to use the side door and take the long way back to the Dungeons.

"Yes, well, he got the 'sorry' bit right, now, didn't he?" He heard one of them saying.

Making his way to the Receiving Hall, Malcolm remembered how excited he'd been only a year before. Even that long, empty hallway had held such a promise of magic, with its polished marble stairs and elaborate banisters. There were even portraits on the walls, all of them greeting the new arrivals.

But now, the hallway was quiet. No one else had gone that way.

Malcolm looked at the list of students remaining at the Castle for holiday. There were a few on it, but only one name that he saw written in deep green ink – signifying that person was in Slytherin. It was a Seventh Year boy that Malcolm didn't know. Then again, it wasn't hard to not know everyone in Slytherin. The upperclassmen were all pretty much aloof and wouldn't be caught dead talking to a Firstie.

He decided to add his name, figuring that his parents wouldn't care, but he had no quill and didn't know an Inking Charm to sign it with his wand.

He sighed, heading down the steps to the lowest corridor of the School where there were not any festive decorations. Perhaps his Head of House would be in his office. He had no idea where the Staff apartments were, either. He supposed he could just leave a note. On second thought, he thought that that might be a better idea to begin with.

Malcolm wondered if he'd be in trouble if he stayed. He knew he'd have to tell his parents, but he dreaded the long, cold walk and climb up to the Owlery. He didn't have his own owl, and there was no one he knew well enough to ask to borrow his or hers. Their Prefect, Malfoy, now he had a fine owl, Malcolm remembered.

He also remembered that he hadn't even discussed this with his parents. The truth was, he wasn't sure if he wanted to go home. Ever since returning from his First Year, his folks had been aloof and standoffish. Gone was the usual banter at the dinner table, and his mother seldom came to his bedroom doorway at night to look in on him anymore. His father hadn't said a dozen words all summer long, either. Most nights, he just sat in his chair near the window, rubbing at his left arm and staring off into the distance.

Only once had the boy asked what was wrong.

He still had the small white scar at the corner of his mouth to remind him of his mistake.

Only his footsteps, uncomfortably loud on the stone floor, accompanied him to his destination. He had to stop and double back, realizing that he'd walked right by the door. With a trembling fist, he knocked three times.

The door jerked open, and the boy jumped back with a startled gasp. He'd not even heard the footsteps to let him know that Professor Severus Snape had heard him knocking.

"What is it, Baddock?" Snape demanded, sounding and looking surly, as always.

"P-please, sir, I j-just…just…w-w-wanted to…" Malcolm's voice failed him, and he ducked, hiding his face in his shoulder as Snape reached up a hand to lean on the doorframe.

Malcolm didn't see the emotion cross the Potion Master's face. It was fleeting, gone in an instant, but it had been there.

"You wish to report to me that you plan to stay at the school over holiday?" Snape asked, his voice much lower and not so hard now.

"Y-yes, sir," Malcolm managed a nod, never making eye contact with his Head of House, but wondering how the teacher knew it.

Snape groaned. "From Longbottom, I expect it. I rather enjoy it," the Professor admitted, as Malcolm tensed up when he felt the hand on his shoulder. "You, however, are a Slytherin. One of my Slytherins," Snape reminded him. "Pity, I would have asked you to give your father, Martin, my best," Snape added, stepping aside. He sniffed. "Well?"

"S-sir?" Malcolm squeaked.

"Are you coming in, or not? Seeing as how neither of us have a quill, and I must log you in on the ledger that is on my desk, it would follow that that is where we must go?" Snape explained.

"Oh, right, then!" Malcolm almost choked, tripping over the doorway's bottom trim.

Snape caught him, keeping him from falling. Malcolm made a small sound, tensing up again.

Snape let him go, flicking his wand at the desk. A drawer flew open, and a quill and parchment jumped out of it to land on the desktop. "Sign," Snape ordered him, and Malcolm did that with a trembling hand as Snape rummaged about in a small cabinet.

Malcolm sniffed. He looked up to see his Potions teacher handing him a very small glass of something that was smoking. He wondered why all the potions seemed to have to smoke.

"Drink that," Snape ordered him, and too terrified to protest, Malcolm did.

He felt warm and relaxed at once.

"As of right now, aside from the usual Staff, there are only six students, counting you, remaining at Hogwarts this holiday," Snape informed him. "Fortunately, as I will remain, as always, Potter is not one of them." Snape paused for a moment, waving his wand and summoning two glass bottles of what Malcolm thought might be Muggle fizzy drinks.

Snape tapped them each, once, with his wand. The metal caps flew off, and he shoved one towards the boy. It was a black liquid that bubbled and hissed, foaming white at the top like a Proclivity Potion. There was a four-letter word etched on the green bottle, and Malcolm had to wonder if the drink was made of some sort of coal?

"I despise Christmas," Snape then said, making the boy wonder. He thought he'd better accept the drink, and did that. It was biting, harshly flavored, and it stung his mouth and nearly choked him. Malcolm decided that he liked it.

"I…I should go, thank you, s-sir," Malcolm stammered, finally looking up as Snape made in indelicate little sound and cleared his throat, patting his own chest.

"Sit," Snape snapped at him. "I know it's not been easy, these past few months. And it will only get harder," Snape warned him, his tone slow and measured. "I trust that you are up to it, Baddock? Is Umbridge giving you trouble?"

Malcolm hung his head again.

"No, sir," he admitted, sipping at his drink again. But how could he admit to his Head of House, to whom he'd maybe said two-dozen words outside of the classroom, that he was truly miserable?

"None of your friends are staying," Snape prompted him, and Malcolm just shook his head. "It could get quite lonely in Slytherin House, before term takes up again, you know."

"It…it already is, sir," Malcolm mumbled.

"I know," Snape sighed. "You know, I've seen that little girl, Daisy? Iris? What's her flowery, silly name?"

"Heather," Malcolm corrected him.

"Yes, Heather Meadows. Awful name for a child," Snape snorted. "I've seen how she looks at you over her cauldron, when she thinks no one is looking." He sighed again. "I knew a girl like that once." He paused. Malcolm looked up again. "Her name was Lily," Snape went on, much to the boy's surprise.

They talked for quite some time.

Actually, Snape talked – and the boy listened. He sat there in awe, drinking his cola, just listening to stories of a lonely little Half-Blood boy who'd Sorted into Slytherin and begun to regret it. Malcolm wondered, as he swung his feet that didn't reach the floor, about how the boy had been ashamed of his shabby clothes and used school supplies.

"They were bullies, the lot of them," Snape went on, fetching them another round, as well as a box of biscuits that he said had been a gift, and that he detested coconut. Malcolm liked them.

It was late when Snape finally informed the boy that he had rounds, and would escort him back to his dormitory. They had just reached the Common Room, where there was no Christmas tree or other festive decorations, when Snape stopped him.

"Baddock, if you ever mention a word of this to anyone, I shall be forced to transform you into a Niffler with a bad case of the mange, and leave you in the care of Rubeus Hagrid for the rest of your life! Do you understand me?" Snape asked.

Malcolm nodded heartily.

"Off to bed," Snape dismissed him, his voice distant, but softer.

As he settled down into his blankets, pulling them up to his chin, Malcolm had to wonder about the strange evening. He wondered how his parents would take the news that he was not coming home. He wondered about the things that Professor Snape had told him.

He wondered just how bad it would get.

The next morning, Malcolm remained in bed reading a Quidditch magazine while his friends made ready to leave. They returned from the showers, dressed to travel, and finished packing their trunks.

"You're staying?" One of them asked him.

"Yeah."

"Folks don't want you?" Another asked with a sneer.

"Piss off!" Malcolm snapped at him, as the door burst open.

"Yes, do piss off, by all means, and get the hell out," Draco Malfoy ordered them, scanning the room quickly. "Going to have a lie in and miss breakfast?" Malfoy demanded.

Malcolm nodded. It was the first time that Malfoy had ever spoken to him, but after his odd night with Snape, Malcolm didn't think he could be any more surprised.

"Suit yourself," Malfoy nodded curtly, shooing the others out with Stinging Hexes aimed at their arses. Malcolm snickered at their yelps of pain.

Malcolm was still in his dressing gown, but had moved to the Common Room near the fire when Malfoy returned to make a final sweep for stragglers. He said nothing, but when he was done, he turned from the door to face the boy. "The view from the first battlement, of the train as it leaves the village, is quite nice," he offered, "Happy Christmas, such as it is."

And then he was gone.

Malcolm shrugged, and since he had nothing better to do, he dressed and began the climb. He took some Every Flavor Beans with him, a box that he'd been saving from his birthday. He'd been sent two Galleons as a gift, and he's bought them from one of the Weasley Twins for a few Sickles. He remembered that they still owed him change as he arrived at the top.

Malfoy had been right. The view was quite nice.

He watched as the students boarded the train for the day-long ride home. Happy children, he thought, going home to their parents. Children who would wake up on Christmas morning to find the presents that they wanted, given by parents who cared about their happiness. Children who might say "Happy Christmas", or ask for sweets, or simply hug someone without fear of being struck in return.

Malcolm spat a Bogey-flavored bean over the edge, cursing Bertie Bott as he did.

For the next three days, Slytherin House was empty. Malcolm saw the Seventh Year boy once or twice, but they never spoke. The Bloody Baron, their resident Ghost, passed through a few times as well. He never spoke, either.

"Just like home," Malcolm thought, wondering at the twinge in his stomach that he failed to recognize as homesickness.

Meals were still in the Great Hall, but everyone sat at one table in the center – as did the Staff. They were all merry enough, Malcolm thought, without so many students to worry about. Professor Umbridge, he noted, had gone.

And they had to be worried, he knew. He was twelve, and he was worried. He worried about the disappearances reported in the news. He worried about The Dark Lord, wondering if he really had come back or not. But didn't Dumbledore say he had? Not many of his Housemates had a kind word for the seemingly daft old man, but Malcolm rather liked him. He was always smiling at the students, it seemed, and he always offered a kind greeting.

He was the only one who did.

There were two Gryffindors, Malcolm counted that first day. There were two Ravenclaws, and one Hufflepuff boy.

Malcolm didn't know any of them, and they didn't talk to him. He spent his days exploring the Castle, getting lost in the process, and just wandering the grounds. He flew around the Quidditch pitch on a school broom, as he didn't have his own. He noticed that no one came to fly with him, but he also didn't go down when he saw the others on the pitch. The first and only time he had, they'd all suddenly remembered how lax they'd been on reading up on that infamous Goblin rebellion and run for the Library.

It wasn't much fun trying to play Quidditch by yourself.

Even Hagrid was always busy, seemingly worried that the boy might get hurt by some odd creature that he was tending.

He ran out of Beans a few days later, but the Village was off limits. Sugar withdrawal made him irritable, and the boy found that it was sort of nice to lie in until lunchtime.

It was nice and quiet, and he slept a lot.

By the Solstice, he'd finished his holiday reading assignment and written his scroll of parchment about the basic differences in the magic of humans, House Elves, and Goblins. He practiced all of his Charms until he'd mastered them. He'd even brewed a few potions from the next chapters of his book – just to have something to do. Professor Snape had caught him in the act once, and even awarded him five points for 'scholarly behaviour'.

It was the bright spot of his first lonely week of holiday. Oddly enough, he found himself wishing that school would take up again. He wished he'd hear from his parents. A Christmas card would've been nice. So would some of his mother's treacle tarts.

Professor Snape wasn't at dinner that night, and Malcolm sat alone at the far end of the table.

That night, with only the sound of the popping fire for company, he cried himself to sleep on a divan in the Common Room.

"I think I may go mad," Malcolm muttered that next morning, as he slid down a banister, mainly for lack of anything better to do. It did drive Mr. Filch completely batty, however, so the boy took to doing it simply to antagonize the bitter old man. He was finally caught, however, and exiled from the Castle for the afternoon.

He was walking down the way to the Black Lake, kicking at the snow, when he heard it: "HELP!"

Malcolm's first thoughts were of the time he'd been ambushed by some Gryffindor Firsties, and left hanging in midair upside-down. His 'friends', of course, had found it amusing as well, and it was a very disgruntled Professor McGonagall who had finally gotten him down – and taken two points for horseplay.

He remembered how his fellow "Christmas exiles" had left the pitch when he'd arrived. He remembered how they shied away from him in the corridors, like they thought he was going to Hex them. He also remembered the Ravenclaw girls' words when everyone had been getting ready to go home.

The boy turned back to the Castle.

"PLEASE! HELP ME!" The voice repeated. Then it screamed.

Malcolm froze.

He recognized the pain in that desperate call.

Slipping in the snow, he made his way down to the shore where rounded stones were piled all around like giant marshmallows. He saw a set of small footprints, coming from the other way, and followed them. He began to hear crying, following that. He looked down and saw a yellow and black scarf on the ground, a trail of disturbed snow leading down a sharp incline that he himself would have fallen over had he not seen the scarf.

Leaning over, he saw a small boy near the edge of the lake. He pulled his wand, having since mastered the Spell in his week of boredom. "Levicorpus!" He fired the Hex at himself, lowering himself down, albeit upside-down, to the injured boy below.

The Hufflepuff yelped in surprise, and pain, as he saw Malcolm.

"Get away from me!" He snapped, pulling his wand.

Malcolm sighed. "Fine then, freeze ter death!" He retorted.

"Don't even think about it, I been studyin'," the Hufflepuff warned him, "I kin blast yeh into next week if you try an' Hex me!"

"Seriously?" Malcolm almost laughed, "With tha' little twig? Wha's yer name, kid?"

"Christopher Tucker," the Hufflepuff replied, shivering. Malcolm saw that his left foot was bent at least forty-five degrees from his leg, and that his head was bleeding from somewhere under his thick, brown hair. Tucker's head lolled.

Malcolm moved towards him, but Tucker fired a very weak Hex at him. It glanced harmlessly off of a tree. Malcolm saw that Tucker was blinking rapidly as well, and that his face had almost no color.

"I think yer leg's broke," Malcolm pointed out.

"What wuz yer first clue?" Tucker snorted, fresh tears running down his cheeks as he tried to move himself. He cried out again.

"You move the bone, you'll cut an artery," Malcolm warned him.

"Yeah, I bet you know all about how ter kill someone," Tucker accused him.

Malcolm just stared at him. There was this boy, with a broken leg, freezing to death, bleeding all over himself, with no chance of anyone else finding him, and he wanted to take time to insult him?

"I don' want yer help, Slytherin," Tucker told him. "My family's had enough of yer kind's help!" Tucker's head lolled again.

Malcolm seriously thought about just leaving him. For an instant, he very nearly did. Tucker's words cut him, as bad as a Hex would, but then he realized something else. It was no secret that a lot of the old Pureblood families had, and now once again, were siding with the Dark Lord. At some time, Tucker's family had lost someone to the Death Eaters, Malcolm had to guess.

Just like he'd practically lost his family.

They might still be alive, Malcolm knew, but they weren't really living. Not like they used to.

His father had never struck him before.

And last year, hadn't they been so happy to see him coming home for Christmas? Hadn't his mother cried, hugged and kissed him, embarrassed him right there on the platform?

And now, not even a letter.

Together, the two boys were alone on the snowy lakeshore.

"So, yer folks sending presents?" Malcolm asked, surprised at the sudden ache that the question caused in his chest. But Malcolm knew he had to keep him talking. Keep him alert and awake until help came. If it came.

"Yeah," Tucker breathed, his eyes rolling, as Malcolm recognized shock and the onset of hypothermia from his DADA lessons in first aid. "I asked fer a wand servicing kit, an' a Broomstick, and some new boots, an' a…a…OWWWWW!" Tucker then screamed, clutching at his leg.

Malcolm moved closer, but Tucker pointed his wand at him again. "Get back!"

"Kid, I'm really sorry about this!" Malcolm warned him, as the boy tried to struggle. "PERTRIFICUS TOTALIS!" Malcolm said, paralyzing him so as not to move the busted bone. He moved closer. "Episkey!" He ran his wand over the boy's head. He began to panic a bit as his spells clashed and Tucker's head moved.

"You'll be expelled!" Tucker threatened him. "They'll think you did it! Think you attacked me!"

"You gonna tell 'em that?" Malcolm asked, stripping off his cloak and wrapping the boy in it. He felt at his face, his hands.

Cold.

"Fer all I know, you tripped me up with a Hex!" Tucker accused him. "Jus' like yer l-lot did m-my d-d-dad!"

"Don't talk," Malcolm said, looking around in desperation, as he realized that Tucker was very probably going to die. The boy's hands were already turning blue, as were his lips. He pulled off his jumper and laid it over Tucker.

"What'd'you want fer Chrishmush?" Tucker slurred his words, but they hit Malcolm hard.

"I…I…" Malcolm sniffled, determined not to cry in front of his ungrateful little patient. Somehow he had to get help, before he froze to death, too.

But that meant leaving Tucker, and he wondered if he would be blamed? What if Tucker died? Blamed or not, what would he do – knowing he'd done the wrong thing? He just couldn't leave the wounded boy to die alone – could he? It wasn't the Slytherin thing to do, he thought, sacrificing himself for someone else.

"It…it don' hurt nur murrr," Tucker groaned, his eyes rolling back in his head.

"Tucker? Christopher?" Malcolm patted his cheek, wishing he knew how to do a Warming Charm, but scared that he'd set the kid on fire if he tried.

He looked down at the Hufflepuff, wrapped now in green and silver. Unless he acted fast, Christopher Tucker's mother, Malcolm reasoned, was going to remember Christmas Eve as the day her son had died.

"HELP!" Malcolm screamed, his voice carrying over the snow as he clutched at his wand. Green sparks flew from the tip, and he suddenly held it up in instinct. "HELP!" His voice echoed like a thunderclap, as a green fireball shot into the sky and burst over them, high above the trees, like a Roman candle at carnival.

The exertion of magic was overpowering, and Malcolm slumped. He'd never done anything so spectacular before, but he kept his wand aloft, firing fireball after fireball.

Finally, shivering with cold – as Tucker had all of his outwear – Malcolm's wand fell from his frozen fingers. He toppled over, falling on the wounded Hufflepuff.

"Well this is bloody embarrassing," he thought, worried that someone would find them looking like…Malcolm had to laugh at that, though, as he closed his eyes. He was so very tired, perhaps just a little nap, then he could call for help again.

Someone had him under the arms.

"Wha's this, now?" A rough voice was saying.

"T-Tucker?" Malcolm mumbled, "T-take Tucker."

"Oh, Poppy, can we Apparate him, if I drop the Wards?"

"I'll take the Hufflepuff, you get…"

"F-froze," Malcolm managed, rough whiskers scratching at his face as he was pulled close to something large and warm.

"Hang on! This isn't the missing Slytherin boy! Why, he must have covered him!" Some woman was saying.

"M-mum," Malcolm whined. The last thing he remembered was the smell of a musty coat and dog biscuits.

Malcolm awoke to find that he was buried under so many blankets that he couldn't move. He opened his eyes, and saw a sallow face framed in black hair looking at him.

"Welcome back to the world of the living," Snape whispered, tipping a glass of Pepperup Potion for him to drink.

It was so warm and nice in his bed that Malcolm just wanted to snuggle back down and go back to sleep. Then he remembered.

"Tucker?" He gasped.

"He is fine," Albus Dumbledore assured him, pointing to the bed across the way where a boy lay with his bandaged and braced leg suspended. "Not a pleasant way to spend Christmas Eve, is it?" The Headmaster asked.

"No, sir," Tucker answered, as Dumbledore tickled his foot. Tucker laughed. "STOP!"

"I see we're past the pain phase, healing well?" He joked, "You should both be discharged, I'd think, just in time to wake up tomorrow morning to open your presents! Ah, I do so love Christmas, don't you?" He added.

"I…I'd like ter go back ter the Dungeons now, if tha's all right?" Malcolm asked. "I'm warm. I think I'm OK."

"Are you, now?" Madame Pomfrey snorted, "A Second Year Healer? Well, by all means, leave then! Go and roll in the snow some more, why don't you?"

Malcolm stared at her for a second, then she smiled at him. Malcolm saw that across the way, Christopher Tucker was smiling at him as well.

"Thanks fer savin' my life," the Hufflepuff offered shyly.

"'s'OK," Malcolm replied, feeling his face burning.

"Hagrid told us how he found you, Mr. Baddock, having given your cloak and jumper to Mr. Tucker, and then laying with him to keep him warm," Dumbledore explained. "I have to admit, I would not have expected such selfless bravery from a…"

"Slytherin?" Malcolm interrupted him.

"Oh, no, I've know such Slytherins before," Dumbledore corrected him, but not offering to explain. "I believe House points are in order, and we've held off dinner for you – much to the chagrin of the other students. If you're up to it?"

"I am kinda hungry?" Tucker agreed, as Madame Pomfrey conjured him a set of crutches.

"No weight on that leg for two days!" She warned him.

By the time they reached the Great Hall, Tucker had learned to operate his crutches with only a half-dozen Spells to catch him on the way down. Malcolm thought the Staff was enjoying it as he took his usual seat.

He was surprised when Tucker sat down next to him and laughed. The boys had just noticed that they had each other's jumpers. Malcolm smiled.

"You know, you look all right in yellow," Tucker told Malcolm. "It's…it's just me in Hufflepuff, you know. I was wonderin'…"

"I know," Malcolm agreed, "I don' think he'd notice, if you wanted to…" he gestured at the older Slytherin boy, who didn't even look up at them.

"You ever been to the Cellar?" Tucker asked. "It's kinda lonely down there right now, jus' me yeh know. You…you wanna stay over?" Tucker asked nervously, "I mean, you're by yourself, and so am I, and…"

"Sir?" Malcolm asked Snape, cutting off the Hufflepuff's awkward offer.

"So long as no one finds out, and Professor Sprout doesn't become overly insufferable about the whole thing," Snape agreed.

Christmas morning found the two Second Year boys in the Hufflepuff Cellar. They awoke to find presents on the ends of their beds, and stockings filled with candy waiting for them.

Malcolm Baddock bit his lower lip as he studied a long, thin package with a tag that read "From Mum & Dad." He could hear Tucker tearing into his as well, and when the Hufflepuff pulled out a reconditioned Nimbus 2000, Malcolm found that he had one as well.

The boys glanced at one another, the both of them feeling suddenly very silly.

"You don't need a good leg ter fly!" Tucker challenged him.

"Think you can take me, Tucker?" Malcolm laughed.

"My friends call me 'Chris'," the Hufflepuff offered.

"You, Chris, are on, then!" Malcolm agreed happily.

Once they'd made it to front doors, the boys mounted their new Broomsticks and flew, both of them laughing as they climbed into the sky like two mad kites from broken strings.

"Ah, if only it were all so easy," Severus Snape sighed, as he watched them go.