If I owned Harry Potter, Harry would have panicked and done something useless in this chapter.
TRIGGER WARNING: Knives and blood. Lots of blood.
The Gryffindors' first attempt at learning to fly had not gone well. They'd been grouped with the Slytherins and given rickety old brooms to ride on. The teachers would soon regret both of those decisions.
Poor, hapless Neville had accidentally caused the whole incident. He took off too early and lost control of his rather dubious-looking broom. A moment later, he had returned to the ground without it—and with a nasty crack.
"Broken wrist," the flying instructor, Madam Hooch, had said. She helped Neville to his feet, ordered them all to stay on the ground or else, and took Neville to the Hospital Wing.
The trouble really started, though, when Malfoy found the Remembrall that Neville had received at breakfast that morning. Harry had demanded he give it back. A hush had fallen over the crowd of students, and Malfoy had smiled nastily.
"I think I'll leave it somewhere for Longbottom to find—how about—up a tree?" Then he hopped onto his broomstick and flew towards a tall oak.
Hermione grabbed at Harry's arm, trying to stop him from following, but he had no intention of doing that. Instead, he concentrated on the ground under Malfoy's flight path and wanted.
A pebble, barely a speck at this distance, shot up, flying straight toward Malfoy, hitting the broomstick just as Malfoy was pulling up to ascend to the topmost branches. The broomstick snapped in half with a loud crack. Malfoy tumbled off the back of the broom, still clutching the handle as he screamed, and fell into the tree, coming to a stop about two-thirds of the way up.
Professor McGonagall had arrived.
It was a close thing. If his father hadn't heard about it, Malfoy might have been expelled. Instead, the blond man strode into the Great Hall that afternoon, cloaked in fine silk and elegant malice, and met Dumbledore. The two of them headed to the Hospital Wing, and then to the Headmaster's office.
When all was said and done, Malfoy lost twenty-five points for Slytherin, received two weeks' detention, and was banned from flying for the year. Much to his embarrassment, he was told he could take lessons with next year's firsties. Malfoy's insistence that Harry must have done it somehow was ignored in light of a stolen object in his pocket and the fact that Harry's wand had never left its holster. Instead, Malfoy's father had decided that Dumbledore's pleas for new brooms weren't just an attempt to pad his budget after all.
And so it was that Harry's second flying lesson was held without Draco Malfoy, but with twenty brand-new Cleansweep Threes and the captains of the two houses' Quidditch teams on hand to supervise if Madam Hooch had to leave.
The new brooms made a world of difference. Even Neville, who had earned Harry's respect when he stood trembling over another broomstick only a week after his previous fall, got the broom to leap into his hand immediately.
"Now, let's try this again. When I blow my whistle, kick off from the ground, hard. Hold steady, rise a few feet, and lean forward to come straight back down. Three—two—one!" She blew her whistle.
Harry's feet left the ground, and he laughed joyously as his robes billowed behind him. This was wonderful!
Half an hour into the class, Harry was fifty feet in the air and turning hard when he saw a metallic glint below him. His keys had slipped out of his pocket and were falling to the ground. Without the slightest thought, he converted the turn into a corkscrew descent, catching the keys and dropping them into an inside pocket as he pulled back up into the pattern Madam Hooch had ordered them into.
He didn't notice Oliver Wood gaping from twenty feet above him. The next morning, Professor McGonagall asked him to stop by her office after lunch.
In Harry's absence, Hermione and Neville had joined Harry's other roommates for a game of Exploding Snap. It was Ron Weasley who'd spoken.
"There hasn't been a first year on a House team since 1905!" Hermione said.
"He was a midseason replacement, though," Harry said. "Wood said the last time a player was as young as me was in 1892."
Neville offered his congratulations, and Seamus, Dean and Hermione echoed it. Ron sat there and gaped.
"Wood saw me diving to catch my keys during our lesson. Said he'd never seen anything like it. He's going to teach me the rules tomorrow."
"You don't even know the rules of Quidditch?" Ron asked, astonished.
"I grew up in the Muggle world. I'd never even flown before our lesson."
"Merlin, you're going to need a lot of training!" Ron said.
"Wood said we have three practices a week."
"Well, if you want to get in any more than that, I'm always up for a fly," he offered, a bit nervously.
Harry looked levelly at him. All he really knew about Ron was that he was a Boy Who Lived fan and that at least three of his brothers had been on the Gryffindor team. He was probably offering so that he could get on friendly terms with his hero—and in return, he would probably be able to help improve Harry's Quidditch skills.
And Harry could probably use the help. He had jumped at the offer to join the team not only because it offered a chance to fly frequently—something that he definitely enjoyed—but also because it could make him more popular in the House. Harry had been watching, and though he knew that everyone would have liked the Weasley twins regardless, the other four players were also well-regarded.
Of course, being on the team would only be a benefit if he played well, and he'd long since learned that you only acquired a skill with practice. He would need a lot of it.
And it'd be helpful to be on better terms with the boy who slept two beds away from him.
"Thanks," he told Ron. "I might take you up on that."
In the next few weeks, Harry grew very busy. Between homework, Quidditch practices, extra flying with Ron Weasley (both of them on the new school brooms), and practicing with his throwing knives, his free time was shrinking rapidly. He also made a point of partnering with Neville in Potions, where he served as a lightning rod for Snape's vitriol, and even spent some time in the Gryffindor common room with Ron. (If Ron wanted to be associated with the Boy Who Lived, Harry figured, it didn't cost much to stay on his good side.)
A couple weeks after he joined the team, a whole parliament of owls carried in an odd, oblong package and set it in front of Harry. There was a note attached, which thankfully Harry read before opening the package. It seemed Professor McGonagall had wrangled an exception so Harry could get a more competitive broom.
Harry quickly passed the note around to Hermione, Neville, and Ron.
"A Nimbus Two Thousand!" Ron moaned, a little loud for Harry's tastes. "I've never even touched one!"
"I'll let you try it out next time we fly," Harry promised. The three boys decided to run the package up to Gryffindor Tower, but Hermione simply frowned and told them to go on without her.
They quickly ran into a jealous Draco Malfoy, who tried to snatch away the package, but Harry was quicker, and whacked him across the hands with the still-wrapped handle. Malfoy tried to complain to Flitwick—both about the hit and the package—but Flitwick had seen the entire incident and already knew the broom was coming.
The three boys ran the broom up to Gryffindor Tower, where Harry carefully unwrapped it and put it in his trunk, then they headed to Transfiguration.
As September turned into October and October lurched towards November, Hermione grew snappy. Harry tried to ask about it a couple of times, but the resulting conversations were less than productive.
The best of them was the time she simply denied anything had changed. The worst was when she suddenly started questioning him about where he kept sneaking off to. It was a question he couldn't afford to answer—Hermione, Harry had noticed, idolized the teachers; even when she hadn't been so moody, he doubted their friendship would have stopped her from reporting him.
Eventually, as Halloween approached, Harry resigned himself to the idea that whatever was bothering her, Hermione would have to come to him if she wanted help.
Her continuous conflicts with Ron Weasley probably didn't make things any better. The two were polar opposites—Ron thought she was barmy for studying so hard; Hermione thought he was empty-headed for not reading more than he had to. Once Ron even called Hermione a know-it-all, but a sharp glare from Harry silenced any further insults.
It all came to a head on Halloween. Everyone was excited to try the Hover Charm for the first time; Professor Flitwick put the class into pairs to practice. Harry ended up with Seamus Finnigan, but Hermione ended up with Ron. It was hard to tell which of them was more annoyed by this. They'd rowed just this morning about the (disgusting, Harry had to say) way Ron ate; now they were being forced to work together.
"It's Wing-gar-dium Levi-o-sa, make the 'gar' nice and long."
"You do it, then, if you're so clever," Ron snarled.
She did, of course. Harry smiled at her, but she seemed distracted by Ron's growl.
Ron held back his rant until they left class. "It's no wonder no one can stand her—she's a nightmare, honestly."
Someone pushed back Harry. It was Hermione—and she was in tears. Harry called after her, but she kept running.
Harry grabbed the front of Ron's robes and pulled him into the next corridor, ignoring his yelp, and stood eye to eye with him. He regarded him for a long moment.
"You know, Ron, I like you," Harry said. "You're a decent bloke most of the time, you're fun to spend time with, and you're teaching me all sorts of useful stuff about Quidditch."
"Er, thanks, Harry," Ron said bemusedly.
Harry shoved him against the stone wall. Ron's eyes widened. "You're also a tremendous git to my best friend. You make fun of her, you pick fights with her, you belittle her when she's only trying to help you."
Harry's eyes narrowed and he stepped a little closer, his knuckles cracking around the fistful of Ron's robe. Ron gulped audibly.
"I don't like that, Ron. I don't like it when people are nasty to my friends. You're not going to do that anymore, are you?"
"N-no," Ron said.
Harry gave him a glare that rivaled Professor Snape. "And you're going to apologize to Hermione before Transfiguration, aren't you?" Harry asked.
"Ye-ye-yes, sir," Ron gibbered.
"See that you do," Harry growled. He released Ron's robes, and walked off. "Come on," Harry tossed airily over his shoulder, "we don't want to be late to Transfiguration."
But Hermione wasn't at Transfiguration. Nor was she seen all afternoon, nor even at the Halloween Feast. When Harry overheard Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown say she was crying in a girl's bathroom, he glared at Ron again. Ron cringed and sat between Seamus and Dean.
The decorations were splendid, but whenever Harry looked at them, all he could think of was Hermione sobbing in a little wooden cubicle. Still, he needed to eat; he'd just save something for her in a napkin, he decided. But he'd barely had time to grab a jacket potato before Professor Quirrell burst through the doors.
"Troll—in the dungeons—thought you ought to know."
Pandemonium broke out before he hit the floor. Dumbledore swiftly controlled the panic and ordered the prefects to lead the students back to their dormitories.
But not all the students, Harry realized. Not Hermione.
It wasn't hard to find his target. "Percy, there's a prob—"
"Nothing to worry about," Percy interrupted. "Just stick with the other first years and follow me!"
"Make way, first years coming through! Excuse me—"
Harry groaned. He couldn't see any teachers either through the masses of students streaming towards the doors of the Great Hall. He'd have to wait for the Hall to clear so he could talk to the teachers.
Quickly, he adopted relatively relaxed body language—just another worried but not panicked student, he tried to say, nothing to see here. He stayed with the group of first years, but drifted towards the back, towards the Gryffindor table's benches. It wasn't difficult—everyone else was trying to get out, to stay near Percy, and they were all too ready to slip around him. The group rounded the end of the Gryffindor table, heading for the door to the Great Hall, and Harry quickly ducked beneath the table, reached into his mokeskin pouch, and withdrew his Invisibility Cloak. He draped it over himself and crouched. A moment later, the Great Hall was empty.
Unfortunately, that included the teachers, save the unconscious Professor Quirrell.
"—keep an eye on the stone." It was Dumbledore's voice, echoing faintly from the Entrance Hall. Harry hustled in that direction, but Gryffindor was furthest from the door.
"Yes, Headmaster," Snape's voice said. Then Harry heard the sound of feet on stairs.
By the time he reached the Entrance Hall, though, the other teachers were already gone, and Harry had no idea which direction. Only Snape was visible, climbing the grand staircase to the first floor, wand in hand.
Harry briefly considered telling Snape—but Snape would be even less likely to listen to him than Percy. He'd have to get Hermione himself.
Harry ran toward the staircase, confident in the Invisibility Cloak's stealth, but Snape turned at the noise of Harry's steps. Harry stopped short and held his breath. He'd never used the Cloak in a quiet place before—only in noisy, relatively crowded spaces like Diagon Alley. He hadn't even thought about the sounds he must be making!
After a moment, Snape seemed to decide that he'd heard an echo and began climbing again. Harry followed him, twenty paces behind, making an effort to move more slowly and quietly.
Snape kept going up, but Harry finally reached Hermione's floor, so he took a right and, the moment he felt he was far enough from Snape, stuffed the Cloak back into his mokeskin pouch. He palmed a throwing knife in each hand and started running.
He smelled it first: a mixture of old socks and raw sewage. Then he heard its footfalls.
Then he heard Hermione's scream.
Harry ran flat-out, skidding to a halt in a ruin.
The cubicles had all been knocked flat, and half the sinks were broken; water was fountaining from the end of a pipe. Hermione was huddled in a corner, staring up with wide eyes. And the troll—it was twelve feet tall, with legs thick as tree trunks, gray, lumpy skin, and a tiny head with a bulbous nose. Harry had never seen something that looked so dangerous, and that was without the club raised in its hand.
Even as his lizard brain screamed a warning, though, he didn't let himself hesitate. Information he had read many times, studied over and over so that it would be ready in his mind when he needed it, came to him:
Heart. 3.5 inches below the skin. Loss of consciousness instantaneous, death in three seconds. Thrust well in with the point, taking care when attacking from behind not to go too high or you will strike the shoulder blade.
With a practiced flick, he slipped the knife blade between his fingers and flung it at the troll, wanting it to hit where the book's diagram had shown him. The knife spun in midair before sinking into the troll's back to the hilt with a wet thwack.
The troll bellowed. Blood flowed around the wound, but not nearly enough. It whirled around, swinging its club down towards Harry. His eyes widened and he hastily sidestepped it.
Hermione screamed, and the troll turned again to face her. It took two steps toward her. Harry lightly tossed the second throwing knife from his left hand to his right.
The book was old, the diagram was small, maybe I was a little low…
He flung the blade again, willing it to hit a rib or two above the other, and as always, it struck true—but to no more effect than before. The troll roared, turning back to Harry, and swung its club down toward him again. Harry jumped aside to dodge it.
It should have worked! The throwing knives were four inches long, and the heart wasn't that deep…
In a human, Harry realized with not a small amount of internal swearing. The troll was twice the size of a human—and who knew what else was different about its anatomy?
Harry now found himself against a wall, the troll looming over him. Terror welled up in him, and he barely wrestled it down. Between the troll's legs, he could see Hermione, her eyes wide as the troll raised its club for another blow...
"Distract it! Scream again!" he yelled to Hermione.
She needed little prompting to scream bloody murder. Once again, the troll whirled around, taking a few steps toward her.
Harry reached back into his pocket, this time withdrawing a much larger blade: his F-S Fighting Knife. He gripped it between his teeth, then took a running leap onto the troll's back.
The troll roared again and twisted its shoulders back and forth, trying to fling Harry off itself. Harry was barely holding on by one hand around its neck. He felt wildly with his other hand and feet, trying to find some purchase, and his left foot landed on top of the knives already in the troll's back. He pushed up—the troll let out an earsplitting bellow and actually dropped its club—and managed to lift himself onto the troll's shoulders.
The instructions came to him.
Carotid artery. 1.5 inches below the skin. Knife in right hand, edges parallel to the ground—
He grabbed the knife in his right hand, holding the blade flat, next to the side of the troll's neck.
—seize opponent around the neck from behind with your left arm, pulling his head to the left.
Harry grabbed the troll's bulbous nose, wrenching its head to the left.
Thrust point well in—
Harry stabbed the dagger deep into the troll's neck. It let out a pained whimper.
—then cut sideways.
Harry cut. The blood didn't just gush over the blade and his hand and the leg he'd slung over its shoulder, it actually sprayed over the wreckage of the toilet cubicles.
Loss of consciousness in five seconds—
Harry slipped down off the troll's shoulders, hitting the ground lightly as it sank to its knees. Then the troll fell forward, its face hitting the splintered remains of a cubicle door.
—death in twelve seconds.
The troll didn't get up again.
Harry looked to Hermione. "Are you okay?"
She flung herself at him, holding him like she would never let go.
Harry dropped the bloody dagger and wrapped his arms around her tightly, stroking her hair as she sobbed into his shoulder. Soon, though, he began to shake and his legs turned to jelly; he sank to his knees in the pink-tinged water that was beginning to flood the bathroom.
"T-that'll be adrenaline withdrawal," Hermione said tearfully, rubbing his back. "It's a totally normal response to a life or d-d-death situation."
Harry nodded mutely; his head was pounding. The two of them clung to each other tightly.
Distantly, Harry heard something slamming and loud footsteps. A moment later, Professor McGonagall burst into the room, closely followed by Snape and Quirrell. The Defense Professor gasped and stared around the room with wide eyes, leaning back against the wall.
"What on earth were you thinking of?" said Professor McGonagall furiously.
Harry cut her off, climbing to his feet, an arm still around Hermione. "What on earth were you thinking of? The teachers ordered the students out of the Great Hall without doing a head count. None of you knew that Hermione wasn't at the feast!"
McGonagall was shocked.
"I came here to warn her, but the troll got here first. I had no choice—I had to kill it."
"And how did you do that?" McGonagall asked.
"I believe I can answer that question," Snape said. Floating before him was Harry's bloody dagger.
McGonagall stared at Harry for a long time. Finally, she asked, "And where did that come from?"
"I always carry weapons," Harry said, rubbing his aching head.
"Why?" McGonagall asked.
"Because it keeps my uncle and aunt from trying to beat the magic out of me," Harry snapped. Hermione gasped; Quirrell sank to the floor with a splash; McGonagall went very still.
There was a long silence. A silence that spiraled horribly. He had not meant to say that—not in front of stern Professor McGonagall, not in front of Hermione, never in front of an enemy like—
"There are two more knives in the troll's back," Snape said. His voice was smooth as silk, but there was something odd in his expression. "Just how many weapons do you carry, Potter?"
"Turn out your pockets, Potter," Snape said, staring into his eyes.
Harry withdrew the other throwing knife and gave it to McGonagall, glad that at least they couldn't search his mokeskin pouch—
"The mokeskin pouch, too," Snape said.
Harry's eyes widened in astonishment. He reached into the pouch and withdrew the collapsible knife he'd bought two months before in Diagon Alley.
"Thank you," McGonagall said as she took the knife. "We'll return these before you next board the Express. I don't want to see them at Hogwarts again."
"But—Professor! I need them!" Harry said.
"You most certainly do not," McGonagall said, nostrils flaring. "Carrying weapons is not only against school rules, it's a blatant danger to the students and staff."
"And if I hadn't had them today? What do you suppose would have happened?" Hermione began trembling against him.
"That's quite beside the—"
"HERMIONE WOULD BE DEAD!" Harry yelled.
"Be that as it may—"
Hermione whimpered and slipped out of Harry's grasp, running from the room. Harry made to follow her.
"Potter, I'm not finished—"
"Your tantrum is not the most important thing in this castle, Deputy Headmistress," Harry said sharply. Then he ran after Hermione.
Harry found her sitting at the top of the grand staircase. He sat on her right. Neither spoke for a few moments.
"I could have died tonight, Harry."
"I know," he said.
"I could have died. And the teachers wouldn't have cared. The students wouldn't have. Nobody in this entire c-country…"
"I would have cared."
Hermione shook her head. "You have other friends—Neville—Ron—Fred and George—the Quidditch team—"
"Is that what's been going on the last few weeks?" Harry asked.
Hermione swallowed, but nodded mutely.
"Hermione, I'm always going to have other friends. Probably even more than I do now. But I only have one best friend, and you're it."
"I-I am?" Hermione asked.
"Yeah," Harry said. "I told Ron that when I yelled at him for hurting your feelings."
Hermione gave a sort of watery chuckle.
"Two months ago," Harry said, "I decided I was keeping you, and that's what I'm going to do."
Hermione leaned into his shoulder, and Harry wrapped his arm around her back, and they sat there for a while.
At length, Hermione asked, "Where were you sneaking off to, anyway?"
Harry chuckled. "Knife practice. I thought you'd disapprove."
"I would have. It'd be a bit hypocritical of me now, though," Hermione said. "Harry...can you teach me how to fight?"
He turned towards her, looking at her seriously. "It took me years of study. Practice every day. Athleticism you might not possess. I even use a little wandless magic. I don't know if I can teach it all."
"Please, Harry," she said.
"And you have to be willing to do what it takes to protect yourself. Even if it takes a bloody mess. Even if it puts you in more danger. Even if it means hurting someone. Even if it means killing."
"I will." She took his hand. "I don't want to cower in a corner again."
He looked at her for a moment before finally saying, "Okay."
She smiled—rather tiredly, he thought, but that was understandable. "We should get to Gryffindor Tower."
"Probably," Harry said, and they started off together, hand in bloodied hand.
When two first-year students stepped into the Gryffindor common room, one with a few spots of dried blood here and there, the other with about half his body caked in the stuff, everyone stopped talking and eating and just stared.
It was Neville who broke the silence. "Harry! Hermione! Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Harry said.
"What happened?" one of the Weasley twins—George, Harry guessed—asked.
"The troll found Hermione," Harry said tiredly. "Then I found the troll."
There was a long silence. Everyone gaped.
"I think I need a shower," Harry finally said. "Save me a jacket potato, will you?"
When he came back down fifteen minutes later, the jacket potatoes were untouched.
A/N: The knife fighting information is from W.E. Fairbairn's book All-In Fighting, which is essentially a manual for fighting people who mean to kill you. (Fairbairn is also the 'F' in the F-S Fighting Knife that Harry used to kill the troll.) Harry long ago bullied Vernon into getting him a copy.