I feinted at Malfoy, the broomstick darting forward under my improbably sure guidance. I'm not sure if it was some kind of instinct or what, but I... or at least my body... seemed to know exactly how to make the broom flit around like a swallow. This was probably a good thing, since I never did figure out exactly how those things were controlled.
Malfoy jerked out of the way, his self-assured smirk slipping slightly as the wind of my passage ruffled his hair. He was good, no doubt about it; his broom jinking and weaving confidently through the air, but he was playing crow to my hawk, and from the look slowly crossing his face, we both knew it.
"Hey Drakey." I taunted. "You forgot your goons."
The weasel's eyes slipped sideways, darting a nervous glance at the small crowd of Slytherins at ground level. They were willing enough to cheer him on, but didn't seem too inclined to join him flying the unfriendly skies.
My confidence was growing, and I started maneuvering more aggressively. I whipped past the weasel, so close that I actually heard his sharp intake of breath doppler, and jolted into a sharp climbing turn, intending to dive-bomb him on the return pass.
That train of thought was derailed when a couple of the lower portions of my anatomy informed me with brutal clarity that if I kept doing things like that, there wasn't going to be enough left of them to drop in a year or two. I managed to keep my reaction limited to my eyes bugging out a bit, but stars and stones... if this was the standard mode of transportation in the magical community, no wonder their birthrate was low.
Malfoy, meanwhile, took advantage of my brief distraction to get some distance between us, and, apparently deciding that cowardice was the better part of weaseldom, hurled the magic eight-ball away in a high arc.
"You want it so bad, Potter, go get it!" he yelled.
"You throw like a girl!" I snapped back, reflexively swooping my broom after the glittering magic whatever-it-was.
As I hunched low over the broomhandle, very nearly my entire being focused on the falling sphere, I made a mental note to take my witty banter in for a tuneup. I know a few of my foes... and friends... would claim not to see much difference in the maturity of my repartee, but that had just been embarassing. As I dove, the wind of my passage howling in my ears, something near the back of my brain pointed out that not only was the ground getting very close very quickly, it was about to make the 'terminal' part of 'terminal velocity' a bit more literal than I'd like.
I ignored this. My self-preservation instincts and I have never really been on the best of terms.
That and I wasn't entirely sure how to stop.
My fingers clamped shut over the magic eight-ball, which promptly shone brilliantly scarlet.
I started violently and stared at it for a split-second. Then I remembered that I was still about to hit the ground. As the red glow winked out, I jerked back spasmodically, my broom shuddered and heated up, shedding just enough velocity for me to hit the ground in a tumbling roll, landing in a dramatic crouch that left me briefly thankful I was in a kid's body. If I had been in my own body, I think I would have blown out my knees.
And of course, the ball promptly glowed red again. I blinked at it.
Then a hand grabbed my wrist, and as the ball winked out once more, I groaned "Aw, crap..." in my best Ron Perlman.
"Indeed." Professor McGonagall said crisply from behind me, the only evidence of her anger a slight tremor in her voice.
Long story short, I wound up on the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Yay. At least I had my own broom now. I wasn't sure how enthused I was about the whole sports thing, but if nothing else, being able to fly without needing to liberate one of the school brooms was likely to be handy. Ron, naturally, thought this was wonderful. I mustered up as much enthusiasm as I could manage, but it wasn't exactly easy.
I kept on, though. I wasn't planning on playing the wrong Harry a split-second longer than I absolutely had to, and I didn't want to screw the poor kid's life up any worse than I already had. So alienating his best friend for my own convenience wasn't really on the menu.
Even so, the next month and a half or thereabouts was surprisingly... almost refreshingly... routine. Classes, studying, practicing two different forms of magic... oh, and hauling my carcass all over Hogwarts' local airspace chasing a gold pingpong ball with wings and an attitude problem. At least the Nimbus 2000 that I had gotten from Professor McGonagall had a cushioning charm that worked properly. That part I liked. I'm fully in favor of anything that reduces my chances of being the lead in an impromptu solo performance of The Nutcracker.
One or two things made for small breaks in the routine- I was putting out feelers for contacts of my own, which is harder than it sounds when you're eleven. Still, by carefully working the whole 'boy who lived' angle, I was able to get myself heard in a few places. I couldn't be sure what kind of response I'd get, but I figured I had to try.
The other thing that took me out of routine every once in a while was trying to get myself a gun. The way wizards here thought about self-defense was so bass-ackwards that I could probably shoot half of Voldemort's idiots before the rest of them wised up enough to even try to defend themselves. Given gun laws in the UK, getting a pistol wasn't going to be happening even if I hadn't been munchkin-sized, which was kind of a shame. I'd be lying if there wasn't part of me that thought it would be pretty cool to draw on Voldemort.
Still, I hoped that Dumbledore would spring Sirius Black from jail soon- he was pretty much my best hope for getting a rifle or a shotgun, as far as I could tell.
Of course, even with the routine, some parts were a little rougher than the others. The day things started getting interesting again, I ended the 'school' part of the day being called up on the carpet by Professor Flitwick. The day's attempt at Wingardium Leviosa had ended with, apparently to no-one's surprise but my own, yet another explosion. In my defense, it made it hard to concentrate on casting when my classmates dove for cover every time I moved my wand.
"I'm not sure if I should congratulate you or expel you, Potter." the little old professor squeaked irritably. "You seem to have managed to independently create Confringo, Bombarda, Expulso, the Cracker Jinx, and Reducto, along with all twenty-six of their respective recognized variants. Also two entirely new ones for Reducto and three for Bombarda."
He shook his head in annoyance, his curly beard bobbing around. "I simply do not know what to think. You clearly have an enormous talent, yet it only seems to manifest itself as explosions. Were you a little older, I would think you were simply being contrary, or possibly somewhat mad. But as it stands, I am starting to wonder if I am the one who is going mad."
I shrugged helplessly. "I have no idea what's going on, Professor." I told him with perfect honesty.
Professor Flitwick stared at me for a moment, then sighed heavily and sat down on his usual stack of books. I really had to wonder why he didn't just conjure up a chair that fit him better, but he seemed to have his own way of doing things. After a moment, he waved me silently out of the room, and I wandered cautiously toward the door. As I reached it, it suddenly snapped shut.
I spun around to find Flitwick pointing his wand sternly at me. "I have come to a decision, Mister Potter." he said.
I swallowed. Flitwick might be tiny even compared to my current height, but I knew better than to judge him by that.
"You, Mister Potter..." he said, then trailed off.
I kept looking at him.
"You will be tutored by Hermione Granger." he finished with another heavy sigh.
I blinked at him. "Uh... what?"
He waggled his wand like it was a long, bony finger. "Now, now, Mister Potter. No point in arguing. I have already cleared it with the Headmaster and your head of house, and both have agreed. Perhaps you will show more care if you cannot rely upon me to contain your... accidents."
I made a non-commital noise. Apparently the professor didn't think I had noticed that it was actually Hermione who caught a few of the explosions before he could. Mostly because she was much closer, granted, but I'll give the girl this much- she might have been an annoying, prissy know-it-all, but she learned fast.
After a moment, I shrugged. A bit sullenly, I have to admit. Magic had always been my 'thing', and needing an eleven-year-old to explain the basics to me didn't sit very well. But, at the same time, it worked. Once I got out of this body... I squelched the part of me that wanted to add 'if I got out' as hard as I could... little Harry probably needed more of a life to come back to than 'learn magic, kill Voldemort, get out'.
Professor Flitwick softened a little when he saw my expression. He grabbed a couple of pieces of parchment from his desk and flicked his wand at them with a murmur of "Proteus."
Then he held the two pieces of parchment out to me.
"What is written upon the one will appear on the other, and vice versa." he said briefly by way of explanation. "With these, you should be able to arrange your tutoring times with a minimum of... interference... from the other students."
He blinked puzzledly at me after a moment when he realized I still hadn't taken the parchments. I was frozen in place, one hand outstretched, staring at him.
Then I blurted "Ican'tbelieveIdidn'tthinkofthissooner... thanksProfessorbye!"
And I was out the door and gone before he could even close his mouth.
A short while later found me in the dormitories in Gryffindor tower (and there's a part of me that still can't believe I'm writing that), scrabbling frantically through a drawer to dig out a spare scrap of parchment. Once I had found one, I sucked idly on my quill for a moment, thinking. Then I started to write.
Ivy. It's Harry Dresden.
I'm not sure how much time has passed in our world since I ended up here, but I'm at Hogwarts. Or at least a really convincing hallucination of it.
Oh, and I'm trapped in Harry Potter's eleven-year-old body.
I stopped for a moment and glared at the sheet of parchment.
"Hell's bells, that sounds stupid..." I muttered to myself, but shrugged and kept writing.
And yes, I know how stupid that sounds. If you get this message, please see if you can get some help to Karrin Murphy in Chicago. Oh, and to me, too.
Take care of yourself, kid,
P.S.- If you can figure out a way to get someone here before I have to go through puberty again, that'd be great.
I stared at the short note for a while longer, then sighed and folded it up, tucking it into the rolled-up socks at the bottom of my... of Harry's trunk.
And then nearly jumped out of my skin when my hand brushed something slithery and soft.
When nothing leapt out of the trunk to try and eat my face, I reached cautiously back down to grab whatever it was. When I pulled my arm back out, my hand was missing entirely.
My first thought was that something with a numbing venom had just eaten my hand. As I took a deep breath that was definitely for the purpose of getting ready to do battle, and not for screaming like a little girl, my brain kicked in. It informed me that a) I was a moron, and b) I could still feel my hand. Oh, and c) that I knew perfectly well that little Harry had an invisibility cloak. And d) I was still a moron.
Once my brain had finished insulting me, I allowed myself a slow, evil grin.
"I love it when a plan comes together." I murmured out loud.
... okay, so I was exaggerating. The cloak was something like step two out of several thousand, but when things go right for you as often as they do for me, you learn to take pleasure in the small things. Hey, I might even break my own record and have things go right three times in a row.
You'd think that, by now, I'd know better than to even think things like that.
Much to my extremely poorly feigned surprise, Hermione did not believe in wasting time. The second I emerged from the boys' wing of the tower, she was trying to drag me off to the library. I did my best to ignore her, squeezing past to scramble out the portrait hole. That worked about as well as you'd expect.
"You really need to get your marks up, you know." she said.
I'm not sure if it was the first thing she'd said since she followed me out into the hallway. I'd kind of tuned out in mid-flow when she first accosted me in the common room. Unfortunately, tuning her out didn't seem to be working anymore, mostly because there weren't thirty-some-odd other kids charging around to drown her out.
Ron was just coming the other way, and I nodded to him. He gave Hermione an odd look, and I shrugged and sighed.
"Professor Flitwick decided that she had to tutor me."
Ron winced in sympathy, and Hermione fixed him with a gimlet stare.
"We're going to the library to study." she snapped. "This is important, unless you think Harry should be expelled too." she added, giving me a dirty look.
Ron looked at me with an expression that was half-smirk and half-sympathetic, and hopped into the portrait hole, which swung shut behind him.
"Come on, before there are any more interruptions." Hermione said impatiently.
When I didn't respond, she kept going. "If you keep blowing up the charms classroom, you're going to get into an awful lot of trouble. Or do you want to get expelled? I hear they snap your wand, and you're prohibited from doing magic ever again!"
I sighed and kept going. I didn't really have anyplace more important to be, but Hermione's nagging had kicked in my stubborn streak, and I wasn't about to give in too easily. We wandered through the castle for a while, with her always sticking too close for me to lose her in a side passage. Apparently she was taking this assignment very seriously, which I guess shouldn't surprise me, given how she was in the first few books.
It was somewhere around her third repetition of the horrors of being expelled (getting more awful every time) that Fred Weasley popped out from behind a statue and snagged me.
"She's here, Harry. Watch yourself, mate. George has an eye out for Dumbledore, but he didn't look like he was going to be gone long- just down to the village to fetch someone- and even we're not sure how he gets around." he told me in an undertone.
Huh. Rita Skeeter already? I'd expected to have to wait at least another month or two before getting her attention- last I'd heard, she was still busy doing a hatchet job a cauldron manufacturer in one of those tiny English towns with a stupid name. Granted, that didn't narrow things down much- I've always wondered if all these weird British place names weren't a giant, elaborate practical joke that got out of hand about six hundred years ago. Either that or some kind of insane strategy to confuse invaders by making it impossible for anyone to give directions without sounding either deranged or drunk. Or both.
Fred had watched me curiously, then shrugged and added "We ditched the old frump in the library." before vanishing again, this time through a tapestry.
Great. Not likely to have a whole lot of luck getting rid of Hermione when I was going there.
Hermione, apparently reading my mind, piped up with "Good. At least now I'll have some luck getting you to the library to study."
"AFTER the interview, alright?" I complained. "This is kind of important."
She shrugged. "I'm not letting you out of my sight until you've gotten some studying in."
I sighed and led the way towards the library.
Rita Skeeter was squatting near the black magic section like a predatory cherub disguised as a badly-aging socialite. When I came into view, her jowls quivered into something that was probably supposed to be a disarming smile, the false jewels in her glasses sparkling like a broken stars. Her poison-green quill appeared in her fingers so fast that even magic couldn't quite explain it, and she leaned forwards.
"Harry Potter. The boy who lived." she murmured, almost purring.
I felt my lips peel back from my teeth.
"Beetle Skeeter." I purred right back at her.
Her smile froze so abruptly that tiny cracks appeared in the makeup around the corners of her mouth, and her eyes widened very slightly. Hermione, thankfully, didn't notice. She had stopped staring at Skeeter as soon as I'd said her name, and was now busy trying to find a copy of the Daily Prophet.
"No, no, I'm almost certain her name is RITA Skeeter..." she muttered, and wandered off to try and find a paper with which to correct me.
I took a brief moment to be thankful that Hermione was tired enough from haranguing me for more than an hour to be distractable, then returned my attention to Skeeter.
Her eyes had gone shrewd in the split second I had turned my attention slightly to watch Hermione go, and I narrowed mine in return.
"Don't bother." I told her flatly. "You're an unregistered animagus, and you've been using it to spy on people for your little character assassinations that you pretend are articles."
Skeeter hesitated. "So, what do you want?" she asked, keeping a wary eye on Hermione's progress through the library.
I tilted my head at her. I'd gone over and over what I could say to her for more than a month. Rita Skeeter was the living incarnation of libellous scandalmongering, with her scarlet claw firmly on the pulse of public opinion. Handled carefully, she could be a potent weapon in heading off the second wizarding war before it ever happened. Screw up, and she could get me harassed incessantly, banished, locked in Azkaban, killed by a violent mob, or who knows what else.
"Your little green quill works for me now." I told her bluntly. "Knowing you, you've managed to weasel at least some info out of the Ministry about the Hall of Prophecy. So you know as well as I do that things aren't going to stay as happy and peaceful as they are now."
Skeeter didn't say anything, didn't even move. She was staring at me the way people stare at an unexploded bomb that has suddenly started ticking.
I gave her a small, bitter smile. The look was a little too familiar.
"I'm not going to interfere with you much." I told her. "Just... every once in a while, I'll give you a target to dig up dirt on. I want to see it first, before even your editor does- and I want to see the real info, not your re-written hatchet job stuff- and I'll say if you can't publish something, but other than that, just do what you do best."
She gave a small half-nod, still watching me very carefully.
"Don't worry. Your first target from me is one I think you'll like. How would you like the ID of a high-ranking member of Fudge's government who is a raging bigot, a closet sadist, a practicioner of the dark arts, and probably completely insane? One who will go up like a volcano if you apply the right pressure, and maybe even destabilize that idiot Fudge's hold on power?"
Rita Skeeter's expression hadn't changed, but there was a hungry gleam in her eyes. She was sharp enough that she wasn't snapping up the bait right away, but she was just about salivating.
I turned to watch Hermione, who was rummaging through a stack of old newspapers. After a moment, I gave Skeeter a sidelong glance.
"Umbridge." was all I said.
At that, she froze. I could almost see the wheels spinning in her head as she started to put facts together. The green quill started to quiver, but she shoved it into her ugly purse and stood abruptly. She glanced at me, nodded more firmly, then waddled out of the library at a speed that I wouldn't have thought she could manage.
I sighed and let myself relax a little, then yelped and fell off the stool when Hermione shoved a newspaper in my face and said "See, I told you her name was Rita... oh. Where did she go? Wait, where did you go?"
She looked down. "What are you doing on the floor? You can't study from down there."
I glowered at her, but any scathing retort I could have come up with was choked off by a new voice, one like oiled honey. All velvet inhuman sweetness, deep and quiet and speaking what some part of my brain identified as BBC English.
"Well met, little mortal. You are to be congratulated on a most intriguing stratagem, and one that I would have thought you incapable of, bound in frail meat as you were. Still, you above all others should know that you cannot escape he who is ever behind you." the Outsider purred.