The next few weeks went by, and Harry and Hermione learned to loathe potions, and truly detest Snape. And this only intensified as they both realised that, not content with bullying them, he was also starting to treat Sally in the same manner.
A month after school had started, they were doing their homework after tea, when Sally told them some disturbing news.
"Some of my house mates are... unhappy with me" She said, glancing at her house table. Harry and Hermione looked over, and saw a few of the Hufflepuffs glaring back.
"Snape?" Hermione asked.
"Sort of" She glanced at Harry, then continued "I lost forty points in potions, because I got a few questions wrong and because my sticking solution was wrong" She shook her head "But the real reason I lost those points was because I am friends with you"
Harry and Hermione looked at each other.
"How do you know?"
"Because after he deducted twenty points for a runny sticking solution, he announced to the class that 'being friends with celebrities is obviously not all it is cracked up to be'" She smiled "So now my house mates are unhappy with me. Not because I suck at potions, but because..."
"You are friends with me" Harry said softly. He closed his eyes for a moment, then looked at Sally "If you want to..."
"No" She interrupted.
"You don't even know what I was going to say!" Harry said in exasperation. Sally looked across at Hermione, who smiled, then turned to Harry.
"You were going to tell Sally that she didn't have to stay friends with you out of some misguided sense of loyalty, and that you would be willing to ignore her if it would make her life better" She smiled "Do you know how predictable you are?"
"Okay" Harry said "So what are you going to do about your house?"
"Nothing for now - what can I do?" Sally asked "If I complain to Professor Sprout it will only get worse" She smiled "But - as crazy as this sounds - having friends like you two makes it easier to have friends like you two" She glared at Harry "So no gallant or brave gestures, Mister Potter"
"I get it" He smiled back, then turned to Hermione "So - you ready to learn how to fly?"
Two hours later they were stood side by side, along with the rest of the Gryffindors and all of the Slytherins. Each of them had a broom next to them, and Madam Hooch was striding towards them. As she arrived, Harry leaned over and whispered in Hermione's ear. She looked at him, then smiled shyly.
"Good morning class"
"Good morning Madam Hooch"
"Put your hand out over your broom, and say 'up"
Harry yelled "UP" and the broom jumped in to his hand. Next to him, Hermione's did the same. Neville's rolled over, and Ron's just lay there. Harry wasn't surprised to see Draco's jump up in to his hand as well. From what he had been told, and what Hermione had read, the main thing about controlling a broom was self-belief, and if anyone in the class had excessive amounts of self-belief, it was Draco Malfoy.
"Now - mount your brooms and kick off"
Harry pushed off, and realised he was floating. It was an odd sensation, and he couldn't decide if he liked it or not. He glanced sideways to see Hermione floating, eyes clenched tight shut. He took his hand off his broom, wobbled slightly, and pulled his hand back and decided not to do it again.
"Mister Malfoy - you are sitting wrong" He looked over, and couldn't help smiling - watching Madam Hooch lecture Malfoy was fun. But then he got distracted as there was a scream from his right, and he turned to see Neville shooting of in to the sky. He lowered his broom to the ground, then he walked over and helped Hermione land as well. Then he turned, and saw Neville fall off his broom and CRUNCH!
"Oh my" Hermione said as Ron and Dean helped Madam Hooch take Neville to the hospital wing. Then she heard a disturbance behind her and saw Harry and Draco facing off. She wandered over to them, and saw Draco holding a shiny red ball - she recognised it as Neville's RememberAll, and Harry was trying to get it back.
"Maybe" Draco said "I'll leave it somewhere for Longbottom to find" Then he leapt on to his broom, and took off.
Hermione watched in shock as Harry walked towards his broom.
"Harry! You can't be serious" She yelled at him. For a moment, all he could think of was the phrase "No - that would be my Uncle", but he simply smiled and pulled out his wand.
She watched for a moment, then her eyes widened in surprise as Harry pointed his wand and yelled "ACCIO REMEMBERALL" A moment later he was holding the glowing red ball and smiling at the bemused look on Draco's face that was, strangely, replicated on Hermione's face.
"You thought I was going to take off and get myself expelled?" He smiled at her. She smiled back, then looked over at Draco, who was coming in to land, glaring at the pair of them.
"I was just scared that you were going to summon his broom from under him"
Sally looked up as Draco stormed towards the Gryffindor tale. Hermione had just finished telling her about their first flying lesson, which had Sally in fits of giggles. Hermione had just got to the point where she was about to yell at Harry when Draco's voice cut across the hall.
"Yes Malfoy?" Harry said politely.
"Think you are clever do you?" Draco said, coming up behind him "Making me look stupid?"
"You didn't need my help with that, Draco"
"Tonight. Midnight. The Astronomy Tower"
"You want to take him stargazing?" Sally asked "That's so sweet"
"A duel" Draco said, trying to ignore the smiles on the faces in front of him "At midnight"
"Why would I want to do that?" Harry asked.
"Because people will think you are a coward if you don't, and a Gryffindor coward at that"
"Sally - do you think I am a coward?
"Hermione - do you think I am a coward?"
Harry smiled, then turned back to Draco.
"Sorry - I have something else to do then, but if you want to meet me in the Great Hall at lunch tomorrow, I am sure we can find a teacher to referee the match properly" He watched as Draco glared at the three of them for a moment, then turned and stomped away "So - where were we?"
Harry and Hermione had just walked in to the common room when they heard Ron's voice bellowing from the other side of the room. Harry turned to Hermione.
"Why is everyone yelling my name today?"
"Maybe they don't think you pay enough attention?"
"That must be it" He watched as Ron, Fred and George Weasley came over to them.
"What's this we hear about you chickening out of a duel with Malfoy?" Ron asked.
"He challenged me to a duel at midnight, on the astronomy tower" Harry said.
"And you refused?" George asked.
"You can't refuse" Fred added.
"You're a Gryffindor" George continued.
"And you can't let a Slytherin get the better of you" Ron finished.
"Do you really think he is going to show up?" Hermione asked.
"What?" The three Weasleys asked.
"Harry made him look stupid in flying, and he wants to get him in trouble. If Harry goes up to the tower, Filch, or a teacher - probably Snape - will be waiting for him, while Draco lies in bed laughing at us - at the Gryffindors" She watched the three of them think this through, then she turned to Harry "You think he will be there?"
"Not a chance" Harry said, then they both turned back to the brothers "Guys - I am not going. Discuss it all you want, but if I go then tomorrow your house will be fifty points down, and you will have me to blame. So - pick. Either you have a cowardly Lion" He could have sworn he heard Hermione smirk "Or you lose fifty points" And with that, he turned and walked up the stairs to his dorm. When he reached the door, he spun round in surprise as he heard someone behind him.
"So" Hermione said "Want to talk?"
"You know what we need?" Hermione said the following morning. They were walking down to breakfast, and as they walked past the house counters, they noticed the Slytherin counter was a little lower than the night before. They glanced over at the Slytherin table, and saw Draco sat at the very end of the table, and that he was sat alone.
They walked over to the Hufflepuff table and sat down next to Sally.
"So - ten points?"
"Fifteen" Sally said with a slight smirk.
"He was actually there?" Hermione exclaimed in surprise.
"Not exactly" Sally said "From what I heard, he woke up Snape at ten to midnight, and dragged him up to the tower, and when you weren't there, Snape got a bit annoyed and took the points from Malfoy"
"And that's why Malfoy is sat on his own"
"The rest of his house, including Snape, is very unhappy" Sally said, then looked up as two prefects came past. They stood over her, glaring at Harry and Hermione "And I never thought I could sympathise with Malfoy of all people" She turned and looked at the two prefects "Do you mind?"
"Shouldn't your friends be at their own table now?" The taller of the two - Joy Clancy - said, glaring at the two Gryffindors. Sally looked back, then rolled her eyes.
"I will see you at lunch?" She asked.
"Count on it" Hermione and Harry walked over to their own table, then sat down and started eating breakfast.
A few moments later Ron came in and sat down next to them, smiling at the sight of Malfoy sitting on his own.
"So Malfoy lost fifteen points for being out late last night" He said.
Harry and Hermione stared at him.
"Because he dragged Snape up to the tower" He continued.
Harry and Hermione looked at each other, then Hermione turned to Ron.
"Last night you wanted him to go up there and face Malfoy because 'he couldn't let a Slytherin get the better of him' and now you think it is the best thing since sliced bread"
"Sliced..." Ron looked confused.
"Harry tricked him, which is why he lost the points" She glanced at Harry, then grinned and turned back to Ron "In fact - Malfoy lost the points because Harry behaved a lot like a Slytherin himself" She heard Harry choke on his pumpkin juice as Ron's eyes went wide in surprise. She gathered her books, and she and Harry walked out of the hall before they burst in to laughter.
"So - there is something I have been wondering about" Sally said. They were sat in the Great Hall, around four hours after tea. They had been doing homework and catching up - since Sally couldn't come to their common room, and they couldn't go to hers, they spent a lot of time in "neutral places" - the hall, classrooms, down by the lake - not a favourite location in October). So far, none of the teachers had commented, but Sally's fellow Hufflepuffs were still not happy with her choice of friends - another reason they tended to meet elsewhere.
"What?" Hermione asked, looking up from her book.
"The third floor corridor on the right hand side" They both looked at her in surprise.
"The bloody, horrible death corridor?"
"I get that the squid is dangerous, and the Forest - for whatever reason - is dangerous, but a corridor?" Sally looked at them, excitement on her face.
"And you aren't concerned about the bloody, horrible death par?"
"Well - a little. But don't you want to know what will cause the death?" Harry looked at Hermione, then turned back to the Hufflepuff.
"Okay - but if either of us die a bloody, horrible death, we are going to come back and haunt you"
Five minutes later they were walking up the stairs towards their destination - occasionally ducking in to the shadows when a teacher walked by - then they arrived at the door.
"It's locked" Sally said.
"So we go back to bed?" Harry asked hopefully.
"And you call yourself a wizard?" Hermione said. She pulled out her wand and whispered "Alohomora". A moment later there was a click, and the door swung open.
The three of them looked at each other, then Sally pushed the door open and the three of them snuck inside. Harry turned to close the door, then turned and looked at the two girls.
They were both looking up. he followed their gaze, then stopped.
"That's a big dog" Hermione said.
"That's the first thing you notice?" Sally asked in surprise.
"It is a very big dog" Harry said "Don't you think it is a big dog?"
"Yes" Sally replied "It is a big dog" She paused, then added "But honestly - the three heads thing seems more unusual"
"Yeah - now that you come to mention it" Hermione said, but then trailed off as the dog turned its heads and looked at them. For a moment the three heads stared at the three students, then Harry, Sally and Hermione ran out the door. Sally cast a locking charm as they ran down the corridor, then they ducked in to a classroom.
"What was that?" Harry asked.
"A Cerberus" Hermione and Sally said together, then Hermione continued "They are said to guard the gateway to hell"
"You think there is a gateway to hell in the castle?" Harry asked "Why would anyone build a school on a gateway to hell?"
"I don't know" Sally replied "But he was guarding something"
"There was a trapdoor in the floor - didn't you see it?" The other two shook their heads, so Sally continued "Whatever it is guarding must be important, because I can't think of any other reason they would have a giant, three-headed monster in the school"
Harry and Hermione looked at each other, then turned back to her.
"Okay" Hermione said "But we should be getting to bed - before someone finds us"
They crept out of the classroom, and walked back towards the grand staircase. Sally looked down, then muttered something.
"What?" Harry asked softly.
"Peeves" Sally pointed - the poltergeist was floating around the second floor, and there was no way past him.
"Come back with us" Hermione said "We can sneak you in, and you can go back to your common room first thing" She looked at Harry "If she is caught, you know it will end badly"
Harry nodded, and the three of them crept off upstairs.