The day began much like it had before, although after two months Harry's memory of the day had begun to fade.
He'd shown off a little levitating feathers. Although he hated being called a prodigy, he'd put a lot of time and work into the spell and Flitwick had been excited when he'd managed to levitate six feathers all at the same time.
Harry didn't mention that he'd once levitated eight of them, although he still couldn't do it reliably. He imagined that it was a little like muggle juggling. Adding each new item made it a lot harder to keep track of all the other items.
Pucey had refused to practice the diffendo spell with him. Apparently there was a rumor going around that Harry was wanting to use the spell to chop people's arms off. While Pucey didn't admit to believing that, he felt a little uneasy about Harry's aim and didn't want to risk his own limbs.
He did transfigure teacups into angry goats, but Harry had stared into the goats' faces and been too squeamish to use the cutting charm on them, a fact which seemed reassuring to Pucey.
They did make for good practice at dodging and using the stunning spell, however.
Harry didn't comment that they still had the same patterns on their fur as the teacups had or that they had handles on their backs. He was amazed that Pucy had managed to transfigure something living, even if he hadn't done it perfectly.
He'd reflected that if Pucey got better at transfiguration, it might take his training to an entire different level. If Pucey was able to animate statues, Harry wouldn't have any compunction about using the severing charm.
He'd be able to do more lethal things and things like statues would be much more dangerous than Pucey was alone. Unfortunately, Pucey's skills weren't nearly at that level. Even the goat spell represented his casting well above his classmates. Pucey was only a third year, and there were going to be limits to what he could do.
Knowing what was coming, Harry was waiting for Hermione outside her classroom. It was a slight risk being away from the group, but Hermione was important enough to take the risk.
She was already crying as she ran into him.
“Weasley being a prat again?” he asked.
She stared up at him, as though she wondered how he knew.
Harry rolled his eyes. “Weasley's always a prat. I don't know why you listen to him.”
“Hey!” he heard from behind them. “Take that back!”
Harry turned slightly and stared at the other boy. As far as he could tell, the boy wasn't nearly as bad as the other bullies who had made multiple timelines hell for him. He had the grace to be embarrassed when he did something wrong, although he didn't always seem to know what that was.
The boy didn't seem to have a lot of experience in talking to girls, which didn't seem surprising, given what Harry had heard from Neville about his family.
However, Harry didn't consider that a good excuse. He hadn't been raised with any females at all other than his aunt, and at least Weasley had one sister.
“You make girls cry all the time, Weasley?” Harry asked.
“She was being a know it all,” he said shortly. “Not that it's any of your business.”
“Probably trying to help you,” Harry said. “What's the lesson today, wingardium? Couldn't get it up, Weasley?”
Harry didn't know why some of the older students passing by snickered, but Weasley's face turned red.
“If she didn't hang around Slytherins all the time she might have some friends,” he said sullenly.
The other students moved around them, some glancing at Harry before rapidly turning away. Apparently the rumor that he was some kind of arm chopping lunatic had spread to the other houses. It didn't seem to phase Weasley though.
“She's got friends, though,” Harry said. “Neville for one.”
“He should have been a Hufflepuff,” Ron said dismissively. “And she should have been a Ravenclaw.”
“I'm sure the hat wishes it had a house just for idiots,” Harry said. “But since it doesn't it has to put them in Gryffindor.”
“Hey!” Hermione said from beside him.
“You should have been a Ravenclaw, remember?” Harry said. “Which means that you're better than some of these idiots.
Of course, as Crabbe and Goyle proved, there were idiots in every house. If Weasley had been thinking more clearly he would have pointed that out.
Instead he turned redder and looked as though he was about to go for his wand.
Before he could do anything, however, a voice from the classroom stopped them both.
“Boys, I'd hate to take points from both your houses, but dueling in the hallways is not allowed,” Flitwick's face was unusually serious.
Harry shrugged and turned to Hermione.
“Are you going to be OK?” he asked.
She nodded; apparently his defense of her had pulled her out of the funk that Weasley's bullying had pit her in.
“I'd like to speak to you, Mr. Potter,” Flitwick said.
Weasely and Hermione both left quickly, heading in opposite directions. Harry simply stood and waited for the other students to clear out of the room. Once everyone else was gone, Flitwick gestured for Harry to come into the room and close the door.
“I've been hearing some concerning things about you, Mr. Potter,” Flitwick said. “Rumors that have worried me.”
Any other teacher and Harry would have immediately been on his guard. Flitwick, however had never been anything but friendly and caring. He struck Harry as someone who cared about his students, even if they weren't in his house.
Harry suspected that most of the teachers were subtly biased toward their own houses, but he'd never noticed any bias with Flitwick. Anyone with a good mind and a will to work was able to find favor with him.
“I'm sure people say a lot of things about me, professor,” Harry said neutrally. “Even though not many of them have tried to get to know you.”
“You don't seem to have made many friends, outside of those two Gryffindors,” Flitwick said.
Harry shrugged. “It takes a lot of courage to be friends with me. The Slytherins have too much of a sense of self preservation to even try, and some of the Gryffindors have been spreading rumors so that no one else will spend time with me.”
“Why would they do that?”
“They think being Slytherin makes me automatically dark, and that scares them,” Harry said.
“So you haven't been practicing a spell to do grievous injury to people?” Flitwick asked.
“I've been studying ahead,” Harry said. “A lot of the spells we're taught at Hogwarts can do harm if misused.”
“I think the concern is the...focus you've had when practicing this one spell.”
Harry sighed. “I'm not planning to chop anyone's arms off. I'm sure why Malfoy has been telling everyone that.”
The rumor had spread as far as Gryffindor, and Neville had told Harry as soon as he'd heard it. Harry hadn't bothered confronting Malfoy about it because it had been useful. Having the Slytherins stop bullying him because they thought he was a little crazy was useful.
“You have to admit that the kind of practice you have been doing wouldn't be necessary if you were just going to use it for tailoring or some other mundane use.”
“You don't think I need a weapon?” Harry asked. “I have a bounty on my head. I've heard some of the other Slytherins talking about it when they think I'm not listening.”
“There are other ways...dozens of ways you could incapacitate enemies,” Flitwick said. He hesitated. “It's not an easy thing, killing, especially at your age.”
Harry scowled and looked at the floor. “When the Death Eaters come for me, I don't think stunners will do me much good.”
“Your fellow students aren't Death Eaters,” Flitwick said.
“Are you sure about that?” Harry asked. “How sure are you that Voldemort isn't already here?”
Flitwick flinched at the name, although he didn't seem to be as superstitiously terrified as most wizards were when the name was brought up.
Harry continued. “They're coming for me, and sooner or later I'm going to have to fight life and death battles.”
“Why the severing charm?” Flitwick asked faintly.
“I can practice it without anyone else helping me,” Harry said. “Practicing stunners and body binds requires that you have partners, and there isn't anyone willing to help me.”
Flitwick frowned. “So if you had this extra training, you wouldn't use it against the other students?”
“I probably would,” Harry said. “Because people keep attacking me. But stunners are much safer than the alternative.”
Flitwick stared at him for a long moment before saying, “Detention, Mr. Potter, for tomorrow at six after the feast. Bring your wand.”
Harry stared at the diminutive professor. Was he suggesting what Harry thought he was suggesting? According to Hermione, Flitwick was known as a dueling master.
“We can't have you forced to use techniques that could hurt someone, can we Mr. Potter?”
Harry grinned, elated. It was the first time he would ever be looking forward to a detention. All he had to do was survive the night.
Feeling tense on the evening of the feast, Harry didn't relax until he saw that Hermione and Neville were in their places at the table.
There would be no horror in the bathroom this time, and Harry relaxed.
The Hufflepuff prefect hadn't left yet; Harry wasn't sure whether he had been coming after Hermione out of some sense of fair play, or whether he was on another errand, but Harry had been thinking about what to do for two months.
Despite this, Harry wasn't sure what to do. He couldn't manage a confundus charm, and because he didn't know why the prefect had been in that corridor, he couldn't find a way to stop him.
His only option was to watch the prefect and improvise.
He'd thought of finding a way of making the prefect sick, so that he'd spend the feast in the hospital wing. However, given the speed of wizarding healing, there was no guarantee that the nurse wouldn't have him better in time to be in the hallways.
Harry could barely taste his food because his stomach was twisted in knots. He only hoped that he was quick enough to find some way to stop the prefect.
Harry chewed slowly, then felt himself freeze. Where was the other Hufflepuff prefect, the girl?
He hadn't seen her the entire feast. He'd been focusing so much on the male prefect that he hadn't been paying attention to seeing if anyone else was missing.
Harry froze. He was too young to fight a troll by himself.
He started to stand up to go to the table, despite Quirrell sitting among the other teachers with a small smirk on his face. It was as though he knew exactly what Harry was thinking.
Before he could, a shriek rang through the hallway.
The female prefect was at the entrance, blood streaming from her side. “Troll! Troll in the dungeon!”
She collapsed, and suddenly there was pandemonium.
No one would listen.
Harry had tried to tell the prefects that they should all remain in the Great Hall, that sending the Slytherins back to the Slytherin dorms was suicidal when the troll was supposedly in the dungeons.
Assuming the troll hadn't moved far from where he'd been the last time, they should be reasonably safe, but Harry tried to stay in the middle of the group.
Unfortunately, as everyone was Slytherins they all had the same idea, and he was smaller than the others and found himself being pushed toward the front.
There were almost two hundred Slytherins behind him, and Harry should have felt reassured by that, but most of them were untrained, and very few of them would be able to face a fully grown mountain troll.
At least they were moving quickly. Unlike the Gryffindors, none of them were included to be heroic. Everyone was focused on reaching the safety of their dormitories.
When Harry smelled the familiar, hideous smell, he grimaced and tried to call out a warning.
It was too late. The troll turned the corner ahead of them and began to lumber toward them. Harry could hear screams from behind him as people fell over each other trying to run.
The sixth and seventh years, who might have stood a chance against the troll were knocked over in the confusion. People were climbing over each other in their terror to get away. In the tight confines of the corridor people couldn't move well. It was the perfect trap.
Harry considered his options. He was fast enough that he might be able to dodge the troll and leave it to attack the other Slytherins. However, despite everything they had done to him, he didn't believe that all of them were bad people.
Something within him, perhaps some faded remnant of Gryffindor nature refused to leave his dorm mates to die.
Harry grimaced and pulled his wand. He promised himself he'd have a better plan the next time around, something that wouldn't get everyone around him killed.
“Diffindo!” he shouted, and a cut appeared on the troll's chest. It roared angrilly.
His casting had gotten strong enough to pierce a tree trunk with a single spell, but trolls were resistant to spells.
“Diffindo!” Harry shouted again, this time aiming for the troll. Blood seeped from it's cheek and it charged toward him, outraged.
It swung its club, but Harry was faster, running between its legs. The smell was even worse, but he pointed his wand up and cast the spell again.
The troll screamed, and it staggered as it whirled around to face him.
It was no longer facing the mass of other students, who were slowly getting back in order. The prefects tried hitting the troll in the back with spells, but nothing worked.
Harry cast over and over again, leaving deep gashes in the creature's hide.
He realized quickly that he was in trouble. He hadn't been the victim of Harry hunting in months, and at Hogwarts he hadn't had any exercise outside of flying class. He didn't have the endurance to keep this up for long.
Harry dodged again, and felt a chip of stone hit his cheek.
A loud blast sounded, and Harry saw that Pucey had fought his way to the front of the crowd. He was pointing his wand and a flock of birds were streaming from it to flock around the troll's head.
The troll began to claw at his head and Harry grinned. He stopped and pointed, and this time his aim was much better, even though the troll was still moving.
The troll screamed again as his eye exploded from the severing charm. Their eyes were their weak points, but Harry hadn't been able to aim well while dodging.
The troll quickly turned it's back toward Harry and began running toward the crowd, who began to scream.
Some of them had the presence of mind to try to fight back, but their spells bounced harmlessly off the creature's hide.
It was now covering its face with one arm even as it charged the Slytherins.
Pansy Parkinson fell.
Harry saw Pucey see what was happening and there was a look in his eyes that Harry couldn't interpret. Deliberately, Pucey stood between Parkinson and the troll, blasting fire from his wand.
Harry screamed, but it was too late. The club came down, and it came up bloody.
What happened afterwards, Harry wasn't sure. The world around him seemed to go red, and he lost all control of himself.
He leaped, and a moment later he found himself on the creature's back. It whirled, trying to spin him off, but he held on for dear life.
A moment later, he shoved his wand up its nose and shouted, “DIFFINDO!”
An explosion rained down material that he did not want to examine too closely, and he found himself beginning to fall. He rolled away from the falling corpse of the troll.
The moment he reached the ground he was crawling toward the troll.
“DIFFINDO! DIFFINDO! DIFFINDO!”
The professors found him shortly afterwards, standing covered in blood over the twisted remains of the troll, casting the same spell over and over mindlessly. He had a broken rib and a broken leg, but he didn't seem to notice.
They called out to him, but he didn't seem to recognize them.
They had to stun him to get him to stop.